Arena of Death
by C. Jerry Ueberall
Summary: An alternate version of the "Chain of Death Raid"
Notes: This story was first published 1997 in Flanking Maneuvers , a Rat Patrol slash zine by Lindberg's Legacy Press.
Series: First in the Pebble series.
The chain on his wrist jerked suddenly and almost pulled him off his feet. Troy turned around. His companion lay motionless on the ground. The sergeant tumbled back the three necessary steps. "Dietrich," he said, falling to his knees. "Come on, it can't be much further." Vaguely he wondered whom he was trying to reassure, himself or the German captain.
He got no answer. Turning the Hauptmann to lie fully on his back he wiped the sand off the other man's face and lightly patted his cheeks. "Wake up!" His enemy didn't stir. Troy took the pebble he had been sucking and tried to slip it into the German's mouth, but the lack of reaction stopped him. His companion was so deeply unconscious that it was possible that he would swallow it and choke on the small stone rather than suck it to produce saliva.
Tired to the bone, the American sat down. He felt an irrational anger against the German for giving up that easily, for just dying when he could still walk on. "Damn you, Kraut!" he hissed, then shame flooded him. After all, it was his fault that they were in this situation, wasn't it? He had hit Dietrich's convoy, and it was due to his attack that the officer suffered from a concussion. It was a miracle that Dietrich had stood the pace at all.
Troy wiped the sweat off his forehead and shot an angry glare at the iron chain that bound him to the German. No, it wasn't his own fault that they had fallen in the hands of some Arab slave traders. Hell, Troy hadn't really believed those men existed, slave traders just didn't belong to the 20th century. A dry laugh escaped his throat. Now he knew better.
To escape hadn't been too difficult, not with Dietrich co-operating, although their plan to get the horses had failed. But they hadn't found the road until now and it was highly unlikely that they ever would. Like the Hauptmann had said, if they didn't find it they would both die here.
Troy looked at his companion, his almost constant opponent for far too many weeks now. He had always thought that one day he would die by the German's hand or kill him instead, but that they would perish together, bound to each other, somewhere in the middle of the North African desert hadn't been in his book.
Swallowing with difficulty the sergeant started sucking his pebble again. How often had he shared this small stone with Dietrich in the last hours? He knew that, should he ever tell anybody about it, others would probably be disgusted despite the rational reason behind it. But thinking about it here, now, he discovered the other side of it. It was a very intimate thing to do, to share this pebble and the saliva it produced, more intimate than sharing the last water, almost like a kiss.
Troy reached for the Hauptmann's chin and gently turned his face to the side so that the burning sun wouldn't blind him. How strange life's ways were. This man was his enemy, yet he was also one of the few officers Troy really respected. He knew that, were they allies, he would be proud to serve under the captain's command. Without realizing what he was doing he caressed the unconscious man's cheek. "I'm sorry, Captain. This isn't how it should end. You deserved better." Looking over the endless sand Troy sighed and accepted his death. He lay down, using the German's thigh as a pillow. He wondered what people would think when they found them this way - if they ever were found - and a smile crossed his features as he drifted towards sleep never to wake up again ...
He woke up to loud voices and hard digs in his ribs. He groaned in pain and opened his eyes, trying to focus on his surroundings. It was dark, the place lighted by torches held by a group of six Arabs, of which he knew three - they were back where they had started. Movement under his head told him that the Hauptmann was getting the same treatment, but no noise showed that the German was aware of it.
A cold fist took hold of Troy's heart. Maybe he should wish for Dietrich to be dead, maybe that would be the easier way out, but the thought of facing slavery alone was no appealing one.
Slowly he rose to his knees and looked down at the officer. A fine layer of sand covered the man's body, throwing the flickering light of the torches back, as if he was just a statue, the last reminder of a forgotten civilization - bare of life. Fearfully the sergeant touched the German's chest, hoping for a sign of breathing - if there was one, he missed it.
Looking up, he stared at the six Arabs who had stopped kicking and were now watching him. He ignored them and laid his ear on the Hauptmann's chest, listening intently. He didn't hear his heartbeat but now, so close to the man, he felt the body move as Dietrich took a breath. Getting up again he patted his companion's cheek, while telling his captors that he needed water. He didn't know if the men understood him but one of them gave him a waterbag. He took a big sip, mindful of savoring it for a moment before he swallowed, careful not to swallow his pebble too. Then he reached for Dietrich's head and held the bag carefully to his lips.
At first the German didn't react to the water wetting his lips, running down his chin, but then suddenly survival instincts took over and he opened his mouth, swallowing in reflex. Pausing, Troy watched the blond returning to consciousness. And he wondered from where he had gotten the Hauptmann back when brown eyes opened with a look of disappointment and sorrow in them.
"Sorry," the American whispered, not sure what he was apologizing for.
Dietrich closed his eyes briefly, then a rueful expression settled on his face. "Es sollte wohl nicht sein," he said hoarsely, still half-caught in his dream, his voice almost inaudible. Then he looked up at the man holding him. "Not your fault."
Their conversation was interrupted as they were yanked to their feet, the waterbag grabbed from Troy's hand. Fighting to keep his balance Troy was almost thankful for the rough hands which held his arms. A look at Dietrich told him that the officer wasn't in any shape to stand, much less walk, and he was afraid that their captors might beat him to get him moving. But his fears were unnecessary; it seemed the Arabs too had come to the conclusion that their slaves weren't fit for a long walk through the desert, and so the sergeant found himself on horseback, Dietrich in front of him.
"I prefer a jeep," he murmured into the German's ear, as he put his arms around the man's slender hips.
Chuckling, the officer turned his head to meet the American's gaze. "Not really," he replied, "But right now I'd give everything for a Panzer."
They fell silent as the Arabs mounted and the ride began.
A shiver ran through Troy and he tried to crawl deeper under the blanket, thereby touching Dietrich incidentally. "Sorry," he murmured, already withdrawing.
"Don't be ridiculous, Sergeant," the German said, "I'm cold, too. I thought we had a truce?"
"Yes, to keep each other alive."
"So it's logical to share each other's body heat to keep us from freezing," Dietrich stated matter-of-factly, and slid even closer.
Troy looked at the captain incredulously, then, seeing the sweat on his forehead reached out and touched him gently. "You're feverish." He wasn't really surprised though; throughout the whole ride the Hauptmann had been only semi aware of their surroundings, slipping in and out of consciousness.
"Make the most of it," Dietrich rambled. "I still feel cold." His head next to Troy's chest he fell into an uneasy slumber.
Wondering if it was the German's natural pragmatism or the fever that ruled his action, the sergeant rearranged their chain, so it wouldn't be in their way, and tried to relax. He winced as his nether proportions reminded him of the long time since he had been on a horse. The warmth of the body next to him gradually seeped into him and he too fell asleep.
Looking at the stars above, Troy sighed deeply and pushed the images of his home away. For all that it was their fifth night since they had been captured, he felt relatively well. It was the second day that the Hauptmann was without fever and although they had to walk again, their captors made sure to keep a steady but not too strenuous pace. They were fed and got enough to drink, and this evening, they had even gotten the chance to wash and shave. He had felt instantly better, almost human again and from the look on his companion's face, the captain had felt the same.
He remembered how Dietrich's lean, muscular body had glistened with the water drops on his skin and how he had almost unconsciously begun to count the scars on the German's body, reminders of bullet wounds and other injuries. One scar especially had drawn his attention, a long not yet really healed wound.
"A souvenir from the Rat Patrol," Dietrich had told him, realizing what Troy was looking at. "Don't really know what hit me. All I know is that I was damned lucky. Lost half of my column that day." His features had darkened with the memory. "There are times I hate you so much, Sergeant, you and your damned raids! Every time I have to bury my men, young men, some of them don't even shave yet. God forgive me, but if I had you in my hands then, I would kill you without a second thought."
"I'm sorry," Troy had said quietly, realizing that he had never really thought about the lives he had taken. "I do what I have to. We're fighting a war after all."
Their gazes had met and he had seen the burning rage in Dietrich's eyes fade to a rueful smile. "Yes, we're at war. And I try to remind myself that you're honorable enemies and that you only do your duty. But it's not easy. You have become my personal nemesis, Sergeant."
"Take it as a compliment, Captain, I only mess with the best."
"I'll try, Sergeant, I'll try."
Troy sighed again, Dietrich's words had reminded him of the reason why he was out here with the Rat Patrol, alone with only three men under his command and no direct commander to give him orders. He didn't like to have too much responsibility, not for men under his command anyway. The thought of losing them again and again was unbearable. The other side of the coin had its price too though. He was close to Moffitt and the others; if one of them got killed ... he wasn't sure that he'd be able to control his rage, that he would act as a soldier and not as an avenging angel. Once again his respect for his enemy rose.
"A penny for your thoughts, Sergeant," Dietrich interrupted his musings.
Troy shrugged. "You and me, this ... life."
"Very specific." The Hauptmann sounded amused.
"You know," Troy began, referring to an earlier thought, "I still can't imagine it, slave traders. What would anybody wanna buy us for? I mean it spoils the story about beautiful girls being bought for the harem of an old sheikh, doesn't it?"
