Copyright 1995  By Nancy Durgin

[ This story occurs immediately after the end of the 5th
season episode "The Chapel at Abel-Five".  In this episode,
Saunders, who knows vital information about a German
counterattack, is blinded by an explosion in a minefield.
Posing as a British officer, a German Chaplian rescues
Saunders and tricks him into helping to carry a wounded
German Captain back towards the German lines.  Eventually,
Saunders figures out the identity of the two men, but not
before he has blurted out his vital information -- causing the
wounded Captain to be determined to kill him.  In the final
scene, the Chaplain -- who has been struggling to save the
lives of both men from artillery barrages, attacking German
soldiers, and each other -- jumps on a German grenade,
successfully saving them both.  Hanley and the rest of the
squad arrive on the scene (an old abandoned bunker) to witness
the aftermath of this event. ]

  "Are you hit, Sarge?"  Doc asked with concern, distracting
Saunders from his brief conversation with the wounded German
whose voice -- the wrong voice -- had come from out of the
  Disoriented, ears still ringing from the explosion of the
grenade in the close confines of the bunker, Saunders shook
his head.  Even that small gesture seemed to aggravate his
headache, which certainly hadn't been helped by all the bombs
exploding around him all day.  But that seemed to be the only
damage.  "No, I'm okay...."
  Surprised at the shakiness in his voice, Saunders sagged
back against the bunker's cool stone wall.  With his precious
information safely delivered and rescue at hand, he felt his
adrenalin-maintained energy fading away.  He coughed, trying
to clear the still-settling dust and the acrid smoke of
gunpowder from his mouth and throat.
  "What about your side here?"  Doc persisted.  Hands pulled
at his shirt, down low on his right side.
  "No..." There was no pain there.  Saunders moved his own
hands down to where Doc was poking.  "I don't think...."  Then
he felt it -- something warm, wet and slimy, right where Doc
had indicated.  His hand came away sticky, and covered with
the salty smell of fresh blood.  Saunders felt a surge of
panic.  He was hit, and he couldn't even feel it?
  "Let me see..." Hands pulled at his shirt, lifting it up,
and exposing his bare flesh to the chill of the cool, clammy
air. "Huh..."  Doc muttered, surprised.  Then the shirt was
gently pulled back down into place.
  "What is it?" Saunders asked, trying to keep his voice calm.
  "It's.... it's okay, Sarge.  It's not your blood," Doc said 
quietly, his own voice a little shaky.
  Suddenly, Saunders knew whose blood it was.  He hastily
wiped his hand on his pants, while, unbidden, his mind
conjured up vivid images of what a grenade could do to a man
when it exploded at close range.  He'd seen it before -- the 
bloody stumps of limbs, the hunks of shrapnel-torn flesh.
But, the Chaplain had *jumped on* the grenade, muffling its
explosion with his own body.  The fact that Saunders was
sitting there, only a few feet away and yet unscathed, was a
testament to how effective the Chaplain's sacrifice had been. 
Gagging at the bile rising in his throat, Saunders tried to
force his mind away from the grim pictures it painted for him.
  He was successful, at least, in fighting back his body's
threatened physical reaction.  He coughed again, trying to
clear away the sourness that burned at the back of his throat.
  "Take it easy," Hanley's voice knelt down beside him,
familiar and comforting.  "Here...."  The metal of a canteen
was shoved against his hand.
  Saunders clumsily accepted the object. It was heavy, and his
hand shook as he lifted the canteen to his mouth.  Even
lukewarm and metallic tasting, the water felt good against his
throat.  He took a long drink, trying to wash away the
unpleasant images along with the taste.
  "Let me check your eyes, Sarge" Doc said when he was through
drinking.  Someone -- Hanley again -- took the  canteen from
his hand.
  Saunders nodded and leaned his head back again.  He strained
to see the patch of brightness that should mark the bunker's
doorway. But as they'd been doing all day, the patches of
light and dark just danced frustratingly in front of him.
  "What happened?" Doc asked, as his gentle fingers probed
around Saunders face and lifted his eyelids.
  "A mine.  Knocked me out.  Cochran must have stepped on it."
Saunders winced as Doc's fingers, continuing their
examination, located a tender area on the back of his head.
  "Sorry," Doc said.  The probing hands withdrew, and 
Saunders heard the sound of Doc rummaging around in his
  "Well, Doc?"  It was Hanley's voice, still nearby.
  "I don't know, Lieutenant...." The hands returned, gently
pulling Saunders forward. "Here, Sarge.  Close your eyes.  Let
me put this on...".
  Saunders felt something being pressed against his forehead.
