beengone

A Different War


 

Zell Am See, Austria
May 18, 1945

 


Lewis Nixon absentmindedly sketched a salute to the driver of a passing jeep and dodged his way across the busy courtyard of the Grand. The meeting in Schuttdorf with Sink and the other S3s had gone on longer than expected—he’d wanted to be back well before dinner and it was already seventeen hundred. 

The meeting had been more formality than anything else—even with the new intel—and it had been hard to stay focused on the topic at hand: the Pacific Theater.

The situation was escalating and it didn’t look good for Japan. With dwindling supplies, demoralized troops, and a command that was disintegrating from the inside out, it was only a matter of time before Hirohito and Tojo acknowledged what the Allied intelligence officers knew: that the only way out was to admit defeat.

And that was good, Lew assured himself as he ran up the broad stairs to the hotel’s entrance. That was great. He was so damn tired of war, tired of seeing men die for no good reason. Tired of trying to numb the pain and grief that only slept when he was drunk. Or with Dick. 

So it wasn’t like he wanted the war to continue, because that would be wrong. 

He paused on the landing, leaned one hip against the balustrade, and took a long drag from his cigarette. 

The Zeller See was, as always, picture-postcard beautiful. Deep, almost sea green water, blue mountains jutting up, covered with white. The late afternoon sun had fallen behind the mountains, throwing everything in dreamy relief, like something from Hopper or Parrish.

When they’d first arrived, he’d found himself taking any opportunity to gaze out the windows, standing there for long minutes, just staring. It was only after some random comment from Dick that he realized he was still waiting to wake up. That the serenity of Austria was almost inappropriately surreal after the living hell that had been France, Holland, and Germany.

Today, the lake was choppy with white caps appearing and disappearing as boats skipped to and fro. There were a few soldiers down by the shore, chasing each other around in the shallows.

Normally the sight would have made him grin, but the expected news that the war might be over sooner than later had left him a little low, and it hit him again—the end might truly be in sight. 

When he’d first realized it, really realized it, he was stunned to find himself wishing for a new military directive that would assign them permanently to their current post or somewhere else in Europe. 

He knew he was being selfish, maybe even nuts, and that all the soldiers to a man deserved to go home as soon as possible, back to their loved ones. He wanted the same thing. Sort of. 

He didn’t have much interest in seeing his family again—mostly he wanted to wander the streets of New York, take in a show or spend a lazy evening at 21. But even those yearnings weren’t the complete measure of his wants, because his wants were more simple and immediate and the only person he truly wanted to go home to was lodged down the hall, one bedroom away.

But the men, they deserved peace. Harry was dying to get back to Kitty—he wouldn’t shut up about her. Shifty had grown quieter and had taken to moping around the woods when he was off duty. Even Shames had stopped barking—just two days ago, Lew had caught him laughing with the men he used to yell at.

So, soon, if everything went well, they would all part ways and just the thought revived an ache in his chest, in his belly, that no amount of alcohol could fix.

He knew the reason for the familiar pain that wasn’t really pain; it was something he’d long become accustomed to. But as there was no cure, he’d gone his usual route by simply not thinking about it. 

Since Landsberg and what he now thought of as the ‘bad time,’ he found himself living each day in a kind of null space, moving from one task to another, waiting for the next operation. It was far from an ideal situation; he wasn’t used to settling, just as he wasn’t used to not getting what he wanted. But he’d live with both because the sad truth of it was that he would gladly remain in the Airborne, at Sink’s beck and call, if only it meant he could stay with Dick.

Pushing away the railing, pushing away his thoughts, he crushed out his cigarette and turned to the wide doors.

If he knew his major, the man had finally put away his pens and papers and was up in his room, getting ready for dinner.


______________________________

Dick Winters closed his door with a weary sigh. The day had been another endless progression of paperwork, documents that needed his signature, disputes to settle, and the general business of wrapping up the war. 

He knew he was overdoing it, knew there were some hours in the day when he could, and should, be taking it easy, but he found himself unable to relax completely, as if something terrible would happen if he just let go. 

Back in December of ’43 when he’d signed up, he hadn’t thought beyond training and doing his part to stop Hitler’s march on Europe and eventually paying the Japs back for Pearl. He’d wanted to go in, do a good job for his country, and come home. He hadn’t wanted his climb up the command chain; he would’ve been happy to remain in charge of Easy for the duration of the war. 

But he’d discovered that he was a better leader than most, that he was quick, able to see all sides of a problem, and tenacious enough to get the job done. All something the men had needed because having a good leader meant they might make it through another day, safe and sound. 

He’d known, theoretically, that if he was offered a superior command, his duties would change. Unfortunately, the reality had run counterpoint to his expectations. 

His promotions had consistently meant more time behind a desk and less time to watch over the men. Ron Speirs had turned out to be everything that Dike and the other lieutenants weren’t, but even with Speirs’ unique military abilities, men were still get hurt, were still dying.

Not anyone’s fault, really, not even his own. Which made no difference because when something happened, he still caught himself thinking, ‘If only…’

So he tried to be everywhere at once, keeping an eye on the men as best he could without making it too obvious. 

Nix, of course, had noticed. 

‘It’s not all up to you, Dick. There are other majors, captains, and lieutenants out there, you know. You should let them do their job.’ Nix was right, he thought, as he sat down on the bed and loosened his tie. But then, he usually was.

A lot of the things about the war had been by turns horrific and unsettling. Some, a very few, had even been darkly humorous. This latest thing, more disturbing than horrific, and falling far short of humorous, was that for the last few months any stray thoughts of self-reprimand or rebuke were immediately followed by a sarcastic response that sounded a lot like Lewis Nixon’s upper-crust drawl.

Something that was perfectly natural, Dick had told himself. He and Nix had spent so much time together, had learned to depend on each other; it was only natural that the man was in his head.

Snorting at the irony, he unfastened his collar and, carefully, because he didn’t want to take off his boots and he didn’t want to get the comforter dirty, he lay back, sinking into the soft mattress. He sighed and stared up at the beautiful ceiling, wondering what were the chances of finding enough hot water for a bath before supper. 

He’d stayed in a hotel only once when he was very young. He remembered it being cramped with no windows and a communal bathroom down the hall. Because of the war, he’d stayed in accommodations that he’d never be able to afford back home. 

The Grand Hotel, perched above the Zeller See, was easily the most beautiful place he’d ever seen. Vast rooms filled with furniture that had to be hundreds of years old; walls that were covered with ornate wallpaper and huge paintings; marble stairs everywhere and anywhere. 

But even with all that luxury, with all that space, officers from five companies were quartered in the hotel and hot water was still hard to come by. 

But it was fairly early, the men would be finishing up their drills—he’d probably be in luck. He’d get cleaned up, find Nix, eat, then get back to work. There was the report for Sink, a visit with Speirs to go over the results of the week’s exercises, and a final check of the guard duty rotation. And after that, notes to his mother and DeEtta.

Which meant he needed to get a move on. He really did. 

And he would, in a bit. He just needed to rest, not sleep, just rest…

The sun is that particular shade of gold that comes right before dusk, so intense it hardly seems real. It streams through the windows, hurting his eyes, making it hard to see. He looks around, then touches the blinding white countertop. He knows he’s dreaming the way a dreamer always knows and thinks he should wake himself. 

But the house is blessedly cool, and smells of lemon and a late Pennsylvanian spring. So he lays his rifle and helmet on the kitchen table and makes his way through the dark hallway to the living room. 

The silence is deep—he can hear the clock that sits atop the mantelpiece, and farther off, the muffled knocks of the plumbing. It’s not unpleasant, the silence, just unusual—it’s been so long since he’s been anywhere that wasn’t filled with the sound of gunfire, mortar blasts, men screaming.

He’s almost to the end of the hall and a floorboard squeaks underneath his feet. He looks down. And is dismayed to find that even though he’s treaded as carefully as possible, he’s left tracks of mud and filth on the polished wood. He scrapes at the floor and his boots, but he can’t get rid of the mess. Frustrated, he bends down to unlace his boots when a soft sound catches his attention.

He straightens and creeps into the living room. He stands there for a moment, just looking.

His father’s tall reading lamp is off and the curtains are pulled shut. There is, however, a finger of sunlight that escapes the gap and the added light makes the room like an underwater cave, murky dark in blues and greens. It’s beautiful and serene and casts a lovely glow over Lew, lying on the sofa with his legs crossed, his eyes closed. The evening newspaper is draped over his chest; some pages have slipped to the floor.

The curtains move, ripple, and the sunlight moves as well, skating across Lew’s neck, his lips—dark, light, dark, light. Dick has to look away—the contrast is confusing and makes him dizzy.

“Hey.” 

Dick jerks his head up. Lew hasn’t opened his eyes, but Dick nods hello anyway. He’s not surprised to find him there, on his mother’s sofa, in his father’s house, but he is surprised to find that he’s freshly shaved and in his dress uniform. He thought the surprise inspection was set for the next morning.

“Did you find him?” Lew says, eyes still closed.

Dick looks down to find a puppy, fat and squirming, in his hands. “Yeah, he made it out past the camp and was trapped in the barbed wire. I thought he’d hurt himself, but he looks okay.”

He walks over to the sofa, still trailing blood and muck, and gently places the pup on the newspaper, cradling it in case it falls. 

Lew cracks one eye open. “You worry too much.” And then, casually, as the puppy objects with a small cry, he reaches up and pulls Dick down by his tags. 

“Dick…”

Down, down, down, and Lew’s mouth is cool, sweet. Everything that…

“Dick?”

…he has ever wanted and the rush of desire is so sharp, it almost makes his knees give way as he groans, ‘Lew.’

“Major Winters, sir.”

It was the ‘sir’ that did it. It dragged Dick up and out of the dream to find Nix standing next to the bed, as rumpled as ever, cap in hand. 

Nix raised an eyebrow and said, “Hey.”

Disoriented, Dick ran his hands over his face. “Yeah, I’m up.” His breathing was too fast and his pulse was pounding in his throat. He took a deep breath and tried again, “Sorry, I fell asleep. What time is it?”

But Nix ignored his question with his own, “What was that all about?” He sat on the chair and crossed his legs.

“What was what about?” 

Nix made a face, saying without words that playing coy wasn’t going to work. Dick sat up and combed his fingers through his hair. He couldn’t look at Nix when he muttered, “It was nothing, just a dream.”

“Ah-ha.”

Tightening his lips, Dick got up and went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. He knew better than to ask what ‘Ah-ha’ meant. Knowing Nix, he’d have some sarcastic explanation and Dick was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear it. 

He dried his face and called out, “I was just on my way down to the field. To talk to Speirs. I told him we’d go over the duty roster at the end of the day.” He was over-explaining and he told himself to shut up.

When he came out of the bathroom, Nix was still sitting there, still watching him with that odd look in his eye. Dick waited him out.

Finally Nix shook his head, stood, and picked up Dick’s jacket. “Here… I’ll walk over with you. I’ve got news about the Japs. Have you eaten? I’m told that Gomez has come up with a new and wonderful way to flambé dried potatoes.”

“Can’t wait.” Dick forced a smile as he pulled on his jacket and preceded Nix out the door, trying to act as if all was as it should be, knowing full well that Nix wasn’t satisfied with his answers. 

He could do this; he’d been doing this. It was all a matter of control—of mind and body. 

But as Nix gently steered him down the hallway with a light touch on the small of his back, Dick couldn’t help the shiver that burned up his spine. 

And hoped he hadn’t said anything in his sleep.


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

May 25th


“Yes, sir, I will.” Dick pushed a stack of papers to the edge of his desk.

“I don’t want to wait, not like last week. Just because we’re in limbo, as it were, that doesn’t mean it’s time to get lazy.”

“No, sir.” He pulled the stack back to the other edge. 

Sink’s bark gentled. “I know you just lost a man, Dick, but that’s no excuse, you got me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I’ll be expecting that report in three hours.”

“By the end of day, yes, sir.” The door opened and Nix leaned in. He raised an eyebrow and Dick grimaced in response, mouthing, ‘Sink.’ Nix smiled and strolled in. He moved the stack of papers out of the way and sat on the edge of the desk.

“When you see Captain Nixon, you tell him I expect him here by fourteen hundred.”

“He just came in. I’ll tell him, sir. Thank you, sir.” 

“Very well.” 

Sink hung up before Dick could respond. He sat the phone back on its cradle with a sigh. And then glared at Nix, who had twisted around to read his correspondence. He picked up the letters and tapped them firmly on the desk in reproach. “Do you mind?”

Nix grinned unrepentantly. “C’mon, you don’t let me read any of your letters anymore.” He leaned back, pushing Dick’s pencil cup out of the way with his hand. “You busy for the rest of the day?”

“Why?”

“Harry and I found this house the other day. I think you’d like it. It’s on the other side of the lake, up in the hills. It was Reinhard Heydrich’s summer home or something like that.” Nix paused, then added, “It’s pretty remote, but it’s worth the drive just for the view.”

Dick turned to the window. The day was perfect as always and getting some fresh air would be nice. But he had that report to finish and a troop review to plan. It would take about an hour to get a jeep and get to the other side of the lake. And he wasn’t so sure about being alone with Nix for that length of time. “I’m sorry, Lew. I’ve got to finish these reports.” He smiled as regretfully as he could, hoping Nix bought it.

Nix’s face fell, but then he shrugged. “It’s okay Dick. Just thought you could use a day off, is all.” He raised an eyebrow. “So, what did Sink want?”

Grateful for the change of subject, Dick smiled up at him. “I should make you wait and find out.”

“Aw, I’ll get it out of you. I have my ways.” 

Dick blushed, he was sure of it. Before joining the army he had never flirted with anyone in his life, had never thought he had it in him. Surely this was what it was like? The teasing give and take that meant more than was said? “You and what army, and…” before Nix could answer, “Yes, I have shown you every letter I’ve written. And received.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Yeah, I have.”

Nix picked up the small framed portrait that always sat on Dick’s desk, no matter that the desks themselves had changed. “What about the letters from DeEtta?” 

Nix began to trace the frame, around and around. His fingers were long and well groomed. “What do you mean?”

Nix turned to look him straight in the eye. “Have you shown me all the letters from DeEtta?”

“I—” He wanted to give a firm, ‘Yes,’ but he was already caught out—he could see it in Nix’s eyes. “No,” he muttered.

“No, huh?” Nix started tossing the picture from hand to hand.

“No— Give me that.” Dick grabbed the picture in mid-toss and stood it back in its place.

Nix wasn’t fazed. He just sat there, waiting for Dick to continue. When he didn’t, he leaned on one arm and asked quietly, “So which ones didn’t you want me to see?” 

“Nix…” Dick touched the frame. “They weren’t important.” ‘And they were private,’ he wanted to add, but he knew that wouldn’t fly—he’d never hidden anything from Nix for as long as he’d known him. Until a few months ago, of course.

“C’mon, Dick.”

Dick frowned. “They were nothing, Lew. Just that… Just that she wanted to get serious.”

“And you didn’t.”

He couldn’t look up. “No.”

Nix said nothing, and the silence became thick, uncomfortable. They didn’t talk much about girls. The topic always made Dick uneasy and somehow Nix knew it. And, unlike Harry and Buck, he’d never teased him much about it.

He leaned back in his chair, wanting to push away from the desk, wanting to retreat, but there was nowhere to go, so he went on the defensive. “Well, what about you?”

Nix sat back in surprise. “What about me?”

“Your wife. Why did it take you so long to tell me you were married?” He strangled the sour words of accusation—he hadn’t realized he was so bitter about being left in the dark.

“You knew I was married. I visited Cathy all the time in Georgia.”

Dick shook his head. “I didn’t. You didn’t talk about her. You never even wore a ring.” He wanted to touch Nix’s bare hand and it took an effort not to reach out.

Nix shrugged. “Okay, not all the time, but a couple times.” He looked down, his face darkening. “It’s not like I was hiding something. I just…” He broke off and shrugged again. “I don’t know why I never told you. I guess I just forgot about it.”

Dick wanted to laugh at the absurdity of a man forgetting he was married, but he didn’t. He knew Nix well enough by now—he probably had forgotten he was married. The little he did know was that the marriage had started out one way and ended up another. 

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter.” Nix shrugged. “She’s gone, everything’s gone, and I’m stuck here.”

Dick shook his head. “You’re not stuck, Lew. You — ”

“Yeah, I forgot,” Nix interrupted, “I’ve got the army, now.” 

You’ve got me.’ It was there, on the tip of his tongue and he wanted nothing more than to touch, to lay his hand on Nix’s and say the words that were burning his mouth. Praying for a miracle to stop him from making a fool of himself, he nevertheless jumped when the phone rang. He cleared his throat and picked up the receiver. “Winters.”

“Major Winters? It’s Private Foster, sir. Colonel Sink was asking—”

Dick shot Nix an apologetic look. “Yeah, sorry about that. He’s on his way now.” 

“Thank you, sir. The colonel is waiting.”

