Characters: Hans Dietrich and Frau Dietrich; Thomas Hartmann

Warnings/Spoilers: none

Author's Note: The characters of Thomas Hartmann and Janine are my own and may not be borrowed. Everything else belongs to "Rat Patrol", which I do not own in any way. As before, my stories are told from the German perspective and I strive to maintain respect for history whilst not conforming to lectures that we were brought up in through school. These stories are not for anyone sensitive to WWII and who harbour deep hatred for the past, though I do request that you keep an open mind when reading the stories. These do NOT glorify war in any shape or form.

Summary: It is August 1948 and Dietrich has finally earned enough money to treat himself and his wife to a football match down in Bavaria where he is shocked to discover one of his former subordinates on the pitch and worries if the past is truly forgiven or not.

Coming down the stairs in the outdoor stadium, Dietrich found Janine sitting, watching with great interest the action on the pitch. Taking a seat on the bleacher beside her, Dietrich offered her the Bratwurst.

"Hast du Hunger?" he asked.

"Na klar! Ich bin so hungrig!"

When Dietrich placed the food in her hands, Janine eagerly took a bite out of it and smiled at her husband.

"Für dich," said Dietrich with a light, loving smile.

She looked at her husband and frowned at him. "But aren't you hungry?"

The rumble in Dietrich's stomach could not hide his words as he replied, "Nein…" He smiled weakly and said, "You need it more than me, Liebchen."

"We share," Janine replied simply and offered it to him. "You worked just as hard to get this and I won't have you starving on my account."

"Aber, Liebchen…"

"Nein! No arguing!"

Dietrich chuckled and took a bite. Admittedly, he had been very hungry and wanted some of it as well, but he didn't want to deprive his wife of the needed food. This was the first time that they had really been able to treat themselves in months.

"Hast du Durst, Liebchen?" Dietrich asked.

"Ja! Ich habe Durst! Bier?" Janine asked, her voice teasing.

"Bier? Nein!" Dietrich nearly exclaimed. "Just water or…"

"…nothing alcoholic," replied Janine with mock-annoyance. "I know, I know!"

Dietrich smiled and kissed her forehead. "Gut, gut, ich liebe dich."

"Ich liebe dich auch," replied Janine, giving him a quick kiss on the lips before returning her attention to the pitch. "Now, we saved up to watch this match so let's not spend the time doing what we do at home! My hometeam against Stuttgart!"

Dietrich chuckled and nodded as he wrapped his arm around Janine's shoulder. "How are they doing?"

"Nicht so gut," replied Janine with a frown. "There's a lot of talent on the pitch and they definitely have come very close to scoring. But coming close isn't enough to win it. They're down one and well, it's anyone's game right now because it's only the first half. If they would just finish what they start!"

Nodding his head sagaciously, Dietrich took his gaze to the pitch. Personally he held no favourites as neither were from his hometown, but because Janine was from Bavaria, naturally he was biased just for her. Both squads were quite professional in their moves, but the Bavarians just couldn't seem to get any of their attempts on the goal to count.

"That young striker looks so frustrated," said Janine, gesturing to the one who had just failed at putting the ball in the net when his attempt bounced off the leg of his own team mate and bounced harmlessly away from the goal. He was now standing slightly hunched over and looking quite unhappy. "I hope he makes a goal, just for that disappointing shot."

Dietrich didn't respond. He couldn't believe who he was looking at. He gasped, "Hartmann?"

"Ah yes, that's his name!" said Janine. "Thomas Hartmann."

Dietrich leaned forward on the bench, his hands dropping to his knees and his back straightening. "I… I don't believe it…"

"Do you know him?" Janine asked, tilting her head curiously at him.

"He was in my unit, years ago, in Africa," replied Dietrich. He watched as Thomas re-engaged himself with the squad and helped to maintain the ball in their possession. "I remember him being passionate about football."

"He survived, what a miracle then!" Janine frowned a little as she said, "Most who went into the war stayed for the duration unless they were too wounded to be of service or they were captured. What happened with him?"

"I…" Dietrich looked at his wife and frowned. It was difficult talking about the war and everything that had happened. Mostly he wanted to forget it, but he didn't think the war would ever forget him. Trying to draw in some strength in his voice, Dietrich said, "Thomas was a boy when he came to my unit. Fresh out of training and very determined to be of use. I had him first in whatever I drove in, even as my own driver because he was so young and the life expectancy in my unit wasn't very high. I wanted him to see his eighteenth birthday."

Dietrich paused and watched the game, wishing that he could simply shove those desert memories back into the basement of his mind but they refused to leave him. Seeing Thomas out on the pitch kept them out. He could recall the moment Thomas disappeared under a thick cloud of smoke as his vehicle was attacked and feeling a sense of loss when he realised that he would be writing a letter to Thomas's mother.

"He was an extraordinary young man when I knew him."

"As a soldier?"

"Nein, a man," replied Dietrich firmly. "You see, he was briefly captured by the Allies when he was wounded but through some act of God, in his transfer from the medical facility to a POW camp he was freed and brought back to my unit. Though I was relieved to see him, I was saddened because I knew that there was a chance he would get killed, so I tried to put him in the safest position that I could, having him drive one of my trucks.

