When You Need Me Most

By LittleDancerGirl

Other / Romance

Chapter TwentyFive: Lean On Me

"That any better?" Potter bit back the son on his lips. That was probably the worst thing to say at that moment.

"A little." His eyes were shut against more tears. "God, I didn't even realize how much I miss him. I really, really want to go home."

"I know." He wished there was something he could do. He'd already looked up the criteria for a hardship discharge, but it looked like it had to be someone at home needing the person being discharged before they could go. Not the person being discharged needing someone at home. He felt truly terrible for Hawkeye. If it were up to him, the young surgeon would have been on the plane for home yesterday.

"I'd better get back to post-op."

"You sure? The nurses can handle it."

"I want to look in on Jacobson." He had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on the young corporal. The poor man had been in tears after his conversation with Father Mulcahy. He had assured Hawkeye that they were tears of relief, after hearing all his company chaplain had said to him firmly refuted by another man of the cloth, and Hawkeye believed him, but he still wanted to check on him. He stood and took a step and suddenly felt the floor start spinning and the world went black.

Potter was out of his chair the moment he saw Hawkeye crumple to the floor. He knelt over the young surgeon, checking him over. Hawkeye's eyes fluttered open. "What happened?"

"You had an impromptu meeting with the floor."

Hawkeye tried to sit up, but it just made his head swim so he slumped back, which worried Potter further. "Other than - the obvious, have you been feeling off at all?"

"I - I don't think so, but I'm not sure I'd have noticed if I was."

Potter put a hand behind Hawkeye's back to help him sit up and it hit him what was going on as soon as he realized how easily he could feel bones through skin. "Hawkeye, have you been eating? At all?"

"I had some cookies earlier in the Swamp." It was true. He just didn't mention that it had been the first thing he'd eaten in a week.

But Potter was smarter than that. "Uh huh. And before that?"

Silence spoke volumes.

The colonel helped him into a chair and stood next to him. "I know you haven稚 been feeling well, and I know this past week's been hard on you. But you can't deny your body what it needs. You must be starving. I know the mess tent's not exactly gourmet fare, but -"

"No need!" A long-nosed Lebanese sergeant came barging through the door. "Rosie's Bar to the rescue."

"What?" Potter and Hawkeye both turned to face him.

He grinned. "Rosie's had a soup that actually looked and smelled really good. It's got to be better than the mess tent, anyway. Comes with dumplings, too."

"But how did you get it so fast?" Potter asked.

"Actually," he admitted, still smiling, "I didn't. Captain Hunnicutt mentioned earlier that you seemed hungry and he thought it might be better if we found you something other than the mess tent. Asked if I had any food from home. I didn't, but I smelled this when I was across the road, so -" He placed it on the table. "I just happened to come in in time to hear the end of that conversation. Swiped you a spoon too."

It certainly smelled better than anything that the mess tent served. Hawkeye took the proffered spoon and tentatively sampled the soup. Instantly his eyes went wide. The liquid felt wonderful in a stomach that had been empty too much in recent days. He gulped it all down and made equally short work of the dumplings. He felt some of the tiredness he had been putting down to his emotional trauma evaporate, and realized just how much of a toll starving himself had taken on his body.

"All right, now I'll get back to post-op."

Potter opened his mouth to object, then closed it when he remembered about Jacobson. "All right, but only a visit. Then I want you to rest."

"Yes, Dad." There was a bit of pain behind that, as it spoke clearly of his longing, but it was also tinged with Hawkeye's typical humor, something they'd all heard too little of in recent days.

xxxxxxxxx

"How you doing?" Hawkeye sat on the empty cot next to the young man whose pain he knew so well.

"I'm okay."

"Really."

"Well - maybe not completely okay, but best I've felt in a month. That's something, right?"

"You bet it is." Hawkeye's smile was small and weak, but it was genuine, one of very few he'd managed in days.

"So what happens now?"

"I know you told me you wanted to talk to your Lieutenant when this first happened." He took Jacobson's good hand in his. "You still want to?"

"I'd like to, yeah," he admitted. "I'd like to have someone I can talk to if it gets really bad, once I go back to my unit."

