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When You Need Me Most

By LittleDancerGirl

Other / Romance

Chapter Fourteen: A Long Sleep

"Margaret? Margaret."

"Yeah?" she forced her eyes open. "What do you want, Klinger?"

"Major, the session's over. You can go now."

"I hope you're going to bed, Margaret," Potter said from his position on the scrub room bench. "You look like you need some rest."

"Takes one to know one," she said tiredly. The truth was, she had no argument with him. She was exhausted and just wanted to sleep.

She walked out the door and ran right into Hawkeye. "Oh, sorry."

"It's all right. Hey, you want to come have a drink?" It had been a difficult OR session, and they'd lost three patients, two of whom Hawkeye and Margaret had been operating on.

"I appreciate it, but I've got to get some sleep. I may take you up on it later."

"I'll save you one."

She stepped out into the open air, only to suddenly feel her stomach twist. She stepped around to the side of the hospital and doubled over, bringing up what little she'd eaten for the past few hours. She held onto the side of the building, trying to keep from falling over.

She felt an arm slip around her shoulders, holding her up. She finished and stood up slowly. "I'm okay."

"No, you're not." Hawkeye spoke softly in her ear. He pressed a hand to her forehead. "Margaret, you're burning up. How long have you been sick?"

"I've been tired all day. Or however many days it's been since I last slept. I've been aching for awhile. I guess I didn't really notice." She leaned wearily against him. "Just let me go to bed, Hawkeye, please."

The next thing she knew, Hawkeye had lifted her into his arms. "I can do better than that."

She shivered, burrowing closer into his warmth. "I'm cold." She didn't have the strength to worry about her dignity.

She heard the door of her tent open and then Hawkeye's arms were exchanged for her mattress. It felt so good to lie down, but she was sorry to lose the comfort of his touch.

"Where do you keep your sleepwear?"

She gestured limply. Then she felt hands undressing her. Her uniform pants were slid off and pajama pants were slid on. He slipped off her jacket and shirt, and then she felt him hesitate.

"Margaret -"

"S'ok. I trust you. Anyway, you've seen it all."

He rolled her over and took off her bra, keeping his eyes averted as much as possible and hurrying her shirt onto her to protect her modesty. She continued to shiver, so he piled blankets on top of her.

"Can you take care of yourself for a minute? I want to get my bag so I can check you out."

"Okay," she whispered miserably.

"I won't be long." She heard the door open and shut, and then in so little time he must have sprinted all the way there and back, it opened again. She felt him pull back the blanket and place a stethoscope on her stomach.

"What's the prognosis?" she asked, barely awake, when he'd finished.

"The prognosis is you need to start taking better care of yourself." His words were tempered by a soft tone. "You've had some sort of respiratory infection for awhile, it looks like, and thanks to leaving it untreated you've developed pneumonia."

She did remember coughing a lot, but she'd thought it was just a reaction to the weather. "I didn't realize -"

"Next time, err on the side of caution, okay?" His fingers ran through her hair. "For now, just rest."

"Okay." That wouldn't be hard. Now that she was letting herself feel, she felt terrible, and she was so incredibly tired. With Hawkeye still comforting her, she fell asleep.

xxxxxxxxx

"This sounded important." As soon as the Colonel had woken, Klinger had told him Hawkeye needed to meet with him. The Captain was refusing to take no for an answer.

"It is. Margaret's sick."

"How sick is sick?" The look on Hawkeye's face suggested it wasn't good.

"Pneumonia. Her fever's up to 101."

"Where is she now?"

"Her tent, asleep. Looks like she had some sort of respiratory infection that caused this. You might want to check out the rest of the staff."

"Will do. Maybe we ought to move her to post-op?"

"The infection could still be contagious. I'd rather keep her isolated. I don't have a problem with paying 'tent calls'."

"You're the doctor." Potter might have objected that someone that sick needed constant supervision, but he didn't really think his Chief Surgeon would just be paying her an occasional call. It wouldn't be typical of Dr. Pierce's behavior towards his patients, and it wouldn't be typical of Hawkeye's behavior towards a woman the older man knew he considered one of his best friends. No, Hawkeye would be in that tent round-the-clock, he had no doubt of that.

xxxxxxxxx

Margaret rolled over slowly. She was exhausted, but she was too hot to sleep. She'd already kicked off all the blankets Hawkeye had piled on her, and he'd had the foresight to put her in a lightweight pair of pajamas, but she still felt like she was under a boiling hot sun.

The door creaked open and rapped shut. "You awake?" Hawkeye's soft voice asked near her ear.

"So hot," she moaned. She didn't have the strength or the breath to say more.

