When I first saw the episode that replaced General Savage with Colonel Gallagher, I was flummoxed and dismayed.... It was rather important to me, even though I was only about ten at the time. I was devastated, actually. I began this story then, but never wrote it down, as I hadn't the verbal skills as yet. I've been honing my craft for a while, now, and when Anna introduced me to the Gary Seven list and several of us were chatting one evening (well, it was evening in my time zone), I mentioned this and was encouraged to actually put it down on paper. Hopefully, my language skills are a bit more sophisticated than they were at the age of ten, although the story is still basically the same, with the addition of an original character who ties into another story (which may one day be completed). In my world, most of Robert Lansing's characters are related to one another. I've been told that I really need to create a family tree to keep them all straight, but that's another project that may or may not come about.
As usual, I'm using characters created and owned by others. I am, as always, grateful for their genius and generosity for not suing me over the unauthorized use of their intellectual property. And, as always, I am most grateful to Mr. Lansing for having brought to life these characters...he left us far too soon....
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They'd lost three engines, and the fourth was straining to continue running. There was no way she was going to get them home; not this time. As they sank beneath the cloud cover, heading for the ground, he ordered his men to jump, promising to be right behind them. Just as he was about to abandon the controls, however, he looked ahead and down, tracing the plane's path... and sat back down to struggle with the controls, trying desperately to bring her nose up just a little, just enough to miss the school and the children who should have been in a shelter somewhere.
The final engine exploded, falling from the crippled plane; but not, thank God, taking the entire wing with it. He continued struggling, pulling back on the yoke with all his might, seeing the faces of the terrified children and teachers as he skimmed barely fifteen feet above their heads, braced for all he was worth as he and his plane hit the trees.
He regained consciousness, groaning from the pain. He knew he had some broken ribs, from how much it hurt to breathe. He could also tell his legs were broken. That was hardly a surprise, either. Thank God, the fuel hadn't ignited. He looked around. No one had come after him, yet. He still had time. Gasping from the pain, he forced his hands up to remove his rank insignia from his shirt and coat. He hid them, along with his dog tags, pilot's wings, and lid, under the control panel. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he cried out as his shattered legs refused to help him get out of the seat. Using his arms, he somehow managed to drag himself out of the seat, through the cockpit, and to one of the waist gunner positions. Drenched in sweat, he collapsed, unconscious.
The locals, of course, knew the truth. They'd seen his face as he fought to keep the plane from crashing into the school and killing the children. They were gentle with his broken body; the local doctor had an x-ray machine and had set his legs and put them in casts. His ribs were taped, as well. Of course, he was then turned over to the authorities to be sent to the nearest POW camp.
But at least they didn't know his name.
Of course, they asked his name, so he lied. Pete Lily, he told them, almost smiling at the private joke. He was thankful that the bird he'd been flying hadn't been the Lily, although he was certain that if it had been, she'd have gotten him safely home. He contented himself with such thoughts as he tried to combat the pain that bouncing around in the back of the truck caused. Finally, they came to a stop for a few minutes and then started up again; and at last he was there. He was too weak to even struggle to sit up. His ribs ached and his cast legs hurt like hell, but he was finally here.
They had left him on the stretcher for the ride and simply lifted it back up and carried him into a barracks. They set him down by a bunk and lifted him carelessly and dropped him on it. He was prepared, however, and by biting his inner cheek, kept from crying out, much to their disappointment. The two soldiers looked around and then left. He lifted his head to look around. There were half-a-dozen men staring at him. They were dirty, slovenly, and thin. Worse was that their eyes wouldn't meet his. Except for one. The man was tall, over six feet, with shaggy black hair that nearly reached his shoulders. The man's brown eyes gleamed with curiosity and intelligence. After a few minutes, he came over.
"Hunter," the man introduced himself.
"Pete Lily," he replied, offering a shaky hand. The stranger smiled and shook it, then sat on the floor beside his bunk.
"Got shot down. Busted my legs and cracked some ribs." No need to mention the strained shoulders, elbows and wrists.
Hunter frowned, looking him over. He noticed the lack of rank insignia, but if this man came down in a plane, he certainly wasn't a passenger. Not with those injuries. Now, why would an officer want to be mistaken for a private? "Looks like it was a bad one," he said mildly. He looked Pete in the eyes with a knowing look on his face.
Damn. This guy knew...he didn't know what he knew, but he was smart, and observant. He glanced at Hunter's uniform. "Canadian?"
Hunter grinned. "Yes."
"What tribe?" he asked, recognizing that Hunter's coloring and features were decidedly Indian.
Hunter was a little surprised, but pleased. "Cree."
He frowned, "Saskatchewan?"
He nodded. "Eastern Cree, then." He smiled. "My grandmother was Shawnee."
Hunter nodded. He certainly had the cheekbones for it, although not the coloring. "Cousins, perhaps."
Pete chuckled, but then winced in pain. "So, how'd a nice Canadian boy like you wind up here?"
"Got my fighter shot out from under me. Managed to blow the canopy and bail. Just in time, too. She blew up like a skyrocket."
Pete nodded. "Last engine blew off the wing; at least it didn't take the wing with it."
Glancing around to make sure no one was paying too close attention to them, he lowered his voice. "So, why didn't you bail, General?"
His breath caught for just a moment, wondering how...then realized that the man didn't really know, but knew something was strange. He stared a long time at Hunter, but the man never flinched from that blue-eyed glare. Deciding, he finally answered. "There was a school with a bunch of kids. Plane was headed right for it." He looked away. "Kids aren't a proper target, not even in a war."
Hunter inhaled sharply at the admission. He looked again at the injuries Pete had sustained and nodded. "You're a good man, sir. Whoever you might be." He smiled and was pleased to note the smile on the injured man's face. "So, can I get you anything?"
"Some water, please?" He'd been thirsty for hours, but his captors had little concern for him. Hunter nodded and rose.
"Be right back," he promised.
He raised his head, despite the pain, and looked around. Everyone was pointedly ignoring him. He sighed. This could be difficult. He was totally helpless and was going to need someone to take care of him, at least for a while. He breathed a soft sigh of relief when he saw Hunter returning. He had the feeling he was going to have to depend on this man, since it was obvious that no one else was interested in the new prisoner.
"Here," Hunter offered, sliding an arm under his shoulders to help him sit up enough to be able to drink. He gratefully sucked down most of the canteen full. When he was finished, Hunter eased him back down. "I don't think I can get you out to the latrine, but I'll find something for you," he promised.
"Thanks." He was exhausted, but he still had questions. "What's wrong with everyone here?" he asked, fighting to keep from falling asleep.
"They don't care. They figure we're going to lose this war and that we're all going to die, here."
"But we're starting to make inroads. There are plans...."
Hunter pretended not to notice his gaffe. "There are always plans. Some of these men have been here since the war started. It's taking too long, for them."
He nodded his understanding. Sighing, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, allowing the exhaustion to take control.
Hunter watched him sleep, observing the deep lines of exhaustion and pain. Glancing around at his fellow prisoners, he sighed. None of them would bother to help this man. They were too full of self-pity to ever be willing to help someone else. He decided it would be his job to take care of the new prisoner, at least as much as he was able.
Luckily for Pete, Hunter was bigger than most of the men in camp and strong enough to pretty much get whatever he wanted. That first night, when he took two bowls of soup out with him after eating his own dissatisfactory meal, no one said a word, and when the others in his barracks returned, they weren't at all surprised to see him with the new guy, making sure he ate.
Somehow, after all this, if he survived, that is, he vowed to never eat cabbage again. At least, not cabbage soup. It was thin and watery, with little substance. No wonder everyone was so thin. Even after two bowls of it, he was still hungry, and from the looks of things, their captors weren't in much better shape.
If Hunter had ever said anything about having to help him use the bucket to relieve himself, he'd have been terminally embarrassed, but the younger man took it all in stride, even after he got dysentery. He'd not been overweight to begin with, but he started losing weight, which worried his Canadian caretaker.
Several weeks passed, which turned into a couple of months. Their captors showed no inclination to remove the casts from the injured man. Hunter had no way to break them off, so he started helping him lift his immobilized legs, trying to maintain at least some muscle. Once his ribs healed, Pete was soon using his arms to lift himself from the bed. After the first time, when he wound up sprawled on the floor, he always waited for Hunter to be there, to catch him.
After three months, Pete's health became precarious. Everyone was losing weight due to the lack of proper nourishment, but their captors were, too. That was a good thing, in Pete's mind, as it meant that the war was turning against the Germans. Hopefully, one of these days, American and British tanks would appear on the horizon and they'd be rescued.
As the months passed and Pete became weaker and thinner, Hunter became more stoic and withdrawn. At first, they'd talked a great deal of their homes and families. He knew Pete's wife was dead, and he had children that his parents were taking care of while he was here. The entire camp had horrible dysentery and was slowly starving to death. He didn't want Pete to be one of the casualties, but there was nothing he could do. Not even get the heavy plaster off of his legs. He was very discouraged.
He knew that Pete was losing hope of surviving when he whispered his real name to him, making him promise to tell his family how much he loved and missed them. He had to fight back tears as he realized that this man, this friend, was giving up.
"You tell them yourself, okimaw. You hold on, and you tell them yourself," he hissed in fury.
"I'm trying to, but it's gotten to where I can't even keep water down, now. You tried, nitotem, you tried." He was barely breathing, now, and Hunter was furious. Of all the men in the camp, even the other Canadians, this was the only one he could call friend. That the man had learned enough Cree to speak a few words to him had meant a lot and he didn't want to lose him.
"Hold on, my friend. Please, just hold on," he begged, watching the slow rise and fall of Pete's chest as he shallowly breathed.
He was sitting at his deathwatch when their captors came in with nice, thick blankets for everyone. He was forced to leave with the others, while Pete stayed behind. He was furious. He knew what nice blankets meant. It meant that someone from the Red Cross was coming to make sure the prisoners were being properly cared for. Of course, the guards would make sure they didn't see Pete. It wouldn't look good.
He stood at parade rest as the visitors performed their inspection. As expected, they were shown one of the barracks buildings to demonstrate how well cared for the prisoners were. There was even meat in their midday soup. When he took his extra bowl and filled it and then turned to take it to his friend, however, he was stopped. They yelled at him in German, which he'd never bothered to learn to speak, although he did understand it somewhat. He simply glared at them, until one of the Red Cross people asked him what he was doing.
"Pete," he informed them. The Red Cross people looked at the guard who had stopped him and asked who Pete was. The guard, realizing his mistake, tried to cover, but they insisted on following him with his bowl of soup back to his barracks. Hiding the vindictive smile he couldn't help, he led them to his friend, who almost looked dead, except for the slight movement of his chest.
With a cry of dismay, the Red Cross doctor rushed to him and started checking his condition. Furious, he turned on the now embarrassed guards.
"How long has he been like this?" he demanded.
"He came in with the casts on. About six months ago," Pete told them, with a glare at the guards.
"Six months!" The doctor spun on the guards and began speaking very rapidly in German, obviously berating them. He called for his people and kept talking just as fast. Hunter watched as they prepared to take Pete away. He put his hand on the doctor's arm, needing to ask what they planned on doing with his friend.
He was livid. He'd been to many camps where the prisoners were poorly cared for, but this...this was unconscionable. When the camp commandant showed up, he turned his full fury on him and might have been pleased by the man's chagrin and toadying, had he not been so angry. When he felt the gentle tug on his sleeve, he spun, prepared to tear into whoever had dared interrupt his tirade. His fury fell away like a drop of rain on a window when he saw the concerned young man who had inadvertently drawn his attention to the injured man
"What are you going to do to him?"
He patted the young man's arm and turned to the Germans to shout at them some more. They protested, but he was adamant. When they gave in, he turned to the young man and smiled. "Come. You can help," he said in thickly accented English. Hunter, frowning in concerned puzzlement, followed.
There was a real ambulance. Pete's unconscious body was lifted gently into it and strapped to the stretcher. Hunter was pushed in with him and the doctor climbed in as well. Hunter watched curiously as the doctor gave Pete several injections and then covered the emaciated form with a nice, heavy blanket.
"You are friends, yes?"
"I am Philippe Gondau. I am Swiss. My job is to inspect the prison camps. Usually, they are much better at making us think everything is well, but everyone I saw was much too thin and the surprise on their faces to find meat in their bowls was quite obvious. You have been taking care of him?"
"Yes, sir. He came in about six months ago. He had some cracked and broken ribs, too, but I could take the bandages off when they healed. I wasn't strong enough to get the casts off." His voice told the doctor that under normal circumstances, this big young man would have had no problem doing just that.
"So, he has been ill for how long, now?"
"He got dysentery about four months ago. It's never really cleared up, and lately, he can't even keep water down." He gently smoothed the lank hair back from Pete's forehead. He swallowed hard and looked at the doctor. "He asked me to tell his children that he loved them."
Dr. Gondau sucked in a sharp breath and then let it out very slowly. He nodded. "Well, we shall do our best to make certain that he may tell them that, himself, all right?"
Hunter smiled. "Yes, sir."
It was a long journey and most of it was through the mountains. Hunter might have enjoyed the scenery if he hadn't been so concerned with his friend's condition. They stopped every few hours to rest and eat and refuel. He kept trying to wake Pete up to force a bit of water into him. Dr. Gondau said that dehydration was far more dangerous than starvation, so he kept trying. Whenever the doctor tried to get him to respond, Pete stayed unconscious, but when Hunter would speak to him, Pete would force himself to at least acknowledge the man. Gondau was grateful that he'd managed to have the foresight to bring Hunter along. There was no point in trying to save the man if the only person he responded to had been left behind.
Hunter held Pete's hand and continuously talked to him as though he were awake and could hear. Gondau was pleased, knowing that having someone to trust might be important, later on. He couldn't always understand what Hunter was saying. Whatever language it was, it certainly wasn't English, or any of the six other languages the doctor spoke. He was impressed when Hunter would tell him to wake up that Pete would struggle to do just that. The intervening chatter appeared to be something to comfort and reassure. He found it fascinating.
It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the stops to stretch and eat so often, but he could feel his friend's soul, like an injured bird, trying to take flight. He felt that if he didn't keep talking, that Pete's spirit would fly away and his friend would die. Every time they stopped, he'd wake Pete and force him to drink a little water. When the doctor gave him some cider, he smiled and got Pete to drink that. The tangy sweetness of the beverage got the reaction he'd been hoping for and he actually got Pete to drink an entire cup of it.
Of course, a lot of it came right back up, but not all of it. Not all.
Gondau was concerned that Pete's inability to keep anything more than a few sips down meant that they were too late. He refused to give up, however. He hated to do it, what with the rough roads and the jostling, but he felt he had no choice and set up an intravenous line to pour nutrients into the emaciated man. He'd never seen anyone so badly starved that the term 'skin and bones' literally fit, but this was such a man. It angered him and made him glad that he was an inspector. If he had any say in it, this was one prisoner who would not succumb to the mistreatment of his captors. Noticing how thin Hunter was, he amended it to two.
He was going to have to be careful. He had to be cautious about feeding his two patients. He'd realized that Hunter wasn't really in much better shape than his friend, only that he'd been able to move about and keep his muscles working. He again had to fight the fury that the people running the camp had never removed the casts. He was extremely worried as to what he would find when he finally did remove them. Of course, there was no smell of rotting flesh, thankfully, so he was a bit hopeful on that account. As for food, he had one of his staff prepare some hot museli for Hunter, who ate it well, but seemed disappointed that he couldn't get Pete to even try to eat. Gondau was certain that Pete's teeth were probably loose and as atrophied as the rest of his muscles were, his jaws were little better off, since they had been living on scarcely more than water for who knew how long.
As he set up his IV apparatus, he explained to Hunter what it was and what it would do. Hunter watched the clear fluid drip down the tubes and into Pete's arm and pointed out when he noticed that his friend wasn't quite as pale as he had been before. Gondau was pleased and told him to keep watching and talking to his friend.
It took them three days to finally make it to their destination. Hunter knew nothing except that they had gone south. Climbing out of the ambulance he took a deep breath of the clean, clear mountain air, the scent of firs and pines reminding him of home. He shivered and was grateful when someone wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. Even his sheepskin-lined jacket wasn't enough protection. He stayed close to Pete as he was taken into the small hospital. The walls were stark white and it was very quiet. There was a nurse, also dressed in white, who met them at the door and led them to a room with two beds in it. He watched closely as they prepared to move Pete into a bed, only to frown in concern when the doctor stopped them.
"We need to remove those casts, first. Take him to the theatre and once we get those things off of him, let's get him cleaned up and then into bed, shall we?" Hunter followed them, still unwilling to leave his friend alone at the mercy of what were still very much strangers.
When the casts were finally removed, Hunter felt ill. Pete's legs were nothing more than two knobby sticks covered with skin. There was almost no sign of any muscles at all; but Gondau nodded, seemingly pleased. He looked at Hunter and smiled.
"Do not look so concerned. There are no sores, no infection. You have taken good care of him. Certainly it will take quite some time for him to recover, but see? The bones have knit together cleanly and the skin is unblemished."
"He's a skeleton with skin."
"As are you, my boy, as are you," Gondau informed him. Turning to his orderlies, he told them to bathe Pete and then settle him into bed. Looking at Hunter, he gently took him by the arm and led him away. "Let's get you bathed and into bed as well, shall we?"
"I want to stay with Pete," Hunter stubbornly replied, trying to turn back to his friend.
"And so you shall, but first, you must have a bath, yes?"
The words sunk in. "Bath?" His eyes lit up at the prospect. Then he looked down at himself. "I haven't had a bath in over a year. Maybe you'd better use a hose on me, first."
Gondau laughed. "I'm sure we can do better than that. Have you ever used a shower?"
