It Happened One Night
“I’ll take you there.”
Dick sighs out a murmur, eyes always focused ahead, outward and onward. “Yeah. We’ll see.” As if staring hard enough might materialize the answer from beyond the clouds, could give him advance warning and troop positions.
Nixon doesn’t dare look for predictions in the English fog and rain. He’s S-2, Intelligence. Every musty inch of his Yale-sized mind is coated in routes, roads, hedgerows, artillery, troops, drop-zones, red, green, dark blue ink, classified stamps, codenames, times in cryptic military form—known quantities. Dick deals in fuzzier numbers, all sharp-edged beneath: how many men will die, how many will be shot, injured, maimed, ruined, or damaged somewhere untouchable. How many. Shoulder to shoulder is all Nixon can offer on the edge of action, so he cocks his cigarette around his mouth, removes it, grins through the smoke. Jokes tiny, harmless jokes to see if Dick’ll smile.
“Oh, you know who’s from there?”
“Huh?” Dick swings his head toward Nixon, then grunts in realization and swerves back. “Oh, him.”
“Seven-hundred and twenty-five days with that son of a bitch, and here we are.”
Dick’s plucking his gloves off and on again. A few daylong hours later Nixon’s strolling the foggy grounds on his seventh thousand cigarettes and spots a familiar red blotch among the military greens. And then the off-white of paratrooper gloves sliding on and tugging off again. “Unmistakable,” Nixon says as he swerves onto a path toward him. “You’ll be a plucking duck out there, picking those white gloves on and off, on and off.”
Dick turns, not surprised either. They’ve become twin suns, things that seem to drift naturally around each other, swinging tighter circles as they grow closer. They keep stumbling across each other unexpectedly, expectedly. Dick offers a faint smile and his fingers, pink with cold, keep mechanically at their work. On, then off, head down, too nervous.
“A vice of mine, I guess,” he says.
Nixon pinches his cigarette in his mouth to free up his hands. They’re also tinged with cold, but Nixon doesn’t need to grip a rifle for dear life in the immediate future like Dick does. He grabs Dick’s half-gloved hand and tugs it on fully. “Yeah. Trust me, on a scale from lothario to dictator, you’re not really going to register. You will, however, give yourself away and we can’t have that.”
Dick keeps still and allows Nixon to wiggle the second on. He watches Nixon as he works, head bowed and mouth stitched in concentration around his cigarette. “No, no,” he murmurs. Then asks, “And you?”
Nixon looks up. “Me?”
“Between lothario and dictator, where are you?”
Dick absently flexes his fingers within his gloves—keep them on, dammit, Nixon’s chanting inside—and looks at him. Nixon takes his cigarette and taps off the ashes before answering. “Well, we Nixons usually err on the side of dictator, just to be safe—but I think I’ll be contrary. Always have been; there’s no reason to quit now.”
“Ah,” Dick intones. He already knew the answer, and seems to have found something interesting in the answer. Nixon doesn’t want to know what. Ugly truths and unpardonable traits can wait until they’ve liberated Europe and fully walloped the idiots halfway across the globe that started this mess. Here, poised on the jagged edge of D-Day, just waiting, that silent understanding in Dick’s stare is overwhelming. Also, the man is wickedly handsome in his cap, freckles showing dark under cloud cover.
Nixon doesn’t let on details like that. Might inspire him to his own uncontrollable tick beyond the usual cigarettes, alcohol, sarcasm—instead he ducks his head, hisses out some smoke, and walks alongside as they head toward their tent. Officers tent, luxurious accommodations including two cots and a collapsible table.
“I take it back, by the way,” Nixon says. “It’s not clearing up.”
Aside from the Second World War raging—aside from that—and the H-hour approaching, it’s an awfully typical English night. Murky, misty still, with high, cold winds blowing and rain sputtering on and off, on and off. Across the airfield, there’s thousand of anxious eyes turned skyward, thousands of men ignoring projectors and Bette Davis and John Wayne and morale-boosters. Officers flit between tents hurrying information along, gossiping about the rain. A few orange cigarette tips light up off in the dim as lanterns go on.
Dick disappears for a stint while Nixon’s pouring over his maps, and reappears once Nixon’s moved onto the ominous names populating Germany. He first looks to check Dick’s gloves are on.
“Everything alright?” Nixon asks once that checks out. The fingers beneath are safe, a normally pale color when Dick tugs them off, tucks them into a pocket.
“You were right, it is clearing up. We’re back on for nineteen hundred hours tomorrow. I just informed the men.”
“Suppose they could have told me?” Nixon growls. “Goddamn intelligence.”
Dick snatches the cap off his head, sweeping a tired hand across his hair. Crosses the tent in a few stilted steps and collapses onto a cot like a jailed man. The dark circles weighing his eyes seem doubly loaded. He pins Nixon with a weary look—brief, as well. His eyeballs roll downward like iron weights a moment after. “Well, you know now.” He looks old, so tired.
Chances are some lucky bullet will bite home on one of them. Chances are they’ll be unceremoniously mowed down—one crawling up the beach, bellowing into a radio, one running behind enemy lines and hopelessly outnumbered. They both know it. Neither Nixon’s status nor Dick’s sainthood actually protect them. Chicago and Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Toccoa are distant ideas, like El Dorado. Outwardly, Dick doesn’t let on these doubts and worries, but Nixon knows him well enough. Without a word, he crosses over and stands in front of Dick.
Dick looks up in silence.
