Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. The inspiration for TLB is credited to Lavender Mornings by Jude Deveraux. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thank you Ann and Steph, (my amazing betas at project team beta dot com) for walking me through this process.
In my head I knew that this was an entirely absurd thought. Of course I'm breathing, but what I wasn't allowing myself to fully consider was the ease of my breaths. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter in hopes of staving off the agony for a few more minutes. I was still relishing in the luxury of air filling my lungs without pain. With a slight huff, I dropped my shoulders and resigned myself to what I had already deemed to be inevitable. With the resignation fully acknowledged, I slowly began to pry my eyes open. The vision above me was still blurred and I blinked several times to bring my sight into focus. My mind seemed to still be fogged over as I stared at the ceiling and waited for the pain.
Every day it hit me like a freight train. The throbbing in my side was truly unbearable. Once I woke from the drug induced haze, I could only hold my breath for a second or two before I began yelling, no, howling in pain. But for some reason today I looked up and had not only the time but the presence of mind to notice a crack in the vacant cream ceiling paint. My stare traced it along the width of the entire hospital ward. My eyes followed a faint orange glow down to the windows.
It was morning.
The early sun was streaming in along the row of beds across from mine. I again braced myself for the pain, but it was only a ghost of what I had remembered as it coursed through my side.
How many times have I awoken to this pain?
It was all I could think of; it consumed my every conscious thought for as many days, weeks or months as I could remember. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I felt an itch to sit up and started to roll to my right side. I felt something pull against my left arm and recognized it was still attached to a tube and a glass vile that hung above my bed.
"Corporal Masen?" I heard a voice say.
I paid no attention to the voice as I had never made more than the rank of a Specialist. The voice sounded again and was almost at my bedside. It was an orderly, a huge man dressed all in white. His name tag read "Cheney" on his upper right shoulder.
"Corporal Masen?" the voice said again. "Sir, I'm Benjamin Cheney, I'll bring a nurse for you."
He disappeared from view, and I blinked my eyes slowly and again felt the urge to straighten up. My mind tried to straighten out the events, the days that brought me…here. I struggled to try to remember where here really was. Despite my efforts to roll my memory back, the dust of time and glimpses of faces continued to cloud my thoughts. I couldn't seem to remember much before the pain. How long had it been? How many months had I been here? The last real conscious memory I had was of driving toward the border. We were so close...
A voice called to me, waking me from my daydream.
"Corporal Masen, I'm Nurse Angela Webber. Are you in any pain?" she asked.
"It's bearable," I replied. I was still confused by the incorrect rank they gave me, but I was too dazed to make any real conversation.
I raised my arm to pull my fingers through my hair. It was a nervous habit I'd had since childhood. I stared up at my hand for a second and noticed the fading glow of a tan line where my wedding ring would have rested. Suddenly the freight train was back. Instead of pain, it shook me with a rush of memories.
Where was she? If she had any inkling I was hurt, she would be at my bedside. To be accurate, she probably would have been ordering the hospital staff around and doing most of what she could for me herself. In the next second I realized there were only two possible reasons why she wouldn't be here. Either she hadn't received word I was hurt, or she was dead.
My body shook violently at the second thought. I tried to catch my breath, but it was gone. In the next instance, a nurse was looking down on me, taking my pulse and at the ready with a vile of medicine and an ominous looking syringe.
"Stop," I called out in an attempt to command, but my voice came out weak and raspy. "I'm not in pain. At least not that kind of pain anymore."
"Your pulse is nearly 160; I'd say you're in distress. This will help..." she answered as she began the motions to inject something into my vein.
"NO!" I shouted as I finally found my voice. "I need some answers. I need to know how long I've been here, and I need to know where my wife is!"
I read "Webber" on her name tag as she stared down at me with deep set brown eyes. Her hair was pinned back tightly and from her expression I understood that she knew a lot about helping soldiers who were struggling during this horrible war. She was likely the last face many eyes saw before they closed forever. She had pain etched in her eyes now, and I wasn't sure if that pain was for me or for all of the men that she had helped pass on from this life.
Nurse Webber steadied her expression. She put down the vile and took a deep breath before she spoke.
"The doctor will make his rounds in two hours. Ben and I will help you – if you'll let us. Then instead of examining you, Dr. Gerandy can spend his time answering your questions."
It didn't take long for me to understand. The nurses and orderlies obviously did the majority of work in an army hospital. There were too many patients, too many of us injured soldiers that needed help. This war needed people like Angela and Ben to step up, or more lives would be lost.
It took less than a second for me to decide.
"Yes," I said. "Do whatever you need to do. I have to get out of here."
Nurse Webber half frowned but nodded to Ben, who pulled the privacy curtain around my bed. She proceeded to take my vitals. Finally, she checked the wound on my right side and then replaced my bandages with clean ones.
"Your stitches are healing nicely. Dr. Gerandy is a phenomenal surgeon."