Which was Foster’s way of saying that Sink was furious. “Understood.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Thank you, private.” Dick hung up and twisted his lips in an apologetic frown. “Sink wanted you right away. Something to do with a town north of here…” He looked at his notes. “Saalfelden, and a bunch of SS officers holed up in the church.” 

Nix sighed and got to his feet. He stood next to Dick, looking oddly forlorn. “Then I guess I’ll see you when I see you.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t forget I’m going to be gone most of next week.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“All right, then.” Nix touched the corner of the desk, the picture of DeEtta, then muttered, “Let me know when you feel like taking that drive.”

“Will do.”

He left without looking back and Dick let out a long breath. He was tired and tense. Like talking to Nix had been a duty, not a pleasure. 

He picked up the report and glanced over it without really seeing it. That had been awkward. And surprising. It had cleared a few things up, but not everything. Some things were now even more confusing than ever, his own reactions included.

Still…

Telling himself that it would do no good, that it was just encouraging aberrant behavior, he ran his hand over the spot where Nix had sat. The wood was warm and he closed his eyes, trying to banish the image that instantly came to mind.

***

The train jolts on its tracks and his pen skitters across the page, making an ugly mark on the clean white paper. He sighs in annoyance and starts to scratch it out, then decides not to bother. DeEtta will understand, and even if she doesn’t, he’s not going to worry about it. 

He takes up where he left off: trying to find the words to tell her, again, why he can’t return her feelings. He isn’t doing a very good job of it. He thought he was crystal clear the first time, but apparently not. He’s writing, ‘It’s not that I…’ when he feels warm breath on the back of his neck and a velvety voice asks, ‘Going my way?’ 

In an instant all thoughts of DeEtta vanish. He smiles and tilts his head back. ‘Always.’ 

Lew breathes a laugh into his ear and moves around to the opposite seat.

He’s wearing his filthy jump gear and his face is streaked with black, making his lips a startling red. But he’s not grim and dour like the last time, so things must have gone okay.

Dick wants to say how happy he is that the mission went well, but before he can speak, Lew slides out of his seat. Without once taking his eyes from Dick, he kneels slowly until he’s down on the floor. Dick’s heart bucks in his chest. He knows what this is, even though he’s never known this.

Sure enough, Lew leans in, pressing, parting, until Dick is splayed out, one leg in the aisle, the other bumped up awkwardly against Harry. 

He looks around. Everyone is sleeping and he should make a protest but Lew shakes his head and bends to nuzzle his flies. 

And, Christ, he’s hard, and just the pressure of Lew’s lips has him tossing his head back and arching his hips. He drops the letter and pen from nerveless fingers and moans. Loud enough to wake Harry, who watches for a moment, then smirks and closes his eyes again. 

Dick feels a cool rush of air and then Lew’s mouth, hot, wet, and he’s going to have a heart attack because nothing has ever felt this good. He buries his fingers in Lew’s thick black hair, rocking in time with the rhythm of the train, the rhythm of Lew’s bobbing head, trying to hold on even as he splits apart.

Dick lay there, legs spread, one hand on his shorts, the other gripping the sheets, waiting for his body to stop shuddering. It took a while, longer than it should, but when he was able to breathe, to think, he gave a disgusted grunt and kicked off the covers. He got up and staggered to the closed balcony doors and wrenched them open. Sweet air flowed over him and he leaned against the doorjamb and took a look around.

The night was dying. A faint band of pale grey outlined the edges of the mountains, throwing the rest into a darker grey. Under the roar of the falls, he heard a chirp, and then another as the birds started to wake. And farther off, down below, a door slammed. Probably the sentry exchange which meant it was about five.

It was too early, too cold, but he didn’t want to go back to that bed, not yet. He stepped out onto the balcony and crouched by the door. And then, as expected, the dream came careening back and he knocked his head against the wood shingles, as if that could jolt the images free. 

So far, this was the most embarrassing of them all, and he knocked his head again, harder. 

It was ridiculous, the idea of Nix doing that to him, and in front of Harry and all the men, no less. It was ridiculous that Dick would let him. 

But, Jesus 

The way it felt, even though it was all in his head, to have Nix kneel before him, the tender curve of his skull, the heat of his mouth—

Dick bit the inside of his lip and settled against the wall, wrapping his arms around his legs. What the hell was wrong with him? And what the hell was he going to do about it?

Most times, he never thought about the external and internal changes he’d gone through in his three years in the army. Self-examination, he believed, had its place, but too much and one would be forever questioning every action, every move. Most times it was enough that he got his men through, alive and whole. Most times it had to be enough.

But living that way, in the black and white now, meant something else: that everything was experienced in the bound circle of the present, and the past and the future were left outside, forgotten. That it was easy to get lost from oneself. And it wasn’t until he got a letter from his folks or flashed on an old memory that it hit home that who he was, wasn’t who he’d become. 

Change. He’d changed in some crucial way and it hadn’t just happened overnight. It had come on gradually over the course of the war, intensifying over the past few months until he could no longer deny the evolution.

But when had it all started, that was the question. He was pretty sure it hadn’t happened before Carentan. It was probably later, probably after Schoonderlogt. Even now, a half a year later, he could clearly remember walking the streets of Paris, feeling hollow and out of place, missing Easy, missing Nix. When he got back to Mourmelon, there’d been no grand drama, no tearful reunion. Just a rock-solid conviction that he was back where he belonged, back where he fit. 

Maybe change wasn’t the right word, the right concept. Maybe it was more like waking up, because he felt like he was sloughing off his old self, his childhood self. So much so, that he honestly didn’t know who he was anymore, and it had all started with the dreams.

Since Landsberg, his dreams—usually brief, vague, and drab—had taken on a shocking clarity. They were never nightmares of bodies stacked like cordwood, or people so abused that they’d dropped dead were they’d stood. As horrible as that would’ve been, it would have at least made sense. Instead his dreams had become so sensually vivid and explicit that he was having a hard time erasing them in the bright light of day. 

And the dreams weren’t about DeEtta or the women of the various towns and villages that Easy had quartered in or fought for. That also would have made some sort of sense. 

Instead, like clockwork, every few nights he dreamed of Nix.

The first time was just after Easy had settled down in Thalem. The trip out of Landsberg had been rough and they were all disheartened and weary. He and Nix had shared a room that was more of a closet, huddled together, warm only where their sleeping bags pressed together. He couldn’t recall the details of the dream but it had been something about apples and swimming in the creek that ran from Lancaster down to Coatesville. That Nix had worn the dressing gown his mother had sent him, that they had laughed at the cold water. And that they were both so happy to have made it through the war, happy to be home. 

Dick had woken up and turned to stare at Nix. Feeling nothing more than a brief startlement that he’d had such a nice dream in such a grey place, he rolled over to face Nix and fell back asleep. 

The second time was in Haguenau. Nix had gone out to do his reconnoiter, telling Dick to get some rest while he could, that he’d be back by two. This time Dick dreamed they were at Fort Benning, learning to jump. He’d stood in the door of their mock plane with Sobel right behind him, practically on his heels, shouting, ‘Stand in the door!’ Seconds before he was to leap the five feet to the ground, he’d turned, leaned around Sobel and kissed Nix on the cheek. Then he’d winked at them both and hopped out of the plane, now a couple thousand feet from the ground. 

He’d woken with a lurch, clutching his chest, a lump in his stomach at the idea of dreaming about Sobel and Nix at the same time. The one so corrupt and manipulative and the other so genuine—the contrast was almost obscene. 

About the kiss, he’d felt a sliver of unease, but decided that he and Nix were close friends—surely it was only natural to show his affection in such a way? He’d gotten up the next morning, brushing away the stray thought that it had felt pleasant, the rough beard of Nix’s cheek, and went about his day. By evening he’d forgotten any unease, remembering only a quiet sense of peace and happiness.

The following months, however, had seen another change, as if his subconscious mind, something he wasn’t sure he believed in, was going out of its way to embarrass and shock him. With colorful detail he couldn’t possibly have imagined in his waking hours, he still dreamed about the places he grew up in or had trained in, only now he dreamed of kissing Nix in those places. Of doing things to Nix, and with Nix, that weren’t right and could get him kicked out of the Airborne if anyone found out.

He dreamed of laying Nix down in the field of bright green clover that ran along the old Mill Road back home, and under the burning white sun, asking Nix if he could touch him. 

He dreamed they were in the balcony of the old Century movie theater, sitting where all the spooners sat, watching The Wizard of Oz. Just when the house fell on the witch, Nix had turned to him, said something in French, his voice liquid and deep, and then leaned over for a kiss. By the time Dorothy was dancing and singing with the Munchkins, Nix was half on him, one leg threaded between his while Dick hurriedly unbuttoned his own shirt to make way for Nix’s hot hand.

The morning after the first dream, the one that wasn’t innocent or comradely, Dick lay in bed, gasping from his release, so stunned that he didn’t know what to do. He got up, cleaned himself off and, eventually, went back to sleep. He spent the next day going about his duties, mechanically precise, the images of the night before relegated so far back in his mind that it was a surprise, a few nights later, when he dreamed of Nix again. And yet again, a few nights after that.

The shock of the first explicit dreams had worn off quickly—he’d told himself that he was too busy to really think about them, that he just needed to put them out of his head. He told himself that he was in the middle of a war and soldiers did crazy things when they were fighting. Look at Harry—he was a great soldier, but give him a little down time and a little booze and he’d be on the floor brawling in no time flat. 

Dick carefully didn’t think about the fact that Easy was no longer on the line. And that the two circumstances could hardly be called similar. 

He also carefully avoided thinking about what his parents and God would say about the matter. Even though his mother’s church wasn’t necessarily his, he still had faith. He’d never believed in a God that cast fire and brimstone down upon the wicked but he believed that God was present, that he listened to and loved his children. But how far that love extended or if it had any limitations, he’d never considered until recently. 

Faced with the conundrum, he’d tossed and turned a few nights until he decided, for the sake of a proper night’s sleep, that he’d let things be for a while. He’d do the best he could, be the best soldier and leader he could, and leave the rest up to God. 

His uneasy truce with his own heart made, he thought life would go on as it had: the night would be given to his dreams while the day would belong to the army. And it should’ve been easy, he’d wanted it to be easy. But the dreams started following him into the day, tripping him up when he least expected it. 

Blindsided by the memory of an intimate touch was inconvenient at the best of times. Having it happen during a meeting with Sink or when he was giving orders to Zielinski was doubly so. His baggy trousers and long jacket covered his body’s reactions, but he’d had more than one opportunity in the past months to curse his fair skin—it gave everything away.

The hardest part had been controlling himself around Nix. It was essential that their friendship remain whole and unaffected. Dick didn’t go out of his way to avoid him and he saw to it that they spent the same amount of time together. But he was careful to censor his actions, to make sure he didn’t do the little things, like watch Nix’s mouth too long or stare as he walked across a room.

Constantly guarding his own thoughts, Dick had decided after a week of it, was like living with someone always looking over his shoulder, and he couldn’t help the on and off apprehension that his secret fantasies were written across his face, and that Nix could read every disturbing detail.

He briefly toyed with the idea of seeing the HQ doctor, but just as quickly dismissed the idea. He didn’t trust psychology and had no intention of opening himself up to a stranger. Never mind the fact that it would go on his record, the doctor would want to know all sorts of embarrassing details about his sexual life, and since he had few details to share because he’d never had much of a sexual life, anything he said after that would be suspect. 

His few concessions to admitting that his body was going to do what it wanted to do were the result of simple necessity—he always made sure his bedroom doors were closed tight so no one would hear if he cried out, and he took to hiding a pair of shorts under his pillow. Just in case he needed them in the middle of the night. 

Thinking about the shorts waiting for him, Dick sighed and pushed to his feet. The dawn had drawn nearer and he was cold. He went inside and locked the doors, then changed and threw the wet underwear into the sink. He still had an hour before he needed to get up—he’d rinse them out in the morning.


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

May 31st


Dick was staring out the window, lunch forgotten, when the chair next to him was pulled back. 

Nix sat down with his tray and smirked, “There you are.”

“Here I am.”

It was late, almost fifteen hundred. He had been too busy to eat lunch and had thought to skip it entirely, but Zielinksi had hovered, looking concerned and insistent. All without speaking, of course. Dick finally gave in to the silent prodding and talked the cook into a few leftovers. It had been nice, sitting by himself, not thinking about anything other than it was another pretty day.

Nix nodded to Dick’s plate. “You didn’t finish your carrots.” 

“They’re overdone.” He sipped his coffee. “What did they give you?”

“Well, those are carrots. Mushy, of course, but I have no idea,” Nix poked the lump of meat with his fork, “what that is. It better not be horsemeat.”

“Horsemeat is a luxury, according to you.”

Nix looked up with a crooked grin. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

Dick smiled back, holding his glance too long. They’d had the ‘what do Europeans eat?’ conversation years ago, back in OCS. Back when they were getting to know each other and he felt a sudden, sweet sting of nostalgia. Those days seemed so long ago and now look at them…

Nix had been gone a week this time. 

Off to do some recon, and for the first few days of his absence, Dick had been grateful—no more distractions, no more unexpected run-ins, no more feeling his heart jump in his throat when Nix smiled at him. He’d worked from sunrise to sunset and when he fell into bed at night, he didn’t dream. 

But by the end of the third day, he’d caught himself absentmindedly looking for Nix in the mess hall, and later on, he let himself into Nix’s suite, only remembering at the last minute that the rooms were empty. After that, for the last four days, longing had become a daily ritual that grew worse with each sunset. He was almost pining, for Pete’s sake.

Just last night, he’d woken with a small cry from a dream of Nix pressing him into the frozen earth of their foxhole, his warm mouth and body such shocking and welcome contrasts to the bitter cold.

He didn’t know if the dream was in response to Nix’s impending return, but it had stayed with him the entire day, even now, and he closed his eyes briefly and gulped his coffee.

“Careful, you’ll burn your mouth,” Nix said softly.

Too late. Dick made a face and sat his cup down. 

“How’ve you been?”

He stirred more sugar into his coffee even though it was already too sweet. “Oh, you know, same as always.” 

Nix smiled and speared a couple carrots. “That bad, huh? It’s a good thing I’m back.”

And it was. Seeing Nix again after days of not seeing him, Dick was struck anew by how attractive he was. Sometimes he forgot. They’d been living in each other’s pockets for so long, he’d gotten used to Nix. Used to seeing him unshaven and dirty, drunk as a skunk. But now, with his uniform neatly pressed, his dark hair slicked back and his cheeks pale and smooth, Dick thought how good looking he was, how handsome. 

He cleared his throat and said, “You’re all cleaned up. Going on a date?” He’d tried for casual, but hadn’t quite made it. His voice, even to his own ears, sounded querulous and testy.

“Actually,” Nix glanced up, then back to his meal. “Iwas thinking of taking in a movie. That hotel in town? The one with the big picture of Hitler in the foyer that the boys used for target practice the first night we got here? Well, the Red Cross set up a theater in one of the halls and they’re showing a Rita Hayworth movie tonight.” He aligned his spoon and knife side by side and Dick found himself mesmerized by his long fingers as they pushed and nudged. “I was wondering if I could talk you into staying up past your bedtime. To go out to see it. With me.” 

Dick swallowed, insanely grateful that Nix wasn’t looking up because just the thought— 

It was just too close to the Wizard of Oz dream: sitting in the dark, shoulder to shoulder, feeling the heat from Nix’s breath as he whispered his comments because he couldn’t stay silent for very long and he always talked during movies… 

No, going to a movie with him would be one of the dumber things he could do right now. “I’m sorry, Lew, I can’t. Sink wants me to meet a few people tonight.” He forced a smirk. “British newspaper reporters, I think.”

Nix shoved his knife. “C’mon, Dick. You never take a break. It’ll be fun.”

Dick shook his head, refusing to meet Nix’s eyes, afraid he’d see everything. “I can’t.” 

Nix leaned back. “Okay. I figured you’d be busy. It never hurts to ask, though.” He grinned but there was a dark undercurrent in his smile that didn’t match his eyes. “Glad I’m not invited to the shindig. I’d hate to have to be pleasant to the press. Especially the Brits.”

Which made no sense because Nix was the one who was always the diplomat, courteous and mannerly, when Dick was reduced to monosyllables. 

He spent the rest of the meal in silence, trying not to watch Nix too closely, wondering if the hurt in his voice was imagined or real.


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

June 5th


“And then Kitty let out the biggest scream you ever heard. Her mom comes running in, her dad comes running in, and there I am, waving the broom around like a lunatic.” Harry laughed and swung his bottle again, hitting Lipton’s shoulder. “Sorry, Lip. Anyway, that was the first time her dad told me she was too good for me and I’ve been hearing it ever since.”

“Did you ever get the bat out of the house?” Dick asked. 

Harry let out another laugh. “Nope, not me. Her dad finally opened up a window, threw a sock out and the damn thing flew after it.” 

