Author's Note: This story begins soon after "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," and operates under the assumption that Hawkeye and Margaret began a relationship while still at the 4077. Apologies in advance for the errors I know exist, as well as any clichés that I resorted to using. Any and all comments are very welcome and appreciated, even criticism, so tell me what you think!
15 July 1953; M*A*S*H 8063, Korea
Margaret Houlihan stood up from where she was packing supplies in the OR of the 8063 when she heard footsteps behind her. She turned. "Oh, it's just you Charles. Can you believe it? We get to go home tomorrow. Home!! It's our very last day in Korea, and I'm never coming back!"
Winchester smiled, if a little bit sadly. "Nor am I Margaret, nor am I. It's back to Boston where I belong." Then he stopped and just stood there for a moment.
"So, was there anything you needed?" she asked.
"Oh, not really. I just thought that since it's our last night in Korea and we seem to be the only members of the good ol' 4077 left, you might like to have dinner with me. I have one bottle of wine left that I'd been saving, and I'd be honored if you would share it with me."
"I'd love to Charles," she replied, pleased at his gesture, "One last time."
"Very well then, I'll see you at, eight shall we say?"
"Eight would be lovely," Margaret smiled at his retreating back. She was glad to have the opportunity to spend a last evening with him. Except for Hawkeye, she had been closer to Charles than to anybody else at the 4077. The war would have been just a little less bearable without him and his wry humor. With a little sigh, she returned to her packing.
At 20:00 exactly Charles slipped into the supply tent to find his dining companion already waiting for him. The tent was almost empty as most supplies had already been shipped out, making it the perfect place for their last dinner in Korea. "I talked to the cook here, but the little swine said all I could have was the standard swill. So much for an enjoyable last dinner! At least the wine is worth consuming."
"Oh, quit your bellyaching. It's just a reminder that Korea hasn't quite let us escape yet, and we wouldn't want to ruin a tradition after all." She paused as she saw the dish he was uncovering. "Oh my, you really did mean swill, didn't you? This may be appropriate for our last night here, but I for one can't wait to get home and be done with army food forever."
"So then you are leaving the army for good?" inquired Charles as he seated himself across from Margaret. "Somehow I've been under the impression that you were career."
"So was I, for a long time. But I've had enough death and killing this war to last me five lifetimes, and for the first time the idea of being a civilian is kind of attractive. Of course, I don't know how my family's going to take the news, especially my father."
"Ah yes, the great "Howitzer" Al Houlihan."
"Yeah, that's him. I love my father, but I've spent enough of my life on the army and it's time to think about Margaret Houlihan first for a change!"
"And I applaud your determination. You'll make a fine addition to any stateside hospital." There was a brief pause as they concentrated on eating the unpalatable food before them. Then Charles continued, "You know, Margaret, maybe it isn't any of my business, but I couldn't help wondering, and since I'm never going to get another chance to find out, where do things stand between you and Pierce?"
"That certainly is a loaded question," mused Margaret as she toyed with her fork. "Tell you what, you pour me a glass of that wine there and I'll think about telling you." She waited as he uncorked the bottle and carefully poured glasses for them both.
"A toast," he said, "To forgetting all the horrors of war in our new lives. And to never forgetting the good friends who made the experience bearable." The glasses clinked and they drank.
Margaret blinked, surprised at the moisture in her eyes. "That was a very sweet toast Charles. I forget sometimes just how much of a heart you really do have."
"Sometimes a little too much of one, I'm afraid," he murmured. "I fear it may be a very long time before I can fulfil the first part of that thought." He took a breath, and exhaling, gathered control of himself once more. Margaret saw the change come over him and wondered just how long it would be before he let himself be truly vulnerable to another person. Oh, Charles trusted her, she knew that, but at the core, he was still very much a private person. Even the war hadn't been able to change that.
"What makes you ask about me and Pierce anyway?" She returned to the previous topic.
Winchester cleared his throat and answered, "Well, no one could have missed that good-bye kiss he gave you. What was it? 35 seconds? Must have been a record of some kind." He paused to take a drink. "And, I know the two of you have been involved in a little hanky-panky off and on for a long time. I asked Pierce about it once or twice, but he was a tad touchy on the subject. In fact, every time I mentioned it, he practically bit my head off."
"There isn't a lot to tell. He was there for me when I went through my divorce, and one thing led to another. I suppose there were a lot of ups and downs along the way. He used to worry that he was turning into another Frank..."
"The infamous Major Burns? Somehow I can't regret the fact that I never had the pleasure of meeting him."
"And you shouldn't! Oh, Frank wasn't as bad as Hawkeye makes him out to be in some ways, but in other ways he was a lowdown dirty rat, and no two ways about it!" Charles tried rather unsuccessfully to stifle a smirk at the sight of Margaret's righteous indignation.
"From what I hear, you were often his partner in crime back before I showed up." Charles needled her a little, somewhat surprised when she didn't react.
