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markwardo

February 2014

S M T W T F S
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i wish that i just shipped the popular ship so i wouldn’t have to work so goddamn hard

takes place in a historical bubble of indeterminate everything aka belgium



take what you can touch

They trip over Germans at dawn. A round sounds off out of nowhere, cracking into a branch above their heads. Riggs yelps and crashes flat to his belly; Jacobs calls him an idiot and drags him behind a tree. "Incoming!" someone shouts, as another shot sparks off in the distance. Speirs skids behind a rock and gives the command to get to cover and return fire.

Grey mist sliding over the field, they can barely see a hundred feet in front of them. They're on the outskirts of a field, in a weedy patch of forest, scouting for gaps on the German line with orders to bring back information and to keep a low profile while doing it.

The mist is supposed to help, and it would've, if it weren't moving over the ground like a tide. One change of the air, and their cover evaporates. A moment of stagnant wind and it recovers. Another shift, and the Krauts are revealed, dug in along the treeline in two shallow foxholes, three men at their rifles calling excitedly to one another while the fourth fumbles with something just out of view.

"Take them out," Speirs barks, just as one of them went down with a gurgle and a shout.

("Nice shot, Jonny-boy," Adams calls. Lugo grunts in acknowledgement.)

Speirs shoulders his rifle, takes aim at a bobbing, helmeted head, and fires. Lugo had gotten one of them, and another one sounded to be clipped and screaming, but there are two more, or at least there should be. It's odd the way there only seems to be one gun between them.

A sharp yelp, which Speirs doesn't turn his head to inspect, and then a croak, which he does. "Shit!" Adams shouts. "Horowitz's been hit!"

One clean shot – Lugo again, probably – and the shooter goes down in a slump. Someone cheers. That's when the last one jumps up, the one who'd been keeping his head down. He staggers off-balance, stumbling towards the field, toward distant shapes in the valley below that might be buildings.

"Grayson! Don't let him get down there!" Speirs shouts, and Grayson leaps up after him, takes off running. He takes the Kraut down like a dog snatching up a rabbit; they're not even ten yards from the treeline when the man goes crashing into the dirt.

Sun's coming up, weak pale light, but it burns away at the mist a bit. Without the gunfire, beneath the huff of winded men, it's quiet with all the sounds of morning.

"Hey, look what the cat dragged in," crows Miles as Grayson rejoins them, leading the Kraut soldier out in front of him, rifle jabbing low into his spine. Cuffs on the shoulder all around for Grayson, sneers for their prisoner. The Kraut shudders, bare hands flexing. Speirs picks his way over.

"Hiya, Fritz," jeers Adams. "How ya likin' Belgium?" He slugs the Kraut in the side below where his arms are raised behind his head. The man skitters and flinches, staring up around himself with wide eyes. He looks only young and skittish. "Gotta be havin' a great time, aintcha? Must be a real nice stay. That's why you're still fuckin' here. That's why we're all still fuckin' here." Adams hits him again. It's angrier than Speirs should allow.

Speirs has him turn out his pockets; takes his smokes, pockets his medkit. Checks his papers, doesn't understand a word of any of it. Horowitz speaks the most German among them.

"How you doing over there, Witz?" Speirs asks, calling over the muffled moaning.

"Fucking great, real swell," replies Horowitz.

"He'll be fine, sir," corrects Lugo. He's got a streak of gore along his upper lip, like he'd tried to wipe his face.

They have two wounded: Jacobs, bleeding across the shoulder, cursing but ambulatory; and Horowitz, yowling, the worse of them with a bullet to the belly. Lugo and Riggs kneel beside him, hands pressing over the bandages, hissing assurances between entreaties for him to shut the fuck up

Bennet's on the radio to CP, murmuring about casualties and firepower in clipped, even sentences that make a demand for a goddamn jeep evac sound polite.

("You're wasting your time, Gabs," Miles tells him, shuffling over with the map when Bennet calls for it. "We're too close to the front. We're gonna have to move him at least a quarter mile back before it's safe."

"Miles, shut your piehole and go watch the Kraut," snaps Riggs. Horowitz yells and grabs for his hand.)

Speirs turns back their prisoner. He shakes loose one of the cigarettes. His men stiffen and step back, but he only puts the butt between his own lips. He chews contemplatively on it a moment, leaving it unlit. "We oughta get him back to CP, see what they can shake from him," he says finally. His men relax. "Miles, Adams," he says. They snap to attention. "Go see what they were hiding over there in their foxholes. Jacobs." He jerks his head.

Jacobs ambles over, cursing under his breath. Speirs pulls him aside. "You can make it back on your own?"

"Should fucking hope so," Jacobs responds. "Didn't even hit bone." Meets Speirs' eyes briefly and amends with a duck of his head, "Sir."

Speirs shows his teeth. "Good, go. Take the prisoner with you." Jacobs' eyes shift, but he smiles back. He turns to go. Speirs stops him, hand on his shoulder. "And you make sure he gets there, you hear? Don't want to have to come back for another if he takes one to the head."

Jacobs dips his head in a short-lived salute. "Sir," he says, and grabs the Kraut's elbow and shoves him in front of him. "Come on Fritzie, it's just you and me. We're gonna go on a little field trip." The Kraut stumbles. Jacobs rights him. "You understand that? Das ein field trip." He staggers off into the fog.

Speirs puts himself behind a tree and advises that Bennet and Grayson do the same. Riggs and Lugo have already dragged themselves and Horowitz behind a thick, fallen branch. "Cigarette, anyone?" he offers, holding up the open carton, but no one makes eye contact. Speirs shrugs and puts them away. "Bennet," he says next, "what've you got on that radio?"

"CP says they can get us an evac if we move him back half a klick back the way we came."

Speirs nods. "Tell them we've hit the German line and we're coming back. Riggs? Can you move him?"

"He's still bleeding pretty bad, sir."

He's going to have to take that as a 'yes'. "Tell CP they'd better have a jeep waiting for him when we get there," he warns.

That's when Miles calls out from a distance, "Lieutenant, I think we've found something."

He and Adams emerge from the fog. "They were trying to burn these," he says. Adams hands over a messy handful of papers, some of them still smoking on the edges. "Looks like fortifications, sir, or maybe supply silos." Miles points excitedly. "And these might be artillery."

Speirs sifts through the pages, diagrams and half-drawn maps. "Well," he says, folding them into themselves and then passing them over to Bennet. Bennet shuffles them, eyebrows raised. "Good work fellas."

