Author's Note: The characters aren't mine, and the story is. This was a commissioned ficlit for the Help Japan challenge on LiveJournal, and the person who commissioned this ficlit requested a Carter-centric story.
It was a warm, summer day in Bavaria, and the transition to the warmer weather had been evident over the past couple of weeks; Newkirk and LeBeau had since shed their sweaters for shirts, and all across Stalag 13, both guards and prisoners alike tried to get away with shedding their outer uniform jackets and not get caught for being out of uniform.
Unfortunately, the hot weather did not excuse the men of Stalag 13 from their duties. And it was with some amount of disdain that Carter was scrubbing the floors of Barracks Two that evening while Newkirk and LeBeau were in town on an assignment.
"It's a moonless night out there—a perfect time for a sabotage mission, and I'm in here scrubbing the floors!" he complained to Baker, who was absorbed in a book.
Finally finished with his task, he placed the mop and bucket against the wall, but kept on rambling.
"It's times like these I'm half-tempted to ask for a transfer to the navy!"
"What's stopping you?" Baker asked.
"The fact that, with my luck, I'd probably end up swabbing the decks," Carter returned. "Well, that… and the fact that I can't swim."
He sighed as Baker shook his head.
"Actually, I know where I'd like to be right now," Carter went on. "I'd like to be home. Either back working in Muncie or—even better—with my folks back in Bullfrog."
In spite the adventures and the missions they did as they stayed in Stalag 13, it was impossible not to feel homesick every now and again. It was evident for all of them, even if they never voiced their feelings out loud; even the colonel had gotten excited that time he had been ordered home before changing his mind. And a good thing, too—Carter wasn't sure he could picture working under Crittendon permanently for long without going crazy.
"You joined the team," Olsen reminded him, fanning himself with an old magazine. "And it's not like you didn't have a chance to go; the Colonel gave you permission to leave when you wanted to try to win your old girlfriend back. You decided to stay."
"I know. Okay, maybe I don't want to leave, after all. You know, I think I actually wish I was out there with Louis and Peter right now."
"We already agreed that it was a mission best suited for those two," Hogan said, coming out of his office. "There's a safe to crack in town, so, naturally, we need the services of our covert operatives—"
"Wait! You're tracking dirt on the floor! …Sir!" Carter added, as an afterthought, seeing the tunnel dust residue on the colonel's shoes.
He grabbed a few cleaning rags and was about to try to clean up after him, but thought better of it after seeing the look on the colonel's face. He gave a wan smile and put the cleaning rags away.
"You know, I change my mind. I don't think I'd be of much help to Louis and Peter out there. I'm not a good covert op—"
As though to illustrate his words, Carter was cut off as he stumbled over the bucket he had been using to clean the floor and crashed into one of the bunks.
"Funny…" a particularly brave RAF Aircraftman mused from his bunk, watching Carter regain his equilibrium. "You would think a bloke named Little Deer Who Goes Swift and Sure Through Forest would be a great covert operative."
"He's the munitions expert," an American corporal countered. "They should've named him Little Deer Who Demolishes the Forest."
"Are you guys quite finished?" Carter asked, scowling.
Hogan gave the men a warning glance, and they fell silent.
Carter sat down on his bunk, the taunts of the men still ringing in his ears, though he refused to show it. It wasn't the first time he had heard taunts regarding his clumsiness and general inability to be a covert operative.
It was the whole reason why he was a prisoner of war.
Of course, Carter had to reflect on how it was also the reason why he was now a part of Colonel Hogan's team. The first time he had been to Stalag 13, he had actually been on a covert mission of his own, assigned by the commander of the 182nd—his mission had been to impersonate a lieutenant to deliver information.
The impersonation wasn't the tough part. Carter's countless impersonations of German officers proved that much; Hochstetter was still going half-mad trying to figure out who "General von Siedelberg" really was—and getting nowhere fast. But along the way on his mission for the 182nd, Carter had been captured by a patrol and sent to Stalag 5. After tunneling his way out, he had made his way to Stalag 13, switched places with Olsen, and met Hogan and his team before being sent back to London.
Trying to explain to his CO that he had been waylaid by Germans without mentioning Stalag 13, however, was another matter.
"It's like I told you, Sir!" Carter had said. "I'm no covert operative! I'm much better with munitions—"
"You can learn to be a covert operative!" his CO had retorted. "You're going back to Germany for another mission—we need information!"
There was no arguing, of course. And as Carter had predicted, he had soon been recaptured and sent back to Stalag 13, this time as his true rank of tech sergeant. After explaining how he had gotten captured again, it had been decided that he would stay on this time, as their munitions expert, doing what he knew he could do.
