"You didn't think we'd remember, did you?"
Sidney Freedman squinted suspiciously past Hawkeye, into the supply tent. Though it was still filled with haphazardly arranged odds and oddities in an order known only to the company clerk, whose business it was to know such things, and to Major Margaret Houlihan who made such things as this her business, the extra space was being consumed by a large group of haphazardly draped odd-balls, each with at least one drink in their hands and absolutely no personal space between them.
Sidney knew the meaning of the word 'surprise', which had been, incidentally, just hurled at him from all fronts, but he had never felt so … surprised … at his surprise. Sure, unexpected behavior and inexplicable logic were his stock and trade but when one was accustomed to being called to the M*A*S*H 4077th to talk a desperate soldier out of a perfectly natural and yet destructive action (he had barricaded himself in with their supplies, threatening to dump out their medicines and destroy their instruments, or so Sidney was told) one was not expecting that there was no such soldier or situation and that, instead, there was a party in the honor of the day of his birth. And so, Sidney took a cue from his patients and silently but stubbornly assumed that this patient did in fact exist, and that he would discover the true identity of this trapped trooper.
"I don't think I remember!" he responded, accepting the martini glass Hawkeye held out to him, complete with olive. Where they found such luxuries during the war, Sidney did not know, but it certainly helped the vile liquid go down easier.
"That poker game? Couple of months ago? C'mon Sid, surely you haven't forgotten the night Hawk lost to Klinger?" BJ's eyes sparkled openly with mirth and Sidney struck him from his mental list of suspects along with an odd sense of (jealousy?) uncertainty that welled up from the pit of his stomach.
"Ah yes. The famed Dress Exchange. I think I should be grateful that the obtuse amount of alcohol I imbibed that night has managed to wash the image of our dear Doctor Pierce in Klinger's little black number - "
"And Major Houlihan's makeup!" Kelley called out from underneath a pair of nurses on the stacked cots. The crowd laughed fondly and led by a thoroughly devilish-looking Hotlips, toasted the sentiment
" - and other accessories, from my psyche. And also, apparently, my giving you my birth date."
A slurred yet utterly precise voice, in the form of a Charles Winchester the Third leaning into the red-clad Klinger responded in a vaguely disinterested tone,
"My dear man, after you insisted that the dress was better suited to the Corporal who had, and I quote "the legs for it", you were quite adamant about the fact that Klinger's green dress would be more appropriate for one with the hips of Doctor Pierce."
BJ winked at Sidney and whispered conspiratorially,
"I agree completely."
Charles, not noticing, continued,
"At which point the party in question joked that it would be your birthday present and you responded, equally in jest, that this date was, in fact, the day." Sidney was fairly certain that he managed to mask the abject horror that had just flooded his mind, as it was apt to do for anyone upon their discovery of the actions of their uninhibited-self. On instinct he turned to Hawkeye, almost desperately, to discover what quip or pun the surgeon would extract from this highly ridiculous situation, giving him a way out.
Hawkeye was not where he had been standing, nor was he standing anywhere else in the tent. Over Sidney's shoulder, BJ-as-Hawkeye laughed,
"That sort of present seemed more of a Christmas thing (what with the green of the dress and the red of the blood), but with you being Jewish and all, and Klinger not having eight dresses that would fit or suit Hawk, we figured that your birthday would just have to do." This was not the escape that Sidney had envisioned, but he smiled at BJ for trying anyhow.
Someone put a record on Charles' record player that someone had generously stolen and in the confines of this space too small to fit personalities as large as these, the staff of the 4077th began dancing with and among each other.
Sidney found himself pulled into a dance with Margaret who was still grinning evilly. He took a deep breath, relaxed his nerves, and decided that it was a good look for her. They didn't speak, and they probably wouldn't have been able to hear themselves over the exclamations of the others if they had. Instead Sidney watched Margaret take stock of her nurses, silently noting with slight flicks of her pupils, where and with whom each one was. He laughed aloud when she rolled her eyes upon seeing a pair of the newer nurses try to drag BJ onto the dance floor with them.
Margaret's eyes said, They'll give up soon enough, when they see it won't get them anywhere.
Sidney's eyes said, But where is Hawkeye?
With a spin and a dip, she led him back to the entrance of the tent. Grabbing the two young women, one in each arm, she rejoined the mass of moving people.
Feeling stunned and exposed, Sidney tore up and chucked his mental list. Perhaps emulating the refusal of his patients to see what was in front of them was not the healthiest of behaviors. And, what was in front of him, just outside the tent was Hawkeye. In a dress. In a green dress. With a bow on his head.
Sidney doubled over in laughter and to hide his gaze. The crowd of soldiers, doctors and nurses cheered. BJ smiled lecherously. Hawkeye struck a pose. Sidney looked up.
"Happy Birthday, Sid." With a hand on his shoulder and a peck at his cheek, the life of the party entered the tent with a mustached escort on his arm. The dancing and revelry continued unbroken, and not a single person blinked. Colonel Potter chuckled into his drink, leaning against a shelf in the back. Radar, being herded around the tent by a small yet commanding nurse, heard no sounds of helicopters. Father Mulcahy joked that Hawkeye would have made an excellent Mary Magdalene, and looked upwards as if for forgiveness (or permission).
Sidney wondered about the coping mechanisms of prisoners of war.