Summary: Carter's efforts to prove that he does too know how to cook inadvertently help Hogan come to terms with something.

A/N: I got the idea for this story from two things. Videos. The first was the episode Cuisine A La Stalag 13, in which Carter practically poisons Klink because his (Carter's) french cooking is so terrible. Funnily enough, he seemed to think he could cook fine. The second is the youtube video of the actor Larry Hovis singing a song called Cherry Pie, which all of y'all should watch. After you review ;) Also, humongous thanks go to L J Groundwater for the wonderful beta. Any remaining mistakes you (hopefully don't) see are mine entirely.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or places portrayed in the TV series Hogan's Heroes. They all belong to richer, cooler people who (will pretty please not sue me?) have better things to do than write fanfiction.


1000 Hours

It was snowing.

Colonel Robert E. Hogan watched the fall of snowflakes from the window in the quarters his status of Senior POW at Luft Stalag 13 afforded him. As far as views went, it wasn't much to write home about. Some of the prisoners were out in the compound, hurling snowballs at each other or trying (failing) to get the guards to lick icicles. Sergeant Schultz was going from baracke to baracke delivering mail and throwing the occasional, wistful glance at the guard quarters.

Under normal circumstances, it would've been a welcome, happy sight. But even for the type of camp Colonel Hogan was in, circumstances had been anything but normal lately. As it was, the snowy scene brought no happy memories, no harmonious good will towards his fellow man. Instead of uplifted, Hogan just felt cold to the marrow. And tired. More tired than he'd felt in a very long time.

At Stalag 13, the past weeks had more or less been the advent of hell. A snowstorm had knocked out their radio (and with the roof dripping icicles he couldn't get anyone up to fix the antenna without arousing suspicion), and after General Burkhalter had returned Klink's car with a busted engine their Kommandant had put a guard on all the staff cars and haddoubled patrols outside the wire, making it impossible for Hogan to sneak even one man out.

But all that, as bad as it was, wasn't enough to be what brought the sick-feeling of confusion mingled with anxiety to the pit of Hogan's stomach and had him sleepless from roll-call to roll-call. Those were just the sort of inconveniences that Hogan had come to expect, and dealt with on a regular basis. It wasn't that Klink was in an awful mood and wouldn't be talked into letting the prisoners have a Christmas celebration in the rec hall tomorrow night, either. And while it certainly rankled that everything had to go wrong right before Christmas Eve, the ruin of his already homesick men's holiday wasn't strictly what had the Colonel retreating into his office for hours on end to stare morosely out the window at the bitter, frozen compound.

Watching the continual fall of dancing snowflakes on their way to earth but truly seeing none of it, Hogan stood lost in his introspection. It was the morning of December 23rd; roughly twenty-three days since the blasted call from London. They had offered to have a look-alike sent over in order for Hogan to work on a top security mission. They couldn't tell him much over the radio; but Hogan knew it involved bombing something- something massive, something vital.

Hogan had found the offer both amusing and alluring. The idea that he could just take off- literally, fly again!- while London found Hogan's proverbial twin to replace him at a moment's notice was...well, it was hilarious.

Just for laughs, Hogan had asked, How high is security?

We can't even let Churchill in on it, London had said. If you make it back, we expect you'll make Major General, Brigadier at the least. What about it, old boy? Call it a Christmas present.

A sane man would've taken the job on the spot. Two Stars? Yes, please, and don't forget the cherry on top.

Hogan had thought about it, taken every detail into careful consideration. He'd turned the matter over in his head every which way, but in the end he came back to the same answer. Thanks, but my planner's all booked. I have a lot of socks to wash, you know.

London was used to his particular brand of humor.

Funny, though...ever since then the decision had been eating away at him. Hogan had dismissed his worry at first, telling himself he was just sore at himself for not taking the offer.

