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The Terror of Knowing

Chapter Text

The President of the United States,
NUMBER 109
To: Julien Enjorlas
190 Sunset Blvd. Apt. 23
Hayward, Calif.

Greeting:
You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of The United States, and to report at LOCAL BOARD NO.54 24800 MISSION BLVD., HAYWARD, CALIFORNIA on AUGUST 30, 1969 at 2:45 AM. For forwarding to an Armed Forces Induction Station.

[...]

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The President of the United States,
NUMBER 4
To: Rafael Grantaire
596 Lexington Drive.
Flushing, NY.

Greeting:
You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of The United States, and to report at LOCAL BOARD NO.32 54900 ANDERSON BLVD., FLUSHING,NEW YORK on JUNE 23, 1970 at 3:15 AM. For forwarding to an Armed Forces Induction Station.

[...]

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A young man sits alone in a bar. Three shot glasses are empty and recklessly scattered around him. Other patrons shoot cold and pitying glances at the man when they notice the letter he’s clutching in his hands. The whiteness of the letter is foreign in the bar, a foreign symbol of hatred in a place that radiates jubilance. The man at the table downs another shot of amber liquid, he quickly swallows and wipes away a salty tear before it can splatter upon the table. Abruptly he crushes the letter with his two dark hands and stands up. He wobbles a bit to the right and slowly makes his way to the door. The clock on the wall reads 11:00pm, the man swallows nervously before he heads out into the night; four hours until he’s brought to hell.

 

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One Year Prior

Another man sits at a bar, but unlike the other, he isn’t alone. He cries freely as his family sits around him. They are crammed into a booth, and everyone has something to say. His father is whispering something into his crying son’s ear, and the father’s pride is evident with every word he speaks, “You were born for this, become a hero, make me proud”. The words do nothing to ebb the flow of tears. The sister then speaks, a soft reassuring smile on her face, she’s trying hard to be strong but the corners of her mouth tremble. “Come back alive.” The young man’s tears seem to lesson as he attempts to smile back. Then the mother places her soft pale hand on her son’s shoulder and simply says “I love you.”. The tears halt. The time is 11:00 pm, 3 hours until he’s brought to hell.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in Vietnam- Two Months Later
Bravo Platoon

The corse jungle is dark and misty, sun beams barely cut through the tight knitted canopy of trees. It is unusually silent, there are no animals scurrying in the undergrowth and no birds whistling in the trees. The only sound is the occasional wack of a blade clearing through brush. A man, the same man who sat alone at a bar not so long ago, leads his platoon through the forest, a machete in hand. He is breathing hard, sweat drips from his forehead and his dark curls are matted underneath his green helmet. His rucksack is coming apart and it rattles as he walks.

The platoon leader is behind him, he carries himself with pride. His dark hair is cropped and oily with streaks of silver, his nose is crooked and a slender scar stretches down his face. He looks positively wicked.

The other members of the platoon march past, their faces hard and dirty after weeks in the field, exhausted yet alert, their hair way past regulation length and wearing colorful bandanas. This is a jungle army. Boys.

The machete holder glances down at his dark and tanned hands, they are covered in blisters. He switches the blade into his other hand and continues. He’s struggling but trying, on his last reserve of strength he smashes through the brush recklessly. He then smells something, it’s rank and pungent. He slows his pace and looks about, his eyes flicker around the forest and then he sees it. A dead, ten day old corpse laying at the base of a tall oak. It’s eyes are bulging, flies swarm around the carcass and worms feast on the rotten flesh. The soldier gasps in terror, and stares at the moldy body, unable to look away. The platoon leader appears at his side, dark blue eyes gazing coldly and humorlessly at the corpse.

“What are you waiting for Private? He ain’t gonna bite you. Move out.” His voice is cold and emotionless as he turns to glare at the younger soldier. The private returns the glare, his face full of hate and rage. They stare at each other for a heated moment before the private turns and resumes his trek through the forest.

Only a few minutes pass when the machte holder begins to stumble with each swing of the sword. He’s panting and his water ran out six miles back. He stops abruptly, bracing a tree for support. The platoon leader curses colorfully as the private falls to the ground and vomits.

“What the hell’s the matter with you Grantaire! You’re a sorry ass motherfuker. Fall back.” He grabs Grantaire’s machte from his blister covered hand and bulls his way into the foliage, tearing it apart, setting a new pace.

