(1999) No infringement upon the rightful owners of "Combat!" and the characters thereof is intended. This piece of fan fiction is for enjoyment only, and in no way will the author gain monetary profit from its existence.
"A Pipe for Fortune's Finger"
by White Queen
"Blest are those whose blood and judgement are so well commeddled that they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger to sound what stop she please." --Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2.
He was wet, tired, and scared. Not that those three sensations were strangers to the young soldier. But neither were they the pleasantest feelings in the world. Especially since the last few days he'd had what his mother called "a case of the sniffles and wheezes." The forest in which he cowered was gloomy and rain-saturated. All around chorused the weapons of war, his own rifle included: a cacophony he'd become well accustomed to by now. A fog started rolling in between the slick dark trees, blotting out their scraggly moss-covered forms. The mist also began to conceal his comrades and their enemies.
Billy Nelson watched frantically as the thickening condensation separated him from the rest of the American soldiers. He could still hear them, their voices seemingly disembodied as their shouts echoed eerily in the dim forest. He felt his skin tighten to form goose bumps up and down his cold, damp body.
"Pull out, men, follow me!" That was the Sarge, a real hero if Billy ever met one.
Automatically, Billy stood up and started toward the voice. He could hear Sgt. Saunders yelling, urging his men on through the hungry mists. Billy tried to follow the voice, but the trees continually got in his way, disorienting him. He had to keep turning to avoid those blasted things, thereby losing his sense of direction. His head ached, and a buzzing in his ears threatened to drown out the shouts of his friends.
Eventually the noises faded and Billy realized he was alone in the forest. Night was coming fast, and he was still soaked from the rain they had encountered earlier. Coughing and shivering, he kept stumbling between the trees in a last desperate attempt to rejoin his friends. Wet branches slapped his face, drawing blood. Billy ignored the stinging pain, only mindful of his aloneness and the need to find the squad. Surely Littlejohn would miss him! They would come back and look for him! No, the Germans were chasing them; there would be no chance to turn back and search for sick little Billy Nelson.
Exhausted and terrified, Billy dropped to the soggy ground. Oh God, don't let me die like this, alone and wet. Help me fight the swirling vapors, fight the blackness, the great blackness coming closer and closer....
"Hey, I think he's waking up."
A woman's voice, the faint smell of perfume. Billy opened his eyelids a little, enough to see the face bending over him. What a great dream. A girl... with an American accent... floating above him on a cloud of sweetness... wait a second. This was no dream! Billy opened his eyes all the way, then squeezed them shut again to block out the brightness of the room and the girl's smile. "Where am I?" he managed to mumble.
"You're safe, kid, don't worry. You gave us quite a scare. But your fever seems to have broken now. Would you like to try to eat something?"
Eat? Food? Fever? "Yes." Time enough for questions later. Billy's head felt full of fluffy cotton candy.
"Right, I'll get you something. Rebekah! Bring some soup for our young hero. I think he's gonna be okay."
Billy heard another feminine voice say something, but he couldn't quite catch the words. He tried opening his eyes again. The light wasn't so bad now, and neither was the girl. In fact, she was all right. Billy became aware of the fact that he was warm and dry, and lying on a soft bed. The American girl had a bowl now and tried feeding its contents to him with a warm metal spoon. The broth could use some salt, but it was better than anything Billy'd had in a long time. Seemed like they'd been out on that patrol for months... the patrol! Littlejohn! Sarge! Billy tried to sit up, but his body seemed otherwise inclined. In fact, it took all his strength to swallow the weak liquid.
Halfway through the meal, Billy fell asleep again. The young American woman sighed, then left the room, carrying the remains of the broth with her.
Rebekah met her outside. "He fall asleep again?" she asked, her English slightly accented.
"Yes. Must be worn out from the fighting and the fever."
"Susie, let me take that back to the kitchen for you. You need a little rest too." Rebekah deftly slipped the bowl from Susan Adams and shooed her toward a chair in the tiny sitting room.
Billy heard a footstep outside his room; he turned his head toward the sound. A woman stood framed in the doorway. Her shoulder-length black hair was tightly pulled back and she wore a simple skirt and sweater. Billy thought she was stunning.
"Hello." Rebekah smiled and entered the room, a glass of water in hand.
Billy blinked as the beautiful girl came closer and closer to where he lay. "Hello," he managed to squeak out as she reached his side. Blast, why couldn't he be smooth and sophisticated like Caje? Or at least quick and clever like Kirby....
"I hope you slept well. My name is Rebekah…Rebekah Rosencrantz. And you are--?"
