Canada was so nice this time of year.
Or so he thought. He couldn't really tell what time of year it was anymore, not precisely. Since he'd joined up with Princess Pat, and the screams of hell had greeted him with their petrifying frequency, he had no sense of time passing.
But he was sure, absolutely sure, that in Canada the sun was shining. There was no mud there, not like this, the kind that mixed with blood and ash stuck to your boots like a permanent glue. He could close his eyes right now and he would be on Prince Edward Island and he would breathe in the scent of spring flowers and....
The explosion not far from his head, somewhere over his left shoulder, forced his eyes back open. In Hell, not Canada. He would not be allowed to forget that.
How did he get here, he wondered. He thought he knew something of his background, but he wasn't sure he was the type to volunteer for a war. He wanted to believe he was, because all the others were. They, of course, had no reason to doubt their motives, to question why they'd choose to fight in a war that wasn't theirs to fight, really. They were sure it was their fight, for one. They were King's men, to a one.
Patrick Gordon might have been. There was no telling what he was, before.
He heard his name, almost. That was his name, being shouted between blasts, wasn't it?
"I have word from the second battalion!"
And it was more carnage, more of what this place could dole out. German artillery, but just as likely French, gone awry. Or perhaps American, they were here now. Maybe they hadn't figured out who were the bad guys, exactly.
He issued orders, moved his men to cover the decimated flank, wishing he could order a retreat or at the very least, a shift in position. Another blast, closer, punctuated this thought. To remind him he was not allowed to leave, no one was allowed to leave.
Night was falling, and the last explosion really was the last, for awhile at least. Gordon watched his men slouch ever so slightly, watched them heave a sigh of collective relief, because even Germans slept. And the trench was drier today, there had been no rain for two days, or maybe it was a few hours. Either way, the mud would not splash up in their faces when they slumped closer to it for their short naps. It was a victory.
Never mind that the sky opened up at dawn. Rain so thick Gordon couldn't see his maps properly; he was issuing orders for a charge, per instruction from his commanding officer that had come late in the night. He pointed to his left, hoping he was right, hoping he wasn't sending a patrol into the very heart of the German camp.
He was to lead the final patrol. Twenty men, plus himself.
They scrambled out of the trench at his command, the voice one he hardly knew how to credit. He had been a quiet man before the war, a calm man, or....he had been since they pulled him from the water, at any rate. What he was before, he....
He had to focus. His bayonet was slick with blood, two German lay dead in his immediate path. This was becoming automatic, like it wasn't something he had control over. He narrowed his eyes, seeking the enemy through the cold, thick rain. A third enemy fell at his thrust.
But it was just then, just as he grasped his mission, that the world ended.
Patrick Gordon was no more.
"His rank is major, sir."
"Did you find him conscious?"
"No sir. He was bleeding from the ear, the nose, and his jaw seemed dislocated. We fixed that, but the burns, sir. The burns...."
"I can see that much. Do you know his name?"
"His tag read Gordon, sir. Patrick Gordon."
"Major Gordon. Alright then. Wrap him in fresh bandages in a half hour, sooner if he bleeds through more than what you're used to seeing."
He had once believed Hell was cold, and wet, and suffocating.
He'd been pulled from that place, though, and it ceased to be Hell when he woke up elsewhere, in stinking mud on French fields, where day and night were the same, and time had no meaning.
It ended in fire, of course. Hell was hot, it was flame and brimstone, melting flesh and blood in his eyes. Running down his face, chased by the false, hot rain.
He blinked, until he realized he wasn't really blinking, and he wasn't seeing anything beyond white. Blessed white.
He dreamed then. Of a castle, and of a girl's laugh, green fields and a blue sky.
"Do you know where you are, sir?"
He couldn't speak. He moved his head to the left, once. To the right again. It didn't hurt if he didn't think about it.
"You're in a hospital in London. You've only just arrived. You're a lucky one, Major Gordon. We'll take care of you."
"What did you call me?" he tried to say.
She walked away, the fresh, bright nurse with the pretty accent. Aristocracy, he thought, maybe she's the daughter of a duke.
She had called him "Major Gordon," though, and a duke's daughter would have known him better than that. Surely.
"I think we can try sitting up today, Major Gordon. The doctor is very optimistic; you're nothing short of a miracle!"
A miracle, divested of his visage perhaps, but a miracle.
Hell had spit him out, it seemed. Though he was not sure how he had come to be there, why he had walked that road. He was only just remembering...something.
When the ship had sunk, it had not caught fire. Fire was not what foundered Titanic, he knew that much. And he was not sure that was where he'd come from, exactly, not just now, not before London. He had clear memories of a small town on Prince Edward Island - but had he been in Canada, really? How long? Why?
