Title: Watching, Waiting, Hoping, Praying
Fandom: Hogan's Heroes
Word Count: 1229
Summary: There are certain things they do to keep themselves alive.
Author's Notes: Nope, not mine. Definite Textual Poaching happening here.
There are certain things they do to keep themselves alive. Some are daily tasks, the routines a soldier learns early and never forgets. Some are specific assignments, jobs meant to keep security tight.
And then there are the larger tasks, the things nobody assigns. There's a large part of their life that is aimed at these things -- a set of tasks they each do to make living in this place bearable and possible.
Part of it is watching.
Sometimes it seems like everyone in Germany is staring right at them. This is never more evident than when they have some escaping scientist or downed airman or vital bit of information stashed away, and are in desperate need of a moment of Nazi Blindness to make their move. On days like that it is inevitable that every German in the camp will be watching them with eagle eyes.
They watch right back, of course; from behind corners and through windows and with the periscope hidden in the rain barrel. Always watching for the opportune moment, the loophole, the blind spot, the advantage. Watching Klink's office, the pacing of the guards along the fence, the movements of their ostensible captors. You can never be too careful, too certain. You have to be on guard. You have to watch.
And there are other kinds of watching, too – quieter kinds. Watching the sky for the clouds that mean another snowfall, watching the mail for the too-few letters from a world that only half-exists for them. Watching the calendar for the anniversaries – of marriages, of birthdays, of downed planes, of the war's beginning. Watching for another week, month, year spent here behind the barbed wire.
A lot of their life is watching.
Part of it is waiting.
Oh, yes, there are the breathless dashes of midnight missions, the thrills of secretly-engineered explosions, and the exaltations of a job pulled off right.
But in between those moments are the long, tedious stretches of no news from London, no missions, no way to break the boredom of prison life. The weeks (or God forbid, the months) of trying to distract each other, organizing endless football games and trying to keep from going crazy while they wait for something, anything, to happen.
And there are the anxious times when the Colonel's trying to hammer out a plan, and everyone else lurks like a flock of anxious birds around the barracks table – playing listless hands of cards or games of chess, trying not to look like they're depending on Hogan to come up with a way out of whatever-it-is. The hours of half-wondering, to themselves, What if he doesn't . . . ? and not daring to finish that sentence, even silently.
And then there are the nights when there is a plan, but only a few go out. Nights when everyone else stays up far past lights-out – lying in the dark, motionless, silent, straining for the sound of a far-off explosion, the blare of an alarm, the rattle of the trapdoor. The worst waiting of all, those minutes or hours; and the What if? of them too terrible even to half-form to oneself.
A lot of their life is waiting.
Part of it is hoping.
They each couch it in slightly different personal terms, of course. Some of them hope the war will end tomorrow and some of them hope there'll be hot water sometime this month. Some of them hope they'll hear from their girl, their father, their brother. Some of them hope they'll survive all this.
Some of them hope that they won't.
A few of them have personal rituals or lucky pieces – rabbits' feet, pennies, stones carried in pockets or medallions strung on dog-tag chains. Talismans. Charms. A way to solidify hope, hold it in your hand, keep it within easy reach for the moments when things seem bleakest.
But even those who scoff at such things have some kind of hope – they just carry their talismans inwardly. But when there's been no word, or the Colonel's stuck for an idea, or Hochstetter's ugly black car has rolled through the gate – then that faint, inner spot of hope means every bit as much as a rabbit's foot or a lucky penny. Maybe it means more.
Because in the end, of course, it's all they really have, the only thing that can't be snatched at a moment's notice. The Nazis can take the butter ration, the hot water, the stove; but nobody can confiscate hope. The Gestapo could find the radios, could hit the tunnels, could haul them off on faint suspicions. But they can hope that they won't.
A lot of their life is hoping.
Part of it is praying.
In all different tongues, in a gabble of different phrases – some time-honored and memorized, some made up in a desperate moment.
Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .
Please, God, please, God, no . . .
Please, God, please, God, no . . .
It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes; there are certainly very few, if any, at Stalag 13. There have been too many near-misses, too many moments of uncertainty, terror, boredom, joy: almost all of them have come to believe that there is Someone, or at least Something, out there.
And some of them, though they don't quite believe, pray anyway.
If you're out there . . . I don't guess it hurts to ask . . .
They pray for the War to end. They pray for the hot water to come back on. They pray for that wife, son, father, friend they haven't heard from. They pray for something to break the boredom. They pray for the guards to look away.
They gather on Sunday mornings at the Rec hall, sweltering or shivering together depending on the season, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellows, straining to hear what's being read, bowing their heads together, tunelessly pitching in on one of the few hymns that they all know.
They huddle in groups of two or three, when someone's disappeared into Hochstetter's black car or when the radio's news of the war Out There has been bleak. They murmur wryly ironic blessings over sawdust bread and potato soup.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz.
They sit alone on the edge of a bunk, fingering worn beads and trying not to think of what might go wrong tonight, if the timer is off or the patrols are out.
Je vous salue Marie . . .
And there are a few of them who – though they never show it – shift their eyes away from the ugly red-and-black flag and mutter under their breath.
Mein Gott . . .
A lot of their life is praying.
Watching. Waiting. Hoping. Praying.
Somehow it all builds up into a litany of its own, a progression of days that become weeks, months, a year and then another. It's broken by bursts of gunfire and exploding factories, by escaping countesses and smuggled formulas: but it's the day-to-day progression that's the real work of what they do.
And a time will come, once those years have passed, once they're far from here, when someone will ask them – what was it like?
Each of them will answer slightly differently: but in their hearts, each of them will answer the same way.
It was watching. It was waiting. It was hoping. It was praying.
It was what we did to live.