Episode Tag: Cat and Mouse

By Elflingskitten

Disclaimer: Not mine. -Sigh- If only he was… uh, I mean no profit made, entertainment only, all rights belong to someone else.

A/N: My usual. All my stories are about close friendship and nothing else. I don't like slash and will never write it. Also, this little shortie isn't the H/C free-for-all most of my stuff is, but it's definitely here. (I am working on a long one I will post soon, though, and yikes! Look out.)

Warnings for mild to moderate H/C.

Now that he'd finally gotten that miserable report in, Lieutenant Gil Hanley stopped for a minute to fish out his cigarettes, momentarily still as the frantic activity of the CP washed around him. He was just putting the pack back in his jacket when a familiar figure shuffled past him.

"Saunders," Hanley called out, relieved. He'd been really worried, so sure that this would finally be the patrol where Saunders' tags came back without him. Especially after that disturbing statement the already-exhausted sergeant had made in the graveyard, about feeling like he belonged there.

Relief turned to concern when the man kept walking and Hanley dropped the cigarette. He was sure it was Saunders-even in the crowded arena of Battalion HQ, how many blond buck sergeants with a Thompson over their shoulder were there? He stepped after him and reached out, grasping his shoulder but careful not to spin him; if his suspicions were correct the man wouldn't be able to take it. He turned him around.

It was Saunders, and Hanley was right to be careful; he was out. Unconscious. He was walking around, and his eyes were open, and he was unconscious. Hanley sighed, unnerved. He'd heard of this but never seen it. He now realized the origin of the phrase 'dead on his feet.' Saunders' blue eyes were like those of a corpse: blank, glazed and completely empty.

Hanley shook his shoulder lightly. "Saunders." For a moment, recognition flickered and, perhaps sensing possible succor, Saunders took a shaky half-step toward him. Then the moment passed, and his eyes drifted back out of focus.

Hanley's chest tightened in grieved pity. "C'mon." He sighed again and, knowing what was coming, reached out to take the sergeant's wrist in a firm hold. When Saunders' eyes rolled back and his knees buckled a few seconds later Hanley was ready, and he pulled him easily across his shoulders.

He took a second to balance the dead weight, then headed for his jeep. He still had a tight grip on Saunders' wrist and could feel the non-com's racing pulse slowing down, now that his heart wasn't struggling to keep upright a man who hadn't slept in almost four days.

They reached the jeep, and a concerned voice at his elbow asked, "Do you need a medic?"

He turned to see a captain standing nearby, staring at Saunders. Hanley scrounged for his name for a second but couldn't remember it. Wait…Caulfield, that was it.

"No, sir, thank you. He's just exhausted."

Caulfield watched as Hanley carefully lay Saunders down in the back of the jeep, slid the Thompson off his shoulder and set it aside, and arranged the loose limbs. The lieutenant pulled his own jacket free of his web belt and took it off, bunching it up and sliding it under the non-com's lolling head.

"He yours?"

Hanley looked up, surprised to see the other officer still there. "Sir?"

"Is this your NCO?"

The captain didn't miss the exasperated fondness in the look Hanley gave his sergeant. "Yes, sir. He's one of mine."

Caulfield almost smiled when Hanley looked back up, slightly embarrassed. He understood completely—his Third Platoon leader had been with him since Italy. Nothing wrong with caring about somebody, aside from the fact it could be terribly hazardous to your sanity. Wanting to give the lieutenant a break, the captain pulled off his helmet and scratched his head.

"I've seen officers go to some great lengths to secure their jeep but this is a little extreme, Lieutenant."

Hanley shared a small, private smile of gratitude and understanding with him. "Yes, sir." He reached out and flipped up the collar of Saunders' field jacket against the morning chill. "I knew he was good for something."