Improbable Cause

Chapter Ten: The Confrontation

As soon as they heard her tone, Goren and Eames walked up behind the Lieutenant Colonel, not close enough for him to notice but close enough that they could get there in a split second if things heated up.

The gears in Goren's head were turning at the speed of light. The error on Kent's witness list had seemed like such a minor deal that he had just pointed it out and put it out of his mind. But now he was realizing it had had more of an impact than he'd anticipated. Burns thought she was still single. The detective was beginning to suspect that what Frank had been hung up on in the courtroom had been Margaret's married name.

"Margaret -" he said again, sounding less certain of himself now that she was facing him.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she asked bluntly.

He opened his mouth and then closed it again, apparently lacking a good answer. Margaret didn't give him another chance to form one. "Are you stalking me?"

"No!" he protested. "I wouldn't!"

"From what I hear, you did a pretty good impression of it in Seoul while I was on my honeymoon," she snapped icily.

"What - that was fifty years ago, Margaret!"

"And yet, here we are. Or more to the point, here you are."

"You're married," he stammered out.

"Only for the past fifty-two years," she snapped back. "You're damn lucky the cops are here, Frank. Otherwise I might just punch you in the needle-nose."

"I don't understand, Margaret," he protested. "What did I do?"

"Oh, my God," she said incredulously. "After all these years, you still don't get it."

"Then tell me," he insisted. "Don't I deserve at least that?"

It was immediately clear to Goren that Burns had found a soft spot. And apparently, he wasn't the only one who noticed. "Look, Frank," Hawkeye said harshly. "She doesn't owe you anything. We're leaving."

"No," Margaret said softly, drawing shocked looks from both her husband and her ex-boyfriend. "I appreciate the help, Hawkeye, I really do, but I can handle this." She drew a slow breath. "Three minutes." It was clear from the small smile she gave her husband that that number had some sort of significance. "You can have three minutes."

"I'll be right around the corner," Hawkeye promised. "Just yell if you need me."

Margaret watched as her husband and the detectives backed off before turning to the one man remaining. "Three minutes starts now, Frank."

"Why are you angry?"

"Are you serious?"

"Yes," he replied, a little abashed. "I knew it was over between us the last time I saw you, after your wedding. But even after all that, I thought - I thought we were okay."

"We were," she admitted. "It's what you did later - and I don't mean that mess you got into in Seoul. What exactly did you think was going on when someone called you up and asked for dirt on Captain Pierce?"

"What?" He actually seemed surprised by her question. "How do you know about that?"

"Answer my question first." Her voice was pure ice.

"I assumed he'd gotten into some kind of trouble. You know how he is - was -" he seemed to realize too late that he was talking about her husband. "You know the stunts he was always pulling," he corrected belatedly. "I figured it was only a matter of time before he went so far that not even his skill as a doctor could save him."

"You didn't ask?"

"Should I have?"

It was only knowing that she had to consider what she was going to say next very carefully lest she betray the confidence of the man she loved that kept her from exploding at Frank. "Yes, you should have," she replied in a measured tone, knowing he would hear the rage that simmered just below the surface. "He was - he was a witness in a case involving a Lieutenant engaged in criminal acts." Close enough to the truth, and without exposing so much as a hint of the true horror Hawkeye had actually testified to that day. "The things you said were used to trash his credibility. You're damn lucky - hell, the entire Army is damn lucky it didn't work."

Now Frank really looked taken aback. "I had no idea."

"You should have at least considered - well, maybe not that exact possibility," she conceded, "but other possibilities besides the idea that he was causing trouble. That's your problem, Frank. You just act, you don't stop to think. Not about consequences, and not about other people." She couldn't stop herself picturing the look Hawkeye had worn when the defense attorney had started bringing up the incidents Frank had recounted. "That's why we didn't work, Frank. Oh, you may have done small things for me, but when it came down to it, it was all about you, you, you."

"That's not true!"

"You wouldn't leave your wife because of her money. At the time I thought I understood, but now - now I know that all that means is you cared more about her money than about me. And I know how damn pathetic that is."

"Come on, Margaret," he entreated. "It wasn't all bad, not like -" he jerked his head towards the courtroom to complete his sentence.

She nearly pointed out the low standard he was using for comparison, but something stopped her. Maybe it really was the monster she had just confronted, knowing that he was so much worse than Frank had ever been. Maybe it was guilt, knowing she'd treated him badly right at the end. Maybe it was just some long-buried speck of loyalty for the man she had once given so much of herself to. But when she spoke, it was softer. "You're right, Frank," she admitted. "It wasn't all bad. I might even say it was special. But a part of you was always still tied to your wife."

"You didn't exactly come to me pure and innocent," he retorted.

She couldn't stop herself from flinching at his remark, even as she forced herself to ignore it. Frank had no way to know the depth of the soft spot he'd just hit, and she certainly wasn't going to tell him now. "So I couldn't give you my virginity," she replied. "I gave you my heart. Wasn't that enough? I loved you, Frank. And you - you used that to keep me on a string, to make me believe promises that meant nothing. You were never ready to commit to me. You just kept me believing that you were so I wouldn't leave." She took a slow breath, trying to calm herself before she outright exploded at him.

"But why - why Pierce?" Frank said almost desperately. "He's nothing like - like anything the Margaret Houlihan I knew would have even considered marrying."

"People change, Frank. He loves me, and I love him. And at some point I realized - I realized that I'd been wrong all along, that that could be enough."

"But it wasn't enough for us."

"I don't know," she admitted. "We never really got a chance to find out, did we? But Frank, that door closed half a century ago. What we had was good, but it's been over for a long time. I moved on. You should've done the same."

"How?"

"I can't answer that for you," she said softly. "But just start. You still have time."

She met his eyes firmly, but some of the ice had melted away. "I think it would be better for both of us if this was the last time we saw each other."

A myriad of emotions crossed Frank's face. Fear, yes, and pain, but beneath those, Margaret saw a hard-won acceptance. "Okay."

"Goodbye, Frank."

"Goodbye, Margaret."

Predictably, she was the one to turn away first. But when she glanced back over her shoulder, just to satisfy her curiosity, she was almost irrationally pleased to see that he was walking in the opposite direction, and that he didn't seem overly burdened by the separation.

Hawkeye was in the next hallway, exactly where he had said he would be. "How did it go?"

"I think we settled a few things."

She didn't go into more detail, and he didn't ask. He wrapped his arms around her waist and drew his beloved wife close. "So, if he gets three minutes, does that mean I get ten?"

He felt her lips brush his ear as he whispered. "Times eternity, my love. Don't you know that?"

*~*~*~*

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