Dick smiled with the rest and stretched out his legs, settling into his side of the loveseat. He looked around the room. Speirs and Lipton were on the sofa across from him, Harry and Peacock were in the chairs nearest the fire. And Nix sat next to him, not ten inches away.

The mood was light and carefree. 

Earlier in the day, Harry and Speirs had been in Dick’s office, trying to coerce him into playing hooky to celebrate the first anniversary of D-Day, when Nix brought news of an Allied victory on a tiny island near Japan. The knowledge that the war was almost over was as potent and heady as a drug, and by unspoken agreement the small crowd had made their way to Nix’s suite. Lip and Peacock joined them later on, and they’d all been trading stories, each more wild than the last. 

Lipton had talked about the first time he had tried to slaughter a chicken—blood everywhere, his mother laughing, and a chicken without a head, running around the yard. 

John Peacock had tried to tell a story about the time he had gotten lost in the New York subway system for an entire day, but couldn’t remember the chain of events. He’d gradually petered off in an embarrassed silence while everyone pretended not to notice. 

Speirs had stayed mum, but that was so typically Speirs no one pressed him. 

Even Dick spoke up and for the first time in his life told why he was banned from the C&W Grocery for life. 

Uncharacteristically, Nix was quiet. He chuckled at the stories, but hadn’t offered any of his own. He wasn’t drinking more than usual, hadn’t received any more unpleasant letters from home, and hadn’t been spending a lot of time with Sink. He just sat there, next to Dick, looking weary and removed, scraping the labels off champagne bottles, one after another. 

At first Dick had tried to draw him out, had tried to get him to share one of his stories. He never got tired of hearing of Nix’s pithy descriptions of Chicago and New York and all the exotics that inhabited the upper class world that was off-limits to people like Dick. But each time he made an attempt, Nix brought the conversation around to someone else, something else. It was as if a wall was going up between them, and for the life of him Dick couldn’t figure out why. He didn’t think anyone but Lipton noticed—he kept darting glances between the two of them, the worry lines between his eyebrows deepening as the night progressed. 

It was frustratingly like the time in Sturzelburg, and Dick shifted restlessly, his leg met and rubbed up against Nix’s.

His palm burns as he slides his hand over Lew’s cool, bare ankle. Up and under his pants leg until he’s cupping tense muscle. Dick is still breathing hard from their wrestling match, but Lew is calm, spread out before him in mock surrender, lips parted, arms flung up above his head, waiting for Dick’s mouth.

“Hey! Captain America! Zielinski is waiting for an answer.” Harry punctuated the comment with a slap on his knee and Dick flinched, startled out of the memory. Grateful that the lamps weren’t on and the only available light was from the fireplace, he turned. 

Zielinski was standing by the door, waiting. 

“Yes, corporal, what is it?”

“Colonel Sink is waiting for that second report, sir.”

Harry groaned and the rest of the men shook their heads. Nix said nothing. Normally he’d be the first with some smart aleck comment that Dick would be obliged to rebuke. But he didn’t. He just stared at Dick, fingers digging at a label.

Ignoring the sick feeling that said something was seriously wrong with Nix, maybe even with their friendship, Dick pushed to his feet with an exaggerated sigh. He shouldn’t be so happy to be called away. “Men, enjoy yourselves. For once I’m not going to say, ‘Don’t stay up all night.’

They laughed and sent him off with a chorus of distracted ‘goodnights,’ but he could still feel Nix’s gaze, dark and direct, follow him from the room.

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

The soft wheat parts and waves as they walk through the field. He wishes he could find a better place but it’s getting close to sixteen hundred and he knows Sink will be waiting for the report. 

He stops and turns to Lew, who asks, ‘Here?’ 

He smiles and nods and Lew presses on his shoulders until they’re both kneeling in the dirt. The smell of growing things and the scent of Lew’s aftershave are an intoxicating mix, overwhelming his senses. 

Lew leans in and tugs Dick’s collar open and kisses his bare neck. Dick arches back, falling and falling, the stalks making way for them. He pulls, but Lew is already there, fitting between his legs, and suddenly they’re naked and Dick smiles as Lew begins to move.

Dick woke and didn’t bother looking at the clock. The routine was too familiar and he knew he had a couple hours before he had to get up. He dragged the clean pair of shorts from under his pillow, quickly changed, and fell down on the bed. He was so tired of this. Tired of wanting and not having. 

Dreams were a poor substitute for a real life, but what else was he to do? He had two options, the one he’d been living with and the one that scared him to death. 

The idea of approaching Nix… 

His insides twisted at the thought. Even if Nix wasn’t dismayed or disgusted, what then? 

Nothing in his life had prepared him for the answer to that question because nothing had prepared him for the question itself. 

Crooking one arm over his eyes, he wearily told himself to get over it, that sleep was what was on the program and that worrying wouldn’t solve anything. But he lay there for the next two hours, close to despair, mind deliberately blank.


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

June 7th


“Dick.”

He heard the voice, but he deliberately ignored it, wanting to go back to the dream.

“Dick... Wake up.”

Dick clenched his eyes shut.

But Nix grabbed him and shook him. “Wake up.”

Dick shrugged him off and turned over. “Cripes, Lew, what is it?”

The mattress dipped and he could sense, but not see, Nix sitting on the bed to reach over to switch on the headboard light. “Shifty’s been in an accident.”

“What?” Dick sat up, squinting while he rubbed his eyes, trying to focus. “When?”

“About an hour ago. Gordon brought the news to me and I figured you’d want to know right away.” 

Nix’s eyes were stark and sad. He was still in uniform which meant he hadn’t been to bed yet.

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks. Here, move, will you?” Dick pushed with his legs and Nix went to stand by the balcony doors. Dick got out a pair of trousers and began to dress quickly. “Is he all right? What happened?”

Nix turned to open the doors and said over his shoulder, “He was in a transport that was hit head-on by another vehicle. Most of the men are okay; two died. He’s banged up pretty bad, but they’re expecting him to make it.” 

Dick buttoned his pants and pulled on his shirt. “Christ.” Another good man getting hurt because of one careless move, of sheer bad luck. He sat back down on the bed and looked over at Nix. Out of the reach of the lamp’s weak glow, his face was shadowed and foreign, like he wasn’t Dick’s best friend, the man who had been there whenever Dick needed him. 

The bad feeling was back and it didn’t have anything to do with the war or even poor Shifty. “I guess I better go down and get a telegram to his family.”

“Already did that. I wrote it. Zielinski’s sending it. They should get it within twenty-four hours. You talk in your sleep.”

The shift in tone was so abrupt and unexpected that it took Dick a minute to understand, and he sat there, caught, mind and body at a complete standstill.

“Did you know that, Dick? You’ve been talking in your sleep. For a while now.” Nix detached himself from the shadows and slowly moved into the light, stopping at the end of the bed. He grasped the brass rail like he needed its support. His eyes were too bright and his mouth a straight, grim line.

“Lew... I… What?” 

Nix’s fist tightened, “A couple weeks ago, when I came to get you, you were talking in your sleep. The other afternoon, same thing. And tonight, when I came in, you were saying something…” The rail creaked. “To me.” 

Stunned, Dick mumbled, “Lew. I didn’t know that.” And because Nix looked so miserable, he managed to choke out, “What’s wrong? Did… What did I say?” He made an aborted gesture. “Why are you so angry?”

Nix barked a sharp laugh and let go of the bed frame to circle restlessly about the room. “Why am I so angry? I’m not, Dick, I’m not. I’m just—” He paused a few feet away, his back ramrod straight for once, his face still grim. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

Dick swallowed hard. “What? No, no. What would I want to tell you?” He felt ill, and even though the shell of his deception was starting to crack, he made himself meet Nix’s direct gaze, desperate to give nothing away. 

For a few long seconds they stared at one another—Dick frozen, feeling as if his world was crumbling, Nix looking again like he did after Operation Varsity, blank, with a wash of dull pain behind his eyes.

It was like standing in the open door of their first plane, Dick thought, and the need, no, the pressure, to tell Nix what was going on was like a hand on his back, urging him to jump. And what would he do then? How would he explain what was happening to him when he didn’t even know how to explain it to himself? That his own body and mind had turned traitor on him and he didn’t know what to do?

In the end, it was no real contest. He shrugged helplessly and tried to smile.

“Nothing, huh?” Nix shook his head and held up his hand when Dick made a move to get up. “Okay, Dick, it’s okay. Sorry I bothered you.” He backed up as he spoke. “I’ll let Harry and Speirs know about Shifty. I think they’re still up.” Rapping his knuckles on the side table as he turned, he left the room, closing the door gently behind him.

***

The next morning, Dick woke slowly, tired before he even opened his eyes. He hadn’t dreamed and was thankful for it. Who knew what his mind would cook up after such a night. Nix’s face, dark and sad, flashed before his eyes and he wished he had a good excuse for sleeping in or even just lying there for another twenty or thirty minutes. But the army didn’t allow for personal problems, so he crawled out of bed and stumbled over to the washbasin. 

Blue eyes looked back at him, calm and serene. How odd it was that he looked the same, yet felt that his entire world had been turned upside down. Like that painting in that book about that Dorian Gray fellow, there should be some mark or telltale sign of the distress that was roiling below his surface.

He ran his hands over his face and leaned closer. It wasn’t, he supposed, merely the unbelievable truth that he wanted his friend, someone he’d come to care for deeply over the course of the war. The hard thing was the certainty that the discovery of his desire wasn’t as big a surprise as it should’ve been.

He knew his men thought he was almost puritanical when it came to women, a belief he’d never bothered to confirm or deny. He’d heard Guarnere wonder about it so many times that he had long lost count. 

He hated being discussed and wondered over, but he couldn’t argue that he was different from most of the men in the 501st. As far back as Toccoa, he’d begged off the parties and the clubs that his fellow officers frequented. He went to the functions required, but other than that, he’d spent his evenings with Nix or poring over textbooks and manuals, telling himself that he had too much to learn and not enough time to learn it. And that he preferred to keep company with just a few friends or a good book.

All true, but now he wondered how honest he’d ever been with himself because he had to admit that growing up he preferred the company of other boys, almost exclusively. That he was uncomfortable around girls when he got older, and that he’d had no wish to follow them around like other boys did. 

At the time he assumed that girls were something he’d grow into, and one day, like magic, he’d wake up and be girl-crazy. How that would actually happen he’d never quite figured out. His mother and father had never talked to him about sex—college and the army had taken care of it for them. But that was later and by age nineteen, he’d decided that he was a late bloomer and had left it at that.

His friendship with DeEtta, made while both were at camp and homesick, had gone nowhere, but not because she hadn’t tried. She made more than one overture that he’d clumsily turned down, saying that he wasn’t ready yet, that he still had so much to do with his life. Inside, he’d cringed at his own excuses, knowing from the first that he simply wasn’t attracted to her and nothing on earth could make it otherwise. 

He frowned and absently rubbed a soap smear off the slick surface of the mirror as he sifted through his memories of Nix. It was hard to remember, even though it was only three years ago. Had something been there from the very beginning? 

Now all he could remember were muddled feelings of admiration for Nix’s good looks, appreciation for his sharp intelligence, and a certain amount of reluctant awe for his family’s wealth. 

But yes, he had to admit that, looking at the memories anew, there had been something there that wasn’t simple admiration. That even though their friendship had been cemented by war and circumstance, no one made him feel as alive and as comfortable as Nix did. And comparing his feelings for DeEtta and his feelings for Nix, the difference was clear—the one left him feeling nothing, while the other made him feel too much.

But which was more honest, his friendship for Nix or his desire for Nix? Or was it a combination of the two, the one growing from the other? And if that was true, did it follow that he couldn’t have one without the other?

His mirror-self shook his head. He was assuming a lot, and in any case, those were thoughts for another day—they were too much for a Friday morning when he hadn’t enough sleep and needed to be at mess in fifteen minutes. 

Avoiding another glance at his unruffled eyes, he turned on the tap and began mixing his shaving soap.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

June 11th


“Corporal.”

“Good morning, sir. Did you sleep well?” Zielinski handed him a cup of coffee and a stack of mail.

“Fine, thank you,” Dick lied. He hadn’t slept well and his orderly’s usual morning energy was like a slap in the face. “Anything to report?” 

“Nothing yet from command, sir. Captain Nixon was here earlier. He asked me to tell you that he’ll be attached to Colonel Sink for the day and should be back after fifteen hundred. He left about thirty minutes ago.” 

Dick sat down. Six a.m. was incredibly early for a man who was never voluntarily up until ten. 

He hadn’t seen Nix in four days which meant Nix was avoiding him. Just as well, considering Dick had been doing the same. Well, as much as duty would allow.

“Oh, and Captain Welsh went along with him. He said something about making sure Captain Nixon didn’t get lost.” Zielinski looked puzzled and Dick bit back a tired smile. Even though it was a private joke, Zielinski didn’t have a sense of humor and Nix and Harry teased him mercilessly for it.

He tossed the mail on the desk and sipped his coffee. “Do you have the schedule for today?” 

“Yes, sir. Here it is, sir.” Zielinski handed him a clipboard. 

Dick took it, nodded his dismissal, and watched him walk smartly out the door. The good Lord knew the boy was everything a man could want in an aide, but sometimes his bland perfection grated. 

Sighing at his own perverseness, he set the clipboard down and got to work. 

***

The sun was on the decline, angling towards late afternoon when Dick finished the last of his reviews. He signed his name with a weary flourish, then tapped the stack together and got up for the first time in three hours. He really should listen to Zielinski when he was told he should take a break. 

Because his back hurt, his neck hurt, and his fingers were cramped from holding the pen too long. A swim would help, but it was a little early for that. Maybe in an hour or so. 

He went to the window and sat down on the wide wooden sill and looked out. 

It had been another fine day. A steady stream of white clouds had scudded across the sky, one after the other, and he was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to rain. When they’d first arrived, Malarky had said something about how great it was to be in the sun, and at the time, Dick had agreed.

But now he was a little bored with the sameness and longed for a late afternoon thunderstorm. The kind they got back home. It had always been thrilling, watching the clouds pile up until they were blue-black. And when the storm let loose and the rain poured down, there was always a sense of relief, so strong it bordered on joy.

He stifled a pang of homesickness and peered out.

A couple troopers were strolling down to the lake. Farther on, by the lake, a man was trying to ride a bicycle on the rocky beach, while another stood back and watched. The distance was too great for details, but Dick bet that they were both laughing.

Another ache bloomed, and he leaned his head on the window frame and smiled. 

It was all worth it. 

All the training and the long hours and the stress that he’d lived with for the last three years was a small price to pay to see his men alive and happy. The ones that hadn’t made it, his litany of lost brothers, well, he knew he’d grieve for them until the end of his days, praying they were waiting for him in a happier place. But for now, he was just thankful that even some of them had made it through. It was more than he’d hoped for, since jumping out of his burning plane above Normandy, over a year ago now.

He swallowed against the emotions threatening to choke him and squinted into the sun. 

Sometimes it seemed that he’d spent the entire length of the war trying not to feel too much. Ignoring emotions and feelings so he could get the job done with a clear head and steady nerves. Of course, it hadn’t always worked and when it hadn’t, there would be Nix, pointing out the bigger picture, helping him maintain a sense of balance. Relieving his burden.

Thank God for Nix—he’d kept him sane. Even with all that had been going on, with all the tension between them now, it was hard to imagine doing without him. 

Doing without Nix. 

That would have to happen one day. One day, if they made it through Japan, they’d all go home. He’d return to Lancaster and Nix would go back to New York. Back to their own friends, their own lives. He wouldn’t be able to visit or telephone—both would be too expensive. They’d probably write each other, but Nix wasn’t much of a correspondent—as far as Dick knew, he’d never once written a letter home. 

So he would write, trying to find a balance between saying too much and not saying enough. He’d wait for Nix’s replies, hoping for anything, even just a brief acknowledgment that Nix missed him and thought of him. Hoping that Nix would get a chance to visit. 

He knew himself well enough to know he wouldn’t let himself expect more, that eventually he’d put away all thoughts of Nix because it was the only thing he could do. Because he would never let himself live his life, waiting for a future that would never come.

His arm was burning and he looked down to find that he was wringing his wrist, twisting the fragile skin over and over again. He grunted and smoothed his shirt cuff over the red flesh, shaking his head at the momentary weakness. 

He hadn’t done that in so long. Not since Landsberg.

A shout of laughter rang out below and he looked down to the terrace to find Liebgott and Perconte tackling Bull, trying to get a baseball away from him. Christenson and Lesniewski leaned against the balustrade, watching. They looked so young and carefree and he felt so old and worn out. 

Restlessly, he ran his hand along the window frame and chipped at the white paint. Didn’t he deserve the same happiness, even if it meant having something most people thought wrong? Surely God wouldn’t be so cruel to see him through the war unscathed and then leave him with nothing? 

He dug his nails into the wood and pried off a large splinter. Nothing, of course, but his life, a few medals, and two letters of commendation. 

