Fresh snow crunched under Jason’s boots as he made his way through the trees. The fog that blanketed the forest hadn’t lifted any, he could barely see five feet in front of him. He kept as low as he could and his steps as quiet as possible: The Kraut line could be anywhere now, he’d lost his bearings some time ago.
“Where the fuck is 1st Battalion?” Jason muttered to himself, trudging across the silent expanse. His eyes went back and forth along his eye line, watching for any movement. He got to the edge of the tree line, crouching down in the snow to look over at the other side of the clearing. The forest was still deathly silent, the cold nipping at Jason’s ears under his helmet.
He turned and trudged back the way he came, giving up the search for 1st Battalion. He shoved his freezing fingers back into the breast pockets of his jacket, pressing them to his chest, trying to get some feeling back into them. He should have taken the gloves Rayner had offered him, even if they got in the way of fixing people up, at least they’d help him keep his fingers.
The trees all looked the same, bare of leaves and coated in snow. He walked for a long time before he caught sight of another person, decked out in a grey uniform. The soldier paused to light his cigarette, cupping his hand around the bright orange flame. Jason crouched slowly behind a tree trunk, until he saw a flash of red hair under the grey helmet. He stood, creeping closer.
“Harper.” He said, grinning when Roy jumped a mile and nearly dropped his smoke.
“For fuck’s sake Jason, don’t do that.”
Jason smirked, grabbing the smoke from between Roy’s lips, “Why should I when it’s so fun?” he said, lifting the smoke to take a drag. The hot nicotine sent a warm flush down his chest and he handed it back, nodding in thanks. The feeling in his fingers had returned just about, but he stuffed them back into his pockets before it could leave again.
“Weren’t you looking for 1st?” Roy asked between drags.
Jason shrugged, “Couldn’t find ‘em,”
Roy grinned, “Too well hidden or are you just blind?”
Jason punched him in the arm, huffing when Roy said it was a medics job to fix people not hurt them.
“Don’t irritate me then,” Jason responded. He left Roy to return to whatever he was supposed to be doing and went to find Lieutenant Dent’s foxhole.
He nodded to West and Atlas as he passed their foxhole and stepped up to the edge of what should’ve been Dent’s hole. Which was empty, as usual. Jason swore, throwing his arms up. Fuckin’ Lieutenant Dent, what did he even do at the CP anyway, not a goddamn thing if you asked Jason. He’d bet all his money that Dent didn’t know the names of more than five men in the company.
He hated thinking it, but thing had been better when they’d had Captain Kent and even Captain Wayne, for all he was a posh fuck, at least he’d been around. Jason huffed, wiping his nose with his sleeve and made for Rayner’s foxhole. He found it next to a large tree, with a bunch of branches surrounding the outside. He dropped down into it, landing next to Rayner.
Kyle looked up and asked, “Got anything?”
Jason reached into his pocket and threw a tightly packed bandage to Kyle, “Found it on a Kraut but ain’t got anything else.”
Kyle whistled lowly, “This ain’t good.”
Jason snorted, “You’re tellin’ me.” Jason sighed, tipping his head back against the wall of the foxhole. He closed his eyes, slumping back against the walls.
“Have you asked the guys if they’ve got any stuff left?”
Jason hummed, “I’ve asked everyone but the Halls and Trench,” Jason rubbed under the rim of his helmet, “Where are the Hall brothers anyway?”
“Their foxholes near yours, ain’t it?”
“Shit, I’m going insane.” Jason muttered into his palm.
Kyle gave him a sympathetic look, “Don’t worry, I'll still love you.”
Jason shoved him as he stood, lifting himself out of the foxhole and striding in the direction of his hole, Kyle’s light-hearted laughter following him.
Don was piling shrubbery along the side of his foxhole when Jason appeared next to him. Jason crouched down and nodded his head, “Nice hole you got here.”
Don grinned, “Well thanks Doc.”
“You got any of your aid kit left?”
Don shook his head, “Sorry Doc, used it all in Normandy,” he gestured to his arm with an embarrassed look.
Jason chuckled, “It’s alright Don,” Jason stood, nodding in thanks before stalking off deeper into the forest, to a clear spot, before unzipping his fly.
He’d just finished and zipped himself back up when the shooting started. He dropped straight to the floor, crawling closer to the nearest tree trunk. He pressed his back to the trunk and stood up, looking around it as best he could. He couldn’t see the Krauts, not that he could have anyway. He thought he could see the outlines of other soldiers when a voice shouted the dreaded word,
Jason swore and ducked out from behind the tree trunk, out into the open. He thought it was Hall who shouted but he couldn’t be sure. The snow crunched under his boots as he sprinted across the line, but the sound was lost under the ear-piercing cracks of gunfire. He skidded to Hall’s side, snow flying up his uniform. Hall looked up at him with blank eyes.
Jason looked down and took in what he could see. Hall had both of his bear paws pressed down on his brother’s side, blood already slipping out between his fingers. Don was pale, helmet tipped high up on his forehead, looking to the sky, gasping for breath.
Jason ripped out a bandage, one of the last ones, from his satchel and moved Hall’s hands. He wiped the blood pouring out of the wound away with his hand, trying to get a look at the wound. It was small at least. He pressed the bandage down on the hole and shouted over the gunfire to Hall,
“Did the bullet go through?”
Hall looked at him blankly, so Jason shouted again sharply, “Did the bullet go through Hall!?”
“I don’t fuckin’ know,” Hall snapped back.
Jason rolled his eyes, “Help me with him.” He grabbed one of Don’s hands and pressed it on the bandage. They grabbed Don under the armpits and dragged him away from the line. There was another shout for a medic, but Jason let Kyle handle that.
They got Don as far as the back foxholes before Jason lowered him to the ground, pressing down on the bandage again. If the bullet didn’t go through Don would need surgery, which Jason couldn’t very well do on the front-line. He swore under his breath and stood. His eyes found Steel in a jeep and waved at him.
“Oi, Steel, I need a ride.” Steel nodded his head in response.
He shoved Hall’s shoulder and lifted Don up, dragging him over to the jeep. Together they picked Don up and slid him onto the stretcher tied on the back of the jeep. Jason jumped into the passenger seat and Steel revved the engine, pressing his foot to the floor.
They shot down the mud tracks through the forest, snow covered trees bracketing them. Jason shoved his hands into his jacket, the digits beginning to stiffen again. He looked over his shoulder at Don, who’d pressed both of his hands against the bandage.
“Oi, Don, you still alive.”
Don coughed, chuckling, “Yeah, Doc.”
The town came into view quickly, bombed out shells of houses scattered across a snow-covered field. There were other soldiers milling through the town, other companies. Some villagers were also there, picking through the rubble. They raced up to the doors of a church, coloured glass window still intact somehow. He would have admired the beauty of them, almost right out of the pages of a book, but Don groaned in pain behind him.
He waved over a man to help him with the stretcher. Jason only paused for a second at the pile of dead bodies lined up by a wall.
The steps down into the heart of the church were pure stone, making his footsteps echo. Jason tried to keep Don from slipping down the stretcher as they descended. Below the stairs was chaos, men sat and laying all over, some on the floor, others on chairs, everyone wrapped in bloody bandages. A stern looking woman shouted something in French when she locked eyes with Jason, gesturing over to a free space by the wall. They set the stretcher down there and the man helping disappeared.
The stern woman shouted a torrent of rapid French over her shoulder, and a young girl appeared. Her head was wrapped with a greying strip of blue fabric, completely covering her hair. Her skin was a dark, golden colour, her eyes a bright blue, a stark contrast against the dull colours all around. Jason hadn’t seen such a bright blue since he was in the States, training under a cloudless Georgia sky. She rushed over, her white pinafore stained with blood. She spoke quickly to the stern nurse, her voice light and warm. The woman nodded and disappeared off; the girl turned to Jason.
“Anglais?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah, English.” Jason stuttered out. The girl nodded and smiled, gesturing over to Don.
“Where is he hurt?”
“Stomach, gunshot wound, bullet still in there.” Jason reported quickly. The girl nodded and grabbed a pair of tweezers.
“Has he had morphine?”
Jason shook his head, “I’m fresh out.” She nodded, passing Jason the tweezers, before disappearing into the next room. Jason moved Don’s hands away from the bandage, pressing down himself. The girl reappeared, a morphine syrette in her hand. She uncapped it and stabbed it just above the wound. Don yelped but slumped back onto the stretcher soon after.
