Characters: Hauptmann Hans Dietrich and Thomas Hartmann

Warnings/Spoilers: Mildly graphic depictions of war that might be considered unsuitable for some.

Author's Note: The character of Thomas Hartmann is 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. This is a one-shot and does not belong to any of my timelines.

Summary: Dietrich's latest mission brings about a desire to be captured by the Rat Patrol.

Reluctantly Dietrich opened his eyes and gazed up into the smoke that was billowing into the air. Sand blew readily into it, evidence that not much time had passed since the raid. Everything hurt. From the back of his head that had struck the hard ground in his fall to the slight burns he had suffered when a mortar ripped open the half-track that he had just grabbed one of his soldiers out of. Somewhere in the frenzied fight a bullet had ricocheted off the track and sliced across his calf. Another had lodged itself in his left shoulder. What pained him the most though, were the cries of the dying soldiers.

Explosions had rocked the area, sending the soldiers in all directions as they scrambled for cover, but many had not been able to escape. Some were killed immediately, their existence turned into nothing but a burnt crater. Others had their bodies torn apart and limped on for a few moments before perishing in a pit of excruciating pain. Then there were the fires that set his men ablaze. Aimlessly they had run, searching for that relief that would come only in death. Their agonised cries had yet to fade from mind, nor had the sound been silenced from the bullets that tore into the flesh of the soldiers unlucky to be caught out in the open.

If one could survive, Dietrich would consider it a victory, no matter what his superiors said. This had been a fool's run, everyone had known that. This was nothing more than a diversion, a futile attempt for triumph in a battle they would never win. It was always about land, never about life, but for Dietrich, in this moment, life of one was all he cared about. Though his fate was not certain, if one survived him, not all was lost.

"Thomas, Thomas Hartmann…" Dietrich called out weakly.

Of all his soldiers, it was the young private whom he prized above all the others. Though he had capable soldiers and fully competent sergeants, it was the youngest whom he cared for the most. Normally Dietrich distanced himself from his men, for the high fatality rate assured him a constantly grieving heart and a soul that would never mend. Yet, Thomas had found a way to become close to the captain, sheltering in the harbour of his experience in battle and courage in the face of danger.

It had been Thomas's spirit, so full of life and hope, that had touched Dietrich. The days spent relaxing to a game of football had been most memorable. Hearing Thomas talk about the matches that he had been in, the teams he had grown up with, it was as though he was back at home. War was not what Thomas had wanted, nor had he ever thought of himself as a capable soldier. He had only hoped to do his duty and come back to his mother alive, and live to play football again. All his hopes of a glorified Germany were placed in his love for the World Cup. That's where real pride existed.

"Thomas, wo bist du?" Again Dietrich tried to move but felt something heavy on his chest. By now he could finally lift his head and he saw a soldier laying across him.

He didn't need to guess who it was, for the only one running with him had been Thomas.

"Wach auf, Thomas! Komm, auf geht's!" Dietrich put his hand to Thomas's head and ruffled his hair, knowing how quickly Thomas generally reacted to it. He could hear the sound of jeeps making their way around the debris. "We have to keep moving, Thomas. The Patrol hasn't left!"

Dietrich pushed himself up onto his elbows and immediately rubbed Thomas's back, urging him further, "Aufwachen Sie! Thomas!"

His fingers ran across Thomas's back over towards his left shoulder but before he reached this, his fingers touched fresh blood. Immediately Dietrich sat up even more and as he did so, Thomas slid down in his arms. A single bullet had effectively ended what none of the fires or explosions could. Grief choked Dietrich's throat as he gently turned Thomas over to face him. All the pain rocking his weary body was numbed the moment Dietrich laid his eyes upon Thomas's pale state.

"Thomas?" Dietrich stroked Thomas's cheek until his fingers rested upon his neck. No matter how much he willed it, a pulse could not be detected.

As his grief continued to mount, Dietrich lifted Thomas more into his arm, struggling against a body that no longer wanted to obey. He buried his head against Thomas's shoulder and shut his eyes. Tears couldn't come for him, for no outward display could ever express what he truly felt. All his frustration, all his grief… none of it mattered, for it wouldn't bring him back.

A jeep engine rumbled very close to him but Dietrich didn't look up. The war was over for him. He couldn't do this anymore. Whatever Sergeant Sam Troy wanted from him, Dietrich would gladly give, for it wasn't the Allies who had killed Thomas, but illogical hatred that drove his beloved homeland mad. It was poisoned souls and twisted minds that decreed that the boy had to leave behind his mother to fight for a land that the Nazis didn't even want, but felt obligated to out of desire to be friendly with Mussolini. Dictators… tyrants… evil.

What Sam Troy represented was not evil, that Dietrich knew from previous encounters. They were simply soldiers fighting one another, following orders. But now, as Dietrich held the lifeless body of his friend, all he could think about was how right Troy had been.

War had killed Thomas Hartmann.

"Es tut mir so leid, Thomas," whispered Dietrich as he straightened. "You shouldn't have been the one to die."

As he went to put his head against Thomas's, a bullet slammed into Dietrich's chest, sucking all the air from his lungs. Thomas slipped from his arms and dropped to the sand. Dietrich cast his eyes over at the jeep, immediately beholding the one who had shot him.

It was someone new, someone special for this patrol, and by the reactions of Sergeants Troy and Moffitt, the soldier had acted against their wishes. What did their anger matter though? Dietrich winced and lowered himself to the ground a deep coldness taking hold of his shivering body. Before him, Thomas lay on his side, his hand placed gently upon a patch of sand and his face so quiet it looked as though he was merely asleep.

"Thomas?" Dietrich called out quietly as he put his hand over his.

Troy came around to the other side of Dietrich to face him. When Dietrich lifted his eyes to him, he saw a frown full of regret on his face and his eyes read of sorrow and anger. Though Sam Troy wasn't asking it, Dietrich knew the American was looking for forgiveness. Nationality mattered not when it came to matters of the heart and mind, and some men were just plain cruel. Sam Troy was not though, and Dietrich did not fault him for this.

With a soft, understanding smile, Dietrich granted Troy his forgiveness.

"Thomas," Dietrich whispered again, this time placing his hand gently upon Thomas's hair, which he tussled. "Mein Bruder, schalf schön und traüme süße."

The Allies had not killed Hans Dietrich, evil did.

Troy knelt next to Dietrich and sighed heavily. This was not what was supposed to happen.

The soldier who had been so quick to shoot Dietrich shrugged his shoulders and spit into the sand as he sat in the jeep.

"Damn, it's just another dead Nazi bastard," said the soldier with a shake of his head. "It's not like the fellah was actually human. They're all evil. I'm glad this one is dead, and so should you!"

February 1943
North Africa