"Jess, slow down!" shouted Rory as she jogged to catch up with her patient. "This is your first day outside and I don't want you to hurt yourself."
"Aw, come on Rory!" he laughed as he strode out into the trees. "I'm finally out of that stupid hospital bed and you're trying to ruin all my fun."
The nurse finally caught up to him and grabbed him by the arm to keep him from going any farther. "I'm not trying to ruin all your fun, Jess. I'm trying to keep you safe. If you want to keep walking outside, you're going to have to take it easy. Do you understand?"
He sighed. "Fine."
She nodded satisfactorily. "Good. And please, try not to pick up any empty beer bottles."
Jess grinned. "You have to admit, that was funny."
Rory reluctantly smiled. "I had to pull Paris off of him just to make sure he came out alive."
"Aw, why'd you do that?" he whined. "You should have let her kill him. The world's better off if he isn't in it."
The nurse's smile dissolved into a frown. "That's not very nice, Jess."
He stuck his tongue out at her. "I'm not a very nice person."
"Oh, come on," Rory chided lightly. "You're a very nice person. You just don't like other people seeing that."
"No," he said quietly. "I'm really not."
Jess took in a deep breath and gazed around at his surroundings. "It's weird how you only miss something when it's gone. I always took walks outside before the war back home, but I always took that for granted. I never thought I could lose that ability so quickly."
Rory nodded. "It makes you appreciate everything that much more."
The soldier nudged a rock with the toe of his worn boot. "What do you miss the most?"
The nurse looked up at him questioningly. "Hm? What did you say?"
"What do you miss the most?"
She shrugged. "My innocence, I guess." She looked down and laughed a little ashamedly. "I bet you didn't know…Logan, Colin, Finn and I all go way back. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Connecticut. Our parents all sent us to the best schools and gave us everything we've ever wanted. We knew the economy was failing and we knew that people were suffering, but we didn't care. All we cared about was having a good time. Then the war started up. The boys wanted to do something. They said they couldn't just sit around and not help their country." Rory smiled sadly. "I guess that was when we all grew up. Logan, Colin and Finn all signed up to join the army and I went through medical training to be a nurse. Mom was really supportive. She said if I felt so strongly about the war effort, then I should go for it."
Jess watched her crystalline blue eyes glaze over with indescribable sadness while he pondered her confession. The war must have really changed her because he couldn't possibly imagine Rory as a spoiled child of privileged society.
"What would you have done if you didn't become a nurse?" he finally asked.
Again, Rory shrugged. "I don't know. I might have become a writer, but my grandparents were furious that I even entertained the idea. They wanted me to go to university to find a husband and start a family, like my mother had done. But I knew Mom was unhappy—she always told me not to settle for a quiet existence. That's part of the reason she was so enthusiastic when I said I wanted to be a nurse to help the war effort."
"What did your grandparents say when you joined?"
She laughed humorlessly. "Oh, what did they say? Grandpa said, 'We approve of your desire to aid your country, but couldn't you have found a less extreme way to help? Why don't you gather spare tin? Or you could volunteer at the offices and phone for support.' They didn't want me to go overseas. They didn't think it was proper for a young lady to be with the soldiers."
Jess understood their point to an extent; he would have been leery about someone as beautiful as Rory being surrounded by a bunch of war-hardened men.
Without thinking, he reached forward and took her hand in his. "I'm glad you didn't listen to them."
Rory stared back into his dark eyes and felt that familiar melting sensation that seemed all the more potent as he held her hand. Her logical side told her that this was a terrible idea—in fact, it had been screaming at her since she agreed to take Jess out for a walk. She knew he was dangerous, and she knew that she was unpredictable around him. But her fanciful side just didn't give a damn.
"Jess," she whispered. "I…"
"You what?" he prompted softly. She felt his warm breath dance across her face.
His lips were so close. If she moved just a little bit closer—
"Rory!" shouted a voice from far away. The two jumped in surprise, widening the gap between them.
Rory cleared her throat and nervously scraped her sweaty palms across her apron. "Emily? Emily, I'm right here!"
The dark-haired nurse bounded from behind some trees, her small brown eyes wild with excitement. "Rory, there you are! You must come quickly! Lieutenant Conner is here!"
Jess watched her already huge eyes widen. "Yes, I'll be right there!" Then she turned to him. "Hurry, we have to go back!" She hiked up her skirts and sprinted back toward the tiny field hospital.
"Wait!" he shouted. "Rory, you said I can't run!"
She slowed down, but only enough to let him catch up to her. "Come on, Jess! Hurry up!"
"Who's Lieutenant Conner?" he asked.
"He's the liaison between the army hospitals and the battlefield. He must have news about the war!"
A couple minutes later, the two of them burst through the hospital doors. They found the entire hospital circled around an impeccably dressed army official. He stood incredibly straight in the suit that marked him as an army official. He held his hat in his arms, allowing his bright blond hair to glint in the dim hospital light.
"Lieutenant!" Rory cried. "Do you have any news?"
He turned around and smiled widely at the nurse. Jess immediately liked him. "I do, but I was asked to wait until you were retrieved. Now that you're here, I can finally share it." The Lieutenant turned back to the occupants of the hospital. "The end of the war is in sight. We're advancing into Germany and it doesn't look as if they can hold out much longer."
Whoops and hollers echoed through the tiny infirmary. Jess' heart swelled with excitement.
When the cheers died down, Lieutenant Conner continued. "We're almost there, but not quite. I was sent here to gather all the soldiers that have recovered well enough to return to the battlefield. We need all the men we have to finish this off."
