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 command post. 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.
Pulling on a scarf, Lew climbed out of his foxhole and headed to Dick's command post.
Temperatures dipped well below freezing every night, yet Dick still slept in his above-ground CP, so the men could find him at any time. And Lew had been sleeping alone in his foxhole.
They both needed their heads examined. The other paratroopers had been sleeping two to a foxhole, even though most foxholes were only six feet long and three feet wide.
When he found Dick lying next to the cooking fire, he almost chickened out, until he saw that Dick was shivering even in his sleep. Smiling at a memory, he shook Dick awake.
Dick required only a couple of seconds to focus.
"What's happening, Nix?"
"You have to come with me right now."
Dick stood up. He was already wearing every article of clothing he had, so he didn't have to bring anything. Lew grabbed Dick's blanket for him.
Without speaking, Dick followed him the hundred yards to his foxhole. Once they were in it, Lew pulled a tarp across the hole above to keep the snow out. His foxhole was pretty damn good, a bit deeper and wider than average. He tried not to dwell on its similarity to a grave.
"What's going on?" Dick crouched on the bottom of the foxhole.
"It's Doc," Lew said. "He says you can't sleep in the CP anymore."
"Eugene?" Dick said, alarmed. He had been afraid of Doc ever since the bullet in his shin in Carentan. Doc had taken care of him relentlessly.
"Yeah, Gene," Lew said. This was going to be easy. Dick would do whatever Doc said. Or whatever he claimed Doc said. He could embellish a little. "He said you were on the verge of death."
"Yeah. Hypothermia. He says you have to sleep in a foxhole tonight, every night, until the weather warms up."
"Nix, your foxhole is freezing."
"It's warmer than the CP," Lew said. "Besides, I give off heat. It's my metabolism. I never feel cold." The last was a lie. His feet were so cold he wasn't sure they were there anymore.
"Must be the beard," Dick said.
"Shut up and lie down."
He had arranged a tarp on the ground with his blanket over it, so he spread Dick's blanket over both of them. After a little maneuvering, they were back to back, which, he was sure, was not what Doc had in mind.
"Comfortable?" Lew asked.
"Not really," Dick said.
"Fine. I'll go get Doc and tell him you're not cooperating."
"Then stop complaining."
Lew rolled over. He had to do it like an earthworm, without using his arms. At last his chest was against Dick's back.
"Doc said we had to spoon."
"We? He mentioned you specifically?"
"Yeah," Lew said. "He also said the first sign of hypothermia is making stupid decisions, like lying back to back." He draped his arm loosely over Dick's waist. There wasn't anywhere else to put his arm.
Fuck it. In the cramped space, it was more work not to touch than it was to touch. He pressed the entire length of his body against Dick, in time to feel a bone-deep shiver run through him.
He had been so concerned with getting Dick into his foxhole, he had forgotten the horrible truth. Dick could freeze to death. Dick had been freezing to death.
"Oh, God," Lew whispered.
"What?" Dick asked.
"Nothing. Praying. Now I lay me down to sleep, that crap."
After a few minutes passed in silence, Dick twisted around to face him.
"Nix. Do you miss your wife?'
"Dick, to tell you the truth, I can't remember what she looks like. I remember her perfume. How it smells. But I can't picture her face. Why the hell are you asking me about my wife?"
"One of the paratroopers missed his wife," Dick said. "Made a nuisance of himself."
"Oh, right, I heard about that."
Supposedly, a paratrooper had been awakened by his foxhole buddy's wandering hands, not to mention a leg over him. His buddy had claimed to be dreaming about his wife. Lew thought the story was probably made up, but it was still good for a laugh.
"Your beard's soft," Dick said, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, it's gotten long enough. Before that, it'll draw blood."
"Hypothermia must be contagious," Dick said. "You're shivering now."
"That's you, not me."
"It doesn't matter, Nix. Good night."
Lew wasn't ignorant. Hell, he had gone to Yale, where cross-dressing was a tradition. But what he knew was useless to him. What he wanted now had nothing to do with the lewd winks and suggestive smiles of the past.
Thawing in Dick's warmth, he was overwhelmed by the feelings he had hidden behind a smokescreen of drinking and wise-cracking. Feelings that had been building up for three years. It couldn't all be in his head. Dick had held him, stared at him like that, after he'd almost had his brains blown out in Holland. They had never talked about it. They couldn't. Not without doing a bunch of stuff officers didn't do. That men didn't do. Except for those fellows at Yale. But they had worn women's underwear, for Christ's sake. Dick would never do that.
All he wanted was to unbutton their coats so he could feel Dick's heart beating. One-handed, he struggled with buttons. Dick seemed to figure out what he was doing, and helped.
Lew pushed his coat and jacket open, then Dick's. They both had on long-sleeved undershirts that had seen better days. But the resulting closeness was indescribably good. He could smell Dick's hair. Coffee and smoke and pine trees.
After a couple of minutes, he knew he wanted more. He rubbed his bearded face on Dick's neck. The relief was so tremendous he realized at last what he needed: to pet Dick like a cat. He slid his hands across Dick's chest.
"Lew," Dick said.
"I know what I'm doing," Lew lied. He got a hand under Dick's shirt. When his fingers touched smooth, firm skin, he knew he was on the right track. He pushed an arm under Dick, so he could stroke his back with both hands.
"Eugene told you to do this?" Dick sounded hoarse, but then he always did.
"Yeah," Lew said. He stopped for a moment so he could shrug off his coat. He was warmer than he had been since leaving England. He went back to rubbing. When he slid his hands lower, under Dick's belt, he touched skin as hard and smooth and cold as marble.
