A/N: Yep, I'm almost caught up now. However, there will be another prompt posted this Friday, so I'll fall behind again. :P My goal is to have everything complete and ready to synchronize my watch... er, cell phone... with the ladies of RTN next week. We'll see if I accomplish this or not. However, in the meantime, here's another one shot. This one is a period piece, and, as some as you peeps know, I really, really, REALLY heart The Civil War. Oh, and I also kind of wanted to name this The Roof is on Fire, but I'm not THAT irrelevant. Enjoy! Charlynn
Degrees of Attraction
A One Shot
FNF#7: Take cover.
Lizzie had done it again, and, this time, it was bad.
No, not bad. Colossal. Disastrous. Catastrophic.
Early that morning, it had seemed like a good idea. After all, the heat in the city was intolerable, and she hated her nursing duties at the hospital. Her father and brother were the doctors in their family; her mother and sister the gentle, caring healers, the saints of Atlanta. She, however, had absolutely no interest in medicine, but she was forced to work with the sick and wounded anyway, her family claiming she owed it to The Cause.
However, as far as she was concerned, Their Cause certainly wasn't Her Cause. Three years ago, no one had asked her if she wanted to go to war. They didn't ask her opinion on the outdated institution of slavery, and they certainly didn't want to hear her tell them that they needed the north for their manufactured goods. She was a woman, a young, unmarried woman to be exact, and the only things she was supposed to be concerned with were balls and barbeques, new dresses and pretty little bonnets. Being wealthy, her family did not expect her to actually work or help with the household, so, as long as she was out of sight and out of mind and, eventually, married off well, they didn't care what she thought.
Unfortunately, for the Webbers, that was not Elizabeth's style. While her brain told her to be quiet, that speaking out would only get her in trouble later, her heart, her conscience, and her convictions would not allow her to remain silent. And she had voiced her viewpoints on the idea of succession and war loudly, but no one ever stayed around long enough to listen. She was dismissed, laughed at, branded a foolish girl, and, if it wasn't for her family's good name and her obvious favor with all the local beaus, she would have been ostracized.
Now, three years later, the petite brunette knew that no one would remember that she had been the one to warn them of the devastating results a war with the North would have upon the South, not to mention the fact that she was paying the consequences as well. She hadn't received a new dress in over a year, and her remaining ones were tattered and worn, faded and stained. Not that she particularly minded, though. Rather, the eighteen year old was more concerned about the fact that she was forced to draw with simple pencils on the back of the wallpaper she confiscated off of her own bedroom walls. Late at night when everyone else was asleep, she'd move her bed just far enough to gain access to the hidden portions of the decorative covering, peeling little pieces aside for use later in private.
Sadly, though, Elizabeth rarely had an opportunity to laze away an afternoon sketching and doodling as she had as a child. Art was her passion, but, just as the war had stripped away all other luxuries from her life, she no longer had the freedom to paint at leisure. Instead, her days consisted of rolling bandages for the army, with tending to the sick and wounded at the local hospitals, and with worrying incessantly about where they would find their next
meal or how they were going to survive when Atlanta eventually fell.
And it would.
Steadily, Sherman had been advancing upon the key, strategic Southern city for months, slowly dwindling down the space between his vast army and the railroad depots and storage facilities located in the bustling, upstart of a town. Johnson had fought as valiantly as he could with inferior numbers and supplies, only to be replaced with Hood who could do no more. Retreat and entrench. Retreat and entrench. But, with every fallback the Confederate army took, it brought the bluecoats just that much closer to victory and her family to complete ruination.
But something had changed for her that morning. Waking up early because of the insufferable Georgian summer heat, the diminutive five foot, two inch belle decided that she had had enough of taking care of others. For the first time in months, she needed a day to relax and be free, especially since it could very well be her last. So, telling her mother that she was going to the hospital as she usually did, she, instead, took off for Peachtree Creek.
It had been more than a month since the two colliding army had fought there, and, slowly, the aftereffects of battle and war were healing, leaving the tenacious vegetation to sooth and distract her from the living hell she had been experiencing since early May. For some of the day, she had simply lounged by the murky water, stripping off her worn, homemade shoes to dip her blistered feet into the cooling stream's depths. Continuously shifting patchworks of sunlight filtered down upon her through the trees, and, after taking a nap, Elizabeth pulled out her precious scraps of wallpaper to draw, the distant sounds of fighting blending far into the background for her at that point. After all, the staccato tattoo of gunfire and the hollow, rhythmic cadence of the canons had long since become a daily part of her reality. Day faded into dusk, and, eventually, she was forced to leave the oasis the countryside provided her with, so the brunette started the long, arduous trek back into the city.
She wasn't even within the Atlanta limits yet when she realized that something was wrong. The town was too quiet, the houses she passed too still, and the streets were too empty. In fact, if she didn't know better, she would think that the entire place had been abandoned. But that was preposterous. There had been no warnings of the army's imminent collapse that morning, nothing to forewarn the citizens that they, too, along with the troops, needed to retreat from Sherman's advancing conquerors.
But the farther she progressed towards home, the more the sinking feeling in her stomach grew, eventually making her pick up her pace and practically run, despite her large, constricting skirts and the stays that limited her breathing efforts. Living on the North side of town, it didn't take her long to reach her family's stately yet sophisticated mansion, and, when she arrived, her worst fears had been realized. The place was completely deserted.
No annoying, perfect, hated older sister.
Her elderly grandmother wasn't even there tending to her dust choked flowers or practicing the fine needlework she insisted upon doing despite her failing eyesight and their limited funds.
