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Eugene is born to loving parents in a warm hospital. The wallpaper is patterned with bundles of lavender, and Eugene’s mother is holding his father’s hand so tight their fingers have gone ivory white. Written on their wrists are Edward and Mary, in the same loopy cursive writing that everyone else on Earth has. Ed and Mary were lucky enough to have their tattoos in matching places; some people consider it a sign of good fortune.

Mary does not feel very fortunate as she holds her newborn son for only a moment before he’s snatched away from her by the doctor. Edward and her both listen carefully as the doctor tells them all about the baby’s vital signs and bad condition and unpromising symptoms, and she holds her husband’s hand tighter.

The nurse, in an attempt to comfort the new couple, asks softly, “Is this your first?”

Edward answers for both of them. “No, but our eldest is healthy. Now, look, I’m a doctor too, couldn’t I help—”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the doctor looming over Eugene interrupts, “but we’ve got things under control. Your infant is in the best hands, Mary.”

Mary privately thinks that the best hands are the ones she’s holding right now, but she doesn’t contradict the doctor. She breathes slowly and nods, and the room fills with an awkward, tepid silence.

Eugene lets out a tiny sob, and Mary’s heart hurts. She tries to sit up, craning her neck to see him, and spies a black mark on the side of his minute index finger. It doesn’t look like blood. “What’s that? On— on his hand?”

The doctor ignores her, busy trying to get his patient to stabilize, but the nurse succumbs to her maternal worrying. She takes a peek at Eugene’s tiny hand, leaning over him to squint. “Oh, that’s his soulmate mark! Merriell— what a lovely name.”

“Merriell?” Edward squeezes Mary’s hand, chuckling. “Sounds like yours.”

It does, a little. Mary is momentarily reassured, and leans back against the pillows behind her, eyes still on her new child. “I suppose so.”

-

Merriell? What kind of a name is that?”

Eugene frowns, yanking his hand away from Sidney. Sid doesn’t seem bothered by the protest, reaching to hold Eugene’s hand and gently pull his fingers apart once more. They both stare at the tiny black tattoo, stretched over the inside of Eugene’s pointer finger. Sid laughs. “It’s a weird place to have it, too.”

“This is why I didn’t wanna show you,” Eugene mumbles. They’re sitting on a swing set together, seats turned to face each other. His legs are rubbing up against the bones in Sid’s grass-stained bare knees, and he’s worried Sid is gonna turn his pants green. They’ve only been friends for half a year but they’re already the thickest of thieves. This has been one last secret they haven’t told each other.

“Hey, don’t get offended. I think it’s a pretty name.” Sid grins, and reaches down to undo the buttons on his shirt. He lets go of the swing’s chains to do so, and Eugene quickly holds Sid’s knees so he won’t float away. He pulls his chest open, and points to the word in the middle of his torso, written in red. “Here’s mine.”

Eugene stares in slight disbelief, and then laughs uncomfortably. “Sid. That’s my ma’s name.”

Sid wiggles his eyebrows. “I know.”

Despite being a recovering invalid, Eugene still delivers a pretty solid punch to Sid’s shoulder that knocks him back off his swing. Sid somersaults onto his back, laughing until he cries, and Eugene stares at him until he starts laughing too.

“Kinda hoped you’d have my name,” Sid says through laughter, and all of a sudden Eugene’s smile feels plastered to his face. He doesn’t know what to say, or how to react— he digs his feet into the gravel beneath them and wishes the ground would swallow him up. Eventually Sid grins and grabs Eugene's ankle, and pulls him off his swing despite Eugene squawking loudly in protest.

Another secret that Eugene never tells Sid is that he had kind of hoped that he might have Sid’s name too.

-

Eugene’s pack is heavy on his back, but he doesn’t want to put it down for even a second lest someone call him weak and then find out he’s sick and then ship him back home. He’s still caught up in the excitement of it all— he isn’t sure when the excitement will end, so he’s riding it while he can.

When they walk into K Company’s tent, Eugene’s eyes instantly alight on a man with curly hair, leaned up against the side of the tent. He’s doing something with his foot, and he’s shirtless, and when he looks at Eugene, his mouth falls open.

Eugene doesn’t look away, for reasons he isn’t sure of. “We’re supposed to be in 60 mortars. Second squad,” he informs the tent’s occupants uncertainly.

