"The Best-Kept Secrets"
alternate ending to "Taking the Fifth"

by Mel

Hawkeye hummed to himself as he carefully lit the few candles he'd placed around the supply room. His mind was racing. Who was this "Sweet Preserves?" Was it someone he knew? And if it was, was she someone he knew well? He fluffed the pillows on the floor once more, trying to make everything perfect. Hawkeye paused for a moment, listening, then turned up the small radio he'd brought. Surveying the room once more, he nodded with satisfaction.

A light knock on the door caused Hawkeye to jump. Closing his eyes briefly, and taking a deep breath to slow his rapidly beating heart, he called, "Who is it?"

A voice Hawkeye couldn't positively identify answered quietly, "It's Sweet Preserves. May I come in?" Hawkeye swung the door open to reveal someone he didn't recognize immediately. She was a few inches shorter than he was, and her face was obscured by a wide-brimmed straw hat and an oversized pair of sunglasses. Her dark hair ended a few inches below her shoulders. She was wearing a standard issue uniform, but it was stripped of all signs of rank. Strange, Hawkeye thought. It's almost as if she doesn't want me to know who she is. He vowed to uncover the identity of this woman before the evening ended.

* * *

Margaret Houlihan walked into the supply room slowly, glancing around. There were blankets and pillows covering most of the floor. A couple of candles gave the room an intimate and soft glow. Slow music drifted from the small radio placed across the room, quiet enough so that she could almost hear her own heartbeat, which had quickened considerably upon walking through the doorway. Finally, she turned to look at Hawkeye. He was wearing the same uniform he always wore. The jacket was unbuttoned and hung loose, like usual, and the rest of his clothes were wrinkled, an indication that they had either been slept in or were well worn. Margaret supposed it was the latter, given Hawkeye's penchant for wearing his bathrobe whenever possible. Her gaze moved up to his face. His hair was neatly combed, and a slightly bemused smile tugged at his lips. The usual mischievous twinkle shone in his eyes, but Margaret detected something else in their blue depths: anxiety. He was nervous about this evening, about her. The thought gave Margaret a small amount of satisfaction.

"Do I pass inspection?" Hawkeye asked with a small smile, closing the door and taking a step closer to Margaret, who stood her ground.

"Would I be here if you didn't?" Margaret replied, her voice containing a hint of an English accent. She noticed a puzzled look flit across Hawkeye's features, but it was gone as soon as it had come. Margaret wanted to laugh. No one in the camp had an accent like the one she was using. She'd picked it up from a neighbor back home. A family had moved next door to her home. They were from England, and their daughter had been Margaret's age. She had tried to cover up her accent, but a hint of it always came through.

Hawkeye took another step toward Margaret. "How do I know you meant what you wrote?" Margaret hesitated to answer. She had written the letter as a spoof, a chance to show Hawkeye what an idiot he could be. However, once the deed had been done, and she was preparing to meet him, she'd realized that everything she'd said was true.

"I'm here, aren't I?" Margaret answered, suddenly feeling nervous about being there. Maybe I shouldn't have done this, she thought. But it's too late to turn back now.

Hawkeye looked like he wanted to say something, but held it back. Instead, he gazed at her intently, trying to figure out who she was. Margaret, who stared back at him, misunderstood his gaze for the look she had written to him about. Holding true to what she had told him, she began to feel light-headed, and her knees grew weak.

Unable to puzzle out who was standing before him, Hawkeye took another step closer, reaching out to remove her hat. Margaret froze, but didn't stop him. Hawkeye tossed the hat aside, his eyes still on the woman standing less than an arm's length away. When he reached out again to remove her glasses, she didn't knock his hands away, but she did bow her head, making it hard for him to see her face. Unable to take any more delays, Hawkeye pulled her against him, kissing her with a passion he'd never known before.

Margaret, shocked that their encounter had escalated so far so fast, clung to Hawkeye for dear life, returning his kiss with all of the pent-up emotion that had been locked inside her until that moment.

