Copyright Rachel L. Kovaciny, 2004. All rights reserved. No infringement upon the rightful owners of Combat!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Angel, and the characters thereof, is intended. This piece of fan fiction is for enjoyment only, and in no way will the author gain monetary profit from its existence.
Author's Note: This story is a response to the March, 2004, fanfic challenge to write about Kirby, Doc, Billy Nelson, and Littlejohn in a jeep. They must change a tire, get left behind by a convoy, be attacked by a sniper, and a particular character must get shot.
by White Queen
"Man, is it hot," griped Kirby loudly, so as to be heard over the roar of the small convoy they were traveling with. "How'd you and me get stuck driving this jeep, Doc?"
Doc shrugged. "Just lucky, I guess," he replied just as loudly.
Kirby snorted. "Ha! The other guys are the lucky ones, back in that truck with a roof an' everything. We would get a jeep with a broken convertible roof thingy -- we got no shade or nothin'!" He steered their jeep around what appeared to be the beginnings of a small lake along one side of the road. "You'd think all this rain we been havin'd make things cool off a little."
"At least it's too muddy to be dusty."
"Yeah, it's muddy alright. This whole convoy's liable to get stuck any minute."
Doc shrugged again.
Kirby opened his mouth to whine some more, but a loud bang interrupted him. The steering wheel in his hands wrenched to the left, and the whole jeep careered off the road into a grassy field. Kirby fought to regain control of the jeep and finally pulled it to a stop. As he and Doc hopped out to examine their blown tire, the rest of the convoy churned slowly past them.
"Great! We're only halfway to the new aid station, and we get a flat," complained Kirby. He kicked the shredded tire in disgust.
"Guess we'll have to change it." Doc walked to the back of the jeep. "Want me to help you get this spare off here?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure." Kirby wiped his forehead. "It would have to be a million degrees out today."
"Hey Kirby!" came a shout from the passing convoy. Billy Nelson and Littlejohn had climbed out of their truck and were walking toward the crippled jeep.
"What's wrong with you? You had a nice shady truck to ride in, and you gotta come out here? You wanna get sunstroke like the rest of us?" griped Kirby from behind the jeep.
"Gee, Kirby, we were just gonna give you a hand," Billy answered.
"Yeah, but if you don't need help, we'll go back." Littlejohn started to turn away toward the road.
"Well, since you're here..." Kirby wrestled the spare tire off the jeep. "I can't believe I got stuck drivin' this heap -- it's full of all kinds of medical junk."
Doc smiled. "Don't knock this medical junk, Kirby, there'll be lots of wounded headed to that aid station that'll be mighty thankful for it."
While Littlejohn and Kirby positioned the jack under the jeep, Billy moved over to the side of the jeep by Doc and pointed to the 'medical junk.' "Hey, what is all this stuff?"
"Bandages, mostly. And a stretcher, some IV tubing, couple boxes of empty syringes." Doc rummaged through the jumbled contents of the jeep. "Looks like pretty much anything they didn't have room for anywhere else."
Littlejohn and Kirby moved back to the flat tire. "We got it jacked up okay, now let's take off the tire," Kirby decided.
Littlejohn shook his head. "No, first we oughtta brace one of the wheels."
"Hey! I know what I'm doin', okay?"
"Yeah, I'm sure you've changed lots of tires. But we still should brace the wheel so it doesn't start to roll while we're working on it."
"Fine." Kirby rolled his eyes.
"Hey, Billy," Littlejohn called. "Find us a good-sized rock, wouldja?"
"Right." Billy looked around him. "Hey, here's one!" He picked up a stone roughly the size of a softball and carried it over to Littlejohn. "Will this work?"
"Sure. Jam it under the front wheel that's across from this one."
"Right." Billy walked around the jeep and knelt by the front wheel. He jammed the rock into the dirt in front of it then kicked it to make sure it was tight. "All done, Littlejohn," he announced.
"Now we can change the tire, Kirby."
"Uh, here, Littlejohn, why don't you take this wrench and loosen the thingies." Kirby motioned toward the flat tire.
"Lug nuts. They're called lug nuts."
"Right. So loosen ‘em."
"And what're you going to do?"
"I'll supervise." Kirby grinned and reached in his pocket for a cigarette.
"Hey, guys," Billy worried, "uh, maybe we should hurry up? The convoy's not stopping for us."
"Don't worry about it!" Kirby waved a hand at Billy reassuringly. "Me and Littlejohn'll have this baby changed in no time."
And so they would have, if they hadn't lost two lug nuts in the long grass and wasted twenty minutes searching before they found them.
