The Strip Skat Raid

(Strip Skat is easier done than said. But Skat isn't easy to explain!)

by C. Jerry Ueberall & A. Jerry Becker


Pairing: Troy/Dietrich
Rating: Slash, PG-13

Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine. No money was made.

Summary: A cave and 32 cards.

Notes: This story was first published 1998 in Flanking Maneuvers # 2, a Rat Patrol slash zine by Lindberg's Legacy Press.

Feedback: Please.


The two sergeants entered the cave with drawn guns and a good portion of caution. Intelligence had reported about this place, a storage cave that the Germans had deserted on their way out of the area, and the Rat Patrol had orders to blow it up.

Since there had been no sign of any Germans in the region for over a week, Troy had decided the job needed only two men, and so he and Moffitt were here on their own. They had set all the explosives and had been ready to trigger them, when they had heard a noise from the inside.

They had been moving in darkness, but now, coming around a corner they could see a faint light shining from behind a pile of crates. Exchanging a look, they stopped and listened again. There was definitely someone rummaging around there. When they finally moved on, Troy's foot connected with a piece of stone which caused quite a noise.

Things developed in lightning speed after that and some seconds later the two Rat Patrol members found themselves pointing their guns at Captain Hans Dietrich who in turn was pointing his gun at them.

"What are you doing here?" three voices asked simultaneously, when the first moment of surprise was gone.

None of them answered. For some time Troy and Dietrich fruitlessly tried to stare each other down.

"Do you think he's alone?" Moffitt eventually broke the silence.

"Seems so. If he wasn't, this would be the perfect moment for his men to turn up, right?"

Dietrich lowered his eyelids for some seconds. When he looked up again he looked Troy straight in the eye and told him: "Anyway, I have a perfect aim at you, Sergeant." He lifted the machine gun to emphasize his statement.

"You can't shoot us both." Troy replied.

"No, but I can shoot you. Are you willing to take the risk or will you let me go?"

The decision was taken out of Troy's hands, when a loud burst from the entry interrupted the discussion. The walls rumbled, a cloud of dust enfolded the three men in an instant. Troy and Moffitt turned towards the noise in a reflex motion and Dietrich made a move to jump them - when the roof came down. The cave went dark as night.

When the last piece of rock had found its way to the ground and the dust began to settle Jack Moffitt carefully lifted his head. He had been lucky enough to stay conscious and had protected his head as best he could with his hands. Only he didn't feel exactly lucky - he had felt the full impact of every bloody stone that had hit him. With a heartfelt groan he cleared his throat. "Troy?"


"Troy?" he tried again. "Dietrich?"

Still no answer.

Now seriously worried, he pushed himself up from under the stones that still covered him, trying to ignore the beginning bruises and failing. Looking for his friend proved to be quite difficult, since he couldn't see a thing. So he tried to remember where he had last seen him before hell broke loose and crawled in that direction.

Relief flooded through him when he discovered a body with a bush hat and Troy began to stir at his touch. He took his time to gain consciousness again, though, and Moffitt had to pat his cheeks pretty firmly calling out "Troy! Wake up!" a number of times until he got a reaction.

At last Troy caught his wrist. "I'm awake," he more mumbled than actually said.

"Are you okay?"

The American thought that over. "Yeah." The answer held more conviction than he felt, but he sat up nevertheless. He felt a bit dizzy, but otherwise ... "Can't see a thing," he stated as an afterthought.

"The lamp has gone out. And since the entry is blocked ...." The seriousness of their situation struck Moffitt as he spoke. "I'll look for Dietrich," he stated abruptly and bent to that task.

He literally stumbled over the German captain who moaned in response. "Captain?" Moffitt knelt beside the man, and freed him of some stones.

"Was ist passiert?" Dietrich sat up slowly.

"The earth moved," the sergeant told him. "Seems we are stuck."

"Is this a guess, or have you already tried to get out?" There was a hint of suspicion in the Hauptmann's tone; it wouldn't be beyond the Rat Patrol to try conning him in that way.

"It is a guess. But there's no point in testing the entry ... former entry. As long as we can't see a thing, a wrong step might get us killed."

"There was a crate ... third in the back, I think ... there should be lamps." While talking, Dietrich felt around for his gun. "What about Troy?"

"I'm here!" The sounds of a man stumbling around could be heard. "I found the boxes. Which one did you say?"

The German sighed. "That would depend on where you are standing, Sergeant." Dietrich gave up on his weapon and rose carefully. He remembered his matches and started searching his pockets.