Miles and Adams look at each other. Miles grins. "Sir," he says.

Bennet relays this information. He frowns. "CP wants us to go forward."

"What do they mean, go forward?" Speirs takes one last drag and smashes out the butt of his smoke. "We've just been in a firefight. We have wounded. We weren't exactly being subtle. If we found their scouts, the rest of them can't be far behind."

Bennet listens. His mouth presses into a grim line. "They want to know if it's fortifications or supplies or artillery," he reports.

"They want us to take on what might be the entire German front on our own."

Bennet listens again. "They said they'll send support."

(Miles quips, "Oh shit, guys, Patton's finally dragged the Third Army out of France.")

Speirs glances aside then back. "Who're they sending?"

Bennet shrugs. "I dunno, some fucks out of Easy."

("It'd better be the whole goddamn company, for this shit," Grayson mutters. "With our luck there's fuckin' tanks down there," but he's gone quiet again before anyone can respond.)

Speirs moves his guys thirty-five yards forward to the treeline, has them dig themselves into the vacated foxholes after Grayson and Adams drag out the dead Germans. They try to shift Horowitz, take him with them, but every time they try to right him, blood bubbles out of his mouth like throw-up. He coughs it out and they lay him back down. His breathing's gone from labored to shallow to ragged. Riggs's doing his best, but he's only a farmboy, not a surgeon, not even a field medic. They'd lost theirs a fortnight back, and he'd never been replaced. Speirs supposes there weren’t any spare to go around.

For a while, the only noises to be heard are Horowitz' gasping and Bennet's voice on the radio. Speirs unfolds one of the maps Adams and Miles had brought him; it's not an area he's familiar with, nearly two and a half miles of uneasy no-man's-land between here and D Company HQ. The inking is crude but well-enough proportioned that Speirs can position them on it: they're on the edge of a shallow valley. About two hundred yards east of them, there's a symbol for what appears to be a series of buildings; some farmstead, perhaps, or a small village. When the wind shifts just right, he can see the outline of buildings lurking in the fog. There's another, similarly patterned mark just on the other side of the woods, about half a mile south-west of their position.

Speirs is trying to figure what the clusters of irregularly shaped boxes might mean when: crack of frozen foliage. Footsteps.

The air seems to go still with held breaths as the men swing about. "Freefall," Adams hisses.

"Winter," replies a voice. The men lower their weapons. Easy Company emerges from the trees.

"Lieutenant Speirs," their sergeant says solemnly.

Speirs hops up from the foxhole and shakes his hand. "First Sergeant Lipton," he says. He knows enough about this man to respect his competence; he knows enough about all the men of Easy Company to suspect theirs. "You boys got here quick."

"In the area, you know," Lipton says. He settles on a knee beside Speirs and peers out towards the village.

(Lipton's men jostle in between Speirs', reinforcing the line. "Heard you ladies needed backup," one of them quips. Christenson -- Speirs thinks that's Christenson. Helmets are punched.

"Nah," Miles replies, "just heard you all was getting soft without anything to do.")

"Have you been briefed?" Speirs offers Lipton a smoke, which he declines, and then the German map of the area, which he takes courteously.

Lipton assents, "If you count 'report to coordinates, await further detail' a briefing." He squints at the map, flips it on its side, rights it again. "So they want us to clear the abandoned village?"

"Can't be sure it's a village, exactly," Speirs tells him, folding the map back into his coat. "Can't be sure it's abandoned either. Gonna have to get closer to check that out."

"They know we're here?"

Speirs eyes the careless pile of bodies just off to the side. Lipton grimaces.

"How many men do you have with you, Sergeant?" Speirs asks.

"Twelve." Lipton gestures. Speirs peers at him doubtfully. He seems to have trouble meeting Speirs' gaze. "It's all they'd give me."

Speirs looks away and counts. "There's thirteen of you," he says.

Lipton shrugs. "Heard you lost your medic, we thought we'd bring our own."

The man kneeling beside Horowitz, checking under the bandage -- Speirs notices the cross, now that it's mentioned. Speirs recognises him: Doc Sokolov had traded him morphine once, a couple weeks before he'd taken a mortar to the leg.

"I got one man, hit bad. We'll need to get him back behind the line. Can your guy manage?"

"He's managed so far." Turns to his medic. "Hey Doc, you got this?"

"Trying, sir," the man replies.

Lipton nods approvingly then gestures towards the encampment. "All right, assuming the place is fortified, how many Krauts do you think are down there?"

Speirs squints into the distance, eyes adjusting to the light. Sun's nearly up; it pushes through the mist. They can nearly see into the valley now, the brittle shapes of the buildings. "Someone's been here recently," Speirs speculates. Crates stacked in toppled forms against blasted buildings, tarps strewn haphazardly across them: this is not the best the German war machine has to offer. "And they've either left all their gear or they're still there.

"Maybe about thirty," he concludes. "There's no room for a barracks down there, and there's only one that church over there with a roof. But we'll need to get down there and make sure they're not hiding anything nasty. Your boys ready for a fight?"

Lipton's mouth presses tight. "Not much of a choice, is there?"

"No," Speirs agrees.

Lipton lets a soft noise of frustration. "This is incredibly unwise," he says quietly, "if you don't mind my saying so."

"We can make it quick," Speirs says. He inclines his head in an acknowledgement of sympathy, but continues, "But you know how it is, Sergeant."

"Yes, Lieutenant, I do, but this is suicidal--"

"We have a direct order--"

Lipton's voice pitches just slightly. "It doesn't even--"

They're interrupted by Horowitz as he moans and curses up a storm. Speirs finds this excessive, even for a wounded man. It's been a low undercurrent to the noises of two dozen battered men, but then suddenly, a wail. Lipton cuts off, looks over, and Speirs matches his gaze. Horowitz, who had gone nearly quiet since Easy arrived, fits in spasms against the ground. His bandage has been peeled off.

"It's gonna be okay," Speirs hears, as Lugo and Riggs hold him down. Easy's medic pushes at Horowitz' chest, pulls at the shredded panels of his coat. "You're bleeding into yourself, and we can't move you unless I stop it. Come on." Turns to Riggs. "What's his name?"

"Horowitz."

"Okay," he says. "Horowitz, come on, it'll be quick, hold still."

"Listen to the doc, Witz," Lugo says. "Come on, he's gonna help you, you're gonna be fine."

