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Title: Ties That Bind
Rating: K+ (Suitable for ages 13 and above)
Disclaimers: The characters Paol Kerjean, Mathilde Benveniste, and Montreuil belong to outis. The character Dominic Charcot belongs to sans nom. Jérémie Blanchard is mine. No profit is being made from this story.
Story summary: Show the Colours; Comrades are reunited after an eventful separation. Talavera, August 1809.
Author's Note: Any factual or historical errors that occur within are my own and I duly apologise for them.



Returning to Talavera was an occasion Jérémie had not considered likely, never mind even possible. Yet here they were, taking the town bloodlessly back from the British. Or the Spanish, in point of fact. Word of it all had been carried to them by some cavalrymen first and initially these reports had been dismissed as rumour, until the first groups of liberated prisoners had come straggling to the rear. The truth of matters was proven then. Ever since, Jérémie had existed in a state of considerable anxiety. He had never fully accepted the very real possibility that Paol had been killed, since to have done so would have meant acknowledging that something utterly irreplaceable had been lost. It was a dubious help that nobody had known for certain what had happened to the Breton or a goodly number of others from the regiment. Hope was a dangerous thing but Jérémie had clung to it all the same.

Now, he was on a mission to find out whatever he could. One way or the other. The wagon had finally reached the town and he had left it as soon as Mathilde and her brothers were distracted. His leg was strong enough to allow him to walk without aid, even though Montreuil had not given him leave to do so. The surgeon had disappeared into the town anyway so what he didn't know wouldn't yet hurt Jérémie. Of course, his shoulder was not yet mended, as he'd tried to use it again too soon and once more re-opened the wounds to it, an occurrence which had brought Mathilde's formidable anger down onto his head. Still. He didn't need a shoulder in order to walk and with his arm secured comfortably in a sling, he felt safe enough to make his way into town. Bertrand had told him where the hospital was, so Jérémie made his way there and tried not to be frustrated that his pace was not as swift as it was usually.

He was not far from the hospital when a voice he recognised called out to him. On turning, he saw it was Gauvin hailing him. This was the first man from the 86e he'd seen since the regiment had gotten into town. It was nice of the lads to have brought back fresh news to them, but that could easily be forgiven now. Hopefully.

"Hullo, Rosy! They let you go wanderin' - "

Jérémie was in no mood for pleasantries. "Have you seen Paol?"

Somewhat taken aback by this abrupt question, Gauvin stared for a moment. "Er, yes. Course I have," was his reply, sounding surprised that such a thing should even be asked. "Montreul's already been to see him, too. He's back - "

"Where?"

Gauvin was now eying him with an expression bordering on concerned disbelief. "In a house over that way. Why? Are you all right, Rosy? You don't look too good. I'm gonna go get - "

Feeling as though the earth was about to give way beneath his feet, Jérémie looked in the direction Gauvin was pointing and tried to keep himself steady as he walked slowly away. His whole body felt weak and numb, and his head swam. Paol was alive? That his hope was realised as true was at first a relief until the rest of Gauvin's response sank in. Alive but wounded in some way, for there was no other reason for Montreuil to be involved. Worse was the apparent fact that Paol was in a house and not the hospital. What could that mean? What a stupid thought. It could be nothing good. God. It must be nothing good, though for the life of him, he could not think why no one had bothered to bring back word to them. Selfish bastards.

It was not until he found himself helplessly deep in the maze of alleys and side-streets that he realised he was not at all sure which house Paol was in. He had not gotten that much detail from Gauvin. Stupid! With a growing sense of despair, he looked about him in search of something that might magically tell him which house was the one he wanted. The only solution that presented itself was to knock on every door on this street, and hope for a peaceable resident to help him. This errand began badly, with the owner of the first house cutting loose with a stream of rapid, bitter Spanish before slamming the door hard in Jérémie's face, and did not improve much. Most of the responses he got to his nervous queries were hostile. When, of course, anyone bothered to even come to the door.

His leg was beginning to ache terribly by the time he reached the end of the street, having met with no success. No one had a wounded soldier by the name of Paol Kerjean in their house. Not that anyone had really bothered to give Jérémie a chance to ask. Frustration was shortening his temper and the temptation to be more aggressive in his approach was growing. That he should even consider being bluff and forward was so out of character for him that he was ashamed for contemplating it, but at the same time, he couldn't help it. Surely a lone Frenchman with one arm in a sling could not be so threatening? He leaned against the wall of the house on the corner and grimaced, since taking the weight off his wounded leg was oddly making the limb hurt more. To have come on this search alone was seeming increasingly foolish, for now he was not sure he could get back to the wagon before it got any darker

A group of laughing, chattering soldiers came bursting abruptly out of a house on the other side of the street, their faces flushed. Drunk to a man, clearly. They ignored Jérémie, if they even saw him, and staggered merrily down the street, clutching their bottles and attempting to sing a marching tune. One of them stopped a few yards along to relieve himself on the steps of a house, the door of which suddenly flew open to reveal an old woman. She was waving a broom in a decidedly-businesslike way and babbling off obvious rebukes in Spanish. The drunkard reeled backward in surprise, dribbling urine onto his own shoes as he tried to keep his balance and evade a probable swipe from the woman's broom. Perhaps wisely, she did not swing at the man but shook it at him and harangued him mercilessly until he managed to stumble away to rejoin his mates.

