DISCLAIMER: The M*A*S*H characters are the property of Twentieth Century Fox, and a bunch of others no doubt. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2005 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Legacy of War
"Beej, I can't believe they gave it to Manelli." As Hawkeye talked, he moved around as much as the not terribly long phone cord would allow. "They wouldn't recognize genius if it bit them in the tush."
"Settle down, Hawk. You said being chief of surgery would tie you down too much."
"Well, I may have said that, but I'm not sure I meant it. At least not until they gave it to someone else."
B.J. laughed. "You've gotten political in your old age."
"I'm not old. I'm older." Five years older. The war seemed a long way off. Until a nightmare came. Then it seemed like yesterday.
Fortunately he didn't have very many nightmares anymore.
"I didn't call to listen to you complain, my friend." B.J.'s voice had the tone of a boy about to unleash a really good practical joke. "But I do happen to have a solution for your woes."
Hawkeye made himself sit down. "I'm not sure I want to know."
"Sure, you do. It's good news, I think. That medical exchange post here is coming available again, and this time they want to concentrate on surgery. It's tailor made for you."
Hawkeye sighed. "I don't want to leave my father."
"Bring him with you, Hawk. It's for six months, starts in September. He'll get to miss winter."
"I don't know..."
"I think you should do it." There was something new in B.J.'s voice. Something a lot more serious.
"We've been talking about this in the hypothetical sense since we got home, Beej. Why now? Why's it so important that I come now?"
There was a long silence, then B.J. said softly, "Margaret's here."
"Here? In your office here?"
"At the hospital here."
"And you forgot to mention that?"
"She wasn't in the best shape. Was engaged apparently, and it didn't work out. Colonel Potter called me, wondered if we had any openings here. We did. I called her. She came. End of story."
"How long ago was this?"
"Couple of months."
"And you're just now getting around to sharing this news?"
"Can we get past that? She's here. You could be too. If you want to be?"
"Oh, no. If you think I'm going to pack up everything and tramp out to the west coast just to see her, you're crazy."
"As I remember, you two couldn't keep your hands off each other those last few days in the camp."
Hawkeye smiled as he recalled those days. It hadn't been just their hands they couldn't keep off each other. But passion had always been easy for them, getting along was something else entirely. "Special circumstances and you know it. Normally, we couldn't go more than a day or two without a fight."
"Maybe things have changed? Maybe it was the environment, not the two of you?"
"And maybe you're way too interested in Margaret and me. What gives, Beej?"
"Hawk, she has a daughter."
"So, she has a daughter." It surprised him, but it wasn't exactly earth shattering. Women had been having kids—about half of them daughters—since time began.
"A five-year-old daughter. With black hair and blue eyes. Tall for her age." Beej sighed loudly. "You do the math."
Hawkeye was glad he was sitting down. "You think..."
"I think. Her asking me not to say anything to you about her having a kid more or less clinched it for me." B.J. spoke more forcefully, probably to counteract the voices in the background that were getting increasingly loud. "I've got to go Hawk. I'll send you the paperwork. Just tell me you'll think about it?"
"I'll think about it."
"Good." The phone went dead.
Hawkeye stared at the receiver for a moment before replacing it on the cradle. Margaret had a little girl. He had a daughter.
But it didn't have to be his. There were plenty of black-haired, blue-eyed males in the country. Margaret could have slept with any number of them once she got away from Korea.
It...she didn't have to be his.
But Beej had seen her. He wouldn't be playing tall and hairy matchmaker if the child hadn't looked an awful lot like Hawkeye. If anyone knew the damage he and Margaret could inflict on each other, it was B.J., yet he still seemed to want them to be together. Or at least for Hawkeye to make the effort to get to know his daughter.
Hawkeye picked up the phone again and called home. "Dad? How'd you like to skip winter this year?"
Margaret Houlihan walked toward the complex of operating rooms, nodding at the nurses and doctors she passed. She liked it here at Marin General. The people were easygoing and welcoming. She supposed it didn't hurt that she had the well-respected and very much liked Doctor Hunnicut on her side, but part of how she was fitting in was her doing. She'd changed since Korea. Softened, maybe. Or just learned not to push so hard. Learned how to get along.
Korea had changed so much of her life.
"Hey, Margaret." B.J. smiled as she walked up. But he had a look she hadn't seen since Korea. When he'd been playing all the practical jokes.
"Doctor." She let her tone dip into disapproving major—a role she so rarely played anymore, except with Elaine when the child wouldn't respond to reason or bribes. Her daughter was no fool; she could recognize "mother on the edge" when she saw her.
"Fine. Doing well."
B.J. and Peg had taken to Elaine immediately, as had their daughter Erin. They'd taken Elaine to the circus with Erin a few weeks ago, and Elaine had talked about nothing else for days.
Handing him the chart she was carrying, Margaret said, "Heavy schedule today. Ever since Landham left."
"We're getting a replacement. Temporary though."
"Another exchange doctor?" She'd just get him trained and it would be time to leave.
"You'll like this one." Again B.J.'s eyes glinted.
She felt her stomach drop to her toes. "You didn't."
"I did." He met her eyes, and there was nothing amused in them anymore. "The man's got a right to meet his daughter."
"You always were his friend, not mine." She could feel panic fill her, and she wasn't sure if it was for Elaine's sake or her own. Hawkeye Pierce had a way of spinning her world the wrong way. He also had a way of making the sun shine brighter while he was doing it.
"Margaret, that's not true."
She sat down in one of the plastic waiting chairs. "You just had to interfere." Sighing she imagined what it was going to be like to see Pierce every day. "You told him about Elaine?"
"Yep." He sat down next to her. "Peg told me I should have minded my own business."
"You should listen to your wife."
"She doesn't know Hawk."
"Well, you do. And don't you think that I would have taken Elaine to him if I wanted him to get to know her? Crabapple Cove is pretty easy to find."
"That sounds like the voice of experience? Have you done it?"
She looked down. Elaine had been almost three the summer Margaret had driven to Hawkeye's home town. Her daughter had been asleep when Margaret had pulled up in front of his house. She'd idled there for a few minutes, then she'd put the car in gear and driven back home to Hoboken. Six months later she'd met Martin. A year later, he'd proposed, and nine months after that, he'd called their engagement off.
"I'm just not ready for an instant family," he'd said.
"No? Or are you just not ready for someone else's instant family?" She'd let the major come out to play that time.
The funny thing was, Elaine had never warmed up to Martin. Margaret wondered if she'd warm up to Pierce.
"Yes, I've done it," she finally said. "And I chickened out."
She stood up. "Because putting Benjamin Franklin Pierce and me together is like hooking up matches and gasoline. And you know it." She took the chart back from him. "I'm really mad at you."
"I know." He smiled up at her, a gentle "You'll thank me in the morning" smile. It was a hard smile to not react to, even if she was relatively sure she wouldn't thank him in the morning. Or any other time.
"Yes, Dad?" Hawkeye concentrated on finding the right turn-off. The billboards behind them had said there was food just ahead.
"Why are we really going to California?"
"I told you. To enjoy the balmy weather. To get a change of scene. To get us out of the New England rut."
"That's my life I left behind. Not some damn rut."
"It's only for six months, Dad."
"This wouldn't have anything to do with a woman, would it?"
Yeah, two of them, Hawkeye wanted to say. But he didn't want to explain this just yet. Not until he knew how Margaret was going to take seeing him. "But of course. California is full of women. Most of them stunning." He waggled his eyebrows, but he could tell his father wasn't buying it.
"Son, I know when you're not telling me the truth."
"Oh, look, the exit. And lunch." Hawkeye veered off the main road toward what he hoped was a town interesting enough to take his father's mind off giving him the third degree.
"If it's a choice between eating and talking about this, I'll skip lunch, Hawkeye."
"Well, I won't. Your driver is a growing boy and needs his sustenance." Just like his child was a growing girl. He wondered what she liked to eat.
"You're as stubborn as your mother was."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Hawkeye said, as he pulled into a parking place on the street near a diner that had been featured on several very colorful billboards. Rubbing his hands together, he said, "I'm holding out for a milkshake and a hamburger."
"This is cattle country. Maybe they'll have liver." His father smiled.
Hawkeye tried not to shudder. They'd had liver far too many times in Korea. He hadn't liked it when he'd first arrived there, and he'd hated it with a passion once his tour was over. But it was a favorite of his dad's, so he didn't comment.
"Okay, now I know something's wrong with you. Since when do you let a chance for a snappy liver insult go by?"
"You like liver. If they have it, order it. Why should I object?"
His father grabbed his arm as Hawkeye tried to put on a burst of speed and get to the door first. "Damn it, Hawkeye. I don't think you even realize how distracted you've been on this trip. About two hundred miles back I asked you if you'd like to enlist in the army, and you said yes."
"Nonsense." His father sighed, as if he could read on Hawkeye's face that the conversation was not going to go anywhere meaningful. "Fine. Don't tell me. Don't tell me a damned thing." Pushing past him, Daniel Pierce was the picture of wounded parents everywhere.
Rolling his eyes, Hawkeye followed him into the diner. He felt a moment's urge to confide in his father then pushed it relentlessly away. He would not tell his father that he was a grandfather.
Not until he knew for sure that Margaret was going to let them be a part of her daughter's life.
Margaret and two of her nurses came in late for the staff meeting. An emergency in the post-operative ward had kept them, and now there were only chairs in the back left. As she followed Kaminski and Lewis to the vacant seats, she heard Lewis whisper, "Who's that?"
She didn't have to look to know who the younger nurse was talking about. She'd heard that question too many times in Korea to have to wonder about the identity.
"His name's Pierce," she said softly, not smiling when Lewis turned to her with a raised eyebrow. As she sat down, Margaret looked around the table until she found him. Their eyes met. He didn't look at the other women, just stared at her as if riveted. It wasn't the friendliest look though.
He was mad about this?
She looked away, then their age-old attraction made her look back. He was still staring at her, then he turned away.
"History?" Lewis whispered.
Margaret gave her the major look and the other woman turned away, but she had a grin on her face.
"History," Lewis said to Kaminski.
She wanted to say that running into Hawkeye would be something she considered the opposite of luck, but held her tongue. He was a guest surgeon. Doctors were at the top of the medical aristocracy, and surgeons were the acme, and she wouldn't win friends by badmouthing him his first day on the job.
The meeting seemed to drag on, and when it finally ended, she tried to escape, but her position in the back made it hard to get around people and make a quick exit.
"Going somewhere?" Pierce stood at the door. His smile was very wide, and she was struck by how sexy he looked. It wasn't fair. Martin had been more handsome. Half the men in the room were more handsome. Why did Hawkeye have to have so damned much charisma?
It was hard not to return the smile, but she managed. "I have work to do, Doctor."
"Don't we all?" His smile faded, then it disappeared entirely when she tried to push past him. "I want to see her."
She pulled him out of the conference room; they were earning some odd looks, not to mention blocking the door. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"Is she my daughter?"
Margaret sighed, looking away. "Yes."
"Then I want to meet her."
"We'll see." She turned to go.
"Margaret." His voice was the voice of midnight seductions, of comfort needed and given, of huddling down together in her tent while the mines around them exploded all on their own in the cold ground. "How are you?"
She met his eyes. "It's been five years. And you're just now asking me that?"
He looked away.
"I'll see you around." She hurried away before her wildly beating heart could make her do something stupid.
"How'd it go?" B.J. asked, but Hawkeye thought his friend had a pretty good idea how it had gone. "That well?" B.J. finally said, when Hawkeye wouldn't answer.
"The thing that grills me is that she's treating me like a criminal because I didn't know she had a baby." He was playing with the things on B.J.'s desk as he talked, trying to make sense of the guilt that was warring for supremacy with the irritation he also felt.
"Should you have known?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
B.J. leaned back, holding up his hands. "Just asking."
"I guess if I were a mind reader, I'd have known." He slammed down a stapler that matched the rest of the desk set. "How dare she!"
B.J. laughed. "Do you realize you always say that when you feel guilty?"
"I do not." He glared at his friend. "Do I?"
"Damn." He got up and walked to the window: B.J. had a nice view. "The hell of it is that I'm really glad to see her." There were scads of good-looking women in this hospital, many prettier than Margaret, and all he'd seen at the staff meeting had been her. Why did she get to him this way? They didn't even like each other.
"I imagine that's the hell of it for her too. Has it occurred to you that she's overcompensating? Being mean because she's so happy to see you?"
"When did you get so insightful?" Hawkeye turned to look at him. "What did you think would happen when she and I met up?"
"Pretty much what happened. You two are extremely predictable." B.J. sipped his coffee. "How's your dad settling in?"
"He's the hit of the apartment complex. All the widows are in hog heaven."
B.J. laughed. "I can imagine. Acorn didn't fall far from the tree. Or the maple, in your case. You two are still coming over for dinner tonight, right?"
"You bet. I can't take another night with him trying to figure out why we're here."
"When are you going to tell him?"
Hawkeye shrugged. "When I figure Margaret out, I guess."
"You're going to wait that long?" B.J. laughed gently, but his eyes were full of support.
"No, I'm going to go look for her right now. Wish me luck that her mood has improved."
"Make it improve, Hawk. You both care for each other. If you'd put your hackles down, maybe you'd see that."
"Yeah, well how about you tell her that?"
"I no doubt will." Another grin, and even more support. "I'm rooting for you guys."
"That may be really dumb of you." But Hawkeye felt better as he went to look for the mother of his child.
"He never gives up." Margaret muttered as she saw Hawkeye coming toward her.
"Old flame?" Kaminski asked, a note of envy in her voice.
"Nope. Feel free to head him off at the pass."
The other nurse shot her a look as if to see if she was serious. "If you're sure you don't mind...?"
"Have at it, Greta." Margaret took the opportunity to head in the opposite direction.
A moment later, Hawkeye found her in one of the ORs, taking inventory of the equipment. "Nice diversionary tactic. She's a pretty thing."
"Go back and ask her out. I'm sure she'll say yes."
"Will you say yes?"
"For her? Sure. She'll go. Now leave me alone. I'm busy." She tried to brush by him, but he moved and she found herself starting at his chest. "Hawkeye. Move. Now."
"No." His voice was very tender. It was the voice he'd only used when she'd come to him for help.
"Stop it. I'm not gullible anymore."
She laughed, and the sound came out so bitter she wanted to wince. "I know you want to meet Elaine. Fine. You'll meet her. But don't seduce me to get to her. Don't even think of it." She turned away, afraid her anger—and other feelings—were going to make her cry.
"Margaret, I didn't mean to—"
"You never do mean to, do you?" She glanced at him. "It's been five years, Hawkeye. You never cared enough to find me, so don't pretend that I'm suddenly the only thing you want." She smiled and knew it was her mean smile. "Don't confuse having a child with having a relationship."
Taking a deep breath, he turned to go. "I don't know why I even try."
"You call this trying?"
He whirled, and she was surprised to see how angry he was. "I didn't know where you were at first. I thought you'd call me. Everyone knew where I was headed."
"Call you for what?"
His smile was mean this time. "You're right. What was I thinking? Here you were pregnant, and you couldn't tell me. What else would we possibly have to say, if we couldn't talk about that?"