Jason wiped away the blood with the bandage and found the hole again. He pressed his finger to the side of it so he wouldn’t lose it. He guided the tweezers into the wound, the girl taking the sodden bandage from his hand and wiping the blood away from the wound. The bullet wasn’t too deep and kept in one piece as he tugged it out. He dropped it beside Don’s hip and together he and the girl tipped a packet of sulfa in the wound and wrapped it.
He sighed, staring down at his blood covered hands,
“You have a sink?” he asked. The girl nodded and guided him into the next room. Jason stuck his hands under the tap, cold water freezing his fingers. The girl passed him a rag and he dried his hands as best he could.
“Thanks,” he said as the silence grew a little awkward.
“You’re welcome Doctor.” She said, smiling as bright as the sun at him.
Jason stumbled over his words as he asked, “Do you have any spare bandages, morphine?”
The girl nodded, reaching up on her toes to grab a box off the shelf. He grabbed it before it could fall on her head and brought it down onto the bench underneath. She routed through it, passing him four packs of fresh bandages and five syrettes of morphine. They piled up in his hands, and then she put strips of fabric on top.
“Hey, um, what’s all this?”
“Sheets.” The girl said plainly.
“Sheets?” Jason replied, raising an eyebrow.
“We’re low on supplies, this is all I can spare. Is it enough?”
It wasn’t, nowhere near, but Jason couldn’t make himself say it, not when the girl was staring at him with hope-filled eyes, “This is great, thank you,” he said instead. The girl beamed again and nodded, satisfied with Jason’s response, before disappearing at a call of loud French.
Jason made his way back up the stairs, arms filled with supplies. He glanced sideways, catching a flitting glimpse of a blue headscarf as he left.
Jason looked up from his book, a souvenir from Normandy. It was all in French and while Jason had taken French in school, he hadn’t excelled, so it was slow going.
“Sure,” Jason accepted the lukewarm cup of brown sludge and sipped it. It tasted vile, some of the worst stuff he’d ever drunk, but it was warm, and he wasn’t. Just from holding it, his fingers had turned back to pink instead of white.
The other men were in little groups, the Wilson brothers sitting with Drake and Junior not far from Allen, Logan and Reyes. Cash and Markov bracketed Hall some way away, probably trying to coerce him into eating.
Roy dropped down by his side, some of his coffee sloshing onto the snow, dyeing it brown. They sipped their drinks in silence, even as Kyle and Guy sat down with them.
“How’s Don?” Ray asked quietly. Jason’s eyes flicked to Hall before he answered,
“Better, he’s in good hands.” The nurse’s bright smile flashed into his head. He stopped himself from smiling at the thought.
He got back to searching for supplies straight after dinner, which had been some lukewarm soup and bread. It had reminded Jason of sick, but he’d eaten it anyway. He retreated to Kyle’s foxhole first though, to share out the supplies he’d got from the nurse. He didn’t know her name, had forgotten to ask.
“Where’d you get these?” Kyle asked, stuffing two packs of bandages into his satchel.
“Aid station in Bastogne,” They shared a smile as they pocketed the supplies. Jason gave Kyle the extra morphine syrette and half the rags as well as the two packs of bandages.
“You think this’s enough morphine?”
Jason shrugged, “You never know, but I’d feel happier if we had more.”
“You happy?” Kyle snorted, “I think I’d like to see that, say Trench might have some morphine left, you know how he is about drugs.” Jason knew, had had to treat him before. Trench didn’t like the stuff, Jason put it down to childhood trauma, god knows it took Jason long enough to use needles without seeing his mum’s dead corpse every time.
“Where’s his foxhole?”
“By Steel and Train’s.” Kyle replied, pulling his blanket up.
Jason lifted himself out the foxhole and set about finding Trench. Trench wasn’t actually his name, that was Lucas Trent, but the rest of the guys had taken to giving nicknames. No one ever called Jason anything other than Todd or Doc, with the exception of Roy, to his face though. He thought it might have something to do with his deminer as according to Roy, he was scary s.o.b.
He found Trench’s foxhole after a while and crouched at the edge of it. Trench himself was sat up against the wall of his hole, polishing his knife. Drew was nowhere in sight, which was a little unusual. Those two were glued together almost all of the time.
“Hey Trench, you got morphine?”
Trench looked up, sighed, and reached into his pocket, silently handing Jason three morphine syrettes. Jason rose an eyebrow but didn’t say anything other than thanks.
The evening turned to night, the fog still stifling their position. Jason settled into his and Roy’s foxhole, tucking his hands into his jacket as far as they would go. He cursed the weather under his breath.
“Shut up Jay, I need sleep.” Jason rolled his eyes and dug his elbow into Roy’s ribs. In retaliation, Roy dropped his head to Jason’s shoulder, shuffling him into a corner so he couldn’t escape Roy’s presents. Jason sighed roughly but Roy shushed him.
Jason fell into a fitful sleep, waking every hour or so with another dead man’s face in his head. The night was even harsher than the day and his feet felt like ice in his boots. He was practically frozen solid except for the parts under Roy’s body. He looked up to the sky once, when he was conscious, trying to picture clear, crisp stars shining above the fog.
The dark night was interrupted by a blazing white light. A flare. Jason closed his eyes and sighed before elbowing Roy awake. Waking up to artillery fire was one of the worst things.
Sure enough, there was a crack and then a tree less than ten feet away burst into splinters. Jason ducked, shielding his face with his arms. Wouldn’t do him any good to lose an eye. Roy ducked behind him, grabbing Jason by the jacket to pull him further down into the foxhole.
“For fuck’s sake, don’t they sleep!” Roy yelled into Jason’s ear.
“Who the fuck knows!” Jason shouted back.
Jason’s ears felt like they were about to burst, the loud bangs ringing straight through them. He covered his ears in an attempt to block the sound out. It didn’t work in the slightest. The forest was lit up in bright white light, so bright it almost burnt Jason’s eyes out and snow showered them from every angle, kicked up by exploding shells.
Jason grimaced, pushing himself off the muddy ground. He lifted his head up to look over the edge of the foxhole, trying to see the person that called.
Jason jumped out of the hole and ran along the tree line towards the shout. He ducked low, scrambling onto the ground as a shell took out the tree next to him. He spit out the snow in his mouth and pushed himself up, jumping over the fallen tree in his way. Weaving between the trees, his eyes scanned the forest. He couldn’t pick out more than faint shapes, the flare fully burnt out.
Crouching on the ground some way away was Wilson, which one he didn’t know, waving his hands like a madman. Jason sprinted over, diving to the ground as a shell went off behind him. He crawled over to Wilson, Joe by the green eyes and slightly blonder hair. Following Joe’s eyeline, Jason met Grant’s blue eyes, red spilling from the corner of his lips. Jason shoved Joe’s head down as a shell sailed into the ground a couple of feet away from them.
“We need to get him out of here!” he yelled, grabbing one of the straps of Grant’s jacket. Joe nodded, grabbing the other and together they dragged Grant away from the edge of the trees.
It was hard going, Grant wasn’t the lightest, and trees had fallen all over, blocking them at almost every turn. The sight of Steel’s jeep was a godsend and a half. With Joe’s help, they got Grant onto the stretcher, blood pooling underneath him.
Jason didn’t say anything when he met Joe’s wet looking eyes, he never was the best at bedside manner.
The town was exactly the same as when he’d left it, a reassuring sight. Steel pulled up just outside the door and Jason jumped out, grabbing one of the hand rails on the stretcher. Steel helped him leaver Grant’s stretcher down the stone steps.
The lights were dimmed, but there were still nurses and medics roaming between the wounded. The nurse from before caught his eyes and quickly waved him into the adjacent room. There weren’t any people inside, it looked like a supply room, with boxes stacked in the corners. They set down Grant in the clear space in the middle of the room.
The nurse took one look at Grant before saying, “Nous aurons besoin de plus de bandages.” and ran from the room. Jason dropped to Grant’s side, taking in the damage.
Blood was seeping through the tears in his jacket, his whole left side darkened almost black with blood and mud. Jason couldn’t see much, only ripped flesh. He grabbed a pair of bandages and pressed down on the deepest looking gash. Blood quickly seeped through it and onto Jason’s hands, painting them a dark red.
