beengone

The Devil and Carwood Lipton—The Devil You Know


 

Zell am See, Austria
June, 1945



“Stop it.”

“No, you stop it.”

“Make me.”

“I’ll make you, all right.”

Even though the window was only opened a crack, the sounds of scuffling and laughter were easily heard. Lipton grinned as he peered down to see Luz and Perconte rolling around on the patio far below. Luz had his arm crooked around Perconte’s head, trying to subdue him, but they were both giggling too much to really put any effort into it. Popeye was sitting on the wall, eating an apple and watching them, grinning and kicking his heels like a kid.

Shaking his head at how quickly his hard-bitten soldiers could revert to boys, Lipton turned back and sat down to watch Major Winters finish up the orders of the day. 

“Luz and Perconte?” Winters still had his head down, but Lipton could see his small smile.

“Yes, sir.”

Nodding, Winters kept writing and Lipton idly fingered the calendar sitting on the corner of the desk.

June. It was already June.

He supposed it was just the way of things, but it seemed like the last few weeks had flown by, while the preceding months had dragged on. Like he’d been living in slow motion or stuck in neutral.

He’d spent so much time waiting and wanting…

The rhythmic scratch of Winters’ pen faded away as Lipton thought back to the spring and how it had all seemed like it was going to be so easy…


 

 

Tutlingen, Germany
April, 1945


Lipton tightened his grip on his rifle and moved through the milling soldiers, trying to see where the men had run off to. 

It was dark, already cold, and his orders from Winters were clear: they were to regroup at the main square, find a couple houses big enough for each company, and get settled for the night, asap. Which looked like it was going to be easier said than done, thanks to the snafu of earlier in the day. 

They were supposed to have arrived by fourteen hundred, but some idiot had mixed up the road signs, either by mistake or on purpose. The convoy had gone ten miles on the wrong road before Nixon had noticed the mistake. 

They’d turned around and made double time, but even so, it was dusk when they arrived in the small town of Tutlingen. And before anyone could stop them, the minute the trucks stopped, the men were on the ground, hurrying off to investigate. They knew better, but after the long weeks at Haguenau without a break from the daily bombardment, they were a little rowdy.

Lipton sighed and craned his head over the crowd, wishing, not for the first time, that he was taller. Or at that his lungs were working right—yelling was out of the question, for the time being.

“Lieutenant.” 

Lipton scanned the crowd again. Most of them were from Able, but he recognized a couple privates from Dog.

“Lieutenant.” 

A tug on his arm turned him around. Bull Randleman was standing behind him, his cigar burning bright. Lipton gave him a sheepish smirk. It was going to take some time to get used to his new rank. “Sir. We’re mostly over there.” Randleman pointed his cigar to the end of the main street.

“Well, we need to be mostly here. We gotta round the men up.”

More raised voices, this time in German and they both turned. From one of the row houses that lined the street, a group of townspeople streamed out, hands raised. A man in a suit was waving a napkin and shouting something about “…ein Nazi.” Behind them, gesturing with his rifle and shouting as well, came Liebgott.

Lipton tightened his lips and called out, “Liebgott!”

Liebgott ignored him and brandished his rifle.

He hurried forward and grabbed Liebgott’s arm, hissing “Liebgott!”

With a look of barely contained impatience, Liebgott muttered, “Yes, sir?” 

“Are you commandeering this house?”

“Yes, sir, Captain Speirs said it looked big enough, so we’re cleaning them out.”

Like rats, were the unspoken words. “Where’s the Captain?”

“He’s…” Liebgott looked around. “He must still be upstairs. You want me to go get him, sir?”

“No, that’s all right. I’ll go. You stay here and help Bull get the rest of the boys.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And leave them,” Lipton jerked his head to the Germans, “alone.”

Liebgott curled his lip, but he nodded.

Lipton gave Bull a look that said, ‘Keep him in line,’ and squeezed by the crowd, avoiding their angry glances, their raised voices. 

Inside, the house was cold and quiet. He smelled smoke and mold and fresh baked bread. His stomach growled—it had been over eleven hours since breakfast and it’d probably be another two before he managed to find the time to eat. He peered up the staircase. “Captain Speirs?”

“Up here.”

Lipton climbed the stairs slowly. At the top was a large landing that led to individual apartments. They were all dark except for the one at the end. He hiked up his rifle and made his way past the stairs, down the hall.

The front room was empty, but he could hear faint sounds coming from the back. It turned out to be the dining room—a small room with a good size round table with a couple chairs around it. Speirs was on the other side of the table, peering at the bottom of a bowl. A stack of silver plate was on the table, along with his rifle and helmet. He gave Lipton a brief, distracted nod, then went back to the bowl.

By the looks of things, they’d interrupted the family’s dinner: potatoes, some sort of pale vegetable, and not much else. Lipton was tempted to sit down and dig in, but there wasn’t enough for everyone and he wouldn’t eat if the men couldn’t. It just wasn’t right.

He glanced around the room. The furniture was dark, solid, and somehow solitary and it came to him that he and Speirs were alone for the first time since Haguenau. His heart lurched and began to thump.

