This story is LONG. To make it easier, read from here.


Chapter 1: Prelude: Summer 1920

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"Candy Candy" Manga is written by Kyoko Mizuki, Yumiko Igarashi.

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Dedicated To:

All soldiers who suffered in WW1 and their families. RIP.

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Part 2 is based on a book "Light and Darkness" by Wendy Lawrance, (ISBN 1905378475). I can't write part 2 without it. If you found un-agreeable parts in this story, all faults are totally mine.

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Chicago, Summer 1920

It was a beautiful sunny day. The sky was painted in perfect blue, cheerful and bright, a perfect weather for the perfect couple. Today was Candy and Neal's wedding day.

Neal beamed looking at his parents and sister hugging Candy. Holding his wife's hand, he looked to his other guests. Aunt Elroy with her happy smile# Archie, Annie, Albert, Albert's wife, Terry's girlfriend and Terry. For the first time in his life, Terry smiled at him... Neal nodded and smiled back at him.

Neal then saw his best man, Jim.

"Candy# could I?" excused Neal gesturing to Jim's direction.

Candy smiled, nodded to her new husband. Neal handed his stick to her and came to approach Jim. He gave his hand for a handshake which Jim ignored. He hugged Neal warmly instead.

"I don't know how to thank you, sir^," whispered Neal.

"There's one way," said Jim. He sighed. "Would you call me Jim from now on? It's not an order, Neal# It's a genuine request from a simple friend." He smiled.

"Major* James Harrell... Yes. Of course, sir," Neal murmured. He took a deep breath and said clearer, "Jim, thank you for everything."

"That's better." Jim patted Neal's back. "My pleasure."

Holding his wife's hand, Jim then smiled and nodded to Candy.

Neal then watched pleadingly to Stear who's standing behind Jim. Stear was carrying a little girl in his arm, his daughter with Patty.

"Don't worry, Neal. We will take care of Major and Mrs. Harrell. We make sure they go safely back to England!" promised Stear. He reached out to hug his cousin.

"And# Bob, too," added Patty who's standing next to Stear. Her hands rested on the tall twelve year old boy's shoulder. "Right boy?"

"Yes, ma'am." Bob smiled. With his strong long legs he ran steadily to hug Neal who warmly embraced him back.

"Study hard, lad," said Neal.

"I won't disappoint you, Mr. Leagan. Promise."

The newlyweds walked to the car which would take them to the honeymoon. Everyone waved at them.

The car slowly crawled with all the guests cheered and waved at the bride and the groom. For a split of seconds, Neal saw the faces of his many other friends who couldn't come. Too many many more# He then looked at his wife who's staring at him with a loving stare.

"You are beautiful, Candy, love." Neal paused, brushing her thick curly hair off her forehead. "Are you happy, dear? Even if#," his voice broke a little. "Even if I didn't carry you?"

"Darling! I've never been happier in my life," Candy kissed her husband. "Thanks for loving me."

"My wife Candy - I'm supposed to be the one who says that," Neal whispered. He pulled her closer and hugged her tightly in his arm. "I love you." He kissed her.

(To be continued)

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Thanks for reading.

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Notes:

*Major: a rank in the army. One level above captain. From low to higher: Private, Lance Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major#

^sir: the way to call higher ranking officers in the army.

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Chapter 2: GLOSSARY & CHARACTERS

Chapter 2: Glossary - LIST of Characters

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CONTENTS:

1. Glossary of WW1 Terms

2. Outside Characters

oOo

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I. GLOSSARY

Army rank (low to high): Private (lowest), Lance Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant (Neal's rank), Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, #, General, #

Lieutenant has first and second lieutenant. First lieutenant is higher.

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It's better to go to search engine. Check the photos if available. But, in short and greatly over simplified:

Albatross: German war plane

BE2: British war plane

Bethune: A city in France

billet: While in France, British soldiers took a rest in farm/mansions/whatever that's provided by local citizens

bloke = man (British slang)

bugger: an exclamation (British slang). In many uses, it's similar to: Oh damn! Variations: bugger off, buggering, bugger me#

Chocques: a small city in France, close to Bethune.

chum: a close friend

Church of Notre-Dame in Chocques: A church in Chocques. Don't confuse it with, say, the Notre-Dame in Paris :)

CO: Commanding officer

company: Military unit consists of several platoons, led by a captain/major

clearing station: A facility to care for the wounded in the front

dugout: a big space in a trench used to hold meeting/relaxing/resting/etc

estaminet: A pub/small caf谷 that serves alcohol beverages as the main entr谷e.

Eton College: One of the most expensive and famous boarding schools in UK. Their scholarship program is legendary.

field dressing/dressing: Bandage. Rule to use: Rescuer should use the wounded man's dressing instead of his own.

Fritz = Huns = Germans

Front/Frontline: war zone

Huns = Fritz = Germans

Interned: oversimplified speaking, a prisoner who's so sick/got amputated is put in a neutral country, say, Switzerland.

Mills bomb: a "kind" of grenade

mustard gas: a kind of chemical bomb

no-man's land: land that is under dispute between parties. For example: In this story will be mostly the French land that the British/Germans try to gain. It's a deadly/super dangerous area.

platoon: Military unit consists of around 70 men, led by a lieutenant

POW: Prisoner of War

Repatriatied: Returned to home country (something like that...)

shrapnel= "a special" type of explosion

stretcher bearers: Men carrying stretchers to collect injured soldiers

Tommy = British soldiers

trench: Excavation of the ground for the soldiers to hide/stay so they remain unseen by the enemies.

tunic: In here it means military coat / uniform

voices: (in this story) One of the most common challenges war veterans are facing is hearing voices and having nightmares.

white feather: a movement in Britain. Women gave white feather as a mark of cowardice to eligible men who didn't join the war

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II. IMPORTANT CHARACTERS:

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MAIN CHARACTER: Neal Leagan

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Agnes: Jim's wife (Chapter 30)

Arthur Leagan: Neal's father (first appears in chapter 4)

Baker(Sergeant): Neal's man. First appearance in chapter 11.

Burke(lieutenant): Neal's fellow officer. Chapter 14, 15.

Bob/ Robert Tanner: First appears in chapter 1, 29. First introduced in chapter 8. Sid's youngest brother. A genius :)

Charles McKinsey(Lieutenant): Neal's friend from St. Paul (first appears in chapter 5)

Chris/Christopher Ridley(Lieutenant): Neal's fellow officer and friend. First introduced in chapter 11

Christoper: Chris' son (chapter 29)

Dwight: Chapter 25

Evan: First appears on chapter 25

Harry: A British lieutenant. First appears in chapter 7

Ted Haskins (Lieutenant): First appearance, chapter 16.

Jake: Only appears in chapter 23

Jim/James Harrell: First appears in chapter 1. First introduced in chapter 25

Kathy: Chris' love. First mentioned in chapter 15. First appears in chapter 29

Lewis(Lieutenant): Neal's fellow officer. Chapter 13, 14.

Chad Martin(Second Lieutenant): First appearance, chapter 16.

Madame Roux: The owner of the farm where Neal and the companies often went for billet. (Chapter 12)

Mrs. Tanner: Sid and Bob's mother. Chapter 29.

Rex: Chapter 25

Richard: Chapter 25

Sid/Sydney Tanner (Private, Lance Corporal later): Neal's friend. First appears in chapter 7

Thomson(Captain): Neal's commanding officer in the Front. First appears in chapter 7

Gareth Wheatley (Second Lieutenant): First appearance, chapter 16.

Wilkes: Eliza's boyfriend. First mentioned in chapter 19.

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Chapter 3: REFERENCES

REFERENCES:

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Part 2 is adapted from the book "Light and Darkness" by Wendy Lawrance, especially the interaction of Neal with one soldier.

NOTE: If there are any inconsistencies or if you think the story is terrible, those faults are all mine.

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Things I read to learn WW1 languages/stories:

WEB SITES:

MANY! Too numerous to list

The most often web site I check:

Wikipedia

firstworldwar d0t com (the various personal stories in Memoirs & Diaries section)

Cemetery web sites. They have the stories of the soldiers buried there.

Too bad all are in English. It'd be better if I could read German/French, too.

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BOOKS:

Many, some of them being:

These books below are available for Free. VERY good, written from the soldiers' personal accounts. It has vivid depiction of their feelings.

"Over the Top" by Arthur Guy Empey (American soldier)

"One Young Man" by John Ernest Hodder-Williams (British soldier)

"Letters of a Soldier 1914-1915", Anonymous (French soldier...)

"Wilbert Spencer's letters" (edited by Mark Tanner)

Others:

"Light and Darkness" by Wendy Lawrance. Part 2 is adapted from this book. Especially one soldier.

"Three First World War Novels, Volume 2" by Stuart Minor

"Daffodils" by Alex Martin

"The Flyer" by Stuart Harrison


Chapter 4: Spring 1915

Spring 1915

After Albert rejected Neal's engagement proposal to Candy...

Neal ran outside, crying, followed closely by his mother, Sarah, and Eliza.

Neal's father, Arthur, bravely stayed absorbing people's cruel mocking stare. Calmly, he excused himself and his family from Sir William, aunt Elroy, and the rest of the guests. He then went outside to look for his wife and children. His son was crying in his mother's arms with Eliza by his side.

Arthur patted his son's back and said, "Let's go home."

With his mother and Eliza holding each one of Neal's arms, they took him to his car. They used the side walk to avoid meeting others.

"You can come with us, Neal," said Eliza. "There's enough space here inside the car. I can sit in the front seat."

Sobbing, Neal shook his head and retreated to his own car. Sitting on the back seat, the driver drove him. Alone. The seat where his fianc谷 was supposed to be sitting was empty.

Candy... Neal cried some more at that sight.

After putting Sarah and Eliza in the mansion, Arthur went straight to his office to work. Sarah and Eliza stayed to rally around Neal. They chatted with him, took him for a walk and didn't leave him until late at night and all his tears dried up.

"You're sure you'll be okay, Neal?" asked Sarah before she went to bed.

"Of course, mother. I will sleep like a log tonight," said Neal.

"He'll be alright# It's just Candy. Right, Neal?" added Eliza.

Putting a brave face, Neal nodded firmly pretending strong, feigning moving on, and had courageously let the topic go. He even laughed off the idea of moving to Florida when his mother mentioned it.

"Hell no! I will not move to Florida!" laughed Neal.

Only when he was finally alone in his room that he let the heartbreak out. Candy wasn't his. He would be willing to give up everything he had, do anything at all if only he could make her love him half as much as he did...

oOoo

The following day, the news about his failed engagement proposal to Candy hit the newsstand like a bomb shell. He wondered if there's anyone left in this planet who didn't know about his fall to disgrace.

Days turned to weeks... His soap opera story with Candy soon replaced with the news about the raging war in Europe. It appeared daily with big war pictures on the front page of newspaper. Every single day. Soon it became something that couldn't go unnoticed by all Americans including Neal who never really cared about the war.

It gave him an idea#

Candy never believed that he would join the war! So, if he actually joined, perhaps Candy would notice him! He felt a swell of winning pride imagining Candy's reaction. Probably, she would even shed worried tears for him!

Neal thought of Patty who cried when she was told that Stear died. The thought of Candy shed a tear for him made his heart soar.

Neal was deep in that thought when his driver spoke.

"War demonstration, Mr. Leagan." The driver's voice cut through Neal's train of thought.

Neal was startled. He looked outside the window and realized that their car was trapped in the middle of war demonstration! Outside, newspaper sellers were using the opportunity to get buyers. They're shouting and displaying the papers front page to the passerby.

"Lusitania sunk, torpedoed by the Germans! Hundred of Americans casualties!" they screamed.

Neal lowered his window and extended his arm to attract one newspaper boy's attention. The boy quickly came to grab the money and threw one roll of newspaper through the window .

Shit!, thought Neal as he read about the poor ship. Thousand of passengers died! He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up imagining the hopeless cries of the passengers in the chilly water.

Then his eyes went lower looking at the war photos from Ypres and Gallipoli. Shocked, Neal gobbled the story.

"Frezenberg turned to hell"

"Deadly battle in Gallipoli!"

Neal trembled. Going to war seemed scary.

Neal was so engrossed in the war news that he walked to his office still reading the newspaper. He almost jumped when his secretary knocked at his door and came to give today's letters.

To Neal's amusement, one was from Charles McKinsey, his friend from St. Paul.

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Chelsea Barracks

April 28th, 1915

My friend Neal,

I just registered to join the army!

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"WHAT!" screamed Neal, jumping in his seat.

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It felt so good. I start to get tired of collecting the white feather*. Now they respect me. People, especially girls, cheered on me after I registered. I can't feel more proud. Remember our friend Larry Dray? He joined too last month. He is an officer now, a Lieutenant. He said girls were kissing him and showering him with cigarettes and hugs during the sent-off parade on his way to the Frontline.

Many of our other friends joined too, Neal. Willy, Jem, Ed,# Remember them? Come! Join the army with me. We can have fun together like in the good old days!

Your good friend,

Charles McKinsey

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Neal looked at the white feathers Charles enclosed in the envelope and the newspaper clip. It read, "Have you done your bit in the great war?" The letters were printed big with the picture of a woman pointing with her index finger mockingly at him. Neal thought about Candy and her sneer right away.

Neal didn't want to be kissed by girls, he only wanted to be kissed Candy. And if by going to war he could make her do so, he would do it! If Charles, Larry, and others could do it. He could too. He re-read Charles' address. Barrack, admired Neal. It's way too cool.

Neal then heard a growing noises outside his office window. The war demonstrations got hotter, it even spilled to his office complex. They were demanding the government to join the war seeking justice for the American casualties in the ship Lusitania.

Neal stared outside and at the soldiers photos in the newspaper. He didn't feel he belonged in the office. His mother's secretary called reminding him of the match making meeting with girls this evening. He ignored her. Instead, Neal grabbed his suit and walked to the center of the crowd.

Neal watched and listened.

The young men all chatted about the war. Some even left their job and would go to Britain with their pocket money to join the war!

"Look!" said one showing the ship ticket he had for London. "My boss laid me off yesterday and I told him 'Fuck off! I'm going to Britain!'."

People around him clapped their hands and cheered for him.

Another man timidly showed the ticket he also had purchased. "I also bought one," the man said shyly. He smiled when the crowd cheered for him, too.

"Our government may be coward," another added shaking his head mockingly. "I'm not!"

People roared supporting him. It was simply too grand!

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading

NOTE:

White Feather: a movement in Britain. Women gave white feather as a mark of cowardice to eligible men who didn't join the war


Chapter 5: Summer 1915

Summer 1915

The next time Neal met Candy again was in Albert's wedding.

Candy, breathtaking in her pale blue dress, wore orange ribbon around her perfectly trim waist. She's always that beautiful girl with breathless round green eyes who captured his heart.

Whenever no one looking, Neal stole a look at her longing to approach her privately. Candy's face was radiant, her smile wide. But beneath those, he could tell that she's not happy that her Albert was taken. The opportunity to approach her alone finally came when she wandered to take some snack from a side table.

Candy saw Neal coming and tried to avoid him but he quickly stood in the doorway, blocking her way.

"Good to see you, Candy," Neal started.

"Indeed, what a pleasure," said Candy sarcastically. Folding her arms, she lifted up her chin but refused to meet his eyes

"Sorry that your Albert left you," mocked Neal.

Candy didn't respond. She certainly never imagined that Albert had engaged when he was having amnesia. She felt stupid to think that he's single and available.

"You could have been married too by now," said Neal jolted Candy from her muse.

"It's not about when but with whom," spat Candy.

"Why won't you let me take care of you, Candy? You know that I'll never leave you."

"You should have said that when I was still a little girl instead of being a bully. Now, I don't need to be taken care of anymore," shot Candy. She didn't bother to hide the bitterness from her voice.

"It's more exciting to think of the future than dwell on the past," snapped Neal.

His brown eyes softened and looked deeply into hers and Candy found herself bored.

"I'm moving to New York," Candy said dryly.

Neal laughed. "New York? Candy, oh Candy! Terry is not good for you. He leaves you a bit too easily."

"Neal, oh, Neal! The worst of Terry is infinitely better than you!" responded Candy. His comment was somewhat true which annoyed her greatly. She had to try hard not to slap his face and make a scene in public.

"I'm right, aren't I?" provoked Neal.

Impatiently, Candy took a chance to push past Neal.

Neal quickly pulled her elbow. "Give me a chance, Candy. Just once."

"You have used all your chances!" screamed Candy. She shook off her arm trying to free her elbow. But, Neal pulled her closer.

"Candy, please. Can't you tell how much you mean to me?"

"Do I need to care? Release me, damn it! I never want to see you again."

"Don't! I...," said Neal, tormented.

"I won't listen. Get away! Get the hell away, I say. "

"No!"

"Need help Candy?" Neal heard a voice growled behind him. It's Terry. "Release her," Terry barked.

Scared by Terry's presence, Neal quickly released Candy.

Candy wiped the part of her arm that Neal touched to his dress. "How come you're still here anyway? Didn't you say you'd join the army?"

Candy looked at Neal mockingly, so did Terry. She put her hand in Terry's arm and whisked him away. Neal watched his girl walked away with another man. His chest was burned severely by jealousy. Rage, unlike he had ever felt before, shook him.

"I am!" burst Neal. At that moment he made up his mind. At any cost, he would join the army and go to war. "I have joined in," Neal added through his greeted teeth.

Neal saw Candy was out of words for a moment. He felt so proud, instinctively he squared his shoulder to look soldier-like.

"Haha#!" laughed Candy. So did Terry. "Doing what?" she sneered. 'Not to actually go to war, hide in the trenches~, and run around no-man's land^ obviously?"

Neal wasn't clear what Candy was saying. In fact, he didn't really know what specifically soldiers do other than carrying a gun and wearing cool uniform. But he didn't want to appear ignorant in front of her and Terry! Quickly, Neal was recalling the words Charles used in his letter.

"I'll be an officer in the Front#. A Lieutenant~!" yelled Neal.

Candy and Terry looked at each other. They laughed again. "If you are a Lieutenant than I am a Captain," sneered Candy.

"Let's not waste time on him Candy," said Terry. He took Candy's hand and she's gone without giving another look at Neal.

It was so painful to watch that Neal had to close his eyes briefly. He quickly thought of the war to lighten the wound# Yes! He would join the army. It's decided. After the unimaginable pain of being rejected by her, he's not afraid of hardship anymore - even death!

For the rest of the party, Neal was barely there. Girls circled around him but all he imagined was he's in the battle zone carrying a bayonet and Candy begged him to marry her. After Albert kissed his bride signaling the end of the party, Neal took his leave right away. He took his bow off, put it in his pocket and had his driver take him to downtown Chicago to watch the war demonstration. The place where he felt he belonged.

"Live LOST and we are just watching? We refuse! WE REFUSE!" The demonstrators chanted.

Those who didn't shout were busy chatting, encouraging each other to join the war.

One man who had a relative in the UK spoke. "In Britain, eligible men fought, unlike the cowards in America," he gushed. His relative's neighbors, brothers, uncles all joined the war#

Another man responded saying America should join too so the war could finish sooner.

And more#

Neal never felt more determined.

Yes! He would go to war! That's the correct decision. He would go home and tell his family that.

oOoo

When Neal arrived back at home, everyone had just finished dinner. Convenient timing, father, mother, sister all were there already. Time to tell them about his decision.

"You left the party early, Neal?" asked Sarah.

"Yes, mother," Neal bent to kiss her cheek. "Sorry, I'm late for dinner."

"What did you do?" asked Eliza.

"I went to downtown," said Neal. He took a deep breath. "Father# Mother# Eliza# I have something to tell you." He could hear his voice tremble. "I have decided to join in."

"Join in# what?" asked Sarah.

"The British army," said Neal.

Silence fell before Sarah screamed hysterically covering her mouth with her hands.

"Must be Candy effect," Eliza murmured. "I told you not to let him come to the party, mother."

Only his father remained silence. His eyes watched Neal intently, never left his face.

"No! You can't go!" shrieked Sarah. "Arthur tell him. He can't go. He can't go!"

"Mother, remember Charles?" asked Neal, gently. "I have talked to him. He would arrange to make me an officer. Officers don't need to do much. The Privates go to war, we just lead and instruct."

"I don't think so, Neal," said Arthur. He stayed calm because he believed it's just an impulsive movement by his son. He would come back home after seeing how hard life was in the army.

"Force William to give Candy to him, mother," said Eliza.

"It's because of Candy, isn't it?" sobbed Sarah. "Don't go Neal. I make William have Candy marry you."

"No, mother," lied Neal. He got up and walked around the table to hug and comfort his shaking mother. "Nothing to do with her or anyone. Besides, you don't need to worry. Everyone says the war won't last long. It should be over before Christmas. I'll come home and bring you a Christmas present from France!"

His eyes steady, his chin lifted up. He looked quite determined. Everyone knew there's no point to argue with him at this stage. His father shrugged. Arthur completely believed that Neal would quit and couldn't stand a barrack life more than a few days.

In the next few days, Sarah and Eliza arranged girls to meet Neal desperately hoped there's one who would pin his heart so he canceled his war plan. Neal dutifully went to all the matchmaking parties for his mother's sake.

Finally, Neal's departing time arrived. His parents and sister took him to the train station. Neal knew it's impossible, but he secretly hoped Candy would show up. She should know that he's going to war from aunt Elroy. Miracle didn't happen. She didn't show up. It's disappointing. But he didn't give up hope that one day she would run to his arms.

Sarah didn't release her son until the whistle blew. Then she couldn't hold herself anymore. For the first time, his mother who always looked so strong and composed broke down and cried openly. Sarah held Neal tightly refusing to let him go with her fresh tears spilt on his suit like rain.

Neal held her until his father came and gently pulled Sarah's hands. "Let him go, dear. He'll miss the train," said Arthur.

Arthur looked at his son. Although he was silent, Arthur could sense excitements unlike he had ever seen.

"I'd better go mother" said Neal. He kissed his mother's cheek, hugged her sister before he turned to hug his father.

"Write to us often son," said Arthur. "Take good care of yourself."

"I will. Take care, father."

After giving one last glance to the three people who loved him so much, Neal leapt to his VIP compartment and waved to them.

The train took Neal to New York and he arrived in London by ship a week after.

-TO BE CONTINUED-

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Thanks for reading, everyone. I appreciate it.

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NOTE:

~Lieutenant: One rank lower than Captain

Army rank (low to higher): Private (the lowest), Lance Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, #

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It's better to go to search engine to see the photos. But, In short:

trenches~: Excavation of the ground for the soldiers to hide/stay so they remain unseen by the enemies.

No-man's land^: land that is under dispute between parties. For example: In this story will be mostly the French land that the British/Germans try to gain. It's a deadly/super dangerous area.

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Important characters:

Arthur: Neal's father (first appears in chapter 3)

Charles: Neal's friend from St. Paul (first mentioned in chapter 3)

# Will be added as we go along#


Chapter 6: Late Summer 1915

Late Summer 1915

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Wearing his uniform, Charles came to pick up Neal in London. Neal looked at his friend who're all dressed up in his military uniform openmouthedly, fully in awe!

"This is the lieutenant uniform." Charles beamed. He proudly showed the stripes and badges decoration he had to his dumbstruck friend.

Neal was so eager to get one too. So he just dumped all his belonging to his servants and went directly with Charles to the soldier recruitment center.

It was amazing# exciting... Everyone wore khaki uniforms. They looked so grand. Charles was impressive too. He seemed to know everyone. Neal saw some soldiers gave Charles a salute as they walked around the Center.

Charles took Neal to the recruitment office and accompanied him waiting for his turn. While they're waiting, Charles told Neal everything about the interview which he listened attentively.

Finally, Neal's turn arrived. He winced nervously at Charles and in return, Charles gave a supportive thumb up and a pat on his back.

With heart soared as high as his hope, Neal walked inside. He saw an officer in uniform sat at a desk with a high stack of paper. Without returning Neal's greeting, the officer asked about Neal's nationality.

"American!" Neal eagerly pulled his US passport from his pocket and showed it to the officer.

"American? Sorry, lad." The officer shot down Neal's soaring dream to the ground. He pushed the passport back to Neal's hand and sent Neal out of the office together with it.

"Next," the officer yelled to the next young man in line.

That was quick and brutal. Neal immediately thought of Candy laughed and mocked at him.

Downcast, Neal walked outside the office.

"How was it?" Charles asked. His big smile dimmed at the sight of Neal's gloomy face.

"They don't accept Americans."

"What? Can't be!" exclaimed Charles.

Oblivious to everyone's criticizing stare, Charles courageously went inside to defend Neal. He explained that Neal went to school in London for years. His grandfathers were both British and so on but there's no use.

"America had not officially joined the war. We can't breech the international protocol," the officer steadfastly stood on his ground.

That answer was like a slap in Neal's face. With heads hanging down, the two friends left the office disappointedly.

"There has to be away," mumbled Charles, thoughtfully. "I heard about Americans in the army."

True, Stear is an American!, thought Neal, hopeful. He jacked his head back up springing back to live. "I need to figure out how!"

"Let's ask my old man first," replied Charles.

Charles took Neal home to meet his father, Lord McKinsey, and explained the situation. Lord McKinsey was a well known British aristocrat. With just one phone call, Lord McKinsey miraculously ensured a green lane for Neal.

A few days later, Neal, too, was accepted as a soldier in the Royal Sussex Regiment.

"Royal Sussex Regiment," murmured Neal. His chest burst with excitements. He stared at the piece of acceptance paper in his hand which a big font Royal Sussex Regiment printed in it. He didn't know what regiment meant or what Royal Sussex was. It's too embarrassing to keep asking Charles, but it certainly sounded grand.

"You are a lieutenant too like me, Neal," said Charles, smiling. "Let's pick your new uniform."

Neal was so proud although he didn't really know what Lieutenant really meant. But it didn't matter. He impatiently picked up his new uniform, wore them and had his picture taken. Then he wrote to his family to tell them what he's been up to.

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Royal Sussex Regiment

August 1st, 1915

My Dear father, mother, Eliza,

I have formally joined the British army!

Because of my background, my rank is the same as Charles. A lieutenant! Charles' father helped a lot to make this happen. The McKinseys have been very nice. Charles' four sisters sent their regards to you, Eliza. You remember them? They all have grown up to be fine young ladies. How fast time had flown!

We don't get a private room in the barrack. Most lieutenant shared the room with four to six people but Lord McKinsey graciously arranged to have one room only for me and Charles. I and Charles have such an exciting time together. Enclosed you find our picture in the uniform. We're so happy#

Life as officers is not as bad as the regular soldiers. So, don't worry, mother. Everything was great totally unlike what you have been dreading.

Our first formal training will come soon. I get to go now to prepare a few things. I will write again soon.

With much love,

Your loving son, brother,

Neal

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Neal folded the paper and put it in the envelope together with his photo. In excitement he's thinking about Candy. From the family gossip she would soon find out that he's a lieutenant. She would be so surprised. That night, Neal was dreaming of his glorious return with Candy begging him to marry her.

oOo

Army life provided a welcome change to Neal.

Neal was so busy adjusting that he had no time to dwell on his heartache over Candy. He still remembered her all the time but his heart was filled with hope not pain. Even better, now he had no match making party to attend. The lieutenant uniform was grand totally unlike the tux or suit he had been wearing.

Neal was so excited that he didn't mind giving up his large private room in the mansion with servants to this humble much smaller room. Charles could do it, he could do it too! Willingly, Neal welcomed his new routines. With the reward of winning Candy, he'd be willing to do anything#

Finally, the first day of training was here. Neal had been proudly preparing his uniform since the day before using his own hands, until he lagged behind in shower. To be able to take a shower regularly was already considered a luxury compared to that of the non officers. Nevertheless, Neal was not used to share his shower time with others yet.

"Neal, I go first!" yelled Charles as he rushed towards the door. "You hurry up! Don't be late!"

"Coming!" yelled Neal back.

I'm late, thought Neal by the time he finished combing his hair to the perfection.

Neal quickly ran to the field to join other new recruits. They were already standing straight in lines of columns.

Then Neal noticed a few men walked slowly on the field. At that sight, Neal heaved in relieved.

Whew! I'm not the only one who's late!, Neal thought in relieved.

Neal then strolled equally slowly to join the line.

"Stop there!" Suddenly, Neal heard someone shouted. Out of instinct, Neal turned around.

"Yes! You!" A soldier barked at him.

Neal stood nailed at the ground. His heart stopped beating.

"What time are we supposed to be here?" The soldier glared at Neal.

"Six," answered Neal.

"Stand to attention, soldier! Answer, 'six, sir'," the soldier barked again.

Neal stared blankly at the barking soldier, not sure what he meant by attention.

"Six# sir?" answered Neal, hesitatingly. He scratched his head, looking left and right trying to find someone to explain it to him. He usually had Charles by his side.

"Stand straight when addressed by a senior officer!" the soldier barked, ready to explode. "Who is this man's Captain?"

A younger soldier briskly moved forward and saluted smartly. "I am, sir!"

"Look at this greenie. He severely lacks characters and discipline. You heard me?"

"Yes, sir!" The Captain stood straight to attention.

"Defend yourself!"

"He's a new recruit, sir!" The Captain answered, staring straight ahead, didn't look to left or right. "Today is his first day, sir!"

"First day, eh?" the barking soldier growled. His eyes scanned Neal's face intensely.

"Yes, sir! His first day, sir!" answered the Captain.

Neal nodded faintly to confirm. He started to get the idea that the barking soldier should be a senior officer.

"Fine. He's forgiven," said the officer, sternly. "This time only! Give him half an hour field punishment number one so he remembers this as a lesson. He needs a strong drill, Captain. You heard that? Make him improve!"

"Of course, sir!" said the Captain, still stood straight like a rod.

The barking soldier continued moving down the line and Neal started to breathe again. The Captain ordered one Sergeant to put Neal in his line and educate him, too.

When Charles was back from his training, he was stunt to see Neal was standing in the middle of the field executing his punishment.

"Shit, how did I know that he's a Colonel!" whispered Neal to Charles as soon as he was relieved.

"You could check the stripes# badges#!" whispered Charles back.

"Duh!" replied Neal. He rolled his eyes.

Of course now he knew. The Sergeant had explained it in details just now. But before that, he had no idea about all these ranks in the army, saluting, attention, etc. He didn't know that senior officers didn't really need to stand straight like everyone else when inspecting the troop, either.

"I thought the Colonel was just a regular soldier who came late like me!" whispered Neal.

"Okay, okay! Let's go, get our lunch before they remove them all," added Charles, pushing Neal to the dining hall.

Still, that incident didn't make Neal's spirit ebb. He saw some were punished for the rest of the afternoon, even tied up to a wheel. So his was nothing. Beside he couldn't quit. It's out of the question! Candy would laugh at him.

Since that time, dutifully Neal attended his class on time.

Just like other soldiers, once in a while Neal got a leave too. Charles who knew that Neal's family was not in Britain took Neal to his mansion. They used the opportunity to hang out and meet their old friends from St. Paul. Many were in the army too. Sky seemed to be the only limit to their adventurous exciting new life.

Neal couldn't wait to actually go to the Front!

-TO BE CONTINUED-

NOTE: The young men's mood when joining WW1 army was usually happy and jubilant. Just like Neal's and Charles'. But, this is WW1 they're facing! Be prepared for tragic/horrid things that follow. To be fair to these soldiers, this story is not intended to be an easy and light picnic-story.

oOo

To the readers: THANK YOU for reading my little historical story project. You don't know how much this means to me. I try to make it worth your time.


Chapter 7: First Battle

First Battle

Rating: T (for the war scene)

.

September 9th, 1915

My Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

We will go to the Front soon!

There's something boiling somewhere which I can't tell you about. They decided to end our training and make us join the war sooner. None of us expected it will be this quick.

Charles' mother held an urgent family ball as a going-away party for Charles. I and Charles were really not into partying. We're so busy. But since they have been so nice, I came. Charles' sisters asked about you again, Eliza. Next time you are in London, be sure to meet them. They are very nice.

I need to get ready now and prepare a few things for our trip. I am not allowed to tell where we'll be heading. I promise I will write from there and send a picture.

Your affectionate son, brother,

Neal

oOo

A few days later, Neal was on the move. The first time he touched his feet in Boulogne, he barely could contain himself. When he saw a road sign "Loos", he and Charles exchanged a high five. He's in France on the way to the battle field! He hoped the words had leaked to Candy's ear through family gossips. The romance of war filled Neal's heart with the dream of glorious return and wining Candy's heart.

Every day as they marched closer to the Front, Neal's heart beat a little faster. Candy used to mock him about him going to trenches and no-man's land. Now, he's going there!

One day, Neal could start to hear the thunderous explosion from the distance. Machine guns, a sergeant explained. It's surreal! He also spotted German's Albatros flying in the sky. They undoubtedly were in a different class by itself, now he understood why Stear used to gush a lot about it.

The night had fallen when they finally arrived at the Frontline trench. To Neal dismay, it was already dark that he couldn't see much. Neal and other new officers were immediately whisked to meet their commanding officer, Captain Thomson.

They learned that the battalion was severely running out of men from the continuous fighting from the last few days. The new incoming soldiers would start fighting tonight.

"I know that you just came from a long march. You are all tired and need a rest. But if we don't attack tonight the Fritz* will come to wipe our butts tomorrow! What the hell is the use of you to rest now?" said Thomson, ending the briefing.

The captain was a small man with tiny moustache. But at those words, he seemed to grow one foot taller.

Thomson then dismissed everyone. The incoming soldiers were given late dinner and a brief rest while the ladders were installed in position. Then the old and new soldiers were lined up to stand along the trench.

While waiting, Neal was thinking about whatever he was taught during the training. At the sound of a whistle, soldiers climbed up the ladder, jumped and ran into the no-man's land. Didn't seem too hard. Neal kept repeating that again and again to calm himself from his excitement. Everyone was waiting and waiting# until the first gleam of morning sun finally appeared.

The captain then took his position. Everyone turned quiet. Neal moved his legs around preparing himself to run. The captain brought the whistle to his lips and a high loud shrill filled along the trench air. Neal couldn't believe that it's really happening!

"Over the top!" Captain Thomson screamed. "Blast their ass off!"

All the soldiers, one by one, climbed the ladder and spilled to the no-man's land, running straight into the enemies' flying steels. So did Neal. He was among the first who jumped out from the trench and ran across the no-man's land. He took time to glance and grin to Charles who grinned back at him.

Neal was seeing Candy's face as he jumped out of the trench. He was imagining Candy looked at him with awe, softly calling out his name# when suddenly something thunderous passed through his ear. Something so powerful that he had never experienced before in the training camp or in his entire life shook the earth beneath sending him and a few men around him tumble to the muddy ground.

Neal opened his mouth to ask to Charles what it was when high speed mud came to enter his mouth making him choke. Neal coughed and coughed trying to spit the disgusting slimy thing out from his mouth. It tasted so bad.

Rubbing his face which partly covered by mud, Neal got up and turned to see Charles who fell next to him.

"Geez# What was that?" Neal asked.

Charles didn't answer. Neal looked at his friend and his eyes were met by Charles' lifeless eyes that stared vacantly back at his.

"C-Charl-" In shock, Neal noticed his friend's head was partly gone. His steel helmet that lay next to him was shattered, filled with brain and blood.

Neal froze. He couldn't even mutter a gasp. Utterly in shocked, his heart pounded in horror. The rest went blank.

"Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" Neal heard Captain Thomson speak, shaking his shoulder. But Neal was too numb to respond. "Shit!" swore Thomson.

"Sid!" Thomson yelled. "Watch the lieutenant! The rest of you follow me! Attack!"

Sid grabbed Neal's arm and pulled him to run. With eyes still nailed at Charles', Neal was dragged away farther and farther from his friend.

"Go! Go! Bloody go, sir!" Sid's voice was heard among the buzzing sound of bullets. "Lower yourself, sir. Run! Hell, RUN!"

Sid pushed Neal down to a trench and jumped down right behind him. Rolling onto the trench wall, Neal was preparing for a hard landing but unexpectedly he felt something eerily soft. Neal looked around to check what he landed on. The sun was shining brightly by now# Neal couldn't believe what he saw. Corpses and parts of human bodies lay scattered everywhere inside the trench. He even stood on one rotten one. The sight was so sickening that he vomited.

Sid stayed vigilant. He readily picked one bayonet from the ground and thrust it to Neal's hands. "Sir, use this!" Breathing heavily, Sid leaned against the trench wall in full watch.

Neal's hands were trembling thinking if the soft intestine or whatever part of organ he fell on just now belonged to the owner of the bayonet.

Then, Germans started to come. With one hand holding his commanding officer, Sid used his free hand to pull a Mills bomb from his belt. Single handedly, he pulled the metal pin with his teeth, quickly counted to three and threw the bomb to the incoming enemies.

Sid fought on. One German broke through and thrust his bayonet to them. Sid pushed Neal to dodge at the expense of his own arm. Blood seeped out from Sid's arm as he engaged in hand-to-hand fight with the German. Neal knew he should shoot but he was too dumb in disbelief. His hands shook so much that the bayonet fell before he had a chance to used it.

Then they heard a loud noise. More people came! Lots of them! Even one brave Sid with a functioning lieutenant wouldn't be able to handle them all.

Unexpectedly, the German got up and fled while Sid screamed in jubilation. "Sir, we're safe!"

Sid dragged Neal to the direction of the noise. "Lieutenant Harry? Lieutenant Harry! Don't shoot, sir!" Sid yelled.

"Identify yourself!" A voice responded from the dark.

"I'm Private Sydney Tanner," shouted Sid, "with Lieutenant Leagan, sir."

And Neal's brain failed to register what happened next#

oOo

Neal buried his head in his hands. He never realized things would turn out this way. What had just happened was not at all like what he had learned or read about. But it's damn real. He saw it! And now Charles was gone, forever. He remembered how they were as young boys. Charles was always there for him. He would unhesitatingly shout the same insult he shouted to others. Hell, even now it was Charles who accompanied him in this bizarre war journey#

Damn war! It cannot get worse than this# Neal cried tearfully mourning over his friend.

A sergeant came telling Neal that Captain Thomson wanted to talk to him.

The second chilling thought came. No! He was wrong. It could get worse. His military career was over. He would be sent home with disgrace. His spine got chilled thinking how Candy would mock him. He earned it. He was a coward. Sid got his arm injured because of him. Sid could have been killed!

Neal sighed and reluctantly got up. He managed to drag his legs to the dugout and waited for the captain's attention.

"Leagan!" called Captain Thomson.

Neal's legs felt weak like jelly, but he managed to stand and walk into the dugout. With chest stiffed with shame, Neal managed to salute and hold his chin high.

The captain leaned his elbows on his desk. His eyes sharp like razor were watching Neal intensely.

"Your gun...," Thomson pointed to Neal's hip. "You're supposed to use it to fire at the enemies."

"Yes, sir. I know." Neal's throat got dry.

"We are at war, Leagan. We don't have the bloody resources to baby sit a lieutenant. You're supposed to lead your men!"

"I understand, sir." Neal's shoulder sagged but he managed to square it back.

"How did you pass the recruitment and become a lieutenant?"

"Charl... Lieutenant Charles McKinsey's father, Lord McKinsey, did the paperwork."

Silence fell.

"He's your chum^?" Thomson's voice turned sympathetic.

"Yes, sir. Since we were little. We had been together since my first day#" Tears blurred Neal's vision. He had to check pretty hard not to let them roll down his face.

Thomson sighed. "I'm sorry for what happened to your chum."

"Thank you, sir."

Thomson rubbed his chin. "Do you have something else to say?" His gaze returned to sharp.

"Yes, sir." Neal was quiet for a moment to collect all nerves he had. "I will improve. Our training ended a month early. I want to work hard and catch up!"

He'd rather die here in the battle field, then facing Candy with her mocking look and never had a chance to win her heart.

"To be honest with you Leagan" said Thomson, thumping his finger on his table. "If I let you stay, it is only because we are desperately in need of men." He gave a hard gaze to Neal, calculating. Neal steeled himself, waiting for his death sentence.

"ONE MONTH!" barked Thomson. "You have to make an improvement in one month. You will learn quicker here than in the training barrack anyway."

Neal felt his hands wet with warm sweat as his heart resumed beating. He could stay!

"Your rank will be lowered to second lieutenant and you have to take part in drills and routines for the non-officers. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir!" Neal clenched his fist with determination. Anything! He's willing to do anything as long as he could stay!

"This is the army, Leagan. We are at war! Your conduct means life or death to the men you lead."

"I understand, sir."

"You can take two days off to reflect. Then, come back. You're an officer. Act like one! Fight like a real soldier and lead your men!" Thomson tilted his head as the sign that Neal was dismissed.

"Yes, sir! I will, sir!"

Neal saluted and left the tent with relieved. He had a second chance. Thomson was so generous. He wouldn't disappoint him!

Then Neal thought of his old friend. Poor Charles# He had no second chance.

With misty eyes, Neal went to his dugout to write a letter to Charles' parents. He collected Charles' personal belongings to ship them back home. He then attended Charles' simple funeral. His grave was marked with only a simple wooden cross. The only consolation was he died right away and he's lucky enough to have a proper burial compared to countless others whose remains left unidentified and scattered in the no-man's land...

Neal heaved a deep sigh, thinking. I have to meet Sid!

-To be continued-

.

Neal WILL improve! Just like most things in life, people need a training in order to be a good soldier# From the manga, I don't think Neal is a natural born soldier.

oOo

.Thanks for reading.

.

NOTE:

Boulogne: A city in France. There's a port here where the British army used heavily for transport in WW1

Loos: WW1 Battle of Loos occurred around September-October 1915

dugout: a big space in the trench used to hold meeting/relaxing/resting/etc

* Fritz = Germans

~ Mills bomb: hand grenade

^chum: a close friend

Front/Frontline:war zone

oOo

New characters:

Sid (Sydney Tanner): will be told in detail in the next chapter

Captain Thomson: Neal's commanding officer in the Front.

Harry: A British Lieutenant


Chapter 8: Fall 1915

Fall 1915

.

When Neal found Sid, Sid was lying lazily on the trench ground puffing a cigarette. His one arm had a thick bandage, rested in a sling. Neal felt bad at the sight.

"Private Sydney Tanner?" greeted Neal. Sid was a young lad about three years younger with a round smiling face. Such a contrast to the fierce warrior he saw yesterday at the battlefield.

Sid quickly got up and gave his commanding officer a salute.

"Lieutenant!" saluted Sid. No officer had come to look for him before. He was so nervous that his cigarette fell off from his mouth.

"At ease," Neal waved his arm. He felt ashamed hearing that title which had nothing to do with his performance in the war zone.

"You're on leave?" Neal looked at Sid's knapsack that lay nearby.

"Yes, sir. They gave me a two month leave to recuperate at home." Sid grinned excitedly.

"When will you leave?"

"After lunch, sir." Sid was back to stand at attention.

Neal felt embarrassed at each word sir that Sid said.

"Let's go to the village. I'll treat you to lunch," Neal said. "I owe you one yesterday."

"Don't mention it, sir. It's my duty," Sid responded.

Neal scanned Sid's face to see if he's mocking him. But it didn't look so. He looked honest.

"I've been given today off. Let's go," said Neal.

Sid picked up his knapsack and they went to a nearby town, Bethune. From there Sid later would catch a train that took him back to England. While strolling, they passed a local telegram office.

"Would you mind waiting, sir? I want to write to my family that I'll be home tonight," asked Sid.

Neal nodded. While waiting, he looked around. There's a bank, shop, carriage, citizen wearing regular clothes. Things were quiet and functioning normally like regular towns as though there's no war at all nearby.

Suddenly, Neal heard a noise of two people brawling. A Frenchman was pulling Sid outside the telegram office and cursing.

"Pay!" the man said in French.

"I did! Send the goddamn telegram!" barked Sid back.

The man grabbed Sid's collar threateningly with both hands.

"Not enough" he said through his greeted teeth."Pay or I call the police," said the man in English with heavy French accent.

"Call them!" mocked Sid. "I bet the prison is cozier than our bloody trenches!"

To Neal's surprise the man drew a knife. Sid only laughed. He pushed the French and picked up his rifle. "See who wins now." Sid pointed his gun.

The man calmly put two fingers to his lips and let out a sharp whistle to call his friends.

