Disclaimer: QT is God. Heil QT. I only own my little ideas for their further fate.
Rating: PG for certain allusions and a swastika.
A/N: This is the end of The Ballad Of Hugo Stiglitz And Aldo Raine. AU, in which Hugo did not die in the basement shooting, but lived through the war, and, being unwelcome back in Germany, took up on Aldo Raine's offer to join him in America, as a small country farm can always use help... think Brokeback Mountain, Tarantino-style. BUT. If you read it with a slasher's mindset, there is slash. If you don't - there isn't. These two were bound together by something much more meaningful than love affairs, and a deep and abiding friendship has evolved from a simple war alliance. Whether sex was involved - it's up to you, I kept it ambiguous. (The prequel, if I write it, will definitely have slash though. IF I write it.)
Summary: 1964. WWII veterans Aldo Raine and Hugo Stiglitz rest, at last, in peace. Aldo's mother meets the surviving ex-Basterds at the funeral, and they share memories and insights....
Maynardsville, Tenessee, USA
Hugo Stiglitz and Lt. Aldo Raine
Dear friend, beloved son
The old gentleman – or so he appeared – set his chisel aside and rose, supported by his friend Omar, from protesting knees. "There," he announced with some satisfaction. "That's better. You want somethin' done properly, you better do it yourself. Ain't it so, Ma'am?"
The dark and dark-clad woman, a few steps behind them, nodded weakly. She was frail, and very old. Her eldest son's death hadn't simply broken her – with his blood, her very will to live seemed to have seeped away as well. Silent tears crept down her pale face. "Hugo didn't want anyone to forget," she said, quietly, yet her voice was strong and steady. "He never forgot. He told me, before... when I last saw him... he wanted this. So that I'd be less sad, he said... and remembered whom I was mourning. And I do remember." She raised her head in the respectful silence. "I will remember a brave man who brought my son back to me, alive. A man with a terrible past – so much worse for himself than for others. A good man, who loved my son more than anyone in this world – except for myself. Aldo..." Her voice trembled slightly. "Aldo trusted him with his life. This was all I ever needed to know." Elvira Raine cast her eyes down, as her breath caught. "Although I honor his last wishes, I feel that he does not deserve this mark upon his grave. But let it be there, and serve as proof that a good soul may be found anywhere, even in the darkest of places. My son..." She closed her eyes briefly, hiding a quiet sob, and the two men hurried to support her small, swaying frame. "There are no words.... The Lord knows the ache in my heart. Let it speak for him."
She cried softly upon Mr. Donowitz's shoulder, and he patted her back awkwardly. He served in the War with her son, and knew him the longest out of the small troup. The chisel, with which he had carved an accurate swastika next to Stiglitz's name (symmetrical in position to the David star over the name Aldo Raine), was still in his hand.
The Bear Jew's infamous Nazi-brains-bashing baseball bat lay rotting in a French forest.
"I never trusted Mr. Stiglitz," he began, glancing around apologetically, asking them to Wait For It. "That doesn't mean I didn't like him – though I didn't – but I did respect him. And yeah, feared him. He was a fearsome man. Intense like... " He paused, searching for a way to explain that did not contain expletives. "...very. Yeah. Course, we all were intense. But I ain't never wondered about the other guys, whether they'd stab me like a pincushion in the middle of the night. They never feared my club, either – I assume...."
Omar's nostalgic, friendly teasing smirk suggested differently.
"Maybe it was that he was German. Well, sure it was about that. But don't let it be said that I didn't respect him, cause I did. And the Lieutenant said he was okay. So, okay he was. And in the end, we were all glad he made it through, me too. I might've given him a hard time first. I ain't never apologized for it, in all these years. We just sorta exchanged some looks on the way back, on the ship, and he knew how I meant it, I knew how he meant it, and there was no animosity between us no more. But I'd like to catch up on that still, and I hope he'll hear me...Hugo," he said, pronouncing it with a properly deep German u sound, like in moo, "you were a good guy, like Mrs. Raine said. Not just cause she knows best, well, second-best, but cause I think so too. A good friend, and a good soldier. And when the Lieutenant said he was trynna keep ya sane... he was keepin' hisself kinda sane too. You kept him sane too, see? You brought Mrs. Raine a son back, and he ain't ever needed no therapy. So I agree with what she said, officially and privately too. You ain't no Nazi."
