Chapter Thirteen: Children Shall Teach
At least the old Colonel was straightforward. A straight question deserved a straight answer, he thought, no matter what he thought of the man.
"Do you know how hard she's tried her whole life to please you?"
"You mean Margaret?"
"Yes. Your daughter." He noticed that the man flinched very slightly at that. "She's worked her whole life to be what you wanted from her, and you've always made her feel like it wasn't enough."
"I've already explained to your CO that I didn't leave the OR because of anything Margaret did."
"I already figured that. That's not what I'm talking about."
"Oh?" Alvin Houlihan was trying to decide if he liked or hated this man's bluntness.
"I know Margaret probably better than anyone in this camp. I know how you treated her when she was a girl. I know you always made her feel inadequate. I know that when she was seventeen, she came home hurt and crying and you yelled at her and just hurt her more, and let me tell you that the only reason I haven't done more to you for that than call you out on it is that Margaret, for reasons I can't fathom, still loves you, and I respect her more than you apparently do. Let me tell you something. I've never met a person stronger or braver than Margaret, or more worthy of the respect and love you've denied her."
"You have no right -"
"She's my friend, as far as I'm concerned that gives me the right. And anyway, you asked." He threw back his drink and left the Officers' Club before the man could react.
"Hey, hey! What's going on here?"
He broke through the assembled crowd to find a group of about men at the heart of it. The guilt on their faces told him that they were responsible for the conflict the others were crowded around to see. He also noticed that the men in question were in various states of undress.
"Who's the senior rank among you men?" he demanded. As one, about five of them pointed to a man whose rank pins identified him as a First Lieutenant. He was struggling to get into his pants, and as Alvin moved forward to intercept him, he noticed a naked girl lying on the ground, desperately trying to cover herself with her hands. She couldn't have been older than twelve.
It hit him what the men had been doing, and he was sickened by it. He slipped his jacket off and slid it around the child, then scanned the crowd until he spotted a Major he recognized and shouted to the man to get the MPs.
"What did you think you were doing?" he asked furiously, spinning on the Lieutenant.
"Just having a little fun," he slurred.
"You're drunk!" Alvin could smell the liquor on the man's breath.
"Course I am."
"What about the rest of you? What do you have to say for yourselves?"
"I'm sorry," mumbled one Private.
"Sure you are. Sorry you got caught."
"Let me through! That's my baby, let me through!" A voice rang through the air, and the crowd parted to let him come forward. He was a young Captain, his face covered with tears as he roughly shoved the men aside and knelt down next to his child. "Annie? Annie, baby, Daddy's here."
"Daddy?" she rolled over slightly and let the man gather her into his arms. One of the men opened his mouth like he was going to speak, but the Colonel shot him a look and he thought better of it.
"What happened?" the Captain asked brokenly.
"I don't know. But I'll see that these men are punished."
"You'd better." Red-rimmed eyes, hard with anger, met his. "This is your fault too, Colonel."
"Oh, really?" Normally, he'd come down hard on an officer for talking to him like this, but the man was so clearly upset that Alvin wasn't even sure he was thinking straight.
"What would you have done if it wasn't a ten-year-old girl? You've never punished a man for doing this to an adult woman. Most of them don't even bother to report this kind of thing. You go around giving out warnings to the women to never go anywhere alone, but you never lecture your men about restraint and you don't punish them when they do this kind of thing, so they think they can do it whenever they feel like it. That's what makes them think they can rape a little girl. They don't think you'll do anything about it."
"Sir, do you want us to remove him?" While Alvin had been distracted, the MPs had come up behind them.
"No, he's just upset." He gestured to the group of men who were still trying to get their clothes on. "But take all these men, confine them, and prepare a criminal trial."
The men in question had apparently decided that it was wise not to fight with the men with the guns. At any rate, they allowed themselves to be marched off.
"You have my word, Captain. They will be punished." He laid a gentle hand on the man's shoulder, then walked away without giving so much as a reprimand for the way he'd spoken to a superior officer.
