Through the pain, Robbie thanked Nettle and Mace softly through clenched teeth as they offered to help him up off the cold, rough wood of the attic floor. He was ashamed for having let loose his emotions in front of them, but even as they eased him back onto the scratchy blanket, he also felt a slight determination – a motivation to get back to Cecilia.
Maybe keeping the shrapnel wound from his two fellow soldiers was a worse idea than he thought, after all, they could possibly help him. Possibly. He knew that they had little or no medical skills for dressing a wound, and Robbie mentally went back to the pages of his medical books in his room back in England, trying to block out the scorching pain from his wound and try his best to remember what would be best to try and treat the bastardly thing.
"As you prob'ly know, Guv'nor, we can't do much to help ya," Nettle blabbered on, looking at Robbie with almost a frightened expression as one would look at a wounded and dying animal, "Wrappin' it up n' hopin' fer the best would be the best bet right now, until we get to the beaches."
Robbie nodded, forcing back a grimace.
"Then look around for the cleanest rag or cloth you can find," he told them as he glanced down to his wound, which looked worse than it had before, "It'll have to do until then."
Nettle and Mace nodded – and seemed content to be able to try and help in some way. They both got to their feet and began puttering around the attic, looking in every corner and crevice. Robbie let out a sigh and let himself relax – or get as close as possible to a supposed relaxation, although he found it was a nearly impossible feat. The shrapnel bedded deep inside of him smarted every few seconds, not about to let itself be forgotten.
He stared up into the rafters of the attic, letting his mind wander towards forming an image of Cecilia in his mind. He truly missed her – the short time that he had been able to see her in London, to meet her for tea, had hardly been long enough. If he had his way, he would be with her every moment of every waking day, but like a lot of things, it was impossible.
Impossible, no thanks to Briony, the foolish child who had thought she understood things she clearly did not. Briony, who had accused him of the unthinkable – assaulting Lola, how horrid an accusation – but the evidence against him had been enough to satisfy. He felt deep loathing for the girl – hard to believe she was Cecilia's sister. Briony had always been creative, composing things left and right, and that was the problem, she had an imagination that she allowed to wander, allowed to conjure up a ridiculous tale based on her walking into the library and witnessing he and Cecilia in an act she didn't understand, didn't comprehend – and then wildly connecting it to an event she supposedly saw "plain as day" when it was the black of night.
Robbie wasn't sure who exactly had assaulted Lola that night, but he knew that it wasn't him. But he had been the one convicted, the one handcuffed and dragged away with the name "rapist" tattooed on him whilst the whole Tallis family – a family he considered almost his own – watching with disgust and resentment, feeling of utter betrayal ultimately overwhelming them.
Everyone, except for Cecilia, and his dear mother who had nearly been arrested herself for beating on the police car with her umbrella. Cecilia and his mother were the only ones who knew the truth – knew him too well to believe such an accusation, even if he was supposedly proved guilty of the unspeakable crime.
But there wasn't much he could do about it now. He'd been tried, convicted, and given a choice, jail, or war. At the moment, Robbie considered sitting in a cold and miserable jail cell might be a little bit better than this, considering what he had been subjected to so far, the images that he had seen – that now were permanently etched into his skull. The leg in the tree, perhaps – that was one that was particularly haunting. Just the thought of it now made Robbie shiver.
"Got somethin', Guv'nor," Mace announced, and Robbie looked over to see the tall man holding up a checkered piece of cloth. Recognizing it, he realized it was the cloth that had been in the basket of food the two French men had brought them. It could be worse.
"Give it to me," Robbie waved him over quickly, forcing himself into a sitting position. Mace knelt down and handed him the cloth, and Robbie quickly tore it into a strip. Shrugging off his shirt, he managed to wrap it around himself, tying it in a knot right over the wound itself to apply pressure to keep it from bleeding.
"Din' you say that you's wanted to become a doctor, Guv?" Nettle questioned as he watched Robbie take the remaining cloth and weave it around the knot for extra cushioning.
"I did, yes," Robbie answered, gritting his teeth as he felt the wound protest to the care.
"How bout now?"
"I don't know," Robbie took a deep breath, allowing the pain to subside before he pulled on his shirt and began buttoning it up, "All I want to do is to make it off the beach, and get home…"
And see Cecilia, he thought.
"Got's an idea, Guv'nor," Nettle said, "The boys on the beaches, they don't give a fuck bout guys like me and Mace, but you, but you, Guv, with your wound – well, it's your ticket outa here! Only makes sense the wounded would be their first priority, eh?"
Robbie looked at him thoughtfully. Nettle was probably right. He slowly nodded.
"Got another idea, too," Nettle added, looking to Mace, "We make him a gurney, y'know, carry 'im the rest o' way, so he don't hurt 'imself anymore – and then they'll really pay attention to him. And it ain't really lyin', so to speak. Guv'nor's wounded, probably can walk, but we just don' wanna take the fuckin' risk, right?" Mace nodded agreeably, and Nettle looked quickly to Robbie, "You don' wanna make things worse, right?" he repeated.
"Right." Robbie answered, easing himself back down onto the makeshift bed. He exhaled deeply. All of a sudden, things didn't seem so horribly negative. He remembered it wasn't an hour ago that he'd gone out for a smoke in the early morning, gazing out upon the farm land with thoughts of Cecilia and wondering when he would see her again, not an hour ago he'd tripped and aggravated the wound – and things had been so negative. However, now, things could possibly change.
As Nettle and Mace headed downstairs to begin looking for supplies to make the gurney, Robbie gently pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket. It wasn't broken, that was good. Lighting it quickly and tucking the lighter back into the pocket, Robbie took a long drag on the cigarette – the smoke calming him. Dreamily, he once again withdrew the picture of the cottage, and held it up to gaze upon. There was a greater possibility for his survival, for his returning home. Perhaps he could get out of here. Perhaps he could see Cecilia.Perhaps the possibility of that little cottage wasn't so much of a dream after all.
A/N: Sorry for keeping all you followers waiting, it's just that I wanted to finish another story I had on the go. Now that it's done, I will be able to work on this one – estimates right now probably say it'll have six parts at the most, although it is possible I could wrap it up in less. I hope you've all enjoyed the long-awaited installment. - AB