But inside, Hogan had known that wasn't it. His decision had had nothing to do with the danger of it all, or the rank, or even the responsibility the rank would bring, if it came right down it. Every time he thought he'd let himself accept, those five little words had played over again in Hogan's head. If you make it back. What if he didn't? He didn't know anything about this look alike, aside from the fact that he was a British officer, had been an actor before the war, and supposedly looked exactly like him. If he'd been chosen to be part of a little stunt high command couldn't even let Churchill in on, then the probability of him being a Nazi plant was virtually nil. But did that mean he could handle his part? In the event that Hogan bought the farm somewhere out in the wild blue yonder, could this guy be Hogan?

No, Hogan had decided. He couldn't risk it. What about his men? The soldiers of Barrack Two had a distinctive group dynamic that Hogan had come to recognize and appreciate as vital to their operation. And you didn't alter that over-night and expect everything to be just swell. Maybe ol' what's-his-face could be Colonel Hogan to the Krauts, but could he be Robert Hogan to the team?

Now, weeks after turning the offer down, Hogan questioned his decision to the very core. As valid as his concerns may have been at the time, the little bit of hindsight he had on the situation brought up a disturbing question. Just how irreplaceable did Hogan consider himself?

Hogan's wasn't a job that another man couldn't do. A skeptic might say that he sat around a safe little camp amusing himself by talking circles around a bunch of Germans who probably didn't even know why they were at war and blowing up random trains and factories and what-have-you when the allied resistance could have done a perfect job of it on their own.

If Hogan went about it the right way, he could have his unofficial twin sent over, get him acquainted with the men, and be doing belly rolls over Munich within the month. And for that matter...he could replace everyone. Why not? If London would go to such preposterous- however appreciated- lengths to do Hogan a favor, just why couldn't he ask their help in getting everyone out? It wouldn't be hard. A prison transfer: Hogan, Newkirk, Kinch, Carter and LeBeau. The other fellas, too, if they wanted. The men Hogan had come to value as more than just soldiers, more than just friends, could be back in their own homes right now if he could just get over his own damn ego and ask someone else to take over.

What the hell are you doing here, Rob?

1000 Hours

"Aw, c'mon Louis, I'm not gonna knock it over or anything," Carter said. "How come I can't watch you cook?"

Louis LeBeau cast a dark look at the Sergeant over his shoulder that made the normally friendly chop-chopping of his carving knife sound ominous. "Because you will poison it accidentally if I should happen to look away," he said, deftly sidestepping to block Carter's view of the lamb he was cutting. "You would ruin it just by breathing on it. I want nothing to spoil my masterpiece: Les Noisettes d'Agneau Perigourdine."

Not about to be dismissed out of hand, Carter continued trying to peer over the allied corporal's shoulder. "But if all you're doing is cutting up a hunk of meat then I don't see wh-"

"Oh leave 'im be, Andrew," Newkirk said from the table, "Colonel 'Ogan's going to 'ear you with the way you're carrying on." The English corporal had shown no signs to this point of having heard the bickering, but now as he cast an annoyed look at the two of them from over his hand of cards, it was apparent he'd heard the whole thing and was good and ready for it to stop. "Besides, mate," he added, "If you can't cook by now you then ain't gonna learn just by watching 'im."

"Yes, Carter, you ain't going to learn just by watching him," LeBeau mimicked. "If you want to be useful you can make us some coffee."

Carter opened his mouth to protest, but Kinch said in a tone that left room for no argument: "Just leave it, Carter."

The young Sergeant frowned a frown that looked more like a pout than anything else. He went about making the coffee anyway, but not without mumbling: "Just because he's not talking to anybody-"

His comment was cut short by the barrack door banging open, letting in a flurry of snow and wind. Newkirk let out a curse of protest and slammed his hands on the table cards before the wind could whip them away. "'Ere now, Schultzie," he complained, "what's the big idea, eh?"

Sergeant Schultz, leaning in the doorway with an arm full of Christmas letters and covered in melting snow, didn't seem to have the breath to answer. He shut the door and the howling, biting wind vanished.

