A/N: I posted this fic on Ao3, and on Ao3 alone. If you read this on any other website or platform, please consider that I did not consent to this.
The first thought that had struck him when he had laid his eyes upon the village had been ‘lonely’. Utterly lonely it had seemed to him, the small village, ducked into the hollow, a few huts on the grey rock and the brown grass. It had been autumn already, and the cold made everything appear even more desolate.
And lonely it was, in a strange country, miles and miles away from the place he called home. So far away from Texas. The people spoke German, just like his mother had done, but he was not used to the language and sometimes he did not understand everything. He started to relate to his mother. This must have been how she had felt when she had come to America. Lost in a strange place, nobody you knew, nobody you could trust. Funnily enough, it was this place that now, years after her death, made him feel closer to his mother than ever before.
The place where everything had begun. A village somewhere in the Alps, so small that it was shown on no map, so far off that even a few valleys further people did not know of its sheer existence. How his mother’s people had found it, he wondered. Maybe it had been pure chance. Maybe he himself had only found it by pure chance too. By a very lucky chance.
It had taken him years to find it, with only the vague descriptions his mother had left him and the general directions people pointed him in. Hate kept him going, and his unquenchable thirst for revenge.
He had sought out this place of her suffering, just as he had sworn to himself, a long time ago. Even if she might be dead, he would try to bring justice. Prevent it from happening again. Maybe he had wanted to be the hero. Because deep inside, there was still a bit of the little boy left that had clung to his mother’s dress when someone took a photograph of the two of them. He wanted to be her avenger, and he wanted her to be proud of him.
Reality had soon turned out to be quite different, and from the moment he had actually seen the few wooden houses and farms up there in the valley, his heart had sunk. Realisation had struck him how desperate his plan actually was, and how foolish. He would still go through with it. There was no other plan, and he had nothing to lose.
Rain was pouring down for weeks, and it grew steadily colder. Winter was coming, and soon there would be no way leading out of the valley. He would be trapped – but so would the others. Nobody would be able to run.
The rain turned the wood of the houses and the mud in the streets grey like the rock. From day to day, the weather looked more unfriendly. Wind was blowing down from the high mountains surrounding them, smelling of snow. The wind was icy cold.
Greider took photographs of the village, of the forest, the mountains. He needed to keep up his alibi, that’s what he told himself at first. Soon he figured out that he also took them so he would have a memory, one day. If he survived. He wanted to keep these mountains, this village, the snow, and not only in his memory. It was a piece of his mother, a cruel piece maybe, but also a crucial one. He wanted to take it with him to Texas when he returned. Because he would return. That was what he kept telling himself.
Then, the snow started falling. The snow was white and cold and melted when he touched it, leaving wet traces and patches on his clothes, soaking his shoes (even though to be fair, the rain had done that too) and making him shiver when he got up in the morning. It might not really be much colder than in the weeks before, but the snow made it visibly feel cold.
Still, Greider continued taking his photographs. He continued helping Mrs Gader with chopping wood and occasionally mucking out the stable. He accompanied Luzi on her way to the village, even though he never again entered the little shop. He was freezing out there in the sledge, waiting, but he did not want to accidentally cross a line. Not yet. Everything in its own time.
in the evenings he often looked at the photographs he had brought with him. The two pictures of his mother. Pictures of Texas, random places in Texas sometimes, but they still felt like home. More like home than this cold and dark valley would ever feel to him. A valley where nobody spoke English and the wind was icy and there was snow. A valley where everything seemed to be grey and dull until the snow covered it in blinding white for months. Because there were so many weeks yet to come, he knew that from Luzi and her mother. But most of all, he felt it in his heart.
Weeks he would spend waiting and thinking and preparing and taking photographs and waiting some more. Weeks in which he would think of Texas and his mother and feel incredibly lonely. Weeks in which the light would grow dimmer and dimmer with every day.
The darkness settled like a heavy load on his shoulders, one that Greider couldn’t escape. He tried his best not to let it wear him down, but it was a challenge for him every day. Sometimes, his hosts managed to take a bit of its weight off his shoulders, when they talked and laughed and it made Greider comfortable. Like he belonged in this village. Like home. But these moments were rare and usually did not last long.
For most of the time, Greider was lonely. As lonely as the village looked did Greider feel himself. Surrounded by huge mountains, walls of stone, insuperable, and almost forgotten by the people around them. He was alone, his company was pleasant, but not the one he wished for. He was talking to them, but he felt awkward about it. The language would forever feel a little strange in his mouth. And the snow tried to cover the dull grey and did a miserable job at it, because Greider could practically feel the cold loneliness of rock and mud and wooden houses seep through the heavy white blanket.
Lonely it was, the winter up here in the valley. Lonely and dark.