Doc's got one hand clamped against Horowitz' side, pressing down, fingers inside the wound, and that's black blood, straight from the artery. It coats his skin a bright sticky glaze as he repeats, "It's gonna be okay, I got you, you're gonna be all right."

Toccoa men slap the helmets of the replacements between them, snap at them to keep their eyes on the goddamn line even as they turn back themselves to watch. Horowitz' face has gone grey as the mist. He twists on the ground, wordless yelling muffled by the arm Lugo has wedged up against his jaw.

("Jesus that's a lot of blood." That's one of Lipton's guys.

"Fucking Christ," Miles agrees.)

Horowitz' struggle seems to renew. His shouting has gained a hoarseness, animalistic. It's hard to listen to. "Horowitz, you gotta stop moving," Doc says. He's got blood streaked halfway up his arms. "I almost got it, stop moving, stop it."

When Horowitz stops moving, Speirs thinks, for a moment, that it's worked. He turns on his knee for a better look, but it's nothing, just Lugo stepping back, Riggs' hands on Doc's shoulders. The man sits back on his heels, head bent. Unhooks Horowitz' dogtags. Gets to his feet. Smears the gore from his skin with the corners of a rag before stuffing it and his utensils back into his pack. He stops to murmur something under his breath. Speirs thinks it might be a prayer.

"Goddamnit, Witz," someone else is saying. "Told you to keep your fat ass down."

The men settle back in, grim faces marking them out them from the replacements who've gone pale and ill. Even Lipton goes quiet, his lips disappearing into his unsettled resignation. He excuses himself and goes over to Bennet. Speirs hadn't taken him for the type for insubordination, but he supposes everyone has their limits. Their orders are exceptionally suicidal. He glances over in Bennet's direction, just to see how it's going, but his eyes catch on Horowitz instead.

Horowitz hadn't been with them long, been the replacement of a replacement who'd replaced a Toccoa man. He wasn't particularly close to anyone yet, except maybe Riggs, who had been the one to take him on, try to teach him how not to get himself killed. Riggs'd be taking this hard, but Speirs hadn't really known him. Knew some things about him: where he'd transferred from, where he wrote his folks, that he'd joined up right after school and hadn't yet shot and killed a man. But that was detail, not the essence.

The most Speirs can do for him now is maximize the probability of their success. He unfixes his gaze from the mess that had been Albert Horowitz and stares down at the map. He imagines contingency plans, variable routes, an idea of what a tactical retreat might look like. Then he tries to plan an attack. Twenty-one on their side, with Easy's support; German forces unknown, until they got better information.

"Lieutenant." Speirs looks up. Easy's medic stands in front of him. He's holding a set of dogtags, offering them to Speirs. His hands are brown with blood.

Speirs takes them from him. "Thanks," he says. The man nods. His eyebrows are set in a grave, troubled line. Bruises ring his eyes. They all look like shit, and Speirs doesn't have the patience or the temperament for consolation, but this man stands in front of him now, wearing his heartache on his face, and it's hard not to try. "What's your name, Corporal?"

The man swallows, clears his throat. "Eugene Roe, sir."

Speirs catches his gaze. Holds it. "Roe," he says. "You did what you could for him." He puts Horowitz' tags in his pack. "That's all anyone can ask."

The man nods again, trouble unchanged. "Sir," he says.

Speirs turns back to the line.

Lipton comes back eventually, boots squelching on the soft ground.

"Get the commands you wanted?" Speirs asks him.

Lipton huffs. "Got them to say they'll have D and E Company mortars on the ready if we run into more resistance than we can take on."

"Well," Speirs remarks, "that's something."

"Yeah," Lipton says. "I mean, they're two kliks back in two different directions, but it is technically something."

Speirs snorts. They ought to set up a perimeter for covering fire. Send in just a scout team, three, four guys maybe, something discreet, easy to cover. Lipton nods and cautiously agrees. "Who's gonna go, sir?"

Speirs looks out at his men. Lugo is their best shot and best left in support. Miles is solid; he's been with them since Holland. Adams: decent shot but nervy. Riggs's reliable, but compromised. Grayson's quick on his feet.

"Miles, Adams," Speirs says, ignoring the look of relief on Lipton's face. They look up easily, not yet suspecting. "Riggs," he adds. Riggs tips his helmet in Speirs' direction. "You're lead scout." Their faces fall. "Get ready. You're moving in ten."

He gathers to his feet.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Lipton says. It's a muttered admission, and Speirs understands the impulse, but soldiers were meant to be used, not cossetted. Lipton's protectiveness might keep his men alive, but it's not an outlook well-suited for combat.

Speirs nods. Turns to his guys, "Get a good look and then get the hell out of there, all right?" he tells them. Serious faces all around. "Find out what they're packing, what their numbers are, and, you know the drill, guys."

"Don't get our heads blown off?" Miles quips, but it doesn't have his usual verve.

Speirs grimaces. "Don't get caught."

They hump it down into the valley single-file, and a fortuitous shift in the air moves the mist down to cover them. The wind's in their favor, at least. That's never a bad thing.

Five minutes pass without disturbance, then ten. Fifteen holds through fine, but then they hit twenty minutes and the men start to ants.

"This is weird, sir," says one of Lipton's men. "Shouldn't they be back by now?"

"Maybe," Lipton says, distracted.

"Should we go look for them?"

The guy next to him shoves an elbow into his side. "Don't be stupid, Julian." East coast vowels, red hair. "They ain't lost kids in a county fair."

"What if they've been shot?"

"Jesus," the guy ranks, "you hear a fuckin' gunshot?"

"No."

"Then they ain't shot, are they?"

"Babe," Lipton warns.

But speak of the devil. On the edge of the village, coming up the hill, someone's running towards them, legs wide, staggering in the mud. He's waving his arms, shouting, but the words are lost in the distance. Miles, Speirs thinks, straining to hear. That's Miles coming towards them.

"Gun!" he thinks he hears.

Then the artillery hits.

"Fall back!" Speirs roars, the men scrambling, Grayson and Bennet echoing the command, shoving shocked men to their feet as they pass.

Lipton, over the chaos: "Move, boys, move!" As they clamber through snow and over foliage back deeper into the woods.

Shells break the branches above them. Splinters rain down, long as arms. Men scramble for cover.

"I said keep moving," Speirs shouts as a shell impacts, thirty feet to his left. Earth pelts down like rain, dirt in his mouth, the taste of ash and wet vegetation.

