AN: I've been asked more than once where they are in Korea, but that information is tricky to come by. Anywhere I choose would be a guess. MASH units were stationed near the front and in the first two years of the war, it shifted constantly. They would bug out weekly at some points and the moves would be done quickly and precisely. There is nowhere to accurately look up information online about the locations where MASH units were set up, but I know for a fact from a site dedicated to veterans trying to find former army buddies that in the course of 1952 one MASH was stationed in both Taegu and Hwachon, which are nearly on opposite sides of South Korea...there is no specific location in mind, because most guesses will be wrong, or right, but not for long. Even the city of Wijambu, which is often referenced on the TV show MASH can't be found on google maps. So I ask that you suspend your disbelief and bear with me as I say that the setting is a MASH unit in Korea.
Love to mizzdee, who has waded through a mountain of finished chapters so I could post. For those of you who read "The Family You Make" there will be an update this weekend.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Story is rated M for language and lemons.
Chapter 6 – The Aid Station
The bug out was well behind the 8076, with three weeks of distance being more than was necessary when life changed in a minute. But as luck often had it, when one danger passed, another one presented itself.
It was the second week of May when Corporal Yorkie ran into the OR to whisper in the Colonel's ear. Nurse Swan was seasoned enough to know that meant trouble.
She tried to focus on the table before her, but Dr. Whitlock had to ask her three separate times for sutures before she shook out of it and handed him what he needed.
The senior staff was called to a meeting in the Colonel's office as soon as they cleared the front of the building. Alice pulled Bella into the Mess Tent to wait for the news to come down to them.
"It's bad, Alice, I know it is," she told her friend, who shook her head.
"Bella, we will get through this fine, I promise you."
"Why did you say it like that, Alice," Bella asked as Corporal Yorkie approached.
"Lieutenants, the Colonel needs Nurse Swan in his office.
Bella followed behind him to see all three surgeons sitting there as well as Major Hale. Before she could ask why she was called in, the Colonel spoke. "Lieutenant, I received word that an Aid Station near the front is in need of a doctor and a nurse to help until their replacements arrive. We've been seeing a fair number of their wounded in here and they're coming off the lines with burns in addition to their other injuries, so of all of my nurses, you're the most competent with the treatment of burns."
"I'm being sent to the front?" Bella whispered as the fear gripped her.
"There's nothing that can be done for it," Carlisle said, but you have your choice of surgeon with the exception of Dr. King and I, who have both seen time at a unit at the front. You don't have to decide now, but the jeep will leave at 0700," Carlisle dismissed them, and Edward was already over at Isabella's side.
"It'll be fine," he whispered. "I have some things to take care but I will meet you in the Mess Tent tonight for dinner and we will discuss our departure then."
"I'm taking Jasper," Bella whispered loud enough for only the two men to hear.
"Excuse me?" Edward asked.
"I have to choose my surgeon, and I'm picking Major Whitlock," Bella rasped.
"Like hell you are? There's no way that my girl is walking straight into hell while I'm sitting here looking for drips of information from drugged up patients."
"Edward, I won't let you put yourself in danger just so you know how much danger I'm in. We'll be fine, but I need to know that you're here waiting for me."
"Bella, love, don't send me away from you in your time of need. Please let me go with you."
Bella nodded dumbly as Alice led her to the tent to pack the small bag she would be taking with her for the few days they would be stationed at the front. In the time they were alone, Bella finally had the chance to talk out here fears.
"Alice, if Edward is there with me, he's going to be…"
"I can't tell the future, Bella, but I have every intention of going back to the States on the arm of my Major and maybe convincing him to take a position at an Army hospital, or VA somewhere closer to you two."
"You can't be serious?" Bella asked.
"What? How can you not think that far ahead of this place? My sanity lives in daydreams of Edward and Jasper hiding out from a pair of very pregnant ladies, waiting for the hormones to abate so the loves of their lives can make a reappearance. Just try and have faith, and don't do anything I wouldn't do in the next week," Alice teased.
"Week?" Bella gasped.
"You shouldn't be gone that long, but I'm including our first few days back as well," Alice clarified.
"I'll try," Bella told her as they finished putting her piles of clothes into the bag so they could both find their men.