The rest of the platoon begins to pass Grantaire, their eyes on him. He is swatting at the red ants that are slowly climbing up his neck. The bark of the tree digs into his back as he lays against it, utterly defeated.

A tall and slender medic, nicknamed Joly, approaches Grantaire and with him is the squad sargent, Champmathieu.

“You ok?” Joly surveys Grantaire with kind and helpful eyes.

“Ants, I got ants on my neck.” Grantaire complains and shakes more bugs from his sweaty neck with a frown. Joly laughs softly.

“Yeah, these ants are killers, you look sorta sick man. You need a little salt.” Joly reaches into a satchel that hangs from his belt. Champmathieu, a handsome man Native American man of twenty three, grabs Grantaire’s rucksack and begins unpacking it hastily.

“You’re humping way to much stuff, troop, you don’t need half of this shit,” The sargent pulls out three extra canteens with an amused face before continuing. “I’ll haul it for you but next time you gotta check it out with me okay.”

Grantaire nods gratefully as the rest of the platoon boys pass by, watching with judgmental faces. A young boy walks past, no more then eighteen and his face is deceptively angelic. He’s laughing hysterically as he practically skips through the brush.

“That ol’ gook really got what was coming to him.” He cackles to the man behind him, referring to the decaying body a few paces back.

“You’re a sick bastard Monty.” The soldier behind Monty mutters. The young boy laughs loudly and continues walking. Grantaire notes that Monty’s pants zipper is half up, and infers that Monty must have pissed upon the body. His face scrunches in disgust. War shattered people’s morality he realized as he watched Monty’s young form grow smaller in the distance. Montparnasse (or Monty) was only eighteen, the youngest member of the Bravo platoon and he had more confirmed kills than half the group combined. Maybe he had been born ruthless or maybe the months of relentless combat were responsible for the creation of such a monster. Grantaire assumed both.

When the last member of the platoon has passed them, Joly offers him a hand. Grantaire takes it with a grunt of appreciation and stands.

“We are three miles away from camp, think you can make it?” Champmathieu asks as he adjusts his own pack’s straps. Grantaire only nods weakly and begins to walk again, following after the group with a newfound determination.

They are only a half mile away from camp when the first gunshot sounds. It’s a loud popping noise, and it’s out of place in the peaceful jungle. Panic surges through the platoon as they dive for cover, and reach for their guns. More shots are fired, each is closer than the last. The squad sargent is in the midst of reaching for his gun when two bullets pierce his body. One enters his thigh, a shot he could have survived if it wasn’t for the second bullet that rips through his neck. Ruby red blood sprays, he’s dead before he can hit the ground. The young private, Grantaire, holds in a shout as the still warm body of his leader falls atop him.

Bullets rain down on the platoon as they begin firing back, soldiers grunt when enemy bullets land but they still fight. The platoon leader shouts orders as he shoots down enemy after enemy. Young Montparnasse is laughing again as his rapidly firing gun rattles the trees. The noise of the battle reaches a deafening crescendo before it’s silent. The men look around, alert, but see no one. The platoon leader slowly reaches for his radio, his finger still hovering on his gun’s trigger.

“Bravo to base camp, this is Platoon Leader Javert, we were jumped ‘bout a half mile away from the base, stay alert. Over.” The message is transmitted and the sound of heavy panting and low moaning fills the air. Grantaire carefully rolls the sargent’s body away from him and sits up. No one else is dead, a few clutch their blood drenched arms and a few lucky soldiers have injuries that will surely get them sent home. It takes a moment for the base camp operator to respond.

“Base camp to Bravo, how many casualties? Over.” Javert takes a second as his dark eyes flicker over the group, his stare lands on the dead Sargent.

“Bravo to basecamp, just one; Champmathieu. Over.” The sheer lack of emotion in Javert’s voice was enough to send shivers down any man's spin. This was a man born for combat, someone who saw each death as a number and nothing more. The leader was cruel, calculating and permanently isolated. The radio paused a moment before crackling back to life, each soldier hanging on to every word that was said.

“Base to Bravo. His replacement will arrive tomorrow before dawn, return to camp. Over.”

“Copy that. Over.”

