The rest of evening was uneventful and quiet. As Hogan had known, Newkirk wasn't ready to stand roll call, and that limited exertion had left him wiped out and sleeping through to the next morning. Quietly, so as not to disturb him, the others spent the evening taking turns working on their tunnel. They'd chosen to place it under one of the bunks, where a couple of the men had started a tunnel months earlier. They'd previously only managed a just under a foot, so it wasn't much of a head start, but with the nearly frozen ground, every little bit helped.
Several of the men kept watch while the others used whatever they could to continue scraping away the dirt, inch by inch. Since they had no where to put the dirt yet, they were limited as to how much they could do regardless. They did their best by flinging the dirt out Hogan's window, which opened up between two barracks, but had to be careful not to create any kind of pile or obvious look of fresh dirt, so after a couple of hours they had to call it quits for the night and eventually all tumbled into their own bunks.
Early the next morning as Hogan was getting dressed—he was glad for once he'd woken himself up before being jolted out of sleep by Zimmerman's shouting—he heard a quiet 'thump' from the other room. Poking his head out the door, he was surprised to see all of the men already up and getting ready for roll call.
A couple of the men smiled when they saw him and put fingers to their lips, gesturing to Carter's and Newkirk's bunkbed. Walking over to see what was up, he understood when he saw Newkirk still fast asleep. For a moment he was reminded of day after Newkirk's return from cooler and he'd come out to find the men up, quietly moving about so as not to wake their sleeping friend. This time was very different, though. Instead of looking ill, Newkirk was laying on his stomach, sprawled in the most relaxed sleep Hogan had seen from anyone in the camp. The Englishman's face was turned toward the room and on it was a slight smile. Hogan could tell it was a deep, healing sleep and understood now why the men were making such and effort to be quiet.
Hogan nodded and went back to his room to finish getting ready himself. He was somewhat piqued to realize his anger from yesterday had entirely dissipated. Yesterday he'd been ready to rip off Newkirk's head for blatant disobedience—now he simply saw it as an issue he'd have to address and could approach it more rationally. He knew it was better this way, but part of him would have enjoyed venting his anger on the frustrating man.
Hogan quickly shaved and pulled on his jacket then joined the others quietly waiting for Zimmerman, so when the German guard flung open the door, the group was already in line and started to quietly file past him, not waiting for him to say anything. Zimmerman stood by the door, eyeing them all suspiciously as if suspecting some kind of mischief from the curiously obedient prisoners.
Hogan took up the rear of the little procession and exited the barracks into the cold morning, congratulating himself and the men on their success in keeping Zimmerman from making his awful morning racket. His satisfaction disappeared, however, when Zimmerman entered the barracks the second Hogan was out. Motioning for the men to go ahead into formation, Hogan did a u-turn and marched back into the barracks behind the guard. He wasn't about to leave Zimmerman alone with his sleeping man.
"We're all outside," Hogan said quietly, knowing better, but still hoping Zimmerman would simply leave.
Instead, Zimmerman looked coldly triumphant in his direction and went straight to Newkirk's bunk. Before Hogan could say or do anything, the guard lifted his rifle and brought the butt down on the bedpost just inches from Newkirk's head as he bellowed the words Hogan could now translate in his sleep to mean "Roll call! Get out! Hurry!"
To say the English corporal was badly startled would be an understatement. He must have jumped a foot as he flailed and shoved himself to the back of the bunk, confused fright clear on his face as his brain tried to wake up enough to process what was going on. Hogan could see him trying to put his game face on, but he'd been deeply asleep and was clearly shaken. It didn't help that Zimmerman banged again on the bunk, shouting.
Hogan stormed over, aching to grab the guard and yank him away, but didn't really feel like getting shot right now. Still, he slid between Zimmerman and the bunk, shielding Newkirk as well as he could.
"Get away from him,' Hogan said coldly. "He has permission to be here."
Zimmerman sneered. "Raus!"
"I'm not leaving until you go first," Hogan said firmly, his eyes narrowing. He figured defying a guard put him on thin ice, but he didn't trust the man.
Zimmerman leaned into Hogan's face and repeated himself nastily. "Raus!"
The tension between the two men could be cut with knife. Hogan knew he could be moments away from serious trouble, but didn't budge.
"It's alright colonel." An unexpected voice interrupted the staring contest between the two enemies. "e's just trying to scare me. 'e's not gonna do anything. 'e was checking that I was still 'ere. Really. Just go." When Newkirk's voice turned to pleading, Hogan allowed his stare to break away from Zimmerman's and he glanced at his corporal. Newkirk looked scared…for him?
Turning back to the guard, Hogan considered. Zimmerman was now smiling, but it was about as pleasant as the toothy smile of a shark eyeing a tasty snack.
Hogan answered it with a glare, keeping his eyes on Zimmerman as he responded to Newkirk, "I don't trust him."
"Look. It's time for roll call. Please," Newkirk urged before switching to German and urgently saying something to the guard, gesturing outside. All Hogan understood was the word for "roll call," but assumed Newkirk was passing on the same message to the guard. Hogan filed away the confirmation that Newkirk did indeed speak German, but kept his focus on the present, not looking away from Zimmerman.
Another guard stuck his head in the open door and said something hurriedly to Zimmerman. Hogan guessed it was a warning that roll call was starting, for Zimmerman nodded and responded, then started for the door, gesturing that Hogan was to follow. The German stopped at the door and the two may have begun a little Laurel and Hardy routine of gesturing for the other to go first when Newkirk pleaded, "colonel, go!" and both finally left at the same time, Hogan firmly closing the door behind him.
After roll call, several of the men, including Hogan, returned to the barracks rather than going straight to breakfast. All was quiet inside. Newkirk was asleep again or, Hogan thought, possibly pretending to be asleep. Roll call had lasted about 20 minutes, not much time for someone to fall back asleep considering the adrenaline rush from earlier. But the corporal was breathing steadily, turned away from everyone and curled up against the wall. The relaxed, contented sprawl from the morning was gone, but he seemed safe enough, so they all, minus LeBeau who volunteered to stay behind, trooped off to breakfast.
Hogan took a couple of hours after breakfast to continue his visits to the other barracks, getting to know more of his men and making sure there weren't any problems or concerns he needed to be aware of. He heard the usual complaints—not enough blankets or firewood, the need for gloves and hats, requests for better food, and so on. The sabotage and rescue mission was always on his mind, but he didn't forget his primary role was leading these men…ALL of these men…and that meant making sure they were treated well by their German captors. He compiled the list of issues he would work on with Klink and eventually made his way back home to Barracks 2.
The warmth of the room greeted him when he entered; even though meager it was a welcome relief from the biting cold outside. Hogan greeted the men as he walked to his room, seeing a now-familiar scene of men playing cards, reading books…anything to prevent boredom and pass the time. He hoped once their unit was up and running that boredom would be a thing of the past, but for now the men had little to do to occupy their time. Maybe it would be a good time to get started on that infirmary that Klink had promised they could build. It would be hard work, but would provide a welcome distraction for the bored men, not to mention a good source of support beams for their tunnel and an excuse for piles of dirt. Deciding to tackle that with the Kommandant within the next few days, Hogan took off his coat and accepted a hot cup of coffee that LeBeau miraculously placed in his hands.
