Under My Skin

by Swamp

Set sometime between Margaret's Engagement and Margaret's Wedding (season 5)
Margaret is considering scratching an itch in Tokyo whilst back at the 4077 they're dealing with a different type of itch.


It wasn't the smartest hotel in Tokyo, but after a makeshift huddle of temporary buildings, it was luxury. A little extra had even gotten her a room with an en-suite bath. A real, honest to goodness bath. Major Houlihan twisted the taps and nodded approvingly as the pipework juddered into life. After a few gurgles, hot water started spitting into the tub.

She hummed as she carefully unpinned her pale hair and took off her Class A jacket. Three days leave in Tokyo and Donald due to meet her in a few hours. Oh, they would have fun. No more attention-seeking dancing on pianos for her as she didn't need that any more. She had Donald. They would dance, romance and then he'd sweep her off her feet and onto her back. And she wasn't at the camp. That was a whole load of good right there. She could have a bath instead of a shower. Waste some time soaking out the stress of the field and the layers of dirt. She could never really get clean at the 4077: every time she stepped into the shower room, she tensed up in case one of those pervert doctors had drilled a new spyhole. Well, not here. No Frank. No Hunnicutt and most especially no Pierce.

Major Houlihan stepped into the bath and sank back with a sigh. She could feel every neck muscle unclench. After a moment she picked up the soap and moved on from humming to singing, smiling as she looked forward to the evening ahead.

"I've got you under my skin...deep in the heart of me...so deep..."

Thirty minutes later, Margaret Houlihan reluctantly admitted to herself that the water had got too cold and got out the bath.


Colonel Potter leaned back in his chair and chortled to himself as he read his wife's letter for the fifth time that morning.

"Er, Colonel Potter sir?"

He looked up to see Radar standing in the doorway, clutching the usual sheaf of files. Did that boy ever take his hat off?

"Come in, son. Just reading a letter from Mrs. Potter. She filled two sides with gossip about how Lucy Bergman had surprised everyone - not least her fiancÚ Jimmy - by running off with Rusty Black. Why, but fifteen years ago, Lucy and Rusty had been in a state of war. He'd pull her pigtails and she'd push him into the pond." Potter laughed again.

"That's great sir, but I just need you to sign some papers."

Radar put the flimsy sheets on the desk and handed him a pen. As Potter started to sign the forms off, he noticed the Corporal was scratching his elbow compulsively.

"Got an itch, Radar?"

"I think they put too much starch in my laundry again, sir."

Potter handed back the completed forms. "Well, try not to scratch son."

"sir, yes sir."

After Radar scurried back out, Potter found himself absently rubbing at his thigh through his uniform.


Donald was late. Margaret sat at a booth - a booth and not a barstool because she was an engaged woman now and had no more need of pick-me-ups and pick-up lines - and quietly shredded a paper napkin. The bar was far enough from the brothel district to mean that it wasn't jammed solid with drunken soldiers. Plenty of uniforms coming and going but not in the kind of desperate dance of lonely scared people. A three piece was knocking out tunes, barely recognisable over the hubbub of voices, and a few couples were on the tiny, postage stamp sized, floor. Chains of lights were strung around the room, hiding the inevitably dingy corners in the shadows and what she suspected was a severe lack of hygiene in the glass-cleaning. Still, if you ignored all that then it was nearly as good as somewhere back home.

"Major, may I buy you a drink?"

Margaret looked up quickly from the remains of her whiskey, recognising a mid-western voice. She realised it wasn't Donald and shook her head.

"I'm waiting for my fiancÚ, Donald Penobscott," she said, making a display of flashing the ring. The Major standing there gave her a strange look and moved away. Well what had that been about? Obviously jealous that Donald had got her, that must have been it. Where was he anyway? She wanted him to arrive so everyone in the place would realise what a handsome, charming and well-built man was going to marry her.

A waiter put a drink in front of her before she could order another. "Please. From officer at bar," he said as she went to protest. She followed his gesture, expecting to see the Major persisting.

Oh no. No, this was not happening.

Leaning against the bar, managing to slouch even as he raised a martini glass to her and grin, was Pierce. As she opened her mouth to yell, he hurried over. He put a hand on the back of her seat and leaned in close to whisper.

"Before you bawl me out, Major, you should know that Major who was just trying to buy a drink is heading back this way and he's carrying for two."

Margaret looked over his shoulder and spotted the other man frowning towards them. Then he shrugged and switched direction, heading for a single woman sat at the bar.

"Alright, Pierce, thank you. Now scram."

"I'm hurt, Margaret, don't you want to know why I'm here?"

He slumped into the seat opposite her and signaled to the waiter for another drink.

"I neither know nor care, Pierce. Donald will be here soon."

"Way it looked to me, he's late by about an hour."

"Really, it doesn't bother me."

"Yeah? Is that why you're sitting in a snow storm?"

She looked down and realised she must have shredded five napkins by now. She glared at him. "Alright, Pierce, yes. He's late. Now get lost."