"Gettin' kinda dark," Doc observed as when the jeep at long last rested fully on the ground again.
"We'll catch up with them in no time," Kirby promised. "But we'll all have to ride in this thing." He climbed into the driver's seat again, and Doc took his former place in the passenger seat. Billy and Littlejohn climbed over the sides and tried to make room for themselves and their rifles in the back. "We all set?" Kirby asked, starting the engine.
"Not much room back here," Billy complained.
"Would you rather walk?" Kirby didn't wait for a reply, but shifted the jeep into gear and drove back onto the road. They drove through the mildly increasing dusk, and Kirby switched on the headlights after a while, knowing they were far enough from the Germans to make this safe. Littlejohn and Billy kept rearranging themselves in the back, trying to find a comfortable way to sit amid the random supplies.
The sun dipped below the horizon, and in the back of the jeep Littlejohn and Billy both dozed as they drove on through the night. Kirby kept a steady stream of chatter with Doc, knowing if he stopped talking he might fall asleep too.
Then, through the darkness, a second loud bang rang out. Again the steering wheel jerked under Kirby's hands, and once more the jeep veered off the road. "Not again!" growled Kirby in frustration as he stopped the jeep.
"Do we have another spare tire?" Billy asked quietly, his sleepy voice squeaking a little.
"No." Kirby climbed out. "I can't believe we got another flat!" As he walked around the jeep, trying to see through the half-gloom and figure out which tire had blown, yet another bang shattered his concentration. "Everybody get down!" he hollered, and hit the dirt.
Billy and Littlejohn cowered in the back of the jeep, and Doc slid slowly down in his seat. When no more shots were fired for over a minute, Kirby lifted his head. "Everybody okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Billy and Littlejohn together.
"Doc?" Kirby rose to his hands and knees and crawled around to Doc's side of the jeep.
"Oh God -- Doc's been hit!" Billy gently shook Doc's shoulder, and frantically asked, "Doc, Doc, can you hear me?" He got no response.
"Help me get him outta this thing," Kirby instructed. Billy and Littlejohn climbed out of the jeep and helped him lift Doc's unconscious body out of the jeep. "Let's put him in front of the headlights, so we can see how bad he's hurt."
"Won't that make us clearer targets for that jerk shooting at us?" protested Littlejohn.
"We've gotta see how bad Doc's wounded," Kirby insisted. "Unless you got a flashlight or somethin'."
Littlejohn shook his head, so they gently lowered Doc onto the ground in front of the jeep.
"What'll we do? What'll we do?" moaned Billy, clutching Doc's hand and rocking back and forth.
"It looks bad, Kirby." Littlejohn pointed to the medic's blood rapidly soaking his shirt. "They got him in the shoulder, but he's unconscious. And I don't see an exit wound, so the bullet must still be in there."
"Lousy Kraut sniper!" Kirby ground out between his clenched teeth. "Just wait'll I get my hands on the creep that did this to Doc!" He looked around them. "Okay, we can't stay here, or that sniper'll get all of us. Right now he's probably moving into a better position or something. Look, let's get some of those bandages out of the jeep, right? And Doc's pack. We'll bandage him up. There's that stretcher back there, we'll carry him out. It's only a mile or two to the aid station, we'll make it there in no time."
A new voice came out of the darkness. "Only a mile or two? Didn't realize I was that close." It was clearly a British voice, with a thick Cockney accent.
Kirby whipped around toward the voice. "Who's there?"
"Hey, mate, not lookin' for a fight here. Looks like you got a wounded man. Thought I smelled blood." A dark figure hovered just out of reach of the headlights, far enough in the darkness to make it hard for the GIs to see much more than his outline.
"You a British soldier? I thought they were way north of here," Kirby questioned.
"Not exactly. I'm just a guy like you, trying to get away from that bloody sniper."
"What're you doing around here?" Kirby looked toward the jeep, where he'd left his B.A.R. between the seats.
"I holed up in a shack in those trees over there until the sun went down. Can't travel during the day. Look, if you're going for some weapon, don't bother. I told you, not lookin' for a fight."
"So what are you looking for?" asked Littlejohn, busy bandaging Doc's shoulder.
"Well, seems I'm a bit lost. Just lookin' for the Allied lines, gettin' away from the Jerries, like I said. So maybe we could help each other."
"How?" Billy chimed in.
"Well, uh, you could lead me to the Allies."
"And how would you help us?" Kirby recklessly stood up and started walking toward the dark figure.
"Well, I could, uh, help you carry your friend."
"We can do that ourselves." Kirby leapt forward and grabbed the figure's arm, pulling him into the light. "A Kraut!" He jumped away from the stranger, grabbed his B.A.R. from the jeep, and leveled it at the stranger.
