Part 7 by Mark Kelly

She sat alone at the bar for what seemed like an eternity.

As one would fight the Margaret Houlihan battled with herself. Struggling to swallow her scotch over the massive lump in her throat, she tried desperately to assess the situation. Any passerby would not have a clue as to the emotional tumult taking place inside this woman and she did a wonderful job of disguising it.

"Took years to perfect it," said a bitter voice inside her.

Damn you 'Major' Houlihan. How dare you show your face in my life again? How dare you be proud of hurting Hawkeye? With that clenched jaw, those bitter eyes and that steely resolve, I don't need you to build any more emotional barricades, nor burn bridges that I've managed to keep standing.

And damn you Margaret. Damn you for so desperately wanting to be with that man. Damn you for loving him with every atom of your being. You tried so hard to keep him out, but it could never work. Just imagine the smug look on his face if he knew how he affected you. One look from those soft eyes and your false bravado would melt like fake butter in the Korean sun.

You're not as strong as you think. You've always needed a crutch, be it Frank or Donald or one of the many visiting dignitaries at the 4077th. Hawkeye Pierce will just be another to sign the guestbook and pass on through. He's not one to stand for orders and constant commands and you're just the one to give them.

No that's where you're wrong Major. There's no guestbook anymore. No demands, commands, repremands or anything of the like.

"My god..." thought Margaret. "I've even started rhyming objections like him.."

Now I know how much he affects me.

Leaving a tip on the bar, Margaret Houlihan saluted an invisible enemy and tipped the last of the bitter liquid down her throat.

She walked quickly back in the direction of Hawkeye's room. It was neither the arrogant strut of a major, nor the diffident shuffle of a timid woman but rather a perfectly balanced composition of them both. For the first time in her life Margaret had need not for a alias like 'Major' nor 'Hotlips.' And admittedly, it felt wonderful to be.....well......herself.

She paused to take breath, before knocking twice on Hawkeye's door.

Although it didn't show in her self-assured stride, a couple of 100 proof drinks wasn't helping her standing balance. She knew she looked a mess, but didn't care. I fell into the latrines with this man. This man has seen me in Army green for christ-sake! A smile there. Hawk would've been proud of that one.

...If he were in Room 210.

Hawkeye was engaged in a battle of his own. He paced the lawn of the hotel and ran his war-weary hands through a shock of hair grey beyond his years.

....Shouldn't have said it. You knew she would back away again, so why should this time would be any different?

I'll just take it back. Just apologise, give her a friendly hug and walk away.

Who are you kidding Pierce? Once she's in your arms, you'll never let her go.

...You're right. And the last thing I want to do is smother her. She's such a strong woman, she needs her space. Alright then.....forget the hug. A handshake.

Why not a salute? Just as formal, good for all occasions.

"Oh forget it. She's probably gone now anyway. I scared away the woman I love with my stupid honest confessions. Well, that's just damn ironic. Honesty isn't the best policy. And here I was thinking that's what made this world a better place."

And with the sarcasm dripping from that last words, the real Hawkeye was back. That piercing light again shot from his eyes and a small wry smile crept onto his lips.

But as the Pierce in Korea would have immediately sprung into action, with a new scheme or a spontaneous letter to Harry S. Truman, so the new improved civilian version of Benjamin Pierce now sat on the grassed lawn to consider the consequences.

She found him sitting by the fishpond. Hawkeye was leaning forward, hugging his knees in a childlike gesture that made Margaret's heart ache.

Hearing a noise behind him, he turned his head ever so slightly and saw her standing there. He fought the urge to look at her eyes for fear that she would unravel what remained of his self-control. Just look at the water you fool. A neutral ground.

"Margaret. I'm so incredibly sorry for what I said earlier. It was a stupid impulsive action, based on a couple of lousy alcoholic drinks and I want us to forget this ever..."

"Shut up." The words snapped out of her like a crisp salute even before she could think to stop them.

"What.....Margaret....." Hawkeye flinched at the harshness of her tone and their eyes met for the first time since he had professed his undying love.

"Please................Ben. Just listen to me."

That was a word unspoken before........Ben........Only his name, and yet it said an eternity more than a lifetime of useless small talk could. Or a Hallmark card for that matter. A chill ran down his back at hearing her speak his name and in that instant he knew that no handshake could ever settle this thing that he and Margaret shared.

The words rushed out of Margaret in a torrent of emotion.

"Oh god, I'm so sorry Pierce. You see, I'm like....this emotional cripple and......I can't.....this is so hard for me to do."

A breath. Margaret spoke quickly as though she thought Pierce had some place better to be. That he would run away like she had, just hours before.

"Do you know why I seemed only to miss material possessions when we were in Korea? Because the only thing I cared more about than 3 minute-boiled eggs, silk sheets and hot showers was standing next to me in the operating room, elbow-deep in the blood of young men whose lives he saved time and time again."

Another breath.

"It was you...always has been, always will be..and I almost hate myself for the weakness which allows me to say these wretched things to you."

"Well, then don't. I need to apologise for what I..."

"Benjamin Franklin Pierce, for the first time in your life, would you just shut up."

With all the strength of emotion she could muster, she grabbed his collar and pulled him to his feet. The look of ultimate shock upon his face was greater than any elaborate practical joke could have summoned and she cheered for that small victory.

They stood that way for several moments, just standing, staring into the other's eyes. And then, with a depth of clarity that was almost frightening, they saw what they had been looking for.

And they kissed.

As she had longed to do many times before, Margaret ran her hands through Hawkeye's thick, soft hair. His gentle hands- the very hands which had saved so many precious lives in another time and place- lingered across her back and shoulders and eventually moved to her throat where he lifted her chin ever-so slightly as he kissed her. And she him. Drinking each other in as the need that had been so long repressed by them both, flowed out onto the grass; their bodies fitting together so very naturally, like perfect dancing partners- where every curve was met with an equal and opposite. Her lips were even softer than he had remembered and her hair........her beautiful hair slipped through his fingers like silk.

"Margaret.." The word sounded so perfect in his throat. Allowing himself only time enough for a single breath, Hawkeye lifted her chin slightly and kissed the delicate skin underneath. Her hands roamed down his body, shoulders, chest, and the gentle arms which had once enfolded her, now held her close once more.

This wasn't an escape, nor was it finding comfort in the nearest pair of arms. This was a fantasy lived, a duel passion explored and the ultimate shared pleasure. Better than real eggs.

 ".....I love you Ben." The sentiment and the name, as unfamiliar as they were to Margaret Houlihan, could not have been more perfect.

His heart ached to hear those words, such wonderful words..and then both were silent as his deep kiss stole her very breath away.

Part 6 | Part 8