He put his hand up and encountered the thin, rough material
of a bandage.  "What are you doing?"  He brushed the bandage
aside, knocking Doc's hands away in the process.  "The
Chaplain said there was nothing wrong with..."  Saunders
trailed off lamely -- had the German lied to him about his
eyes, too?  He'd said it was only temporary blindness from
the concussion.
  "Easy, Sarge.... I can't see any damage, but this'll keep
you from straining your eyes.  Just until we can get you back
to the aid station and have a doctor check you out."  Doc's
voice was steady and reassuring, but he'd taken the bandages
away when Saunders resisted.
  Saunders felt a resurgence of the panic from this morning
when he'd regained consciousness in the minefield. With the
German Chaplain's assurance that the blindness was only
temporary, and then the other distractions of the day, he
hadn't had much time to dwell on his eyesight.  Now he was 
dismayed at his lack of control as his mind, finding nothing 
else to focus on, turned back to the Blindness.  He
swallowed, his throat suddenly dry again.
  Doc's hand was on his shoulder.... "Okay, Sarge?"
  "Yeah, go ahead."  He managed to keep his voice steady.
  Doc made short work of the bandaging, wrapping a gauze
strip around Saunders head, to hold in place two pads over
his eyes.  Now he could see only blackness, but he realized
with some surprise that it was a relief not to be constantly
straining to focus on the fuzzy patches of light.
  "Want a smoke, Saunders?" Hanley offered after Doc had 
  Suddenly aware of the tantalizing odor of freshly lit
tobacco, Saunders nodded gratefully.  
  "It's lit," Hanley warned him, unnecessarily, as the
proffered object was placed between his lips.
  Saunders secured it between his fingers and took a deep
drag.  The simple familiarity of it made him feel more relaxed
almost immediately.
  "You'd better go check out that German, Doc," Hanley said.
  "Right," Doc agreed, giving Saunders a departing pat on the
shoulder before he stood up.  
  "What do you know about those two?" Hanley asked, after Doc
had gone.
  "That wounded one's a Captain -- I think with the Panzers."
He took another drag on the cigarette.  "The Chaplain said
he was a Major...."
  "That fits.  We found their uniforms near where we found
Cochran."  Hanley said.  "Hmmm.... G-2 will want to talk to
that guy...."
  He was interrupted by Doc's voice, coming from across the
  "Quit pointing that gun at him, Littlejohn," Doc scolded.
"He's not going anywhere."
  "Yeah, well he was lively enough a few minutes ago when
he was doing all that yelling," Littlejohn grumbled.
  Hanley's voice came from above Saunders now.  "How about it,
  "He's in rough shape -- lost a lot of blood.  But I think
he'll make it if he gets treatment soon."
  "We'll have to rig a stretcher," Hanley said.  "Littlejohn,
go out and tell Kirby and Caje...."
  "What?!" Kirby's indignent voice came from the doorway.
"I'm not carrying some damn Kraut anywhere!"
  "Cool it, Kirby,"  Hanley responded.  "Did you get through
to Company?"
  "Yeah...they said we should clear out of here, Lieutenant.
That crossroads isn't very far from here -- they might have to
call in more artillery."  Kirby paused, then added, "Carrying
that Kraut around will just slow us down."
  "Come on, Kirby," Doc objected.  "We can't just leave him
here to die.  The war's over for him anyway...."
   "Go find some poles or something, Kirby," Hanley said
firmly.  "You go with him, Littlejohn.  Tell Caje to keep
watch -- we're moving out in 10 minutes."

  "Huh?"  A hand was gently shaking Saunders' shoulder. 
Somehow, he'd managed to doze off, still sitting against the
wall of the bunker.
  "We're ready to go."  It was Littlejohn.  "Can you make it,
  "Yeah."  There was nothing wrong with his legs -- other than
that they, like the rest of his body, felt like lead weights
right now.  What he really wanted to do was crawl into a hole
somewhere and sleep for a couple days....
  Saunders struggled ungracefully to his feet, grabbing the
larger man's arm as he fought off a wave of vertigo.
  "Littlejohn, give me a hand with this guy," Doc called from
across the room.
  "Just a minute.... You okay, Sarge? Just wait right here...."
  Littlejohn maneuvered him back against the wall.  Saunders
released his grip on Littlejohn's arm.  "Go ahead."
  A moment later, he heard the German groan and cough
painfully as Doc and Littlejohn moved him across the bunker
toward the door.  They brushed against him as they moved past.
  Abruptly, there was silence.  Saunders realized that he was
alone in the bunker.  As he stood waiting, leaning against the
cold stone wall, he became conscious of an odor that seemed
vaguely familiar -- familiar, but out of place here.  No, he
wasn't quite alone, he realized as he suddenly recognized it. 
Back when he was a kid, he'd worked for almost a year in a
butcher shop.  What he smelled now was, unmistakeably, the
odor of raw, freshly butchered meat.
