|Subject: Chapter 313 - Part 3 (16 and above) (end of chapter 313)
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Date Posted: Monday, November 12, 07:03:51am
In reply to:
's message, "Chapter 307 - Part 1 (16 and above)" on Monday, October 22, 07:10:11am
He was just starting to try to absorb all of this new knowledge, a million other questions still plaguing him, when a familiar face walked slowly into view. "Five minutes," he heard the doctor grunt behind his visitor. But it was with more joy than he ever would have imagined that he saw Ackerman again.
The younger airman's usual demeanor hadn't altered in the month since their plane's disappearance; Michael supposed that wasn't surprising, given all they had been through. Still, he and Bill had come to a much more tolerable relationship now, had been forced to learn to work together. Near the end of their journey, the injured man had even come to depend on his comrade for near-constant physical support--a cane, and a few, cut-up broom handles bracing his broken leg, not anywhere near enough to get him through. He could only be grateful that his comrade had changed enough to agree to help.
Without this, Michael wouldn't have been here, could never have made it so far. Looking at the man now, he suddenly knew, without being told, how he had gotten this far, knew that Bill must have somehow carried or supported him across the Channel and eventually back to their base. To say that the ex-actor was grateful was a dreadful understatement. But he was well-aware that the other man would still shun any overt signs of friendship he might want to give.
It was only a small smile that he gave his companion, as Ackerman approached, therefore--allowing him to have the first word. The man's serious gaze probed up and down the injured airman before finally meeting his eyes. "How are you doing?" he asked eventually. No one could ever accuse the man of being verbose.
Michael respected this trait now--or, rather, appreciated all the man had done for him too much to blame him for any lack of warmth; he answered as he knew his companion wanted. "It probably won't heal completely, but I'll live." Bill nodded, as though the first part, at least, had been obvious to him--and the ex-actor realized that it probably had been. Ackerman had certainly had to carry him enough to find out.
He moved the conversation on, then--strangely grateful that the man had even deigned to come visit him. Just that much of a concession was odd. He focused on the other details he needed. "What happened to Sophie?" More than anything, he needed to know that the strong, gentle woman was still blazing her own, amazing path.
This appeared to be the case, Ackerman shrugging slightly--even if the look in his eyes spoke of more than the simple memory of a comrade. "She was fine, when we left her." His look wandered for a moment, before he managed to bring it back. "She's going to try to bring more of us home."
This was a rather unbelievable statement--the audacity of the desire confounding; Michael didn't even know if there *were* more of them out there who needed it. Still, it was war, and--even if there weren't now--there would be; he gave a small smile, amazed--wishing that he could have thanked her more fully. She was certainly the one woman he would trust to see this done.
Bill seemed to agree, the look in his eyes distant for another, incautious moment, before he brought himself back--his hand reaching in his pocket. "She gave me a note to give to you." He let out a small laugh, but it wasn't as cold as it had been in the past. "It's in that infernal language of yours."
Such an assessment only made Michael smile now, knowing that--at least a little of--Ackerman's hatred toward those of his ancestry had been forcibly worn away. "Thank you," he said, taking the paper. But, as the men's eyes met, it was clear to both of them that there was far more he was being thanked for than this.
Bill nodded, accepting the gratitude--as much as was in his nature, at least--before turning to go. And Michael was amazed to know that he had come only--or mostly--to fulfill a promise to a woman, a French-speaking woman, at that. It was an immense change in a usually all-too-pigheaded man; his smile grew. But small miracles were worth even more during a war.
He was deeply thankful for this fact, even thankful that it had been Ackerman whom he had been stranded with in Belgium. Of all his comrades--even the late, lamented Sikes--he had been the most useful. None of the others would have had the physical strength needed to get him through.
He was somewhat amazed, still, that the man had bothered with this--was surprised again when Ackerman didn't quite leave, stopping near the foot of the bed, apparently wrestling with some thought. Finally, he turned back to the injured man, gazing at him honestly. "You didn't get that broken leg on your own, you know. I think Willie half-cut through one of the straps of your parachute." The mention of the dead traitor made both of them suddenly avoid each other's eyes; Ackerman gave another, brief shrug before turning away again. "I just thought you'd want to know."
This idea surprised Michael, on many levels--or, rather, he was especially surprised that Bill had told him about it. Usually, the man was only too ready to look down on the supposed weaknesses of others, had certainly seemed ready to dismiss him after they had first crashed. Still, it was part of the change the airman had clearly undergone--one for the better. Perhaps Ackerman would never be a kind, giving person, but he had opened himself somewhat to the thoughts and feelings of others. In a man such as he, it was an alteration immense enough for which to give thanks.
Michael did, the man almost to the door--the actor's sigh soft. "Thank you." The words made Bill pause for a moment, before he shrugged and continued on, muttering a, "Sure." It was the only kind of gratitude he was capable of accepting.
The recovering man knew this, leaning back further against his pillows--strangely pleased for all the changes before him. Although he suddenly realized that he should have asked Ackerman to telegram his wife, he had to be happy for what he had learned. Besides, he *was* going home. That was enough to be thankful for, all on its own.
He was just closing his eyes, trying to rest, when he noticed again the paper in his hand; he had nearly forgotten it in his musings. He looked down, opening it at last--wondering what the woman who had saved both his and Ackerman's lives, who had sacrificed so much, struggled so terribly hard, to protect two strangers, might have to tell him. But the message he found, in French, was simple: "Tell the world." There was a half-smile, the assurance growing. He would. Soon, he would be out of here, on his way back home. Then, he would reunite with his wife--and together they would convince every wavering mind of the importance of protecting every life available from their very dangerous enemies.
Extra note: I know this is belated, but I didn't want to give anything away before. As to Sophie and Stephan, they're actually highly-fictionalized versions of Andree de Jongh and her father, Frederich, who started the "Comet Line" in Belgium in 1940. The events which led them--and the network of helpers Andree set up--to aid so many downed Allied flyers to freedom actually happened a little later than this story suggests, although the general time line is right. Frederich was later captured and executed by the Nazis--as were many others in this brave network--but Andree escaped execution simply because the Nazis refused to believe that a woman could have organized such a complex and effective resistance movement; she was put into Ravensbruck concentration camp but managed to survive. I apologize for fictionalizing them here, but I didn't feel right putting these truly amazing, real people into this imaginary story.
[End of Part 313]
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