Life as a Born, Raised, And Transferred, aka a brat, was not always peaches and cream. In fact, Margaret Houlihan, daughter of the wonderfully gifted and needed Howitzer Houlihan, was often hard-pressed to get herself reorganized after a move. She learned early that Daddy didn't have time for complaints or tears, while Mommy was Too Busy getting things straightened out with the other wives to worry about children looking for their favorite hair brushes.
When Mommy got fat, Margaret resented that there was even less time for her than ever. A few months later, though, and there was a smelly little baby. It would be one more thing to pack for on the next move, one more detail that would make Daddy harumph and get all red in the face for not being ready.
The only good thing Margaret could see at first was that Mommy had as little time for the baby as anything else that wasn't an officer's wife. Maybe there was a way to make this work for her? She looked over the edge of the crib at her little sister, one more transfer of quarters after the smelly thing had been born.
"Maga," the not so small baby babbled at her, then cooed and smiled.
"Maga, if you want, baby sister. You're going to be my friend, the one that loves me, right?" Margaret asked her. The baby was still smiling, and Margaret knew it was going to be better. The baby just had to get big enough to run with her on all the bases they would see.
"LORRAINE! YOU GET BACK HERE!"
Margaret looked to see who was yelling and was suddenly tackled by a girl just her own age.
"You must be Lorraine," Margaret managed as they both scrambled for footing.
"Come on!" the new girl said, grinning like a fiend and snatching Margaret's hand as they did get up and steady.
"This way!" Margaret insisted, uncertain of just who the girl was, why she cared, and what the woman was yelling for, but anything sounded better than another day of pretending her mother wasn't marinating in gin.
"You know the post already? Saw the boxes in your trash," Lorraine said as they ran, following along, and not letting go of Margaret's hand.
"Second time here," Margaret told her. "First for you?"
"Yeah, and tired of unpacking this one," the new girl told her.
"Then I'll show you all the places to hide… and you can tell your mother you got grabbed by a meet and greet committee." Margaret grinned at her new friend, and felt a flush of warmth to be grinned at in turn.
Margaret had been the life of the party, alongside her partner in crime, all through school and into the first of her career.
Then, on a leave, she saw the state of her mother, and realized that retirement was looming too close for her father to ignore it.
"Daddy…" she began, sitting outside with him on the stoop of the latest Army-issued house.
"Margaret, I have to say, I always wanted a son. Someone to pick up the big guns and run like hell for the next war." He looked over at her, and she dropped her eyes out of … respect? Fear? Disappointment?
"Hush, soldier." Her father reached out and clasped her shoulder firmly, just like he would one of his own men. "You're the best son I could have gotten, Margaret. Sure, you raised hell, but you've already pinned 'captain' in record time. Keep it up, and there will be a Houlihan in the top brass for that next war to come."
Margaret swallowed hard, letting that swell of pride in his voice build a new shield around her heart. "Yes, sir!" she said, her handing moving for a salute of its own accord.
He saluted her right back, and she locked that memory away to, against the lonelier moments to come.
There were days when Margaret could believe the lies Frank told her, moments when she let the lies she told herself sink in. Frank was going to leave his wife, Frank loved her, and there was a future with a good man that was as patriotic as she was.
Then there were the weeks she knew for a fact that she was as alone in this place as she'd been on every post that Lorraine's family hadn't made it to. She was as alone as when her sister had chosen a different college, a different career path, just to prove she wasn't in any Houlihan's shadow.
The worst of it was that she knew her need for discipline, her need for control, had cost her the ability to have anything other than a professional relationship with the other nurses.
She drew herself out of her reverie, realizing she was being rude to those at the party she'd been invited to while here, away from her unit.
If Margaret had ever been asked to figure out when she fell, truly fell, there was no answer she could have given. Too many little things had led to the realization that she had fallen, after all. Donald had freed her from her narrow view on Army life, both by marrying her and her divorcing him. Her nurses had helped her see that she could be what her father wanted… and still be human. The doctors had respected her, even at their lewdest, for her abilities. The men had, in their myriad ways, seen her as a leader in her own right.
And somewhere in the middle of the snark, the sarcasm, and the heat of a war, Margaret had fallen in love with the 4077th as her home and family. She'd laughed, screamed, cried, and worried with nearly ever member of the core unit. Along the way, she'd learned how to be loved, truly loved, by them in turn.
Now, looking at the remains of the camp, she could walk away with that feeling still strong.
The 4077th was alive and strong, just transferring out into the world to spread the love even more.