Schultz peeped through the window of the cell. He counted five men in there and walked away. As long as Newkirk were one of them, he did not not bother asking stupid questions like how they got in there by instance.. Hogan would only wrap him on a labyrinth of clever lines that left him clueless or on his way to the Russian front. The less he knew about Hogan and his men, the happier everybody would be.
"It's a real silver dollar," Carter laughed. "Where did you find it?"
"Do you really have to ask?" LeBeau shook his head. "Those Boches have no shame. I bet they stole it from one of the American prisoners."
"But Newkirk got it back," Kinch said.
"I call it poetic justice." Newkirk shrugged.
"Did you actually kiss Klink on the lips?" Carter grinned.
"Oh, come on. Where did you hear that?" Newkirk rubbed his neck as though trying to hide his embarrassment.
"Schultz's Gazette," Kinch snorted. "It will be a headline around the camp by tomorrow."
"Blimey," Newkirk shook his head. "It wasn't on the lips... I kissed him on both cheeks. I carried too far the thing about going mad , I guess."
"But why did you kiss him anyway?" Carter wrinkled his nose.
"Well, only this morning, I was about to be shipped back home under the premises that I was going mad. I considered it for a moment. You have no idea how close I was to giving up altogether." Newkirk saw his friends' stares of concern. He smiled. "Then, I saw Klink out there and I remember the things we do here, the fun, the rush... I just don't want to miss any minute of it. I couldn't live anywhere else knowing that you're still here having all the fun without me." Newkirk looked away but turned back immediately. "I was just happy to see them coming for me. I couldn't have felt happier if it had been one of you guys."
"That's exactly my reason for sending Klink to fetch Newkirk." Hogan joked. "I knew our Englishman would not resist him."
"Oh, yeah, right," Carter smirked before remembering whom he was talking to. "Sir."
They sat on the floor, drinking wine and playing cards. Just as they usually did when one of them was in the cooler. Newkirk seemed to be back in body and soul and things could not be more normal. Hogan was rather pleased.
At one point, Newkirk took a purposeful breath and spoke. "I'm sorry I was so upset the day I left. It was not fair that I took it out on you two, mates."
"Ça fait rien, mon ami, we understand." LeBeau patted Newkirk on the shoulder.
"Yeah, what are friends for if you can't yell at them once in a while?" Carter smiled.
"We were concerned, though." Kinch said. "But it's okay. You're back, safe and sound."
"You should've seen their faces when I came back empty handed yesterday." Hogan said from the bed. "Only Josh could save me from being hanged."
"Poor Josh waited as much as he could to talk to you. He wanted to thank you for saving his life." Carter told him.
"It's good to know that the lad finally got to England." Newkirk lowered his eyes.
"He asked me to tell you that he found you an Indian name." Carter smiled. "He said that you're The Wanderer."
"How appropriate for you, Newkirk." LeBeau concurred. "I mean, for someone who has been everywhere and done everything."
Newkirk became suddenly quiet. He smiled and nodded. "But don't start calling me that, all right?"
Kinch noticed the changing atmosphere and tried to lighten it up a little. "At least it's not like the little Deer here running to the forest." He patted Carter on the back. They laughed and drank some more.
"Undoubtedly," Newkirk said.
"New word? What is that supposed to mean?" Carter grumbled.
Newkirk shrugged. "It's just a word that me friend Hamish used to say all the time."
"Hamish?" LeBeau asked.
"You never mentioned him before," Carter said.
"I didn't, did I?" Newkirk smiled softly. "He was me best friend at the Academy... We went through a lot together."
"What happened to him?" Carter asked intentionally .
Kinch was about to stop his interrogatory, but Hogan shook his head slightly. If Newkirk felt uncomfortable with the conversation, he would have to say it himself.
After a second of silence, Newkirk tilted his head and shrugged. "He died, Andrew. Hamish and other friend of ours tried to cross the gates at the wrong time and they were shot."
"Jeez, I'm sorry, pal. That's too bad."
"It's all right. He pushed his luck a bit too far, I guess." Newkirk lit a cigarette and smiled. "But there were good times too, even at the Dulag. He-, we were sort of practical jokers... got in a lot of trouble... We were lucky they didn't shoot at us before."
One slight tremor on Newkirk's hand while he inhaled the smoke of his cigarette alerted Hogan. He looked tired and distant all of a sudden.
"Well, I hate being a wet blanket but it's school night, boys and we have a job to do tomorrow." Hogan stood up.
"Another mission? Now that's exactly what I need." Newkirk said.
"Sorry, but all you need right now is a good night sleep, maybe two nights." Hogan pushed his men to the trapdoor.
"It's okay, Newkirk, we'll come back tomorrow night and tell you all about it." Carter patted him on the shoulder.
"I'll bring more wine. Two-days aged. You'll love it." LeBeau said before entering the tunnel.
"Good to have you back, Newkirk." Kinch gave him a hug. "Don't do this to us again, okay?"
"I'll be a good boy, I promise." Newkirk smiled while his friends left
Hogan stayed behind. "Newkirk, you deserve a medal for this."
"For going mad beyond duty?"
"You save the entire program of code talkers and Josh's life for all that matter. You're a hero," Hogan smiled.
"I don't feel like a hero." He lowered his eyes.
"But you are, and they will welcome you at home, they will remember you for what you did in the war."
"Till the Ludlow tower shall fall?" He snorted. "Never mind. But don't need any medals, really."
"Well, I know that I promise medals all the time." He sat on the bed. "And you won't see them until the end of the war. But this time you can ask for anything and I'll get it for you. Anything."
