In Love and Peace

Part Five

"Honoria, go and fetch your father – oh, and the doctor. I think he's coming to, at last!"

Hearing his mother's voice, Charles opened his eyes slowly, frowning as he tried to work out where he was, and why he felt as though he'd been nailed down – he couldn't move, and he hurt all over.

"Darling! You're awake!"

His mother's face swam into view, and he blinked up at her, realising she was holding his hand. "M…Mother? What…? Where am I?"

"You're in the hospital, darling, you… had a bit of an argument with an automobile."

"Oh." He tried to remember, while his mother dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief and blew her nose, obviously overwhelmed with relief. The last thing he could recall was… leaving somewhere… a hotel… he'd been upset, he'd been on his way to… "Sooni!" he exclaimed. He looked from his mother, seated by the bed, to his father, who had hurried into the room to stand behind her, and Honoria, next to him. "Where's Sooni?" he asked.

His mother patted his hand. "All in good time, dear. You need to concentrate on getting well," she said.

"Where is she?" he demanded, trying to sit up. "Ow!"

The door opened at that moment, and a doctor he recognised as Kelly from A&E came in. "Charles, you should know better than to try to move just yet!" he scolded, "You've got a broken collar bone, fractured ribs, punctured lung, dislocated shoulder and greenstick-fractured tibia, not to mention the knock on the head you took. You've been unconscious for the best part of three days. Now lie still!" He turned to Charles' family. "I need to examine the patient, folks, if you wouldn't mind waiting outside for a few minutes?"

"No," said Charles, tightening his grip on his mother's hand, "Not until they've answered my question."

Honoria stepped forward "Let me, mother," she said, quietly.

"We'll be right outside, dear," said his mother, stooping to bestow a kiss before getting up and going out of the room along with his father.

Kelly gave Charles a stern glare. "You've got one minute," he said, exiting behind them.

Charles sighed. "Just tell me," he said.

"Once she knew you were g…going to be alright, she s…said she d…didn't want to cause any m…more trouble," said Honoria, sitting on the bed and taking his hand. "She w…went back with F…Father Mulcahy and the orphans this m…morning. I'm suh…so sorry, Charles. I t…tried to make her s…stay, but I c…couldn't. I just c…couldn't." She let go of his hand and opened her handbag. "She left you a letter," she said, pressing an envelope into his palm and leaning carefully forward to kiss his cheek. "I know how m…much she loves you, Charles. I guess she thought this was the only w…way."

She got up and left the room, closing the door quietly. Behind her, Charles bit down on his lip and crumpled the envelope in his fist.

"Hey! Can I come in?"

Charles looked up from a book he couldn't concentrate on anyway to find Hawkeye Pierce grinning at him from the doorway. "Looks like you already have," he said, tossing the book aside. "And here I thought you'd all gone home."

Pierce grinned, strolled across to drop into the bedside chair. "Nah, I figured I could hang around for a day or six. Amy had to go teach, and Margaret and Doug couldn't get their leave extended any, so I'm afraid you're stuck with me - Dad's taking my patients this week, so I don't have to rush back." He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a hip-flask. "Thought you might like to stash this under your pillow," he said, "I promise I didn't brew it myself."

Charles took it, unscrewed the top and sniffed it. "Cognac!" he said, impressed, "Oh, wait, don't tell me – this is from one of those bottles you 'liberated' from my own supply in the Swamp, isn't it?"

"How'd you…?" Pierce spluttered. He gave one of his sheepish grins. "Yeah, okay. You got me." A shrug. "A least I saved you some, huh?"

"Generous of you," said Charles. He took a sip, closing his eyes for a moment as he savoured the taste. "When I get out of here, remind me to do something about the hospital food," he said, "That's the best thing I've tasted all week."

While he stoppered the flask and pushed it under his pillow, Pierce got up and wandered to the end of the bed to examine his medical chart. "Hmm, looks like you're doing okay for a guy who took on a Buick and lost," he said, "Though I gather the car was a write-off, so maybe that means you won?"

"Doesn't feel like I won from where I'm lying," said Charles.

"No, I guess not." Pierce's face grew more serious, along with his tone of voice, as he put the chart back and sat down again. "We all tried to talk her out of it, you know – your sister, Mulcahy, all of us. She just… she felt she'd caused you enough hurt already, I guess."

