Summary: Matthew had never touched a cigarette before his first day in hell. The only thing that was worse than the war was his growing familiarity with the stakes. Matthew had never touched a cigarette before Gilbert. And now, he was glad that he had.
Hetalia does not belong to me. Neither do any of the countries mentioned. Get back to me after 'World Domination Phase 3' is complete.
I Only Smoke When I'm With You
Matthew held his breath as he crawled over the mountain of corpses with a grim sort of determination; his boots digging into the rotting flesh and separating skin from bone. His hands were coated in a slick sludge of dirt and blood.
He finally stumbled over the other side and sank gratefully to the ground; leaning against the barricade of stinking filth. Another soldier was already slouched there with his knees drawn up and a manic smile plastered across his face. His humming was firmly at odds with the gore of the battlefield.
His uniform was tattered and soiled to the point where Matthew could no longer be sure what side he was on. And frankly, at this point, he did not care either way.
"Fuck," Matthew spat, sidling up to the mystery soldier.
The soldier laughed softly and offered Matthew a cigarette by tapping the carton and shaking one through the opening. Matthew scrunched his nose in protest.
"Sorry. I don't smoke."
The soldiers laugh turned into a cackle.
"Shit, kid. You better start."
A blast in the distance shook the ground and knocked a nondescript body part rolling down the pile of flesh. It landed wetly next to Matthew; all puss and blood and stench.
Matthew glared at the mass before pushing it away with the toe of his standard issue boot.
The soldier returned to his oddly cheerful humming and tilted the carton again towards him. Matthew weighed the cigarette against the mess by his feet before shrugging and plucking one with deft fingers.
The soldier nodded his head, grinning, and pulled one out for himself. Matthew twirled the cigarette between his fingers in distain while the other man dangled his own from his lips and fumbled with a book of matches.
"Gilbert," he mumbled by way of introduction.
"Matthew. What side are you on?"
"All of them. None of them. It doesn't really matter anymore; we're all dead or dying anyway."
The match lit up in brilliant red and amber.
"… Hear, hear."
He pressed the match to the cigarette and drew a shuddering breath before motioning Matthew closer. Gilbert snatched the cigarette from his fidgeting fingers and thrust it into Matthew's mouth. He bent forward and pressed the already lit end of his own against the other without ever removing it from his lips.
They stared at each other from less than three inches away while waiting for it to light.
When it bloomed in brilliant colour, Gilbert did not pull away immediately. He continued to stare intently for several moments longer than necessary before grinning again and pushing back. Matthew blinked slowly while the end continued to burn. Gilbert tutted and blew smoke, patting Matthew's leg gently.
"Deep breath," he laughed softly.
Matthew inhaled and immediately began choking on the smoke of his first cigarette. It stung his eyes and brought tears coursing down his cheeks. Even when the smoke had cleared, the tears kept coming in choking sobs.
Gilbert rubbed soothing circles on his leg while the gunshots clattered and another mine exploded.
"Shh, kid. It'll all be okay. Deep breath," he said again and took another drag from the quickly disappearing cigarette. "Deep breath."
Dawn rose over the battlefield, painting the gruesome scene in softer colours than seemed appropriate. The ground was scarred with deep ruts and foxholes, and the dirt was mixed with ash and blood. There was a man screaming in the distance, but other than that, there was only silence.
After seven weeks, Matthew had been fully integrated into life among soldiers. Sleep never came easily, but when it did, the nightmares were waiting. Meals were sordid and rushed affairs of molding biscuits and putrid dried meats; fruit and vegetables were a distant memory. The smell of unwashed, festering wounds wafted through the air.
The only thing worse than the bullets and chaos and mayhem was the moments in between. It was the silence. It was the waiting.
The soldiers around him were slumped against each other, talking in hushed voices and sharing the punch lines to morbid jokes. Some were writing letters home on scraps of paper with pencils ground down again and again, and then sharpened yet again with their penknives. Others were playing cards and betting bottle caps, pieces of strings, and worthless coins.
Matthew stood to the side; near the trees and away from the clearing should anything happen. He may be growing used to life as a soldier, but it only made him more paranoid.
"Pssst," came a whisper from amongst the trees and Matthew whipped around with his gun in hand; straining his eyes to see.
