Amidst the Ruins
by C. Jerry Ueberall
Summary: Postwar Germany.
Notes: For my grandmother, who died 2005. This story was first published 2000 in Flanking Maneuvers # 3 , a Rat Patrol slash zine by Lindberg's Legacy Press.
Series/Sequel: Fifth in the Pebble series. Sequel to Know Thine Enemy
Watching the tall German who stood motionless in front of the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, Troy's heart contracted with fear once again. Don't give up, Hans, please! He knew that Dietrich wasn't really looking at the destruction - although seeing your country in a state of wreckage and death surely was a deep shock in itself - but was caught in the symbolism of it, acknowledging that the shattered buildings were of little significance compared with what had really been destroyed.
Once Dietrich had told him that "Honorable doesn't necessarily mean right" and he had contradicted him, knowing that it was only because they were both following the same code of honor that they were able to be lovers while their countries were at war. But it seemed time had proven Dietrich right. Back then the Hauptmann had already realized that the war was wrong, had been started for all the wrong reasons, but he had still stood to his oaths, clung to his honor, telling himself that by being honorable he was doing what was best for Germany. He had lost this illusion along with his faith in God and his trust in himself.
Troy shook his head sadly, fighting the tears that welled up. He wished he could just walk over to his lover and take him into his arms, but in daylight in the middle of Berlin, that was not an option. When they were in Africa, his belief had been that all they needed to do was to survive the war without doing something unforgivable to each other, and then they would have a future together - he and his German lover. It had seemed unlikely, with all the chances they took, but now he found that surviving had been the easiest hurdle to overcome, living with the present, living with the knowledge of what had been done by Germans was the hard thing.
He had seen Dietrich in a lot of situations, but never before had the man looked so desolated, clouded in guilt and depression, his pain almost touchable. God, don't do this to us, Troy pleaded silently. I need him. Don't take him away from me now.
He remembered his visit to the prisoner-of-war camp where he had finally located the Hauptmann, after weeks of searching without success.
He was back in that small interrogation room, waiting for the guards to bring Dietrich to him. His shock at seeing his lover pale and thin was put aside by the joy in the German's eyes as they locked with his.
"Sit down, Captain," he said and at the same time dismissed the guards.
Dietrich obeyed so eagerly that Troy barely had time to notice his slight limp and the way he tried not to move his left arm.
"You are hurt." It was a statement, but the German took it as a question.
"A little. You can say that the Wehrmacht is outnumbered by unshakable Nazis here, and some of us are even less liked than others." A rueful grin accompanied that explanation.
"What's your particular offense?" he asked, though he could guess.
"I'm socializing with two officers who are accused of fraternizing with the enemy. They had supervised a prisoner of war camp and had treated the prisoners fairly, even surrendered to them when it was clear that it was all over." Dietrich's tone spoke of high regard towards those two Germans who had followed common sense and honor rather than rules and pride.
"If that was done to you just because you were socializing," Troy said, pointing at his arm, "I guess my visit here will get you into even more trouble, right? That wasn't my intention."
His lover shrugged. "I'm already guilty by association, why not for the truth? It would make a change for once." A small smile danced across the Hauptmann's features. "I'm grateful you showed up. I was wondering if you ... were still alive."
"I know how that feels. I'm glad I finally found you." He reached out, only a hand over a bare table, but Dietrich grabbed it like a lifeline. It was all they dared to do; only their eyes spoke of all the feelings left unsaid.
He had left shortly afterwards, meaning to come back, but fate had decided otherwise, keeping them apart until a week ago.
There had been signs of depression then too in Dietrich, but there had also been a sparkle of hope, of relief that the war was finally over and life would go on. That spark was missing now. All the Hauptmann was aware of nowadays was the destruction around him, the fingers pointing at him, accusing him of being a murderer, a monster.
Troy knew that Dietrich was suicidal, hanging onto life only because killing himself seemed a coward's way out. But you didn't need to take a bullet to your head to die. There existed a lot of ways leading to the same ending, like starving or not sleeping - though Troy guessed that his lover wasn't doing any of that on purpose, more likely it were the nightmares that kept him awake and the images of the Konzentrationslager that choked him whenever he tried to eat.