“Come on, let me see ‘em,” Nix murmurs. “Inspection.” He grabs up Dick’s fingers, making sure they’re not pinched pink with cold, too achy to properly wield his rifle. Dick twitches absently, applying pressure until they create a mockery of clasping hands like sweethearts. Nixon smirks and drops his away. “Fine, you pass. Sleep with those damn gloves on.”
Dick gingerly rubs his hands to warm them. “I never knew you were so motherly, Lew.”
“Well, I do strange things when I’m sober. Like join the paratroopers,” he says, trying to lighten the mood. Still too wound to rest, Nixon resumes his mechanical review of maps, sand tables, anything written in hopes of killing the time, killing his consciousness. He refuses to sleep and just let this campaign descend, while Dick prefers to fight the insomnia while horizontal, tossing and turning on his cot, fruitless. The lantern winds down dimmer and dimmer until it grows perfectly quiet.
The next time there’s noise of movement, it’s of Nixon turning around.
Dick is finally bone-deep asleep. Tossed and turned into exhaustion, curled halfway on his side, legs and head tilted towards the lantern light. The bony angles of his body seem collapsed, jarring at odd intersections, malnourished. Nixon chalks the swell of affection up to his odd maternal instincts and resumes his night vigil over a map of Normandy. When, at roughly 3:30—his ability to see his watch clearly diminishing—the lantern flame flares up bright, dancing, Nixon chalks that up to need sleep now.
He crosses the tent and collapses onto his own cot, ready to die or sleep trying.
He’d slept through breakfast. What could be the last proper, goddamn breakfast of his life. Nixon lashes at the traitorous alarm clock fastened overhead to the tent wall by a loop of twine. He cracks the glass and scuffing his knuckles in the process. Army-issued meals wait for no officer, nor fresh coffee. The cot Dick laid in is perfectly pressed, the bedroll practically untouched. Nixon surges through a crowd of limeys and paratroopers mingling to a makeshift mess hall. He hears noisy chatter in lilting English and rough-edged American, mechanics carving and patching planes, the grumbling of jeeps crawling through the muddy soil. Amazingly less tension today, considering the perfectly sunny weather.
“Sorry, sir, we’re out.”
“What? You were out yesterday. We’re not gonna win this war without coffee, you know.”
Poor mess officer just shakes his head like he’s crazy—no doubt Nixon’s not the only officer complaining. Instead of arguing, he whistles into the kitchen. A skinny soldier in an apron tosses him a pack of Luckies. The mess officer pushes them into Nixon’s palm. “Smoke more, then,” he says. “That’s all I got for you, sir.”
Sergeant Lipton discovers him fifteen minutes later, trotting out from behind a stack of ammunition still wrapped in webbing (shouldn’t that be unpacked by now?) looking three shades whiter than usual. Immediately, he switches direction and hoofs over to the intelligence officer, eyeing his fresh cigarette with muted anxiety. No gear saddled along his waist, just uniform and gloves, Mickey Mouse white against the forest of military greens.
“Cap’n Nixon, sir—it’s oh-nine-hundred.”
Nix licks a mouthful of smoke before dispelling it. Cigarettes for breakfast aren’t healthy, but do smooth-out the nerves. “Yeah, it probably is, Sarge.”
His shoulders are regulation rigid, but his expression is polite to a fault. Familiarity born on the mountain trails of Georgia leashed by military standards. “You’re to debrief us in the north hangar at oh-nine-hundred,” Lipton informs him.
Oh, now, that’s just redundant.
“Debrief on what, Lip?” Proper military form for shitting yourself in terror? How to drop dead most efficiently? How to pull your knees up and cry to your god when the plane gets hit? Because that’s all that’s left to tell as they wait for the signal to go.
The Sergeant looks like’s swallowing something jagged, eyebrows pinching together. “Operation Overlord, sir.”
Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword, again, partitioned on the oversized map with blood red tape. Pen and compass clutched loosely in hand while the mouth and mind skim through the curriculum without him, pointing, drawing, and clarifying. Sure, out of his mouth pours “Carentan; sand tables; oh-six-hundred,” word-for-word for yesterday’s debriefing—but internally, Nixon is anything but routine. Occasionally, his tongue falters and he stutters around details he’s already told them, don’t they realize that? What the hell is going on?
Nixon slips away like the hangar’s on fire, not lingering to allow the terrifying familiar routine to continue. He knew Dick would clap him on the shoulder afterwards, Buck would duck his head, murmur an apology as he brushed past Nixon at the sand tables, Harry would abruptly laugh at Dick’s comment. And then they did, like rehearsed players only wearing their personas, freckles and gap-teeth painted on. They did, because they had.
He’s swimming in déjà vu, swimming between tents, cargo still in webbing, fingers cold and grasping for a hold. Whatever’s happening, Nixon doesn’t want to understand. The most probable thing is he’s finally just divorced from all his sense. Volunteering for the paratroopers, issuing a “fuck-all” to Yale and Nixon, Sr., both—he’s been getting closer and closer to something, and it would be just his luck that it’s been cuckoo-clock-insanity all this time. Nix charges back into the tent and tears into Dick’s footlocker like it’s an oasis. Time to drown out, the time and responsibilities be damned.
Then he rocks back onto his heels and lets his arms drop to his side, defeated. “Oh, bollocks.”
Two bottles again. Again.
Eventually, the faint, muddy steps in the distant grow into Lipton cautiously standing in the open doorway, squinting against the rising mist and cloud cover. He presses the flap up to duck inside. Nixon acknowledges him with a bemused hum, then stares again into the footlocker.
