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15 July 2011 @ 11:30 pm
before the battle - france/england  
Title; Before the Battle
Fandom; Hetalia
Pairing; Francis/Arthur (France/England)
Word Count; 1619
Status; One-Shot / Complete
Rating; PG-13
Warnings; War-wounds and inflictions, language.


Notes; Battle of the Somme fic. The poem 'Before the Battle', of which this fic takes its title and quotes its lines, is by World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Hetalia (c) Hidekaz Himaruya

❝Before the Battle❞

July 1st, 1916.

France made his way down the trench, the sharp, suffocating pang of gas still bitter in his nose and at the back of his throat. He couldn't shake away the thoughts of Verdun - not even in Picardy. His mind was somewhere else. His mind was in the froth-laced juice of burst, spilling ulcers and in the sudden, stuttering collapse of grey, poisoned lungs. His mind was in the blood spluttering and blackening and overflowing from bandages and uniforms and the boils and eyeballs bulging and jutting like octopus skin. His mind was far away with his boys - with his men - and in the slow writhing of their bodies in the dirt or caught on wires, in the red guttering of their eyes, in the earth-shattering calming of their hands before they died.

It was morning and the sky was white as bone and though it was summer, the air was deathly and bleakly cold and for once, free from the screaming of shells. France dragged himself through the thick heaps of sludge-like mud, stumbling every now and then and rasping deliberately, as if trying to cough up the sickening taste in his mouth. France looked down and saw a rivulet of slime, red and thick like jam, and he choked, retching and, with his hands, grabbing and almost-scrambling the side of trench for support. It was like he was tumbling through the belly of something that, from where he was living and breathing and stumbling, he could not see the whole of and for that, at least, he was close-to-thankful.

Somewhere, a bird was singing. It's requiem for the morning was as clear as a golden day. Somewhere, a clock was ticking. That was Arthur's pre-emptive elegy for his sons, perhaps, although it was so hard for Francis to assume.

When he finally reached where he was supposed to be, he remembered why he was meant to be there.

England was huddled on a three-legged wooden chair, his lips were chapped and bruised violet, swollen as if they had been stung repeatedly by angry bees, and his bandages were loose, hanging off and drenched; crudely dyed a dark black-red. His hands were shivering and his eyes were clenched shut and his head was bent down as if he were in the middle of some holy, solemn prayer.

"O- o river of stars and sh- shadows," England whispered hoarsely against his hands, "Lead m- me through th-the night."

France felt his heart tighten suddenly, for England's stammer had returned and his every syllable was drenched with a sad, sweet desperation, and that made him close-to-worried, yet not-quite.

"Poetry, Angleterre?" France asked with the slightest glimmer of a smile - the best he could come up with.

England nodded but didn't look up, "That's r- right but what does it m- matter? Whoever wr- wrote it will pr- probably be dead by the- the end of the month."

"Hush," France chided delicately and knelt down beside England, "Pessimism does not become you. You're stronger than that. "

"Not pessimistic - w-wouldn't dare t-to be," England muttered defiantly, "Just p- pitying myself. Ig- ignore me."

France shook his head and grabbed England by the chin, forcing him to look him in the eyes. It both calmed and frightened him to notice England's eyes were no longer the pinning, regal jewels they once had been - like shining emeralds or jades, perhaps, if he cared to overthink it. They were plainer now, but France couldn't help think they were prettier, like the sun pouring itself onto the grass.

"I feel like I- I've lost too- too much." England smiled sadly, "You un- understand, don't you?"

"Oui, we've lost far too much, mon cher." France replied and opened his mouth to say, 'And we'll lose so much more,' but stopped himself and let his hand drop from England's jaw to squeeze the other nation's shoulder.

England crumpled the paper in his hand but didn't toss it away. He was brave, England. Perhaps the bravest thing in all of forever, or so, France chose to believe. Right now, as England turned his attention to the grimy-looking watch in his other palm, waiting for the hand to reach the half-hour mark, that bravery was still there, of course, but it was crippled and diluted with fear. However, at the heart of it, isn't that what bravery is about? Not in possession of one who is fearless or invincible but belonging to one who does what they have to despite being scared shitless? Doesn't it take more courage to rise above the capacity of one's fear than to do something that is within in? How courageous does one have to be to do something that doesn't terrify them? Not very, incidently, is the answer.

"Are you ready, Angleterre?" France asked, his voice suddenly finding an odd sense of calmness.

"Almost." England replied, reaching for his gun with a shaking hand that bled thin strings of red from the knuckles.

