Title: 'All Quiet on the Western Front'
Author: Anna Rousseau <email@example.com>
Fandom: Moulin Rouge
Set: 1916, Northern France
Summary: 1916, Northern France. Early morning in the trenches on the front line. Two men wait to launch an offensive and talk as they stare into the lightening sky.
Note: My first 'serious' Moulin Rouge fic, which basically is an extemporisation of a plot twists I heard Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann mention on the writer's commentary. I really should be revising British History for my AS exams, but can't be arsed, and anyway, this is about the Great War. Enjoy and tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: I don't own Moulin Rouge, I don't own Christian, and I don't own Ewan McGregor - their respective proprietors/creators/spouse & family lay right to them. I'm just using them to forward my creative process. Evil laugh.
'ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT'
1916, The Somme, France
Silence holds the men on the battlefield in her comforting arms. The morning air is robbed of birdsong on her whim. There is a part of every day devoted to her; Silence is their constant lover, coming to them under the cover of darkness to envelope the soldiers in her embrace.
Webster sits on a ladder looking into the magenta sky, flashes of lilac and cerulean dart across the infinite stillness of the stratosphere. Abstract brushstrokes on a non-existent canvas. He leans back against the muddy rungs, his head resting on the sandbags. He feels the penetrating damp seep through his hair to his skin. His helmet might be showing above the line of the trench. He can't be certain. He would know if a German sniper got him, though. He slips down a rung, careful not to make a noise.
The men are sleeping; the conscripts in the glutinous mud lining the bottom of the trenches, their heads propped against the sand bags lining the shallow graves they have been digging for themselves. Every so often a rat darts through the living corpses, and one of the men stirs, musket in hand.
A figure emerges from the officers' quarters to his left. A tall man in a cleanly washed uniform, standing out from the conscripts like a desert island in the middle of a shark infested sea. Webster catches a glimpse of his face as he lights a cigarette, the dull flash of light illuminating a tired face. Dark hair made prematurely grey by the dust in his quarters, his skin as lifeless as granite. He stands still for a moment, a statue.
He holds the cigarette between his lips and moves behind the lines before returning with a bowl of steaming water and a leather pouch. Looking up, the officer catches Webster's gaze. His commanding officer starts towards him, picking his way around the bodies cemented into the mud, dropping the cigarette to the floor and letting it be swallowed the vacuous slime.
Webster jumps down from the ladder and salutes the officer. "Lieutenant Lawrence."
The officer gives him a weary smile and tips an imaginary cap at his subordinate. "I thought your lookout was three hours ago, Webster. Why aren't you resting."
"Couldn't sleep, sir."
The officer sits down on a crate next to Webster's ladder, balancing the hot water carefully. "That excited about going over the top, eh?"
The officer opens his leather shaving kit; he has fine hands, strong but gentle. Webster's eyes focus on the black ink on his superior's fingers. Literary bruises on pale skin, injuries inflicted by his craft, accompanied by a writer's bump from the incessant sculpting of raw words into works of fluent prose and verse. Someone had told Webster that Lt. Lawrence had once been a promising literary figure, in the same regiment as Wilfred Owen. Webster hadn't seen anything to prove this rumour, apart from his commanding officer's calm nature and the hauntings of a ghost of a great passion in his pacified, overcast irises.
"I've been through this wait before," the officer says, glancing at the two-days worth of stubble on his chin, two nights worth of insomnia resting below his eyes. "Don't think about no-man's land, Webster. Just go over the top when they tell you and don't think about anything until you get back."
Webster nods. "Yes, sir."
The officer sighs and drops the mirror to his lap, letting his heavy eyelids close. "Conscripted, were you?"
"No, sir," Webster replies, studying his commanding officer's face. He couldn't be older than thirty-six, but the lines of battle had been drawn over his forehead and months of living on the front line made it impossible for them to be erased. Lawrence's eyes opened, lifeless from a loss of caring, the cause of which predated even the earliest designs of the Schlieffen plan.
"Why did you join the army," the officer asks, starting to soap up his chin with a small brush.
Webster smiles nervously, the air calm and crisp as his words cut through the silence like a bayonet. "I wanted to see France."
Lawrence pauses, the brush poised below his ear, touching the skin there like a lover's caress. "I can't blame you."
"Did you join, because of that?"
The officer paints a long stroke of soap down his jawline to the apex of his chin and stops. "To be truthful, I don't know why. Certainly not to come here again. God."
Webster sees him sigh deeply, his lungs creaking like an old oak tree. "You've been to France before, sir?"
Lawrence swirls the foamy brush in the bowl of water, stirring up a soapy storm. "Once. I was a few years older than you."
"Where did you go, sir?"
"Paris." He corrects himself after a slight pause, "Montmartre… I went there at the turn of the century to be a writer, to uphold the bohemian ideals which have no attraction for the youth of today." Lawrence drops the brush into the water and fishes a razorblade out from his shaving kit. "My father disowned me for going, and disowned me again when I returned three years later. 'Christian', he told me, 'I no longer consider you as my son'."