The couples ate together in the Mess Tent but were then forced to retire to their quarters as the Captain and his Lieutenant had an early Jeep ride.
The next morning, Edward was packing the Jeep with supplies when Bella finally emerged from the Nurses' Tent.
"Here are my things," she said as Edward put her duffle bag in beside his and then checked the rope securing the extra boxes.
"We're all set, now we just have time for a quick breakfast," Edward whispered as the Colonel approached.
"I'm sorry, but I need you to get on the road. The best I can offer is some buttered toast and a thermos of coffee." Bella took it from the Colonel as she climbed into the Jeep, sitting it down only long enough to put on her helmet. Edward did the same and Carlisle took a step back. "God's speed."
With a salute, Edward pulled out and began their journey. It took most of the morning between the length of the journey, the rough roads, and the poor directions, but eventually he parked the vehicle beside the ambulances and they took what their arms could carry as they ran for the building. Men from the aid station ran out to get the remainder of their things. A haggard looking man a few years older than Edward reached out to take his hand.
"I'm Dr. Peter Martins, and I'm what's left of the medical staff here, what are your names?"
"I'm Dr. Edward Masen and this is Nurse Bella Swan," Edward told him, noticing that he didn't discuss rank.
"Pleasure. Now let me show you around." The building had three rooms, which were set up to stage the men coming off the front line. "The front room is where we triage our patients, then in this large area we perform surgery, or simply put a band-aid on the bullet wound until your friends can get a hold of them. That small room in there is our version of the supply building. Now, I hate to rush you, but we just got the call of incoming wounded, so stash your gear and sidle up to the bottle of alcohol."
Edward and Bella did as Peter instructed and soon they were wrist deep in their first set of patients. "Nurse, you're the burn expert, so we'll have the men that need your special attention set up on the sawhorses here. If there's anything you need, one of the corpsmen will help you."
"Thank you, Sir," Bella responded as the first man was brought in. He didn't seem to have many injuries beside the burns, so the Lieutenant got to work. She irrigated the charred flesh and worked quickly to clean the area, applying a generous amount of sulfa powder before she dressed the wound and called for the next gurney.
The three of them worked like this for a few hours before Peter called Isabella to his patient. "Nurse Swan, I need your help for a moment."
She rounded the gurney just in time to see the doctor's hands as well as the patient catch fire. "Get me water," Bella called as she used the water she had carried over to put out the patient's abdomen while Peter sunk his hands into a basin of the cooling liquid.
"That's not the first time it's happened. We strip them of their clothes and they still go up like a roman candle," Peter said shaking his head.
"It's the wound itself," Bella explained. "The fire is put out, but the first time the area is properly rinsed is here. If it's a grease or oil based fire then depending on how they pack it, it can hold the heat and continue to burn the patient until they are cleaned up properly. But these are likely phosphorus burns. The alcohol and the open air give it an accelerant and something to feed it. Look at the area; they put a salve on thinking it was helping, but it held the phosphorus in the wound."
"Corpsman, get me plenty of bandages and another few basins of water, we'll be here a while." Peter worked with Nurse Swan, watching how sure she was in her movements. "How did you come to be the burn expert at your MASH?"
"The hospital I worked at in Seattle is known for its burn unit, and all of the nurses are trained in the burn procedures, regardless of where they work within the hospital. I used to do shifts in the ER as well as the burn unit, so I saw a lot of it. We once had a kitchen fire from a local restaurant, a prep cook knocked over a skillet of oil and it ignited, sending the kitchen up. He refused treatment at the scene but came in later saying he'd burned himself on the skillet's handle and didn't understand why it was still burning. We unwrapped it and saw that it was an oil burn, he'd put his hand into the skillet of oil without knowing it and put salve on it, trapping in the heat. That is one of one hundred stories I could bore you with."
"It wouldn't bore me, Lieutenant, this is a vital part of my education," Peter joked.
"Do we have a tub we could submerge him in?" Bella asked, but Peter shook his head.
"That's above our pay grade here. We can douse him and see if we can find the phosphorus, or we can leave it open and get him on a bus headed to your unit."
"Let's get him on his way then. This will take too long and there are too many others that need our attention." Bella had Peter write the note on his tag in case Royce was doing triage and they moved onto their next patient as the first bus left with their burn victim and a few others.
