Through the fog of sleep he heard a rustling noise as the mattress moved and dipped.
Lipton uncurled to look up at the figure leaning over his bed. Thin moonlight streamed in through the broken slats that covered the window and at first he couldn’t actually make out any details. But he’d recognize that husky whisper anywhere.
Captain Speirs gestured peremptorily towards the wall and said again, “Move over.”
Lipton was tired and sick—he’d been so for weeks—but he wasn’t so tired and sick that he’d become delusional. “Captain?”
With a huff of impatience, Speirs hung his rifle on the bed frame and pushed Lipton towards the wall, wool blankets and all. He sat down and began to calmly unfasten his harness.
Wondering if his pneumonia had taken a turn for the worse, if he was dying after all but no one had wanted to break the bad news, Lipton opened his mouth to ask what was going on, but the words weren’t there—they were stuck in his throat by the surprise of it all. Because there was only one reason why Speirs would remove his gear, one reason why he’d make extra room in the bed.
He watched, dizzy, more confused than ever. Speirs behaved as if undressing in preparation of sharing a bed was a nightly event, one so common they didn’t even need to speak of it.
Which was insane. Even taking into account the way Speirs had been behaving since Rachamps. And Lipton, he’d gone along with it, hadn’t he? He sure as hell hadn’t pulled away every time Speirs had touched his arm or shoulder or back.
So he waited, body rigid, breath held in suspense to see where Speirs would stop. And let out a sigh when he went no further than his harness and boots.
He wasn’t disappointed that Speirs had stopped there—he wasn’t. He didn’t want to see Ronald Speirs naked no matter how much he admired and respected him. He really didn’t, and he sighed again, mostly at his own contrary thoughts because he couldn’t help the tiny sigh of disappointment.
The sigh was a mistake, though. Because it turned into an itch and then to a cough.
Pneumonia, he’d discovered as he grabbed his chest against a cough that was violent and painful, was a very tenacious enemy. He’d been sleeping his days away, taking it easy, drinking coffee and tea until he was sick of both but none of it helped.
What did was something he’d discovered days ago: that if he concentrated hard enough and controlled his breath just so, he could sometimes make short work of the coughing jags. Tonight his control must’ve taken a powder because he found himself curled up in a ball, the pain so sharp it felt as if his lungs were being scrubbed out with a pinecone. It hurt so damn much and surely his lungs must be raw by now?
“Here. Come here.” Strong arms wrapped around him from behind and he was pulled upright until he was sitting, propped up against Speirs’s chest.
They sat there, back to front, while he tried to still the convulsions that wracked his chest.
Finally, just when he was worried that he might actually not be able to stop this time and he could taste the faint tang of blood, his lungs calmed down and the need to cough died. He took a cautious breath as his exhaustion returned tenfold like it always did when he’d had an attack. He felt blank and weak, and all he wanted to do was huddle into Speirs’s heat for a moment, but that was foolish—he wasn’t a child and this wasn’t a nursery.
He took another small breath, preparing to move when Speirs whispered, “No, give it a minute or you’ll start up again.”
Lipton thought to argue, even came up with the first few words, but as he opened his mouth, his body gave in. He sank back until his head was on Speirs’ shoulder and the curve of his spine against chest and belly.
He could feel Speirs’ hot breath on his cheek, hear the ticking of his wristwatch. And fainter, much further away, he heard the low laughter of the men in the big salon down the hall. He knew he should move away or at least make some token signal of autonomy if only to break the spell he was under, but he couldn’t. Speirs had begun to stroke his arm, over and over, and it was nice, having someone take care of him, having someone touch him. It had been so long.
He was half asleep when Speirs gently guided him down until he was on his side. He took a wonderfully clear breath and asked sleepily, “Is this what Tercius would have done, sir?”
Speirs spooned up behind him and dragged the heavy weight of the blankets over them both. “Screw Tercius.”
Lipton pushed back into the curve of Speirs’s body, warm and at ease. “Yes, sir.”
Speirs said nothing. He just hooked his arm around Lipton’s waist and tugged him close.
Lipton fell asleep to the sound of Speirs’s low, steady breath and the ticking of his wristwatch.
The next morning he woke up alone.
He rolled to his back and ran his hand over the side of the bed that should be warm, not cold, wondering if it had been a dream.
