Disclaimer: The characters, alas, are not mine. They belong to Fox. But once I got the idea, I just had to write it down.  By the way, spelling is in English English (not American English), 'cos that's where I am and that's how I write. Constructive feedback and comments welcome! Thanks.

For as long as it takes
By Kay Em

July 1953

"I can't believe you put him in the VIP tent!"  Margaret hollered at Judy Parker, "What am I? Chopped liver?"

"Margaret, what else could I do? I don't see Major Winchester bunking with Father Mulcahy and his orphans, somehow – and the only other spare bunk is in my tent." Judy smirked and folded her arms, glancing across the compound to where Charles was conversing with one of the 8063rd surgeons. "Course, I might consider that as an option, if the Major's up for it. He's kinda cute."

"Cute!!!"  Margaret found herself gesticulating helplessly as words failed her. "You… I… he… Never mind. I'll put my things in your tent."

"And then you can buy me a drink in the Officers' Club and tell me more about the blue-eyed boy." Judy jerked a thumb in Charles' direction as she spoke, and Margaret shook her head in despair and went to find her driver and her bags.

*          *            *            *            *

By the time she got to the OC, Charles was already there. His inevitable cognac was on the table beside him, and he was completing the crossword in a newspaper he had found somewhere. Judy was sitting next to him, peeking at the clues over his shoulder, and Margaret could tell by the way he tried to lean away from her that he was far from happy about it.

"Margaret!"  His enthusiastic welcome merely confirmed to her that he really did not want or need Judy's company or assistance. "Let me buy you a drink," he said, jumping to his feet. "Oh, Major Parker – here, since you're so obviously fascinated by the crossword, perhaps you can finish it for me?"  He handed Judy the newspaper and his pen and scooted to the bar, where Margaret joined him.

"That won't hold her for long, Charles," she grinned, "She'll be over here in two shakes if we don't go sit with her – I think she likes you."

He rolled his eyes. "She has been making that abundantly clear since I got here." He looked round the crowded room. "I suppose the novelty's worn off of everyone else round here."

Margaret nearly choked on her scotch and water. "Charles! That is so…"

"Ungallant. I know." He looked directly at her.  "I'm sorry, I know she's an old friend of yours, but I do detest 'obvious' women."

Someone put a record on the jukebox, and within seconds Judy was at Charles' elbow. "Dance, Major?"

"Sorry, Major," he replied, grabbing Margaret and pulling her onto the dance floor, "Already promised."

"She'll just ask you for the next dance instead," said Margaret, "And that might be a slow number."

"Then I will just have to keep dancing with you, until she gets the message," he replied, pulling her in closer to him as he spoke.

"And why should I come to your rescue?" she asked, laughing.

"Because…"  He stopped dancing, though his arms still held her tight, and she found herself suddenly very aware of the closeness of his body and the intensity of his blue eyes. "Because I'm asking you to," he said, quietly, "Please."

Margaret felt this was somehow getting complicated. Since when had Charles needed anyone? She knew the answer to that almost before she thought it: since his musical POWs died.  She understood that. Judy never could.

"Alright, Major," she said, with a determined formality, "You've got me for as long as it takes."

"Thank you, Major." His words returned the formality, but the way he held her for the slow dance that followed certainly didn't.  Margaret felt him rest his cheek against her hair and draw her closer. She leaned into him, realising not only that she didn't mind, but that she really rather liked it.

"You smell good," she said, closing her eyes and breathing in the scent of his after-shave.

"So do you. Chanel?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"Reminds me of home."

"We'll be there soon."

"Yes."

"Uh, Charles?"

"Mmm?"

"The – uh – record's changed?"

"Oh, sorry. Hadn't noticed."

"Doesn't matter anyway," said Margaret, shaking her head as if to clear it, and looking around, "Looks like your commissioned temptress has given up and slunk back to her lair."

"Phew!" He stepped back and gave her a bow. "I thank you. Can I buy you another drink?"

"Thanks."

They wondered where BJ and Hawkeye, and Klinger and the Colonel had got to by now, and did some reminiscing about the good times they'd managed to have. When the club began to empty, Charles offered to walk her back to her tent, and Margaret took his arm as she accepted.

They had almost reached Judy's tent when they heard it – the faint but unmistakable sound of Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, floating from the direction of the Commanding Officer's tent.

Charles stopped in his tracks, and Margaret could feel him trembling. "I can't…" he stuttered, "…can't take you any further, Margaret, I'm sorry. Goodnight."

He backed away, then turned and ran in the direction of his tent.

"Charles!" Margaret pulled at her hair as she wondered whether to go after him or leave him to work it out. The memory of what had happened the last time he'd had the 'heeby-jeebies', as Colonel Potter had called it, made up her mind.

Knocking on the door of the CO's tent, Margaret explained as briefly and discreetly as she could, and asked if he would mind very much turning the music off. He obligingly did so, and she made her way to the VIP tent and knocked on the door.

"Charles? It's Margaret."

"I'm… I'm fine, Margaret." He didn't sound fine, he sounded as though he had a heavy cold. "Go to bed, I'm alright now."

"You wanna let me in, or do you want me to go fetch a doctor?"

