A/N: Just a short World War I ficlet. I wrote this quickly at about 2:00 in the morning. If something doesn't seem historically plausible, just humor me because I liked how this turned out. The title of this fic was inspired by Taps.
Disclaimer: I don't own Newsies or the American military.
War was nobody's friend. It snapped you up, chewed you to pieces and then spit you back out just so you could continue on in your misery. You didn't even get to die, sometimes.
Lots of boys, they signed up to fulfill a sense of duty to simultaneously cause mayhem and mature as all kids do at one point or another. Others joined to serve their country, to fight for what was right. But now, freezing in trenches with mud up their trousers and holes in their boots, no cigarettes to warm them and no bread to silence their stomachs, they can't remember their mother's maiden name, let alone their purpose.
In New York, there had always been a group of boys close in age who were strong fighters. They first fought together in 1899, and it was then that they realized that fighting produced results. This was why they all enlisted, together. Here was another chance to fight for what was right. They were grown men now, but when they tied their boots and tightened their belts, strapped on their gear and saluted their superiors, they were seventeen again, yelling about the price of newspapers in the streets of Manhattan.
Now, here, in God's territory, Europe, they were tiring. When they were seventeen, they were invincible. Little Boots Johnson has taken out two bulls with a swift punch. Racetrack Higgins had beaten every goon in the fight with his sharp words and sharper knife, and Spot Conlon had rallied his entire borough to save the day.
Now, Little Boots was lying dead in the snow. Racetrack was reloading his gun, safe in a trench, but Spot Conlon hadn't made it back quite yet. He was darting from cover to cover, careful to hold his jacket tight where his left hand was about five minutes ago. Jack Kelly, ever the fearless leader, was yelling useless commands to the men he had left. They all knew that no good would come from anything he shouted, but there was comfort in knowing that at least they had some drive left. At least they could still fight, no matter how hard it was fighting their invisible enemy. This wasn't their land; they were vulnerable to guerilla attacks.
Spot made the last sprint from behind a rocky outcrop to the edge of the trench and dove in. A handful of bullets whizzed by, each whispering a cruel fate to him. One grazed his thigh.
It was dusk now; the sun had sunk below the trees as if it lacked the energy to hold itself up anymore. The sky was a rich purple in color, the first stars just starting to yawn and open their eyes. Safe under the cover of darkness, Jack Kelly poked his head up. He counted one, two, five bodies splayed in the grass. No wounded. He had seen Boots fall and he recognized Dutchy's shock of hair, but the other three could be anyone. He lowered himself back down, took a pointless look at Spot's injuries, and busied himself checking on the rest of his boys. Les was fine, just shell-shocked from what he'd seen that day. It was the first time he'd lost friends in the war, but it wouldn't be the last. Mush was pushing through everyone, looking for the familiar face of his best friend. He became more panicked as the familiar patch and easy smile weren't easily located. Jack glanced warily at the three nameless bodies above, praying for his friends.
This was the life they'd chosen, now. Cold nights, no comforts, death waving at you from just across the way. Maybe it wasn't worth it, some days. When they were starving, or when they'd just watched their best friend die. But this was the American dream they were fighting for. And fighting was all they knew how to do.