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The light enters softly through his window, illuminating the small room with hints of dust along with it. It hits Thomas’ right eye, and he’s forced to shift to another position in his bed to ignore it. There’s a grunt when he’s not successful. He’s suddenly awoken by a sound, a sort of clatter against the wall. 

He grumbles, mainly because it doesn’t stop. It takes an effort for him to realise it’s coming from outside. Getting up from his bed, he leans over to find Holger on the street.

“What on earth?” He mumbles, as he moves the window open.

Holger seems impatient, and waves too quickly. “They’re here! Father and the others!” Thomas’ eyes widen in realisation of what Holger means. He automatically jumps in his worn out shoes and rushes downstairs. He doesn’t forget his flat cap as he closes the door behind him.

 

The train station is busier than usual, even though it’s never truly filled with people. Weilheim barely had habitants as it was. With the war in Europe, the place felt without life even more than ever. Thomas feels as if they were living in a ghost town nowadays. 1915. The war that was supposed to end before Christmas had now gone on. The French, the British and even the Russians were now their enemies. Thomas remembers Kingsley, who lived down the street. He had orders to return to France in the summer of last year. A shame, really, Thomas and Holger used to join him and play football sometimes.

It wasn't much better for his sister's husband: Laurent had to go back to France to join his own army. She had gone by months now without news from him. 

Glancing to his right, he spots Holger and his father. It must be hard for him, to have his only family taken by war from him. Holger’s mother died in a fire when they were younger, and from that day, it was only him and his father. They were always incredibly kind to Thomas however, no matter how grim the situation got. He finally spots Simon behind a couple, and almost knocks him out when he jumps to hug him.

“You’re doing well.” Thomas lets out, and Simon nods, accepting the obvious. He helps him with his bags, and they’re both ready to walk home.

 

 

“Brother!” Klaudia lets out, once the pair are inside the house. She hugs him tight, “Mother! Simon is home!”

They have a great dinner, filled with laughter and for the first time in a long while, Thomas doesn’t get the feeling of living amongst ghosts. His sister, his mother and brother are all sitting at the table in front of him and well. 

“Where did you get that?” Klaudia asks, pointing at the cross shaped on Simon’s chest. The older man chuckles, and shakes his head.

“They gave it to me for saving an Oberleutnant, back in September.”

Thomas takes a better look at it, and the realisation that his brother was actually out there hits him, the rumors he's heard swamp his head. Klaudia hesitates, she seems a bit sad and Simon gives in and hugs her. 

"Laurent is probably fine. There's so many of us, don't worry."

 

When the girls have gone to bed, Simon joins Thomas outside, in front of the horse’s fence. The Müller farm has always been known for their quality milk, alongside with the well brought up horses. 

“How long are you staying?” He asks, without taking his stare off the animals in front of them. The moonlight is hitting them softly, and Simon sighs.

“Not long enough.”

“How is it-- out there?”  

There’s so much truth in Thomas’ question, he wants to know. They’ve heard rumors about the front, from soldiers who've come home, from letters. The death toll and injured men keep rising. It's a contrast to what the government says, insisting everything is well and that they're really fighting to make a better world. Thomas can't help but worry about his brother. There’s a silence between them, before his brother finally decides to respond. 

“You’re only 21 Thomas, I wouldn’t want you to understand what it’s like out there. Here it’s-- so peaceful. I’m-- I miss it here. There’s so much you don’t need to know.”

That's where he's wrong. There’s a silence between them, and Thomas figures Simon is doing what he always does: protect him. He can’t hide anything from his brother: he knows him so well. It shouldn’t be a surprise when Simon playfully pushes him.

“What is it? You’re usually ballistic about the horses, I have to be the one to shut you up about them.”

“I’ve been asked to enlist.” He lets out, almost ashamed.

What?” Simon might have been expecting almost anything but the fact his baby brother had to join him in his faith. He shakes his head, a clear denial of what he just heard.

“Holger and I, and other men. It’s the Wehrpflicht, or conscription. There’s no way out of it. We’re old enough to fight. We need to report to München before August ends.” A long pause, he takes a deep breath. “I’m scared Simon.”

Simon takes a moment too, and shakes his head even further. Thomas knows what is going through exactly his mind. It isn’t fair, ever since their father passed away, Simon had taken care of them, of Klaudia, of their mother. 

His father had been a great man. He had taught both of his boys to shoot a gun, which had helped him to enlist when war came to them. Simon’s priority when it was announced, was to make sure Thomas wouldn’t ever need to go to war. The order was that one men per household should enlist to defend the fatherland. It was decided that Simon would go, leaving Thomas behind to take care of Klaudia and their mother.

“It shouldn’t be you” Simon finally replies, completely taken back. “München, you say?”

Thomas nods, and his brother sighs once more. “You might not be taken to the front right away, does mother know?”

It doesn’t really make him feel better, and Thomas shakes his head. He hasn’t found the right time to tell her or Klaudia about it. Simon nods, understanding exactly the reaction to face. He’s always been his role model, and Thomas finds himself wishing he could be more like him.

“I wish I was brave like you, but I’m not. I’m terrified.”

“You will find your courage. You’re way tougher than you think, Thomas. I’ve always known that. Father knew it too.”

The words echo in his mind, and Thomas nods, understanding closely each one of them. Simon then, breaks into a smile. There’s teasing on the dim mood between them. Thomas knows it’s very unlike him to be so serious, so he gives in. After all he’s still at his farm, with his brother, his family on his side.

“We’re going to be fine. This war won’t last forever, mark my words.”

 

 

The recruitment office isn’t quite what he expects, then again, he doesn’t even know what to expect. München is far bigger than he had imagined, filled with men from all around the area. He can hear singing from the groups, Thomas can recognize Die Wacht am Rhein, having heard it much in his youth from his father’s old piano.

Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,

Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!

Holger gives him a gentle pat on the back, indicating that they ought to move forward. Inside, he can spot different areas, there’s lines of men checking in their papers, others waiting uniforms, and even medical checkups. They’re stopped by a blond man in front of them, looking superior.

“Name.” He orders, and they both reply automatically.

Thomas moves to the fourth line, while Holger is forced to the first one. Alphabetical order separates them temporarily. He checks the place out, until he stops to notice on the platform two men supervising the entire operation. The taller man looks a bit distracted, Thomas finds. He runs his hands through his hair repeatedly, looking around not specifically at anything. 

“That’s Oberstleutnant Lahm and Hauptmann Klose.” A voice comes from behind him. 

He turns to the man, and raises an eyebrow. “What?”

The man has bright blue eyes, and is far taller than Thomas. The giant type who could kick his ass. He shrugs, and repeats the information. “The guys you were staring at. They’re the big bosses around here. Watch out for them.“

“Who’s the tall one?” Thomas randomly asks, out of curiosity. The guy clearly knows his facts around. “Hauptmann Klose. The one wearing an Iron Cross.”

Thomas recognises it from the one Simon has. “My brother has one too, don’t they give those out of bravery?”

“Apparently he saved some important lives on the front. That deed got him the promotion.”

"Impressive." Thomas adds, before realizing it's his turn in the line.  After they give the officers their documents, he decides it’s time to find Holger. The man offers his hand and smiles.

“I’m Manuel Neuer,” 

“Thomas Müller” He replies, and they share a handshake. He can almost hear Simon’s voice behind him telling him to make lots of friends in the army. Not that it had never been a problem for him. Being able to come up with any subject of conversation out of anything was his hidden talent.

 

 

“Here are the list of the new Soldaten.” Philipp drops a bunch of files on his table, and Miroslav looks up, a bit defeated. “Come on-- Paperwork is better than the front.” He reminds him. He doesn’t reply, and instead starts opening the first file. Philipp watches him, and when he doesn’t move, Miroslav turns to him. 

“Anything else, Oberstleutnant?”

Philipp shakes his head, but hesitates. “Miroslav-- We’ve been friends for a long time.”

“Yes?” He raises an eyebrow, not sure where this is going. He’s amused, however, because he knew a side of Philipp Lahm not many others had the privilege to. Their friendship has flourished since the Academy. Philipp had always been cunning and ambitious; it doesn’t surprise him that he’s already so high up in command. 

“How are you?” His question is fast and practical, cutting directly to the point. Then again, he doesn’t have to say more for the pair to know exactly what they’re talking about. Miroslav knew this conversation would happen eventually, even so, the subject makes him uncomfortable enough to stir from the files on the table.

“I’m fine.” He means it, but that’s not enough for his friend. He tries again. “You were there, Fips, you heard what the doctor said. I’m not sick.”

“He didn’t say that, he said there was nothing wrong with your body.”

Miroslav sighs, quoting the words. “Yeah, It’s all in my head. I’m fine-- really.”

“You’re fine now, but what happens when we go back?”

A fair flash of the bombs and shells fly through his head, the stench and the bodies. Miroslav turns back to his files and opens the next one. 

“We fight, we defend the Fatherland, like we’ve always had. That's what happens.”

Philipp knows when a battle is lost, it’s his main duty in the army, so he gives in and nods. “We’ll be back by December from what I gather, take the time to rest until then.”

 

Ever before his promotion, Miroslav has always understood his duty, to his country. He also knows it’s not that long until they go back to the trenches, to the mud and the canon shells. The thought is enough to pull him back from the first files of the new recruits.

He rests his hand on his temple, and decides he needs a break. Perhaps a walk outside would clear his mind. The sun is shining right above the city. He squints for a moment at the intensity of the sun, not letting him fully see his path. It’s unusually warm for an evening in September. 

There’s a park near the building, and he finds a comfortable place on the grass. It must be a funny image, he figures, an army officer lying on the grass, but he can’t bring himself to worry over it. He thanks destiny to be friends with Philipp. This kind of shore leave has been far more relaxing than the others, even if he hasn’t been home in a while. His mind wanders to Opole, far in the east from here. Without much effort, he drifts to sleep under the wind blowing in the trees above him.

 

By the time he wakes up, he realises it must be past dinner, and a couple of people must be wondering where he is. He quickly combs his hair and turns to the path. He’s almost there when he feels an unexpected force against his right shoulder.

He turns to find a young recruit; he can’t be more than 22 he guesses.  He needs a moment to balance himself back on his feet, and there’s a silence between them, as if he wasn’t sure what to say. Thankfully, the young recruit does eventually find words. 

“Forgive me, Hauptmann. I-- I was late and I wasn’t looking where I went.”

Miroslav nods, acknowledging the incident. “Dismissed.” He replies, and the young man nods back. They stand in front of each other for another moment. He thinks the young Soldat wants to say something more, but doesn’t.

The trumpets sound from the camp interrupts them, and the Soldat excuses himself to rush inside. If he were completely honest, Miroslav knows that he wasn’t exactly paying attention to where he was going either. Perks of being a Hauptmann, he figures.

 

 

“Remember to aim higher, or you’ll never hit the target.” Thomas exclaims behind Holger, while he’s aiming at the haystack. He obeys, and hits it perfectly. It’s a satisfying feeling, to find his friend finally progressing with guns. 

“Come on, let’s go.”

The chill air of the beginning of November is starting to gather strength, it’s enough to carry around a winter jacket. Manuel finds the pair and waves at them, there’s supposed to be a speech coming up. They follow him up to the main courtyard, and stand behind Benedikt and Mats, the five of them having become friends over the past two months.

Thomas has gotten news from his sister, Simon is doing well, on the eastern front of the war, against the Russians. He’s now a Leutnant, in command of his own Platoon. He wonders when they’ll both have shore leave again, and be able to visit each other.

The man they first met when they entered the recruitment office, Leutnant Schweinsteiger, takes a few steps on the podium.

“Brothers, you’ve been training under the great Fatherland for the greater good, it is now time to defend what is ours-- to--“

Thomas glances around him, and finds Hauptmann Klose standing his hands behind his back. He can’t forget that one night where he was out and came back rushing late and crashed into the Hauptmann. How embarrassing.

The Hauptmann moves his focus ending up staring right back at his part of the crowd. Thomas blinks, he couldn’t possibly be looking at him. He tries to act as casually as he can, as if he hadn’t been staring at him earlier. As long as Mats doesn’t find out, everything is good. With the last incident, Mats had insisted that he would get court-martialed for crashing into an officer, but thankfully not a word from the incident had been heard.

Actually, now that he thinks about it, Hauptmann Klose seemed like a pretty decent guy.

Manuel sighs next to him, the clapping and applause bring Thomas’ attention back on Schweinsteiger. He’s missed the important part of the speech, and shakes his head.

 

At dinner, he’s tempered to ask Holger about it.

“We’re leaving to support the troops up north; they seem to think we can handle it.”

Thomas swallows. Already? He feels like he’s barely gotten here from Weilheim, and now they’re already sending them to the real war. He thinks of Simon, and remembers he has to be brave like him. Manuel joins them, he looks a bit nervous, and Thomas doesn’t ever remember seeing him like this.

“I’ve been promoted.” He lets out, “Gefreiter.”

“That’s awesome!” Holger congratulates, but Manu shakes his head, and Thomas recognizes the expression.

“You’ll do great, Gefreiter. They don’t pick those randomly. I’m sure the Oberstleutnant saw something in you.” He smiles, and Holger gets what he’s trying to do. He nods and agrees. Manuel does relax, though.

 

On the night before they leave, Thomas decides on sending a letter back to Weilheim, to his family. It’s already dark, by the time he gets to the post section of their camp. He drops the letter in the little box when a voice beside him calls him out.

“Correspondence at this time of night?” Thomas turns to Leutnant Schweinsteiger. It’s not even late, so he partially shrugs, as much as the respect-rank allows him.

“A letter for my family, about two hours from here, sir. Just letting them know where we’re headed.”

Schweinsteiger nods, and drops a letter of his own in the box as well. It’s probably for the same purpose as Thomas’. He offers the way back with his arm, and the Soldat obeys.

“I’ve seen you shooting at practice, you’ve got a nice touch Soldat -- um,”

“Müller, sir.”

“Soldat Müller, so, tell me, where did you learn to shoot?”

He can’t help it; Thomas grins at the compliment. “My father taught me and my brother from an early age. We have a farm in my hometown, which meant a lot of terrain undisturbed.”

“Your brother is also enlisted?”  

His superior seems impressed, not exactly expecting a family tale about it. That night, Thomas finds out that he’s not the only one with a brother at war. Maybe they’re not so different after all, and he starts to understand what Simon once told him about making friends.

He closes his eyes in bed, but he's unable to go to sleep. It's the calm before the storm, and Thomas can't help thinking about the tempest that awaits him, and his comrades. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein! 

The truck stops, but the troops go on singing. The patriotic spirit is strong enough to lead them to war, Thomas figures. He doesn’t mind it at all: It’s somewhat reassuring. He spots Leutnant Schweinsteiger waving at them, and Manuel-- Getreifer Neuer, orders them off the vehicle.

The grass is wet and mixed with dirt, the chill in the air settling in for the night. He’s just barely able to spot the light shining above them. It’s a full moon for their arrival. Is that considered to be a good omen? Around them, there are others marching firmly to sound of the drums mixed with the orders shouted by their superiors. They might as well be machines, Thomas thinks, every step they take is precisely calculated. There’s no hesitation in their movements. He puts on his green rounded helmet, and ties it around his neck.

Holger seems a bit sick, though he shrugs it off as nothing. “It was a long drive,” He assures Thomas. They walk down a line between the first centimetres of snow and find a bunch of soldiers standing before them. One of them greets them, and throws a piece of rubber to each.

“What’s this?” Holger asks, turning it around. Thomas checks out his own, shifting the fabric around to discover what seems to be a mask. Two round circles for the eyes and a sort of filter at the bottom. Manuel stands next to them and puts his own in his bag.

“It’s for gas attacks. Come on lads, let’s go find our tent.”

The group follows Manuel. As they start, Thomas glances behind to stop a couple of men coming out from a tunnel. One of them has blood on his face, but seems to be able to walk. The other one is limping, weighting his body on the first man. The nurses hurry to help, and when he turns, Thomas catches a full view of his back: the skin is bare open and dripping blood from its muscles. He swallows, before feeling a pat on his shoulder: Leutnant Schweinsteiger.

“You’ll miss your unit-- come on.”

Thomas nods, and gets on his feet to follow Holger. He has to be strong, he has to be brave, he repeats to himself.

