Christmas morning dawned bright, clear and freezing. Hawkeye turned over and pulled the blanket over his head, attempting to shield his face from the frigid air. But a minute later he bolted upright in bed. He grabbed his pillow and tossed it at BJ's sleeping form. BJ rolled over and blinked at him with a bewildered stare. "Hawk, what the––?" he mumbled groggily. "Merry Christmas, Beej!" Hawkeye exclaimed. He leapt out of bed and pulled on his red bathrobe. "Merry Christmas…" BJ muttered, rolling back over. Hawkeye pounced on the end of BJ's cot; he pulled back the layers of green blankets and began tickling his comrade's feet. A shudder ran through BJ's body, and the feet disappeared underneath the blanket as he sat up. "How many times have I told you not to do that?!" he said, but there was laughter in his voice. "You're not gonna let me sleep for five more minutes?"
"Nope!" Hawkeye sprang from the cot and got down on his hands and knees. Reaching underneath his own cot, he dragged out the cardboard box, its torn flaps clumsily folded over the precious store of goodies. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly," he sang quietly under his breath, "Fa la la la la la la la la!"
"Gentlemen," came a muffled voice from the other side of the tent, "Are you aware that it is only five o'clock in the morning?"
"Oh, is it five already?" Hawkeye chirped sarcastically, "Gee, I must've slept in this morning."
Major Winchester groaned, still hunched in bed with his back toward the two captains. "As it is a holiday, I beg you, let me enjoy a few more hours' rest. In the words of the immortal carol, let there be peace on earth!"
"Merry Christmas to you too, Charles!" said Hawkeye, flinging his pillow at the major's back.
Needing an outlet for his pent-up energy, Hawkeye began wadding up the newspapers his father had used for packing material and stuffing them into the stove. "What time are Radar and Klinger coming over?" BJ asked, when a knock on the door answered his question. Hawkeye scrambled to his feet to open the door. Radar hurried inside, the care package his mother cradled in a pair of warm blue mittens. Behind him followed an imposing figure in a long fur coat, its head lost in a bundle of colorful scarves. "We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!" sang Klinger's voice from beneath the layers of scarves. Hawkeye surprised both men by throwing his arms around them in a bear hug. "Hey, come on in, guys! Shut the door, Klinger. Geez, Radar, you must be freezing; here, take my blanket and sit down by the stove. Let's see, what can we use for a table…" He took the box from Radar, emptied it, turned it upside down, and did the same with his own box, pushing them together to form a makeshift buffet. "Voilà, we have a table!" he said proudly. "And a tablecloth!" added Klinger, draping a bright red scarf across the two boxes. BJ joined them on the floor and helped Hawkeye arrange the long-anticipated treats on their "table."
"Here we are, boys," Hawkeye said, raising a glass of homemade gin, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good––"
A frantic knock on the door of the tent cut short his speechmaking. BJ got up to open the door. "Merry Christmas, Father!" he said, pulling Father Mulcahy into the tent. "Merry Christmas, my son," said the priest, "I just came by to––"
"Father!" cried Hawkeye, "You're just in time to join us! Here, grab a pillow and sit down."
Fr. Mulcahy smiled, but shook his head. "No, thank you, Hawkeye. I'm afraid I've got some rather bad news. Sister Theresa from the orphanage called last night. The truck that was to deliver food and supplies to the orphanage can't get through because of snow and ice on the roads, and they won't be able to get any deliveries until it melts a little, which may take a while. They have enough food to get by for a few days, but not much. The truck was also supposed to bring warm clothing and blankets, which the children desperately need. Please, do you have anything you could spare for the children?"
The four men said nothing, but their eyes all drifted to their little feast. Breaking the silence, Radar picked up the box of cookies and candy his mother had sent. "Here, Father," he said, offering it to Fr. Mulcahy, "Take this to the orphans. I'm sorry it's not much. And…they can have these, too," he added, slipping off his new mittens and laying them on top of the box. "Aren't those the ones your mom made?" asked BJ in a low voice. "My old ones'll last a while longer," said Radar, "Ma would be glad to know they're going to someone who needs them more than I do."
"Here, Father, you'd better take these, too," said BJ, offering up Peg's cookie tin.
"And these," Hawkeye added, handing over the box of candy his father had sent. He looked down at Klinger, who still sat on the floor, hugging the fruitcake. Klinger gave him a pleading look, which was met by a stern glare. He sighed, got to his feet, and ceremoniously laid his prized fruitcake on top of the growing pile in Fr. Mulcahy's arms.
"Thank you, my sons," said Fr. Mulcahy, beaming, "I knew you'd come through for the children. Your generosity will be greatly appreciated."
"Father, let me help you carry those things," Radar offered. BJ put out a hand to catch a slipping box of cookies. "We'll all go," he said. "And let's stop by my tent on the way," Klinger suggested, "I've got some new fabric that'd make nice warm winter clothes for the kids." Hawkeye raised an eyebrow at the corporal's sudden change of heart. "What happened to your winter wardrobe makeover?" he asked as they headed out the tent door. Klinger shrugged. "Those kids need new clothes more than I do," he said, "Besides, I could always catch pneumonia and get sent home."