Hogan looked over at Newkirk. He still needed to speak to the man about yesterday's disobedience over roll call. His attitude towards the corporal was a lot more mellow after this morning's incident with Zimmerman, but Hogan had to ensure Newkirk understood that military protocol was still in force and he wouldn't tolerate any of his men picking and choosing what orders to follow. Newkirk was still dozing, however, bringing a frown of concern to Hogan's face.
"He was up earlier," offered Kinch when he saw the look. "LeBeau gave him some breakfast then he went back to bed. Seemed a bit out of sorts, but otherwise fine."
Hogan knew firsthand that being woken by an enemy shouting in your ear wasn't the best way to start the day, so accepted Newkirk's grumpiness as a reaction to earlier and dismissed his concerns.
With everything quiet and no real desire to visit anyone else if it meant going back outside, Hogan grabbed one of the books making the rounds and retreated to his room for a chance to relax for awhile.
Sometime later Hogan got to a good stopping point in his book and stretched. It had been a nice diversion, losing himself in a mystery novel, but he smelled coffee brewing and decided that visiting with the men for a bit would be pleasant.
His door hadn't been closed, so there was no creaking to signal his arrival, making it possible for him to observe the men for a moment without them noticing. The first thing he saw was that Newkirk was up and sitting at the table with Carter and the kid Hogan had met seemingly a lifetime ago when he'd caught him, LeBeau, and Chapman trying to give Schultz some things to bring to Newkirk in the cooler. What was his name again? Ah yes. Collins. Hogan hadn't visited his barracks yet, but had liked what he'd seen of the young man that first day. Leaning against the doorframe, Hogan just watched.
Collins was holding a deck of cards, probably the new one that Hogan had witnessed the men carefully wrapping before Christmas. Collins was holding them out to Newkirk, saying something quietly that Hogan couldn't quite hear.
Newkirk shrugged and took the cards and began to slowly shuffle them. Once. Twice.
Hogan was relieved that Newkirk's trip outside didn't seem to have affected his recovery after all. If anything, Newkirk was looking far better than Hogan had seen him since he came through door after his cooler stint, blue with cold and hiding a handful of injuries.
It was probably a good time for that talk. Things were quiet and Newkirk seemed well enough, but Hogan didn't move just yet. He was feeling relaxed and was content for the moment to lean against door, observing.
Hogan caught bits of the quiet conversation, Collins, joined by O'Brien were encouraging Newkirk to show them a card trick while Carter watched on eagerly. Newkirk agreed with a grin and was partway through shuffling the cards again when they flew out of his grasp and ended up spread across table and on the floor. Collins and O'Brien froze, but Carter leapt forward, picking up the cards from the floor and pulling the rest into a pile.
"Gosh, you sure made a mess. Here you go. You can try again," Carter said cheerfully. "Don't worry if you drop them, I'll pick them up. That always happens to me when I do card tricks too."
Collins looked at Carter in alarm. Newkirk had ducked his head, so Hogan couldn't see his expression, but he assumed from Collins' reaction that Newkirk wasn't happy.
Collins' quiet voice on top of Carter's boisterous offer drew the attention of some of the others, who were distracted from what they were doing and looked over to the four men at the table.
Newkirk raised his head and grimaced, slowly shoving the cards away from him before dropping his shoulders in a slump and leaning forward on his elbows. He shook his head. "I'm not trying again."
Collins shot a warning glance at Carter and said with forced cheer, "Don't worry, mate. How 'bout I shuffle these up and we can do a nice game of gin?"
Newkirk frowned. "Don't bother. I'm not playing."
"Peter Newkirk turning down a card game? Come on. I'll wager a chocolate bar that you haven't lost your winning touch at cards."
Newkirk shook his head and mumbled something.
Louder, with a touch of asperity, Newkirk repeated, "I'm not playing! I…I can't hold the cards properly."
Not to be thwarted, Collins dealt cards out to the four of them. "Don't worry about it. I know you…you don't need to see them to remember your cards. Just look at them and leave them on the table."
"I said no."
Collins ignored Newkirk's declaration, picking up his cards and putting them in order and gesturing for Carter and O'Brien to do the same.
"Come on. You have to look at them," he told Newkirk, picking up the small stack and handing it to his friend.
Hogan could have told Collins that he was pushing too hard. His behavior, though well-meaning, would have annoyed the most patient of men, which Newkirk wasn't.
Predictably, Newkirk reacted. Slapping the cards out of Collins' hand, he said "I said I don't want to play. I can't use me 'ands!" His voice cracked a bit at the end, causing Hogan to frown. Newkirk wasn't angry as much as genuinely upset.
Finally getting the hint, Collins raised his hands in surrender and moved away from the table, O'Brien following him.
"What's wrong with them, mon ami?" asked LeBeau, coming over to him. "Let me see."
Newkirk was still glaring, but reluctantly allowed LeBeau to inspect his hands.
Hogan got a good look at them himself from his vantage point as LeBeau gently turned them this way and that. They were still chapped, cracked, with thin lines of blood in a few places. They'd been in bad shape after his cooler stay and, even after all his time out of it, the damp cold winter air hadn't allowed them to properly heal. They were still so rough that Hogan could see where the skin split from Newkirk making a fist. It was painful just to see him try to move them. With the previous focus on Newkirk's serious health problems, the state of his hands had been a minor issue. Hogan had seen Wilson rubbing in a bit of balm on them a couple times, but it clearly hadn't done a very impressive job. Now that Newkirk was feeling better, Hogan guessed his inability to use his hands properly would become a larger problem.
He was about to move closer when Carter, who had grabbed something from his locker rejoined the two corporals at the table.
"Uhm, You should try this. My sister sent it to me. I didn't know you needed any, or I woulda said something earlier."
Both Newkirk and LeBeau eyed the jar before the small Frenchman opened it, drawing back instantly. Inside was a thick gel, but the pungent smell made Hogan's eyes water even from across the room.
Newkirk scowled. "You having a go at me?"
Carter appeared honestly shocked as he stammered, "No. It works great. Really."
Newkirk looked at Carter suspiciously. "You telling me to put that on my 'ands? With that ruddy smell?"
Carter nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah. I guess it does smell a little, but it works great. Honest. It's an old family recipe. My mom always uses it in the winter. Just try it."
Newkirk warily sniffed it, drawing back with a cough.
"Here, let me do it," Carter offered as he took the jar from LeBeau. "My uncle has a farm and he swears by it."
Newkirk looked at the others as if waiting for them to admit that the smelly goo was a joke. Finally, when he couldn't detect anything suspicious, he nodded warily.
Carter gave him a friendly smile and scooped out a bit. Carefully he started rubbing it into Newkirk's right hand. He was slow and methodical, taking several minutes to work the lotion in with an almost feather-light touch. When he was done, he stepped back proudly.
"Now try moving it," he encouraged.
Newkirk wiggled his fingers, then slowly formed a fist. He opened and closed his hand a couple more times, his eyes wide in surprise. Smiling in wonder, he announced, "Andrew, this feels marvelous."
Ducking his head shyly, Carter offered, "I can to the other one too if you give me your hand."
