A/N: Hello, fellow M*A*S*H fans! I've put this off quite long enough, so I've finally decided to dive into the fantastic and under-appreciated realm of M*A*S*H fanfiction. If I may say so, we're a small school of fish in a sea of Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean stories. Not that I have anything against either, but... what do they have that M*A*S*H doesn't? An endless flood of merchandise, I guess. Personally, I think M*A*S*H is one of the best things that happened to pop culture, so I thought I'd make my own small contribution by supporting M*A*S*H-fics. I hope you like it.
Disclaimer: I think it's pretty clear I don't own M*A*S*H. I defer to the geniuses who created it.
The Wind and the Rain
Chapter One: Lemmings Must Be Directed
"`Mercy on me!' quoth she, `what is the meaning of this, husband? You look as though you had come all the way on foot, and tired off your legs too! Why, you come liker a shark than a governor.'"
Robert Malone listened, a half-smile on his face, as he watched his daughter read aloud from the battered copy of Don Quixote de la Mancha, her brow furrowing in concentration as she tried to make out the words in the dim light of the hospital lamp. The girl — young woman, he had to remind himself — sat perched on the edge of his bed, her unruly red hair tucked behind her ears. She paused in her reading periodically to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose. It was times like this, when Fenella came to read to him at the Neurology department of the Good Samaritan Hospital, that his condition bothered him the least. Her presence made it easier to imagine he was back in his Portland home, and the sound of her low, pleasant, mellow voice soothed him like nothing else.
"`Mum, Teresa,' quoth Sancho;" she continued, "`it is not all gold that glisters; and every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. First let us go home, and then I will tell thee wonders. I have taken care of the main chance. Money I have, and I came honestly by it, without wronging anybody.'" Fenella paused again to clear her throat.
"Why don't we stop there for tonight, Nellie?" Robert suggested, taking note of her discomfort. "It sounds like your voice is getting tired."
She shook her head, ginger curls flying in every direction. "I'm fine, Dad," she insisted, "I can keep going a little longer."
He smiled. "Well, let's stop anyway for now. The truth is, I'm getting a little tired myself. I just wanted you to think I was being magnanimous."
Nellie laughed at this. "All right, you win," she replied, marking her place and setting the book on the bedside table. She picked up her glass of water and took a sip. "And now, the inevitable: how are you feeling?" Robert sighed in exasperation. "You knew it was coming, Dad."
"I know, I know." It frustrated him nonetheless. Every day he found it more and more difficult to hide his symptoms from his daughter, as well as his thirteen-year-old son Daniel. He would regularly insist that he felt fine, but this never seemed to work. The pair of them were as sharp as tacks, and every miniscule twinge or contraction of his facial muscles alerted them to his deterioration far more effectively than his protests ever could. It certainly didn't help that Nellie was enrolled in nursing school, and was becoming far too observant for his liking. If the blasted kids knew what was good for them, they would choose to believe his gentle lies. It would spare them a lot of pain in the end.
If they weren't going to give up, then he wasn't either. "I feel pretty good today, actually."
His daughter looked at him critically through her cat-eye glasses. "Is that so?" she said, her voice deceptively neutral. "Any muscle spasms? Visual problems? Difficulty swallowing?"
God, she was sounding more like a nurse every day. "No, not that I can recall," he fibbed.
"Let me see your eyes." She leaned forward and peered at Robert closely. He felt a bit like a protozoan in a petri dish. "They're a little twitchy," she remarked. "The nystagmus is more pronounced than compared to, say, last week."
"It's probably just because I'm tired," he insisted. "It is pretty late, you know."
"I think it's getting worse. No wonder you can't read anymore." Nellie leaned back, a worried frown on her expressive face. This was different than her trademark mother hen look. She seemed genuinely frightened.
In an instant Robert went into father mode. "Hey, come here, Ginger," he said softly, tugging at her arm. She stretched out alongside him on the narrow hospital bed and nestled her head on his shoulder. She absently fingered a lock of her hair, which she always did when she was upset. For a moment she looked like that skinny little girl who used to scale his big four-poster bed and burrow in between him and his wife during a thunderstorm. He missed those nights.
"Now listen, kid," he told her, lacing his fingers through hers, "I want you to quit worrying, okay? All that book-learnin' is going to your head." Nellie chuckled despite herself. "I know you want to take care of me, but it's making you sick."
She tilted her head back and looked at him incredulously. "Me sick? But Dad, you're the one with—"
"Shush. Doesn't matter. I see you in here every day, running yourself ragged to make me comfortable. Mothering me the way you mother Danny." Robert took a deep breath to collect himself. "The fact is, I don't have a whole lot of time left, and I'd prefer it if we didn't spend it worrying. I want us to have fun."
Even with his recent loss of sensation, he was still aware of the dampness which had seeped through his hospital gown to his shoulder. "Dad," Nellie said in a thick tone, so unlike her usual calm, unruffled timbre. "That's just what I do. I worry. I worry about you, I worry about what will happen to Danny when... when you're..." She removed her glasses and wiped at her face furiously.
"I know you do, Nell. But you know something? I don't worry. Not at all. Do you know why?"
She shook her head against him.
He sank his fingers bravely into her hair, knowing they would become hopelessly tangled in the curls. "Because I know you'll be okay. I know it. And I know you'll take good care of Danny, because you always have. Remember when your mother passed? And you got it into your little nine-year-old head that you were going to be Danny's new mother?"
When she laughed, he felt it more than he heard it. "Yeah."
"Well, you were as good as your word. You took care of him, and made sure he was safe, and you were just as big a help to me as your mother would have been." He tried to extricate his fingers from her hair, but his diminished motor functions made it a little problematic. "That's why I'm not worried. You kids will be fine. You'll look after each other."