The man raised an arm shield his face from the headlights. He wore a long black coat bearing the insignia of the Nazi SS. His smooth black hair shone faintly in the lights, in stark contrast with his pale skin. "No, no, I'm not a Jerry."
Kirby snorted. "Coulda fooled me. Billy, search him."
Billy got slowly to his feet, reluctant to leave Doc's side and make a better target for the sniper. But he obeyed Kirby and searched the stranger. "He's clean, Kirby." He knelt back by Doc and helped Littlejohn finish bandaging the medic's wound.
"An unarmed Kraut? That's a new one to me," Kirby smirked. "And what's with the coat? It's the middle of summer, you tryin' to fry yourself?"
"I just like the coat, that's all. Anyway, do I sound like a bloody German?"
Before Kirby could answer, the sniper fired off another shot. Both he and the other man hit the dirt instinctively.
"Bloody ‘ell!" howled the stranger. "That's why I wasn't standing in your light! Make a perfect target there!"
"Is this sniper after you?" Billy asked.
"You could say that, yeah."
"Uh, Kirby, look at the jeep." Littlejohn pointed to where a stream of gasoline was pouring from their vehicle. "Looks like he got the gas tank."
Kirby swore angrily. "Right, let's get away from this thing before it blows up or somethin'." He looked over at Doc, whose blood had completely soaked the bandages they'd applied and was dripping onto the ground. "Billy, help me get the stretcher and a bunch of those bandages from the jeep."
Kirby and Billy crawled carefully around the jeep, using it to shield themselves from the direction they thought the sniper had fired from. They pulled the stretcher, a blanket, lots of bandages, and Doc's medical bag from the jeep, then hurried back to Doc. They moved Doc onto the stretcher as gently and quickly as they could, then covered him with the blanket. Kirby handed Littlejohn and Billy the extra bandages, tucking some inside his shirt as well.
"Okay, let's get outta here," Kirby ordered. "Billy, you and I'll take Doc. And take along his pack, Billy." They picked up the stretcher and moved away from the jeep, keeping as low as they could. When they reached a small hedge a hundred or so yards from the jeep, they stopped and gently lowered the stretcher to the ground. "Doc needs more bandages," Kirby reminded them.
As Littlejohn tended to Doc's wound, Kirby noticed that the stranger had followed them and was crouching nearby. "Hey, Kraut," Kirby whispered loudly, "If you're with the SS, why's a German sniper trying to shoot you?"
The stranger crawled closer. "Look, I'm not really in the SS. The Jerries just captured me and sort of forced me to join them. Twice, actually. But I'm very tired of their little games, so I'm leaving."
"Yeah, I'm what you call -- oh, what's that word? Defective."
Kirby snorted. "You're defective alright. Thinkin' I'm gonna fall for that story."
"No, wrong word. Defecting. You know, deserting. Buggering off. Going over to the other side. Or at least trying to."
"I don't believe you. And even if I did, I wouldn't want some crawling, filthy turncoat taggin' along with us." Kirby rose to his knees and pointed his B.A.R. at the stranger. "So what'll it be, me or the sniper?"
"Hey!" The stranger raised his hands, "I told you, I'm no German."
"And I don't care. So get out of here, you Nazi traitor or whatever. Go draw your sniper's fire somewhere else."
The stranger stood up and began backing away. "Right then. You know, I could--" He never got to tell them what he could do, because the sniper fired again. The stranger jerked forward from the impact of the bullet, and fell to the ground.
"Good riddance," Kirby muttered, and knelt beside the others as they finished bandaging Doc's shoulder.
The stranger groaned, then amazingly enough, sat up. "You stupid git!" he hollered into the darkness. "You filthy Nazi idiot! You shot me!"
The three soldiers stared at him. "He shot you," Billy managed to gasp out.
The man shrugged. "Hard to kill old Spike, as he's starting to learn, I expect."
"Spike?" asked Kirby.
"That's me." Spike crawled back toward them. "Look, have you got him bandaged up, ‘cause we should get moving."
"Your name is ‘Spike'? You've got to be kidding." Kirby shook his head. "That's not even a name."
"He shot you," Billy repeated.
"Right. Well, uh, I'm wearin' a special uniform. That's right, a new uniform the Nazi's are testin'. Bulletproof." Spike grinned. "Handy, eh?"
"But you're bleeding." Littlejohn pointed to the hole where the bullet had hit Spike's right shoulder.
"Didn't say they had all the wrinkles ironed out yet, did I? That's why they're still testin' it."
