Authors Note: This work of fiction is intended to entertain the reader. I hope the hard chore 'M*A*S*H' and 'Pride & Prejudice' fans will forgive the liberties I have taken with the use of the characters. This is rated PG, please do not read if you are under 13. Thank you.
by Jessica Stratton
August, 1952, Korea, M.A.S.H. 4077
To Doctor Charles Emerson Winchester the Third, she was just some faceless, nameless nurse. A clear hand for note taking in post-op and gentle touch for wiping his forehead in the OR. He didn't even know her name. She was working post-op with him when one of the soldiers died as so many young men had before him, as so many would after him. This young man was the first patient she had ever lost, the first real death she had witnessed. She held his hand while he died and cried real tears over his loss. As Doctor Winchester filled out the necessary paper work he chided her for her unprofessional behavior in front of the other patients.
Her hair was the first thing that caught his eye. It was a rich auburn among an endless sea of bleach blondes and brunettes. She gave him a startled look and stared deep in his eyes with her own tear-brimmed and red, her nose running as she sniffled inelegantly. He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. She delicately wiped her nose and dried her tears, quickly composing herself. She said quietly, "I do apologize for my unprofessionalism doctor, but not for my compassion." She left the post-op ward and a few minutes later another nurse came in to replace her. He wondered if he had been too harsh with her, and as almost an after-thought that she had kept his handkerchief. Her eyes stayed with him through the rest of the night. Green, like the clear coastal waters at sunrise, the eternal sea always full of life and constantly in motion. As he was shortly to discover, so was Nurse Bennet.
Some nights later, as he was walking to his tent after completing rounds in post-op, he passed the officers lounge. It was an hour past closing and he could hear the piano playing. It was a horribly dilapidated instrument, hardly worthy of the name piano and those that chose to play it were hardly worthy of the title musician. As he walked closer he recognized the song, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" played with a bit of technical skill to be sure, surely this was not one of the cretins that usually chose to perform. He could feel the emotional current behind the music. Closing his eyes, he finally felt the endless days, the empty nights, all the meaningless death he had seen. The song ended and mercifully began again. He simply could not just stand there in the dirt and not applaud the musician. He quietly opened the door and to his surprise, found the room empty save for one slender back in front of the piano.
Swaying to the music as she played, her hair loosely cascaded in soft curls down her back. The soft candlelight made it appear a deeper shade of auburn. He was mesmerized; like a snake caught by the charmer he was lost to her. The song ended and she paused a moment, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand the way a small child would. He cleared his throat and she jumped, making a small startled noise.
"I do apologize for disturbing you," he said gently. She said nothing, simply staring at him with those eyes that seemed to peer deep into his soul. He cleared his throat again and said, "I did not know that this instrument was capable of making such an exquisite sound." His voice wavered with a feeling so deep it set him off balance.
She smiled at him and said, "You flatter me with your praise Major Winchester, I did not know that any one was awake to hear me." She blushed charmingly.
"I had just ended my round in post-op and was on my way back to my tent."
"I don't mean to keep you from your sleep, I know what a precious commodity it is."
'Did she really just say precious commodity?' Who was this articulate young woman before him in common nurse's clothing? "Nurse Bennet, to find a talent such as yours in a M.A.S.H. is indeed a more precious commodity than sleep and certainly worthy of its loss."
She began twisting her hair up into the tight formal bun she normally wore about the camp and he felt his throat tighten. He wanted to beg her to leave her hair down, to play another song for him. He took a step backwards and turned to leave, attempting to regain his composure. "Would the major like to hear another song?" she asked, shyly. He nodded and sat at the nearest table, not trusting himself to speak. She began to play and he watched her hands dance over the keys with quick grace and beauty. When the little concert was finished she closed the drawer on the keyboard and rose with weary elegance.
"May I escort you to your tent?" He felt as though they were in 19th century English novel, rather than in the middle of Korea in 1952. They walked the 30 yards to the nurses' tent and paused outside of her door not knowing quite what to say. 'Imagine,' he thought, 'a Winchester at a loss for words!' She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
"Goodnight, Major," she whispered.
"Charles" he whispered back. "Please call me Charles." She smiled impishly, her eyes twinkling in the moonlight.
