“No, we’re in a dell.”
Lewis doesn’t get to ask what the hell that’s supposed to mean because not a second later Dick is shoving him away and suddenly they’re all face down in the snow. They’ve been spotted. Because of the fire. Because they’re all fucking irrisponsible idiots. Except Dick, of course. Dick is a responsible, but constantly shivering idiot, so Lewis can cut him some slack for this one.
There is no sound but for war and dying. He always wishes he could cover his ears during these parts, like when he was little and the only sounds he knew of war were his mother and father arguing. Now there are guns and screams and sobs and exploding trees and ringing ears. If six year old Lewis only knew.
A tree blows apart far too close to their little huddle. It splits with the mightiest crack of thunder he’s ever heard.
They need to be in a foxhole. They need to be in a foxhole right fucking now. But they’re idiots.
He braces against the wet ground. The thunder stops but the war rolls on around them, as if caught in the eye of a hurricane.
That’s when he risks lifting his head just enough to check on Dick.
Forget the urge to cover his ears. He wants to gouge his own eyes out so he’ll never have to see something so horrible ever again.
They prepared him for getting shot at. They prepared him for bombs and foxholes and incompetent leaders. Hell, they even prepared him for going against human instinct by throwing himself out of a perfectly good airplane.
Nobody prepared him for watching his best friend die a slow and gruesome death.
After all, how could they? Who could’ve possibly foreseen the widely beloved Dick Winters meeting his end in this freezing hellscape of all places? Not Lewis. That’s for damn sure. And that’s his own fault. They’re in a war for Christ’s sake. Why the hell did he ever expect anything more than heartbreak and agony?
This scenario is so much worse than losing his own life. Infinitely worse. Dick is the one writhing on the ground. Dick is the one with a practically full-grown tree piercing his chest. He’s the one turning the moonlit snow a muddy crimson.
Lewis can’t breathe. Because it looks like Dick can’t breathe.
Harry screams for a medic. Peacock calls for a Jeep. Harry crawls over to Dick. Peacock runs away yelling for a goddamn fucking medic. Himself? He stares. It’s all he can do. The cold has finally frozen him in time here in the middle of a white and red wasteland.
Dick’s fingers instinctively find their way up to the foreign object embedded in his body, before Harry smacks them away and pins both hands between his own.
The war and the world move around them so quickly and so slowly. It’s amazing. He’s never felt anything like it. No amount of alcohol could equal this out of body experience. It doesn’t feel real at all.
If he didn’t know any better he’d say it was just a nightmare. He’ll be waking up hungover and grumpy in a foxhole soon. The white blanket of snow covering every inch in sight will blind him after crawling out of his dark little burrow. Dick will hand him a hot cup of broth. His insides will immediately thaw, not from the lukewarm drink but because of the redhead sunshine all his very own. His personal summer day with freckles and bedroom eyes. Dick will be visibly shivering and Lewis will want nothing more than to wrap his arms around him as tight as possible and never ever let go. Maybe he will. Maybe this will be the day—
Dick choking the name out past the blood starting to trickle from his mouth snaps him right the hell out of that downward spiral. Then there it is—the worst sight he’s ever bound to see:
Dick is scared.
His eyes are wide and wild. He flops around, back arching as Harry struggles to pin him down. The sounds he’s making. Jesus. It’s worse than war sounds.
Dick is afraid and that makes it real because he is just a human man dying young and painfully, so of course he’s scared, for fuck’s sake. It doesn’t matter how untouchable someone is, how virtuosic. They die just like everyone else. They drown in their own blood just like every other poor son of a bitch in a war zone.
Richard Winters is not immortal. Lewis is realizing that the hard way.
“Lew,” he gasps out again, this time sounding more panicked.
His best friend is lying there in the snow struggling to breathe and probably terrified out of his mind and Lewis is just sitting there like a widow in premature mourning. His body moves automatically in the same way it does when jumping out of planes. There is likely death ahead but he’s falling to the ground anyway.
“Hey. Yeah. I’m here. I’m right here,” he exhales, finally at Dick’s side opposite Harry. More and more blood pulses out with each strangled breath.