 

 

Miroslav shakes his head and repeats for what seems to be the millionth time today. “I don’t need an assistant, I’m fine.” Philipp rolls his eyes, 

“You do realise: we’re not asking you.”

His hands slightly open the tent, and lets the clatter and singing from outside pierce their silence. From his desk chair, Philipp grabs the bottle and serves them both a glass of liquor. “The last time--"

“It won’t happen again,” Miroslav cuts him, before he can continue. His superior shakes his head, “The last time it happened, you almost lost consciousness in the enemy’s trench. It’s been three times.”

Philipp hesitates, “You could have died.”

The words hit him like bullets, and the worst part of it all is that he doesn’t even remember the details of that misfortunate event. The doctor had said it would get better with time, and it was really thanks to Philipp if he still had his job. He guesses having an assistant isn’t as bad as simply not being here at all. The Oberstleutnant continues.

“It’s not open for discussion, you either pick someone to stick with you or we’ll assign one.” 

Miroslav doesn’t reply, instead he settles by swallowing a bit of the drink in front of him. There’s a heavy sigh from Philipp, and his hands travel to his temple. “Miro-- I’m asking as your superior officer and as your friend; Cooperate with us, it’s for your own good.”

“I don’t seem to have a choice, do I?” He rhetorically retorts. The idea of someone glued to him practically at all times isn’t peachy for him, considering his condition is-- fine. He’s felt fine over the course of fall. As if he could read his thoughts, Philipp starts again.

“The problem is that we don’t know why-- what causes it. Consider it a therapy.” His lip twitches a bit, into a smile. “Besides, you could really use some new friends.”  

He helplessly rolls his eyes at the last part, but he can’t disagree with the fact they’re all in the dark about the causes-- as much as he hates it. The only thing he has to learn is to control it, assistant or not beside him. Philipp tries before he walks out of tent. “Talk to Schweinsteiger, he has a few options for you.”

 

They sit around the fire that night. Holger is cooking some soup, having always had a good hand for mixing ingredients. Thomas takes the chance to write home. He asks his sister about the weather, about the horses and mother. The cool breeze makes him shiver through his teeth, he always thought France to be a warmer place. Then again, he has to consider the fact December has already arrived, haunting the soldiers before they fight.

There’s a new member to their group. Messenger Kimmich is charged with correspondence, and messaging taken between the units. He’s young, can’t be older than eighteen. Toni Kroos, another new acquaintance teases him.

“So how fast can you run?”

Holger hands him a filled tin bowl. Benedikt is talking about his hometown which happens to be the same as Manuel’s: Gelsenkirchen. Thomas himself has never been there before. They talk about the long sunny days filled with festivals. It’s a nice set of memories to have. His mind eventually drifts from the conversation and thinks of the guy he saw earlier. It’s nonsense. He has been expecting it: this is war, after all. The reality of it is what is troubling him. He only hopes he’ll be spared of the pain.

“I don’t know if I’m ready.” Holger admits, in a hush while Mats goes on about his own hometown. “I can’t even shoot properly.”

Conscripted? A soldier in the truck earlier had asked Holger. He had nodded, and the man had laughed in his face. The cowards usually die first; it’ll be over for you soon.

It had taken every inch of his body not to get up and defend Holger, but this was the front. He didn’t want to make a bad impression that would end up in a court. Instead, he had taken his best friend’s arm in a desperate way to make him feel better.

Thomas turns to him. No, he won’t allow it. “Don’t listen to them, they’re idiots. You’re one of the bravest men I’ve ever met. I promise we’ll be fine.” He adds the last part a little bit more for himself. They have to be. Holger sighs, clearly anxious. Thomas takes a zip to the small tin bottle Benedikt has just handed him. “Truth is--” He starts again, swallowing the taste of alcohol, “I’m scared I’ll miss my targets out there.”

“You’re the best shooter I know.” Holger replies, fierce, without a doubt in his mouth. Thomas shrinks. “Animals, deers… for hunting, targets. I’ve never shot a man. I’ve never killed.”

There’s a silence in the group, as if suddenly everyone had stopped to listen to him continue. Even Mats has his eyes locked on him. Holger doesn’t reply either, he gets up and heads towards their tent. Thomas looks up at the sky. The stars are shining brightly above them, it’s almost as if none of this warfare had ever begun.

 

He’s woken up by the sudden explosions. It can’t be later than eight. He gets up to greet Holger, but he’s not in his bed. Their tent was filled with bunkbeds, and Holger had picked the upper bed while Thomas had settled for the lower one. They sleep next to Mats and Benedikt, who have picked the neighbouring mattresses. He opens his box and grabs the helmet, stripping along with his dirt green colored jacket.

Outside, it’s barely morning. The sun is temporarily covered by the clouds, drops dripping at a considerably low rate, for which Thomas is thankful. Toni greets him, and properly introduces himself.

“Kroos, Toni. Greifswald.”

“Müller, Thomas. München” He copies. “Is that up north?” Another city Thomas has not been to.

They shake hands, and Toni nods. Thomas has given up on naming his hometown, earning a few extra minutes to explain that Weilheim is actually pretty close to München. The soldat seems decent enough, as he breaks into a few stories on how he’s quite fond of sports. Thomas himself is a fan of sports as well, and it’s a nice feeling to have something in common.

“I much rather be playing football, it’s relaxing.”

Thomas agrees, “Have you seen Soldat Badstuber?”

Toni shakes his head, and they find Manuel, who hands them a gun each.

“The French,” He explains. “They’re shelling the front with bombs, don’t worry, I doubt we’ll be called in, but it’s good that you’re up.”

“What’s the gun for?” Toni asks, putting it behind his back. Thomas does the same, though the lace for it is a bit big on him. He curses his very slim physique.

“Emergency protocol,” Manuel shrugs. “Report to Oberstleutnant Lahm, he wants to have a word with you before we set post.”

The two turn around towards the center of the camp, but Manuel stops Thomas. “Müller, you report first to Schweinsteiger. He wanted to see you this morning.”

 

“Reporting for duty, sir.” Thomas raises his arm as he walks inside the tent. His focus shifts to the back of the room and he raises his eyebrow. There’s Holger sitting on the worn out sofa, looking unimpressed. On the other side of the room, there are four other soldiers who he has never seen. The Leutnant gets up from his hair, and nods. “Good, you’re here, now sit down if you may,”

He obeys, and sits next to the soldiers but doesn’t have the chance to ask Holger what is going on. Schweinsteiger continues,

“You’ve been selected for a special job. I’ve been tasked to pick someone to do it.”

Thomas gets a grim feeling. A job wasn’t exactly much to go on. What kind of jobs did Leutnants have for Soldats anyway? Beside the suicide ones, of course. Cutting wire on no man’s land, getting a message across. The men who never came back, or so Manuel had said.

“All of you have been called because you have certain qualities that the usual recruits do not; which is why I shall issue a number of tests--“

He’s interrupted by the tent opening and no one other than Hauptmann Klose walking in. Thomas can’t help it; he automatically gets on his feet as a form of respect. When no one else joins him, Klose looks at him and with a small awkward smile lets out. “At ease.”

Thomas sits back down with the brightest red tint on his cheeks, and doesn’t miss Holger covering his mouth out of laughter. Klose goes on to Schweinsteiger.

“Leutnant, I’m sure I should at least be able to pick my own assistant.”

Assistant? Hauptmann Klose’s assistant? Thomas blinks. That’s the job? He turns to the other rivals next to him, who seem to have understood the job as well as he has. Schweinsteiger rolls his eyes in a defeated way, amused, he adds.

“I was just making it easier for you.”

“I’m sure you were.” Klose replies, an eyebrow risen and a faint smirk on his lips. He takes a glance to the five young men on chairs. Thomas wonders again for a moment why Holger is sitting on the couch, and not with them.

Nevertheless, the incident at München crosses his mind. If luck was on his side, Klose might have forgotten all about it. He can’t be the only one who has crashed into an officer, can he? The Hauptmann scans each one of them, but takes a little longer with Thomas. He dares to lock his eyes on him, his gaze is calm, making Thomas’ breathing a little bit faster.

“You were stationed at München, weren’t you?” He tells him, and Thomas suddenly feels his voice go short. He nods as fast as he can. He probably does remember. There goes his chance.

“He has the finest aim in the entire army sir!” Holger lets out, and both Klose and Schweinsteiger turn to him.

“He’s-- right, sir.” Schweinsteiger adds, as if he just remembered that piece of information. “That’s why I called him up. The others can carry, scout well, but--” Klose turns back to Thomas, and nods. He takes a few steps back and opens the tent to find his way out. Schweinsteiger follows him out, and Thomas instinctively jumps, tearing the fabric just fast enough to peek at the scene outside.

“Sir, Müller would be good to have around if it ever happened again, he can shoot miles away. I’ve seen it. I know Philipp would approve.”

The Hauptmann sighs, and glances back at the tent, a defeated look across his face.

 

Thomas drops the fabric and takes a few steps backward. Is he ill? Is that why he needs an assistant? It doesn’t make sense: if he were sick, he wouldn’t be at the front. He turns to Holger who shares the same confused expression. What has he just signed up into? 

Schweinsteiger returns eventually and smiles. “Looks like you got yourself a job, Müller.”

 

 

“Soldat Müller, reporting for duty, sir.”

The Hauptmann raises his head from his book, and smiles softly. “Oh, you’re here already.” He’s not sure, but Thomas senses his superior doesn’t exactly want his presence or company. He awkwardly turns to examine his surroundings. 

It’s beautifully decorated, as much as the war would allow someone to do. There’s a small version of the flag of the German Empire hung up on a post, alongside a very formal hat. The kind he had only seen on the newspaper before. Just how big this guy was?

“Take a seat, Soldat.”

He obeys, and takes off his helmet. He figures his hair must be as messy as ever, but considering the situation, he shrugs off. Klaudia would never let him live if she saw him. He gives his superior a nervous half grin, wondering what else could possibly do.

“Name?” He starts, seriously, now holding a pen and a notebook. Thomas takes a deep breath, and nods.

“Thomas Müller, 3rd Royal Bavarian Corps.”

“Yes, München.” He nods, and Thomas feels like an idiot for having said the obvious and bringing back the crashing scene. Thankfully, he doesn’t comment about it. He watches the Hauptmann simply write the information down, “Age?”

“Twenty-two.” Klose raises an eyebrow, which amuses Thomas. “What? I look older?”

There’s another small smile on his face, as he nods. “Slightly.”

The earlier scene comes back to his mind, and as much as he’d like to ignore it, he should have the right to know what exactly he’s getting himself into. Thankfully, Hauptmann Klose closes the notebook and looks at him straight into the eyes. Now with better lightning, he can appreciate them better. He has a shade of blue mixed with grey, which are able to send a shiver through his spine, though he’s not sure why. He suddenly forgets what he wanted to ask.

“You must be wondering what you’re doing here.”

Thomas smiles again, he can’t help it. That was exactly what he was going to ask. “Oberstleutnant Lahm has suggested that I need someone to help me out with my daily tasks. That basically it.”

“You need someone who can shoot well, for daily tasks?” He notes, not really thinking about the words coming out of his mouth.

Klose doesn’t reply-- instead he simply opens back to his notebook. His expression is tainted with a touch of surprise, maybe not expecting to be questioned. Thomas mentally scolds himself for talking out so freely. He wants to apologize, but he might just make everything worse. He doesn’t want his superior office to hate him after spending half an hour together. His tone is back to the serious one he greeted him. Great job Müller.

“You’ll be reporting under my orders from now on, you’ll help me out with-- duties. We are responsible for the maintenance of adequate supplies of all kinds, including clothing, food, ammunition, water, fuel and everything else, for this company. It can be dangerous, considering we’re fighting a war.”

Thomas nods at the emphasis on danger, as the officer goes on. No more questions about that subject then. “We also go to the front when it’s our turn, that doesn’t change. Bastian assures that your aim is worthy.”

“Who?” Thomas asks, the name usage surprising him.

The Hauptmann’s eyes widen a bit, realising his mistake. “Oh, leutnant Schweinsteiger, sorry.”

He gets the feeling that they must be friends, if they use their names like that. He wonders what the Hauptmann’s name is. “Anyway, I’m not that good at shooting, I’m just alright--“

Klose nods, as if he had just given a correct answer. “Just alright will have to do. I wouldn’t worry, it’s mostly just-- out of security.” He tilts his head slightly to his helmet lying on the table. “You’re free to go today, report here tomorrow after breakfast.”

Thomas smiles a bit, as he gets up and heads towards the exit. Before he takes a step outside, he glimpses back behind to find his superior opening the notebook where he was just writing information down. What else is he writing down?

 

 

“Hauptmann Klose? Seriously?” Mats can’t believe it. They’re in their tent, sitting on the matrasses. Benedikt jumps in to defend Thomas.

“Well, Thomas has a great aim, it’s no surprise.”

“The surprise is that such a high ranked officer such as a Hauptmann needs help from someone, anyone at all. Plus, he’s a war hero.” Mats retorts, and Thomas raises an eyebrow.

“A war hero?”

“I don’t know the whole story, just that he saved a bunch of lives at the beginning of the war or something.”

He’s right, but the man doesn’t seem sick. Surely if it had been some sort of fever or condition, he would have noticed right away. Whatever it is, Klose doesn’t seem eager at to talk about it. Holger is as lost as he was. Thomas turns to him later when everyone has gone to sleep.

“How come you were in that tent too?”

He shrugs. “Schweinsteiger wanted me to help him out with some medical supplies. I happened to be there when the other soldiers too,”

“His name is Bastian, did you know?”

“Schweinsteiger? Who told you that?”

“Hauptmann Klose,” He hesitates,

Ever since he had left the Hauptmann’s tent, Thomas found himself surrounded with a strange feeling of curiosity. Everything about Klose was interesting and intriguing. He had so many unanswered questions. What was the problem everyone seemed to be hiding? What’s was his backstory? How did he manage to become a war hero with this mysterious problem? He realises he doesn’t even know his first name. He’s not sure why, but he needs to find out more, without Klose hating him.

He has a thought, and turns to his friend. “You wouldn’t happen to know his first name, would you?”

Holger shakes his head. “Manu probably knows.”

 

Chapter Text

Working with Hauptmann Klose was a strange job, but far from being a bad one. Thomas found himself standing behind him most of the time, with actual little duties to fill. While Holger helped Schweinsteiger around, he was busy following his boss. He was very organised, and actually didn’t seem like he needed help at all. Sometimes his superior would just fill out the form or read without saying a word for hours, with Thomas across the room craving to just say a word.

Even so, Thomas didn’t question being there. Klose was a mystery he was determined to solve.

One day, as he was about to finish carrying out the rest of the mountains of paperwork for the incoming food and drinks he runs into a smaller man. He recognises him immediately as Oberstleutnant Lahm.

“Sir!” He greets, unable to move his hands with the folders. The man nods, but is confused, looking around probably searching for the Hauptmann. “He’s not here yet-- sir.” 

The Hauptmann sometimes loses himself in the ranks leaving Thomas alone in the tent, today is no exception.

“And you-- are?” He asks, while Thomas manages to drop the files on the table. 

“Soldat Müller, 3rd Royal Bavarian Corps.”

His expression shifts to a happier one, “Oh! You’re the assistant he picked!” Thomas is a bit lost on why he seems so surprised,

“Sir?”

“I’m Oberstleutnant Lahm,” Reading Thomas’s expression, he continues. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m just glad he finally picked someone.” The emphasis on the finally is noticeable.

“I don’t think he likes me very much.” He lets out, fully honest, one of his flaws, according to his mother.

“Oh no, he just doesn’t have many friends, don’t worry.” Thomas doesn’t seem convinced, “Give him time, he’ll get used to you. Besides, it’s not you. It took a lot of convincing from my part for him to agree.” 

The unspoken truth again, he thinks. He hesitates, perhaps unwilling to break Klose’s desire to keep it all buried. Thomas decides maybe he should ask him some other time.

“You’ve known him for a long time then?” He settles for, instead.

“We were in the academy together, with Leutnant Schweinsteiger. I’m sure you’ve crossed paths with him too.”

Thomas nods, and they’re interrupted by the Hauptmann himself. “Philipp!” He lets out, not aware that his assistant was still in the room. “What brings you here?”

