Part 2 by Brother Guile

Margaret looked down at the table. Where to begin? More like, why bother to begin? The story was so uninteresting, full of petty victories and defeats. The victories were unsatisfying because they proved nothing, just that she could still be a head nurse for one more year. The defeats were galling because they were the same defeats over and over. What was there to talk about, really?

She lifted her head, her eyes focusing somewhere in the distance, whether the distant past, the far corner of the room, or an unknown place she'd never get to. Her lips curled into the sarcastic grin her nurses dreaded.

"Nothing to complain about."

She casually looked over at Hawk. He was sitting hunched over, stock still. There was always something unsettling about that. Hawk was one of the most animated people Margaret had ever met. But when he heard something that shocked him, or that he found too outrageous to even believe that he had heard it he would freeze like this. She turned back to her scotch.

Hawkeye felt his pulse begin to race. Why was nothing always the heaviest thing in the world? It seemed for a moment that emptiness defined everything. An empty bed gave its verdict: lived or died. An empty sleeve defined a cripple. Emptiness and talk and, if you are lucky... Well, what are the odds of that?

"Not only is civilian life agreeing with you, but apparently all the civilians must be doing the same if Margaret Houlihan has nothing to complain about. I remember times you had Radar requisition complaints just to replenish inventory."

"That's not true. With you around to corrupt my nurses and lead Trap and then Beej into shenanigans there was never any danger of my running out of complaints." Margaret's eyes flashed with a little of their old fire.

Hawk nodded his head in that loose, exaggerated mannor of his. "Oh, sure. Blame it all on me. I'll bet you never knew that it was Radar who put me up to everything!"

Margaret nearly fell out of her chair laughing at the image of Radar O'Reilly, all five feet of him, clutching his clipboard and drawing diagrams for Hawkeye of nailing Frank's shoes to the floor, or painting his face with iodine. For a moment she could just let go and laugh and it felt so comfortable, so easy again.

Hawkeye grinned widely as his eyes almost became hidden in the crinkles. He took a sip of his martini. He held up the glass and squinted at it. "I can't believe people actually let gin sit around for years here. Back where I come from the coffee was always older than the gin." He grinned over at Margaret, who was finally calming down.

She felt his hand move over her wrist, and then his fingers pressing gently into her palm. She squeezed his fingers, and immediately worried whether she had squeezed too tight.

When she finally looked up she saw Hawk looking at her. Probing again.

"That bad, huh?"

Margaret pressed her lips together and shook her head. The light caught the silver and gold in her hair, the effect intensified by the matte blackness of her dress.

"If only it *were* bad! Bad I can deal with. I can deal with bombs. I can deal with shortages. Thirty, forty hour shifts in surgery? Hah!" The 'hah' exploded from her. A few people at the near end of the bar looked over. Neither Margaret nor Hawkeye noticed.

Hawkeye held her hand just a little tighter and waited. Margaret waited too. She wondered where the old Hawkeye was. The old Hawkeye would have said something to that. He would have filled this space with a joke, or maybe one of his irreverent tirades of indignation. Now, he waited. Maturity or exhaustion? Is there a difference?

"If only it were bad." Margaret began again, more quietly this time. "I am so bored. And what's worst of all is that I am bored with myself. You can't escape that, Hawk."

"But I heard that you had just arranged to take a position over at the medical school at Purdue. You are using your skills and getting the recognition you really deserve. You are getting new challenges. I don't understand." There was a slight tremor in his voice that told Margaret that he understood at least some of it.

"It was just time to move on from San Francisco. Just like it was time to move on from Walter Reed before that. I go, do my job, move on."

"Come on Margaret. Life is never that detached. Not for you, anyway."

"Isn't it? You said yourself I have not talked with anyone from the 4077th since we left." She pulled her hand away.

Hawkeye just looked at her. What is going on with her? This isn't Margaret. Or is it the real Margaret? The part I did not want to see, could not afford to see ... then. Who knows which is real?

"People don't talk for a lot of reasons, you know that."

"Well, this person doesn't talk because there isn't a helluva lot to say." She downed the rest of her scotch in one gulp and slammed the glass on the table.

"I heard that you were very happy at San Francisco." Hawkeye said this very quietly after carefully twirling the stem of his martini glass for a while.

"Well you heard wrong. I was miserable there. At the end I could barely bring myself to go in. The staff meetings in particular. My God! So many damn meetings. You have to meet so many damn people at them! You can't ever be left alone. Don't people understand that sometimes it is just too hard to have to meet the same damn person over and over again in staff meetings and not be allowed to get him out of your system?"

Margaret came to an abrupt halt and covered her eyes. Damn it to hell! Why can't I ever just keep my mouth shut? And who the hell is he anyway? Freedman?

Hawkeye got up, slouch-shouldered. "Room must be very warm. Our drinks evaporated. I'll be back." He quietly went to the bar. At least she is talking now, a little, he thought. He felt a dull ache, he wasn't sure where.

Margaret dabbed at her eyes with a cocktail napkin. It was okay. Just have another drink when he comes back, ask about Potter, Klinger. Get Hawk to tell a funny story about one of Radar's innumerable aunts or uncles. Then leave. Just disappear again.

It struck her just about the time that Hawkeye reached the table.

"You knew! You knew exactly where I was all this time! You knew what I was doing! Why didn't you ever call *me*?"

Hawkeye scrunched up his face and moved his right arm in a lazy arc to scratch behind his neck in a gesture Margaret had seen countless times before. She tried to put on her 'no funny business' look while part of her hoped she failed.

"Well?" she cocked her head to one side. 

Part 1 | Part 3