(2006) No infringement upon the rightful owners of "Combat!" 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 12-1-06 fanfic board challenge to write a Christmas story about the squad where someone gets a gift and must discover who sent it. It takes place about a week after the events of "Shepherd's Watch."
by White Queen
Kirby reached his arms above his head, flexing various muscles and drowsily thinking how nice a good stretch could feel after a long night's sleep. He yawned, then opened his eyes. The deserted farmhouse's parlor was empty except for him and the wood-burning stove. Where was everybody? Probably outside frolicking in all that snow that'd been falling night before. Yeah, right. Like there was time to throw snowballs and build snowmen in the middle of a war.
Well, he might as well see what was going on. Maybe he'd gotten lucky and they'd all gone on patrol without him. Like Saunders would ever have that much pity on him. Kirby shoved aside his blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the ancient settee he'd claimed for his bunk.
Kirby picked his way over the scattered blankets and gear that occupied the floor of the parlor. They must not be moving out any time soon, or Sarge would've made everyone get their stuff together and ready to go. Kirby finally reached the doorway that separated the parlor from the kitchen just as the kitchen's outside door crashed open and a bundled figure staggered through it, arms laden with firewood. Kirby automatically tensed, but he relaxed when a cheerful young voice said, "Hey, Kirby, it's me! Close the door before all the heat gets out, will ya?" Billy Nelson stomped his feet, knocking most of the snow off his boots and all over the wooden floor.
Kirby hurried to close the door against the invading cold. "Where is everybody?"
"Outside. Me and Caje are working on the wood pile, Doc's trying to see if the pump behind the barn works since the one in the yard didn't last night, Littlejohn's feeding this whole herd of cats he found in the barn, and Sarge... I'm not sure where Sarge is. He said something about rations." Billy carried his wood into the parlor and dropped it on the floor next to the fancy wood-burning stove. It was a glossy black beast with ornate wrought-iron scrollwork for a door and claw-like feet. The fire inside let off a cheery glow, and the wood snapped and popped.
"Oh," was all Kirby said.
"Sarge said since you didn't even twitch when we all got up, we should just let you sleep. Not like we needed your help, really. He got a call from Lieutenant Hanley early this morning -- we get to hole up here for at least the rest of today, maybe tomorrow too. That's why we're bringin' in all these supplies." Billy wiped his gloved hands on his trousers and headed back out through the kitchen to the door. "If you want, you could make some coffee!" he called as he left.
Coffee. Sure, because he was so very fond of being on KP. Run down to the lunch counter and ask the waitress to pour you a cup, that's how Kirby liked to make coffee. He looked around the parlor, wondering where Doc had stashed their coffee supply. That's when he saw them. On the floor, where they'd obviously fallen off the settee when he got up, lay a heap of... socks? Kirby walked closer, curious, and knelt beside them. They were socks all right, six thick hand-knitted grey socks. Three pairs of woolen socks that could keep a man's feet warm even in snow like this. And they looked just his size!
Kirby sat down cross-legged on the floor. He picked up one of the socks and turned it over and over. Where could they have come from? None of the other guys had their bedrolls near his -- they'd all congregated closer to the stove. The socks were obviously meant for him. A sort of late Christmas present, maybe? But who from?
Most of the guys had gotten packages from home for Christmas last week. Billy got all those cookies and hot chocolate and stuff, most of which he shared with everyone. Littlejohn got a big box of random things, mostly paperback novels he promised to let everyone borrow as soon as he finished them himself. Doc got a box full of popcorn kernels -- they'd had a lot of fun trying to rig up a way to pop them. Lt. Hanley got a small box of maple sugar candy which he refused to share with anyone. Even Saunders got a scarf his sister crocheted and a bunch of recent photos of his mom and sister trying to decorate a little tree. Only Caje and Kirby were left package-less, but Caje said his mother was probably still trying to figure out how to ship homemade bread without it going stale before it reached France. Kirby didn't have a good excuse like that, but nobody actually asked him why he didn't get a package anyway.
So where had the socks come from? No one but the squad had been to this farm house since they arrived, and Kirby had never particularly believed in Santa Claus. He peeled off his old socks, rubbed thin at the heels and toes after only a few days' wear, and tugged on a pair of the woolen grey wonders. They were warm, soft, and so very thick. And they were long enough to go up just past the tops of his boots. Kirby wiggled his toes appreciatively. Just the right size. And three whole pairs! They might actually get a chance to dry completely after washing before he needed to wear them again.
