Dick finds Nix on the terrace of der Berchtesgadener Hof a few hours before sunrise, dragging Harry around in a sluggish waltz and crooning "I'm In The Mood For Love," half a dozen empties clinking around their shuffling feet. Nix spins him suddenly and Harry makes a noise like a sick cat, which strikes Dick as being either a prelude to vomit or an attempt at harmony. Dick's not feeling very confident about the odds.
"Kitty's a lucky girl," says Dick, stepping out into a shaft of moonlight. Nix takes a step back, and with nothing else holding him up, Harry thumps down on his ass on the concrete, grinning like his face might split. He grabs an empty bottle and lifts it towards Dick.
"To the best man!" Harry says, and Nix doubles over laughing, rocking forward precariously on the balls of his feet. "That's you, Dick. Nix here, he's gonna pick up that, what's it--"
"Irene," says Nix, tilting up his own bottle, not quite gone.
"Irene, Irene! I'll see you in my dreams," sings Harry, wobbling from side to side. "Nix is gonna pick her up on the way home. Double wedding in the Poconos. Dick, you're gonna stand right in the middle." Harry wheezes with laughter and taps the bottle against Nix's knee. "Just keep us both on our feet."
Dick looks at Nix, his curled lips and crinkled eyes, and Nix offers a shrug.
Their war is over. Dick should be this happy. Dick should be thinking about everything that's supposed to come after.
"That's all, huh?" Dick asks before he turns his head. He stoops down and slides an arm under Harry's, hauls him up with a grunt. "Better start practicing then."
Harry makes it to the nearest sun chair, then pitches headlong out of Dick's grasp and plants himself facedown, his arms hanging off the sides and reaching for the ground like a kid for his security blanket. "Christ, I'm done for," he moans. "You boys save yourselves." Dick snorts and reaches for him again and Nix stops him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Aw, leave him," Nix says, swigging from his bottle. Harry's already snoring away. "It's better than where I found him."
Dick steps back chuckling and shaking his head, then throws Nix a sidelong look and touches his tongue to his upper lip thoughtfully.
"Give me that, will you?" He grabs the bottle from Nix and finishes it in three neat swallows. Nix barks in amusement.
"Now that's just cruel. Why couldn't you just -- you know he's never going to believe me."
Dick smirks, tucking the bottle against Harry's side. "So don't tell him."
"Jesus," Nix sighs. "If your men only knew." He throws an arm around Dick's shoulders and breathes against Dick's neck. "So where to, Major? You tell me for once, where's the night taking us next?"
"Bed," says Dick, and Nix laughs again, a hot, boozy puff.
"Yeah, yours or mine?"
They sneak in through the hotel parlor, Nix stumbling over the plush carpet. Dick lowers his voice as he herds Nix past the guards in the foyer.
"You even remember where yours is?"
Nix stops in his tracks, agape with indignation, until Dick drags him along bodily, grinning stubbornly in spite of himself.
"Have I ever steered you wrong? No, don't answer that, it's too late. Lip's my best man," mutters Nix. "Lip never impugns my powers of... you know, the thing."
"Never to your face," Dick agrees somberly.
There's no one left on the street as far as Dick can see, and it's quiet as a ghost town. He guesses it'll be one when they roll out in the morning. He wonders for how long.
"We should hurry," Dick says, bracing his arm against Nix's back and shoving him along a little faster. "Webster's been chewing off everyone's ears, he's so disappointed in Hitler's taste. Nothing but a couple of bottles of cheap wine. Wouldn't want him scrounging out your stash when he wises up."
Nix huffs out a dubious breath. "Well, not much chance of that. Besides, I put the kid on it."
"You put what kid on what?"
"That kid, the excitable one, guarding the door. O'Doyle? I told him he was doing such a bang-up job, I needed him for my own personal collection."
"You didn't," Dick groans in habitual disbelief, but he's hardly shocked when they reach Nix's billet and O'Keefe is present and accounted for, slumped over on the porch and sleeping like a baby.
"You seeing what I'm seeing, Major Winters? Private O'Keefe!" Nix roars gleefully. He breaks out of Dick's hold and stomps up the front steps, prodding the dazed kid with his boot. "Private, what's your first goddamn general order?" O'Keefe struggles to his feet, scrambling like a crab, nearly wetting himself on the spot when his eyes fix on Dick over Nix's shoulder.
"No excuses!" Nix shouts when the kid opens his mouth. "Get your ass up that hill, double time!" he orders, gesturing vaguely toward the Alps. He taps his bare wrist in O'Keefe's face emphatically. "The clock's ticking, soldier!"
Dick watches with his fist pressed against his mouth as O'Keefe nods and trips his way off the porch, "Sir, yes, Sir-"ing all the way. He lets the kid go about twenty paces before calling out and ordering him straight back to his billet.
"You spoil the kids, Dick," Nix says, holding the front door open for him. It's a nice little house. Nix lights a cigarette, flicking ashes onto the fine wood staircase as he leads Dick to the second story. "They're never going to learn any respect with you undermining me like that."