"Bulletproof uniform." Kirby rolled his eyes. "Now I've heard everything." He turned back to Littlejohn and Billy. "What we need to do is get rid of that sniper. We can't have him takin' potshots at us while we try to carry Doc."
"Makes sense to me." Littlejohn nodded.
"Right." Kirby turned to Spike. "Start walking down the road."
"Me?" Spike protested, "Why me?"
"You've got the bulletproof uniform. If you can get the sniper to shoot at you again, maybe we can see the flash from his rifle, and sneak up on him."
"No way, I'm not makin' a great big target outta myself just to save your skins!" Spike shook his head. "New plan, please."
"Won't it make life easier for you if you've got this sniper off your back?" argued Littlejohn.
Doc moaned a little, and weakly moved his head. His eyelids fluttered, then opened. His eyes focused on Kirby, who quickly laid a hand on his wounded friend's arm. Doc tried to speak, but instead gasped in pain.
"It's gonna be okay, Doc," Kirby said quietly, then turned to Billy. "There any morphine in Doc's pack?"
Billy searched for a moment, turning back toward the still-shining headlights in a vain attempt to see inside the pack. "Yeah." He handed over a syringe.
Kirby gave Doc a shot of morphine, and the medic's eyes slowly closed and his body relaxed. "We got no more time to waste," Kirby said as soon as Doc seemed more comfortable. He turned to Spike, who had been watching Doc oddly intently. "Get on that road and get walking."
"Right. But I'm doin' this ‘cause I want to, okay? ‘Cause you'll lead me to the Allies if I do." Spike swaggered off down the road.
Kirby, Littlejohn, and Billy crouched down in the darkness, waiting for the sniper to make a move. They could hear Spike slogging along the sloppy road, sometimes muttering to himself.
At last, just as Spike reached a bend in the road a few hundred yards ahead, the sniper fired. Spike whipped around and fell to the road.
"I saw it," Kirby whispered. "He's in that hedge up there, probably lyin' on the ground. I'll sneak around him and jump him in the dark. You two wait here with Doc." He sank to his stomach and crawled toward the road, then across it. As he reached the other side, he looked up the road and saw Spike stand up.
"You. Are. So. Sodding. Stupid!" shouted Spike, waving his arms wildly and stomping back and forth along the road. "Can you understand me, you lousy Nazi sniper? You can't kill me with bullets! Didn't they tell you anything?"
Apparently the sniper could at least hear Spike, whether or not he could understand him, because he fired again, and Spike tipped sideways, clutching his leg and howling. "That bloody well hurts!"
Kirby grinned and crawled toward the sniper as fast as he could. This Spike guy made a good diversion, whether he meant to or not. Soon Kirby was only a few yards from the sniper, and could see him moving, probably trying to get a better position to fire again.
Spike stood up once more, limping a bit. "Right, shot me in the leg. Think you can cripple me or something? Cripple me and take me back to your bosses? Do you have any idea what I really am?" He started walking toward the hedge that hid the sniper. "I'm gettin' right sick of this."
Kirby leapt onto the sniper, trying to get his hands around the German's neck, thinking of how this man had shot Doc, how much he deserved to die. They rolled out of the hedge and into the weedy field it surrounded. They bit, kicked, gouged, each trying to find a way to gain a deadly advantage on the other. The Nazi yanked one arm free and pulled a knife from his belt. Kirby grabbed for it and missed, and the Nazi slashed at Kirby's arm, slicing it open a good four inches. Kirby howled and lost his hold on the German, who kicked himself free and stood up, brandishing his knife.
Just then, Spike came silently out of the darkness behind the sniper. With one quick motion, he twisted the man's head, breaking his neck with a loud crack. The sniper slumped to the ground.
Kirby got to his feet, holding his wounded arm. "Wow, that was pretty good."
Spike shrugged. "Little trick I picked up. You're bleeding."
"Yeah, he knifed me." Kirby slowly walked back down the road to where the others waited. Spike didn't follow, but instead knelt beside the dead sniper.
"You okay, Kirby?" Billy called through the darkness when he heard footsteps on the muddy road.
"Mostly. The sniper's dead; we can go now." Kirby pulled out a packet of sulfa powder as he walked and ripped it open with his one good arm and his teeth.
"You got the sniper, eh?" Littlejohn asked.
"No, Spike did. Came outta nowhere and broke his neck -- pretty spectacular, I gotta admit. Give me a hand with my arm, wouldja?" Kirby rolled up his slashed sleeve and sprinkled the sulfa powder on the gash in his left forearm.
"Sure." Littlejohn moved to help Kirby, but Billy stayed beside Doc.
"Kirby?" Billy's voice quavered. "Kirby, Doc's bleedin' again. And he's sweating. What should I do?"