She tried to get by him again, and he grabbed her and pulled her close.
"Don't," she said, but her arms—traitors that they were—stole up his chest then around his neck.
"Forget talk; we've always done much better with non-verbal communication," he said just before he kissed her.
Margaret was right back in Korea, in this man's arms as he caused shivers to run down her spine to points farther south. Martin may have been more handsome, but his kisses hadn't even come close to Hawkeye's. She finally pulled away. "Damn you."
His smile was surprisingly tender. "It's nice to see you too."
Then he turned and walked away, leaving her to finish an inventory she suddenly couldn't concentrate on.
"This seat taken?" Hawkeye stood with a tray near the picnic table Margaret was sitting alone at. It was an off time to eat lunch. He had a feeling she'd picked it deliberately, and that she'd been doing it for the week since he got here. But now he was wise to her devious tricks.
Her scowl when she looked up confirmed that she hadn't wanted to see him. "You can have the whole table. I'm finished." She picked up a tray that looked like it hadn't been touched and started to rise.
"Coward," he said as he sat down.
As he thought she would, she sank back to the bench. It was nice to know he still understood her that well.
They ate in silence. He finally said, "Nice day."
"It's always a nice day here."
"Dad's really loving it."
Her look suddenly softened. "I didn't know you brought him with you."
He nodded, glad to see her smile as she said, "That's nice."
Then the smile faded. "Does he know?" she asked.
"I haven't told him."
She sort of huffed, as if it was what she'd expected of him. "Ashamed of us?"
"No. I just don't want to put him through the ringer."
"Like I'm doing to you, you mean?" She grimaced. "I didn't keep her from you out of malice. You weren't around; you weren't going to be around. What was I supposed to do?"
"I might have been around. If you'd given me the chance to know I should have been." Touching her hand, he counted it a victory when she didn't snatch it away from him.
"Pierce, I didn't want you with me because of her." Her expression was suddenly very open. Very vulnerable.
He nodded. "I can understand that."
"It never works between us. I was afraid we'd force it to work for her sake. And we'd end up miserable." She pulled her hand away gently. "Call me crazy, but I want my guy to want to be with me, not just feel he has to be."
"You're not crazy."
She nodded but looked away.
"B.J. said you were engaged." He didn't want to open wounds but thought they needed to at least raise this.
"I was. He's a nice man."
"Why'd you leave him, then?"
"I didn't. Martin left me." She looked back at him, meeting his eyes fully. "Actually, he left us. It's funny, really. You want me for her. He wanted me without her. I can't win." She shrugged and went back to picking at her food.
"Is it bad to say that I'm glad he's not in the picture?"
"It's selfish of you to say that. But then you've always been that way."
He decided not to argue. They weren't yelling at each other, and he didn't want to wreck that. Besides, she was probably right.
She seemed to be waiting for the sarcastic retort and looked surprised when she didn't get one. "You feeling all right, Pierce?"
He nodded, grinning.
"Stop it. You know I'm a sucker for that look."
He did know that. It was why he'd done it. He could have recited a list for her of all the things she was a sucker for. He let his grin fade so she'd think he was being good. "Why did you pick Elaine for her name?"
"It's a family name. My great aunt's."
"So not after the Arthurian Elaine?" He hated to think she'd name their child after a woman who, according to legend, always ran second best with the man she loved.
"I'm not that imaginative."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that." He waggled his eyebrows, remembering all the times she'd used her imagination with him.
"You know what I mean." She was blushing a little.
"I imagine it's been hard...a woman alone with a daughter. No husband in sight. People talk." He'd found out how much people talk when he'd gotten back to Crabapple Cove. Things that would have been tame in Korea were cause for gossip here at home.
She shrugged. "I tell people I'm divorced. They assume Houlihan was my husband's name."
"I don't do it for me. I do it for her. I couldn't care less what they think of me."
He smiled at her. "I think a lot of you."
"Pierce..." Her voice was very soft and lacked its normal starch. "I've missed you." Then she started to eat a little faster, as if she regretted having said that.
"I missed you too." It wasn't a lie. He'd thought of her more than she'd probably ever believe.
"When do you want to meet her?"
"When do you want me to meet her?"
Their eyes met, and Hawkeye felt the strange mix of tenderness and lust and exasperation this woman always inspired. He thought she probably felt the same.
"Maybe this weekend? You could come over..."
He hated how tentative she sounded. "You're sure you're comfortable with that?"
"I'm not comfortable period. You make me crazy, Pierce. You always have."
"If I say 'ditto,' will you hit me?"
He laughed. "Then I won't say it." He let her eat for a while, then said, "So...Saturday?"
He felt as if he'd been negotiating between the U.S. and the Soviets. Only that probably would have been easier.
Margaret watched as Elaine finished her cereal. "A friend of mommy's is coming over today."
Elaine looked up from the cereal. They didn't get many visitors.
"He wants to meet you."
"Okay." She went back to her breakfast.
Margaret sighed and finished washing her breakfast dishes. Pierce wouldn't be here for several hours; they'd said he should come over around lunchtime. She ignored her sudden need to put on more make-up, to take a little more time with her hair. Pierce had been looking at her for a week now; he knew what she looked like.
"Can we go to the park with your friend?"
She didn't turn around. "Maybe." Her voice was tight, and she immediately regretted it. Her daughter was too young to understand how much this hurt.
Elaine pushed her chair out and hopped down, picking up her dishes and carrying them to her. "Are you mad?" She was smiling up at Margaret. And it was Hawkeye's smile. The one that could cajole her out of any bad mood.
"No, you little scamp," she said, as she scooped Elaine up. "I'm not mad." She kissed her daughter's neck, blowing hard and making Elaine laugh at the slightly rude sounds.
When she stopped, Elaine pulled back, her eyes solemn, her hands twisted in Margaret's hair the way she loved to do. When she'd been younger, it had hurt, but Elaine had learned to grab big hunks that wouldn't pinch when she twisted the strands. Margaret smiled, charmed as much by this more serious female version of the man she loved as she'd been by seeing his mischievous grin on her girl's face.
She kissed Elaine's cheek gently and kept her mouth there as she said, "Mommy knew this man during the war."
"Korea." Margaret didn't talk much about the war, but Elaine knew where it had taken place. She could say the name as if she too had spent a lifetime there. As if it was in her blood somehow.
Margaret put her down. "Go play now."
Her daughter ran off, and Margaret had the sudden urge to talk to her father. She dialed his number and he answered on the fourth ring in his brusque voice: "Houlihan."
"Hello, Margaret." His voice was somewhere between cool and unwelcoming, which sadly was an improvement over the last few times. "Something wrong?"
"Does something have to be wrong for me to call?" She could hear the Jersey lilt rising—talking to him seemed to bring it out in her. As a true army brat, she'd grown up all over the world, but somehow Jersey had stuck. She didn't think it was apparent most of the time, but when she got upset—especially with her father—it came flying to the surface.
"No, but it usually is. Do you need money?"
She'd never asked him for money. It infuriated her that this was the first thing he always thought of. "I'm fine. We're fine."
He didn't follow up her correction. He'd been appalled when she'd told him she was pregnant out of wedlock and with no plans to marry the father. If she'd told him the baby's father was of a lower rank, Howitzer Houlihan might have had a stroke right then and there.
"I just called to see how you were."
"I'm fine. I'm happy you are too. Now, I have to go. I've got a meeting to get to."
He always had a meeting to get to. No doubt his friends were waiting: Mister Scotch, Mister Rum and Coke, and Mister Beer.
"Fine, Dad. Go to your meeting."
She expected him to hang up, but he suddenly asked. "The girl's okay?"
"Elaine is more than okay. She's beautiful, and smart, and very sweet." She didn't think anything but smart would matter to her father.
"Good. That's good." There was a long pause, as if he was trying to think of what to say.
She took pity on him. "The milkman's here, Dad. I've got to go."
The milkman never delivered on Saturday. But her father wouldn't know that.
"Bye, Margaret." The line went dead with a soft click, as if he'd put the receiver back into the cradle very, very gently.
Hawkeye stood at the door to Margaret's apartment, a bad case of nerves suddenly overwhelming him. He was coming to see a woman he'd known for years—in the worst possible conditions—and a little five-year-old girl who wouldn't care one way or another that he was there. Why was he working himself up over this?
Forcing his hand up, he knocked.
He heard footsteps coming fast. Light but clomping footsteps. He remembered running like that as a child, trying to be first to get the door or the phone, always sure excitement came with the noise.
The door opened, and he felt as if he was looking at some long-lost younger cousin. The girl had more than just his coloring. She had a lot of his face.
"You're mommy's friend?" she asked.
"I am. My name's Hawkeye." He crouched down. "I guess you're Elaine, huh?"
The girl nodded, their eyes meeting for a long moment. Then she took off running, yelling, "Mom!"
Margaret walked down the hall. "You can come in, Pierce." Her smile didn't quite make it all the way to her eyes, and he realized she was as nervous as he was.
Her eyes softened. "She is, isn't she?" Then she slugged him softly. "Although you saying that about someone who looks so much like you may be more vain than nice."
He laughed. "I saw a whole lot of you in there too." In the full, rosy lips and the round cheeks. His daughter looked a whole lot like Snow White.
She seemed to relax even more. "That's the idea, I guess. Blend the two of us. Maybe she'll have the best of us?"
"Maybe." He smiled at her, trying to make his presence loom just a little less large in her hallway. This was a house of women just as his house growing up had been one of men. He remembered when his father had fallen in love and had wanted to give him a new mother. Hawkeye had ruined that for his father. He wondered if Elaine—even though she was so much younger than he'd been—felt that way about him.
"What are you thinking about?"
He smiled, trying to make it an easy but semi-serious expression. "The past."
He shook his head. "My dad's. Something I did when I was young."
She moved closer, the way she always did when his voice dropped and he actually let the barriers in front of his heart down. She could never resist him opening up, and he thought it was because, at some deep level, she knew he wasn't doing it on purpose to manipulate her. She brought out this openness in him, even at times he wished she wouldn't.
"You love him. He loves you. I used to envy the relationship you had with him." She touched his cheek. "What could you have ever done to hurt him?"
"I was selfish." He put his hand over hers, would have pulled her closer except he saw a small figure step into the hallway. "Our daughter is watching us."
He expected her to jerk away, but she didn't. Leaning into him slightly, she turned around, and he realized she wanted to see what her daughter thought.
"Did you ask him about the park?" was all the little version of him said.
Margaret laughed. "She wants you to take us to the park."
"I can do that."
"You don't have to. It'll make for a long day and you didn't sign up for that and—"
He put his finger to her lips. "I like the park. I like the swings." He winked at her. "You know I'm an overgrown kid."
She nodded, her expression one of weary longsuffering.
"And, might I casually add, you've appreciated that boundless energy in other areas of life." He waggled his eyebrows, glancing down to make sure his five-year-old wasn't precocious enough to know what he was talking about.
She looked quite bored. And was tapping her foot a little bit.
"For god's sake, Margaret, tell her we can go to the park before she explodes."
Margaret smiled. "Hawkeye says we can go. Get your jacket."
Elaine turned and pelted down the hallway into a room at the far end.
"Guess you don't have to tell her twice."
"Not when it's something she wants."
Hawkeye smiled. "You're a good mom."
"You don't know that."
"Yes. I do." He pulled her close, stealing a kiss while his daughter was occupied. He half expected Margaret to clobber him for the impulse, but she seemed to melt into his arms, and he thought for a moment she was shaking. "Are you all right? If this is bothering you...?"
"It's not this. Something else." She pulled away, shaking her head the way she used to in Korea, when she was hurting but didn't feel like sharing why.
He rubbed her back, then murmured. "It's not warm today. Maybe you should get a sweater."
She shot him a surprised look, as if she hadn't expected him to look out for her. Then she walked to the closet behind the main door and pulled out a light jacket.
Hawkeye turned back to Elaine's room as the girl came flying out of it, running full speed down the hall and launching herself into his arms.
"I like the slides. Do you like the slides? You're probably too big for them. There's a twirler and swings and a seesaw. Mommy will have to sit with me or you'll win on the seesaw, or you can push down like Mommy does, and not really get on it, but that's not as fun." His child did not appear to need to breathe.
He glanced over at Margaret and saw that she was watching them with what looked like pleased surprise. "The park is a very popular destination," he said.
She just nodded, showing him out of the apartment, then letting him lead her and Elaine to his car.
Margaret watched as Hawkeye pretended to outswing Elaine. He was laughing and so was her—their daughter. They looked so much alike as they kicked and pumped their way to ever higher heights that she had to smile.
Hawkeye was good with kids. It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise. She'd seen him with the Korean kids who'd come through the camps periodically. Orphans and refugees and kids with parents who'd needed patching up after someone's army had demolished their homes. It shouldn't have been any kind of shock that he could make her daughter laugh the way he did, that the little girl would throw her arms around him and order him to help her up the slide again—even though she didn't need any help. Like her father, she knew just what to say to make people do what she wanted.
Hawkeye finally left her playing happily in the sandbox she'd imperiously told him to put her down in. "How many kids play in that? Do we know that it's not used as a catbox by visiting felines?" He glanced back as if he was going to go rescue her.
"It's a sandbox, and she loves it. Leave it alone." Her tone was gentle, and it surprised her how relaxed she felt sitting in the sun this way, not having to worry about Elaine because he was there. That surprised her too. She hadn't expected to let go this way, to accept him with her daughter. She'd thought he'd have to win her trust. But it just seemed so right for them to be together.
Hawkeye threw himself down on the grass next to her, smiling the smile that wasn't intended to woo or cajole, it just meant he was happy. "She's wonderful."
"She's a little tyrant."
"I know. Isn't it great?" He grinned even bigger. "She's like the most manipulative parts of you and me all shmooshed together." He laughed and lay down, staring up at the sky. "I'm a father. Do you know how strange that is?" He glanced over at her, and his look was wary, as if he expected her to lambaste him for saying something like that.
"It wasn't a day at the beach for me either when I found out I was pregnant." She looked away.
"Your parents weren't thrilled?"
"My father wasn't. My mother seems to take her lead from him these days." She'd never told anyone that. Or how much she despised her mother's lack of backbone. Then again, it was possible her mother really did disapprove. She was extremely old fashioned.
"Has it been hard? Raising her alone?" He was watching her, no expression on his face at all except maybe a little compassion. It was the face he'd used with patients—usually critically ill ones.
Glancing over at Elaine, she saw that the girl was happily engaged digging very large tunnels in the sand box. Margaret lay back, rolling to her side so she could see Hawkeye better and still have a view of Elaine if she tried to wander off. "It hasn't always been easy."
He reached out, his hand touching her hair. Then he pulled it back. "You were great with kids in Korea. Remember that baby?"
She looked down. Remembering that baby still broke her heart. Nodding, she looked over at Elaine.
"Your fiance. Marky, was it?"
She smiled; he was mangling the name on purpose. "Martin."
"Right." He rolled to his side, his face now dangerously close to hers. "Did you love him?"
Margaret laughed. "Couldn't stand him."