“I need your professional opinion,” Nixon says. “How many bottles of scotch whiskey do you see here in Dick’s footlocker?”
Lipton doesn’t question the odd, choked tone Nixon asks in—or that there’s whiskey in Winters’s footlocker. Just walks closer and peers over his shoulder. “Two,” he answers after a beat. “Nixon, sir—”
“Very professional, thank you,” Nixon mutters. “So it’s official.” Without a breath of explanation, he rummages in the footlocker, pulling both glimpses of VAT 69 from Winters’ dress greens and hefts one into each palm. Nixon rises and turns to face Lipton, squinting down at the label. Bends forward and blows traces of dust off the handsome black label before lifting it towards Lipton, offering in full contradiction of the fact Lipton’s second only to Dick Winters himself in purity.
“Here. I already drank this one.” He tosses the bottle to the First Sergeant and it sloshes full as Lip clutches it his chest, puzzled and already opening his mouth to protest. Nixon interrupts with a curt, surly little salute and sweeps out of the tent. Too ready drown in the remaining whiskey to resist it, on this, the day of days of days of days.
“It’ll clear up.”
Dick, strolling between cargo tucked in with tarpaulin, tugging on his gloves, seems like an odd, repetitive phantom until he looks up. Nixon The suede blue of his airman’s cap echoes the points and ropes of tents stretching across the airfield, and his eyes reflect the grey-blue-green of the clouds. Dick slows to a halt once in the open. One hand still tugging the other into his glove, fresh out of the flickering white and dark of the paratrooper theatre. He waits for Nix, as he already had.
Nixon hides a half-wistful smile emboldened by alcohol by gazing up. “I know it will.”
“You think so?” Dick murmurs. Synchronized they fall in-step, wandering nowhere.
“I have my sources,” Nix says. Lifts his flask arm to check his watch, quickly calculating. “It’s five o’clock in New York. Four in Chicago.” Strangely, knowing exactly what to say here is less rattling, less terrifying.
“Happy hour, huh?” Dick breathes.
Nixon nearly chokes on his laugh, though—that’s still awfully strange. Did he use that half-drowned sort of tone before? Had they walked this close, gloves brushing against Nixon’s knuckles in the natural swing of their gaits? He shakes away multiplying doubts with a snort and lifts the flask. Save for distant projector reels clicking along and distant machinery crying, it’s deadly quiet. There—the same palette and few un-webbed crates. Nixon settles down there and bows his head.
There’s something he’s forgotten to say, he knows it—no, it has to happen just like before—it was the eve of the largest military action they’d ever see and he’d promised Dick something. Though now he’s unsure where he’d promised. Out loud and forever, or only inside and still too—
Nixon jolts a little at the interrupted script, looking up. “Wuh?” The carved features of Dick’s face, so easily schooled into order and salutes, kind of thins out into a half-smile, half-chuckle.
“You. You seemed—far off,” Dick says.
Nixon’s nerves begin swelling, gaining momentum as Dick chooses to stroll over and claim a spot shoulder-to-shoulder on the crates, nudging alongside. Of course, he waits until they’re nearly nose-to-nose to turn towards him and ask, “You alright?” Mistletoe’s overhead kind of close, freckles standing out again, with slow, measured breaths pouring through his nose like he’s sleeping through the invasion.
“Peachy,” Nixon lies, then wrestles a flame out of his Zippo.
He knows that Dick’s still watching, evaluating, but he’s still too wrung out by this inadvertent repeat to focus properly on just tightly shoulder-to-shoulder they always sit. Perched on the edge of Nixon’s peripheral vision, guarding. Of course, Dick sees something through his front, but Nixon’s sure he can’t see this.
When he’d returned from weekend passes in Aldbourne glowing like a mother-to-be, disheveled and not so heavily intoxicated, Dick didn’t mention Kathy, waiting patiently stateside. When he’d misdirected his barbs and accidentally cut a lower officer with his sarcasm, Dick had ignored his fault. When he drank, lofty and spouting hot air, swimming in vices, Dick had withheld judgment and disappointment. But Dick Winters can’t see into this. Not the budding insanity, not the anxious affection he never lets on.
“I’ll take you there one day,” Nixon says, gazing off across the airfield. Time to throw hound dog Winters off the scent, back onto the script. “Chicago.”
Dick smiles at him, and finally turns away. Takes the bait.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” he breathes, eyes flashing green-blue towards the clouds.
Nixon doesn’t sleep. Listens to sounds of troubled sleep from within the warm tent, the distant whisper of the ocean, imagines the Germans singing across the Channel, bloated with victory. The extra cigarettes keep him company. He’s careful to stand in the doorway so the smoke drifts outside, disappearing into the dark before dissolving. He studies the stars and counts the minutes until dawn, the empty VAT bottle saddled in a trouser pocket. He doesn’t sleep. He’s gotta see the sun dawn on June 5th, or—or—
His lips purse around the Lucky, when, roughly in the dead of night, all stars their brightest pearl against the black, something gets heavy. He staggers slightly left under the abrupt weight.
Nixon pulls the handsome black and green bottle from his pocket and laughs one, choked, thirsty laugh. It’s full again. He turns and yes, there is Dick Winters, again half-turned towards the Nixon in the lantern light, angular, malnourished within his uniform, faithfully asleep. There’s the emerald green glint within his footlocker that signals, yes, the number is restored to two again. Like some witch waved her hand and it’s all the same again. Again.
