Title: War and Soul
Author: lunchy (Jezebel Parks)
Fandom: Shaman King
Pairing: Tao Ren/Xu Pin-Mei (oc)
Theme: #18 - "Say ah..."
Disclaimer: Shaman King was created by Hiroyuki Takei. All rights belong to him.
Notes: This fic is an AU
Ren's tone of voice, for the most part, lacks pitch and expression.
This is an entry for a pair claiming in an internet community, thus the odd setup.
War and Soul: Chapter One
"Hurry up, new girl,"
Pin-Mei scuttled over to her new boss, a tall woman with love handles and red hair tied back in a tight bun. She looked the intern over.
"You're a small one, aren't you?"
She sighed. "Stop saying that and go to this room." She handed the girl a clipboard.
Pin-Mei flipped through the pages, her eyes falling on the wounded soldier's name. She glanced at the small photo that was paper clipped to the packet. "He's Chinese..."
"That's exactly why we're giving him to you."
She looked up, alarmed. "M-Me?! But I don't know how to do anything!"
"But you can speak Chinese, can't you? Your parents immigrated here when you were just a child, but you still speak it, right? He didn't respond to us at all when we tried to tell him what we were going to do and that we were going to help him, so the surgeon concluded he probably doesn't know any English." She turned away from her to sort papers, as if the conversation was over.
"I...I can, but if he doesn't speak English, why wasn't he transferred to a hospital in China?"
The head nurse sighed. "We didn't have time for that. The patient was shot multiple times in the chest. He would have been dead by the time we got him there...And just make sure you can stomach his face."
Pin-Mei swallowed nervously. Her tolerance of blood had improved since she was younger, but deformities still gave her a sick feeling. She closed the packet. "Alright. Leave it to me!" she cried, trying to sound energetic.
"Just get out so I can finish sorting these files."
"Y-Yes, ma'am!" She quickly turned and started toward the room. She knew that her boss wasn't intentionally being mean, it was just her disposition. Knowing this, she tried not to take what she said personally. Her pace slowed as she glanced around the halls. "Room 312..." After scanning the signs beside the doors, she found the room and crept over to it. Her hand grasped the doorknob as she prepared to meet her patient face to face.
Just smile. If you act happy, he'll feel more relaxed.
Finally, she opened the door. "Good morning!" she said in a cheery voice, a closed-eye smile on her face. "I'm Pin-Mei and I'll be your caretaker from today on."
Silence. She slowly opened her eyes, ready to take in the image of her patient's marred face that her superior had warned her about. But his face was turned away from her, staring out of the only window in the room.
Did he lose his hearing? Is that why he isn't talking to anyone? She straightened. I guess I should try talking to him in Chinese...
"Um, sir, are you alright?" she asked as she reached out to touch his shoulder.
"Don't touch me."
She flinched and pulled back. His voice had been low and curt.
"S-So you can speak English after all..." she whispered.
"Of course I can," he shot back. "It's a requirement to join the US Marine Corps. You work in a military hospital; I would expect you to know that."
"Well...I...Um...I'm new...so I..."
"It doesn't change the fact that you went through basic training, does it."
Defeated, she looked at the ground. "Mr. Tao...Why are you so abrasive?"
"Are you insinuating that someone in my position doesn't have the right to be bitter."
She shook her head, not that he could see. "No, not at all...It's just..." She whimpered, sniffling as tears came to her eyes. "...I'm trying to help you, and you're taking your anger out on me when I've done nothing wrong."
He sighed, annoyed. "Stop crying. Just go do something nurse-like. Make yourself useful."
She smiled, eager to show him just how useful she could be. "Yes, of course. Would you like a magazine, a book, or a movie, maybe?"
"Get me some milk."
"Of course!" Pin-Mei put the clip board in the plastic file outside the door and walked to the refrigerator room to get a bottle of milk. She quickly returned and placed it in the plastic movable tray attached to the bed. The marine still wouldn't look at her. It was as if he was trying to hide his face.
"Here you are, Mr. Tao." She moved the tray in front of him, going a little further than she needed to in an effort to see what his face looked like.
"You don't need to turn it so much," he snapped at her.
She stepped back. "You're right. I apologize." I didn't get to see anything…
He removed the cap and took a drink. "Next time, get skim milk," he said coarsely as he set the bottle on the tray again. "Whole milk will make me fat. And I won't be able to work out for a while, so that will just make it even worse."
"Okay…" She glanced down. She had failed. Her patient wasn't about to allow her to win him over so easily, and she knew it. She looked up again to see him turning back to the window. He had turned to look at her, and she had missed it.
"I'll call you when I'm hungry. You can leave now."
