Know Thine Enemy
by C. Jerry Ueberall
Summary: An alternate version of The Exhibit A Raid.
Notes: This story was first published 2000 in Flanking Maneuvers # 3 , a Rat Patrol slash zine by Lindberg's Legacy Press.
Series/Sequel: Fourth in the Pebble series. Sequel to The Battle Within
"Someone has to go out there and find him!" The nurse looked expectantly at Troy and the rest of the Rat Patrol wanting them to jump into their jeeps and drive off.
But Troy only shook his head. "We have to wait for the storm to end. We can't do anything right away." He tried to sound apologetic but knew he failed. Although it irked him somehow that the Germans had gotten the better of them, he couldn't help admiring the plan and the realization of it. To kidnap an Allied physician right under the nose of the Rat Patrol was a masterpiece, and one part of him - the part that was in love with a certain German - was even glad for Captain Dietrich, the man surely deserved a small victory now and then. And knowing Dietrich, he was sure that the doctor would be all right; Dietrich probably needed him to help one of his men, he wouldn't harm him.
Only a moment or so it seemed went by and the whole situation had changed. A distress call from Dietrich and, without hesitation, Troy led his group right into the desert storm, his mind set on finding the German captain and his captive. And although it should have been impossible they made it and found the wrecked kuebel right away, and were greeted by an unharmed and apparently unaffected Dr. Anderson. Next to the car lay Dietrich, unmoving, only one hand clearly protruding above the sand.
A cold fist seemed to grab Troy's heart at the sight. "What about him?" he heard himself ask.
"I'm afraid it's too late for him," Doctor Anderson said, walking over to Troy and his men.
Reluctantly Troy turned away to return to his jeep. A voice inside him was shouting to go to Dietrich instead, to check if the doctor wasn't mistaken, but his body wouldn't listen. Step by step he distanced himself from the Hauptmann, his heart frozen in shock, yet his look strayed back again and again, still hoping ... And then the movement of the hand, and a low painful moan.
The storm had vanished and he kneeled beside Dietrich, lightly touching the injured man. A self-mocking expression crossed the handsome German features, admitting defeat and gratitude at the same time; then it changed, showing Dietrich's weakness, his pain.
Troy wished he were alone with Dietrich so that he could talk and touch openly. But with his men only some feet away and Dr. Anderson even closer that wasn't possible. Meeting Dietrich's eyes he found the warmth and affection in their depths he had come to cherish during their shared imprisonment, and knew that his lover felt just the same.
Thankfully he watched as the doctor took out a syringe to give the Hauptmann something against the pain. He just hoped that the German had no internal injuries.
"No. He's trying to kill me, Sergeant." Dietrich's words shocked him out of his thoughts. He didn't want to believe him, but he didn't dare not to. There were no doubts left when Anderson held the Rat Patrol at gunpoint and then drove away in one of their jeeps. While the rest of his group got ready to follow the traitor immediately, Troy felt reluctant to leave Dietrich alone. He took his time to put a water canteen next to the German and gently touched his hand, willing Dietrich to see his feelings in his eyes.
Dietrich's answering look was reward enough.
The following chase and the run-in with the Germans seemed somehow unreal and unimportant after that, and Troy was about to jump back into the jeep when a sudden restriction on his foot stopped him cold. He turned back and looked with annoyance at Captain Dietrich, who lay unconscious on the ground, his back a bloody mess. One of the slave traders walked over and pointed a rifle at the German's head. In slow motion he pulled the trigger...
"No!" With a cry Troy sat up on his cot. His heart pounded wildly and his breathing was uneven. It took a moment before he realized where he was and managed to relax again. Reflecting on the dream he smiled ruefully. It was amazing how close to the real thing the dream had been, except for some minor details and the ending. Of course he hadn't gone after Dietrich in the midst of the sandstorm, but had waited until the worst was over, and the stupidity of shooting down the German rescue party hadn't occurred to him; after all he wanted Dietrich alive and well.
But he could still feel the dread of seeing his lover apparently dead beside his car, not to mention the hollow feeling in his chest when he thought about how close he had come to losing him while Dietrich had been under his protection.
With a sigh Troy swung his feet from the cot and the extra weight on his left ankle reminded him unkindly of his present situation. He shook his head in anger.
It was one thing that he was in custody, that command thought that he had killed a German colonel for vengeance, but it was totally unbelievable that he had been restricted to his tent by a chain around his foot. That was unheard of in the army as far as he knew, and it only proved that something very wrong was going on here. He just wished he knew the reason for it or had any idea who might be behind it.
Running his hand through his hair he remembered a talk in a German hospital and Dietrich's warning: "Be careful. There's someone after you, and it isn't me."
He wondered, was this another attempt of their - his - unknown enemy to destroy him? Was that enemy able to suppress important evidence and even common sense? A shiver ran down his spine. Suddenly a court martial seemed very likely, and he wasn't so sure about the outcome anymore.
"It's on. CO is going to have him court-martialed," Hitch said by way of greeting. "Tomorrow."
"Damn. So they don't believe him." Angrily Tully spit out his matchstick. "We must do something." The other two nodded, but made no suggestions.
"I can't believe that they believe what that Kraut says but don't believe Sarge. And after all he's done." Hitch was starting to talk himself into a rage. Although what had happened wasn't really his fault, he still felt guilty. If he hadn't been unconscious Troy wouldn't have been in this mess, and it wasn't as if his wound had been life-threatening or dangerous. Just a scratch, but he had passed out nevertheless. He felt like a wimp.
"It's not about belief, it's a matter of proof. The story is convincing; after all, if Troy's version of the event is true, then why hasn't the colonel taken off? He had his chance. Why should he kill his fellow countryman but leave an American soldier who hates him alive?" Looking from one private to the other, Moffitt nodded to himself. "See. That's the problem."
"You're saying you don't believe him either?" In the midst of taking out a new matchstick, Tully stopped long enough to glare at the Englishman.
"It's not important what I think." Moffitt told them, but realized from their looks that it was important to them. "I believe that Troy spoke the truth, but that's not the point."
"So what's the point then?" Hitch asked.
"That we need evidence to prove that he spoke the truth. Or that the Jerry is lying."
"And how do we get that?"