"Where the hell is she?" Alvin asked himself. It wasn't like his older daughter to be late. If it were Grace, sure. His younger daughter took after her mother, flightiness and all, which was probably why she'd chosen to stay with her. But not Margaret. Margaret was her father's daughter through and through, and one of the things she'd inherited from him was his sense of discipline. This included punctuality, and she was now more than an hour late.
The door creaked open slowly, and he stood. "Where the hell have you been?"
"I'm sorry." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.
"Margaret, what happened to you?" His daughter was, he realized, completely naked except for a large coat with Corporal's stripes that covered her down to mid-thigh. Her legs were scraped and bloody. Her hair was a mess. Her face and neck and what he could see of her chest were bruised. Her eyes were red from crying.
"Daddy -" she looked like she was going to cry again.
"Margaret, what happened?" he repeated more forcefully, and she flinched away from him. "Tell me what happened."
"There were three men," she said in a trembling voice. "I tried to fight them, but they were stronger than me. They took me into an empty tent, and they pulled my clothes off, and they - they raped me." The last few words came out as little more than a whisper, and he saw her face twist as she struggled not to cry.
"Margaret, who was with you?"
She gave him a lost, confused look, but didn't respond.
"There was someone else out there with you, wasn't there?"
She only shook her head. The anger inside him bubbled over. Didn't she understand why he'd always told her to be with someone else when she was out? He didn't want her to be hurt like this.
"'Didn't I tell you not to go wandering off alone?" he asked her. She didn't answer. "Did I or didn't I?"
She nodded slowly.
"Now you see what happens when you don't listen to me. Let this be a lesson to you."
He snapped awake from the dream that had really been a memory. He'd been angry that day, like any father would be if his daughter told him she'd been raped. He'd been angry thinking that a little thing done differently could have spared her so much pain. But all he'd done was lash out at her. Then he'd spent the rest of the night sitting in the living room, trying to pretend he couldn't hear her crying herself to sleep.
The words of the Captain from earlier that day ran through his head. Then another Captain's voice came into his mind. I know that when she was seventeen, she came home hurt and crying and you yelled at her and just hurt her more.
I must be slipping, to be told off by two Captains in one week and not do anything about it. But he couldn't help but admit that both of them had been right. He'd nearly forgotten that day and everything that had happened since, Margaret eating almost nothing, growing thinner and more depressed and withdrawn every day they were at Fort Bliss until he'd finally gone in and quietly put in for a transfer, unable to watch her slowly dying in front of his eyes. No, he hadn't forgotten. That suggested some sort of accident. He'd tried his hardest to put those six months out of his mind. They'd gotten to Fort Hamilton and the old Margaret had started to re-emerge. He'd seen his daughter come back to life, and he'd avoided thinking about the way she'd been.
He was now very glad he'd asked her to meet him in Tokyo next month.
They'd gotten past the pleasantries. Now it was time for the part Alvin was dreading. They were alone in the hotel room. There wouldn't be a better time.
"Margaret, I want to talk to you." A simple statement, but it committed him to what he was about to do.
"Of course." She sat down. Obedient, always, that was his girl.
"Margaret, this, uh, this isn't very easy for me to say."
"What is it, sir?" She was worried now.
"Don't worry. Nothing's wrong. It's just - I'm not very good at apologies. But I think I owe you one. No, scratch that. I know I owe you one."
"What are you talking about?" Her eyes were wide.
"Ten years ago," he began softly, "you came to me, hurting, looking for comfort. And I turned you away. Not only that, I hurt you worse."
"You were right." Her quick response made him sure of what he'd suspected. She remembered. "I shouldn't have been -"
"That doesn't matter," he interrupted. "Giving you a lecture then was the wrong thing to do, with you in that condition. I should have tried to do something for you, not done something to hurt you."
He heard a soft sniffling sound and looked up from his hands. His daughter, he realized, was crying.
