Author's note: The characters aren't mine (except for the villain), and the story is. This was a commissioned fic for the Help the South community on LiveJournal, and the person who commissioned this fic asked for Newkirk hurt/comfort. I can only hope that the defense that this was a commissioned fic will stand in the upcoming Fanfic Court, but I'm not holding my breath…
In the vast expanse of woods that lay between Stalag 13 and Hammelburg proper, two men were running—running for their lives. What had started as an ordinary, run-of-the mill mission had turned a race for survival. It hadn't even been a sabotage mission, either; all the two corporals had to do was guide a downed flier to one of the Underground-operated safehouses in town. Ironically, they had succeeded in their mission, though it had taken them longer than anticipated to do so.
It had been coming back that had ended up being (unexpectedly) so dangerous.
The runners now stopped, trying to catch their breath.
"Did we lose them?" the leader asked in a French accent that was laced with worry.
"I don't know, Louis," the follower said. He winced, clutching at his bleeding arm. "But we can't stay 'ere—we need to get back to camp."
"But you are wounded, Pierre!" LeBeau said, looking everywhere but at the blood, knowing that it would make him faint. "And we have been running in circles!"
"If we stop and rest, those dogs are going to find us—they'll smell me blood, they will!" Newkirk countered, quietly. "Like it or not, we've got to keep going."
"At least let me help you," LeBeau insisted, pulling Newkirk's arm around his shoulders.
The Englishman protested, quietly, but did not try to pull away. LeBeau's care did take the edge off of the pain he was feeling.
"Walk," LeBeau ordered. "Do not run; you need to conserve your energy."
"And you don't?"
"I am fine, Pierre," the Frenchman insisted. "I have incredible stamina—much more than you have. Remember, I was with you on some of your hair-brained escapes before Colonel Hogan got to Stalag 13. I always had to wait for you to catch up."
"I won't deny it, Little Mate," Newkirk said. He wasn't going to admit it, but between the running and the loss of blood, he was nearing exhaustion; he was grateful that LeBeau was easing him along. "I'm not known for me stamina."
"How did you ever get into the Royal Air Force?"
"I was drafted. Believe me, I would've been perfectly content with staying in London, looking after me sister."
"I would have been perfectly content to be anywhere but here," LeBeau agreed.
But, here they were, in the middle of the woods, surrounded by monstrous dogs that seemed to be chasing them down for no apparent reason at all.
They weren't even sure how it had happened.
One hour earlier…
"Phantom to Papa Bear. Come in Papa Bear!" Newkirk had said, over the Underground's radio.
"About time," Hogan had muttered; the wait to hear from them had started to get worrying. "What's the story, Phantom?"
"Big Bad Wolf and I 'ave delivered the package."
"Well, what took so long?" the colonel had asked. "You left two hours ago! We've got a Ghoul meeting with old Bald Buzzard right now, ordering him to keep everyone out of the woods; do you realize that we'll have to cover for you two if there's a special formation? And you know Bald Buzzard—he holds one every time someone comes by for a visit."
There had been a pause in the conversation, followed by a quiet muttering between two corporals. "Ghoul" meant a high-ranking officer, and there was something in the woods...
"Well, that explains it," Newkirk had said to Hogan, at last. "We 'ad to detour on our delivery route because there was some commotion in the woods—people talking, dogs barking…"
The Englishman had trailed off, not exactly sure what had been going on in the woods. Whatever it was, it had been suspicious.
"I want the both of you back here right away," Hogan had replied. "Repeat—I want the both of you back here right away."
Based on his tone of voice, the colonel had clearly felt a feeling of impending disaster at this point; those intuitions were rarely wrong.
"Right-o, Papa Bear," Newkirk had replied, sensing the urgency in his commanding officer's voice. So much for that stop at the Hofbrau…
"Come," LeBeau had said. "Le colonel would not order us back so soon if he did not think something was terribly wrong."
He had taken a look outside the safehouse, and after determining that the coast was clear, he motioned for Newkirk to follow him. The Englishman had done so, and the two of them had slipped unobtrusively through the streets of Hammelburg until they reached the woods outside of the town.