Hoping it hadn’t been because that would say some disturbing things about his state of mind, he got up and set about the day, feeling better than he had in weeks.
After lunch, he had an argument with Luz about rest. Luz wanted him to take a nap, Lipton wanted to go for a walk. Finally telling Luz that it wasn’t any of his business anyway, he stomped out into the white afternoon.
Easy had arrived in Haguenau after he was over the worst of the pneumonia, but he didn’t remember much of the town. Other than it was beat up, gray and dirty, like every other town they’d been stationed in.
He set out, keeping away from the riverside and exposure to German bullets. He managed to walk two blocks before he came across Winters, Nixon and Speirs. They were discussing the upcoming recon mission; he stopped to say hello and ask for any new orders.
Listening to Winters but watching Speirs, he couldn’t detect anything unusual and he was sure then that it had been a dream.
Suddenly exhausted, he waited until Winters finished, then left, slowly hiking back to the CP. He was strangely out of sorts and when he got in, he told Luz that he’d been right after all and maybe a nap would be a good idea.
By bedtime he’d convinced himself that the night before had been a figment of illness and some odd, war-related stress. And that he couldn’t even want it to happen again because it hadn’t happened in the first place.
He was in bed, trying to fall asleep, when he heard footsteps outside. The door opened slowly and in an instant he knew it had really happened, that he had happily slept all night in the arms of a superior officer without waking once. And that it was going to happen again.
Not trusting his voice because his heart was in his throat, he kept his eyes turned as he flipped back the blankets and moved over to make room.
Those two nights set a pattern until the day Easy got the glad news that they were moving off the line and were leaving Haguenau.
The men all joined in as Winters shook his hand and smiled at him.
Lipton ducked his head and nervously folded the paper listing him as Easy’s new 2nd Lieutenant. He’d have to write home as soon as he could—ma was going to be so proud. “Thank you, sir.”
As always, Nixon was right next to Winters and he also held out his hand to add his congratulations. And then he chuckled, his humor reflecting the light-hearted atmosphere of the morning. For once they were all smiling, each man happy in his own way.
Speirs hadn’t smiled much, of course. He’d briefly turned up his mouth when he shook Lipton’s hand, but mostly he stood there, watching, staring.
Lipton thanked Harry and then nodded across the room to Luz who nodded back.
He was just getting ready to slip away to read the paper again in privacy of his own room when a quick pat on his chest made him look up. Speirs was standing right before him with a blank look in his eye. He tapped Lipton’s shoulder and jerked his head—go.
Down the hall, with Speirs right behind, fingertips on the small of his back. “Sir, where are we going?”
“Where do you think?”
They reached his room, their room. Speirs quickly looked around, then herded him inside and locked the door. And just like that, with the simple flip of a key, the mood of the day changed.
Lipton halted in the middle of the room. And then turned around. He tried not to crush the orders as he and Speirs watched each other across the space of ten feet. This had to be how a deer felt when the headlights of an automobile hit it full on.
Because Speirs was staring at him, eyes wide and dark, mesmerizing him into paralysis. His back was to the door and he was holding onto the knob with a white-knuckled grip as if the knob was the only thing keeping him from leaping across the room to—
Lipton cut the thought short, unwilling to define his thoughts further even though by now he had a pretty good idea what they’d been working up to.
He cleared his throat, needing to break the stalemate. Easy was supposed to be on the road in a while and if he was going to take this step, if he really was going to do this, he wanted something to tide him over for the long trip into Germany, and he wanted that something to last as long as possible. Even if it was just an embrace. Or a kiss.
“I never congratulated you,” Speirs finally said, his voice low and rough.
“No, sir, you didn’t.”
“And your pneumonia is better.”
It wasn’t a question, but Lipton answered as if it was, “Yes sir, it seems I’ve turned the corner.”
“Ron. My name is Ron.”
Lipton had never dreamed of anything like this for himself, but now that it was here before him, deadly and beautiful, he could only think, ‘Oh well.’
He dropped the orders and straightened his back in assent and challenge. “Ron,” he whispered and waited for lightning to strike.
In two long strides Speirs was before him, on him, pulling him close. There was a brief moment where Lipton smelled the familiar scent of ash and smoke and then Speirs was kissing him with a ferocious passion that was all the more wild because they really shouldn’t be doing this right now with the men not a hundred feet away.