Hunter nodded. The doctor led him to an ordinary bathroom, with one slight difference. The tub also had a shower installed above it. He was told to take a nice hot shower, as long as he wished, followed by a bath. When asked why, the doctor just smiled and said that he'd see.
He certainly did see. Scrubbing himself nearly raw, he finally understood what the doctor had meant about his being almost as skeletal as Pete was. The hot water and soap felt wonderful. He scrubbed his matted hair several times until he was satisfied. Using his fingers to comb out the tangles, he braided it. He heard someone come in and asked, "Who's there?"
"Sorry to disturb you, but I brought you some bath salts," a decidedly feminine voice replied.
"Uh, thank you," he nervously countered. He listened closely and sighed when he heard the door close. Peeking around the edge of the curtain, he noticed the enormous bottle of salts. Reaching for it, he lifted the lid and sniffed. It was a warm, almost ocean-like scent. Putting the stopper in the bottom of the tub, he poured a generous amount of the salts in and watched them bubble and foam. Sitting down in the tub, he waited until the water was nearly overflowing before turning it off. Relaxing back, he sighed happily and let the warmth and pleasant smell take over his senses.
When he awoke, he was freezing. The water had long since turned cold. He pulled the plug and turned the shower back on, using the hot water to warm himself back up. Finished, he turned off the water and climbed out. Lifting a heavy cotton towel from the rack, he dried himself. Looking down at his filthy rags of clothes, he decided that a terrycloth breechclout was preferable. Gingerly holding his clothes in one hand and keeping the towel secured with the other, he left the bathroom and made his way back to the room he'd first been shown. He was pleased to see Pete already ensconced in one of the beds, clean, warm, and looking fairly comfortable lying there. Still too pale, though, but at least he looked like he was sleeping and not about to die any second. He noticed that there were two different bags feeding into the IV and wondered what they might contain. He managed to read one, which said it contained glucose, which was the sugar stuff the doctor had told him would provide nourishment. The second bottle he was unable to understand. Dropping his clothes on the floor by his bed, he removed the towel and climbed between the sheets. The crisp, cool, clean cotton fabric felt wonderful. He pulled the blanket up over him and settled down with a sigh. Before he knew it, he was sound asleep.
Philippe Gondau had a secret. He was very careful to keep it from the Germans when he visited. It certainly wouldn't do for them to discover that he was a Jew. He'd heard the reports of others who had managed to escape. At first, he'd not believed them, but the more who came, the more he believed. It had been one of the reasons he'd volunteered to be an inspector. This, however, was the worst he'd ever seen. His report castigated the commandant of the camp, as well as the guards. To not provide even minimal medical aid to an injured man was unconscionable. He knew that his report would no doubt fall on deaf ears, but what no one realized, was that he also had underground contacts who forwarded his reports to the Allies. He hoped to learn more of his guests and send word of their survival in the very near future.
He looked in on the two men, pleased to see them sleeping calmly. Pete's color was continuing to improve, but there was still far to go before the man would recover...if he ever could. He'd been pleased with what muscle was left, but whether it could come back from the brink like this...they would just have to wait and see. Perhaps with his friend to encourage him, he might surprise him. He certainly hoped so.
Hunter awoke to a wonderful smell. Opening his eyes, he saw a pretty young woman carrying a tray laden with some of the best smells he'd ever smelled in his life. Or at least within memory. He sat up and smiled at the girl, who shyly smiled back at him. Setting the tray on the small table between the two beds, she looked at him. "I am Marie. You are hungry, no?"
"Very hungry," Hunter admitted, arranging his pillows behind him. The girl looked at him and blushed and he realized that he was basically naked, except for the sheet. "Sorry. My clothes were too horrible to put back on."
"Not to worry," She placed a folding try across his lap and placed several covered dishes on it. There was no coffee, but the smell of the food banished that small disappointment. He uncovered the dishes to discover oatmeal, eggs, and even sausage. He couldn't help the small gasp of wonder. Instead of digging in, however, he turned to check on his friend. Pete was still unconscious, but his color was better. He looked at the girl, who was checking his pulse.
"How's he doing?" he asked.
She smiled at him. "Better. He is not awakening, yet, but he breathes better and his color is better, yes?"
"Yes," he agreed.
"Now, as for you, you eat now. When you are finished, you rest some more."
"But what if I'm not tired?"
She smiled and nodded. "Until we get you more clothes, I suppose you will just have to stay in bed and talk to your friend?"
His jaw dropped and he watched the girl leave. Shaking his head, he turned to his food and dug in. Despite his hunger, he ate sparingly, fearful of making himself sick. He ate some of everything, though, and then checked on his friend. Pete's color was much better. He no longer looked like a corpse, but still looked like a skeleton with the skin still on. He patted Pete's shoulder and spoke softly to him, telling him that when he awoke, to remember he was still on earth, and not in the happy hunting grounds. Returning to his bed, he stretched back out beneath the covers and dropped back to sleep.
He was dreaming. Had to be. Dreaming of clean, cool sheets and warm blankets. Of good smells and the sounds of birds singing in the trees. He sighed and drifted, imagining what it might be like to actually one day awaken from his nightmarish existence to find he was far away from the hellhole he existed in.
Finally, however, his bladder reminded him that at least parts of him were still functioning and he opened his eyes. He frowned. This wasn't the barracks. This place was white and stark. He rolled his head to the side and saw a window, with bright blue sky and clouds. Rolling his head the other way, he saw another bed, occupied by Hunter. He wanted to reach for him, or call out, but he was simply too weak to do so. Still, he managed a faint croaking sound, and Hunter reacted by waking immediately and looking over at him.
"Pete!" Hunter softly exclaimed. "How are you feeling?" He could see the question in the man's eyes and got up. He found some clothes at the foot of his bed and frowned, wondering where they'd come from and realized he'd slept through it. With a shrug, he pulled on the pants and went to his friend.
The blue eyes expressed their owner's confusion and Hunter explained: "Red Cross. We're in Switzerland, Pete...or should I start calling you 'sir'?"
Pete smiled faintly and shook his head. He tried to speak again, but still couldn't. Hunter placed a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Don't try and talk. Let me get you something to drink, then I'll get the doctor, all right?" At Pete's nod of agreement, he poured a glass of water from the carafe on the table between their beds and then lifted Pete and held the glass for him to drink.
He was so weak, still, that he could barely manage to swallow, but the cool liquid felt so good going down. Hunter gently lay him back down. "Better?" he asked. Pete nodded and his eyes moved around, his curiosity about his surroundings obvious to his friend and caretaker.
"Hospital. Dr. Gondau's. He's the man with the Red Cross inspection. The guards messed up." Hunter smiled at his friend, whose frown asked the question.
"They came through and gave us all nice, new, heavy blankets, so we knew the Red Cross was coming. There was even meat in the soup, for once. When I tried to leave the mess hall with a bowl for you, a guard stopped me, and Dr. Gondau wanted to know what was going on. He made the guard let me go and followed me to you. He really tore into those guards, and even the commandant. Then, he took you and me with him and brought us here."
"How long?" Pete's voice was a harsh whisper, but it was the best he could manage.
"Three days to get here, and we've been here..." He frowned, uncertain of how long he'd slept. "Two days, I think. I'm not sure. I slept a lot, and they fed me. They gave you something through your veins to feed you, the doctor said. How do you feel?"
"Weak," Pete admitted, then smiled, "But clean and warm."
Hunter nodded, smiling. "Oh, yes." He stood and headed for the door. "I'll see about finding the doctor. You want anything else?"
Pete shook his head, eyes already closing from exhaustion. "No, thank you." Hunter watched him, noticing that his breathing was better and that there was color to his skin, now, instead of that horrid grayness of before. Satisfied, he opened the door and went looking for the doctor.
Padding about in his bare feet, he silently approached another room with an open door. Glancing in, he noticed the young woman who had been acting as nurse. He stopped. "Excuse me, but Pete's awake, now," he softly announced. The girl jumped and spun to gape at him. Shaking her head she frowned.
"Pete, my friend. He is awake. I thought someone might want to know?"
She smiled at him and nodded. "I'll get the doctor." She slid past him and scurried down the hall in search of Dr. Gondau.
Hunter made his way back to the room and sat on the edge of his bed. Pete's eyes had opened and tracked him as he moved. He smiled reassuringly at his friend and settled down to wait. "Lady's getting the doctor," he said and noted Pete's miniscule head nod. "Tanisi?"
Pete smiled. "Warm, comfortable, weak as a newborn kitten. And I need the latrine."
Before Hunter could reply, Dr. Gondau walked in. He smiled at his now-awake patient. "So, you are awake at last. How are you feeling?"
Pete was beyond embarrassment after six months of Hunter having to help him with every need. "Latrine?" he asked.
Gondau beamed. "Good, that means that your kidneys are functioning." He stood up and went to a cupboard on the other side of the room to get a bedpan. There was no embarrassment with Pete's inability to do even that small, personal task. Hunter took the bedpan from the doctor and helped his friend. Gondau was surprised, but not displeased.
Pete sighed in relief, thankful that he still even had bladder control. The doctor seemed pleased, as well, nodding in satisfaction. He took the bedpan from Hunter and set it aside, wishing to run some tests later. Turning back, he took Pete's wrist in his hand and checked his pulse. Then he listened to his heart and lungs, nodding; satisfied with his readings, he smiled. "Much better. Your heart is already stronger. I've ordered some broth for you. I realize that you're probably much more hungry than that, but I don't want to shock your system any more than necessary. If you manage the broth well, then we'll see about adding to it later, all right?"
Pete nodded. He watched curiously as the doctor pulled the covers back and manipulated his legs. He tried to stifle a moan of pain as the long-unused muscles protested the movement. "I know," Doctor Gondau murmured softly. "But if we don't start working your muscles now, you may never get back the use of your legs. At least your arms are somewhat better, yes?"
Pete nodded again and his breath hissed in as his knees were flexed for him. Hunter hovered, watching with an expression of pain on his own face. "See here?" the doctor asked, running his hand gently over Pete's thigh. "You can just barely see where the bones have knit together. Whoever set your legs did an excellent job." He finished his examination and pulled the covers back up, tucking them around Pete's chest. "We will have to force the muscles to stretch and contract for a while, to help them recover. Would you like to try and sit up?"
Pete frowned for a moment, and then shook his head. "Tired," he murmured. Gondau smiled.
"Yes, I can imagine. Rest, then. I'll have my nurse awaken you with the broth." He turned to go; then, remembering something, turned back. "I have... connections. If you would like to get word to your families, I can make arrangements for that." He smiled at them both and left them to rest.
"Do you believe him?" Pete whispered.
Hunter thought about it and then he nodded. "I think so. He was so angry with them.... Yes. I trust him. Besides, we're in Switzerland, now, not Germany. I can't see him sending us back."
Pete nodded and his eyes drifted closed. "Thanks, nikosis. For everything."
Hunter smiled. "You're welcome, nitotem." He noticed a faint shiver pass through Pete's body and he frowned. "Kikawacin na?"
"A little, perhaps," Pete agreed. His eyes remained closed and he began drifting off to sleep. Hunter got another blanket from the foot of the bed and gently laid it over the recumbent form, tucking it around the shivering body. It took only a moment to warm him up, as the shivers stopped almost immediately. Hunter watched his friend sleep for a while then went to the window and looked out. It was a beautiful day, with bright sunlight and patchy cumulus clouds. They were high in the mountains, in a lovely little alpine valley with a meadow stretching for miles down the slope, and trees blocking the view of the valley floor. The air was clear and not really cold, but definitely cool. After a few minutes, he turned back and stretched out atop his bed, never noticing when he fell asleep.
It was the smell that woke them some time later. It couldn't have been more than an hour or so, as the sun was still high in the sky. Hunter wanted to take care of Pete, first, but the nurse told him to eat his own and she would take care of his friend. He watched her closely as she lifted the wasted body and piled extra pillows behind Pete's back...and he wondered if he should start calling him by his proper name? He saw Pete wasn't being very cooperative with the nurse trying to spoon the broth into his mouth, and shook his head. "Okimaw, mi'ciso!"
Pete looked up at him in surprise. "I'd rather just drink it, rather than one spoonful at a time," he complained. They both looked at the nurse, who seemed a bit surprised, but then shrugged and allowed him to sip the soup from the bowl. His hands came up and held the bowl and soon she could leave him to feed himself. He even managed to finish it all, much to Hunter's delight.
"You're feeling better, I can tell," he said as the nurse took their empty dishes away. Pete nodded tiredly. Just that much had exhausted him. It was still going to be a long time before he was anywhere near being healed, but just being able to raise his hands to his face was a start. Next, he'd try using the bedpan on his own.
A week passed and Hunter was starting to show signs of improvement. Pete, however, having been far more debilitated, wasn't healing nearly as fast. Being as close to death as he had been, though, the doctor was more than pleased with his progress thus far. No more had been said about contacting their families.
Pete was actually able to sit up for short periods of time, now, feed himself and use the bedpan without assistance, much to his secret delight. He'd been too long helpless to have any embarrassment left over his care and bodily functions, but it was nice to be able to do those things for himself. He suffered in silence each day when, first the doctor and then Pete worked his legs, stretching the muscles and flexing his hips, knees, and ankles. It burned, almost, but it was the only way he'd ever walk again. If they didn't do it now, while he was eating well, the muscles would not be able to heal properly. The pain was excruciating, but Pete put up with it, understanding the reasons.
After six weeks of good food and physical therapy, he was able to sit up on his own, and was beginning to look forward to trying to walk again. The doctor had brought a comfortable chair into their room and placed it by the window. Hunter smiled and lifted Pete from his bed and set him in the chair, wrapping blankets around him to keep him warm. Basking in the morning sun, Pete was soon dozing, Hunter by his side.
Dr. Gondau smiled at the friends. When his nurse approached, he looked at her. "What is it, Giselle?"
"The American has sent you a message," she replied.
"Ah, excellent! We may now arrange to have their families informed, yes?" He headed to his office to read the message. He had informed his contact that he'd rescued an American and a Canadian. The Allies were requesting identification on the men, now. He would have just sent a message back with the information from their dog tags, but the one man, Pete, didn't have any. He decided to see if they had any messages for their families before sending his message.
He was smiling when he entered their room. Pete was sitting up and staring out the window, while Hunter stood, leaning against the wall as they talked. At his entrance, both men turned to him.
"I have been contacted. If you wish to notify your families, I will send the message this evening," he informed them.
He noticed the odd look Hunter gave his friend, but made no comment. He watched as the younger man crouched by Pete and spoke too softly for him to overhear. Pete nodded, and looked up at him.
"I'm afraid I've been doing my damnedest to keep from telling anyone, but I'm not exactly who I've been claiming to be," he admitted, watching the doctor closely.
"Oh?" Gondau replied, wondering why.
"My name is Frank Savage, and I'm a Brigadier General in the US Army Air Corps."
Gondau stared. He'd heard of the general, but like everyone else, had thought he was dead. "Have you any proof?"
Savage smiled. "Not with me, but if you can get me in radio contact with General Crowe, I think I can convince him I'm alive."
Gondau nodded, still a bit in shock. "I'll see what I can do."
It took two days to set up the relays needed to have the conversation. Hunter lifted his friend into a wheelchair and insisted on pushing him to the radio room. First, Gondau radioed his contact, who patched him through several other people until finally they reached England. When eventually the relays were all in place, Gondau asked to speak to whomever was in charge. Eventually, a colonel came on the line.
"This is Gallagher, who is this?" came the strident tones of the man. Savage closed his eyes for a moment and then pressed the button to reply.
"Leper Colony, this is Piccadilly Lily, over."
There were several minutes of stunned silence, then, a different voice came on, "General Savage?"
He smiled, recognizing the voice even through the distortion of the radio, "That you, Sandy?"
"Yes, sir! We thought you'd bought the farm, sir! How are you?"
Savage chuckled, "Better than I was, Sandy. Better than I was."
"What happened to you, sir? We saw you go down but there weren't enough chutes. What happened?"
"I was about to bail out when I noticed that the plane was heading for a school full of kids. I sat back down and pulled her up to miss them. I got a little banged up, I'm afraid."
There was another lengthy silence as those at the other end undoubtedly discussed his news. Then Gallagher's voice came back, "How come we didn't hear you'd been captured? Axis Sally would have been crowing like a cock over your capture, General."
Savage closed his eyes to cover his feelings over talking to people he knew. "I took off my insignia and dog tags and hid them. Then I managed to get back to the waist and they thought I was a gunner. I told them my name was Pete Lily."
There was another silence, but not nearly as long, then: "How badly were you hurt, sir?"
"Broke both legs and some ribs, pulled muscles in arms and shoulders. I'm doing all right, now. How are things on your end?"
"Looking up, sir," Komansky replied, the joy in discovering the general still alive was palpable in his voice.
"I'm afraid I'll probably be stuck for the duration here, we're in Switzerland, and I don't think they'll send me home any time soon, but I'd like for word to be gotten to my family back in Ohio that I'm still alive, even if I'm not exactly kicking at the moment."
"We can do that, General," Gallagher's voice promised. "May I speak to the doctor?"
He knew what that was about and handed the microphone over. His eyes closed as he listened to Gondau recite his injuries and prognosis. He was pleased to hear that the doctor thought he might actually recover the use of his legs, eventually; it was encouragement he needed and gave him the willpower to make sure it happened.
They daren't stay on the air too long, and a few minutes later said their goodbyes, but Savage's spirits soared with the knowledge that his friends and soon his family would know that he'd survived. He determined that when he was eventually sent home, that he'd be walking on his own two legs. Now, to work harder on regaining his physical health.
He worked hard, despite the pain, despite the occasional injuries due to the fact that he didn't want to take things slowly. Despite the setbacks when the weather changed and he became ill. He seemed to forget that he'd nearly died and became frustrated when his body refused to obey him, still. He was a hard taskmaster, much to his friend's surprise. Dr. Gondau, however, was well pleased with his recovery, despite his slow, shuffling gait and occasional falls.
