Chapter 1: Raid
Before he enlisted, Eugene Roe already knew he wanted to be a medic. After hearing the army liked to train its medics from scratch, he lied on his application and said he had no prior experience. The army wouldn't appreciate the learning he had, anyhow.
He'd gotten what he wanted, because he had the most important attribute of a medic: he weighed less than the other paratroopers. The logic of the army decreed he could therefore jump while carrying more weight. Only the radio men carried more than the medics, so that job had fallen to Luz, who was even smaller than he was.
As soon as training at Camp Toccoa began, Eugene was using his skills, newly acquired and otherwise. The men sprained ankles, broke fingers, lacerated their skin. Their three greatest hardships—boredom, loneliness, and their commanding officer, Captain Sobel—made them susceptible to injury.
Within a few weeks, everyone in Easy company was calling him Doc. The hokey nickname didn't bother him, because it signified acceptance. Everyone had a nickname, except for Lt. Richard Winters of Easy Company, and Lt. Ronald Speirs of Dog.
Thanks to the U.S. Army's organizational conventions, Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was bookended by the Dog and Fox companies. They played baseball against Dog and Fox. Their barracks were flanked by the Dog and Fox barracks. They ran the three miles up Currahee with Dog ahead of them and Fox behind them. So even if the men of Easy wanted to, they couldn't avoid Lt. Speirs of Dog.
Winters didn't have a nickname because his men respected him too much; Speirs didn't have one because his men were afraid to give him one.
Doc had learned of Speirs's fierce reputation through his fellow paratroopers; personally, he found the lieutenant unfailingly polite. Speirs had even come to Doc's defense once, saying during a baseball game that a player should never be judged by his size, or lack thereof. Just because Speirs didn't have the warmth of Winters didn't mean he was off his head, as his men seemed to think.
Speirs must have a soul, for he sometimes helped the men of Easy get around Sobel's sadistic regime.
Four months after they arrived at Camp Toccoa, they desperately needed a break, but, due to invisible rust on a paratrooper's bayonet, Sobel had, for the tenth week running, revoked weekend passes for the entire company.
Winters was attending a two-week officer training course, so there was no one to talk Malarkey, Luz, Webster, and Liebgott out of leaving the camp on the sly. Doc went along to keep them out of trouble.
Once out of the camp, they met up with men from Dog, who had sane officers—and weekend passes. Speirs was with them. The men of Easy didn't tell the lieutenant their captain had revoked their passes, and he didn't ask.
They piled into two vehicles, Speirs's sedan and an old Ford truck belonging to a Dog Company sergeant, and made the ninety-five mile journey to Atlanta in under two hours. As they drank the night away in the city's taverns, the men of Dog covered for them, keeping their eyes peeled for the MPs patrolling the city's bars.
On the way back to Camp Toccoa, Doc rode up front in Speirs's sedan, as he was the only one other than the lieutenant who didn't stink to high heaven. The rest of the men had overindulged after a long dry spell, so Speirs wouldn't let them into his immaculate sedan. The green-faced paratroopers piled into the back of the Ford instead. At the last minute, Webster was deemed fit enough for the sedan's back seat.
Doc had had wild times in New Orleans as a teenager, so he no longer felt the need to overdo it. Whether Speirs had had wild times in Springfield, Illinois, Doc couldn't guess. He thought Speirs didn't drink to excess because he hated losing control, hated anything that gave someone an edge over him.
Their unauthorized trips to Atlanta became regular enough that the men of Easy called them "raids." Going on a raid kept a man sweet for about two months, before Captain Sobel's paranoia took its toll again.
Speirs had connections; he had gas coupons, and dressed in a new suit, new tie, new silk shirt. He offered to get the men duds if they wanted them, but only Webster and Liebgott took him up on it. Doc was reluctant to put himself in Speirs's debt. Speirs was the kind of man who would always call a marker in. Doc could feel it.
He could feel lots of things from the men. He couldn't talk about any of it, or they would think he was inspired by a bunch of Cajun voodoo. Doc knew it was God.
Before she died, his grandmother, a Cajun faith healer, taught him the prayers she said when she lay hands on someone. They both knew he was her successor; the gift always went from woman to son or grandson, or from man to daughter or granddaughter. His grandmother had no sons, and he was her only grandson. Still, she had wanted him to be sure of the calling, for a traiteur took on the pain of those he healed, giving God room to work in.
He wondered what pain he would feel if he laid his hands on Speirs. He would never find out, as a healer could not advertise. The patient had to ask for help, and Speirs would never ask Doc for anything.
Until March of 1943, the companies of the 506th were at each other's throats, striving to outdo the other. A little of their competitiveness left them when they arrived at Fort Benning for jump training. Each man would be competing against his own fears, not the other men.
Fort Benning was a welcome break, as their training was not overseen by Captain Sobel, who was getting his jump wings, too. Doc could see the captain sweating in the plane.
Like everyone else, Doc had to jump out of a plane five times to get his wings. As he was in a daze during the first jump, the second jump was the worst. The third, fourth, and fifth were fun, except for landing. Later, he would learn to release his pack just before he hit the ground, using it to break his fall.
All of Easy Company got their jump wings. With the entire 506th celebrating under Colonel Sink's nose, even Captain Sobel did not dare to interfere, so the newly minted paratroopers poured out of Fort Benning and into nearby Columbus, turning the whole town into a party, or as much of a party as they could manage during wartime rationing.
They ended up at a night club that still showed its speakeasy origins. It was a rabbit warren of small rooms, twisting hallways, and plenty of back exits.
Captain Sobel was not with them, thank Jesus. Sobel had probably told himself it would undermine his authority to fraternize with Easy Company, when the truth was he was uncomfortable around the men in social situations.
When Lt. Lew Nixon offered Doc some of his personal stock of brandy, Doc decided to have a taste. He preferred wine, but there was no longer any to be had from Nazi-occupied France.
Everyone was drinking except for Lt. Winters, who never drank. Guarnere thought it was because Winters was a Quaker. Doc, though, could feel their lieutenant's sobriety had nothing to do with religion. Winters didn't need the false sense of well-being that liquor provided; he had an inner calm that no amount of brandy could instill in someone like Nixon, who was flailing through life—even if he was flailing with style.
Winters was drinking tea, which someone had poured into a beer glass for him, so it looked like a dark ale.
Doc resolved to make his way over to Winters to congratulate him. Winters came to him first.
"Congratulations, Eugene," Winters said. He raised his tea in a toast.
Doc wondered if it would be safe to call his lieutenant Richard. He decided it wasn't.
"Thank you, sir."
They shook hands, and Doc was reminded that Winters had the best handshake of any man he had ever known. Winters held on just a bit too long, as if he hated to let go, and he stared right into your eyes, as if he cared about you.
In the crowded rooms, the already loud paratroopers got louder. Nixon came over and refilled Doc's glass.
"Did you hear yet? The Colonel is giving us all a ten-day furlough. New York City, here I come!" Nixon said.
Nixon, who'd had plenty of his own brandy, began to embrace everyone in Easy company, starting with Doc and Winters. The hugging broke out like a fever, even among the civilians, young women and old men, who were celebrating with them.
All the men of Easy were in dress uniform, wearing their wings proudly. The people of Columbus were already treating them like heroes. They were the first U.S. Army paratroopers, the new weapon that would break the back of the Nazi army. Hitler had the SS; they were better. They would win the war because they had God on their side. Doc could feel it. Any other outcome was unthinkable.
He saw Speirs get hugged by Nixon. No one else hugged Speirs, though Winters thumped him on the back. Doc didn't feel sorry for Speirs; the lieutenant had been singled out by God, given the gifts of a warrior. When they went into battle, Speirs would be their shining strength, and Winters would be their shining light.
After thinking that, Doc knew he was drunk. He was thinking like his grandmother, as if the forces of good against evil, light against darkness, were visible in their daily lives.
Doc struggled inwardly as Speirs walked towards him. Should he hug the lieutenant? Looking at Speirs, he thought no.
They shook hands while Doc hid his discomfort; Speirs didn't know his grip was painful. He was oblivious of others' suffering, because he put no store in his own suffering.
"I see Lew has been plying you with liquor," Speirs said.
"He's plying everyone with liquor," Doc said. "Especially himself."
Speirs smiled, reminding Doc that he almost never saw the lieutenant smile.
Speirs said, "When we leave this joint, come to me if you don't have a ride. It's a long walk back."
They both smiled at that; ten miles wasn't a long walk for any of them. Sobel's idea of a good time was twelve miles with a full pack every Friday night.
Doc could have gotten a ride from someone else, but when he saw Speirs alone in his sedan, he realized Speirs was the least likely to end up in a ditch that night. It was a short trip, anyway, just twenty minutes or so.
After he got in Speirs's car, they didn't talk. Doc found the silence oppressive. It was the first time he had ridden alone with Speirs. The '41 Chevrolet seemed as huge and empty as a church, so Doc decided to sing.
They were on a two lane highway, going south along the Chattahoochee River. It was pitch dark except for the car's headlights. As Doc sang, the trees rushed past, keeping rhythm for him.
"There's nothing small about your voice, Eugene," Speirs said.
Doc lost the tune as his skin was suddenly drenched with sweat. He could feel gooseflesh breaking out all over his body.
It was as certain as sunrise: Speirs was going to kill him, bury him in the woods in a hole in the ground. Years would pass, and the trees would creep in and sprout from his bones.
Is this what the other men felt around Speirs, that the lieutenant would do them harm casually and without remorse? Doc at last knew the men were right. Why hadn't he felt it before? Speirs was different from everyone else.
Speirs steered the sedan off the highway and into a thicket. The car, fancy like everything else Speirs owned, automatically leveled itself when he parked it and switched off the headlights, leaving the engine running.
When Speirs lunged at him with all the speed he had, Doc was sure the lieutenant was going to kill him, just for singing.
Speirs kissed him instead, and Doc was more relieved than shocked. He knew such men were commoner than people liked to think. In New Orleans, he'd seen men dressed as women, and their "gentlemen friends."
When Speirs gave him a chance to breathe, Doc said, "I like ladies."
He said it even though he hadn't proved it yet. He hadn't met a woman strong enough for him to love. All he'd known were girls, and he didn't want a girl. He wanted a lady.
Speirs took his hands off Doc, put his hands back on the steering wheel, and stared out through the windshield at the darkness. The sedan's engine rumbled quietly, like a great thinking beast.