"Move, private!" Speirs barks, pulls a stumbling trooper -- Julian -- up by the arm and drags him along.

Behind them, a shell crashes down in a shower of black dirt. "Goddamnit, move!" But the calls have started, then, up ahead and to the sides for "help!", "medic!", even when it makes no sense, because they're dodging incoming fire, it's no time for medical assistance, but that's not the instinct, that's not what a man thinks of when he's bleeding without limbs on the ground

Another shell, fifteen feet ahead, and Speirs charges through it, shutting his eyes against the dirt, calling out to the men all the while, "Keep going, keep going."

"Cleared of Germans, my ass!" That's Babe. "Jesus Christ, are those tanks?"

Rumbling, a mechanical grate, and the ground shakes with the scrape of diesel engines and half-ton wheels. Grayson was right. This is what the tarps were hiding.

German attack force, probably waiting to move with the mist; weren't expecting a scouting party, weren't expecting a fight.

Company CP won't be expecting a fight either.

There's a vein of hill rock; they'd passed sentries of them, coming up. The men fly into cover, pulling each other down while Speirs chances a glance behind them. The grind of gears and machinery seems further away. The mist shrouds the horizon well enough, and the trees are a greater obstacle for heavy vehicles than a man on foot.

"Bennet!" Speirs shouts, his breath coming short. "I need that radio!"

"Bennet's down!" Lugo returns. "We don't got no radio!"

"They're heading for D Company," Speirs says, as Lipton crashes in beside him, falling in behind the rocks. "We'll need runners. Grayson --" Grayson jerks, a hand holding down his helmet "-- get yourself over here."

Turns to Easy. "Sergeant, who's your fastest man?"

Lipton cranes his neck, glances around. "Christiansen, you good to run?"

"Christenson's hit, sir--" a serious faced fellow, nasal voice -- "took a splinter through the leg."

Redhead from earlier raises a hand. "I'll go, Lip."

Lipton nods. "Good man, Babe."

In the moments it's taken them to formulate a plan, the men have dragged their wounded behind the largest outcropping of stone. Speirs counts three bodies on the ground, two men carrying a fourth, Easy's medic flitting between them all, the only bit of movement, his hands red.

"Tell them they've got at least two armored units heading their way about three quarter mile from their position, coming in from the northwest. We've got four active units of Dog Company left and --" a quick count "--ten from Easy.

"We'll try to hold them off, long as we can." Rumbling's getting closer; Speirs can feel it where his body contacts the earth. Not a lot of time. He looks his runners both in the eye, makes sure they see his. "Don't stop."

Shapes emerge from within the fog, great lumbering howitzers on wheels. One first, then a second, closely matched to it. Clotted with camouflage, smoking with the cold. Voices in the distance. Infantry support coming up fast.

Can't fight tanks, can't take down tanks, not with fourteen men, not with rifles. But they have to to stop the Kraut advance, give their runners enough time, get the word out.

Can't fight tanks, Speirs thinks furiously, watching a man fire into the mist, bullets pinging harmlessly off metal, breaking twigs in the ricochet.

("Cease fire, damnit, preserve your ammo!" Lipton yells.)

Can't fight tanks, Speirs realizes. But they don't need to.

"Just need to slow them down," he says. Lipton's head swivels around.

"What?" he asks.

Speirs raises his voice. "We just need to slow them down," he repeats. Looks around him: rocks, dirt, trees -- fallen branches, thick as a man's leg and about half as long. Yanks Lipton's attention to him with a fist on his collar. "Infantry's not caught up yet."

"Yeah?" Lipton prompts in the same volume.

"No one's protecting those bogies," Speirs says, jabs a finger towards the branches, and in an instant, Lipton understands.

"You'll need a distraction," Lipton says. Speirs opens his mouth to affirm, but Lipton's already swinging around to the men. "Easy Company!" he calls, dodging between rocks. "Let's go!"

"Dog Company!" Speirs echoes. "Lugo, Riggs," looking around, "Miles," who'd made it with them after all, uncanny bastard. "With me!"

Explaining as they run, quick and low to the ground, "Easy's gonna keep them busy, and we're gonna jam up those bogies." Grabs a branch, shoves it toward Riggs.

"With sticks, sir?" Lugo asks, even as he tucks two pieces under his arms.

Speirs picks up a log, deems it unsturdy, drops it for another. "Never said it was a permanent solution," and then he hears a shout, "You like that, you Kraut fucks?" and a sound like something moderately heavy bouncing off metal. Smaller clatters, maybe bullets. They can't be throwing rocks, Speirs thinks briefly, but then he hears German voices closing in fast. They've only got seconds to make this work.

"Let's go gents," he says, turning towards line of tanks. Easy hasn't stopped them -- no rock is going to stop a tank, but the first in the column has slowed down, sure enough, cannon clanking to a position Speirs hopes Lipton has long since vacated.

Coming up on its left flank, making quick work of it; one tank ahead of the others, slows to a crawl. "Lieutenant, just anywhere?" Riggs asks doubtfully, holding a branch at the ready.

"Between wheels," Speirs guesses, and shoves.

Miles and Lugo follow suit, Riggs after a moment more of hesitation. They're headed back towards the rocks, heads still low when the tank takes a shot, cannonblast like a suction of sound until the explosion jolts the ground beneath them. Quiet, then, as earth splashes back down from the air. If company CP didn't know about the incoming assault, they sure as fuck do now.

Searching the horizon for Easy Company, doesn't see them, but the Krauts have started up again. "Move," Speirs orders, pushing Riggs ahead of him, Lugo right on his ass.

"Sie sind hier!" he hears, and he doesn't speak a lick of German, but he can guess well enough. A crack and then a hissing sound. Gunshots. Infantry's caught up.

The tank's engine roars, picks up speed again. Speirs doesn't turn his head to witness it. Doesn't know where Easy's gone, hopes to hell they're headed in the same direction--

A tearing sound, harsh and broken, not of cloth or paper, but metal warping. A bit of dead foliage lodges between gears and stops a goddamn German Panzer in its place.

Speirs does turn around for this. "Holy shit," Miles says faintly, but then shots of rifle fire, fizzing over their heads. Running now, no time for contemplation. They've stopped the tank but they're still within range of its gun.

"Shit," Speirs mutters, pulse pounding, legs churning. Serpentine, make a less attractive target, never go anywhere in a straight line. Eighty yards away, he can still hear the tank's cannon adjusting its sight. "Down, get down!" he shouts, too late or not soon enough, as the shell impacts just at his heels, sends Speirs flying with the force, ends up flat on his face, face in the mud.

