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An Hour for Forever

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Your second-best friend burns.

 

It had been pounded into you from the first day you stumbled off the transport onto the seeping cold wetness of a strange land. This faraway place that seemed so like home but also so foreign--Canada, The Scheme, Ottawa, BCATP--whatever they called it today had one rule. It hounded you as you thundered through The Plan , cramming your brain full of glide ratios and burn rates and aerial geometry . As you flew over the flat green stretches that looked like a quilt of agriculture and fog, the first thought in your mind was always supposed to be her.

 

Your Spitfire, your lady luck, your Icarus who flew you closer to the Sun than the old gods had ever dared. She was supposed to be your one true love--your first thought when you woke up in the morning, the one for whom your bones ached while you wracked your brain during mission planning, painstakingly outlining the precious time you’d get with her. You were supposed to shudder in relief as you ran your hand along her gaudily-painted hull, fingers tracing every rivet, every metal seam with the long-acquainted familiarity of lovers who have spent a compressed lifetime together. You were supposed to feel an aching perfection when your hands pushed her throttle back and she shuddered beneath you, wings catching the wind as the perfect balance of engineering and belief carried you into the sky. You were supposed to walk away from her with your heart sinking to the soles of your boots, mind full of whispered promises that you’d be back, you’d always come back for her...that you would never be parted from one another. That if you perished, you’d perish together.

 

But then you met him . Blue eyes that seemed to always see what you couldn’t, that would flick over the maps and find the perfect route with ease. Blonde hair incongruous under the dark leather of his flight cap, like sunshine tucked under the compliance required in the Royal Air Force. His constant serious expression, brow furrowed as he examined the technical specifications of the fuel system, would sometimes burst into carefree joy at the news that the chow hall was serving bangers and mash that day.

 

You were a strange pair and you knew it. Collins was a by-the-book pilot, a veritable fountain of readily-quoted rules and regulations and a staunch believer in meticulous preparation. You were a bit of a maverick, your faith firmly rooted in the heat of the moment, in the random but always-efficient firing of neurons that made the human brain the greatest weapon on the planet. He was the type of person you would have scoffed at in your previous life, before the war--you would have dismissed him as one of those annoying individuals who liked to sandpaper the anchor.

 

But war did strange things to men...it forged friendships in the oddest places, it made bonds in incongruous settings, it tied a copper wire that could never be broken between the souls of wingmates. Each sortie flown by his side was the ultimate game, the ultimate gamble against death, the ultimate challenge to the Krauts. Farrier and Collins, the two of you defending the Homeland however She asked.

 

Today’s mission was to protect the lumbering destroyers ferrying the boys home from Hell.

 

From Dunkirk.

 

So you whispered apologies to her, your slighted lady luck, as you climbed in on that clear afternoon, a scant few hours ago. You didn’t run your fingers over the curves of her windshield but rather looked over to see if he was settled, but you knew she understood. You knew your girl would never let you down...she understood any slight on her was only because you were assured of her love and her heartbeat--you were one. Collins safety was not so assured. The fuel gage was shattered, bashed in by some hangar warrior who clearly didn’t know the right way to treat a lady. Collins had yelled at you to get the nut busters out to fix it, but you had waved him off. The Mole was departing her moorings soon--the three of you needed to be there . You needed to keep the boys safe.

 

Besides, you trusted Collins to keep an eye on the gages. He always did, after all...and you always kept him safe while his head was tucked down, sweeping over the instruments. So instead you whooped with joy as you pushed the throttles forward and your Spitfire gripped the horizon and grappled her way skyward, waiting for the friendly scolding from Collins that never failed to crackle over your radio.

 

But then it all went to shit. It had always been a tough row of buttons to shine and you had known that. Three of you against all the firepower the Jerrys could throw from their steadily-advancing line. You had lost your leader in the first scuffle, and your heart had clenched in the rictus of sorrow felt universally by a military man whenever a brother went down. But as you marked the point of his watery grave, there was no fear in your heart. You still had Collins.

 

It all started to crumble when you saw his Spitfire crash into the ocean, no chute signaling the unspoken pact every pilot had with his lady to go down together. But you circled around, knowing it was against regulations but you didn’t care--rules were his penchant, not yours. You saw the small-boat speeding towards his dying girl and you knew he was alright. You knew he was safe, in the inexplicable way known only to the foolhardy and the warriors who rushed in secure in the absolute belief that their brothers were beside them. But as the Kraut fighter swooped in behind, your heart filled with desperate purpose.

 

You have to keep the small boats safe. You have to keep him safe.

 

Until the end.

 

Now, you stand on the compacted sand that so hardily accepted your landing gears--the finest possible runway for a final descent--and watch her burn. You both could not live with the knowledge that her parts would be bolted into a filthy Luftwaffe whore, her engine and propeller unwillingly taken for service to the enemy. With a final loving touch to her side, you had shot the flare into her belly and commited her to the flames. A sarcophagus next to the sea, a Pyramid on the oceanfront, a pyre for your beloved.

 

Goodbye my darling , you whisper into the night air that has fallen into a sudden chill, its bite seeping into you right next to her warmth. You wonder if the glow of her death will be somehow etched into your skin forever and the thought heartens you as you thank her. You cast silent gratitude at her iron flesh for being faithful to you, to him. For giving you everything she could to keep him safe, for helping you settle the yellow flash of their bellies in your sights so you could consign them to a endless graveyard. For giving you the chance to give him back a stolen forever.

 

You know your forever won’t be long as muzzles poke your back and prod you away from her final resting place. You crane your head, trying to keep your eyes pinned on her for as long as you can because you know as soon as you lose her, you lose your last link to him. To your best friend, your wingman, your brother.

 

But even as her glow is lost as when they throw you into the back of an armored truck, you realize you can still feel her. You feel the flames of her defiance burning beneath your heart and see the flash of his smile behind your eyes...and you take a deep breath, wondering idly if your last breath will taste any sweeter. You are content to lay in darkness as the truck rumbles along a pocked road with the sound of Ratzy voices echoing around you, laughing to yourself that no matter what happens you have won the day. You defended your wingman, you held your iron lady until the end, you kept the small boats safe.

 

You’re thrown from the truck into a sea of bound bodies, unmoving and stiff as you crash into them. The wide-open eyes of a heartbreakingly-young private stare at you in sightless admonishment under a mantle of blood that billowed from a single bullet-hole, and you know what is coming. You hear the click of the hammer as you turn your head to see the muzzle of a Luger staring you down and you smile in silent gratitude. You won’t have to fight to keep the Gestapo from prying your secrets from your fragile flesh, you won’t have to fear if you are strong enough to resist. Instead you just have to breathe out, wait for the flash and the crack of sound that won’t ever reach your ears.

 

The last thought that shivers through your neurons, skittering along your dying synapses is that you’ll gladly give him your forever.