  Saunders grabbed at the wall to steady himself, surprised
by the intensity of his reaction.  The air seemed heavy, the
odor overpowering.  Overwhelmed by the urge to get away from
it, he turned and stumbled over to the door.
  Outside, he paused for a moment, drinking in the fresh air
and waiting for his pulse to quit racing.  Now that he was
outside, he felt rather silly about it.  But, he wasn't about
to turn around and go back inside.  He started to feel his way
down the steps, still keeping his bearings with his right hand
on the rough stone wall.  He'd  managed this much by himself
before, and this time he didn't have to worry about somebody
shooting at him....
  "Hey, Sarge!"  A voice -- Kirby -- called out to him after
he'd come down a couple steps.  Saunders paused, turning 
towards the sounds below him.
  "I told him to wait..."  Littlejohn chimed in.
  But it was Caje who was suddenly, silently, at his side,
startling him.  "Be careful, Sarge.  There's no railing here."
  "I thought we were in a hurry to get outta here," Saunders
offered by way of explanation.  But he didn't argue, taking 
hold of Caje's arm as they both started down the steps again.
  A moment later, when he almost lost his footing on an
uneven step, Saunders was kind of glad the Cajun was there.
"Thanks," Saunders muttered as Caje steadied him.  They
continued down at a more cautious pace, and reached the bottom
without further incident.
  "Okay, let's go," Hanley said, not giving Saunders much of a
chance to savor being on level ground again.  "Company says
there might be some Germans headed this way. Caje, you take
the point.  Kirby, you take Saunders."
  "I knew we shouldn't bring the Kraut," Kirby muttered, as
he grabbed Saunders arm and started pushing him forward. 
"One minute they're trying to kill you, and the next minute
we're carrying them around.  Just slowing us down...."
  Saunders was too busy trying to maintain his footing at
the pace Kirby was setting to worry about the fate of the
German.  The ground, covered with rubble and other obstacles,
was hardly smooth going.  And Kirby's steering technique
left something to be desired, as well....
  "Left...no, right...this way..." Saunders tripped on
something and Kirby pulled him back onto his feet.  "Sorry,
Sarge.  I didn't see that."
  He'd never make it at this rate, Saunders realized after
they'd gone another twenty stumbling paces, with Kirby
shoving him around one obstacle after another, accidentally
whacking him at least twice with the awkward BAR.  Already,
Saunders was sweating from the exertion -- whatever energy
he'd regained during the short rest in the bunker was gone.
  "Hey, wait up..." Kirby called.  Saunders stumbled again,
as Kirby urged him forward.
  "Not like *that*, Kirby," Doc said from in front of them. 
"Here, stop," he grunted.
  "Now," Doc had come over to them.  "Kirby, you walk in
front, like this.  And Sarge, you take his elbow and let him
lead you."  Doc maneuvered them into position, putting
Saunders' right hand on Kirby's left arm.  "And warn him when
you come to any obstacles.  Okay?"
  "Alright, we'll try that," Kirby said.  "Sorry, I've never
*done* this before."
  Saunders was too busy trying to catch his breath to mention
that it was all new to him, too.  And, he hoped, being led
around blindfolded was not a skill that would be of much
practical use to him in the future.

  The new technique was much more successful, but still it
seemed like Kirby was deliberately seeking out the rocks to
trip him, and the branches to slap in his face.  After they
must have been traveling for miles, Saunders heard the noise
of running water, and felt a faint spray of moisture -- they'd
finally reached the small stream that he remembered crossing
  He sank gratefully to the ground, back against a tree.
The sounds of the water drowned out the voices of Doc and the
others as they maneuvered the stretcher across the small
  "How are you holding up, Saunders?" Hanley asked, crouching
down beside him.
  Saunders took the canteen that nudged his hand and drank
from it greedily.
  "How much farther?"  He returned the canteen, wiping his
mouth with the back of his hand.
  "A little over a mile to our lines -- how did you get way
out here from that minefield, anyway?"
  "That Chaplain back there.  He said he was British -- said
he was taking me to our lines.  He needed someone to help
carry the wounded man."  Saunders wasn't willing to spend the
energy on a longer explanation.
  "Ah.... And what about Muller and Stevens?"
  He hadn't even thought about his other men -- the night
patrol seemed so long ago now.  Had it really been only a few
hours since he and Cochran had begun the exhausting flight
that had ended so disastrously in the minefield?  He shook his
head.  "We spotted the tanks -- tried to move in closer to ID
them, and a patrol spotted us.  They both got hit -- I saw
them go down.  No time to go back and check them."  He'd hated
leaving his men behind like that, but he knew it had been the
only choice.  He and Cochran had barely escaped themselves,
and returning with the information had to be the first
  "Okay, Saunders," Hanley stood up.  "You can fill in the
details later.  We'd better get across," he said.  "We don't
want to run into a patrol while we're split up like this."
