Andrew Carter barely paid attention to Newkirk's half-whispered warning. He focused solely on climbing up the rungs of the ladder, trying his best to keep his mind from even considering what would happen if he didn't make it up in time. The others were already at the top, hurriedly trying to make it look as if they hadn't been out all night, and he knew that it would be his fault if they were caught.
Shultz would be there any minute, ready for the morning roll call. While the sergeant typically looked the other way when it came to what took place inside the barracks, Carter doubted that he'd be able to ignore one of the prisoners climbing out of a tunnel through a trapdoor. That would be a bit much even for someone who tried his best not to see anything suspicious.
As soon as he reached the top of the ladder, Carter hurriedly closed the tunnel's covering. Then he dashed toward his bunk, barely noticing the others as they flung themselves under their covers and attempted to feign sleep. Carter grabbed his blanket and threw it open, quickly grabbing the pillow that he'd shoved under it. He moved it back to the top of the bed before yanking off his boots and tossing them to the floor beside the bed.
He was halfway in bed when the door flung open, revealing a familiar form. "Roll call!" Shultz called out, trailing off at the end when he saw Carter.
Startled, Carter lost his balance and hit the floor with a thud.
Shultz stared at him. "What are you doing out of bed?"
Carter froze for just a second before his brain kicked in. "I heard you coming, Shultz," he said, planting what he hoped was an innocent smile on his face. "I figured that I might as well get up since you were on your way to make us get up anyway."
Shultz eyed him suspiciously for a second before shaking his head, obviously dropping the subject even if he didn't quite believe the excuse. "Up! Up! Kommandant Klink is not in a good mood this morning!"
As Shultz turned and walked back out of the barracks, Carter let out a sigh of relief. The other prisoners were already rolling out of their bunks, most of them glancing in his direction as they made their way past. He saw a mixture of impressed and exasperated looks; nothing new there.
Kinch stopped beside him and held out his hand. "Need some help?"
"Thanks," Carter said, grinning weakly. He took the offered hand, barely holding back a grimace as he let the other man pull him from the floor.
Judging by the way Kinch's eyes narrowed slightly, Carter suspected that he hadn't hidden it as well as he'd wanted. Still, nothing he could do about it now. Without saying another word, he turned and started toward the door.
Carter stumbled as he stepped out of the barrack, for once not out of clumsiness but instead pure exhaustion. He hadn't slept in almost thirty-six hours, and it was starting to get to him. Two nights ago he'd been too busy preparing for the upcoming mission to really get much sleep. Then the mission the night before hadn't gone even remotely according to plan. . . .
As they hurried away from the supply depot, Carter glanced worriedly down at his watch. It was taking much longer than expected to make it through the dense forests. "Colonel?" he whispered, flinching as even that quiet sound seemed to echo in the near silence surrounding them.
Hogan glanced back even though he kept moving. "How much time do we have?"
Carter stumbled slightly as he looked back down at his watch, but he managed to keep himself upright. "Five, four, three, two. . ."
He didn't have a chance to say "one" as the sound of a huge explosion ripped through the night air. The sky behind them lit up with an orange glow, creating eerie shadows all around them. None of them said anything, but the relieved grins on their faces said more than words ever could.
Then LeBeau held up his hand to get their attention. "Did anyone else hear that?"
All of them stilled, listening. The sound of muffled voices was coming from the direction that needed to be moving in, the words intelligible but obviously German. "Damn it," Hogan muttered, "it sounds like we've got Krauts between us and the camp."
The colonel looked around for a second, trying to make up his mind, before nodding and gesturing for them to follow him. "We'll have to take the long route."
As they moved away, the German voices faded somewhat. Carter could still hear them, though, letting him know that they were far from being out of the woods. He was vaguely aware of where they were; the landscape was somewhat familiar, even though he didn't know it as well as he would have liked. There was a steep incline to their left, and he couldn't help but get a bad feeling about it.
