Chapter 21: Sleep In Heavenly Peace 2
Ianto opened his eyes, waiting for consciousness to catch up. He was dazed and nauseous but the numbness the state offered was quickly evaporating. He was held fast, suspended above the ground, pain stabbing at his body from every angle. He wrenched against the restraints, barbs tore at his coat, exposing the deep berry lining and puncturing through to the skin. His momentum made him swing in the lattice of cutting wire pushing the metal points further into his flesh, their raw and rusty bite drawing blood. He watched the fall of its scarlet beads drip from one of his wrists to the mud below, his mind trying to determine his situation.
It took a moment.
He panicked trying to free himself from the deep, wounding, mass of coils. His struggle roused those bodies left to rot in the web of steel making them dance amid the twisted fence like puppets on the devil’s rope. A machine gun sprayed the area, Ianto heard the bullets strike his dead companions with a sickening thud and whistle mercifully past.
He stopped his efforts and tried to remain calm listening to the steady beat of the rain as it splintered the stagnant pools around the entanglement. His breathing slowed but each steadying breath pressed hard against the jagged points.
Ianto closed his eyes and slowly twisted his head, the material of his scarf catching and shredding with the movement, nicking through the flesh of his neck. Blood bubbled from the wound staining his skin in diluted streaks as the weather saturated this enclave of death.
His attention was drawn to a looped steel post just out of reach. It slanted toward him loosening the wire he was trapped on but not enough for him to touch the ground. He bit his lip and tugged at the nearest arm in a bid to free it. The wire resisted, snaring the heavy wool of his coat in an attempt to limit his progress. He yanked harder ripping through the sleeve until it was free. His bulk shifted, the razor-sharp tips sinking into his skin as they sprung against his weight. He stifled a cry watching as the other bodies rocked with his momentum telegraphing his movement to those manning the guns. Shots were fired and Ianto’s impetus stilled as the steel loops caught and settled against his body. He closed his eyes as bullets flew arbitrarily in his direction, steeling himself for the enviable, waiting for the burn of impact but it never came. Instead the ground gave quarter as a lone shell exploded silencing the dwindling gunshots in its fierce flare. The entanglement drifted, with the surge from the blast, knocking the loose picket from the drowned earth. Ianto sank painfully through rolls of coils as they collapsed onto the ground.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder stopping the encompassing darkness from claiming him. “Now that had to hurt.”
Ianto tried to lift his head. “Owen?”
“Yep, thought you’d got rid of me eh? Now keep still, so I can save your sorry arse once again.”
Ianto rested his head back on his hands. “You’ve been looking at my arse?”
“Only in a professional context, don’t get your hopes up.” The humour was light and needed.
Owen carefully examined the crumpled wire that wrapped the younger man noting where it was embedded and deliberating a plan of action. He sighed. “Well, I’m afraid the coat’s a goner.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” The reply was mumbled against the mud and the doctor detected its raw edge.
“Least it makes me feel better about my jeans, so my day’s already looking up.” He flexed the tight skin of his grazed hand and checked Ianto’s pulse.
Ianto turned his head slightly glimpsing Owen’s torn and injured fingers. “What happened to your hand?”
“Will you lie still?” Owen ignored the question. “Trying to work here.” He shifted some of the coils away, gripping warily between the close-knit barbs.
“Okay, tea-boy, I’m gonna pull some of this wire free, let me know if it hurts.”
“Is that a trick question?”
“No, medical. Ready?”
Owen drew his hands into the sleeves of his leather jacket gripping the cuffs. He grabbed the wire ad began to painstakingly extract it from Ianto’s back splitting through the fabric of the coat and shirt in the process. Ianto hissed as a few of the barbs scratched at his skin. Owen stopped. “You okay?”
“Oh, just dandy.”
“Dandy?” Owen mocked. “You really do need to get out more.” He pulled on another length of wire.
