As always, no profit is being made from this, and no claim being made upon anything related to Hogan's Heroes.
Written in honor of two very special friends.
Song in the Key of Friendship
"A faithful friend is the medicine of life."
"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow:
but woe unto him that is alone when he falleth;
for he hath not another to help him up."
-- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
"Newkirk. Hey, come on. Wake up."
"Whazzat?" Newkirk lifted his head from his pillow and squinted into the darkness. He could just make out Carter's face hovering only a few feet away. "Whazzamatta?"
"Nothing. But I need you to come with me."
Newkirk rubbed the sleep from his eyes and took a quick glance around the barracks. It was too dark to see much, but he was fairly certain everyone was asleep except for himself and his very persistent friend. Whatever Carter was going on about, it couldn't have earthshaking importance or he'd be after everyone to wake. Newkirk dropped his head back to his pillow and let out a yawn that just about dislocated his jaw.
"Wha' time izzit?"
"Oh-two hundred or so."
Newkirk grabbed his thin pillow, jammed it over his head and rolled onto his side and away from Carter. He immediately felt a tug on his shoulder.
"Come on, Newkirk. I really need you to come with me. It's important."
Newkirk sighed under the cover of his pillow. He could just picture the earnest expression that went along with the whispered plea. Yanking his pillow from his head, he looked over his shoulder at Carter.
"Are you in some kind of trouble, Andrew?"
Carter blinked, momentarily surprised into silence. "No. At least, I don't think so." He threw a quick glance behind him, then looked back at Newkirk. "I just need --"
"Me to go with you," Newkirk finished, unable to keep his irritation from bleeding into his voice.
"Would you just go with him, already?" Olsen mumbled from out of the darkness.
"Yeah," Parker chimed in from across the room. "Get out of here so the rest of us can get some sleep."
Carter gave Newkirk a questioning look. Newkirk studied him for a long moment and then threw back his blanket and put his legs over the side of his bunk. He dropped to the floor and with a light push on Carter's shoulder, got his friend moving toward the tunnel entrance. Kinch was already standing beside it, one forearm braced against the bunk frame.
"If you leave camp, be back by roll call and be careful."
"Yes, mom," Newkirk and Carter chorused quietly and disappeared into the tunnel.
HH HH HH HH HH
"Are we there yet, Carter?"
"It's not far now."
"That's what you said half an hour ago and the two times before that. What's so important that you had to drag me out here in the middle of the night, anyway?"
"I'd ruddy well better," Newkirk growled.
He wasn't truly angry with Carter; he just didn't feel like traipsing through the woods after him in the middle of the night. He hadn't felt like doing much of anything for several weeks, actually. The dark mood had fallen over him gradually and hung on like thick London fog. He wasn't certain what had brought it on, nor was he sure how to get rid of it. Nothing he had tried had worked so far.
Carter suddenly stopped and by the full moon's light, Newkirk saw him hold up a hand.
"This is it," Carter whispered, flashing a grin over his shoulder.
Newkirk looked around at the trees and undergrowth, seeing nothing special. "What's it?"
Carter put a finger to his lips. "Shhh. Keep your voice down. She might hear you."
"She?" Newkirk echoed, brightening. "Now this sounds promising."
"She's not that kind of 'she'," Carter shot back, motioning him closer.
"What other kind is there?"
Carter ignored the question and glanced ahead. "We're downwind, so she shouldn't be able to smell us."
"I'll have you know I took a shower just the other day," Newkirk huffed, deliberately misunderstanding.
Carter dropped his head, shook it, then lifted it again. His eyes were reproachful. "Follow me, stay low, and don't say anything from here on out, okay?"
Biting back comments about being ordered around, Newkirk nodded his understanding and readiness. Carter flashed another grin, turned and taking extreme care not to make any noise, slowly edged forward. With an inward sigh, Newkirk copied his movements.
They had gone only a short distance when Carter smoothly dropped into a crouch. Newkirk followed suit, curiosity building. They crept to a thick copse of trees and Carter peeked around one of the trunks. A few moments later, he eagerly gestured Newkirk closer and pointed ahead. Settling in at his side, Newkirk peered between the trees. What he saw made him catch his breath.