"Goodnight..Charles." Her voice caressed his name in away that he hardly recognized as his.
"....w-what is your name.." He choked. He did not know Nurse Bennet's Christian name. She seemed to delight in knowing that he did not know. She winked at him, and then went inside her tent.
'The nerve of that woman! How dare she refuse to give me her name.' He thought, incensed. Now he would have to ask one of those cretins that he lived with to find it out.
He returned to the swamp to find a poker game in progress; the usual malcontents were there. He knew he would not need to be subtle to find out the information. Fortunately, she was one of the new nurses and therefore easily worked into the conversation.
"So how was post-op Charles?" asked the ever-cheerful B.J.
"Everything was in order when I left," he replied.
They went about their game, ignoring Charles as usual. He opened his book and pretended to read, listening to their conversation. Before long, the nurses were mentioned.
"..and the new girl was really on her toes today in the OR," said B.J. That man would compliment a bologna sandwich, but in Nurse Bennet's case, this was true. He listened for Hawkeye's inevitable retort.
"Which new girl, the cute redhead?"
"Yeah," said BJ. "She almost knew what I wanted in my hand before I even said it."
"A psychic nurse, how extraordinary," Charles jested. He was secretly bemused. Over the last few days he had seen her working with the other doctors and knew her skill was exemplary; however, she had yet to grace him again with her presence at his table.
"Weren't you working post-op with Lizzy last week when that boy died, Major?" asked Father Mulcahy.
'Lizzy' He thought. That must be short for Elizabeth. What a wonderful name.
"Oh, Charles never notices the nurses, Father. They're all just one person to him," jeered Pierce.
"Actually, Pierce, I was there and as I recall the poor girl cried. That boy must have been her first death in this place," Charles said contemplatively.
"Oh!" said the good father. "She was quite distressed over his death and came to speak with me about it. Young Lizzy is indeed a remarkable person. By the end of the conversation I do not know who was more comforted, her or myself"
They all laughed and returned to the game. He had the information he needed and savored the sound of her name, Elizabeth Bennet.
When one works such atrocious hours, the days jumble together as though months have passed when in fact it has only been seventy-two hours. After three days on his feet, up to his elbows in blood, all he wanted to do was sleep. But Charles consented to a drink in the officers club, hoping see Elizabeth. He was slightly disappointed that in the three days in the OR she did not assist him once but chose rather to stand by the Colonel instead. He wanted to have a private conversation with her. Had he so wounded her when that young soldier died he wondered?
Weary and giddy with their minds and bodies beyond the state of exhaustion, they entered the bar and found a gaggle of people crowded around the battered old upright piano. A lively rendition of "When the Saints Come Marching In" was being pounded out. He caught a flip of auburn pigtails and heard a girlish laugh. He knew it was his Elizabeth at once. 'Did I just call her MY Elizabeth?' he thought.
As the crowd sang along, laughing and drinking as though they were all at some Saturday afternoon ballpark. Charles wondered if perhaps they were right, 'Pretending to be anywhere than where we are is better than the carnage we were forced to almost daily be a witness to,' Charles thought.
"I think I love this girl," said Pierce to him, with his usual caprice.
"I want to take her home and marry her to my nephew" said Colonel Potter with a smile and small gleam in his tired old eyes that made him think if he was thirty years younger and not married himself he would have take her as his own bride. A small dart of jealousy ran through Charles.
"Indeed she seems to bring a light to this dark place" Charles agreed with them.
Pierce looked at Charles over his glass "Did you just give a compliment to a nurse?" He asked showing more shock than Charles was certain he felt.
"When compliments are worthy I am not unjust in bestowing them" he replied.
The crowd was applauding the end of the song and she rose from the bench and bowed. "I would like to close this evening's concert," she paused for the laughter over her statement at 11am, "with something to sooth all our savage beasts to sleep." She began to sing in a clear voice that was both sweet and tragic, "Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen and down the mountainside." When she had finished, the applause was thunderous and Charles found that he could not take his eyes off of her.