Hey, that was a clue! Who had feet the same size as his? Only Billy and Caje, really. Littlejohn's were far larger, and even Doc and Saunders wore a few sizes bigger. Caje hadn't gotten a package yet, though. So they were probably from Billy. He hadn't opened all the little parcels in his Christmas package while Kirby was around -- maybe his mom had sent a whole lot of socks. And Billy decided to share... with Kirby? That didn't make much sense. They weren't particularly good friends. Oh, Kirby'd stopped picking on the kid once he discovered the youngster wasn't going to get him killed. But that didn't warrant a secret Christmas gift.
Then Kirby realized what had probably prompted the gift -- Billy had been horrified last week when he learned Kirby's family never had a Christmas tree. He probably wanted to make up for what he perceived as a deficiency in Kirby's growing up by giving him a present. Great. Just what Kirby didn't need -- someone feeling sorry for him.
Kirby stood up, the idea of being pitied rankling so much he almost took off the socks. But they were so soft and warm he couldn't bear to remove them. Instead he padded out into the kitchen to see if he could scare up a coffee pot. He was squatting down to peer into a dusty cupboard under the long wooden counter when he heard the outside door open again. Probably Billy back with more wood. Kirby looked up and saw that no, it was Littlejohn this time.
"I can't find the coffee pot," Kirby said, standing up and closing the cupboard door.
"Who says there is one?"
"There must be one. Every farmer drinks coffee, right?"
Littlejohn didn't answer. He unwound a long scarf from around his face and neck, then pulled off his mittens. His new thick grey woolen mittens. And new grey woolen scarf! Kirby stared, blinked several times, then shook his head. No way. Littlejohn wouldn't give him a present, not a nice one like warm socks that were exactly his size. Sure, the two of them weren't openly hostile anymore, but they still antagonized each other now and then. They definitely weren't buddies.
However, it seemed to Kirby that Littlejohn was trying hard not to look at Kirby's feet. He was looking at everything except them, in fact. The sink, the ceiling, the floor, the window... Littlejohn even started opening cupboards and looking inside them. "You'd think there'd be one here somewhere," he said, his voice echoing through the nearly bare cupboard.
"Yeah, you'd think." He leaned against the counter, folded his arms, and decided to take a wild stab in the dark. "Thanks for the socks," he said.
"Oh." Littlejohn opened another cupboard door and hid his face behind it. "Uh, you're welcome."
"They're just the right size," Kirby said, a note of triumph in his voice. He'd guessed right!
"Good. I thought you and Billy wore the same size."
"Oh." Kirby's elation over guessing the identity of his benefactor faded. So the socks had been meant for Billy, but then Littlejohn gave them to Kirby when Billy didn't want them. Well, at least that made some sense.
"My mother sent six pairs, but I figured he didn't need that many...." Littlejohn emerged from behind the cupboard door and held aloft a dented black coffee pot. "Found it!"
"Oh." At least they weren't exactly cast-offs. "So, why didn't you just give them to me?"
Littlejohn shrugged. "I didn't know if you'd take them. From me, I mean. I figured this way if you didn't like them, you'd just toss them in a corner." He peered inside the coffee pot and added quietly, "I figured maybe they'd give you some new Christmas memories. In case you needed some."
"Oh." Kirby studied Littlejohn and decided there was no pity in his expression, only maybe some sympathy. He wiggled his toes again. "Well, thanks. I mean, you can tell your mom that they fit and all."
Before Littlejohn could reply, Billy burst through the door again, toting another armful of firewood. "Gosh, it's hard digging through that pile of wood to find dry pieces," he said, huffing and puffing a little. "And Littlejohn, I don't know what you fed those cats, but we can hear them meowing clear over here by the house." He began his boot-stomping routine again, adding more snow to the puddles all over the floor.
"Hey!" Kirby protested, glad for the distraction. "You have to track that stuff all in here? You'll turn the kitchen into a lake!"
"Gee, when'd you turn into my mother?" Billy looked down at the floor, noticed Kirby's footwear, and added, "Hey! Are you wearing my new socks? Come on, Kirby, no fair!"
"No," Littlejohn said before Kirby could respond, "those are Kirby's socks. I'm sure yours are still in your pack."
"Oh. Your mom send some for everyone?" Billy asked as he trudged into the parlor to deposit the firewood.
"No," Littlejohn said, giving Kirby a small smile. "Just for the people that needed them."
Kirby smiled back, then pattered off into the parlor to put on his boots before his new socks could get wet. No way was he going to risk ruining them by stepping in snow puddles -- they were much too precious.