Instead of answering Hitch's question right away, Moffitt elaborated thoughtfully, "You know what really irritates me? It isn't that command doesn't believe Troy's story, it's that they believe the colonel."
"Look at the Germans who were caught," Moffitt explained. "One is a colonel, one a captain. One is about sixty years or so and the other somewhere in his late twenties, early thirties. I admit it's not unknown that some people never rise above the rank of captain. But such a young colonel? It strikes me odd that no one of the inquiry board stumbled over that."
"You're saying that someone's setting Sarge up?" Hitch looked with surprise at Tully, who took the idea in as if he'd expected it somehow. "But who and why?"
Moffitt shrugged. "As to the who, I'd bet my money on the one who sent us to a German hospital to catch a deadly disease. As to the why ... I've no idea. Only that he really seems to hate Troy."
"If I ever get my hands on that guy..." Hitch didn't finish his threat, and so Tully's mumbled "Stand in line" didn't go as unnoticed as it was supposed to.
Exchanging an understanding look, Hitch returned to their topic. "What can we do?"
"We need evidence that can't be dismissed. Something solid to show the court. Like Colonel Beckmann's personnel file. There's probably a photo of him in it and if not at least his date of birth will prove that the dead one isn't him." Moffitt looked expectantly at his friends.
"So we're taking a short trip to Berlin?" Tully suggested mockingly.
"I believe they have the reports and files in Division Headquarters." The Englishman didn't sound as sure as he would have liked it, but it didn't really matter. It was a chance, and no matter how small it was, they were going to take it.
"And if not?" Hitch asked.
"Then we're out of luck," Moffitt replied.
"It's worth a try." Tully rose in one swift motion.
"So we're going to break in, take the file, and come back?" Hitch didn't wait for an answer. "All right. Let's shake it."
"Wait." Moffitt stopped their enthusiasm just by staying seated. "I don't think all of us should go. If something goes wrong one of us should be here to tell Troy and to stay with him through the trial." Sobered the privates looked at each other.
"How's your arm?" Tully asked finally.
"All right." Hitch proved it by moving it in all directions. "I can drive and shoot and fight. I'm as good as new." Lowering his gaze he added quietly, "I want to go."
Accepting that with a nod, Tully stepped through the tent's entrance and stood there for a short while, a somber expression on his face. "Be careful. I don't want to explain your absence to Sarge, and I don't wanna be the only Rat out here." Then he was gone.
One moment later Moffitt and Hitch were on their way to the carpool.
He was hanging upside down on a gallows and felt his head swelling with the blood collecting in it, yet he had a disconcerting good view of his tormentor's face and his eyes.
"Feeling a little bit uncomfortable, Sergeant?" the colonel laughed; he enjoyed what he was doing. "You see that's the way he likes it," Beckmann said to another German who stood slightly behind him. "He's nothing but a worm."
"More a rat actually," the other man said and now Troy could see his face too. The captain's expression showed a slight annoyance, yet a wry smile was hovering around the eyes.
Two large strides and then Dietrich stood in front of him. "Keep each other alive," he whispered as he freed Troy from his bonds and carefully settled him on the ground. The next moment Dietrich lay dead on the sand, and Troy watched helplessly as Colonel Beckmann exchanged his identity disk for the captain's. "Now he's me," Beckmann said, "and I'm your lover."
With the gut-wrenching feeling of sickness Troy woke up. The shades of the nightmare vanished from one second to the next, chased away by the unsettling feeling of being watched.
Slowly he sat up and turned towards the entrance. Recognizing the officer he suppressed the impulse to stand up and salute. Major Bracken had no reason to be here, neither in this camp nor in his tent. So this wasn't a social call but meant that the unknown enemy had finally chosen to show his face and take responsibility for his actions.
It was somehow reassuring that their suspect turned out to be the right man, and it gave Troy an edge over him he wouldn't have had otherwise. So he didn't look surprised at the major, only a little angry, and had the satisfaction to see the other man taken aback, whatever he had been about to say lost in that moment.
Visibly collecting himself, Major Bracken took out his riding crop and whirled it between his fingers. "This time you won't get away, Sergeant, and you did it all yourself," the major said just when Troy had decided to start the talk himself.
"What do you mean?" Troy asked, not bothering with any form of rank or title. There was something about Bracken that made his skin itch, something that hadn't been there when they had first met.
"There I was wondering how to get you and now this comes along... just like that. I didn't even need to conjure something up; all I have to do is rush the investigation and convince some people that it's not necessary to go too deep into it. It's almost too easy." Bracken laughed, a crazy sound that tore at Troy's nerves.
"What have I done to you?" he asked, sensing that the British officer hated him with a vengeance.
"Don't you remember, Sergeant? The little charade you played with me? You and that Jerry? And I believed you, believed him. Believed that the blood was contaminated. I let him go! I even gave him good blood!" He spoke fast and angry but didn't shout.
"But it was the truth." Troy knew instinctively that there was no point in arguing, but he just couldn't stop himself from trying anyway.
"Ha." The major shook his head. "My superiors didn't believe it and held me responsible for the lost plasma. I was about to be promoted; now I'm still a major. Thanks to you and your Jerry friend." A dangerous smile crept onto the man's face. "But I'll get you for that. I will stop you. And then I'll make sure that everyone knows that you were a traitor. Then they will all see that I was just tricked by you, tricked like they all were, and they will acknowledge what I have done and promote me."
The words made no sense to Troy at all, but he could see that they made perfect sense to the British officer.
"What makes you think I'm a traitor?" he asked. A part of him wanted to laugh at the accusations; another part wanted to attack his enemy. The first impulse was controlled by the second and that one because he knew that Bracken was out of his range - thanks to the damned chain around his ankle. "Have you taken a look at my record? I have..."
The major interrupted him. "I read your records. And I noticed how often you and your men escaped from situations where others would have been killed. And it seemed a logical assumption that you were so lucky because of your associate Dietrich. And why should he help you if you weren't working for them?"
Shaking his head, Troy almost smiled about the irony of it. Dietrich was his lover, not his partner in espionage, and although there might have been situations where Dietrich had let them escape, they were still fighting each other, still standing on opposite sides. He knew, though, that the truth wasn't a main factor here.
"If you read my records you know how successful my group is. How do you explain that? If you're so sure that I'm working with Dietrich, why do you think I'm the traitor and not him? Didn't it occur to you that he might be my contact?" He got the major's attention with that, though he wondered why he was bothering at all.
