|The Tin Soldier and his Ballerina
Author: TheEgyptian26 PM
Richard finds a woman who can love him completely, and she finds the man who can save her from her past. Everyone wears a mask, she tells him. Takes place in what will be Season 3. Rated T for language, war violence, racial slurs and future scenes. Because we can all agree Richard Harrow needs love too!Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Richard H. & unknown 1 - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,849 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 8 - Published: 08-24-12 - id: 8460532
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Etaples, France - 1918
Nurse Gwendolyn Mackay walked down the barren corridor, the hoarse cries of a gas victim echoing down the hall. She had looked in on the soldier earlier in the day to change his morphine drip, before she had gone off shift. Unable to bandage the bulbous yellow blisters that covered his torso and arms they could do nothing else but prop a sheet over him and try to keep his pain at bay. Not finding sleep in the hot nurses quarters she had chosen instead to walk the halls and waste time before her next shift was to begin. On leave from the frontline station where she had been working, Gwen had yet to adjust to sleeping no more than a few hours at a time. The cries of agony, however, were the same here as they were on the front, though thankfully fewer. Passing by the open door she stops and peers in to see Nursing Sister Beckett standing by his bed, speaking soft words of comfort. Nurse Mackay glances to the soldier in the bed beside the blistered man, separated by nothing but a soiled sheet hung from the low ceiling. He was looking right at her.
His name was Malcolm, he had managed to mutter it to her when he had been brought into the ward a few days ago. It had been the first day of her week away from the Advanced Dressing Station at the frontlines, a place she had been serving for almost a year now. Having already been a member of the Canadian Medical Corps for almost four years she had volunteered as soon as she had turned twenty-three, the minimum age you could be to work so close to the frontlines of battle. She had never regretted the choice, but the constant carnage and death that would enfold her in those camps began to make her mind weak. When she closed her eyes she would see those men, their bodies blown apart into unrecognizable pieces of meat, screaming and crying and waiting. No matter how often she washed her hands she still felt the warmth of the blood on them, the crunch of bone under her touch as she would try to piece the men back together like some cruel puzzle. She hated the feel of dirt and gore under her fingernails.
Malcolm stared over at her, half of his face bandaged, as well as the left side of his body. A ragged blanket was pulled up to his waist, with one wrapped leg thrown over it in the mid-afternoon heat. His one eye watched her watch him, still and glassy from the pain and the morphine. Nurse Mackay leaned against the doorway and sighed, smiling weakly at him. He reminded her of her brother Rob somehow as he made a sad half-smile back. She wonders now what Rob is doing, last she had heard he was with the 2nd Division fighting at Passchendaele. The battle had been over for months now, herself having worked at one of the advanced field stations closest to the chaos, yet still she had heard nothing from him. She tried hard not to think of him lying buried under a white cross in some field so far from their home in Canada. The thought pressed at her constantly. He was the last family member left to her, she could not lose him.
Gwen had enlisted with the Canadian Medical Corps in late 1914, when the need for trained nurses was becoming dire. Though still a student she had been excepted immediately and in May of 1915 she, along with the rest of her unit, had sailed off to England. From there they moved on to Cairo to give some much needed aid to the Allies in the Gallipoli Campaign. It was here that she'd stayed for ten grueling months until the conflict was resolved, and then they traveled to France to work at the No. 7 Canadian General Hospital. As silly as she knew it was, every morning she would imagine that today she would see one of her brothers lying on a stretcher, waiting for her. In her dreams she would save them, and when the war was over she would return with them to their house in Winnipeg. Very soon this vision drowned in the blood of all the soldiers that died under her care, and she realized that she dreaded nothing more than seeing one of her brothers here, blown open and screaming for their dead mother.
