Chapter Ten: Inner Strength
"I'm sorry, Doctor," she said in a fairly snotty voice.
BJ might have thrown up his hands if they weren't buried in someone's guts. The new head nurse was driving him up the wall. She was arrogant, she was difficult, and she wasn't even a very good nurse. He'd already heard more than a fair share of complaints from the nurses about her. He had a feeling that if they did get Margaret back, they'd never complain the same way about her again.
Their surgeon was little better. He was fresh from stateside and nervous as anything. It took him forever to do even one surgery, and he didn't do them all that well either. He also found a way to botch anything he did unless they gave him practically second-by-second directions. Compared to him, Charles had been a shining meatball surgeon in his first days.
"It's like the worst parts of Chuckles and Ferret Face put together," Kellye had commented, which had made him laugh and then cry at the Hawkeye-like comment. He was prone to crying at the drop of a hat right now, though to his credit he'd kept his head pretty well in OR.
Potter had pointed out that they could get the second-best surgeon in Korea and BJ would still hate him. That was true, he'd admitted, but this guy was far from the second-best surgeon in Korea.
"Come on, Hawkeye. Let's take a break."
She didn't know how he wasn't the one asking for a break. They'd been walking for days with only minimal rest, and she'd been the one calling all the breaks. How he could walk at all was a mystery.
She was so hungry she was trembling, but they hadn't come across a single source of food or safe water. Again she stole a glance at Hawkeye, who was lying gingerly on his side. He had to be even more desperate than she was, to say nothing of being in unimaginable pain, but he hadn't said so much as a word of complaint the whole time. She didn't know how he did it.
"Margaret, you sleep, I'll keep watch."
"That's what we did last time. You're hurt and exhausted. Come here."
He crawled towards her, collapsing at her side. She brought his head into her lap. "You sleep. I'll keep my eyes open this time."
He was too tired to argue with her.
BJ barely looked up from his patient as Winchester walked in. Normally this would have meant BJ could leave, but that wasn't going to happen under the circumstances. "Nurse Brilliant mixed up his medications. He's had twice as much morphine as he should. I have to try and keep him breathing until it wears off."
"That dolt! You want me to get Potter?"
"I think you'd better," he said as the man went into a seizure.
"What in the name of Sam Hill happened here?" Potter hurried in not two minutes after Winchester had left. The man now lay still, his breathing shallow.
"Jenkins overdosed him on morphine."
"What?" Potter rushed to the man's other side. "What are his signs?"
"Pressure 60 over 40, pulse 50, and he's struggling to breathe. I have to get him through the night. If we can keep him alive until it starts to wear off, he should be okay."
"As will I." Charles had reentered the room carrying three cups of coffee. "I thought we could all use some."
"Thanks, Charles. But can you just put it down somewhere? I've got my hands full."
"Wake up, Hawkeye."
"He did, with a soft moan of pain. "What is it?"
"We know we need to head south to get into friendly territory. Right now, we can keep the sun on our left and know where we're going. Once it comes up we won't have it to navigate by."
"Okay." His voice was hoarse with pain and thirst, but with her help he forced himself to his feet. "Let's go."
"Pulse at 70, BP 120 over 80, and he's breathing regularly. I think he's going to be okay."
A ragged cheer rose up from the OR at BJ's words. From Potter and Charles, who'd been working tirelessly with BJ to keep the man alive, and from about half the OR patients, who had tuned in to watch the show.
"Tell the nurse on duty to check him every ten minutes and come get me if there's any change. I'm going to bed."
"That was a wonderful thing you did. You saved a man's life."
It was because BJ was turned to look at him while still walking that he collided with someone going the other way. "Oh, I'm very -" Then he realized who he'd bumped into, and it turned to fury. "You! You idiot!"
"What?" She fixed him with a look of wide-eyed innocence. "What did I do?"
"You overdosed him on morphine!" BJ pointed a shaking hand at the patient they'd sat up with all night. "You could have killed him!"
"Doctor, please." She sounded like they were having a conversation over a cup of coffee.
"All right, all right." Potter stepped in before it could get out of hand, he could tell BJ was about to boil over. "Hunnicutt, go get some sleep. Jenkins, my office, now. Winchester, keep an eye on things until I get back."