The past few weeks had been busy. His pneumonia, or what was left of it, had finally called it quits and he’d thrown himself into his new role of Second Lieutenant. Which was basically as before—days filled with offering his opinion when asked for, relaying orders, making sure the men obeyed them, making sure they stayed alive.

But the nights, those were different and in the small hours he’d found himself unable to sleep, unable to turn off his mind, while the men muttered and shifted about. He’d lay there and cautiously, like someone would hear if he thought too loud, he’d remember Haguenau, remember that last day. 

He’d remember his happiness at receiving his commission, his happiness that they were coming off the line. And how that happiness had transformed to sudden desire when Speirs took him back to their room…

Lipton had always tried to be a good man. 

He knew what he wanted was contrary to the laws of God and man, contrary to the vows he’d said all those years ago. But none of that seemed to matter. He couldn’t make it matter. 

He’d think of Speirs, think of those kisses, and his pulse would race and sweat would break out on the back of his neck. It was nuts, crazy, and he wasn’t crazy.

At least, he didn’t used to be crazy, didn’t used to be a lot of things and that was the hell of it. There was something going on inside him, some odd division that had split his soul and he was beginning to feel like he’d become two people.

There was the Carwood Lipton he’d always been—hard working, dependable. But there was also this new Carwood Lipton—one prone to daydreams, given to long minutes of distraction and absent-mindedness. Wanting a man he had no business wanting.

He cleared his throat and glanced up. Speirs was packing his loot away, stuffing it into the bag he’d taken to carrying around. Lipton shook his head.

Speirs was something else, everyone knew that. He ran headlong into action just because he could. He was moody, unsociable, trigger happy, and all the men were afraid of him. 

On the other hand, he was brave and courageous, a brilliant strategist who would risk his own life to get the job done. Who had risked his life to get the job done.

Maybe that was it. Maybe it was just a case of hero worship that had transformed into something less normal?

Lipton picked up a dinner knife and began to turn it over and over, seeing his reflected face in miniature, fretting and frowning.

There was no doubt that he thought about the captain in that way. That he thought about how he had looked back in Rachamps, the choir behind them singing about angels and heaven and Speirs looking at him with eyes and lips as pretty as a girl’s.

What made it worse, the thing that was eating at him, that shamed him, wasn’t that he wanted Speirs like fire; it was that he didn’t know if Speirs still wanted him back. 

Men said anything to get a kiss and they made promises when they wanted more. Lipton knew this because he was a man and had played those games once or twice, even though he felt a great amount of shame afterwards. 

At no time in the past week had Speirs given any hint that he thought of what had gone on between them. He was brisk and detached, barking out orders when the men didn’t obey fast enough, ignoring them when they did.

Lipton hadn’t expected letters or flowers or anything like that; that was for women, not men. And this was war and they had a job to do—they didn’t have time to mess around. 

Things he told himself over and over, things that didn’t mean much when the little voice inside his head said something, a look, a nod, a more-than-friendly hand on the shoulder like he used to get, would be welcome. Anything to let him know that they were both in this together, that he hadn’t misjudged the situation and that he was wanted in return. 

So maybe it was just one of those things; said but not meant. War did such odd things to people. Maybe that was all it was. Maybe Speirs was just being—

“Lipton.”

Speirs’ quiet voice startled him and he jerked his head up. Speirs nodded to the table—Lipton followed his gaze. 

He’d gouged a half-inch hole in the smooth, waxed surface of the table. Flushing, he tossed the knife down and turned away to stare at the door. That he could do something like that and not know it… 

He needed to get a handle on this thing before he did something really stupid, something that would get him into trouble. He practically bit the words, “I just came to ask you, sir, if you want us to clear a house for Major Winters.”

“That will be fine.”

“Bull is getting the men together.” His rifle fell off his shoulder and he jerked it back up, angry with that also.

“Lipton.” 

“Liebgott is down there. I better go make sure—”

“Carwood.”

Lipton dragged his eyes over, carelessly angry words already forming about how he needed to make sure Liebgott didn’t cause an incident, but the words died in his throat.

Hands free of any pottery or silver, Speirs was staring straight at him,  detachment gone, his entire face alive with hunger.

Lipton flushed again and remembered being grabbed and kissed, again and again. 

Speirs looked him up and down, slowly, taking his time and Lipton remembered that as well. He reached for the back of a chair, twisting his sweating palm around the spindle, thankful for the length of table—it was a caution that this wasn’t the time for anything foolish.

“It’s not just you,” Speirs murmured.

Lipton swallowed, surprised. How had Speirs known what he was thinking? “What…” But he didn’t know how to ask what had given himself away, embarrassed that such private emotions had bled onto his face.

“It’s all right, no one knows.” 

“Then how?”

“No one knows.” Speirs paused, then smiled. “But I know you.”

Like that first time, the smile was what did it. Lipton let go of the chair and started around the table.

“Captain Speirs! Lieutenant Lipton!” Liebgott’s voice rang up the stairs, making them both jump. The moment was broken and Lipton was glad for it—it saved him from himself.

Speirs grinned at him and cocked his head. “Next time?” 

Lipton sighed. “Yes, sir.” 