Footsteps smacked on the ground behind him and that was all the warning he got as the nurse appeared beside him on her knees. Her petite hands quickly began pressing on another wound. Grant grunted and before Jason could reach into his pocket, the nurse jabbed a morphine syrette into his neck. Grant slumped back, his blue eyes going glassy.
The blood welled from the gashes, a thick dark red. Jason cursed, internal bleeding. He ripped his hand away from the gashes and used the sodden bandages to wipe away the blood, trying to get a look beneath the wound. He could see the white of muscles and his heart sank. Internal wounds pretty sure meant certain death, even in the strongest men. He renewed his effort to press on the wound, to try and stop the bleeding, to try and save one of their own.
Grant gasped, his one arm twitching, and Jason watched with sick dread as blood started to spit into the air.
“Rahat!” the nurse gasped, before she was jumping to Grant’s head, pressing one hand gently to his forehead. Grant choked, but his eyes flicker to the nurse and she smiled softly,
“Ca va aller mon ami, n’aie pas peur, tu n’es pas seul.” The nurse whispered, stroking through Grant’s blond hair. Jason had no idea what she was saying, but the tone was soft and warm, and Jason watched as Grant relaxed, going slack in her arms. Grant’s chest stopped moving and then he was gone.
Jason sat back on the floor, gripping the sodden bandages in his fists. He breathed through his nose and jerked up from the floor. He could feel the red haze of anger creeping up on him. He tried, really hard because the nurse didn’t deserve anymore shit, but he couldn’t control it. He lashed out, catching his fist on the brick wall; white-hot pain shot up his wrist and arm, and he shouted something unintelligible. He thought he threw the bandages to the floor, but he couldn’t be sure.
Hands guided him gently towards a door, and suddenly cold air was nipping at his fingers and his ears and his nose. He found himself sitting on the floor, on an area clear of snow, the young nurse knelt in front of him, his damaged hand in hers. He looked up at her, meeting her strong but sad looking eyes.
“I’m sorry for your friend.” She whispered, rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb.
Jason gritted his teeth. He rarely cried about dead soldiers now, so many had passed in front of him that he’d become almost numb. The nurse nodded to herself and muttered, “Une seconde,” before retreating indoors.
Jason stared at his knuckles, watching a bead of red trail down his finger. Bruises were already forming, but as he tested his fingers, they weren’t broken.
The nurse reappeared, this time wrapped in a thick coat, a dull blue scarf wrapped around her neck. She knelt in front of him and spread a blanket around his shoulders, taking his hand from where it was resting on his bent knees. She produced a damp cloth and dabbed it gently on his knuckles. Jason watched on, not flinching as she sprinkled a little sulfa on the wound and wrapped them.
“What’s your name?” she asked, winding the bandage around his wrist.
“Todd, Jason.” Jason muttered automatically.
“Grayson, Richelle,” The girl said smiling up at Jason. He let his lips quirk up. The girl, Richelle, sat back on the floor just after she tucked the end of the bandage in.
Jason sighed, watching his breath mist in front of him. They sat in silence for a while, Richelle tracing a pattern on the stone floor, Jason staring up at the sky.
“How old are you?” Jason asked quietly after a minute.
Richelle hummed, her finger trailing along the gap between stones, “Where are you from?”
Jason sighed, “Well, I was born in Newark, which is in a state called New Jersey, but I moved to Brooklyn when I was twelve.”
“Was it far?”
Jason chuckled, “Nah, only an hour,” he licked his lips, “What about you?”
Richelle’s hand stilled before she muttered, “The outskirts of a city called Oradea.”
Jason rose an eyebrow, “That doesn’t sound French.”
“That’s because it’s not French, its Rumanian.” Richelle said plainly.
Jason rose both his eyebrows in surprise, “Rumanian? I thought you were French.”
Richelle hummed, “No, I’m Roma,” Jason opened his mouth to ask, but Richelle cut him off, “It’s not the same as Rumanian, that means where I was born, Roma means my people.”
Richelle considered it, “I suppose.”
Jason nodded, biting his lip before awkwardly asking, “So, how come you’re here?”
“I fled Rumania, a short time after the war began.” She said quietly, looking down. “I suppose you have not heard of it yet.”
“What the Nazis are doing in the countries they hold.” Richelle looked up, her eyes both blank and full of pain. “They are rounding up my people, and others, to send them to places known as iad or Hell. Camps where they are hurt for no reason other than their blood.”
Jason swallowed thickly. He couldn’t find anything to say in response, so he just stared at her eyes, full of pain and guilt, hazy like she was remembering horrific images, playing them back in her mind. He wanted to reach out, help or comfort or something, but he didn’t know how. He settled for stretching his foot out so that it rested by her knee. She seemed to take comfort in the gesture, resting her hand on his ankle, her eyes refocusing and a rueful smile surfacing on her face.
“It was not your fault,” she said quietly, her eyes flicking behind him.
Jason huffed, “I know that,”
“Then you know you can not let it weigh you down.”
Jason looked up into Richelle’s impossibly blue eyes. He expected before to see that light, that was always there in replacements, who hadn’t seen a drop of blood or heard a shell, in her eyes. Instead her eyes reminded of the older officers, one’s that had seen but hadn’t been buried yet. They stared at one another, their breaths freezing in front of them.
The blanket only did so much and before long the cold had set back into his bones. The nurse didn’t shiver, how Jason didn’t know since she was in a dress instead of trousers, tights the only thing between her legs and the cold. He supposed must have been a long way to travel from Rumania.
Jason wet his lips, “I need to head back, the men will need me.”
Richelle nodded, “I have some more supplies if you would like them.”
Jason caught a lift back to the front line with a different truck, looking around the fields at the rising sun. The nurse, Richelle, had given him a few more sheet bandages, and another two syrettes of morphine. She’d told him in clear terms that they’d been cut off on land, air drops unable to reach even Bastogne in the thick fog.
The camp was quiet, all the men huddled together in groups. Jason approached warily, trying to spot Joe Wilson. Jason hated this part with a passion, he didn’t know anyone who did. He stiffened his lips as Joe met his eyes, sitting with Drake and Junior. Jason sighed before walking over to the group. He could see the others perking up, unsubtly trying to listen in. Jason couldn’t bring himself to say anything, he never did, not trusting himself to not make things worse.
All he did was shake his head before striding away. He didn’t stay for the aftermath, there was nothing he could do now.
The snow crunched under his boots as he made his way to his foxhole. There were a few men on the line, Allen, Reyes and Logan in a foxhole not that far away.
“Hey Doc!” Logan called out. Jason sighed but walked over anyway. Logan was a replacement as was Allen, both following Reyes around like a pair of ducklings. That had suited Lieutenant Dent fine, since Reyes was the only one that could put up with Allen and Logan’s chatter for long periods of time.
“You hurt?” Jason asked, looking down into their foxhole.
Logan shook his head, “No, it’s just we’ve never really talked you know.”
Jason rose an eyebrow, “Trust me Logan, if I’m talking to you it ain’t a good thing.” Jason watched Allen and Logan gulp and Reyes stifle a laugh.
“Don’t worry los niños, he’s only kinda kiddin’”
Jason flashed them a shark-like grin before returning back to his foxhole. He dropped down into it and sat down, slipping off his helmet, dragging a hand through his hair. It was longer than ever, thick with grease and sweat. Loud crunches sounded from his side; he didn’t look up even as Roy’s boots dropped onto the bottom of the hole.
“So, Grant’s gone then.”
“I thought that was obvious.”
Roy sighed above him, dropping down in front of him, “I know you like to appear cold Jason but come on, you can’t lock it up forever,”
“I tried my fuckin’ hardest Harper what else do you want from me.” Jason snapped. Roy gave him an unimpressed look.
“Jason come on,”
“I’m fine okay, just leave it.”
They sat in silence, Roy picking at the mud on his hands, Jason sorting through his supplies. The forest was deathly quiet, no animals were around anymore, having the self-preservation to leave. He folded the new bandages, soft against his fingers, tucking them away into his satchel with the morphine. He’d have to flag Rayner down at some point to share the supplies out.
He could feel Roy’s eyes pricking his skin but he, rather stubbornly, wouldn’t raise his eyes to meet them. He didn’t do talking about his feelings, he’d never had anyone to talk to, not that he’d ever wanted to. Roy was usually the same, all the men were, but for some reason Roy wouldn’t let it go.
