Author's Note: This is an AU work that I have managed to think up as I read through various fanfics while taking a break from playing Mass Effect. Some liberties will be taken in order to make the story flow according to how I want to tell it. There'll be deviations and alterations. The Shepard here is a Spacer/Sole Survivor/Sentinel. Any WWII section is an amalgamation of documented battles and are not a representative of any specific moment. I apologise in advance for any mistake I make.
Another bullet snapped at the ashen grey rock that he was facing. He stayed crouching, leaning against a gravelly boulder that served as his cover, and nearly sitting down in the wet earth beneath him. He hasn't been dry in days, though he lost count and didn't bother anymore. The monsoon continued to pour down on his helmet, a fact that he no longer cared for. He gripped his M1903 rifle firmly when he eventually decided to simply sit down rather than tire himself out trying to avoid the ground. He cringed when he felt the ground soften, followed by mentally cursing at the distant hidden sniper trying to aggravate their forward position.
"We've been soaked for days. Don't bother keeping your dungarees out of the mud." A voice called out.
Private First Class Joshua Vaccarelli scoffed and laughed mockingly in response. His buddy, PFC Paul McIntyre was right by all accounts. Joshua recently won a company mini-lottery, the winner got fresh dungarees.
The most he's been dry recently was when he was aboard a ship on the way to the next island in their campaign, with that place being the Japanese soil he's on right now. He then realised that this was the first time he ever smiled or laughed since he landed in Okinawa. Ever since he started in Peleliu, things have deteriorated steadily. He thought he'd been to hell over and over as he survived through the assault on that island. He felt remorse when he shot down an Imperial Japanese soldier for the first time, couldn't have been older than twenty; he felt the same after the second, then the third. He felt the same way every time a soldier went down by the means of his rifle; until his friends died in gruesome ways one after the other, through banzai charges, booby trapping of dead allies, and then in groups by machine gun fire, artillery, and mortar explosions.
No matter how demonised the enemy was, Joshua still thought that they were humans. It struck him sometimes that the people he shot and killed had wives, girlfriends, and children, same as the Marines that were with him. It struck him the worst when he ran over to check a fleeing soldier that he fired at, going over his satchel only to find a journal written in Japanese, with a photo of the person he killed with his family, smiling. Inside the satchel was a ragged doll, made by hand due to the quality, no doubt made by the wife or the daughter. Later on, he burned all of the things inside the dead soldier's satchel, not knowing whether he did it out of respect or shame.
That was in Peleliu. Now, he had no feelings against ending the life of an enemy. They took advantage of people like him, the ones that showed kindness. He nearly got killed when he tried to help an unarmed, surrendering soldier, only for him to overpower and attempt to impale him with a knife. The next soldier that waved a white flag, which is a rarity in itself due to the nature of the Imperial Japanese Army, was gunned down by him through his helmet and didn't feel any emotion as he watched the brain matter pool on the dirt. He felt nothing when he watched a fellow Marine shoot an aging Japanese soldier.
Joshua poked his head over the boulder, trying to get a visual on what is happening on the other side of the ridge. He was greeted with the sight of a rifle round hitting the surface a few centimetres from his face. He quickly ducked down in reaction and spat out the rock bits that flew into his mouth. Although it wasn't the closest he's ever been to being shot, the dash through an airfield in Peleliu while under fire being the top of the list, it prompted him to rethink his situation. I'm going to die here, he thought. When a mortar round exploded a few metres away from him, he was saying it out loud. "I'm going to die here, in a muddy hole. This is it, isn't it? "
"Yeah? Well, if we'd still be here for another month, I think we'd all prefer to die instead!" McIntyre chimed. A bunch of others grimly laughed at the remark.
Joshua could see the logic behind the joke. He looked around and saw it. He saw how the position he was in was starting to resemble the Great War. They were mired in filth and mud. They were sleeping and huddled in a land that's part sewage and part graveyard. Maggot-ridden corpses of Japanese soldiers and American troops are left to rot in the open; nothing more than uniformed decaying half buried bodies in the mud. The rain tortured the sodden ridge, amplifying the stench of death and caused injured, untended wounds to fester. One could dig a handful of soil or check their pockets and find it filled with maggots and blood. Supplies were low. Joshua himself hasn't slept in two days.
Another mortar landed around their vicinity. "I think they're zeroing in on us." Someone from the rear muttered.