"I'm sorry, sir." She started to lift her hand to wipe her tears, but he gently caught it with his own.
"Come here." He opened his arms and slowly pulled her into them. Her arms went around his neck, and he could feel her shaking as she fought her tears. "Just let go, Margaret. Let go."
He wondered how long she'd kept this pain inside as she began sobbing helplessly against him. He pulled her onto the bed so he could hold her.
"I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am." He rubbed her back gently as she wept and clung to him. "There's a lot I never told you."
"What?" she whispered.
He nearly clammed up, but he knew she deserved an answer. "That sometimes I could hear you crying, but I had no idea what to do about it. That a few times while you were asleep I would sneak into your room."
"That was real? I thought I was dreaming. I remember you touching my back." Her red, bloodshot eyes met his.
He remembered too. Stepping up to her bed, gently stroking her back as she cried into her pillow, caught in the grip of a nightmare. He remembered feeling the bones in her back, realizing how much weight she'd lost and knowing he had to do something or he'd lose his child forever. "That was real."
"I remember one night you whispered that it was going to be okay, that you were going to take me away. The next morning you told me we were moving at the end of the week. I thought it was a coincidence."
"I never told you this either, but I asked to be transferred. I specifically asked for Hamilton. I wanted to be as far from Texas as we could get."
"I couldn't stand it anymore. I felt like I was watching you slowly slip away from me. You were starving yourself to death, and you were walking around like you were already dead on the inside, hardly talking to anyone. At first I wasn't sure why, but I heard what people were saying to you, and I saw that every time someone did say something, a little bit of the light left your eyes, and I had to get you away from them. That first day when we were in Hamilton and I took you out to dinner - do you remember?"
"You ate the entire meal. I didn't let you see it, but after we got home I cried, I was so happy to see you eating again." It wasn't easy for him to say any of this, but he knew she needed to hear it. "Then a few weeks later I saw you smile, and I knew I would be getting you back, and I've never felt so relieved in my whole life. You're the best thing that ever happened to me, I can't lose you." The last confession came out as barely a whisper, but she stared up at him with wide eyes.
"You mean that?"
"Have you ever known me to say anything I didn't mean?"
"Oh, Daddy." She started crying again, and he pulled her close. "I love you, Daddy."
"I love you, Margaret." It was his last confession, and he couldn't have imagined that it would feel so good to say. "I love you."
She couldn't suppress a fresh flood of tears. She didn't remember him ever saying those three little words to her before. She felt him holding her the way she'd longed her whole life to be held. And she couldn't stop crying. She felt his hand running soothingly up and down her back.
"My Margaret," he whispered. "I've hurt you terribly, haven't I? How can I make it up to you?"
"You don't have to," she sobbed. "I just wanted you to love me."
"I do." He kissed her forehead. "I've always loved you, Margaret. I'm sorry if I haven't shown it."
"I wanted you to be proud of me."
"Margaret." A warm smile lit his face. "How could I not be?"
"Tell me something, Margaret."
The crying had ceased, and they had elected to continue their conversation over dinner. It was this venue that Alvin had chosen to bring up the question in the back of his mind.
"When I was at the 4077, I found myself the target of a rather pointed lecture from one of your doctors."
"Which one?" she asked resignedly, trying to decide whether to laugh or be embarrassed.
"Do you have to ask?"
"Not really," she admitted. There were only four possibilities to begin with. Knowing her father, he would have referred to Potter as her CO, which ruled him out. Winchester wasn't the type to get confrontational. That left the two Captains, and while there was no guarantee that BJ wouldn't do such a thing, he wasn't the one who had personally hoped never to meet the man for Alvin's own sake. "It was Hawkeye, wasn't it? Captain Pierce," she amended when she saw the confusion in his face.
"It was at that. I'd wonder where he got it from if I hadn't met his father a few months ago."
"What did he want?"
