Winter didn't slow the war much. It certainly didn't stop the missions. Christmas was always hard although Klink was unusually generous to the prisoners. On Christmas Eve, Newkirk listened as the men chatted about being apart from their families and women. LeBeau nudged him. "And you, mon ami? Who is your belle du jour now?"

"What are you nattering on about?"

"You and your lady friends. You have quite a list but you haven't spoken about them."

"Not for about a month." Mills stretched out on his bunk.

"We have been busy," Kinch reminded. His hair was growing back but still gave him an odd, patchwork look. The raid on the anti aircraft guns had been very close and all the men bore minor burns. Colonel Hogan sipped his coffee, glancing at Newkirk over the rim of his mug.

"Well there's Gayle," Newkirk started. "She's a lovely bird."

As he told his story, part of Newkirk ached. He didn't mind spinning tales--he loved the attention and making fancies, well, it made people feel good. Yet, he would like, in a small way, to be honest. To be himself without having to make up adventures with ladies he never met. Then again, it's not like anyone will understand. Well, the gov'nor does. Kind of. Let's be serious, mate. He tolerates you because you have skills he needs.

"You are so full of fertilizer." Olson chuffed and lightly punched Newkirk's shoulder. "But nice story."

"I'm 'urt, Olson."

"When's Mass?" Mills asked.

"1900 hours," Hogan replied.

"And I have a wonderful christmas dinner planned," LeBeau excitedly said.

Newkirk listened with half an ear. As the others prepared to go to the Mass, Newkirk hung back, let the others go on ahead. He headed back to the barracks, slipped up onto his bunk. The room echoed hollowly, smelled of sweat and the pine boughs decorating the room. Newkirk stared at the ceiling, somewhat grateful to be lost in his thoughts.

"Shouldn't you be with the others?"

Newkirk craned his neck. His Colonel grinned at him. "I could ask you the same thing. Why aren't you at Mass?"

"I asked you first."

Newkirk flipped onto his belly, raised his upper body half. "I never liked all that religious blather. Just not up my alley."

"I've heard you pray enough."

"Saying 'oh, ruddy lord, don't let the Gestapo hear us' is not really a prayer." Hogan chuckled. "So why aren't you there?"

"Planned to be. Then I saw I was minus someone. Thought I'd make sure you were all right."

"I'm fine."

"Good." Hogan's eyes slightly narrowed and Newkirk cocked his head.

"Gov?"

"Just thinking, Newkirk."

"Let it go, gov. You get a day off, too."

Hogan sighed. "Maybe you're right."

Newkirk tossed Hogan a bar of chocolate. "Here. Have a treat."

"Thanks." Hogan's unexpected smile made Newkirk smile in return.

"You should head to the Mass, Colonel. I know you enjoy it."

"It reminds me of home. The whole family used to go to Christmas Eve Mass. How about you?"

"Hit and miss. It was all right, though."

Hogan thoughtfully looked at him. Newkirk prevented his shoulders from twitching, knowing his Colonel's curiousity was second only to his own. He calmly regarded Hogan, keeping an easygoing smile on his face. Hogan finally shook his head. "Come on."

"Sure." Newkirk hopped down. The two men walked out of the barracks. A small Christmas tree glittered with handmade ornaments and popcorn chains. The stars gleamed brightly in the cold sky and plumes of exhalation marked each man. Lights glowed in every barracks and the faint strains of Silent Night drifted through the air. The rich smell of ham filled the air along with the scent of fresh bread. Even the guards simply nodded as the two prisoners ambled the camp despite the fact they shouldn't be away from the barracks.

Newkirk enjoyed the quiet stroll. The two men didn't say anything, just walked shoulder to shoulder. Finally Hogan gestured to the kantine. For tonight and tomorrow at least, they would eat well.

Christmas peace always faded. All the men knew that. Indeed, Hogan, Newkirk, Carter, and LeBeau were out on Boxing Day, looking for downed fliers. They found none on that night, returning to Stalag 13, cold, wet, and mud covered. It became the forerunner of many cold, wet nights. Hogan caught a severe case of bronchitis, sidelining him and saddling Newkirk, Carter, Kinch, and LeBeau with extra duties yet fewer missions could take place. As Hogan recovered, he planned a mission for Carter, LeBeau, and Newkirk. "You'll meet with Marya," he informed Newkirk. "Get the info and get away."

