LeBeau glanced at the strange angel.
"I do not believe I know you, Monsieur," he said, unable to place the man.
"You were but a child when you saw me; considering the events of that day, I doubt you will remember," the strange angel replied. "But I am not here to discuss the past with you; I am here to discuss the future."
LeBeau followed him to the barracks, where Newkirk and Carter were having yet another argument. Well, Newkirk was the one talking; Carter was silently putting up with everything the still-drunk Englishman was yelling at him.
"How far into the future are we?" LeBeau asked.
"A few months," the angel replied. "Your friend has gotten worse, as you can see."
LeBeau looked to the two again, and cried out as he saw Newkirk pull a knife from his pocket—his "pencil sharpener," as he always called it. But LeBeau was more horrified to see Newkirk use the pencil sharpener to threaten Carter.
"Stop! STOP!" LeBeau cried, trying to take the pencil sharpener from Newkirk, but his hand passed right through him.
"Newkirk!" Hogan's voice bellowed across the barracks.
Newkirk pocketed the knife, facing his commanding officer with an unashamed expression.
"Newkirk, I've had it up to here with you," Hogan said, raising his hand to his forehead. "Carter, are you okay?"
"Yeah… Yeah, I'm fine," the sergeant said, with a shudder.
Hogan gave a nod and turned back to Newkirk.
"We made you a part of this team because we needed you," he said. "But if you're going to keep belittling Carter, you're not going to have a place here anymore."
"Good, then send me 'ome," Newkirk said. "I've been waiting to get out of 'ere ever since I got 'ere."
Hogan gave him a long stare.
"Alright, so I bluffed," he admitted. "There still isn't anyone who can pick a lock or crack a safe like you, but that doesn't excuse your behavior towards Carter."
Newkirk gave him a dark smirk that didn't suit him. He shrugged as he sat back at the table, beginning to start a game of solitaire.
LeBeau stared at the scene, but before he could say anything, he was stunned to see Kinch enter the barracks, a panicked expression on his face.
"I thought Kinch left for London," LeBeau said to the strange angel. "How is he back here?"
"Your colonel was desperate to keep the team together; having Kinchloe come back was a vain attempt to keep Newkirk in line," said the angel. "It was all for naught. Wounds inflicted by the pain of solitude do not heal, and a life of loneliness is the only option for one who has spent so long in it. I speak from experience. But worry now about what Kinchloe has to say."
Hogan turned to his reinstated second-in-command.
"Sir, you need to get into the tunnel right away," Kinch said. "All of us; we don't have time! Hochstetter is on his way here right this second with a squad of goons!"
Hogan's eyes narrowed.
"All of you, go!" he ordered. "I'll cover the retreat."
"But, Sir…!" Baker said.
"GO!" Hogan yelled.
Newkirk was already into the tunnel before Hogan even had given the order to go; the Newkirk that LeBeau remembered would have been covering the retreat along with the colonel. This Newkirk was only out to save his own skin and nothing more.
The barracks were empty, except for Hogan, by the time that Hochstetter arrived; there had been no time for the colonel to escape. Realizing this, he closed the bunk bed trapdoor after his men and crossed towards his office as Hochstetter kicked the door open.
"Here is where it ends, Colonel Hogan," Hochstetter sneered. Gretel was by his side; in this reality, Newkirk had not trusted the woman due to his cold nature. But LeBeau realized that he would rather have seen the trusting Newkirk again than to have him like this and never once attracted to Gretel.
"Really, Major?" Hogan asked, the confidence gone from his voice.
"Fraulein Wilhelmina finally talked," Hochstetter said. "And, at last, the moment I have been waiting for has come."
"Major Hochstetter, this must be some sort of mistake!" Klink was saying, as Hochstetter gleefully snapped the handcuffs over Hogan's wrists. "Colonel Hogan couldn't possibly be involved—"
"Silence, Klink," Hochstetter snarled. "Perhaps you have not noticed, but the barracks are completely empty! There goes your perfect record!"
"Whaaaaa…?" Klink moaned, finally noticing the empty room. "SCHULTZ!"
"Herr Kommandant…" the big man stammered. "I… I assure you I know nothing about this! The men were all here only fifteen minutes ago!"