“Jesus,” one of the marines laughs. He’s shirtless too, and Eugene wrenches his eyes away from the curly-haired one to look at the others. “These guys are supposed to be 60 mortars…”

Someone takes pity on them, and says, “This is second squad.” He has a blue tattoo across his heart that says Florence. It almost looks like veins.

Oswalt shifts behind Eugene. “Robert Oswalt.”

“Eugene Sledge,” he adds, and out of the corner of his eyes he sees Curly stiffen at the name. Eugene doesn’t think anything of it.

“You mortars too?”

Leyden supplies, “Riflemen, third platoon. Bill Leyden.”

“Then we’ll ignore you,” the sympathetic marine says, a slight smirk on his face. He points at the curly-haired marine, and then the other, and finally himself: “That’s SNAFU, that man’s De L’eau, and I’m Corporal Burgin.”

Eugene wonders what kind of a man would call himself Snafu. He finds out almost instantly, when Snafu sneers at him trying to take an empty bunk.

“Taken,” Snafu speaks, finally, and his voice is low and slow and nothing Eugene expected. Eugene swallows, caught off guard, and tries not to let his irritation show on his face.

-

The only sounds that can be heard are cicadas singing in the distance and one of the marines crying as everyone else pretends not to hear him. It’s well after midnight, but Eugene doesn’t think he’ll be able to fall asleep for another few hours. What they had seen on Peleliu’s beach had nearly made him want to lie down in the sand and die right there, and that was only his first venture into combat. They’re still in the thick of things.

Eugene looks up at the sky, and mutters a verse so quietly only he and God could possibly hear it: “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I—”

Eugene is interrupted by a soft snore, and he startles at the gentle noise, quickly looking around. He hadn’t thought anyone fell asleep near him, but lo and behold, there’s Snafu hiding in the shadows. His head is resting on one of his knees, and his face looks much more innocent in slumber. He looks more vulnerable too, and Eugene watches him for a few minutes before he, too, succumbs to sleep.

He dreams of Merriell that night; and in his dreams, Merriell isn’t a young woman with long straight tresses. It’s a man with short, curly hair that smiles at Eugene and moves towards him. Eugene moves away, startled that Snafu is going to pull his teeth out; instead, Snafu kisses him. Eugene whispers Merriell in the dream and Snafu smiles, shaking his head.

-

It’s been wet for a week— or a month— or a lifetime. It isn’t raining, but the air is wet regardless. He’s starting to think it might be wet with blood. Sledge can’t remember a time when his skin was dry; when he smelled good and his clothes were clean and his eyes were soft. He thinks he shot that time to death seven enemy soldiers ago.

He can’t remember when he stopped calling himself Eugene.

“Eugene,” Snafu says, and Sledge doesn’t look at him. He keeps crumpling up the letter between his hands. He keeps seeing his father’s face. Snafu walks around him, twisting his neck like a curious cat. His voice is soft with concern. “Gene.”

Snafu has never called him Gene. Not many people have; his mother called him it once upon a time, when she was especially proud of or disappointed in him. Now it feels like an endearment, and Sledge doesn’t deserve anything dear. Sledgehammer suits him so much more now— he isn’t Eugene Sledge at all. He’s a war machine.

A war machine with a dead fucking dog.

“My dog died,” he chokes out, and it sounds childish but he can’t bring himself to care. His voice sounds dead to his own ears; where Eugene might have cried over this, Sledge just sees it as a minor pain. Like someone pricking your finger, not someone ripping out your heart.

Snafu settles down beside him. “I’m sorry,” he breathes, and Sledge can feel Snaf’s eyes on him, and he wants to hit him and tell him to shove his apologies and pull him closer all at once.

He doesn’t do any of that. “He was a good dog.”

“How old was he?”

Sledge wonders if Snafu really cares, or if he’s just trying to return Sledge to optimal killing condition. He regrets the thought as soon as he’s had it— he knows Snafu cares. “Got him as a pup about nine years ago. Maybe ten.”

Snafu adjusts; shifts so that he’s facing Sledge squarely and then rests his head on his knuckles. “They say,” he pauses, and then soldiers on, “dogs live… what? Seven years? To every one of ours?” It’s sweet, and comforting, and he deserves a response.

Sledge doesn’t respond— he can’t. His throat is filled with lukewarm tar, and right now he thinks if he says anything about his dog he’s going to throw up that tar all over their camp. It doesn’t matter if his dog lived to a ripe old dog age. He died after Eugene left— just another casualty of the war.

