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) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

Under the Influence

by Djinn


It's eleven o'clock in the morning and you're already buzzed.  But it's okay, because you're just one more nurse at a medical conference and you can disappear into the crowd.  Nobody's going to know that this is how you usually are at this time of day.  Nobody's going to lecture you on how you're throwing your life away, or tell you that what you're doing is dangerous.  Nobody will try to pretend that they understand what you're going through, what you've been through, all the while giving you that slightly superior look that says that they'd never fall into such a state.  No, here you can just be one more conference attendee who's had a little too much to drink with lunch.  Nobody needs to know that for you this is a steady state. 


You walk to your room, down the long hallway of the once luxurious hotel and speculate on how good a deal someone on the organizing committee must have gotten from the owners and how they couldn't possibly have checked the place out before they signed on the dotted line.  The carpet smells and it's torn and pulling up in places, and the wallpaper's peeling.  You think maybe you need another drink so that you won't notice things like that.  There's plenty to drink in your room.


A door opens and a man you don't want to see pops out.  "Margaret, sweetheart.  I thought I'd eat lunch in.  Why don't you join me?"


Doctor Callaway is shit faced again.  Every time he gets drunk—usually at the Christmas party and on one of these junkets—he hits on you.  And every time you make a scornfully amused sound and keep on walking.  You may be a lush, but you have your standards.


"Hey, baby, come on.  I just want to get to know you better.  I'm a really nice guy.  Give me a chance."


You don't even dignify that with an answer, just keep walking.  Your room is at the end of the hall, where all the cigarette and pipe smoke congregates.  At night, when people are having parties in their rooms, the smell makes you gag.  You never go to the parties, even though you're invited.  You'd rather drink alone.  You know that's not a good sign, but it's better than going home with someone new every night, which you used to do when you still thought you shouldn't drink by yourself.


There's a note stuck under your door and you pull it out.  You can predict what it says.  "I noticed you in the radiology lecture.  Join us in room 211 at 6 pm for a party."  Or at least that's what the last note you found said.  Funny thing though.  You didn't attend the radiology lecture—it was just the latest in a long line of come-ons.  And not a very clever one.  You wadded it up and threw it away.  You know this note won't be any different. You don't even unfold it, just set it on the table and reach for the bottle of vodka. 


Vodka is good, doesn't leave a smell on your breath, or so you like to pretend.  But you know all alcohol smells.  Reeks, in fact.  Reeks like Korea did.  The scotch in the officers' club, the gin from Hawkeye's still, the cognac Charles used to break into when he couldn't stand it anymore.  Booze...booze was the smell of Korea.  The good smell, or at least the less bad one.  It beat the smell of blood and guts in the O.R.  Was a hell of a lot more pleasant than the smell of urine and shit from the latrine when the wind was blowing the wrong way.  Or of rotting garbage from the dump when the wind blew the other wrong way.  Sometimes they burned the garbage.  That was worse.  The smell got in your head, lingering for days after they stopped burning.  


Your phone rings, bringing you back to a present that doesn't include burning garbage and latrines.  You ignore the ringing.  There's no one you want to talk to here, no one that matters.  You left anyone that mattered back in Korea.  Not that you knew it at the time.  You were looking forward to getting home, even excited about your next posting.  And stupidly happy to get away from the people you'd just spent the worst years of your life with. 


You thought you wanted normal.  You thought you wanted mundane.  And for a while normal was wonderful, mundane was beautifully dull.  But it was a few weeks after you got home that the flashbacks started.  In the O.R. at the worst possible times.  You'd be handing a doctor a scalpel and you'd get a flash of memory.  Pierce or McIntyre asking you to "Hurry it up, sweetheart."  Or Colonel Potter or B.J asking in a far more gentle way that you hand them this or that instrument.  Sometimes it was Charles or Frank you saw.  You'd look up to hand Doctor Brody or Doctor Sinclair an instrument and they'd be gone and you'd be back in Korea and it would all come rushing over you.  You thought you were covering it up; after all, you could do your job in your sleep.  You thought nobody was noticing that sometimes you were very far away, even if only for a second.  But then one day Henry Blake stood in front of you and you started crying. 