Neal was shocked. He hurriedly came to interfere and pulled Sid away.

"He owes money, monsieur!" said the Frenchman in French. He explained something in French to Neal which Sid didn't follow.

Neal took some amount of money from his pocket and gave it to the Frenchman. "Is this enough?" Neal asked.

The Frenchman quickly snapped the money from Neal's hand. He then walked away looking happy although kept grumbling.

"Bugger! That's my three-day salary!" yelled Sid. His face turned purple, full of anger. "He had not yet sent the goddamn telegram#!" In anger Sid almost forgot the protocol. "Sir," he added belatedly.

Sid wanted to chase the Frenchman but Neal held his arm to prevent him from doing so.

"Stop it, Sid," persuaded Neal, pulling him away.

"Thief!" yelled Sid. He remained defiant. Neal thought about his promise to lead to Captain Thomson.

"Private Tanner! Quiet! Captain's order! No buggering with local people!" barked Neal. His heart thumping wildly while waiting for Sid's reaction.

"Yes, sir!" Sid quickly stood like a rod, although obviously still struggling to control his temper.

Neal was relieved. That's not too hard.

"Get inside! I help you send the telegram," said Neal in lower tone.

Sid obeyed. They went into the telegram office. Neal did the talking in French, helped Sid write the telegram, paid it, and had it send successfully, without a glitch.

"You're bloody good! Sorry# I mean you are good, sir!" Sid almost couldn't contain himself. "I don't know French and I can't write." He laughed. "My chum usually helped me but he got his hand blown off yesterday, sir."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Next time look for me. I will write for you," said Neal.

Sid showered Neal with gratitude more than Neal thought he deserved. He felt hugely uncomfortable.

"Let's eat," said Neal quickly changing the subject. "While we're off duty. Call me Neal."

Sid was surprised to hear that coming from his commanding officer. "Yes, s-# Uhm... Neal," said Sid hesitatingly. He moved his cap around avoiding Neal's eyes, looking hugely uncomfortable.

Neal watched Sid, thinking. In the past he and Eliza used to laugh to someone who couldn't write like Sid. But, Sid saved his life without thinking about who he was. It's so good to be alive. So why mattered what Sid's background was?

So, Neal clapped Sid on the back and laughed to erase Sid's nervousness. Chatting, they sauntered together around Bethune.

Neal picked the best restaurant he could find which, under normal circumstances, wouldn't pass Neal Leagan's standard. Yet, the okay beef steak and wine tasted so good to Neal that day. Perhaps he's been eating the barrack canned food for so long. Sid liked them too. They finished their portion in only a few gulps and wiped the last drop of sauce with their bread.

"The last time I ate steak was eight years ago," said Sid, gulping the wine in his goblet. His tongue loosened with each gulp. "Dad died suddenly leaving mom with seven children and a baby still in the womb. Mom took care of the farm, took in washing, cleaning, sweeping 每 whichever was available - to feed her eight children until my two older brothers were old enough to help in the farm. But with their wives, children, and my four sisters there's no more pie left for me."

"That's s why you go to war?"

"I do it for Bob," Sid grinned, beamed.

"Who's Bob?" asked Neal

"My youngest sibling. A chap who really likes studying! Can you believe there's such a lad?" Sid gushed. "I left school at ten after dad died. But a genius like Bob must never leave school... I save all my salary for Bob to stay in school."

Sid was telling Neal more about Bob's achievement. He's eight now. How he always got perfect scores, loved by teachers and so on. It's obvious how Sid adored him.

While Sid was talking, Neal ordered more steak. Again, they finished their second plates in a flash.

"If only Bob were here," said Sid chewing his last chunk of beef and drinking the wine directly from the bottle at the same time. "He never eats steak."

Forgetting the dining etiquette, Neal also drank directly from the wine bottle. He gleefully thought what his mother and Eliza would say if they saw it.

"You'll be home tonight?" verified Neal. He remembered what he wrote in the telegram.

Sid nodded.

Neal ordered a dozen more plates of steak, bread, bottles of wine and asked the waiter to wrap them up as a takeout.

"For you in the train and my gift for Bob," Neal grinned. "Shouldn't be heavier than those bloody explosives you used to carry, is it?" Neal joked.

"Christ all bloody mighty!" exclaimed Sid, awed. "Can you still afford the bus ticket to go back to the barrack?"

Neal just grinned and nodded.

"Bugger off-! Why would a wealthy bloke* like you join the war and be in the mud among corpses?" asked Sid.

At the thought of Candy, Neal's face went gloomy instantly.

"Let me guess... Love sick!" smiled Sid.

"Women are so hard to understand." Neal swallowed a big gulp of wine and nodded. The painful memory played across his mind. His eyes dimmed thinking about Candy who always looked at him with hatred.

"I understand women," said Sid calmly. He grinned.

"You do?" asked Neal, unexpected to hear such a respond.

"Yes! My four older sisters and two sister-in-laws teach me all. "Want to learn some secrets?" asked Sid, pointing his fork to Neal's face.

Yes, of course! He had always wanted to learn how to treat Candy.

"Certainly!" answered Neal, full of interest. He took another gulp of wine. Sid's warmth and the wine quickly dissolving Neal's usual privacy restrains. With full interest, Neal listened the secrets of women, according to Sid.

"Question?" Sid asked at the end.

"What if the man were so madly in love with the woman but she had no interest in him at all?" asked Neal. He told Sid his problem with Candy. "I have tried all I can!"

He never told this to anyone. Either he felt embarrassed or no one was willing to hear him without giving criticism. But Sid was different. He's so unpretentious and supportive. Maybe the wine helps, whatever it was, Neal felt he could talk freely about Candy with Sid.

"Hmm#" Sid moved his head up and down, thinking. "Yeah# complicated#. Oh# wait! I get an idea!" Sid clicked his fingers. "I say, try this. Next time you meet Candy, don't give her a bloody marriage proposal!"

Neal sank to his seat, looking desperate, disappointed, gloomy, and upset.

"Oh cheer up, Neal! Go a step backward for a leap forward later!" encouraged Sid energetically. "Make Candy accept you first!"

Sid explained his plan to Neal.

One hour later#

"Got it?" asked Sid finally.

"Not bad!" answered Neal.

Sid laughed and hit his own chest proudly.

A bit drunk, both laughed and left the restaurant. Arm in arm Neal took his new friend to the train station. Sid went back home while Neal went back to the barrack.

oOo oOo oOo

As promised, Neal spent the next month attending soldiers' routines drill to catch up. He woke at five in the morning and started marching, patrolling and other dozen types of drills. Neal stayed many nights in the trench even during the coldest or wettest days. For the sake of Candy, he quickly put up with those. He worked extra hard to catch up with the bayonet training, the one he struggled the most.

Screaming and shouting with his fellow soldiers, they were made to club and insert their bayonets to the straws dummies dressed in German uniform. The sergeant watched nearby ready to curse if they didn't execute their job right, constantly chanted:

"Push the blade deep in the belly!"

"Cut the Fritzes' little balls!"

"Slid him at the neck!"

It was sickening. Neal's stomach flipped everything he had to imagine the dummies as real humans in flesh and blood whatever nationality they were as wanted by the sergeant.

Slowly but surely however , the man who used to smell cologne now smelt explosives , who used to wear immaculate tux with no single speck of dust now wore a khaki covered with mud and blood, whose hands were soft and white like ladies' hands now were rough and covered with black gun powder#

The man had transformed to a fighting soldier.

Neal walked straight with squared soldiers like others, barked like real officers when needed and pulled guns as skilful as he used to pull his handkerchief.

By now, Neal had joined countless more combats. Other than dreaming to win Candy, Neal had another goal in life: to show his commanding officer that he's worth getting his first lieutenant rank back again.

-To be continued-

NOTES:

bugger: an exclamation, British slang. In many uses, it's similar to: Oh damn! Variations: bugger off, buggering, bugger me#

*bloke = man (British slang)

Huns = Fritz = Germans

THANK YOU

THANKS for everyone who's reading. Again this story is mostly about Neal interaction with his soldiers friends.


Chapter 9: On Leave

On Leave

.

About two months later#

.

November 23rd, 1915

Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

We will meet soon!

Thanks for coming to London to see me. I hope the trip won't be too tiring for you, mother. I was certainly wrong in predicting that the war would be offer by Christmas. No need to organize a party for me. I'll be home only for five days. I'd rather spend the time with you all.

Sid was excited with the socks* I gave him. Please send more. I want to give Bob (his brother) and all my men here as Christmas gift. Nothing is more precious than dry socks especially when it rains!

I'm not sure what time I will arrive at home. I don't need to be picked up. I am so good in using public transportations now.

With much love.

Your son, brother,

Neal

.

.

In London, UK#

Two weeks after sending the letter, Neal was on the way home. The train was delayed for several hours in various cities close to the war zones. When Neal arrived in London it was already after ten at night. The train station was still crowded full of soldiers of all ranks who just came back like himself. They were chatting, laughing, screaming# and turned quiet only when there's an officer, like Neal, around them.

Women were lining up across the platform waiting for their men. Their faces lit up when they spotted recognized faces. People cheered when there's a couple kissed or hugged. Seeing that made Neal thought about Candy. There're also somber faces from those who had been waiting but their men hadn't showed up, perhaps never would. Neal remembered the long line of stretchers with wounded men waiting to be loaded in the ship he saw in Boulogne. He sighed.

Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Neal passed through the exit gate and walked to the street of London. He opted to use a bus instead of a taxi. He walked on foot from the last bust stop to his mansion to enjoy the fresh air. It felt so fresh with no trace of acrid smell of gun smoke.

Neal rang the door bell of the mansion. Considering the late hour, it's amazing that someone quickly came to open the front door, even for the army's standard.

"Master Neal, welcome home," said Alex the butler. He quickly picked Neal's knapsack from his master's hand. Although Alex remained composed, Neal could sense he's shocked seeing the dusty knapsack, filthy coat, and boots covered in dry mud.

"I go to notify Mr. and Mrs. Leagan right away, master Neal," Alex said maintained his coolness.

"No need, Alex. They must be sleeping."

Another servant promptly appeared to take Neal to his room. It's so unusual to see people using a non-khaki uniform. Everything looked so clean!

Neal quickly cleaned up. He took a shower, changed his ragged clothes with a clean pajama that smelt so fresh. He looked around his bedroom. It looked surreal compared to his dugout. No rats, no lice, there was not a single speck of dust or wet mud. It's eerie. When Neal was about to climb to his bed, he heard a soft knock outside the door.

"Neal dear, are you sleeping?" It's his mother.

"Mother, I'm not," yelled Neal readily. He jumped down back to the floor and ran to open the door. He had smiled even before the door was opened.

"How are you, mother?" Neal kissed her cheek.

"Neal, my darling!" Sarah hugged her tall boy tightly.

"Good to see you, son" said Arthur, impatiently waiting for his turn to shake his son's hand.

"Neal!" boomed Eliza and hugged him as well.

"Are you too tired to go to the sitting room?" asked Sarah.

"No, not at all." Neal didn't think he could sleep after all the excitement seeing his family again. Besides he didn't usually sleep that much at night with the constant interruptions that's going on like shell burst, snapper attack, patrolling or other night duties.

"Want to eat something, dear?" asked Sarah.

"I just get something to drink," replied Neal.

Arthur asked the servant to prepare the sitting room with warm drink. When they arrived at the room, the fireplace was already lit and the warm drink was served nicely on the coffee table. It looked so grand and luxurious to Neal who usually sat on the ground with his men.

His parents and Eliza sat opposite to Neal on the sofa. As he talked, they looked increasingly bewildered, responded less and less before stopped giving a response altogether.

"What?" asked Neal, watching them back from the top of his cup.

"He's# different," Arthur said, examining his son.

"He sounds different, you think?" asked Sarah.

"Of course! I've been mingled with Englishmen," laughed Neal.

"He looks quite burned," said Eliza.

"We spent time mostly outside, Eliza!" said Neal, grinning.

"How's it there, son?"

"Well# The captain was previously a manager in a chain grocery store, father," said Neal avoiding to answer his question directly. He's not sure if he should tell the real conditions at the Front to them. They might be so worried and wouldn't be able to sleep.

"Canned-food business has been doing so well recently because of war demand," replied Arthur business-like as usual.

Cause and effect. They lived among rats while the business owners got lucrative business deals, thought Neal. He didn't say it out loud though, maybe later when he chatted in private with his father.

They chatted about casual things until late. Neal noticed everyone was already in sleeping gown. But no one wanted to leave the room.

"Mother, we can talk again tomorrow," suggested Neal. He could tell that she's tired. He saw her yawn several times although she's trying to hide it. When Sarah finally leaned on her husband's arm and dozed off, they called off the night.

The following day, Neal woke early just like when he's in the trench. Arthur gave an update about how the business was doing before he went to work as usual. Sarah and Eliza stayed with him. Neal was dying to know about Candy but no one talked about her and he didn't want to be the first who asked.

"Chicago is empty now, Neal. Archie and Annie moved to the West coast. William resided mostly in New York," said Eliza. That's about it. No one mentioned about Candy.

"Eliza has contacted many of her friends, dear. They'll meet you tonight," said Sarah, telling Neal about the match-up party they had planned.

"I'll be home only for a few days. I'd rather spend it with you, mother," rejected Neal politely.

"Oh no! You must. You're too precious to live alone," insisted Sarah.

"I've told everyone about you as a soldier. They want to see you in uniform. Can you wear that tonight?" asked Eliza.

"No!" laughed Neal. "I'm supposed to wear it only when I'm on duty!"

For the sake of his mother who already came all the way from America, Neal went to his match-up party. He was happy when it's over. He took the girls out to their cars and sighed in relieved when they're gone. Neal then took a walk around the mansion garden to admire the luscious green of healthy trees. In the Front, there's no more tree left standing. The grass was brown if at all.

Then, a car coming. It had the Ardlays' famous "A" emblem displayed on the car hood. The door opened and the most beautiful woman came out from the driver seat. Curly blonde hair, porcelain skin# Neal recognized her instantly. The woman with the beautiful smile which had turned his world upside down.

Candy# She can drive now, admired Neal.

Candy was shocked to see Neal as well. But she quickly regained her composure. To Neal's surprise, she smiled to him, the first time.

"Oh!" Candy softly muttered. "Neal?" For the first time, her emerald green eyes shone without hatred. They looked so beautiful he didn't think that's possible.

"Yes. Hi, Candy," greeted Neal back.

"What a surprise." She giggled briefly. "You're home for Christmas?"

She looked so friendly. It's so tempting to pull her elbow and ask her to marry him. Maybe she agreed this time? But Neal remembered what Sid said, "Next time you meet Candy, don't give her a bloody marriage proposal!"

"Nope. I go back to France in a few days." Neal paused, kept his hand still on his side so it didn't fly to hold her. "You move to London?"

"Not really. A friend is having his first#," she hesitated, "Broadway tour in London. I come to support his first night show."

She didn't elaborate who the friend was but he could guess.

She's still with Terry, thought Neal. He tried to look for a ring in her finger unsuccessfully because she's wearing gloves.

"Aunt Elroy asked me to give this to your mother," said Candy passing a bag to Neal.

Neal took it from her hand. "Thank you. I make sure mother gets it."

"Thanks."

She secretly examined his face. He looked tough and well built. Must be from the army drills and disciplines, Candy thought. He's still well dressed but with a distinct touch of military sharpness. He stood straight up and looked directly into her eyes when speaking. His hair was cut short in military's signature haircut. He's so full of self confidence like someone who used to command.

"What are you in there?" asked Candy, couldn't help not to ask.

"Lieutenant," said Neal. I do this for you, Candy#, thought Neal. Nervously he waited for her reaction. She was laughing when he told her so the last time they met.

She remembered that too. She was really shocked when Albert told her about Neal joining the army. Her kind heart felt guilty for mocking Neal. To compensate that, she answered generously this time.

"Impressive," praised Candy. She cleared her throat and quickly avoided Neal's sharp stare. "I have something for you."

Candy opened her handbag and took an envelope out. "I wanted to ask your mother to give this to you. I never thought I can give it to you in person."

She shyly passed the large yellow envelope to him. "I get to go now." She smiled. "Bye."

If only time could be frozen... , now would be the good time. If only he could forever see that smile of hers...

Candy walked back to her car and waved. Neal waved back and watched the car until it disappeared and much longer.

Neal sighed and reluctantly turned back to the mansion. He gave the bag Candy gave to his servant and went to his room. He slid the envelop open very carefully to not ruin it.

"Dear Neal,

Albert told me about you went to combat. I wish you good health and safety, always.

Merry Christmas 1915 and Happy New Year 1916.

Until we meet again.

Your friend,

Candy"

Neal read through the short message again and again, trying to squeeze each word, looking for possible hidden meaning. "Until we meet again"? That means she wants to see me again!, thought Neal, hopeful. She calls me "your friend", read Neal enthusiastically. She doesn't hate me anymore! Neal's heart bloomed. She still meant so much to him. She's still with someone else. But he would wait#

oOo

Before going back to France, Neal took some time to return Charles' personal belonging to his family. He wondered if he did more harm than good in doing so. The visit seemed to reopen the wound which hadn't really healed, if ever.

Charles' mother cried so did his sisters. His father stared at Charles' item with hollow eyes. Neal's heart broke. They were all smiling the last time he was there. And now Charles wasn't there anymore and everyone was in sorrow. Neal was thinking about his family. He understood better how much they must be worrying about him.

oOo

Neal spent time with his family as much as he could for the remaining of his stay. His mother and sister cried when he had to leave. His father hugged him instead of shaking hands. The first time he did so. He even mumbled, "I'm proud of you, son."

Neal didn't let them take him to the train station. The place was too crowded. It would be too much for his mother and sister.

"I'll use a cab," said Neal.

Sarah disagreed. To make his mother happy, Neal obeyed and let their driver took him to the train station.

With heart heavy thinking about his family, Neal climbed the stairs getting into the train. Back to France, to the Front line! Throughout the journey, he's clutching Candy's card in his hand, playing the memory of their most recent meeting over and over in his mind #

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-To be continued-

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Note:

*Socks: a tribute to British Lieutenant Wilbert Spencer (1897-1915). "War Letters 1914-1915, Volume 1". He wrote about socks to his parents.

.

*THANK YOU*

Thanks for reading, everyone. No war here. It's December 2015. Neal is stationed in Northern France. His next war will be the Somme#

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Reminder:

Arthur: Neal's father

Alex: Neal's servant. This is the only chapter he appears.


Chapter 10: Three Girls

Three Girls

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In New York, USA#

Annie came to visit Candy in New York. Archie, her fianc谷, was busy at work so he didn't come this time. Candy took Annie to attend an award night gala she attended with Terry.

It was Annie's first time to walk in a red carpet event. It was staggering. As soon as the limousine stopped and Terry stepped out of the car, things went ballistic. Fans screamed hysterically deafening her and a cascade of camera flashes went off blinding her. Utterly disoriented, Anne took a tight grip of Candy's hands to not get tipped over. Candy, on the other hand, remained calm. She's so used to accompany Terry to red carpet events.

Annie was relieved when finally they arrived at the reception hall. She was still trying to calm her heartbeat when she heard Candy say, "Oh look who's here! Suzanna!"

Candy released Annie's hand and walked to approach one woman who's leaning on a walking stick. The woman turned around, revealing her strikingly gorgeous face.

"Hi Candy!" responded Suzanna. She walked to approach Candy. They hugged.

"This is my best friend, Annie," introduced Candy. Annie gave her hand to Suzanna and both shook hands.

While Candy was chatting with Suzanna, Annie couldn't help to examine Suzanna. Did Candy say that she lost her legs? How come she could stand and walk so well with the help of only one thin walking stick?

"You came alone?" asked Terry joining the conversation with Suzanna. "You should have told us. We could have come to pick you up."

"I came with Doug, but he got an emergency call. He'll be back though," explained Suzanna.

Terry looked at Candy. "You mind, Freckles?" he whispered.

"Of course not," whispered Candy back.

"I love you." Terry kissed Candy's cheek

"I love you too," whispered Candy back.

Terry gave his arm to Suzanna. "I take you to your seat, Suzanna," said Terry.

"Oh, no need. Doug should come at any moment."

"Let's take a seat first. Doug can look for you later," insisted Terry.

Terry took Suzanna in his arm and walked her to the dining hall. Annie and Candy followed behind them. Annie awkwardly looked at Candy to see how she's doing that her man walked with another woman. But she didn't seem to be affected by it.

"I thought you said she had no legs?" Annie whispered, asking to Candy.

"She's using prosthetic legs. Isn't she amazing?" replied Candy.

"Oh! Yes!" agreed Annie. "That's impressive."

"Suzanna worked so hard to be able to walk this well again," Candy continued explaining. "I am so proud of her!"

Annie glanced at Candy to see any sign of bitterness but there wasn't any.

Candy, Annie, Terry, Suzanna, and other guests were seated together in one large dining table. Throughout the dinner, Annie noticed that Terry kept talking to Suzanna while Candy got mostly the back of his head.

Annie was bursting to make comments. So when the crowd was clapping one award recipient and the room erupted in a noise, Annie used the opportunity to lean closer to Candy's ear.

"How are you and Terry doing?" whispered Annie behind the noises.

"Fine," whispered Candy back. She lifted her eyebrows asking Annie not to talk about that there.

Annie ignored her. "You sure? He barely looks at you!" She nodded to Terry who was chatting with Suzanna.

"I am fine! I like Suzanna," said Candy. "Shh!" She frowned, asking her friend to drop the topic.

Annie steadfastly shot a hard glance at Candy demanding explanation. So when another noise erupted from audience clapping hands, Candy leaned to Annie's ear and explained it. "It's me who Terry loves. No doubt. I told Terry that he's welcome to put first priority to Suzanna at any time."

Annie's mouth fell open but Candy firmly made a sign not to discuss the topic further.

After a while, someone came to hand a note to Suzanna. She read it and showed it to Terry. Terry then turned around to look at Candy.

"Do you enjoy the performance, love?" asked Terry. Annie was relieved that the man finally was looking at Candy.

"Yes, I do. You?" asked Candy.

"Yes. Super," said Terry. "Doug is here. But he can't find us. I'll take Suzanna to meet him. You mind?"

"Of course not!" said Candy, smiling.

Candy got up to hug Suzanna. Terry then escorted Suzanna to leave the table. Annie rolled her eyes in disbelief.

"Will he ever propose to you?" asked Annie, watching the couple's back.

"He will propose to me, or anyone, only after Suzanna gets married. That's the agreement. Terry wants to be careful to Suzanna's feeling. I think that makes sense."

"You really are alright about that?"

"Perfectly alright! Terry loves me."

"You are not... jealous?"

"Don't be ridiculous! Of course not! I understand Terry. I love him."

"I think you're tired, Candy," sighed Annie. "I would have screamed hysterically for a week if Archie were doing what Terry is doing to you to another woman."

Candy shrugged, didn't respond.

Terry left surprisingly for a long time with Suzanna. Candy and Annie stayed to watch the remaining of the award presentation. One by one the award was presented, performers did their show, audience clapped their hands,# At the end of the show, Candy got a note from Terry.

"Can't find Doug. I will take Suzanna home and drop by in your place tonight. Love, Terry."

"Oh well," said Candy calmly at Annie's sharp gaze. "That's fine, Annie. He does this all the time!"

All the time!, thought Annie although she didn't say anything. She didn't want to get into Candy's nerve.

Candy then went home first with Annie. They cleaned up and changed their dress. While waiting for Annie, Candy look at the letters her servant put on her desk. Her heart jumped at the sight of one letter.

"Can't be!" Candy whispered. She ran to the bathroom door and screamed, "Annie!" Candy banged loudly at the bathroom door.

"What?" asked Annie from inside.

"PATTY! Patty! Patty wrote us!"

"What?" cried Annie after some silence. Annie burst out from the bathroom with water still dripping from her hair. "Let me see!"

With trembling hands, the two friends opened the letter and read it together.

"

April 21st, 1916

My Dearest Friend Candy (and Annie, if she happened to be with you!),

First, let me apologize for leaving without saying a word to you. You won't believe what I have been doing!

I am in Britain trying to find Stear!

You might think I am crazy, but you know what# I am not the only one! I met many others who are looking for their missing love ones like their parents, lovers, siblings, friends,# It's shocking! It gives us strength to keep going on our heartbreaking journey.

I have visited many veteran offices across the country. So far, I get nothing. Maybe I don't do this right. But I can't think of any other way. If this didn't work out, somebody suggested me going directly to France. I will do so!

I hope you're doing fine, Candy. I don't have a permanent address. But, for a month I will be in this address. I hope you write me back.

I also write to Annie.

I love you, girls.

Your dear friend,

Patty.

"

.

Candy and Annie looked at one another. Patty! After more than a year, finally, they heard something from her. Then, they cried tearfully together.

"France is a war zone! Oh! And Patty is considering going there#," cried Annie.

Sobbing and stifling, they calmed each other down. As always, Candy regrouped herself quicker. She stared at the letter, thinking.

"Annie, you may be right# I should take a break from Terry," said Candy quietly.

Annie nodded, sobbing. "Yes, you should!" she sniffled.

Candy was so well taken care of by Albert. She really didn't have to work for money anymore. She worked just because she wanted to be useful. But she didn't have to.

"Don't cry, Annie. I will quit my job and visit Patty in Britain. I will convince her not to go to France!"

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-To be continued-

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Thanks so much for reading, everyone.


Chapter 11: As Officer

As Officer

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Rating: T (for horrific war description)

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In Albert*, France#

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July 10th, 1916

Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

Sorry I haven't written much lately. We have been very busy here. We're waiting for another order to attack which is imminent.

Thank you for the parcel of dry food. I shared it with everyone here. Sid and my other men were excited to taste American dry food! They said it's good.

Fine, mother. I will try to request a leave for Christmas. It's only July now. Don't expect too much. So far, it seems hardly possible. We've been very occupied lately.

I get to go now. Will write more later.

Much love to all.

Your loving son, brother,

Neal

.

oOo

Neal was folding his letter when First Lieutenant Harry entered with papers in his hand.

"Another order to attack."

"That soon?" replied Neal in disbelief. They just had a heavy lost last night. From a few hundred strong people in their company, only a third remained.

"Yup. Believe it," replied Harry.

Harry continued, "Our company will be combined with another heavily lost company who lost all its officers. Captain Thomson will lead the join forces. We have a new lieutenant coming to assist us, his name is Christopher Ridley."

"Chris?" asked Neal. "I saw someone new with the captain in the dugout today."

"Should be him," said Harry.

Harry rolled open one map and put it on the table.

"This is our trench," said Harry, pointing to a point in the map. "We are to cross the no-man's land for about 70 yards and arrive in another trench that's parallel to ours."

"There're lots of barbed wires around that area, sir," pointed Neal.

"The artillery will start bombardment at four hundred hours for one hour," replied Harry.

Both men looked at one another. Deep down they doubted the effectiveness of that bombardment. The German barbed wires had been indestructible. Their men always ended up entangled in it and became easy sitting target to the German machine guns.

"Our job is a bit special this time," continued Harry. "The colonel thinks there're isolated Huns hiding in that trench. Our job is to take them as prisoners. Alive! Some crews have been working for several nights clipping the wires around this small hidden area for us." Harry circled a point in the map.

"This mission is critical, Leagan. Call the sergeants and corporals here. We talk more about the details!"

"Yes, sir," said Neal.

Neal made a quick salute and ran to inform the men.

oOo

As planned, the bombardment started at four o'clock that day. Neal and other officers were charging up and down the line doing their duty encouraging the men, lifting up their spirits. Neal patted the back of the men with gloomiest looks and talked to those who looked scared.

"My wife just gave a birth, sir." One private spoke up, forcing himself to smile. He showed Neal the letter he just received from home.

"Great news, old chap," said Neal. "Next time you are on leave, you'll..."

Neal's words were cut short by a powerful squeal followed by loud cracks coming from behind. A piercing scream followed not long after.

While others were still crouching low to the ground, Neal had jumped and ran down the trench. A man was rolling on the ground screaming and holding his face. Neal dropped down beside him.

"Easy#," said Neal, pulling out a field dressing^ from the man's tunic. "Stay still, Tripp. Let me look at you." He pulled the soldier's hands. Blood was pouring in on his face from the place where his right eye was used to be. A gasp followed from the men who're watching.

"Pete, get down here! Hold Tripp's arms!" cried Neal.

Pete quickly stepped forward to hold the poor man's arms, gazing away to avoid looking at the heart wrenching injury.

"Stick it, Tripp# Steady# It will be over soon," said Neal. His voice remained calm. Skillfully he wrapped Tripp's head with the dressing.

"Done# Good lad," said Neal. He held Tripp's hands and talked slowly to make sure Tripp heard all words he said. "Pete here will accompany you until the stretcher bearers come to pick you up. Nothing to worry about, understand?"

Tripp barely nodded.

"Pete, watch Tripp," said Neal. "Be sure to get the stretcher bearers' attention when they come near."

"Yes, sir," said Pete.

Neal stood up to look at the men who's been watching him. "Anyone else hurt?" Neal moved around the men to make sure everyone was alright.

Then, a buzz came from behind them as everyone moved to make a room for the CO to pass. Harry soon appeared.

"Fifteen more minutes," Harry nodded, gestured at the men.

"Yes, sir," said Neal. "Everyone... You saw the lieutenant. Move to your position. "

Everyone swiftly lined up along the trench and waited.

Neal checked his watch... Five more minutes# four...

Neal reached out to his holster and pulled his gun out. He took a deep breath when Harry raised the whistle to his lips. He had done this countless times, but each time it never felt the same. Neal looked at his watch... Less than one minute...

Neal gripped his gun, getting ready. Then, Harry blew his whistle. Like a tsunami, the loud shrill sound blended with other officers' sound of whistles from all across the line.

Harry leapt up the ladder leading the men to the open. Several men fell straight back into the trench. Neal was climbing the ladder right behind Harry when he heard Harry's sound of whistle end abruptly with a broken sound. Neal looked up and saw Harry fell right onto him.

Neal jumped back down to the ground to catch Harry. "Sir, I get you," said Neal, slowly lowering Harry to the ground.

"Sergeant!" cried Neal. He pressed a field dressing onto Harry's wounded neck but blood kept seeping though.

Neal scrambled to pull his own field dressing from his pocket and used it for Harry. It quickly got drenched with blood as well.

"More dressings!" shouted Neal. "Quick! Where's the sergeant?"

"I'm here, sir." A young soldier with efficient look ran quickly to approach Neal. "Sorry, sir. I just helped someone who got wounded back there."

"Give me-," said Neal.

"Leagan...," whispered Harry. "Stop#"

"Sir?"

"Go#," Harry said. His voice was so soft, Neal could barely hear it. "Lead# the men#" Harry was gasping like not getting enough air.

No matter how many times Neal had witnessed friends dying, it just never got any easier. It was so painful to see life slipping out from them.

"Yes, sir," Neal whispered, reluctantly.

"Ed," called Neal to the closest private. "Press your field dressing, like this. Watch the lieutenant!"

Neal looked to the other wounded men.

"Corporal, look after them. Send someone to call the stretcher-bearers," ordered Neal.

Neal looked one more time at Harry who's his CO and also his friend. "I go, sir," said Neal quietly squeezing Harry's hand. Struggling to breath, Harry just watched Neal back.

With heavy heart, Neal picked Harry's whistle from the ground and stood up. Then, Neal looked at his men. Everyone seemed entrenched, shocked looking at their bleeding commanding officer. With scared face, they looked at Neal who was the second lieutenant. Neal knew he had to stay poised to not further scare them.

"It's our turn to blast them," barked Neal, bursting his men's confidence. "Everyone!" Neal shouted. "Get into positions!"

Shaking, the men obeyed the new CO unquestioningly.

"Up the ladder!" cried Neal. He took a deep breath and put the whistle in his lips. Looking up, Neal blew his whistle as loud as he could. "GO!"

Neal was out of the trench leading his men. Outside, hell had broken loose. The air was alive with the hail of machine guns. Climbing on their comrades' dead bodies that were lying around the trench's rim, they ran forward across the no-man's land.

"Move! Keep low!" Neal shouted to his men. Blowing his whistle and waving his gun, Neal drove his men forward.

Among the rain of bullets, men fell like flies. Many ran just to stop dead on their track, got blown off or fell and rose just to fall again and never got up. Kept charging forwards, Neal focused on to lead the men who still could run, trying to spot the small opening that had been prepared for them among the vast network of barbed wires. He thought he could rely on Harry, but now he had only himself and a huge CO responsibility for his men on his shoulder.

Finally, Neal saw the opening that Harry mentioned. He led his men there and took them to the destination trench.

"Grenade!" said Neal. Three men on Neal's left fell knocked out by a shrapnel. Still running, Neal took one grenade and threw it into the trench.

"We jump in!" shouted Neal.

Neal jumped down, followed by his men. Two men were killed instantly from the bomb thrown by the Germans inside the trench.

"Fire!" ordered Neal. They turned their rifles into the trench and fired hard. Bodies fell. Through the whirling of the black smoke, they saw shadows of enemies that kept coming. They kept firing until their rifles got empty.

"Grenades," shouted Neal to the men behind him. Two men stepped forward and threw the bombs into the trench.

Neal was reloading his gun when he heard a crack followed by a sharp pain in his arm. He knew he got hit.

"Prepare to fire!" said Neal. Pain shot through his arm.

Still, Neal pretended nothing happened to hide his injury from his men. If they knew that their officer were injured, they would get panic. Things would turn chaotic and they all would certainly die there.

Neal grabbed several grenades from his closest man. He ran forward ready to activate the grenade when he heard a scream in broken English. "Don't shoot!"

Several Germans came out with their hands over their head.

"How many of you inside?" barked Neal, pointing his gun straight at the enemies.

"N-no one# W-we're the only five left," said the German. His voice shaking looking at the many rifles and bombs pointed at them.

"Tell your friends to drop their guns," said Neal. His finger poised on the gun's trigger. The German obeyed. Neal waved the Germans forward with his gun.

"Keep the hands up," said Neal. He forced himself to remain poise and his voice to stay steady although his arm was throbbing and he could feel blood seeping through his sleeve.

The Germans did as told.

Neal nodded to Baker. Baker took several privates to enter and check the dugout. Before long they reappeared.

"It's a dead end dugout, sir. No one inside," reported Baker to Neal.

"Tell your friends that they're to come with us to our trench." said Neal to the German who spoke English. The German turned to his friends and said those.

"Sergeant Baker, take them!" ordered Neal.

They were walking along the trench ready to go back when Neal heard a soft moan. Toby was laying on the floor. His hands were holding his stomach and his clothes was soaked with blood. Neal knelt down and took Toby's cold body in his arms.

"It doesn't hurt, sir," Toby whispered. His voice was faint. His face and lips were as white as paper.

"Good soldier," praised Neal.

"Really, sir?"

"Yes, Toby." Neal repeated clearly and slowly, "You are one brave soldier."

Toby smiled. For a second his dim eyes lit with pride. With that proud smile still hanging in his lips, Toby died in Neal's arms.

Sergeant Baker looked at Neal when he gently lowered Toby down.

"You're hit, sir," said Baker, looking at Neal's sleeve which was tarnished with brownish color. Readily, Baker pulled a dressing from his tunic. "Shall I put this on, sir?"

"No." Neal waved his left hand to stop Baker. "I don't want them to know that I'm hurt. It will upset our men and the Germans shouldn't know that their enemy's officer is wounded."

Neal got up and straightened himself although his right arm was in burning pain. He wiped beads of sweat formed on his brow and said, "We go back. Mission accomplished."

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading, All!

Neal is a good officer now compared to his first time in ch. 6

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TERMS:

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* The Battle of Albert (July 1-13th, 1916). Part of the Somme offensive.

Huns= Fritz= Germans

Platoon: Military unit consists of around 70 men, led by a lieutenant

Company: Military unit consists of several platoons, led by a captain/major

^Field dressing/dressing: Bandage. Rule to use: Rescuer should use the wounded man's dressing instead of his own.

Stretcher bearers: Men carrying stretchers to collect injured soldiers.

CO: Commanding officer.

Shrapnel= "a special" type of explosion.

Tunic: In here it means military coat / uniform

New Character:

Baker (Sergeant): Neal's man.

Chris/Christopher Ridley (Lieutenant): Neal's friend later.

Pete, Tripp, Toby, Ed: Neal's men. They are only appear in this chapter.


Chapter 12: A Farm in Chocques

A Farm

A few days later#

Neal was in the dugout writing letters to the family of his men who didn't return. It was hard, probably the hardest task he had to do as an officer. No matter how hard he tried to describe the loss, it never could be decent enough.

"I'll be buggered!" Neal heard Captain Thomson's voice behind him. "What are you doing here working instead of resting, Leagan?"

"Sir!" Neal got up to salute but Thomson waved his hand.

"Sit down. No ceremony this time, shall we?" Thomson smiled warmly and sat across from Neal. "I went to the clearing station to look for you but they said you had left."

"There's nothing to do there, sir. I don't like to sit down doing nothing."

Thomson looked at Neal's right arm which hanged in a sling and thickly bandaged and the letters Neal wrote on the table. "I never realized that you're left handed," said Thomson.

"I can write equally well with either hands, sir," answered Neal.

Thomson laughed. Neal grinned.

"You did well that day, Leagan," praised Thomson.

"Thank you, sir." Neal felt so proud. A praise from CO was always nice to hear. "Have you heard anything about Lieutenant Harry, sir?" Neal asked.

The Captain sighed, his smile dropping. Quietly he said, "Harry didn't make it. He bled horribly and died on the way to the hospital."

Neal felt a sharp thorn in his heart. Poor Harry.

"We will miss Harry. He's a good officer and a great friend..."

"Yes, sir. Very...," Neal whispered.

They sat silently, absorbed in their own thought.

"You know what Harry had told me before he led the offensive?" asked Thomson.

"No, sir."

Thomson peered at him. "He suggested giving the first lieutenant rank back to you."

"Oh, sir#!" whispered Neal, stunt. What a considerate friend.

"He said you improved. Way exceeded what's expected," continued Thomson.

Neal felt so touched by Harry's generous words, his chest heaved heavily.

"I admit, I agree with Harry," said Thomson.

"Sir?"

Thomson raised his head and looked Neal in the eyes. "I will give you back your position as the first lieutenant, Leagan. You've done well. You work hard and you bloody earn it."

Neal blinked, surprised. He didn't believe he's hearing this.

"I also order you to take some leave," barked Thomson although his eyes were smiling. "For heaven's sake, follow the doctor's order will you, lieutenant! Get some rest until your arm gets well!"

"Thank you, sir! I will, sir!"

Neal's heart swelled with pride for getting his position back by his own achievement. He had been wanting that badly and worked so hard for it. Now he could impress Candy!

Still#

If he could have chosen, he'd rather have Harry stay alive#

oOo

Obeying the captain's order, Neal then took a leave. He visited Harry's burial site as well as his fallen men who had burial sites. He said good bye to Chris, Sid, and other friends and left Albert*. What a name, Neal couldn't help to muse. He never liked it. It reminded him too much of how close Candy was to William.

Since his leave wasn't long enough to go back to Chicago, Neal decided to spend it in Bethune. He passed the city so many times while taking his men to the resting billet and had become so familiar with it.

Neal checked in the best hotel and took the luxury to take a good shower, eat good food, catch up with his sleep, and stroll around the city like a regular citizen. Neal wrote long letters to his parents and sister, did some shopping for them, and went to a local post office to mail them.

A few days later, his right arm felt much better so Neal decided to rent a vehicle to drive around. He liked driving and missed the feeling of sitting behind the wheel. The only vehicle available for rent was a farm truck so he rented one small truck. Trying to use his right arm to the minimum and not to think much about the doctor, Neal then drove around Bethune and its surrounding areas.

Around lunch time, Neal passed by Chocques and saw the farm he used to take his men for billet. To his surprise, he saw a "FOR SALE" sign at the gate. Neal decided to stop by to inquire.

The farm owner was a kind old widow who he knew so well. Madame Roux recognized Neal and welcomed him herself. After exchanging greetings, showing concerns to Neal's wounded arm, Roux served Neal with hearty lunch. They chatted.

"I've decided to sell this farm," Roux mentioned at some point

"Really?" verified Neal. Too bad! He really liked the farm, it's like a second home to him and his men. They liked the river in the back of the farm and the fruit trees. Roux always generously let his men climbed those trees to pick and eat as many apples, pears, whatever fruits, as they liked.

Roux nodded.

"I don't really want to, Neal," said Roux. She looked deeply sad. Heartbreaking. "I opened this farm for soldiers billet in honor of my first son who got killed in Marne-. But last month my second son was killed in Verdun~..." She couldn't continue her words.

"I'm so sorry," said Neal. Oh no, how many more should die?, he thought.

Roux lips quivered reflecting the profound heartbreak in her heart.

"I'm already too old to manage this farm alone. We'll be running out of cash soon if I don't stop this#," lamented the widow.

"How much are you thinking of selling it?" asked Neal by way of saying something.

"Only 200 francs including the animals. But I want the new owner to let me keep one hut and live there," Roux answered. "Unfortunately, many potential buyers don't like that."

Roux explained she had no other living family. The farm was her world. She took Neal outside telling him stories of the past golden days. The place where she first met her husband, the spot where he proposed to her, the place where her two sons learned to walk, and so on.

It was so sad. Neal almost couldn't talk.

"Memories are the only thing I have left from my husband and sons. And those are all here, in this farm," said Roux. "I don't want to leave this place."

Neal felt sorry for the kind widow. To him, 200 francs was actually very cheap. If only it were in Chicago, he would have bought it for her. But, he's going to war. He couldn't manage it# heck, he didn't even know what happened to him a week from now.

Neal paid generously for the lunch. He wanted to pay more but Roux refused. She even tried to give the lunch for free! Neal then continued with his trip. When he got back to Bethune, it was already almost dark.

Thinking about Candy, Neal patted his coat pocket where he always carried her Christmas card and took a walk. As he did so, a young woman approached him and asked if he needed her company.

"My rate is cheap, monsieur," she quoted her price.

Neal wanted to reject her but she looked cold and hungry. Her hair was blonde and her eyes were green. She reminded him so much of Candy. So, Neal nodded.

"My house is there, monsieur." She pointed. "This way."

"Could we sit there, instead? You mind?" asked Neal in French. He pointed to a bench under the street light.

Before she replied, Neal groped his pocket and gave her the amount of money she requested. She looked at him and nodded. As long as he paid, why she should mind where they're at, she thought.

Neal walked to the bench and she followed him.

"You're wounded?" she started a conversation.

Neal only nodded. Since he didn't seem want to talk, the girl stayed silent too.

Leaning on his seat, Neal closed his eyes imagining it's Candy who's there with him. Is she still with Terry? They're so far apart... He went to war for her, but now it seemed more impossible than ever that they would meet again.

After about half an hour, Neal opened his eyes and straightened himself. "Thank you. You may go now."

She looked at him, stunt. He paid her enough for the whole night and he's using only half an hour of her time just to sit.

"You are not French?" she asked.

"No."

"If you don't mind me asking# You have a lover at home?" she asked.

"No. Why?" asked Neal. He thought about Candy.

"Because you're good looking and I think you're a nice man."

"Thank you."

"My husband was very nice to me. He's killed in Lorraine&."

Oh no, not again! "I'm sorry," said Neal, genuinely felt for her.

They sat quietly for some time then Neal gave her additional money.

"You can go... Thank you," said Neal.

Neal got up and walked slowly back to his hotel. When he passed one dark corner, Neal heard a woman scream. He ignored it. All over the place women were raped not to mention other kinds of atrocities unthought-of in the civilized world. He's not the police of mankind. He's just a simple soldier. There's limited amount of thing he could do to humanity.

"Aide...!" Neal heard she try to speak French. "Help!" A scream in English followed.

English?, thought Neal. He shook his head feeling pity. Perhaps a soldier's relative who came to France.

"Help!" she cried piercingly again.

Neal stopped walking. Something in her piercing voice made him turn around. He went back to the dark corner. A drunk man was pulling the woman's dress. She's fighting as hard as she could, Neal could tell that much. Seeing her determination, Neal decided not to stay silent anymore.

"Leave her!" barked Neal in French.