Nellie sniffed and sat up straight, composing and rearranging herself into the little nurse that she was. "I'll always look after Danny," she said in her firm, even voice which left no room for second-guessing. She set her glasses squarely on her nose. "You can count on me, Dad."
SIX YEARS LATER
The Crissy Annex of the Letterman Army Hospital was mercifully quiet as Second Lieutenant Fenella Malone hurried back and forth, checking on the recovering patients. Although the main hospital took care of the more serious injuries while the Crissy Annex dealt with the convalescents, Nellie knew from experience that the ward could get a little harrowing. Out of all the patients currently recovering there, roughly a quarter of them were battle casualties, fresh from the war in Korea. The mental state of the soldiers varied from melancholy to suicidal and everywhere in between. From the way they spoke about their time on the other side of the world, it didn't sound like a place she'd like to visit any time soon. She quite liked it here in San Francisco. In fact, sometimes she thought she liked it enough to consider making it her permanent residence.
This particular day was pleasantly devoid of emotional outbursts or other such incidents. Earlier that morning, a young private with a broken arm had knocked over his meal tray, but it had been an accident, and nothing at all to get worked up about. Otherwise, it had been a perfect day so far.
Nellie had to wonder how long it would last.
One of her patients was weakly waving her over. She shook the cobwebs out of her head and strode over to him, her rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the tile floor. "What can I do for you, Private?" she asked.
"Could I get some more of that applesauce?" the young man said, staring up at her with beseeching blue eyes. She mentally went through the list of things she knew about him. Private Peterson. Recently returned from Korea. Grew up in North Carolina. Had about six dozen girlfriends. Looking at those baby blues, she knew why.
"Hmm, I'll have to deliberate on your request, Peterson," she said, her tone and posture very formal. "You have already ingested your allotment for the day, after all. If you take more than your share, then some other unfortunate soldier may not get any. How would you feel then, Private?"
"Crushed, Nellie. Just crushed." He grinned. "Now can I have some?"
She smiled and shook her head, feeling her glasses slip down her nose. "Your lack of compassion is appalling," she told him, pushing them back up with her index finger. "I'll see what I can do."
"You're a peach, Nellie," he called after her. She simply sighed, reflecting on how soft she had gotten. More and more often, she found she had to check herself because she had a tendency to mother the younger convalescents. She knew exactly why. She had Big Sister Syndrome. And with her nineteen-year-old brother having recently been drafted, her protectiveness was worse than ever.
She made her way to the cafeteria, hoping they had some applesauce left over from lunch. The food at the Letterman Army Hospital was pretty lousy, but from what some of the soldiers had told her, it was haute cuisine in comparison to the rehydrated slop they gave to the poor kids in Korea. Yet another reason to stay in foggy San Francisco.
To her relief, there was plenty of applesauce to go around. Nellie picked up a cup in one hand and a banana for herself in the other, and made her way back to the recovery ward. Suddenly she heard someone calling her name. She turned to see a harried-looking clerk running toward her.
"Lieutenant Malone? Lieutenant Fen... Fenilla..."
Nellie sighed. "Fenella," she said as he skidded to a halt in front of her. "That's me. What is it?"
"Sorry I've gotten behind on the mail delivery, ma'am, I've been really busy," he said apologetically. "There's a letter for you."
She took the envelope from his hand, recognizing the handwriting and the Fort Worth postmark immediately. "It's from my brother! Thank you, Corporal."
Shifting the banana to her other hand, she momentarily juggled two forms of fruit as she tucked the letter into the pocket of her nurse's uniform. Returning the banana to the original hand, she hurried back to the recovery ward and completed her delivery.
"Your sauced apple, Private," she said briskly, setting the cup on the soldier's food tray.
As Private Peterson thanked her around a spoonful of applesauce, she sat down on the empty bed beside him and furiously tore open the letter. As her eyes roved across the page, her heart plummeted in her chest, and the blood drained from her already pale face.
Oh God, it can't be.
The cursed words stood out on the page as if they had been written in a different color: Transfer... shipped out... Korea...
"Damn," she whispered. "Damn, damn, damn."
She lifted her head to see Peterson regarding her with concern. "Hey, are you all right, Nellie?"
Dragging a hand through her unmanageable red hair, she shook her head. "It's my brother," she said, feeling oddly enough like she was listening to someone else speak the words. "He's being sent to Korea."
Korea. From whence boys Danny's age came back home in pieces. If they came back at all.
She may never see him again.
"I'm real sorry to hear that, Nellie," Peterson was saying sympathetically. "Nellie? Hey, where are you going?"
Barely aware of what she was doing, she found she had already stood up and walked back to the clerk's office. The young corporal looked up from his desk. "Lieutenant Malone, right?" he said, pausing in his paper work. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, I'd like to request a transfer," she said in a monotone.
"A transfer?" The clerk began rummaging around in his file cabinet for the appropriate forms. "To where?"
Nellie swallowed. "Korea."
A/N: You saw it coming. Don't try to tell me you didn't. Anyway, I promise you'll see all your old friends in the next chapter. I just wanted to establish my original character in the whole scheme of things: her background, personality, and whatnot. I hope everyone likes her so far. I'm aware that many people are against original characters intruding into their favorite fandoms. But I think as long as they're likable, and not cloyingly sweet or completely bratty, I say why not add some variety? Anyway, enough of my rantings. Hopefully you enjoyed the first chapter enough to stick with it, because I'll have chapter two up soon. And then you'll be reunited with Hawk, Beej, Margaret and the rest of your M*A*S*H-mates. In the meantime, it'd be a lovely gesture to review!