A Fay entered the room darkened with the thickest night. It only took a few steps to walk to the bed in the other end of the room. The womanish figure – with fair hair and red, full lips – stood beside the bed, and looked down to the two men sleeping in the bed, tangled in each others arms. Fay observed them for a few minutes, then it touched the forehead of one of the men with one delicate finger. The man stirred but did not wake up.
“Show me” it whispered to him. “Show me what you are worth. Show if you are worth saving.”
When its words seeped into the ears of the man, a dream like a disturbed movie started to roll behind his closed eyelids. He found himself in the trenches where he had spent several years with his fellow soldiers, his subordinates, the most important among them being the one sleeping beside him.
But there were no beds in the trenches no one could sleep in that wail of shells and guns and human cries. The night was deep and impenetrable, the only two things that could permeate the darkness were the flickering lights of the turrets on the other end of the no man’s land, and the deafening booms of the cannons accompanying them.
“Captain! We cannot hold them much longer!” The shriek came from different directions, behind barricades, heaps of metal of downed planes. The sound bumped from one obstacle then from to another, like an unholy echo. Soldiers were crying from behind covers and dug-outs. They were all pinned by enemy fire, everything seemed to be hopeless, he knew for sure that there will be no escape from the horrors of the battles, not that day. If they would survive until tomorrow, there will be no way any of them forgetting that hellish landscape.
He tried to look around him. A minute before they were all forced behind covers, he could see sergeant Thomas, he was hiding with the others behind the downed plane halfway between their and the enemy trenches, not too far right of him. But now Thomas was nowhere to be seen, and the plane wreck in that last minute became a burning pile of metal junk. Corpses were lying around it, a shell must have definitely hit the metal frame of the distorted bird, killing everyone seaking cover behind it. How could he not hear the impact and the explosion? He should have, but in that infernal cacophony of noises… a human ear wasn’t able to pick one sound among the others.
He knew he shouldn’t stare at the bodies, at the flames. There were others still in dire need to be saved. He had to go. But not for those ones shivering of fear and of battle fatigue. The whole war be damned! He had to to see for himself, if someone, anyone – the sarge – could survive it. Someone had to… He could not believe it otherwise. So he lounged, broke cover, and charged for the burning pile of scrap metal. One of his soldiers made a leap for him, put his wide-shouldered arms around him, he fought with inhuman strength, but he was restrained by three of his men.
“You can’t go, Captain!” One of them shouted into his face. He trashed and tried to get free, while everything lost its meaning, the war, the fight, the night, booming cannon fire. His universe contorted, constricted, until nothing was left of it. Nothing but the burning pile, and the carcasses around it.
“I have to go!” He fought. “I have to see…”
“It won’t help anyone if you get yourself killed, Captain! It certainly won’t bring the dead back.”
He wanted to punch the blond Corporal in the face. How dare him? How dare he to say it wasn’t worth it. Dying for Thomas… No… more likely going after him. Would it really be the choice of the cowards? If he were to die now, his troupe surely would be defeated. No one could lead his men, as he could. They have to get trough the no man’s land, get to the enemy trenches and finish the bastards as it was ordered. If Thomas is really dead he can wait a bit more, while he could join him in oblivion. Thomas would want him to save as many of their soldiers as he is capable of. So be it.
“Release me.” He again was cold and effective. “We get them from the two sides. They are firing at the middle, their focus is not on the peripheries, so our shells will get them. When they realize our divided attack, it will be to late for them to retaliate.” He turned to the Corporal. “Get me twenty men. We go from the middle, we will be the decoys. You’ll go from the sides. Rain them with everything you got, Corporal.”
The Corporal looked at him. Really looked at him, like he wanted to take a peak into his soul. And he understood his men needed to be sure that he wouldn’t do anything reckless. He let a small smile pull up at the corner of his lips. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on him. This whole offensive from the middle to secure the two sides was already reckless.
“Roger, sir” said the blond man, when he decided to once again believe in his captain’s abilities and plans. All of them knew this was their only chance. “We got you.”
“See you on the other side then.”