Edward noticed the way the pair chatted over the next two patients, so when he needed an extra set of hands on one of the boys, he jumped at the opportunity. "Lieutenant Swan, can you come help me with this patient?"
"Of course, Doctor," she said, washing her hands in alcohol before moving to his makeshift table.
"You and Peter seem to be getting along well," he said and he handed her the retractor he'd been trying to hold himself while he worked.
"He's a sweet boy, Edward," Bella responded, knowing that she'd have to go further to assuage her love. "He was a resident when he was called up, so he learned a lot at the scalpel of the other MD that was stationed here until he was killed. His fiancée, Charlotte, had to get a job at a diner in their hometown and he wishes he was there so she didn't have to put up with the yahoos that he knows frequent the place. Peter doesn't have a hundred people to shoot the breeze with like we do at the 8076. He has the eight men who are left with him. In a few days he'll have a new cutter to work with and we'll be back to our own corner of hell, I was just trying to be polite as long as we're here. Peter could learn a great deal from you, if you would give him a chance."
"I'll talk to him when this round of surgery is over. You're right, I'm being an ass." Edward clamped off the bleeder long enough to sew it up and close the wound. "He should be good until he gets to the MASH, I'd rather they set his leg than us trying to do it before he gets on that bus and has it knocked back out of place."
They continued for a few more hours before the shelling began.
"They've been fighting all day, why is this the first shelling we've heard?" Isabella hollered into the din of noise.
"We lost our big gun in the fighting two days ago, and the North Koreans had been separated from theirs when we pushed them back," Peter explained. "So either they've pushed back to their original position, or we've finally decided that it was safe to use."
"Which does it sound like to you?" Edward asked him quietly.
"Them, they're landing too close for it to be us. I was just hoping to reassure the Lieutenant," Peter responded.
"Thank you, she'll have a hard enough time sleeping as it is." Edward looked over at Bella where she worked with one of the corpsmen to tie a pressure bandage on. "Do you want to get the rest of these men out?"
"I say we better. We can have a corpsman to get a report and find out what's happening. There's a chance we'll have to move, and if so, we don't have the luxury of six hours like you MASHers," Peter joked.
Finishing up their patients, all the wounded were sent off to their next stop as one of the corpsmen radioed the men on the front. A large explosion rang out as the man who had just got off the radio ran over to Peter as they started to clean up. "Captain, the line's holding and it seems that the Koreans blew up their own gun. So either they're pulling back and didn't want to leave it, or they just screwed the pooch and weakened themselves, either way, they say it should quiet down for a while."
"You hear that, we'll get some sack time," Peter told Edward and Bella before returning his attention to the corpsman. "Have two men on patrol and the rest of you can catch some shut eye, we'll do the same."
"Yes, Sir," the corpsman responded.
"You two take the supply room. It's the only part of this building that isn't being held up by sandbags."
"Thank you, Captain," Bella said as she walked towards the door, turning when Edward didn't follow. "I'll see you in the morning."
Peter chuckled as Edward continued to watch her. "It's a blessing and a curse having her so near, isn't it?"
"You have no idea," Edward told him. "I'm so grateful that she's with me and that I met her here, but there isn't a moment of the day that I'm not afraid for her. She's the best thing to ever happen to me and I could lose her in an instant. It's been a year since she rode into our unit, her hands inside a patient that she and the company clerk hitched a ride with after their jeep had been blown up, and it has been the best year of my life."
"You planning on marrying her?" Peter asked.
"As soon as I can. If we do it now, she'll get shipped to another unit, so I'm waiting for this to be over or one of us to get our points. I hope it's her, I pray to every God there is that she gets moved to a hospital away from the fighting, or discharged outright. I'll put a ring on her finger and tell her that I'll meet her in Seattle as soon as I get my papers."
"It's nice to see something good come out of this damn thing. We see so much of the bad; it's hard to remember there's a whole other world out there that has no idea what we're going through. That's my biggest worry with Charlotte. She sees the newsreels but that isn't the half of it. I read her letters and she tells me that she's so proud of me and what I'm doing…but what if I can't go back to normal life?"
"With the love of your gal, you'll make it through, hold onto that," Edward assured him.
