The Best-Laid Plans

Chapter Twelve: Like She Never Saw Me

Margaret rubbed her eyes. She had thought there was no way she'd ever have to function on less sleep than she had in Korea. That, of course, had been before there was a baby in the picture.

Hawkeye hadn't come home the night before, but she didn't blame him. She knew he had stayed all night with those poor girls; she had had to be talked out of doing the same thing.

It was because her mind was on her boyfriend and the two children that she walked right into another woman, snapping back to reality as soon as they collided. "Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. Can I help you?"

"Louise Donovan," she said briskly. "I'm here about my daughters. I was informed by the local police department that they're here."

Margaret nodded. Although niether she nor Hawkeye had wanted to submit that report, they had both been fully aware that they could get in serious trouble if they didn't report two minors at their hospital who had been separated from their parents. She only hoped that the father had arrived by now to provide some sort of balance.

"If you'll follow me." She walked into the hospital lobby and picked up the internal telephone. "Hawkeye?"

"Yeah, what's up?" He sounded tired too.

"Mrs. Donovan is here."

"Who?" Now he just sounded confused.

"The girls' mother." How could he not remember that?

"Oh, right."

She heard a voice in the background and frowned. "Who's that?"

"Never mind," he said quickly. "I'll be right there." He hung up the phone before she could ask any more questions.

It wasn't two minutes later that he came down the stairs. "Mrs. M - Mrs. Donovan," he corrected himself quickly. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm here to collect my children," she said briskly.

Hawkeye drew a sharp breath, trying to keep back the wave of anger that welled up in him. "Would you come with me, please? There's something we need to discuss."

She followed him and seated herself with visible reluctance. "What's this about, Doctor?"

"I'll be blunt. I'm not comfortable returning those children to your care."

"What? Why?"

"Because of your husband." He'd been gentle with Trapper, but Louise was a completely different story.

"What about my husband?" she demanded. "You've never met him."

"If you don't know, you're more deluded than I thought possible. And if you do - what I'd like to call you is something I wouldn't say in the company of anything resembling a lady."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about beating two defenseless girls black and blue."

"You're exaggerating." She had yet to show a shred of emotion apart from annoyance. "He may have spanked them a few times, but if children aren't disciplined no one knows how they'll end up."

"There's a pretty clear line between discipline and abuse, and the bruises on those girls' bodies tell me that line was crossed a long time ago. Not to mention he crossed every line in the book when he got into your daughter's bed."

Her reaction couldn't have been more different from her ex-husband's. Where he had become almost hysterical, she simply scoffed dismissively. "Oh, come on. Ken in my daughter's bed? Where do you get such ideas?"

"That's what she told the nurse who examined her." It didn't escape Hawkeye's notice that she had yet to even ask which daughter they were talking about. "And our medical evidence confirms it. Someone's been raping her."

"My girls are just kids."

"Exactly."

For the first time, the words he was saying seemed to penetrate her fog of denial. "Are - are you sure?" Her composed exterior seemed to be shaky now.

"I'm positive she was raped. And I believe her when she says it was him."

"It can't be." Her lower lip was visibly trembling. "Which - which one was it?"

"Rebecca."

"No, it can't be," she repeated. "Why would he hurt them? He's the one who pushed me to file for custody."

"What?" Hawkeye was taken aback. This added another piece to the puzzle, and he was liking it less and less the more he saw.

"I wasn't sure if I wanted them or not. I was ready to work out joint custody, or even just let my ex be the primary. But Ken said no, women usually get custody of their kids in a divorce and how would it look if I didn't? I would look like an unfit mother. He said I could get them easy if I knew how to fight for them. Why would he go to all that effort if he disliked them enough to hurt them?"

Hawkeye swallowed against the urge to be sick. They had been assuming that Donovan's attacks on his stepdaughter had been a crime of opportunity. But if getting the girls had been his idea, if he had coerced their mother into it, it put everything into a different light.

He was saved having to answer when she spoke again. "My ex knows," she whispered, "doesn't he?"

"Yeah, he knows," she admitted. "We couldn't get in touch with you so Rebecca called him. How'd you know?"

"You almost called me Mrs. McIntyre. Even though I never legally changed the girls' names, they use Donovan." She swallowed. "He's here, isn't he?"

"He is."

"I want to talk to him."

