Authors note: I hope you all enjoy this new story! It's going to a reasonably short story I think. I just wanted to say before i start, I have deliberately said nothing about where this is set or what war is being fought or who they are fighting against, thats because this is a story about friendship and not politics.
With that said, I hope you all fall in love with Privet Cullen, Sergeant McCarthy and Major Whitlock that way i have!
Please please leave your thoughts! They are gold!
Chapter 1 – The Drill
"Come on Cullen," the Major called. "don't they play baseball in Washington?"
"They do, Sir." Edward shouted back, his breathing was heavy from all the running and the sand scratched his throat.
"Then why can't you catch the damn ball?" The majors southern drawl was more pronounced when he was shouting, or drunk…at the moment he was both.
"We don't usually start a game while drunk, sir." Edward snatched the ball up and threw it as hard as he could at Major Whitlock. "And we don't usually play with footballs instead of baseballs and buckets instead of gloves, sir."
The Major burst out laughing, doubling over as he caught the ball. Edward got the impression Major Whitlock liked him, thought it was often difficult to tell.
"We work with what we've got Privet," The Sergeant said clapping him round the shoulder. He winced at the force of it, Sergeant McCarthy was menacingly big and Edward was forever glad he was on his side. He'd taken Edward under his wing when their troop was sent out, Edward was scared and alone and more than happy to have someone like Emmett McCarthy looking out for him.
"All right over there Whitlock?" The Sergeant called over as Major Whitlock was still lost in laughter.
He straightened up and pointed at the Sergeant, "That's Major Whitlock to you Sergeant."
Sergeant McCarthy barrelled forward running flat out toward the Major, he was so quick there was real surprise in Major Whitlock's face as the Sergeant leaned forward and tackled him straight to the ground. The two wrestled around in the sand, Edward squinted to see them through the sand and the dark. The rest of the men had fallen in, crowding round the two soldiers as they tumbled.
"I yield I yield!" The Majors voice emerged from the cloud of sand. Half the men whooped and yelped, the other half clenching their fists in frustration, clearly there had been some betting going on. The Sergeant stood and held out a hand for the Major. The Major eyed it warily, "I would have had you if you hadn't fed me those last five beers."
"Of course, sir." Sergeant McCarthy smirked. The two men dusted themselves off as the rest of the men scattered about, starting their game of makeshift baseball again. Edward made his way over to the two men still laughing and covered in dust. He'd been so green when he joined the army, still was so green if he was being honest with himself but he was green with a bit of sand on top thanks to these two men.
The Major was a young man, Edward suspected, though his face was lined with the battles he'd fought, which made it hard to put a number on him. He was strict with his men, but entirely fair. After Sergeant McCarthy had taken a shine to Edward Major Whitlock seemed to warm to him also. The three of them were friends, Edward would have said. Friends wasn't something he was used to having, certainly not something he ever though he would find in the army.
"Men!" The Majors voice called out in the dark. "Lights out. You've had your night off. I expected you all kitted up at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow." A low groan rumbled among the troop. "Excuse me!" His voice bellowed out. There was almost no trace of his current drunkenness.
"Yes, Sir!" The troop, including Edward, called out collectively.
"That's better," He said. He leaned into Sergeant McCarthy, saying something to him Edward couldn't quite make out. The Sergeant nodded and hurried away with the rest of the men. "Privet Cullen, with me." He gestured for me to follow him as he walked away from the barracks into the quiet night. Edwards heavy boots sank into the soft sand as he followed the Major, it wasn't unlike the feeling of walking on the forest floor, he thought, and it was cool here at night, like it was in the forest. He was almost felt homesick. Though the blinding heat of the day time was nothing like the damp cold of Forks, WA.
"Yes, Sir?" Edward asked.
"Why did you sign up Cullen?" He asked. They had stopped walking as they reached the outskirts of their small encampment. The Major leaned down and picked up a lumpy duffel bag.
Edward was taken aback by the question, but when your commanding officer asked you something, you answered. "My father, Sir."
"Let me guess," He said, pulling the bag over his shoulder. "You grew up on military bases, don't know anything else but the military."
"Something like that, Sir. Is that what you brought me out her at ask?"
"No," The major said, thrusting another lumpy duffle into Edwards arms. "I brought you here 'cause you were standing around looking lazy and I needed help with this equipment." Edward shifted the bag over his shoulder as the Major handed him another. "I was just curious."