“Good. Tell Liebgott we’ll put Winters and Nixon here. The men can stay in the other apartments.”

“Yes, sir.”

Lipton left, head down, heart racing, wondering what he would’ve done if Liebgott hadn’t interrupted them. His fine sense of duty, alive and kicking just a week ago was starting to crumble under the weight of his longing—if something didn’t happen soon, he wasn’t going to be responsible for his actions.

..........

Carwood heads to the stairs and I watch him go. That was a close call. Thank God for Liebgott, I think, the pun and the blasphemy making me smile as I ponder the circumstances I find myself in. 

This war has been good to me. It’s given me a place and a sense of purpose, something I hadn’t had three years ago. 

But I can  feel it—that call to duty is starting to collapse under that soft brown gaze and those puppy eyes. Puppy. I wonder what he’d do if I called him that. 

But I can’t help it. He stares at me all the time, even though he thinks I don’t notice. Well, now he knows what I think, what I’ve been thinking these last few weeks.

I was wrong, though, not to give him something back and that’s a mistake I won’t make again. He’s a good man, and he deserves better. He deserves to have that worried frown he wears like a scar smoothed away and replaced with the smile he shares only once in a great while. 

The first time he gave me that smile, in Rachamps it was, I was taken aback because it changed his face entirely. Made him look as young as we both are; as young as we’ve both, I think, forgotten how to be. 

And how would he look if he were laying under me? Would he still smile that smile or would he be serious, intent? 

These are thoughts I’ve only taken out a few times since Haguenau because they’re hazardous. I can’t—no, won’t—let myself go there too often, worried that I won’t want to come back, that he’ll break me and make me useless to the cause. 

But, Christ, the idea of him on his back, bending to my mouth, neck arched in a pleasure… 

But that’s a fantasy and it has to go back into the box. 

I clear my head and breathe deep until my hands stop shaking and my face cools.

And now I have to put the soldier back on because Carwood must have missed Liebgott—the boy’s practically screaming down there, wondering if all is clear and can the men come up? He’s too emotional—he’s going to get himself into trouble one of these days. 

So it’s back to being the devil they all think me. Although Carwood doesn’t, I’m sure of it. And that, as odd as it may be, could be my saving grace.

I pick up the last of my items and stuff them in the bag. Then I yell down to Liebgott that everything is ready.

Items: Silver candlesticks, pottery from Dresden and one unidentifiable piece of English silver plate.


 


Thalem, Germany
April, 1945


If it wasn’t so frustrating it would be funny, Lipton thought as he carefully wiped away the smear of oil on the barrel of his rifle. Not funny like the Marx Brothers were funny, but funny like… 

He couldn’t come up with a fitting description, but anyway, it was almost comical, their poor timing.

In Ulm the lodgings were tight, so Winters had assigned quarters to Speirs and Lipton, but he’d also thrown in Johnny Martin. There was a single bed, big enough for the three of them. They’d rolled up in their sleeping bags, Speirs on the left, Lipton on the right with Martin smack dab in the middle. 

Lipton loved Martin like a brother, but he spent an hour fruitlessly wishing that he’d come down with something. Nothing serious or permanent; maybe a stomachache, or a cough. Something bad enough to need the infirmary so that Lipton could have Speirs to himself. 

But Johnny didn’t get sick; he just dropped off as soon as his head hit the pillow. Figuring that if nothing was going to happen, he might as well get some rest, Lipton turned his back on the others and fell asleep.

The next missed opportunity had been Languedau and it had been Harry Welsh that had gotten between them that time. Lipton had found a little out of the way bombed-out schoolhouse that he thought might do. It was taking a huge risk but he weighed the factors and found them acceptable. He figured they’d take ten or fifteen minutes, tops. He didn’t know about Speirs, but he was so ready for it he just hoped to make it past the first touch. 

He’d walked back to their makeshift headquarters, heart in his throat, practicing the words he’d use to let Speirs know they had a place. Only when he got to the CP, Speirs and Harry were arguing about who was the best poker player. 

He tried to get rid of Harry without making it seem too obvious, but it didn’t matter. Speirs ignored his pointed looks and comments, and took Harry up on a best-out-of-ten-hands challenge. Lipton spent the rest of the evening watching them play, all of them getting drunk on cheap brandy.

On the day they reached the next stop on the map, Landsberg, he’d looked around, thinking that even though the town was more of a village and too small for anything but duty, at least they could find a place to be alone, maybe share a cigarette. 

But then Perconte had came running back from a scouting mission, breathless and frantic with a confused tale of horror and people more dead than alive. In the following days, Lipton took to avoiding Speirs’ glances, not able to think of anything other than what kind of people did that to other people?

Leaving Landsberg was like leaving a living nightmare—the farther they got away from the camp, the lighter his spirits grew. Thalem for all its mournful population and crushed buildings, was like a breath of fresh air, and once again his hunger woke as he began to remember that there were other things in life other than war and death. 

Since Mourmelon, it had become habit to spend a few hours with Nixon, Welsh, and Speirs, playing poker. It wasn’t his favorite game, but it killed time and gave him a good enough reason to sit and look at Speirs without anyone the wiser. He was always cautious, never staring too long or hard, reminding himself of where he was. It only grew dangerous when the conversation lagged, the break giving his mind time to wander.

