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Title: The Edge of the Night 5/6 + plotting
Series: Hogan's Heroes
Pairing: None
Rating: PG
Notes: Supernatural AU not the show

Summary:The Great War brought the kin out of the shadows when, launched into bloody warfare, they cut through entire regiments like scythes. Two decades later, they are expressely banned from all military organizations. But there's always an advantage to men who make their own luck, and the Allies can't afford to lose this war.

Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5


Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.
TS Eliot, “Little Gidding”

The digging was tough; the first foot of earth was thick and hard with frost, and digging straight down was always the most difficult part of tunneling. Hogan could feel his palms beginning to blister against the rough wood of Schnitzer’s spade’s handle. Kinch would have been the best man to bring, but without LeBeau they would never have gotten out of camp, and Hogan couldn’t delegate this mission. Not their first.

He and LeBeau worked in furious silence, sweating and gasping in the cold night air while the dirt piled up around them. There was an old tree stump two yards closer to camp that they had used to point the escape tunnel’s path – eventually, it would become the tunnel’s permanent entrance. But for now, a simple hole covered with branches would have to do.

It was hours before the dirt at the bottom of the hole finally gave way under their shovels, pattering down lightly into the darkness below. Hogan sighed and clasped LeBeau’s shoulder. “Almost there, corporal.”

And then, past the thin trees and double fences, the alarm siren began to wail. The camp lit up, its spotlights changing from their slow sweeps to a more frantic pace, and the dogs beginning to bark.

Hogan froze stiff, felt LeBeau do the same beside him. The instant of shock passed and they both ducked down low against the dark ground, and Hogan began chipping down hard at the thin layer of earth separating them from the tunnel. At his side, LeBeau was growling quietly.

Hogan cleared the way in under a minute, slapping the sides of the hole with the flat of the shovel in a hurried attempt to stop the dirt caving in.

Colonel, I do not believe they are looking for us. Listen – they are setting the dogs loose inside the camp.” From the cant of his head, it was clear the barking conveyed something more to LeBeau than it did to Hogan.

Hogan looked up from his crouch, stared with narrowed eyes at the camp. He could make out the guards running between the barracks, but nothing more. “An escape attempt?”

Non. There is no one in this camp who would do so tonight – most likely not at all.”

Hogan shook his head; there was no time to deal with it now. “You have those branches ready?”

Oui, mon colonel.” LeBeau turned and dragged the heavy pile of branches prepared earlier in the evening closer.

“Good. I’ll go down first, you follow – stand on my shoulders and cover the hole. Don’t forget your shovel.”

“Yes, sir.”

Holding his own shovel, Hogan dropped down into the gaping darkness in front of his feet. It was a longer fall than he had expected, and his knees twinged painfully as he hit the ground. He stood immediately, though, and caught LeBeau’s weight on his shoulders. The Frenchman tottered for a minute, heel digging into Hogan’s collarbone, then he called down: “It is done, mon colonel.” Hogan stood aside hurriedly, and LeBeau dropped down to land beside him.

It should have been a remarkable event, met with muffled cheers and vast excitement. But the tunnel was empty and dark, the still air completely silent. Hogan took a step forward, and hit a wall in the pitch blackness.

“LeBeau. Take us back to Barracks 2,” he ordered, voice hard.

“Yes, sir.” He grasped Hogan’s arm and hurried them both down the long tunnel, navigating the dark twists and turns without pause, although whether he was navigating by sight or smell Hogan didn’t know. He brought them up at the ladder and put Hogan’s hand on it, the rough wood faintly familiar under his blistered palm.

Hogan ascended first and tapped quietly on the underside of the panel. There was barely a pause before the box was whipped off to reveal half a dozen eager faces staring down at him.

“Colonel Hogan!”

“Colonel!”

“Sir!”

Hogan ran up out of the tunnel, and was practically lifted over the top by Kinch and Olson. There was a moment of confused babble, men trying to congratulate him and interrogate him and explain the situation all at the same time. He cut it all off with a wave of his hands, as LeBeau came up the tunnel behind him.

