Title: Rejoicing Among the Nations
Warnings: Excessive sap. Christmas, you know.
Special Notes: First, thanks to Linda for the beautiful beta job. Second, she pointed out that the prisoners didn't have pillows, so I'm going to have to ask you to stretch your imaginations a bit (because, you know, POWs running a sabotage unit in WWII is realistic stuff). And finally, I have it on very good authority (R Cloud) that late Christmas fanfics are welcomed. Hopefully.
"Ten lords leaping, I swear it," Newkirk said, crossing his heart and holding up his hand.
"Watch the pot!" LeBeau said, crouching protectively over a pot of steaming soup as he made his way to the table. "I spend all day slaving over this for you ingrates—"
"Easy, Louis, he didn't mean to ruin your work, and we all appreciate it," Kinch said, shoving a few tin glasses out of the way for the food. Newkirk and Carter ignored the two, continuing their argument.
"No, it's ten ladies singing," Carter protested. Newkirk waved his hands in argument, but his mouth was full from when he filched a biscuit from the table. LeBeau slapped his hand away when he tried for another.
"Carter, he's right, it's ten lords a leaping," Kinch said with a smile. The guys groaned and he motioned for them to be quiet. "Nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming—"
"Six prisoners laughing, five Nazi guards! Four Red Cross packages, three letters home, two oatmeal cookies, and an early Allied victory," Olsen sang, stretching the syllables to make them fit. The others roared with laughter, and Olsen gave a mock bow at the applause.
"Encore, encore!" someone called. Someone else threw a pillow at Olsen when he cleared his throat to start another chorus.
"Talk about a mixed audience," he said with a grin, snagging the pillow and tossing it onto his own bunk. "I'm taking this, you know."
"The soup needs more pepper," LeBeau said with a frown, bustling over to the stove to grab the small container. He glared at Newkirk when the Englander reached for the spoon. "What do you think you're doing?"
Newkirk put a hand to his chest. "Me? I was just going to test it, make sure that you weren't being too harsh on yourself. Blimey, try and look out for a mate, and see what you get, why I—"
Everyone subsided then, just like the other twenty times Carter had said it today. It had served to ease tempers and calm tense situations whenever he piped up, and it quickly spread through camp. Two men had nearly gotten into a fight over a friendly game of chess when someone from another barracks had shouted "Christmas!" so loudly that the guards in the towers had turned to look.
"Is everyone here?" Kinch said, glancing around to make sure there were no empty spaces.
"Ah, it's their own fault if they ain't," someone else called. "Let's eat!"
Kinch grinned, holding back the mob. LeBeau brandished his wooden spoon threateningly to anyone who dared jump ahead of the line.
"Where's the Colonel?" Carter asked, glancing around the group of men. A few men shrugged, and others offered to go look for him. Baker said he saw him go down in the tunnel awhile ago.
"I'll get him," Newkirk said. "I'm hungry."
"I don't know why," LeBeau shot back, "you've been stealing food from me since I started cooking."
Whatever reply Newkirk came up with was lost as he made his way down the ladder to the tunnel. With a hop from the last rung, he brushed himself off of any dirt and looked around the dark space. Winter officially set in less than a month ago, when the first snowstorm of the season deposited a layer on top of everything in camp and now the cold and damp seeped into the ground. He shivered, tugging his coat tighter around him.
"Colonel?" he said, peering down one of the passageways. "Guv'nor?"
"In here, Newkirk."
"There you are, guv," Newkirk said, turning the corner to see Hogan sitting by the radio with an exhausted look on his face. "We're about to start eating—if you want some food, you're going to have to fight a few starving men for it." He tilted his head. "Including me."
Hogan smiled wearily, then waved his hand. "Go ahead and start eating. Just save me some, huh?" He turned back to the radio.
Newkirk took the opportunity to stare at Colonel Hogan noting the way his shoulders hunched, or the way he leaned forward like he was about to collapse. There were dark circles under his eyes when he raised his head to speak to him.
"Sir?" Newkirk said tentatively.
Hogan started, turning around. "I thought I told you to tell them to start eating."
"All due respect, but you've been running yourself ragged lately, Colonel, and it is Christmas, after all."
A guilty expression stole across Hogan's face. "I know. Go up there and enjoy it. I'll be up later."
"What are you waiting for, Colonel?"
"A transmission from London. They said they'd send it tonight, but they didn't say when. I might be awhile."
Newkirk frowned. "I don't remember anything about that."
"I didn't mention it so that you could enjoy your Christmas meal." Hogan gave him a pointed look, gesturing meaningfully to the exit. Newkirk ignored the hint and put a hesitant hand on Hogan's shoulder.
