Louis LeBeau awoke to a most familiar voice chiding him; for a moment, he had forgotten the present upon hearing it—it was almost as though he was back at home in France.
"Ah, my poor, unfortunate brother—so feisty and so full of tough talk, yet he swoons at the mere sight of blood…"
Louis winced as the lights in the tunnel affected his eyes upon opening them, and he shut them again until his vision had adjusted.
"Jean-Philippe?" he asked, stunned.
He grasped his brother's wrist.
"What… what happened? Why are you here in Stalag 13?"
"Do you not remember, Louis? Your friends—Pierre and André—helped me escape. They brought me here—"
Louis gasped, suddenly sitting up.
"Relax, Louis; relax. Your friends are fine. In fact, the Underground sustained no fatalities, which is more than can be said for the beasts you had infiltrated. I should have realized that infiltrating them is all that you had done. I still do not know the whole story, Louis, but I understand that I have misjudged you terribly tonight. And, for that, I sincerely apologize."
"What, you thought that I was really one of them—that I had lied about being a prisoner of war?" Louis asked, folding his arms.
"…You have to understand what it looked like from my point of view, Louis. What would you have done if the situation had been reversed?"
The corporal sighed.
"I would have yelled and called you a traitor," he admitted. "I should be grateful that you did not say a word to me at the time."
"You did not give me a chance," Jean-Philippe reminded him, dryly, massaging the spot where Louis had punched him. "Who taught you to hit like that?"
Louis gave a flicker of a smile.
"You did—that time at the railroad yard when I was eight."
The Sous-lieutenant returned the flicker of a smile, but then sobered.
"You should report to your commanding officer; I believe he has a few words for you."
Louis nodded, and the brothers went to the radio room, passing by several cots with the recovering Underground members; Wilson was working overtime tending to them, but he worked without complaint. Jean-Philippe spoke with a few recovering members as Hogan turned his attention to Louis.
"Well, LeBeau, you've done it. It's mission accomplished, as far as we're concerned."
"But, Colonel… What about Hochstetter?"
"Currently running like a madman around 'ammelburg, of course, trying to figure out what 'appened," Newkirk said, causally sipping a cup of tea. "In other words, condition normal."
LeBeau still did not look pleased.
"There are more members of the cell back in France," he said. "This is not over…"
"It's about as over as it can get," Hogan assured him. "Remember what DuBois said? If this section of the cell was crippled, it would write an end to the whole of it."
"That is correct," DuBois said, having just gotten off the radio. His arm was bandaged, but his expression was positive. "Tiger extends her congratulations to all of us, and especially to Caporal LeBeau."
"Well done, Little Mate!" Newkirk grinned, raising his teacup in an impromptu toast. "Now, if we could just do something about your fainting at the sight of blood…"
Louis punched him on the arm, and Carter took his side.
"Give Louis a break—after everything he went through tonight, the least we could do is let him put his feet up for a couple of days."
"Eat your cooking?" LeBeau asked, derisively. "I think not!"
"Hey, I'm trying to help you out, here!"
"Forget it; I am going to make dinner for myself and enjoy it—I have not eaten at all since leaving here!"
"Oh, you didn't 'ave dinner with that bird after all?" Newkirk asked, jerking his head towards a fuming Margot. She and Sébastien were now in handcuffs, under heavy guard, as they were the most important prisoners that the Underground had taken; the rest were being held in other tunnels by the uninjured members of the Underground, away from the action in the main tunnel.
"Non, because you chose that moment to free my brother and everything went mad after that," the French corporal smirked. "But I am grateful for it."
He turned to Lieutenant DuBois.
"Will you be all right, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, your Sergeant Wilson is indeed a miracle worker," DuBois assured him. "I will be fine."
Louis managed a smile and turned back to Hogan.
"What happens now?"
"The usual," the colonel replied. "We wait until Hochstetter takes the heat off somewhat, and everyone heads back to France…"
He trailed off. Everyone except Louis, that is… And with his brother going back, there was every chance in the world that Louis would want to follow.
"Oui; the most able-bodied should leave as soon as possible," DuBois agreed. "It is too risky for us to stay here any longer than we should have to."
"You won't have to stay for long," Kinch said, climbing down into the radio room with an amused look on his face. "I was just listening to a most interesting phone tap—General Burkhalter was ranting to Klink—something about being accused of being Papa Bear…"
Hogan chuckled into his coffee.
"Wish I'd been there to hear it."
"I recorded it on tape for you."
"…And that's why you're my second in command—always thinking…"
"There's more than just the rant," Kinch went on. "Since he can't get ahold of Becker, he's called Hochstetter to Berlin to explain what just happened—and it had better be good."
"But Hochstetter doesn't know a thing!" Louis exclaimed, grinning. "Becker had been so keen on getting all the credit, he didn't tell him any of the false information!"
"Blimey, I wouldn't fancy being in 'ochstetter's shoes right now," Newkirk grinned. "Not that I would want to be in them at any other time, mind you…"
"Boy, I'd love to be a fly on the wall in Berlin right now," Carter mused. "Too bad we don't have a tap there!"