"How much water you got left?" Kirby asked, gritting his teeth as Littlejohn helped bandage his arm.
Billy checked. "About half."
Littlejohn nodded. "Same here."
"And I've got less. If Doc's gettin' a fever, we'll need to keep him cool. That sniper probably had a canteen, so go get it. See if he has a pistol too, so I don't have to try to manage my B.A.R. with one arm. But first, put another bandage on top of the others, and wet down Doc's forehead."
Billy did as Kirby told him, then walked down the road toward the dead sniper. As he neared, he could gradually see Spike kneeling beside the body, his back to Billy. Apparently Spike heard the approaching footsteps, because he stood up and turned around, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Now what?" he spat.
"What're you doing?"
"Nothin'. Uh, just, you know, tossin' my lunch. Yeah. Don't like violence much. Had to kill this wanker. How's the jumpy little guy doin'?" He stayed between Billy and the body.
"Kirby? Littlejohn's bandagin' him up. I guess he's okay. He sent me to see if this guy had a canteen and a sidearm. You really broke his neck, huh?" Billy tried to peer around Spike at the dead sniper.
"Yeah." Spike stepped back between Billy and the body. "You don't want to look, kid."
"Hey! I've seen plenty of dead bodies."
Spike nodded. "Right, so what's one more?"
"I need his canteen. And a pistol, if he has one."
"Oh." Spike turned back to the dead sniper, slid a Lugar from his holster, then turned the body onto its stomach and unhooked a canteen from its belt. "Here."
"Thanks." Billy took the canteen and pistol. "I've never seen somebody break a guy's neck. With their bare hands, I mean. I mean, I've heard of it happening, I guess." Billy smiled a little. "Guess you're pretty strong."
"Yeah, you could say that."
"Well, like, how strong? Show me something."
"Okay, why not." Spike walked over to the hedge that had hidden the sniper. "Watch this." He leaned down, grabbed a gnarled stem and ripped a chunk of the hedge from the ground, aged roots and all.
"Whoa," breathed Billy.
"You're like... like Superman! What with your bulletproof uniform, and your super strength and all."
Spike grinned. "Guess so. Maybe more like Batman. Got a cigarette?"
"Oh, sure." Billy dug in his shirt pocket, pulled out a mashed pack, and shook one out for Spike. "Need a light?"
"No." Spike pulled out a large, shiny silver lighter.
"So, you're not really a Nazi, are you?"
"Nope." Spike let a stream of smoke curl from his mouth.
"You said they captured you or something?"
"Yeah. On account of my bein' like Batman and all. They wanted to build an army of super soldiers, so they rounded up a bunch of poor buggers like me--" He stopped. "Never mind. But I'm not a Nazi."
"Billy! Get back over here!" yelled Kirby through the darkness.
"Gotta go." Billy started back toward the others, and Spike followed him.
"Where've you been?" demanded Kirby when Billy drew near. "Never mind; we need to get moving. You and Littlejohn'll have to carry Doc. I'll lead." He took the Lugar and canteen from Billy.
"Mind if I tag along?" Spike casually flicked away his cigarette.
Kirby rolled his eyes. "Yes, I do. I still say you're a Kraut, I don't care if you're unarmed or not. So get in front of me, you're my prisoner."
"Oh fine, a prisoner." Spike raised his hands above his head mockingly. "Sure you don't want to tie me up?"
"Just get goin'. And don't make any sudden moves." Kirby patted the Lugar tucked into his belt.
"But, Kirby, he's got a bulletproof uniform," Billy protested.
"Doesn't cover his head, does it? Get movin', Spike." Kirby sneered as he said the name. "And no talking. Never know if there's another sniper after you."
The little procession began moving slowly along the road. Spike swaggered in the lead, followed by Kirby, then Littlejohn and Billy carrying Doc.
It didn't take long for Billy to tire. He walked slower and slower, his arms aching from the weight and his hands galled by the stretcher. This forced Littlejohn to slow as well, and soon they found themselves significantly behind Kirby and Spike.
Finally, Billy felt he'd come to the end of his strength. "Littlejohn?" he said quietly.
"I need to rest." As if to emphasize the point, he stumbled, jostling Doc, who moaned and opened his eyes for the first time since they'd given him morphine. "Now, Littlejohn, we gotta stop. I think Doc's awake," Billy insisted.
"Fine. Set him down easy." They lowered the stretcher to the ground. "Kirby!" Littlejohn called along the road ahead of them.
Kirby turned and saw the little group huddled on the muddy road. "Let's go back," he told Spike, motioning with the Lugar.