Without another word, Pin-Mei backed out of the room, closing the door softly. She sulked, her gaze once again at the ground.
"Boy, do I feel sorry for you."
She jumped, covering her mouth so she wouldn't scream. Once she had caught her breath, she turned around to see another nurse standing behind her. However, unlike her, she wasn't an intern, but fully registered, as evidenced by the small pin on her breast pocket.
"A-Anna! What are you doing here?"
"I heard they decided to dump this guy on you, so I came to see how close you were to crying," she said flatly.
"I-I wasn't crying!"
Anna sighed, then took the clipboard off the wall. "Did you even read the whole thing?"
Pin-Mei looked down, clicking her heels together. "I…skimmed…it?"
"Pathetic. Don't you realize how important it is to know everything about your patient before you start treating them? What if he's allergic to something you serve him? Honestly, I know you're a klutz and a crybaby sometimes, but even you should understand that old saying, 'knowing is half the battle'."
"Don't apologize to me. Apologize to him." She hit her head lightly with the clipboard, holding it there. "You seem to have some free time, so go read this. All of it."
Pin-Mei took it from her. "Y-Yes ma'am."
"Good." She took one of intern's long braids and used it to pull her away. The girl shrieked a little, but stood it for the next few seconds until Anna let go.
"Ow…" she moaned, holding the braid. "That hu--,"
"Is he as much of an ass as everyone says?"
"No one wanted to be assigned to him because of how he acted when he was brought here. Everyone thought he was a foreigner since he didn't talk to anyone, making us think he didn't know a word of English. I, on the other hand, knew better."
"Because you need to be fluent in English to be in the Marine Corps, right?"
"If you knew, why didn't you volunteer to take care of him?"
"I knew I'd end up killing him. He doesn't seem to be all sunshine, flowers, and Reese's cups."
"Celia dumped him on you since she knew you wouldn't object. Poor you."
"Well, just read that and see if you can't break him down somehow. If you try, I'm sure you'll have him shitting puppies and pissing rainbows in no time."
She looked at her nervously. "A-Anna…"
Her friend turned and walked away. "Just don't piss him off, alright? Then we'll all have to hear about it."
She glanced down at the clipboard again. "How much can this really tell me?" After standing in the middle of the hallway for close to five minutes, she punched out in order to take her lunch break. As she got her wallet from her locker on her way to the cafeteria, she glanced out the window. "Aww, it's snowing! So pretty!"
A calendar near her read "December 13". Pin-Mei let out a sigh. "I still need to finish getting presents for my family...I hate being poor."
Sitting down at one of the tables with a lunch consisting of a bowl of Italian Wedding Soup, a glass of cranberry juice, and a small bag of Doritos, Pin-Mei started looking through the packet.
"Let's see...height...weight...colors...blah..." Her eyes widened as she came to his educational background. "H-H-H-H-HARVARD?? THAT GUY??"
She looked around to see patients and their families, along with other hospital staff staring at her, some glaring. Embarrassed, she turned back to her packet.
He was studying medicine...but why did he leave such a prestigious school to join the marines? He had so much going for him...What's this next part? Oh, preferred meal preparations. Let's see...yes...yes...normal... She smacked her forehead. It says right here that he prefers skim milk...I'm so dense...
She went on. Now she was deeper into the files the Marine Corps. had transferred to the hospital. After reading a few lines, she quickly flipped the page. I…don't really want to know what happened. If he's deformed, then it must have been something awful. I don't think I'd be able to stomach it. Despite this, she flipped back to the previous page. But I have to. What good is a nurse who doesn't even know what her patient went through? She sighed.
"Rong, I don't think I'm good enough for this…"
Silence. She glanced down at the sheet.
"Squad Tango was performing a mission of clearing rebels from an old, abandoned warehouse. The patient in question was in the middle of the group, Tango's leader being in the front. After a brief exchange of fire, the rebels fled the warehouse and headed for a field about 30 meters away. Tango pursued the rebels until they opted to fall back and come up with a strategy to surround them. It was decided that Private Tao and Private Diethel would take a roundabout route in order to chase the rebels to where the rest of the squad was waiting so they could ambush them.
"However, the enemy had gone back to their base and rounded up reinforcements. When Privates Tao and Diethel encountered them, they were outnumbered. Private Tao tried to give Private Diethel cover fire so he could escape. The standoff eventually moved to a mine field--,"
She quickly closed the packet and shoved it under her lunch tray, staring into her soup. "So his face is like that because he was making sure that a fellow soldier could get away. This didn't need to happen to him. It's...so sad."
