Author's note: I have always been intrigued with LeBeau and Newkirk's friendship, particularly with how it possibly began. I had a flashback in one of my older fics that theorized that they probably needed time to warm up to each other, and had a vague idea of how it might have happened. And after I took a look at this month's prompts on the 31 Days community on LiveJournal, I couldn't stop the plotbunnies; this is likely to be a short multichapter fic, and I also intend to continue with my current smuggler fic at the same time. This first chapter was inspired by today's prompt, "One day here, and the next day gone."
This fic takes place in the fall of 1940, so LeBeau, Newkirk, and the Germans are going to be the only familiar faces in this fic. I describe Stalag 13 in this chapter as "filled with Englishmen," as LeBeau had alluded to himself being the only Frenchman at Stalag 13 in episode 24, "How to Cook a German Goose by Radar." Also, there wouldn't be any Americans there yet. I also refer to Burkhalter as a colonel; I didn't think it was too far-fetched to believe that he was promoted to general by the end of 1942, as episode 1 suggested. Also, it goes without saying that the letter that LeBeau is reading is supposed to be in French.
The chilly breezes of autumn had since descended upon Bavaria; it was mid-October, 1940. As the sun rose over the horizon, its rays illuminated a compound surrounded by a tall, barbed-wire fence. Another day had dawned for the captive soldiers in Stalag 13.
In Barracks Two, one such soldier was already awake. Corporal Louis LeBeau preferred getting up as early as he possibly could to make breakfast for himself. With any luck, he could finish before the others woke up; he had no desire to cook for a barracks filled with Englishmen who could not appreciate his creations. They sneered at the French cuisine, but, more often than not, particularly when the mess hall rations were worse than usual, they would end up stealing what they could from him—either by stealth or by force.
There was only one man in Barracks Two who didn't bother with trying to steal the Frenchman's food, but it wasn't because he was trying to be nice; Corporal Peter Newkirk wanted nothing to do with the hotheaded Frenchman. Newkirk had clashed with him once when LeBeau had first arrived in Stalag 13; arguments had eventually culminated in an all-out, two-man brawl in the cooler, with no clear winner. Neither of them had spoken to each other after that incident, though they frequently traded glares. Between that and the general hostility between LeBeau and the rest of his barracks-mates, Barracks Two had come to be known by its nickname of "Waterloo."
Newkirk didn't get along all that well with his fellow Englishmen, either; they found him to be cold and aloof; in addition, his status as a poor street kid from Stepney did not, in their opinion, warrant any sort of prestige. It didn't help that Newkirk had been frequently caught pilfering from them.
LeBeau cast a scornful glance at the others before putting the finishing touches on the crêpes he had been preparing. Satisfied, he wrapped up the two extras and secured them in his footlocker, while eating two before the others began to stir.
"You cooking again…?" one of the RAF sergeants sneered, being the next to wake.
"You just missed it," LeBeau replied, with a smug smirk.
Newkirk now awoke, cast a glance at the Frenchman, and shook his head in dismissal.
Honestly, I think those ruddy fools threw him in here just for a laugh, he thought. The Germans knew he'd be a misfit; it must be their way of getting cheap entertainment from us…
Corporal Langenscheidt soon came by to order them out for morning roll call, and the men immediately knew that this meant that Schultz had gone to get the mail. The Englishmen in the camp now found it difficult to focus on their breakfast; they knew of the Blitz on London and were desperate for news about their friends and family. Even LeBeau had to admit that he knew where they were coming from; his own beloved France, forced to surrender, was now being overrun by the Germans, as well, and he was waiting for news from home, too.
When Schultz did arrive with the mail, he was immediately swarmed by the mob of Englishmen. Newkirk, who was lying on his usual top bunk near the door, deftly grabbed the stack of letters from Schultz, allowing the sergeant to escape as the mob turned their attention to the East Ender.
"Steady on; you're like a ruddy stampede!" he chided him. "Right. Give me 'alf a minute; you'll get your precious letters."
He began to toss the letters to their recipients as though each one was a shuriken; LeBeau cursed him as his letters missed and hit the floor. The Frenchman retrieved his letters and clambered into his bunk to read them. One was from his girlfriend; the other was from his elderly mother. He opened his mother's letter first, taking note of how her handwriting seemed slightly shaky. She had a good reason; she had been through much heartache in the last several months—seeing her two sons drafted, seeing her two daughters called to work on the home front, seeing her husband also called to work, losing her father, dealing with the Germans marching through the streets even as she laid her father to rest, and then realizing that her father's last will and testament, along with all of his assets, had somehow vanished overnight. Hearing of her son's capture at Salon was one more heartache for her to bear.
The corporal cursed his captors again, but then focused his attention on the letter.
The news that you are alive and well in the Luft Stalag comes as both a relief and a sorrow to me. Your brother was badly wounded, but remained free; he is still recovering from his injuries, but will, hopefully, recover. Your father and sisters are fine, albeit busy, and send you their love. There is little for me to do but sit by the window all day and pray for you all.