“Work--” He doesn’t lie. “But I stumbled across your lovely assistant instead.” He’s smiling openly now, which earns a risen eyebrow from Klose.

“Müller,” Thomas blinks when he realises he’s being called. “Dismissed.”

He nods, excusing himself, “Nice to meet you Oberstleutnant Lahm.”

He closes the tent behind him to just barely overhear Lahm congratulating him over a wonderful pick. He smiles, a small feeling of satisfaction on him.

 

He’s back in his farm, the sky is blue filled with promises of a long life. Klaudia is with Laurent, after their wedding. Simon is there as well, his smile as bright as he can remember. He misses home, desperately, and he hasn’t even been away for more than a year. He tries to get a grip on the walls, on the floor, but everything is slipping away from him. 

“Simon!” He yells, panic flooding his body. “Simon!”

He opens his eyes, his head shaken from the rough movement. His hand travels to his face, sweat on it. He had fallen asleep on his superior’s table. He shakes his head, looking around. He’s lucky the Hauptmann isn’t around. The thought of losing his brother is enough to make him shiver. He hopes he’s alright, keeping himself safe and out of trouble.

Simon was always the best of them both, at everything. If Thomas is still in one piece, it’s likely that he is too.

 

“Good Morning,” The voice comes from behind him. Thomas turns and realises that he might not have been so lucky. The small smirk on Klose’s face shows exactly what he wanted to avoid.

“I was finishing the orders for the ammo, and I don’t know what--” He helplessly tries to explain himself, but the man shrugs. “No harm done, just try not to drool over the files.”

He feels his cheeks blush, trying to ignore the awful scene of his superior catching him all over the place. Does this mean he’s fired?

“I brought you breakfast.” Klose places a couple of pieces of bread on the table and a bar of chocolate

 next to a bottle of milk. He can’t believe his eyes.

“Chocolate?”

“Well, the Oberstleutnant is a sharing man.” He smiles, obviously enjoying the meal. Thomas tries to remember the last time he ate a sweet. “It does have its advantages to be Hauptmann.”

He offers a piece of it, and Thomas accepts, still not quite believing it. “Merry Christmas.” That’s right, it’s Christmas morning and he hasn’t even realised.

“So tell me about yourself, Müller. Who’s Simon?”

Thomas stops chewing at the name. He probably had talked in his sleep again. He was glad Klose was nicer than the other Hauptmanns he knew, as much of a serious man that he was. This was different though, he seemed almost interested in the poor Soldat’s life.

“My brother, he’s serving on the western front. We have a farm, near München. My sister is there with my mother.

“Sister?”

“She married a Frenchman, but sadly hasn’t heard anything from him since the war started.”

“Can’t really deny you do fit the farm-boy stereotype.”

He’s not sure if it’s meant as a compliment, but Thomas takes it as one. He nods enthusiastically while his superior bites a piece of the chocolate.

“It’s a real nice place, the farm I mean, you’d love it.”

Klose raises an eyebrow. “How would you know that?”

“Oh-- I just meant, everyone loves it there.”

The Hauptmann nods, as if it was such an obvious answer and he had been looking for something more, he takes another bite of the chocolate.

“You don’t have a wife back home?”

Thomas blinks, a very unexpected question. A wife. He shakes his head, without giving further explanations. He doesn’t want to go deeper into that subject, considering well-- he’s never really felt quite right about it. Dating was never much his thing back home, all he ever had was his horses and his family. He wishes he could ask his superior all this, suddenly feeling like the conversation is extremely one sided.

“Sir, don’t you think it’s weird I don’t even know your name?”

At this, Klose openly laughs. Thomas feels a sort of relief, considering his boss didn’t really smile much-- less even laughed. It hits him he’s never even seen him laugh before.

“You do, it’s Klose. Now, you really should finish that paperwork, shouldn’t you?” Thomas could swear he winks, which makes him laugh and shake his head.

 

 

“Hey Müller, how about you join us?”

Thomas stops, staring back at what appears to be Leutnant Schweinsteiger, another man and Holger. They’re sitting at a table with cards thrown around. He sits down happily. 

“This is Lukas Podolski.” Schweinsteiger starts, and Thomas can tell he’s been drinking a bit. He recognizes the man from having seen him and Klose talk. It's funny, his mind travels back to the one time he had walked in on them both and they had stopped discussing. Klose had shrugged it off, saying it wasn't important. “The best friend a man could ask for.”

He nods, and Holger whispers in his ear. “They’re always together, I’m glad you’re here with us.”

“Do you know how to play poker?” 

“Yes sir,” He nods, but Schweinsteiger makes a face. “Oh please, call me Bastian right now. We’re not on duty.”

Lukas interrupts them. “Bastian, you can’t play poker without Miro around though!”

The Lieutenant-- or how he seems to insist: Bastian-- widens his eyes. “You’re right.”

Holger asks in another whisper. “Who’s Miro?” Thomas shakes his head, indicating he doesn’t know. It’s not that important. He’s far too much amused over how his superior is behaving, giving them a bunch of cards.

Lukas beats them the first three times, while Bastian manages to win the fourth and sixth time, Holger the fifth. Thomas shrugs, throwing the cards on the table.

“You’re like an open book,” Lukas teases him, and Thomas laughs loudly, the alcohol in his system making him forget for a moment about their surroundings.

 

On their way to the tent, Holger tells Thomas about something that happened earlier. Some officer came in into Bastian’s tent, requesting some sort of trade for more supplies. 

“It’s weird, it sounded as if he wanted to blackmail him. Said he had some compromising information that wouldn’t want to published on wrong terms.”

“What did Bastian say?”

“Nothing much, only that it was just a misunderstanding and that he had the wrong man- But the guy knew everything about him, and Bastian seemed nervous. After that he found Lukas and they invited me to play cards with them.”

That’s strange, Thomas agrees. There aren’t many things that can be done to threaten an officer’s status. Maybe it really was a misunderstanding.

 

 

“We have a-- job to do.” Klose announces. 

“A job?” Thomas repeats, unsure of what job he could mean beside of the usual dailies.

“A job,” He confirms, “Go get your gun.”

It’s a serious job, which surprises Thomas. He rushes to his camp, grabs the weapon and ties it behind him. He runs into Toni and Benedikt, but waves them that he has no time to explain. They seem to understand, and give thumbs up back.

By the time he’s back, Klose is also geared up as well. “Stücker was shot in the leg, and everyone else is busy, so we’ve been tasked with guard duty tonight.”

“Up front?”

“Is it your first time?”

Thomas swallows and nods, which makes Klose consider. “Well, I can’t go alone. The Oberstleutnant won’t let me even dream of it, so… stay close to me.”

Was this is the danger he meant on the first day they talked? Either way, he grabs his weapon, ready to follow.

 

They pass through the trenches, Thomas catching the sight of many sick and tired men. His boots soon fall into the inevitable mud lying underneath them. It’s quiet-- too quiet, for his liking, as some men are holding guns and that’s when he sees it. The empty terrain before them sends a shiver down his spine. The French are lying on the other side, waiting, sitting around with their weapons aimed at them. He has to be called back to their mission by Klose’s arm on his shoulder. 

“Come on,”

“This is as far as I go,” The Gefreiter tells him, and the Hauptmann nods. “We’ll keep low as you pass.” Thomas joins him and they climb up the ladder. His heart is beating faster than he ever imagined it to be possible.

“So what do we do here?”

“We scout the new installed wire and we report back, they won’t even know we were here.”

Thomas is thankful, because if everything goes according to plan, he won’t have to shoot a bullet. Neither of them will. They head north first crouched, keeping their trench line in view, ready to jump if anything happens. Klose advances with a couple of calculated small steps, and squints. He trusts that he’s spotting the wire, because Thomas is more concerned in enemy movement.

It feels like an eternity of them aimlessly wandering in no man’s land, waiting for the French to spot and shoot them. Eventually, Klose turns to him and pats his shoulder.

“Time to head back.

They’re about ten steps away from the ladder, when an explosion blows up a few meters from them. Thomas turns out of shock, aiming his gun. He doesn’t see anyone, close or far ranged. The only thing he’s able to feel when another bomb goes on behind them is Klose’s grip on him, pulling stronger.

“Come on! We’ve got to move out.”

He nods, a touch of panic trying to get out of his chest. He controls it, thankfully, and both his legs are able to follow him. They reach the trench by the third bomb, which falls far too close for Thomas’ liking. They hurry down behind the concrete walls. He hears shouting, and then the machine guns go off, killing anything that might have been moving. It’s answered, and Thomas watches how some men fall, blood dripping from the chest from bullet wounds.

He wants to jump and keep firing the machine when Klose stops him. “No! It’s too dangerous. Stay low!” His voice is agitated, clearly upset over the bombs. A fourth one has dropped in the other side of the trench. They try to move to a better position, when Thomas can’t believe what he’s seeing. There’s a huge flame hovering above them, caused by a flamethrower. It’s so intense that he’s forced to cover his eyes. He has only heard about them from Manuel. It dims down, and Thomas can look again. He turns back to his superior, who’s still covering his own face. He stayed back further. Behind him, a French soldier is rushing, killing the Gefreiter that had helped them earlier.

But Klose isn’t moving. Thomas yells something at him, but he still has his arm over his face and doesn’t seem to acknowledge. “Sir! Behind you! Watch out!” There’s no time. Thomas takes a risked jump, falling a bit over him. He grabs his gun, his two eyes open firmly on the target. It’s like shooting a deer-- he thinks. He presses the trigger and shoots.

The Frenchman falls dead on his back, and Thomas only now realises that Klose is breathing faster than usual next to him. “Sir? Are you hurt?”

He’s blinking awfully fast too, and Thomas scans him thoroughly. He’s also not looking at him, when he shakes his head. “I’m fi--”

Another bomb takes away the last part of his sentence, but reinforcements have arrived from the support line.

“What’s wrong?” He asks again, this time a bit more exasperated than intended. Laying a hand on his shoulder, he realises he’s trembling. He didn’t think the Hauptmann was even capable of the tone in which he replies. It’s beaten and defeated.

 

I can’t see.” 

“What?” Thomas replies, but when his superior closes his eyes once more, his heart drops.

Thomas helps him back through to the communication trench to the camp, the bombing and shelling continuing behind them. It’s a miracle they don’t fall over anything, with a blind man to his side. “The tent, take me to my tent.”

“With all due respect, sir, isn’t the nursery a better place?” His heart is beating fast, maybe even faster than after the bombs first attacked. They reach the destination, without sight of anyone they know. When Miro feels the fabric of the tent, he manages to drift the weight of his body back on his feet. "I really think you should see a nurse." 

“It’s-- It’s gone now.” He lets out.

“Sir?”

Klose turns back to Thomas, and his gaze is steady and focused again. It’s clear that the blindness has faded. He’s shocked but relieved at the same time. He lets out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. Still, Thomas shakes his head.

“What the fuck happened out there?”

“Surprise French attack, we were at the wrong place and the wrong time.”

No, that isn’t what he means, and Klose knows it. “I mean you were blind. Blind. That doesn’t happen to soldiers on the front! And now you’re fine again.”

Klose lets out an exasperated sigh. “I guess you have the right to know. I’m sorry Müller, I should have said something earlier.”

“Thomas is fine.” He says suddenly uncomfortable with the use of his last name with a man who he basically just pulled back from the battlefield.

Klose stares at him, “Miroslav.”

“Miroslav?” Thomas repeats, but then it hits him. “Oh,”

Klose, or-- Miroslav, shakes his head, sitting down on the chair Thomas usually uses. He’s trembling, and his hands travel to his temple. “It’s my condition. We don’t know why it happens or when it happens, sometimes in battle I can’t see. It doesn’t last long and it comes back, but the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me. I have to control it.”

He nods, “I-- I, okay. I get it.” 

“You get it?”

He’s lost at words, mostly because in ten minutes he’s found out about half of his questions about him. Miroslav, interesting.

“Miroslav isn’t very--” popular, he thinks, but settles for “common.”

Taken aback by the lack of reaction from the experience they just had, from the truth spilled out in front of him, Miroslav relaxes for a second. “I guess it’s not. It’s Slavic…” Then, serious again, he adds. “Are you okay?”

“I shot a man today--“Thomas shakes his head, the memory of it replaying in his head. “You were blind, I killed today.”

It looks as if Miroslav wants to say something, but first he closes his eyes. “I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t.”

“I should report to Neuer,” He lets out, clearly overwhelmed. He heads towards the exit of the tent, but right before he exits, he’s stopped by his superior.

“Thomas,” He starts, he obeys and turns around. “Thank you, for saving my life. I guess I do need help.” For the millionth time tonight, his heart starts beating faster.

“Anytime, sir.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Dearest Klaudia,  

He stops. He doesn’t even know what to write to her at this point. He can’t tell her of the horrors of this world. It’s something he simply couldn’t do to her. Instead, he asks about home. Hows Mama? Hows the town? Holgi’s father? Thomas closes his eyes and lets the pen drop. Maybe he should try getting some more sleep. They’ve been on the front line trench for a week, surrounded by dirt and wind.

He’d be lying if he said he’s gotten used to the dirt and the shots, the bombs and the explosions that happen at almost every hour. After the first time he had killed a man, the next ones had come smoothly. He didn’t pride himself on it, he knew all those soldats had a family back home, but it was his duty. After all, they were fighting for the Empire.

He opens his eyes to a small drop on his head, and sniffs it out. There’s a faint complaint about the weather from someone, but Thomas can’t really bring himself to care. He turns to Manuel, who is also writing home. He feels a shadow on him.

“Soldat.” He turns to Bastian, “with me, now.”

He has to check in with Miroslav. Bastian should know that, but he agrees, mostly out of a newfound friendship rather than him being a superior officer. They walk back from the support line into a bunker, where Bastian closes the door behind them. 

“I need your help.”

“My help?”

“I need you to-- do something for me.”

Thomas shakes his head. “I’m not going to run over no man’s land again. I’d like to stay alive.”

“I could order you that you know,” He replies, raising an eyebrow. “I technically am your superior officer… even if Klose would have my head on a spike.” He rolls his eyes, and Thomas can’t help but smile at the remark. “Anyway, no, I need you to distract another German soldier.”

“Oh?”

“It’s Gefreiter Podolski, you met him-- when we played cards. I want to give him a present, it’s his birthday but I need someone to bring him to the bunker and I’ll be waiting for you both in it. Clear?”

He smiles, and nods. “Is that an order?” 

Bastian laughs, and playfully places his hand over his head. “Thanks, bring him by the bunker tomorrow after dinner.”

“Alright sir,”

“Call me Bastian when we’re not on duty, I’ve always liked sharing my name with my friends.”

Thomas smiles, and nods. “Okay.”  

 

 

His eyelids close on their own, and for a second he tries to think he’s not in the dirty trench, but it’s useless. It’s only the sound of shooting that wakes him up and his gun is near his eyes, aiming at anything that moves. 

There’s a soldier next to him, a bloody young soldier. His name is Jonas, and they get on well mostly because he also comes from a farm. It’s a fresh reminder of something else than the stench around them.

“Got a girl back home?” He had asked earlier, when he was writing Klaudia. It’s really the most popular question around here. Thomas shrugs. “Just my mother and sister.”

There’s a sudden movement and Jonas yells something about gas. Their instinct is obviously to reach down their bags and put the mask on. He’s always found them to be extremely creepy, especially when everyone surrounding them was wearing them. He barely can look ahead but his vision is clear enough to watch how another young soldat gets shot right in the head.

Jonas’ scream is piercing, and the boy scrambles to the body, desperation crawling upon him. Thomas stares, until Manuel's orders  them to pick the body up bring him back. They have to take it away from the boy. It’s worse than it seems. Jonas pulling on it, while he and Mats try to move it.

What a mess.

Thomas and Mats reach the back of the line with the body, and drop it. Manuel had managed to keep Jonas up front, which maybe Thomas should feel ashamed of, but is glad. He really doesn’t need to add up to the loss of fellow men a grieving man.

Mats looks at him and Thomas figures he must be feeling exactly the same. He wipes the dirt off his face. They should head back to their lines, but instead their gazes are unfocused simply looking at each other. They both agree it can wait. The shooting finally dims down, and Benedikt finds them both. The pair invite Thomas to tag along, but he can’t. He has his other job. He instead heads inside the head bunker. 

