Author's Note: The Korean War officially ended with the signing of the peace treaty at Panmunjom on the twenty-seventh of July, 1953. Not long afterwards, the closely knit staff of the M*A*S*H 4077 went their separate ways.
As the title indicates, this is set five years to the date after the cease-fire went into effect. I'm trying something different with this, and it's less of a cohesive story than a series of vignettes about the characters. Since I've never seen AfterMASH, those events never happened in my universe. Any and all comments/suggestions are very welcome and appreciated. Please let me know what you think!
Mannheim, West Germany
Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Houlihan marched smartly down the antiseptic corridor of the hospital. She had a meeting with her senior staff that was supposed to be starting right now and it wouldn't look good if she was late. On the other hand, it wouldn't do to be seen rushing through the halls so she stuck to the brisk pace that was her trademark. Reaching the conference room on the third floor, she was dismayed to find the others already there but didn't let it show. The chit-chat of the nurses quieted as their commander entered the room. "Good afternoon, ladies. Let's get right down to business."
"Yes sir," was the collective response as the six women took their seats.
Col. Houlihan took the last chair at the head of the table. "There are several items on the agenda today. First, I've noticed a large amount of gauze being thrown away unnecessarily…." She reviewed issues affecting the hospital, getting occasional feedback from her senior staff, for approximately half an hour. Finally coming to the end of her schedule, she said, "Well, that about wraps it up. Now do any of you have anything to report?"
One woman, a native German who was serving at the American military hospital, spoke up. "There is one thing, Colonel."
"Several of us served during the Korean conflict some years ago. Today is the five year anniversary of the end of that war."
Quickly Houlihan added up the dates in her head, confirming that the captain was indeed correct. Had it really been that long since Korea? Her thoughts drifted momentarily to memories of past days before she recalled where she was and jerked her attention back to where it belonged. Time enough to be sentimental later. "You're correct, that is today. Thank you for bringing the date to our attention, Captain. It's important to remember events such as that."
The other woman spoke up again. "As much as there is joy for those of us who celebrate the anniversary of peace, there were many who did not make it to see that day. I thought we might hold a moment of silence in their honor."
"Yes, I think that would be very appropriate." Margaret nodded, moved at the thought. "Alright, beginning now." Several of the nurses closed their eyes, some bowed their heads. Margaret stared fixedly at her schedule on the table in front of her without really seeing it. There had been so many that had died, some of them even in her arms. The thought of Henry Blake brought tears unbidden to her eyes. Other faces flashed in front of her: those would never be erased, even when the names escaped her. She swallowed hard and clenched her fists in an effort to maintain control. Succeeding, as she always did, she cleared her throat, signaling that the moment was over. "Let us all pray tonight that someday all wars will be nothing more than a distant memory. You're dismissed."
Margaret left the room quickly, not staying to chat as the others did. Here, as always, she fraternized more with the doctors and other men than with the nurses. She wasn't at odds with her staff, at least not with the majority, but the relationships remained professional. It was simply too difficult to maintain a friendship with someone who was under her command. The meeting had been the last thing to do today, so she gathered her things and headed off to her small apartment on the base.
As she walked, she found her thoughts occupied by Korea. Five years seemed such a long time when she remembered everything that had happened there as if it were yesterday. It had been only three years out of her life, but so much had happened there to make her the person she was today. The 4077 had been her first time as head nurse, in charge of an entire staff. She'd married, divorced, learned how to lean on others and be her own person at the same time. Some of the best friends she'd ever had had been in Korea. She smiled as she thought of the old gang. Colonel Potter, Hawkeye, Charles, BJ, Father Mulcahy, and even Klinger. Margaret hadn't seen a single one of them in five years. She couldn't help but feel a twinge of regret at the thought. By now she had accepted that all of them had passed out of her life for good, but there had been a time when she'd honestly hoped to keep in touch. But it wasn't meant to be. She'd exchanged a few letters with Colonel Potter, but neither of them were good correspondents and that hadn't lasted long. The others had simply disappeared into the woodwork, continuing with their lives, just as she had done. "I wish I knew what they're all doing now."
"What who's doing now?" A voice appeared at her elbow.
Margaret yelped and jumped slightly. "Oh, Steve. It's just you. You scared me!"
"Sorry, beautiful. I didn't mean to startle you."
"I just didn't hear you come up behind me."
"Who were you talking about?"