She slowly chewed her food as she thought. "Can I do something to make this easier for him? To bring a smile to his face?" She reluctantly took the packet out again, sighing as she skimmed it for clues. Her eyes rested on his favorite foods. "Peach buns..." She smiled.
The next day, Pin-Mei tentatively opened her patient's door, quietly slipping in and closing it behind her. With a small plate in her left hand, she walked over to his bed, finding that a thin curtain had been put up.
Is he asleep? Did I come at a bad time? She took a couple steps back, contemplating whether she should leave the plate there or not.
"What is it?"
His stiff voice made her jump as his shadow slowly sat up. "Um…Er…Did-did I wake you?"
"No. I try not to sleep that much."
She cocked her head. "Why is that? Don't you know it's detrimental to your health if you don't get enough sleep?"
"Of course I know."
"That's my question. Why are you here. It's not time for dinner yet."
Her hands were shaking. Should I be doing this? Should I just tell him I came to say hello and leave? Am I crossing a boundary? Especially when it's only my second day taking care of him?
She gripped the plate tightly in an attempt to still her hands.
No. This is okay. It's my job to make him as comfortable as possible. That packet said this is his favorite food, so would he appreciate something like this? I know I would. We may not be alike, but I think anyone would feel some sort of thankfulness at someone giving them their favorite food.
She stood firm with her feet together. To make sure her voice was bright, she put on a big smile. "I brought you something."
There was a pause. "What is it - more bandages."
"No! Of course not, silly! It's something I really think you'll like."
He scoffed at her, then paused again. "What's that smell."
She giggled. "I don't know. Would you like to find out?"
He turned his head, seemingly trying to look at her through the curtain, as if to study her. After some thinking, he moved the plastic tray attached to his bed so it stuck out of the curtains.
"Put it on there. And don't even try to look."
"Okay!" She walked over and set the plate on the tray, then walked back to where she had been standing.
He leaned over to bring the tray back, but winced with a barely audible groan, and held his right side. Finally, the tray went to his side of the curtains. Pin-Mei quietly clasped her hands together when he froze, his body leaning over with his right arm outstretched. After he had dragged himself to where he had been before, he positioned the tray in front of himself. She could tell he was looking down at the food, and was eagerly awaiting his reaction.
"What's this for." His tone was as brisk as always.
Her smile faded slightly, but she tried to recover it. "Your file listed this under your meal preparations, so I thought that maybe you'd feel a little more at home if I made you some."
He glanced at her shadow, then at his plate. Slowly, he picked up one of the peach buns and took a small bite from it. After he swallowed it, he looked at it. "You made these."
She nodded enthusiastically. "Y-Yes, I did! It was hard to find a recipe that seemed correct, and some of the ingredients were hard to find, and they were a challenge to make, but I thought it would be worth it if it could make your day just a little better."
He nodded as he thought about her response. "You can leave now. Come back at six."
Her smile vanished. They hadn't been good enough. "Yes, of course."
Trying to cover her eyes with one hand, she left the room. She shut the door, then leaned against the clean white wall next to it.
"That's okay…" she whispered. "It was only my first time making them; no wonder they'd taste like crap. It doesn't matter…I don't care about what he thinks. I tried my best, isn't that what matters?" But then she slumped to the ground, hugging her knees and burying her face in them. She sobbed quietly, not wanting him to know what he had done to her.
There was a light prod to her shin. Slowly, she looked up to see Anna looking down at her. "What did you do now? And do you know why the kitchen is such a mess?"
Pin-Mei just stared up at her before standing and throwing her arms around her. "ANNA!!" she wailed.
Anna pushed her away. "I asked what was going on – I didn't tell you to touch me."
"S-Sorry," Pin-Mei replied as she wiped her eyes.
"What are you blubbering about?"
"I…I worked so hard on those peach buns!" she cried.
"I…I made Mr. Tao some peach buns since the file said it was his favorite food and I thought that if I made him some then he'd feel happier and more relaxed and maybe not be so mean but he took one bite and then told me to leave so I did and now--,"
"Were you speaking some foreign language? Because I didn't understand a word of that."
The intern bit her lip. "I worked so hard to make those peach buns! How could he just brush me off like that without at least saying 'Thanks for the thought'? How…can someone be so cruel?"
Anna sighed. "You really don't know anything, do you?"
"W-What do you mean?"
Anna grabbed a black braid and began pulling Pin-Mei down the hall.
"Ow…ow…ow…Anna, why can't you just grab my wrist like a normal person?"
"You used your hands to wipe your runny nose of emotion, so I'm not going to touch it."
"Annaaaa…" she groaned.