Covered in blood. Keeps himself down. Checks himself, tries to feel for pain through the disorientation and adrenaline. Hands searching over his legs, his stomach, his chest. He's clean. "Luck of the devil," he mutters, getting on his elbows. Knee crushes into something soft. Feels like flesh. Miles was behind him.

"No," Speirs says, turns around. Shell missed them both, but Miles was closer. Shrapnel from the blast, splinters shredding everything from the waist down. "Goddammit, shit -- medic," he says before thinking about it. "Medic!" he shouts without direction, without expectation that anyone should hear him. Finds Miles' hands -- Miles' hand -- wraps it in one fist. Holds the other against a wound in his neck. "Medic!" voice cracking into a higher register. Thick and strident in his ear. Brings it back down, "Hey, Dale, hey." Miles' pale eyes roll back, a spasm sends blood out his mouth, hits Speirs in the face. "Shit."

"I'm here, sir," says a voice and it's some sort of miracle: Easy's caught up, sweeping past them, taking potshots, calling out to each other, "Nearly there, come on boys."

Doc Roe moves Speirs' hand, presses it back, roots through his pack. "Dale," he says, finding sulphur and a roll of patterned cloth and pulling them out. He sounds hoarse. "Dale, come on, look at me, man, you're going to be all right." Scatters the powder, wraps the bandage around his neck, pulls tight, puts Speirs' hand back against it, moves on. Doc touches a hand to the end of Miles' arm, fishes for a tourniquet. "I got you, Dale, hey, just patch you up here, it's gonna be okay."

His fingers fumbling in the slick. Speirs' are too: watches red come up through the cotton beneath his hand and spread. Blood soaks through, runs in slow rivers down the side of Miles' neck. Speirs watches then and knows: Miles is done. The medic can't save him, no one can, but he still keeps on, telling him, "It'll be okay, Dale, you'll be okay. You'll be okay."

Miles doesn't respond, eyes fixed to some point in the middle distance. The color of his skin fades like a washed-out photograph; his limbs twitch like he's an ill-puppetted marionette. His hand spasms in Speirs', like he's clinging to life, but Speirs knows this isn't him, not anymore.

Dale dies like fading light, and it's so gradual it's like he isn't. But then he is, and then Speirs is left holding the hand of a corpse, its blood still welling up beneath the cotton bandages. Roe works, quick and sure, but they've taken long enough. They have to move.

"Doc," Speirs says. His voice is smooth again. Clear. "It's okay. We have to go."

Doc Roe doesn't look at him, hands still trying to stem the blood, tells him, "I'll get to you in a sec, Lieutenant."

Speirs catches his sleeve, pulls. "Doc, we have to go. It's okay."

Roe yanks away, insists violently, "It's not okay, he's fucking dying."

"Doc, he's dead." Speirs takes his hand. Stops him. Holds him still. "It's okay. He's okay."

Roe looks up, meets him face to face. His eyes are dark. Snarls, "He's not okay, he's dead!" Hurls the ruined bandage. "They keep dying!" His voice breaks.

"That's okay." Speirs' thumb sweeps over Roe's palm, but the texture's the same, smeared in the same wet. "Gene," he says. Quiet, steady. "Stop." Pulls him off.

Roe doesn't fight him this time, pushes to his feet on his own steam. "Fuck," he says. "Fuck." Tears Miles' tags from him in an angry twist.

Speirs lets him go. "We have to clear the area before the Germans come through," he tells him. "Come on."

Roe seems recovered, moves without assistance, but he hides his eyes beneath the brim of his helmet as they make the last rush for D Company's encampment. Speirs keeps a hand on his elbow, in case. They leave Miles behind.

"Go," Speirs tells Roe once they cross into familiar territory. "Get behind the line." He pushes him ahead. Roe goes, head still down, shoulders bent. He doesn't look back.

They've made it back, but there's no time for relief. Dog Company is in shambles, men ducking into foxholes, sergeants weaving in and out between the ranks, platoon leaders scrambling, trying to prepare to be hit by something they never saw coming.

"Keep your heads down, fellas, they're comin', hold the line--"

"Ammo, anyone got any goddamn ammo--"

"Ramsay, you're on machine gun, what're you still doing here--"

Speirs takes a moment, wipes his palm across his face. Smell of copper, taste in his mouth. Scrubs at his nail, flecks breaking off. His hand is brown with blood.

He's got to find Captain Walker, report in. Stops a man hurrying by with ammo belts draped over his shoulders.

"Where's Walker?"

The man nudges up his helmet -- Jovanovich. "Over by Company CP, got a bunch of guys from some other company giving him shit. You can't miss him."

Speirs takes off toward the tent, rifle in hand, when the call comes out, "Incoming! Take cover!"

Shells overhead, whistling into the trees. He hits the deck, rolls toward the direction of a foxhole, falls in head first next to Grayson and some kid replacement he doesn't recognize.

"Lieutenant!" Grayson says, something like relief coloring his normally placid voice. "Where's everyone else?"

"Didn't make it," Speirs grunts, another shell crashing down from the sky. Dirt shakes from the sides of the foxhole. Machinegun fire, a steady hopeful drill, suppressing infantry they're not even sure is coming, men shouting, rifle fire sounding out in blasts of noise.

Through the chaos comes the wail, stridently distinguishable from the rest of the confusion, "Medic! Shit! Doc!"

Don't, Speirs thinks suddenly, an inexplicable interjection of dread. Someone else will answer, except wishful thinking no more keeps a man from his duty as gunfire or danger. He doesn't mean to recognize the figure that rushes past, but he does.

Roe weaves between trees and foxholes and against the full force of a German assault. "Medic!" the screaming continues. "Help!"

Speirs looks over, sees Roe's target: two guys covering a third, trying to drag him to a foxhole but pinned down sniper fire. They're twenty yards from him, ten from Roe. He's not going to make it. "Get down!" Speirs bellows, waving an arm that's nearly taken off by a stray bullet. "You crazy son of a bitch, get into cover!"

Roe seems to comply, ducks behind a tree, back to the front, knees up against his chest.

Speirs swears. "Fire on that sniper!" he shouts to Grayson, the troopers in the adjacent foxholes. "Keep your eyes open, figure out where his nest is."

The sniper stops. To reload, Speirs thinks. Roe must think that too, because he's on his feet again, trips for cover. He falls short.