"What, is it tea time or something?" Spike mocked him.
"Shut up." Kirby wearily pushed back toward the others, his wound paining him more than he dared admit, even to himself.
Doc whimpered in pain, weakly turning his head from side to side. His eyes remained open, but he stared blankly into the darkness, obviously not seeing his anxious friends clustered around.
"Maybe he needs water," Billy suggested.
Kirby uncapped his canteen and put it to Doc's lips. At first the medic swallowed the water, but then he coughed and spluttered fiercely.
Kirby took Doc's head and turned it to the side, so the water ran from the medic's mouth onto the ground. "You ain't gonna die from somethin' stupid like choking," he muttered fiercely.
"He's not going to make it," Spike stated flatly.
Billy looked at him, his eyes wide. "What?"
"He's not going to make it," Spike repeated in his Cockney accent that contrasted so sharply with his German garb.
"Don't you say that!" Kirby stood up, balled up his right fist and swung at the sarcastic stranger, who deftly ducked the punch.
"I'm just sayin' what we're all thinkin," Spike defended himself. "He's too far gone, and he's slowin' us down. Kid here," he jerked a thumb toward Billy, "can't carry him much farther, and you know it. Best we leave him here. At least we'll all make it back." He looked around them. "Besides, it'll be light in an hour or so."
"He's going to make it," Kirby spat out. "It's just a shoulder wound, it can't be that bad. And we're not far now -- we'll be at the aid station in an hour, tops. Billy, you got any more morphine in that pack?"
Billy rummaged through Doc's medic kit, nodded, and handed over a syringe and another ampoule of morphine. "Last one though."
"It'll have to do." Kirby slid the needle into Doc's arm as gently as his unpracticed hands could. "You're gonna make it, Doc."
Doc gradually relaxed, and his coughing subsided.
"Put another bandage on him, then let's go." Kirby stood up. "Littlejohn, you'll have to keep carrying Doc. Billy--"
"I'll try," Billy replied gamely, ignoring his aching hands and arms.
"Save your strength. Spike'll take your place."
"Bloody ‘ell! I won't carry some mostly-dead man around like a common mule!"
"You offered to, back at the jeep," Kirby reminded him. "Now let's go. Billy, you go ahead, and I'll take up the rear. Just in case our man Spike here gets any funny ideas."
"Oh fine. I'll carry him until it's almost sunrise. Then I've got to leave you, whether or not we're at the Allied lines."
"I don't think that's your decision to make."
"Look, uh, you were right when you said that sniper probably wasn't the only one after me. If I'm out in the open during the day, I'm a dead man. Don't care how close I am to the Allies."
"Just get going," Kirby snarled, feeling fatigue creeping through him and refusing to give in to it.
They moved down the road again, Billy ranging ahead this time, trying to see through the fading darkness, to detect any sign of danger. It grew lighter and lighter, and finally Spike stopped walking. Kirby lowered the Lugar menacingly. "What's wrong? Let's go."
Spike shook his head. "Not me, mate. The kid's rested up enough, he can get your friend the rest of the way, if we're as close as you say."
Billy noticed they'd stopped, and turned back to join them.
"You're my prisoner," growled Kirby, "and you'll do as I say. Now move!"
"Go ahead, shoot me! Might want to let me put this stretcher down first though." Without waiting for Kirby's okay, Spike started lowering Doc to the road, and Littlejohn had to follow his lead or risk tipping Doc out.
Spike stood up and stepped away from Doc. "I still say he won't make it, and I've been around death enough to know. But if you want to go ahead with this, fine. Not me though. I told you I'd leave before sunrise, and I've got about ten minutes to find some shelter in there." He pointed to a nearby grove of trees. "Go ahead and shoot me if you want. Won't do you any bloody good." He started walking toward the trees, his black coat swishing saucily behind him.
Kirby pointed his pistol at Spike's back, and caressed the trigger with his finger. He nearly fired, then changed his mind. They all watched as Spike disappeared into the trees, then turned back to the task at hand.
"Think you can carry Doc again?" Kirby asked Billy.
"Yeah." Billy knelt down and brushed some hair out of Doc's closed eyes. "Why didn't you shoot Spike?"
Kirby shrugged. "Why waste the ammo? Besides, he did help carry Doc."
Littlejohn stretched and rubbed his aching back. As he massaged the sore muscles, the sun peeked over the edge of the low hill ahead of them, and a low noise reached them.
"That sounds like a--" began Billy.
"Off the road!" ordered Kirby. Billy and Littlejohn quickly picked up Doc's stretcher and carried him off the road and behind a couple low bushes. There they all crouched, waiting tensely to see what sort of vehicle would appear over the hill.
