You know when people write stories for school and they like to pretend they know what they're doing?
This is one of those.
I sincerely apologize for any issues that may follow. This was done on a partial dare, and also because my English class wanted us to write fan fiction as an intro to writing free form. No, I don't really support Nazis or any of that other nonsense, it was just a practice run for writing.
Ghosts were all that were left in Berlin now, and it was hard to imagine it otherwise once it had fully sank in what had happened.
Certainly, they tried to carry on like normal. You can try a lot of things, but that doesn't mean that it will ever heal the way you hoped it would.
No matter how much of a routine Elsa lugged around, she inevitably would give up on the day and try to sleep the gaps in her heart away, and Maria would quietly back out of the living room from her cleaning and go over the rest of the house, over and over, until she was awake again. She didn't know what you were supposed to say to a grieving mother, and she didn't know what to say to herself sometimes when she asked why it had to happen – what did happen? But she can't shake the conviction that it was somehow all the fault of that awful place, a curse that hung like the thick smoke that poured out on the country side.
She never knew what to say to Gretel on the rare times she would leave her room and sit in the dining room, or even sit in the kitchen and watch Maria prepare dinner, or prepare lunch, or make this and that, clean, any event she could witness to drag her ruined memory away from what had happened. But at least she tried to reconnect with her friends, even if they never really came over.
If the house wasn't suffocating enough, Maria remembered the day Carl and Daniel and Martin knocked on the door of the house while Elsa was taking one of her afternoon naps and it was up to Maria to set aside her broom and step out into the too bright, too weary sun that shone over the old city of Berlin and lean down to their height from her thin perch above them and try to tell them that Bruno Simply Wasn't Coming Back, though she felt that by their age, they should already understand the gravity of death. Despite that, she couldn't bring herself to say that Bruno was at the best, missing, at the worst, dead.
She tucks runaway pieces of hair from her dark bun back behind her ears and fixes her apron idly before she purses her lips and tries hard to get rid of the sound of the boys playing airplanes together that rings in her ears when they start questioning Where Is He Then, and Surely He'll Be Back Soon, Won't He? We're Best Friends For Life.
"I'm sorry, but..." She remembers what Elsa would tell Bruno when he was upset about their new home, their new home in that wretched, awful place, where she'd listen from the corners of rooms as she made her rounds, avoiding contact with the soldiers and officers and making herself unknown, "Bruno won't be home for the foreseeable future." And it's hard for her to not let her voice crack when she says it.
The boys exchange a look before one of them nods and walks down the steps, and the other two linger like they know something is wrong – children always do. Bruno did, surely he did, even without Maria slipping up and saying more than she should. They linger before the New Leader of the group gestures them down and they leave quietly.
She shuts the door behind her like it's a final judgment on the world, saying that, quite frankly, it was an awful place and an awful time and little boys didn't deserve to have their friends taken away, and little girls didn't need to lose their brothers, and for a moment she tries to remember what it was like to lose her mother, holding her hand to her chest before she shakes the thought away and resumes cleaning.
Eventually, Elsa wakes up and asks who the guests were, and if Maria had let them in, and she finds herself lying for the sake of those eyes that are puffy again, even though she always valued honesty. "Ma'am, it was just someone asking for directions to Dr. Doss, that's all."
The woman furrows her red eyebrows and rubs her forehead as she goes over to a side table and pulls off a letter, turning it over in her hands before she sets it back down again. "Maria, there will be a guest over here soon."
"There wasn't a specific date given, but I'm sure you'll recognize him." Is all she says before she moves her shaky fingers to push on the bridge of her nose instead before she inhales deeply and straightens her shoulders, and for a few moments she looks like she did before Bruno's disappearance, before the move, before the dinner, and she smiles a caked-on, fake smile as best as she can.
"Tomorrow I'll be going out with Gretel to the market to meet Lena and her daughter…" she drops off, unable to remember the name of Gretel's friend until Maria raises an eyebrow from her sweeping.
"Yes, Isobel… thank you."
And then she whisks herself out of the room like dust into the pile that the little mournfully clad maid is busy collecting.
Soon came sooner than she expected, and she finds herself pulling off her apron quickly in the kitchen, bumping against this and that without one ow, before she smoothes down her dress for what seems like the millionth time. It really was odd to be running through the house and fretting over her appearance, but if Elsa had stepped out, it was her job to represent the lady of the house the best she could, even if she didn't have the dress or wealth to do it well.