"If he comes here, I'll arrange for you to be able to talk in private. Otherwise you'll probably have to figure out a way to do it yourself. What about the rest of the unit?"

He looked away.

"What?" Hawkeye said gently.

"Well, it's just - promise you won't say anything?"

"Of course."

"I told you about my chaplain and how he reacted, but I guess I didn't tell you the whole story." He closed his eyes for a moment. "Well, not this past leave, but the one before, I was with some buddies and we were drinking, and we were talking about girls, and I - I hinted at something that had happened, something else."

Hawkeye was thoroughly confused by this point. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I have gone out with girls, even, you know, taken a few to bed. But, I've, uh -" He looked around nervously. "You promise this is confidential?" he asked again.

"Promise." The confusion was gone. He was pretty sure he knew what was coming. "You've also gone out with some people who weren't girls, right?"

"How -"

"You're not the first person with your, ah, set of concerns that's come through here before. So you told your buddies."

"Well, not really. Fortunately, I wasn't that drunk. But I said more than I should have, and they made some assumptions. They weren't serious enough to stick, so it's kind of been dropped, but not before the whole unit heard about it, including the chaplain. If too many people hear about this, they could get the wrong idea." Wide eyes met Hawkeye's. "I'm afraid of what would happen then. When I went to talk to the chaplain, I thought maybe, just maybe he wouldn't see the connection I was already seeing. But when the person who's supposed to be the most compassionate falls back on rumors -"

"Forget supposed to. It sounds like you actually trust your Lieutenant, on a personal level."

"I do."

"Then that's where you need to start. Not with someone some structure tells you you should trust, but with someone you know deep down inside that you can trust." He gave the young man a gentle pat on the uninjured shoulder. "I'll come by and check up on you later."

xxxxxxxxx

"Hawk -" BJ cut himself off before he could ask if his friend was okay. Unfortunately, that left the name hanging in the air with nothing following it, as he couldn't come up with anything more appropriate to say.

But Hawkeye understood. "I'm all right." Then, as BJ fixed him with the same look he'd used a mere fifteen minutes earlier on Jacobson, he relented. "Fine, not quite. But I see the day where I could be."

"You look like you've been crying."

"Potter put through a call to my dad. And it was nice, you know, I really needed to hear his voice even more than I thought I did. But I miss him so much."

BJ had crossed the small tent in a few strides and took Hawkeye in a soothing hug. "I know you do, Hawk."

"I want to go home," he whispered. "God, I want to go home."

"I know you do," he repeated. "I know." He ran his hands up and down Hawkeye's back, trying to comfort him. He wished desperately that there was a way they could send Hawkeye home, but he knew Potter would already have explored that option and done anything that could be done.

"Did Klinger find you?" he asked finally. "I know he had some soup he wanted to hand over."

"Yeah, he found me."

"Good. You need to be eating." He winced. "I'm sorry. I probably sound like I'm talking to a five-year-old."

"Yes, you do." Hawkeye surprised both BJ and himself with the blunt, but very characteristic, remark. "But I really don't mind," he added seriously.

"Really?"

"It kinda feels good," he admitted. "This is gonna sound silly, but right now I feel almost like a little kid. I want someone to take care of me. Those first couple days last time, before I told Margaret, I felt so - so alone, and so afraid. The moment she hugged me for the first time, it was - I felt safe. I don't think you can understand, and I hope you never do, but I didn't feel safe anywhere, even in my own bed, even after I'd locked everything there was to lock on that hotel door. But when she put her arms around me, I did feel safe. I felt like I couldn't be hurt as long as she was touching me."

"That's not the only time, is it?" BJ asked gently.

"What?"

"Margaret was asleep when she hurt you in here. She was asleep until the commotion woke her. And when I hugged you in the Colonel's office, you hung onto me like your life depended on it." He ran his fingers through Hawkeye's hair. "You were scared to death, weren't you? For those hours in between?"

Hawkeye nodded slowly against his friend's shoulder. "But when you guys take care of me, even if you do fuss a lot, it makes me feel safer, reminds me that I'm not alone." He shook his head. "Privacy is at a premium here, and I can still feel completely alone. Isn't that strange?"