Sometimes, however, he would become depressed, particularly any time a plane flew over and he heard or saw it. Long after it was gone, he'd continue gazing at the sky, reminding the others of an injured eagle, unable to take flight. They all realized that if any man had been born to fly, this was such a man. To help keep him occupied, Dr. Gondau found a book on Galileo, which included his ideas for flying machines. Frank became fascinated with one of the designs for a gigantic kite that could be used as a one-man glider to fly the thermals like a great bird of prey. He convinced Hunter to help him to build one out of strong, but lightweight saplings. Their Swiss hosts thought them foolish, but it was better than his earlier despondency.
When word of D-Day came, Savage and Hunter were overjoyed. They knew that the war was still a long way from being won, but at least they now had soldiers on enemy soil and they expected to be able to go home before too much longer.
The glider used parachute silk for the covering. The wooden frame was light and just a bit flexible. Savage had taken the parachute harness and adapted it so that instead of hanging from the shoulders, it would allow him to be supported at his hips. Their hosts thought him insane when he and Hunter carried it to the top of the barn to launch it, with Frank as the pilot. They were convinced he was going to kill himself.
Much to everyone's surprise, including the general's, the afternoon breeze coming up the valley lifted the glider and its pilot and carried it aloft. Savage could be heard shouting in glee as he learned to maneuver his craft and he was soon soaring several hundred feet above the ground. He was still not completely well and he still had a great deal of difficulty walking, but now he didn't care, now he could fly; and like the eagle soaring near him on one of his flights, sharing the thermal, it didn't matter any more, because he was back in the air, where he belonged.
Nearly every afternoon, he was up in his hang glider, soaring over the valley like the eagles that shared the area. He still worked hard on his therapy, regaining the use and strength in his damaged and wasted body, but his spirit soared far beyond his physical limitations as he took off and joined the denizens of the sky.
When asked why he didn't try the glider, Hunter shook his head. "He is the eagle, who soars above, I am but the puma, who stalks the earth. Each of us knows our place and it is as it should be."
VE day finally arrived. At the news, Hunter went out to tell his friend, who was nowhere to be found. He wasn't too concerned, however, as the hang glider was also missing. He gazed up into the heavens, searching for his friend. After several minutes, he noticed a formation of dots in the far distance. Shading his eyes, he squinted, trying to make them out. When they were finally close enough to be recognized, he began to frantically search for the small hang glider. Finally, he spotted it, high above, soaring with the eagles, again. He wondered if the pilot had noticed the approaching airplanes. When the glider began climbing, he realized that his friend had seen the newcomers.
When the planes passed overhead, they were no doubt startled to find a man flying up there with them. Hunter laughed when he saw the lead plane suddenly bobble as the pilot reacted to seeing the hang glider so close. He watched as the glider deftly soared above the low-flying squadron for a moment before plunging like a striking eagle towards the ground, only to pull up several hundred feet above the trees and begin a slow, spiraling climb back up. The occupants of the planes banked around to take another look, then waggled their wings in salute and circled back to their original course. The glider remained airborne until the planes passed from sight.
Hunter was still chuckling when his friend landed. He helped him by carrying the glider back to the hospital, while Frank wearily trudged along beside him.
"How long were you up there?" Hunter asked, noting how his friend was dragging both feet, something he usually only did when very tired.
He shrugged. "Two, three hours, I guess."
"Too long, okimaw. You are not yet strong enough, and you know it," he chastised gently.
"I was up with the eagles, soaring higher than I've ever gone, before. The air was thin, and sometimes it was hard to breathe, but I was free, nitotem. Just me and the wind and the eagles. Then, as I was thinking it was time to come back to earth, I saw off in the distance that squadron of seventeens." His eyes were shining with the excitement of it all. "That was my bird in the lead. I couldn't help myself, I had to see them closer, so I climbed until I could swoop down through the formation and call to them." He grinned. "I half expected Komansky to come out after me...."
Hunter smiled. Despite his friend's exhaustion, his elation at seeing his comrades was obvious. The knowledge that he knew some of the people flying over boded well for them both. Perhaps they'd be allowed to go home soon.
Frank was exhausted by the time they'd hiked the final mile back to the hospital, and the adrenaline had long since worn off from his excitement over seeing his colleagues. Hunter understood his friend and as they climbed the final hill to the hospital, paused, halfway up.
"You go and rest. I'll take care of your wings for you."
He thought about arguing, but was honest enough to admit his exhaustion and nodded. "All right. But one of these days, I'll be able to do that all day and either land precisely where I want to, or be able to carry my own wings home."
"One day, I believe you will," Hunter agreed with a grin. "But until then, go and rest. Otherwise, when your friends get here, you will be sleeping so soundly that bombs wouldn't wake you."
Frank chuckled dryly and nodded. "Thanks, nicosis. For everything." They resumed their journey, with Frank heading directly for the hospital building and Hunter for the barn where they kept the glider.
Frank stretched out with a groan on his bed. His back and legs ached, but he didn't think he'd be able to rest, thinking about his squadron being nearby. Within five minutes, he was sound asleep.
Three hours later, when a car drove up in front of the hospital, Hunter roused his friend.
"They are here, okimaw. Two of them anyway." Hunter was grinning as he watched out the window as the two men got out of the vehicle and looked around. Dr. Gondau went out to greet them and, after shaking both men's hands, led them into the building.
Frank was still aching from the earlier hike, but he got up and straightened his clothes and ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it back. When Dr. Gondau's nurse came to get him, he grinned at Hunter and followed her down to greet his visitors.
He paused in the doorway and just looked at the two men for a moment, then, smiling, he entered the room. The two uniformed men turned to him when they noticed the doctor's attention shift to the doorway behind them. The shorter man immediately snapped to attention and saluted, holding the pose until his salute was returned.
The Colonel, on the other hand, almost didn't salute at all, and when he finally did, it was almost insolent in the execution.
Savage returned their salutes and told the sergeant "At ease, Komansky." Then his attention returned to the colonel. "I see you haven't changed, Colonel." His voice was mild, but the other man stiffened.
"I've changed quite a bit... sir." He added it as an afterthought and then wondered why he was behaving this way?
Savage understood, even if he didn't. "Relax, Joe. I'm not in any condition to try and take the command back from you. Besides, the war's pretty much over and I just want to go home and see my family at the moment." He turned to Komansky. "How've you been, Sandy?"
With a glance at the colonel, Komansky shrugged. "It's okay, sir." He hesitated and then continued. "More important, how are you doing, sir?"
Savage smiled. "Much better than expected, I believe." He looked at Dr. Gondau, who nodded and smiled.
"Considerably better. You are, after all, walking, now. For a time we were not certain that would be possible."
That got the colonel's attention. He frowned and looked more closely at the general. "Oh?" he asked. He suddenly realized just how thin his former commanding officer was. His wrists and hands looked huge, hanging from his arms. Looking critically at him, he suddenly marveled that the man was able to stand. His clothes were much too large on him and he was willing to bet that with his shirt off, he'd be able to count every bone in his body through the skin. Yet he was tanned from being outdoors, as well. Knowing that he'd been here nearly a year and that he'd been receiving the best care possible, he could only imagine the condition he'd arrived in. His surliness abruptly disappeared with the realization of just how close the general must have been to death when he was rescued. He frowned and glanced down at the file the doctor had given him. He decided he'd read it in private, later.
"You surprised us, general, when you came through the formation, earlier. What the hell was that, anyway?"
Savage gave them a delighted grin. "That was my wings. The good doctor here, loaned me a book on Galileo. One of the illustrations was the glider. We built one and imagine our surprise when it worked."
"Imagine our surprise to see you up at twelve thousand feet, sir," Komansky grinned.
Savage laughed and gave the colonel a sly grin. "Oh, I saw. You should have seen the look on Joe's face when I dropped through the formation."
Gallagher grimaced. "I have to admit that you gave me a shock. For a second, I thought we were under attack, then realized it was a man hanging from a gigantic kite." He shook his head. "Komansky's the one who identified you. The rest of us were too shocked to do much more than stare." At Savage's laughter, he couldn't help but grin. "If you'd had a gun, you could have blown us all out of the sky before we could have reacted."
"Oh, I doubt that. I counted at least four fifties trained on me, at least until they saw I wasn't armed. Don't sell your men short, Colonel." He tone of voice said that he wouldn't have.
Dr. Gondau could see how tired the general was and suggested that they should join them for dinner. Gallagher hesitated, but then nodded. "Very well, thank you, Doctor. Sir, we need to discuss repatriation." He glanced at the doctor, unsure whether they'd be allowed to take the general back with them.
Gondau smiled. "They are free to go whenever they wish, Colonel. Once the Germans conceded, there was nothing to keep them here except their lack of transportation home."
"If you'll excuse me," the general said softly, "I have a couple of things I need to do before dinner. I'll see you there. Colonel, Sergeant." With that, Savage left and headed back to his room. He made it all the way before the shakes hit him so hard that he had to sit down. Hunter was waiting for him and poured him a glass of water.
"They were pleased to see you?"
Savage chuckled. "Well, Sandy Komansky was. Gallagher was not. He figures I'll always see him as a screw-up."
"And do you?"
He took a deep breath and then drank his water. "No. I just see a spoiled child who because his father is important feels he should get special treatment."
"Ah," Hunter replied knowingly. "And you do not wish to be his father, eh?"
Frank paused for a moment, then his frown turned into a wry grin. "No. I've my own children to raise. I've no desire to try to correct someone else's mistakes with their children." He stretched, trying to loosen a few muscles that had stiffened badly from his earlier over-exertion. Taking pity on him, Hunter pushed him down on his bed and began to massage his back, starting at his skull and working his way all the way down to his toes.
Savage sighed in pleasure as his muscles ceased their painful spasms. One of these days, he promised himself, he was going to go for more than a few hours without having to rest, and his body would once again be under his control to do as he pleased.
He stretched when Hunter stopped the gentle massage. "Thanks," he said with a grateful smile. "So, you about ready for dinner? With any luck at all, we'll be back in England in a few days and maybe even on a ship heading west."
"You know me, I can always eat," Hunter chuckled. It was something of a joke among the hospital staff, just how much food the two men could put away without difficulty. With an answering grin, Savage clapped him on the shoulder and they made their way down to the dining room.
It was obvious that the colonel was not pleased by the presence of either Komansky or Hunter. When he was introduced to the Captain, he was barely civil, regarding the man with a rather condescending sneer. His attitude was not lost on anyone. Komansky tried to sneak away, but the general snagged his arm and pushed him towards a chair. Sighing in uncomfortable compliance, he did as he was bid. He did his best to ignore the colonel's disdainful glances.
Dr. Gondau noticed the colonel's definite class bias and wondered about it. He'd been of the opinion, based on the general's friendship with his Canadian friend, that Americans were not nearly as class conscious as Europeans were. He wondered which one of the men demonstrated the norm? He decided to watch the way the four men interacted to determine which was the case.
Komansky wished he were somewhere else. The only reason he'd been permitted to come along was to drive, and he knew it. Sometimes, he thought of the colonel as a friend, others, well, he knew his 'place': far from 'Officer Country'. He glanced at the general, who had always impressed him. Not because of his rank, not because of his power, but because he was simply a good man who earned the respect of the men under him. He had never demanded, but earned it, by first respecting his men. Gallagher could take a lesson, but everyone knew that wasn't likely. Not in this lifetime, at any rate. He glanced at the Canadian pilot. Gallagher didn't think he belonged, either, but he was an officer, so what was the deal there? Hunter, that was the Canuck's name, he recalled, seemed to recognize that Gallagher didn't like him, but he seemed able to ignore it.
Dr. Gondau didn't understand. The American colonel seemed angry about something. He glared at everyone, even the general. Perhaps most at the general. Whatever was wrong with the man?
"So, Colonel, how was your flight?" the doctor asked.
"Uneventful, until we got buzzed by the general's giant kite."
Komansky couldn't help himself and snickered. He ignored the colonel's glare by looking at the general, who was grinning.
Dr. Gondau smiled. "Yes, we were all quite amazed when the device worked. It is fascinating to watch our friend as he soars up with the eagles.
Savage smiled. He was relaxed, his posture slumped in his chair. The doctor and Hunter wouldn't snitch on him, tell the visitors that he had a hard time keeping his spine straight, after everything he'd been through. He was grateful he could walk, although he still shuffled, mostly, and tired far too easily. The doctor suggested that it would probably take another year of dedicated therapy before he'd recover as much as he'd be able to.
He'd survived, and would see his family again. That was the important thing. Gallagher was being a pompous ass and he was getting tired of it. He turned to Komansky. "So, Sandy, who's left of the squadron?"
Komansky flinched and glanced at the colonel, who ignored him. "Uh, General Crowe, he, uh, died of a heart attack about a year ago."
Savage flinched. Wiley had been a friend, and a good one. He'd miss him. "Damn," he muttered softly. No wonder he'd been patched through to Gallagher. He and Komansky were probably the only two still around who knew him. "Anyone else left?"
Sandy grinned. "Major Stovall sends his regards, and I got a message from Doc Kaiser that when he gets a hold of you that you're going to get the toughest physical of your life."
Savage chuckled. "Is that supposed to scare me? If so, it's sadly lacking." Komansky grinned.
"I think he missed you, sir." Komansky's voice indicated that the doctor wasn't the only one to have missed him. A quick glance at Gallagher showed that he was not in the least pleased with the nature of the conversation.
"I was hoping to head back tomorrow, General," the colonel interjected.
Savage glanced at Hunter, who shrugged. "I don't think there will be a problem for us, do you, Dr. Gondau?"
"No, General, you and Captain Hunter are quite free to go any time you like."
Gallagher stiffened in his chair, glaring at the Canadian. "My orders are only to pick up the general."
Savage's breath caught at the implication. "Come off it, Colonel. I'm sure you've got room for Captain Hunter. He is, after all, an ally." He couldn't believe the gall of the man. "Besides, he's an officer, too," he added softly.
Gallagher's lips compressed into a thin line of annoyance. "If you insist, sir." He made the term of respect sound anything but.
The general shook his head. "Colonel, you can go back immediately. I'll make other arrangements." He turned to his friend and began speaking too softly for the others to hear. Hunter frowned and shook his head, but finally gave a reluctant nod.
Gallagher was taken aback by the general's announcement. Other arrangements? How? He squirmed a bit, wondering if he'd call the Canadians, but that wasn't likely. Was it? He glanced at Komansky, who was close enough to overhear the general and the other man, but he was pointedly looking away. He frowned, wondering what on earth the general was up to. Whatever it was, the Indian didn't seem very happy, either.
If he didn't come back with the general, the shit would surely hit the fan. He'd brought an entire flight a very long way to just turn around and go back empty handed. He sighed. If he had to transport the Indian, then he'd have to. Maybe put him aboard Townsend's bird.
He sighed. "General, there's no need for that. We'll be happy to take your friend back with us."
Even Dr. Gondau caught the odd inflection the colonel used on the word 'friend'. He frowned, wondering what on earth was going on.
"What is your problem, Colonel?" Savage asked, not understanding the man's attitude towards the Canadian captain. "Is it the fact that Captain Hunter is Canadian? Or is it because he's an Indian?" His voice dropped dangerously on the last sentence.
"No problem, General," Gallagher replied immediately, realizing his mistake. He'd forgotten that the general was part Indian.
Savage glared at the colonel, eyes narrowed as he realized what the 'no problem' was. "Colonel," he began softly, his eyes showing just how angry he was.
Hunter interrupted him. "It's not worth it to me, okimaw." He turned to their host. "Do you think you could contact the RAF or the RCAF for me?"
"No." Savage's voice was soft and deadly. He gave Hunter a warning glance and turned his attention to the colonel. "I'm not about to leave him behind, Colonel. He's the only reason I'm still alive." His jaws clenched at the memories. "He was the only prisoner in that camp who even spoke to me. He kept me fed, got me water and took care of my bodily functions. I couldn't move, Joe. Both legs were shattered." Gallagher flinched, while Komansky listened with rapt attention.
"The town where I landed had a doctor with an x-ray machine. He set and cast the bones, but then they turned me over to the Germans. They took me to that camp and dumped me on a bunk. Captain Hunter was the only one who gave a damn. The others would simply have let me die. As it was, I nearly did anyway."
Dr. Gondau joined in. "Yes, that is true. We were very nearly too late. While Captain Hunter has done very well in his recovery, the general has not fared nearly as well. He's only been walking for a bit over three months." Seeing his patient about to protest, he continued on, quickly. "You have not fallen in the past three months. Prior to that, you fell frequently. You know it is so." Savage sighed and nodded, his lips compressed in annoyance.
The doctor turned to Gallagher. "It was more than a week before he could so much as sit up, even with help. He wasn't able to sit up on his own for six weeks, and he only took his first step six months ago." He frowned at the colonel, wondering why he hadn't read the file he'd given them. "He weighed barely thirty-three kilos when he arrived. He's not quite doubled that weight since he's been here. He's up to sixty kilos, now. That is a tremendous improvement." He glanced at his patient and smiled, "Had we been a day later, I doubt he'd have lived. As it was, I was uncertain that he could survive. The fact that he's even walking at all is miraculous."
"What about that kite thing?" Gallagher challenged, casting a glance at the general, who seemed content to let the doctor fight his battles for him; that was certainly strange. He suddenly realized that what he had assumed was lax posture was the best the general could manage. The man was perspiring a bit from the effort of simply sitting there and eating dinner... just how bad off was he?
"Ah, the glider," Dr. Gondau smiled. "I call it incentive."
"Incentive?" Gallagher asked, shifting his gaze between the doctor and the general, and then caught Hunter grinning.
