This story is a collaborative effort. Thank you to Bits and Pieces for her beta, my sister Ruth for her assistance with whatever French is in here, and finally, a huge shout-out to Linda Groundwater for coming through at the last minute with the last few lines. I was desperate, by brain was fried, and I wanted to get this published.
A full-grown man in the grip of uncontrolled panic is not a pleasant sight. It was, in fact, a bit of a shock to see someone who was always in control, who spent years putting his life on the line and living with terror every second, finally lose it. And now, the panic threatened the rest of the party.
"It was bound to 'appen," Newkirk whispered to Carter. The sergeant didn't reply. Unable to react, he just stood there, dumbfounded.
"Carter!" Newkirk poked his buddy. "We have to do something. This will put everything at risk!"
"Where is he?" Hogan began pacing back and forth. "He should have been here by now." The colonel ran his fingers through his hair, and began to mutter unintelligible words under his breath.
Carter swallowed and meekly shook his head.
For the hundredth time in the last hour, Hogan glanced at his watch. "Newkirk, check the door!"
The corporal slowly opened the door a crack and waited for a sign. He spied Kinch several yards away, speaking quietly to another man. They both spied Newkirk, and then Kinch shrugged and shook his head.
"No sign of 'im," Newkirk reported. The Brit was a bit perturbed that Hogan, who seemed about to blow a gasket, was beginning to breathe rapidly.
Hogan began pacing again. "He's always late," he complained.
"Calm down or you'll hyperventilate." Wilson, who had been quietly sitting in the corner, stood up and walked over to Hogan. "Take it easy," he whispered. "It's out of your hands. Here, sit down and drink this."
Hogan obeyed the medic and took a seat. He gulped down the glass of water Wilson handed to him. "I should have gone out myself. If I had brought him in, this wouldn't have happened."
"LeBeau was the best choice to make the pick-up, Colonel. You know that."
Hogan popped up and went over to the window. He seemed hypnotized by the view. "You know, I never thought this day would come," he said quietly. "I'm not sure I can handle it."
Newkirk, Carter and Wilson glanced at each other. Carter finally approached the colonel, gathered up some courage and began to speak. "Sir, first of all, we think you can handle about anything that comes up. But, everything will turn out fine, you'll see. I have an instinct about these things… A gut feeling."
Hogan turned around. "Thanks, Carter. I know you are all trying to make me feel better. But this was my responsibility. It's my job."
"We're all here for you, sir. That's why you picked us for the team. One way or the other, we'll see this through – for you, us, and all those out there depending on you." Newkirk cracked the door open again, while Wilson began to force the colonel into taking some deep breaths.
Suddenly, Carter, who had taken Hogan's place at the window, spotted a commotion. Several cars had come into view and had pulled up outside.
LeBeau had been the most appropriate team member to complete the pick-up. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, or unexpected barriers that might come his way, he had left over an hour ago; plenty of time to meet his contact, and bring him in. However, as warned, his contact was late.
LeBeau had been nursing a drink in the hotel lobby. At the sound of his name, he turned away from the bar, and approached his charge.
Sighing in relief, he gazed at the chastened and disheveled figure in front of him. "Jacques?"
"Yes. I apologize, I know I'm late. You wouldn't believe…"
"We'll discuss that later." LeBeau began to hustle the man out of the hotel and into the car. "It doesn't matter now. You have an appointment."
Unfortunately, Murphy's Law struck again, and LeBeau found himself stuck in traffic. Police were directing the vehicles, and that was the last thing the Frenchman wanted. "Hang on," he warned his passenger. "We're taking a different route." He turned the car around, and to the dismay of his charge, now not only afraid of being stopped, but fearing a major crash, Louis began driving up sidewalks, and through narrow alleyways. He missed hitting several cursing pedestrians, and some shop displays, but sure enough, LeBeau's driving skills and knowledge of the area, safely deposited the two outside the traffic zone and on a deserted street.
"I must say, I'm impressed."
"Merci, Jacques. And now we should arrive in a few minutes."
"He's here! I see Louis!" Carter pointed to the outside, and then ran towards the door.
"About time!" Newkirk opened the door and gave Kinch a thumbs up. The sergeant grinned, and he – along with the men waiting with him – left to greet Louis and his passenger.
Although Hogan was relieved, he was still shaken, and he gulped down a shot of scotch to settle his nerves. He then followed Carter and Wilson to the door. Glancing out, he took a deep breath. "Always cutting it close," he murmured as he hurried out, Carter and Wilson following closely behind.
A small crowd had gathered around Hogan's quarry, who, although a bit embarrassed, strode gamely and bravely over to the officer. They looked each other in the eye.
"Afternoon," the man said.
"You're going to give me an ulcer one day," Hogan replied.
"Train was late."
LeBeau backed the man up. "That is true. And then the traffic, the police… Tsk, tsk, it was a nightmare! But we are here – with time to spare!"
"You okay, Robert? You look a little pale." An Englishman dressed as the rest of the team had approached from the side.
