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the first one to greet him

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Will remembers the blast. He doesn’t remember seeing it. It hits him; he remembers the grass flying around him, he remembers the shrapnels tearing through him like he’s brittle and paper-thin.

He remembers falling to the ground, the impact knocking the air out of his lungs.

Then he notices the sky above him. It occurs to him that it reminds him of the sea. Gray, blue, the clouds foaming white like the crashing waves. It’s an idle thought, just drifting across his mind.

Will stares at the heavens, at the sparrows diving across his vision and burning under his lids. The sounds of artillery fire, the screams, the crying deafen in his eardrums, fade and drown under the rush of hot blood pounding in his ears.

He can barely hear the beat of his own heart.

(that scarred, hardened thing in his chest that’s barely been alive enough to count)

Can barely feel the blood.

(the blood that pours and soaks through his uniform)

(like once upon a time on the farm)

I’m tired, he finds himself thinking and is absently surprised that he has energy for such a thing. I’m so tired.

Scho.”

Will blinks slowly. No. It – it can’t –

He knows that voice. God, he knows it with every fiber of his being, he knows it in the corners of his very soul. Somehow it pierces the silence more clearly than any gunfire.

Scho. Will,” the voice whispers near his ear, and a gutted sound escapes Will’s mouth. Anguish, longing and relief swirl in his skull, making everything uneven and clouded. Will, you daft bastard...”

That heavy dialect curls in the pit of Will’s stomach as everything in him, in his dying mortal body lights with recognition, remembrance and yearning. He remembers. His body remembers. The very raw open heart that belongs to him, to that person, remembers.

That playful lilt.

That voice has been haunting his dreams, the voice that’s been torturing him with longing and grief for months.

Of course he knows that voice.

Will smiles through his hot tears. ”Blake,” he rasps, and it’s a prayer, drowning in the smoke and fire.

(few fellow soldiers glance at him across the destroyed trench in confusion and horror, at his smile that is jarringly out of place )

Tears spill from the corners of Will’s eyes and stream to his temples. Tom - ”

He can almost feel a phantom touch brushing against his cheekbone, ice-cold but so very gentle, like a thumb wiping away his tears.

God, Scho,” the ghost of his friend whispers.

Will swallows thickly, a violent tremor going through his body. ”Tom, I’m so tired.”

I know, I know. You’ve done enough, mate.” That cold, comforting touch presses on Will’s forehead. ”You’ve been so bloody brave, Scho. Okay? You’ve given more than enough, more than your part. It’s okay, I swear.”

”Is it? C – can I? G – give in? S’ not givin’ up?” Will can hear his own words slurring, they lay heavy and clumsy under his tongue. Metallic taste of blood fills his mouth, and a small part of his brain thinks that’s probably not good.

The rest of him just hums. Exhaustion drags him downwards to the ground.

It’s not,” the ghost of Blake whispers fiercely, ”it’s bloody well not givin’ up, you stubborn arse. You’ve been so brave and in so much pain, Scho, I’ve seen – you’ve fought so hard all this time, all by yourself. It’s always been enough. You’ve always been enough.”

Will opens his eyes, but now the edges of the battlefield are white and unfocused. He can just make out the faint outlines of the corpses and the smoke.

He can’t see Blake.

”I’ve missed you so much,” he whispers instead, ragged. That sentiment has been haunting his mind non-stop ever since Blake drew his last breath on the farm, and since then Will’s own life has been half of what it was, just a shadow, just skin and bone.

A ghost of himself.

Will can almost hear a hitch of breath from the ghost, from Tom.

( from his friend, from his - )

He can feel phantom fingers carding through his hair.

Missed you, too,” Blake whispers into his temple, and Will’s whole body goes lax with overwhelming relief and comfort. He can’t feel the red-hot pain gnawing at his limbs anymore. He can’t feel the hunger or the fear. ”Missed you with everything I have.”

Will draws a wet, rattling breath inside. ”Are you waiting for me?”

Please be waiting for me.

As if in response, the ghost presses a gentle, chaste kiss on Will’s mouth, and he can almost detect a waft of a familiar scent; not the rotting trenches, not the mud, blood or smoke – something that smells like soap, home and painfully like Tom.

Like cherry blossoms.

Like simpler times.

Yeah. Always. ’n I’m gonna be waitin’ for you, no matter how long it takesthe ghost of Blake whispers against Will’s lips, and he can hear that smile, the one that Blake had whenever he told a funny story or some joke.

Like he couldn’t contain himself, the infectious grinning, the laughter, so unbridled and genuine bursting from the seams like summer sunlight pouring out.

”I – I don’t think I can g’t up ’nymore...” Will manages to gurgle out.

I don’t think I want to get up anymore.

(he did that once. in the river. surrounded by the cherry blossom petals and they had felt like him)

Blood pools in Will’s mouth. It makes his body seize, makes him gag; it trickles down the corners of his lips. He strangles out a broken, wheezing cough.

”’s okay,” Blake murmurs and invisible arms wrap around Will’s whole body tighter. Their fingers intertwine. The strength, the almost present warmth seeps into Will and with that, something pure and serene washes into him, into his bones, into his flesh, into the very marrow of him. ”There’s no shame in it, Scho. You fought so hard. You’ve given more than enough. For everyone.”

A press of a cold nose nudges into Will’s hair and a familiar weight settles into him. Will sighs softly in contentment. He knows this, this presence.

He knew it in 1916, he knew it by the trees where they napped, he knew it in the trenches, he knew it when he held Blake in his arms for the last time.

The shape of Blake – of Tom – is etched into Will’s whole being.

He would know him. He would recognize him -

(in death, in sleep, even with his senses cut off)

Blake breathes: ”You are allowed to lay your burden to rest and to just… close your eyes. Just to breathe. Just to exist. For as long as it takes, yeah? I’ll be there, no matter what happens.”

Will draws another wet inhale through his nose.

Take your time, Will,” Blake continues softly and just holds him. ”S’all right. S’gonna be all right. I’ll be there.”

Will leans into that touch. He can hear the hum of Blake’s voice in his ear, still there, reassuring and gentle.

I love you, Will thinks, and that’s the raw truth, the brutal honesty, the purity of that statement laid bare. He did. He does.

(he will, for as long as he is him, as long as he’s Will Schofield and there exists T om Blake)

And Will opens his eyes for the one last time.

The battlefield is ugly, ravaged, with fallen soldiers and dead horses, half-sunken in the mud.

The pale, cold sunlight is bright in his eyes.

He smiles through tears, through blood, through pain and longing.

The world dims around him.

His eyes drift shut.

The silence falls.

When Will opens his eyes again -

- and the first thing he sees is Tom Blake, young and whole, shining in his vibrant joy, grinning back at him across a field of blossoming cherry trees.

I love you, too.

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