You blamed your behavior that time on a family crisis and your supervisor seemed to accept that.  She was an understanding woman, sympathetic to how difficult it was to be away from home.  Of course she'd never served, didn't understand just how far from home you'd actually been.  Korea was something that had happened to other people.  She had no idea what it was like, neither did the other doctors.  Not one of them had been to Korea so they couldn't possibly understand what you saw the next time you flashed back, when you looked down at the routine appendectomy that you were assisting with and saw a belly full of shrapnel.  That was when you started dropping instruments. 


They transferred you out of the O.R. soon after that, put you into internal medicine where you took temperatures and blood pressures and asked the patients things that the doctor would just ask them again.  They made you see the staff psychiatrist too.  You're pretty sure he didn't believe the stories you told him about Korea because the more you talked the more he looked down at the pad he was writing on and the less he looked at you.  You realized he thought you were exaggerating.  That the gore and the blood and the other horrible things you talked about couldn't possibly be real.


But they were real.  You lived them.  You can still taste the way the air in the O.R. deposited tiny particles of dust and blood and body parts on your tongue when you weren't masked.  How you had to learn not to gag at the smell of guts, literal guts—the psychiatrist had nearly rolled his eyes when you tried to explain what that meant.  Intestines, livers, stomachs, a virtual anatomy lesson on the floor, on your operating gown, on your skin, even in your hair.  You wished, not for the first time, that you could share those memories, let him and all the others who thought you were just a little bit "off" get a taste of Korea.  Get a whiff of the smell of day-old gangrene.  Or see a man holding his insides together with his own belt.  Or listen to a soldier scream because of the pain in his leg—a leg you'd watched the surgeons cut off hours earlier. 


But you can't share the memories.  The people you could share them with are all gone, scattered around the country the way you'd always known they would be.  Klinger tried to pull the group together for a reunion.  You meant to go, but at the last minute chickened out.  What if they didn't understand you either?  What if they were all okay and you really were "off"?  You just couldn't take that chance.  The idea that you were normal, if only within that small special group, was what kept you going, what kept you sane.


Or as sane as you could be, under the circumstances.


You reach for more vodka and your hand brushes the note.  You give up trying to ignore it and unfold it.  It doesn't say what you expect.  It says, "I'm here.  I need to see you.  -  Hawkeye, room 410."  You nearly drop your glass; you do spill most of the vodka out of it.   You put it down before the rest is lost too.  The note says the same thing no matter how many times you read it.  He's here.  He needs to see you.  It's from Hawkeye.  He's in room 410.


You're up and grabbing your key and you've made it to the door before you have time to think about it.  But as your hand touches the doorknob, your brain kicks in.  You can't do this.  It's not smart. 


It may not be smart, but you don't care.  You walk back to the table, grab the bottle of vodka.  He can provide the glasses.  You hurry down the hall, ignoring the looks from some of the doctors as you wait for the elevator.  They're going up too, and they eye the bottle in your hand, check you out in a way that in the past might have pleased you but now just irritates you.  You decide not to say something sharp, something cutting.  You keep your eyes on the floor markers and the elevator hits four and you get out and walk down a hall that also smells like smoke and has wallpaper that peels.


When you get to his door, it suddenly strikes you that he might not be in there, or he might not be alone.  Maybe he meant for you to call him?  You try to stop your hand as it falls to the door but it's too late, it lands with a dull thud.  Not quite a knock, but more than silence.  You consider running away, going down the hall and round the corner to the stairwell that will take you safely back to the second floor where you can drink your vodka in peace.