"In October of 1942 he helped this young nurse, who was an Ally and in the process, uncovered something particularly nasty amongst this other unit whom he rescued her from. They came after him and tried to kill him, our own soldiers, hunting this boy down. I had called a temporary truce with the Rat Patrol to get the nurse back into safe hands, and that's when they came. Thomas was wounded and I knew that if he stayed with me, he would never be safe so I did the only thing I could do."

"You turned him over to the Allies, didn't you?" Janine asked, taking Dietrich's hand in hers.

Dietrich nodded softly. "I don't even know if he thinks I betrayed him by doing that. He fell unconscious before he could answer."

"He's alive because of you," said Janine. "That has to mean something, no?"

"I just don't know," replied Dietrich. He watched the action on the pitch for a few moments but the excitement that he had earlier had at being at a football match was lost. He just felt anxious and sad.

After a few minutes, Janine sighed, "Oh good, less than a minute until half-time! Hopefully the second half will be more exciting!"

The ball rolled past the line, towards where Dietrich and Janine were sitting. Dietrich drew in a slow breath as Thomas trotted after the ball, still looking unhappy. He took up the ball and tossed it in his hands a few times, trying to get his mind cleared.

Then he looked up.

Dietrich locked eyes with him and he tried to smile but felt himself unable to.

Thomas's eyes widened in recognition and he spoke distinctly, "Dietrich…" but his expression made no other indication than that of shock.

"Hartmann! Los!" cried one of his teammates.

The game then commenced and after the minute had passed, both teams retreated to their lockers. Dietrich took the time to stretch a bit and walked towards the concessions. Janine was by his side, holding onto his hand quietly as though understanding his need for peace.

"I love you, Hans," said Janine suddenly. "And you are a good man. Anyone who knows you will say that about you."

Dietrich looked at her and smiled gently. He kissed her lovingly on the lips before gently embracing her. "How is it that you always manage to say the very thing I need to hear when I need to hear it the most?"

"Ich bin deine Frau," replied Janine with a smug smile as she kissed him again. "It is my job to know these things."

Dietrich chuckled and lead her back to the bleachers. Once the game started, Dietrich tried to relax. He couldn't keep from watching Thomas though. The way he moved on the pitch it was as though he had kept up on his training even during capture. To be playing at this level, surely he had never lost sight of his dream. Dietrich felt a tinge of pride over Thomas's accomplishment and smiled.

"I think the Bavarians have finally stepped it up," said Janine. She watched the ball being carried down the pitch and started to rise in her seat. "That's it! Pass it! Pass it!"

Thomas passed the ball over to one of his teammates, who immediately delivered a kick to the ball that sent it slipping past the goalie's fingers and into the back of the net.

"TOR!" Janine yelled, throwing her hands up into the air. "JA! TOR! TOR! TOR!"

Dietrich smiled approvingly but when he saw that after Thomas had congratulated his team, he looked back to him, Dietrich waved at him.

Thomas smiled, then resumed playing.

With every passing minute Dietrich grew more fascinated with the game and like his wife, he started to cheer with her. The game was tied, one-to-one with both sides playing with their hearts. Neither wanted to lose but it became very evident that something had occurred within the Bavarians, making them more determined than ever. Nothing was more apparent than the focus shining in young Thomas Hartmann's eyes as he played.

"Come on Thomas, you can do it," said Dietrich as he watched the seconds pass to full ninety.

Stoppage time was now being played and only two minutes were being allowed. No one wanted to go into a penalty shootout. Both sides fought for the ball, neither wanting to relent. Then, as the final minute wore down, the ball came to Thomas Hartmann. It was between him and the goal keeper. With a mighty kick, Thomas sent the ball towards the goal. It was their last effort. Everything was on the line.

With gentle grace the ball edged past the goal keeper and soared into the back of the net.

"TOOOOOOR!" both Janine and Dietrich yelled. Dietrich leapt to his feet applauding and cheering loudly.

The Bavarians pounced Thomas and buried him in hugs and congratulatory pats on the back. The referee blew the whistle and the game was over. Thomas ran around with his team, hollering and cheering before coming back over to shake hands with the other team. Then Thomas broke away and came towards where Dietrich and Janine were standing.

"Los! Go to him!" Janine said, giving Dietrich an encouraging push in his direction.

Feeling his nervousness growing, Dietrich went to the short fence.

Thomas arrived nearly breathless and beaming from ear-to-ear. He asked, "Herr Dietrich, do you remember me?"

"Thomas Hartmann, of course I remember you," replied Dietrich, still nervous.

"I never got a chance to thank you for saving my life," said Thomas. He climbed over the fence to stand in front of his former superior. "If you hadn't done what you did, I wouldn't be here. You saved me."

"Herr Hartmann, I… I was worried that you would have hated me for leaving you with the Allies."

"Nie! Never!" Thomas shook his head and smiled at him. "Dietrich, mein Freund, danke!" The young footballer embraced Dietrich tightly, nearly choking as his emotions flooded him. "I owe my life to you! Thank you, Dietrich, thank you!"

At last Dietrich smiled and he hugged Thomas tightly, ever grateful to be reunited with him.

August 1948

Munich, Germany