The hospital tent was abuzz with both the groans of the freshly wounded, and the chatter of the recovering. The battle had been declared a victory. With minimal casualties, and a great deal of ground won, even those injured in the events of the day felt a certain gaiety towards the outcome, and the nurses tended to them with an exuberant fervor that suggested that there would be no more losses today.
It was across this sea of rambunctious bodies that she spotted him—sitting alone in a cot about three rows away from where she worked, carefully disinfecting a shrapnel wound in a soldier's bicep. There was something almost angelic about the way he looked—far too perfect to be real—with his golden-blonde hair and peridot-green eyes. It certainly didn't help that the never-quite-shut tent flaps were perfectly parted to illuminate him with a soft, golden glow. She couldn't help but let her gaze linger, even as she attended to her patient. Of course, a solider this beautiful wasn't a common sight.
"Chloe will be on him in seconds," she thought, almost shaking her head, as she dipped a fresh cotton swab in antiseptic and tried her hardest to focus on the task at hand.
She was correct. Before she could even begin to bandage the wound, Chloe had sprung, nearly climbing into his lap in a confusing combination of flirting and medicinal malpractice. She gushed over him enthusiastically, clearly complimenting him for his bravery or perhaps his looks, before he anxiously extended his forearm for her to treat.
"Oh, is that all?" she seemed to say, shrugging off the injury with a laugh and a flick of the wrist. She was off and back again in seconds, hastily dabbing the wound and wrapping it in gauze. With a hug, and a quick peck on the cheek, she gave him her famous Helen of Troy smile, and bounded off towards the barracks—absolutely impressed with her own stellar healing ability.
Marinette sighed. She finished wrapping her own bandage, bid her patient adieu, and walked to where Chloe has just stood.
"She's not a very good nurse, but she keeps the soldiers' spirits up when things get rough, so the hospital keeps her on payroll," Marinette stated matter-of-factly, as she began unwrapping what was already a sloppy bandaging job. "Or maybe they just can't fire her because her father's the general," she added.
"That's not very nice," the solider replied, scowling at what he assumed to be pettiness on the nurse's part, "She did a fine job—"
"She didn't remove the bullet."
He fell silent. In the storm of affection, neither of them had thought to properly examine the wound. Now, with the bandages off once again, it was obvious she was right. The affected area itself was small and thin, but much longer than it was wide—as though the bullet had scampered up his forearm before burying itself in his flesh about a quarter inch below the surface. No, bullet wasn't the right word. Whatever this was, it was tiny.
As she examined the wound, she took a moment to study him as well. True, he was just as breathtaking up close, even with the golden light that had formerly illuminated him so perfectly little more than a distraction for her left eye, but there was something more to him than what she had glimpsed before. There was a sadness to him. There was a sadness that enveloped his very being. No, that wasn't quite right. To call it a singular sadness would have been an understatement. This was something more. This was series of maladies of varying degrees of both severity and salience.
There are many reasons for a solider to feel down, even after a victory. The question simply became, "Which was it?"
As she rummaged through her kit, she did her best to start him talking.
"So…" she began, getting right to the heart of the matter, as she had learned to do, "why did you decide to become a solider?"
He was momentarily taken aback by the question.
"You don't have to answer," she said, finally finding her needle nose tweezers and sanitizing them, "but it's best to keep talking."
"Why?" he asked, just barely shying away from the tarnished beak of the tool.
She pursed her lips slightly. It was usually easier when they didn't ask.
"Because it helps with the pain," she said as plainly as she could.
"Don't you have any anesthesia?" he asked, worry now showing on his face.
"Not for something like this," she responded, almost begrudgingly. The hospital was always under budget. They had been under budget when she'd arrived, and they would be under budget when the war ended—if the war ended, she reminded herself. True anesthesia was practically a luxury, used only for major surgeries, and the occasional limb removal. The rule of thumb was if the solider could sit still enough to be operated on awake, they would be.
He looked at her almost pleadingly. It was then that she made her first realization about him: He was far too soft for this.
He was young, probably the same age as her, but that wasn't the half of it. Whether he'd been raised in the lap of luxury, or on a quiet family farm, she didn't know, but it was obvious that this person had never known discomfort before. She felt sorry for him. A battlefield was no place for a boy.
"I can put a numbing solution around the wound for you," she conceded, "but keep your eyes on me, and keep talking. Can you do that?"
He nodded, a tiny bit of relief replacing some of the fear in his eyes. She felt bad that she had nothing to offer him, but a placebo was a powerful drug. She dabbed the wound with antiseptic, and set to work finding the bullet.
"So, why did you enlist?" she asked, casually.
"I—" he hesitated, and then yelped with pain as his mind wandered towards his arm.
"Keep talking," she insisted.
"I…" A wave of sadness seemed to overtake him. His face fell, and his chest caved inward with remembrance. "I did it for my father."
"I'm sure he would be proud."