"What the hell, kid? Calm down."
Matthew lowered his gun, but only slightly, as he was able to make out the shape of a man crouched in the foliage. It was Gilbert; the soldier who had offered him a cigarette to christen his first day in hell. His light hair was mussed from where it had been jammed under a stocking cap and helmet. His face was smeared with dirt and dark paint, but the camouflage was useless when he smiled so brightly that his teeth shone in the darkness.
"Come 'ere," Gilbert waved his hand but Matthew shifted uneasily; today, it was obvious that the man was wearing a different uniform than him.
"Quickly, before someone sees you."
Matthew chewed roughly on his bottom lip before making what screamed to be an imprudent decision and disappearing into the woods.
"What do you want?" He hissed as he stooped next to the soldier. Gilbert laughed and tugged him down into the long grass. Matthew fell into the grass but kept his finger just outside the trigger guard.
"I want a smoke."
Matthew shook his head in confusion.
"Why the hell would you come to me? I don't have any."
"I know that. You don't smoke, right? What I want from you are your matches."
"My… Matches?" Matthew stared at the man who had apparently breached enemy lines for a book of matches.
"Yeah, your matches. I used all of mine and rubbing two sticks together wasn't working for me."
Matthew sighed and pulled out his book of matches with the hand not cradling his gun. The man laughed delightedly and snatched them from his hand. Gilbert pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit the end before offering another one to him. Matthew shook his head and watched the smoke curl gently through the leaves.
"You shouldn't be here," Matthew said.
"And why's that?"
"Because you're the enemy!"
Gilbert looked genuinely concerned.
"That's odd," he laughed, "I've always been told you were the enemy."
Matthew paused and thought about that for a moment before chuckling quietly.
"I guess you're right."
"I'm always right."
Gilbert finished his first cigarette and started another. His hands shook slightly this time as he attempted to strike another match, so Matthew took back the book of matches and lit one for him. He held it to the end of the cigarette perched between Gilbert's lips and watched the fire flicker across his features.
Gilbert had fixed wide eyes on the clearing.
"What are you really doing here?" Matthew asked suspiciously as he shook out the match.
Gilbert turned his gaze on him; unsteadily blowing smoke towards the heavens in shallow, gasping breathes.
"Saving your life."
The sharp bark of a single bullet rang in the distance and suddenly the deafening rattle of gunfire was everywhere. Shouting came from the camp as enemy soldiers ran out from amongst the trees and into the clearing. The men struggled to find their weapons in the chaos and their screams pierced through Matthew as he scrambled to stand up.
Gilbert tripped him, flipped him over to sit across his stomach, and pinned his hands to the earth. His gun landed just out of reach.
"Let me up, let me up!" screeched Matthew; struggling and clawing and bucking against the man.
"No," said Gilbert firmly, still holding the cigarette in his mouth.
"Let me up, you fucking asshole! What the fuck?"
"No. This is for your own good."
Matthew stopped scrabbling for a moment to stare in horror.
"My own good? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You're killing us!"
The screams from the camp were quieting to wet gurgles and whispered prayers. Matthew could hear a man begging for his life; pleading desperately before a slick crack was heard and the man fell silent.
The man had been a friend of his. Someone he shared molding biscuits and morbid jokes with. And now he was dead.
Gilbert shook his head in short, jerking movements.
"No," he murmured frantically. "No, I'm saving you. You should be dead."
Matthew felt the grip loosen on his wrists, but made no move to push Gilbert off of him. As the dying men fell hushed behind him, Matthew knew it would be suicide to try and save them. It was already too late. Again and again, Matthew was left alone in the silence. Waiting.
"I'm saving you. You should be dead," Gilbert repeated with a wild look in his eye, trying to make Matthew understand that if he had still been standing in the clearing, he would be dead. He was trying to make him understand the significance of calling him over and what he had sacrificed in order to save him.
And Matthew did understand, in a way.
He did, but he was still furious.
Matthew leaned forward without pushing Gilbert off and grabbed the still lit cigarette from his lips. It had all happened so fast. Matthew sucked harshly on the end and blew smoke in Gilbert's face.
"I hate you."