"You're not alone." BJ hugged him even more tightly. "I'm here, Hawk. I'm here."

"I know." And he did.

It was, Hawkeye thought, to Charles' credit that he had allowed this scene to take place just feet from him and said nothing. But now the cot creaked as he sat up slowly. Hawkeye wasn't sure if he expected Charles to speak or not, but he certainly wasn't expecting him to do what he did - though in hindsight, perhaps he should have. He placed a record on the phonograph and turned it on. As he did, his eyes met Hawkeye's and a moment of understanding passed between them.

"Charles, would you kindly -" BJ began.

"No," Hawkeye interrupted his best friend. "Leave it."

BJ didn't stop holding his bunkmate, but he did spare a moment to look at him like he'd grown another head.

"I'm not alone," he said softly.

And then BJ understood. Closing his eyes in sympathetic pain, he pulled his friend tighter still. "No, Hawk. You're not alone."

xxxxxxxxx

"Morning, Jacobson."

"Hey, Doc, could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, what?"

"Well, it's just - I feel like we're more than doctor and patient, like we're friends."

"We are," Hawkeye assured him. He remembered, vividly, everything he'd told BJ the night before about how much he needed his friends.

"Well - usually my friends call me Tom."

Hawkeye smiled. "On one condition."

"What's that?"

"My friends call me Hawkeye."

Eyebrows met hairline. "Who came up with that one?"

"My dad. Named me after his favorite book." He noticed Tom was still playing with his breakfast. "Something wrong with the food - wait, don't answer that." He got a very small smile out of the Corporal. "What's up?"

"I'm not hungry. And it's not the food either. I just feel sick every time I think about - you know."

"Yes, I know. But you need to eat."

"Was it that easy for you?" he asked sharply.

"No," he admitted, "but it helped that I had friends that insisted on taking care of me even when I didn't want to take care of myself. Come on, at least try."

He looked distinctly sick as he forced down the first few bites, but Hawkeye could tell he was really trying. "Where you from, Tom?"

"Wisconsin. Madison area - you know it?"

"Not offhand."

"They built the city around the school," he said with a small grin. "ROTC training grounds not too far away - I grew up on . I used to watch them and be glad I wasn't going where they were going, which at the time would have been Germany. Of course that was before I knew about the draft," he added wryly.

"What's it like there?" Hawkeye was listening. He was also noticing that as he spoke, the young man was continuing to eat without really being aware of it.

"It's beautiful. There are two lakes, and the downtown area is kind of in between them. There's this one hill, on the university campus. It's a pain to climb up, but when you stand on top of it you can see for miles." His eyes were almost closed as he lost himself in the memory. "At night, you could climb up, and you don't see the people or the details, just the buildings and the lights. From the top of the hill, you're looking right at the state capitol, and it's this beautiful huge white building in the middle of all these smaller ones. It's like something out of a painting, and it's never quite the same way twice."

"It sounds beautiful," Hawkeye said sincerely.

"It is." By now, the tray was clean, and he looked down at it with a sort of amazement. "When did that happen?"

"You got so busy talking you weren't paying attention to your food. You were just eating it. You were hungry, you just didn't want to eat."

"Good observation."

Hawkeye turned towards the source of the new voice. "Sidney!"

"Just checking up on some patients. Hawkeye, when you're finished here can we talk outside?"

"Of course."

"Jacobson, I'd like to see you later if you have a chance."

"Not like I'm going anywhere."

"Tom." Hawkeye laid his hand on the young man's shoulder, dropping his voice. "About what you told me yesterday -"

"What about it?" he asked resignedly.

"I just wanted to check - you're not blaming yourself because of that, are you?" He hadn't caught it at the time, but there had been an odd look in Tom's eyes when he had mentioned the connection.

He looked away. "Maybe just a little."

"Why?"