 

It’s quiet at first, and this is a major sign for Miroslav that something is up with his assistant. But this is war, it’s normal for soldiers to struggle. He decides it’s better not to touch the subject and instead gives him the usual load of paperwork. 

“I need you to get a message to Oberstleutnant Lahm.” Miroslav finishes, “After dinner,”

“Is it urgent?” Thomas asks, baffled at his luck. He needs to find Bastian’s friend at that time. The Hauptmann looks up, surprised from the sudden reply. Usually Thomas doesn't fight him on regular tasks, not that he was worried about keeping his opinions to himself. If Thomas disagreed with a decision he'd eventually find a way to bring it up. He nods, and Thomas frowns.

“I uh--“He starts, but Miroslav interrupts him. “Unless you have something else to do?”

Shit. What can he do now? He might as well do the Thomas thing to do: be honest. “Bastian Schweinsteiger asked me to take a friend of his to the bunker on the east side after dinner to give him a birthday present.”

“Oh-- don’t tell me, Podolski?”

“Yeah.” Thomas replies, not fully surprised. They were, after all friends in the Academy. Must have been something entirely different, to be trained to fight. He was conscripted here. At least he had Holger. Miroslav smiles a bit, and shakes his head.

“Schweinsteiger and Podolski have been inseparable since the day they met. They both realised the amazing talent they shared to prank people.” He smiles even more, probably having memories through his head. “They used to make people jealous of their friendship, still do if you ask me. It’s a shame, really”

“A shame?” He retorts, baffled about how a great friendship could be a shame.

“Jealousy, Müller. Jealousy. Bastian was always a gifted student. It didn’t take long for people to start making up rumors, stories-- there was one in particular who really made noise…” His voice trails, as if he’s become suddenly hesitant to share the story.

Thomas looks back at the door, they are well alone. Miroslav nods, acknowledging, he continues. “There were rumors that his relationship with Mr. Lukas Podolski was-- a little bit more than just friendship.”

Thomas blinks at the implication. He opens his mouth, but no words come out. Miroslav seems amused by this.

“I never imagined anything could make you speechless, but don’t worry-- it was never proven. The accusation didn’t really have much ground other than ‘they spent too much time together’. Our teacher believed that Bastian could never do such a thing to his country. The charges were dropped.”

He thinks back on Bastian and Lukas, and the only surprise is that he didn’t think of it earlier. They’re always together, Holgi says. Miroslav nods. “I guess I could go myself to the Oberstleutnant, you help poor Schweini out.”

“I have to bring Podolski to the bunker,”

“You could tell him I asked him there,” Miro smiles, because Thomas hadn’t even thought of how he’d lure the Gefreiter there unsuspected. He nods and finishes his paperwork. “Thank you”

“Dinner must be ready, off you go.” Miroslav announces.

“Sir-- Do you mind me asking a question?”

The Hauptmann shrugs.  “Uh--“Thomas starts, suddenly feeling out of place. Miroslav raises an eyebrow.

“Do you think it was true? About--”

Miroslav looks down, sighing heavily. Thomas thinks he’s considering his answer, knowing that this is an officer they’re talking about. “It doesn’t matter what I think, they're both close friends of mine.” He finally says.

It’s enough of a reply, and Thomas turns to leave. “You’re welcome to come too, if you want. I think it’s some sort of surprise party.”

 

Miroslav’s plan works like a charm, even if Podolski is a bit surprised that he sent his assistant to get him. They follow the path which is unusually quiet by this time. Thomas opens the door first, and when he comes inside, finds Bastian, Holger, Miroslav and Oberstleutnant Lahm inside.

“Surprise!” They shout and Podolski jumps back. On the table there’s a round object, and Thomas doesn’t need it unwrapped to know what it is. 

“A football?” He exclaims, and the birthday man turns to Bastian to hug him tight. Holger claps, and Thomas can’t help but remember the story Miroslav told him earlier. Bastian smiles against Lukas’ shoulder, and they’re locked together for a few minutes. 

“Anything for you, Luki.” Bastian whispers, barely loud enough for anyone listen.

There’s only a slice of chocolate to celebrate, but at war, this is a miracle. Holger seems busy with Bastian, organizing more things. He rests his head against the wall, not knowing if he’ll get this luxury anytime soon. He almost jumps when Miroslav joins him and sits next to him.

“A success I think.”

Thomas turns to him, and nods. They stay in silence for a moment, until it’s interrupted by the sound of a shell outside. It’s a painful reminder about the war outside and it’s as if the glass that kept their minds off the subject is shattered.

“Miroslav…?”

His voice starts, hoping it’s the right name for the situation. Stuck between friendship and superior, he really longs to be close to someone as brilliant and strong as Miroslav.

“Miro is fine,” He replies, a small laugh on his lips. Thomas watches him drink from his cup, filled with rum. There’s a nice sound to it, being able to use his nickname. A small feeling of satisfaction creeps up on him. Only a few months ago he didn’t even know his first name. Another bomb falls outside, and this time it shakes them. It quiets down, even though they should expect more.

He thinks of Jonas, the desperation of holding on to the body of his friend. He wonders if they were close, maybe they grew up together in that farm. He couldn’t stand losing Holgi, ever. The blood dripping on the dead corpse is an image that isn’t going to leave him anytime soon.

“Don’t you ever get tired of it?” He lets out, his mind wrapped about the horrors outside. “Feels like I’ve been here all my life, which is ridiculous.”

Miro doesn’t really reply anything at first, his stare is still set on Bastian, Lukas and Holger. The three seem to have ignored the blasts from outside. Lahm is sitting on the table, watching them with an amused expression on his face. Thomas wishes he could let it go, not think so much of it.

There’s a tug on his shoulder, and he realises that Miroslav has wrapped his arm around him. He lets the weight of his body fall against Miro’s shoulder, his head falling into the crook of his neck. There’s an interesting glow around his superior, an healing aura which makes Thomas feel lighter for some reason.

“A friend lost someone dear to him today.” He finally lets out.  He would describe it further, but doesn’t, considering the possible lack of respect of describing less emotionally than it actually was.

“Thomas,” He finally says, “War… War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.”

Without anything to reply, Thomas closes his eyes and nods. The warmth radiating from his body is enough to suddenly make him feel drowsy, wanting so desperately to drift off to sleep. It’s been so long since someone has had contact with him, even longer since he’s felt a hug. Actually, the last time must have been Klaudia, before going to war.

Miroslav brings him back from his thoughts, taking his arm back to lean it on his arm. Thomas looks at him straight in the eyes, suddenly missing the warmth. His superior pulls away and sits up, leaving him sitting there, kind of dazzled.

 

"The things that matter," Thomas repeats, and closes his eyes.

 


  

 

Back into the rest zone, Thomas spends most of his time either writing home or helping Miroslav out. This particular morning, there’s the sound of trumpets. Thomas and Holger hurry out following Manuel, and stand firm. There's a lot of their comrades already there on the field. He spots Miroslav and Oberstleutnant Lahm in front of the crowd. It can't be past midday, Thomas thinks. 

“Generalmayor Löw, sir.”

The man greets Lahm with a nod, and behind him a smaller man follows. Holger squints. “He’s a Hauptmann too, look at his chest.” Thomas wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been told. He’s right, just about he’s about to comment about it, when the Generalmayor beats him to it.

“This is Hauptmann Guardiola, he’ll be replacing Hauptmann Mertesacker.” That’s not very a very german name, Thomas thinks. “Born in Spain but moved and grown up north near Bremen, he has a brilliant tactical mind. Klose, I count on you to help him around.” 

Miroslav nods, and raises his hand to his head. This Guardiola guy takes a few steps forward and Löw follows behind him. He looks around the troops, studying each one of them with a glare that is surprisingly intimidating. He stops in front of Gefreiter Neuer, and Thomas thinks he feels the Hispanic Hauptmann stare at him, reading him like an open book. Löw distracts him, whispering something to his ear. 

They walk away, and Thomas turns to Holger, letting out a huge sigh. He then moves his gaze to Miroslav, who’s coincidentally looking his way. He only looks away when Guardiola and Löw interrupt him, and Thomas realises he’s going to have to deal with that Hauptmann far more than he would like, if Miroslav is to help him accommodate.  

 

“And who might this be?” Thomas freezes, not realising his superior wasn’t alone.

“This is my assistant, Soldat Müller. He helps me out.” Klose replies, trying not to emphasise much on the subject, but Guardiola isn’t fooled. He gets up, an eyebrow risen, and takes a few steps towards Thomas.

“I didn’t know Hauptmanns had assistants.”

“They usually don’t,” Miroslav saves him, “It was ordered by the Oberstleutnant, you see.” 

He's not lying, Thomas knows, but it feels as if Guardiola thinks so. 

“Ah--”

Finally taking his eyes off Thomas, he takes a few steps back. “The French are gathering forces, and they’ve managed to copy our gas mask. We need every single soldier here to give everything they have.”

Thomas lets the Hauptmanns discuss their business as he moves to gather today’s paperwork. It’s about two hours later when Guardiola leaves. Thomas is insanely grateful, being quiet for so long was about to drive him mad. 

“Quite the character, wouldn’t you think?” Miro starts, directly at him. Thomas smiles and nods. “He creeps me out a bit.” 

Miroslav laughs softly, nodding. “Same here.”

“Why do we have an Hispanic Hauptmann?” Thomas asks, mostly out of curiosity. “They’re not in the war.”

“No, but he’s barely Spanish, remember that he grew up near the Weser. His mind is as german as ours. Plus, I could tell he has very high ambitions, sort of like Philipp.”

“Oberstleutnant Lahm, you mean.”

With the nod, Thomas picks up the last of his errands and heads towards the exit. He’s stopped by Miroslav’s voice.

“Say-- Thomas?”

He turns, not sure what to expect. “Sir?”

“Keep your distance from Hauptmann Guardiola, will you? He’s a brilliant officer, but-- I feel that he lacks a bit of, how should I say it, personal touch. I wouldn’t want you to be caught in--” A pause, Miro simply sighs. He doesn’t really need to finish the sentence, because Thomas understands. He nods.

“I'll be careful.”

The Hauptmann gives him a tiny smile, the kind Thomas could miss in the blink of an eye.  

 

 

By the time he walks back to his platoon, Holger finds him. “Kimmich is back!” A glimpse of hope. He hurries around the guys, Mats and Benedikt already reading their letters from home. Thomas catches Jonas on the side, all on his own. He gets an empty feeling, remembering the horrific scene he had witnessed a couple of weeks ago. 

Joshua fortunately gives him a letter from Klaudia. He can’t wait, he sits down and opens it, hurrying to read through it.

“Simon just visited,” He tells Holger, an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia creeping upon him. “She says your father is well, he was home when she wrote this.” Holger sniffs a tear, and nods, a smile drawing on his face. It’s no secret that Holger’s main concern is certainly his only remaining relative. Thomas gives him a weak smile back.

Klaudia tells him about how things are back home. One of the baby horses got sick last December, but thankfully healed. Mother is doing well, missing for her two sons at the front. She tells Thomas about a young suitor who wanted her hand in marriage, claiming that her French husband would never come back from war.

They told me I was married to a traitor, so I slapped him straight in the face. Mother scolded me about it, but it was totally worth it.

Thomas smiles, her spirit is as strong as ever. He thinks of Laurent, the Frenchmen who had moved to the town and swooped his sister off her feet. Between them, they had hit it off well, mainly because Laurent seemed to share the same sense of humor as Thomas. He hopes he’s doing well, on the other side of the trenches, and that he’s been spared a bit of luck enough to bring him home alive.

She asks when Thomas will come to visit, and more about this Miroslav Klose. Thomas ponders, he’s my superior and my friend. He thinks of Miro’s condition; the blindness hadn’t returned since the first time he had been in the front.

He’s tried thinking about what causes it. There had been bombs, shootings afterwards, countless of them, yet none of them had made him go blind again. How do you treat something when you don’t even understand it? One thing was sure, Miroslav seemed to have grown funder of Thomas, and vice versa. Something about Miroslav, that Thomas couldn't put his finger on, kept drawing him closer and closer.

He puts away the letter, incredibly thankful for the young messenger Kimmich. He looks up for Holger, but instead finds Jonas.

Taking a few steps to him, he finally sits next to him. Only now, he realises he’s been sobbing. Thomas feels a hole swirl inside of him. “Listen-- Jonas,”

The boy turns his face towards him, and Thomas realises he might not have noticed his arrival. He swallows and continues. “I’m really sorry about your friend.”

Jonas sighs, and nods. “Thanks, Thomas.”

There’s not much he can do, Thomas knows this, but instinctively he remembers a piece of chocolate Bastian gave him to thank him over the whole Gefreiter Podolski affair. He scrambles through his clothes and takes out the small piece.

“Here,” He hands the sweet in such an open way that Jonas doesn’t even understand what it is. “It’s chocolate.”

“Chocolate?”

Thomas nods with a small smile. Jonas sniffs, and shyly takes half of it. He places his on his mouth and chews on it. “It’s been forever since I’ve had some.” He admits, and Thomas mentally acknowledges success. At least he’s able to distract him a bit from that tragic death.

“Yeah, it’s really hard to get some.” He agrees. 

“Hauptmann Klose is really fond of you, you know.” Jonas points out.

It makes Thomas choke on his piece, a very unexpected subject. “How can you tell?”

“I was getting the grenades ready earlier, and the Oberstleutnant came in talking to him. People usually don’t really notice me; this wasn’t the exception. They were talking about you, something about how the assistant had worked out even better than expected.”

Thomas feels his cheeks blush at his words, and looks around, hoping no one is overhearing. Jonas continues. “Then the Hauptmann said something about how you have a likeable and warm personality.”

He can’t even imagine Miroslav saying these things, but he can’t help but smile. “I really like him too,” Thomas admits, though immediately regrets saying. He rephrases, “He’s a very skilled official.”

They’re joined by Holger, and Thomas thanks him mentally for changing the subject. He found some alcohol, and offers it to them both.

He swallows the burning taste of it and closes his eyes, forgetting even if it’s for a minute about everything around them and focusing and the fact that Miroslav likes him and his personality enough to talk about it openly. 

 

Chapter Text

“Ten push ups now! Now! Don’t slack, is that how you’re supposed to defend the fatherland?! Pieces of--”

Thomas obeys, but manages to whisper to Holger next to him. “You’d think the dirty trenches and the adrenaline in the front line would be enough training.”

Holger scuffs an approving noise, struggling to keep up with the rest. They’ve been at this for days now, and it seems that Guardiola doesn’t care if they pass out or die on the spot. All he cares is their fitness and whether they should win this war. Benedikt shushes them both, not wanting to draw attention to them.

“Hauptmann Guardiola.”

The pair looks up to the front to Oberstleutnant Philipp Lahm interrupting him. “These soldiers are meant to go to the front tomorrow, why are they being taken from their rest time?”

“Sir, if we are to defeat the enemy, we need our soldiers in full strength not drinking and distracting their time away.”

“We also need them mentally sane, as much as we can.” Turning to the crowd of soldiers,adds. “Dismissed.”

 

“We’re so terribly lucky that Guardiola isn’t Oberstleutnant.” Thomas laughs. While they’re walking away, a Gefreiter steps in front of them. “Soldat Badstuber, Hauptmann Guardiola wants to see you. Immediately.” 

Holger tries to get himself out of it, shaking his head. “But Leutnant Schweinsteiger needs me at the moment.”

Unfortunately, Hauptmanns outrank Leutnants, so Holger is forced to go back. Thomas watches him go, remembering that their time in the back line is almost done. Tomorrow they head back to the front. Manuel finds him and they walk together. He seems tense, more than usually.

“Is everything alright?” He asks, and the tall blond man sighs. “A relative passed away last month, and I’ve just found out.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,”

They arrive to their destination, and Thomas feels helpless, not being able to make his friend feel any better. Manuel walks away, crossing Mats on the way out who obviously notices the tension on his shoulders.

“What’s up with him?” The browned hair shoots at Thomas. When there’s no reply (how could there be one?), Mats tells him that another kid from the original Munich squad has been killed. That makes it 12 out of 20 remaining, including Manuel, Mats, Benedikt, Holger and himself. A grim feeling, one that Thomas would rather not linger on.