In the frosty morning air, the five men set out from the camp, well bundled up against the cold, their arms full of boxes, bags, and bundles. A few of the nurses had contributed scarves, mittens, and treats from home to their stock of gifts before they left. Since the roads were too icy to drive, they had to walk the five miles to the orphanage. They had hardly left the camp when Hawkeye, still in unquenchable high spirits, began singing: "Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh; o'er the fields we go laughing all the way…" The others rolled their eyes, but before long they were singing with him.
When they arrived at last at the orphanage, Fr. Mulcahy rang the bell hanging by the door. Sister Theresa hurried out to meet them. "Bless you, Father, I knew you'd come through for us!" she said, "Come in, come in. The children are awake, but they don't know you're coming. Won't they be surprised!" She led the way into a dimly lit, low-ceilinged room. Another nun knelt by the stove in the corner, poking at the ashes inside and trying to coax a flame from the embers; and a third, wearing an apron, ladled thin, watery oatmeal out of a pot on the stove into small wooden bowls. Both looked up when Sister Theresa came in, and, on seeing the men from the 4077th, the one doling out oatmeal dropped her ladle and the one poking the fire sprang to her feet and ran across the room to hug them. "You men are angels!" she exclaimed, "God must've sent you here!"
"Funny, I didn't think angels usually wore fatigues," laughed Hawkeye.
"Would you men mind helping to set the table?" asked Sister Theresa, "I'll bring the children in." The men had hardly had a chance to unpack the food they had brought when the door at the other end of the room creaked open, and children of all sizes came running in. They crowded around the table, exclaiming over the unexpected treats and peering curiously at the visitors. At a word from Sister Theresa, they quieted down, and bowed their heads while she prayed aloud in Korean. "Amen," they chorused when she finished.
BJ, Hawkeye, Radar, and Klinger all agreed that it was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it. Klinger proudly served up slices of fruitcake, all the while making faces that got the children laughing. Hawkeye tore up the cardboard boxes to kindle the fire, and managed to get a cheerful blaze going. Radar distributed cookies and told stories to a group of kids huddled around the stove, wrapped snuggly in the warm fabric Klinger had brought. BJ found himself feeding oatmeal to a little girl who was just about Erin's age, and blinking back the tears that welled up in his eyes. They stayed to talk and play with the kids long after the last crumbs had been cleared from the table, and when at last Fr. Mulcahy suggested it might be time to return to camp, they said goodbye with promises to return soon. The children crowded into the doorway s they left, waving and calling out "Merry Christmas!" in accented English.
After another long walk through the snow, the five men returned to camp tired and half-frozen. They were headed in the direction of the mess tent when Radar stopped in his tracks. "Don't say it––" Hawkeye pleaded when he saw Radar's concentrated expression. "Choppers," said Radar before Hawkeye could finish the sentence. "On Christmas?!" Hawkeye exclaimed, "That's outrageous!" Before he could say anything else, Colonel Potter approached. "Pierce, Hunnicutt, where have you boys been? We've got wounded men waiting for you; get over to pre-op and go scrub up. Radar, Klinger, we need your help in triage. Padre, you'd better come along too."
"Oh boy, casualties: just what I wanted for Christmas," Hawkeye muttered as the colonel walked away.
Several hours later, BJ and Hawkeye trudged their way back toward the Swamp, completely exhausted. As they opened the door of the tent, a warm, spicy fragrance wafted toward them. The sound of a choir echoed from the record player: "All we, like sheep, have gone astra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay…" Charles Winchester stood with his back to them, humming along while he a steaming pot on the stove. "Charles, what have we here?" said Hawkeye, sniffing the air, "Is that…mulled claret?"
"Gentlemen, you've caught me in the midst of a holiday tradition," Charles sighed, "No Christmas for me would be complete without Handel's Messiah. Of course, a recording can't compare to a live performance, but under the circumstances it will have to do. Provided that I am allowed to listen to it in peace."
"We come in peace," said BJ, "Mind if we join you?"
Winchester turned to face them, looking amazed but pleased. "Not at all," he said. Hawkeye was about to protest, but after an elbow in the ribs and a stern glance from BJ, he sat down on his cot and picked up his knitting.
"Fr. Mulcahy informed me of your charitable excursion this morning," said Charles, "I applaud your generosity, gentlemen. Would either of you care for some mulled wine?"
"Would I!" said Hawkeye, "Where did that come from?"
"The mulling spices were a gift from my sister, Honoria," said Charles dryly, "This particular bottle of '29 vintage claret has been aging for quite some time in a secret location which I will not disclose you." He poured two glasses, which he placed in Hawkeye and BJ's cold hands before pouring himself a glass. "Pierce, Hunnicutt," he said, "to your health. And a Merry Christmas to you both."
A/N: It occured to me while I was editing this that it looks like Charles was just relaxing in the Swamp while his roommates were in surgery, but he, as one of only four surgeons in the camp, should have been in there with them. I should explain: Charles was indeed part of that O.R. session. Hawkeye and BJ took longer than usual to clean up and change out of theirs scrubs afterwards because they were so tired after walking back from the orphanage, which allowed Charles to beat them back to the Swamp.