People say that the war is winding down now, that the Germans are all but through, but she has stopped listening to this nonsense. The naïve girl that left Winnipeg might have believed it, but she had died over in Egypt when first presented with the horrors men will do to each other. There she learned that one man's life meant nothing. For every one that she treated, three more would arrive to the tents, broken beyond any hope of repair. She had retched for days after seeing her first victim, both legs blown off and his ribcage crushed and broken open, bone jutting clean through blue flesh. She never knew how purely white bone could be, like snow. She had held the boys hand, fingers barely attached, as he quickly choked on his own blood. He'd tried to speak, but over the screams of men and doctors alike she couldn't hear it. She passed through those first few weeks in a dazed shock, unable to process the things she was seeing. Never before could she have imagined all the ways a man could be humiliated and made to suffer, or the many ways he would be made to die. She'd thought those ten months would be the worst in her life, but that was before she'd seen the Western front. Each and every memory she held of the last three years were painted with blood and dirt.
Fresh and present screams split through the air, this time from all around her. Nursing Sister Beckett's face snapped towards her and together they heard as the heavy rumbling of planes flew overhead. The screams and cries grew. Nurse Mackay looked out the window at the end of the corridor. For no more than a few seconds she saw flames and smoke before impact of the sound from the bombs reached her, and the glass of the window shattered. The last thing she hears is the whistling of some falling object coming closer. Her mind is not quick enough to register what it could be. And in that second her world explodes into fire and ruble.
Atlantic City - 1923
Richard Harrow leans against the bar at Babette's Club, surveying the large room as he waits to order his drink. A few of Gillian's girls were upstairs entertaining the Alderman in one of the private suites and tonight Richard was acting as chaperone for the meeting. Gillian often sent him along to such gatherings in case the men became too aggressive and he must intervene. It rarely came to that but she insists none the less, saying again and again her sickly sweet mantra of a happy matron makes a happy patron, dear. He did not object, he never did, and so here he found himself now. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed with hooting men and giggling girls. A live band played on the stage above the bar on the second tier of the club, the high voice of the singer falling over the scene like a smoky sheet.
Richard glances over as a woman sidles in beside him on his right, trying to get at the full counter. She gives him an apologetic smile as she squeezes through the teaming mass. She has dark, feline like eyes, trimmed with long lashes, though he notices she wears no makeup. He quickly looks away and hears her call for a Red Death cocktail. In his mind he replays her lovely smile, the ease that it spread across her face, tainted by neither fear nor disgust at the sight of him. She has her auburn hair pinned at the nape of her neck and wears a sheer red lace dress over a white slip, and a long black beaded necklace. His eye lingers furtively on her neck and he blinks in surprise to see a sporadic peppering of scars there, reminiscent of the shrapnel wounds he's seen in the front lines and army hospitals. Whether by coincidence or from feeling the weight of his stare she shifts her arm on the bar, resting her head on her shoulder to hide the scars. He recognized the movement as one of practiced insecurity and felt immediately embarrassed for staring.
A clearly inebriated young man stumbles up on the other side of the woman and boldly places a hand on her shoulder, "Hey there, doll face. Lem'me buy you a drink. Fine lady such as yourself shouldn't be drinkin' alone."
She shrugs his hand off, her face souring. "I'll pass." She keeps her eyes straight ahead.
"Ahh," He whines, "Come on sweetheart, one wont kill ya."
"You are probably right," She turns to him and Richard sees her give a dubious little smile, "but why test it." The man groans and stumbles off, defeated.
The bartender finally makes his way over and Richard strains to be heard over the crowd and band as he asks for his bourbon and a straw. The man behind the bar grabs a bottle and quickly pours a glassful of the dark liquid, then slides it across the counter into Richard's open hand. The bartender then places a straw between them, and Richard croaks "Charge it. to the Red Suite." The man nods and turns as another bartender places a tall glass full of ice and a pinkish drink in front of the pretty woman still standing to Richard's right. He hears her thank the man and watches through the corner of his eye as she makes to turn away, waiting until she leaves to take a sip from his straw. A large man in a blue pin-stripe coat and vest shoves past them and his bulk pushes the woman into Richard's shoulder and he gets a whiff of her perfume.
