Chapter 1: Charles Winchester

Hello, my dear MASH 4077 comrade! This letter comes to you from your beloved Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce, and perhaps as a surprise. Yes, I am aware that we only parted ways eight months ago, but I honestly couldn't wait any longer. Maybe I waited too long already. Accompanying this letter is a package. Its contents are a gift from me to you. Now, I know, I know, it's not even close to Christmas, but all the same, the object in that box is something I want you to have. I trust you'll cherish it as much as I did.

The package was brought in with the rest of the Winchester mail by the butler. He set the stack of envelopes and the one square package on the desk in front of the doctor who looked up from his writing and thanked him before he left.

There was once a time when Charles Emerson Winchester III, by whom the butler had been employed for a long time, would not have deemed a verbal thanks necessary. But he'd come back from Korea a changed man, and they both knew it.

Charles noted the large package straight off, but postponed his curiosity until he had sorted through the smaller parcels of mail. At last he reached for the box, puzzling over who might have sent it. He had received countless gifts from his parents over the years, but these days he was living back in Boston in a well-to-do neighborhood not far from theirs. Who then could have sent him this?

With the package in his hands, he glanced first at the sender's address. Crabapple Cove, Maine. And the sender's name right above it. B.F. Pierce.

A competing set of emotions arose in the normally stoic Winchester. In truth he'd have to admit that there was an overwhelming sense of connection. His second admittance would have to be that it was one which he had missed dearly these eight months.

Pierce had grown to be considered one of his closest friends. They had, after all, gone through hell together and managed to live through it. And it was to Hawkeye that he owed part of his survival.

The feeling of camaraderie shared by their Korea experience gave way to a sense of dread chasing closely at its heels. What on earth had Pierce sent him?

Charles was soon able to formulate an answer. Those devious pranksters he had for bunkmates were not to be trusted. No doubt this box contained a belonging (or several) of his which they had pilfered and thought only now to return.

With a knowing smirk, the M.D. tore into the package with animation. He would reclaim whatever property Pierce had been harboring and then go about concocting a suitable revenge.

Ripping the box open with quite undignified glee, he plunged his hands in to rediscover what was his. They emerged with a letter and with an object he had seen thousands of times before. It was not his, but it was more familiar to him than half of the things he did own.

Setting the letter on the desk, he held up the gift in wonder. It was a reddish purple bathrobe, the same one that had stood out with such ludicrous clarity in the sea of olive green. It was Hawkeye's robe, his childish retreat from the world. But also, Charles had come to understand, the source of some comfort found whether in the act of defiance or the charade of normalcy.

Monetarily it had almost no worth, but it was a gift of immense proportions. It was priceless.

A stunned smile crept across Charles' face as he finished reading the accompanying letter. Carefully, almost reverently, he slipped the robe on around him over his business clothes. It didn't matter that he looked the picture of foolishness; somehow this robe had the power to make anyone look dignified.

Wearing the robe, he closed his eyes and the connection was back. He felt again the camaraderie and friendship, the family, that he had discovered in the 4077th MASH. No matter the distance of space or time, their group bond would endure. Charles was reassured in this, knowing that the only people who could truly understand him these days were still close in spirit.

He had never loved that purple-red robe more.