The sound made Moffitt nervous and he grabbed for the captain's arm. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for a match to light a cigarette," Dietrich replied dryly.

Troy suppressed a groan and dug his lighter out of a pocket. He flicked it on and surveyed the boxes in front of him.

"I think it was that one." Moving over to the crate in question, Dietrich noticed that the Allied soldiers too were without their weapons.

They opened the box and found it loaded with lamps. Some minutes later the cave was lit by several lamps and the three men made their way to the entrance.

"It seems we are stuck until Hitch and Tully decide that we're overdue," Moffitt decided matter-of-factly, having taken a good look at the entry.

"With the right gear we might get ourselves out," Troy contradicted. He looked at the German. "What do you think?"

Dietrich shrugged. "I'm no specialist, but I'm almost sure that there aren't any suitable tools here."

"We'll see." And with that Troy went back to the boxes, determined to open every single one if it proved to be necessary. Exchanging a resigned gaze, Dietrich and Moffitt followed him.

It proved to be necessary, and the men found lots of interesting things, but no equipment that could help them escape, not even a shovel.

"Damnit!" Cursing, Troy finally gave up.

Standing at a crate filled with beer bottles, Dietrich stopped himself from saying 'I told you so' and took a bottle instead.

"As I said before, we are stuck," Moffitt concluded. "We'll probably spend a long time together here, so what do we do?"

"I'm open for suggestions, Sergeant."

"You could tell us what you were doing here, Captain." Troy studied the German intensively.

With an expression on his face that said clearly that hell would freeze over before he'd do that, Dietrich looked pointedly at Moffitt. "Any other suggestions, Sergeant?"

"What about playing cards?"

"With what? I found a deck, but it isn't complete." Troy glared at Dietrich as if it was his fault.

Dietrich replied with a cold stare of his own. "It is complete, Sergeant. A Skat Blatt only consists of 32 cards."

"What can you play with only 32 cards?" Troy wanted to know.

"Believe it or not, Sergeant, Skat!" The German allowed himself a broad grin; small victories were things to be treasured. "I could show you," he offered.

"Why not." Moffitt nodded as Troy looked questioningly at him.

"All right, Captain. Let's do it."

"Everyone gets ten cards." Dietrich laid out the cards. "We have four suits."

"Tell me something new."

"I'm about to do that. Now listen. - Every round, two play against the third one. The third one is the one who gets the 'skat'. That is the two cards that lie in the middle in the beginning. To decide who is the third you have to ... " he searched for an English word and finally gave up. "Reizen."

"To do what?" Troy wanted to know.

Dietrich turned to Moffitt. "Maybe you could help me, Sergeant?"

"How? I don't know Skat."

"Das is' ja reizend," muttered the German under his breath.

"Eh?" Not sure if he had just been insulted the American looked questioningly to his friend.

"He says I'm really helpful," Moffitt translated sarcastically, and added, "The word has many contradictory meanings, Troy, like to charm and to irritate, and I doubt any of those is meant in the game. Or is it, Herr Hauptmann?"

Belatedly it dawned on Dietrich that teaching Skat wasn't an easy task, and with that in mind, he opened his beer bottle and took a swig. "Where was I?"

"To decide who is the third, you have to 'rightzen'." Moffitt recalled.

"Ah ja. To do that you need a jack ..." He grinned at Moffitt. "And one suit. Every suit has its own worth. Diamonds count 9, hearts 10, spades 11, and clubs 12." The Hauptmann took the four jacks and laid them on the ground. "The jack of clubs is the one that starts the counting - for the 'Reizen'. If you have him, you count 'with one, game two.'"

Ignoring the two pairs of uncomprehending eyes, Dietrich went on: "That means whatever suit you want to play, if you're playing alone you can multiply by two. For example: If you want to play hearts, you can 'reizen' to 20. Two multiplied by ten. Clear? If you have the jack of spades, too, you count 'with two, game three'. That means you can multiply by three. If you have the jack of hearts, as well, it's 'with three, game four', and if you have them all it's ...?" He looked expectantly at the two men.

"With four, game five?" Moffitt offered.

"Right." Maybe it wasn't so problematic after all.

"How exactly do you do it?" the Englishman asked simultaneously to Troy's question: "Why would I want to play hearts?"

Then again, maybe it was. He took another swig of beer, thereby more than half emptying the bottle. Trying a different approach, Dietrich dealt everyone ten cards. "Maybe we should try to play a trial run with open cards."