"Ah, such an intelligent child." He looked over at the sandbox, and Margaret realized he was checking on the girl. "Did you love him like you love me?"
"I never said I loved you."
"No, I know you didn't." He looked away from Elaine, locked his blue-blue eyes on Margaret's. "Did you?"
She felt trapped and was angry he was doing this to her. She could tell he knew exactly how she was feeling because his eyes flashed a little bit.
"Just say it, Margaret. Put it out there so we can start dealing with it."
"Like a septic organ that festers if you don't uncover it and fix it?"
He laughed. "I don't think it's quite that dire if you don't want to admit it." He reached over, pushing her hair away from her face, where it was covering her eyes. "Have I ever told you how much I love your eyes?" His hand dropped down to her lips. "And your mouth?"
"Yes." Compliments were easy for them. Sentiment was not.
Out of the corner of her eye, Margaret saw Elaine coming over. The little girl stepped between them, lying down and staring up at the sky. Hawkeye started to laugh, and Margaret couldn't help smiling.
"Lonely?" she asked their daughter. "Or do you just hate not being the center of attention?"
"Probably a little of both," Hawkeye said, tickling Elaine and making her giggle.
"Can we go to the drive-in and get milkshakes?" Elaine smiled up at Hawkeye, and she could have been him back in Korea asking Rosie to spring for a beer.
Hawkeye just laughed. "Oh, man. Now I know how my dad felt."
"And everybody else you ever wanted anything from." Margaret nudged her. "What do we say when we ask?"
"Can I have a milkshake, please?"
"Who am I to say no to such a nice girl? What flavor do you want? Pickle relish?"
Elaine giggled. "No."
"Liver and onions?"
"Ick!" Elaine giggled even louder, turning and burying her head in Margaret's chest.
Hawkeye's eyes were sparkling as he leaned toward them; he kissed Margaret gently then pulled away and whispered, "Chocolate?"
"Yes." Elaine pulled away faster than Margaret expected and caught them kissing again.
Elaine had hated it when Martin so much as held Margaret's hand much less kissed her. But she only stared up at them, and then she started to smile. "Mommy likes vanilla. What do you like?"
"I like mommy," Hawkeye murmured, making Margaret laugh and Elaine scowl. Then he said, "I like anything."
"Even pickle relish?"
"Sweetie, after Korea, I probably could handle it. I wouldn't enjoy it, mind you."
"You're silly." Elaine touched his nose, and Margaret wondered if she had any idea how much her own nose looked like his.
"Your mother would no doubt agree with that assessment." Hawkeye tickled her again. "What do you say we go get some lunch?"
"Okay!" Elaine was up and heading for his car.
Hawkeye stood up, holding out his hand to pull Margaret up. She let him do it, and didn't try to squirm away when he pulled her close, letting go of her hand and wrapping his other arm around her.
"Don't get fresh," she said, as he leaned down and kissed her, while Elaine yelled for them to hurry up.
"Okay, I won't." He kissed her again. This time Elaine didn't yell.
When Margaret looked over at his car, the girl was sitting on the hood, kicking her legs back and forth. "I hope you're not fussy about that car?"
Martin had hated it when Elaine sat on his car. Hated how she left scuff marks when she climbed and said she marred the paint when she kicked like that.
Hawkeye glanced over at Elaine, smiling when he saw what she was doing. "Margaret, in all the time you've known me, have I ever cared about a car?"
"No. But they were the army's cars, not yours."
"Good point." He nuzzled her neck. "No, I don't care about the car except that it gets us where we need to go. How did she get up there?"
"She's like her father. Nothing stops her."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Hawkeye laughed as he let her go, then he walked over and pulled Elaine off the car and into his arms. Carrying her to the back seat, he pulled open the door and tossed her in gently, so she'd bounce a little as she landed.
She squealed in delight.
Margaret was just getting in on the passenger side when she heard Elaine ask Hawkeye, "You like my mommy, don't you?"
"I love your mommy," he said softly, probably intending for Margaret not to hear.
"Me too," Elaine said.
Margaret fiddled in her purse, pretending she hadn't heard them and working hard to hold back the smile their words brought. But she couldn't get rid of the warm glow she felt inside.
Hawkeye's father looked up as he came in from his day with Margaret and Elaine. "So, did you have a nice time?"
"Yeah, it was fine."
"You didn't say you were going to be gone so long."
Hawkeye glanced at his dad. "You didn't ask."
"Didn't think I had to." The elder Pierce leaned back in his chair. "Who is she, son?"
Hawkeye sat down in the chair on the other side of the big side table. He was pretty sure that Margaret wasn't eager for him to bring his dad in just yet, but he couldn't keep this from his father any longer. "Do you remember a nurse I used to talk about in my letters? Name of Houlihan?"
His father grinned. "I remember you used to call her Hot Lips."
Hawkeye grinned. He still did in his head—only it had a slightly different connotation than it had when she'd been with Frank. "She goes by Margaret now."
"Are you finally going to admit that you're sweet on the girl?"
"I'm not sw—who said I was sweet on her?"
His father laughed. "You did. Every time you wrote home. I don't think you have any idea how often you mentioned her."
Hawkeye frowned. Had he talked about her that often?
"So Margaret's here, is she?"
This was the hard part. "Margaret is, yes. And someone else." At his dad's look of "get the hell on with it," Hawkeye took a deep breath and said, "She has a daughter. We...we have a daughter. She and I."
"You mean I have a granddaughter, and you never told me about it." His father looked like he was going to take the strap to him.
Holding up his hands, Hawkeye said, "Look, I just found out about her too. I swear." He scooted forward in the chair. "She's five. Margaret was pregnant when she left the camp, but she didn't know it until she got home. And she never told me."
"Why didn't she tell you? You give her some reason to think you wouldn't be there?"
"No." But it was a lie, and he could tell by his father's expression that the man knew it. "Maybe. I don't know. She and I...we're sort of challenged to get along at times."
"What's that mean?"
His father stared hard at him. "You were beaming like a damn fool when you walked in here. Looks to me like you got along just fine today."
"It was nice. Elaine is a great kid. Smart and funny and not afraid of anything."
His father's expression relaxed. "And when am I going to meet her?"
"As soon as Margaret accepts that she's made the right decision letting me into their lives."
"As I remember from your letters, she hasn't had the easiest time at romance." He looked like he was refraining from saying that Hawkeye might have had a hand in that.
"She hasn't. She was engaged before Beej brought her here. The guy left her because of the kid."
"That's rough." Turning his best Dad look on him, he said, "And how much did you contribute to her unhappy past?"
"Dad, please. I'm not the bad guy here."
His dad looked thoughtful. "When you were with Denise, I thought you were going to get married. She loved you, Hawkeye."
"It just didn't work out." His engagement to Denise had been the first year after he got back home. When he thought back, he usually told himself he hadn't been ready to settle down. It was the most comforting way to think about it.
"And Linda. And Mary. And..."
"Okay, okay. You're making your point."
"This Margaret, is she the reason you can't ever seem to commit?"
Hawkeye rolled his eyes. "No." When his dad didn't look away, he looked down. "I don't know. Maybe."
"And now there's a child. Your child." His voice fell. "My grandchild."
Hawkeye reached over and took his dad's hand. "You will meet her. I promise." He squeezed. "Just give me time. Margaret is very gun shy about me being around, let alone bringing you into it."
His father nodded, then he said, "Will I like Margaret?"
"Yes. You will." Hawkeye just hoped he got the chance to get to know her. The day with Margaret and Elaine had gone great. But this was just the beginning. And he knew better than to underestimate their ability to screw things up.
Margaret watched as Elaine and Erin played in the Hunnicut's pool. B.J.'s new son Tom slept in Peg's arms. Margaret smiled as she watched the child sleep; she could remember when Elaine had been that age.
Peg caught her looking and smiled.
"He's beautiful," Margaret said, as she kept a wary eye on Elaine. The girl knew how to swim, seemed to take to the water like it was her natural element, but Margaret wasn't going to take any chances. She knew how quickly a child could drown, and how little water it took to do it.
They sat, watching their children play, occasionally sipping the ice tea Peg had made. The quiet was broken only by Margaret's coughs—she was getting over a flu that had hit her hard in the week since Hawkeye had come to town, but her cough only seemed to get worse. Fortunately, Elaine hadn't come down with the illness.
Margaret looked over at Peg. "I know you know who Elaine's father is."
Peg met her eyes. "It wasn't my idea to tell him."
"I know. B.J. told me that."
"Has Hawkeye seen Elaine?"
Margaret nodded, then had to wait for another coughing fit to end before she could say, "He came over last weekend."
They'd been tiptoeing around each other for a week. Pierce on his best behavior while she tried to be on hers. He was coming back to see Elaine tomorrow.
"You're in love with him, aren't you?"
Margaret started to cough again.
"Nice attempt at evasion." But when Margaret didn't stop coughing, Peg got up and went into the house, the baby still asleep on her shoulder. She came back out with some cough syrup and a spoon. "Take this like a good girl," she said with a smile.
Elaine came running. "Mommy did you see me dunk Erin?"
Margaret laughed, and had to fight off another coughing fit. "You know she's going to dunk you right back, don't you?" It surprised her that the girls were so tight, the three-year age difference didn't seem to matter to them when they got together.
"She can try," Elaine said, jumping back into the pool. Sure enough Erin dunked her—Elaine came up giggling.
"Are you getting enough sleep? You look tired," Peg said as she looked Margaret over.
"Thanks. Just what I wanted to hear." Margaret smiled. "I'm tired, but what mother isn't?"
Peg nodded in understanding. "I know this is probably a stupid question given where you work, but have you seen a doctor about that cough?"
"I'll be fine."
"Okay." Peg didn't look like she believed her.
Margaret was touched at her concern. "I'm just glad Elaine didn't get it. I worry so much when she's sick."
Peg nodded, and Margaret smiled, realizing it was probably a universal complaint of mothers. Peg got up, leaving Margaret to doze for a moment as the girls abandoned the pool for croquet. Then she was back, baby safely stowed for a nap. "Why don't you sleep? I'll watch the girls."
Margaret forced her eyes open. "No, it's time for us to go."
"Stay here tonight. I'll call Hawkeye and tell him you're here."
"No. I'm fine. Really." She dozed more, letting the girls play a few games before telling Elaine to help Erin put the game away. Her daughter started to argue, and Margaret shot her the major look. Elaine trundled off with the croquet hoops, mumbling bitterly.
"I wished Erin minded me that well."
"I can teach you the look."
Peg laughed. "I'm not sure it would work as well on me. I don't have your experiences under my belt." She looked down. "There's a part of B.J. that I'll never understand now. You understand it. Hawkeye does too. But I never will because I wasn't in Korea."
Margaret had run into this with men she'd dated over the years since coming home. She thought maybe Hawkeye had experienced it too. But B.J. was different. "I think he loves you all the more because you weren't part of it. You're clean. You don't belong to the horror."
Peg threw her a grateful look. "You don't have to say that."
"I know. I meant it." She got up, walking with Peg to the front as the girls scampered past them to Margaret's car.
"Get someone to look at you. I really don't like the sound of that cough."
"I will," Margaret said, as she shooed Elaine into the back seat and got in the drivers side.
Peg was a natural mother, worrying about everyone, including her guests. Margaret didn't need to see a doctor. She'd be fine in no time.
Hawkeye knocked on the door, heard footsteps—subdued this time—coming toward them.
"Hi," Margaret said as she pulled the door open. Her voice was low and soft, and she looked very pale.
She pointed down toward their daughter's room. "She's play—" Her words were lost to a bout of coughing.
Frowning, he put his hand on her forehead the way he had for a thousand soldiers—the way she had too. She had to be aware that she had a fever.
"You're sick, Margaret." She'd missed work one day, had said it was a twenty-four hour bug. But that was days ago; this was no short-term thing.
Elaine must have heard him because she peeked out of her bedroom. Her look was subdued as she waved at him. Then she ducked back into her room.
He heard Margaret sob and realized she was crying as he urged her down the hall.
"I yelled at her, Hawk. She was being so loud and I yelled..." More tears made it impossible for her to continue. Then she started to cough again.
"I'm going to take you to the hospital for some chest x-rays. I think it's time grandpa and granddaughter were introduced, don't you?"
"Pierce, no." She started to say more but fortunately found it difficult to harangue him in between coughs. "Her regular babysitter is downstairs."
"Mrs. Jackson in B27."
He left the door ajar and trekked down the stairs. No one answered at the apartment she'd said. He hurried back upstairs, "She's out."
"She goes to church. I forgot. I don't usually need her on Sundays." Margaret looked defeated.
Hawkeye picked up the phone and called his father. "Dad, I think it's time you met Elaine."
Hawkeye told him and was very glad they'd bought a second car so his father could get around while Hawkeye was at work. He gave his dad the address.
"I'll be right there."
Hawkeye got Margaret settled on the couch, but she began to struggle, trying to get up. "Stay there." He could tell she wanted to argue, so he leaned down and said softly, "Let me take care of you."
All the fight went out of her, and she turned away, burying her face in the sofa cushion and sobbing. He stroked her back, then realized that Elaine was watching them from the entrance to the living room.
"Come here, honey."
She didn't hesitate, walking slowly but steadily to him. He pulled her onto his lap.
"Mommy's very sick."
Her eyes got wide as she watched her mother's back shake, and Hawkeye realized she was scared. Margaret had probably never let down like this in front of her. She'd never had the luxury.
"She's going to be fine. I have to take her to the hospital and get her some medicine. Then we'll be back."
Margaret turned over, reaching a hand out that Elaine grabbed onto as if it was a lifeline. "Mrs. Jackson is at church. So Hawkeye's dad is going to come over and stay with you." She managed to get the words out before the coughing hit her again.
He noticed a nasty rasp in her cough. He hoped to God it was just bronchitis, that it hadn't gone into pneumonia.
The doorbell rang and Hawkeye got up, still holding Elaine in his arms. They walked to the door, and his father's face was something he'd never forget as he took in his son holding this small, female carbon copy.
"Dad, meet Elaine." He turned to her. "This is Daniel."
His dad held out his arms as he walked into the room. "Call me Danny, sweetheart."
For a moment, she regarded him suspiciously, but then he smiled, and Hawkeye thought she saw his smile—and probably her own, although she was far too young to realize that—in it. She leaned away from him, going to his father. Daniel carried her as Hawkeye hurried back to Margaret. He heard them talking softly.
"All right, let's go." He helped her up, but she shook him off.
"I'm not dying, Pierce." But she didn't object when his arm went around her to steady her.
"Humor me, Margaret."
"I've spent a war doing that."
His father was watching them with amusement. "Looks like you finally found someone you can't charm, son." He let Elaine down, and she hurried to a pile of toys on the floor in front of the small television.
"I wouldn't say that, sir. You were just holding the proof that he can charm me."
"Call me, Daniel." He patted her shoulder. "My son hasn't introduced us properly, but it's a pleasure to finally meet you."
"It's nice to meet you, Daniel." Margaret looked over at Elaine. "Please don't confuse her right now. With the truth, I mean."
"Wouldn't dream of it. I'm just your new boyfriend's daddy, and a bang-up babysitter." He winked at Margaret, and Hawkeye could feel her relaxing even as she made noises about him not being her boyfriend.
