Author’s Note: Rather than this being an alternate ending to "Who Knew?" I prefer to think of it as the missing final chapter. It is also part four of my ongoing series and a prologue of sorts to "Misunderstandings". Many thanks to Audrey Meusel and Margarita Martinez for their very helpful suggestions and criticism. Any and all comments are very welcome and appreciated!


by Khaja

March 1953; MASH 4077, Korea; Evening

BJ Hunnicutt pushed open the doors to the mess tent, automatically wrinkling his nose at the slightly pungent odor that wafted out to greet his nostrils. Scanning the small crowd, he spotted Majors Houlihan and Winchester sitting together at one of the long tables. He served himself a cup of coffee from one of the silver cylinders and headed over to join them. Both his colleagues looked to be lost in thought. "Why so glum, chums?" BJ knew very well what the response would be, but made a half-hearted attempt to lighten the mood anyway.

Margaret stopped stirring her hash and looked up, her nerves on a hair trigger. "I’m sorry if we don’t meet your happiness quotient, Captain, but having just attended the memorial service for one of my nurses doesn’t exactly put me in a cheery mood."

"I know the feeling." BJ stepped over the bench to take a seat facing the other two. "Hawkeye’s got a real talent for hard-hitting eulogies, doesn’t he?"

Houlihan’s eyes shot scalpels at him for having provoked her, but she returned to picking at her meal.

"Speaking of which, where is Pierce?" inquired Winchester.

"He stayed in the Swamp. I don’t think he’s in the mood to face the army’s idea of food at the moment."

"He’s that upset?"

"Oh, he’ll be okay. He just needs some time to think things over. I offered to stay with him, but he wanted to be alone."

"Strange," commented Charles. "I wasn’t aware he had seen Lieutenant Carpenter more than once or twice."

"It was twice." BJ had a guess at what might be on Hawkeye’s mind, but remained purposely vague with the others. "He just needs to sort things out. It shook him to find out Millie cared for him more than she let on."

"You mean after he read her diary." Margaret clarified, pushed by some impetus into getting more details.

"Yeah." Hunnicutt took a swallow of his coffee, grimacing at the weak taste.

Scorn was evident in her voice. "Oh, but they barely knew each other! There couldn’t really have been anything serious going on."

"No, I don’t think so, but who knows what could have developed if Millie had had the courage to tell him what she was feeling."

Winchester rolled his eyes. "Oh, come now! Pierce has a new paramour every week. I hardly think he was looking to get into a serious relationship in this hellhole."

BJ glared at Charles, then glanced back at Margaret to see how she’d reacted. "Don’t sell him short, Charles. We’ve all drawn back from people and been left wondering what might have happened if we had just reached out a little more. Only, Millie died before she had a chance to ponder the question."

Winchester raised an eyebrow in tacit acknowledgement, refraining from further comment.

BJ continued, "And in a war zone like this, there’s always a chance, much as I may not like to think about it, that one of us could step on a stray land mine, or get hit by sniper fire, or any one of a dozen things." He glanced pointedly at Houlihan’s tray. "Food poisoning, for instance."

"And I suppose now you’re going to tell us how much we mean to you." Although he too had been sobered by the recent events, Charles had no intention of becoming maudlin.

"Well I might tell Margaret something along those lines, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about!" Hunnicutt was becoming increasingly annoyed.

Fed up with the two men’s continued sniping, Margaret stood up. "Can’t you two ever be serious about anything?!" Leaving the majority of her dinner untouched, she stormed out.

Charles and BJ watched her go. "It would seem that she didn’t wish to hear your declarations either," remarked Winchester in a snide tone.

"Oh, knock it off, Charles." Irritably, BJ snapped at the major.

Winchester bit his tongue against making an instinctive rejoinder, allowing an opportunity to go by for the second time in barely five minutes. There would be other times. For a little while, silence reigned at their table, the chatter in the room blending into white noise for both doctors.

Eventually, Hunnicutt got up. "You know, Charles, you’re amazingly good company when nothing’s coming out of your mouth. But, as fun as this has been, I’ve got a patient I want to check on in Post-Op."

"What a coincidence, I was just about to head over there myself. Perhaps we can share a cab?"

"Why not?" BJ rolled his eyes slightly, and the two fell into step as they left the mess tent.

Halfway across the darkening compound, Winchester casually broached a question. "I may be mistaken, Hunnicutt, but might Pierce and Houlihan be feeling --- thoughtful --- this evening for a reason other than Lieutenant Carpenter’s untimely passing?"

"How should I know, Winchester? If Radar were still here, I’m sure he could tell you, but I’m not a mind reader."

"No, of course you’re not." Several more strides were taken in silence.

Suddenly, the pieces clicked together in BJ’s mind. His head snapped sideways to stare at Charles. "Wait a minute! Just what are you insinuating?"

"I’m sure I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. It was just a simple question." A breath later, he tilted his head to return Hunnicutt’s gaze. "What did you think I was insinuating?"

They reached the doors to Post-Op, but paused just outside. "What do you think I thought you were insinuating?" BJ eyed Charles suspiciously.

