The Major shoved some pots at him, "Fill these and set them to boiling. I wouldn't even let my dog drink the water in THIS village without boiling it first."
Klinger had to agree. The smaller the village, the worse the sanitary conditions it seemed. So he managed to get the old man to show him where the water source was... a failing creek several yards from the hovel. He filled the pots and set them to boiling as instructed. Then he hurried back to the Major's side and cringed as the very young woman let out another agonized wail. He noticed the Major was shivering but was trying vainly to hide it. He said nothing and gathered up one of the blankets Pierce had left them and arranged it over the Major's shoulders. She looked up, startled and said nothing, but her eyes had softened and a smile tugged at the edges of her mouth. His own butt was frozen already and his hands were aching with the cold. Their breath's were visible even with the makeshift door refusing the worst of the wind gusts.
Houlihan handed him a knife, "Sanitize this... just in case."
Klinger nodded. Once that chore was done, he saw the first flurries of snow begin to fall. 'Just great.' He thought and shivered again. His nose ran and his fingers didn't want to function properly from the cold. Irritated, he sniffed then brought the sanitized knife back to the Major and awaited more instructions.
"Now what?" He wanted to know.
Houlihan gave him a look, "Now, we wait."
"For how long?"
She shrugged, "Could be minutes, more likely hours." She tugged the blanket closer about her.
"All night?" Klinger sighed.
"And then some." The Major was very familiar with how demanding baby's were, both before and after their births. There was always that part of her that had regretted her missing out on that part of being a woman. But she had her career and that had been, at the time and still was, the most important thing to her. She couldn't imagine giving it up, ever.
They waited. And waited. And waited. The woman groaned and wailed and writhed. Klinger was very glad he wasn't a woman. It was one thing dressing up like one for earning a section 8 honorably, quite another to have a womb and all the things that came with THAT.
The snow fell more readily now. The sky was dark and Klinger wasn't feeling well at all. He felt a sweat form on his brow and his hands shook and he couldn't get warm, even when he drank a drought of that hot tea given to him by the old woman who went by the name Xi Yang had no lasting warming affects. He hid this from the Major best he could. She had her hands full enough, why make her work all the more difficult by telling her he felt he'd caught cold?
He was constantly in and out of the hovel. All through the night to fetch this, to sanitize that. The snow was relentless and his sinuses refused to cooperate. He sniffled again, annoyed that a nose as large as his could possibly get clogged.
"Klinger! Where are those rags?" The Major shouted at him.
"Coming, Major!" He shouted back and hastily tore a long length of cloth for the swaddling. He ran to Houlihan's side. "Is it time?"
"Very soon." Houlihan was all concentration as she bent to her task and tried to instruct the frightened young woman best she could. "Klinger, she's scared, hold her hand."
Klinger nodded and did as instructed. The girl took his hand, oblivious in her pain. She squeezed it and Klinger was amazed at the strength in such a tiny hand. His own seemed rubbery and useless with the cold. He had to wonder how the Major could keep her hands so ready in this weather. He didn't envy her.
Even with the young girl squeezing his hand like he was her only lifeline, it didn't seem to bring any warmth back into his fingers. But his heart went out to her pain-filled efforts. His eyes wandered to where the Major was positioned. Her head was down, intent and primed for the operation. If he didn't know any better, he'd have thought that she had zoned out and forgotten that the rest of them were even in the hovel with her. She loved her job that much. He wished he had a calling like that. Must be nice, to know what you wanted and get to do it for a living. The only sure thing he knew he wanted was to get out of Korea. And look at Major Burns, after all his own hard work, it was Burns who got the honor of leaving on almost a section 8 of his own. That and the fink h and the nerve to get promoted. It just wasn't fair!
Hours later, an excited exclamation from the Major roused Klinger from a light drowse. "It's coming?"
"Yes! Come here!" She ordered.
Klinger hesitated. "You... serious Major?"
"Yes!" Her voice was thick with annoyance.
Klinger was there, not used to being on this side of the situation one bit. He didn't want to see. Sure birth was a miracle, but did he really have to see all the grisly stuff that went along with it? "What do you want me to do?" He forced himself to say though he felt like he was going to fall flat on his face... but not because of what he was facing. God, he felt awful! The sight of blood wasn't going to help either.
"Just... if I need you, is all." Margaret instructed absently, intent on her business.
He hoped she didn't need him. He couldn't imagine what good he'd be to her. He wasn't trained to handle things like that. Did he also mention he felt like crap? He suppressed a sneeze. It wouldn't do the baby any good if he sneezed on the poor thing.
Then, he wasn't sure how much time had passed, but suddenly there was a screaming baby in the Major's arms. Thank God!
"Get me some of those rags, quick, Klinger!" The Major ordered.
But Klinger's head was swimming and he swayed as he went and did his best to follow orders.
"Klinger!" The Major's tone was tinged with the usual irritation that Klinger was all too familiar with. But he didn't respond. Annoyed and cradling the baby close to her, she turned to berate the Corporal then froze. Klinger was out cold, crumpled on the floor. "Klinger!" She swore to herself.
He felt groggy and cold. He moved and felt his movement restricted. It felt like something was wrapped around him. What was going on? Klinger wanted to know.
"Major?" He managed.
She shushed him and held him close to her. One of the blankets Hawkeye had left was covering them. The other, the baby was wrapped up in that one with it's mother. She was spooning an ailing Klinger.