"You're a good man, Edward, and a damn fine surgeon."
"You're not too bad yourself, Martins. If you have anything you want to ask, feel free," Edward offered.
"Will do. But for now I think you should go keep you girl warm, the holes in the ceiling takes some getting used to."
Edward laughed at Peter's joke as he went in the supply room to find Bella curled tightly in on herself. He took his duffle out long enough to find the blanket he'd stuffed into it and slid behind Bella.
"Edward," she yawned.
"I'm here, Sweetheart, go back to sleep."
A loud booming noise startled the couple in the pre-dawn hours, Edward having enough clarity of mind to throw himself on top of Bella.
"Grab whatever you can carry and move out, we're falling back!" Peter yelled from the main room and Edward threw his duffle open and pushed the blanket in before slinging it on his back and grabbing two of the supply cases. The boxes looked like small trunks, but having been closed and latched the night before; they securely held everything they needed inside.
Four corpsmen came in to carry the remaining cases while Peter and the four corpsmen in the main room collected their supplies and took off into the brush. Captain Masen kept his girlfriend close as they moved with the second half of the aid station's men.
"I thought we were supposed to stay out of the brush because that's where they lie in wait?" Bella whispered when they moved.
"A spotter plane likely saw the building and assumed what we're using it for. They'll take out the building and move on," Peter told her bluntly.
"They're attacking it because if they kill us, they're killing all the men we could have saved," one of the other men said, only to be smacked by the man closest to him.
"Don't scare the Lieutenant; she's not used to this."
Bella leaned into Edward's side harder, needing any strength she could get from him. Two more planes flew over and two more bombs fell to the ground. The first landed in the field to the right of the aid station, the second falling just beside it, blowing the building up. They waited several long moments before they heard movement coming towards them.
"We're moving out," a gruff looking man said from the road. "'I' Company is holding this position now, and we're being moved to another hill so we can keep these Commies running."
"What about the replacement surgeon? Will he be informed of our new location?" Peter asked.
"The cutter probably knew before we did, he'll be there in the morning, which will be good since it'll take us all day to get there. Load your things into the Jeeps and send the skirt back to her unit," the commander said.
"Peter?" Edward asked, wanting to make sure he'd be all right until the new surgeon arrived.
"He's right, we'll take the day to get there then you'll just have to leave in the morning. Get Bella back to the 8076 and take this." Peter shoved a piece of paper into his hand and the men went to look at their vehicles.
The distance from the building and where the bomb had landed meant that the three jeeps had survived, having been shielded by the overturned bus. The corpsmen pushed it off from where it had been leaning against one of the Jeeps and then loaded the gear in, before climbing in themselves. It was a tight fit, but they managed, and Edward took Bella's duffle and loaded their bags before lifting her into the passenger seat and driving off.
Bella didn't say a word as they drove back to the camp, and as they grew closer he began to worry. There was a small village that the doctors had come to know well as they would often treat the locals, so Edward pulled the car over and turned to Bella.
"Sweetheart, I'm worried about you," Edward said as he reached out for her.
"Edward, that was the single most frightening day of my life. We were supposed to be there for another day or two at least, and I can't imagine surviving that. I knew war was going to be the worst thing imaginable, and I've taken a little comfort that until now I've managed, but I'm not sure how I'm going to continue."
Edward took Bella's face in his hands as he spoke to her. "You are the strongest women I know, Bella. It may seem impossible, but we'll get past this together. I won't leave you alone in your suffering, all you have to do is tell me and I will be there."
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she leaned forward to kiss him. "I know, and I love you for it."
"Okay, let's get back and surprise everyone. I'm actually looking forward to lunch in the Mess Tent after the C-rations we had yesterday," Edward joked, breaking the tension between them.
The last few miles were short and as they pulled into the compound, Corporal Yorkie came running out to greet them. "You're early, Sir, Ma'am, but we sure are glad to have you back."
"We're happy to be back," Edward said. "Can you tell the Colonel we'll be in to see him after we get some sack time?"
"No can do, Sir. You may be early, but the moment you got in I was supposed to send in the Lieutenant."
"I'll meet you in the Mess Tent, Edward, I'm sure it's nothing major," Bella said as she climbed out of the Jeep.
