Chapter Fourteen: When Worlds Collide
Trapper might have made the trip from Boston to Crabapple Cove in five and a half hours, but he fully intended to take the full eight for the return trip. Risking his own neck was one thing - risking his children's safety was another completely. For their part, they had just seemed shocked that he actually wanted to talk with them and hear what they had to say, rather than expecting them to occupy themselves in silence.
"I have friends at school," Kathy answered. "Kids I play with. I don't have any best friends like Becky does."
"Becky?" He prodded his daughter gently.
"My best friend's name is Lisa," she said softly, breaking Trapper's heart all over again. She'd always been the quieter of the two, but never like this. "Some of the kids make fun of her, but she's really nice and she's fun. Her daddy won't let her come over to play with me but he lets me come over to play with her. And Nora's our friend," she reminded her sister.
"Who's Nora? A girl at your school?"
"No," Kathy replied in the tone children use when they think something should be obvious. "She's a grown-up who lives near us. She's really shy but she lets us come over and makes us cookies and plays games with us."
"Her brother is sad a lot," Becky added. "But he's nice too. He likes to pretend he's not but he is. Daddy, are we going to be able to see our friends now that we live with you?"
"Well, for starters, I don't see why you can't keep going to the same school you've been at. If you like it. As for Nora, do you know her last name?"
The girls both shook their heads. "Nora's not her real first name either. It's something really long and fancy. She doesn't even like it. That's why she told us to call her Nora."
"Well, tell you what. Once we're settled, I'll see if I can't find her."
It was two weeks since the fateful call. Two weeks since Trapper had jumped into his car on a few words from his daughter and driven up to Maine. He was still looking for a house, but in the meantime, Boston Mercy had let it be known that they weren't going to let him take an indefinite leave of absence. He only hoped no one would object too loudly to him bringing his daughters along and leaving them in his office. So far, it was lunchtime and no one had objected.
The doctor's lounge was about half full, a few colleagues milling about and one woman he recognized as the head of thoracic surgery's sister. He usually made it a point to avoid surgeon and sister alike. The man liked to behave as though he was better than anyone in the hospital, and the woman wouldn't even give him the time of day. He had yet to ever hear her say a single word. A shame. She was pretty, but what good was flirting with a woman who wouldn't even say hello?
"Paging all medical staff. All medical staff, please report to the emergency room."
He sighed, running a hand over his face. "You two wait here, okay? There are pens and notepads around if you need something to do. Uh, bathroom's down this hall, third door on your left, otherwise don't go anywhere else. All right?"
They both nodded solemnly. He hugged them quickly before running off to the emergency room.
The entire surgical staff was assembled in a matter of minutes. "What's going on?" someone asked for what had to be the hundredth time.
"All right, all right, everyone listen up!" the head of surgery said loudly. "There's been an accident. Stove at a nearby restaurant blew up during rush hour, it in turn blew up another stove, debris everywhere. The first ambulances should be here any minute. Any questions? No? All right, here are your assignments."
"What exactly do you think you're doing, McIntyre?"
Trapper groaned under his breath. He was probably more experienced in this kind of surgery than anyone currently in the OR, but of course, the Chief of Thoracic Surgery would have to find something to pick on him about. For reasons he had yet to determine, he'd been rubbing the man wrong ever since their first day together on the job. "Trying to save some lives," he shot back. "What are you doing?"
"There are no prizes for completing the most patients," the man replied. "What matters is not to do it fast, it's to do it so that the patient won't need surgery again tomorrow."
"I know what I'm doing."
"Do you? Then do you want to explain to me why you've managed to get through three times the patients of the rest of the doctors - excluding myself, of course."
"Let's discuss this outside," he said briskly, turning and heading for the door of the post-operative ward, expecting the other doctor to follow. As soon as they were out of earshot of the patients, he whirled on the man. "Now listen here, Winchester." He drew out the name almost mockingly. "You may think you're better than all of us put together, but the truth is that you're just a doctor like the rest of us. You seem to think that your way of speeding though the cases is better than mine. Now, I don't know what your way is, so for all I know you're doing it right and no one will die because you rushed their surgery. But I know what I'm doing. The patient always comes first. Now, if I can get through them more quickly, that means I can save more of them, and that's why I do it, but I would never cut corners. Check a few of my cases for yourself if you don't believe me. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are patients waiting."
Exhausted, Trapper turned to the doctor who had attempted to dress him down earlier. "What is it now?"