"Give it up, Margaret," Hawkeye said. "Once he gets an idea in his head it's impossible to shake it loose. I'm afraid we're a couple in his mind."
"And a damned attractive one." Daniel winked at her. "Easy to see why he waited."
She rolled her eyes. "Acorn doesn't fall far. She's got both your charm."
"Let's go, Margaret."
She didn't argue.
Once he got her safely in the car and headed for the hospital, he asked, "How long have you been coughing?"
"A few days. It got bad Friday night."
He'd operated with her on Friday morning. He'd have noticed if she'd been coughing uncontrollably. "How high is that fever?"
"Last time I checked it was about one hundred."
At the next stoplight, he took the opportunity to glare at her.
"I'm not going to keel over."
"That's not what the glare was for. Why didn't you call me? Or Beej if I'm not someone you trust?"
She sighed and looked out the window.
"You don't ask anyone for help, do you?"
He reached over for her hand, squeezing. "You used to."
"No, that was the aberration. In Korea, I trusted all of you with my life. But I wasn't that way before, and I'm not that way now." She coughed some more, pulling her hand free as she did it. "What about you? Do you ask for help?"
He thought about that. He probably didn't. "I'm not the one who's sick here. Now stop talking. I happen to like your voice and don't want you to strain it."
He glanced over at her and saw her smile as she leaned back and closed her eyes. She was asleep when he pulled into the hospital parking lot. Getting out of the car, he walked around and opened the door. Leaning over, he gently woke her, hating to do it.
But she got right out of the car, not letting him help her at all as they walked into the hospital. He always forgot how tough she was. This was where they worked; she wouldn't want to appear weak in front of co-workers, no matter how much she liked them or they liked her.
He took her straight down to x-ray. Collins, a quiet fellow from Monterrey who had gone out of his way to make Hawkeye feel welcome, was on duty. "Doc Pierce, in on your day off?" Then he saw Margaret. "Both of you? Where's the patient?"
Margaret walked over to the x-ray. "I'm the patient, Maury."
The man hurried to get the shots. "I'll have these developed in a jiff, Margaret. You going to be in your office, Doc?"
Hawkeye nodded, steering Margaret up to the fifth floor. He listened to her chest—he didn't think it was pneumonia. Taking her temperature, he saw that it was up to one oh one. "Sit down," he told her, indicating his cushy desk chair.
She didn't argue. "Diagnosis?"
"Bronchitis. But I'll wait until the x-ray to state that categorically." He perched on the edge of the desk. "What have you been taking?"
"Elaine's cough syrup."
Hawkeye glared at her.
"I didn't want to be too drowsy."
"Well, Hawkeye, your friendly medical bartender, says a terpin hydrate with codeine cocktail will fix you right up." He was already writing up the prescription to give to the pharmacy; he wrote another one for penicillin.
"And if I'm knocked out, who'll watch Elaine?"
"I will. Or my dad will, and I'll watch you." He waggled his eyebrows, trying to throw some levity into the situation. But she still looked like she was about to panic. He decided to try another tack. "It's been a long time since I've watched you sleep."
"Well, don't get too used to it." Her words were tough, her voice wasn't.
He smiled gently at her. "Does your chest hurt?"
"From coughing, not from being full of fluid." She obviously knew what he was checking for, but he'd expect her to. She was too good a nurse not to know what she might have, even if she'd stuck her head in the sand when it came to getting some help.
"You have aspirin at home?"
She nodded. "My head only hurts a little. I haven't taken any."
He nodded. If she wasn't in great pain and didn't spike more of a fever, he'd wait to give her aspirin, didn't want to bring down her fever just yet. They both knew that heating up the body was nature's way of making things inhospitable for the visiting germs. Bringing her temperature down prematurely could make things worse.
A knock sounded, and they both said, "Come in."
Collins walked in, and seemed torn who to give the x-ray to when they both held their hands out for it.
"Whose name is on the door?" Hawkeye finally asked.
Collins practically threw the x-ray at him and fled.
"You've got that nice man scared to death, Margaret."
"Actually, he keeps asking me out. He probably thinks he just spoiled his chances."
"Does he have a chance?" Hawkeye was surprised at how strong the surge of jealousy was that roared through him.
He decided she must really be feeling bad if she didn't give him a smart-ass answer. "Anybody else here asking you out?"
She groaned. "Pierce, just look at the x-rays."
A coughing fit made him feel guilty, so he hurried and slapped the films up.
"No pneumonia." He studied the films. "Definitely bronchitis." Opportunistic infection no doubt—or possibly picked up in the hospital while she'd been working with lowered resistance. "Let's get your meds and get you to bed."
She glanced over at him, saw that, for once, that hadn't been a come-on. He grinned at her.
"See, Margaret. I can be serious." He leaned in. "But only once a year, so enjoy this moment."
"You are, without a doubt, the biggest pain in my tush that I've ever—"
He didn't hear whatever she was going to say because she stopped saying it. It was hard to talk when you were being kissed.
She pushed him away. "That was stupid. Do you want to get this too?"
"Will it mean that we can laze around in a big bed and comfort each other?"
"No, it means you'll be sleeping in Elaine's bed. She may look like you, but I think you'll find she's not quite your height yet."
"You're mean, Margaret." But he pulled her close, rubbing her back.
"What are you doing?"
"I have no idea." But he didn't stop. It felt good to hold her. "Does it bother you?"
"I guess not." It took her a long time to answer—she was too busy cuddling against him.
Margaret woke up to the sounds of gentle snoring. Rolling over, she saw that Hawkeye had fallen asleep next to her on the bed, only he was on top of the covers. Not waking him, she pulled a robe on and walked down the hall to Elaine's room. Her daughter was asleep, one hand over her face as usual.
Margaret watched her for a while, then closed the door and headed for the kitchen. Daniel Pierce was sitting at the table, staring out the window with a cup of coffee in his hand. He turned to look at her, a charming smile that was utterly lacking the guile of Hawkeye on his face.
"You feeling better, sweetheart?"
"I am." She took a deep breath and was pleased that it didn't prompt a coughing jag. She didn't feel as feverish either, and her chest didn't ache like it had been. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she asked him, "Are you hungry?"
"No. I ran out for cinnamon rolls last night. Already had one."
She turned and saw them on the far end of the counter. Pulling out a plate, she cut one of the rolls loose, dipping into the icing as she carried it to the table.
"Like a little kid," he said, his eyes sparkling. "Always want the good part first."
She smiled and went on with her de-icification of the roll's perimeter. "Did Elaine behave for you?"
"Are you kidding? She's a great kid."
"I bet she was a beautiful baby." There was a note of censure in his voice, and she looked up to meet his eyes. Yep, he seemed to be lecturing her.
"I didn't keep her away on purpose."
"It was an accidental isolation?" His grin took the sting away.
"Daniel, Hawkeye and I...we aren't very good together."
"Yes, I can see that. You were positively awful yesterday." He checked his watch. "Don't we need to get Elaine to school? By my reckoning, she's in kindergarten?"
She nodded, starting to get up, and he said, "Let me go wake her. I bet she's as cranky as Hawkeye when he's woken up early."
"Crankier." She blushed, realizing how that must sound. "I mean I had to wake him so many times in Korea. Incoming wounded showed up at all hours."
"Sweetie, it's a little late to pretend you and my son aren't intimately familiar with certain pleasures. Elaine didn't get delivered by the stork, after all." He winked at her and got up.
A few minutes later, he came back out, carrying a complaining Elaine with him. She was rubbing her eyes, and he was ignoring her whining as he sat her down at the table and plunked a roll and a glass of milk in front of her. Margaret laughed as she watched them together.
"You're good with kids."
"Don't know about that. But I was good with Hawkeye, and she's an awful lot like him. It's like riding a bike. Now, why don't you go wake up my son. I think he has to go to work, even if you're staying home."
"I can't stay home—"
"Sure you can." When she started to argue, he said, "Look, Margaret, I was planning to leave you in peace until it was time to pick Elaine up from kindergarten. But if you're going to be difficult, I'll just plant myself here for the duration."
She stared at him, and he stared back, and she realized she was going to lose this match. "I'll be good."
"Wonderful." He turned back to Elaine, murmuring something that made her laugh and start eating.
Margaret finished her cinnamon roll and stowed the dishes in the sink. Then she walked back to her bedroom. Hawkeye was still asleep, but he'd pulled the covers she'd thrown off herself over him. She lay down next to him, watching him sleep. Touching his face gently, she let herself remember the times they'd woken up this way in Korea. Daniel was right; Hawkeye usually did wake up cranky. But like his daughter, he was easily cajoled into a better mood.
"Wake up, Pierce." She shook him gently.
"Just five more minutes," he mumbled.
"Pierce, wake up."
"Mmm, Margaret." He pushed her away. "Let me sleep."
"Someone has to go to work."
"You go," he said, as he pulled the covers over his head. "I'll stay here."
"I'd love to go, but you put me on restricted duty, according to your father."
"Would I be gutsy enough to do that?" He peeked out from under the covers. Then he pushed them away and pulled her to him.
But he was already kissing her. Morning breath met cinnamon roll and coffee breath, and she was pretty sure neither of them cared.
He pushed her to her back, and stared down at her, tracing her lips. "Are you feeling better?"
She nodded, then captured his finger in her teeth. He just laughed.
"You get lots of rest. Take more of that cough syrup. I don't want you cracking ribs from coughing too much."
He kissed her again, and she thought he was being careful not to put any weight on her. "I'll tell Beej you won't be in today."
"I could go in."
"You could. But there's no reason to."
He was right. The surgery load was very light this week. She wouldn't be putting anyone in the lurch by staying home.
"I was just out there having breakfast," she said. "Your dad is really good with Elaine."
Hawkeye smiled. "I know."
"You're really good with her too."
"I'm more concerned with how I get on with her mother, strangely enough."
She laughed. "Why worry? You're as adept as ever at handling me."
"I have not yet begun to handle you." His eyebrows did a little dance, making her laugh—he could always make her laugh. Then his look changed, became very serious. "We're family now."
"Just because you fathered her—"
He kissed her again, his tongue forcing her mouth open, even as his hands wandered all over her body. He pulled away finally and nestled against her, his leg over hers as if she might run, his hand holding her close. He put his mouth near her ear, whispered, "I love you. I loved you in Korea. And I haven't stopped loving you."
She tried to look at him, but he held her where she was.
"I know I never told you that. I was afraid to. And I think you were afraid to hear it. After what happened the first time."
Thinking about that first time still hurt. But they'd worked past it. They'd found a way to love each other without being in love.
"We'll screw it up if we try to be a real couple," she said.
"My father can referee." He let her go, meeting her eyes as she pulled away so she could look at him.
"I don't know if it's a good idea, Hawkeye."
"Do you know what my dad said to me when I told him about you? He said he always knew you were special to me because I mentioned you so often in my letters. I didn't even know I was doing it."
"Hawkeye, you know me. I don't fall in love with any kind of grace. I'm pushy and passionate and I'll make you want to run away from me."
He pulled her close, and she couldn't remember him ever giving her such a tender kiss. Their lips barely met as he touched down over and over until she pulled him to her, locking his lips against hers. He didn't fight her, just kissed her back with the same ferocity.
"You say you don't fall in love with any grace?" he asked after he pulled away. "What do you call that beautiful child currently enchanting my father?"
"What do you call this?" He pulled her nightgown up, undid his pants, then pulled her onto him. Then they were together, and it was like old times.
Passion came so easily to them. Their bodies had always been in love, even if their hearts and minds had wisely lagged way behind. They made love quietly, his hand over her mouth when she threatened to make too much noise, just as they'd done for each other in Korea when they were in her tent, or the supply room, or the x-ray room, or behind the motor pool. A moment later, she pulled him to her, burying the sound of his pleasure in her mouth as she kissed him.
He pulled away, staring at her with a tenderness she wasn't used to. She had to look away, but he pulled her back.
"I love you."
"I don't believe you." She kissed him. "But I love you too."
He smiled. "I'll make a believer out of you." Easing her off him, he cuddled her close for a few minutes, until finally she reminded him that he needed to get ready.
"There are spare towels in the closet by the bathroom," she said.
He touched her cheek, trailing down for a moment before he got out of bed. "I'll see you later."
"You don't have to come back."
"And leave you alone with my father? Have you gone mad?" He winked at her.
"Fine. I'll see you later." She could feel her body relaxing, the sex and her illness making her sleepy. "Elaine's school is on the way to the hospital."
"I'll drop her. When does school let out?"
"Dad will be by then."
"Be sure to tell Mrs. Jackson she doesn't have to pick her up."
"Roger that, General Houlihan." He mock saluted. "And the spare key is where?"
"Cabinet by the phone."
"Gotcha." He leaned down, kissed her gently. "Get some sleep." When she nodded, he whispered, "I shouldn't have made love to you."
She opened her eyes. "I liked it."
"So did I," he said with a grin. "But you're sick, and I'm a doctor, and I could have shown some restraint."
She laughed as she rolled to her side. "When have we ever shown restraint, Pierce?"
He kissed her again, then left her in peace. She could hear his father and Elaine arguing over her going to school, and it made her smile. She had no doubt Daniel would prevail. He'd had a lot more years doing what came naturally to a Pierce—winning—than her daughter did.
She dozed as Hawkeye got ready, as Daniel and Elaine negotiated over what clothes she would wear. It wasn't until Margaret heard the door close behind them all that she allowed herself to drift off to a true sleep.
Hawkeye pulled his car up in front of Margaret's apartment, parking next to the old station wagon they'd bought his father. He got out of the car, walking slowly into the building and up the stairs to the third floor. It seemed odd to be coming home to someone other than his dad. He'd been looking forward to this all day.
He hadn't even thought twice when he turned Lewis down for a drink after work.
Was he getting...domesticated? He tried to ignore the feeling that gave him.
Since he'd given the spare key to his dad, he knocked softly on the door. Pounding feet were the answer.
Elaine pulled open the door, yelled, "Hi!" and then tore back down the hall. He closed the door gently, envisioning Margaret trying to sleep in a darkened room, getting angrier by the minute.
But when he checked her room, the bed was made and the shades were wide open. He walked out to the living room, and saw that Elaine had climbed onto her fully dressed mother's lap, and they were watching his father do some kind of impromptu comedy routine. Then he realized it wasn't a routine, his dad was regaling Margaret with the "stupidest ten things Hawkeye ever did as a kid" shtick.
"I protest this character assassination," Hawkeye said, walking into the room and glaring at his dad. "I at least get equal time." He wished he had his nose and glasses. It was so much easier to be silly with those on. "How about the one with the lobster, Dad? Did you tell them that one?"
Elaine clapped, slipping off Margaret's lap and running to him. "Tell us that one, Hawkeye."
"You're not going to tell them that one." His father had blushed a bright red. "The pinwheel. You can tell that one. After I'm done with this story."
Hawkeye could tell he wasn't going to win, so he herded Elaine back to the couch and pulled Margaret up. "First things first, mon pere. I think Margaret needs a check-up."