Savage replied. "He let me borrow the book, I got interested in the glider, and he let me figure out how to build it, based on the drawings. Hunter found me some nice, flexible saplings and a parachute and we started to build the thing. Of course, once it was built, I wanted to try it." He shook his head as he smiled fondly at his doctor and friend. "That's when the 'incentive' came into play. I couldn't possibly fly the thing if I couldn't stand up and walk. While I might have managed to get airborne, there would be no way for me to land or get the thing back here. Not to mention how was I going to get it up high enough to take off."
The doctor smiled and nodded. "Yes, here was this marvelous toy and he couldn't see if it worked because he was unable to stand for more than a few seconds before he would collapse." He looked pointedly at the colonel. "Within a month, he was walking short distances, although he did fall down quite a bit."
Savage chuckled. "That's an understatement! I could manage from my room to the latrine and back, providing I used the wall for support. I couldn't do stairs or any distance greater than twenty feet."
"Yes, but I said that if you could get up to the barn roof with your glider, I would permit you to try and fly it. Imagine my shock and horror to see you atop the barn just two days later!" He turned to the newcomers and returned Komansky's smile. "He'd convinced Captain Hunter to help him. They claim that Hunter did not carry him, but they haven't said how they managed it. Perhaps before you leave?"
Savage laughed. "We used the block and tackle. Hunter hauled first me, and then the glider up to the top of the roof. I got myself buckled into the harness and was trying to figure out how to launch the thing when the wind came up the valley and I suddenly found myself airborne and out of control. Then I realized that I could control the glider by using my arms to push myself back and forth and side to side. That first flight lasted what, twenty minutes before I crashed?"
"You did not crash, okimaw," Hunter corrected. "You simply were too tired to remain standing once you landed."
Both the doctor and the general laughed. "You should become a politician, nicosis. You certainly have the charm and tact for it," Savage suggested.
"No. I will go home and go back to fishing, hunting, and growing vegetables, thank you. I will be content to be the leader of my family. I have no desire to tell others how to live or what to do."
Savage just grinned at his friend.
Gallagher was having a hard time accepting just how bad off the general had been when he was brought here. To discover that the man weighed only a hundred and thirty-two pounds, and that was nearly double what he'd weighed when he arrived nearly a year ago... that was incomprehensible. He looked at the man and thought how sickly he looked, to try and imagine him worse... He wondered if the doctor had taken pictures?
"Anyway," Savage continued, "Once I was airborne, everything got easier." Both Hunter and the doctor snorted at that. The general grinned, "Well, easier for me. If I wanted to fly, I had to get myself in shape for it."
Hunter shook his head. "Okimaw, if you had your choice, you'd never set foot on the earth, and we all know it." He turned to Komansky, ignoring the colonel, "He figures that if he's up in the air, it doesn't matter so much if he doesn't walk well."
Sandy nodded, understanding. If it hadn't been for the war, he could understand the general's love of flying and desire to be up with the eagles. "It doesn't, does it, sir?"
Savage smiled softly. "Not to me, it doesn't. But it's time to go home, isn't it? Put my toy away and go back to the real world." There was regret, of all things in his voice. The only one who missed it was the colonel.
"Dismantle it and take it with you," the doctor suggested. He got grateful smiles from his patients, a grin of agreement from the sergeant, and a scowl from the colonel. No matter. His patient had need of his 'toy' still, so he would do what he could to help him, even if it meant annoying the surly colonel in order to do so.
Gallagher started to protest, but then noticed the look on the general's face and changed his mind. The man had been through hell and was still recovering, even after more than a year. He couldn't imagine being so badly injured and cared for that it should take that long to heal. But then, he'd never been badly injured or placed in a POW camp. He looked at the Indian and realized that he was still woefully underweight, as well. What had their captors done to them? He determined to read the file the doctor had given him, later.
Komansky noticed that the general didn't eat very much and seemed to be tired and in pain. He glanced first at the doctor, who didn't seem to notice, then at the Canadian, who was gently chiding his friend. The voice was soft, but by straining, he could make out what they were saying.
"Too tired, nicosis. Maybe later."
Hunter snorted softly. "Later you will sleep like the rock, okimaw. At least eat the meat. You usually do better than this."
Savage pushed his plate away and shook his head. "I know, but I'm not hungry, and I am tired." He pushed away from the table. Standing, he spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear, "If you'll excuse me, I'm a bit tired. I'll see you in the morning. Doctor Gondau, thank you for everything." He nodded to the colonel and smiled at Komansky. He gripped Hunter's shoulder and then turned and walked slowly away, his feet dragging a bit in his exhaustion.
When he'd left the room, Gallagher turned to the doctor, totally ignoring the other two men. "Is he all right?"
Gondau shrugged. "He's better than he has any right to be, after what he's been through. As for being 'all right', that may never happen. Sometimes, he overdoes the flying and his body protests by becoming very weak, for a time." He looked down the table and knew that the general had barely eaten anything. He met Hunter's eyes, which showed his worry about his friend. "I will check on him in a bit. He will need time to get to his room and prepare for bed." He noticed Komansky's concerned expression. "Perhaps he is becoming ill again. He's caught cold several times, and seems prone to sinus infections, which go into bronchitis and pneumonia rather easily. I may give him some more penicillin, just to be on the safe side."
Komansky was surprised. "You have penicillin, here? We've been having trouble getting it for months."
The doctor smiled. "I've a friend who sees to it that I'm well supplied. If you have need, I can probably spare some to take back with you."
Gallagher answered for his sergeant, "Thank you. That would be much appreciated." They continued to eat in silence.
A few minutes later, though, Hunter pushed his plate away, as well. His concern for his friend had stolen his appetite, too. He quietly stood, "I'm afraid I'm a bit weary, myself. Good night, gentlemen." He was gone before anyone had a chance to respond.
Gallagher frowned. "So much for officers supposing to be gentlemen," he muttered.
Dr. Gondau looked at him in surprise. "He is concerned for his friend. And his manners are exemplary," he didn't add his thought 'unlike yours.'
"Uh, may I be excused, too?" Komansky asked. He wasn't very hungry, either, he decided. Maybe he could find the general and make sure he was all right....
"Certainly, Sergeant," Dr. Gondau agreed, realizing that this young man was also concerned for the general, unlike the colonel, who simply ignored his sergeant. "Marie!"
His nurse entered, a questioning look on her face. "Oui, Doctor?"
In rapid French, he instructed her to guide the sergeant to the general's room. She smiled and motioned for Komansky to follow her. With an uncertain glance at the colonel, he trailed after her.
"So, Colonel, what do you wish to know about my patients? You have not read the files, I take it?"
Caught out, Gallagher blushed, slightly. "Uh, no, Doctor, I haven't. Why don't you tell me, instead?"
"The file is self-explanatory, Colonel." He decided he didn't much care for this man. "In fact, you need only to look at the photographs to understand how far he's come."
Photographs. He nodded and sipped his wine. He hadn't noticed that both the general and his friend had drunk milk with their dinner.
"This is an excellent wine, Doctor."
"Yes, Rothchild's, 1928, an excellent vintage." He realized that he had more to talk about with the sergeant than this man, but he sighed unobtrusively and played the gracious host.
Komansky was led up the stairs to the general's room. He thanked Marie and knocked at the opening. The general was sitting on his bed, still dressed. He looked at him and his face lit up with a smile. "Sandy! Come on in."
"Thank you, sir. I, uh, just wanted to make sure you're doin' okay, sir."
Savage chuckled. "Compared to when I arrived, I'm doing great. How have you been? Really?"
Komansky grinned. "I'm good, sir. Managed to keep my stripes for almost a year, now."
"Come on, Sergeant, sit down and tell me the truth." He smiled, glad to have him there.
He chuckled. "Well, he's nothing like you, sir, but he's grown up a lot... I guess we all have, when I think about it." He looked seriously at his former commander. "How bad was it, really?"
Savage sighed. "You heard him. I weighed all of seventy-two and a half pounds when they rescued me, and that was after three days of intravenous feeding. I'm still pretty rough, but I'm getting better. When we get back, I'll be able to walk to the infirmary." He saw the skeptical look on his friend's face and amended, "Well, I'll be able to walk to the jeep and from the jeep to the infirmary, how's that? I won't need a stretcher or an ambulance."
"Yes, sir." Komansky grinned.
Hunter came in and sat on the bed beside the general. He smiled at the sergeant. "So, have you figured it all out yet, Sergeant?"
"Probably not, but so far, I figure that the general, here, isn't nearly as well off as he's trying to pretend." He noted with concern that the general didn't try and correct him, and that made him worry even more. "So, how bad is it?"
Hunter replied before the general could take a breath to speak. "He was up too high and too long, today. But once he saw the planes, the only way he would come down was if he'd been shot down." He looked sidelong at Komansky, "You know how he is."
"Yeah, I do." Both men turned to stare at the general.
"I'll tell Doc that you've been overexerting yourself and he'll tie you to your bed," the sergeant threatened.
"Won't happen, Sandy."
"Because the only way he'll get better is to keep using the muscles," Hunter explained. "Of course, that doesn't mean they can't or won't take his glider away from him and make him do calisthenics, instead."
Savage shuddered. "How about nice, long hikes?"
"Not if you fall down. Maybe go back to moving your legs for you?"
Savage shook his head vehemently. "No, thanks. Calisthenics is preferable."
Komansky frowned and looked from one man to the other. "Want to explain that to me?"
"By the time I got here, Sandy, I had no muscles left. I couldn't sit up, even with help."
Sandy shivered and looked at the general, noticing just how thin he was. "You look like you've been missing meals, sir. Of course, if dinner was any indication, Doc may just decide to force-feed you."
Hunter's laugh held no humor. "We've tried that. You force him, he throws up."
Savage shrugged. "I don't know. I was pretty sick when I arrived. The broken bones had healed, but there wasn't much left of me."
Hunter snorted. "Okimaw, you were literally a skeleton with the skin still on." He looked at Komansky and noted his distress. "You could see where the bones had healed. Dr. Gondau was very pleased, but it's been hard to get any weight on him. Even when he eats his fill, it doesn't seem to stick."
Savage grinned. "I eat as much as I can, nitotem. You remember that last week in the camp? I couldn't even hold down water."
Komansky paled at the thought. That, more than anything else they had said brought home to him just how bad off the general had been. He shivered. "But you're better, now, right?"
"Much. I'm still gaining weight, but I exercise it right back off, it seems. What weight I've kept on is all muscle, and there's nothing wrong with that, is there?"
Hunter grinned and patted the general's shoulder. "Nothing at all, nitotem. Just remember to continue, eh?"
"What's that mean? I've heard both of you call each other that. That 'kneetotum' word? And a couple of others, too. What are they?"
Hunter chuckled. "My language, Sergeant. I am Cree. When the general first came to the camp, I realized he was not who he said he was, but didn't think the enemy needed to know that. He noticed that first day that I am Indian, and asked me what tribe. We became friends and sometimes, I would forget and speak my native tongue. After a while, he asked what I was saying."
Savage chuckled. "Mostly, he was calling the Germans unkind things, but the words for 'my friend' and 'boss' pretty much stuck."
"Nitotem and okimaw," Hunter agreed.
"What about that other one? Knichosus?"
Savage grinned. "My son," he replied.
Sandy looked at the two men. He frowned. "How old are you?" He asked Hunter.
Sandy's jaw dropped. Hunter was two years younger than he was, but looked to be closer to the general's age. He abruptly realized just how bad it must have been for these two men. He shook his head. "Man," was all he could say. Both former POWs laughed.
"We're alive, Sandy. We're getting better, and soon we'll be going home," Frank said by way of explanation.
Sandy grinned back at them, "Yeah, you are."
Dr. Gondau provided them with rooms. Gallagher was grateful that he didn't have to bunk with Komansky. Some things simply were not acceptable, and sharing quarters with enlisted was just one of them. Sharing quarters with someone who wasn't white was another one.
He stretched out on his bed, smoking a cigarette, and opened the file. The photos at first confused him, until he realized what they were. The description 'skin and bones' suddenly took on a new and personal meaning to him and the realization turned his stomach. He read the file. The medical terms didn't necessarily mean very much, but 'starvation,' 'malnutrition,' and 'no muscle tone,' he understood. He looked again at the pictures. Those were the general's legs. He shuddered and closed the file. He stubbed out his cigarette and turned off the light, settling down into the bed.
But sleep was a long time coming.
As a child, he used to dream of flying like the bald eagles that had nested down near the river. Oddly enough, he still had those dreams, only now, he had the added memories of the way the wind whipped his hair around and felt pressing his clothes to his body as he soared. He could even feel the temperature differences in the various kinds of thermals.
When he dreamed of flying, he always awoke far more refreshed than even the times he didn't dream at all. But he loved waking up from those dreams, knowing that the dream was real, that he truly could soar with the raptors in the sky, and he could hardly wait to go up again.
This time, however, although he was flying, gliding through the sky, his companion wasn't the eagle. This time, his wingman was a raven that kept cawing and laughing at him. When he tried to dive to avoid the creature, it would strafe him, pecking him with its sharp beak. No matter how he soared or dived, he couldn't escape his tormentor, and finally, exhausted, he turned on the smaller creature and attacked in kind. The raven shrieked in agony as his talons pierced its heart and he immediately released it, watching as it spiraled out of control back to earth.
He awoke with a gasp, sitting up in bed. Trembling, he brought his hands to his face, breathing hard and wondering what the meaning was? He looked out the window, but it was still dark, so he lay back down, but his eyes stayed open. Odd. After all he'd been through, this was the first time he'd had a nightmare.
It made him worry, wondering about it.
He was still lying awake when the first morning breeze freshened up the valley and he silently rose, needing to be out, to be aloft as the sun rose. The building was silent as he made his way outside. Quietly, he made his way to the barn and his glider. Climbing to the roof, he hoisted it up behind him, using the block and tackle that was designed to raise hay to the loft. Buckling himself into his harness and to the glider, he lifted it and waited for the freshening breeze to grow strong enough to lift him. As he felt the fabric covering his wings begin to fill, he launched himself over the edge of the roof, plunging halfway to the ground before the currents caught him and he shifted to spiral slowly aloft.
He loved it up here. Only the sound of the wind in his wings and the cry of an eagle to keep him company. He soared higher and higher, circling to keep aloft and looking to the east to watch for the sun. It was a crystal clear morning, without a cloud in the sky. He happened to be facing east as the first edge of the sun rose above the mountains with a momentary flash of brilliant green. With a grin of pleasure, he swooped lower and waited. Again, the rim of the sun rose over the mountains and he again caught the flash of brilliant emerald. He dropped lower to see it again, and again. Finally, he caught a thermal and spiraled up once more, the sun warm on his body, while the breeze was cold. He looked to one side and spotted the eagle soaring up with him. He shifted his body and banked and the eagle mirrored his action. The two of them swooped and spiraled together for several long minutes until his leg muscles began to cramp from the cold and lack of movement. Reluctantly, he banked away from his playmate and headed back, unsurprised to discover he'd covered several miles since launching from the barn roof.
By the time he got back to the hospital, some fifteen minutes later, he came in for a landing in the wide pasture behind the barn. Exhausted, he dragged the glider behind him towards the buildings. To his surprise, he spotted Colonel Gallagher coming towards him. He didn't pause in his trudging and dragging his glider behind him. Gallagher looked at him, a serious and concerned expression on his face.
"Let me help you with that," he offered softly. Savage looked at him in surprise, but then simply nodded and showed him how to hold it. They lifted it between them and in silence, carried it slowly back to the barn.
Gallagher had to slow his normal stride considerably to accommodate the general's slow shuffle. He watched him surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, gauging and judging the man's condition. What he saw shocked him. The man had always been slender, but this was gauntness far greater than he'd ever seen. Comparing him to the pictures in the file, he couldn't honestly see much difference.
It took the two of them as long to get the two hundred yards from the pasture to the barn as it had taken him to fly the five miles or so back. He was honestly too exhausted to try and carry on a conversation, but was grateful for the colonel's assistance. It would have taken at least two or maybe even three times as long for him to have dragged the glider back on his own. When they got to the barn, Hunter was waiting for them, shaking his head. He didn't have to look to see Gallagher stiffen in displeasure on seeing the Canadian.
"Relax, Joe. He's on our side, remember?" Savage said softly and was pleased to note that Gallagher had the grace to blush at the chastisement.
"Okimaw, you know what the doctor said about taking off without telling anyone," Hunter said softly; but he was smiling as he said it. He understood the need to get out, to escape the bonds of earth. He did much the same when he went for long hikes up the mountain, alone. But his health wasn't nearly as fragile and precarious as the general's.
Savage frowned, not liking even the friendliest of chastisements in front of his subordinate. "You knew where I was, nitotem. Everyone always knows where I am." Then he smiled, his teeth flashing in joy, "All anyone has to do is look up."
Hunter nodded, returning the smile. "Where else should the eagle be found but soaring high in the sky? I saw you dance with your friend. I think you will miss each other when you go home." He took the glider from the two men and wrestled it into the barn. They would have to break it down to be able to take it home with them. He wondered if there were any mountains where the general lived? No matter. If he couldn't soar, he'd get wings with engines to carry him aloft.
"Well, this particular eagle is ready to return to its nest, I'm afraid," Savage said softly, knowing that he'd made his last flight here.
Hunter nodded. "It is time, I think," he agreed softly.
Gallagher felt left out and didn't like the feeling. He'd gotten used to being in charge, with people focusing on him, but now...well, the general was higher ranked, and it rankled. Particularly when he'd discovered the man was more than a year younger than he was. What did Savage have that he didn't? It obviously wasn't connections. Savage was just a farm boy who got lucky enough to learn to fly. Why should he be a general while Gallagher was just a colonel?
Then he looked at Savage again and realized that Hunter was helping him and giving him physical support as they walked very slowly back to the hospital. Seeing the drawn and exhausted look on the general's face, he didn't envy him in the least. Was a star worth being crippled and wasted away like that? Hardly.