“Joe didn’t take it well.”
Jason huffed, “No shit. His brother just died, practically in his arms.”
“He didn’t last long?”
Roy was obviously searching, but Jason indulged him, digging out a smoke from his pocket, “Lasted the journey, got him into the aid station, then he died on the stretcher as we tried to stop the bleeding.”
Jason looked up, “Me and a nurse.” He didn’t expand, didn’t care to, the less Roy knew, the less would haunt his dreams. They settled back into silence, Jason taking drags from his smoke, and passing it into Roy’s hand when he felt like it. The silence extended until Kyle appeared, standing over the edge of the foxhole. He jumped in, sitting in between Jason and Roy.
“Hey, heard you were back.” Kyle opened with.
“Yeah.” Jason said shortly, “I’ve got some more supplies, but it ain’t much.” He handed Kyle half of the bandages and one of the syrettes. Kyle sorted through them and stuffed them in his satchel, taking Jason’s offered smoke with a grateful smile.
It was a surprise when Lieutenant Dent appeared. Jason wasn’t paid enough to speculate, but if he was, he’d say that Lieutenant Dent liked spending most of his time in the CP with the other Captains and officer, and that the only reason he was the CO for Able company was because he wanted to make Captain alongside Wayne. Rich men ran in small circles.
“Hello gentlemen, how goes the line?”
Jason gritted his teeth against Dent’s charismatic smile. He kept his mouth firmly shut against the slew of insults and curses he wanted to throw at the man. Barely.
“As well as can be sir.” Kyle answered. Jason shared an unimpressed look with Roy as Dent nodded.
“Good, good, keep up the good work.”
Jason watched Dent’s retreating figure disappear into the tree line.
“You know it’s a good thing you answered first ‘cus whatever would have come out of Jay’s mouth would have got him court-marshalled.”
Kyle snorted, his shoulders shaking, “Couldn’t have that.”
Jason rolled his eyes and took another drag from his smoke.
Dinner had been another cup of slightly warm beans, tasting like sick.
Jason ate them anyway; he was so hungry that sick was a better alternative to the twangs of pain in his stomach. The mood of the company had been solemn, with Grant dead, Don wounded and a whole host of other men in either state, no one was very jolly on Christmas Day, even Allen was quiet for once.
Guy joined Jason, Roy and Kyle’s huddle on the ground by a barren tree. Jason had kept his eyes firmly down on his cup, listening to Roy and Kyle’s chatter. The snow beneath his boots was streaked with mud, a far cry from its pristine white that it had been.
If Jason had finished school and gone to college, he could’ve written a poem or something about the snow in Bastogne. How the snow on the ground had been them, falling to the ground clean and beautiful. How in a matter of hours the snow had become streaked with mud, dirtied and worn. How just a matter of hours, days, weeks, had turned a winter wonderland into a bleak barren landscape without changing a flake of snow.
The foxhole was cold and muddy, the walls barely holding out the cold fog creeping through the trees like Death, coming to take a couple of men, whoever deserved to leave this Hell on earth.
Roy huddled into his side, pulling the blanket over them. His helmet was heavy on his head, weighting his neck back against the wall of the hole. He fell into another fitful sleep, the slightest sound waking him. He looked out across the clearing towards the Kraut lines, the sound of German hymns drifting across the distance. He didn’t understand the words, but the tune was familiar. He mouthed the words he knew silently, letting the soft tone of Silent Night wash over him.
The voices dissipated out, leaving only the deathly silence of the forest behind. He supposed the German officers were like theirs, trying to keep the men quiet.
Jason drifted back to unconsciousness; he couldn’t call it sleep. Sleep was for rest, a warm bed with sheets: unconsciousness was for a reprieve, a cold hole in the middle of nowhere.
It was the whistle of a mortar round that woke him up. He ducked, throwing his arms up to guard his face, as a tree exploded into pieces a foot away from them. He got sprayed with wood chunks, grimacing at the pain.
At least he was alive. If that was a good thing.
There was a scream and Jason didn’t need to hear the word medic to know he’s needed. He turned to Roy but was met with an irritated look.
“What you looking at me for? I’m fine, Go!”
Jason rolled his eyes but jumped out of the hole regardless. Another mortar went off somewhere behind him, but Jason kept moving as quickly as he could. He spied Allen, Logan and Reyes’s foxhole, and they must’ve caught sight of him because they hollered like they were at a Yankees game.
Jason slid into their foxhole as another mortar hit, making sure to cover Logan’s head, fuckin’ replacement didn’t have his helmet on. He grabbed it from the ground and shoved it on the kid’s head.
“Wear your goddamn helmet all the fuckin’ time Logan!” he shouted into Logan’s ear over the sound of explosions. Logan gave him a weak nod. At a glance Jason saw red was dripping from Logan’s palm, a clean slice straight across his palm. There were splinters decorated around the wound, sticking out in all directions. The trail of splinter wounds went down Logan’s arm, having shred his uniform. It was ugly, but not the worst he’d seen.
“Gimme ya arm.” He shouted. Logan offered it to him gingerly and Jason set about picking the bigger splinters out. Pain went across Logan’s face and he could see tears welling in the kid’s eyes. Jason sighed, these replacements weren’t old enough to drink, probably virgins on top of that. They’re kids, in a foreign country when they should be sitting at their mothers’ feet, listening to stories.
“Jason!” Kyle appeared by the edge of the foxhole, face dirtied, eyes wide.
“Yeah!” Jason shouted back over more explosions. The Krauts were really trying to fuck them up the ass this time.
“You got spare bandages?!”
“Bandages! Oh, for fuck’s sake, here!” Jason shoved the hand that wasn’t holding Logan’s arm into his satchel, grabbing a fistful of sheet strips and throwing them blindly at Kyle.
Jason groaned as the word was shrieked across the forest. He reached behind him and grabbed Kyle by the scruff of his jacket, yanking him into the foxhole. He handed off Logan’s arm to Kyle, once he’d got his face out of the mud.
“Treat Logan, I’ll get it.”
Kyle nodded, carefully taking Logan’s arm.
The forest was lit up all around him, the dark night brightened by fires and flashes of white light. There were cries and screams echoing throughout the forest, so many Jason didn’t know where to start or where to go.
He settled into a rhythm, jumping from foxhole to foxhole, treating as many men as he could, making choices that were going to backfire he was sure, leaving the less wounded untreated. The Krauts hadn’t let up in the artillery, they must have been saving their shells up for a Christmas present to them.
It was about as welcome to Jason as a knife to the gut.
Several times shells landed a foot away from him, where he’d been three second before or where he’d planned to go.
He was lucky though, whenever he appeared by the entrance of a hole, he was dragged in, the men’s usual unease around him forgotten in the heat of an attack. Markov was the one to pull him in next, Jason gave him a solid nod in thanks as an unearthly scream echoed through the forest.
Jason’s head whipped up, in all the time he’d ran with Able, he’s never heard a scream like that. He looked to Markov and Cash and shouted, “Keep your fuckin’ heads down!” with that Jason took his leave, vaulting out of the foxhole as quickly as he could.
There was another cry, several in fact, that Jason followed until he found Lieutenant Dent’s foxhole. Jason came to a stop and stared, at the crater where it had been. Half-sprawled out of his foxhole, Dent was laying on his back, his helmet nowhere in sight, Jason assumed it was in the smouldering mess of his foxhole. Jason blinked but the image was still there, half of Dent’s face was ripped to shreds, down to his teeth on the left side. The eyes socket was plain to see, and the previously immaculate hair was burnt off on one side.
Jason snapped out of his trance and dropped down beside Dent. He dragged the last of his bandages out of his satchel and ripped open a packet of sulfa with his teeth, spreading it over the wound. Dent groaned and thrashed, yelling and cursing. Jason gritted his teeth before pulling out his last morphine, jabbing it under Dent’s jaw. It probably wasn’t the best idea to give Dent morphine, but the man was screaming, so loud the Krauts could probably hear him across the clearing. The screams tapered off, and Jason set about wrapping the bandages as effectively around the man’s head to cover most of the wound.
