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Rose of No Man's Land

Chapter Text

Verdun,
May 22nd 1916

 

The battle seemed to never end. Four months they had been fighting now. Four months of endless bloodshed, bombshells, amputations and young boys dying under Caitlin’s watch. She’d grown almost immune to it by now. After all, this wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d witnessed Ypres and the horrors of gas inflicted wounds, had helped operate on already rotting flesh; a blown off jaw no longer made her as nauseous as it once would have.

Nevertheless, treating minor injuries was still far more pleasant. If one could call being shot in four separate places a minor injury, that is. Even so, the man she was trying to stitch up right now wouldn’t stop talking, and Caitlin was about 75 percent sure he was delirious with pain- it was either that, or he was really busy distracting himself from it.

“Please lay still,” she said once more, pushing the man back onto his cot so she could take the last bullet out of his leg. He went obediently, but almost immediately tried to sit back up again.

“Did I tell you,” he began, “Did I tell you about my mother? She keeps sending me packages, all the way from China. She always puts treats in it, but they get spoiled before they arrive, which is a shame. Have you ever had Chinese treats? My father and her went there to visit family, when the war broke loose. I think it’s smart they stay there, with the German u-” He cut himself off in the middle of a sentence with a pained groan as Caitlin pulled the bullet out, dropping it into a tin next to her and quickly working on cleaning the wound and bandaging it up.

“You have family in China, then,” she said, trying to distract the man from the pain. His injuries by far weren’t serious enough to give him something strong to dull the pain. “That’s so exotic,” she continued, “Have you ever been?” The man shook his head, as he tried to flex his fingers, despite one of the bullets having lodged right in that arm, causing Caitlin to immediately reach out and stop him from doing just that with a stern look on his face.

The soldier almost looked guilty as he closed his eyes and laid back, obviously forcing himself to not move any more. “I’ve not been to China, no,” he said, “My mother wanted me to finish my studies here first, before I go. I visited Wales once, although I imagine that is nothing alike to China. My father is Welsh, did I tell you that? If I have the chance, I think I would go to America, or perhaps Canada. They are setting up an ice hockey league there, which sounds fascinating. I would like to witness it, even if I could not play in it.” He opened his eyes to look down at the wound Caitlin was cleaning. She’d just hummed and nodded along to his story, not sure what this ice hockey business was about.

“There you go, all done,” she said, pulling the blankets back over his legs, “Now, this needs to heal. The next transport back to England will be here the day after tomorrow, if all goes well. Try and get some sleep, I will be back to check on you.” She would definitely keep an eye on him, and pray he wouldn’t develop a fever or an infection. He nodded, lifting his good arm in a vague rendition of a salute.

“Thank you, nurse…” He looked up at her expectantly, a sentimental expression in his eyes that made Caitlin blush.

“Farmer,” she replied, “And it is my pleasure, private Chow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a gentleman with trench feet who needs his bandages reapplied.” She gave a nod, before striding off, not seeing the dopy expression on private Chow’s face as he stared after her.   

-

It was indeed two days later that a transport arrived, ready to take the wounded back to dear old Blighty. It wasn’t unusual for her to feel sorry seeing lads go, especially the ones not seriously injured. She knew they would heal, and would just be send back. Sometimes they would be back in her care within four months, old wounds barely healed, or not at all; there was one man, Corporal Knight, who she’d met three times already. Every time they would send him home, shaking and with unblinking eyes, and every time he’d return to them after the first bomb hit, even worse than before.

The reason she felt sorry to see private Chow -or Christopher, as he’d insisted she called him- go, was an entirely different one. In the two days, she had found herself drifting towards him more and more, and she’d often sit beside him after her shift, just talking, helping him eat, or making a crossword together. He flirted, sure, but not in the way most of the other soldiers tended to do. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but Caitlin had found herself developing a slight infuriation with the soldier.

 

He had to leave, though, just as any other soldier who came into her care. He was leaning heavily on his crutches as he stood by the ambulance, having insisted he could walk. Caitlin hadn’t bought it, and still wasn’t buying it, purely based on how pale he looked.

“This is it, then,” he said, a little awkwardly, “I.. I hope I will see you again.” He looked up at her with a hopeful expression on his face, which was completely thwarted when Caitlin scoffed.

“I hope I won’t see you again,” she said, crossing her arms- and immediately realizing her error, “I mean, I hope I won’t see you again here. I hope you will not be hurt again, and that you will live.” She gave a hesitant smile, which she was glad to see returned.

“Of course, I will try my best,” Chris said, lifting one crutch slightly so he could tap his hand against the pocket in his coat, “There is paper in there, if you wish to write. My details are there as well.” Now it was Caitlin’s turn to blush, as she nodded and reached into his pocket for the paper and a pencil. She quickly scribbled her own details on it, pressing it back into the pocket while holding onto the scrap of paper containing his details.

“We’ll write,” she promised, “And be safe out there, private Chow.” He once again tried to give her a salute, but this time almost toppled over with the effort. She quickly moved to hold him upright, close enough now that she could easily press a kiss to his cheek. She pulled back from the peck soon enough, face surely the colour of a tomato by now. His was still pale, but that had more to do with the pain than anything else, judging by the wide grin on his face.

“I’ll try my best, nurse Farmer,” he said, as he was helped into the ambulance, “We’ll write.”