"There's always someone who needs cheap workers," the German told him, his eyes searching the Sergeant's face. "And there's no reason why a harem shouldn't include male slaves."
"Sure." The American snorted. "I see it. A beautiful lady sheikh waiting just for the right man to appear and that's one of us, right? No way, Captain, that's ridiculous."
"I agree, Sergeant," Dietrich said crisply. "But then I didn't speak about a woman's harem."
As his words sank in Troy's smile died and he paled. "What do you ... But ..." He swallowed. "You really mean it."
"Yes. I do agree that we won't be chosen for our good looks, but then we are special. We are soldiers, and believe me, Sergeant, as far as most tribes are concerned we both are enemy soldiers. They hate us, and to get the chance to humiliate us, possibly break us, might be worth some camels." The sarcasm was lost on the American who was overwhelmed with horrible images of a possible future.
"Troy!" Dietrich grabbed his companion's shoulder hard to make sure he had his attention. "It's just a possibility. One out of many. More likely we'll work somewhere like horses for the rest of our lives ... or be tortured to death."
"Great. I'm really looking forward to it," Troy commented dryly.
The German raised an eyebrow, smiling slightly. "We should try to get some sleep."
Troy nodded, but nothing seemed further from his mind. He watched silently as the Hauptmann arranged himself in the still warm sand of the oasis, as close as possible without actually touching him. In the flickering light of a torch nearby Dietrich looked very young and very handsome. Definitely attractive, Troy decided, especially if viewed by an Arab; Dietrich's blond hair and European looks were exotic enough to awaken someone's interest. The sergeant swallowed. Suddenly, it wasn't hard to imagine that anyone would buy the German for a harem, a pleasure house or something like that - not hard at all. Immediately another thought appeared. "They might separate us," Troy whispered, not even trying to conceal his shock or his fear.
Brown eyes met his with an understanding smile. "Hopefully it won't come to that. I'd rather stay with you; after all, your patrol should be due for your rescue any day now."
"You really think so?" The American grinned, but sobered almost instantly. "You have any idea where we are or where we're heading?"
"No." The Hauptmann shook his head. "But I have every trust in Sergeant Moffitt to find you." He closed his eyes and settled down again. "Sleep. There's nothing else we can do."
Troy pulled the blanket further up and tried to follow his example. Even after five nights it still felt awkward to him to lie so close to the German. He admired Dietrich who seemed not the slightest bit embarrassed by the fact that they woke up every morning embracing each other. Was he really so practical, so rational, or was he just the better actor? Troy didn't know, and his confusion was only increasing when he realized that he liked their closeness and that he was really looking forward to feel Dietrich's arms around him again. His mind still in turmoil he fell asleep, pictures of raids and of whorehouses haunting his dreams.
Somebody shook him and a hand stopped him from crying out ... Startled, Troy awoke.
"Easy, Sergeant. We have company."
Looking around he realized that it was still night and that the bright light burning in his eyes came from at least a dozen torches, held by a new group of Arabs. "Great. What's going on?" he wondered.
"I've no idea." Dietrich rose, and after a moment, Troy stood too.
A tall Bedouin clad in black and the slave trader came over to the soldiers and the Bedouin scrutinized them. He said something to the trader who shook his head intently in answer.
"I guess we won't see the local slave market at all, Sergeant," Dietrich told him quietly, while listening to the ongoing conversation. "They have already decided that we are theirs."
"Our friend doesn't seem very happy." Troy observed, nodding in the direction of their captor.
"He isn't. He wanted us at the auction so he would get the highest bidding. Now he must be happy with the price he gets."
"Why is he selling us then?"
"Why do you normally give in although you don't like it?" Dietrich asked, raising his brows.
The American didn't answer; it was obvious that the newcomers outnumbered their captors at least three to one. "So, do you know the tribe?" he wanted to know.
The German shook his head. "No. I do understand their dialect, but then, it is a very common one." His gaze met Troy's. "They have bought us. Both of us." He didn't elaborate but then there was no need; both could see their own relief reflected in the other's eyes.
The Arab in black turned away from the slave trader and once again measured the prisoners. He said something then spat at Troy, who stepped forward aggressively, but the Hauptmann stopped him. "No, Sergeant! There's no point."
The American glared at him, but relented; after all he couldn't do much without Dietrich's cooperation.
Laughing, the Bedouin went away. The newcomers mounted again, and two led their horses to the soldiers' sides. The feeling of a whip dancing briefly over their backs told them that it was time to move on. Stumbling in the dark they walked between their new masters, both dreading the future.
"Damn!" Troy fell to his knees, breathing heavily, sweat covering his body. "If I could just get my hands on the bastard I ..."
"Save your energy, it's not worth it." Dietrich voice was hoarse as he sat down beside him, almost immediately closing his eyes.
"If they wanna kill us why're they dragging us through this hell?"
"For sport?" the German asked in a weak attempt at humor.
The sergeant snorted. "Sure." He gazed almost fondly at his companion. "You okay?"
Dietrich nodded. "Just thirsty."
"What a surprise." Since they hadn't had anything to drink for at least 8 hours, it wasn't one.
Troy looked around to make sure that no one was watching them, then he spat out the pebble and laid it in the Hauptmann's hand.
Dietrich sent a look of pure gratitude his way. "Keep each other alive?" he whispered.
"No matter what."
Around them the Arabian voices rose in level. Groaning in frustration, the German stumbled to his feet. "Here we go again." He held one hand out to Troy. "I think we're close to our destination."
"Why?" he wondered as Dietrich pulled him up.
"The horses can't keep this pace in this heat for more then a day. I don't think they'd risk their health."
"Great. So they treat their beasts fairly. What about us?"
"We are slaves. We are nothing," the Hauptmann reminded him.
Troy glared at him. "Nobody asked you, Captain."
At that Dietrich just raised a brow, the ghost of his familiar smile dancing in his eyes.
"What now?" Troy groaned tiredly as they were shoved to the front of the caravan.
"Seems we have arrived," the Hauptmann answered, being one step ahead. The last hour or more the desert had more and more turned from sand to rocks and now they had reached a mountainside. Beneath their feet a path led down to a very small valley, more a crater actually. The first twenty yards were very steep, with only that one path to get down, then it seemed as if large stairs had been dug into the mountain half way around the crater.
"It looks like an amphitheatre," Dietrich realized.
"A bloody arena." Troy caught the German's gaze. "And we're the main attraction?"
"I'm afraid so. Hopefully they don't have lions."
The American pointed at a cave at the mountain's bottom. "Maybe they're waiting there."
Before Dietrich could answer, they were led down the path.
In the middle of the arena two Arabs were already waiting for them with the necessary tools to free them of their chain. After seven days, it felt almost strange to be without it.
"I think that's the last courtesy we'll get for a long time," Dietrich acknowledged.
Troy grinned. "It's also the first. What happens now?"
The black-clad Bedouin stepped forward, holding a small waterbag in his hand. When the Hauptmann reached to take it, the man shook his head. "You fight, you drink," he said shortly.
"Fight? Against who?" Troy wondered.
Sighing, the German turned to him. "Against each other, I'd say."
"Bastards!" The American glared at the Arab. "I'm not fighting for their amusement!"
"My sentiment exactly, Sergeant, but we both need the water."
"So what do you suggest? That we beat each other to a pulp?"
Dietrich closed his eyes briefly then looked intently into Troy's eyes. "We fight. On our own terms." He willed his long-time opponent to understand.
"On your terms, Captain." Getting a nod from the officer the American threw himself against the taller man, pushing them both to the ground. They rolled around, each trying to get the upper hand. Finally Dietrich pinned the sergeant; holding Troy's arms down with his knees he beat him on the neck until Troy lost consciousness with a groan.
Dietrich stood up slowly, his body trembling with exhaustion. He stumbled towards the Arab and held out his hand, his eyes blazing with rage.
The Bedouin smiled satisfied and gave him the waterbag without a word.
The German took it and turned away. Ignoring the laughter around him, he vanished into the cave, obviously feeling the need for some privacy.
Waking up only some moments later, Troy found himself alone in the arena. Looking around he saw the Arabs climbing up the path, leaving their slaves to themselves. There was no risk of them getting away; one guard at the top of that path was enough to make an escape impossible.
Realizing that his companion would be in the cave, Troy more crawled than walked toward it. The second he entered and was away from prying eyes, Dietrich was at his side helping him.
"You all right?" the officer wanted to know.
Massaging his neck the American nodded. "Didn't think you'd do that."
"Sorry. Didn't know how convincing it had to be, did I?" Smiling ruefully the German held out the waterbag.
Gratefully, Troy took it. After taking a sip he smiled at the Hauptmann. "I knew you'd save some for me, but I guess many men wouldn't."
"We have a truce, Sergeant." Dietrich sounded affronted.
"Yeah," his companion confirmed. "But I bet you'd have saved some for me even without our truce. You're too honorable, Captain, much too honorable for your own good."
"I wouldn't count on it, Sergeant," the German warned, but they both knew that he would.
For some time they rested in silence; the hours of walking under the burning sun were not easily dismissed. Then Dietrich got up and surveyed the cave. It was fairly large, at least five yards to each side. Light came in from the entrance and a small cleft at the back of the cave.