He disengaged gently from the Lieutenant's mother, who was smiling now at his speech's decline, and placed a pair of small, round white marble pebbles on top of the defaced tombstone. They had brought no flowers. Only their memories.
The Tennessee sun beat down on the orderly small-town cemetery, and on the small black circle of those mourning.
When it was setting, they were still talking, although relocated to the cool dining room in the two-story house on Raine family land.
"...so we're sittin' around that fire, roastin' goddam squirrels, on Christmas – and we didn't even know till he said it was Christmas. Though he was no prayin' kind, Hugo. And we wondered whether we'll end up in hell, someday, for the killin' – pardon, Mrs. Raine – an' he said nothing would change. We'd just keep on runnin' and killin' Nazi's, 'ssept forever. Think how many must be down there, he said, and we won't even have to look for 'em. And that he liked the idea. And damn if we didn't like it too. Doesn't sound funny, now, eh? But we were rolling on the ground, real loud, I say. And Lieutenant was loudest, till he went pssshhht, and we just laughed harder... And I thought to m'self: If we can still laugh, after all that? Maybe we're not so bad, and we'll return okay. Still human, know what I mean?"
"We were all cold, back then. Ain't no sin, wanting to be warm, right? Never thought of that stuff, nor did it. Maybe others did, maybe not. Sure, we thought about it. But it didn't matter, we had bigger fish to fry than figuring who was doing what or who or whether. Anyway, where does it start? Lying together sharing body heat? Thinking? Actual f- ow!"
"Fornication." Mrs. Raine added, delicately.
"Thanks ma'am. My apologies, ma'am..."
"Do not worry about my delicate sensibilities, dear. I do live in the South." She smiled. "The way I see their... relationship, it never mattered what they did or did not do. They were as brothers, yet closer, like twins. They healed each other, and it was beautiful to see."
"I don't think I ever saw him smile... Stiglitz, I mean. 'ssept when, well, y'know..."
"Oh, he did smile. Eventually. Around the time he started talking to me beyond Good day and Good night and madam. Maybe about a month after Aldo came back with him? They were sitting on our porch, resting, and I wanted to call them in for dinner. The sun was setting behind them, outlining them like a halo of... deliverance, I suppose. Forgiveness. The light God receives us with. And they were so very still, just sitting together, looking at each other, and Aldo had smiled and Hugo had smiled back and they stayed like that maybe for a second. It was something so rare, his smile. I do admit I had my concerns about them, sleeping in one room, so quiet and tense like a ticking bomb. But after seeing them there, I knew this was something right. And the ticking became less and less, and fell silent. One day, nothing special, he was simply thanking me for dinner, putting plates away, and smiled at me the first time. I never feared for my son since. Never believed for a moment Hugo could have harmed him, whatever memory had driven him. He would never had hurt my son. And they accused him he did, he never expected it... it was like seeing all the peace he accumulated in twenty years, just crumbling... falling away..."
"He is at peace now."
"They both are."
"Worst-case scenario, they're happily busy killing Nazis, that ain't too bad..."
"What? Better than being in paradise and apart, remembering nothing. They wouldn't take that deal. Not my Lieutenant. Nor our fave token Kraut."
"Donny! Language, man, there's a lady here..."
"I fear I have to agree with Mr. Donowitz, boys," interjected Mrs. Raine, smiling through quietly falling tears.
"I propose a toast to the Lieutenant's mother. Ain't no finer lady on this continent, ma'am, if you permit me sayin' so... "
"Thank you, boys, but you're not here to flatter an old lady..."
"Well, ma'am, we're here to honor our friend. And the Lieutenant. And damn if I can't see where he got his steel balls from."
"...I always said he had two sets of 'em, at least! No offense done to Mr. Raine."
And for the first time since the dreadful day two months ago, when Aldo died from a knife wound, attempting to teach (admittedly, in his special way) a trio of callow rednecks that SS-was-actually-cool jokes were inappropriate around veterans and Hugo was arrested not only for three dead rednecks, but also for Aldo – Aldo Raine, his saving angel with the worst Italian pronunciation in world history – laughter shook the Raine house, and breathed a spark of life back into Elvira Raine's aching, dying heart.
Feedback and further correspondence appreciated. Very. I will need native speakers to bug about military vocabulary, if I am to write The Ballad...