"Stop complaining." She let go and marched over to the information rack. After surveying it for a few seconds, she took a small booklet from it and walked back over. She held it out to Pin-Mei, who glanced at the cover.
"'Posttraumatic Stress Disorder'? What's this for?"
"It's for you to learn how to understand Mr. Sunshine in room 312."
"But I don't really know that this condition is…"
"Basically, people decided 'shellshock' wasn't a good phrase, so someone decided to call it this instead. They're the same thing."
"But don't people with shell - er - PTSD usually just sit and scream a lot?"
"You watch too much television. Just read it, and keep rereading it so I don't have to go out my way to do something for you every single time I see you."
"Good." She walked away.
"Oh, um, thank you!"
She waved her off. After she was gone, Pin-Mei went to go find someplace quiet to read.
"'…Victims of PTSD will sometimes feel like the event that is causing them stress is happening all over again. They may experience this suddenly both during the day and when they are sleeping. Sufferers are known to develop insomnia as a way to try to escape the event from "happening again".
"'The subject may also develop a sense of depression, loneliness, and not be able to associate with people normally. They can sometimes become emotionally numb and be insensitive to the feelings of a friend or relative that they have known and loved since before the incident, showing that this aspect of the disease does not discriminate. Patients are also easy to anger and are easily startled, so great care must be taken so that they feel understood and cared for. However, caresses that the patient may deem inappropriate, such as hugging, kissing, or cuddling, will only cause them to withdraw more.'"
Pin-Mei blinked, then looked up at the ceiling. A picture of her throwing back the curtain and kissing her patient shot into her mind before she had a chance to stop it.
"N-No! I can't think about things like that!" she cried. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head until the vision was gone. She sighed and looked at the ground. "Why did I even think about that...?"
After several moments of staring at the clean hospital tile, she turned the page, glancing at the instructions dictating how to help patients and what to do in certain situations. "Mr. Tao...What happened was really awful, wasn't it?"
As she walked by room 312, she glanced at the file in the plastic container on the wall. Hesitantly, she took the file from the wall, holding it in front of her.
"I...I owe it to him, no matter how devastating it is. I owe it to him to try to understand him as best as I can."
She started walking down the hall, once again looking for a place to read, when Celia came stomping down the hall. The girl froze, then put the file at the bottom of a stack she was carrying.
"Where have you been? I must have paged you at least three times!"
She sighed. "Just go to room 347 and talk to the patient in there. He's about to have some surgery, and is on the edge about it. Try to calm him down."
Pin-Mei nodded slowly. "Yes, ma'am."
Celia stared at her, surprised that she didn't stutter, then walked away. The intern looked at the file, then put it back in the plastic holder next to the door. "Later. Someone else needs me now."
She silently walked down the hall, not paying attention to the doctors rushing by her or the soldiers being whisked in on stretchers. Finally, she looked up to find that she had arrived at her destination. She glanced at the patient's file to see what the surgery was for, then entered the room.
"Why, hello there!" She closed the door behind her and sat on a stool next to the patient's bed. "So, Mr. Asakura, you're going to have some surgery done on your arm, right?"
Yoh looked up at her with a nervous smile. "Yeah. There's no use in putting it off. I'll need it at some point, so I figured, why not just get it done now?"
She smiled, lifting a fist and pumping it minimally. "That's the spirit! Face it head-on!"
They each let out an uneasy chuckle. Yoh then closed his eyes, smiled, and looked up at the ceiling.
"If it weren't for my brother, I don't think it'd be as easy to smile through this," he said quietly.
She tilted her head. "He comes to see you a lot according to your visitor log."
"Yeah...Bringing me oranges and just talking to me. My parents come too, but it's just different when he's there."
"He seems like a hard person to understand. I get mixed signals from him..."
Yoh laughed lightly. "A lot of people say that, but I know him better than anyone, and he knows me the same way. He may seem like he's up to no good sometimes, but his heart's in the right place. He knows what to do when I can't smile. Like he can read minds or something." He closed his eyes and smiled again. "I'm just glad to have someone on my side right now."
Pin-Mei fell silent. Mr. Tao didn't have anyone like that; not that she knew of anyway. She could see Hao coming to visit his brother almost daily, but she never saw anyone coming in or out of Ren's room aside from hospital staff. Where were his loved ones when he needed them most?
"What are you doing in here?" came a brisk voice.
Pin-Mei flinched before slowly turning to see Anna with a miffed expression on her face. Nothing scared her more than an angry Anna.
"C-C-Celia told me to come cheer him up before his surgery, so I--"
"Well, you can go now. This is my patient, so I have no idea why she would have you come and talk to him." She looked up at the clock. "Besides, it's past six, and Private Grumpy Pants will be wanting his dinner."