"It's all right, Eugene," Speirs said. He switched on the headlights and eased the car back onto the highway. They were in Fort Benning ten minutes later.
And Speirs was all right.
Until they went to war.
Chapter 2: Consoled
Doc can't heal Speirs. Set during Carentan.
In the six days following D-Day, Easy Company destroyed a gun battery and took the town of Carentan. With Dog and Fox companies protecting their flanks, they pursued the German soldiers who had fled the town.
They found the Germans entrenched behind a centuries-old hedgerow, so they dug foxholes at the edge of a sparse wood facing their enemy.
Lt. Winters, now their acting commanding officer, was in a cautious mood. He informed the NCOs they would wait to see if the Germans attacked first; if Jerry did not, however, Easy Company would move on them before first light, at 0530.
All was quiet that night, not a single shot exchanged. Still, Doc Roe ran like hell when he heard the unmistakable cries of a man in pain. He followed the sound to Private George Smith's foxhole, where he found a moaning Talbert, the front of his uniform soaked with blood, and a horrified Smith.
Smith had dozed off and awakened to see a German—actually Talbert in raingear—looming over him. Before Tab could stop him, Smith had stabbed him with his bayonet.
Doc quickly dressed Tab's wounds. No arteries severed, no punctures in his lungs; he was going to be fine. But for now he was out of the fight.
Once Tab was safely on his way to an aid station, Roe returned to Smith's foxhole. Why had Smith lost his head? Did he have a wound keeping him awake nights? Many of the men hid minor wounds so they wouldn't be taken from the company—those that weren't cowards, that is.
He had just finished settling Smith when Lt. Speirs of Dog Company arrived at the foxhole. Speirs must have heard Tab's cries. Doc moved a ways off to explain to the lieutenant. He didn't want to describe what had happened in front of Smith and risk upsetting him again.
When he finished his tale, Speirs looked at him with the strange expression he'd had since D-Day. His eyes were wide and hyper-alert, but his face was otherwise dead.
"Did it occur to you, Doc, that the Germans might have infiltrated our lines? That you could have been walking into an ambush?"
"No, sir," Doc said. He'd learned paratroopers didn't need Germans to get wounded. They were pretty good at messing themselves up on everything from a cigarette lighter to the jagged edge of a can.
"I heard a story about you in Carentan," Speirs said.
"What, sir?" He'd been too busy that day to stop and think. While the casualties had been heavy on D-Day, the men had been spread out to hell and gone, so he'd come upon only a few wounded. In Carentan, it had all taken place right under his nose. Lt. Winters had been one of the last men to be hit.
"I heard you went out into a street, where men were dropping like flies from sniper fire, to take care of the wounded," Speirs said.
Doc shrugged. That was a story? It was his job.
"None of the other medics did, Eugene," Speirs said. "I think your voice isn't the only big thing about you." He tapped Doc on the shoulder, then disappeared into the trees.
Doc made his way to the aid station to verify Tab was all right, then returned to the foxholes dug in at the front line. He spotted Blithe and Martin and stopped to talk.
Blithe had come down with hysterical blindness after Carentan, his mind's way of telling him he was seeing things he wasn't fit to handle. Thanks to Lt. Winters, Blithe had mastered his fear, but Doc was worried his blindness might return once the Germans opened fire on them.
He managed to get Martin out of the foxhole so he could talk to him about Blithe.
"I sent Blithe to check out a noise. Somebody wailing. You know what it was, Doc?" Martin asked.
Doc explained about Tab, reassuring Martin that his wounds weren't serious.
"Lt. Speirs came back with Blithe. Gave him the strangest speech," Martin said.
"What'd he say?" Doc asked, alarmed. Blithe was in no shape for strange speeches from anyone, much less Speirs.
Martin gave him the exact words.
Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends on it.
Doc left for his own foxhole, angrier than he had been since Captain Sobel had tried to court martial Winters. Sobel was gone now, transferred, thank Jesus. He should talk to Speirs, reason with him.
"Flash," a voice challenged him.
"Thunder," Doc replied. He peered into the darkness.
Lt. Speirs stepped forward until Doc could pick him out against the backdrop of trees.
Speirs was a walking armory, .45 in his belt, rifle in his hands, grenades dangling off his chest. The inevitable Lucky Strike hung from his mouth. They had been issued two cartons on D-Day; everyone seemed to be out of cigarettes except for Speirs.
"Sir. I need to ask you a favor. Don't say anything more to Blithe. He's not doing so well," Doc said.
"One of the walking wounded?" Speirs said. His dead expression changed briefly to a smirk.
Doc's temper had never been one of his strong points. He lost it. "Just stay away from my men, do you hear?"
"Your men?" Speirs asked.
Doc corrected himself. "Lt. Winter's men."
"It's all right, Eugene," Speirs said. "They're just as much yours as his."
Doc finally made it to his foxhole. It was nearly midnight, and he had to get at least a couple of hours of sleep, but worry about Blithe and Smith consumed him. Since he couldn't sleep, he decided to do one more round.
He moved well back behind the line, so he could approach the foxholes from the rear. Might help keep him safe from jumpy men with bayonets.
The quiet voice rose up out of the earth. There was no urgency in the call, but Doc hurried, stumbling over tree roots and rocks, then slid down into the foxhole.
He found an apparently whole and uninjured Speirs, looking as if he were amused by a private joke.
"Where are you hurt?" he asked Speirs. That Speirs was smiling meant nothing. Doc had seen men make jokes while they died.
Speirs was sitting on the bottom of the foxhole, his rifle held upright in the crook of his arm, his legs spread. "Where do you think?"
Doc sat back on his heels and eyed Speirs warily. Had Speirs cracked up? He didn't think the lieutenant was doing so good, either.
"Let me see you," Doc demanded.
Speirs lit a cigarette and said nothing.
When Doc put his hands on Speirs's neck to check his pulse, he felt burning hot skin, so he slid his hands over the lymph glands in the neck, armpit, and groin, checking for swelling. His faith-healing Cajun grandmother had done the same without knowing the Latin names of what she touched.
Speirs grabbed Doc's wrist and dragged his hand to his crotch. "There."
Fifteen months since Speirs had told him it was all right. A lot had happened since then. A lot of men had died since then.
Doc could feel the threat coming off Speirs like a wave of bitter energy. If he left the foxhole now, what would happen to the men of Easy Company, with this unsatisfied devil on their flank? What in God's name should he do?
He's asking for your touch, traiteur.
No. That could not be the answer. Speirs was not wounded.
But he is sick. Sick in his soul. And he asked.
He caught himself praying that Speirs would offer him a cigarette, anything. If Speirs tried to give him something, he could get out of it with a clean conscience. No payment could ever be given from healed to healer. If, later, the healed wanted to give some token, it was acceptable, but it could never be given as an inducement.
Speirs offered him nothing, only leaned his helmet-covered head back against the side of the foxhole and closed his eyes. The glowing tip of his cigarette cast a faint light. It was otherwise dark in the foxhole. Above, the moon and stars were hidden in clouds.
Speirs kept hold of his rifle as Doc unbuttoned his pants. Doc was quick; he'd had a lot of practice getting soldiers out of their uniforms since D-Day.
Doc pressed his body against Speirs—girls liked to be held, men couldn't be much different—then closed his hand around what was ailing Speirs. He said what he said to all wounded men. "Shh. I got you."
His lips moved as he prayed almost silently in French.
Speirs didn't make a sound, but his head moved back an inch. Doc whispered to him until he felt the hot rain, as warm as blood, on his hand and wrist. He pulled out a length of cotton felt and wiped up the mess, dropping the bandage on the ground, something he'd regret later when he ran low on supplies. He sat up, kneeling with his back against the side of the foxhole, as Speirs threw away the butt of his cigarette and fastened his pants.
"Stay," Speirs said. He was still holding on to his rifle.
Reluctantly, Doc sat next to him.
"Want a smoke?" Speirs asked.
Doc shook his head. In Normandy, stories about Speirs were flourishing like roses in a graveyard. The latest was that Speirs had shot twenty German prisoners after giving them all cigarettes. None of the men would take cigarettes from the lieutenant now.
Doc didn't want one because it meant he'd be with Speirs longer.
Speirs lit a Lucky Strike, spat tobacco out of his mouth, and looked sideways at Doc. He put a hand on Doc's thigh and rubbed it.
"I like ladies," Doc said.
"Tell me if you find one." Speirs removed his hand.
Minutes dragged by with painful slowness.
Doc turned to look at Speirs. "You better now?"
Speirs regarded him thoughtfully as he lit another Lucky Strike from the butt of the first.
Doc looked away from him and stared at the muddy bottom of the foxhole. There was good soil here, black and loamy. It made him homesick for Louisiana, for the Mississippi Delta.
Speirs spoke low. "What's the use of being better, Doc? We're already dead."
Doc leaned his head down until his chin touched his chest. There was more sickness in Speirs than he could handle. But if he didn't handle it, Speirs would give someone else a taste of it. Blithe? A lot of the men, though they were paratroopers, were babies still. They weren't tough like he was.
Doc reached down and touched the dirt. As tough as the earth. He grabbed a handful and rubbed it between his palms, counting the clods like beads.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
"Keep your hands clean, Doc," Speirs said.
Doc moved into a crouch. Knowing he would be away from Speirs soon was like a weight off his shoulders. It made him feel guilty, how happy it made him.
"Remember, Doc. Things would be worse if you weren't around," Speirs said. He tucked a mostly full packet of Lucky Strikes into Doc's breast pocket. "That's not a bad epitaph. Better than most."
Doc's short fuse went off. "The way you go on all the time about death, anyone would think you were afraid of it."
For a split second, Speirs smiled completely, his teeth gleaming white in his dirty face. "Get the fuck out of here, Doc."
Doc was out of the foxhole like a shot. He trotted along the line until he saw Lieutenant Winters. He called out a greeting, then jumped down into his foxhole. He could barely remember the old days before Normandy, when he used to enter foxholes slowly and cautiously.
Winters lowered his field glasses and looked at Doc. "The men all right, Eugene?"
"Yes, sir," Doc said. "How's your leg?" After Carentan, he had pulled a bullet out of Winter's shin and bandaged him up. Luckily, it had been a ricochet, not a direct hit.
"Getting better," Winters said.
Winters reached out and brushed something off Doc's shoulder. Ash from Speirs's cigarettes, Doc realized.