"I just wanted to say, I did as you suggested. I checked a few of your cases, and much as I hate being forced to admit it, you were right." The implicit I was wrong went unsaid; apparently, he wasn't able to go quite that far. "There are a lot of doctors here just trying to be hotshots. I jumped to the conclusion that you were one of them."
"I know better than that."
"Yes, I realize that now. For the record, you were also correct in saying that I also know what I am doing, though I never intended to debate you on that count."
"No, I don't imagine you would." Trapper smiled a little despite himself. "You must've picked up something about field surgery in the time you spent in Tokyo."
"Yes, after a fashion," he said softly. "And you?"
"Did a year in Korea. Field surgery by the numbers. You learn fast when there are lives riding on it, and it's something you don't forget." Then something belatedly hit him. "Wait, what do you mean 'after a fashion'?"
"This is something I've tried not to spread around. I began my forced tour of duty in Tokyo, and most of the people at this hospital believe that's where I finished it. In fact, several months in I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - the long and short of it is, I was transferred to a field hospital in Korea. It was supposed to be temporary, but the surgeon I was filling in for was apparently in no condition to come back - I never did get the full story there - and the camp CO decided I'd make a suitable permanent replacement."
"Ouch." Trapper winced in sympathy. "But why the big dark secret?"
"Because a lot of people here wouldn't understand. If I hadn't been there, and someone else had told me a story like mine, I can't say I would have understood. And not just because you had to be there to understand. The upbringing of a lot of the people here - my own upbringing - well, they're people who've never encountered a true hardship in their lives. How could they understand what it was like living through that nightmare? Or the fact that you can be shoved in with a group of people who are nothing like you, who you almost certainly would have snubbed in civilian life, and yet a connection grows between you like nothing you've ever experienced?" He finally stopped talking long enough to remember he was talking to a man he'd never had a real conversation with before. "I'm sorry, I'm rambling."
"Don't be. I know how it is. My own wife didn't want to listen to me talk about Korea." What might have been a smile played on his lips. "She's not my wife anymore."
"I don't blame you."
"You ever talk to anyone from your old unit?" Trapper asked softly. "I just ran into two members of mine, one who was a close friend - the other who I didn't get along with at all, but that's a long story - and we finally had a chance to really talk, and I hadn't realized how much I needed that."
He sighed. "I had thought, at first, that I could leave it all behind me. As I said, the people in my unit weren't the sort of people I interacted with on a daily basis. But the people here seem more foreign than the Korean nationals now. But I can't think who would take my call. I did my best to push all of them away. I forewent saying goodbye to my bunkmates so I could get in one last jab."
"You just said you had a connection like nothing you'd ever experienced. My bunkmate and I never even got to say goodbye to each other. He came back from R&R and I was gone. And when we ran into each other a few weeks ago, it was like we'd just seen each other yesterday." He omitted the fact that he knew that if he'd actually done what Hawkeye had thought he had, it probably would have played out differently. "My CO died," he said softly. "Got discharged and then was dead before he got home. I'd give anything to talk to him just one more time."
He had expected some overture of sympathy from Winchester, even though it wasn't what he was after - in all honesty, he didn't know what he was after. The words had just slipped out before he knew what he was saying. What he didn't expect was the sudden flash of recognition that crossed the man's face. "You're the infamous Trapper John?"
Trapper sputtered incoherently for a few seconds before he managed to get his words together. "How'd you know that? How did you even know that name? I haven't used it in years."
"4077th MASH?" Winchester asked. Trapper nodded. "That was my unit as well. I arrived well after Henry Blake's time, but I know what happened to him. Since I highly doubted you were the bungling incompetent I came in to replace, that only leaves one option."
"And I thought you said you'd never met Frank." Trapper was grinning now. "For someone who never met him, you sure have the measure of his character."
"Pierce and Hunnicutt's stories were more than sufficient to establish it."
Pierce and Hunnicutt. For a split second, he felt bad. It had been "Pierce and McIntyre" once upon a time. But he shoved that down as fast as it welled up. He'd had something Hawkeye - and every other draftee doctor - would have probably killed for. Could he really have expected Hawkeye not to befriend his new tent-mate?
Honoria Winchester had wondered, for a few moments, what two young children were doing in the Boston Mercy hospital cafeteria. But that went out of her mind as soon as she realized who these children were. She sat down at the table, waiting for them to notice her.
It took only a few seconds for little Kathy to look up and notice her, eyes going wide. "Nora!" She all but threw herself across the table to hug the woman.