Ianto braced himself. “Is ridiculing your patients part of your bedside manner or is that just reserved for co-workers?”
Owen gave a hefty sigh. “Only those twats who can’t follow a simple instruction like, ‘stay where you are.’ Christ, Ianto, why the hell didn’t you stay by the stone?” He yanked a loose strand free at the shoulder.
“If that’s your way of saying, ‘thank you for saving me, Ianto, from that big, bad, scary root which was about to squash my skinny arse into the ground’, then you’re most welcome, Owen.”
The doctor stopped a light smile flitting across his lips. “So, you’ve been looking at my arse, should I be worried?”
Ianto snorted. “Don’t flatter your….”
Shots fired across the expanse, a little way off their position but close enough for them both to react. Ianto buried himself within the mud and wire, while the doctor tried to shield him with his own body.
They could hear the sounds of a skirmish, a token scuffle in the fading light, peppered by gunfire and the human cost of warfare. The shots grew closer discharging blindly across the spread of no man’s land, testing the area for further troop advances. The wire spun as it was hit reverberating like the stretched string on a plucked guitar and the dead twitched in time.
More shell fire dampened the expanse lighting the sky and churning the earth with little regard to friend or foe. It seemed like a lifetime enclosed in a flash of life or death, a shouted command, a flex of a finger, a belch of a gun, a minute, maybe two, even five and then?
And then everything went quite.
The cloud thickened, the scarred day turned even darker; death’s shadow grew even longer waiting impatiently for the night.
Owen lifted himself from Ianto with a groan as the wire caught his jacket. “Fuck!” It was a frustrated cry, one laced with a sob of futility.
Ianto lifted his head swallowing against the mud. He chose his words carefully. “Owen, it’s senseless us both being stuck out here…”
The doctor reached through the waves of metal, grabbing onto his shoulder. “Don’t say it, tea-boy, don’t even mention it. I’m not leaving you. I’ve seen too much death today, too many bodies, I’m a fucking doctor and I’m going to save at least one person today!” He tried to dislodge another rooted piece of the tangled steel.
The doctor yanked at the wire, tearing through the cuffs of his coat, making his hands bleed. “Owen, stop, it needs wire cutters, it’s the only way.”
Owen looked down at his hands dropping the twisted steel. He raked a trembling hand through his hair and sat down. He looked up at the smothered sky. “I’m not leaving you,” he repeated.
“It’ll be night soon and the darkness will bring further bombardment and troop movement. No man’s land will become a hail of bullets and shells, you can’t stay here.”
Owen looked at him for a moment then diverted his gaze along the mass of knotted metal. He silently got to his feet stooping low to avoid detection. “Don’t go anywhere,” he whispered.
“Owen?” Ianto tried to follow him straining his eyes against the fading light but Owen quickly vanished into the many shadows as if he had never been.
He let his thoughts wander, his body relaxing against the nip of barbs, the blanket of exhaustion easing him into a restless slumber.
The landscape was made from the dead, their bodies twisted into the bare bones of trees or piled into grassy mounds stretching to a streaked and blood red horizon. They thrashed against the confines of their structure, writhing in silent agony and the crush of the crowded space. His mind could have painted it from Dante drawing on the battlefield to fuel his subconscious, for each circle seemed to be represented in the Great War.
A man sat on a rock made of skulls looking across the expanse. He did not move as Ianto approached, his shoes biting into the layers of bone as they splintered under his heels. “I did what I thought was right,” the seated man whispered more to the howling wind that swept the edifice of corpses.
Ianto stilled looking to the jaded uniform that bore the insignia of an officer. “Thomas Rees.” The statement held no weight in his nightmare.
The officer’s head twitched an acknowledgement. “I failed, you see, I fail in so many aspects of my life that I grabbed at straws to succeed, just once. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Ianto took another step forward, Thomas looked down at a photograph held between his thumb and forefinger. He rubbed the image. “I wanted a second chance, I wanted to make amends but instead I condemned us all to a thousand deaths and more. I didn’t realize what the payment involved.” He looked over his shoulder at Ianto, his peaked cap hiding his face.