Without warning, the ground underneath his feet seemed to give way. He'd been on enough missions to push down the urge to yell out in surprise, but just barely. Before he even had a chance to react, he felt himself go tumbling down the hill.
When he finally came to a stop, Carter knew that it couldn't have been more than ten seconds or so. Still, it felt like hours. "Clumsy idiot," he muttered to himself, even though he was well aware that for once it wasn't his fault.
He struggled to his feet, trying to ignore the pains shooting through his arms and chest. A few loose rocks came sliding down the hill to land near his feet, and before he knew what was happening Colonel Hogan was beside him, providing support as he tried to stay upright.
"Are you okay?"
Carter blinked, suddenly realizing that he wasn't imagining the whispered question. It was Newkirk asking him this time, though, instead of the colonel like it had been the night before. "I'm fine," he said quickly.
Newkirk raised an eyebrow, obviously not believing him.
Truth be told, Carter felt like he'd been thrown down a flight of stairs. He suspected that his tumble down the hill had cracked a couple of ribs, and he knew that he was probably covered in bruises under his uniform. There hadn't been time to bring it up during their mad dash back towards camp, and it wasn't as if anyone could have done something even if he had told them.
And no one could really do anything about it right then either.
"I'm fine," Carter repeated. He met Newkirk's gaze, trying to smile reassuringly but not quite succeeding. "Really."
Someone on his other side elbowed him, and Carter let out a hiss of pain despite himself. His breath caught in his throat as a wave of pain shot through his chest. Newkirk grabbed him by the arm, keeping him from doubling over.
"Fine, huh?" Newkirk asked out of the corner of his mouth, his voice light even though there was a worried expression on his face.
Carter let out a half-hearted chuckle. "Okay, maybe not quite fine."
Newkirk shot him an exasperated look before letting go of his arm. Klink was heading their way. "How bad is it?" he muttered.
"Cracked ribs," Carter whispered back, forcing himself to stand up as straight as possible. "At least, I think they're just cracked."
Newkirk's exasperation faded back into worry, but he didn't have a chance to say anything else as roll call started. Carter couldn't help but notice, however, that Newkirk moved just a little closer to him so that he could lean against him slightly without drawing any attention. His aching chest was very happy with that arrangement, so he didn't even try not to accept the little bit of help being offered.
Roll call seemed to last for ages, and as soon as he heard the word "dismissed!" Carter felt himself start to slump. Newkirk grabbed him by the right arm, forcing him to stay upright, and to his surprise someone else snatched his left one. He glanced over to his left, surprised to find himself staring at Colonel Hogan.
"Easy," Hogan said, "let's get you back inside before one of the guards notices that anything's wrong."
Carter didn't try to hide his sheepishness as they stepped back inside the barrack. "Sorry, colonel," he said quietly. "I didn't think it was that bad."
Hogan shook his head. "Next time," he said sternly, "don't tell me you're fine if you're not."
"Sorry, sir," Carter said quietly, looking away as they helped him into Hogan's office. He didn't say a word as they helped him into the rickety chair sitting in the room.
The colonel just sighed. "Newkirk, go find Wilson. See if he has anything we could use to wrap Carter's ribs with."
Once he heard the door shut behind Newkirk, Carter reluctantly looked up. Hogan met his gaze for a few seconds before shaking his head. "I meant what I said," he said, his voice a shade lighter than before. "Next time, tell me the truth when I ask if you're hurt."
Carter nodded. Then he slowly started to smile. "Even if it's a splinter, sir?"
Hogan chuckled. "As long as you promise not to take a page out of LeBeau's book and act like you're dying from it."
Carter started to laugh, but he immediately regretted it when a sharp pain shot through his chest. He sobered up immediately, doing his best not to cry out. When he managed to look up again, Hogan was eyeing him worriedly.
"I'm going to see what's taking Newkirk so long," he said, making his way toward the door. "Not to mention see if we can find something for the pain."
Letting out a tired sigh, Carter leaned back against the chair's back and closed his eyes. Then he waited.