Kinch looked at the guard with undisguised amusement. "Yeah, Schultz," he quipped, "isn't your nice, snowy guard post warm enough for ya?"

It took a minute. Then: "Jolly joker," Schultz said, starting to stamp the snow off his boots to regain circulation. "I have mail call. There are letters for..." he paused to rifle through the mail, "all of you."

The clamor that rose up as the men retrieved and began to open their coveted letters from home died down almost as quickly, and Schultz jerked his thumb at Hogan's shut door. "Is Colonel Hogan in there?" he asked.

Newkirk's eyes darted from his half-opened envelope to the door and back again. "Yeah, Schultzie," he said, "but the gov'nor don't want people bothering 'im." He kept his voice light, his eyes trained on the slightly wilted letter that came out of the envelope.

The other men in the room made a point of reading their letters and reacting to the contents while otherwise maintaining dead silence as Schultz pondered this. Their CO hadn't been himself for what must have been weeks now, but each time any of them had tried to broach the subject Hogan dodged the question with his usual disarming finesse. Eventually, they had unanimously agreed to give the man his privacy, even though they all felt the presence of whatever Hogan was keeping from them like a gigantic elephant in the room.

"He will want to be bothered," Schultz finally decided. "I have for Colonel Hogan two letters from his family." That said he turned away from the prisoners, only to find Carter standing in front of the Colonel's door.

"I'll give him his letters for ya, Schultz," Carter said. "He'll be much happier to have 'em after his nap anyhow. Why don't you sit down and have some coffee? Why I'll bet it's gotta be at least zero degrees out there and you don't want to catch cold; not right before Christmas anyway. I just made it right now so it's piping hot and-"

"You made the coffee?" Schultz asked incredulously. He didn't notice Newkirk slip the three letters out of his hand. At Carter's nod, Schultz's face whitened at least two shades. "Nein," he said.

Carter's face fell.

The men were starting to smirk as Schultz backed towards the door, saying quickly: "I too have a letter, and my wife's brother is bringing his little ones into town for das Weihnachtsfest. I must ask Kommandant Klink for the weekend pass at ONCE." With that he gave the now snickering men a perfect military salute, and fled out the door in a flurry of snow and wind.

The snickering turned into riotous laughter.

"Yeah sure, that's real funny," Carter said. He had to raise his voice to make himself heard- "I don't see why my coffee's such a big joke around here. I've made the coffee plenty of times, right, Newkirk?"

If the English Corporal had heard him, he didn't show it. He was currently leaning on Olsen's shoulder, the mail utterly forgotten, trying to breathe through his laughter while saying something that ended in "my arse."

Carter folded his arms across his chest and scowled at them. "Oh come on, guys, I can cook just great. You'd never believe the kinda stuff I can make when I want to. Why in high school there was this fair, see, and there was pie making contest, you know because someone has to make the pies that you eat in a pie eating contest, otherwise the school would have to pay for it and let me tell you, the school board-"

"All right, mate, all right!" Newkirk stuck a cigarette in his mouth to murder the laugh that was still making a go for it and lit up to compose himself. "Look 'ere, Carter," Newkirk started, leaning a casual arm on a very tense shoulder, "you're me pal, so I can ease off a bit, eh? If you can dazzle us with your, uhm," he waved a hand in a lofty gesture, "culinary expertise, I suppose I can endure your coffee from now on. 'Ow's that?"

The American shrugged him off, looking rather typically injured. "Gee, pal," he said, "thanks a lot. 'Endure my coffee"...well okay, but you've also gotta promise to quit stealing all my cigarettes!"

"'Course, Andrew," Newkirk said. Then with a smile that was anything but innocent, he tapped the ash off the end of his smoke and handed it to Carter. "'Ere you are. 'Appy Christmas."