A few more shells went off, but the barrage seemed to be over. Jason took a deep breath, breathing it out into the darkness. He allowed himself a second to breathe before grabbing Dent by the straps and dragging him towards the main camp. Dent was bulky and tall, so dragging him was slower than Jason wanted. The bandage was already soaked with blood.
Guy appeared out of the dark, grabbing the other side of Dent’s uniform, pausing to stare at the mess of red bandages. He made eye-contact with Jason, his eyes wide.
“We need to get him to Bastogne, he’ll need surgery,” if he lasted that long was left unsaid.
He and Guy dragged Dent through the forest, passing several men just emerging from their foxholes. Dent was a groaning mess, mumbling incoherent words and twitching. Jason had never seen something like this so he couldn’t work out if the behaviour was from blood loss or the head injury. It almost seemed like shell shock.
Steel heaved Dent onto the jeep with help from Jason and Guy. Jason reached into the back of the jeep to spread a blanket over Dent’s twitching body. It should help with any shock.
“You ain’t riding with him?” Guy asked.
Jason looked around, “I left a lot of people without help.”
Guy rose an eyebrow, “You need supplies to help them,” he leaned towards Jason, “I know you hate him, but…” whatever Guy was going to add was left unsaid, with only a pointed look to the prone figure on the stretcher to give Jason a clue.
Jason relented, jumping onto the back seat and regarding Guy with a look, “Find Kyle, I’ll need all the help I can get when I get back.” Guy nodded.
Jason looked up to see Kent Junior and Joe guiding a stumbling Drake between them. Jason tensed but couldn’t see any blood pouring from the kid.
“What’s up with ‘im?” Jason called.
Junior looked as panicked as he’d ever seen him, “Don’t know, he said his side hurt and then he was going dizzy.” Junior said in his Kansas drawl.
Today seemed like the day for complicated wounds and Jason sighed, waving them over, “I’ll take him to the town, I’m sure someone’ll know what’s up with ‘im.”
Junior nodded and brought Drake over to the jeep. Jason kept his eyes on Drake skinny, shaking form, not making eye contact with Joe. Last thing he needed was a punch to the face.
Drake stumbled into the jeep, gasping in pain as Jason guided him back to the seat. Jason nodded at Steel and the jeep jerked to a start, whipping up snow as it moved forward. Once they were into the journey, Jason turned back to Dent. The man was still twitching but Jason thought he might be unconscious now, which was better than screaming. Jason then turned to Drake, who was curling against the door, grimacing and gasping whenever they hit a bump.
“Where’s it hurt then?” Jason asked. Drake looked up from where he’d been staring at the back of the passenger seat.
“Around my chest I think.”
“You think?” Jason retorted.
Drake rolled his eyes, but hovered his hand over his upper left abdomen, around by his side. Jason took that as where the pain was and gently pressed a hand to the area. Drake gasped, trying to move away before thinking better of it.
“What happened just before?”
“I got thrown into a tree by a shell blast.”
Jason snorted, “Guess we need to weigh you down with something, or you’ll float away next time.”
Drake rolled his eyes and they carried on the rest of the journey in silence.
Each time he came back to Bastogne, he felt like he’d never left. Steel pulled up by the entrance of the church, the windows blacked out. Jason hopped out of the jeep and grabbed the stretcher. He felt like a broken record, repeating the same actions again and again.
Dent was still unconscious when he and Steel set his stretcher down in the supply room, which had been cleared of supplies, most likely all gone, and was filled with wounded, since he been there with Grant. He sat Drake down on the floor beside Dent, and stood, stepping out into the main room. He caught sight of a blue headscarf and called,
Richelle stopped what she was doing and looked up, her eyes searching the room. Jason waited for her eyes to land on him and he was met with a bright smile. Richelle stood up from her knee, briefly wiping down her apron before striding over to him.
“What do you need?” she asked, looking past his shoulder into the supply room.
“My CO got hit in the face, it ain’t pretty, and I’ve got a kid with abdominal pain but no visible wound above the skin.”
Richelle nodded, giving him a tired smile, “We better start then,”
Jason guided her over to Drake and Dent and she immediately sat down on her knees to look at Dent’s face wound. Jason crouched beside her, waiting for her verdict. Richelle gently peeled the bandages off the wound, brushing a piece of Dent’s hair away. The wound was still as horrific as it had been before, if only a little clearer without the mass of blood. He heard Drake gag behind him and turned to see his shocked face.
Drake looked up from Dent’s face to the pair of them, “I’m not that injured, I…I think I can return to the line.”
Jason snorted and Richelle said gently, “Every wound is important, just because it looks awful doesn’t mean it will kill,” she nodded to Drake’s chest, “I’m going to treat you first, I just wanted to see the damage.”
Drake blanched, “Really it’s just an ache,”
Richelle shuffled over to Drake, reaching to undo his jacket, “I don’t want to frighten you,” she said softly, “but one minute it’s an ache, then next it’s pain beyond belief.”
Drake stopped resisting and let Richelle help him with his jacket. Jason looked around and spotted a supply crate. He stood and went to retrieve some supplies. When he returned, Drake was sitting away from the wall, shirtless, his skinny chest pale and bruised black and blue. Richelle was trailing her hands around the area Drake had said hurt. Every so often, Drake would gasp or twitch. She looked up at him as he approached and quickly stood.
“Viens avec moi,”
Jason could understand the sentence just about and followed Richelle over to the doorway and out into the main room. She stopped by one of the walls and looked back at the entrance to the supply room.
“What do you think?” Jason asked quietly.
Richelle’s face was twisted with concern, “I think it might be the spleen,”
“Is it ruptured?”
Richelle shrugged, “I can’t be sure, I don’t think so, but it’s better to be safe.”
Jason nodded, “What can we do?”
“It needs to be operated on, and probably removed, but I can’t do that here and we are still cut off, I can’t send him to the field hospital in Huy.”
Jason sighed, dragging a hand through his hair. A damaged spleen had once been described to him as a ticking time bomb. A man could be fine then an hour or two later, he was dead or instead, it was weeks, the man returned to the line before dying which seemingly no cause.
Jason looked across to the entrance of the supply room. It was stupid really; it wasn’t like he’d be able to see Tim from there.
“He won’t make it till morning will he.” Jason said coldly. It was becoming his reality, men he knew slipping through his fingers, even when he’d done everything. Every fuckin’ thing.
“He will, I have faith.” Richelle said firmly beside him. Jason turned to look at her, her blue eyes blazing with passion. Jason wanted to snort, to shoot the sentence down. What had faith done for him and the Company, nothing. But caught in the blue of her eyes he couldn’t do it, couldn’t kill the hope.
Instead he nodded, coughing awkwardly. Richelle smiled softly, and bowed her head, “The other man, your CO? is in a bad way also. He will need surgery.” Again, Jason nodded.
Richelle led them back to the supply room, to where Drake was sitting awkwardly by Dent, still shirtless, but holding his jacket over his shoulders. Richelle knelt and went back to observing Dent’s wound. The man was unconscious still, laying prone on the stretcher.
Jason sat, grabbing an offered hot mug of something from the stern-faced nurse, who spoke a sentence or two to Richelle. Again, Jason found he barely understood a word, the sharp French from the women too quick for him to pick up.
“She’s asking the nurse what she wants to do the new patients, where to put them.” Drake said quietly next to Jason’s ear, slouching against the stone walls.
“Of course you’d know that Harvard.”
Drake gave him a look, but wisely kept his mouth shut. Jason passed him the drink, not as an apology, more like a begrudging thank you. They sat in silence, Jason leaning forward to help Richelle dress Dent’s face once she’d finished talking to the woman. Jason wanted to ask her why the older woman wanted her opinion, a girl who was only a little older than Jason. Wanted to ask why other nurses and army doctors came to her.
Loud rumbling started not that soon after they’d finished, the sun having risen, shining through the windows. It was almost like distant thunder, getting louder and louder as the seconds crept by. Jason stared up at the ceiling, which he noticed was painted dark blue with golden stars.
“Tout le monde descend, protégé les blesses!” Richelle shouted and the nurses nodded, ducking down over wounded and dragging tables around for people to curl under. Jason leant back, grabbing Drake by the shoulder and shoving his head between Dent and the wall, curling himself over the kid and Dent’s heads. Jason looked up, watching Richelle move wounded from chairs onto the floor.
“Richelle!” Jason shouted; his voice drowned out by the deafening sound of planes. He waved frantically at her.
