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A medal for a drink

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July 5th, 1916

The buildings, hardly saved from the destruction of war, had almost seemed still alive. I could only imagine the people inside. And the streets, filled with debris, it was almost like they were still being occupied. Maybe it was the civilian lives that were taken from this madness, maybe it was my comrades who had fallen.

I could only imagine.

It felt like only yesterday those buildings were standing. We sat in the trenches, almost dead but not realizing it, that we were basically living corpses. The trench ran across many towns, we were stationed in Thiepval. We were part of the offensive at the Somme.

Everyone had taken so many bullets, killing them slowly. Whether it be their bodies or their minds no one was spared. We slowly decayed, our hope rotting. The trenches masked those feelings, it was hard to decide if it was us losing our minds or everything around us dying.

None of us wanted to think of it, scared of the answer.

-

William Schofield of the british army sat in the mudded and rat filled trenches. He wondered how this happened so fast, he wondered if he could turn back time. The other soldiers around them smoked cigarettes, he couldn't stand the smell, but everyone here smoked. Will clasped a hand around his weapon, the bayonet attached to the end of the rifle was sharp, glinting, and the wood of the rifle gave the illusion of being smooth until it gave you surprise splinters.

His hands, clear of calluses, were getting a bit dirty from the mud.

The sky was gray, dark clouds loomed over, the weather was chilly, unsettling. He was hunched over, begging for no rain. Birds chirped from a lone tree standing not far from where Will sat. He couldn't make out much, but the branches were thin and twisted, the silhouettes of birds perched on them. He assumed that moss grew on the north side, though he could not see. There was something haunting in the air that afternoon, as if something was going to happen, he and the others felt tension on their shoulders

Not many people moved around, Will figured that it was mostly the heavy equipment, it always seemed to pull you down. They had to carry equipment like wire cutters, small bombs. Not to mention water and one days worth of rations.

The birds stopped chirping. They weren't on the tree anymore from what he could make out. The world got darker suddenly, almost out of a bad dream.

It wasn't long before he heard a whistle as deafening as the heavy artillery he heard sometimes down the trench. Will cringed, shrinking into his uniform, and heard the soldiers shouting, and bustling about. He tried to ignore it, but his Sergeant pulled him up. Ordering Will to charge.

Will didn’t want to listen to the whistle. Because it meant he had to go over, had to run across no mans land. The whistle was the equivalent of a bell of death. Ringing in his ear reminding him he may not make it. He didn’t imagine war to be like this, he even tried talking to other soldiers to get the uneasiness off his shoulders, but they ignored him, or swore at him.

He didn't have a choice, so before he could think, he sent himself over the trenches.

He thought as his first day here, it wouldn't be bad. He was wrong. The sun was slowly sinking, the sunset mixed with the clouds, threatening to rain, making the sky seem blood red. He and other soldiers ran towards the German trench they were told were filled with hurt and surrendering Germans. They were wrong.

They weren't even halfway there before he heard machine guns.

They were everywhere, Wills side, above him. They were slaughtered by the bullets raining down, like a wave tiding over them.

Drowning them.

He passed a dead cat, sinking in the dirty water of a crater, making his heart ache.

The sound of machine guns. The red sky. A field of mud, craters, and lacking any trees. Desolate. Will realized too slowly that this was a godless place.

The soldier next to him fell with 15 bullets sticking out of him. Wills eyes bulged out of his sockets, hands trembling. He screamed out when he got a shot in his arm from the cloud of killer bees like bullets. More soldiers beside him fell, in range and aim of the huns machine guns. He heard that familiar whistle, and the sergeant calling out for them to “PULL BACK!”

He quickly turned around and ran as fast as he could back to the trenches, his foot slipped and he fell into the trench. “Ah!” He felt his body thud against the trench ground, hoping he wasn't standing on anyone. A couple other remaining soldiers also slipped back into the trench, he could hear their reactions. “Holy….” or “How, how did I even make it.”

His comrades who hadn't gone over asked what had happened, they didn't respond, only staring straight, like they were fighting with their very being. Will looked on, his mind as shattered as his arm that was being aided to. He grimaced at the painful parts, then they wrapped his arm and sent him back.

They had advanced some into the german trenches, but it was hardly a victory for will. He wanted to go home.