1300 Hours

By the early afternoon the weather had calmed down, and a good number of the prisoners had started up a game of soccer. Newkirk was playing forward for the shirts and had already scored his team a fair lead on the coats; as far as he was concerned, Yanks couldn't play football to win the war. He was leaning up on Wilson, his head cocked to the side as he listened to Russell Bracey, another Englishman, outline their next go. No text-book teamwork for them, it was an always changing spider's web of passes and feints and head-on rushes for the goal. That was how football was meant to be, strategy and brute force- no nancying about with shin guards and gear and all that other official tosh. Americans ruined Rugby too, called it football of all things…

Newkirk was about to break huddle with the team, but something out of the corner of his eye stopped him. Carter was out again. Instead, Newkirk hollered at Olson to come and take over for him and went trotting up to where his friend was leaning into a barrel. He hadn't seen Andrew since mail call earlier, and expected he'd gone under to work on his explosives. What the balmy little mite wanted to go diving into barrels for he couldn't begin to guess.

Inching up to the barrel, Peter stuck his head right inside the barrel and yelled, "'ELLO CARTER!"

A muffled yelp resounded inside the barrel and Carter stumbled back, knocking the barrel over as he came out. He landed soundly on his bum and the barrel tipped over and rolled next to his feet, spilling a good number of potatoes into the snow.

Newkirk tried not to laugh. Really. "Lookin' for something in there, mate?" he asked.

Carter shrugged, not seeming to be put out by his friend's little joke at all. But that was Andrew for you. He had such a long fuse that Peter had long ago decided that the bloke was either half touched in the head or a live saint.

"Not really," Andrew said. "I wasn't really expecting to find anything in there; just I've looked everywhere else already."

Newkirk watched him right the barrel and then, shrugging, helped the demolitionist chuck the potatoes back in. Now what could Carter be looking for that would be lying around for him to find in a German luftstalag, he wondered. Everything that the scroungers couldn't come up with they always radioed London for, unless the Colonel thought he could wheedle it out of Klink. Not that they could radio anywhere with their antenna frozen solid, and lately the Gov hadn't been in the sorts to have a go at even Schultzie. Well then…

"Well, what're you lookin' for, mate, maybe I know 'ow to get it."

Carter brightened. "That's really swell of you, Newkirk; after all you're much better at scrounging stuff than I ever was. I mean I can probably find it myself; you're just sneakier is all. Not that it's anything we're not supposed to have you understand, I mean we're not really because the Germans hardly let us have anything-" he trailed off, probably because he had seen Peter roll his eyes. Then: "I just wanted some cherries is all."

Whatever Newkirk had thought Carter was after, that wasn't it. He cocked his head like he hadn't heard right. "Cherries?" he repeated. "Why, lost yours?"

"Oh I didn't lose any," Carter said, completely missing the joke. "I never had any in the first place."

Newkirk just shook his head. "Cherries, 'e says. Blimey, Andrew, you don't need no cherries. You've enough cherries for the 'ole stalag!" Then he went back to the game with another shake of his head, leaving a very confused demolitionist to stare after him.

1400 Hours

Sitting on top of the barrel he'd been looking in earlier, Carter absently brushed at the snow that was gathering on his legs. There were no cherries to be had anywhere in camp. He already knew Red Cross packages never had them, and LeBeau never used them so there wouldn't be any in the stuff that got dropped specially for him, and no one else in camp would have any either. Carter would ask their friend who changed the dogs to go into town for him, except he was home over the holidays. He couldn't sneak out with ol' Klink's extra patrols in the woods, either, and anything involving taking one of his cars would have to be cleared with Colonel Hogan, and there just wasn't any way Carter wanted to bother the Colonel over a jar of cherries.

Anyway, it was a just a jar of cherries. It wasn't that big of a deal. He was just tired of the guys riding him all the time was all. They were always teasing him anyway, and that was okay, Carter guessed, they didn't mean any harm by it. But cooking was something he was actually pretty good at, and he didn't like being told he couldn't when he really knew that he could. No one liked feeling useless, he supposed. But he could cook! All he wanted was to prove it; maybe then Olson and the other guys would quit refusing to drink coffee he made and LeBeau wouldn't shield the pot when Carter was trying to watch what he was doing. Just because he couldn't make any fancy French stuff didn't mean he could make anything, for Gosh sakes!