The word barely registered. I remembered feeling the bite of shrapnel hitting my right side as I gripped the steering wheel of the KFZ 3. We had been speeding uncontrollably toward the front line. Tyler Crowley had been hit too but I knew if I took my foot off the gas we would have all died. The thoughts of the last mission and my injuries were only flashes in my head. My thoughts immediately turned back again to Bella. Every free moment, every conscious thought always brought me back to her. My mind flittered to one of my last memories of her. At the time of the mission, it had been six months since we last held each other. Bella's hands were clasped around my neck. Her eyes burned into mine, as if the action could keep me beside her.
I began to relive the argument we'd had after I got my transfer papers. I'd been assigned to a battalion south of Normandy. I knew she was going to try to get Colonel Swan to move her as well, but I didn't want her anywhere close to that kind of danger.
"But I can help." I remembered her arguing. Her face was filled with determination in spite of the tears streaming down her face.
Maybe she could have helped but the front line was no place for a woman, let alone the woman I loved with my entire being. I had no doubts that Bella would have skinned me alive if she could have read my mind at that moment but it didn't make it any less true. She was already too close to danger, bringing her to the frontline would never have been an option. Her part in the effort to defeat the Axis was best served from London. Bella was fluent in French, German and Italian. She translated and encoded classified documents for Colonel Charles Swan. He was an arrogant SOB but he treated Bella with respect and that's all I really cared about. Bella's multilingual fluency came from her blue blood upbringing. She had an education that matched her pedigree. She was smart and refined, while my own blue collar roots were another world away. I knew I would never be a worthy suitor for her but I was enthralled from the first moment I laid eyes on her. When I saw her I knew that there would be no other woman for me. We would be together some day or, without a doubt, I would die trying.
"All right," Nurse Webber said in a stern voice that wrenched me back to the present. "The next part is not going to be pleasant but, if you want out of here, you'll need to bear it."
My daydream of Bella was halted as the bed sheet was pulled down from my waist. Nurse Webber and Ben both leaned over me. She looked me dead in the eye.
"I need you to hold still. Ben is going to hold your shoulders down. When I tell you, take a deep breath and count to five."
I didn't know what she was talking about but, I was confident she was right about it not being pleasant. I just nodded as she disappeared and Ben hovered over me. He pushed my shoulders into the bed.
"Now," she said.
I took half a breath and felt an incredible pain pulling where a man never wants to feel pain. In my head I counted. ...One...Two...Three. By the time I reached three, the pain was over. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of urine but, Nurse Webber was not distracted by the scent. She went about cleaning me and changing the sheets while Ben kept his hands on my shoulders. Less than two minutes after she started, everything was done. She traded places with Ben and finished pulling up the sheets behind my head to the top of the bed. Ben pushed away a cart of supplies, and the strong scent went away with it.
"Okay" she said. "Now that that's gone you'll need to call one of us for a bedpan".
"Not likely." I half smirked with a lopsided grin. "Just let me know which way it is to the little boy's room."
Nurse Webber was not amused. She again stared her deep set brown eyes into mine.
"Look, if you want out of here, it's through me. Don't give me any trouble, or we'll put it back in and worse..."
I knew she was right on both counts. It was obvious that she would incapacitate me in a second if she thought it was necessary. She also was my ticket out of this hospital. I wasn't dumb enough to think that my bravado was worth anything here, not with wounded and broken men lying all around me. My ineffective attempt to make a stand was a ploy to get into Bella's arms faster. I returned Nurse Webber's stare with a single nod.
"Now," she started again. "We need to see about getting you upright. You're probably going to feel light headed and dizzy. It's been a while since you've sat up. If you feel sick, give me one nod and I'll have a bedpan ready for you."
I was going to roll my eyes at her but thought better of it. After all, how many times had she done this before? She had to know what she was talking about. Ben returned with another cart and then joined her at my bedside. They each took one of my arms.
"We're going to pull slowly and crank the bed behind you. Dr. Gerandy will never let you out of here if you can't sit up and hold a conversation with him. Try to keep your stomach muscles relaxed. If you tense up, you'll pull on your stitches, and we'll be looking for that syringe again."
I nodded once more and tried to relax while they pulled gently on my arms. It was unnatural not to try to help, but I fought against the sensation to sit up for myself. We edged up slowly, no more than a few inches at a time, but when I was nearly vertical, the whole scene changed. The blood rushed away from my face. I felt clammy and in an instant the room started to spin. It was all I could do to look Nurse Webber in the eye and give her a single nod.
She was ready for me. She had the bedpan under my chin and I violently threw up into it. She wiped my mouth and gave me a cup of water.
"Don't drink it; just rinse your mouth out."
She gave Ben a worried look, and I saw Ben reaching for the crank to lower me back down again.
"No!" I shouted as I spat one last time into the bedpan. "I'm fine. Just give me a minute."