"I'm not so sure that's a good idea."

"Are you trying to tell me who I can and cannot speak with?" The woman that had first walked into the hospital was back.

"I'm saying I'm not sure he wants to talk to you."

"I'll be the judge of that." She strode out of the room without waiting for him.

xxxxxxxxx

It was the second time in five minutes she'd walked right into someone. She really needed to start getting more sleep. She smiled a little at that thought; it wasn't like she actually had any control over the situation.

She was so deep in her own thoughts that it took her a few seconds to realize that the person she'd just tripped over was staring at her. She glanced up at him, prepared to offer an apology, but that went out of her head as the breath was taken out of her lungs by the realization of who was standing in front of her.

"My God."

He didn't look as taken aback as she felt, but she spoke again before he had a chance to. "What are you doing here?"

"Long story." His voice cracked a little on the words alone, but she didn't need him to tell her anyway. As she got a good look at him, it all fell into place. She knew why Rebecca Donovan looked so familiar. The littler girl, Kathleen, greatly resembled her mother, but Rebecca was practically a carbon copy of the man in front of her, or as close as a girl could be...

To her father.

Not Rebecca Donovan. Rebecca McIntyre.

"Hawkeye talk to you?" she asked softly.

He nodded. "Told me everything. I'm still having a hard time swallowing it, though. What kind of a father am I, to let this happen to my girls?"

"You didn't let it happen," she replied gently. "And the fact that you're feeling guilty tells me all I need to know about what kind of a father you are."

He did a bit of a double take. "You have no idea how bizarre it is to hear you talking like that. Last time I saw you all you could talk about was how important it was that I be on time for inspection or some such nonsense."

She laughed a little. "I know."

"Hawkeye told me you'd changed. I wasn't so sure I believed him."

"Is that all he told you?" She shook her head. "It didn't just happen out of the blue. He had a lot to do with it."

He raised his eyebrows. "I thought you two couldn't stand each other."

"Sometimes we couldn't. But there was always more. Was there a time, about three months before you left, where he was out all night and gave you some story you just didn't quite have the details to confirm?"

"Yeah, now you mention it. I could never get him to tell me who that nurse was. Robbins had just left, so I thought it might be the same girl he'd talked about. An entire night in the supply tent, that's nice. But no matter how hard I pressed, he wouldn't give up a name. Figured he wanted her all to himself. But what does this have to do with -"

"The reason he never told you who it was is because it never happened. He made the whole thing up."

"What?" Trapper looked taken aback. "Why?"

"Because he was with me. I don't mean like that, either. I was upset and needed someone to talk to. He showed up."

"All night."

"I didn't want to be alone. He stayed with me."

Trapper whistled under his breath. "He had me sold."

"I know. But my point is, he was the first person who ever really cared. I don't think this would have happened otherwise. He just acts like I did it all on my own."

He was going to say something else, but his eyes were drawn to a figure behind her. He stepped past Margaret without even excusing himself from the conversation and planted himself in front of the woman coming up the hall. She stopped short, looking up at him. "John!"

"What the hell were you thinking, Louise?" he said without preamble.

"I - I didn't know. I swear I didn't know!"

"You would've known if you spent any damn time around them! If you didn't just go off and leave them all the time!"

"Because leaving them alone with me for a whole year was so noble?"

"That's not the same and you know it!"

"Oh, really? Enlighten me!"

"With pleasure. First of all, I didn't want to go, and you know that as well as I do. Secondly, it's not like you had no choice. I begged you to let me have joint custody. You shut me down, took them away from me, and then you neglected them." He stared into her eyes. "You hate to lose so much that you made our daughters into pawns. And that's exactly what I'm telling the judge when we go back to court."

The woman sighed, seeming to deflate. "That won't be necessary. Just take them. I'll tell my lawyer to file the paperwork. I don't care anymore."

For a moment, he was actually taken aback. "Are you serious?" The sheer amount of hope in his voice made Margaret's eyes start to water.

"Of course I'm serious. I may have done some things you didn't approve of but I've never lied to you. Not about something like this. Do you want them or not?"

"Of course I do."

She turned and started to walk back out of the hospital. He called after her. "Louise!"

"What?"

"Aren't you going to say goodbye?"

She barely took the time to look back at him. "I'm on a tight schedule."

*~*~*~*

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