The man lifted up his head. He looked at Neal and laughed mockingly. "Only a wounded soldier!" he slurred, deeply drunk. "You want her too?"

"I said leave her!" growled Neal.

The man pulled a knife from his pocket. Pulling the woman's hair backward, he touched the knife on her throat. "What if I don't want?" he asked, his eyes bulging out.

In a flash, using his left hand, Neal reached out to his revolver and shot the man's hat. The hat fell. The man sobered enough to notice. Cursing, he pushed the woman away and ran away as fast as he could.

The woman tumbled on the street. Her blouse half opened. She coughed, gasping for air.

Neal approached her to help her get up. He could feel her shaking.

"Are you alright, mademoiselle?" asked Neal, without looking at her. He picked up her glasses that fell nearby and gave it to her. His eyes stayed nailed to the side of the road throughout, not even once did he try to peek.

"He-eh... he-eh." She nodded, trying to catch up her breath.

Neal nudged his cap then walked away.

The woman turned around to button her blouse and straightened her skirt. Then, she chased Neal. She suddenly remembered that she hadn't thanked her rescuer.

"Monsieur# uhm# merci. Er#" The woman tried to mumble some thank you words very unclearly in French. It's obvious she couldn't speak the language. She looked at his face. "Thank you-"

She froze, couldn't believe her eyes.

No way#! She checked her glasses three times to make sure her rescuer gave her the correct one. It was. But, it can't be! It's him! That despicable, arrogant man that she and her two closest friends always detested!

"Neal?" she muttered.

"You're wel-" Neal stopped short, surprised that the woman knew his name. He turned his head to see who she was.

"Patty?" Neal whispered, equally in disbelief.

"What are you doing here?!" exclaimed Patty.

"Bloody hell. Patty! What are you doing here?" asked Neal almost at the same time.

-TO be continued-

Thanks for reading. So much :D

.

NOTE:

*Albert: a place name in France. Neal fought in the battle of Albert in chapter 10.

Chocques: A small town close to Bethune. These are REAL cities in France :D I don't make it up.

Clearing station: A facility to care for the wounded in the Front.

Billet: While in France, British soldiers took a rest in farm/mansions/whatever that's provided by local citizens. This resting place is called billet.

+Battle of Marne: September 1914

~Battle of Verdun: February to December 1916

&Battle of Lorraine: August 1914

Madame Roux: The owner of the farm where Neal and the companies often went for billet.


Chapter 13: Old Friends

Old Friends

Patty's eyes flew to Neal's arm that's hanged in a sling and thickly bandaged. "Y-you're wounded!" she gasped.

"Minor one." Neal shrugged.

Patty was surprised to see his reaction. He used to whine for the tiniest scratch in his skin.

"And you? What's in Bethune?" asked Neal.

"Casualty Clearing Station number 33*#" She noticed, mystified, that Neal was in army uniform.

"Huh?" asked Neal, puzzled.

"I come here to look for Stear."

Neal gaped and looked at her in astonishment. "Well, let's get away from here first in case your attacker came back."

Neal led Patty to leave that dark alley and go to the main road. Patty followed him with her head down, feeling miserable. First she got attacked by a drunk man. Then she got rescued# but by Neal Leagan. She still vividly remembered his and his sister's nasty bullying behavior. Oh, she hated Neal!

After they arrived in the crowded place, Neal slowed down his pace. Patty stood as far as she could from him readying her nerve to hear his sneers and mocks.

Unexpected to her, Neal said, "It's not safe to walk alone after dark. I can take you home, if you want."

Patty lifted up her head, surprised. This was the first time she heard something nice coming from Neal. But still she didn't want Neal to take her home. She wanted to get away from Neal as soon as possible.

"I shouldn't#," Patty mumbled to decline the offer. But, on the second thought, she realized that Neal was an officer. He might know some useful internal information regarding missing soldiers!

"But if you don't mind, it would be nice," Patty quickly added, shyly.

"Sure."

"Thank you. I live on the other side of the town."

While walking, they shared stories. Without mentioning Candy, Neal started telling Patty about him joining the army. Patty secretly wondered if Candy's engagement rejection played a role in it.

"You are looking for Stear, you said?" asked Neal after he finished telling his story.

"Yes. I had been for almost a year. I was in Britain before I came here," replied Patty. "Since you're an officer, may I ask something?"

"Say it."

"The letter Stear's parents received from the regiment said he is 'missing, presumed killed'. What does that actually mean?" asked Patty. She held her breath, wondering if he's going to laugh at her or giving disappointing answers like what others had been giving her.

"That's what the letter says?" asked Neal.

"Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Cornwell showed it to me," said Patty. To her relieved, Neal hadn't laughed at her yet.

That meant his poor cousin was one of those unidentified fragments piled somewhere among thousands others in no-man's land. He's dead, period. Very dead!

Neal turned to Patty to tell her that. But when he looked at her, he saw her eyes gleam like her entire existence was hanging on the next word he said. He remembered how broken Charles' family was and his tongue went numb. Stear wasn't one of his men. It's not his duty to deliver the dead message and shatter her hope which she had embraced for so long. One day he would explain it to her, slowly, and gradually. But not suddenly and abruptly now.

"That means nothing," Neal answered instead. "It might be just some paper work mixed up somewhere in the hospital that's why they couldn't locate him. Hence the word missing." He calmly looked straight into her eyes and lied. War built characters# he was amazed by how coolly and calmly he could lie now.

"So you think Stear is not dead?"

"The letter said 'presumed killed' Patty, it didn't say killed."

"Oh Neal! I knew it! I knew it!" exclaimed Patty jubilantly. She almost wanted to jump to hug him.

"Did you talk to his regiment while in Britain?"

"Of course!" said Patty. "I went there to ask but no one knew anything. I wrote them letters, but no one gave useful reply. I think they got tired of me after a while and I had enough of their pity letters. Someone suggested me going to France. That's why I am here."

"I see!" said Neal. Nation's gratitude to their fallen soldiers!, thought Neal sorely.

"Thanks for clarifying, Neal"

Neal avoided her eyes this time. "You've been here long?" he asked, changing the topic of conversation.

"A few weeks, I'm still trying to settle down," answered Patty. "When I was attacked just now, I just came back from looking for a job in the nearby pub-"

Patty bit her lips, embarrassed. She shouldn't say it! Neal would mock her for looking a low position job in a poor place. Patty stole a look at him. To her surprise, he didn't say anything. He looked attentive with no trace of sarcastic smile or cruel mockery on his face.

"Working in a pub wasn't exactly my thing," Patty added quickly. "I'd rather work in a farm but it's too hard to get... The transportation is difficult, for one thing. Working in a restaurant is easier because it's in the city..." Patty went on telling Neal her story.

Finally, they arrived at the place where Patty lived. She instantly steeled her heart. Now for sure Neal would mercilessly humiliated her.

Her place was far below modest. She hadn't worked properly for more than a year, because she kept moving all over Britain visiting war veteran offices. Her saving had depleted badly. It's already good that she had a place to stay. Frankly, she didn't know how to afford it next month. It's hard to find a good job in France because she couldn't speak French.

"Neal# I live there," said Patty timidly, waiting for his hostile comments.

Neal was staring at the decrepit place with his mind playing terrible scenes he had seen when civilian became the victims of the war, too. He felt guilty for giving Patty hope that Stear was alive. Now, she wouldn't want to leave France.

"W-what did you say just now?" asked Neal suddenly.

"Er# which part?" asked Patty. She was surprised that no mocking comments were thrown at her yet.

"About the farm#"

"Oh! I said I would love to work in a farm!" Patty told Neal what she felt about farms.

"Don't look for a job tomorrow. Wait for me," Neal said. His voice clipped, a habit he must have picked from his duty as an officer. "I 'll take care of it!"

oOo

The following day Neal came again to pick Patty up and took her to ride in the truck he rented. Patty felt like betraying Candy for being in good terms with her nemesis. She promised herself to write Candy a letter and explained that Neal saved her. Candy had a big heart, she would surely forgive her.

"I'm buying a farm," said Neal suddenly. He grinned.

"Nice! I 'm in love with farms," praised Patty generously.

"You do?"

"Yes. After-," Patty was about to say after Candy rejected his engagement proposal but she quickly changed it. "After the reinstatement of Sir William, I stayed in Pony's home with Candy and Annie^. Their friend, Tom, had a farm nearby. We often went there to help out. It was lovely."

"Very good!" said Neal. "I've been thinking# would you stay in my farm and help me take care of it? I will transfer the ownership to you so in case anything happens to me you won't get the inconvenience."

"T-transfer# o-ownership?" stammered Patty, flabbergasted.

Neal nodded.

"It 's a nice farm. Better than Tom's I bet," Neal snorted. He puffed his chest arrogantly. For once he looked familiar.

"I admit it's quite beaten up financially," Neal continued. "But, no worries. I will set up a bank account and put money there for you to get started. If you need more, just contact my secretary in London. Just be sure not to tell anyone that you know me especially the Germans!..."

While Neal talked about precaution measures, Patty looked at the man examining him from head to toe. There was an air of self reliance and assurance about him. She had thought about that last night, but he exceeded even that today.

"There's no obligation, Patty. You can leave whenever you want, say, when Stear returns and picks you up," said Neal finally. "So? What do you say about my smart arrangement?"

"No!" blurted Patty as soon as she found her voice. "My God, impossible! Neal, I will not accept a penny from you! Ever!"

"You know that this amount of money won't cause a dent to me," quipped Neal. "Besides, the farm owner said the farm used to generate a lot of income in the past. Who knows with your help, I will make profit!" Neal joked.

"No! No! Not one franc, not 200 francs, not any amount whatsoever," said Patty. "I won't do it!"

"Just accept it, Patty. For Stear's sake at least...," Neal said softly. "He won't be happy if anything bad happens to you, will he?"

He meant it. She's so loyal to Stear. How did it feel to have a mutual loving relationship with someone? His mind wandered thinking about himself, Archie and Stear when they talked about girls in the past. Never would he have guessed that Stear would be so lucky in love!

Patty cried and cried# seeing the truth in what he said. Stear wouldn't be happy if anything bad happened to her. Frankly her situation was quite dire. Unlike in Britain, she couldn't speak the local language in France.

"When Stear comes back, I'll deal the business transaction with him directly," said Neal when Patty stopped crying. "He's my cousin. I know where he lives. He can't run away!" He smiled.

"But, I must do something in return!" sobbed Patty.

"Well# actually, you might have to," Neal grinned. "There's some catch."

Patty almost laughed seeing that familiar wicked grin. She couldn't believe this Neal. She had to tell this to Candy.

"First, the farm owner requests to keep one hut for her." Neal was back being serious. He told Patty about Madame Roux+. "She also asks us to keep the past workers as many as we can. They have been with the family for a long time. I think it's good. They can help you get started. What do you think?"

Patty agreed.

"Second, Madame Roux opens the farm for billets in honor of her sons. We often go there. Would you continue doing that?" Neal told Patty how much his men loved that farm.

Patty finally accepted it.

"I hope I don't end up giving you too much work," said Neal, grinning again.

She shook her head. Wiping her glasses that were wet with tears, she laughed and cried at the same time.

"Thanks, Neal. Please visit me once in a while."

"I will. We will meet often after this." He grinned.

Looking at Patty, Neal was thinking to ask about Candy but he changed his mind. He looked hesitated briefly before closing his mouth, looking straight forward and back to be engrossed in his driving.

Patty caught that. She pondered what he had wanted to say. Does he still like Candy?, she wondered.

She's curious if he had a girlfriend. She looked at him from the corner of her eye. He looked so much more reliable than the flip-flop Terry. She liked this man a lot. Decent men were rare these days. It would be too bad if he were taken by someone else. She had to tell Candy about Neal!

They arrived at the farm. For the rest of Neal's leave, they were busy taking care of the farm ownership paperwork.

oOpp

A few weeks later in Ardlays mansion, London...

Candy was reading Patty's letter.

.

Chocques, August 7th 1916

My Dear Friend Candy,

Annie said you're looking for me in Britain. Sorry, I am already in France! I think you missed several letters from me. This is my permanent address in Chocques, be sure to write me here from now on.

Before Neal went back to the Front, he accompanied me to the army veteran office. He talked to the captain there to ensure I get first hand information about Stear from all over France. Neal made everything so easy! I don't even have to wait in line! All these would be impossible without him. Not only that my French is barely passable but as an officer he got preferential treatments which others don't get!

Neal is very nice Candy# He's like a brother that I never have. Now I understand why Eliza likes him so much! Don't laugh! I'm not joking!

Enclosed you'll find his photo. I asked him what I can do to thank him. He said nothing. So, I proposed to take a photo and send it to his family. He agreed. Secretly, I bought two so I can send you one. Bad bad me! Oh well# to repay his past meanness to us in the past! How do you think Neal looks in his officer uniform?

Candy, you've got to meet Neal! I hope you come to visit us one day.

Your dear friend,

Patty

.

Candy laughed. Well, she's already in Britain, why not just go to France to meet Patty? It's just one channel away, anyway!

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading.

oOo

NOTE:

*Bethune held the British Casualty Clearing Station (hospital) no. 33

Madame Roux: chapter 11. Farm owner.

^Candy, Patty, Annie in Pony's home. Scene from manga. Last book, page 69:

Patty: "Candy, I really like it here.,.. I want to stay here for a while."

Candy: "You can stay here as long as you like!"


Chapter 14: Summer 1916

Summer 1916

.

August 21st, 1916

My Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

Sorry I haven't been writing much. Things have been really hectic.

Yes, Mother, I understand. Unfortunately it's hardly possible that I can get a leave this Christmas. We're very busy on things that I can't tell you about. I'll keep trying, if not we'll try next year!

Tomorrow is our turn to be billeted for three days rest. I promise I will write long letters from there every day.

Your loving son, brother,

Neal

oOo

A few days later Thomson and his four lieutenants arrived in their usual billet farm in Chocques.

"Ah!" said Thomson as soon as he entered the farm gate. "This farm looks much better taken care of... You think?" He observed the surrounding, admiring it.

The three lieutenants nodded, mumbled some words of agreement.

"It has a new owner, sir. Her name is Ms. Patricia O'Brien," explained Neal.

"`Ms.'? Can she speak English?"

"Yes, sir. She's an English."

"Good! Then I don't need an interpreter," said Thomson to Neal. Neal usually was the one who did the talking since his French was fluent. "You can go with Ridley, Lewis, and Burke. Help the men settle," Thomson instructed his lieutenants.

"Yes, sir!" the four lieutenants answered.

Thomson went to knock at the front door. Patty opened it.

"Ms. O'Brien? Captain Thomson," Thomson took off his cap and offered a handshake. "We're used to come here to billet. We were told that we can still do. Would that be okay if we stay here?"

"Yes, of course!" said Patty.

They shook hands and the captain thanked Patty for her hospitality.

"How many people are in the party?" asked Patty professionally.

"Five officers, myself with four lieutenants, and about three hundred soldiers."

"We're having a renovation so all the rooms upstairs cannot be used. Only the two small rooms downstairs are available," explained Patty. "You can use the smallest room, the four lieutenants share the bigger room. The barn should be big and dry enough for the soldiers."

"Thank you, Ms."

"My pleasure. I can show you the rooms now," invited Patty.

"Please." The captain bowed slightly.

Patty led the way.

"Nice," mumbled Thomson as they walked. "Many changes here and all for the better," praised Thomson, genuinely impressed.

Patty was so proud to hear that. She had been working very hard for the better of the farm. She didn't intend to take her responsibility lightly and had given her best to manage and improve what's available for her.

After taking care of the captain, Patty impatiently waited for Neal to show up. He had promised to take her to the war veteran office.

When Neal finally showed up, Patty welcomed him with a warm hug.

"Let's go," said Neal after they exchanged some greeting and general life update.

"If you're tired, we can go tomorrow," responded Patty courteously.

"No, I am not tired at all," said Neal generously. He could tell how eager Patty was to go.

"Oi Neal!" added Patty mysteriously, "# someone else will join us today."

"Who?"

Patty didn't answer. She only smiled and opened the storage room door.

"Candy!" Patty called, her eyes watching Neal. "Neal is here. We are ready!" She smiled.

Neal's ears pricked. He thought Patty was playing with him. But soon at the door he saw Candy appear.

Now that Patty was in a good term with Neal, she could see the obvious love he had for Candy. All stated clearly in his face and eyes. Suddenly everything was clear, his engagement proposal, him harassing her, and more. She wondered how come she didn't notice this before and how clueless Candy had been in misinterpreting his attention.

At the veteran office, the line was long as usual. But since Neal was an officer, he took the girls directly to the head office without having to wait a single second. They're greeted personally by a friendly French captain who treated them with full attention. Neal did all the talking in fluent French.

The captain informed them about the new prisoner exchange program with German prisoners.

"The program doesn't apply for the rank of lieutenant or up. But who knows? At the time of war, there're always rooms for unwritten rules and exceptions," said the captain. "We will pay a special attention to Lieutenant Alistair Cornwell."

Neal translated that to English for the girls.

Patty was so encouraged. Behind her, Candy was watching Neal, unblinking. She never saw someone looked so reliable and fully in charge of the situation. Albert, perhaps, but still with the uniform, duties they carried for the country and all that, it just had a deeper level of gravity. And Neal was so young compared to Albert! It's impressive how fast he reached this level of maturity, Candy thought.

On the way home, Candy was marveled by how Patty interacted with Neal. They looked so easy together. She agreed with what Patty had been saying, it reminded her so much of how Eliza was with Neal.

As soon as they were back at the farm, Patty promptly excused herself.

"I need to feed the cattle," said Patty. Ignoring Candy's pleading stare, Patty disappeared, leaving her alone with Neal.

Neal felt his mouth sealed. He wanted to tell her that he's so happy to see her again. He wondered if the feeling was mutual. Why was she here? Was it because she had broken up with Terry and finally realized the genuine love and affection he had for her? There're too many questions to ask but he's not sure how to form them correctly in words to not ruin her much improved mood.

"Patty said your arm was wounded. How's it?" Candy started.

"It's fine now. Thank you," answered Neal. "You come here by yourself?"

"Yes." Candy smiled. She's so beautiful.

"How are you two doing?" asked Neal trying to fish some update about the state of her relationship with Terry.

"Great!" Candy lifted her finger to show a ring in it. "He gave me this forever-ring before I left."

Neal felt a bolt of lightning zapped his heart into two.

She's not here for me!, thought Neal, crushed.

"That's great to hear." Neal swallowed to keep his voice sound natural. "Have a pleasant stay, Candy." Neal nudged his cap and excused himself.

Feeling stupid for thinking that Candy came for him, Neal went out and looked for his best friend, Sid. Sid was lying lazily under a big tree, smoking and gazing at his friend. Pulling a cigarette from his pocket, Neal silently joined Sid and sat next to him.

"The girl with glasses seems very nice to you," commented Sid.

"She already has someone#," said Neal. He bent to get his cigarette lit from Sid's. "He was a lieutenant in Royal Flying Corps."

"Was?" asked Sid, puffing his smoke.

"Last year the regiment wrote a letter saying he's missing, presumed killed. I told her missing doesn't mean dead."

"Whew! A year ago!"

"Yup."

In silence they watched one another remembering the British plane they saw the other day which got hit by the German anti-aircraft fire. It fell, nosedive before turning into fireball and disappeared into fragments.

"For fuck's sake! How do you plan to tell her about what more likely happened to her poor bugger?"

"Slowly," answered Neal taking a deep inhale of his cigarette. "I suppose if they kept having no new news about him she'd gradually accept the fact. When she's ready to hear it, I'll let her know."

"Not bad...," said Sid, thoughtful. "Or who knows she'd get her heart pinned to one soldier who's billeting here."

"Who knows#," answered Neal.

Sid puffed smoke from his cigarette in a ring form and watched Neal without blinking.

"What?" asked Neal.

"The blonde one... She's Candy?" Sid asked.

"How do you know?" Neal sighed, nodded.

"It's written everywhere on your face."

"Am I that bloody obvious?"

"To me, yes," said Sid, puffing more smoke. "You shouldn't be here with me. You should be there with Candy!"

"No use," Neal flicking his cigarette ash to the ground. "I had tried for years and I failed. What's the use of a mere few days?"

"Then start now. Don't waste time."

"She wore a ring from someone. A handsome English actor," Neal said sarcastically.

"Married?"

"No."

"So, it's just a ring. How long have they been together?"

"Years."

Sid moaned impatiently. "They won't last. "

"How do you know?" asked Neal.

Sid pulled the cigarette from Neal's mouth and crashed it to the ground with his boot. "She would be with that man not thousand miles away here in France next to the battle zone! Try harder, lieutenant." Sid clapped Neal's back.

Neal was thinking for a while then shook his head.

"We're so far away from a nice restaurant... I haven't bought flowers and I don't have my bloody tux%..." Neal mumbled. He shook his head. "It won't work."

"It doesn't matter what you buy or wear." Sid pointed to Candy who's carrying a basket. "You can offer to carry the basket for her. Be sweet, gentle and all that. She's not a rough soldier like us, you know!"

"I carry her basket? No fucking way! I am the man, she's the woman! She s supposed to do the bloody house chores for me!"

"Don't be a bugger. You want her or not. If you do, just swallow it until she falls for you. Do the adjustment later. Go!"

"What are you? A captain?" Neal sneered.

"No! A general." Sid laughed and stood up. "My chums are here. I'm going to the river."

"Wait! What should I say to her?" Neal pulled Sid's sleeve.

"Anything, like 'may I carry the basket for you?'"

"What if she said no?"

"She won't! Women like this sort of thing," said Sid. He waved to his friends who's calling him and started to walk away. "I go. You do your task!" Sid made a mock salute and ran to join his friends.

"S-sid# wait!" called Neal.

Sid only winked.

Neal took a deep breath. Slowly he worked on his nerve to approach Candy. After all, he went to war to win her heart. Be sweet# Be courteous# He stood straight putting a natural and calm look on his face then came to approach Candy.

"Hello. 'May I carry your basket for you?'" asked Neal, repeating what Sid told him to say. His heart pounded nervously waiting for her reaction.

"Oh, that's very kind of you, Neal. Of course!" answered Candy.

His heart jumped. Sid is great! She accepted his offer 每 the first time!

Neal took the basket from Candy's hand and followed her to the kitchen.

"Where do want me to put it?" asked Neal.

"On the counter, please," said Candy.

Neal did as requested. She's so friendly. He wanted so much to hold her hand and take her for a walk under the fruit trees, pick wild flowers and arrange them in her long golden hair. He hated it that all he could was to behave like a stranger to her.

"Alright!" said Neal, awkwardly, not sure what else to say. He got so distracted by the sight of Terry's ring! He really wanted to pull it off her finger.

"Anything else?" Neal asked nervously. All hot and sweating, he's hoping she would ask him to do something else so he could stay with her a bit longer.

"No, thank you. This is perfect!"

"Well, then... I'd better go and join others," said Neal. He hoped she would call him back and prevent him from going.

"Bye," quipped Candy lightly.

Argh! Neal was so frustrated for not being able to make a break through. No kiss, no hug, no conversation beyond superficial small talk! Neal went outside, feeling so thoroughly mad at himself.

.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading! So much. Please be patient# I hope you stay until the end. Thanks.

.

NOTES:

%Tux=tuxedo

^Resting billet: on rotation, the soldiers go to billet to rest. "Billet" is provided by the local people could be in an old school building/farm/etc.

Reminder (check chapter 2 for details):

Sid: Neal's friend.

Chris / Christopher Ridley(lieutenant): Neal's friend

Thomson (captain): Neal's CO

Lewis, Burke: Thomson's lieutenants, first time appears in this chapter.


Chapter 15: A New Friend

A New Friend

The following day the army band~ entertained the troops in the yard of the local church of Norte-Dame, attended by the local civilians as well. They loved it. At the play of national anthem each Tommy+'s spirit was lifted greatly. They were cheering, some shed tears - everyone was in high mood to go back to the trench.

When it finished, Neal joined Thomson and his fellow officers, Chris, Lewis and Burke. They were talking about going to Bethune. Since Neal didn't feel like being around Candy but not being able to get any closer, he went with them.

In Bethune, Lewis and Burke decided to stay in the estaminet. Before leaving them, Thomson jokingly reminded them that they had to be at least half alive tonight to lead their platoons back to the Front tomorrow.

Neal, Chris, and Thomson then continued strolling around the city. They stopped by in a local store where Chris was looking for something for his dear girl, Kathy.

"Nice scarf. You think this fits her?" asked Chris to Neal. Chris opened his wallet and showed Neal Kathy's picture. "We took this photo the night I proposed to her." Chris' eyes gleamed.

Chris often showed photos of Kathy's before. In this one, Kathy had exceptionally hearty smile stretched across her oval face. Neal could feel that she was very happy for getting engaged to Chris. Neal gave some courteous comments at the photo.

"I loves her to pieces," Chris smiled and put the wallet back to his pocket. "I was wearing an ordinary citizen suit when I took her out that evening, and guess what? Someone gave me a white feather. Disgusting!"

"Hell! Did you tell them that you're on a leave and just came straight from the trench?" asked Neal.

"No. I didn't want to ruin our evening," said Chris. "We went to a candle light dinner and I had planned to surprise her with a wedding proposal." Chris seemed to get lost in himself when he talked how he went down on his knees and put a ring in Kathy's finger.

Neal secretly was feeling his ringless finger with indescribable longing, imagining a romantic evening outing with Candy.

"I threw my ring to no-man's land," commented Captain Thomson suddenly from behind them.

"Sir?" asked Neal and Chris almost at the same time. It's unusual that their commanding officer talked about his private affair

"I arrived home and found my wife was pregnant. The thing is I hadn't gone home for a year!" said Thomson.

Neal and Chris politely mumbled some sympathy words.

"That's ok. The sooner I know it the better," said the Thomson. "You Leagan? Any dame?"

"No, sir."

"Lucky chap! Stay that way!" said Thomson.

There're always two sides of everything, mused Neal.

Christ bought one scarf for Kathy. They continued strolling around the town and had lunch there. After lunch, Thomson stayed in Bethune, Christ and Neal went back to the farm. Chris went straight to his room to write a letter and prepare his parcel for his dear Kathy. Neal took a box of soldiers' letters, pencil, a notepad, and went outside to write a long letter to his family and censor his men's letters.

Neal was sitting under a tree busy censoring letters when Sid came to see him.

"How did it go with Candy?" Sid asked.

"Good. How's the water?"

"Great!" Sid laughed. "It was fun. We played soccer afterwards and picked some wild fruits."

Neal didn't respond much. Sid scanned his quiet face.

"It didn't work out, did it?"

"No# it was good."

"Can't be."

"It's good, really. She was friendly#" Neal hesitated. "Whatever#" He shrugged.

Sid studied Neal's face. "You want to do more, don't you?"

"Maybe.., something like that," answered Neal quietly without stopping writing or looking at Sid.

"So impatient! You have to make her know you first before she wants to fall into your arms!"

"Bugger off!" spat Neal. "There's not enough time!"

"Why not? You are not bad looking. I can see girls fall easily to you... You're just a bit too passionate. You scared the hell out of a nice girl like Candy."

Sid pushed Neal's head to the side. "She's there. See? Try again. We have two days. You should be fast but not so fast that you scare her."

"That's bloody confusing! How to do it?"

Sid looked at the buckets Candy carry. "She's going to milk the cow. Offer her some help."

"I will not touch any bugger cow! That's for sure!"

"You are so bloody demanding!" moaned Sid impatiently.

Candy heard the hustle and hustle and turned around. From the far, she saw Neal. She smiled and waved to him.

"She's so nice. Say something"

"What to say?" grumbled Neal. "Some useless superficial hello?" He picked up his pen and back to work. "I. Will. Not!"

"I can't believe you! Say, 'Are you going to milk the cow?'" said Sid.

Neal ignored him. Sid impatiently kicked Neal's foot. "Just do it!"

"Ouch. Shit!"

"Now!"

"Are you going to milk the cow?" cried Neal to Candy. He glared at Sid.

"Yes, want to come?" cried Candy back.

"Yes, say yes," whispered Sid. He nudged Neal's elbow.

"Yes!" cried Neal. He's not sure why he's still listening to Sid.

"Very good, come with me then#" Candy walked to the barn.

"Good luck!" Sid winked, pushed Neal forward.

Neal glared again at Sid. Mumbling cursing words, he bent to take the letter box, put his pencil and notepad inside, and went to meet Candy in the barn.

Inside, he saw Candy milking the cow. His heart melted.

"You do this every day?"

He wanted to pull her closer and check her hands to see if the work was too much for her little hands.

"No. We have three maids who take care of the cows. Two just left to volunteer in the Front. One just lost her fianc谷, Patty gave her a few days leave."

"Oh...no...!" Neal shook his head.

Candy nodded, sighed quietly. "We're hiring new ones now," said Candy after some pause.

"Are there still anyone left to hire?" asked Neal. "I didn't think of this complication before buying this farm."

"Don't worry," Candy smiled kindly. "I and Patty wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here, in this farm."

Neal almost cried hearing her kind supportive words. She's very kind and friendly. It made her look more so beautiful than she had ever been.

Candy got up to carry the heavy bucket of milk. It's a lot of work, like Sid already warned him. Neal got an idea.

"You mind if I ask my men to milk the cow for you?" offered Neal.

"Wonderful idea!" said Candy. "We can have them drink the milk too! Should be enough for everyone."

Candy and her kind heart, she never stopped to marvel him. He's so in love with her.

Neal looked at the barn door.

"Sam," called Neal to one private who happened to pass by outside the barn.

"Yes, sir," the private stood straight, saluted smartly.

Candy watched Neal in action silently from behind him.

"Get me Sergeant Baker."

Sam saluted and disappeared to execute Neal's order. Before long Baker came. Neal ordered him to look for someone who could milk a cow .

Baker saluted. He left and quickly came back with one young private who used to work in a dairy farm and his friend. The two worked superbly and soon they got a full bucket of milk. Candy watched Neal walked to his men. Everyone readily stood up to attention.

"At ease," said Neal. He looked so friendly. "Set aside your rum, chaps. No one can touch it!"

Everyone groaned, protested.

"Come on, it's an order!" Neal grinned. "Let's drink something healthy instead. Like... fresh milk!"

The men roared in laughter. Excitedly they clapped their hands. Some chuckled.

"I haven't had milk since I left home," one commented followed by a loud chorus of others agreeing.

"Fetch your cup!" said Neal, beaming.

Noises came as everyone ran to their knapsacks and pulled their mess metal cups. Quickly they came to surround the bucket of milk fighting their way to scoop some into their cup.

"Order! Order!" said Neal, hitting a stick to the metal milk bucket to get attention. "How I will explain to the captain if he sees the state of his men now!"

The men laughed and quickly formed orderly lines. With the sergeants, Neal personally took part in spooning the milk into the their cups. Everyone soon sipped the milk delightedly to the last drop.

Candy smiled seeing Neal mingled with his men, laughing with them, enjoying the milk. He's so dedicated to his men! He looked at her and grinned from where he stood. Then, he came to give her a jug of milk#

Oooo

Candy walked back to her room feeling something strong that sent her heart throbbing and made her cheeks warm. She took a deep breath, patted her cheeks, squeezed her fists to shake the feeling away. But still all she saw was Neal, all she felt was Neal. He's in her mind, he's in her heartbeat, he's in everywhere.

Candy sat down. She picked her knitting, wind the yarn in her finger and started to work to bury her mind in the intricate work.

"How's Neal?" asked Patty.

Candy almost jumped, surprised. She was so occupied in her chaotic emotion that she didn't hear Patty's footsteps.

"Why asking?" Candy tilted her brows. "Should I fall into his arms just because he's a soldier wearing a uniform?" She felt she's blushing.

"Of course not! " Patty looked at her and laughed. "But you can't honestly tell me that you don't feel anything at all when you're with him!" teased Patty.

Candy felt her cheek red hot.

"Let's go over this one more time. What are you looking in a man, Candy?"

"One who loves me, of course," replied Candy. She bent to put her work down to hide her face from Patty.

"Sure." Patty nodded.

"Who has a great smile-"

"He has a great grin," cut Patty.

Candy laughed and continued. "Who can lead, who cares for others, who's kind, smart, who knows what he wants, who can make a decision#" Candy enumerated shyly. Her face was deep red.

"Neal has all#," filled Patty. Candy lifted her eyebrow at Patty's quick 每 too quick - firm response.

Then Candy sighed. "He saw Terry's ring/."

"What!" exclaimed Patty. "You wear Terry's ring? Why? Didn't you say that both of you are over!"

"Well# not formally#," answered Candy. "I shouldn't lie."

"Did Neal say anything?"

"He asked how I and Terry doing. I said we're doing great."

"Now that's a lie! Annie said you are tired and re-evaluating your relationship with Terry! You also told me that you are considering not to pursue further relationship with Terry."

"Well, it's confusing. We haven't formally broken up so I shouldn't cheat on Terry. Besides, if Neal knew I'm available God knows what he'd do..."

"You cannot lie to Terry but you can to Neal? That's not fair!" cried Patty. "Candy, Neal likes you. And there's one characteristic you haven't mentioned which I remember you said. You look for someone who's ready to get married. Neal obviously has that. He proposed to you!" Patty's voice was rigorous.

Candy could hardly believe what she heard. Meek and gentle Patty suddenly roaring like a lioness. She sided with Neal! Good grief. She felt her head was about to explode in disbelief.

"Oh well#," said Candy. She tapped the side of her head. "I go to bed."

Patty took a deep breath and nodded. "Yup# Go to bed." Patty scratched her head and whispered, "Neal will leave tomorrow. Say bye to him, at least. He's in the living room." She stopped. "I go to check the chickens."

Not sure why she followed her feet, Candy walked to the kitchen. Like Patty said Neal was in the dining room, writing. She watched his back, his brown hair bent over the table reading diligently. She cleared her throat and walked approaching him.

"What are you doing?" she started.

"Censoring my men's mails."

"Patty said tomorrow you'll return to the Front. Others are already resting. You should too."

"The faster I'm done with these the sooner they will be mailed. It's important for my men and their family."

She watched him, touched.

"Neal, do you like to receive letters, too?"

"All of us do. It is the best thing one can have in the trench."

"Can I write you one?" asked Candy.

Neal looked at Candy, her face was smiling, her eyes were kind and green, her cheeks were reddish like being shy. She never looked like this before in front of him. He felt tons of incomprehensible beautiful things. He wouldn't even dare to imagine this happiness two days ago.

The following day when he was about to leave, Candy reiterated the promise. She smiled and he thought he saw worries flashed in her eyes. Even if she never wrote a single letter later as she promised, he's happy enough to hear her say it.

Neal nudged his cap, smiled to Candy and Patty, and marched away with the rest of the men#

-To be continued -

Thanks for reading# I hope you like it.

Thanks for the followers and favorites. I'll work hard to make the story worth your time.

oOo

NOTE:

~Playing band: Tribute to Sydney Baxter (real name Reginald Davis). The book can be read for FREE. "One Young Man" from personal diaries edited by Sir (John) Ernest Hodder-Williams.

Notre-Dame in Chocques: Don't confuse it with Notre-Dame church in Paris! :)

+Tommy = English soldier.

White feather: Check chapter 2.

Milking cow: Tribute to "The Carnoy Cows" by Private T. S. Williams I read in firstworldwar {D 0 T} c 0 m

Rum: An alcoholic drink, popular among the WW1 soldiers.

/He saw Terry's ring: Chapter 13.

Estaminet: pub or small cafe that serves alcohol beverages as the main entree.


Chapter 16: Spring 1917 (A)

Spring 1917 (A)

It had been raining for several days. In some parts of the trench, the mud was up to the knee. Oblivious to it all, Neal was reading Candy's letter which he read again and again and again until his eyes got blurred.

Candy... Neal gripped the piece of paper strongly with his hands. She wrote as promised. She was extraordinarily warm, kind, and nice too in the letter. He promised he would be careful with her heart and never hurt her again.

Neal had been active in the Frontline. Going up the ladder, crossing the no-man's land were routine to him now. He took part in many intense battles and witnessed the destruction of Delville Wood which left no trees stay standing. Letters from Candy that kept coming abundantly helped him stay sane.

On one quiet day while in reserve, Neal just finished helping Sid write a letter home.

"Thanks Lieutenant, you're awesome," said Sid, happy.

"You're welcome," said Neal grinning.

Sid folded the letter Neal just wrote for him and put it in the envelope. Neal picked up his own notepad and continued writing his own letter.

"For Candy?" asked Sid.

"He-eh."

"How many times a day do both of you write to one other?"

"A lot!" Neal grinned.

They looked at each other and laughed.

"Nice. You told her you love her?" asked Sid.

"Not yet. I will do so in person when we go to the rest billet next month." Neal's face flushed red. His mind wandered imagining he's marrying Candy... He would wear the army officer uniform not the common layman's tux. He would carry Candy and walk under the arch-of-swords, something that William and Terry could not do since they're not active duty officers! What a sweet gift for his dear Candy. Sid would be his best man. He would invite Chris, Thomson#

"I wish I could see both of you together, Neal." Sid smiled, puffing Neal's daydream.

"Eh? Where're you going?"

"Home. Just approved today for two weeks!" Sid grinned. "You wrote about that just now in the letter by the way."

Neal laughed then mumbled some excuse words. His mind was full of Candy that he didn't pay much attention to the content of Sid's letter while writing it just now.

"The next time we go to the billet again, I'll introduce you to Candy!" said Neal. He picked up his bottle of rum and shared a few gulps with Sid to celebrate his approved vacation. "We go to the estaminet and drink until we drop!"

"Swell!" agreed Sid. He looked at Neal's pages long letter to Candy and sighed. "Must be nice to be able to write. You can write privately without having a third person read it."

Neal just grinned.

"Bob is very good in writing now," Sid gushed. "He wrote all his letters to me by himself and they're getting longer, too." Sid took a fold of envelope from his pocket and pulled a piece of paper from it. "Look at this." His face lit with pride as he proudly displayed the letter that his little brother wrote. "His first letter to me was only a few lines short, now it is a whole page long!"

"Impressive! He's only in the sixth grade," praised Neal generously. He knew Sid treasured his little brother a lot.

From them on, the two chums were busy counting down the days. A few weeks later, Neal said bye to Sid who went home. Another some weeks later, it was Neal's turn to take the men to the resting billet in Chocques.

It was raining heavily on the way to Chocques. Neal's uniform was drenched but he didn't pay attention at it at all. His heart jumped with delight when he saw Candy stand at the door. A smile cracked on her face when she saw him. He waved and smiled back at her before continued walking towards the barn to do his duty and take care of his exhausted men.

With hollow tired eyes, the men gratefully entered the dry barn and found themselves the most comfortable place to lay down. Neal went outside and instructed the sergeants to prepare something warm for them.

When Neal finally had the time to look for Candy, another group of soldiers came. Three officers came to approach him.

"Hi! I'm Lieutenant Ted Haskins," said the older of the two, a young man in the early twenties. He's wearing glasses with dark frames which reminded Neal a lot of Stear.

"Hello. Leagan. Neal Leagan," Neal introduced himself.

"I am second Lieutenant Gareth Wheatley," said the second man.

"Second Lieutenant Chad Martin," said the third man.

Gareth and Chad looked like fresh graduates from school and judging from their body language, they seemed like old friends.

"There are four of us and we have only three rooms at our disposal," said Neal to Ted. "Chad can share a room with Gareth."

Neal took them to their rooms, showed them where the barn was and other things. Then dinner time came. The maids prepared the dinner. Candy and Patty came to bring some tea to welcome the officers.

At the sight of Candy, Chad instantly got up on his feet, leaving a loud shrill of chair scraping on the floor. His eyes nailed at her.

"Where has she been all my life?" Chad murmured in a very low voice but loud enough for Neal to hear.

Oblivious to the bread crumbs that spread all over his face, Chad was entrenched watching Candy.

Gareth pulled his friend back down. "That hot blonde with kickass green eyes is mine...!" he whispered to Chad, passing a napkin to his friend.

"Mine!" whispered Chad.

The two kept nudging each other whenever Candy appeared. Neal clenched his fists so they didn't fly to their face. He glanced at Ted, their officer. He had been eerily silent and ate so little. His face had been mostly hanging down and a couple of times his head would sway like almost dropped on the table... Since their officer didn't say anything, Neal reluctantly held his tongue.

After dinner, Ted excused himself. He looked pale and tired. While Ted retired to his room, Neal went outside to give another inspection of his men. He made sure they all had dinner, stay dry and other things. A private came to meet Neal.

"Lieutenant Haskins said he doesn't feel well, sir," said the Private.

"What happens to him?" asked Neal.

"It has been raining and he gave his coat to one man who's injured," explained the private. "He wondered if Miss Patty had the time to read him a book, sir."

Now that explained why he had been so silent and looking tired at the dinner table. Neal nodded to dismiss the private. He then talked to Patty about Ted's request.

"I will do that," said Patty readily. She knew it's a common request for sick soldiers to ask nurses to read for them. "He's helping someone, and he needs help now."

Patty took a deep breath and softly knocked at Ted's room.

"Come in." She heard an answer from inside.

"Hello Lieutenant," greeted Patty, entering the room. "What book are you reading?"

"Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities'," said Ted, quickly tried to sit down, a book lay on his stomach. "Thank you for coming, Miss Patty. Call me Ted please, if you don't mind."

Appreciating his gentleman manner, Patty responded. "Hi Ted! Please... call me Patty."

"Patty," said Ted before he sank back to his bed.

"How do you feel? There's a nurse in the house who can have a look at you," said Patty referring to Candy.

"Would you read me this book instead? That's more effective than medicine usually," Ted gave the book to Patty.

"I would love too." Patty pulled a chair and sat next to Ted's bed. She took the book from Ted's hand and started reading.

Ted closed his eyes. Patty kept reading... until Ted's face looked relaxed and his breathing became regular.

Patty looked at Ted. He had fallen asleep - still wearing his glasses. It reminded her so much of Stear. Unavoidably, tears started to flow down her face. She couldn't help to hope... If somewhere Stear was hurt or sick, she hoped someone was taking good care of him until he's strong enough and came back to her arms...

-To be continued-

An awkward place to cut. I apologize... Will update soon.

oOo Thank you! oOo

Thank you for reading. Thanks for choosing to read this story with you.

Thank you so much for the favorites and follows. I appreciate the support.

oOo

REMINDER:

Battle of Delville Wood (July 每 September 1916): part of WW1 Battle of the Somme

Bob: Sid's youngest brother. Sid talks about him in chapter 7

NEW CHARACTERS: Lieutenant Ted Haskins, Second Lieutenant Gareth Wheatley, Second Lieutenant Chad Martin


Chapter 17: Spring 1917 (B)

Spring 1917 (B)

.

Neal who had been busy, finally had time to look for Candy. He saw her walking outside and was about to call her but Chad and Gareth came approaching her first from another direction.

"Don't panic... Breathe." Neal heard Chad mumble.

"Miss Candy!" Chad called.

Candy turned around.

Chad readily took his cap off and walked toward Candy. "I'm Lieutenant Chad Martin. How come you're alone tonight?"

"Ah, the two Lieutenants," greeted Candy back. "Taking a walk? The night is beautiful-"

"You're beautiful, Miss Candy," cut Gareth. "Too beautiful to be alone. Could I take you to study the moon together?"

Oh, crap! Neal's blood boiled. Unbelievable! Men always fell around her like flies. Even in France, close to the battle zone!

Curiously Neal hid behind the bush to peek what the two men were up to. He remembered how he used to peek to check what Candy was doing with William. It felt like deja vu. He couldn't believe that he's still doing this!

"Study the-" Candy stopped. She laughed. "Incidentally... Do your men find the barn comfortable and dry?" asked Candy, trying to change the subject.

"Yes, thank you. As a matter of fact, Gareth is going there to check them," said Chad. He stared sharply at Gareth, making a sign for him to leave.

"I? You, you mean?" ignored Gareth. He shot Chad an annoyed look then moved forward to give his arm to Candy. "Miss Candy, shall we? Unlike Chad, I'm single and available."

Neal hated it so much. If only he could bark and order them to stay away from Candy! Oh... Wait#, he actually could! Neal's palms sweated waiting for the correct time to strike.

"You single and...? Me too!" grunted Chad. He moved in front of Gareth, jammed his fist to Gareth's stomach.

