Pairing(s): Eventual Speirs/Lipton; gen for now
Summary: Lipton lived the war like a soldier. And that frightened him the most.
Synopsis: Wherein Lipton discovers his mean streak.
Rachamps was hushed at night, with only a handful of working streetlamps and lights shining through windows of occupied houses accompanying the slight din of laughing soldiers. Lipton was just outside of town near the edge of the wood, far away enough that he could hear himself think, but not too far so as to be able to run down the street if someone called for him. He had placed himself on slightly crumbled steps, leaning back and vaguely gazing over the landscape.
Part of him was calm now. Before, Lipton considered it his duty to be with the men every waking moment, if not to direct them then to at least be a comfort with his presence. He had done it to overcome his insecurities; that the men would take his mind off home and everything that had been left behind. They had. Now that he realised that their relationships extended beyond that duty, beyond the insecurity, Lipton discovered that he didn’t have to sit by the men idly anymore. They weren’t so distant that he had to include himself in every little gathering. Bastogne had taught him about that bond. Speirs had reinforced it.
He heard the scrape of heavy boots approach, but he didn’t react.
Lipton looked up to see Speirs casting a glance over the town. He smiled mildly, not moving, greeting the man with a simple mention of, “Sir.” Speirs nodded simply, dark eyes fixated on a point in the distance. Lipton couldn’t help but recall the outlandish stories that came to mind – it wasn’t hard to associate it with a man who had such a cold, detached gaze and almost black eyes. He wondered if Speirs could see through men with those eyes, if he could look past their shields and into their hungry, lost souls, with every ounce of weakness and fear men held in their hearts. If he could reach in there somehow, wrench it out so a man could be as ruthless and efficient as he was, or if he could mould the fear into a kind of strength that pulled triggers and yelled orders. He knew how to shape fear, that was certain.
Speirs extended a pack of Lucky Strikes towards Lipton, looking at him with cool and unblinking black eyes.
He smiled fully at that. Ironic. He looked up at Speirs before he unhesitatingly took a cigarette, speaking even as he moved to place it between his lips.
“If I say yes, you won’t shoot me, will you?”
Speirs snorted, taking a seat beside Lipton and leaning in to light it. Lipton responded with a slow drag, exhaling in almost a sigh as the smoke thickened and curled in the cold winter air. He heard the shutting clink of a zippo and the soft rustling of clothing as Speirs pocketed it once more. Lipton closed his eyes briefly and imagined a pistol in his hand, cocked and ready to shoot. There was no gunfire, only soft but sharp words that rang in his ears like a shot in the battlefield.
“We’re leaving for Haguenau tomorrow.”
Lipton’s mouth tightened in a slight frown. “Moving out already, huh.”
“The men’ll deal. We’ve got quarters in Haguenau. Showers. Kitchens.”
“That’s good,” Lipton agreed. “That’s good.”
They were silent a moment, each man watching the lights twinkle in the windows of cracked buildings as soldiers shared their moments of respite together. Lipton felt those eyes rove to him steadily, remaining there, but he didn’t react. He was used to it now, odd as it seemed. He understood. Lipton took another drag from his cigarette.
Speirs didn’t look away.
“I… just needed to get away from the men for a while,” he finally admitted in response to the unasked question.
“Everyone’s a little stressed,” he reassured. It wasn’t that. Lipton took a moment, sighing again as he laid himself down onto his back, gazing up at the cloudless sky, removing the cigarette briefly as he exhaled smoke.
“I’ve figured some things out,” he said, knowing that he was confirming things that Speirs had assumed, whatever they were. “It doesn’t make it any easier to handle.”
“You’re probably thinking too much,” Speirs replied, casting his eyes over the horizon again.
“Probably,” Lipton echoed before Speirs could say anything more. “But that’s not it.”
He tilted his head slightly to look at Speirs – the back of his head, his ears that were slightly red from the cold, scruffy hair, the slope of his back, the barest outline of his face illuminated dimly by the moon and village lights, and the steady curl of smoke that rose into the air and dissipated slowly with each steady puff of a cigarette. He could hear the man thinking, it was in the way he breathed, the way the air vibrated subtly around him.
“I function pretty well as a war machine,” Lipton heard himself say slowly, somewhat surprised at the admission, but even more so at the words that followed. “Sometimes a bit too well.”
Speirs didn’t react at first, but he turned his head to look at Lipton with black eyes that the sergeant could clearly read for the first time. Lipton would have thought absurdly that he was like a child who finally recognised what certain words meant, after using them time and again. The realisation that he knew, this day, with the men and with this man, but he was occupied with what he could see in those eyes.
Those eyes that knew exactly what Lipton meant.
A slow smile – warm and genuine; he’d seen it once before and he knew that he’d be seeing it a bit more somehow – spread across Speirs’ face, reaching his eyes, and he rolled the cigarette to the corner of his mouth with his tongue, expression both intensely clear and all at once amused.
“Are we having a heart to heart? Because I’m damned sure I’ve never heard you complain like this to any of the men, Lip.”
Lipton smiled in response.
“The chain of command works the exact same way when it comes to complaints,” he began, matter-of-factually. “The non-coms handle the enlisted men, and the COs handle the non-coms. In this case, that would be you.”
“Really,” Speirs lifted a brow, speaking in suggestion rather than questions, like he tended to. “And who do the COs bitch to.”
“You work your way up, I suppose. Looeys to Captains. So on and so forth. The General would complain to the President, I guess.”
“And I suppose the President bitches to everyone.”
Lipton tilted his head to fully meet Speirs’ eyes, giving him a slightly cheeky grin, something he rarely did.
“You catch on quick, sir.”
Speirs said nothing in reply. Lipton wouldn’t realise until later that he had been speechless. But it was the moment - every bit as casual and personal as a drink in a bar between two war buddies who had known each other since they were both in diapers - and they were both tipsy without alcohol. Loose. Relaxed. Lipton would never have imagined himself saying what he had to Speirs, to his superior officer, but Bastogne had changed a lot of things. The intimacy between soldiers, seniority notwithstanding, was something that he had learnt to live with, to cherish. Even if that meant just one night and two cigarettes. All they had was the assurance that there were no men around, and that Speirs wouldn’t shoot him over a smoke. That Speirs would never shoot him.
“You know,” he finally heard Speirs speak. “You’re really not as nice as all of ‘em say.”
“It’s probably just you,” Lipton chuckled, taking another drag.