"You've not asked me what I'm doing here."

"Will you go away if I do?"

He grinned. Fine, let him win another of his little battles against her authority.

"I'm glad you asked me that, Margaret. We had to move Private Hewlett to Tokyo General. You saw the state he was in yesterday. So I hitched a ride to make sure he survived the trip. I'd hate for all my pretty needlework to get messed up. Potter gave me a twenty-four hour pass."

"And you just decided to come to this bar? What's the matter? Run out of credit at the brothels?"

"Margaret, you wound me. There was this pretty nurse at the hospital. Said I had to give her the proper treatment-"

"Ha. Your reputation proceeds you."

"So I was meeting her here."

"And she hasn't shown. Your reputation really must proceed you."

"Whereas you're sat here all stood up."

"I most certainly am not! And when Donald gets here he'll flatten you for suggesting he could be so dishonourable as to stand me up."

"I'm trembling."

She tried narrowing her eyes at him, but he just gave her a wide-eyed "who me?" look. He set the empty martini glass down on the table and leaned forward.

"Tell you what, why don't we remind that honourable Donald Penobscott that he shouldn't leave his best girl sitting around waiting?"

"What do you mean, Pierce?"

"Simple. He gets here, finds you in another man's arms-"

"No."

"Held tight on the dance floor-"

"No."

"playing doctors and nurses in your hotel room-"

"No."

Pierce sat back and gave a grumpy sigh. "You have no sense of fun."

"I do so."

"Come on, imagine his face! He'll never leave you waiting again."

Now she thought about it, the idea did have a little merit. Donald would fly into such a rage! And she did so admire him when his dander was up. Pierce was probably smart enough and sober enough to duck the first punch as well...


He was too tired to walk back to his luxurious apartment with the beautiful panoramic view of the war. After a nice short twelve hour stint in OR, where it had been far too serious without Hawkeye, BJ couldn't face the quietness of the tent. Well, quiet if you discounted the jeeps, ambulances, mortars, PA announcements and clatter of guards. He settled back in his chair in the officers club and let all the noise wash over him.

"Mind if I join you, BJ?"

"Not at all, Father. Pull up a pew. As it were."

"Well, it does seem as quiet as the Sunday morning Presbyterian service."

BJ grinned. Mulcahy was an odd duck, alright, and his sense of humour seemed lost on most of the camp. The priest was staring at a double of whiskey with some concern. Both men habitually ignored Burns as the Major wandered over to hover by their table. The father took a deep breath and knocked back the spirit quickly. He gasped, coughed and then smiled.

"Oh my. I'm actually building up my courage to ask the Colonel if we have any more old blankets we can spare for the orphanage. They're sharing three in a bed down there and we'd be able to convert an extra room to a dorm if we can get together enough bedding."

"Well, that's just regular spirit, father, not the Holy kind."

"Pah!" Both seated men turned to stare at Frank. He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to glare at them. "Well, trying to get more US army equipment to give to the orphans. They should have thought of bed space before getting themselves sent there."

"Major," Mulcahy scowled at Frank, "they're orphans. They got sent there when their parents were killed. And not just by the Chinese."

"Ha."

BJ leaned back further in his chair.

"Think Margaret is having fun in Tokyo, Frank?"


" '...but it's not even my horse', he said." Hawkeye finished the joke and sat back grinning as Margaret roared with laughter. They were attracting attention. Unfortunately, not of the kind he wanted.

"Oh waiter!" he waved a hand vaguely towards the bar. "Two more martini's here please."

Margaret wiped her eyes carefully and tried to look stern at him. An effect totally ruined by her unfastened jacket and loosened tie.

"You're trying to get me drunk," she accused.

Hawkeye shrugged. "Who's trying? You already are drunk."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Not."

"Too."

The overworked three-piece band broke into a fast number. Some old showtune. She grabbed his hand from the table and tugged. "Dance with me, Pierce."

"Now that's an order I'll gladly follow."


BJ was distracted from the chess game by the way Mulcahy kept scratching at his hand. When the priest moved his rook closer to BJ's side of the board, he grabbed the man's wrist. There were angry narrow red scratches between the knuckles, where Mulcahy had been scratching.

"Oh, it's nothing. Probably too much starch in the uniform again," Mulcahy grinned.

BJ frowned at him. "I'm not so sure. How long has this been going on?"

"A couple of days now."

"Hmmm."


"And that's the last thing of the day, sir."

Potter signed the clipboard of paper and handed it back to Radar. End of the day. Always good. With any luck there's be no action tonight and he could settle for the evening. He leaned back and closed his eyes. For a moment he was back home, having a moment's rest before stepping out of his tiny study and into the warm kitchen. He could almost smell the baking. The swing doors slammed past each other. He groaned to himself and kept his eyes closed.

"What is it now, Burns?"

"Colonel, I wish to complain about the..." Frank broke off. "How did you know it was me?"

"Everyone walks through those damn doors in a particular way. Whatever it is, can't it wait for morning?"