Nixon scoffs, and turns to walk out of the tent. Then he stops, staring in suspicion at cigarette, whiskey, and his own hands equally, before, “To hell with it all, then.”
He breaks the seal and yanks off the cap by that pretty red ribbon.
June 4th, the third time around, he’s wickedly drunk. Nearly unconscious, barely human and mostly saturated, useless when Dick Winters discovers him curled up on the dirt, cradling both bottles like newborn babes. That was the most maudlin of the days—officers tugging him onto his feet and lightly slapping his face, running coffee down his throat. Sink’s furious—but that fury’s distant, and bound to be reset, anyway. Sobriety hits him late afternoon and the clouded grey light is soothing. Dick is always nearby, just itching with concern. A faint, cinnamon-red blur on the edge of recognition.
Nixon blinks dumbly later in the evening. He doesn’t remember sitting down, or being wrapped up in Dick’s jacket. “Sorry,” he offers.
Dick looks over at him, and then comes over to check for fever. Still not judgmental, just thoroughly worried—stray red tufts of hair ruffled out of line by a hand, a hollowed-out smile.
“Everything will be fine, Lew,” he says, cold-pinched fingers running through Nixon’s hair. “We’ll get through.”
Christ, he thinks I’m falling to pieces!—then, Well aren’t I?
That answer is a resolute, “Yes,” but the high walls of June 4th catch all. In pieces, in a collected pile.
Nixon remembers to remind Dick, keep those gloves on, don’t worry at them or you’ll catch cold, before he’s too exhausted to hold his eyelids up. He’ll just start plucking them on and off again tomorrow, but Nix’s gotta try.
He’s awake again before dawn and watches Dick’s open footlocker like it’s a nickelodeon. He blinks, and they’re both there again, whole, handsome and 100% scotch whiskey, their broken remains no longer gracing the dirt floor.
June 4th, fourth and fifth time, are equally bad. Fragmented, totally ignoring the script. Nixon is trying to catch footing in this ever-repeating chunk of England. As far as he knows, six, seven days into this day, it’s not a localized event. Germans are still amassed mistakenly at Calais, debriefing every morning at oh-nine-hundred hours, cancellation at nineteen-hundred, and a goddamn coffee shortage throughout. Nixon watches the day glitch and reset at 3:31 AM, and then receives another pair of brand-new bottles.
Two weeks into the 4th, Nixon’s gotten into the swing of things. Wakes after a few, delirious hours of sleep always growing shorter, woken by his alarm and Dick clapping his shoulder, laments the coffee shortage until debriefing. And that—that he’s got down to an art. At his smoothest, he’s debriefed the officers, wary-eyed, cold-fingered Dick Winters among them, in less than twenty-five minutes. On the most ambitious invasion in modern warfare that, as far as Nixon knows isn’t ever coming. It’s always June 4th. It’s always the eve of their deaths, and every morning they wake up, rewound and fitfully alive, dreading the drop but never arriving. Nixon quits his attempts to understand or fix, to lift the witch’s hand stilling all of Europe, and lets it happen.
Every day, Nixon reminds Dick to wear those gloves, and promises they’ll dine before the theatre in Chicago.
But that’s the thing about June 4th. There’s only this airfield, these sand tables, no Normandy and no Chicago. Only the same pack of cigarettes, the same Hershey bar, the same two bottles of VAT 69.
Carwood Lipton is an exceptionally sweet man. Though he can’t know it, he’s come to check on Nixon after debriefing everyday for sixty-seven times, as if compelled by clockwork. Every time. Always with a smile muted by politeness, an encouraging nod, an objective truth. Nixon’s touched. They weren’t especially close at Camp Toccoa—too busy being glued to a fascinating redhead’s hip—and Lipton is a non-Com and Nix went to O.C.S. Usually, it takes only a few minutes. Lipton: (quiet but undeterred) You alright, sir? Nixon: (some variation on morose, exhausted, bored, or neutral) Cheery as a sunrise or Fine, Sergeant Lipton. Just missing my coffee today.
When it’s the later, he’s usually drinking the first of the VAT bottles—one for ten hundred hours, the other for whenever the sheer repetition finally overwhelms. Sitting at the desk, the handsomely drawn maps coating every inch, Nixon will pause and thoughtfully purse his mouth. Then he’ll retrieve the tumbler he’s smashed, broken, thrown into airplane propellers so many times and never achieved so much as a permanent scratch. “Care to join me?” Nix asks, knowing it’ll never reach his lips.
But today, somewhere between the eightieth and hundred-fiftieth today, Lipton actually nods an affirmative. He shyly ducks into the tent, letting the canvas flap slide close and dim the room. Nixon hesitates, opening his mouth, then snapping it shut soundlessly. Deviations from the script are damned rare. Lipton especially. But two glasses get measured out and Nixon rises to offer a toast.
Lipton gulps, holding the whiskey gingerly. Like the honest toxin it is. He nods, adding, “Three miles up, three miles down,” before they drink.
A few more, desperate refills, and Nixon could swear he’s staring into a mirror. At whiskey number four, the curiosity is killing him. He receives Lipton’s tumbler to pour more, then pauses. “Long day, Sarge?” Nixon asks.
“You have no idea,” Lipton says, then quickly adds, “Sir.” He motions politely—always politely—for the tumbler, and Nixon tilts the bottle, emptying the first one. “Really long day.”
