Part 1 by Zen Greene

The initial "meet and greet" soiree of the weekend's medical conference was in full swing. Dr. Ben Pierce stopped suddenly in mid-sentence, his gaze fixed elsewhere. Dr. Berger, who had been listening intently to Dr. Pierce's story of his first arterial graft at the field hospital, turned his head to follow the surgeon's glance. At the center of his field of vision was an arresting platinum blonde in a fitted, but rather unrevealing, black dress. She was engaged in conversation with a group of the surgical nurses attending the conference. Berger turned to Pierce to ask him if he knew who the woman was, but found himself looking at the surgeon's receding back.


Margaret Houlihan turned at the sound of the familiar male voice. "Hawk?"

Before she was consciously aware of having reached out to him, she found herself enfolded in a tenacious hug. Hawkeye held her so tightly that she could hardly breathe; but she noticed that she was holding on to him just as strongly. For a long moment, she pressed her face into the hollow where his shoulder joined his throat. She felt his face pressed against her hair. She listened to, or more truly felt, his resonant heartbeat thudding against her chest and felt his breath catch as he whispered, "God, it's good to see you again."

"Where have you been?" he asked, relaxing his hold on her to look into her eyes. "No one knew where to reach you - you didn't keep in touch with anyone. Not even Colonel Potter. That upset him; he considered you to be almost like another daughter...."

Margaret lowered her eyes briefly. " I really meant to contact him, but I'm not very good at 'keeping in touch.' What exactly do you say to each other after you've all gone through fire together and then suddenly it's over and you're safe in your quiet, pristine suburbs? We're all living ordinary civilian lives now. What do we still have in common to discuss?"

Hawk's eyes flashed through the moisture that was begin to build surreptitiously at the corners. "I've 'kept in touch' with B.J., even with Charles. I've spoken to Radar, Klinger, Father Mulcahy and Colonel Potter from time to time. We find things to discuss. Life is a pretty eventful thing, even when you *aren't* getting shelled twice daily. We all had a reunion in Chicago last year to celebrate the third anniversary of our release from the war; you were the only one not there...." He added more quietly, "...and the main one that I went there hoping to see. But, of course, you didn't appear. No one knew where to find you. Even your nurses had no idea what had happened to you or where you were living." He touched her face lightly. "I've been hoping that one day you might even contact me. Crabapple Cove is a small town: if you can reach the town, you can reach me."

"I thought of it - a few times." Margaret swallowed hard; her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "But every time, I imagined how awkward it would probably be. We never got along very well, and... and I wanted to remember what it was like when we did - the few times when it was comfortable to be together." She hesitated, then looked directly up into his eyes. "Somehow, in memory, those few moments have managed to strongly outweigh all of the other times."

"I know." Hawkeye looked down at her thoughtfully. Margaret was once again keenly aware of the intensity of his gaze - the gaze that so often in the past had weakened her resolve to be the iron-tough person her father had taught her to be. She hoped that Hawkeye had never realized the effect his eyes had on her. Instantly, she knew the main reason that she had avoided contacting him: such emotions made her feel weak; and she still had not accepted weakness, least of all in herself.

She studied him for a long moment, comparing him to the Hawkeye Pierce she remembered from the camp in Korea. He looked much older, tired; he lacked the pent-up anger and dark strength of purpose which had carried him through life at the 4077th. Very few strands of black remained in his hair. His impressively firm jawline had been softened by age. His gaze was gentler, wiser - that of a mature man who accepts his place in life.

Still, what most keenly occupied her attention at the moment was the gentleness of his hands as they held her shoulders. His touch was just as she remembered it: gentle, but strong, as if each part of his hand was intimately molded to her flesh, a part of her, even as it was part of him. Her eyelids flickered shut briefly as she remembered other times she'd felt that touch. So long ago, it seemed, but actually a bare three years.

His eyes searched hers. He seemed to be evaluating her in the same way. Briefly, he glanced up, as if distantly noting the crowd surrounding them. He looked back down at her and held out his hand. She reached out for the proffered hand and let him lead her out of the middle of the crowd to a small table by the bar.

Hawkeye seated her, then stepped away from the table to speak to the bartender. He returned with a martini for himself and a scotch for her, the brand she preferred. She was surprised that he would remember. He sipped his drink for a moment, studying her. She began to feel that old discomfort.

"You look great, Margaret. Even more beautiful than I remember. Civilian life obviously agrees with you."

She cleared her throat. "Thank you," she mumbled, uncomfortably aware of the fact that her hair now leaned more toward silver than gold.

"So where are you living now?" Hawkeye continued. "Where are you working? What has your life been like these past three years? I don't even know where to begin...."

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