For a minute the major considered his words, then dismissed them with a shake of the head. "I don't believe that you really hit so many convoys and succeeded in all your missions. My guess is that most of it was staged so you looked good and the Jerries got safely away. And I will prove it." The crazy smile was back. "And this time your pet German won't be able to help you. He might try, but he can't get you out of this." He laughed. "You know, I really hope he's stupid enough to try; that way, he'll hang right beside you."
"What are you talking about?" Something in Bracken's voice told him that he wasn't speaking rhetorically.
"I saw your men leave the camp in a German staff car. My guess would be that they're heading for German Division Headquarters to get Captain Dietrich. He'll probably appear here and tell the court that he knows Colonel Beckmann and then testify that your story is true. And then I'll have you both and Sergeant Moffitt, too." Scratching his thigh with the crop, he looked dreamily at a spot on Troy's chest for a second, then straightened and met Troy's eyes. "I really hope he'll come. I'm sure I can find enough evidence to hang you all."
He saluted briskly and vanished, leaving Troy staring horrified at the now empty space.
Feeling sick again all of a sudden, Troy lay down again and curled into himself. He believed what Bracken had said about his men, and it made perfect sense that Moffitt would try to get proof that Beckmann was Beckmann at German Headquarters. It would also seem sensible to Moffitt to ask Dietrich for help; after all, he was aware of the fact that Troy and Dietrich were lovers. And that thought made him sick, for the very idea that Dietrich would risk his career, his life and do something against his principles just for him was wrong. It was a mutual understanding between them that their love had to be kept separated from their duty, and they had managed to do it until now. If Moffitt tried to blackmail the German captain into helping by relying on his love for Troy, he would unsettle the balance in their relationship and probably destroy it. The thought was painful.
With a rueful smile Troy remembered the day he and his lover had been stuck in a cave which the Germans used as a depot. They had been alone there, no one to see them or hear what they were saying and yet both of them had been perfect soldiers, only concentrating on their respective goals. The gun in Dietrich's hand hadn't wavered, and only his eyes had betrayed his true feelings towards the American. Troy laughed despite himself. That had happened only a short time after their experience with the slavers and if it hadn't been for Bracken sending him and Dietrich letters to prove their alliance, they would probably never have had anything more. But because of those letters they had met out of line, and only then had they allowed passion to take over.
Maybe I should thank the major for it, and accuse him of matchmaking. Troy chuckled and sat up again.
Now that he was thinking again and not just reacting, he realized how unlikely it was that Dietrich would get involved in this mess. Whatever Moffitt's plan was, it surely had nothing to do with his German lover, since Moffitt couldn't know where the Hauptmann was right now and whether he knew Colonel Beckmann at all. No, that would be too far a shot, even for Moffitt.
Slightly relieved he went back over the conversation with the major and decided to finally do something he had delayed for much too long.
He lit a candle and then took a small paper out of his chest pocket. He knew the few sentences by heart, yet he read them again, before he held the letter very carefully above the flame.
As the paper caught the heat another sentence became visible, just as Troy had expected.
Not very poetic, I know, but...
The letter burned before Troy could read the words a second time, but he was sure he hadn't missed one. Watching the paper turn to ashes, he wondered about the words. Although he knew that it wasn't like Dietrich to put something intimidating in a letter - not even invisible - he felt disappointed, he had been so sure that it would be ... more intimate. A lover's greeting or a farewell, something to acknowledge their relationship, their feelings for each other.
And then it struck him. He saw himself and Dietrich in that coffee house again, remembered their conversation. He smiled and quietly voiced the sentence he had read, knowing now how it was supposed to finish.
"Not very poetic, I know, but a love letter nevertheless."
With a smile on his face he lay down again, his thoughts far away. "I love you too, Hans," he whispered and put out the light.
"It's not here," Moffitt said with a sigh, exchanging a disappointed look with his friend. "Neither Beckmann's nor Captain Seidel's."
"And now?" Hitch questioned.
The Englishman shrugged, then went over to the desk and looked at the reports lying there. "Two officers missing, there should be something here..." Holding up one folder, he nodded. "It's been reported. I guess they keep the personnel files of captured or dead officers elsewhere."
"Any ideas where?" Hitch's tone indicated that he wasn't expecting a positive answer.
Moffitt shook his head. "It could be anywhere. Probably on its way to bloody Berlin as far as I know."
"Great. So what do we do now?"
"Get the Hell out of here and find another way to help Troy." With that he laid the report back down and then walked to the door. A quick glance showed that there was no one outside and shadow-like they made their way out of the building.
On their way to the car Moffitt stopped suddenly. "Tell me if I'm seeing things," he asked his companion and pointed at a German walking along a balcony.
"It's Dietrich, yes." Hitch nodded. "Why, think he can help us?"
"Maybe." The English sergeant shrugged, he knew it was a far shot, but they had nothing to lose. "Go back to the car. I'll talk to the captain."
"He won't be happy to see you. You might need me," Hitch pointed out.
"True. But I'd bet that he's on his way to his quarters and that could be any room in that building. A German uniform isn't enough to get us there without problems. Someone is bound to ask you what you want."
Though he didn't like it Hitch got the point in his friend's words and after a brisk tap onto his shoulder he left for the car.
Steeling himself, and mentally changing into the persona of a German orderly looking for a certain officer, Moffitt went into the building designated 'Offiziersquartiere'.
The knock on the door was the last thing Hauptmann Dietrich had expected at this time and so his "Herein" sounded less annoyed than he actually was. Recognizing the tall, dark man who entered and grabbing for his weapon was a single swift reaction, but Dietrich never finished the move as Moffitt waved a negative with his gun.
"Sergeant Moffitt," the German said by way of greeting. "You must excuse my lack of hospitality, but I must have forgotten that we had an appointment."
The Englishman grinned, closed the door, and leaned against it. "My fault, Captain, I invited myself. Hope you don't mind."
"Actually, I do mind. But I guess you have a reason for being here." The last was said like a question and an unvoiced 'alone' hung in the air.
Moffitt nodded. "I need your help, Captain."
The German raised his brows but didn't comment.
"Do you know Oberst Beckmann?"
"I know his reputation."