As the crowd dispersed, he saw his chance to speak with her alone. He stood at her elbow and said in a low voice for her ears only, "I see that playing the piano is not your only musical talent Miss Elizabeth. I am again in wonderment." She turned to face him, closing the space between them to inches. He felt his pulse race and was certain from this distance she could hear his heart pounding. She slowly raised her head and looked into his eyes, he saw the exhausted circles under hers and noticed that they did not distract from her beauty. Her skin was flawless and he longed to touch her cheek to see if she was as soft as she looked.
"I would hope the Major would know better than to judge a book by its cover," she said with a raised eyebrow and that impish gleam in her eye.
"Charles," he corrected her.
" 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet'..Charles."
" 'I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized'," he took her hand and kissed it, she was indeed as soft as she looked. She blushed becomingly and sketched a curtsy.
"Are you fond of Shakespeare?"
"Indeed, I am."
"Perhaps we will play at quotes again..after we are both better rested."
"I look forward to the challenge madam."
She turned to leave and it wasn't until that moment that he realized he had not let go of her hand. He released her and felt oafish as he looked about the room and realized that Pierce, Hunnicutt and Colonel Potter had witnessed everything. A Winchester never blushed but his face was red and he felt himself sweating. He braced for their juvenile comments and was preparing to deny his obvious affection when they raised their glasses to him in salute and walked away without a word.
This was indeed new territory for Charles.
The following evening as Charles made his way towards the showers, thoughts of Elizabeth danced through his head. With a small smile at the anticipation of conversing with her again he opened the door to the shower tent and froze at the shock of seeing her naked and dripping wet. Elizabeth must have forgotten to flip the sign on the door to 'nurses only'.
As each droplet of water caressed her naked flesh the steam in the room seemed to soak into every pore of his being, inflaming his desire. He fought the urge to open the shower stall and take her right there. She was so totally engrossed in the luxury of a solitary shower she was oblivious to the fact that someone had entered the tent and she was no longer alone. Charles wasn't even aware that he was craning his neck to see over the stall wall to get a glimpse at the tops of her well-formed breasts. He could smell the faint scent of roses from the soap as she worked the bar into lather. Elizabeth moved her hands slowly across her arms to her full breasts stomach and tantalizingly lower. His greatest wish at that moment was to be that bar of soap. She was more beautiful to him than any other woman he had ever seen, and now that he was seeing so much more of her than ever before, his thoughts ran wild.
Before she could notice him, he backed out of the tent and carefully closed the door. He flipped the sign to 'nurses only' with an amused grin on his face. While he considered himself to be above the carnal lust so frequently displayed in this horrible place, Charles was a man with great passions for the right woman. He paused at that thought; did he consider Elizabeth Bennet the right woman? Would he be so vulgar as to violate her simply to satisfy his own lust? He was crestfallen, for Charles was a man of too much honor to stoop so low as to use any woman, particularly one he held in such high regard. Once this war ended he knew they would go their separate ways, most likely to never see each other again. He knew that he would be forced into some sort of arranged marriage to continue the family line.
A part of him raged against the thought of marrying for the sake of family and money, why could he not marry whomever he loved and be damned with the consequences? With a sigh full of sadness and the possibility of unrequited love, Charles turned from the tent and walked back to the swamp. He knew his heart was in danger; he would rather not allow his feelings for one woman to alter the course of his future.
Although he tried his best to avoid Elizabeth, it was a small camp. He was as enamored as ever of her wit and lively personality. As the weeks passed shades of love colored his world during the day; his nights were filled with dreams of Elizabeth and what he would have done to her in the shower if they had been properly wed. Charles was in the middle of a particularly vivid dream when Elizabeth whispered his name. She was standing over him in the darkness not wanting to wake the sleeping Hawkeye and BJ.
"Charles, wake up, you're needed in post-op," She whispered. He made no sign of waking and she crouched down next to his cot. She tenderly stroked his cheek with her fingertips. She was surprised by her boldness, she had been harboring feelings for Charles since they first met but did not know he felt about her. He opened his eyes when she touched his face and found they were mere inches apart. He leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips; she did not back away from the kiss and pleased him by responding to it passionately.
When the kiss finally broke Elizabeth backed away, her heart was pounding and she was unprepared for the feelings that his kiss awoke in her. She felt her face flush and was grateful for the darkness. 'Oh, what will he think of me now,' she thought in horror that he would be upset with her acting like a silly school girl having her first crush.