When Winters returned to staring forward at the German line, he put one hand back on Doc's shoulder and kneaded it.
Doc accepted the healing touch, and was consoled.
Chapter 3: Death
In Belgium, Doc takes care of everyone but himself. Speirs loots Doc. Set during Bastogne and Breaking Point.
Fog prevented the Allied Forces from dropping supplies to them, so when Easy Company arrived in the snow-covered woods near the town of Bastogne, Doc scrounged for morphine and anything else he could get.
Doc was sure of it: wounded soldiers who didn't get morphine were likelier to die than those who did, even if their wounds were nearly identical. He could feel it when he put his hands on them. Pain could kill a man.
In Holland, Captain Winters had been promoted to battalion, so he no longer directly led the men of Easy. As Doc trotted back and forth from foxhole to foxhole, rounding up supplies, he heard the men of Easy talking about Lt. Norman Dike, their new commanding officer.
The men found Dike worthless, and so did Doc. Commanders like Foxhole Norman got men killed. Winters was what a CO had to be—concerned with the well-being of his men above all. Dike was concerned only with his climb up the ladder, and went missing most of the time. Doc got around more than anyone else, and even he didn't know where Dike was.
He tried not to worry about Dike. There was too much else to worry about. Being surrounded by the German forces didn't concern Doc much; they had been since D-Day. But this time they were also outdoors in freezing weather, and without adequate food, clothing, and shelter.
The men couldn't light fires along the line, as that would bring a shelling from German artillery. Most of the men had only one pair of socks. None of them had long underwear or proper coats. And Easy had him—a medic without supplies, and without an aid station to back him up.
At least Doc wasn't alone in his foxhole. Another medic, Ralph Spina, had joined them. He wasn't the best trained man Doc had run across, but he couldn't be faulted in his concern for the men, and that made him better than any amount of schooling. When they squeezed into their narrow foxhole for sleep, Doc was grateful for his warmth.
Doc wondered if Toye would ever put the damn boots on. He couldn't make him do it; Doc knew that once the boots were on and sensation came back, Toye's feet would feel like they were on fire. In spite of his severe trench foot, Toye, at least at the moment, didn't feel a thing.
Doc trudged briskly over the snow, his hands deep in his pockets, his fingers touching the chocolate bar from Reneé.
Doc halted. He had seen little of Speirs since they had left Holland, even though Dog Company was only a few hundred yards from their position in the woods.
Speirs hadn't changed since they had left France. His face was still blank, his eyes still wide open. Although Speirs was now a first lieutenant and commanding half of Dog, he wasn't wearing a winter coat like the other officers.
Doc knew Speirs kept his face expressionless to hide his fear. Doc had felt the fear in him, had seen it fall away only when Speirs was in combat. What a sad thing for a man, to be free of fear only when he had the most right to be afraid.
Speirs had decided that acting as if he were already dead was the best way to handle his terror. He was wrong. It went against nature, against God, because only God knew what was going to happen to them. Speirs was alive, and should live each day as if it was a gift.
Instead, the lieutenant had let darkness fill him.
"Doc, did you get the supplies you were looking for? I rustled some up from 1st Battalion if you still need anything." Speirs spoke quietly. He never needed to raise his voice to get people's attention.
Doc had heard Speirs had liberated quite a few things from 1st Battalion, including machine guns and jeeps. He remembered Speirs's request. Tell me if you find one.
"I met a lady."
Speirs's eyes widened even more. "Where?"
"In Bastogne. She's a nurse."
Speirs nodded solemnly. He touched his helmet in a salute, turned smartly, and marched away.
Before Speirs had taken more than a few steps, Lt. Dike lumbered into view. He waved at Speirs, ignoring Doc.
"Lieutenant! Just the man I want to see!" Huffing, Dike came over, his boots loudly crunching snow.
Speirs stilled. When he was still, he was absolutely motionless. It made his speed seem faster once he moved.
"Speirs, is it true you told my men to reinforce their cover when I told them not to reinforce their cover?"
Speirs's non-expression changed a little; he looked tired. "If that's what the men are saying, then it's true."
Doc stood right next to them, but Dike still didn't acknowledge him.
"Speirs, kindly–" Dike stopped mid-sentence to yawn hugely, something he did often.
"Sir, do you snore?" Doc addressed Dike.
Dike looked surprised to see Doc standing there. "I wouldn't know, would I?" Dike seemed to think he had made a joke, and smiled.
"It's serious, sir," Doc said. "I'm worried about your yawning. It's not natural for a man getting eight hours of sleep a night." He kept the sarcasm out of his voice. "It could be a sign of hypothermia, but what really worries me"—he dropped his voice low, knowing Speirs could still hear him—"is that you might have a condition."
"A condition?" Dike said in alarm.
"I don't want to scare you none, but if you snore at night, and yawn during the day, it could be a sign of…Sleeping Sickness."
He couldn't remember the right name. Sleeping Sickness was an unrelated sub-tropical disease, but it would sound good enough to Dike.
"You stop breathing for a few seconds, over and over, in your sleep, so your body doesn't get enough oxygen. That's what makes you snore and yawn. And sometimes people with this condition stop breathing in their sleep and never start again."
Speirs, no longer looking tired, stared over Doc's head at the trees.
"Is that fatal?" Dike asked.
"Yes, sir. When you stop breathing, it can be fatal."
Doc struggled to keep his face under control while he and Speirs watched Dike hurry away, presumably in the direction of sufficient oxygen.
Speirs produced a pack of Lucky Strikes, shaking a cigarette loose for Doc. Doc put it between his lips and Speirs swiftly lit it for him with a gold lighter. They smoked in silence as they watched Dike's retreating back.
A familiar sight.
Doc stared at the kerchief he had just pulled out of his pocket, forgetting for a moment how it had gotten there.
He remembered stories he had read in school, about knights who wore "favours" given to them by noblewomen. The knight would attach the favour to his helmet, or his shield. Doc pictured the kerchief tied around the handle of his first aid kit.
But his lady had no more use for it, and she would not have wanted her kerchief to go to waste. He ripped it down the middle and used half of it to bandage Babe's hand. It was his own carelessness that had caused the nasty cut.
Several days earlier, Babe had cracked up when the young replacement Julian died right in front of him. Because of sniper fire, the squad had been forced to leave Julian's body where it fell.
Now Babe was smiling again. Finally.
Babe. He could get used to calling Heffron that. The name made Doc smile.
Doc turned at the sound of Lipton's voice.
The first sergeant hurried to him. "How's Babe doing? Is he doing any better?'
"Yeah, I think so," Doc said. "He's staying with me and Spina right now."
Lipton grinned. "The three of you fit in one foxhole?"
"Kinda," Doc said. "Spina's not there all the time."
Lipton put his arm around Doc's shoulders. "What about you, Doc? I worry that you've got it harder than anybody."
Before Doc could reply, Lipton coughed explosively, bending over at the waist. Doc put a steadying hand on Lipton's shoulder, then slid his hand quickly to the first sergeant's neck. Hot. Too hot.
Doc eyed Winters's lair critically. The 2nd battalion CP near the town of Foy was a shallow hole in the ground, lined with sandbags, and roofed with a tarp. There was a small cooking fire, but it was still colder, more exposed, than any of the men's foxholes.
A fine tremor was running through Winters, his muscles moving in a desperate attempt to get warm. When Winters offered him coffee, Doc shook his head, hoping Winters would drink it all himself.
Captain Nixon, sitting huddled up, had a two-month beard on his face, which was more beard than most men had after half a year. He had his hands tucked high up the opposite sleeves of his coat.
For a horrible moment, Doc thought Nixon's arms had been amputated.
"Well, if it isn't the angel of mercy," Nixon said. "Drink his damn coffee, or he'll make me drink it. I've been drinking a lot of coffee."
Doc took the hot tin cup from Winters and cradled it in his bare hands, bracing himself for what he had to do. "Captain Winters. Unbutton your coat. Sir."
Winters stared at him, his teeth almost audibly chattering. "Eugene! It's too cold."
Nixon snorted. "You guessed right, Doc. His coat liner is gone. He gave it to a man who didn't have a coat. And he won't take mine."
Doc glared at Winters. Was the man trying to freeze to death?
Nixon grinned suddenly as he looked over Doc's shoulder. "Well, if it isn't the angel of death."
Doc turned to see Speirs entering the CP. While Speirs's face was blank as usual, Doc could see in the set of his body that he had come to tell Winters something in confidence—or that Winters had called Speirs to speak to him in confidence.
He excused himself and left, almost forgetting to put down his empty cup. He had more to tell Winters, but it would have to wait. He had at least verified, from Nixon's crack about coffee, that Nixon had taken his advice.
Doc had privately warned Nixon that, if he wanted to avoid hypothermia, he would have to cut back on booze. Contrary to folklore, alcohol restricted the blood vessels and made a person colder.
Nixon had agreed surprisingly readily. "I can't enjoy it in these conditions, anyway."
Neither of them mentioned the obvious: that Nixon could enjoy his VAT 69 at regimental HQ if he wanted, instead of slowly freezing by Winters's side.
He would finish things up with Nixon instead of Winters.
That night, Doc searched for Nixon's foxhole, finally spotting a tarp dusted with snow.
Doc knelt at the edge of the tarp. "Captain Nixon!"
The tarp slid back, exposing Nixon in his foxhole. "Damn it, I was almost asleep! I dream I'm warm when I'm asleep."
"I need to talk to you about Captain Winters, sir. He can't keep sleeping alone in his CP. He's going to get hypothermia."
"What an interesting observation, Eugene. I'll be sure to pass it on to Colonel Sink." Nixon vanished under his tarp.
The next day, Winters wasn't shivering.
Chapter 4: And Mercy
Speirs takes over the narration.
Speirs organized four-man patrols for another sweep of every building in Foy—he didn't want any more sniper surprises—then he headed to the German command post, which was located in a large house still miraculously intact. The Nazi officers always tried to make themselves comfortable, so it would be worth giving it a look, for possible intelligence if nothing else.
Following the smell of smoke to a back parlor, he found an enormous hearth. The remains of furniture still smoldered inside it.
He gathered bits of splintered furniture off the floor and laid them on the embers, prodding the glowing mass until the flames leapt up. The resulting heat felt as intense as a million suns, he had been cold for so long. He heard a sound and whirled to face the doorway. It was Doc.
