AN: The song herein is "To A Nightingale (An die nachtigall)" by Johannes Brahms, Op. 46, no. 4
Nurse Cherry comes from the Cherry Ames series by Helen Wells and Julie Tatham; most specifically, Cherry Ames, Veterans' Nurse.


A curling tendril of air brushed past his nose, and the weary man inhaled deeply, letting the rose garden's delicate perfumes calm his senses. The rich stillness of the summer's evening was balm to his ragged soul, and suddenly, he was glad to have followed his nurse's suggestion and come out into the fresh air. Sitting back against the brick wall, he gingerly adjusted the sling supporting his broken arm and winced with the tiny shocks of pain. The breeze stirred again, and Joe could almost swear voices carried to him faintly, singing songs of peace, of rest. He shook his head. So now he was hearing things. If the doctors only knew…

The fingers of his good right hand almost absentmindedly stroked the soft ridge of bandage beneath his loose hospital trousers, and Joe found himself idly wishing that the human body could heal itself faster. Patience had never been his strong suit, and he resented being forced into inaction by his own frailty. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, feeling the abrasiveness of the brick and the numerous aches and pains assailing his limbs. Breathe in, breathe out… Inhale, exhale… Smell the fragrances of many different roses, the dirt, the hospital kitchen… Hear the myriad music of dusk – crickets, birdsong, the wind amongst the leaves of tree, bush, and grass… Joe suddenly opened his eyes and sat up, immediately regretting the hasty action as his head, arm, and leg throbbed with renewed frenzy.

Someone was singing. He hadn't been hallucinating – somewhere above him, someone was singing to the accompaniment of piano. Probably up in the hospital common room – the patients often congregated there to share news and misery – a kind soul was trying to lift the mood. Well, whatever the motivation, Joe snorted, they sure had chosen a rum song. The tune drifted down to him, melancholy; beautiful, seeming to emanate from the yearning stillness of the evening surrounding him.

When the silvery moon thru rustling foliage gleams,
and its slumbering light roams o'er the meadow green,
and the nightingale's singing, I move sadly from bush to bush.

Clear and pure, the voice continued, a throb of sadness echoing in the rolling chords.

Nestling deep in the leaves two loving turtle doves coo enchantment to me;
yet I turn away, seeking ever darker shadows.
In my loneliness a tear runs forth.
Where, O vision, whose smile glows as the red of dawn, streaming rays through my soul,
where on this earth are you?

The moment was perfect. Almost involuntarily, Joe held his breath, not daring to move lest he break the spell. Yes, he thought, his heart aching, reaching to times past, where are you?

In my loneliness a tear flows hot, and hotter,
down my cheek
again.

The song drifted away, melting into the dusky purple horizon, and slowly, sounds of a world readying itself for sleep made reality apparent. Polite applause came from overhead, and the piano began once more, but this time it was a sprightly dance of some kind.

Still slightly dazed, Joe failed to hear the footsteps coming along the gravel path until the person stood right next to him. "Captain Sullivan?" a gentle female voice inquired, and Joe started.

His nurse, a cheerful young woman named Cherry, smiled down at him, and he found himself smiling back. "Is it time to go in already?" he groused, "With the time it takes me to get anywhere, I feel as though I just got here!"

Nurse Cherry's full, red lips quirked. "Well, I could bring you a pillow and a blanket, and you could spend the night under the stars, but I think then Dr. Woods would have my head served to him on a silver platter for allowing the famous Sky Captain to chance catching his death of cold."

This elicited a genuine grimace from Joe, who gripped his crutch a bit harder than necessary. "None of that, now, if you please," he said tersely.

Cherry instantly looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, sir," she responded, "It was so good to see you enjoying the outdoors and smiling a bit that I forgot myself. It won't happen again."

Her patient tightened his jaw and nodded. "Please don't worry about it," he said, "I was too testy." He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he could ask her to leave before struggling to his feet. He hated being so weak, and he hated other people seeing the weakness, remembering what he used to be, and pitying him for it.

"Captain, sir," Cherry said quietly, "Our only goal here is to help you recover. My only goal is to make sure that recovery is in full."

Joe glanced sharply at her, but detected only sincerity in her face and tone. "Do you need an arm, sir?" she asked.

The pilot shook his head and planted the foot of the crutch firmly in the gravel. With a slight lurch, he pushed with his good leg and the crutch and surged upright, wobbling just a bit as he fought for balance. Cherry put out her hand to steady him.

Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan shut his eyes briefly against the onslaught of pain and drove through it to look down at his nurse. "Thank you," he said simply, and they turned to go inside.