A dusty truck lurched into sight, and at the sight of the big red cross painted on its canvas sides, and the familiar white star on the front doors, the soldiers relaxed. Kirby stood up and waved his good arm at the truck, which slowed to a stop in front of him. Sgt. Saunders leaned out of the passenger-side window. "Where've you been?" he yelled over the truck's motor.
"Where've you been?" Kirby shouted back. "Doc's hurt!"
Saunders opened the door and climbed down. "So're you."
"Nah. But we gotta get Doc help fast." Kirby led his sergeant to where Littlejohn and Billy had stayed with Doc.
"Sarge!" Billy couldn't help grinning, and Littlejohn managed a small smile at the thought of being rescued.
Saunders crouched beside Doc. "My God," he whispered, staring at the blood-soaked bandages and Doc's dangerously pale face.
"What's takin' them so long?" ranted Kirby, pacing back and forth in front of an empty building up the street from the aid station. Billy sat on the ground a little ways away, hugging his knees to his chest. Near Billy leaned Littlejohn, letting the cracked wall of the empty building support him. Caje perched on a wooden crate, smoking a cigarette and staring at the ground.
"They fixed me up first, why'd they have to do that?" Kirby pointed to his neatly-bandaged left arm. "This wasn't killin' me, why'nt they leave it for later and get to Doc first?"
"An orderly patched you up. The surgeon was already busy, and Doc had to wait his turn. They told you that," Caje reminded him softly. "They told us all that."
"Yeah, and that's all they've told us." Kirby kept pacing angrily.
"I sure hope Spike was wrong," Billy commented quietly.
Kirby whirled on the younger soldier. "I don't ever want to hear that stinkin' Nazi traitor's name again, you hear me? Wasn't for him and that bloody sniper followin' him, Doc woulda never got hurt."
Littlejohn almost smiled as Kirby used the adjective Spike had favored. He didn't allow himself to savor the irony, however, his concern for Doc taking priority. "Doesn't matter whose fault it was, Kirby."
"It sure does to me! If I ever get ahold of that shiny-haired goon..." Kirby began listing the various fanciful ways he would exact his revenge from Spike's hide, given the chance.
The arrival of Sgt. Saunders interrupted Kirby's tirade. The non-com sank wearily onto an up-ended crate next to Caje, removed his helmet, and ran his hand through his unruly blonde hair out of habit.
The squad recognized the motion as a sign their leader was trying to figure out his next move, which in this case probably involved telling them about Doc's condition. They watched him attentively, and Kirby even stood relatively still.
Saunders rested his helmet on one knee and searched his jacket for a cigarette. "Doc's out of surgery," he told them as he lit up.
"He's still alive?" Billy asked, leaning forward.
"I talked to a couple nurses, they said it's still... if he makes it through the night, he'll be okay." He inhaled deeply and allowed the familiar smoke to fill some of his emptiness.
"Can we see him?" asked Caje.
"No. They said if he takes a real turn for the worse, they'll let us know before it's too late, let us visit him one last time."
"So now what?" Kirby resumed his pacing.
"Now we wait. Lieutenant Hanley says we can stay here," he pointed to the vacant building. "We don't move out until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest." He took another grateful drag from his cigarette. "Go get some chow. I'll stay here, let you know if there's any word." His tone of voice told the soldiers this was an order, not a suggestion.
Much as they refused to admit it, the hot food took the edge off the four soldiers' worry. They made their way back to the abandoned building, which appeared to have been a barbershop before the war, ready to start removing the debris cluttering the small first-floor room.
Saunders shook his head when they returned, signaling that not only had there not been any fresh word about Doc, but that he didn't care to discuss the matter at the moment either.
Once the floor was cleared, they each spread out their blankets, marking off their own personal sleeping territory. Saunders chose a spot nearest the door, with a good view of the street. As the sun slowly ended its ritual descent, the five men settled down into the darkness.
Billy finally broke the silence, unable to restrain himself from asking, "So this is a good thing, right? They haven't come to get us, so that means Doc's doing okay?"
"We hope so, Billy," Saunders answered through the gloom.
"Hey," Kirby added, "Doc didn't even want to be a medic in the first place? Said he wanted to be a cook, right?"
"Yeah," Littlejohn agreed. "So what?"
"So if he was a cook, he wouldn't be in this mess. So it's really the army's fault, ya know?"
"But then he never woulda been there to patch us up all those times, right?" Billy added. "I mean, we coulda just gotten any old doc instead. Not our Doc."
"But he wouldn't have had to help those Krauts that captured us, remember Sarge?" added Caje from his chosen spot near the bombed-open window.