Later, Dick was never able to explain it, but just at that moment, in the dead space between one breath and the next, he had a revelation, or maybe it was just giving in. It was as if Nix walked up, looked him in the eye and said gently, ‘Everyone deserves to be happy, Dick. Even you.’

Feeling concussed, as if a barrage of artillery had been discharged just feet away, he sat there, stunned. 

As simple and as complicated as that, he had come to a decision. Even if it meant facing a part of him he was afraid to face, he was done with hiding away, done with lying to himself. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t, pretend any longer that the dreams meant nothing, that they would just go away. They had become a part of him—maybe they were him—and it was no use thinking otherwise. 

He leaned back and smiled weakly into the sun. He was exhausted and exulted, the warmth on his face no competition for the fire in his chest. But—and he drew a deep, deep breath—he also felt at peace and content, as if after a long struggle with a resolute enemy.

He’d find somewhere remote where they wouldn’t be interrupted and he’d tell Nix what had been going on and deal with the consequences. It would be difficult; he’d probably flub it and embarrass them both, but he was just going to have to find a way. He’d tell Nix about his dreams, maybe about the worry of what he was becoming, definitely that he was already missing Nix and they weren’t even apart.

A memory crept in, one he’d been hiding from for days, not strong enough to deal with the implications: ‘Is there something you want to tell me?’ 

Nix had looked so bleak, so grim. Maybe —

A squeal of tires interrupted his thoughts and he looked down as a jeep roared up the side drive. It screeched to a stop and the driver jumped out and headed for the stairs. Nix and Harry weren’t due back for another hour, so it was probably nothing, just another messenger from Sink about Japan. 

But Janovic’s pale face flashed before his eyes and he was out the door before he knew it, half running down the hall and then the stairs, his steps loud in the afternoon quiet. By the time he got to the first landing, the driver and Zielinski were running up. Dick stopped, put his hands on his hips, and waited for them.

“Major Winters, sir,” the driver huffed as he made it to the landing.

Zielinski stopped behind the driver, shifting from foot to foot, his mouth screwed up with worry. 

Apprehension gripped Dick’s belly and he practically barked, “Yes, corporal…?” 

“Meyers, sir.”

Meyers was young, around twenty, with dark hair and darker eyes. “What is it, Corporal Meyers?”

“Captain Nixon asked me to tell you there’s been a slight accident.”

Apprehension made way for dread and he tightened his lips against the questions that wanted to spill out. 

Zielinski, always so proper, so correct, touched Dick’s arm and said quickly, “It’s okay, sir. It really was a small accident. They weren’t hurt. Much.” 

“That’s right, sir.” Meyers chimed in. “Captain Welsh didn’t want me to report in, but Captain Nixon said that you’d want to know. He asked me to tell you personally. That they were all right, sir.”

Dick nodded, careful to make it only once because he thought if he wasn’t careful, he’d never stop nodding. “That’s right. He was right.” Zielinski let go of his arm, but stood close, looking up at Dick as if waiting for him to keel over. Dick backed up and said to both men, “It’s all right. Let’s go up to my office. We can talk there.” 

He turned away from their ‘Yes, sirs’ and hurried up, wishing for a minute or two to clear his head, maybe splash some cold water on his face. What would he do if he lost both Nix and Harry at the same time? 

He dismissed the thought; conjecture was a waste of time and he couldn’t fall apart in front of the men.

When he got to his office, he waited until Meyers and Zielinski were in, then closed the door. He sat behind his desk and folded his hands. “All right, corporal, what happened?”

Meyers stepped forward. “Well sir, near as I can tell, Captain Nixon and Captain Welsh were on their way back here when they had an accident and got stuck in some mud.” He shook his head. “Captain Welsh said they were well off to the side of the road, but he… Well, he…” Meyers shrugged, clearly not wanting to say what he needed to say.

So Dick said it for him. “He was drunk.”

Meyers sighed in relief. “Yes, sir, pretty much, sir.” 

“Was he driving?” He was going to kill Harry.

“Well, yes, sir.”

“And Captain Nixon?”

“Captain Nixon was sleeping. But,” Meyers leaned forward and said earnestly, “he wasn’t drunk, sir. At least, not that much. When I talked to him, he was as sober as a minister’s wife. He was a little banged up, but he was sober.”

Dick leaned back in his chair, relieved. Even with the war on its way to being over, Nix couldn’t afford another black mark on his record. Harry, he wasn’t so worried about. Harry was used to getting knocked back in rank and he wasn’t going to stay in the paratroops, in any case. 

He picked up a pencil and began to roll it between his fingers. “Then what happened?”

“Well, they were trying to figure out how to get the jeep unstuck, Iguess, and a truck came by from one direction and a jeep came from the other. I’m not sure which direction, though. Neither of the captains caught the jeep’s ID, but Captain Welsh thought it was a corporal from Fox.” Meyers shook his head in disgust. 

“Anyway, the truck and jeep met up about the same time, right where the two captains were parked. The truck hit something in the road, swerved, and the jeep had to dodge it to get out of the way. Captain Nixon was standing by his vehicle when the other jeep swerved. It hit the rear of his jeep and almost pinned him—” 

Meyers paused and leaned forward again. “Are you okay, sir?” 

Dick tossed the pencil he had just snapped into three pieces into the trash and gestured calmly, “I’m fine, corporal. Continue.”

“Well, as Captain Nixon tells it, he jumped out of the way and landed in the ditch. Oh,” Meyers shook his head, “I forgot to tell you, they got stuck right near that bit where the river comes real close on one side, and there’s a pretty steep hill on the other side.”

“I know the place.” It was a bad stretch of road. The ‘pretty steep hill’ had a drop of about a hundred feet. Dick and Nix had driven by it more than a few times. Dick had even mentioned how he wouldn’t want to go over the side; it was straight down with no trees to stop a fall.

“So, anyway, the captain jumped and landed on something hard. The other jeep took off, but the truck driver stopped and radioed in. HQ sent an ambulance right away. First the doc thought Captain Nixon’s arm was broken, but now he thinks it’s just badly bruised or sprained. He stitched the worst cuts and wrapped the arm up. He says the captain will be out of commission for a few days, but that’s all.”

“And Captain Welsh?”

Meyers looked down again and rubbed his hands together. “Well, sir, he’s fine. He was on the far side of their vehicle so he wasn’t in the way of the other jeep. He just couldn’t get the jeep out of the mud so he left it for a tow. He fell asleep in the aid station while Captain Nixon was getting fix up.”

Dick tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. ‘Fell asleep,’ probably meant ‘passed out.’ “Does the doctor want Captain Nixon to stay overnight?” 

“I don’t know, sir. I don’t think so. Captain Nixon told me to get here as fast as Icould. Iguess he was just worried that you’d be worried.” Meyers looked at Zielinksi, as if to confirm this. Zielinksi nodded gravely in return.

Dick stood up. “Very well. If you need to get back right away, grab something from the cook for the ride home.” 

Meyers snapped a salute. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He nodded to Zielinski and hurried from the room.

Zielinski hesitated, then asked, “Do you want me to make sure he gets something to eat?”

“Please.” He started for the door, but Dick called him back. “John? Find out anything you can about the driver of the other jeep and thank the truck driver for his actions. And if either of the captains get back tonight, let me know.”

“Will do, sir.” Zielinksi left, shutting the door softly behind him.

Dick looked at the piles of papers on his office desk, the pencil holder, the clock, the picture frame. All placed just so. All so perfect, so perfectly him, and he had to stop himself from striking out as hard as he could and sweeping it all off. He could even see it happening—pens and clipboards shooting across the room, papers fluttering after. 

He went to the sideboard and poured a glass of water. He drank it in one gulp, then held the glass to the light and watched his hand shake. It would also, he thought, make a gratifying crash against the expensive floral wallpaper.

But, of course he would do no such thing. His anger and fear, no matter how intense, were going to have to wait. Until he could work them out in a long swim or a longer run. It was late enough that he could close up shop for the afternoon—he could be down to the lake in ten minutes. 

Then a solid dinner, maybe a little reading, and a quick letter to DeEtta before lights out. Business as usual because nothing had happened. Nix and Harry had gotten into a small accident. This was war and people got hurt all the time.

But it wasn’t until he was stretched out on the jetty, heart still pounding from swimming too hard, too fast, that he was able to rid himself of the image of Nix, lying dead by the side of the road, eyes turned blankly to the sky.

*** 

“Sir?”

Dick sat up, instantly awake as if his sleeping mind had been on alert, waiting for Zielinski to bring him the news. “Are they back?” He rubbed his eyes, sloughing off the slight disorientation. “What time is it?” 

“Two-thirteen, sir.” 

From Zielinski’s hesitant expression, he probably wanted to ask why Dick was sleeping in his chair, but ever tactful, he left it alone. “Are they back?” he repeated.

“Just now, sir. Captain Welsh is helping Captain Nixon to bed. He was pretty out of it. Captain Nixon, Imean. Captain Welsh is fine, sir.” 

“I know who you mean, corporal.” Dick stood up and tipped his head to the door. “Why don’t you go to bed. Tomorrow we can talk about finding that other driver.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Thank you, corporal.”

Dick gave Zielinski a two-minute head start before following. He had every right to visit his men late at night and had done so many times. And Zielinski knew where he was going, in any case. But the long and the short of it was that he didn’t want anyone to see him hurrying to Nix’s bed.

Nix’s suite lay to the right of his, separated by a linen closet, a big painting of the lake and an alcove that held a small side table and mirror. The wall sconce shone weak in this part of the hall, and he paused before the mirror, leaning in to run his hand over his hair, smoothing out the cowlick in back. It was ridiculous—Nix wouldn’t care what state his hair was in, even if he wasn’t too drugged to notice. 

Still, he made sure he was neat and tidy.

He hesitated a moment outside the door. Normally, he wouldn’t bother to knock or even pause; normally, he’d just head on in. But things weren’t normal so he knocked softly. And then entered when he got no response.

The suite was the mirror image of Dick’s. Where his bathroom and bedroom were on the right, Nix’s was on the left. Both suites had a balcony that ran the length of the suite, connecting the sitting rooms and bedrooms.

The balcony doors were closed and the lights were out, but Dick could see a trail of boots, socks, jacket, and shirt, all leading towards the bedroom. Nix had a bad habit of undressing the minute he set foot in his room and he rarely put away his clothes until he absolutely had to. It was something that Dick had always found annoying. Now he breathed a sigh of relief—Nix had to be okay if he was making his normal mess.

He gathered up the clothes and boots and, feeling like he was about to jump into unknown territory without compass or map, he tiptoed into the bedroom.

Bright moonlight streamed in through the open doors, casting sharp geometrical planes on the bed before him. The falls outside were a muted roar, and under that, he could hear a scratchy whisper of some romantic melody. Nix had left the radio on again. 

Dick sat the boots down by the dresser and turned to the bed.

Nix was stretched out on his back, one arm holding the pillow to his chest, the other outflung. The sheet covered him to the waist; the other bedclothes lay in a messy jumble at the foot of the bed. He’d probably started with the blanket and comforter, but he didn’t feel the cold like Dick and always ended up with as few covers as possible. 

Dick padded closer. Nix looked fine. His left arm was wrapped in a thick white bandage from elbow to wrist and there was a dark mark on his cheek. Unless it was an awkward shadow, it had to be a cut. There was nothing else that Dick could see and the knot that had been residing in his chest ever since he got the news began to unfurl. 

He sighed again, this time long and shaky, and backed away. Everything was okay; he could wait until morning to talk to Nix, now that he’d seen for himself that everything was okay. 

He was almost to the door when a low voice stopped him in his tracks. “It’s all right. I’m not asleep.”

Dick paused, and then tossed the clothes on the chair. He came back to the bed, a careful yard away. “Hey, Lew.”

Nix breathed a laugh. His eyelids were mostly shut. “You sound relieved.”

“No, no. I’m—”

“It’s okay, I’m okay.” Nix shoved the pillow away and patted the mattress. “Here. Sit.”

Wishing Nix were lying on the far side of the bed, Dick sat down on the very edge, too aware that his hip was just inches from Nix’s hand. “Are you…” He stopped, feeling foolish—Nix had just told him he was all right.

“I’m okay, Dick. Just took a tumble the wrong way. Harry,” he grinned, “is fine too. He told me he’s going to stay out of your way for a while.”

“He damn well better,” Dick growled, forgetting that it was nighttime and he should keep his voice low.

Nix raised his eyebrows. Dick almost never swore except under extreme circumstances. “You okay?”

He nodded. “I’m fine. Everything is fine. Why wouldn’t it—” And he got stuck again because it wasn’t fine. He wasn’t fine. The afternoon and evening had been spent not thinking about Nix dying on some road in Germany. Of not wondering what he’d do if Nix bought it before he could find a way to talk to him. Both thoughts had been unavoidable; both had been like a bayonet to the gut—sneaky sharp and painful.

He took a shallow breath and tried again, “I’m glad you sent a runner.”

“Yeah, I knew you’d want to know. Knew you’d be worried.”

Worried was an understatement. “Lew. I need to apologize for the other night.” It was something he’d practiced before he’d fallen asleep. No alluding to the reason for the upset, because that would have to wait until Nix was on his feet; just a simple statement of fact.

“Yeah, me too.” Nix looked like he wanted to say something else, but he relaxed back into the pillow and just smiled up at Dick.

The smile was too happy and Dick’s stomach twisted. He cleared his throat and whispered, “Well, I’d better go…” He drew back a fraction of an inch but made no move to get up.

Nix touched his arm. “No, stay. I’m fine.”

“All right. Just for a bit.” A shameful relief warmed his chest and he nodded to the bandaged arm. “Did they give you something for the pain?”

“Yeah. I’m hopped up on something. Can’t remember much of the aid station, can’t remember the ride back.” Nix’s voice grew soft and sluggish. “Don’t be mad at Harry. It wasn’t his fault.” He ran a clumsy hand up Dick’s sleeve and back down again. 

It was an odd gesture and it took Dick a few seconds to realize that Nix was trying to comfort him, trying to make him feel better. He swallowed thickly, his throat working—after all he had been through… “I know. I just—”

“You were scared.”

“No, no. I was…” Nix’s gaze was unswervingly keen, even through all the drugs and exhaustion, and Dick had to look away. He traced the path of moonlight over the bed, back to the balcony. “It was just… ” He shrugged and turned to look at Nix’s hand, a steady anchor on his arm. He wanted so badly to return the touch… “I’ve gotten used to you. Being here, I mean.” 

“I won’t ever leave you.”

Dick forced a laugh. “I know you won’t. Not unless you get bumped down again or trans—”

Nix grabbed his arm and pushed himself up on one elbow, his dog tags catching the light. “No, Dick,” he shook his head and said firmly, simply, “I mean, I won’t ever leave you. I promise.” He squeezed Dick’s arm once and dropped back to the pillow. 

“Lew,” Dick’s voice was hoarse, as if he’d been shouting, “you can’t promise something like that.”

“The hell I can’t.”

Dick opened his mouth, but nothing came out. His thoughts were twisting round and round, and he tried to make sense of what Nix just said because he couldn’t possibly mean what it sounded like he meant. 

To give himself a minute, he smoothed out a wrinkle in the sheet. Nix’s leg was so close. If this were one of his dreams, he’d simply run his hand over the sheet, then the swell of Nix’s thigh and Nix would spread his legs, say ‘Yes,’ and all things would be right and understood between them. 

“Hey, Dick?”

He managed to find his voice. “Yeah, Lew?”

“I was thinking while I was lying in that ditch and I need to know something.” 

“What?”

“Remember a few days ago when I came to tell you about Shifty?” His voice deepened to a rough whisper. “I asked if there was something you wanted to tell me?” 

Dick didn’t draw away, but Nix tightened his hold as if he would. “Yeah.” 

“Dick. Ineed to know…” Nix stumbled to a stop and moved restlessly under the sheet.

And that was it. Listening to Nix’s halting words, watching his struggle hit some chord and Dick realized that now was the time. A few weeks ago—hell, a few days ago—he would’ve avoided the question one more time, would’ve hemmed and hawed and sidestepped the hell out of it. But things had changed, he had changed and he owed it to them both to tell the truth. 

So he lay a shaking hand over Nix’s, holding on as he was held. “You need to know what I was dreaming about?”

Nix turned towards Dick, face perfectly still. “Yeah.”

“You. I was dreaming about you.” He took a deep breath, then another. The fear was still sharp, but hard on its heels was a sudden sense of freedom—he’d been imprisoned by his fears for so long… “It’s been… I’ve been having these dreams. Of you. And me. For a while now.” His hands and feet were suddenly cold and he felt an insane urge to laugh. 

And Nix? He was staring up, eyes wide, mouth open. Dick remembered standing in Goerring’s cellar, eagerly watching as he gaped at the rows and rows of booze. And then he’d turned around and Dick had loved that, loved his complete surprise, loved that he could give him such a gift. 

Nix cleared his throat. “So these dreams, they weren’t friendship dreams I take it.” 