"Hawkeye, do you see something?"
"No." His voice was a hoarse rasp. His thirst was a torture all its own, his stomach cramped painfully with hunger, and every inch of him hurt. He didn't have the energy to waste looking anywhere but straight ahead.
"It's some kind of structure. Could be people there."
"And they could be enemy people. Come on, we should keep going the same way we've been going. We're bound to find our line."
They hadn't been walking for more than five minutes when they heard the sound of an engine. Hawkeye threw himself painfully behind the nearest bush, pulling Margaret with him.
The engine became louder. Then, suddenly, it stopped. Margaret saw boots approaching.
Margaret placed her hand on the gun she'd taken off the Korean. They didn't dare so much as breathe. Her finger was on the safety, but she couldn't actually take it off without risking being overheard.
"Get your gun," said a voice suddenly. "I swear I heard something from these bushes."
Margaret gasped. The boots they could see turned to face them, but she wasn't afraid anymore. The voice had spoken perfect English, and his only accent was a hint of southern American.
She stood up slowly, trying not to alarm him into firing. His weapon swung towards her, but it was lowered just as quickly when he realized about her what she'd already figured out about him; she was American.
"Thank God you found us."
"Ma'am, are you all right?" the other man asked. She followed his gaze - to the blood on her uniform.
"It's not mine. My friend is hurt badly, he needs help. Is there a medic in the area?"
"There's an aid station about two miles from here."
"Even better." She dropped to one knee. "Hawkeye, did you hear that? We're safe."
With a strength she wouldn't have believed possible if she hadn't spent the last few days with him, he took hold of her arm and hauled himself to his feet. "I heard. Let's go."
He stumbled into the jeep, and she walked around and sat beside him, letting him rest in her lap.
"Do you have water?" she asked, licking her parched lips.
"Here you go, ma'am." The soldier who had first found them passed back a canteen as the other started the jeep. Margaret took a long gulp, and then carefully propped Hawkeye up and held it to his lips.
"Here. I have water."
"You need -" He weakly tried to push it away, trying at the same to fight back his longing for what she was offering.
"I've already had some. Please, Hawkeye. I know you're thirsty."
God, am I ever. His mouth was parched, his throat burned and he was so dizzy. When she put the canteen back to his lips he couldn't fight his body's need anymore and he allowed her to tip the liquid into his mouth. Nothing in the world could have tasted as good as that water did then. He sucked desperately at the opening of the bottle, trying to get as much of it down as fast as he could.
Margaret knew she should try to get him to drink more slowly, but looking down at him she couldn't do it. He was soaked in his own blood, he'd been horrifically injured, and he was clearly dying of thirst. If he wanted to gulp the water down, she would let him.
"It'll be okay," she said softly. "We're going to get help for you."
"I know," he whispered as he emptied the canteen and reluctantly pulled his lips away. "I'm safe here. With you."
He cried out as the jeep hit a pothole, jarring his injured body, and she pulled him close. "Can't you drive any smoother?"
"Sorry, ma'am. The road's all shot up."
Another jerk, and the jeep began to list to one side. "I don't believe it. Blew a tire. I'm sorry ma'am, sir." He pulled off the road.
She felt Hawkeye tense, and her own hand went to the gun. "Don't worry. I'll keep watch."
"Keep watch, ma'am?" asked the driver.
"That's how we got into trouble in the first place. Pulled over to change a tire and didn't watch our surroundings as carefully as we should have."
They were on edge for the entire time it took to get the tire changed, but no one was seen and they continued on their way. Margaret had never been so glad to see an aid station.
"What do you have, Sergeant?" A weary medic had come out to speak to the driver.
"Picked these two up a few miles down the road. One seriously hurt."
"Holy cow!" He must have been tired indeed, Margaret thought, not to notice the blood that covered them both. "What the hell happened?"
"Long story. Look, I'm a nurse. His injuries are serious but not immediately life-threatening. He can hang on long enough to get to a hospital as long as he gets transportation as soon as possible."
He nodded. "I'll put him on the next chopper. What about you?"
"It's all his. But I'd like to go with him."
She saw the shocked and horrified look that crossed his features for an instant before his mask slammed into place. "Okay, ma'am." He turned and called into the station, and two men came running out. "Get him onto a stretcher and have him ready to be loaded onto a chopper the second we get one."