A soft hand moved across her neck, brushing her hair aside, and then she felt a cool towel pressed to the back of her neck. She sighed in relief at the wonderful coolness as Hawkeye turned her head and began bathing her face with the towel.

"I really don't feel good," she said softly.

"I imagine you don't. Your fever's up another degree."

"Thirsty."

Hawkeye lifted the cup of juice he'd grabbed from the mess tent and carefully slipped the straw between her lips, helping her adjust her position so she could drink more easily.

"Go back to sleep," he instructed softly when she was done.

"I can't. I'm too hot. Talk to me."

"About what?"

"I don't know. Something cold."

"Have you ever been to Maine or Vermont or that area during the winter?"

"No."

"You've missed out on a lot. There's nothing quite like a snowstorm up there. There have been years we couldn't get out of our house for a day or two because the snow around the doors was so deep..."

Margaret could picture every word he described. The cloud of white enveloping the house so thickly you couldn't see two feet out any window. The snow piled so high that people would sink in knee-high and parents had to carry their kids. Hawkeye's laughter melded with his words as he described how his mother had started bringing his sled into the house when he got too heavy to lift so she could pull him across the snow as if he were riding in a chariot. The games the children would play, knowing they had as much snow as they could ever want to do with as they pleased. She wasn't entirely sure when she fell asleep, but her dreams were filled with sleds and snow-covered trees.

xxxxxxxxx

"No! Stop it! Stop!"

Hawkeye jerked awake from the chair he'd been dozing in when he heard Margaret scream. His first thought was a medical emergency, but a visual check confirmed that wasn't the case. She was, however, twisting in her sleep, and tears streaked her face.

"Please, no!"

He couldn't take it anymore. He hurried to her side. "Margaret?"

"No! Please don't!"

His heart ached when he realized what she was dreaming about. "Margaret, it's Hawkeye." He carefully gathered her into his arms. "It's Hawkeye. No one's going to hurt you, Margaret." He began rubbing her back and she relaxed into his arms. "That's it, Margaret. You just rest. I'll keep you safe."

Despite the fact that she was still burning up, she was drenched in a cold sweat. Hawkeye knew what she'd been through and he knew how much it hurt, and he hated that she was having to relive it in her delirium. He rocked her in his arms, trying to soothe her, trying to keep her safe.

He laid her back on the bed and joined her, fully clothed, barely remembering to take off his boots. He kept his arms wrapped tightly around her, as though he could somehow protect her from the demons in her mind.

xxxxxxxxx

"How is she?"

"Her fever's up another point two. She still hasn't given any indication that she's coherent or aware of her surroundings."

Margaret had been caught in a delirious sleep for four days now, her fever steady or climbing. Hawkeye ached for her every time she cried out, pleading with foes only she could see to stop and leave her alone, knowing that she was reliving that awful experience and helpless to do anything but hold her through the nightmares. The first time she'd cried out Donald's name, pleading with the man she'd once called her husband just as she did with those other monsters, he'd had to step outside and throw up. He wondered if she knew he was even there.

"Are you sure we shouldn't move her into post-op?" He knew he'd asked before, but he had to ask again.

"There's nothing I could do for her here. And if she wakes up, she'll be humiliated to have had those nightmares in a place like post-op. She'd feel exposed. And before you ask, I've checked. There's nothing the 121st could do that I can't."

"If?"

Hawkeye's eyes fixed on the older man, and he could see the helplessness there. "She's not getting any better, even with everything I've been putting into her system. Right now - there are no guarantees." His head dropped as he said that last, but not before Potter saw the tears sliding down his face.

"Easy, son. She's a Houlihan. They don't make them tougher than that." He tentatively reached out to Hawkeye, and when the man didn't resist gave him a gentle hug. "I know this isn't easy, son. She's one of your best friends, and I'd be worried if it didn't hurt you to see her in pain. But you have to count on her. She's strong enough to pull through this."

"But she doesn't look strong," he whispered brokenly. "She looks so frail, so sick."

"I know. But you know she'll keep fighting." He gently patted Hawkeye's back. "Pierce, you're exhausted. Go sack out for awhile."

"I can't. I have to stay with Margaret."

"Pierce - Hawkeye, you're not the only one who cares about Margaret. I'll personally sit with her while you rest." At Hawkeye's uncertain look, he continued. "I care about Margaret, but I care about you too, and right now you're killing yourself to try and save her. Get something to eat and then go to bed for a minimum of six hours. That's an order."

Hawkeye had disobeyed orders before, but his personal respect for the man meant he wasn't inclined to in this case. "Colonel, you should know she's been having some pretty awful nightmares. Screaming, crying, talking in her sleep, the works."

"What do you do when she does?"