She glared after them until they were safely out of range, her expression almost vengeful. Then she seemed to sense Jérémie's gaze on her and turned to glower at him too. His face flushed hot and he hastily looked away, unconsciously shrinking back against the wall that was keeping him upright. A heartbeat later, realising he had a prime opportunity staring daggers at him, he lifted his eyes again. The woman had not yet retreated into her house and was instead briskly sweeping the dampness off her steps.

"Er, Madame," Jérémie called, his blush darkening at the pleading note in his tone. "Can you help me? I'm trying to find someone - " Christ, that glare could put a hole through solid oak. "A friend. I'm trying to find a friend. His name is Paol. I think he's staying somewhere around here. Do you know where he is?"

To his everlasting surprise, the woman's glare seemed to deepen. She regarded him now with suspicion, he thought, but rather than rain down Spanish curses and invective on him, she whirled about and disappeared into the house. Jérémie stared after her, for she had left the front door standing open, and tried to make sense of her behaviour. That she understood him fully was impossible, yet it almost seemed like she had. Perhaps she was summoning somebody to come chase him off as well. It was likely. That being a reasonable conclusion, Jérémie levered himself reluctantly away from the wall and thought he might as well make his way back to the wagon. Mathilde was going to be highly displeased with him for vanishing, he already knew.

"Señor!"

The honorific was one he'd heard just enough before to recognise. He turned partially back and saw two women now on the house's steps. One old and one young. Young and pretty. A baffled frown creased his brow. What in the hell...? The young woman rattled off what sounded like a question, but the only word he understood was Paolo. A shiver of hope made him straighten up, turn toward them properly. Could it be?

"Paol?" He asked, desiring only to be sure. "Paol Kerjean. He was wounded. Er, hurt. I think." He touched his bandaged arm in the hope it might illustrate his meaning. It must have worked, for both Spaniards were beckoning him forward. For the first time since venturing out, Jérémie wished that he was at least wearing his bayonet, however small use it would be to him, having only one working arm anyway. In his present state, two women might easily overpower him but even that fear of that was not enough to stop him limping across the street toward them.

"Él está aquí," the young woman was saying. "Está arriba. Tiene una fiebre, y es muy malo. ¿Es usted un amigo suyo? ¿Un amigo de Paol?"

The torrent of speech left him blinking in confusion and he tottered to a halt not far from them. He had only recognised two words amongst all of that: amigo and Paol. Did they want to know if he was Paol's friend? "Yes. He's a friend. Is he in there? Er, may I see him?"

"M'sieur Blanchard," a new voice cut in, causing Jérémie to flinch. "I do not recall stating that you were fit to be traipsing about the town. If you wish to be lamed for the rest of your life, by all means, go on as you are. If you want to recover, however..."

"Sir," Jérémie said and avoided Montreuil's gaze. Of all the rotten timing!

"Still," the surgeon continued, striding briskly past him. "Since you are already here, you might as well go inside. You should still find Soldat Kerjean there. I hardly think he will have affected a miraculous recovery in the space of only a few hours. Once you are inside, I will thank you to remain there, or I shall permit my assistant to tie you to a chair."

Assistant? Jérémie looked to see who Montreuil meant and found Mathilde frowning purposefully at him. "Shit."

"Inside, both of you," snapped Montreuil, happily preempting Mathilde before she could speak. Not that she needed words to make her disapproval known. Neither of them spoke but followed the surgeon into the house, with Mathilde watching closely to be sure Jérémie was not about to pitch over. The two Spanish women had retreated indoors and were conversing animatedly with Montreuil just past the door. Upon Jérémie's entrance, the surgeon simply waved a hand irritably at the stairs and paid them no further notice.

A flicker of dismay went through him as he surveyed the stairs, which to him presented a particular obstacle. Getting up them with only one good leg would be a pretty feat. As if getting in and out of the wagon had not been difficult enough! But he was assured now that Paol was here, for why else would Mathilde have come? Setting his jaw, Jérémie lifted his left foot and prepared to inch his way up the stairs, his right hand ready to brace himself up in case his balance should falter. It was not an easy journey and by the time he reached the top, he was sure that his whole leg was on the verge of giving out beneath him. But Mathilde's hand was still at his back, and he was back on level floor again.

"Do you know what room he's in?" He asked her, unashamedly leaning against the wall for support.

She nodded. "In there. M'sieur Montreuil said Charcot was here too. There's a chair there and you're going to sit in it."