Richelle moved one last man to the floor, then raced over to Jason and Drake. She slid to her knees and Jason grabbed her by her shoulder and pushed her head down under his chest. He waited for the bombs to begin dropping, waited for the last thing he saw to be Richelle’s blue headscarf.
Then someone shouted. “They’re American planes!”
Richelle slipped from under him, calling out, “Ce sont des avions américains!”
There was a cheer and then everyone was moving. Richelle strode through the nurses and doctors, Jason hot on her heels. They raced up the stone stairs, their feet making loud smacks as they went. Jason skid to a holt just at the edge of the doorway. The sky was filled with blue and red parachutes, boxes attached them, floating from the heavens. Jason watched in wonder as the boxes drifted into the main street, landing with small thuds.
“Pere Noel has sent us presents, oui.”
Jason rose an eyebrow, “Pere Noel?”
Richelle smiled, “Father Christmas, though he is a day late.” Jason grinned before taking off into the street, Richelle’s high laughter following him.
There were boxes and boxes of supplies running through the church, Richelle in the thick of the people, directing people in English and French all over. Jason preferred to stay by the wall, watching over Drake and Dent. Richelle had slipped him a blanket, which he wrapped around Tim’s shoulders, guiding him to lay down and rest.
Dent was still unconscious, worryingly if you asked Jason, but even if they woke him, what would they do.
He was passed a hot plate of food, which he handed off to Drake, who ate it at a slower pace than Jason expected. Guess Harvard taught him something useful. Another plate was passed to him, so he took a minute for himself, to eat it. Richelle appeared out of the mass of people, an angel in a blood-stained apron. Jason shuffled to the side to let her check Dent.
“Your arm needs bandaging.”
Jason swallowed his mouthful of food, “Huh?”
“Your arm.” Richelle nodded to his forearm. Jason looked down and realised with a little shock that his right forearm was ripped, pieces of wood sticking out. Now that he’d seen it, he could feel the blood running down his arm and the pieces of wood shifting as he moved. He winced.
Richelle gave him a sympathetic look, “I didn’t want to bother you while you were tending to your friends, but it needs to be dressed I’m afraid.” She flashed him a grin.
Jason nodded absently, putting his plate of the stone floor. He slipped off his jacket as Richelle disappeared to grab bandages. She returned and grasped his hand gently, rolling up his sleeve. Jason winced but watched as Richelle picked out the pieces of wood, first with her hand and then with a pair of tweezers.
“Do you need morphine?”
Jason shook his head, “No, I’m alright.” He watched her bathe his arm, sprinkling sulfa on the open wounds before wrapping his arm gently. She said soothing words whenever Jason flinched, sweet nothings that shouldn’t have put Jason at ease.
But they did.
Just as she tied the ends off, Dent twitched violently, his chard left arm jerking off the floor. Richelle whipped around and Tim jumped back, scrambling away from the man, who was twitching and moaning at increasing volumes. Richelle yelled something in French and jumped to the man’s other side, careful to grasp pieces of unharmed limbs. Jason jumped as well, grasping his CO’s shoulder and forcing it to the ground. The man yelled, a loud deep groan and tried to lash out, kicking his feet. Jason pressed his other hand to the man’s left knee, forcing it to be still. Dent thrashed harder but between him and Richelle’s obviously steel grip, he couldn’t move.
“Morphine!” Richelle yelled and a youngish doctor appeared by her side, inserting the needle into the crook of his left elbow, held as still as possible by Jason. Dent slumped, his yelling dying off in his throat. Jason let go of him tentatively, watching the man for a hint of consciousness.
“Do you think he’s gone mad?” Jason asked quietly, for Richelle’s ear only.
“He is in great pain; I wouldn’t blame him.” Jason swallowed but said nothing in return.
In any case, whether Dent was insane or not, he and Drake and a dozen other wounded were shepherded onto a truck, bound for the hospital in Huy. Apparently, they weren’t cut off anymore. Jason tightened the blanket around Drake’s shoulders, strapping his helmet on properly.
“Wouldn’t want you to die on the way to the hospital, would we?”
Drake gave him a weak smile. Jason paused by the truck. He gazed over at Richelle, who was ushering new men into the church with a gentle, guiding hand.
“Hey Tim,” he said, “Be careful, and don’t go AWOL before you’re strong enough, I’ve already had to deal with you once, and I ain’t doing it again. You’re a terrible patient.” It didn’t come out right, not by a longshot, but Tim smiled warmly at him, understanding. Jason turned to walk away, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
“Be careful as well, we need you out there. More than you know.” Tim said, pulling Jason into a brief, slightly awkward hug. Jason patted Tim on the shoulder, watching the truck pull away with a full feeling in his chest.
“Well done,” Richelle said, stopping by his shoulder, looking out at the retreating truck.
“For letting yourself care.” She said softly, pressing a hand to his shoulder. Jason turned but she was gone.
Jason returned to the camp feeling lighter than he felt when he left. He carried the boxes of supplies off the jeep and set them by the cook’s tent.
The men were gathered together for a service of sorts. Jason stayed on the fringe, he hadn’t been much of a believer before the war, and now he’d seen too much to believe that there was a higher power looking out for him. But instead of leaving to sit in his foxhole, he waited, listening to the priest’s words. Richelle’s words rang through his head, I have faith. She never said in who or what.
“Jason!” Roy called out, catching sight of him as the men split apart. Several men turned to look at him, including Joe. Jason swallowed against the anxiety in his throat and opened his mouth.
“Hey, listen up,” he called, his voice coming out louder and stronger than he thought. The men all turned to look at them.
“Lieutenant Dent and Private Drake have been sent to the hospital at Huy. I won’t lie, they both have serious wounds but,” Jason swallowed, “but when I left them, Drake was in a good enough mood to drown me in his Harvard shit.” It was a bold-faced lie, but the men laughed.
Roy, Kyle and Guy were grinning at him as he stepped towards them, after the men had dispersed. They didn’t say anything but the arm around his shoulder from Roy was pretty clear. They wandered back towards they’re foxholes, but Jason came to a stop when he saw Joe. He excused himself from the guys and approached Joe slowly.
Joe made eye contact with him, “How can I help, Doc?” Joe asked quietly.
Jason opened his mouth but didn’t know what to say. He considered his words for a second before saying, “He wasn’t alone.” Joe looked at him with wide eyes, so Jason quickly said, “He was calm, I can’t say he didn’t feel pain, but he wasn’t alone. Me and a nurse, we were by his side when he left.”
Joe’s eyes welled with tears, but he smiled, “Thank you, I know you tried. Thanks for being with him.”
Jason nodded and awkwardly bowed out, returning to his foxhole. Roy welcomed him in, Kyle and Guy huddled together, the hole too cramped for the four of them, they were all quite tall and broad.
“I don’t remember building this hole for four men. Say, Roy you didn’t adopt any strays while I was gone, did you?”
Roy grinned, shrugging in amusement, “I don’t know, Kyle, did you bring a stray with you?”
Kyle looked Guy up and down, “I brought a ginger?” he offered.
Jason snickered, “What a coincidence, I’ve got a ginger following me too.”
“We’re drawn to idiots,” Guy countered. Kyle gave Guy an outraged look while Roy descended in a fit of laughter.
Roy and Guy were posted on the line for the night watch, leaving Jason and Kyle to divide and sort the supplies in the boxes. Blankets were handed out, one per foxhole, two if Jason knew that more than two people would be in the hole, despite their orders to spread themselves out across the line. Apparently, German soldiers had been wondering through their lines.
Jason moved between the foxholes, checking men’s feet for Trench foot and handing out socks. With the cold and wet conditions, Jason thought they’d lose at least five men to Trench foot, sending them back to the hospitals to recover. So far though, only two people had shown signs of it.
Things were looking up.
After a rant to Atlas for wearing wet socks, Jason retreated back to his foxhole. Kyle was already there, folding his leftover bandages that hadn’t been used to treat the people Jason left the night before.
“Anyone got it?”
“Atlas is probably the closest, I know he likes water and all, but he could at least change his socks every once in a while.”
“I think he gave his spare pair to West,” Kyle said, rummaging through his satchel.
“Why did West need them?”
“Apparently, he was changing his socks just as the mortars started, spare pair got blown up.”