The nest morning when the bugle sounded, their rise and shine call, Edwards head was thrumming and could feel those beers from their night off still coursing through his system. The heat, like always, was almost overwhelming, all thought of this being like home forgotten. He fumbled into his heavy kit and made his way to their improvised canteen.
Everything in the camp was improvised and makeshift. Edwards troop was one of three that made up the company, leady by Major Whitlock. There were only 64 men in total in the camp, so they hadn't put much effort into making the place worthy of human life.
The canteen, a generous name, was no more than a few rusty old poles holding up a net with a smattering of barrels underneath the men used as tables. It wasn't what Edward had pictured in the slightest when he signed up. Even when he was posted to the front he thought he'd be staying in a real structure…with pluming. They did have two porta cabins but they didn't half stink.
Breakfast was oatmeal, again, but Edward ate it gratefully. He ate all food gratefully, that was one thing you didn't take for granted around here. Sand was blowing through the canteen and Edward propped his helmet up to protect what little food he had left. It meant the sand was scraping the side of his face, but he thought that was better than the inside of his oesophagus. The other privates sat with him, but no one said a word, a silent understanding that no words were needed.
Edward could see from the corner of his eye the officers reporting to Major Whitlock, that meant there were probably plans to leave the encampment that day. They were all wearing full gear, their skin gleaming with sweat already. Edwards insides twisted at the prospect of going out in full gear, but by the looks of it that's exactly what they would be doing.
When the last of the food was cleared away the orders rang out for all men to be fully equipped and standing to attention in ten minutes. This was not the easiest feet and by the time Edward found himself standing in line with his fellow soldiers he felt he'd had his excursion for the day already.
The three troops stood separately, lead by their Sergeants, awaiting Major Whitlock's orders.
"Good morning soldiers," The Major called.
"Good morning, Sir!" sixty-three voices replied.
"Today we're running a fully equipped drill. Sergeant Stanley's troop is to run north, Sergeant Webbers troop will maintain the camp and Sergeant McCarthy's troop, accompanied by myself, will go east." Murmurs started to break out in the crowd. "Did I say you were dismissed!" Silence fell. "You will receive further instructions from your Sergeant's during the drill, it's going to be a long day so take the provisions you need but remember what you take you carry. Dismissed."
Sergeant McCarthy turned to our small troop of twenty men, "Collect provision and return to the east boarder of camp as quickly as your little legs can carry you, but don't worry, those little legs will be bigger by the end of the day."
Edward gulped, audibly gulped like you only ever see in cartoons. Sergeant McCarthy didn't mess around with drills, especially those involving physical fitness and Edward knew he would be especially hard on him. He did It for the best, but sometimes Edward wished he wouldn't. Though Edward sometimes wished a lot of things. He pushed his thoughts down and focused, instead, on packing just enough food and water for the day. Taking unnecessary provisions meant carrying extra weight. Extra weight meant extra work. Running thought those god forsaken dunes was hard work enough.
Edward could feel sweat trickling down his face already, could feel it catching on the thick padding of his helmet making it damp and unpleasant. His head still pounded and the blazing sun did nothing to ease the ache. Edward had barley taken three steps toward the east edge of the camp and he already had that ache in the pit of his stomach, that one that told him he shouldn't be here, that this wasn't what he wanted. He could hear his dads voice in his head telling him to keep driving on, life was hard, you had to get through. Dr Cullen hadn't exactly forced him into the army, but Edward knew he wasn't cut out for medical school and this was the only other option his father would be happy with, he didn't have to say it for Edward to know it was true.
"Soldiers!" The sergeants voice bellowed out as Edward took his place in line. "We will be running due east, you will follow my lead and when I shout 'positions' you will form defensive ranks. Clear?"
The shout hung in the air as the Sergeant broke into a run and Edwards stomach dropped into his boots.
"Look alive Cullen," Major Whitlock's voice sounded out from somewhere to Edwards left. Edwards didn't look round but instead sprang forward, a new wave on energy washing through him as he realised the Major was going to be on his back.
This was not the first of the running drills he'd run with the troop, in fact it was far from the first. But everyone seemed worse than the last. And with their new small build-your-own encampment, he didn't even get a decent shower or nights sleep at the end of it to keep him going. Though the thought of the Major Whitlock at his back was proving to encouragement enough.
"POSSITIONS!" Immediately the men fell to the floor, sand filling in all the cracks as Edwards buried him self, finger on the trigger of his weapon. Eyes scouting for invisibly enemies. Black boots past in front of Edwards eyes as the Major watched for faults in his soldier's positions. Finding none, he nodded to the Sergeant who called form them to break position and continue forward.
