It was war. It was not glory and heroics, not good against evil, not the brave who would win. It was blood and fire and smoke and death. God, so much death.
They were fighting a losing battle and they knew it. But still they fought, because to give up now would be shaming those who’d given their lives to reach this moment. They fought, because still it was better to die defending your cause than a coward and deserter.
Their leader’s face was haggard, bruised eyes and stark lines of worry on his face. He too knew they would lose, and still he fought and fought to find a better future for his men.
And now he was talking in a low voice as they huddled around the crudely drawn dirt-map, hearts beating fast whether from fear or hope as he pointed out strategies and meet-up points, the defence and attack lines.
“We can win this” he said, a determined glint in his eye. “We will win this” A pause, as he studied the faces of his men, and then a smile flitted across his face. “We’ll win this, and I’ll treat you all to a round at the pub afterward” A resounding cheer as faces broke into grins.
And then the group dispersed, still chuckling quietly amongst themselves as they got ready for bed and jokingly spoke of all they would do after. There would be no mention of tomorrow, because tonight was a night for pretences and light-heartedness, perhaps the last before all was lost.
Because, for many, there would be no after. That sick fear was in every man’s gut, the fear that they may not be there tomorrow, that they may never be there again.
But they clung on to those false hopes, because that’s what they had to do. It was what they had to do to survive, to keep going. To face each new day, each new loss, and keep themselves from sinking into despair.
It was a revolution.
It wasn’t anything as religious as a crusade, or as large scale as a world war. It was a revolution, in which every man fought to regain the land that they had lost to rich money-mongers who sat on their arses lazing about, rolling in their riches. They fought to gain their freedom, and regain their pride and all that was lost when the higher ups had decided that their own wealth was worth more than the lives of thousands of people.
They fought, because it was the right thing to do, because they believed it was what they had to do. Who else would stand up for them if not themselves? Who else could they turn to when it was those in charge who had caused this?
It was a revolution. One in which men and women alike fought together, in which boys learnt how to sharpen steel and hit a target dead on and where girls not even old enough to marry learnt how to suture wounds and hold their breath to the stink of rotting flesh and blood. A revolution where the wives did not have the choice to wait and pray at home, because they needed every single person they could get, and because everyone would work for their future.
And, God, it was painful to realise that in the end, there was not much difference between this and slaughter.
He was their leader; he stood for his men, he stood for what they believed in, and so they believed in him. And he would lead these men to their deaths. It was frustrating and maddening, knowing that he held in his hands the lives of children and old men, of the hopes of his people, and he would crush them all come tomorrow.
Those boys would never become men, and their mothers would never be able to hold them or worry for them again. Those men would never die with a smile in their sleep, and their children would never be able to go to them for comfort again, because by tomorrow they would be gone.
If he was lucky, there would be no day after for him, just as there would be none for his men.
It was a fight, one they would not win.
He knew that, had known since he saw his friend shot through the head by a dispassionate soldier of the government army. As a boy, it did not seem to him such grand a thing as war or revolution or rebellion. It was just a fight, a fight against the bigger bullies, and they didn’t have the strength or the weapons to beat them back.
And it was just as frustrating to be losing this fight as it was to lose any other brawl or match.
He was a boy, and because to children such things were still important, he remembered that he had turned fourteen yesterday, and his present had been to live another day.
He was a boy. He was a man.
Not because he had fought in a battle, or because he had seen blood and death and wielded gun and blade. He was a man, because he too now bore the grief and guilt of leaving his family behind.
He was a man because he slept knowing he would never play with his cute little sister again, because he knows of the pain his mother will feel when her son does not come back, and there is not even enough left of him to bury.
He is a man because he wants to go home, because he longs for peace; even more than that, it is because he too will fight for what he believes is right. When one is willing to die for their beliefs, does that not make them a man?
That night, he dreamt of home. Apple pie. Soothing hands. Childish laughter. Joy. Peace. In the darkness, he curls tighter beneath his blanket and squeezes his eyes tight. Tomorrow, there would be no tears. Tomorrow, he’d be a man like all the others, and he’d fight with his dying breath. Tomorrow, he’d be brave and strong. But tonight…
They crouched, hidden behind their trenches, in the bushes, up behind rocks and in trees. The dawn spread across the horizon, first a burnished orange, and then a blinding gold.
Today will be their last battle. Their final stand.
As the first spray of bullets peppered the ground in front of them, they readied their weapons. Strengthened their hearts.
And prayed for tomorrow.
A/N: Thank you for reading! Edited 05/07/15.