"Fuck," Speirs says, "fuck." Fires blindly in the sniper's direction: clip the guy's head, maybe; force him down a couple more seconds so that Roe can get back into cover. Can't. Doesn't. He's huddled up in the open, elbows around his head, knees balled into his body.

"Fuck," Speirs says," and hauls himself over the edge of the foxhole.

("Lieutenant!" he hears, too shrill to be Grayson, must be the kid.)

Emptying rounds, hoping for a blind hit, trying to keep the sniper from raising his head. Quick on his feet, leaping over debris, head down, smaller target to be hit. Pushes in next to Roe, grabs him by the back of the neck. "Go. Fucking go," shoves him ahead of him into the nearest foxhole.

Roe makes it. Speirs doesn't.

First bullet only gets him in the lower leg, but it's enough to trip him up, stun him for the next one, punching into his side. One in the ribs hurts the most, like he's been hit by a train; one in the arm he barely notices, still coming off the pain of the first three.

"Lieutenant!" comes that cry again, followed by shouts of, "He's there, next to the broken tree shaped like a V, get him, get him!" and a volley of bullets. Someone whoops. The sniper's down.

Hands on him, dragging him back behind the line. "Pull back!" is the command. "D Company, fall back!"

"Lieutenant, I got you, here," someone says, and Speirs tilts his face to see, but his eyelids keep getting in the way, shuttering heavily across his sight. Pressure tightening on his leg, tying off like a vice.

"Sir," says another voice, and that's Roe. "Hey, look at me." Speirs tries, but can't quite manage to focus. Pale features, like silver against black. "You're gonna be okay, Lieutenant, it's gonna be all right," he hears, and, "I need hands, you, push down on these wounds on his side here, keep the pressure -- you, go call for a goddamn evac, we got two wounded here, one officer -- does anyone got a bandage? Hey," he rounds about, intent, determined. It's a voice that speaks the truth. "Lieutenant Speirs, sir, look at me, you're going to be all right, okay?"

Speirs nods but feels a tremor run through him. It's cold, despite the sticky warm puddle of blood he's in. He shuts his eyes because it's hard to see.

"I gotta," he slurs, remembering the Kraut aidkit. Tries to reach for the flap on his coat, misses, once, twice. "Kit," he manages.

Fingers rummaging at his buttons, his shirt, pushing against his skin. "Aidkit, Doc," someone says, and then the fingers are back, pressing down on his wounds.

Palm, batting at his face. "Hey. Look at me." His eyes open.

"You're gonna be all right," Roe says again. His red hands tie off one bandage, scrounge through his pack for another.

"I'm not going to die, doc," Speirs says. His voice comes out blurry, like he's been drinking. Roe is quick to agree.

"That's right, sir, you'll be fine, it's not even that bad, hey."

"I'll be all right."

"Yeah, that's right." Roe sounds awful now. Tense and frightened and not reassuring at all. "You'll be all right."

"I'll be all right."

"That's right, yeah." His voice snaps on the last syllable. Breaks into pieces. Comes out harsh when he calls out, "Fucking, where's that evac, hey?"

Rumble like a car engine. A grip on his fingers. Shaking. "Lieutenant, Lieutenant Speirs, hey, look at me, sir, sir."

Speirs feels himself drift. It's damn cold.



Speirs drifts in. He's strapped to a stretcher, wedged on the back of a Jeep with two other soldiers, their faces grey as ash. Roe's squeezed in next to him, a bottle of plasma in the hand that isn't laced against Speirs' fingers. His face is darkened by soot, clean flesh showing silver in stripes under his eyes. The Jeep lurches over a pothole, Speirs feels fingers tighten between his. Hits his head when they land the bump, drifts out again.

Next thing he wakes to is hard hands tearing at his uniform, Roe's voice speaking in dosages: plasma, two syrettes of morphine, he knows it must be bad, because no medic ever has two syrettes of morphine to spare. His hand feels empty without another hand in it. He fists it into itself, flexing, but his arm lights up in pain, raw tendons exposed to the air, his mouth moves without noise and his eyelids flare open. Roe stops helping them shred his sleeve and comes around, comes to stoop, his hands smoothing and touching.

"Lieutenant, you awake?" His palm on Speirs' forehead, cool beneath the tacky veneer of gore, smooth like a balm.

"Hurts like a motherfucker," Speirs tells him and shuts his eyes in one deliberate squeeze, shrinks against the hands that push at him, moving his arm, counting ribs up his side. Roe's palm presses once on his brow, an anchoring point of stillness.

"You'll be all right," he says again, again, again, like it's his only platitude. It's been his only platitude. It's always been his only platitude. Speirs opens his eyes, just before Roe removes his hand, is hurried away back to the front, back where people need him.

"I'll be all right," he repeats. Roe's thumb scratches once above his eye.



A lot of men don't get better from these kind of things. He was shot four times, cracked two ribs, had a bullet dug out of his liver. It takes less to kill a man. He gets lucky.

Speirs makes it through because he was always going to make it through. It wasn't his time. If it'd had been, he would have died. It's all the answer he needs it to be, simple as that. He has never been the type to philosophize.

He spends two weeks in an aid station, three more in a hospital. He heals cleanly, though not quickly. Ribs take the longest; it still stings when he breathes, but gauze wrapped tight keeps everything from jostling. He's due for another three, and then eight weeks of rehab, but he busts out as soon as he can walk straight. Catches a ride back to the front. His men don't see him coming.

"Lieutenant Speirs," says Lugo, jostling his shoulder like he didn't one time murmur about Speirs' fabled massacres.

"Welcome back, Lieutenant," greets Riggs, smiling under weary eyes, as if he truly means to be happy.

Grayson nods at him, carefully reserved. Speirs nods back. He knows he crossed a line with these men, some unmarked boundary between reckless and suicidal. They lost more friends than they had any right to on one patrol, circumstances notwithstanding. All things considered, they don't so much blame him as hold him responsible. "Bloody" Speirs kills again. It's what he does.

He doesn't take it personally. D Company lost thirteen men that day in an attack that was meant to take them out. By any count, it's a concession that's more than fair.

They get replacements. More names to remember, more faces going still in the snow. The battalion moves on.

Weeks go by, and they clear Bastogne. Another week, and they clear Foy, and it's after his transfer and his promotion and after he receives his new set of responsibilities that he sees Doc Roe again.

