(Just the title alerted me, darling. It was a Leigh title. Also, no one writes Lipton like you do-- no one could actually crawl inside Speirs scary brain. You have slain me with the beauty of this story, honestly. I promise to comment as soon as I get home from the movies. I have to have time to savor.)
My own fic was "Street of Dreams", written for abyssinia4077. (I have way too many fics with the word 'street' in the title. *bangs head*) I struggled with a vague idea for the story for about a month and then, about two days before the deadline, I just sat down and wrote it. I think I was possessed-- I honestly don't remember getting the words out of my brain and into my fingers. X_x So, without further babbling on my part:
Author's Notes: Written for abyssinia4077 as part of the 2004 Band of Brothers Fandom Secret Santa, 'Berlin by Christmas'. I don't know you all that well, Miss Abyssinia4077, but I enjoyed writing this for you. ^_^ Thanks go to the ever-spiffy and helpful Amber, who pointed out mistakes in my canon and generally help my sanity together whilst working on this piece. You're a real sweetheart.
"I was praying,
you'd be staying,
on this lonely, lonely, lonely,
street of dreams."
-Lindsay Buckingham, "Out of the Cradle"
Street of Dreams 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
The night before his brother dies, shot in the sands of Casino, Bill Guarnere dreams of him. They are young again, he and Adam, perching like careless monkeys on the fire-escape outside their tiny, cramped apartment. They have to be quiet-- on Saturday afternoons, Ma teaches piano lessons for a little extra money. In the dream, Bill is staring at his hands, small and boyish, yet unmarked by basic training, or practice scuffles in the English countryside. They are puppyish hands, retaining some baby fat, with big, clumsy knuckles that make him think briefly of Bull. Then the dream comes over him fully, clinging as close as skin, blocking the future. He's just six years old, lazily peeling an orange as he stares at the alleyway three stories below. What he wants to do is throw the meat of the fruit, hear it make that satisfying 'splat' on the pavement-- or better yet, see if he can angle it just right, and sink it in the dumpster on the corner. For a moment, he turns the lopsided sphere over in his sticky palms, contemplating it as one would a baseball, but he senses Adam's eye upon him and looks up. His brother is four years older than he, close enough in age to be a friend, but removed enough to retain some small authority-- Bill ducks his head and bites into the orange loudly.
"Wasn' gonna do nothin'," he grins, mouth full. Adam snorts, turning back to his book, legs dangling, swinging in the wind. Adam always seems to be reading-- big, thick books from the Public Library, where he can linger for hours, fingering spines and pages while Bill kicks the table to see how long it takes for the librarian to notice. Sighing, Bill wipes his hands on his trousers and cranes his neck to look down the alley. Through the lens of his borrowed binoculars, he can see down across the street and into other side roads, where Philadelphia is riotous with autumn. The leaves move in the streets like small animals, skittering red, orange, yellow and brown, and from this height the city is really a maze, streets like perfect rivers. He says something like that-- about seeing the city from the sky, and Adam moves closer.
"Look," he motions, turning a page, "there is a city with rivers for streets. Venice, see?" He tilts the book around, so that Bill can see it right side up. Bill watches his little-boy hands reach, draw the tome into his lap-- but something is wrong.
For a long while, he just stares at the red; red like thick paint sold at the hardware store. Red, shining and new, covering the whole page. Its on his hands, too, coming off on him, oily, endless and bright. He looks up at Adam-- Adam will know, that's what he's there for, to be annoyed by his little brother, to teach him how to pitch, to pull him out of trouble. Adam's mouth is red too, though-- a big red 'O', bright as Easter tulips, blooming like the palms of Jesus nailed to the cross. A disturbing sense of doubleness clutches at his shoulders, yanks at his spine-- he's looking at the sanctuary of St. Andrew's Catholic Church, at Adam's First Communion, when he spilled just a little of the wine-- Christ's blood-- down the front of his pristine white shirt. A jarring, a jolt; it's just Adam again, Adam on the fire escape, red and screaming. Except he isn't screaming, only trying-- the sound gurgles, and the red is blood and Adam is dead, right there on the chill black iron bars.
"Bill," says Adam, without moving his mouth, "Bill--"
That's a lie. That's not what happened. The truth is that Bill Guarnere never dreamed at all. On the night his brother died, felled by some Kraut in the cold desert empty, Guarnere was sleeping with a full belly, warm in one of the stalls converted for barracks use. He was snoring, swaying lightly in his hammock with his boots on, while Joe Toye and Johnny Martin argued over cards. That's real, and that's also the nightmare, the thing that wakes him up the night before the drop, shaking and shivering and looking at his hands. Adam is dead, shot at Casino in North Africa, and his last letter is there in Bill's footlocker, calm, crisp, real as each breath he takes.
"Sounded like a bastard." The voice is smooth baritone, breaking the stillness with casual ease, and for a moment Guarnere feels shame, like blood, curdling in his throat. He raises his hands-- scarred, heavy, thinned out with work-- to his face, but he hasn't been crying, just gasping. Just tossing in his hammock, swinging in the void. He rolls over carefully, eyes adjusting to the darkness; there's Joe Toye, narrow chin titled up as he smokes a cigar.