Gilbert smiled sadly and nodded.
Matthew slumped over in the foxhole, cradling his head in his arms and drifting in and out of consciousness to the sweet music of gunfire and explosions. There was long, deep scratch up the inside of his leg and blood pooled beneath him faster than the earth could drink it. He might be dying, but seeing as he had no medical supplies, it was useless to check.
The ground was shaking and dust fluttered through the air as the bombs dropped closer and closer to his hiding spot, but he could not leave and would have to hope that the airplanes missed him. If not, then at least he had just dug his own shallow grave.
Six months had passed since that first day in hell, and when a bit of flesh flew through the air and into his foxhole, he simply scooped it up with his bare hands and tossed it back out. He had seen much worse.
The earth shook again and the vibrations turned Matthew's stomach.
He found himself praying for a cigarette.
And suddenly, he could hear the quick, heavy footsteps of someone running desperately for cover. A man dived into the foxhole and landed on his leg. Matthew hissed in pain, but truthfully, it did not hurt much anymore.
That was not a good sign.
The man scrambled to the other side of the hole and began whispering apologies before staring in shocked silence.
"… Matthew?" He choked in disbelief.
Matthew could make out the pale hair and paler skin despite his vision blurring and darkening around the edges. Another bomb dropped and shrapnel whistled through the air.
"Gilbert. Figures you would show up."
Gilbert laughed uneasily.
"You always show up when something awful is about to happen."
"What makes you say that?" Gilbert glanced towards the sky and watched the shadows of airplanes disappear into the clouds.
"I think I'm dying."
The soldier turned abruptly; shocked, and crawled over to him. His hands slipped in the pool of blood and he rubbed it between his fingers.
"Yours?" He asked.
Gilbert sidled up beside him and set his pack onto the ground.
The edges of his vision were darker than before.
"Leg. My left leg."
Gilbert ran his hands over the leg and found them covered in blood. He swore quietly under his breath and rifled frantically through his pack. He pulled out a small medical kit and a canteen of water and set them on top of the canvas bag.
"Fat lot of good that'll do you."
Gilbert slapped Matthew lightly on the cheek; smearing his own blood across his face.
"You listen, and you listen close; there is no way I am letting you die after I went through all the trouble of saving your life. You hear me?" He rasped. "Now, take off your pants."
Matthew hiccupped on a gurgle of laughter.
"Well, that was forward."
"Matthew, we don't have time for this. Pants. Off. Now."
Matthew giggled and struggled to remove his belt but his fingers kept slipping and fumbling over the leather. Finally, Gilbert batted his hands out of the way and undid the buckle; sliding the fabric down over the wound and pulling his pants off with his boots.
The scratch was more of a gouge that swelled with new blood every time his heart beat.
"What the fuck, kid?"
Gilbert took the canteen of water and splashed some on the wound and washed his hands in the rest. He reached for his kit and paused; instead reaching into his pocket and pulling out a cigarette. Matthew laughed.
"I only smoke when I'm with you."
Gilbert smiled wearily and lit the cigarette before passing it to Matthew.
"This is going to sting like a bitch."
Matthew let the smoke pass through his lips.
Gilbert grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol and poured it over the wound. Matthew bit down so hard to keep from screaming that the cigarette snapped in half and fell uselessly into the blood.
Gilbert lit another one and took a drag himself before passing it on.
He wiped as delicately as he could around the abrasion with a clean handkerchief and looked it over carefully.
"You're going to need stitches."
Another bomb dropped closer than before. Matthew inhaled.
"Well then, you better get started."
Gilbert chuckled nervously and searched through his pack. He grasped some darning thread and a needle better suited for mending canvas than human skin. He threaded the needle and Matthew could see that his hands were shaking.
Finally, he bent forward, close to the wound, and slipped the needle through his skin. It pinched and burned as the thread was pulled tight. Gilbert passed the needle to the other side and pulled the pieces of the slash together. Back and forth, back and forth, again and again, until the wound was sealed.
Matthew was on his fifth cigarette by the time Gilbert finished.
Gilbert splashed more rubbing alcohol on the wound and Matthew growled.
"I've told you that I hate you, right?"
"I hate you."
