Title: (here's to) the trains I missed, the loves I lost
Subject: Band of Brothers, The Pacific
Pairing: Roe/Renee, Snafu/Renee, Hoosier/Renee
Word Count: 4450
Disclaimer: I don’t own Band of Brothers or The Pacific or anything relating to them and I base my fiction entirely on the actors and their portrayals. No disrespect intended. Also, "even stars burn out" is totally from Star Wars Ep III the book because I love that book. A lot. And the title is from Balsam Range's The Trains I Missed.
Author's Notes: OH MY GOD REALLY I STARTED WRITING THIS IN DECEMBER AND THE END SUCKS SOMETHING TERRIBLE BUT I NEED TO POST IT BECAUSE I NEED TO. I probably should've left it as a drabble with just the beginning piece, tbh. This is messy and disorderly, but it's supposed to be that way, so.
Summary: Everything has to die. But time'll ease that pain.
He’s fucking her.
He’s fucking her and Gene’s outside smoking. With nothing better to do than listen and watch the sun setting against the marshes of the Bayou and wonder what he’s doing here. Sometimes he’ll take a drag and then set his forehead against his thumb and let the smoke take him somewhere else, cold hands, cold feet, the dead and the dying begging and Renee trying to breathe life.
But then he can’t decide if it’s better or worse.
And he thinks of his mama the day his grandfather died, telling him that “all things die, Eugene. The gators in the Bayou and then men who hunt them. They’ll all be gone, like you and me and Parain. Even stars burn out.”
“Stars can’t die,” Gene had whispered back, and Mama had caressed his face with her free hand, the other holding onto a sibling’s hand.
“Give it time, cher. Time eases everything,” and then she’d turned away and now Gene thinks he’d rather not have taken the time because he didn’t want to know. Knowing they had to die didn’t make watching it happen any easier.
He’s jolted from the cemetery and the cold Belgian landscape with Snafu’s appearance. He’s shirtless, pants rolled at the bottom, hair a mess and sweating, and Gene supposes he shouldn’t expect anything less.
“Didn’t know you’d be here, Gene,” he drawls, slowly, calmly, absentmindedly waving his hand with his cigarette toward Gene, not looking but expecting him to light it anyway. So Gene obliges, and then drags his own.
“You owe me a King Cake, Merriell Shelton,” Gene responds. It is, after all, Carnival season. And though it’s uncommonly warm, all Gene can think of is Bastogne.
“When we make groceries, Gene,” Snafu waves him off. He lets his eyes close as he takes in the smoke, the tobacco, the nicotine. For a moment, he’s on an island somewhere in the Pacific and the heat’s oppressive and he doesn’t have anything to think about except the boys around him and maybe even wondering if Gene’s alive on the other side of the world and, even if it’s hot, at least it’s not raining.
They sigh out their smoke in unison, separated by their memories and the person sized space between them on the porch swing.
“Snaf,” her voice shakes them both, though, and they’re all back in Crescent City, watching the sun dipping below the horizon and not thinking a thing about all the faces in the backs of their minds.
“Eugene,” her voice whispers as she offers him a smile, standing on Snafu’s end of the swing, wearing a long skirt that still leaves her feet and ankles bare and a shirt that was obviously not hers. Her hair hangs loose and Gene can’t help but marvel at how unexpectedly long it is, even after all this time, sweat makes clumps stick to her neck and the strain at her previous activity has left strands dancing about her head and a glow to her face.
“Renee.” For a moment, Eugene doesn’t realize that it wasn’t him that said her name, but Snafu pulls her down to his lap and she gives a laugh that he doesn’t expect, but it’s quiet, hesitant, and she pulls away, into the space between them. She offers her hand toward Gene, a curious look in her eyes, and he lights her cigarette, too.
And though she shakes her hand to rid it of the ash, she never lifts it to her lips.
“We’re missing all the excitement, aren’t we?” She asks, a blush coloring her face more heavily as she asks because she knows it’s her own fault as much as it’s Snafu’s.
“It don’t matter, cher,” Snafu says, the fingers of his free hand dangerously close to her exposed forearms, the sleeves of her shirt rolled up to show them off.
“I hate to miss it, though,” she responds, quietly. Snafu turns his eyes toward her, and Gene feels like he’s interrupting something and, briefly, thinks how unfair that is.
“Laissez le Bon temp rouler,” he says. Gene gives half a chuckle, gaining Renee’s attention, as Snafu turns back to the sunset.
“Time’ll ease that pain, Renee.”
Everything has to die.
Renee Lemaire meets Lena Basilone before she has a chance to make a decision. She’s sitting on a bench, and a pretty brunette woman sits next to her while the man that she’s with walks away.