As they entered the building, Sgt Komansky came up, grinning. "Hey, General. Saw you dancing with that eagle. That looked like fun."
Savage straightened, easing away from Hunter's subtle support. "It is, Sandy. There's nothing like it."
"I bet," Komansky agreed enthusiastically. "You think I could learn how to do that?"
Savage shrugged. "Don't see why not. All it takes is some wind."
"And a gigantic kite," Gallagher added, shaking his head. No way did he want to attempt soaring like that. Give him four nice, big engines and he was content. Risking your life to some poles and a scrap of fabric, forget it.
Komansky grinned. "General, will you show me how to make one, sir?" He was like a puppy, excited by the prospect of a new toy.
Savage shrugged and looked at Hunter, who simply smiled. "We have the blueprints written down, General. It wouldn't be hard to make a copy for him."
"Thanks. I wouldn't mind an extra copy of them, myself," Savage said, smiling.
"Not a problem, sir. It shouldn't take me more than an hour or so to make the copies." He looked at the colonel. "Do you want a copy, Colonel?" he asked politely.
Gallagher looked surprised. "Uh, no. Thanks anyway." You couldn't get him to try flying one of those things for love or money.
Savage read his expression and grinned. Gallagher might be a pilot, but he would never be a flyer; he didn't love it enough.
Dr. Gondau was waiting for them when they got back to the hospital. He watched critically as Savage shuffled towards him. Catching the unrepentant general's eye, he shook his head; but he was smiling as he did so. "Breakfast, mon ami, and then back to bed for you, yes?"
"Yes, Doctor," Savage politely replied, looking a bit chagrined. It wouldn't have been so bad, if he hadn't stayed up until he was exhausted, but it was such a wonderful sunrise, and then when the eagle came to play, how could he resist?
Breakfast was a quiet affair. Savage was exhausted and simply ate, too tired to bother with polite conversation. Hunter ate with a good appetite, but kept his attention on his friend. Komansky also focused his attention on the general, knowing his very presence was an affront to the colonel. Gondau was through being the gracious host. He had two patients going home, today, and he wanted to be certain they were ready and able to make the trip.
Gallagher wished he hadn't come.
It was late afternoon before they were ready to leave. To his surprise and delight, Sandy had brought him one of his uniforms. He still had his flight jacket, so despite the poor fit of his clothes, he was 'properly' dressed. No one commented on how his clothes hung on him or the fact that his lid made him look even more haggard than he was. There was something about the uniform, however, that seemed to make him stand taller than his six feet one inch. Seeing him enter the foyer, Komansky snapped to attention and saluted. Savage smiled at him and came to attention as well, snapping off his return salute. Gallagher, seeing him, even came to attention.
"If you're ready, General?"
"I am. Nitotem?"
"I am ready, sir." Hunter had their few items of clothing in a single Gladstone bag, and the bundle of sticks and fabric of the giant kite were just outside, waiting for them.
Savage nodded and turned to Dr. Gondau. "Doctor, thank you for everything."
"You are welcome, General. Believe me, it was my pleasure." They shook hands, smiling at one another, then, shaking his head, the doctor pulled his patient into an embrace, hugging him firmly. "Good luck to you, lad. I hope you continue your therapy. Both on the ground and in the air above it."
"Thanks to you, I have that opportunity, Doctor." They smiled at one another with affection, and then the general turned and looked at his companions. "Well, let's get this show on the road, shall we?"
Sandy scrambled to get the door for them, while Hunter picked up their bag and followed. Gallagher trailed behind him, leaving Sandy to deal with the hang glider. With Hunter and Savage's help, Sandy tied the giant kite to the roof of their sedan. Dr. Gondau and his entire staff came out onto the porch to see them off. Savage turned in his seat to wave a final farewell as they headed off down the driveway towards the village below.
The trip was relatively silent. Both Savage and Hunter were working on coming to grips with the fact that they were actually being repatriated. Sandy concentrated on his driving, and Gallagher sulked. The two hour drive to the airfield passed in absolute silence.
When they arrived at the airfield, Sandy grabbed another crewmember to help him load the glider into the bomb bay and tie it in place.
Savage took up residence in the jump seat back in the waist of the plane, smiling pleasantly at the gunners and politely greeting the crew. To Gallagher's surprise, he'd been able to pull himself up into the plane without assistance. Obviously, the exercise he'd gotten with his kite had built up sufficient muscle to allow him to do so. He leaned against the bulkhead. He was going home. This might be just the first leg of the journey, but he was finally going home. He was having a hard time believing it was all real, but the throb of engines vibrating his entire body told him it was true. The particular timbre and pitch of the four mighty Wright Cyclone engines told him unequivocally that it was his bird, the Piccadilly Lilly. He didn't notice the tears that trickled down his cheeks as it all sunk in.
He was alive, and he was going home.
He didn't know any of the high-ranking officers who were lined up to meet them. Seeing all the stars, however, Savage snapped to attention upon hitting the tarmac and held position until his salute was returned by the three-star.
"General Savage, welcome home."
"Thank you, sir." Despite his desire to look around, he refrained, focusing all his attention on the generals before him. Even though he was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to find a quiet spot and lie down, he maintained his posture. He listened to them nattering on about how well he'd done, protecting the secrets he held, and how he'd be going back home to a proper hero's welcome. He didn't say anything, though. He was simply too tired from the long flight to care. Finally, there came a familiar voice, and he turned to smile at the owner.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but you're keeping my patient from my tender mercies." His breath caught when Savage turned to smile at him, but he managed to smile back. "General."
"Come along, now, General. You can visit him in my hospital, gentlemen." He totally ignored protocol and gently grasped Savage by the arm and guided him over to a nearby jeep. Once he had him situated in the front passenger seat, with Captain Hunter in the rear, he got behind the wheel and drove them across the field to his hospital. He kept casting worried glances at his passenger. Seeing the absolute slump in Frank's spine, he sighed and wondered how he'd managed to remain standing as long as he had. Stubborn fool.
"Hmmm?" He shifted in his seat and opened his eyes. He looked around and recognized his surroundings. Archbury. His lips twitched into an almost-smile as he looked to his left at the worried countenance of Doc Kaiser. "Ah, home, sweet home," he muttered, climbing stiffly from the jeep, only to find Hunter beside him. With a minute shake of his head, he led the way into the small hospital. "Where do you want me, Doc? Oh, Doc Kaiser, this is Captain Hunter, from Canada."
Doc smiled and nodded to the captain. "Welcome to Archbury, Captain."
"Thank you, Major. It's nice to be here."
"You're in luck, General, you two are the only patients at the moment."
"That's nice." He kept looking around, occasionally touching something familiar, as though to test that it was real and he was actually there.
"Come on, General. Let's get you checked out, all right?" He guided the slightly woozy Savage through a doorway and into a private room. He turned on the lights and was surprised to find Captain Hunter had followed them. He frowned for a moment, until he realized that the Canadian was gently helping Savage out of his uniform.
"Okimaw, you are tired, why don't you take a nap? I'm sure the doctor won't mind waiting to torture you until you've rested."
Savage chuckled dryly. "Nicosis, you don't know Doc Kaiser. He's likely to torture me even in my sleep." However, once he was stripped down to his undershirt and trousers, he settled onto the cot, falling almost instantly asleep, even before Hunter could shake out a blanket to cover him.
Satisfied his friend was resting comfortably, he turned to the flabbergasted doctor. "Something is wrong, Doctor?"
"How the hell did you do that? I've always had to threaten him in order to get him to take a break."
Hunter grinned. "He is tired. He did not rest on the flight here. He kept getting up and wandering around the plane, touching it, talking to her. She is his friend, yes?"
Kaiser nodded. "I suppose she is, at that. How did you come to be with him in Switzerland?"
"We were in the camp together. When they brought him in, his legs were broken, along with some ribs, and his shoulders, elbows and wrists were wrenched, as well. He fought to keep his plane from hitting a school full of kids." He saw Kaiser flinch and look at Savage with admiration.
"That sounds like him. We haven't heard much of anything, except that he'd gotten to Switzerland and had been hurt."
"The Germans, they did not remove the casts on his legs." Kaiser, with a glance at the sleeping general, motioned the captain from the room and led the way to his office.
"Can I get you anything? Coffee? Something to eat?"
"Coffee is good, thank you." Kaiser got up and poured two mugs full of the fresh pot he'd made before heading out to pick up his patients. He set the pot of cream and the sugar bowl on the edge of his desk for Hunter to help himself.
When each of them had his coffee to his preference, Doc sat back in his chair and gave his visitor a critical eye. "You're a good fifty pounds underweight, I'd say."
Hunter chuckled and took a sip of his coffee. "I've gained a good forty pounds since Dr. Gondau took us from the camp. The general has almost doubled in weight." He watched through narrowed eyes as the American doctor gaped at him and shuddered. "In fact," he pulled the file from his bag and handed it over. "Those pictures are his legs, right after Dr. Gondau took the casts off." He watched curiously as Kaiser turned pale and then flushed. "As you can imagine, even after over a year of good food and therapy, he's still weak."
"I'm amazed he can stand up straight, let alone walk." He shook his head and started reading the file. He was pleased that it was in English, and even more pleased that it was exceptionally detailed. After several minutes, he looked up to see Hunter watching him, a faint smile on his face. "This kite thing. What exactly is it?"
Hunter bent down and pulled out some more photographs that Gondau had taken, along with the detailed schematic of the craft. "When he is in the sky with the eagles, he is free. It does not matter that his legs are weak or that he is much too thin. Up there, he is free. If you take his wings from him, the eagle will die."
Thinking about it, Kaiser nodded. "So, while he's resting, why don't you tell me everything?" He smiled and leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up on his desk.
He awoke confused. He'd become accustomed to the soft featherbed and this was considerably harder, but not as hard as the cots in the camp. He opened his eyes to what had once been a familiar, or at least relatively familiar, sight. Archbury. Doc Kaiser's hospital. He took a deep breath, grinning at the smell of the carbolic that was used to clean everything. He turned his head to look around and realized he was alone. Still smiling, he pushed the covers back and sat up, turned and swung his legs off the bed. Finding his boots neatly placed by the bed, he put them on and laced them somewhat more loosely than he had before he'd been injured. Standing, he gingerly stretched, yawning mightily. A quick glance out the window showed it to be late afternoon. Since they'd arrived that morning, he knew he'd slept quite a while. Now, if he could find a cup of coffee and something to eat, he'd be ready to face Doc Kaiser.
He found the Major in his office. "What did you do with Hunter?"
Doc Kaiser looked up and smiled. "Sent him over to the mess hall for something to eat. The man's like a loyal dog to you, General. Didn't want to leave you alone."
"But you convinced him that I'd be fine while he ate. So, let's get the hard part over with while he's gone, shall we?"
Kaiser looked him over critically. Yes, he was horribly underweight. Yes, he was still weak, but considering what Hunter had told him, the man's recovery was remarkable. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty good, actually. I'm looking forward to going home."
Kaiser nodded. "I can imagine you are." He regarded the younger man, waiting patiently.
"What is it?"
"What is what?"
"You're giving me that look you always do, like you're waiting for something. What do you want to know?"
Kaiser smiled and shrugged. "You said you're feeling well. I believe you."
"I hear a 'but' coming."
He shook his head. "No buts, General. I read the file that Dr. Gondau sent." He opened the file where it lay on his desk. "Considering the shape you were in when he rescued you, I'm quite impressed with your recovery."
"I still tire out fairly easily, but yeah. I'm doing all right."
Kaiser nodded. "Yes, you are. Not up to returning to duty, however."
"No. Not yet," Savage readily agreed, much to the doctor's surprise. He grinned at that. "What, you thought I'd want to get in the cockpit immediately?" Seeing the answer, he chuckled. "I'm not a fool, Doc, and I'm not, despite rumors to the contrary, crazy. Or stupid. I'm perfectly aware that the fact I can even walk is something of a miracle. I also know that I've got a very long way to go, still." He shrugged. "So, how can you help me do that?"
"Let's take a walk, General." Kaiser stood up and waited for the slower moving man to join him. Then he led the way out of the hospital. He positioned himself just slightly behind his patient, not so far behind as to be noticeable, but enough so that he could easily observe him. He matched his pace to Savage's. He could see the slight drag of his feet, but nothing too obvious. He looked down at the general's boots and frowned. "Well, one thing I think we can do is get you a different pair of shoes."
"I want you to change to your dress shoes, instead of the boots. They're heavy and I think that you'll do better in the lighter dress shoes." He smiled. If that was the biggest change, he'd be very pleased indeed; if it worked, that is.
"All right. Shoes, not boots. What else?"
"Take up riding a bicycle. It will help you gain in strength and mobility. And stick to flat ground, for now. Around the base should be more than enough. Long, slow walks, as well. Nothing terribly strenuous, though. Not until we've got a bit more meat on your bones."
Savage paused and looked at him, scowling. "Unfortunately, there are no hills around, so I guess my glider's out."
Doc nodded. "I'm afraid so. But you're only going to be here for a couple of months at the most. You are going home to your family, General. After all the debriefings, that is. And after you pack on a few pounds."
Savage shook his head. "Good luck. Gondau tried everything he knew how, but short of tying me down and force-feeding me like a goose for fois gras, forget it."
"Well, you're not going to be exercising quite so heavily. Instead, you're going to take it slow and easy." Seeing the general about to protest, he hurriedly continued. "If you're good, I'll let you fly occasionally. If not, you stay grounded. Possibly permanently."
He stopped completely and glared at the doctor. "You would, wouldn't you?"
"You know I will. I'm hoping it's not going to be necessary. The choice is yours, General. How much do you want to heal?"
"I want to be able to run from the office to the flight line in under five minutes and fly a thousand mile sortie and come back ready for more. What I don't want, is to be relegated to a chair behind a desk for the rest of my career."
Kaiser nodded, agreeing. "Your friend compared you to an eagle, without flight, you die. I tend to agree with him. So, let's see what we can do to make that happen, okay?"
Savage scowled at him and then nodded his agreement. "Okay. So, where are we going?"
"Why, to the O-club for dinner, of course." Kaiser grinned and walked away, keeping his steps as slow as he had, so that the general wouldn't have to struggle to catch or keep up.
Shaking his head, Frank grinned and followed, taking a couple of quick, long strides to catch up.
The club was fairly busy. Just because the Germans had given up didn't mean that the war was entirely over, yet. When they entered, no one even glanced over to see who had come in. He paused in the entrance, inhaling deeply the scents of beer, whiskey, tobacco, and food. Oddly enough, the smell of the tobacco smoke made him feel just a tad queasy. Shaking his head to clear it, he followed Doc to the nearly empty booth where Hunter sat, watching the Americans. He stood when he spotted them, snapping to attention and saluting. One of the American officers, seeing his sudden movement, turned to look and quickly snapped to as well.
"Ten Hut!" Every man in the club snapped to attention and waited, wondering who had come in. Colonel Gallagher, who had been at the bar and knowing that there were general officers about, had jumped to with the rest of them. As the ranking officer, it fell to him to offer the salute and wait until it was returned. To his fury, Savage first returned the salute of the Canadian captain, and then his. Lips tight in fury, he lowered his hand and waited for the general's first words.
"At ease, gentlemen. As you were." Despite the softness of his voice, it still carried well and within moments, the officers were back to their conversations, only now the subject was the general. Scuttlebutt had been rife and for most of them, this was their first glimpse of the famous General Frank Savage. Frank slid into the booth opposite his friend.
"Have you eaten, yet?"
"No. Just sitting watching them." He had a glass of ginger beer before him, sipping it occasionally. "Sleep well?"
"Like the dead, nicosis. As always."
"Now that you are here, I think it is time to order food."
Frank knew that Hunter could have been starving and would still have waited for him to join him before eating. "Sounds good. I wonder what the special is today. Doc?"
Kaiser smiled. "It's Wednesday. They still serve Steak and Mushroom Pie on Wednesdays, General."
"Wonderful." He grinned. It was one of his favorites. Hunter nodded his agreement, and when the waiter arrived a few moments later, Doc Kaiser placed the order and also ordered a pitcher of milk. Frank only chuckled. "Doc, I've gotten in the habit of drinking milk with my meals, you don't have to try to sneak it in on me, any more."
"Good. That will make this easier on the both of us." He grinned. Pulling out a pack of cigarettes, he offered them. Frank turned a bit green and shook his head.
"Been too long. The smoke makes me feel kind of queasy, to tell you the truth."
Surprised, Kaiser put the pack back in his pocket. "Really? Interesting."
"Don't even crave 'em any more. Haven't even wanted one in months. I expected to smell smoke and be dying for one, but instead, just felt a little ill."
Doc shrugged. "Then I advise you not take up the habit again. It'll certainly save you some money in the long run."
Savage chuckled. "That it will." He looked up to see the waiter returning with their dinner. "That was fast."
"Only on occasion, nitotem."
The food smelled wonderful, and tasted even better. They were relatively silent as they ate, the surreptitious focus of every man in the club. Despite his haggard thinness, the general had a good appetite and was in good spirits. The whispers about him were speculative, with curious glances thrown at the colonel, as well, wondering why he hadn't joined the general? Gallagher ignored the whispers, drinking his scotch and fuming, glaring daggers at the Canadian, blaming him for his slight.
After they were finished eating, Doc suggested a beer. To his surprise, neither man took him up on his offer. Instead, they both opted for a ginger beer, instead. He watched his patients as they relaxed and turned their attention to the others in the club.
"Joe looks a bit peeved," Savage remarked softly.
Doc glanced over at the colonel and frowned. "I suppose so. He's probably upset that we didn't invite him to join us."
"He didn't invite Hunter to join him, so why would I invite him to join us?"
Doc glanced at Hunter. "Oh?"
Hunter shrugged nonchalantly. "He doesn't like Canadians."