"Why does he get to meet with Marya?" LeBeau demanded.

"Because Newkirk won't go gaga over her," Hogan replied. "I know he won't fall for her."

"Like Newkirk has great choice in women," LeBeau muttered.

"Hey!" Carter blurted.

"I screwed up," Newkirk said angerily. "And I'm tired of ruddy apologizing for it! Gretel was a mistake, I know."

"Enough." Hogan glared at LeBeau. "That is over. You're infatuated with Marya, he's not."

"Oui, mon Colonel."

"Carter, LeBeau, cover his back. You keep watch and if Marya pulls any of her stunts, grab Newkirk and go."

"We'll be fine, Colonel."

"Newkirk, don't improvise unless you have to."

"Yes, sir."

The rendezvous was at a small elite club. Newkirk wore the uniform of a Luftwaffe Colonel, Carter his Lieutenant. As the driver, LeBeau watched the outside of the club. Newkirk nodded casually to various officers, feeling Carter close by his elbow. Marya was easy to find, swathed in her usual fur coat and elegant clothes. "Klink, darling!" She strolled over, draped herself on Newkirk. "I thought you would never come! This way, Wilheim." She grasped his arm. "Did you miss me, my Colonel?"

"Hello," Newkirk said. Marya kissed him and he twitched slightly. In a small booth, she order vodka, poured him champagne and leaned forward, her d├ęcolletage nearly at his nose.

"The daring Hogan could not come?" she purred, her tongue flicking his ear.

"Ill," Newkirk shortly said, plastering a smile on his face. "Klink? My papers say Heffenmeyer."

"Heffenmeyer, Klink, who can tell the difference?" Marya smiled at him, teeth and eyes glittering. "My small one? He is here?"

"Sorry, luv, stuck with me." Newkirk smoothed his mustache, glanced around casually. "Do you have the film?"

"Da, da, and reports. Information for our friends. And what do you have for me?"

Newkirk gulped his champagne. "What you asked for. Plans for the next troop movements into Russia."

"Dearheart! You are so generous!" She began kissing him wildly, so hard Newkirk feared for his mustache. A graceful hand dropped into his lap and he gave a violent shudder.

"Liebechen, please. Let us eat first," he laughed. He lifted her hand and kissed her smooth knuckles.

"Herr Colonel, would you care to see the menu?" Carter interrupted smoothly.

"Ja, Ja, Danke."

Hogan and Kinch waited by the radio, Hogan coughing now and then. "I never should have let them near her, Kinch," Hogan said, his voice raspy. "Marya is cagey and not half as foolish as she appears. LeBeau will do anything for her and Newkirk has never really faced her down. Carter will have no idea how to deal with her."

"Sir, you worry too much. Newkirk has been around the ladies any number of times and Carter can handle a lot more than anyone thinks. LeBeau, well, he does like Marya but he'll follow orders."

"I don't know. She's wily."

"Who is?" Carter strode down the tunnel. "Hi, Kinch, hi Colonel. Everything went fine."

"Where are the others?"

Carter jerked a thumb. "Down the hall, arguing. Newkirk has the information. LeBeau was just upset about what he called Marya."

Kinch and Hogan exchanged looks. Hogan crossed his arms. "Which was?" he prompted.

"Oh. An overactive octopus. It wasn't very nice but she did really like him. Crawled into his lap and kept kissing him." A bemused look crossed his face. "Newkirk didn't seem very happy."

"That's surprising," Kinch said.

"Wonderful," Hogan sighed. "Carter, change." He headed down the hallway where outrage French and annoyed Cockney echoed.

"I told you, she's like a ruddy python!"

"She is belle and kind! You--she would not look twice at you!"

"No, she's too busy licking my neck!"

"Enough you two." Hogan stepped forward. "Briefcase?"

Newkirk handed him the attache case. "Next time we deal with her, Louie can ruddy have her. Scares me worse than the Gestapo, she does."

Hogan grinned. "She is always interesting." He opened the case. "Photos, reports, and film. Nice work."

"Thank you," Newkirk said.

"He meant Carter and me," LeBeau muttered. "You have no sense for a beautiful woman."

"Get to bed," Hogan ordered.

"Righto." Newkirk glared at LeBeau and headed upstairs.