They’re in France and they’re at a train station and all Renee has to decide is which train to take. The one that leads the way back home or the one that starts everything over again.
“They tell me it’s nice that the war’s over,” the brunette smiles, a slow, heavy smile. Renee doesn’t expect it from her.
“Yes,” she replies. Because what else can she say?
“Lena,” her companion offers. So Renee gives her name back and then they sit without words for a moment.
“What’s his name?” Lena asks, leaned toward her, with her head on her fist, elbow on the back of the bench. “The one you’re going to see.” Clarification saves words. Renee remains silent somewhat longer, because she still doesn’t know. Lena waits with half a smile written in her heartbroken eyes.
She decides which train to take.
Hoosier had been drinking when he met her. He was sobering up, smoking against the tire of which ever car he’d managed to borrow for the night, just on the edge of town, because, eventually, someone would come looking.
Besides, sometimes, he liked to look at the stars.
So it takes time for him to realize she’s there. Watching him and his smoke and his heavy lidded eyes.
“Sorry,” the accent is heavy, he thinks. “I think I’ve seen you before.”
“Me?” He asks, turning back to the field and the stars, “I don’t think so, cheri.” One word is enough to know that his French is horrible. She tries not to smile too widely.
“Yes, you,” she tilts her head toward him as he looks back at her. “Sidney talked about you.” Hoosier narrows his eyes, thinking. But before he can question it, she’s moved on. “I’m looking for a Joseph Liebgott.”
“Well, hell, I suppose you’d best come home with me.” Hoosier inhales his smoke, drawing nearer to the end.
“Why is that?” She asks, her free hand settled on her hip. Sid Phillips did have a knack for picking up on personality traits.
“Well, I live with Joe, don’t I?” he responds, tearing his eyes from the skyline to bring himself to his feet. He opens the door for her before meandering his way to the other side. Hoosier never did anything quickly if he could help it. It might have been due to his typically being half drunk.
“Ain’t you comin’?” he poses, already fumbling about for the right key. The passenger door’s open and waiting for her.
“Renee,” she offers, though he hadn’t asked. He nods, bending himself into the car’s driver’s seat.
“Bill,” he mutters, once she’s decided that the risk of getting into a car with him was worth it.
“Bill,” she tests. He bites back a comment comparing her to a parrot or something. He doesn’t want to be rude. Or, at least, he thinks he doesn’t. “Not Hoosier?” He casts a sideways glance at her as he turns the key.
“Bill, Hoosier, it’s all the same.”
“Hoosier, then.” She smiles at him. There’s not any alcohol left in his system. There’s never been a hotter October night.
Yeah. He didn’t want to be rude.
“Louis,” she says, looking down at a barely open pair of eyes that perfectly match the one’s she’d seen the first day she knew it was worth it. And every day she’d realized it since.
“Louis,” Gene assents. He can’t do more than provide and echo. He’s too busy marveling at him. He’s tiny, and he’s new, and he’s perfect. Even if he won’t keep his eyes open.
Neither of them can quite believe it. She doesn’t ever want to let him go. But she looks up at Gene and Gene doesn’t look back. So she gives a weary smile and passes him over and lets her exhaustion overwhelm her.
“Louis,” Gene murmurs again, and his eyes briefly flash open. Gene’s never felt anything more wonderful in the entirety of his life. It was one thing to feel the life slipping from a friend, a brother, a soldier as they died all but alone or scared or heroic or peaceful.
It was quite another to hold a newborn.
His own newborn baby boy.
He smiles. Louis smiles back.
“You mean to frighten me,” she says, feeling his hands feeling hers. “But you don’t.”
“That so?” He questions, slowly. Like Gene.
“Yes,” she locks her fingers around one of his hands, effectively stopping both. “I know you.”
He pauses, leans back. “You can’t know me, cher.” His wide eyes search hers, settled back in his own seat against the smoky haze of the quiet bar. It’s Tuesday. And he’s seen her more than once. And she’s tipsy and he’s had a few. And here they sit.
“Yes, I can,” she’s assured. She knows him, there’s no mistaking his eyes, his ears, his lips, his nose, his hair. Gene had a way with words, after all. Like she had a way with her hands. “Merriell.”
“Snafu,” he says. He looks down at his nearly empty glass, the way men in the midst of an argument with their lover do. Like all they have left is the good stuff in front of them. Like their lover really meant the world to them.
“Pardon?” She’s so formal. He half expects her to drop into French. He twists the glass about in his hand before downing the last. Snafu Shelton wasn’t one of those men.