Hogan was amused to see no hesitation this time as Newkirk promptly held out his left hand, not caring a whit about the smell. Carter performed an equally careful job of rubbing the soothing balm into the chapped skin, leaving Newkirk grinning in delight as he slowly flexed his hands.
When he was done, Carter screwed the lid back on the jar and set it on the table. "Here. You take it. You need to keep putting it on at least three times a day until the skin heals."
Newkirk's immediate reaction was to shake his head. "No. I can't. Everyone gets chapped 'ands 'ere. If you 'aven't yet, you will. You keep it."
Hogan knew that Newkirk was right. It couldn't be helped under these living conditions. With most men not even having gloves or scarves, the bitter cold wreaked havoc on the skin.
But Carter wasn't to be swayed and shook his head. "That's alright. You need it more. Besides, I wear my gloves all the time so my hands are fine."
"Carter…it's from your sister," Newkirk protested.
Carter shrugged. "It's okay. I mean it. It'd really make me happy if you had it. And…and my sister likes to help people, so I know she'd be happy too."
"Carter…" Newkirk gave the young American sergeant a baffled look, but must have seen something in his face, for then he smiled appreciatively and said, "Alright then. Ta, mate."
The colonel didn't want to dampen the mood, but knew that putting off his talk with Newkirk would just make things harder in the end. He thought they'd had a good breakthrough that morning when Newkirk had showed his concern for the colonel, and he was in a decent enough mood now, so it was as good a time as any to get any unpleasantness out of the way. Best not to let things like this fester. First, however, he wanted to reassure himself that Newkirk would be up to it.
Sitting down at the table across from Newkirk, Hogan commented, "You're looking better. How're you feeling?"
Newkirk's smile fell when he turned from Carter to Hogan. If Hogan hadn't felt the Englishman's worry for him earlier, he would have thought the look Newkirk was giving him was decidedly unfriendly.
"Fine, sir." The words were clipped. Tense. Huh. Okay, so maybe he'd had a different interpretation of the morning's interaction and any previous friendly moments.
Pressing on anyway, Hogan said, "Glad to hear it. I suppose you'd already heard, but the Kommandant gave you permission to miss roll call for a few more days. I recommend you take advantage of that and get plenty of rest. Someone'll bring you food. You just take it easy and regain your strength."
"Yes, sir," was the flat response. Hogan wondered what was bothering Newkirk now. He knew he hadn't imagined Newkirk's worry for him earlier. Was he embarrassed that Hogan had been right about his readiness for roll call? Trying to follow the man's moods was making him dizzy.
Before Hogan could decide if this changed whether or not it was the right time to confront Newkirk, the Englishman in question said formally, "Colonel Hogan, sir?"
Curious, Hogan answered in a similarly formal tone, "Yes?"
"Do you have a minute? To talk? In your office?"
A consummate poker player, Hogan was able to keep the pleased surprise off of face. This quite nicely solved the question of whether or not to talk to Newkirk now and as a bonus he didn't have to be concerned about the other men thinking he was going to bully their friend when he was still weak. Oh, if Hogan felt it was the right thing to do, he still would have had the conversation now, but it was a neater solution to have Newkirk himself initiate the private talk.
"Of course. Need a hand?" Hogan asked.
"No sir, I'm good," said Newkirk, still in that carefully proper voice.
Newkirk started to slowly lever himself up, shaking off LeBeau's hand as he reached out to help him.
"Leave off," he said, his tone slipping into a more testy tone for his friend.
Slowly, but steadily, Newkirk began the short walk to Hogan's room.
None of the other men said anything as the two slowly made their way out of the room, but Hogan did notice a few calculating looks as Hogan patiently followed Newkirk. He expected the men to be concerned about what he was going to say to their friend, but he was surprised to see several of the men looking warily at Newkirk. Hogan frowned as he followed the man into his room. What were they worried about? Hogan reflected that maybe he should have talked to some of the others, like Kinch or one of the other NCOs perhaps, about Newkirk's behavior, but they didn't have any official standing other than rank over Newkirk, and furthermore, it wouldn't be right to put the men in a position where they might feel they were being disloyal to a friend. Shrugging mentally, Hogan dismissed those thoughts. It was too late to fish for more insight and, besides, he had a knack for reading situations himself. No need to start doubting himself now.
He shut the door behind him and gestured for Newkirk to take a seat. It was appropriate to have men stand at attention for formal talks like this, but under the circumstances Hogan wouldn't keep Newkirk on his feet, even if he seemed to be rallying fast now that he was finally up.
Newkirk shook his head, though. "If it's alright, I'd rather stand."
The tone of the request was careful. Measured, but Newkirk was asking, not defying, so Hogan decided to allow it.
"Alright. But if you get tired take a chair."
Hogan himself went around his desk and sat down. "You wanted to see me?" he asked, willing to hear what Newkirk wanted to say before starting his lecture.
Newkirk took deep breath then let it out. He looked straight ahead, not at the colonel.
"I wanted to know my punishment for disobeying your order at roll call yesterday."
Hogan leaned back in his chair and tilted his head. Interesting. Apparently they wanted to talk about the same thing. He hadn't expected Newkirk to come right out like that and admit to his misbehavior, and certainly not ask for punishment.
"I'm glad to hear you're owning up to it. But I'd like an explanation before I take any action."
"No explanation, sir. I'm admitting what I did and am 'ere to take whatever punishment you want to give out."
"I appreciate that, but I'm more interested in your reasoning. It had to be more than disobedience for its own sake. You strike me as being more intelligent than that."
Newkirk flicked his gaze at Hogan as if to see if the colonel was going for a compliment or insult in the words, then looked straight ahead again at nothing.
"Doesn't matter why, only that I did it," he repeated. He continued, still calm but more forceful. "I came in here to find out what my punishment was. Thought it would be better for everyone if it was done in private."
Hogan wondered what Newkirk was up to. He was flat out giving Newkirk a chance to explain and the man was just asking for punishment. Shaking his head, he asked a bit sharply, "You're asking for punishment? Is that what you want? Without explaining?"
There was no crack in his composure as Newkirk said, That's right."
Hogan sat forward in his chair, studying the man standing before him. "Now what makes you think I'd just discipline you without getting all the facts?"
Ah, there it was. There was more than a touch of defiance in Newkirk's voice as he answered, "Because that's 'ow it always goes with your sort."
Hogan couldn't help but be irritated. There was no mistaking the scorn in those words. He'd done more for this particular man than anyone in the camp, yet with that tone Newkirk had once more lumped him into the "enemy" pile. During Newkirk's last few days resting in Hogan's room, the two of them had had several pleasant interactions. Newkirk had even been outright friendly with Hogan at times. And he was sure he hadn't misread Newkirk's concern for him that morning when he'd stood up to Zimmerman. What had changed? Hogan was only human and would admit that for a moment he was sorely tempted to just hand out some kind of punishment and be done with it. After all, that's what Newkirk was asking for. But that wouldn't be the right thing to do. Not for Newkirk. Not for the rest of the men. And not for Hogan himself. He was a better leader than that. Besides, he'd always been the curious type and he really wanted to know what was going on. Hogan leaned back and folded his arms, relaxing again. "The men went through a lot to help you. Risked a lot. Let's not kid ourselves, you're still alive because of them, and adding to their worries by taking a nose dive at roll call wasn't the way to repay their efforts."
