A/N: the title comes from The Beautiful South's song "Don't Marry Her...". I would use the album version but the swearword filter would block it.
The worst possible time for wounded to arrive was during shift change, so naturally that was when Radar heard the choppers weaving through the hills. Margaret was still having her breakfast in the mess tent, trying not to grimace at the weak coffee or at Hawkeye's habitual sniffing of the food. He was leaning his face on one hand, his eyes almost closed, and automatically bringing up the reconstituted egg for a smell. She knew from his wonderful lack of banter that he was exhausted after a night shift yet at the PA announcement he was right behind her, abandoned their trays and running for the triage area. Charles joined them, still wiping marmalade from his chin.
"Really! Can't a man eat a civilised breakfast in this abominable place?" he asked.
"I know I can't but then I eat the mess food," Hawkeye replied, checking on a series of chest wounds.
In amongst the shouting and the kicked up dust, Margaret knelt by one stretcher and did a double-take, even as her brain was automatically processing the medical data on his tags. She knew the man, beneath the caked on dirt and blood was a familiar face, a familiar name embossed on the metal she was holding.
"Jimmy? Jimmy Baxter?" Even as she was waiting for his reply, she was assessing his wounds. The shrapnel in his side wasn't too bad, nor the cut on his face, but his leg was in real trouble.
"Pierce! This one needs you straight away!"
"Maggie?" The man finally responded to her full volume voice. Opening his eyes with difficulty and managing to grasp her wrist. "Maggie Houlihan?"
"That's right, Jimmy. You're gonna be OK, you're at the 4077 now." She smiled down at him before looking back up to yell again. "Pierce!"
"Alright, alright! I'm here. What you got?"
"Shrapnel in the side, cut head and this," she moved aside the pad briefly so Hawkeye could assess the leg. She didn't like the way he drew in a breath sharply.
"OK, he goes first, I'll need to do an arterial transplant and we're gonna need plenty of plasma."
As the corpsmen lifted Jimmy's stretcher to take him straight into pre-op, Margaret caught Hawkeye's arm. "Hawk, I want to assist on this one."
"Wouldn't have it any other way. You know him?"
"We were high school sweethearts."
"Where was I before all this started?" Hawkeye asked, slumping down onto a bench and removing his mask. Charles was stripping off his own scrubs, dropping them into the basket. He even made that routine act into a display of disdain.
"I have no idea where you were, doubtless some apple pie small town with a white picket fence and dogs yapping in the yard, but I was on course for a brilliant career at Boston."
"Thank you, Charles, but I meant before this last session. Oh yeah, I was coming off of an eight hour shift and looking forward to not eating in the mess tent."
"For someone who should have been in bed, you did an admirable job on that boy's leg."
"I'll say," Margaret added, joining them. Charles helped her with the ties on the back of her gown and handed her the white coat she preferred to wear in post-op. Hawkeye opened his eyes and grinned at her.
"So this Jimmy, you dated him in High School? What was he, captain of the football team?"
"Actually, and not that it's any of your business, but he was in the debate class and the chess team."
"Not your usual type."
"And just what do you mean by that, mister?"
Hawkeye rolled his eyes and Charles decided to step in. "I'm sure what Pierce meant was you would seem to rate physical prowess higher than mental achievement."
"Are you saying I date dumb lugs?"
Hawkeye shrugged. "Look at the evidence - Frank Burns, that Neanderthal Penobscott..."
"Leave my ex-husband out of it! And to think I was going to offer you a drink after saving Jimmy's leg!"
She slammed the door behind her. Charles looked at Hawkeye and smirked. "You do have such a way with the women, Pierce."
Hawkeye groaned and pulled himself back off the bench. He took off his scrubs and slammed them into the basket. As he left, he turned and smiled back at Charles. "Ah yes, but I'm not going to be spending the next couple of hours in post-op with her. Good luck!"
Charles made his round of the post-op beds punctually, on the hour. He had little care for military discipline he just approved of strict routines in hospitals. That his idea of how to run a post-op was in alignment with the situation he found himself in was sheer serendipity. Finding all was well he settled back into his chair and took up the latest magazine from home, just as Margaret slipped back through the doors with coffee for them both. More well matched timing, he thought as he thanked her.
"How's Jimmy doing?" she asked in a low voice, barely noticing his gratitude for the caffeine.
"He's showing signs of regaining consciousness and blood appears to be circulating well in his leg."
"Thank you, doctor."
He watched as she slipped over to the bedside of her old school friend, marvelling at how she managed to walk quietly in those heavy army boots. Her face, softened by the low light and by her concern, was warm and gentle. There were times, especially at moments like this, that he thought her a most wonderful woman. If only her grace under fire could be used to temper her emotional outbursts, he'd be happy to introduce her to his friends back in Boston.
