Chapter Twenty-One: Perfection
Margaret gave a wordless cry of joy when she saw her daughter nestled tight in Hawkeye's arms. As soon as she saw her mother, Alaina gave a similar cry and reached her arms out.
Hawkeye handed her over, enjoying watching the two of them together. His girls, his family. More than he'd thought for a long time he'd ever have, and here it was, all his. After the nightmare the last few days had been, nothing could've looked better.
He sat down beside Margaret and placed a kiss on her cheek. And then, with no planning at all, the words just slipped out. "Marry me."
He sat up, looking her in the eyes. "If there's one thing I've learned over these last few days, it's that I never want to live without you again. I'm honestly not sure I can. You've become a part of my life, and I'm glad for that. I can't imagine my life being anything else. You said someday I could ask again and you'd say yes. So here I am, asking. Margaret Houlihan, will you marry me?"
He couldn't help but speak again into her stunned silence. "If you want a ring, I have one. My mother's. My dad gave it to me when I came of age, and I've been waiting for the right time to give it to you. I don't have it with me right now, but I know where it is, I can bring it to you next time -"
"You don't have to."
"What does that mean?" he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"If there's one thing I've learned from my first marriage, it's that the fairytale can hide something that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I don't need that. I don't need a ring. I'll marry you with or without it."
He began to laugh with pure joy. "I'm still bringing the ring next time. I don't care if the symbolism matters to you or not; I want you to have it."
Hawkeye stood beside Father Mulcahy, watching Margaret's bridesmaids walk down the aisle one by one.
Margaret's physical recovery in the six months since Donald had nearly succeeded in killing her had been astonishing to everyone - everyone, that was, except Hawkeye and Alvin Houlihan. Her mental recovery would take longer, but Hawkeye would be there for as long as it took.
As soon as she began to walk down the aisle on Alvin's arm, his eyes were fixed on her. After today, she'll be my wife.
She reached the alter, and Father Mulcahy began to recite the blessings. In what seemed both an eternity and no time at all, the priest was speaking to Hawkeye directly.
"Benjamin Franklin Pierce, do you take this woman, Margaret Houlihan to be your lawfully wedded wife? Will you love her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto her, so long as you both shall live?"
He looked into Margaret's shining eyes. "I do."
"Margaret Houlihan, do you take this man, Benjamin Franklin Pierce, to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you love him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto him, so long as you both shall live?" Both Margaret and Hawkeye had asked him to omit every reference to obedience, both because Hawkeye respected Margaret as an equal, not a subordinate, and because they didn't want any semblance of the unequal power relationship that had allowed Donald to abuse Margaret.
Her smile nearly split her face. "I do."
"The rings, please."
BJ took the rings from Margaret's young nephew and handed them to Father Mulcahy. He handed the smaller ring to Hawkeye. "Place the ring on the third finger of her left hand and repeat after me: with this ring, I thee wed."
He took Margaret's hand and slid the ring onto her finger. "With this ring, I thee wed."
He handed the ring to Margaret. "Place the ring on the third finger of his left hand and repeat after me: with this ring, I thee wed."
She took his hand and slipped the ring onto his finger. "With this ring, I thee wed."
"Then by the power vested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride."
He bent forward and kissed her. His heart seemed to swell. This,in this moment, this is perfection.