Newkirk flicked a look at Hogan, then turned his gaze back to somewhere just over Hogan's left shoulder, the wall still up and nothing betraying his emotions. Hogan wondered if Newkirk knew all that the men did for him. What Hogan had done for him.
Newkirk's next words seemed to confirm that he had been told something at least.
"I didn't ask them to do it. I can look after myself."
Ignoring the obvious untruth in that—Newkirk would have been dead without help—Hogan countered, "You didn't have to ask them. That's not how it works. I don't know what kind of outfits you were in before, but being part of a team means we look out for each other. And that's how we'll make it through this war. There wasn't a single man out there that didn't volunteer to help."
Newkirk shifted his gaze and looked directly at Hogan for the first time since entering his room. He gave an ugly laugh. "Right. Now I know you're lying. I'd wager my last cigarette that Mitchell out there didn't volunteer to 'elp me."
Cursing himself for giving Newkirk any opening in this verbal battle, Hogan conceded, "Granted, he didn't exactly volunteer, but him aside, those men out there didn't wait for you to ask. A hundred things could have gone wrong, but to get you the medicine you needed they figured it was worth it. That you were worth it. Why do you cheapen their efforts by risking a setback when you're barely on your feet?"
Newkirk continued to look Hogan in the eyes, but his expression smoothed out, giving nothing away. Hoping that that meant the Englishman was at least listening, Hogan kept going.
"For some reason you chose to ignore your health and go out in the freezing rain when you couldn't even make it across the room without help. Why? Why would you do that, disobeying an order in the process and ignoring everything those men risked for you?"
Newkirk dropped the calm façade and looked at Hogan as if he was an imbecile. "I was doin' it for that lot out there and they know it. They know I 'ad to. Even 'elped me get dressed."
Hogan frowned. It was foolish of him not to think of that. He'd been too angry seeing Newkirk at roll call that he hadn't thought about what it would have taken to get him up, dressed, and outside in the few minutes he'd been gone. Clearly there were several other men he needed to have a little conversation with.
His own irritation started to bleed through as he countered, "Had to? What you had to do was obey your commanding officer and stay in bed. Like it or not when you put on a uniform, you swore an oath to follow orders."
Newkirk's involuntary glance at his rough civilian clothes made Hogan wish, not for the first time, that the English corporal still had a real uniform. Perhaps the tangible reminder of his military oath would have helped in some small way to curb the man's wayward tendencies.
Continuing as if he hadn't noticed the look of disgust that flitted over Newkirk's face at the sight of his non-military attire, Hogan pushed his point home. "Whether you're decked out in spanking fresh parade dress or covered in a muddy burlap sack, you're still a man in uniform for the duration. And you might not always agree with it, but when I give an order I expect it to be followed."
Newkirk grimaced, then shook his head as if impatient with himself for answering, but he finally challenged hotly, "And what if you're wrong?
"Wrong?" Hogan asked, not surprised at the temerity of the man based on his previous behavior, but still marveling that this corporal would have the gall to question his authority so bluntly.
"If your order's wrong?" Newkirk clarified.
Hogan shook his head. "Yeah, I got what you meant, but what makes you think you can decide when an order's wrong?"
"Sometimes people know things you don't." There we go, that disrespectful defiance was back in full force.
"Then I expect them to tell me," Hogan snapped back. "I won't always agree and I won't be discussing every order, but if it's important, I'll listen to what you have to say."
The disbelief in Newkirk's face would have been comical in another situation. "Tell you?"
"That's right. Why not?"
Newkirk barked a disbelieving laugh.
"Because I'm an American?" Hogan pushed, wanting to bring this conversation to a head.
"Course not," Newkirk answered with disgust.
"Because I'm new?"
The answer was an impatient noise.
"No? Okay, is it because I'm an officer?"
Once more Newkirk didn't verbally respond, but the hard look he gave Hogan was a good an answer as any.
Hogan nodded, satisfied he was close to addressing the real issue. "Yeah. I thought so. Okay, so let's take that to the natural conclusion. Based on your reaction, every officer you've dealt with has been so bad that you inherently distrust all of us."
Newkirk glared angrily, denying the assertion. "No they weren't. Some of them were grand. I would 'ave followed my crew to 'ell and back." The young corporal paused, then laughed with a harsh, dark humor. "Considering where I ended up, guess I managed the first bit." Then his eyes went flat. "But that was before. 'ere…'ere it's different. Seems officer types can't take being locked up. Seems when they 'ave no control, it makes 'em selfish. Mean." Although more or less expecting it, Hogan still hated to see the challenge in his eyes when Newkirk tacked on insolently, "Beggin your pardon sir, but I don't expect any less from you."
The gauntlet had well and truly been thrown and couldn't be ignored. Hogan rose to his feet and came around to the other side of his desk, his arms folded his chest. Time to go on the offensive. Truth be told, Newkirk's words did sting a bit. Hogan couldn't forget his initial reaction to being locked up. What if he hadn't come out of his funk? Would he eventually turned into a Hughes? Would he have become "mean?" No, he didn't think so, but he also never pictured himself sinking into depression either. At any rate, personal soul searching would have to wait. Right now he had to make a few things clear, colonel to corporal.
"Is that so?" he questioned in his hardest voice.
Newkirk didn't have the sense to be intimidated. "Been my experience," he confirmed with a knowing glare.
But Hogan wasn't going to give any ground. "And in your experience I mistreated you? Mistreated the other men? Anyone?"
"No," Newkirk answered firmly, no hint of uncertainty as he acknowledged Hogan's point, but clear that it didn't change his opinion in any way.
"So you have no evidence that I have or will abuse my position, and yet you disregard your own health to disobey my direct order," Hogan continued to challenge.
Newkirk raised his chin defiantly, but said nothing.
"Well?" Hogan asked.
The Englishman shrugged insolently.
"Corporal, I'm waiting for an answer," Hogan barked.
As if recognizing there was only so far he could push Hogan, Newkirk exhaled heavily. "I already admitted to that when we first started this."
This was getting nowhere.
Abruptly making a decision to take things a different route, Hogan grabbed top of the chair from behind his desk and lifted it up and over. He saw Newkirk flinch as he was turning. Did the corporal really think Hogan was about to hit him with the chair? Right. Of course he did. Hadn't Hogan witnessed Hughes in this very room doing something just as bad? He said nothing about this insight, however, as he placed his chair firmly on the floor. Then to Newkirk's obvious bafflement, Hogan grabbed the second chair and put it facing his, a few feet away.
"Sit," he ordered, gesturing to the second chair.
"What?" Newkirk asked in startled confusion.
"This ends here and now. I said sit," Hogan commanded.
He was thankful that Newkirk did as told and took a seat, but in truth Hogan wasn't sure the Englishman obeyed because of his forceful order or because he'd been tired of standing. He hoped it was the former, but had a suspicion it was the latter. Grateful regardless that he wouldn't have to force the issue, Hogan took his seat a couple feet from Newkirk and leaned forward, elbows on knees.