Gilbert began wrapping his leg in fresh bandages from his medical kit; winding around and around in steady rhythm. Matthew found his vision clearing, but that could be from the excruciating pain just as easily as from relief.
Yet another bomb exploded; this one only thirty metres away. It rocked the earth beneath them and sent fresh dust and ash and shrapnel into the air.
After all that, they were going to die anyway.
"I hate you," he said again, and the words felt heavy and meaningful as they left his lips.
Gilbert leaned forward and tugged the cigarette from his lips before sealing a kiss over them. He tasted like whiskey and lemon candies and, of course, cigarettes. A bomb dropped in the distance, blissfully far away as the airplanes flew overhead and out of sight.
Gilbert broke the kiss and peeked over the edge of the foxhole.
"Well, shit. It looks like nobody is dying today."
Matthew touched his lips.
"You kissed me."
Gilbert turned back to Matthew and smiled.
"Yes, I did."
"I thought we were going to die."
It was as simple as that. Matthew and Gilbert sat in companionable silence, both grateful to have escaped the grasping claws of death once more, and passed cigarettes between them. The sun was setting beyond the horizon and a pleasant breeze chilled the fever burning across Matthew's heated skin.
This must be what falling in love felt like.
Matthew watched the smoke from their cigarette disappear into the evening air and let his head rest against Gilbert's shoulder.
"Don't think I'm easy just because you got me out of my pants."
Gilbert choked in surprise before bursting into laughter that echoed for miles.
Matthew marched alongside the misshapen barrier built from burnt wood, scraps of metal, and twisting barbed wire. He was loathe to be anywhere near barbed wire since it had cut through his skin eleven months earlier, but standing guard here beat standing vigil at the front.
The men trapped inside the barrier were moaning so softly that it was almost lost on the wind, but that made it somehow worse. Officially, this was a P.O.W. camp. Unofficially, this was where senior officers came to take out their frustrations. The ditch not one kilometre away was filling quickly with the bloated, mutilated corpses of their enemies and soon another ditch would need to be ploughed.
It was maddening, but there was not a damn thing he could do about it, so he kept quiet and pretended that he could not hear the moaning.
"Pssst," came a whisper from behind the fence and Matthew felt the blood drain from his face and settle in his toes at the sense of 'déjà vu'.
Matthew pivoted slowly and squinted to see through the lopsided construct.
Anyone but him.
Gilbert was leaning against the fence, mindless of the metal thorns digging into his skin. He was dishevelled and bruised, but smiling nonetheless.
Matthew glanced to the side to be sure no one was watching, but honestly, the area was largely deserted during the day. It was not until the sun set that the 'fun' began.
"What are you doing here?"
"What do you think?"
"No. You're not supposed to be here."
"Try telling them that."
Matthew simply shook his head in disbelief.
"I… What… I…"
Gilbert shrugged his shoulders and smiled gently.
"It's not your fault. These things just happen."
"Okay, not to other people, but to us… Say, do you have a cigarette on you? I'm dying for one."
Matthew flinched at the choice of words, but fished desperately through his pockets for a cigarette and match. He lit the end and passed it with some difficulty through the barbed wire.
"I thought you didn't smoke."
"I do now."
Gilbert chuckled and took a long drag.
"I'm a bad influence."
Matthew watched Gilbert suck on the cigarette the same way a drowning man would suck on air. He was even paler than the last time Matthew had seen him, and the bruises dusting his body stood starkly against his pale skin in dark welts of purple ringed in black. He was gaunt and hollow and beaten. His eyes were bright with madness.
And Matthew thought that he was wonderful.
Matthew passed another cigarette through the fence and kept watch. And then another. All the while thinking and plotting and planning.
"Hey, kid, it's not your fault. Really."
Matthew ignored him.
"I said it's not your fault," Gilbert growled again.
Matthew continued to ignore him.
"Listen to me!"
"Shut up," Matthew sighed without venom, "I'm thinking."
Gilbert opened his mouth to argue, but closed it again with a thoughtful look. He kept staring steadily at Matthew as the minutes ticked by, and Matthew tried to ignore his gaze as easily as he had ignored his words. It was hard.
"… What?" Matthew finally asked, somewhat uneasily.
