Hawkeye and Margaret made their escape from the conference theatre only moments before they burst into peals of laughter. He doubled over, collapsing against the closed door, while Margaret threw her head back and grabbed his arm for support, lest she slide helplessly down the wall and land gracelessly on the floor of the foyer.
"Anyone who refers to the more tangible parts of the human anatomy as the rudey bits," another hysterical squeal came from Margaret "..really, really needs a lesson in terminology!" he laughed.
"Oh, we should have given that man our attention, he was a professional," Margaret gasped, wiping her eyes. "That poor man, that man... was so smart and so, so.. ridiculous!" she lapsed into hysterics again.
Margaret straightened up abruptly, surprising Hawkeye out of his laughter, looking as though something had struck her.
"Did he remind you of Henry too?" she asked quietly.
"Oh god. Completely." He drew a hand absently across his eyes, as though expecting tears would be there.
He looked back at Margaret and found her already looking quietly in his direction. Their eyes met and held, as a quiet remembrance passed between them.
"You've got a thing.. a tear," Hawkeye reached out to wipe it away.
"Oh," Margaret touched her face self-consciously.
"That one's for Henry.."
Hawkeye looked away first, fearful of what else he might see. Had he paused a moment longer, he would have seen her do the same.
"C'mon," he said, extending a hand but still not meeting her eyes. "Shall we do lunch?"
"Sure.. but I want a burger afterwards," she smiled at him, grateful for the change of subject.
They walked quietly through the grounds of the university, hands still clasped loosely, because neither had thought to pull away. Or had admitted wanting to.
"Hey look," Hawkeye said, pulling Margaret to a stop beside him. "There's Charles, and.."
".. and he's with a woman!" Margaret finished his sentence.
"And here I was feeling sorry for.." Hawkeye half turned and found Margaret looking at him curiously. "Uh, nothing."
"Did he tell you he was here alone too? That trickster!" she exclaimed.
"He told you the same!" Hawkeye cried. A grin creased his face again. "C'mon, let's go meet and greet the object of our Charles' affections, shall we?" he said, taking a long stride towards the small cafe table at which the two were seated.
"Wait, wait, I've got a better idea," Margaret said, tugging on Hawkeye arm. "Let's sneak up." She grinned irrepressibly.
"Margaret." Hawkeye sounded thoroughly shocked. "That is such an invasion of privacy!" Both paused, solemnly nodding their heads, considering the seriousness of that charge.
"Let's go," came the response in unison, punctuated a pair of identical grins.
Hawkeye and Margaret walked a wide circle around Charles, making sure to keep their faces away from his immediate eye-line. The pair snuck quietly up behind the doctor, getting an inquisitive look from his table companion when they stood directly behind him.
Hawkeye clapped his hand on the doctor's shoulder. Charles jumped, dropping a forkful of salad into his lap.
"Charles, you sly dog, aren't you going to introduce us to your date?" came Hawkeye's voice clearly.
And impossibly loudly, thought Charles.
"Charles?" The voice of the dark-haired woman sitting opposite held a curious note.
"Pierce, Margaret.. how nice to see you again.. so soon." Charles laughed awkwardly and looked quickly from the pair now standing at the table's side, back to his companion. "I thought you were engaged in a lecture for another hour." He checked his watch. "At least."
"No, no, we decided the view was much nicer out here."
"It is a nice view, isn't it?" Margaret's smile-crinkled eyes were on Charles, whose eyes in turn were on the woman sitting opposite him.
"Huh." The doctor released a laugh, looked around at the group and realised he was trapped. He exhaled audibly, sensing introductions were unavoidable.
"Pierce, Margaret.. this is Catherine." Charles knew his game was indeed up and up. "My wife.. Catherine." He winced, avoiding Hawkeye's eyes which he could feel burning into the side of his head. "Cathy, these are my colleagues... rather, my friends from Korea, Hawkeye Pierce and Margaret Houlihan."
"Hawkeye, Margaret, it is just lovely to finally meet you." The woman stood and took each of their hands in turn, with a warm smile. "I feel as though I know you already, Charles' speaks so highly of you in his book, but doesn't talk nearly enough about his friends from Korea. I'm always poking him for details." The woman demonstrated, prodding Charles in the side affectionately. Margaret let out a small sigh at the gesture.
"Charles' wife..." Hawkeye said, the smile plastered to his face.
"Catherine, it's so lovely to meet you," Margaret said enthusiastically, pulling a chair up to the table, at the woman's friendly nod.
"Pierce.." Charles' tone was cautious, seeing Hawkeye's look of complete confusion. "Could I have a word?" he said, pushing back his chair, grabbing Hawkeye's arm and leading him aside.
"Charles. Wife." Hawkeye's eyes went from the women seated at the table, laughing like old friends, back to the man standing somewhat sheepishly in front of him. "Charles, Charles.. did you know that you have a wife?"