Newkirk drew back slightly, looking at the colonel warily.
"We need to talk," said Hogan. "None of this cat and mouse nonsense, but the straight scoop. You won't talk to an officer, fine. Let's talk man to man."
Hogan hoped what he was about to say would finally get through Newkirk's thick skull. It was about time the man understood a few things.
"What Group Captain Hughes did to you was inexcusable, criminal behavior," Hogan said flatly. "If I had my way he'd be up on charges and in jail so fast his head would spin. I despise what he did and what you had to go through. It's the duty of every officer to take care of his men and he betrayed his oath with his treatment of you. This is war. Sometimes bad things happen...unfortunately we can't always place a soldier's well-being over getting our mission done. But that wasn't the case here. His job was to see to your well-being and he not only failed, he directly caused your injuries. If I have my way, he'll never command another soul. An officer's duty…the privilege of being an officer is to do what we can to balance both the mission and the men. And like it or not, you're one of mine now. And that means I'll do whatever I can to protect you, whether it's from the Germans, men like Hughes, or from your own stubborn insubordination."
Newkirk response was one of slack-jawed astonishment. He recovered himself almost instantly and snapped his mouth shut, but Hogan was glad to see it nonetheless. The colonel hid his satisfaction at shaking the man's composure and continued. He didn't like to emphasize his own role in recent operations, but now was the time to make clear just what he himself had done for Newkirk.
"That's why I risked my own life to save yours. Once I thought of a way to do it, I could no more leave you to die than if you'd been General of the Army. So I left camp to meet with the Underground in the hopes of getting some penicillin for you. And that's also why I stepped in this morning to make sure Zimmerman left you alone. On my team, we look out for each other, and that's all there is to it," he finish passionately.
Hogan wasn't sure exactly what he'd been expecting from Newkirk, maybe sheepish contrition, maybe gratitude, maybe just reluctant understanding. What he didn't expect was the narrowed eyes and calculating look.
"Man to man, you said?" asked Newkirk.
Wary of where Newkirk was going to go with this but silently thrilled that he knew he was finally going to get that insight he'd been waiting for, Hogan confirmed, "That's right."
Newkirk leaned forward. "Then I'll tell you what I think. I think you want something from me and I'd like to find out what it is. Sure you did those things. Sure you protected me, and took care of me when I was sick, but what's it gonna cost me, eh? Are we finally getting to that? Just 'ow is it that you want me to look after you? You 'eard I was a thief and you need me to steal something? You think because of my background maybe I'll take care of a few problems for you? Is that it? That I don't mind doing the dirty work? Just what do you expect for your protection?"
Shocked anger coursed through Hogan. Newkirk thought that every action he'd taken on his behalf, everything he'd risked, was for some sort of payoff? That anyone could think Hogan would be so dishonorable was like a punch in the gut. As a POW his honor and integrity were about all he had left, and having it called in question like that left him livid. It was all he could do to keep from exploding, but he couldn't help coating his words with a red fury when he answered.
"You know something? You're a miserable, ungrateful, pathetic excuse of a man who doesn't understand the first thing about honor and decency. I guess I misread you. Because of how the other men reacted to you being locked up and care about you, I thought there was more underneath that disrespectful, mouthy exterior than you've showed so far, but I guess I was wrong. I escaped from this hellhole but I came back to save your sorry backside and all you can do is ask what it's going to cost you, as if I'm some sort of dark alley shyster trading favors for favors. You don't understand the first thing about doing the honorable thing simply because it's the right thing to do! But hey, forget about me, what about those men out there who call you their friend? I dare you to ask them what their angle is.
Newkirk matched Hogan's anger.
"You're right, they are my friends, so I don't 'ave to ask what they want. I know them. I know them like they were me own brothers and I'd give my life for them in a 'eartbeat and they know it! But you, I 'eard 'ow you were mopin' about camp, letting 'ughes and 'is lot run amuck while you just sat back, stewin' at 'ow unfair it was that you were stuck 'ere, as if somehow your lot was worse than the rest of us. But then you got me sprung from the cooler, went after that medicine, and started takin' charge. Why? What changed? There 'as to be a reason you went to the trouble. What do you want from me?"
Listening to Newkirk's anger gave Hogan enough time to get his own under control and he was able to think clearly. Once again, he felt the sting of guilt as he acknowledged the truth of some of Newkirk's words—he had been moping about leaving things to Hughes for far too long—but he was trying to atone for that behavior and now wasn't the time to dwell on it. He had to turn the conversation back on a more productive track.
"Were there other officers, or just Hughes?"
"What?" Newkirk hissed at the abrupt question.
"You said being stuck here makes officers mean. Well, were there others, or are you just projecting Hughes' behavior onto all of us?"
Newkirk barked out an ugly laugh. "Are you joking? Every single one of them since I got 'ere. Three others before 'ughes."
Hogan had seen the names of the other officers who'd been assigned to Stalag 13 in Hughes' records, but hadn't heard much about the men. Only that two had been transferred and one had escaped. It was that escape that had prompted the change of Kommandants, bringing Colonel Klink to Stalag 13.
"Major Darnell, Lieutenant Wainwright, and Captain Lillycrop," Hogan rattled off. "What about them?"
Newkirk gave Hogan a pure look of hatred upon hearing those names. "What does it matter?
"I want to know?" Hogan said firmly.
The English corporal looked about as dangerous as Hogan had ever seen the man as his face hardened into a mask of loathing. He leaned forward and said in a clipped, flat voice, "So be it. Let's go through them in order. Major Darnell, well I knew 'im before the war. 'e was in my squadron, you see. Everyone liked 'im, myself included. Friendly chap, always 'ad a good word to say. Was shot down around the same time I was and we got 'ere within days of each other. Thought that was a good piece of luck, aving' someone like 'im in charge. Well, that nice friendly chap turned out to be a 'hole other sort of bloke 'ere. Didn't care about no one but 'imself. Took command straight off, but turns out 'e only did that so 'e could do what 'e had to to keep the Jerries off of 'im. Not the rest of the lads. Just 'im. As long as 'e was safe, didn't care what 'appened to anyone else. We were all fed up with 'im, but the final straw was when 'e stood right by when a guard was beatin' a man to 'alf to death. Stood there. Didn't say one word or try to stop it. The guards 'ad their rifles on us, but even so we tried to stop it. Ended up with more than a few broken 'eads that day. But Darnell, 'e stood off to the side and just watched it all, then went inside 'is room when it was all done not saying a word to anyone, not even to see how Oliver, the bloke what was beaten, how 'e was. Afterwards 'e even kissed up to Kommandant Schwartz, saying 'ow 'e understood why the guards 'ad to dispense discipline. Then the coward was transferred. Apparently 'aving your senior POW killed doesn't look good on a Kommandant's record, and Oliver's best mate was planning to take care of Darnell, if you know what I mean. So when the Kommandant got wind of it, 'e shipped 'im off before anything could 'appen.
Hogan knew exactly what Newkirk meant. Darnell wouldn't have been the first bad officer killed by his own men for what they considered to be crimes against them. He grimaced, finding both Darnell's actions and Newkirk's casual acknowledgement of a planned murder distasteful. But Newkirk wasn't done.