An hour later, he was sitting up, propped by pillows, and his eager nurse was asking if he needed anything.
His voice was still thick, his lips clumsy, but he got it across to her. He wanted a newspaper.
And it was 1918, just like that.
"Please, Doctor, you don't...you don't understand." Patrick said this around a deep cough, which made the doctor frown. "I'm not Patrick Gordon. I'm Patrick Crawley."
"You actually believe you survived the Titanic's sinking, only to turn up here, now, in the middle of a war?"
"I know how it sounds...."
"I don't think you do, Major, but if you insist. I can make the proper inquiry for you. You have to go somewhere, we need the beds and you're on your way to as full a recovery as one could make in your condition. Downton Abbey, you say, is that correct?"
Patrick sighed. "Yes."
He was certain.
He was a boy again. Eleven years old, maybe? They were playing a game in the courtyard.
"Here, Edith, you be the nurse, and I'll be the soldier, and you have to tend to my wounds."
She nodded. "Yes, you've been shot, it's just terrible!"
"Okay, now, when I open my eyes, don't just blurt it out. Remember, I don't know where I am."
They played at war, sometimes, when they were sure Lord Grantham wouldn't catch them at it. He scolded so horribly about this game. But it was their favorite.
Patrick lay still on the ground, moaning. Edith rushed to him, her handkerchief serving as her nurse's cap, his as the bandage she applied to his "wound" on his shoulder.
"No, no, my leg this time, it was the shoulder before."
His eyes slammed shut again and he moaned piteously. "They got me!"
"Oh, Captain, you will be alright!"
"I have called for help, Captain, a doctor will be here. You won't lose your leg, I promise you!"
She always really got into this game. Patrick bit back a smile at her theatrics.
"Don't let them get my leg!"
This went on for a moment, and Edith clutched her hand to his leg, almost too high, though Patrick wasn't going to tell her that. He opened his eyes and looked at her. She didn't notice right away, so focused in tending his "wound" and reassuring him that the doctor wouldn't cut it off. She took this seriously, he thought, like he was really hurt. He propped himself up on his elbows.
She looked at him. "I'm your nurse, Captain Crawley. Lay back down."
"I don't think I'm as hurt as I thought. It was just a flesh wound."
She blinked, and giggled. "Oh, so all that moaning was just for a scrape, then? You weren't dying, after all? What kind of war was this?"
He grinned. "Let's play something else." He stood up and took her hand, tugging her in the direction of the ruins by the woods.
"Okay. Whatever you want, Patrick."
It had been a lark of his father's, to sail over on a ship like the Titanic. They might have waited, but it was the maiden voyage, and James Crawley so loved novelty and adventure.
He had died quickly, in the water. Something had struck him, Patrick thought, and he'd been unconscious, or he'd died from the impact. There was so much debris, and there was that dreadful pull when the ship went under. James was gone and Patrick was left, and all around them was screaming and horror. He had believed in Hell, then. He became a believer.
The cold, though. Patrick knew the cold had done it, in the end, stolen his identity, the same way heat had stolen his face. He could only vaguely recall being pulled from the water, and had no idea what his name was when he was asked. He couldn't think of a name, really, any name.
Just a face, and even then, she was nobody, just a face, smiling a goodbye.
"Gordon" was his name after that. Because it was on a list, and he thought "Patrick" fit what he could recall. If recollection were possible. Patrick Gordon was born on the Carpathia.
And he died in France, six years later.
Downton Abbey would be beautiful this time of year. It always was, really, even in winter when the leaves turned and the flowers ceased to bloom. It had that kind of tenacity, that it would defy Mother Nature herself should such a thing suit it.
The train taking him to the village might have been the same one, he was not sure. He closed his eyes for a moment, and could almost smell his father's cigar, the smell that lingered on all his clothes and made the Dowager Countess wrinkle her nose in his presence. He could hear his father joke with the steward on the train. It was pleasant, for a moment. He opened his eyes and sighed, looking down at his bandaged arms, at the fingers that would not yet bend.
His reflection shone in the window, just barely. He didn't recognize the man he saw, if man he could be called. If he did not know Patrick Crawley, would they?
"Do you know someone at the Abbey, sir?" The voice of another convalescent on route to a better place shook Patrick from his reverie. A lieutenant, perhaps. The man was missing his right leg, possibly his right hand as well though both arms were covered with a blanket.
"I do, as it happens. I spent my childhood there."
"Oh? Well, that's somethin' then. You get to go home before the rest of us do."
Patrick thought of the castle, rising up to impose over the land, and how he'd longed for the day he would be its master. Did that end, he wondered, on the Titanic, with so many other things?
Or did it end, truly end, in Hell's fire in France?
He looked at the lieutenant and nodded. "Yes. Yes, I do."