  Hanley gave him a hand as Saunders struggled to his feet
again.  He and Hanley made their way across the narrow bridge
without incident.  Saunders was glad Kirby hadn't been
entrusted with the task -- he had a feeling he would have
ended up taking an unexpected swim in the rapids he could hear
swirling below them.
  When they were across, Hanley skillfully parked him on a
convenient (and familiar) dead tree trunk.  Saunders could 
hear the German muttering deliriously from the ground to his
  "Is he going to make it, Doc?" Hanley asked.
  "Well, this bouncing around isn't helping things, but he's
still hanging in there," Doc said.
  "Bouncing around?" Kirby snorted from the right.  "That's
just too damn ba....uh..." He stopped abruptly.  Saunders
pictured the glare from Hanley that must have been required in
order to shut him up that quickly.
  "Maybe *you* should try carrying him for a while, Kirby," 
Littlejohn said.  The tree trunk creaked and shifted as the
large man settled down next to him.  There was a crinkling
sound that Saunders couldn't immediately identify.
  "Sure, I'll show him some bouncing..." Kirby muttered from
behind them.
  "You hungry, Sarge?  All I've got is this chocolate," 
  As the enticing odor of the candy drifted into his
awareness, Saunders suddenly realized he *was* hungry -- he
hadn't eaten since yesterday, before he and the others had
left on the patrol.  And he also realized that he had no idea
just exactly how long ago that was.  "Yeah, thanks." The
half-unwrapped object was placed in his hand.  "What time is
  "Just after noon."
  Was that all?  Saunders took a bite of the sweet bar,
which was warm and soft from the mid-day heat.  He'd thought
it was later than that.
  Saunders concentrated on getting the second half of the
candy bar unwrapped -- without getting too much of it on
himself in the process. He didn't realize that Caje had
returned until the scout spoke up from a few feet away.
  "All clear, Lieutenant."
  Beside him, Littlejohn was getting up.  Saunders quickly
finished with the candy bar, cramming the rest of it into his
mouth and wiping his hands on his pants leg.
  "Okay," Hanley said.  "Let's move out.  Kirby, you take the
point.  Caje, you help Doc with the stretcher."
  Kirby's griping had saved him from stretcher detail for now,
tho the dangerous scout duty was not a task most men would
have preferred.  Kirby, however, offered no complaint.

  It was quite possibly the longest mile he'd ever walked. 
Littlejohn proved a more considerate guide than Kirby, but
Saunders still stumbled frequently on the uneven ground, and
the constant tension of not knowing where his next step would
land quickly sapped whatever energy he'd regained from the
brief rest at the river.  The terrain seemed more difficult
than it had been when the German had led him over it earlier
in the day, and the rolling hills and slopes seemed to
transform themselves into mountains.
  They were in the middle of climbing one of those mountains
when Saunders stumbled, losing his grip on Littlejohn's arm. 
He lost his balance and fell, sliding several feet down the
grassy hill before he could stop himself.  
  Littlejohn was at his side almost immediately, accompanied
by a mini-avalanche of loose rock and dirt that slid down the
hill below them.  "You okay, Sarge?"
  Saunders nodded, breathing heavily -- just a few new bruises
to add to his collection.  He made no effort to get up.
  "We're falling behind," Littlejohn said worriedly.  "Come
on, Sarge.... You can rest after we get to the top of this
hill."  Strong hands took hold of his arm and pulled him up.
  Ignoring his body's protests, Saunders struggled back to his
feet.  Littlejohn moved behind him, wrapped one arm around
the smaller man's waist, and half-carried Saunders up the hill.
  But they'd only gone a half-dozen steps when Littlejohn
suddenly pushed Saunders roughly to the ground, landing beside
him, half on top of him.
  Saunders grunted, too surprised to protest as he landed
painfully on his stomach, a rock digging into his shin.
  "Stay down," Littlejohn hissed in his ear, reinforcing the
order with a hand on his back.  "Kirby spotted something."
  Saunders obediently flattened down, pressing his cheek
against the grassy ground.  The blades tickling at his nose
were short and thin -- they would offer little cover.  
  They lay there for a long moment.  The only sound besides
Saunders' own ragged breathing was a creak and rustle as
Littlejohn shifted his M-1 into position.
  Suddenly the calm was shattered by the burp of a German gun.
The sound came from in front of them -- uphill and to the
left.  It was answered almost immediately from the right by
the deep-throated ratchet of Kirby's BAR.