“Yes, LeBeau and I got out and back in again; yes, the tunnel is open but it’ll need more work right away to stabilize it. Now: what the hell’s going on here?”

Behind him in a quieter but terser voice, LeBeau asked, “Where is Newkirk?”

The silence that followed LeBeau’s question showed clearly the difference between an important question, and the most important one. The excitement drained out of the men, eyes dropping. And Hogan, for the first time, noticed that the camp siren had been shut off. He looked to Kinch, who stepped forward and spoke quietly.

“The Krauts started to run a surprise bed-check, sir. We don’t know why. We didn’t have a lot of time, and you were both missing, and –”

The front door slammed open, cold fall air flooding the hut. Sergeant Schultz, his huge bulk filling up the door. “Attention! Roll call! Roll call! Everyone out, raus raus raus!”

The room froze, and Hogan realized the men were waiting for him. It was the first time they had looked to him over the guards’ direct commands. He glanced at Schultz, who was beginning to look uncertain.

“Alright, you heard him. Go.” He held Kinch’s arm, restraining him as the men begin to file out. “Newkirk?”

“He went out to distract them, to hold up the roll call. I don’t think he’d do anything stupid.”

“Stupid – what are you talking about?” snapped LeBeau, almost elbowing Hogan aside. “That alone was stupid – why did you let him?”

Kinch blinked down at him in surprise. “I wasn’t here – I was still…” he glanced over at the open door. Hogan nodded.

“Alright. We get the picture. We’ll get the whole story later. For now, everyone keep quiet. I’ll deal with it.”

“But mon colonel, you don’t –”

“Later, LeBeau.” Hogan pressed past the Frenchman and out into the cold night air. After the warmth of several hours’ hard digging the chill cut straight through to his skin.

The men had by now lined up in the usual formation; Newkirk was ominously missing. Schultz walked down the row counting heads in German, and came up with 14 – as to be expected with Newkirk’s absence. “All present and accounted for, Herr Kommandant.”

Klink strutted up to the front of the line, his riding crop pressed tightly under his arm. “Good. As you all know, one of your number made an ill-advised break for freedom tonight. He was captured immediately. Escape is impossible from Stalag 13.” He took a moment to nod, impressed by his own statement. “Now: I do not stand by leniency for poor behaviour. Corporal Newkirk will serve one month in the cooler for his foolish attempt. That is all; dissss-missed!” He turned hard on his heels and marched towards the Kommandantur.

“Sir! Just a minute, please!” Hogan ducked past Schultz, who failed to turn fast enough to stop him, and hurried up behind Klink. “I’m sure Newkirk wasn’t trying to escape. He’s given me his word that he wouldn’t, you know. It’s just, sometimes the barracks get so suffocating and we never have time to ourselves – it’s only natural that…”

“Ah!” Klink held up a black-gloved finger. “No excuses. You agreed you know, Colonel Hogan, that anyone who broke the camp’s most important rules would be treated with severity. I cannot look the other way.”

“Fair but firm, I appreciate that sir. But you know, the men would probably do a better job of punishing Newkirk. Being ostracized can really cut a man to the quick. And the men have accepted the suggestions I’ve made about keeping out of trouble.”

“If they are to ostracize him, they can do so once he’s been released from the cooler. No exceptions.”

“But colonel –”

Goodnight, Colonel Hogan. Schultz, see the colonel back to his quarters.” Klink turned and stalked off, leaving Hogan alone with Schultz.

“It’s strange, Colonel Hogan. Newkirk has never made a run at the wire before. I wonder what got into his foolish mind.”

Hogan glanced across at the cooler, just another dark shadow in a night of shadows. “Yeah Schultz. I wonder too.”

----------------------------------------------

Dawn broke and cast a stark light on the night’s successes and failures: Hogan and LeBeau had successfully escaped, dug a connection to the tunnel some 40 yards behind the wire, and returned. In exchange, Newkirk had been sent to the cooler for a month. In Hogan’s mind the two evened out – sometimes risks resulted in calculated losses. A month of solitary wasn’t unendurable.

Hogan rose early, took an early pour from the coffee on the stove, and returned to his quarters to work on the plans for the escape tunnel. He had found that by pinning them to the back of the roll-down blind he could easily hide them away in only a second.