The door's swinging away from you before you realize he's opened it.  He doesn't say anything, just stands staring at you.  You hold up the vodka, "I come bearing gifts."  It's a stupid thing to say but he doesn't seem to notice.  He stares at you and you stare at him and you realize that his eyes are darker than you recalled and his hair is streaked with gray but his smile as it slowly spreads across his face is the same as you remember.  It's mischievous, unrepentant, and boyish.  But as you start to smile back, you realize that you can also see a trace of something else, something that haunts him.  You wonder if it's the same thing that's haunting you.


"I saw your note," you say, wondering why the only things that are coming out of your mouth are stupid.


"And yet here you are."  He's teasing you and you realize no one has done that for a long time.  He reaches for the vodka, "And you brought a friend.  How thoughtful.  She can talk to my pals."  He gestures to the table where you see several bottles waiting.  "Can I offer you a martini?"


You know better than to mix, but a martini sounds good, so you nod.  Hawkeye could probably offer you hemlock at this point and you'd take it.  Somehow, since you left the 4077th, he has become synonymous with salvation, and you know this is a both a silly and dangerous notion.  To invest one person with that much responsibility isn't fair to him or to you, but that doesn't stop you from doing it.


He hands you the drink and you take too big a sip and almost choke. 


"Go easy, Margaret.  This isn't the good stuff like we had in the Swamp."  He grins and now you can see even more things that aren't happy in his eyes, in the strained lines at the corners of his mouth.


"Are you all right?" you ask and he nods quickly.  You recognize the gesture.  It's a deflection, a refusal to answer the question any more than is necessary.  "Pierce, you're not all right."


He takes a sip of his drink, does it much more successfully than you did.  When he finally looks up he says, "Why do you say that?" and it's as if he's asking you why you think it will snow in August.  He's far better than you at covering up.  Always has been.  You imagine that talent comes from playing the clown, much harder for people to see through the jokes.  Unless they know you. 


And you know him.  Better than maybe even he believes.  "Maybe because I'm not all right either.  I recognize the look."  It isn't what you meant to say.  You meant to say something witty and clever but instead you tell him the truth and it shakes you that he's broken through so quickly without even trying.  You don't know if he even wants to hear this.  But you think about the note.  "And you said you needed to talk."


He gets a glint in his eye, the old "I gotcha" look that's so familiar.  "I said I needed to see you."


"There's a difference?"


He laughs, the sound is brittle.  "Seeing you doesn't imply talking."


You take a long drink; his words hurt and you suddenly wonder if he just wants what all the other doctors seem to.  "My mistake," you mutter.


There's silence then, and you fill it by finishing your glass and getting up.  You wonder whether it's bad manners to take the vodka back with you and suddenly don't care.  You reach for it but he grabs you, pulling you off balance, down into his lap.  He's holding you close with one hand, the other is running down your hair and you realize it's been a long time since anyone touched you.  You hear someone moan, and it takes you a minute to recognize your own voice.  You try to push away; you're angrier than you've been in a long time but his mouth is already too close to you and you raise your head and press your lips against his.  This time when you hear someone moan, it isn't you.


"Why?" you manage to say between deliriously frantic kisses.  "Why now?"  He's never tried to contact you before; you don't understand why you should run into him now.


"Fate," he murmurs, and you find it too whimsical an answer for your taste but are loath to make fun of it.  You wonder if he believes in such things.  You don't know if you ever did, but if you did, Korea would have destroyed all of that.  There was no such thing as fate.  Just bad choices.


His hands are roaming over your body and you remember other times when he touched you this way.  That long ago time when the two of you were alone in the hut was the first occasion but you don't like to think about it because it still hurts that you mistook comfort for love.  So you shy away from that memory, and let yourself remember the other times he snuck into your tent, or you asked him to stay with you, the way it became second nature to find comfort in each other's bodies.  Second nature to not read too much into it.  Second nature to love him without falling in love.  You know that last bit's a lie, but it's a lie you've held to for this many years, and you aren't going to stop now.