Carter was contemplating all this when he saw Schultz trudging along through the snow, looking completely miserable. He had seemed to be in a good mood earlier. Carter wondered what had happened. Shultz wasn't a bad sort, even for a German, and Carter always hated to see another person looking so unhappy. Carter caught the guard's attention with a, "Hey Schultz!" figuring maybe he'd see if whatever was wrong was something a chocolate bar could fix.

"Hiya, Schultz," Carter said when the guard had wandered over. "You look pretty down."

"Ja," Schultz agreed. He gave Carter his rifle to hold while he lowered himself onto a crate, and accepted it again with a "danke." The big guard heaved a sigh. "It is as you say," he said, "I am feeling 'down'. Colonel Klink will not give me the weekend pass. He has been in a terrible mood ever since General Burkhalter broke his car. He told me that if he could not go home, then I could not go home either. Huh. He does not have kinder coming."

"Well, gee, Schultz, that's terrible," Carter said, feeling indignant on the German's behalf. "Boy, Klink won't even let you go home for Christmas? I mean I know there's a war on and all, but shucks. When d'ya suppose he'll let you off?"

Schultz shrugged dejectedly. "Not until his car is fixed, which will be after the mechanic is back from das Weihnachtsfest. By then, my wife's brother will have gone home."

"Well, that's just about the most awful thing I've ever heard," Carter said. He sure wished there were something he could do to help. If he was a guard and not a prisoner, would he ever be upset if he couldn't see his family over Christmas. But Schultz said Klink was sore about his car and wouldn't let anybody go until it got fixed. What a mean thing to do. The only way that car was getting fixed soon enough for Schultz to go home was if one of the prisoners fixed it.

"THAT'S IT!"

Schultz struggled to get up, holding his helmet onto his head with one hand like he expected bombs to start falling and waving his rifle about wildly with the other.

"It's perfect!" Carter exclaimed, happily rubbing his hands together and starting to pace. "Why, he'll be so happy I guess he'll give you an extra long leave, maybe a whole week even, oh boy, is this ever the best idea-"

"Was?" Schultz interrupted. "What what what, is this good idea?"

Carter stopped. "Why, I'll fix Klink's car," he said. "Then you can tell him you fixed it so he could leave, and then he'll be so grateful he'll give you the weekend pass!"

"The Kommandant will be grateful to me?" Schultz asked, indicating himself with a gloved finger.

Carter nodded eagerly.

"I will believe it when I see it," Shutlz said.

1600 Hours

"Better watch out with that carrot, Andrew," Kinch said, "Schultz is coming."

Carter finished wedging a long carrot into the middle of a head-sized snowball and looked over his shoulder. Sure enough, Schultz was puffing along in their direction, but he didn't look like he was after their snowman's nose. He looked too happy to be hungry, in fact. He was grinning an enormous grin, which was kind of funny with the way he was trying to drink in air from running all the way across the compound. He was also waving a very official looking paper.

He was completely out of breath by the time he got to where Carter was standing with Newkirk and Kinch, but they'd already figured out what was up.

"Lemme guess," Newkirk said, "our divine Kommandant's finally looking down on lesser men and given you the weekend pass."

Schultz shook his head, breathed deeply, and held the paper out to them.

Kinch took it and skimmed quickly through all the official lingo, noting that it was a real pass and not something they'd cooked up. He raised his eyebrows. "A week?"

"Ja," Schultz managed. "He was… VERY…pleased with his car."

"I thought the sod's 'ole bad mood was because of his car," Newkirk said, puzzled. "Why you'd think it was a son to 'im with the way 'e's been carryin' on about it."

"No, that's right," Carter said, unable to help looking immensely pleased with himself. He took the paper away from Kinch and handed it back to Schultz. "But I fixed the engine, and we told him Schultz did it. Not bad, huh?"

Kinch's eyebrows went even further towards his hairline. "You fixed a car engine?"

