Merideth woke from another terrible dream. Another glimpse of war hidden in her mind, repressed.
Another reminder of the carnage surrounding her. The war was going nowhere.
She moved from the cot she slept in, as a nurse in the British Army. She tried proud of what she did, saving -and sometimes salvaging- injured men's lives. She was an unusually skilled healer (or so she had been told). But in truth it was a nightmare.
They were calling it a World War. The War to End All Wars. If only it would end sooner…
The only rewarding part of her job was the moment when a soldier thanked her for saving them from the brink of death. The look in their eyes when their pain is eased, even momentarily. The small joy of watching her patient, who had been brought in battered, bloodied, and unconscious, walk out with a smile on his face.
The worst part was watching them march off to battle, knowing without a doubt that there would be so many that come back to have to be cared for by her. Or even not come back at all.
It was for that reason that she tried not to get attached to anyone; to stay disconnected. It was the only way she could handle all the blood and death. Anything worse she feared would break her. And breaking was something Merideth could not do.
She was currently stationed somewhere relatively safe. Officers came and went, checking on their injured. They gave her looks varying from gratitude to despair.
There had been less casualties from the past battle than expected, thanks to her. Many of the other nurses came to Merideth for help when they were unsure of what to do. Her mother had been an apothecary, and so she had more knowledge of medicine and healing than most.
And yet there was another battle fast approaching. Men were already preparing to march. There was nothing left for Merideth to do but pray.
When the day came to leave, she could practically taste the fear and anxiety in the air. No one truly knew what they were marching into, both literally and figuratively.
The nurses and others who stayed behind heard nothing of the soldiers until they practically staggered back into camp. It was awful.
Merideth had of course seen her share of injuries, but this was overwhelming. The waiting soldiers were everywhere, and she had enough potentially fatal wounds to quickly deplete her supplies of medicine. Blood was splashed across the floor.
One particularly bad case took all her medical expertise to even stabilize. The next morning, when the soldier woke up, Merideth was sitting beside him. He stared up at her, wanting to ask how severe his wounds were but afraid to hear the answer.
She looked up at his face. "You're lucky to be alive, Soldier."
He chuckled lightly. "Thank you. The name's Timothy Omer. But people just call me Tim."
She smiled. "Alright, then." She moved to replace the wet cloth on his forehead.
"You are lucky to be alive," She put the new one on with a flourish and smiled down at him, "Tim."
He grinned, the ominous mood put off for a moment.
A man, in full uniform and obviously an officer, appeared at the foot of Tim's bed.
Tim noticed him first, face brightening. "Captain Nicholls."
Merideth had seen him before, in and around camp. And especially in the hospital, visiting patients. If one of his soldiers was injured, he was there to make sure they were taken care of. Very few officers had that level of compassion and dedication to their men. She had certainly taken notice of him.
And now she had one of his soldiers.
He smiled. "Hello, Tim. How are you feeling?"
"Much better, Sir."
"Good. I had heard from the other nurses that you were an especially close call."
Merideth stood and looked to the officer. "That is certainly not an exaggeration, sir."
The Captain turned to address her. "I believe I have you to thank for my soldier's life. What's your name, miss?"
He grimaced slightly, then looked up at her sheepishly. "James, please. I hate "sir." It makes me sound so old."
Merideth let out a clear, joyful burst of laughter.
Both men turned to her in surprise. For a woman in her line of work, laughter was scarce. She noticed their stares quickly.
"I'm sorry. It's just that you don't hear anything very funny around here." She looked away, blushing.
James cracked a smile. "Please don't apologize. Your laugh is beautiful."
"Thank you." Their eyes met for a moment before she glanced away.
They turned as one back to the patient, who was already asleep.
James turned back to her. "I will take my leave, Miss Meredith. I will be back to check on him and to hear his full medical analysis once he has had some more rest."
"Thank you, Ca—James. I enjoyed your company."
He bowed and walked away with a smile.
Her eyes tracked him until he escaped her view.