He's pulling your top off and you think maybe you should tell him to stop.  You wonder if he wants to talk to you at all or if he just wants comfort for a while.  You're about to stop him when his hand goes lower and you throw your head back against his shoulder.  You decide talk can wait until you can think again. 


He has always been good at touching you, good at knowing what you like.  It surprises you that he would be so much better than the others, but maybe when he spent so much time in the early years together learning how to get your goat, he also picked up a few tips that would apply in less antagonistic circumstances.  Like these. 


You don't try to be quiet; he likes it when you're loud.  And as you slump against him, you feel his lips on your cheek and his voice is unusually tender as he says your name.  You turn to look at him and he's smiling, and it's a sad smile.  He seems uncomfortable under your gaze, and gives you a long, sweet kiss.  You want to ask him what's wrong but you know he won't tell you.  So you turn your attention to his body, and find him ready for you.  You try to maneuver but he holds you in place and you're suddenly confused.  This is the easy part of relating to him.  Why is he stopping you?


He kisses you again, and then he buries his face in your chest, his lips still nipping at you as he says, "I'm lost, Margaret."


You don't move, can't breathe.


"I can't get away from it."  He pulls away, staring at you.


You nod, unsure what he wants you to say.  Then you realize he doesn't want you to say anything.  He's waiting to hear what you want to say.  You relax muscles you didn't realize you'd been holding tight, reach for his face, rubbing your thumbs gently along his cheekbones. 


"I can't either," you say—the first time you've said it to anyone who would really believe you.  "I had to see a psychiatrist..."  You can't finish, feel embarrassed.


He nods.  "Work sent you?"  His smile shows you he's been in the same boat.  "What we need, Margaret, is a shrink who's been to Korea."


"Like Sidney?"


He nods.  "I looked him up last year.  Thought he could help me like he did so many times in Korea."


"And he couldn't?"


Hawkeye looks away and you understand.


"How?"  He's not the first.  Henry Blake was the first.  Killed before he even made it back home.  And you heard that Donald was shot dead by Darlene, his mistress back when you were stupid enough to be married to him.  His mistress, then his wife—a wife angry enough to kill when she found out he cheated on her too.  That cracked you up for some reason—it was after about five margaritas, that could have been the reason.  But you thought that the rest of the people you knew in Korea were still alive out there, somewhere you could find them.


"Cancer," Hawkeye says and you close your eyes. 


You see a lot of that in internal medicine.  Cancer.  Such a simple word, kind of pretty actually.  But it's not pretty.  People come in complaining to the doctor of a pain here, a weird tightness there.  They leave with a death sentence.  The treatments are horrible, and they never seem to make any difference.  You sometimes want to tell the people not to bother, just go home.  Die with dignity.  But then you see a patient actually improve, actually live, and you think that maybe you should just keep your advice to yourself. 


Besides it's better to just stay out of other people's lives.  Better to just leave them alone when you're as screwed up as you know yourself to be.   "There should be a number you can call."


"There is.  It's called the VA." 


You roll your eyes.  "I'd rather be crazy."


He nods.  "Me too."


He buries his face in your neck, breathing deeply.  You don't wear the same perfume anymore, wonder if he likes what he smells.  His arms are wrapped around you in a tight embrace and you relax against him, let him sniff you and hold you and kiss your neck where it meets your collarbone. 


"I've missed you," you whisper.  Again such honesty.


"I look for you at every conference," he replies.


"Look for me at my home address, Hawkeye.  It would be easier."  Your voice is harsh, and you don't care.  He knew where you were; Klinger sent out everyone's addresses.  He could have looked.


His arms tighten around you, as if acknowledging you're right.  "I thought..."




He laughs, the sound is so bitter it makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise.  It's the perfect imitation of your own laugh. 


"I thought," he says so softly you have to strain to hear him, "that if you were okay and I showed up like this, I'd just pull you down with me."


