I wrote this a while back and it took me some time to work up the courage to post. It's already completed, so I'll be updating on schedule once a week. The chapters are quite short so it's a nice quick read. It's all from Jasper's POV, and really, it's his story to tell. I hope you enjoy it, and please leave me a review to let me know what you thought.
Summary: In a time of war and uncertainty, love and friendship still prevail. But when a soldier's world is changed forever, can he find something worth living for? Jasper discovers that sometimes, redemption can be found in the most unlikely places. AH, AU.
Background: It's set from 1916 onwards during World War One, at a time when war was fought in trenches dug into the ground. All the characters are British, so I'm being totally AU there even though a lot of it's set in France. But I'm allowed to do that, seeing as I am British. Hehe.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Stephenie Meyer. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. *** Thankyou to Alverdine, who encouraged me non-stop with this, and to venis-envy, SunKing and tiffanyanne3 for their betaing and pre-reading help. Especially to venis-envy for drunk brainstorming with me over a title and summary.***
Chapter 1: Attack
"Do you think it's ever going to end?" Edward murmurs as we march in a line under the cover of darkness, our tattered boots squelching in the mud. Even in the gloom, I can see his face is weary under the strain.
"Yes," I say quickly, hoisting my heavy pack higher on my back, but there is no conviction in my words. I've been at war for eighteen months, since late 1914 when I rushed down to the recruitment station with the other boys in the town, dreaming of honour and bravery. I'm from Whitby, on England's beautiful North Yorkshire coast, but growing up there, I could have never have imagined where I'd end up. The freezing, stinking mud of France is a far cry from the small seaside town I miss every day. Nothing can prepare you for the realities of war. The months since we joined up have lurched by in a whirlwind of ill-planned skirmishes and waiting in fear, but at least we're in it together. Edward Masen and I have been close friends since childhood and stayed part of the same regiment when we were deployed to France after our basic training. Of course, he and I are merely puppets for incompetent generals, just like everybody else.
It's known as the "Great War", but it's nothing even close to that. The battle plans seem to consist of hundreds of men rushing headlong over no-man's land into the path of machine guns, and at least half will die. That is considered to be a worthy sacrifice, but it again seems to highlight the pointlessness of this war of attrition. Those foolhardy dreams of glory we had when we joined up as boys are long gone. I turn back to the sodden path ahead and march on dully, trying to expel these terribly unpatriotic thoughts from my brain.
In April of 1916, Edward and I are thankfully granted five days of precious furlough. We are packed like cattle in the trains, but I care not, basking in the knowledge that I am soon to see the shores of home. Back in Whitby, I am greeted in the street like a hero, despite the fact that I privately feel so uncomfortable occupying that role. I'm a trained, ruthless killer, and even if it is for my country, the faces of the men I've dispatched still haunt my dreams. Mother cries with relief when I finally walk through the front door, and I see first-hand the pain etched on her face. She's already lost too much since the death of my father who was taken by the rough North Sea when I was just ten years old. In some ways it is worse for those at home, always half-listening for the arrival of the dreaded War Office telegram.
Killed in action.
Missing in action.
These clinical, precise words are supposed to provide some comfort and closure for families, but they do no such thing. A life full of intricacies and moments is boiled down to three little words that are applied to thousands. How well I know that life is such a cheap commodity these days. My mother once again asks if I'll ever meet a girl I want to get engaged to, and I inwardly sigh, yet can't help but smile. It's just like old times.
Evenings spent at the pub with one or two old friends also on leave and groups of men too old to go to the Front. I join in with the jokes and laughter, but it is as if we are kidding ourselves. Even a good time seems so futile when I am to return to death and destruction and pain. On the last night before we return, Edward introduces me to this pretty girl named Bella Swan I surmise he's been sneaking off to see. She's nineteen, and one of the "canary girls"- women with faintly yellow-tinged skin from the chemicals used in their work at the munitions factories. Despite this oddity, she is remarkably beautiful, and I can give my approval eagerly, which I see Edward is thankful for. It's good money for a woman, and Lord knows we need ammunition, so I understand why they do it, but I feel faintly sick when I think about the implications of her job. The weapons she assembles will tear flesh and splinter bone, condemning sons, brothers, fathers to death with their brutal efficiency. Such concern for the flesh of my enemies is perhaps laughable, but I know too well that they are no different than I. In the deep, dank mud, every moment could be our last, whether a shell blows us to pieces or we're gunned down crossing no-man's land.
Just weeks later, I end up shipped back to hospital in London when I catch some shrapnel from an artillery bombardment. I'm told by the military doctors that the shards barely missed my vital organs, but I'm unsure whether I feel lucky to be alive. They're only getting me better to go back to the Front, not that I would ever desert. I feel a great responsibility for my men and what we all go through, and I know my duty to my country, even if I question the reasons for this carnage. When I return, there's a distance between Edward and me that's barely perceptible, but I notice. He obeys my orders and is a helpful member of my company but gives no other sign that outside rank, we are friends. Eventually, I get him to talk and he tells me he envies my visit home. When I tell him I spent three weeks in hospital twiddling my thumbs, he seems cheered, and I understand how he feels. He's gone so long without leave, and that takes its toll on any man. I know he wants to get back to Bella. Most of our regiment has been here far too long without a break, as malign luck has cursed us with a more active stretch of the front. We're spending less and less time in the reserve trenches and deploying more men to the front line. After any offensive, huge numbers of men will need to take the places of those who have died. And so it continues.