“It’s Snafu,” he answers. “Not Merriell. Never Merriell.”
“Snafu.” It sounds funny on her lips. But her hands feel his and there’s nothing funny about his lips on hers. Even if he doesn’t know her name.
The first time it happens, Gene is thirteen and Merriell is eleven. It’s not so much the girl or the incident that’s memorable. It’s more of what comes out of it.
“Merriell,” Gene’s chasing him away from school. He’ll remember that. He remembers it was something awful that made Snafu run. But mostly he remembers finally catching up to him. Pulling him around, “I’m sorry. Merriell, I’m sorry.”
His hands are buried, tangled against Snafu’s shoulders. Snafu’s not looking at him. He’s eleven, damn it. The pool of tears at the edge of his eyes is a terrifying thing.
“Merriell, it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t matter, she’s not important.” One of Gene’s hands disappears somewhere in the midst of the younger boy’s mass of curls.
“You might as well have your chance at it, Gene,” he mumbles, morose, slow, drawn out to keep his voice from breaking. Snafu’s not jealous. He’s never been jealous. He never will be.
Except he is.
“No,” Gene finally pulls Snafu’s head into his shoulder. “No,” his whisper dances across the curls. Snafu’s arms encircle Gene’s torso. “She’s not worth it. No one’s worth it, Merriell. Not someone to get in between me and you. Not anything to get in between me and you. We’re thick as thieves. Always.”
“Always is an awfully long time,” Snafu’s slow draw makes Gene pull back.
“It is.” He concedes.
“You promise, Gene?” Snafu’s eyes are dry. Gene could feel that stare in the very depths of his soul. He’ll remember that stare. Every time he starts to forget, that stare pulls him back.
They get lost sometimes. Or Hoosier gets lost sometimes. It wouldn’t be a problem, if he wasn’t borrowing Joe’s cab. Joe never really takes to starting his shifts late. It happens far too often. Renee sits beside him, however, and he drives and he drives and he doesn’t remember what road he’s on or where he’s been.
He’d never exactly been open or forward. He was Hoosier Smith, and Hoosier Smith was not a verbose person. Renee would offer to go with him on errands. And sometime later he’d realize he was in the midst of the story of his life.
He thought when he’d gotten to the story behind the nickname Runner she’d be repulsed. He looks her way and the edges of her lips twist up. He finds he likes the way it looks.
He always expects her to tell him to stop.
She never does.
In his mind the first time he saw her again he held her for hours and wasn’t ready to let her go. In reality they shared an awkward smile and she produced a chocolate bar because that was their thing and they both marveled at the other, clean and away from the back drop of war, but he’s more than a little hesitant, all the while, because her hand’s in his best friend’s.
Of all the things he’d ever thought, expected, imagined, Snafu Shelton and Renee Lemaire finding something in one another had never even edged its way close to the outskirts of his mind.
“I almost can’t believe you’re real, Eugene,” she whispers as their fingers brush.
He almost mentions he knows it’s real. Snafu wasn’t a fixture in Bastogne.
Instead, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Instead, “Thanks,” a half smile, and a nod.
He looks at Snafu. He had made a promise, after all.
If there’s one thing she notices the absence of, it’s smoke. The foggy haze just didn’t exist as often down in Louisiana. The loss doesn’t change hers. Even when she’s standing just outside the store, waiting on Gene or Snafu or both, she can see it all folding out before her just like it did in Belgium.
She sees him fall and she sees herself running toward him and sometimes when she looks at her hands she can still see the blood on them, replaced a dozen times over by more and less and darker and thicker, thinner, brighter. She sees a soldier here and a nurse there and an explosion lights up the sky somewhere behind her but she can still see the flash. And every time she turns someone over it’s always him. Always Louis.
Always her sixteen year old baby brother Louis.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t been sick. It wasn’t like they didn’t know he was going to die. No one knew it’d happen that fast from a stray bullet that bore the sole responsibility of spinning her life about, let her prolong his life for a moment, let it hurt all the worse, like it would every single time after that.
But Gene comes into the picture, and everything else dims a little in comparison.
“Renee,” the Cajun drawl in her ear isn’t the one she expects and she nearly jumps out of her skin. His hand lightly pinches the skin just above her elbow. She sighs, smiles, leans toward him.
“Vous sentez la cigarette, mon amour.” She breathes him in.
“Good or bad, cher?” His voice is always so deliberate.
“I don’t know yet.” She looks at him. He looks back and then he lets his lips blend with hers.
“Renee?” Gene asks. Snafu looks down at the question, but ignores it, hunkering down in his place next to him. They can still hear the wind and the heavy patter of rain and the occasional louder noises of branches and trees breaking.