"Oh sure, son. Go play doctor instead of taking the heat."
"I'm wounded by your suspicion, Dad. Margaret was very ill. I'm only thinking of her."
His father made a face, which made Elaine giggle.
Margaret let him pull her toward the bedroom, which sort of surprised him. He thought she'd like getting the dirt on him.
"Have a nice day with the old man?" he asked.
"Yes. Did you really stick your hand into a bee's nest?"
"I was a curious kid." He pinched her bottom to make her go faster and smiled when she yelped. "And it might explain why I keep coming back to you."
"You're a glutton for punishment. Or just stupid?"
He realized he'd painted himself into a corner—and not a very nice one. He regrouped. "Maybe I'm just very brave." By her look that wasn't much better. "Just tell me he didn't regale you with the one about the rowboat."
"Oh, I'm afraid he did. Elaine thought that one was very funny." Her smile faded a little. "I think he has her under some kind of spell. The same one you have me under."
"It better not be the same one," he said as he pulled up her sweater.
She tried to squirm away as he laid the cold stethoscope on her chest. "You know what I mean."
"I do. And don't worry. He's a much nicer man than I am. His spells are good things." He glared at her. "Now, breathe deeply for me."
She did as he said. Her lungs sounded much better. Then he noticed she was still breathing deeply, dramatically, her chest heaving in a way that had to be planned. He moved the stethoscope away, put his mouth over her skin.
"Why, doctor..." She laughed as he moved lower. "Pierce, your father is out there. And our daughter."
"That didn't bother you this morning."
"I was obviously feverish." She pulled her shirt down, forcing him to move.
He straightened up, feeling her forehead. "How do you feel? Really?"
He edged back to the bed, sat down and pulled her to him so she was standing in between his legs. She stared down at him, her look half wary, half seductive.
"Kiss me," he said.
"Because you want to."
"Think a lot of yourself, don't you?"
He laughed, capturing her with his legs when she started to back away.
"I could take you in an instant if you try anything funny," she said.
"Of that I have no doubt. Now kiss me, damn it."
She kissed him. And it was one of the best kisses she'd ever given him, and she'd laid some whoppers on him in the past. He fell back, and she followed him, ending up on top of him. He wanted to rip her clothes off; he wanted to hold her like this and just kiss her forever. It was a strange feeling.
They finally came up for air, and she stared down at him as if he was some alien species.
"Are you going to pin me and stick me on a board?"
She laughed. "Maybe." Then she began to nuzzle his neck, her hands moving through his hair, making him shiver as her nails gently met his scalp.
"Margaret." He closed his eyes and surrendered to her.
Her door suddenly slammed open, and Elaine was staring at them.
"What did I tell you about knocking?" Margaret said calmly, with far more composure than he felt even if they were both fully clothed.
"Danny said to come get you."
"I'm sure Danny didn't mean for you to interrupt us."
"What are you doing?"
Margaret suddenly blushed and crawled off him. "I'll tell you when you're older."
"When I'm six?"
"When you're sixty-six." As Elaine pouted, Margaret herded her out, then she stopped at the door and turned to look at him. Taking a deep breath, she said, "This is what it's like. She can come in when you least expect it. It's what Martin hated."
He could tell it was very hard for her to tell him that. Getting up, he walked over to her. "Martin was an idiot." He punctuated each word with a kiss.
"Pierce...kids, you know. They're around. All the time. It's messy, and there will be toys in the hall that you'll trip over, and she'll get sick and vomit on your favorite tie."
He smiled. "I don't have a favorite tie." He pulled her close. "I'm not Martin."
"Yeah, but I didn't think Martin was Martin, you know?"
He sighed. "I know."
"Will you two get out here?" his father asked from the living room. "We're making a monumental decision."
Margaret gave him one last serious look then put a smile on for his father. By the time she turned, Hawkeye was sure his dad would never know what a serious moment he'd just missed.
"What's so life or death?" she asked, reaching behind her, finding Hawkeye's hand and squeezing it.
He squeezed back, then rubbed her palm gently with his thumb. He saw her shiver and wondered when Elaine's bedtime was.
His father looked up, probably missing nothing that was going on behind her back. "We're going out to dinner. Do we want Chinese or pizza?"
"As long as it's not army food or kim chee, I don't care." She looked at him. 'Preference?"
"Chinese," he said.
"Chinese, it is," his dad said, rubbing his hands together. He took Elaine's hand and led her down the hall. Then he glanced back at them. "Well, are you two coming or aren't you?"
"And then there's my dad. He's always around too."
She laughed and pulled him to her for a quick kiss. It didn't stay quick though. In fact, both his father and Elaine had to come back in to get them.
"Ewwww," Elaine said.
"Right there with you, kiddo," his father said, scooting out when Hawkeye glared at him.
Hawkeye looked down at Margaret, who was staring back at him with a surprised look.
"You realize this could work," he said.
She just smiled and led him out to the car where Elaine had commandeered the front seat. Hawkeye didn't mind getting in the back. It let him play footsie with Margaret, at least until his dad looked in the rear view mirror and ordered them to behave.
"Scalpel. So, what's on the schedule for tonight?"
Margaret handed Hawkeye the scalpel, surprised he'd ask her something so personal in front of their colleagues. "It's talent night at Elaine's school." She smiled under her mask, sure that he'd take a pass.
"Ah, yes. The dulcet tones of children massacring 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' in five keys. The haunting notes of 'Fur Elise' lovingly interpreted on the kazoo. 'Flight of the Bumblebee' done up modern dance style by a trio of grace-impaired first-graders. How Charles will envy us." He winked at her over the mask. At her look of surprise, he winked again. "Dad and I can't wait for tonight."
She looked down, then glanced at him. She'd expected him to run in terror. She felt like running in terror. "The kindergarteners go first. We don't have to stay for the whole thing."
He chuckled, and asked her to retract the spot he was trying to work around. "You want to miss the rest?"
"Please God, yes?" she murmured as she leaned in, and she heard the anesthesiologist stifle a laugh.
"Why, Murdoch. Is that a snort of derision, I heard?"
"No, Hawkeye," the other doctor said. "It's the sound of shared pain. My boy is in the jazz band. You haven't lived until you've heard 'Tequila' on the tuba. Over and over and over..."
Kaminski giggled. She was the youngster of the group, but she looked like she sympathized. "I used to twirl the baton."
"A highly underrated skill," Hawkeye said with a glint in his eye.
Margaret watched him. He wasn't putting the moves on Kaminski. He seemed to be just enjoying interacting with her person-to-person. Was it possible that he wasn't the great ladies' man anymore?
Hawkeye looked at her, and his eyes narrowed, as if he knew what she was thinking, then he turned back to the patient. "You're awfully quiet, Margaret."
"I wasn't very talented."
"Oh, you must have some hidden talent?" Murdoch winked at her. He'd been winking at her since she'd arrived at Marin General. He reminded her a little of Frank, only with more social skills and a stronger chin.
She could tell Hawkeye was grinning from the way his eyes crinkled above his mask.
"Don't say it, Pierce."
"She's a very good singer, actually."
It wasn't what Margaret had expected him to say. And he seemed to know it because he shot a "surprised you, didn't I?" look at her. She nodded just enough for him to see it.
"Sing something for us," Murdoch said. "Something sort of sultry."
"This patient does not need me caterwauling in his ear." She shot a look at Kaminski, but the woman seemed to be enjoying the repartee too much to interfere.
"Margaret's right; now is not the time for singing," Hawkeye said, and he sounded a little irritated. She guessed he didn't like her being so interesting to another man. It was surprising; he'd never shown much jealousy in Korea, not even during the on-again phases of their relationship. Then again, he'd never been all that on during the on-again phases. And neither had she.
Why hadn't they? What had they been afraid of? Or had it been that there would have been nowhere to go if a relationship—one they'd actually worked at—had ended badly?
She realized he must have asked her for the instrument once already. "Sorry, Doctor."
He gave her a look, and she smiled at him, knowing her eyes would show him enough of the expression. They had years of deciphering expressions over a surgical mask to fall back on.
"So what time do you want us to pick you up?"
She could tell that Murdoch was watching her with interest; she ignored him. "Elaine needs to be there by six."
"We'll swing by at a quarter to?"
"Dad will want dinner afterwards."
She smiled at the casual way he said "Dad," as if Daniel was her father in some sense too. In a very territorial sense. She saw Murdoch look down at his gauge. "Well, we can't let him go hungry."
"No, we certainly can't."
Kaminski brought some fresh instruments over. She was humming "Tequila" under her breath as she worked. She seemed so innocent. Even though she was well into her twenties, she had the dewy look of a teenager. Margaret didn't think she'd ever been that young.
"This is a real date," Margaret said, sighing with delight as she ran her bare toes through the sand.
"Why? Just because Elaine isn't with us?" He didn't mind if she thought that, but he didn't want her to say it because she thought he felt that way.
She looked at him. "I didn't mean..." Sighing, she turned away. "With Martin, I wouldn't leave her very often, and he kept pressing me for 'real dates.' I guess I got in the habit of thinking of them that way."
"I'm not Martin."
"You don't seem like Hawkeye either."
He laughed, but it came out a little sharp. "Way to compliment me, Major."
She sat down in the sand, and he joined her, his leg pressing against hers. "I'm sorry, Pierce."
"Are you ever going to trust me?"
"I do trust you. But I also know you. And the Hawkeye Pierce that I know would be all over Lewis and Kaminski. And I don't understand why you aren't." She kept going before he could say anything. "I have a mirror, Pierce. I know I'm attractive, but I'm not pretty, not like they are."
"And that explains why Collins and Murdoch can't keep their tongues from lolling out whenever you walk by." He didn't mind Collins, but Murdoch he wanted to smack. If he were given to smacking, which he wasn't.
"Murdoch doesn't count, Hawk. I appeal to married guys. That's not news. And Collins isn't my type."
"Frankly, yes." She grinned at him. "He's no Hawkeye Pierce."
"Oh, thanks." He leaned back in the sand, pulling her with him.
"We'll get sand everywhere."
"I certainly hope so." He pulled her to him, kissing her until she relaxed against him and kissed him back. When they finally pulled away, he smoothed back her hair. "How old were you when you first...you know?"
She smiled. "Made whoopee?"
"No, come on. How old?"
She seemed to redden and looked away.
"Fifteen," she murmured. She seemed to be refusing to meet his eyes.
"Was it consensual?"
"Mostly." She sighed. "I had a crush on a friend of my father's. Turns out...he had a crush right back. He was very good. He didn't hurt me." Her face got even redder. "I guess it explains a lot. He was a general. I've always been attracted to generals."
He'd been picturing her under the bleachers in high school with a boy her own age. "Should I say I'm sorry?"
"I don't know. If I could go back and do it differently, maybe I would. Then again, maybe I wouldn't." She met his eyes. "Do you think I should be sorry?"
"No." He touched her lips, imagining how a man might feel with a younger, star-struck Margaret looking up at him. "He shouldn't have taken advantage of you."
"Maybe I took advantage of him?"
"You were just a kid."
"I was a teenage girl, Pierce. Not a kid. Teenage girls are dangerous."
"Then we're locking Elaine up when she's twelve and not letting her out until she's twenty." He laughed at her look. "You've got to get over your shock that the word 'we' is in my vocabulary."
"I'll try." She curled against him. "How old were you when you did it?"
"Seventeen." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I was really nervous. She was too. It was horrible."
"Yet here you are. The maestro of passion." She leaned in, kissing him gently. "Guess your second time was a vast improvement?"
"Yep. I was about thirty minutes older, and she and I realized that maybe we should just relax. And boy did things heat up once we relaxed." He grinned at her.
"Thirty minutes between horror and heat."
They lay quietly, letting the sun warm them and the ocean breeze blow in.
He thought back to all the women in Korea. All the men for her. One in particular that he just didn't get. "Okay, I have to ask this. How could you sleep with Frank?"
She laughed. "He was surprisingly good in bed."
"No, he wasn't."
"Actually, he was." She shot him a bland look. "I mean not like you, of course."
He sat up, spilling sand on her. "Oh, great. Now I don't know if you're humoring me or not." Glaring down at her, he debated showering her with sand. "Was he really good?"
"He really was. Do you think I'd have stayed with him as long as I did if he'd been lousy in bed?"
"Well, when you put it that way." He settled back down next to her. "I have to tell you, Margaret, this is highly disturbing. My whole world is askew. You have tilted my universe."
She nuzzled his ear. "Sorry."
He let her work on him for a while. "He wasn't better than I am, was he?"
"No." Her answer was immediate, which made him feel much better. "I can't believe you're jealous of Frank." She laughed as he pulled her on top of him.
"I'm not jealous of Frank. I just think you need your head examined."
"Well, if he could see us now, he might say the same thing to me." She captured his lips with hers, her tongue working on his lips, which he stubbornly tried to keep closed. She started to giggle as their little war continued and he rolled her off him, covering her and opening his mouth finally.
They kissed for a long time, then he pulled her up and walked down to the beach. She looked confused.
"Did you think I was going to make love to you on the beach?"
He shook his head. "This is a date, Margaret. With sunsets and holding hands and clams if we can find any. God, I miss New England."
She let go of his hand. "I bet you do."
"I'm only here for six months."
"One of them is already done."
She looked down. "I know that too."
He watched her. She took a deep breath then looked up at him, wearing the fake smile. The brave smile. The smile that said nothing could hurt her. The smile that lied when it said that nothing could hurt her.
"I think you'll like New England," he said. "And there are very good schools for Elaine."
She seemed to freeze.
"Unless you intend to stay here. Do you?"
"I hadn't really thought about it."
He thought that was probably a lie. "Well, think about it."
He turned, grabbing her hand again, pulling her into the surf, so that the waves could stream up against them, covering their ankles.
She pushed him out of the water. "There are sharks and riptides. It looks pretty, but you don't want to turn your back on the ocean."
"I'll brave the risks."
"Well, I won't. Especially not when I think you just asked me..."
"I don't know." She shook her head, as if she was trying to clear it. "But the water's not safe, Pierce."
He winked at her. "Fine, scaredy-cat. Let's go find some clams. Or shrimp. Or whatever they have here."
She smiled, but it was sort of a dazed expression.
Pulling her in for a quick kiss, he said, "I'm starving. And we have months to talk about this. Let's go eat."
She yanked him back, kissing him passionately. He tried not to laugh as she did it—no one could outdo her in the passion department. Then he forgot all about laughing and concentrated on kissing.
He could kiss her forever.
Forever. It was...a long time. But the kiss felt so nice, and she felt so right in his arms. They could do forever.
As she pulled away, he asked, "And that was for...?"
"Because I love you. And you confuse the hell out of me." She grinned. "And I'm starving too."
He was glad to stop thinking and just concentrate on racing her to the car.
Margaret watched Hawkeye as he went about the post-operative rounds. He seemed edgy, even though he joked with the patients, or gave them his "tender Doctor Pierce" smile.
"You okay?" she asked when he worked his way over to where she was.
"The beach was great."
He nodded absently.
"If you need to talk about something...?"
"I'll let you know." He smiled—but it was an empty look—and then he seemed to beat a hasty retreat.
