"Charles, what the hell are you doing back here..and where is Lizzy?" Pierce questioned him as he worked his way through the injured soldiers on the ambulance.
"I was wounded when we were caught by some shelling on the way to Battalion aid and Elizabeth insisted on staying to help with the bug out.."
"Bug out!? When did they have a bug out?" question Colonel Potter "Klinger, get on the phone, find out what's going on and where Lizzy is!"
"Who stitched up your arm Charles, Battalion aid must be getting some new hidden talent." B.J. said as he inspected the wound.
"Elizabeth did that," Charles said distractedly, he could still not believe that she stayed behind without him.
"I'll have to start letting her close for me, she does nice work," B.J. said helping Charles out of the ambulance. "We'd better get some plasma into you."
There are moments in life when hours seem like days. Charles, after leaving Elizabeth behind at the Battalion Aid felt each moment as if it was an eternity. His waking hours were filled with thoughts of Elizabeth and how he would never forgive himself if she were harmed. He would not let him self consider the possibility that she might have been killed because the thought of his Elizabeth dead would have driven him mad with grief. Charles was so consumed about Elizabeth's safe return that he failed to realize that he was in love with her.
Klinger was eventually able to confirm that there was a bug out but the line was lost before he could find out where they were moving to next. There was no news of Elizabeth.
Charles wore a path between the swamp and Klinger's office inquiring every half hour if there was anything new on Elizabeth's whereabouts. He thought about stealing a jeep and making his own search for her. Hawkeye threatened to sedate Charles if he didn't rest and take care of himself. B.J. realized that Charles was more than just concerned about a coworker or a friend, that he was in fact worried about the woman that he loved. B.J. knew that if it was Peg that was missing, he would be just as upset as Charles.
Several days later the battered bus that carried the battalion aid ground staff finally rolled in the 4077. It was greeted with the cheers of the entire camp and a very grateful Charles. The weary staff was helped off the bus, and Charles saw a dirty and exhausted Elizabeth.
He was oblivious to her disheveled appearance; she was alive, unharmed and more beautiful to him than he could find words to express. Their eyes met as she stepped down from the bus, she gave him a smile that lit up her whole face. He could not help but return it feeling as though a light had been turned on inside of him. He felt his steps quicken, he was about an arms length away from her when suddenly Elizabeth was being picked up and hugged and kissed by Hawkeye.
"You scared us half to death! Never, never, never leave us again..or I'll have to spank you!" teased Hawkeye as he twirled with Elizabeth in his arms. Her laughter rang out in merry peals, and her lose hair flowed like a banner streaming in the sunlight. She raised her arms above her head, leaning into Hawkeye's spin and gave a joyous shout, "Hooray I'm home!" She kissed Hawkeye on the cheek and threw her arms around his neck as he set her down.
"I have never been so glad to see all of you!" Elizabeth declared happily, hugging each person she saw in turn. She turned to Charles "How is your arm?" she asked warmly. He said nothing, she hugged him and whispered, "I missed you."
The jealousy that Charles felt over seeing his beloved in another man's arms was almost overwhelming. It was all he could to do keep from either storming away or knocking Pierces block off.
"Okay, lets break it up folks! Give Lizzy a chance to shower and rest before we start the welcome home party." Said Colonel Potter with a smile, claiming a hug and kiss for himself.
As the crowd melted away, Charles watched Elizabeth walk with some of the nurses. Her easy manners had made her friends with most of the 4077 and everyone was relieved to have her home.
"Come on B.J., lets go plan the welcome home party," said Pierce as he walked away.
"Charles, are you alright," asked a concerned B.J. "Aren't you happy that Lizzy is back?"
"A Winchester does not publicly display emotions the way a common oaf would," Charles said imperiously, glaring daggers at the retreating Hawkeye's back. He wanted to be the first one to hug and kiss Elizabeth. How dare that cretin Pierce behave so brashly with his Elizabeth.
"You know Charles, sometimes you can admit to being just as human as the next man and people would not think less of you. You might want to think about at least letting the girl know that you missed her," B.J. said gently, putting his hand on Charles shoulder. Charles scowled and walked away. B.J. could almost see the black cloud hanging over his head.
