Hawkeye loved that some of them had gone back to their lives without first having been torn into shreds. "B.J.'s doing good too. He has another baby."
"A boy this time. He named it Ben."
She laughed. "Colonel Potter said Radar and Klinger are doing fine too. They want to have a reunion soon." She laughed softly. "I wonder how the rest of them are doing. All the people we touched?"
Hawkeye shot a glance at Johnson. He looked bored with all the talk about Korea. Good. "They're like people everywhere. Doing well or not. Living their lives or letting their lives run ragged over them."
"I forget you can be a philosopher when you're not being an ass."
He heard Johnson snicker.
"That's ass extraordinaire, if you please." Hawkeye smiled, heard Margaret chuckle. "How about you, Johnson? What's the worst place you've ever been?"
"I'm from Wisconsin, sir."
Hawkeye cringed at the "sir." It was so clearly a dig. "So a bad winter is the worst you've seen of life? Tough."
"Hawkeye..." Her tone was gentle, but he could tell there was something protective in it. She liked this young whelp?
"Sorry, Margaret," he said, trying to temper his tone. "It's just that after Korea, I'd take a whole winter of snows."
"Plus he's from Maine," she said in an aside to Johnson.
He laughed. "Then you know how it is, doctor."
"Oh, I know how it is." Hawkeye glanced at Margaret, saw her shake her head at him, but her eyes were sparkling. He grinned at her--made it his best smile, the one that had made nurses' knees weak at fifty paces. "Just like old times, isn't it?"
"Who said the old times were good?" But her voice was mellow.
"Same person who said other things were good." He waited for her to push back another part of the heart and met her eyes. "Very good."
He could tell that she knew he was trying to stake claim over the younger man. She just shook her head and went back to work.
But he thought he heard her mutter, "Men" as she wiped his forehead again.
He decided not to point out that he wasn't sweating. He'd let her have the last word this time.
B.J. and Charles would have passed out from shock.
"So, who's going to be at this party?" Hawkeye asked Jay, his new best buddy, even though he wasn't entirely sure he even liked the other surgeon.
"Just the best looking women from our hospital." Jay leered as he drove; it was an unattractive look on him.
"I woulda figured you for a player, Ben."
"Well, you can't judge a book by its cover."
"You can the books I read."
Hawkeye shut his eyes. He had a pounding headache from a surgery that had gone into overtime.
"Hey, Ben, can I ask you something?"
"How come Nurse Houlihan calls you Hawkeye?"
"She knows me from before."
"Yeah, from the war. I figured that out. But you never tell the rest of us to call you that. Why's she so special?"
"She just is." Hawkeye took a deep breath. He wasn't sure why he'd stopped using his nickname. But he hadn't introduced himself as that since his dad had died.
"You and she...you're not an item, are you?" Jay leered again, and Hawkeye felt the sudden urge to punch him.
"We're friends. I don't want to see her hurt."
"Who said anything about hurting? I have other things in mind." Jay's leer turned into something more disturbing.
"Don't? Don't what?"
"Don't go near her."
"But you said--"
"--I don't care what I said. Pick someone else. There'll be lots of other women." He could hear his voice rising and toned it down. "Just leave her alone, okay?"
"Okay, man. Don't make a federal case out of it." Jay huffed a little, then feel silent.
Hawkeye leaned back, glad for the quiet and the opportunity to close his eyes for a moment.
Jay broke the silence much too soon. "So, I think Barbara's going to be there. She has a crush on you the size of Rhode Island."
"She's a little young for me."
"Don't think of her as young. Think of her as...untried." Winking at him, Jay turned into an apartment complex and pulled into a parking space. "Here we are. You may need to get your own way back home--if I get lucky."
"For the sake of all the women at the party, I hope that doesn't happen."
Jay wrapped an arm around Hawkeye's shoulders. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you don't like me."
"Good thing you know better," Hawkeye said, as he slipped out from under Jay's arm and opened the door. "After you."
The party was in full swing, had even spilled out into the hallway. He saw Margaret standing in the living room with another nurse from surgery. Walking over, he noticed her glass was empty and diverted to the makeshift bar that had been set up in one corner of the room.
She looked up at him as he approached.
"I do not come empty handed." He held out a glass.
"So I see," she said, putting her old glass down and taking the drink from him.
"You still drink scotch?"
"I drink just about anything." He grin was just short of a grimace. He imagined they both drank a bit too much more than was healthy.
"Nice that some things don't change." He realized the other nurse had wandered off. "You lost your chaperone."
She looked around. "Great."
Moving so he was standing between her and the rest of the crowd, he said softly, "I only came because I heard you were going to be here."
"It's true. You won't have dinner with me, so I'm reduced to coming to wild parties."
"You love wild parties. In the old days, you'd have been the master of ceremonies."
He laughed. "True."
"Maybe I should go to bed with you. Maybe then you'd stop pestering me?"
He heard a choking sound, looked over and saw that Barbara was walking past, her face deeply red. "You have to stop doing that to her, Margaret."
She frowned. "She's going to wonder if I ever talk about anything else."
"Let her wonder."
"It's how reputations start. With people like her wondering."
"Then I'll make an honest woman out of you."
"What? You're going to marry me?"
"Is that the only way you'll sleep with me?"
She laughed. "No, I'll probably just sleep with you." She looked around, as if worried someone might hear them.
"Are you enjoying this party?"
"It's all right."