"I'm sorry, sir." Webster says, unsure as to what should be said when a commanding officer starts to give a subordinate a rhapsodical account of their life.
"I wasn't," Lawrence replies with a small chuckle. "I had been to Paris, I had been a bohemian. I wrote poems…"
The embrace of Silence enfolds him, cutting his sentences short with breath-stealing kisses.
He breaks free of his lover's caresses and takes a breath to recover from silence's heady embrace. "I had lived at last," Lawrence whispers, his voice like the metallic taste of blood in the early morning air of the battlefield. "My way of living, however, had condemned me to a life of incessant despair, reducing me to some creature no better than a corpse." His quiet voice drips with a bitterness so profound that the young man beside him can only listen but not understand. "But that didn't matter, because I had lived the prosaic existence I had desired since I was a boy… I had seen things my father could never imagine, living a life of liberty and truth and beauty… and, above all things, I fell in…"
His voice softens, cracks and sound ceases to flow from his lips. The caresses of a lover more passionate and entrancing than Silence herself rob him of his breath, his senses and his speech. Memory presses her cheek to his chest and wraps her arms about him, her voice a gentle movement of air across his brow.
"I wouldn't have taken it back," he breathes, as though he is convincing himself of some matter; his eyes brighten with some distant thought. "Never. A few weeks of what I had longed for so passionately had been granted to me and that was worth everything. Everything," he echoes, years evaporating as the lines fall from his face, "even if it sentenced me to a lifetime of pain and an infinity of purgatory. There are things worth that sacrifice. Worth the pain."
His lover releases him from her embrace and Silence wraps her arms about him once more. The lines reform upon his features and he looks back up at Webster, as if he had forgotten that anyone else had been there.
Lawrence's face glows crimson and he coughs slightly. "After this offensive, the General says he can arrange for you boys to go to Paris, would you like that?"
"Yes, sir," Webster replies, the words soft and less exhuberant than he expects.
Lawrence presses the blade to his skin and draws it upwards to his ear, cutting a path through the soapy snow. "Of course, there'll be work to do, but I hear that the Parisians have a lot to keep them entertained these days. Jazz bars springing up all over the place, thanks to our American friends."
Webster nods enthusiastically, his mind lost in thoughts of Paris and her glittering history. "They even reopened the Moulin Rouge, sir. Cabarets every night."
A slip. A stream of red running through the glacial coating on his chin. Blood glistening on the razorblade. Lawrence drops it into the bowl, hand shaking as he feels Silence tearing him away from Memory.
Memory loses her grip, her enduring companionship faltering for a moment as Lawrence reels from the utterance of that name. "The Moulin Rouge," he murmurs, his eyes haunted by the images of 1900.
"You should go to a show there, sir," Webster says innocuously.
Memory casts her spell over Lawrence and his mind fogs as she plants intoxicating kisses on his lips, her eternal love strengthening as he thinks of her… thinking of her without remembering the pain for the moment.
"I went," he replies, the distance between the officer and the infantryman more than just a measure of inches, rather a measure of years. "I wrote a show."
"For the Moulin Rouge?" Webster says with disbelief. "What was it about."
A weak smile plays over Lawrence's lips as Memory's ethereal fingers trace lines about his body. "It was about a penniless poet, and a courtesan… and their love," his voice is barely audible, Silence's hold still has power over him. "It was about love, a love that knows no obstacles."
Memory draws tears from his eyes as he whispers words that had not left his lips for years. "A love that will live forever."
There is a sharp cough and Silence marks her retreat as the sun starts to appear over the top of the horizon. Memory stays with her lover as he looks upward to Lt. Compton, the man interrupting their long-awaited rendezvous.
"The French battalion leader's just arrived, Christian. I can't make out a word the Frog's saying," Compton says, lighting a cigarette. "Sorry, old boy - forgot you're practically one of them. Wondered if you'd speak to him."
Lawrence finishes shaving and wipes the remaining soap from his face, barely recognisable when he emerges from behind a small wash cloth. Webster sees his commanding officer as the man of twenty one who travelled to Paris as an idealistic writer, not the father figure of a lieutenant who has made the trenches and death his way of life.
"I'll be there," Lawrence replies with a quick nod. Compton nods back and wanders down the line, waking the rest of the troops and forcing Silence into a headlong retreat.
Webster tips his helmet at his commanding officer as he stands up. Lawrence hands him the shaving kit and the bowl of water.
"Have a shave, Webster."
"I don't really see the point, sir," he replies, the thought of the big push entering his mind once again.
Lawrence gives him a stern smile. "There isn't a point, Webster, there isn't supposed to be. But I'm not letting the Germans see you all with stubble on your chins, so have a shave."
Webster nods. "Yes, sir."
Lt. Christian Lawrence walks back to his quarters, whistling an unfamiliar tune, Memory guiding his step.
Reviews gladly received. You know you want to.