He showed them his hand. "I have two jacks. The spade and the heart." Realizing that it would be difficult to start without having the jack of clubs he took Moffitt's cards. "You have got the jack of clubs and that's the only one you have. That means you have 'with one, game two'. Most of your cards are spades. So naturally you would want to make them 'Trumpf' - trump. Trump means that each card of this suit has more power than each card of the other three suits. Spades is eleven, that means you can reizen up to ....?"


"Correct." Looking at his own hand again, he said: "I have 'without one, game two'. And I would play hearts. So I could only reizen up to 20. If we both did it, you would get the Skat."

"And what about my cards?" the American inquired.

"You wouldn't want to play alone with that," Dietrich commented dryly.

And Troy decided he didn't like the game.

Giving Moffitt the two extra cards, the Hauptmann told him: "These cards are ...."

An undefined rumble interrupted him.

It didn't took the three men long to locate the noise's origin: At the former entrance to the cave, some rocks had come into motion for unknown reason. Rising to their feet, they went to watch stones and sand slide and crumble to the ground. When the dust had cleared, a ray of sunshine fell into the cave.

"A hole!" Troy grinned at Moffitt. "Seems we won't have to learn that game after all."

"It's too small for any of us," Moffitt noticed, not really trusting in their good fortune.

"It's a beginning. Get moving." And with that the American started to climb up the pile of gravel. Exchanging an understanding look, Dietrich and Moffitt followed his example.

It soon became clear that the situation was a very unstable one. At any time the rocks could move again, and the whole cave or at least the entrance would be buried under tons of stones and sand. Troy was the first to reach the opening, the moment he pushed a stone outside, sand fell onto him.

"Careful, Sergeant!" Dietrich advised.

"I know what I'm doing," the American replied.

"It can collapse on us at any moment," Moffitt observed, while he freed the entrance very carefully of rocks. Again a rain of pebbles accompanied his actions.

Sliding to Moffitt's side, Dietrich stabilized the entry as well as possible. "There's no point in opening it further than necessary. The moment it is large enough for one of us to get through, we should try it." The German's suggestion was met by two nods.

"I think I could manage now," the Englishman said after a while of silent working.

Troy scrutinized the opening skeptically. "Sure?"


"I think one or two more rocks wouldn't be amiss," Dietrich commented, having realized that while Moffitt was taller, Troy was bigger. So where Moffitt and he himself would just fit through, Troy might not.

Agreeing, the sergeants rolled another rock to the side - the wrong one obviously, as the whole cave seemed to move suddenly.

"It's coming down!"

"Get out! Now!"

When Moffitt didn't react - torn between survival instinct and friendship - Dietrich grabbed the Englishman and pushed him through the hole. Just in time before the wall came down. The question why he had rescued Moffitt instead of escaping himself crossed the German's mind briefly before the shadows claimed him.

Blinking into the slowly settling dust Troy sat up. He remembered the wall coming down, remembered Dietrich pushing Moffitt towards freedom ... "Captain?" He looked around. Some of the lamps were still intact and lighting the place. "Dietrich?"

He found the officer buried under boulders and sand, and freed him, mindful of possible internal injuries. "You all right?" he asked when the German regained consciousness.

"I think so." They rose to their feet. "Moffitt?" Dietrich wanted to know.

"You got him out. You probably saved his life."

"He could be buried on the outside," the Hauptmann warned, but Troy waved the possibility aside. "No, I'm sure he's okay. Why didn't you try to get out yourself?"

Dietrich closed his eyes for a second, thinking. "You know, Sergeant, I've asked myself this question, too." Taking a look at their surroundings, he sighed. "I believe that's it. We won't get another chance to escape this place."

The American nodded. "Seems we still have a lot of time to spend together, Captain." He pointed at the cards lying on the ground. "What a pity that we haven't got a third man anymore." His tone made it clear that he didn't think of it as unfortunate at all.

"So what do we do instead, Sergeant?" his companion inquired with raised eyebrows.

"Looking around. Let's see what else is stuffed here."

When the rummaging around the cases and barrels didn't bring out anything new, the two men found themselves at a loss and, not surprisingly, returned to the cards.

"We could try '17 und 4'," Dietrich suggested. "I guess you call it 'blackjack'."

"You sure you mean blackjack? It's played with many more cards."

"21 wins, more than 21 loses?"

"Sounds like blackjack."

"Well, we play it with the same 32 cards we use for Skat."

Troy shrugged. "So let's play blackjack."

The game proved to be very boring after some time and it was the American who finally called it an end.

"A pity we don't have a chess game here," Dietrich remarked, casting a sideways look at Troy.

"Yeah, that would be more of a challenge."

A grin spread over the German's face. "There's another game we could play with this deck of cards."