Charles realised he was still staring at Margaret as she sat watch. He shook his head slightly, smiled to himself at the ridiculous train of his thoughts and returned to reading his journal.
When his eyes first fluttered beneath their lids, Margaret found herself gripping Jimmy's hand. Her shift had finished twenty minutes ago, but she'd wanted to be there when he woke. He looked so much older now than when she'd last seen him nearly ten years ago. Even with his face relaxed in sleep, she could trace deep furrows. Worn lines that suggested years of stress. Mind you, she didn't doubt he'd see the same strain in her face.
She sensed that he was conscious from the way his arm tensed. He wasn't willing to open his eyes yet. She'd have to reassure him. It was the same with a lot of patients: they were often unwilling to open their eyes and find out what had been done to their bodies.
He opened them then. Still cornflower blue, but worried. "I wasn't imagining it? It's really you, Maggie?"
He pushed his head off the thin pillow to get a better look at her, but then winced as his body reminded him he'd been shot. She put one hand on his chest and pushed lightly, making him lie back.
"Yes, it's really me, Jimmy. You washed up in the 4077, my unit."
"So you really went and joined up?"
"Yep. I guess you were drafted, huh?"
"Sure was. I'm a teacher now. No way was I wanting the army life after growing up on those bases. So, how bad is it?" He tried to look down the line of his body, work out what was wrong.
"Well, it wasn't pretty. The shrapnel was minor, except for one piece that had cut your leg. You're very lucky you got sent here. Doctor Pierce can work miracles when it comes to arterial transplants."
He looked seriously into her eyes. "I'm lucky I was sent here as I get to see you again."
There was a theatrical embarrassed cough from behind her, and Margaret turned round rapidly, letting go of Jimmy's hand. Typical of Pierce to choose that moment to check on his patient. Pierce ignored her glare.
"Hi Jimmy. I'm the miraculous Doctor Pierce. How are you feeling?"
"Like someone tried to saw my leg off."
"Mm-hm." Pierce pulled the bedding back from Jimmy's foot and tweaked each of the toes. "Feel that?"
"A bit, but they're kind of numb."
"That'll be the morphine. Margaret, make sure his dosage isn't too high. Wiggle your tootsies for me, would you, Jimmy?"
Pierce watched the toes move slowly, made a note on the chart and then tucked the bedding back under. Good, Margaret thought, now he'll go away. But he didn't. Despite her continual scowling, Pierce, folded his arms along the metal end of the bed and leaned on them.
"So. You knew Margaret at High School?"
"Yeah," Jimmy smiled, "she was the wildest girl on the base."
"All plaits and uniform?"
Jimmy didn't seem to be noticing that she was shaking her head slightly. Shut up, don't tell Pierce anything, he'll use it against me.
"She had the cutest habit of falling off her bike you've ever seen. That's how I got to know her - she collided with me."
She was looking daggers at them both now. Jimmy seemed oblivious, but Pierce was clearly enjoying it.
"I'm told you were on the chess team."
"Sure was. Maggie here could never rustle up a good game though."
"I've got a set. I'll give you a game or two if you like. You'll be here for a couple of days before we can ship you out."
"Thank you, Doctor Pierce. For everything." Jimmy gestured at his leg. Pierce smiled then, and glanced at Margaret.
"Thank Maggie here - she made sure you were first on my table."
Charles was bored. He was on another evening shift in post-op and he'd run out of reading material. The only thing left on the desk that he hadn't read was the army regulations book and he refused to be bored enough to read that. A Winchester could always amuse themselves.
Halfway down the ward, Margaret was sat on a chair, frowning at the chess board set up between herself and Jimmy. They were talking in low voices, with frequent smiles and quiet laughs. Jimmy was recovering well, but playing against Margaret could hardly be an engaging game. Charles had played her a few times himself, and noticed that she was dreadful at the long term strategy. She would get caught up in the minor skirmishes and forget the rest of the game. Even Pierce was a better player, when he could be bothered. At least he thought about what he was doing. No, Charles had seen Jimmy play Pierce and the game had been longer, more considered by both sides. With Margaret, Jimmy was not being challenged. All his moves were quick, certain, following a plan. She was taking ages to move a piece and then looking annoyed when she realised her mistakes. Charles decided, as he saw Jimmy capture her king, to offer to play the man himself. It would, at least, provide him with something better to do than to read the army regulations.
They didn't look up as he approached, busy moving the pieces back to their starting places. Then Jimmy's hand caught Margaret's and Charles was just close enough to hear his question.
"Maggie. Will you marry me?"