“Snaf,” Gene starts. Snafu’s digging himself in, digging a hole in the mud on a Pacific island, soaked through and not seeing an end anywhere in sight. Gene checks himself. “She’ll come back. After the storm’s passed through, she’ll come back.”
Snafu remembers he’s not wearing a helmet anymore, that he’s inside, that the rain’s not hitting him anymore, that this Gene is a different Gene, that Renee was never there for him, that she’s gone and she’s not coming back. He lets out a heavy laugh.
“If she does, it won’t be for me,” he finally says. He’s facing Gene, though Gene’s not facing him. Back against the wall, elbows on knees and closed lips distorted against knuckles. “Time’ll ease that pain, right, Gene?”
Gene’s thinking, for a moment, that all the noise outside is planes and pretty soon they’ll be overrun by paratroopers and he dreads the thought that he’ll try to save them all but he won’t. Renee would probably think the same.
The lamp accentuates his bowed head, shows he’s a godsend.
In the glow, Snafu’s a terror.
“I don’t know, anymore, Merriell,” Gene answers. “If it was me, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Always is an awfully long time, Gene.” The whispers of ‘I’m sorry’ still echo about.
“I meant it. I still mean it.” Gene looks him dead on, twisting himself about. Snafu’s eyes have lowered. Once an angel made a promise to a demon because the angel saw the goodness there.
“Don’t,” Snafu replies. Simple. Easy. Sometimes promises are meant to be broken.
“It was the storm,” Gene says again. He doesn’t know if it’s a comfort for himself or an attempt for Snafu. He says it anyway, because he wants to see her face again.
If running, from the storm or Snafu or Eugene Roe himself, was cowardice, then Renee Lemaire was a coward.
But she’d done her time with bravery.
There were new things to be here.
There’s a haze hanging around the room. It makes her think of Belgium, and Louis, and Gene, and Snafu. It makes him think of islands on the other side of the world.
“Renee Lemaire,” he drawls, like a whistle of incredulity. She rolls over, hair sticking to her neck, to his free wrist, fingers twisted up within. He lets his cigarette caress his lips, hers smolders between her fingers.
It’s hot. God, it’s hot. She’s naked. He’s naked. Neither of them mind much. It’s the only thing for the Californian heat. More than once she’s asked why he’d come here. More than once he’d blamed it on Joe. Truth was he didn’t quite know how to be in Indiana anymore. Not in the new post war world. The quietness that lingered behind did nothing to drown out the explosions in his head.
He doesn’t realize he’s looked toward the ceiling because he still sees her in his mind’s eye. Right there beside Gibson and Leckie and Runner and Chuckler and Phillips, and somewhere in between there’s Liebgott, trying to morph between the boy he’d met before everything went to hell and the heartbreak of the man who’d finally come back. Maybe he needed to get out of California after all.
She recognizes the look in his distant eyes.
“What do you say we get out of here?” He asks, half glancing her way. His eyes are still focused somewhere between Runner and Chuckler. Her eyebrow curves upward.
“Out for a drive?”
“Out of California,” he starts, propping himself up, “Out of America.”
“Perhaps we should just start with out of California,” she offers, twisting the other way to snub out her cigarette.
“Really?” Suddenly he’s all there, fully involved in the conversation the way he is when they get lost around town. His question sounds more like irritation. She likes that about him, she’s never been able to do it. He, however, has never been afraid to hate the world.
She lets her fingers scrape along his hairline behind his ear.
“Je t'aime, Hoosier.” Her lips curve up, so his do too.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Hoos, if you don’t stop smoking in the house, I swear to God I’m not paying for you to keep your mutt around anymore.”
The mutt in question gives a bark from the end of the bed. Joe swears some more from downstairs. Renee and Hoosier let the sweat from their bodies stick them together.
“There was always something wistful in your eyes, you know,” he murmurs, from his seat behind her. She’s standing, hands balancing her weight upon the railing, as she watches Gene chasing Louis and the twins in the beginnings of a row directly in their path. She likes to watch this sort of thing. It makes her think of home, her brothers, her parents, the first soldiers she met, vibrant, ready, willing. “Ever since the first time you saw Gene again. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I guess neither did you.”
“Snafu,” she starts, turning around, crossing her arms, leaning back against the railing, not coming closer. They neither of them come closer anymore.
“It’s okay, cher,” he half smiles at her. She doesn’t know what his eyes are saying. That always worried her more than anything. Maybe it was the reason why when that storm came she hit the ground running.
It was a cruel, twisted game they had played, her, Eugene, and Merriell Shelton.