"Don't suppose that's a back door they've forgotten?" Troy asked when Dietrich went to investigate it.
"No." It was a hole leading to something that looked like a natural chimney, showing the wide sky above, but there was no way anybody could climb up without a rope. Returning, the German grinned at his companion. "Seems this hotel has an indoor toilet." Both acknowledged that they were really thankful for this, since nothing had been more humiliating than having to follow nature's call under the watchful eyes of their guards.
"What do you think will they do to us?" the American asked after a while.
"I'd say we have already been shown what's in store for us."
"Fighting against each other? Fighting over water like two dogs over a bone?"
Dietrich nodded. "We can only hope that a fist fight is all they want to see. I'm not sure that I could fake anything with a knife or something like that in hand."
"Would end their fun too fast if we kill each other, wouldn't it?"
"Probably. Hopefully letting us fight is all ...." He stopped as if saying too much.
"What do you mean?" Troy crawled nearer so that he could see the German clearly. "What else could they do?" Catching a flicker of fear in the brown eyes of his companion, the sergeant remembered their conversation from the last evening. "They us, or one of us the other?"
"Does it matter?" Dietrich lifted an eyebrow inquiringly.
"I wouldn't! You wouldn't!" Troy almost shouted it; the topic brought all kinds of fears to the surface.
"And if the alternative was one of them? At least we could try to be ... careful." The Hauptmann's tone was subdued but he held the other's gaze.
Troy realized that Dietrich must have mulled that over for a long time, so maybe his sleep hadn't been as undisturbed as it had seemed. "Are you suggesting that ..." The American shook his head. Hell, what was he talking about? "Just hope they're not into this kind of ... game." A look at his companion told him that he wanted an answer. "I don't know. I'm not sure we could live with it, Captain, whatever the reason." He swallowed and confessed: "I'd rather die than ..." He didn't finish his sentence, but Dietrich understood nevertheless.
"My thoughts exactly, Sergeant. I just hope we have the choice." He ran one hand through his hair. "More likely my imagination is just running away with me and all I have to do is to beat you on a regular basis."
Troy grinned. "You and what army, Captain? Next time it's my turn."
A voice called from the outside, and with a sigh, Dietrich rose and left the cave. He came back with a blanket and a small bowl of something he couldn't identify.
"Only one blanket?"
"And only one dinner." The Hauptmann took a closer look at the meal, something ... maggots were crawling in it. "So I don't think we will fight over this." He threw it out of the cave. "I'm afraid we have to go to bed with empty stomachs. The cuisine isn't up to our standards." And he was already preparing to go to sleep.
Troy watched in amazement as the German settled down and almost immediately fell asleep. As he walked over to join him, he realized that owing to their chain, the officer had always been forced to lie on his left, but now without it, Dietrich was lying on his right side, the side Troy preferred himself, leaving Troy with the option to lie down in front or behind him.
Feeling more disconcerted then ever before, since there was no chain binding them together now, the American sat down next to the German's chest and tugged gently at the blanket.
The next day nothing major happened. Having nothing better to do they spent their time choreographing their fights, so they would look like the real thing. Twice that day the soldiers had to fight in front of an audience, and both times Troy won, gaining the waterbag and a piece of meat, which was at least edible.
The day after was a repetition with the slight change that Dietrich was the victorious one again, and that their lunch didn't look too promising.
"You should eat it, you're too skinny already. If you lose any more flesh you'll vanish completely," Troy mocked his companion, trying to get a rise out of him.
Dietrich glared at him. "I'm not skinny, I'm tall, which is good in this climate. And actually I'm thinking about getting rid of this habit totally."
"Eating." And with that he pushed their lunch toward the American and lay down to take a nap.
On the third day their little scheme was discovered after their battle, and the waterbag was taken away. When it was time for their next performance, the Arab in black held the bag in front of their eyes and told them angrily: "You win, you drink here."
Blue eyes met brown ones uncertain. Should they fight? Would their faked battles be enough as before? And if not, how long until they would fight for real?
"Fight now! Or no water!"
There was no time to make a plan, no chance to speak to the other .... The thoughts seemed to whirl around in Troy's mind. While he was still hesitating, Dietrich started his attack, giving the American no choice but to fight back. With the element of surprise on his side, the German captain got the upper hand in no time, and sitting on his enemy's chest, his hands around Troy's neck, he threatened to choke him. "Give up, Sergeant. It's my turn." His voice was calm, his eyes cold.
Knowing when he was defeated, the American suppressed his rage and raised his hands in surrender.
Dietrich let go of him and took the offered waterbag without a word. He drank slowly, his gaze following Troy as he went back into the cave.
Leaning against the cool stone Troy rubbed his arms in a helpless gesture. He told himself that Dietrich had only acted that way because of the survival instinct that was part of both of them, and that he would probably act the same way tomorrow. But still it hurt and felt like betrayal. He closed his eyes, tired in both body and soul. Dietrich had warned him not to trust in his honor too much; he should have listened.
Crunching sounds informed him about the German's approach, but he didn't open his eyes, not wanting a confrontation right now. So it came as a total surprise when strong fingers cupped his chin and forced him to look up. Startled he opened his mouth to protest when Dietrich sealed it with his lips, pouring water into it. Troy swallowed in reflex, his gaze fixed on the face so close to his.
"I'm sorry, Sergeant," Dietrich said quietly, stepping back. "But that was the only possibility I could come up with to save at least a little water for you."
"You had this in mind when you attacked me?"
Troy buried his head in his hands. "God, Dietrich, I thought you .... I was almost sure ..."
"I know what you thought. It was supposed to look that way."
The brisk tone told the American that his lack of trust had hurt his companion. "I'm sorry. I should have known better. But this place, everything ... it makes me crazy." He knew it wasn't much of an apology, but he didn't know anything else to say.
"I understand, Sergeant. Believe me." Dietrich sat down beside him, their arms touching lightly. "This situation is bound to destroy us; it's the whole point, isn't it?" He laughed out loud. "I'm tired, Troy, and afraid. And tired of being afraid. That's not exactly how I imagined my part in this war. Nobody said, "pass auf, Junge, dass du nicht in die Hände von Sklavenhaendlern geraetst. Verdammt!" Realizing that he had spoken the last in German, he smiled ruefully at his companion. "I'm babbling, sorry."
"It's all right. We're both tired. Maybe we should take a nap." Looking at Dietrich, Troy wondered once again how old the Hauptmann was. Younger than he that was for sure, but how much? Right now, sweaty and tired, the blond hair in disarray, he looked about twenty-five if not younger; hard to imagine that he was a captain leading his own troops.
"Seems to be all we're doing," the German said with a sigh.
"Sleeping. We sleep, we fight, we sleep again."
"It isn't as if we had lots of choices, is it? You didn't wanna play Tic-tac-toe, remember?"
Dietrich sighed theatrically. This particular game had lost its appeal rather quickly.
"I don't suppose you have one of your funny little German card decks with you, have you?" Troy inquired mischievously.
"Funny little ...? Ach so, you mean a Skat Blatt? No. Seems I forgot to pack it, I'm sorry."
"Sometimes we talk," Troy reminded him. "You told me about your family, I told you about mine."
"Stimmt. Not the smartest thing to do if you think about it. Shouldn't it be only name, rank, and number?"
"It's not as if this was an interrogation, Captain. After all, I'm not your prisoner. Those Arabs wouldn't get anything more from me. Nor from you, I guess."
"Probably not." Grinning, Dietrich added, "And there's really no point in sticking to the formalities."
"I already know your name, rank and all, Sergeant, by heart."
At that Troy laughed. "You can probably recite them in your sleep."
"Ja, wahrscheinlich - probably." Still amused, Dietrich leaned back, resting his head on the American's shoulder.
"It also shows that we don't really believe in being rescued anymore, doesn't it? We wouldn't talk as freely if we thought we'd ever fight against each other again," the Hauptmann stated after a while.
"You said the Rat Patrol would come to our rescue any day now."
"That was days ago. I'm afraid that I'm losing my faith in Sergeant Moffitt."
"Yeah, me too," Troy admitted quietly. "Me too."
Troy didn't know what woke him but from one second to the next he was awake and alert, then he realized that the man beside him was muttering and moving in his sleep. Dietrich seemed to be having quite a nightmare. Soothingly Troy stroked the German's arm, wishing he could understand the German words, so he would know which demons haunted his companion and maybe get rid of them.
Bemused about himself, the sergeant shook his head; what was happening to him? Why did he think Dietrich needed to be protected, needed to be ... cherished. Hell, the man was his enemy, a German Panzer-Captain, a damned good and dangerous officer, not a helpless young man.
"Nein!" A shudder ran through Dietrich's body as if he was reliving something horrible.
Without consciously being aware of what he was doing, Troy slid nearer to the trembling man and pulled him into a light embrace. "Easy, it's all right. It's only a dream."
The Hauptmann didn't wake up but stopped murmuring and calmed down.
Rubbing Dietrich's back gently, Troy thought of all the nights in the desert when he'd woken up in Dietrich's arms just like this, flustered by their proximity, but also comforted and feeling secure. And he wondered how often the German might have soothed his nightmares away, just by holding him close.