"Morrison does; maybe I can get ahold of him and let him know, so he can enjoy the fireworks," Hogan snickered. "What do you think, DuBois?"
"As amusing as it may be, I think if Hochstetter is on his way to Berlin, then we had best move all the able-bodied out the tunnel tonight," DuBois said.
"Tonight?" Louis repeated, his good mood fading.
Jean-Philippe looked up now, realizing that he would be among the first heading back to France.
"Louis," he said. "Someone like you would do well in the Free French Army; you could be promoted to an officer in a heartbeat. You could come back to France with me."
Louis could feel the eyes of his teammates upon him, especially Newkirk's; Louis could not soon forget how upset Newkirk had been the last time he had considered joining the Free French Army.
But this was different. This wasn't about just France; this was about his elder brother—his family…
The thought trailed off in his mind. The best chance he had at continuing to ensure that his family was safe and that France would be free again would be to stay here and continue what he had been doing.
"Please try to understand, Jean-Philippe," he said. "My place is here, at least for a little while longer." He gave a wan smile. "I do not mind being a corporal for some more time."
The Sous-lieutenant sighed.
"I expected you to say that. But I would have liked to spend the rest of the war fighting alongside you, Louis."
"…That would be a switch from fighting each other, as we always used to do," Louis said, dryly.
Jean-Philippe managed a chuckle.
"True. And perhaps you are right; you are needed here. There may be other men as unlucky as myself who will eventually require your services. Far be it from me to deny them that."
"I would have asked you to stay," Louis admitted. "But I knew it would be foolish; you were always the type to fight on the front, charging ahead. …I never could keep up with you."
"Do not fool yourself, Louis; you have done more to help France here in Stalag 13 than I have done in the front. It is you who has surpassed me."
Louis blinked in surprise, but nodded.
"Just wait for a while before you leave; I will prepare something for you to take," he said, placing a hand on his brother's shoulder before heading for the ladder to head to the barracks.
"What happened?" Carter blurted out. "Is Louis staying or going?"
"You can relax, André; I am staying," the corporal said, rolling his eyes. "But grant me time to prepare something for my brother, who is leaving!"
"Vive les frères LeBeau," Newkirk said, raising his teacup again.
Jean-Philippe stared at him before looking up at Louis.
"His pronunciation is terrible!"
"I have been telling him that for years!"
"Oh, charming…" Newkirk said, now finding it his turn to roll his eyes. "I used to 'ave only one LeBeau snarking at me; now I've got two!"
That got a laugh out of everyone, and LeBeau headed upstairs to cook. One by one, everyone in the tunnel started going back to his own work, though Jean-Philippe eventually walked over to Newkirk.
"May I have a word with you, Caporal Newkirk?"
"…It's not regarding a French lesson, is it? I get enough of that from your brother!"
"Non; I have a favor to ask of you."
"Well, for that, I'm all ears," Newkirk promised. "Though I 'ave an idea of what you're going to say."
"That does not surprise me, either," Jean-Philippe said. "But I will say it, anyway—I wish for you to continue to look out for my brother."
"You needn't worry, Chum; Louis is one of us, and 'e's me little mate, to boot. And I've owed 'im me life more than once. I know the work we do 'ere comes with its risks, but rest assured that I would see meself dead before I'd let it 'appen to Louis or any of me other mates."
"I pray it does not come to that, mon ami," Jean-Philippe said, sincerely. "I wish to see you all again after the war."
"I'd prefer that, too," Newkirk said, smirking.
After LeBeau had finished making the provisions for Jean-Philippe, the two brothers spent the remainder of their time together talking in the tunnel. There was a lot to catch up on—the ploys they had pulled on their enemies, the girls they had met along the way, and various other stories.
But once confirmation came that Hochstetter was out of town and that the sub was ready and waiting at the rendezvous point, it was time for the Underground to move out with their prisoners.
Not ones for long farewells, the brothers merely said their goodbyes and promises to meet again, and Jean-Philippe left, now with the furious Margot as his prisoner—a satisfying switch for all of the Heroes.
Louis was soon left mulling to himself by the stove, reflecting on how he had not only passed up a chance to return to France, but to do so with his brother. And yet, he did not regret his decision, though he was not sure why at first.
He soon found out the reason as Newkirk sidled over to cheer him up in the way the Englishman knew best.
"You know, Louis, I took a look at those francs that you lot use," he said, his voice carrying a touch of mischief to it. "They don't 'old a candle to the English pound…"
The chef scoffed.
"Please! Your pounds are nothing compared to our francs! Yours are just drab pieces of paper while ours are works of art!"
"Oh, don't joke with me, Louis; you know better than that!"
"Of course I know better—that is how I know that the franc is better!"
The argument continued, but—win or lose—Newkirk had succeeded in what he had wanted to do: raise Louis' spirits.
As for the Frenchman, he now knew why he hadn't regretted his decision to stay. This family meant just as much to him as his real one.
And it is done! Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, and followed it! The only loose end is probably whether or not Jean-Philippe and the others made it to safety, and I can give my personal assurance that they did.