Characters: Hauptmann Dietrich, Lukas Eberstark, and Hauptmann Arnulf Rosenthal
Rating: T
Warnings/Spoilers: none
Author's Note: After a severe backlash from a writing community, I almost quit writing my WWII stories. Writing these kind of stories, the ones for "Rat Patrol" along with my original WWII stories wound up offending a few individuals and what happened had affected me so much, I almost abandoned even my RP stories. This was the first thing I wrote for the fandom following that event. It's shaken my confidence greatly as the viewpoint I'm writing from is not a popular one and was called offensive and purely wrong. So for those on here who have been supporting my stories, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Summary: Generals may draw up battle plans but it is the soldier who pays the high price for arrogance and ultimately suffers alone.

"Herr Hauptmann, will you stay with me?" the corporal asked as he reached out to Arnulf.

Taking the man's hand, Arnulf smiled kindly upon him and settled in the dirt beside him. "Ja, doch," he replied softly. "Kein Angst, Sie sind…" Arnulf could hardly get the words out and had to force his gaze away to keep from weeping. What manner of man was this? He was but a child! Hardly eighteen and already his life was all but over.

"Herr Hauptmann?" inquired the corporal.

Arnulf jerked his head around and squeezed his hand, covering his grief with a friendly smile. "Ich bin hier." He could see the fright in those youthful blue eyes and desperately wanted to comfort him. Arnulf inquired gently, "What is your name?"

"Obergefreiter Lukas Eberstark."

"Lukas?" Arnulf bobbed his head and spoke quietly, "That is a strong name; a very good name! My name is Arnulf."

"Pleased to meet you, mein Herr."

"Likewise," Arnulf chuckled. "Where is home, Lukas?"

"Berlin," he replied.

"Is that your hometown?"

"Ja," Private Lukas refused to release Arnulf's hand. "It is a magnificent city! Have you ever been there, Herr Hauptmann?"

"You can call me Arnulf, and no, I haven't been there."

"Arnulf…" whispered Lukas. He shivered suddenly, his body seemingly ignored the thirty-five degree Celsius temperature. "Who will tell my mother?"

Arnulf drew a sharp breath but was unable to reply. Gazing into the pale face of this teenage soldier, Arnulf didn't have the heart to agree with him that the only ending to this story was death. Having his lower-half covered wasn't just to keep him warm, it was to prevent the young corporal from seeing that he had but one leg, and the one that remained wasn't much of anything. Help couldn't come fast enough, and when it did, the impossibly slow Storch wouldn't be able to save him.

"My family will be proud of me," continued Lukas. "My father served the Fatherland before me, and I will die with honour, for him… for the Fatherland. Will you, Arnulf, write my mother and my father?"

"I, I don't know if that is within my power to do so-"

"Eberstark," said Dietrich as he knelt down on the other side of the corporal. "If you wish it, I can write home for you."

"Hauptmann Dietrich?" Lukas's eyes lit up and he turned his head quickly to his commander. Tears flushed down his dirty cheeks. "You're alive! Mein Gott! I thought they killed you! When those Spitfires came down and strafed us, I saw you were caught in-" Lukas jerked violently and cried out in pain.

Dietrich and Arnulf gently pushed Lukas back onto the dirt. Sweeping back Lukas's light brown hair, Dietrich spoke urgently to him, "You are a brave, dedicated soldier, Lukas Eberstark, and I am very honoured to have had you in my unit."

"Hauptmann Dietrich, tell my father, tell him… I fought with honour."

"I will."

Lukas smiled a little before shutting his eyes. The shivering heightened as he took in a few deep breaths, but then, the shivering stopped. Only the relaxed expression on Lukas's face indicated that his death had been without excruciating torment. Perhaps it was one good thing that the shock of it all had done, numb him completely and allowed his passing to be virtually painless. Unfortunately it did nothing for those that survived.

Arnulf took in a few breaths and let his grief fall. Why this young corporal had affected him so much, he wasn't sure. All he knew was that yet another precious life had been needlessly lost in this pathetic battle over land, land that the Reich seemed hardly interested in at all. Germany didn't need to be in Africa!

"Dietrich, mein Freund… what should we,"

"What you came to do, Captain," replied Dietrich in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. "You fly the ambulance Storch and you will continue flying the wounded out of here."

"We were with him," Arnulf said, watching as Dietrich took the blanket and pulled it over Lukas's still form. "We comforted him, I can't just…"

"You must, for there are those who are alive and are depending on you."

Arnulf looked toward his Storch and saw that that the two medical personnel had just finished loading the second litter. "What about-"

"I'll be taking care of his burial," replied Dietrich, rising suddenly.

Arnulf tried to catch his gaze but failed. That was when he saw the extent of his friend's injuries. A gash just above Dietrich's left eye had left a mess of dirt and blood along the side of his face, which had been wiped into his hair. When Dietrich turned from him, Arnulf felt a jolt of fear run through him. Along his right side part of his uniform looked as though it had been scorched and worse, Arnulf could see fresh blood soaking through the cloth.

"Hans…" Arnulf choked on his words as though the air had been sucked right from him.

Dietrich had taken no more than a few steps forward when he collapsed suddenly. Without hesitating, Arnulf scrambled over to him and gently turned him onto his good side. He looked up to the medical staff and yelled, "Hilfe! Helfen Sie mir! Schnell!"

"You must fly, Arnulf," whispered Dietrich.

"Why didn't you let them take care of you?" Arnulf demanded angrily. "You are just as hurt as the men I'm taking right now! Your wounds haven't even been tended to!"

"The lives of my men go before my own, you know this. I had to make sure that they were all seen to first."

A short laugh escaped Arnulf and he swallowed hard, not bothering to conceal his emotions. "Just admit it Hans, you're stubborn fool."

Dietrich chuckled but it was immediately halted as sudden pain swept through his back and into his chest. He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. "Arnulf, you have to fly, now."

Arnulf gently squeezed his friend's shoulder and nodded slowly. "Just promise me that when I get back, I won't hear that you've given up and gone to where I can't follow. Hans, promise me you'll take the next flight with me, and…"

"I can't promise anything, but I'll try. Now go, Arnulf, my friend…"

"Just hang on," Arnulf whispered, realising at once that his friend had fallen unconscious. Rising, Arnulf ran towards his awaiting aircraft. In a matter of two minutes, he was airborne, flying with the wind far behind their lines towards the hospital. Questions raced through his mind as he flew but none burned so deeply in his mind as did his constant worry over Dietrich. Would he be able to survive the shock and the blood loss? Or would he become another victim in this completely pointless war over a strip of pathetically parched soil that was better left to the Arabs?

18 September 1942

JG 27 (the 27th Fighter Wing)