"And then Wainwright, oh, 'e was a fine fellow, 'e was. Born with a silver spoon in 'is mouth. No title, but acted like 'e 'ad a dozen. Expected everyone to wait on 'im 'and and foot. 'e was a selfish fop, but mostly we could just ignore 'im. It's not like we didn't see that sort back 'ome, anyway. But then we 'ad us a right awful summer when most of the lads got sick."
Hogan remembered back to what LeBeau had said about terrible conditions that first summer and how so many men had taken ill.
"Ole Wainwright, well 'e never caught it 'imself, but'e couldn't be bothered to 'elp take care of any of them. Kept 'imself 'oled up in 'is room, reading or something while men were dying right outside 'is door. It was right out of a nightmare. Men stacked up two, three to a bed. The 'eat. The smell. The flies. Bowls of vomit on the floor. So many soiled sheets that men would 'ave to lie in their own mess for hours because there just weren't enough of us to keep everyone clean." Newkirk swallowed and his eyes grew bleak, forgetting his anger as he lost himself in the memory. "We needed every able bodied man to do 'is part but Wainwright wouldn't even bring water to the lads. Wouldn't even do that much!" Newkirk's eyes glistened. "There were only a few of us who weren't sick and it was weeks of doing what we could. Watching lads die because there just weren't enough of us to take care of 'em all. No sleep for days as we tried to stay ahead of it, but even that wasn't enough. A lot of it's a blur, but I'll never forget Wainwright. 'e never lifted one finger. Not once. Then just when it was at its worst, 'e arranged 'is own transfer out of camp so 'e wouldn't catch anything. Not sure 'ow 'e did it, probably a bribe since 'is family's rich, but there 'e went…stupid selfish git!" He shook his head as if to push away the memory, then took a deep breath. "And then there's Lillycrop."
Hogan nearly drew back at the look of deep, venomous enmity glittering in Newkirk's eyes as he suddenly looked straight at Hogan. The colonel had been wrong. The dangerous look Newkirk had had when he'd started was nothing compared to this. Where he loathed Darnell and was disgusted and scornful of Wainwright, Newkirk hated Lillycrop.
"What can I say about 'im? Thought we'd finally scored us a good one when 'e arrived. Lively. Charismatic. Took care of the men. Got us extra rations and blankets when it got too cold. Stood up to the Kommandant a couple of times, ending up in the cooler with the rest of us more than once for keeping the guards from being too rough. After Darnell and Wainwright, we would 'ave followed 'im anywhere. Yeah, 'e 'ad us all fooled. Thought e' coulda hung the moon, but turns out 'e was the worst of 'em all. Formed a small group of us that 'e used to get things done, create mischief, distract the guards when it looked like one of the lads would get in trouble, and that sort of thing. Six of us in all in 'is group. We thought 'e wanted our talents to 'elp everyone, but it turns out 'e was conniving a way out of camp and we were part of 'is escape plan. Four men. Four of our group were shot when 'e scarpered and what's worse is that was part of 'is plan. 'e knew it would get us killed. Only two of us on 'is team, me and Chappy, were lucky enough to survive." Newkirk swallowed. "The captain betrayed us all, 'e did. They cracked down after that and another three men, who 'ad no part in any of it, died from the starvation rations we got put on before old Klink arrived." Newkirk fell silent for a moment, his eyes falling to his lap. Then he raised his head and said with complete conviction. "I'll be looking 'im up, meself, after the war."
Once again, the colonel had no doubt what Newkirk was saying. In this case, it was Newkirk who had murder on his mind.
Hogan was processing all he'd heard when Newkirk's expression lightened and he smirked as he said, "Fact is, 'ughes 'as been the best of the lot, and that's the truth."
The truth. Well, Hogan would have been hard pressed to describe the truth of how he was feeling as he added Newkirk's flippant dismissal of Hughes' violent abuse to the list of the actions of the other officers. Scorching feelings penetrated as he thought about the four officers who proceeded him. Fury. Dismay. Disgust. Outrage. No wonder Newkirk was having a hard time with him. He could scarcely believe that the camp had had four such pathetic excuses of leaders. What were the odds? Had the previous Kommandant had something to do with it? No matter the provocation, however, there was no excuse and he would never understand why those men had betrayed their oaths and their honor, one after another. At this point, Hogan would have promised his firstborn if he could have gathered all those officers in one room to spread a little justice of his own. It was no surprise the men had been lukewarm to him when he arrived. Then again, why hadn't they been downright hostile?
His mouth dry, Hogan had to clear his throat before asking, "So why don't the others feel the way you do?"
The look Newkirk gave Hogan hardened before he answered. "Because most of them don't know all of it and that's the way it needs to stay. Only a few were 'ere for Darnell. Then most were too sick to notice or care about Wainwright. And Lillycrop…" Newkirk looked positively murderous for a moment. "No one knows about what 'e did 'cept Chappy and me, and we made a pact not to tell. The captain was gone, and we figured telling everyone 'ow 'e betrayed us wouldn't 'elp anything. Morale was bad enough." He looked up at Hogan. "You're the first one I've told, but you needed to 'ear it so you believe me when I say I'll do whatever it takes to protect my mates. I 'eard about your plans. About that little team you 'ave going, and I'm not going to let the same thing 'appen to them, understand?"
The threat wasn't the least bit subtle. Not the words. Not the tone. Surprisingly, however, Hogan felt better. At last he knew what he was dealing with.
He leaned back and took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. Okay. One. Apparently between this morning and now someone had spilled the beans to Newkirk on Hogan's plans for a sabotage unit. No surprise there. A couple on Hogan's core team were his closest friends. The excuse he'd given the men for keeping Newkirk in the dark was that he didn't want to trouble the ill man. Now that Newkirk was better, the men must have figured that rationale no longer applied. Two. Hearing about Hogan's newly formed team appeared to be the catalyst for Newkirk's current hostility. Despite seeming to soften his attitude towards the colonel earlier, learning that his friends might be heading down a disastrous path he'd already taken had apparently rekindled all of Newkirk's old feelings of distrust. Three. Hogan had a lot to make up for regarding his fellow officers. He was only grateful that not all of the men knew the details of what had transpired before, for indeed he believed every word Newkirk had just told him. Though they had been full of hate and loathing, Hogan could hear the truth in Newkirk's words. Four. He still needed to take care of the walking, talking discipline problem sitting in the opposite chair, arms folded across his chest as he glared at the colonel defiantly. Five. He had to chose his next words carefully, for he now knew with certainty that he not only wanted to diffuse the situation, but he wanted this rough-edged, but spirited and, yes, fiercely loyal man on his team. Stolen cakes and other misbehaviors would have to be dealt with, but they paled in comparison to the value Newkirk could bring to his team.
"I understand," he acknowledged calmly, then added firmly, "I don't take to threats, but I respect what you're saying. I'd feel the same way in your shoes. Of course, this leaves me with a bit of a problem, because there's a chance that no matter what I tell you, you'll think I'm like Lillycrop, trying to manipulate you and your friends. I'm not, but that's not the point. The point is that we need to come to an understanding. I'm the colonel and you're the corporal and that's just the way it is. I can't be wondering every time I give an order if you're going to disobey it, or worse, if you're going to sabotage my efforts behind my back with the rest of the men."