 

He doesn’t see Holger until the next morning with his rifle, just when they’re about to leave for the trench. He looks serious as ever, and Thomas tries to make him feel better, crack him up. Usually a couple of jokes do the trick, but it’s useless today.

“Guardiola said I’m not meant to be here. He told me I’m better off dead.”

Thomas gasps, and shakes his head. He had noticed earlier that Holger had caught his attention, usually calling him out during practice, but he had never done anything to cross the line like this.

“He’s right Thomas, I’m not a soldier.” He lets out, frustration clear on his voice. “I’ve never killed anyone.”

“You’re the best bloody soldier this company has, mark my words on it. You’re better than all of us. You’re winning us the war without firing a single shot.”

Holger takes a deep breath, and Thomas can see his eyes are teary. It breaks his heart. “Guardiola is an ass, and he can go to hell.”

“Watch your language there, Müller.” Bastian greets them from behind. Holger looks away not exactly comfortable, and Thomas shrugs. “We don’t like him.”

“None of us are fond of the guy, in all honesty. But what can we do? At least he’s good at planning.”

Bastian is right, and they keep quiet for a moment until Thomas speaks again, a thought that had been lingering on his mind since the day before. “Have you seen Hauptmann Klose?”

“You’re the one who’s glued to him all the time, don’t ask me.” Bastian teases,

He explains, “He wasn’t at his tent last night before training, and I haven’t seen him today.”

“That’s because he’s not coming.” Thomas turns to him, a surprised expression. Bastian nods, “Guardiola-- He consulted directly with Löw, you know, the Generalmayor, to let him have this fight in particular. A smart move if you ask me, considering Löw outranks Lahm, so we’re stuck with him for this week.” 

A week alone with that neurotic over worker in the dirt and the roaches makes Thomas sigh heavily. Holger next to him, has the same expression if not worse. “Stay close to Manuel or Lukas. Your Gefreiters are the key to be protected.” He adds in a lower tone.

Thomas looks back once they start walking, a feeling of emptiness crawling upon him. He’s never been at the front without his Hauptmann. At least Miro will be safe, he thinks.

 

“Müller.”

It’s their third night in the trenches, and they’ve had to defend it a couple of times. Thomas looks up to none other than the Hauptmann. He sets down the can of food he was eating and stands up immediately,

“Sir.”

“Walk with me.”

He’s forced into following him, leaving their small shelter he and Holger had taken. They walk around the concrete walls and the dirt. It’s night and there are a few lights on, yet not enough to alert the enemy. He catches some soldiers eating, some smoking. Some of them are even trying to sleep against the walls.

“Tell me something, I’m very confused. I’ve been told you had been conscripted, but that aim you have is the best one I’ve seen in a Soldat.”

Thomas doesn’t look at him, his attention still partially taken on the soldiers next to them. Instead, he just sighs. The day before, the French had tried to take their trench, and Thomas had had to kill. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Guardiola noticed. The man notices everything, it’s as if he had eyes behind his back.

“I learnt at home. My father taught me and my brother when we were young.”

“Your father? Interesting.” He laughs. There’s a certain malice in his tone which makes Thomas feel uncomfortable. They reach a corner and Guardiola stops, taking a look ahead into no man’s land. It’s quiet, too quiet, Thomas has learnt.

“I wasn’t looking for a family story, Müller. You’re going to stay here and watch.”

“But sir-- my shift ended two hours ago.”

The man nods, as if this were old news. “That’s an order.” He faintly smiles, turns around and leaves him there. Thomas brushes his eyes, unbelievable. If only Hauptmann Klose were here, he’d be protected from Guardiola. He’d also be next to him right now, he’s sure. Staring at the lights ahead, Thomas imagines a French man of his age, mirroring him on his side of the trenches.

“Ironic,” he whispers.

 

 

They are forced to retreat a couple of trenches because of the overwhelming forces of the French, and it’s demoralizing, but mostly angers the new Hauptmann. Guardiola rages, and Thomas knows that he’s bound to find victims to take it out. It’s the main reason why Holger lowers his head, minding his own business. Their shelter should keep them safe from him. 

He looks down on his glass, remembering the scenes earlier from that day. Badstu didn’t shoot his rifle, again. It must have to do with the fact he doesn’t want to kill. Thomas had found him aiming at a Frenchmen, and took the shot instead releasing him from the pressure. The pair had hurried back into retreat, Holger clearly shaking.

It’s not fair, Thomas thinks. Holger wasn’t meant to be here. At least his father had taught him and Simon how to shoot, but Holgi had no sort of preparation at all. He didn’t even want to be here.

It’s not enough for him to hide under his helmet, because Hauptmann Guardiola finds him. He violently pushes him on his feet. The abrupt movement makes his metal glass fall to the floor, spilling the drink. Thomas watches in shock, as Holger tries to take a step back, but Guardiola keeps him there.

“And you! If you weren’t such a coward, we might still have--”

There’s a whimper, a scared one and it’s enough to make Thomas step up between, separating them. “Leave him alone!” He yells, and there’s a dead silence. Guardiola looks as surprised at the rest. He can’t take the bullying anymore. “He’s no coward,”

Taken by the heat of the moment, the Hauptmann takes a step closer to Thomas. “Get out of my way, Müller.”

He doesn’t move, an act of defiance he doesn’t exactly plan. Bastian steps behind Guardiola, obviously hoping to draw his attention. “Sir,” He starts, “News from the Oberstleutnant.”

It works, and the man glares at Thomas, then Holger and finally turns back. Directed to Bastian, he adds. “I’m going to have a long chat with Lahm,”

 

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Holger tells him when they sit back down, and Thomas shakes his head. He feels Mats and Benedikt, the other recruits stare at him. Thomas lets his head sink on his arms, whimpering something over how what is done is done, and cannot be undone.

“Thomas-- you do know what happens to soldiers who attack superior officers?”

“They get sent home after being court martialed?” A hopeful scenario, but not the most likely. Holger shakes his head. “They shoot them, Thomas, they shoot them. Don’t do that again.”

Thomas has never seen his friend so upset, which makes his head hurt a bit more. He lays his head down again, hoping he hasn’t just sentenced himself.

 

 

Miroslav visits Philipp, mostly out of boredom than an actual necesity. With Thomas away for a while, his own tent feels unusually lonely. He’ll need to have a talk to Löw about who goes to the front. Philipp’s quarters are the nicest of the field, even if he’s almost never there.

“Miro,” He greets him, when he takes a few steps inside. “Oberstleutnant” Miroslav replies, a bit of friendly teasing in his tone. This makes Philipp laugh softly, and shake his head.

“We’re being moved-- by the way, to the Valley of the Somme.”

He acknowledges, figuring it’s the same to be here or there in France. The war destroys everything and makes no exceptions. Philipp turns to his friend, a worried expression on his face. “It hasn’t happened again, has it?”

“What?”

“The blindness,” Philipp doesn’t stutter.

Miroslav considers, there was the one time when Thomas pulled him out of trench. He shakes his head, mainly because he’s not lying. That was shorty after Christmas, and summer neared closer every day. Miroslav felt quite proud of himself, having served up front and not losing his vision several times now. Was he cured? He wouldn’t be so bold and naive to say so, but there had been a clear improvement.

“See? I told you an assistant would help you relax, it’s all in your head Klose.”

He’s right, and Miroslav can’t believe he was so against it a few months back. Thomas had proven to be quite someone. He nods, but before he can reply, they turn to the door. A messenger from the front has returned, behind him; Hauptmann Guardiola. Miroslav doesn’t think he’s ever seen him this angry. He steps inside, and with a tone as cold as ice,

“I must talk to Oberstleutnant Lahm. It's Müller sir.”

 

 

 

He hasn’t slept well at all, desperate thoughts creeping over him. A court martial is something he always had avoided, feared; it was bad. He wishes he could turn back time and not fight Guardiola, although he knows he’d probably end up doing the same again. Thankfully they only spend thirteen days in the front line, and soon enough they’re back into the further lines, where they can rest. Thomas desperately turns to Miroslav, who has obviously already been informed. Bastian joins the pair.

“Yeah, he told Lahm all about it.” Miroslav announces, “Müller,” His tone isn’t exactly patronizing, but there’s a tone of concern in it. “This is serious.” He’s right, and Thomas feels the weight of the world upon him. “You can’t reply like that to a superior officer. You don’t want Guardiola as your enemy.”

Thomas shrinks. “Will he have me court martialed?”

Miroslav shakes his head, earning Thomas a bit of comfort he’s yearned for ever since it happened.  “Thankfully Philipp is more our friend than his, and he knows you did it out of loyalty. He managed to calm Guardiola down.”

Bastian shakes his head. “But this can’t happen again.”

“I understand.” He thinks back of Holger, and his expression while being called a coward. There’s a bottle of some liquor on the table, and it’s not the common rum that travels through soldiers. The Leutnant grabs it.

“However, I’ll drink to you standing up to that asshole.”

Bastian serves himself a glass and swallows it entirely in one go. There’s a sigh of relief after the Leutnant leaves the tent, Miroslav and Thomas on their own. The Hauptmann lets out a smile and what seems to be a giggle. He leans back and grabs two more glasses, and serves more liquor in them. Confused by the sudden amusement, Thomas raises an eyebrow. Miroslav swallows, and then shrugs. 

“I just can’t believe Guardiola didn’t get the way he wanted for once. It’s iconic if you ask me."

It’s Thomas’ turn to smile this time, as he himself takes a zip. “Well, he called my best friend a coward.”

“There’s always going to be people who call us cowards.” Miroslav replies, and Thomas sighs, knowing he’s probably right. He grabs the glass served and lifts it up. “Prost!”

After a few drinks and loosely talking, Miroslav takes away the paperwork on the table, claiming it can be done on the next day. Thomas gets up from the chair near the desk, eyes the room.

“Is that a couch?”

“It’ll be gone in two days, only here while the Generalmayor’s men come fetch it I reckon.”

The Soldat decides to find a spot on the couch. It feels like an eternity since he’s had a good night sleep, not even considering the incident with Guardiola. The materials are wrenched, but it’s far better than the dirt and cold of the fox holes on the front. It’s not long until his superior moves to stand right in front of him.

“Isn’t it getting late?” He notes, his voice a bit tipsy. Thomas knows that he’s had a bit too much to drink himself, but after having so much stress at the front, he doesn’t care. He needs to relax. If Miroslav isn’t telling him to go, there’s no need. He even laughs at Miro sitting down next to him, serving himself the last part of the bottle. 

So, how come you know everything about me-- and yet you’re still a mystery to me?” Thomas notices. Miroslav turns to him and shakes his head. “A mystery?” He repeats. “You know more than me than most people here, Müller.”

Thomas leans a bit, closer than he’s ever been to him, (except the time Miroslav hugged him at Lukas’ birthday party). “Some people call you a war hero.”

Miroslav turns to him, a puzzled expresion on his face. "How do you know about that?". Thomas shakes his head, keeping his serious act. “I’ve seen the Iron Cross.”

“Oh that,” the Hauptmann takes his eyes off the drink, puts the glass on the floor, turning to Thomas. 

“It was at the beginning of the war,” He starts, not really too enthusiastic. “I was a simple Leutnant, while Philipp had just been promoted to Oberstleutnant. We were fighting the French near la Marne. They had these counterattacks we didn’t expect, a bomb hit our unit.”

Still in his position but slightly leaning closer, Thomas can’t help but notice so many of Miro’s features. He focuses on the cheekbones, the jawline and ends up looking at his mouth. He mentally shakes the thought away. It must be the alcohol talking. He would never even look at his superior in that way.

The way he twitches his lips is somewhat hypnotizing, and every once in a while, he even licks them. Why hadn’t he noticed this before? There’s a sort of pull around him and Thomas feels trapped, unable to back away. A last thought in his head reminds him how wrong and inappropriate his thoughts are. It is forbidden to think of someone like Miroslav like this. He was positive that Bastian and Lukas had gotten away with it. He could tell from the way they looked at each other. If they could do it-- What was stopping him right now?

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but in the end whatever I did saved their lives. When the Generalmayor heard, he automatically made me Hauptmann and gave me the medal.” 

Thomas focuses back, not having paid attention to most of the parts. He blinks, “So you saved someone.”

“The Oberstleutnant isn’t just anyone, Thomas, and neither were the ten officers with him. But it was-- we had casualties. Bad ones.”

The implication of what Miro must have done sinks in. His eyes widen and the surprised expression on his face makes his superior smile. He hadn’t even realised his body had fallen in even further,  far enough for contact between them, sending Thomas the familiar warmth he felt that night in the bunker, on Lukas’ birthday.

“You really are a war hero then,”  

“Thomas,” He says in a deep tone, and the sound of his name in his voice at this particular moment makes his stomach stir.  

What makes it worse is that Miro isn’t exactly pulling away, he’s holding his ground, almost testing how far Thomas dares to go. What if he simply reached out? There’s silence for a moment, except maybe the rate of his heart, suddenly speeding up. It’s now or never.

But he doesn’t move, and eventually feels Miroslav’s hands on his stomach, softly pushing him into his position. Thomas doesn’t fight it; he needs a moment to collect himself anyway. His heartbeat finally slows down when Miro stands up, picking up the pair of glasses on the floor.

His eyes are struggling to keep themselves open. Not really intended, he lets himself go, falling asleep on the couch. The last thought on his mind being Miroslav’s warmth and how he doesn’t want to pull away from it, it’s not such a bad thought, is it?

 

 

Chapter Text

He can’t tell anyone, of course, about what happened. Sure, he didn’t actually kiss the guy, but he was properly close to doing so. Once the alcohol had worn off, Thomas had realised what the hell his mind was thinking. He can tell Holger knows something is wrong with him, but there’s no way he can even put the words in a proper sentence. It’s not right. He was drunk-- so was Miro. The Hauptmann was a very attractive man indeed, but those thoughts were the kind of thoughts that would land him up in jail, if he was lucky.

Miroslav hadn’t changed his attitude towards him, he was still somewhat in the blurred line between friendship and superior. It all pointed to the fact that he didn’t even remember what had happened that night. Thomas was partially grateful, because the idea of him being removed from his post over an almost kiss was worst possible scenario he could have imagined for himself.

He doesn’t understand why the pull toward Miroslav is so-- irresistible. It’s as if he had placed a chain across his body and now he couldn’t untangle from it. Most of the times he manages to avoid being too obvious about it, because ever since that night, Thomas can’t seem to stop staring. He notices Miroslav’s movements, the way he talks, the way he gives in to small smiles. The hardest times are when the Hauptmann places his hand on his shoulder, not intentionally, but enough to make Thomas’ heartbeat race up.

Out of everyone, he’s thought of talking to Bastian about it, but not enough to actually get him to talk. Thomas is scared, these feelings aren’t supposed to happen. It was an infatuation. One that would die quickly enough and no one would ever remember. Maybe the war is to blame, hoping to find something to excuse the swirling of feelings growing in him.  

La Somme. The truck to the new location stops, and Thomas avoids following Miroslav right away. Instead, he sticks to Manuel. He’s doing better, Thomas can tell, he’s smiling more again. The Gefreiter advises to write a letter home, because Joshua might come by later. So he sits down, in a corner, away from most of his company with a pen and paper. He tells Klaudia he met someone, but is very careful not to give away the gender. It’s complicated, but it’s not possible. I’m scared of my feelings, and I could ruin everything. I feel so conflicted. He ponders, and shakes his head. He can’t possibly send this to his own sister. She’d only never let him live with questions on who this is. Knowing the romantic that she is, she would only push him to do the impossible.

He squishes the paper into a ball, and puts it in his pocket. There is no other option than to let go of all this nonsense. He’ll forget about these so called feelings of his and let them go. Yes. Miroslav Klose is his superior officer and that’s all he’ll ever be.

The second he spots Miroslav ahead; he feels his stomach stir in spite of his attempts to act cool. The Hauptmann is ordering the stocks and next to him is Hauptmann Guardiola. He decides it’s best to keep a reasonable distance until Miroslav turns to him and when their eyes meet, he smiles.