“Snafu,” she lets her arms drop. Her fingers flex, like they’re looking for the lit cigarette that she never lets enter her lungs anyway. “I’m sorry.”
“Papa,” his girl’s head’s about even with the armrest on the porch swing, he lets his hand brush back her hair.
The question she’s always been at a loss to answer, whether or not he was happy.
“Do-do, Papa,” the little girl yawns. And whether it’s merely a plot for her father’s attention, or if she really is just exhausted, Snafu doesn’t have the heart to turn her down. Underneath it all, he’s not so much of a monster after all. So he’s picked her up, and he’s walking past Renee standing there, still, fingers still curling in and out.
“Renee,” they stop, “It was my own fault anyway. Besides, you and Gene. Now that’s something else.”
He meets Gene halfway out, a kid on each of their hips. A hand shake and then Snafu’s gone. Gene chases their three up and toward her, past her, on into the house.
“You best be goin’,” there’s a collective giggle echoing around the house as they make to escape their father’s hands, but he turns back at the door.
“Renee?” He asks. She’s still smiling at the path her children crossed on the way up.
“Coming,” she crosses the porch easily, letting her hand sink into his outstretched one. “It was fine, Eugene,” she adds, and he pretends like he doesn’t hear, but takes the opportunity to lay his lips under her jaw for a moment.
It’s a funny thing, but the day Renee and Snafu finally forgive one another, neither of them spares a thought on the other.
“Hoos,” Joe moves around the table, half sitting in a seat, on the edge like he doesn’t want to be in the conversation. Hoosier doesn’t look at him. He’s pretending to read the paper, the way he normally does. “Bill,” there’s more force there. Hoosier looks up. “Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?”
Hoosier sets the paper down, leans back further adding to the perpetual illusion of his aloofness. He stares at Joe. Joe stares back.
“Fuck, Hoos, I can’t support you forever,” Joe breaks first, hands fisting, leaning closer to Hoosier’s face.
“What do you want me to say, Joe?” His words are angry but he’s not. They’re an awkward kind of balance, they always have been. Hoosier isn’t angry, but he acts like he is, Joe is, but he acts like he isn’t. It’s why they fit so well together. But there are other variables in their lives now.
“Say anything, you never say anything. God damn it, Bill,” he’s even closer and Hoosier can see the anger. Joe usually hides it so well; Hoosier can’t help but be taken aback.
“We were going to leave, you know,” he says. Joe leans back, his hands unclench and he runs one over the head of Hoosier’s mutt. He liked the dog, he always had, but it wasn’t his, and he was always so angry. He started the arguments, but he was always the one who looked away first. “Get back home or something. Maybe see the world.”
“And then Gene happened,” Joe mumbles, letting the dog lick his face. It’s not the first time Joe’s showed he cared, but it’s the first time Hoosier’s seen it.
“Gene had already happened, Joe. I knew that.” There’s an overwhelming silence, the kind they like to indulge in because it still feels like it’s been so long since they’ve heard it. There was always an assault on the senses in the midst of war. But here, in Joe’s house, in California, miles and miles away, it was easy to not feel anything but you.
They needed to feel themselves.
“It’s fine, forget I mentioned it,” Joe says, standing up. His shift’s about to start. The dog lays its head in Hoosier’s lap. “See you later, Hoos.”
“Yeah,” Hoosier assents, lifting the paper back up.
Joe knows there’s no guarantee he’ll be there when he gets back.
Maybe he won’t.
But maybe he will.
“I’m here now, Gene, I’m here.” She won’t look at him. They’d been arguing for the past few days. Gene wasn’t giving up, but he did have to go back to Louisiana. Renee knew that. California didn’t suit him like Louisiana did, like Bastogne did. It was a horrible thing, to suddenly be able to step back the way he had. To see his hands and hers as a gift, not a curse. But she did.
She hadn’t had the chance to decide if it was okay or not.
“You don’t have to be,” Gene says, grabbing her wrist as she turns back into the house. “I love you, Renee. Come home with me.”
“Gene,” she lets his name hang in the air, and he echoes it with her own, softer, quieter. His rough fingers against her skin are what changes her mind. What lets her sit with Hoosier and Joe and not feel guilty because it was happiness and it was Gene and it was happiness.
Later, when they’re finally home, and together, they’ll make love while the ghosts of Snafu Shelton and Hoosier Smith sit on the porch and smoke. The sun sets on the Bayou as they let their memories slip. War was a lifetime ago, time passes, and they carry on.
They sit in the dark, both very much awake and both very much alive.
Renee thinks of Lena Basilone, in a train station in Europe.
Gene thinks she looks beautiful in the moonlight.