“For Christ sake,” Jason groaned, hitting his head back against the side of the foxhole, “Idiots, they’re all idiots.” Kyle huffed a laugh.
Darkness fell and the line was quiet, the sky clear of fog for the first time in a while. The sky was filled with bright stars, the pale moon glowing fully. It was a beautiful sight and Jason wished he could have savoured it. He pulled the blanket higher over them and settled back to let his eyes close. He drifted to the sound of Kyle’s short Spanish prayer, taught to him by his mother in remembrance of his father.
“Ángel de Dios, que me mantuvo a salvo y me confió la bondad divina, me ilumina, me dirige y me guarda en el nombre del Padre, el nombre del Hijo y el nombre del Espíritu Santo.”
The afternoon was slow and quiet, Jason wanted to relax but it was almost like it was too quiet. Suspiciously quiet. He busied himself by checking the men again, redressing wounds that were too small for the men to need the aid station, but still could turn serious. Most of the men were milling around the line, digging their foxholes deeper or bigger, and collecting fallen branches to line the edges as a barrier against shrapnel and wood chunks.
Kyle waved him over to their foxhole as night set in, a bunch of branches in his hands. Jason walked over, kneeing in the snow to grab a few, lining them around the edge carefully. They both looked up as they heard loud shouts echoing through the trees.
“What the?” Kyle muttered just as the first mortar hit the ground. Jason swore and dragged Kyle by his shoulders into the foxhole.
“Too fuckin’ quiet,” Jason griped, ducking further into the hole as the forest was lit up with bright flashes.
Men dived into foxholes in front of them, looking like divers on the side of a pool, the mortars traveling in lines up through the forest. Jason looked above the edge of the hole to see West zig-zagging between the trees, moving as quickly as he’d ever seen him, mortars hot on his heels. Kyle yelled at West, waving his arms frantically. A shell went off only a couple of feet from West, but it didn’t stop him. The kid ran at full pelt, blindingly fast, diving into their foxhole with the grace of a stumbling fowl. Jason and Kyle caught him before he could smack his head on the ground, both thrown back themselves for their trouble.
“Fuck, I thought you’d be lighter,” Jason said through gritted teeth, West’s elbow had caught him right in the stomach, “And where the hell is your helmet West?”
“In my foxhole.” West panted.
“Why the fuck is it there?” Jason yelled, mortars drowning out his voice.
“I only had to piss!” West yelled back, ducking his head down between Jason and Kyle’s as another shell went off. The impact vibrated through the ground and made it feel like it was inches from their hole. Jason rolled West off the top of him, shoving him in between him and Kyle to lean over the kid’s head with his chest. The barrage carried on for another minute or so before ending abruptly.
Jason poked his head above ground, seeing several others do the same. Someone yelled at everyone to stay in their foxholes. Jason sighed, unbuckling his helmet and tugging it off. He turned and forced it onto West’s head, strapping it under his chin.
“Hey!” West protested, “You need this!”
“Just don’t lose it like you lost your socks and I’ll have it back when we find yours.” Jason said.
There was a distant yell. Jason tilted his head to the side, narrowing his eyes. It sounded really fuckin’ familiar.
“Shit! That’s Roy,” Jason heard Kyle mutter before Jason was lifting himself out of the foxhole. Kyle called his name, but Jason just shouted back,
“I’ve got to get ‘im, stay with West!”
He sprinted through the trees, his lungs tightening against the cold. He weaved between the trees, stumbling over fallen ones and craters left by the shell. In an area of fallen trees, Jason spotted Roy’s red hair, his helmet on the floor beside him. He stumbled to a stop by Roy’s side and stared at the ground beside him.
Roy’s right forearm was laying on the ground, complete detached from the rest of him, barely looking like an arm at all. Jason swallowed heavily and approached Roy carefully.
“Roy, we need to go, can you stand?” Jason asked. Roy didn’t say anything and continued to stare at his forearm, coated in snow.
Jason shook Roy’s left shoulder, “Come on, the Krauts might start up again any minute.”
Slowly Roy nodded, and with Jason’s help stood up. Jason gave the severed arm on last glance before grabbing Roy by the shoulder and half dragging him towards the foxholes as quick as he could. Roy stumbled behind him, trailing blood through the snow. Jason looked behind him, eyes widening as he saw in the distance, maybe four hundred feet away, a shell exploded. Jason grabbed Roy’s other arm, only arm, and dragged him.
“Come on!” he yelled, watching with dread as more and more shells went off, creeping closer and closer to them every second.
“Fuck! Roy come on!” Jason yelled, throwing Roy’s arm over his shoulder and lifting the man with one arm, trying to speed him up. He could see Kyle and West up ahead, waving frantically. Roy slumped in his arms, tripping them both up.
Jason hit the ground hard, both his arm wrapped around Roy. He twisted at the last second so that Roy landed on top of him, keeping his stump from hitting the ground.
“Jason!” Kyle yelled and suddenly there was an explosion, right by Jason’s side and the whole world went silent. His ears felt like they’d split, he thought he might have cried out, but he couldn’t hear himself, could only feel his throat work. He closed his eyes as snow and shrapnel hit him in the face.
His vision was blurred when he opened his eyes. A hand reached out and grabbed his shoulder, dragging him along the snow. Jason looked up, blinking sluggishly. Kyle’s face looked down at him, contorted in worry. His lips moved but the sound was muffled, like he was under water. Jason worked his mouth, opening and closing it before slumping to the side, throwing up onto the ground.
“Shit!” the word was warped, but Jason could just make it out. Kyle gathered him in his arms and dragged him into a foxhole. Jason opened his mouth to ask about Roy when West appeared, Roy in his arms. The four of them squashed into the hole, Jason stared up at the sky as he felt the ground vibrate under him, only making out some of the bangs.
The vibrating stopped and a hand shook his shoulder, “Jason.”
Jason looked up at Kyle, watching his mouth move, “Jason, Jason are you okay?”
“Not particularly,” Jason muttered, closing his eyes against the dizzy feeling.
“Come on, we need to get you to the aid station.”
Jason shook his head, sitting up, “Roy, he needs help.” The words felt heavy in his mouth and as he stood the world swarmed and he threw up over the edge of the foxhole. He spit into the snow, mouth tasting like acid.
“Fuck.” He muttered, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
“Aid station.” Kyle said firmly behind him.
“Heard you the first fuckin’ time Rayner.” Jason snapped, climbing out of the hole. West was carrying Roy just ahead, so Jason sped up, trying not to stumble over branches. West caught sight of him as he turned back, giving him a worried look. Jason caught up with them just as they found Steel’s jeep, already loaded with two soldiers, Drew and Cash. Jason helped guide Roy onto the jeep before sitting himself in the passenger seat, closing his eyes as the world tilted.
Trench was hovering by Drew, looking as worried as Jason thought he could be. Drew reached out and squeezed the man’s shoulder, flashing him a bright smile that matched his bright blond hair. Trench didn’t look too comforted but stepped away from the jeep anyway.
They took off for the Bastogne in silence.
The light was fading quickly, the sun disappearing under the horizon. Jason watched it go as he tried not to throw up again. His head was still fuzzy, a thumping pain traveling across his temple. He internally cursed, the only time he’d been without his helmet and that was when he got hit in the head. His fuckin’ luck.
He turned to look at the men in the back. Drew was pressing a hand to his thigh, blood seeping through his fingers. Jason sighed and stood, gripping the seat as a wave of nausea washed over him. He handed Drew a bandage, telling him to tie off his thigh. Jason then turned to Roy, who was staring off into the distance, Cash’s hand being the only thing that was stemming the blood pouring from his arm. Jason swallowed back guilt and tugged out more bandages, wrapping the bottom of his stump, which looked just below his elbow.
He tugged out a syrette of morphine and passed it to Cash, “Put that in his other arm.”
Cash did as he was told, and Jason finished up on Roy’s arm. The man was still staring out into the distance, only twitching when Jason touched the wound. Jason closed his eyes, briefly debating how stupid his plan would be, before stripping off his jacket. The cold hit him instantly and he shivered but he wrapped the jacket around Roy’s shoulders before he could change his mind.
He turned lastly to Cash, who’s hands were now free to clutch his shoulder. Jason leaned over the seat to get a better look.
“It’s just dislocated Cash, we can fix that easy.”