When they got to Austria would they be quartered in the same house? Would Speirs be noisy or quiet? Would he bite at Lipton’s neck, like he did in Haguenau, and if not, how could Lipton ask him to do it without feeling like a fool?

He tried to control the daydreams, but they acquired a life of their own, elbowing in whenever he wasn’t preoccupied with the war.

Like now. He was supposed to be cleaning his rifle, but his mind kept returning to last night’s poker game. Instead of seeing his rifle barrel, he saw Speirs across from him, hair falling on his forehead, his smile soft and a little cynical as he talked about the progress of the war.

What would’ve happened if Lipton had just stood up and announced, ‘I’m tired of waiting,’ and told Nixon and Harry to get? They would have left and he would’ve reached over and dragged Speirs up, making sure not to hurt him, and then he’d…

The clatter of metal shook him out of his fantasy and he jumped. Across the table, Luz grinned at him, a little sheepish—he’d fallen asleep and dropped his coffee cup. 

“Sorry about that.”

Lipton smiled back, hoping his grin didn’t look as forced as it felt. “Get enough sleep?”

Luz shrugged. “The usual, which means, no.”

Lipton nodded and resolutely shelved his thoughts. He went back to his rifle, inspecting it again, this time making sure he paid attention. He had to stop mooning over Speirs, and he needed to do it asap. He wasn’t an animal; he could control himself. It was as simple as that. 

Nodding to himself smartly, he got to it and in fifteen minutes he was finished. He put his handkerchief and oil away and got up.

“Heading out, Lieutenant?” Luz picked up his rifle and put it back down. He’d been cleaning it all morning.

“Yeah. I thought I’d go check to see how the boys are doing on that church.”

“Knowing Perconte and Bull, the whole thing is a bigger mess than it was when we got here. Why they’re out there, directing the Germans, I will never know.” George gave him his crooked smile, the one that said he was glad it was them and not him. Lipton shook his head, then smiled back.

He put on his helmet, shouldered his rifle, and left, out the kitchen, down a short passage and then on to the long stairway.

The stairs were narrow and dark, built out of the same stone as the rest of the house. There wasn’t a rail, and he kept his head down—a single misstep would mean a fall, which would probably mean a nasty injury.

He’d just made it to the small landing where the second flight made a sharp turn, when he ran headlong into someone coming down. He reached out and grabbed the same time the other person grabbed, both trying to prevent the other from falling.

And dammit, destiny was crazy because he knew the split second his hands closed on the rough uniform who he was holding, practically embracing. He cleared his throat and muttered, “Afternoon, Captain Speirs.” 

“Hello, Lieutenant Lipton.”

It was ridiculous. And insane. Because for all the danger of the moment, he couldn’t let go. The inset window high above wasn’t bright enough to reach the landing so it wasn’t exactly public. But it sure as hell wasn’t private, and he couldn’t force his fingers to uncurl from Speirs’ waist, couldn’t back off like he knew he should.

Same scent of smoke and sweat; same parted lips. Lipton waited, heart slamming so hard everyone must hear it, everyone must know what was going on.

Speirs tightened his hands, fingers flexing There was a tiny pause, the  forever moment right before a field commander shouts, ‘Fire!’ With a sickening jolt of anticipation, Lipton knew they were going to kiss and he wasn’t going to do a damn thing to stop it.

But like before, a noise, distant but loud, came to his rescue and they drew apart, startled into their own corner of the landing. He listened for anyone coming up the stairs or down, heart still pounding, lust still burning his cheeks.

Finally, he cleared his throat and whispered, “Well, sir. I guess we should...” He trailed off. Speirs wasn’t saying anything, wasn’t doing anything but glaring.

“That is, if you…”

Speirs tightened his lips. And then ran his hands down his uniform, and straightened up. The light from the window caught his eyes, a clear, striking brown. “We’re heading for Austria in a few days, right?”

Lipton slowly nodded.

“We’ll probably stay put for a while, maybe as long as a couple months.” His voiced lowered to a rough whisper. “We’ll take care of this there, Lieutenant.”

Lipton tried to smile and gave a sketchy salute.

He edged around Speirs, careful not to touch, and ran up the stairs with as much confidence as his shaky legs allowed. ‘We’ll take care of this there.’ 

Wondering if that was the voice Speirs used in bed, Lipton told his body to shut up and hurried out into the gray day, already looking forward to Austria.

..........

Once again I’m watching him leave, only this time he’s going up instead of down and I have to say the view is better from this point. I’m supposed to be down in the kitchen, putting the fear of God and Captain Speirs into men who think hiding in a basement is a way to avoid duty, but I drop back to the wall and lean against the cool stone. There’s no rush, the men aren’t going anywhere, and once again I need time to think.

I’m glad to see that the look of hurt bewilderment is gone from his face. I was worried, after Hurlach; was even thinking of dragging him off somewhere private, if only to talk. But as the days passed, as we got further from Landsberg, his mood lightened and soon he was back to the man I knew.