Her elbow makes contact with his hand and sends his drink across the counter. She spins around, managing to keep her own drink from spilling and looks at his spilt bourbon dribbling off the bar.
"Oh, I am so sorry sir, the guy came out of nowhere." She waves at the man behind the bar and he gives her a napkin before beginning to wipe up the mess with a rag himself. The woman, who looked to be about his age or perhaps a year or two older, moves to dab at the splash on his vest. He hurriedly steps back, surprised at her touch. She blinks and withdraws her hand, leaving the napkin between them. "Please, let me buy you another."
Before he could object she calls over the din for another bourbon, "And charge it to the table of that blue clown over there," She nods to the fat man who had pushed past them, now sitting with three other men. The bartender raises his eyebrows questioningly and the woman shrugs easily, "He's my uncle."
Richard looks down and smiles weakly at his shoes. She catches his eye when he lifts his head, smiling herself. She turns to the bartender, "Actually love, make it two." He flips over another glass to fill. Her soft gaze returns to Richard and he feels shy under it, not used to strangers meeting his eyes so willingly. Still she shows no disturbance at the eerie sight of his mask. This makes him more uncomfortable than if she had cringed.
"So you're in the Red Suite?" She asks, then blushes when he looks at her questioningly, "I overheard. Must have some big wigs up there, to rent out the whole thing." Her voice was low and pleasant, like a purr. It made the back of his neck tingle.
Her blush darkened in his silence, and though he found the sight endearing he hastily replied "Hmm. It's my job to. provide security."
She chuckles good-naturedly as the bartender places the two replacement bourbons before them, and says "Well then, they must be high on the ladder, to warrant a guard at a supper club." Her tone was sardonic, but in no way did he feel it mocked him. He was grateful of that.
She grabs her glass and raises it in a toast, "To uncles." And with that she downs the cup. He turns away from her and takes a long draw from the straw, and she shares his soured expression as they both swallow. Richard dabs at his mouth with the napkin she offers him and nods in thanks. The woman smacks her lips. "That's good stuff."
He was about to ask her for her name when an arm appears out of nowhere and grabs her hand.
"Come on," A high female voice breaks through and the woman who grabbed her comes out of the crowd. "Gwen, we gotta go. The girls are waiting for us, I mean how long does it take to get a drink?!"
Gwen. Her name was Gwen. She looks back at him apologetically, as if she were about to say something. Before she could her friend drags her through the crowd, her cocktail splashing over her hand. He sees her struggle for a moment against the grip, but she gives up and quickly shouts over the noise "It was very nice to almost meet you!"
Richard watches her disappear, sad to see an end to their encounter. So rarely did he talk to women, let alone beautiful ones like her. She had looked square into his face without scorn or judgment, something so few woman were able to do. He wished he could have gotten her last name, though then again what would he have done with it? Atlantic City was a big place.
The rest of the night passed without any interest. Richard stood outside the Red Suite and listened to the whoops and laughs from within, though his attention was focused on the swell of people on the level below him. His keen eye searched every face for the woman in the red dress. He replays again and again their conversation in his mind. Her impossibly dark eyes, surrounded by thick lashes. He thinks of her lips, plump and pink, and his one cheek flushes.
Richard wonders what she had been doing, talking to him when she could have been dancing or sitting in some rich fellow's lap. He thinks she must have taken pity on him, but he had sensed none as they had spoken. She'd seemed just as interested in what he had had to say as she would have to any other man here not freakishly scarred. He wonders who else she had been here with, other than her friends. He thinks gloomily that a pretty lady like her would be here with a man.
That night he lies in bed in one of the smaller rooms of what was once the Commodore's great house. Gillian had since turned it into a lucrative cathouse, for which he provides the muscle. He took the job to be closer to Tommy, for whom he now felt responsible. Gillian accepts his presence, though ignores him completely when Tommy is not with them. Richard has decided he does not much care for Jimmy's mother, but he feels that it is his duty to ensure Tommy has a good and grounded childhood. He owes it to Angela and Jimmy.
