Shattered Ghost King II - Lead Soldiers

Chapter 3 - Ever Present Perusal

The family in the parlor was trying hard to be ordinary. They listened to radio music program while the two youngest girls dance, the middle three girls knitted, the oldest tended her baby, and Mrs. Thompson embroidered a baby cap. The war intruded in the form of black out curtains, the clicking of knitting needles laced with olive green wool socks, and the Medal of Honor under the framed picture of Mr. Thompson that seemed to draw the eye. He was wedged on one end of the couch with Mary, the second oldest daughter and a fellow nurse. He tried but failed to keep their arms from brushing as she looked over at his knitting.

With a gentle smile she observed, "You knitting is beautifully fine and neat."

William forced himself to smile back, "My mother taught me along with Katie, since I couldn't sit still. I still turn to it when I feel unsettled." Mary smiled so bright she practically glowed, her mother gave a knowing look while her younger daughters smirked. He grimaced at yet another display of their expectations, trying to make it look like he was concentrating on his work.

Wonderful. This was only the second evening and it was already unbearable. He'd never known how to play this courting game. At fifteen he'd been too young and then as a father figure he had isolated himself. They only ever had elderly neighbors as guests and those were invited by Katie. He had only the barest social skills and this dance of innuendo stymied him. He sighed as his mind drifted to Nico and how easy it was to talk to him. Then he sharpened up at a stifled girls giggle.

Mary glared at her youngest sister before turning to put a hand on his forearm and squeezing. "You are with us now and part of our family. You can relax."

He force himself not to shake her off. He looked away at the oldest daughter absorbed in tickling her baby and envied her. As he glance back to his work he noticed Mrs. Thompson and all the younger daughters eagerly watching him. He concentrated on binding off the cuff with much more attention than it deserved. How could he make it clear he didn't want her without offending them? Mary's gentle kindness reminded him of his Katie. Now Katie was alone with Jake and he could only hope she wouldn't let herself get wrapped up in daydreams like this silly family. She was smarter than that. She wouldn't; would she? He bit his lip. It felt like all the air was leaving the room suddenly.

He stood, "I'm sorry to leave you ladies, but I must be in early. Surgery is coming so I have to spend longer hours at the hospital. Please don't wait dinner for me." They spent the next five minutes fawning over their good nights while he said as little as possible. Finally alone in his room he allowed himself to brood on his frustration with them and Jake alone with Katie while he paced.

Then he remembered Nico's torment last night without pain killers. He dropped onto the bed with his stomach full of lead. He was likely suffering right now unable to find respite in sleep. He found himself automatically rising and putting his shoes on to go to the hospital, but stopped remember the Thompsons were in his way. He sat back down dejected. He tried to sleep as he dwelled on Nico's pain until he finally fell into a fitful sleep disturbed by nightmares.

William came in before dawn the next day drained yet intent. All he wanted was to be with Nico and help comfort him. He found him asleep and got a report from his nurse that he had slept most of the night. Relieved, he lay one hand over Nico's chest and sipped the herbal concoction that passed for tea these days. He smiled as he watched his man sleep. He strove to block out the sounds of the waking ward and stray concerns about surgery. He wanted to stay in an isolated bubble with Nico relaxed and safe.

"William" Nico croaked as he stirred blinking his eyes. He took that as his queue to put on his glasses. The Italian looked him up and down and smiled in appreciation. The nurse tilted his head down, gave a broad smile, and looked at him from under his lashes.

William /You seem to be feeling better this morning/

Nico continued to gaze as him, "I'm just glad the night felt shorter," with his eyes he said I'm just glad to see you.

William /I wish mine had been. Still being with you is worth it/

"You do look like hell. What happened?"

William /I don't know how I much innuendo I can stand from Mrs. Thompson and her daughters/

"You can't be serious."

William /You would not believe it. I guess young single men are in short supply/

"But you aren't," He huffed.

William /You know I can't tell anyone about us. I need to be welcomed here. I won't risk anything keeping me away from you. I don't encourage them, but I can't help how they act/

"See that they don't get the wrong idea." He growled under his breath and William's heart fluttered warmly.

William /I'm here to be with you and that is all that matters to me. They are just an annoyance I have to put up with/

The younger man huffed a nod, but didn't look at him. William dug his fingers into his chest and he turned to him. Nico's heated gaze told it all and made his chest burn as everything else vanished.

As the morning progressed, he had a saline bath and then another appointment with Dr. Arellano. "Lt. Angle I need to start on your muscles if you want to walk soon. I expect it to hurt. Only tell me if it is too much." Nico nodded, but William tensed.

"You shouldn't need to hurt him." He complained.

"William, some pain is needed to break the scar tissue free. But I am careful." She lay a hand on him gentle. He flinched drawing away and she withdrew her hand abruptly.

First she uncovered his right leg and flex his foot slowly but firmly. He grimace throughout, William flex his leg in sympathy and held his arm tightly. Nico was forced to cry out when she bent his knee as far as it would go. Only Nico's glare stopped him jumping up and shouting the protest on his lips. As the Italian's distress subsided with the pressure on his leg, William's only grew.

The doctor continued to his other leg. She stood at his knee and cupped her hands around his left foot. Then she lifted bending his knee to having him push on her cupped hands. She leaned back and he pushed until his knee was straight. Nico locked eyes with his alarmed nurse as he worked his leg as instructed. The intensity of Nico's gaze froze him in place. She did several repeats in many different positions, but at least he didn't cry out again.

