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Each Little Scrap of Happiness

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Latimer was in an ambulance leaving Ypres when the American next to him drew in a great, gulping breath and came back to life.

After the orderlies and ambulance drivers had finished rushing around and had decided death had been a simple misdiagnosis, Latimer said, "That was quite a trick."

The American opened his eyes and looked over, grinning wearily. "I'm getting good at it. Comes in useful around this place."

"I find it simpler to just avoid dying in the first place."

The American breathed out a laugh with the cautiousness of a man with chest injuries. "Now that I've never been any good at."

Latimer shut his eyes and tried to ignore the pain from his thigh as the ambulance jolted over the shattered road. "It's just a case of not being where Death is expecting you to be."

"I don't have Death's appointment book."

Latimer smiled. "My old schoolteacher taught me the trick, although I don't think he realised it. He was a doctor."

"A doctor?" The American's voice was sharp and Latimer looked over to find him propped on his elbow, leaning so far over that he was nearly tossed onto the floor by the next rut in the road. "Or the Doctor?"

Latimer was silent.

"Tell me, damn you! Was it the Doctor?"

"Yes," Latimer said. "The Doctor."

"Shit." The American fell back. "A schoolteacher. Oh, Doctor. What the hell were you doing as a schoolteacher?"

"Hiding," Latimer said, and explained the events of that night, still horrific despite everything he'd seen since.

"Can I see the watch?"

Latimer was reluctant to hand it over. The hunger on the American's face was so avid that he feared he wouldn't get it back.

But the American just held it with something approaching reverence. Rubbed his thumb over its case and, when he looked up, he said, "It's just a watch," as though he'd been expecting something more.

"It's been lucky for me," Latimer said. He held out his hand and, after clenching his fist around it for a moment, the American handed it back. The metal was still warm and Latimer tucked it into the remains of his tunic. "When did you meet him?"

The American laughed and Latimer was surprised by the hint of bitterness. "Oh, about fifty years ago. Or in twenty-five years. Depends how you want to count it."

"I see," Latimer said, although he didn't, not quite.

"In the middle of a war, which I probably shouldn't tell you."

"The war's still going on in twenty-five years?" Latimer thought he should probably be surprised but he was starting to feel this war would never end. Could never end.

"Oh, hell, no. We've only got another three years of this one to go."

"Three years." Latimer smiled. "That's not too bad. The Napoleonic Wars lasted sixteen."

"But the Napoleonic Wars had the good sense not to be quite so industrialised," the American said absently and Latimer looked over to find him sitting up and reassembling his uniform. "Right," the American said. "I'd better hop out and get back to the front or there'll be all kinds of awkward questions about why a perfectly fit man is in the hospital. I don't want to get shot for deserting." He grinned. "It'd just be embarrassing for the guys trying to shoot me."

"Wait," Latimer said, and the American paused with his hand on the door. "What's your name?"

"Harkness. Cap- no. Lieutenant Jack Harkness. I can't get used to the demotion."

"Tim Latimer."

"Nice to meet you, Tim." Harkness shook his hand and maybe his grip lingered for just a few seconds too long but then he was at the rear of the ambulance and the door swung open. "Hope to share a trench sometime."

And he was gone. Latimer lay back and shut his eyes and saw their next meeting.

He smiled.