They would need to dig a second permanent entrance to be hidden in the stump. That would take Kinch’s experience and talents, and perhaps Olson’s as well. He planned the schedule around them to ensure they would have the tunnel to themselves when it came time for the finishing stretch.

He was just working on the rest of the rota when the door banged open and LeBeau appeared, followed hurriedly by a protesting Kinch. “Steady now corporal, you can’t just –”

Mon Dieu, I will tell you what I ‘can’t just.’ I can’t just sit by and watch Newkirk be thrown in the cooler for a month. I can’t just watch le colonel break his promise.”

“I made no promise to rescue Newkirk from his own mistakes,” said Hogan, putting down his pen. He nodded to Kinch who slipped out and closed the door behind him.

“He did it for you – to save your tunnels, your so-important mission!”

“Listen LeBeau. I’m grateful to Newkirk for stepping in. But we could have handled it. I can’t get him out of a fair sentence. Klink has to have some semblance of command.”

“You don’t understand. It will kill him,” hissed LeBeau, leaning over Hogan’s table, his eyes bright and flinty.

Hogan stared back, unwavering. “Men can survive more than thirty days in solitary, corporal.”

“Men, yes. But not Newkirk. Newkirk is like you and me,” said the Frenchman obscurely. And then, in a low, grudging tone, “He is tied to the emotions of those around him. They are like the air to him, like water to a fish. He cannot live without them. His mother,” he added, reluctantly, “was a banshee.”

Hogan cursed quietly. Banshees fed on strong emotions, influencing them when they had to but preferring to come across their feed naturally. They were found most often in mortuaries and cemeteries, jobs where strong grief was common and regular. They couldn’t live without emotion to feed on, not for ten days, never mind thirty. A banshee’s son might survive longer in such conditions. But clearly LeBeau didn’t hold out hope for a full month.

“So you see,” said LeBeau, placing his hands on the table, “you have to get him out. Or we will have a second Erwin. Without question.”

Hogan sat down, taking a deep breath. When it came down to it command was about adapting on the fly; the cogs of his mind were already turning. “I’ll have to think how best to go about it. I’ll need my supplies; they’re in the tunnels. Get Kinch and tell him to bring up my box – he knows where it is.”

“You’ll get him out?”

“I’ll get him out.”

-------------------------------------------------

LeBeau sat outside Hogan’s office ostensibly minding the coffee on the stove, but in fact waiting for something to happen. There were men out in the yard working and doing callisthenics and playing ball. They were stomping in and out of the barracks constantly, the stream of sharp scents coming in on the breeze making it difficult to concentrate.

It was shortly after the noon hour that the camp alarm went off. The prisoners returned to their barracks by routine, streaming in while LeBeau pushed to see what was happening. Hogan came bursting out of his office and cut his way through the crowd; LeBeau followed.

Smoke was billowing up from the cooler. As LeBeau stared, aghast, he saw the mottled orange-red of flames eating through the wooden roof.

“Jesus,” said someone behind him, shocked. But LeBeau was already moving, running across the compound towards the fire – towards the building where Newkirk was confined.

The guards were chasing prisoners with their guns in hand, clearly fearing some sort of planned escape. Klink was on his porch, shouting. Schultz was trying to shove men back into Barracks 4, like a man trying to re-cork a bottle of champagne. LeBeau grabbed a red bucket reading Wasser and plunged forward towards the flames.

The fire had clearly started in the back of the building where LeBeau knew wood to be stacked for use in the nearby barracks. It had spread quickly to the roof, flames licking eagerly at the wood. He ran to the entrance, kicked in the door, and dove into the darkness beyond.

The smoke was thick and acrid, making his eyes sting and his throat burn. Already the heat was like an oven, sweat beginning to run down the back of his neck. The light was an eerie flickering orange.

The doors were metal and were locked; LeBeau leapt over the counter behind which the guard usually sat and pulled out the key ring.

The fire was eating its way down the corridor towards him. LeBeau tossed his bucket of water at it, making the nearest flames fizzle but having no other apparent effect. He dropped the empty tin bucket and started trying the keys in the doors.