"Offiziersskat." The grin turned devilish.

Troy, hearing the ending 'skat', wasn't too keen on hearing more and just glared at the captain.

"It's a much simpler version of Skat for two players," Dietrich explained as if he didn't notice. "Really simple, I learned it when I was a little boy."

The amused, arrogant look he gave Troy was unnerving, a challenge the American sergeant couldn't let go unanswered. "Really simple, eh? Then show me!" he growled.

Dietrich dealt both of them 16 cards, 8 face down and the other 8 on top of them face up. "The first card laid openly decides which suit is trump. The jacks are automatically trump, too; they are the most powerful cards. The first card was the nine of hearts, so heart is trump. Normally you have to follow the suit, if you don't have the played one you can either stechen with the trump color or throw another in, if possible, a low card." Dietrich explained.

Troy grimaced. "I think I got the idea, we do play cards at home!"

"Ace is the highest card, then ten, then king, queen down to seven. It's the goal to get the most points. Seven, eight and nine give no points. Jack is 2, queen 3, king 4, as in blackjack, ten 10 and ace 11," the captain went on, gazing around.

The searching look didn't go unnoticed. "What are you looking for?"

"My beer."

"Good idea." The American, too, was thirsty. "I'll get us some." He got up and brought the box of bottles to their place. "Okay, best explain while we do a trial run." He settled down again, opening his first beer.

Dietrich took another bottle and followed his example.

The first game was played hesitantly by Troy and very patiently by Dietrich.

"That was a stupid move, Sergeant," the German chided when Troy reacted with a queen to his ten. "That's my Stich now."

"Is it?" the American wondered, then nodded. "Ten are worth more than face cards, right? I forgot." He played a nine instead.

"Not bad," Dietrich told him at the end, counting his cards. "You have 38 points, you are 'aus dem Schneider'." He paused for emphasis but Troy didn't ask. "That means if we'd play for money your account ..." realizing that he hadn't explained that part of the game, and that it would only confuse the American further, he stopped. "Never mind. It means you're not as bad as you could be."




This round, the first card to be seen was a jack.

"That means no suit is trump, only the jacks." Dietrich took a swig.

"Makes it easier."


When they counted their cards this time, Troy had 61 points, and his teacher only 59.

"I won!" Troy grinned like a Cheshire cat. "I think I'm a natural."

The German raised an eyebrow. "Beginner's luck."



Another round was on.

Time went by as the two men played several rounds of Skat.

When he had won two games in a row, Troy found it was time to make it more interesting. "Why don't we play for money?" he asked in a confident voice.

"Because you wouldn't accept Reichsmark?" Dietrich answered in a teasing tone. "Besides, how much cash have you got with you?"

He got his point, but Troy wasn't to be defeated. "We could play for something else ..." He finished off his third bottle of beer. "We could play Stripssskat."


"Strip. Skat." Troy finally managed, after half a minute of deep concentration.

Dietrich wasn't quite sure his hearing was okay. "You mean ..."

"Like Strip Poker. Each round you lose, you take off one item of your clothes. The first one to be absolutely naked" - Troy broke into an uncontrolled, slightly lewd grin - "has lost." He liked the idea better and better by the second. The chance of beating Dietrich that way would definitely be worth the risk of losing. When he saw the hesitant expression on the German's face, he added mischievously: "But if you're afraid ..."

"I am not afraid." The firm statement came as expected. "But it's a crazy and silly idea."

"You are afraid."

For a short moment Dietrich considered wiping the grin from Troy's face with a well aimed punch - or a couple of them - but then decided to play along. It was only a game, wasn't it? And it would add some spice to the simple card game, all right ... "Okay. Let's play Strip Skat."

Some rounds and some beer later a pile of clothes lay beside them.

Troy's bush hat had been the first thing to go, Dietrich's cap had followed suit, and now Troy had only left on his pants (without the belt), underpants and undershirt. Dietrich was in a similar situation, except that he still wore one of his socks.

"You're dealing, Ssergeant."

"I know." Troy shuffled the cards with an expression of deep concentration. When a dozen of them miraculously slipped through his anything-but-steady fingers, a silly grin flooded Dietrich's face.

"You dropped some." Ignoring the deadly stare, he took another swig of beer.

"You spilled some," Troy observed in revenge.

Dietrich didn't bat an eyelid. Instead he quietly watched Troy's further attempts at shuffling which sent the cards flying again and again. Until he had enough of it. "Let me shuffle, Shhh... Troy. You've had too much beer."

"I didn' have more'n you!"

"You aren't used to real beer."

