A/N: Another Roe fic. It's been a while.
No slash intended. Please read and review. Thanks.
No one ever thought that a man would join the war to escape his life. People like to believe that heroism is every soldier's motivation, that they just want to get home because on TV, home is worth wanting. No one ever thinks that a man could find something in war that he misses in his perfect, civilian life. When each of them returns to the rooms where they lose all sense of belonging, they realize that they can never be understood again. They realize that whatever happened in the years they spent across the sea - it's not something they can ever fully explain. Even if they tried, no one else would understand.
It takes Eugene Roe twenty-three nights in Bastogne to realize that he can never step back into the circle. He has always been the outsider - the one who walks alongside you but only jumps in when you need him. He's the observer, the protector, the immortal one. But he doesn't realize he's a soldier until one night in Bastogne. And he doesn't understand what being a soldier means until the cold hits him, the silence melts into him, and he feels himself breathe again. Going home is impossible; home doesn't exist anymore. He's changed.
He finds solace in prayer, though he never considers himself to be religious, but he wishes he could find it in touch. He remembers all the ways a wounded man is touched. People hold onto the obliterated. They hope in the blood of their comrades, they hold on as if they're the weak ones. Roe can envision it - the dirty hands gripping shoulders and cradling heads and squeezing other dirty hands. The others can touch each other this way - with compassion and love and a fear that it's the last chance they'll have. Roe touches everyone with purpose - a purpose that has no room for love or intimacy. He does his job, with speed and necessity. He uses the bandages and the morphine and sulfa powder. He has no time, no opportunity, for holding on to dying men.
He doesn't know what he's running from, but he knows he's running. He knows it's insanity to want this soldier's life to keep going, but he doesn't want to go home either. He doesn't know what he wants or how he feels. Only his observations and abilities are solid. Only his purpose matters out here.
And when he goes home – if he goes home – that purpose will cease to exist. There will be no more need for medics, no more calls for his reassuring hands. What will he do? How will he matter? How can he forget this job, switch out to something normal, and never touch another roll of bandage or morphine syringe again?
He can't imagine abandoning his supply bag. These things are a part of him now – the bandage, the syringes, the sulfa powder, the medical scissors. Their curves and edges are a comfort to his fingers. Their texture is something he can depend on. He knows what to do when he is called to use these tools. He has control when he is required to use them. He knows what he's here for, why he keeps living, why he hasn't been killed. He is needed, needed for his purpose.
What purpose will he have after war? What things will be familiar to him, in the absence of bandage rolls and needles and IV bags? How can he strip away his Red Cross and put in a drawer somewhere, expected to devote his life to other things? He doesn't even know how the hell he's going to wear a regular shirt or slacks or – God damn – a pair of loafers.
Food? No more rations? Real food? Sitting down in restaurants? Having someone cook for him? Real food?
The thought makes him sick.
But what makes him even sicker is realizing that one day, if he doesn't die somewhere along the way to Berlin, he's going to have no choice but to stop caring for these men. He won't be their healer anymore. He won't be around to bandage their wounds or ease their pain or make sure they survive. He won't even see them every day. They will all go back – what's left of them – to wherever they came from and find themselves doctors with white coats and framed degrees. And all he'll be able to do is hope that someone will remember to call, and if that someone is sick, he can ask for symptoms and tell them what medicine to buy or what soup to eat or what God damn temperature to set in the house. And that someone will sigh and change the subject – because he won't need Doc Roe's caretaking anymore.
His eyes flutter shut. His stomach turns. He wants to vomit into the snow. Jesus, this is depressing.
He looks up, tuning into the sound of boots crunching through snow. Babe Heffron is approaching, looking deathly pale.
"Are you okay? You look sick," he says, squatting down in front of the medic.
"Fine," Roe says absently. "Just fine."
"You sure? Maybe you should get back to camp. It's gotta be warmer than this."
"It's cold everywhere, Babe."
Heffron looks at Roe and has a feeling that there's more to what the medic says besides the words.
"Look, Doc," he starts gently. "Just come with me. Do me a favor, will ya?"