"Captain," Roe says before anything else, sliding uncertainly by Speirs' foxhole after Lipton leaves with his report, after the other men leave with their lingering curiosity. The sky's gone dark by then. He crouches into himself. His thin face is thinner and younger than it should be, swallowed by his tin hat, just a sliver of silver amongst the blackened men. Their men, now. Speirs' and his.

"Doc," Speirs says, gesturing. "I got something for you." Ducks into his foxhole and fetches his pack, empties from its pouches a half dozen pilfered bandages and two packs of swindled morphine. He's been collecting.

Roe startles. Speirs waits. Then Roe smiles, and that itself is startling, when his brows arch out of their perpetual line of concern and his curled mouth softens his face. He takes his gifts with clean, white hands. "Thank you, sir," he says.

Speirs offers, "Smoke?" And Roe takes this, too, without delicacy, holds it between thumb and forefinger. Speirs lifts up a lighter for him. Roe hesitates here, but Speirs doesn't ask, so he can't refuse.

Roe lingers, lets the cigarette burn down around his fingers, brings it up to his lips in shallow breaths, like he's sipping water. Speirs lights a smoke of his own. The night is white with frost about them, and their breath sends clouds of it into the air. "Is there something you want to say, Corporal?"

"Sir," Roe says like an apology. "Shouldn't you still be in recovery? It's just you were shot three times--"

"Four times, Corporal," Speirs interjects. Thoughtlessly invites, "Want me to count them out for you?"

Roe flinches. Speirs pauses slowly, watches Roe as the hand that brings his cigarette from his mouth quavers. "No, sir, excuse me, sir." He pushes to his feet, his body hunched forwards, too much room inside his coat for his thin shoulders.

Speirs exhales a long breath of smoke. "Roe," he says. Roe stops, pivots, but doesn't straighten.

"Sir." His eyes cast down, he's still close enough that Speirs can see the blue veins on his lids. His skin is blue, through the mist. His sleeves hang down past the palms of his hands. His hands are red with cold.

"Are you cold, Gene?" Speirs asks.

Roe's eyes flicker forward. "Sir?"

Speirs jerks his head, one hand on his foxhole covering. Says without intent, "You look cold. It's warmer in here." He goes under.

There is a moment, and then two. Speirs puts his hands into his coat and listens to the sizzle of the fire eating through wet wood. He adjusts the cover to let out more smoke. Thinks about nothing. Then a shuffle, and there's feet, slipping down, knees then hips, and there's Roe, ducking his head beneath the tarp, cigarette burning low between his lips. Speirs hands him another. Roe takes it without complaint.

Speirs leans over to hold him a light and Roe meets him halfway. The color of the fire between their hands lends a glow to the sallow skin on his face. Roe sits back, blue smoke riding on his breath. "I didn't know you were hit four times," he says quietly. Speirs shrugs and puts his hands back into his pockets.

"Only one of them hit bone," he tells him. "The one in my leg went straight through, but the one on my shoulder was practically a graze."

Roe's eyebrows furrow. "It hit bone?" He reaches a hand; it hovers above Speirs' sleeve. "You were hit straight on. It would have broken something."

"Cracked something," he corrects. Speirs covers Roe's hand and moves it from his arm. The curve of his ribcage is only three inches away. Speirs manoeuvres his hand into his coat and presses, Roe's beneath his.

Roe frowns. "Five weeks in a field hospital isn't enough for cracked ribs, sir," he says. He pushes. Speirs doesn't flinch, but his lungs retract a breath beneath Roe's palm. "You shouldn't be back yet." Roe's touch leaches cold into his skin even with two layers of cloth and cotton between them. His pulse beats steadily inside his chest. Roe's hand makes him feel it.

"I'm all right, Gene," Speirs says. Roe looks up at him, his gaze a flat line of consternation. He says it again, quietly, "I'm all right."

"You could have died." Roe sits back. Their shoulders press together.

Speirs acknowledges this with a shallow incline of his chin. "I could have," he agrees.

"You shouldn't have done it." Roe's fingers fumble with his cigarette. "Sir." A shake has overtaken them again. Speirs can feel it all down the line where their bodies meet. "You were the ranking officer. Your life against mine. You shouldn't have done it. You could have died."

Roe's face holds still and clear for a moment. Speirs watches him. "Gene," Speirs says, softly as he knows how. "I'm all right."

He doesn't know what it is he wants from this man. Nothing, he thinks, and that feels right, seems to ring true. Eugene Roe has nothing to give him that he might not find elsewhere. He knows this as easily as he knows his own name, but still he searches. Looks again, perhaps for some shape of his profile or some color in his eyes that would mark him as remarkable, because there must be something there, for this man to draw his eye, to so elicit his concern.

He finds no answers, not when Roe's hand digs up into his hair and pushes off his helmet, not when his knees draw up into his body, and his shoulders go disastrously high around his ears. He looks away into the fire for no reason he can muster. Speirs has accepted of himself that he will never be as certain, will never be as complete as he is in this moment of war. He is a creature of battle; he wears violence like a skin. Peace will never come easily to him. But Eugene Roe raises within him the hollow need to give him shelter. He makes Speirs wish that he had some way with which to bring him from harm.

"I'm not even a real doctor, you know?" Roe says at last. His hands have gained such a tremor about them, they miss his lips when he goes to pluck the smoke from between him. "I'm just a guy they picked. They gave me a cross and took away my rifle and here I am." He laughs. It's a wet sound. "And they look at me like I'm supposed to make a difference. Like I'm supposed to save them. I can't even --"

Speirs looks over at him. He's laid one hand trembling over his eyes, cigarette still stuck between two fingers. "I don't think I've saved a single one of them when it mattered, you know?" And Speirs wants, in some strange way. Wants to touch him, to help him, to give him certainty. Wants to put the fissured pieces of him back together. Wants to see him whole.

In that instant, with absolute clarity, he understands what a different kind of war the two of them have been sent to fight: Speirs, who preserves life by taking it, who lives to die if not in one battle than another; and Roe, who wears more blood on his hands than all of the rest of them, who keeps such company with death that the rest of them are mere passing acquaintances.

Speirs takes the cigarette from Roe before it burns down between his fingers, and takes one last drag of it before flicking it into the fire. There are things he can't do. There are things he can't give. This is not one of them. He puts his hand over Roe's, thumb and pinky looped loosely around his wrist. "Stop," he says.

Roe allows his hand to be dragged away. His eyes are wet and deep and dark as wounds in his face. He's shaking as if he might shake himself apart.