“Stay with us, pal,” Harry grits out when Dick starts making a god awful rasping sound. Fuck. Fuck.
“You’re okay. Just a scratch, right Harry? Doc’ll have it patched up in no time.”
That’s the line, right? Just a scratch, oh come on I’ve had worse, you can’t get outta here that easy. He’s heard it said countless times. They all know the script. They all know that once you hear those words you’ll probably be dead in two minutes tops. Even through unfocused eyes, Dick sees right through that bullshit and manages to throw an incredulous look his way. It’s such a normal gesture between them that a hysterical cackle erupts from Lewis’s throat.
Harry looks up sharply and for a split second he thinks it’s because of the poorly timed laugh. But no. It registers in an instant. Harry isn't holding Dick’s hands anymore. Beneath them, Captain Richard Winters, blood still clotting around his chest and leaking from his mouth, has gone completely still. Eyes closed, hands limp, deathly still.
Lewis blinks. Again, his body takes over. Puts his fingers under Dick’s nose, against his slack jawed mouth, checking for air. He thinks he feels a faint breath but he’s shaking so bad that he can’t be sure.
Touch him. Touch him. You’ll never be able to again, says a treacherous voice in the back of his mind. Another screams, yank that goddamn fucking stick out! The next immediately jumps in with that is the worst possible thing you could do right now.
Legs numb, heart broken, and mind fucked, he just lies down in the snow next to the half-dead, maybe full-dead love of his life. He situates his cheek against the ground right next to Dick’s ear and wraps an arm over his torso. It’s okay. It doesn’t matter who sees. It doesn’t matter anymore.
Harry’s screams for help are turning hoarse.
“Don't go,” his voice is foreign to his own ears. There’s no other circumstance in which he’s ever sounded this pitiful. Tears prickle at his eyes for the first time since he joined up. This is wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Not even close. “I love you so goddamn much, Dick. Don’t you dare leave me.”
Maybe he’d like to think the rage and despair pumping through his veins possesses him to do the unthinkable, but that’s not true. It’s because he just doesn’t give a shit. Not now.
He surges forward to press a kiss against any available surface of skin. A clammy, pale cheek. Red baby hairs stuck to a frozen temple. The corner of a bloody mouth.
And then Dick is ripped away.
Loaded into a jeep.
He throws up. The air around has gone quiet. Harry stares at him, mouth fallen open.
“What?” he snaps, voice like a gunshot cutting through the eerie silence. Harry shakes his head in a quick little motion. So that’s that. He’ll be greeted by a lovely blue discharge come morning and sent to an asylum. Or prison. That’s fine. Or he’ll just be shot like a dog. That’s fine too.
So he better see Dick while he can, even if it’s just to say goodbye to a corpse.
It’s hard to take the first step, easier to take the second, and by the third he’s pushing off in the direction of the field hospital. Terrified, empty, probably in shock.
He doesn’t stop--doesn’t have time. And he doesn’t care what degrading insult is about to fly from his friend’s mouth.
“I didn’t see anything.”
Well. That does make him stop.
“But if I had seen something…,” Harry pauses to take a big breath, “I’d say it was just a man trying to comfort his friend. We’re all brothers here. Right, Nix?”
So Harry Welsh has sympathy for queers. Maybe he’ll luck out of that bullet to the brain.
“Tell him I’m sorry, would ya? For the fire.”
By the time he reaches the field hospital, the sun is rising somewhere beyond a blanket of clouds.
A nurse is apparently very happy to see him when he asks after Captain Winters. Her face brightens and she exclaims in a heavy French accent, “Nixon? Yes? He asks for you. Stay? Care for him?”
That means he’s alive. That means he’s awake and talking and breathing. He tries to ignore the blood on her apron.
His throat closes up but he manages a small “Oui” before they take off.
The room is tiny but private. Captain perks. Wouldn’t want to bring morale down.
And there he is. Propped up on some pillows without a care in the world.
He’s alive. He’s alive and smiling and there’s no tree impaling him. Lewis is not religious, but in that moment he mentally thanks Dick’s god above for this stroke of sheer luck. A thin eyebrow quirks as if to say, so how about that?