"Whaddya mean, 'real beer'!?"

"I mean, what you Amis call beer is nossing but flavored water."

"Oh yeah?"

"Oh yeah!"

Belligerently they stared at each other - once again. Finally Troy shrugged his shoulders. "Go on!"

Although his hands weren't quite as steady as they normally were, either, Dietrich managed to shuffle without dropping a single card and to lay them out. The jacks were trump, and smiling, Dietrich noticed that 3 of them were on his side while there was none on Troy's. "Pity you don't have a jack ..." he taunted.

"But I have," Troy contradicted, extremely serious. Responding to Dietrich's questioning look, he began to chuckle. "The Jack of Moffitts!"

Dietrich couldn't help but join in the chuckle, and it didn't take them long till they both rolled on the floor with wild laughter.

It was Dietrich who got serious again first. Fleetingly it crossed his mind that it was a good thing that he didn't belong to the Rat Patrol, or Moffitt would never live it down. "Let'ss play," he demanded, a broad grin not exactly adding an air of authority to the demand. "Your turn."


Concentrating on the game they managed two further rounds. Dietrich lost his sock, Troy his undershirt. The following round Dietrich found himself staring at Troy's chest more than once, contemplating the American's body hair and trying to figure out what he thought of it. It was primitive, somehow fitting - he grinned - but on the other hand he found it had a certain charme ... - he stopped grinning. He had never thought about male bodyhair before, and it wasn't a thing he ever had thought he'd think about. He shook his head. He was definitely thinking too much about it now.

As if to prove that, he made two stupid mistakes which cost him the round. Somehow the decision whether to take off his undershirt now or his pants became an important one. Unfortunately his beer-muddled brain didn't tell him why or help him with the decision.

"Hey, whatssa matter? Chicken out?"

Irritated he blinked, then looked at Troy. Right. Troy. He was the reason for all this. For everything. If it wasn't for Troy, he wouldn't be stuck here in this cave, he wouldn't be so drunk he could barely think, he wouldn't be playing cards with the enemy, he wouldn't be here in North Africa, he wouldn't be in love with a man ... Now wait! Something was wrong here ... Oh yes. He'd be in North Africa anyway. Not fair blaming Troy for that one.

Without consciously deciding the undershirt-versus-pants matter he pulled his undershirt over his head and threw it in the general direction of his number one enemy.

When he looked up he was greeted with the sight of Sam Troy with the shirt over his head. It made him break into a short but uncontrolled giggle before he took up the cards again. They might both be silly as a couple of tipsy school girls, but he could still shuffle, unlike Troy who seemed to be at a total loss about what to do with the shirt covering his head.

With several unnoticed mistakes and some equally unnoticed cheating they managed the following round which Dietrich lost.

The open leer that showed on Troy's face as he watched him strip off his pants should have worried the German - but it didn't. Through a maze of strange, muddled feelings he very slowly, deliberately stepped out of the garment. Somehow the whole world had narrowed down to the two of them - and to the goal of getting Troy out of his last clothes. For the glory of Germany! Determination welled up in him as he took the cards to shuffle again. He'd teach that damn Ami about Skat! No way was Troy winning that game - no way.

He was so concentrated on his quest that he forgot about Troy's leer or his naked chest. When he had dealt the cards and looked up again he was greeted by the sight of Sam Troy taking off his pants. "Was...?" Confusion was the emotion of the moment.

"To make it more interessin' - one last round and winner takes all." Troy answered and sat down again. The slurred announcement implied a lot of things, none of which really occurred to either of them.

Dietrich found himself staring at Troy's chest again and forced himself to look away - only to drown in the bluest set of eyes he had ever seen.

The drowning was mutual, though - time stood still for the two soldiers, sitting in their underpants in an almost dark North African cave.

"I--" they finally managed at exactly the same time. While the German broke into a nervous giggle, the American looked down, somehow ashamed. When their eyes met again two smiles lit up their faces and instantly everything seemed so clear and easy. Troy stretched out his hand and Dietrich took it into a firm hold.

"Let'ss play," Troy whispered.

Dietrich hesitated for but a second. Then he nodded. "Let's play," he confirmed.

And so they did. This round proved to be one that would - under different circumstances - have written the rules of Offiziersskat anew, but none of the players realized it.

Troy found himself becoming more and more aware of the German's underdressed state, his lean body that reflected the lamp light whenever he breathed, the single pearl of sweat that ran down Dietrich's torso to vanish behind the waistband. He didn't notice that Dietrich took his jack of spades with an ace of hearts and even if he had, he most likely would have ignored it. It seemed rather unimportant at the moment who won or lost this game.