"Pleased to meet you, Private Nelson. I have some APCs here for you." She proffered the pills and a glass of water.
"Am I in a hospital?" Or maybe Heaven?
Rebekah laughed. "No, not really, you are in the basement of a half-destroyed school. When one of the Résistance found you in the forest, you were unconscious and highly feverish. They brought you here, and we have been doing our best to bring you back to health."
"Are you a nurse?" Billy accepted the pills and water, swallowing both swiftly while keeping his eyes on Rebekah.
"Again, no, not really. But Susan is. Would you like some more soup?"
Blah though it might have been, the broth was better than nothing. "Yes, thank you," Billy replied, remembering his manners.
"Very well. I will only be a moment." Rebekah reclaimed the water glass and left the room softly.
Billy sighed. Her name was Rebekah. But the accent -- it wasn't American or British. Not even French. German? Better watch what he said, she could be a spy. But how could anyone that beautiful be a spy? It seemed almost impossible enough for Billy to dismiss the suspicion from his wary brain. Almost.
Rebekah reappeared, carrying a bowl and a piece of crusty brown bread. "Susan thinks you are ready for a little bread with your soup. Can you manage, our should I help you eat?"
"I think I can manage." Billy scooted up in his bed and reached for the food. After a few mouthfuls, he asked, "Where are you from, Miss Rosencrantz?"
She smiled. "You noticed the accent? I was born in Germany. My father was a wealthy jeweler who sent me to America for education. When I finished with college, I returned to Germany."
Billy nodded. "How'd you end up here?" Her story sounded pretty good, at least.
Rebekah's smile faded. "When Hitler began rounding up the Jews, we fled. I escaped through the Underground. My parents were not so lucky. They ended up in Hitler's death camps."
"Death camps?" Billy was puzzled. He forgot the food in his hands and the suspicions in his brain, so captivated was he by the lovely woman and her story. "What death camps?"
"Have you not heard of them? No, they are not yet common knowledge outside of Germany and its…holdings. Hitler has placed many 'undesirables' in concentration camps. They are forced to do hard labor; many die. I have heard it rumored that in some, mass executions are carried out. We knew it was only a matter of time before the wealthy Jews were also arrested, so we made plans for escape. I ended up with part of the French Résistance. I do not know exactly where my parents are any more, or even if they are still... alive."
Billy was afraid Rebekah Rosencrantz would start to cry. What did you do when women cried? The girls back home, they just cried over sad movies or dead puppies or scraped knees, and you could pat them on the back or buy them ice cream. What did you do when a beautiful woman older than yourself started to cry because her parents might be dead?
But Rebekah contained her tears. "I have talked on long enough now. You need to eat. You will never gain strength on just words. Susan says you have a touch of pneumonia. Thankfully your fever is down."
Dutifully finishing the soup and bread, Billy couldn't help wondering what his parents might say if he brought home a Jewish wife. His family was Presbyterian, and always would be. But what was he thinking? Wife? He'd barely met Rebekah. But she was so kind, and seemed to like him too. After all, she'd confided in him with her troubles. And Billy knew he liked her already -- liked her a lot.
When he was finished, Rebekah took the empty bowl from him. "Try to get some more rest, Billy. I will be back when it is time for your next APC dose." She left the room again, and Billy turned onto his side and curled up. He'd always slept better that way, all scrunched up like a little kitten you were holding up for inspection. Phooey on this lying-on-your-back business. That's for the movies anyway, the sick patient lying on his back with the white sheets tucked under his chin, a thermometer in his mouth, a beautiful nurse smoothing his fevered brow... well, he had the beautiful nurse part right anyway. But these sheets were blue, and he hadn't seen a thermometer anywhere since he'd awakened. So he might as well lie on his side, since he wasn't in a movie. But it felt like being in a movie when Rebekah was there.
It was morning. Billy could feel it even though there were no windows in his little room. Muffled voices, a quick step here or there, the smell of something with vanilla baking; it had to be morning. The door opened, but instead of Rebekah or Susan, a tall blond man entered.
"Good morning!" he said cheerily, his handsome face alive with what seemed to be a healthy dose of perpetual curiosity. "I understand you're Private Billy Nelson. Doctor Gary Adams. Pleased to meet you." He reached out and shook Billy's hand. "I'm Susan's husband. She tells me you're putting up quite a fight with your pneumonia. Think I'll listen to your chest myself, see what's goin' on in there." He put the ends of his stethoscope in his ears and pressed the cold round disc to Billy's chest.