Moffitt sighed. "It would have been too good to be true." He straightened. "Where do you keep the personnel files of missing or captured German officers?" he asked, hoping to get Dietrich off guard.
"You don't really expect me to tell you that, do you? You should know me better." Annoyance crept into the German's voice, showing how irritated he was by this scene. What did the Englishman want from him and where was the rest of the Rat Patrol?
"Why don't you just tell me what's going on, Sergeant? Don't play games with me. If you have captured Oberst Beckmann what do you need his file for?"
Slightly embarrassed for having given so much away, Moffitt nodded in agreement. "All right, Captain. As you assumed, we captured the colonel, along with a young captain. Troy captured them, to be exact. Somehow he was overpowered by them and knocked out. When he awoke again the young captain was dead and Colonel Beckmann had exchanged his identity disk with the captain's. And now Troy's about to face a court martial for killing the colonel."
"An unlikely story. Why didn't the colonel try to escape?" the German wanted to know.
"That's the question, isn't it? But think about it: He was deserting anyway, and as Captain Seidel he can sit out the war in a POW camp and will be set free when all is over. As Colonel Beckmann he'll be a wanted man for the rest of his life."
It made sense, Dietrich acknowledged that. "But why should Sergeant Troy kill him? Even if he had shot him he would have had a reason for it, self defense or stopping him from escaping. No reason for a court martial."
"They believe revenge to be a good enough reason for killing someone in cold blood."
"Revenge?" Dietrich got a hollow feeling in his stomach. "Does that mean Troy had been his prisoner?"
Moffitt nodded. "That's how he knew Beckmann. But no one believes him; no one believes that Captain Seidel is in truth Colonel Beckmann."
"You believe him," the German pointed out unnecessarily, his mind busy imagining Sam Troy in the hands of that sadistic colonel.
"Yes, but I need solid proof, and that brings me back to you, Captain."
Clasping his hands behind his back, Dietrich shook his head, clearing the images away. "I can't help you, Sergeant. I know neither Captain Seidel nor the colonel. And my testimony wouldn't be of any help anyway. I'm afraid you'll have to find another way to help your friend."
Irritated, Moffitt stepped closer, his gun on chest level. "There is one way to prove that Troy is innocent, and all I need is Beckmann's file, Captain, or that of Captain Seidel. There has to be a photo on it or at least a date of birth. That's all I need to prove that Beckmann is lying."
"I can't help you, Sergeant. The files of missing officers are kept separately for a reason, and I won't give that place away. No matter how touching the story."
"Does that mean you don't believe me?" Moffitt asked.
"It's of no consequence if I believe you or not, Sergeant. I can't help Sergeant Troy." Dietrich's look was stern.
"Meaning you won't."
The German didn't contradict that.
"Damn it, Dietrich. They'll hang him for something he hasn't done and you'll stand by and watch?"
"Sergeant Moffitt, some truces aside, we are still enemies, and I see no reason why I should rescue an Allied sergeant who's about to be court-martialed by Allied Command. Not to mention that with Sergeant Troy out of the picture, the German North Africa Corps will breathe a little easier." The sarcasm that normally would have underlined these sentences was missing, a sure sign that the German officer didn't find the situation amusing.
"I'm not asking you to betray any state secrets, Captain, all I want is a file."
"The principle is the same, Sergeant."
"Bloody hell, Dietrich, Troy needs your help!"
Dietrich's gaze darkened, but he said nothing.
"He's your lover, or have you forgotten that?" Moffitt asked angrily.
The Hauptmann flinched as if hit, but his expression didn't change, as if he had expected that blow long ago. "I don't know how you..."
"How I know? Troy didn't tell me, if that's your question, I'm just a good observer," Moffitt interrupted.
"How you got that impression - but it doesn't change a thing. I'm not a traitor and I won't betray my country. No matter my... personal relationship with Sergeant Troy." A flame of love, pain, and sorrow lit Dietrich's eyes, before he turned away. "I think you'll better leave now, Sergeant."
For a moment there was silence, then Moffitt said ruefully, "You and Troy'll drive me crazy. Of all the men, Troy could fall in love with, must he choose one who's as honorable as he?"
When there was no reply, he answered the question himself. "Of course. It's probably what he loves most about you."
A wry smile lurking at the corner of his eyes, Dietrich faced the Englishman again. "It's not the only thing I like about him, but it was the first thing I noticed," he admitted.
"I'm sorry," Moffitt said with a sigh. "I had no right to bring it up."
"You're his friend, and you're worried. I understand that. It's what makes you such a good team that you're willing to risk everything for each other. But blackmailing me like this won't work." Sitting down on his desk, Dietrich's gaze never left the British sergeant, as if he was waiting for another argument.
"What about justice?" Moffitt finally asked after thinking the officer's words over. "We both know that Beckmann is a monster, what he did in his camp ... And if I don't get his personnel file, he'll get away with it. And not only this time but for good and all, because officially he'll be dead. Think about it, Captain. He killed a young German officer in cold blood, so that he could have a peaceful life. Don't you think he should face a trial for that?"
Dietrich closed his eyes for a moment, coming to a decision. A grave expression on his features he nodded. "I'll get you his personnel file. But only that and only what you need." He stood again and looked coldly into Moffitt's eyes. "You'll give your word that you won't follow me to get the location of the files."
"I promise, Captain. You know you can trust my word."
Dietrich nodded and walked to the door, stopping there. "Stay here." His hand already at the door-handle, he added, "And please don't kill anyone on your way out, I already have enough dead on my conscience."
"I'll try, Captain, you know I cannot do more."
"Yes, I know." With that Dietrich left his quarters.
Stepping out of the tent, Troy breathed deeply, feeling the heavy weight of fear and doom lift from his shoulders. He extended a hand to the Englishman. "That was close. I owe you."
Moffitt took the hand and grinned. "You're welcome."
Mirroring the grin, Troy nodded towards his other two friends. "Thanks."
"Piece of cake, Sarge," Hitch replied, smiling proudly. Tully only tapped his helmet.
With grim satisfaction Troy watched as two MP's led Colonel Beckmann away, and the hatred-filled look the German sent his way didn't faze him in the least. One chapter closed. Yet another was still open. Looking around, Troy surveyed the area, but except for the officers who had been at the trial and his friends, there was no one to be seen.
