NEW LOCATION! See comments for link.
"Something gets to him. Something gets to everybody." Luke took a flattened sandwich from his ammo box and pulled it apart with thick brown fingers. That was something Win noticed about everyone here, even the new guythey all had strong hands. He hated to look at his stupid pale, spindly fingers. "Like me, music gets to me sometimes, you know?" Luke said. "The right song plays, and I'm bawling. There's gotta be something that could break him, you know?"
"Don't be juvenile." Brutus tore his sandwich into huge chunks and looked to Win. "Edwin, you gonna eat or what? Commander'll bite your head off if you waste his time. Like I told you," he said, turning back to Luke, "nothing gets to Commander Pink. He just hasn't got emotions."
Luke looked to Win with raised eyebrows, and he didn't know whether to laugh or feel honored that there was someone here who was too new to see him as the oddball of the unit. Someone who didn't know him as the newbie aristocrat kid who had as much attitude as he had money. And as little skill as he had age.
"Don't try to do that. I can see that, eye contact." Brutus threw his crumpled paper bag at Luke's face and tried to scratch his head beneath his combat helmet. "Kid, you might think you know what you're talking about, but trust me. Commander Pink hasn't got any humanity in him."
"But he mu"
"It's childish. It's the stuff you find in novels and TV shows and comics, not in real life. Not always. You think Pink is just a snob on the outside, that it's an attitude. A hard outer shell. You think you could get on his good side and be charming and really make him care about you. You think somewhere in that guy, there's some logic and some feelings, and that someday something is gonna make him crack, and he'll cry, or fall in love, or try to save someone's life." He scratched at his forehead again and finally just pulled the helmet off his head, revealing those illegal cornrows that no one cared enough about to report. He thrust a strong brown hand, stronger than Luke's, by the look of it, out into the center of the three-man circle, and pointed threateningly at the new guy. "That man isn't going to have an emotional revolution. He doesn't have another dimension of personality, and he doesn't secretly actually care about the guys in this unit. He doesn't give a damn about the war, and he doesn't snap at you to keep you tough." His voice got deeper and louder. He paused between each word. "Pink is cold, soulless, narcissistic, snobbish and angry all the way to the core."
Luke just sat there with an open mouth full of sandwich, and for once, Win thought he was going to keep quiet. But he started to speak again through a mouthful.
Brutus overrode him, speaking through bared teeth. "And don't think he'll ever be anything else."
Luke swallowed loudly. "What did he do to you?"
"Nothing," Win answered, in unison with Brutus. Brute gave him a look, so he shut his mouth and went back to his PB and J. "I'm sick of guys coming in here acting like kids," Brutus said, "thinking like kids. In some romantic fantasy world, where everyone is good somewhere deep down inside. Starts to piss me off."
"He's jealous that anyone can maintain a sense of innocence in this place while he can't." Win prepared to dodge a hit, and spit some sandwich to the dirt when he ducked under Brutus's fist. "It's true, at least a little."
"I thought you were finally learning your place Edwin, but it seems like you're having a relapse. Pink is the only one allowed to be an aristocratic snob, remember?"
"Excuse me, what am I?"
Win turned to find his nose pressed against Commander Pink's belt. He slid off his stump and onto the sloped ground. Pink stood right in front of the sun, and with the angle of his cocked head, his round glasses were lit up headlights. Hair that was somewhere between black and premature gray stuck out from beneath his helmet, curving out sideways like wispy blue feathers. Win always thought the man looked like someone who belonged at the desk in his family's library, or in an office surrounded by filing cabinets. Though a rifle in his hand and the olive drab of an army uniform didn't exactly look out of place.
"Nothing sir," Brutus began, but then he saluted properly and started over. "Nothing sir, don't worry about it."
Pink's lips curled back in slight sneer. Win tried not to look jealous. It was strange to see so many of his own favorite expressions on someone else's face. He missed the feel of a smirk on his lips, and he missed cocking his head and being the superior one. But something about being drafted and yanked into a war zone like any old peasant had been a little hurtful to his pride. Smirks and superior gazes weren't well received in this place. It was too...juvenile.
"I thought that's what you said." Pink continued walking the path he'd probably been on to start, headed down the hill, vaguely towards his tent.
Luke spoke. "You've got a bloody nose again, sir."
"You don't need to tag an 'again' on the end of that," Pink snapped, and he wiped the blood from his face. He spit on the ground and kept right on walking. "Every time you sneeze, I don't say, 'Oh, you sneezed again, Private, God bless your soul,' do I? Is it so special to sneeze more than once in your life that we need to point out that it's happened again?"
"No, sir. I'll try not to...acknowledge reoccurring events. I guess."
"Don't patronize me!" He was far enough away that he stopped turning around to speak to them. "I'll argue with you if you want, but patronize me and you will catch hell..."
"What, you don't think there's something human in him somewhere?" Luke asked. "He was concerned about his bloody nose. Probably scared and weak inside, like"
"He was not concerned. He was just annoyed. Whenever he's not annoyed, he'll find something to be annoyed about. He's not happy unless he's furious." Brutus shoved the entire last half of his sandwich in his mouth and swallowed it. Then he looked back and forth from Luke to Win. "You wanna know the truth?"
Luke looked to Win again and this time, he allowed eye contact.
"Truth is, we're all gonna die here. I know, some make it out," he said with a shrug. His speaking was deep and loud and spacious again. "But you won't. A bullet will rip right through your flesh while you're sprinting to keep up with the others on some trail in the woods. You're gonna fall onto the path and get soaked by your own blood. Your whole body will start to shut down as you watch what's left of the unit run past you. And none will try to help, because they'll think you're too far gone. All you'll be able to do is see, and fear, and wish that someone would at least try to bring you back to camp, would at least pull you off the path. But the crowd will thin out to nothing. You'll look up the trail to watch everyone leaving you behind. "
It didn't seem like he was just talking to Luke anymore. He faced Win too, like he still had some lessons to teach him. Win searched for the part of himself that was too proud to accept a lesson from anyone. Then he looked at his slim fingers around the last of his sandwich. Maybe there was a little more muscle there than when he'd first arrived, perhaps even a little more muscle than there was only yesterday. Things changed fast around here.
"And the only person who stops," Brutus said, "will be Commander Pink. He'll hesitate for only a few seconds and look back at you where you lie on the leaves and the sticks. And you'll believe for a moment, a tiny moment before all your senses shut down, that maybe he'll try to help you." His tone became normal, conversational. He leaned back a little, rubbed his hands on his shirt, and pulled his helmet back on, like he was preparing to get back to duty. "You'll wait for him to walk to you, just a little closer. But the commander will only smile."
Be sure to fave at the new location!