It was here that LeBeau had paused, trying to determine whether or not it was the best idea to take their usual shortcut through the woods, or take the same detour that they had taken while coming. Newkirk, however, had made his decision fairly quickly, heading down their usual shortcut.
"What are you doing?" LeBeau had chided.
"The Guv'nor said that 'e wanted us back as soon as possible; therefore, we'll go this way. Besides that, this way, we might get a glimpse of whatever secrets they've got out 'ere that they don't want us to see. And if there are too many goons, then we'll come back and take the long way 'round."
LeBeau had frowned at the idea, but decided that he wanted to get back to the safety of Barracks Two as quickly as possible.
Their shortcut through the forest usually yielded no great adventures, save for dodging the odd guard here and there. But it had been after they had traversed halfway through the forest that they had sensed something awry.
"Do you 'ear that?" Newkirk had asked, suddenly alert. "Something is in those bushes up ahead."
LeBeau had frozen now, as well, and had ushered Newkirk to a spot behind a nearby tree. They had both been surprised to see a large dog lumber out of the bushes.
"Is that one of the dogs from camp?" Newkirk had asked.
"I do not think so," LeBeau had replied. "I would have recognized it. And it does not look like a normal German shepherd like the ones at camp. This one is… larger… more muscular. But never mind that; why is it out here? And where is the guard in charge of this dog?"
"Looking for it, I'll wager; remember all that ruddy barking we 'eard on the way into town?"
LeBeau had frowned.
"If that is so, then it is not safe for us to keep going in this direction. We need to go by the detour—as I first suggested."
Newkirk had merely grunted quietly in agreement, rolling his eyes at LeBeau's I-told-you-so.
"Right-o, then; we'll just slip back the way we came a little bit, and then bank to the forest's edge—"
That was when it had happened. Seeing Newkirk move slightly had triggered something in the dog. The large beast had bounded at the Englishman, sinking its teeth into his arm as its heavy body tackled him to the ground.
All attempts at trying to be quiet had gone out the window, though against Newkirk's will—he had not been able to stop the cry of fear from pushing its way out of his throat as the beast pulled ferociously on his arm, clawing at his chest and tearing through the fabric of his civilian suit disguise.
LeBeau had lunged at the creature, but the burly dog had weighed more than he did; he had only come across as a minor inconvenience to the beast. The dog had not turned on the Frenchman, however; it had continued to attack Newkirk.
Desperate, LeBeau had resorted to using a tree for leverage in order to force the dog off of the Englishman. This had worked, and LeBeau had followed up with a savate kick to the creature's muzzle, which caused the dog to—finally—let go of Newkirk's arm.
The Frenchman had not wasted time; he had quickly helped the Englishman to his feet, and that had been when the two of them had started running for their lives. They had been most disconcerted to hear barks coming from all around them.
"There are more of those ruddy 'ounds!" Newkirk had gasped, his skin still pale from his harrowing ordeal.
"Then keep running, Pierre! Keep running!"
And they had kept on running, being forced to change direction several times as monstrous barks issued from their intended paths, which had led to them doubling back and running in circles.
And that was how it came to be that an injured and exhausted Newkirk was now being led through the forest by LeBeau, who was unprepared to treat Newkirk's injuries; even then, the Frenchman had managed to create makeshift bandages from the torn strips of Newkirk's civilian jacket, which managed to help, albeit slightly.
And Newkirk was now weakening more and more; the blood loss and sheer exhaustion from all the running were talking its toll on him. It also didn't help that his ankle seemed to have twisted slightly during his run. However, in spite of his injuries, he refused to give in to his pain and exhaustion.
LeBeau did eventually (and suddenly) force them to stop in their tracks, much to the Englishman's ire.
"Louis…" he mumbled, trying to press on. "Let's keep going. I told you I can make it…"
"Quiet," LeBeau said, ushering him to the shelter of some nearby shrubs. "I heard a voice up ahead."
Indeed, there was someone up ahead, walking towards their area; at first glance, he was talking to himself.
"A madman…?" Newkirk murmured, trying desperately to stave off sleep.