"Why don't you go upstairs and eat, and I'll spell you for a bit, eh?"
"Oh, don't even—I saw how you were hovering over LeBeau while he was cooking this earlier when I came in to get some coffee. Go on. I'll be up in a minute, I promise."
Newkirk sighed. "Righto, sir."
"Where's Colonel Hogan?" Carter asked when Newkirk's head popped through the bunk.
"He said he'll be up in a minute and to start without him."
The raucous laughter and shouting died down, a few people looking at the ground and shuffling their feet.
"Come on, lads, it's Christmas. Cheer up, he'll be up in a minute," Newkirk said with a smile. He doffed Carter's hat affectionately, and the young man tilted his head up with a half-grin on his face.
The noise of people shuffling in line, plates clattering together, and a general murmuring filled the small room, and Kinch motioned for everyone to quiet down.
"All right, all right, let's not be hasty. Come on, who wants to say the prayer?"
"I will," Hogan said, climbing up the ladder. "You guys weren't going to start without me, were you?" His eyes twinkled as he made his way through the crowd, pushing to make his way to his office door.
"Newkirk here told us that you said to start without you," LeBeau said accusingly, jerking a thumb towards Newkirk. "I knew we should not have let him go and tell you food was ready."
Newkirk caught Hogan's eye and gave an exaggerated shrug. "What can I say? I'm starved. Hurry up."
A few people whacked him on the head, but it was worth it for the thankful look in Hogan's eye.
"Just give me one second," he said, disappearing into his room. A moment later, he stepped out, thumbing through a worn, leather-bound Bible. Hogan cleared his throat, waiting until the barracks was nearly completely silent, then began reading from the book of Luke:
" 'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
The men bowed their heads, and a few crossed themselves, echoing solemn "Amens" around the room. Hogan lovingly closed the book, gently placing it on the table next to him.
"What about the transmission, Colonel?" Newkirk said quietly, ladling some soup into his bowl. He nudged Hogan with his elbow when he didn't answer right away.
"Hm? Oh, right. I need to get down there."
"It hasn't come through yet?"
"No," Hogan said, grabbing his bowl and a spoon. "I just came up here for the prayer. Enjoy your meal."
Newkirk watched him slip through the crowd, slapping a few men on the shoulder with one hand and receiving a chorus of "Merry Christmas, sir" from various groups of men huddling together on the bunks. LeBeau sidled up next to him.
"Where is Colonel Hogan going?" LeBeau asked, untying the apron and taking an appreciative swallow of his soup. He stared down at it. "It needed more pepper."
"It's fine, Louis. And the guv'nor's waiting for a transmission from London," he answered.
"London? Don't they know it's Christmas?" Carter said. Kinch raised his eyebrow, amused.
"I'm sure they do, Carter, but there's no rest for the weary. Why didn't he tell us about it?"
Newkirk sighed. "He wanted us to enjoy our meal in peace."
"Well, that isn't right," Carter declared. The others looked at him. "I mean, no one should be alone on Christmas."
"He's right, you know," Newkirk said. "Always was a huge deal in my family. Me mum would spend all day making sure things were just right."
"Same here," LeBeau said with a wistful sigh. "The Christmas tree was always perfect, and the street felt like Christmas, all dripped in snow and good cheer."
Kinch cleared his throat. "My oldest brother would always wake us up as early as we could get away with, and we'd shake our gifts to figure out what we got." He grinned crookedly. "We stopped after one year my sister got a glass tea set."
The others laughed with him at the obviously fond memory, then Carter spoke up again.
"Well, if Colonel's gotta stay down there, why don't we join him?"
"Because it's cold?" Newkirk said. He held up his hands when the others glared at him. "Just joshing. That isn't a bad idea, Carter."
"It's a good one," LeBeau said, already gathering his soup. They made it down the tunnel and turned the corner, not surprised to see Hogan intent on the radio, his bowl sitting untouched beside him.
"Mon colonel?" LeBeau said. Hogan turned and pasted an easy smile on his face.
"What are you guys doing down here? You should be up there, enjoying the meal."
Newkirk spread out the blanket he brought on the floor, adjusting it just so and folding his legs under him. "Thought we'd have a bit of a picnic."
"Oh." Hogan said, staring at them while the others joined Newkirk on the ground. "That's…. thank you."
"Any time, Colonel," Kinch said. "We can hear the radio from here. Come on." He motioned to the other guys to make room for Hogan, and they sat there talking long into the night.
Somewhere, in the midst of it all, there was a scrap of peace in the middle of war, goodwill hidden in the evil, and a sense of family where none was to be found.