While waiting for sleep he thinks of her, Gwen, and doubts he will ever be lucky enough to see her again. He imagines her auburn hair unpinned and cascading down her back, her skin pale and flawless, her purring voice whispering his name. Again his mind comes to dwell on the scars he'd seen scattered across her neck and ponders where she could have possibly received them. They'd been too small and clean to have been caused by real shrapnel. He had the scars to prove that this left large, jagged marks, not the delicate spots she'd had. Her easy smile and flushed cheeks fill his minds eye as he finally drifts off, one of the few times he does not fall asleep to the gruesome images of war.
Gwendolyn thinks late into the night about the man with the mask. She had watched him for some time from across the room before finally lying to her friends about wanting a cocktail. She had tried to be cool and casual as she'd come to stand next to him, though froze when he'd looked at her shyly. Gwen was so angry at herself for not immediately asking for his name, because now she may never have the opportunity to see him again. She couldn't say what had drawn her to him, this broken man. Perhaps she saw herself in him, scarred but still forced to walk this world with your wounds hidden. She vowed to herself that if ever she met him again she would ask his name. She dwelled on the color of his one eye, so light and hazel and speckled with brown. Gwen hoped that their paths would cross again, though she would not hold her breath. Atlantic City was a big place.
Both of Tommy's hands are filled with the toys they'd bought today at the fair, and they now stroll down the street still cluttered with painted carts. It was late afternoon now and Richard should be getting him home for dinner soon. Walking along the planks Tommy chats about nothing in particular, mostly his day at school, with Richard glancing down and asking the occasional question. It's been over a month since he'd met the pretty woman and the club, but Richard still hadn't forgotten her.
Richard looks up and sees a familiar face in front of them, and groans inwardly. Al Capone steps out from behind a cotton candy kiosk where he'd been standing with a pretty blonde woman and a young boy of around Tommy's age, presumably his own son. Capone opens his arms in welcome, then claps his hands together.
"Knew if I came to the boardwalk I'd run into sum'un. How you doin' kid, Tommy right? I was a friend o' your pops, remember?" Capone asks, coming to stand just in front of them. Tommy nods and looks at his shoes.
Al turns his gaze to Richard, "Hey-ya Harrow, s'been a long time. How you been, heard your workin' for Darmody's mom. Opened herself up a cathouse, Lucky said."
Richard tilts his head and gives Al a piercing stare. Glancing down at Tommy Al shrugs and continues on, "Anyway, glad I ran into you. Gotta job I'd like to discuss wit' you. Got time fora drink?"
Richard shakes his head. "I. work tonight."
Capone nods, but rallies immediately, "Fine, fine, then hows about you swing by Babette's tomorrow night? My brother and a couple of his war buddies are in town . You'll fit right in. It'd be worth the time, and it'll pay a pretty penny I can tell you."
Richard ponders this. In the last year and a half since Jimmy's death Capone's hired Richard to do a couple hits on rival gangsters, Richard didn't ask too many questions. He didn't like the man, but he would take the odd job regardless. Al had promised to keep his ear to the ground for word of Manny Horvitz, who had gone into hiding after Jimmy died. In all probability he had moved out of the city, but still Richard held the hope of finding Horvitz and shooting him twice through the skull.
After a pause Richard nods once in acceptance. He would go to hear the job and nothing more, not wanting to stay any longer in the presence of Capone. Al nods too, then mock pinches one of Tommy's cheeks in farewell. He looks back to Richard and inclines his head, "See ya tomorrow then."
Capone turns and walks back to his family. Richard watches him go, already anxious over their meeting tomorrow. He turns to look down at Tommy and finds the boy looking up at him, a gloomy pout on his face. Richard understands that this encounter has reminded Tommy of just how much he misses his parents, because it has done the same for him. Richard takes one of his hands out from his pockets to pat the back of the boy's head affectionately. "Hrmm. Come on now." He says, "Lets get. you home."