"I'll take that as a 'not really.' Would you like to leave?"
She stared up at him, then she turned him slightly. "Look out there. See all the pretty, pretty women?"
"Go talk to them"
"I'm talking to one of them right now."
She smiled but did not look at all swayed. "Do one circuit. If you still want to leave after that, I'll go."
He rolled his eyes but let her push him out into the crowd. When he looked back, he saw her talking to Johnson, who seemed very interested in everything she had to say to him. In fact, he looked too interested.
Hawkeye forced himself to look away and turn his attention to working the room, joining into conversations that interested him. But he felt distracted, kept looking back to see what Margaret was doing. He saw Jay talking to her and braced himself, ready to rescue her. But she just patted Jay on the hand and slipped away. Jay looked confused, as if wondering how she'd slipped away from him and been snagged by the chief of pediatrics, with whom she was chatting happily.
Hawkeye remembered how comfortable she'd always been with the generals. She could probably work the room better than he could if she wanted to, but she seemed to stick with a few people. She was joined by the nurse who had been talking with her when Hawkeye first came in. The other woman was laughing softly and pointing to Johnson, and Hawkeye saw Margaret laugh then look away. He decided his circuit of the room was over and headed back to her.
"Ready to go?" he said, as he steered her by her elbow to the door.
"I didn't hear that." He caught Johnson shooting her a look as she left and murmured, "You realize that you'd have to burp young Ricky before you could take advantage of him?"
"Very funny." But she didn't try to stop their progress. "We'll have to take separate cars," she said softly.
"No, we won't. I rode with Jay."
"I didn't realize you two were that close."
"We're not. I just wanted you to drive me home."
She looked back at him, and he was struck by how little she'd aged. She looked like she had that last day in Korea, when he'd kissed her for such a long time.
"I've missed you, Margaret."
"No, you haven't."
He decided not to argue with her, but when she walked in front of him to open the door, he pulled her close, kissing her before she could stop him.
It was almost as long a kiss as that last one in Korea.
"Hawkeye, this isn't a good idea."
"Yes, it is." He let her push him into the car, waited for her to get in on the driver's side then pulled her to him again.
This time she pushed him away. "Stop it."
"I thought we were going to sleep together."
"I didn't say that." She glared at him. "And even if we are, that doesn't mean I'm going to make out with you in a parked car like some hormone-crazed teenager."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"You're a bad thing. We together are a bad thing. Where do you live?" The look she shot him was scorching, both annoyed and aroused at the same time.
He gave her directions, sat back and watched her drive.
"Stop it. You're making me nervous."
"If this is you nervous, then be that more often. You look beautiful." He reached over and ran his hand down her thigh. "I have missed you, Margaret."
"I know. I've missed you too." She laid her hand over his, and drove in silence, following his directions as they got closer. As she parked the car, she said softly, "I shouldn't come up."
"Yes, you should." He leaned in, gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I need you to. I want you to."
She looked over at him. "I want to."
"Then why are we discussing this?" He opened his door, walked around and opened hers. "Fair lady?"
She let him pull her out. Holding her close, he led her to the elevator, then to his door.
"Home, barren home." He'd made little attempt to fix up the place. Fortunately, it had been furnished with the bare essentials. He'd left everything else in his dad's house--his next-door neighbor was checking on it, making sure pipes didn't burst and mail got forwarded.
He closed the door, turned to see her watching him. She stood in a patch of light from the street lamp, and her hair turned silver in the near-dark the same way it had in her tent in Korea.
"Come here," he said, his voice gruff. It was suddenly very important to him that she be the one to move the distance between them.
It took her three steps, and then she was in his arms, kissing him hard. Passion was never an issue with her, and he loved that. He loved even more the way she stripped his clothes off him, relished the way she moved to make it easier for him to remove hers. He had never had this with Carol, never known this easy sensual rhythm of clothed to naked, apart to joined. Margaret pulled him onto his rented couch, and they found their age-old connection, kissing madly as if they might die if they lost contact for too long.
He buried his face in her hair, it smelled just as he remembered--of grass and herbs and some kind of fruit. She touched his cheek, her fingers gentle on him. The tender way she was staring up at him was shaking something loose inside him, something he didn't want to deal with. He began to move faster, harder, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see her compassion--so he wouldn't break.
Then he heard her sob, realized he was going too fast, too hard. Opening his eyes, he stared down at her, saw that she was crying. He stopped moving and kissed her softly, in a way he had never allowed himself to in the past.
She sobbed again when he pulled away.
"I don't know what's left of me, Margaret." He started to move--gently this time. Tenderly--lovingly.
She sniffed and tried to smile, and he leaned down, kissing her tears away.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"This is why..." She turned her head, and he gently pulled it back, so she had to look at him. "This is why I didn't..."
"I know." He reached down, fingers questing.
"I don't want to get hurt," she whispered.
"I don't want to hurt you." He kissed her again while his fingers teased her.
She arched against him, crying out.
He watched her as she moved, enjoying the feeling of her clutching at him. "I love you, Margaret."
"Don't. Don't say that. It's never been true."
"Yes, it has." He went back to his careful motion, watching her close her eyes, not in pain this time but in pleasure. "We just never said it because it's too scary."
"There's a reason it's too scary. It's us. We won't make it." Kissing him as tenderly as he'd kissed her, she whispered, "I love you."
She put her hand over his mouth. "Shut up, Hawkeye. Just stop talking."