"Well sure," Carter said. "There's nothing to it, really, once you've fixed one you may as well have fixed 'em all."

"I'll never be surprised again," Newkirk vowed.

Schultz, who meanwhile had regained his breath, said: "Carter, you are a good boy. I can never thank you enough."

Carter blushed all the way to his ears. He ducked his head, kicking at the snow with the toe of his boot. "Aw shucks, Schultz," he said, "it wasn't anything, really-"

Schultz held up a hand, forestalling the rest of Carter's denial. "Nein," he said, "I must somehow pay you back. I would feel terrible if I didn't."

"You could let 'im go 'ome for a spell," Newkirk suggested blithely.

Schultz ignored him to stare expectantly at Carter, who was wondering how mad the Colonel would be if he dug a tunnel right there. "Please, Carter," Schultz said, "it would be the least I could do. I must insist I somehow pay you back."

"Well…" Carter started.

1800 Hours

Fellas, Hogan wrote, I've put in a request for transfer-

Hogan paused mid-sentence. That wasn't entirely accurate. He hadn't actually put in anything; he wanted to tell the other prisoners first. Hogan crumpled up the piece of paper and started again.

Fellas,

I'm putting in a request for transfer to Allied High Command. While it's really been fun-

Really been fun? What was this, grade school? Hogan was writing his final address and farewell letter to the team who he'd faced everything with: escape, capture, the Gestapo, interrogation, firing squads…and he was saying It's been fun?

He tried again.

Fellas,

No. The whole problem was in the beginning, Hogan decided. It was too informal for a farewell address. Crumpling yet another attempt, he tapped his pen on a new sheet of paper. How did you address a group of men you were about to relinquish command of?

Well, men, this is good-bye. Your new CO will be arriving shortly before my departure, so don't worry about being left out to hang-

Hang? Well there was a comforting image.

Everything will be fine.

Who was he trying to convince? Hogan groaned in frustration. He would rather try to talk Klink into tap dancing with Frau Linkmeyer right now. Heck, he'd rather tap dance with Frau Linkmeyer right now. Hogan thought about that. Nah, maybe not quite. But this was getting ridiculous.

Men,

Well who else would he be talking to, women?

Soldiers,

Hogan cocked his head to the side, considering. Yeah. Yeah, he liked that one.

Soldiers,

I'm putting in a request to Allied HQ for transfer. A replacement officer has already been decided upon. While the operation will continue as it has in the past, I must insist that you follow your new CO's orders with the same readiness and discipline as you have mine. I thank you for your years of service and devotion-

"Oh, come on!"

Hogan threw the fountain pen down in frustration to scrub at his eyes. His best try yet and he was choking up over it. He stared at the quite substantial pile of crumpled up papers littering his desk and the floor, where they'd fallen after being pushed off to give him more elbow room.

Well, so far his efforts to write a farewell address were completely useless. With a grimace of distaste, and maybe some amount of apprehension, Hogan decided he'd have to tell the team himself. He'd make a general address to the Stalag later, probably after HQ confirmed his transfer, but in the meantime he'd have to break the news to the fellas in his own barrack. He'd thought about letting everyone know at the same time. But the other men of barrack two had been weathering Hogan's moroseness for three weeks now, and they deserved to know what was up. Besides, Hogan had always (albeit jokingly) told Klink that if there was elephant in the room it was best to introduce it. There was just know point in keeping it all a secret anymore.

A heave and a groan later and Hogan was out of the chair he'd been warming for the better part of the afternoon- evening? - adjusting the zipper of his bomber jacket, and opening the door of his room.

His gut squirmed. Of all the things he'd done that he had not wanted to do, this was definitely up there on Hogan's list of experiences that were downright lousy. But there was nothing for it. He'd already made his decision.

Hogan stepped into the main room and was instantly met with the warm, sweet smell of a homemade pie- forget that home in this case meant a prisoner of war camp in the middle of Nazi Germany, and that their resident chef considered any American food a thing as evil as vermin, disease, and Klink's violin playing.