Almost, because I’ve become aware of something new in his eyes, in his smile. I’m not sure what it is; I’ll have to keep watch and figure out just what is making him look so dreamy half the time. It almost as if he’s fallen in love. Although that can’t be—he hasn’t had the opportunity or the time.

Right?

Because how would I know? For all intents and purposes, he and I are strangers. I know he’s a fine soldier and sharp-witted, on the field and off. That he loves and takes care of his men. But what do I really know about him? 

Unlike Major Winters and Captain Nixon, we didn’t train together and we spent half the war in separate companies. If that’s the case, if I still don’t know what makes him tick, maybe the small smile he wears when he thinks no one notices is because he’s fallen for someone.

A sharp pain lances through my gut and I wonder if that’s it after all. 

But when and where? In Mourmelon while he was recuperating from the assault on Carentan? That’s the only place we’ve been recently with a significant number of women. Which would make sense. It’s practically a right of passage, the wounded soldier falling in love with the nurse that brings him back to health.

But maybe, and the pain digs deeper, sharper, maybe it’s his wife. 

He never mentions her. 

I’ve never asked, and I never will. It’s not to save him the difficulty of explanations. It’s simply that I don’t want to know. I’m not a coward about most things, but I am about that.

I lean back, still feeling where his fingers dug into my waist. It’s as if his touch was a brand and I touch the spots reverently.

He wanted me to kiss him. I could see it, almost taste it. Would a man act like that if he was in love with someone else? 

Some men would, but not Carwood Lipton. I sigh in relief.

And then I close my eyes, impatient with my panic. Yes, I don’t know him completely, but I know him well enough and he would never be careless with other people’s emotions.

So, something else must be going on. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for him, make sure he’s okay. It’s probably nothing. The men are all on edge, and he’s been through a lot in the last six months.

I push away from the wall and hitch my rifle up, mentally preparing myself to become Bloody Speirs so I can go downstairs and scare the hell out of a few layabouts.

Items: A case of Champagne, a first edition of Mein Kampf (signed by A. Hitler), five silver candlesticks.




Berchtesgaden, Germany
May, 1945


“Yes sir, thank you sir.” Lipton took the paper from Winters and gave Nixon a smile before he left, closing the door behind him. He strolled down the hotel’s carpeted hallway, his smile growing.

It was going to be another good day; nothing much to do but track down Lieutenant Welsh, hand off the orders, and then he was free for the rest of the afternoon. Which meant visiting the bar or playing cards. 

Easy’s stay in Berchtesgaden had been extended a few days, making the men almost giddy with excitement. Under words of caution from Winters, they’d been investigating the town and the countryside. There wasn’t much to see—the town was too small for that. But it was a hell of a lot nicer than most of the towns they’d been stationed at and they’d been running all over the place.

Lipton had done his share of investigating. He’d visited the bars,  the bunkers, the salt mines. And, at the top of mount Kehlstein, he’d made his trek to the Eagle’s Nest, dragged up by Speirs and Malarky who’d insisted he see it for himself. 

Awed by the grandeur, he nevertheless couldn’t help the chill that swept him from head to toe. He gazed at the perfect, sterile lines of the hexagonal room, thinking that here was where Hitler had made some of his most important decisions. Here was where he had sat down with his commanders and discussed the destruction of Europe and the eventual demise of Britain and America. 

Lipton had wandered up to the balcony and sat on the broad ledge. The scenery was magnificent—pristine mountains that seemed to go on forever, blue, blue sky. An odd, horrible contrast because he’d never seen a country so beautiful in a place so dead. 

They left soon after. He spent the rest of the day going about his duty silently, thinking about life. Ignoring Luz’s attempts at cheering him up. Ignoring Speirs’ looks of concern.

But the next morning in the makeshift mess hall, he’d watched his men, carefree and laughing, and he remembered that he had a lot to be grateful for, that Hitler was dead, his regime on the run. 

And then there was Austria and he went to bed that night with a smile on his face.

A smile that kept returning no matter what he did, and he’d better lose it before he found Harry or he’d have some explaining to do.

He finally found Harry in a small room on the first floor, sitting among a crowd of privates, telling the story of his heroic wounding in the Bois Jacques. 

Lipton paused at the door, curious to see which version Harry was relating this time. It was the saving Captain Nixon, S2, from enemy fire one.

Lipton knew what kind of soldier Harry was—he’d seen him running through artillery, dodging bullets as he guided the men to safety—but it was funny, the way he embellished his stories. 

He walked up behind Harry, getting ready to yank his chain, then decided that he was in too good a mood to spoil Harry’s fun. He  listened for a while, then, when Harry paused to take a sip from his coffee cup, he broke in, “Sir? From Major Winters, sir.”

Harry turned and looked up at him. “Huh? What is it?”

“From Major Winters, sir.” Lipton repeated and held out the note. “I think it’s the order for Wednesday’s pull out.”

Harry read the note, then tucked it in his pocket. “Yep. We’re on the move, boys. Heading out to Austria.” 

The men groaned and Harry exchanged a comical look with Lipton. Most of the privates were replacements that hadn’t seen more than a few days’ fighting.

“If that will be all…” Lipton made a vague gesture to the door.