"No," he blurted out, "No, that's not what I meant. My father… my father… I don't care if he's proud of me. He never was… It's just that…"
In the midst of his confession, Marinette had locate the bullet and opened the tweezers in hopes of reaching around it, sending a new jolt of pain through him.
"Focus on your father," she reminded, trying to steady his already shaking arm.
"R-right." He was clearly straining, trying to be brave.
"Why don't you care if he's proud of you?" she asked, forming the only question she could think of.
"Because… because he's a traitor."
He let the question hang in the air, but she urged him to continue.
"He… I was always so proud of my father's company. He was a clothing designer… Some say the best in Paris. He used to brag that his designs were being worn in every country in Europe and the Americas. I never thought about how much that honor meant to him."
She almost had it. She'd gotten it with the tweezers, and then lost it on the way out. Luckily, he was still talking—completely unaware of her actions.
"When the war broke out, clothing sales to Germany stopped. Italy too, and then Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. My father couldn't stand it. I think he was too self-centered to see what he was doing was wrong. I think he was too obsessed to care who he hurt."
Marinette removed the thing, and placed it on her tray without examining it. She then set her tweezers aside and took out the antiseptic once more.
"He struck up a deal with the Nazis. He'd provide them with hundreds of uniforms for their officers and officials, plus thousands of Francs for guns and tanks, and in exchange he'd be granted exclusive rights to sell in all Axis-occupied territory.
"I didn't find out about it until some kids at school confronted me. 'Hey, Agreste, does your daddy dress Hitler himself, or does he pay someone else to do that too?'"
She wrapped the bandage around his arm, not too tightly, but tight enough to stop the trickle of blood that had followed the bullet out.
"I enlisted less than a week later. I know it was naïve—"
That certainly was the word for him….
"But I felt like maybe if I joined up, I could undo just a little bit of what he did. I'm not really fighting for France, or against Hitler even… I guess I'm fighting against my father…"
"Oh," she finally commented, pinning the bandage in place.
"Yeah…" he laughed embarrassedly, realizing that he'd just been spilling his guts to a total stranger. "But…I guess that's… I guess that's why I don't care if he's proud of me. Because I'm not proud of him."
Marinette didn't know what to say. She'd asked that question a thousand times, and gotten only a smattering of unique responses. Every solider had a tale, certainly, but most were here for glory or adventure, or "to sock old Adolf in the jaw." She'd never been delivered of such a sob-story before, and quite frankly, she wasn't sure how to take it. She knew now why he looked so downtrodden, but she could sense there was more to it. Betrayal leaves behind anger. Hurt expresses itself as rage if it's allowed to fester. What she saw in him was sadness… sadness, and a bleak emptiness that indicated more than a desire for familial revenge.
"How does that feel?" she asked, noting that she had finished bandaging.
He laughed, overcome with the realization that he hadn't even been aware of half the procedure. A shy smile spread across his face, and her heart couldn't help but skip a beat.
"Much better," he replied, perhaps somewhat less than cognizant of the fresh sting the removal had caused.
"I'm glad," she smiled back sweetly. "Is there anything else you need looked at while I'm here?"
"No—Well, yes, actually… but it's not from the battle," he admitted sheepishly, "Is that okay?"
"Just show me where it is," she replied. Things were calming down in the tent. He'd probably be her last patient of the night anyways.
Without hesitation, he began unbuttoning his shirt. She tensed up momentarily, a bright blush actually spreading itself across her face, but she forced herself to relax. "Of course the wound's under his clothes," she thought, "If it weren't, I would have seen it already."
When he finished with the buttons, he made an attempt at getting the shirt off, but stiffened from the pain.
"It's okay. I can see it," she stopped him. She certainly had no trouble locating the ugly, purple mass against his otherwise unblemished skin. It didn't take more than a few seconds to figure out what it was: several inches of dark bruising surrounding what must have been a both a cut, and a second-degree burn—now mildly infected.
"How long has this been here?" she asked.
He replied, "A week… Maybe less…"
She tsked. Soldiers were always doing this. "There's nothing brave about not getting your injuries looked at," she would usually remind them, but she held her tongue until she'd heard the story.
"I was on kitchen duty and Kubdel was just taking the skillet off. I… I must have run into him, I guess…" he admitted.
"That's not true."
"What? How do you know?"
"You've got splatter burns extending from the center. If you'd hit him, the grease would have splashed in the opposite direction."
He was momentarily stunned at what he could only assume to be Sherlockian brilliance.
"That…" she continued, "and Kubdel is infamous for taking off his glasses in the kitchen. You're not the first. He told you not to tell anyone, didn't he?"
"He…. I…. It made sense at the time…" he stuttered.
"Of course it did." She really didn't mean to chastise him, but this was all too common of an occurrence. She reminded herself that he was the victim in this situation. He was naïve, and green, and trusting, and she couldn't blame him for things that weren't entirely his fault. He had, after all, come clean about it now.
"Let me have a look at it."