Newkirk stared coolly at him as Hogan continued.
"A commanding officer doesn't have to prove himself before expecting a soldier to follow his orders, but I'll allow that this is a special case and you need to know that I'm not like the others. Not Lillycrop. None of them. I meant what I said about it being my privilege to look after my men and I'm going to do everything in my power to see to it that all of you walk out that gate at the end of the war, sooner if we can. You might not believe me now, but in time you will. In the meantime, we need to come to an understanding about your behavior. Open defiance isn't going to cut it. But nor will subversive obedience. You know the kind. Where you obey the letter of an order, but ignore its intent."
Hogan caught a satisfied smirk. Yeah, Hogan was sure Newkirk would be a master at that technique.
"Like it or not, I was given a mission and I'm going to carry it out. And that means building a team, some of them your good friends, sometimes putting them in danger. I won't needlessly endanger them, but this is a war we're fighting, and we have to take risks. I won't risk them for my benefit, though. I can promise you that. And if there's an escape, I'm going to be the last one out."
The colonel wasn't sure if he should be pleased or disappointed when Newkirk still didn't speak as Hogan paused. He wanted to know what Newkirk was thinking and the man's expression wasn't giving anything away.
"Alright, let me put it this way, what's your gut saying? It's easy to see you have street smarts. What are they telling you?"
Newkirk shrugged one shoulder dismissively as he said honestly, "That you're telling the truth. But I thought Lillycrop was on the up and up, and we know 'ow that turned out."
Hogan crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back. "I need you, if not on my side, at least not causing problems. I could simply order you to comply or have you thrown in the cooler again for disobedience, but that wouldn't be good for anyone. So what do you suggest?"
Newkirk regarded him suspiciously.
"That's right," Hogan prompted, "I want to hear your input."
"You want to know what I think? What you can do so I'll trust you? You're asking me? Like you said, you're a colonel and I'm a corporal and you could just order me to do what you want, and punish me if I don't. What does my opinion count?"
Hogan shook his head. "I told you for this conversation I'm putting rank aside and talking to you straight, man to man, and I want to hear what you have to say. You don't trust me. You think I'm going to turn on you and your friends. You think I'm manipulating everyone for my own gain. Okay, I'm telling you that's simply not true, but my saying so won't change your mind, so I need to know what will. Look, I'm going to go ahead with my plans with or without your cooperation. You're not key to my efforts, but I admit it would be a lot easier for all of us if you didn't fight me." Hogan paused as he considered what other approach he could take. Then asked, "What do rest of the fellas say?"
Newkirk rolled his eyes. "They're a barmy lot. After your little caper they're talking like you could take out 'itler blindfolded.' He sniffed in disdain. "You'll be 'appy to know they read me the riot act for not telling you about Zimmerman. Said you would've understood."
Willing to digress for a moment, Hogan asked, "I would've huh? You're talking about roll call yesterday I take it, not this morning? What would I have understood?"
Newkirk snorted. "You sure are a nosy sort, aren't you? Wantin' to know everything. Why I went to roll call when you said to stay in bed? Well 'ere it is. You don't know Zimmerman. 'aving Klink countermand 'im is the worst thing you could have done. You see, 'e'll punish us now. Not just me. All of us. I'm not afraid of a fight, but there're some battles you know you can't win and if you're smart you don't try. It was worth standing outside for a few minutes to keep 'im 'appy. As long as 'e feels like 'e's got the upper 'and, 'e leaves us alone. What you saw this morning was just the start of 'im getting back at us. Just you wait. Until 'e feels like we understand who's boss, 'e won't let up. Officers aren't the only ones who can get mean around 'ere."
Hogan let that last jab slide as he thought of the implications. Yeah, he could easily imagine Zimmerman enjoying throwing his weight around and abusing the prisoners. He'd suspected it might be something like that. Hogan nodded. "Okay, I'll buy that. But why couldn't you have just said so? Saved us all a lot of grief."
Newkirk's eyes narrowed. "'ave you not listened to a thing I said? You're an officer. Why would I tell you anything?"
Hogan sighed impatiently. "Back to square one are we?" He shook his head with exasperation. "What am I going to do with you?" He stood up and walked to the window, staring out of it in silence for several minutes as he tried to think of some way to get through to the stubborn man. In the silence he heard the muted murmur of voices from the other room, reminding him of how long he and Newkirk had been in his office.
Hogan turned back and saying abruptly, "You know the men are probably wondering if we've killed each other by now."
Newkirk looked at the door then turned back with an unexpected trace of reluctant humor. "Don't worry. You're safe from me. Don't think I could get up out of this chair right now if I wanted. And besides, the lads said they'd give me the what for if I didn't do right by you."
Hogan threw up his hands. "And this has been your idea of doing right?" He crossed back over to Newkirk and stood over him, his hands on his hips. "You've got to be one of the most frustrating men I've ever had to deal with."
"I get that a lot," Newkirk agreed flippantly.
"I'm sure you have," said Hogan dryly. "But I still don't know what I'm going to do with you."
Newkirk shrugged. "If you recall, that's all I wanted to know when I came in 'ere. I asked for my punishment straight up." He paused. "And I also wanted to make sure you understood a few things, about how I feel about people messing with me mates."
Hogan literally waved away the threat. He didn't like Newkirk thinking he could threaten him, but honestly did understand where he was coming from. He only wished that sentiment gave him insight on what to do now. Then something else Newkirk had said earlier caught up with his consciousness.
Hogan frowned. "What? Wait a minute. What do you mean by you couldn't get out of the chair?"
Newkirk scratched the back of his head and sighed, tension leaking out of him at the sound. "Didn't really mean to say that out loud," he confessed in a sheepish, if weary voice, "but if I didn't know better, I'd say I was glued to the chair."
"Newkirk! Forget about killing each other, if the others think I damaged you in any way they'll take care of me themselves!" Hogan was only half-jesting. Knowing now what Newkirk's attitude had been coming into this conversation, Hogan was pretty sure that some of the looks of concern coming from the men had been on his behalf, but he wasn't going to fool himself. If Newkirk had to be carried out of his office, it was going to be his goose that was cooked. Worse, however, was the knowledge that it wouldn't take much to send the already borderline health of the man spinning back out of control.
Hogan shook his head. "Come on, let's take a look at you," he said, genuine worry over his errant corporal coloring his tone.
He knelt down in front of Newkirk and looked at him closely. The corporal's face was grey with fatigue and a touch of renewed pain. Hogan was angry with himself for being so caught up in the verbal sparring that he hadn't noticed. He had no idea how long Newkirk had been sitting at the table before coming in here, but that on top of standing during the first part of this conversation was still too much, too soon for the recovering man.
Hogan reached forward and felt Newkirk's forehead as he'd done a dozen times in the past weeks. When he felt Newkirk pull back, he wondered how much of his illness Newkirk remembered. Certainly Newkirk had been well enough the past few days that he had to know that Hogan had had a hands-on role in his care. Unlike the callous Wainwright, who hadn't done anything to help with barracks-full of ill men, Hogan had directly helped with Newkirk's care—why didn't the Englishman give him credit for that? Did he really believe Hogan was doing it all for some sort of payoff? The thought was as sad as it was infuriating.