Hogan took another deep breath. "I'm okay, thanks. Now that everyone is here, I think we should take our….Wait one minute. You have it?"
"Right here in my pocket." Jacques tapped the side of his pants.
Knowing that they had, and would always be there for each other, the two men quickly embraced.
Some of the men in the group scattered, taking their spots alongside other prisoners, while Hogan, his main team, and several others, walked nervously towards their assigned places. The wait was over and the team was ready. Hogan's stomach was still flip-flopping, but he chalked it up to the nerves and tension that still remained. He put his anxiety on the back-burner and gazed out at the people waiting silently for the moment. His team and friends stood near, always loyal, ready to act and be there for him, no matter what the circumstances. Happy and sad, terrifying and exhilarating; steady as a rock, no matter what he asked of them.
"It's time," a soft voice whispered.
Hogan and his men turned in unison.
The door reopened and Hogan traveled back to the moment that had brought him to this place.
"Colonel Hogan. Someone is here to see you."
"Send him in, Lieutenant."
"Um, sir, it's a she, not a he," his aide replied.
"Really?" That got the colonel's attention. "Well, don't keep this person waiting."
"Right away, sir." The lieutenant quietly shut the door.
Hogan pushed aside the paperwork and checked himself in the full-length mirror located next to the filing cabinet. "What do you think?"
"Well, bro, if I were a girl, I'd be impressed. But you were always the one with the boyishly handsome face; although now I would call you distinguished. It's the grey hair and crow's feet."
"Thanks." Every time Hogan looked in the mirror, he was reminded of his service and captivity. His hair had eventually turned grey from the stress and tension.
"Any idea who it is?" his brother asked as he stood up. He brushed some lint off of Hogan's jacket.
There was a light tap on the door.
"Dr. Lechay! This is a pleasant surprise."
"I am in the states for a conference. Since I was so close, I wanted to pay you a visit. I hope I am not intruding." She glanced at the other man in the office.
"No, not at all, Doctor. This is my brother, Jack."
"Pleased to meet you, Doctor. Robert hasn't mentioned you. But then, he hasn't mentioned a lot of people. Do you know each other from before the war?"
"No, we met in camp." Hogan smiled. "You look, um, well." Actually the doctor looked very well. Her blonde hair was swept up in a bouffant style, and her suit flattered her figure. The tension present in her eyes while at camp was gone.
"You also look well, Colonel." She smiled.
"Please, call me Robert. Actually, next month, I'll be a civilian again."
"I'm sorry, I thought you had been promoted." Suzanne was surprised. As soon as word had leaked of the extraordinary events that took place at Stalag 13, Hogan had become, for a time, a bona fide celebrity.
"I had my reasons for turning it down," Hogan replied. "I didn't deserve all the attention. Too many people were involved, and too many didn't make it. Not to mention the information that was kept from us. We may have been able to save a lot of people;civilians, children..." Hogan momentarily stared down at the floor. It was a sore subject for him, and one he was hesitant to discuss.
"Je comprends. I mean, I understand."
Hogan swallowed, and took a breath. Ignoring his brother, he asked Suzanne, "This may be presumptuous, but I would be honored if you would join me for dinner." Hogan had not dated since he had returned from the continent several months ago. His men had wrongly assumed that he would have tracked down Tiger and started a real relationship. However, both realized that their attraction was in the moment and they were not right for each other. They parted as friends. He had thought about Suzanne many times. Word had quickly come via London that she had arrived safely and started working for the Allies. After the war, she had returned to France and had accepted a position at the Sorbonne. During her short time at Stalag 13, Suzanne had alternately frustrated Hogan and amused him. She was his equal, and he had to admit, he found that attractive. Yes, he admitted, he wanted a woman, closer to his age, who would be his partner in life, not just a trophy hanging on his arm. He nervously waited for her answer.
"I would be delighted to join you for dinner."
And so began a year-long courtship that eventually led to this moment; a church nestled in a quiet street on the Île Saint-Louis. Suzanne's friends and family seated on one side; Hogan's friends, many still in uniform, and his family and relatives taking their places on the other. Hogan, the best man – his brother Jack, his ushers, his main team from Stalag 13, two cousins, his friend Roberts from the RAF, and Wilson waited at the front of the church.
The music began, and the bridal party began their march down the aisle. Suzanne, dressed in a simple but elegant white gown, held tightly on to her father's arm. She and Hogan gazed lovingly at each other.
"You look so beautiful," he whispered; and then he smiled that smile that made more than one woman weak in the knees.
"Robert. Do you recall that time in camp, when you told me not to throw my life away? I listened to your advice… and I decided you were right, mostly. A woman must throw herself at something."
"Throwing yourself at a man can be considered unattractive," Hogan whispered lightly.
"You are objecting?" she asked, equally playful.
"No," he replied, as the priest began to welcome the guests to the ceremony, "and neither better anybody else!"
Suzanne is from the episode "Hogan and the Lady Doctor." This story is also an answer to a recent discussion on the forums about Hogan and women. Watch it if you have a chance. There are some terrific lines in this episode, including a foreshadowing about marriage.