Dick choked on a laugh and shook his head. His cheeks and neck were burning. “Well, yes and no, if you know what Imean.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh’.” Dick hesitantly stroked the back of Nix’s hand with his thumb. He could count on one hand the times he’d touched another person with desire, and it was amazing that something so simple could feel so good. And so right.

“I sort of figured it out. But,” Nix shrugged, “I never thought you’d tell me the truth.”

“Well, now you know.”

“Yeah, now Iknow.” Nix looked up at Dick, an odd, waiting glint in his eye. 

Still holding his hand, Dick worried a half second over the look until the answer came. As if Nix had written it down in black and white and shoved it in his face. 

Dick had guessed it—was it only just yesterday? And now… ‘I never thought you’d tell me the truth.’ 

Nix hadn’t just known, he’d known the whole time, maybe even as far back as Thalem, maybe even before Dick knew. And he’d been waiting, probably without a lot of hope because Dick had learned long ago that Nix never expected much where people were concerned.

He turned Nix’s hand to the light and touched the thin skin where his wedding ring should’ve been. The very few times he’d envied Nix’s wealth and life, he’d thought that any man with all that money, power, and looks had it made. And that Nix was far too sardonic for a man who had everything. 

He should have known better—he usually didn’t make mistakes like that. 

Back in OCS, when they were first getting acquainted, before he knew anything about Nix’s background, they’d sat up late one night in the mess hall with a group fresh from Fort Benning, sharing stories, sharing their excitement at being part of the push against Hitler. 

Although Dick had sat thigh to thigh with Nix, he hadn’t paid too much attention to his conversation with a captain from the 327th, too busy hiding his own boredom at a soused lieutenant’s assertions that Hitler was ‘gonna run, once he got an eyeful of our boys.’

He was never quite sure exactly what happened; one minute everything was fine, the next, Nix had shoved him back as he made room to get up.

Trying to catch his balance, Dick had grabbed the lip of the table and leaned sideways with one hand in the small of Nix’s back in an effort to see what was going on. He heard the captain whisper, ‘But I bet you could do it,’ and Nix’s immediate response, a terse, ‘I’ll see,’ and then he was up. He looked down at Dick, stony-eyed, and asked if he was ready to go. Dick said of course but Nix was already out the door in that loping stride of his. 

Dick had said a quiet goodnight to the other men and followed quickly.

Nix was waiting for him on the stoop and they’d walked briskly across the frozen parade grounds, slipping a little because it had just snowed. Dick waited for him to speak and when he didn’t, he’d asked, ‘What was that all about?’ 

Nix said nothing until they were almost back to their quarters and then he’d muttered, ‘It was nothing, Dick. Just a friend looking to get rich.’ 

Dick hadn’t questioned him any further. There was something vicious in the way he’d said, ‘friend,’ and Dick hadn’t wanted to upset him. The conversation, however, had stayed with him, and he thought about it every now and then, until it was lost in the business of preparing for war.

He should’ve guessed why Nix made a point never to talk too much about his life before the army. Why, when the other men teased him about his houses or the fact that his grandfather had a town named after him, he never responded other than to shake his head and smile.

How many times had Nix run into a friendship to find that the friend was only interested in what he could get? How difficult would it be to realize that someone only wanted you for what you had, not what you were? And how long could you hold out before you started to pull back, never wanting to bother with anything other than the shallow and superficial?

Since that first time, Dick occasionally overheard fellow officers try to sweet talk favors, money, or introductions out of Nix. He’d always shelved his distaste—it wasn’t his business and Nix seemed to take it in stride—but he’d always catch Dick’s glance, sarcasm in the curl of his lips.

With a sickening shock, Dick flashed back to the many times Nix had waited patiently with that same hidden cynicism while Sobel paced before them, ranting. Had Sobel—?

The thought of Sobel strong-arming, or worse, trying to seduce anything out of Nix sent a streak of disgust through Dick but he pushed it away. He’d think about it later after he fixed what he needed to fix.

Because less than twenty-four hours ago he’d come up with a grand design for solving his problems and he’d only just realized that he’d made a strategic error: in all his worry and confusion, he had never once seriously considered asking Nix what he thought, what he felt. He’d made plans to tell, but not to ask. 

Wanting to snarl at his own obtuseness, at Nix’s stubbornness, he settled for a shake of his head and a firm, “Lew, it’s my turn to say, ‘I need to know something.’

“Yeah?”

“About these dreams I’ve been having. What do you think about them?”

Nix stared at him for a long moment, narrow-eyed, as if he was interrogating a German prisoner and wasn’t sure if he was getting the truth. Finally, just when Dick was beginning to regret his words, he murmured, “I could say a lot of things right now, but you told me once that actions speak louder than words, so—” 

Before he knew it, Nix had crooked a finger over his collar and drew him down to ghost a kiss across his cheek. 

Soft. 

Rough.

Those were the two thoughts that blazed through the galvanizing shock—Nix’s lips were so soft and his day-old beard so rough. And even though he was shaking like a leaf, Dick wanted to laugh out loud at the conundrum. It was the last thing he’d have expected. 

And then Nix tipped his head and all thoughts of laughter fled as he brushed his lips over Dick’s.

Except for a teenage kissing game when he was seventeen, Dick had only ever kissed one other person with any attempt at passion. It had been an awkward affair and he’d walked home that night, disappointed and frustrated, wondering what all the bother was.

It was still awkward because he didn’t know what to do with his hands, and his body felt too large for his clothing, but beyond that it was everything he’d read and dreamed and fantasized it should be. 

The electricity of Nix’s mouth against his, the pressure so sweet and intense… 

Nix tasted faintly of tooth powder and alcohol, and Dick wondered if he should move his mouth or close his eyes, because that’s what they did in movies. But then he wouldn’t be able to see, see how close up, Nix’s skin was fine, his eyelashes long and dark. He was frowning, though, almost like he was in pain, like the kissing was hurting him and Dick pulled back, needing to make sure. 

Nix made a small noise at the back of his throat, like a growl or a groan, and moaned, “Dick,” then snaked in to bite his lower lip. And then slipped his tongue into Dick’s mouth when he gasped in surprise. 

Shock turned to hunger and he pushed Nix back, pressing him into the mattress with mouth and body, almost frantic to cover as much of him as he could, delighting in the way he moaned and arched off the bed in response. 

He wanted to eat Nix alive or bring him inside somehow, press him in with arms and legs, make a spot that was only his, only Lewis Nixon’s, and he was never going to get enough of this. Never, ever, ever…

And after the fallow seasons that had been his life, it was all too much—he jerked back, almost as desperate as before, needing a moment to breathe, to recover from the whirlwind that had overtaken him. 

He buried his burning face in Nix’s neck, still awkwardly twisted over and around him.

This was what the movies and books were always going on about. This was why soldiers did what they did. Why they caroused at every opportunity, why they went awol, or married some girl after the first date. 

All his suppositions and deductions as to why men acted like fools when they were in love were answered in the way joy arced through him when Nix hummed and stroked the bare skin at the nape of his neck. Dick sighed and pressed closer.

“Are you okay?” 

Nix’s voice echoed against his own chest and he whispered, “Yeah. I’m just… It was just…” He breathed a sigh, “Lew.”

Nix rubbed his cheek against Dick’s hair, rough, without gentleness. “Yeah, me too.”

“So I guess this means—?”

“Yeah. Been waiting for this for a long time.”

“Hmm.”

“Yeah.”

Dick looked up, hearing the smile but needing to see it. Nix was smiling like he hadn’t in so long, his happiness shining through the dark of the room, scorching Dick with its heat. 

He lay back down and listened to the beat of Nix’s heart.

He was just thinking that he should move, that he was too heavy, when the clock on the mantelpiece chimed three times. He sighed and pushed up.

Nix’s eyes were half closed and a soft smile still curved his lips. Tentatively, but wanting to assert whatever rights kissing gave him, Dick reached up and neatened his thick hair. It was a heady thing, the knowledge that he might get to do this on a regular basis, and he did it again, just because. 

Nix just smiled more, if that were possible.

Finally, because it had to be done, Dick whispered, “I have to go.”

“Yeah, Iknow.”

“You need to rest.”

“Probably be a good idea.”

“I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Okay.”

“Maybe I should get Doc Roe?”

“I’m not dying here, Dick. I’ll be fine. I’ll probably be down for breakfast.”

“All right.” Dick got up and smoothed the sheet and pulled up the blanket and quilt, ignoring Nix’s grin at his fussiness. “You want me to shut the doors?” 

“Nah, that’s okay. Thanks, though.”

“What about the radio?”

“I want it on.”

“Okay. Okay, I’ll see you in the morning.” Dick turned to the door and then turned back again. “If you don’t feel like—”

Even through the gloom he could see Nix roll his eyes. “Go.”

Dick grinned. “All right,” he held up his hands and backed away. “All right.” 

He was just at the door when Nix called to him softly. “Hey, Dick?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re not going to run and hide, are you?” 

The hot denial was there, right on the tip of his tongue, but Dick pressed his lips tight. It was a fair question, all things considered. Besides, Nix’s voice was neutral and even, but Dick could hear the worry buried in the question that said his answer mattered. 

And since they were both right, since actions did speak louder than words, he hurried back across the room, and bent over Nix, taking his mouth in a bruising kiss. He pulled back, just enough to say firmly, distinctly, “No, Lewis. No more running.”

Nix sighed. “Good.”

“Yeah.”

“‘Night.”

“‘Night.” Dick pressed his lips below the cut on Nix’s cheek and was back in his own suite before it all caught up with him. He stood in the middle of his borrowed room, at a full stop. 

He’d done it. He’d actually done it.

And the world hadn’t stopped spinning. 

And Nix hadn’t turned away.

Quite the reverse. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. What a night. From anxiety, to doing, to relief. Almost like every military campaign he’d ever taken part in or planned.

And like every campaign, the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what nows’ tried to crowd in, but he shrugged them away. He was at once too tired and too elated to pay them any mind.

So he undressed and put away his clothing, then got into bed. He turned on his side and thought about opening the balcony doors. The chances that he’d dream were slim, and besides, the open door was a connection to Nix, however minor. 

But even as he thought it, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. 

***

As if the night didn’t want to let go, Dick woke the next morning with no transition between then and now. Just a seamless continuity of feeling and sensation.

His body woke slower than his mind and it took him some minutes to realize that the corners of his mouth hurt and his lower back ached. He must have twisted too hard at some point. Probably when he turned to kiss Nix harder, to lie over him.

Flushing at the memory, he turned to his back and touched his chest, not surprised to find that he was quietly, completely, profoundly happy.

He smiled up at the beautiful ceiling. Was it really less than a month ago that he’d wearily stared at the same ceiling, feeling the polar opposite?

How odd.

He’d learned that war could alter one’s world in the blink of an eye. It had taken a bare second for Harry to get shot, for Bill and Joe to lose their legs. And Muck and Penkala? Dick always hoped and prayed that they’d never known what hit them. That they’d died too fast for pain or fear.

In comparison, the night with Nix could be considered a long time coming, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt new and fresh. He felt new and fresh, and he wanted to lie there and let the day begin around him, but he couldn’t. 

He rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.

He showered briskly. He was shaving, leaning towards the mirror when memory assailed him again, this time of Nix biting his lip. He dropped the razor and grabbed hold of the sink, closing his eyes until the moment passed.

He was going to have to get a handle on this thing. He couldn’t go around mooning like a lovesick calf. If it was bad before, it could be ten times worse now that he had actual proof and experience.

He gave himself a stern look, then picked up the razor. He finished matter-of-factly, mind firmly focused on wondering where the expression ‘lovesick calf’ came from and what such a thing would look like.

***

Nix wasn’t at breakfast, which was just as well. 

On his way down, Dick spent a few minutes practicing composure. When he got to the mess hall, he looked around surreptitiously before realizing that Nix wasn’t there. He got his meal and sat down next to Lipton and George Luz, grateful for small mercies. 

After a breakfast that he ate too quickly to taste, he headed upstairs to his makeshift office. When he got to the landing that separated one wing from the other, he paused. He had a few minutes. He could run by and see Nix, make sure he wasn’t in too much pain. He turned and had one foot on the stair, when his scruples got the better of him. He’d better go check in first, and then go see Nix. 

Zielinksi was waiting with an armful of folders, a note from Major Strayer, and a cup of tea. 

Dick sighed, took the tea, and listened patiently while Zielinksi relayed Strayer’s latest request.

***

It just figured, he thought for the third time that day. 

It just figured that, for the first time in a long time, when he actually could use a moment to himself, emergencies and army business would make it impossible.

It was the usual: disciplinary action to consider over a soldier who got too friendly with the daughter of a local, the distribution of a shipment of supplies, a review of the troop drills that should have happened the day before only hadn’t. 

He ended up working through the noon meal and by fourteen hundred, he’d given up all hope of getting away until evening. The busy day helped in one way: whenever a stray memory of the night before invaded, he was easily able to quash it by just moving to the next task.

He was waiting for a sixteen hundred meeting with Speirs, half hoping for a visit from Nix, when Harry popped his head through the door. 

Dick threw his pen down on the desk and said, “I was wondering when you were going to stop by.”

Harry took off his cap and sat down on the windowsill. “Hey, Dick.” 

“Do I need to say anything?”

“Probably not.” 

He grinned cheekily and Dick was up before he knew it. “Dammit, Harry—” 

Harry stopped smiling. “Everything’s fine. I’m fine. Nix is fine.” 

“That’s not the point and you know it.”

Harry folded his cap then unfolded it. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. It was just one of those things.”

His hangdog look took the wind out Dick’s sails and he sat on the edge of the desk and folded his arms. 

Harry waited a minute, then muttered, “But you’re still mad.”

Mad wasn’t the word for what he’d been feeling, but he could hardly say he’d been scared, furious. Those emotions were too intense for the situation, so he told a half-truth, “Yeah, I’m still mad. Nix said you were going to avoid me.”

“I was going to do it, too.” Harry grinned unrepentantly. “But he thought you’d be in a better mood today, so I gave it a shot.”

Dick picked up his teacup. “You’ve seen him?”

“Yeah, this morning. He wasn’t feeling so hot so he stayed in bed.”

The tea was cold; he took a sip anyway and asked with a forced indifference, “How’d he look?” 

“Good. Tired. He said you kept him up all night. Hey—”

Harry jumped up, but Dick waved his helping hand away and tried to stop coughing. His face was hot and probably beet red. He set the cup down and got out his handkerchief to swab at the tea soaking his shirt. It was going to leave a nice stain. Damn Nix and his jokes—they were going to have to have a little chat about what he could and could not say to Harry.

Harry was still hovering, but Dick shook his head. “It’s all right. I’m fine. Just went down the wrong pipe.”

Harry squinted up at him. “If you say so.”

“I say so.”

“Okay.” Harry put his hat on. “Will it do any good to say I won’t drink and drive anymore?”

“Yeah, it will if you can actually manage it.”

“I will, I promise.” Harry held his hand out and they shook on it.

“Okay, we’ll leave it at that. Thanks for coming by.”

“Sure thing, Dick.” Harry headed to the door, then paused. “Oh, Nix said to stop by anytime if you get a chance. I think he’s bored, although,” he cocked his head and frowned, “he’s got plenty of booze.” His face cleared and he smiled broadly. “Maybe I should set up a card game. He can’t be too sick for that.” 

He was out the door before Dick could call him back and veto the idea.

If Harry had his way, within the hour, Nix’s room would be full of officers looking to lose their pay. And getting stinking drunk to boot.

He went to the open window and sat on the ledge. The mountain air cooled his hot face and he closed his eyes. He had maybe twenty minutes before Speirs showed up. After that, it was dinner and the letter to his mother. And then, finally, he could go see Nix.


***

He waited until well after dinner before he put his pen away. He’d told himself that he might as well take advantage of the quiet night and answer DeEtta’s last letter. He told himself that he’d waited this long—a few more minutes wouldn’t matter.

It wasn’t until he’d showered and was done shaving for the second time, waiting for the laughter next door to die down, that he ruefully admitted to himself that it was none of those things. That he’d waited until the card game was over so the men would leave, so he could have Nix to himself.

He made a face at himself. And then again when he stood before the wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. It was ridiculous, hesitating over something so simple, and he finally took out his formal uniform. He dressed quickly and slipped out to join the others.

It wasn’t the entire group, as he’d feared. Just Nix, Harry, Speirs, and Lipton. They’d pulled the sofa and chairs in a half circle around the cold fireplace and were no longer playing poker, just talking. The detritus of the game was everywhere—a battalion of empty bottles lined the hearth, cigarette butts overflowed the ashtrays, and a faint cloud of blue smoke drifted towards the ceiling.

Nix saw him first. His eyes lit up and he waved him in. “There you are. I was just coming to get you.” He patted the sofa cushion with his bandaged hand and tilted his glass. “C’mon. You can help me celebrate my recovery.”