Pin-Mei's eyes shot open as she looked up at the clock; it was six fifteen. She jumped up, thanking Anna before quickly running out of the room, leaving the couple to stare after her.
Pin-Mei speed-walked down the halls as quickly as she could, careful of the tray she was holding. She knew that "Mr. Sunshine" wasn't going to appreciate a late dinner, and she was dreading his wrath. But this didn't change the fact that what she was doing was important, and was something that needed to be done.
As she neared the door, she balanced the tray on the palm of her right hand, grasping the knob with her left. "Mr. Tao, I'm coming in," she said before entering.
Looking around, she saw that he was laying down in bed, his body twitching slightly. Curious, she placed the tray on the drawer that his clothes were kept in and inched closer. She could hear small moans coming from behind the thin barrier, causing her to tense.
Is he having a nightmare? Should I wake him up? She crept over to the curtain, reaching out to touch it. I could look at him right now and he'd never know. But she retracted her hand. No, I'm supposed to respect his privacy, so I won't.
As the moans continued, she looked down at her shoes, trying to decide what she should do.
If I reach through the curtain to shake him, he might think I was trying to look at him…How can I wake him up without touching him?
As she was thinking, she heard a door slam from down the hall, the sudden noise causing her to jump. She looked behind her, placing her hand on her sternum as she tried to calm down.
That scared me! I wish they'd be more considerate of the other patients. What if some of them are sleeping? It'd be so rude to wake them up…
She paused, the idea finally popping into her head.
I'm going to get in so much trouble…
But as another sound of pain came from her patient, she knew that she had little choice. She could either place the food on the bed's tray and then leave him to suffer through whatever flashback he was experiencing, or she could try to help him whilst risking punishment from her superior.
I can't just abandon him when he's like this…
Pin-Mei walked over to the open door and grabbed the knob. She pulled back and slammed it shut. As the noise echoed throughout the room, she could hear the gasp of him jerking awake.
"Good evening, Mr. Tao!" she said, trying to sound peppy. "It's time for a lovely dinner of stewed steak with dumplings! Of course, I brought you some skim milk, too!" She heard him yawn and tilted her head, a weak smile on her lips. "Did I…wake you? I'm sorry."
The shadow shook its head. "No. I'd been sleeping for too long anyway."
A look of pity crossed her face, knowing that he was lying, but she brought the tray over anyway. "Can you swing your little table over for me so I can give you your food?"
After some grunting, it appeared. As she was about to place the tray on it, she stopped. An empty plate was sitting on it, the sweet smell of peach buns emitting from it. She picked it up and studied it, then placed it on the bureau and gave the marine his dinner.
He gave a low murmur, which she suspected was some sort of attempt to thank her. She smiled and sat down on the stool.
"I don't need you anymore. You can leave."
Of course, it hurt her when he said these things, but she couldn't blame him for it.
"Do you mind if I stay here? I don't really have anything else to do."
"I'm sure you could find something."
"Plus, I want to make sure I'm here if you need me. I have to make sure you know you're not alone."
There was a "clink" as the metal spoon hit the plate, followed by a long pause. She waited for his response, slightly regretting being so affectionate. True, she was a nurse, and part of her job was to provide emotional therapy and support, but he didn't seem to want any of that.
The clinking started again, signaling that he had resumed eating. He had ignored her statement. She sat on her hands and looked down at her feet.
She cringed. His voice was cold enough to turn her to ice.
"Do you…dislike me?"
Another clink. His shadow seemed to look over at her from behind the curtain.
"I don't know."
This made her anxious. She wanted an answer. "How can you not know?"
"I just feel that way toward everyone."
She froze. He was this apathetic all the time? "What about your parents? Are you like this when they come see you?"
"They don't. They're back in China. I'm here by myself."
She covered her mouth, hating herself for pointing it out. "I'm sorry…"
He made a small noise, then went right back to eating. She lowered her head, not knowing what to do. Finally, she stood.
"I guess I'll go, then," she said. "I don't want to bother you."
"You might as well just stay. I'm almost done anyway."
She smiled and sat down again. "Okay." She listened to him eat, tilting her head and smiling. When he finished and put the plate on the small movable table, she collected it and got ready to make her exit.
"I didn't tell you to leave."
She looked back at him, stunned. "You usually can't wait to get rid of me." She put the tray back on the bureau and sat in the chair again.
There was silence. Pin-Mei clicked her heels together as she waited. "S-So..."
"Those peach buns...They weren't horrible."
Her eyes widened and she smiled, her cheeks slightly hot. "T-Thank you..." she whispered. "I worked hard on them."