"What are you looking for, Sarge?" Hitch asked.
"Major Bracken," Troy answered and, seeing the surprised expressions of his friends, added, "He came to my tent and told me that he was responsible for sending us to get Dr. Weberling, for the letters, everything. He was sure I couldn't get away this time."
"I don't suppose you have a witness to that conversation, do you?" Moffitt wanted to know.
Troy shook his head. "It would be his word against mine. But at least we now know who's behind it all. A known enemy is only half the danger."
"I wouldn't bet on that," Moffitt disagreed. "Until now he has always stayed in the background, now we know who he is and he knows that we know. That might make him more dangerous than ever. Even usually harmless animals become aggressive if they feel trapped."
"We'll see." Troy shrugged. "He's crazy, you know. Who can anticipate when a madman feels trapped and how he'll react? I never knew what he'd say. His moods changed from one second to the next. You know, he told me that you had taken Beckmann's staff car, he wanted to scare me."
"Ah." Moffitt raised his brows. "That's how you knew. I wondered why you looked so relieved when Hitch and I turned up, since Tully told us he hadn't spoken with you about our little excursion."
"No, it was Bracken. He thought you would get Dietrich to give testimony."
"Imaginative, that man," Moffitt commented as they walked towards their jeeps. "No, I was only after the file. I didn't even know that Dietrich was at Division Headquarters, figured he was still somewhere in the area of that hospital."
Icy fingers seemed to grab for Troy's heart. "Dietrich was there then?" he asked.
Moffitt nodded. "He helped me get the file." Seeing the thunderclouds appearing on Troy's face, Moffitt grabbed his arm and led him away from the others. "I had no choice, Troy. The bloody file wasn't with the others."
"You had no right to involve him!" Troy clenched his fingers to fists; it was all he could do to stop himself from hitting his English friend.
"I know. But it was either involving him or letting you down. As far as I'm concerned that is no choice at all." Moffitt took a deep breath. "And before you beat me into oblivion, I just wanted to say that Dietrich understood that."
Troy tried to picture his closest friend and his lover discussing the options of how to get him out of that mess and failed. "What did he say?"
"That it is my right as your friend to worry and to do everything within my power to rescue you."
In the light of that open admission of friendship Troy's anger vanished, and he let out a sigh. "How did you convince him to help you? It couldn't have been easy for him."
Shrugging, Moffitt grinned self-consciously. "It wasn't. But he is a reasonable and honorable man, as you well know, and he agreed that Colonel Beckmann had to be punished for killing a fellow countryman. So he gave me the file. After taking out everything that could have been of interest to Allied command, of course." Seeing Troy's amused look, he added, "That reminds me, I promised to give the file back when you're free. Any idea how I can get at the folder of this case without being seen?"
Troy shook his head. "No, but I'm sure I know some rats who'll be willing to help you."
"Good. I guess I have a plan then."
Waving Hitch and Tully nearer, the two sergeants grinned at each other in silent understanding, and simultaneously said: "Let's shake it."
"I guess you must be happy to see that we finally got the Rat Patrol, aren't you?"
Dietrich shrugged nonchalantly. "They have been caught before, and always escaped in the end. I wouldn't be too sure of myself if I were you, Oberst Beckmann." He couldn't really see the other man but loathed him with a vengeance.
The other man laughed. "We have ways to ensure that they won't run away and we have decided to start with their leader. Follow me, Herr Hauptmann."
Beckmann led him to an open place in the middle of the POW camp where a man was bound eagle-like to a tree. Dietrich didn't need to see the face of the prisoner to know it was Troy. He was surrounded by a group of Arabs, though why those people were wearing black uniforms Dietrich couldn't fathom. His insides froze at the sight, and he stopped in his tracks. Yet the next moment he stood only an arm length away from his lover.
He reached out to touch him, but then it wasn't Troy any more but a young blond woman, waiting for her punishment. Her green eyes shone with ire before they changed into blue defeated ones.
"We have decided he needs punishment and you've been elected to punish him." The man saying that seemed vaguely familiar and Dietrich wondered where to place him - something to do with Berlin...
"What are you talking about, Hauptmann Wansee?" he asked.
Instead of a verbal reply, the SS officer placed a whip in his hand. Dietrich let it go as if burned.
"I've never mistreated a prisoner and I won't start now."
"So it's true then," Wansee said, "he's your lover."
He eyed him coldly. "I doubt that my reluctance to torture someone can be seen as evidence of that."
"I'll make it evidence. Together with your love letters it will stick like glue." It seemed only natural that Major Bracken would appear on cue.
"Do it, Hans. They'll hang you beside me if you're not doing it." Troy's voice was as much commanding as it was pleading, but Dietrich ignored him.
"I'm not proving my loyalty to Germany by torturing anyone," he stated loud and angrily.
"Dietrich, don't be stupid, save yourself!" He could see Troy's face clearly, the proud blue eyes, the stubborn mouth. "I love you," the American voiced and he replied in kind. He could feel the firing squad approaching but he didn't turn around, his eyes never leaving the beloved face.
Troy's gaze was like a sunbeam on his skin, warming him, and he could almost feel it traveling down his body...
The feeling of being watched brought him from unsettling sleep to tensed awareness in seconds. He could sense that another person was in his room and that meant he hadn't heard that person come in. The thought was unbearable; it was a deadly weakness in his line of work, not to mention that it irked his pride. Carefully he opened his eyes, the room was only barely lit by a small lamp above the desk, but it was enough light to recognize the gaze he had been dreaming about.
"It's only me," Troy whispered, his hand covering Dietrich's which had slid automatically under the pillow to get for his gun.
"I should have sensed you earlier," Dietrich said, knowing that the sergeant would understand his shock.
"You felt it was me, you knew I wouldn't harm you." For that explanation Troy was rewarded with a glare. "Not in your own quarters at off duty hours," he amended.
"It's still no excuse," the German commented, but decided not to dwell on it. Maybe it was because Troy had fit so perfectly into his dream that his inner alarms hadn't gone off - he would probably never know for sure.
"So what are you doing here in the middle of the night?" he asked, sitting up. "And where are your men?"
"I'm here to return Colonel Beckmann's personnel file and to thank you personally for it. And as to the whereabouts of my men that's need to know, but they're not supposed to appear here."
