Please note; This is a work in progress. Comments are welcomed. Scene from ‘Til Death Copyright 2014
I came back from DC feeling – reflective. It was good that Anthony and I were again on the best of terms; it hadn’t felt right being at odds with my future husband. And his jealousy over Harry was understandable – and actually rather sweet, in its way. But the thought of Harry stole the slight smile from my lips; I was going to have to tell him that I was being assigned to other patients and that he would no longer be in my care. It was what Anthony had wanted – and it was reasonable enough, really; but I was pretty sure that Harry wouldn’t like it.
Well; he could just not like it, then, couldn’t he? After all, what did I owe Harry Kenyon? He had walked out on me those years ago and gone off to play the hero, leaving me all alone – and devastated. Well; now it was his turn. Not that it was exactly Harry’s style to be devastated; his self-regard wouldn’t allow for it in all likelihood.
And then I frowned at the thought; I was being unfair to him. His men plainly worshipped their CO and he had, after all, won all those citations and awards; if he was a hero then at least he wasn’t playing at it; he was the real thing. And did that then give him the right to walk out on me – and then stroll back into my life with that same old Harry look on his face? The trouble was that he had charm – in spades – and it always got to me; that and the undoubted chemistry of the acute physical attraction between the two of us. He didn’t even pretend to hide it – but I’d been more careful. Or had I? Maybe I had let it show more than I should have; Anthony hadn’t gotten that insanely jealous for no reason, had he? But, either way, it was over – and it was high time to let Harry know of that. I braced myself up; no time like the present…..
Lieutenant Johansson was on duty at the desk; we spoke of Washington and she congratulated me – and I thanked her. And then I couldn’t put it off any longer.
“How’s my patient – I mean Captain Kenyon?”
She smiled at me – a rather knowing look, I thought.
“You mean He-Man? Yeah – the name spread after his pack visited him; nice bunch, I thought. Good name for him, too – suits him.”
“Hmmm. How’s he doing?”
“Quiet tonight – I haven’t had to shoo him back to bed or caught him doing press-ups even once. Maybe he’s been missing you, Captain?—or should I say Major.”
Again that arch smile: I forced myself to smile back at her – vowing to myself that it was indeed time to end all this talk about Harry and me. I knocked; no answer – but I opened the door anyway: this needed to be done.
He wasn’t on the bed; he was stood over by the window looking out on the darkness of the gardens below. He was, as ever, wearing the least possible clothing – and I suppressed a smile; this was a serious matter. He did not turn around – surely he must have heard me?
He still remained facing the window; I saw his shoulders heave once.
“Leave me; I don’t want company.”
His voice was heavy – weary-sounding; not at all like himself.
“Are you all right? You sound –”
“Fine; just go, Sheila. Leave me alone.”
He still wouldn’t face me – and that voice was scarcely his at all. I took a couple of steps forward.
“If you need help dealing with the pain –” I winced at my crass words; not the right thing to say: Harry would never admit to being in pain – and never took the suppressants offered him.
But, this once, he didn’t comment on my words. I knew then beyond doubt that something was wrong. So I took a deep breath – and three or four more paces – and drew level with him. His back was as so tense that I could see the outline of every last muscle – and a shiver seemed to pass through him.
I laid a hand on his arm – and he whirled fiercely towards me with an expression which made me step back in alarm; for an instant I thought that he was going to strike me. If he did I knew how to catch his arm to prevent it from hitting me, but I didn’t want to hurt him. But even more shocking was his face – how it had changed – how he had changed.
“For God’s sake – leave me!”
“Harry! What’s wrong? You look –” I couldn’t say it – even though it was true. “Let me help you.”
“Help me? How? There’s no-one who can help me; there’s nothing to be done – not anymore.”
He was quivering with tension – and his eyes were wild, his hair disheveled. He shook my hand off his arm and again turned away. I had to try and reach him – somehow.
“Harry – please. Come and lie down and tell me all about it; I just want to help you – you know that. You were fine a week ago.” What could have possibly happened while I was away?
“I told you; there is no help – it’s too late by far! Nothing can change it – or make me feel better about it, so don’t waste your breath. Just go – Go!”
“I can’t; not with you in this state; how can I? Nurses are trained to take care of patients, not only emotionally but physically as well. What’s wro–“
“Get out!” His anger was wild, unreasoning – but I could tell that it wasn’t really directed at me; at least not me alone.
“I’m not going anywhere; I’m staying until you tell me why you’re so upset.”
“Do I have to throw you out?”
He came towards me, his face red and his chest heaving; I was afraid of what his anger, his strength might do to me – but, more, of what it was doing to him.
“Listen,” I said desperately. “If you get violent then they’ll come and restrain you, sedate you against your will. Is that what you want, Harry? Is it?”
“I’d like to see them try!”
“They will – and I don’t want you getting hurt – not after all the time I’ve spent trying to get you to rest and let your wound recover. So you listen to me right now, Harry Kenyon!”
I don’t know how I kept my voice level; he scared me – but I couldn’t call for help or they’d do to him what I’d warned – and I wasn’t having that.
He glared at me with fierce green eyes – and then turned abruptly away and leaned on the windowsill, his breathing rapid as if he had been running. And there we remained, each of us, while the long, long minutes ticked on over in a heavy silence.
“Can’t you tell me?”
“No. You won’t understand.”
“Why not? I trust you; can’t you trust me? Someone once told me it helps to have someone else shoulder your weight. Even He-Man can’t take the load by himself.”