"Maybe I was, but I was a different person in those days. The war changed me a lot, and for the better I hope." She sat up straight. "Hey, do you want me to finish my story or not?"
"Yes, yes, continue. I promise not to interrupt unless it's absolutely necessary."
Margaret shot him a look. "You'd better not. Anyway, Pierce despised Frank, and it took a while to convince him that what was between us was nothing like what went on between me and Burns. We had something special. So, we went along, and then the war ended, and we parted. That's about all there is to it."
"Then the two of you aren't planning to hook up back in the States? I thought you might be making things permanent, now that the war's over." Charles pressed, knowing he might be overstepping the bounds of friendship, but having a rather morbid curiosity on the subject. He'd fancied Margaret for himself once upon a time, and even though they'd come to be nothing more than good friends, he had something of an interest in what she did do with her life and for some reason he couldn't quite explain, he wanted to see her happy.
"Permanent? You mean marriage? No, I don't think either of us are cut out for marriage. We've said our good-byes. I'll probably never even see him again." Her voice trailed off and a brief expression of pain crossed her features before she regained her composure and continued on a falsely cheerful voice. "Hawkeye and I were always friends above all. Now does that tell you whatever it was you wanted to know?"
"Indeed it does, Margaret. I apologize if that was a rather intrusive question." Charles recognized when to back off, although what Margaret said had simply created more questions for him. She obviously still loved Hawkeye and yet seemed willing to separate from him forever. It didn't make sense, and he could only hope that she wasn't throwing away something she truly cared about.
He changed the subject to a more comfortable topic then and the two talked long into the night, finishing more than just the one bottle of wine before finally retiring to their respective tents. Margaret lay on her bunk, too many thoughts running through her head to even try to sleep. She couldn't get her mind off the question Charles had asked her. It was slightly strange for him to be interested in anyone else's personal life, but she supposed the end of the war had made him a little sentimental. But for him to bring up that subject, and when she was hoping to use the dinner as an excuse to get her mind off Hawkeye. She rolled over, remembering the conversation they had had that last night.
She had been in her tent, getting her things ready to leave when he knocked on the door.
"Margaret, it's me, can I come in?" After she responded in the affirmative, he pushed the door open. She jumped up.
"Isn't it wonderful, Hawkeye? The war is over and we all get to leave this horrible place!" She kissed him, and although he responded automatically she could feel that there was something missing. "What's the matter? I should think that you would be the most excited of any of us."
"I am Margaret, I am. You have no idea how good it will be to leave this place and see Crabapple Cove again, see my dad. The only problem is...you and me." There was something in his eyes as he looked at her. Even if Sidney had pronounced him fit to return, he still wasn't over the experience of seeing that woman kill her own baby and then the time spent in the mental ward.
Margaret returned his gaze, but drew back from the embrace and walked across the room to sit on the edge of her bunk. "I know what you mean. I've been trying not to think about it."
"Well don't you think we'd better? I can't just leave things up in the air, and never speak to you again, never even say good-bye." Margaret didn't say anything, but simply watched her lover as he paced back and forth. "The thing is, Margaret. I care for you a lot, more than I like to admit sometimes, but our lives are taking us to different places." He looked at her with misery in his eyes, seemingly willing her to contradict him and claim that they could somehow be together, but when she didn't speak, he tried to continue. "I don't know where my life is going, or even who I am really, after everything I've seen, and then going to the funny farm. Fact is, you don't need someone like me in your life."
"You know that's not true. You went through something horrible, and any decent person would have been affected by it. It doesn't change anything with us." She made the token protest, knowing in her heart that the incident on the bus and its fallout had changed things between them. If anything, she loved him all the more now, but a wall had sprung up and she didn't know how to get around that. Recalling his repressed memories had started him on the road to healing, but there was still a long way to go, and she was scared she wasn't strong enough to help him through that, or he wouldn't even want her help.
Seemingly ignoring her comments, Hawkeye resumed his halting speech, "I thought once that maybe after the war we could build a life together, that we had something special."
"We do have something special. Or at least, we did."
"That's just it, I don't know anymore what's real and what's not. I need to go home and be away from all the reminders of this war."
"And those reminders include me, don't they."
"I'm sorry..." He stopped, not knowing what else to say.
"No, it's okay." It wasn't, but now it was Major Houlihan talking, not Margaret, and the major could handle anything. "You're right. Whatever we shared was for here, and we'd be foolish to try to carry it over into civilian life. And I'm not even sure what part of the States I'll end up in. Maybe in California. That's where my mother is, and my sister and her family, and my dad's talking about retiring out there too. Why we'll be on opposite sides of the country! No, we both need to find out who we are now without the uniform, and we can't do that together."
Hawkeye walked over and sat down on the bunk next to her. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say Margaret? I don't want to leave tomorrow knowing that you're mad at me.
She softened. "I'm not mad at you, and I do understand, but oh Hawkeye. I'm so sorry things had to end like this." He pulled her into his arms and she buried her face in his chest.
"I'm sorry things had to end at all."