"Well, like you, I am not a mind reader. Obviously, you thought something was being insinuated. But, if you don’t wish to tell me, I’m sure I’m not interested enough to force it out of you." He moved to enter the building.

BJ reached his arm across the door, blocking entry. "You think there might be something going on between them, don’t you?" If Charles thought the same thing, maybe his instincts weren’t deceiving him after all.

Winchester regarded the other man with veiled eyes for a long minute. "No, I don’t."

"Oh." Disappointed, he moved to save face. "Well, I suppose I didn’t...."

Charles interrupted. "There is nothing going on, as you phrase it. If there were, the whole camp would know about it. Potentially, however...well, potentially is a different matter entirely."

"I knew it!" BJ pounded his fist against the door as punctuation.

"Hunnicutt, while it is certainly flattering to have you take my opinion as the gospel truth, don’t you think you had better consult with them prior to naming their firstborn after yourself?" Winchester was wry, as ever. "The undeniable attraction may be there, but neither of them is likely to admit anything. Unless Pierce has told you something?"

BJ shook his head. "No, nothing like that. It’s just, stuck in a camp this small, you can’t help but notice things."


"And usually I’d agree with you --- they’re both too proud to say anything, but things have been pretty raw around here today. If they’re ever going to give a little, there’s no better time."

"Fascinating. Our own little soap opera, right in camp. Now, if you’ll excuse me...." Charles pushed through the door to Post-Op, having had his speculation corroborated, and not especially wishing to seem as if he were actually interested.

Hunnicutt let him enter and followed on his heels. "If that’s what you think about it, why’d you bring it up in the first place?"

"No reason. It must be your nosy nature rubbing off on me. It will take me years to recover from the detrimental influences of this place, if I ever do get out, that is." Muttering the last to himself under his breath, Charles walked away to check on one of his patients.

"Whatever you say, Charles." BJ didn’t believe a word of it, but didn’t protest. There would be other times.

Later that night

Lying on her cot, Margaret Houlihan stared up at the green ceiling without seeing it. She knew she really should be going to sleep --- the 4077th was due to receive casualties about 5:30am --- but there were too many thoughts running through her mind for it to shut down. Restlessly, she turned over on her side, pulling the blanket up over her ear. Carpenter’s death, the memorial: it all kept needling at her insides as if there was some crucial point right before her eyes, but she couldn’t see it. It shouldn’t be bothering her the way it was! Death was a part of life, especially here, and it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen it before. Because she had, far too many times, and to far too many people.

Sighing, Margaret sat up and turned on her bedside light. She grabbed her book off the table and tried to read. Anything to get her mind onto some other track! Two pages later she realized she hadn’t the faintest idea what she had just read and impatiently threw down the novel. "Damn! Why can’t I get this out of my head?" She muttered to herself, a little angry and wide awake. Okay, so Millie had been one of her nurses and that made the death more personal, but Margaret had barely known her, and it wasn’t Nurse Carpenter’s voice that kept running through her head; it was Hawkeye’s.

The eulogy Hawkeye had delivered with that heartbreaking look in his eyes had wormed its way past her defenses to strike a very tender nerve. As much as Millie had shut people out, as much as Hawkeye didn’t let people get close, she did the same thing. Even as Margaret acknowledged the fact, another part of her spoke up defensively. She was better than she used to be --- she’d let the people at the 4077 through her walls, and now they meant more to her than anyone she’d ever met. They knew how she felt, didn’t they? What else was she supposed to do?

She paced the floor of her tent, going over in her head what BJ had said earlier at dinner. "We’ve all drawn back and been left wondering what might have been.... Am I being sensible or stupid? This war is going to end someday, and then we’ll go our separate ways."

Her thoughts racing, Margaret sat back down on her bed, pulling her legs up under her. Okay, she admitted to herself, she knew very well what had been bothering her all evening. She’d thought she had this all figured out, tucked neatly into the appropriate box and put away. And now it was all spilling out again. Always before, she had held back for fear of making things into a big, awkward mess, to avoid all the probable complications. She needed him as a friend, but there wasn’t any rule that said a friend couldn’t also be a lover, was there? Was it just obstinacy that kept her from saying anything, from taking that chance? What if she said something, and he wasn’t interested? Hell, she knew he’d jump at the prospect of spending a little time in the supply room with her, but would he really be so eager for anything more? Did she really want anything more?

Oh, damn, this wasn’t helping! He was her friend, a very dear friend, and certainly very physically attractive. But she could have any man she wanted for her bed; why would she take the chance of messing up a friendship? Or was she just running again, not letting anyone get too close? Was her pride really worth the possible missed happiness? ‘It’s too late for Millie to change, and that’s sad. Maybe we can all take a page from her diary to remind us of what we need to learn.’ Hawkeye’s words echoed in her head. Millie had held back and now she was dead, all opportunities gone forever. Margaret was still alive, and in a brief moment of clarity, she knew that no matter what his reaction might be, she’d regret it more if she never found out. Damned if Margaret Houlihan was going to go through the rest of her life wondering what might have been! Carried by nothing more than sudden determination, she sprang up and was halfway to the door when a knock made her jump, and then freeze.

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