I tried to slow down my breathing. In my head I knew she was right. If I couldn't sit up and hold a conversation with the doctor, he wouldn't let me out of here. But being upright or nearly upright again was unsettling.
What the hell happened to me?
I was so weak that I could barely lift my arm to wipe my forehead.
"Don't fight me," Nurse Webber said. "We're going to give you some pain medicine. It's not much more than aspirin, so it won't help that much. If you're nauseous you won't be able to take a pill, so IV is the best way. You've been on pain killers for a while, and your body is going to need something to help you get by until you're more fully recovered."
I thought about arguing with her, but I was becoming more and more confident in her prophecies. I just nodded in response.
Ben pulled a syringe off the table, and then he held a vile for Nurse Webber to confirm the dosage. Nurse Webber replied to Ben and then turned to me.
"I have to go to get ready for rounds, but Ben is going to stay with you. He is going to help you get your arms and legs moving again. Slowly."
She said the last word so deliberately that I wasn't sure if it was a warning to Ben or instructions for me.
"I'll be back in about forty minutes with Dr. Gerandy."
As she said this she was wrapping layers of hot, wet towels around my arms and down my legs.
"Work with Ben for twenty minutes and then rest. Don't overdo it. If you're sweating, in pain, or looking haggard, he'll never give you what you want. You want answers, right?" I nodded in response. "Then be sure you rest and calm yourself before he arrives. You want him talking to you, not examining you. I'll get all of the orders written up before he arrives; you just need to sit pretty and look healthy."
For the first time since I laid eyes on her, Nurse Webber actually gave me a little smile. Then she was gone. I wanted to say thank you, but I couldn't get the words out in time. Instead, I turned to Ben.
"Is she always this pushy?" I asked with a crooked grin on my face.
"Of course she is. Isn't she amazing?" Ben answered.
It was easy to tell that he was in awe of her and most likely in love with her too. Perhaps that was why she trusted him. I guessed this wasn't the first time they had worked together to help a soldier get out of here a little sooner.
"Sir," Ben said. "We're going to start slowly with your arms and then move down to your legs. They've got to be stiff, and this is the best way to get the kinks out. If you're in pain, you have to tell me and I'll ease up. Got it?"
"Sure Ben," I said in reply.
Ben pulled my right arm into his huge hands. He unwrapped the towels and started at the top of my shoulder. He began rubbing my muscles in a circular motion. He worked all the way down to my fingers and back up again. It wasn't unpleasant, but it felt like pins and needles. When he was finished, he started to flex and bend each of my joints. It didn't really hurt, but all my joints seemed to be filled with rust and Ben was there trying to break it up. He re-wrapped my right arm and began the process with my other arm and then with each of my legs.
When he finished he asked, "Sir, can I get you a glass of water? The heat takes a lot out of you and you're probably thirsty anyway. Do you think you can stomach it?"
"Yeah, I think I need a drink, but I'd like something stronger than water. You got anything good on that cart?" I asked with another grin.
"Probably not what you're looking for, Sir, but I'll be back with the water soon."
In barely a blink, Ben returned with the water.
"Please Sir, s-low-ly," he said. "Angela will have my head if you have to throw up again. She'll be mad that I didn't listen to her about being too rough."
"I'll be fine, Ben," I said as I took a few sips from the cup. "See, nothing to worry about," I answered lifting the cup and grinning up at him.
"Good." he replied. "I know she wants to help you, Sir, and I do too."
Ben wiped me down with dry towels and changed my sheets again. Once more he asked me about any pain.
"No, I'm okay. Thank you, Ben."
"My pleasure, Sir. And, Sir," he said as he was leaving. "I really do hope it all works out well for you and your Mrs."
Ben had a touch of sadness in his eyes. I wasn't sure if that was meant for me or if he had his own thoughts of family or friends in his mind.
"I'm sure it will be, Ben. It has to be."
A/N: I hope you've enjoyed chapter one. This is my first fanfic so please let me know what you think so far. I've been doing a lot of research for this story since it takes place thirty years before I was born. I'll post my research links at the end of each chapter. Please let me know if any of the links stop working. Thanks for reading, First Blush
The Last Breath Historical Research and Reference Guide:
Story reference: Edward is confused why the orderly is calling him "Corporal". He was a Specialist in the Army.
Historical Significance: The rank of Corporal is the fourth pay grade for enlisted servicemen.
Story reference: The KFZ is the confiscated German military vehicle that Edward used on his mission to reset bomb targets for Operation Cobra.
Historical Significance: The KFZ 3 was a German military vehicle used during WWII.
Source: Pictures are about 2/3 of the way down the page. http://www(dot)axishistory(dot)com/index(dot)php?id=5556
Story reference: Edward makes a reference to Bella's work with British intelligence. She worked for Project Ultra.
Historical Significance: Project Ultra was a British intelligence effort initiated prior to WWII.