“Yeah. Hey, wait, no. Speirs was looking for you.”

“When?”

“Just a few minutes ago. I told him you were checking supplies in the cellar.”

Lipton bit back a smile. “That was yesterday, sir.” 

Harry stared at him for a moment and then smiled broadly. “Well then, you better go find him or he’ll be back here to kick my ass.” He slapped Lipton’s thigh and turned back to the men, already talking about how it felt to be traveling in a open jeep, bullets flying overhead, with blood pouring out of the big hole in your leg.

Lipton left, walking slowly, not hurrying. He was in the main hall before he let himself think about what Harry had said. He paused in front of the big, gold mirror and stared blindly at his reflection.

The cellars were a maze of rooms that extended beyond the hotel’s main floor plan. Even though they had been updated and lined with cinder blocks, they were cold and dark and damp. And very isolated. The men avoided going down there, mostly because Luz had announced that they had to be haunted, with all their recent history of murder and mayhem.

Refusing to glance in the mirror to make sure his hair and uniform were clean and neat, Lipton went to find Speirs.

..........

The cellar stairs were lit with weak, naked bulbs. To make matters worse, the marble steps were worn, the edges sloped, and the going was tricky. So he descended carefully, not wanting to slip and fall. It would be just his luck to break his neck now.

When he got to the bottom he peered into the gloom. The stairs ended at a small chamber that was nothing more than a meeting point for three corridors: two on either side of the wall in front and one off the far left. 

Lipton had already explored the one on the left—it was short and dead-ended roughly twenty feet along. Speirs couldn’t be anywhere in there. So that left the corridors in front. 

Lipton chose the right—it was the best lit and he could see clear footprints in the dust. 

He’d gone a few feet when he called out softly, “Captain Speirs?”

His voice echoed and he jumped when a mouse ran from one dark corner to another. Telling himself not to be a baby, that there were no such things as ghosts and that Speirs was down here somewhere, he started up again, touching the wall for comfort.

“Here, Lieutenant.”

Lipton couldn’t help his gasp when Speirs appeared like a ghost out of the dark. He wasn’t wearing his jacket and his sleeves were rolled up, his collar unbuttoned. There was a smudge on his cheek and another on his chin. It was obvious what he’d been doing—he had a bottle in one hand, a vase in the other. 

“I scared you. I’m sorry.”

“No, not scared, just…” Lipton trailed off and gestured vaguely. “Captain Welsh, said you were down here. That you were looking for me.”

Speirs just stood there, his eyes blank. 

Finally, just when Lipton thought they’d do nothing but stare at each other all night, Speirs shrugged and murmured, “C’mon. I need to put these down.” 

He turned and led the way, moving swiftly in the dark until he reached a corner. He stopped, then jerked his head to the end of the short hall where light spilled out from an open door. “I’m in here.”

Lipton followed slowly, all the feelings he’d been pushing away for the past few weeks rushing back with each step. His heart hammered in his chest with dull, thick strokes that seemed to wrack his entire body, almost like the coughing jags when he’d been sick. He could even feel the pulse heavy in his throat and he wondered if it was visible. He sure as hell hoped not.

The room Speirs led him to was clean and well lit. Wood shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and they were filled with plates, bowls, vases, candlesticks—everything one would need to decorate a hotel.

Nervous, needing something to do, Lipton picked up a yellow bowl. It had a painting on the side—a big-eyed shepherdess in a blue dress and hat. She had a lamb tucked under one arm and another pranced at her feet. It was probably supposed to be charming and quaint, but it was ugly. And a little creepy.

“That’s German.”

Lipton sat the bowl down. “Is it worth anything?”

“Probably. I think it’s a couple hundred years old.”

“Oh,” he muttered because he didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t care if the bowl was German. He really didn’t care if it was expensive. And he didn’t want to talk about pottery or loot. He didn’t want to talk anything much at all and he turned around, and—

Speirs had closed the door and was leaning against it, just like in Haguenau. Grasping the doorknob, just like in Haguenau.

And just like in Haguenau, Lipton began to shake. He advanced one step, and then another, struggling against his uncertainties, pushed on by everything else because he wanted to do this. And he wanted not to do this.

An insane conundrum that fell away the instant Speirs let go and took a step forward.

Only this time it wasn’t Speirs who did the grabbing, this time it was Lipton and he was there, shoving Speirs into the door, stopping any  words, his own doubts with his mouth, with his body.

There was a jangling sound, like a discordant symphony, but he paid it no mind because Speirs’ kiss was just as he remembered—hot and wet and he moaned without meaning to.

Speirs answered with a groan, then abruptly pivoted so Lipton’s back was to the door and that was so much better. He wrapped his hand around Speirs’ neck, kissing so hard it hurt.

“Lipton.”

Lipton bit Speirs’ lower lip.

“Carwood?”

He moved down to his chin, his jaw, surprised by the light beard, scratchy and rough. A wave of delight raced up his spine and he muttered hoarsely, “What?”

“Do you remember this?”

Lipton started to ask what the hell he was talking about, but then Speirs fit a knee between his legs and pulled until Lipton was straddling his thigh. Like before, they both groaned and he wanted to say that yes, he remembered, yes, he’d never forgotten, but he couldn’t speak.