"Almost means not yet." France chuckled but his laugh was empty and broke apart in the breeze.

England furrowed his eyebrows and clutched his rifle towards his chest, making a strange, angry clicking sound with his tongue.

"Show me once more how you would shoot that." France instructed.

"For goodness' sake!" England snapped, his voice rising into a whine at the end, "I- I'm not i- in- incompetent, France!"

"Of course not," France bit his lip, "Just show me. For my own peace of mind at the very least."

England made a low growl in the back of his throat like a frustrated child and hopped down from his chair. Slowly, he pulled the rifle strap over the front of him and raised the gun.

"You won't have any accuracy that way." France sighed and attempted to move England's arms into a different position.

"No," England spat, "I'm j- just f- fucking shivering."

"Either way, you're very inexperienced," France ran a hand through his hair, trying his best not to sound annoyed, "Please, Angleterre, you have to-"

"Don't ev- ever tell me wh- what to do." England whipped round on the spot and glared at France, cutting him off. However, as he saw the blood teasing into France's uniform, saw it smeared over his skin like ointment and saw the dust and the dirt smudged messily over his face, England's expression softened slightly.

"I would cross with you if I could, mon ami." France said in nothing more than a whisper, gazing to the left of him, almost like he was speaking to some imaginary presence.

"I- I don't need you to h- hold my hand, France." England sighed.

"Non, but, perhaps, it would comfort me to hold yours." There was mud and grime flaked on France's smile. His heartbreakingly sad-on-the-inside smile.

"That's n- not the plan." England's voice was cold and calm. "This b- battle will definietly push us b- but we will a- achieve our objective. We c- can get this breakthrough. Y- you got that?"

"I got it but I can't help feel that this might achieve little! I- I know we can. I know, I know. I just-" France stopped himself and looked at the poem trapped in England's clenched fist, "What was that line of poetry you were reading?"

"O- O river of stars and shadows, lead me th- through the n- night." England didn't even glance down.

"Lead me through the night." France repeated the words softly and slowly as if each one were sacred.

Then England breathed and the air turned to white dust and the candles guttered and gargled, their flames reflected in his weary eyes.

"N- nearly time." England mouthed, unable to form the words.

"Angleterre?" France reached out and pulled England into an embrace. England teetered forwards in the mud and allowed France to cradle him like that for a moment. France glared calmly into the cold of the trench as England unsurely began to raise his arms. Their uniforms were waterlogged and England was shuddering as if he were about to break but he wrapped his arms around France anyway, probably trying deperately to feel any sliver of warmth he could before the battle. He buried his face into France's shoulder and pushed his cracked lips together violently as France repeated his name.

"Y- yes?" England answered as he pulled away.

"Be caref-"

"Don't. Don't y- you fucking dare."

France nodded and then he reached out to take England's hand. He brought England's worn-down knuckles to his lips where he kissed each one - a faint trail of the warmest, softest and saddest kisses England had ever received. The atmosphere hardened. The clock ticked away. The whistle blew and they didn't flinch.

Then England straightened, shoving the poem in his pocket. He turned away from France and ran down the trench, shouting orders with such strength and such will and such pure hope in his voice that it was almost dangerously foreboding. He was brave, England. Perhaps the bravest thing in all of forever, or so, France chose to believe.

And France walks away without hesitating or even looking back. France walks down the other side of the trench to where his men will be. He is thankful England can at least hold a gun (even though he can't shoot it), for that, if nothing, is hopefully enough to get him through the day. He is thankful the pain of his wounds is subsiding and replacing it is a strange sense of conviction. He is thankful that poetry gives England hope and faith in ways that he himself not only won't, but can't. He is thankful. He is thankful. He is almost-thankful.

 

 
 
 
sunburntlandsunburntland on July 21st, 2011 08:41 am (UTC)
Beautiful!

I love WWI Fruk, it's so complicated and tragic. Old enermies trying desparately to be allies and achieving understanding in the chaos of total war.
shadow_piper: tearshadow_piper on July 21st, 2011 08:44 am (UTC)
When I saw "SOMME" and "POET" my immediate thought was, "This had better not be a Wilfred Owen dying fic, because I will get all weepy." But Seigfried Sassoon- excellent choice.

Very powerful; the desperation is almost tangible. WWI is the best setting for fruk, hands down.
shadow_piper: ashurasshadow_piper on July 21st, 2011 08:51 am (UTC)
By the way, I saw the fandom list on your journal. Not trying to alarm you, but I think you're me.