Dietrich, on the other hand, wasn't consciously cheating, his mind too occupied with the bare possibilities before him. Something had changed, the atmosphere seemed different, as if some invisible threads were woven between him and the American, drawing them nearer ... A quiet music filled Dietrich's head and for a second he was confused enough to almost look around and search for the music's source, but stopped himself in time. They were alone in this cave and this low lovesong was playing only in his mind. If there had been any doubt before there was none left - he was drunk and in love, and war was a hell of a place to live in.

"Whosse Shit .. Stittch .. you know, is it?" Troy asked, shaking the jack of clubs he held in his hand.

"Yours," Dietrich admitted truthfully and felt strangely connected with his king as Troy placed his card above it. For a moment they both stared at the cards, then looked up to gaze at each other instead.

It occurred to Troy that he could easily lose himself in the German's chocolate brown eyes and that he wouldn't mind at all if that was his destiny. He played his next card without looking at it and neither did Dietrich as he took it with one of his.

The game went on this way and then came to a sudden end as they found each other holding on to the same card. Grinning sheepishly Troy let go of it. "Sheemss you won," he said, pointing at the pile of cards in front of the German which was higher than his own.

Surprised, Dietrich looked down - where did that come from? He forgot the question when Troy got up slowly to free himself of his underpants. During his actions the American lost his balance and fell, his cheeks burning with embarrassment as he met Dietrich's look, but the German was far from laughing. A warm glow lit the officer's eyes as they roamed over his enemy's body, taking everything in and liking what he saw.

Under the appraising gaze, Troy felt a stirring in his groin and forgot all inhibitions; very slowly he came to his knees and crawled over to Dietrich. Their bodies were almost touching when Dietrich suddenly smiled and then removed his underpants. Now they were equals: no winner, no loser. The real game could begin.

Still smiling, Dietrich knelt down too, and almost shy again he reached out to touch Troy's cheek. Troy intercepted the hand and kissed the open palm, sending a shiver down Dietrich's spine. The Hauptmann managed to move his hand then, to stroke the stubbled cheek gently two times, before Troy broke the gentle moment by throwing himself on top of him. Troy's mouth sought Dietrich's, and after some time of trying unsuccessfully he found it and kissed him as if his life depended on it. Dietrich answered in kind, dug his hands in Troy's hair, and brought up a knee between Troy's legs. The firm but gentle pressure drove the American wild, and soon they were rolling on the floor, devouring each other with mouths and hands.

They did so for an eternity until Dietrich realized that something was missing .... wrong. He hadn't had a single clear thought since Troy had stepped out of his underpants, and to bring his brain to work again wasn't an easy task. When he finally realized what was wrong he couldn't believe it. Simply refused to believe it.

"Troy! You're not falling asleep, are you?"

Alas, the unintelligent moan confirmed his suspicion.

"Troy!" A none-too-gentle nudge did nothing to improve the situation - some moments later a snore indicated that his was-to-be-lover was fast asleep in his arms, draped all over him and getting heavier by the second.

Not knowing whether to be outraged or amused, he shoved the sergeant off him, half hoping that would wake the sleeper. Since it didn't, Dietrich decided to search for another beer. And he decided to be insulted.

This couldn't happen to him! Never before had a lover fallen asleep in the middle of -- he seemed to have lost his touch. Looking from the bottle in his hand to his sleeping enemy, he shook his head in denial. It wasn't his fault at all, just the American being too soft to deal with German liquor.

Dietrich chuckled and then yawned expressivly. Oh no, he wouldn't go under like Troy had, he just wouldn't ... Despite of himself he stretched out beside his not-quite-lover, using the broad chest as a pillow. "You started it and I'll finish it - some day, some cave." Was his last thought before sympathetic darkness welcomed him.

The grumbling sound at the cave's former entrance would have told a listener that rocks were moving again, and maybe this listener would have been afraid that the rest of the cave was about to come down .... But nobody was listening. And so, of course, there was nobody at the entrance to see the sunlight filtering into the cave as more and more stones were put aside until a hole was created, big enough to let a grown man through.

"Troy?" Moffitt's gaze scanned the illuminated area. "Troy? Captain Dietrich?"

Nobody answered him.

"I'm going in," he told the two blond men behind him. "You stay here and make sure that the wall isn't coming down behind me. I've been trapped there before, and I don't want to repeat the experience."

"Okay, Sarge. But don't take too long." Spitting his matchstick through the hole - for no other reason than that it was there - Tully then extended a hand and helped the English sergeant over the stones.