The sights outside the window provide no comfort. The Germans are treating Paris as though they were here since time began; your poor grandfather must be rolling over in his grave. Louis, I do not wish to upset you, but you must know the truth—no trace of his assets has been found. But do not dwell on it; you have plenty of other things to worry about.
I implore you, Louis, to be safe. Come back to me; whether swiftly or slowly, swear to me you will return alive. I can only pray that you are unhurt, and that I shall see you again soon. I shall anxiously await your response.
The next several lines had been cut out of the paper by the German censor who had inspected the mail, but LeBeau knew that she had, undoubtedly, written words of encouragement to revive his fighting spirit, likely capping it off with an impassioned "Vive la France."
Giselle had then closed her letter with a mother's words of love for her son.
LeBeau shut his eyes for a moment, already composing a reply in his head. He didn't want to worry her; there was no need to tell her that he was the only Frenchman in a stalag full of Englishmen and was ostracized. He, too, could only pray that his family would remain safe, and that his elder brother, Jean-Philippe, would fully recover as his mother had hoped.
He sighed, hoping that what Colonel Klink kept saying about Stalag 13 being impossible to escape from was just a lie designed to lower their morale. He longed to go home and bring some relief to his mother—and then he would find a way to fight for France and free his home from the Germans.
Newkirk, in the meantime, had finished his letter-tossing and now sat back to read his own letter. His eyebrows arched upon seeing that his only letter was from his younger sister, Mavis. A sinking feeling grew in his gut; had his girlfriend not sent a letter because she was too busy? Had the letter gotten lost? Or was she…?
The corporal shook these thoughts from his head and opened his sister's letter.
I hope you are doing well; I know it must be terrible for you in that prison, but, at this point, I'm just relieved that you are alive. I guess I have a lot to tell you.
I'm writing this to you from a little shelter; it's not safe to stay in the flat anymore. The building itself received some damage, and we were ordered to evacuate the building—those who hadn't scarpered already, of course. I had a little time to take a few things with me; I took the photos, of course. Mum's ring was the only thing of monetary value; I took that and her metronome. I also took her teakettle; I know it meant a lot to you. And I took a few of those spy thriller books from your collection. I didn't have time to take anything else; if I get the chance, I'll try to see if there's anything else I can take. I know I wanted to take some more things of yours, since you're all the way over there in that ruddy stalag. They also help remind me of you.
I haven't seen Dad since the madness started; I don't know if he left town, if he's still here, or if he was done in. I'm baffled; you know how Dad's always tracks us down, asking for more money. Well, it's just up and stopped. It's eerie, Peter—so very eerie. It's not that I miss him, of course; I guess I just don't like being surrounded by all of these strangers.
And even though I certainly don't miss Dad, I still hope he's not dead. I'm not feeling sympathy for him, Peter; it's that I honestly don't want to see any more deaths! I went to the building where George and Eric lived to see if they needed any help getting to the shelter. Peter, they're dead. I saw them—lying there on the footpath; it was absolutely ghastly.
Newkirk had to stop reading for a moment. George and Eric were two of his old schoolmates; the three of them, along with three other school friends, had been known around pubs as "the Dartboard Six." The Dartboard Six had been inseparable since their schooldays, but had only received that nickname after their school days, playing darts in the various East End pubs every few nights, their favorite haunt being the Red Lion. Regular visitors soon learned not to challenge the Dartboard Six if they wished to hold onto their money; newcomers learned the hard way.
It was the onset of the war that had finally broken up the Dartboard Six; Newkirk, along with the other three—James, Roger, and Phillip—had been drafted to the RAF, in separate squadrons. The corporal could still recall their last game of darts in the Red Lion, drinking a toast to each other and to the day that the Dartboard Six would eventually reunite.
Now… that day would never come. There had always been the thought in each of their minds that one of the four draftees would not return, but the thought of losing the two left at home never once crossed their minds; it was a terrible irony, Newkirk realized.
The corporal let out a ragged sigh and turned his attention back to the rest of his sister's letter.
Peter, it's terrible. I never thought I'd ever see something like this; it's a nightmare, and I can't wake up from it, no matter how hard I try. At first, I was only worried about you not coming home. Now, I'm also worried about you coming home to find out that I'm no longer here. I am not ashamed to admit that I am afraid, though I do wish that, sometimes, I could be as brave as you.
You are in my thoughts always, Peter. I only hope that I will be able to see you again someday.
She closed her letter and signed it. The censor hadn't cut anything out; he probably had been amused by the despair that filled it, and that only made Newkirk realize that there may be a spark of truth to the rumors that the Germans were trying to get them to believe about England losing.
The corporal checked the date on the letter. To his dismay, Mavis had sent the letter weeks ago; there was no way of knowing if she was still alive at the present moment. Nor was he sure about his three friends in the other RAF squadrons—he hadn't heard from them in months; for all Newkirk knew, after hearing about George and Eric's deaths, he was the last surviving member of the Dartboard Six.