"I think they already did. They're just waiting for us to get out of these rocks so they could mow us down with that MG nest. I want to shoot that prick." Joshua replied, adjusting himself on the mud. He turned to look at McIntyre who was holding a smirk. "What?" He asks him.
"Remind us again, Vaccarelli, why are you fighting the people of your mother?" McIntyre jokingly asked in an attempt to defuse the situation with some light-hearted humour. This garnered a few chuckles from everyone.
"Fuck you. She's Filipino, not a fuckin' Jap." Joshua replied with full on smugness. "Because of these stupid pricks, my mother's family are probably dead or worse. My father had to go around Filipinotown to get news about what's going on in the PI. News weren't good, he says." He explained.
"I enlisted after." He paused to look at his buddies' faces. "I didn't want to miss out on the war and kill these pricks." Joshua explained, half-laughing. Everyone else snickered.
As if by cue to hamper their newfound amusement, the monsoon strengthened and the tiny frequent droplets turned into heavy rain. Thunder and lightning accompanied the explosions that lulled them into awareness. Joshua thought about peeking over the boulder once more, but ultimately deciding against it. Someone tapped his shoulder and offered him a pack of Lucky Strikes with one stick left. He was going to decline it, yet chose to keep the remaining cigarette, slipping it in his front pocket. His tired eyes stared at the now empty packet, slowly crumpling it as he attempted to distance himself from the war zone. An image of a freshly cooked steak was popping up in his mind when he was interrupted, distracted by someone relating a story about his girlfriend stateside. Anything to pass the time on this ridge, I guess. It continued, anyone who was willing to share a relationship story told theirs, to remember what it was like back home, to recall their flings during liberty, or simply for the sake of holding on to their hopes. Once more, the topic was directed to Joshua.
"Ready for a kicker? Vaccarelli has one heart-breaking story. You mind sharing it, bud? I think it's 'bout time that everyone knew about your last gal." McIntyre directed at Joshua, nodding to nudge him to share.
"It's not so happy, I'm telling you."
"Fuck, look at where we're at. We can handle not happy. Come on, Joshua, come on."
"Alright, man, if you say so."
Joshua placed his weapon next to him, cracked his hands and attempted to warm them up. "So, this was a day before I went to boot camp…" He trailed off, his mind reimagining the story as he told the rest his story. His voice the only thing the Marines listened to as they ignored the bombardment that kept going.
A blue neon light shone down his face, drink of whiskey gripped in his right hand as he leaned his elbows on the bar. The jazz band is playing a slow song while couples danced on the dance floor, it ends, a piano picks up the music and the people continue twirling and dancing to the now more melancholy track. He sips, as he turns around to face the dance floor. The warmth of the alcohol subsides as he sees her. She wore a green dress, her hair up in a bun, her face covered with delicate makeup.
She catches his gaze, her eyes locking on his face, her cocktail in left hand as she continued to socialise with whoever was in front of her. She looks up again and attempted to smile at him. He smiles back weakly as he raises his drink from a distance. She raises hers in response. He looks different, his face showed slight distress or worry. His suit was a bit worn, his shoes covered in some grime.
The room seemingly slowed down as she started to approach him, the piano piece droning out as he started to her the clicking of her heels. Everything froze in his mind as she opens her mouth, "Hi, Joshua, how have you been?"
A rush of thoughts enters his head at the mere sound of her voice. He shakes his drink as he takes another sip. "I've been great. What about you?"
"Great, too. Didn't expect you at this joint, though. Nice to see you." She responds, smiling once more. "Here for any particular reason?" She asks.
"I enlisted with the Marines. Heading to boot camp very soon. Thought I'd enjoy a drink before I go." He said, straightening up his back on his stool.
There was a silence for a while as she glances to see his face again in detail. The piano piece ends as she shows a look of concern. "Going off to fight the war like everyone else, huh?" She light-heartedly asked. "It was great seeing you here. Take care of yourself… okay?" She reaches to caress his arm.
Images of the two of them instinctively invaded his mind, the smell of her perfume further pushing memories into his head. He tries, attempts, to pull them aside, but fails. He pictures her hands in his as she stood mere inches away.
"Elaine, are you ready to leave?" A man to his right asks out loud, he closes the distance and takes her arm. "Mind introducing me to..?"
"Oh, he's Joshua. My childhood friend." She looks at Joshua with an expression of pride.
"And also ex-boyfriend if I remember. So you're him, huh? What are you up to nowadays, champ?" He asked him with an amused, mocking tone.