She saw him later, laughing with Lewis in the cafeteria, leaning in as if the woman was far more interesting than his lunch. Margaret decided she wasn't hungry after all and put her tray back on the stack.
She passed Hawkeye twice in the hall after that. His smile was forced, his greeting subdued.
Taking a deep breath, she gathered up her things and left. Normally, she'd stop to shoot the breeze with him. See what he was doing, and if he wanted to do it with her and Elaine and, more often than not, his father. She tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach, the way it hurt as she walked to her car.
He'd lasted longer than she'd thought he would.
"Oh, Nurse Houlihan?" His voice was the one she hated from Korea. It was the one that meant trouble. The one that meant he was no longer fun Doctor Pierce but had slipped over the edge to his version of mean. "Margaret?" His voice went up dangerously on the last syllable.
She stopped and took a deep breath before she turned around. "What, Pierce?"
"You seem in a hurry?"
"I need to get home. Elaine's got..." She wasn't sure what story to make up and could tell from his face that he wasn't going to buy it anyway. "Let's not do this, all right, Hawkeye?"
"It was a good run. Really. If we'd had a pool, I'd have picked much earlier for this to fall apart."
"A pool?" He was in full wounded Hawkeye mode. "You'd bet against us, Margaret?"
"I didn't mean..." She hated how he could twist her words this way. When she was hurting, any wit she had departed. She tried a different tack. "We never make it, Hawkeye. We should have learned that in Korea. I know that, and deep down you do too. We tried. For Elaine, we tried."
He didn't argue this time. Didn't strike out or make a smart comment. He looked...helpless.
She took pity on him, even though that pity cost her more than he'd ever know. "I won't try to keep her from you, I promise."
He was staring at her angrily.
"What? You wanted this, Hawkeye. You engineered this just now, didn't you?" She touched his hand and was surprised when he flinched. "You want out, and I don't blame you. What chance do we have?"
He seemed about to say something, then he turned on his heel and walked away from her. But before he'd taken five steps, he was turning back again. "Damn you, Margaret."
She stepped back, surprised at the attack.
He moved closer, got in her face. "You're going to make it easy on me? You're going to let me off the hook?"
"Hawkeye, just let me go," she said softly, trying to get to her car door, backing quickly and nearly falling.
He reached out, steadying her. "You think I wanted this? You and Elaine. You think I asked for this?"
"I know you didn't." She started to cry and fought the tears. "But I never asked you to come. I never asked you to make us love you." She could feel any further words locking up in her throat. Blindly trying to get her car open, she felt him grab her and pull her to him.
"She's just a little girl, Hawkeye. She won't remember. You can disappear, and pretty soon she'll forget all about you and her great friend Danny and..." She was trying to get in the car and he was holding her back.
"I don't want to love you," he whispered, his mouth against her hair, over her ear.
"You never have wanted to."
"No, I never have." He pulled back and stared at her, his expression impossible to read. "But I do love you. God help me, I don't want to, but I do." Then he kissed her. Desperately. As if he'd die without her.
She tried to push him off. Muttered, "Don't," or thought she did. Except that she was holding him close, kissing him back.
When he finally let her go, she felt as if something had broken inside her. "I don't want to be someone you don't want to love. Even if you do love me, it hurts too much."
But he wasn't letting her go.
"Pierce, I'm giving you a 'get out of jail free' card." She ran her fingers through his hair. "We don't have to be a family. Maybe we were never meant to be? Maybe that's why I never got up the nerve to tell you. Not even when I drove—" She met his eyes.
"You drove where?" He shook her a little when she didn't answer. "Where?"
"To Maine. I drove to your street and parked in front of your house and sat there. And then I drove away."
"You didn't even try?"
"I couldn't. I was afraid of all the things that might go wrong. And I didn't know if you were with anyone." She leaned against him. "I never wanted you to be with me just for Elaine's sake. It's not fair to any of us."
"Yesterday, at the beach. It was so nice." She put her fingers on his lips when he started to talk. "Let's just pretend we ended there. A lovely date. A lovely evening watching the sunset. And then it ended. And so did we." She nodded, as if that would convince him when her words might not.
"Last night," he said, "when we were eating, I had this strange feeling as if my life was all planned out. You, Elaine...my father taking care of her while we worked. I could see you in Crabapple Cove, Margaret. I could see you riding to work with me, and I could see you pregnant with a brother or sister for Elaine. I could see our life together. And I felt..."
"I don't want to trap you. I never did." Finding the strength that had threatened to desert her, she pushed him away and got in the car. As he reached for the door, she said sharply, "Don't."
He dropped his hands.
"It would have been nice," she whispered, then she shut the door and drove away.
She didn't cry on the drive home. Or when she picked up Elaine from Mrs. Jackson. Or when she made Elaine her dinner and had to listen to her daughter's questions on where Hawkeye was and what was Danny doing. She didn't cry when she read to Elaine until she fell asleep. But when Margaret finally lay alone in her bed, she gave in to the tears and cried all night.
Her face was a swollen mess by morning. She called in sick, took Elaine to school, and went back to bed, finally falling asleep. If her dreams were about Hawkeye, she didn't remember them.
Hawkeye walked through the surgery department, trying to see if Margaret was around.
"You're in early," B.J. said from his desk.
Hawkeye stopped and glared at him, then realized he probably didn't mean anything deeper than what he'd said. "Have you seen Margaret?"
"She called in sick. Nothing serious I hope?" B.J. winked at him.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hawk, jeez, lighten up." He studied Hawkeye for a moment, then he smiled, but it was a disappointed look. "Ah."
"Don't 'ah' me, Beej. Especially in that disapproving tone."
B.J. shook his head. "I made a mistake, didn't I? Bringing you out here." He sighed. "Margaret's going to kill me."
"Whose side are you on?"
"Elaine's actually. I think Margaret's on her side too. It's anybody's guess whose side you are on."
"How dare you get so sanctimonious?"
B.J. laughed. "There you go again. The guilt-induced 'how dare you' comes out." He shrugged. "You're an idiot, my friend. But you're my idiot, so I'll leave it alone."
"It's just...she wants—" No, she didn't want—she'd been the one to say it wouldn't work in the first place. He'd pushed it. Pushed and pushed and then once he got it, he'd run like hell. "I'm not ready."
"Then you're never going to be ready, Hawk. That's your daughter. And her mother is a woman that I know you've been crazy about for years. And she understands Korea. Hell, she understands you and loves you anyway. But if you want to throw all that away, it's your business."
"If she's so damn wonderful, you marry her."
"Were you thinking of that?" B.J. smiled, this time a genuine one.
"Oh, don't even go there. I know what you're doing." But he walked to the door of B.J.'s office, went in and sat down when his friend moved aside. "I've really hurt her, Beej."
"I'm sure you have. It took guts on her part to let you in. To not run far and fast when I told her I'd invited you. Maybe she should have run?"
"Maybe she should have."
"What does your dad say?"
Hawkeye shot B.J. a look.
"Ah. The old man doesn't know yet?"
"He's going to kill me. I think he's a little in love with Margaret. And he's definitely enchanted with his granddaughter." Hawkeye could feel the energy burning inside him, had to get up and pace. "Do you know that Margaret said she wouldn't keep Elaine away from me?"
"How dare she take the moral high ground?" B.J. smiled, in that "you're crazy but you're my friend, so I'll overlook it" way.
"Beej, what am I going to do?"
His friend shrugged. "Seems to me you've done it. You don't want to be with her. And you let her know that. What else is there to do?"
Hawkeye walked to the window. He saw some nurses walking in, realized he was checking to see if maybe one of them was Margaret. "Get her back?"
"You're going to give her whiplash, Hawk."
"I already have. Ever since..." He sighed. Ever since that one night in that hut. One night of passion that had started them down this road. "I took her to Stinson Beach on Sunday."
"Nice place. Peg and I love to take Erin there."
"It was just the two of us."
"And, for the first time in a long time, I thought that I could make a life with someone."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"It's not me, Beej."
"You're not a kid anymore, Hawk. When will it be you?" B.J. suddenly looked like he'd had enough of the conversation. "I've got some patients to check on."
"Fine, leave me in the lurch."
"Seems to me you put yourself there. I'm just leaving you where I found you." He patted Hawkeye on the shoulder, as if trying to take some of the sting out of the words. "I'm just...sorry for you. I thought maybe you two could be happy."
Hawkeye watched him go. He didn't tell him that he and Margaret had been happy. Until he'd gone and wrecked it.
Margaret looked up as Hawkeye put his tray down on her table. She'd taken to eating at odd hours again, trying to avoid him. Obviously he'd caught on.
She got up and he called her a coward. This time she didn't let that stop her from doing what was prudent.
He found her again after surgery. A surgery where he'd acted as if everything was all right, and she'd felt like stabbing him with a scalpel whenever he'd asked for one.
"Margaret, we need to talk." He had her cornered on the stairwell, was pushing her up against the wall between the door and the fire hose.
"No, Doctor Pierce, what we decidedly do not need to do is to talk."
"You're right, Nurse. How stupid of me." He kissed her.
And she kneed him in the groin. Hard. Very hard.
He dropped away, tears in his eyes.
"Don't touch me. Don't talk to me. Just leave me alone."
"You've broken my heart, Pierce. There's nothing left to break, so don't even try." She got away fast, before he could do any of the things she might be stupid enough to fall for. Like look at her, or talk, or even breathe.
She was brainless where this man was concerned. She had no judgment. The only thing to do was to stay away. Far, far away.
A few hours later, she ran into B.J. He was grinning, and she held up a hand. "Don't start with me."
"Wouldn't dream of it, slugger. Or should I call you knee-er?"
She rolled her eyes.
"Not that he probably didn't deserve it, but do you have any idea why he was in that stairwell?"
"Because he hasn't hurt me enough yet?" She grabbed the charts of the post-operative patients and pushed past him.
He followed her. "Maybe."
"No, maybe about it. That man is pure, USDA-choice jackass."
"Won't get any argument from me." B.J. leaned in. "But that jackass is head over heels in love with you...and with his daughter. And he's scared silly by the feeling."
"Well, you'll excuse me if I'm not leading the Pierce pity parade."
"Margaret. You're the strong one here."
"And maybe I don't want to be. Maybe I want someone to take care of me for a while." The way Hawkeye had taken care of her when she'd been so sick. Thinking of that hurt and made her even madder. She slammed one of the charts against B.J.'s chest. "You doctors are very lax on filling these out."
"That's right, Major. Fall back on regs when feelings get in the way."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you were awfully willing to let him go. Did it even occur to you to fight for him?"
"Fight? There was no one to fight. He was too busy running away."
He sighed. "You two are so damned stubborn." He wrote something in the chart and handed it back to her. "Fine. Let the man you love get away."
"The man I love who doesn't love me."
"He does love you."
"Oh, my mistake. The man who doesn't want to love me but does anyway. Yes, that's very romantic, Hunnicut."
"Margaret, have you ever known Hawkeye not to run?"
"He's not running now. Being in that stairwell was not running away."
"He just doesn't like to be the bad guy. That's all."
B.J. held his hands up. With a sad smile, he turned and left her.
She felt all mixed up inside. Finishing out her shift, she tried to shake the agitation but it didn't leave. Even after she'd picked up Elaine and settled in for their nightly routine, she still felt tense.
When a soft knock came on the door, she got up quickly, striding to the door and yanking it open with a, "Pierce, so help me God—"
It was the wrong Pierce.
"Hello there, sugar," Daniel said. "Can I come in?"
"Danny!" Elaine launched herself across the room and into his arms.
His smile was luminous, and Margaret felt a pang. She wasn't just losing Pierce. She was losing this sweet, gentle man. And Elaine was losing a grandfather who actually wanted to see her.
"Of course you can come in." She shut the door, but not before checking to make sure Hawkeye wasn't lurking behind his father.
"I came alone." Daniel laughed. "Don't give me that look. I can tell when my son's gone and done something stupid." He put Elaine down. "You and he have called it off, I take it?"
"He's not ready for a family."
"Well, he's not here. How's that?" She poured him a glass of ice tea, added sugar and lemon the way he liked it.
She rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment. "I miss you, Daniel. I liked having you around."
"You never talk much about your own father."
"I doubt that he talks very much about me." She pulled Elaine to her, kissed the back of her neck. "He wasn't happy with how things turned out."
"Well, then he's missing out on an awful lot." Daniel studied her. "I don't want to lose you or Elaine."
"You won't. I'll bring her for visits. And when she gets older, maybe she can stay the summer with you." It hurt to make plans like this. She'd stupidly allowed herself to envision a more permanent place in his life—and in Hawkeye's.
"Hawkeye was engaged to be married that first year after he got back from Korea."
Margaret looked at him in surprise. Hawkeye had never told her he was engaged.
"Nice girl. Denise Anderson. Pretty young thing."
"What happened?" She resisted speculating on all the reasons a pretty young thing might have wanted to run from Hawkeye Pierce.
"Well, back then I thought it was the war to blame. Hawkeye had a lot of nightmares after his return."
She nodded. She used to have them too.
"But now I don't think that was it at all. I think he loved you even then. He couldn't get married to anyone but you."
"I think you're very wrong." She could feel Elaine squirming and let her down. "Hawkeye's like her. Needs to be free. Needs to run wild."
"I don't think so. But I guess it doesn't matter what I think, does it?" He stood up slowly. "I just wanted to check on you. I'd have been by sooner but it took me awhile to worm what happened out of that stubborn son of mine."
She hugged him, almost sobbed as his arms came around her, patting her gently.
"Don't give up on him, sweetheart. Please?"
"I have to, Daniel. I don't have any heart left for him to chew up." It was mean to say that to Hawkeye's dad, and she regretted it. But she didn't take it back.
"Love was a lot simpler in my day, kiddo." He kissed her cheek gently, then picked up Elaine and carried her to the door, murmuring something to her.
Elaine hugged him before he put her down. She seemed very subdued the rest of the evening, going to bed without protest or asking for a story.
Margaret was glad. She didn't think she could fake enthusiasm for a fairy tale where the handsome prince and the beautiful princess lived happily ever after.
Hawkeye sat with Erin and Elaine, watching as Margaret studiously avoided settling down anywhere near him. Considering that B.J.'s backyard wasn't that big—most of it given over to the swimming pool—that was quite an achievement.
He was letting the huge Thanksgiving feast they'd just devoured settle. He felt a little sleepy, and shifted a bit in the lounge chair. Margaret and his father walked over to B.J.; Hawkeye had a feeling Margaret knew he was keeping tabs on her but was doing her best to ignore him.
Peg Hunnicut leaned forward, her big, glamorous sunglasses reflecting the sun. "Maybe, you should go talk to her instead of sitting here watching her like you're the tiger and she's some kind of prey?"
Hawkeye shot her a look. "I don't remember asking for advice from the peanut gallery."
She shrugged. "Silly me. I thought you might like a woman's take on this."
That was probably a damn good idea. He forced himself to tear his eyes away from where Margaret was laughing with his father and B.J., who was trailing after his now-crawling son. "Okay, Madame Wisdom. Hold forth."
Peg smiled. "Well, maybe you need to surprise her?"
