Chapter One: Midnight Knock
"Who's there?" she asked resignedly.
"It's me, Margaret."
She was glad he was still standing on the other side of the door so he couldn't see her face. She quickly rearranged it into a mask of neutrality. Pierce was better than Frank anyway, though not much better.
"What the hell do you want?" It came out more harshly than she'd really intended, but it was no more than he deserved, waking her in the middle of the night like that.
"Can I come in? I want to talk to you."
She couldn't help a sudden flare of anger. She'd had a rough couple of days, they all had, a large batch of wounded and Frank pestering her non-stop on top of it, and now he was bothering her in the middle of the night because he wanted to talk to her?
"Absolutely not! Is that what you woke me up for? To chat? After a ten-hour OR session?"
"Margaret, no, it's not -"
"Leave me alone!" She grabbed the first unbreakable thing she could find - which happened to be her pillow - and hurled it at the door. "Go away!"
"You promised," he said softly, but she was too angry to really hear him. Only after she had replaced her pillow on her bed and laid down did she calm down enough to wonder over the meaning of his strange statement, and she fell asleep before she could come up with an answer.
Hawkeye took slow steps away from the Head Nurse's private tent, hoping his last statement would get through and she'd open her door, let him in. But after a few moments, he had to admit that didn't seem likely. He was grateful not to run into a sentry. It was all he could do to breathe around the lump in his throat, let alone say even a few words.
He sank onto his cot, grateful that his roommates were already asleep. He didn't want to talk to anyone right now. At least not anyone except the one person who'd just turned him down.
He sat up and poured himself a drink. Maybe if he got enough of the stuff in him, he'd be able to fall asleep. But the moment the first sip touched his mouth, he was overcome by a desire to spit it out. He sighed and sank back to his cot. So he wouldn't be sleeping tonight after all.
Margaret was surprised to see BJ Hunnicutt enter the mess tent alone. He and Pierce had been practically inseparable since the younger doctor's first day in camp, and she have figured Pierce would be regaling Hunnicutt with tales of the R&R in Tokyo he'd returned from two days earlier.
Speak of the devil - "Mind if I join you?"
"No, not at all." The young doctor might be following in Pierce's shadow a bit, but he was nowhere near the level of, say, Trapper John McIntyre, the man he'd replaced. Though she'd never admit it, she'd begun to like him.
"Major, you've been around this unit awhile, haven't you?"
"Yes. Over a year."
"About as long as Hawkeye."
"Yes. Is this interrogation going somewhere?"
"I'm worried about him Ever since he got back from Tokyo he's been acting strange."
"He hasn't said a word about his trip. Frankly, he's barely said a word about anything, and you know as well as I do it's usually hard to shut him up. But I needed a second opinion."
Margaret frowned. Now that Hunnicutt mentioned it, he was right. Hawkeye had been more somber than usual in the OR. In fact, that little conversation they'd had through her door the previous night had been the most she'd heard him say at once. And that really wasn't like him at all.
"You're right," she admitted. "It is strange."
And much as she hated to admit it, she was worried too.
It was an exhausted and thoroughly frustrated Margaret Houlihan who stumbled back to the supply tent. She couldn't believe she'd done something as stupid as leaving her watch in there. Now she had to go back and get it, when all she really wanted to do was sleep.
Fortunately, the errant timepiece hadn't been buried too badly, and she found it in a few minutes. She was on her way out when she heard a soft snuffling sound.
"Oh, not again." They'd only just cleared the rats out of the supply tent. She hurried towards the sound, hoping she could take care of this one before it chewed through anything important. She flipped the light on and gasped in surprise.
There was no rat to be seen. Only Hawkeye Pierce. And he was crying.