Newkirk shook his head. "I'm with me friends. That's all I need right now."
"We'll save it for later. Just keep it in mind." Hogan stood up. He met Newkirk's eyes and frowned. "How are you doing? Honestly."
"Honestly? Hanging there. Better than this morning, that's for sure." Newkirk could see that the colonel was waiting for a more elaborated answer. "I'm not going mad. Really. I can sleep now... like a wee lad."
"Good, I'll keep the guys away for a couple of days so you can rest." Hogan said. "Listen, Klink is going to bring a doctor from town. He just want to shut up the rumors about your sanity." Hogan studied his man attentively. "Do you think you can handle that?"
"There are not many options, are there?"
"Well, no," Hogan conceded. "But it's a small price to pay. It could've been worse."
The silence that followed was not awkward but intriguing. Hogan knew that there was something left to say and yet, he could not verbalize it. He walked to the door and turned to his friend.
"Newkirk, I'm sorry."
"What ever for, sir?"
"I can't stop thinking that if I hadn't sent you to the Dulag, you wouldn't be going through all this. That place triggered something."
"Blame it all on me, Gov'nor. I didn't tell you what was going on. I did think I was stronger than this."
"It's not about strength, Newkirk. Three years is too much time to carry that weight on your shoulders. Maybe it was easier while you kept away from there." Hogan said. "But... the fact is that... Newkirk, I'm afraid that it wouldn't have made any difference. I would've sent you anyway."
Newkirk shrugged and lowered his eyes. "For what is worth, sir. I think I'd have gone in there... Even if I had known what was going to happen to me."
Hogan came closer. "It doesn't make me feel better. I let you down as your friend and as your CO." He shook his head. "You're the best crew I've ever worked with. You should know that I'd die first than causing harm to anyone of you."
"Of course I know that. We all do." Newkirk waited for a moment before saying something else. "Colonel, I have to apologize too. I turned everything up side down."
"We all have our good days and our bad days. Let's not make a fuss about it." Hogan said. "Our lives here are far from normal and things can go crazy once in a while. But we take care of each other, okay? Just remember that you're not alone. We take care of you as much as you take care of us."
"I know but, it's easier to say it." Newkirk sat on the bed. "When Hamish died, a part of me died too... Me, alone in that place terrified me so much... I was hurt... For some time I didn't want to see or do new things because he would not be there to see them or tell him about them... He was so young when he died... He laughed a lot... He talked about his family, his job at the local cinema, the girlfriend waiting for him in Ludlow..." His voice lost strength and he had to exhaled. "Good things have happened to me since then and I hate it when I think that he could have shared them too... He will never meet you, Gov'nor... or the lads." He shook his head. "When they sent me to this Stalag, I tried to stay on my own... I couldn't think of making new friends. But as much as I tried to push them away, they kept coming closer. Now, I'll give me life for them... And they don't know how much it frightens me that-"
"What? That they might dye on you?" Hogan sat next to him. "How do you think I feel every time you go on the field? If I'd stop and think for a second that any of you might not return, I wouldn't send you outside. Ever." He rubbed Newkirk's back. "The weight is heavy, but as long as we're together fighting this war, we'll have to share that. I learned that I can't do all the jobs by myself... and you have to remember that too. Risking your life just because you don't want anyone else to suffer doesn't do any good to the rest of us. Do you understand that?"
"So, no more crazy stuff. If you don't feel up to the job, before the dizzy spells and sudden blindness begin, please tell me."
"No more talking to shadows, promise..." Newkirk said. "Colonel, about that... for a moment last night, I thought you were going to slap me on the face."
Hogan understood the reference right away and laughed. "That's what we have General Patton for." He squeezed Newkirk's shoulder. "I'm gone. Got a job to do. After our last conversation, I couldn't sleep thinking of the men I told you about and their families... I promised to myself that I'd begin the letters as soon as you came back here. I won't be able to send them until the war is over but at least, I'll get them out of my head."
Newkirk stared at him. "Good for you, Gov'nor."
Hogan stood up. "Newkirk, I know this might sound shallow, but it's true... We all carry ours scars. They're painful and sometimes they can be easily reopened. But friends help to soothe the pain. Don't close your door on us."
"I'll be wiser." Newkirk took a deep breath.
"We don't have a chaplain or a professional counsellor in the Stalag, but you can always talk to me, okay?"
"I'll keep it in mind, sir." Newkirk nodded. "Thank you."
Hogan nodded. He would be more attentive next time. He might not be able to protect his men from the war all the time, but they would not be left at their own devices. "Now go to bed and please, sleep through the night. That's an order." Hogan opened the trapdoor. "Good night, Corporal, good to have you back.."
Newkirk smiled. His decision had been the right one. He could not go back home until all his friends would be safe. They needed him as much as he needed them. "Good night, Gov'nor and thank you, it's good to be back..."
Ça fait rien (It's okay)
General Patton slapped at least one man during his visit to a veterans hospital. The soldier was suffering from Combat Stress Reaction and refused to go back into battle. The general took it as an act of cowardice and slapped him on the face. The incident was well publicized and opened a discussion to unify criteria about the illness.
The general received a reprimand and had to change his attitude to avoid being demoted.
All right, this is it. I thank you for all the reviews, especially at the beginning. They helped me a lot to get the story going. I hope you had fun reading it. Thank you for your patience and for overlooking my typos and such... I had a blast writing my first HH fanfic. I think I still have another one coming soon, so I hope you don't mind me taking some more time from you to read it and review.
À bien tôt! ¡Hasta pronto! A presto! See you soon!