Savage snorted. "He doesn't like people who aren't lily white."
Doc nodded, understanding. "You should have seen him when the Tuskeegee boys came through here. Like a bear with a sore nose."
Savage sighed and shook his head. "I guess I just don't understand it. People are people. Some good, some bad, some indifferent. What difference does it make what color skin or eyes or hair they have?"
"You're considerably more cosmopolitan than the norm, General. I hope yours is the wave of the future."
"If it is not, you will one day have a lot of trouble, I think. You can only oppress a people for so long before they fight back one way or another."
"You don't have any trouble not being white in Canada?"
Hunter chuckled. "Of course I do, but they're a bit more polite about it, I think. Plus, I can speak French as well as English and Cree, so I can go most anywhere in the country and get along. Although I don't speak Inutikut, I'm still welcomed by the cousins."
"In-what?" Doc asked, confused.
"Inutikut. The Inuit language. You call them Esquimos."
Hunter grinned and nodded, not feeling the need to explain further. Doc, realizing that the captain wasn't going to elaborate, merely shrugged and moved on. "So, which would you prefer, General? A postprandial walk, or make it an early night?"
Savage smiled. "I think...." He trailed off as he looked at the newest arrival. A smile slowly spread across his face and he stood. "I think that a bit more visiting is in order." He slid out of the booth and stepped quietly up to the man who had just tiredly leaned on the bar and ordered a drink.
Major Harvey Stovall turned, his eyes widened in shock. "Frank!" He grabbed the general into a massive bear hug, almost immediately releasing him as he felt the bones creak within his embrace. "Damn, General. It's good to see you, sir." He recovered his decorum quickly. He'd been so busy that he'd forgotten that Savage would be returning to Archbury.
Frank chuckled. "It's good to see you, too, Harvey." He looked his friend over. "You look even more tired and overworked than I remember."
"Yes, sir. I suppose I am." He was beaming, though. "Has Doc gotten a hold of you, yet?"
Frank grinned and gestured behind him with a thumb. "Who do you think is bird dogging me?" The major looked behind the general and nodded to the doctor.
"You look like hell, Frank."
"You should have seen me before. They're still trying to figure out how it is that I can stand up straight, let alone walk." His expression turned pensive. "I was in pretty rough shape for a long time."
Harvey bit his tongue to keep from commenting that he looked in pretty rough shape now. He could see from the amusement in Frank's clear blue eyes that he was aware of his thoughts anyway. "How are you, really?"
Frank shrugged and paid for the Major's drink. "Much better than I have any right to, apparently. I can walk, which is apparently a miracle. I tire out pretty easily and I'm still sleeping a lot, but other than that, I'm doing well. I feel pretty good, at least in comparison to before. I know I've still got a long way to go, but I'll get there."
Harvey nodded. "I'm glad you made it back. The rest of your crew managed to escape to the coast, where the Resistance got them back across the channel safely." He looked away, swallowing hard. "We thought you were dead, General."
"I thought so, too, Harvey. I'm still amazed that I'm alive." He shook his head. "I'm alive, I'm relatively healthy, considering, and I'm eventually going to get to go home." His grin turned sad. "So many didn't."
"Yes, sir. You certainly are one of the lucky ones." He took a sip of his scotch and realized that the general wasn't. "You're not drinking, General?"
Frank shook his head. "I'd be drunk off my ass with a single beer, about now. I've been out of control too much to willingly give it up, now that I've got some of it back. I'll stick with non-alcoholic beverages for the time being." He looked up to see Colonel Gallagher. "Joe," he greeted.
"General." He had been drinking steadily since Savage had come in, and was starting to be just a bit obviously drunk. He stood there, weaving slightly, and blinkingly staring at the general.
"Is there something I can do for you, Colonel?" He had been through too much to concern himself with the polite niceties. If the colonel had a problem, he could voice it.
"I don't get it, sir."
"What don't you get?"
"How come you're friends with that Indian." He turned the term into an insult.
"My grandmother was Shawnee, Colonel. How do you think I should feel about him?"
He'd forgotten again. Mostly, it had been rumor, but this was straight from the general's own mouth. "But you've got blue eyes."
"Yes, and I look like my father. But my mother has brown eyes. I never met her mother, she died when my uncle was born. But he's got blue eyes, as well. So I guess that that means that my grandmother wasn't all Shawnee." He shrugged. "But that doesn't really matter."
Stovall nodded. The general had never been a respecter of persons. He judged everyone on their actions and abilities, not on rank. Oh, he showed proper respect to the higher ups, but he had no time or sympathy for politicians. He was a soldier, period. He was also a fine man, one he'd follow into hell, simply because he declared war on it. "No, it doesn't." He smiled and shook his head, looking the general over and comparing him with the heavier, far more fit colonel and found the colonel wanting. "You just don't get it, do you, Colonel?"
"No, Major, I don't."
Savage sighed. "You never will, Joe. More's the pity. He straightened up and grasped the major by the shoulder. "Harvey, it's great to see you. I'd better get back to the infirmary before Doc hogties me and drags me back. Colonel." He acknowledged the other man politely with a nod, and turned to rejoin Hunter and Kaiser. Stovall watched him as he moved away, noting the slight drag to his feet and the way his clothes hung from his body. He shook his head in awe.
"That is one hell of a man, Joe."
"Everyone certainly seems to think so," came the sullen reply. Harvey glanced over at the younger man and shook his head again. "You really don't get it, do you?"
"Obviously not. Why don't you enlighten me?"
"Do you think you could have survived what he went through?"
Put that way, Gallagher had to shake his head in the negative. "I don't think so."
"Neither would most men. He's got moxie, Colonel. A fighting spirit that simply doesn't give up. It's what got him that star, and it's what will get him a second, if he decides to stay in the service."
Gallagher looked at him in surprise. "You honestly think he's going to make it back?"
Stovall nodded, a bemused smile on his face. "He's already most of the way back. I think that by the time he comes back from furlough, he'll have his wings back." He finished his drink and straightened up. When he'd come in, he'd planned on getting smashed to relieve the stress, but after having seen the general, well, his problems just didn't seem quite as serious. "Good night, Colonel."
"Good night, Harvey." He watched the older man as he made his way out, scowling and wondering what he was missing.
Doc Kaiser saw his patients back to their beds and trusted them to actually rest and sleep. Having perused the files on both patients, he had decided to let them rest and not do any examinations on them until they awoke the next day.
In the morning, he got to his office to find both of his patients up and sitting in his office, drinking coffee. He shook his head and grinned. "I should have known you'd still be an early riser, General."
Frank shrugged. "Force of habit. My days have almost always begun before daylight." He poured a mug of coffee and handed it to the Major. "So, I suppose the torture is to start, now?"
Accepting the mug with a smile, he shook his head. "Not until after breakfast, I think."
"Whenever you're ready, General." He had noticed that he was wearing his dress shoes instead of his boots and he watched closely as Savage stood and sauntered towards the door. All the way over to the mess hall, there was no sign of his feet dragging. Watching him move, he could see some of the litheness he'd always equated with the way the general moved and he was quite pleased.
"The lighter shoes are better, are they not?" Hunter was observing as well.
"Don't stand behind me whispering, gentlemen," Savage growled softly. He was home, and his mind was beginning to believe it. He glanced back, turning his body slightly. He hit a rough spot on the pavement and stumbled, but managed to remain upright. "I'm fine," he grumbled as both men reached to steady him. Kaiser reached out a hand to stop Hunter.
"Yes, General. You are." There was no irony in his voice, and the smile was pleased. They resumed their walk to the mess hall and entered. There was a loud shout for attention, and Savage quickly returned Major Stovall's salute and told them 'as you were.' They stood in line, collected their breakfast trays and joined the major, who hadn't yet begun to eat.
"Good morning, Harvey."
"So, what's the word?"
"Everyone's hoping to get their orders, sending them home, for the most part."
"What about you, Harvey? Don't you have yours, yet?"
"No, sir. I volunteered to stay and help shut the place down."
"Dedication has its limits, Major."
"Yes, sir. I'm aware of that, but it's something I want to do. I'd like to be the one to take the flag down for the last time and lock the gate on my way out."
Savage grinned. "You were always the best exec any commander could ever want. Did I ever tell you how often I had to fight with the higher ups to keep you here?"
Stovall smiled, pleased. "No, sir, but I do know that I was given a lot of offers once you were gone." He took a sip of his coffee. "A few times, I'll admit I was tempted, but I wanted to be sure there was still a familiar face when you got back."
More than anything else he'd heard, that touched the general's heart the most. His voice was rough with emotion when he replied. "Thank God you did."
"Yes, sir." Harvey smiled, glanced at the general and then away, pleased.
"I think that you, me and the colonel are the only ones left, aren't we, Harv?" Kaiser asked softly.
Stovall nodded. "That's right. The rest either rotated out, or didn't make it back."
"Sandy Komansky's still here."
"Right, he said he wouldn't leave until you came back or he saw your body, sir." Harvey grinned.
"I don't know whether to be flattered or worried."
"Having met him, I think you should be flattered, Okimaw."
"He's a good kid." They quieted and concentrated on eating. Harvey kept staring at the general, like he couldn't get enough proof that he was still alive and there in front of him. Savage ate well, much to the doctor's approval, and afterwards, they all headed back to the infirmary. Harvey branched off to go to headquarters, leaving the other three men at the infirmary door.
Once inside, Doc Kaiser became the familiar tyrant. "Enough lollygagging, General. It's time to see what we're dealing with."
Savage chuckled. "I'm afraid you could use me for an anatomy lesson on bones. I think most of them are still fairly visible." Kaiser smiled a bit weakly and motioned the general to enter the examination room. He turned to Hunter.
"I'll be wanting to check you out, as well, Captain. Your people have been contacted and are planning on sending someone for you when you're ready to go home." He smiled when the captain glanced worriedly at the general and realized that the captain didn't want to leave until he was certain Savage would be all right. "Through there. Strip down to your skivvies." He turned to the general. "You, in there. Likewise."
Savage shook his head and sighed, but did as he was told.
Doc gathered the things he'd need and entered the examination room. His breath caught with his first real look at what was left of the general. He was right. He could be used for an anatomy lesson on the human skeleton. Every rib, every knob of the spine, every joint, was prominent. Schooling his expression to try and hide his horror, he closed the door behind him and marveled that Savage could function at all. He kept his touch as light and gentle as he possibly could, fearful of causing him pain. He lightly palpated his abdomen, amazed at being able to actually feel and recognize the various organs with ease. He turned away with a shiver to write his observations on his clipboard.
"It's all right, Doc. I've been poked and prodded for over a year and it doesn't bother me. I know perfectly well what I look like. And just so you know, there's very little pain, unless I smack into something."
Kaiser looked at him, relieved. "Do you bruise easily?"
Savage grinned and pointed to his legs. "I overdid it in my glider yesterday morning, and landed a little heavily. Of course, I didn't fall down, but I did manage to kind of trip over my own feet." There was a faint discoloration and puffiness to one ankle. Doc nodded and looked at it more closely.
"Does it hurt at all?"
"No. I can feel the swelling, though."
Doc nodded and gently rotated the foot, watching the fluid in the joint shift. "Well, it is a bit swollen. I'll put a pressure bandage on it for you, to help with the swelling." He was totally amazed that the body he was examining was capable of life, let alone movement and support of itself.
"Doc, I'm all right." Savage's voice was softly reassuring. "I know I still look like hell, but six months ago, I couldn't even walk. I know I've got a long row to hoe to get back to where I should be, but I've made it, Doc. I'm alive - and I can walk." There was soft steel in the voice, flexible and resilient, like the spirit of the man. Doc nodded.
"Yes. You are. I want you to take things easy, though. I'm sure the higher-ups will be by some time today to debrief you, and while they're doing that, I'm going to write down some instructions I want you to follow. I know you well enough that if you follow even a third of my instructions, it'll be a miracle; but if you want to stay in this man's army, then you'll follow them as closely as you can. It's going to take time, General. A lot of time."
Savage smiled. "I know. I'll do my best, but you know how impatient I can get."
Doc grinned back. "You don't have to tell me. Go ahead and get dressed. Or, better yet, why don't you go back to bed for a few more hours of sleep? You had a long trip yesterday, and you still look tired."
He nodded slowly. "I think I'll take you up on that." He stood up and gathered his clothes and shoes, not bothering to dress. "But when I wake up again, I'm going to go for a nice, long walk."
"As long as you like, between here and the club or the mess hall."
Savage chuckled. "Yes, Doctor," he said cheekily and headed for his room and that nice, uncomfortable bed.
Sure enough, the higher ups arrived that afternoon to debrief him. To his dismay, they treated him like an invalid who wasn't very intelligent. After thirty minutes, he became frustrated.
"Good grief. Stop pussyfooting around and just ask what you want to know. Did they torture me? No. At least, not deliberately. My captors never found out who I am. I lay in that cot for six months with leg casts on and no medical care. I got sick, and I was dying. The Red Cross sent in an inspection team and thanks to Captain Hunter, they saw me and took both of us out of there and to Switzerland. I still nearly died. Dr. Gondau said that had they been as little as 24 hours later, I wouldn't have made it."
"Did Dr. Gondau question you?"
"Only in regards to my health. He offered to get word back to our services that we were alive and in Switzerland. That was when I admitted who I am."
"And Dr. Gondau never asked you anything about your knowledge of manpower or weapons systems?"
"No." He looked them square in the eyes, daring them to challenge him. Wisely, they didn't. Instead, they exchanged uncertain glances and shuffled papers. Savage sighed and waited. He thought he knew what they were thinking. Probably they wanted to give him a medical discharge and be done with him. He decided a pre-emptive strike was in order.
"I have to admit that I'm looking forward to a furlough. I haven't been home since the war started, and it will give me a chance to finish recovering before my next posting." Sure enough, they exchanged nervous glances. "You're not forcing me out. Not now. How would it look to the people back home, hmmm?" The two and three stars' heads came up and finally met his eyes, shock in both pair.
"No, of course not," the three-star said with a false smile.
Savage leaned forward. He didn't want to make any mistakes. "I'm not like most men in the Air Corps. I'm a career man. I may have come in through the reserves, but I know planes, and I know flying. I'm not going to go back to the farm. I have never been a farmer. I'm a pilot, plain and simple. I'm also a soldier. The idea of going back home as a civilian is anathema to me. Let the farmers and the shopkeepers and the bankers and the businessmen go home. Leave the military to the soldiers. Airplanes are here to stay as a permanent weapon system. I intend to be a part of it for a very long time to come. If you think otherwise, think again." He sat back in his chair, hands laced together over his stomach.
There was a young major there, whose breath caught at the vehemence and power in Savage's statement. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. He suddenly saw what could only be perceived as the look of a raptor in the general's face. The piercing blue eyes that could see for miles, the stubborn clenching of the jaw, the determination and pride. He found himself nodding in agreement, and was surprised when the generals nodded as well.
"But you will admit that you still need time to recover fully?" the two-star asked.
"Six months. That should take care of my accrued leave. At the end of that time, and I want a firm report date and location, I'll be more than willing to undergo a fitness exam at that time. Not before."
The generals squirmed and looked nervously at one another. "We've already got the report on your fitness for duty. You've been cleared for duty, pending gaining twenty-five pounds."
He was shocked. He had seen Kaiser's horror at his condition, had felt the extra-gentleness with which he'd been examined. But he'd been cleared for duty? And only needed to try and gain twenty-five pounds? He was a full forty under what he'd been before he'd been shot down, and he'd been underweight then. "I am?" he asked, hiding his surprise.
"Yes. Dr. Kaiser indicated that although you're still a bit under-muscled and definitely underweight, that you're mentally sound and of sufficient strength to return to duty, and that if it had been called for, he'd have put you back into action. However, since that is not necessary, he suggested a furlough long enough to allow you to finish regaining your health." He looked at his subordinates, who simply nodded. "Will that be satisfactory?"
Savage nodded. "More than satisfactory." He'd definitely remember to thank Doc, later.
The two visiting generals stood, causing everyone else to stand as well. The two-star couldn't wait until this was over so he could go back to his nice, quiet business in New York. The three-star was looking forward to retirement. He was a career man, but it was time to go and leave the Army in the hands of the future; and he felt that Frank Savage was definitely going to have a part in that future. "General, it's been a pleasure meeting you." The three-star extended his hand and was surprised at the firmness of Savage's handshake.
"Thank you, sir." As they got ready to leave, Savage snapped to attention and fired off a salute. The three-star, smiling at the younger man, returned it, just as precisely. With that, they left. As soon as they'd gone, Frank sagged into a chair, exhausted. It wouldn't do to ever let them see how weak he really was. He looked up as the door opened and Hunter came in.
"Tired, but good. They aren't going to toss me out." He smiled.
"Good. So, you want food or rest, now?"
His stomach rumbled, giving his answer for him. Hunter grinned.
"I'll take that as 'food'." As Frank stood and followed him from the ready-room to head over to the mess hall, he continued. "I noticed you skipped lunch, and your breakfast was just coffee and a donut. Worrying about the debriefing?"
"I thought they were going to put me out to pasture. I'm too young to retire."
"Okimaw, you will never retire. You'll be flying until you go blind with age; and knowing you, that will never happen."
Savage chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder. "From your mouth to God's ear, nitotem."
"You will see. You will be teaching your great-grandchildren to fly."
"I'll settle for teaching my children and their children."
"It is good."
She heard that he was back, but was very ill. When she found out he'd been back for a week, and she was only now being informed, she was furious. Because she worked for the Ministry of War, she had access to the base. She stormed into the infirmary on a mission. She didn't bother to look for the doctor or a nurse, simply started opening doors. The third one was her goal, but what she saw gave her pause. He was sleeping soundly, on his side, but he'd kicked the covers off and she could see how wasted he was. Her breath caught as she saw him. She shivered, repulsed by his skeletal gauntness. She was about to turn and run, when his eyes opened and focused on hers. He smiled and sat up. Totally unselfconscious, he reached for his robe as he stood, slipping it on and finally covering his emaciated body.