"You two will be brought in for questioning later," Hochstetter said, dully. "But I wish to conduct the interrogation of Colonel Hogan as soon as possible. And I am sure I will get the location of his men from him."
"Over my dead body," the colonel retorted. "And I know you'll hold me to that."
"Indeed," Hochstetter replied, through gritted teeth. "Now, get moving!"
Two of Hochstetter's guards forced Hogan out.
"Colonel!" LeBeau cried, running after them. "COLONEL!"
The strange angel stopped the corporal by gripping his shoulder.
"You can do nothing for him," he said. "Major Hochstetter will keep him alive until he is convinced he cannot extract any information from him. As for Klink and Schultz… they will be sent to the Eastern Front."
"Will any of them survive?"
"No," the angel responded, truthfully. "Your colonel will be given posthumous honors when Carter, Kinchloe, and Baker return to the United States and tell their stories."
"They survive, then," LeBeau whispered, a spark of relief forming in his heart.
"They survive," he agreed. "But they are among the few lucky ones. Come; there is still one more thing you must see."
The angel led LeBeau through the tunnel and through the outside. The escaped prisoners were splitting up in groups of two and three, desperate to make contact with the Underground. But Hochstetter's men were everywhere. LeBeau was still running when he noticed a figure lying bleeding upon the ground, his face pale.
"Olsen!" the Frenchman gasped, swaying as the moonlight illuminated the sergeant's form. He shut his eyes to prevent himself from fainting at the sight of the blood. "Not him, as well!"
"Keep going," the angel ordered, pushing him along.
LeBeau did as he was told, gasping as he heard Newkirk angrily yelling at Carter again.
"The Guv'nor ain't 'ere to protect you," Newkirk slurred. "And I ain't letting you be the reason I get done in!"
"Newkirk, please!" Carter yelped. "We… we're on the same side! We should work together! I don't get it—why have you always had such a grudge against me!"
"Because you're a top-class idiot," Newkirk snarled.
It was so wrong to see Carter look so hurt and scared at Newkirk when LeBeau knew that they were supposed to be such great friends.
"You know…" Carter was saying. "If you didn't drink so much and walled yourself off… you could've been a really great guy."
Newkirk responded with a snarl and ran off into the woods. Carter knelt to the forest floor for a moment, just staring at nothing.
"He looks so scared and alone," LeBeau said.
"He is," the angel replied. "Would you like to talk to him?"
LeBeau nodded, and walked over to Carter as the angel snapped is fingers.
"André?" he asked, softly.
Carter gave a start, but recognized that the speaker was a friendly face.
"Oh… hey," he said, softly. "Um… do I know you?"
"You did once," LeBeau said. "But never mind that; how are you, mon ami?"
"Well… as good as I can be, I guess," Carter replied. He shuddered as he looked around. "I don't know what happened. We started out strong—this operation, I mean. It looked so promising; that's why I came back to join it. But we couldn't keep going; it's like something was missing, and we couldn't go on without it."
LeBeau swallowed hard. This version of Carter didn't know exactly what was missing, but LeBeau certainly did.
"I think Newkirk—that guy who was just here— sensed that, too, from the beginning," Carter went on. "I wanted to believe that he was a good person deep down, but I guess the despair of it made him seal himself off to everyone. It's sad…"
LeBeau felt the lump form in his throat, and he nodded. But he suddenly gave a start, as did Carter, as he heard Newkirk's angry yelling from up ahead.
"Pierre!" he cried.
"You know Newkirk?" Carter asked, baffled.
LeBeau didn't reply; he tore off in the direction of the yelling. The angel stayed where he was, Carter giving a yelp as the moonlight fell upon the strange angel's disfigured face. The sergeant blinked, unsure of what to make of it all, but quickly got his bearings and fled into the night.
LeBeau arrived in time to see Newkirk running from one of Hochstetter's men with his pencil sharpener in his hand; he had just killed another, it seemed—the body of another one of the major's men was lying nearby. The still-living goon sneered at him, turned his weapon on the Englishman, and fired at him as he retreated. He didn't even wait to see him fall; the goon walked off in search of his next prey.