Roe swings his eyes up to meet Heffron's, and they gaze silently for a moment that leaves Roe feeling like his heart has been stirred up, invaded. He pushes himself up, doesn't know how, and moves past Heffron against his body's will.
"Hey!" Heffron calls. "What's wrong? What did I say? Where you goin'?"
Roe doesn't answer or stop. He marches through the snow, feeling every plunge his boots take. Heffron follows him, and Roe contemplates running but decides against it.
"Gene! Come on! What is your problem?"
He keeps going, hurrying toward camp, the faint sounds of civilization growing louder and louder the further he goes. Heffron hasn't caught up to him, but he hasn't stopped following either. Roe doesn't know why he's going toward camp. It's the last place he wants to be. He still has the slight urge to get on all fours and throw up his sense of death and the sensation of dying.
He knows it. He's dying. Doesn't matter if he goes home or not. He's dead. He's dead in a way that nothing will ever be able to reverse. As soon as this ends, Doc Roe will die. And he doesn't know if anyone will be left afterward.
"Gene! What the hell is wrong with you?" Heffron calls out.
Roe stumbles into the middle of camp, where most of the men are gathered around for lunch. He missed all the foxholes he passed by, didn't see their occupants glancing at him with curiosity.
"I'm dead!" he shouts, whipping around to face Heffron. Everything goes quiet. Talking stops, laughter stops, Heffron stops.
"I'm dead! What the hell am I good for?"
His Louisiana drawl bubbles, misplaced in the frigid air. He knows they're all staring at him. He knows he sounds crazy. But it's true. And they must understand in some way. They're all dead. All of 'em. Roe can't save them. He finally gets it.
"What are you talking about?" Heffron says softly, his voice barely reaching anyone else besides Roe. He looks struck – as if Roe has hurt him, as if the medic's words are something to do with him.
"I'm a medic! I'm a God damn medic! What the fuck am I when it's over?"
Heffron stares at him with eyes that feel broken somehow – because he doesn't have the answer.
Roe slams his helmet into the snow, throws down his bag next to it.
"What the fuck am I?" he screams. He's surprised when a sob shudders through his chest, and sudden tears are rolling fast down his face.
"I didn't ask for this," he says. "I didn't fucking ask for this."
His hands are in his hair, his eyes are locked on that helmet and bag, and every moment he looks at the wrinkled cross, his heartbeat speeds.
"Roe --" Babe starts, soft and painful, outstretching his hand.
"I didn't ask for this," he whispers. "I didn't ask."
It hits him just how cold and dry his hands are. His lips are chapped, his skin is gray, and his fingertips are trying to bleed. But it's too damn cold.
He forgets that he's surrounded by his boys. He forgets about humiliation and strength and who he's supposed to be. He slowly sinks to his knees and never has to decide how to lie because Babe is suddenly holding him. And he grabs the replacement from Philly with the rawest, gaping hunger in his chest, digging his fingers into Heffron's back, crying into his shoulder. Every time he wants to voice his pain, all that comes out of his mouth are forceful sobs. He can't bring his lips together to form words.
"Gene," says Babe, having no idea what to do except stay with him – the man who cut him and then wrapped his hand, the one who fed him chocolate when he was depressed and slept against him to keep him warm. "Gene."
Roe wants to run away. He doesn't want to leave Easy. He just wants to run away.
No solution. He's dead. He's dead no matter what.
And he begins to feel it in every pump of his heart that doesn't look like the hearts people draw. His heart isn't pretty or clean or pink or red. It's an ugly, misshapen, desperate pump – and one day, it'll stop doing it's job. It'll stop handling blood.
And it will always be the color of single purpose.
He wishes, for a moment when his own tears grow mute, that it would stop now, pressed against the wrinkles of Babe's jacket. He wishes it would stop. He wishes – that it would stand still as the world around him. He wishes he was selfish enough to pull the syringes out of his bag, every last one of 'em, and fondle their smooth curves until he seduced them right into the bed of his sorrow. He wishes he could stop being a medic for five minutes – and turn into a man, an ordinary man, who took the opportunity given to him to ease his own pain.
He wishes he could stop. He wishes. He runs. He wishes.