“At 9 in the morning?”
“It's indicative of the rest of the day, I’m afraid—sir.”
Nix smirks. “Well, Sarge, you’re welcome to another if it doesn’t shorten up by tomorrow.”
Nixon wishes he’d been more familiar with the man—he doesn’t know if he’s always that shade of pale, or if the English weather’s simply unkind on everyone. Lipton thanks him, then quickly ducks out.
Nixon deviates occasionally. When choking rain and fog cripples the Allied invasion, the D-Day and H-Hour again leaping into an untouchable future, Nixon perches atop some crates just outside E-Company’s tent. John Wayne drawls and awkwardly pauses just behind him over the clacking. Morale is audibly boosting, Nixon thinks, judging by their eerie silence. He burns the one-hundredth second Lucky Strike of this pack while he waits. A few minutes later, the sound of the movie grows louder, then fainter.
That unmistakable red hair emerges from the tent, facing away. Nixon’s a safe distance back. He ashes the cigarette quick and takes a thoughtful drag. Boredom’s led now to stalking his best friend. Whereto next, he’s almost afraid to know. Dick glances around, drawing his gloves from his breast pocket. His head turns skyward as he walks and tugs them on. Nixon slides off the cargo as cautiously as he can manage, using the cross-sections of webbing as a rope ladder. He follows, as Dick wanders, breathing steam in connected silence.
Here the oddity begins becomes choking strong—Nixon’s supposed to be lounging, just so, flask arrogantly held in plain view of officer and ensigns alike. All his saturated atoms know so, and, though Dick can’t know any different, it’s painful to see him continue walking the open grass and gravel alone, gazing up. He almost calls out his line—“I think it’s clearing up,” but fills the breach with whiskey. It’s like hearing someone playing Rhapsody in Blue, but suddenly substituting incorrect notes into each bar, more and more disfigured as it plays on.
He loves Rhapsody in Blue, but not how strangely lonely Dick Winters can seem, sitting alone on their set of crates, looking up at their cloud patterns, by himself. All slow-boiling tension beneath his fatigues, neck craned and rifle lashed across his back like a carrying cross, eventually bowing his head, as if defeated. Before he even started.
Before he even started. That’s something Nix understands all too well.
He doesn’t deviate from that page of script again.
He tells Dick once. Somewhere around June 4th the 120th or 125th, Nixon, having perfectly read through the script (by now he’s scribbled a few notes on the back of his arm, the only place they won’t reset and disappear), lets go of his preconceptions. Maybe crazy, maybe drunk, maybe frayed into threads by stress. Whatever the verdict, he’s going to tell someone.
After all, even Dick Winters resets.
It’s roughly midnight. One inconsistency is his wristwatch—seemly this ugly witch’s hand forgot to curse his watch and the battery’s long since died, and no replacement will stay put. Always resets into Welsh’s watch, untouched. Time’s even hazier, sloppier to grasp.
Tonight, when Nixon’s scheduled to comment on those barge-sized dark circles Dick’s sporting, his mouth’s flash-fire dry and the words too blurry to recall. They’re scribbled somewhere on his forearm—and not easily so, the only thing permanent enough being ink and a nib pen—but that’s miles away. Dick drops onto his cot, moving slow and weary. Elbows settle onto his knees and blindly the gloves come off before hands run through his hair. Nixon offers him water from his canteen and Dick declines with a good-natured smile.
“No thanks, Nix.” He sighs and pulls at his shoulder, attempting to loosen the knots of worry. “I’ll fill mine tomorrow morning.”
Nixon watches him, entranced. “Yeah, tomorrow,” he half-scoffs. “It’ll be full, alright.”
“Lew.” That catches his attention. Two terribly handsome blue eyes are locked on him, also colored with slow-boiling concern. As if he, too, could taste the hundreds of wasted days falling rotten on Nixon’s shoulders, spiced with boredom and terror. Nixon exhales an affirmative, but remains dazed. He’s forgetting something again. Damn Dick Winters for being a sight for sore eyes, every time. Every time.
And every time, Dick looks at him like maybe the dread of war’s chewing him down. Nixon wants nothing more than to say it and make it stick. Not to see a theatre player or a wind-up toy in Dick’s place, limited by the fact he won’t remember today when it becomes today again. He could kiss him silly and confess undying love and not know the difference. Nix’s been thinking about that, too.
“I’m stuck, Dick,” he admits finally. It’s not untrue.
“Pretty bad, yeah.”
A heavy pause, heavier and heavier. Dick is cautious, earnest, as if touching porcelain. “Lew—if you’re, if you need help—”
Nixon interrupts, tosses his pen like a petulant child and snorts. “Yeah. You know how to break a witch’s hand, perchance?”
This throws Dick for another thorough loop. Another empty minute passes, worries and doubts and oddities multiplying. Or is that just Nixon’s mind, clacking like never ending projectors playing to eternally anxious soldiers?
“Lew. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Oh. Nixon lifts his head and there are Dick’s fatigues, just a breath away. Dick drops down onto his haunches and two hot, gentle hands grip his elbows. Oh, he’s been wearing his gloves. Good.
Nixon feels like he’s six years old, when his caretaker would weather his tantrums by dropping to her heels and rubbing the rebellion and turmoil out of his shoulders.
“You’ve been acting strangely all day. Did you sleep at all last night?” Dick asks, and Nixon really wants to say he did, but that’s a lie. At least he thinks. If Nixon slept at all the last five June 4ths, he can’t recall on which day, in what condition, or even if it was on his own cot. Everything blurs, everything resets.