Rory immediately felt her stomach tighten. Maybe this news wasn't as exciting as she thought it would be.
"Dr. Hamilton, I need a list of the soldiers that are well enough to return. I'm taking them with me to join the rest of the troops at the edge of the Rhine. The Soviets are storming through Berlin as we speak—soon we will meet them there."
The doctor nodded. "I'll have it for you by the end of the day."
The lieutenant nodded. "Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, could I be shown to a spare room? The journey hasn't been easy."
Paris immediately stepped forward and led Lieutenant Conner to the spare room they kept for guests behind the OR.
When he was gone, cheers erupted once more in the infirmary. Colin and Finn got out of their beds and danced as best as they could on wounded limbs while Logan kept pumping the air over and over again with emphatic fists. Beatrice raced over to Rory and gave her a huge hug. "Can you believe it?" she cried over the din. "The war is almost over! We'll be home soon!"
Rory tried to smile. "I know! I know!"
Beatrice eventually let go and rushed off to hug Emily. When she was gone, Rory turned to Jess. She noticed an odd glint in the soldier's eyes.
"It's almost over," he whispered quietly. She had to lean in closer to hear him over all the noise.
"I know," she murmured again. But she couldn't bring herself to feel happy about the news.
"Hey," he said gently when he noticed the tears glistening in her eyes. "What's wrong? This is good. This means we're almost home."
Rory bit her lip. "Didn't you hear?" she whispered desperately. "He's looking for soldiers well enough to return to battle and he's bringing them to Germany."
"I know," he said.
"That means more death. They might get injured again and we won't be there to help them. We won't be anywhere near them and they'll have to go to incompetent German nurses who don't even know how to communicate with them. Or worse, they'll have to deal with English nurses! They won't try to save the limb—they'll just go ahead and amputate it, just because it's easier." Tears started to roll down her eyes. "I know I wasn't supposed to get attached, but I couldn't help it. I did, and now they're going to take them away to get injured somewhere else. Why can't this war just end? Why can't we just go home?"
"Hey," Jess insisted softly. "Look at me. Everything's going to be alright. The war will end soon. I promise."
Rory sniffed. "And that's not even the worst part," she continued.
"What's the worst part?"
She took a deep breath. "The worst part is that Dr. Hamilton's going to make you go because you can walk again. You're well enough to leave."
Jess' heart leapt in his ribcage at the implication of her words. "Rory—"
"So how can you say it's going to be okay?" she demanded. "How can it be okay when you might get hurt and I won't be there? You might even die!" Her words were getting hysterical. "Who's going to tell them that you're allergic to penicillin? Who's going to know that you can't sleep after drinking coffee? How're those stupid English nurses supposed to figure out that you love books? They don't know your home address to send your letters—they won't even know that you hate asparagus! How can this possibly be okay?"
Jess whipped his head around to make sure no one was watching. When the coast was clear, he took Rory by the elbow and dragged her outside. The sun had already begun to set and the sky was lit ablaze with fiery reds and deep oranges. But Jess could only focus on the deep blue of Rory's tear-filled eyes.
"Jess, you can't leave me," she whimpered, "because somewhere in the middle of all of this, I was stupid enough to fall in love with you."
His heart soared at the sound of her words. Without stopping to think about it, he leaned in and kissed her soundly on the lips. And never in his wildest dreams, did he imagine it could feel like this.
Her mouth moved with his, letting his tongue enter and gently massage the roof of her mouth. Her arms snaked their way around his neck and he wrapped his own around the small of her back. She pressed herself against his body, desperately clinging to him and deepening the kiss. Every inch of skin on his body tingled with the sensations she brought him and his heart swelled at the thought of her fears.
Eventually Jess pulled away and stared deeply in Rory's eyes. "Rory, I promise I will come back. When this war is finally over, I will find you. I will find you and we'll get married. And I'll show you all around the world. And we'll move into a nice white home with a lawn and a dog and we'll start a family. And you can write! We can both write. We'll be writers together and we'll sell millions of books and we'll go on trips to Paris and London every year. We'll be together when this is over."
Rory smiled through her tears. "Oh, Jess…"
"Do you believe me?"
She cried even harder. "How can we be together when the world wants us apart?"
He gripped her hands tightly in his. "You love me. I love you. What else matters? The world can go fuck itself for all I care. You are the most important thing to me. I'm not letting you go."
"Do you really love me?"
"I loved you the moment you pulled the bullet out. You took away my physical pain and my emotional pain. You stayed up at night to read to me, you talked to me. You treated me more than just another numbered soldier. How could I not love you?"
She kissed him again, and this time it was a much fiercer exchange. It was desperate and fiery, sending shoots of electricity through their veins.
"I swear to you, Rory," he declared when they finally broke apart. "I love you. And when this is over, I'll make you my wife."
Rory finally smiled. "Good. Because if you don't, I'll hunt you down and kill you myself."
Unbeknownst to the two of them, a shocked and stricken Beatrice had seen the entire exchange through the tiny hospital window.
A/N - Ack! I know that this update is so long overdue it's ridiculous. The only excuse I can offer you is that school is ridiculous as well. But I do hope I made this update worth the wait. This might be my favorite chapter, just FYI.
The story's reaching the middle, I think. We're getting to the real heart of it all and if I had to guesstimate, I'd say five to six chapters are left. Don't stake your life on that, though--it's just a hunch and my hunches (when it comes to remaining chapters) tend to be wildly off.
Don't forget to review!