“Jesus. You’re impossible,” It’s supposed to sound like an exasperated joke but it lands somewhere in the pure awestruck range.
“I’m shocked myself.” His voice is quiet and a bit slurred—maybe something to do with being stabbed by mother nature.
Dick may be alive and giving Lewis the softest smile he’s ever seen, but the poor guy still looks like he’s about two seconds from keeling over. His face is so pale it almost has a greenish tint to it, which contrasts nicely with his swollen red eyes. No one’s even bothered to clean the dried blood off his mouth and jaw. At least that gives Lewis something to do besides stand there bug-eyed.
There’s a sink in the corner. A wash cloth is already floating in rust colored water and his stomach turns when he realizes his best friend’s blood is what made it that way. It must be from where they cleaned the wound. His nose inhales sharply before his brain can command him to calm down.
Speaking is out of the question but Lewis does manage to start wiping lightly at the stained skin. As he’s finishing with the last bit of crusted blood in the corner of Dick’s mouth, that’s when he notices his vision has gotten so blurry that the world around looks like a smeared oil painting. He blinks and that does the trick because wetness immediately begins trailing down his cheeks. Christ. Maybe Dick won’t notice. Extremely wishful thinking considering Dick has been staring at Lewis’s face the entire time he’s been cleaning him up. Like he’s just been waiting for him to crack.
Dick notices. “Oh, Lew.”
Which only makes his eyes well up again. In an instant he’s being tugged down by arms that shouldn’t be near that strong considering what’s just happened.
He does as he’s told. Dick shuffles over in his tiny cot, wincing with each movement.
“Lie down. You’re exhausted.”
The door to the room is wide open. “What if someone—“
There’s a hand in his hair, slowly combining and petting.
“I’m okay. It missed everything important. The nurse already said I’ll be out of here in a few days.”
Dick pulls him into his bandaged chest and he resists because obviously. “Shh. Doesn’t hurt. Just a scratch right?”
So. Fine. He eases down to tuck his head under Dick’s chin.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Blood was coming out of your mouth, Dick. Jesus Christ, how are you still here?”
Lewis’s head starts bouncing against the chest below his ear because Dick is goddamn laughing. Rage, hurt, incredulousness, are all descriptors of what this man giggling about his own near-death makes Lewis feel.
“Are you hopped up on morphine or did you get impaled in the brain too? What’s so damn funny about any of this?” he raises up to glare and is simply met with a beautiful, mirth filled glow.
“I bit my tongue pretty bad when it hit me. Got a couple stitches, see?” he opens his mouth a bit so Lewis can look, and sure enough—a mangled tongue. That explains the slurring.
Dick huffs out a laugh again. “I guess it all looked a little dramatic, huh?”
“Yeah, I’ll say. Next you’ll tell me you just decided to take a nap and didn’t actually pass out.”
Dick begins to shrug, cringes, and quickly aborts the movement. “Shock, I guess. And it was hard to breathe. Felt like an elephant sitting on my chest. I was conscious, though.”
He tries not to think about what that implies. As if he didn’t just learn his lesson about not saying what you can while you have the chance. As if just this once, Dick living means they have forever now. As if, the humor in a bitten tongue aside, his love wasn’t a Jeep ride away from a death sentence.
Dick must notice his deep contemplation because he takes his hand. Yet again, he’s able to snap him out of his own head.
Stunned doesn’t even begin to cover it when he brings Lewis’s knuckles up to press against his lips.
“I don’t think I was the only one who looked dramatic though,” Dick whispers, grinning against his fingers.
Well what the hell is he supposed to say or do in reaction to that? Apparently his tear ducts decide it’s the perfect time to reactivate. He hides his face back in the cold, freckled skin. Gentle lips brush against his hair. Impossible. This impossible, wonderful man.
They don’t say anything for a long time. Dick drops kisses on his head and he returns them to the pulse point in Dick’s neck. There are no words for it. Lewis never knew it was possible to love someone this much. It’s scary. It’s incredible.
He’s almost asleep when the fingers in his hair suddenly come to a halt.
“I love you too. It’s gonna be alright. We’ll figure it out.”