"Good, you have done well. Has he been working his legs? I thought he would have two months of atrophy to overcome." William explained about the exercises in the last week before coming here and she seemed pleased.

She instructed him to get Nico moving as much as possible, help him to stand on one leg, and take him out in a wheel chair at least twice a day. He smiled at Nico as he signaled that they could take walks in the garden as often as he liked. He read the eagerness in his face and thought of the last time they were alone in a garden. His own face heated but he ducked to hide it. As they left Dr. Arellano squeezed his upper arm saying, "He'll be alright." Her eyes were soft contrasting sharply with her tightly wrapped bun and jagged scar.

The afternoon circled around the saline bath treatment and beer barrel. They spoke with the man in the now occupying the bed next to him. He dubbed himself "Faceless Frank" gesturing at his facial bandages. He explained he had just returned from surgery to give him back a nose as he flapped his forearm and the skin tube attached between it and his face. William translated as they talked finding out they were both from Canada and radio operators.

Frank wanted to try signaling, so William and Hazel pushed their bed close enough for Frank to reach Nico's left forearm. They spend the next hour discussing home and training. William sat back listening to Nico's side of the conversation with eyes that wandered over the ward feeling oddly left out. He reminded himself to be glad Nico had someone who could code here with him, and he was, but… Well he didn't quite know why his stomach curdled. It all seemed wrapped up in this building knot of anxiety that had descended on him.

After a while Hazel returned and they all joined in teaching her Morse code. Nico and especially Frank seemed totally wrapped up in her lesson. He sighed as his eyes roved around the ward and fatigue had him drifting. Suddenly Hazel put a hand on his shoulder, "Mr. Solace, Nico is calling you." He notice the formality and lack of it for his boyfriend.

"William, I want to go for a walk." Nico bellowed. He vaguely wondered how he could have missed Nico's call as he jumped up to get a wheel chair.

They first walked in the garden. The path was cobble stone, but the cracks had been filled to make it a smooth undulation instead of jagged bumps for the wheel chair. To their mutual disappointment the grounds were open with few trees and small compared to the large park at home. They could speak privately, but were unlikely to find enough privacy to kiss. He did at least get to hold him close under cover of holding him up, standing on one leg to the watched the sun setting.

Later they were relegated to the smaller staff bathroom to say goodbye for the night. He clutched him close and sunk into him for a long deep kiss. He drowned himself in Nico melting as their tongues curled together. It covered him and surrounded him. He desperately wanted it to last, but even as that thought formed he plunged over the edge into reality. The hospital with all its potential pitfalls niggled at him. Where they were, how illegal this was, and what could happen startlingly clear in his mind. Anyone discovering them would expose them.

William /Take it easy. We don't have much time and can't afford suspicion/

"But it has been three days…" He whined into his mouth breathy and low.

William /68 hours actually. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we can do more. I'll find a better place/

Nico cursed but broke away as instructed.

As William was leaving the hospital for the night he poked around. The access to the roof was only by ladder. Then he shuffled along some secluded hallways desperate for place to hide them. All they needed was a locking room, large closet even. He found an interior room with no light around the edges and a flip lock. He quietly turned the knob hopeful it was open. The meager hallway light stabled into the small office. In the center he saw Dr. Arellano with her head down and palms covering her eyes.

She snapped without uncovering her eyes, "What Now?"

"Um, sorry wrong room." William mumbled.

She lifted her face looking taken aback as she put on her glasses. "Oh, William, Please turn on the light and sit down. I have weak eyes and they often need rest."

William flushed slightly and sat keeping his head down. After a few moments of silence he looked up. She had that softened expression and it made her look younger.

"I wanted to talk to you alone. I noticed your sympathy when I was working with Nico. I want to assure you I'm watching very careful for signs of distress when I work. Although some pain is inevitable Nico will not suffer any more than is absolutely necessary."

He hesitated, "He has been through so much I just want to spare him any pain."

"Your inherent kindness shines through."

His jaw clenched but he ignored what he wished he could say. Instead he explained, "I was the one to figure out how to reach him. Now I feel, um, responsible for him."

"Please, tell me how it happened." William stared at his hands and began hesitantly to tell the story. He found she was an attentive listener and soon he was reliving his excitement at Nico's first words to him.

She sighed and he quirked an eyebrow at her. Blushing she confessed, "You remind me of someone I knew once… Someone who didn't give up on me either. You even look like him."

He shot back, "Anyone could have done it," and continued his story. He gradually unwound finding it a pleasure to talk about how proud he was of Nico under the cover of his recovery story.

He didn't notice how late he had stayed was until he returned to his host family long after dinner. This earned him a sharp reprimand by Mrs. Thompson until Mary shooed her away. She heated soup for him and he sat alone in the kitchen eating after insisting Mary return to her family. He decided talking about Nico was worth the displeasure he incurred and being alone now was a bonus.

Only later did he pondered a strange comment from Dr. Arellano, "I know being in a strange place can be difficult. If you need someone to talk to…" She crooked her head, "or just some time alone, you are welcome to my office." She seemed so genuinely supportive, but why single out him. At first she seemed so cold, but now she had warmed to him. He recalled the phase, "You even look like him." Damn it.

**** Authors Notes ****

Sorry about the long time between posts, but it took a while to get the right tone and plot set-up. In the 1940's homosexuality was illegal in the UK. It must have been very hard playing a straight single man in those days even if you had family and friends support, like our heroes. What are your thoughts about it?

Thanks for Reading,

Anne