Speirs realized he was pointing his weapon at Doc's chest. He let go of the rifle, letting it dangle from the strap over his shoulder.
Doc came into the room and stood by the fire. After a moment, he held his hands out to it. He said nothing. He wasn't a babbler, always making small talk. Speirs found it restful. He found all of Doc restful.
While Doc warmed himself, Speirs prowled the room, opening desk drawers, looking in boxes, checking cupboards. He found two bottles of brandy and stashed them in his jacket pockets. There was nothing else of value. He put more shards of furniture on the fire, sacrificing what was left of a humidor and a dining chair.
Straightening up, he looked at Doc. He was slipping. He should have asked himself right away why Doc was here with him. Doc should be with Perconte or one of the other wounded men.
To figure it out, Speirs examined his internal balance sheet.
Since Bastogne, everything was increasing on the positive side. He reported directly to Winters, the finest officer he'd ever known. He commanded Easy Company, the best company of the 506th. He had the best first sergeant, Lipton, about to become his second lieutenant. And he had the best medic in the entire U.S. army.
Speirs had to trust his balance sheet, even though it had told him he wouldn't survive the war, nor would any of his men—not unless he was the best soldier that had ever lived. That would put him a percentage ahead. Not much, but maybe enough for him and his men to make it. It was the only chance he had, and so far it was working.
Still holding his hands out to the fire, Doc said slowly, "I came to thank you, sir, for taking command from Dike."
"I was ordered to, Corporal," Speirs said.
Before he could understand Doc, he had to understand Doc's expression. It was one Speirs hadn't seen before, so he sorted through all the Doc expressions he'd encountered. This one reminded him of the way Doc looked at German prisoners, captured soldiers who might have killed Easy paratroopers. Doc looked at those Germans as if he wanted to gnaw their heads off. The look he was giving Speirs was just like that, except without the frown.
Speirs should leave and get his reports from the patrols. There wasn't any decent loot in this CP, anyway.
No loot. Nothing of value. Except for something Doc was trying to tell him.
Doc hadn't touched him since he'd found his lady. But, soon after that, Bastogne had been bombarded by German artillery. And Doc had been nearly broken, by hypothermia, or something else.
There was no profit in Speirs trying to find the cause; it could have been one of a hundred things. Or one of eighty—that was how many men Easy had lost. The only surprise was that it had taken so long for Doc to be overwhelmed. Doc should have fallen apart months ago, but he had made it, just like Speirs.
Nothing will ever be as bad as Bastogne. For me, for Doc, for all of us. We made it through, and we are on the other side.
We just might live.
The firelight was turning Doc's pale skin gold. Moving close, Speirs put one hand on Doc's shoulder, hoping the inevitable rebuff would come a little slower for once.
The rejection didn't come. Speirs counted to twenty to make sure. Which meant twenty seconds wasted. Whatever Doc was giving him, he wasn't going to give it for long.
Speirs quickly shucked off most of his equipment—rifle, field glasses, pistol, canteen, dispatch pouch—and tugged Doc's shoulder bag off over his head. He pulled one of the bottles of brandy out of his jacket pocket, unscrewed the cap, and offered the bottle to Doc, who took a moderate sip before handing it back to him.
"To the spoils of war." Speirs took a drink to seal the toast.
Maybe Speirs should replace incompetent, cowardly officers more often.
He hurled the bottle into the fire. The glass shattered, the flames blazing twice as high with the alcohol feeding them. It wasn't a wasteful gesture; he was just in a hurry to get his hands free. He put his hands on Doc's neck and slid them down hard, popping jacket, shirt, and pants buttons open, twisting aside fabric until his fingers touched bare skin. He pulled Doc closer and undid his belt, then put his arms around Doc and shoved his hands down the back of Doc's pants.
He was trying to be efficient. While his hands were taking, his mouth was, too, from Doc's neck, cheeks, lips, chest. He slid one hand down the front of Doc's pants, keeping one hand down the back. Wasn't good enough.
He pulled off his jacket, then Doc's, and spread them over the moth-eaten carpet, somehow keeping one arm around Doc's waist while he did. He went down on his knees, pulling Doc to the floor with him, then he mouthed Doc's bare chest and belly, moving his head lower and lower, feeling Doc's skin warm in the blaze.
In spite of the fire in his eyes, Doc had been calm. Removed. As if Speirs were something happening to him he couldn't control, like rain or an Axis invasion. But when he felt Speirs's mouth on him, he seemed to come back to himself.
Speirs was certain no one had done this to Doc before, because Doc sure didn't seem to understand the mechanics of it. When Doc started pressing hard on Speirs's shoulders, trying to push him away, Speirs resisted until he tasted Doc in his mouth.
He buttoned up Doc's pants for him, stood, and pulled Doc to his feet. Doc was still breathless, so he buttoned up his shirt for him, then held up his jacket, as if Doc was his date and they were leaving a supper club together.
When he put his own jacket on, he felt the other bottle of brandy in a pocket. He considered taking a drink, smoking a cigarette, then changed his mind. He didn't want to wash the taste out of his mouth just yet.
The burning look was gone out of Doc's eyes when he reached for Speirs's belt, so Speirs held him away.
"We're done," he said.
He wanted Doc to understand touching him was as good as, maybe even better than, being touched by him. The only drawback was that Doc had been nearly silent, not whispering sexy words in French like he usually did.
Doc got his shoulder bag back on and left, his legs moving fast in his usual lope.
Speirs checked his internal clock. Only twenty minutes had passed since he'd first entered the CP and fed the fire. He was still on schedule.
Inside the convent church in Rachamps, Speirs knew he would sleep soundly. The men were finally safe, at least from the cold and German artillery. He consulted his internal calendar. It had been over thirty days since they had slept indoors.
He looked over the small church, at the choir of girls singing for them, and at the paintings of saints and angels. He almost smiled, remembering what Nixon had called him. The angel of death. He hadn't earned the name, but Doc had earned his. The angel of mercy. He had stood outside the CP and heard everything, laughing silently as Doc went after Winters.
Speirs wondered if Doc would ever learn that Lt. Foley had nominated Doc for the Silver Cross, and that Lt. Dikes had refused to pass it on to Sink.
Dikes could go to hell.
The medal-less angel was currently making a circuit of the church, crossing himself, doing some Catholic stuff.
Speirs sat on a pew next to Lipton and wrote out his report and the company duty roster. He already had both in his head, but he had to give higher-ups pieces of paper or they got nervous.
He left for regiment, a grin on his face after his conversation with Lipton. Telling a man of his well-deserved promotion was a good feeling, especially as that man was now his.
When he returned to the church an hour later, it was snowing hard. He hurried through the door, cold wind blowing in with him.
Doc was near the entrance, apparently waiting for him. He had the intent look he got when he bossed officers around.
"What is it, Eugene?"
"Sergeant Lipton, sir," Doc said. "He's sick and hiding it. If you listen real close, you can hear him wheeze. Almost rattle."
They were whispering to each other, standing only a foot apart. The numerous bags and pouches Speirs wore brushed against Doc's jacket.
"And?" Speirs said.
"Make sure he gets enough rest." Doc looked ferocious, as if Lipton's illness was entirely Speirs's responsibility from now on.
In which case it was.
Stretched out on a pew, Speirs had been sleeping like the dead when he suddenly snapped back to full alertness. Something was wrong. His internal clock was set to wake him at five, and he'd been asleep for only an hour.
The girls had sung songs in English and French, such as Lili Marlene, along with what Speirs guessed were hymns. Most of the tunes were unknown to him, but at that moment the high angelic voices were chanting familiar words. In French.
He looked around for someone who was likely to understand, and spotted Nixon. Intelligence officers had to know French. The language of diplomacy. Speirs moved quickly to his pew.
"What are the girls singing?" Speirs asked.
Nixon looked at him sleepily. "What? Oh. It's called Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. I know the English version."
Nixon hummed, then sang off-key.
"Make me a channel of your peace:
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness, only light,
And where there's sadness, ever joy:
O Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul! Ron, you okay?"
Nixon got out his precious flask and made Speirs drink from it.
Speirs swallowed without tasting as understanding broke over him. He'd heard enough to recognize the words Doc Roe had been whispering into his neck.
Chapter 5: FUBAR
In Hagenau, Speirs attempts to reconcile his balance sheet. Set during The Last Patrol.
Shortly after Private Webster left, Speirs realized he needed him. Leaving Lipton coughing on the couch, he walked quickly to the observation post where two Easy platoons had made their home.
He found Webster lying on a bunk and looking sulky. The Harvard boy was feeling no love from his old comrades, Speirs guessed. Unlike the other Toccoa men, Web hadn't hurried back to Easy after getting wounded.
He motioned Webster to follow him to the third floor. They stood in the middle of the empty room, almost ankle deep in chunks of plaster.
"Tell me about Catholics," Speirs said. He had selected Webster for his enlightenment because he needed someone knowlegeable, but not Catholic himself. Webster was the only one who fit the bill.
Webster was amused and surprised by the question. "What do you want to know, sir? The basic tenets? History of?"
Speirs had written down the hymn as told to him by Nixon. He pulled out the sheet of paper and handed it to Webster.
Webster's recognition was immediate. "That's Doc's prayer."
"What's its point?"
"It's based on the prayer of St. Francis. Have you ever been wounded, sir?" Webster practically gloated. His professors must have hated him.
It was an irrelevant question. Speirs did not answer it.
"Doc has a little secret he thinks no one knows. But ask any man of Easy who has been wounded, and he can tell you."
Speirs wondered if he would get the information faster out of Webster if he shot him in the kneecaps. "Continue," he said.
"Doc thinks he is a traiteur," Webster said triumphantly. "His grandmother was one, a Cajun faith healer. It's the usual superstitious bullshit, with the laying on of hands, but there's a twist, prayers said by the traiteur over the patient. The prayers are in French because Cajuns speak a French dialect."
"How do you know this?" Speirs said. What Webster was saying fit in with the information he had, yet he was reluctant to accept it. The implications were too unnerving.
"Simple observation. I've heard Doc at it many times. His voice carries. And he told Spina about his grandmother, and Spina told everyone else."
So Webster had no direct experience. "Wasn't Doc your medic when you were wounded in Holland?"
"Yeah, but I didn't get the full Doc treatment. My wound wasn't that bad, sir. Didn't really hurt."
"Did the pain stop before Doc looked at you, or after?" Speirs asked.