Her cry attracted her sister's attention, and Becky looked up too. She didn't call out like Kathy had, but her face lit up as she stepped around the table to embrace her friend.
Honoria held the children close as she had many times before. She had felt a special connection to them, especially to shy, quiet Rebecca who reminded her a little of herself, since she'd first met them at their mother's engagement party, but it had been taken to another level since Honoria had realized what was going on in that house. She'd been a little concerned when Becky had come to her, saying she was sick and her parents were out of town. But her concern over parents leaving a sick child alone was nothing compared to what she'd felt when she learned what was wrong with the child.
She'd taken the girl to a doctor far enough away from their home that she wouldn't be recognized and pretended to be her mother, only to be nearly floored by being told the eleven-year-old was likely pregnant. The conversation they'd had in the car afterwords had made her sick.
"Becky, sweetheart," she said to the girl in the seat next to her, "we need to talk about this."
Becky said nothing, just sat there silently.
"Do you know where babies come from? Has anyone ever explained it to you?"
She nodded. "My real dad's a doctor," she mumbled. "He explained it to me."
She reached out and gently ran her fingers through the girl's hair. "For people who are older, doing that can be an enjoyable experience. But you're eleven years old. You're too young to be doing this sort of thing." She cupped the back of the girl's head in her hand. "I'm not able to believe you chose this, you're just not old enough. Did someone force you to do it, honey? Who was it?"
"I can't tell," she replied.
"Did he tell you that?"
She nodded. "He'll hurt me."
"Come here." She pulled the child across the center of the car into her lap. "We can protect you, honey, if we know who hurt you."
Becky shook her head forcefully against Honoria's shoulder. "You can't," she replied.
"Tell me what happened, honey," she pressed. "You don't have to protect him. He hurt you, and it's important to make sure he never does it again."
"I have to let him," she whispered. "Whenever he wants. If I don't, he'll do it to Kathy and if I tell, he'll beat us both. Only now he's going to be mad anyway, when he finds out about this."
"Whenever he - he's done this m-m-more than once?" Her stutter was even more pronounced in the face of her racing emotions.
A shudder wracked the little girl's figure. "Yes."
"How many times?" At least she was getting Becky to give her a few details to get her closer to the man's identity.
"I don't know," she sniffed. "A lot."
"How does he get to you? Is he someone at your school, a teacher?"
"No. My teachers are nice to me."
"Then who -" But she cut herself off as another, horrible possibility hit her full-force. Someone who has routine access to her, someone so close to her she thinks she can't be protected from him. "Becky, I need you to tell me the truth. Is your stepfather the one who did this to you?"
A sob escaped her lips and then she broke down completely. "Don't tell," she begged through her tears. "Please. He'll hurt us."
"What about your sister? Is he hurting her?"
"He hits her like he does me, but he doesn't do the other thing. He says as long as he can do it with me that's enough."
Honoria felt sick, not least because she didn't have the slightest doubt that what she said was true. She knew Ken Donovan, her parents had once considered him as a possible husband for her, something she'd flatly refused to be a part of. She'd never liked or trusted him. But he was no fool. He would have been aware of the sisters' devotion to each other, of Becky's protective nature towards Kathy, and he would have been able to figure out how to use it against her. She could only hope he was telling Becky the truth in this at least.
"I'm scared, Nora," she sobbed out. "I know people can tell when someone's pregnant, and as soon as they can tell about me, they'll start asking questions and he'll get mad."
She stroked Becky's hair, feeling helpless. "I'll do everything I can to keep you safe," she vowed. "Everything I can."
Everything, she had quickly come to realize, had quite possibly been more than she had bargained for, but she didn't care. Becky's fears about realization had been all too real, and the health risks the girl was too young to comprehend even more so. It had taken a substantial amount of work to find someone to perform the procedure that would terminate the girl's pregnancy, and more still to try to find someone who would do it without putting Becky's life at risk, a search complicated by her need to hide it from her family and the multitude of hired help in the house at any time. Getting Becky out of her mother and stepfather's house to take her to the clinic, by comparison, had been almost disgustingly easy. They truly didn't care.
The decision hadn't been made lightly by either of them, but Becky had agreed that it was the best they could do in this horrible situation. Honoria had only been sorry the poor child had been put in that position in the first place. There had simply been no right answer.