"Surprise her how?" He'd tried that in the stairwell at the hospital and nearly ended up singing soprano full time.
"I don't mean some showy romantic gesture—although that does have its place. Never underestimate the power of roses."
He smiled. "Dandelions just don't pack the same wallop, do they?"
"I'm afraid not."
"So that's what I've been doing wrong all these years."
Peg leaned in. "No, I think joking about romance when you should've been talking about how you feel is what you've been doing wrong. Why don't you try talking now...really telling her how you feel about her and Elaine?"
Elaine chose that moment to hand him her latest coloring masterpiece. Like him, she seemed congenitally incapable of staying in the lines.
"It's breathtaking," he told her.
She giggled and went to work on the next one.
"It's obvious you love Elaine."
He met Peg's eyes—or her FosterGrants, anyway. "I do love her."
"B.J. says you love Margaret too." She glanced over at her husband. "He's rarely wrong about these things. He knew I was in love with him long before I realized it." Her smile was very sweet.
"I'm going to rename your street 'Matchmaker Central.'"
She just smiled.
"And don't think I don't realize that B.J. is working just as hard on me at the hospital." He looked over, saw that B.J. was talking quite seriously to Margaret. "Wait a minute. Is this a tag team effort? Are you two going to switch in a few minutes?"
"You make it sound so devious." Laughing, she leaned back again. "Just talk to her, Hawkeye. Before it's too late."
Elaine handed him another picture. This one wasn't from the book. She'd drawn four figures. Two men, both tall, and one woman, shorter with yellow hair. And a little girl with black hair and blue eyes.
"That's us, isn't it?" He met her eyes, so scarily like his own.
She looked a lot older than five when she asked, "Don't you like us anymore, Hawkeye? You don't come over."
He swallowed hard. "I do like you. I love you."
"You said you loved mommy."
He heard Peg snicker softly, and he whapped her with a soft backhand. "Well, I do love her."
"Then why is she so sad?"
"Out of the mouth of babes..." Peg dodged his hand.
Elaine reached for the drawing, and he was suddenly afraid she'd tear it up.
He took it back from her. "Maybe I should work on making your mommy happy again?"
Elaine nodded vigorously, and Hawkeye imagined she might have been paying the price if Margaret had been in a sad mood because of him. Then again, Margaret might not have been taking it out on her. His daughter was surprisingly sensitive. She probably knew her mother was hurting, even if she didn't completely understand why.
Elaine turned back to Erin, their smiles and laughter uncomplicated as they got up and ran into the house. He remembered life being like that. When had it become so easy to screw everything up? When had loving someone changed from being a cause for celebration to a cause for alarm?
When had he become such a damn coward?
Margaret was about to leave the hospital when Hawkeye came rushing into the lounge. "Emergency surgery, and we're the only ones left."
It felt like Korea, and it wasn't a good feeling. "I'm so tired, Pierce."
"So am I. But we don't have a choice. They've called the other doctors, but they're too far away."
"I have to get Elaine. It's late already."
"I'll get my dad to do it. He still has the spare key."
She'd wondered where that had gone to. "Okay. I'll get room three set up." It was his favorite operating room, and she saw him smile. She was too tired to think of a smart-ass reason for why she'd picked it. "Just call your father, Pierce."
He picked up the phone, and she walked down to the operating suit. Scrubbing up first, she began to set up the instruments.
Murdoch came in a moment later. "I thought you'd gone home."
"I thought you had too." She smiled, but tried not to make it a very inviting one. She knew she was vulnerable right now, and Murdoch was being very sweet to her, as if he knew it too.
Pierce came in, and his expression was less than friendly. "I asked for Ramirez."
"Ramirez's daughter had a birthday tonight. I'm filling in for him."
She worked on the instruments, keeping her head down. She could feel Pierce next to her, could sense his irritation that the other man was there.
His voice was territorial as he said, "Dad'll pick up Elaine."
She just nodded.
"He's going to take her to the movies."
"Fine." She moved away.
Murdoch sat down, checking the anesthesia. "Margaret, if your daughter is all taken care of for the evening, maybe you'd like to get some dinner when we're done here?"
"She's busy," Pierce answered for her.
"No, I'm not." Not that she wanted to get dinner with Murdoch.
"Yes, you are." Pierce glared at her. "We have that thing, remember?"
She glared right back at him, but decided not to contradict him. Murdoch's opportunistic attentiveness was getting on her nerves—not that Pierce wasn't rivaling him at the moment in the annoyance category. "Oh, yeah. That thing."
"Thing be damned," Murdoch said. "When was the last time you had a really nice dinner?"
"You're married, take your wife to dinner if you're so damned hungry," she said to him a little too loudly, right as a nurse from the ER rolled the patient in. Modulating her voice, she said, "I'm not interested in being with a married man."
He looked from her to Pierce and back again. Then he bent to the patient and ignored them as if he'd never hit on her.
She glanced at Pierce, saw that he was watching her with what looked like open amusement. She wanted to deck him, but then they'd both have to scrub again. And their patient didn't need that kind of crap.
"Scalpel," Pierce said very gently.
"Scalpel," she said, falling into their age-old rhythm. She tried to concentrate on that, not on how soft his eyes looked when they met hers. Or how sweet he was being.
He'd been sweet before. His eyes had been soft before. He'd still managed to trample her heart in his dust.
The surgery was mercifully quick, and she lagged behind the two doctors, cleaning up the room.
"You don't have to do that," Murdoch said, apparently giving it one last try.
He sighed and walked away. She looked around for Hawkeye, but he'd already gone.
Putting the instruments into the autoclave, she walked out to the scrub area and began peeling her gloves off. Suddenly, she felt hands on her shoulders, rubbing gently.
She knew that touch. Would know it anywhere. "Pierce..."
"Don't turn around. There are some things I have to say."
She considered all the ways she could get away from him. But he'd moved his hands to her neck and the way he was massaging out the kinks felt great. "So talk."
"I've had some time to think."
"Yes, that happens when you run away."
"Oh, was this a monologue? Was I supposed to just stand by and listen meekly? Should I feel honored that you're even talking to me?"
He massaged harder. She had a feeling he would have liked to wring her neck, and that thought struck her as funny. She began to laugh.
"Margaret. I'm sorry." He seemed to think she was crying.
She pulled away, turning and looking at him, enjoying the expression that crossed his face as he realized she was laughing. Then he pulled her close, hugging her so tightly it took her breath away.
"I used to know how to love, Margaret. I swear I did."
She wrapped her arms around him. It was stupid, but she wanted to do it, so she did. "I'm listening."
She felt his mouth touch down on her hair.
"Korea took something from me," he said, his voice breaking a little at the last.
"It also gave you something." She pulled back, needing to see his face. "It gave you a beautiful daughter. I don't care if you run away from me. But don't stop loving her just because you're afraid."
"You do care if I run away from you. If you didn't, you wouldn't go to such great lengths to avoid me." He looked down. "And if I weren't such a jerk, you wouldn't need to."
"Hawkeye, has it occurred to you that we just aren't meant to be together? Maybe it's not your fault or my fault or anyone's fault. Maybe we just don't fit."
Touching her cheek, he dragged his fingers slowly down her face. "Do you believe that?"
The way he was touching her sent shivers running down her spine.
"Yes, I believe that."
This was normally the time when he'd kiss her or make love to her. This was when he'd sweep her off her feet and leave her too confused and aroused to fight him. But this time he didn't. He just pulled his hand away.
"Let's go get some coffee. Maybe a very late dinner? And talk." There was something in his eyes. An earnestness that gave her hope.
And hope was her enemy.
"Hawkeye, I can't do this again. I'm so tired."
He did kiss her this time. Tenderly and slowly, his hands holding her upper arms but not straying anywhere else. "You need to trust me. I need you to trust me."
"Maybe I've forgotten how to do that? Maybe Korea took that from me."
"Try?" He turned, tucking her under his arm so they could walk together.
She found herself holding on for dear life—he didn't seem to mind.
"I wish I didn't love you, Pierce."
"See, we're even." He grinned at her. That damned fourteen karat Benjamin Franklin Pierce grin. The one she couldn't resist. And he knew it.
"Come back to me?" he asked.
"You're the one who left."
"A technicality only." He bussed her cheek, turning on the full wattage of charm. "Even if I ran like a fool and a coward, I never stopped loving you, you know?"
"I know." For some reason she'd always known that. It hadn't necessarily helped. But she'd known it. "You still broke my heart." She looked down. "And I think you probably will again. I'd be very stupid to trust you."
"What would make you trust me? A promise?"
"What kind of promise are you going to give?"
He turned toward his office, let her go as he switched on the lights and unlocked his desk drawer. He pulled out a small, black velvet box. "A promise like this, maybe?"
She just stared at it.
"I was going to give it to you over dinner—once I talked you into going to dinner—but our little emergency surgery intervened." Opening the box, he held it out to her.
She took it gingerly, as if might bite. She wasn't sure what she expected, but it wasn't the antique rose gold setting showing off four not small diamonds.
"Two of them are us. Then there's Elaine and my father."
She found it hard to swallow.
"It's an old setting. I wanted it that way. It's seen some hard knocks, I bet. Been around."
She looked up at him, blinking hard.
"I liked that it was a different colored gold. Because we're not your average couple, are we?"
"No. We're not."
"Maybe we'll do everything wrong. Maybe we'll fight and hurt each other. But we'll love too. And we'll have Elaine and Dad to remind us that love doesn't have to hurt. That it shouldn't hurt."
She stared up at him.
"It's customary to say something."
She smiled. "No, it's customary to ask."
"Oh, yeah." He grinned at her, and she found herself grinning back. "Margaret Houlihan, will you marry me and bring our beautiful child back to Maine with me and put up with me until we're grumpy old people?"
She took a deep breath.
"Okay, now you really do have to answer."
She could feel her heart beating madly. Could feel fear flooding her. But she could also feel the great tenderness welling up in her that he always provoked. "Yes." It came out as a croak.
"Could you try that again?"
"Yes. God help me, yes."
He slipped the ring on her finger, and for a moment, he had such a satisfied look on his face that it almost made her cry—or want to kick him. Then he pulled her close, kissing her, and she kicked the door instead, shutting it with her foot.
His grin turned wicked. "Want to christen this desk?" They'd christened plenty of pieces of furniture back in Korea.
"Yes. But don't get any ideas about me being easy."
He just laughed as he lifted her up onto the desk. They more than christened it.
Hawkeye watched as his dad and Elaine tussled in the sand. Margaret was curled up next to him, her head in his lap as she slept. He stroked her hair gently. Since they'd gotten back together, he had a hard time not touching her. She seemed to be reaching out more too. It felt good—but he knew it was also a sign of how fragile things still were between them, that neither of them were completely sure they were going to make it.
Elaine came running over to try to tackle him, and he caught her, pulling her to the other side so she wouldn't disturb Margaret.
But Margaret's eyes opened, and she turned over and cuddled against him more closely. "Elaine, leave Hawkeye alone while he's on the blanket."
Their daughter took off, back to tame the wild Daniel Pierce.
"Are we going to tell her I'm her father?"
Margaret didn't open her eyes. "If we get married, you will be."
"What's this 'if' business? And I mean her real dad. So she knows the truth and doesn't think she needs to go looking for the real deal."
"She's too young to understand. When she's older we'll tell her. I'm sure you can make it very romantic." She smirked, and he tickled her, making her squirm.
"I can make it romantic."
"I'm not doubting it."
"Yes, but you're also not liking it." He ran his fingers over her lips, smiled when she kissed them. "Once upon a time..."
"She'll love it. She loves fairy tales."
"I know. I've read enough of them to her. Now don't interrupt, this is genius at work."
She made a low sort of snorting sound.
"No editorializing, Margaret." He pushed her out of his lap and lay down next to her before pulling her back to him. Their mouths were very close so he leaned in and kissed her.
He heard his father call out, "Son, we're going for a walk. Try to be done with that when we get back." Hawkeye waved and heard Margaret giggle. They didn't stop kissing though for a long time.
"Okay," he said, moving so he could see her eyes better. "Once upon a time there was a doctor and a nurse."
"And a captain and a major," she muttered.
"Not that we're quibbling about status or anything."
"Just tell the damn story, Pierce."
"And they lived in a very scary land called Korea. It was a place where all the powerful kings and wizards had come together to fight over a very narrow line and a whole lot of things they called principles but probably weren't because—"
"This is a great way to tell it if your plan is to sermonize her to death."
She opened her eyes. "Keep it simple. Where all the powerful kings and wizards had come together to fight over who was strongest."
"Thank you, that's perfect." He grinned. "And in the midst of all this fighting, this doctor and nurse were thrown together. And the nurse—bird brain that she is—fell in love with a man who looked like a ferret."
She coughed sternly.
"Or maybe a weasel."
"They're the same family, I think. And what about the doctor? He test-drove every available model of nurse that came into the camp."
"Not every one."
"Well, only if they said no."
"Details, details. This is a story for Elaine. I'm not sure this is the tone we want."
"Fine," she said, snuggling in and wrapping her arm around him. "Start over."
He relaxed against her for a moment. "Once upon a time, in a terrible place called Korea, two very damaged people ended up falling in love. But they were too frightened to tell each other that."
She went very still against him; he could feel her lips lying warm on his collarbone.
"So when the war was over, they went their separate ways, even though they couldn't forget the other person. The doctor went home and tried to fall in love with a young woman who hadn't been in the war. Only it didn't work."
"She wasn't you." It was such a simple answer. And the only one that was true. "She didn't look like you, and I thought that's what I wanted. A young, vibrant, never-seen-blood-pouring-out-of-a-belly, brunette."
Margaret's lips began to move across his skin, toward his ear.
"She was sweet. She loved me. But she never understood me. Not like you do." He groaned as she began to nibble on his earlobe. "She didn't know what I look like when I'm drunk, or after thirty hours of surgery. She didn't know how many times I nearly went crazy—and the time I did go crazy. She had no idea how mean I can get, or how destructive I am when I'm angry."
"And all those things made her attractive." Margaret moved back to his cheek.
"No. All those things made me more attractive. I was a better person with her, Margaret. Because I wasn't me with her."
She pulled back and studied him. "You didn't need to be better or different. The Hawkeye Pierce I knew was a good man. You cared. About the boys that came through, about needless loss of life. About your friends and your family."
"And you. God how I cared about you." He touched her face, gently tracing out the lines of her features. "I cared about you and I never told you how much."
"I was afraid to tell you. And then, when I realized I was pregnant, I was afraid that you'd stay with me for the baby. I couldn't stand that thought. If I hadn't loved you so much, it would have been different."
"I understand that." He sighed. "What would life have been like, if we'd just been honest?"
"We'll never know." She didn't sound overly sad at that fact. "When you got back, were you drinking too much?"
"Oh, god yes. It took me a year to taper down to an acceptable level."
She laughed softly. "I had incentive—little baby in belly and a doctor who told me in no uncertain terms to go off the sauce." She seemed to tense in his arms. "Plus, I had my father as a roadmap of how not to end up."
"You never talk about him anymore. You talked about him all the time back in Korea."