But this was only going to be the beginning of his horrors.

 

Slowly over time, he turned hardened, the brutality of war had nearly sent him over the edge. He couldn't afford to lose it here, so he locked himself up. Just hoping to make it through the days, and the whistles which meant nothing but fear for Will. Wanting to make it through the waves of bullets seemed near impossible more each day.

His hands had turned rougher, and his nails were now bitten down, not all the way, but just enough to the point where when he heard heavy guns he would start biting them again. Some days when he wasn't sure if he was living anymore, the sound of his heartbeat would make his head pound, and make his stomach hurt, knowing he wasn't out of the trenches. Death would at least grant his escape.

His entire world was crashing together, it was painful to watch, and even harder when he couldn't do anything. This was a mistake, Will wouldn't be able to leave this. His fate had been sealed, he felt.

-

June 15th, 1916

My dear sister, Eve.

I haven’t written to you yet, I’m alright here. It's hard to keep track of the days, sometimes I like to pretend the food they give us is stuff you and I used to make as kids. That was fun, I remember the fun times we had back then. Remember when he had gotten a hold of fireworks? That was fun! It was so loud, we stood too close but we didnt care. That reminds me of the loud noise I heard when I first came here, I received word from other soldiers a cluster of mines before our original attack. Doesn't seem like it helped, it didn't get us anywhere, we slightly gained some at Thiepval, but I'm not sure how this will end. I shouldn't have joined the war. The people here aren't very friendly, and I expected them to be a bit older. I try talking once in a while but I always get shut down haha! Anyways, how are your kids doing? I miss them, tell them I'm coming home soon.

Love, Will.

-

It's been months of fighting and getting shot at, not to mention the painful waiting. Many lives were lost, all of them were in vain. It's been nearly 100 days and they have only gained mere miles. Even when they were not defending the line or on the offensive, Will was digging trenches, burying fellows soldiers, and occasional dogs. Few of which had been kind. Will suddenly stopped trying to talk to people, he stopped talking at all.

Sometimes, he could hear the tanks as they advanced across no mans land. Sometimes he heard them break down, other times the loud sound would carry quieter the further it went. He often wondered what happened to them after being stranded, or breaching enemy trenches. Were they killed? He only sometimes heard shots, but god forbid if the ones that were caught, were killed. Or worse, tortured. He hated his mind thinking of this, and taking him to dark places. But he continued playing scenarios of possible death over and over, like a broken record.

He thought of the people who were sent to dig underground through enemy territory to plant explosives, he heard that many ran into the germans.

He felt emptiness everywhere he went, like some part of him had left and never came back. His stomach felt unnaturally empty, even after eating his rations.It wasn't a sharp or dull pain of hunger, it was a longing for something incompleteness.

His thoughts left him always with a blank stare and a hurt head. With all the sitting around, he had too much time in his head.

Depression took home where Will didnt have one.

 

Fall was starting to bring colder weather, Will figured that it was giving the hardest time to people who were living on borrowed time. The ones who had barely made it through the terrible nights at the Somme. He saw some people get sick, when he woke up the next day, they were nowhere to be seen.

There was a chill that seemed to never go away, but the smell of fall would somewhat relax him. Hr always tried to describe the smell, but was at a loss for words. Maybe it was the raindrops lingering on the few fallen leaves magnificent colors of reds, oranges, yellows. The scenery of barren branches surrounded by colorful leaves would be a sight, Will always did love fall. He just yearned to be able to see it, and someone to see it with.

There were other threats in the trenches than the cold. Rats. He swore once he saw a rat trying to nibble at him, causing him to lose sleep, afraid to close his eyes. Huge rats were common here. Maybe it was everywhere, maybe it was just Thiepval. He didn't know anymore, because there were millions and that was hard enough to think about.

Will passed the time by writing to his sister, and thinking of the board games and card games he would play when with friends. Will had a decent amount of friends, whom he hoped would still be alive and want to talk to him after the war.

Will hoped that his nieces would wear their gloves, which he regularly scolded them for, the reason was they would often complain about their dry cracked hands but didn’t like wearing their gloves. He always made sure to bundle them up warm, not too warm though. Because he learned the hard way that you can get warm fast during snowball fights.