  A hand grabbed hold of Saunders' field jacket at the
shoulder, pulling.  "They haven't spotted us yet," Littlejohn
whispered urgently, "but we have to get to better cover."
  "Where?" More guns had opened up -- it sounded like a half
dozen of them, but all small arms fire so far.  Up the hill,
an M-1 had also joined the BAR.
  "10 yards.  Behind us," Littlejohn said.
  Saunders nodded.  That would put them even farther away from
the rest of the squad, but he had to trust Littlejohn's
judgement.  He reached out to Littlejohn with his right arm,
finding and grabbing hold of the webbing of the other man's
equipment belt. "Go ahead -- crawl.  I'll follow you," he
instructed, hoping that Doc's technique would work as
effectively under these circumstances.
  "Okay, keep your head down," Littlejohn warned him, and he
started moving.  They awkwardly turned around and
belly-crawled in tandem, back down the hill.
  They made good progress, but Saunders had added a half-dozen
new bruises and a mouth full of dirt to his personal inventory
by the time Littlejohn finally stopped and helped him
move into position, facing back up the hill with his
legs stretched out behind.  The firefight continued -- the
nearest rifle fire coming from an M-1 maybe 20 yards away.
  The rough, stubbly branches of some underbrush poked at
Saunders' face and arms.  He allowed himself a sigh of relief
-- this was much better than cowering on the ground in the
middle of a clearing. He heard Littlejohn shifting around next
to him, but so far no shots had come near them.  "What's
happening?" Saunders asked, spitting the dirt out.
  "Looks like about eight of them," Littlejohn reported. 
"They haven't spotted us.  Hanley and Caje are pinned down
behind some trees. I can't see Kirby...."
  "He's okay," Saunders said.  The BAR rattled off another
series of shots. "He's way up there, off to the right." 
  "Yeah, I see where he must be...." Littlejohn said after a
moment.  "He's got good cover, but the Krauts are keeping him
pinned down, too."
  It was just a matter of time before the Germans tried some
kind of flanking maneuver, Saunders realized.  And with their
numerical advantage, such a tactic was very likely to succeed.
  "I think I can get a shot at one of them..." Littlejohn
muttered, rustling the bushes as he shifted the position of
his rifle.
  "No, wait!" Saunders hissed urgently.
  The rustling stopped.  "I can't just *sit* here, Sarge..."
Littlejohn objected.
  "You can't hit anything from here -- you'll just be telling
them where we are," Saunders explained quickly, mind racing
for a solution.  "You got any grenades?"
  "Yeah... But..."
  Saunders felt a surge of frustration.  It was so obvious to
him -- why was Littlejohn being so slow?  "Then you've got to
try to get in closer -- should be easy since they don't even
know you're down here.  Get in close and use the grenade. 
*Before* they get a chance to flank Caje and Hanley."
  "I can't leave you alone here, Sarge" Littlejohn objected. 
"They're sure to spot you if they come over this way...."
  "I'll be fine."  Saunders said firmly.  "Just stop them
before they decide to come down here."
  Littlejohn didn't move.  "But, Sarge...."
  "Go *on*.  That's an order."
  "Okay," Littlejohn acquiesced.  Saunders heard him fumbling
with his equipment belt, getting ready.  "Here, Sarge.  Take
this."  A cold metallic object was shoved into his hand.
  Saunders grasped the blade, welcoming the sharpness of the
blade's edge as he heard Littlejohn crawl away, back up the
hill.  If it came to it, maybe the Krauts would be so amused
at the sight of a blind man facing them down with a bayonet
that they'd forget to shoot him....
  Saunders lay motionless, his body pressed as far into the
ground as it would go, his senses totally focused on the fight
around him.  But he found that, as quickly as it had come to
him, the calm control with which he'd issued the orders to
Littlejohn was gone.  Alone, he was suddenly overwhelmed with
a terrifying feeling of helplessness.  It was a new kind of
fear -- different from the panic he'd felt when he regained
consciousness in the minefield and realized he was blind.  And
different from the sheer mind-numbing terror of being caught
in the artillery barrage.
  This time, the circumstances, though deadly, were also
familiar.  This was a situation he'd faced many times before
-- sometimes the odds had been worse, and sometimes he'd faced
it alone, or backed up by green men he couldn't rely on. But
ever since the first time, several lifetimes ago on a beach in
Italy, he'd always faced it calmly and cooly --  in control. 
The fear was supposed to come later, after it was over.
  This was different, though.  He was an observer, not a
participant. The fear was for his friends; the helplessness
stemmed from his frustration over not being able to help them.
