Into the Woods

Landsberg, Germany

April, 1945


Seven to the north, four to the east, then another five to the south

Lew followed his own footsteps, indistinct outlines on the thick wool carpet, and tried to calculate how long it would take to pace away the knotted pattern. His mother had something similar, a Persian rug she’d inherited from his grandfather. It had a pale streak down the right side where too many feet had trod for too many years and it was at least seventy years old, give or take.

So it would take seventy, maybe eighty years to leave his mark. Lucky for him, there was no damn way he’d be stuck in this God-forsaken town that long. Lucky for them all.

He passed the desk, the chair, and stopped by the door. He touched the ornate brass knob as he’d done so many times already. And then he forced his hand away and went back to pacing. Again.

There wasn’t any place to go, anyway. It was late, after two, and except for the occasional rumble of a passing truck, the town was dead quiet. Which was what happened when martial law was in effect, he supposed.

He shouldn’t have turned down Harry’s invitation. At the time, poker had been the last thing he’d felt like doing and he’d been all right, earlier in the evening. But now… 

If only he could just settle down, just stop.

Seven steps to the window, four to the desk…

He made two more circuits around the room when the heat from his cigarette began to burn his fingers. He stalked to the nightstand and crushed the butt out with more force than necessary. And dropped down on the bed. He propped his elbows on his knees, and ran his hands through his hair. Maybe he was going crazy.

When he was eight, his Uncle Milton had gone crazy and had to be put away for a while. He didn’t remember much about it. Just his mother’s embarrassed frowns, his father’s anger, and a lot of hushed conversations behind closed doors.

But this was different, wasn’t it? It had to be. It had to be the awfulness of the day that accounted for his state of mind and not his questionable family sanity, because, fuck, it had been a messed up day.

From the time he was very young, he’d excelled at shrugging off unpleasant situations or events. From squabbles at home and later on, romantic troubles, life’s little problems had never bothered him much and it was always easy to move on.

Back in Sturzelburg, when he’d read Cathy’s letter and found that she’d taken advantage of time and distance to do what she’d been threatening for years, his first rush of anger had dissipated by the time Easy had driven two miles down the road.

But this, this mix of bitter rage was unlike anything he had experienced before—a jumble of fear, disgust, and somehow worst of all, a helpless grief that wouldn’t dim. 

And damnit, alcohol, his usual solace, had lost some of its power to numb. It was all Dick’s fault, of course—he made Lew want to be good. 

He’d tried, though. He’d scrounged what booze he could and made a dent in the volume, but it hadn’t done the job. Neither did sitting down at the desk to catch up with the operations reports that Sink and Taylor were waiting for. He’d lasted all of ten minutes before putting away his pen and papers.

The thing was, there was something that could help him sleep, something that was almost within shouting distance, quartered in the house around the corner. But that was no good because Dick deserved as much rest as he could get. After all, he’d had the same bad day.

The memory of bodies carelessly stacked like kindling slithered in and Lew wrapped his arms around his ribs, trying to crush the venomous rage that bloomed in his chest. But it was no use—it kept burning, white and rotten, and he wanted to yell or hit. Or weep.

He hunched over and told himself to hang tough, that it would be okay in the morning. That soon they’d be out of here and he could start to forget because that’s what always happened.

He drew a deep breath. Then another. But on the second inhalation, something gave way, crumpled, and broke free. He jumped up, grabbed his jacket and cigarettes and hurried to the door. 

Telling himself that he wouldn’t stay too long, that he just needed five minutes with the one person who understood, he hurried out the door, down the stairs, and out into the chilly Landsberg night.


. . . . . . . . . . .


Dick was trying to drift off, struggling to keep his mind on the things that usually helped him sleep—supply lists, his folks back home, passages from his favorite books—without a whole lot of success.

The room had grown cold, though the windows were closed fast and blanketed by drapes. The only sounds were the ticks from the ornate clock on the mantelpiece and the occasional hiss of the dying fire as it threw embers up the flue. His bed was soft and the comforter thick and warm. 

He was lucky that such accommodations were available, that his men weren’t under fire; he had no reason for his restlessness. And yet, every time he reached the edge of sleep, he jerked awake.

It was frustrating and he was wondering if he should just call it a lost cause and get up to review the schedule for the next pull out, when the heavy oak door opened with a protesting whine.

He rolled over to face the door, unafraid. There was only one person who would come calling at this hour.

Half hidden, still on the threshold, Nix was shadow-dark except where the weak firelight caught against his eyes and his captain’s bars. “Can I come in?” 

