He sloshed through the trench, rifle at the ready, but found himself continually distracted. With each step he took, he could feel the lukewarm water in his boots squelch against his pruning toes, and the feeling was beginning to become unbearable. He stopped, in the middle of the downpour, and turned his face upwards at the unforgiving gray curtain, silently willing the rain to cease. Perhaps something heard his plea, and the rain dissolved into a fine mist that hung heavy in the air. He relished the sudden cessation of the drumming, becoming acutely aware instead of the steady drip drip drip and trickling of water moving. The soldier took a moment to wipe the excess moisture and mud across his face, doing little to actually remove either. He was close. He felt it with the uncertain certainty of a gambler betting on one last game. His hazel eyes returned to the lessening gloom of the trench and noticed a shape huddled at the end of the short straight away. Emotions leapt into his throat at the sight of the familiar downy blonde hair peeking from under a helmet over a familiar uniform; a bittersweet cocktail of sudden relief and a renewed surge of concern.
“Private Anders!” His boots splashed through ankle deep puddles that dotted the floor of the trench.
“Private Anders.” He slowed as he came closer, noting the trembling shoulders and the faint sobbing emanating from the younger man.
“Anders?” Reaching out tentatively with one hand, filled with trepidation, he moved to catch hold of the young soldier’s shoulder whose shaking had become visibly more violent.
At his touch, Anders roared, a primal wordless scream of terror and spun to face the other soldier, and shoved him back. Somewhat stunned, the sergeant stumbled and just managed to catch the barrel of Ander’s rifle as it was brought to bear, wrenching it away from his face with just one hand. Grimly they stood there, wrestling for control, Anders screaming and spiting in his madness, the other desperately trying to reach him through his fear stricken state.
A searing white hot flash clawed its way up past the sergeant's cheek and knocked his helmet off his head, shearing stray strands of his black hair off as it vanished into the clouds. With a curse, he jerked away from the noise even as his ears filled with a dull ringing. Glaring balefully at the young private, the older soldier surged forward and backhanded him across the face. “Wake up soldier!”
Anders recoiled from the blow, dropping his rifle and cringing from the older soldier. A spark of recognition lit his cornflower blue eyes as he regarded the man towering over him. “Sarge?” The words were faint and unsure.
“Damn right Anders.” The older soldier jerked the younger to his feet. Relief flooded the younger soldier‘s face at the proclamation and he sagged into the sergeant’s arms, tears running unchecked down his cheeks.
Ander’s helmet was flung high into the air even as the boy himself was ripped from the sergeant’s arms and struck the ground with a splash. Instincts took over as the sergeant’s head turned towards the source of the gunfire. His legs caved into a kneeling position, digging deep into the soft mud of the trench even as his own rifle came up to eye level, aimed back down the direction he had come from. *Krack* another bullet whizzed through the air above the sergeant’s head, burying itself with a splat in the melting walls of the trench. His hands steadied themselves, centering the rifle on the form that materialized out of the mist, and ever so softly, his fingers caressed the trigger.
He registered a puff of red that hung in the damp air as his hands reflexively lifted and pulled the bolt of his rifle. The figure staggered but remained standing, and the sergeant’s mind began registering the details of what he saw. Pained, cornflower blue eyes pleaded with the sergeant beneath a fringe of fair blond hair. Too late, the sergeant’s hand smoothly slid forward; chambering a second round, readjusting his sights. Another boy soldier, another Anders, wrapped in a different uniform. Too late, to call back the shot that would snap back the boy’s head, freeing the downy blond hair to flutter delicately as the boy fell amidst a spray of blood. Too late, much too late, the sergeant closed his eyes as his finger squeezed the trigger.
The sergeant turned away, charging his weapon, wondering if somewhere out there, someone was searching for that boy soldier like he had been for Anders. Fumbling for Ander’s throat, searching for a pulse, the sergeant gave a shaky sigh before sitting back on his haunches. The sergeant turned his gaze to the sky once more and idly wondered when he’d next see the clear blue skies of home. With a grunt he stood and recovered his helmet, dumping out its collected contents of water and mud as best he could before slapping it on his head. Turning back around, he returned to Anders' still form.
Reaching down, he maneuvered the young soldier into a sitting position, eliciting a groan from the comatose boy. Wrapping one arm around his shoulder, the sergeant hoisted Anders shakily to his feet as thunder rolled in the distance followed by flashes of light through the haze. Artillery shells. As Anders groggily attempted to catch his footing, the sergeant thought of their escape through the oncoming push.
“C’mon Anders. We’re done here.”