The party was in full swing, Father Mulcahy was playing the piano and Lizzy could her him saying "Jocularity, Jocularity". She had been well wished and welcomed home by almost everyone in the camp. She suddenly found herself the belle of the ball, she had been danced with by every male member of the camp, save one. Charles was conspicuously missing from the festivities. He did not trust himself to be present at so public a gathering until he had conquered his urge to strangle Pierce. Elizabeth was disappointed that Charles had not welcomed her home more enthusiastically, but hoped that he might yet make an appearance at the party.
As the evening wore on, the free flowing liquor was showing its affects. Hawkeye was growing more forward with his advances on Lizzy and she was growing tired of moving his hands back to their proper place on her waist as they danced.
Lizzy had enjoyed more than her usual number of drinks and was starting to feel light headed. Hawkeye walked her out into the brisk evening air, before she knew what was happening she found herself being passionately kissed and pawed by Hawkeye. It took her a few moments to free herself from his grasp and she stumbled away from him.
"Hawkeye, I know you missed me but this is getting a little ridiculous," she said with a little laugh, trying to defuse the situation.
"Awww..I thought you like me," he said playfully, giving her his best hurt little boy smile and puppy dog eyes.
"Do not confuse my friendship towards you for something more," she said sharply, using the back of her hand to wipe his kiss off of her mouth.
"Don't play hard to get Lizzy. Come on, lets go over to the supply tent," Hawkeye said charmingly.
"No, I want to go back inside, I don't want to miss the rest of the party," she said sweetly with a smile. Hawkeye shrugged, offered his arm and escorted her back inside.
Charles walked around the corner into the light, his face beaming with happiness. He had witnessed the entire thing and knew now that Pierce had no hold over Elizabeth's heart. Charles took a few moments to compose himself, he did not want to walk around with a silly grin on his face. When he eventually entered the party he saw Elizabeth sitting down with a serious look on her face speaking with B.J. She was so engrossed in her conversation that she did not notice Charles until he was standing at her elbow, he heard her saying "...even harder to suture in jeep with only a field kit B.J."
Charles cleared his throat, Elizabeth saw him "Charles, I was beginning to think that you had forgotten about me," she said with a smile, reaching for his hand. "Won't you sit down and join us," she asked.
"I'm going to go talk to the Colonel, sit down Charles and keep the lady company," B.J. said as he left.
"I am glad to see that you have returned to us safely Elizabeth," Charles said smoothly as he sat down, betraying none of the emotion that he was feeling.
Elizabeth beamed at him and was about to speak when she found herself being pulled to her feet and towards the dance floor by Hawkeye. "Come on Lizzy, lets dance..Charles won't mind, will you Charles," slurred Hawkeye eyeing Elizabeth in way that Charles did not like at all.
"Actually Pierce, I was about to dance with Elizabeth," Charles said with a polite smile and cut in, he pulled Elizabeth to him and they danced away from the stunned Hawkeye.
"Pierce, come have a drink," called Colonel Potter over the music. Hawkeye walked over, sat down next to B.J. and Margaret.
"I can't believe that Charles cut in on my dance with Lizzy," exclaimed a disgruntled Hawkeye.
"She doesn't appear to be suffering very much from here," observed Margaret. "In fact, she looks happier now than I've seen her all night."
"Happy dancing with Charles," mocked Hawkeye. He couldn't believe his ears, "Are you serious, he's old enough to be her father," he exclaimed.
"Oh relax Hawk, Charles is only thirty-four, he's hardly old. Besides, as far a couples go there's a few years between Peg and I. Who's to say what makes another person happy," B.J. said.
"There's almost twelve years between me and Mrs. Potter," added the Colonel.
"But why does Charles get the prettiest nurse in the camp," pouted Hawkeye.
"Hey" Margaret exclaimed, smacked Hawkeye on the arm.
"Ow! Except for you Hot Lips," apologized Hawkeye, rubbing his arm and making kissing faces at Margaret.
"Pierce, haven't you ever heard that opposites attract," asked Colonel Potter.
Time passed quickly in the company of Elizabeth. Charles soon found himself welcoming in 1953 with a kiss from the woman he loved. Cries of "Happy New Year!" surrounded the couple but they only saw each other. Stolen moments of Elizabeth's kisses in the scrub room, behind the post-op curtains and the supply tent were all Charles had to keep him sane. He was no longer thinking about what would happen after the war. His only thoughts were of his Elizabeth and how she was able to turn his hell in Korea into heaven on earth.