"I know," said Charles. He put a hand over the letter he kept in the pocket of his pyjama jacket, as though he needed to check it was there. "She wrote me."

"Well, you're not going to leave it at that, are you?" Pierce stood up and began to pace about. Charles wondered why he couldn't ever stay still for more than a minute at a time. "Charles, your parents… I don't think much of your parents, Charles, you might as well know that, but I do know that they were beside themselves with worry when they got here the other night. They were terrified they were going to lose their son. Now that they've got you safe, do you really think they'll want to risk losing you again, just because you insist on marrying a woman who makes you happy, and not some society deb they've picked out for you?"

"What difference does it make?" said Charles, "Sooni's not here for me to marry, is she?"

"Then go get her!" said Hawkeye, raising his voice and pointing toward the door. "Jeez, Charles, don't tell me you can't afford the air fare!" He braced his hands on the bed's footboard. "You've got another five weeks in traction," he said, "Write her, send her flowers, send her a ticket back here, anything! You can't just let her go, you numbskull! And if your parents object, tell them you'll throw yourself under a truck next time if they don't agree!"

Charles found he was smiling. He hadn't done much of that these past few days. "I doubt my parents approve of you either, Pierce," he said, "You do have a habit of opening your mouth where angels fear to speak. Occasionally though, you do manage to say something that borders on the sagacious."

"Yeah, and sensible too," said Pierce. He whipped a felt-tip pen from his pocket and walked around to start scribbling on the plaster-cast on Charles' leg. "Look, I'm going to write it here to make sure you don't forget, okay?"

When he finished and stood back, Charles could see he had written, in block capital letters: Get better. And then go get her, Chuckles!

November 1954

The cab pulled into the yard, and Charles handed the fare and a generous tip to the driver, and collected his crutches from the footwell.

"Do you need any help, sir?" the driver asked.

"No. Thanks, I can manage." He opened the door and, putting out his good leg first, hauled himself out and got onto the crutches.

The cab pulled away, and he was left alone in the yard, looking up at the house. It was in a better state of repair than he remembered – the walls were sound, the windows glazed and the roof was complete. It was quiet, save for the noise of the chickens that were pecking around the yard, and the receding noise of the car engine.

He supposed he ought to have let Sooni know he was coming. But he had found it difficult to find the words to put in a letter, had had no response to the flowers he had sent. If she was out in the fields somewhere, or had gone to Seoul for a week, he would just have to wait. Assuming he could get in the house!

He braced himself on the crutches, and started toward the door, stopping in his tracks as it opened and Kyung Soon came out, drying her hands on an apron. He doubted she could have looked more astonished if she'd found one of the chickens doing a song and dance routine. "Charles? I heard the car, I…" She walked toward him steadily, as though she was afraid he was an apparition that would disappear if she moved too quickly. "You came back? For me?" She was right in front of him now, and put out a hand to touch the front of his coat. "Haven't I caused you enough trouble already?"

"Nothing that happened in Boston was your fault," he said, aching to hold her and silently damning his need for the crutches, "Unless you count my proposing to you. Sooni, right now my parents wouldn't object if I said I wanted to marry a rainforest pygmy!"

She ducked her head, but he had already seen that he'd made her smile.

Encouraged he went on: "I won't pretend to you that it will be easy, my love, but I can tell you that these past six weeks without you have been hell on earth. I need you, Sooni. I love you, and all I want right now is to get Father Mulcahy to marry us, so that we don't have to waste any more time worrying about what other people might think. Paris might have to wait till next year, but if you'd like to we could go back to Boston via some great places in the States – San Francisco, Hannibal Missouri, Fort Dix…"

"Crabapple Cove?" she added, raising her eyes to meet his.

He nodded. "Anywhere you like," he promised, bending his head to kiss her.

She stepped away a little, and for a moment he feared she was going to go back into the house and leave him standing in the dust, but then she put her hands on his arms where he held the crutches, and shook her head. "I can't believe you came back for me," she murmured, "No-one ever did that before!"

"I can't imagine why not," said Charles, "You're worth crossing half the world for, Kyung Soon."

Her smile broadened, and she put her arms around his neck. "Then I will cross half the world for you too, Charles," she said.

He put his weight on his good leg, and pulled her into his arms to kiss her properly, dropping the crutches as he did so. He wouldn't be needing them for a while anyway – he had no intention of letting go of Sooni for a very long time.

The end