God, why did he go there and see for himself? The pictures are bad enough, but seeing it with your own eyes.... But he knew, of course, why Dietrich had gone to one of those camps, because he couldn't believe what was said, couldn't accept that it wasn't just one aberration, and the rest just exaggerations. Didn't want to believe that Germans had done such things.
What he saw had destroyed much more than his belief in Germany, and Troy had hardly recognized the shattered man he had found in that bad joke of a hotel room.
"Dietrich?" Slowly he had stepped into the small room, finding it hard to imagine that the Hauptmann would have chosen such a place to stay. Of course, the city had been destroyed by uncountable bomb raids, but already the people were picking up the pieces of what had been before the war, life went on, and here and there smaller hotels were opened and vacant rooms were offered; surely his lover could have found better accommodations.
"Dietrich?" he asked again, closing the door behind him and taking measure of the room. There was still no answer to his question, but the tall silhouette next to the window was one he'd always recognize.
"If you were trying to recapture the flair of that coffee house I must tell you that you exaggerated a bit." He expected a snort or a smile, but none came, no reaction at all. The German didn't even look at him.
"Hans? Are you all right?" Hesitantly he walked up to the other man and gasped in shock when he got a closer look. The uniform was torn and dirty and didn't seem to fit the man in it at all. Troy's first thought was that the POW-administration had given the officer a wrong uniform, but then he realized that it was the right length, only the body in front of him had lost a lot of weight. Dietrich reminded him of an ascetic after a fasting period.
"What happened to you? God, Hans! I think I can see your ribs. When was the last time you ate?" Still no reaction. Bleak eyes stared into nothingness, out of a face that had aged years since he saw it last, and yet the bearer appeared younger than ever.
Fear came out in anger as he grabbed the taller man and shook him hard; the thin body didn't resist, but swayed in his grip like a leaf. Ashamed of himself, Troy stopped the motion but left his hands on Dietrich's arms. "Talk to me, Hans. Captain Dietrich!"
Finally the brown eyes locked onto his face and he could see recognition returning to the empty gaze. "Troy." It was barely a whisper.
"Yes. Hans, what's happening? Are you sick?" That was all he could think of.
"Ich hab' sie gesehen. Ich sehe sie immer noch, wenn ich die Augen schliesse, dann sind sie da."
In all the years he had fought Germany Troy hadn't learned to speak the language, but he understood it well enough by now. "Who have you seen? What are you talking a..." And then he knew, knew it from the horror filled eyes that looked back at him.
"Oh God, you ... you ..." He never finished the sentence but instead pulled Dietrich into an embrace. Slowly he led him towards the bed. Ignoring the sorry state it was in, Troy managed to settle them on it, just in time before the man in his arms broke down and started to cry.
"What have we done? How could we do that?" Dietrich asked again and again in German, like a litany.
There was no answer to that and Troy felt utterly helpless, not sure what to say, not sure if he should say anything. So he stayed silent for a long time, only now and then whispering endearments to the desperate man in his care, while he tried to soothe him through touch.
After a long time the sobbing subsided and Troy felt his lover relax. Afraid to wake him up, he didn't try to dislodge Dietrich or even get him out of his clothes, but just moved up a little bit to rest his back against the headboard, prepared to watch over the younger man's sleep, no matter how long it would take.
Troy woke immediately when the man he cradled began to stir in his arms. Gently he stroked over the blond hair, while he tried unobtrusively to get feeling back into his other hand.
"Morning," Troy said quietly and added with a small smile, "Rise and shine."
The forehead furrowed in reaction to that, and it was obvious from Dietrich's expression that he was trying to figure out where he was and with whom. Finally brown eyes looked up, still unfocused and confused, but at least in touch with their surroundings.
"Troy?" The voice sounded so young and insecure that it nearly broke the American's heart. It always hurt him to see this vulnerable side of his lover, for it meant that Hans had suffered almost unbearable anguish.
"Yes. I'm here, my love." It was a new development, Troy realized, his ability to call his companion 'love' or 'lover' or other endearments so freely, but somehow it seemed right now, when it never had before. Today there was no war between them, he was no longer 'Sergeant Troy' and the German was no longer 'Captain Dietrich', who actually outranked him. Stripped of their ranks and duties they were just two men in love, and Troy had every intention to spoil his younger partner as best he could.