Will did all this thinking in the trenches, usually about his family. What he didn't realize was that he was really thinking about happiness. Specifically his happiness, which he was slowly losing.

-

After the Somme, I wasn't the same person, I closed myself off, didn't smile, didn't feel hope. I changed for the worse, everything was black and white, so was my heart. Why would I let myself be who I wanted to be without getting hurt, my head swam with internal battles.

Eventually one of them had won.

-

It was december 11th in 1916, snow lightly layered the ground. The battle of Somme was over in 5 months, they only made 7 miles. Over a million died, and many talked of it being one of the bloodiest battles so far. The lost lives weren't worth it, they never were.

Will was to be sent to the 8th soon. He would be getting a week's leave, then would be forced to say goodbye to his loved ones again. It made him wonder if it was worth it anymore, leaving. Before being sent though, he found himself confronted by a french captain, with a bottle of wine.

Being thirsty, he saw only one apparent solution.

 

"Are you sure you want to do this?" A French captain furrowed his eyebrows. It was understandable that he was confused about Will's deal.

A medal for a bottle of wine? This medal was something precious, people died for it. It was an honor of bravery and willing servitude.

Will nodded silently, he couldn't keep it even if he tried. He lost his soul in the Somme, this was what was left of it. He didn't need that, a constant reminder of his pain. "That wine is gold compared to this medal." Will simply put. He handed the captain the medal, who's eyes carried a glint of appeasement. He looked at the young damaged boy one more time, just to be sure. Will nodded, lack of emotion surprising the captain.

He held out the bottle of wine, it was black with gold designs on it, a label. Will took it, said thank you, and walked off.

"Good day to you!" Will called. The captain reciprocated, watching him walk off with a blank stare, right at the odd boy. He then looked down at the medal, this was so valuable. He didn't earn it of course, but this was something priceless.

Will, with a bottle of wine in hand, didn't look back.

-

December 16th, 1916

Dear, Eve.

I hope you and my nieces are well, I hope they've been wearing their gloves like i've told them to. I’m well and okay, not too scratched up, I know you've heard of the gas attacks, but I made it through them without too much damage, only one time I had some minor damage to my eyes and lungs. I haven’t started smoking dont worry, I have no interest in passing the time in that form.

I feel like I've changed, but no matter how much I've changed I'll always come back to you the same. I will fight harder no matter the pain to come back to you. I miss you. Take care of Claire and Percy, tell them I love them.

Love, Will.

-

After swapping his medal, he drank half of it while he was on the ride home, and then the rest with his sister. She never asked about his medal, and Will never told her where the wine came from. He played with his nieces, relief washing over him as they didn't ask about anything that happened. Not only were they far too young to hear or understand, but Will didnt want to relive those moments anyways.

-

I didn't think that after all this time I would change, I didn't plan on changing soon. I didn't have hope that I would ever be the same boy that went to war all those years ago.

I kept getting flashbacks of Thiepval, they would always haunt me, follow me.

That is until I met him.

-

It was a frosty night in the trenches, clouds of breath remained still in the air, soldiers' throats were dry from the dryness of winter, and often sniffled. A tall, sturdy tree stood in the distance, free of leaves. Gusts of wind sometimes found their way into the trenches, giving a chill that lasted for the whole night. The cold never seemed to go away, and it didn't help that the sun had been absent for months. The other soldiers huddled together, light snowflakes drifted here and there like tiny dust particles, floating through the air.

Will curled up into the mud colored, scratchy yet warm blanket he had received. This was rare, but it was the end of a brutal winter, and they didn't need their soldiers dying, after all. He was blocking most sounds, trying to get some sleep without experiencing memories of the Somme which he still got whether he slept or stood. This was working but a chattering sound intercepted the blockage, disrupting him.

It was a boy next to him, shivering and teeth shattering. He didn't have a blanket, like many others. His eyes were clenched shut. Will didn't have the heart to tell him to stop it, that would be cruel. Will studied his face, his nose and facial features were quite sweet, but that was all Will let himself think before closing his eyes.

He heard and felt more and more subtle shifting on his side, opening his eyes and turning his head downwards to see the boy had curled up against him. He grumbled but didn't stop him. The boy smiled and continued intruding in on Will's precious space.

If the boy hadn't known any better he would have said Will liked him. But he brushed it off. Knowing he can make anyone soft for him eventually.