The beard stubble of the sleeping man rubbed against his neck and the American found himself enjoying it very much. Briefly he looked down and couldn't help a smile as he tried to imagine Dietrich with a full beard and decided it wouldn't fit him; but surely he then would look older, while with the stubble the Hauptmann looked more like a boy.
Voices in front of the cave told him that soon their charade was about to start again. Gently he disentangled himself from his companion, thereby waking him up.
"Morgen," Dietrich murmured still half asleep.
"Morning, Captain. Rise and shine."
Opening first one then both eyes the German glared at the sergeant. "I'm sure the sun does that already, no need for me to do it too."
Chuckling Troy vanished into their 'toilet'. There were moments when he almost liked the situation - he must have gotten a sunstroke.
This time Troy's eyes were open as Dietrich approached him. As if in slow motion he watched the German leaning down to him and pressing his lips over his opened mouth. Swallowing slowly, he was aware of an adrenaline rush being ignited by the soft touch. When Dietrich turned away, Troy's eyes followed his every movement, appreciating the lithe body and the cat-like walk the Hauptmann had developed since they both had decided to stay barefooted.
Realizing that their meetings had always been charged with a sexual undertone, he admitted to himself that his feelings for Dietrich had changed to something more than sexual attraction in these last days. Something far more dangerous and problematic, yet he wasn't ready to put a name to the feeling. The kiss was still lingering on his lips, spreading sparkles of lust through his body. This night, he told himself mockingly, he'd have to make sure to sleep with his back to the German or things really could get interesting.
"How long do you think will this continue?" Troy asked, mainly to give his thoughts a new direction.
"You mean this particular way of sending us against each other? Not long, I guess. Couple of days, then - according to their plans - we should be ready to kill each other or do whatever they want us to do, just to get water."
The American shook his head. "I can't see what they get out of it. I mean our fights aren't really worth a damn."
Dietrich shrugged. "It's probably only the foreplay, to wear us down, you know."
"It's not working," Troy said but somehow it came out like a question, and the Hauptmann repeated to make it a statement: "No, it's not working."
Their eyes locked and they exchanged a long, firm hand-shake.
"Your turn," Dietrich told the Sergeant, as they went out of the cave once again to battle over a waterbag.
Troy only nodded.
"Fight!" The Arab's voice ordered and the soldiers obeyed.
Briefly their eyes met, then Dietrich struck at Troy, missing his face by inches when the American turned away. Then Troy started a series of punches, seemingly trying to beat his opponent into a pulp, and succeeding. At last the Hauptmann curled himself defensively into a ball, his arms over his head.
Breathing heavily, Troy stopped. Although he knew that the German was just pretending, it hurt in a strange way to see the proud man so helplessly at his feet. He hated himself for agreeing to this farce; he could have won without Dietrich losing this disgracefully.
As if not really believing that the beating had stopped, the Hauptmann looked up and then sat up shakily. Glaring at the victorious American he forced himself to stand up and, moving carefully, he returned to the cave.
Looking away from Dietrich, Troy walked very slowly towards the Bedouin with the water, savoring every sip as long as possible.
Dietrich sat with his back at a wall, just as Troy had done, when the sergeant approached. The expectant and amused look on the German's face set butterflies free in Troy's guts and it took every will power he had, not to swallow but to hold the precious liquid until his lips lay upon Dietrich's.
Making sure that no drop would escape he pressed his mouth hard on the German who reacted in kind, but when all water had been absorbed their lips were still touching, as if glued together. And then Troy's tongue slipped into the moist haven, and for the first time the soldiers really kissed each other.
"Is this where we are heading?" Dietrich asked when they separated.
Troy shrugged, almost as shocked about his boldness as about Dietrich's reaction. "Apparently."
"It's probably not the smartest thing to do," the German warned.
"No." Their gazes locked and Troy could see the lust burning in Dietrich's brown eyes, knew without a doubt that his own eyes showed the same need. "You think we should stop and forget it?"
The Hauptmann reached up and caressed Troy's cheek, his fingers wandering to the nape of the neck. "I know what we should do, Sergeant. The question is, what do we want?"
"I know what I want!" And with that the American leaned down, kissing his companion again. The German didn't protest, but drew Troy even closer. Their tongues dueled, heating the passion between them, until the American broke the kiss, catching his breath.
"Do we stop here or do we go on, Captain?" He was sure he knew the answer.
"Could we stop here?" Dietrich lifted one brow. "I don't think so. And anyway, do you have anything better to do, Sergeant?"
Troy chuckled. "Can't think of a thing, Captain." He rose and extended a hand to help the German to his feet. "We should lie down," Troy suggested, pointing at their blanket.
"A good idea. Let me guess, you don't like it that you have to look up to me?"
The sergeant grimaced, then grinned at the taller officer. "Actually it never bothered me before, why should it now?"
"It shouldn't." And Dietrich led the way to the blanket, their hands still linked.
Troy swallowed in anticipation as the German started to shrug out of his clothes, revealing the hairless chest. Letting his own shirt fall to the ground, Dietrich reached for Troy's and unbuttoned it, then bent down to cover the American's neck with hungry lips, while his hands roamed over his back and sides. Troy groaned and shut his eyes as his companion kissed his way further down, teasingly pulled at his chest-hair and then sucked at one nipple, sending sparks of lust through his being.
Suddenly the touch was gone and when Troy opened his eyes he found the Hauptmann kneeling in front of him, meaningfully tugging at his pants. He grinned self-consciously and started to take them off, while Dietrich sat back to undo his own.
Naked, Troy sat down beside the German and let his hands roam over the smooth skin, exploring the lines and scars gently, taking special care about the one that had been caused by the Rat Patrol. For a while Dietrich seemed content to just enjoy the soft touches, a dreamy look on his features. Then suddenly he leaned forward and, by initiating another long kiss, he pressed himself against Troy, slowly but firmly pushing him to the ground.
Settling himself atop of the smaller man he rubbed their erections together, creating a fire that threatened to burn them both. Troy's hands dug into Dietrich's back, holding him close as if he was afraid the man would suddenly vanish. The pace grew wilder with each movement, both impatient now that they were near to fulfilment. Feeling orgasm approach, each soldier looked up to gaze into the passion filled eyes of the other, and, as if of their own will, their lips met again, smothering their cries of ecstasy.
"That," Troy commented when he had recovered, "was fast."
"Are you complaining?" Dietrich wanted to know, his features unreadable.
Seeing the stern look and not at all sure what it meant, the American shook his head. "Not really, just ...." He stopped, when the German's stoic expression changed to one of barely concealed amusement, and rephrased what he was about to say. "Actually, yes, I am! I was trying to make it last and you, you ...."
"I'm sorry," Dietrich said, openly laughing now; after a second Troy joined in. "I admit I was a little impatient."
"You didn't seem to mind at that moment; you were not exactly slowing me down."
"No, I wasn't. And I'm not sorry." Troy looked at the captain, his head supported by his hand. "What brought it on?"
The Hauptmann shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't know. But it did occur to me at some point that we could easily be disturbed by our Arabian friends."
"Hell, that would make my day!" For a moment both listened intently for any noises outside their cave, and grinned at each other when there was nothing to be heard.
"And now?" Troy asked after a while. "I don't suppose you're interested in another round?"
Dietrich watched him critically. "Are you sure you are up to it?"
"Oh, yes, I am!" To make his point clear Troy sat up and leaned over the German, his hands grabbing Dietrich's arms. "What about you, Captain?"
"No problem." And with that the Hauptmann pushed himself up, reversing their positions in one swift movement. Holding Troy's wrists in place at both sides of his head he leaned down and kissed him deeply. Then he ran a trail of kisses along the man's neck, and rubbed his beard stubble against the American's shoulder while his hands moved to Troy's chest, playing with the thick hair and pinching the nipples.
Troy moaned and rested his hands on the German's shoulders, slightly stroking the shoulder blade. Moving further down, Dietrich's fingers wandered along the Sergeant's sides, discovering every ticklish place along the way, to finally cup the firm buttocks. At the same time he started licking their mixed semen off Troy's belly, sending waves of pleasure through his partner.
Raising his head to see what Dietrich was doing, Troy stared in wonder at the German. Gone was the aristocratic Prussian, the proud, imperturbable captain, and in his place stood a self-assured young man full of joy and mischief.
"Dietrich," the American croaked, trying to get his attention as a wicked tongue began to bathe his hardened cock.
The Hauptmann looked up inquiringly. "Ja?"
"I can't get at you," Troy told him, rising further. The next instant he found himself flat on his back again, Dietrich sitting on his chest, pinning his arms to the ground. He tried to throw the German off but the blond held him down. Again he tried to free his arms, straining every muscle, but in vain; Dietrich's hold couldn't be broken. "No, Sergeant, this is my round."
Feeling the other's strength, Troy couldn't help wondering how it might be to feel this power unleashed, free of rational constraints, and instantly a vivid picture sprang to his mind. He swallowed - dared he? It was not an easy thing to ask, and normally he wouldn't, this early in a relationship; but they weren't in a position where they could take it slowly. Besides the point that every day could be their last, they were losing more and more of their strength. It was a miracle in its own that they were still this strong and healthy.