He settled for fumbling his collar open and tugging Speirs’ head down to his neck, encouraging him with small noises he simply couldn’t help.

This, and this, and this, he thought as Speirs’ kissed his throat, nipping, then biting—this was what he’d wanted, what he’d been waiting for and he pressed closer, hitched his leg higher, wishing he could lay down because his knees had turned watery weak and it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he’d pass out.

“Carwood?” Speirs mumbled into his neck.

“Yeah?”

“Your injury, back in Carentan…”

Lipton shook his head. “No, I’m fine, see?” A stupid answer, really, because of course there was nothing to see, so he took Speirs’ hand and molded it over his dick. 

“Christ,” Speirs hissed and squeezed once and then again when Lipton gasped and pushed into his palm.

It happened quickly after that.

With clumsy hands, they unbuttoned, undid. Lipton wanted a look just in case he never had this chance again, but he only got a confused glimpse of pale skin and dark hair before Speirs pulled him in tight.

Heat for heat, thrust for thrust, he rode the pressure, trying not to give in too quickly because it felt so good and he’d been waiting so goddamn long.

There was a endless moment of too much noise, too much feeling, and he thought to protest, ‘Not yet,’ but before he could, a broad white light washed over him, drowning out everything but Speirs’ cry and the thump of his own head hitting the door. 

..........

Thankfully, he didn’t pass out like he thought he might. But it was touch and go—sheer stubbornness locked his knees and he leaned against the door, trying to catch his breath while Speirs rested on him, head buried in the crook of his neck.

He felt heavy, boneless, as if he’d just waded through a field of mud, or a river of honey. His back hurt and his healed wound felt tender and a little bruised. He smiled, though. After Carentan, he never would’ve thought that any kind of pain down there could be a good thing or that he’d enjoy the getting so much.

He lifted a tired hand and carded his fingers through Speirs messy dark hair, messing it up even more. They should have brought a comb, he thought lazily, before remembering that they hadn’t planned on any of this. Maybe he should start caring a comb with him; that might be a good thing.

Speirs sighed, then mumbled into his shoulder, “So much for Austria.”

Lipton breathed a laugh because, yeah, so much for Austria.

“We should probably get going.”

Lipton nodded.

“Harry might come looking.”

It took a mighty effort, but he managed to speak. “He might.”

“Then, here…” Speirs pushed back, just a bit. His face was flushed and his smile was soft, happy. 

Lipton’s heart clenched at the sight—he’d seen Speirs angry, frustrated, focused. But never vulnerable and open, not like this, and he stroked his jaw and kissed him, tender and gentle.

Speirs took the kiss and gave one back. “Are you all right? Did I hurt you?”

“I’m fine. More than fine.”

“Good.” He kissed Lipton’s neck where he’d bitten, then pushed fully away, grimacing at the semen coating their bellies. “We’re a mess.”

Lipton laughed, not caring a lick. “Yeah, we are.”

“You go first. I’ll be up in a minute.”

Ignoring the implication of caution behind the casual words, Lipton  edged around Speirs and straightened his clothing. He’d have to rinse his trousers out before he sent his uniform off to the laundry, but he knew other men that did that all the time, even if their partners were the usual sex.

Refusing to be worried about that now, he combed his fingers through his hair and looked back at Speirs. He’d gotten himself together and was standing to the side of the door. 

There was an uncomfortable pause, a kind of hushed nothing as if each were waiting for the other to make the first move.

Finally, Lipton shrugged. Honesty was always the best policy. “Will you be at dinner tonight?”

Speirs shook his head. “I hadn’t planned on it. I was going to go over the schedule with Winters.” He looked down and brushed at something on his sleeve, then added abruptly, “I can cancel if you want.”

“No, that’s okay, you’re busy. We’ll see each other later on.” Lipton reached for the doorknob only to be stopped by Speirs’ hand on his.

“You seem very sure.”

It was a demand more than a comment and Lipton shrugged again. “I am.”

Speirs frowned. “How can you be so sure? You don’t know what’s going to happen. None of us do.”

“I don’t know, sir. I just know that you and I aren’t over.” Lipton smiled gently at Speirs’ confusion, surprised by his own calm. 

It was true—the restlessness he’d been living with for the last few months was gone, replaced by a surety that had no reason, an acceptance that had no explanation.

He touched Speirs’ chest and opened the door. He’d just reached the end of the corridor when Speirs’ low voice turned him around.

“Carwood?” 

Speirs was standing in the doorway, half in light, half in shadow. “Yes, sir?”

“Save a place for me. I’ll be there.”

Lipton nodded and started to turn the corner, but gave in to impulse—he hurried back and grabbed Speirs’ biceps to kiss him one more time.

Who pushed him away, not unkindly. 

Lipton grinned and left.

This time, the long corridor wasn’t eerie or scary. It was merely a hallway with few lights that he navigated with ease.

As was the main room and he crossed it quickly. He was tired and sore, but a sense of joy was waiting around the corner and he bounded up the stairs, eager to get washed so he could get to the mess hall early, so he could find two seats together.

