You—it's always been you.
MASH Unit 4077. April, 1951.
Virginia groaned as consciousness began to surface.
Was she dead? God, she hoped she was dead. It would make everything so much easier if she were dead.
She lay in a hospital bed, body weary. Harsh light triggered the headache which lay dormant in the back of her mind. She shifted and winced in pain, eyes screwing shut.
"Oh yeah, you don't want to do that." An unfamiliar voice met her ears, and she opened her eyes. A fresh-faced man with blond hair and sun-kissed skin stared back at her. "Name's BJ," he said. "I did your operation."
Virginia went to shake her head, but found it too painful. She settled on frowning. "You aren't allowed to do that. Only doctors are allowed to operate here."
BJ smiled in earnest. "Actually, I am a doctor. I'm new here, just arrived in country. See"—He held up a pair of newly minted dog-tags.—"I'm qualified."
She hesitated, unsure of what to say. "What day is it?"
"I'm not dead?"
With a chuckle, BJ adjusted the blanket draped across Virginia's chest. He shook his head, smiling at her with an almost brotherly fondness. His face was warm and inviting, so unlike the faces she'd grown accustomed to at the front.
The front… The memories came flooding back—Cleaver and dragging the dead bodies from the field. The noise, the smells, the pain. Trapper.
"John—he's…" She left the question hanging, unable to finish the sentence herself.
BJ's gaze went blank, and he shrugged. "I don't know who that is—I'm sorry. I've only been here a week, and the crew you came in with didn't have a John. I can ask around, though, if you want?"
"He's dead." Virginia's head lolled to the side, away from BJ. "He died."
There was a pregnant pause. She heard BJ's lab coat rustle as he shifted in his seat. He cleared his throat. Then mumbled, "I'm sorry."
She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat. "Me too."
"Look, you've been beat up pretty bad." He touched her arm, caught her attention, and she met his gaze. "You're lucky you got here when you did. That shrapnel just about tore up your lungs for good. You'll need to be on bedrest awhile before you get back out there, so take it easy with all the talking and moving, okay?"
She nodded. "Thanks."
"Shout if you need anything." Rising from his stool, he held up a hand as he considered his recommendation. "Don't actually shout, though. Hit the bedframe or something—anything to keep from straining your lungs. Doctor's orders."
He left with a squeeze to her shoulder and she was alone.
The post-op ward was quiet and dimly lit. Several other beds were occupied by sleeping soldiers, and the light in Radar's office was out. It must be night. Laying in the hospital bed as she was, it felt unnatural to be on the other side. She should be the nurse on watch, not the nurse who needed watching.
She sank deep within the bedcovers and sighed. Every inch of her body ached—her heart, too. She'd seen so much and felt so much and lost so much… She couldn't put it into words. It was easier to forget. She wondered if Hawkeye knew she was here; she wondered if he cared. Perhaps he was sorry she made it through surgery. It would be easier for him if she hadn't. Then his troubles would be gone.
A dull pain throbbed on the left side of her ribcage. She pressed against the ache and drew in a sharp breath. Tears filled her eyes. She wanted to cry—truly, she did. Only it hurt. The tears stung, the inhale and exhale of breath shook her ribs, and the congestion in her nose couldn't be relieved without filling her chest with unnecessary pressure. As with her memories, she pushed the tears away. She wiped her cheeks and cleared her throat. She'd rest now; that was all she could do. She only prayed the nightmares stayed away.
Margaret's voice kept her from surrendering to blessed sleep. Twisting, Virginia turned to crane her neck over her shoulder. Her friend stood at the foot of the bed, her grin revealing her gleaming teeth. A familiar face—the sight brought the tears back to Virginia's eyes.
As if in relief, Virginia exhaled. "Margaret." She reached for the other woman, who took a seat gingerly on the side of the bed.
Margaret clasped Virginia's hand between both of hers. Unshed tears glimmered in her eyes. "Thank heaven you're alright," she said.
"Yes." Margaret nodded. A shadow crossed her face, and she looked down at the bedsheets. "Yes, he's gone."
"I couldn't…" Virginia's jaw tightened as she fought the moisture clouding her vision. "I couldn't save him."
"No one expected you to. He was torn in two, Virginia. There was nothing you could have done."
The pair fell quiet as the weight of Trapper's death settled on their shoulders. Once the silence had stretched too thin, Virginia asked the question burning on the forefront of her mind. "Where's Hawkeye?"
Margaret's brow tightened, and she cast a glance toward the door. After a moment, she turned back. "I think he's outside. Are you sure you want to see him tonight? You should rest."
"I want to see him." She hesitated, afraid of the answer to her following question. "Does he not want to see me?"
Margaret all but guffawed. She squeezed Virginia's arm. "Not want to see you? He's been beside himself since we found out you were on that bus! Coronel Potter had to throw him out of the operating room—twice!" She sobered a moment, her laughter fading alongside her smile. Her stare went intense; it made Virginia squirm. "He's changed since you've gone."
Virginia's stomach twisted. She'd been afraid of that. Afraid that, once out of sight and out of mind, Hawkeye would be right back to his same old philandering. She prayed to whatever god would listen he hadn't.
Margaret shrugged. "I don't know. I can't put my finger on it. He's just… different." She stood. "I'll go get him." She shuffled through the rows of beds until she reached the door. Hand on the frame, she looked over her shoulder and smiled. "I'm glad you're back."
The minutes between Margaret's departure and Hawkeye's arrival seemed to stretch like the fabric of an old sweater. The clock on the wall ticked loud and incessant. Virginia's palms went moist with sweat.
