“Christ mate,” Tom paused, leaning against his shovel to wipe the sweat from his brow, “Are they gonna run us like this all day?”
The man next to him, another Lance Corporal, doesn’t stop where he’s digging away at the trench wall. “If you wanted something less physical you should have joined the priesthood.”
Tom laughs, the man does not. He looks dead serious, if anything, driving his shovel into the bombed out earth.
“There are certain pleasures I enjoy far too much to ever become a priest.” Tom wiggles his eyebrows, hoping to get a laugh out of the man.
The man stops digging for a second, glancing up at Tom with an empty expression, before settling back into his work.
“What I’m meaning is, I don’t mind being here.” Tom digs back into the dirt, searching for something to say. “It’s not much different from the farm back home, few more German snipers, but that’s about it.”
This time the man huffs in amusement. “That’s the only difference?”
“That I’ve noticed so far, yeah.” Tom shrugs sarcastically.
The other Lance Corporal shakes his head in exasperation, straightening up to stretch his back. Tom can hear the overworked joints crack as he rolls his broad shoulders.
Tom extends a hand. “Tom Blake.”
The Lance Corporal doesn’t notice the gesture, already started back on his work, “Schofield. Lance Corporal Schofield.”
“Well then,” Tom jumps on his shovel, punching it into the ground, “it’s lovely to meet you, Scho.”
After that day, Tom follows Schofield around like a lost puppy, talking his ear off about anything he can think of. He tells Schofield about the farm back home. About his mother and Joe. About summers spent roaming through orchards and climbing up cherry trees.
Will hardly ever offers a response of his own. And when he does the answers are concise, unattached, as though Schofield fears that once he gives away the information, he will never be able to have it back. He’s from London. He’s studying law. He has a family.
“What about them?” Tom asks.
Schofield turns away from Tom to stare out over the French countryside. “They’re back in London.”
“That’s not-“ Tom cuts himself off as he feels Schofields gaze turn cold.
The spring breeze pushes through their silence, ruffling the daisies at Tom’s feet. Tom picks them without a thought, practiced fingers weaving the stems together.
Schofield only glances down once as Tom constructs his little flower crown, quickly returning his attention to the countryside.
Tom weaves the last flower into place, taking a moment to admire his creation. An idea begins to grow in his mind as he glances from the flower crown to Schofield, then back again. Grinning impishly, Tom leaned over to plop the crown of daisies onto Scho’s head.
Tom giggles, sitting back as Schofield’s stoicism melts into something else.
For a second Tom fears it’s anger as Schofield's mouth straightens, until he sees the color rising up in the other man’s face.
It’s the most emotion Tom’s ever seen out of him.
A soft little smile. His eyes crinkling up at the edges. The blue of his irises seem to sparkle. And the lightest pink blush dusting over his cheeks.
He almost looks adorable. Tom feels his heart skip a beat and he immediately scolds himself. No, not here. His mother may have ignored his perverted homosexual tendencies, but Tom could guarantee that the thousand soldiers of his battalion would not react so mercifully.
The flutter in his chest is almost quiet enough to ignore until Schofield turns his head down. The flower crown dips down over his eyes, daisies resting on the bridge of his nose, and Schofield giggles.
A soft, ringing sound that floats through the usually heavy atmosphere of the camp. Schofields mouth turns up into a smile, nose scrunching as he laughs, looking up at Tom through the blossoms.
Tom’s mind goes blank as he feels his heart swan dive into full on infatuation. This is a bad idea, reminds the only logical part of his brain. But Tom ignores it, leaning into the sparkling warmth that’s quickly flooding from his chest. It feels good, after all the pain and anguish he’s seen out here, to fall, fast and dangerously, in love.
If Tom and Scho were acquaintances before, they were inseparable now. Schofield lets Tom have the peas out of his stew, Tom finds him a bit of wine in return. Tom’s letters home turn from dreary updates to happy recounts of his misadventures with Scho. They work together, eat together, nap together.
Somewhere along the way Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield become Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield, Tom and Will, inseparable friends. Even the higher ups knew you couldn’t speak of one without the other.
They go from soldiers to friends to something else. And Tom wishes there wasn’t a war to keep them from it.
He imagines life without the war. A life with Will. Would they return to the farm together? Or perhaps the city so Will could finish his studies. He imagines their flat, their kitchen, their bedroom. With each fantasy, Tom’s love for Will roots itself deeper in his chest, threatening to blossom out of him at any moment.