Without a word, heart beating faster, Dick moved to the cold side of the bed. It had been a little over a month since the last time. Not that long, really, and he hadn’t let the wish surface through the muck of the day’s thoughts. But he knew he’d been hoping that Nix would find a way to come to him. 

The fire danced and waved as Nix shut the door. He turned the key in the lock and went to the fireplace. His precise gestures and the way he avoided looking up as he shuffled across the room said that he wasn’t fall down drunk, but he wasn’t perfectly sober, either. 

He ignored Dick, and began to pick up the things on the mantelpiece, one by one.

Discretion was the rule by which they both lived. Dick had made sure they stuck to it. Tonight he was too tired and dispirited to care. Although it hardly mattered—he had the house to himself. Even Zielinksi was  out with his friends, getting drunk. Dick hadn’t tried to stop him because he couldn’t blame him—after Landsberg he didn’t think he’d ever get a good night’s sleep again…

hovels and trenches and box cars, and Nix calling his name in shock. ‘Dick?’

The parade of images traipsed through his mind again, images he couldn’t quite run away from. He knew it was too soon to expect obedience from his own mind, but he’d spent the last fourteen hours immersing himself in duty, pushing the memories out only to have them come charging back when his guard relaxed. 

It didn’t help that the exposure to the stink of burned and decaying flesh had invaded his uniform. When he’d gotten back to his quarters, he’d ripped off his clothing, changed, and stuffed the uniform into the bottom of his duffle. He’d get it cleaned as soon as possible, but it was still there. Out of sight, not out of mind.

With a sigh that sounded unbearably weary, Nix stopped his appraising and came over. He sat down on the bed, back to Dick, and tossed his cigarettes on the nightstand. “You’re not asleep.”


“You on your own?”


“I can’t either. Sleep, I mean. I keep thinking of those ovens. Those fucking ovens.” He tipped his head back and his voice dropped, sandpaper harsh, “How big would an oven have to be to hold a person? To hold a whole shitload of people?”

Dick made a helpless gesture, not sure how to answer; he was at a loss as to how to quantify such efficient, thorough, hate. He’d never run  up against the like and he couldn’t quite grasp the concept yet. Maybe in a few days or years, but not yet. He reached out, but didn’t touch. Nix was still turned away, shoulders hunched as if he was trying to crawl inside himself.

“I mean, who came up with the idea and who fucking engineered it?” Nix gave a laugh that wasn’t a laugh and shifted sideways so that Dick could see the side of his face.

He’d always thought that Nix could’ve been a movie star if he’d wanted that kind of life. Smooth, pale features, smoother personality; charisma, was what they called it. Charisma and charm and a certain magnetism. Tonight that charisma was gone, leaving him with blue-brown circles under his eyes and tousled hair that fell over his forehead like a kid.

“Can you imagine that on your resume? Most recent job: creating big fucking ovens to burn people up in.” Nix turned at last, twisting around to sit sideways on the bed, despair in the downturn of his mouth, in his blank, dark eyes. “Shit… Dick—?”

Dick tugged the comforter free, folding it back, offering the only comfort he had. “C’mon…”

With clumsy haste, Nix unlaced his boots and kicked them off, then stood and stripped off, dropping his clothes in a heap next to the bed. He crawled under the covers and Dick pulled him in. They came together like puzzle pieces, arms entwining above, legs lacing below.

He felt thin, almost fragile. As if he had lost twenty pounds and fifteen years in the space of a single day. Dick tucked his chin over his head, worried, because Nix was the cool one, the one that stood on the sidelines and kept his head when everyone else was running around in a panic. 

He ran a soothing hand down the cold slope of Nix’s back to the curve of his hip, and whispered, “Will this be enough?”

Nix stilled and then shook his head, his heavy beard abrading Dick’s throat.

“Then here, let me…” Dick twisted and stretched for his kit. He found the little jar of cream they’d used twice now. Both times in their foxhole outside of Foy when Dick had started to worry that they wouldn’t make it out alive. When Nix had finally talked him into it after months of saying he wanted it, that Dick couldn’t possibly hurt him.

Nix lay back and spread his legs under the covers. Dick shook his head slowly. Like the other, he hadn’t planned ahead, at least not consciously. But now he wondered if he’d been lying to himself about this as well, if he’d been waiting all this time because he didn’t even hesitate, “No, I want… I was thinking…” He shrugged, embarrassed, hoping Nix would get it.

And he did. His face changed, cleared and lost some of the blankness, as if he was only now waking up from a bad dream. He stroked Dick’s lower lip with his thumb. “Are you sure? I mean, I thought you said—”

“Yeah, I know what I said,” Dick interrupted. “But I guess I was wrong.” It burned, meeting Nix’s glance, but he managed.

