"Who is it?" she demanded.

"Your friendly neighborhood Lothario. Can I come in?"

Hawkeye! What was he doing here? Margaret already had her robe on, so she took the last two steps to the door and pulled it open. Ignoring the fact that she had been ready to run out into the compound herself, she asked, "Donít you know itís the middle of the night?"

"Did I wake you up? I saw your light on." Coming inside the tent, he closed the door behind him.

"Oh. I couldnít sleep." Suddenly apprehensive, she wasnít sure what to say.

"Neither could I. There was too much on my mind." Hawkeye leaned up against the wall, causing a shadow to fall across his face.

Margaret was struck as she looked at him. She saw him every day, but didnít remember quite so much gray streaking his hair, or that immensely tired and vulnerable look in his eyes. The war had aged him so that when he dropped his joking veneer he bore little resemblance to the young surgeon who had once teamed up with Captain McIntyre to make her life so miserable. That time seemed so long ago --- so much had happened since then, none of which they could have ever imagined way back when. Least of all that she would be standing in her tent with Hawkeye Pierce in the middle of the night, thinking of broaching the subject that she was.

"Hey, you still with me?"

The words brought Margaret out of her reverie, and she smiled weakly. "Sorry. I was just thinking."

"Seems like thereís a lot of that going around lately." Hawkeye gazed at Margaret. God, but she was beautiful. Yet...her eyes were old. "Listen, Margaret. I need to talk to you."

"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing." She retraced her steps to the bed, seating herself and gesturing to a chair for him. "I donít think Iíll be sleeping much tonight, so thereís no time like the present."

"Yeah." Hawkeye dragged the chair over from the other side of the room and sat facing her. Looking at her, he found himself in a very unfamiliar situation --- tongue-tied and unsure of himself. There was a reason Millie had held back --- things like this resisted even his glib tongue.

Margaret too was silent; bubbles of anxiety rose within her to lodge in her throat and prevent speech. She had been resolved a moment before, but now he was here, and all the daunting possibilities stared her in the face, daring her to say the words locked up inside her. She took the easy route: "How are you doing? BJ said at dinner that you wanted to be alone."

Hawkeye considered before replying. For him, this was not the easy route, but the one that led straight to the crux of his fears. Instinctively, he too threw up a detour. "I barely knew Millie, you know."

"I know. You said as much in your eulogy, and she wasnít here long enough for anyone to get to know her well." Calm on the exterior, she responded quietly, needing to hear what he was going to say. On the inside Margaretís guts churned. Perhaps he had the same thing on his mind that she had on hers. It wasnít so far-fetched, not really, not after all theyíd been through together.

"She was just another nurse to me, another woman I could lose myself in for a few hours. She was a little bit of softness, pleasure, comfort in the midst of the insanity. But when she was killed I was suddenly forced to see her as something more."

"Oh?" This was maddening. Was he here to talk about Millie? About the war? About...them? Hell, maybe he was just having a bout of insomnia and wanted an audience for his babbling. All she could do was keep listening.

Hawkeye continued speaking as if she had said nothing. "And it made me take a look at some things about myself that I donít necessarily like to acknowledge are there."

"You mean what you said about not telling people how you feel about them."

"Yeah...sometimes I feel like Iím wearing a mask all the time. Thereís this joking persona that Iíve developed over the years, and Iím not even sure Iíd know how to function without it." He ran his hand through his hair. "Thereís nothing wrong with making jokes. Hell, lifeís too absurd to take seriously all the time. I learned that lesson a long time ago --- Dad says sometimes that I came out of the womb with a set of Groucho glasses on."

"Must have been uncomfortable for your mother."

He smiled. "Add that to the fact that she was in labor for nineteen hours, and you can understand why Iím an only child. But sometimes I take things too far, swatting everything away to keep it from touching me --- I forget to let a few things through. And I donít like to admit when something does get through." His hand reached out as if to touch her hair, but fell short, dropping back onto his own knee. Fully cognizant of what he was risking, Hawkeye took a deep breath, met her eyes, and plunged forward. "Margaret, I donít know quite how to say this, so Iím just going to spit it out." Strangely, all uneasiness now left him, and the actual words heíd long thought were too difficult came out readily. "What I read in Millieís diary made me take a good, long look at myself. Everything I said at her funeral was absolutely true, but itís more than that. Millie never told me how much she cared for me, and I...Iíve never told you how much I care for you." There it was --- the point of no return.

