A/N: I'd like to thank everyone so much for their reviews! And sorry it took so long for me to get this last chapter up; RL has been keeping me busy this week. Anyway, here's the conclusion; enjoy!
Hogan glanced around the room one last time, making sure everyone was ready to go. Jackson and his men, and Newkirk, had changed back into their uniforms, the civilian clothes that they'd been wearing earlier were now heaped in a pile on the sofa, and Kinch had just returned from informing the family that they were leaving.
"Okay, let's go," Hogan said as he motioned for the men to start moving. As Jackson's turn approached to exit out the door, Hogan stopped him. "Hold out your hands," he ordered.
"What for?" Jackson asked suspiciously.
Hogan scowled at him. "Just do it."
Jackson had no choice but to comply. As soon as he held up his hands, Hogan pulled out the handcuffs and slapped them on the Private's wrists.
"Hey, what did you do that for?" Jackson exclaimed.
"A little added security," Hogan informed him. He wasn't about to take any chances.
As they started their hike back to camp, Carter and LeBeau kept a careful eye – and aim – on Jackson, Rodriguez and Thompson. Aikens walked next to Newkirk, helping him navigate the path, reaching out to lend a hand every so often when the Englishman stumbled. Kinch was keeping abreast of Hogan, and the two were conversing with each other, keeping their voices low when they spoke. The last thing they needed was a German patrol showing up.
"So, what did you tell Otto back there at the house?" Hogan asked Kinch quietly.
"What you told me to tell him, sir," Kinch whispered back, "That we got shot down and were trying to escape, when we ran into those bad guys. I also told him that we'd make sure those guys never bothered them again, and we'd appreciate it if they'd forget they ever saw us."
"What did Otto say?"
"He said he'd never seen us before in his life, and smiled at me."
"So, he's not going to try to turn us in?"
"No, sir, I don't think so. He seemed pretty grateful for us protecting him, Gretchen and Odette, from Brown – er, I mean – Jackson and his men. Besides," added Kinch, "They don't even know our names. Uh, except for mine, sir. Jackson mentioned it in front of them."
Hogan shook his head slightly. "He really is an idiot, isn't he?"
Kinch smiled. "Yes, sir!"
The group continued their trek through the woods, making fairly good time despite Newkirk and Kinch's conditions. Jackson grumbled loudly a few times, but after several pokes from LeBeau's gun and some choice words hissed to him in French, he gave up and kept quiet. At last they neared the hollowed-out tree stump entrance, and when Jackson and his men got over their initial shock, Hogan directed Carter to climb down first, followed by Newkirk and Aikens. Kinch went next, and then Jackson and his remaining two men descended into the tunnel; Hogan and LeBeau covering them from above, while Carter and Kinch did the same from below. At last LeBeau and Hogan climbed down to the tunnel, and the group moved into the main area, underneath the barracks.
"All right," Hogan said, glancing at each man as he addressed him, "Carter, grab some chairs and some rope and bring them back here. LeBeau, when Carter gets back, you can help him tie these guys up," he made a sweeping motion with his hand to indicate Jackson, Rodriguez, and Thompson. "And Newkirk, I want you and Kinch to go sit down; you both look like you're about to drop."
"Yes, sir," the two men replied gratefully; then went over to the bench next to the tunnel wall and plopped down on it.
Carter returned and set up the chairs. Hogan removed the handcuffs from Jackson, and gestured to their three prisoners to take a seat. Once they complied, Carter and LeBeau proceeded to tie them securely to the chairs.
"Hey, what about Aikens?" Jackson asked as LeBeau finished knotting the rope around his arms, "How come you're not tying him up?"
"Because he helped my men stop you," Hogan replied tersely, allowing his anger to rise now that they were safely back at camp. He glanced at his watch and, noting they still had twenty minutes until roll call, looked at Jackson. "Suppose you tell me, Private… What the hell you were thinking, kidnapping my men?"
"I only needed one of them," Jackson shot back, "Just to get out of Germany. I was going to let him go when I was through with him."
Hogan glared at him. "Do you know how much trouble you're in? Impersonating an officer, kidnapping, attempted murder…"
"Hey, I never tried to kill anyone!"
Kinch cleared his throat to get Jackson's attention, and lifted his right arm slightly.
Jackson rolled his eyes. "I wasn't trying to kill you, you know," he told Kinch, "I was just trying to stop the fight."
