Characters: Hauptmann Dietrich und Hauptmann Arnulf Rosenthal
Author's Note: Again, thank you everyone for your very kind support and encouragement! I have no intentions of quitting my stories, my only reason for posting the a/n that I did was to state how difficult it has been to write them recently as well as show how serious I am about these particular stories.
Summary: After finding his downed friend, Dietrich tries to console him but winds up feeling just as conflicted as the reality becomes clear, the desert campaign was not a gentleman's war.
Gazing at the dishevelled 109 pilot, Dietrich spoke sternly, "You're beginning to make this a habit, herr Hauptmann Rosenthal."
"I didn't do it on purpose," replied Arnulf swiftly, his gaze locked on the panzer commander who was perched so smugly from within the half-track.
Dietrich looked past him to the battered aircraft that lay with its nose buried in the sand. There was no way to repair the aircraft, not out here at least. It would be easier to simply fix one back at base than try and pull it out of the dune.
"Nice little landing you had there."
Arnulf sighed quietly and gazed at the wreckage that lay strewn in the wake of the crash. "As I heard one Yank say, 'any landing you can walk away from is a good one.'"
If Dietrich had found this amusing, he certainly refused to show it. Slowly he climbed out of the half-track and made his way towards the pilot, stopping just past him. His gaze had gone to the bullet holes that had peppered the aircraft between the leading edge of the wing to the tail. Dietrich's eyes widened a little when he saw the state of the rudder, or the simple fact that there was hardly anything left of it.
"They should have nailed you to the floor," said Dietrich in almost a whisper. His hands had gone behind his back and his posture had stiffened.
Arnulf simply sighed, his posture neither rigid nor like that of a victorious ace. In a voice that defied his weakened state, Arnulf replied smugly, "You can't clip my feathers. Ich kann das nicht." He stared hard at his friend and questioned him, "Could you?"
"Could you give up your command?"
Dietrich looked back toward his half-track and then at the rest of their convoy. The men were ignoring the situation at hand after having looked at the aircraft long enough to find that it was no longer interesting. He knew all his men by name. He knew what motivated them as individuals and also as a unit, as a team. There wasn't a single soldier amongst them that Dietrich wouldn't lay down his life to protect. They were his men, and they relied on him as much as he relied on them.
"Nein," whispered Dietrich.
Arnulf smiled a little. "Aha, I thought as much."
Dietrich began moving towards the aircraft but Arnulf's words halted him.
"There were five of us who took to the air today. By the time I was forced down, only two were still flying, but only one will probably survive…" Arnulf's voice faded as he looked up into the sky.
Dietrich turned to face him and noted the anguish showing itself in Arnulf's eyes.
"I know he can make it back to base, but Werner's tail was shot off like mine and the last I saw of him, there was smoke trailing from his engine. We were all exhausted to begin with. It's mission after mission and for all the planes we shoot down, there are twice as many on the following sortie. Their supplies are endless. We don't have control over the sky and our command does not see this. They make plans with their maps and their numbers but they do not see things the way we do. The men I flew with today, I barely knew them as they were replacements but now, they're dead. My wing is dying, Hans. This isn't a gentleman's war, we're being slaughtered up there!"
Whilst Arnulf had been speaking, Dietrich had drawn closer to him and now he rested his hand upon Arnulf's shoulder. Arnulf shook his head as though he wanted to leave. Anxiously he ran a hand over his face and into his hair before speaking again. His voice choked with his frustration as he said, "The generals, they don't care. I see what happens to you, Hans, I know what goes on down here. I flew over you. I've seen it and I've even been there with you."
The pilot's head dropped and he shivered suddenly. "Ich kann nicht, ich kann nicht… das werde ich nie vergessen!"
"You're brother is going to land safely," said Dietrich firmly but still maintained a gentle tone. "You said so yourself that he is one of the best pilots in your squadron. He's probably back at the base now, anxious about you as you are about him. When you get back, you'll be able to find him, safe and sound. Just think about that."
"Jawohl," Arnulf replied quietly.
Dietrich sighed sadly. Watching Arnulf slowly lose his faith in his commanders struck fear into him for he knew that Werner's outward emotions mirrored his exactly. Everything was so dismal, so bleak, and without hope. For what victory were they striving for, exactly? Surely Sergeant Troy's cause was just as good as his! They were protecting their allies in what essentially was a battle over land. Dietrich had a nagging suspicion that Troy hated the desert as much as he did and only tolerated it for the sake of orders.
But was that all this desert battle was to Troy? Or was there something more to it? Perhaps truth, even?
Dietrich suddenly snapped out of his thoughts and pulled Arnulf into an embrace. This briefly stunned Arnulf, but he quickly regained his senses and hugged his friend tightly.
Brotherhood was a worthy enough cause no matter who was fighting for it.