The Bravo platoon is near silent as they begin to stand, brushing off the dirt and leaves that cling to them. A few men whose legs are peppered with bullet wounds grab a friend’s arm for support and follow Javert as they make their way to camp.

Grantaire stares at Champmathieu’s body, the blood coating his neck is dry and bugs already flitt around the twisted corpse. Silently Joly, the medic, approaches the lifeless soldier and turns to Grantaire with saddened eyes.

“Help me carry him?” The tall grey eyed man asks as he kneels at Champmathieu’s side. Grantaire nods and reaches for the sargent’s limp legs. Joly grabs Champmathieu by the armpits and lifts him up. Slowly they walk along the beaten trail, the cold body dangles between them. The next morning a new shipment of soldiers would arrive, replacing the ones lost in the past month. It was an endless cycle of death; die, get replaced, die, get replaced. Grantaire thought about this as he walked and as he walked he realized that one day he’d become a number in a history textbook. That’s all he’ll ever be, a number.

Chapter Text

When they arrive at their “base camp”, a small area covered in tarps and sleeping rolls, the other half of Bravo stands sleepily and their eyes flick over the returning party members. Their gazes land on Private Grantaire and the body he carries. Unmistakable pain flashes through the eyes of the soldiers.

 

Private Combeferre, a young dark skinned intellectual from Missouri, steps toward Champmathieu with a shocked expression.  His eyes are wide and his mouth opens and closes like a fish, apparently he and Champmathieu had known each other back ‘in the world’.  He stands, motionless, for a moment before his body begins to shake with quiet sobs. As he cries, the men who weren’t on the patrol blatantly ignore the dark skinned man and close in around Javert demanding answers to their many questions. They ask about the identity of Champmathieu’s replacement and question him excessively about the ambush. Javert answers them curtly.

 

“They’ll send in a new sergeant tomorrow at dawn, along with new recruits and transfers.  The ambush has been reported, I promise we will hunt those fuckers down until each and every last one of them is exterminated.”

 

Those answers seem to satisfy the group as they head back to their ‘beds’ and outposts.  Combeferre, however, stumbles toward Grantaire and looks down at the red stained corpse of his close companion.  Grantaire slowly lowers Champmathieu and winces slightly as the bloody head thudds carelessly upon the muddy jungle floor.  When he looks up Ferre’s glasses more foggy than usual, tears create tracks of clean skin as they cascade down his face. Grantaire opens his mouth to comfort the taller man but Courfeyrac, arguably Combeferre closest companion, appears at Grantaire’s side and beats him to it.

 

Courfeyrac takes a few steps closer to Combeferre and smiles softly while placing a single, comforting, hand on his shoulder and proceeding to whisper inaudible things to Combeferre. The Missourian slowly begins to nod and soon he’s smiling softly, his dark gaze fixated on Courfeyrac’s lighter green eyes, he no longer looks at the Sargent's body on the ground.  Grantaire watches as Courfeyrac extends his other muscled arm to Combeferre, the silver item he holds in his tanned palm sparkles in the mottled sunlight. Grantaire inwardly gasps, realizing what it was that Coufeyrac offered and also pondering how he got them without Grantaire noticing. Champmathieu’s dog tags fall into one of Combeferre’s outstretched hands and he grips them tightly, a flurry of emotions flash through his face and he looks like he’s about to embrace the smaller man in front of him but he restrains himself and instead whispers softly,

 

“Thank you.”

 

Grantaire takes this as a time to approach his ‘friends’.  They weren’t very close in the traditional sense, none of the men were.  Fighting together brought people both closer and farther then anything did in the ‘real world’.  There were not many real friendships in the war.

 

As he approaches, Courfeyrac lowers his freckled arm from Combeferre’s shoulder and turns with his usual straight white-toothed grin to face Grantaire.

 

“Grand R, long time no see.” His accompanying laugh is melodious, a complete opposite of the quiet, collected man that had stood before Combeferre only seconds ago.  Grantaire can’t help but flash a grin back at the other man.

 

Courfeyrac is extremely well liked in the Bravo company, his outgoing personality and enthusiastic responses make him a favorite of any commander. Courfeyrac had been shipped over when he was only twenty and a sophomore in college. Typically college students were exempt from the draft but Courfeyrac had gotten into serious trouble for protesting the war on his campus which resulted in he and his friends being rounded up by the school’s ROTC instructor and sent to Vietnam. Occasionally he’ll see some of his college buddies at clubs when they take their leave but it’s not a regular occurrence since many have perished.

