He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
- Wilfred Owen – Disabled.
The year is 1916 when Thomas Blake gets hurt badly on that mission and is discharged from the Army. Even though he’s grateful to be out of the mud, he suffers greatly, not knowing what Schofield is going through on the other side of the North Sea. Letters are all he’s got, though the words Will writes can never do justice to what’s really happening over there. So much left unsaid. He’s seen it, seen it with his very own eyes, yet he cannot imagine what atrocities the higher-ups keep throwing at the common soldiery. He wakes up every day in agony, fearing that that telegram will arrive that day, like it does to families he knows. Yet every day passes without news of Will’s death, and Tom is left dreading the day that it might come. Is knowing of your lover’s death better than knowing nothing at all? Tom does not know.
The year is 1917 when Will goes through the nine layers of Hell all over again. The Third battle of Ypres, they call it, though Will has lost count long ago. He does not care how many battles he had fought, nor how many he still had to fight; how many men had died, and how many more still had to follow, just to advance those few miles. Every twenty paces laid a body. Over six hundred thousand deaths for hardly five miles. Will it ever be enough?
The year is 1918 when Will loses his left leg in the Second Battle of the Somme. Ironic though, isn’t it. He loses his soul in the first battle and his body in the second. It is also 1918 when the Spanish Flu breaks out, killing millions in that year alone. The end of the war was in sight, yet someone up there – if there was someone, Will was not so sure anymore with the horror he had seen – was not content with the amount of suffering that had been. It always had to be more. Now Blake not only fears for Will’s life to be lost in the war, but to be mercilessly taken away by a wretched virus.
It is the end of 1918 when the World War is over, yet Tom’s internal war is not. Will was supposed to arrive back home by train today, and Tom had been waiting at the station for hours, yet there was no sign of Will. He feared that Will was among the thousands that had lost their lives in the last hour of the war. That would be the icing on the cake, he supposed in a cynical way, that Will would survive four years of Hell only to pass away during the very last hour.
Tom loved the overjoyed face of Mrs Johnson as she was reunited with her long-lost son, but he could not help but feel envious. He steps forward in the crowd as the last train of the day arrives, his belly filled with butterflies as he peers for Schofield’s familiar form, a mass of people pushing and pulling so they could see their loved ones quicker. He sees Henry Bonhelt, a boy whom he’d met at school when he was still a kid, and was still allowed to be a kid, all those years ago. Tim Smith, his friend who lives next door, runs up to his mother, hugging her as he’s smothered by kisses. The last man, a blond-haired fellow who Tom did not know, exited the train and there are no words to describe the empty feeling Tom now experiences. Distraught, he goes home. He ignores the Smith family’s invitation to party, there was no reason to celebrate without Will by his side.
Perhaps Will passed away? There’s so much that could happen between last week and today, especially in war- and pandemic time. Tom could only hope that it was a peaceful death, not one filled with agony and fear. A cold feeling befalls him. He might never see Schofield again. Scratch that, he won’t see him again. Schofield, with his bright smile and never-ending wit. Schofield, with his brave and valiant , yet large and loving heart. Discouraged and hurting, Tom did not get a single minute of sleep. Every moment was spent reliving memories with his lover, and imagining ways Will might have died.
The very next day, Tom decided to try again and check the coming trains. The first five filled him with disappointment. The following five filled him with dread. The last five left him feeling hopeless. He prepared to leave again, packing up the stuff he brought – some food in case Will was hungry; some blankets in case Will was cold; and all his love. He turned around, ready to go and contemplate how he could ever get over the empty spot next to him, when someone lightly tapped his shoulder.
Tom turned around, prepared to fully snap at the person, tell them off for touching him and to leave him alone, when he saw a familiar face. His surroundings blurred around him, tunnel vision causing him to only focus on that one person in front of him.
It was Will.
Cold, starving, and missing a limb. But it was Will.
Tom had never been happier to see the broken and scarred face that was Schofield’s. An unholy sound passed his lips as he pulled Will into a tight hug, never wanting to let go. Scho was crying now, Tom felt the cold tears fall onto his shoulder, felt the bony shoulders shake uncontrollably.
“Will”, he whispered so only they could hear, “I missed you so much. So fucking much.”
Schofield did not answer, only cried harder.
Life was easier from then on. They both regularly had nightmares, but trusted the other completely and were able to find comfort in each other’s arms. Sure, life had its ups and downs, Influenza was killing millions and they feared each day that one of them might be next. Will had trouble going around with one leg but refused to get a wooden one, he preferred to hop around with crutches. Tom did not mind, he loved Will all the same.
Tom’s mother passed away in the year after that, causing him an enormous amount of grief. Will tried to be there as best as he could for his lover, which was not always easy considering his disability. It more than once resulted in comfort-food ending up on the ground.
The year was 1922. Influenza had supposedly disappeared from the world, life was back to normal. They had decided to move in together, that way Tom could help Will with his needs Will insisted that he go to the market alone. He had planned to buy something special for Tom, and did not want him to know yet. So on he went, hopping along the way, struggling with bags and his crutches, but not wanting to admit it. Some people granted him space, giving him a respectful nod, while others stared at the empty space at his hip with disgust.
But he had succeeded, he was back on the driveway of the little house they had bought together, and Tom had opened the front door to help him with the bags. However, Scho’s foot got caught on a stray rock and before he knew it, he hit the concrete hard, bags spilling their content everywhere. Tom let out a shout, and rushed to Will’s aid.
“Will!” He yelled, crouching by his lover’s side and helping him sit up, “Are you okay, dear?”
Will nodded, his hands were a bit scratched up and shaking, but he was not hurt beyond that. Despite that, tears from pure shock welled up in his eyes.
“Oh, honey.” Tom said, picking up Will’s frail hands in his own. “Do I need to kiss it better?”
Slightly embarrassed and blushing, Will nodded a shy yes.
Tom’s sweet smile widened to a grin and he gently pulled Will’s left hand closer, placing a tender kiss on the scratched up palm. Then he did the same with Will’s right hand.
Will’s blush widened and he looked away, insecure. Suddenly, he noticed that the little gift he had bought for Tom was laying uncovered, right in sight.
And Tom noticed it too.
“What is this?” He asked, curiosity lacing his voice as he let go of Will’s hands to pick up the box.
“Don’t look!”, Will said hurriedly, but he was too late. Tom had opened the small box, revealing a simple, but shining ring.
It was silent between them for a moment.
“I-“ Tom did not know what to say. He didn’t want to assume, but then again could it be anything else?
“You weren’t meant to see it yet.” Will spoke up, a noticeable tremor in his voice. “I wanted it to be a- a good moment..”
“But baby,” Tom whispered, feeling touched beyond words, “to me, every moment with you is a good moment.”
Will did not know what to answer. He did not have to. Their love went beyond words.
“So- So do you want to..?”
Tom did not grant Will a chance to finish his sentence. “I do. Darling, I do!”
Will’s face morphed into a broad smile as he took the ring out of the box and gently placed it on Tom’s finger. It fit perfectly, Tom’s eyes widening at the beauty of the glamorous object.
Will took Tom’s hand in his, just like Tom had done the same just a few minutes ago when their situation was so drastically different. He pressed a loving kiss to the top of Tom’s hand, then looked his now fiancé in his shimmering blue eyes.
“I love you.”