There, only a short distance away and illuminated by the full moon was an adult female fox. The vixen was lying on her side in front of some low-growing bushes, head up and alert to any sound. She suddenly looked toward the bushes at her back and produced a soft series of whines.
A small, slender nose poked out from beneath the lowest branches. The vixen bobbed her head, uttering a high-pitched yip. The branches parted and out tumbled five kit foxes. Yapping their happiness, they hopped and pranced about their mother, tongues lolling, long tails waving.
Newkirk stifled a snort of laughter when the kits piled onto the vixen, overwhelming her. She rolled onto her back, legs waving in the air, yipping and whining at their antics. One kit tugged and worried at her, while the remaining four kits pounced back and forth across her white belly and chased her tail.
Newkirk shared a grin with Carter. When he looked back, he discovered the vixen had sat up and pinned one of her brood to the ground with a slender, black forepaw. The kit kicked and squirmed, protesting the unfairness with a volley of piercing yips. Unmoved, the vixen kept the kit pinned, using long swipes of her tongue to wash its little vulpine face. The kit went limp, laid its head back on the ground and let out a long, mournful howl. Out of the corner of his eye, Newkirk saw Carter clamp a hand over his mouth, holding back laughter.
The vixen laved the kit's face a few more times, then lifted her paw. The kit jumped to its feet, whirled and tackled her around the neck. She fell onto her back again, growling softly, but allowing it to have the upper paw for the moment. The other four kits tussled together nearby, rolling, yipping and snapping with playful abandon.
Newkirk felt a tap on his arm. Beaming, Carter directed his attention to the bushes a few yards from where the vixen and kits were playing. Newkirk's mouth dropped open in surprise. Three more kits had emerged and were standing side by side, looking about. They were slightly smaller than their siblings, but no less curious. Black noses poking the air, they turned their little faces this way and that, trying to take in everything at once.
Newkirk made eye contact with Carter again and with raised eyebrows mouthed, Eight!
Carter nodded and pointed once more. Newkirk followed his direction and shook his head in disbelief. A ninth, even smaller kit had joined its brothers and sisters.
They watched the vixen and her brood with rapt attention for awhile, then quietly withdrew.
Once he felt they had traveled far enough that they wouldn't disturb the family, Newkirk touched Carter upon the arm to get his attention. Carter turned to him with a questioning look.
"That was something, mate. Never seen the like before."
Carter gave him a shy, pleased grin. "Benson told me about them and how to find the den. I've been out here a couple of times, but hadn't seen all the babies all at once like that. Boy, weren't they something?"
"Yeah, real beauties." Newkirk cocked his head. "Never would have guessed they were the reason you dragged me from my bed."
Carter briefly glanced down at his feet, then looked up, concern creasing his brow. "You've seemed kind of down lately. I wanted to do something to cheer you up."
In his mind, Newkirk heard Carter's plea again.
Warmth swept over Newkirk from head to toe and he suddenly saw some things from a new perspective. Over the past few weeks, Carter had been quiet and rarely far from his side unless tending to duties. On top of that, mysterious little things had taken to popping up in Newkirk's belongings. Things like an extra pack of chewing gum, a dime novel with all of its pages present, a chocolate bar (his favorite, no less), and a pair of socks without a single hole in them. Their appearance had confounded Newkirk, but he hadn't felt the desire or energy to pursue his benefactor's identity. Looking at Carter's open, compassionate expression now, he realized that he should have known from the start.
Newkirk's throat closed up on him. He looked down, struggling to hold onto his composure.
Ah, Andrew. You're such a good mate.
Carter was still waiting, patiently giving him time – as always. Never pushing, always there, ready to help and support, to do whatever it took, no matter how long it took.
Newkirk looked up at him. A smile touched Carter's lips and his head bobbed in a small nod. A chuckle bubbled up from Newkirk's chest and before he even realized what he was about to do, he threw his arms around Carter, pulling his friend into a hug.
"Thank you, Andrew," Newkirk whispered. "For all of it, mate."
"You're welcome, Peter," Carter whispered in return.
Newkirk pulled back, smiling ear to ear, his spirits light and free. "C'mon, then. We'd best hurry back or risk having our ears chewed." Clapping a hand to Carter's shoulder, Newkirk turned for camp. His hand remained on Carter's shoulder for sometime, drawing strength from his friend, and giving it in return.
Thank you for reading.