As they neared Bastogne, Jason could hear anti-aircraft guns firing in the distance, short bursts of light shooting up into the sky, faint whistles of falling bombs. Steel breached the edge of the village just as the windows of a house were blown from the inside out. Jason ducked, throwing his arms up to protect his helmetless head. Another house went up in flames, the side wall exploding outwards into the street behind them.
The church came into view, a fire erupting behind it. The glass was gone, scattered on the ground outside. Steel came to a stop, pulling around within feet of the church door. Jason grabbed Drew’s arm, tugging him out of the jeep. Steel heaved Drew up, slinging one of Drew’s arms over his shoulder, the pair of them hobbling towards the church entrance. Cash jumped out on his own, and with his help, Jason got Roy out of the jeep.
There were dozens of men hunkered down in the entrance, even more huddled in the basement. Jason scanned the floor, blinking quickly against the dizziness. Richelle appeared out of the mass of brown, beige, and green human shapes, recognisable by her bright blue eyes, headscarf and darker skin.
She grasped Drew’s other arm, throwing it over her shoulder, “This way,”
She led them into the side room, men huddled by the walls. Richelle called another nurse over, gesturing sharply to Drew and Cash. The nurse nodded, guiding Drew, Steel and Cash to a different corner. Richelle spun on her heels, skirt swishing around her knees. Jason let her guide him and Roy to the floor. She took one look at Roy’s arm and muttered, “Besoin de plus de bandage.” Before disappearing into the mass of doctors and nurses.
Roy looked up at Jason, moving finally. He glanced down at his arm,
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” he said blankly. Jason swallowed and fumbled for an answer.
“Not if we have any say,” Jason sighed in relief as Richelle answered for him, soft hopeful words. Roy looked up at her, his blue eyes empty. She turned to Jason, handing him a wad of bandages. Together, they unwrapped Jason’s shoddy attempt at bandaging, and took in the mess that was Roy’s arm.
Jason would’ve gagged, but he’d seen so much shit, in Normandy and in the past few days, it was almost normal. The mess of flesh and bone and blood was burned into his retina as he stared at the wound, cutting away Roy’s sleeve and pieces of flesh that were hanging on by threads of muscle.
Richelle’s hands were gentle where Jason’s were firm, folding the bandages carefully, precisely. Jason wondered if she’d always been neat and quick or whether she’s stumbled went she learnt, folding it wrong or too tight. He watched her hands as he cleaned one of the other cuts Roy had, watched the small but callused digits, nails caked in blood, tinted red where the rest of her hand was a dull gold.
Roy was silent, unnervingly, his blue eyes focused on something Jason couldn’t see over their shoulders. His only hand shook on his thigh, so Jason tugged his jacket firmer around his shoulders.
Richelle eyed the jacket before turning towards Jason, “You must be cold,” she said, “take your jacket back, I will find a blanket.” Jason nodded but didn’t move the jacket until Richelle returned with a blanket.
Jason nodded in thanks, pulling his jacket back on. Richelle hummed before gripping Jason’s jaw in her hand. Jason rose an eyebrow, but she just smiled.
“Your head, it is a problem, yes?”
Jason chuckled, “Yeah.”
Richelle nodded, “You walked funny, to one side.” A warm feeling spread through his chest at the admission. She noticed, rang through his head. Her hands pressed along the side of his head, brushing a piece of fabric around where Jason assumed his head wound was.
“Will it need stitchin’?”
“No, it is not that deep.”
Jason leant his head into her hands, closing his eyes for a minute or so. The noise around him faded into the background, leaving only his and Richelle’s breaths to be heard.
“Let me check your eyes.” Richelle said softly, grinning at Jason when he opened them. It was sorta awkward, staring into her eyes. From that distance he could tell they weren’t a solid colour at all. The edge was a dark blue, fading into a bright blue with little flecks of dark colour in the middle.
“I think you have a concussion, but I doubt that you’ll rest.”
Jason chuckled, “You’ve got the gist of me huh.”
Richelle only grinned, brushing the side of his head gently. He watched her stand up and rush to the bottom of the stairs at the call of a doctor.
Jason took an offered hot mug, sipping it. He raised an eyebrow at Richelle,
She grinned, “I believe you call it an Irish coffee.”
Jason snorted into his mug, “Thanks nurse.” He took another, shallower gulp, savouring the burn at the back of his throat. “I thought you weren’t supposed to have alcohol with a concussion.”
“That would be morphine or other medicines, alcohol is a better alternative.”
“That so?” Jason asked with a smirk. His eyes flicked over to where Roy had been laying an hour before. There were still a few drops of blood on the floor, the only evidence that Roy had been there at all.
“He will be fine,”
Jason swallowed, “cus you have faith.” Richelle gave him a sad smile but nodded.
“Sometimes it’s all I have.”
Jason nodded, thumbing the side of his mug. He knew the feeling well. Jason watched doctors and nurses rush around like they hadn’t almost died today. More wounded arrived; a steady stream of men covered in bandages. He straightened the blanket around his shoulders, an addition from Richelle after she saw that his hands were tinted blue. He watched her glide around the room, hopping between patients like a butterfly visiting flowers on a spring day.
She visited him from time to time, as the moon moved across the window. He slipped asleep sitting up against the wall, tugging the blankets tight around his shoulders.
He woke slowly sometime later, the lights dimmed and the rooms quieter, filled only by small chatter in French. Richelle appeared by his side, looking tired and withdrawn. He lifted his arm and Richelle understood his sleepy offer. He realised for the first time how small she was, lithe and quite a bit shorter than him: she fit perfectly under his arm, her head pillowed against his shoulder.
Jason curled his arm around her, draping the thick blanket over her. She hummed, shifting closer. His stomach felt like he was doing cartwheels, a warm flush filling his chest as he stared down at the top of her head, still covered by her headscarf.
“It’s a nice scarf,” he said lamely. He hoped to god he wasn’t blushing as Richelle looked up at him. If he was, she didn’t comment, only smiling gently.
“My Mama gave it to me for my birthday, my Tata said it was the perfect colour for me.”
“He was definitely right.” Jason said before he could stop himself. He was definitely blushing now; he could feel his cheeks heating up. Richelle laughed quietly against his chest, reaching up to pull it off, revealing pure black hair, smoothed into a complicated twisting thing at the back of her head. She held it in her hands for a second before putting it in a pocket in her skirt.
Jason shifted back into the wall, securing the blanket around them and closed his eyes, drifting to sleep with the rise and fall of Richelle’s chest against his.
Jason exited the church at first light, remembering faintly that he didn’t have a helmet since he’d left his with West. He shivered against the cold, checking through his satchel that was filled with new supplies. He looked down the street at the rubble left by the bombs the night before. There were civilians dotted around the ruins, searching for people or their belongings.
He caught sight of Steel’s jeep coming up the street and sighed, readying himself to return to the line.
“Jason!” Jason turned at his name, Richelle rushing through the open door of the church, headscarf back in pride of place. She came to a stop beside him and offered out her hand.
Jason stared down at the offered bar, wrapped in brown paper and silver foil, “Oui merci.”
Richelle grinned, looking up at him. He hadn’t realised that she barely came up to his nose. She rose deliberately onto her tip toes, still looking up into his eyes. Jason stilled, staring as she leaned in, pressing her lips to his. His breath caught in his throat, eyes going wide. Her lips were a little chapped like his, but warm. His eyes slipped closed and he cupped her jaw in his hand as gently as he could, pressing back firmly. They pulled away together and Richelle grinned. He would like to say he didn’t smile like an idiot, all dopey and loved up.
He’d be lying through his fuckin’ teeth.
“Soyez prudent et peut-être que nous nous reverrons dans, oui?” she said, inches from his lips.
Jason smiled, “J’ai hate d’y etre.” He squeezed her hand softly in his and pecked her on the lips once more. She smiled, waving him off as he strode over to Steel’s jeep, that had pulled up just a couple of feet from them.
Steel had one eyebrow raised with an amused look smirk on his face, “Didn’t take you for a lady’s man, Doc?” Jason rolled his eyes and jumped onto the backseat. He turned to watch Richelle’s figure disappear into the distance, eyes fixed onto the blue headscarf until he couldn’t see her anymore. He settled around, laying back against the seat, licking his lips absently. Maybe Richelle could have passed on some of her faith and hope onto him during the kiss, because he felt lighter than he had in years.
Hope could be contagious after all.