"I am a doctor, Margaret and I don't need anyone else to tell me that I'm perfectly alright!"

"That's bull and you know it. I'm going to fetch…"  She heard the lock turn and he opened the door, standing aside as she went in. "I asked the CO to turn the music off," she said, looking with dismay at the opened bottle of cognac and the half-empty glass on the table.

Turning, she caught him wiping his eyes, and realised why his voice had sounded so strange just now. "You've been crying," she said, softly, almost in disbelief.

He started to deny it, an automatic response, but then he caught the look in her eye, sighed, nodded and sat down on the edge of the bunk. "It was the Mozart," he said, "It was as though I was back there in the 4077th compound, seeing that POW lying there with his chest torn open. I don't think I'll ever be able to listen to Mozart again." He brushed a hand across his eyes again, looked across at the bottle on the table.  "I poured myself a drink, but I couldn't swallow it. Probably just as well." He heaved a sigh, "Dangerous thing to do, drinking alone."

Margaret pulled the chair across in front of him and put her hands over his. "Much better drinking with a friend," she said, "Or better still, talking to one."

He didn't say anything, and she fought the urge to yell at him as she had done in the OC back at the 4077th. "I suppose it's not the Winchester way, huh?" she said, "Well, the hell with that, Charles – you keep bottling things up, you'll end up the sort of basket case Hawkeye turned into when that baby died."

"Hawkeye will be alright – you'll see to that," said Charles, deflecting the conversation.

"Me? What on earth...? Oh, you mean, you think because I kissed him goodbye...?"

"Margaret, that was some kiss! I think everyone assumed..."

"It was a goodbye kiss, Charles. I love Hawkeye to bits, but only as a friend. Wait – weren't you there when I kissed Radar goodbye?"

He smiled. "Yes. I thought he was going to pass out."

"Think I'm going to be moving in with him any time soon?"

"Of course not, but..."

"'But' nothing. Hey, hang on here! You've done it again, haven't you? Wriggled out from talking about how you feel? Charles, you can't keep doing that!"

His thumbs stroked the backs of her hands. She found it oddly relaxing.

"I know you're right. Really I do. But, Margaret, I can't help wondering – who the hell am I going to talk to in Boston? Who do I know who will understand this? Any of it?"

She squeezed his hands. "Boston's a big place, there's going to be plenty of veterans kicking around there. Tell you what, I'll call my dad from Tokyo, see if he can get a list drawn up – there's probably a whole lot of people around there who feel the same way you do. You might even know one or two of them."

He seemed much calmer, more like his normal self, so she stood up to go. He stood up too and, just as she had in the Officers' Club, she suddenly felt far too aware of him.

"I...I'd better go."

"Yes."

"See how talking helps? You look much better now."

"Mmm-hmm."

"Goodnight then."

"Goodnight."

She hadn't moved, mainly because her knees appeared to have mutinied – and why the hell was it so hot in here?

"Margaret?"

"Yes?"

"Since – um – we're never going to see each other again after tonight, I suppose I might as well throw caution to the wind and tell you that there's something else I've been bottling up for a while now."

"Oh?"  She looked up, put a hand on his chest to steady herself. "What's that then?"

"This."

His kiss was almost bruising in its intensity, yet she could still feel the tenderness behind it, and the vulnerability that he'd never let anyone see till now. She kissed back, wanting to wrap herself around him and stay there forever. It was frightening, and wonderful, and totally, totally unexpected, but she couldn't, wouldn't, let him go now.

"Oh, dammit, Major," she murmured, echoing her words on the dance floor, "I guess I'm yours for as long as it takes."

*          *            *            *            *

"Major Winchester?"  Father Mulcahy ignored Charles' shout not to come in, and wandered blithely into the tent. "I've been looking for Major Houlihan, and I wondered if you'd..."

His voice trailed off.

"Yes, I have, Father," Charles confessed, as Margaret screamed and hid under the blanket, "I definitely have. Did you want to leave her a message?"

Poor Father Mulcahy seemed not to have heard him, but he had clearly seen more than was good for him. "Sorry, Major – and Major – I... um... I... I'll just... er..."  He tripped over one of Charles' discarded boots, apologised to it, backed over Margaret's shirt and exited.

As the door closed behind him, they began to laugh, but stopped when they heard another set of footsteps approaching.

"Oh, is that for the Major?" they heard Mulcahy say, loudly, "I'll take it, I think he may be in the showers. He isn't in here anyway."

"Oh, thank you, Father."  Parker's voice. "It's his pen, he lent it me yesterday in the Officers' Club. If you could make sure he gets it?"

Two sets of footsteps retreated from the tent, and Margaret burrowed out from under the blanket. "Bless you, Father," she said.

"For I have sinned," added Charles, chuckling, and making Margaret giggle.

"I think you're supposed to say that when you repent," she said, pressing closer, "And that sure doesn't feel much like repentance to me!"

"That is entirely your fault, for crawling all over me," he said. Before she could protest too much he added, wickedly, "Want to crawl some more?"

"Yes – if you don't think that's being too 'obvious'?" 

He chuckled again.

"But before I do," she said, "I'm just going to do one other thing."

"And what's that?"

She kissed him and swung out of bed.  "Lock that goddam door!"

The End