 

“Yeah man, I keep get put on the shitty night patrols, goddamnit I just want to sleep.” Grantaire’s voice rang loud and clear, and more then a few men grunted in agreement from where they sat.

 

“I heard some lucky company is gonna be granted leave sometime soon, let’s pray it’s us because we fuckin’ deserve it.”  Combeferre grumbled. Grantaire nodded his agreement and pulled out a blunt from his breast pocket, it was a little soggy but it still caught the flame from his rusted lighter.  He placed it between his teeth and inhaled, zoning out from the other men’s continuing conversation.

 

He isn’t very good at small talk. Personally Private Grantaire preferes philosophical rants, and pointless debates, which is probably why he doesn’t have any close friends.  Everyone in the company has one person, someone to worry about, whether it’s someone at home or someone in the battle field, they all have someone. There is no one worrying about Grantaire and vise versa, he tells himself he prefers it that way but you can only lie to yourself for so long. As he watches Courfeyrac and Combeferre interact, he feels something akin to jealousy overwhelm him. It pulls at his heart, at his brain, and at his soul.  Burning his very being with loneliness and an unexplainable grief. But when he takes another hit of his joint, he feels it slowly ebb away. His pain falls back into subconscious as smoke fills the air.

 

As high as a kite, Grantaire stumbles towards the rain splattered sleeping bag he claimed as his own.  Drugs aren’t exactly approved of in the army but no one says anything as the scent of marijuana drifts through the misty night air, they’re all busy getting high themselves.  Somehow he manages to get in his zippered bed without embarrassing himself and he falls asleep quickly, faster then he has in weeks.

 

Someone wakes him early in the morning by tossing his helmet as his sleeping figure. Sitting up quickly, he looks the helmet over and traces his finger along the bold sharpied inscription that Courfeyrac had written in the early days of his tour.

 

When I die, bury me upside down so that the world can kiss my ass

 

At first they had laughed about it but now, after hearing about so many deaths, after experiencing so many deaths, it doesn’t seem comical anymore.  He tosses it onto his head nonetheless, the four pound weight crushing his raven curls. Then he looks around at the rest of the company, most have already risen and a majority sit around Javert as he gives instructions on how to properly clear the brush to prepare for a bird landing.  Grantaire is familiar with the drill and his blister covered hands know it all to well.

 

 

  • Find a nice, relatively tree-free clearing
  • Chop down the smaller trees with an axe (“not worth wasting claymores on the baby trees”, Javert constantly insists)
  • Plant mines near the larger trees and watch ‘em fall
  • Radio the bird and get ready for some wild wind.

 

 

As they march to the designated landing site, Grantaire grips his gun tightly.  Today he is in the midst of the group, closest to the radio and closest to Javert, which means that he has a seven second life expectancy should they be ambushed.  Vets like to say that the Vietcong will knock off the platoon sergeant or leader first, the leaders always get close to three seconds of time before a bullet shatters their skull.  The radio transmitter is next, he’s not hard to miss with the heavy gear strapped to his back. He gets five seconds to react, enough time to drop to the group or fire back. And then the rest of the platoon is fair game, the people closest to the leader and transmitter always go first though (a seven second expectancy).  The enemy guerrilla fighters are quick and to the point most days, and will typically only knock out the leader and the radio before scattering and disappearing into the forest like phantoms. With this in mind Grantaire’s finger hardly ever leaves his trigger and it’s painfully cramped when they arrive at the clearing.

 

It only takes thirty minutes to detonate the small bombs and watch the trees fall. Luckily for Grantaire’s hands there are no smaller trees that require removal. He watches the explosions shake the ground with squinted blue-grey eyes, it’s sunny today, an unexpected treasure after days of rainfall.  The sky is a clear blue and a few clouds whisp across the sky, Grantaire can only compare the beauty of it all to something he painted long ago, in a different and happier life.