When Sledge doesn’t say anything, Snafu awkwardly sits back down most of the way. He’s almost settled in at Sledge’s side when suddenly he breathes in sharply, and reaches for Sledge’s hand.

“What?” Sledge demands, knocked out of his grief by surprise.

“Your trigger finger—” Snafu works his fingers between Sledge’s, twisting his hand to read his tattoo. It’s not exactly taboo, especially not given the shit they’ve gone through together, but it’s not exactly polite behaviour.

Sledge stares at Snafu without comprehension. “Yeah. So what?”

Snafu looks up at Sledge, and then down at his finger, and then up to his eyes once more. “Merriell?”

“It’s a weird name, I know,” Sledge laughs humourlessly. Snafu drops his hand. “I’ve never met them. I don’t think it’s in the cards for me. Fuck, to tell you the truth, Snaf, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Merriell was Japanese.”

Snafu settles back down at his side, and Sledge doesn’t have the energy to wonder what that was all about. He’s found that it’s best to stop questioning Snafu’s random quirks. “What about you?” he asks, more to prolong the distraction than anything else. “What’s your soulmate’s name?”

“Don’t have one,” Snafu replies. Sledge nods, and looks back out at the battlefield.

-

When he wakes up on the train, Snafu is gone.

“Oh,” is all Sledge can think to say. Nobody around the train car pays him any mind, and he doesn’t know what to do. He sits there in a sort of shock for maybe a minute, maybe an hour before a stewardess passes through his car. “Uh, excuse me, ma’am? Would you mind telling me when we left Louisiana?”

“About two hours ago,” the woman tells him, and if she’s confused by the question, she doesn’t let on. “Can I help you with anything?”

“No,” Sledge mutters, and sinks down in his seat. “Thank you.”

He reminds himself that Snafu doesn’t have a soulmate, and that whoever Merriell is, they’re still waiting somewhere out there. He tries to fall asleep again, but doesn’t manage it for the rest of the ride.

-

For all that his mother tells him he’s a smart young man with a bright mind and a good intuition, Eugene Sledge doesn’t manage to add two and two together for another three years.

Sid gets married— Eugene is the best man, and he delivers a hilarious speech at the bachelor party about how glad he is that Mary Houston and not Mary Sledge turned out to be Sid’s soulmate. The ceremony is beautiful; Mary looks beautiful, but when Sledge’s mother asks him if he met any nice girls at the wedding the only girl he can remember is the nurse that handed him a drink in Pavuvu. He doesn’t tell her about that, but she looks concerned anyway.

Eugene starts to fall into a depression worse than ever before. On paper, he’s better off than he was in the war— he only sees guns and dead bodies in his nightmares now, and he’s started to sleep for as long as six hours a night. But he has no drive to do anything other than smoke and lose himself in his memories now. His father offers to take him out hunting, but that’s a big no for several reasons. He overhears his mother and father talking about him in worried whispers one afternoon, but doesn’t know how to make things better.

The phone rings one afternoon, and even from his comfortable spot on the lawn Eugene can hear it going off. He thinks his ears might be irreparably trained to notice distant sounds now. He likes the idea; thinks it makes him sound like a superhero.

“Eugene,” his mother calls, sticking her head outside. “One of your friends is calling! He says his name is Rome?”

Eugene squints at her, lowering his sunglasses. “What?”

“Rome, uh…” She hesitates. “Rome? Romus? Romus Burger?”

Eugene nearly falls out of his seat in his eagerness to get to the house. When he picks up the line, the caller is laughing at him, and Eugene can’t help but laugh breathlessly too.

“Did your mother just call me Rome Burger?” Burgie’s voice sounds canned through the shitty connection, and there’s a baby crying in the background. Eugene has never been happier to hear him speak.

“Hey, Burgie,” Eugene says, and closes his eyes, leaning against the table.

“Hey, Sledge.”

They talk for a good hour; for so long that Edward Jr pokes his head around the corner and asks if Eugene has got a girl on the line. He doesn’t talk much about himself, more content to listen to Burgie’s stories. He does talk about Sid, and Sid and Mary, and about how his parents have been thinking of getting a new dog.

