The Best-Laid Plans

Chapter Eighteen: Truly Family

"If you keep dancing with other girls, I might get jealous."

If Hawkeye had thought for a moment that Margaret was serious, he would have immediately stopped and tried to reassure her. But the tone in her voice made it clear she was teasing - not to mention, his partner wasn't exactly the sort of woman Margaret had anything to fear from. The music picked up and Hawkeye lifted little Kathy clear off the ground, swinging her around in a circle as she shrieked in delight.

Trapper, meanwhile, was dancing with two girls at once: Becky on one arm and Honoria on the other. Hawkeye noticed that Honoria didn't seem to mind the little girl's presence in the slightest. Good. The last thing the little girl needed was someone coming between her and her father.

Charles approached the trio a little hesitantly. "Excuse me, McIntyre, but do you mind if I borrow one of your partners?"

Hawkeye had expected him to take his sister, but when Trapper nodded, Charles gently separated Becky from Trapper and Honoria. He couldn't help a smile.

xxxxxxxxx

"I saw you dancing with Becky McIntyre earlier."

Charles looked over at his former bunkmate. "And I saw you dancing with her younger sister, so if you were planning to give me grief over not being able to find a partner my own age -"

Hawkeye laughed a little and shook his head. "You give me too little credit. Actually, I think it's great."

"Really?"

He cast a glance to where Trapper and Honoria were deep in conversation. "You're going to be family to her soon enough, if I can read these things at all. And considering her mother's attitude, her father's family is probably going to be all she has for the foreseeable future - not that that's a bad thing," he added darkly, not even wanting to think about what those children had suffered through.

"She's an angel," he said softly.

"Who is? Becky?"

He nodded. "It makes sense now, knowing that her father was a veteran and that she lived with him for awhile before the divorce. You know, I really thought I'd somehow escape Korea without any scars, visible or otherwise."

"The way you acted when that bullet went through your cap -"

"I know." He smiled a little, sadly. "I thought I'd managed to put that all behind me. What happened with the musicians - it did hit me hard, but it wasn't only their deaths. That was just the final push that brought the wall down, and it all came back, every close call, the patients who slipped away under my hands."

"The same things all the rest of us mere mortals were dealing with," Hawkeye summarized, but his tone was teasing, holding none of the malice or resentment it might have when they'd first met.

Hawkeye's turn of phrase widened his friend's smile a little. "Exactly so. I never talked about the war to her - no one needs that in their heads, certainly not a child. But one day, maybe a week after I got back, I put on some Mozart and then I - I started to cry," he admitted softly. "And then the next thing I know, I feel this tiny little hand on mine. She didn't say a word, just stood there, looking at me. It was as if she knew everything I was going through."

"She probably did."

"I know that now, but at the time, I didn't know anything about her father. She always seemed to know when I most needed her help, and she would sit with me, sometimes for hours without saying a word." He sighed loudly. "And how did I repay her? By being so wrapped up in my own problems that I wasn't aware of what was happening to her." Then he seemed to realize he'd let slip more than he'd meant to. "I mean -"

"I know what you mean," Hawkeye replied seriously. "I know what happened to her. And it's not your fault for not noticing. No one knew, and she wasn't talking."

"I swore to myself I'd never be so blind again." Then he stopped himself. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't be talking about that."

"Hey." Hawkeye lowered his voice. "I deal with it, okay? I'm never going to forget what happened, but that doesn't mean it still hurts like it did at first. Now, enough of the guilt-fest, Winchester. This is a party."

"All right - on one condition."

"What's that?"

The balding man smiled. "If your relationship with John is anything like your relationship with Hunnicutt, I know you think of him as a brother. As you stated, it's likely I will be family to him soon, which I suppose means becoming family to you by proxy. Call me Charles."

Hawkeye grinned. "But I do that anyway."

Charles smiled back.

xxxxxxxxx

The chatter in the room died down as the sound of a spoon on a glass echoed off the walls. Everyone turned to Potter, who was now holding said glass in the air.

"It's a real honor to be here with all of you," he began. "I'd like to propose a toast. First, to those who can't be here to celebrate with us. Two names spring to mind; Lieutenant Millicent Carpenter and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake. For them, and for the many others whose names may not be on the tips of our tongues but whose lives were just as valuable and just as tragically cut short, let's have a moment of silence."

The silence that descended on the room was absolute. After a moment, Potter took a sip from his glass and the others followed suit. The old Colonel began speaking again. "And now, I want to acknowledge everyone who is here. If there's one thing I've realized over three wars, it's that you'll never be as close to anyone as you are to the people you were with on the front lines. And we may not have been on the technical front line - most of the time, anyway - but we were on the front line of our own war, a war against senseless death. I know from experience, and I think a lot of you have realized in the time since you've been back in the States, that the bond we formed out there will last a lifetime, no matter how much distance there is in between us."

