At the end of a row of men, Sally stopped to take stock. It was so far, so good as far as she was concerned. She hadn't saved everyone, but then she never did. No one ever did. She'd deal with that shortly. Her current reading told her that the nurses weren't overwhelmingly rejecting her. That was a start. A short, dark haired nurse hustled up to her elbow.
"Doctor, Corporal David's chart needs your signature…"
She looked down, checked the details, confirmed with the nurse who nodded in acknowledgement and smiled as Sally signed. Dear God, was she actually in a unit where the nurses had control of their own work? Nothing she appreciated more than a nurse left to their own experience, even if her own behaviour sometimes made them feel otherwise. She whispered to herself under her breath.
"Don't fuck this up, Doctor. Don't do stupid".
Smacking out through the doors into the compound, she paused for a moment to let the fresh air hit her face. A deep breath, and the cool night air filled her lungs. She could hear a noise coming from a tin shack to her left, the rickety sign over the door reading "Officers Club Enlisted Men Welcome". But not yet, not quite yet. Tramping over the dirt of the compound she listened to the crunch of the ground underneath her feet, and she scuffed them slightly as she went. Nothing like loose Korean soil to shift the caked blood from the treads of your boots.
A less than five minute walk took her beyond the camp and out towards the darkness. She'd done this ritual many times before, not here but elsewhere. Looking over her shoulder to check she hadn't been followed, she removed her shirt, leaving her shivering slightly in her vest. Looking around the hills, and on the ground round about her, she reasoned she was safe. She sat down soundly on a rock and balled her shirt up. Forcing it up into her face, she took a deep breath, and screamed into it.
It was a technique she'd learned from her mother. No use in losing your temper in front of others who aren't really in a position to help you. In her mother's case, she had four children under 12. In her own case, she was in a camp of folks who were going through the same thing she was. Sort of. More pressingly she was trying to not let on that the death and destruction was getting to her. Ten years as a doctor in a man's world had taught her any sign of emotion would be seen as a failure, rather than a strength.
She was beyond the screaming stage, and was at the pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes crying recovery stage, when a hand on her shoulder made her leap from her spot. She'd caught the wrist and turned round, before she realised that the person she'd involuntarily driven into the kneeling position was the priest she'd met earlier. Immediately releasing her grip, she started to apologise.
"Shit, sorry. Damn, Father. Oh.. Christ. I…" Sally's words ran out. Deep breath, "I am so sorry, I didn't hear you coming". She felt her cheeks flush, this poor man had only heard her swearing so far, and she could tell he was a gentle soul who might not openly take offence, but might still feel it.
"My fault, Captain," Mulcahy said in a high voice. "I should know not to sneak up on women like that. They rarely react well to it". He rubbed his wrist and chuckled, then looked at her intently. "Are you alright? I saw you sitting alone. After tonight, well… it can be a bit of a shock here".
"I'm… fine," she said. She looked back at him with a half smile. "I'm not.. This isn't my first MASH unit, and it's… well, look. Don't worry about me. At least in that way". She shook her head with a gentle laugh towards her feet. "I'm sorry, I didn't meet you properly before. I'm Captain Sally Lester".
"Father Francis Mulcahy". He reached out to shake her outstretched hand. "It's good to have you here".
For the rest of her days, Sally could never explain exactly what it was about that precise moment that made her react the way she did. She tried to work it out, whether it was how gentle his grip was in hers, the careful way he laid his other hand on her shoulder. Her best guess was it was something in his eyes, and the way they seemed to look right into her soul. She felt, for a fleeting moment, this man seemed to know more about her than anyone else had her entire life.
Whatever it was, she was still mortified by her response. Somewhere, down in her chest came a sob. Then another. And another. She pulled her hand away and turned towards the darkness of the countryside, taking a few stumbling steps and mumbling something about being OK, and just wanting to be left alone. She expected to feel a hand or something on her shoulders, but he didn't follow her. He just stood where he was, saying nothing, doing nothing. Just… being there. After a few minutes, when she'd gotten a hold of herself again, she turned back around, he was just standing where he had been, wringing his hands slightly. Seeing she had regained some of her composure, he took a few tentative steps towards her.
"My dear child," he began, putting his hand on her arm, then falling suddenly silent.
They both started slightly as his hand hit the bare skin of her arm. His previously keen eyes were now hovering their gaze somewhere around her hairline.
"I don't think any of us ever get used to it," he finished eventually.
They stood there for a moment, both scared to move. A shout came back from the camp and Sally became aware of the chill around her shoulders, and her half soggy shirt now sitting in the dirt near the rock she'd first sat down on. She made to move towards it, but Mulcahy had already read her thoughts, and beat her to it. He picked it up swiftly and turned to hand it to her. She smiled gentle thanks at him, and began to shake it out and draw it back onto her body. He stepped forward in an awkwardly chivalrous attempt to help. Between the two, they managed to put it back on her, their embarrassment obvious only to themselves.
"Father, is the Officers' Club still serving?"
He didn't even bother checking his watch before smiling at her.
"I have no doubt it will be!"
"Can I buy you a drink, Father?"
He paused for a moment, and she assumed he was trying to work out whether it was a good idea given the circumstances.
"I'd like that very much, Captain," he replied eventually.
They started walking back into the light of the compound, shoulders not quite touching.
"Please," she said. "Call me Sally".
Author's Note: If you've read this far, many thanks. Allow me the indulgence of taking some time to establish Sally a bit. I promise from the next chapter there will be more MASH folks speaking. Your reviews are always ALWAYS gratefully received.