“Dick, it’s not the sleeping. I swear,” Nix mumbles, exhausted. Wants to tug away, but can’t. “I’m not worried about the jump. I’m not worried about that at all. In fact—I can’t fucking wait for it. Let’s go right now, rain and fog be damned. Just you and me, we could take them all.”
That’s hardly comforting. Dick tightens his grip, still fever-hot through Nixon’s fatigues. “If you’re scared—” He swallows something difficult, and Nixon feels his thumbs jerk into motion, circling erratically. “You’ll tell me if you are? Because, hell, Nix—I’m scared about it too.”
Nixon smirks, near bloated with exhaustion, dizzy on time-oddity. “Ha, you said, ‘hell.’”
Dick resists a smile. “You’re scaring me more, though,” he says, arching an eyebrow at him. Nixon reaches forward and smoothes it down with his thumb, fingers threading into his short hair and touching his ear.
“I’m fine for now. You’ll reset.”
Dick looks exhausted, too, and he leans forward and rests his face in the collar of Nixon’s fatigues. “God, Lew… Quit saying that.”
Nixon watches Dick reset that night—a thing as simple and as eerie as rolling over in his sleep—and feels empty, eaten through by absences. All it takes is tick and all they’ve said and done is long-gone. Never even happened. Nixon cracks open both bottles of VAT with a vengeance and stomps outside.
“Cap’n Nixon, sir?”
“Lip.” Gravel appears where Nixon left his voice, sloshing through the alcohol. “Come to inform me of the debriefing at oh-nine-hundred?”
Sergeant Lipton’s irregular shadow casts across him like a benediction, shielding him. Nixon once wondered whether hangovers also reset; unfortunately, cruelly, they don’t. “Oh, so you already know, sir.”
“Operation Overload—yep. Done it a thousand times, and I’ll do it a thousand more before I finally die,” mutters Nixon, still grappling with the furious feelings stirred by Dick’s forehead against his lapel, desperate and exhausted. Dick deserves a future—even if that’s his death behind a Norman hedgerow. “Or maybe we’ll stay here forever. When I wished I could fuck around all my life, this isn’t what I had in mind, Lip.”
The chilled pavement has yet to warm by the morning sun. Rocks poke quietly into Nixon’s back, prodding the tension amassed there like vicious children’s fingers. Lipton doesn’t offer a hand. Nixon supposes that’s what he deserves for collapsing in the center of a military runway stinking drunk, just daring a B-47 to mow him over.
“So,” Lip says, sucking down an awkward breath, “this has happened before, right?”
Nixon looks up like someone’d whipped him—and knows now Lipton wasn’t looking pale from inadequate English sun.
An ugly whiskey habit didn’t suit a genuine, decent man like Carwood Lipton. Nixon can’t begrudge him a drink, though. There’s the distinct possibility both had died without noticing, and this military airfield is fiery circle number three, four or five of Hell. Outside, occasionally, rises the frustrated cry of an officer—Harry, mostly—searching out their missing comrades. “Debrief yourselves,” Nixon mutters, topping off both tumblers. “God knows I’ve explained it enough to them.”
“How many times has this happened?”
Nixon scoffs. “For me? I lost track a while ago. Couldn’t write it down, either. Paper resets.”
“Resets.” Lipton rolls the unnatural word across his tongue like a sour lemon. Then he drinks his whiskey and winced, his thinning light blonde hair messy and worried at. “That’s what you call it?”
“Me, personally, yeah. Doesn’t matter. There isn’t a word for this.” His Zippo clacks, clacks, then catches flame, and the dim-lit tent flares bright momentarily, their illicit hideout a British officer’s tent. “Reset, restart, turn back; whatever. How many days has it been for you?”
“Four.” Lipton’s still awfully pale, though the whiskey’s painting his cheeks pink. “Should be June 8th. We should have taken Carentan by now and moved east.”
“No offense to the man,” Nixon says, “but Ike and his plan can wait one goddamn minute.”
“Don’t. Nothing to apologize for.” The final VAT bottle’s emptied, so it goes flying over Nixon’s shoulder and shatters into seven jagged pieces as it hits dirt. Lipton looks mildly shocked—so Nixon clarifies. “It’ll just reset. No worries.”
“How did this happen? How do we stop it?”
“Damned if I know.”
“Damned if we don’t,” Lipton adds pointedly, suddenly sounding a thousand years old.
Nixon sighs—Harry’s voice is growing closer, interrogating passing limeys if they’ve seen Cap’n Nixon—this tall, dark hair, dark eyes, fierce drinker and Yale know-it-all—
He’s court-martialed once. For insubordinance on the eve of military action. Nixon quite literally tells them to fuck off.
Lipton holds his patient silence; he’s avoided real trouble for the last month. Dick was horrified. Nixon couldn’t look at him—he was trying not to laugh. The next June 4th, it’s all mended again.
Nixon struts off to the English Channel when the urge to swim strikes him. Supposing time progressed naturally, it’d be May or June now. Complete full circle. Unfortunately, Nixon forgets he doesn’t reset, and drudges himself out in the terrible, cold morning hours to trudge back. Once, or three times, Nixon destroys the sand tables. Draws obscenities across the five ominous beachheads map, gauges the officers’ reactions. Watches the sun rise after he watches Dick sleep and reset. Kisses his forehead at night just before 3:31 AM, warming his lips on his thrumming skin until Dick stirs, humming pretty and deep in his throat. Kisses Lipton one day, just because he, “wants someone to remember it.”