LeBeau watched in horror as Newkirk hit the ground.
"Pierre! Mon pote, please wake up!" he pleaded, kneeling before the wounded Englishman. LeBeau kept his eyes shut until he turned him over to avoid looking at the bleeding wound on his back.
"You again…?" Newkirk asked, feebly. "You were there in the tunnel that day… You were that ruddy idiot who knocked the glass from me 'and…" He flinched, his body stricken with the pain from his wound. "What… what are you doing 'ere? What do you want from me?"
"Your forgiveness, Pierre," LeBeau whispered. "Had I only known that my absence would cause all of this, I would never have wished this to happen. Everything is wrong—all wrong! You were supposed to live—all of you who died!"
"What are you… nattering about…?" Newkirk gasped, in pain. He forced his eyes open, puzzled. "Why do you… act like you care…?"
LeBeau gripped the Englishman's wrist.
"Because I do care for you, Pierre," he said. "A lot of people do… where I come from."
Newkirk stared at him in disbelief. It didn't seem possible, and yet this man didn't seem to be lying; his distress and sorrow were both genuine.
"Who… who did you say you were?" he asked, his voice fading.
"Louis," he responded. "And I wish you could remember…"
He blinked back the tears in his eyes, but Newkirk saw them. Here was a man crying over him—a man who claimed to know him, but whom he couldn't recall. It sounded so unbelievable, and yet… Newkirk believed it.
"Blimey…" he murmured. "If only…"
LeBeau never found out what he was planning to say; his eyes closed as he trailed off, his pencil sharpener slipping from his hand.
"Pierre?" LeBeau whispered.
He felt the Englishman's neck for a pulse, but found nothing. Once more, the Frenchman kissed the Englishman on both cheeks as a way of saying goodbye.
"How you have suffered," LeBeau whispered, not bothering to wipe the silent tears escaping from his eyes. "Be free now, mon frère. And take heart that this fate will not befall your real-world counterpart. I will not allow it."
He cradled the still form in his arms and shut his eyes.
I have had enough! he mentally cried. Please, do not make me lose him like this! Please! He does not deserve to die all alone like this!
"Louis…?" the Englishman's voice rang out, calling to him, softly.
And, still, I hear his voice… LeBeau thought. Oh, Pierre…
"Louis! Wake up, little mate! Just 'ow are you going to escape if you can't keep your eyes open?"
LeBeau opened his eyes, gasping. He was back at the table in the kitchen of Klink's quarters. Turning his head to the window, he was both relieved and overjoyed to see Newkirk standing there with his usual cheeky grin.
"A dream…?" LeBeau asked, staring at nothing in particular. "I was asleep all this time?"
"You ain't no sleeping beauty, that's for certain…" the Englishman commented, squeezing in through the window. "Come on, then; up you get." He blinked. "Louis, you've got feathers all over you…"
"Quoi?" the Frenchman asked, baffled.
He froze as he noticed three feathers stuck to his red sweater. Two of them were white; the last one was black. Gently, the corporal removed the feathers and stared as he held them in his hand.
Grand-père… Grand-mère… he realized. He shut his eyes briefly once again. Merci.
"Louis, we've got to get to the Guv'nor," Newkirk reminded him, tapping him on the shoulder. "Baker's got the pictures developed, and 'e wants us all there to 'ave a look. Not to mention, you need to be out of 'ere before Klink chucks you in the cooler…"
LeBeau noticed how the Englishman's cheery tone had faltered as he spoke the last few words. Yes, this was the Newkirk he knew so well. That thought alone was comforting as he followed the Englishman back into the tunnels (carefully keeping the feathers in his pocket)—and this time, LeBeau did not react to the enclosed space.
He was only partly listening to Hogan's commentary about the pictures; part of him was watching out of the corner of his eye as Carter whispered something to Newkirk about Klink being desperate for a promotion, prompting the Englishman to roll his eyes in amusement and pull Carter's hat over his eyes in jest. Carter just laughed, setting his hat back as LeBeau smiled to himself. This was how it should be.
It was only when Hogan instructed Baker to call for a plane so that the Frenchman could take the film back to London that the corporal spoke up and announced his decision to stay after all.