"…It looks like an intelligence officer—a colonel," LeBeau said, keeping a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Like I said—a madman…"
LeBeau took slight comfort in the knowledge that Newkirk's razor-sharp wit was still functioning properly—it had to be a good sign.
As the colonel approached, LeBeau froze; he could now discern what the man was saying.
"I am saying this again," the colonel said, as he approached their area, looking around and into trees to search for people hiding. "I shall continue to say it until whoever is hiding in these woods surrenders to me, or until I find his body!"
"Blimey…!" Newkirk whispered.
LeBeau shushed him and continued to watch the officer through the shrubbery.
"I am well aware of the fact that you have met one of my improved dogs already," the officer said. "I saw the blood on his teeth and the scraps of torn fabric. My name is Colonel Jäger—head of the scientists in charge of experiments in canine intelligence—experiments that are proving to be most fruitful."
The two corporals exchanged bewildered glances. The name was not familiar to them, despite their spy network.
"It seems that our meeting here in these woods is purely by unlucky chance; I think it is only fair to warn you that you, having seen one of my dogs, know far too much. I warned Colonel Klink that anyone out in the woods would be killed—whether accidentally or intentionally. This project is top-secret, and now you cannot escape. My dogs will not allow it, you see. They are trained killers—hunters. They are the smartest and strongest dogs in the world, and, soon, will be fighting alongside the soldiers in our army. But that is a secret that you are not supposed to know."
Newkirk turned to LeBeau, his eyes wide.
"Mad," he mouthed. "Absolutely mad, he is!"
"My dogs have the woods surrounded, and they are closing in upon your scent. If you are a guard from the Luft Stalag nearby, perhaps a slightly less harsh fate can be in store for you, should you give yourself up—a prison sentence, with possible chance for release once we feel it is secure to do so. But, based on the fabric I have found, you are clearly not a guard; therefore, you must be an escaped prisoner. Therefore, your choices are to give yourself up now and endure a quick death, or wait until my dogs close in on you and the scent of your blood, and attack."
LeBeau's eyes blazed, and Newkirk suppressed a shudder. There was no feeling in Jäger's voice; he spoke about death so casually… so… mundanely. He was no more human than those dogs he had trained.
Jäger walked right past them, repeating his message like some kind of demented, living, skipping record.
"I do not like to admit it," LeBeau said, quietly, once Jäger was out of earshot. "But he may be right about us not being able to find a way out. Every direction we have gone, we have run into those beasts; they do have us surrounded."
"Then it's true—it's only a matter of time until they close in," Newkirk said, quietly. "And I'm already 'alf-gone."
"Do not say things like that!" LeBeau hissed. "You will be fine, Pierre. There must be some way out of this, and I promise you that I will find it! I just need to think it over, like Colonel Hogan would."
He sat beside his friend, deep in thought, as he went over his options and mentally explored their situation.
"It is strange," the Frenchman murmured. "The dog that attacked you seemed to ignore me. Why?"
"Because it knows you eat that ruddy fish stew, and it didn't want to get itself poisoned," the Englishman mumbled.
LeBeau still wouldn't have laughed if they had been somewhere safe, and it was Newkirk's injured state that prevented the chef from retaliating like he normally would have done.
"It might be because it saw you first," he went on. "But, even then, it did not attack me when I tried to pull it off of you."
He mused over this for a little while longer, but his thoughts were interrupted by the familiar barking of the dogs.
"Pierre, we must go!" LeBeau said.
He received no answer, and he was shocked to see that, in his exhaustion, Newkirk had fallen asleep.
He roughly shook the Englishman awake and pulled him to his feet, once again drawing his arm around his own shoulders as he led him off in the one direction where—he hoped—no dogs were barking.
As the barks and howls drew closer, the corporals were forced to start running again, and Newkirk now insisted that he run on his own.
"Now I know what a fox hunt must feel like for the poor fox," LeBeau gasped, looking around him in all directions, as well as looking back to make sure that Newkirk was still right behind him. "I shall never be able to look at Cousin Emile's game hunting in a favorable light ever again!"