"Yeah," says Bill, shrugging-- as if he's just been picked for KP, or lost a hand at cards. The roll of his shoulders says 'wanna make something of it?' Joe rolls his eyes and hands Guarnere the cigar, embers glowing red to yellow to orange, like Philadelphia autumn. He takes a grateful puff, then another, and hands it back without looking. For some time, he is silent, listening to Joe tell some dumb-ass joke about a green corporal and a French nurse, until Toye's voice fades off. Dissipating smoke.
In the stillness, Guarnere stares up at the ceiling-- beyond which is the sky, beyond which is God. "Bastard," he says, hatefully, drawing out that word. "A real bastard."
Joe Toye is the first and only person he tells.
Telling and hearing are two different things. It is the Army, after all-- and Bill isn't surprised when Winters approaches him the next morning, silent, but with compassion in those distant, rain-cloud eyes. Guarnere grunts something, bangs his tray around as he makes room for himself on the bench, and Winters finally withdraws, back towards the too-bright window and Nixon. Unable to summon the energy to be angry, Bill just stares at him food, gathering his strength, willing himself to sneer at Winters and his well-meaning, not-drinking glance.
"Quaker," Guarnere mutters distastefully, under his breath. He's almost pissed-- he's working up to it, settling into it like a tall glass of beer, like an old coat. By the time the officer comes to the fore of the mess and informs them that the jump is on, Guarnere is steaming, like a bull in the spotty nickel cartoons, smoke coming out of his nose. Joe can see it-- they all can. Perconte gives him space on the bench, refraining from commenting on the food, but Bill hears him lean over to Luz as he walks away.
"Ol' Gonorrhea's on the war-path," he mutters, nudging the other man with his elbow. Luz makes a crack-- in the dull mess light, the two look like brothers; dark, irreverent, Perconte just a head shorter than Luz. Guarnere chews harshly, mouth screwed up in a merciless twist-- he's sure to shove Perconte, just a little, on their way to formation.
This anger carries him through the rest of the day; through the briefings, the final drills, until he is at last cramming things into his duffle, minutes slipping away to carry them all away. Europe, he thinks, the Fortress-- gentlemen, we're dropping on Normandy.
(Luz, leaning over, right in Joe's face, "How do you expect to slay the Huns...")
His hand shakes, just once or twice, and Bill realizes he's holding the latest letter from Ma, looking at its sharp corners, at the cautious, wide swirls of her handwriting. There will be another letter, soon; one for her, type-faced and economic.
(The United States Marine Corps regrets to inform you...
Last night, half the boys in the company were writing letters home, one last shot before Normandy.
Bill never even picked up a pen.)
He shoves the letter in, too, mercilessly, hands seeking his rosary, even though all he can see is his Ma, crying, swathed in black, praying under the blank, bleeding gaze of Christ.
He can't find the rosary. Glancing at his watch, he combs over the stall once more, than again, ignoring Joe's pleas to hurry up. The tiny silver hands move-- ten minutes 'til fall out, nine, eight. It's not there-- not anywhere. Moving the folded hammocks only reveals hay, not the black, smooth beads he seeks. At last, Joe grabs his arm, manhandling him into the aisle, come on, for Chris'sake, Bill. Guarnere shuffles his feet in the fine dirt, with a frantic feeling in his ribs that only makes him angrier than before.
(Adam, dead and sightless, half covered in sand. Ma crying, ashen, the hair in her face the same color as her funeral veil.)
Guarnere's wrists ache, so that when he feels a tap on his shoulder, he simply whirls, more than ready to throw a punch. His stance does not gentle when his gaze meets with Liebgott's rich brown eyes-- his bones seem to stiffen in readiness. Eyes narrowing, he opens his mouth, ready to toss out some acidic comment, something about being a Jew. Liebgott will fight with him, Guarnere knows it. They'll throw punches, get in blows when the other man is down, kick it real dirty-like. Satisfying. He's ready, he can taste it-- but there, in Joe's hand, is the rosary, beads black and lacquered, blinking like eyes. The cross twists, catches the afternoon sun.
"This yours?" Liebgott asks, the set of his spine at once careful and calm.
"Yeah," Guarnere doesn't reach yet, just watches the charm dangle, helpless and arbitrary. "Where d'you find it?" Liebgott merely jerks his head back towards the stalls, moving his hand forward, offering.
Bill takes it with a grunted 'thanks'; he feels Liebgott slap him on the arm, but he isn't looking up. He's gazing at the rosary in his palm, allowing Joe to strong-arm him along. The cross burns like fire in his fist as they load into the planes, burns and pulses every time Luz says 'We're really gonna do it, now'. Bill is thankful, unbelievably so, when Lipton tells him, gently, to quiet up-- he sits on the bench and stares, unblinking, waiting for his hands to change.
(Younger, smaller. Adam, trying to scream.
The jump to Normandy is dark and cold; bright and blazing with artillery and fire. The world below is chaos in minuature-- a bird's eye view of battlements and trenches that look almost like a maze. Like streets in a dead city, leading nowhere. Taking a step from the plane is easy; he knows there's nothing out there to hold him up. As he falls, he chants the same thing he did as he touched each smooth black bead.
He puts four bullets in the first Kraut he sees.
Despite my initial reservations about writing 'on-command', I really enjoyed participating in the Secret Santa. My thanks go to nullsechs for organizing it all. You're awesome, lady!
*shuffles off to get ready for the movies*