Gareth retaliated by blowing Chad's face and they exchanged fists.

"Oh stop! Stop!" cried Candy. She worriedly looked at the guns hanging in their waists. Now they're using fists, but what if someone accidentally made a shoot later!

"Help!" Candy screamed helplessly.

Neal shook his head in disbelief seeing what men were willing to do to win Candy. Squaring his shoulder and put an authority air on his face, Neal coolly came out of the bushes.

"Stop! Both of you," Neal barked. Chad and Gareth didn't listen or perhaps they refused to listen. A few privates started to come too to see what the noise was about.

"You four!" Neal pointed to the nearest four privates. "Hold the two lieutenants! You!" Neal pointed to the fifth private. "Call Sergeant Baker."

The four privates sprang forward separating the fighting lieutenants and holding them, one man per each arm. That's convenient. In the past he had to fight Terry himself in St. Paul!

"Aren't you ashamed!" Neal shouted, putting as much dignity air as he could have mustered. "We're supposed to fight the Fritz not ourselves!"

Swear words were exchanged. Chad knocked Gareth's head from behind.

"I say enough!" barked Neal. His voice was so loud that it startled Candy. Her head jerk upward watching Neal being tough. "One more word then I get you both charged for causing distress and disturbances at the billet. Apologize to the lady!"

The two reluctantly turned to face Candy. "Sorry, Miss Candy," they mumbled.

"Shake hands!" ordered Neal

The two men reluctantly gave each other a hand. It was so quick, they barely touched

"Both of you can't get near Miss Candy, understand?" Neal lowered his voice an octave lower and barked, "It's a direct order!"

Chad and Gareth stole a look at one another, unclearly mumbled, "Yes..."

"You're addressed by a senior officer! Answer 'yes, sir'!" barked Neal.

"Yes, sir!" said the two more junior officers, having no other choice.

Great!, thought Neal, contently. If only he could give such order to all men including William in the past and Terry, that would be very convenient.

"Baker!" called Neal.

"Sir!"

"Watch them! They can't go near this lady!" Neal pointed to Candy. "If they do, inform me!" shouted Neal vented all his annoyance to Candy's pests past and present.

"Understood, sir," said Sergeant Baker loudly.

Neal waived his arm to dismiss everyone. A scary thought suddenly crossed his mind. He probably wasn't the only soldier that Candy wrote letters to. He wondered how many other soldiers were as excited as he was in reading her letters from the trench, how many said they loved her when visiting the billet. He felt his stomach sink with that thought. What's the use of ordering men not to come close to her? What about next time when he's not around?

Feeling stupid Neal took his leave too and went to the barn.

"Lieutenant Leagan is here!" Neal heard as soon as he opened the barn door.

"We can ask him to write letters for us!" A few whispered.

"Hush! Stand to attention first. Quick!" Everyone sprang on their feet.

Neal looked at his men. They were supposedly very tired after a long march in the mud with heavy loads. But now, they were all smiling at him, holding a pencil and notepad in their hands. Neal couldn't help to grin.

"At ease," said Neal.

"Sir, could you help me write a letter?" one timidly asked.

One more cautiously came forward... "Me too sir, to my ma." And more men came forward and more# and more...

"Yes, if you line up in order," said Neal.

They cheered.

Smiling, Neal took a seat. One hurriedly ran to grab an oil lamp and put it on a table, another grabbed some hay to be spread on Neal's seat to make the stool softer and more comfortable. Thus they started their routine they liked the best, to write letters to home. The news quickly spread and Ted's men quickly joined as well.

Busy with his work, Neal soon forgot about his annoyance. He didn't know Candy enter the barn and watch him. The men gradually noticed her and moved aside to give Candy a way. Sensing someone coming, Neal lifted his head and saw Candy standing in front of him.

"What are you doing?" asked Candy.

"Write them letters." Neal stood up.

"Can I help too?" Candy asked.

Neal nodded.

"Divide into two lines, old chaps. The lady here can help too," said Neal to his men. "Don't ask her to write things that will be censored!"

They replied, "Yes, sir!" "Of course, sir!" "We won't, sir!"

Candy took a seat next to Neal, another man took another oil lamp to make her side brighter. They worked together until everyone got their letters written.

"That's fun!" said Candy as they left the barn.

"Yeah." Back in good mood, Neal explained that many of the privates didn't go to school. Most of them couldn't write and usually asked someone's help to write letters to their family.

"I see," said Candy. "Nice kids!"

"Yes, they are."

"You always be this busy?" asked Candy.

"I like it that way," said Neal. To distract from thinking about you, he thought.

"What do you do usually at this hour?"

"If on reserve#, being with my men, help them write letters, night shift, ..." Neal hesitated. "Thinking# "

"Thinking!" exclaimed Candy, surprised. "About what?"

Neal looked up at the sky, taking his time, debating if he should answer the truth before lowering his eyes to meet hers.

"You."

"Me?"

"Yes#," said Neal. His heart bounced in his chest but he wouldn't stop. For years the words had sit at the tip of his tongue. Now, he just wanted to say them, once and for all. "That I love you and that I love you very very much. That I miss you every single day and that I hope to tell you this without having to make you hate me even more."

Neal looked at her face to not miss any of her reactions. She appeared surprised although not too much.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at her hand. Would she slap him like she used to when he said he loved her? To his relieved, she didn't.

"I thought about you too." Neal thought he heard her say, but she said it so quickly, he wasn't sure he heard it right. Before he could ask, she had moved on, "I admit, it was brutal back then."

"My fault," Neal added earnestly. He looked at the distance reliving those dark moments. "But I do care about you so much# more than anything." He paused. "Even# my own life," he added in a low voice.

"That's why you joined the army?"

"I guess so. I hate you see me as a laughable person."

He looked down. Candy inched closer and put her hand on his shoulder. When he looked up, he met her eyes.

"You're not laughable at all," said Candy seriously and tenderly. "You are very brave, the kindest, most caring officer I know. I'm tremendously proud of you."

She smiled at him. His heart soared.

It would have been better if she had said she loved him too and he could kiss her, but this was like the next best one. He said what he had always wanted to say and she accepted it nicely#

-To be continued-

Next chapter is Part C and we're done with this Spring 1917 section.

Fritz = German

Thanks for reading! Very much!

Thanks for choosing this story to follow, favorite, and read. Thanks for the effort and time.


Chapter 18: Spring 1917 (C)

Spring 1917 (C)

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The following day, as promised, Patty came to visit Ted again in his bedroom.

"Patty, glad that you came," greeted Ted.

"I promised you, didn't I? How are you doing today?"

"Very good!"

Patty took a seat and read for Ted again. This time he didn't close his eyes. From the top of her book, she could tell that he's watching her.

"Ted, you're not listening. I am not a good storyteller, I know," said Patty.

Ted was startled. "I was listening." His eyes darted around briefly. "I was also wondering... has anyone said that you're beautiful?"

This time, Patty was startled. She stared at Ted almost openmouthedly, speechless to hear his unexpected respond.

"I'm sorry if I shouldn't ask that." Ted broke his gaze from her.

There's a long uncomfortable silence before Patty faintly whispered, "Yes."

"Pardon me?"

"The answer is yes."

"He is somewhere at the Front, I suppose?"

"Not sure. About two years ago, I received his letter from Neuve Chapelle. That's the last time I heard from him," said Patty.

"I'm sorry."

Patty smiled. "That's alright. Someone is waiting for you at home, Ted?"

"No. Well, my books. I am a medical student at Oxford." Ted paused then looked up. "Patty, I# I never feel this way to a woman until I met you. Could you see us, you and I, toge-"

Patty was so shocked that she dropped the book she's holding to the floor. "Ted, don't... Please... Don't say it," she pleaded.

"Sorry... I didn't mean to rush it," Ted mumbled. "It's just that... I have to leave tomorrow."

They sat still in a horrible silence until Ted made a move to pick up the book Patty dropped and put it back to her lap.

"I met Stear in high school..." Patty told Ted about Stear. "People ask me to move on. But, I don't feel like it. It doesn't seem quite finish yet."

"I see." Ted slowly nodded.

"It's frustrating to have people keep pushing me to move on. I don't need to be reminded all the time how many years have passed! I know it."

"Ignore them," Ted said quietly. "You don't have to move on if you don't want to."

"Even though it's been# two years?"

"Any number of years you like. You can't measure these things. You promised him forever so to merely wait for a few years make it feel like a debasement of the promise you have given him," answered Ted.

It felt great to have someone stand by her and understand what she felt, which was not many. Patty felt her eyes wet at Ted's supportive word.

"I'm sorry to bring this topic up." Ted sat straighter.

Patty who couldn't speak anymore just shook her head.

"We finish the book. I read this time," said Ted.

Ted wore his glasses, gently took the book from Patty's hand and read the remaining of the story.

oOo oOo

Outside, Neal was reaching out to pick the knapsack he washed and hanged in a tree branch. He was getting ready to return to the Front tomorrow.

"Hi Neal!" Neal heard Candy call him. He turned around and a smile spread across her face. His heart spun.

Last night they were chatting until past midnight. They parted only a few hours ago but she looked more beautiful already. Under the broad daylight, he could see her lovely freckles were diminishing. They were much fainter than how he remembered them before.

"Hi Candy!" returned Neal.

"You will leave tomorrow?"

"Yes." Neal turned his knapsack inside out.

"Clean!" praised Candy. Neal washed his own backpack! Archie should see this, she thought.

Neal grinned, nodded.

"Soon it will be quiet here," Candy sighed, looking around. Some soldiers were sleeping under a tree, some were enjoying the sun, writing letters,# She could hear faint voices of people chatting, cheering, laughing#

"There will be other troops coming though, right?" Neal asked, started to fish information.

Candy nodded. "Yes, there are quite a few in a month."

"Many soldiers declare their love to you?" Neal asked bluntly.

"Some, although never be to the effect of Chad and Gareth." Candy laughed. Her words sent deep chills into Neal's heart but he managed to cover it with a force laugh.

"How did you send them away?" asked Neal.

"I tell them that I'm already fully occupied with one officer," said Candy.

She threw her face but Neal caught a shy smile flashed on her lips. Now, his heart stopped beating. One officer! Does she like him? He almost got chocked.

"You mean?" asked Neal, voice almost high pitched.

Candy's face was deep in red. She looked down and played with her fingers. It said it all. She falls into someone!

"Look!" Candy showed her ring finger, blushing. "No more ring!" Indeed! There's no more Terry's forever ring in it.

"So that officer is your new lucky man?"

"I hope so," answered Candy. Her cheek was rosy red. "Can you give my letter to him? It'd reach him faster than if I mailed it with regular mail."

"No!" Neal blurted out. He quickly coughed to correct it. "I mean, yes sure, if you want."

"Oh, I do. Wait a second!" cried Candy. She ran into the house.

She always passed him while men around him enjoyed her love from Anthony, William, Terry, and now a fellow soldier#!

Soon Candy ran back out with an envelope in her hand.

"Here," said Candy, smiling. She gave the letter to Neal.

Neal tightened his jaws to stop himself from cursing to her man like he used to do to William and Terry. He didn't want Candy to hate him again.

"What about you, Neal? Surely you meet ladies too in the many resting billets you've visited."

Neal exhaled a deep breath and took the letter from her hand without answering. What did she know about his love? She would not understand it. Neal mumbled some goodbye words, nodded and left to look for Sergeant Baker.

"We leave tomorrow at six hundred hours. Inform the troops, get them ready," said Neal to his sergeant. His heart bled but he still managed to speak like an officer.

"Yes, sir," said Baker.

They chatted more about the men conditions in general. Then, Neal gave Candy's letter to Baker.

"Mail this letter to him. Name on the envelope," ordered Neal.

"Right away, sir," said Baker, ever efficient. He picked up the letter from Neal's hand.

Neal quickly left to hide his emotional face from the sergeant's sharp eye. A moment later Neal heard footsteps of someone chasing him.

"Lieutenant!" Baker called.

"Yes." Neal turned around and saw Baker running forward

"Sir, you want me to give this letter to this person?" Baker pointed to the name written on the envelope.

"Yes." Neal stopped.

"I'm sorry, sir." Baker scratched his head. "But isn't this letter for# you?" Baker gave the envelope to Neal.

Neal picked up the envelope to verify what Baker said. Neal Leagan!, Neal read. He froze.

Quietly Neal lifted his hand to dismiss Baker. He wasn't paying attention to the sergeant anymore when he saluted and left.

With heart thudded, Neal impatiently tore the envelop. He couldn't believe what he read.

"Neal,

I love you!

Candy."

Neal stared at that letter, his head throbbed as hard as his heart. Quickly, he ran back to look for Candy. He spotted her walking towards the orchard trees.

"Candy! Wait#!" Neal called, waving the letter.

Candy stopped to smile briefly then fastened her pace.

"Candy! Your letter! What on earth-"

"Catch me if you want to find out!" cried Candy, giggling. She ran away even faster.

"Is that a challenge?" shouted Neal, grinning.

Candy laughed. She kept running taking him to a secluded and private area far from everyone else in the farm.

Before long Candy heard footsteps coming increasingly closer. She pumped her legs to run even faster but she's no match now to Neal the soldier. He caught her easily and stopped right in front of her, blocking her way.

"Me?" asked Neal.

"Yes." Candy blushed, avoiding his eyes.

His brown eyes scanned her face trying to see any trace of joke.

"Why didn't you just say it?" Neal whispered. "God, I almost wept just now in front of my sergeant!"

"Oh, you poor thing. Didn't you read the name on the envelope?" Candy glanced at Neal's face and suddenly she remembered all his efforts to win her heart. He had indeed been trying so hard, for her...!

"No, I didn't want to. I'm afraid to do something foolish like Chad and Gareth," said Neal.

"I tried to give you a hint... An officer, I said." Candy blushed, looking down.

"But you said there're many soldiers coming here," Neal said gently. He touched her chin and gently raised her face to his. "I'm confused."

"About what?"

"You never liked me. Why is it different now?"

"Because..." Candy's cheek was red hot. "You weren't like this. You're so responsible, kind to your men. You are sweet to me; You make me feel special. I never feel so wanted as much as what you do to me."

Candy pulled Neal's head lower and pecked his cheek. She turned around, blushing, wishing he'd pull her back. She was happy when he did. He caught her elbow. His arms were so strong. His hands felt much rougher than they used to feel when he grasped her elbows in Chicago.

"There's something I want you to know," said Neal. "You asked if there's someone else. Candy, you just don't know me. Listen... very carefully# I never want anyone in my life except you."

Neal picked up her hands and gently brushed them with his.

"I wasn't the boy with the most charming manner when it comes to you. I don't know why I did those unpleasant things to you. It seems, I have loved you long before I knew what love was. But I can tell you this, since you saved me at that night+, I have belonged to you and it will be so forever... whether you want me or not."

That was the strongest thing she heard from someone. Very lovely and poetic, not even a Shakespearean actor could say something close to that in impromptu. Her heart beat wildly. He looked so kind and convincing.

"Say it my dearest... say it... I want to hear you say it."

"I love you, Neal," Candy said in a tiny voice.

Love surrounded them. He cupped her face between his hands, his thumbs gently brushing her cheeks.

"That will keep me warm in the trench." His voice grew low and husky. "I don't care about rain, flood, bullets, shrapnel, mustard gas*, ... anything." His face was so closed that she could see faint scars of drying wounds on it.

"Then I say it again. I love you, I love you... I love you!" said Candy louder.

"I love you, too. Oh much much more...," Neal whispered.

His fingers gently stroking her hair, caressing her neck. His eyes brown and liquid looking at hers gently. He bent his head closer. His lips brushed over her right eyebrow then the left one, the tip of her nose, caressing her lips, and... paused.

He took time looking deep into her eyes, emphasized one more time, "Forever!"

Then his lips folded into hers, giving her the kiss that's destined to make her forget all past kisses and end her search for love. All was in the man who was standing in front of her and kissing her so passionately.

"Oh Neal#," Candy sighed contently, kissing him back. "This... is# wonderful."

"Yes, Candy# My dear Candy." His lips meandered over her face to her neck and ear. "I'm glad that I waited patiently for you."

Her arms moved to his back and she brushed her hands over his hair. His military hair cut was so short, she couldn't knot her fingers in it so she just squeezed it with them.

"I'm glad that I came to France," murmured Candy.

"I'm glad that I'm assigned to this farm."

"I'm glad that this farm is a resting billet."

Neal abruptly pulled away, giving his best attempt not to raise his eyebrows and ruin the moment. "Will you remember me when there's a handsome soldier came for a billet and got down on his knees declaring his ever lasting love to you?"

"Not one, not ten, not even one hundred of such soldiers will make my heart flinch," said Candy. "I have already had one. The most handsome of all, the only one I love."

A cold breeze blew. Neal wrapped her in his arms giving her warmth and Candy snuggled under them, where she belonged. She looked up and kissed him.

"Will you really?" he asked softly.

"Of course..."

"Oh Candy, I need more of your kisses# lots more."

She kissed him sweetly in his mouth like he wanted it, sealing her promise, filling each other's heart.

oOo

The following day when Neal said good bye, Candy pulled him behind the door to extend their private time a few seconds longer. She hugged him tight, promised to write him one letter or more every day. They kissed. She adjusted his hat and he joined his men to continue their march back to the Front.

Ted, Gareth and Chad were leaving too to join their battalion. Before leaving, Ted went to look for Patty. Holding his cap in his hands he came to approach her and bowed.

"I hope Stear comes back to you soon." Ted said. His eyes were steady and blue. It broke Patty's heart that he's going to the war zone.

"Thank you," said Patty.

Ted held Patty's eyes for a long moment like trying to memorize them before saying, "Thank you for being so nice. I will never forget you, Patty. Good bye."

"May God bless you, Ted," said Patty.

Her lips quivered. She looked at these young men... Neal, Ted, Chad , Gareth, and every single one of the men# Patty looked up seeing Stear riding his plane and she cried heavily. Why there had to be this war? She prayed that it would be over soon so every one of them could come back home to their family, safely.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading. Thanks for following this story! I really appreciate it.

Terry's forever ring: More about it later. No space here :)

TERMS:

Neuve Chapelle: The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, March 1915

manga scene: Candy saved Neal from bad guys

*mustard gas: a kind of chemical bomb

oOo.

Thanks to the reviewers:


Chapter 19: Living Dangerously

Warning: One paragraph worths T for gruesome scene. Or M? Not sure how to rate this.

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Living Dangerously

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My Dearest Father, Mother, Eliza,

I just came back in the trench from the billet. Sorry I didn't write much from the billet this time. I was pretty "occupied" by somebody which for security purposes I shouldn't tell the name here.

"The other person" did a super job in managing the farm. The cows are fatter now, one just gave birth to a very cute little calf. When the war is over, I'll take you there. I'll tell you who these friends are next time we meet. Be ready to be surprised!

Father, congratulations on surpassing the Andrews' net worth. You're awesome! Mother must be so proud.

Mother, I'm doing great and in good health. Don't worry. Ask father to enlarge the Lakewood estate so everyone knows that we're richer than the Andrews!

Eliza, I'm glad that you have a new boyfriend! No, I don't remember who Wilkes is. Next time, send a photo! If my vacation this coming Christmas were approved, I'd want to see him!

I'll write more later. Promise! Now, I need to report to my captain and tell him that I'm back.

Your dear son, brother,

Neal.

oOo

"Aren't you glad that you're back among this noise?" asked Captain Thompson as another round of shell boomed in the horizon. "The quietness in the billet drives me nuts!"

Neal politely grinned to his commanding officer as a respond. The captain explained that they had been under fire for days.

"We have been having terrible rains, too. Davis just installed a plank in the most flooded part of the trench. Can you check that?"

"Yes, sir, of course," said Neal.

Neal saluted and started making the inspection. Some places was flooded heavily and everyone talked about how bad the rain was. In spite of that and under constant threat of explosions thrown by the enemies, they successfully managed to put a plank for the men to stand above the water. The engineer, Davis, did it.

"Good job, Davis," said Neal. The flood of mud sanked them up to their knees. Neal and Davis had to be pulled up back to the plank.+

"Thanks, sir. It's not finished yet though. I will do the rest when I come back from my leave next week."

"When was the last time you went home?" asked Neal.

"More than a year ago, sir."

Neal clapped Davis' back, smiling. "You must be excited, Davis."

"I am, sir. I can't wait!"

After some more talk, Neal continued his inspection, occasionally stopped to talk to the men he met along the way. Around the traverse he met Jem with some other men. Jem looked freezing.

"Hi Jem, it's quite chilly down here. Where's your coat?" asked Neal.

The three privates quickly jumped on their feet and saluted.

"The sergeant called me urgently to watch. I didn't have time to get my coat, sir," answered Jem.

"Go get your coat. I watch for you here," said Neal.

"Sir?" Jem hesitated.

"That's alright. I'll tell the sergeant if he asks. Go on. Be quick though." Neal grinned.

"Thanks, sir!" Jem quickly left his spot.

"You all don't smoke today^?" asked Neal to the privates who stayed.

"We lost our lighter in the flood, sir."

Neal groped his pocket and took one lighter out. "Take mine. I still have some."

The two men's eyes shone looking at that lighter. They looked at one another and grinned. "Thanks sir. Will share it with others!"

"Good lads...!"

When Jem came back, Neal continued his patrol. After all was successfully inspected he looked for his friend, Sid.

"Lance Corporal Tanner!" greeted Neal, teasing Sid for his promotion to a corporal. "It's so hard to find you in this maze!"

Sid jumped up and saluted. "Lieutenant Leagan!"

The looked one another and laughed, patted each other's back.

"How's Bob?" Neal asked as they both sat on the ground. They opened their bottle of rum and started chatting.

"He got a scholarship from Eton College. Ya know that school?"

"Of course! Amazing! It's not easy to get their scholarship!"

Sid beamed.

"Mum said Bob does nothing but studying. He sleeps, goes to school. Study. Repeat. Weekend, gets up, studies." Sid took a gulp of rum.

"Impressive lad!"

Sid laughed proudly. "So, I took him to Eton to claim the scholarship. Everyone was wearing a suit and a tie, except me and Bob# They thought we were kitchen boys."

Sid laughed. Neal grinned.

"The security personnel escorted us to the admission office. A woman came out to talk to us. She explained that Bob's scholarship covered 90% of the total cost."

"That's a lot! Bob must've done really well," praised Neal generously.

"Yes. The problem is, I didn't realize that we still need to pay some fee when receiving a scholarship." Sid looked at Neal. "And that 10% is a lot for us! You won't believe the cost of their meal. Christ! They must've eaten gold!"

Now that Neal was often around his men, he understood what Sid meant just so well. If in the past he would sneer at them, now he nodded sympathetically.

"They must have explained about that fee somewhere in the acceptance letter, isn't it?" asked Neal.

"Well, true. The posh woman went on to show me the fine print details. But#," Sid grimaced guiltily, "God knows that I need to read that fucking fine print! I am not too brilliant in reading, you know!"

"So what happened?"

"She said we must pay it or the scholarships would be canceled."

"Oh! Hell!" Neal muttered.

"I was pleading, begging# no use. It's written there black and white, she argued. Finally she asked us to leave"

"No!"

"I was so mad! I banged her fucking table and told her that I am a corporal not a general. I can only pay 1% of the fee," said Sid almost choked with anger. "What'd ya think Neal? My fault, I know, I didn't read it." Sid stared down, looking guilty.

"No, I think they're clueless," said Neal being supportive. "Very clueless! Why giving a hope of scholarship if it were only to be taken away?"

"Precisely!" Sid nodded firmly. His confidence soared back, boosted by his commanding officer's words of approval. If the lieutenant agreed then it must be right.

Neal grinned, feeling like an officer more than ever.

"They have no bloody clue of how life is outside their high society," grumbled Sid.

"Right, they don't!" said Neal speaking from his own experience. He remembered he was like that, too.

"She asked me to wait. After a while another woman came out. She said since I'm in the army they will waive all the fees for the first year."

"Oh, good!" Neal sighed in relief. "But, what happens in the following year?"

"Bugger, just accept the offer first." Sid drank his rum. "I really want Bob to go there to learn to live like them to speak like them which're so different from us in the village. When he grew up, I hope he can go to Oxford or Cambridge to become a doctor, a teacher, or ... what's the word, a scientist? His only way to break the glass ceiling, Neal."

"Sounds good to me. What did Bob say?"

"He's very excited. He promised me Oxford!" Sid grinned.

"Bob is one competitive chap!"

Another shell burst nearby but the two men didn't even bother to flinch anymore. Sid looked at Neal instead, his mind seemed somewhere else.

"He has to. The wages in our village are rubbish, can't bring food to the table! Our farm is so overworked with all juice squeezed to the last drop. Nothing left for me or him," said Sid. He exhaled deeply. "Bob was crying when I left."

Sid drank his rum to hide his glistened eyes. Neal patted his back sympathetically. Going home was fun, but the hardest part was to leave again. He took a gulp of his own rum too thinking about Candy.

"You? Any breathtaking breakthrough with Candy?"

"Yeah... I met her and I told her I love her." Neal grinned widely and looked at Sid. "She said she loves me too."

Sid picked up his rum bottle and clinked it to Neal's. "For you and Candy!" gushed Sid.

Neal beamed, grinning.

"And we... Well..." Neal's face becoming so red that he turned away.

"What? Ah! You did that!" roared Sid. "Yes! Was it good?"

"Did What?" Neal got suspicious at Sid over elated reaction

"That!" Sid giggled nudging his elbow to Neal's arm.

"Oh that? Hey! We're not married yet!" Neal snorted. "I was to say that I kissed her!"

"Oh," said Sid , stopped giggling. "I thought... that!"

"I will properly marry her first before doing that!" Neal mumbled.

"I didn't know that there's anyone who's still planning this!" murmured Sid, stealing a look at Neal with the corner of his eye. "What if this bugger war never ends?"

"I'll think about that when it happens. You? Met any girls?"

"Of course," jeered Sid. "But I don't want any! Missus is bloody costly! Later, after Bob gets into Oxford." He paused. "Did you propose to C-"

Sid's words were cut by a series of loud explosions. This time it was so closed that the ground underneath them shook so hard sending Neal and Sid tumble to the ground. They lay down flat on the ground and when it all stopped they're surrounded by dark thick smoke coming from inside the trench.

Choking and coughing, Neal and Sid got up and ran inside to check.

They couldn't believe what they saw. All the people Neal talked to just now were gone. Which one was Nash, others weren't clear. All they saw was just part of limbs scattered around with lots of blood. Only Davis could be identified from his head that's hanging on the plank edge he had installed.*

"Oh bloody hell, sir," whispered Sid.

"I know, Sid... I know," whispered Neal back. "Quick, call sergeant Baker. I need to report this to the captain."

"Yes, sir!" said Sid. He made a quick salute and dashed away.

.

OOooOoo

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In Chocques. Candy was reading Neal's letter...

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My Beloved Candy,

Sorry there's been a delay in writing to you. Things happened here in the trench. We have been busy with the flood and other stuffs. Sorry for the irregularity of my letters.

We've been doing extra night patrol lately because of various things that's going on. Others hate it, but I love it. I can be alone thinking about you quietly. And when I feel cold , all I need to do is to open and read your letter. Yesterday-

...

The front door bell rang.

Reluctantly, Candy put down Neal's letter and went to the door. She peeked out. A man who she recognized so well was standing stylishly outside, leaning one shoulder against the door frame. It was bewildering.

Terry!" exclaimed Candy even before the door was opened. Her hands were shaking as she unlocked the door. "Terry! You came!"

"Hi Candy," said Terry with a tight lipped grin. Of course!" He threw open his arms wide to hug the girl.

...

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading! A transition chapter here. I'll be quick for ch. 19.

Thanks so much for following, favoriting this story. Thanks for the time and effort!

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oOoo

TERMS:

+Flood of mud: A scene from one of the letters Wilbert Spencer (1897-1915) wrote to his parents. A tribute.

Traverse: A protruding part of a trench that's made so the trench does not form a straight line (for protection purposes). Google "traverse trench world war 1" to see pictures

^"You all don't smoke today^?" asked Neal to the privates who stayed: WW1 British soldiers smoked A LOT! (I'm not sure about soldiers from other countries.)

Eton College: One of the most expensive and famous boarding schools in UK. Their scholarship program is legendary.

Missus = wife

*This scene is a tribute to "Messines, October 1918" posted in firstworldwar d0t c0m, written by A. B. Kenway.


Chapter 20: A Friend and A Lover

A Friend and A Lover

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"It's a nice farm here...," said Terry, looking around.

"It is. Come on in, unless you want to have a bit of sightseeing first," offered Candy.

Terry picked the latter so Candy took him to stroll outside.

"Extraordinary farm," praised Terry repeatedly.

"Patty works very hard for this. She brought the farm back to black ink- which is almost impossible to do during the time of war," boasted Candy.

"Never thought that fat-one$ has a hidden management skill."

Candy lifted her eyebrows as a sign for him to stop calling Patty that. Terry just grinned.

Candy took Terry to see the orchard trees, too. "Want to climb one? You can see things better from up there."

"No, I'd walk. I'm not Tarzan," said Terry with a meaningful grin. Candy laughed.

They were strolling and exchanging stories. Terry just finished his London tour and was on the way back to America.

"Right! Freckles, do you know...? Suzanna and Doug are getting engaged."

"Oh, I didn't know! She wrote me about Doug gave her a new set of prosthetic legs, but she didn't say anything about the engagement."

"It just happened last weekend. She told me when I called her," said Terry. He stopped walking. "Candy, we can get engaged too."

Candy laughed out loud and rolled her eyes.

"I should say this better." Terry squeezed his eyes shut. "Let me explain. After what Suzanna had done to save me, the least I can do for her is to be considerate and let her get engaged first. And now she's engaged... I can also freely get-"

"I know Terry. I know. I understand that perfectly well," cut Candy softly.

"Candy, let me finish-," begged Terry.

"Let's not do that Terry. We have said all that there needs to be said. I'd rather not talk about that anymore."

"But, I don't want you to misinterpret my relationship with Suzanna. You are not at all... secondary. In my heart, there's only one person. You."

Candy exhaled sharply. "Terry, trust me. I understand. I know you care about me and that she's just a friend to you. And I do love her! We write letters to each other!"

"Then why won't you go home with me?"

"I think it's best if we, you and I, live apart, don't you think? It suits us better."

"But, I don't want you to be unhappy."

"Why you said that? I'm happy!" She paused and they walked in silent. "You read my letters, don't you? I am dating Neal."

Terry groaned. "Freckles#" He looked at her pithily. "That's why I came here for. Leagan! Why?"

"That Leagan is an officer now. He's reliable, responsible, considerate-"

"Maybe you should ask Albert's advice about Leagan," mocked Terry.

What?, thought Candy, heated up. Albert didn't ask her opinion either when he dated a woman who later on became his wife. He just suddenly appeared with that woman in his arm when he took her to have a picnic. Either he's the most clueless possible specimen or he just never had any feeling toward her.

"You think Albert understands? What does he know about l-" Candy was about to say love but quickly changed it. "Leagan. Neal, I mean."

Terry pouted as a respond. "I think you're confused!"

"No! I'm but the contrary!" snapped Candy. Both she and he took a deep breath to avoid another heated clash "I'll be fine." She sighed. "Now... you haven't told me. How's London?" Candy tried to change subject.

Terry groped his pockets and took lots of white feathers out. "Got plenty of these while I walked in London."

"I should tell Neal that!" Candy laughed. "How's your best friend, Dean, was it? The one who played Edmund with you in King Lear?"

"You won't believe it. He's dead! Just killed in Arras."

"Good God!"

"His mother was so broken that she refused to leave Dean's grave. We had to drag her home."

"Oh no..," muttered Candy

"The theater is much emptier now," said Terry. "Many left for the war! Some got killed. Some came back without legs, arms... you name it. What a pity for this... meaningless fighting." Terry shook his head somberly.

Candy slowly nodded.

"Remember Robertson? His leg was amputated... his face is partly burned from the mustard gas." Terry looked at Candy. "He's regarded as the most brilliant young rising actor!"

"Oh no, what will he do then?"

"I'm not sure."

Terry kept on talking about war casualty but his words got blurred as Candy quivered, thinking about Neal. She suddenly missed Neal so much.

Candy took Terry for some more tour around the farm. She was smiling, chatting like normal although secretly she wished Terry would leave before four so she could mail Neal a letter before the post office closed for today. They parted with she kissed him on his cheek. Terry promised to visit her whenever he's coming to Europe.

Candy then looked at the clock. Four fifteen. Still has time! She ran quickly to her room, skipping two stair-steps at a time, went to her desk and wrote Neal a letter.

"

July 25th, 1917

My Dearest Love Neal,

I just mailed you one letter this morning, but I can't help to write another one.

Christmas is still so far away. I don't think I can wait that long to see you. Could you try to get a few days leave? You haven't been in any leave at all, who knows it's granted.

I miss you.

With the deepest love,

Candy

"

Candy put the letter in the envelope. She's licking the edge of the envelope, sealing it as she hurried out of her room where she met Patty.

"Terry is very kind to come all the way here to visit you," commented Patty.

"He walked all the way from Bethune, you know? He can't speak French and didn't know how to get a taxi."

"Wow!" muttered Patty.

Candy nodded in silent agreement.

"Regret? Confusion?" asked Patty.

"Not really. I think we're doing so much better when we're apart. I was worried for him when he abruptly left St. Paul for America. For a long time we kept missing one another. Finally, I found him and we happily exchanged letters. I thought that was love. But when I moved to New York, I realized it's just friendship, although a strong one."

"But isn't it the same with Neal? He's far away from you and you two meet only through letters."

"Sharp observation, Patty," quipped Candy. She looked at the letter in her hand. "I don't think so, though."

"It's not about feeling secondary to Suzanna like Annie said?"

Candy just shrugged. "It really doesn't matter anymore..." They looked at one another. "You'll see, Patty! Time will tell," said Candy. "Anyway, I gotta go to Bethune!"

"Again?"

"I have another letter for Neal," said Candy. She wiggled the envelope between her fingers and grinned. "Also, Terry said Suzanna is getting engaged# I want to buy her something and ask Terry to give it to her. Want to come?"

"Sure! All the girls are in today. I'm done with all I want to do for now!" said Patty. She took off her apron and rushed outside with her friend.

.

ooOooooooo

ooooooOoo

.

"October 5th, 1917

Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

Good news, everyone. They give me a two-week leave for Christmas. Two weeks! That means, I'll be home too for the New Year!

Thanks for planning to come all the way to London for me. It's been more than a year since the last time we met. How fast time has flown! Too bad, it's such a long trip for three of you. Mother, please don't get too tired just because of me.

Tomorrow, I'll be in the farm for a three-day leave. I'll write you more from there!

Love you all,

Your loving son, brother,

Neal."

oOoo oOooo

Neal was staring blankly at the farm gate in the dark.

It was already around midnight when he finally arrived at the farm. After reading Candy's letter asking him to come, he requested a permission for a leave right away and had been dreaming of coming here ever since. But now he's here, he couldn't help to wonder. Did Candy miss him as much as it seemed from her letters or it's just his imagination?

There's only one way to find out. Neal took a deep breath and pushed the wooden gate. The hinges loudly creaked as it opened. Almost at the same time, a light burst from the window and the front door opened.

"Neal?" he heard.

"Yes. Candy?" Neal responded. She's been waiting!

Before his next breath, he saw her dash across the lawn straight into his arms. All doubts were erased. He threw his backpack to the ground. His strong arms caught her, lifted her off her feet and he carried her in his arms.

"Neal! I miss you." She pressed against him.

"Candy..." He leaned in. "I love you!" He kissed her. For long minutes after that, the world stopped and nothing existed, except each other. It was just him and her.

"Let's get inside," said Candy softly. "It's been a long day for you."

"I wasn't noticing," Neal replied ever softer. "But yes, let's get inside."

His midnight brown eyes never left her even as he bent to retrieve his backpack with his two fingers, his arms still carrying her. He carried both her and his backpack effortlessly towards the house before finally he set her down.

"How long will you be here?"

"Three days." He cupped her face in his two hands, his eyes never left her.

"Why can't they give you more?" Candy caught his hand in hers, squeezed it tight as though afraid to let him go.

"We have a serious operation coming. This time we won't be at reserve." Neal smiled. "It's already a luck that they grant my request."

Candy nodded. "Did you eat?"

"Yes."

"I'll prepare some warm drink and bring it to your room."

"Don't bother. A soldier does these things themselves." He touched her nose with his.

"I insist," she pecked his lips. "Be good. Go to your room and wait for me there."

Candy left and came not long later. She placed a glass of warm milk and a plate of nicely cut apples and grapes in front of him.

"That looks lovely, Candy. Thank you." Neal picked up the glass of milk and offered it to her but she refused.

"It's for you. Fresh milk." She smiled, holding his one hand. "The fruits were just picked this afternoon. You don't get these often in the trench, do you?"

"Never. This is delicious!" Neal popped the fruits into his mouth.

"You must be tired."

"Not at all."

"Did you get any break at all since last night?"

"Some." He emptied his milk, finished the fruits and set the tray aside.

"Come here, my dear. Let me hold you." Neal pulled her to his laps and held her tight.

"Oh, one thing before I forgot, " Candy whispered in a very low voice. "We have a guest next door. Patty's elderly friend from the church. She has no other family and her house just got bombed. She stays here temporarily."

"Don't worry#" Neal rested his face on her head letting her hair softly tickled his face. "I will take you to your room after we finish talking.*"

-To be continued-

.TERMS:

-black ink = profitable

$fat one: How Terry calls Patty in manga. Terry's names for Candy: Freckles, Tarzan (also from manga)

white feathers, mustard gas: Check glossary, chapter 2

*I will take you to your room : remember the year is 1917. Back then unmarried couple couldn't as openly stay in one bedroom

oOoo

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for the followers and favorites. I appreciate your time and attention.

.


Chapter 21: Fall 1917 (A)

Fall 1917 (A)

.

The following day, just like any good farmer, Candy woke up in early dawn as usual. The sun hadn't properly risen and the room was still dim. Still half asleep, the first things that struck her was Neal was here! She smiled thinking of his gentle voice when he talked to her last night and his hands which never released hers.

Impatiently, Candy swung her legs out of the bed, ready to get up and rush to Neal's room. But, to her surprise she was pulled back to the bed by what she thought was her blanket.

Candy became fully awake. Her eyes shot up and through the faint glimmer of light, she realized that her room didn't look at all familiar!

"Oh, no!" thought Candy, realizing what's happening. She's in Neal's room! The pillow she's using was not really a pillow but Neal's arm. They must have fallen asleep last night while chatting.

Candy quivered thinking what Patty's guest might think if she knew she's sleeping in Neal's room. Decidedly, it would be more catastrophic than when Sister Grey caught her with Terry in the middle of the night in the horse stable in St. Paul*. They're adults now, not kids! What if her church friends didn't want to talk to her anymore?

Yet in spite of that, she didn't think she'd care. She's happy that he's here. Candy looked at Neal's sleeping face. His one arm was around her waist. His khaki uniform rose and fell gently together with his breath. Neal slept without wearing pajamas! She remembered when she was his maid, there's not a day when he went to bed without his pajamas. Candy smiled at that memory. That period of time supposed to be the most painful in her life, surprisingly, the recollection didn't hurt anymore.

Gently Candy brushed his peaceful looking face with the back of her hand.

He stirred and slowly started to open his eyes. His gaze met hers and he smiled at her. She smiled back, saw him blink and rub his eye. A second later his smile disappeared and his eyes flew widely open .

"Candy?" Supporting himself on one arm, Neal quickly sat up and moved away from her. "Oh no#!" said Neal. He's running his fingers through his hair in disbelief. "For heaven's sake! I fell asleep! I am so sorry! I-I... I didn't mean it! Last week, I was on night duty for most nights. I hadn't slept much the last two consecutive night because I had to cover-"

To his surprise, Candy laughed.

Neal lifted his eyebrow. "You laughed? You're not angry?"

She shook her head, smiling.

Grinning, he collapsed back to the bed pulling her with him. "I like it too!" He stretched and yawned. "Good morning!"

"Morning!" she grinned back.

"What time does Patty's guest usually get up?"

"Madame Beaufort usually gets up at five."

Neal looked at the clock. "Five minutes after five," he grimaced. "Let's hurry!" Neal got up, pulling her with him. "Let me fix your hair first."

Neal sat her in front of him and Candy felt his fingers run through her hair. It felt so good. It's so comfortable to feel his warmth, hearing his heartbeat and feeling his breathing.

"Let's go," said Neal after he fixed a ribbon nicely in her hair.

"Who cares about Madame Beaufort," said Candy. She cuddled into his strong broad chest. She wanted to be with Neal together longer. "We can just lock the door."

"I won't mind," he said softly. "But I hate to have you endure the gossip alone while I'm conveniently leaving to the Front."

Candy reluctantly got up.

Taking her hand, Neal led Candy to the door. She stood behind the door while Neal slowly opening the door. He meant to peek to asses the situation, but coincidentally, Madame Beaufort happened to open her bedroom door too and Neal was soon came directly face to face with Patty's guest.

"Lieutenant Leagan?" Madame Beaufort asked In French. "I'm Madame Beaufort."

"Ah, Madame Beaufort! Nice to meet you," replied Neal in fluent French. Without glancing at Candy who hid behind the door, he moved forward and closed the door behind him. "Neal. Neal Leagan."

"Oh, I've heard so much about you from Patty and Candy. You slept well last night?"

"Very well, that I just fell straight through. Thank you. "

"Let me help you clean your room," said Madame Beaufort generously, stepping forward.

Hiding behind the door, Candy held her breath.

"Oh please don't bother, Madam Beaufort. We, soldiers, do this thing by ourselves," declined Neal calmly.

"Of course! But while you're here, child, allow us to pamper you. That's the least we can do to our soldier," Madam Beaufort kindly insisted.

Candy got nervous. What if Madam Beaufort were so insistent and Neal couldn't stop the kind offer? Quietly, she tiptoed to the window, pushed it open and climbed up. She jumped to one tree outside the window, climbed down and ran to the front door. She then re-entered the house as normal.

From downstairs she heard Madame Beaufort say, "So where could Candy be?"

"Yeah... Hm, Let me look for her," answered Neal.

"I'm here!" cried Candy. "Madame Beaufort, good morning!"

"Candy," said Madame Beaufort, relieved. "Where were you?"

"I got up early today and took a walk!" She winked secretly to Neal.

"Thank God. I was so worried. Now you are here would you two care for breakfast? I and Patty prepared some special bread for you." She turned to Neal "Don't reject that, please. That's the least we can do for the solider who bravely fights defending our country."

Neal and Candy welcomed the invitation.

Madame Beaufort delightfully fixed fried sausages with fresh eggs and homemade apple juice for them. While they were eating, she made sandwiches with the freshest vegetable unseen of in the Front. Then, Madame Beaufort left to help out in the the farm.

"I can't believe that you'd climb out of the window!" Neal whispered worriedly "Did you fall? Anything hurt?"

Candy laughed, shaking her head. She's still the expert in climbing trees.

"We shouldn't do this mistake again tonight!" said Neal, seriously.

Candy smiled, nodded. Her mouth was full of sausages and eggs. Madam Beaufort was an exceptional cook. She just loved all the stuffs that old woman made.

"Let's go to the river," suggested Neal after he finished his plate, clean. "I'll show you how soldiers clean up." He grinned.

"River? In October? The water must be cold!"

"Better than not taking shower for months!" Candy watched him, open-mouthed, speechless at his casual answer.

Neal just grinned. They then packed the sandwiches and drinks madame Beaufort had prepared in a basket and before long they were running to the river with Neal pulling her hands.

"You're too fast, Neal. Wait for me!" screamed Candy. She started to lose breath trying to catch up with Neal the soldier.

Neal stopped running to fetch her and scooped her up. Cradling her against his chest, he ran carrying her and the basket to the river .

"I know a secret place. It's nice and hidden," she said, laughing in his arms.

"Show me," said Neal, stealing another kiss from her.

Candy clung her arms around his neck, screamed and laughed excitedly. She shrieked when he lowered her and her legs touched the cool water. She felt so happy never before in her life. She lifted her skirt and splashed water on him. He plunged under water to pull her down and they got completely immersed in the cool water# She squealed and laughed some more... until their stomachs began to beg for food.

