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11 December 2009 @ 12:53 am
devil's arcade - part I  
September 20th, 1942, El Alamein

Alexandria and Cairo come and go in a hazy rush; Desmond sees them and at the same time doesn’t see them at all. He remembers the spicy and sharp scents that had almost made him faint when they got off from the boat, but he couldn’t say from what they actually came from; he’s pretty sure that the whole city smells like this. He knows they passed over the Nile at some point, well, mainly because Charlie had been shouting so much at him that he couldn’t have missed it if he wanted, but he couldn’t describe it if he tried to. He just wonders how long it is to Alamein, and at least now he knows where they’re going. Of course they told them a week before landing.

He thinks he feels like this mostly because of the ship; two and a half months had started to be too much after day five and he seriously wonders whether he’s going to last much when the heat he feels won’t be the sun beating over his head but German bullets. Probably not, if two months on a ship were bearable only because Charlie had decided that Desmond was a subject worthy of befriending. Desmond doesn’t really have an idea about the reason, he wouldn’t have even tried to be mates with a fellow such as he is right now, but Charlie has to be a masochist or something.

Anyway, the attempts had sort of worked, if only because they kept him from thinking about where they were going, why they were going there and how they were getting there (which was the main reason of his less than cheerful state, actually). The trip had been mostly uneventful and mostly unbearable; not because of the bunks or the hygiene, that was something he had been accustomed to for a while. He had expected the seasickness in the beginning and at least half of the people on the ship had had it; well, considering that half of the people on the ship were barely legal kids that had never gone as far as Calais or set foot off England at all, it wasn’t really that unpredictable. During the first five days he had spent his time giving Charlie his lunch because he kept on slipping on vomit; a couple of days after the first wave of seasickness calmed, four people died because of some infection that had actually scared the twitchy doctor because it looked like it was going to spread. Thankfully it hadn’t.

Then there were two suicides and while he should have been expecting that too, he couldn’t help something from twisting in his stomach if he thought about it. One managed to hang himself with sheets from his bunk, the other just jumped off the ship; he had witnessed that one and he hadn’t gotten out of his own bunk for two days pretending to be running a slight fever. They had let him, especially because everyone was worried about the infection from the first week spreading again.

Then it had been just a straight line of days that started and ended with porridge that got worse with every passing morning, dirty uniforms at night, the occasional slipping on vomit because there were still seasick soldiers, maybe ten people pleading with him to jerk them off in some corner (which he promptly had refused) and taking short looks at the picture he kept in his inner pocket, with Charlie’s chattering as the only interlude. Looking at the picture was actually the worst part of the deal; he had swore to himself he wasn’t ever going to do it if he wasn’t in mortal danger and yet he always found himself going back there, feeling the smooth paper under his fingertips, longing for a home that no longer was. He had been happy when they saw Egypt on the horizon line; at least, if he had to think about keeping his guts together for the first battle, he wasn’t going to think about what was lost. At least.

--

They reach Alamein on tanks, all huddled together, the ones from his ship and the others from at least another nine that had reached the dock their same day. Charlie blathers about how dry the weather is and they need to cheer up, hey, at this time in England it’s probably bloody raining with cold creeping down into your bones, meanwhile here they’re all nicely settled, warm and they’ll get back with a bloody nice tan. Desmond wishes he could keep the same spirit; he doesn’t tell Charlie that right now he longs for the bloody rain falling down in Scotland and for the chill that creeps down into your bones. He also doesn’t tell him that he thinks they won’t get to show off their tan anytime soon, if at all.

He sighs and wonders how much time is left until things get really hot. They say a month and a half. Maybe two. If the Germans don’t attack first, of course, but they also say that the other side has more wounds to lick off than their own; he can just hope they are deep wounds. The urge he felt when he signed his enrolment order has considerably lessened though. One year and a half ago he would have wished for any human shape speaking German in front of him to kill on the spot; right now he really doesn’t feel any urge. He figures that it’s just because he’s tired. Yes, it has to be that. He’s just tired, very tired, and he hasn’t even started.

Someone shows him this huge tent for maybe thirty or forty people and he chooses a bunk. He isn’t too surprised when Charlie chooses the one next to his own. They have a three hour rest in order to get settled and then he’s going to properly get assigned to his new unit. He notices some high maintenance generals running in a circle a mile far or so and thinks that maybe the shipboard rumours about Montgomery being a man one obsessed with his soldiers’ fitness aren’t actually rumours.

