Ludwig fell to the muddy ground, clutching his side. He lay there, vision beginning to blur around the edges. He felt something warm and wet seep through his fingers and saw something walking towards him.
He must have been seeing things…. It was a woman.
"Scheiße…" he whispered before his eyes rolled back in his head and he blacked out.
Ludwig awoke in a plain room, furnished only by his small bed and a little bedside table with a vase of wilted flowers sat upon it. He heard the sound of footsteps ringing on the hard stone floor and called out in German.
"Hier! Ich brauche etwas!"
A head poked around the corner, cold (e/c) eyes boring into him. "Yes?" The woman asked in harsh English.
"Wo bin ich?"
She sighed, "I don't speak German. If you need someone you does, I can get Dr. Heisen but that will take a minute. Now, I ask again: Yes?"
Ludwig narrowed his eyes, trying to recall his English lessons from back at the Academy. "Vhere…. Vhere am I?" he finally asked in halting, thickly accented English.
"You're in London, England."
"E-England?!" Ludwig sat up immediately, scrambling to get out of the bed.
The woman rushed over to his side, forcing him back down onto the mattress, "You can't leave yet! You almost died out there on the battlefield… If that bullet had hit anything vital you would be dead right now. As things are you just have a bit of blood loss. You need to stay in bed while you recover."
"But… They'll kill… me." Ludwig protested eyes wide with distress.
"Not in this facility. It is for all troops. You're safe if you stay… But if you leave- Not so much." The woman pulled the blankets back up to Ludwig's chin, "Now get some more sleep." She turned, the heels on her shiny black shoes making a clicking sound as she walked towards the door.
"Vait, Fräulein!" Ludwig called.
"Yes?" The woman turned, eyebrow raised questioningly.
"Vhat is your name?"
"______," she said softly, "______ ________."
"Das ist schön…"
______ nodded and ducked out of the door.
Ludwig smiled, eyes fluttering closed, "______..." he whispered a final time, savoring the word.
Over the next couple weeks as Ludwig was recuperating, ______ checked on him every day. She would sit on the side of his bed in her crisp white dress, chatting with him as if they were friends not simply caretaker and patient. It was Ludwig's favorite time of the day, the only time he felt truly alive and not just some useless hunk of meat trapped in bed.
"Ludwig, take off your shirt," _____ commanded, "I need to replace the bandages."
"Ja, Fräulein." Ludwig grinned; taking off the scratchy, plain shirt the hospital had given him to reveal a swathe of white bandages wrapped around his torso.
______ began to unwrap them delicately, "Tell me if it hurts." She instructed for what seemed like the thousandth.
"Ja, I know… Und don't move, right?"
"Right." She smiled at him, (e/c) eyes twinkling. _____ finished unwrapping the bindings,
"Wow, Ludwig… This is really healing up. You'll be able to go home soon."
"Home…" The word left a bitter taste in Ludwig's mouth. "Home" was Germany… So far away from this hospital and so far from ______.... "Are you sure I have to go?" He looked up into _____'s sparkling (e/c) eyes, taking her hand and squeezing it gently.
"Yes… It's the rules. You'll be sent back to Germany no matter what I do or say."
Ludwig clenched his hand into a fist, squeezing ______'s tightly. "No…. It doesn't have to be like this."
"W-What are you say-"
Ludwig cut the nurse off with a rough kiss on her lips, "I vill find a vay out of here." He said assuredly, "I vill."
"Oh, Ludwig…" _____'s eyes glistened with tears and she leaned in to kiss the soldier again.
That night, Ludwig lay awake, staring at the ceiling. He was unable to fall asleep… Unable to think about anything but ____.
"She kept me alive in here… I can't abandon her." He said aloud, pounding his fist decidedly on the bed. He threw off the blankets, standing shakily and walking to the doorway. He looked out and seeing no one slipped down the dark hallway.
Ludwig took many twists and turns, following large red exit signs until he found a side door. He grinned, pushing it open and taking his first steps outside in months. The sky was pitch black, moonless and starless- perfect. The soldier strode confidently to the chain link fence encircling the hospital, ignoring the sharp pains of rocks as they dug into his bare soles. He rattled the fence, pulling at it, trying to bend the metal enough to let him slip underneath and out into the world.
He tugged and teased and yanked for long minutes until there was a small gap between the ground and fence. Ludwig dropped to the ground, wiggling under the fence. He winced slightly as the sharp ends of the fence dug into his back but otherwise made no sound. Finally he climbed into a standing position on the other side of the fence. He stood back, breathing heavily. He was free…. FREE for the first time. He could do anything now. And awaiting him was ____....
Ludwig, unable to contain himself, let out a whoop of joy and took off into the night. There was nothing holding him back now…