“Flattered, sir,” Lipton says, carefully rubbing his lip off. “Want to play bridge?”
Comrades in stillness they are, six cigarettes and one VAT, evenly dispersed. They never sleep (peace and rest have fled, in exchange for routine and safety) and Nixon keeps bridge wins and losses precious, a last lifeline to actual time.
And then, Lipton, probably annoyed by Nixon’s increasing tendency to kiss him, hollow and weary on the mouth, tells him to just buck up and—
“Just tell him.”
Nixon sighs like he’s heaving out his lungs, flops back onto the sandy beach. “Tell who and tell him what?”
Lipton’s tone softens. “What harm can you do? He’ll reset.”
Nixon yanks his discarded jacket over his eyes, blocking the sleepy English sun glittering off the Channel. “That’s the worst of it.”
Back at base Dick Winters will be worried sick, hearing creeping rumors Captain Nixon and First Sergeant Lipton have deserted, defected, and died of alcohol poisoning and… something respectively. He’ll worry his hair pale pink, no doubt, but all of it will be gone. Whatever happens today, save between he and Lipton, will simply reset. On and off, on and off.
“I won’t,” Nixon says, later. “Not until we’ve fixed it. I can’t just reset that.”
Lipton’s stripped down to his trousers, kicking off his Corcoran boots with a arch of sand. He trots carefully into the foamy water, unafraid of Normandy just south and east of here, nor Hitler’s tank corps hovering at Calais.
“If we do fix it,” Lipton calls back, above the hiss and sway of the ocean, “the first thing I’m doing is sleeping through the night.”
“Amen to that,” Nixon whispers. “Then we can invade Europe.”
“And you can leave me alone!” Lip adds. A cold wave splashes up and he winces.
Nixon scoffs, chucks a handful of sand at him. “Ah, you know you like it!”
He tosses his jacket into the sand and closes his eyes. Eyelid insides turn molten red-pink, the color of Dick’s cold-pinched fingers when he neglects his gloves.
“Dick—I’m alright. Really.” Wow, that’ll convince the judge and jury.
Nixon is reeling again, as he periodically does. They both circle and flirt with all dangerous emotions while they kill time—loneliness, anxiety, terror, rage, and nothingness. Lust is worse than all, often viciously piggybacked to another. Nixon’s reeling, drinking stale whiskey and grasping at things that constantly reappear, untouched. Everything’s useless and weightless. The witch might as well chopped off his hands, lopped off his head like Marie Antoinette and watched him panic.
Something more merciful than Dick Winters, every night, worry undiminished but unchanging, asking the same question.
Tonight, Nixon breaks. Something like June 4th the 247th time.
“Dick—don’t ask that anymore. I can’t answer you, so stop asking. Please.”
“Okay,” comes the cautious voice, across the dim tent. Already so late, and Dick’s lingering, sleepless, eyes restless and always touching Nixon like they’re his cold fingers, attempting to comfort. So many times, Nixon could be sick. On and off, on and off.
“For the love of Christ and all that is good, please don’t ask, and keep your gloves on,” Nixon mutters.
Didn’t finish off the VAT 69 yet. Lipton’s avoiding him all this week, reeling in something deep himself—but also, also annoyed Nixon cannot stop kissing, horny-edged and strange. Saved the alcohol until absolutely necessary. He lurches dizzily from his seat, kneels at Dick’s footlocker like a disciple. Perhaps loss of sleep doesn’t really reset. Lately, Nixon’s dozing off every few hours, thrown back into life by terrible dreams.
Winter’s cot whuffs softly. He’s stood up. “No, Lew, we really need to talk.”
Nixon keeps talking. The wording doesn’t matter; nothing matters. “No, you gotta reset, young man, and get your rest before the big damn jump—”
Dick stops him. Cold-pinched, pink fingers still his hand, gripping fiercely. Nixon looks up.
Nixon’s mouth goes dry. But he tries to do as he asks—legs are weak, sleepy and revolting. Dick kisses him so suddenly; Nixon practically collapses on his wobbly legs. “Shit,” Nix mutters, and, once steadied, roping his arms behind that long, horsy neck, he leans in and kisses back, too desperate to resist. He kisses Dick like he’d been, mistakenly, forcing on Lipton, the poor guy.
“Dick—” Nixon adds an inch of air between them, licking his lips. Hot lips brush his stubble, as if to kiss each ragged edge, and he’s hardly breathing. “Dick, please—” don’t make me do this/don’t let me stop.
“It’s okay,” Dick says, kissing him chastely, once, then pinching his ear. “It’s okay. I want to. Want you.”
Nixon closes his eyes. “Funny, I was just going to say that—” Lips swallow his laughter, and Nix’s fingers map and survey all available skin.
At 3:31, neither of them reset. Nixon nips the crook of that horsy neck as Dick presses him flat to the floor, fatigues bundled up beneath them, kissing and fucking like neither of them will remember tomorrow.
They sit, cross-legged, in a circle on the hazy runway. A witch-blessed powwow, on the eternal edge of D-Day. Nixon thinks it’s strangely like summer vacation, lounging, doing zilch with friends. Dick’s buried his face against both palms, scrubbing. Of all three who become trapped in this incessant resetting, he adjusts slowest. Nixon itches to smooth out every worry.
“How long have you been here?” Dick says after an immense silence.