"Major, this isn't very seemly." He was of that much presence of mind to remind her.
"Shut up, Klinger. I'll decide what's seemly and what isn't." The Major replied, toning down her usual harsh manner. Time passed. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick, Klinger?"
Was she talking to him? He took a moment to swim back to reality, yeah, she was. Oh yeah, "Um, you had enough to worry about."
The Major shook her head. "You NOT telling me cost me much more then if you had told me." She admonished him.
"Hey, I maybe nuts, but I'm not crazy." He murmured.
She couldn't help but smile. "Shut up and sleep, Klinger. I gave you an antibiotic shot. Just relax. I'm here to help you stay warm."
"Is fine. Relax, Klinger. That's an order from your superior officer."
She clung to him. He felt cold. His hands, distressingly so. She did her best to warm them. She maneuvered the both of them so that they were facing each other. Margaret still had a hold of his hands and shoved them up and under her shirt. She gasped as their coldness touched her flesh. Klinger may be a pervert of some sorts, but she would trust him in places she could never trust Hawkeye. She pressed them against her belly, covering them with her own. Frostbite was a worry that was always there in her mind. She'd do her best to make sure that would not happen. Even if that meant doing certain things that she wouldn't normally do with the young Corporal.
She felt him snuggle up to her if only to share her warmth. She knew well enough that it wasn't anything sexual. He needed her body warmth to stay alive. His whole body shivered violently and his teeth clattered, even though his jaws were clenched shut. His face was nuzzled against her neck. She could feel his warm breath against it, irregular and labored.
"Klinger, just stay with me, okay?" Margaret said worriedly. He was so still beside her. It frightened her. "Klinger?"
"Major?" His voice answered, in its weakened state.
She was relieved. "Stay with me."
A weak response. "Okay, Major."
Four days. Four days of huddling there in that God's forsaken hovel, trying to keep a mother, a newborn baby, and a familiar friendly face alive. It wore at her, but she could not give up. There was too much at stake. She had never been known for giving up. Being stubborn could be a Godsend at times.
She'd tried to get him to eat, a bit of rice, some hot broth, some tea, but he ate very little. She had a feeling he was only eating what he was just to please a ranking officer. If there was one thing that Klinger was, if not unsightly being unshaven in a nightgown, he was respectful of ranks, a little lesson two certain Captains could stand to learn. Speaking of said two Captains, she was worried. If anything had happened to them on the front lines, no one would know where she or Klinger was.
Finally, the squealing of familiar breaks alerted Houlihan out of her state of depression.
Suddenly her burden was relieved. She felt like rejoicing but had no energy to do so. Two doctors she knew too well moved into the hovel. She was curled up against an ailing Klinger. His body pressed against hers. They were wrapped up in one of the blankets Pierce had left.
"About time." She wearily retorted.
"Sorry we're late. We miss anything?" Hawkeye took in the situation soberly.
"Healthy baby boy." Margaret mumbled. "Can't keep him from suckling. Nice and strong. Surprisingly, so is his mother."
Hawkeye and B.J. both carried the ailing Klinger back to the jeep. Then helped a weary Houlihan to the jeep as well. They were never so glad to get back to the 4077th. Many days and many injections later, Klinger was feeling more like his old self. He was ordered to rest and keep to bed, which at times he was glad, and others, he felt annoyed with.
"I wanna get out of bed, sirs." Klinger retorted with irritation.
"You almost died of hypothermia, Klinger. Made worse by a head cold. No running around. No doing anything until we say okay." B.J. informed him critically.
Klinger laid back down. Well, it might be nice not to have to do anything for a while. But it sure was boring doing nothing. Soon enough though, he got a visitor. "Major." He acknowledged Margaret.
She smiled. "Corporal. You all right?"
He shrugged, "Been better, but I'll survive, looks like thanks to you."
"My job." She said matter-of-factly. She pushed away the feelings of friendship. She couldn't afford to be friends with the likes of Klinger. Klinger who strove to desert. Klinger who thumbed his nose at what an army was all about. Klinger, who didn't want to be there, who hampered her's and every one else's job. Klinger who made a mockery of all what she believed in. And yet, dammit... he was a friend. He challenged her, he made her wonder, he made her think things she shouldn't have to think about... like whether or not it was right to be in Korea at all. "My job."
A memory seemed to come back to Klinger, "You kept me warm."
Margaret was furious with herself that she blushed, "Yes. I didn't want to lose you."
Klinger couldn't help but smile, "Thanks, Major. I owe you one."
Houlihan smiled back, "You owe me a lot more then that. Like that red taffeta I've had my eye on."
"No way, Major. That's my best dress!" Klinger was of mind to object.
Her grin widened. That sounded a lot like the normal Klinger she knew. "Okay, what about the blue one?"
"We'll talk." Klinger's eyes collapsed as he fell back asleep.
No way would she ever repeat that exchange to anyone else. What had gone on between her and Klinger would solely remain theirs. She was human, he was human. But she was also an officer and she highly respected the separation between officer and enlisted men. This was highly irregular and she hated irregular.
So then, she spent her day making sure Klinger was as comfortable as he possibly could be in his unconscious state. Something to which she'd object to if she were cornered. But after hearing the baby screaming in her arms, after having to make certain a certain Corporal lived to see the next day, she knew that she belonged there, with those people at the 4077th.