Honoria had spent more than a few sleepless nights after that, trying to come to terms with the secret she'd been told. She had promised Becky that she would keep the secret, and she knew that if she told and she wasn't believed the consequences for both children would be severe, and, as sick as it was, the system was skewed in Ken and Louise's favor. No one would want to believe parents, even stepparents, could do such a thing to their children. She had tried to ask her brother for advice, but without details he wasn't able to be very helpful and she had backed off as soon as he tried to pry them from her. He had enough rattling around in his head since his return from Korea; the last thing she wanted was to put him in her predicament.
That had been two months ago. It had been shortly after that that the couple had left Boston on a vacation, this time taking the children with them. She hadn't seen them since their return, and she hadn't been able to get close enough to the parents to speak with them either. And here they were, in the Boston Mercy cafeteria, for what reason she wasn't sure.
"It's good to see you two again," she said, running her fingers through their hair. She refrained from asking them where they'd been. Ever since she'd learned of the abuse, the topic of their home life had been off-limits in conversation. She didn't want them dwelling on it in what little time they got to be away from it. "I have an idea," she said instead. "Let's try to think of some games we can play just with the things in this room and without making a mess."
It was several hours later and several rounds into a game of trying to find small objects they'd hidden from each other that the doctors started to flood back in. Honoria waved her brother over as soon as she saw them. "Look who's here."
Charles' eyes widened. He too knew and liked the girls; he had been shocked by how much Rebecca seemed to instinctively understand his difficulties after the war, coming to just sit with him, sometimes for hours at a time, when the memories got to be too much. She had truly been an angel in a dark time. "What are you two doing here?"
But they were no longer looking at him. Both of them were looking past him; as he glanced back, he saw that they were looking at Dr. McIntyre, who had followed them in. And he was looking right at them. A quick wave of his hand, and they had both run past Charles to attach themselves to the blond man.
"You girls doing okay?" he asked.
"We're okay," Becky assured him.
"We used to have to play by ourselves all the time," Kathy explained, and Charles saw the a look on the man's face as though that was painful to hear.
"Well, that won't happen now," he promised. "But I'm glad to see that you can amuse yourselves when necessary without getting into trouble."
"Daddy." Becky tugged on the man's hand, and Charles and Honoria exchanged a shocked look. "Come here, I want you to meet somebody."
"All right." He followed her back to the table.
"You kept saying you wanted to find Nora," Becky said, "but she found us instead."
He followed her gaze. "Miss Winchester?" he said with surprise. "You're Nora?"
"We told him all about you," Kathy explained. "He kept saying he wanted to meet you."
"This," Becky said, pride in her voice, "is our real daddy."
"I can believe it," Charles replied. "You look so much like him, now that I'm seeing you together."
Honoria, meanwhile, let out a long breath as pure relief washed over her. She felt like an incredible weight had been lifted off her chest. They're safe. Becky's safe. Only knowing she was in public kept the tears in her eyes from falling.
"It's lovely to meet you," she managed, forcing a sense of normality onto her features. "You have wonderful children."
"It's nice to meet you too. The girls weren't exaggerating, they really have been talking about you a lot. I've been wanting to say this ever since I found out you existed; thank you, for taking care of them when I couldn't."
"It was no trouble." Silently, she felt guilt welling up inside her. I didn't take care of them. I knew what they were dealing with and I didn't tell anyone.
"You know," he said gently, but not without a note of teasing "you've probably spoken to me more in the past minute than in the entire time before that since I've met you."
She smiled a little. "It's nothing personal," she replied. "I don't talk much around anyone I'm not familiar with; I don't like the way they look at me when I do."
Trapper had noticed that the woman stuttered, but it didn't bother him at all. He supposed it was different in the circles a woman like her would usually socialize in. "Listen, what you did for my kids - even if I was inclined to look at you differently for that, which I'm not, that would more than make up for a speech impediment."
"It's just such an amazing coincidence, them being here," she said, trying to make him stop praising her before her guilt completely drowned her.
"You can thank my boss for that one," he replied. "He wouldn't let me have any more time, I can't find a sitter willing to work with my hours, and despite what they might have learned to do in my ex-wife's new home, I'm not inclined to leave them alone all day. That left me without a whole lot of options."
"If only I'd known," she replied. "I could have watched them for you. I will, if you want me to, until you can find someone."
"Are you sure?" This seemed like the answer to his prayers, but he didn't want to impose on her. "If you are, I could pay you -"
She laughed then, briefly, hoping it didn't sound as forced as it felt. "Please. I have more money than I could ever spend. Consider it a chance for me to spend time with some friends. I mean it."
"All right. As long as you're sure."