A very brief smile made the corner of his mouth twitch. "Gladly." He felt entirely too drained to remain standing anyway. It was only a few more steps to Paol's room and with Mathilde in the lead, the pair eased past the opened door. The room was dark, with only a single candle for light, but it was possible to see the outlines of two people within. One, on the bed, was barely recognisable as human beneath a mound of blankets. The other was sitting on the floor close to the bed, knees drawn up to his chest. The man's slighter build meant it was Charcot, but why was he on the floor?

"Dominic?" Mathilde asked in a hushed voice, guiding Jérémie firmly to the chair and not moving away until he had sat in it. "Are you awake?"

Charcot straightened up with a start, peering wide-eyed at her in obvious surprise. "What? Yes! Mathilde? Is that you?"

"Yes. Jérémie is here too. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I wasn't hurt. Well. Not really. But Paol - " Charcot seemed to shrink a little as he glanced toward the motionless figure on the bed. "He's got a fever. He's been sick for days."

This news made Jérémie's stomach sink. Fevers that lasted for days did not bode well. In the flickering candle light, he could just see Paol's drawn and tired face. The rest of him was smothered by blankets. It was of course good that he was still alive but how long might it last? He shook that fatalistic thought away. With Montreuil in charge, there would be no other outcome but a positive one. Far better to believe in that.

Any further conversation was forestalled by Montreuil's arrival into the room, whereupon he began in his usual crisp and businesslike way to attend his patients. His movements and words passed unnoticed by Jérémie, whose gaze was fixed on the still form on the bed. There was no obvious physical difference in his appearance but somehow, Paol seemed smaller. Deflated, somehow. As if something had gotten the better of him, had worn down his spirits. Charcot had said he'd been sick for days. Perhaps that had taken its toll? Jérémie had seen it happen to others. Even though it seemed to defy crediting that a fever should get the better of Paol.

All at once, he realised he was alone in the room. It was the sudden silence that brought him back out of his thoughts. Montreuil, Mathilde, and Charcot had all gone. Downstairs, probably. Jérémie cast a glance toward the door but saw no one. He settled against the chair back, then rocked himself forward to help get back to his feet. It was no more than two steps to the bed. The single candle didn't do much for illumination but in its flickering light, it was possible to see wakefulness on Paol's face. His eyes were partially open, peering into the gloom with a wariness that was alarming. There was no trace of recognition in that face when his eyes rested on Jérémie and widened in shock. Shock and, he thought, fear. The latter was sickeningly proven by the way Paol tried to recoil against the mattress and Jérémie could not help feeling a yawning despair. Whatever had happened after the battle, it had clearly been terrible.

"Paol?" He reached out instinctively for his friend's arm, managing to stop Paol from shoving himself backward in the bed. "Easy! It's me. It's Rosy." It surprised him to realise his face was damp and his eyes moist, such was the confusion of relief and worry rioting within. This was not at all what he'd expected.

It was impossible in the candle light to discern Paol's expression but he thought he saw disbelief there. "Rosy? No. You're not... you were - they said - there was a fire. The Medellin. It was all burning. The fever's in here. You can't stay!"

Jérémie didn't try to suppress a shudder. That he knew this was more the fever talking than not, the words - and the tone in which they were spoken - were still haunting. "Damn the fever," he said, more stoutly than he felt. "I'm not dead, mate. Not yet anyway. No - if you sit up, Montreuil will take off my arm just to be spiteful."

"Rosy?" Something very like surprise was creeping into Paol's voice. He did not seem to have the strength to actually sit up despite his abortive attempt to, but he was staring up at Jérémie with feverish intent. "Is it really you? I don't - but how?"

"It's me. It's a long and boring story. You should go back to sleep though, before Montreuil comes back up. I'll be here in the morning."

That seemed to be good enough for Paol, whose eyes were beginning to close again even as he tried to keep his gaze on Jérémie. The exchange had been short but left him feeling unaccountably weary. Had this been going on for long? Christ. He swiped the back of his hand across his eyes and breathed out an uneven sigh. It was hard to tell what was worse, Paol's conflicting reactions or the apparent tenacity of the fever. If all he could do to help was simply be there, however, he damned sure would. Anyway, he thought wryly, it was not like he had the strength to go very far. He eased carefully down onto his right knee and thence to the floor, sitting so his back rested against the side of the bed and his legs were stretched out before him.

It was not long after this that weariness overtook him as well. Not even the cautious padding of two pairs of feet over the floor brought him awake. Mathilde and Charcot had come creeping back in, he settling noiselessly into the chair by the bed and she, after a moment's fearful study of Paol's sleeping form, easing down to join Jérémie on the floor. Neither said a word. When Charcot leaned toward the little table to blow out the candle, Mathilde took advantage of the fresh darkness to slip her hand around Jérémie's and lean against him. It would be some time before they too drifted away to sleep, but they would all be there in the morning.

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