“LeBeau! Hurry it up!” shouted someone behind him; a quick glance showed Olson standing in the doorway. He finally found the right key for the first door and jammed it in; empty.

Cursing, he hurried along to the second door. The smoke was becoming thicker, starting to choke him. He ducked down low as he tried the keys one at a time, burying his nose in his elbow. The oily stench of the fire was overwhelming, the hungry crackling making his hackles rise. He found the right key and turned the lock; the room was empty.

“LeBeau!” urged Olson, holding the outside door open.

He came to the third door and, miracle of miracles, the first key he tried took. He dragged the door open and saw Newkirk huddled in the corner away from his smoking straw mattress, his arm over his nose. The room was thick with smoke pouring down from above, the ceiling invisible except for orange flickers like sheet lightning. “Allons-y!” snapped LeBeau. Newkirk pulled himself to his feet, coughing. LeBeau hurried in and grabbed him, and Olson came in behind and caught his other arm. Together they propelled the corporal outside into the sunshine.

By now a bucket chain had formed, men bringing water from the well, while the guards watched suspiciously. A brief cheer went up when they broke out with Newkirk, the Brit staggering between them before dropping to the ground and struggling to breathe.

Hogan loomed up, Kinchloe behind him. “Fetch the medic,” he told Orson, who hurried off. “Good work, corporal,” he told LeBeau.

“The good work was not mine alone, mon colonel,” said LeBeau, saluting. Hogan shot him a sharp look but said nothing else. Newkirk was by now sitting cross-legged on the dirt, face streaked with ash, his breathing hard.

The medic showed up with Olson and together they took Newkirk away to the infirmary, guarded by Schultz. LeBeau and Hogan stood silently watching the cooler burn.

-------------------------------------------

The next day, the cooler was declared uninhabitable for the immediate future. In light of this, Klink announced, Newkirk was to be given thirty days of latrine duty instead. Hogan protested, but not very much.

LeBeau took Newkirk down into the tunnels for a chat shortly afterwards.

“Bloody marvelous, thirty days’ cleaning out the latrine. I’m saved,” snipped the Brit, holding his hands together in mock prayer.

“It is much better than the alternative, and you know it,” replied LeBeau calmly. He could hear men moving around at the far end of the tunnel but here, in the space that was to become the radio HQ, they were alone. “You wouldn’t have lasted long. You should not have done it.”

“Don’t know why I did,” replied Newkirk. “Can’t imagine what came over me.”

“It is the colonel. He has that effect.”

“What effect’s that?”

“Hope,” replied LeBeau quietly. “It has been a long time since you and I felt that.”

“Hey now, don’t get all soppy, Louis. Maybe the man’s not as bad as I thought, but that doesn’t mean –”

LeBeau’s ears picked up a nearby footstep; his nose told him who it was. “He got you out, Pierre. When he knew – when I told him – why you had to be freed, he did it.”

“You told him?” demanded Newkirk, with a sudden flare of fear and anger.

“You can relax, corporal; your secret’s safe with me.” Hogan walked into the radio HQ, smelling of expensive cologne and good aftershave.

Newkirk gave him a sideways look. “So you say, sir.”

“You still can’t believe him? After he got you out?” said LeBeau.

“Well, on that count he’s right not to,” cut in Hogan, taking a seat on a pile of crates. “I wasn’t the one who got him out.”

“Sir?”

“I was still working on my methods when someone beat me to it. And I’d sure like to know who.”

“Kelly?” asked LeBeau.

“I saw him come out of Barracks 12,” replied Hogan. “Don’t think it could have been him. But if not…” he shrugged. “A mystery we will have to address one of these days. But not today. You’re sprung, corporal. Until now you’ve been reluctant to pledge yourself to this mission. Is that still the case?”

Newkirk crossed his arms. “I reckon,” he began slowly, “that you know what you’re about. And that you could use help. Louis here says you’re worth trusting. Me, I’ve never been so good at trust. But I’ll make an effort. Good enough?”

“As a first step, I’ll take it,” said Hogan. And he smiled.

END

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