"After," Webster said. He smiled and shook his head. "Don't tell me you believe it."
"You weren't in Bastogne. Talk to the men who were. Try using your simple observation on that, Web." Speirs galloped down the stairs and returned to the feverish Lipton.
It was now clear. Doc thought Speirs was sick. And since he was far from sick in the body, Doc must think he was sick in the head.
Few homes in Hagenau were intact, so Speirs had managed just one room, with only a single bed for himself and his NCO.
Lipton couldn't hide it any longer; he had pneumonia. The day before, his temperature had briefly soared to 104 degrees. Speirs would never forget the dirty look Doc had given him. But Lip would mend—if Speirs could get him to stay put.
Speirs entered the bedroom to find the bed empty and Lipton on the floor, wrapped up in the thinnest blanket.
"What are you doing down there, Lip?"
"You get the bed, sir." Lipton barked a cough.
"You need rest. Get in the bed."
"Sorry, sir, I can't do that. It wouldn't be right."
Speirs wasted no more time. He debated on whom to fetch, Doc or Winters. Either would do. He found Doc in his quarters first, next door to the OP.
Doc was putting together his first aid kit, getting ready for the patrol later that night. They were reasonably well supplied, except for food. They were at the absolute end of the supply line in Hagenau, so they only got what hadn't been skimmed off along the way. Speirs was paying a heavy price for Lucky Strikes.
Speirs pointed at Doc and left, knowing Doc would follow him without asking questions.
They could hear Lipton long before they could see him.
"Tell Lip to take the bed." Speirs moved to a window, giving Lipton privacy for the dressing-down he was going to receive from the corporal.
Doc's deep, soft voice was at first cajoling, but as Lipton continued to resist, Doc lost his temper.
"You don't get better, you'll be no use to anybody! Get in that bed, and stay there until I tell you to leave it!"
Speirs smiled at the window when he heard the bed squeak.
He followed Doc out of the room so Lipton wouldn't see his smirk. At that moment, they heard the whistle of artillery. They were supposed to head for the cellar and shelter, but Doc pushed past him and threw himself over Lipton.
Lipton cursed quietly as the barrage continued. He wasn't much of a swearing man, so it was all Geeze and Heck. Fortunately, the attack ended quickly. It seemed the Germans couldn't keep their supply lines open, since they were firing decades-old munitions at the Allied Forces.
Doc knelt on the floor by Lipton and did what Speirs knew he called settling. His hands were on Lipton's neck, his fingers touching Lipton's cheeks. Lipton almost immediately dropped off into sleep.
They left Lipton and headed to the ground floor.
"Should I have him moved to the cellar for safety?" Speirs asked.
"The damp down there would kill him." Doc gave him a stern glance. "His cough is keeping him from resting. He needs codeine syrup, but I don't have any. Liquor would help."
"I'll get it," Speirs said.
"When is the patrol going out?" Doc asked.
"The men will be back at 0120."
They separated at the front door, Doc returning to his quarters next to the OP, Speirs going in search of booze. He traded a Luger for some German brandy and brought it to Lipton.
"I don't drink," Lipton said.
"Doc says you have to," Speirs said. "Want me to get him again?"
Lipton took a sip from the bottle and shuddered.
Later that night, Speirs rolled himself in the blanket on the floor. It was total luxury after the freezing foxholes in Bastogne. His inner clock would wake him at 2300, in time for the patrol. He went to sleep instantly.
In the morning, Speirs reviewed the situation. Jackson was dead, killed on the patrol. It had taken precious time to get Jackson over the river to Doc, time Jackson didn't have.
At least Jackson had died while Doc's hands were on him.
On the other side of Speir's internal balance sheet, Lipton had slept soundly. Doc had verified his fever had dropped.
And the company had Perconte and Webster back. Webster was a good soldier, even if he was at times a pompous ass.
But Speirs had still lost a man, and not for a good enough reason. Consulting his internal calendar, he estimated the Toccoa men had seen combat for 132 days. The strain the men were under, their exhaustion, the cold, the poor food, conspired to weaken them. Jackson had been hit by a blast from his own grenade. Carelessness.
It shouldn't have happened. And Doc had another dead man on his hands.
Speirs went in search of Doc to give him the bad news.
"There's going to be another patrol tonight."
Doc didn't look at him. His hands were busy with his kit. "Boats again?"
"Yes," Speirs said. "The men will return at 0220."
"I'll wait on the river bank this time. I said last night—"
"I'm not putting you in a machine gun nest."
Doc looked at him, his face packing a wallop of disapproval.
"Eugene, if you die, I'll lose more men in the long run."
Doc turned away for a moment, then half turned back. "How much sleep you been getting with Lipton coughing his lungs out for the last three weeks?"
"I can sleep through a mortar attack if I have to. Don't worry about me, Corporal."
As he left, Speirs had the feeling his final words had been completely ignored.
After Winters told the men the patrol was happening in name only, Speirs prepared to leave in a hurry. He had to give Doc the good news. But he couldn't leave the young Lieutenant Jones wandering by himself, possibly shooting off his mouth, so he asked Jones to come with them to the CP.
Jones was happy to. He was like a puppy, following Winters. All the new men were like that.
Let him be a puppy. Speirs figured he qualified as a guard dog at least.
Jones tried to make conversation with him. "So we'll be moving off the line."
We. Jones had been on the line for one day. Speirs didn't reply.
When they reached the CP, an orderly made tea and served it. Speirs picked up the fragile cup and sipped. He had grown used to drinking tea in England, and Winters seemed to like the stuff.
Doc entered the CP, making a bee line for Winters. When he saw Speirs holding the teacup, a smile flickered on his face.
"The men have their overshoes now," Doc said. "Should be fewer cases of trench foot, sir."
"Excellent, Eugene. Tea?" Winters didn't wait for Doc to say yes; he poured a cup and handed it to him.
They were all standing except for Nixon, who was sitting on a ramshackle armchair. Nixon had also accepted tea, but had added VAT 69 to it. Speirs idly wondered how many cartons of Lucky Strikes he could get for a bottle of VAT 69.
When Doc finished his tea, Speirs set his cup down and pointed at Doc. He left the room for his office, a small alcove where he stored valuables.
Doc followed him as far as the doorway; there wasn't enough room for him to come inside. Speirs had practically filled it with supplies, weapons, and ammo.
"The patrol tonight isn't happening. Nixon will write up a bogus report in the morning." Thank God for that. Speirs had no talent for fiction. "We're moving off the line tomorrow."
He watched Doc absorb the news, disappointed when Doc's expression did not change. No smile. Nothing.
He continued. "I'll be staying here tonight in the CP until 0300, in case Sink requests an update." It wasn't likely. Winters had asked him to send a bottle of brandy to Sink that evening. Speirs had picked Luz to deliver it.
"Is that all, sir?" Doc asked.
Speirs turned away and rummaged. "Got something for you." He handed a box of four dozen Hershey chocolate bars to Doc. He had got a good deal on them, considering.
"I don't eat chocolate," Doc said. He shoved the box back against Speirs's chest.
Speirs was momentarily without words. He had never heard Doc tell a lie, and had thought him incapable of it. "Then give them to your…your patients."
He pressed the box against Doc's middle until Doc took hold of it again.
"I'll be here until three this morning," Speirs said to Doc's back.
Evidently he would be there until three alone.
Returning to Winters, Nixon, and Jones, he refilled his tea cup, adding a healthy drop of VAT 69 when Nixon wasn't looking. He didn't drink often, but he felt he needed it tonight. It was almost as good as the hot showers and clean uniforms they had finally received. He consulted his internal calendar. It had been his first shower, his first fresh uniform, in 65 days.
Feeling strangely desperate in spite of the liquor, he reviewed his balance sheet again. Winter kits had come in. They had hot showers. Lipton was on the mend. The patrol tonight was cancelled. German supply lines were failing. He had lost only one man in combat since arriving in Hagenau. They were moving off the line. Everything was getting better.
So he needed to stop letting it bother him that Eugene thought he was crazy.
In the CP, Speirs sat at a desk and cleaned his .45. It was one in the morning. Two hours to go, then he'd get some sleep.
He wasn't alone in the CP after all. An orderly was in a back room, but Speirs hadn't heard a peep out of him for hours, as he had given the kid a bottle of schnapps. He had another bottle for himself, and he sipped at it steadily.
Why had he bothered to tell Doc he'd be in the CP? It made no sense, not even to himself. Doc was not going to show up.
He had first met Doc in Toccoa, through 506th baseball rivalry. Doc was a good hitter, almost always getting a double or triple because of his speed.
Then the men of Easy had got into the habit of sneaking off to Atlanta. That was when Doc had been his most encouraging. He had always sat next to Speirs while Speirs drove, there and back.
Speirs had stayed careful until the day they got their jump wings and went drinking along with the rest of the 506th. The look Doc had given him that night had curled his hair. He hadn't been surprised later when Doc got into his sedan. Still, he had planned to wait for Doc to make the first move. Then Doc had started singing.
He had sung in French, Speirs had no idea what about. It had sounded like an old country song to him, but he didn't know much about music.
He had heard Doc sing before, half drowned out by squawking voices during company religious services. This was different; he was the only member of the audience. In England, he had entered a village church where a man was playing an organ, making the whole building shake. That was what it had been like.
He had driven off the road so he wouldn't crash his car.
He should have been cautious until he'd figured out what was going on, but there was no damn reason to wait when he wanted something. Some people thought anticipation made things better. They were wrong. The joy was in the having.
For about a minute, everything had gone well. When he had leaned over to kiss Doc, Doc had put his hands on him. He still remembered that touch, because he had felt it so rarely. It was blissful, like he was in a deep dreamless sleep, except he was awake.
He hadn't been disappointed when Eugene told him he liked ladies. He liked ladies himself, especially curvy blondes. But ladies had nothing to do with what he wanted from Eugene.
He had held himself in check again until that night after Carentan. Even then, he had only hinted, not demanded. When Doc's hands had slid to his inner thighs, he had dragged the blissful hands where they needed to be. And Doc had gone along with it. Doc had more than gone along with it. He had draped his body over Speirs, whispering French endearments into his neck.
Speirs peered down the barrel of the .45, looking for smudges. Doc had whispered prayers into his neck. Not endearments.
It had happened several more times, in England and Holland. He'd arrange to meet Eugene somewhere, and Eugene always understood and showed up. But he never let Speirs touch him, except for the one time in Foy.