"Troy?" Dietrich watched him closely, having noticed that he was absent minded. "Are you all right? Is something …?"
"Yes." Troy looked up and found the courage he needed in the amiable eyes above him. "I want ...," he breathed deeply, "... you." He could feel the other man stiffen, every nerve and muscle tense.
Dietrich closed his eyes, fighting an inner battle, and came to a decision. Opening his eyes again he gazed at Troy and nodded abruptly. "All right, Sergeant." He let go of him.
Something in Dietrich's tone warned the American that the German was anything but all right and he wondered about Dietrich's reaction until he realized how his words might have been interpreted.
"I did mean that I want to be fucked," he clarified, astonished how easily the words had come, now that he knew that the Hauptmann too was prepared to let himself be taken.
Their desire subsided for the moment, Dietrich settled himself cross-legged beside Troy and scrutinized him intently. "Are you sure? Not so long ago you said that you would rather die than ..."
"Than be fucked against my will, or be forced to ... to ..."
"Rape me?" the Hauptmann suggested.
Troy shrugged. "To take you against your will for the joy of those bastards." His hand on Dietrich's knee he added, "That is not what I have in mind."
"I thought you meant it that way, but I had to be sure." He grabbed Troy's hand and brought it up to his lips. "Do we start again or leave it for a rainy day?"
"We start anew, now!" the American growled, pulling the captain to him, his mouth zeroing in on Dietrich's Adam's apple, making the German squirm and shiver. With kisses and gentle bites Troy explored every inch of the other's body, until Dietrich moaned in delight, his fingers holding on to the blanket.
"Troy." It was barely above a whisper. "Ich ... I can't hold on much longer." The blond was bathed in sweat, his eyes widened with passion.
"We can't have that," Troy stated wickedly and let go of the man, lying down beside him. "Your turn, Captain."
Dietrich smiled and then started a thoroughful exploration on his own. Licking the nipples erect and massaging the flanks, he had Troy almost on the edge when he finally started sucking his penis.
"God!" Troy hissed, losing himself in the pleasure the German created. He felt orgasm approach and tried to stop his lover. "No, I want you ...." It was too late, he came in spurts, his whole body shaking as Dietrich swallowed his release. He was still catching his breath as a saliva wet finger played at the entrance to his body and pushed through the ring of muscles, gently stroking his insides. A second finger was inserted, touching the prostate, then the movement stilled.
"What ...?" Gazing into the brown eyes of the Hauptmann, Troy could see the doubt openly displayed there. "Don't stop, I want it. I want you inside me."
"I might hurt you. We have nothing for preparation."
Seeing that Dietrich wanted this to happen as badly as he did himself, Troy thought feverishly of a way to ease his partner's concern. "Come here!" he growled finally, indicating that he wanted the German at head level. He licked his lips. "I'll make you so wet that it'll be no problem!"
Obediently, Dietrich moved up to kneel beside the American, who sat up and took the straining erection deep into his mouth, cherishing it with his tongue. When he felt that Dietrich was near the edge again, he let go and lay back. "Now," he told him.
This time the German didn't hesitate, and after preparing and positioning Troy he plunged into the small opening. Troy bit on his lips to suppress a cry, but Dietrich could see the pain clearly written on his face. Before the American could stop him, the captain withdrew.
"No! Don't, it's all right!"
"No, it isn't." The blond shook his head, then closed his eyes as if to figure out something. When he opened them again there was an indefinable expression in them. "Sergeant, do you know that there's a German word that's exactly pronounced like your name?"
"Is there?" Troy felt like a babe-in-the-woods; what was the man talking about?
"Treu means faithful or loyal," Dietrich explained, his voice that of a teacher. "I think it fits you very well."
Not sure how to take the compliment the American just nodded, still trying to understand his companion's intentions. The solution was presented to him by Dietrich himself who took that moment, when he was too distracted to be tense, to penetrate him again. He had no time to react to the pain as it was instantly chased away by a series of sensations.
"Yesss!" He tried to impale himself further and was met with a hard thrust from Dietrich. Pushing deeper, the German then started a powerful rhythm of sliding in and out of his lover's body, sending lightning bolts through them both.
Troy felt himself getting hard again and as he reached out to stroke his cock he met Dietrich's hand there, which covered his and added more pleasure than he thought he could bear. The thrusts were getting faster, then suddenly stilled before Dietrich erupted into Troy, his eyes almost black with the intensity of his coming.
And Troy felt overwhelmed by the picture the German presented, so free of any burden, so powerful in his relief. "So damned beautiful," he whispered, as colors flared before his eyes. Orgasm hit him simultaneously with the realization that he had fallen for the Hauptmann, badly.
He was still shocked by his new perception when Dietrich slowly pulled out and lay down beside him.
"Are you all right?"
He found he had no voice, so he grabbed the German's hand and tenderly licked his own semen off Dietrich's fingers.
"Oh Gott." A sensuous shiver traveled through Dietrich's being, less because of the licking than because of the emotions displayed in the blue eyes of his lover. He pulled Troy to him and they kissed again, separating only when they ran out of air.
"We need a bath," Dietrich stated matter-of-factly, his head lying on Troy's shoulder, his fingers stroking the American's chest hair lightly.
"Yeah," Troy commented with a yawn, trying to stay awake. "You have one?"
"You can wash with sand." The Hauptmann said it as if he was just remembering some lesson from long ago.
"There's certainly enough of that here." Drifting on the edge of sleep, he was aware of Dietrich getting up, then woke again on his return some times later. The German looked astonishingly cleaner.
"Not bad." He kissed the bare chest, then used it as a pillow. "I'll try that later." Dietrich's arms went around him and he sighed contentedly, his hand on the German's hip.
"You know I woke up the first morning in your arms and wondered how I got there," Dietrich told him quietly. "But I felt too sick to be bothered."
In his embrace the American chuckled. "You started it, you snuggled up to me that first night and never stopped doing it since."
"It was the reasonable thing to do," Dietrich defended, his voice all innocence.
"Sure, and you never thought of something like this."
"It didn't cross my mind once," the Hauptmann stated in all earnest.
"What?" Troy turned his head to look at his companion disbelievingly, and rolled his eyes as he realized that he had been had. "All right, Captain, how often if not once?"
Laughing Dietrich leaned down to kiss him briefly then said: "A dozen times or so? At least?"
"I'd say the same about you, Sergeant."
Sharing a smile, they shifted around until they lay comfortably in each others arms and almost instantly both fell asleep.
Their awakening was rough and took them from peaceful sleep to shocked alertness in seconds, as brutal hands dragged them out of the cave into the arena. An old Bedouin started a loud and aggressive speech, giving them time to adjust to the situation.
It seemed to be late afternoon and at least a dozen Arabs surrounded them, their eyes filled with anger and disgust. Trying to look as unimpressed as Dietrich, who seemed like a man used to standing naked in front of a horde of enemies, Troy caught the German's gaze and nodded towards the speaker. "What's he saying?"
"Nothing of importance." Dietrich shrugged, his expression one of amusement. "He's just going through our ancestry." He smiled at Troy in the arrogant way of their former relationship, a smile that was normally directed at Troy when he had been caught by the Hauptmann and that was sure to hit the American's nerve. "You know of course that you're the lowest of all creatures and an unnatural one too."
"I assume we have that in common, Captain?" Troy asked, his tone matching Dietrich's. He took strength from the German's composure, swearing to himself that he would not let the other man down.
"You're quite right, Sergeant."
"He has run out of steam," Troy said when the Arabic words subsided.
Dietrich raised his brows and sighed deeply. "I'm afraid he only stopped to breathe."
Realizing that the soldiers weren't impressed by the speech, weren't even listening, a young Bedouin next to Dietrich shouted angrily and hit the German hard in the stomach. Surprised, the Hauptmann fell onto his knees, but rose almost instantly again, his eyes blazing at the youth who suddenly stepped back and disappeared into the crowd.
The black-clad Arab left his place beside the old man and looked from one prisoner to the other. "The last days, you fought, and the winning one got the water. Now you kill and the living gets free."
The soldiers exchanged a disbelieving look. "What?"
"You understand!" The Arab threw a dagger in the sand before them.
"Can we trust them?" Troy asked his companion, who knew more about the tribes and their rules.
A rueful smile played around Dietrich's eyes as he followed the American's line of thoughts. "Oh, they will set the survivor free, no doubt, but they didn't say in what kind of state, did they? And they might let you go just to hunt you down some hours later; you then would have been free and had your chance. Besides, even if they just let you go, alone, without water somewhere in the middle of the desert, it would be a certain death sentence."
Troy nodded. "You're really helpful, Captain."
"The Wehrmacht is glad to be at your service, Sergeant," Dietrich said ironically then sobered. "To kill one of us might be a merciful act in the long run, Troy, but it would leave the other behind, alone. That was not part of our truce."
"So you don't see it as an option?"
"What happens if we don't fight?" Troy wanted to know, his question directed at the Arab in black who seemed to be in charge.
"I asked what happens ..." He didn't get any further. Another Bedouin stepped forward and hit him with the open hand in the face. Rage took the better of Troy and he punched the man down.
He was about to go after him but Dietrich intervened. "Troy, don't! They will kill you!"