And he had been relieved to find out that the covert operative responsibilities had been delegated to LeBeau, who was small and fast, and especially to Newkirk, the experienced thief.
And even as he was recalling this, he was certain that the two corporals were finishing off their mission and heading back… unless they were stopping off at the Hofbrau for a drink, which, knowing those two, was altogether possible.
But as time ticked on without any word or sign from the Frenchman or the Englishman, concerns began to be raised. Had they been waylaid? Where were they now?
Carter now found it impossible to not keep his mind on his two best friends. Yes, they were better cover operatives than he was, but that did not mean that they were invincible.
It was to the relief of the men when Kinch emerged from the trapdoor saying that LeBeau had called him from the rendezvous point at the Kaiserhof Inn, where he and Newkirk had been instructed to do a little safecracking to get a look at some battle plans. Unfortunately, the look on Kinch's face quickly killed the growing relief.
"The safe is wired—there's a charge inside rigged to go off when the door is fully opened; Newkirk only opened it a bit, and the thing started to slide out…" the radioman explained, exhausted from having dashed up to the barracks.
"Where is Newkirk now?" Hogan asked.
"Not moving a muscle; his one hand is on the door, and his other hand is holding the charge up so that it doesn't fall. He can't move without it going off in some way, and LeBeau said that the general is due to return to the Kaiserhof any time now—he went out for dinner with a girl two hours ago!"
"Then we've got to hope that there was a bit of romance blossoming," the colonel said, checking his watch. "Carter, do you think you can give LeBeau instructions on how to dismantle that thing?"
"I can't unless I see the wiring with my own eyes!" Carter protested. "It could be any kind of wiring set up, and you've got to know what you're dealing with when you go about dismantling—"
"Then go—go!" Hogan said, ushering the sergeant towards the tunnel. "Grab a guard's disguise from the rack, grab the motorcycle from the motorpool, and get going! They're in room 15!"
Carter didn't need telling twice.
The drive from Stalag 13 to Hammelburg proper was not very long, but for Carter, it seemed like an eternity, worrying all the way that Newkirk might be dead before he even got there. And with LeBeau highly unlikely to leave the Englishman's side for very long in a situation like this, if Newkirk was dead, then the odds were likely that the Frenchman would be, too.
He was relieved to see a lack of smoke, flames, and telltale chunks missing from the wall as he arrived at the Kaiserhof; the charge hadn't gone off, at any rate.
Trying to act calm as he headed inside was almost impossible, but he managed to keep up a snooty, confident air as he headed up to the corridor of rooms, finding room 15. He could hear hushed voices inside, arguing.
"Pierre, I just checked; the General is not back yet."
"You ruddy fool; I told you to get out of 'ere! This thing is liable to go off at any minute!"
Carter attempted to open the door, but found it locked. It became utterly silent inside.
"Louis? Peter?" he asked, as loudly as he dared.
LeBeau dashed over and let him inside; the Frenchman's face was laden with worry, while Newkirk had beads of sweat pouring down his face as he fought to remain perfectly still.
"André is here," LeBeau said, slowly placing a hand on Newkirk's shoulder. "Are you sure you do not want to try having me hold that while you rest?"
"Look, any slight move might cause it to go off," Newkirk said, through gritted teeth. "Get out of 'ere while you 'ave the chance!"
"He's right," Carter said, kneeling beside Newkirk to take a look at the wiring. "Different charges behave in different ways; some go off if you even look at them the wrong way."
"Oh, charming…" Newkirk muttered. "Think you can stop it from going off?"
"I'm sure going to try," Carter said. He leaned in, but paused as he realized that LeBeau was still standing there. "Louis, you should go."
"Oui, I will go and check to make sure the general is not returning, and I will be right back—"
"No, I mean… stay clear of here," the American said. "If anything goes wrong, at least one of us can report back to the colonel."
"Louis, you idiot, get out!" Newkirk hissed, through gritted teeth.
"You cannot give me orders!" LeBeau countered.
"But I can," Carter reminded him. "Prop the flashlight up on something so that I can see, then get going!"
LeBeau looked around, trying to find a bookend to steady the light on.
"Forget it!" Newkirk whispered. "Put the flashlight in me mouth!"
"Quoi?" LeBeau asked. But he did as Newkirk requested.
"Yeah, that'll be perfect," Carter said, pulling out his collection of tools. "Just don't drop it, Peter."
The Englishman let out a muffled grumble as LeBeau tried to stall his exit for as long as he could. He closed the door behind him, uttering a prayer as he went to keep watch.
Inside, Carter took a deep breath as he looked at the wiring. He shut his eyes for a moment, focusing, before opening them again and looking over the charge.
