It's true that Basch expected to be in no-man's land tonight, and in contact with Germans, but sharing a smoke with one wasn't what he'd have bet on. Basch/his brother in the Christmas truce, in th...
"Well done. You'll leave--" there's a knock at the door, and Basch wonders but Azelas continues, "--at dusk. Godspeed," he adds, as if remembering the occasion.
Basch rises to salute, but there's another knock, and before he can leave Azelas gives the order to enter. It turns out to be a low-ranking man, one of Reks' friends whose name he doesn't know; for his sake Basch hopes his message is important.
"State your business," Azelas says, his back turned to the door and showing no intentions of turning.
"Sir," the man starts, and he hasn't finished the word "truce" before the lieutenant is out of his chair, ducking through the doorway and grabbing his white flag, hanging ready on a snag in the wooden beam. The soldier follows close behind him, answering questions with single words. Basch glances at his map once more -- of all the times for a truce, when he makes plans like that -- but Azelas does still have to agree to it, so he catches up in double-time.
There's confusion outside, not unexpected, but it means it isn't easy for either of them to make their way to the front, when every man has a question, though Azelas manages. He listens to the questions, or tries, mutters something about not trusting the Germans. The soldier who informed him looks vaguely insulted, too, but doesn't have much choice but to get over it, when Azelas shoves the flag at him and claps him on the back.
It's always a bit uneasy, when a man leaves the trench in the daylight; most of the men must be used to it, but to Basch it is all the worry of attack and loss without the reckless energy you get when it's you out in no-man's land.
After he's up, he can still be seen, barely. Someone approaches him, in German uniform -- officer, by the looks of it. So they are serious. An order is issued, in quick German, that Basch can make out slightly, probably asking for their captain.
The soldier looks confused, but it must be true, because the sentence is barely finished before Azelas is climbing his way up.
He announces himself as Bergan, and holds out a hand, which Azelas refuses. They start conversing in German, and Basch gets the feeling he isn't the only one who would be grateful to know what's going on. He tries to translate for those around him, but as fast as the men talk, his simple German from grammar school can't easily keep up. Bergan mentions the date, that his soldiers want something, and multiple times he invites Azelas to look over at their trench. Azelas, for the most part, keeps asking /why/.
Ten minutes later, Azelas comes back, carrying his white flag. Basch isn't sure where their soldier went off to.
"All factions have called a cease-fire, on this day only," he starts from the fire step, emphasizing /only/, and goes on to discuss the terms: they may go about without fear of snipers or shells, but they will not carry weapons, nor will they fraternize. They may leave the trench for service tonight -- there is a clergyman, apparently, with the Germans' Red Cross -- but nothing else. It seems too much like something one would see in a play, not a war, and he'd rather have executed his plan while it was fresh, but he is far from complaining. He wouldn't think the men would be disappointed, either, and sure enough there is a loud chatter, rumors spreading like they haven't since the visit from their Parisian general last month.
"Am I needed, sir?" Basch asks, catching Azelas after his orders are given, on his way back to his quarters.
"Your raid is off. Do what you will."
That seems like a good order, one Basch can be satisfied with; on further thought, he resigns it to being no different than any other quiet -- boring -- afternoon. At least it is only a few hours till dusk, and there are chores to assign.
He's long since ran out of delegation by stand-to, so when the lieutenant shows up, he has a stack of clean rifles next to the one he's working on, and is all too ready for the order.
Except orders don't come, and that along with the lieutenant's appearance has made the ranks quieter than usual. He's in full uniform, coat and hat, and is carrying a bottle. "What's the drink for?" someone shouts.
That man only gets a sharp glare, but Azelas makes eye contact with Basch. He knows he's the second, and the men do as well, by the grumbles of a few who see, but Basch nods once in confirmation, and with that they all turn and watch him leave.
It only lasts for a few moments, and when he's up and out of sight, it might as well have been an invitation. The men can't help themselves but to look, and after a moment Basch gives in as well -- when their lieutenant is in no-man's land, it must be safe.
Basch presses between men on the fire step, and isn't sure what he's expecting to see, which, it turns out, is for the better.
The Germans have Christmas trees.
Christmas trees on a battlefield are just as foreign as a truce on one, but there they are. Not just trees, either, but candles and crosses and any other decorations they could find or make. Azelas is lost in the crowd somewhere -- a /crowd/, in no-man's land -- Germans carrying decorations to share and his own soldiers meeting them, and he hears enough French spoken that he has no excuse for not understanding.
Well, he thinks, he can't miss this, and starts to climb. The first moments are surreal -- he passes mostly Germans, but some Britons are there as well. He tries to be diplomatic, as best he can with little German and no English.
They're brief meetings, for the most part. Some shake his hand, others give him things: matches, photographs, liquor. He reaches in his pocket for anything to reciprocate, and ends up with a pack of cigarettes. The first one he gives is to a German, and when Basch takes one for himself, the man shares his match.
It's true that he expected to be in no-man's land tonight, and in contact with Germans, but sharing a smoke with one wasn't what he'd have bet on.
He wanders off with his cigarette; he assumes there will be a call to service, later, so until then he should probably be in the trench, if there's anyone left in there at all.
There's not even a kilometre between trenches, but it seems to take a long time to get back, now that crowds and card games have been formed. Then there's the man, a German soldier, who has been following him, probably due to his rank. He doesn't know where Bergan and Azelas went off to, but hasn't seen them or any German sergeants.