  Saunders tried to push aside his swirling emotions, to
concentrate on what he was hearing.  Were all of the Germans
still firing, or had some of them already started a deadly
flanking maneuever?  If they chose to approach from the
other direction, Kirby would be totally exposed to an attack
from above.  And what if they spotted Littlejohn, and managed
to get him pinned down as well?  He didn't hear the BAR any
more -- was Kirby hit?  If the Krauts had gotten past Kirby,
then they'd be on Hanley and the others -- Littlejohn's
grenade would be too late to stop them.  If Littlejohn hadn't
been so busy trying to protect *him* then maybe he could have
gotten there in time....
  Then, finally, there was an explosion.  Saunders covered his
head, cowering reflexively, even though some rational part of
his mind told him that, this time, it was too far away to hurt
him.  The explosion was followed almost immediately by a
volley of gunfire, but Saunders, ears ringing and mind
reeling, couldn't identify the shots, or the direction they'd
come from.
  The firing had stopped.  Numbly, Saunders realized it was
over.  He gripped the bayonet tightly in his hand, holding it
hidden against his chest.  If the Krauts had won, then maybe
they wouldn't find him.  If they did find him... he'd be
  He heard muffled voices, the rustle of underbrush -- but
no clues to who was approaching.  Saunders tensed.  A hand
touched his shoulder, and he rolled, grabbing for his
attacker's arm.  As he thrust the blade, he heard a familiar
voice calling out from nearby:
  "Did you find him, Doc?"
  And simultaneously, a surprised "Hey!" from whoever he was
about to stab.
  Saunders' momentum had already caused him to complete his
roll.  But fortunately for the hapless medic, Saunders reacted
in time to turn the blade aside.  The aborted attack left him
off balance, and he ended up sprawled on top of his former
  "Doc?"  Mixed emotions flowed through him -- relief that it
*was* Doc, and horror at what he'd almost done.
  "Yeah...." Doc sounded amazingly calm, considering what had
just happened.  "Umm...  Could you get off of me now?"
  Saunders rolled off, landing in a half-sitting position next
to the medic.  "Sorry -- I thought..."
  "It's okay," Doc was sitting up,  brushing himself off.  "I
shouldn't have startled you...."
  It occurred to Saunders that he was still holding the
bayonet.  He fumbled at his equipment belt, trying without
success to locate the loop where his own knife belonged.  With
the excitement over, his fear-induced adrenalin rapidly faded
away, and suddenly the simple task of putting the blade away
was beyond him.  He gave up, content to just sit there and
catch his breath.
  Gentle fingers took the bayonet from his hand, exchanging
it for a canteen.  It seemed like a fair trade to Saunders,
who fumbled the half-full container in his eagerness to bring
it to his lips, almost dropping it.
  "Easy, Sarge..." Doc soothed.  He steadied the canteen while
Saunders took a gulping drink from it.
  "You about ready, Doc?"  It was Hanley's voice, standing
over them.  "We've got to move out...."
  "Can't you give him a minute?" Doc asked.
  "We can't stay here," Hanley explained.  "If there are any
other Krauts in the area, they'll be on their way.  Kirby's
out of ammo, and Caje and I are running low -- we can't risk
running into another patrol."
  Saunders had finished drinking, and Doc silently took the
canteen away.
  "How about you, Doc?  Do you need Kirby to spell you on the
stretcher?  It's not that much farther."
  "No, I can make it," Doc said, standing up.  "Kirby's the
last thing that guy needs right now, anyway...."
  "Okay.  Let's get him on his feet, then. Come on,
  Two pairs of hands grabbed his upper arms,  lifting as
Saunders struggled to his feet.  He wanted to tell them to
just leave him there -- he didn't care about the Krauts, he
just wanted to rest.  But the effort of speaking the words was
too much, so he went along without protest as Doc and Hanley
half-carried him up the hill.

  The last leg of their journey took on the unreality of a
dream sequence.  Saunders leaned heavily on Hanley, so focused
on staying on his feet that he was oblivious to anything else.
He stumbled and fell once, and after that there was someone
else supporting him from the other side.  Voices spoke, but
the words bounced away uninterpreted -- the only important
thing was that he keep moving....
  The sharp smell of antiseptic snapped Saunders' world back
into focus.  He carefully processed the information that
they'd finally stopped.  Only one arm supported him now, and
its owner seemed satisfied to just let him just stand there
for the moment.
  "Okay, I got him."  A new voice intruded on his peace.  A
hand grasped Saunders arm and gently disengaged his fingers
from their grip on his guide.  "Here you go, Sergeant. Just
lay down right here...."  The new arms guided him back until
his legs bumped into a low obstacle.  Saunders groped to
confirm that it was indeed a cot, and collapsed onto it.
  The medic was bent over him, checking his pulse.  "Is he
hit anywhere -- besides the eyes?"
  "No, I don't think so," Caje's voice replied.  "I thought
he was going to pass out on us before we got here, though."  