They had spent one last night together, holding each other close. When she woke up the next morning, Hawkeye had left, but they'd said their good-byes and resolved that the next day they would bid farewell as Captain and Major and not look back. Of course, there had been that kiss...Margaret smiled remembering the looks on the faces of BJ, Charles and Colonel Potter. Not that they hadn't all been aware of what went on between the chief surgeon and head nurse, but still, that had been some kiss. Then, riding away in the jeep, she hadn't quite been able to keep her promise, and had looked behind her for a last glimpse of the three men, and the one in particular, who had come to mean so much.
A small sigh escaping her lips, Margaret turned over on her back and finally slept.
24 August 1953; Portland, Oregon
Margaret was unpacking in her new apartment in Portland, OR. After returning to the States, she had spent a little time on an army base in San Francisco and seen her sister and mother again. Although Margaret had never been close to either of them, it was still good to see family again. She'd done a little searching for a position on her own, without anyone's help, and found a job as the head nurse of the children's ward in Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Not without a few last doubts about leaving the army, she resigned her commission and made the move. Now, as she shook out one of her bags a piece of paper came fluttering out and landed on the floor. "I wonder what that could be," she murmured to herself. Picking it up, her heart skipped a beat as she saw the familiar scrawl.
Dear Margaret, (the note read)
As I write this you're sleeping peacefully with your head on my thigh. We look like the very picture of tranquility, except maybe for the olive drab walls. I know tomorrow you're going to walk out of my life and I may never see you again. Even though we just finished talking about how that's the way it should be, I'm not sure I can live with it. Right now, I need some time to pull myself back together, but in a year, who knows? Listen, I know I don't have the right to ask you to wait for me. Maybe I shouldn't even be writing this, but I can't shake the feeling that we have something special and I'd be a fool to let you go. You know I've been around the block a time or two, but no woman has ever gotten inside my heart the way that you have. So I'm giving you my dad's address and the phone number, and in a year, if you think you might possibly want to see me again, please contact me. Whatever happens, I love you.
Margaret sat down hard on the crate behind her, shocked. How was she supposed to deal with this? And he said he loved her. She knew inside that she loved him too, with all her heart, and if not for her inner inhibitions, she would have jumped on a plane and flown straight to Maine. But, even after this note, he'd made very clear that he didn't want her there and she loved him too much to get in his way. Reading over the note again, she felt hope begin inside her. She did mean something to him, and a year wasn't so long...who knew what would happen?
30 August 1954; Portland, Oregon
A year was a very long time. Margaret walked down the hall at the hospital and was very aware of the time that had passed since the end of the war. She'd spent a week in Mill Valley with BJ and Peg, and Charles had sent her one of his recorded letters, but she hadn't spoken to anyone else from the 4077. Over the last week, she hadn't been able to get a certain member of the old unit off her mind. Dared she call Hawkeye, write him a letter? Who knew what the last year had brought to his life. He could be married. He might not want to see her, might be right now hoping that she'd forgotten about the note. What if she called him and it was horrible and awkward? "I'm not sure I could bear it if he didn't want to see me."
"What did you say Margaret?" came the voice of her friend Rebecca. Rebecca Allen was a nurse on the same floor as Margaret, and the two had gotten to be good friends.
"Nothing. I didn't say anything."
"Are you sure? It sounded like something to me."
"Oh, not right now Becca. I have patients to see to."
"Okay, but if you ever want to talk..." Rebecca walked off down the hall.
Before going on her lunch break that day, Margaret stopped by the nurses station where Becca was going through files. "If you have a moment, I might take you up on that offer to talk."
"Good timing! I was looking for an excuse to get away from this paperwork. Let's go get something to eat." The two women walked downstairs to the hospital cafeteria and found a little table off in the corner. "Now what's been eating away at you?"
"Well, I've told you about the M*A*S*H unit I was stationed at during the war." Becca nodded, encouraging her friend to continue. "It's been a little over a year now since the war ended and I can't help thinking about the friends I made there."
"This wouldn't happen to be one friend in particular, would it? A certain Captain Pierce perhaps?" Margaret couldn't help but let a small smile spread across her face. It was amazing what even hearing his name could still do to her. "You never say too much about him, but your face kind of lights up when you do talk about him."
"Am I that obvious?"
"I'm right, aren't I? I knew it!"
"Yes, you're right. But there's a lot I never told you about Captain Pierce."
"Oh? Like what?"
"Like we were lovers, like he was the only man I've ever truly loved, like I don't know if I'm still in love with him."
Rebecca stared at her friend, not having expected the sudden confession. "Well that certainly is something," she stammered finally. "If you're in love with him, then why are you in Oregon while he's in Boston?"
"What? No, it's Major Winchester that's from Boston. Pierce is from Maine, some little town you've probably never heard of. As for why we're living on opposite sides of the country, I'm not so sure I know myself."
"I don't think I understand," said Rebecca, wondering if Margaret wasn't losing it a little bit.