"That's good to know. I really don't appreciate their visits. Firstly because they tend to hold a gun at me and secondly because I'm not really into socializing with the enemy." Although Dietrich tried to say it lightly, a hint of annoyance crept into his voice.
"I'm sorry," Troy said, laying his hand on Dietrich's shoulder. "Moffitt had no right to get you involved."
"No, you're wrong. He had every right, he's your friend and he cares for you. He just did what he had to do." Mirroring the American's gesture Dietrich gently massaged one shoulder. "So all went well, I assume?"
"Yes. Colonel Beckmann is in custody and will face his trial soon and I'm a free man again." His expression sober, Troy looked at his lover. "It had me scared shitless; for a while it seemed as if I wouldn't get out of this one." He swallowed. "If it hadn't been for Moffitt showing up with that personnel file ... Thank you for giving it to him."
"I'm not sure I should be proud of doing it. I'm your enemy, Troy, it's my duty to make sure you won't intercept any of our convoys anymore and what am I doing? I'm getting you off the hook."
The guilt was written all over the German's handsome face, and Troy yearned to smooth it away, but he knew now wasn't the right time.
"Why did you do it then? We agreed that our feelings wouldn't interfere with our duty."
"Because Sergeant Moffitt convinced me that I had to do it for Captain Seidel, that the man deserved better than to be buried somewhere as Colonel Beckmann. I agreed with him that Beckmann shouldn't be allowed to get away with killing a fellow officer, but should be punished for it as well as for his other crimes."
"That are good reasons, Hans. Honorable reasons. You didn't betray your oath. Beckmann did it when he killed that captain. Beckmann was a monster nothing more. You did the right thing." Daring, Troy touched the German's cheek and caressed it lightly; surprised he noted the beardstubble, as if the Hauptmann hadn't shaved for a while. He wished he could chase the shadows away that haunted his lover's soul.
"I know the reasons were honorable, but they weren't my true motivation. They made the decision easier, they gave me an excuse to help you. But what if someday I have to face a similar situation and there is no other excuse than me loving you? What will I do then, Sam? What would you do?"
It was something Troy had always shied away from thinking about. What would he do if it came down to Dietrich or a successful mission? Until now they had been lucky, killing the Hauptmann had never been necessary, but what if one day he stood literally between them and their goal? Could Troy kill him? Could he let one of the others pull the trigger?
"I don't know," he said honestly. "I don't think we'll know until it happens. But I hope, no, I believe that we'll do the right thing, the honorable thing."
"Honorable doesn't necessarily mean right," the German pointed out, stopping the caresses by grabbing Troy's wrist.
"How can it not be? It's all that we have that separates us from the beasts. If you stay true to yourself you'll do the best you can do."
"Tell that to the men you'll kill in the next days and weeks to come. I doubt they will see it that way." Before Troy could interrupt, Dietrich went on. "You only do your duty, Sam, you're not to blame. But what about me? I know that with each mission you're killing German soldiers; mere boys, Troy, my men! And from now on it will be my fault. Because I did the honorable thing, because I love you." The last was only a low whisper, as if Dietrich was drained out of strength.
A shiver ran down Troy's spine. He hadn't realized how heavy the burden his lover was carrying had become. Too much to bear it any longer. Seeing the tears running silently down the German's face, Troy pulled him into a tight embrace and held on.
He felt the sobs more than he heard them, for even in his grief and depression the Hauptmann was aware of their compromising situation. Troy didn't know what to say, so he just cradled his lover in his arms and soothingly stroked his back. It was so easy to forget how young Dietrich still was. He always seemed so self-assured and strong, always in control, it hurt and frightened the American to see him this way. The kind of pressures Dietrich had to face were surely enough to break any man, and it wasn't only their affair, though that certainly added to it immensely.
"I'm sorry, love." He kissed the top of the blond head. "I don't know what to say or do," he admitted. "But I know I love you and I can't believe that is wrong. No matter the circumstances, love is a gift of the gods, something to be gratefully accepted and cherished." Now I'm getting romantic. Inwardly he laughed at himself. But somehow he had the feeling that these words would get through to his lover - logical arguments and reasoning had lost their appeal long ago.
Troy felt a movement at his chest and then Dietrich lifted his head to look at him. The German had stopped crying, but sadness was still shadowing his features.
"You know something, Sam? I never realized how easy it is to become a traitor. As for me I'm balancing on a razor's edge and I'm not sure how long I can avoid falling and sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't just jump and get it over with. And I can't honestly say when it started. When we became lovers or the first time we had a truce? The day I killed that SS man or when they told me to put that star on the child? What am I supposed to do, Sam?"
Although his inner voice yelled to tell the German to defect, Troy knew that that wasn't the answer for his companion, - not yet anyway. "Just hang on, Hans, as you did in the past. The war is bound to end someday and then..." He didn't finish because Dietrich shook his head and retreated from their embrace.
"Do you regret ... us? Our love? Do you want us to end it?" Dreading the answer Troy rose, trying to steel himself against the pain.
"No." Dietrich stood too, his arms going around the smaller man. "And despite what it may have sounded like I'm not bothered because of our relationship. I'm bothered because of the way it is affecting others."
"What do you mean?"
"At the hospital, I made a bargain with Moffitt to let you all go if he told me where to find Weberling. Granted it was necessary because finding Weberling had priority, but the deal was offered easily by me, because I wanted to let you go." Dietrich sighed. "And because of that you were almost treated like guests, at least allies and if anybody ever gets suspicious, they'll realize that my sister was friendly to you too and she'll go down with me, they'll call her names and I'll never know what she..." He stopped, his brown eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I'm not making any sense, am I?" The German's voice sounded unusually insecure.
"Actually no," Troy had to agree. It seemed as if Dietrich's thoughts were in total disarray, something that seemed to contradict everything Troy associated with his lover. "What's with you, Hans? You all right? You aren't sick, are you?" The very idea frightened Troy to the core, the memory of his own illness still too close for comfort.
"No." The German shook his head. "I'm all right."
Something about the way he spoke finally gave Troy a clue - so something had happened. "Tell me, Dietrich, what happened?"
Resting his head on Troy's shoulder, the German sighed again. "My sister is missing. She was supposed to take medical supplies to a camp, but the ambulance never arrived there. They haven't found a trace of it, the driver or her yet."