It seemed an endless amount of time passed before the sound of chopper blades pierced the air. At the 4077, they'd all hated that sound. But here, it meant salvation.
The aid station workers were quick and well-practiced, and it didn't take them long to get Hawkeye secured in the chopper. Margaret stepped carefully over him, strapping herself into the passenger's seat as another patient was secured on the other side.
Her shoulders slumped as the chopper lifted off. Finally, she was safe. She could relax.
"Sir, we've got another chopper on the pad!"
"Who has free hands?" Potter asked resignedly.
"I do not." Charles' Harvard accent rang through the room.
"I - I can do it," Riley, the new doctor, stammered.
"Not with that attitude. Here, close for me. I'll go." BJ beckoned the so-called doctor over to his table before pulling off his gloves and running up the hill.
He knelt down to check the first patient, on the pilot's side, vaguely aware of movement on the other side but choosing to ignore it. The man appeared to be in decent shape, with only a few lacerations and some shrapnel in his leg. What worried BJ most was that he appeared to be going into shock.
"Get him into pre-op and give him some whole blood. Put him at the end of the line, he can wait." BJ rounded the chopper and saw a blonde woman with a blood-stained uniform kneeling over the man on the stretcher.
"It's all right," he said softly, trying to put her at ease. "I'm a doctor."
She turned, and he barely had time to recognize her before she threw herself at him. "BJ!"
"Margaret?" He stared at her, stunned.
"Oh, BJ, if you weren't married I'd kiss you right now."
"Margaret, what happened to you? Where's Hawkeye?"
Stepping out of his arms, she answered his second question first, pointing at the man below her with a trembling hand. "I'm not hurt," she whispered. "It's all his."
"Oh, my God." BJ dropped to his knees beside his best friend, checking him over. He knew he didn't have to tell Margaret what his medical condition was, but he did notice something odd.
"Corpsman! This one's serious, get him a unit of whole blood, A-negative, and start an IV for dehydration. And short of any life-threatening injuries, put him at the head of the line."
As the corpsmen rushed off with Hawkeye, BJ turned to Margaret. "Can I offer you a lift?"
"I'm actually tired enough to accept." She allowed him to take her into his arms and carry her down the hill.
"Margaret, can I ask you something?"
"Of course." She rested her head wearily on his shoulder.
"Why was Hawkeye wearing Major's clusters?"
A thousand feelings raced through her mind at once. She wanted to lash out, she wanted to cry, she wanted to hit him, she wanted to kiss him. She settled for a soft "that damn fool. He never told me."
"Told you what?"
"That he took my rank pins."
It was clear she wasn't going to say more on the subject, and anyway they'd reached post-op. "Kellye!"
She came up, stopping short. "Major Houlihan!"
"It's not as bad as it looks," he assured the lieutenant. "Get her inside, make sure she lies down and start her on an IV for dehydration. Get her some food and water too, and make sure she eats." He took another, thoughtful look at Margaret. "And make sure you leave an empty bed next to her."
"I'll explain later."
"I've got free hands. What's next?"
"We've got a guy just came off the chopper, Dr. Hunnicutt said to make him a priority. Then we've got three others in less serious condition."
"Give me the one from the chopper." BJ had scrubbed in record time and was now back in the OR. "Bring in one of the others for Riley."
Hawkeye was carried in and placed on the table as BJ was gloved. The man stirred slightly as he was laid down.
"Easy. Put him under."
A tiny flash of recognition came through the patient's eyes before the mask was lowered over his face and he was out. Out of pain, BJ thought silently. As badly injured as he was, he had to be hurting.
"What happened to him?" asked the nurse at anesthesia.
"I'm not sure, but it's going to be tough. Watch his signs carefully, he's lost a lot of blood. Scalpel."
The normal OR chatter faded into the background. BJ's only focus was on the man who lay in his own OR as a patient. "Spleen's damaged beyond repair. I'll have to remove it. I could use another set of hands over here."
"Able, close for me." Potter stripped off his gloves. "What's the problem?"
"It's not one problem." BJ barely looked up. "There are just so many injuries."
"What the Sam Hill happened to him?"