Giggling, they went to the river bank. He put her in the place that had direct sunlight and bundled her up with dry towels. Both then attacked the tasty food Madame Beaufort had prepared from them.

All of a sudden, a faint sound of distress came to their ears. They looked to each other. Letting their ears guide them, they spotted a little chicken struggle in the river, fighting hard not to be drowned and dragged by the flowing water.

"Oh no, see that?" cried Candy.

Neal plunged back to the water to rescue the poor chicken and gave it to Candy.

"It lost one wing. It must have escaped from a cat or something," said Neal.

Candy wanted to carry it but it jumped from her hand and ran to its mother, nearby.

"She'll be fine if she sticks with the mother," said Candy, expertly. "Good you rescue it, Neal." She rewarded him with a kiss.

"Where's Patty?" asked Neal as he drank the apple juice directly from the bottle. He grinned noticing Candy's surprise look. "Sorry, we don't usually use cups in the trench."

Candy smiled and drank directly from the bottle too, following his suit.

"Patty goes out with her church friends to volunteer delivering socks and other things to the soldiers in the Front using our farm truck. We knitted many things for the soldiers to use in the winter... Like the one I sent to you." She pecked his cheek.

"Must be lovely." Neal pecked her back. "You two are not bored here? Chocques has almost nothing. Why not go back to Chicago?"

"This farm is the best," gushed Candy. "It's close to you." She rubbed his short hair playfully with her fingers. "And Patty enjoys waking up early to take eggs to the market. She likes to give one to any children who asks." Candy laughed.

Neal grinned looking at her bright smile, enjoying her company. She's here with him. They're together..., nothing could be better than that.

"Patty then goes to the veteran office to check names of newly found soldiers."

Neal didn't comment on that one.

"What do you think of this place?" asked Candy. "I found it when I was walking along the river thinking about you." She looked down avoiding his eyes.

Neal saw her cheeks turned rosy.

"Thank you for thinking about me." Neal cupped her face scattering kisses all around her face. "Oh, I really want to marry you!" he sighed. His lips captured hers again and he pushed her gently to the ground.

"You do?" asked Candy. She lay down on her back, he's on top of her now.

"Yes. What kind of wedding you want?" he quizzed, kissing her profusely. "A civil one? A military one?"

"Military one sounds cool."

"Then, let's do a military wedding! We walk together under the sword of arch, what do you say?"

He looked down at her, she looked up at him. They smiled.

"Fabulous! But, if you don't mind...," added Candy, blushing. "Can you carry me instead?" She kissed him. "I want everyone to see you carry me."

"I'd love to!" he whispered. "I will carry you under the sword of arch! Promise!" He kissed her deeply.

"Oh that would be nice, wouldn't it?" sighed Candy.

"He-eh." Neal didn't stop kissing her.

"If we're married, I can stay in your room," continued Candy. "We don't need to worry about Madam Beaufort or whoever." She held his head in her hands and kissed him as feverishly.

"True," said Neal.

"So why not do it?" Candy whispered. "We get married."

"Today?"

Candy nodded.

Neal didn't answer right away. "After the war is better," he answered after a while.

"When is that?"

"Don't know..."

"Why it has to be after the war?"

This time Neal was silent for much longer. "It's just better that way." There's something in his voice like he tried to avoid talking about it. Her heart got caught in her chest, hurt.

"Tell me why," Candy pushed on.

"It's just hard to decide now," avoided Neal. "Let's not talk about it."

"Maybe because you just don't really want to." Candy instantly pulled away, sitting up.

"No... how can I?"

"Then, say it," Candy demanded.

"It's... hard."

"Excuse... excuse! You're no different than Terry!" Candy blurted out.

"What?" Neal jumped up. "Don't compare me with that actor!"

She threw her face, felt ashamed for bringing up the marriage thing and slapped by disappointment by his unwanted reception. If there's one thing that she's so sure of in this world, it would be that Neal would unconditionally ready to marry her.

Dreadful silence fell.

"Candy. It can't be too long," said Neal after a while.

Candy stayed silent, pulling the grass aimlessly with her hand.

Neal sat back down next to her and pulled her closer. There's nothing he wanted to do more than to marry her. How to explain and make her understand that he wouldn't because he cared about her so.

"It can't be too long, because#" Neal swallowed hard, paused. "Because there will be no more men standing otherwise."

Candy shivered instantly hearing his unexpected answer. She turned to face him. Her heart pounding. "What do you mean?"

He stared at her eyes. She looked so pure so innocent. She had no idea what he's facing at the Front...

"Candy..." Neal looked far at the horizon. His voice was so different and distant. It scared her. "If you don't hear anything from me for a few months, I want you to forget me and move on. You're so young... so beautiful. You shouldn't be put in a position where you're forced to become... a... widow or worse yet... stay with an invalid... husband."

Candy gasped, her hands readily flew covering her mouth.

-To Be Continued-

NOTE:

* manga's scene (that Eliza's trap, remember?).

000

Thanks for reading. I do really mean this more than just a routine gesture of gratitude. Thanks so much for your time and attention to keep up with this story.


Chapter 22: Fall 1917 (B)

Fall 1917 (B)

.

"Ne-al!" Candy whispered. "Why are you saying these things?"

"I didn't want to," Neal tightened his grip on her hand. "But, I don't want you to doubt me."

"It's you who I love, not the number of your limbs!" Her eyes watered and droplets of tears were threatening to spill down her cheeks.

"You can say that because I am not missing any part. But, what if I did?"

"No!" Candy wailed, shaking her head. "I'll be so proud carrying your name. I don't care how many limbs you have." Tears were flowing out rapidly now. She couldn't believe she talked about this. "Oh Neal. You don't trust me." She cried. "It seems-"

Neal pressed his mouth on hers, stopping her. "I trust you. I love you." His rough fingertips gently wiped away tears from her cheeks as Candy felt her world crumbled with uncertainty and worries.

"Leave the army#" Candy sobbed.

"I joined to make you proud#"

"I am proud of you," she cried. "Now, leave. We go somewhere far and safe. Home. Chicago."

Neal released the hold of her hands and looked across the river. "I can't..."

"Why not?" Albert, Terry, Archie, and her many other friends didn't go. Why this one particular man had to go?

Neal looked at her wide opened green eyes, hit by her innocence. Would she be able to understand?

"Because..." He lowered his head, rested it on her forehead. "I have my men to look after# They're my friends, my brothers# How can I leave them to face the bullets alone? I can't. Please understand."

He said the word bullet very tenderly but it stabbed her heart stronger than a dagger. In desperation, Candy clung to his arms and cried and cried.

"After the war... I promise to come to pick you up and we go back to America," Neal said, forcing to sound cheerful. He cupped her wet face in his hands and smiled confidently. "Don't worry, Candy, love. None of the bullets has my name in it!"

He paused, felt eerily pompous at that. His eyes wandered briefly before coming back to hers. Discarding the presentiment, he added ever confidently, "Trust me on that." He smiled.

oOoooooooo

Candy opened her eyes at the sound of her alarm clock. Neal would leave today. With that sad thought, she got up from her bed and went outside to looked for him. He was in the living room getting ready to go. He's already wearing his soldier coat, his cap on the table and he was putting things inside his backpack.

Candy stared at him. She never fully realized that he's an active combat soldier until now. Maybe because of their conversation yesterday but today he looked so different in her eyes.

"You don't need to get up, Candy," Neal said. Opening his arms, he came to hug her. Her face was already damped with tears.

"I want to. I take you to the station."

"Don't," he kissed her. "It's still dark. I'll be so worried."

"Can I walk you to the gate?"

"Okay."

She didn't release his hand throughout that short walk. At the gate, Neal stopped walking and squeezed her hand. She knew the time had arrived for them to part.

Hugging him tight, she put her head on his chest and cried. This wasn't the first time they parted because he had to go to the Front. But unlike before she felt a deep sense of sadness... and fear. Of what, she couldn't tell. It's like he's going somewhere so far away and when they met again things would be different.

He put her finger in her chin and nudged her face up.

"Don't cry" Neal said. "I"ll come back soon."

"Soon? Will you?"

"Of course."

She held his face and gave him a long kiss, didn't release him until he pulled away.

"I get to go, love," Neal said, squeezing her shoulder.

She tightened her grip on his sleeves, refusing to let him go.

"Neal about what you said yesterday..."

"I shouldn't talk to you about those. Look at you now." He wiped her tears with his hands. "Except the part where I said I love you and I want to marry you, just forget them all," he whispered softly.

Candy sobbed. "Take good care of yourself..."

He nodded. "You too." He kissed her forehead. "Get inside, Candy. Don't be cold." Neal slowly released her and turned, leaving her alone at the farm gate.

Candy burst into tears, watching the khaki figure that kept going farther for each shaky breath she took. The unknown fear grew stronger with his every step. She shivered. She hated this war, cursing it passionately in her heart.

"Neal!" She ran after him. He stopped, but didn't turn around.

"I love you!" She grabbed his back and cried. "I-I don't want you to go..." She sobbed.

Fighting back the tears, Neal turned and pulled her in his arms. "I will come back. Promise. Don't cry."

"Say you love me," she sobbed, hopelessly. "Say it... one more time. I want to hear it again."

"I love you, " his voice cracked. "Candy, always remember that I love you. Whatever happens, however things turn out to be, never forget that I love you very very much."

His words did nothing to alleviate her fear, if at all they deepened it. Why he had to say it like that? Clutching his coat tighter, Candy cried even louder.

Neal blinked# Tears escaped from his eye as he squeezed her tighter. "Candy... Please... don't cry..."

Oooooo

Neal had been back in the Front for days, but not a day passed that he didn't think about his tearful Candy begging him to stay. Something was not right. He joined the army to win her heart, now she asked to be married, he refused. Something certainly went awfully wrong. How come it turned out this way#?

"Neal!" Someone tapped on his shoulder cutting his deep muse. It's Chris who just came back from his leave.

Chris impatiently threw his coat to his bunk and said, "Look!" He lifted his hand showing Neal the shiny oval on his finger.

Neal got up looking at Chris' finger. "Bloody hell!" Neal murmured. "You're married!"

Chris grinned proudly. "Yes! Three days ago," Chris said brightly.

Chris pulled out an envelope from his coat and showed Neal their wedding photos.

"I told Kathy those things we have been discussing like I might be blown up, cut out, and all those sorts but she said we have to have positive thinking. And since she had planned this all along, how can I refuse?" Chris smiled looking at Neal whose eyes opened so widely staring at him. "Hey, are you going to congratulate me?"

Neal gulped, regrouping himself. "Congratulations. It's wonderful!"

Chris laughed proudly. Neal thought of his Candy. Lucky Kathy! What about his Candy? What had he done?

"When we had a baby, would you be the godfather? We pick a time for both of us to go home together to England. What do you say?"

"M-me?" asked Neal. Chris nodded firmly, smiled broadly.

This must be one of the most important events in his life, yet Chris included him in it. No one had ever given him such honor. Not even Archie was this thoughtful although they're cousins. He never found stronger bonds than with everyone here. They're not merely fellow soldiers, they're his family!

"It's an honor," said Neal, moved, wiping his eyes.

"I'll introduce you to my dear Kathy. You will agree that she's beautiful!" Chris boomed. He shared his plan in details. He looked so happy.

Ooo

Some more days later...

December 1st, 1917

My Dear Father, Mother, Eliza,

We will meet in three weeks! I surely can't wait.

I invited Chris and Sid to come to our home for the Christmas dinner. I will take two folks from the farm, too. I won't tell their names here. Treat that as a surprise! Mother, please arrange a big Christmas dinner for all of us! I'll confirm later how many people Chris and Sid will take with them. Eliza, invite Wilkes to London! Oh, I just so can't wait.

We've been busy these days with our thick operations which I shouldn't tell anything about. Father, I can tell you more when we meet in person.

I will write more later.

As ever,

Your loving son, brother,

Neal

.

Neal folded the letter and stuffed it in the envelope. He then picked up another piece of paper to write to Candy. His head suddenly felt stuffy. He still remembered how she cried asking him to stay but he still left. And now that Chris was married... He sighed not sure what's the correct thing to do.

Neal put his pencil down and wandered to look for his best friend Sid. He found Sid doing a night watch, sitting supporting his head on his gun. He seemed so occupied that he didn't even see Neal coming.

Neal coughed to attract his friend's attention. That faint sound visibly startled him.

"Hey, what are you thinking about?" Neal asked.

Sid gave Neal a quick smile. His eyes brightened briefly before dimmed as quickly.

"Tomorrow we're going over the top again, aren't we?" responded Sid without answering.

"Yes. You saw our tanks this morning?" Neal asked. He knew Sid liked them.

"Yup," Sid answered wryly. "Just finished one drawing for Bob." Sid quietly gestured to his diary. Neal picked up the diary which was full of marvelous drawings Sid made to show to his brother. Sid often showed him, too.

"Nice," praised Neal looking at the tank drawing. Sid didn't make any comment. He was unusually quiet. "Is there something wrong?" observed Neal.

"Nothing," Sid paused. "Just thinking..."

"About?"

"I wonder... which is better, to work in the convent digging up potatoes or do soldiering."

"It's not that it's up to you. They would conscript you anyway."

"True, but I can't help to compare. I get more copper+ as a private, more now as a corporal. I get a free writing and reading lessons and I can write and read so much better now." Sid breathed deeply. "But I'd more likely see the tomorrow's sun if I stayed in that convent."

"You're not afraid are you?" asked Neal. He sat on the ground, next to his thoughtful looking friend.

"One of my chumps was squashed into pulp yesterday, some got chopped off today, hell knows whose turn tomorrow." Sid took a deep breath, his eyes unseeing.

Neal nodded. "But it's not like this is our first time," said Neal, comforting his friend.

Sid's head moved up and down showing his agreement.

"So, cheer up!" said Neal. "We've been here for two years and never get hit."

Sid looked up. Their eyes met.

"That means our time is running out, isn't it?" responded Sid, mathematically. "Have you noticed that we're among the longest to serve here?"

They looked at one another. That creepy feeling crawled again inside Neal's nerve but he quickly waived it.

"Or we're meant to be those who will never be hit," Neal shrugged. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

"I'm not afraid to die."

"Good because nothing will hit you. So, why thinking about these things?"

"I can't help it, I guess. I'm not afraid to die but I would hate to die in Germans' hands. It must feel like a loser, you know, to die in the enemies' hand! It's like they win and I lose." Sid gripped his gun. "What I'm afraid is..." Sid hesitated.

"Is what?" asked Neal. He threw a rock at a rat who's coming, sniffing to steal a biscuit from Sid's lap.

"Is... being a cripple. Imagine to go home with some part of you missing. Bugger to have additional burden in our family."

"There's the government pension plan," said Neal, lightly.

"Fuck knows they give so little!" Sid mocked. "If I were dying or broken into pieces, I'd rather be shot!"

Neal looked at the mud, seeing himself without an arm, arms, or any other limbs. He always wondered what Candy's reaction would be. Would she pity him? That's awful! Would she deny him? That's awful, too. Would she still want him? It didn't matter. Because if that really happened he would not want to meet her again. He'd never let Candy see him broken into pieces. It's too horrible! It's like-

"That's why you haven't done that with Candy yet. Am I right, Lieutenant?"

Sid knew him so well. He just couldn't hide anything from him. Before Neal could speak up, they saw someone move in a hurry along the trench.

"A runner#," murmured Neal. He and Sid quickly got up. "Don't think too much." Neal patted Sid's shoulder. "Think about the vacation that follows." Neal then dashed to meet the runner.

"He's hurt, sir," whispered Sid from behind Neal. They looked at the runner's tunic which was dark of blood.

"Call the captain, Sid. Hurry!" ordered Neal. Suddenly he could see the gravity of the situation.

"Yes, sir." Sid left immediately.

"Sir," the runner tried to give Neal a salute among his heavy breathing. His face was pale, hand was covered by blood.

"Take it easy, lad. Just breathe," Neal said.

The runner wobbled and Neal came to support him. He leaned on Neal while trying to catch up his breath. He caught his breath just in time when the captain came.

"Captain Thomson?" The runner saluted smartly, standing straight.

"Yes. Yes, yes... Skip the ceremony. You okay, lad?"

"Yes, sir. A message, sir. The offensive will start tomorrow morning at six hundred hours. Your Company, A, is assigned to take the German machines guns. B Company will come to give reinforcement. A and B will support C to capture the German ground. The artillery initial bombardment will start at five hundred hours. Note, that this is an at-all-cost mission, sir."

"Very well. Go tell them, we will capture the German machines guns. At all cost. We will not retreat until we're told to do so," said Thomson.

"Yes, sir." The runner saluted. His face was pale but determined. He ran back from where he came from and disappeared along the trenches.

"You heard that, Leagan. Go tell other officers and all the sergeants. We meet in my dugout to discuss the details."

"Yes, sir," said Neal, giving a quick salute.

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-To be Continued-

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for the follows and favorites! It's so humbling.

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Next chapter: The war#

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NOTE:

None of the bullets have my name in it: a common saying among the soldiers. A person is hit by a bullet that has his name written on it

+copper = money

#runner: Like a messenger. Someone who brought messages from the central command. The idea of this "wounded" runner was got when reading the story of Private James Miller.

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Character:

Kathy: Chris' love

Wilkes: Eliza's boyfriend. First mentioned in chapter 18.

***oOoo.


Chapter 23: Fall 1917 (C)

Fall 1917 (C)

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RATING: T (M?) for graphic horrific war violence

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In the dugout, Captain Thomson was standing over a table studying a map with his men.

"We cross the no-man's land here and regroup in Hurricane trench, here, to meet our reinforcement, B Company," said Thomson. He pointed the positions in the map. "We then go to Hill 26 to capture the machine guns. A Company can then enter the German ground, here."

Thomson looked around at his officers who're deeply in thought. The sounds of booming were heard from the far.

"Note, it's an at all cost mission," emphasized Captain Thomson. "Under any conditions, we must not retreat or surrender."

"Understood, sir!" responded his men including Neal.

"Get the men ready!"

When Neal was back in the dugout, Chris was writing a letter to his wife Kathy. His wedding ring shone conspicuously from the light reflection. Neal just couldn't take it anymore. Chris was right, they had to be optimistic. Nothing bad was going to happen. Clenching his teeth, Neal picked up a pen and paper and wrote to Candy.

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My Dearest Love Candy,

My bunk mate, Chris, got married. He said because his girl asked him to and he agreed.

Oh, I feel so awful to you. I will request a one day leave to visit you. Let's get married too! I will take my best friend, Sid. He and Patty can be our witnesses. It'll be lovely...

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"Lieutenant Leagan!" Neal heard his sergeant call him.

"What is it Baker?" asked Neal. He stopped writing.

"A report, sir!" Baker saluted. "Quite urgent."

"One second," Neal replied. Neal picked up his pencil and quickly signed the letter.

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I need to go now, my love. Will write more later.

I love you.

With thousand kisses and ever undying love to you,

Neal

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Neal folded his letter, put it in his pocket, and talked to Baker...

For the rest of the evening, Neal and other officers spent time with their men, encouraged them and made them ready.

At half past five everyone was standing in their positions in the trench quietly. The sound of machine guns thundered in the air above them. Captain Thomson stood with a whistle in his hand. Neal saw Chris gripping his wedding photo. When the captain put the whistle between his lips, Chris kissed the photo and put it in his pocket. He looked at Neal, their eyes met as their hands reached out to the holster and took their guns out.

Clutching his gun, Neal looked to the front thinking about Candy. Things was so hectic that he forgot to ask someone to send the letter he wrote for her. Neal squeezed his pocket feeling the letter. He would send that the first thing tonight after finishing this attack. No more delay!

The shrill of the whistles broke his muse. Neal and others climbed the ladder over the top to the cold muddy ground in the no-man's land, executing orders.

"Move!" yelled Neal instructing his men. "Heads low!"

Explosions roared, machine guns thundered and bullets sizzling, burying the scream of men who're sliced down by the flying steel. Men fell like flies. Neal looked on his back, seven men fell to the ground.

Then, a great loud explosion bellowed dwarfing any other sound. The ground shook, throwing Neal to the ground.

"Get down!" Neal shouted as he fell.

Neal tried to get up to warn his men but another shell landed. The earth lifted like ocean waves, bouncing him on the ground. He gripped his helmet, tried to steady himself but kept rolling over as the ground tremored, pounded by shells after shells that kept landing.

When Neal finally could open his eyes, he found that he's inside a massive shell hole which just now wasn't there. His men lay shaking with blank clueless eyes.

"Get out! Quick! Quick!" Neal screamed, warning his men. "Don't stay here."

Neal jumped up to the lips of the shell holes, pulling up his trembling men.

"Mother! Help! Mother!" Neal heard a faint voice raised above the thunder of explosives.

Neal turned. It's that boy whose voice hadn't broken yet, doubtless he lied about his age, he was clawing desperately on the steepest side of the shell hole. Neal ran to the boy.

"Jake! Give me your hand!" Neal screamed. He dropped himself on his stomach, reaching out to Jake. Another shell broke shaking the ground massively. The boy's feet slipped. Fortunately, Neal had caught his hand.

"Got you!" said Neal.

The boy was dangling by one hand. Neal stretched his arm dangeroulsy further to catch Jake's other hand. "Jake, give me your other hand," said Neal.

The boy tried but he fell back. His legs wiggled desperately trying to look for a support.

"I'm falling, sir. "

"You bloody well won't, Jake! Listen, find something to steady your feet!" Neal said calmly although deep inside he was nervous like hell. For each seconds passed, the more likely they would be an easy sitting duck target to the German's constant flying steel.+

The boy struggled, luckily he found a piece of rock to steady his feet.

"Get it, sir!" said the boy holding Neal's hand tightly.

"Good!" said Neal. Supporting himself on a flimsy protruding dead tree root, Neal swung his arm lifting and throwing the boy to the ground outside the hole.

"Jump!" Neal shouted to the boy.

Less than a second later another shell broke, burying whoever still inside that hole death or alive.

Neal grabbed the boy and ran, dragged the boy with him into the trench where they jumped down. Neal met Thomson who had jumped in earlier.

"The Fritz are tough today," said the captain, breathing fast. "Anyone saw bloody B yet?"

Bomb burst nearby and they ducked down.

"I don't think they're here, sir," Baker answered in his usual deep and calm voice.

"Then we get the machine guns without them," said the captain. He yelled to one officer and a few privates. "Come with me! Leagan you cover us. Tell Ridley^ that if you saw him."

The captain crawled forward out from the trench, followed closely by his men.

"Yes, s-" Neal hadn't finished talking when a powerful shell erupted nearby. The captain, officer and the privates fell, already dead pierced by the shell pieces even before they hit the ground.

"Bastard!" screamed Chris who just arrived from behind Neal. "Where the hell is B, our reinforcement?"

"Not here yet. Captain Thomson said we go ahead to capture the machine gun without them."

"The Fritz probably had intercepted and finished them all!" cried Chris.

Neal nodded. "I think so too!"

"Neal, we get the machine gun! Cover me."

"Let's do it!" Neal clenched his fist.

Neal and Chris took their remaining men to crawl to Hill 26. While everyone else was throwing all kinds of grenades to allure the Germans, Chris crawled alone to one machine gun. When he's close, in one sudden move, Chris stood up, aimed his gun at the Germans who operated the machine gun, and shot them all. Chris took a position behind the machine gun, aimed it at the enemies and started firing, knocking down whoever on its path.

Neal crawled to join Chris.

"I get that one," said Neal to Chris, pointing to another machine gun nearby.

"I can do it," said Chris.

"No, I go this time. You cover me, " said Neal.

Neal took his men and started to crawl away. They threw all kind of explosion to allure the Germans and Chris shot whoever stood around them.

Neal was so closed to the machine gun when suddenly, from a pile of corpse, one German who played dead got up pointing his gun at Neal. Neal was stunt, quickly pointed his revolver to the enemy. His heart thudded. He knew he couldn't pull the trigger fast enough. Neal was so sure this would be the end of him when he heard a loud bang. Surprisingly, it's the German who fell dead, not him.

Neal turned to see who's saving him.

"Sid!" Neal grinned.

Sid gave a boyish grin and a thumb up.

"Nice shot!" said Neal. "Thank- " A bomb exploded cutting their short chit-chat. They ducked and noticed that Chris' machine gun fell ghostly silent. Neal turned and saw Chris falling forward. He slumped still on top of the machine gun, didn't move. The privates who accompanied him were laying equally still scattered on the ground.

"Sir, they g-got the lieutenant!" cried Sid.

"Bloody Huns!" screamed Neal, furious. He jumped back to rush to Chris' side but saw a line of Germans pouring in. It's impossible to break them with hands.

"We blast them. Come on!" ordered Neal to his men.

Neal ran back toward the second machine gun with his men followed behind him. It's within reach now. Neal threw his grenade at the gun operators when another much greater blast exploded behind him. He felt he was lifted in the air and thrown to the ground many steps away, his face buried in the mud. Neal wiped at his eyes when he saw something, a man, fly past him, in the midair, over him.

Sid?

His heart tore. It is Sid! Helplessly, Neal watched his best friend drop to the ground.

"No!" screamed Neal.

Without caring to dodge the whirlwind of bullets, Neal dashed forward and threw himself next to his best friend.

"Oh, Sid." Neal looked at him. His left leg was cut off, not there anymore, his stomach torn. Neal swallowed trying to remain calm like what an officer should be to his wounded man. He had done this so many times, but it's harder when the injured man was his best friend.

With trembling hand, Neal pulled a field dressing from Sid's tunic and pressed it to his stomach to check the blood flow. It got drenched. Neal took another roll of dressing from his own tunic and, again, it got soaked.

"Be honest... Is there... something... missing?" Sid asked, looking at Neal. His voice was heartbrokenly weak, so unlike the energetic Sid he had always been.

"Y-your left leg..." Neal stammered. He looked away briefly to regroup himself before looking back at Sid again. "And..." Neal looked at the blood that kept gushing out from Sid's torn stomach and couldn't continue. "Oh God..."

"I'm... going to die... aren't I?" Sid asked looking straight at Neal's face. His face quickly lost color.

"No... you won't. I get someone to take you back."

Sid faintly shook his head. His hand fumbled into his pocket picking the diary he always carried and gave it to Neal. His hand were shaking like the little book was too heavy for him.

"For... Bob," Sid said. He winced seemingly in so much pain.

Neal took the diary. "We, together, give this to Bob," said Neal. He put Sid's diary in his own pocket. "You and me..."

Sid managed a faint grin. "Don't... lie..."

"Don't talk to much. I call the stretcher bearers." Neal turned to call his dutiful sergeant Baker. "Bak-"

But Neal didn't see him... or anyone else.

Where's everybody?

In shock, Neal realized they just got a direct hit. All his men were blasted, vaporized... scattered into fragments. Neal felt blood sipped through his fingers. The field dressing was soaked wet again with blood. Frantically, Neal pulled a field dressing from a nearby German corpse and pressed it to Sid's stomach.

Looking at Neal's face, Sid understood.

"Pull the plug, Neal...," Sid said. His voice calm.

"Huh?"

"Shoot. Don't... want to ... die# in German's hands, remember?%"

"Who says you're going to die," Neal choked. "I get help."

"There's no one here!"

"There's me! I'm here!"

"Neal# I don't want# to live. Not# like this. A burden# Do... it. Shoot!"

"You're my chump. How can I shoot you?"

"Then... give me... a gun. Lieutenant, I'll do... it."

"Hell, no! I take you back!"

"Sir, the order... machine gun... At all ... cost..."

The dressing was again becoming soaking wet, Neal picked yet another one from a nearby corpse. Sid clearly needed help, urgently.

"Fuck the troff and their order!" screamed Neal furious at what happened to his friend. "For God's sake, I will not let you die!"

Neal stood up. He bent to pull Sid up and carry him back to the trench.

"Sir, please...-" implored Sid, protesting.

"Lance Corporal Sydney Tanner! We go back! We terminate the mission. It's an order!" barked Neal. He knew the serious consequences for disobeying order. But he didn't care... Hang him if they wanted to, he would worry about that later. Sid had to be saved, first!

Neal got up and turned to carry Sid on his back.

Suddenly, Sid scream. "Neal, watch out!"

He had no idea how Sid did it, but his weakened body suddenly becoming so powerful. Sid pushed him so hard making him fall on the ground. Sid then dropped himself over him. Almost at the same time, a German coming from behind Neal thrusted his bayonet into Sid's back. Without Sid shielding him, it would have been him who's pierced by that sharp metal.

With a lightning speed Neal grabbed his gun from his waist and shot. The enemy's head exploded like a squashed tomato. The German fell.

"Sid#" Neal scrambled to get up to his friend's side. "Sid! Why? Why did you do that?"

"S-s-ir..," Sid's voice sounded blood-gargled bidding one last farewell to his friend and officer.

With eyes blurred with tears Neal watched his best friend's life slipping away... His eyes became lifeless and in one final gasp, Sid died in his arms.

Sid covered him... Sid saved his life, again! Sid died in German's hand, something he really hated, for him.

"Sid! Why did you save me?" screamed Neal again to his friend who could not hear anymore. "WHY?" Tears pouring from his eyes.

Then, Neal saw more Germans came. Neal grabbed a Mills bomb from Sid's pocket, pulled the plug with his teeth, waited a long second and threw it to the enemies. Eight Germans fell.

Neal then lowered Sid's body gently, tearfully. He wished that he was just having a bad dream. He hoped Sid would soon jump up with his usual cheerful laughter. And then, they would go home to England, together, leaving this living killing hell and deliver the diary to Bob. He would take Sid to America, gave him a farm closed to Lakewood and Pony's home. He and Candy would visit him, often. Oh God, why didn't he think about this before? Why only... now?

Sid lay still and more Germans kept coming.

"NO!" Neal screamed, sadness and regret turned to vivid anger. Neal fired at the closest German. One more fell.

Four more Germans appeared. Neal shot them too one by one, starting from the back*.

More kept coming. It'd be convenient to blow them all with the machine gun. Neal looked at the machine which was within reach. He could even leap there...

Neal moved his leg to jump but it didn't obey. Pain shot through it, nailed him back on his spot. What happened? He had no time to check since more Germans appear. Neal shot them too until his revolver was out of bullets. He felt another sharp pain this time in his arm, but again he ignored it since the pain in his grieving heart was greater.

Neal tossed his empty revolver and picked a bayonet nearest to him whose owner he just shot dead and used in until it got jammed. He then discarded the useless object and picked yet another bayonet.

He didn't care about anything anymore, even life. He had to execute orders, didn't he? At all cost, they said. Gladly! For Sid's sake... Chris, Thomson, Baker, all his friends. His merry happy squadron which now reduced to dust.

Neal picked a limbless dead body and used it as a shield and kept firing until the last bullet was fired from all guns within his reach. After giving one last look at Sid, bidding farewell, Neal crawled away, dragging his non-functioning leg. He grabbed a newly drop bayonet from the enemy he just whacked and continued fighting.

"Come here you, God damned Huns!" screamed Neal swinging his bayonet hitting the enemies with its butt. "All of you!"

Neal was about to smash one enemy's head when he heard a loud crack.

Then, after seeing Candy's face from the first time they met to when they just parted less than two months ago, everything went black...

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-To be continued-

Thank you for reading. Thanks for following, favoriting. It's an honor!

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Thank you for your time and attention.

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Reminder:

Chum= close friend

^Ridley= Chris =Christopher Ridley

NOTE:

+ scene inspired by firstworldwar d0t com, "A Gunner's Adventure" written by Gunner N. H, Bradbury.

% Sid said it in previous chapter. Don't want to die in German's hands

*Neal one person against N numbers of Germans, the scene inspired by the story of Alvin York (an American soldier in WW1)


Chapter 24: Part 2: Acknowledgment

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Part 2

Many parts in Part 2 are adapted from "Light and Darkness" by Wendy Lawrance, especially Neal's interaction with one person.


Chapter 25: December 1917

December 1917

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"Chris, get away from thereRun! Sid, behind you!"

Neal screamed but no voice was out. He reached out to his pistol and shot but no bullet came out.

"Chris! Sid! Run!"

Germans suddenly appeared. Shells broke. His friends fell.

"No!"

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Breathing fast, Neal opened his eyes. He was drenching in sweat, his heart raced quickly.

He saw sun light...

Sun, thought Neal. It was just a dream... just a dream, Neal kept repeating to himself, forcing himself to calm down.

Neal turned his head to his left where Chris' bunk used to be to share his awful nightmare with his friend.

"Ch-" Neal wanted to call Chris, but his throat felt so dry and burning. He coughed and a stinging pain shot up from his right arm and leg... so painful that he moaned.

Almost immediately, a face appeared... an unknown face that he had never seen before.

"Lieutenant Leagan, you're awake!" the man said. He had a book in his hand which he quickly put down. "Very good! We have been so worried about you!" Leaning on his crutches, the man slowly sat next to Neal's bed.

Neal looked around trying to think where he was. He's in a room with, maybe, ten beds. On his left was a clean window facing outside. The walls were white. His sheet was soft. Everything looked clean, smelt clean, much too nice to be anything closed to the Front. Neal then understood everything. Sid and Chris were dead, killed in the battlefield.

The man took a towel and wiped sweat from Neal's drenched forehead. "You had a nightmare?" he asked, feeling Neal was all shaking. "Don't worry... You're up now."

Neal coughed and unbearable pain shot again through his arm and leg. He closed his eyes. He felt the man bent down, put his arm against his back, and gently pushed him up, giving a glass of water in his lips. Neal sipped some water.

"Good... more...," the man said encouragingly. Neal took more sips. The man lowered him back to the bed. "You're hurting?"

Neal faintly nodded.

"I'll call the nurse." The man reached out to the crutches next to Neal's bed and slowly got up. "My name is Jim. Call me if you need anything." Dragging his leg that had a thick cast around it, Jim slowly limped away with his crutches.

Soon a nurse came. She quickly pulled a screen around Neal's bed. She smiled but didn't talk. She took Neal's wrist, counted his pulse and gave other checkups. She washed him, dried him, and changed his clothes. His arm and leg were so painful that Neal closed his eyes throughout it all. When all done, she left and came back with a doctor with her.

"Lieutenant Leagan," the doctor greeted Neal. He read the nurse report then turned to fully face Neal. The doctor looked like someone who had not been sleeping properly for days. Inundated with war patients, no doubt, yet he remained calm and took his time.

"Can you understand what I'm saying?" he asked in fluent English with some German accent.

With his arm and leg throbbed painfully, Neal only responded with a slight nod.

"Very good." The doctor smiled. "I'm Dr. Hubert. Lieutenant, you are in the military hospital for officers in Germany. We're quite far from the Front in France. It took you around a week to arrive here from the Clearing Station in Bonavis^."

The doctor talked to the nurse in German. She promptly opened the bandage around Neal's arm while the doctor continued talking to Neal.

"Let's start with your arm," said the doctor. "By the time you arrived here, your right arm was badly infected. Unfortunately, the infection had spread that - I'm sorry to tell you this - we had to amputate the part under the elbow."

The doctor paused. Neal said nothing so the doctor continued.

"Now your leg. There were some bullets imbedded inside your right knee and thigh which we successfully removed with surgery. Your leg is safe now. You might need to use a stick but we're optimistic that you'll be able to walk again."

The doctor bent examining Neal's wounds carefully as well as giving instructions to the nurse. Neal looked down at the bed sheet, avoiding looking at his own stump#, still trying to grasp the reality.

"Your wounds are healing well. You're very fortunate to go this far, lieutenant," the doctor said. His face serious.

Neal didn't respond, not sure what fortunate really meant anymore.

"They're still life-threatening especially since you lost so much blood. You need to have total bed rest. As for how long, it depends on..."

Neal wasn't paying attention anymore but he managed to mumble some thank you words to the doctor before he left. The nurse stayed to put new bandages around Neal's wounds.

"Welkome." The nurse tried to make Neal felt welcomed by attempting to speak in English. She fixed Neal's pillow and blanket and smiled kindly.

"Thanks," Neal muttered.

She removed the screen around Neal's bed and left.

Almost immediately, a new face came hovered over Neal.

"Hello, Leagan," the man said. His face was friendly. He had thick bandages around his eye and head. "I'm Evan your neighbor!" He pointed to the bed on Neal's right.

Several unknown faces soon appeared surrounding Neal's bed.

"I'm Rex." Another man came with a stick and a thick bandage around his shoulder.

"Where were you injured?" Another one appeared.

"Who's winning?" yet asked another.

"I'm Dwight!" One cheerful voice followed. With a friendly smile, Dwight sat on the corner of Neal's bed, ready to chat. "It's good to see you awake. You were unconscious for a week! The chap lying in that bed is Richard. Except you and Richard, we've been here for around a month. Richard came a few days after you. The gentleman who's with Richard is#"

Neal had long stopped paying attention. Everyone was injured, Neal noticed that much. They all had bandages around some part of their body. There's no Sid. No Chris. That's all that mattered. He couldn't care less about Jim, Evan, Rex, Dwight, or whoever they were. His head span realizing the chilling reality. Neal turned his head and looked outside the window. Ignoring everyone, he closed his eyes.

Stunt at the reception, Dwight stopped talking abruptly. Silently, they stared at one another.

"Let him rest. It's his first day," Jim's deep voice spoke. "Dwight get over here will you? Talk to Richard see if he responds. I get the nurse for him."

"Right away, sir," said Dwight.

A few voices chorused saying "Yes, sir." "Sure, sir." "Of course, sir." Everyone mumbled encouraging polite words to Neal before they dispersed and left him alone.

Not long after, Neal heard a loud sound of dining cart being pushed and a nurse put a bowl on the table next to his bed.

Neal heard someone clear his throat and looked up. It's Evan.

"Let me help you eat, Leagan," offered Evan.

Neal shook his head.

Evan picked up the bowl and brought a spoonful of soup to Neal's mouth. "This is much better than the maconochie*," persuaded Evans. "Try it."

"I'm not hungry." Neal turned his head, looking out of the window.

Hesitantly, Evan put the bowl back.

"Well, then... Tomorrow, okay?" Evan gently put his hand on Neal's shoulder and left.

Half an hour later the nurse came again collecting Neal's untouched bowl of dinner.

Then, someone came again. Neal didn't lift his head. It's the first nurse. She bent to look at Neal's face and showed him things in her hand. Moving her hands around she gestured asking if the items were his.

Neal's heart stopped beating recognizing those items. It's Sid's diary and his unfinished letter to# Candy. Someone must have found it in his pocket and kept them for him.

Neal nodded, reached out his only arm. The nurse smiled and gently put them in his hand.

"Thank you," Neal whispered.

The nurse nodded and left.

Neal stared at his unsent letter to Candy~. Feeling his hurting stump, he felt lucky that he hadn't sent it. What could he do now that he only had one arm and a broken leg? He couldn't hug her like before, he couldn't dance with her, he couldn't carry her# He hated how he became! Good he already told her to forget him should she heard nothing from him. She should never see him like this. Never! Bitterly, Neal crumpled the letter and threw it into the garbage bin.

Numb, Neal lay awake in the dark, gripping Sid's diary. All memories about Sid came back. His laughter, his optimism, his kindness..., his readiness to give his life for him. Always... since the first time they met.

That night when the light had been turned off, Neal held Sid's diary in his one hand and quietly cried and cried and cried#

His grieving was interrupted by a moan. Someone was having a nightmare! The sound grew louder followed by a heavy thud on the floor. Then# a loud scream.

The light was switched on. Neal saw Richard lay on the floor crying painfully. While Neal was wondering if anyone would come to help the poor man, he saw Jim come limping attending Richard. Leaning on his crutches, Jim lifted Richard back to his bed. Jim murmured something and limped outside. He came back with a nurse who quickly closed a screen around Richard's bed.

The nurse left. Jim stayed accompanying Richard until he calmed down. Then, Jim hobbled off to turn the light back off.

Neal lay awake in the dark, sleepless, hurting, until the sun broke. In the morning, a nurse came again to put a bowl of hot liquid breakfast on his table.

Again, Neal ignored it. He glanced at Richard to see how he's doing. Dwight was helping him sit and eat. Good someone was helping that poor fellow, Neal thought.

Then, Evan came again. He picked up Neal's breakfast bowl, persuaded Neal to eat. Neal shook his head and closed his eyes. Reluctantly, Evan put the bowl back down and left.

Not long later Neal felt someone stand next to his bed.

"Morning Leagan." That's not Evan's voice.

Neal tilted his head up to see who's coming. It was Jim, leaning on his crutches. "Breakfast?" He looked at Neal's untouched bowl.

Neal shook his head and looked out of the window.

"You should try to eat," persuaded Jim. He put his crutches next to Neal's bed and sat on a nearby chair.

"Don't want to."

"I heard you didn't eat last night. This is good. Our favorite. Let's try it."

Jim supported Neal's back and put the bowl of warm porridge in his mouth. Warm food. Sid would have loved it. Neal felt the content of his stomach flip at the thought and retched+ before he could hold it. Seemingly had expected that, Jim had a plate ready and put it quickly in front of Neal's mouth.

"Sorry," mumbled Neal.

"That's alright," said Jim, wiping Neal's mouth. "We try again later." He cleaned up for Neal, set the plates away.

"Is there anything else that you need?" Jim asked.

Neal shook his head, looked out of the window.

"Very well, I'll see you later at lunch, then." Jim got up and limped away with his crutches.

Neal was thinking about the slimy yellow liquid he vomited just now. He couldn't believe that Jim still offered to come. Nevertheless, Jim did come back. Also for dinner and the following day# A few days later, after countless of retches and encouragements, Neal finally could eat well without a glitch.

"It's much easier now, isn't it?" said Jim, smiling.

"Thanks."

"It's nothing," said Jim, clearing up Neal's plates.

Jim limped away with his crutches and came back with a pencil and paper tucked in his pocket.

"Today is Tuesday," said Jim. He pulled the pencil and paper from his pocket and put them on Neal's lap. "We can send letters today. You need help with these?"

Neal shook his head. "I can write equally well with either hands."

"Wonderful. Evan will collect the letters at three this afternoon. Be sure to have them ready by then."

Neal nodded.

Jim left. Neal stared at the empty paper in front of him. He picked up the pencil, thinking. How to tell his parents and sister that he's a war prisoner in Germany? And that he's injured, lost half of his right arm, in total bed rest, and later had to walk with a stick!

Could they even begin to understand that? Neal's head span. He collapsed onto his pillow and let his pencil and paper rolled, dropped to the floor.

In the afternoon, Neal heard someone come to his bed.

"Hi Leagan," greeted Evan. "Is your letter ready?"

"No."

"Let me help you write," said Evan, gesturing at Neal's right arm. He bent to pick up Neal's paper and pencil from the floor.

Neal shook his head. "I can write with my left hand." Neal closed his eyes.

Evan gently put the pencil and paper on Neal's lap. "Okay then, your pencil and paper are here. Let me know if you need help."

Evan left to give Jim the letters he had collected from others. Jim was helping Richard with his letter.

"Everyone's letters are here, sir," said Evan. "Except Leagan's. I asked if he needed help. He said no, sir."

Before long Jim stood next to Neal's bedside. Leaning on his crutches, he sat on Neal's bed.

"How's your letter, Leagan? Ready?"

"No."

Jim picked up the pencil and paper from Neal's lap. "Let me help you write. Whom do you want to write to?"

"I don't want to write any letter. Please go."

"You have a family?" asked Jim.

"Yes. Could you leave now?"

"Then you'd bloody better write to your family, lieutenant," Jim persisted. "They must be notified that you're missing, presumed dead, and worried-strict about you."

Neal didn't reply. He looked out of the window again. But unlike Evan, Jim stayed; longer than his nerve was willing to stand him.

"My parents and sister, Eliza," said Neal after a long pause just for the sake of sending Jim away quicker.

Jim bent his head and wrote that.

"What do you want to say?" asked Jim.

"Anything just don't mention that I'm injured."

"But they would know that this is not your handwriting, wouldn't they?"

"I don't ask you to write, do I?" snorted Neal.

"I say that you're recuperating. Sounds good, Lieutenant?"

Neal didn't reply. Jim took it as a yes. He bent his head and wrote that.

"Anything else?"

