The sun was setting and the lighting of the lake was beautiful, creating an atmosphere of peace and calm that many of them absorbed and stored away for times when they'd need it. Times like Bastogne. They'd all learned to appreciate the small things in the course of the war, and Dick sometimes wondered if they were ever going to be able to shed the need for sun and warmth.
His gaze followed Malarkey, who had a huge smile plastered on his face, his eyes bright with joy at the prospect of going to Paris. Dick could still see the traces the war had left, though, could see the pain from losing his friends, from realising that life could be short and cruel. He just hoped Don would overcome the pain and learn to cherish the good memories. Dick believed he could, because Malarkey was a strong man.
“Sir?” Dick heard a voice ask next to him and he turned to face Lipton.
“Oh, yes, Carwood.” he said and offered a smile. “What can I do for you?”
“I've come to a decision, sir.” Lipton replied with a little smile. “And I want to inform you that I wish to remain with the men.”
“So you've decided to stay?” Dick asked, only mildly surprised. He'd guessed that Lipton wouldn't abandon the men, that he'd stay until he was sure they were all right.
Lipton nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“You have the points, Carwood.” Dick remarked, his voice serious. “You could go home.”
“I know, sir.”
For a moment, Dick wondered if he should ask a question he had no right to ask, then he decided to be frank. “Ron?”
Lipton was quiet for a moment, then he gave a smile. “I can't leave him alone to deal with Easy when I could have stayed, can I?”
“Easy is very lucky to have you.” Dick chuckled, then he added in a very low voice, “And so is Ron.”
For a moment, Lipton seemed to be surprised by his words, then his smile softened. “Thank you, sir.”
“I mean it, Carwood.” Dick said seriously. “I'm glad to know the two of you are staying with us.”
“They're still my boys, sir.” Lipton replied equally serious. “I wouldn't leave any of them behind in the field, so why should I now that the worst is over?”
Dick couldn't help a smile. He was infinitely grateful that he had Lipton in the company. “That's what makes you such a good officer, Carwood.”
Lipton actually seemed a little embarrassed by the praise and there was a faint blush on his cheeks. “Thank you, sir. But I'm only doing my job.”
And coming from Carwood Lipton, this wasn't false modesty born of politeness. It was the way he really felt, and Dick knew he could never make him understand that that was the reason Dick valued him so highly. So he just nodded in acceptance and went on to explain to Lipton about the reassignment that came with his battlefield commission, watching the small line of worry between Lipton's brows transform into a huge smile when he learned that Dick planned to assigned him to Battalion Headquarters. Dick knew where the worry had come from, knew about Lipton expecting to be sent away from Easy, away from Speirs. And Dick was more than happy to prevent that from happening.
It wasn't until the next morning, down at the airfield after the speech of the German General, that Speirs approached him. Dick had been waiting for it ever since he'd spoken with Lipton, and before Speirs had even begun talking about how Easy needed a commanding officer after the war to keep them from killing each other, and how it should be somebody who knew what they were doing, Dick knew what the outcome would be.
“I'm staying in the army, sir.” Speirs finally said when Dick stopped at the jeep he was going to drive back up to the hotel.
Dick just nodded. “I know.”
Speirs frowned in momentary confusion. “How could you?”
Dick gave a small smile heavy with meaning. “Lipton talked to me yesterday evening and he informed me of his decision to stay.”
“Yeah, so he told me.” Speirs nodded slowly, taking in the meaning hidden in Dick's words. “So you knew what I was going to say all along.”
Dick inclined his head. “I had an inkling.”
Speirs chuckled, then he shook his head, turning serious. “No. You knew.”
Dick accepted the offer of trust and nodded slowly, never breaking eye contact. “Yes, I knew.”
Ron held his gaze, and there was something in it that made Dick think that this was a crucial moment, defining how they would treat each other for the rest of their lives. “Just like I knew Nixon would have gone with you to the Pacific.”
Dick wasn't too surprised Speirs knew about his application for transfer, and he had to admit that he wasn't too surprised Ron knew about him and Lew, either. He was surprised about himself, though, when he nodded slowly. “Yes. Exactly like that.”
Ron held his gaze for another moment, then he inclined his head in a respectful nod. “There never was a choice for us, was there?”
Dick had to smirk. “No, there wasn't.”
Ron returned his smirk, and it was the first time Dick had ever seen him smile for real, a smile that actually reached his eyes. “I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Dick sat down in the driver's seat, then he met Ron's eyes openly and smiled. “Neither would I.”
Luz leaned back against the tree, his cards held loosely in one hand, a pint of beer in the other. He had to admit, the Germans knew how to make a real good beer. Malarkey seemed to agree, considering that he was already at his fourth pint. But then again, they were celebrating his reassignment to Paris, so he had every right to get drunk.
Liebgott and Bull were more than happy to join him in the drunk department. In fact, Luz was the only one who hadn't reached the fourth pint yet. He was working on it though. Maybe more alcohol in his blood stream would make him better at cards, because right now, he was getting a hell of a beating.
Perconte was even worse than the others, he'd just started on his sixth pint, and Luz couldn't help wondering where such a small man put all that booze without getting dumb-ass drunk. Because fact was, Perco was mugging them all at the moment. Life was not fair, really.
“Hey boys.” Babe greeted and stopped close to Bull, settling down on the grass next to him. “I've got some great news.”
Luz eyed him over his cards. “Shoot, then.”
“Lipton decided to stay with us.” Babe declared with a huge grin. “I heard how he and Speirs were talking about it on the terrace.”
Bull just shrugged and took another sip of his beer, abandoning his cigar for a moment. “Did you expect anything else? It's Lip. He'd never just leave us.”
“Yeah, just think of Haguenau.” Malarkey added and lowered his cards in favour of a drink. “He didn't even go to hospital when he was down with pneumonia, so did you really think he'd leave us just because the war is over and he has the points to go home?”
“True enough.” Babe agreed and reached into the water to steal one of the beer bottles they'd brought with them. “Oh, but there's more.”
“What?” Frank asked from where he was counting his winnings of the last game. Luz eyed him enviously. Really, a man who didn't even smoke shouldn't win so many packs of cigarettes.
Babe was just taking a deep gulp right out of the bottle – they'd only brought one glass each – and made a satisfied sound afterwards. “This stuff is good.”
“Yeah, we know.” Liebgott said and rolled his eyes. “That's why we've brought so much of it with us. So, you were saying?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Babe made a little pause and looked around. “Speirs is staying, too.”
“That's not a huge surprise either.” Luz remarked with a shrug, then he grinned. “I mean, Speirs leaving and Lip staying would be like... I don't know, Winters without Nixon.”
Bull snorted. “Yeah, that's never going to happen. I heard Nixon offered Winters a job in his family's enterprise and that he's planning to accept.”
Luz just shrugged again, distractedly looking at his really bad hand. “My understanding of the world would have crumbled down if they'd just gone their separate ways after the war.”
“I think it's great to know that Lipton and Speirs are both going to stay.” Babe said before he took another huge gulp of his beer. He had a lot to catch up on them, after all. “I mean, imagine our two commanding officers being replaced at the same time. By another Dike, for example.”
“Please spare us.” Bull huffed around his cigar. “I don't think Easy can take another Dike.”
“Or Sobel.” Malark remarked from behind his cards.
“Oh, don't worry, kids!” Luz just grinned. “Mama Lip and Papa Speirs won't leave Easy.”