Notes: the characters aren't mine, and the story is! I wanted to write something LeBeau-centric on the occasion of Robert Clary's 90th birthday, and this idea firmly wanted to be written. It takes place post-series, specifically in 1946.
It was almost time for the grand opening of Maison de Frère-Loup, the restaurant that LeBeau had always hoped to open. A lack of funds had thwarted him initially, but with the war's end and the recovery of his grandfather's estate—and his subsequent inheritance, LeBeau had finally procured the means to achieve his ambition.
He had presided over everything—the renovation of the property he had chosen, the installation of the magnificent kitchen, and the selection of the furniture and décor. All it needed now, he realized, were some personal finishing touches.
And he knew just the things; for a year now, these priceless, personal treasures had been sitting in a steamer trunk, where they had been since mid-1945. He had brought the entire trunk to the restaurant, aiming to finish the decorating just before opening the doors. As he opened the trunk, LeBeau exhaled as the memories returned to him full force. Each, on the surface, looked like an ordinary object, but each held a special significance of a time when, despite being captive for years, LeBeau had helped changed the course of the last war.
But he hadn't done it alone, of course. That was the other thing that made this trunkful of objects so special; each of them had been presented to him by men who had started out as merely allies, then teammates, and, eventually, cherished friends.
LeBeau pulled the first item out of the trunk—an empty glass bottle. The bottle was clearly old; there was a crack in it, and the label had since peeled off of the bottle. It had been emptied long ago, but it had once been filled with high-quality cognac. And LeBeau remembered the day Colonel Hogan had presented it to him; it had been after a mission where LeBeau had interacted with some French Underground agents that had been on the run for days. It had been the first time since his capture that LeBeau had been able to interact with any of his countrymen. He had not had nearly enough time to talk with them before it had been time to send them to England, and his homesickness must have showed, for the colonel had taken him aside after they had seen the agents off.
"One of them gave this to me as a thank-you gift; they'd pilfered it from a general's private stores before fleeing," Hogan had said, handing him the bottle of cognac. "I can raid Klink's schnapps stores all I want, so I don't have that much use for it. Think of it as a little bit of home."
LeBeau hadn't been able to utter more than a little 'merci,' extremely touched by the gesture. Now, more than ever, the significance of the gift stood out; there had been no reason for an officer to have given such an expensive gift to an NCO of another army. If anything, Hogan should have been entitled to the entire bottle on account of his rank and status as team leader. And rather than hoard all it for himself, LeBeau had allowed their inner circle to partake in the cognac, and it had been a glorious hour spent in the tunnels, toasting each other and the success of their mission.
LeBeau smiled as he placed the empty bottle on a small, decorative shelf, and returned to the trunk. The next item he pulled from it was a small watch with a worn leather strap. It was clearly very old, and, as he wound the hands, he found that it still ticked perfectly. Baker had said it was reliable, and he had been right; he ought to know, seeing as though it had been his for years.
Once their missions as the Unsung Heroes had started, LeBeau had found the lack of a proper wristwatch both aggravating and potentially dangerous. He'd had one of his own prior to ending up in Stalag 13, but the watch had been gold-plated, and had been seized upon his capture. He knew he'd seen the last of it, and he had accepted the loss, however bitter it made him.
At the time, Baker had been Kinch's apprentice in regards to the radio, and he hadn't really expected to ever go out on missions. And so, without any hesitation, the first thing he did upon realizing that LeBeau was at a disadvantage without a watch was to give him his own wristwatch.
LeBeau had tried to politely refuse, but the young sergeant had insisted, pointing out the necessity for LeBeau to have a reliable timepiece. The Frenchman had relented and accepted the gift, and returned the gesture later by presenting Baker with a new, expensive wristwatch that LeBeau had obtained with a little help from Newkirk's sticky fingers and a clueless German captain. Baker wore it proudly for the rest of the duration, just as LeBeau proudly wore Baker's old watch.
LeBeau placed the watch next to the empty cognac bottle and returned to the trunk, this time pulling out a set of sterling silver cooking utensils. Olsen had managed to procure these on one of his trips as the Unsung Heroes' "outside man." Olsen had a habit of bringing back things while on his missions among the towns of Germany—things that may not have been necessities, but things that were appreciated all the same.
"I figured you could use these, Louis," he had said, after presenting them to LeBeau. "I don't think you fully realize what it means that you keep us all fed and healthy."
At the time, LeBeau really hadn't; in fact, he had often found it frustrating that his role in the missions was to either cook for the team or cook to distract the brass that visited Klink. But the gift of the silver utensils had touched him, and had made the whole scenario much more bearable. He had used them for the duration, as well
Back home in Paris now, LeBeau had brand-new silver utensils, and so the old ones subsequently took their place of honor beside the watch.
LeBeau couldn't help but grin broadly at the coffeepot that he pulled from the trunk next. He remembered the day Kinch had given this to him; LeBeau had still been grumping about having to sacrifice his first coffeepot for the sake of Kinch's pet project that later turned out to be one of their most valuable devices—the bug in Klink's office. Even though the Frenchman had conceded that his coffeepot was living a better, more important life, he missed his daily cup of coffee—and the off-color swill that was served in the Stalag mess hall had no right to be called "coffee."
