Caveat: Vague hints of preslash boiling ominously on the horizon, along with gratuitous abuse of Wagnerian opera. Title means "Tune of Victory", as per Wagner's Lohengrin. No spoilers other than what should be obvious. All history yanked from Wikipedia, so apologies if there are errors.


There are certain things about the Colonel that Werner doesn't permit himself to think about. On a bad night sometime in Januar, when the sky is thick with smoke and air raid sirens and the only thing between him and the cold, unreasoning hatred of the whole farce of a war is the straight line of Colonel Stauffenberg's shoulders, he writes them down surreptiously. He refuses to think about what he's writing down until he's finished with it, the small sheet of paper written in letters just mangled enough to be illegible to anyone but himself, so possible discovery of the document by the Colonel is minimal. He's been getting better at stealth, he thinks. He hopes. Better at looking at others' eyes when they talk about the everlasting glory of the Führer instead of Sacred Germany. Like the Homeland is just some stepping stone for the Führer to march over, instead of everything they're supposed to be fighting for.

He's getting better about smiling when the others in the mess hall talk about their plans after the war, when the Führer will make everything better, and not telling them that their Homeland is a lie that the Führer is giving them, just like the reports that the war is going well. He knows how the fronts are holding up; he's lost friends, comrades. A few of his old friends at the bank in Hamburg used to send him letters from the front, only a few miles from where he was stationed before his injury. After recovering, he sent a few letters back, just to tell them he was fine. They all came back, marked "VERSTOBENE". He used to tell himself that it had to happen, that this happened in the wars, but now he stores the anger and the helpless rage next to the place where he can smile at the people who want to see Sacred Germany supplanted by der Führer.

Even as he feels the impotent rage next to the terror of the upcoming coup, he remembers the things he doesn't permit himself to think about, much. And he feels better. This is because most of the things he doesn't permit himself to think about make him remember what a hero the Colonel is, what a man that the Homeland deserves. He doesn't permit himself to think about it much because he knows that if he does, he won't be able to keep a steady face when the Colonel smiles at him, and the strain on his Colonel's face shows him that the officer is only smiling for his sake. He won't be able to take the coffee gladly that the Colonel brings him during the late nights when they're discussing the newest plans for the Operation. That's all they call it, these days: the Operation.

A week after that night, the night when he strained over the small paper to write down everything he doesn't think about, when the shakes from the front come back and he's trying not to think about anything, he pulls out the paper to feel better. The list is as follows:

I. The Colonel continually gives the impression that he's just rolled out of a tent in Africa. Not that the Colonel is disheveled, by any means; quite to the contrary, the Colonel is consistently dressed immaculately. To himself, Werner thinks that this may have something to do with his injuries: he knows firsthand, from the mornings when the Colonel's had to change quickly from one uniform to another, that his hands, or lack thereof, make dressing a daily challenge to him. He wants to offer his help, most of the mornings, but from the set of the Colonel's shoulder as he shrugs on his jacket Werner knows that to offer help would be to take away one of the most important things about the Colonel. He can't quite name it. Dignity, maybe, but not the dignity that the Führer speaks about on the radio sometimes. The dignity of Siegmund, perhaps, he thinks in his more Romantic moments, or the strength of Tristan in the final act.

The Colonel always seems to come from the desert because of the few things Werner lets himself notice. The tanned skin of his neck that the jacket doesn't quite cover tells Werner that, even in the most German of winters, the Colonel's skin remembers the heavy sunlight of the desert. The lines around his eyes that he's too young for are reminders that he spent months squinting out at the overbearing sun, looking for enemy planes, waiting for attack. The way that he always shakes out his jacket twice before putting it on, as if shaking imaginary sand from it, is the act that weighs heaviest on Werner's mind, the one sign that the Colonel will always be in Africa, in his mind. The way the Colonel holds his hands when in the presence of strangers, at official events, cements this fact, and whenever he dreams about the Colonel, he always dreams of sand and fire.

II. The Colonel's glass eye is a slightly different color from his real eye. This isn't so much a statement of fact as it is a statement of bias; he knows this because when he first met the Colonel, when he first shook hands with the man and threw his lot in with the Operation, he was certain that both eyes were the same color. To be sure, the glass eye was apparent: that slight uneasiness about its movement and texture were enough to give it away as artificial; but he was sure that the color matched.

He hasn't had much time to examine it himself, not really, because although he knows that the glass eye doesn't pain the Colonel, the Colonel dislikes wearing it, preferring instead the eye patch. In whimsical moods, Werner imagines that it's because the Colonel hates pretending that the desert never happened, that the injuries were negligible. His hands he can hide with long sleeves and shrugs, but the eye is always what society ladies focus on when he's introduced to them. "Oh my, I didn't think that..." is always how the sentences begin, followed by some asinine remark about his adventures in "Darkest Africa", as if it was a pleasure cruise he went on to prove his worth. The Colonel is no witless Tannhäuser, forever searching for a Venusberg that the ladies think they could seduce him to. After all, the Colonel is married, if seldom around his wife. He knows this. He knows better.

The eye patch is better suited to the Colonel, Werner believes. Something about the starkness of the dark material on his tanned face marks him as different from the other officers, the officers that Werner has been sent to death by and of whom he finds himself a part. The Colonel is something different to him, something stranger, and that's where Werner stops thinking about the Colonel's glass eye and the shifting moods that he can always, always tell on the Colonel's one good eye.