Speirs remembered the feel of Doc under his hands. Too thin. It was why he had given him the chocolate.
Tonight had seemed foolproof. He had pictured it all in his head. When Doc heard about the cancelled patrol, the news that they were moving off the front line, Doc would be happy. No more men would be getting killed. The chocolate bars were just backup.
But it hadn't worked. Speirs had lost his confidence. Because he hadn't been getting from Doc what he thought he had been getting.
His balance sheet was fucked up beyond recognition.
An hour later, at 0200, he looked up in rare surprise when Doc came into the CP. He put down the .45 and pushed his chair back and stood.
"You're here," Speirs said. It was a pointless thing for him to say.
"You asked me," Doc said. His expression was not encouraging.
So all Speirs had to do was ask? It couldn't be that easy.
Doc stood next to him, his hands going to the fly of Speirs's trousers.
Speirs grabbed Doc's hands, stopping him.
"What have we been doing, Eugene?"
"My name is Ron. What have we been doing?"
"I am not full of despair and sorrow and darkness."
"Ron, I think you should get some sleep. I can stay here until three if you want me to. Is Lipton still on your bed?"
Speirs considered what he should tell Doc. I found a private spot, but I won't ask you to come there. I won't ask you again. He said none of it, as only one thing really mattered.
"I thought you liked it," Speirs said.
He sat back down at the desk and returned to cleaning his gun when Doc left the CP. When he heard the door close, he laid his head on the desk and counted the minutes until 0300.
Chapter 6: Spark
Speirs is sorry. Set during Why We Fight and Points.
In Why We Fight, Doc does not wear the same helmet as the other medics; I took a fictional liberty.
Buchloe, Germany, April, 1945.
Speirs woke up at four in the morning, an hour ahead of schedule. Something was wrong.
It certainly wasn't the bed. Easy Company had taken over a luxurious apartment building, their best digs yet. Each apartment had three bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a private bathroom. They had given the residents only five minutes warning; it cut down on how much they took with them.
After freezing in foxholes all winter, Speirs found it a balm to ransack German homes and sleep in German beds.
He dressed in his uniform and picked up his .45. The four story building was quiet, the 90 men in it sleeping soundly. They were moving out at noon, so he had ordered Easy Company to be back in their temporary barracks for a midnight curfew.
He went down the three flights to the main hall. Looking through the glass panels in the front doors, he could see sentries patrolling the street. Everything appeared under control.
He studied the cluttered hallway. The men had already packed up and piled their equipment there. Bed rolls, weapons, packs, and helmets. He started counting helmets. There were only two marked with a red cross on a white background. There should have been three.
He entered the first floor apartment Doc was sharing with Spina and Heffron. Doc's bed was empty, neatly made.
There was only one place Doc could be. Speirs returned to his apartment, picked up his M1, and drove a jeep to Landsberg.
The Nazi work camp had changed drastically since Speirs had first seen it two days earlier. Squads of doctors, nurses, and engineers had labored to transform it from a prison into an open air hospital. The sun was not yet up, but the camp was brightly lit. Generators hummed. Supply trucks nearly blocked the entrance.
He found Doc, wrapped up in a blanket, lying on the ground not far from the gate. An old man, a former prisoner of the camp, was sitting on the ground next to Doc, watching him sleep.
"We're leaving at noon. He has to come with me." Speirs wasn't sure why he explained. The old man couldn't understand him.
He reached under Doc's arms and pulled him into a standing position. Doc did not wake up. Speirs stood there for a moment, holding him upright. Doc wasn't big, but he was heavy, dense. Speirs could carry him, but it wouldn't be comfortable for either of them. He flagged down two stretcher bearers and they helped him move Doc to the jeep.
"What happened to him?" The bearer, in awe of the paratrooper captain and the paratrooper medic, apparently thought Doc had taken sick.
"He missed curfew," Speirs snapped.
The stretcher bearer shut up.
Doc didn't wake in the jeep. It wasn't surprising. They were all experienced at sleeping on the move. Back in the apartment, Heffron and Spina were up and dressed, so they helped Speirs maneuver Doc onto his bed and get his boots off.
"Why didn't you report him missing?" Speirs asked.
Spina looked scared, but Heffron knew him better. "We went to sleep at 2200, sir. He told us he'd be back in time."
Speirs sent Spina and Heffron to the mess, ordering them to return with coffee and breakfast.
He filled the tub with hot water, then rummaged through Doc's duffle, looking for a clean uniform. He couldn't find everything he needed, so he raided Heffron's kit. Babe and Doc were about the same size.
Spina returned with coffee and pastries.
"Help me get him into the tub," Speirs said.
He didn't have to explain the urgency. Doc reeked of corpses. They carried Doc into the bathroom, then stripped him. Speirs tossed the soiled uniform out of the window.
Doc woke up at last when they put him in the bathtub. Spina handed Doc coffee, then left again for the mess.
Speirs sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating pastries. He'd had men disobey direct orders before, usually out of confusion or fear. He didn't waste time punishing them, he simply got them out of his company. That wasn't an option this time.
His coffee finished, he moved the clean uniform to the bathroom door and knocked. "Your uniform is on a chair by the door," he called out. He took Doc's boots outside and scrubbed them, then returned them to the bedroom.
He sat down in the kitchen again. Another ten minutes went by, and he began to worry. Checking his internal clock, he estimated Doc had been at the camp for 40 hours straight. He shouldn't have left Doc alone—he could fall asleep in the tub and drown.
When he headed to the bathroom, he heard Doc moving about, so he returned to the kitchen. He had just lit a cigarette when Doc came in.
Doc picked up a pastry.
"You missed curfew, Corporal," Speirs said. "If I hadn't come for you, you would have delayed our departure, which could have endangered the entire company."
Doc, his mouth full of pastry, looked at his captain as if he were something that had crawled out from under a rock.
Spina returned with more coffee for them, then left the kitchen to finish packing.
Doc sat down and ate another pastry, washing it down with the fresh coffee.
Speirs quickly lit another cigarette. Doc's look had snarled his gut.
It had been a while since he'd had a reminder of what Doc thought of him. After Hagenau, he had written off everything pertaining to Doc. He'd hated doing it, but he'd had no choice.
And he hadn't deserved the look. He had not been idle.
"I've interviewed some of the townspeople and camp inmates," Speirs said. Liebgott had been eager to translate for him, once he had outlined his plan. "The Landsberg guards left only a couple of hours before we arrived. We'll get them."
Perhaps then the memory of Landsberg would rest easier in his mind.
"You mean hunt them down and kill them," Doc said. "Like animals."
Speirs took a calming drag on his cigarette. He had expected Doc to disapprove. He should drop it, file it as a failure, and move on. But an unfamiliar desire to justify himself burned in him.
"Yes, like animals. They aren't human," Speirs said.
"Maybe," Doc said. "Or maybe they think war should be without mercy, without compassion, and without remorse!"
Speirs had not known Doc could shout that loud. He gripped his cigarette stiffly as it burned down to his fingers.
Supposedly, Speirs had shot a half dozen unarmed German prisoners on D-Day. As the story circulated, the half dozen became twenty, then thirty. According to the tale, he had let one prisoner live, who had been so traumatized he had allowed his cigarette to burn out in his hand.
Speirs wondered how high the count of the imaginary slaughter would eventually go, whether it would ever reach fifty, or even a hundred.
Doc smacked his hand, forcing him to drop what was left of his cigarette into his coffee.
"Where are we heading next?" Doc asked in his normal voice.
"Thalham," Speirs said. "To the alps. If there are any SS who haven't surrendered, that's where they'll go."
He had burned his hand. It was starting to sting. He reached for the butter on the table.
Doc grabbed his wrist. "Makes it worse. Traps the heat inside." Doc got up and filled a glass with water at the kitchen sink, then seized Speirs' hand, guiding his burned fingers into the water.
Speirs wondered how Doc could bear to touch him. Doc didn't think he was sick in the head. Doc thought something worse. But then Doc could touch anything, even men blown to bits. While the rest of them refused to look, Doc would search for the dog tags so the soldier's family would know for certain that their son or brother or father had died.
"Keep your fingers in the water for twenty minutes," Doc said as he left to pack.
Speirs did not move until the twenty minutes had elapsed.
Thalham, Germany, April, 1945.
Hitler had killed himself in Berlin, but the war wasn't over. Easy Company was moving again, heading to Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's stronghold eight thousand feet up in the alps, where the SS were thought to be preparing for a guerilla war.
Before the journey, Speirs sought Winters's advice. He had not yet disciplined Doc for going AWOL. He feared that if word of it leaked out, Doc would be accused of desertion, which was punishable by death. He wasn't worried about anyone in Easy talking, but in his anger he had shot his mouth off in front of the stretcher bearers.
He told the Major everything about the incident, including what Doc had said to him. All he left out was how it had made him feel.
"I had a man disobey an order once," Winters said. "I realized later I had set him up to fail by giving him an order he couldn't carry out. Eugene could no more walk away from those people than you could leave Easy exposed to enemy fire."
It was a gentle rebuke, but because it came from Winters, whose good opinion meant more than anything to him, it was like being lashed with a whip.
"What should I do, sir?" Speirs asked.
"Nothing. If anything comes of it, I'll back you up."
"Thank you, sir." Speirs saluted.
Winters saluted back. "Eugene was disappointed in me once, Ron. I know how it feels."
Berchtesgaden, Germany, May, 1945.
Speirs was driving Tab's new car down the fairytale street of Berchtesgaden when Tab reached for the horn.
"No!" Speirs shouted, but it was too late. The horn thundered, and Doc, walking at the side of the road, jumped into the air, then nearly threw himself on the ground in search of a non-existent foxhole.
Speirs considered reprimanding Tab. None of them could handle loud noises; the pop of a champagne cork could give a paratrooper a heart attack. But today was not a day for criticism.
Doc recovered and saw them: Speirs at the wheel of the enormous black flowing Mercedes, Tab in the front seat with him, Grant in the back.
Tab crowed. "Come for a ride in my new car, Doc!"
Speirs awaited Doc's decision. Doc and Tab and Grant went back to Toccoa, three years earlier. That might outweigh the fact that he was in the car as well.
When Doc moved to get in the back seat with Grant, Tab got out so Doc could ride in front, in the middle. There was plenty of room. Four men could have sat there comfortably.