He signed to the twenty to follow him, and after regrouping their forces, they broke cover. They were all prepared to go down in a blaze, and to take down as many enemies as possible. Consequences be damned.
Hours have passed. The men on the no man’s land have been decimated, almost everyone of the soldiers attacking from the middle have been mercilessly slaughtered. But he lived. He lived to see the the bombes planted on the two sides of the enemy trench going off. He saw the shells hit the dirt walls supported by wooden plates and beams. Saw the chips and splinters hit everything in the way of the explosion. Dirt and destroyed bodies were blown to the skies, and scattered around what was once a well-organized hiding, base for the enemy. It was a massacre, a blood-lust filled revenge.
When the sun set, some of them were still alive. He was still alive. And he ordered his men, to gather the bodies and make the list of the deceased. The soldiers gathered the bodies together in two massive piles. One for their own and the other for the enemy. There was no time to bury the dead, neither to dig mass graves and amass them inside, they will be left there, as almost after every battle until this moment.
“Make the list for the enemy too. One day this hell will be over, and each side would want to know, where their kin lies.” He gave the order to the Corporal when he stood before him hours later, saluting him and handing him over the list of their own.
“Yes, sir.” Said the Corporal.
“Where’s the Sergeant?” He asked. “Have you found him?”
“I’m really sorry, Sir” he shook his head. “There was nothing we could do. We left him beside the plane wreck in case you wanted to say proper good-bye.”
“Thank you” he tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. “I’ll go check on him. Just give me a few minutes.”
“Take your time, Sir, will be standing guard.”
He nodded to the Corporal, and went to sit beside his friend. His only friend, he had ever had and now lost forever in a meaningless war. He sat beside the body belonging to the once most important human being, lacing his fingers together with Thomas’, cradling his hair, crying like a child over everything he had lost.
The Fay withdrew its finger from the Captain’s forehead.
“I have seen enough” it whispered “you can wake up now. You may prove yourself now.”
And with that, the Fay had retreated into the darkness of the room, never to be seen by the mortals sleeping on the bed.
When Thomas woke up, Alexander was kissing him. It was a desperate, terrified kiss, his parched lips on Thomas’. His pajamas were damp, and clung to him. Alexander cupped his face with his clammy, shaking hands. Thomas got his hands in his own, and removed it from his face, laced their fingers together, kissing the back of his hand.
“What happened?” He asked, his voiced slurred from sleep. “You look like you ran a hundred miles. You’re all shaky… It’s all right, you’re all right.” Thomas tried to soothe him, drawing circles on his back with the fingers of his other hand.
He wanted to say more, but another desperate, clinging kiss had stolen his words. Alexander climbed over him, pressing his body to Thomas’. He stared into his green and brown eyes, he was still trapped in the horrors of the dream.
“God, I had a terrible nightmare” he said with a sigh. “I dreamt of loosing you. I thought I lost you.”
“You haven’t lost me. See? I’m all right. I have been since you found me on that freezing December night after the war. Since you have nursed me back to health.”
He smiled at Alexander. And what he tried to say with that smile was that he was whole again after finding his place at his side. The world may not accept them, but Thomas wouldn’t have their lives any other way. He couldn’t tell him all this, because his thoughts was interrupted by Alex’s rattling breath.
“It was unspeakable… the battle in which you have almost died…”
“Then not speak about it. It was just a dream, and you’re wide awake now.”
“It was that battle in which I’ve almost lost you” Alex continued like he did not hear Thomas. “Except you died in the dream” he was crying now, chest heaving, tears running down his cheeks in thick rivulets.
Thomas was kissing him immediately to silence him. He wanted to calm him, to reassure him. He pressed his solid body against Alex’s to show him they were both alive and real.
“If things had happened like in that dream, I couldn’t live alone… I sat alone your lifeless body next to me and I just wanted to die.”
“No” a violent shook of Tom’s head. “No. You wouldn’t and you won’t, because there is no more war” he whispered to him, “and we are no longer soldiers. You are not a captain anymore, and I’m not a sergeant. Never again.”