"I was wondering when you'd get here," he murmured, his voice still that soft, seductive purr that always melted her bones. He smiled, happy to see her, until he noticed her eyes and that the smile on her face was forced. He stopped. He looked at her for several long, endless moments, and then he nodded, a bit sadly.
"I see." He sighed softly. "It's all right. I understand. You don't have to stay." He watched her as she turned and left without ever saying a word. He sagged down onto the edge of his bed, suddenly too weary to stand. A moment later, he looked up to see the nurse come in. She smiled at him.
"How're you feeling, General?" Her accent placed her origins in London, somewhere.
"I'm all right." He allowed her to take his temperature and check his wrist for his pulse, but he wasn't really interested. He'd thought...well, it didn't matter now, did it.
"I've got something special for you."
"Hmm? What?" He finally focused on the girl.
"Just a tick. I'll get it for you." She left him for just a few moments and came back carrying a tall tumbler filled with a thick, pale brown liquid.
"What is it?" he asked cautiously. He knew what it looked like, but it seemed highly unlikely.
"Horlick's. Chocolate malt?" She saw his surprise and giggled. "Yeah, I know. Haven't seen it since the war started, have you?"
"No, I haven't." Occasional chocolate bars, of course, but a malt? Hardly. He gingerly accepted the tumbler and took a sip. It was cold and thick and rich. "Delicious. Thank you." He smiled at the nurse. She smiled back and he realized she had no difficulty in looking at him. He straightened a bit.
"You're welcome. I've got another one for your friend." She looked concerned, "Do you think he'll like it?"
"I can't imagine why he wouldn't." He looked at her in confusion. She blushed.
"I wasn't sure."
"Why not?" He stiffened, annoyance creeping into his posture. "Because he's an Indian?"
She looked surprised. "No, because he's from Canada. Do they have malt in Canada?"
His jaw dropped in shock. When he'd first come to Britain, he'd been met with a lot of misapprehensions, that Americans were all cowboys, for one. That the Indians were all savage and warlike, and that it was like all those B westerns Hollywood had made. Now, here was the same attitude about Canadians. "I'm sure they do. They aren't all fur trappers or Esquimos, you know." He was going to laugh, until he saw her embarrassment. "It's all right. You had no way of knowing. Hunter will probably love it." He watched her as she turned and exited. He shook his head. What misconceptions people had.
At least she didn't get that sickened look when she saw him.
"What is it?" Hunter asked, frowning at the thick, light brown liquid.
"Chocolate malt? The general said you'd probably like it." There was hope in her voice, as well as fear.
Hunter looked at her dubiously, sniffed at the contents of the tumbler, and then took a tentative sip. His eyes widened in surprise, and he took a bigger sip. He held the glass up to look at it, licked the thick foam from his lips and smiled at her. "It is good. Thank you."
She smiled shyly at him and nodded. "You're welcome."
He looked at her and grinned. "What is it? My hair?"
"Are you really an Indian?"
"I'm Cree. You call us Indians, but we think of ourselves as the first people in North America. We don't really scalp our enemies, you know."
She looked at him in surprise.
He shrugged. "At least, I never have. I think it was a white-man's practice that they taught our ancestors. Personally, I think it's rather barbaric."
"Tell me about where you're from?"
"I live in Ontario, on James Bay, near a town called Attawapiskat. It's in the northern part of the province. My family has a farm and does a lot of fishing. Although, when I go home, I may decide to move to Alberta. Better land, there. Not as rocky."
"Do you have a large family?"
Hunter shrugged. "I have a lot of sisters." He grinned. "So, the general. You like him?"
She jumped slightly, startled by his question. She hadn't thought anyone had noticed. Blushing, she nodded. "He's very handsome."
Hunter laughed. "He's skin and bones, but his eyes are alive."
"He has beautiful eyes," she readily agreed, blushing more deeply.
"So? Go and talk to him." He chuckled when she turned away and hurriedly left the room. He shook his head. "Okimaw, you're a lucky man, I think." The woman was goodlooking, with long hair of many colors, from blond to brown, with shades of red, as well. It was obviously natural, and with her large, hazel eyes, she was indeed a striking woman. He wondered briefly what had become of Frank's girlfriend. He'd spoken of her a few times, but it was 'formal' speaking. Not like a man deeply in love; more like a man being dutiful and 'doing the right thing.' It would be interesting to see what happened. If anything. For himself, he wanted to go home and fish for a season while he finished healing. The idea of going out on the bay in his canoe, or up the river, or even sitting on the bank during the salmon run.... He shivered in anticipation. Yes. It was time to go home. He hoped to remain friends with the general, however. He wasn't certain, though. Even though Frank was part Shawnee, he looked white, and that sometimes came into contention when one returned to their home. He would wait and see. It was all he could do.
He was surprised when the nurse returned. He was still nursing his malt; it was almost too rich for him, but it was a taste of home, and he didn't want to either hurry through it or make himself sick. The nurse smiled rather shyly at him, and he smiled back.
"This is wonderful. Thank you."
"I'm glad you like it. The captain didn't know what it was, but I think he likes it." She eased a little closer. She couldn't help herself. The man, despite his emaciated and weakened condition simply exuded life and vitality; he fairly oozed strength and power, and his eyes... she could drown in their blue depths.
His heart accelerated a bit. She had moved closer, and she was looking at him. Instead of morbid fascination, like he'd seen in Liz's eyes, he saw interest. "What's your name?" he fairly purred.
Her heart skipped a beat. That low, rumbling voice sent vibrations through her entire being. "Emily."
"Emily. It's nice to meet you; my name is Frank."
She automatically extended her hand, and when they touched, it was like an electric shock as his fingers closed around hers. He had surprisingly warm hands, although the calluses felt a bit odd. She glanced down. He had elegant hands, with long, well-formed fingers and broad palms. She felt a thrill deep inside her.
His breath caught as their hands touched. He looked up into her face and saw the same reaction in her eyes as he was feeling. Shifting his grip slightly, he raised her hand to his lips and lightly kissed her fingers. To his surprise, he felt her pulse leap and his own heart began to beat at a faster pace as well. He smiled at her.
He had the most beautiful smile; she couldn't help but smile back at him. "It's nice to officially meet you, Frank." Her own voice lowered into a soft purr that perfectly matched his.
"Why don't you pull up a chair and talk to me?"
"I'd love to."
They kept him there for a month as they tried to pack some more pounds on his scrawny body. Oddly enough, the only thing that seemed to stick was the malted milk. He hated being confined and could be found out in all weather either walking or riding a bicycle around the airfield. He didn't really care for the bicycle, but he wanted to build up his strength as quickly as he possibly could. Once Emily had started going with him, he got even more exercise, cycling to town and back. At the end of a month, he'd put on almost ten pounds, all solid muscle, mostly in his legs. Finally, they were starting to look like legs instead of knobby, skin-covered sticks. Doc Kaiser was well pleased with his progress and finally announced that he could go home. Hunter had been released two weeks earlier and the Canadians had sent him home already.
He missed his friend, but Emily certainly did her part to fill the void...and she filled it very well, indeed. He'd never been the dependant sort before his capture, but he'd learned the necessity of having at least one person give a damn what happened to him. While he missed his friend, though, he fell in love with his nurse. She was the only person other than Hunter who didn't flinch when she saw his body. The first time he kissed her, she put her arms around him and held him close, her bosom was soft and warm against his chest and his heart hammered at the warmth she exuded. When he withdrew, she caught his head and brought him in for a second kiss, which led to a third, and fourth, and several more after that. Her hands on his shoulders and back, pulling him against her, where he could soak up her warmth made him want to remain like that forever. When they finally parted, both breathing heavily, he looked into her hazel eyes, searching. All he could see was desire. For him. He brought his hand up to cup her cheek and she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch.
"How did we ever find each other?"
He thought about it and finally nodded. "Must be. Come to America with me."
Her eyes flew open and she stared at him. "What?"
"Come home with me. Meet my family. See if you still want to see where this seems to want to go, after you meet my parents and my children."
"Tell me about your children, again." She watched him closely as he smiled. "Three of them. The oldest are twins, a boy and a girl. James and Jennifer. The second is almost three years younger, Paul. The twins are fourteen, about to turn fifteen, later this year, and Paul is twelve. They're good children, well behaved, for the most part." His expression turned pensive. "It's been so long since I've seen them. I wonder if they'll even remember me."
His barely controlled anguish as he thought of his children decided for her. "I'd love to go to America and meet your family," she murmured, kissing him. He held her tightly, shuddering from emotion.
"I want to go home," he whispered, brokenly.
"Then let's go."
For the first time in more than four years, he was standing on American soil. He'd ferried the Lily from Archbury to James Bay, where he'd stopped to invite Hunter to come with him. His friend had grinned broadly and agreed. From there, they flew to Wright Field, near his home in Ohio. He was shaking, partly from fatigue, partly from the emotional shock of finally being so close to home. As he hung from the hatch, his breath caught upon seeing the group of people waiting for them. He dropped to the tarmac and just stood there, taking it all in. Both of his parents, his sisters, his cousin, his aunts and uncle, and even his grandfather. His entire family was there. He turned to help Emily from the hatch, catching her as she dropped. She wore trousers, something he was sure would shock his parents, but he rather liked her in them. Hunter followed him, while the rest of the returning crew dropped from the rear hatch and scattered. Holding Emily's hand, and with Hunter hovering close behind them, he led the way over to his family.
For several long moments, he just stared at them, drinking in the sight he'd often thought never to see again. His father glanced at his companions and smiled. Stepping forward, he reached for his son. Frank fairly fell into his father's arms sobbing in final, joyful, release. His mother joined them, holding him tightly until he could recover, never saying a word, but their touch conveying all the comfort and joy in his return to them. When he recovered sufficiently, he stepped back, sniffling, and after clearing his throat several times, introduced his companions.
"Ma, Pa, I'd like you to meet my friends. This is Hunter. He's the reason I made it back. And this is Emily." He wasn't quite sure how to introduce her, but finally settled on, "My girlfriend."
"Welcome, both of you," his father smiled and shook hands with Hunter. "I'm Bill, and this is my wife, Brianna." He looked at the rest of his family and realized that their number might be just a tad intimidating. "This is my father-in-law, Brian Quince." He'd leave the rest of the introductions for later.
"It's very nice to meet you all." Emily's accent fascinated them and they all smiled.
"Mr. Hunter, we can never repay you for bringing Frank back to us." Brianna's warm gratitude was more than just welcoming him as a friend; it was more adoptive than that, and Hunter recognized it and smiled.
"It is my honor to call him friend, Mrs. Savage." He noticed that Frank had begun shaking as the realization that he was really home began to sink in. With a pointed glance at the elder Savages, he turned to his friend and lightly grasped his arm. The blue eyes, swimming in tears, looked up at him. "Let's get you home, nitotem." Frank shivered, hard, and nodded, turning panic-stricken eyes to his parents, silently begging them for help.
His father quickly took charge. Brianna took care of her son while her brother helped Hunter with Frank's glider. Within fifteen minutes, they were all packed in their cars and trucks and headed for the family farm.
He couldn't stop shaking. He closed his eyes, trying desperately to control it, but it wasn't working. He felt his mother's arms around him and heard her voice softly speaking reassurances, but it wasn't helping; it seemed to make the shaking worse. His breathing became ragged and he could feel tears running down his cheeks, and he couldn't stop that, either. His mother's arms around him, pulling him against her, and he was suddenly a small boy, again, seeking solace when his pony had broken his leg and had to be put down.
"Mama," he whispered, sobbing and clinging to her. She held him tightly to her, trying to comfort him, but apparently to no avail. Her eyes met her husband's in the rear view mirror and she could see his concern. Her jaw tightened along with her arms around her son and she kissed his cheek, which only served to make him cry all the harder.
Hunter, sitting beside them, tried to explain. "He never really believed he'd ever get home. He's been hanging on with just hope for so long. He just wanted to see his family before he died, but he hasn't died, and he is home, with his family, and it is more than he can understand."
Bill spoke from the front of the car. "It may take a while, but he'll be all right, sweetheart. He was always a lot stronger than most people ever gave him credit for." Brianna nodded and kissed her son again and began to softly speak to him, words of reassurance and comfort. By the time they got to the farm, Frank had fallen asleep.
Hunter insisted on carrying the sleeping Frank into the house and putting him to bed. Then he volunteered to stay with him until he awoke. Emily asked to sit with him as well. Hunter, realizing that Frank probably needed his parents more than him or Emily, suggested they take turns. As he was sleeping, now, he and Emily would sit with him, and when he woke up, would call them to sit with him. Emily frowned, but reluctantly agreed. After all, she was a guest, here. It wasn't as though she held any real claim on him. As she sat watching his restless sleep, she thought about it and found herself feeling jealous of Frank's family.
Hunter knew what she was thinking. After one of her intermittent sighs, he softly spoke. "Remember, they thought he was dead for nearly a year. And they haven't seen him in more than four years. There will be time enough for the two of you, but give them their due."
She wanted to ignore his words, but they hit home and she knew he was right. She looked at him and nodded. "You're right. He won't have them forever. His parents are quite old, aren't they?"
"Close to eighty, and his grandfather has to be nearly a hundred. He was so happy to see him. Did you see the way they all looked at him?"
"Hungry. Yes. I saw."
Hunter grinned. "I think they all wanted to touch him to see if he was real."
She smiled. "Can you blame them?" With the understanding of how they must have felt upon seeing him after so long, she could hardly begrudge them their desire to cling to him. With any luck at all, they would accept her. She thought of his children and realized that her best bet to that end would be to make friends with them. She looked down at Frank and realized that his family was very important to him, as he was to them. Making a decision, she stood up. "Would you like some coffee?"
"Coffee would be nice, thank you." He watched her leave, smiling to himself with the knowledge she was coming to understand the family dynamic she was trying to join. He had had more than a year to learn about Frank and his family and how he felt about them. He practically worshiped his father and adored his mother. His children were thoroughly loved, as well. From the crowd that had gathered for his return, it was only obvious that they were a very close and caring family. He looked up as the door opened and Frank's mother came in carrying a tray of sandwiches and a pot of coffee. He immediately stood and took it from her, placing it on the dresser.
"How is he doing?"
"Sleeping, but it's not a restful sleep."
She nodded and gently stroked the hair back from where it had fallen across her son's forehead. "He never thought to see us again." His expression became troubled and his head turned, seeking her touch. Smiling, now, she cupped his cheek. "He was always such a gentle child. My father-in-law tended to try and take over his upbringing, but Bill was stronger and insisted he learn to do for himself." She glanced at Hunter, who was smiling at her and listening closely. "He was so upset that we had two daughters, that when Frank came along, he absolutely doted on him. Bill's older brother had been his favorite, but Francis only had the one daughter, and that disappointed the old man."
"It must have been hard for you, loving all of your children when their grandfather had a favorite."
"Frank was terrified of him. He always looked so stern and angry. He never really forgave Bill for saving his life. He actually would have preferred dying to being left a cripple." She shook her head at the memories. "And Bill's mother... 'imperious' is the word Bill used to describe her." She glanced at Hunter, "I called her a harridan." She smiled when Hunter laughed. "Poor Frank, the youngest and doted on by two domineering, angry people who didn't understand how much they frightened him."
"How old was he when they died?"
"His grandfather died when he was fifteen. His grandmother when he was almost thirty."
"She was quite old, then?"
She smiled and nodded, still focused on her son and stroking his face. "Yes, over ninety. My father is almost a hundred, but he's still strong and fit. I hope that when he goes, it's just that he doesn't wake up one morning. But I hope it's not for a long time, yet."
"As do I." He watched as Frank's usual worried expression eased into relaxation. "He told me about how much he cared for all of you and how much he missed you. He was particularly worried about James, Jennifer, and Paul."
"They're wonderful children. They've all learned to fly the Jenny, and Jennifer insists it's hers, as she was named for it." She chuckled.
Hunter snickered. "Makes sense to me."
Brianna laughed. She liked this young man. "Do you have a first name, Captain Hunter?"
"Miyoskamin sakahikan." She just blinked at him and he grinned. "It means 'lake in spring' or, more specifically, the lake at ice break up." Seeing her trying to pronounce the words, he chuckled. "Hunter is fine."
She shook her head. "Mih-yoos-kuh-mihn sahk-uh-ih-kuhn." She smiled. "I can almost hear the word 'sky' in both of your names. Would it be all right if we called you that?"
He was amazed. Only her son had ever called him by his proper name, and that only rarely, but that was a military thing, he knew. No one other than his own people had ever deigned to even try to pronounce it. He smiled and nodded. "Sky. That is a good name." He thought about his flying skills and decided that it was most appropriate.
"Thank you." She lightly touched her fingers to his cheek. His surprise grew. "How old are you, Sky Hunter?" She deliberately used it as a title, and not just a name. He realized that she understood his people's ways at least that much.
"I'll be twenty-four next March."
She smiled, nodding. "I might have guessed April, myself."
He laughed softly. "There was an early thaw that year." He turned to look at Frank as he shifted and opened his eyes, bringing Mrs. Savage's attention that way as well.
Frank looked confused and glanced around. The shock on his face told the tale that he had thought he'd been dreaming, but he recognized his room, his friend, and his mother. He focused on her, obviously distressed, and Hunter silently rose, squeezed her shoulder, and slipped out of the room.
"Yes, son. You're home, now. Safe and, well, almost sound." She smiled through the tears she didn't try to control. When her son sat up and reached for her, she shifted to sit on the edge of his bed and held him. He might be a man grown, and in his late thirties, but at this moment, he was very much her hurt little boy, and he needed her. "Oh, Frank. We're so glad you're back," she murmured, holding him tightly. She didn't even look up when the door opened and her husband came in to sit beside her and pull them both into his strong arms, providing the shelter and solace he always had for their family.