Grant handed Tab an open bottle of champagne.
"Where are we going?" Doc asked.
"Anywhere!" Tab drank from the champagne bottle, then handed the bottle to Doc.
"Doc, you have any aspirin?" Grant asked.
"Yeah, I got some," Doc said.
"I love you, Doc!" Tab threw his arms around Doc, spilling champagne everywhere.
The war in Europe was over, and they were celebrating in Hitler's own backyard.
The alpine resort town of Berchtesgaden had been deserted by high-ranking Nazi officials as the 506th approached, so Easy had first pick of everything: gingerbread mansions, fabulous cars, liquor, gold, silver, cash, guns, and women. A day later, the entire German Army officially surrendered.
Speirs took the next turn a little faster. He was in a car-driving trance. The alps were a brilliant green. The sky was a perfect blue. The road was smooth and curved just right. The car, custom made for Hermann Goering, was incredibly powerful. They zoomed up steep inclines as light as a feather.
Talbert and Grant were alternately laughing, weeping, and singing drunkenly. Doc was soon singing with them. The sound didn't overwhelm Speirs too much, since they had the windows down so the clean spring air could fill the car.
Speirs hadn't touched any liquor today. He had overindulged the night before, drinking with Nixon and Welsh, who were way out of his league.
That morning, Speirs had decreed the men could drink as much as they liked, but they were forbidden to be drunk in public or while on duty. Guarded roadblocks were enforcing the rule. Dozens of soldiers had already been killed in road accidents; he wasn't going to let that happen to any of his men. Not when they were so close to going home.
He drove them around for three hours, stopping whenever they saw an appealing vista, and waited for a chance to speak to Doc. Winters hadn't told him to apologize to Doc, but Speirs knew his Major wanted him to do just that. Unfortunately, Winters hadn't told him how. Now that they were staying put, and had no enemy to fight, he was out of excuses not to.
At the next vista, Grant and Tab moved off, chasing each other up and down a slope.
Doc sat on the car's running board, which was practically as big as the deck of a ship.
Speirs couldn't ask himself how Winters would handle this situation, because Winters would never find himself in it.
"Doc, I'm sorry about…" The list was too long. "Landsberg."
"What happened to my pants?" Doc said.
"I threw them out," Speirs said.
"That's what I figured," Doc said. "You probably wanted to throw me out after them. Guess I stayed there too long. Kinda lost track of time."
Speirs watched his two best sergeants roll down a hill. "Doc, remember the Night Of The Bayonet?"
It had popped into his mind from watching Tab, but Doc would think he was referring to something else.
"Yeah, I remember," Doc said.
"You saved Tab's life that night." Speirs veered in what seemed the safest conversational direction.
Doc gave him a funny look. "Ron, something on your mind?"
"Time to head back," Speirs said.
Zell Am See, Austria, June, 1945.
Speirs was meeting with Winters when Doc came into the Major's office, which was situated on a sunny balcony overlooking the high alpine lake. But Doc was looking for him, not Winters.
"Captain, I came about the lottery," Doc said to Speirs.
"What about it, Eugene?" Winters intervened.
"I want to take my name out of it," Doc said.
The war in Europe was over, but it raged on in the Pacific. Paratroopers in the 506th could return home only if they had earned enough points. Points were assigned for medals, marriage, combat jumps, and an ever increasing number of trumped up items that favored officers. Few of the enlisted men in Easy qualified.
The lottery would allow one man in each company, regardless of points, to go home.
Among the Toccoa men, the original members of Easy Company, Doc had the lowest points. He had no medals. He had never been wounded. He was a D-Day veteran, yet he didn't qualify.
Dike should be in hell. If Doc had received the Silver Cross, he would have had enough points.
"You're asking me to rig the lottery," Winters said.
"Yes, sir," Doc said.
"I can't do that. Sparky and Harry have already rigged it for Shifty," Winters said.
"Who's Sparky?" Doc asked.
"That's what Colonel Sink calls Ron. You didn't know that?" Winters said.
Speirs stared into his teacup. Winters used milk and sugar, but Speirs used only lemon. Milk and sugar made a man fat. What constituted proper additives for tea had been his only disagreement with Winters.
"Tea, Eugene?" Winters said.
Eugene sat down at the small, round table Winters was using for a desk.
Winters gave Speirs a look, inclining his head in the way that said Move!
Speirs got up and poured tea for Doc. "Lemon?"
"Milk and sugar, please," Doc said.
They looked out over the lake as they drank the tea. Some of the men were swimming. A tournament was going on at the baseball field. If Speirs looked hard enough, he could see the tennis courts.
Winters's face turned somber, any hint of mischief vanishing. Captain Nixon was coming up the stairs towards them. "Excuse me for a minute," Winters said.
Carrying their tea, Doc followed Speirs into the lobby, where they sat down at a table.
"Doc, your name came up as the man to send home," Speirs said. "I told Harry you would say no."
"You're right, sir." Doc finished his tea, then stood. "Sparky," he added. He saluted and left.
Speirs saluted in return, almost knocking his tea off the table.
Sink's nickname for him had never sounded that good before.
Chapter 7: God Loves A Medic
Speirs learns what Doc thinks of him. Set during Points.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Zell Am See, Austria, July, 1945.
"Get Doc for me," Speirs said.
Tab ran to fetch him.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Grant had been shot in the head by a drunken American private.
Grant was somehow still alive.
Speirs recalled every Doc story he'd ever heard, like of the man who'd had his throat cut—not only had he lived, he had come back to active duty. The doctors had said it was impossible. But that was Doc.
Grant needed Doc.
As Speirs drove the jeep to the regimental hospital, Doc, sitting behind him with Grant, started the plasma going.
"What about morphine?" Speirs asked. He could see Doc in his rearview mirror.
"He'll get an anesthetic during surgery, so I can't risk it." Doc put his hand on Speirs's shoulder. "Ron, I don't think he can feel anything right now."
"All right," Speirs said. Doc's hand flooded him with confidence.
"Jesus," the army surgeon said.
"What?" Speirs asked. He was holding Grant's hand, still warm and alive.
The army surgeon didn't look at him, but at Doc. "He's not going to make it."
"You can't operate on him?" Doc asked.
"Not me. He'd need a brain surgeon. And even if you had one, I don't think there's any hope."
Grant can't die. No one else can die. Speirs could feel Doc agreeing with him.
Speirs turned to Tab. "You find the shooter. I want him alive. Come on, help me." He lifted one end of the stretcher. Doc immediately picked up the plasma.
"What are you doing?" Tab said.
"Going to find a brain surgeon."
Speirs stopped holding his gun on the Kraut brain surgeon, because Doc was looking at him funny.
The Kraut doctor kicked them out of the operating room, so they watched through a window. It was a while before Speirs realized Doc was holding his hand. Doc had to be desperate for reassurance if he was doing that, so Speirs did not let go.
Two weeks later, Easy played a baseball game against Dog, Speirs's old company, while Speirs watched from the sidelines.
Following Grant's successful operation, the men had returned to tennis, swimming, and roadblock duty. Speirs continued to scout the area for Nazi war criminals, passing tips directly to Liebgott. Liebgott never had any qualms about killing Germans.
Doc was first at bat. He got a single, then stole a base. Bull hit a double and Doc slid home. As Doc dusted himself off, Speirs cheered along with the rest of the men, then sat alongside Doc on the grass while he waited for his next turn at bat. Things had grown easier between them since Doc had come to Grant's aid.
Speirs was convinced Doc had saved Grant's life. There was no way to integrate his belief with what he knew of medicine, but he had always failed to add things up when it came to Doc.
Keeping his gaze fixed on the alps surrounding the lake, Speirs said, "Easy is going to the ski lodge for three days. It's our turn again. You didn't go last time. You should."
He somehow felt as if he were asking Doc for a favor.
"I don't know how to ski," Doc said.
"Most of the men don't. A lot of bones have been broken."
Doc smiled. "In that case, I'll go."
After Speirs spent the day skiing with Winters, he returned to his room on the top floor of the lodge, took a hot bath, put on a dress uniform, and went downstairs to the main hall.
The ski lodge was a Teutonic fantasy built in the 1920s, with huge stone fireplaces, leather covered sofas, and dark oak tables. A waiter brought him beer and fried potatoes. They were still at the end of the supply line, lucky to get rations. Potatoes and liquor were plentiful, but not much else.
He saw Doc walking with Heffron and nodded at them. They were also in dress uniform; it was all the men wore when they weren't playing sports. In Austria in the summer of 1945, the garb of a U.S. paratrooper awarded them more power than they had ever imagined.
"Any accidents?" Speirs asked when Doc came toward him.
"Martin sprained his ankle, but it's not bad. He can walk on it." Doc sat on the sofa next to him. "Look behind you."
Speirs turned away from the fireplace. The opposite wall had an enormous window looking down over the valley. The sun was setting behind the peaks, turning the alps a brilliant orange red.
"Have you been to the observation platform?" Doc asked.
Leaving his beer, Speirs followed Doc up a narrow path behind the lodge, until they reached stone benches still warm from the sun. They sat down and watched the sun sink.
After they had looked at the view for a few minutes, Doc spoke. "Martin told me you held a gun on Grant's shooter, but didn't kill him."
Speirs smiled grimly. "He probably wishes I had. I let the MPs take him. Turns out the MPs beat the crap out of him all night long."
Looking down into the valley, he could see their quarters, a tiny bright box on the shore of the lake.
"You've had enough of killing," Doc said.
Recalling his first days in France, Speirs remembered how he had changed. All of his senses were heightened. He saw more, heard more, tasted more. He moved and thought faster. Somehow, he had immediately understood it was not temporary. He would always be this way. The question was, was he ever going to get used to it?
Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. He would have forgotten his words to Blithe if they hadn't become part of the mythology of Ronald Speirs. He'd heard other men quote him.
The night he had spoken to Blithe after Carentan had been the first night Doc had touched him, so those words had to be at least part of the reason Doc thought he was a cold-blooded killer. But Speirs had only been trying to help Blithe. And he had. Blithe had fought bravely and well until he had been wounded.
He turned to face Doc. "I'd had enough by the end of D-Day."
Doc smiled at him expectantly. Speirs wanted to smile back, but it would take more than a couple of smiles to wipe away the memory of how Doc had looked at him in Buchloe.
"I know," Doc said. "I was there, remember?"