But Tom keeps it quiet. He keeps his gaze respectful as they dress in the mornings. He keeps his voice even as they settle against each other beneath their favorite tree. He keeps his thoughts to himself, always, even as they fall asleep shoulder to shoulder, heads tipping against each other.
Tom wakes up early one day. The unusually cold morning biting at his cheeks and cutting through his sleepy haze.
Beside him, Schofield’s tobacco tin sits open in his lap. It’s contents sit in Will’s hands, two photographs, worn down from handling. Will rubs his thumb lovingly over one of them, it’s a portrait, a young woman.
Will stiffens besides him. “I didn’t realize you were awake.”
“I just woke up,” Tom shifts uncomfortably. “But I can leave if you need me to.”
“It’s alright.” Will glances back down at the photograph, gaze softening, “This is Eloise, my wife.”
Tom’s breath stops. The warmth in his chest crystallizes like ice and shatters at his feet. The soft blossoms of love that once filled his lungs turn thorny, digging into his flesh. He can’t breathe.
Tom turned away abruptly, sucking in a ragged breath, the sharp prickle growing in his lungs.
“Are you alright?” Will quickly tucks his tin away, placing a hand on Tom’s arm in concern.
The gesture rips though Tom’s arm to his chest, squeezing tightly.
Tom nods frantically, “Yes,” he managed to gasp out, “just need water.”
Tom wrestles his arm free, stumbling away from Will. The tightness in his chest fades as he makes his way across camp, but the tickle stays, steadily making its way up his chest until it settles in the back of his throat. Tom cleared his throat awkwardly, thumping himself on the chest when the feeling lingered. A Private glances up at him, annoyed.
Tom turned away, muttering a quiet apology. His chest seized up suddenly, coughs tearing through his lungs. Tom tucked his face into his sleeve, praying to god that it wasn’t influenza. When he had collected his breath, Tom glanced down to see his uniform sleeve spotted with flecks of blood. Tom slowly raised a hand to his mouth, the taste of blood faint on his tongue along with something else. Gagging slightly, Tom reached past his molars to the object obstructing his airway.
He stared in shock at the bloodstained item in his palm.
It was the gentle white petal of a daisy.
Tom tried his best to live around the daisies growing in his lungs.
He still joked around with the men. He still sat with Scho beneath their tree. He still marched and dug trenches and shot Germans. He was still a soldier, and this was still a war.
And if he started carrying around extra hankies, and disappeared for long minutes at a time, no one really seemed to notice.
Tom leaned heavily on his shovel. He and Will always seemed to end up assigned to patching the trenches. Not that Tom minded, it was good busy work, and it occupied the spaces in his mind that would have otherwise been filled by fantasies of Will.
He coughed at the thought, flower petals tickling his lungs as if to remind him of his place. A petal rose into his mouth and he spat it into the dirt, grinding it into the mud of the trench beneath his heel.
“Are you alright?” Will’s soft voice came from behind him.
“Yes,” Tom lied, turning back to his work, ignoring how Will’s attention only watered the roots in his lungs. “I had tuberculosis as a child. Never left my lungs quite the same.”
Will’s forehead creased in concern. He set aside his shovel, walking over to lay a hand on Tom’s shoulder.
Tom winced at the gesture. Every touch, every gaze, every moment of Will’s attention only fed the flowers within him. Every instant of Tom’s unrequited love was another step towards his dreary fate.
“You’ve been coughing for weeks now, if it’s getting bad you could at least go to the medical tent.”
“No,” Tom waved him aside, “We’re in a war,” he laughed, “Do you really think I’m gonna let a leftover cough stop me?”
Every single act of affection makes it worse.
The occasional petal becomes full blossoms, torn from his lungs every day and delivered with a mouthful of blood.
Soon, every breath is uneven and rasping. The pain in his lungs becomes permanent.
When they march through France, Tom leaves a trail of blood soaked handkerchiefs behind them.
The French village is ruined by the time the 8th stumbles upon it. The men pick through the rubble of buildings, searching for anything of use.
Tom toes through the mess of books and stone on the ground. Will stands above him, rifle raised as cover.
“I don’t understand why we’re searching this building,” Will comments, eyes eternally fixed on the horizon. “I think this used to be a medical office, there won’t be any food here.”