But Kinch had been in tune to LeBeau's feelings, and had presented the Frenchman with another coffeepot some weeks later.
"I had to get some radio parts for the Underground, and we decided it was best to hide them in a coffeepot just in case the agents ran into anyone on the way here," he had explained. "Thought you might want this since I commandeered your old one."
And LeBeau had been most appreciative of the gesture—and had subsequently insisted that Kinch partake of the first cup from the coffeepot's inaugural brewing.
As with the silver cooking utensils that the coffeepot now stood beside, LeBeau had a new one now, but still appreciated the thought behind the old one.
The next two trinkets were taken from the trunk together—a harmonica and a small, wooden carving of a wolf. Both of these had been presents from Carter. He had given the harmonica to LeBeau just before a time when he thought that he would have been leaving Stalag Thirteen; he had ended up not leaving, but had insisted that LeBeau keep the harmonica. The wolf carving, on the other hand, had been presented to him on the very eve of the liberation of Stalag Thirteen—when they knew very well that they were all leaving, their work done at long last.
"I made this some time ago," Carter had said. "And I wanted you to have it because it reminds me of you."
"Oui, I know; my code name is Big Bad Wolf," LeBeau had replied, amused, as he accepted it.
"Not just that," Carter had insisted. "You know, there's a legend among my people… There was a man who was really a wolf—and on one occasion, he met a Sioux who had left the tribe. This wolf looked after the Sioux, making sure that they were fed and healthy until it was time for them to rejoin the tribe. …I think you get what I'm saying now, huh?"
LeBeau had smiled.
"Je comprends, Andre. I am glad I was able to look after you and the others all these years."
LeBeau played a few notes on the harmonica before placing it and the wolf carving on the shelf beside the coffeepot.
"Et voilà, all these that remain are from Pierre," LeBeau said, fondly, as he glanced at what remained in the trunk.
Newkirk's "talents" had often led to him being able to procure many, many gifts for his comrades. Yes, they were all stolen from their foes, but it had been the thought that had counted, and Newkirk had always been—and still was—a man who thought very highly of his compatriots. And each of these trinkets—which ranged from jewelry to watches to various odds and ends—had been accepted in the same spirit that with which Newkirk had presented them.
There simply wouldn't be place to display all of them, and, indeed, some of the items would certainly provoke too many questions anyway, but LeBeau knew exactly which one he was going to display.
LeBeau removed the pilfered piece of metal from the trunk and held it up—the American Legion of Merit. The Frenchman remembered it well; it had been one of the very few times that Newkirk had stolen from an ally—if one could even call him that. They'd had to contend with an arrogant Lt. Colonel who had considered himself the sole true brains and brawn of the American war effort in the European Theatre—claiming that the generals were using his ideas as they moved in towards Germany.
The Lt. Colonel in question had simply refused to stop complaining about the "poor treatment" he was receiving from the men who had "rescued" him from capture (he had insisted that he could have escaped on his own). He had proceeded to berate everyone except Hogan (whose rank as full colonel spared him from that fate), and LeBeau had been the prime target of the snob's ire, putting up with insults to his people and his cooking. LeBeau had come dangerously close to saying and doing things he would've regretted (or pretended to regret, at any rate).
Mercifully, the snob had been given the chance to leave before the other shoe dropped, and he'd taken it. Sighs of relief had gone all around, but LeBeau had stormed off into the tunnels to simmer down, knowing that it would be quite a while before his blood stopped boiling.
It had been there, in the tunnel, that Newkirk had found him.
"Got something for you, Little Mate," he'd said, and he had proudly handed over the Legion of Merit. "We all deserve a ruddy medal for putting up with that twister, but you deserve this most of all."
It had been such a small gesture, but it had meant so much to LeBeau then, as it did now.
The Frenchman had just finished putting the Legion of Merit on the shelf just as Newkirk himself entered the restaurant, dressed to the nines.
"Evening, Louis! …Cor blimey, you 'eld on to all that all this time?" the Englishman asked, seeing the items on the shelf.
"Pierre! You made it!" LeBeau exclaimed.
"You think I'd miss this? Not a chance!" Newkirk grinned as he clapped a hand on the Frenchman's shoulder. "Got these letters for you—from Kinch, Baker, Olsen, Andrew, and the Guv'nor. They said to congratulate you on your restaurant opening, and that they'd be 'ere in spirit."
LeBeau accepted the letters from him, his own grin growing with each and every one he read.
"Right-o; you've only got a few hours left until the grand opening. Anything I can 'elp you with?" Newkirk asked.
"Everything is ready," LeBeau assured him. "And I thank you for coming here tonight. To show you my appreciation, I will use these next few hours to see to it that you are the first recipient of a meal at Maison de Frère-Loup."
"Oh? What am I 'aving?"
"What you have always wanted me to make. Poisson et pommes de frites."
"…Louis, you're making fish and chips!?"
"Oui, but do not get used to it," LeBeau warned him.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Little Mate. Wouldn't dream of it!"
LeBeau placed the letters on the shelf, as well, before heading into the kitchen with Newkirk, contented.
Though the Frenchman treasured the trinkets he had acquired in the war, he cherished the friendships he had made far above all else.