Doc's smile made no sense in the context of everything else that had gone on between them. It was sympathetic. Warm. Forgiving.
His apology had been accepted.
"Doc, why did you break curfew?"
"I knew you wouldn't leave me behind."
Speirs looked back at the view. Only a tiny sliver of sun still showed over the mountain tops. It gave him a sense of urgency, to speak before it slipped away completely.
"The view from my room is better than this," Speirs said.
"Not at night, it isn't," Doc said.
When the sun dropped behind the peaks, the temperature plunged sharply. They went inside to eat potatoes.
Speirs woke up at an unscheduled 0100. Yet nothing seemed wrong.
There was a soft knock on the door. He got out of bed, opened the door, and let Doc in.
Doc was still in his dress uniform, but without his hat and jacket. Speirs had been sleeping in PT shorts and a short-sleeved undershirt. He closed the door behind them.
"You were right. There's nothing to see at night." Speirs went to the windows and pulled the heavy drapes back to prove it.
"I can see stars," Doc said.
Speirs looked again. Now that all the lamps in the room were off, he could see a bright shining swath.
Doc let out a snort.
"What?" Speirs said.
"The mountains seem so big during the daytime, like they're the only thing you can see. But now they don't look like much. The sky is so much bigger." Doc turned away. "Close the curtains. They give me the creeps."
Speirs closed the drapes and turned on a lamp. "What gives you the creeps?"
"The mountains. We can't see them, but we can tell where they are because they hide the stars."
"They're just mountains," Speirs said.
Doc sat in a large overstuffed armchair that looked like something the Pope might sit in. Speirs sat on a large footstool near it.
"They remind me of evil," Doc said. "Sometimes evil is invisible until it blocks good. That's when you can see the shape of it."
"Doc, I think you are drunk." Speirs got up and walked to the room's bar, pouring himself some vodka. He had heard it was made out of potatoes. He was not surprised.
He poured vodka for Doc, handed it to him, then sat on the footstool again.
At night, with only a single lamp on, the room was oppressive, someone's ideal setting for deflowering German brides. The high walls were paneled from top to bottom in dark wood. All the furniture seemed the size of Panzers. The bed was largest, with heavy wooden posts girded with ironwork. The bedclothes depicted 17th century hunting scenes.
Speirs studied the embroidered faces of men and women gloating over heaps of dead animals. "I didn't shoot any German prisoners."
"I know," Doc said.
Why did Doc keep saying he knew? Doc didn't know anything. Doc had misunderstood everything he had ever done.
"Jesus Christ, Doc! It's about the men, about keeping them alive!"
"Ron, take it easy," Doc said.
Speirs rubbed his face with his hands, then looked back at Doc. "I added up the numbers and figured it out."
"What numbers? Figured out what?" Doc asked slowly.
"My balance sheet told me my men and I wouldn't survive the war. Unless I was the best soldier I could possibly be. Then we might have a chance."
"Your balance sheet? You have a journal or something?"
Speirs tapped his forehead. "Don't need to write it down."
Doc looked at him funny.
"Doesn't everybody have one?" Speirs asked.
"I don't know, Ron. I know I don't."
"Then how do you know what to do?" Speirs asked. Doc always knew what to do.
Doc thought for a moment. "Right here." He touched the left side of his chest.
"So you have one," Speirs said. "It's just lower down than mine."
Doc smiled. "I guess so."
"We're on the same side, Doc. I save the men my way, you save them your way."
"I try," Doc said.
Why were all the men Speirs respected so modest? Winters. Lipton. Doc. It was downright irritating.
"I know what you are, Doc. A traiteur. When a man is in your hands, he's safe."
"It's not like that. The men are in God's hands. God does the healing."
Speirs laughed. He knew whose hands he'd rather be in.
Doc poured more vodka into their glasses.
"Doc, I know about the prayers. I know what you were trying to do for me. But I'm not sick."
"No, just misguided."
"You don't think I'm sick in the head?'
"Nothing wrong with your head. It's your soul. Your heart."
"When I said I thought you liked it, I meant it."
"I liked it."
Speirs's balance sheet underwent such a violent adjustment he stopped breathing. Finally he sucked in a breath.
"What I didn't like is the way you tried to buy me off all the time." Doc leaned back in the chair. At some point, he had taken off his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt half way down his chest. He wasn't wearing an undershirt, Clark Gable style. "I didn't like the way you turned your back on life."
"Pass the vodka please, Doc."
"You believed evil would get you through the war, guarantee your life. You never had a thing to do with it. Think of Dike."
"Dike lived," Speirs said sourly. Bastard hadn't been blown up after all.
"What does that tell you?"
"That the Germans have lousy aim."
Doc laughed and slid off the armchair onto the floor. Doc probably was drunk—he had been drinking champagne all evening with Heffron and Spina. Speirs had left them at ten, his brief spurt of confidence at the observation platform having ebbed away.
Doc crawled the short distance to Speirs's footstool and sat on the floor next to him, then spoke as earnestly as he could, which was so earnest Speirs thought it would make him cry.
"I prayed you would understand that God gave you life, and only he can take it away."
"I want to believe it," Speirs said after a minute. "But that might be only because you're saying it." He breathed shallowly as Doc moved closer to him, leaning against him.
Doc studied him for a while. "Maybe I'm wrong. Because you are the best soldier there ever was, Ron."
Speirs wondered if his balance sheet could zero itself out and disappear.
He touched Doc's hair. It was thick and rough, growing in all directions, like the fur of young animals.
"I felt alive when you touched me. That was the only time I felt alive during the whole damn war," Speirs said. "The rest of the time, I was afraid even to breathe."
"Ron. Time for you to shut up."
Speirs grabbed the front of Doc's shirt and yanked it to get the remaining buttons undone. Doc rolled onto his back. Speirs made short work of Doc's clothes, then peeled off his own shorts and T-shirt.
Doc stood up and got on the bed, burrowing under the heavy covers. Speirs turned off the lamp and followed him. He was afraid to touch Doc all of a sudden. Perhaps he didn't want Doc to feel his hands shaking. Fortunately, Doc touched him first. Warm, hard hands on his back and shoulders and neck.
Closing his eyes, he touched Doc. He wasn't sure what he was touching, then realized it was a knee. Doc's left knee.
He felt it slowly, carefully, for a long time: the hard round bone he could move with his fingers, the sinews on the back of the knee.
Many times, he had seen Doc, wearing only shorts, running around the baseball diamond. Doc's hair and eyes were black, but his skin stayed white, even in the sun. Speirs had never seen anyone else like that. He touched Doc's thighs. They were hard and strong.
At that moment, Speirs felt so alive he could run up mountains. Hell, he and Doc had run up mountains. Carefully, he slid his hands up until they rested on Doc's shoulders. Even so, he knew Doc had felt his hands shaking. He moved his face closer until he could feel Doc's breath on his mouth.
Jesus Christ! Why was he moving so slow? They weren't going to break.
He jumped on top of Doc and kissed him hard. He grabbed Doc's hair, pressed himself against Doc's thigh, and ground himself into him. He could feel Doc grinding back, just as strong as he was, just as hard.
Doc put his hands on Speirs's shoulders and shoved, so he moved down and kissed Doc's neck. Then Doc put his hands on top of Speirs's head and pushed down even harder.
When his head had been forced down as far as Doc's chest, he finally got the hint. Good thing, as Doc was about to break his neck. He slid down the rest of the way, kneeling and grabbing Doc's legs. He tried to go slow, but failed, using too much speed and suction and teeth. Moving Doc's legs up over his shoulders, he wanted to have so strongly it hurt.
Doc was saying stuff in French, but it was not a prayer, unless he was praying for Speirs not to stop.
His hair was pulled. He was kicked a few times. He didn't back off. He could feel the moment of turning approach, Doc losing his self-control, at last letting Speirs take it and guard it for a moment that went on and on.
He moved up and kissed Doc, then, taking his cue from Doc on how to communicate, he shoved Doc until he rolled onto his stomach.
Speirs shouldn't even be thinking about this. Doc most likely had never done it. Not that Doc was inexperienced. Far from it. Speirs had a hunch Eugene had finished his sinning early.
Then he remembered the hair pomade, greasy stuff that made his hair completely flat and slicked back. He leapt off the bed, found the tin in the bathroom, and returned seconds later. He put his hands on Doc's ass and kneaded.
Doc was moving on the bed, as if he were dog paddling, but he wasn't going anywhere. Speirs dipped his finger into the pomade and rubbed it on himself, breathing sharply, then scooped up more with two fingers and rubbed it all over Doc's ass, finally narrowing his approach.
"You sure you want to try this?" Speirs felt his fingers hit just the right spot, and he pushed them in.
"Yeah." Doc panted. "Now."
Speirs's hands weren't shaking anymore, his whole body was. As soon as he felt himself sink in slightly, he pushed in all the way. He came back to himself in time to stop moving. Damn his impatience. That had to have hurt.
"Unh," Doc moaned. "Fucking Mary Mother of Christ!"
Speirs hoped that meant it felt good, because it turned him crazy. His hips pumped so hard the heavy bed bashed the wall. He grabbed Doc's hands and hung onto them. Minutes or hours later, he found himself kneeling, with Doc on his knees and elbows, and his hands on the back of Doc's neck.
He had studied engineering before enlisting, and somehow he must have known this gave him the best leverage, short of building some kind of machine to hold Doc for him. As soon as the thought came to him, his mind instantly drew up a plan of the apparatus, complete with Doc in it. He screamed himself hoarse.
He woke up too early, five in the morning. For a moment he didn't know why, then he felt the weight of Doc next to him. He shook him gently. Doc grumbled and rolled off the bed. Speirs helped him gather his clothes. Doc got them on. Speirs kissed him at the door and asked Where? Doc told him his room number in the lodge, then left to get there before anyone else was awake.
Speirs pulled the drapes open and climbed back into the bed to wait. The sun was just coming up. In a little while, he'd go to Eugene's room, and they would go down to the dining hall to eat breakfast together.
Looking out at the infinite sky and the insignificant mountains, he could feel that the war was going to end soon.
During the early episodes such as "Carentan," I was assaulted by a bunny that Doc Roe was a faith healer. I probably got the bunny from Shane Taylor's performance. When he works on his patients, there's something special about his hands. When I learned, according to the episode "Bastogne," that his grandmother was a Cajun faith healer, I had to write fic about him. In this story, everything regarding Doc's faith healing is fictional.