Dick sat down and murmured, because he knew Nix would expect it, “Since when do I drink?” He looked away as he said it, unable to meet Nix’s glance, afraid he’d give something away. 

“Never,” Harry answered for Nix.

“There was that one time in St. Marie du Mont,” Lipton reminded Dick, with a little smile. 

Dick raised his eyebrow. He’d completely forgotten about that. And people wondered why he didn’t drink—just the memory of the taste… 

He crossed his legs and changed the subject. “I thought you were playing poker?” 

Harry grimaced and took a drink from his bottle. “We finished a long time ago. Nix cleaned us out.” 

“Harry’s just mad because now he has to wait another month before he buys Kitty that tea set he’s been ogling every time we go into town,” Nix drawled. The men all laughed and Harry threw a pillow, aimed at Nix, but ended up hitting Dick instead.

Who made a face and tossed the pillow back, then smoothed out his trousers. This hadn’t been a good idea. The sofa wasn’t small, but it wasn’t big either, and he felt as if he were practically sitting in Nix’s lap. 

A fleeting image of just that came and went before he could stop it and the back of his neck flushed—he could feel it. 

This was a monumentally stupid idea. He should’ve waited until the men had left for the night.

Thankfully, Nix intercepted by saying loudly, “I was just reading that they’re setting up regular flights from the States to Europe. Just think,” he leaned confidingly over at Dick, “all we have to do is hop a plane and in sixteen, seventeen hours we could be at the Stork Club, living it up.” 

Dick pursed his lips. From what he’d heard, he and the Stork Club wouldn’t mix. “And what about Japan?”

“Aw, they’ll get along without us.” Nix picked up his cigarettes and waved the pack at Dick. “Besides, knowing you, you’d manage a day, maybe two, of fun before getting back on the plane.”

“Then why bother?”

Nix smirked and lit a cigarette. Even with the bandage, his movements were smooth, polished, and Dick was struck by all the times he’d watched him do that very thing, all the times he’d watch Nix’s mouth, fascinated…

He’d been so blind.

“Was anyone hurt?” 

Dick jerked his head up at Lipton’s soft question. The conversation had gone on without him and he no idea what they were talking about. 

“No,” Speirs spoke for the first time. “Bishop managed to get everyone out in time.”

There was a Corporal Bishop in Dog, but they weren’t talking about him—there hadn’t been any accidents in over seventy-two hours.

Well, almost. He chanced a covert glance to the right. 

Nix had turned sideways, legs crossed, arm up on the back of the sofa. His hand was about five inches from Dick’s shoulder and Dick told himself that he was crazy, that he really couldn’t feel the heat from Nix’s hand. Their eyes met and he quickly looked away.

“Hey. I just noticed,” Harry broke the uncomfortable pause. “You’re all cleaned up. You look good—going on a date?”

Everyone looked over and Dick pursed his lips. Violence against a junior officer was a punishable offense. Not that he wanted to hit Harry. Maybe just slug him. 

Nix came to his defense again. He chuckled around his cigarette. “Harry, he always looks like he stepped out of a bandbox. You know that.” His unruffled grin didn’t quite reach his eyes, but Dick was pretty sure he was the only one who noticed because all the men laughed, even Speirs.

“And on that note,” Nix added, “I need to go over a few things with the good major, here.” He crushed out his cigarette and got up. 

“Aw, c’mon, we just got started,” Harry groaned. 

Nix just shook his head. “No rest for the wicked, gentlemen.”

Dick stood and nodded to Speirs and Lipton as they left, then touched Harry’s arm. “No driving, remember?”

“Who’s driving? I’m gonna call it a night.” 

“See you in the morning, then.”

“Yep.” Harry turned to Nix. “Remember, you own me a rematch tomorrow, right?”

“If you’re not too hung over to play.”

“Me? I’ve barely had a drop all night,” Harry stated gravely. And then ruined the effect by giggling as he picked up an unopened bottle of booze on his way out. “’Night, gentlemen.”

Nix followed him to the door, then shut it. He waited a few seconds, then turned the key in the lock and turned around. He smiled softly. “Alone at last.” His voice was low, heavy with innuendo.

Dick’s pulse jumped and began to hammer in his throat. He moved restlessly to the fireplace and touched the mantle, then picked up a figurine of a little girl. Nix had bought the statue for his daughter months ago. Dick wasn’t sure why he hadn’t mailed it yet. He knew Nix wasn’t on the best terms with his ex-wife. Maybe she didn’t want him sending things to their daughter?

Suddenly, the overhead light went off and then the lamp on the far side of the room. He didn’t have to turn to know what was going on. His heart began to race and he set the statue back down, gently, and waited.

He heard Nix creep up, then felt his warmth as he came to stand a hairsbreadth away. 

“Harry was right, you do look good,” Nix whispered roughly. He put his hands on Dick’s waist. “Hmm, and you smell good, too.” He stepped closer and Dick shuddered and grabbed his arms, pulling tight until they were pressed together with only the double layers of cotton and wool separating them. ”I woke up this morning, wondering if it had been a dream.”

Dick nodded. All day long he’d been pushing away the memory of this, the way Nix felt, his scent, his voice. “Me too. I was hoping it wasn’t.”

“Nope, no dream.” Nix rubbed his cheek against Dick’s shoulder and kissed the spot. A familiar hot chill ran up Dick’s spine and he shivered, shaking even more when Nix pulled his collar down and kissed the nape of his neck. “If it’d been a dream, I would’ve got to second base, at least.” 

Nix’s breath was hot on Dick neck and he tipped his head back with a sigh, wanting to ask what defined ‘second base,’ because he’d never figured it out. But it was a stupid question, and anyway, Nix would show him eventually. “Are you disappointed?”

“What do you think?” Nix bit his neck, and rubbed his entire body against Dick’s, like a cat rubbing at a convenient knee.

Dick grabbed the mantelpiece and breathed in a gasp. He reminded himself that it was still early, that anyone could come knocking. “Lew?”

“Yeah, I know. Gotta be careful.”

“Sorry.”

“Nope, you’re right. C’mon.” He took Dick’s hand, dragged him to the sofa and sat down, pulling Dick with him. “There. We’re a proper foot away from each other, no cause for alarm.” Still, their shoulders were touching and Nix kept hold of his hand, lacing their fingers together. 

“Did you really have something to discuss with me?”

“What do you think?”

Dick smiled briefly—he should have known. “I missed you today. I wanted to come up, but…” He shrugged.

“Yeah, might not have been a good idea. After last night,” Nix laughed, “I probably would’ve pounced on you. I was pretty much out of it, anyway. Today, Imean.” He straightened their fingers, laying their hands together, palm to palm. The edge of the bandage peeped out from under his shirtsleeve. 

“How’s your arm?”

Nix shrugged the question away. “Fine. Did anything happen today that I should know about?”

“Nothing that won’t keep. Sink called to see how you were. Zielinski’s hunting down the driver of the jeep that hit you.”

“You gonna throw the book at him?”

Dick tugged on Nix’s hand. “What do you think?”

“I think you can be pretty scary when you want to be, Major Winters.”

Dick frowned at his teasing tone. “Well, I want to be. He could’ve seriously injured you.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t.”

He looked down at their joined hands and shrugged. “Nix…”

And Nix knew what he couldn’t say because he just smiled and murmured. “I know. And, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, just like always.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Not at all. It makes me feel good. I like it.”

Dick raised his head, his frown changing to a slow smile. “Yeah?”

“Uh-huh, I like it,” Nix’s voice dropped in register and his eyes took on that low-lid sultriness that Dick remembered all too well, “and I like you. I really want to kiss you now.”

And so did Dick. His mouth watered at the thought and he didn’t even have to use his imagination to picture what Nix’s mouth would taste like; those days were gone. He cleared his throat and shook his head.

Nix sighed, but he didn’t look too disappointed. “Later?”

“Yes.”

“So…?”

“So what are we going to do about all this?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, we need to talk about that.”

“Dick,” Nix’s hand clenched and Dick jerked his head up. His face was disturbingly blank; not grim, but not happy, either.

Dick loosened his grip. “Watch out. I don’t want you to hurt your arm.”

Nix pulled but Dick didn’t let go. “Who cares about the arm? What’s going on? You’re not—”

“Cripes, Lew. No, it’s nothing like that. ”

It seemed both of them were jumpy. Honesty, even if it meant looking like a fool, was the best policy. He lowered his voice and muttered, “Lew, after last night, all I want to do is to be with you, and… And all that… But what if things get out of hand and I can’t stop?” Just saying it loosened the knot in his chest and he leaned back to get Nix’s reaction. 

He expected an understanding look or maybe a frown. What he got was a snort and a smirk.

“Are you kidding? Dick, Ihate to say it, but you’re the last person on earth that would turn into a sex maniac.”

Dick pursed his lips—Nix could be such an idiot sometimes. “You know I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Yeah, Iknow.” Nix’s smirk died. His grip had softened, and his hand was warm, relaxed. “That won’t happen, right?”

He shrugged. If he was the last person on earth to turn into a sex maniac, he was also the last person on earth to know how to handle a romance.

“We’ll keep our hands to ourselves, like we’ve always done. It’ll be business as usual.”

“All right.”

“Besides, knowing you, for the next two months you’ll barely look at me, much less touch me,” Nix added dryly.

Dick made a face. He wasn’t that bad. Just because he didn’t drink, swear, or chase women didn’t mean he wasn’t a man. He had a man’s drive, a man’s desires…

So what was the next step? If Nix was a woman, Dick would invite him to dinner at a local restaurant, and then maybe out for some dancing. And later on, a romantic drive in some scenic location.

But Nix was a man and that changed things. Besides, Dick didn’t know how to dance and they sure as heck weren’t going for a romantic drive where anyone could see them. 

His lips bent in a reluctant smile. What a pair they made.

“You’re wondering what happens next, aren’t you?” Nix was watching him steadily.

“Of course I am.”

“Well, then, I think I have a solution for our problem. Temporarily, at least. Remember that house I told you about? The one on the other side of the lake?”

“Heydrich’s summer home?”

“That’s the one. What say we take a day off tomorrow or the next—call it intelligence gathering or something—and spend the day up there, just us two.”

“I don’t know, Lew. I need—”

Nix interrupted, “I know what you need. I always do, remember?”

Dick remembered. Nix had intervened before, had made him relax, made him stop. Something he hadn’t known he’d needed until he was in Paris, away from the noise, commotion, and stress of the war, at relative peace.

He nodded slowly, examining the plan, looking for any flaws. It was short notice, but he deserved a day off. Sink had been urging him to get away for months, now. They’d need to take their gear, just in case, but he wasn’t really worried about that. The neighboring hills had been swept clean of all German resistance weeks ago. The landowners had yet to return to the property that had been stolen when the Nazis moved in. They could drive up in the morning, spend the day lazing around, and be back before sunset. 

He didn’t let himself imagine what they’d do while they were lazing around because if he did that, he’d be up all night. “It’ll have to be two days from now. We’ve got those close-quarters exercises tomorrow and Friday.”

“Great.”

“I’ll drive.”

“Of course.”

“You’ll need to rest that arm as much as possible.”

“Yep.”

“And we should take supplies.”

“I’ll bring the maps and the booze, you bring everything else.”

Dick nodded. “All right.” 

They were quiet a moment, then Dick stood up. It wasn’t late, but he should be going. 

Nix stood as well, and they stared at each other, at a short distance of a few feet that might as well be a few inches. Dick held out his hand and Nix came into his arms. 

He was half a head taller, but still, they fit together as if made for each other and he sighed. Nix was warm and solid and he’d been waiting for this all day. He rested his head on Nix’s shoulder and breathed in the scent of his cologne. 

Nix began humming something under his breath, something tender and familiar. Dick wondered if he could teach him how to dance. He’d learned a few steps in high school, but he was never any good at it. 

They stayed that way for a long moment, until Dick murmured into Nix’s shoulder, “I gotta go.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll need to work up a schedule and get it to Zielinski and Speirs. We’ll meet in the courtyard at zero seven hundred on Saturday?”

Nix groaned and pulled back. “I’ll barely be alive at that hour. Okay, zero seven hundred it is.”

Dick straightened his uniform. “Get some sleep, all right?” 

“Will do.”

“I mean it, Nix.”

Nix gave a sloppy salute. “Yes, sir, Major, sir.”

Dick allowed himself an annoyed smile as he hurried out the door. It was only twenty-one hundred. Zielinski would still be up and they could go over the altered schedule. Whistling softly, he strode down the hall, eager to get started.

***

Unexpectedly, he dreamed that night. 

Instead of his usual dream of want and hunger, he dreamed that he and Nix were back home, on a blanket on the front lawn, dressed in their PT gear. The sun was blazing hot, which was all right, they both agreed, because they’d been cold for so long. Dick sat cross-legged, reading a manual on emergency bivouacking solutions while Nix lay on his back in front of him, doing nothing but smoking and running a blade of grass across Dick’s bare knees while he gazed up at the sky. 