"Well, I've done stuff with guys before. You know -" Hawkeye nodded, and he went on. "I mean, the basic - acts - weren't that different -"

"Stop," Hawkeye said softly. "Listen, I don't know what happened to you, but I know that that woman got - involved with me." He hated talking about it, but he had to. He had to make this point. "And believe me, anyone in this camp knows I'm no novice when it comes to women." That got a tentative smile. "To some outsider, or in clinical terms, it might be the same, but I know it's not. And so do you."

"Yeah." He nodded. "I guess I never thought of it that way."

"Listen. No matter how many times you did it willingly, that doesn't change the fact that in this circumstance you were forced, that it was against your will." He tightened his hand on Tom's shoulder, remembering the words that had sounded so wonderful when Potter and Margaret had said them to him. "It wasn't your fault, Tom."

xxxxxxxxx

"Sidney, what's up?"

"I'm afraid my superiors are getting impatient. They want me back in Tokyo as soon as I can be there. I know this isn't what either of us wanted -"

"No, that's fine. Go ahead."

Sidney wasn't about to let his friend off the hook that easily. "No, Hawkeye. It's not fine, and we both know it. I'm really sorry.

"You said you'd be here as long as I needed you."

"I know. Listen, Hawkeye. You know I wouldn't be leaving if I had a choice."

"I know, I just -" he thought of the conversation he'd had with BJ the night before. "I feel sort of alone, even with everyone here. The only person who really understands is Margaret - and you didn't hear that," he added as he realized what he'd said.

"As it happens, I heard exactly what I didn't just hear from her yesterday. I was curious about why you chose to confide in her."

"Uh huh." He filed that away for later reference. "But even if you don't understand on a personal level, you at least have some professional level of understanding. No one else here does. I mean, they've been wonderful, I don't know what I'd have done without them, but they don't know what I'm going through. I may seem better, I may be better, but I'm not okay." He sighed. "I was okay. It took time, but I finally managed to move on, to have whole days go by where I didn't think about what happened in Tokyo. And now it's like I'm back at square one, not only with what happened here but with the first incident too. All the flashbacks and such that I had been past are coming back."

"Of course they are." He laid a comforting hand on Hawkeye's arm. "It's always been in the back of your mind. It was a life-altering experience. With time and effort you'd gotten those memories filed away in a place where they didn't hurt so much, where every little thing didn't trigger them. But she wasn't just some little thing with a faint connection, like being shouted at by a weasel-like major." Hawkeye didn't even bother to ask how Sidney knew about that. "She was involved in the entire incident. She caused it. So when you were forced to confront her again, everything you'd buried was unearthed again, yanked to the surface. And then on top of it, she gave you another nightmare, another memory to haunt you." He tightened his grip on his friend's arm. "You got there once. You'll get there again."

"You really think so?"

"I know so."

xxxxxxxxx

"Come in, Hawkeye."

He did, an eyebrow raised. "How did you know it was me?"

"You have a unique knock." Margaret sat up to make room for him to sit next to her. "What's bothering you?"

"Margaret - can I confide in you?"

"Do you have to ask?"

"I mean seriously. Can I tell you anything and be sure it won't leave this tent?"

"Hawkeye, what's going on?"

"I need your word, Margaret."

"Okay." She took his hand and faced him. "I swear that whatever you tell me, it won't go any farther than if you told Father Mulcahy."

"All right. Well, you know about the Jacobson case?"

"Of course." It had been Hawkeye's idea, with Tom's permission, to let Margaret in on the situation so he would have a nurse who could be sympathetic to his needs.

"Well, it looks like he and I have even more in common than I thought. We've both been blaming ourselves."

"Poor kid," she said sympathetically. "What's wrong with him?"

"This is where we get into the 'don't tell anyone' part." He proceeded to relate what Tom had told him just a few hours earlier, watching her carefully to gauge her reaction.

"That's all?" she said finally. "That's what you made that big deal about?"

"Margaret, if you'll remember the last time something like this came up -"

"What?" She frowned, trying to place the reference. "Oh, you mean that thing that happened two years ago? That private you blackmailed Frank out of reporting?"

"Yeah, that."