"Sam?" A sound of wonder was in Dietrich's voice. "What are you doing here?" He sat up a little. "And where exactly are we?"
"As to the where... Berlin, Germany, a really bad excuse for a hotel. And what I'm doing? I'm waiting for the man I love to wake up and kiss me." The gaze he was gifted with contained all he had hoped for, irritation and a sparkle of amusement.
A large hand came up and stroked his cheek. "You're real," the German murmured and then leaned forward to kiss him. Troy opened his lips and let his mouth be devoured only to return the favor quite thoroughly. Breathlessly they separated and Troy could see that even this simple task had almost exhausted his lover.
"How long have you been starving yourself, Hans?"
The earnest eyes drifted closed for a moment in an attempt to remember, and opened again clouded with pain and shame. "I don't know. I don't even know how I got here." He looked at the American questioningly. "How did you find me? I surely didn't send you a letter, did I?"
"No, you didn't. But I knew you'd appear here within these days, so I spread the word that I'd pay a bounty to the first person who told me your whereabouts." He smiled at the surprised gaze of his companion. "And it was a good thing I did, because I'd never have looked for you here. This is ... just not you."
Dietrich looked around for the first time, but his reaction wasn't what Troy had expected. "It fulfills its purpose." He shrugged, obviously not caring.
"If you say so." Not interested in discussing this further, Sam rose from the bed and extended a hand. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"We are going to my hotel."
"Then?" Troy shrugged. "Whatever feels right. From the looks of you I'd say sleep would be a very good idea. After you eat something."
"I won't accompany you."
These being the last words he had anticipated, he could only stare at the German. "What?!" he finally managed to ask. "Why not?"
"I won't be your charity case. This hotel may not be up to your standards, but it is one I can afford, and therefore I'll stay."
"What the hell are you talking about? You are a lot of things to me, but a charity case you ain't!" Anger rose in Troy. Why wasn't anything ever easy with this guy?
"It does look like that to me."
"But it isn't the case, so swallow your damn pride for once and just do as I say!"
"Stop being stubborn, Dietrich!"
"I won't share your room, and that is final, Sergeant!"
The use of his former rank was like ice water on his burning rage, and all of a sudden Troy realized that this had nothing to do with wounded pride.
"What are we fighting about? This isn't about money, is it, Hans?"
A sigh was his only answer.
"What is the real problem, love? Tell me." He reached out and cupped the German's chin, gently forcing him to meet his gaze. "The truth, please."
"You want me to walk at your side into a hotel, which is visited mostly by Allied personnel, follow you to your room and actually share it with you?" Dietrich asked and he nodded.
"Sam, don't you realize what that will do to your career? Not to mention your life. Even if by some miracle they don't draw the right conclusion about our relationship, it won't do you any good to openly befriend a German officer."
So that was the problem. Troy sighed. He should have expected it. Dietrich was looking out for his safety, as he had done in Africa whenever the situation had allowed it. "It is not uncommon for two men to bunk together, not even in a hotel," he tried to reason.
"A German and an American? Tell me another one." Though the tone was almost teasing, the expression was unyielding.
"It's not forbidden and anyway, I'm as good as out of the Army, it doesn't matter to my career, because simply that is at its end."
His lover didn't seem surprised. And why should he be? Troy reminded himself. If I were interested in a military career I wouldn't have been still a sergeant when we met.
"And what about your friends?"
"What about them? Come on, Hans. The only ones that really count are Jack, Tully and Hitch, and it really isn't big news to them that I care for you. They all respect you, they all owe you."
An ironic smile danced around the German's lips. "I'm not sure I really want to know what they think they owe me. Was it Pettigrew or Hitchcock my men pierced with an arrow? And I seem to remember more than one occasion where I interrogated your men. I'd prefer they forget about owing me something."
Troy laughed at that. "True. But it was also your shot that saved Moffitt from Wansee, and because of you, your sister gave them that antidote to Weberling's virus. And I think I can recall a lot of occasions where we wouldn't have been able to escape if the interrogator had been anyone but you. Not to mention the times you saved my hide."
Dietrich nodded, but his eyes darkened with the reminder of his sister.
Taking a step closer to his companion, Troy laid a hand on his shoulder and looked intently at him. "She'll be there, Hans. She's not dead."