Charles sat up and was disturbed to see the startled look on her face. He was surprised, she was really there, he was not dreaming. He was immediately on his guard worried that had he offended her by being so forward.
"You..You are needed in post-op," she whispered her voice shaking. She wanted to kiss him again, to see if he would respond in the same way now that he was fully awake.
"Elizabeth - I.." he choked, his voice was raw with unspoken emotion. He wanted to kiss her again, to tell her that he thought she was the most breathtakingly beautiful creature that he had ever laid eyes upon.
"Charles, it's the Perkins boy, the chest wound. His temperature is 102 and rising," she stood to leave. He snapped out of his mental ramblings enough to grab her hand and whispered hoarsely, "Elizabeth, I'm sorry if I offended you..I..thought I was dreaming," he stammered his apology and released her hand.
She walked out of his tent not trusting herself to look back at him, afraid she would betray her emotions if she saw him look at her with his eyes reflecting the same emotion as his voice.
Charles dressed quickly and followed her, he knew that their feelings would need to wait, a sick solider needed his doctor and nurse with clear heads.
Over the next several days, casualties were heavy and there was no time for Charles to speak with Elizabeth about what had happened. Charles, Hawkeye and B.J. had just settled into the swamp when Colonel Potter walked in.
"Well boys, battalion aid just called and they need a surgeon and a nurse. Winchester, you're name is on the short list," the Colonel poured himself a drink and sat down.
"I protest!" said Charles indignantly. "Haven't I just spent the last three days in the O.R.!?"
"Lizzy is the nurse who will be going," said Colonel Potter nonchalantly over his drink.
"I'll go!" said Pierce, jumping to his feet.
"Sit down Pierce, a Winchester never shirks his duty. I will go."
Charles hated to go to the battalion aid as much as the next doctor, but a chance to spend the two hour drive alone with Elizabeth would be worth the risk to life and limb.
They had been driving for about twenty minutes when Charles finally broke the uncomfortable silence by saying, "The changing leaves are really beautiful here, but the colors are nothing compared to the brilliance of the fall foliage of New England."
Elizabeth smiled at him and said, "Yes, I agree, there is nothing like fall in New England. I miss being there this time of year."
Charles was taken aback, "Where are you from Elizabeth?"
She laughed, "I grew up in Massachusetts."
"Have you ever been to Boston?" he asked.
"Oh yes, I studied pre-med at Harvard..That is," she paused taking a shaky deep breath, hoping he would not think less of her when she told him about her family "..until my parents were killed in a car accident and the family fortune was lost." She looked away from him, not wanting to cry. Charles could tell that the memory still caused her pain.
"You studied at HARVARD?" he asked incredulously. "Just a moment, Bennet...was your father Edward Bennet?"
"Yes, did you know him?" she was surprised, "My father was not fond of the society and certainly no one from the Boston scene had attended the funeral or sent condolences.."
"Not really, but I recall the story circling about the lost fortune and five daughters who were destitute due to no male heirs. It had everyone calling their attorneys to update their wills," Charles realized that he had just insulted her. "I'm sorry Elizabeth that was a very thoughtless thing for me to have said."
She laughed and wiped away a tear "Well, I am the modern Cinderella story in reverse! The happy privileged childhood, followed by the working class adult life. But never fear, my courage rises to every occasion to overcome whatever obstacles life throws at me."
"How are your sisters faring?" he asked with genuine feeling, looking over at her as often as he dared take his eyes off the road.
"My older sister Jane is a school teacher in Springfield. My younger sister Mary is also a teacher and a nun at the Sacred Heart Academy. The two youngest, Kitty and Lydia, have just written me that they have joined the USO and will be starting to tour somewhere here in Korea. Do you have brothers or sisters Charles?"
"I have a younger sister, Honoria. She still lives in Boston with my parents." He laughed out loud, "Harvard..I graduated from Harvard, top of my class actually." He was impressed that Elizabeth had attended Harvard, it was a difficult school to get into without the fact that she was a woman and they were still sorting out what do about the increasing body of female collegiates. "Harvard," He said again with another laugh, his intrigue for Elizabeth growing.