"What does it matter?" He looked up and saw in the German's eyes that it mattered, but when the Bedouin stood and hit him again all rational thought fled and he threw himself at his attacker.
Rolling around, the American suddenly felt the hilt of the dagger in his hand, and when he saw the Arab reaching for his own weapon, he pushed the knife up and plunged it into his chest. Before he was able to get his breath back, a loud and enraged shout rose from a dozen throats, and in the next moment, the Bedouins were over him, dragging him away from their dead man, beating, kicking and nearly tearing him apart.
The world became a sea of agony and his vision was already darkening when he heard someone calling his name. He looked up to see Dietrich in a desperate struggle to get to him, knocking out two Arabs before he went down himself. Troy didn't know if the German was dead or just unconscious but he prayed that they would meet again on the other side.
His last thoughts, before the shadows claimed him, were those of regret, because he was dying without telling Dietrich about his feelings, and without knowing if Dietrich had felt the same.
He knew he was dead when he felt cold water on his aching head and body. Cool lips touched his, pouring sweet nectar into his dry mouth. And a very low voice called his name, called him 'Sam', told him to wake up. He tried to answer, but wasn't sure he'd been heard as he lost himself to the nothingness again.
When he woke up the next time, he changed his mind about being in heaven, because he felt like hell. It took some effort to open his eyes, but the sight proved that he was alive, if only barely. His gaze fell on Dietrich who sat beside him in his rumpled uniform, his mind seemingly far away, his fingers cramped around a piece of cloth that had once been a sleeve. The German's eyes were bloodshot and he locked pale and tired to the bone.
"Diet .. rik .." Troy croaked.
Slowly the Hauptmann's head turned towards him, and it took even longer until recognition filled the brown eyes. "Troy." He smiled, relief shining out of his being. "You are awake."
Dietrich's reaction confused the American no end. "What happened?"
"They tried to kill you with their bare hands, then decided they wanted you alive after all and left you for good. Oh, and now they give us water, enough to drink, even enough to wash a little. Isn't that nice?" He laughed harshly.
"You all right?" Troy wanted to know, afraid that Dietrich's strange behavior was due to something the tribe had done to the German.
"Yes. I've only been knocked down. Nothing I won't survive."
"What do you mean 'sure'? Of course I'm sure! I wasn't unconscious long enough to miss anything!" Dietrich's anger washed over Troy like hot liquid, but he couldn't place its origin.
He grabbed the captain's arm and, ignoring the pain that shot back into his shoulder, he held on as the man tried to withdraw. "What happened?" he asked again sharply.
"I told you." The aggression gone from his tone, Dietrich seemed more irritated than anything else. "There's nothing more."
"Then why are you looking like death warmed over?" the American wanted to know.
Chuckling, the German gently grasped Troy's wrist and carefully lifted his arm so that he could see it. "There is almost no place on your body which doesn't look black and blue, and you are telling me I look like death warmed over."
Impressed, Troy stared at his arm which showed at least a dozen colors, violet, blue, green and yellow among them. The amount of different shades told him that some time must have gone by, and he looked up inquiringly. "How long was I unconscious?"
"I don't know, 18 hours, a day, more? I have no idea." Dietrich ran his fingers through his hair. "You have been awake at some points, but never long enough to be aware of your surroundings."
"You called me Sam?" Troy asked, remembering his dream.
"At one time, yes, I think so. Hoped it would get through to you." He looked away as if he was embarrassed.
"You haven't slept, have you? You stayed with me the whole time, right?"
Dietrich nodded, but didn't glance his way.
"Dietrich? What is it? Speak to me. After all we have shared ...."
Abruptly the German turned back to him, his eyes over-bright and his voice unsteady from suppressed emotions and exhaustion. "All we have shared, Sergeant? Tell me about it! I thought we had decided to stay alive? Alive, Troy! And then you go and try to commit suicide, leaving me behind! Thank you very much, Sergeant!"
"I didn't mean to ..." Troy began but Dietrich waved him into silence.
"I know, I'm sorry. I'm tired and don't know what I'm saying, just forget it." Having himself under control again, he grinned at the American. "It was an absolutely stupid thing to do. I hope you realize that, Sergeant."
"Yes, Captain." Troy grinned back but sobered promptly. "I should be the one to apologize, Dietrich. We had a deal, and I'm sorry."
"I was sitting here not knowing if you'd live or not, it seemed as if you were going deeper into unconsciousness, and I couldn't do a thing." Dietrich spoke softly, his mind replaying the past hours. "I wasn't even sure if I shouldn't hope for you to never wake up, it might have been the easier way." He looked up again. "But I wanted you alive."
Reaching up, Troy touched the stubbled cheek gently. "I didn't want to die, it's all right, I'll be all right." As if by their own will, his eyes closed. "I'm afraid I'm falling asleep again. You should sleep too. I promise to be here when you wake up." Oblivion claimed him before he got an answer.
He woke up again because he had to follow nature's call, and with Dietrich's help he just managed it. But it was an ordeal he didn't want to repeat too soon. Every movement hurt badly, and breathing was a habit he'd rather have gotten rid of, since it seemed as if every rib was broken. Yet although he knew that the rough material of his uniform would hurt him even more, he insisted on putting on at least his pants, and with a sigh the Hauptmann helped him into them.
"If you can wear your trousers, you can also survive a bandage around your ribs," Dietrich decided, and without asking for permission, he ripped Troy's uniform shirt into strips and wound them around his chest.
The American bit his lip, then nodded gratefully. "It's better now." He was bathed in sweat but not tired enough to lie down again. "Let me sit for a moment, all right? My back hurts like hell."
Dietrich knelt beside him and gave him the waterbag.
Troy drank slowly then gave it back, swaying slightly. His companion caught him and, holding him carefully by the shoulders, Dietrich eased him down so that he rested against his chest. "All right?"
Troy grimaced. "I have bruises on my bruises and look as if I'm already rotting, but otherwise, yes, I'm all right."
The German didn't look impressed.
For a time they sat in silence then suddenly Troy asked: "You still angry with me?"
Dietrich gazed into his eyes, astonished. "No. I don't think so."
"Then why don't you kiss me?"
"Why not, indeed?" And the Hauptmann leaned down to kiss him softly, mindful of his split lip and swollen chin.
"So you haven't gone off me."
"I thought that's rather obvious. After all ..." He never finished the sentence as suddenly voices could be heard from outside. Sitting up as straight as possible, Troy greeted the four Arabs with a murderous glare, but they didn't react to it, as they were deep in conversation.
At his side, Dietrich stiffened suddenly then rose in a swift movement, standing tall and proud before the Bedouins. Troy didn't understand a word the German said, since he spoke in Arabic, but it was clear that their captors did, and that they didn't agree with him. A heated discussion started between the Hauptmann and one of the Arabs, until one of the others said something that brought it to an abrupt stop.
Dietrich looked from the Arab to Troy then back again, and the American saw him swallow nervously, and then lower his eyelids in that particular way that showed that he had to make a difficult decision. Whatever he then told the Bedouins seemed to satisfy them, because they left the cave without another word.
"What was this all about?" Troy asked, watching Dietrich retreat into the 'extra room'.
"Seems they have tired of letting us fight against each other, now they'll try something new," he was told from the spare room.
"And what will be the main attraction?"
"Me, I'm afraid. Since you're not fit to give a good performance." Coming back Dietrich paused in front of his lover and gently stroked the dark hair. "Never let yourself be tortured on a full bladder."
His attempt to be funny didn't fool the American. "What are they going to do?"
"You best stay put, all right? Try to rest."
"Dietrich! What are they going to do?"
The Hauptmann shrugged. "I'm sure we'll know soon enough." And with that he turned away, walking stiffly out into the arena.
Ignoring his aching and protesting bones and muscles, Troy made his way to the entrance. It seemed to take an eternity and more than once he was about to give up, but then the pain filled cries he could hear pushed him forward. In the end he reached the entry, and fought himself onto his feet. Leaning heavily against the wall, he watched in horror as Dietrich was being whipped mercilessly. The German stood bound to a post that hadn't been there two days ago, his shirt gone, his back already bleeding from severe whip lashes.
"Bastards!" Troy yearned to go over and stop them but he knew he couldn't make it.
"We were wrong," a voice next to him said and a shadow came to life.
Troy glared at the black-clad Arab with all the hate he could muster. "About what?"
"You and he. We thought you enemies, German and American. But you are not. We were wrong."
"What do you mean?"
The Bedouin looked at him with something close to curiosity. "You must mean a lot to him that he sacrifices himself for you."
"Damnit! What are you talking about?"
Troy's anger made the man take a step back. "He," he pointed at the Arab with the whip, "wanted you. The one you killed was his brother. Your friend took your place."
"God, no." Incapable of tearing his eyes away, Troy watched the torture proceed until Dietrich's cries stopped and not even a full can of water could bring him back from unconsciousness. Two Arabs freed the German from his ropes and then carried him back to the cave, throwing him into it.
Laying the blanket out next to him, Troy carefully rolled the Hauptmann belly down onto it. Then he cleaned the sand from the welts, thankful that his companion wasn't aware of his doings.