Her thin hands pull the door open after another ring of the doorbell echoes through the too-empty house (empty now that there wasn't a boy to tell that he should quit sliding down the banisters because it was dangerous, and she wouldn't enjoy seeing him get hurt, empty because she didn't have a girl telling her to mend the clothes of her dolls, empty, empty.) and she finds herself regretting having opened it, and even swears that her hair that she had just put back up has fallen out of place because of the sheer devastating recognition of who it is.
"Lieutenant Kotler." The words stumble out of her mouth.
Maria had always tried to not judge people based on their appearance, or gossip – wasn't in her. She could be severe, but never as severe as most people would demand. She tried to offer people second chances, even. There was good in almost everyone, and it was something she believed, but when she sees the shell standing before her with dark circles under his eyes and the memories of Auschwitz come back, she finds herself struggling to not faint.
Not because she was weak, but because she remembers scrubbing the blood off the floor until her hands where wrung white and the skin cracked painfully; anything to erase the event from the children's mind, anything. She'd never honestly thought she'd be close to something so heinous, and those are the memories that nearly make her fall on the hard stone of the front porch.
He looks her up and down – differently from when they first met. Differently because he's got less of a mighty look in his eyes and more of one that says he's going to faint at any given minute, and without saying a word, pulls at the collar of his uniform, picks up a heavy bag, and walks into the house as if he had never left the family, brushing past Maria and causing her to jump at the contact.
"I expect you'll be staying?" She manages after a long silence while he looks over some of the rooms, rubbing his eyes periodically like he's staving off sleep. When he turns to the dining room, she readies her mousey voice to ask again, but it seems he was just taking his sweet time about answering.
"Yes, but not for long." While he's speaking, he's pulling off a thick coat and handing it to Maria, setting his bag beside one of the chairs at the table, and sitting down. "Elsa asked if I'd like to stay here, seeing as my father is in…" The maid turns away from the closet for a moment as his voice drops off, looking a lot like there's a bad taste in his mouth and he doesn't want to continue.
Of course, that father mess was what got him sent to the frontlines. Of course it would be angering to discuss it again.
"Well, we have a spare room, and if that fails, there's a bed in the basement…" She finds herself idly setting the table even though there are only two people in the house – and Maria didn't dine at the table anyways. "Would you like something to eat?"
He looks up from rubbing his head, trying to knead out the frustrations and memories and gore that are buried in his mind, and stares for a minute before he realized what she was asking. "Any bed is fine. And, yes."
She resents the fact he doesn't say please, if only because she's mad she has to help him to begin with.
There's nothing to discuss until Maria has pulled out some leftover stuffed chicken and carves a few pieces off onto a plate while Kotler looks increasingly green while watching, eventually to the point where he focuses his eyes on the placemat in front of him.
"Do you remember the day the commandant had the dinner?"
"The… Never mind." And it's hard to choke down the food with the memory back in his mind, even though he still didn't regret it. He didn't regret it because he obviously deserved it and… It's just disgusting to realize that eating this was exactly what he got upset with him for – stealing food from the Germans like the lowlife the boy was.
And then in almost irony he thinks of just how starving he was from poor rations as of late and realizes the boy was hungrier than he had ever been.
It's too much of a comparison that he finds his stomach starting to sour.
"Why is there a bed in the basement?"
Startled, Maria looks up from her hands long enough to manage to look at Kotler dead in the eye and then shudder as she looked away. He wasn't honestly that scary was he? The boy – no, Bruno, was that his name? Jerked back the same way before Kotler was sent to the field.
"That's where Lars and I used to sleep," she notices Kurt raise his eyebrow some in questioning, but ignores it as she continues, "Whenever he… quit, Elsa asked if I'd like to move up from the basement to take the guest bedroom."
"So I'm stealing your bed?"
"Essentially." And then she's back to staring at her hands and he can't figure out why she's so curt with him about things or why she's so scared and his puzzlement is enough that his sharp blue eyes follow her as she leaves the room, quietly excusing herself with There's A lot of Stuff to Do, and I Hadn't Expected You Here so Early.