"Look out for Jerries!" Moffitt ordered when Hitch handed him the lamp, and with a grin the private complied.

The cave was much too quiet for Moffitt's liking, and he breathed deeply to calm down. Until now he hadn't allowed himself to consider that Dietrich and Troy might not be all right, but the continuing silence all but shouted that possibility into his face. He let the lamp's ray wander, searching for a hand or a leg or the glimpse of a uniform that indicated a body beneath the heap of stones - but he found nothing.

Then a sound got his attention and with a sigh he went deeper into the cave. A low burning lamp drew his attention first, quickly followed by the smell of alcohol, and then the light showed him a scene he couldn't quite believe. He closed his eyes and looked again. The scene was still the same. Between more than a dozen bottles of beer, cards and discarded clothes lay two men, both barefooted up to the neck, intimately entwined with each other and - judging by the snoring - deeply asleep.

For a moment the Englishman stood, stared, and tried unsuccessfully to shut his mouth again. Of course there were many possible explanations for this ... When none really satisfied him, Moffitt decided that whatever had happened here wasn't his business, and with a shake of his head, put it out of his mind.

Carefully avoiding the bottles, Moffitt walked to the men and gently shook the one lying atop by the shoulder. "Captain Dietrich." An unarticulated growl was his only answer, so he tried again, increasing the pressure on the shoulder. "Captain Dietrich. Herr Hauptmann, wachen Sie auf!"

That at least brought a reaction. As if in slow motion the German turned towards the voice and blinked into the light.

"Captain, do you hear me? Do you know who I am?"

Actually that was exactly what Dietrich was trying to figure out, but with his head pounding like a thundergod's drum and his vision blurred, that task seemed enormously complicated. Then the beret, the uniform and the accent suddenly made sense.

"Ugh, a Tommy, " he murmured. One part of his brain was proud to have found the answer while another part told him clearly that this comment was quite unusual for him and didn't fit well with his image -- and therefore he had to be drunk. That last information triggered his memory and with a shocked "Oh Gott!" he sat up. Immediately he wished he hadn't, because everything seemed to whirl around him.

"Captain, are you all right?"

His eyes finally focused on the British sergeant, Dietrich didn't reply, since it was quite obvious that he wasn't all right and why not.

"Are you awake enough to get up alone, or do you need my help?" Moffitt sounded honestly concerned, but he couldn't quite oppress the grin that tried to rule his expression.

"I'm capable of taking care of myself, thank you, Sergeant." Dietrich looked sour, then a thought struck him. "Where's Troy?"

About to say 'right under you', Moffitt changed it to "Right ... beside you", and added, "Could you wake him? I have to go back and tell the others that I found you or they'll be here any minute." The innuendo was more than enough.

"I'll wake him."

Moffitt nodded, turned around, and left.

With a sigh, Dietrich disentangled his legs from Troy's, and looked around, locating his clothes. Not bothering to stand up, the Hauptmann crawled from one item to the next and then dressed mechanically, his thoughts on other things. How could he have fallen in with Troy's folly, and what was he going to say when the man woke up?

Finished, except for buttoning his shirt, and none the wiser, he went to the American and called his name. When that didn't even interrupt the snoring, he knelt down beside Troy and shook him hard. "Sergeant, wake up. The rescue party is here."

A groan, a shudder and then blue eyes opened, one at a time. "Where?"

"You have to get up, your men will be here shortly. I don't think that you want to greet them naked."

"What?" Troy's brain wasn't following the other man's words. What the hell was the Jerry talking about -- "Dietrich!"

Troy's abrupt change of position that accompanied the acknowledgment not only startled the German but also unsettled the fragile peace in his stomach. Turning away from Troy, Dietrich tried to think of a way to vomit with dignity, and, when he decided that there wasn't one, fought the urge with all of his willpower.

Troy never got that far, the moment he made it to his knees, he just threw up. "Hell," he muttered when the spasms finally subsided, "what did I drink?"

"Too much," Dietrich commented dryly; curiously he felt better since realizing that the American was suffering even more.

"Great." Grabbing his undershirt, Troy used it to wipe his face and then threw it away. He avoided any eye contact with the officer and started to collect his clothes, an uncomfortable silence settling between them. He wished Dietrich would say something, anything to give him a clue about what had happened, if anything had happened. The last thing he remembered was Dietrich kissing him and the feeling of the strong, tall body in his arms, and then ... nothing.

Fighting with his boots, he couldn't stand the quiet any longer and, with a look at the scattered cards, wondered, "Who won?"