Neal was quiet for a moment. He turned away and said faintly, "Yes."

"I beg your pardon? I didn't hear you," said Jim.

"Yes," Neal said louder. He looked at Jim. "Tell them I don't want them to write me back!"

Jim stared at Neal. Neal turned away again. Jim silently wrote as requested.

"Done. Anything else?" asked Jim.

Neal shook his head.

"Let me read it for you."

"No need." Neal frowned, exaggerating his impatience. "Can't you tell that I don't care?"

Jim folded the paper into crisp thirds and put it in the envelope. "Address?"

Neal told Jim and Jim wrote it, too.

"Good. Anyone else?" asked Jim.

Candy... The image of blonde hair, green eyes came across Neal's mind. His heart felt so painful that he closed his eyes.

That day, he told her, "Don't worry, Candy, love. None of the bullets has my name in it!% I will not be hit." She believed him. She smiled# a beautiful smile. He opened his arms - two arms - and she jumped into them. He hugged her... carried her. Her eyes wide, emerald and green#

"Lieutenant... Lieutenant..." Jim gently tapped Neal's shoulder jolted him back to reality. His eyes opened, meeting Jim's gray eyes - the greens were gone. He then remembered he's not in one piece anymore. It's all over.

"Anyone else?" Jim asked softly. "I can write more... anything you want me to write."

"No," Neal whispered, shaking his head. "There's no one else. Thank you."

.

-To be continued-

Thank you for reading.

oOo

Notes:

#Stump: many meanings. Here: part of a limb (an arm, say) or a tree branch that has been cut/amputated

^Bonavis: One place in France where the battle of Cambrai took place (November - December 1917)

*maconochie: A kind of canned food. Stew in a can, widely used by British WW1 soldiers.

~ letter to Candy: chapter 23

$forget me if you don't hear anything from me: Neal to Candy, chapter 21

+retch: throw up/vomit

%I will not be hit: see chapter 22

oOo

NEW Characters:

Jim

Evan

Dwight

Rex

oOo

Thank you for following, favoriting! Thanks for the support.

Thank you for writing me and let me know your opinions.


Chapter 26: Spring 1918

One day around Christmas...

"Red Cross parcel!" someone screamed.

The quiet ward suddenly burst into roar of excitements. Those who could move jumped off their beds, running to the door to welcome the only entertainment that came from the outside world. There came a box from the Red Cross containing food and books.

Neal stayed unflinching, kept looking at the leafless tree stumps outside, trying not to think. He should have been home with his family, Sid, Chris, Patty and... his wife, Candy. Now his future with Candy was doomed, he's broken in pieces, and will have no more Christmas with Sid and Chris.

Rex came offering his share of cakes and sweets. Neal just shook his head. He also ignored Jim who came offering books. Jim put a book on Neal's table and likewise to Richard who was sleeping then limped to his own bed to read.

"I'm scared." Dwight whined loudly as he gobbled one cake. "I'll be transferred to the prisoner-of-war camp soon. I wonder what I'll get."

"Some places are a one way trip, you know," replied Rex, chewing his chocolate. "People are starved, left slowly to die. They get there but never get out."

"I wish I lost a limb so I can be interned in Switzerland," moaned Dwight, scared.

"Don't worry, Dwight. Can't be worse than what we went trough...," said Evan, calming his friend.

They looked at one another, not sure if that's true. They then fell silent, buried in their own scary thought, appreciating more every bit of goodies they were chewing.

Neal looked at his stump, amazed that someone could see some luck in having that.

oOo

Spring 1918

.

The winter slowly passed...

Scared or not, finally the order came for Dwight to be sent to the prisoner-of-war camp. Then, Rex, and others. New patients came to replace them, some died from their wounds, some got better, and some got transferred. Time crawled on and soon Spring came# On one afternoon that was unusually hot and shiny, they took the patients to sit outside.

Closing his eyes against the bright sun light, Neal saw last summer... with Candy... She was laughing# The wind blew and her skirt fluttered around her thigh. Her hair was floating in the wind.

Then he heard those voices bark, again. "You abandoned your friends while they're covering you!"

"I didn't ... Stop it...!" said Neal.

"Aren't you ashamed? You're pampered by the Huns who killed all your chums!"

"Leave me alone!Please...,"Neal pleaded.

"Kill yourself! Your chums deserve that much!"

Candy quickened her step and left him. "Candy, please stay," Neal screamed.

Her smile turned nasty. "I don't want you! You're not whole!" she roared with so much hatred in her voice. She ran away.

"You can't even chase her!" The voices laughed. "Nobody wants you. You're nothing nothing nothing...," the voices chanted.

...

...

Neal came awoke with a jerk, his heart beat frantically. Those voices again... Those dreams again... His eyes looked around trying to focus. The blue sky was gone, now it was thick gray.

"Leagan, you're up?" Evan asked from behind him. He was helping Jim move Richard. "Your turn next. We have to go back. Be quick before the storm gets here."

"Alright," said Neal, still trying to calm his heartbeat. He tried to sit up. All at once his leg and arm twinged in pain reminding him again of what happened on that day. He saw Chris falling, Sid dying... It was his fault. He didn't try hard enough to save Sid, to protect Chris...

Neal looked around and noticed that he was alone. Good! He's been waiting for this moment.

Neal grabbed his stick and tried to stand. The first time he did so by himself. His leg began to hurt immediately, sweat readily beaded on his front head. But, he didn't care... He gritted his teeth and forced himself to limp forward. Slowly, he hobbled to behind a thick bush where no one could find him. He stood there, listened carefully to one particular sound which he'd been hearing whenever he's outside. A flowing water from a river, he believed. Slowly, he limped to there, stopped every few steps to rest his aching limbs.

The sound grew louder and finally, he saw it... A river!

He was right! Neal picked up his pace. He knew the German guards would shoot if they spotted him. His leg and arm were in burning pain. He felt freezing water hitting on his face. The rain had started to fall with chilling wind, too. In spite of it all, Neal steeled himself and kept on limping until he got to the river.

Leaning on one tree, Neal gazed at the water...

The last time he and Sid were caught in the rain in a river was when they're in the billet in Farmechon%. In the rain# Just like now.

Jab and Den were pushing Sid to the water which Sid didn't know was only a knee deep. Sid who couldn't swim well was terrified... They laughed... Sid kicked them with water playfully when he found out. They laughed again. Now they're all gone. All of them. Dead! It's so unfair... They were so happy... So young, so full of life.

Your fault! Those voices in his head didn't stop ringing reciting itself again and again.

Tears coursed through Neal's eyes.

My fault. Sid was shielding him... Chris was covering him... and Candy. He couldn't make Candy happy anymore now that he had only one arm and one damaged leg. What's the use of living?

No use! Candy won't want you! Nobody wants you! No one! Neal heard those voices again.

His chest got suffocated with anger until he felt something else was also hurting. His stump might be bleeding again or maybe his knee, thigh, or all of them... Let them be... He wanted to lose blood. The more the better so he could join his friends sooner.

Neal limped into the water. The water was cold, soothing his burning soul. He lifted his stick and threw it into the water. He watched his stick float taken by the current farther and farther.

His stick was gone now.

He couldn't go back. No one would find him here. Who would want to look for a man who's broken in pieces in the middle of nowhere in the midst of the storm?

No one. All would be over soon...

Neal closed his eyes# seeing his friends waiting for him. Sid, Chris, Thomson, Baker, Harry, Charles, and countless more. He couldn't wait to join them.

But... unexpectedly, Neal suddenly felt warmth, someone was covering him with a coat. He then heard a voice, a real voice this time, speaking, "I'm glad I found you, Lieutenant. We've been looking all over for you."

It's Jim. His voice was so sincere that Neal believed he truly meant it. Someone still cared about him although# he's not in one piece any more. Neal opened his eyes and his eyes met real eyes, Jim's eyes. A little part in his heart sparked back alive.

"Have you?" Neal whispered.

"Yes, we have been."

Feeling Neal's body shivering in cold, Jim took off his own coat and covered Neal with it, too.

"Let's go back. It's cold here," Jim said softly.

"I# c-can't. I... I... lo-ssst my stick," stammered Neal.

"Then lean on me," said Jim.

Neal put his hand on Jim's shoulder. But the ground had turned muddy because of the rain. Neal tried to lift his leg. He couldn't. The mud made it heavy. It's cold too. His leg felt stiff and hurt so much. He simply couldn't move. He turned to Jim to tell him that. But, Jim didn't seem to be doing better either. He was equally shaking now that he had to support Neal with his injured leg and stick.

The lighting stroke followed by a loud thunder again# and again# The rain pelted bigger and stronger. So did the chilling wind. The mud sucked their feet deeper. There's no way Jim could make it.

"Leave me here," Neal said. He pulled his hand from Jim's shoulder.

"No!" rejected Jim. He put Neal's hand back on his shoulder. "We... go! Together!" His voice strained. Puffing and panting Jim struggled to move forward. No progress.

"I slow you down! The guards will shoot if they see us."

"I know that!" snapped Jim.

Jim adjusted his position. This time he put Neal's arm around his shoulder so he could pull him off his feet. With the other hand pressing against his stick, Jim tried again. Slowly, they hobbled one tiny step at a time. Exhausted and pierced by agonizing pain in every move, Neal just lost it. Everything turned to hazy gray to him. The next thing he knew, they were already back in the ward. Outside was dark and everyone was already sleeping.

Neal was shivering with cold. Jim deposited him on his bed, pulled off his soaked shirt, and wrapped him with a thick dry blanket; yet Neal's teeth didn't stop chattering.

"Hang on... Just a bit more," murmured Jim encouragingly. He limped away to get the nurse.

One nurse soon came, quickly pulled a screen around Neal's bed. She dried him and removed the drenched dressings^. Some wounds reopened and bled again, the nurse cleaned them and put dry new dressings over them. Then another nurse came giving dry clothes. They helped Neal change, replace the wet bed sheet, and fed him a bowl of warm soup. Finally, the nurse lay him on the bed and tucked a blanket over him.

"Glad you... back" said one of the nurses in English with a thick German accent. "Good night." She smiled as she removed the screen.

"Thank you," Neal muttered. "Good night."

Feeling much better, Neal noticed that Jim was still there sitting on a nearby chair. His head bent, reading. His hair was still wet from the rain.

"That must be difficult for you," said Neal. "It could have been dangerous if the guard had seen us."

Jim looked up, shrugging. "You know that was nothing compared to what we did at the Front."

Neal stared at Jim's leg. "But your leg wasn't injured there."

"It's almost okay. It's nothing really." Jim grinned. He patted his own leg firmly to give Neal assurance.

Neal was not sure if he should believe him. He was clearly struggling just now to take him back to the ward.

"Did you eat?" asked Neal.

"Yes, the nurse kept a dish of potato for me. Nurse Hertha, one of the nicest around here."

"Yes, she is," agreed Neal. He paused. "Why don't you go to bed?"

"I want to make sure you're okay first," replied Jim.

"I'm okay. Go to sleep."

Jim gave a faint cough and closed his book. "Something troubles you. What is it? Do you want to talk about it?"

"Who cares?" Neal whispered. "It won't matter anyway."

"It does to me. You can talk about it with me."

Neal stayed silence. Jim was about to get up and leave when Neal said, "Tomorrow is Sid's birthday."

"The person you often talk about in your dream?"

"Is it?"

"Yes. Every night, " answered Jim. "Who is he?"

"He's one of my men. We're... close. Very close."

"I see. What happened to him?"

"Killed. He died in my arms...," Neal whispered.

"I am so sorry," said Jim. "To watch your chum die is one of the hardest things to do."

Neal nodded mutely. But then, he wondered why he's telling Jim this. He should stop here.

"I'll be fine." Neal muttered, going back to his silent world. "Go to sleep."

oOo

Not long after, Jim and Evan were deemed well enough and were to be transferred to the prisoner-of-war camp, too. Everyone in the ward said good bye to them. Jim went to Richard's bed to talk to him. Richard was getting better, he could sit now and talk with his ward fellows. Jim shook hands with Richard and stayed to chat with him for a while.

Evan cleared his throat to get Neal's attention who was looking outside the window as usual. He gave Neal a piece of paper.

"My address." Evan smiled. "Write me once in a while, old chap."

"Thank you," said Neal. They shook hands and Evan left to say farewell to others.

Not long after, Jim came. He smiled and sat on Neal's bed. "Good morning, Leagan. How are you today?" greeted Jim.

Neal lifted his face a bit. He was planning to just give Jim a farewell handshake and went back to his solitary world when something struck his attention. Jim was wearing a captain uniform! Neal looked up at Jim and for the first time he paid full attention to the man. Jim was only a few years older 每 around mid twenties, more likely. Compassionate face, firm but kind gray eyes.

"You're a captain, sir," Neal murmured, staring at Jim's insignia.

"I'm glad you finally noticed, Lieutenant."

"I'm so sorry," said Neal, erecting his way of sitting. Suddenly it occurred to him that everyone had been calling Jim "sir". "I should have realized it sooner."

"That's not what I meant, Leagan. What I meant was it means you're getting better." Jim smiled.

"You've done so much for me, sir..."

"Someone has to," Jim said lightly. "There's not enough nurses here to care for all of us."

"But you're a captain, sir! And you don't even know me."

"Well, I do now." Jim smiled again.

Neal sighed. "You remind me of my own captain, sir. Your men must be so lost now that you're not with them." Neal quietly remembered Captain Thomson who always be there for his men. If only he were here, things would have been much easier.

"Thank you, Leagan. Where is your captain now?"

"Killed." Neal looked down at the floor.

Jim nodded examining Neal's ever blank face. "How are your wounds, Lieutenant?"

"Much better, sir." Neal raised his head.

"That's great! One day, you'll be transferred too," said Jim cheerfully.

"To where, sir?"

"With your kind of injury, you won't have to go to the POW camp, don't worry," said Jim. "You could request to be interned or repatriated."

Now that Jim mentioned that, Neal remembered one class he attended a long time ago with Charles... Long before all this happened. At that time, he and Charles were not paying attention, thinking they're immune to any explosions and above the bullets. Good old Charles was long gone now and spared from having to face all these. Neal reflected, not sure which was better.

Some Germans in uniform appeared at the door as a sign Jim had to go. Jim took a piece of paper from his pocket and got up. He was so calm, didn't at all look like a POW who's heading to the prisoner-of-war camp.

"This is my address, Leagan. If you had more questions, needed anything or just felt like keeping in touch with an old friend, write me," said Jim.

"Thank you, sir."

Jim gave his left hand for handshake. "Hopefully we meet again in a better time, Lieutenant."

Neal doubted it would ever happen. Nonetheless, he nodded and returned the handshake. "Of course, sir."

Neal watched Jim's back as he left the ward. He opened the piece of paper Jim gave him. It had Jim's full name and contact information.

Captain James Harrell, read Neal. He stared blankly at the paper. Nice captain. He folded the paper back.

Still, what could he do? No matter how kind he was, he couldn't bring Sid and Chris back, or return his right arm so he's worthy for Candy. It just didn't matter anymore.

Then, just like to the address that Dwight, Rex, and others had given him, Neal crumpled Evan's and Jim's paper in his fist and tossed it to the garbage bin.

-To be Continued-

.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for the follows and favorites too - really appreciate the company.

.

Summary: Chapter 24: Neal was wounded. Sid, Chris, Thomson, all died. Chapter 25 and 26: Neal was in a hospital in Germany. Chapter 27: Fall 1918, Neal after the hospital.

.

oOo

Interned: simply speaking, a prisoner who's put in a neutral country, say, Switzerland. Usually because they're very sick/got amputated

*voices: One of the most common challenges war veterans face is hearing voices and having nightmares.

%Farmechon: a place in Somme, France.

^dressing: bandage

POW: Prisoner of War

CO: Commanding Officer

Repatriatied: Returned to home country

oOo

New CHARACTERS: Nurse Hertha , Jab, Den. They only appear in this chapter.


Chapter 27: Fall 1918

Fall 1918

.

In prisoner of war camp in Magdeburg, Germany

.

"Chris! Sid! Run! No!"

"They're dead! Your fault! Your fault!" said some voices.

Shaking his head, Neal was burrying his head in his hands trying to shake the voices to disappear but it kept coming back.

"Lieutenant# Lieutenant #"

"StopStopStop it."

"Lieutenant!"

Feeling a shake on his shoulder, Neal's eyes fluttered open.

"You# okay?" Neal heard.

Neal's eyes finally stopped at the person who's talking to him. "Yes," Neal whispered. "I'm fine."

"Colonel Ehr wants to see you."

Neal swallowed, nodded, calming his rushed breathing. Slowly, he got up and limped to the camp's head office.

"Sir!" Neal made a quick salute with his left arm.

"Lieutenant Leagan! Good! Good, come in! " said the German colonel in very good English. "We can dispense with the formalities, here. Have a sit." Colonel Ehr gestured to a seat in front of his desk. "Cigarette?"

"No thank you, sir," said Neal, remained standing.

The colonel looked marveled. "You're the only Tommy who refuses a cigarette." Ehr laughed at his own statement. Neal's expression stayed unchanged.

Ehr stopped laughing. He reached out to take some cigarettes but stopped and put the box down.

"Well Lieutenant, to continue our discussion... Have you decided where you want to be?"

"Yes, sir. Here. I want to stay here, in the camp," answered Neal.

"You understand that as an officer," Ehr looked at Neal's stump and right leg, "with your kind of injuries, you could ask to be repatriated or interned?"

"I know, sir."

"Why would you want to be a POW? We can't provide you with the health support you need here," said the colonel.

"I like it here, sir."

Ehr studied Neal's haggard looking face. "Any more nightmare, voices, anxiety, stuffs like that?" he asked.

"No. No. No. Nothing." Neal lied.

"Really?" Ehr asked suspiciously.

"Yes, sir! None."

Ehr didn't seem to buy it. He frowned and paused momentarily, thinking.

"Well#" Ehr shrugged, finally. "More likely the war will be over before we start processing the paperwork for your transfer." He looked at Neal again. "But, another concern... If you stay here, as a POW, you need to work. And the hospital says you need to rest."

"I don't want to rest, sir. I'm perfectly healthy. I can work," answered Neal.

"What's your education background?"

"I graduated with distinction from college, sir," replied Neal. For a second, his pale face beamed. "Dual degrees in Economy and Mathematics."

"Impressive," Ehr said duly. "But# I'm sure you know that we have no use of those, here."

"I was a teaching assistant for my English professor in college, sir. I can teach English or be an interpreter. I was our squadron interpreter while we're in France," Neal said. "I know French and some German."

"How much?" Ehr asked in German.

"French is fluent, German is okay. I went to school for a year in Berlin, sir," answered Neal back in German. He felt lucky that his parents took him with them whenever they went to do the family business in Europe.

"Not bad," Ehr answered back in German. "Fine, we could try a language class. I don't think we need a lot of investment for that. Probably just a desk, paper, and pencil?"

"That'd be more than enough, sir."

"Try to get students, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, sir!" Neal saluted.

The camp prepared a little office with a modest desk for Neal's language program. No one came on the first day. No one came on the second day, either, so did the third day and the fourth day# Neal started to get nervous. The program would be closed if no one came!

Then, at the end of the week, someone finally knocked at his modest office door.

"Lieutenant Leagan," a voice whispered faintly.

Neal's heart jumped in excitement. Finally the first client coming requesting his service. He quickly lifted up his face to see who his life savior was.

A German! Neal couldn't believe his eyes.

"I am Thomas Kohl." The man nodded timidly.

For a moment Neal was almost out of words. A German! But, a German or not, he had a job to fulfill as a camp resident. It's his duty to teach him.

"Kohl, please have a seat, " said Neal professionaly.

"I want to learn English. You... Tommy+?" asked Kohl.

"Well... I speak American English, to be exact," explained Neal.

"That... better! I am a chef assistant. I look for an Englisch, uhm# English konversation # no# conversation partner. I# want to# uhm# go to Amerika to work, " he said in half English half German.

"Let's se what I can do for you, Kohl."

They chatted. Neal started slowly talking about basic things and Kohl responded. They kept doing it and and chatted until lunch break. Kohl was impressed.

"Thank you# this mean# no, means a lot," said Kohl, gratefully. "Can I# could I come again?"

"Absolutely, I'm glad that I can be of help," answered Neal, equally excited to hear the positive feedback.

"Can I do something for you, too?" Kohl looked at Neal's stump.

"No#" Neal stopped, hesitated. "Well actually, yes. Please keep coming and be my students# That would ensure they allow me to continue with this language program." Neal grinned.

Kohl told his friends about Neal's language program. Soon Neal got more students, German students! Neal almost couldn't believe it. He never thought he'd be grateful to Germans this fast.

Then, British officers started to show up, too. It started with those who needed help to write letters in French to their French girlfriends or family they met in the billets, then those who came to simply look for things to do to kill time. The camp staffs started to come too, asking Neal's help to communicate with other POWs. Soon, Neal was inundated by work.

The colonel was impressed and let Neal continue with his language program.

Months passed by

One day, things were unusually quiet. Neal was in his office dissecting Die Leiden des jungen Werthers with thick German dictionaries and thesaurus cluttered in front of him, deepening his German skills when Colonel Ehr came knocking at his wide open door.

"The war is over, Lieutenant. You're free to go," Ehr said.

Neal looked at the colonel for one second then blinked.

"Thank you, sir...," Neal said quietly, seemingly unaffected by the big news. "I'll stay until my office hour is over at five."

The colonel shrugged looking at Neal's hopeless blank face and left. From the far Neal heard people celebrating. Later that evening when Neal was packing his stuffs from his office, someone came knocking at the door, he's one of Neal's regular students, Captain Fox.

"Lieutenant Leagan. You're still here?" asked Fox.

"Yes, sir," said Neal. "May I help you?"

"I just want to say thank you for your wonderful lessons."

"No need, sir. That's my job," Neal said plainly.

"No, please... I mean it. You help me rediscover my lost passion, Lieutenant. I have always loved writing but I had never really pursued it until I came to your classes. I will keep writing after I go back to England. I will never forget all the lessons you taught me."

"My pleasure, sir," responded Neal.

"What about you?" Fox nodded to Neal's right arm which was not there anymore. "It must be difficult."

"Fine, sir."

"You know that the war is over?

"Yes, sir."

"Finally we can go home to see our family." Fox laughed. "Isn't it great?"

"I'm very happy, sir," answered Neal without any emotions.

"May I say something? I'm grateful to have you here," said Captain Fox. He studied Neal's unusual behavior. "But I think you are in a wrong place. You should be interned not working." He looked at Neal's stump.

The clock chimed five times.

"I'm perfectly alright, sir." Neal got up. "Five o'clock. I'm sorry, I need to go."

Fox nodded. "If you ever needed a letter of recommendation or references, let me know. I'll be more than happy to write one for you."

"Thanks, sir!" Neal saluted with his left hand. "Have a safe trip home, sir."

Neal limped towards the door.

"Wait, Lieutenant!" called Fox.

"Sir?" Neal turned around but his eyes didn't meet the captain's.

"We have a gathering tonight to celebrate our victory. Care to join us?" offered Fox.

"Thank you, sir. But I've got other plans." Neal declined.

Neal made another quick salute and opened the door. A group of men stood outside the door, chatting. They stopped abruptly when they saw Neal coming and stared at him.

Without looking at them at all, Neal passed them and limped through the hallway.

"Well, sir?" Neal heard someone whispered behind him. He heard a sigh.

"I knew he wouldn't come." Neal heard someone respond.

"I think that poor chap is not well. He shouldn't be here," another voice whispered in pity.

Neal kept limping, through the back door went to outside. He slowly climbed the little hill on the back of the building and sat on the secluded bench there, his usual spot.

"We won the war!" Neal heard cheers and sound of laughter, champagne being popped up. He saw some fireworks burst in the dark sky.

"We go home!"

"We bloody go home!" Someone screamed followed by more cheers and hand claps.

Bitterly, Neal squeezed what's left in his right arm and looked at his stick. Going home... to his family. What would they say if they knew he lost half of his arm and walked with a stick? Could they understand it?

Neal looked up at the evening sky seeing years ago events when he just joined the army with Charles. At that time, he imagined he and Charles would jump out from the train, together, waving their lieutenant caps in triumph at their glorious return. Candy would run into his arms... two arms with no stick. He would carry her and kiss her...

Now, Charles had long gone and look at him...

oOo

In London, a few weeks later...

The train station was full of retuning soldiers. Neal limped downstairs from the train. He's readily welcomed by a nurse from RAMC~ who methodically pushed him to a wheelchair and took his stick. She then ordered a private to push the wheelchair.

"Stop!" Neal yelled.

"What?" quipped the nurse carelessly.

"I am not riding this wheel chair," said Neal.

"You have to," the nurse said blandly. "Standard safety protocol... You'll be taken to the hospital for final check up and then released to your family."

"I didn't ask you why. I'm telling you that I'm not riding this wheelchair," said Neal.

"I'm sure a doctor had explained that your wounds are not really healed yet and you've lost so much weight. Your condition is still dire and needs extra precaution," said the nurse in a monotone voice. She looked bored.

"Whatever! I'm still not riding this bloody wheelchair!"

"I have to insist, Lieutenant... It has to be done. No other way."

"Watch me," said Neal. He turned to the young private who's pushing his wheelchair.

"What's your name, Private?"

"Bradley, sir."

"Bradley, give me my stick and get me out of this bloody wheel chair," said Neal.

Instantly, Bradley stopped pushing. He looked at the nurse, confused.

"It's an order, Private," barked Neal with his officer tone. "Don't' make me repeat it."

"Of course, sir," said Bradley, didn't dare to contradict the more superior officer.

"Oh, Christ!" said the nurse.

The private gave Neal his stick and bent to help Neal get up.

"I can manage," said Neal. Bradley quickly pulled his hands back.

Relying heavily on his stick, Neal tried to get up. Then everything turned black.

When he's up, he found he was in a bed with a needle sticked in his wrist. Frustratingly, Neal tried to remove the blood transfusion needle that's sticked in his arm.

"You try to make my job hard, don't you, Lieutenant?" sighed the nurse.

Neal kept trying to to remove the needle with his only hand. He couldn't reach it.

"Take this bugger off me," Neal said exasperatedly.

"If you want to die, do it later. Don't do it under my shift. I hate the interrogation," said the nurse impatiently. "What is it with you? Friends died? Dumped by a girlfriend? Stop it, I say... Argh! Can't you appreciate how precious fresh blood is?"

Fresh blood. Life. Sid's pale face. He lost blood... In need of blood.

"I am wasting blood...," Neal moaned.

"And my time... I could have attended someone else who's truly in need of help rather than having to watch a stubborn officer."

Neal's heart burned. He forced his eyes open to meet the nurse's. "Pease leave. Watch someone else. Don't waste your time on me."

"Yeah, right." She rolled her eyes.

"I promise I won't cause anymore trouble. J-just... just... don't let my family see me like this."

"If you had said that earlier, things would have been much simpler isn't it, Lieutenant?" She took a notebook from her pocket. "Very well. How do you want to see them?"

"I walk by myself. No wheelchair. No supports. Don't tell them anything about my arm and leg. I'll do it myself."

"Fine. I'll make a note of it," responded the nurse. She wrote it down.

-To be continued -

Thanks for reading... This chapter is short so I'm quick.

Thank you for the support. Thanks for waiting.

Ooooooo

Die Leiden des jungen Werthers: The Sorrows of Young Wertherby Goethe

+Tommy= British soldier

~RAMC: Royal Army Medical Corps

Colonel Ehr, Private Bradley, Captain Foxㄩ only appears in this chapter


Chapter 28: Family

REMINDER:

Arthur = Neal's father, Sarah's husband

.

.

In Leagan mansion, London, England

.

Sarah came home from work early today.

She checked her watch. Arthur and Eliza will be home soon. They'd come home early too and together they'd go to pick up Neal.

Sarah climbed the stairs, hurried into Neal's bedroom which she had redecorated meticulously following each request her son described in his correspondence - before his letters stopped coming abruptly, more than a year ago.

It's been a while, thought Sarah as she walked about the room, making sure everything was perfectly put. She smiled imagining Neal's reaction when seeing his new bedroom. He probably would grin or perhaps he had forgotten about it and would laugh out loud in surprise. She smiled.

"Mother!" boomed Eliza. entering the room with a wide grin. "We know we can find you here!" Arthur followed behind her. "We're home. Let's go!"

"You think Neal will like his new room?" asked Sarah.

"I'm sure he will. You've been working so hard on it," replied Arthur. He smiled and put his hand on his wife's shoulder.

"The blue bed sheet fits nicely with the furniture. I just wonder why he asked for brown curtains though," Eliza snorted. "Doesn't he have enough seeing khaki* or perhaps the mud!" She giggled.

"But that's what he wrote last year, right? He wanted brown," said Sarah. She looked at her husband.

"Right," confirmed Arthur. "We can ask him why he likes brown later." He waved the letter of appointment in his hand. "We need to go now, darling."

Sarah smiled, anticipation lighted on her face. Arthur noticed. The first time she's like that since more than a year ago or perhaps two since Neal joined the army.

"Happy, dear?" asked her husband, softly.

"Of course mother is very happy," teased Eliza. "We all are."

"It's weird that we have to go to hospital to pick him up, though," said Sarah, nervously.

"Probably for precaution," shrugged Arthur, unsuspiciously. "He's coming from out of the country, you know."

Sarah only nodded. Holding her husband's hand on her right hand and Eliza's on the other, the three of them walked hand in hand to the car and went to the hospital.

The hospital was crowded with the veterans and their families. Sarah and Eliza flinched seeing so many soldiers limping using stick, crutches or pushed in wheelchairs with one or more limbs missing. A corporal greeted them and directed them to the officer line. They were seated on a wooden bench in a long dark corridor with awful smell of antiseptic. All staffs looked tired and overworked.

"Such a long line!" complained Sarah. Eliza grunted likewise.

"It's better that them," said Arthur. He pointed to the non-officer line which was up to the main road.

After some time, their turn arrived. An impatient staff interrogated Arthur to verify information like rank, birth date, and more. Then, she gave a pen to Arthur and asked him to sign pages of forms.

"What is it that I am signing?" asked Arthur.

"Discharge forms." She looked at the clock impatiently. "Just sign!" she barked.

Arthur looked at his wife who was as clueless as himself. He shrugged and signed.

After all forms were signed, the staff opened the final folder. "Now, listen carefully." Her voice monotone. "First Lieutenant Neal Leagan has lost a lot of blood and weight. His right arm and knee are not fully healed and he needs to walk with a stick."

Sarah looked at Arthur, dumbfounded.

"S-stick? Lost b-blood? W-We didn't know that," stammered Sarah looking at her husband.

"Well, it's the fact," the staff said curtly. She continued reading. "Your son wants to be treated like a normal person. Be sure don't treat him out of the ordinary." She looked at them from over her glasses. "A private will take you to meet him."

She shouted for someone and a young private appeared. She nodded to him, seemingly glad that she could get rid of one more family.

"No# wait. I am not done yet. I have questions...," fought Sarah.

"Next!" The staff ignored Sarah.

"Hey-," protested Eliza.

An impatient family members pushed them to get their turn. They were quickly whisked away and when Sarah looked back, their seats were already taken.

The private took them to a dark corner where they saw one man standing leaning on a book shelf. He was looking out of the window.

"Mr. and Mrs. Leagan, your son, Lieutenant Leagan," the private said. He moved forward to give Neal a salute and left.

Sarah, Arthur, and Eliza stood, waiting for Neal to turn around. But he didn't flinch and remained quiet. Three of them looked at one another, puzzled.

"Neal?" Sarah started.

"Mother, father, Eliza," greeted Neal quietly. He turned his head a bit before turning back to stare out of the window.

It didn't feel right. Neal usually ran to hug her. How come he didn't? Sarah moved forward approaching her son.

"Neal." Sarah reached out her hands to hold her son's arms. "How are you d-" To her shock, she found only an empty sleeve in where supposed to be Neal's right arm.

Sarah gasped. She remembered the nurse said that Neal's arm was not fully healed. "Your arm#?" In horror, Sarah squeezed the empty sleeve. Completely forgetting the nurse's advice to stay calm, Sarah stammered, "Arthur... h-his arm..."

"Oh?" Eliza screamed, covering her mouth with her both hands.

Neal turned from the window to face his father, waiting for his humiliating reaction.

"Welcome back, son. We miss you," Arthur said simply. He stepped forward giving his left hand for a handshake.

Neal looked at his father suspiciously but couldn't tell what he actually had in mind. He knew his father well. Even when the worst news hit the company, he could stay calm in front of clients or investors although inside he was anything but.

"Darling," said Arthur to Sarah. "Let's take Neal home first. He must be tired."

Neal picked up his stick that he leaned on the wall. "I'm not tired," Neal grunted and started to limp.

"Oh Mother, Neal is using a stick!" cried Eliza.

"Oh my God...," Sarah whispered. For a moment she was too shocked to do anything and could only stare at his son. His face was pale and hollow, it lost all the tan. He's extremely thin. His eyes were blank and cold almost like unseeing with dark circles around them. "Neal, what happened to you?" Tears began to pour from her eyes.

Neal didn't answer. He looked at his suitcase and then to his father. Someone had to carry that. It's too heavy for his right knee which wasn't properly healed.

Arthur promptly stepped forward to pick up the suitcase.

"No servant?" asked Neal dryly.

"It was too crowded. We didn't take them in. That's alright." Arthur dangled the suitcase handle using only his two fingers. "It's very light." Sarah nudged her husband's elbow. Arthur cleared his throat and glanced guiltily at Neal.

Neal pretended not seeing them and started to limp.

Outside they're met by the driver's assistant, Paul, who gave Neal a pithy look. Neal looked around to avoid seeing his face. It struck him to see that many tall buildings standing and such a large crowd wearing civilian clothes. He looked at them, they looked back at him, staring pithily at his stump and stick. Neal looked at the road to avoid their sickening glance.

"I drive," said Arthur cheerfully. "We all can sit together in one car. How does that sound, Neal?"

"How many cars do you take here?" asked Neal. Behind him, Sarah and Eliza were crying non-stop, disturbingly mumbling pithy comments.

"Two, dear," said Sarah, still sobbing.

"I want to be by myself." Ignoring everyone's stare, Neal looked at Paul, "Take me to one car."

oOo

Less than half an hour later, they arrived at the mansion. Paul swiftly opened the door and extended his arm to help Neal get off the car.

"I can manage," said Neal, refusing the offer.

Putting his weight on his stick and left leg, Neal brought himself out of the car. His family and servants immediately surrounded him offering help.

I don't need help," said Neal. He limped to the front steps.

"Mrs. Leagan, Master Neal could use the kitchen door. It has no stairs there," one servant whispered.

Neal set off to climb the steps, pretending not hearing.

"Poor master Neal," Neal heard when he reached the top of the stairs. He heard sobs.

"Should we move his room to the first floor, Mrs. Leagan?"

Ignoring everyone, Neal limped and disappeared into the mansion. His parents and sister followed and they gathered together in the family room like usual. Two servants soon came to serve a platter of refreshment and tea. They glanced at Neal's stump then quickly looked away pretending they hadn't looked.

"We're happy that you're home, Neal," Sarah said.

Neal nodded.

"Eat something, dear," said Sarah, offering a plate of sandwich to her skinny son. "Your favorite."

"I'm not hungry," Neal answered.

"How did the Germans treat you?" asked Eliza.

"Well."

"Did they starve you?" asked Sarah.

"No."

"What did you do there?"

"Teacher."

"Wow! You were a teacher? They didn't confine you in a cell?"

"No."

Neal heard a hush of surprise from everyone. "So, why didn't you write us any letter?" asked Sarah.

Neal didn't reply.

"Everyone sent best wishes to you," Sarah said, trying a different topic.

Neal stayed silence.

"William had been asking about you. He's in London now. How about having a welcoming party for you this weekend? They have a baby boy and you can also meet -"

"I'm not going to any party," said Neal.

"Oh why not, dear?"

"I don't want to scare them." Neal moved his stump, gestured at his stick.

Sarah didn't reply. That was quick. She didn't even try to argue with him like she used to do. She must have thought so herself, Neal thought.

"I don't want to see William, either," quipped Eliza, supporting her brother. "We can just invite Neal's friends, say, Chris and Sid."

"Yes, of course. Are they back in England, dear? You always said you wanted to invite Chris and Sid here."

Neal didn't reply. He abruptly turned around and looked out of the window. Sarah, Arthur, and Eliza looked at one another.

"Neal, dear," tried Sarah again. "Do you want Sid and Chris to come over?"

"Yes," answered Neal, his voice heavy with irony. "But, they're dead."

Neal heard a gasp from his sister.

"I'm sorry," whispered Sarah followed by a similar mumble from Arthur. She didn't know what else to say but silence simply was unbearable. Neal never stopped talking in the past, eagerly telling her what he's up to. She looked at Arthur.

"What did you teach?" asked Arthur, supporting his wife.

Neal slowly shook his head and exhaled. "It didn't matter," Neal muttered. He struggled to his feet. "I'm tired. I go to my room."

Neal picked up his stick and limped crossed the room to the main hall where stood the grand curvy marble staircase led to the second floor. He stopped, staring at the tall stairway.

"Let me help you, son," said Arthur quickly stood next to his son.

"I don't need help," said Neal sharply. "I can climb stairs!"

Neal turned to several servants who're lingering around the stairs. "Get out!" he barked.

The servants instantly stopped whatever they're doing. In gripping silence they glanced hesitantly at Arthur. Arthur nodded to them. They gave a slight bow and left.

Neal arrived at the foot of the stairs. Balancing himself on his stick, Neal started climbing up, dragging his right leg, a step at a time. Progress was slow. Before long he was beginning to feel out of breath. His stump was throbbing and the pain over his right leg was back making it feel stiff like covered by dry mud.

Mud! Like that in the trench# the no-man's land... the muddy battleground where Sid and Chris fell. He heard those voices again which never quite stop, making him sway almost tumbling down the stairs.

"Let your father hold you, Neal," screamed Sarah as she watched it. She was worried sick seeing her son limping on a stair relying only on a thin stick and with no free hand to hold the railing.

"No!" Neal limped on, focusing back on his step.

Halfway toward the top, just around the curve where the staircase bent and narrowed, Neal misplaced his stick. His half right arm hugged the stair railing just in time to keep him from falling but his stick fell out from his grip. It rolled down with a sickening clatter on the stairs.

"Father, Neal's stick!" Eliza shrieked. She had stopped breathing since the moment her brother hung dangerously with only half arm.

"Oh, Arthur! Hold Neal!" cried Sarah equally tortured.

"I don't need help!" Neal shouted, steadying himself against the railing. Once balanced, he lowered himself to sit on the stair and reached for his stick but it's too far. Frustratingly, Neal stretched his arm farther and farther more than his stiff leg could support. His feet slid and he slipped two stairs down.

"Oh! Father, do something," cried Eliza helplessly.

Sarah couldn't stay still anymore. Ignoring her son's demand, Sarah jumped up the stair to help Neal but Arthur grabbed her arm. He looked at his wife and shook his head. Gently, Arthur pushed her back and quietly climbed up the stairs himself. He picked his son's falling stick and crouched next to him, handed him his stick.

Neal looked at the petty-looking object which his life so dependent upon, very much tempted to scream, break it into two and throw it as far as he could. He hated to use it, he hated everything. But, it's better than asking for help!

With rage, Neal snatched his stick from his father's hand, pushed it on the ground and took several more desperate attempts to lift himself up.

"Let me help you, Neal," Arthur said calmly.

"I don't need help!" Neal yelled angrily.

"Oh brother!" Eliza cried frustratingly. "Why?"

"Neal let your father help you!" sobbed Sarah.

"I can do this!" Neal roared.

"Son," said Arthur patiently. "We know you can." Calmly, Arthur gave his hand. "But, for once lets just do it together. Please..."

Somehow, this time Neal didn't object so Arthur inched closer and pulled him up. Once he was back on his feet, bitterly Neal shook his arm to release it from his father's hold and, without uttering a single noise, he began to climb up the stairs again.

When Neal finally reached the top of the stair, his leg ached so badly and he was so out of breath.

"Father?" Neal called between his breathes, leaning momentarily against the wall to rest his limbs and draw deep breaths. "May I ask you a favor?"

"Of course, son. Anytime."

"If you don't think I'm too embarrassing, can I go to work with you again?"

"Delightedly." Arthur nodded firmly. "I can't be more proud, Neal," Arthur said. His voice steady, his eyes looked straight into his son's.

Neal looked away, didn't believe that was true.

"After things settle down in say, a week or -"

"Tomorrow," Neal demanded. "I want to start tomorrow."

"You should rest, dear," pleaded Sarah, looking at Neal's tired face.

"I don't need a rest!"

"But#," muttered Eliza, looking at her brother. "How would you# Don't you think he should get a wheelchair?" Eliza looked at her mother.

"I don't need a wheelchair!"

Neal picked up his stick and continued limping to his room with his family following behind him. In the doorway, he stopped, looking around to see if he's in the correct place. His room looked different.

"Surprise..," said Sarah, trembling with hope. "Do you like your new room, dear?" She hoped finally she could see something positive shine from her son's frozen face.

Neal stared at the brown curtain and suddenly he smelled acrid scent of explosives and

heard the whiz of flying shrapnels. Chris fell on his machine gun, Sid lay dead in his arms. He came back home alive leaving them alone in the cold mud. Had they found their bodies? Would they ever? Neal almost choked.

"C-could we change the curtain?" Neal whispered. "Now."

"T-to what color?" asked Sarah, dumbfounded.

"Anything but brown," Neal yelled. He banged the door close so his family didn't see him break down and cry.

Eliza's face fell. Sarah started to sob. Arthur pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his wife's tears.

"He changed so much," sobbed Sarah.

"It can't be easy for him," Arthur whispered gently, giving his wife a hug. "Give him sometimes to adjust, darling."

Eliza watched her mother cry in her father's arms. Her mother had changed so much. She never cried before but these two years she had been in tears. This morning finally she smiled thinking she'd meet her son soon. And now... This?

oOo

The following day, Neal found all his suits were too big for him. Sarah got new sets of suits fitted for him and on the third day Neal started going to work.

"Let me help you with your tie, Neal," said Sarah before Neal got into the car.

Neal didn't reply and let Sarah knot his tie.

"You look handsome, dear," she kissed her son's cheek. Neal saw her eyes glisten.

"Bye, mother," avoiding her eyes Neal limped into the car.

"I'm glad that you're coming with me to work again, son," said Arthur when they entered the Leagan London corporate office.

An elegant young blonde readily leaped up greeting Arthur with the most polished smile.

"Good morning, Mr. Leagan - ," she faltered when noticed Neal who's limping behind her boss.

"Morning, Maddy. My son, Neal," introduced Arthur.

A look of alarm crossed Maddy's face. She gazed at Neal's stick and right arm, then back again. Neal felt lucky that he had learned to toughen himself up while working for months in Germany.

"Mr. Neal Leagan," greeted Maddy, finally. She extended her right hand for a handshake. Neal sticked out his left hand.

"Sorry," Maddy mumbled. She pulled her right hand and changed it with her left hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Neal Leagan."

Arthur personally took Neal to his office. It's brand new, much grander than his old office.

"What do you think?" Arthur looked at his son, grinning. He walked to the window and pointed to the next door building. "That building is ours too now. We just acquired that this year."

"Nice!" For a brief second Neal's heart sparked, until he remembered himself.

He always wanted to emulate his father. He's a very accomplished businessman and yet he had a loving and successful marriage, too. Few men could have both. Sadly, he would never be like him because without Candy he would never get married, ever.

Neal felt his eyes getting watery, he was grateful that Maddy came again distracting his father's attention from him.

"Everyone is ready for the morning briefing, Mr. Leagan," said Maddy to Arthur.

They walked there and Neal limped there. Maddy opened the conference room door which already full of staffs. Silence fell as soon as Neal limped inside. Again, people looked him up and down with some didn't bother to even shut their mouth.

"My son, Neal Leagan, is back," said Arthur briefly.

Neal heard some gasp. He looked up and many quickly turned away awkwardly. He was so sure if not because he's the son of the chairman, they would have been staring longer.

"Do you need help, Mr. Neal Leagan?" A man got up ready to lend his hand as Neal limped to his seat.