“That’s alright,” Tom nods, pushing aside an overturned bookcase, “I just want to look.” He knows this is a doctor’s office, but he isn’t looking for food. Doctors have medicine. Doctors have books. Doctors would know what to do about the blossoms quickly filling his lungs.
Tom turns over a slim novel. It’s once red cover is dusted over, and in it’s center, the faded gold embellishment of roses, blooming from a set of lungs. Tom rips it open and his heart sinks. Of course, it’s in French, he should have known.
He thumbs through the pages, understanding none of it, until he lands on a page of illustrations. The first, a man coughing up petals. The second, a man coughing up flower buds, his lungs are pictured, torn ragged and bloody. The final, a man coughing up full blossoms. He is shown on his knees, weak and sickly. Beneath each image is a short line of French. He hopes that it’s simple.
The man hums in response.
“They taught you French in your posh city school, right?”
Will laughs, “They tried. I doubt I could speak a lick of it now.”
Tom ignores his doubt, sounding out the letters below the first image, “What does tr-trois mois mean?”
“Trois mois?” Will parrots, they sound like real words when he says them, “Three months. Why?”
“And un mois?” Tom feels dread begin to settle in his stomach.
“One month.” Will responds.
Tom swallows around the lump in his throat as he looks to the last image. The one that looks like him. “Une semaine?”
Tom knows the answer before Will says it.
He has one week left.
Tom’s leave gets cancelled a few days later.
The other men sneer in disgust as he leaves the tent in tears. Tom’s chest heaves with a sob and he can taste the blood bubbling up in the back of his throat.
He had hoped to see his mother again. Just once before his time ran out.
Maybe this was for the best.
His family could believe that he died as a hero, instead of some invert queer. Perhaps this sickness was his divine atonement, penance for his sin.
He could live with that. Or die with it, rather. Knowing that everything was as it was intended to be.
Tom staggered away towards the tree he shared with Will. His stomach turned over and he vomited onto the grass. Even through the blood and bile, Tom could not ignore what he saw. Nearly half a dozen daisies, white petals opened into full bloom.
Tom wiped the tears from his face as he settled besides Will. The man was already asleep, moonlight gently gracing his features. Tom allowed himself to look, just this once, at all of Will’s beauty. Let his eyes trail over the contours of Will’s nose, his hollows of his cheeks. Stopped to admire the gentle part of Will’s lips, his breath even and unhindered.
Tom’s ruined lungs ached as he stared at the man.
If Will was the last thing he ever saw, if Tom never woke again, he would bear no complaint.
His love ran deeper than any personal grievance.
And oh god, did Tom love him.
Tom watches Will until the cold hands of sleep pull him into darkness. .
“Pick a man. Bring your kit.”
Tom wants to scream as the sunlight pierced through his happy unconsciousness.
The thought of his brother's life is the only thing to carry him through the trenches. His mother cannot lose two sons on the same day.
Tom is lightheaded as he crawls onto no man’s land. Whether it’s the lack of oxygen or the blood loss or the pure adrenaline, he doesn't know. He doesn’t care to. No Man’s Land is pocked with craters, the ground is torn up and ruined. Tom’s shoes slip through the mud and he nearly throws up. His mouth is never without blood. Tom spits it into the dirt and prays that Will doesn’t notice.
Tom's breath is ragged by the time they reach the German trench. He spends more time without air in his lungs than with.
Every time Will looks at him, the stems wrap tighter. Every touch and the roots settle deeper.
Soon the blood comes from his nose too.
A small trickle that he easily wipes away on his sleeve.
Think of Joe, his mind reminds him. You have to keep going. You have to save your brother.
Tom can’t think clearly. He knows Will notices. He can feel Wills displeased gaze as he pulls the pilot from the burning plane.
“Water, he needs water.” Tom's own voice is nearly as garbled as the pilots. He doesn’t know why he’s doing this. Maybe he’s just sick of the death. It’s everywhere, in everything, seeping into him and turning the world grey.
Will turns away to fill his helmet and Tom settles back on his heels. Just a moment to rest. To sit. To breathe.
The sharp ring of twin gunshots slice through his haze. The German pilot lays dead beneath him.