"I remember." Saunders flipped onto his stomach, trying to find a comfortable position that still let him see the vague outline of the door. He let the men go on reminiscing about Doc and the various times he'd saved their lives and limbs, and he smiled now and then in the unseeing darkness. But finally, as Kirby finished a particularly stirring story about Doc saving both his feet from amputation, the sergeant said, "All right, time to cut the chatter. Get some sleep while you can." He knew they'd resent his ending their little remember-when party, but he also knew he didn't need four tired and crabby soldiers stumbling through whatever duties the next day would bring. Just as he fell asleep, Saunders thought he saw a shadowy figure in a long coat pass the doorway, but he figured he was already dreaming.
The sun had barely risen when a knock at the door had all five soldiers instantly awake and automatically reaching for weaponry.
"You're wanted at the aid station," an unknown GI told them. He turned and left before Saunders could reply.
The men scrambled to their feet, unsure whether to worry or rejoice. Leaving their blankets and most of their gear in the erstwhile barbershop, they walked uneasily to the aid station.
An orderly stopped them at the door. "Just where do you think you're going?" he demanded.
Saunders glared at him. "You people just sent someone to find us. We got a buddy in there, a medic. Wounded in the shoulder."
The orderly nodded. "Oh, yes. I hadn't expected such a crowd."
Kirby couldn't stay silent any longer. "So how's he doin'? Can we see him?"
"Not all at once, you can't. Sergeant, you'd better come with me. The rest of you wait here." The orderly turned and walked inside, with Saunders only a step or two behind him. He led the way through the aid station until they reached a small curtained-off area. "Your medic friend's in there." He pulled aside a curtain and motioned for Saunders to enter.
Inside the small makeshift room were only three beds, and Doc lay in the nearest one. "Hi, Doc," Saunders said, removing his helmet.
"Sarge." Doc managed a weak smile. His voice was raspy and soft, and a big white bandage covered his shoulder and most of his chest.
Saunders didn't know what to say -- ‘how're you doing' seemed pointless, as did the million other banalities that flooded his mind. He finally managed a quick, "Looks like they patched you up okay." It all felt so wrong, to have Doc be lying there in bandages instead of being up and doing the bandaging.
Doc smiled again. "They do nice work here."
Saunders nodded. "Yeah, they say you'll be okay in a day or two, but don't let them push you, okay? We're doin' alright on our own for now. You just get all healed up, you hear?"
"Sure thing." Doc closed his eyes.
"I'll be seein' ya." Saunders took this as his cue to leave.
As he walked out, the same orderly caught his arm. "This medic friend of yours, how'd he get shot?"
"I wasn't there. Give it to me straight, is he gonna make it?"
"He made it through the night, so I'd say he's got a good chance. I'm no doctor though. The bullet nicked a pretty big artery -- he's lucky he didn't bleed to death."
"Can my men come in and see him?"
The orderly shook his head. "Not today. Maybe tomorrow."
"Hey, give us a break, this guy's been with us for... well, longer than I care to remember."
"Sorry, Sergeant, but we can't have him disturbed. You saw how tired you're your visit made him."
Saunders sighed. "Not gonna be fun tellin' them that."
"Look, how's this. If you guys can hang around until noon or so, I'll see how he's doing, maybe sneak them in. But no promises." The orderly stuck out his hand. "Deal?"
At high noon, the men of the second squad regrouped around the aid station. True to his word, the orderly appeared in the doorway. "Come with me," he said mysteriously, and led them around to the back door. "Be really quiet, you're not supposed to be here," he cautioned them. "You got two minutes. And don't get him excited." They followed him back into the curtained room. Saunders noticed that the other two beds were empty now.
"Hiya, Doc!" chortled Kirby. "Bet you didn't expect to see us!"
Doc grinned. "I got tipped off."
"You're lookin' good, Doc," Littlejohn put in.
"Sure are! You'll be back with us in no time," agreed Billy.
Caje shook his head in mock disgust. "What some guys won't do to get a couple nights in a real bed."
"Thanks for gettin' me back here, guys," Doc croaked.
"Any time, Doc," Kirby said nonchalantly, as if he saved wounded medics every second Tuesday.
"Guess it just goes to prove nobody's bulletproof," Doc rasped out.
Billy started to disagree, but a look from Kirby silenced him.
"Sure, Doc." Saunders looked around the group. "Listen, we gotta go. But we'll try to make it back in to see you tomorrow, okay?"
The men all patted Doc on the hand, or the knee, or the foot, depending on what was closest to them. Then they quietly snuck out of the aid station, and headed off to see where Lt. Hanley would send them today.