Swallowing, the German closed his eyes. "I hope you're right." He breathed deeply and when he looked up again, a single tear ran down his cheek. "I need her, Sam. I've never before needed her so much in my life."
"I know, love, I know." Gently he pulled the taller man into his arms, trying not to feel jealous of his friend's absent twin. He understood that it wasn't so much another shoulder to lean on that the German needed, but the sympathy of one who watched the world with the same eyes, who truly understood what Dietrich was going through right now.
Because no matter how compassionate Troy was, even empathic at times with his lover, a German he wasn't. As one who had walked on the side of the angels in this war, he would never really be able to comprehend all the different emotions warring within someone who found himself turned into a devil.
"She'll be there, Hans. I'm sure of it. She wouldn't let you down." And he believed what he said. He had met Jutta Dietrich only once, in a German hospital in the middle of nowhere, but even then, when he had only guessed that she was the Hauptmann's twin, he had felt the strong connection between the two and he couldn't imagine her ever leaving her brother alone.
And this was the reason they were here. Troy returned to the present.
Aware of how easily you could lose contact in the middle of a war, the twins had promised each other to meet on their birthday or some other important occasion when it was over. They had chosen Berlin for the rendezvous, because although it wasn't their hometown it was where they had lived for a few years, and it was a place they knew well. Today was their parents' anniversary, the first of those days that Hans had been able to be here. And now they were waiting for Jutta to show up.
Sam sighed. He prayed with all his heart that the woman was alive and well and would come, because he wasn't sure if his lover would survive long enough for one of their other dates.
In the last week he had worked - almost literally - to get Dietrich on his feet again, more or less forcing him to eat and making him sleep by wearing him out. He hadn't convinced him to share his hotel room, but at least had him transferred to a little clean lodging, where no one cared about the nationality of the customer.
Troy's best argument fighting the German's depression had been this appointment with his sister, that Dietrich couldn't meet her looking like death. He knew all his work would be in vain should she not appear.
Watching the hunched figure of his friend beginning to shake slightly, Troy kicked reason good-bye and rose from the rock he sat on to stand beside his lover. Gently he laid a hand on the taller man's shoulder. "Don't give up, Hans," he whispered.
Dietrich looked at him, affection overshadowing the pain for a second. "Keep each other alive?" he quoted from long ago. The American nodded.
"For what?" Dietrich gestured to the destruction around them. "We destroyed what we had along with the future." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "There's nothing left."
Troy swallowed the words that he wanted to say. What about us? his heart shouted. What about our love? But he knew that the German wasn't able to seek happiness for himself as long as the guilt was eating him alive.
Damn it, Hans! It wasn't you, you didn't kill all those people! He didn't say it aloud though, only squeezed his companion's shoulder and then let go. Once again he scanned the place, hoping to see the familiar face of a German nurse. Come on, lady, he needs you. We need you.
He wondered briefly how he could be so sure that all their problems would vanish if only she arrived, but somehow it was a given. Seeing her will strengthen him, talking to her will ease the burden of being a German, at least a little. Troy sighed. Right now everything seemed tainted for Dietrich, but he wouldn't see a stain on his sister. She'll just be what she always was, his beloved twin. And then she'll straighten him out, tell him that life goes on, that he deserves happiness. And he'll listen to her.
Another look around. A woman with a baby carriage caught his attention, she was having trouble with a wheel and stopped to bring it in order, thereby losing the grip she had on a small girl of maybe five or six years. The child used her sudden freedom to run off, heading straight towards him and Hans. A boy about the same age, who had stood on the other side of the carriage, almost immediately followed her, catching up when she stopped only an arm's length away from them.
"Hallo." The girl gazed at Dietrich then at Troy.
"Schokolade?" she asked him, looking up pitifully. She had obviously decided that as an American he was more likely to have sweets than his German companion.
He shook his head, intrigued by her eyes; the left was brown and the right grey.
She sighed, then shrugged, probably it had been worth a try anyway. "Mein Papa ist auch Soldat," she said, turning towards the Hauptmann, one hand plucking at his sleeve. "Kennst du ihn?"
Kneeling down Hans smiled. "Wahrscheinlich nicht. Weisst du, es gibt sehr, sehr viele Soldaten." Softly he stroked over her hair.