Tom scrambles up in shock as the pilot's body stills. Clutched in the man’s hand is the long blade of a knife. A knife intended for him. It’s fatal path deterred by Will.
Tom looked up with wide eyes, and Will's face matches his own. Will's hands shake slightly, perhaps from just how close he had come to losing his only friend. Will’s eyes search Tom’s face, searching for any sign of injury. His face is etched with the concern that only comes with caring for something so, so deeply.
And that look, so close to love, is all it takes.
Tom feels his knees buckle and give out, collapsing onto the dirt. He can feel the flowers pushing up through his chest. They’re close.
Tom’s mouth floods with warmth, and he distantly feels the blood dribble out from between his lips.
He hears Will throw down his gun as he runs to Tom, pulling the younger man into his lap.
“Tom, where were you hit? We need to stop the bleeding...to stop...to stop-“ Will rambles frantically.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” Tom tries to speak around the blood bubbling from his mouth, “I didn’t have much time left anyways. This is good.”
Will shakes his head, voice breaking, “What does that mean? Thomas, what’s happening?”
Tom doesn’t respond, instead turning to cough up another mouthful of blood onto Wills chest.
“No, no, no. Come on we’re going to find a medic.” Will tries to pull him up. “You’ll be okay.”
Tom shakes his head tiredly. “Une semaine.”
Tom can see the realization dawning on Will’s face. Of why he had chosen to pick through a dilapidated medical library rather than search for food. Of why Tom had seemed to grow steadily sicker. One week had passed. Tom was out of time.
Will shook his head in denial, “You can’t. Please Tom.”
Tom feels the thorns rip ragged through his heart at every word.
“I care for you so much. Please, Thomas. You can’t do this. You can’t leave me like this. I need you.”
Tom groans at the confession, so close to those three words that could have healed him completely. He feels the daisies rip through his left lung, pushing it to the point of collapse. Tom coughs violently, turning his head to spit flowers into the dirt.
Wills face pales as he takes in the daisies. “Lovers Lungs.” He whispers. “Tom why wouldn’t you tell me?” Will's voice tilts towards anger, “I could have helped you! Was it a girl back home? Please, Tom.” Will’s shoulders shake as the fight seeps out of heim, “Why wouldn’t you let me help you?”
“Wouldn’t hurt you like that.” Tom smiles, eyes already glazing over, “Liked seeing you happy. Liked seeing you smile. Liked seeing you laugh.”
Blood streams from his nose. He can feel the flowers twisting up through his lungs, cutting off his air. The roots push through his weakened lungs, winding around his ribs. Far away he hears Will’s horrified sob as the roots reach out from his chest. Looking like violet veins spreading out under his skin, ready to take root in the ground.
“It’s okay.” Tom smiles, reaching up a hand to cup Will’s face. He traces his thumb over the man's cheekbones, the way he had always dreamt to. “I loved our time together. Every moment.” Tom took a deep breath. “I love you, Will.”
The flowers in his lungs opened into full blossoms, and Tom’s head fell back, limp, onto the grass below.
Will watches in shock as Tom’s body goes slack in his arms. He looks young. Peaceful. Will wipes away the blood that still dropped from Tom’s mouth and nose. Without the red stains he could almost imagine the boy was sleeping.
But sleep didn’t feel this cold. It didn’t leave you this still.
Far off he hears a convoy of soldiers arriving. Their captain stops in front of him, reminding him of his mission.
It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing seems to matter. Sixteen hundred men be damned, Will would trade them all for Tom to open his eyes again.
Will stands in a trance, mindlessly following the captain back to the convoy.
The world is darker.
The sky is grey now. Wasn’t it blue just a minute ago?
The sun is gone, the air is cold once more, the ice of it settling beneath Will’s sweater, planting itself in his chest.
He huddles into the back of the truck, letting the chatter of the other men swallow up his grief.
Their talk is rude, nothing like Tom’s gentle stories of home. Their faces are worn and dirty and Will closes his eyes, longing to see Tom’s soft face, smiling up at him, tucked into his side where he belongs.
Will feels a tickle rise in his throat, he turns to cough into his elbow. Again, when the feeling stays.
The man beside him reaches into his uniform, passing over a handkerchief.
Will accepts it gratefully, finally clearing his throat. A flash of color catches his eye as he goes to fold it away, something bright staining the once clean fabric.
A few drops of blood. And the petal of a cherry blossom.