Will shifted the blanket so it reached him, not saying a word. It wasn't very big, yet he didn't think he could get any colder at this point.

The stranger suppressed his smile just a bit, rats, mud, dead bodies, heavy artillery, mines, and dear god the terrible measly scraps of food, just got a whole lot better.

 

After learning his name, Will decided to let him stay. Some parts of Tom mirrored who he used to be before the war. His happiness and socialness, for example. He also noticed the boy was really too young to be here, but he knew he just wanted to protect his family.

Will learned alot from Tom. How to be happy again. How to be motivated.

How to love.

Will loved the boy, who had grown on him quite a bit over the past couple months. He sometimes wondered if the boy felt something similar for him, because he himself did not understand what it was.

Tom always told Will funny stories, always kept his happiness somewhat alive even if he didn't show it much. But he always knew Will was getting better, the subtle touching on his arm Tom received and the light smiles Will began to express.

Tom noticed everything, because he liked Will just as Will liked Tom. He noticed that he stopped biting his nails as much, especially if his hands were folded in Toms. The first time he heard Will laugh it was music to his ears, he went silent for a second when that happened, and Will, still smiling, asked him what was wrong. Tom just beamed back, shaking his head. There was nothing to say to that, and his laugh stuck with him the whole day.

Will became a strong wing for Tom, something he felt safe under, and Tom became a second wing for Will. Completing him. Will felt himself slowly coming back,

-

February 2nd, 1916.

Dear, Eve.

The 8th isn't as bad as being in the Somme, it's still war, and it's still terrible. Maybe It's the circumstances. Because back at Somme, we were told the Germans were weak when they gunned down on us like toy soldiers. And it could be that I made a new friend. He's nice, has many stories, and he likes me. Not many people like me, or take to me, maybe i'm too blunt and cold. This is the first time I'm happy someone decided to stay. I've practically adopted the boy at this point, won't go away. Not that he needs to. He's rather endearing, some of the others seem to think that he's my brother because I treat him kindly. But I don't care, they would only think that because they are mean to him all the time, picking on him.

I try to keep them away, it works for the most part but there are days when we aren't almost dying where he comes to complain about being teased by them. I heard he has a brother, Joe, back in the 2nd devons, he's the reason he joined the war. I could almost get mad at that if it weren't for the fact that Tom holds his brother so close to heart.

When I get back, I'll tell you and the girls all the funny stories I've heard. Hope you all are well, tell the girls I love them.

Love, Will.

-

Sometimes Will would catch Tom looking at his book which he’d sketch in, or what he wrote to her sister and nieces. Sometimes he would look in Tom's direction, only to see the boys head turn away from his real quick. He didn't question it. Worrying it would scare him away, and he'd be alone again.

Tom picked up Will's habit of sleeping, and slept with him. Specifically that tall, sturdy oak tree they would see in the distance, they used it so much to sleep, the others recognized it as their tree. And what's better than having a tree to call your own?

Someone to share it with, of course. Where they could spend their free time or lunch time, under the tree, soaking in the sun rays. Talking about whatever their mind spoke. There, with Tom, he finally felt some kind of peace, at least for an hour. That's all he needed and wanted.

Will would sometimes wake up to Tom's body leaning against him, curling into his webbing. Soon they became closer, they became a duo, always going everywhere together, always by each other's side. He started being called “Sco”, which made his heart flutter every time. Will knew Tom was sometimes a bit hungrier, so he shared his food on a number of occasions.

Soon, he began feeling something different, whenever he would look at the boy, whenever he would talk to the boy, even when he talked of the boy. He didn't have any time to dwell on it before the dreaded mission.

-

I was deathly scared that I wouldn't be able to tell Tom how I felt, I feared our time was cut short. If I could I would stop it.

Try to stop the young, youthful, innocent boy from dying tragically. Because I had so much to say at the time and I hadn't known it.

I had to keep going now, more than ever.

-

When Will was in the huge dugout, searching through the German trench, he wasn't expecting there to be a tripwire, attempting to rip apart what Will had been trying to achieve, separating both boys from each other. And that bastard rat that was out to get them just like all the other rats in the bloody trenches.