  "'m just tired..." Saunders tried to explain.  It came
out as a mumble.
  The medic gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and
stood up.  "Okay, soldier.  You can get back to your unit --
we'll take care of him."
  "Alright," Caje replied.  "Take it easy, Sarge.  We'll come
by and check on you later."
  "'kay.  Thanks, Caje."  At least, that's what he tried to
  The medic, still beside him, was checking his dogtags. 
Then he offered Saunders some water, lifting his head so
he could drink the refreshingly cool liquid from a
wide-lipped metal container.
  "Okay, Saunders.  It'll take a few minutes before the Doc
can get to you.  Just call out if you need anything."
  Saunders muttered an acknowledgement.  Then he was left
alone.  Voices drifted over to him.
  "Man, this guy's had it...  I don't know why you even
bothered to bring him in.  We're busy enough without taking
time to patch up Krauts."
  Doc's voice responded, indignant, "Look, he's lasted this
long.  We didn't carry him all this way so you could let him
  "Alright, alright!  I just don't know why you bothered..."
the other man replied.  "Get out of here -- we'll take care of
  "Come on, Doc." It was LittleJohn.  "Let's go."
  "I don't believe that guy," Doc muttered a moment later,
much closer now.
  "Never mind, Doc.  They'll take care of him now."  They were
standing over Saunders.  "You all set, Sarge?"  Littlejohn
asked.   "That medic says the 1st Platoon ran into a Kraut
patrol and got all shot up, so The Doctor's going to busy for
a while...."
  Yeah, that was okay.  Saunders told Littlejohn.  At this
point, he didn't really care, as long as nobody made him walk
any more today.  But the words got lost somewhere on the way
out of his tired brain.  He wasn't sure, but he might have
drifted off to sleep before he actually spoke them.

  Saunders woke up abruptly, realizing a voice was speaking
nearby -- not Littlejohn or Doc, though he hadn't heard them
leave. It was dark, and he was disoriented for a moment,
until he put his hand up to his eyes, felt the bandage there,
and remembered where he was.  A hand took hold of his other
arm, taking his pulse again.
  "Okay, Sergeant."  It was yet another new voice -- brusque
and businesslike.  "Why don't you sit up here, so I can take
a look at you."
  Saunders took stock of himself while the doctor helped him
sit up on the edge of the cot.  He had no idea how long he'd
been asleep, but at least the deadening fatigue had lifted
somewhat.  His head still ached -- a low-grade pain that had
been with him since he'd regained consciousness that morning. 
He fought off a wave of vertigo as he sat up, but it passed
fairly quickly.
  "I'm going to take this bandage off now, Sergeant. Keep
your eyes closed until I tell you to open them, okay?"
  "Okay," Saunders agreed, suddenly not so sure he really
wanted it removed.  In a strange way, the blackness provided
by the bandage seemed safe and comforting -- especially when
compared to the prospect of  facing what the doctor might
find when he removed it.
  He wasn't held in suspense for long.  The doctor removed the
bandage quickly -- after all, it was little more than a swath
of gauze, with its purpose merely to keep the two eye patches
in place.
  "Try to relax, Sergeant."
  Saunders realized that he had fastened both of his hands to
the edge of the bed in a death-grip.  He forced himself to
unclench his fists.
  "Keep the eyes shut," the doctor reminded him.  The man's
fingers probed around the front of Saunders' face, then
pressed lightly on the back of his eyelids.  "Does that
  "No."  But if he kept trying, Saunders was sure he'd find
something to poke at that did...
  "Hmmm...."  the doctor muttered.
  Saunders was beginning to remember why he didn't like
  "Okay, now you can open your eyes," the doctor finally
  Saunders opened his eyes slowly, blinking involuntarily.
But any hopes that Doc's blindfold had worked some kind of
miracle cure were quickly dashed, as he was greeted by the
all-too-familiar fuzzy darkness.  There was a wavering patch
of light off to the right.  Saunders squinted, trying without
success to bring it into focus. 
  "Now, tell me what you see...."
  Saunders couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice.
"Nothing....  Some patches of light, but that's all."
  "How did this happen?" the doctor asked.
  Saunders told him, briefly, about the explosion in the
  "Where was the explosion?  Were you facing it?"
  "No....  I'm not sure.  I don't think so."  Saunders
  "And how long were you unconscious?"
   His time sense wasn't working a whole lot better than his
eyes, lately.  "I really don't know.  I don't think it was
very long, though."
  "Hmmm...okay, hold your head still, and look straight
  The doctor continued with the examination for several more
minutes -- poking and prodding and "hmmm"ing, and eventually
locating the tender spot on the back of Saunders' head.  
  "Hmmm...that hurt?"  The doctor didn't wait for a response. 
"Head ache?"