“Three months, sir—” Lipton says first.
Nix makes a jealous face. “How come you call him ‘sir’?”
“Not important, guys.”
It’s been an ordeal finding another tumbler. After months of strange camaraderie, Nixon wouldn’t feel proper serving Dick, their newest inductee, in anything other than an identical glass tumbler. He sips his whiskey. Lipton and Dick both ignore theirs.
“We need to figure out how to fix this.”
Nixon grimaces. “And if we can’t?”
Dick lowers his palms and fixes him a fearless look. Nixon can’t help if his own ugly grimace lightens in face of that old stubborn will. “We’re going to try until we run out of options.”
A week later, they drink themselves silly, defeated. Lipton falls asleep early and thoroughly, unreachable until dawn, and Nix and Dick sit in horrified silence. Nixon rises to retrieve the reset bottles of whiskey at 3:32 and refill their glasses. They watch the sun rise, lost. Nixon rubs Dick’s fingers between his hands to keep them warm.
That morning, Lipton appears in the doorway, ducking politely into the tent. Nixon doesn’t remember him leaving, but—
He remains hunched over, carding fingers through his dark hair, stripped down to his trousers, Dick dozing on the cot just behind, collapsed and angular in his restless sleep. Feels like a court-martial day. Double docket, if someone stumbles upon two high-ranking officers canoodled together reeking of whiskey and strangely silent. He’s lost count of how many times now—
“Captain Nixon?” Lipton inquires, squinting until his eyes adjust to the relative dark. Suddenly, he gulps, knuckles gripping white around his cap. “Captain Winters?”
Nixon’s disheveled dark hair imitates a rooster’s crest today, as often as he claws at it. “Oh, wait your turn, Lip,” he says playfully.
“Sir—I just came to remind you—”
Nixon rises off the cot and waves at him dismissively. “If you say debriefing, I’ll shoot you. See that you reset from that.”
Lipton pauses, as if honestly frightened. Finally finding something off, Nixon turns to see the First Sergeant actually surprised, as if the playful teasing were brand new to him. “Oh-nine-hundred hours, yes, sir.”
“I’m sorry, Lip—I was just kidding. Come on, don’t act like that.”
In the dim corner, Dick stirs at the noise and murmurs sleepily, adorably. Hangovers treat him differently, sapping him of most of his steady-handed confidence, offering instead a giggly, kind of cute fool. There’s an obvious hickey on his shoulder to match the fading green of another just at his pulse point. He rubs his eyes with one hand, sitting up with the other. “Carwood. What’s wrong?” He’s also got nothing on beneath the thin blanket.
Now Lipton’s gone whiskey pink again. “Just reminding you, Captain. Oh-nine-hundred.”
Nixon puts his hands on his hips. “It’s oh-nine-hundred now, Lip.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry—I’ll be going now.” And he ducks politely out.
Nixon stands in the middle of the tent, staring at the open flap. He turns around to see that Dick has shifted to the edge of the bed, feet touching the dirt at the ready. He looks at Nixon purposefully.
Nix turns quickly. “Lip—wait!”
Dick lunges forward to catch Nixon by the belt. “Lew, get dressed first. No time to be court-martialed today.”
“Can it be that easy?”
“Sleep’s tough during war in general, but…”
“That has to be the answer. That’s the only thing Lipton did differently than us.”
Nixon and Winters—fully dressed, still avoiding the higher-ups—sit on a low-rolling hill just outside the airfield. Out there, among the military green smudges of soldiers, Lipton is walking, happily reset. He’s done it. Confronted by possible freedom, and at such a slight, pleasurable cost, Nixon’s stomach is rolling and rotten. As long as tomorrow was a witch’s arm length away, things were safe, unchanging. Horrific and inhuman and exhaustive, but alive and unchanging. Now, now—with Dick sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, pink fingers warming in Nixon’s—now he’s not sure which way he wants it.
Utah and Omaha wait patiently for their blood.
Three o’clock creeps in, slow and perverse, on the last June 4th, the 289th of the damn things. Maybe the very last. Ticking closer and closer. Nixon’d like to chuck that alarm clock across the tent, propriety be damned, and stay here forever with Dick. Couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Dick shifts anxiously in his sleep. Always hovering just below the surface, blue-gray-green eyes fluttering open every time Nixon takes an odd inhalation of air, taps Dick’s knuckles like piano keys, playing Rhapsody in Blue in eight bastardized keys.
“Lew,” he breathes, tickling the hair at the back of Nix’s neck. “Sleep.”
A whuff of laughter trickles down Nixon’s spine, striking deeper as it travels. “Very fitful sleep, indeed,” Dick whispers. “Come on, we need to be asleep at 3:31 for this to work if you’re right.”
Nixon pulls Dick’s arms tighter around him and kisses the cinnamon freckles along his thumb, his wrist, painted over his veins. “Almost wish I weren’t.” Lets the silence and the white noise of sea breathing swallow up his words, but Dick’s close, Dick hears that.
“I heard that.”
Nix presses his face to the thin pillow they share, still imprinted with heat where Dick’s kissed and touched. “It’s just—why not stay here? You’ll never die,” he mutters quickly, gripping those fingers, never again pinched-pink if he’s got a say in it. “And I’ll never go dry.”
“Well, you promised me a trip to Chicago. Many times over, it seems,” he whispers, then pauses. “And do you really want to sleep together on this cot forever?”
Nix hums thoughtfully, considering, and continues to tap out Rhapsody in Blue.