And with her gone, he can't distract himself enough from the noise in his head to finish eating, and pushes the plate away, resting his face in his hands with his elbows up on the table – which was bad manners, as was not finishing the food that was so graciously made for him, even with rationing, but after all this, he didn't honestly care about manners anymore. Besides, being the only male in the house might as well make it his right.
Just like it was his right to not out his father for leaving.
There's a scream that jolts him out of an increasingly disturbing nightmare. It's a horrifying start to his mind from the reaching hands and the yelling and the bullets and… His pupils dilate with shock for a moment at what exactly is going on around him. It wasn't that it was anything new to him, but the rattling of the dishes in the cabinet against the splintering glass, the whole house devouring itself in its tremors, has Maria screaming from the other side of the house, shrill, trapped noises that sound more like a torture victim than someone caught in the middle of an…
He's so exhausted it doesn't register what the word is before he heaves himself up from the table, causing the chair to crash loudly (loudly if everything else weren't in such a riotous uproar,) to the floor, and now that the air raid sirens were starting… or had they been going for a while now? That noise was drowned out quickly before there's a physically painful noise that sounds like cymbals being dropped from a thirty story building into a pit of scrap metal. With that, Kotler manages to focus his increasingly distressed, strained mind into one focused thought against the heavy shaking that wrings every fiber in his being.
There was no way that she wouldn't know what to do during an air raid like this- civilians were warned over and over what to do and how to do it, but it's obvious she's doing exactly what most women do, and that's panic in the middle of something that they should really be calm and orderly about.
A few times, he's tossed into a door frame or against a wall, left to try and recollect himself as the building they're in seems to rattle with terror. Maria goes silent for a good while – either because of the fact that the noise is too loud to hear her, or because she's broken down sobbing (and in that case, he braces himself for the worst.)
The silence doesn't last long when there's another heavy slam against the ground outside and every dish in the cabinets trickles out like a glass waterfall, and then she's shrieking again.
He finally finds her pulled into a tight, black clad ball in the corner of one of the hallways, covering her ears with so much force that her knuckles have turned ghost white, and when he reaches out to roughly pull her to her feet, her fingers stick painfully almost like rigor mortis in dead soldiers.
Dead, dead, dead, not today.
Kotler's not entirely sure if he means to be as forceful with her as he is – she's panicked, she's stiff, and she fights against him, yelling words he can't make out before he gets so upset with her childishness that he clamps his free hand tight over her mouth and pulls her under one of the archways in the house and narrows his eyes almost snake-like at her.
"Where is the basement?" And he hesitantly moves his fingers from her lips now that there's two or three tears slipping down her sheet-white face.
"The basement." He repeats in a harsh whisper.
And then she blinks and spits out some random directions – he's not sure he hears them clearly – and drags her along behind him until he decides that, frankly, they are not moving fast enough – not fast enough to avoid dying, or damage, or anything else when he's nearly slammed to the floor again and it takes every ounce of his strength to manage not to fall, and he whirls on the dulled heel of his boot to face her.
And he swears that for a minute she's more terrified of him than she is of the fact her life is in imminent danger, but this was now and there wasn't time to waste on trying to be nice about it, so he violently pulls her towards him before he manages to pick her up bridal style with a quick swoop of hands – and then she's shrieking into the collar of his jacket while he forces the door to the basement open, descending the stairs just as the china cabinet in the hallway spills its contents like it's been sliced down the middle with a bayonet.
When they manage their way down the steps without too much issue, Kotler finds himself struggling to figure out where the light switch is with only the dim light from a small, slot window lighting the pitch black that was quickly becoming darker because of the smoke gathering outside, and he doesn't know if he can set Maria down without her going completely catatonic.
She's gone quiet though, and that's at least a plus, but the noise has died down too. There's still shivering in the house, shivering that makes all of the beams creak and he finds himself wondering why the raid passed so fast.
With some dumb luck, he manages to find the bed she had mentioned earlier and pull himself– and her – onto it, since Maria's hands are contorted painfully to knot in the thinning fabric of his uniform, and she doesn't show any signs of letting go.
And if the situation wasn't so grave, he would almost laugh at how ridiculously romantic it was.
After a minute Maria gives a jolt just as Kotler starts to nod off to sleep due to the adrenalin receding in his veins, and it only takes a second for her to try and pull away from him and his looped arms around her come loose easier than she expected, causing her to nearly fall off of the bed.
