When the flagman and his friend took the fight with the madman away from the Schlossgarten, Hans-Joachim Knaup collected his daughter and her husband and went home. His shoulder ached; he wasn't a young man and hitting the ground when the flagman had pushed between him and harm's way hadn't done it any favors. But it would heal.
His daughter clung to her husband's hand but she didn't ask him what he'd been thinking. Just as well, she could guess. He hadn't expected to survive. It would have been worth it. He'd done enough kneeling in his life.
His shoulder was black and blue the next day but he didn't let that stop him from visiting his usual weinstube after church, as always on Sunday. Alfred Schmied from Möhringen and Eugen Gericke, Knaup's neighbor, had seen the whole thing on the news and asked about it. Knaup just shook his head and ordered his usual viertele.
In the next few days, the news from America were full of madness. The result seemed to be much the same as after the attack on the world trade center; demanding fellow feeling from all nations on earth. As if they'd been the only ones who'd ever had to deal with monsters. Though monsters from outer space did seem to be new.
But that should have been the end of it.
Knaup gave his shoulder a few days and then went back to his small orchard on Birkenkopf. The trees needed spraying and it was taking him longer these days. There also seemed to be something wrong with his sprayer, it made far too much noise.
It wasn't the sprayer.
The flagman had chased him down. With the airplane.
The flagman - Captain America, Knaup remembered from the news - stuck out his hand to Knaup.
His pronounciation was atrocious. Knaup nodded and shook his hand.
"I wanted to come personally and thank you for what you did. Facing down Loki must have taken a great amount of courage."
"Excuse me," Knaup interrupted. "Who are you? Not," he clarified, "the nutjob in the, the fasching costume. The man."
"Oh." That seemed to be a bit of a flush. "My name's Steve Rogers, sir."
Knaup nodded to himself. That was better. Well, anything would have been better than Captain America. "And why do you want to thank me, Mr. Rogers?"
"Courage under fire, sir."
Had he ever been that young? Or that earnest? Knaup sighed and put the sprayer down.
"Son. It's a nice thought but it's not your place to thank me. Look around you." He gestured into the valley. Stuttgart lay before them, vineyards on every slope and in the distance the Schwäbische Alb. "Do you know where we are?"
Rogers' eyes were wide. "Stuttgart, Germany?"
Eh. "This is the Birkenkopf. Used to be about forty meters shorter than it is now. We're standing on one and a half million cubic meters of debris from when your people bombed Stuttgart. There." He pointed at the sign.
Dieser Berg nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg aufgetürmt aus den Trümmern der Stadt steht den Opfern zum Gedächtnis den Lebenden zur Mahnung.
"It says: This mountain piled up from the wreckage of the city after the Second World War stands as reminder of the victims, a warning to the living."
"We remember, Mr. Rogers," Knaup said. "The rest of the world sees fit to send us reminders occasionally. But we remember. And we don't want another madman, Austrian or from outer space. Someone will always speak out against the madmen. That's not reason to thank anyone."
"Still. Your courage should have thanks -"
Knaup glared him into silence. "Should, should. Never mind should, deal with what is. I need to get on with things. I need to spray my trees before dusk. I don't need thanks, Mr. Rogers. I don't need an American in a funny costume to say thank you as if I needed to have my head patted."
Rogers blinked at him, hopefully getting the message. Then he put down the starry shield he carried and took off the silly helmet thing.
"Then can I help you spray your trees?"
It was Knaup's turn to blink. But then again - Rogers looked honest enough.
"Yes, Mr. Rogers. You can help me spray my trees."