Chapter 2 - So is the Past

March 7, 1943
Approximately 0200 hours, near Hammelburg, Germany

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The raid on Dusseldorf went without a hitch; everything according to plan - well almost.

It's always 'almost' with these things, thought the tall, dark haired and dark-eyed man, ghosting through the woods like an Indian Scout, pale face soot-blackened, muddy clothes blending with the night.

Except for the gleam of blood, oily and slick and black as tar in the fitful moonlight. I'll have to wash up as soon as we get in, lucky we got the shower working again...maybe the guests left me some hot water! Rather have a hot shower than a medal, any day.

The memory of why he was covered with mud and blood made him smile, and a soft, pleased chuckle escaped, hardly loud enough to reach the ears of his second. But the sound reached.

A hulking shadow detached from a nearby tree bole; silently, the shadow came forward and resolved into a very large man, whose face and hands were nearly darker than the dead black clothing he wore:

"What's so funny, Colonel?" whispered the shadow man.

"Carter's and LeBeau's faces when they realized that Ilise was going into labor, right then and there."

The black man joined in the quiet laughter, and his Colonel added: "And Newkirk! Don't forget Newkirk. I think he's still checking to see if he has all his fingers."

"That's what he gets for trying to distract a woman in labor with 'Pick a card, any card.' "

"True, but the pack did come in handy."

"Lucky for Newkirk we can still add to our order with London. He'll drive us all crazy if he doesn't have a pack of cards to play with. And before you ask, not a chance, Colonel. Poor Ilise bit straight through half a suite worth, and there are teeth marks in half of the rest."

At that, the Colonel shuddered, just a bit: "I don't envy the women; we may get caught and we may get tortured, but we're not volunteering to have something the size of a watermelon ripped out of our guts. And to do it more than once? I'm sure not that brave."

But before the second man could respond, they heard the stealthy noises of men moving quietly in the brush behind, but not quietly enough:

"Bloody 'ell, Carter, that's me ankle! Can't ya watch where you're goin'? "

"Jeeze, Newkirk, in case you haven't noticed, it's dark out here."

"Assez! Do you want the Krauts to hear you?"

With that, three new figures crept out of the darkness. All three wore black turtlenecks and black pants, their faces smeared with lampblack. One wore a black knit toque, hiding most of his dirty blonde hair.

"Knock it off, fellas," ordered their leader, sotto voce, "and start listening for any survivors. Three chutes came down in this area, at least one should be near enough for us to get to the poor guy before the patrols do."

" 'Ow long do we search, Guv'ner?"

"Wish I could say as long as it takes, but we have to be back at camp in an hour, so fan out but keep heading towards home. Standing orders otherwise."

"Yes Sir," chorused the men, as they split up, generally heading to the south-east, melting into the undergrowth.

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Leonard was tingling; he couldn't move voluntarily yet, but for a few eternal nanoseconds it felt like he was salt dissolving in water. And everything stopped. Then the tingling came back; it felt like his molecules were re-animating, coming to life. But in that life, there was fire and the fire held him.

Ablaze with lightning instead of blood in his veins, Leonard's nerves hummed a song electric, his heart playing staccato beats in tune. Blind and deaf to the world, all he knew was the sense of being suspended in space, his backside striking something solid over and over.

The heat spiked on his arms, like something was constricting his biceps - no not something, someone. Someone was grabbing his arms, and his entire body began to swing. Gentle swaying decreased the burn, but the 'ants crawling' sensation ramped up beneath his skin.

His feet banged into something solid, but his legs were useless jelly and they folded under him like a marionette with broken strings, his back resting against something rough and uneven.

The last thing he felt was a pressure across his abdomen, tingling in his brain, and a hive of wasps had taken up residence between his ears.

And the only thing he heard, weaving through the buzzing: "Colonel, I found him."

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A/N: Many thanks to my betas: Snooky, Kat, Wolfie and Gene and Jenny for their input, and a big 'Thank you' to Snooky for her review and Rutika for the favoriting.