“Pretend it's Christmas trees.” Perconte snickered and Luz suppressed a smile, leaning against one. He shut his eyes and pushed the lingering sadness out of his mind.
“Christmas trees, huh? Well then. I'm just visitin’ a nice forest in New York with all you lot. The snow looks real pretty on these branches, Frank. They've got some decorations on alla them, draped in some baubles of bullet casings and a bunch of Kraut shells.” He said, eyes still closed.
“Sounds nice, Luz. You got any gifts beneath them trees?” Toye asked as he walked up, clapping George on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and smiled.
“Yeah, Joe. I got some fuckin’ warm clothes and food that doesn't taste like horse shit.” he chuckled and the two others gave a hearty laughs. Perconte turned to where Liebgott and Webster were quietly murmuring between each other.
“Oi, you two!” he shouted over, voice echoing through the encampment and earning their attention along with some other men. Liebgott looked a bit annoyed to be torn from his conversation, but Webster touched his hand lightly.
“What is it, Perconte?” Webster asked and he gestured them over to their growing circle. Muck, Malarkey, Babe, and Guarnere all followed behind him and Liebgott. Luz noticed Winters and Lipton standing off to the side, ready to break them apart for work should they need to. But Bastogne was quiet and calm for now.
They all huddled together and George didn't hesitate to grab Toye’s hands, his fingers twitching against the slight warmth. He shot him a pleased smile, and a couple of the other guys grabbed hands or pulled each other closer.
“I wanted to know what you want for Christmas.” Frank said simply and Muck barked a laugh.
“Christmas, eh? That's- shit, that's gotta be soon, huh?” Skip said. “But yeah. What do you want, Webster?” he asked.
“Well, I want my own copies of the Jules Verne books. I’d like to also maybe attend another year of college.” he said and some snickered.
“Fuckin’ typical.” Liebgott grinned and David nudged him.
“Well, what do you want?” he asked and Liebgott puffed up.
“A nice Jewish girl with long brown hair and pretty blue eyes all spread out on my bed with a big bottle of rum eggnog to share.” he leered and Bill whistled. Lieb looked around at the circle assembled and smirked. “How bout we go in a circle? Share what we want for Christmas. Make this a right a little party.” he said and nods of agreement bobbed against the low wind.
Luz was next to him so he raised a free hand to signify he’d go next. “What I want for Christmas is socks. Just socks, three pairs of thick, fluffy, warm socks so my toes don't goddamn freeze off.” he groused and Muck applauded him.
“Socks are important.” Skip stressed.
Toye went next, tucking a cough into his collar before he spoke. “Brass knuckles.” he announced after a heartbeat of deliberation. “I want some to beat the shit out of people. I can do that myself, but the knuckles are cooler.” he said and Malarkey rolled his eyes before he took his turn.
“Portable heaters or some shit for the foxholes. If that exists. Or small ones. There's no way to really fight off this fuckin’ cold, and I could use help.” he laughed.
Muck elbowed him. “I'm just wishin’ for Speirs to stop scaring the shit outta us. And besides, you've got me and Penk to warm ya up, buddy.” he said and Babe made a sarcastic comment under his breath that made Liebgott and Bill snort before they continued.
“I want a big, steaming pot of my ma’s spaghetti, with some fresh bread on the side and more cannoli than I could possibly eat in one sitting.” Perconte said, a far off look in his eyes as he dreamt of delicious home-cooked meals.
“Only if you invite us all over! I'm bringin’ my new socks.” Luz announced and cheers arose.
“The Perconte family dinner, with the men of Easy.” Webster added thoughtfully.
“And then after, you all can head over ta me an’ Frannie’s. Because I want a brand new television set for Christmas.” Bill said and while eyebrows rose, everyone agreed. “Whadda ‘bout you, Babe?” Guarnere asked the redhead, who had mainly been uncharacteristically somber.
“All I want for Christmas is peace.” Babe said quietly. The mood shifted with this admission, melancholy thoughts of times without war filling their minds. It was quiet, save the howling of the wind and distant rowdy laughter of some other platoon.
From next to Babe, Webster spoke up.
“Well, if Babe’s wishing for peace, I think I'm gonna tack on that I wish for us to all find new wisdom from this hellhole.” he said and there was low consent. Liebgott glanced at him.
“I wish for everyone to have hope.” he declared, and they began to go around the circle again.
“I wish for your happiness.” Luz murmured.
“I wish for you to all have bravery and courage in the face of fire.” Toye said.
“I wish for everyone to stay safe.” Malarkey commented, and Muck added that he wished for everyone to find good fortune.
Perconte wished for continued good health. Guarnere wished that they'd always treasure they bond they shared. Babe just smiled and looked down.
Tears pricked at his eyes and he leaned more into Liebgott’s embrace, the nine men shuffling minutely closer. Breath rose like puffs of smoke from rifle noses, and the chill of Belgium was temporarily offset in favor of brotherhood and hope.
From the side, Lipton silently prayed for the men to survive the night. They dispersed and offered terse nods to he and Winters.
In the twilight darkness, where men huddled in foxholes and drifted through fevered dreams, no artillery fell and all was silent.