The smears over his cheeks shine silver in the light.

Speirs remembers the anchor -- Roe's palm, cool on his forehead -- remembers the calm that touched him, smoother in his veins than any morphine. Remembers the certainty in Roe's eyes, his rightness of action. Roe's palm is damp where Speirs presses it to his face; his skin tastes like fire and salt and metal when it passes over his lips. Roe's breath hitches. His thumb slips beneath Speirs', catches on the sharp corner of Speirs' mouth, tugs at the lip.

"Sir," he says, his voice like a breath. "Captain Speirs."

"You're all right," Speirs tells him. Turns into the touch that moves him, pulls him closer. Meets his eyes. Finds no color there but ash and the vestige of winter. "I've got you."



If anyone feels the need to challenge any of my historical accuracy/military strategy/physiological probability, I beg you to please first check out my own giant fucking pit of existential angst and despair and understand that I, too, question the intelligence of every fucking thing I've written here.

aka research, motherfuckers, yeah i do it.

Comments

Hi there! This was really, really good. I just stumbled into this fandom, just finished bitching and moaning about how I can't find any good slashy Roe fic, dammit, I just want to read some fic! And fifteen minutes later, here you are with a Roe fic. Your author note would've made me read it anyway :D

I freaking love that it's so vague and that no on gives names to things or thinks too much, and that everyone is so cold all the time. And Speirs gives Roe a gift of saved up morphine :D That's the best, right there, and just so perfect for the setting. This fic is perfection \o/ Thank you for posting it and rescuing me from the land of Fanfic 101. Also, your research, it rules. Going to check what else you might have around.
Thank you friend! Always happy to get feedback, doubly so when it's super nice :D

If you want more fic from me, it's best to check out my AO3 account (linked back in the original post). I've got a Pacific fic and a BoB/Pacific crossover up. The crossover's a WIP, but I'm hoping to get another chapter up really soon (just waiting on a beta). Features Roe though, so that's hype at least!
Well, I haven't seen the Pacific, but that crossover was pretty great stuff and yup, needs to be updated :D

(And since I'm just dropping out of the sky anyway, might as well do it right. If you ever need a beta, I do that. Just saying. I even sometimes have some shifts in the EMS in the goddamn jungle.)
The Pacific isn't nearly as good as BoB in terms of overall cohesiveness, tbh, but it takes a different approach to characterisation which makes it a slightly more compelling psychological study. Whereas BoB really concentrates on the resilience of its characters, The Pacific spends its time showing how much war fucks everyone up and how now one bounces back. It's generally acknowledged that the Pacific theatre is the more brutal of the two threatres of war that the US fought in during WW2, so The Pacific is a lot more graphic, a lot more dirty, and is generally less easily romanticised than BoB.

Honestly, though, I'm playing up the good parts; when The Pacific gets bad it gets really fucking bad. Like "holy fucking shit you only have ten episodes why did you choose to have 3 separate narrators" bad, like "this character has no personality jesus god why have you given him 4 consecutive episodes" bad, like "why in fuck's name did you choose to stage a 20 minute battle scene in complete fucking darkness no do not adjust your screens it is actually that fucking dark" bad.

The most fascinating part (and consequently the part that 90% of fandom obsesses over) is the relationship between Sledge (one of the narrators) and Snafu, his foxhole buddy, who's essentially a feral animal dipped in Cajun charm.

The scenes where they interact are the
best
parts of the entire series.

Anyway, that's my tenuous recommendation for The Pacific. I'd love to have you beta! Lemme friend you, and then you can have access to my drafts :)
Shit, I don't know if I want to watch it :D I think I'll rewatch BoB a few times for now and see what happens. And thank you, I definitely was looking for some comment on The Pacific. And hey, now I know what the characters look like!

And yay \o/ I love that you post drafts. You need any help with any specific ones? (I'll poke around anyway, as soon as RL allows, because I like what you write :D)
The Pacific is worth a watch (one watch, singular, not a lot of rewatch value). I suggest having something else going on at the same time. I, for one, made myself a very nice hat during the first 3 episodes and then a nice pair of mittens during the last 7.

If you'd like my personal preference, I'd watch the first ~30 minutes of the first episode until you meet Sledge and then skip directly to episode 5 where Sledge takes over narration. You can also skip episode 8 after the first 6 minutes. I'm flirting with the idea of doing a supercut of all the actually interesting parts of this series so that I can just shove it at people like HERE WATCH THIS whenever someone asks if The Pacific is any good. But that's me. You might like the 2 other guys narrating, so I guess you ought to give them a chance.

As for drafts, I'm working on the second chapter of the crossover fic right now, and I'll probably have a workable draft up within the next 12 hours. That's my primary concern right now by popular demand lol. Most of my LJ is fairly well organised in terms of tagging (latest entries will be tagged as soon as I start giving enough of a shit @_@), so if you wanna browse around my WIP section, let me know if anything catches your fancy, and I'll fill you in on details. I have something like 9 WIPs going on at once in various degrees of gestation. And unfortunately, I don't so much have active fandoms as I do active projects, so shit skips around. I'm sorry for the more obscure stuff. You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it orz
But I cannot make hats! *weeps* Nah, it's probably worth checking out. Can it possibly be worse than Mad Men which everybody loves and in which absolutely nothing happens and not a single interesting character makes an appearance? Probably not. And I watched two seasons of that, just waiting for it to get better. It never did. (Didn't even get a hat out of it.)

Ahem. Anyway, I appreciate the opinion on the series :D

It looks like we're in entirely different fandoms, but hey, there's that crossover you're doing, and it has its claws in me, and it also has Roe, which is awesome because I spent three sleepless nights in search of some good slashy Roe fic. Looking forward to it. Hopefully, I can be of some help - in catching typos if nothing else, heh.
Here on dear_tiger's recommendation, and yeah, this is really excellent. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Thank you for reading! Wow, I guess the LJ BoB fandom is still going strong, huh? This is awesome!
I think one of the greatest glories of this fandom is that it's hideously easy (heh) to ship absolutely anybody with anybody, and indeed if you write a good fic with a heretofore unheard of pairing, you're going to get reactions that mostly consist of "yeah, okay, I'll ship it."

Also, I have no challenges for you when it comes to research. I feel your pain. I break bookshelves with the weight of my reference texts right alongside you.
Haha, it's good to hear that I make a convincing case. That's all I can hope for :)