Two hours after, he’s sitting on the bunk doing pretty much nothing and he resists the urge to take the picture out of his pocket again. Charlie is chattering as usual, saying that he bloody misses playing music in some obscure local pub in some place near Manchester; then he stops when he notices Desmond placing a book in the backpack that he’ll bring with him on action.

“Des, mate, that’s some bloody heavy one. Why the hell would you bring that with you?”

“D’you like Dickens?”

“Well, not really. Not my kind of thing. Why, you like Dickens?”

“He’s my favourite writer. This is the only one I have left to read.”

“Which one?”

Our Mutual Friend. I want it to be the last book I read.”

“Y’know, that would imply actually knowing when you’re going to die.”

“Well, I reckon it’ll be sooner than later.”

“And so you plan on reading six hundred pages on the battlefield?”

Desmond just smiles and shrugs.

“I never said I was a logical person, brother.”

“Well, your sodding burden. Not mine.”

Desmond smiles again and closes the rucksack, then leaves it near the rifle that he placed in a corner; he wonders whether it’s the case of laying down a bit. Sure, the tent is small but always better than bunks on a moving ship and maybe it wouldn’t be that bad to have ten minutes to himself, but before he can actually do it they hear the call outside. He sighs, figuring that they anticipated it, and leaves the tent along with Charlie; he just hopes they get placed in the same unit, since at least he knows him. Sort of. Not that he cares but hell, you find out you want people you know with you in such cases even if before leaving you thought otherwise.

He hadn’t really expected the twitchy doctor to be the one making the assignments; he must be higher grade than he had thought. Sergeant, he learns in a couple of minutes. Sergeant Faraday, to be more precise.

It takes half an hour before he arrives with some effort to the letter H. Or better, at the last surname starting with H.

“Hume, Des… Desmond?”

He steps forward and reaches the small desk behind which Faraday sits.

“Good, good. Uhm, come… come forward, a bit? Yeah, right, fine. Uhm, so, born on March 16th, 1917, Clydebank, uhm, Scotland? Right?”

“Right.”

“Voluntary enrolled, a year… right, a year in training because you hadn’t one before, fine, fine… so no… no field experience?”

“Not really.”

Faraday, still sitting, reads some file on him a couple of times over, then nods at him and closes his notebook. He has gentle eyes and half a smile; Desmond doesn’t really know what a guy like this one actually does in the army, but he won’t complain.

“Right, so, you’re with the 51st division, troop four. Your warrant officer’s called Caporal Gault, he’ll be back from, uhm, some officers’ meeting in, in a minute.”

“He isn’t Scottish, right?”

“Australian. Well, things get pretty mixed up here. Don’t expect, well, uhm, many people from, from your country. Meanwhile, that’s where your, your section is. See, that group over there. The one where’s the man smoking.”

Desmond turns his head, looking in the direction Faraday’s heading him; there’s a group of five or six people where a man with dark blond hair, tanned features and one of the most American faces Desmond has ever seen in his life is nervously smoking a cigarette.

“Aye, fine. Listen, I was wonderin’, you wouldn’t be so nice to put my friend in my section, too?”

Desmond wouldn’t have really asked if it was anyone else, but Staff Sergeant Faraday here looks like one that is too kind for his own good and who wouldn’t reproach him for such a request. Looks like, at least.

“Well, well, we could see. Who’s your friend’s name?”

“Pace. Charlie Pace.”

Faraday searches for Charlie’s file in the pile on his left after he puts Desmond’s on his right, has a look at it blinking behind his glasses, then shrugs.

“Well, that, that isn’t really the procedure, you know, but since you both aren’t really… really needed anywhere else, you know, figure I can do it.”

“Thanks, sir.”

Faraday looks at him like he’s crazy for having called him that, then shrugs and sends him in his group’s direction before calling for Jarrah, Sayid. Desmond figures that if they started enrolling people from Arabia, the situation isn’t as good as they’re making it look.

He places himself near the smoking bloke, having a better look at him; he has to admit that Smoking Bloke is quite handsome. His hair is strangely long for a soldier’s, but Desmond thinks it suit him fine; the long bangs fall in front of his eyes, which are of a nice oval shape, green with some sparkles of blue. His tanned hands have long fingers that hold the cigarette not so steadily since it trembles, his lips are stretched in a red, thin line. His face has some lines, he has to have passed his thirties, and Desmond keeps on thinking he has a very American face. Well, he might as well find out.