  "Any dizziness or nausea?"
  "Only right after I stand or sit up." 
  "How do you feel otherwise?"
  How did it look like he felt?  "I dunno...tired, hungry,
sore...."  He added ruefully, "I think I've had my fill of
cross-country hikes and people throwing explosives at me."
  "Well, I don't think you'll have to worry about *that* for
a while," the doctor responded.
  For a while, or forever?  The doctor seemed to have
finished his examination for the moment, but didn't make any
further comment.  "So, what's the verdict, Doc?" he asked,
  "Well, Sergeant, I don't see any evidence of flash burns,
or damage to your eyes."
  Saunders was relieved to hear it.  "What's wrong, then?"
  "I'm not a specialist -- I can't say for certain.  The bump
you took on the head probably caused some minor hemmorhaging
near the optic nerve.  If that's the problem, there's a good
chance it will clear up in a few days."
  "And if it doesn't clear up?"
  "Well, this kind of injury can be tricky.  Sometimes full
vision returns in hours, sometimes weeks...and sometimes
never.  But you can already see some light, and that's a
good sign."
  Saunders was silent, digesting the information.  He thought
of asking the doctor to quote some odds, but he wasn't sure
he wanted to hear them.
  "I'll have you sent back to the Evac Hospital in the
morning.  They'll have better equipment there, and they can
have a specialist take a look at you.  Meanwhile, just try to
get some rest.  And don't keep straining your eyes, trying to
focus -- it won't help anything."
  Saunders realized he had been doing just that, even as he
was sitting there.  He closed his eyes and reopened them,
trying to relax.  "Okay, Doc."  He managed to make his voice
come out sounding steadier than he felt. 
  With the examination concluded, the doctor called over a
medic, who gave Saunders a bitter-tasting pill for his
headache.  Then he helped Saunders take off his boots, field
jacket, and equipment belt, and got him settled back onto the
cot.  The medic also lit a cigarette for him and promised that
they'd be bringing dinner soon.
  After the medic had gone, Saunders lay on his back smoking,
staring at the ceiling, and trying to find something to think
about besides what color it should have been.  He was still
puffing on the last stub of the cigarette when a familiar
voice greeted him from nearby.
  "Well, Sergeant, you're certainly looking better."  It was
  Saunders turned towards the voice.  "Hi, Lieutenant," he 
said, grateful for the distraction.  He propped himself up on
his elbows.
  "Captain Johnson tells me he's shipping you out of here
tomorrow," Hanley said.  "It looks like you've earned
yourself a little vacation."
  Saunders wondered if the Doctor had told Hanley anything
more than the vague diagnosis he'd gotten.
  He took another drag on the dwindling stub of cigarette and
opted for a change of subject:  "Did you check in with
  "Yeah."  Saunders heard a click and sniffed a whiff of
butane.  "Here you go." Hanley exchanged the stub for a
freshly lit cigarette.
  "Thanks." He took a deep drag on it, waiting for Hanley
to go on.
  "They confirmed your report.  Batallion is moving units up
all along the front to reinforce our position.  I think the
Krauts will be in for a little surprise."
  Saunders nodded approvingly.  Three men had died for that
information -- no *four* men, Saunders corrected himself,
mind flashing unbidden to the smell of death in the bunker. In
the silence, Saunders heard the distant booming of artillery
fire.  He turned his head towards it, listening.
  "That's our stuff,"  Hanley confirmed.  "Captain Jampel
said Batallion was going to wait until the German armor was
finished assembling at the crossroads.  They must be pounding
the hell out of those tanks right now."
  That meant the German counterattack would be shattered,
Saunders realized with satisfaction.  But he couldn't help
wondering if the Chaplain had realized this would be the
result, when he'd made that split-second decision to save
Saunders' life back in the bunker.
  "Oh, I almost forgot," Hanley continued.  "Captain Johnson
told me he thinks that German Captain is going to make it. 
They got some plasma into him, and he's stabilized.  They'll
be shipping him back to the Evac Hospital with you in the
  "Doc will be glad to hear that," Saunders said, remembering
the confrontation between Doc and the nameless medic.  But he
realized that *he* was glad to hear it, too, and he was
surprised at his feelings about the fate of this enemy
soldier.  Just hours before, the man had been trying to kill
  Saunders sighed tiredly, not in the mood for further
conversation.  He settled back down onto the cot and closed
his eyes.  At this distance, the booming of the guns -- the
same guns that had played a part in his hellish nightmare just
hours before -- had a lulling effect.
  Somehow, he and the German Captain had both survived.  And
as he dropped off to sleep, Saunders realized with a sudden
certainty that the Chaplain, who had balanced the lives of
two soldiers against the success of the German attack, would
have approved of the outcome.