"No, thank you."

"Would you want a wheelchair, Mr. Leagan?" added someone, trying to be helpful.

"I don't need a wheelchair," snapped Neal.

OOooo

Time moved on. One weekend, Neal was siting in the living room with Eliza, pretending reading when a servant came.

"Master Neal, Ms. Candice Andrew and Sir William are outside want to see you," the servant announced.

"Ask them to leave," said Neal, his eyes never left his book.

"Great Neal," murmured Eliza.

The servant left and came back."Ms. Andrew insisted on coming in, Mr. Leagan."

"You're deaf? I said ask her to leave!" barked Neal.

"She refused." The servants started to sweat and tremble. "I don't' know what else to tell her, Mr. Leagan."

"Tell her I'm dead. Who the hell cares? Just make her go!" Neal bellowed.

The servant trembled, looked hesitant.

"Let me do it," volunteered Eliza, much to the servant's relieved.

"Good#," said Neal, trusted that his sister would do the job well.

Eliza left the room. When Neal heard Eliza's heel echo along the corridor, he limped to the window. Hiding behind a curtain, Neal saw the Andrew's car leaving the mansion.

"Goodbye, Candy," Neal murmured. I love you. This is what best for you.

His chest was in agonizing pain more painful than being pierced by bullets. Neal lifted his right arm to wipe his tears and all he found was a stump, no hand. Neal stopped crying right away. He felt thankful instantly that he asked Candy to leave. She should never see him like this, ever.

Not long after Eliza came back.

"Done. Candy is gone."

"Good job, sis. Thank you."

"You want to know what I told her?"

"No need. I get to go now, visiting some friends."

"Let me call the driver."

"No need. I don't need help, I can use a cab."

Ignoring her shock face, Neal put Sid's diary and Chris' address in his pocket and limped outside.

oOo

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading.

Oooo

*khaki: another way to call British WW1 uniform. The color is like brownish

Arthur = Neal's father

William = Albert. He's married with someone, chapter 5

OOooo

Thanks to my reviewer :

Sabrina: Back to be only you and me ;) We'll be done in around 8 chapters. ABOUT STEAR: I tried to make Stear the soldier appears earlier but i can't figure out how without diverging the storyline too much from Neal! I can't wait to show you how he appears later. I hope you'll be "surprised" by his grand entrance instead of a let down. In manga, he's a WW 1 officer! I had never appreciated its importance until I wrote this story. Thank you.


Chapter 29: Extended Family

Neal took a train and then a taxi to the farthest area a car could enter then he continued the journey on feet to look for Sid's house. He scanned the vast plantation land around him, everywhere looked the same, flat land with no visible houses.

Undeterred, Neal kept limping to wherever the road took him until his leg felt hurt and stiff. He stopped to take a break and looked around hoping to spot a passerby to ask for directions. After a while he saw a boy coming, limping with a pair of crutches. Neal looked at his stick then the boy's crutches. Felt challenged, he limped quicker to catch the boy.

"Excuse me!" called Neal, intersected the boy. The boy stopped. "Do you know where the Tanners live?" asked Neal.

Neal busily coordinated the fingers in his only hand to unfold the address paper and hold his stick at the same time. With his stump, he gestured to the address.

"The Tanners?" the boy murmured, reading the address. "Yes. This way, sir."

Exuberantly, the boy limped forward. Neal tried to limp as quickly trying to keep up with the boy until he was sweating like in the hottest of summer and out of breath. Luckily, the boy stopped.

"It's here, sir." The boy pointed to a house hidden behind a bush under a big tree. "Whom would you like to see?"

"Robbert Tanner," said Neal panting, wiping sweat all of his face.

"Oh," the boy's eyes widened. "That's me."

Immediately, Neal looked down at the boy, carefully studying his face, the color of his hair, the broad kind smile, and eyes that shining with free spirit. Suddenly Sid came back alive in front of him although much younger and alarmingly pale and thin. Sid never mentioned that Bob was this thin. In addition, he walked with crutches.

"You're Bob?" Neal looked closely at his small crutches, legs, pale face, then back again, until he felt embarrassed to himself. He hated people looking at him that way and he had been overdoing it to Bob. "Sid's youngest brother?"

"Yes, sir."

Neal suddenly felt his legs weak. He slowly sank onto a nearby pile of ground.

"Sir, you okay?" asked Bob. Without hesitation, which reminded Neal a lot of Sid, tiny Bob moved forward ready to support the man double his size.

Neal nodded. He patted the ground asked Bob to sit next to him. Bob cautiously inched closer. Neal took Sid's diary out from his coat pocket and showed it to Bob.

Bob's eyes widened, obviously, he recognized it. "S-sid's diary#!" stammered Bob.

"Yes," Neal whispered. His throat began to tighten.

Bob picked up the diary from Neal's hand, his eyes nailed at the book. "M-my brother's d-diary..." Tears started to trickle down Bob's face. Bob opened the diary, flipped a few pages, and started to cry out.

Neal moved forward and pulled Bob in a hug, squeezed him as tightly as he could, regretting even more that he couldn't take Sid back to the trench^ to save him. If only he could, there would have been three of them together here right now. He squeezed Bob tighter for Sid, his friend who's not here. But Bob didn't seem to notice, he cried inconsolably, his thin body shook in tremor.

"Your brother is very brave, Bob," said Neal, attempting to comfort the boy. "He saved my life. So many times," Neal blinked back tears. "I'm so blessed to be his friend."

"Y-you're his friend?" Bob whimpered, looking at Neal.

"Yes. My name is Neal. Neal Leagan."

"Neal Leagan?" Bob muttered. "Lieutenant Leagan?" Neal nodded. Bob pulled away, wiping his tears in his sleeves. "I know you! You wrote almost all of his letters!"

"Yes. So I know a lot about you too," said Neal, attempting to smile. "I never knew that you walk with crutches, though."

"It happened recently," the thin boy sniveled. "Mam said I'm sick."

"Oh? What kind?" asked Neal worriedly.

"Our doctor doesn't know. He said we have to go to a hospital in London to get it checked."

"And? Did you go?"

"Not yet. Mam said later after our work gets paid," Bob said. "So I have been working to help mam."

"You work? What about your school in Eton?"

"Mam is worried that Eton is too far now that my leg isn't well. But no worries after we get paid, I will go to see a doctor, get my legs cured , then I'll go back to Eton, " Bob said with innocent confidence. "I promised Sid Oxford." Bob clenched his teeth. His tears dried up in an instant. "I will go to Oxford!" Bob's eyes blazed just like Sid when he determined on something. For a second reddish color shone in Bob's pale face.

The memory of Sid's love and hope for his brother crossed Neal's mind.

"Sid always said that he's very proud of you, Bob," Neal said between his greeted teeth. "I agree with him. Tell me, do you like Eton?"

"Yes, sir. I do."

"Good. Can I see your mother?"

Bob nodded. "This way, sir."

Neal watched the little boy limping with his little crutches. Casting back his head, he looked up at the sky. He could imagine Sid's face among the cloud watching his little brother. Sid, I will take care of Bob. Don't worry!

Bob took Neal to behind the house. It's winter, it's cold... but a woman was bending over a big tub washing clothes using freezing water. A pile of clothes lay next to the tub.

"My mam," said Bob to Neal. Bob came to his mother.

Neal understood from Sid that Mrs. Tanner had been working very hard for the family after her husband died. It showed. She looked sad and tired with all her hair almost turned gray.

"Mrs. Tanner?" greeted Neal.

"Yes." She readily straightened herself and dried her hands on her apron. After giving some introduction, Bob left so his mother could have a private talk with Neal.

"The doctor said Bob's illness is treatable if we're hurry. But we just don't have any means to do it," lamented Mrs. Tanner.

"Ma'am, could I help, please? Allow me to take Bob to a hospital in London and put him back in Eton."

"Eton is another story... There's this fee that they have been waiving," she sighed. "And now that he's ill..." She stopped, shaking her head. "I'm just a simple woman, Neal. This is too much. I don't know what to do."

"Please let me take care of it then, Mrs. Tanner," said Neal reassuringly. "I'll talk to Eton. If Bob needs to pay the fees then I'll pay it."

Mrs. Tanner looked hesitated.

"Eton is also very close to London. It'll be easier for him to commute to the hospital if he's in the dorm. I promise I'll put him in the best hospital in London and get him the best team of doctors to look after him," added Neal persuasively.

Mrs. Tanner looked stunt, she stared at Neal's boyish face. He might be her son's officer, but he still looked so young in her eyes. All these young boys. So young... And yet they perished or became victims of the war. She looked at Neal's stick and his half right arm. He's just a boy. God knew what he had to endure at the war.

"You're very kind Neal. But, someone needs to pay for these. It's... very costly."

"I'll take care of that too, Mrs. Tanner."

"Neal, what if we can't return your money? Honestly, I don't think we can, ever." She gestured at the piles of clothes she had to wash.

"I don't intend to ask for any payment back," answered Neal softly.

"Do you know how much these cost?" Mrs. Tanner asked, incredulously.

"No, I don't. But I know I can do it, ma'am."

She was standing frozen, wide-eyed, trying to decide if Neal was insane or joking.

"I mean it, ma'am," said Neal, firmly. "I really want .to do these for Bob."

Mrs. Tanner sighed, seemingly debating to herself. "This is good for Bob# But, my poor baby, he'll be... alone#" Her face winced worriedly.

"He doesn't have to. You can accompany him to see the doctor."

Mrs. Tanner glanced at her house. "I can't be there..."

"Yes, you can. I will arrange a private driver and a fully furnished house with servants for you close to Eton in Berkshire. You can commute at anytime or just stay there and accompany Bob whenever he went to the hospital," Neal said gently. "Is that good enough for you, Mrs. Tanner? If not, tell me what else I should do to ease your worries."

"Neal... T-That's not what I meant!" Mrs. Tanner stammered, flabbergasted. "No! I can't possibly accept that. It's too much."

"Yes, you can ma'am. Even that, it's not enough. Because without your son, Sid, I won't stand here right now to talk to you."

Upon hearing her son's name, Mrs. Tanner burst into tears.

"I miss him," she sobbed. "He's a good son."

"I bet he is," Neal limped forward to come to hug her, fighting hard to not cry himself.

"He's a very good man. I miss him, too."

oOo

After convincing Mrs. Tanner to accept his help, Neal took off to visit Chris' wife, Kathy. He hopped in a train and a cab before he finally arrived at the address.

Kathy was a young woman in the early twenties. She looked just like in the photos Chris always carried in his pocket. She had dark red hair, just like how Chris described her. At the first sight, Neal could guess she was Kathy.

"Neal Leagan?" Kathy muttered after Neal introduced himself.

Neal was about to give more information about himself but Kathy seemed already knew him so well.

"Chris often talked about you," she said. "He always said you're his chum."

"Did he?" asked Neal, touched.

Kathy nodded.

"Come on in." She made a sign for Neal to follow her.

She took Neal pass the living room to one bedroom. She gestured towards the door inviting Neal to enter. Neal limped to the doorway and instantly he's welcomed by a soft scent of baby powder. At the same time, he saw a little baby crib inside. His heart stopped beating. Neal limped closer to the crib. There's a baby boy inside. He was sleeping.

Neal turned to look at Kathy. "Chris'?" Neal whispered.

Kathy nodded.

"Did he know?" Neal asked.

"No. He was killed before I knew that I was pregnant with Christopher."

Neal felt like the whole sky was falling down. Leaning on the crib, he bent to gently stroke the baby's soft cheek with the back of his hand. His hair was dark blonde just like Chris'. Tears blurred his vision as he remembered Chris smiled widely telling him that he's married, the wedding photo Chris kissed before climbing the ladder and going to the no-man's land...

Then, Neal heard quiet sobs. Kathy was crying behind him.

Gently Neal pushed her with his stump and led her out of the room. He leaned his stick on the wall, limped to close the door, and wrapped the grieving young widow in his arm. Her sobs broke free, he could feel her body trembling giving him a glimpse of the massive heartbreak she was having. Neal hugged her until her tears subsided.

"How did he die?" Kathy asked when she finally pulled away from Neal's arm.

"Do you really want to know?" asked Neal.

She nodded.

"He was firing the machine gun to the enemies," answered Neal, painfully watching the scene which he still tried to get over with himself.

"Why it had to be him who did that... why?" Tears were dripping from her chin.

Neal hesitated, didn't feel like talking the details and that he was the one who asked Chris to cover him so he could capture the second machine gun*.

"Then a shrapnel broke...," said Neal avoiding to answer her question. "He got hit..."

Kathy stifled a cry and sobbed harder.

"Was he in pain?"

"No. I don't think so. It should be instant." Neal paused. "I'm sorry," he said in a thick voice. "I'm so sorry, Kathy. But at least he didn't have to suffer..." Unavoidably he looked at his own arm.

Kathy saw that. "But at least you came back," she said.

Did I?, thought Neal bitterly. He didn't reply.

"Chris said when the war is over, we should invite you here to be our children's godfather. Now the war is over, we have a baby, and you are here# But he's not here. It's not fair#," cried Kathy brokenly. "It's not fair!"

"No, It's not fair at all," said Neal checking his tears. He paused. "Kathy, could I still be Christopher's godfather?"

"Could you, please? That's what Chris always wanted." Kathy cried harder.

It just never ends, isn't it?, thought Neal. Tears sprang to his eyes. He felt so exhausted utterly tired by all these tears and for pretending nothing happened and tried to move on...

The war is over?, Neal thought bitterly. Who says so?

.

-To be continued-

Thanks for reading and for still being here following the story.

Next chapter Neal sees hope. Thanks for sticking with Neal during his darkest hours. He'll get through it very soon.

.

REMINDER:

Bob = shorthand of Robert

Sid was killed in chapter 23. Neal couldn't save him and regretted immensely. Discussion about Bob, Eton, Oxford: chapter 19

ETON: One of the most famous and expensive schools in the UK. Their scholarship program is legendary. Bob won one (chapter 19).

Mrs. Tanner: Sid and Bob's mom.

Kathy: Chris' love. Chris was killed in chapter 23.

*Capturing the MACHINE GUN, chapter 23: Neal wanted to capture the second machine gun and asked Chris to cover for him but a shell broke hitting Chris... Neal felt guilty. He regretted that it's not him who covered for Chris instead.

.

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Chapter 30: May 1919 (A)

May 1919 in Leagan mansion...

.

"I thought you're supposed to meet me and accompany me to the charity dinner tonight," said Arthur sternly to his wife. Flowers in his hand.

Sarah who was sniffling didn't respond.

"A husband who comes back tired from work would appreciate seeing a smile from his wife once in a while not tears day after day." Arthur tossed the flowers to a coffee table next to Sarah.

"Neal has been screaming in his room. His nightmares are getting worse," sobbed Sarah. "Something is not right!" Sarah buried her face in her handkerchief, crying.

"I like him much better now than before he went to war," said Arthur tightly, trying hard to control his temper. "He's more responsible, dedicated, and hardworking. I am sure he's just upset that he lost his arm."

"Can't be. There must be something else...," sobbed Sarah.

"Beg William to give Candy to Neal. We know that he went to the damn war because of her."

"Eliza said Candy came and Neal refused her." Sarah cried tearfully.

"Whatever. Don't cry! Talk to Neal. Find out!"

"Neal is not talking to me anymore!" Sarah cried harder.

"Sarah, please... can you stop crying?" asked Arthur, frowning at his wife. "You've been crying every single day for three years. The war has been over for half a year now, why the hell are you still crying?"

"What!" screamed Sarah. She stopped crying immediately.

"I want you to start accompany me to formal events again! I hate to always go alone and I need to see you smile once in a while!" Arthur demanded.

"Selfish, selfish man! Your son is suffering and all you care is a wife who welcomes you home with a smile and behaves like a doll!" Sarah angrily smashed the flowers to Arthur's feet. "Can you be more self centered than that?"

"Me? Self centered?" growled Arthur, equally irate. "I take Neal to work every day. What do you do other than crying?" He kicked the flowers away. "Whatever happened to the strong woman I married to?"

"Whatever happened to the considerate man I married to?" Sarah growled back. She took off her wedding ring and threw it at Arthur."I am sure as hell I won't accompany you to anything at all."

She slammed open the door. "I'm leaving you!" she screamed before slamming it back closed.

Arthur sank to the sofa... A few minutes passed, Sarah didn't come back. Long more minutes passed, much longer than usual, and she still didn't come back...

Arthur exhaled deeply and picked up the wedding ring Sarah threw and went to look for her. She was outside lying down on the hallway floor, crying. A servant was kneeling nearby, not sure what to do.

Arthur waved his hand to dismiss the servant and crouched in front of his wife.

"Darling#," called Arthur, softly.

Sarah lifted her face and readily dropped herself to Arthur's arms, her husband of twenty five years.

"I can't, Arthur#," cried Sarah. "If Neal knew I left you because of him, he'd get so depressed." She covered her mouth with her hands, suppressing her sobs so her son didn't hear it.

Arthur held her tight, she buried her face in his white shirt and broke down completely.

"Oh God, Arthur#," Sarah wept freely. "What happens to Neal...?"

"I don't know my dearest," said Arthur, burying his face in his wife's hair. They hugged in silence until her sob a bit subsided.

"Sarah," called Arthur. He brushed the tears from her cheeks and took the wedding ring out from his pocket. "Please wear this back."

With eyes full of tears and lips too trembling to form words, Sarah only nodded. Arthur slipped the ring back in his wife's finger. They looked at one another and she fell back to his arms to cry some more.

oOo

Neal's parents agreed to force Neal to go to a hospital to see a psychiatry or a doctor. But Neal refused adamantly. They argued and fought daily.

"Hell DOCTORS! No HOSPITAL! I'm Fine - I DON'T NEED HELP !" Neal screamed.

"Please Neal, we care about you," sobbed Sarah desperately.

"I! DON'T! NEED! PITY!" Neal yelled.

"It's not about pity! It's about your sanity," cried Eliza, supporting her mother.

"WHAT! So you think I'm crazy?" shouted Neal, looking at them. "I'm not! You all are not me!" Furious, Neal left them and limped to his room.

"You are crazy! No sane man would abandon his chum!"

"Shut up! What do you know!" shouted Neal.

"Without you, Christopher would have had a father!"

"Shut up, I say!"Neal screamed. He turned around but there's no one. He's alone in his room.

Must be those damn voices again. Madly Neal kicked down the night stand next to him.

Some old magazines fell off. Neal looked at them. His own photos were on the covers printed big with large letters around them, "Neal Leagan: the Hottest Bachelor Alive", "Most eligible Bachelor", "The World Sexiest And Richest Heir",

Neal laughed cynically. He slammed the magazines to the floor and stepped on them. With his only hand, he started to tear the pages, and threw them into the fireplace. He lit the fire and burn them.

"Do them a favor shoot yourself!" The voice sounded again from deep within himself.

Angrily, Neal bent to tear more pages but he lost balance and fell onto the floor. His limbs hurt so much, he squeezed his eyes shut, trembling in pain.

Why did he have to exist anyway? He had taken care of Bob. He had attended Christopher's baptism as his godfather... It's time to put an end to this!

Limping, Neal went to his closet and reached for a box on the top shelf. It's still there. He took it down and opened it. His gun... That cold metal object never failed him. He then limped to the drawer next to his desk, groping for the small box at the bottom of the drawer. He took it out and opened the box. There were only a few bullets inside, but that's enough. He needed only one bullet!

Neal picked one bullet and tried to load it inside his gun. It's so hard to do with one hand. The bullet kept slipping from his fingers and rolling down the floor. After several missed attempts, Neal frustratingly smashed the gun to the floor and rested, catching his breath.

He heard footsteps outside his bedroom. His mother knocked and called him. He ignored her. She slid something under the door. Must be letters. His last letters...! After she left, Neal limped to the door and looked at the letters. There were letters from lawyers, mail catalogs, cards from people he didn't even know... He tossed them all away until his eyes caught one green army envelope.

His heart stopped beating readingthe name of the sender. James Harrell*.

Neal was so surprised that he almost fell off. Captain Harrell?

He leaned on the wall and read the name again to make sure he read it right. James Harrell. It's correct!

Neal pressed that envelop to his body with his stump, and limped taking it to his desk. Trembling, he slit open the envelope. He took out the letter and read it.

.

Lieutenant Neal Leagan,

I hope this letter reaches you. We moved to a new address, see below.

I wish you sound health and happiness.

An old friend,

Jim (James Harrell)

.

Jim's new address followed at the bottom. It was written neatly and clearly as though inviting him to come.

Neal stared blankly at the letters. "An old friend"! He reread the letter again.

Captain Harrell! He remembers me, thought Neal, surprised. He never thought about Jim at all.

If you had more questions, needed anything or just felt like keeping in touch with an old friend, write me,suddenly Neal remembered Jim say before they parted in Germany.

Slowly emptiness dissipated like summer thunderstorm. Neal stared at Jim's handwriting then his gun, then back at the letter again.

He... might understand, thought Neal.

Slowly he put the bullets back in the box and hid it back inside the drawer. He picked up his gun and stored it back inside the closet. He then dag out his soldier uniform. He changed his suit with the khaki, just in case Jim forgot how he looked.

Neal then put Jim's address carefully in his tunic pocket. He took his army backpack, dump some stuffs in it and waited in the darkness until there's no more noise and his parents and sister went to bed then he sneaked out of his room. Slowly, Neal limped to the train station.

By the time Neal arrived in the train station, the last train had left. Neal didn't feel like going back home. He scared of his bedroom. He had enough of hearing voices, waking soaked in sweat in the middle of the night from nightmares and seeing horrid images.

Neal sat on the bench in the station platform, thinking about Jim and waiting for the morning to come. Exhaustion finally got him and he fell asleep#

The following day, Neal was woken up by an old woman tapping on his shoulder. She offered him a loaf of bread.

"I bring food," Neal lied, declining the offer.

"Please accept,"said the old woman. "I lost two grandsons, one at the Somme and one at Gallipoli. They were so young, just like you."

"I'm sorry," said Neal. He accepted the bread she put on his hand. "Thank you."

The old woman looked at Neal as though he's very lucky to survive. She squeezed Neal's hand and continued on her journey.

Neal took the first train that came. Around ten in the morning finally he arrived at Jim's house. The housekeeper opened the door and told Neal that Jim was in his office.

"Do you know where his office is?" asked Neal.

The woman looked hesitating to answer.

"I am his friend," said Neal. Straightened up like an officer, Neal showed her Jim's letter. He also on purposely unbuttoned his coat so she could see the lieutenant uniform he's wearing inside. It seemed worked. After she saw that khaki, she went inside and came out with an address. Neal felt lucky that he chose to wear his soldier uniform.

"He should be in Sandhurst," said the woman, giving the address to Neal. "A bus is coming in fifteen minutes but the bus stop is quite far. I can call a cab for you."

"No, thank you. I can walk," snapped Neal.

She shrugged.

Neal turned and hobbled slowly to the bus stop. He missed a few buses and when finally he arrived in Jim's office it was already past lunch hour. Again, he felt lucky to wear his military uniform. Everyone treated him with much respect, they even saluted.

Jim's assistant took Neal inside and let him sit in the waiting room. Neal was grateful that he finally could sit. He had been walking all morning, his leg was hurting badly and he felt dead tired.

People entered in and out the office. Neal looked up at the doorway every time the door opened. He knew no one. He started to feel nervous. What if Jim forgot him and mistook him for someone else when writing that letter?

Then, the door opened again. This time it followed by the sound of chair screeching across the floor as the private jumped to his feet to salute.

Neal turned his eyes to the doorway. This time, he saw a familiar man standing there. He was looking back at him with that pair of gray eyes. Jim! He still looked the same except now he stood straight without a stick. The injury in his leg seemed to have completely healed.

"Lieutenant Neal Leagan!" Jim started, visibly surprised.

Supporting himself on his stick, Neal slowly stood up. "Captain Harrell, you remember me?"

"Yes! Of course!"

Neal felt like a ton of burden was removed from his shoulder. He hadn't felt this much relief for a long time. His legs felt weak suddenly, his stick fell from his trembling hand and he tumbled to the floor. Jim rushed forward and caught Neal just in time before he hit the floor. In a flash, the private rushed to help his commanding officer support Neal as well.

"Leagan, you're alright?" called Jim. Neal didn't reply. His eyes were shut.

"Ryan, call the ambulance!" Jim told the private. "Get a doctor ready. We take Lieutenant Leagan to the hospital!"

"Yes, sir," prompted Ryan, ready to flee to execute order.

"Sir," Neal muttered, slowly opening his eyes "Don't take me to the hospital."

Ryan who heard that instantly froze, looking at Jim, confused.

"Why not? You look quite ill." Jim stared at Neal. His eyes looked tired, his face was as white as a sheet of paper. He had alarmingly lost so much weight.

"I don't want to, sir," said Neal.

Jim stared at Neal again for a moment, assessing. Then, he yelled trough the doorway, "Privates!"

Neal's heart leaped up at Jim's loud voice. In his mind, Jim was a man who patiently cared for him and others like a nurse in the hospital. He almost forgot that Jim was actually a commanding officer.

In a flash, several privates appeared.

"Sir!" they said one by one as they walked through the door.

Jim nodded to them and they disappeared. With swift military efficiency they soon came back bringing an extra chair, stool, hot water, tea, milk, sugar, and more. They seated Neal in Jim's office and put his legs on the stool. Then, Jim dismissed everyone and closed the door.

"How are you, Leagan?" asked Jim. He gave Neal a cup of warm tea mixed with sugar and milk and helped him drink.

"I'm fine, sir. I just need a little rest."

"You had lunch?" Jim put the cup down and glanced at the clock. It's almost two thirty.

"Not yet, sir." Neal told Jim that he had been on the road since last night. The only thing he ate ever since was the bread given by the old woman in the train station.

"Leagan, what's wrong?" asked Jim, deeply concerned.

"Nightmares# voices# all the time. Never stopped. I can't take it anymore," replied Neal. His voice slurring with exhaustion. "Please... help me, sir."

"We should talk more about this but it's better if you eat fist." Jim frowned, thinking. "I ask someone to take you home. I drop by this evening after work."

Neal shook his head. "I don't want to go home, sir."

"Ooh?"

"I wait for you outside, sir," said Neal.

"Let's pick somewhere indoor," suggested Jim. "What about my home?"

"I don't want to hassle you, sir."

"No, it's not a hassle at all."

"I can stay in a nearby hotel, sir."

"My home is better. You can rest well there," persuaded Jim.

"What if I just lie down on the bench outside your office, sir?"

"Lieutenant!" Jim stood up. "You go to my home!" He straightened himself. "The privates will take you there. You eat, rest, we talk tonight."

Jim opened the door and called the privates again. They reappeared and Jim talked to them. Neal was too tired to listen and just closed his eyes. After what they went through in Germany~, he could trust Jim.

The privates took Neal to Jim's house. They helped Neal settle down, change his clothes, clean him, prepare food, feed him, and soon Neal lay down clean, comfortably and warmly in his bed. Not long after, someone came knocking at the door. A pretty young woman about the same age as himself entered delivering an extra blanket.

"I'm Agnes, Jim's wife," she introduced herself with a kind smile.

Neal felt uneasy right away. He didn't consider the possibility that Jim was married. He's so used to be with his fellow soldiers living in the in the trench with only among themselves.

"Sorry I wasn't here to welcome you when you came," Agnes continued. "I'm a middle school teacher. The kids finished late today."

"A teacher? Nice!" praised Neal courteously. They exchanged friendly greetings.

"I hope I don't cause any in inconvenience," Neal said awkwardly.

"Not at all, don't worry. Jim does this all the time to his chums," answered Agnes generously.

After reassuring good welcome from his hostess, Neal took a good nap, perhaps his first true rest after that fatal day. Neal then took a walk outside enjoying fresh air and came to join them for dinner...

...

-To be continued-

...

Thanks for reading. Neal finally gets help! We're all so relieved , right!

We will finish in a few chapters.

Thanks to all Neal's fans who're still here.

.

REMINDER:

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Arthur= Neal's father

Christopher: Chris' son (chapter 29)

Somme, Gallipoli: Ones of the many battlegrounds of the First World War

Sandhurst: Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK

*Jim = James Harrell.

~Jim and Neal in Germany: chapter 25, 26

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Chapter 31: May 1919 (B)

After dinner, Jim took Neal to a living room to have a chat.

"From your accent, you are not British, are you? American?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your family must be far away from here."

"They came to visit me, sir. "

"Good!" said Jim enthusiastically. "You should have no problem to look for someone to talk to!"

Neal's face turned stony. He didn't reply.

Jim glanced at Neal and changed the topic. "What happened to you after I left? Did you get interned?"

"No, sir. I went to a prisoner camp."

Jim looked at Neal's stump. "A seriously wounded officer is entitled to receive a special care. Didn't they tell you? I think I did, didn't I?" (1)

"Yes, you did, sir. They did, too," Neal shrugged. "I just don't want to be treated any differently than others."

Nailed at his spot, Jim looked at Neal, dazed. The clock ticking on the wall. "Well, I'm glad I remember your address right," said Jim(2).

"You have an impressive memory, sir."

"It's useful." Jim grinned. "Especially in the battlefield when paper and pen don't come in handy."

At the living room, Neal stopped to look at a wedding photo hung on the wall. Jim explained that he and Agnes were newlyweds Neal politely offered gracious words. Agnes who happened to pass by heard all. Her cheek turned rosy flushed in a newlywed blossom.

"We're expecting out first baby." Jim took his brides' hand of a few months in his and kissed it. He smiled to her before she left.

Neal felt hugely uncomfortable. "I will move to a hotel tomorrow morning, sir."

"You are not staying in a hotel, Lieutenant."

"I can't stay here, sir. I shouldn't -"

"Oh yes you can and that's an order!" Jim snapped.

"Sir-"

"Leagan," said Jim, patiently. "You don't want to be interned, you don't want to go home, you don't want to go to the hospital. It's about bloody time that someone watches you closely."

"But, sir," said Neal, hesitatingly. "How could I make you do such a big favor to me?"

"Everyone who is in that bugger war is my chum. My home is your home. Make yourself comfortable."

"Well, if you say# so-," Neal faltered as he noticed the military insignia Jim wore on the wedding photo.

"I thought you were a captain, sir?"

"I got promoted after the war," explained Jim. "They put me back in Sandhurst to get a higher degree in military study."

"Major James Harrell!" Neal straightened himself, reflex for seeing a higher-ranking officer. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that."

Jim shrugged and helped Neal sit in a sofa. "I'm also a student and we're at home. Skip all formality, call me Jim."

"I'd rather not, sir," Neal declined humbly.

"Okay. But I will call you Neal instead of Lieutenant Leagan. Are we alright with that?"

"Yes, sir."

"What about you, Neal?" asked Jim, sitting himself across from Neal. "Can you do what you did prior to the war? There's the pension plan from the government, but it's good to keep busy doing things you like."

"I work with my father, sir." Neal stole a look at Jim who seemed clueless at the name Leagan. He didn't want to discuss it. He never did, not even to Sid, Chris, or Thomson.

They talked about something else. They also chatted about other people they met in Germany where Neal sadly learned that Evan(3)didn't make it in the camp.

After a while Neal felt tired again. He had been on the road since last night. He couldn't help to yawn and excuse himself. Jim took Neal to his room, lent Neal some clothes since he didn't bring any, help him change and clean up.

"Sir, can you help me?" asked Neal before Jim left and closed the door.

"We will work on it together, Neal," Jim promised.

Knowing that he's not alone, Neal felt better. The following day while Jim was going to work and school, Neal took a walk around the area and stopped by in a post office to write his family a letter.

oOoo

Days passed by, the change helped but days later the nightmares came back. Rather than staying in bed, Neal went outside. He sat next to the kitchen door waiting for the sun rise and fell asleep. He was woken up when Jim opened the door to look for him.

"Nightmare?" Jim asked offering Neal a cup of tea. He sat next to Neal.

Neal nodded.

"Did you try to talk to someone? Your chums perhaps, past officer? It helps to talk about it with somebody."

"They were killed on that day, sir."

"Oh dear."

Both men were silent.

"What about your folks*? You said they are here."

"They don't understand, sir."

"No one other than us who went to that bloody war can understand, Neal. You ought to give them a chance."

"No use, sir. They will just get scared or cry."

They sat silently again. Jim sipped his tea and Neal stared blankly into the space in front of him.

"Try me then," said Jim eventually. "Talk to me."

"I-I'm not sure where to start, sir."

"You can start with Sid," said Jim softly. "Or the other chap whose name you often call out. Chris, is it?"

"Do I? Sorry to disturb your sleep, sir."

"Neal, you never disturb me. I stay up late doing my study that's why I can hear you," said Jim. He looked at Neal. "So?"

"It's-," Neal began, then stopped himself. "It's hard, sir," said Neal, looking down at his empty tea cup.

"Spit it out, Neal," Jim prompted. "Whatever it is, it will only get worse unless you share it with someone."

Neal bowed his head further down but didn't speak.

"All right then, I can speak first," said Jim.

"You have nightmares, sir?" Neal lifted his head, didn't expect to hear that from Jim.

"Oh, yes. Everyone does," replied Jim. He stretched out his legs and put down his tea cup down.

"It was in spring of 1915 when I first came at the Front in Festubert for my first assignment as a captain." Jim looked at Neal. "Imagine a greenie who came fresh directly from school and had no combat record. Got that, Neal?"

Neal nodded.

"One day, we had a heavy fight." Jim continued. "I and a few privates were separated from the rest of the troop and got trapped in a trench. Suddenly a shrapnel exploded inside the trench. It left me untouched but it killed the privates and left one young chap called Stan wounded. It's a kind of wound that left one died agonizingly slowly. You know what I mean, Neal?"

Neal nodded again. He saw many of such things.

"Stan begged me to shoot him but I couldn't. I was so frightened."

"Oh no, sir" said Neal, sympathized. He knew that to kill one's own man was one of the hardest things to do for first time officers.

"The heavy bombing kept on for hours. I couldn't go out to call the medics," Jim reasoned. "Throughout the time, Stan was begging me to kill him. I wished a shell would explode to finish me so I didn't need to hear anymore of his cry. I was crouching in the corner closing my eyes and ears debating all kind of ethnic moral issues trying to decide what the correct thing to do while this poor chap lie in miserable pain. When finally the bombing stopped and the medic arrived, Stan died."

"Oh sir, that must feel horrible," said Neal.

"I could have ended his agony hours earlier but I wasn't brave enough. Can one forgive that kind of officer, Neal?"

"I'm sorry, sir," said Neal. "But you shouldn't blame yourself. There're always those times where what's right or wrong is hard to say."

"Precisely! So whatever is troubling you, Neal, I'm sure you had given your best judgment. And given the condition at that time, that must be the most correct thing to do."

"I'm not so sure about that, sir," Neal said glumly. "At that time, Sid also asked me to shoot him."

"Oh Christ! And Sid is your old chum!" said Jim remembering what Neal told him in Germany.

"Yes#" Without looking up Neal told Jim the troubling story about Sid and Chris that he had never told anyone else.

"Then, Sid jumped to shield me from a German and got himself killed..." Neal looked at Jim. "I saw life fell away from him, sir. His eyes got dimmed. He's watching me. He knew he died in the German's hand which he really hated! Oh sir, Sid must feel humiliated to die that way."

Neal buried his face in his hand.

"And Chris#, " Neal continued. "He wanted to leave to capture a machine gun but I told him I'd do it. So he stayed. Then a shell broke killing him. Oh sir, if he hadn't stayed there, he wouldn't have been killed."

Sighing, Jim shook his head.

"Chris was a newlywed, sir. I met his baby a few months ago and he didn't even know he had one."

"That's sad!" sighed Jim.

"I killed my chums, sir," Neal whispered, looking down. "Christopher has no father now and it's my fault. My fault!"

No one spoke.

After a long moment Jim finally exhaled and said quietly, "Neal, it's very unfortunate but I don't think you killed them."

"You don't, sir?"

"You can't dictate how the bullet picks its target. We don't know where or when a bullet would hit. Probably if you were the one who stayed, the shell wouldn't burst there and burst in some other place close to Chris. We don't know."

"And for Sid's case." Jim frowned, gestured at Neal's stump. "From how you described how the Huns did the attack, I doubt you could have gone back alive to the trench let alone carrying Sid who's badly wounded."

"Then I should have shot Sid earlier, just how he wanted it to spare him from being killed by the Hun."

"It's hard to kill one's own chum. I bet you wanted to try all you could to save Sid. You couldn't know if Sid would be killed along the way."

"I think I just refused to accept it. He was bleeding badly, sir."

"Neal," Jim said pointedly. "The point is, I don't think Sid regretted dying in the enemy's hand for you. I would be glad to die for Stan at that time and he wasn't even my chum. Would you, if your situation were reversed?"

Neal held his breath seeing the event folding again before his very eyes. He would delightedly die for Chris and Sid. Without doubt! He would do anything - anything at all to trade his life with theirs then.

"May I ask... How did you manage your Stan's problem, sir?" asked Neal.

"At that time I was so badly shaken by guilt! It was my fellow officers who pulled me through. They were rallying supporting me and my CO gave me words of encouragement. They# understood."

Neal slowly nodded.

"Say, Neal. You want to come with me to Sandhurst today? You can check our veteran office and meet others. You can see what soldiers do too when there's no war." Jim grinned. "It's quite different. They need to give us an extra drill to ensure we don't get fat!"

Neal grinned... The first time Jim saw it.

0000

Days passed by# Everyday Neal went with Jim to the campus. While Jim was taking his classes and did his work, Neal walked around the campus. He visited many places including the veteran center. It was great although deep inside Neal thought he could organize it better# On the way back home, Neal met Jim in the park outside his office and they went home together.

"Such a gorgeous day," said Jim, one day. "You want to use a car or walk?"

"Up to you, sir."

"Walk is fine?"

"Yes, sir."

"You like Sandhurst?" asked Jim as he nodded to a captain who stood to attention and gave him a smart salute.

Neal told him his opinion. They continued chatting as they walk to the farther bus stop to catch the bus home. Inside the bus Jim picked a stack of envelopes from his bag and passed Neal a letter.

"You get a letter from your father, Neal."

Neal unfolded the letter and read.

"My Dearest son Neal,

On the day you left, I went to work without you. My heart felt very heavy and was flooded with sadness, until I received your letter.

We are relieved to know that you are in good hands. About your concerns, let me reiterate how proud I am to you, son. This company is yours. Take your time to sort out things. Whenever you are ready, just come back. I, the Leagan corporation and its entire staff will welcome you back whenever that would be.

We love you, never forget that.

Take care,

Father, mother, Eliza.

"

"This one is from your father for me, but I think you should read it too." Jim passed another letter to Neal.

Neal exhaled a deep sigh and gave his father's letter for Jim for him to read too.

"

Dear Major James Harrell,

We received Neal's letter today. He told us many things about you. After reading that, I realized that we had failed to reach out to him in the way he needs the most. Although we love him, our lack of understanding of his situation sadly caused all these unintended consequences.

We're so fortunate that there's you, sir, who Neal trusts and who can understand him and is willing to help. You have no idea how helpless our situation here at home. We just hope that this is not too much for you to do.

I also want to thank you for writing us from Germany on Neal's behalf^. We were devastated when the regiment notified us that our son was "missing, presumed killed". Without your letter, I doubt my wife could survive another day.

Sir, please help look after our son. Kindly tell Neal that we love him. In spite of everything, I hope he understands that much, at least.

For all the favors you've done to us, please accept our deepest gratitude. My wife wants to pay you a visit to thank you in person but I think we should refrain doing so until Neal is ready to meet us. If there's anything we can do to thank you, sir, just tell us. It'd be such a tremendous pleasure for me and my wife to do something to you in return.

Very truly yours,

Arthur Leagan

"

"They love you Neal," said Jim after Neal finished reading.

Neal inhaled sharply. "Yes, sir." Tears welled in his eyes imagining the difficulties he had caused his parents and sister. He remembered his tearful mother. She used to be so strong and she had been crying daily because of him.

"Oh sir, I have been bad."

"Don't worry too much, Neal. I think they understand."

While Neal was silent thinking about his family, Jim was staring at the letter.

"Leagan corporation... Arthur Leagan#," Jim finally murmured. "I'd be bugger..." He looked at Neal. "Your father is not that famous American industrialist, is he?"

"The press refers to my father as that American industrialist(4), sir. Arthur and Sarah Leagan are my parents," Neal shrugged.

He used to be so proud of being a member of that prominent family, like it's the most important thing in life. But after he went to war, he saw many things that money couldn't buy. Having chums, Sid's sacrifice, unconditional kindness Jim and Agnes had been giving him#

"Oh, wow," Jim whistled in awe.

"Does it matter, sir?"

"No," quipped Jim. He shrugged. "Not a bit. To me you're still the same old chap I met in that hospital ward." With the most somber look, added Jim to himself but didn't say it. He went back to sort his mails leaving Neal reflected in silence.

"Oh Neal you have one more letter here. Your parents must have forwarded it to us," said Jim, passing another envelope to Neal.

Neal opened the envelope. It's a letter and a card from Bob which he made by himself. He had caught up with his school work and grabbed back the top spot. Neal proudly showed it to Jim.

"King's scholar(5)! Jolly good!" said Jim. "Who's Bob?"

Neal told Jim about Sid's brother including his illness. "My staff took him to another hospital visit. He made a great improvement and had a promising prognosis." Neal passed his staff's letter to Jim.

"That's wonderful, Neal!"

Neal felt so happy he could do something for Sid's brother. He smiled. The first time Jim saw it#

oOoo

June 1919: A week later

It was early in the morning, outside was still dark when Jim got up from his bed.

"Jim," called Agnes. "You're up? Oh no! Nightmare?"

"No, darling. Did I wake you?" asked Jim. "I heard someone open the kitchen door. Must be Neal."

"You said he's already fine."

"I was wrong, Agnes. I think there's something else that troubles him."

Agnes checked the clock. "You were studying until late last night. Do it later."

Jim kissed her. "I'll be fine, dear. Sleep more. You and the baby need it."

Jim went downstairs and took two cigarettes with him. As he had guessed Neal was outside sitting on the ground next to the kitchen door. He was looking into the far distance. He startled when Jim opened the kitchen door.

"Good morning!" greeted Jim, pretending to be cheerful.

"Morning, sir." Neal nodded.

Jim sat down next to Neal.

"It'll be a nice day!" Jim looked up at the partially dark sky, predicting.

Neal didn't respond. To him every day was equally dark and gray.

"It reminds me of# You know what Neal? I first met Agnes about four and a half years ago." Jim blushed. "That night I couldn't sleep thinking about her and went outside until dawn."

"You did, sir?" asked Neal. The memory of his first meeting with Candy came back alive. He remembered her cute smile the first time she stepped into the mansion. How she trembled in cold shortly later after he poured a bucket of cold water over her(6). Poor girl.

"Yes, it was only a few weeks before I was sent to the Front," recalled Jim. "I wrote Agnes a lot of letters from the trench so she didn't forget me. Thank God, it seemed work." Jim chuckled, playing with the two cigarette in his fingers.

"Good sir."

"I never thought of asking you this. If you don't mind, Neal, are you married?" Jim asked.

"No, I am not married, sir," answered Neal. He hoped Jim would talk about something else other than the topic about relationship.

"A dear lady is waiting for you in America?" Jim pushed on.

"No, sir." Neal's voice caught. He looked down to avoid Jim's eyes and thought about Candy.

Jim pushed a cigarette to Neal's hand. "We don't really smoke anymore... But for old time sake, why not?" Jim checked at his watch. "Five thirty# the time the sergeants were getting ready to wake the men, remember?" Jim chuckled.

Neal nodded, looking blankly at his cigarette.

"For those who had overnight duty in the trench what else did they expect other than getting their chums coming with ample cigarette supply!" Jim laughed.

"Yes, sir. With that bloody rum."

"My man used to say with rum and fags his tongue would hold no secret."

Neal nodded.

"I have my class soon, I can't drink. But you can have one. Want one?"

"No, sir."

Jim lit his cigarette and bent to lit Neal's with his.

"You haven't told me about her, have you Neal?" Jim asked, blowing out smoke from his cigarette.

"'Her'#, sir?"

"Your recent nightmares are about one person you never tell me about. Pardon me if I don't suppose to ask this. Who's Candy?"