Burgie talks about his new wife, mostly, and he’s delighted when Eugene remembers her name without him supplying it. Eugene says he remembers Burgie’s tattoo, and they have a laugh about their first meeting. Burgie asks if he remembers what assholes they all were to him and the other new guys, and Eugene laughs and says that he doesn’t think he could ever forget that.

Florence sounds wonderful, and it sounds like she’s making Burgie the happiest man in the world. After the third time the baby starts crying, Eugene brings it up, and Burgie goes on and on about his daughter and how much he loves her. The pure joy in his voice would make Eugene a little jealous if it wasn’t so contagious, and instead of envying Burgie his happy life, Eugene listens as his old friend puts an infant on the line. He even plays along and coos at her, and hears Florence laughing in the background.

“I’m the luckiest person alive,” Burgie says, picking up the phone again, and Eugene can hear the smile in his voice. “And, you know, I knew I was destined to be with Florence the whole time, but it might not even have worked out if not for Merriell. Really, he’s the whole reason I got my shit together and decided to commit.”

Eugene’s thundering, murmuring heart finally comes to a stand-still. “What?”

“I mean, he’s the reason I got off that train when I did,” Burgie continues, unaware of Eugene’s crisis. “If he hadn’t talked some sense into me, I would have rode with you all the way to Alabama, and blamed my own broken heart on Florence when it would have been my own damn fault. Really, thank god for him! I didn’t propose too long after that either, so—”

“Who-who—” Eugene interrupts, stammering and shaking his head. “Who… is Merriell?”

The line is so quiet for thirty seconds that Eugene wonders if Burgie hung up on him. “Are you joking?” he finally says, awkwardly laughing. “You didn’t think Snafu’s real name was Snafu, did you, Eugene?”

Eugene’s grip goes slack on the edge of the table, and he can feel heat starting to rise to his face. “Are… you… kidding me?”

“No, why would I be kidding? I can’t believe he never told you his real name. Wow. I mean, I thought you two were close—”

“He’s my soulmate,” Eugene interrupts again, this time talking half to himself. He chews his lip for another second, and then repeats, louder and surer. “Snafu’s my soulmate. He’s my… Merriell’s my soulmate.”

Burgie is silent for a moment, and then bursts into awestruck laughter. “You’re an idiot, Eugene Sledge.”

-

The trip to Louisiana seems slower than it ever has before, and Eugene asks the passing attendants when they’re due to arrive every time they enter his car. Eventually they start passing through his car quicker than the others, no doubt hoping to avoid another question from the annoying marine with eyes bugging out of his head and a piece of paper crumpled up in his hands.

He’d obtained Snafu’s— no, he’d obtained Merriell Shelton’s current address from the Marine Corps’ office in Mobile, and he’d obtained a train ticket the same day. When he told his parents he was leaving on a trip, they had feigned sadness, but both been secretly relieved— this is the most initiative he’s shown for something since signing up to fight in the first place.

Eugene looks out the window as they approach the train station, and then gets to his feet, holding his luggage. He hasn’t brought much; just enough clothes to last him a week and a half and enough food to last him two days. He’s one of the first people off the train, and he holds the address in his hands like it’s a sacred piece of parchment as he starts to walk to the information desk.

Someone directs him to someone who directs him to someone who gives him a map, and Eugene nods his thanks before heading out. Louisiana is hotter than Alabama, and where it had been overcast only earlier today the sun now beats down on his back without mercy or restraint. Eugene doesn’t care. He’d run through gunfire for Snafu; a little sunshine is hardly going to hold him back.

The map and address lead him to a street of boring homes, all in a perfect row, and Eugene realizes he isn’t sure what he was expecting. Snafu’s address is the one at the end, and there’s a mailbox with several letters stuffed inside and a pile of cigarette butts on the street. Eugene pockets the paper with the address, and walks up to the house. Whether he’s sweating from nerves or heat is now anyone’s guess.

The house has a garden, which is the first surprise. The garden looks well-tended, if a little messy, and there are a number of plants Eugene doesn’t recognize. He wonders if they’re native to Louisiana at all or if Snafu brought them from other places. The roof hangs over the patio, and Eugene gratefully walks up the steps into the shade.

There he spots the next surprise: a rocking chair. It looks worn and old, and there’s a dog-eared book on the ground next to it. The door to the house is wide open, and the screen door is hanging off its hinges, so Eugene figures he can take his time to be curious. He walks over to the chair and picks the book up. Snafu, or someone else with atrocious handwriting, has been reading and annotating this small book of poems.