“So, guess I’m the last one here?”

He comes closer and holds out a hand, tentatively; the bloke raises his head and nods at him, holding out his own and shaking it.

“Hume. Desmond Hume.”

“Name’s LaFleur. Sawyer. Well, ‘twould be James, but I’d like it better if you used the first.”

Desmond almost winces at how bloody American his accent is. It’s just thick, though Sawyer’s voice is low and has a warm tone that actually suits it. Also, LaFleur? Seriously. Most bloody horrible surname ever.

“You don’t sound very English, brother.”

“I ain’t. American born and bred, from Tennessee.”

“Would it be too much asking you how come you’re here? I mean, one would have thought you’d be with some American unit.”

“What’d you say if you had to guess?”

“Uhm… maybe you were here from before? I mean, you were moved by some higher sense of justice, crossed the Canada border and joined our army before your country came to war?”

“That’s what I said when I had the pleasure to meet two colleagues of yours in Cairo. For now I’ll just let you believe that.”

He turns his head then, taking another drag. Desmond nods and then Sawyer looks back at him before Desmond can start to imagine what the real reason is for why he’s here. He figures nothing very legal. Also, he doubts the bloke is even a soldier. Well, in this case he won’t last long.

“Looks like you ain’t the last one joinin’ the party after all.”

He turns and sees a man coming towards their unit that he think has to be Jarrah, Sayid; if only because he looks pretty much oriental from what he sees. When he’s near enough, Desmond barely registers the man’s height, maybe two or three inches shorter than his own, before their eyes meet and for a couple of seconds something just feels strange.

Desmond actually shivers as he extends his hand without thinking much about the gesture; the other man’s eyes are of a deep, dark brown and for a fleeting second Desmond thinks that they really do fit with the soft caramel color of his skin and his pitch black hair, but it’s not what doesn’t feel normal. It’s the way he looks at him. Which is really nothing strange, really; his stare is polite and he’s smiling slightly and that’s more or less it. But there’s something that makes Desmond shiver for a second and well, maybe he’s already going crazy. That’s probably an option. A hand shakes his and the man introduces himself as Sayid Jarrah indeed; his voice is smooth, low, his diction perfect as he says pleased to meet you.

“Desmond. Desmond Hume. Er, pleased to meet you too, brother.”

Sayid nods and doesn’t ask for an explanation. Which is good. Charlie had found it so incredibly funny when Desmond had told him he had spent a couple of years in a monastery and never shook the habit off; Desmond doesn’t think it’s much fun but as he was reminiscing Sayid has moved and introduced himself to the rest. Desmond thinks Charlie was about to clap Sayid on the back or something before thinking better of it, while when Sayid finds himself in front of Sawyer. They just look at each other, share names and nod. Whatever. Not Desmond’s problem. The corporal arrives some five minutes later, nods at their section and at all the others and then disappears again.

It’s October 2nd. As he waits for any kind of order, so that at least he knows what they’re going to do for now, Desmond wishes he knew how much there is left to wait.

--

War is way less exciting than he had figured once.

The day is divided between training, meals, heat (at least the climate is dry; he already isn’t adjusted to this kind of weather, but if it had been the humid kind of heat he’d have found it far more unbearable), training, some sleeping; the only thing that provides some fun is that apparently the generals are training too. Sawyer finds the circumstances especially funny and Desmond is happy for him, even if he still wishes he knew exactly how that man ended up here. He obviously knows what he’s doing since he knows how to move and shoot and everything the training requires, but Desmond has been training since the Blitz and the guy sure as bloody hell hasn’t been in any military facility doing that for a while, if ever. Charlie thinks more or less the same thing and they end up spending half of their free time guessing what could be behind their resident American. According to Charlie he has to be some kind of con artist with a sordid past; Desmond had proposed some kind of outlaw on the run, but considering how smooth the guy is and how he always manages to have cigarettes on him, he has to give Charlie some credit for the con artist idea.