Newkirk couldn't even muster the energy to reply to him; he had to conserve what little strength he had for running. A glance behind him caught the eerie eyeshine of the moonlight reflecting off of the eyes of three dogs currently pursuing them from behind, narrowing the gap with each bound.
Fear tried to spur Newkirk forward, but his ankle now gave out. With a pained cry, he fell to the ground, clutching at his ankle with his uninjured arm.
LeBeau looked back, horrified to see both Newkirk's state and the approaching beasts.
"Pierre!" he cried.
Newkirk looked up at him, pain evident in his hazel eyes.
"Louis…" he said, through gritted teeth. "It's me own blood they were sniffing out, not yours. You can still get out of 'ere alive if you go and save yourself."
"Jemais!" LeBeau hissed, seizing Newkirk by the shoulders. "I will not leave you—I will not!"
Newkirk tried desperately to work his face into a look of angered rage to yell at him to go, but he failed—miserably.
"Don't be a ruddy fool!" he said, his voice cracking. "Better for one of us to survive than… than…"
He trailed off as LeBeau slowly pulled the skinnier Englishman onto his back and kept on walking. Newkirk shut his eyes in gratitude; his pillar of strength was not about to abandon him.
Louis, thank you…
Unfortunately, this selfless act was severely slowing down LeBeau's running speed. The dogs were bridging the gap more and more until one of the beasts was right beside him.
But, rather than attacking LeBeau, the dog went for Newkirk, sinking its teeth into his good ankle. The Englishman stifled another cry as both of his ankles experienced a searing pain, for different reasons.
"Let him go!" LeBeau ordered, kicking at the dog's muzzle again. The other two dogs joined the first one, all of them glaring at Newkirk and lunging for him, only to meet with a furious LeBeau.
"Why are the only after you?" LeBeau asked, as he stared down the dogs. "Why are they not attacking me?"
"Louis… the dogs at the camp…" Newkirk said, through gritted teeth. "Remember? Just before we left on the mission, you were with the camp dogs, giving them the leftovers from lunch…"
LeBeau blinked. As always, the camp dogs had greeted him warmly with canine kisses—particularly Heidi, who was the most affectionate dog of the bunch. He had been wearing the same civilian clothes at the time, as well.
"You've got the scent of the camp dogs on you—they think you're one of them," Newkirk went on. "That's why that first one went for me, not you…"
"Interesting," Jäger's voice replied, making the corporals' blood run cold. "It appears that I have found a weakness in my experiment. When enhancing the dogs' natural hunting instincts, I appear to have enhanced their social instincts, as well. No matter, Gentlemen; I can still write an end to this fairly quickly."
He aimed his weapon at the Frenchman.
"You, Small One… Place the Englishman on the ground."
"Non!" LeBeau hissed, seeing how the dogs were eying Newkirk. More dogs had joined them, brought here by the colonel—there were five of them in all. Shocking though it was that five dogs had been able to keep them at bay so easily (it had seemed like there had been many more), the Frenchman was not about to cave in to one hundred of those monstrous dogs, let alone five of them.
"I will not do this," LeBeau insisted, cursing at the colonel in his own tongue. "Do whatever you wish to me, but I will be dead before—"
"Louis, please…" Newkirk said, cutting him off. "Just do what he says."
Maybe, just maybe, if he sacrificed himself, then LeBeau could find an opportunity to escape…
Despite LeBeau's attempts to stop him, Newkirk slid down off of LeBeau's back. The dogs moved to attack, but Jäger stopped them with a command, much to the puzzlement of the corporals.
"What is this all about?" Newkirk asked, sinking to his knees.
"The prey is wounded," Jäger said. "I want my dogs to experience the thrill of the hunt as much as possible—they could do with some more training in how to finish off their quarry. You will keep running, Englishman. And if you cannot run or stand, then crawl. Keep on fighting until the end."
LeBeau cursed the colonel in his own tongue again, prompting Jäger to turn to him with a satisfied expression.
"I have plans for you, as well, Small One. After you witness my hounds dispatch your comrade, I will hand you over to my aides waiting just outside the forest, who will dispatch you in their own way."
He turned to Newkirk.
"Start running," he ordered.