"I have a surprise for you Charles," Elizabeth said smiling mischievously.
"Two weekend passes to Tokyo," guessed Charles.
"It's a surprise, you can't guess silly," laughed Elizabeth. "Meet me in the supply tent at ten o'clock tonight."
Charles opened the door to the supply room and saw a tablecloth had been spread over some palates. There was a Japanese tea set and a picnic diner spread out. Elizabeth was wearing a wine colored kimono, her hair was elaborately twisted up in ivory hair sticks. She gave him a welcoming smile, "I was not able to get two passes to Tokyo, so I though I would try to bring a little bit of Tokyo to you," Elizabeth said in a sultry low voice. She put her arms around him, pressed herself against him and kissed him slowly. Charles returned her embrace and made the welcome discovery that she was not wearing anything beneath her kimono. "Happy Valentines Day darling," she said breathlessly as their kiss broke. Charles cleared his throat, "I..didn't realize it was already Valentines Day," he said feeling foolish to have lost track of the days and that he did not have a gift for Elizabeth. She laughed and pulled him towards the picnic, "Come have some tea and tell me if I've gotten my research correct," she said playfully.
Her research was excellent. The tea and the company was better than anything Charles had had in Tokyo, though he was decidedly distracted at the thoughts of what she was not wearing through the entire meal. After dinner was finished and they had packed up the dishes Charles stood to leave. "Our evening is not yet over, we have not had desert," she said mysteriously. Elizabeth quickly went behind some boxes and brought out blankets and pillow. Charles eyebrows went up in surprise, "What is this for," he asked.
Elizabeth quickly spread the blanket and pillows over what had been the picnic area she said softly "It's desert, take your shoes off." Charles unlaced his boots as he was told. She gently grabbed his shoulders and laid him back against the pillows. He was surprisingly comfortable considering he was lying on top of wooden crates.
She stood up in front of him and pulled the sticks out of her hair, it came spilling down her shoulders into soft curls that framed her face becomingly. She spoke in a slow, sultry voice.
"Love not me for comely grace,
For my pleasing eye or face,
Nor for any outward part:
No, nor for a constant heart!
For these may fail or turn to ill:
So thou and I shall sever.
Keep therefore a true woman's eye,
And love me still, but know not why!
So hast thou the same reason still
To doat upon me ever."
As she finished her poetry reading, she slowly lay down next to him. "That was beautiful," he said touched that she had gone to so much trouble to prepare this evening for him. "..but not as beautiful as you are my love." He kissed her lips, his hand gently caressing the soft skin of her face. She returned his kiss and hoped tonight would be the night that they were both finally able to let go of their constraints and give into their more primal urges.
He continued his caresses up her check into her soft thick hair. She pressed herself closer to him, her arm sliding up his chest, unbuttoning his shirt she left a trail of kisses from his ear down the side of his neck, to the base of his throat. He undid the ties of her kimono and the soft fabric easily feel open exposing her exquisite naked body to him. She felt his hands leave trails of fire as he slid them up her thigh, over her hip, up her stomach to her full round breasts. The part of Charles brain that was still capable of rational thought told him that he should stop before things went to far, that she had never let him do anything this bold before and she might not approve of his actions. "Elizabeth," he whispered breathlessly between kisses, "..my beautiful sweet Elizabeth..I," all higher brain functions ceased when he felt Elizabeth slide her hand down the front his pants.
A guttural moan escaped his lips and she smiled at his reaction, pleased that she was able to let go of her inhibitions. "'You what', my darling," she asked innocently, increasing the movement of her hand up and down. Charles bit down on his lip, his eyes closed, his face contorted with pleasure. Elizabeth overwhelmed at the affect she knew she was having on Charles. He maneuvered her next to him on the blanket and retuned his attentions to her lips, trying to slow the pounding of his heart.
"Charles, I love you," she whispered between kisses. He found himself again on top of her, with an urge as old as man that he was powerless to deny. He raised his head and looked into her shining eyes and smiling face, "Elizabeth, I love you too."
"I hope you weren't too disappointed by my inexperience," she said shyly blushing and slightly out of breath in the after-glow if their lovemaking.