Joshua finally manages to get his eyes away from Elaine, his sight taking notice of her left hand. Her ring finger, which now had a sparkling diamond. "Uh, I'm enlisting. Marines. Leaving soon, actually."
Elaine turns to look at her boyfriend, who's insulting face ceased as he replies, "Damn. Well, good luck, pal." He tried to be sincere. "Listen, we really gotta run. If you come back, drinks are on me, pal." His arm subtly tugged on Elaine's, causing the couple to start moving to the door.
With his whiskey in hand, he refuses to look away as they walked to the exit. The big jazz band starts playing again, another slow song. Joshua stomach turns, a chilling sensation shoots up his spine, his skin feels cold. A few paces out from the door, she turns to see Joshua again, she mouths, "I'm sorry," before her face vanishes into the street. He's about to mouth something in return, but ends up with his lips parted, hanging open.
"Another one, if you mind." Joshua turns around as he says to the bartender who watched the whole thing.
It didn't take longer than a moment for the next glass to be on the counter. "On the house, chief. Who was she?" The bartender asks innocently.
"Someone who promised to be my fiancée since junior high. Things happened and here we are." Joshua explained he downed the drink. "Didn't expect myself to feel something. I thought I was over her."
The bartender looks at Joshua with sympathy. "And now you're about to head off to war. Next one's on the house again, if you want to take it up." He says, preparing another drink. "Happened to me before I got on the boat to England years before. You'll be alright, chief."
"Yeah. Thanks, for the drink."
"No worries, kid."
"And that was it. That's the last I've seen her. I thought about writing to her—" A mortar round landed pretty close, mud kicked up and landed on some of the troops. "I'm not sure I'd like to speak to her again. I don't want to be in the way with whatever those two have."
The whole ridge seemingly became quiet, absorbing the details of Joshua's story. Some of them sympathised, for they experienced abandonment as well when they revealed to their families or significant other that they're off to fight in the Pacific. Joshua felt guilty for a second, thinking he diminished the morale, but assured himself that it's already at the lowest it could possibly be. He picks up his rifle, checking the sights, making sure that it's not splattered by mud. McIntyre taps his shoulder, thinking it was to get his attention, but finding out it's to reassure him it's alright. Joshua nods in response, accepting what happened.
Suddenly, there was a break with the enemy artillery. Everyone on Joshua's side looked over the barren ridgeline. There was a smoking hut perched on a failing cliff, snuffed out by mortars from before, and its smoke billowed up in the raining sky. The silence was broken by a scream. "Tennoheika Banzai!"
All of a sudden, about ten Japanese soldiers came out of cover, and scrambled out down in the open, killing zone. With their weapons at the ready, their uniforms as dirty as the earth beneath them and an Empire of Japan flag perched on one soldier's backpack, the Japanese soldiers charged.
"Fuck!" Someone in Joshua's line yelled.
Joshua quickly shouldered his rifle and fired off at the soldier with the flag, immediately pulling his bolt up and back, loading another round in. The flag-bearer stopped in his tracks, taking a step back. Joshua fired again, hitting his chest once more. He fell on his knees. Another round hit his head and he fell backwards, with the flag almost draping over his body. Joshua fired off a last shot to his corpse.
When the short barrage of gunfire ended, there was still one Japanese soldier alive, but barely. He was obviously wounded; his shoulder and thigh were puckered with holes that bled like a flowing river and yet, he trudged on forward with his officer's sword held up. Joshua then sighted him in with his rifle and fired his last round into his head. When his weapon kicked back the Japanese officer was lying face down on the mud with his grape split open by the rifle round, appearing like a blown out melon.
The rain continued to pour as someone yelled for a cease fire. Down the line, a couple of Marines started fidgeting for something in their soaked satchels or knife sheathes, Joshua was about to ask why when he heard the word getting passed down. With Joshua eyes widened opened from adrenaline, he reached for a clip and put a fresh batch of rounds in his rifle.
"Hey! Fix bayonets if you still have them! Load up!"
He immediately reached for his knife sheathe, the chilling grip of the handle bit his clammy hands as he attached the bayonet in one quick movement. He checked his bandoliers, seeing if he had extra ammunition. He sat back down, his ankles supporting his buttocks as leaned up against the boulder. They waited; they waited for the enemy artillery to stop for more than five minutes. Joshua body started to uncontrollably tense up, as he positioned himself to prepare for the upcoming assault down the riverbed and up the opposite ridge. The whole line was silent. There was nothing audible except for the tapping of the raindrops on solid surfaces and the faint voices of Japanese soldiers on the other side. He could hear movement and the slight sound of clinking, which he assumed was a machine gun position being moved.