He can’t help but smile back, and wave hello. There’s an unexpected weight against his back which sends him stumbling and falling on the mud. He blinks and looks behind him, confused. A boy shakes his head and mumbles an apology, but he’s gone by the time Thomas can reply.

“Well, what do we have here?” He turns at the sound of the voice to Leutnant Schweinsteiger. His expression turns into an horrific one when he notices that Bastian is unwrapping a ball of paper in front of him. It must have fallen out of his pockets when he tripped. Bastian reads it in silence, then adds an amused smile. His attention returns to Thomas only when he stands up again. He connects the dots when he spots the shame and horror in his face.

“Never had you sorted for a romantic Müller,” He teases, already a huge grin drawn on his face.  

Thomas looks down and quietly takes it back. He should have burnt it, but before Bastian can ask anything, they’re interrupted by Miroslav himself. The Hauptmann greets his friend, then a hint of a smile, “Müller, with me.”

 

“We’re heading to the frontlines in a couple of days, this time I will be coming. I need you to get the Gefreiters from the south side of the troops, for they’ll need order on how to distribute their platoons.” 

He nods, his heart still heavy over the fact Bastian now knows there was someone in his heart. He hopes he’ll just let it go, and not ask questions later.

“Thomas?” It’s his name that brings his attention back to Miroslav. A hand on his arm, he’s stopped. Suddenly, he feels like blushing under his blue iced eyes so closely on him. “Sir,” He replies, a painful reminder to himself of the situation that Miroslav Klose is his superior officer and that’s all he’ll ever be.

If it’s such an impossible situation-- why can’t he stop thinking about it?

“I’ll see to it that you can get leave as soon as possible, visit that farm of yours”

Miroslav gives him a weak smile, and Thomas figures he must think this to be caused by the war. He might not be wrong for all he knows, but this; Miroslav noticing him being upset does not help his feelings. He nods and mumbles a thank you, before the Hauptmann continues giving out his tasks.

 

 

 

Later that night, Thomas catches up with Holger. It’s only when he’s standing next to him that he notices the figures behind him. He awkwardly tries to avoid it, but the Leutnant can’t seem to let go of the opportunity to tease him. Thomas curses the fact that he’s his superior officer.

“You’ve got some work to do, lover boy.” Bastian laughs, and behind him, Lukas laughs as well. Thomas hadn’t spotted him before, but it’s not really a surprise.

He’s tempted to call out the pair of them in front of him. He could tell Bastian he knows about the rumor, the one Miroslav told him once. The story about how Bastian and Lukas seemed to be far more than just best friends. A part of him knows that it’s true, he’s noticed how close there are to each other.

This is when Thomas realises how dangerous this entire business is and for once partially understands them both. It also useless to lie about the fact he desperately wants someone to understand him, to tell him that he’s not mentally sick. But Bastian thinks that this is a girl, otherwise he wouldn’t be teasing.

He just has to deal with Holger’s confused expression, and the voice of Mats from behind. 

“What? Müller’s got a girlfriend?”

Benedikt retorts, “Mats, that’s none of your business.” He just has to turn his head to find the pair, Mats sighing and shaking his head. “It’s gossip,” He defends himself, to which Benni simply rolls his eyes. 

Manuel and Joshua also join them, suddenly drawn to the laughter between the group. It’s not long until they also ask what’s all the fuzz. Thomas wants the world to swallow him alive when Bastian shares the story about his impossible love. How he got himself into a moment where all his friends are discussing his none-existent love life is beyond him.

“I can send her a letter, if you want!” Joshua offers, a genuine smile. Lukas puts a hand on his shoulder and proposes a toast with his aluminium bottle of alcohol. He lifts it up high drawing everyone’s attention.

“To Thomas to finally finding love, well, even if it seems to be one sided.”

Bastian loses it at this point and Thomas closes his eyes, shakes his head, about to protest for the first time when he hears the Oberstleutnant’s voice. The laughter partially dies, turning to a couple of giggles.

“Having fun, are we?”

Lukas and Bastian don’t shy away, instead, they share a glance and take a step closer. “And what in god’s name are you doing here right now?”

Thomas almost chokes when Miroslav follows up behind him. Must they always be together? The Hauptmann greets Lukas first, showing how close they are. If Miroslav had heard about the love bullying from the group… He panics, and tries to take a few steps back, but Manuel places a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Philipp relaxes, “You know we’re still the same guys,”

Thankfully, the topic of conversation switches, Bastian and Lukas leave with Miroslav and Philipp soon enough anyway. When Holger and Thomas reach their dirty beds, ready to get a few hours of sleep, his friend stops him, a hand on his arm.

He doesn’t need to say anything to know exactly what Holger wants to know. Ever since they were children, they’ve always confided in each other. Thomas shakes his head.

“I’m not-- Bastian has the wrong idea.”

But Holger doesn’t buy it, if there’s something he’s always been able to do, it’s to look straight pass Thomas. There’s a hint of hurt on his face too, which sends a huge weight of guilt on him. He turns and nods, accepting that Thomas is not willing to share his story. That’s Holger Badstuber; never pushing too much. It’s something that makes Thomas feel very thankful at a time like this.

“Holgi.”

He stops, and looking back to him, softly smiles. “Don’t get yourself into trouble, whatever it is.” He heads his body into the bed, leaving Thomas there, sitting, sighing.

“It’s nothing.”

He wishes he could tell Holger about his feelings, they’re driving him mad. What would he think? He’s always supported him in everything. But all those things were legal. He shakes his head; he has to stop thinking about this. He’s not lying either; it has to be nothing.

 

Miroslav Klose is his superior officer and that’s all he’ll ever be.

 

 

 

It gets better once they’re in the trenches. The shells and the mice surprisingly take away the concern a bit from him. There’s far more warfare on this side of the front, he notices. More shells fall on them, forcing them to find shelter in the dugouts. Holger is next to him, aiming the machine gun firmly into no man’s land. German trenches have a higher position on the field, giving them a fairly clean view of no man’s land. 

Even with that advantage, they’re not spared of the weather. It starts to rain, not a very foreign sight to them.

“My horses would like this weather,” Thomas comments, and Holger hums an acknowledgment. “I wonder if it’s raining in Weilheim right now,”

An unexpected blast sends them both flying, the pair landing on their backs accompanied with heavy amounts of dirt.

Has he lost an arm, a leg? No unbearable pain comes, and he realises he’s still alive. He opens his eyes, and his first instinct being Holger, scrambles around. His friend gets on his feet too, and looks unhurt. Thomas climbs back to looks down towards the enemy trenches only to find a large number of enemy troops rushing against them. He jumps to Holger’s machine gun, aims carefully against the first set of men advancing on them. But when he presses the trigger, there’s no response.

“It’s broken,” He yells, but catches other bullets killing them, bodies falling on the ground and against the wire. More shells behind them, and for a second he just stands there, watching the bloodshed between the two fronts.

It’s Holger who brings him back, pulling him from the unusable machine. He snaps back, and he knows he needs to get his hands on another machine.

 “Cover me!”

They turn to the east, but once they run through the zigzagged structure, Thomas and Holger stop; Men breaching their trench and killing everyone rapidly. Going back on their tracks, they arrive just in time to see the man operating a machine gun is killed before their eyes. Thomas gets up to his post and squints his eyes and aims. He must have shot so many men, the enemy attacking them so recklessly. Holger yells something from behind. Thomas looks down, and realises there are troops already entering the trenches. They need to go back at least to the second line.

They scramble through the connecting trench, desperately finding a way back. Thomas even hits his head accidentally on a piece of wood, knocking his helmet off. There’s lost German shouts of falling back, their trench being overrun. Thomas catches the sight of enemy soldiers aiming their rifles to German men. There’s clear fright in their eyes. It’s not that he’s not seen it before, but there’s a certain aggressively to the enemy different this time.

By the time they get to the second line-- there are also enemy troops swarming around. They both spot a British soldier aiming his gun to Toni. The man has both his hands up, surrendering. Holger hits him in the head from behind with his rifle, knocking him out. Toni looks impressed, but breaks into a smile.

“Nice one, Badstuber!”

Toni turns and runs to the other side, while Holger stares at the body. He blinks, unsure of what he just did. There’s no time for this, as Thomas pushes Holger to the ground; another man spots and aims at them. Thomas rolls to get his rifle between his hands and aims steadily. He misses, and his breathing speeds up, the mud getting inside his head. A bomb blasts between them, but it’s not enough to miss his focus, as soon as the man approaches them and clears out of the smoke he shots him on the spot.

Minutes of defending their trench turn into hours, the enemy slowly becoming more and more overwhelming by the second. It’s Jonas who finds them and pulls them in another direction, screaming about how their back trench has fallen as well. The reserves are being attacked.

“It’s massive! I’ve never seen so many soldiers. Nowhere to run.”

“We’re Germans! We don’t give up!” Thomas retorts, not willing to believe that the British could have pulled up this major attack. They defend their position for another while, Holger mostly looking out and letting them know where to shoot. But it soon becomes too much, and again, they’re forced to travel to sides of the trench, and over and over, the same story reproduces itself. More bodies and more shots surrounding them.

Thomas catches the glance of a body he thinks he knows. His hair is as blond as Manuel’s but thankfully, after jumping on it, he can see that it’s another soldier. His eyes are open and his chest filled with bullets. For some reason he doesn’t feel anything, there’s a blank disconnected feeling from the man lying on the floor. At least his hell is over. Jonas yells something and they cover themselves from the mud explosion nearby.

They reach the reserve line, more bombs and shells.  They can’t go there; their defenses must have pushed further. They need to find an alternative, and a quick one. Thomas glances to his sides only to find what seems to be the perfect hideout: a bunch of trees leading to a forest.

“In the woods!” He waves, and the pair follow him without question. They shoot their way there, climbing out of the dugged trenches. At least in the woods it’ll be a fair fight between the two sides of soldiers.

 

There not far in the woods when they notice there’s another group of people ahead of them. They slow down at their sight, only to identify them as twenty men. He scans the faces, hoping to find someone he knows. Towards the end, he feels his heart stop at the sight of Miroslav, covered in dirt. It’s such a relief, he’s strongly forced to repress the instinct to run and hug him. The Hauptmann seems to find him at the same time too; under the heavy attack, he smiles and waves.

Where are the others? Where’s Manuel, Mats, Benedikt? Thomas closes his eyes, hoping they got away somehow. Hauptmann Guardiola is also between the troops.

He feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to a Gefreiter. “Müller! Badstuber, Hector!” He greets, thankful for survivors. 

 

 

“What the hell happened back there?” Jonas asks, a tone of frustration mixed with disappointment while everyone is sitting against the cold rock at nightfall. Lighting a fire isn’t an option, they’d give away their position. They’re not sure if they’re surrounded, not sure of where the British are crawling behind the trees. Guardiola shakes his head. “They were planning this-- assholes. They knew our trench wasn’t as fortified as the others.”

“So what do we do now?” A soldier asks, to which the Hauptmann shots a glare. “We don’t let them pass here, is that clear?

It’s Miroslav’s turn to talk. “We need to catch up with Lahm, he must have fallen back to Pozieres.”

It’s a strange sight, to spot two personalities so terribly different yet the both working together for a common goal. He’s starting to understand what Miro meant when he used to describe Guardiola as someone who is simply very dedicated.

Thomas has to give it to him, that the guy simply doesn’t give in. He’s sitting next to Holger, but the pair hasn’t spoken a word since the attack. He turns to his friend, who has a lost gaze set on the dark of night.

“Holger--“

He starts, but he shakes his head; a clear warning he doesn’t want to talk. In the same way he respected Thomas’ decision, he has to do the same. So instead, his focus moves to the moon. It’s a clear night, with all the clouds gone. He thinks of home, the view he used to have from his window to the stars.

Just a little bit longer and he’ll be back.

 

 

Chapter Text

After a few days of guarding their spot, they decide that the best course of action is to find their way back to the village of Pozieres. The soldiers take their rifle and crouch, taking a few precautionary steps at a time. Guardiola leads at the front while Miroslav tails at the end, keeping an eye out for unwanted visitors. It’s Thomas’ job to stick to Guardiola, after a debate on the fact he could take out enemy troops very high ahead better than anyone.

There’s a sound ahead, and Guardiola suddenly stops, letting one of the lads take a few steps in front of him. Thomas gasps as he’s shot dead, the term ‘Sniper!’ repeating in their group. Holger scrambles next to him and they end up behind a tree. Guardiola has a visual on the pair, and Thomas momentarily panics, because he can’t spot Miroslav. He doesn’t have time to find him either, because Guardiola tries to get up, taking a step out of cover and a bullet is shot.

It almost shoots him down, and for the first time, Thomas thinks he sees the Hauptmann nervous. He glances to his left to finally spot Miro. 

“We need to find out where the sniper is, so we can shoot him down.” Guardiola lets out, then considering, “Badstuber-- go, distract him enough so he shoots. Müller, we could use your aim now.”

Holger blinks, not sure he understands completely his task. It’s Thomas who intervenes.

“You mean as bait? That’s suicide! He’ll be killed.”

Guardiola doesn’t stutter, “This entire group is compromised if we don’t find this damn sniper, now Badstuber, that’s an order.”

No, he can’t let Holger do this. His friend looks shocked, and it’s enough time for Thomas to grab his rifle and without a second thought, get out of cover. He rushes in front of the trees, running in zigzag and crouching randomly. He hears some shots fired, but he doesn’t stop running. Was it the sniper? Was it his comrades? Through the gunfire he thinks he hears his name, but again, doesn’t stop to check. A few miles down, his legs are the ones to slow him down. He trips on a branch, head first into a puddle of mud filled with rocks. 

It’s suddenly quiet, and Thomas doesn’t know how long he had been running. He lifts his head, and it’s only now that he notices the pain coming from it. He can’t have gotten shot there, logic tells him. Now is a time he wishes he had his helmet with him. With it he’d be alive, he thinks. Another thought makes him notice he’s still in one piece without it. He forces his body to sit up, and grabs his rifle. Moving closer to it, he coughs away the dirty water. While his hand tries to travel to his head, a sound interrupts him. The branches of the trees in front of him move, and he’s aiming instinctively his gun before he can think.

“Thomas, It’s me, don’t shoot.”

He blinks at no other but Miroslav coming out of the leaves “What? You found me?” He asks, not even trying to hide the surprise. Miro nods, “Yeah well-- you just took off.” He explains, and Thomas notices his tone slightly upset. “Are you hurt?” Sitting next to him, Thomas lets Miro take a look at him, his eyes checking his body for any major wounds. When he doesn’t find anything death threatening, he pulls away. Thomas dares to glance to his side to find Miroslav’s breathing relaxing.

They sit in silence, just the wind blowing through them. Thomas blinks a couple of times at the ground, the slight pain echoing from his thoughts when Miroslav finally starts.

“That was a very reckless thing to do.”

He shakes his head, there’s no way he would have let Holger risk his life like that. “Guardiola is a sadist; did they get the sniper?”

Miroslav shrugs, “I don’t know, I didn’t stay long enough to find out.”

The familiar pool of warmth Thomas had managed to put aside slowly creeps back on him. Having the Hauptmann so close and caring was a painful reminder of his feelings. Miroslav now even cared if a bullet shot his assistant down.

It feels so relaxing to listen to Miroslav too. Thomas usually is the one who can’t shut up, but with him, he finds himself more at ease. He wishes they hadn’t met like this, as assistant and superior. It would have been easier. His thoughts are stopped by the giant explosion coming from behind them. It pushes them both down on the dirt. 

Thomas groans a bit, pain coming from his chest, awkwardly stands on his elbows. There’s no time to think, because he feels Miroslav grab his coat and pull him up.

They hurry down a trail of dirt and trees, until they find a camp with firewood in the middle of it. There’s dead bodies around it, German dead bodies. Miroslav pushes him down and Thomas whimpers, suddenly dizzy.

Don’t move.”

He doesn’t. He’s not nearly hurt enough to lose track of what’s going on. From this angle he can clearly spot Miroslav playing dead, as the enemy moves around. They look at the camp, and turn away. There's some yelling in English, and finally move from their line of sight. He closes his eyes, until Miroslav helps him up again.

He finally sits him up against a rock big enough to hold him. There’s light coming from the holes in the leaves above them. One of them hits Miro right in the face, his eyes suddenly lighting up even more. It’s a nice sight from where he’s resting his head, but it’s interrupted by a cough, more dirt coming from his mouth.