He can only muster a tired glare at her antics, as he thinks of them, while he tries to sit up before he turns his eyes up to the ceiling and the low clattering of various tins on the shelves in the basement.
"What did you think you were-"And she's interrupted by the second set of planes going over Berlin. He can't see her face well, but she's taking the second round better than before, and her gaze follows his to the dust that starts to seep from cracks in the ceiling before she looks back down.
"I had to carry you down here, since you were apparently too busy having an episode to realize how much danger you were in." He says it firmly. Firmly enough that the maid's mouth falls shut and she narrows her eyes at the floor before there's a particularly blistering explosion that makes her jump, and like a child, she manages herself back into his grip, even though it's obviously begrudgingly.
"Talk to me." Is what Kotler manages out after a long silence, and Maria feels as if she has to pick her words carefully, or else face the wrath that she'd only heard Elsa mention in passing at the other house.
"Used to it."
She raises her head up some to look at him before she shudders as a set of boxes spill off a shelf (but luckily do not take the shelf with them.) before she sets it back down against his shoulder – was it his shoulder? It was too dark too tell. The specifics didn't matter – they were too close for comfort anyways. "No, I think you're too tired to register just what is happening."
"I don't think so. I was obviously awake enough to move you down here." He's got his head back against the wall and his eyes closed, and she's sure he's lying, because no human being should be able to just sleep off an air raid when there's people dying outside and there's any chance that your house could be next.
"In the field, a lot of guys my age tend to panic when the trenches get shelled. It's not uncommon to end up with one of them trying to hide against you like you're his mother." He continues idly, strangely quiet but eerily audible despite the clamor.
She was aware she was at least a few years older than him, but it'd never occurred to her that someone younger than her would be doing something consistently in the army. She'd always believed that if anything got too close to home, that she would be able to support Gretel's fears because she simply had to, especially if Elsa wasn't around.
She still believed it, really. Maybe her courage only showed when she felt she had someone relying on her to be calm and collected, but… She jolts painfully against him whenever a different shelf collapses in the dark, and for once she realizes that his hands noticeably tightened around her waist and it would be more unpleasant – considering a man who can easily pull the trigger on someone unlike him, but be perfectly fine with others like him – if it weren't for the fact that her nerves are shot and his are either completely gone, or else very calm.
And when she feels the tears start to well back in her eyes when the shadows of her mind start to creep on her conscience, she tries to start talking and almost fears that Kotler's gone to sleep, and if she's honest, she's not entirely sure what to do if something worse happens .
"Earlier you only mentioned your father. What about your mother?"
He waits for the noise to die down some before he clears his throat, "She died when I was born."
And she can't help but be disgusted by how blasé he says it. It's almost like it doesn't bother him one bit and she hates the lack of sentiment in his voice, the lack of any real concern about it. She tries to push herself away from him again, but she's too tense to manage even that.
"My mother died a few years ago."
"Did she now?"
"Just because you didn't know yours doesn't mean that you shouldn't… Miss her." She doesn't know what the use is in trying to make a human out of a monster and quiets again before she resume about her own parents. "My father and I couldn't take care of her hospital bills, and so the commandant paid for them, and let me stay here."
For a minute, Kotler finds himself rolling over his tongue if he should comment about that. He felt that there was no use in supporting the ill – especially not the elderly ill – if they wouldn't contribute back to society after they recovered.
He doesn't say it though.
"He never talked about her, anyways."
"My father. He didn't like to discuss my mother, just like he doesn't like to discuss…" His hushed talking is drowned out suddenly by another roar that makes him visibly wince. He turns away from the topic.
"You call everyone by their formal title. For the sake of it, just call me Kurt."
"It's a habit. It's my job to-"
"You're job is to listen." He muses, and can't help but smile at the glare she throws him in the dark before he quickly sobers up again. "Where are Elsa and Gretel?"
And then Maria's pulse quickens when she remembers that they're not at the house. "They went to the market… They have shelters in the city, don't they?"
He's not entirely sure what to say to her to try and soothe her down from that. There was any chance that they had gotten killed or at least injured. But there was also a high chance that they were perfectly fine, if a bit frazzled and confused by the situation. "Elsa knows what to do, I'm sure… better than you, at least."
"I didn't…" she pauses for a minute before she sighs, "I didn't ask you, Kurt."