Edward tried to imagine he was running again through the trees of Forks, that when he got home his mom would have dinner on the table. Of all the places he had lived, Forks was by far the best. He had been and gone too soon from that place. In the short time he was there it had become home. A picture of a girl flashed in his eye. Her face pale and small, long brown hair damp in the rain, her brown eyes that seemed to see right into your soul. Forks was a good place, she was there.
How far had they ran? Edward couldn't be sure. A mindless loop of running and sweating and falling and sand. SO much sand.
The sun grew higher and higher and the heat became almost a palpable thing, so thick Edward swore he could have reached out and grasped it.
Edward took step after step in the burning sun. His muscles were aching so much the pounding in his head was drowned out. Step after step everything hurt more. He pushed his discomfort to the back of his mind as he drove onward.
Suddenly a loud noise rang in his ears. He stopped dead as sand exploded in front of him, sending soldiers flying. He stepped forward once more but this time his foot did not hit the hot sand, his body was flung into the air and a deafening sound exploded in his head before his body was slammed into the ground and the world was black.
When Edward opened his eyes, he saw blood and sand. His eyes scanned the broken wreckage that was his platoon. Body parts and blood scattered the dunes and Edwards breath was coming quicker and quicker as what had just occurred sunk in. He scanned himself over quickly but couldn't find any major injuries. Couldn't find any injuries at all actually. Lucky bastard, he thought to himself.
Was anyone else alive?
He stood to get a better look around. There was some movement over to his right and he rushed over to it, praying someone else was alive, that he wasn't alone out here. The closer Edward got he could see someone walking among what was left of the troop. He squinted his eyes to make out the name written along the bottom of his jacket, Whitlock.
Relief flooded through him, not only was he not alone out here with the dead, but the Major was with him. Major Whitlock had seemed more of battle and war then Edwards ever dreamed he would see. The Major would know what to do.
"Major Whitlock," Edward called out.
"Cullen?" He called back, turned toward him. "Cullen is that you?" The Major made his way toward him, Edward noticed a hitch in his step and he was holding his side awkwardly, but he was alive.
"Yes, Sir." When he reached him Major Whitlock the officer pulled him in tight for a brief hug.
"Good to see you soldier." Edward could here the sincerity in his voice. "Have you seen anyone else?"
"No one alive, Sir. I only just came too." He confessed. Just as he finished talked someone groaned off to his left. Their head whipped round at the sound. They both rushed over to the side of a soldier struggling to get up. As they reached him Edward knew before he saw his face it was Sergeant McCarthy, no other soldier in the platoon was so big.
"Aw shit," He grunted. There was jagged piece of metal sticking out of his right leg. He turned to the Major. "Pull it out." He spat.
"Hold on tight," The Major said. Edward grabbed onto the sergeant's hand, giving him something to hold on to. Sergeant McCarthy cried out and squeezed Edwards hand, so tight he could have sworn something was broken, as the Major yanked the metal from his leg. The Major pressed his hands into the wound to stanch the bleeding and Edward scrambled to pull something from his kit to wrap round the wound.
"Can you walk?" Major Whitlock asked.
"I think so," The Sergeant replied. "Its not too bad. Shit Whitlock, you're bleeding!"
Edward looked down and noticed the side Major Whitlock had been holding awkwardly was covered in blood, his face seemed to be growing paler.
"Worry about your self soldier, it's just a scratch. We did just get blown up after all." He shrugged him off. "Shit," He said, looking out over the wreckage. "We need to get back to the base. McCarthy, sit there. Cullen you and me check for any survivors then we need to get back to camp."
"Yes, Sir." Edward said.
"No, I can help." The Sergeant protested. "It's just a scratch," he said pointedly.
"Suit yourself, Sergeant." He stood and held out a hand, the Sergeant took it and got himself awkwardly to his feet. Edward noticed the Major wince as he pulled him to his feet. He had a feeling he was more injured than he was letting on. He only hoped they could make it back to the camp and get evac in time.
Edward set about walking through the blood and sand. The day was getting colder now as the sun started to dip. His brain was telling him how awful this sight was, how his stomach should be churning and he should be throwing up. But his it was like he was shutting it all out, protecting himself from this devastation. His nostrils filled with the smell of blood and sand. So much blood and sand. Edward only found two of his fellow soldiers in one piece, both stone cold dead.
It was almost dark now.
No one was alive.
No one but them. Alone.
Blood and sand.
"Come on men," The Major said. "We need to get back to camp, there's nothing we can do here."