"How could you think I'd be okay?"


"You were tougher than I was."  He pulls away and touches your cheek softly, painting the lines of your chin with his fingers. 




"I wanted to believe you were.  I wanted to believe that when things got too bad, you would be there to save me."  He reaches for his drink.  "This has been the only thing I've asked for salvation lately."  He holds it up to your lips and you drink deeply. 


"I know.  Me too."  You look away.  "It's a problem."  Easier to say than that you have a problem with it. 


"I know."  He drains the glass.  "I don't care."


You know it's true because you haven't cared about it either for so long.  You shift, feel him push you up.  Once you're standing, he takes the rest of your clothes off, then follows you up, pulling off his own clothes. 


You suddenly wonder if the cost of one night with him will be worth how much it will hurt to walk away again.  He frowns at your expression, lets go of you and goes to sit on the edge of the bed.  He stares at you, as if trying to assess your mood, as if you aren't both naked and about to have sex.  Suddenly tired of the scrutiny, you hurry to him, push him backwards and wait till he's in the middle of the bed, safely anchored by hard mattress and worn sheets, before climbing onto him and finishing what he started.


He holds you when it's over, holds you and kisses you and then he begins to shake.  You would comfort him, would tell him not to cry if you weren't crying too.


"I nearly killed myself last month," you whisper to him.




"Pills."  There were lots of pills in internal medicine.  Although the hospital is getting stricter.  Too many nurses are addicted these days.


You planned to take the whole bottle.  Drank half a bottle of vodka to make it easier to take the pills.  But the booze and the meds mixed wrong.  You spent half the night throwing up into the toilet, the other half lying in a ball on the bathroom floor as you faded in and out of consciousness.  You woke up at noon the next day.  Called in and made up some story about the flu.


You think they believed you.  If not, they probably just thought you were drunk or hung over.


"Don't do that."


You look at him. 


"Don't kill yourself.  I need you."  He kisses you, and this time there's something utterly tragic in the caress.  "I need you, Margaret."


"Have you tried to do it?"


He laughs and it is the bitter sound again.  "Oh, not directly.  I do stupid things though.  I go out on the water in our boat when I've had too much to drink. I drink in the boat and midnight fish and hope that I'll fall overboard as I haul one in.   Or I walk through the woods during hunting season wearing white-tailed deer brown."  He smiles.  "I live a charmed life.  I don't fall in the water and no one ever shoots me."


"I'm glad," you say. 


"Why?"  His hands are moving over you again.  You realize you've never known another person's body better than his.  Or wanted to know anyone's as well as you know his.  Even Frank was more a mystery to you than Pierce, even if you were with Frank more frequently.  Even if Frank loved you in his own twisted way.


But for you, Frank was an infatuation.  Hawkeye was...


You would rather not think what he was.


"Why are you glad I'm not dead, Margaret?"  He kisses you again, his lips pressing at yours in a way that is insistent and territorial. 


You don't answer.


"Just say it, dammit.  For once, just say it."  He sounds frantic, the manic irritation that Korea used to bring out in him. 


You don't want to say it.  "Why do I have to be the one to say it?"


"Because I have to know."


You try to pull away from him.  "Why?  So you can reject me?  So you can walk away from me again?"  You wrench yourself away, roll to the edge of the bed.  The floor is inches away, you could be up and dressed and gone in moments if you wanted to.


He touches your back, and you sigh.


You don't want to leave him. 


"Say it.  Please?"


"I love you." 


The words hang in the air. You wish you could take them back.  Wish you could make them into a joke or a lie.  But you can't.


You love him. 


You have loved him for too long.  And you have never told him.


His arms crush you to him, your back against his chest.  His lips are on your neck, sending shivers down your spine. 


"I love you, Margaret." 


It sounds like a lie of desperation to you.  You flinch. 


He lets you go.  "Don't you want me to love you?"


"I don't want you to say it if it's not true," you whisper.