"Okay, I think I've got this figured out," he said, quietly, as his eyes continued to scan it. "That wire attached to the door is most likely connected to another wire inside that sets it off once it goes taught—I just have to disconnect that internal wire without pulling it taught, and we should be fine."
Newkirk let out a garbled response that translated to "Fine, go on." Sweat was still pouring down his face as he held the flashlight in his mouth.
Carter gave a nod and began to work.
"You know, it's kind of ironic…" he whispered, as he worked towards the internal wire. "I was back in the barracks—we all were, of course, except for you two. And I was saying to everyone how I would've liked to have been here on the mission with you, you know? And those two guys in the back set of barracks were saying that I was a terrible covert operative, but the colonel got them quiet—"
Newkirk let out a few more quiet, muffled words, but there was no mistaking the expression on his face.
"Hey, take it easy, Peter. For Pete's sake, dentists talk while they pry in your mouth with all those sharp objects. I'll bet even surgeons chat it up in the operating room."
He chuckled as he continued to work.
"Funny, isn't it? 'Take it easy, Peter, for Pete's sake…'"
The look on Newkirk's face now promised that if it hadn't been for Carter working on that unstable charge, and the fact that he didn't dare to move his own hands, he would've punched him.
Carter took the hint and continued in silence. The sliver of corridor light shining under the door was repeatedly blocked out by someone pacing; they both knew it was LeBeau, who was making rounds down the corridor and to the top of the stairs to ensure that the general hadn't returned.
At last, Carter reached the internal wire, and now he grew slightly nervous. Disconnecting it from the outer part of the charge was simple in theory; doing it without pulling it taught and setting off the charge was no easy task.
The sergeant wiped the sweat off of his brow with his sleeve and took a deep breath before starting.
"Hold on to that tightly, Peter," he said.
Newkirk didn't even respond with a garbled reply. His eyes were shifting all around, though—a telltale sign of his nervousness.
Carter focused his entire attention on the wires now, not even looking up as LeBeau now opened the door, warning them that the general had arrived and was in the middle of a long goodbye in the lobby. Newkirk twitched at the news, though, shutting his eyes as he suppressed the growing lump in his throat.
"I just need… ten more… seconds…" the sergeant whispered, as he eased the two wires apart. "And then I'll have… got it! I got it!"
He stared at the two separated wires in glee, taking the charge out of Newkirk's hands and placing it in the back of the safe.
"Boy, that was a nail-biter, wasn't it?" he grinned.
"Andrew…" Newkirk said, taking the flashlight out of his mouth at last. "I'm 'alfway between giving you a clap on the back or a punch on the nose. You'll sway me opinion to something you'd rather avoid if you don't stop nattering!"
"Well, gee," the sergeant murmured. "How's that for gratitude? I come all the way here to save your life—"
"Pierre is right; we are not out of the woods yet—the general is in the lobby! We cannot escape that way!" LeBeau added. "And there is no time to take the pictures of the plans like Colonel Hogan ordered!"
"We'll take the ruddy plans with us; with that disconnected charge, the old coot will know someone broke in, anyway," Newkirk said, folding the top-secret papers and slipping them under his overcoat. "Come on, then; we're only one floor up—we can make it out the window."
After a little fancy footwork, making sure that they were unseen, the trio managed to slip out the window before the general returned to his room. Indeed, the general had still been saying goodbye to his date even as the trio sidled off down the street, eager to put as much distance between them and the Kaiserhof as possible.
"What was that you were talking about back there?" LeBeau inquired, after some time, as they approached where Carter had left the motorcycle. "While you were working on the charge?"
The corporals managed to both fit (just barely, anyway) in the sidecar as Carter started it up, musing to himself for a moment before answering.
"Just about how some of the other guys in the barracks were talking about how I was a terrible covert operative," he said. "That's how I got captured, you know?"
"Lucky for us you ain't a covert operative," Newkirk said. "We didn't need a third covert operative back there; we needed a munitions expert."
LeBeau murmured something in his own tongue, but it was undoubtedly an agreement to Newkirk's words.
Carter shrugged to himself as he drove on back towards Stalag 13. Perhaps getting captured had proven to be a blessing in disguise, after all; now, he was able to use his skills to help the Allies win the war, rather than continue to be assigned covert operations that would end in failure.
Olsen had reminded him that he had passed up the chance to escape. Maybe this was why…
Yeah, he thought to himself. Peter's right. It is lucky I'm not a covert operative.
Satisfied, the sergeant continued to drive, amusing himself by listening to LeBeau and Newkirk argue about who was taking up more space in the sidecar.
"Budge up, can't you? You're five feet tall; you can spare me some more room! Go on!"
"I am five foot and one inch!"
"Oh, apologies, Little Mate. Now, budge up!"
Carter chuckled. He wouldn't have had it any other way.