"… Assault," Hogan continued, glancing at Newkirk and back to Jackson, "And of course, desertion, which is a hangable offense."
"Hmpf! They're not going to hang me!" Jackson replied, but there was a hint of fear in his voice as the severity of what he'd done started to sink in.
"And you, Rodriguez," Hogan turned to the sergeant, "You knew he wasn't a lieutenant, and you went along with him, anyway?"
"Hey, a million dollars is a lot of money," Rodriguez answered.
"How did you know he wasn't Lieutenant Brown?" Hogan asked.
"There was a kid in the POW camp we were in, that knew some of the guys in Jackson's unit. So, when Jackson showed up pretending to be Lieutenant Brown, he recognized him right away. When he confronted him, Jackson threatened to kill him if he told anyone." Rodriguez shrugged. "I just happened to overhear their conversation."
"And you didn't tell me?" Thompson exclaimed angrily. "So all this time, I've been following a private!" He turned and glared at Jackson. "Just wait until I can get my hands on you…" He said in a low, threatening voice, while tugging at his restraints.
"Hey, I wasn't always a private," Jackson replied defensively. "I used to be a sergeant, until those rotten Brits in that pub back in London decided to pick a fight with me."
"From what I heard, you're the one who started it," Rodriguez said.
"I did not start it! And even if I did, they deserved it! I shouldn't have been busted down to private, in any case."
"So, when were you in prison?" Aikens asked.
"What?" Jackson turned his attention to the American corporal, "Who told you I was in prison?"
"You said so, yourself, remember?" Newkirk called out from his seat by the tunnel wall.
Jackson scowled at him. "It was a long time ago, before I joined the Army, and… It's none of your business!"
"Oh, you're just a pillar of the community, aren't you?" Hogan replied in disgust. "Tell me, how did you happen to take Lieutenant Brown's place?"
Jackson just glared at Hogan for a moment. At last he said, "After we crashed, I found the Lieutenant lying on the ground. He was wounded pretty badly, and I knew he wasn't going to make it. So as soon as he died, I just switched places with him."
Hogan leaned against the table behind him and folded his arms. "How do I know you didn't kill him?"
"I didn't kill him!" Jackson shouted, "He bled to death from his wounds. There was nothing I could do."
"Did you try?"
"Why bother? He was a goner, anyway."
Hogan shook his head. "You're a real piece of work, you know that, Jackson?"
"And you're just some high-paid, brown-nosing colonel who probably made your way up the chain of command the old fashioned way; on your knees…"
Jackson never got to finish his comment. A flash of blue shot past Hogan, and the next thing the private knew, there was a fist connecting with his face. His head snapped to the side, and something small and white flew out of his mouth, landing a short distance away on the tunnel floor. He blinked several times, more from surprise and shock than pain, and when he finally turned his head back to see what had hit him, Newkirk was standing in front of him, breathing hard, his hands clenched tightly into fists.
"You shut your ruddy mouth!" Newkirk yelled.
Hogan walked up and put his hand on the Englishman's shoulder. "Easy there, Newkirk," he said, "He'll get what's coming to him soon enough."
Carter glanced over at the object on the floor near Jackson. His eyes widened as he exclaimed, "Boy, Newkirk, you knocked a tooth right out of his mouth!"
"Couldn't have done it any better, myself," Kinch piped up, grinning. "Peter, I'll make a boxer out of you, yet."
"Now, that I would have to see to believe!" LeBeau teased; then he checked his watch and added, "It's almost time for roll call, Colonel."
Hogan nodded. "All right. Time to get upstairs, gentlemen." He looked at Aikens, scrutinizing him for a moment. At last he said, "Think you can watch these guys 'til we get back?"
Aikens swallowed hard. "Me, sir?" he asked, surprised.
"Sure, Aikens, I trust you." Hogan flashed him a smile. Then he handed him a gun and said, "We should be back in about an hour. And then we'll make arrangements to get you all back to London." He walked over to the ladder, and after the last of his men was topside, he headed up himself, closing the false-bottom bunk behind him.
* * * * * * * *
"Raus, raus, everyone outside for roll call!" Schultz bellowed loudly as he entered the barracks, trying to be heard over the grumbling men inside. "Let's go, schnell!"
"Take it easy, Schultzie; we're rausin'," Newkirk replied irritably.
"Yeah, Schultz, cut us some slack, will you?" Kinch said, "We've been up all night."
