Challenge #104: Swallows It Down With His Tears

Two days in the jungle, and our luck held.

They sent an entire wing of choppers. They only needed one. Heero rode in the stretcher fixed to the skids. I rode inside, bits of rag stuffed in my ears to try to keep out the deafening roar of the rotors. I held on to the strap fixed to the inside of the doorway, balancing an assault rifle across my lap with the other. The dogtags wrapped around my first chattered against the barrel, but I couldn't hear it.

Nothing was wrong with me that sleep, fluids, and solid food wouldn't cure. They left me sitting in the waiting room with a cup of water and a ham sandwich sitting on my knee. The jungle and death stench that clung to my shirt drove everyone else away.

I sipped the water and ignored the sandwich with its pink insides drooling out from between the crusts.

They both came at once, from opposite directions. She wore a white dress and a simple straw hat, her hair cascading down her back in a golden wave. She was so clean I smelled the jasmine and soap; it made my eyes water with something indescribable. One of the men from my unit had called her our angel, when she first came to hand out encouragement and letters from home.

He came in at a dead run, stinking of the jungle, his brown shirt plastered to him with dark triangles on chest, back, and armpits. As he came through the door, his helmet flew off and skittered across the floor, coming to a rest at my feet. His dog tags were obscured with a smear too dark to be blood and too red to be mud. The last thing I saw was the sweaty, black spikes of hair that had once been long and auburn, and then he slammed his way into the hospital.

As she stepped toward the door, I stood, the sandwich dropping on to Duo's helmet, and the water splattering over my pants and boots.

“Don't,” I said.

Relena turned to look at me. “Why? Wufei, please tell me what's happened, no one will...” She had the look of someone who desperately wants a lie.

“I... do know what happened.” I shoved the empty paper cup with the toe of my boot. It rolled under a chair, decorated with a black smear of battlefield mud.

“Wufei, please...”

I stared at the cup a moment longer, then said, “Come with me.” She came in my wake, fearful and confused, as I lead her across the base to the one place I had never before gone – the bar. I sat on a stool, and she sat next to me, her nose wrinkling at the smell. “Order something for me... please,” I said.

Her blonde eyebrows drawn together in confusion, she did just that. The drink was fruity and sweet, something I would have expected her to like. All that mattered to me was the alcohol and salt sting at the back of my throat.

“Wufei...”

I shook my head. “They don't know if he will live. I believe that he will.”

Relena traced a water mark on the scarred bar. “Why did you stop me?” When I looked at her, her eyes were already clouding with tears.

“When he wakes, Duo should be the first person he sees,” I said. I took another too-sweet drink. He would need every comfort his partner could give, when they told him about his leg. More sharply than I intended, I continued, “Don't cry for someone that's still alive. Not for the fortunate.”

Relena shook her head, the tears flowing down her cheeks, dripping from her chin into her own untouched drink. “I don't understand.”

I looked at my hands, wrapped around the cool, damp glass. The whorls of my fingerprints were stained dark with mud, the nails crusted with things that I didn't want to recall. I thought of a handful of dog tags, names erased by dirt and blood. “Neither do I,” I said.