"You're awesome, you know that?"
"You. Are. Awesome."
"What does that even mean?"
Gilbert looked mildly affronted as he thought of another way to say whatever he was trying to say.
"Ah. I think you said it best; I hate you."
I love you.
"Oh." Matthew felt a blush bloom across his cheeks despite the circumstances. He turned away. "Oh."
Gilbert leant on the barbed wire with an infuriating little smirk and insisted on watching Matthew.
Insufferable, wonderful bastard.
Matthew turned back towards Gilbert; his mind made up.
"Meet me at the south corner at sunset. The south corner, okay?"
Gilbert nodded, and Matthew passed another cigarette to him before marching out of sight.
When sunset came, Matthew was waiting anxiously in the shadows of the construct; wringing his hands and chewing on his bottom lip. This was a needlessly precarious situation and he had abandoned his post, however briefly. He must be insane. If anyone came to check on him, it would all be over. He should go back.
And in the morning, he would have to toss Gilbert into the mass grave. And if not this morning, then the next one. And if not that one, then the one after. It was only a matter of time if Matthew left him now.
Matthew bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and stood his ground.
The sound of humming drifted through the fence, and Matthew was able to just make out the silhouette of a man standing in the south corner.
"Hello?" He whispered.
Matthew breathed a sigh in a combination of relief and dread.
"The ground slopes here, just a bit. I'm going to pull on the wire. You should be able to slip under. Okay?"
"Okay," Gilbert whispered back.
Matthew wrapped his fingers around the barbed wire and ignored the stinging.
He began tugging upwards and could feel the cold metal biting into the flesh of his hand.
Matthew pulled the barbed wire up as far as it would go and let Gilbert push himself under as quickly and quietly as possible. Some of the wire scraped across his back and he hissed, but the rest of the prisoners were huddled at the other end of the enclosure and none had the energy to seek out the sound.
In no time at all, Gilbert was standing on the same side of the fence and Matthew was able to let the wire fall back into place. He hand was bleeding, but it was a distant pain.
Matthew grabbed a filthy pack from his feet and thrust it into Gilbert's hands.
"This is all I can do for you."
"Trust me; it's more than enough."
Matthew leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss lightly on his lips, before pulling back and waving Gilbert towards the cover of some trees in the distance.
"I hate you too."
I love you too.
Gilbert grinned manically, before dropping to the ground and crawling towards the lifeline in the fast approaching darkness. Matthew watched him for only a minute; feeling eerily as if he had just sent Gilbert to his death, and certainly into the unknown, before returning to his post.
The thin sliver of a crooked, crescent moon drifted through the clear night sky; casting little light. It was well past midnight, but the streets were still crowded in drunken celebration as citizens and soldiers alike revelled in their good fortune. It was the end of a long war, and the haggard, starving masses finally had something to celebrate.
Couples and threes hid in the shadows of cobblestone passages; rutting languorously. Men stumbled down the street swinging ale and caterwauling incoherently. There was a woman with a braying laugh who stood on the corner and hiked her skirts well over her knees.
Matthew wandered through the crowds with a delicate, fragile smile. It was an odd feeling; surreal, to say the least. He was as pleased as anyone to see an end to the carnage and destruction, but it had been his reality for the past three years. He had forgotten how to be... Normal…
A drunken man staggered into him, and Matthew had to keep his itching fingers from grabbing his pistol and littering him with bullets.
Matthew was wearing blue jeans, a white dress shirt with silver buttons, and a soiled pair of trainers that he had been able to buy second hand. He was severely missing his uniform. He felt naked without the comforting weight of his pack or the stamping of his reinforced and studded boots. The pistol was slipped into a holster hanging low on his hips. He should have left it behind at base with the rest of his equipment, but that would have been too much.
Matthew sat on a low garden wall; leaning back on his hands to watch the moon and the fireworks that peppered the sky. The music and dance and laughter swirled together until Matthew could no longer tell where one ended and the next began.
A man sidled up beside him and lit a cigarette, and finally, there was something he could relate to.
