Newkirk jerked awake with a gasp. His right cheek smarted, and he was barely able to think through the pounding in his head. He blinked a few times, blearily trying to see in the dim light. "Carter?" he asked, surprised to hear his voice slurring. "Did you hit me?"
The younger man shot him an apologetic look, mixed with obvious concern. "You fell asleep again."
Biting back a sharp retort, Newkirk tried to get his muddled mind to focus. His confusion must have shown, because the worry on Carter's face tripled almost instantly.
"The mission?" Carter prompted. "One of the Krauts guarding the building clocked you on the back of the head." From his tone of voice, Newkirk had the sinking feeling that this wasn't the first time he'd heard the explanation. "You've been in and out of it since then."
Newkirk frowned. "Did the mission go as planned?" Vague details flashed in his mind. Yells, flames, the sound of an explosion.
Carter's face lit up. "Whoa, boy, did it ever! Those explosives worked even better than I thought they-- Newkirk!"
Newkirk jerked his head up, startled. He hadn't even realized that he was drifting off again. Blinking, he glanced around as he tried to get his mind to focus. "Where are we?"
"Almost back to Stalag 13," Carter said, giving him what looked like a fairly unsuccessful reassuring grin. "Just as soon as that last patrol leaves the area, we're set."
"Great," Newkirk muttered tiredly. "That's great." A wave of dizziness rushed over him, and he closed his eyes for a moment.
Carter cleared his throat. "Newkirk." There was a short pause. "Peter!"
Newkirk raised his hand, not opening his eyes. "Just give me a second," he said, breathing deeply. "I need--"
"What you need," Carter cut in, worriedly grabbing Newkirk's arm, "is to have Wilson take a look at your head. Can you walk?"
Nodding grimly, Newkirk opened his eyes and let Carter pull him to his feet. The world spun dizzyingly for a few seconds, and Carter dug his fingers into his arm as he swayed. As the lightheadedness faded, Newkirk shot the younger man a weak grin. "Trying to sweep me off my feet?" he asked teasingly. His voice sounded shakier than he would have liked.
Carter made a face. "I just don't want to tell the colonel that you died on me five feet away from the camp."
Newkirk suspected that Carter had been trying to keep his voice light. It came off sounding terrified. "I'm not going anywhere," he said, shooting Carter a reassuring grin. "Who'd keep you out of trouble?"
"If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be in trouble." Carter's retort was automatic, and a guilty expression appeared on his face when he realized what he'd said.
Chuckling, Newkirk pulled away from Carter and started in the direction he assumed Stalag 13 was in. "Maybe," he said, "maybe not. But you have to admit that life's never boring."
It would have been slightly more impressive if he hadn't almost keeled over halfway through his speech.
Carter somehow managed to grab him before he hit the ground. "You stubborn son of a-- that wasn't even the right direction."
Newkirk gave him a weak grin that he hoped was reassuring. He could barely think through the throbbing pain in his head, but he could hear the borderline panic in Carter's voice.
After a few seconds, Carter sighed, his breathing calming slightly. He wrapped one of his arms around Newkirk, tightly gripping him by the shoulder. "Come on," he said, "let's get back before Colonel Hogan sends out a search party."
Newkirk reluctantly let Carter support him as they started to walk. It chafed him to have to accept the help, but he knew it was for the best. After a few seconds, he sighed. "Carter," he said quietly, pausing until the younger man glanced his way. "Thanks."
A surprised look appeared on Carter's face. He ducked his head slightly, obviously embarrassed. "That's what friends are for, isn't it?"
Another wave of dizziness washed over Newkirk, but he still managed to grin. "Come on," he said, "home sweet home is waiting for us."