Raising his brows, Dietrich bent down carefully and picked up a card. "No one," he said thoughtfully, then watched fascinated as the jack of hearts slipped through his fingers to glide to the ground.

At the wistful tone Troy looked up and caught the Hauptmann's unguarded expression; disappointment, shame and sorrow chased each other across the handsome face before Dietrich had himself under control again.

Their gazes met for a brief moment then it was Troy who broke the contact, afraid of what his eyes might reveal. Without conscious thought, he grabbed a card that lay face down and turned it up. His cheeks darkened slightly as he realized the significance of that card, then a grin crept onto his features. "Fitting," he murmured and added aloud, "Or maybe we both won."

"At least we're both alive and free to leave this cave." Dietrich's statement drew Troy's attention away from the queen of hearts towards their situation.

"We are?" Vaguely he remembered the German mentioning his men, but then the question was answered by Moffitt's voice calling them. Much too fast Troy got to his feet, setting a horde of buffaloes loose behind his forehead. "Shit." He almost lost his balance but then a strong hand grabbed his arm and held him until the worst was over.

"I'll never drink again," he swore, gifting Dietrich with a rueful smile. Seeing the doubtful look on his companion's face he amended, "At least no German beer."

The Hauptmann grinned at that, but didn't comment - small victories were to be treasured in silence.

They met Moffitt at the cave's entrance.

"Where're the others?" Troy wanted to know, squinting into the sunlight; until now, he hadn't realized how dark the cave had actually been.

"I've sent them to reset the explosives. We still have the order to blow this cave into oblivion, haven't we?"

"Yeah." Troy nodded. He turned around and took his time to observe the German's neutral expression. "We still don't know what you were doing in there, Captain."

"You will never know."

The American accepted the truth of that. "We cannot leave you alone here in the desert, so ..."

"You know that I won't stay alone for long, Sergeant," Dietrich interrupted him, his attitude showing clearly that he wasn't seeing himself as a prisoner. "I wasn't deserted. My men will come back to get me."

Questioningly Troy gazed at his fellow sergeant.

"We haven't met any Jerries, but we know that there's a convoy on his way here," Moffitt told him. But then he asked the German, "Why did you push me out of the cave? Why didn't you jump yourself?"

"Maybe you were in the way?" Dietrich suggested.

The Englishman shook his head. "No, I wasn't. You saved my life, and I don't understand why."

Dietrich closed his eyes for a second then met Moffitt's gaze calmly. "Then that's one thing we have in common, Sergeant."

The sound of pebbles rolling down the hill informed them of Hitch and Tully's arrival. "All set and done," Hitch said, greeting Troy with huge grin and a mock salute.

"Good. Get the jeeps. We'll be with you in a minute."

"Okay, Sarge." And off they were.

"I advise you to get as far away from this cave as you can, Captain, or you might get caught in the explosion," Troy pointed out, turning to the German.

Dietrich nodded and without a further word walked away.

Sharing a quick look, the two sergeants made their way down to the waiting privates.

"Blow it up, Hitch," Moffitt ordered, the moment they reached them.

"What about Dietrich?" Tully wondered.

"He's probably right now trying to disconnect the wires, so ..."

Whatever the American sergeant had been about to say was lost in the almost deafening explosion. The earth shook and the cave was buried under tons of solid rock, blowing a big cloud of dust and sand into the air.

A cold fist took hold of Troy's heart - what if Dietrich had still been near the cave, what ... But all his fears were unnecessary, because when the dust had settled down, they found the Hauptmann standing only a short distance away, wiping the sand from his face.

"You know, Sergeant, that was an awful waste of good German beer," Dietrich stated, watching them with a resigned expression.

"The way my head feels, I think I just destroyed one of Germany's most dangerous weapons," Troy replied with a grin, then sat down in the jeep. He saluted briskly to Dietrich then patted Hitch on the shoulder. "Let's shake it."

The moment the engine came to life he reconsidered that order. "No, don't shake it! Very slow and carefully does it. Very very careful, please."

"Like I was driving nitro, Sarge," Hitch assured him, stepping on the accelerator.

Troy could never be sure afterwards that he had heard Dietrich's laughter over the laughter of his friends, but as he looked back he saw an amused smile on the Hauptmann's face.

And as his enemy became smaller and smaller, Troy wondered what kind of game they would play next.

Game over ... (is it?)

Authors' note: Dear reader, if you find yourself not understanding Skat at all, don't blame it on anybody but us. Feel reassured by the fact that one of the authors didn't understand the game herself.

© 1997



The Rat Patrol