Nix was silent. Long enough for Dick to hear his own words, long enough to start wondering whether he’d been fibbing when he said that it hurt, but it also felt really good.  

Finally, with a sound that could only be a groan, Nix sat up and pulled Dick to him, kissing him, almost biting.

“You need to turn over,” he muttered against Dick’s lips.

Without a word, Dick handed him the jar and rolled to his belly, shivering a little as his hands and feet turned unwillingly cold.

It felt like it took forever because Nix took his time. Spent long, silent, minutes just kissing the back of Dick’s neck, his spine, working down and down. He even kissed the back of his thigh, and Dick, not expecting it, gasped and thrust into the mattress.

With a muttered oath, Nix shifted  on top and Dick couldn’t help it: he tensed up, waiting. And then waited some more because Nix didn’t move. He just lay there, stock-still, and it came to Dick that he was trembling, barely. He reached for Nix’s hand, clenched in the sheet, and looked back.

Nix was staring down at their hands, squinting, as if he was observing a military maneuver from a far distance and wasn’t too sure about the outcome.

Dick knew what this was; he’d felt it both times. “You can’t hurt me.”

Nix jerked his head up. “What if I do?”

Asked almost diffidently, and Nix was never, ever diffident. Dick twisted awkwardly so he could touch his cheek. “I’m tough, Lew. I can handle it.”

Nix nodded, then brushed a kiss across his fingertips. “Yeah, okay. Only…” He dragged his dog tags over his head, then Dick’s, and tossed them both on the nightstand. “Just us, all right?”

Dick swallowed and nodded. “Just us.” 

Nix kissed his temple, then gently guided him back down. 

There was pain—a bit of it—before the pleasure came. But it was right, he thought, as Nix pushed and shoved through the grief they both shared. Somehow, it was complete and perfect and right.


. . . . . . . . . . .


By the time Lew slid off, slid out, the fire was mostly dead and the room was dark. Spent, exhausted, he rolled to his side and gathered Dick to him, turning him under the thick comforter so that they were loosely connected, hand to chest, knee to thigh. 

He really should get them both cleaned up. He never worried much about the detritus of sex and could always fall asleep, as is, but Dick hated it. 

He sighed, but before he could move, Dick ghosted a kiss across his forehead and whispered, “Stay there. I’ll do it.”

Lew watched him slip from the bed and pad to the dresser, his sleek form highlighted by the leftover fire. He wrung out the cloth, then returned and drew the covers back. He washed Lew methodically, tenderly, smiling when he grumbled at the cold. “That okay?”

“What do you think?” 

“I think, yes.” Dick washed, as well, and pitched the towel into the basin. He pushed and Lew moved over as he burrowed back under the covers. 

It took them only a brief moment to get situated. They’d done it so many times, it was second nature—Dick in front, Lew spooned up behind. Of course, they were usually separated by gear and sleeping bags. And they kept their arms and legs to themselves.

But not tonight and he sighed and kissed the back of Dick’s neck where a red mark was beginning to bloom. He’d gotten a little crazy, there at the end, but he didn’t remember using his teeth. He kissed the bruise again, apologetically. “Did I hurt you?”


Dick was lying, but that was okay because he hadn’t hated it—Lew knew him well enough to know that. “Good.” He hooked a leg over Dick’s thigh.

Who pushed back and murmured, “Can you stay a while?”

Nix nodded. “For a bit. Maybe ’til four or five.” 

Only a few hours, but it was better than nothing and he wouldn’t complain. He had Dick warm in his arms and his mind was blessedly free from the earlier rage. In its place was a heavy lethargy that only had room for the memory of Dick, his face flushed and beautiful, biting his lip to hold back his cries. 


“You know, Hansel and Gretel didn’t have a clue.” 

Dick cocked his head. “What?”

Lew shifted restlessly. “Hansel and Gretel. If they’d known what was in that house they would have never gone in. They would have never gone into those fucking woods in the first place.”

You can never go back and unknow. Once a particular door opened, there was only going forward. Lew knew this, just as he knew that the blackness of Landsberg was something he would never get over, but he’d have to get around. Somehow. 

Dick turned. Even in the dark, Lew could see his worried frown. “Are you all right?”

And that was the answer, Dick was the answer. He’d be there to prod Lew when he faltered. He’d be there to catch him when he fell.

He craned his head and kissed the corner of Dick’s mouth, then settled back down. “Yeah, I’m fine.”



Story notes:
Richard Winters/Lewis Nixon
Band of Brothers
2,800+ words
Episodes referenced: Why We Fight
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me