Eric escorted her into Carlisle's office where he was having a discussion with Major Hale. "Sir, the Captain and the Lieutenant just pulled into the compound, so I brought Nurse Swan in."
"Very good, Corporal, that will be all," Carlisle said with a grin. "Nurse Swan, the promotions board got a very interesting letter about you about two months ago. It seems you impressed some pretty important brass while they were here and they spoke on your behalf and put you in for a promotion."
"What?" Bella whispered.
"Of course they contacted me and asked for your file, as well as my and the Major's opinion and we just got the list and you're on it. Congratulations, Captain Swan."
Bella backed away slowly. "I d…don't understand. People serve for years and never get promoted, and I'm one of the newest nurses in the unit. This doesn't make sense."
Rosalie stepped forward to explain. "You're a nurse whose specialty gives you a place of respect, which is what the General saw. He evidently asked about why the Major deferred to you and he explained that you came from a burn unit so when there was something that needed a special treatment you were the one the doctors preferred to have you handle it. I know you won't make a career out of being an Army nurse, but you have the makings of one. Your commendation, plus the high words of praise won over the board and now you're the second highest ranking nurse here, which will be sure to ruffle a few feathers, but you're the most deserving of my girls. Enjoy this, Bella. And you have the perfect place to celebrate it."
"Wait, you have another surprise?" Bella seriously began to wonder if she was sleeping in the aid station still after the turn of events.
"There's a seminar in Tokyo beginning on Monday, and since we'd just sent Captain Masen to the front we thought a few days in Japan plus a little R&R time would make up for it. Normally, the ranking nurse would accompany when there is a nurse's seminar as well, but your promotion means that you are the best choice to go. So between your R&R and the work functions you'll have five days in Tokyo." Carlisle smiled as Bella processed what he said.
"Edward and I will get five days together in Tokyo?"
"Yes, now, which surprise would you like to tell him first?" Carlisle teased.
"How long before the promotion takes effect? Will I have my bars when we leave, or…?" Bella trailed off as Carlisle reached into his desk.
"I have them right here, now we can have everyone assemble out front after lunch if you'd like."
"Would you mind if we did the ceremony in here, I don't want to make a fuss over it? It'll be nice to have a few days to try out my new hardware before going to Tokyo," Bella giggled.
Five minutes later had Bella trotting over to the Mess, Bella found Edward sitting with two trays at one of the first tables. Alice and Jasper were with him and as she slid in beside him, she could barely contain her excitement.
"I'm guessing whatever was so important was good news, Lieutenant?" Edward looked up from his tray to wink at her.
"I'm going to miss hearing you call me that," Bella said, causing him to drop his fork.
"Bella, what are you saying?" His mind immediately thought of her being rotated home, but she had to burst his bubble.
"I evidently impressed someone important, because I got promoted. I'm officially Captain Swan."
Edward's face regained its color as he pulled her in for a kiss. "I'm so proud of you, Bella. You really do deserve this. We have to celebrate!"
"We'll have plenty of time for that in Tokyo next week." Bella sprung another surprise on him.
"They're sending us to the medical seminar in Tokyo together?" he asked.
"Between where we just came from and my promotion, it sealed us as the candidates." She smiled even brighter at him.
"This is outrageous," Captain King bellowed. "They made you a Captain? What is wrong with this hare-brained Army? The very idea that you deserve to be on the same level as-"
"Watch what you say, Captain," Bella hollered back. "You seem to rejoice in making others miserable, but you aren't going to ruin this moment for me. I've worked my tail off here and I was recognized for it. Now you may not believe that anyone but you deserves praise, but I didn't see a cluster replace your Captain's bars, so I guess the abhorrent attitude you display on a daily basis put a tarnish on all of your great work."
Royce King stood there, unable to react to the fact that he'd been dressed down by anyone, let alone one of the nurses. Bella returned to her seat and resumed eating, not paying any attention to the Captain as he stormed out.
"Bella, I can't wait until we get to Tokyo, because I have a lot of time to make up for with you," Edward whispered to her.
"Don't feel the need to rush it, Edward. I plan on spending the rest of my life with you."
EN: So you know what next chapter will be…let's see if we can have one more before 2013 rolls around, shall we? If not, it won't be too long into the January.