“Oh, Thomas.” Miroslav turns around to look for something. After a ripping sound, his hands cup Thomas’ face, cleaning up the side. He spots blood on the soft fabric.

“You must have hit your head.” He gently tells him, and Thomas nods, acknowledging. The white fabric quickly turns into a mix of brown and red, as Miroslav presses it under Thomas’ left eye, cleaning it away. “There you go, now up you go.”

But when he tries to get up, Thomas whimpers down again, a hand on his chest. A gently push against his rib ending in him in pain again. Miroslav hums, analysis Thomas.

“I think it’s a broken rib, or something… but you’re alive. That’s what matters.”

What matters, he lets his weight go a bit, and leans into Miroslav. His head falls on his shoulder, and to his surprise, his superior wraps his arms around him, one hand finishing on his head, ruffling through his hair. It’s relaxing, and ironically for the first time in a while, Thomas feels good. He lets himself go completely into the sudden tiredness.

 

 

When he wakes up, they’ve changed locations. He’s leaning against Miroslav’s shoulder. It’s a funny feeling, his head resting in the most awkward way he can imagine. He mumbles, to let him know he’s not asleep anymore. The Hauptmann turns his head, and greets him.

“How long have I been out?” Thomas asks, noticing there’s a band around his head. It hurts to breathe a bit, so he does it slowly. 

“About two days,” Miroslav admits, “Your face stopped bleeding.”

He huffs, a slight amusement in his tone. Thomas places his hand under his lower eye, feeling the wound. He’s right, and it explains why he’s felt so out of it.

“Thanks,” He lets out, when Miroslav returns with water to give him. The Hauptmann gently opens it and puts it to Thomas’ mouth. He’s perfectly able to drink from it himself, but it feels good to have Miro taking care of him like this. “Miro--” He lets out. 

“Yeah?”

“Why-- not just let me die?”

The words come out wrong, but he’s too tired to care. He’s been in an awful lot of trouble since he followed him under that sniper, nursing Thomas back into health. Of course, it’s stirred Thomas’ feelings inside, but he needs to know Miroslav’s motives. The Hauptmann smiles a bit, shrugging, not giving an answer. Thomas decides to push more.

“I mean.. You could have gotten shot too,”

“I didn’t really think about it; I saw you jumped and I instinctively followed. I guess I’ve grown fond of you,” Thomas feels his cheeks turn slightly red, but Miroslav doesn’t have the time to notice. He’s already picking their stuff up. “We need to find Guardiola and the others.”

His head thinks of Holger and Jonas. Thomas can’t help but scramble to get on his feet, only to have Miroslav calming him down.

“Whoa, whoa, easy there, not so fast.”

Thomas whimpers, his rib causing him much more pain than expected. He stumbles into Miro’s arms again, but he’s on his feet. “Holger, he’s-- Guardiola.”

“You won’t be able to help if you don’t take care of yourself first.” Miroslav replies, serious tone full on. He nods, “Come on now, put this on.”  

Miroslav unties the string around his neck, taking off his helmet, and places it on his head. A confused expression from Thomas earns the hint of a smile from his superior.

“You need it far more than me.”

It’s enough to make him gasp, and cough. Earning another concerned look from his superior. He mumbles something and then thinking, asks. “Can you walk?” He nods, but Miroslav places a hand around his waist and pulls Thomas closer.

“Put your arm around my shoulder.”

They start walking slowly through the woods, and Thomas has a thought. “You didn’t go blind again, did you?”

“No, it hasn’t happened since-- you found out about that.”

“Good.”

Miroslav smiles at the last remark, and agrees. “Think of something nicer, like your farms, the fields. Didn’t you mention horses once?”

It does work slightly, but his memories of home are too far away to hide him away from the situation. “It seems so foreign now,” He admits.

“Then think of um-- your girlfriend was it?”

The comment takes Thomas so much by surprise he actually trips. “My what?

“It’s none of my business, of course. I overheard the guys talking about it a few weeks ago.”

Curse Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski they’ll pay if Thomas Müller makes it out alive of this forsaken forest. Thomas doesn’t say anything for a moment, to which Miroslav takes it the wrong way.

“I’m sorry-- I didn’t mean,”

Thomas eventually breaks into a smile, thinking about how ironic it is that Miroslav is teasing him about that. “Oh no--" His voice is shaking, and he hopes that Miro wont notice, "They’ve got the wrong idea. Bastian read a letter about someone wanting to get an impossible love and thought i was the author,” He lies, but what else can he do? He can’t tell Miroslav anything about the truth. Not ever. He hopes he’ll buy it, considering that he’s the worst liar in the universe.

The Hauptmann raises an eyebrow, leaving Thomas in doubt if his lie went through or not.

“Tell me about your home,” he asks, instead. This time Miroslav doesn’t shy away, and starts talking about a town in the east called Opole. They sell sausages near his house, and there is a park where he would enjoy playing football as a child. Thomas also likes football, but he’s too tired to point it out. It’s better to let Miroslav tell him about himself.

 

 

They get lost, without a map or a compass, the woods all look the same. They’ve run into enemy troops, far too many of them. Miroslav claims that it is better this way, mainly because of the provisions they carry. They'd be dead without them. The pair has been trying to find their way in the woods cautiously, but what Miroslav identified as Scots had forced them to take a detour. He’s learned that Miroslav is great at shooting as well, and for each passing moment Thomas finds himself more comfortable with him. He’d describe it as a bond, friendship. He wants to say more, but his own mind stops him. 

Miroslav Klose is his superior officer and that’s all he’ll ever be.

 

 

He’s lost the track of time; it honestly feels as if they’ve been going around for ages now. After a few nights, Thomas feels himself shaking uncontrollably. He’s cold, incredibly freezing even for the supposedly summer weather. Miroslav isn’t around, and Thomas yearns for his warmth. His mind goes back to the time they both got drunk on that small couch. He imagines what would have happened if he had kissed him. How it would feel to have his lips on him. The little hours he gets to sleep end up with nightmares from the front, from the shells and from the blood he’s seen. He closes his eyes and shivers, but instantly reopens them when he notices Miro is back.

The Hauptmann gives him a worried look, mirroring the fact he must be in pretty bad shape. “I found a compass on one of the dead bodies. We need to head north; I think we’ll find Pozieres there.”

There’s a nod, even though he wasn’t really paying attention, and with the help of Miro, gets on his feet again. They don’t encounter conflict from this point, which is a very lucky scenario. “You’re burning up,” the Hauptmann lets out, when Thomas leans a bit too close. He moves his hand to under his helmet, a couple of drops of blood dripping again from the wound.

 

 

After finishing a couple of packed meals they’ve found in abandoned camps, the pair rest out of necessity. Are his feelings towards Miro really wrong? He asks himself that various times when his eyes are closed against Miro’s lap. His thighs turn out to be very comfortable pillows, Thomas finds out. The Hauptmann is playing around with his hair, loosely curling nods with his fingers. There’s nothing they can do about his fever, and they know it. All Miroslav can do right now is to get them out of the woods as soon as possible. Thomas thinks of Holger and Jonas. He needs them to be fine, just as much as he needs an answer to the question he now can’t seem to stop repeating to himself.

Are his feelings really wrong?

His eyes shift from the sky to the man, looking into the distance. His focus is steady, just as he's probably thinking about everything he has to do. He's saving his life, another courageous deed for the war hero. Would it be so wrong to have feelings for a hero?  

 

Miro catches a glimpse of the flag down the hill, behind the rock. Thomas can hear him curse, something about it belonging to the enemy. “We’ve lost the defense there.” He lets his body go, falling against the rock, a clear disappointment in his tone. One of his hands travel to his hair, then, turning to his sick assistant, shakes his head.

“We’re going to make it.” 

Does it matter? Why do they have to live? Thomas gasps when Miroslav pulls him up and helps him move. He has his eyes closed, his body shivering in a way he’s never felt before. He can only focus on Miro’s voice. “Don’t give in Thomas, please.”

They need to get to Thiepval, Miro figures. That’s where Philipp would have gone. That was the back-up plan to the Pozieres taken scenario. It baffles him, how the allies managed to gain so much terrain in what? Two weeks? A month? Thomas shivering against his shoulder worries him more than the war situation anyway. Truth is; he might have given up on finding his way home it weren't for the farm boy shaking against him. His condition has worsened, but they’re almost there. He can feel it.

“Don’t die on me,” He whispers, not knowing if Thomas is conscious enough to listen.

It’s a miracle when they walk pass the last few trees finally out of the woods. He turns to his side, the weight of Thomas’ body on him. He needs an hospital desperately. Thiepval is right ahead, and seems to be clear of conflict for the moment. Now or never, it’s the perfect opportunity. They walk quickly, but carefully. Everything is in ruins, he notices as the pair walk inside in what seems to have been a wonderful village once.

He imagines the few families strolling down the streets, buying bread and taking care of their animals. Do such things still exist in a world like this? He’s seen so much destruction, so much death. Suddenly, there’s the sound of artillery and shells. He turns back, knowing that the enemy troops mustn’t be far. His step speeds up, needing to find someone, anyone from their side.

It comes as a miracle, as friendly troops come out from behind the hill, and Miroslav waves, he waves for his life. They’re starving, thirsty and he knows Thomas needs a doctor as soon as possible. The soldiers rush down, but pass them. They’re going to fight, of course. A familiar face stops in front of Miroslav. It’s messenger Kimmich,

“Hauptmann Klose! Sir! The Oberstleutnant has been asking for you.”

“I’m sure he has,” Miroslav smiles, not stopping his step. Kimmich stands there, watching them go.

Once they’ve climbed the hill, he can see their army, their artillery and their guns. It’s finally quiet, and they’re back into friendly territory. They're home. Once they get close enough, Miro pulls Thomas near him protectively and sits him down a chair. It's urgent that he finds a doctor now. He’s barely conscious but still alive. Thomas whimpers, as he takes off the dirty helmet from his head.

“Miro,” Thomas starts, in a weak voice, “Miro-- Miro--”

“It’s fine, we're home” He replies, his hands calming him down and checking the wound under his eyebrow. His gaze is loosely set on him, and it breaks his heart. It surprises himself, how much he’s fought for Thomas to live. But they’ve made it, the two of them. He gives him a smile, aimed at making him relax in spite of his broken rib and the fever. And just like that, Thomas finds some energy, and the next thing he knows leans up and is kissing Miroslav fully on the mouth.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

In his life, Thomas has done some pretty reckless things. When he was about ten, he remembers riding his father’s horse away simply because some men wanted to buy it. His father and Simon had scolded him about it, but nothing could take him away from one of his bestest friends. When he heard Guardiola order Holger to act as bait, the first impulse he had was to protect him. Even so, running against the sniper to save Holger didn’t even match up to this.

As he contemplates the ceiling from the bed in the small clinic, he concludes he’s really outdone himself this time. In short, Thomas had done something he’d been wanting to do ever since they both got drunk that night in his tent; kissing Miroslav. He had fallen to his impulses, the fever and near death experience driving him on edge and simply not resisting. He’d never forget the expression on Miroslav’s face once he pulled away. A mix of confusion and surprise, followed by silence between them until Thomas had lost consciousness. He doesn’t remember much after that, his body giving into the fever. 

“You’re up.” He turns to Manuel’s voice. A surprise, to see him so well.

“Manuel,” Thomas whispers, a smile on his face. Even with the battle, one of his friends was alright. “The others? Guardiola? How long have I been out?”

“Oh just a week. From the Munich squad; safe. The Guardiola group of men too, their unit came in before you and Klose did. Now there was a surprise” Manuel nods, making a list of the events that had happened in the trench after the first attack. Thomas shakes his head, sitting up against the wall. His rib still hurts, and he figures it’ll take a while to heal. He raises his hand to his face wound, still there, though it’s bandaged now. It forces his thoughts to linger back to his superior. He probably has a new assistant by now. “What’s on your mind?” the Gefreiter asks, to which Thomas shrugs, “Have I had any other visitors?”

“Uh Mats, Benedikt… Joshua passed by, I think I saw Toni once…”

He watches him roll a list of names, but none of them are the single name he wants to hear.

“You are kind of obvious, you know?”

Panic seizes him, does the whole place know? Is he going to be arrested? “Obvious?”

“Well yeah, you’re obviously worried about being out of shape. Don’t worry, your boss hasn’t visited. No need to feel pressured.”

Thomas tries to hide the disappointment, and successfully nods, pretending. Manuel continues, “He dragged you here, or so Bastian told me.”

“So I still have a job?”

Manu raises an eyebrow, “People don’t get fired for getting injured, you know, plus he’s rather fond of you.”

The last part makes him cough, earning some pain from his chest. It does make sense; Miro had practically saved his ass since he had rushed from that sniper story. Except the last part of the story. He can’t shake away the awful feeling, mainly because he was to blame. His friend announces he has to go, and Thomas watches him leave.

 

 

It’s a couple of weeks until he can walk again. The pain is still there, but it’s tolerable; the doctor had insisted that he needs to keep himself active in order to heal. Plus, he has to find Miroslav, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do right now. They’re stationed in a small area called Miraubeau. It’s a small village with proper houses, ones he hasn’t seen a while. The soldiers are still fighting near the front, but they’ve been awarded some rest behind the lines.

He catches Bastian just up the hill and the man notices him. He gets closer, checking his condition out.

“Hey, still in one piece?”

“Barely,” Thomas smiles, but Bastian turns around already moving. “Philipp was furious. We were taken by surprise, he’s not even here. Probably with his boss way further back. The allies have been raiding the villages nearby, we might be needed at the front soon-- you, of course can’t go.” He blinks, the idea of his comrades going to war without him. It seems unfair, but before he can protest, Bastian interrupts him.

“There’s another issue I need to tell you,” Thomas feels his heart drop when Bastian finishes: “It’s Holger.”

There’s a huge wave of guilt upon him. He had been so worried over his kiss with Miroslav that he hadn’t stopped to check how his own best friend was doing. When Manuel had told him the squad had made it back in one piece he assumed Holger was well. It should have been a red alert that he hadn’t visited him in the clinic. They move to a small house to the further zone of the village, and Bastian opens the door, letting him inside. He follows the Leutnant upstairs, but before they enter the room, Bastian gives him an apologetic look.

“He’s been in here since they got back; Lukas and I bring him food, but some days he doesn’t even touch it.”

Holger is inside, lying across a mattress, emptily staring at the ceiling. It’s a relief he’s not hurt, but when he says his name, his friend scrambles and moves away from him. Thomas can see his hands are shaking, and his expression is terrified.

“What’s wrong? It’s me, Thomas.” He says.

There’s no reply, except the dead stare. Eventually, he lets out in a whisper. “Thomas?”

It’s a shadow of his former self, and Thomas blinks. “Holger.” His friend breaks into a sea of tears, sobbing uncontrollably. He doesn’t understand what the problem is. Who did this to his friend? He reaches out for him, but the moment his hand touches his arm, Holger jumps away.

Thomas sits there for a long time simply looking at him, feeling an anger stir inside of him. There’s a whimper from his friend, barely understandable. “I don’t--“  A sob.

 

I don’t want to fight anymore.”

 

 

 

“How long has he been like this?” Thomas demands, once they’re back on the street. Bastian shrugs. “I don’t know-- Guardiola came back with most of his unit alive.” 

“This is his fault.”

Bastian doesn’t deny it, and Thomas groans, his rib bothering him. He’s never seen Holger like this-- it’s very upsetting. “He need medical help; we must get a doctor to see him! Maybe at the clinic--“

“No one can see him like this,” The leutnant interrupts him, and when Thomas tries to argument, shakes his head even further. “He has to get back into shape on his own. Thomas, they shoot people who--”

The implication of what he’s saying sinks in, and Thomas shakes his head. “He’s no coward,”

“I know that, but after Guardiola files a report, no one will believe that.”

“He’s not a coward!” Thomas yells louder this time, the pain from his chest digging in deeper. He’s upset, and he’s never been one to hide his feelings. If he could find Guardiola right now, he would let him know a piece of his mind. He kicks the ground; taking out the frustration in any way he can. There’s regret as soon as his chest hurts again. Jonas might know more about what happened, he thinks.