He heard the doors swish again and opened his eyes to see a serious-looking BJ and a flustered Mulcahy.

"Sorry, Colonel," BJ said, "but I think we've got a parasite in the camp and I don't mean Frank."


Margaret let Hawkeye spin her across the dance floor, aware that they were the most showy couple there. He was such a good dancer though, communicating his intentions with his eyes and hands so she could follow easily. Not just stomping around in a set pattern and getting on her feet. Like certain annoying Majors or late Lieutenant-Colonels. Hawk let her dance as she wanted, not according to the form, and she was reveling in it. She could see the way his eyes lit up with mischief as he spun her close again and even as one arm circled low around her waist, she knew what he was planning.

He dipped them and she let him.

For a moment she felt suspended in the air, her breath was knocked out of her and she couldn't hear the room around them any more. He was staring into her eyes with something like surprise on his face. He didn't kiss her.

The noise of the bar crashed back in, including a smattering of applause. Hawkeye smiled at her and then looked up to grin about them. He didn't raise her up though.

"Thank you, thank you. Due to the kindness of Uncle Sam, I will be appearing in Korea for the foreseeable duration of the war."

He straightened her up then, and held her loosely as they started a more gentle shuffle around the dance floor, with the trio setting a slower tempo. Margaret let her hand rest on the collar of his uniform, her fingers toying with the lapel lightly. Donald would certainly have been cross with that display and it thrilled her to think of the jealousy rising in him. If he were here. Which he still wasn't.


"You sure, son?"

BJ stood aside and let Potter look into the microscope. The slide showed exactly what Potter was afraid of. Scabies. Tiny parasitic mites that burrowed under the skin, making the carrier go near crazy with the desire to scratch.

"How'd they get in? There's not that much bed-hopping is there?"

BJ shook his head, although he did give Frank a dirty grin. "I think it's from the orphanage, sir."

"Those filthy...! Bringing a...a...STD here! It's all those lax foreign morals, you know..." Frank exploded.

"Relax, Frank. It's the overcrowding."

Potter nodded. "That many people to a bed, bound to create breeding grounds."

"Disgusting!" Burns sneered.

"Gets in the bedding, then onto the staff, then back here?" Potter suggested a possible route. BJ nodded.

"Can be fixed with a shot of penicillin or a lick of lindane."

"Good, do it. Get all the medical staff done first - can't have infection in the OR."

"What about Hawkeye and Houlihan, sir? They're both away."

"They'll have to scratch their own itches."


They managed an almost straight line down the tiny narrow hallway of her hotel, arm in arm and almost tripping over their own feet. Sometime in the evening, on their meander back through the neon city, Hawkeye had snapped a sprig of blossom from a tree and he now waved it roughly in time to his quiet singing.

"So deep in my heart ...You're nearly a part of me ... I've got you under my skin ..."

She noticed a room number and forced them to stop moving. "Um. Wait. This is me."

There was a moment of fumbling with the key and the lock and then she had the door open. She turned back to face Hawk and found her stomach oddly fluttering. He was such a renown seducer. He'd make a move in a moment. She was still surprised that he hadn't kissed her on the dance floor.

"This is me," she said again and he gave her the slow smile. The one the nurses talked about. He leaned one arm against the doorframe and trailed the blossom down her cheek with the other. She closed her eyes and shivered slightly at the touch.

"Margaret..."

"Mm-hmm." She wet her lips slightly.

"I'm not going to kiss you."

She opened her eyes and glared at him. "What?" she hissed.

"It's not that I don't want to but you're a to-be-married woman. Wouldn't be right you cheating on Donald before it's legal cheating."

"Donald, as you so rightly pointed out earlier, isn't here."

Hawkeye handed her the blossom sprig. "That's his loss."


"Hi honey, I'm home."

The door of the Swamp clacked shut. BJ waited until Hawkeye had dropped his bag onto his cot and was about to hurl himself after it before throwing the bottle of ointment at him. Hawkeye looked at the label.

"Lindane? I was only gone for twenty-four hours! I don't have any little guests."

"Yes, but the rest of the camp does. Scabies."

"Great. More non-scratchable itches."

BJ watched his friend gather his shower kit and stomp off out to the showers. That was the stomp of a frustrated man. Clearly no-one had been swept off their feet with Hawkeye's patented charm last night. No nurse or party girl would be waking up this morning with the memory of a night before.


Margaret hastily checked her lipstick in the foggy mirror. She could hear an impatient knocking at the door. Donald had called that morning, leaving a thousand apologies for the fact he had been unable to get away the night before and promising her a day of pleasure. She had wanted to scream at him because of her hangover and even a long soak had left her feeling unsatisfied. Now he was outside her room, waiting for her.

"Just a minute!" she called out, hurrying around the room collecting her essentials. Satisfied she had everything she moved towards the door. Paused. She turned back to the tiny bedside table and lifted up the broken stem of blossom lying there. Sniffed its faint hint of perfume and set it back down, smiling.

Major Houlihan straightened her uniform and headed for the door. Scratching her elbow.

The End

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