He glances and finally turns and stops to ask what the soldier wants, and coughs on his cigarette when he sputters. He knows that face--
"Noah," Basch breathes. He wants to believe it, but what are the chances -- but he smiles at the name, and it is Noah, and he has to laugh nervously and throw down his cigarette, to keep himself from going to pull Noah close right there in the middle of the battlefield. "How -- you -- why didn't you say anything?"
"I knew you'd recognize me," Noah teases, still smiling, and Basch envies his composure. He looks good, though he's going without gloves or hat on a night this cold. No injuries, at least. Basch laughs again, in relief and helplessness and their sheer luck. There will be time to worry about how this could have possibly happened when things return to normal.
"What if I hadn't seen you?"
Noah pulls him into a loose hold, which makes Basch tense for a second, then give in and take a kiss on each cheek. "But you did," Noah says, while they're still close.
It doesn't answer the question, but he can't bring himself to be annoyed, when he wants to ask so much else -- "Come with me," Basch says. "I mean," he starts, and pulls away, expecting to have to argue, but Noah looks at his trench and goes without a word. It's been too long to push over things like that, even for them.
They exchange Christmas greetings, but he doesn't think much, on the walk back to the trench; the wires in the dark need concentration at any time. Some soldiers are singing now, hymns he knows but is too dizzy with everything else to name.
He leads them through their streets to Azelas' quarters, where there's privacy, but more importantly it's slightly warmer, for Noah's sake.
Noah grabs him by the arm when they're in the doorway. "Shouldn't this be your officer's room?"
Basch half-shrugs out of his open coat and points to the insignia on his shoulder. "I'm a sergeant myself," he says. "And the lieutenant's meeting with yours."
"Basch, the officer," Noah says.
"Not yet," Basch insists.
"How were you promoted so quickly?"
"Act of bravery," Basch says, replacing his coat and matching Noah's proud smile.
Even that's enough to remind him to be grateful that Noah is alive and here and with him -- Basch looks around once, and doesn't quite manage to convince himself that this is okay when he takes hold of Noah's coat with both hands and kisses him on the mouth.
Noah, thank God, knows him well enough that he doesn't hesitate or give Basch any other reason to doubt. His arms hold on tight as Basch's own, then he takes a step, forward so Basch is between him and the room's wall, and Basch isn't thinking clearly at all -- he opens his mouth just slightly, and he feels Noah's tongue, his hands, the sound from his throat.
Basch has to pull back, then, for breath and before he forgets where he is and what he's doing. He lets his hands run over Noah's body, down the new muscles and the uniform under the open coat, pulls it closed tight and holds Noah's bare hands in his gloves. "And you're -- tell me you're not wounded."
"No. Never," he says firmly, and Basch lets himself be grateful for their luck.
One of Noah's hands works loose to trace the scar on Basch's forehead, rough fingers soft, reverent. The touch is cold. Basch leans into it. "What is this?"
"Artillery shell." That, too, he should be grateful for; it's been months, and Noah doesn't have to see the injury at its worst. "Healed clean." Basch closes his eyes. Noah hasn't stopped touching him.
"This is your act of bravery." It isn't a question -- he says it like he's disgusted that Basch had to be hurt to earn his rank.
"It was." Basch doesn't mind. It happened, and it was an easy wound, all things considered -- he could've lost his eye, and he didn't. "If not me, the shell would've hit the lieutenant. I had no choice."
/There is always a choice/, he expects to hear. "Your lieutenant had better be a good man," is all Noah says, his face set.
Basch laughs once. "He is."
"You mock my concern?"
"Only missed it."
They kiss again, slower this time, Noah's hands warming from Basch's body. The kindness eventually turns fierce, this time from Noah.
"Why did you leave with the French?" he says, centimetres away. "Germany will win this war, and you--"
"I know," Basch says. He doesn't want to hear it, doesn't want to know the anger in Noah's voice. "Every German I shot," he starts, and he doesn't finish that, either.
"You didn't," Noah says firmly, like he's had the same worry.
"You know we'll have to write home about this," Basch tries. Even with the censors, they should be able to find some way of letting mum know they're together.
"Not all of it," Noah says, and after Basch glances at his expression they laugh again. It's different than it used to be, less teasing -- though with Noah that's affectionate, more often than not -- and more nerves, under the happiness.
They make room on Azelas' cot and tell stories: Basch goes on about his promotion, and when Noah asks he tells about Azelas' offers to put him on a train to Paris with request for commission on his word. Basch makes sure Noah gets himself wrapped in a spare blanket, and from under heavy wool he talks about the news from Berlin, and barely mentions Brussels, which is firmly siding with the French.
Eventually, someone yells through the streets that it's time for service. "You'll like our reverend," Noah says, as they straighten themselves up and button coats -- not that they need to, Basch thinks, but to look busy. "He's Lutheran, but every week he speaks well."
"You're lucky," Basch says. "How long will you come back here?"
"As long as the truce."
Basch considers what he's heard of Bergan just now. "Tomorrow, then?"
"I'd think," Noah admits, then his amusement fades. "Accept that offer."
"Of course," Basch says immediately. It's more involvement in this war than he wanted, but he can't knowingly fight his brother. Becoming an officer is the easiest way. He'll go to Paris, then be reassigned to another area of the front. "You'll make sure to meet me, when this is all over?"
There's silence, and Basch trusts Noah enough to keep it from being awkward, but they still don't have the luxury of it, if they aren't late to the service already. Noah rests a hand on his shoulder. "I will, brother. Let's go."