Sledge wakes up.
He wakes up instead of shakes into consciousness, shivering from rain, shaking from bombshells. He wakes up comforted and with eased muscles instead of harsh mud that took and took and took alive or dead, bullet or rot. Instead of cries of mercy, mother, pain and suffering, he heard the loud chirp of a bird outside his window. He opens his eyes to a rested face and fears they might be gone.
His throat is clogged and if its mud or tears he doesn’t know the difference anymore, but a sob tears apart his throat and he smothers it in cotton, white instead of olive green, dark brown and maroon red. Sheets, uniforms, guns, bodies. His memory is vivid but his dreams are worse. The air is warm but he quakes; pulls the sheets over his head, hides like a kid.
In front of him is a toned back – darker skinned, smooth to the touch – but there’s no dirt or grime or sweat, for once. He’s clean, they’re clean, but when he looks down he has blood-soaked hands. He swallows another sob, closes his eyes and lets the tears fall, accepts that he is weak. There is shifting and he fears it could be another body shifting closer in a hole in the mud, cold needy hands, but instead there’s covers being pulled away from his face, cradles his head and pulls him closer. He lets it happen, because contact is the only thing grounding him. There’s this sobbing of a woman near death in his head, crying of a baby in his ears. He sees explosions and ground shattering booms but he can’t hear them, sees effects of a hell he’s already been through.
He fears that, if he opens his eyes, when he opens his eyes, he won’t see white sheets and golden sunlight and a bird outside the window, won’t see a person that is never soft and hurts more than capable, but will open them to a sheet of rain and a familiar face looking up at him, wound in chest and far too young to have died, not his fault. Not his fault.
So, he doesn’t. He lets the mud in his throat harden and break, and he lets out choked sobs, lets arms cradle his head into their chest, understands. That’s all he’s ever needed.
“Just a nightmare, Sledgehamma,” rumbles through soft skin he’s pillowed on, a familiar drawl of someone somewhere foreign, croaky from sleep but melting the honey clogging his ears with sounds of death easily, saves him from a hell he must remind himself he’s already gone through, that he doesn’t have to go back. “Don’t have to worry no more.” He finishes, fingers finding his hair as he sobs into his chest.
It seems entirely real. The fingers brushing his scalp and the wetness of his eyelashes brushing skin, sheets and blankets tangled and warming his core, frozen cold. The bird chirping out a window still calls for morning, beckons the sun into the room. This feels real.
But, so does the screaming. The pain and the blood and the mud covering everything, saving nobody. The gunshots ringing his ears and a frail, pale and dirty old woman cradled in his arms as she reaches hopefully to death. She had thought it was better,
he did too. Because it was real, it had all been real. Eddie was dead, Hamm was dead and his body was buried in the mud, dug up and covered again just so another body could hide above it. A bullet in his chest, blood from his mouth and blue eyes. Hamm was barely eighteen. There was blood covering Sledge’s hands and he was a killer of all ages. It was real. But... it wasn’t right now.
He opens his eyes and looks at blue ones, hard and not soft at all, but worried – sincere. Moments like these are rare, like how the first time it had rained after a long drought out week of sunshine and smoked bodies, eyes closed and face to the sky, at peace. It’s something you remember, those moments that stick with you forever. Like those flashes of memories you see before you die, important things last and small things first. Like how his mother’s rosebushes looked in the sun, and how the leaves would pile into the river in the forest during autumn, made it look like you could walk across it. He decided to remember this forever, wanted it to be the first and last thing he saw before he died. Snafu blinked his pretty blue eyes and he looked straight out of heaven, but he all but knew that he was straight from hell. The sun kissed his hair, and his curls were wispy and see-through at the top, added a golden glint to his eyes. Snafu smiled, that lopsided all pearly teeth smile, that you only saw him pulling out of others.
“See somethin’ you like?” He jokes, as Sledge calms down and wipes his face on Snafu’s chest.
“Do you?” He responds looking up at him. Snafu only smiles wider, props up himself with his elbow.
“Think I do.” And he seemed deviously playful, and if he didn’t know him, he thinks he’d be frightened.
“Well, there’s no time for that.” He answers, fully knowing his intentions and scooching a little away.
“Awe, c’mon Sledge, just a little.” He pushes, scooting closer as he scoots backwards, Eventually, they reach the edge of the bed and he feels himself teetering, knows mentally he feels himself getting pulled back up. He always could drag him out of that death pit whenever his mind lingered back to it, and he always tried to do the same for Snafu. Tried to drag him out of it when he woke up to Shelton sitting on the edge of his bed, clenching his fists and breathing deeply. But Merriell Snafu Shelton was a beast, a fire, wild and untamed. A flame that could burn and kill and destroy if you let him, that would just keep lighting himself back up if he went out. He teeters on the bed, grasps the sheets to hold himself from falling.
“You wouldn’t,” He says, knowing full well he would.
And snafu is evil, scoots a little closer, and Sledge is involuntarily falling off the bed. He hits the hardwood floor and the other is snickering, laughing with crinkles in his eyes.
“Awe, hell.” He curses, smiling, trying to hide it by looking hurt.
“Hey, how about you make us some coffee while you’re at it?” He teases, gesturing to him being out of bed.
“Yeah yeah, fuck you.” He gives up, smiling with no bite. He pushes himself up, but being immediately pulled when Snafu grabs his arm and pulls him down for a kiss.
It’s savory, it’s everything unlike the ones in Peleliu and Okinawa, and he loves it. He loves that none of their kisses are from desperation anymore, just content and happiness. Loves that they don’t need to be hidden, can find each one in the safety of his home.
Loves that its Merriell and not just Snafu.
When he pulls away, those blue eyes consider his and he says, “Fuck you too.”
Sledge smiles, pecks him on the lips just to leave his mark, even though it has always subtly been there and Snafu’s has always been on him, before he stands up straight and gently pulls away.
“You better be making the bacon, though,” He says as he shuffles out into the hallway, rubbing his eyes clear of past experiences and sleep so he can see the current more clearly.
Snafu’s laugh haunts him more than any nightmare or ghost could.