Schultz, who had been watching the progress of the men on the other side of the room, turned to look at Newkirk and Kinch. "Couldn't you sleep?" he asked, and sucked in his breath when he caught sight of Newkirk's face. "Newkirk! What happened to you?" Then he noticed the arm of Kinch's jacket; it had two holes in it, and the small openings were tinged with red. "Kinch, your arm…it looks like…" His eyes grew wide; then they narrowed and he waggled his finger at them. "Oh, you've been up to some monkey business, haven't you?" he scolded.
"Well, actually Schultz, we…" Kinch started, but Schultz held up his hand and closed his eyes tightly.
"No, don't tell me, I don't want to know. I see nothing!"
"Suit yourself, Schultzie," Newkirk said, a big smirk on his face. Then he and Kinch joined the rest of the men who were filing out of the barracks.
The wait for Colonel Klink to appear seemed endless. Finally the door to his office opened, and the Kommandant strode briskly across the compound, yelling, "Repoooort!"
"All present and accounted for, Kommandant," Schultz replied.
"Very well, Schultz," Klink said, and turned to look at the prisoners. "Now, I'm sure you are all aware that it is getting colder, so I have decided to… Newkirk! What happened to your face?"
Newkirk flashed Klink his best, who, me? expression. "What's that, sir?"
"Your face, Corporal; it's covered in bruises." A light bulb went on in Klink's head, and he said, "You've been fighting, haven't you?" Then he looked at Hogan. "Colonel Hogan, you know I do not allow fighting in the barracks. This man is getting thirty days in the cooler!"
"Now, wait a minute, Kommandant!" Hogan exclaimed, "Newkirk hasn't been fighting. He fell out of bed and hit his face on the table."
Klink scowled and glanced at Newkirk; then back at Hogan. "You expect me to believe that, Hogan?"
"It's true, sir," LeBeau piped up from his position on the other side of Newkirk, "You should see the table!"
"Hmpf! Hogan, you need to take better care of your men."
"Yes, sir. Anything else?"
"No, you're dismiss… Oh, wait, Hogan, there is one thing. I've decided that you may start selecting groups of men to go out on wood chopping detail. I will let the prisoners keep twenty-five percent of the wood."
"What? Kommandant, there's no way I'm going to let you use my men to chop wood for you."
"All right, thirty percent."
Hogan smiled. "Make it fifty percent."
"Forty percent, and that's my final offer!"
Klink shook his head.
"All right, sir, forty percent."
Klink smirked at him. "There, you see, Hogan? That wasn't so hard."
"Yes, sir. Can we go now?"
"Oh, yes, yes, you are dismissed." Klink turned and walked back to his office, while the prisoners shuffled back into the barracks.
As soon as they got back inside, Hogan turned to Newkirk and Kinch. "I want you two to climb into your bunks and get some rest. I'm going to have Wilson check you out. Carter," he said, looking at the sergeant, "Go get Wilson and bring him back here, then I want you to join me down below."
"Yes, sir," Carter replied, and took off to find Sergeant Wilson.
Hogan went down to the tunnel, and was relieved to see everything as they'd left it. "Looks like you've got everything under control, Aikens," he said.
"Traitor!" Jackson muttered under his breath.
"You know, unless you want to lose a few more teeth, I'd suggest you shut up," Hogan said to him.
Jackson just glared back at him.
Hogan turned his attention back to the corporal. "So, Aikens, I hear you're not too excited about going back to London."
Aikens glanced down, studying the floor for a moment. Then he looked up at Hogan. "Well, sir, I just didn't want to be reassigned to another unit, and have to fly missions over Germany again."
Hogan nodded. "Yes, Kinch told me what happened to you. Believe it or not, I do understand." He paused for a moment, and then continued. "Still, what you did is very serious. You do realize that, don't you?"
Aikens hung his head. "Yes, sir, I do. And I'm willing to accept whatever punishment they give me when we get back."
"Then again, you did help Kinch escape so he could find us, and you stopped Jackson from leaving with Newkirk. I'd say that counts for something."
Aikens' head shot up. "Sir?" he said, looking at Hogan; his expression a mixture of surprise and hope.
Hogan reached up and placed his hand on the corporal's shoulder. "Tell you what, Aikens; I can probably get you off the hook with London, and have them reassign you… Maybe put you in an administrative job. That would keep you from having to go on any more missions."
Aikens' jaw dropped. "You…you'd do that for me, sir?"