Now that their roles were reversed, he understood what Dietrich had gone through, as time passed by and the German didn't stir.
"Dietrich? Come on buddy, wake up." Mildly he patted the wet hair, the tear-streaked cheek. "Captain!" No reaction. "Come on, don't do this. Captain Dietrich! Hans!"
A soft groan.
"Dietrich? Hans?" Troy tried again.
"Do you think that you will ever pronounce one of my names right?" A harsh, low voice wanted to know.
The American chuckled in relief. "Probably not. You want some water?"
"Why, Dietrich? It was me they wanted. Why?"
Brown eyes opened for a moment then closed again. "Keep each other alive."
"No matter what?"
"No matter ...." Darkness claimed him in mid sentence.
Shaking his head in awe, Troy lay down beside his lover, one hand massaging his neck. "And my name stands for being faithful and loyal? You're unbelievable, Captain. Absolutely."
"I'm afraid some of the lashes are inflamed," Troy said with a sigh, carefully lifting the cool cloth from a wound.
"I know. Argh!" Dietrich hissed when a piece of the fabric tore at the welt. "You know, it is not the pain that's the worst, it's the itching that is killing me."
The American grinned and looked fondly at his companion, who was doing his best to up hold their spirits, although the situation looked bleak. He speculated about how many people knew this side of the Hauptmann, and decided that he was probably the only one. He let the days pass before his eyes and wondered if he had changed too, if his patrol would see a different man than the sergeant they had been used to? Thinking of his friends left a bitter taste and he concentrated again on the present.
His eyes roamed over his opponent of more encounters than he could remember, his respected enemy, his lover .... - Strange that they had never gotten to the stage of friends.
"Are you contemplating the meaning of life?" Dietrich's question brought him back from his reverie.
"Just thought .... Isn't it ironic that it took us - how long? - 8, 9 days to finally do what we probably wanted from our first meeting on and now that we have it right we're both too bruised and hurt to do it?"
"C'est la vie." The German tried to sit up.
"What are you doing? You'll start bleeding all over again."
"I think I heard something. I don't want to greet our hosts lying on the ground." There was determination in his voice and Troy didn't argue, but helped him to his feet.
Trying not to lean too heavily on the American, Dietrich shook his head in amusement. "It's a little bit like the lame leading the blind. We should both be in a cozy hospital bed. How are your ribs?"
"Well done." Troy grinned. "Where did you find a cozy hospital bed? I can't remember one."
They fell silent when the black-clad Arab appeared, motioning them outside. "Here we go again." And slowly they walked into the sunlight.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, they faced the usual group of Bedouins and again they had to listen to the old man, who spoke calmly this time.
"What's he saying?"
"Something about us being strong and proud men." Dietrich looked concerned. "He says we have earned the right to ..." He grimaced. "To die quickly."
Feeling the Hauptmann's hand brush his, Troy grabbed it and squeezed lightly. "So we're going to die."
"Ja, so sieht es aus." Lost in thought the German fell back into his mother language.
"Great. Any idea how?"
"Was? No. I haven't got ...." In that moment a muscular Bedouin came into their view, a large sword in his hands. "I correct myself, maybe I have."
The American swallowed heavily. "Barbarians."
"The guillotine was thought of as a very civilized killing device."
"I'd rather die from a bullet."
Intertwining their fingers for a brief second, Dietrich looked at him, a sad smile pulling at his lips. "I'm afraid they don't give us a choice."
Gazing into the warm brown eyes, Troy realized that this was his last chance to tell the German of his feelings, there would not be another.
The old Bedouin shouted something then pointed at the Hauptmann.
"My turn." Dietrich's voice quivered only the slightest bit. "Privilege of rank."
His tone just as shaky, Troy replied: "Beauty before age."
That brought a smile to the German's features.
"You!" The Arab in black called for the Hauptmann.
"Farewell, Sergeant," Dietrich said, then straightened his whole composure, his expression one of cold indifference. He was about to turn away when Troy called his name; he froze in his step and looked back.
"I love you."
The declaration was barely above a whisper and Dietrich never got the chance to answer, since three Arabs misinterpreted his pause for hesitation and brutally dragged him away.
Troy felt a wave of irrational anger against the Hauptmann for not giving a reply, then his eyes fell on the criss-crossed back and the anger vanished, replaced by the knowledge that the love was mutual.
Almost in the middle of the arena Dietrich was forced down onto his knees, the man with the mighty sword standing at his left. For all that the German was likely more frightened than ever before in his life, he seemed to be more annoyed than anything else, his face calm as he looked up to meet his lover's gaze one last time.
The executioner lifted his sword and Dietrich closed his eyes, breaking the contact. A sunbeam reflected on the blade and Troy turned away, unable to see his companion die.
The next instant a shot rang out, then another.
Looking up, Troy saw the executioner going down, the sword falling from lifeless hands. Close to him another Arab grabbed his knife and threw it into Dietrich's back, who cried out then slumped to the ground.
Troy's cry was swallowed by shouts of fury and pain from the Bedouins and gunfire from the cave's entry and the downleading path.
Two Arabs standing near to the American were dead before they could use him as a shield, but as they fell they dragged him down with them. Hidden beneath their bodies, Troy contemplated the situation and decided that the Rat Patrol had everything covered. Tully stood in front of the cave, and Moffitt and Hitchcock controlled the path, and therefore the way in and out of the arena. And although the Bedouins were more then a dozen men, with the machine guns on the Allied sides they were heavily outgunned. Yet the Arabs made no move to surrender, but started a suicidal attack against Moffitt and Hitchcock, leaving them no other choice then to shoot into the mob. The few who survived that stood as if paralyzed for a moment then turned around and ran towards Tully, intending to take him as a hostage. - They never even got near him, the staccato of his machine gun the last thing they heard in this world.
A deadly silence had settled over the place when Troy finally found the strength to push the corpses off himself. One moment later Tully was at his side, helping him to his feet.
"You all right, Sarge?"
"Yeah." He looked to Moffitt who stood beside the German captain. "What about Dietrich?" After all they had been through, the Hauptmann just couldn't be dead, not when they were free at last.
The Englishman knelt down and carefully rolled the blond onto his side. Pain clouded brown eyes met his gaze. "I never thought I would say this, but I'm glad to see you, Sergeant."
"Glad to be of service, Captain." He signaled Hitchcock to bring the first-aid kit and grinned at his superior. "He's alive."
With Tully's help, Troy walked over and sat down beside the German, while Moffitt tended to the knife wound. "I told you they would get us out, didn't I?" Smiling at Dietrich, the Rat Patrol leader restrained himself from touching the other man.
"If I remember correctly, it waahss I who said the rescue was overdue." The pain nearly overwhelming; Dietrich bit his lip to stop himself from crying out.
"That's all I can do here," Moffitt said after a while, his expression worried. "I think it would be easier to hoist you out of here than to carry you up the path."
"What do you have in mind?" Troy looked inquiringly at his second-in-command.
But it was Tully who answered. "With a rope up the chimney, the way I came down here. There's a small extra cave ...."
"I know it," his sergeant interrupted. "All right. Let's shake it."
Sending Hitch away to get everything prepared, Moffitt warned the injured men that it wouldn't be easy and would without a doubt be very painful.
"I'll manage." The American was eager to leave this place of death.
"Believe me, Sergeant, everything hurts right now; it doesn't really make a difference," Dietrich commented - and somehow he mastered the whole way up the chimney without a sound, only to lose consciousness the moment they reached the jeeps.
A deep frown on his face, Moffitt finished the bandage and turned to meet Troy's anxious gaze. "I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure that he'll die if we don't get him to a hospital fast. He lost a lot of blood and his undernourishment doesn't help either."
Troy nodded; his friend's words only confirmed what he had known all along. "So what's the nearest medical unit?"
His fellow sergeant told him, not prepared for Troy's almost violent reaction. "But that's a prison camp!"
"Indeed." He looked at the American confused, of course it was; after all they had a German prisoner, hadn't they? "It's also the only place with a larger medical unit in reach. Any other place would at least take two days more. He won't last that long."
"What about a Jerry camp?"
Moffitt considered it. Dietrich was a highly respected enemy, and it did make sense to put his life before any other consideration; if he died, he would be a worthless prisoner anyway. "There was supposed to be a German camp somewhere around, but I don't know the exact location if it's still here. And even if it's still here, and we find it, they might not have the medical supplies needed if it has a medical staff at all."
Troy grimaced. "That's a lot of 'if's. It would mean gambling with Dietrich's life."
"All right. Then the prison it is. Damn." He closed his eyes and lay back. "We're moving as soon as possible. Get everything ready."
Deep in thought, Moffitt left the small tent and signaled Tully that they would leave their camp soon. These small hiding places were part of the Rat Patrol's success, giving them a place to rest and to strike from, without the necessity of going back to base camp for supplies all the time.
"How's the Captain?" Hitch wanted to know.
"Bad. The wound has infected; I'm not sure he'll make it."
Playing with his glasses the private sighed. "That's not a good way to go."
"Is there any?" Moffitt wondered. He didn't give the blond a chance to reply but sent him away to secure the area. "We don't want a run in with the rest of a very angry tribe, do we?"
Shaking his head, Hitch went away.