"He was really drunk the night I told my parents I was pregnant. I had to tell them, and I didn't want to. But since I was going to start showing, they would've figured it out. I thought if I told them first, that would mean something."
"That you could control the way it went?"
"I guess it didn't work out that way?"
She tensed even more. "He called me a whore." She took a deep breath; it sounded like a sob. "He said some other things. Apparently, he'd known all along about me and his friend all those years ago. He told me he wasn't sure why he'd ever thought I was worth loving." She seemed like she was going to say something else but trailed off with a choked sound.
He realized she was crying and just held her.
She shook, silent in her pain. Then she whispered, "I had this fantasy. You came into the room and you told him off for me. You told him I was worth loving."
"You are worth loving."
"And yet you run." She pulled away, and he smoothed the tears off her face.
"So that's why you didn't try to stop me? That's why you didn't trust me?"
She laughed, the sound coming out a bit twisted. "Well, it's not all his fault. You do have a habit of running hot and cold."
"That's true." He sighed, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry for what he said. I'm sorry for what I did, but..."
"But you'd do it again probably. I know that, Pierce. We do what we do when we do it because it's what's right for that moment."
"Or what feels right, anyway. Sometimes it's a long way from right, but we have to get far enough in the wrong direction to know it."
She nodded against his chest, and he held her tighter.
"The story has a happy ending," he said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." He pushed her over, onto her back, and stared down at her. Then he kissed her, slowly and tenderly. "The doctor and the nurse got married and they made their little girl very happy. And she made his father very happy. And the four of them—or maybe more—lived happily ever after."
"Do you want more kids?"
He smiled. "Well, I haven't really experienced Elaine full time, so it may be premature to say this, but yes, I do."
She laughed, and it sounded like a bit off.
"Are you pregnant?"
She looked up startled. "No. Why?"
"You had a funny laugh just then."
"Elaine told me she wanted a baby brother like Erin has. I was just laughing about that."
"Well, maybe we'll have to get her one. Although by the time we do, she'll change her mind and want a pony."
Laughing again, Margaret pulled him down to her. This time their kisses weren't just tender. They could easily have gotten started on baby-brother-making if Elaine and his father hadn't come back.
"Do you two ever stop?" his dad asked, but he sounded very pleased with them.
"Not if we're very, very lucky," Hawkeye said, sitting up and pulling Elaine onto his lap. "Hi there. Who is this beautiful young thing? Is it Ava Gardner?"
Elaine giggled. "No."
"Hmmm. Natalie Wood?"
"Nope." She reached up and pulled his head down, whispering, "I'm Elaine Houlihan."
He hugged her. He whispered back, "When I marry you and your mommy, you'll be a Pierce, just like me and Danny. Will you like that?"
She laughed and nodded, then wrestled herself free and took off down the beach.
Margaret looked worried. "Don't let her get too close to the water."
His father started to get up, but Hawkeye pushed him back down. "I'll go. Gotta save my daughter from the sharks and riptides." He winked at Margaret. "Hopefully nobody will ever have to save her from me." Then he took off down the beach, after a giggling, screeching female version of himself.
But not entirely like himself. He noticed she didn't get closer than two feet to the beach. Obviously, some of Margaret's caution had rubbed off.
"I convinced the Potters to come out for Christmas," B.J. said, handing a letter to Margaret.
She read Sherman's enthusiastic acceptance of B.J.'s offer of hospitality and smiled. "We'll finally get to meet Mildred."
"Yep." He got up. "Where's Hawkeye?"
"He's spending the afternoon with Elaine. It's father-daughter day at the school, and she asked him to go."
B.J. smiled. "And how do you feel about that?"
Their eyes met, and he smiled broadly. Gently reaching for her left hand, he held it up so that the ring sparkled in the light. "Our boy did good."
"Yes, he did." She handed him the letter. "I better get to work."
B.J. winked. "Or your slave driver of a boss will be on your case. By the way, are you going to move when Hawkeye goes back to Maine?"
She nodded, knew that she probably looked a little nervous at the idea. "I've always wanted to see New England in the spring."
"March in Maine? It may still be winter, Margaret." Laughing at her expression, he went back to work.
She walked out to the nurse's station and saw that Collins was making his rounds, picking up old films. He saw her and smiled. But she saw that he was also smiling at Kaminski—and Kaminski was actually smiling back. She liked the idea of two such nice people getting together.
Lewis caught up with her as she hit the ORs. They checked the rooms together, and Lewis asked her, "What do you think of Greta and Collins?"
"I think if they are happy, more power to them." She glanced over at Lewis. "Are they together?"
"Not yet. At least I don't think so. But you know Greta. She plays it pretty close to the chest." Lewis glanced down at Margaret's left hand. "Like some other people I know. I thought you said you weren't interested in him?"
"I wasn't." Margaret laughed at her expression. "I thought I wasn't?"
"That I'll believe."
"What do you think of him, Jill?" Margaret had watched Hawkeye interact with nurses all through the war. But she'd never asked any of them what they saw in him.
Lewis shrugged. "He's nice enough. But he hides."
Lewis laughed. "Don't play coy with me, Margaret. I've been in surgery with you two. You know each other's secrets. It's so obvious. You don't even have to use complete sentences."
Margaret smiled. She'd never thought of that as anything but the ease of familiarity.
"But for us lesser mortals"—Lewis winked at her—"he hides what he feels. It's good time Doctor Pierce all the time. And I'm sorry, but nobody is that upbeat."
Margaret nodded. "The war." It was often all she had to say.
"It's not just him. You hide too, you know. I think there's a woman inside you that Greta and I have never seen. That we won't ever see. You keep your life in different boxes. The work box and the home box. The only time we used to see the two mix was when you and B.J. were talking. But once Hawkeye came, we suddenly knew so much more about you."
"I didn't mean to do that."
"I know. I don't think Hawkeye means to keep so much of himself hidden, either. You two just do it." Lewis shook her head. "I guess it's a good thing you're getting hitched since you're the only ones you let in."
Margaret laughed. Lewis was probably right. If they could just keep this working, it probably was a good thing she and Hawkeye were taking each other off the market.
The Hunnicut house rang with laughter, and Hawkeye watched as Colonel Potter lifted Elaine in the air, making her scream in delight. Then he put her down, letting her run off and turned his attention to Erin.
"Careful, Colonel," Hawkeye said. "She's a lot heavier than Elaine." His back knew this from experience.
"The day I can't swing a child is the day I pack it in." He twirled Erin around, then put her down and staggered a little. "Whoa. Nothing like being dizzy to make a man feel his age." He sort of stumbled over to the chair next to Hawkeye. "So, son. How've you been?"
"Oh, you know. Working. Cracking wise. Fighting with Margaret."
"Getting to know your daughter?" Potter asked very softly. At Hawkeye's look, he shook his head. "She's you and Margaret all mixed together, Pierce. Sorry, but there's no hiding the facts on this one."
Hawkeye smiled. "And I don't want to hide anything. Soon I'll be her dad by marriage. Eventually, she'll know I'm even more of a dad than that." He wasn't sure he agreed with Margaret about waiting; he thought Elaine would probably understand now. But Margaret felt strongly about it and that was good enough reason for him to fall in line.
"She's a beautiful child. And a nice one."
"Give Margaret the credit for that." Hawkeye looked for Margaret. He saw her standing in the kitchen with Peg and Mildred Potter.
Potter followed his gaze. "She seems happy."
"I'd like to think that's due to me." Hawkeye grimaced a little. "And now it is. But this hasn't been the easiest time for us."
Potter let out a bark of laughter, and Hawkeye glared at him.
"I'm sorry, son. Really I am. I don't mean to make light of whatever misery you and Margaret have visited on each other lately. But I've never met two people more inclined to fight. Or who had a harder time seeing a good thing when it fell on their heads." He shook his head, grinning a little.
"Well, I'm glad we amuse you, Sherm." Hawkeye rolled his eyes.
"Oh, Pierce. You don't amuse me. I've been damned worried about both of you over the years. B.J.'s kept me in the loop as far as how you were doing. And I caught up with Margaret a few years back when I was visiting the hospital where she worked. Margaret was with a nice looking fella, but she didn't seem very happy. When they broke up a few months ago, I admit...I interfered and got B.J. to call her."
"I'm glad you did. Because if you hadn't, I'd have never gotten a chance to know my daughter." Hawkeye saw his father and B.J. come up from the garage; Elaine hurried over to his father, demanding to be picked up. "And my dad wouldn't have a granddaughter to spoil rotten."
"And I can vouch for there being no sweeter thing in the world than spoiling a grandkid." Potter smiled. "So when's the wedding?"
Hawkeye could feel one side of his face going up in a wry smile. "Well, I wanted to have it while we were still here. Margaret wants to see how us all living together goes before she sets a date. Since my dad is on her side, I've been outvoted." Hawkeye shook his head. "She could argue that the sky was yellow, and my old man would be on her side."
The colonel just smiled. "Margaret's a damned nice woman. Something about her makes us older men want to take care of her. Maybe it's because she's so damned good at taking care of us?"
"So it's not some latent attraction? You think I don't have to worry about my father stealing my woman?"
"Oh, I didn't say that." Potter grinned. "If I didn't have Mildred and Margaret were about twenty years older..."
Hawkeye smiled. If only that general who'd seduced Margaret had felt the same way about the age difference.
B.J. walked over, carrying a wickedly squirming Tom. The child was at the age that he wanted to crawl everywhere. "Here"—he thrust the baby at Potter—"I've got to help Peg with something."
The boy stared up at the colonel, then reached up for his glasses.
"Oh, no. You don't want these." Potter unsnapped his watch and let the baby play with that.
Elaine came over, staring at Tom like she might snatch him away.
"What's eating you, little lady?" Potter asked.
"I wanted one for Christmas." Elaine was in full sulk, and Hawkeye couldn't decide if she looked more like him or more like Margaret when she was in this mood.
Potter smiled. "A baby brother? Well, you know, they take a while to prepare."
"That's what Hawkeye said. But Erin said you get one when your mom and dad like each other and get really close. And Hawkeye and mommy are really close a lot."
Hawkeye snatched her up. "Okay, enough on that topic."
Potter just laughed. "I bet if you asked 'em real nicely, they'd cough up a baby brother or sister —you know, you can't be too choosy on whether it's a boy or girl."
"Colonel, do not encourage her."
Winking at Elaine, Potter said, "You practice asking. I bet sooner or later, they'll give you one."
Elaine smiled and turned to Hawkeye, her eyes already sparkling, ready to schmooze.
He didn't need to ask which of them she looked like now. "No, no, and no. We'll talk about this later."
Potter leaned forward as Hawkeye put her down. "Don't despair, kiddo. I'll give you tips on how to work your mommy and this joker. I've had lots of practice."
Elaine surprised Hawkeye by leaning forward and kissing Potter's cheek. She was affectionate with him and Margaret and his father, but he'd never seen her kiss B.J. or Peg.
Potter touched her on the cheek. "Oh, man. Are you going to be dangerous when you grow up." But he was smiling like a fool. "Pierce, you're in for a lot of sleepless nights when she starts attracting boys."
"We've solved that problem. There's a nunnery in Antarctica with her name on it."
Margaret walked toward him, picking up Elaine as the girl hurried to her.
"Uncle Sherman says he's going to teach me to get a baby."
Margaret's eyebrows went up.
Laughing, Hawkeye said, "That's a little out of context."
"I certainly hope so."
"Actually, the colonel was going to show her how to work us for a baby brother or sister."
"I think we've got the mechanics down pat." She kissed Elaine on the cheek. "You realize that if you get a baby, then you'll have to be a good big sister and set a perfect example. No more crying. No more letting Danny give you dessert before dinner. No more not eating your peas."
Elaine looked very disturbed.
"You'll have to clean your room and keep your toys picked up. No more—"
"A puppy would be okay." Elaine smiled winningly.
Potter busted up laughing. "Margaret, you're a genius. But then I guess you'd have to be to get along with this one." He cocked a thumb at Hawkeye.
"Yes, he does take some work." She evaded his hand. "I'm here to tell you that dinner is ready." She put Elaine down, telling her to take the colonel to the dining room. Then she wrapped her arms around Hawkeye. "You're supposed to talk her out of the baby thing."
"But you do such a good job, why should I get in the way." He kissed her cheek. "Would you like a puppy when we get back to Maine?"
Her eyes were very far away, and he remembered the little dog she fed at the camp.
"We could maybe find one who looks like him."
She smiled. "Just one that needs a home would be okay." She pulled away.
He drew her back. "I love you."
"I love you too." She kissed him, and their sweet touch turned into something more passionate.
"Might as well start," Potter said from the dining room. "They can go for quite a spell and I, for one, am hungry."
Hawkeye laughed and heard Margaret laugh too. "Let's surprise them and not stand here all night kissing."
"Okay." She leaned into him for a moment, as if getting strength from him. "I'm glad we're together...again."
"Me too." Kissing her, he led her into the dining room.
Across from them, Potter was dishing food onto Elaine's plate. From the other side of her, Hawkeye's dad was fixing her napkin.
"Oh, look, Elaine," Potter said. "Your mommy and daddy have decided to join us after all."
A hush fell over the table, except for Elaine and Erin and a gurgling Tom in his high chair. Potter turned red, and Hawkeye could tell that Margaret was holding her breath.
Elaine looked up at the colonel and said, "Hawkeye went to 'Daddy and me' day. We colored, only he hogged the blue crayon, and then we had stick horse races with the other kids and daddies. Hawkeye and I won but the teacher said we didn't follow the course."
"A stickler for details, that Miss Krabbe," Hawkeye said, winking at his daughter.
"That sounds like a grand time." Potter smiled in what Hawkeye thought was relief. He mouthed, "Sorry," to Hawkeye and Margaret.
Hawkeye felt Margaret squeeze him. Smiling, he said, "Make sure she gets extra peas, Colonel. Erin too."
Both girls put up a hell of a fuss. In the end, neither had peas on her plate.
"Nice distraction, Pierce," Margaret murmured, as she let go of him and went to her place between B.J. and Hawkeye's father.
Hawkeye settled in between Erin and Mildred Potter. Giving Mildred his best look, he said, "I don't know if I mentioned this, but that picture on Sherman's desk did not do you justice."
She smiled but her look was a bit stern. "I'm wise to your ways, young man. I spent all that time reading about you in my Sherm's letters."
Hawkeye stuck out his tongue at Potter, making Erin and Elaine laugh.
"Don't you dare do that," Margaret said to Elaine, just as the girl seemed about to mimic him.
"Party-pooper," she muttered.
"Now who could she have learned that from?" B.J. asked, grinning at Hawkeye.
"I plead the fifth. Or the five-year-old. Whichever."
His father looked over at him. "Forgot to tell you son. I called home to get the latest dirt. Turns out Manelli washed out as chief of surgery. So they'll be picking a new one. And guess who the front runner is?"
"About time they recognized genius." Hawkeye winked at Margaret, who was beaming at him, pride showing. "And I'll be happy to take it." He looked at Elaine, who was busily pushing bits of stuffing under her mashed potatoes. "As long as it doesn't take me away from my family."
He realized he'd said it without even having to think about it.
It felt damned good.