"Inexperienced," asked bewildered. He was not surprised that Elizabeth had been a virgin, but to use the word inexperienced to describe what had just happened between them left Charles flushed and tongue tied. "I... um... you have done excellent research my darling."
"You are not disappointed then," she asked, her emotions overwhelming her and for some strange reason she felt as though she might cry. Charles kissed her and held her reassuring her that he was in no way disappointed in her love making skills. Charles felt himself a bit of cad for taking her virtue and almost proposed to rectify the situation.
"Elizabeth," he began slowly, not wanting to hurt her feelings, "..why did you chose to.. to.."
"To surrender the flower of my virtue," she said helpfully.
"Yes," said Charles, relieved that she had said it for him.
"Well my darling, after being in hiding in a bus in the middle of a war zone and feeling very mortal, one tends to think about all the things in life they have not yet experienced.." she paused to look at Charles, "I hope you do not think that I would have done this with just anyone Charles," she asked, worried that he was thinking ill of her.
"No my darling, I consider myself very fortunate to be the one you chose to be with, I only worry that your future husband might not appreciate..uhm.." he stammered again.
"That I would come to my wedding bed without my maidenhead," she said with a laugh. "Oh, Charles, I doubt I will ever marry, but if I were, I would hope that my husband would be understanding of my choices and perhaps even think better of me for my worldliness."
Charles wrapped his arms around Elizabeth and held her tight, the thought of her married to another man was almost too much for him. Elizabeth gently caressed the top of his head and kissed the wrinkle in his forehead. "Charles, what ever is the matter," she asked, concerned for the worried look on his brow and his sudden silence.
"Elizabeth, I don't want you to think less of me for being the one that has taken your virtue," he said with pain in his voice.
"Charles, you didn't take anything. It was mine to give to you," she said her eyes wet with unshed tears. "I love you, without regret or hesitation Charles Emerson Winchester," she whispered kissed him, silencing any further conversation.
The following weeks were filled with wounded and long days in the OR. The lovers were not granted time alone for more than stolen kisses and longing looks. A lull came around the end of March and the 4077 found itself having a belated Saint Patrick's Day party. It was not until several days after this that it occurred to Elizabeth the hangovers do not usually last a week. She continued to feel out of sorts and over the next several weeks was able to further ignore the subtle signs her body was giving by telling herself that it was just the bad army food causing her nausea and the long days in post-op causing her fatigue. It was not until she fainted in the middle of Sunday services that she admitted to herself that she might have a problem. Elizabeth went to Colonel Potter and asked his advice on what do.
"Oh my..Lizzy..are you certain," Colonel Potter asked in a concerned voice.
"There would need to be a blood test to be positive, however, I am not feeling myself as of late and the symptoms are undeniable," she said sadly, with tears in her eyes. "Oh Colonel Potter, what am I do to?"
"Let's send off the blood test before you make any decisions my dear," he said gently patting her hand and drying her tears.
The four weeks it took for the blood tests to be processed were agonizing to Lizzy. Her greatest fear was that Charles would find out her dilemma and he would marry her, not because he loved her and wanted no other, but that he felt obligated to do the right thing.
"Well Lizzy, the tests are back," said Colonel Potter, his face grave. "I'm afraid the army is going to have to discharge you. You're pregnant."
"How long until I am sent home," she said flatly, numb from the shock.
"Seventy-two hours until the next chopper leaves for Tokyo. Are you going to tell Charles," he asked concerned. As her Commanding Officer and a father her felt responsible for Lizzy's well being.
"I..how..how did you know it was Charles," her voice broke and she brought her hands to her face and cried broken-heartedly. Colonel Potter got up from behind his desk and walked over to Lizzy, he pulled up the chair next to her and gave her a hug. He patted her back and said gently, "There, there Lizzy, don't cry. I'm sure Charles will do the right thing by you."
"I can't tell him, he would marry me and it would ruin his life. I have no money, no family, nothing of worth to Boston society. I couldn't do that to him," she said between sobs, her face buried in the Colonels shoulder.
"Horse-apples! Do you love him," asked the Colonel.
"Oh yes, I would have never.." she blushed and stammered, "never..if..I didn't love Charles," she said sniffling, whipping her tears with the back of her hand.