Hunter found Emily down in the kitchen, sitting at the table and getting to know Frank's children. They were obviously curious about her, what with her odd accent (to them) and different ways. The boys both bore the obvious stamp of their father and grandfather, with their brown hair and piercing blue eyes. The girl was a more feminine version, but with those same eyes. He smiled at them, and they smiled back. One of the boys, he thought it was James, stood up and offered him his chair while he moved to the one on the other side of his sister.
"Thank you." He sat. The three looked at him curiously, but with no apparent animosity. "Let me see if I can guess, all right?" He turned to the boy who had given him his seat. "You're James, and your twin is Jennifer, here, right? And you would be Paul, yes?"
The trio was impressed and nodded, smiling. "Yes, sir," James replied for them. "Miss Emily was just telling us about how you saved our dad's life?" There was the concerned expression of a boy who had thought himself an orphan not all that long ago.
"Yes, I suppose I did." He shrugged. "It seemed to be the right thing to do, is all." He was startled when Jennifer stood up, put her arms around his neck, and kissed his cheek.
"Thank you," she whispered shyly. He grinned at her.
"You're welcome. He's a good friend." He saw the children exchange understanding glances and then James asked a question.
"What was that thing you brought with you? The sticks and the material?"
"Ah, that. It's a glider." Seeing the curiosity on all three children's faces, he explained how it worked, noticing that Emily had a look of fear as she thought about the contraption. "That glider is the reason your father can walk. Dr. Gondau showed him a book by Leonardo Da Vinci, and he saw the plans in it. We figured out how to actually build one, and the doctor said that there was no point in building it if he couldn't use it, and he couldn't use it unless he could walk. Within a month, he was flying."
"Do you think he'll teach us?" Paul asked with hope in his eyes.
Hunter shrugged. "You'll have to ask him when he's feeling a little better."
"Is he sick again?" Jennifer asked in concern.
"I don't think so. He's tired from the long flight, I'm sure, and I don't think he quite realized that he really was coming home until he saw you all. Your grandparents are up with him now. I wouldn't be at all surprised that he'll be up and around tomorrow, wanting to hear all about what's been going on with you while he was gone." He mock-scowled at them. "You have been good, haven't you?"
"Yes, sir," all three chorused.
Emily watched them and realized that Hunter had a natural talent with the children. "Captain Hunter, do you think you could teach us some of your family's ways of hunting and fishing?"
He looked surprised, but also saw the question piqued the interest of the children. He smiled. "Would you want to learn Red Man ways?"
"Our Great-Grandmas were both Indians, sir," James spoke for them. "I think it would be great to learn to hunt and track."
"Come fall, maybe we could get a deer for the freezer for winter?" Paul added.
Hunter grinned. "If I'm here that long, I don't see why not." It was only late June, so hunting season was still a few months away.
"Dad's birthday is coming up next month," Paul softly said. "What are we going to get him?" As farm kids, they didn't have a lot of money, but that never stopped them from making gifts.
"What do you think he'd like, Mr. Hunter, Miss Emily?" Jennifer looked to the woman she realized her father was thinking about marrying. They were almost grown up, and she thought it would be good for him to have someone else in his life to keep him company.
Hunter looked at Emily, who was looking a bit worried. "I think what he'd like best, he's already got. He's home, and his family still loves him."
"Perhaps you could prepare his favorite meal for him?" Emily suggested. The children perked up at her suggestion.
"But we don't know how to cook," Paul complained.
Hunter chuckled. "Then it's time you learned, Paul. Every man should be able to feed himself." The children nodded and looked at Emily.
"We can ask Grams what he likes best. Will you help us, Miss Emily?"
She smiled. "I'd love to." She caught Hunter's wink and blushed slightly.
Hunter stood. "Would one of you like to show me around? I've learned that I have to walk a certain amount each day or my muscles and joints tie up."
"I'll show you," both boys chorused. Jennifer said nothing, wanting to stay with Emily.
She found it much easier to relate to the children one at a time, and was grateful that Hunter had taken the boys with him to explore. It gave her a chance to make friends with Jennifer. Hunter, who had planned it that way, headed outside where the boys showed him all around the main compound of the farm, and he got a chance to show them where a fox had tried to get into the chicken coop, and how to tell which way he'd gone.
It took more than a week for Frank to actually start believing it was true; that he was home and safe, and his family was there with him. He noticed how Emily was trying so hard to make friends with his children, and he was considerably hopeful for their relationship. They didn't have a lot of time alone, together, but he began the habit of going for a walk with her after supper, sometimes not getting back until well after dark. Best of all, his parents approved of her. He was sitting at the kitchen table early one morning, having awakened before the rest of the house and gone downstairs to fix the coffee. He reminded himself that he needed to get some tea for Emily. She drank coffee, but she much preferred her 'cuppa char'. He looked up as his mother came down the stairs and quickly rose and poured her a cup of coffee, setting in at 'her' place at the table. She smiled at him.
"Good morning, son."
"Good morning, Ma." He couldn't ever seem to get enough of them. She paused behind him on her way past and gave him a hug, kissing the top of his head. She always seemed to know exactly what to do or say.
"Did you sleep well, Frank?" And for her part, she couldn't seem to get enough of acknowledging his presence.
"Fine, Ma." He sipped his coffee, looking pensive. His mother waited patiently, knowing that he'd get around to talking when he'd finished figuring it out on his own, first. He finished his coffee in silence, but it wasn't uncomfortable.
"I'm going to ask Emily to marry me."
She hid her smile with a sip of her coffee. "Good."
He glanced at her and saw the amusement in her eyes. "You approve?"
"Of course. If she makes you happy, then I'm all for it. She's good with the children, as well." She nodded. "I approve."
He grinned, slumping in relief. "Thanks, Ma."
She chuckled and patted his hand. "Have you talked to the children about it, yet?"
"I've mentioned the possibility, but I'm not sure they were paying attention."
"Oh, they were; trust me." She saw his concerned look and chuckled. "Jennifer adores her, son, and the boys like her, too. I'm happy for you." She looked past her son and beamed. "Did you hear, Bill?"
"I did." He nodded at his son to stay seated as he poured his own cup of coffee. "Will you be staying on here?"
For the first time, Frank fidgeted. "I'm staying in the Air Corps, Pa."
His parents nodded. "You think they might let you stay here at Wright Field?"
That hadn't occurred to him. "Maybe. I don't know."
"Well, we'll just hope, then."
"Yes, sir." He realized his cup was empty and rose to refill it.
Brianna watched her son, seeing her husband in him. It was amazing, she thought, how much like his father Frank could be. There was nothing of the hatefulness Bill's parents had had, only a gentleness and an ability to love. She wasn't sure where Bill had learned it, but he'd taught it to all their children, and their grandchildren, as well. She decided that she needed to have a talk to Emily before Frank had a chance to build up enough courage to ask her.
Fortunately, Frank wasn't likely to be asking her at breakfast, but on their evening walk, so she still had time. She just had to make sure that Emily understood her son, it would be important to their happiness.
"Oh, good, you're alone. I need to speak with you, Emily."
Despite the warm welcome she'd received, she was still nervous before Frank's parents, particularly his mother. His father was so much like him that it amazed her. She gingerly sat in the indicated chair, at attention, hands clasped in her lap, and waited.
Brianna wasn't one to beat about the bush. "Do you love my son?"
"Of course I do. I wouldn't have come if I didn't." She answered automatically, without thinking. Seeing the smile on the older woman's face, she realized that it had been the right answer.
"You don't really know him very well, though, do you?"
That took her by surprise. "Whatever do you mean?"
"You know his reputation as a general, right?"
Everyone knew that. "Yes, of course."
Brianna nodded. "Don't let the reputation and the stubbornness fool you. He might bark orders and commands; and I'm the first to admit that when he sets his mind on something, it would take an act of congress to change his mind, but inside," she looked dreamily into the past, "Inside, he's the gentlest little boy I've ever known. More gentle than his father, more gentle than his sons."
Emily frowned. "What do you mean?"
"He's very sensitive. You can crush him with a word or thoughtless deed. He's very good at hiding it, though, but that's one of the things that will make him brood. His father and I gave him a strong sense of right and wrong, and to protect those weaker than himself. He was teaching that to his children, and we've continued the lessons. They seldom fight, you'll notice. The twins almost know what the other is thinking without ever saying a word. Paul feels a bit left out, but accepts it. He's probably the stronger boy when it comes to wanting to see justice done. If you know and understand the children, then you know and understand their father. The divorce and then the death of his first wife nearly destroyed him, but then the war came, and he had the opportunity to escape for a time. I don't think it ever occurred to him that he might not come back. He's dealing fairly well with everything, but sometimes, I see him drift off and know he's back in that prison camp. Have you seen how little time he spends indoors?" At Emily's nod, she continued. "He's afraid, I think. Of being trapped again. In his mind, he knows he's free, and home, and safe, but in his heart, he still isn't sure."
"I know. He has night terrors, sometimes. Not since he's been here, though."
"There have been a few bad dreams, but nothing too awful."
"You check on him in the night, too?" Emily asked in surprise. When she'd go to look in on him, the house was always so silent.
"Several times in the night, usually. Bill and I don't sleep through the night, so one or the other of us will get up and check on the children. And despite being a grown man, Frank's still our little boy." She smiled fondly at her; she didn't need to come out and say that they'd checked on her sleep, as well. Emily blushed thinking about it, but then recognized it as a sign of their caring, nothing more.
"I usually check on him before I go to bed, and again sometime in the middle of the night when I wake up to go to the bathroom."
Bri nodded her understanding. "All I'm trying to say is, despite his sometimes gruff exterior, inside he's a gentle, sensitive, loving little boy."
Emily understood. Frank's mother was asking her not to hurt her son. "I'll do my best to make him happy," she vowed, reaching across the table to touch the older woman's hand.
"That's all I ask. It's all any of us can hope for, really." She stood, smiling. "Don't tell him I talked to you, please? He'd be terribly embarrassed." She smiled gently, but Emily could see the steel beneath.
"Of course." She understood. Mrs. Savage was only protecting her son. She smiled and decided that she could do far worse than to join this particular family. She rose as well. Uncertainly, she stepped close to her, hopefully, soon to be mother-in-law and gave her a tentative hug. She was pleased when the embrace was returned. Stepping apart, the two women smiled and nodded. They understood each other.
Bri watched as Emily went outside to observe as Frank took his glider up for the first time. Soon, there were shouts of excitement and her son's baritone whoop of joy as the afternoon breeze was apparently strong enough to carry him aloft. Wiping her hands on her apron, she went out onto the porch to watch.
Out over the fields was the gigantic white kite. She frowned as she realized that there were two bodies hanging from it, instead of just one. Looking over at the barn, she realized that Emily was missing. She smiled as she walked out to join them. She saw the look of envy on her husband's face and put her arm around his waist. His arm automatically came up around her shoulders and he pulled his attention from the sky to smile down at her and drop a soft kiss to her lips.
"Wish you were up there, Bill?"
"A little. It looks like fun, but I doubt these old bones of mine could take it." His arm tightened around her.
"She's going to tell him 'yes' when he asks."
Bill nodded. "Good. I think she's what he needs, and she's good with the children. They're a handsome couple."
"Yes, they are." They stood quietly watching for a while, until Bri remembered her interrupted dinner preparations. Reluctant to leave her husband's presence, she slowly pulled away and turned for the house.
After so many years together, he generally knew what she was thinking. Hearing her sigh as she turned away, he simply followed her, far more interested in his wife than his son's plaything. In silence, they returned to the house, where he sat down at the table and snapped the peas for her as she returned to her cooking. He glanced out the window and a mischievous look came into his eyes.
"You know, they're going to be out there for a while. Why don't we sneak upstairs for a bit? No one will ever notice."
Bri turned to him, shocked. "In the middle of the day?"
He grinned. "Why not?"
She frowned, thinking about it, then looked out the window where everyone was and she smiled.
"What a lovely idea." She quickly finished her preparations and put them aside until it was actually time to cook, and washed her hands. As she reached for her apron strings, her husband was there before her and pulling the bow out.
Putting the apron on the counter, they went upstairs, hand in hand. Secretly, she hoped the children would be busy for a very long time.
He could feel her terror in the tenseness of her muscles where she was pressed against him. Early on, he and Hunter had tried it tandem, and it had worked. Of course, Hunter hadn't been nearly this frightened. Besides, Emily was a lot lighter than Hunter. He spoke into her ear, "It's all right; you won't fall." He guided the glider into a slow, rising spiral, until they could see the entire farm as well as the nearby town. As they continued to soar, she relaxed and began to actually enjoy the scenery and the feel of the wind in her hair.
"This is fun!" she shouted to him and felt his arms tighten around her. After a while, she could feel him growing weary and realized that he would soar up there until he was exhausted. "Can we go back, now?"
"Of course." He turned them around and guided their craft skillfully back to the farm, where everyone was just as he'd left them, watching the sky. He was a bit disappointed that his parents weren't there, until he spotted them coming outside. His mother was putting her hair up. He wondered why it had been down and blushed with the realization. His parents hadn't had a moment's respite since he'd left. There were always so many people in the house. He couldn't blame them for sneaking the time to be alone. His arms tightened around Emily and prayed to have as good a marriage as his parents had.
They landed safely, with Hunter right there to help with the glider. "You were not up so long, nitotem."
Frank smiled. "Wiser heads prevailed, nicosis."
"What's 'nicosis' mean?" James had come to help, along with his brother.
"My son," Hunter explained.
Paul looked up at the tall Cree. "Are you going to be our brother?"
The two men froze for just a moment as their eyes met, brown eyes puzzled, blue ones amused. "He's at least my brother, Paul. You can call him 'uncle', if you wish." His gaze turned challenging. Hunter's breath caught and then he slowly nodded.
"Yes. I would like that very much. Much better to be your brother than your son, I think." He smiled. "I'm a bit old to be one of your sons." He looked at the children, who were smiling at him. "Kohkom, your grandmother, has given me a new name." He glanced at Frank and grinned. "I think she found Sakahikan Miyoskamin too long to say."
"What does she call you, nitotem?"
"Sky." His grin grew impossibly wider as the meaning sunk in. Frank nodded.
Smirking, Frank slapped his friend on the shoulder. "It's a good name." He looked at his parents as they finally joined the group. His father's hair was still mussed, but his mother's was back to normal. Gaining his father's eyes, he calmly ran a hand through his own somewhat wind-mussed hair. The old man, never slow-witted, smiled and calmly duplicated the gesture, smoothing out the worst of the mess.
Frank's arm was still around Emily's shoulders in remarkable imitation of the way his father stood. He seemed to be the only one who didn't notice. His mother tightened her arm around her husband's waist and softly announced, "It's nearly time for supper. Children, if you'd come in and get your chores done? Sky? Would you give me a hand in deciding on dessert?"
Within moments, Frank and Emily were alone. As he moved away from her to put the glider away in the barn, she helped him. Realizing that there was no one to hear, he softly spoke to her.
"I was wondering," he began hesitantly.
"Yes?" She smiled up at him, her heart still pounding from the excitement of flying.
"Well, now that you've met my family, what do you think?"
"I think you've a lovely family and a lovely home."
He nodded and lifted the glider onto the hook of the block and tackle to be ready for the next time he took it out. "Would you like to stay here? With us? With me?" He turned hopeful eyes on her, watching her like the raptor he so much resembled.
Her breath caught for just a moment. "I'd love to stay here, or anywhere else your Army decides to send you."
He blinked, realizing she'd answered his specific question, not the intended one. "Will you marry me?"
She smiled. "Of course." She gasped as he suddenly swept her up in his arms, whooping with joy. She caught his excitement and began to laugh as he spun around until they were both dizzy and fell into the hay. He kissed her soundly and held her tight.
He was looking forward to making the announcement over supper...not realizing that everyone knew from having heard him yelling in his joy. Their shared pleasure in his announcement covered admirably for the total lack of surprise.
Late that evening, as Emily was about to go to her room, she noticed Frank's parents in the parlor. They were sitting before the empty fireplace and kissing, much as she and Frank had been doing earlier during their postprandial walk. Realizing that Bill had his hand under Bri's skirt was something of a shock, but then, as she silently slipped away, leaving them to their privacy, she thought that it boded well for her own coming marriage. If they were still that amorous after more than forty years, she could look forward to her own long and loving relationship with their son. And his father had aged so very well....
Although there was no hurry, Frank wanted them to be married before he had to report back for duty. He'd sent his letter of intent to the war department via telegram the day after she said 'yes', and had received permission a week later. His entire family gathered for the festivities and her family, as well. Even his cousin with his family from California made it. Emily and her family commented on the strong family resemblance among the men and how uncanny it was for them all to look so very much alike.
The wedding itself was held in the local Methodist Church. Captain Hunter proudly performed the duties of Best Man, and Emily's best friend had come from London to be Maid of Honor. To Frank's surprise and delight, both Majors Stovall and Kaiser made it to the festivities.
"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride."
Gently lifting her veil, he gazed for a long moment into her eyes before tilting his head to gently press his lips to hers. Neither of them noticed the entire gathering erupt into cheers, they were too busy making sure it was real.
I think I'll end it there. What happened next, I'll leave for you to decide. Besides, I'm sure your imagination is at least as good as mine is.
Kikawacin na? = Are you cold?
Kohkom (kooh-koom) = your grandmother
Mi'ciso = Eat
Miyoskamin (mih-yoos-kuh-mihn) = Spring (literally, ice breakup)
Nicosis = my son
Nitotem (long o and e) = my friend
Okimaw (long a) = boss
Sakahikan (ssahk-uh-ih-kuhn - the I is pronounced like 'it') = lake
Tanisi? (long a) = How are you?
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