There was silence in the tent. Margaretís brain struggled to comprehend, to interpret, to answer. Did he mean that? Was this just a personalized Ďyouíre a dear friendí type of thing? Were her own hopes muddling her view of the situation? She felt herself retreating back behind her ever-present walls, felt it and recognized it for what it was. No, she couldnít back off now, not at this point, not yet. She found her voice, although it was halting. "How much you care for me?"

Hawkeye searched her face, looking for clues. He found one in her eyes, and it made him keep talking. "I donít have any big flowery speeches to make, but I canít deny how much youíve come to mean to me. After whatís happened in the past couple days, I canít go on ignoring that." Reaching out, he took her hand and held it, stroking the fingers with his thumb. "Iím not expecting anything of you, but I needed you to know."

Margaret spoke in a low tone, her fears multiplied a hundred-fold but momentarily stifled by a shoot of exultation. "Iíve been thinking the same thing." Hesitantly, she leaned towards him, not breaking eye contact until their mouths met. They kissed slowly at first, unsure of what was happening, and then more deeply, falling into it, exploring, searching, testing as they had both done so many times before, only just beginning to understand that they might have found an answer.

Hawkeye pulled away first. "Wow."

"Wow indeed." Her voice was husky. "Do we have any idea what weíre doing?"

"Well if you do, Iíd appreciate you letting me in on the secret." Elated to find her so responsive, his blue eyes twinkled as he reverted to standard operating procedure. "I guess weíll just have to play it by ear." Shifting so that he sat beside her on the bed, Hawkeye began to nibble softly at her ear, caressing it with his tongue.

Even as she enjoyed the sensation, Margaretís mind struggled to catch up. Why did life insist on being so unrelentingly unpredictable? She found herself eagerly responding to Hawkeyeís roaming mouth as it found hers again. It would be so easy to just fall backward and let nature take its course --- she wanted him, he wanted her; the time was right.... No, no the time wasnít right. This simple falling into bed with him was what sheíd been fighting for months --- she wanted him all right, but not like this. "No. Hawkeye, donít." She pushed him away.

Surprised, he sat back. "What, did I get my signals crossed somewhere? I thought you wanted this."

"Of course I want it, but thatís not the point!" Getting to her feet, Margaret began to pace the small confines of the tent.

"Then what is the point?"

She continued as if he hadnít spoken, upset. He wasnít supposed to be able to do this to her! "Just what was that little speech a minute ago supposed to mean, anyway? Damn it, Pierce, if youíre using my nurseís death to try to seduce me, so help me...."

Now it was Hawkeyeís turn to be thrown for a loop. Incredulous, and a little hurt, he stared at her. "Is that what you think? You really think I would use Millie to try and get you on your back?"

The look in his eyes made Margaret wish she had kept her mouth shut. "No, I donít really believe that. Youíre a cad and a pervert, but youíre also an honorable one, and you wouldnít do that. Iím sorry, Hawkeye. I just donít know what Iím supposed to think." She left off, watching him for an answer.

Accepting the apology, Hawkeye stood up from the bed. "Come here." He put his arms around her and pulled her close to him in a hug. She stiffened slightly. "Donít worry, I wonít bite. Or even nibble."

"Youíre terrible." Margaret scolded him, but didnít pull away.

"Well of course Iím terrible. Itís a requisite of the cads and perverts union." Gathering his thoughts, he paused momentarily. "Listen, Margaret, Iím sorry too. I shouldnít have moved so quickly --- that honestly wasnít what I came in here for."

Margaret shifted so she could see his face. "Donít apologize. It wasnít exactly like you were forcing yourself on me." Though still on uncertain ground, the situation was beginning to approach something she could handle. "I care for you a great deal too. But I donít want...Iíve had a lot of lovers, but only a few friends. I wonít just fall into bed with a friend, not so quickly, not..."

Hawkeye interrupted. "Not unless the possible benefits outweigh the chance of it exploding in your face?"

"Youíre reading my mind."

"Iím sure that would make for fascinating study, but the explanation is much simpler --- Iíve been having the same thought."