"Christ! Your ass is frozen!"
"Well, I've been sitting on snow, Lew."
Dick squirmed until his back was to Lew. Cautiously, Lew pushed Dick's coat up and pressed against him. He could feel the cold through Dick's trousers. Apparently, with hypothermia, the ass went first. He had always assumed it was the feet.
He rubbed briskly. After a few minutes, he could feel a change. Dick felt warmer. Or maybe his hands were getting colder. In any case, Dick wasn't shivering as much.
"It's working. Shut up."
"Doc did not tell you to tickle me."
Lew ignored him. Dick would feel better once his ass warmed up.
"Lew, knock it off!"
Lew stopped rubbing. "Be like that."
After an awkward struggle, he got Dick's coat off of him and put both of their coats on top of the blanket. It helped. There was at least an inch more space, and they were warmer.
Dick moved to face him. "Your hands got cold."
"It's okay." Lew kept his voice light. Dick had told him to knock it off. He would knock it off.
He must have dropped off to sleep, because he woke to find his hands stuffed into Dick's armpits. Dick was extremely warm there.
"That's nice," Lew said. "You're warmer than you look. Had everybody fooled."
"As much as I hate to admit it, your foxhole is warmer than the CP."
"Put 'em in there. Your hands."
Dick slid his hands into Lew's armpits.
Lew yelled, "Christ!"
Dick laughed, making a sound that couldn't be heard more than ten feet in any direction.
Lew shivered hard, once. "Okay. I'm over the initial shock."
It wasn't bad at all. Chest to chest, blanket and coats on top, hands tucked into armpits.
"Every night, huh?" Dick said.
"That's right. Doc said so. G'night."
"Lew, are you falling asleep?"
"Yeah. Sleep. Warm." He was dead tired. Sleeping in the cold left a man stiff and sore and exhausted every morning. He could feel his muscles aching as they relaxed in the unaccustomed heat. He was slipping under, and, for a change, it felt good.
Lew woke up suddenly. "Dick! I dreamed about my wife!"
"Dreamed she kissed me on the forehead. Must have been dreaming about my mother. Wife, whatever she looks like, doesn't kiss me on the forehead. Never any kisses on the forehead."
"I got it the first time, Nix. No kisses--"
"You did it."
"You kissed me on the forehead, Dick." He was sure of it.
"Nix, you were dreaming. Go back to sleep."
How the hell could he sleep now? Lew closed his eyes. He'd fake it.
Lew said nothing.
Couldn't Dick tell he was sleeping already, for Christ's sake?
He heard Dick sigh. They were so close he could feel the sigh, like the vibration of a far-off plane. Dick kissed him on the nose, then the eyebrow. Finally, the forehead. Had he slept through a nose and eyebrow kiss earlier?
Best not to think about it. They were too close for him to think about it. Dick would notice. But Dick would assume he was dreaming about his wife. He decided he could get away with a nuzzle. After all, he was asleep. And Dick felt good this close to him.
Dick's nose and mouth pressed against the top of his head.
Lew's elation was nearly wiped out by heartache. Dick was kissing him as if each stolen peck was more than he had ever hoped for.
Trying to move sleepily, he wrapped his arms tightly around Dick. His head fit perfectly between Dick's head and shoulder.
Dick kissed him on the ear.
He decided to wake up. He stirred and yawned.
"Dreaming, Lew?" Dick whispered.
"I hope not," Lew said.
Dick's arms were wrapped around him. The Germans better not pick this time to overrun their line. He stroked Dick's now warm skin, rubbing his bearded face on Dick's neck again.
The pressure of Dick's arms around him increased. He returned the pressure. Slowly, Dick's leg slid over him. He could feel Dick's heart pounding.
Why was he putting Dick through this awful suspense?
He kissed Dick on the mouth. It made him more lightheaded than a bottle of VAT 69. Dick's hands slid under his shirt and caressed his back. Enough monkeying around. He rolled Dick onto his back and lay on top of him. Much more efficient use of foxhole space. And, if they breathed into each other's mouths, their lungs wouldn't have to work so hard, heating up the air.
He was settling in nicely between Dick's legs. Legs he had seen many times on the Currahee trail. Long, muscular, light dusting of hair, freckles.
They went from tentative brushing of lips to full snogging. Once he got Dick going, there was no telling what old guts and glory would do. Probably shout "Follow me!" at the top of his lungs.
Dick's hands moved to his ass and pressed him down. The increase in friction sent him past lightheaded into delirious. Not too delirious that he didn't lift himself enough to unbutton their pants.
Dick rolled him over and got on top. The follow me stage had started. There would be no retreat. Dick didn't like to retreat.
They gripped each other nearly simultaneously. It was something Lew hadn't done since prep school, when he was fourteen, and drunk. Mutual masturbation. An inadequate name for something suddenly glorious. He was going to weep and laugh and come all at the same time.
Dick held him tightly with one arm as it built and broke, both of them embraced by the earth. It was a terrible effort to stay silent, and the effort was wasted. He made involuntary sounds when Dick shuddered in release on top of him.
Lew tried to wipe them up with the blanket and mostly succeeded. Dick stayed on top of him, shifting to take some of his weight off.
"What a place to find out," Lew said. "In a foxhole in Belgium. Surrounded by the German Army."
"You knew before this," Dick said. "You knew before me."
"Yeah, sure," Lew said. "I blame your big baby blue eyes."
Dick laughed quietly.