Matthew turned to bum a cigarette off of the man, and paused. Gilbert was slouched nonchalantly next to him with a charming smile and a mischievous glint in his eyes. He was blowing smoke through his lips and staring up at the sky. In the flash of fireworks, Matthew could see that his pale skin was stained with bruises and scrapes. He was wearing a similar outfit of blue jeans, a black collared shirt with the buttons undone, and bright red boots that looked to be two sizes too big. His stomach was wrapped in bandages; worn and dirty around the edges.
Gilbert tilted his head, still smiling, and offered Matthew his cigarette.
Matthew stared in shock, glancing between the man and the cigarette, before lunging forward and knocking Gilbert back into the sheltered garden. He landed on top of him and slugged him across the jaw.
Gilbert choked in surprise and started laughing; clutching the side of his face.
"What the hell was that for, kid?"
"Fuck you. I was worried."
Gilbert continued to chuckle lightly and threaded his fingers through the hair at the nape of Matthew's neck, pulling him down.
"What happened? I thought that you had died. I thought that I had killed you."
Gilbert touched their foreheads together and smoothed his thumb over Matthew's cheek.
"You can't get rid of me that easily."
Matthew struggled briefly between killing or kissing the man, and found middle ground by punching him again before bending over and closing the distance. The kiss was desperate and sloppily greedy; too much teeth and tongue to be anything chaste. Gilbert tangled his fingers through his hair and tugged him down. Matthew ground his hips against Gilbert and fumbled his fingers over the belt buckle between them.
Gilbert broke away, laughing.
"You were always useless at this. Here, let me."
Gilbert undid the belt buckle with a jerk and a flick of his wrist.
"Shut up, asshole," Matthew mumbled; petulant. "It was one time."
Gilbert bit the inside of his lip and flipped Matthew over; straddling him and unbuttoning his jeans. He sucked and licked over his collarbone; biting down and drawing blood. Matthew writhed beneath him, panting and bucking and moaning, and eternally grateful for the shelter of the garden and the fact that no one could hear them over the sounds of fireworks and laughter.
After two hours, Matthew lay naked on the grass feeling used and abused and sated. By the light of the morning, he would have new bruises, but it was hard to care. Gilbert lay next to him, covered in semen and scratches, with a lopsided grin.
Gilbert rifled through their discarded clothes and found a cigarette. He lit the end and took a drag, before passing it to Matthew and rolling onto his side. He propped his swollen chin on his hand and stared as Matthew sucked on the cigarette.
"… What?" Asked Matthew, rolling towards Gilbert and cocking an eyebrow.
"I hate you."
I love you.
Matthew smiled and brought their battered lips crashing together again; tossing the cigarette into the grass. The amber glow twinkled in the shadows of the garden where it lay forgotten.
"I hate you too."
I love you too. Please, don't leave me.
Gilbert melted into the kiss; making it delicate and soft and painfully slow. It was leisurely and sweet, as if they had all the time in the world. And maybe, just maybe, they finally did.
I'm not going anywhere.
I really, really, really like this story. A lot. I like the feel of it. I think that this is my new favourite story.
It's quite long, for a one shot; it took me a while to write it, but the idea had been lurking in the shadows for a while, until I could no longer ignore it.
You will notice that I never mention which side is which, and that there is no reference to 'good' or 'evil'. It is terribly simplistic to believe war to have 'good' and 'evil', or even 'right' and 'wrong'. There are sides, and that is that. Your beliefs might make one side more appealing than the other, or your politics or nation might make the choice for you, but that is all it is. In this war, Matthew and Gilbert just happen to be on opposite sides. And in the end, you see that this means nothing and everything at the same time. You will notice that I never even mention which side won. This war, before someone asks, is based in an alternate timeline or reality. You pick.
I'm a little odd; I spend my spare time studying insects, researching geopolitics, and exploring military history. I've been this way for a while. Writing a story like this brings me considerable bliss, but it may be a little hard for others to swallow. If you are reading this, then you gave it a chance, and I am grateful. I hope that maybe, just maybe, it managed to touch you in some way.
I will probably write the same story from Gilbert's point of view; it just might take a little while. I think it would be interesting to see the world (this world) and the events that unfold through his eyes.
Please leave a review and feel free to offer opinions, advice, or criticism. All are welcome. Feel free to leave an anonymous review, I do not mind, just please let me know what you think of this story.