Eugene looked over his shoulder, habitually ducking low to avoid being seen by any German snipers. The red cross on his arm should protect him theoretically, but theory didn’t do a man any good when he was bleeding out in the snow. “Sergeant Guarnere”, he said as soon as he recognized the man’s broad silhouette. “You hurt?” He looked him over, but he couldn’t see any blood that hadn’t been there the day before.
The sergeant shook his head. “Nah, but I gotta talk to ya. You got a sec?”
Eugene nodded. “Sure.”
They fell into step next to each other, making their way away from the line. The frozen snow crunched loudly beneath their boots. The trees around them were dark shadows in a sea of white.
It wasn’t unusual for the soldiers to come talk to him, be it enlisted men or officers. The topics varied from illnesses to traumatic experiences all the way to their lives and families at home. And Gene listened to everything and talked about it to no one. A medic is shrink, doctor and priest combined, he remembered an instructor saying to him in Toccoa, and wasn’t that the truth of it, though he wasn’t sure if he did either of those jobs very well.
But Bill apparently didn’t come to talk about himself. “You got a foxhole of your own, yeah?” he asked, nodding into the general direction of it.
Eugene raised an eyebrow. It was unusual for the men to ask about him, and he’d gotten used to it. “Yeah. Dike didn’t want no two medics in one hole.”
“Yeah, I heard. Listen, Babe ain’t got anyone either since…” He left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air since neither of them needed to hear it. “And I think he could use some company. He’s not doing so well. I mean, I’m there when I can, but I got a position to hold, so…” He let the sentence trail off with a helpless shrug.
Eugene nodded slowly. He’d been thinking about Babe and what happened a lot over the last couple of days, maybe more than he should. “You want me to talk to him?”
But to his surprise, Bill shook his head. “I know you already talked to him. I’m asking if you wanna be his foxhole partner.”
Eugene stayed silent for a moment, and Bill took it as hesitance. “He won’t bother you. He’s a bit chatty, but he’s a good kid.”
Eugene stuffed his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket in a futile attempt to keep them warm. “I know.”
Bill grinned. “He’s also got a body like a furnace, you’re missing out, I’m telling you.”
Eugene chuckled lowly. That was indeed a highly sought property of a foxhole partner these days.
Bill didn’t pressure him for an answer. Instead he stopped walking and said: “Listen, I gotta head back. Just think about it, alright?”
“Yeah”, Eugene said slowly. “I will.” Then he watched Bill disappear between the trees like a shadow.
He thought it over for the better part of the day until he finally approached the foxhole. “Hey, Heffr-” he bit his tongue just in time, “Babe, how ya doing?”
Babe looked up from where he’d been sitting hunched over his machine gun. “Gene! Yeah, great, just great, I got like a perfect view here of trees, snow, and more trees, ya know?”
Eugene smiled slightly. Bill had said that he wasn’t doing so well, but Babe looked significantly better than he had after it had happened, if still as miserable and pissed-off as the rest of them.
Babe squinted up at him. “Hey, Gene, you need something?”
He took another breath of cold air before asking: “You got room in there for two?” He nodded at the foxhole.
“Yeah, sure, get in here”, Babe said and inched a bit to the side to make space. “Don’t wanna be at fault if our best medic gets shot.”
But Eugene remained standing, one hand rubbing at his neck. His fingers were could against his skin. “Nah, I mean – permanently.”
Babe sat up, machine gun forgotten. “Oh”, he said. “Oh, yeah. Uh – sure.”
Eugene still didn’t move. “I mean, only if it’s not bothering you. Getting kinda cold in my foxhole.”
“Yeah, I heard that Dike didn’t want you to share with Spina.”
Eugene nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
For a moment they just looked at each other. Then Babe scrambled to move some of his gear aside. “Yeah, no, of course! No problem!”
“You sure?” He knew that Bill and Babe were good friends, but maybe he’d been wrong, maybe Babe would rather be alone.
But then Babe just said “Stop asking and get in, you look like you’re gonna freeze to death any minute” and reached out to him.
As he settled down next to Babe, their bodies pressed together from legs to shoulders, he thought that Bill had been right about one thing: He hadn’t felt this warm in ages.
When Babe walked past Bill’s foxhole a few hours later, Bill gave him a wide grin and a thumbs up. Babe didn’t know if he wanted to hug him or strangle him.