"Frank was the gung-ho one, I was just going along with it. I mean, I was a little more of a stickler for the rules in those days, so my opinion might have been different, but Frank got me whipped up into a fever about it. He had some sort of personal issue in that area that he never really explained. I went along with a lot of things in those days because of Frank," she admitted ruefully, "and that was one of them. I know what the army says, but honestly I ask what the point is. It's not like they're hurting anyone."

"You've changed a lot." He smiled at her.

"Thank God for that. But if you were worried about my reaction, why tell me at all?"

"That was just a preface."

"Then by all means, go on."

"Well, the private we were just discussing wasn't my first experience with a guy who, you know, preferred his own kind One of my best friends from childhood was that way." Hawkeye bit his lip. "His name was Tom too."

"What happened?"

"Remember Walter Peterson?"

She was taken aback at the apparent non-sequitur but answered anyway. "How could I forget? The only time you ever actually followed Army rules - after, I gauged from his expression, promising to keep it a secret."

"The reason I turned in Walter Peterson was because of Tommy Gillis. You may remember him - he caused a bit of a stir in post-op by kissing first me, then Henry right on the mouth."

"I do remember that," she laughed. "Though it seems like odd behavior for someone, you know, like him. Someone with something to hide."

"It does, doesn't it? But that was his way. I guess he figured that everyone would think that - that no one with anything to hide would behave that way." Hawkeye swallowed. "He died on the table in OR. That shocked me into action. I couldn't let that fifteen-year-old kid go off and get himself killed in pursuit of some idea of glory."

She slipped her arm around his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Hawkeye. That must have really hurt."

"You guys all wondered why it was so hard for me to operate on Radar. The whole time he was lying on my table, the only thing I could picture was Tommy Gillis, how he died on that table and I was helpless to save him. He trusted me to save him, and I let him die."

She remembered barging into his tent to yell at him about Radar. She hadn't had a clue what was going on in his head. "I'm sorry," she said again.

"He thought about telling them, you know."

"Telling who?"

"The draft board. He went back and forth on it for ages. On one hand, he had a foolproof way out of the Army. But he knew that that would go on his permanent record. Even his parents didn't know. I was the only person he ever told, except for the guys he went out with." He swallowed. "That's what made me think of it. The look in Tom Jacobson's eyes when he told me - he looked just like Tommy did that day he told me." He remembered it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Tommy begging to talk to him alone, Tommy asking him to promise he wouldn't tell, Tommy with tears in his eyes, confessing that he was different, that he was attracted to men, looking at Hawkeye as though he expected his friend to hit him, and the gratified surprise in his face when Hawkeye had hugged him instead, whispering that it changed nothing. The reason why Frank's reaction to George Weston had been so infuriating to him.

"You still miss him, don't you?"

"All the time." He leaned into the arm Margaret offered him. "I had a lot of friends, but Tommy was the closest by far, the only one who begins to compare with the kind of friendship I have with BJ, or with Trapper or Henry or Mulcahy or Klinger or Radar or Potter or even Charles." He rested his head on her shoulder. "Or you."

She rubbed his back gently, touched beyond words at the sentiment.

"Remember when I was having those nightmares about my friends dying and I called them to check on them?"

"From what I remember, they were real jerks about it."

"Exactly. That's how they always were. We were close, but there was a sort of crassness about our friendship. They weren't necessarily the kind of guys I could count on in a pinch. Tommy was. If he had been alive, and he'd been the subject of one of those nightmares, I can pretty much guarantee he would have listened and reassured me that he was okay instead of blowing me off. He was the one who was really there for me when my mom died, and like I said I was the one who was there for him when he was dealing with everything he had just realized about himself." Hawkeye shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm rambling. I just can't get him out of my mind."

"That's okay. I do have one question though."

"Yeah?"

"Why me? If you were afraid of my reaction, why not just tell BJ instead?"

"You're the only person who's been here anywhere near as long as I have," he said simply, as though that explained everything. To her, it did. "Margaret, I - that is, do you mind if I -"

"Of course you can stay with me tonight." She gently helped him out of his fatigues and laid him down. She slid off her own dressing gown and laid down next to him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

"I never had much in the way of friends," she said softly. "Especially not as a kid. We moved so much. Every time I started to make friends I had to leave them. Eventually, I just stopped trying."

