"Charles!!!" Margaret burst into the Swamp, making him jump. "Your parents! They are welcoming me!"
"Yes, I know that," he took the letter she was pushing in his face and looked it over. "I tried to get you to listen to the tapes they sent, but you would not. They are eager to meet you."
"I don't understand, I always thought they would sn.. I mean, not be too pleased with this situation."
"It is their grandchild."
"Is it just the baby?"
"No, it is not. Please trust me on this."
What started out to be a gentle kiss grew stronger and threatened to begin the honeymoon a little early. So, some 'major' self-control was in order and they said goodnight with a walk back to her tent.
"Until morning, my lady. Sweet dreams," he added, kissing her hand.
"Goodnight," was all Margaret could manage with her voice getting a tad husky.
Amid the tummy butterflies and the fear of incoming wounded, the wedding went smoothly, with an altered Klinger original, and a handful of wildflowers. The casualties did not come. In fact, there seemed to be a lull of some sort on, so Col. Potter let the newly pronounced Mr. and Mrs. Winchester, or as Hawkeye put it, Doctor and Nurse Houlihan-Winchester, go to the lovely inlet city of Osaka for the honeymoon. Not Tokyo this time around. It was a really nice time there, experiencing the delicacies during the day and dancing to Mozart's symphony No. 28 in C 'Major' in the evening. Both had the wondering that they were being followed on the trip, but if they were, the followers' kept themselves well hidden.
Upon returning to the 4077, they were greeted by Margaret's processed discharge papers. Neither she nor Charles, or even Col. Potter realized it would be this soon. They have had absolutely no time, but there was nothing to be done about it. She was leaving. They could only enjoy the time together which was left.
The morning of Margaret's departure was the saddest time she has ever had to experience. On the way to Kimpo, Charles tried to keep up spirits with talk of her life in with his family, now their family, in Boston. As terrifying as that may be, trust him that it would be all right. And they would get out on their own, once this blasted war was over. The base popped up on the horizon way too soon. This was not fair. It should not be happening like this. But Charles and Margaret realized it would be easiest for her to travel as this, than heavy with child, or with child. Plus, there were those brainless, insensitive Army regulations that make it happen.
"I cannot do this," Charles had Margaret in a hard clutch. "I don't want to let you go."
"I don't want to go, but I have to," Margaret was in tears. "It'll be trouble, if we do anything else. At least with your family, I'll feel closer to you."
"That is one of the main reasons I want you there. The feeling is the same for me."
One more embrace to beat all embraces, and the PA was making last call for Sapporo, Japan, her next destination. Charles gently took his wife's face in his hands. "Always know how much I love you. Please take care of yourself, and the little one, and please let me hear from you when you reach San Francisco."
"I will, I promise," was uttered through tears. "We'll be just fine. I love you."
It was the hardest thing Charles Emerson Winchester, the third, had to do. He discovered that it was watching his life get on a plane and exit from his sight. God, please take care of her. Both of them. He silently prayed. He barely got to see one wave from her window, before the plane began down the runway.
"She made it off all right?" B.J. quietly asked, as he and Hawkeye joined Charles on the airstrip. He nodded, really not in the mood to deal with them.
"Peg and Erin are looking forward to meeting her in San Francisco."
"Yeah, the Hunnicutt travel agency will take great care of her." Hawkeye put in. "Seriously, Charles, she'll be fine, and staying with your family.. and we'll be going home soon. We've got to believe that." Charles remained silent, still in solemn disbelief, observing that tiny speck of a plane get smaller and finally vanish into the eastern sky.
"C'mon," B.J. put his hand on Charles' shoulder. "Let's get back to camp."
"What are you two doing here?" His voice was monotone. "I do not need a baby-sitter or a couple of watchdogs."
"Col. Potter thought it would be better if you weren't alone right now, and we agreed," Hawkeye offered. "The chopper pilot from the 8055 dropped us off on his way back there."
"Do we have casualties?" Charles asked, not caring as much as he should.
"A few." B.J. confirmed. "Hey, Hawk, too bad we don't have time for a drink at the OC here, we wouldn't have to disguise Charles."
"Well, we could still make him a major-captain," he snorted, grinning at Charles' chagrined expression. "Wouldn't that be fun?"
"Please, let's just get back."
So, they headed back to the 4077th, and their lives resumed with incoming wounded, more than previously expected. The camp personnel, especially Charles' tentmates and his CO did well and were surprisingly sensitive in their mentioning of Margaret the first several weeks of her leaving.