The winter is bitterly cold, and many of my men suffer frostbite as their boots have worn down. I was lucky enough to secure another pair, but even if I am warm, that brings its own problems. We're forever itching from the lice that lay their eggs in the seams of our uniforms, and scratching does no good. Unfortunately, there are far nastier things than their bites to worry about. I've probably lost more of my men to typhus than in battle, which is really saying something. Everyone is so tired of being cold and never having enough to eat. It will be a mercy when winter is over, as all we do is wait for the order to attack.
In early 1917, I know a brief respite when we make a stop in Amiens, a once-charming Picardy town that has become a centre of military activity. The men quickly file into a broken-down house on the edge of town that is now a brothel. The women there know they can make money turning tricks for soldiers, and it's doing a heavy trade. It is with a heavy heart that I make my way in there one day and am directed towards one of the ladies. I don't know what I'm doing here, but my feet have carried me there regardless. The prostitute I see is called Alice. She's certainly pretty, with long dark hair and piercing eyes that look as if they could see into your soul. As we enter her room, I note it's much nicer than what some of my men told me the others were like– I assume that's because she is reserved for officers, like me. Her English is far better than I expect it to be, and so we talk a little. She tells me that she studied, and came from a good family, but when her brother went off to war, their fortunes turned, and so she ended up here. I feel for her, ending up in a job like this, satisfying the needs of rough men like me who want to forget. I almost want to get up and leave, but like so many before me, I need the blissful oblivion that only a woman's touch can provide.
I watch her undress, her skirts and stockings falling to the floor, and my mouth is dry. I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's a long time since I've been with a woman, and I avert my eyes, my gaze swivelling to the floor. Alice steps closer and cups my chin in her hand, stroking my stubble.
"You seem like a very troubled man, Jasper," she says suddenly. "Even for an officer." Her hands come round her back to loosen the bones of her stays, each hook slowly detaching with the deft movements of her fingers. I'm momentarily too distracted by what she just said to appreciate the curves of her soft, supple body that she reveals as she peels the corset from herself. Her skin is marked with pink where the garment has cut into her sides, and I drag my fingers over it, rubbing soothing circles on the marks. She is right. I am troubled, but then, what soldier isn't?
"I've seen a lot of duty," I admit. She removes the pins from her hair, and I idly let one hand wander over her breasts, circling the pink peak.
"My brother is away," she says, and a tear glistens at the corner of her eye. I take my hand away, letting her sit beside me. "Every day I think I will hear he is dead. But then, I think I would know. Sometimes I just know things that will happen. I can't explain it."
"I'm sorry," I say slowly, but it's almost as if I've become desensitised to death. It's such a reality for all of us that it is impossible to ignore. I've filled men with lead and watched them collapse in agony. I know how it feels to run a bayonet through an enemy soldier, and the sickening feeling when you realise you have to push harder than you thought, and all the while their screams echo in your ears. Skin isn't soft like butter; it's hard and springy and to cut through it requires real force. Nausea whirls in my stomach and I look back at Alice, trying to push such thoughts from my mind. They won't really be much help in this situation.
"We've all lost something," she adds quietly, and her fingers move to my collar, unbuttoning the uniform. And then we don't talk any more. Alice is something else. In my current state, I'm afraid I'll let myself down, but she makes it easy. She isn't shy about that beautiful body of hers, and she certainly knows how to use it. I wouldn't call it lovemaking, it's nothing like that, but it serves its purpose. I get the feeling that she respects me to some extent, perhaps because I treated her like a human being and actually showed an interest in who she was. Afterwards, she watches idly as I fumble with my clothes and pull my boots back on. Wrapped in the sheets, she regards me with a curious air. "What are those scars?"
I'm sure she noticed those slightly raised scars on my arms and chest while we were in bed, but obviously didn't say anything at the time.
"Shrapnel wounds," I say shortly, swiftly buttoning my shirt to cover them, and she looks away, abashed. If truth be told, though, any scars a soldier has are nothing compared to the ones he wears inside him. I leave some notes on the chair, and before I leave I impulsively lean in to kiss her on the lips. I know very well that it's forbidden, but she doesn't try to stop me. It's a nice kiss, and for a moment, it makes me feel human again.
"Try to stay alive, Captain Whitlock," she says as I leave.
"I'll do my best," I tell her in darkly humorous tones. "Take care of yourself."
In terms of dates, times and places, this is relatively vague as I want it to be about the characters and their stories and not read like a history article. The passing of time may seem jerky sometimes as this story spans several years. I've done a lot of research for this fic and tried to include period detail whenever I can, but of course, I'm not a historian so I may have made the odd little mistake. Please be kind with regard to that - artistic license, y'know? And yes, Pearl Harbor comparisons are okay. I hope you like the spin I put on the "two friends at war" thing though. Reviews are like magic, so if you'd like to leave one, I would love it. Thanks for reading! xxx