That was the extent of the dream and when he woke the next morning, he lay there for a few minutes, staring sleepily at nothing, as happy as he’d ever been.


~~~~~~~~~~~

June 16th 


The ride up was quiet. 

They passed a group of older women working in a field who waved before bending back to their tasks. A dog chased them for a couple hundred yards on the way out of Schuttdorf. But other than the usual sentries, they met no one. 

Nix didn’t talk much. Neither did Dick. He was never one for casual chit chat, but it was more than that. The minute he’d pulled the jeep out of the Grand’s courtyard, a knot of anxiety had taken root in his stomach, and with each kilometer, it only grew. His mouth was chalky dry while his hands slipped a few times on the steering wheel, they were so sweaty. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was coming down with something, maybe the influenza, because he felt like he was burning from the inside out. And he supposed he was: burning for Nix, burning for his touch.

Nix, on the other hand, was relaxed, nonchalant. As if he did this every day, driving to a mountain hideaway to spend time with a lover. He slouched in his seat, maps in hand, his gaze hidden behind his dark sunglasses. Only two things gave him away: he smoked cigarette after cigarette, and he kept turning his head to stare at Dick when he thought his attention was elsewhere.

They reached their last turnoff a little after nine. Silently, Nix touched his arm and pointed to the right. Dick slowed down, then stopped. The road went straight up through the tall pines at an angle that had to be at least forty-five degrees. He turned, and began the long climb up. 

The road ended about a hundred yards up, opening to a rough circle of land, bordered by trees, overlooking the surrounding mountains. The house lay in the middle of the circle; he pulled up in front of the porch and turned off the engine. 

The house was a surprise, and he forgot his nervousness in his wonder. He peered up through the windshield and muttered, mostly to himself, “I’ve never seen a house shaped like a triangle before.” 

Nix didn’t answer, too busy putting his maps away.

Dick grabbed his rifle and hopped out. Why would anyone build such a strange looking house? He tilted his head to look up. A short flight of stairs led to a broad porch that ran the width of the house. There were two large windows on the lower level and a single, smaller window on the upper, making the whole thing look like an upside down face. A scarred, upside down face—someone had painted a lopsided swastika on the wood siding.

He walked to the side to see if there were any windows cut into the roof; the wooden shingles continued from top to bottom. “It would probably be good for snow. And rain.”

“Dick.”

“How the heck would you shingle it, though?”

“Dick…”

“I wonder what it’s like inside?”

“Well, one good way to find out is to just come inside, for Pete’s sake.”

He turned. Nix was on the porch, a bottle under one arm, his rifle in the other. “In a hurry, are we?” He grinned up at Nix’s exasperated frown. “We should probably check out the grounds, make sure everything’s secure.”

Nix was probably rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses, but he didn’t argue. He just set the bottle down and swung his rifle up. 

Dick signaled, ‘right.’ Nix nodded and went to the right while Dick circled around to the left.

He examined the ground and brush thoroughly, even into the treeline, taking his time. He couldn’t find any sign of the enemy, no sign that anyone had been by in a while. The only tracks he found were the dual half-moon prints of a deer and something that looked like a dog.

He met up with Nix in the back and raised his eyebrow. Nix shook his head. No one around, no one to worry about.

The back of the house had seen more damage than the front. A shed had been chopped up by what had to be an axe—there were large and small splinters everywhere. A corner of the back deck was charred, as if someone had tried to set fire to the house, and hadn’t been successful. Dick moved closer and ran a finger over a streak of black along one of the rails. The wood was cold and dusty—the damage hadn’t been done recently.

Nix came to stand next to him. He jerked his head and murmured, “Guess the locals weren’t successful. Maybe the French stopped them.”

“It wasn’t us?”

“Nah, we got here later, remember?”

Dick frowned, then turned and walked to the ruined shed. Like the deck, the damage didn’t look recent. He kicked a piece of wood out of the way and continued on to where the property sloped away.

Nix had been right—the view was spectacular. 

Line after line of blue mountains stretched out before him, one peak giving way to the next, on and on, until the very horizon. A cool breeze started up overhead, pushing the pines together, making them creak. Somewhere close by, a squirrel chattered. 

It was odd—the shed and house were signs of the world as it was; everything else was a reminder of how the world had been. Would he ever get back that sense of peace he grew up with? He closed his eyes and drew a breath.

Behind him, Nix sighed impatiently. Dick turned. 

Nix had taken off his sunglasses and he was squinting, hands on his hips. “All set?”

Dick nodded. “Yeah.”

Nix turned back to the house, striding away, almost marching.

Dick called out after him, “I’ll get the rest of the stuff.” It wasn’t quite a misdirection. Looking out over the mountains, his guard relaxing for the first time, small fears he hadn’t considered before had rushed in. He’d always faced each tough situation the same way, never running in without a half-dozen tactical responses in mind. But now all that failed him and he felt as if, in his head he was babbling, and he recognized the feeling: panic.

He went to the jeep and grabbed their gear, pausing in mid-motion. What if this changed something important and they’d no longer be the friends they’d been? What if he said something wrong, did something stupid or embarrassing that would push Nix away and make him never want to do this again?

“Dick?” Nix called from inside the house.

“Yeah, just getting it all.” But they didn’t matter, his fears. He’d set his course and needed to see it through. He heaved the bags from the back and turned to the house.

The interior was laid out simply. A long corridor led from the front to the back, with rooms on either side. A kitchen was on the left and—he opened a door on his right—a small room that looked like it had been used for storage. It was empty of everything but dust.

Nix was waiting at the end of the corridor. He was just a black shape against the brightness of the morning sun. “I checked the rooms. They’re all empty.”

Dick nodded but ducked into the kitchen anyway, just to make sure. He did the same to the two other rooms—they were both tiny, more like closets than proper rooms. By the time he made it to the back, Nix was waiting with his hands on his hips again. Dick didn’t look at him as he edged into the big living room.

Here he could clearly see the slanted walls—the entire back was open, from floor to ceiling. A trio of large windows, similar to the ones on the front of the house, let in the morning light. He stopped in the middle of the room and looked up and around. There was an open area, protected by a wooden railing, that was reached by a long staircase built into the far wall.

The furnishings were mostly gone. The floor was marred with deep scratches that said a lot of things had been moved in a hurry. By the owner, or thieves, Dick wasn’t sure. A massive table, probably too heavy to move, stood near the corner window and he wandered over to it to touch the surface—dusty. Except for his own boot prints, the place was covered in a fine coating of dust and like the damage in the back, it was a good sign. It meant no one had been here recently, it meant no one would be coming back.

Which was a good thing because it also meant that he and Nix were truly alone, and wouldn’t be interrupted. His nerves, forgotten for a brief moment, jerked awake and he blurted out, “Did you guys find any maps or letters or anything?” There was no reply and he added, “It won’t make much difference, but Sink wants a record of anything we find.”

Still no answer and he turned, a ‘Lew?’ on the tip of his tongue. Which was forgotten the moment he saw Nix.

He was still in the hallway, helmet in one hand, eyes wide, almost angry, mouth pressed in a thin line.

Like the night he’d come about Shifty, the day he’d returned from Operation Varsity, and Dick swallowed, his throat completely dry, thinking, ‘Here we go’. 

And that’s all the time he had, that bare second, because Nix dropped his helmet and in three long strides was on him, shoving, slamming him into the wall so hard it shook the entire house.

It didn’t hurt. Dick was too busy holding his rifle at arm’s length, too busy scrabbling and grappling to feel such minor pain. Using all his strength to pull Nix close, opening his mouth wide because Nix was pressed up against him, all cultured pretense gone as he choked out, “Dick…” As if he couldn’t get enough, as if he’d been waiting forever. 

He tore his mouth away for a brief moment to whisper into Dick’s mouth, “Upstairs. The bedroom is upstairs.” And then he was walking backwards, tugging Dick along with him, never once letting him go.

They made their way across the room that way, their rifles getting in the way as they stumbled against the walls and each other. Near the stairs, one of them tripped and they twisted. Dick found himself awkwardly up against the newel post, trying to keep his balance, trying not to drop his rifle while Nix kissed him over and over.

And he would’ve just laid down on the dirty, dusty floor, even on the staircase, but Nix pulled back at the last minute and turned him around, pushing him up the stairs.

The loft was a single, long room with a bed and chest at the far end. The acute angle of the ceiling and the dark window above the bed gave the room a feeling of cozy secrecy, as if the gloom was a physical thing that one could hide in. “This is nice.”

Nix took Dick’s rifle and pushed him aside as he walked into the room. “Uh-huh.”

“I mean, it’s a little hot, but it’s nice.”

Nix laid their rifles on the chest, within arm’s reach of the bed. “Yeah, it’s great. It’s perfect. C’mon.” 

Dick took off his helmet and jacket slowly, unsure if he should wait or just strip down. Nix’s mood was odd, impatient and rough. Not anything like a few nights ago.

“I think…” Nix lifted up the sheet covering the bed and looked under. “Seems clean, but just in case…” He flipped the sheet and quickly tucked in the corners, abruptly efficient.

“You’d make a great nurse,” Dick joked clumsily.

“Ha, ha. Will you—” Nix turned. And stopped in his tracks. He took a deep, noisy breath, then let it out slowly. 

The grimness faded and now it was like he was watching Dick from far away, like he had throughout the war, always in the background, making sure Dick and Easy were safe.

Dick didn’t know what Nix saw—he knew he wasn’t much to look at, not compared to men like Speirs and Tab. But he supposed it didn’t matter—whatever it was, whatever Nix saw, it arced back, like a ricochet gone wild. He swallowed and undid his top button with a hand that insisted on shaking.

Nix moved slowly toward him, like he was walking through a deep fog and had to get each step right. Still in that same hushed silence, he took Dick’s hand and led him to the bed, then pushed him down, and knelt at his feet. 

Half remembered images from his dreams, from picture books showing knights kneeling before their ladies, ran through Dick’s mind and he couldn’t help a weak smile. He wasn’t a knight and, recent comment none withstanding, Nix sure as heck wasn’t a lady.

Nix raised his eyebrow, but didn’t ask. He just stroked Dick’s shin and bent to kiss the point of his knee through his trousers. “Let’s get your boots off, okay?” He untied the knife first. “You really came prepared, didn’t you?” He grinned and tossed the sheath on the chest with the rifles. “What were you expecting, Rommel, back from the dead? Lift up.”

Dick obligingly raised his feet in turn as Nix unlaced his boots and tugged them off. “That would be a neat trick. We were lucky.” Nix nodded in agreement. The entire allied force had breathed a sigh of relief when Rommel was assassinated. If anyone could have changed the course of the war, he could have. “My turn.”

Nix raised an eyebrow and Dick pointed. Smiling, Nix rocked back to lean on his hands and raised his foot, resting his heel between Dick’s legs. He undid the laces, fingers a little clumsy because the shaking was only getting worse.

Almost frowning, he dropped the boot and peeled his sock off. His foot was long and thin with a light scattering of hair across the top and a line of calluses where his boots had rubbed, day after day.

Remembering one dream, the one where they were on his father’s living room floor after a wrestling match, Dick rubbed his thumb across the sole of Nix’s foot and then again when Nix tipped his head back and sighed. 

“That feel good?”

“Like a dream.”

“Here, give me the other.” By the time he got the other boot and sock off, Nix was watching him from under his lashes. “What?”

Nix scrambled up, murmuring, “I should’ve known you’d be good at this.” He pushed Dick back and back, until they were all the way on the bed. “Mr. Perfect, always getting it right the first time around.” He lay next to Dick and ran a finger from his temple to his chin, his expression gone grave, serious. “Do you remember in Nuenen when that bullet almost got me?”

Dick nodded cautiously. It was one of his worst memories, one he never thought about if he could possibly help it.

“That was when I knew. You were so scared. It just, well, you know…” Nix rubbed the top of Dick’s foot with his own.

Wanting to return the gift, Dick searched his memory, trying to pinpoint his own epiphany. It hadn’t been quite so clear for him. “I— I’m not sure when…” He shrugged. “I don’t know…”

Nix made a face, as if to say, ‘that’s okay,’ but couldn’t quite hide the faint hurt that washed over his face. 

“No, Lew, that’s not… Imean, there doesn’t seem a time when I didn’t…” He was messing up. How did one find the words to describe the indescribable? 

He tried again, cupping Nix’s jaw, whispering now because this was hard, “I’ve never had a friend like you. I never expected this, but it’s like Iwas waiting for you. All the same.” 

Intent, Nix bent over him as if trying to decipher an unfamiliar map of an unfamiliar route.

“When Igot the news that you and Harry were in an accident…” Dick swallowed, hard. “Lew, there was never a time when it wasn’t you. Ijust didn’t realize—”

And Nix fell on him, kissing as he muttered, “Shut up, Dick, just shut up.” 

The whirlwind was back; everything inside was melting and flying apart, both at the same time. His blood rushed in his ears, his face burned, and he needed something solid to anchor himself against; he pulled and tugged until Nix was on top of him. 

And even that wasn’t enough, and he moved restlessly, not sure what to do, only knowing that he needed more.

“Dick?”

“Yeah?” 

Nix rubbed his chest, then moved to his buttons. “I want to see you.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He took a moment to draw a deep breath, then reached down to help. “Okay.”

Nix pushed his hands out of the away. “I can do it. Let me…” Nix quickly unbuttoned his shirt and spread it open like he was opening a book.

In spite of the heat, Dick shivered, and then shivered again when Nix dragged his undershirt off. He took it and threw it, not paying attention because his hands were just itching to get at Nix. “You, too.” He fumbled the buttons open while Nix watched his progress with heavy-lidded eyes. 

He finally got the shirt off, not surprised to find that Nix had no undershirt, just dog tags that swung to the side when Dick bent close and kissed his chest, right over his heart.

Nix made an odd sound, like the cross between a moan and a whimper, and quickly undid Dick’s belt and trousers, then tugged everything off. 

Nudity was part of army life and Dick was long past being embarrassed about it. He and Nix had showered together as a matter of course; they’d helped each other undress when they were so worn out they could barely stand up. They’d patched each other up and put each other to bed. He would’ve thought there’d be few surprises in seeing Nix naked or letting Nix seeing him naked. 

It looked like he was wrong.

He lay there, without the implied armor of uniform, and was surprised to find that he felt naked like never before, sexual like never before. Exhilarated, as if he was complete in his own body for the first time in his life.

Because Nix was appraising him, slowly, carefully—his chest, his belly, his hips, his legs, and no one had ever looked at Dick that way, as if they were drinking him in. He raised his hands over his head in a false surrender, refusing the urge to cover up.

Nix swallowed and touched Dick’s ribs with just his fingertips. Like he was made of glass or something equally fragile. Then, without saying a word, with that same hushed intensity, he bent over and kissed the valley and hill of Dick’s hipbone.

It was too much. With a groan that sounded shockingly loud in the quiet room, Dick wrestled Nix out of the rest of his clothes. He only had a brief, confused glimpse of flesh and hair and then he jerked Nix to him so they could fall back together.

Nix gasped out, “Shit!” and they both cried out when their bodies met. 

Nix was heavy and not heavy, his body a weight that somehow matched the clumsy need in Dick that shook him, inside and out. He was sweating now, almost suffocating in this room that was too hot and he shifted and twisted and that didn’t help because he wasn’t sure what to do with his arms and legs, wasn’t sure what to do, only that he wanted a rhythm that just wouldn’t come.

He made some noise that sounded embarrassingly lost and Nix paused above him. He stroked Dick’s damp temple and whispered, “Like this…”

Dick didn’t know what the hell he was talking about until he reached for Dick’s leg and wrapped it around his own thigh. And that was it, that was what Dick needed—a joining natural and perfect. He curled his other leg around Nix’s hips and held on greedily as Nix began to thrust smoothly.

Lost to the moment, his body following the cadence of the complaining bedsprings, of Nix’s dog tags as they stroked his chest and chin, he thought to ask if maybe he was holding on too hard, but all he managed was a confused, “Lew?” when an unexpected fire burned up his spine and his vision washed white. He heard Nix’s shout, fierce and loud, his own cry, and then nothing else but the beat of his noisy heart.

***

He woke as if swimming to the surface of himself, coming up through the layers of hearing and feeling, and the first thing he saw was Nix, curled up next to him, gazing at him with sleepy eyes. 

He was covered, lying under his own jacket, still naked. Nix was wearing shorts and nothing else. 

Dick picked up the jacket and raised his eyebrow in question.

“Yeah, didn’t want you to get cold.”

Dick smiled back at him, too tired to tell him that he didn’t think he’d be cold ever again. His smile died and they lay there, looking at each other.

The sun had shifted and a small patch of light lay over them both, throwing red highlights off Nix’s hair. There was a long scratch on his shoulder and a dark bruise on the base of his throat. Dick touched the skin above the cut. “Did I do that?” 

“Your watch, I think.” Nix’s voice was hoarse, though Dick didn’t remember him shouting.

“Oh. Sorry.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Yeah.”

“Your arm all right?”

“Huh.” Nix held it up and they both stared at it. “I forgot all about it.”

Dick couldn’t help it. He grinned, then laughed out loud. His dreams had usually ended at the sexual release, but had they continued, he hoped he would have created something a little more romantic. Not gushing poetry or anything like that, just something less prosaic than a discussion of their relative health.

Nix reached over and touched his lower lip. “You really okay?” 

Dick closed his eyes, enjoying the brief touch, taking a quick catalogue of his body. “My throat hurts, my lips hurt, my back feels numb and, well,” he cleared his throat, “the insides of my thighs ache.” He opened his eyes and grinned at Nix. “But other than that…”

“The insides of your thighs, huh?” Nix stroked a line down the center of Dick’s chest. “I’ll have to take care of that later. “ He crawled under the jacket and settled down against Dick, half on, half off. “You hungry?”

Dick pulled him close and closed his eyes, memorizing the feel of his body for later, when he was alone. “I’m getting there.” 

“What’d’you bring?”

“The usual.”

Nix sighed. “It’s a good thing the war is almost over. My stomach can’t take it anymore.”

“You should just ask your mother to send you some food instead of all that fancy clothing.” He knew it for a mistake the minute he spoke, but it was too late. Nix flinched and turned his head away. “Lew—”

“No, it’s all right.” He grinned, but Dick could see the effort behind the smile. “That’s the nice side of the war, forgetting them for a while. It’s okay.” 

Not sure how to deal with this hurt because the history was so old, only sure that he had to try, he said, “I promise not to speak of your family for the rest of the day.”

His little joke fell on deaf ears; he could hear it in Nix’s flat tone when he muttered, “Nah, doesn’t matter. They’ll still be there, no matter what.”

Dick hugged him tight. One of the things that had gotten him through the war was his family; one of the reasons he’d joined up was to keep them from harm. Nix had told Dick a few stories about his life, about growing up rich. Dick didn’t believe all of them, but even if some of them were true it sounded like Nix’d had an odd sort of childhood. 