"After what you did for Kinch and Newkirk, I owe you one," Hogan smiled at him.
Aikens appeared to think it over for several moments. At last he said, "Thanks, Colonel; that means a lot to me. But I've decided that I'd rather get reassigned. I want to fight."
Hogan was taken aback. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Aikens nodded. "I'm sure, sir. After seeing what you and your men are risking by helping people like me, I want to do my part to help end this war."
Hogan clapped him on the back. "Good man. I knew I could count on you."
Aikens smiled. "I won't let you down, sir."
"I'm sure you won't." Hogan answered.
* * * * * * * *
Hogan was able to make arrangements for the next night to have Jackson, Rodriguez, Thompson and Aikens escorted out to meet with the sub that would take them to England. He'd been able to enlist the aid of a few Underground members to help, so there would be no possibility of Jackson or his men escaping.
As the time neared for them to leave, Hogan went down to join his men in the tunnel, who were already there; getting the four travelers ready. Kinch, Newkirk and LeBeau had their guns aimed at Jackson and the two sergeants, while Carter and Aikens were untying them from their chairs. When the men had been freed, Hogan nodded to Kinch, who passed his gun over to Aikens.
"Okay, I'm gonna go over the plan one more time," Hogan said. "Carter, LeBeau, you'll take these guys out the emergency exit, and meet up with Karl, Gunter and Fritz, who will be waiting for you at the abandoned barn about a mile east of here. Aikens, you can help cover them; if any of these guys try to escape, shoot to kill; got it?"
"Yes, sir," Aikens replied.
"Carter, LeBeau, once you pass them over to Karl and his men, they'll take them to rendezvous with the sub." Hogan then looked at Jackson. "A word of advice, Private, I wouldn't try anything if I were you; Karl and Gunter are both bigger and stronger than Thompson, here, and all three of them are crack shots."
Jackson glared at Hogan, but, for once, wisely kept his mouth shut.
Just before they headed out, Aikens turned to Kinch and Newkirk. He gazed at them for a moment, trying to find the words. At last he said, "Thanks, guys, for putting in a good word for me."
Kinch smiled. "Thanks for helping us take care of Jackson."
"Yeah, we couldn't 'ave done it without you, mate." Newkirk added. He stuck his hand out and, when Aikens reached up to clasp it, he shook the American corporal's hand firmly.
Kinch reached out and shook his hand, also. Then Aikens approached Hogan. He brought himself to attention and crisply saluted. Hogan returned the salute, and Aikens dropped his hand.
"Thank you, Colonel Hogan, for giving me a second chance."
"You're welcome, Corporal Aikens. And, good luck."
Aikens smiled. "Good luck to you, sir." Then he turned and walked up to join Carter and LeBeau, and the group headed out.
"That was a nice thing you did, sir," Newkirk said after they'd gone.
"He's a good kid," Hogan replied, "He just needed a little guidance." He studied his English corporal for a moment. "How are you feeling, by the way, Newkirk?"
"Me, sir? Oh, I'm all right. A bit sore, mind you, but Wilson says I'll be right as rain in no time."
"And how long will that be?" Hogan asked, trying to pin him down.
"Two weeks, sir," Kinch stated.
Newkirk threw Kinch a dirty look.
"Two weeks," Hogan repeated. "And how about you, Kinch? How long before your arm heals up?"
"I believe Wilson told 'im four weeks, if I'm not mistaken, sir," Newkirk piped up, glancing triumphantly at Kinch.
Kinch shot Newkirk a look of frustration, and then replied, "Yes, sir, that's what Wilson told me."
"I see," Hogan said, fighting the urge to smirk at them both. "Well, then, I suggest you get some rest; the sooner you both recover, the better."
"Yes, sir," Kinch and Newkirk answered in unison. As they turned to head up to the barracks, Newkirk nudged Kinch and muttered, "You didn't 'ave to tell 'im what Wilson said, you know."
"Neither did you, Peter."
When they got to the ladder, Kinch grabbed it; but before he could climb up, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"I just wanted to say thanks, mate, for comin' back to get me."
Kinch smiled. "Anytime, Peter," he replied sincerely. Then he climbed up to the barracks and headed for his bunk, while Newkirk, who was right behind him, made a beeline for his own. As they both settled in for the night, they happened to glance at each other, and the look in their eyes was identical.
Don't worry. I'll always have your back.