Billy barely heard Dr. Adams' requests that he breathe in and out. Husband? He hadn't thought that the nurses might be married. If Susan was, Rebekah might be too. Why the devil hadn't he looked to see if she was wearing a ring?
"Well, it sounds like your chest is starting to clear up. Guess we got to ya before the pneumonia really set in. Think you're well enough to get up, walk around a bit, socialize with the others?"
"Right then, I'll leave you so you can dress. Susan says your clothes are on the chair... let's see... so they are. See you in a few, Billy." Dr. Adams left as cheerily as he had come.
When Billy walked out into the hall, he could hear laughing and lively chatter coming from down the corridor. He followed the sounds and found himself in the tiny lounge. Three other men were there, talking and laughing with Rebekah. Jealousy crept over Billy. Rebekah was talking with other men! Of course, he had no right to be jealous, but still....
Rebekah saw Billy and jumped up from her seat. The men rose as she did. "Billy! You are awake! It's good to see you up and about. Boys, this is Private Billy Nelson, US Army. Billy, these are some more patients at our little underground aid station. This is Lieutenant Carlton, of the R.A.F. Over there is Private Speares, from your army. And that is Ensign Davis from your navy. He washed ashore in Italy and ended up here, if you can believe it."
Billy and the others nodded and said "Hello. How are you? Fine, fine," and other banal niceties. Billy noticed with great relief that Rebekah's hands were bare, no rings of any sort in sight. And she was just being nice to the other soldiers, not overly flirtatious or anything.
Dr. Gary Adams stuck his head around the corner. "Breakfast, anyone?" he asked. The room emptied immediately. Billy followed the others through the stone hallways into a small room filled with a wooden table and ten chairs. Susan stood at the foot of the table, beaming at the group that was hungrily eyeing the food before them. Billy found himself seated next to Rebekah, at her insistence. The breakfast was hearty, meant to help recovering men gain strength. But the food wasn't fancy, just eggs, bread, milk, and a little ham. Billy reminded himself that he was in occupied France, after all. Down in the little hospital it seemed like a completely different world from the one he'd been fighting in until recently.
The talk at the table revolved around Résistance matters, ideas of ways to get the men well enough to travel, then out and back to their own units.
Rebekah tried to fill Billy in so he could understand some of what was discussed. "The village we are in is Châtelet d'Colombe. Most of the town is intact, although some buildings like the school above us were hit by bombs. The villagers cope fairly well with the occupation. There are a few collaborators, of course. But many of the people are supportive of the Résistance, and some are members. No one is supposed to know of our little place down here. Only Susan and Gary go above. They live in an apartment made from the remains of the school above us. Gary works with the town doctor, as he has since before the war. They both speak good French, and the Germans think they are just locals."
Billy nodded. Châtelet d'Colombe? That was a pretty fair piece from the woods where he'd gotten separated from the squad. And it was in the opposite direction from King Company HQ, the opposite direction from the way Saunders and the others had been running. Billy pushed the war to the back of his mind, concentrating instead on Rebekah's nearness. She was just so doggoned nice! Not just nice to him, of course, nice to everyone. It was hard to tell if she was extra nice to him, or just nice to him like to the others. Sometimes Billy thought he could see a special look in her eyes, an added warmth in her voice. Or was he just imagining things? He couldn't remember ever feeling this way about a girl before. But then, he didn't think he'd ever met a girl this beautiful and kind before.
One warm evening, Dr. Adams announced that he was making plans to return Billy to the American lines. Billy sat on his bed, trying to sort out his feelings, thinking in choppy little sentences. He was so confused! Sometimes Rebekah acted as if she was at the very least attracted to him, and other times it seemed that he was just another one of the guys to her. Billy's own feelings didn't help much either. At first, whenever Rebekah had been anywhere in sight, he'd felt all floaty and happy; when she was gone, he'd felt like either throwing up or dying. But now he didn't always feel these things so strongly. The days had whizzed by him, and every day brought new times shared with Rebekah, new things learned about her, new feelings for her. Billy wondered briefly if this was what love was like.
Then Rebekah walked past, looked in his room and said, "Hello, Billy. Would you like to go for a walk?"
"Sure!" Billy hopped up eagerly. Boy, was she beautiful. Rebekah took his arm and they walked down the long passage.
"It is a shame we can't go above ground, I hear it is a lovely night. But there are plenty of passages down here. I thought you might like to do something other than just sit around." Rebekah chatted serenely on. "Doctor Adams says you are well enough to travel. Are you anxious to get back to your friends?"
"No. I mean, yes. I suppose so." Leave? Leave Rebekah? No, no, it was too soon! Not until he at least knew if she returned his feelings.