Watching the scene with interest, Troy was slightly disappointed at himself for not having any chocolate to give that child, who was looking for soldiers who knew her father.
"Mein Papa..." she continued, but was interrupted when the boy, who had stood silently behind her, poked into her side and whispered loudly: "Hat der aber'n komischen Hut." His eyes never left the American's head.
Dietrich laughed and grinned at his companion. "He thinks your hat is funny," he translated.
Troy nodded, chuckling himself. It hadn't been difficult at all to follow the conversation. Smiling, he took his bush-hat off and placed it on the boy's head, who cheered up and seemed to gain some height.
In reaction to that the girl grimaced and looked to Dietrich, expecting him to do something. With a twinkle the German gave her his cap and when she had put it on, he lifted her in his arms and stood again. Sticking her tongue out, she grinned down at her brother.
Not ready to lose this private little competition, the boy spread his arms and said: "Arm!" with the conviction in his young voice that his order would be obeyed.
Saluting mockingly, Troy did as he was told and lifted the boy. Almost immediately the children started a shouting match about who had the better carrier, totally disagreeing on the point whether height was worth more than having an American?
Over the shoulder of the boy Sam looked at his lover, and felt his heartbeat speed up. The picture of Dietrich with that child on his arm was overwhelming, especially because he had an undisguised happy smile on his face. The German's gaze searched for his and when they locked, Troy fell in love all over again.
"For them, Hans," he said quietly. "They didn't do anything wrong and they have a right to grow up in a world of peace and love. They are the future. And they seem like a bright one."
Thoughtfully Dietrich looked at the girl. "None of us will ever call a child his own if we stay together. Do you realize that, Sam?"
"Yes, I do. But as much as I like kids I don't really want the responsibility of being a father." He grinned. "You know, with Moffitt, Hitch, and Tully, there were days when I thought I was the only grown-up around. It gave me a good impression of how it must be to be a father and I tell you, it's work. I've had enough of it for the rest of my life."
Hearing his lover chuckling was like music to his ears.
"I'd guess that Sergeant Moffitt would disagree about you behaving like a grown-up," Dietrich said knowingly.
"Maybe." Troy smirked. "But he'd better not, I'm still stronger."
"Entschuldigung, es tut mir wirklich sehr leid." Unnoticed by either of the soldiers the mother had arrived. "Ich hoffe, sie waren nicht zu frech?"
Troy just shook his head and sat the boy down, while Dietrich assured the embarrassed woman that no harm was done, that her children had behaved quite well, and that no apology was needed.
Taking back their headgear the men said good-bye to the youngsters and wistfully watched them until they disappeared behind a corner.
"I guess you're right, Sam. They deserve a future." Hans closed his eyes for a moment and sighed deeply. "It's not fair. They didn't do anything wrong, they are completely innocent, but it will be their generation the whole world will observe. They'll be burdened with the wrongdoing of their parents. Growing up facing hatred and disgust wherever they go. And it will be up to them, to not only rebuild Germany's cities but also her reputation. It won't be easy."
"No." Troy nodded. "But they'll cope."
"Who'll cope with what?"
As one the men whirled around at the sound of the female voice in their back.
"Jutta." Dietrich only breathed the name.
Indeed, it was she. Troy felt the Rocky Mountains lift from his heart. Like her brother she had lost weight and looked haggard and tired, yet as she took in the sight of her brother the delight and relief in her eyes melted years away.
"Hans. Ich bin froh, dich zu sehen."
Amused he watched his lover blush lightly as he realized what he had said. Of course Dietrich hadn't meant to say that he was happy to see himself.
"Dich zu sehen, natürlich," he corrected. "Ich hatte Angst, dass ..." He didn't finish his sentence, for they all knew what he had feared.
Troy couldn't believe it. The twins still stood an arm's length away from each other and neither seemed willing or able to move closer. If they start small talk next, I'll push them together. He knew that Germans were generally believed to be reserved and not overly emotional, but this seemed a bit extreme, after all they hadn't seen each other in more than three years and hadn't known if the other was still alive.
"Unkraut vergeht nicht." Jutta shrugged, openly scrutinizing her brother's appearance. "Du siehst schlimm aus, Bruderherz," she said a not-quite-reproachful tone in her voice.
"Danke." Her twin replied with heavy irony which changed into wistfulness at the end of his sentence. "Ich hab' dich ... vermisst."
