Before you begin:
1) If you're a Colin/Mary shipper, then I'm afraid this is not the story for you. It's very much Dickon/Mary.
2) If you dislike Colin, this isn't the story for you. I love all three characters and I prefer writing them as friends instead of rivals or enemies.
3) This was originally planned as a "one-shot collection"; a place for me to post any additional one-shots I wrote in the same timeline as On Leave from France. Instead, it morphed into an actual "story", albeit the chapters are short and can be a bit "fractured" because I write them as I would one-shots. I like to explore ideas and thoughts more then a storyline. You don't have to read Leave to read this story; they easily stand alone.
4) I dislike writing stories without at least some attempt at a little historical accuracy. I'm not going to pretend I'm an expert on Edwardian Era England, WWI, the Jazz Era, or WWII. But I do read quite a bit of historical non-fiction just for kicks, and I do research before I write something historically based. I also have a few very intelligent, well-educated reviewers who occasionally help me out, and I am grateful to them for their technical advice and suggestions.
5) I'm not a fan of OC's, but much to my surprise one of the characters I created to move the story along took over and eventually became a love interest for Colin, starting in the 30's chapter. If you dislike OC's, this may not be a good story for you, either.
All of that said, I hope those who asked will enjoy this, and I thank you for reading, reviewing, bookmarking, etc.
Aftermath ~ only the beginning
He is acutely aware of both sound and smell. He needs no other senses save these two for the moment, for they tell him all he needs to know.
He can hear soft clinks at one end of the long ward: the sound of glass medicine bottles being moved on a bedside table. Across the aisle, someone shifts against the starched bed sheets and groans, and from two beds to his right comes a clenched whimper. The sharp clicks of a nurse's heels against the immaculate floor, and the swishing of her long skirt, follow these particular, though minuscule sounds. Then come the inevitable hushed whispers of inquiry, the sound of a lid being unscrewed from a glass bottle and the lip of the same touching a metal spoon. The swallow of pain medication and the gasp that accompanies the burning on the back of a wounded soldier's throat; then the bottle is replaced, and the clicking heels recede. From beyond the doors at the far end of the ward he can hear the faint murmur of male voices drifting in, while the wind makes a loose pane in one of the windows in the outside wall shiver against its frame. It must be cold, for it is late October, if he remembers rightly.
Worse are the smells. There is a strong hint of alcohol in the air, mixed with the searing scent of disinfectant; both tingle unpleasantly in his nostrils. And behind these two prominent, irritating odors is a truly horrific one: decaying flesh. Blood. Death.
God help him; he has smelled other things besides death, hasn't he?
What does heather smell like?
His brow furrows.
Heather. Heather smells like...
"Are you in pain, Sergeant?"
The voice is quiet and monotone, and he realizes that, in trying to remember a distant, past scent, he forgot to listen and missed the clicking heels against the tiles.
He shakes his head a fraction, and the clicking heels move away.
Maybe there was never anything called heather.
He sighs imperceptibly and resorts to listening again, because with the harsh smells and the sounds of pain, he cannot imagine anything wick.
Whether seconds or hours pass, he does not know – time does not exist here as it does in other places. Nurses and doctors come and go and that is how he marks time: by their shifts, the way the light darkens against his eyelids when it becomes night, and when someone comes to change his dressings or administer more pain medication.
And then, at some point, after he has been here for what seems like a century, he hears louder voices beyond the door.
One of these voices is causing some sort of commotion, for he can also hear the shifting of mattresses all about him as soldiers turn their heads towards the obvious argument, or sit up in bed in an attempt to see what is happening.
His eyes scrunch tighter as he listens harder, curious as to this change in the monotonous routine.
The voices cease, and the clicking heels come down the aisle, more brisk than usual. He hears a nurse quietly speak to a doctor standing at the foot of the bed to his left.
"...has a war telegram that was sent to the soldier's family. He claims he understands the gravity of the wards here, but insists he be admitted and allowed to collect the soldier to take him home. The soldier's family apparently does not have the funds available to travel to London personally."
"Release will depend entirely on the soldier," the doctor says in a low voice, though it is in a tone of the utmost superiority. "The majority of these men are not ready to be dismissed, Mrs. Tillbausch."
There is a rustle of paper, a moment of silence, and then a deep sigh.
"Very well, tell him to wear a mask. We do have several cases of influenza in the building, and it is highly contagious, no matter how we try to contain it to a separate ward."
The heels click away, and return a minute later accompanied by a second set of footsteps. The second set are firm and confident, as though they know exactly where they are going, and always have.
However, the doctor's greeting to this new person is cold.
"My nurse informs me that you are here to collect a wounded soldier," he says sternly. "And I understand you have a telegram alerting this soldier's family of his condition. However, as to whether I can release him to your care remains to be seen. I must be certain you would be able to tend to any residual wounds if he is ready for release. Furthermore, how you know the soldier and his family is also an issue."
There is no response to this speech, but a few more footsteps, which brings the newcomer to the foot of his bed.
"Tha's in a righ' state, Dickon Sowerby," says a sharp, arrogant voice, in broad Yorkshire. "Is tha going t' look at me, or am I going t' have to drag thee out o' bed? And don't think I won't do it, either. I don't care how many ribs and bones you've broken, or how nasty that inflected shrapnel wound is." Then, as an afterthought, the voice adds, "Good God, you'd think a hospital this side of the channel would be a bit more sanitary. You'll lose that arm if something isn't done quickly, damn it."
So startled is he by this unexpected voice, that his eyes flash open, for it is too surprising for him to comprehend with only scent and sound.
At the foot of his bed stands a tall young man with tousled, thick hair, holding a mask to his face with one firm hand. His agate eyes glitter brightly in the dim light, and he looks ready to follow through with his threat of dragging a soldier out of bed, broken bones and infected wounds or not. And all about the room, soldiers are staring at the scene in startled surprise; a few are nudging each other and snickering under their breath at such presumptuous arrogance.
The doctor, however, is not nearly as amused.
"Now, see here, young man!" he says angrily. "You can't just come in here and –!"
"We've a long journey ahead of us," the impudent rajah announces in a cool voice, ignoring the doctor utterly and completely. "Get up, and I'll help thee dress."
He finally finds his voice, though it is hoarse from lack of use. "Where are we going?" he whispers.
"Honestly! Where do you think? France?" is the sarcastic response. "Yorkshire, of course. Now get up."
But behind the sarcasm and the order, he can see the crinkles around the rajah's eyes, indicating a smile. A smile that he has found his friend alive, and that he can now return an old favor that never needed returning in the first place.
For the first time by himself in two months, amidst the stabbing pain in his torso and his left arm, and the horrible memories replaying in his head, and the doctor and nurse protesting volubly against what he wishes to do, that he is too wounded to walk further than to the end of the ward and that his muscles are too weak, he struggles with gritted teeth until the blankets are thrown back and his feet touch the cold floor. He hisses at the intensity of pain. It is incredibly hard and he feels as though he may collapse at any second, but if Colin Craven was able to do it once, so shall he. Broken ribs or not.
And the entire while, the rajah watches from the foot of the bed, his eyes blazing with fierce pride.