"Oh, no one really. I was thinking about some old friends and didn't even realize I was speaking out loud." Margaret let the man take her arm as they continued walking. Colonel Steve Harcourt was also stationed in Mannheim, and Margaret had been keeping company with him for a number of months.
"Old friends, huh? Any of them competition?" Harcourt had convinced himself that he was in love with Lt. Col. Houlihan and had already asked her to marry him once. He'd been turned down, but not rejected out of hand, so he kept hoping.
"It's the people from my old M*A*S*H unit in Korea. You do realize that today is the anniversary of the peace agreement, don't you?"
"Yeah, I'd heard that." As he had been stationed in Tokyo during the war, it had never had a large effect on him. "Good to hear you're not pining over any old boyfriends anyway."
Margaret's annoyance at his attitude was reflected in her voice. "I wouldn't be so sure of that." If the implication wasn't quite the whole truth, at least there had certainly been a lot of potential with one of the men. If circumstances had been just a little different, who knew what could have happened? Besides, Steve needed to be put in his place. "I don't owe you any explanation, Steve."
"Margaret," The man tightened his grip on her arm. "I thought we had an understanding!"
"No, you had an understanding. I told you before that I'm not ready to marry anyone."
"But, beautiful, things could be so good! We're stationed together and I could fix it so any future transfers were together, so we'd never be apart like most military marriages. I know what the army and nursing mean to you and I wouldn't ask you to give those up. We think alike, and…" he breathed the last in her ear, "…you know how hot we are together."
She couldn't help smiling slightly at his earnestness. Unfortunately, he interpreted the smile as agreement.
"See, you know what I say is true. Margaret, I love you. Say you'll marry me!" Roughly, he tried to pull her into an embrace.
Margaret deftly, but firmly disentangled herself. "No, Steve. My answer hasn't changed, and it isn't going to." She hated having to hurt him, but there wasn't any other way. She liked the man very much and they had a lot of fun together. He was light years ahead of her ex-husband, and if she'd wanted to marry, this one might have been a serious contender. Only, marriage just wasn't an option. "I won't give up my independence."
"Didn't you hear me? I'm not asking you to stop working or to resign your commission!" Harcourt began to get slightly upset. He wasn't used to being turned down and didn't like the feeling.
"But that's not the point! Don't you see?" These men were all alike, unable to understand why she wasn't taken in by their blustering and charm. "I'd work, but you'd expect it to become secondary! You'd want me to keep house and nurse in my spare time. I run an entire staff here, and I'm proud of my job. Nursing is what I do, it's who I am, and it has to come first. And you say we'd be transferred together. Whose career would get precedence, Steve? Yours or mine? I won't be some obedient wife, following you around from post to post, and to hell with my own career!"
"I could get you promotions, more than you could get on your own! How can you expect to get anywhere in life without a man?" In his anger, he didn't bother to control his tongue.
Margaret, however, didn't become upset. She'd heard the same thing too many times to let it get to her seriously. Instead, she fixed the man with her most intimidating glare, and spoke in a deceptively sweet tone. "I was raised in the army, Steve. Don't tell me my career doesn't mean anything. I've been in the army since I got out of nursing school. I was stationed in the US at first, then in Guam, then in Tokyo, then three years of hell at a M*A*S*H unit in Korea, then a Veteran's hospital in Virginia, and now here. I've been all over the world and I've worked my way up to Lieutenant Colonel before the age of forty. And you know what? I've accomplished everything I've done without having a husband! I don't need you!"
Her emphatic words finally getting through to him, his face twisted and he snarled at her. "Fine then. You go on pursuing your little career and being independent." The last word was dripping with heavy sarcasm. "See what it gets you when you're old and wrinkled and you finally discover that you need a man and can't get one. You'll die miserable and alone, just wait and see." Harcourt turned and stalked off across the street.
Margaret watched him go, her heart strangely light and heavy at the same time. He'd get over being snubbed, and if not, there were always other fish in the sea and plenty of them that weren't looking to chain her either. Maybe she would die alone, but she would have the memories of a life lived on her terms to comfort her. And that would just have to be enough.
Later that evening, Margaret sat alone in her apartment and opened a bottle of wine. Today was a day that called for a little celebration. She poured her first glass and made a toast. "To peace!" Downing it, she poured a second. "To the best damned unit that ever was, the 4077!" And then came her third glass and toast. "To Margaret Houlihan!"