Speirs’s mouth was hot and wet, bitter from the cigarettes he liked to smoke, as invasive as the rest of him. The taste unleashed the tight hold Lipton had on his good sense and he pushed closer, his body and hands already hungry for more.
He ran his hands under Speirs’ jacket then his shirt, scrabbling, searching and delving until he found a small patch of warm skin. Need rushed again, liquid heat and he moaned, opening his mouth wider, helplessly inviting and offering at the same time.
Speirs bit his lip and muttered, “Shh.” And then again when he ran his hand down Lipton’s waist to hip to leg, “Carwood, shh…”
Lipton moaned at the soft command, waiting for retreat but Speirs didn’t stop. And that was the important thing, that was all that mattered he thought as he wrapped his leg around Speirs’s until he was straddling Speirs’s thigh, almost off balance. Another long pause and then Speirs had hold of his leg, pulling him up and in and they were pressed together, too close to actually move.
He tipped his head back, inviting again, smiling when Speirs moved to his throat, kissing down…
He groaned, wanting nothing more than to complete what they’d so rashly started when he coughed, surprising them both.
He coughed again and the moment and lust were gone as he waited, hoping that was it. It was and he was soon able to mutter a chagrined, “Sorry.”
He could feel Speirs shake his head. “No. I should have known better. I just—” Speirs broke off and brushed a tentative hand over Lipton’s hair. His touch had changed the minute Lipton had coughed and Lipton sighed.
“I guess it’s just as well,” he said into Speirs’s chest, the scent of dirty wool bringing back the memories of comfort and warmth and stubborn desire. “We have to be on the road soon.”
“Yes. We do.”
He hesitated because he didn’t want to be the one asking, but Speirs was silent, so he ventured cautiously, “When, sir?”
“I don’t know. We should be in Germany in two days. Maybe then?”
Lipton nodded. Speirs didn’t sound very sure. Or upset about the delay.
But when he pulled free and backed up a few steps, he found Speirs watching with eyes that gleamed and burned, and a foolish smile escaped his lips.
A truck outside sputtered and roared to life and he smiled again, this time a little mocking—that had to be Fox—they were always too quick off the mark.
Speirs gave him a matching smile. “It’s a deal. We’ll take care of this in Germany.” He hesitated, then touched Lipton’s arm. “Just two things, 2nd Lieutenant.”
Speirs’s eyes had narrowed and he wondered what was coming. “Yes, sir?”
“When we’re alone, you cut the ‘sirs’ and the formal crap.”
Lipton grinned. “Yes, sir. And the second?”
“We’ve made a deal, you and I. There’ll be no going back.”
“No, sir. I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Speirs looked him up and down but said nothing more. He just grabbed his rifle and gear from the bed and was out the door without a single glance back.
Slowly, he turned in a circle, examining the little room that had been theirs for seven days. Pale, striped light streamed in from the boarded up windows, revealing the dust motes that whirled and dipped, the scattered snowfall of plaster that covered the floor, the bed.
He bent and picked up his orders. He’d stepped on them at some point—there was a boot print across the back of the flimsy paper. He rubbed at the mark, suddenly remembering a book his mother had given him when he was a young boy.
It had been his grandfather’s, bound in blue leather with faded gilt lettering across the cover and spine. It was a short story and he’d read it in one evening, unable to put it down even though it had scared him out of his wits.
“The Devil and Daniel Webster,” he muttered to no one in particular, remembering his fear, how he’d kept the bedside light on through the night even though his mother had scolded him for the expense.
He was no longer that young boy, jumping at shadows but even so, a chill crept across his neck at the memory of the tale about a misbegotten pact between Daniel and Satan himself.
From his recollection it had all ended well; Daniel had managed to save his soul from the Devil, even though the Devil had scored a few points, even though it had been touch and go for a while.
He smiled for the young boy he’d been and the man he was and carefully folded the orders and stowed them away in his pocket.
He shouldered his gun and pack, gave a regretful look to the silent bed, then walked out to join his men, thinking of deals and devils and a bit of heaven found in an unexpected place.
Carwood Lipton/Ronald Speirs
Band of Brothers
Episodes referenced: The Last Patrol
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me