"Actually yes." Charles laughed. "I've had a hunch for about a year now."
"Oh, did I lead you to believe otherwise, Pierce?" The innocent note in Charles' voice would have been remotely believable, were it not for the silly grin creasing his face.
"You tricked me Charles." Hawkeye said. "I mean, you fooled me. Me."
"As I was about to say earlier, before we were interrupted, just who is fooling whom?" Charles clapped the younger man on the back, and turned him back to face the table.
Margaret and Catherine were still talking animatedly, as the two men rejoined them.
"So, Cathy, how did you two meet?" Margaret inquired, smiling at the both of them and Hawkeye in turn, whose face was still comically blank.
"Oh, Charles and I worked together for a month before he had the nerve to ask me on a date." Catherine smiled at that.
"Really? What do you do at Boston Mercy, may I ask?"
"She's the head nurse." Charles announced proudly, puffing his chest out only slightly.
"Isn't it funny how these things work out?" Catherine beamed at Charles, not seeing Hawkeye and Margaret's instantaneous fascination with anything but each other.
Hawkeye had left the conference for a few hours, making his apologies and explaining that he had a patient to see. Margaret and Charles strolled the grounds together, after Catherine had suggested they take some time to catch up while she read a book quietly at the cafe. They walked quietly for a while, arm in arm, looking for all the world like a married couple, before Margaret turned to the doctor and smiled brightly.
"Charles, it is so good to see you again."
"Likewise Margaret. I was rather hoping we'd meet again soon, I feared that I might have lost both a good friend and professional equal after leaving that Korean cesspool." His voice lowered and Charles rubbed a hand across the back of his neck in an awkward gesture.
"Speaking of good friends and equals," she sensed his awkwardness and took up the loose string of the conversation, "I just wanted to say that I think Cathy is just lovely. I really am so happy for you."
"I'm a lucky man."
"And she's a lucky woman.."
Charles turned to regard Margaret, hearing the small catch in her voice.
"What about you Margaret, surely eligible gentlemen, and not so gentle men," he nudged her affectionately, "from far and wide have been bursting through your door."
"Aha, that's a laugh!" Hers was entirely without humour. "No, no, it seems I'm destined to live a lonely life - entirely secure in my career of course - but even when I'm with someone.. I'm not. But I'm sure I'm making no sense here Charles." She tried another laugh to lighten the tone of the conversation, but failed.
"Charles, I don't want you feeling sorry for me." She pushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes insistently.
"I don't Margaret. Not in the slightest." Charles' voice was incredulous, as if he'd never considered the suggestion.
"No.. if truth be told, I envy you immensely."
"Yes. I think it marvellous that you and Pierce kept in contact after two years."
"Indeed. It would take immense courage to let that man back into your life." He laughed out loud at the thought.
"He's not that bad, Charles." Margaret went on the defensive.
"Oh, don't give me that Margaret, the man is a baboon!"
"Charles!" Margaret was shocked at his effrontery. "If any one is going to call him a baboon, it will be me!" She continued hotly. "For your information, I happen to lo.."
She regarded her shoes for a moment, before turned to regard Charles, a small smile playing at her lips.
"Charles, don't make do something I regret," she threatened the doctor with a playful fist.
"It's more the not doing that you regret Margaret." Charles voice was quiet. "Trust me. Although I am now blissfully happy.. don't misunderstand me, it is those words I didn't say that I regret the most."
Charles, after promising to meet with Margaret at the scheduled dinner later in the conference, wandered back to Catherine at the cafe, where she still sat engrossed in her copy of Sonnets from the Portuguese – a birthday gift from her husband. He stood back for a moment to watch her frown of concentration as she read the words, and smiled to himself.
He joined her, taking her hand affectionately, and smiling at his wife across the table.
"I hope you weren't cross with me Cathy, not introducing you to Margaret and Hawkeye sooner.." Charles was more than a little sheepish.
"Of course not my dear," she replied, folding a page back to mind her place. "I was just glad to meet them at all. I thought you'd try to keep them away from me through the whole conference," she chuckled.
"I tried my dear, I truly did," Charles joked.
She read another sentence without seeing a word before the obvious needed to be spoken.
"They make quite a pair.. don't they." she remarked with a smile.
"That they do."
"Did you see them blush when I mentioned I was your head nurse?"
"That, my love," said Charles, leaning across the table to kiss his wife's hand, "was simply priceless."
"You know dear," she said, picked up her book again. "I don't mean to be a busy body, but I do hope for their sakes, that they own up to their feelings sooner or later."
"Well," Charles said thoughtfully. "If all else fails, I do suggest we get them entirely drunk."
"Ah." She put the book down with a smile. "I always wondered how you got up the nerve to ask me out.."