"I don't know. But I can guess. Take a look at him."
BJ nodded, forcing back tears. "There's more. You may want to take a look at who it is you're operating on."
He turned to look at the face beneath the anesthesia mask. "Suffering saddle soap! Where's -"
"Post-op. I checked her, she's fine. Now give me a hand here."
Margaret had recieved more than a few strange looks for wolfing down the mess tent food that had been served to her, but it didn't bother her. Clearly, none of them knew what it meant to be truly hungry. After days of eating nothing, she was ready to eat anything. She'd had several glasses of water, too. She knew she'd probably be making multiple runs to the latrine that night, but she was so thirsty.
There was nothing to do, but she couldn't sleep. She was sick with worry over Hawkeye, and reeling from the bombshell BJ had unknowingly dropped on her.
It had been a simple observation from his perspective. But she knew what it had meant. Hawkeye had known that they would try to get information out of the highest-ranking officer. He'd taken her pins and put them on his own jacket while she was unconscious.
He had put himself in harm's way to save her.
She couldn't hold back her tears anymore. They flowed freely now, and she buried her face in the pillow, a habit learned from years around her father, who didn't like to hear her cry. She felt a gentle hand on her back and looked into Kellye's concerned face.
"Are you okay, Major?"
"I'm just worried about Hawkeye. No one's telling me anything."
The reason for the empty bunk hit her. "Major - Margaret." When the woman didn't react badly to being called by name, Kellye knelt down next to her. "You know that these kinds of things take time. Our doctors are the best there are."
"Major." His voice was choked, and he sat down on her cot, putting his arms around her. "God, I've been so scared."
She clung to him, relishing his embrace. "Hawkeye -"
"Hunnicutt's finishing him. He'll be fine, Margaret. It took awhile to repair all the damage, but there's nothing we couldn't fix."
He held her for a few more moments before getting back to business. "Margaret, I'm sorry, but I need you to tell me what happened."
"We were on our way back from the 121st and a tire blew on the jeep. Hawkeye pulled over to change it and we started talking, he was telling me a story about something. We got the tire changed and he stood up and just went pale, and there was a group of North Koreans heading towards us. I tried to get down and, uh, hit my head on the edge of the jeep. I don't know exactly what happened then, but from what I can piece together from context, Hawkeye put both our dog tags under the jeep seat and took my clusters off my uniform and put them on his." She knew from Potter's nod that he knew as well as she did why he'd done that. "I woke up in a cell with him - he was terrified, sir. It was the worst possible place for someone with his problem. I don't know how long we were there, but they would come and take him away. The first time, I couldn't understand why I was hearing screams -" She choked. "I'm sorry."
"That's all right."
"At first, I would save him some of the food and water they brought me while he was out. There wasn't much, but he wasn't getting anything while he was out of the cell. He stopped letting me, said I needed it, wouldn't hear otherwise. They'd usually let him rest for a few hours and then come back and he'd be gone for what I think was days. Then one time they came for me instead." She shuddered, and he gripped her shoulder. "I don't know how he did it, but Hawkeye got to his feet and knocked the guy out before he knew what was happening. Two guards came in, but I was able to take one down and I got his gun and made the other guard show us the way out. Then we walked."
"In Hawkeye's condition?"
"Don't ask me how he did it. I was the one calling the breaks, if you can believe that. Well, earlier today we took cover because we heard a jeep, but they must have seen something because they stopped. We were so scared, and then we heard one of the guys talking, and he was American. I've never heard a more beautiful sound in my life."
"I can imagine."
"They drove us to the aid station, and from there we got the chopper. And dear God, I never thought I'd be so happy to see this place."
Klinger and another corpsman came in with a litter. "Where do you want him?"
"Here." Potter indicated the empty bed next to Margaret. Hawkeye was set down gently and the IV bottles were hung.
"Klinger, send -"
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"-Radar in here," he finished needlessly. "Radar, get on the horn to I-CORPS, tell them to take Captain Pierce and Major Houlihan off the missing list."
Radar realized suddenly who was sitting next to the Colonel. "Holy cow!"
"I-CORPS on the horn, right."
"And you. Get some sleep." He eased Margaret down to her pillow.
"Yes, sir." She was asleep before her head was down.*~*~*~*