"Your sister? Nurse Jutta, right?" Troy asked, hugging the blond tightly.
Dietrich nodded against his neck. "How did you know? She didn't tell you, did she?"
"I didn't know for sure. I guessed. She reminded me of you sometimes, and Moffitt told me later that she'd called you by your first name. And since you'd told me that you had a twin-sister... Why didn't you tell me?"
"There's no point in giving the enemy possible blackmail information."
Troy glared at him. "I wouldn't use it."
Ending the embrace Dietrich sat down again. "We have a saying in German: 'Was du nicht weisst, macht dich nicht heiss'. It translates more or less in 'What you don't know, won't trouble you'. We thought it was safer - for you as well as us - not to tell you in the first place."
"Jutta and I."
"Does she know about us... I mean about you and me?" It hadn't seemed that way. Surely if she had known the nurse would have treated him somehow differently.
"You told her?!" Troy wasn't sure if he liked that idea or not. To his surprise he saw a faint blush crawl along the German's cheeks.
"Not exactly. I didn't need to. She figured it out for herself. I mean, I had written her about you and your men of course, but not that we had become lovers. But when I visited her she took one look at me and knew ..." He shrugged, a sad smile on his lips.
"Smart lady." Troy grinned. "So that's why you were in that hospital, I wondered what you were doing there, it wasn't your district at all."
"Yes, went there for a holiday, didn't I. And was ordered to stay and take over when the assigned officer died. I can't ..." A sound outside his room stopped him in mid-sentence.
Troy froze, his hand going for his weapon.
A knock on the door. "Herr Hauptmann? Sind Sie wach?"
In a swift movement Dietrich rose and stepped to the door. He opened it only a fraction. "Ja?"
Standing unmoving, Troy listened to the quiet conversation in German. After a while, Dietrich closed the door again and turned towards him.
"I have to go. Something has come up."
"Your sister?" Troy asked alarmed.
"No." Dietrich shook his head. Then he was suddenly next to Troy and kissed him deeply, his hands almost bruising the American's arms. "You must go now," he said after releasing Troy again. "And be careful. I just lost Jutta, I couldn't bear ..."
Troy stopped him with another kiss. "You won't lose me, and you don't know if you've lost your sister. She could still be alive."
The shadow that darkened the officer's expression at his words told Troy that Dietrich wasn't sure if being alive somewhere in the desert, in the hands of who-knows-who wasn't a fate even worse than death.
Taking his lover's hands, Troy squeezed them hard. "Listen, Hans. None of us wanted to die at the hands of those Arabs, although we were both afraid of what they'd do to us. We survived, we'd have survived no matter what they'd done to us. She's a lot like you. She would want to live. And if there's a way, she'll come back. Okay?"
Dietrich nodded. "Thanks, Sam." The ghost of a grin. "You almost sounded like her."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Troy asked, already on his way to the window.
"That you'd make a good nurse."
Groaning, Troy stepped onto the balcony, his body at once melting into the wall's shadows. "I'll get you for this," he whispered and slipped away, not sure if the words "I hope so" had really been Dietrich's reply or just his own wishful thinking.
The room hadn't changed at all since the first time Troy had visited this coffee house - the small table, the cot. Grinning, Troy turned to the man who leaned against the wall.
"What?" Dietrich asked, puzzled about the American's amusement.
"I just thought that this place hasn't changed since the last time and then it occurred to me that I wouldn't want the sheets to be the same still."
"They aren't," the German said deadpan. "I checked."
Relief flooded through Troy. The Hauptmann's whole appearance told him that Dietrich had found his inner balance again, or at least part of it.
"I wasn't sure that you would come," Dietrich said in a low tone, "not after our ... encounter before last."
"You had no choice. I don't hold what happened against you. Besides, I've the feeling, if our captor had been anyone else but you, we might not have escaped - at least not that easily."
"I didn't help you."
"I didn't say you did."
Their eyes met in perfect understanding. And then they were together, holding each other close.
"I missed you," Dietrich whispered, kissing along the American's neck.
"Lucky me," Troy commented and yelped in surprise when the German bit him lightly.
Stepping back, the taller man gifted him with a half-amused half-annoyed expression. "My sister would have given you a lecture about typical manly unromantically behavior for that, Sergeant. You're very lucky indeed, for being with me and not her. Not to mention how sorry she would make you feel if one day you were not missing me." Taking advantage of Troy's open mouth, Dietrich leaned forward and devoured it thoroughly.
"She's all right then?" Troy asked when he got his breath back.
His lover nodded. "She was found about a week ago. And I got a letter from her the day before yesterday. She didn't say much in it, only that she's alive and well and I shouldn't worry. But she's trying to visit me so that we can talk." The German almost shone with happiness about that news.
"Tully'll be glad to hear that," Troy said, leading the blond to the cot.
"Pettigrew?" Dietrich looked surprised, then he nodded. "She said something about him and a date after the war if I remember correctly."
"You remember correctly." Shedding his clothes, Troy grinned. "By then he'll probably be over the shock of her being your sister."
"You told him?" About to kick off his boots, the German stopped.
"Yes. I thought he should know that she was missing, he really liked her. And that way - I mean, with the others knowing - the chance was better to find her. We asked around in the POW camps and Moffitt used his Arabian connections, but we heard nothing. I'm glad, she's all right."
"Thank you, Sam." Tears of joy and love glistened in Dietrich's brown eyes.
"You're welcome." Stripping the German of his clothes, Troy pushed him onto the cot and began a sensual exploration on him, starting at the neck and slowly wandering down his torso.
For a moment Dietrich lay there barely moving, then his hands tangled in Troy's hair and he pulled at it lightly to stop his lover. Surprised, the American looked up. "What?"
"I want you," Dietrich said, his fingers caressing Troy's forehead. "I want you to take me."
The mere suggestion increased Troy's heartbeat and hardened his cock. He slipped up again and initiated another kiss, thereby rubbing their bodies against each other.
"You sure?" he asked finally.
The German nodded and reached for something beside the cot. When his hand returned it held a small jar with some sort of ointment in it.
"Always prepared?" Troy asked amused. "I thought you weren't sure I'd come."
"I hoped." Dietrich smiled. "And I didn't need to bring it, it's part of the service here."