"Tell the man Lizzy. He deserves the chance to make his own decisions about his life, who he loves and what he wants to do about it," he said with assuredness.
"I have to think about it Colonel. Please don't tell anyone why I'm leaving. Can we just say that I'm having a family emergency and that's why I'm going home," pleaded Lizzy.
The next seventy-two hours were filled with hugs, kisses, tears and promises to write as soon as she was home. Charles was distraught when Elizabeth told him that she was leaving. He fought the urge to ask him to marry him, he knew he loved Elizabeth deeply but was unsure how he would feel about her once they were back in normal society. As Colonel Potter was escorting her to the landing pad, Charles gave her a small package. He kissed her hand and told her that she would be greatly missed. Lizzy's lip quivered at the though of never seeing Charles again, but she refused to let herself cry in front of him. "Thank you," she said softly, she did not trust herself to say more. Charles bowed and walked away. Elizabeth watched him leave and blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall. Colonel Potter waked Lizzy the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the top of the hill he said, "I want you to call my wife Mildred if you have any questions or need anything Lizzy. I want to hear from you as well."
"Thank you Sherman, I appreciate everything you've done for me," she said throwing her arms around the old mans neck and hugging him. "Goodbye," she shouted over the whirling blades, her tears flowing fast and free. She buckled herself into the seat and bravely waved.
Colonel Potter waved back to her and felt his heart heavy with her burden. He stood on the hill until her chopper was safely out of sight. He walked slowly back to the camp and found his way to the swamp. He suspected from the sad but calm look on Charles face, and the coolness of his good-bye to her that Lizzy had not told him the truth about why she was leaving. He knew that he could not betray Lizzy's secret, but there was more than one way to skin a cat. He poured himself a drink and sat down.
"So B.J., did you give Lizzy Peg's telephone number and tell her call her when she got home," asked Colonel Potter
"I did and I know that Hawk asked her to phone his dad as well. I think everyone in the camp wanted to have Lizzy tell their families that they're okay," he paused and sighed with wistfulness. "I know that Peg will like her and I hope they'll become friends too. I'd like to see Lizzy again when I get home at more than just a reunion dinner," he said with a smile. Colonel Potter was carefully calculating what he would say to Charles when Klinger walked into the tent. "Colonel Potter, is Lizzy's chopper gone," he asked.
"Yes Klinger, why what's the problem," Colonel Potter asked slightly confused by the company clerks appearance.
"Lizzy said to deliver this letter to Major Winchester after she had left. Here you go Major," said Klinger politely handing the sealed envelope to Charles.
Klinger had not read her letter, but as the company clerk he was the one who sent out and received back the results of Lizzy's blood test. He had been prepared from the beginning to tell Charles about Lizzy's real family emergency, if no one else would. He hoped this letter would relieve him of the duty.
Charles opened the letter and read:
May 5th, 1953
My Beloved Charles,
By the time you are holding this letter in your hands I will be gone. I want you to know how very much I love you and how deeply it hurts me to leave so suddenly. I am sorry that I was not truthful with you about my reason for leaving. I was afraid that if I told you the truth that you would make a rash decision that would cause you to have regret in the future. I want you to consider your plans for your future life and what you want that life to be like, and who will be the person that you want to share this life with. If after your ponderings you feel that I would not be the right person then what I have to say to you should not alter your decision. I trust you to be honest with yourself about this Charles. When you are ready to know the real reason that I have left, please consult Colonel Potter and show him my letter. I give him my full permission to disclose my medical files to you.
Charles was confused.
He handed his letter to Colonel Potter and left the swamp, he began walking and his thoughts consumed him. He did love Elizabeth, and if she was sick or dying he would want to care for him and see that she received the best medical care possible. But would he marry her? Marriage had been something that he knew he would do one day but never went further than that in his mind. He assumed when he returned to the states that his parents would have a list of potential candidates for him to think about at the future Mrs. Charles Emerson Winchester the Third. The thought of picking a wife so callously left him feeling a little ill. Elizabeth was ideal to be his wife in all things, except for her lack of family or fortune. Charles raged against himself. Fortune be damned, didn't he have enough money for them to live comfortably? Family, he knew she had good breeding and was a lady in every sense of the word, what did family matter? A life without Elizabeth left him feeling cold and empty, the thought of her as his wife and always by his side was like stepping into the arms of love. He was a fool to think that he would be happy with any other woman. He did love her and want her in his life always. He wanted Elizabeth to be his wife, if she would have him. He walked to Colonel Potters office.
