NOTE: This is a pre-epilogue scene from "A Holy Mess", an episode from season 10 of the M*A*S*H TV series. If you're not familiar with the episode, and to avoid the risk of being a spoiler, I highly recommend you read the full plot summary at Fandom's "Monster M*A*S*H" page, and then come back here and read this short piece. (I claim absolutely no ownership to any part of the M*A*S*H franchise)
Gillis was still sobbing in Mulcahy's arms when Spears slowly rose to his feet. Others around him began to stand as well.
"All right, it's all over," he said as he turned to his MP's, "Go in and get him."
The two start walking through the doorway when Mulcahy again spoke up.
"Colonel," said Mulcahy, "Before those two drag him away, I need to talk to you. And you too, Lieutenant."
"There's nothing left to talk about, Father," said Spears flatly. "I don't know what your deal is, but Gillis is mine and you're not taking him from me."
"Lieutenant," Mulcahy countered. "There's something that I think you need to know. But we can't talk here. Your office, Colonel?"
"All right." said Potter with a nod.
"Dammit, Lieutenant, why are you in such a hurry?" Potter snapped. "Nobody is taking Gillis from you. The Padre here has got something to say, and I think we both need to hear it."
"This better be important," said Spears as he, Potter and Mulcahy walk into Potter's office. Gillis, with Spears' MP's watching him, is sitting outside Potter's window.
"It is, Lieutenant. Trust me."
"After interfering with my MP's you make that trust kinda hard to buy," said Spears, "You do know that's a court martial offense, don't you?"
"Lieutenant, if you'll just let me explain…"
"Explain what? The kid went AWOL."
"Do you know the reason why?"
"Does it matter?"
Mulcahy was astonished, and a little disgusted, at Spears' callousness, but he kept it to himself. "Yes, Lieutenant," he answered curtly maintaining his calm, "Yes, it does matter."
"That's just your opinion." said Spears.
"Well, what I'm about to tell you is fact, not opinion." said Mulcahy.
"All right, then, get to the point." said Spears.
"Lieutenant, how long has Private Gillis has been here in Korea?"
Spears had to think for a moment. "I dunno. I guess maybe twelve, thirteen months. Why?"
"What kind of a soldier is he?"
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Spears, "He goes AWOL."
"I mean, what kind of a soldier was he before all of this happened?" Mulcahy qualified.
Spears had to think for a moment. "Well, I guess he never made or got into any kind of trouble that I know of," said Spears.
Mulcahy found himself doing some mental gymnastics for a moment. He hated the idea of revealing something that was told to him in confidence, but as it was not said in confession, and knowing that it could shed some light on the situation where Spears was concerned, Mulcahy saw he had little other choice.
"Private Gillis just found out that his wife has had a baby." said Mulcahy.
Mulcahy took a deep breath before continuing. "She had it three weeks ago."
Spears didn't pick up on the hint right away. "Okay. His wife had their baby. So what's the big deal?"
But Potter was quicker on the uptake. He shook his head in disgust at the realization. "You need to do the math, Lieutenant," said Potter to Spears, "Didn't you just say Gillis has been here a year?"
It took another moment or two, but the realization finally hit Spears like a brick thrown by Ignatz at the back of his head.
"Wa- Wait a minute," he said quietly, "You mean that…"
"Exactly, Lieutenant. Private Gillis' wife just gave birth to someone else's child." said Mulcahy.
Spears heaved a heavy sigh as he pulled his cap off his head.
"Jesus." He whispered as he walked over to the window to look at Gillis, who still looked sullen. He began to slowly shake his head.
"His wife never told him," Mulcahy explained, "He had to find out from a friend that his wife had had the baby. He wanted to get home and try and straighten things out with his wife. He wasn't thinking straight. That's why he went AWOL."
Spears had his gaze still fixed on Gillis as Mulcahy continued.
"Don't you see, Lieutenant?" he pleaded, "Private Gillis is not a criminal. He's a casualty."
"I agree with the Padre," said Potter. "The boy has just had his heart torn out and stomped on by his own wife. Nothing hurts worse than to get betrayed by someone you love."
"I know," Spears whispered to himself. He looked at Gillis for another brief moment before turning around to look at Mulcahy. After a pause he said aloud, "Well, what the hell am I supposed to do about that?"
"Give Private Gillis the help he deserves." Mulcahy quietly answered.
"I can put in another call to the JAG," said Potter, "Once they know what's going on I think they'll let him stopover at the EVAC hospital for awhile, and then they'll have him rejoin your unit."
"What good'll a stopoff at an EVAC hospital do?"
"Well, for one thing," Mulcahy answered, "They'll let him talk to his wife back home. And more important, he'll get some counseling to deal with everything he's going through."
"He's one of yours, Lieutenant," said Potter, motioning toward the phone, "But all I need is your say-so and I'll put the call through."
Spears again turns his eyes on Gillis, who is still sitting outside the window.
"Lieutenant, you would do well to remember that an officer takes care of his men," Mulcahy reminded Spears, "And right now, one of your men needs help. Let him get that help."
The lieutenant looks at Mulcahy. Spears prides himself on being tough, especially when he has to be, but in his own heart he didn't see himself as cruel. He now realizes that he had this man of the cloth figured all wrong; the Father was only trying to help one of his men, and now that he knows why, there's no other alternative. He turned to Potter and nodded.
"Do it." he said quietly.
Potter picked up the phone as Spears again turned to Mulcahy.
"I guess I owe you an apology, Father."
"It's all right, Lieutenant."
"No, really, I owe it to you," said Spears, "I didn't know what Gillis was going through and... I guess I just jumped to conclusions again; I never was very good about these sort of things. And that 'mess tent monk' remark I made, I owe you for that one, too."
"I accept your apology, of course," said Mulcahy, "But just remember, this was just as much of a surprise to Nick as it is to you."
"Another thing, Father," said Spears, "For a man of the cloth, I gotta admit you've got some serious guts."
Mulcahy was a little confused as to why Spears would make such an observation, but he quickly reminded himself as Spears continued.
"It's pretty easy to underestimate a man until he's standing at the wrong end of a rifle. That's when you find out what a man is really made of..."