“Oh – I trust you; but there’s no need for you to be part of this. No need at all.”
“Part of what? What, Harry? Is it – bad news – about your men? Is – that it?”
My own heart was racing and my breath short; the tension was unbearable, the silence between us like the depths of a well. His hunched shoulders rose once – and fell again; I heard a sound deep within his chest – and that decided it. Setting all caution, all professionalism apart, I reached out and embraced him from behind.
“How could you possibly know?”
“You’re not the first person to lose someone. I’ve been known to read people even if they’re not willing to be read.”
For a long, long moment he was tense and quivering; I could feel it all through him, that tautness – and again I feared that he might turn on me. Instead he slowly, very slowly relaxed; the terrible tension which racked him ebbed away and he sighed a long, long breath. I held him close, though still his head was down, his face away from mine. And then he spoke – slowly at first and then with more fluency; and as he spoke I hugged him closer, feeling the beat of his heart through our conjoined bodies. And it was harrowing to hear his words as he told me what had happened.
“– And it was his first independent mission behind the lines, too; his very first. And his last –” I felt that spasm pass through him again – and his voice was soft as he went on, telling me of horrors in his well-timbered voice, so that I too shivered as if with cold. “It never should have happened; if I’d been there in command then it never would – could – have. But I wasn’t there; I was here, safe instead while Robbie –”
I felt him swallow hard – and my heart invaded my throat. Robbie – the same young-looking Lieutenant who had come to me to express his concern – and admiration – for his commanding officer; that same officer who I held tight in my arms as he told me of what had been done to poor Robbie. My eyes stung with tears as the visions of the same cruel punishment of what they had done to Anthony nearly thirty weeks ago came flooding back to me as he spoke. Could they be connected somehow? I couldn’t see how but anything was possible.
“They worked on him for three days and nights – spared him nothing because he told them nothing – nothing at all. So they carried on – and on – and still he wouldn’t speak; and then Fuller’s men arrived and drove them off and did what they could for young Robbie. But it wasn’t much – and he was in a terrible state – so they rigged a stretcher and set off back in the night to get him to help. And they did it, too – God knows how – but they got him back. But – but – he didn’t last the night. The field station medics did all they could – Fuller told me that – three times. But the lad was too far gone – and he died just as the sun came up –”
I held Harry even tighter, as if willing my strength into him; I could feel a shudder pass through him. “Poor, brave, eager Robbie. He couldn’t wait to get out there – couldn’t wait; he begged me for what he called another chance after he got separated and lost the last time.”
“I know,” I said very quietly. “He told me.”
For the first time Harry faced me – and his eyes were far too brilliant for him not to want to shed the tears – but no tears came.
“He – told you?” he whispered. I nodded, still holding him, looking up into his grief-ravaged face.
I wiped the stray tear from the corner of my eye, “After his visit, he wanted to thank me for all the care I gave you. He told me about your nickname and how you didn’t give up on him when he needed you the most. And that you went after him – and that’s how you got caught and hurt like this –”
“Yes – and I would have done it again– before they could hurt him: but I couldn’t – because instead of being there, in command, I was being held here!”
“Harry,” I said softly to his anger. “This is not your fault.”
“It is! If I’d been there –!”
“You don’t know that – how can you? I’ve played this blame game myself several times, but I come to the same conclusion. There was nothing else I could have done. He’s on the other side of the world at the moment.”
“I never leave men behind – never!”
“Nor did Lieutenant Fuller and his men; they went for him and got him back.”
“Too late! The boy’s dead – and not yet twenty- five! I let him down –”
“Harry – you didn’t! The boy told me all about you – how much you meant to him. He made me promise to get you well and back to them as soon as possible–“
“There! You see? If I’d been there –”
“With one working arm? Harry, I know you’re upset by this terrible news – so am I – but think about it for a minute. What good would you have done? You’re still here because you’re hurt – not because you’re malingering or hiding. You’d never do that – ever. Blaming yourself for what you can’t control is – pointless.”
“I should have been there! I’m supposed to be the unit’s commander.”
“You were – are – where you should be. And I’m here with you. I’m sorry it had to happen while I was gone. Look at me, Harry; come on – look at me. That’s better.” I tried to smile for him; it was a pretty feeble effort – but it must have meant something, for he suddenly tightened his arms about me and lowered his head, resting it on top of mine as we stood holding each other up.
“Sheila –” he sighed – and again, “Sheila.”
And I held him close and felt his warmth and his indignantly beating heart and the tickle of his hair on my neck: and the exact moment when his head moved and his lips sought mine – and we kissed.
And Harry, proud, heroic much-admired Harry the commanding officer was gone; in his place stood a vulnerable young man, both wounded and hurt – and now riven with guilt and grief. And this Harry moved me far more than the other Harry could ever have done – because this Harry needed me. And because of that then I too was caught: he was mine and I was his – and everything changed.
It was late. No longer was I Captain Anthony Gray MD I was now Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Gray MD. Brody, my brother was now a captain, taking my old command status. Not wanting to head back to the unit right away I headed through the garden which Daniel had said was the long way back to the unit. Glancing up to the second floor where Sheila was working I noticed that most of the rooms were dark, other than Harry’s. Typical. He had problems sleeping. It wasn’t unusual for his sort of injury I supposed but he had been in hospital over three weeks. But on a second glance to the lit room I saw two figures at the window, a female who looked exactly like Sheila and a shirtless male. Harry! They were kissing. I had to act. I had to act now.