Point is, he mostly finds himself paying attention to Sayid. The man is even more of an enigma since he barely talks to anyone (even though it’s pretty clear that he has been a soldier most of his life), but seemingly not as fun as Sawyer since no one is guessing about him. Maybe because there isn’t much to guess and that’s probably what interests Desmond most. The bloke is methodical, neat, polite, so adjusted and seeming almost at home in these surroundings that Desmond can’t help feeling curious about him. Even though well, surely a place like this probably at least looks a bit like home to someone who comes from Iraq; it really doesn’t look like home for him but that’s alright. He wasn’t really searching for that when he enrolled.

It takes him five days to decide, but after a week, one evening he gets out of the tent and finds Sayid outside; he’s not the only one, even if the majority around here are playing poker in tents. Which is definitely not a bad idea, except that Desmond never had much luck in that and anyway he doesn’t have anything to bet. He has cigarettes, though, and he lits one as he comes near Sayid, who’s standing near the remains of a bonfire and is looking at the distance.

“Fancy a smoke?” he asks, taking a drag. Sayid looks at him for one second before shaking his head softly.

“No, thank you. That is not really my kind of vice.”

“Suit yourself. Anythin’ interesting ‘bout the scenery?”

Sayid shrugs and Desmond looks in his direction. He thinks he can see faint lights in the distance. Right, Germans. Or Italians, maybe. Not that it will matter, in a short while.

“That’s no news, brother.”

“I believe it isn’t. I was merely enjoying this before... before the news change.”

Desmond nods, figuring that it’s a pretty smart policy.

“That’s a point. So, when do you think that’s gonna happen?”

“Me? I don’t really know. The... officer who kindly gave me an option between going here and going here at the beginning of September said it would be a month and a half at most.”

Desmond takes a breath and nods. It means it has to be in a week or two. He suddenly doesn’t know if he’s ready for this, after all. “Have you done this for very long?”

“By this, you mean wearing a military uniform? Yes. I have never really done anything else. What about you?”

“Two years, but no field experience, brother.”

“Were you in a monastery?”

“How did you guess?”

“Why would you call me brother? I cannot think of another reason.”

Desmond nods and takes another drag.

“D’you think we got any chance?”

“Of winning? Maybe. Of me and you surviving? Who knows?”

“You really don’t know how to take a side, do you?” Desmond asks, even if he’s mostly amused.

“Let’s say that I found out that sometime is wiser to leave that for last.”

Desmond nods and stands there until he finishes his cigarette. Then he nods at Sayid and gets back to the tent, where Sawyer is seemingly losing against Charlie. Well, if Charlie is right it seems like they have a con artist who’s not that good at poker, since whenever Desmond played against Charlie he regularly won.

He shrugs, gets on his cot and figures that it’s now or never. He picks Our Mutual Friend up and starts reading it. It’s not like he’s ever going to finish it if they attack in a week, but one should try.

--

“Y’know what?” Sawyer asks him one evening, October 21st, as they both have a smoke outside; sand is shifting beneath Desmond’s feet as he looks at the space between their lines and the enemy’s. It’s wide and you can see pretty much everything, after all they’re in a desert and sure as bloody hell stars do shine. And he knows it’s full of mines. All mines which he’ll be disarming in a short while, if everything goes according to plan. Which might also not happen, but that’s not the point.

“What?” Desmond answers after taking a drag; his cigarette is half gone.

“This fuckin’ stinks,” Sawyer ends before tossing his own cigarette on the ground and getting back into the tent.

Desmond thinks he might actually agree.

Part II
 
 
feeling: okayokay
 
 
 
Shonatoestastegood on December 13th, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)
♥ I loved all the moments between Desmond and Sayid in this. The instant curiosity that Desmond has about Sayid is adorable. Faraday was also super cute - it feels so wrong to imagine him having to be in a war. I want to take him away and protect him. I love him agreeing to put Charlie with Desmond. Desmond and Charlie's friendship is so sweet.
the female ghost of tom joad: lost des/charliejanie_tangerine on December 13th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks so much! :D I'm so glad that Des + Sayid are working here. I needed the build-up. *cough* And yeah, Faraday during the war is wrong which is why he'll be spared from part III, but Jack is American and I couldn't have him in at this point. Much glad that the Desmond and Charlie part works for you, too! :D
bold_seer: danbold_seer on December 18th, 2009 08:51 am (UTC)
Dan melts my heart with his very Daniel-like awkwardness! <3
the female ghost of tom joad: lost faradayjanie_tangerine on December 19th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
Heee, I'm so glad you liked him! I tried to keep him awkward, lol.