III. The Colonel, for all of his hatred of the Führer, loves Wagner. Werner isn't surprised: being a fan of Wagner himself, he considers it a German's duty to listen and love the spiraling magnificence of Wagner's operas. It was his music that first brought them together, he thinks; not as Colonel and Adjutant but as comrades, or even, dare he think it, friends. It began, as things often begin, at night in the smoky office, drawing up the revisions to Walküre, making sure the language was as airtight and innocent as possible, disguising a thinly veiled plot for a coup into a more reasonable plan to protect Hitler's Germany. Over the air at 0115 hours, the faint strains of the Overture to Lohengrin suddenly floated into the room, the strings weeping over the air, and the sudden poignancy of it made Werner sit up in his chair, straining to hear better. Closing his eyes, he could see the notes winding into themes that presaged the events of the opera: the duel, the wedding, the apocalypse, the ship carrying away the lover from the beloved, as impassive and inexorable as the way the operation is beginning to unfold.

Just as the music built itself into a climax, as everything was revealed in one blinding moment of clarity that everyone in the audience sees coming, he heard a sound from the Colonel, a sound that was so unlike any of the other noises he'd heard the Colonel make before that he had to stop to understand it. It wasn't the persistent half-slumbering voice he speaks with on the telephone late at night, hammering out last minute plans, but neither was it the little audible winces that Werner still hears when the weather turns sour and he finds the Colonel touching the maimed stump of his arm, the absences of his fingers. He opened his eyes to see the Colonel looking at him, the set of his face something too faceted for him to understand. His mouth curved into a smile reflexively, a nervous habit, but he couldn't speak, knowing only that the music between them was shared, like a secret language.

"Für deutsches Land das deutsche Schwert! So sei des Reiches Kraft bewährt! " The Colonel's words were spoken, not sung, but Werner recognized the scene immediately: the enchanted Swan coming to bear away the Knight, revealed at last, all of Elsa's loves and hopes stricken to the ground. Sometimes, he thought, he knows how that feels. The Colonel still looked at him, and he couldn't look away, couldn't speak, until the brass faded, followed by the strings, and the space between them was filled with the white noise and static of the phonograph. His shirt was too hot at his neck and he turned back to his notes, revising the minutiae of the wording, but even as he read the obtuse sentences of the document he could feel the Colonel's eyes heavy on his neck, late into the evening.

There are no other items on the sheet of paper, even though he thinks of a half dozen little details that he's too ashamed to write down, even to himself. The little patch of unshaven skin underneath the Colonel's chin that he always misses while shaving, though it's no bigger than a fingernail. The way the Colonel's smile twitches a little more to the left than the right when he's genuinely pleased at something. The rich spices that the Colonel prefers on even the most traditional of schweinsbraten. The scar on the Colonel's left arm that's shaped like a ring from a piece of shrapnel. Things he has no business noticing, their professional relationship notwithstanding. He wants to be a better German and move past these things, these snags on what should be his complete attention on the goal, the only goal that Germany can afford to have at this point so late in the war, with the Allies moving in small leaps and bounds into Axis territory.

He doesn't know that the Colonel is looking at him until he feels a gaze heavy on the back of his neck and startles, tearing his gaze off the piece of paper and onto the Colonel's amused face. He's not smiling, exactly; it's more like the Colonel sees his expression as a kind of shared joke, the curve of his lips suggesting a common mirth. He feels himself smiling in reflex, just as he always does, but he can't bring himself to care. It's past 0000 hours, and they really should be sleeping, but this wording is always so difficult to parse out and rewrite convincingly that he's almost at ease with the way the darkened lights in the room throw the sharp angles of the Colonel's face into a kind of severe beauty, like ancient Roman statues of Mars.

"Is that a letter from your liebchen?" The Colonel's voice in the small room still has that note of amusement in it, but it's almost fond, Werner thinks. He feels his cheeks heat up and silently damns his fair skin for the tenth time in so many weeks, pushing down the guilty feeling in his chest rising with embarrassment. He's working on a secret mission, for God's sake; he shouldn't be betrayed by emotion. "That's the third time tonight I've seen you look over it."

With a bit of effort, he looks up from the letter and meets the Colonel's gaze. He can see the little patch of unshaved skin a little bit above the Colonel's rigidly starched collar, but stubbornly doesn't look at it. Schooling his face into the kind of affection all subordinates are entitled to, he smiles back. "No, sir. Just some things that I don't want to forget."

The Colonel grins briefly before turning back to his work. "In these times, Werner, there are always things we should not forget. They are what help keep Germany from falling to the hands of those we fight against." The words are just ambiguous enough to be safe in this insecure location, but he feels their import nonetheless.

"Yes, Colonel." He knows the Colonel can't see him nod, but he does so anyway. He looks back to the list, where the paper has been bent so much that the delicate fibers are soft and almost rent. Folding it anew, he puts it into his breast pocket, right over his heart, and looks to the pile of papers on his desk, where there is so much more to do. He glances over at the straight line of the Colonel's shoulders, bent over his own work, a hundred difficulties just waiting to be overcome. "They do help us," he says, to himself more than the Colonel, and reads the first line of the Operation again: "The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead."

He has his own work to do.

das Ende