When Hawkeye began to see spots behind his eyelids from lack of oxygen, he let Margaret go. She backed up a few steps, taking deep breaths. Hawkeye closed his eyes for a moment, doing the same thing. He felt like he was losing control, of his emotions, his thoughts, and his actions. No one has done this to me, he thought frantically. Not even Margaret! As the idea hit him, Hawkeye felt like he had been splashed with cold water. He moved closer to the woman who now gazed up at him with ice-blue eyes. Slowly, he removed the wig from her head, feeling a strange sense of relief when her blonde hair swung around her shoulders.

"Margaret?" Hawkeye gasped, stunned speechless for the first time in his life. She nodded almost imperceptibly, still in shock from their kiss.

Hawkeye recovered first. "Is this some kind of sick joke? Because I'm not laughing." His heart sank at the thought that she would admit that what had just happened was all a cruel joke.

Margaret had to glance away from the hurt look in his eyes. "It started as a way to put you in your place," she began softly. "That announcement you posted made me incredibly angry. It seemed childish and immature, and I didn't want any of the nurses to answer it seriously. So I wrote a letter sure to catch your attention."

"You sure did," Hawkeye interrupted quietly. "And it worked, too." The pain in his expression had lessened some, but not enough for Margaret to feel comfortable enough to look him in the eye.

"I didn't want you to know who I was," Margaret continued. "That was going to be what taught you a lesson-- finding out that the person who had written the letter had lied." Her voice caught on the last word.

Hawkeye walked over to where the wine sat and uncorked it. He slowly filled the two glasses sitting there, handing one to Margaret. She waved a hand in silent refusal, but he held it out until she accepted it. She took a sip, set her glass down, and then continued.

"But when I was preparing to come over here tonight, I realized something." She paused, giving him the opportunity to comment. He said nothing, but raised his eyebrows in interest, signaling for her to go on. "Everything I wrote in that letter was true," she finished, her voice little more than a whisper, looking up to meet Hawkeye's gaze.

Hawkeye stood frozen in place. Did she just…? He couldn't finish the thought, for fear that he had been hearing things. Carefully, he set his glass down and turned down and turned to look her in the eye. "Is this part of the joke too?" he asked uncertainly, unable to believe what she was saying.

Margaret, afraid that she was about to be rejected, stood her ground. "No. It's not," she answered sharply, stung that Hawkeye would doubt her confession. To prove her point, she took two steps forward, placing herself directly in front of him. She leaned up and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. If I'm going to be rejected, she thought, at least I'll have this.

Momentarily stunned, Hawkeye did nothing. Then, his instincts took over, and he pulled her closer to him, while deepening the kiss. After a few moments, Margaret let go of Hawkeye and pushed him away. He stared at her, uncomprehending. "What just happened here?" he asked, his tone bewildered.

"You obviously don't care about my feelings for you," Margaret answered. "So I'm leaving." She turned to go, but found her arm held in a vice-like grip, and she was whipped around to face Hawkeye again. Her breath caught in her throat at the emotions she saw in his eyes, fighting for control of his thoughts. Then, the war calmed, and Hawkeye gazed deeply into Margaret's eyes. In that moment, they both saw what needed to be seen. All that remained was…

"I love you, Margaret," Hawkeye declared, softly but surely. "And I have from the moment we met." An impish twinkle shone from his eyes. "Ever since I found out that your nickname was Hotlips."

Margaret smiled. "You're going to pay for that, Captain." Tears shone in her eyes, but she resolutely held them back.

Hawkeye gave her his trademark smirk. "Oh really, Margaret? And just how am I going to pay?" He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close.

"Well, Captain," Margaret began, "by the end of the night, you'll be out one bottle of wine-"

"That's inevitable," Hawkeye pointed out, interrupting her.

"You're more than likely going to be missing a few hours of sleep."

"I'm counting on it." His smirk returned.

"And you'll probably end up losing your clothes," Margaret concluded.

The smirk on Hawkeye's lips disappeared, and his eyes smoldered in the candle light as he pulled Margaret closer. "Only if you'll lose yours, Major." Her reply was cut off by the most passionate kiss either of them had ever experienced.