“War is a mother of pain and death the bastard of her womb.” He looked back at the hideous landscape. “What price’s revenge? An eternity of suffering until the soil bleeds with those sacrificed.”
He laughed, it was an empty sound. “All it takes…” He corrected himself. “All it took was a man who did nothing, a weak man who betrayed his feelings because he was spineless and made to feel ashamed. This is my legacy. My life was worthless and so is my death.”
“Then make amends, stop the killing.” Ianto’s words danced in the space between them.
Thomas Rees turned his face to Ianto, only the hard bone remained. “I can’t.”
Ianto shook his head holding out his hands. “Then why are we here?”
“I need…” he paused “…Someone to understand.”
A cloud formed blotting the stain of the sun. It rushed toward the two men, its mass veiling the light as it simmered with a thunderous tempest. Lightening cut the heavens erupting like the burst of a shell, its flash bleaching the bones. Ianto shielded his eyes and turned his face away. Out of the storm’s pitch a bird glided on the thermals stretching its wingspan like death’s hand. Its beak fell open and screeched with rage. Thomas Rees dropped his head looking to the photograph one more time before he ruptured into nothing but an eddy of black smoke.
“Ianto?” He pulled away from Owen’s hand. “Bad dream?”
Ianto gave a small nod. “And it ain’t over yet,” Owen continued grabbing a stretch of wire.
“You know you really should work on that bedside manner.” Ianto turned his head.
Owen gave a small smile and proceeded to cut through the metal.
“Wire cutters?” Ianto pulled his neck away from the grip of the spines.
“Will you keep still!” Owen clipped the wire making the loose end spin in a concertina of steel. Both men stilled as the rattle of the coils curled back in a perpetual loop, the noise igniting the silence.
Owen continued. Ianto watched his meticulous labour before asking, “where..?” He broke off his question as Owen looked along the manmade mass at the fruit of bodies that lay in its depth.
Owen paused swallowing against the dryness of his throat. “Suicidal,” he whispered, shaking his head, quickly severing more of the attached wire.
“Welcome to the Seventh circle of hell,” Ianto replied as his arm was freed.
The doctor touched Ianto’s forehead. “You’re not going all feverish on me now, are you, tea-boy?”
The Welshman shook his head. “Good, now pick yourself off the ground so I can get underneath you.”
Ianto cocked a practised eyebrow only for Owen to cuff him lightly on the top of his head. The doctor then guided him to his knees so that he could clip more of the wire.
Ianto stared at Owen’s bruised and swollen fingers as they tried and grasped the twisted strands. He touched them lightly. “Here, let me help, you concentrate on the cutting.”
Owen uncurled his grip letting the Welshman take the steel. “You ready?”
It took another five minutes for them to work through the rest of the coils. They worked slowly and in silence for fear of the guns. Ianto transferred his weight edging himself out of the spiralling wire. Owen sighed. “Okay last one, we’ll pull the smaller pieces free of your clothes when get somewhere a little safer.”
The metal snapped free scraping across Owen’s arm as it flicked back into the wind of its curl. He yelped as it sliced through his jacket and scraped at the skin. Shots peppered the area.
“Fuck.” Owen yanked Ianto up. “Keep your head down, I haven’t just freed you so you can get it blown off.”
Both men crouched low away from the range of bullets and wire. “Which way?” Ianto rasped as Owen dragged at the tattered remains of his coat.
Owen glanced round. “This way.” He hauled the other man with him.
Ianto dug his heels in. “Based on?”
Owen gave an exasperated sigh, tugging him like a stubborn mule. “Doctor’s intuition.” They stumbled across the mud.
“Says the man who gets lost around Tescos.”
Copyright RMC Jan 2018