"Just talk to her, let her know she's safe. Physical contact helps too, but don't touch her without talking to her first or she may not recognize you and that just makes it all worse."

"Thanks for the heads-up. Now go, Pierce."

He entered Margaret's tent and sat down next to her. She was sleeping quietly for the moment, albeit shivering violently. Hawkeye had left the many blankets she alternately needed and refused lying nearby, and he hurried to cover her with them.

He'd tried to keep a positive outlook for Hawkeye's sake, but the truth was Hawkeye had understood the reality of the situation. Margaret was very sick. He gently touched her hair. "Come on, Margaret. You have to stay strong. You have to pull through this, for all our sakes. Hawkeye would be devastated if you didn't..."

He talked for hours, naming off everyone who would miss her or be hurt, and the names melded in his mind or voice with stories and he was reminding her of everything she'd done in his time at the 4077, and then he was telling her stories of his own experiences, not aware of where he was going, just talking and talking and intermittently reminding her of how important it was that she not give up.

As Hawkeye had warned him she might, she began to twist and cry in her sleep. "No, no, stop it, no!"

"Margaret?" He remembered the younger man's warning well.

"No, no, no more. Please, no more. Please, it hurts so much."

Was she in pain? He wasn't sure what was real or imagined with her anymore.

"No, no, I don't want it, I don't!"

The last cry turned him to ice. Coupled together with everything else she'd said, and everything he knew about her, the pieces fit together, forming a horrible picture. "Margaret," he whispered in a choked voice. Slowly, he reached out to her, taking her too-warm hand in his. "Margaret, it's Colonel Potter. No one's going to hurt you. I promise you, Margaret. I promise." He used his free hand to stroke her hair. "Oh, Margaret. What secrets have you been keeping?"

xxxxxxxxx

"You look better."

"I feel better," he admitted. "How's Margaret?"

"No change. Pierce, can I talk to you for a second?"

"About Margaret?" He couldn't imagine what else the man would have to say that he couldn't have said seven hours ago.

"You were right about the nightmares," he began. "I was wondering what - I mean, how much have you gathered -"

"You're not making sense. What is it you're trying to say without saying it?"

"I need your word that you'll keep your mouth shut about this. I'm not even sure Margaret herself needs to be told."

"You have it. Told what?"

"Some of what she said while she was dreaming leads me to believe she may have been sexually assaulted at some point." He definitely noticed Hawkeye's lack of reaction. "That doesn't bother you?"

"It just doesn't surprise me."

"You drew the same conclusions?"

He looked around. "You know that promise you made me give you?"

"I won't say anything."

"You've drawn the right conclusion."

"It didn't happen under my nose, did it?" He was understandably concerned that he might have let something so significant happen to one of his officers without even noticing.

"No. It happened about eleven years ago."

"But she's only -" he stopped short when he saw the look in Hawkeye's eyes. His Chief Surgeon knew exactly how old Margaret was, and how old she would have been at the time. "How do you know?"

Hawkeye peered into the tent, making sure Margaret didn't need anything from him, before he began the rather long tale. "I guess you could say it starts with me doing something stupid. Don't worry, it's nothing like that," he added before Potter could get upset or angry. "I wasn't directly responsible for what happened, though I was responsible. This happened back when Henry Blake was in charge, if you can call it that. We had a Private here awhile back, Danny Baker, who kept going AWOL. It didn't take much prompting to figure out the cause. He was self-conscious. He had a nose that made Klinger's look average-sized, if you can believe that, and he'd had no luck getting a nose job. We decided it might be best to intervene on that front, and as it happens, I had a passing friendship with Major Stanley Robbins."

"The plastic surgeon? The one who got busted down to Captain?"

"Did he?" Hawkeye didn't look too upset about this fact, Potter noticed. "I hadn't heard. Anyway, he was quite taken with Margaret. I didn't think much of it. It's no sin to stare at a woman, after all. We set up the operation, but as you're probably aware we weren't supposed to be doing it, and Margaret, like Frank, was a huge stickler for rules, so we had an announcement made asking her to report to Supply. I can't remember where we sent Frank. Anyway, we paged Robbins but he didn't show, so we had to go looking for him. I heard someone screaming in Supply and hurried in to find him holding her backwards against a table. He hadn't gotten her clothing off or anything, but it was pretty clear what he was aiming for. I dragged him out of the tent, and he did the operation. Meanwhile, I made a few pointed phone calls, let the guys at his home base know just what he'd done. Then I went to check on Margaret. He'd really shaken her up, and with a little coaxing she told me what had happened."

"Wait a minute. How on Earth does what you just told me translate to you being responsible?"