Newkirk wouldn't have run, even if he could have done so. He was not going to play Jäger's game; if he was to die, he was going to do it being defiant until the bitter end, even if it meant bringing the end upon himself that much more quickly.
Jäger scowled, and gave a command. The dogs—all five of them—rushed at Newkirk, but so did LeBeau—for a much different reason. As the dogs moved, attacking the Englishman, LeBeau was in the fray, kicking at them and shielding Newkirk with his own body, banking on the dogs' reluctance to attack him as long as he had the scent of the Stalag 13 dogs still on his clothes.
Jäger yelled at the hounds to attack, deciding to get rid of the troublesome Frenchman without the help of his aides.
He aimed his gun at the fighting group and fired.
A pained howl issued from one of the dogs; Jäger had missed, hitting one of his prized experimental pooches instead. The stalwart dog was only wounded from the shot, but it did not take kindly to being attacked.
The wounded dog now bounded towards Jäger, the others following its lead as they left Newkirk alone. Jäger cursed and tried to give them orders, but the dogs kept closing in. Left with no other choice, Jäger now shot at all of them, three of wounded beasts pressing on with their rebellion as two of them fell.
LeBeau was at Newkirk's side even before this was going on, pulling him to the safety of the shrubs again, watching as Jäger's own creations now began to pursue him as he fled, a horrified expression visible on the colonel's face.
LeBeau stared at the retreating group, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"They are gone, Pierre."
Newkirk only responded with a faint moan, prompting LeBeau to turn around.
A horrified expression now began to form on the French corporal's face, as well, as he tended to his friend and saw the full extent of his new injuries; scratches on Newkirk's face were bleeding, as was a new bite on the Englishman's side.
It was too much for LeBeau and his blood-phobia; he turned his head deeper into the shrubs as his stomach lurched. Once he was sure that his insides would obey him again, he shut his eyes and started cleaning up his unfortunate friend.
"Why, Louis…?" Newkirk asked, weakly, as the Frenchman worked. "I told you to run…"
"You know me better than that," LeBeau said, as he now unbuttoned Newkirk's shirt to clean the bite on his side.
He was relieved to see that the scratches and bites were not as deep as they had seemed to be, and he did his best with more strips of cloth from Newkirk's jacket.
"You will have to make a new one…" LeBeau said. "But, more importantly, you will have to rest. And I shall look after you."
"I imagined you would…"
"And I shall also thank Colonel Hogan for putting me in charge of the camp dogs," LeBeau said. He had never expected that something so simple as feeding dogs would have ended up saving his life.
He sighed, looking at his handiwork.
"That is the best I can do," he said, carrying Newkirk on his back again. "You will be fine, Pierre. I will see to it."
Of course, LeBeau was true to his word. Once Newkirk was put in bed, and after Wilson patched him up, LeBeau recounted the story of what had happened as he tended to Newkirk with both food and emotional care. Although Hogan was initially worried that Jäger would return to Stalag 13 and use his dogs to figure out who the escapees had been, his worries were soon banished—Jäger was found dead by his aides the next morning, apparently killed by his own dogs, who were lying dead beside him, having been shot by Jäger in a desperate attempt to save himself. His death was declared a tragic accident—the results of a failed experiment that was still classified, according to Klink.
Despite the experiment being declared at failure by the Germans (information confirmed by Oskar Schnitzer, who used his position as town veterinarian to find out all he possibly could), Hogan installed a new policy that required that each and every member of his core team to take turns feeding and getting to know the camp guard dogs better.
As for Newkirk, he made a fairly quick recovery under the watchful eyes of LeBeau and Wilson, though he was jumpy for the next several days, reacting whenever he heard a dog bark. This eventually passed, and the harrowing incident was soon pushed to the back of his mind to take its place among the memories of all the other harrowing incidents that the Englishman had been through.
One thing he wouldn't soon forget, however, was LeBeau's outright refusal to abandon him. True, he hadn't expected anything else from his cherished friend, but there was something about knowing that, in a war-torn land where he was being held as a prisoner, the person whom he looked up to (figuratively speaking in this case, of course) had indeed come through for him, and would continue to do so.