..........

Before he leaves, Carwood turns back and gives me another kiss, his mouth hard and warm. I shove him away, concerned that that we’ve pushed our luck. In more ways than one because just looking at his face and mine, never mind the crumpled uniforms and the smell of sex, anyone would know what had happened.

I watch him go, then turn back to the room. I pick up the shattered vase that had fallen to the floor when he first pushed me up against the door. I don’t think he even noticed it, that he’d knocked over a two hundred year-old vase. That’s how eager he was, how focused he was. 

The memory of his face returns, red and determined, all gentleness gone and I throw the shards on a nearby shelf and bite my lip.

Marcus Aurelius said, ‘Execute every act of thy life as though it were thy last.’ 

I’ve lived by those words, or words like them, for most of my adult life. But they’re suddenly flat and without meaning and in the light of recent events I have to wonder if Aurelius ever loved anyone. I mean, really loved anyone, with all his heart and soul. Because now I can’t imagine living life only for the moment and not beyond. 

In the space of less than fifteen minutes, I’ve been turned upside down and inside out. I know I’ve been in the process of such a metamorphosis for a while now, but it really feels like it only happened in the last few minutes.

Bloody Speirs is gone, broken. I can feel it. The detachment that has kept me alive has been quietly destroyed by a man who didn’t even know he was doing it. And I can’t be sad about it or mad about it. I had a feeling it was going to happen, even though I didn’t know the rout would be so thorough. And final.

I lift my hand and rub my face. His scent is all over me and I’m tempted to leave one piece of clothing unwashed so I can carry him with me in case we never get this chance again. But of course, I won’t—it would be dangerous. To me, but mostly to him.

Besides, his optimism is winning out over my fatalism because, strangely, I do believe what he said, that this won’t be all we’ll have. He’s so positive and sure that he makes me positive and sure. 

Even more so now that I know who he’s been mooning over for the last few months.

It’s me, and just the thought has me terrified and horrified and I want to hurry through this massive, pretentious hotel simply to hold him again, to have him again. 

But, like the other, I won’t because it might get him into trouble and worse, it might hurt him. It’s a measure of how lost I am that I can say with all certainty that even if it meant never seeing him again, I would do anything to keep him from harm. 

Of course, it also goes without saying that I would gladly kill any man who hurt him. I’m not so far gone as all that and that part of me is still there, waiting.

I touch the shattered vase, then look at my watch. It’s been about ten minutes, long enough that he’s had time to get to his room. I roll down my sleeves and pull on my jacket, smoothing it out, trying to make myself as presentable as possible. 

I glance around the room. Captain Nixon told me that the hotel staff rotated the housewares each time Hitler came for tea and the shelves are filled with priceless porcelain and crystal. The vase carefully tucked back on the middle shelf on the left is Roman, maybe nine hundred years old. The platter on the shelf above is much newer, but plated with gold. 

I leave everything where it sits. Let it gather more dust, I think. Let it rot.

Because as much as I hate to admit it—and just the thought makes me grind my teeth at my own sentimentality—the thing I found this afternoon is more valuable than all my loot put together and I could care less about the treasure I’m leaving behind.

I switch off the light and leave. 

Upstairs, Carwood is getting cleaned up, maybe already sitting down to dinner. I know I’ll do the same, wash, brush, change, hoping he’s trusted my words and is waiting for me.

I’m already on the marble steps, feeling a little off balance at the sharp turn my life has just taken when I remember another line from Aurelius, made when he was at the end of his long life. I’d sneered at the passage when I first read it long ago, thinking that the general must have been half senile at the time. 

But now I think that I was wrong, that it was further proof of his genius that he was able to pare down all that really mattered in life to a few words: 

Accept the things to which fate binds you and love the people with whom fate brings you together but do so with all your heart

I reach the main floors and my eyes burn at the bright light that floods the main hall. My luck holds and I meet no one as I run up the stairs to my room. 

It’s late, later than I thought, and I really should be worrying about what Winters will say when I beg off from our meeting, but all I can think about is fate and bindings and the way Carwood smiled when he told me we weren’t over.


******

Coda


Zell am See, Austria
June, 1945


Lipton took a breath and asked, “Major, is this type of job I can except from now on?” He’d been hoping for an assignment with another company, maybe something that would bring him contact with Easy once in a while, but Battalion Headquarters? It was almost too much. 

Winters nodded a couple times and smiled wryly. “Yeah. Yeah, when we’re not sunning ourselves by the lake.”

Lipton grinned, almost laughed out loud, then gave Winters his best salute. He strode off, his grin changing to a broad smile.

No doubt the airfield would be jam-packed with soldiers, all eager to see the General’s surrender for themselves. Eager to start celebrating in earnest. They deserved it, every last one of them, after the long road they’d walked. But it would be no place for any sort of conversation, intimate or otherwise.

So he’d wait. Until much later when he found a little privacy. And then he'd do his own celebrating, after he told Ron the good news.



fin.


~~~~~~~~~~~~

Story notes:
Carwood Lipton/Ronald Speirs
Band of Brothers
8,200+ words
Episodes referenced: Why We Fight and Points
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me