Margaret sighed. "So where do we go from here?"

"Now we talk." One arm still around her shoulders, Hawkeye led her back over to the bed.

Pulling one leg up under her, Margaret sat. "We talk.... You know, it would really be much easier if all this entailed was a quick roll in the hay."

"Easier, sure, and probably a lot more fun, but I think you and I both know that thatís not all we want." When she didnít respond immediately, he drew back. "Look, Iím sorry, Iím probably leaping over all sorts of boundaries here. But I meant what I said before --- I wanted you to know what I feel for you, but Iím not expecting anything. Just say the word, and Iíll go back to the Swamp and never mention this to you again."

"No. I want you to stay." The words were out of her mouth before she even had a chance to consider. They were sudden and revealing, but Margaret meant them, and she let them stand.

"You sure?"

"Yes, please stay." She nodded, gearing herself up to jump into the unknown territory facing them. "What I didnít tell you before is that if you hadnít come when you did, I wouldíve been over to the Swamp looking for you. The eulogy you gave for Millie made me reconsider a few things too."

This news caught Hawkeye off guard. "No kidding? I guess great minds really do think alike."

"Maybe so." Margaret looked into his blue eyes, both loving and fearing what she saw there. It scared her how easy it would be to trust him. Such a small step to let it all go and only remember only the way she felt when his arms were around her. But his arms wouldnít be around her forever. "You say you donít expect anything, but what do you want to have happen?"

"Ay, thereís the rub...what do I want? Will you take a rain check?" One glance at Margaret answered that. "No, I didnít think so. But I donít know --- I only knew in coming here that I needed to see you, to talk with you. I know that I care for you, but I canít predict what will come of that, or even if anything can come of it."

"Thatís not an answer. You canít expect...I donít know what I can give you. I canít just throw myself into a serious relationship, but I donít want just a fling with you either." Margaret cursed inwardly. This wasnít coming out right at all. "Weíre in the middle of a war, for godís sake --- it has to end sometime, and then Iíll probably never see you again. I donít want to turn my back on any possibilities, but I have to watch out for myself, you know."

"Margaret, Margaret, wait a minute." Reaching over, Hawkeye gently laid a finger to her lips to quiet her. "Iím not proposing that we make a major commitment to each other, and Iím certainly not proposing. But why not see where this goes?"

"And hope the answer isnít straight to hell?" Only half-joking, she felt herself retreating again. Okay, now he knew, now they knew, and knowing was supposed to be half the battle, but might not any attempt for more be doomed to painful failure?

"Nah, weíre already in hell --- that canít be where it leads." He went on in a more serious vein. "Iím not good at relationships, never have been. I could rattle off a string of names for you that stretched from here to the moon. Deborah, Renée, Lynnette, Margie, Katie, Kyung Soon, Carlye..." Pausing, Hawkeye considered the last name. "You know, Carlye once told me that I loved medicine more than I could ever love a woman."

"Do you think she was right?"

"Maybe she was. Or maybe she was just right in that I love medicine more than I could ever love her." He chuckled ruefully to himself. "It took a long time before I could admit that to myself."

"Nurse Walton," Margaret reflected. "About all I remember of her is that she was a good nurse and kept you from harassing the rest of my staff for the few weeks she was here."

"Ohh yeah, she definitely accomplished that!" Hawkeye laughed at the memory. "And yes, she was a good nurse --- very skilled, but Carlye never had the passion for nursing that you do."

Margaret shrugged, unwilling to come down on his previous flame. "For some people nursing is a way of life, and for others itís only a job. Just the way it goes."

Hawkeye laughed suddenly. "Do you know how crazy this is? Oh, if only Frank could see us now! The only thing better would be if you and Trapper...Burns was so jealous of him."

It took a moment for her to see the same humor that he did, but then Margaret smiled and began to chuckle. "Believe me, he was jealous of you too. Frank was jealous of any man that got within ten feet of me, not that he had any right to be."

"Including those generals he was always sucking up to? Remember the slide show of you and General Clayton? I thought that vein in his forehead might finally pop."

Margaret shuddered, remembering what had gone on before the slide show that Hawkeye hadnít seen. "That was a nasty trick, you know. My head felt like it was about to burst already, and having to listen to Frankís whining all during the OR session afterwards didnít help."

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