He cursed softly when he found Newkirk's face felt a bit warm. Then again, they were both sitting near Hogan's stove so that could be all it was, but he wasn't about to risk a relapse now.
"I didn't mean for you to overdo it. Thought you were up for this," Hogan said apologetically as his look conveyed the worry that was stealing over him at the thought of anything going wrong at this point. He gently grabbed Newkirk's chin next and tilted his face slightly so Hogan could look into his eyes. Newkirk's startled look almost masked an overwhelming weariness, but the bloodshot exhaustion was nonetheless there to read, confirming to Hogan that this session was now over.
"Hmmm…you're a touch warm, but I don't think you have a fever. You need to go lie down for awhile, though," he said with concern. "I'd ask why you didn't tell me you were starting to feel poorly, but I think we've already established that," he added with an exasperated chuff. "Come on, easy does it." He put one hand under Newkirk's elbow and another behind his shoulder, easing him forward to help him onto his feet.
But Newkirk stopped him, pulling out of Hogan's hands not out of anger, but so he could look Hogan in the face.
Newkirk shook his head, started to speak, stopped himself, then stared at his commanding officer intently. His mouth worked for a moment before he whispered, "Tell me you're for real," shocking Hogan with the pleading look Newkirk was giving him.
"What?" was all Hogan could get out, confused by the question and surprised at the naked emotion coming from the other man.
"Tell me," Newkirk said again, this time louder, but if possible even more desperate. "What you said before. 'bout an officer's duty. And what you're doing right now. You can't honestly be worried about what the gents out there will say. You didn't do anything to me. You're worried… for me….aren't you? I don't think you're faking it. I…." Newkirk licked his lips and hoarsely, "Tell me that you're for real. Promise that you really care what 'appens to us. That I'm not going to turn around and find you're in it for yourself and you're doing all this so I'm obliged to pay you back. Promise I won't 'ave to 'ear that you've got the lads killed somehow."
Hogan was touched by the fear and hope that battled within Newkirk's expression as the man, his defenses battered down by exhaustion and Hogan's unexpected concern, fought to believe what his instincts were telling him.
Hogan smiled. Not his confident 'I can take on the world smile' nor his brash 'I just pulled the wool over your eyes smile,' but the one he reserved for special moments. The one that conveyed the caring and compassion of the man that no war would ever erode.
"I promise," he swore solemnly. "I meant every word I said to you. I'm not going to use you or the men. I'm not going to trick you. I'm going to do whatever I can to keep all of us alive. And I'm not going to abandon you. Whatever happens, we're in this together."
Newkirk's eyes were locked on his, afraid of giving in but not able to refute the sincerity evident in every one of Hogan's words.
Newkirk's hands balled into fists and he looked away, his breathing suddenly erratic. Then he turned back and once more met Hogan's gaze. "I'm so tired of not believing there's any 'ope," he confessed in a moment of raw honesty, still searching Hogan's face for reassurance.
"I won't let you down," Hogan promised solemnly.
Newkirk blinked and took a breath. "You really mean that."
Hogan smiled. "I do."
Newkirk took another deep breath, then let it all out in one long exhale. He held Hogan's look for a long minute, then returned the colonel's smile with a brilliant one of his own. Hogan was delighted to see for the first time that there was true understanding and acceptance in the smile. Finally.
Hogan released his own breath, not realizing he'd been holding it, then said casually, relieving the intensity of the moment, "You about ready to show the men that we're both still in one piece?"
"Wouldn't say no to that idea of a nap either," Newkirk agreed, relief in his own tone at the return to less weighty subjects.
When the Englishman made no move to get up, Hogan asked, "Need a hand?"
Newkirk grinned and nodded, a twinkle in his eyes as he said, "Glued to the chair, remember?"
Hogan laughed out loud, pleased beyond all measure that he knew he'd won over the man. There would still be a few wrinkles to iron out, including certain behaviors to curb, but somehow they'd come to that understanding he'd been hoping for.
He moved forward to help Newkirk up. Instead of taking his elbow and shoulder this time, however, Hogan crouched down and slipped his arm around Newkirk's waist, basically lifting the man out of the chair. Pulling an arm over his shoulder, Hogan was walking them to the door when his exhausted corporal stumbled, causing Hogan to veer over to his bunk instead.
"How about you rest here for awhile? It's quieter and a lot closer than your bunk."
Newkirk nodded, then shakily admitted, "Standing up made me a bit dizzy."
Grateful that his bunk was only a few feet away, Hogan soon levered Newkirk down onto the lower bed and helped him lie down.
The corporal immediately closed his eyes as he took some steadying breaths. They popped back open as he breathed a sigh of relief, "That's the ticket. I'm…I'm sorry to be a bother, sir…staying in your room again."
Hogan spread a blanket over Newkirk and said kindly, "Don't worry about it. I got used to it, actually. It's been quiet without the guys trooping in here every few minutes to see how you were doing. In fact, I'd better go out there soon or they'll probably bust in anyways to make sure I haven't tossed you out the window," he joked, eliciting another smile from Newkirk.
He fussed about for a minute, spreading another blanket…despite the stove the room was still chilly. He was about to go talk to the rest of the men when Newkirk spoke.
Hogan squatted by the bed so he wasn't looming over the prone man. "Yeah?"
"Colonel…I'm thinking…I'm thinking maybe I'll need to prove myself to you too," he said uncertainly. "I do know what it means to be honorable."
With chagrin, Hogan remembered saying something in anger about Newkirk not knowing the first thing about doing the honorable thing. He patted the man's arm reassuringly. "I know you do. I'm sorry I said what I did. I was angry and said some things I didn't mean."
He started to rise, but was stopped when Newkirk's hand on his forearm stopped him from rising.
"Sir…" Newkirk swallowed. "I'm sorry too…'bout some of the things I said. Not about looking after me mates," he warned seriously, "but for some of the other stuff, I'm sorry. I know I can 'ave a bit of a mouth on me, but if you do right by us, I'll never do you wrong," he promised.
Hogan reached forward and squeezed Newkirk's shoulder. "How about we just start over?"
Newkirk smiled, but shook his head. "I'm not going to forget what you've done. Wouldn't be right. But I wouldn't mind it too much if you felt like forgetting some of the nasty things I've said."
"Done," Hogan agreed firmly. He tucked Newkirk's arm back under the blankets and stood. "Now, you ready to get some rest while I go have a chat with the boys?"
Conscience apparently now satisfied, Newkirk nodded and his eyes slipped shut.
But as Hogan quietly made his way to the door, he was once more stopped as he reached for the knob.
"Colonel Hogan?" Newkirk said quietly.
Hogan could hear the sigh from across the room as Newkirk summed up everything he was thinking in two words. "Thanks guv'nor."
A/N: Yeesh…this one was a bit long. Sorry. There was just so much that I wanted the two of them to say and I didn't want to break it up into two chapters. It was a really fun scene to write—apparently I've been wanting to write this encounter for a long time, because the words just kept flying onto the page. Anyway, just a few more loose ends to wrap up and then I'll be done! Thanks to everyone who's been hanging in there with me!