Shifting his aching body restlessly, Troy finally sat up and left the sleeping bag he'd been lying on. "Dietrich?" He knelt beside the German and gently touched his shoulder; the man was burning.
"Ja?" Fever bright eyes opened, focusing with difficulty on the American.
"We'll take you to a prison camp, they can treat you there."
A low, sarcastic chuckle. "No doubt."
"Medically I mean!" Troy snapped, frustration coming out in a rush of anger. "You need medical care and that's the only place near enough." Slowly he got his fury under control. It wasn't the Hauptmann's fault that he was that badly hurt, or that Troy had fallen in love with him, or that now they were on different sides again.
"You need a doctor, I have no other choice. I'm sorry."
"So bad?" Dietrich asked in a whisper, and, wondering if the German understood the double meaning, he nodded. "I wouldn't take you there otherwise."
Still feeling the need to defend his decision Troy added: "I promised to keep you alive."
"The truce is over." It was said almost inaudibly.
"No it isn't. Not until you're out of danger." And an inner voice kept telling him that this would possibly mean never.
Realizing that Dietrich had fallen into an uneasy slumber, Troy rose and turned around to find Moffitt in the tent's entrance. The expression on the Englishman's face was guarded and it was obvious that he had heard at least the last part of the conversation.
"Would you care to explain that to me?"
"That you wouldn't take the captain to a prison camp if it wasn't for his injuries." Moffitt's voice didn't betray his feelings, so Troy decided to stick as close to the truth as possible, sure that his friend would spot a lie a mile off.
"Just that. I'd let him go if I could. I owe him, it's the least I should do." Judging that Moffitt needed more, and that he could trust him to understand, he elaborated. "I went through hell with this man; I owe him my sanity, my life. To repay it by taking him to a prison doesn't seem right."
Stepping nearer, Moffitt laid a hand on Troy's shoulder and held his gaze for a moment. "I'm sure it was bad for you, but then it was for Dietrich too. You kept each other alive; he owes you just the same."
"No!" Troy shook his head and broke the contact. "You don't understand!" He looked at the German and his tone softened. "You see the whip marks on his back?" he asked rhetorically. "They should be on my back, I was supposed to get whipped. He took my place, because he thought I wouldn't survive it, because I had already been beaten. Can you believe it?" Glancing at the British sergeant, he saw his eyes widen in astonishment.
"I'd say he took your truce very seriously."
"Yeah. And he's paying the price. Do you understand it now?"
Moffitt nodded. "Yes, I do. And I'm almost sorry that I asked. But I had to, you know that."
"I know," Troy acknowledged. "Almost sorry?" he inquired then.
His friend grinned. "It's an interesting story, though hard to believe. And a good reason to try everything to keep our captain alive." For a moment his eyes rested on the German. "Do you think he'd have done it if he'd known that we were heading for their main water supply?"
"Probably. That reminds me .... Did you hit it?"
"No." The Englishman shook his head. "Dietrich's disappearance had the Jerries on their toes, there was no way we could get in. They controlled everything and everyone a dozen times over. You plan on finishing the job when we have him in a hospital?"
Remembering the days of thirst Troy shook his head; the thought of destroying an oasis wasn't an appealing one anymore. "No. Others can do that. If it wasn't that, what took you so long anyway?" There was no accusation in his voice, only curiosity.
"We were delayed because we only had my theory to go with, which was that some slave traders might have caught you," Moffitt began.
"Which was the point."
"Yes, so we went to the next market ..."
The American snorted in disbelief. "I didn't know slave traders existed, and you know where they hold their market?"
"That's why you need me." The Englishman smiled at him. "Anyway, as I said, we went to the market but you never got there. Took us a while to find out which tribe bought you. We came as fast as we could."
"Just in time."
"Yes." Their looks met and held.
"I haven't even thanked you." Troy said, holding out his hand.
Moffitt shook it. "You don't need to. You'd have done the same." He turned towards the entrance. "I'll go and see what's taking them so long."
He left, and Troy's thoughts wandered back to the whipping. "Would I have done the same?" he asked Dietrich, but got no answer from the sleeping man.
"How is he, Doc?" Troy asked, not bothering to say the name. Even though he hadn't been here for four days, it was well known that he only ever asked about one person.
"Better. He can sit up now for a while, but that's about it. He's not well enough for a thorough interrogation yet." The British doctor said the last with disgust in his voice.
"I'm not here to interrogate him," Troy told the man, confused.
The doctor sighed. "I know, but this colonel from Military Intelligence haunts my office, and he's known for treating the prisoners rough."
Frowning Troy left the doctor and went to Dietrich's room. He nodded at the guard, who let him pass without a further check.
As the door closed behind him again, Troy acknowledged that it was his first visit where Dietrich was truly awake; fever and drugs had made sure that the German was only ever semi alert about his surroundings before.
"I wondered when you would come," Dietrich greeted him, sitting on the edge of his bed, clad in a plain German uniform that Troy had brought him days ago. It didn't fit perfectly but at least the Hauptmann looked like a soldier again, and since Dietrich was wearing it, it was clear that he prefered it to the hospital's alternative.
"I was at headquarters; they wouldn't believe I was alive before they saw it with their own eyes." Troy grinned at the other man. "I'm glad you're better."
Dietrich nodded. "You too, as I can see."
"Yes. I'm ready to go out again."
Raising his eyebrows, the Hauptmann got up cautiously and looked at him. "Ready to hit German convoys again? Tell me, Sergeant, who's the poor officer whose life you'll make miserable now that I'm out of the game?"
"Don't know. I doubt he'll be as challenging as you though."
Walking slowly over to the window, Dietrich accepted the compliment. "Are you telling me that you're going to miss me?"
"I miss you." The words escaped before he knew what he would say.
The German didn't look at him, but said quietly: "There were times when I was almost content with the situation, when it didn't seem so bad to be a ... slave. Good times." He laughed harshly. "Moments worth remembering between times of pain and ... fear. The irony is that those moments we have to forget, while the pain and the scars will stay with us."
"The memory remains," Troy contradicted.
"No." Dietrich turned to look at him. "What has happened hasn't happened. We both must forget it or it will interfere with our duties. We are soldiers, Sergeant, you and I. Personal feelings don't belong in a war. When we meet again on the battlefield, we'll be enemies once more."
Troy nodded. "But aren't you forgetting something, Captain? The war is over for you, You're a POW."
An amused smile tugged at the corner of Dietrich's eyes. "Come on, Troy, you of all people should know that being a prisoner doesn't necessarily mean you'll stay one."
"You plan on escaping?"
Troy chewed on his lip for a moment then raised his eyes to meet the German's stare. "I owe you, I could-"
"You don't owe me anything, we had a truce," the Hauptmann interrupted, "a truce that was said to last until we were out of the desert. It's over now." He stepped closer, holding the American's gaze. "I'm sorry, Troy. But in love and war everything is fair."
Before the sergeant could decode that cryptic remark, Dietrich leaned forward and kissed him. The simple touch burned through Troy's being and his arms went around the taller man to intensify the contact. For a moment they stood, frozen in time, holding each other close, then it was the Hauptmann who broke the embrace.
"Forgive me," he said, leveling a gun at the American.
"What?" Automatically Troy's hand reached for his own weapon but of course there was none, since Dietrich held it.
"That was a lousy thing to do." He glared at the German but couldn't muster any real anger. After all, one minute ago he had been ready to help him with his escape, if the Hauptmann managed on his own, the better. "And now, Captain?"
"Now you will ..." He paused when voices could be heard from the outside. "Step back a little, please." They moved away from the door, as it was opened by the guard to let a tall man enter.
He looked at Troy in surprise, obviously annoyed to find someone here besides the prisoner, and his mood hit the ground when he realized that the German captain had him at gunpoint.
"I'm afraid I can't stay to answer your questions, Colonel," Dietrich told the newcomer, who stood motionless - as did the guard. "But I would appreciate it if you accompanied me outside. Maybe to the gate?"
"You won't get away, Captain," the man from Military Intelligence warned him.
"We'll see. Get the key from the guard please. You know, I hope for you that you are as important as you think you are, otherwise we might both die." The gun steadily pointed at the Colonel, he told the guard to move over to Troy. "Good-bye, Sergeant. I'm sure we'll meet again."
Troy nodded. "You can bet on it."
Dietrich left the room together with the Colonel and locked the door. "After you," he said, his eyes cold as he motioned his hostage forward.
"And he got away with it." Moffitt shook his head in amazement. "Nobody dared to shoot or even to move. Dietrich just walked out of the hospital, took a jeep and drove away as if it was the German base camp."
Troy grinned. "So he learned from us, didn't he? It worked for us before."
"Yes. I'd bet he had some of our escapes in mind when he pulled this stunt."
"Probably." The American's eyes darkened. "I admit I'm glad he escaped ...."
"But that means we'll meet again over a panzer cannon or the barrel of a machine gun."
Moffitt nodded. "That makes the war so interesting."
"You know, Troy, you didn't tell me how he managed to get your gun."
"Oh." His gaze fixed on the horizon, Troy shrugged. "It was a lousy trick. But believe me, Dietrich's the only one who could pull it off."
© Late 1996