"Why the fuck won't they just stay hidden and let their artillery do the work." McIntyre commented disturbed and irritated. "Fuckin' Japs."
Five minutes have passed. Their radioman relayed the coordinates. It was the Allies' turn to bombard the enemy ridge.
Artillery soared over their heads as the rounds made contact with the ground that they're now looking at. It continued steadily for thirty seconds, the spectacular sight of ordnance being dropped was traded for the cries of pain coming from some of the still hidden Japanese troops. A hut was up in flames, appearing to be inextinguishable by the monsoon. A breath of hope entered their bodies as they waited once more, this time for the confirmation.
"Over the ridge, go! Go!"
The Marines pushed forward, taking advantage of their artillery's after effect. Their rifles fired on multiple dazed targets as they assaulted downwards to the river bed. Joshua climbed over his cover and dashed downhill with his rifle at the ready, his eyes darting around, looking for a potential target. McIntyre was ahead of him by a few feet. Joshua kept his footing as the sodden ground beneath his feet started to give way. He stepped over bodies and on an arm protruding out of the mud, but kept going. Then he heard the Japanese military start to fire back, their Arisaka rifles thundered as they aimed at the advancing American troops. He kept moving down and forward, his eyes trained on a slab of granite that could be used as cover. McIntyre reached it first, with Joshua hitting the solid block a second later. It was lucky timing, for the machine gun nest became active once more as another enemy soldier manned it and with one full burst lasting at least ten rounds squeezed off, Joshua saw the bodies of five friendlies fall to the vile, maggot-ridden riverbed. One was still alive and conscious, clutching his thigh that bled profusely, bawling in pain, but cut off when another burst of machine gun fire ended his life. "Jesus Christ!" McIntyre uttered as he watched the same death.
An enemy mortar round whistled in the air before landing on a group of advancing troops, turning them into a mix of brown and red splatter that rained down on the mud. "We have to move, slick!" McIntyre tells Joshua, who nods in agreement.
They both move out of their cover, dashing once more, this time uphill, as they fired on one Japanese soldier committing a Banzai attack. The sight never failed to disturb his mind, the rushing enemy hit by at least eight rounds from their rifles still attempting to kill an American. Joshua thought the Japanese soldiers were lower than dirt now, but he can't help to be terrified and be in awe at their sheer willpower to kill Americans.
As they kept pushing upwards, Joshua fired off his last rounds in his M1903 to take down two soldiers who were reloading their rifles. The thunder and lightning seemed to dance along to the slaughter, increasingly getting frequent, with one bolt hitting a nearby palm tree. He thought about reloading on the run, but decided to hold it off until he reached another safe cover. That moment wouldn't happen though. On the left corner of his eye, he watched the machine gun post turned its barrel on his path and his world slowed down as he waited for the inevitable. His body shifted towards the nest, his right hand letting go of his rifle's grip as he started to reach for his sidearm.
With one burst and the sound of mechanic buzz, he saw McIntyre get shot three times before the line of fire quickly shifted downwards. Joshua felt the searing pain as a round pierce his chest and graze his arm, dropping his rifle and pistol across his chest as he reacted to the trauma. Joshua fell backwards to the ground, rolling downhill as he clutched his chest. He was looking at the sky when he opened his eyes, grimacing in pain. He turned his head to his right, uphill, to see if anyone else was hit by the machine gun's burst. McIntyre was still, his seemingly dead body leaked blood, but Joshua can still see his chest rising up and down. He wanted to yell something out to him, but his senses started to fade. A lightning bolt touched the ground again, this time a mere few feet away from Joshua.
He started to look at the sky as he accepted his fate when he noticed something swirling in the clouds, a vortex which seemed to suck the rain into it. The sky started to distort itself around the vortex, the clouds started to shift and bend unnatural ways as they passed the darkened hole. He thought he was just having near-death hallucinations when a flash of light enveloped his eyesight. This is it, I'm dead.
The Americans that witnessed Joshua's body vanish into nothingness paused for a moment, while the Japanese also stared in awe as they watched the vortex retreat unto itself, the firing ceased for a full ten seconds before the fighting resumed.
McIntyre spent his last few breaths wondering what in the world could've possibly happened to Vaccarelli, his closest buddy since Peleliu. He died thinking that God put Joshua on a fast track to Heaven. His last breath was a scoff that responded to his ridiculous dying thought.