"He was very hard on me. And very complimentary about you. But he knew - things about our relationship -"
"I told him."
"I figured. But why him? He doesn't seem like the type you'd even be able to stand to be in the same room with if you didn't have to."
"Funny, isn't it? That's exactly what I thought of him when I first met him. Doesn't give a damn about authority, doesn't know how to take anything seriously, no sense of order. But once I got to know him - I've never met anyone who cares about people the way he does."
"I don't follow you."
"He doesn't show it around just anyone, but under all the jokes there's the biggest heart in Korea. About four months ago, he almost got himself killed saving my life." She failed to mention that she'd sneaked into the medical files to find this out. No one had told her just how badly Hawkeye had been hurt, but his file told all. He wouldn't have survived more than another couple of days in his condition without water and medical attention. As it was, he'd lost almost twenty pounds between dehydration and lack of food. "And when it was all over, he was worried about crying in front of me because he didn't want me to have to comfort him after everything I'd been through. When he'd been through three times as much to protect me. I guess it goes with being a doctor, but everyone's well-being is more important than his own. He wants to help everyone."
"Except me." There was no barb behind the statement, only a tinge of humor.
"He does have a tendency to get protective of his close friends."
"And he considers you one of them."
"Yes." She looked away from his piercing stare. "And yes, that's all it is."
"Margaret, on that note, what on Earth happened with your marriage? One week I get a letter saying you're engaged. Nine weeks later it's married. Four months after that you're getting divorced."
"He wasn't what he pretended to be. I rushed into the whole thing, just out of another relationship, drawn in by his charm and his self-confidence. But as soon as we were married, he changed. It was like he didn't have to win me over anymore so he stopped trying to be nice. He became controlling, selfish. Not to mention he apparently didn't understand the definition of 'keep yourself only unto her'." It was taking her an effort to keep her voice down. "We had one massive fight that didn't end well." Understatement of the year, but if I tell him what really happened I'll start crying again and we're in public. "Then when I wanted to patch things up, he got himself permanently transferred to San Francisco instead of facing me. That was when I sent him the papers."
"You never did have much of an example on that front."
"That wasn't it. I guess I thought marriage would solve every problem in my life, so I rushed into it."
"And it just wasn't all it's cracked up to be."
"Instead of fixing my problems, I got stuck with a bunch of new ones. Or rather, one big new one named Donald."
"At least you apparently fixed it yourself."
"You're not upset that I got divorced?"
"It would be hypocritical if I was, wouldn't it?"
"Never quite thought of it that way."
"It sounds like it was a bad situation, and you got out of it without too much trouble."
That's debatable. But she didn't say it out loud.
"Under the circumstances, it's the best thing you could've done."
"That means a lot to me."
"When the time's right, I hope to see you married again. But I should know, an unhappy marriage doesn't do anyone any good."
She smiled. "What do you say we get some dessert?"
"I couldn't agree more."
"Come in!" Margaret looked up briefly from her unpacking to see Hawkeye standing in her doorway. "Oh, it's you."
"How did it go?" He had known she was a little worried about this meeting with her father. He'd been a lot worried.
"Seriously. You might want to sit down for this."
"If you say so." He landed ungracefully on her bed. "What happened?"
"Seriously. And I don't just mean for last time either. He apologized for what he said to me all those years ago. And he admitted that he got us transferred to a different base because he was worried about me."
"No." She shook her head, a broad grin crossing her face. "He said something else, too."
"That he loves me." She was nearly glowing now. "He's never said that before."
Hawkeye favored her with a soft look. What would it be like not to be told you were loved for your whole life?
"I think you made an impression on him, too. He asked about you. Wondered how you knew about everything you chewed him out for."
"Did you tell him?"
"Not the details. I just told him that there's a side of you people don't always see, the side that just wants to take care of people. The side that brought you in here tonight," she added, smiling at him.
He grinned, giving her the line he'd said the very first time they'd spoken as friends. "Just don't let it get around."