"Ich weiss." She smiled sadly, and took one step forward, the next moment she was pulled against a broad chest as her brother enfolded her in his arms.
Smiling at the tableau in front of him, Troy looked around to see if someone else was watching the reunion, but nobody did. It was probably a common sight, he reflected, and very likely no German would even bat an eyelid if it were two men greeting each other this way - as long as neither of them wore an Allied uniform. He sighed and turned back to the twins.
They were still embracing, but Jutta was looking around her brother's shoulder at Troy, her hand extended towards him. He took it gently, but her grip was hard. Their gazes met and he had the feeling that she was looking directly into his soul, discovering all his secrets and fears. Tears were in her eyes and she voiced a silent "thank you" as if she knew what he had been through with Hans - and maybe she did.
Finally the Germans let go of each other, and the woman gifted him with a smile. "I'm glad to see you, Sergeant. I wondered if we'd ever meet again." Her expression attentive, she asked about his men.
"They're all right. And here in Berlin too." Echoing her earlier comment he added: "As you said, ill weeds don't wither."
"It's what I said, right. But it's not an American expression, is it?"
He shook his head. "No."
"But it's a very adequate one," Dietrich said, his look encompassing the area until it settled on the church's damaged tower. "It's always the good things which die."
Troy exchanged a glance with Jutta before she stepped closer to her twin, leaning slightly against him. "Some people think it would be a good idea to not rebuild the church, but leave it this way as a memorial of the war."
Her brother snorted at that. "As if we need a reminder."
She shrugged. "Maybe not. But I think it's a good idea, as long as they don't plan on leaving everything like it is today." Elbowing him lightly she changed the topic radically. "You two really looked cute with the children, you know." Her gaze swept over to Troy teasingly. "It's good to know that I'll have two baby-sitters at hand when I need them."
While Sam wasn't quite sure how to take that, his lover looked pointedly down at the woman. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
One eyebrow rose then fell again as Jutta understood the question. "I'm not pregnant, Hans, don't worry. I was just planning ahead. You know I like to be prepared." She grinned.
"Yes, I remember," Dietrich replied gravely, but the light in his eyes and the smile around the corner of his mouth betrayed his true feelings.
Realizing that by including him in her future-vision Jutta had as much as given her blessing to Hans' and his relationship, Troy felt light-headed all of a sudden. Swiftly he moved to the woman's free side and gently put his arm around her hips.
"I think we should celebrate. Why don't we grab Moffitt and the others and see where we can get some decent food?" he suggested.
"Sounds great." Jutta mirrored his gesture and at the same time slid her other arm around her brother. "If I remember correctly, I still have an open invitation from a certain Mister Pettigrew."
"He hasn't forgotten it," Troy admitted, chuckling when she threatened, "He better not."
"Then let's shake it," Dietrich said, his hand on his sister's back, lightly shoving her forward.
"Shake what?" she asked bewildered, looking from her twin to his lover, who were both smirking at her confusion. When she got no answer, she just rolled her eyes and shrugged. Leaning even closer to Hans, without loosening her grip on Troy, she slowed their pace a little so that it matched hers. "All right, I get it. Let's go and find your boys, Sam. I'm hungry."
The American could only second that. Elated because she had called him by his first name, he only nodded and let her lead the way.
Together they walked away from the church, Jutta between her brother and Troy, neither of them caring what others might think. For anyone who met them face to face it appeared as if the woman was the center of affection, her arms holding the men closely, their arms around her. But anybody who walked behind them could clearly see that the men were not embracing her, but holding hands behind her back.
Over Jutta's head Troy looked at his lover, who met his gaze openly. The desperation had left the German's features, hope had returned, and life sparkled once again in the beautiful brown eyes. Knowing that Hans would understand him without words, Troy let all his feelings show on his face and was rewarded with a quiet "I love you", accompanied by a blinding smile that told him that everything would work out for them.
He knew that his lover would need time to get over his feelings of shame and guilt, and that their future wouldn't be easy, but he had no doubt that they could manage it. They had not only survived a war that had thrown them against each other, but had founded and nurtured their love in the midst of it. Now there was nothing that they couldn't face, nothing that they couldn't overcome, because this time they were on the same side and - more important - they were together.