"It is true."


"Since when?"


He sighs.  "Since forever."


You shake your head.  It's a nice answer.  A safe answer. 


An untrue answer.


"Just because I'm like you, Pierce, doesn't mean I can save you."  You turn over and kiss his face gently because you don't want to hurt him, you just want to make him stop lying.  "But I'll try.  I'll try to save you, if you try to save me.  And if you stop lying about loving me."


"I do love—"


You press your fingers to his lips, harder than you meant to.  "Tell me later.  When I can believe you."




You shrug.  "When we're not drunk, and we've lasted more than a few hours together."


He nods.  "I will." 


He kisses you then, pushes you down, follows you.  You and he have always fit so well together, bodies joining together as if molded for each other.  He can give you pleasure and you can give him pleasure and the sex is addictive if only for that. 


It's made more so by the comfort that follows the pleasure.


"Come back to Maine with me?" he asks.


You shake your head.  "I have to get back."


He looks stricken and you are shocked.


"But if you really want me with you, I'll come as soon as I can."


He nods, his expression clearing as he kisses you again.  He's more affectionate than you remember.  He says your name more than you remember too.


It occurs to you that maybe he really does love you.  Then you push the thought away.  It will hurt too much if it isn't true.


"I'm thirsty," you say in between kisses.


He points to the table, to the bottles of booze, your old friends. 


"No.  Thirsty."  You point to the bathroom.  Maybe it is time to start trying other beverages.  Less damaging ones.


He smiles, gets out of bed and goes into the bathroom.  Comes out with two glasses filled with water.  You drain the glass, he does the same.  It quenches your thirst. 


It doesn't touch the ache.  He sees you glance toward the table, mutters something about tapering off and gets up to bring the bottle of vodka over to the bed.  You hold out your glass, let him fill it up with that other clear liquid.  It feels hot as it runs down your throat and you try not to shudder with relief.


You see that he isn't making any attempt to hide how good the booze tastes to him.  You wonder if that's a good sign or a bad one.


"I've been drinking since I got back," you say.  You drank a lot at the 4077th too, but everyone did.  You didn't stand out there.  And compared to doctors that had a still in their tent, your little hip flask was positively restrained.  But here, even in the land of the five o'clock cocktail party, you find yourself on the extreme side of the alcohol consumption scale. 


"I never stopped drinking."  He shakes his head.  "I set up a still for fun in the garage when I got back.  It wasn't the same and I let it run out.  Bottles are too easy to come by."


You laugh.  "And that stuff'll rot your insides out."


"Well, there's that too."  He puts his glass down, reaches for yours and puts it on the bedside table.  "Come here."


You lose yourself in him again, in his touches and kisses and murmured words that make no sense so you quit trying to figure out what he's saying.  It's not because he's drunk, he's always done this.  You find it comforting that some things don't change.


He holds you, cuddles against you and whispers, "My dad will like you."


You wonder if his dad drinks.  Or what he thinks of all the booze.  Somehow you doubt you'll be seen as a good influence.


But you don't argue.  "I'm sure I'll love him too."


"And Maine is beautiful.  You'll see."


You thought Georgia would be beautiful too.  It's not.  But then you don't have him there and maybe that will make all the difference.


"I'm afraid."  You hear the words, wonder who said them.  Then realize it was you.  Vodka and Pierce are the perfect confessional inducements.


"Of what?  Me?"


You nod.  Yes, you're afraid of him.  Of how it might not work out, probably won't work out, and then you'll both be left without your lifelines.  The one person left to you who could save you, and you can't even make that work.


"It's our last chance, Margaret."  He's agreeing with you.  That's probably a bad sign. 


You can see the two of you holding on long after it's feasible.  Afraid to let go and face the nothingness that waits if you fail with your failsafe. 


"Maybe we shouldn't..."  The words are cowardly but you can't take them back.