He treasured the first letter he received from her, as he would all of the ones in the future. The meeting up with Peg and Erin Hunnicutt (they send their love to B.J.) in San Francisco and staying overnight with them was terrific. This was as she told him in their very abbreviated phone call from there. Then, she had arrived safely in Boston, and was doing well, being about three months along now. His parents were as sincere as their letter. Very pleasant and warm, even in their stiff, traditional manners. They seem to be as excited about the coming child as she, and he.
Charles, as all of them, looked, hoped, prayed for any signs of an end to this awful war. Hope was brought in by each of Margaret's letters. They were filled with her love, her progress, her life adjusting to Boston, and how eager they were, especially her, for him to return. Her time was drawing nearer, and she relished what sweet help Charles' mother was being, she could have never imagined that. The nursery was beautiful. Charles' agony at not being there for Margaret at this time was offset a bit by the news coming one special day. A daughter. A seven-pound, nine-ounce little girl.
"Shannon Jessica Winchester," Col. Potter repeated. "It's a very lovely name. Very strong."
"Sure is," B.J. agreed he, Charles, the colonel, and Hawkeye sat in the Swamp after fourteen hours of surgery. "What's the special meaning for the name?"
"It does have that," through his sorrow at not being able to be with his family, he couldn't help but be the proud father. "Margaret and I both actually decided on the name. Can you believe us agreeing, placidly, on much of anything?" He tried a laugh. "Shannon is Irish for 'wise one', and Jessica comes from..."
"I think we already know that one," Hawkeye grinned. "It is pretty. It's from a book you two read once."
"A book we all read once."
"Ok, ok," Hawkeye was in laughter, "but it was a good book."
"With the exception of the last page," B.J. added. Charles just shook his head at their jesting, but it was the truth.
"Charles?" B.J. broke the silence, since Charles had come in and sat down where he was having a late-night dinner. He had just sat there, saying nothing, but looking like he was carrying a very heavy burden. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing, I.. ," he stopped, thought better of it, but then went ahead and continued. "Ah, how do you do it? I mean, get along?"
"You have to have hope, and faith, I know those are hard to come by sometimes. And love." B.J. replied, having a feeling he knew exactly what Charles was referring to. "I know it is hard. Believe me, I know it is hard. Not for the love, of course. Keep everything, letters, pictures, tapes, close and dear. But I know you already do that."
"Yes." He was silent for a minute. "I envy you, as difficult as it is for me to admit. You were able to see Erin, hold her."
"You will see Shannon, and though I can't promise it will be tomorrow, but I can hope it will be. We both can."
Still the war went on and the influx of casualties was never ending. Why can't they stop this killing and attempted killing, and get on with life. Life here, and back home. Life back home.
"I thought I'd never get all that shrapnel out," Hawkeye was saying as he and B.J. entered the Swamp, upon returning from showers. "That last kid on my table. So young, and so many metal pieces not belonging in a human body."
"It was rough," B.J. agreed. "But you weren't having it so bad as to not ask Nurse Bigelow out for tomorrow night."
"Beej, it is tomorrow."
"Okay, then, tonight."
"Yeah, I need to get rested up," he said with a wink. Hearing a click, "Charles, something from home?"
"Well," Charles looked down at the tape recorder in front of him. About to tell him to mind his own business, a sense of fatherly pride took over. "A matter of fact, there it is."
"From Margaret and the baby?" B.J. exclaimed, as he and Hawkeye moved closer.
"Will you play it, or is it too private?"
"The private stuff is the best."
"Part of it, I'll play," Charles beamed. "Shannon has actually said her first word." A chorus of 'Wonderful!', 'That's great!', and a renewed request to hear the tape came from the bullpen.
"Here we go," he set the tape for them to hear Margaret speak of how their daughter was growing, Shannon's wonder of Boston, and finally, clear and magical, a darling high squeak of 'daddy!'.
"Oh wow, Charles," B.J. beamed himself, "take it from me, you'll never forget that. Now I envy you. Really, I'm happy she said it to you."
"Thank you, and I won't forget," he turned the machine off, glancing toward Hawkeye, expecting a crack. Instead, he was greeted by a knowing expression on Pierce's face and a pointing finger. Quite suddenly, Charles was taken back to a conversation he and Hawkeye had recently, while awaiting news on the illness of the elder Dr. Pierce, his dad. Now, Charles can have a claim to the title of 'dad'.
When July 27, 1953, dawned, it did not come too soon for those of MASH unit 4077, not to mention all involved in this 'police action'. Charles Emerson Winchester, the third, was finally able to head home to his family in Boston. As they all headed home. Once settled in, and having the extraordinary event of getting to meet and hold his daughter for the first time, Charles and Margaret had the big, family wedding, with both types of family in attendance. Later on, they added to the Winchester fold with a son, Brendan Charles, and another daughter, Natalie Anne.
Sometimes great things can begin from the most unpleasant of circumstances.