Some of the windows were still left open, and, even from her vantage point still on the sidewalk, Elizabeth could tell that her family had left in a hurry. Although they had packed some of their valuables and heirlooms, most everything else was still there, simply waiting to be destroyed by the soon-to-be occupying Northern troops. She couldn't believe that they had left without her, but, then again, really, she had no one to blame but herself. After all, she was the one who lied to her Mom, and she was the one who had avoided her duties at the hospital to enjoy a solitary day of relaxation. But still…
Swallowing her tears, the young woman progressed towards the elegant brick house, preparing to gather her own few prized possessions before setting out on foot by herself. She knew where she would go. Her family's closest friends had a plantation just outside of the city, and she knew that's where her mother, sister, and grandmother would be headed themselves. It had been planned – their escape route – months before when word of Sherman's intentions to take Atlanta had spread down to the city of selection itself, and, despite the fact that her journey to the country manor would be dangerous and, perhaps, even futile in the long run, there was no way she could simply give up and stop fighting. No matter what, the brunette was determined to survive the war, and, when it was over, she was going to, somehow, someway, make a new life for herself. Either through marriage or flouting social tradition, she would leave the Webbers behind once and for all.
However, she never actually made it to the front verandah. Rather, her procession to the entrance of her own home was impeded by something catching on her skirts and holding her back. At first believing it to be just a pesky, overgrown plant, she pulled on the material, but it wouldn't release, and, looking down, Elizabeth noticed that it wasn't the wild vegetation of her grandmother's gardens restricting her movements but rather a hand – a sun darkened, bloodied, masculine hand.
The realization paralyzed her.
It wasn't the fact that she was unused to the horrors of war. Years of serving as a nurse at the hospital had trained and prepared her for sights no woman – or man, for that matter, should ever have to see or face in their lifetime. But it was the arm and, more precisely, the material covering the arm that belonged to the dirtied hand that had her insides clench with fear. The injured soldier was wearing blue.
Not grey as was the proud colors of the Confederate army. Not butterspun as many of the boys had been forced to start wearing. Not even the gaudy, rich hues of some of the local divisions, leftovers from the beginning of the war. And, while she knew that some men were
forced to don the uniforms of their opposing armies, for the South was so short of materials and supplies, she just knew that the man who would surely die before her if he didn't receive some medical attention was not from Dixie. He was a Yankee, and, for the eighteen year old, the situation could not end well.
But neither could she just leave him there to perish. Her principles wouldn't allow her to do something so unsympathetic, so self-serving. Bending down to check for his wound, she found that he had been shot in the abdomen, that he was burning up with a fever and, surely, an infection, and that he was practically unconscious. She needed to get him out of the heat and inside where she could tend to him relatively comfortably, and she needed to do so before he lost all sense of awareness.
"Can you stand on your own," Elizabeth asked him, her normally soft, rich voice lulled to an even gentler tone with natural concern. "Of course you can't," she answered for the soldier, chastising herself mentally for asking such a dim question. Moving to stand behind the Union officer, she lifted him into a sitting position by looping her arms beneath his and pulling him up, talking to herself the entire time as she gradually, methodically helped him stand. "Get it together, Lizzie. If you're going to do this – if you're going to take care of this man and actually manage to save his life, not to mention find a way to keep yourself alive, too, you're going to have to be smart about this. No thick questions. No daydreaming. No getting scared."
Startling her, the stranger asked, "do you… do you always talk this much," his words coming out in short, raspy pants. Immediately, she clamped her mouth shut, refusing to speak again. "I'm sorry," he apologized, and, despite herself, the brunette believed him to be sincere. "I… I don't mind, you know. It's nice."
"You talking," he answered as they, step by sluggish step, approached the porch and entered the looming house.
"Yeah, well, you shouldn't be chattering away, Sir. You should save your energy," she instructed him, warned him, "because you're going to need all you can get to continue living long enough to convalesce."
Surprisingly enough, he followed her directions, never once uttering another word or even a complaint of pain as they made their way into her family's home. However, when she went to move him to the stairs to take him up to one of the guest bedrooms, he shook her idea off, instead nodding to the open front parlor. Obliging his wishes, Elizabeth took him into the ground floor room. If he wanted to sleep on an uncomfortable couch, who was she to argue?
Several minutes later, he was situated and resting, and she was fluttering about the downstairs gathering supplies to take care of the wounded soldier. Although she was surely not a doctor herself, because of their limited staff of help, she had assisted the physicians at
the hospital during their various surgeries, and she knew what to do in order to take care of Yankee. Unfortunately, though, her ministrations would be lacking any form of medication. The South was low enough already on drugs as it was, and she knew there was no way she'd be able to find something to use now that the city had been abandoned.
Preparing to tend to the still unnamed man, she knelt down beside him, lifting a pair of sewing shears to cut away his uniform. But, before her hand could even make one incision, his fingers stilled upon hers, drawing her attention up to his face. It was the first time she had really looked at the stranger, and she knew it was a moment she would never forget.
There were various levels of attraction a woman could experience with a man. Butterflies if she liked him, shivers and trembles if she believed him to be handsome, and, even though she had never experienced it herself, Elizabeth knew that there was such a thing as sparks, as fireworks. However, never before had she anticipated sharing such a life altering moment with a man who was, in all likelihood, forbidden to her, but it happened with the Captain lying on her settee nonetheless.
"Thank you," he whispered, their gazes catching, locking, smoldering.
"You're welcome, Captain…"
"Captain Morgan," the Union officer filled in for her, smiling tenderly, deliriously. "Jason Morgan."
As the corner of his handsome mouthed quirked up into what could only be described as a dashing, gorgeous grin, Elizabeth figuratively saw flames of desire ricochet between them… just as the city of her birth literally lit up into a fiery inferno.
Oh, yeah. She was definitely in trouble.