"Good. But no need to hurry, we can take our time, right?" Worried that the captain might have an appointment to keep, Troy looked down at his lover, but Dietrich nodded. "We can take our time."
And then he turned their positions around and covered Troy's neck and chest with kisses and gentle bites. The American moaned, his hands stroking down his lover's back. He realized that he was already close to the edge and breathlessly told his companion so.
"That's all right, Sergeant, you'll get a second chance for slow love making afterwards," Dietrich commented dryly and got on with his task.
With a sigh that turned into a groan Troy surrendered to the assault, following the German's lead. The cool salve that Dietrich applied to his penis banked down the approaching orgasm long enough for him to watch as his lover prepared himself. It was one of the most erotic sights Troy had ever seen and it fueled his lust immensely.
When the blond looked up their eyes met and he felt himself drown in the warm gaze.
"You're beautiful," Troy whispered, finally voicing what he had realized during their first night together.
The brown eyes shone like stars at that compliment. "You too," Dietrich replied and carefully settled himself over his companion's aching cock.
And then there were no words for a long time, only the sounds of two men becoming one in the name of love.
They stood side by side, holding hands. He could feel his lover's gaze on him but didn't find the courage to return it.
"Sweet." Laughing, Colonel Beckmann circled them, then finally stopped in front of them.
"You're sure that you won't leave them to me?" he asked the British officer at his side.
Major Bracken hesitated. "I don't know. I like the idea of hanging them, but I admit, a little torture would be just what they deserve." He shook his head, then nodded, coming to a decision.
"I'll give you Captain Dietrich. I'll keep Sergeant Troy. It's fair play, after all, you already had your fun with the sergeant."
Beckmann nodded and grabbed for Dietrich.
"No! I promised him save conduct!" Troy tried to hold on to his lover but the German's hand slipped out of his. Horrified he watched as Colonel Beckmann dragged Dietrich away, too aware of what was awaiting his beloved.
A hand touched his arm and he whipped around, furiously staring at the laughing major.
"You had no right to send Dietrich with him!" he told him, his fists beating into the man.
The officer laughed even more. "Oh I had every right."
"No!" Troy shook his head. "Dead officers are not allowed to give orders. And you're dead."
"Am I?" Bracken didn't seem convinced.
"Yes, you're dead," Troy insisted. "You are dead."
"You are dead!"
"Sam, wake up!"
With an enraged growl Troy tried to get rid of the strong hands holding his wrists, his eyes sparkling with anger as they opened. The worried, but determined gaze that met his confused one, evaporated the fury into nothingness, and with a sigh he relaxed his tensed muscles. "Sorry."
Dietrich let go of his wrists and lay down next to him, his fingers gently stroking his chest. "Nightmare?" he asked.
"You kept repeating 'You are dead'. What were you talking about?" The German sounded only a little curious.
"I was trying to convince Major Bracken that he had no right to make any decisions because he was dead." Laughing self-consciously Troy shook his head. "Dreams. It didn't disturb me that he was walking around, only that he was giving orders."
His eyebrows almost meeting his hair, Dietrich looked at him in surprise. "Does that mean that Major Bracken is dead?"
"Yes. He was killed the day before I returned Colonel Beckmann's file to you. Didn't I tell you?" And then he remembered and shook his head. "Guess not. You were so upset about your sister's disappearance and then we were interrupted, so it just slipped my mind."
"Do you know if he was the one behind the letters and all?" Dietrich asked.
"I couldn't prove that it was him, but he came to me while I was in custody and told me that he was behind it. He was really nuts. Thought I was a German spy."
"How did he die?"
"Someone put a knife into him. A very clean kill, he had no time to cry or suffer."
"A robbery?" The Hauptmann seemed intrigued.
"No. He wasn't robbed. Looked more like revenge."
"Did Sergeant Moffitt know that Bracken was your unknown enemy?"
"Yes." Troy nodded. "I know what you think. You wonder if Moffitt decided that Bracken was a too real threat to our lives and got rid of him." He sighed ruefully. "You know the thought occurred to me too, but Jack was with me and Hitch when Major Bracken died, so he's no suspect. And he wouldn't tell somebody else to do it, this is too personal a matter."
"I agree. And it doesn't matter anyway. I'm glad though that this ... problem is finally solved." Sitting up, Dietrich looked silently at his lover, obviously wanting to ask something, but not sure how to begin.
"Just shoot, Hans," Troy said a little amused.
"Sergeant Moffitt told me that you were a prisoner in Beckmann's camp and I wondered ... You never said anything about it."
With a sigh Troy rearranged their positions so that his head was now pillowed against his lover's belly. "I don't like to think about it. Tried to put it all behind me," he murmured.
"But you still have nightmares about it." It was no question.
"How do you know?"
"Several nights when we were with the slavers you spoke in your sleep, I didn't get all of what you said, but you seemed really troubled. I managed to calm you down eventually, but it wasn't always easy. And your reaction to the idea that we might get raped got me thinking ..." Stroking soothingly through his lover's hair, Dietrich looked almost apologetically at him. "I don't want to hurt you, Sam, and if you don't want to talk about it, it's okay, but I really believe that you should talk to someone. If not to me, then Moffitt, or maybe your brother. It may help you to come to terms with it."
Troy listened to his lover's voice and wondered if he could do it, discovering to his surprise that he wanted to talk about it.
A memory surfaced, painfully clear as if it had happened only yesterday: A young man screaming as he was raped by several of his fellow prisoners, the machine gun pressing into Troy's ribs stopping him from helping the boy and Beckmann's satisfied grin ...
With a shudder Troy came back to the present.
"Sam?" Dietrich's arms were around him, holding him close.
Breathing deeply, Troy decided that Dietrich was right, it was time to drag the ghosts of the past into the open so that they could be banished. And where better to face them than here in the shelter of his lover's embrace, where he was secure and cared for.
"You know," he started, "it's really embarrassing how easily they got me then. Made sure that would never happen again. But then ... I guess I was a little careless ..."
Dietrich's quiet chuckle lessened Troy's tension and he smiled up at his lover. "And not as experienced in avoiding German patrols as I am now, so they got me."
The compassion he could feel radiating from Dietrich gave Troy all the strength he needed to carry on, and slowly but determined he bared his past and with it his soul to the German, knowing that his lover would never betray his trust.