"We can't all have your discipline." Dick stops half a step into Nix's bunk, braces his hands on the doorjamb and stares. "And thank God for that," he adds, starting to chuckle. The floor's lined with crates of liquor, boxes and bags, anything that could be carried. There's barely a path cut to the narrow bed. There must be hundreds of bottles. Nix grabs one and settles himself by the window, tapping his cigarette against the sill. He surveys his stockpile with the proud beam of a new parent.
"Take what I wanted, you said," says Nix, pointing his finger at Dick.
"I know I did, but for Pete's sake, Nix, what do you think we're driving to Austria?"
"I'll manage. Don't I always?" Nix opens his new bottle and takes a long pull. "When'd you get so goddamned cynical anyway? Don't tell me occupation duty's not your dream come true."
Dick winces. "Of course. I'd been wondering when we'd finally get the chance to put all that training to good use." He sits down on the lid of one of the crates, picks up a bottle and fiddles with the label. He can't even tell what language it's in.
Nix leans back against the wall, propping up his feet on the edge of the open crate beside the bed. "Sounds good enough to me. As a matter of fact, Dick, I'll tell you, I think occupation just might be where I truly excel. You put me anyplace you like, I'll occupy it. I'll occupy the bejesus out of it. I'll occupy it standing on my head."
It's funny. Dick frowns and taps his fingers against the neck of the bottle. He worries at the seal for a second, then puts it down. "It'll be months. At least. Months sitting there."
Nix takes another deep swallow of whiskey and lights another cigarette, exhaling smoke with a sigh. "So, suddenly you're in a rush? Hot date back in Lancaster? Rumspringa coming up?"
"Suddenly you're not interested in going home?"
"What's sudden? Believe me, my empty house and dreaded legacy won't mind the wait."
Dick pretends to study another bottle. "Will Irene?"
Nix fixes a long, bemused look on Dick. He reaches over and stubs out his cigarette on the bedpost, flicking the butt to the floor. "Hell, Dick, I don't know. What are you getting at?"
He slots the bottle back into its box and rests his hands on his knees, squaring his shoulders. "What do you think about Japan?"
"I've been told the cherry blossoms are lovely in the springtime."
Dick stands up and dexterously navigates the maze of crates. He sits on the edge of the bed, and Nix shifts himself up toward the headboard. His eyes are wide and nervous, eyebrows high.
"I can't sit in Austria for months," Dick says. "Sit on my ass while the next batch of know-nothing kids gets wiped out. I want to go."
Nix laughs, a breathy, hollow noise. "Jesus, Dick."
Dick can't remember the last time his heart pounded like this when he wasn't holding his weapon. It feels good. "We won a war already. Now we know how it's done. The next one will be a piece of cake."
"We -- look, what's this we stuff?"
Dick leans towards Nix, grinning. "Come with me."
Nix takes a deep pull of his whiskey, then another. He points the bottle at Dick. "You're out of your goddamn mind."
"How am I going to get there without you? You have all the maps."
"Oh, this is funny? You're a funny guy now?" Nix takes another drink. "What about the men?"
The back of Dick's throat goes sour. "What about them? I've been nothing but a spook to them for the better part of a year and you know it. Everyone knows it. They've got Ron, they've got Lip. I'm nobody's father, Nix. The men will get by."
The bottle stops halfway to Nix's lips. His mouth twists slowly into a smirk and he turns his head and looks at Dick like it's the first time he's ever seen him. "You son of a bitch."
"That's what this was all about, all of this," Nix says, cocking the bottle in his hand toward the rest. "I knew it. I knew you were too goddamned tickled this morning. You cooked up a whole little scheme here, didn't you? You wanted to get me good and liquored up before you popped the question."
"Did it work?"
"If it really kills you this much that I got that extra star above my jump wings, Dick, I've got to tell you, I'd be overjoyed to hand it over."
"It's all yours, buddy."
"Just think about it," Dick says.
"I am thinking! I'm thinking my odds of survival drop a little more with each jump, and after the last one, I can't imagine they've got much further to go."
Dick shrugs. "Were you planning on living forever?"
Nix eyes Dick for a speechless second before he swallows another mouthful of whiskey. "Why do you want to do this?" he asks, looking down at the bottle in his hand, picking at the label with his thumbnail.
Dick thinks about it for a while. "I don't think I'm finished yet." He swallows hard, reaches over and takes the bottle from Nix, tips it back and swallows again. The whiskey burns something awful in his chest. "I don't think we're finished yet," he says. "That's all."
The quiet is a weighted thing. Nix steals the bottle back and they watch each other evenly as he drinks. Then Nix stretches his legs out in front of him and crosses his boots on Dick's thigh.
"Well, suppose we didn't have to be," Nix says. "Suppose we sit there in Austria, you and I, and then we go somewhere else. Somewhere other than Japan. Somewhere we maybe won't die quite as horribly."
"Yeah?" Dick glances down and notices that he's playing with Nix's bootlace. He doesn't stop. He smiles. "And where's that?"
Nix sets the bottle aside. "I'll figure something out. I'll get back to you."