Dick’s opinion was that Nix’s parents had thrown money at him because they had no love to give. Not an unusual story, but a sad one. And doubly so, now that his feelings for Nix had changed, now that he could be angry for him, as well.

But it was one of those things they didn’t talk much about. Dick just didn’t see the point in calling too much attention to the differences in their lives. What good would it do anyone?

“C’mon,” he squeezed Nix’s hip. “Let’s see what we can cook up.” He pulled away and leaned over the bed to fish for his shorts.

Nix groaned but rolled out of bed to gather up his clothes. 

Dick slipped on his shorts and got up to find his pants. Nix had a strong arm—they’d ended up on the far end of the room, near the stairs. He picked them up and stifled a grin. He couldn’t fix Nix’s problems, but he could at least ease the pain. 

So he held his trousers up and said, as annoyed as possible, “My pants are dusty.” And then shook them for good measure.

Nix paused in the middle of pulling on his shirt. He stared at Dick for a beat before catching on. He burst out laughing, then rushed across the room to tackle Dick. They grappled as they each tried to get the upper hand, laughing all the while. 

He’d always loved playing with Nix like this, like puppies or maybe lions, and he stopped laughing when his happiness overflowed. He pulled Nix to him and buried his face in his neck. Nix understood immediately. He stopped his rough housing and held onto Dick, just as tight. They stayed there for a moment, embracing.

Finally, Nix drew back. “You finish up. I’m gonna go outside to have a smoke.” He gave Dick a bruising kiss, then trotted down the stairs as he pulled on his shirt.

Dick pulled on his pants and buttoned them up. He started to bend down for his undershirt, then gave into an almost chagrined nostalgia—he went to the bed and fell back on it, stretching his arms and legs. 

He felt energized and alive, as if he’d just had a nice long swim in the Zeller See. He ran a hand over the messy sheet and closed his eyes. Lunch would take maybe thirty minutes, give or take. Which meant it might only be another forty-five minutes before they’d be back up here. 

He smiled, sprang to his feet, and finished dressing.

***

“Want more?” Dick nodded to the pot of potatoes and peas.

“No thanks.” Nix lit a cigarette and tucked his lighter back in his pocket. “A little of that goes a long way.”

“Yeah.”

They’d chosen to cook and eat out on the back porch, mostly because of the view, but also because Dick didn’t trust the ancient stove. He figured if the fire got out of control, it would be easier to contain it outside rather than in. 

Because in the space of two hours, even though the house wasn’t theirs, it had become a special place and he wanted it to stay intact. Besides, if things didn’t go as planned and the 101st ended up quartered in Austria for a while, he and Nix might get a chance to return.

He leaned back against his corner of the railing and closed his eyes part way. Nix hadn’t bothered to button his shirt and he looked sexy and carefree. There was a little fold in his belly, a soft curve of muscle—he was gaining back the weight he’d lost in Bastogne. How amazing to know what his body felt like, what his mouth tasted like. That, if Dick wanted, he could lean over and steal a kiss, just like that. 

“What are you smiling at?”

Dick’s smile broadened. “Just you.”

“Something good?” Nix gave him an answering grin. 

“Yep.”

Nix threw his cigarette away and held out a hand. “C’mere.”

Dick scrambled up and straddled Nix’s lap. It was awkward and he was probably too heavy, but he didn’t care. His body was starving. All over again. 

Knowledge and familiarity were useful assets—already he knew where to squeeze, where to press. He shifted his hips and Nix closed his eyes with sigh. “Oh.”

Dick bent and kissed the thin skin above his collarbone, then slid his shirt off his shoulders. He tracked the line of muscle with his lips and rocked his hips again, loving the way Nix groaned and pushed up in response. He wanted to tell Nix how beautiful he was, how glad he was that this had happened, but all he could manage was, “Let’s go back in.”

“Sure.” Nix sounded dazed. “In a minute…” He brought Dick’s head up and they kissed, open mouthed, somehow sweet and not sweet, both at the same time. “Yeah. Okay.”

Dick got up, dragging Nix with him and started for the door.

“What about…” Nix stopped and gestured to the rest of the meal.

“The fire’s out. It’ll keep.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Lew—” Dick jerked on Nix’s hand, not wanting to hear about dead fires and leftover food. His body was thrumming with energy and desire and even though he’d only waited a little over an hour, it was already an hour too long.

***

Much to Dick’s delight, the second time around Nix used his mouth, saying he needed to make sure Dick’s thighs weren’t too sore, that he probably should kiss them and make them better. 

He lay there in a patch of sun, legs spread wide as Nix licked and swallowed, trying not to clutch too hard or moan too loud, sure that nothing could be so good. Not even Heaven. 

**

It was late. They’d left their departure for as long as they’d dared and the sun was angling towards the horizon by the time they’d packed their gear and headed out. 

Like the drive up, they spoke little. Nix slouched in his seat, only this time he didn’t smoke. Whether it was because he wasn’t in the mood or he was out of cigarettes, Dick didn’t know. 

At one point, Nix pointed out a road that he and Harry had taken because it supposedly led to an enormous bunker. In reality it had led to a simple hunting lodge that was so old it was falling apart. Dick, in turn, pointed out a herd of deer that charged up a steep hill after being startled by the jeep. 

But other than that, they were quiet, under the sway of a silence that Dick could only label as moody.

His earlier energy had muted and he was about as tired as he’d ever been. But it was a curious tired: every muscle in his body felt loose and liquid, as if he’d been pulled apart and then put back together again. It wasn’t an entirely pleasant sensation and he remembered his confession to Nix—was only two days ago? 

Like Pandora’s box, had he opened something inside himself that he wasn’t going to be able to handle? Was this going to take over his life? Already the yearning he’d thought sated was returning, and right now, circling the lake, within sight of Zell am See, all he wanted was to whip the jeep around and go back to the cabin so he could drag Nix up to that room and crawl inside him forever. 

Which wasn’t going to happen. Pretty soon he’d be back with the men, back on track to Japan. Back to schooling all his facial expressions, his physical reactions. Keeping certain thoughts under lock and key. 

There was no use whining—he’d known this was how it was going to be, that the afternoon was playing hooky from real life, and he’d have to put that part of himself away. It was just before, he’d never known anything else…

And now he did.

The knowledge dulled the fading sunshine even more, tingeing the soft light with a shade of sadness, not joyfulness. And he realized he was already reviewing the day as if looking through a photograph album like his mother did back home, sighing for the good old days. 

He shifted in his seat and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, impatient with his internal grousing.

“What’s the matter?” 

“Nothing.”

“Uh-huh.”

Dick shrugged. 

Nix turned to face him. “If Iknow you, which I do, right now you’re over-thinking things. You’re trying to convince yourself that this was all a mistake, a one-time thing. Or,” he pointed an accusing finger, “you’ve decided that it’ll be too dangerous.”

“You know me so well.” 

Dick’s tone was gently mocking, but Nix ignored it. “Yeah, well too damn bad, Major Winters, I’ve got my hooks in you and I’m not throwing you back.” He leaned closer, the sarcastic humor draining from his eyes. “Anyway, you know it’s too late for us, right? We couldn’t go back if we wanted?”

“I know.”

“You don’t want to, right?”

“No, Lew, I don’t.”

“Well, then.” Nix straightened up. “I guess we’ll just have to take it as it comes, just like we always have.”

“Yeah.”


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

July 2nd


Nix was waiting for him in the courtyard, lazing about in a jeep, smoking one of his infernal cigarettes. He gave Dick a sharp glance and asked, “How’d it go?”

Dick shook his head. “Denied.”

“Damn.”

He didn’t sound all that upset and Dick hid his grin as he leaned on the hood of the jeep. When he’d told Nix that he was going to put in for an early transfer, Nix had argued, then grumbled. Then, after two days of giving Dick the silent treatment, asked when they were going. Dick had wanted to kiss him, but they were surrounded by the men, so he’d settled for a small smile.

A jeep full of lieutenants drove by. Dick returned their salute, then looked up at the sky. Clouds had been gathering all afternoon—it actually looked like it might rain and a little frisson of anticipation tightened his belly.

“Are you going to protest it?”

He shrugged, still looking up. “Won’t do any good.”

“You sure?”

Dick said nothing because there was nothing to say. General Chapman had said it for him, as hard as it was to hear: the men needed him; he’d done enough.

“You okay?” Nix asked cautiously and Dick nodded, remembering Nijmegen. He’d had that same tone—confused by Dick’s mood, unsure how to deal with it. Sometimes it was a wonder they got on as they did, they were so different. 

But—he unbuttoned his jacket and stretched—it didn’t matter. They did get on and he thanked God for it.

He turned and really looked at Nix for the first time. He’d announced at breakfast that he’d be waiting, prepared to give a statement had the General required it, so he was decked out in his dress uniform. He looked good. Better than good, and Dick smiled. “It’s probably for the best. Who knows what these clowns would do without me?” 

“You got that right,” Nix muttered, then threw his cigarette away and jerked his head to the lake. “You ready?”

Dick followed his gaze. Speirs was down on the parade grounds, waiting for him to make his weekly inspection. Nix had offered to come along—because he was bored, he’d said—but Dick knew it was because they hadn’t seen each other much in the past week.

He scanned the courtyard, pretending to look at the sky again; no one was watching. He slid closer. At this distance he couldn’t feel Nix’s body heat, but he could smell his aftershave and the familiar scent triggered a warm curl of desire.

It had only been two weeks—sixteen days to be precise—and even though the time had gone by quickly, right now it seemed forever. 

“Lew…” This was dangerous. Stupid and dangerous. “Most of the men will be in town tonight, getting drunk, celebrating Okinawa. I was thinking…” He glanced sideways.

“That we should do our own celebrating?” Nix’s expression hadn’t changed, but he shifted in the seat and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“It’s probably a really bad idea, but—”

“No, it’s not,” Nix interrupted. “It’s about the best plan you’ve had in months.”

Dick swallowed a laugh and looked around once more. There was probably such a thing as too paranoid. “After zero one hundred? My room?”

Nix straightened up and gave him a sloppy salute. “Yes, sir.”

Muttering, “Smart aleck,” Dick kicked his leg gently and circled to the jeep to get in the other side.

***

“Time to go?” Nix’s breath was warm against Dick’s chest.

“Yeah. It’s almost four.”

Nix sighed.

Dick embraced him tightly and agreed, “Yeah.”

This had been their second go. 

The first, taking place at approximately two minutes after one, about fifteen seconds after Dick had locked the door, had been quick, silent. They didn’t make it to the bedroom. Ten steps in, Nix had grabbed him and that was that. They were clumsy and eager and when they both tried to take Dick’s pants off at the same time, they ended up on the floor. They stayed there, in the middle of the bedroom doorway, too hungry to let go. 

Afterwards, still trying to catch his breath, Dick had dragged Nix up and they’d stumbled to the bed and fell on it. He let Nix sleep for a half an hour before waking him up by simply rolling on top and kissing him until he opened his eyes. Until he groaned and wrapped his legs around Dick’s hips and pulled him close.

That second coupling had been slower, more lazy, but no less intense. Pleasantly exhausted, Dick lay there while Nix dozed in his arms, listening to the rain. 

It had begun to pour around midnight and it was still coming down. ‘In sheets,’ his mother would say. Dick wanted to open the balcony doors to let in the scent of water on stone, but couldn’t risk it. No matter; he could hear it, and the occasional clap of thunder, and it made him happy.

He hummed contentedly and kissed the top of Nix’s head. “We can’t make a habit of this.”

Nix nodded, his breath tickling the hair on Dick’s chest. “No.”

“Did you see the letter?”

“The one on your dresser? Yeah.”

“It’s from Guarnere.” And just the mention of Bill’s name had Dick stirring restlessly. “Lew, I’ve been thinking…” 

“Hmm?”

“The men. I need to do something about them. Like Malarky. I’m not sure he’ll survive Japan.”

Nix craned his head to look up. He didn’t ask what Dick meant; he knew that Malarky had been through the ringer—they’d discussed it often enough. “Well, what are you going to do? He doesn’t have the points, does he?”

“No.”

“Have you talked to him?”

“No.”

“Have you talked to Strayer or Sink?”

Dick just looked at him.

Nix shrugged and admitted, “Yeah, okay, that was a stupid idea.”

“So what I was thinking…” Dick hesitated.

“Yeah?”

“What if we pull some strings and get whoever we can stationed here in Europe or Stateside. Definitely Malarky. Maybe Lipton and Bull.”

“We?”

“Yeah, you’re the operations guy. I could use your help with this.”

Nix leaned up and kissed him. And then laughed when Dick rolled them to their sides and flung a leg over his hips. “I thought I had to leave?”

“You do.” Dick stole a kiss. “In a bit.”


______________________________


“Sir! Captain Nixon, sir!” 

Lew looked up from his coffee cup to find Zielinski winding his way through the mess hall tables with a serious face and a package held tight in his arms. He sighed. The caffeine was clearing his head, but still, he was hoping for a bit more time before he actually had to do anything. “Yeah, what is it?”

Zielinski pursed his lips at the informality, and held out the package like he was holding the crown jewels or something. “Major Winters asked to have this delivered to him, ASAP.”

“And you want me to hunt him down?”

“I was assuming you’d be seeing him soon, sir.”

Lew was glad Dick was nowhere near—he’d have turned bright red, even at such an innocuous statement. He smiled and took the package.

“Thank you, sir.”

He nodded an absent-minded goodbye and lifted the package. It was bulky, but not too heavy. He gulped the last of his coffee and got up. 

The ridiculously grand lobby was empty as he strolled to the side entrance where Harry was waiting.

A fresh breeze met him at the door. It held a scent of pine, reminding him of Heydrich’s cabin, and he drew a deep, happy breath. Time to enjoy it while it lasted. From every report, every newsreel, Japan looked to be hell on earth—hot and humid, thick with pests and disease. Dick had been taken aback by the pictures of the soldiers wearing only trousers or even just their skivvies. He’d frowned, saying that U.S. soldiers should be in uniform at all times. 

After a short exchange of opinions, Lew had gotten him to admit that adapting to one’s surroundings was a survival skill, but he’d ended by saying almost primly that he would never step outside his hut without shirt, pants and helmet. Lew had made a face and thought privately that if he was going to Japan there ought to be some benefits, and working side by side with a stripped-down Dick Winters better be one of them. 

He grinned at the memory and then grinned again when he found Harry, sitting on the steps, head back and eyes closed, arms around his knees. He had a soft smile on his face—probably dreaming of Kitty and her white parachute dress.

“Good breakfast?” Harry smirked up at him without opening his eyes.

Lew sat and tossed the package down next to him. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “The food is the another thing I won’t miss when this is all over.”

“Toccoa wasn’t so bad.”

Lew coughed around his cigarette. “Are you kidding? It scarcely deserved the name, ‘food.’

“Yeah, well at least we weren’t getting shot at while we ate.”

“I suppose.” He exhaled and watched the smoke drift upwards.

Harry shook his head, eyes still closed.

Lew followed his lead and dropped his head back against the railing, closing his eyes against the bright sunshine. 

Happiness was like a drug, he’d decided just days ago. More habit-forming and seductive than any wine or scotch. Just the mere thought of Dick—happy, sad, moody or pissy—had Lew smiling like a fool.

He schooled his face, erasing the grin before it could appear, dumbing the sigh that wanted to escape. Harry wouldn’t notice, but just in case…

The last time he’d seen Dick, just hours ago, he’d been so happy, so relieved the men were getting transfers, that he’d done the unthinkable—he’d snuck into Lew’s bed. 

His happiness had spilled over there, as well. Lew had felt it in his kiss, the way he held on longer than usual, as if doing his best to meld the two of them together. 

Shifting a little, Lew pressed his hand against his neck, casually, cautiously. On the brink of coming, Dick had bitten him hard, right at the crook of his neck. And then spent the next half hour apologizing, as if Lew had minded in the first place.

“You’ve been smiling a lot, lately.”

Trust Harry to see what he wasn’t supposed to see. He glanced sideways. Harry was squinting at him, inquiringly. “Yeah?”

“Yep. Noticed it the other day. You find yourself a fraulein down in town?” 

Lew smirked. “Harry, there are always frauleins.” 

Harry giggled, slapped him on the knee, and settled back again. 

Lew exhaled and peered through the cloud of cigarette smoke. He hadn’t lied; not really. From the time he was fifteen, there had been frauleins. But not anymore, not for him. Because while there girls everywhere, there was only one Dick Winters.

He smiled against a joy that was almost pain and tucked the package under his arm. “You seen Dick?”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, he’s down there, freezing his ass off again.”

“That’s what I figured. The man sure does like his swimming.” They shook their heads at Dick’s fondness for exercise and Lew stood up. He strolled down the stairs, waving goodbye.

“Hey,” Harry yelled after him, “You going to ask him about Japan?”

Lew paused and turned. “Nah, I’ve got another question for him. Want to see what he thinks.”

Harry opened his mouth, but Lew just waved again and kept going.

He met no one on the path, which was just as well. He’d planned, if he came across anyone, to send them off with a bogus errand just to make sure he and Dick weren’t disturbed. It was important that they weren’t disturbed.

He shoved a hand in his pocket and kicked a branch out of his way. He’d already practiced his speech, but he went through it again. He was pretty sure he had it down, but just in case…

The perfect blend of logic and need. That way, he wouldn’t spook Dick, but his intentions would be clear. He didn’t thinking he’d overdo it. Dick was a reasonable man and this was a reasonable suggestion. Besides, Lew knew the look of love on a man’s face when he saw it, and Dick was in love.

He found him on the edge of the retaining wall and he paused behind a tree, not wanting to be seen just yet.

How many times had he stood back, watching while Dick gazed into the distance, lost in his thoughts, worrying about something, mad about something, or just plain enjoying something? Toccoa, Aldbourne, Eindhoven, Arnhem, Hageunau…

Hands on his hips, looking out at the lake, Dick stood posed as if for a photograph. The line of his body was relaxed but held that grace and power he never lost. To Lew, he was the embodiment of everything a man should be, everything a soldier should be. And the very fact that Dick had let him in, that he’d had all that strength under his hands… 

It wasn’t just sex. It was a connection, a binding, so deep and permanent that it continually frightened and amazed him. In his most private moments, moments he would never tell anyone about, not even Dick, it made him believe in God.

He looked beyond to the green lake, remembering a day, just a few months ago, when he’d stared out over the same waters, bemoaning his life and his future, sure of nothing except that the only thing he wanted he was never going to have. Well, fate sure as hell showed him. Walked right up and hit him over the head with a future he hadn’t the courage to dream of.

A future he was going to grab with both hands and never let go.

Clearing away the emotion from his throat, his eyes, Lew pushed away from the tree and strolled down the rest of the path. He put on his best devil-may-care face and called out as casually as he could, “I thought it might be you.”



fin.

 


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

Story notes:
Richard Winters/Lewis Nixon
Band of Brothers
29,000+ words
Episodes referenced: mostly Points
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me

Many thanks to Dlasta for the look-over and Klia for the thorough, and speedy, proofing.