When You Need Me Most

Chapter Five: Fork In The Road


"Hawkeye, may I ask you something?"

"Of course, Father." He might be an agnostic, but he enjoyed the man's company, if not his religious advice. Mulcahy had ended up as a sort of de facto counselor-type figure for the camp anyway, and people regularly went to him with problems, religious and otherwise.

"Well, it's just - you've been acting strangely the past few weeks. I was wondering, is there something bothering you?"

Plenty, but you don't need to hear about it. "Strange how?"

"Well, you've been quieter, for one thing. For another, no matter how much you complain about the food, you usually eat most or all of it. You've hardly been eating a thing. And then there was the incident in the OR."

"Father, that was once."

"But it's not normal for you, Hawkeye. I was just wondering if there was something wrong, and if there's anything I can do."

"Father, I appreciate your concern, but it's a personal matter, and I'll handle it by myself."

"If you change your mind -"

"Yeah, I know where to find you."

The rest of the meal was spent in silence.

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"What's the matter?"

"Father Mulcahy now. He noticed I'm acting strange and wanted to know if there was anything he could do."

"What's the problem? You tell him it's personal, he'll back off. Him especially."

"It's not that. I'm trying to move past this, but every time someone brings it up, they bring the memories with it, and it's like I'm back in that dark hut, like I was after they finished, lying on the floor too petrified to move, even to put my clothes back on. Or in the hotel that first night, lying on the most comfortable bed I've been on in a long time and wide awake because the memories come crashing down the second I close my eyes."

"Oh, Hawkeye." She hugged him tight. "You didn't tell me - I mean, I knew it was bad, but -"

"I don't know how long I was lying there." He recognized her stammered response as an invitation to talk. "It felt like hours, but I was paralyzed. I was so afraid - I don't even know what I was afraid of, but I was afraid. When I finally forced myself to get up and get dressed, I walked back to my hotel - it was two miles, but I couldn't make myself talk enough to hail a cab. It was the longest walk of my life. Every time anyone even came close to me it felt like my heart would stop. I finally got back to my room, went into the bathroom, and threw up what felt like everything I'd ever eaten. I took a shower in the hottest water I could stand, but I just couldn't get it off me. I scrubbed until it hurt and I still didn't feel clean. Then I tried to sleep, but every time I dropped off, the memories closed in around me. Spent the whole next day in bed. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, just kept reliving it over and over until I wanted to scream. I don't even know how I got from Tokyo to here without losing my mind. I've never been so glad to see casualties, I know it sounds rotten but at least it meant I could do something and pay attention to something that wasn't me. But then that was over, and I got back to the Swamp and I still couldn't sleep -"

"And that's when you came to find me."

"Yeah."

"I'm so sorry." She kissed his forehead and pulled him even closer, still burning with guilt over having turned him aside when he needed her. "God, Hawkeye, I had no idea."

"I went back to the swamp and tried to drink myself into oblivion, but I couldn't stand the feel of liquid in my mouth, so I just lay awake all night again. Did my shift and spent the whole rest of the day trying to avoid people, I didn't want to answer a bunch of questions, to say nothing of dealing with the likes of Frank. I tried to sleep but woke up screaming, BJ was in post-op but Frank was there and he was upset that I woke him up and he wouldn't stop shouting and I couldn't take it, I was afraid of him, yelling like that, and I didn't want him to see me cry but I couldn't hold it back anymore, so I left to go somewhere I could be alone. Except someone found me there too." His hands gently squeezed her back, and she knew he meant the supply shed where she'd stumbled across him. "I never did ask. What were you doing there?"

She couldn't help laughing lightly. "Actually, I was looking for my watch."

"Really?"

"Yes. Left it in there when I was doing inventory, can you believe it?"

"I can't tell you how glad I am you did."

She kissed his head again. "I'm glad I did too."

"As awful as these past few weeks have been, I think they would've been a whole lot worse without you."

She kissed his cheek, and he smiled slightly. "Well, if that's what I get for complimenting you, I'll have to come up with some more compliments."

"It'll only get you so far. I am an engaged woman."

"Yeah, I know." Was it his imagination, or did he feel a strange pang when she said that?

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"So Lieutenant Colonel Wonderful is coming here?"

"Yes." She giggled. "And it's all thanks to Frank."

"That's great, but what do you need me for?"

"I just need you to do something for me - or rather, to not do something."

"What?"

"Look, you and I know we're both just friends, but Donald doesn't know you like I do. I'm worried, if he finds out how close we are, he'll assume the worst."

"Insecure much?"

"It's hardly his fault. I'm here and he's there and - just don't let on, okay?"

"Let on what? That we're friends?"

"Yes! He wouldn't understand!"

"I'm not sure I understand."

"What don't you understand?"

"Why you throw me aside like I don't matter to you as soon as someone else comes around who might have a problem with me. I thought our friendship meant more to you than that."

"Don't say it like that."

"How would you like me to say it? Your friendship means everything to me, Margaret."

"Nothing's going to change."

"No, you're just going to pretend we hardly know each other every time Donald dearest comes by!

"That's not fair, Hawkeye."

"Takes one to know one." He stomped out of her tent without giving her time to answer.

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"Why should I trust you two?"

"Because we're all you've got." Hawkeye met Margaret's eyes, trying to remind her silently of earlier days, days when they had trusted each other completely.

"Because we care," BJ added. Hawkeye gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod. No matter how much she'd hurt him, he still cared.

They pulled Margaret into the chair and offered her a drink, listening to her complain about Donald. Hawkeye barely kept his anger contained. Didn't Donald know what a wonderful woman he had, how sweet and kind she was, and how much she cared about him?

Margaret emptied the vase of gin into Frank's things, but not before giving Hawkeye a sign that she wanted to talk to him.

"Wait - Margaret!" He knew she wouldn't wait, but it gave him an excuse to chase her. "What do you need?"

"I want to say thank you. For helping me out even after I was harsh with you last week. And I'm sorry for treating you like that."

"Margaret -" He wanted to forgive her, but a part of him couldn't help the resentment. "Margaret, I care a lot about you."

"But? I have a feeling there's a catch."

"What happens the next time Donald comes around? I can't keep going like this, Margaret."

"Can't you just accept a simple apology?"

"I'm trying -"

"This is what I get for trying to be nice!" she fumed. "If you can't accept my apology in the spirit it's offered - I rescind the offer!"

He watched her go, trying not to feel so hurt. Who needed a friend like that, anyway? But he couldn't help remembering the friendship they'd had. He longed for it.

*~*~*~*

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