"I'm the one who suggested Robbins, I'm the one who called him, and I'm the one who convinced him to come."

"All you did was trust an old friend. Remember Colonel Beckett?"

"The guy who got a bunch of his men killed?"

"He was my friend. I trusted him."

"You didn't send him into combat, you didn't actually put him in a position to get those men killed."

"And you had no way of knowing what your friend was capable of. Don't blame yourself. It sounds to me like you did the best you could."

"It was the first time we'd ever really just talked. If you thought we were adversarial when you met us, you should have seen us before that night. It was like it never occurred to me that she might have feelings. She never showed them." Hawkeye was talking fast now, probably just needing to get all this out, Potter thought. "And God only knows what she thought of me. That first night, she cried all over me, and I realized everything that stoic major persona was hiding."

"And she realized there's a side to you besides the joker."

"In a nutshell."

"And she still relives something that happened eleven years ago?"

Hawkeye swallowed back a lump in his throat before he responded. "I think that when you go through something like that, it stays with a person forever." I know it will. You can't forget something like that. "Anyway, Margaret didn't deal with it for a long time. She just buried it and tried to act like it had never happened."

"Until you came along."

"She told me later that no one had ever invited her to open up like that."

"Sounds like you were exactly what she needed." He couldn't fail to notice that Hawkeye's eyes darted to her tent door every few seconds. "Go on, son. Take your post."

xxxxxxxxx

"Pierce, where are you going?"

"Do you have to ask?"

Hawkeye barely noticed the chatter from Winchester and BJ. In fact, it took him a moment to realize that the former had addressed him.

"I'm sorry, what was that?"

"We've just completed twenty straight hours of surgery. You can't be serious about doing more work now."

"I can catch a nap in her tent. I've left her under the eyes of a nurse for the last twenty hours."

"So what harm would be done by leaving her a few more hours?" Unexpectedly, BJ took Charles' side. "Hawk, you're dead on your feet."

"So I'll sit down." He stumbled wearily towards the Head Nurse's tent. "How is she, Baker?"

"No change."

Hawkeye shook his head sadly. That phrase had come to describe her over the past eighteen days. Not getting worse, but not getting better. She still hadn't regained full consciousness.

She started thrashing and crying in her sleep again, clinging to Hawkeye like she did when it got really bad. He cradled her in his arms, lying down next to her as he had so many times over the past few weeks.

He sighed as she relaxed. He could barely keep his eyes open. Surely it couldn't hurt to close them for just a few minutes...

He woke sharply. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, he was just so tired. By the change in the outside light, he could tell he'd been out for a while - wait, why was he all wet?

He reached over to check Margaret. She was even more drenched than he was. He brushed her wet hair out of her face, gently stroking her cheek, only to stop abruptly. Her face was cool.

It all clicked suddenly, and he laughed with pure joy. "Margaret -" he was too emotional to say more, and she wasn't awake to hear him anyway. He lifted her from the bed and propped her up in a chair while he figured out where she kept her sheets. He changed the bed and then her pajamas before laying her gently back on it. As he did, she stirred slightly.

The light stabbed at her eyes as she tried to open them. She moaned and turned her head, trying to block it out. She couldn't understand why she felt so weak. At least she didn't feel hot or cold anymore.

She blinked her eyes open again and tried to sit up. The world started spinning and she slumped back on her pillows. Then she heard movement.

"Margaret?"

"Hawkeye? So thirsty."

She felt a hand behind her head, propping her up, and a cup pressed to her lips. She gulped at it, but he only allowed her small sips. "Easy, Margaret, you'll make yourself throw up."

"How long was I asleep?" Her voice flowed smoother now. "Felt like a long time. I had the most awful dreams."

"Margaret -"

"It was dark when I went to sleep, now it's light. It must have been awhile."

"Margaret," his voice cracked. "Margaret, it's been almost three weeks."

"Three weeks?"

"You've been very sick. I thought for awhile I was going to lose you." She felt a light splash on her face and realized he was crying.

"Hawkeye..."

"Shh, don't strain yourself. You're still recovering."

"I'm so tired. I've slept for three weeks, and I'm so tired."

"I know. Rest."

She felt him press a kiss to her forehead as he lowered her back to his pillow. She felt him start to draw up her blankets, but she was asleep before he'd covered her.

xxxxxxxxx

"Colonel!"

Hawkeye had tears running down his face, but the grin on his face belied his crying. "Good news?"

"She's going to be okay. Her fever's broken, and she came to for awhile."

His shoulders sagged with relief. "Thank God. How is she now?"

"Sleeping again, but it's a real sleep, not that awful half-sleep she's been in."

"When can I talk to her?"

"I'll let you know."

*~*~*~*

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