A murmur of agreement ran through the assembled crowd.

"I just want to say, from someone who's served in a lot of wars, I can't imagine a greater honor than the one I recieved in serving with each and every one of you. And for those of you I didn't personally serve with, your legacies stuck around long after you left. So I'd like us all to raise our glasses. To the 4077th MASH and all those who served in it."

A less solemn toast was drunk, and then the music started up again and couples made their way back onto the dance floor.

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"Margaret."

She looked over to see who was sitting down next to her. "Colonel - I mean Sherman, sorry."

"Ah, that's fine. Unlike some of this rabble, I don't have a problem with being addressed by my rank, even if it's not entirely applicable anymore. You look good, Margaret. And I can already tell Alaina's going to be a beautiful woman when she grows up."

The baby gave a wordless chirp at the sound of her name, and Margaret laughed. "She takes after her daddy. Can't stand not to be the center of attention."

Potter laughed too. "I can see that. Speaking of which, not to be too forward, but I noticed your parents didn't come in for this reunion."

Margaret sighed, looking down at the floor. "I haven't talked to my parents since before I found out I was pregnant with the twins. I just - I have no idea what I'd say. My life changed so much practically overnight - I barely recognize myself compared to the person I was before all this happened."

"That's not true, Margaret," Potter replied gently.

"What's not?"

"Your life has changed, but that doesn't mean you're unrecognizable. You're still the same determined Margaret Houlihan who barged in on my shoulder to explain to me why I shouldn't send the nurses away during a rough patch. The same one who told off that Scully fellow in no uncertain terms for suggesting your rank wasn't the real thing. The one who took BJ to task for acting like his wife getting a job was the end of the world. So your skills are going towards being a nurse in a small-town clinic and the mother of an infant instead of being an Army Major. It doesn't mean the person you are is any different than it was."

"My father was so sure I'd never make it in the Army," she said softly. "If I'd been a boy, he would have been thrilled, but he didn't think women had any place there. He took the term 'this man's army' literally."

"You only quit because an arbitrary rule from that same army left you no other choice. And you made it through Korea - all three years. If your father gives you trouble, remind him of that."

"You know," she said softly, "I've been thinking."

"Thinking what?"

"About the kinds of things I did as a nurse in Korea. Back in the States, I'd never get a chance to do any of that - closing for the doctors, or doing the anesthesia, or even doing some basic surgery when we were really overrun or shorthanded. Those aren't technically nurses' jobs, but I'm as good at that as at traditional nursing." She fidgeted a little. "How do you think Hawkeye would feel about his daughter being the child of two doctors instead of a doctor and a nurse?"

Potter's surprise was obvious, but he recovered quickly. "You've really been thinking about this, huh?"

"Yeah, I have. I can't figure out how to tell Hawkeye, though. I mean, what if he doesn't think it's a good idea?"

"Now, Margaret, you've known him longer than I have, so let me ask you this. Have you ever known Hawkeye to shut you or anyone down without listening? Or to have any desire to hold you back?"

"No," she said softly. "I could never admit this when I was in Korea, but the one thing I liked about the drafted officers was that they didn't have a problem with a woman having a higher rank than them. A lot of the hardcore Army types, especially the ones I outranked, either seemed to feel threatened by me or justified it by acting like my rank wasn't valid the same way - like Scully did, but he wasn't the first by a long shot, and even when they didn't say it, I could tell people were thinking it just by the way they acted towards me, compared to someone like Frank. But Hawkeye - he hated when I gave him orders, but no more so than he did when Frank was the one ordering him around. He didn't like someone thinking they had the right to order him around just because the Army said so, it had nothing to do with me being a woman. And I guess I just answered my own question, didn't I?"

"I think you did."

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"So what happened with Soon-Li's family?" Hawkeye asked Klinger. "I figure you must have found them or you'd still be in Korea, but I didn't see them here."

"Her father and brother were both killed," Klinger replied somberly. "We were able to find her mother, but to get her into the US, we had to come first and then make an application for her to be able to immigrate. We're working on it; in the meantime, we found her a place to stay where she's safe until we can bring her over."

"If there's anything any of us can do -"

"I appreciate it, but that's exactly what Colonel Potter said, and no offense, but he knows a lot more influential people than I do. I thought about asking Winchester, but he might give the influential people the wrong idea."

Hawkeye laughed. "Well, if we have one of these next year, I'm counting on meeting her, got it?"

"Loud and clear."

*~*~*~*

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