There is a strumming sound coming from next to him. It is the first distinct sound he's managed to pull out of the clatter of daily hospital activity that had drifted through the malarial haze of the past few weeks.
It is the first time he's heard it clearly, but he's noticed it before. It has been there, in the background, throughout most of this ordeal. He recognizes it like he recognizes new linen. It is a pleasant, twangy sort of sound, and latching on to the half-melody gives him something other than the rhythmic throbbing of his head to focus on. He lays there with his eyes closed for several minutes taking stock of his condition one joint at a time, looking for the dull pain that had been everywhere a few days (weeks, hours, what?) ago, and the strumming resolves itself into some church song he can't get a fix on but has heard before, somewhere. The memory jogs him fully awake.
The light hits him and he is blind for a split second, but it doesn't feel like someone has taken a sledgehammer to his skull so he decides to soldier on and remain conscious. The pale Australian sunlight filters in blue through a series of large windows on the opposite side of the ward. The walls are a harmless off-white color (the universal signifier of institutes of health everywhere) and there is a long row of uniform metal beds with mosquito nets rolled over them across from him. A pleasant-looking young woman in a nurse's uniform is folding a sheet on the far corner, and he can hear the buzz of a radio somewhere off in the distance. The sheets are cool over his legs, they've been changed recently. He hasn't sweated the starch out of them yet. Next to him the strumming is joined by the soft lilt of sung fragments. It is coming from his left, close by. Probably next to him. Who could possibly be playing him music? He lets out a sigh. Figuring this out is going to require a head-turn. He sketches out a quick cost-benefit analysis (his head might explode, but whoever's been nursing him back to health with hymns deserves a damn promotion for going above and beyond) and shifts. His brain doesn't liquefy, so he opens his eyes in celebration.
It's Eddie, with a weather-beaten guitar, and really, he should have known. His new lieutenant is sitting in one of the standard issue metal chairs that dot the ward, looking out one of the large windows while his fingers drift over the frets. He sings out snatches of some song, absent-mindedly, while taking stock of the filled beds. The morning light hits him full in the face, and Andrew takes a moment to appreciate the fact that he looks healthier than he'd ever seen him while they were hunkered down on Guadalcanal.
The sight is so welcome he surprises himself a little, and the resulting twitch makes Eddie turn to face him. He's graced with a blue-eyed grin he's never seen before, and damn if that doesn't make the sudden wave of nausea completely worth it. If he'd known just waking up could make Eddie smile like that he'd have tried to get a little more sleep while they were on that godforsaken island. They'd become close despite the officer-enlisted divide. Andrew had minded the advice to respect his Non-Coms and Eddie had epitomized how that had been sound counsel. Eddie is a solid man, a solid leader, a deeply kind individual, and a deeply decent shot. Andrew is usually filled with admiration by all these things, but the admiration all of a sudden feels a lot more like Saturday morning nerves and the shift makes the pounding behind his eyes intensify so he gives it a rest.
Eddie hasn't stopped playing. "Mornin' sleeping beauty," he says, his hands forming a chord and strumming lightly. "How are you feeling?"
Andrew considers and fishes for his voice. "Like an LVT ran me over."
Eddie chuckles. "Sounds about right." Andrew thinks so too; his throat has obviously been filled with sand.
"You have a guitar," he feels the need to point out.
Eddie looks down at the instrument, as if to confirm, and idly coaxes out another chord. "I sure do." His smile softens into something intimate. "Her name is Caroline, I've had her for years," he murmurs. Andrew wonders why those long fingers are more distracting now than when they're reloading. He supposes they were pretty distracting then too, come to think of it. He feels a bit light-headed.
"You've been dragging a guitar named Caroline around the entire PTO?"
Eddie cocks his head at him. "I've been dragging her around most of my life. She's my girl." He punctuates the statement by running his left hand under the guitar's neck in what looks like a quick caress, and Andrew is vaguely jealous now. That or delirious again, he can't tell. It feels the same.
Eddie stops playing and lays his right hand flat on the soundboard, pets it twice like he is pacifying a small child. "Caroline, this is Captain Haldane." He keeps his eyes on Andrew but leans down and whispers to the fret board. "He's been sick as a dog for three weeks and the entire company has been standing around clucking about it like a bunch of lovesick little girls."
Andrew peers up at the other man from his pillow. His light brown hair sticks up on top and it looks ridiculous. He looks like a baby duck. Andrew feels a rush of affection that momentarily overpowers his headache.
"Eddie, did you just introduce me to your guitar?"
Eddie drums his fingers on the damn thing (he can't look away, blames the remnants of the fever for the sudden fixation) and smiles. "Yup. I sure did, sir. She takes to some people, sounds better when I play around them. Now, I know you've been unable to appreciate it on account of being unconscious, but I think she likes you." Another smile. Andrew wonders if his brain is melting because he's having the oddest reactions to Eddie's habitual quick flash of teeth.
"Eddie, I'm not Caroline's commanding officer."
The other man looks back at him with a question mark in his raised eyebrows and then reaches out and places a palm on his forehead.
Andrew shakes his head woozily. He's not leading any guitars into battle. There will be no splinters on his conscience. "She's a civilian. She should call me Andy."
Eddie whispers the name to himself, tries it out. "Caroline," he glances up, unsure. Ducks his head a little shyly. "Andy."
Andrew reaches over and brushes the instrument's neck, up to where Eddie's fingers are loosely splayed across the strings. Their hands rest against each other.
"Pleased to meet you" Andrew exhales, and gratefully passes out again.