"That's sad," he said softly.

"I did have a best friend once, though," she continued. "Her name was Elaine Marquette. She was my head nurse at my longest stateside post, the one I had before I decided to come out here. I was a newly-promoted, newly-transferred First Lieutenant when I met Elaine." She smiled a little. "I wasn't particularly good at connecting with other nurses in those days either. Despite what I'm sure my entire staff thinks, that has very little to do with my being a major and a lot more to do with me being me. Something like the third day I was there, Elaine came up to me and told me that I had real potential, and warning me that she intended to be extra-tough on me because of all the nurses, I was the one she thought was most likely to be a head nurse myself one day."

"She was right."

Margaret smiled even wider at this. "Anyway, we got to be very close. True to her word, she was hard on me during the workday, but when we were off-duty we were inseparable. She was, I'll admit, somewhat critical of me, but it was only because she wanted me to be better. She didn't like me sleeping around, said it wasn't the actual act she minded but the fact that I clearly didn't respect myself and that I was letting them use me. She said I didn't need to validate myself that way and that I should respect me enough to find a man who respected me." She sighed. "I thought I had. Three separate times, as a matter of fact."

"Frank, Donald, and Scully," he said knowingly. "They were the only ones that factored into your, ah, calculations."

"And they each have a special place in my heart." She seemed to consider this. "Well, Frank and Scully, anyway."

Hawkeye tightened his arms around her. He knew well how badly Donald had hurt her.

"Frank was a liar and a weasel, but he gave me something special. When I got to Korea, I thought sex was something a woman did to please a man. I didn't realize she was supposed to get something out of it. The first time we slept together was the first time I ever got any pleasure out of sex - it was so amazing I almost cried. Frank was the only man who ever did that for me, before or since, with one exception."

Hawkeye knew what she meant, but he was surprised that she mentioned it so openly. Her usual position was that that night in the abandoned hut was to be treated as though it had never happened.

"And what we had, Frank and I - it was a relationship. He bought me gifts, he wanted to spend time with me that didn't just involve being in bed together. I hadn't had that since I was a teenager. Before I got fed up with him, I really did feel something.

"Donald was more of a fond wish. He proposed to me, so I thought he really wanted me, all of me. He wanted to make a commitment to me, to make our relationship permanent. I didn't even know him, just the idea of him. Once I got to know him, I didn't like what I saw." She leaned into Hawkeye. She hadn't told him everything that had happened with her now ex-husband, but she certainly wouldn't now. He was in enough pain, she wasn't going to make him deal with hers. "He was more like all those men I dated before Frank - interested only in what I could give him.

"Scully - Scully is the one I regret least and regret most at the same time. On the one hand, he never hurt me, not really. We were just too different. I think he could make some woman very happy someday, and I sincerely hope he finds her. On the other hand, I think if we hadn't rushed things, we could have been good friends, and I regret messing that up." Her fingers absently ran through Hawkeye's hair. Once, she might have considered attaching herself to him, but she wasn't ready to risk losing her best friend for a relationship. "I'm sorry. I'm way off the subject."

"Don't worry about it." His voice was thick with the hint of sleep. "I like it when you talk to me. I like when you open up to me. It's what friends do for each other."

"Thank you."

"So what ever happened to your friend Elaine?"

"As far as I know, she's still at the hospital where we both worked. She got me promoted to Captain in my third year there and then a year and a half later I was offered the head nurse position here, plus another promotion. She told me to take it, that opportunities like this didn't come around every day. And I'm glad she did. I've come a long way since then, and not just professionally. If I hadn't gotten to know Potter and BJ and especially you, I'd still be that woman I was when you first met me, the woman who was anyone's for the asking. You've done so much for me, Hawkeye." She frowned when he didn't respond. "Hawkeye?"

She felt his back under her hand, rising and falling evenly, and realized why he didn't answer. She stroked his hair gently and placed a featherlight kiss on his head.

"Sleep well, Hawkeye."

*~*~*~*

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