"Are you surprised that we went to the same school or that I chose to attend college at all Charles?" she asked with mirth in her voice and a raised eyebrow.
"Actually, I was thinking how I wish I was younger so that I might have had the pleasure of seeing you in class every day." He teased.
"Hmm..Well I'm not certain if you would have been the classmate who spilled formaldehyde on my lab coat or the one who stared at my chest the entire lecture." She said giving him a knowing wink and sharing a conspiratorial laugh with Charles. They both knew the perils the females faced who were trying to break into medicine as more than just nurses.
"I would hope that I would have been neither Elizabeth," he said reaching over to hold her hand. Before Lizzy could reply a shell exploded twenty-yards to her right. She let out a small yelp and ducked her head. Releasing his hand she grabbed the dashboard. Charles stepped on the gas and tried to out run the barrage.
"Hold on!" he shouted over the noise.
"Charles, we have to get off of this road!" screamed Elizabeth with terror in her voice.
The shelling lasting for two hours in Lizzy's mind, but it was actually only about three minutes. When the shelling stopped, Charles realized that he had been gripping the steering wheel so hard that his fingers had lost circulation. He exhaled loudly, not realizing that he had been holding his breath. Elizabeth looked over at him and exclaimed "Charles your arm is bleeding!" She immediately applied pressure to his wound.
"I did not even realize it until you said something." He said feeling light-headed, his arm going cold. He was trying to pull the jeep off the road and it felt as though an elephant was sitting on the hood.
"This is going to need stitches." Elizabeth said, digging in the field kit for the necessary equipment. "Charles, hold still! I need to tourniquet and suture this wound before you loose any more blood." her voice was calm and her movements quick and precise.
"You should have been a surgeon," he said dreamily as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Elizabeth finished her sutures and packed off Charles arm. She checked his pulse, it was slow but steady. She was able to wake him to a semi-conscious state and somehow was able to get him into the back of jeep. She did not want to just sit by the side of the road and wait for the shelling to start again, she knew that Charles would need better medical attention than she could provide and plasma if not blood as well. They were closer to the Battalion Aid than the 4077 so with a small prayer to whatever gods might be left to listen to frightened nurses in the middle of a war, she steeled her courage and drove like hell.
Charles awoke some time later to the jostling motion of the jeep, he noticed that he was lying in the back seat and saw that Elizabeth was driving. He reached his hand up and touched her arm, she looked back at him and smiled. "I'm glad you're finally awake! We're almost to the Battalion aid, I hope you do not object to having a female driver!" She teased, shouting to him over the roar of the engine and the distant sound of shelling.
"Indeed I am enjoying having a chauffeur again." He shouted back with a laugh, feeling very weak and tired. He must have lost more blood than he realized.
As there jeep pulled into the Battalion aid, a corporal ran up to them. "You must be from the 4077. We'll you're just in time for the party! They're pushing us back, we've lost the line and we're just about to bug out, we could use an extra set of hands here," he shouted over the increased shelling.
"Doctor Winchester has been hurt, I want to send him back to the 4077 with the next batch of wounded but I'll be glad to stay and help you." Elizabeth said as she helped Charles out of the jeep.
"Now just a minute, I'm not.." blustered Charles.
"That ambulance is just about to leave. Come over to the tent when you're done," the corporal said as he ran off.
"Elizabeth, I am not going to leave you here," said Charles looking pale and unsteady on his feet.
"Well I'm afraid that you lost a little too much of that noble Winchester blood to be of much use in a bug out Charles," Lizzy laughed as she put his arm around her shoulders and helped him to the ambulance. Charles was unable to protest further as she sat him in the passenger seat and shut the door. She pulled something from her pocket and stuffed it into his hand, leaning into the ambulance she kissed him softly on the lips. "Thanks for the loan," she said with a wink. Before Charles could speak she was gone and the ambulance lurched forward. He looked at his hand and there was the handkerchief he had given her, she had embroidered his initials onto it. Charles clenched his fist around the soft fabric and held it close to his heart as hot tears of frustration blurred his vision but did not fall. He was angry with himself for not staying and even angrier with her for being right about making him leave.
"Damn," he cursed softly to no one in particular.