"I have made my decision, Colonel. Please let me see Elizabeth's file," Charles said with a glow on his face.
"Does this mean I can wish you congratulations on your engagement to Lizzy," asked the Colonel.
"She would make me the happiest of men if she would consent to be my wife," he said with a grin.
Colonel Potter handed him Lizzy's file. He watched Charles expression change from confusion to joy. Charles looked up at the Colonel with tears in his eyes.
"Congratulations Charles, you're going to be a father," said a very happy Colonel Potter handing Charles a cigar.
Charles did not want to tarnish Lizzy's reputation and asked the Colonel to keep their news a secret. The Colonel did not breath a word of it to anyone. Charles wanted to propose to Elizabeth and hear her accept him before he told his family of his plans.
The news of Elizabeth's death several days later took him at such a surprise that he laughed when Colonel Potter told him that the transport carrying Elizabeth from Tokyo had been shot down over the Sea of Japan. "That's impossible," Charles said with a smile of disbelief on his lips, "Colonel, tell me that's impossible. Tell me it's not true," he demanded, the reality of the Colonels words sinking in. "She can't be..dead..I didn't even get to tell her that I wanted her to be my wife..that I knew..about.." Charles sank into a chair, numb with grief.
"I'm sorry Charles, I wish it was some mistake but her name was on the flight manifest," Colonel Potter said sadly, pouring him a drink. Charles swallowed the liquid and felt it burn as went down, but it did nothing to remove the lump in his throat.
Charles still numb, stood and walked slowly out of Colonel Potters office, Klinger met him in the door way and expressed his condolences, there were tears in the other mans eyes and Charles felt his own grief reflected back at him. "Thank you Max," he said his voice sounding eerily calm and distant to his own ears.
Charles continued to walk, his face a mask, devoid of any emotion, his eyes hollow and blank. He wasn't sure if his heart was still beating because he could feel nothing anymore. He reached the swamp and sat down on his cot, the emptiness threatening to overwhelm him. Already he felt his grief pulling him into the black abyss. B.J. noticed his blank stare and the vacant look in Charles eyes, but did not say anything. After about fifteen minutes of Charles staring blankly into nothing and not moving a muscle, B.J. asked, "Anything wrong Charles,"
"Elizabeth is dead," he said flatly, still numb from the pain, still unable to accept his own words. B.J. and Hawkeye both made startled noises, both of them questioned him at the same time.
"What? Are you sure," questioned Hawkeye.
"When did this happen," asked B.J.
"Colonel Potter just informed me that the transport she was on was..shot down..over the Sea of Japan.." his voice wavered, "..and there were no survivors," he concluded softly.
"Charles, how can you just sit there and calmly tell us the Lizzy is dead, haven't you any feelings at," Hawkeye yelled, throwing down the newspaper he was reading and storming over to where Charles was sitting. With a guttural scream of barely suppressed rage, Charles was on his feet grabbing Hawkeye by the front of his shirt, shoving the taller man backwards with all of his might, he slammed Hawkeye into the still, knocking pieces of it to the floor. "You know NOTHING of my pain," Charles shouted into Hawkeye's surprised faced. "I loved Elizabeth..I wanted to marry her..she's dead now because of me," his voice shook with rage. "..because I didn't guard my conduct better..she had to leave because of me.." his voice broke, and he bowed his head against Hawkeye's chest and hot tears spilled down his checks. Gasping for air he continued, "she would have never been on that damned transport..she would still be here, alive if..if it wasn't for me. Don't you understand? It's all my fault that she's dead..I killed her because I couldn't control myself." he let go of Hawkeye and backed away slowly. "You know nothing of my pain," he said again hoarsely, his hands shaking. Charles turned and stormed out of the tent. By the time he reached the Officers Club, there were no more tears. Charles sat at the bar, "Scotch," he said flatly, it wasn't a question. A shot was poured in front of him, "leave the bottle," he said, numbing his guilt and pain the only way he knew how.