LeBeau saw the flash of joy and hope in Newkirk's eyes; the Englishman immediately tried to cover it up with a typical "Oh, well, if that's what you really want…" comment, but LeBeau knew better than to believe that for even a second.
You are going to survive this war, mon frère, he silently vowed. And I will be here to see it happen.
He exchanged a brief glance with the Englishman as he drew an arm around him, and LeBeau knew that Newkirk was thinking the exact same thing in the reverse.
Shortly after this incident, after Hogan had successfully conned Klink into letting LeBeau out of the cooler for the earlier escape attempt, life in Stalag 13 returned to normal. LeBeau was soon at his post beside the stove, cooking equipment in hand. It did not escape Newkirk as to how unflinchingly LeBeau had returned to the position he seemed to have been so tired of, and the Englishman's curiosity was piqued.
He walked over to the stove, pausing to recoil at the strong smell coming from the pot that the Frenchman was stirring.
"Oh, Cor, what are we in for tonight?" he asked, unable to stop himself.
LeBeau rolled his eyes.
"Potée Lorraine," he said. He held the ladle out to him. "I know this is a mistake to ask you, but would you like to taste it?"
Newkirk regarded the soup with a suspicious expression. The Englishman sighed, reminding himself of how LeBeau had almost left, and he shut his eyes and took a sip. Well, he could drink it without gagging, but he could tell that beads of sweat were popping out onto his forehead.
"Well… I can say, with all 'onesty, that I've never tasted anything like it before," he said. Well, actually, once you get past the first sip, it ain't that bad…
LeBeau knew that he was deliberately trying not to insult him.
"You can be as brutal as you like, Pierre; I will not leave again just because you do not appreciate my cooking."
"I reckon I deserved that," Newkirk admitted. He had partly been berating himself as being one of the reasons why LeBeau had been so willing to go—all of the insults to LeBeau's cooking, and how Newkirk constantly made an attempt to criticize each and every dish in some way. The truth was, of course, that Newkirk was fully aware of how physically undernourished he would've been had LeBeau not come along. A testament to that was how he had been steadily losing weight since being captured in 1940—until LeBeau arrived, after which he began gaining weight each month.
What Newkirk wasn't aware of was how spiritually undernourished he would've been without LeBeau.
"You know, Louis…" he said, drawing his arm around him again. "I know I complain about the food and all, but, for what it's worth… I'm glad you came back to stay. Not that I want you to be stuck 'ere, of course, but… Well, you know what I mean."
"Oui. I know."
"What made you change your mind?"
"It is as I told you—I knew you would not be able to last one mission without me," LeBeau bluffed.
"I know you, Louis. That ain't it."
The Frenchman looked at him, his mind repeating Newkirk's words.
I know you, Louis.
LeBeau hadn't told anyone of the visions he had been shown. It seemed too unbelievable, he admitted. And yet, every time he had looked at Newkirk since making his decision to stay, the image of the Englishman's alternate persona, dying unloved in his arms, haunted the back of his mind.
"Yes, Peter, you know me," he said, choosing to address him by his English name again. "Let us just say that I truly realized what a blessing that is, and leave it at that for the present."
Someday, he would tell him the whole story, he decided.
Newkirk, of course, was puzzled and moved at the same time, but nodded.
"Well, Louis," he said. "I know you must be sorry that you 'ave to spend more time in this old cage, away from 'ome and from the glory of fighting for your Belle France, and all… But you've got the Guv'nor and the others. And you've got me."
LeBeau shut his eyes for a moment, counting his own blessings. Though the visions had not shown him how different he had been due to not knowing Newkirk and the others, he knew that his life would have noticeably lacked something.
"And I am grateful for that, Peter," he said, meaning every word.
The arm around his shoulder was a tangible testimony to the blessing they both shared.
Author's note: I know I usually am not the one to kill off characters, but I honestly believe I wouldn't have been able to put the point across with the same amount of power if the alter-character's fates weren't what they were. That last scene with Alter-Newkirk was, admittedly, very tough to write, and I hope it turned out well. Many thanks to the readers and reviewers of this piece; it was a very inspired one!