 

The helicopter approaches quickly, it’s an in and out mission, drop off some transfers, new kids, and a platoon sergeant. Pick up the wounded along with men who have served their time.  Then leave. The wind picks up as the chopper’s blades near the earth and Grantaire stumbles a little, last night’s high still clinging to him. As soon as the legs of the bird hit the ground, men rush to greet it, dodging it’s spinning blades.  The wounded are lifted into the vehicle and new men hop out, some youthful and innocent, others war battered and broken. A older man, around twenty six, close to Javert’s age leads these men towards Bravo company with a determined glint in his brown eyes. This must be the new sergeant.

 

When Grantaire manages to rip his gaze away from their new determined leader for a split second, his eyes catch on someone else, someone much more interesting.

 

The man is running behind the supposed sergeant, crouched low to the ground to avoid drawing any surprise enemy fire, a technique that wasn’t taught in basic training, which leds Grantaire to assume that this man is a transfer.  But it’s not just the strategic and impressive way the man is running that captivates the young Private, it’s his godlike good looks. Grantaire has never been attracted to women, he figured that maybe he just hadn’t found the right match but as he watches the sinfully attractive man run towards him, he realizes that he was looking in all the wrong places.

 

The man was blonde, not a dirty blonde or a pale sandy blonde, but a fine golden blonde as if his hair had been threaded by byzantine weavers.  His body was a stereotypical masterpiece, a chiseled marble statue of Apollo would be the only way to describe the man’s physical form. Although he was still far away Grantaire could see flashes of crystal blue eyes, a shade that truthfully shouldn’t exist on the human body but here this man is.  As the man sprints towards him, Grantaire is frozen, his eyes wander over the man’s unbuttoned olive vest and, on his gloriously tanned collarbone black ink spills a cursive blotch that Grantaire is unable to read. Suddenly everything is clear as the man hurtles the last few yards to the safety of the company and comes to a dramatic stop before Grantaire, panting hard.  He braces his hands on his knees and begins to wheeze loudly and before Grantaire can stop himself he’s unfastening his own water flask and offering it to the man.

 

“Thirsty?” His voice wavers making a would be suave sentence sound more he had hit puberty mid sentence.  The man’s face shoots upward to look at him and he wordlessly accepts the flask. Grantaire is speechless as he looks upon the man in all of his wheezing glory.  He has long eyelashes, freckles, and a dreadfully crooked nose which makes his sharp cheekbones stand out even more. His face is drastic and memorable, leaning on beautiful but not quite there, simply remarkable. He drinks slowly, his chest convulsing as the wheezing becomes less frequent until the man lets out a voice clearing cough.  He hands the flask back to Grantaire with a appreciative nod.

 

“Thanks.” Grantaire is immediately taken aback by the dryness and hoarseness of the angel’s voice and winces because it sounds extremely painful. The man’s hand shoots up to his throat and rubs it softly.

 

“Lost my voice a while back, somewhere in the A Shau Valley I think. The asthma makes me sound worse.”  He explains taking in a painful dry gulp and his eyes flicker over to the larger company group as they begin to sort supplies. He looks back and meets Grantaire’s eyes, his blue eyes are somewhat haunted, confirming that he is indeed a transfer.  Grantaire laughs softly, and his eyes linger on the blonde’s collarbone and the tattoo scrawled across it.

 

“What’s your tattoo?” He says it almost impulsively, curiosity overcoming him. He internally winces as the man freezes for a second before running his slender fingers over the black lettering.  He hesitates with his fingers shaking against the green cloth but he eventually pulls the fabric back to reveal his chest and the whole writing; Après moi le déluge.

 

“Après moi le déluge,” Grantaire begins to smile, a true smile, as he recognizes the famous words.

 

“Yeah, it means;-”

 

“-after me, the flood” They say together and the blonde snaps his head up to look at Grantaire in amazement.  Grantaire holds the man’s intense stare until the blonde looks away, a little red faced, to fix his crooked jacket.

 

“You’re the first person to understand it.” The man says softly with a peculiar look on his sharp face as he once again examines Grantaire. He pauses with an open mouth clearly contemplating what to say next.

 

“My friends call me Enjorlas. ” His voice has regained what Grantaire can only assume as his normal confidence. The man, Enjorlas, radiates confidence and bravery, two things that Grantaire infamously lacks.  Enjorlas proceeds to extend an uncharastically slender hand to Grantaire who shakes it with a budding grin.

 

“Grantaire”