Stay in that shelter, please, Mavis… he silently begged her. Never mind about me things; I can replace those. I can't replace you.
The thoughts of returning to London to find out that he was the last surviving member of his family, as well, crept into his consciousness and chilled him to the bone. Well, to be honest, he wasn't sure he cared about what happened to his no-good father, but Mavis was innocent and deserved to live.
Mavis won't ever dare to flee to the countryside all alone. I need to get out of here. I need to see her. I need to keep her safe. And I need to avenge George and Eric; they weren't even soldiers. I can't let that pass…
His eyes narrowed as he carefully stored the letter. He had taken all that he was willing to take from the Germans; they could not expect for him to stay here. Hopefully, after his failed escape attempts over the past few months, they would not expect him to try yet another one.
The door to the barracks opened again as Schultz nervously peeked inside before entering.
"By order of the Kommandant, the barracks are to be cleaned and ready for an inspection by Colonel Burkhalter this afternoon," he announced. He looked up to the Frenchman. "LeBeau? The Kommandant wishes for you to make a gourmet meal for him tonight. He requests it as a gentleman, and, furthermore, he says it is an order."
He was met with a chorus of complaints and curses (LeBeau's voice responding the loudest), though it was Newkirk who, for once, didn't say a word. The East Ender's brow furrowed as Schultz left, and he absently fingered the throwing knife he had successfully smuggled into camp—his "pencil sharpener." He was still amazed that he had managed to get it in under the noses of the guards; granted, it wasn't much against the Germans' weapons, which was why Newkirk hadn't used it yet. But with Burkhalter coming for another inspection, this might be a chance for him to use it. He could avenge his dead friends by taking out that smug creep. If he played his cards correctly, he could throw the knife in such a way that no one would know where it came from, and in the ensuing confusion, he could find a way of escape.
The challenge was, of course, finding a way to throw the knife in a way that he couldn't be implicated in whatever resulted from it. He already had taken the first precaution of not letting anyone know that he had a knife—he carried it beneath his sweater at all times in a secret pocket just below the back collar where no one would think to look.
Newkirk clambered down from his bunk as the others began to start cleaning up; he knew that if he didn't pitch in, the others would confront him. They were already confronting LeBeau, who was flatly refusing to help clean up.
"I have kept my area of the barracks clean, non?" the Frenchman retorted. "I have to cook the meal for those monsters; I am not cleaning, as well!"
"So you 'ave to cook a ruddy meal? It ain't the end of the world!" Newkirk shot back, finally breaking his silence with the Frenchman; he normally would not have bothered with his complaints, but after receiving the news of the deaths of two of his closest friends, he was in no mood to put up with him today.
"When I want your opinion, I shall ask you—and that will be never!" LeBeau retorted. "I have suffered enough at the hands of the Germans; I refuse to have to suffer from you, as well!"
"Oh, you're going to suffer from me," Newkirk retorted, giving the shorter man a shove.
The shove was all it took; Newkirk turned back to get the broom to begin sweeping, and found himself tackled off of his feet as French curses filled his ears. The English corporal elbowed his French counterpart in the stomach, momentarily knocking the wind out of him, allowing some of the other soldiers to pull LeBeau off of him and start yelling at him.
Newkirk cursed; the other Englishmen were more concerned with knocking LeBeau down a few pegs than helping their fellow countryman get back up.
"Leave off!" Newkirk ordered, shoving the others out of the way. "This is between me and 'im!"
"I do not need you telling them to leave me alone!" LeBeau shot back.
"Well, I ain't doing to save you," Newkirk retorted. "I ought to-"
"Was? Was?" Schultz bellowed, coming back inside. He groaned as he saw the scene inside; Schultz and Langenscheidt were the only two guards who did not enjoy seeing LeBeau squabble with the Englishmen. "Gentlemen, why must there be so much fighting?"
"He's the one who always starts it, the cheeky rat!" an RAF airman said, shoving LeBeau.
"Perhaps you should come to the kitchen now," Schultz said, deciding that if LeBeau was separated from them for some time, it would help calm things down by the end of the day. "You… you can plan the meal better if you are in there, in the surroundings that promote good food, ja? Come."
Everyone in the barracks gave Schultz a dark look—LeBeau, for being forced to do all of the planning and cooking now, and the Englishmen, for realizing that LeBeau had gotten off of cleaning duty after all.
LeBeau and Newkirk exchanged a pair of glares as the big man escorted the Frenchman out. Newkirk muttered something under his breath and began to sweep, ignoring the pain in his arm that had resulted from colliding with the floorboards.
"LeBeau…" Schultz said, with a shake of his head. "You are a good cook—you make food that is better than what my wife could make! You could easily win friends instead of enemies with such a skill. Why must you fight with them?"
LeBeau rolled his eyes, annoyed at being lectured to.
"You would never understand," the Frenchman responded, darkly.
Schultz decided that he may as well give up, and shrugged.
"Ja," he sighed. "I know nothing…"