Eugene laughs at one of the annotations that just reads “Bad”, and that’s when the third surprise makes itself known to him. A small meow is heard, and then something soft and small bumps its head into Eugene’s leg.

“Hey,” Eugene says to the black kitten now demanding his attention, and kneels to pet it. The cat has a white splotch across its jaw and the biggest eyes Eugene’s ever seen on a baby animal, and it meows again, bumping its head against his palm. His hands seem huge in comparison, and he laughs gently, scratching the cat behind the ears. “You’re a cutie.”

“You’re a ghost.”

Startled, Eugene looks up at the man standing in the doorway. Snafu looks nothing like the soldier Eugene remembers— his hair looks soft and is longer than it used to be, and his face is clean of dirt or blood. All his scrapes and wounds have healed to scars, and he’s wearing a white t-shirt and jeans that are rolled up around the ankles. He’s staring at Eugene with an indecipherable expression, and leaning against the frame of the door.

“Hi,” Eugene begins, and finds he doesn’t know what else to say. He steps up, moving away from the cat. “Is that… your cat? Your garden?”

Snafu just stares at him, and Eugene feels like Sledge again. “Yeah. You like it? The garden?”

“It’s nice,” Eugene mumbles. He should have called first. “Have you… are you… how has it been?”

“It’s been three years is what it’s been,” Snafu says, and he doesn’t sound angry but whatever’s burning behind his eyes is wild and harsh. “Not for nothing, but I kinda thought you were out of my life for good, Sledgehammer.”

He slurs the last syllable just like he used to, and suddenly Sledge remembers what anger feels like. “Is that why you left me behind on the train? You couldn’t wait to get rid of me?”

Snafu doesn’t say anything, he just blinks. His hands twitch, and he crosses his arms over his chest. “I left you behind on the train because I couldn’t stand to say goodbye to you.”

Once again, Sledge is blindsided. “You— do you really hate me that much—”

“That’s not what I said,” Snafu growls. He steps forward, uncrossing his arms. “I wasn’t about to stay in your life as some annoying nuisance when you deserve— You deserve someone so, so much better than me, Sledge.”

“My name isn’t Sledge,” he snaps. “It’s Eugene. And your name isn’t Snafu.”

“I know.”

“It’s Merriell.”

“I know.

Confused and frustrated, Eugene holds up the side of his finger in Snafu’s face, but Snafu just brushes it aside and repeats, “I know. Doesn’t mean shit.”

“Doesn’t mean— You’re my soulmate! Why wouldn’t you tell me that?” Eugene lowers his hand, shaking with anger. “I showed you your name; you saw it! Why wouldn’t you say something?”

“Same reason I couldn’t wake you up to say goodbye to you,” Snafu mumbles. “I don’t want you to ruin your life, and if you get involved with me, that’s what’s gonna happen. I mean, it’s been three years; you’re clearly doing fine, so why—”

“I’m not doing fine!” The kitten runs inside the house, and Eugene quickly lowers his voice. “I’m not. I’m shit, actually, just so you know. I’m doing jack-shit, and I feel like shit, and my life is just. Shit. It’s gotten worse since you left, not better. I need you, Snafu.”

It sounds an awful lot like I love you, which both of them hear, and Eugene feels colour rising to his cheeks. Snafu leans against his house once more. “I’m not… right. For this. I’m not right for you.”

“You’re meant to be right for me,” Eugene insists, “and I don’t care if you don’t have a soulmate. I need you.”

Snafu stares at him, considering his words for a long moment. Just as Eugene’s about to speak again, Snafu admits quietly, “I do.”

At first Eugene has no idea what he means, and then Snafu reaches up to brush back his curly hair, turning his head so Eugene can see behind his ear. There’s a black tattoo hiding there that somehow he never saw in all their fights together— he wonders if Snafu maybe covered it up with dirt. Eugene instantly recognizes the name; it’s the first word he learned how to write. He swallows, but his throat is completely dry.

What he means to say is why the fuck didn’t you tell me I was your soulmate, but what actually comes out is “We’ve wasted so much fucking time.” He reaches up to touch the tattoo, running his finger over the lines, and Snafu shudders and grins.

“Speak for yourself. I have a nice garden.”

Eugene rolls his eyes and uses his grip on Snafu’s head to pull him closer, kissing him right there on the patio.