"Taking bribes, now, LeBeau?" Hogan asked as he pulled out a chair at the table and sat down next Kinch.

"Huh," LeBeau said irritably.

"Don't talk to 'im about it, Gov," Newkirk said from his position on his bunk, "'E caused a big enough ruckus when Carter let on what 'e was up to."

"It is sacrilege," LeBeau muttered.

Hogan looked around, momentary bewilderment driving all thoughts of his "elephant" from his mind. Carter didn't look like he was up to anything. He was sitting down, for once completely silent, writing what was presumably a Christmas letter to his folks. "Carter?" Hogan asked.

The sergeant started at the sound of his name, looked up in puzzlement at being snapped out of his concentration. "Huh?"

LeBeau said something that Hogan probably didn't want to know the meaning of, and Newkirk snorted with laughter.

Carter was still looking around the room, trying to figure out who'd called him, when he suddenly sniffed the air and immediately jumped up with an exclamation of "Holy cats!" He bee lined for the stove, completely missing the mingled odd and tolerant stares thrown at his back, and opened the belly's door to pull out the source of that divine smell.

"Wow," Hogan said, inhaling deeply. "Is that cherry pie?"

"Sacrilege," LeBeau said again. "You Americans and your primeval taste buds. Pah."

Newkirk bounced off the bunk and came over to the table. "Mates," he said, "I've lost a bet, I have. And it's the best thing to happen in me life."

Hogan was on the verge of ordering them to tell him what was going on, but the roughly Texas-sized grin that broke out on Carter's face at Newkirk's remark finally clicked everything into place. "You bet Carter he couldn't cook," he surmised. Since when could Carter cook?

Newkirk looked at him reproachfully. "Tsk, sir. Rubbing it in before Carter's even gotten to say 'e told me so."

"Oh, I don't need to say that," Carter said, placing the pie- the prisoners' eyes gravitated towards it almost magnetically- on top of the stove. "I figure it's about enough to make you guys wait until after dinner."

The men around Hogan broke into a chorus of protests, and it was with great amusement that the colonel noted a certain smugness within Carter's otherwise genial smile.

LeBeau seized the disruption as an opportunity to divert the spotlight to the lamb he'd been preparing earlier.

"Carter, you've been holding out on us," Hogan said, accepting a plate of LeBeau's entrée. "I'm not going to lie, it looks delicious."

"Gee, thanks Colonel," Carter said. "I learned how from my Aunt Bessie. She wanted me to me plead neutrality when I got drafted, you know. I thought about it, you know, being born on a reservation and all I guess I probably could've gotten away with it. Why when I got my Dear John letter, she wrote to me and she said-"

"You've really got him going now, sir," Kichloe said under his breath.

Hogan saw Newkirk pantomime "accidentally" spilling coffee down the back of Carter's shirt, but shook his head minutely. The longer Carter's life story went on the longer he'd have before having to tell them all he was bowing out.

"-which was why I decided to stay in after all," Carter was saying, "I mean even if there was some other guy who could do my job as well as I could, that was one more person who didn't have to take the risk. I just figured that if I stayed in whoever they woulda gotten to replace me could go on with his normal life. After all, I sorta did volunteer. I mean, what kinda guy bows out of something he volunteered for? Sure I could've done something else, I used to want to be a brain surgeon you know, but, well I just guessed a guy should finish what he starts. Stick it out, I suppose. Of course, then they started drafting everybody…"

"That's a lovely story, Andrew," Newkirk interrupted, "but if you don't mind me ears are rather fond of being attached to me 'ead."

"At least he can cook better than he can tell stories," Kinch said.

"We can hope," LeBeau agreed. "His storytelling is absolutely lethal."

But Hogan was grinning like he'd been handed the world. In some absurd way, it was all the vindication- all the validation- he needed. He patted Carter on the shoulder, thinking that all of his farewell letters would make a nice fire. "Sure, LeBeau," he said, "but only to elephants."