He can still remember Tom's voice, almost a sob, barely hearing Tom crying his name as he dug through rubble and sharp rock to get to him. The dust filling his eyes and mouth. The trust he had to jump to Tom's arms, leading him away from the ruin that wanted to bury them.

He can still remember the cherry trees, and Tom's soft voice carried through his ears like a symphony. Whenever Tom talked it was like a song going off. He remembers the bloody German who stabbed Tom. He could practically still feel the sweat clinging to his back as he carried the nearly lifeless boy to the aid post.

The only thing left to keep him going is the thought of Tom waiting for him. Knowing that he had something more to come back to, to cherish and to comfort prevented his head from losing it.

When he finally found Joe, he almost fell to his knees, relieved to have saved Tom's brother. He imagined Tom being grateful, that's all he needed. The further he went along his mission, he realized, the more he fell in love with Tom. He didn't even need to be there physically for Will to feel him there, helping him save hundreds of men from death.

-

I wasn't the same man I was years ago, I feel more at peace now. I still get nightmares, but when I wake up, I don't have to worry anymore. How could I be in a terrible place at all when I wake up and my eyes land on something so beautiful. I waited for this moment forever.

I can be honest now, and say that no matter the bad memories, the painful experiences, I don't have to think I wasted my life, because I didn't, I earned something greater than a scrap of metal. It was becoming clear.

The love of my life, I can't trade that in for anything.

-

May 25th, 1920.

It was early in the morning, Will and Tom sat in their home, laying in the sun covered bed, peacefully admiring each other, not having to say a word. Trees could be heard swaying outside. The sun's yellow-orange glow made them seem ethereal, the light casted on the shadows, bidding them farewell from the couple that rested in the flat they bought together.

Tom caressed the side of Wills face, tracing his cheek bones all the way to his lips, warm from direct sunlight. He could tell his boyfriend was in some deep thought, he could tell from the endless gaze he had in his eyes from time to time. He usually pulled him out of his thoughts so they didn't spin out of control, it was rare, but not impossible. Will had the tendency to run his thoughts too deep, and come back with nothing but unhappiness. Wills eyes cleared the haze a bit after feeling the soft touch of Toms hands on his face, He automatically broke into a charming smile.

“What were you thinking about love?” Tom pulled himself closer and looked up adoringly into Wilsl eyes. Wills heart leapt from his chest at that nickname, he just started using it and it made him flushed every time. He felt his face turn red, but Tom paid no mind.

“Nothing, just thinking about the day I met you.” Will sighed contentedly and rested his head atop of Toms. Tom smiled and laid chaste kisses across Wills collarbones who squirmed from the ticklish feelings. “That's a form of thinking about war, and what did I tell you about those thoughts?” Tom asked playfully, but with a serious undertone.

“You said I am forbidden from thinking of it unless it's sharing feelings with you because war thoughts are rubbish and we don't support that kind of negative energy in this household.” Will repeated, holding back a laugh. Tom kept his face in Wills neck, chuckling and mumbling a smug. “That's right.”

Will contemplated this while they cuddled, then spoke up. “But technically I wasn't thinking about the war, I was thinking about you, and the only thing in my life I could only ever think about is you baby.” Will kissed the top of Tom's nose, and the latter blushed deeply, his chest filling with warmth and the feeling of being loved, truly. Tom intertwined their hands, noting Wills grown nails, not much bitten at all, Tom felt giddy when he thought of this. Tom's pupils dilated just by looking at the stunning man in front of him.

Tom grinned cheekily, running his free hand up and down Wills arm. “Fair point.”

Tom's breath hitched a bit when he felt Will gently touch his healed scar that was on his tummy. He could still feel phantom pains there on bad days. Will whispered an “It's all right sweets.” And moved his hand to Tom's waist.

Nowadays, Tom couldn't get enough of Will, and vice versa. After the war, Tom put Will back together, helped him battle his depression. It would still linger, but Tom always was watching for signs, and the second he thought something was off, he was there for Will.

They spent their days comforting each other, learning each other's habits, preferences.

And for the first time since he joined the war, Will felt as if he finally understood.

Laying there, in each other's arms, Will had a revelation. Staring at Tom's soft lips, his kind eyes, he knew the truth.

It was clear to him now.

Tom was his gold. He rebuilt Will's soul. And taught him how to live.