-To be continued-

We're really almost done!Seriously# Maybe 2-3 more short chapters.

Thank you for reading! SO MUCH

oOo

REMINDER:

Arthur = Neal's father

(1)Jim did, chapter 26

(2)Jim remembered the address when he helped write Neal a letter home, Chapter 25

(3) Evan: chapter 25

*Folks means family here

^Jim wrote to Neal's parents: chapter 25

(4)American industrialist = billionaire , Old term

King's scholar: recipient of Eton college prestigious scholarship.

(6)How Neal welcomed Candy, a scene from manga

oOo

ThaNk YoU for Sabrina!

Sabrina: Thanks for the support. Yup# I like Sarah and Arthur too. Unlike Neal and Candy here, they have been married for YEARS and have kids. It's# just... different. YUP! Jim is totally cool. Again, Jim is adapted from "Light and Darkness" by Wendy Lawrance. I couldn't sleep after I read about that character in that book# So, I decided to pair him with Neal. Thanks for sharing the excitement with me. This is very important to me. Thanks for noticing Jim, Sarah & Arthur.


Chapter 32: June 1919 (A)

Neal lifted his eyes, surprised that Jim knew that name. Seeing his reaction, Jim realized that he was bringing up a very private topic.

"You know that I study until late every day," Jim explained uncomfortably. He blushed. "So I heard you# crying... Last night was especially bad. And again, you mentioned this name, Candy-"

Neal didn't answer. He just looked away with a shadow of deep sadness crossed his face. It was so pitiful so Jim stopped and waited for Neal to speak.

"She's... a girl, sir," answered Neal after a while.

"Okay#. I think I got that figure out," said Jim.

"I love her, sir," Neal whispered.

"Does she love you?"

"The last time I saw her# yes."

"When was that?" Jim asked.

"November 1917."

"Did she know that you love her?"

"Yes. At that time, I promised to marry her after the war," Neal replied.

"November 1917? Now is June 1919. I gather something happened in between?"

"I went back to the Front and got injured. I haven't contacted her ever since, sir," said Neal, staring emptily at Jim's glowing end of cigarette.

"You promised to marry her and yet you haven't contacted her for more than a year?" Jim asked.

"Something like that."

Jim's eyes widened.

"That's for her good, sir," Neal explained. "I've told her to forget me if she doesn't hear anything from me in a few months~."

"I see...," said Jim slowly. "Still, don't you think she should at least know that you're alive?"

"I'm sure she knows about that from some relatives," Neal shrugged, taking a deep inhale of his cigarette.

"You could have explained to her why you stop seeing her instead of simply disappearing. You used to care for her - deeply, I suppose?"

"I care for her very much, sir. Still do," Neal corrected Jim. "It is because I care for her that I stop seeing her." He moved his stump and right leg. "She deserves to be with a perfect man who's whole and in one piece." Neal swallowed to check his emotion and not to cry in front of Jim.

"You were that perfect to her?"

"Uhm# well#," Neal fumbled. His face colored in embarrassment remembering his awful treatments to young Candy. He felt lucky that Jim didn't seem to follow gossips news. When Albert rejected his engagement proposal to Candy, the tabloids were outrageously exploding!

"It didn't matter, sir. What matter is I was in one piece!"

"The thing you call as being 'in one piece' is not a requirement to be a man," said Jim flatly.

"It is!" returned Neal adamantly.

"Maybe to you but certainly not to me, not to Agnes, and not to many people I know. Perhaps not to Candy either. To be sure, you should hear her opinion directly from her."

Neal looked at his stump and stick. "And let her see these?" he retorted cynically. "Sir, she will throw me out of the door!"

"We don't know, Neal. On the other hand, she might be still thinking about you just like you are still thinking about her. Don't you want to find out?"

"No!" Neal shook his head firmly. I'd rather lose her than take the risk." He lifted his stump, imagining Candy see it with her large eyes that opened even larger. "I reckon you understand, sir."

"No, Neal. I seriously don't. The way I see it is she might not think the way you think. In that case you'll lose her over nothing."

Neal turned away from Jim and looked down at his stick without responding. Jim smoked his cigarette and stayed equally silent.

"Sir... I don't know#," Neal murmured, after a while.

"Well, I know," Jim quipped. "I think you should go to visit Candy."

"It's been a long time. She might be with someone else." The image of Terry with perfect amount of limbs dancing with Candy crossed his mind.

"Maybe. But who knows she loves you that much that she decides to wait a little longer," replied Jim.

Neal shook his head and looked at his stump.

"Regardless what the outcome is, you might have one less nightmare after you sort out your problem with Candy. Isn't that worth the risk?" asked Jim. He patted Neal's back in encouragement

The sun shone brightly, the birds started to chirp. The newspaper boy came and tossed the paper to the ground. Jim got up to pick the paper. He stretched and turned off his cigarette.

"I go to my class. You're coming today, Neal?"

"I'll go later, sir."

That evening on the way back home from Sandhurst, Neal told Jim about his decision.

"Sir, I found out that Candy is still in France. I'll go to France to look for Candy tomorrow."

"Tomorrow! That soon?"

"Yes. Before I change my mind."

Neal said good bye to Agnes that night. The following day, Neal got up early in the morning to get ready for his trip. Jim came to see him off and gave Neal some books.

"In France, many things would remind you again of the war... If it's too much just close your eyes or read in the train."

"Thanks, sir."

Jim looked at Neal. His usually hollow and empty eyes shone, full with determination.

"You're sure you don't need a company?" asked Jim. He remembered how Neal became after they were separated in Germany.

"Yes, sir. You have your oral exam next week and Agnes is pregnant. And I'd much rather face Candy by myself," Neal reasoned.

"Of course," said Jim. "I wish you the best, Neal."

"I'm bloody nervous, Major Harrell," said Neal.

"Agnes wishes you luck, Neal," said Jim, smiling. "Forgive us for being so clueless. I was in the Frontline and Agnes was in her small hometown. We didn't keep up with popular news. I told her you're a Leagan from that famous Leagan family. Last night she suddenly realized that she saw you before in one magazine top bachelor rating when she went to bigger cities!"

Jim coughed, chuckling.

"Agnes said she will vote for you next time. She likes how you look better now with soldier's air of grit and ruggedness," Jim added.

Neal offered his hand for a handshake for Jim's generous comment.

"I won't go this far without you and your wife," said Neal. "It must be too much for you, sir."

"It's really nothing. Just think about it, would you do the same for me if our position were reversed?"

Neal paused to think briefly.

"I'm not sure, sir," Neal replied, being entirely honest. "To my chum maybe, but you didn't even know me."

"Who comes back or who doesn't come back, I believe, is just a random stroke of luck. I can get to know you because someone else took my place and got killed for me. We're all brothers and what I do is just to return the favors of what others were doing to me," said Jim. "You have a sister, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Would you do anything to her?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then you should know how I feel about you," said Jim, smiling. "This bugger war doesn't end after the combat is over, Neal. Promise me you'll come back if you need me." Jim clapped Neal's shoulder.

Neal nodded. "I will, sir."

"And if you don't need me, still come back. It'll be nice to see you again as a friend," said Jim.

oOo

A few hours later, Neal was already in the train in France.

Neal read the books Jim gave him until his eyes blurred then he braved himself to look around. Grass started to grow in the past barren war zone areas, broken tree stumps started to have branches with green leaves showing their will power to survive.

Neal walked around the train to relieve the stress in his legs. He went outside and saw a young man, younger that he was, with one leg and using crutches. They started to talk. He's a French soldier who lost his leg in Chateau-Thierry. They stayed outside chatting about many things except about the war until the French got off.

Soon, Neal arrived in Bethune^. To his shock, the town was reduced to mere rumbles, a silent proof of the fierce fighting that happened in there. The estaminet he used to go was flattened to the ground so did the shop Chris visited to buy a scarf for Kathy. Neal sighed sadly*.

Neal took a cab to Chocques. The scene got better as they got closer to the farm. At the farm, Neal got off, paid the driver and walked towards the farm gate.

Everything miraculously still looked the same. Slowly Neal limped through the open gate. The yard was so quiet without soldiers patrolling, sergeants barking, or men chatting.

Neal wandered around the farm and sat on a tree trunk under a large tree where he used to sit with Sid and closed his eyes listening to the silence. He then opened back his eyes, seeing happy times he had with his fellow men there. When they were drinking fresh milk(1), picking up fruits, smoking, writing letters# (2). His eyes watered remembering them. He stared at the front door and could see Captain Thomson knocking at it requesting a billet#

Suddenly, the front door swung open knocking Neal back to reality.

Someone came out# It's Candy? Candy! Hidden well behind the bush, she didn't see him.

Candy! Neal's heart jumped. He had so much hope when he came here, now they're so close! He stared at her, had never felt this happy since that fatal day.

Nervously Neal wiped his sweaty palm to his pants, picking up the courage to talk to her and to let her see him. Leaning on his stick, Neal slowly struggled to his feet.

"C-Candy#," called Neal softly.

"BUAHAA!" Simultaneously, a voice boomed drowning out Neal's. "FIND YOU!" A familiar man appeared behind Candy, carrying a baby in his arm.

That actor!, thought Neal bitterly in horror.

Laughing, Terry put his arm, his second arm, around Candy's waist. She giggled, the baby too. Terry walked straight with his perfect pair of legs next to her. They looked so good together. A perfect picture of one happy family. They walked to a car parked nearby. Terry gave the baby to Candy and bent to... kiss her?

Neal quickly threw his face, would rather not know the answer!

Feeling his stump and his stick, Neal stared emptily somewhere. His heart broke, leaving an empty hole in his chest which was now filled with anger and bitterness. He watched Terry's car leaving and Candy wave to the man. Carrying the baby, cuddling it in her arm, Candy walked back to the house.

Neal felt very naïve and stupid to hope that Candy was still waiting for him. He just wanted to disappear now to somewhere where they would never meet again.

Neal began to limp to leave the farm, stayed quietly behind the bushes throughout. Occasionally, he looked around to check if anyone was watching. At some uneven ground, his stick got entangled between protruding tree roots. Neal lost his balance and fell. A deep tormenting sting pierced through his injured leg. He couldn't help to remain quiet and scream.

Candy heard that.

Terry is back?, Candy thought. Did he forget something? She turned and went back to the yard.

Neal painfully managed to stand back on his feet. Another sting of agony came blackened out his vision, this time coming from his stump. Burning with anger for his decrepitude, Neal cynically grinned to himself, grateful that Terry appeared just in time to save him from being seen by Candy.

Then, he felt someone coming. He looked up.

It's Candy.

This time, she saw him, too. She stopped about ten meters away from him still carrying that baby in her arm, watching him.

.

-To be continued-

WHOSE baby is it? Any thought of whose it should be?

.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for the follow/favorite. We're almost done. Hopefully you stick until the end.

THANK YOU!

Sabrina: yes! They love each other. Thank you! That a real Neal's fan! He has to meet Candy or we just can't stand it! ;)

Vialsi: thanks! That's a nice support for Neal. I feel the same way. Good that Jim can convince Neal to go.

NOTES:

Battle of Chateau-Thierry (1918): June 1918

^Bethune was bombed heavily in 1918

*Chris bought a scarf for Kathy chapter 15

~Neal warned Candy: chapter 21

1)Neal and his men drink milk, chapter 15

2)Neal smokes with Sid under a tree, chapter 14


Chapter 33: June 1919 (B)

Neal's fingers were shaking so much with anger that his stick fell out from his hand.

Candy scanned the stranger's face. His face looked familiar especially the wavy brown hair.

But, it can't be!, Candy thought. Neal stood straight especially since he joined the army. And this man was so thin, his face was pale more than tanned, his eyes looked disproportionately too big in his narrow face. But that pair of brown eyes could not be wrong!

Candy moved closer to see him better, her eyes never left his face.

"Neal?" she whispered involuntarily.

"Candy!" spat Neal with much disdain. "All those tears dried up as soon as I was out of your sight, I suppose. Are you even disappointed to see me back?"

"Neal... My Neal! You came!" Candy whispered, eyes glistened. She reached out her hands to hold his hands.

Neal pulled his hand to avoid her. "Don't worry. I won't stay long!" Neal said acidly.

"Neal?" said Candy, confused. His usual gentle eyes were blazing with anger. "Something wrong?"

"That!" pointed Neal to the baby Candy was carrying. "You can't make that alone, can you! You talked about forever, how long is a forever to you? Let's do the math. Six months utmost or perhaps just a few weeks!"

"This? Oh! I see," Candy said. "Neal, she's Patty and Stear's baby girl."

"Stear's!" Neal managed a cold laugh. "Yeah sure... Stear came back, all alive!" Neal mocked. "Can you make up a better story!"

"But it's true. Stear is here."

Neal laughed again, sarcastically.

"I don't know about Stear but I'm sure as hell that the actor was here. Yes, Candy. Terry! I saw him! What forever? It didn't take you long to let him strip off your clothes and bang you! Oh, wait# perhaps it's you who begged -"

"Damn rude!" Candy moved forward and slapped Neal hard across his face.

Neal staggered and fell.

Candy's mouth fell open flabbergasted. She didn't slap him that hard, she slapped him much harder in the past. To her even greater surprise, his face winced like in so much pain and he didn't get back up.

"Neal?" Worriedly Candy bent to pull Neal's arm to help him get up, but what she found was an empty sleeve with no arm inside.

"Oh my God!" Candy cried in bewilderment. She squeezed the empty sleeve. "Where's your arm?"

"Don't touch me!" Neal screamed, snatching his sleeve from Candy's hand.

Neal forced himself to get up, but since he didn't have his stick, his right foot slipped and he fell back to the ground. Candy looked at his right leg, thoroughly in shocked.

"W-what happened to your leg?" screamed Candy, getting hysterical.

"Go away!" Neal frantically tried to reach for his stick.

"You're using a stick?" Candy cried tearfully.

"Leave me alone!"

In the middle of the chaos, Neal felt two strong hands held him from behind, lifted him up.

"I - DON'T - NEED - HELP!" Neal screamed. "I CAN DO THIS!" Madly, he turned to push whoever was trying to help. "GO AW-"

Neal froze. He saw that familiar face with glasses. In shock, he went still and quiet. Stear?

"Hi cous! It's me, buddy... You will allow me, won't you?" The man said in that familiar friendly voice.

Stear! Neal was entrenched watching his cousin's face in disbelief. He was so stunt that he forgot to struggle and let Stear lift him up.

"Neal, what happened to you?" Candy sobbed and cried.

"Candy," whispered Stear, making a sign for her to calm down and stopped asking questions.

"Amputated," Neal answered.

"Your leg?" asked Candy insistently.

"It got shot," answered Neal.

"Candy, let's take Neal inside first then talk," said Stear in a low voice. Candy ignored him.

"Why are you so thin?" asked Candy without knowing that Neal had gained a wholesome weight in the last three weeks he stayed with Jim.

"Candy!" said Stear, louder. He bent to pick up Neal's stick and hand it to him, glaring sharply at Candy ask her to shut up.

"I'm leaving," said Neal. He snatched his stick from Stear's hand.

Neal turned to leave but saw Patty who's carrying that baby and Neal got nailed back on his spot.

"Hi Neal." Patty smiled. "It's so good to see you again." She hugged Neal and kissed his cheek. "Let me introduce you." She looked at the baby in her arms. "Esther Daniela Cornwell."

"Patty insisted on having your name inserted somewhere in our daughter's name," added Stear, gently patted his cousin's shoulder. "Like it?"

"D-daniela?" Neal stammered.

"Yes," Patty answered, smiling to Stear. Stear smiled back at her.

"Beautiful. She's beautiful," responded Neal, moved. "Thank you." He glanced quickly to Candy. "Sorry," Neal mumbled.

Patty gripped Stear's hand, they smiled to one another. Neal remembered his dream to have babies with Candy# His heart felt painful much more than being shot by a bullet.

"Thank you for taking care of Patty while I wasn't around," said Stear.

"It's nothing," Neal answered.

"Shall we get inside Neal?" invited Stear.

"No. I'm leaving," Neal said.

"Now?" asked Candy tearfully. "But you just got here."

"Candy -," Stear said.

"I'm going," said Neal limping away.

"Wait#! I pack. I go with you!" yelled Candy, sobbing.

"I want to go by myself." Neal limped away and ignored Candy.

"He can go by himself if that's what he wants to." Stear frowned at Patty as a sign to leave him with Neal alone and take Candy with her.

"Come here Candy," whispered Patty to her friend.

"I want to go with Neal!" shrieked Candy.

"Please trust Stear, Candy," whispered Patty. "Come with me."

"You will allow me to take you, right cous?" asked Stear after the women left and things were back to quiet. "I will take you wherever you want."

"Don't pretend that you understand," Neal grumbled.

"Bugger off! I don't need to pretend," answered Stear matter-of-factly. "Come, this way, old chap."

Neal didn't flinch.

Stear looked at his cousin's hardened face. "Neal, do you like the stew with or without gravy*?"

Neal was caught off guard at that sudden change of conversation topic. That was their common joke for the food they ate everyday in the Frontline. Sometimes only the beef was served without the gravy, sometimes just the gravy without the beef.

"Without the gravy," Neal managed to reply, almost grinned.

"Me too." Stear laughed. "I never like the gravy, lucky it rarely came with the gravy." He grinned. "Now, shall we?"

Limping, Neal followed Stear who took him to their farm truck. It's a tall vehicle, one had to climb to get inside.

"Let me help you," said Stear.

"I can manage!" Neal refused. He tried to climb by himself but the truck was too high.

"We did much worse than this, right? Come, allow me," said Stear calmly.

Stear lifted Neal up and helped him sit in the truck. Stear then went to the driver seat and started the truck.

"I just changed the engine with Lorraine-Dietrich Silent Six combustion." Stear laughed.

Stear just never changed, thought Neal, didn't bother to comment.

"You're alive and whole yet you didn't bother to bloody contact us!" Neal said instead.

"Contact? How?" mocked Stear. "All the allowed us was to breathe, work, or die."

Seemingly sank in his emotions, it was a while before Stear said anything again. "You've seen the Albatross, right?" Stear asked.

Neal nodded.

Stear took a deep breath. "One Albatross can easily gun dow several of our shaky BE2. At that time, I with my BE2 was chased by a couple of soaring Albatrosses. Naturally I got hit and my plane fell."

"Your BE2 fell and you didn't get burn?" asked Neal, impressed.

"Nope!" said Stear. He grinned proudly. "I did the maintenance of my own machine with necessary tweaking, you know!"

Neal didn't comment. He looked back out of the window. Stear glanced at Neal's stony stature and continued.

"Too bad my plane fell in German's territory - around Neuve Chapelle. You? Where were you captured?"

"Bonavis in Cambrai," answered Neal shortly.

Since Neal didn't seem in a mood to talk, Stear went on with his.

"So, I was captured. With other prisoners, they made us make a long march to a camp in Ulm. Weeks without food or drink. My buddies died one by one Neal and nothing I could do about other than watching." Stear's voice was shaky, doubtless from the horrendous memory. "I thought that was hell," said Stear quietly. "Insanely, in the camp the situation was even worse."

"Did they know that you're an officer?" asked Neal.

"They didn't care," snapped Stear bitterly. His eyes turned dull and somber. Neal shook his head in sympathy. "At the end, the influenza was siding with the Huns to finish most of us without them having to fire a single bullet."

"I'm so sorry, Stear," Neal said, feeling for him.

"I almost died too but I got saved at the last moment because they chose me as an exchange prisoner, doubtless to have less corpse to report to the international tribune of human right."

Neal shook his head. "Terrible# I'm so sorry," he whispered.

"Nothing we can do about, can we?" Stear heaved a deep sigh. Neal nodded his head slowly to show his agreement. "Anyway, you're in Tiers?"

"You know?" Neal looked up.

"I met your mother. She didn't tell you?"

Neal didn't reply. He didn't want to explain that he refused to talk to almost anyone.

"Aunt Sarah showed me the letter sent from Germany written on your behalf by a captain."

"Now a major. Major James Harrell. He got promoted."

"Okay," said Stead. "I heard life in the officer hospital is like heaven compared to ours. You are lucky, Neal."

Neal shrugged. If he could have chosen, he would rather live miserably in a consecration camp but stayed in one single piece or just perished by that mighty influenza virus# He felt his stump and stick and looked out of the window again.

"So, I was returned back to France in exchanged of a German prisoner," continued Stear. "The French captain you introduced to Patty contacted her. She came to pick me up."

Stear patted Neal's lap. "Thank you, cous." Stear smiled. "Patty and Candy took very good care of me. I would not have survived if I had been just dumped in some field hospital."

"You're welcome," Neal said, looking up at Stear.

"Since I was so weak and sick, we didn't go back to America. Patty made me stay in the farm to recuperate. We got married in Bethune." Stear smiled. For a moment his eyes looked soft, his mind seemed to be somewhere else. Neal looked away, feeling broken about his own unfulfilled love.

"When Bethune was bombed last year, we returned to Chicago," continued Stear. "We came back here because Candy said you promise to meet her here again."

At the name Candy, Neal was back being gloomy.

Stear noticed. "Where do you want to go?"

Neal didn't think he should go back to Jim and stretch his kind hospitality. He had stayed there for almost three weeks! He would go home to his worried strict family. But after the non-glorious return, he wanted to be alone tonight.

"Closest inn to the train station," Neal answered. His voice sounded resigned and broken in Stear's ear. Stear look at Neal's sad face and felt so sad for him. For the first time in his life he missed Neal's arrogant look which he used to detest so much. Anything was better than seeing how Neal looked at this moment.

Stear took Neal to an inn and went back to the farm. He found Candy was crying in Patty's arms.

"Where's Neal. Where's Neal?" asked Candy, panicked.

"Candy#," said Stear.

"Don't stop me, Stear," cried Candy.

"No, I won't. I'll take you to Neal but you must promise me one thing first," Stear snapped.

"What is it?" asked Candy tearfully.

"For Neal's sake, Candy. Stay calm! You'll make him suffer if you're being hysterical like this!"

"I'm so worried about him."

"Of course. We know you are," said Stear, his voice softened. "Candy, you remember how hard it was for me to adjust when I just came back?"

Candy nodded.

"He's in that stage now. It must be even more difficult for him because..." Stear gestured at his arm.

Candy sniffled and nodded. Patty never released her grip from Candy's hand to show support.

"Candy, try it. Be strong. Don't give him more pressure than what he already has. Promise?" asked Stear gently.

Candy nodded.

"Remember deep inside he's a man who loves you so much Candy," said Patty, squeezing Candy's hands.

Patty and Stear took Candy to the inn and left to let her meet Neal alone...

-To be continued-

.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for still following and the favorite.

.

NOTE:

"bang" here means: have sex.

Albatros: German war plane

BE2: British war plane

Gravy: taken from "One Young Man", a personal account of a Britis soldier written to a book by JE Hodder - Williams

Stear's story of being taken as a prisoner: in memory of Private Reginald Morris (firstworldwar d0t c0m)

Neal helped Patty to look for Stear: chapter 13, 14

oOo

What I'm trying to say: Stear gives Candy the strategy to talk to an injured war veteran (Neal). Something that only those who went to war understand. Neal's parents don't understand, for example, so they can't communicate with Neal. But Jim does understand, so does Stear.


Chapter 34: June 1919 (C)

Neal was sitting on his bed in the inn struggling to unbutton the coat he borrowed from Jim. The buttons were inconveniently too small to be handled with one hand. It's a mistake to borrow that coat. It's a mistake to come here. Everything about this trip was a mistake, Neal thought angrily when he heard a knock at the door.

"Neal, it's me. Candy!" he heard. "May I come in?"

"No, you may not!" replied Neal from inside.

"Neal! Let me in," Candy kept banging at the door.

Neal didn't reply. Candy ran outside to look for a window to his room. It's open.

"Neal, can I talk to you?" asked Candy through the window.

"No!"

Ignoring his respond, Candy climbed up the window and jumped into the room. Neal looked back down to continue unbuttoning his coat, ignoring her. She came and stood in front of him.

"Why didn't you write me any letter?" Candy asked.

"I want you to forget me," Neal said coldly, didn't look at her. He took his coat off which he finally could unbutton and tossed it to the bed.

"Then, why did you come here?" asked Candy.

"I thought I could. But after I saw you with# him, I know it's a mistake. I shouldn't." Neal silently cursed at Jim. It's Jim's fault. Without Jim's meddling, he wouldn't be here and didn't have to have this torturing moment with Candy.

"Esther Daniela is Patty and Stear's baby. Terry came to see her and us for friendship sake. There's nothing between me and him," explained Candy. "I am still waiting for you, Neal." She said the last sentence very softly.

Neal didn't flinch. He looked so distant and stiff.

"Albert and I went to look for you in London. We met Eliza[1]. Is it true what she said, you have someone else?"

"She said that?" asked Neal, looking out of the window. "Then, why are you still waiting for me?"

"Because I don't believe her," Candy replied. "So? Tell me, who's right?"

"There's no one else. Never! There's only you," Neal whispered. "I love you, Candy. Whatever I said about how I feel about you was true. It is still true."

"You still love me?" repeated Candy, her voice rising. Her face was beaming with an amazing smile.

"Yes, I still do," Neal replied. He turned away. She's so beautiful, it hurt.

"Then, why didn't you come to visit me sooner?" Candy asked softly.

"I can't." Neal inhaled sharply. "Believe me. I'm hurt and torn bit by bit everyday missing you. But I love you too much to realize that you shouldn't be with me."

"Why not? You love me you said," asked Candy innocently. He large green eyes widened, looking confused.

"Can't you see? I won't be able to carry you in your wedding day like you always dream of. I can't dance with you. I can't run and climb hills with you. Hell, I can't even walk without this goddamn stick." Neal paused, looking at his stump. "You're too beautiful for this. Candy, I am not the man for you."

"That's it?" Candy asked gently.

"Isn't that bad enough?" Neal asked dryly. He frowned.

"But Neal, I don't care about those. I really don't."

She wound her arms around his neck and pulled his head down to kiss his cheek. The attraction was still there if not stronger. She's so beautiful. Unavoidably, he closed his eyes breathing her familiar scent. The feeling of her soft lips on his face reminded him of all the things he had missed about her. Her hair softly caressed his face just like how he dreamed about it, every day. He loved her dearly. He lifted his right arm to hold her neck like the way he used to do. But there's no hand there...

Neal withdrew abruptly. He looked at her and himself. He couldn't be that selfish to make her stay with him. He pushed her away.

"Candy, please leave," said Neal. "Forget me."

"I don't want to leave. I want to be with you."

"Candy, don't make it difficult. Go away!"

"NO!" Candy yelled. "You promise to pick me up after the war."

"That was then."

"You said you're not Terry!" Candy screamed, referring to Terry who left her for Suzanna in that New York hospital the first time she visited him. "You said you won't ever leave me!"

"Correct! I'm not Terry! Look at me!" Neal shouted back and waved to himself. "Isn't it obvious that he's better than me!"

His eyes were brown and blazing although if it's from anger or something else she couldn't tell.

"I was wrong about that actor," Neal continued. "When a man leaves you, it doesn't mean that he doesn't love you. He has his reasons. Like me. I love you, that's why I leave you. Now that I have explained it, go back to him!"

"I told you Terry just came to visit. There's nothing between us. You're my man." Candy started to sob. "So what if you can't carry me# So long as we're together, why should we care about other things?"

She touched his face, her mouth parted.

"Candy," Neal pushed her, refusing to look at her tearful eyes. "You don't understand. Say I kiss you, what's next? Carry you to bed? I can't carry you anymore! I can only manage to limp to the bed, change my clothes which takes hours, and collapse in exhaustion."

"Then, I help you change and we sleep quietly together."

"Sleep quietly?" Neal managed a forced sarcastic laugh. "I will wake you with nightmares!"

"T-Then I hold you in my arms and put you back to sleep," said Candy, started to cry. "Neal, I'll take care of you, I am a nurse." She sobbed.

"You want a patient by profession not to marry to one!"

"Neal, you can try to run away from me. But what for? Why do you want to destroy something that's so wonderful."

"`I'?" Neal shouted. "`I' you said?" He hurled his stick to the floor. "You think I want this?"

For a few seconds there was a complete silence. Neal heaved a sighed and looked out of the window. "Go away!"

"No! I won't go."

"Fine," he said acidly. "Then, I leave!"

"Neal, don't break us," begged Candy. Tears ran down her face.

"I have already broken apart. As for you, you'll manage. He'll pull you trough."

"I told you Terry is not my man!"

"Then turn him into one! From the way he looked at you, I'm sure he won't mind!"

Candy cried. He used to come to comfort her when it's so. This time, he didn't budge.

"Don't cry, Candy. Life is not fair. People don't always get what they want," Neal said. His voice emotionless. "Things changed. Back then, I was the hottest bachelor alive... now I'm just barely alive."

"Neal tell me that's not you who speaks," Candy sobbed. "I know you're somewhere inside# My Neal# my dear Neal# the one who's so kind# soft and gentle to me. Come back to me. We pull it all together."

Neal said nothing. He reached for his stick with his leg and kick it closer so he could pick it up.

"Where's your friend? Sid. You can ask him," sobbed Candy, pulling his sleeve.

"He's dead."

Candy gasped, involuntarily releasing his sleeve.

"He died shielding me," Neal added so bitterly that it scared her. "It's me who the German targeted but it's him who had to die [2]. Do you think that's fair!"

She clasped her hands over her chest, shaking her head. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Me too." Neal drew a shot breath and struggled to his feet. "Good bye. I'm sorry to make you cry again."

Neal grabbed his backpack, Jim's coat and limped out of the room. Torn, Candy watched his back slowly going farther away. He had made up his mind. He meant each word he said. She would lose him!

Unless...

She stopped cyring, sat down thinking.

Candy suddenly remembered what Stear said, He just came back Candy... Stay calm.

oOOooo

Neal limped to the train station. He hated himself for shouting at Candy. He hated himself for following Jim's advice. What did Jim know? He came back whole! He hated everything.

Sitting on the bench on the train platform, Neal buttoned back Jim's coat which he just successfully took off. The sun didn't come out today and and the wind was quite chilly. Getting impatient and shaken by the whole situation, his fingers started to get entangled among themselves. It's frustratingly difficult.

"Neal..." suddenly Neal heard someone call him. He sighed. It's Candy again.

"What are you doing?" asked Candy. Her voice was brighter and calmer. Her eyes were steady and dry.

"Buttoning my coat," answered Neal. He lowered his head back down to continue with the task.

Stay calm. Candy chanted to herself what Stear told her.

"Need help with that?" Candy asked.

"It's so hard to make you leave, isn't it?" asked Neal.

"I try to get even with you," Candy calmly replied. "It's used to be so hard to send you away too." She sat next to him.

Neal shrugged. "I don't need help."

"Oh... come on. Just once," Candy quipped. "I promise I'll let you go after that." She smiled.

Neal turned to gaze the far away field. Seeing no objection, Candy moved closer and started to slowly button his coat and talk at the same time.

"Say, Neal. Do you remember the chicken[3] you rescued from the river?" Candy asked in a merry tone.

"Yes, I do." Neal turned to look to her. "How's it doing? Did it survive?"

"It has grown up to a gorgeous cock with the loudest voice. It wakes us up every morning."

"It's a he?"

"Yup."

"He was very thin and cold... with only o-one wing," Neal stammered.

Candy nodded, smiling. "He's our most gorgeous cock now. I told him, I will take you to meet him one day."

Neal didn't answer. He took a deep breath and gazed into an invisible distance again.

"He gets along pretty well with Betsy-the-calf[4]. Remember her? The one you liked to pat in the head." She grinned.

"Right! Yeah...," Neal whispered. "She must be a big cow now."

"She is!" Candy nodded. She went on talking about various things. They chatted until they heard the train came.

"There," said Candy softly, buttoning the last button.

"Thank you," said Neal.

"My pleasure," Candy smiled although her heart bled and broke to thousand pieces in the inside.

His train came to a halt. Would he leave? She still wanted to be with him. There were tons of things she wanted to share with him.

People poured into the station. Holding her breath, Candy looked at Neal.

He leaned on his stick and got up. Her heart ached, watching him limp, leaving her all alone in the bench. She missed him already.

"Neal," called Candy, her heart burst with sadness. "The happiest time of my life was the time we spent together in the farm." She gathered all her strength for her voice not to quiver.

There was a long pause.

He imagined them sitting together for the rest of the evening. Not only today but everyday for the rest of his life, her head on his chest, his arm around her# If he could have that, regardless of everything, he would be the happiest man.

But he shouldn't. He squeezed his stick. He should go. That's what's the best for her.

"That was fun," Neal muttered, looking at the platform floor. He nodded to her and limped to the train. This is the best for her, Neal repeated to himself.

Candy saw Neal climb the train stairs. Behind him people edged up lining in a queue patiently waiting for him slowly struggling to get on the train. The train whistle shrilled loudly as a sign of its departure. It sounded so sad.

Candy stared at the train door. A part of her was so sure that Neal would reappear to tell her that he changed his mind and they would go home together. She wished and waited... and waited.

He didn't come out.

The train began to chug forward... taking him with it.

Neal is leaving, thought Candy in disbelief. She's watching the train go farther. Neal was actually leaving. How did she suppose live the rest of her life without him?

Tears streamed unchecked down her cheeks. When the train finally disappeared, Candy slumped to the bench and cried like she never cried before.

They would have been married for four years if she had accepted his marriage proposal and all these wouldn't have happened. Why on earth was she not seeing his true heart earlier? She was blinded for too long by Albert who seemed infinitely nicer than Neal. She mistook that as romance which never bloomed. Same with Terry... She remembered Neal's efforts to invite her for lunch, give her flowers and get engaged to her. She slapped him, shouted at him and he kept coming back. If only he'd come back again and comfort her this time...

Her! her! Always her! What about her to him? What nice things had she done for him? She cried more passionately.

More trains came and left, people came and went. Some people stared at her, shaking their head in sympathy before continuing with their journey. Consumed by grief, she didn't once look at them or think of anything else except Neal.

A few hours later, another train pulled into the station. Candy was still sitting on the bench crying. The platform again was crowded with people. Buried in her misery, she didn't notice one man was limping, getting off the train and stood leaning on his stick watching her.

The train left, the platform was back to empty except for Candy and the man with stick who's watching her. They stayed like that until Candy sensed that she's being watched. She turned her head and her heat stopped beating.

It's Neal!

She looked at him. They stared silently at one another, neither of them quite able to believe what they're seeing.

Neal limped closer. "You are still here?" he whispered.

"You too," Candy whispered back, overwhelmingly overshadowed by hope.

There's a long grim of pause.

"I can't leave you. I tried to live without you and I can't do it anymore," said Neal.

Her lips were too trembling to form any words to respond. He came back for her!

"Just now when we chatted together, I felt# happy. Very happy. I know... I shouldn't come back," said Neal.

Tears spilled and fell down her cheeks. Desperately, Candy wept. Her shoulder shook violently as her sob echoed through the evening air.

"S-Stear a-asked me to stay c-calm, but it's-s hard#," Candy cried.

"I'm sorry# I mean nothing but to make you happy," said Neal. "But -"

"Don't leave. If you want to make me h-happy, just d-don't leave." Candy sobbed, burying her face in her hands.

Neal limped a step forward to sit next to her and to hug her but his hand trembled so badly from nervousness that his stick fell.

Candy stared at Neal and then at his stick. Cautiously, she got up to pick his stick and hand it to him. She cried when he accepted it without any protest. His brown eyes looked back at hers, looking much gentler than before, the heat and resistance were mostly gone.

"After you left," said Candy. "I cried myself to sleep every night. Terry came to visit occasionally when he had a Broadway tour. He is nice but he can't never replace you. He is just like... say, Archie, a special kind of brother, sort of."

"C-candy-" said Neal. But she didn't let him speak.

"You said I shouldn't be with you because you can't carry me? Neal, what makes you think that my love is that shallow? Just now I was thinking... It must be because I haven't done enough nice things to you."

"Candy, you're always good to me."

"No# Not good enough," Candy said. "Stay, I'll show you how good I can really be to you."

Candy broke down completely and wept. Her body shook with sobs, breaking his heart.

"Candy, don't cry," Neal said, his voice thick. Candy kept on crying. "Under different circumstances, I would have done this differently," said Neal. "If only I were whole and in one piece, we would have already -"

Shaking her head Candy cried louder burying his voice. Now that he's back she just didn't care about anything anymore. She just wanted to cry, releasing her heartbreak.

Neal stopped talking and hesitatingly limped closer to her. He rested his stick against the bench and held her hands.

"Candy," said Neal. "I love you. Would you come with me? I'm not perfect - far from one. But# if you allow me, I will do all I can to be the most perfect man for you and make you happy."

Candy looked at his hand. She never felt more complete than at this moment when his hand was holding hers, although it was alarmingly thin. The war# what it had done to men!

"Yes, Neal," said Candy. She wiped her tears with her sleeves. "Yes! Anywhere you go, I'll go with you!"

He tightened the grip of her hands and looked into her eyes. "Do you? Do you still want me?"

"Yes, I do. I have said it many times." She sniffled.

"How do I know that you are telling the truth?" His brown eyes were back to look doubtful.

"I don't lie. I tell you if I don't want you," she said gently. "Don't tell me you forgot that."

Neal looked at her. He could feel Sid push him towards her and bark playfully, "Go on! I don't die so both of us die but for you to keep fighting and carry on.[5]" He could see Sid smile. Tears welled in his eyes but he didn't bother to hide his tears this time. Let her see the real him# A broken man but who loved her# wanted her... needed her with all his heart.

"Candy, I really really love you." Neal managed a soft whisper among his tears, caressing her cheek with his only hand.

Candy came forward and hugged him very gently in her arms. He put his arm around her giving that familiar warmth. He was the one she loved, the one she would always love, and the only one she wanted to spend her life with.

"Yes Neal, I know. I love you too," she answered.

He tightened his hold of her and kissed her.

The journey started with him wanted to win her heart. Now they would continued the journey together on the road paved by his fallen brothers. As Jim said, the fight didn't end at the battlefield. They're gone so he could come back. He would return the favors through the brothers who returned. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done#

-To be continued -

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the followers/favorites. Words can't describe how grateful I am.

Next time: one SHORT Epilogue.

NOTE:

[1]: Candy looked for Neal and met Eliza, chapter 28

[2]: Sid died for Neal, chapter 23

[3]: Neal saved a chicken from being drowned in the river, chapter 21

[4]: Neal wrote to his family about the baby calf, chapter 19

[5]: inspired by 'Carry on! That's why we died!' from "The Road to La Basse", a poem by Bernard Newman. He was a WW1 soldier.

oOo

Chapter 35: EPILOGUE

Ten years later

In one very early morning, Candy just came back home from her late night shift in the hospital. She cleaned up and went to check all the children Sean, Angie, and Adams. They were sleeping. She kissed them one by one and went to her own bedroom couldn't wait to snuggle under the comforter joining her husband.

But the bed was empty, she found her husband in the office room, standing next to the window, looking outside.

"Neal," Candy called her husband softly so not startle him. "Nightmare?"

Neal turned around, smiling seeing his wife was back home. "No, I'm fine. You're home, my darling?"

Candy nodded, relieved.

Neal showed her the card in his hand. "We have a dinner gala tomorrow night. I almost forgot."

"Right# another honor for you#," said Candy, smiling. "For what is it again? Bravery at the battled field? Work in the war veteran foundation? No... you got those. Ah, I remember for the work to support prosthetic limb research and to make it accessible to war veterans."

Neal just grinned, nodded.

"Good job, dear," said Candy. "I've been waiting for this one."

Candy looked at her husband who walked comfortably towards her without a stick, his legs were leveled from the adjustments they made in the shoes. "Suzanna also said that she likes the prosthetic legs your researchers made better than any she had been using. She and Doug will come next week to try the new limb they're designing for her. We can hear more of what she thinks."

Neal grinned again. "Thank you, Candy."

"Thank me? This is all the result of your own hard work, Neal." Candy laughed. "Nothing to do with me."

"Wrong!" Neal said softly, pecking her cheek. "I won't be able to go this far without you." He sat on his chair and pulled her to his lap. Resting his face on her neck, his mind wandered to the dark memory in the distance past. "At that time, if you really had left me, not even Jim would have been able to save me." He looked deeply into her eyes. "I can't live without you."

"Me neither."

Neal looked again into her eyes. She doesn't understand, Neal thought. It's not just words. He truly wouldn't make it without her.

He thought about what happened ten years ago where he left her in the train station [1]. He painfully wanted her so badly and decided to switch train and went back to see her. He was so nervous in the train he could die but he figured he'd die anyway from living without her. No words could explain how touched he was when he found her still sitting on the bench in the train station. That was the first time he saw hope and believed that she truly meant it when she said she wanted him.

Neal took a deep breath and hugged her.

"What?" Candy whispered.

"Nothing. I love you," said Neal softly.

"I love you, too Neal," said Candy, smiling. "Oh, yesterday Sean said you're a better soccer player than his friend's dad. I told him, of course, your daddy was a soldier in the great war."

Neal laughed. "He was just excited because we won." He grinned. "Oh, there's something else."

Neal picked up an envelope with his false right hand and passed it to Candy.

"Jim is promoted to colonel. Look."

"Another promotion!" exclaimed Candy, whistling in awe. "Jim is blasted straight to the top."

"He is," said Neal beaming, toying Jim's card with his fake fingers. "I woke up early to call and congratulate him. Guess what, he said he's considering leaving the army and joining the Parliament." Neal grinned.

"Oi! Jim is going to politics!" exclaimed Candy.

"He might. And if he did, I would back him." Neal grinned mysteriously.

"Since when you become so political Neal?" Candy lifted her eyebrow.

"We all are brothers, right?" Neal chuckled "I can't let my brother fight alone!" He laughed. "Anyway, I want to attend his promotion ceremony. Can I?"

"Of course! Why you asked?"

"Maybe you shouldn't go#" He squeezed her arm. "London is so far away. I don't want to overtire you," said Neal. He bent, kissing the slight bump in her tummy which carried their fourth child. "I also want to attend Bob's graduation, Christopher's confirmation, company meetings, and other business related stuffs."

"Busy!" said Candy, kissing the tip of her husband's nose. "I want to go. Five of us go. I want to see Bob, too. I want to know how tall Christopher is now, and of course I want to meet Jim, Agnes, and their children. Our kids have been asking when they can go camping again with them!"

Neal lifted his eyebrow, debating.

"I want to drag Bob out this time," said Candy, grinned slyly. "He's done with school. No more excuse with studying to collect distinctions like what he's been doing! And Neal, I want to match Bob with Lady Amelia's daughter. Your mother said Lady Amelia asked about Bob. And I do think they look cute together!" She giggled.

Neal laughed. "Fine, we all go." He glanced at the clock. "But now you should go to bed."

"I don't think I can. I'm too excited! I want to call your mother to ask for Lady Amelia's phone number."

"Oh no! Now is five o'clock, you should get some sleep first. That's our agreement in order for you to keep working while you're pregnant." Neal rubbed her belly. "If you can't sleep, I will make you sleep." He grinned.

"Well then# now I want it." Candy grinned back. She looked at him. She never felt so rich with happiness ever since she's with him. "I love you, Neal." She kissed him.

"Love you too, Candy."

And so# They live happily ever after.

- THE END-

Thanks for reading.

o

Part 2 is based on a book "Light and Darkness"by Wendy Lawrance, (ISBN 1905378475). Jim is based on the character "John Grainger" in that book. Of course, all faults and deficiencies belong to mine.

I mean to dedicate this story to World War One soldiers who suffered and their families. It's 100 years ago, 1914-1918# Now is 2017.

O

THANK YOU

For everyone who reads this story. Thanks for following and favoriting. Your support means more than what I can put in words.

Thanks for your support to Neal and concern for his well being. In the beginning of Part 2, the visitor counter plummeted nerve-wrackingly low, much lower than I predicted. Had I known that, perhaps I would not have written this! ;O It's a good news though in a way... it means you all care about Neal. Thanks for being sad with Neal and happy when he's happy again.

Hugs to all Neal's supporters out there.

O

REMINDER:

Bob: Sid's brother

Christopher: Chris' son

[1] Candy cried in the train station thinking about Neal: Chapter 34

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