"Susan said something about a little left-over bread and milk in the kitchen. Want to go look for it?"
"Sure." Billy gloried in the feel of her hand on his arm.
Rebekah found the bread in the kitchen, and they each had a slice and a glass of milk. They talked about trivialities like bread, jam versus jelly, and fresh milk. To Billy it seemed as if he were in a kitchen back home, eating a snack with his girl.
When they were finished, Rebekah asked, "Billy, can you find your way back to your room? I need to go check on the wounded man they brought in today."
"Um, sure, I can find my way back." Huh, what? Suddenly it's 'Go to your room young man'? After 'Take me for a walk, Billy'?
"Good. Well, see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Good night." Billy walked off to his room, more confused than ever. Would he ever understand women? No, probably not. You could never tell what they were up to. One minute he was having a long conversation with Rebekah, the next she was sending him off to his room like he was a little kid. Confusing as all get-out. And he still had no answer to his question of her feelings for him.
Billy and some other men sat laughing at one of Ensign Davis' jokes in the lounge when a sudden noise above their heads startled them all. Through the ceiling they could hear running feet, a dragging sound, and muffled words.
"Must be bringing in a new chap," commented Lt. Carlton.
"Here comes the advance guard," agreed Private Speares. He'd been there longer than anyone else, recovering from a broken leg, and was the most familiar with the routines at the little underground hospital.
People scurried past the lounge, people Billy didn't recognize, people carrying someone on a makeshift stretcher. Most of them reappeared soon after, going back toward the upper world. Dr. Adams walked briskly down the hall, Susan trailing behind him carrying a tray with shiny things on it.
Billy curiously peeked out into the hall and saw Rebekah. She was standing in the hall holding hands with a tall Frenchman that vaguely reminded Billy of Lt. Hanley. They were laughing in the midst of the chaos. To Billy's horror, Rebekah kissed the Résistance worker quickly when her name was called from the direction of the new patient's room. "Wait for me," she called over her shoulder as she hurried off to join Dr. and Nurse Adams.
Once she was gone, Billy remembered to breathe again. Well, at least now he knew. After all, he was leaving soon, maybe tomorrow. He felt no bitterness, only embarrassment that he had fallen for her so quickly and without any true sign of returned affection. A sucker, that's what he was, just like Kirby always said. She had been nice. She was nice to everyone. At least now he understood. Sorta. Not really. He knew he'd have less of a problem going back to the war now, he'd have nothing to hold him here. But how to deal with these feelings of rejection? This ache for something lost that seemed to empty his mind and his heart completely? Only a few days -- not even two weeks -- since he had met Rebekah, and he had been convinced he was in love with her....
"Billy!! You're back! When we couldn't find you in that forest, I just knew you'd gotten yourself captured or something." Littlejohn was all smiles. He impulsively grabbed Billy and hugged him.
"Yeah, th' Lieutenant said you'd made it. Hey, find any pretty uh -- Rezeestawnce girls while you were out there?" Kirby grinned and punched Billy's shoulder.
"I knew you'd be back, Billy. I just knew it." Caje adjusted his dark beret with one hand and used the other to squeeze Billy's arm affectionately.
"Shore is good to have you back, Billy," Doc chimed in. He squinted at Billy. Something about the kid had changed.
"Thanks, guys." Billy smiled.
"Say, what took ya so long to get back, anyway? Were ya wounded?" Kirby was as curious as ever.
"I had pneumonia," Billy announced importantly, as if he'd survived the Black Plague.
Sgt. Saunders walked out of a nearby building and quietly surveyed his little band of warriors. They were chattering away, and the scene suddenly made Saunders smile. He joined the group, his face more serious, but still genuinely happy to see one of his men returned safely. "Glad you made it, Nelson," he greeted.
"I, uh, I hear you were over in Châtelet d'Colombe."
"Yeah. The Résistance found me and got me over a case of pneumonia."
"Well, we're movin' out soon, so get ready, huh?" Saunders left the little group again. He sensed that Billy had grown up in the time he'd been away. There was something behind his boyish eyes that said he'd learned a lesson. Saunders wasn't sure what it was. He wasn't sure how he'd like having little-kid-Billy be more grown up now. Maybe it was a good thing, maybe not. Lost innocence and all that....
Billy looked around at his friends. He was happy to be with them. Circumstances had conspired against him back in that Résistance hospital, but now that he was back with his friends he knew he would survive. And next time he wouldn't just let events run their course; he'd do something about them. At least, that's what he told himself....