She considered the last six months and how rocky her relationship with Hawkeye had been. One moment she'd never hated any one person more and the next she couldn't keep her eyes off him. She considered their parting before she'd gone to the front, his humor in a moment of great uncertainty. How different they were—and yet how she loved him despite that. She considered their agreement to be friends and colleagues before returning to their roles as husband and wife. She'd barely had time to process their agreement before leaving alongside Trapper. Now that she was home, she wasn't sure she could continue being his friend without also being his wife. She knew that now.
The door banged open. Virginia gasped, startled from her thoughts, and several patients roused from their sleep. Hawkeye stood in the doorframe, all long arms and legs and face drawn tight with worry. His eyes scanned the room until they locked on her. Relief washed over his body. His tense shoulders went slack and he all but stumbled as he rushed for her bedside.
Before she could say anything, Hawkeye grabbed either side of her face and peppered her face with kisses. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her mouth—whatever skin he could claim, he did. All the while, he whispered over and over, as if in prayer, "I love you."
He dropped to his knees by the bed, cradling her hands in his. The emotion in his gaze stole her breath away. "When I heard…" he breathed. He shook his head and she could have sworn she saw a tear slide down his cheek. "I thought I'd lost you."
Virginia sat in shock. Her chest heaved with the force of her shallow breaths. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his, sure she looked a dumbstruck fool. In all her years of knowing Hawkeye, in all her years of marriage to him, he'd told her he loved her only a handful of times. He wasn't prone to gestures of romance or impassioned speeches after the hunt for her hand was complete. She'd grown accustomed to his simple gestures—the dry cleaning he picked up every Thursday, the gardening work he did that she hated, the way he tolerated their cat. Hearing him say he loved her now, after all the time and pain between them, it made her heart swell to bursting.
Blinking, she forced herself to focus. "I thought we were just going to be friends…"
For a moment, Hawkeye stared at her. Uncertainty flitted across his face then he broke into a wide grin. He leaned forward, kissing her. "Only friends? With the best-looking nurse—" She held up a finger, and he corrected himself. "Sorry—best-looking doctor in this hell-hole? You don't know me at all, woman."
For the first time in what felt years, Virginia smiled in pure happiness. She threw her arms around his neck, and he weaved his arms around her middle. They sat so entwined she could not tell where he ended and she began; she wouldn't have it any other way. She nestled her head in the crook of his neck. He smelled of a long day's work, of the sharp Korean air, and gin.
"Virginia?" he mumbled, his lips moving softly along the side of her neck.
"Hmm?" She held him only tighter.
"I want to give you something." He drew back and held her at arm's length.
Slowly, he lifted his dogtags over his head. Her wedding ring jingled alongside the tags and her heart skipped a beat. She swallowed past the dryness in her throat and watched as he withdrew the ring and held it out to her.
"I want you to have this back," he said. "You're my wife and that's how I want it to be."
Virginia laughed. "How terribly unromantic!"
Hawkeye frowned. "Unromantic? I'd say this is the most romantic thing I've done in years!"
Virginia threaded her fingers with his and took the ring with her other hand. She held it up to the light. A glare caught on a chip in the faded circle, and she thought the nicks and marks suited the ring well. It was like their marriage—bruised and scarred but still intact, after all this time.
Turning her gaze back to him, she lifted a brow. "So we're not friends?"
He shook his head. "No, that position has been filled."
"Well…" She handed the ring back. "You have to put it on."
"I can do that."
He did, sliding the ring onto her finger and holding it there like he had on their wedding day. He stared at the ring before looking back at her. Leaning forward, he kissed her again, soft and sweet and everything she had missed.
"It's always been you," he whispered against her mouth. "Ever since I saw you, I knew you'd be the one."
She pulled back and rubbed the tears out of her eyes. "Stop," she said. "Don't embarrass yourself. You've never been one for lovey-dovey speeches so don't start now."
A gruff voice stole the moment, accented with authority and charm. "Ah, so this is the missus who's been giving me such much hell the past few days?"
Hawkeye looked over his shoulder. He sat straight and sniffed hard, the mist disappearing from his eyes. Clearing his throat, he motioned to the short man with a nod of his head. "Beth, this is Coronel Potter. He's the new Henry Blake."
"Pleasure to meet you, sir."
"Pleasure's all mine, ma'am." Potter shook Virginia's hand, his grasp cracking her bones. "Anybody who can make Pierce act like such a damn scatterbrain is some sort of powerful woman. I see why now. It's good to finally put a face to the name."
"It's four in the morning, Coronel. Why are you up? Shouldn't you be dreaming of your horse?"
"If you must know, I was up for a little private time in the privy, Pierce, but I saw BJ talking to the Father and had to know what all the fuss was about."
Potter rolled his eyes. "Good to know your fantastic humor is on its way back, son." He nodded to Virginia. "Good to meet you, Virginia, but you'll have to forgive me. I'm half-asleep and about ready to fall over. I'll talk to you both in the morning."
When they were alone again, Virginia squeezed Hawkeye's hand. "We have to talk about what happened," she said.
Hawkeye glanced at the floor, a shadow on his brow. "Not tonight," he finally said, his gaze drawn back to her. "We will, I promise. But tonight, I just want to be with you and know you're safe."
"There's not much room on this bed."
"I'm happy to sit."
Virginia lowered to her back while Hawkeye repositioned himself on a chair beside her bed. He crossed one leg over the other and unearthed a file full of papers. Smoothing the hair across her forehead, he smiled down at her.
"Go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."
With his promise written across her heart, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
A/N: Apologies for the very long delay.