"Maybe we should."  He isn't so afraid, you realize.  Not so worried.  Or maybe he has more faith in you than you do in him...or in yourself.  You know how easy it is for you to screw up something good. 




He silences you with a kiss. 


You let him.  It's easier to think when you can't think.  Easier to plan for the future when now is all you can feel and see. 


"We need to get some help, Margaret. With the booze, the dreams—you are having dreams?"


"Nightmares," you correct and see him nod in understanding.  "And hallucinations during the day."  You watch his face carefully.  This is new, this is big.  You could be psychotic. 


You wait for him to pull away.  He doesn't.  "Me too.  Every now and then."  He snuggles in, pulling you close.  His arms are warm and strong and you allow yourself to let go.  To let down your guard and just let him protect you for a few hours. 


Maybe for a lifetime.


"I think that may be the booze."  His voice is matter-of-fact.  "I think we need to stop drinking."


You've thought that for some time now.  Unfortunately, your body and the booze disagree with that assessment.  "It won't be easy.  I've tried."


"Me too."  He sighs.  "Together, we'll make it."  His voice leaves no room for dissent.  For doubt.


"Right.  Together we'll be fine."  You don't want to remind him that no matter how much he loves you, he can't crawl into your brain.  Can't fix what's broken inside you.  Ultimately, you're still alone, even if the two of you last what's left of a lifetime.


"When can you come?"


It's a three-day drive if you take it slow from Atlanta to Crab Apple Cove.  You know because last summer you drove it.  Parked on the street outside his house and just stared.  You were exhausted and you had to go to the bathroom but you didn't get out of the car.  All that way...to lose your nerve.  You drove to Portland.  Crashed in a cheap motel with an even cheaper bottle of wine.


You slept for a day and half only a few hours from the man you wanted to see more than anything.  Slept and then got back in your car and drove back to Atlanta.


And cried the whole way home.  Cried because you were such a coward.  Because you wanted to turn around but something hard and practical inside you refused.  Cried because you hated the life you were getting closer to with every mile you gained toward Atlanta.


Now he's saying that Maine can be home.  That he can be home.  You want to believe him. 


"Margaret?  You do want to come?"


You pull his face down to yours, let the kiss that lasts forever be your answer. 


"Then when?"


Your brain is too fuzzy to do complex calculations.  Like figuring out how long it will take you to pack up your apartment or close out your affairs.  "Two weeks."  You pull the number out of the air.  Probably because it's the amount of notice you should give and you can't afford to not get the reference from Atlanta General.


"Two weeks."  He says it happily.  As if that date would be Halloween and Christmas and some special Hawkeye holiday all in one.


"Two weeks," you repeat. 


You have the strangest feeling as he pulls you even closer, as his free hand runs down your back, and strokes your hair, and touches your cheek.  You feel as if he could become your new booze.  The long tall bottle of emotion you cut off, of passion you refused to feel because it let in too many other dark sentiments, of love you gave up on a long time ago.


"We'll be okay," you murmur as you let your eyes close.  "Together."


"Yes.  Together."  His voice shakes.


You smile.  It's your turn to believe, apparently.  That's fine.  You can trade off having faith.  If you can't save each other, then you can't save anyone.  "Go to sleep," you whisper. 


You feel his hand slow, then stop moving, lying heavily on your arm, warm and solid against your skin.  His head rests against yours, his lips on your forehead. 


You feel a rush of love for him, and you don't try to beat it back.  You're smart enough to know that this time you'll need that love if the two of you are to survive.  You'll need it badly.  Both of you.


You look over at the table, smile gently at the booze.  You'll have to go easy on it.  Make the breakup gentle.  Vodka has been a faithful lover, a staunch ally.  A good friend.  You imagine Pierce's bottles are equally loving.  You'll have to take it slow, let them down gently.


Breaking up is never easy.  Even if it is for the love of your life.  You wonder what it feels like to love your life. 


You hope you'll find out.