“This is what the war has done to him, Thomas. I’m not saying he’s a coward-- this is war’s fault.”

He gazes back to the house, and sighs heavily. How had everything turned from the group bullying him about his love life to this? He misses home terribly, the comfort of his animals around him.

 

 

 

That evening he finds Jonas between the tables, as they eat dinner. The topic shifts soon enough around Holger and his situation.

“I don’t think it was Guardiola. After you ran away, we all thought you were dead. It hit Holger the most, you’re his best friend and you jumped in for him. He was devastated, I tried talking to him but he didn’t want to. There’s a type of grief that simply cannot be spoken. And, well, after that-- he started killing enemy soldiers, kept hitting their corpses after they were--“

Thomas get the general context of what they must have gone through.

“I think he’s gone mad.” Jonas concludes.

“He was never meant to come here. We were both conscripted, I-- I shouldn’t have left him.”

“You saved his life.”

 

 

With everything that has happened, Thomas can’t close his eyes. It didn’t seem right to be anywhere else. So here he is next to Holger’s bed, even though they haven’t said a single word since he entered the room. It’s a silence that haunts him, but eventually Holger falls asleep; the reflection of the moon on him was enough light for Thomas to tell.

What a hell of a day, he thinks. He hasn’t even talked to Miroslav yet. What is he going to tell him? Clearly, Hauptmann Klose had not told the entire army of his act. He’d be arrested and trialed for not being patriotic by now. Why hasn’t he fired him? He might not get his hopes up, knowing well that he’ll have to face him in the morning.

His chest sends another shot of pain, and he groans a bit. He turns to Holger, who seems to be peacefully lost in dreams. Thomas thinks a lot about before the war, of how scared he was to enlist. How he felt when Simon waved goodbye from the train.

You will find your courage. Simon had once told him. There’s an unusual thought on his mind, his father teaching him how to aim correctly. He doesn’t think about him much, having been only fifteen at the time of his death. It had shaken their family, but with two boys as sons, the Müller farm had survived. Simon was always the best one at shooting, Thomas had always known that.

“What would you tell me if you saw me now?” He whispers, looking out the small window on the wall.

 

 

 

 

“Hey, Müller”

Thomas turns to Lukas, Bastian standing behind him. “You look like hell,” He smiles, a bit of compassion in his voice. He shrugs, ignoring the comment then, directly at Bastian.

“I’m sorry I kind of lost it in front of you, Holger is one of my closer friends and--”

Leutnant Schweinsteiger shakes his head, “I appreciate honesty-- how is he? Did he get any sleep?”

The trio stand together, a worried air between them. What on earth are they going to do about Holger?

“How was he this morning?” Lukas asks, a shy tone. Thomas sighs, “When I woke up he was staring at the ceiling and wouldn’t reply to my remarks. It seems a ghost has taken hold of his body.”

Lukas suddenly swifts his attention behind, and turns to find Miroslav between the troops them. Bastian seems relieved. “Oh, perfect timing; we need his help.”

 

Standing next to Bastian, they watch as Lukas jumps from their spot to his. His healthy look is the first thing he can notice when Lukas drags him back. As the pair explain the situation to the Hauptmann, Thomas doesn’t miss how Miroslav doesn’t even acknowledge his presence. His heart is beating fast too; he desperately wants to run away. He doesn’t want to deal with this, he doesn’t want Holger to be sick. He doesn’t want Miroslav to hate him.

Unwillingly from Thomas’ side, they bring Miroslav to Holger. To be fair he doesn’t really understand why out of all Hauptmanns, they had to pick the one he had kissed. He realises that they obviously have no idea, but it seems like the odds are against him. Holger still on the edge of the mattress, looks very alarmed when the soldiers walk in.

“You guys wait outside,” He tells Bastian and Lukas, who nod in union.

“Müller,” Thomas almost jumps out of his skin at the mention of his name. It’s obvious how he’s changed his tone. He doesn’t know what else he was expecting. The Hauptmann turns to him, when he doesn’t have an answer. Their eyes meet but they’re not angry, he seems nervous if anything. Thomas can see that he’s reliving the moment in his head. Miroslav clears his throat, “He needs a friend.” 

Seeing him work with Holger makes him temporarily forget about the problems around him. He’s on the mattress next to Holger, while Miroslav tries to get him to talk about home, about Weilheim. After maybe an hour or two, his best friend hasn’t had a panic attack or a meltdown. Miroslav’s voice is so soothing, and Thomas understands why Bastian picked him out of all the possible Hauptmanns.

He takes the chance while Miro is too busy with Holger to glance at him. A small realisation draws upon him. If he could take back the kiss, he would; Thomas knows that he shouldn’t have done it, but those reasons had nothing to do with his feelings. If it were him and Miroslav on a deserted island with nothing but each other: Thomas knows he’d kiss him again.

But they weren’t on a deserted island. They were at the front, fighting the French, the English and unfortunately, their own internal illnesses.

 

 

 

“The wound is in his mind, not body.” Bastian nods, thanking him. Miroslav continues. “They’ll want to take him away, just so he doesn’t contaminate morale and stuff like that.”

Thomas blinks, without thinking he replies. “They won’t charge him with cowardice?”

Miro’s eyes meet his for a moment, but he breaks contact after a split second. There’s the nervous look in his eyes again, before he talks again. “I’ll talk to Philipp when he comes back, in the meantime keep him low. Talking helps, even if he doesn’t reply.”

“I’ll talk to him then-- come on Poldi, we should bring him something to eat. You two must have a billion things to do anyway.”

It leaves Miroslav and Thomas in the same room, alone. Bastian and Lukas walk the stairs and the last sound they hear is the front door shutting. The Hauptmann turns around before anything can be spoken, as his assistant, Thomas is forced to follow. 

“Thank you-- for helping him,” Thomas starts, in the most awkward way to start a conversation. They head inside another house, not far. “And for helping me.”

“I see your rib is doing better,” He points out, taking off his jacket and placing it against the door. Thomas awkwardly looks around, checking the new surroundings. How long will they be here? It’s much more comfortable then a silly tent.

He shrugs, “Still needs rest.”

“Yeah,”

Miroslav opens a drawer, looking for a bunch of papers. He finally takes out a sort of passport form.  “Here--” He hands it to Thomas. The assistant takes it without question, and reads on it Shore Leave.

There’s confusion in his eyes, leave? Now? While they’re in the middle of a battle? He shakes his head, what is Miroslav doing? Is this his punishment?

“You’re sending me away?” He curses the words as soon as they come out of his mouth. Miroslav looks up from the other papers he had picked up, a troubled expression across his face. There’s no reply at first, but he gently closes his notebook. “Am I fired?”

Turning to Thomas, he shakes his head. “No, you’ll still be my assistant when you come back.”

He doesn’t know what to reply, and for once in his life Thomas thinks it’s best to keep quiet. He’s lost, staring blankly at the Hauptmann.

“I asked Philipp for your leave slightly before the English attacked, would be a shame not to use it now.”

Still, his assistant isn’t convinced. “What about the blindness? What if it comes back?” He doesn’t want to be pushed away, though he knows that he’s to blame about this entire awkward situation between the pair. Miroslav looks up to him, “You’re hurt. You need to heal that rib, enjoy your vacation, Thomas.”

The use of his first name again calms him down. He nods, a tight grip at the form.

Are they just going to bury the fact they kissed? It was clear that no one else knew besides them. There’s not much else to say and he knows he should turn around and go. A few steps in front of the door, Thomas stops. He can’t leave the room without discussing the topic. So he turns and with a voice he never thought he’d hear, says.

“I’m sorry about what I did.” Miroslav looks up, probably expecting anything but this. Thomas is sorry-- about the situation he’s put his superior in, about the unpatriotic behavior, about many things he should have not done. “I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.” Deep down though, he knows he’s not sorry about his feelings.  

It’s as if Thomas had just made him relieve the moment, because Miroslav looks away. There’s no use pushing the topic any further, so he turns around-- opens the door and shuts it behind him. 

Maybe some time away at home is exactly what he needs.  

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Weilheim hasn’t changed much, he can see-- once he gets off the train station. The wind still blows through the trees and the sun still shines above the village. Even for September, it is unusually hot. He realises it is the first time he’s been home ever since he enlisted. The station is deserted, not a soul is there to receive him. Even so, after living a year between shell bombs and soldiers everything; he’s extremely thankful. 

The way home isn’t far, and he’s happy to remember the road back. Before the last turn, he stops at Holger’s place. It’s empty, sign that no one has been home in years. If he could tell his father all that’s happened to his son. Eventually he reaches his farm; from the front fence, he can spot Klaudia at the back, brushing the cows. It’s a sweet scene, her hair braided against her back while the animal chews some food. He drops his military bag down, making a sound loud enough for her to turn. Her eyes go wide, and it’s as if she hasn’t seen him in a century. It certainly feels like it’s been a hundred years. 

“Thomas!”

She rushes to him and gives him the tightest hug he can remember she’s ever given him. He sighs into her, suddenly glad to be back. “Simon is here too!” She smiles, and Thomas blinks, not expecting to see his brother as well. He doesn’t have to wait much, because Simon comes out of the front door. He smiles fondly watching his siblings, and Thomas rejoices. Simon is alive and well, so is he. His family hasn’t been destroyed by the horrors of the front yet.

 

“Mother is in town, they requested her help.” In the living room, the three of them sitting in front of the chimney, Klaudia finally notices that her brother is hurt. She stands up in front of him, crossing her arms. “What happened to you?”

“Oh, I just-- I broke my rib. Nothing serious; it’s already mostly healed.” Thomas tries to not go into details. He knows that it would end up going to Miroslav. He’s been very careful to avoid even mentioning his name. He shakes his head, smiling a bit too enthusiastically about his injury.

“I got a letter from Laurent! Can you believe it? He managed to have it passed along with some prisoner letters with a corrupt officer.”

She tells them both on how the French are having a hard time as well, suffering in trenches filled with dirt and rats. Simon glances towards Thomas; the both of them sharing their memories of the front.

“He says the fact he has me keeps him fighting,” She finishes, and Thomas makes an effort not to mirror himself in that situation. It’s ridiculous.

Klaudia tells him she wants to enlist as a nurse, that she can’t sit down while her two brothers are fighting for the country while she sits down and does nothing. Simon objects, but there’s nothing he can do to stop her.

“At least be careful, promise to take care of yourself.” Thomas tells her.

 

 

The fields are wide and calm, and Thomas takes the chance to spend some time on his own. The sun is setting, and he walks down the dirty road, spotting from a distance the Dietlhofer lake. He spots an old woman near the water. Maybe her husband is fighting the French as well. Thomas doesn’t really want to find out. She has a dog with her, but soon enough she walks away back into town. 

The sun shines on the water, and Thomas sits down between some bushes. His mind can’t help but think about everything. His mind remembers how he pushed his lips against Miro’s, how upset Holger was when he said goodbye to him. He closes his eyes and he’s at the front again, in the bunker covering himself. He opens his eyes back to the water in front of him and the nature around him. It somehow feels wrong to be here without Holger. As children, he was the one to find this hideout away from their families.

He longs for those much simpler times where it was only him, Holger and the lake in front of them. Thomas sniffs, and realises he’s crying.

 

 

The week flies by too fast; he sleeps most of the time in his proper bed. Klaudia claims it to be accumulative exhaustion. Even so, Thomas tries not to, but he can’t stop thinking about Miroslav. He doesn’t expect anyone to notice. His attempt to simply forget about it that hasn’t worked for him so far. The feelings he had denied had led exactly to the situation he found himself in at the moment. Klaudia and Simon don’t even know about Holger. Somehow just mentioning something from the front threatens home. It’s as if it would contaminate it.

It’s his brother who notices in the end, which isn’t all that surprising. The night before Simon has to go back, he questions him after dinner.

“You’ve changed.” He notes, after Klaudia has gone to bed. The kitchen has their dirty dishes from the food, and they’re just sitting on the chairs across each other. “You and I; we get each other.”

“I’ve seen a lot of things,” Thomas admits, something he knows Simon will understand. “They like my aim, a lot.”

“Really? That's just because they haven't seen mine,”

Simon laughs a bit at his own joke, but when Thomas simply smiles, there’s a look of concern. “Thomas.”

“I’m fine.” He lies.

“You’re not fine. It’s okay to talk about it. What happened? You haven’t mentioned Holger-- is he--”

“Holger is sick. He won’t even talk to me anymore.” Thomas breaks down at the mention of his name. The tears come after only naturally. He tells Simon about the sniper, the tale of how he jumped to protect him and how he found Holger shaking in his room. “I let him down,” He finishes, and his brother shakes his head. They’ve all known Holger for years, Simon can understand the stress and pain he’s going through.

“Sounds like shell shock to me.” He comments, Thomas shrugs. “He needs to get transferred home. Don’t you know some officer who could help?” His mind jumps to that one certain officer he shouldn’t be thinking about.

“I’ve been working as an assistant for a Hauptmann,” He starts, Simon taking out a cigarette and lighting it up. His heart starts beating faster and faster. “But-- I did something I shouldn’t have.” The kiss won’t leave him alone, and if he wants to get it off his chest, now is the right time. He’s been carrying his feelings about Miroslav like a load he can’t share. How could he? But this is Simon; this is his brother. He trusts him above anyone else.

Simon is confused. “What did you do?” He finally asks, a risen eyebrow.

“When I was injured-- I-- I was in a very bad shape and… Hauptmann Klose, Miro, he nursed me back into health. I’m alive because of him, I don’t think I would have made it back with a fever and a broken rib all the way to the camp. But at the end, I couldn’t stop myself… and--“

“And what?”

Thomas looks away, his breath unsteady and nervous. He’s never said the words out loud, but he has to. He has to tell someone or he’s going to lose his mind.

I kissed him.” 

A deadlocked silence spreads between them, and Thomas doesn’t dare to look at his brother until after a solid five minutes. His expression is confused, as if he had not heard right. “You -- what?”

“I wasn’t thinking-- he was just so close to me,” Thomas defends himself. “I don’t--“

“What on earth is wrong with you?” His brother shouts, suddenly louder.

Thomas freezes, staring blankly to his brother. Simon has never looked at him like this, it’s a cross expression combined with anger and disgust? He shakes his head and stands up, leaving the room. Thomas feels the tears form in his eyes, the feeling of emptiness creeping upon him. He gets up, not completely sure if he can make his way back to his room, when he stumbles across Klaudia right before reaching the stairs. She knows, he can see it in her eyes. It’s all too much to deal with, so Thomas chooses to ignore her and climbs the stairs, wiping the tears streaming down his cheeks.

 

He doesn’t say goodbye to Simon. The only thing he can do is to watch from the corner of his window how Klaudia hugs him. After, he grabs his bag and places it in on his shoulder, heading towards the train station. He crumbles to the ground and buries his head in his arms. What was he thinking? Now his brother, the one he admired the most out of everyone-- hates him. He had ruined things with Miroslav, and with Holger sick, Thomas considers the option of never going back to the front. What if he ran away? He could run to the mountains and live there until he grew old. The war doesn’t seem to want to end anytime soon.

A knock on the door brings him back from his thoughts, and he only looks up when he hears the door open. It’s Klaudia. Thomas lets his head drop back, while she passes inside with food on a plate.

“You haven’t eaten since Thursday.”

He mumbles. “I’m not hungry.”

“Thomas-- I--” He looks up to find an apologetic expression on her face. She seems hesitant, as if she can’t find the right words. “I overheard your discussion with Simon.”

He can’t possibly deal with this right now, with everything else going on. Thomas shakes his head. “I don’t need--”

“It’s okay.”

It shocks them both, and for a moment, he doesn’t quite understand what is going on. Thomas finds the strength to stand up, and moves around to sit next to her. “Okay?” He asks, not sure he heard that right. But she nods, tears in her eyes.

“You’re my brother, and I love you. I don’t care if you did something like-- you’re still my brother and you always will be. Simon will come around; I know he will. He loves you too.”

Thomas needs a moment to breathe. He had expected literally everything but this, he sniffs and a tear streams down his face. They’re silent for a moment. After a while, he finally manages to swallow some food; a sign of him feeling better. As he chews the piece of chicken, Klaudia asks.

“Was it the Hauptmann you’re working with?”

Thomas nods, a bit shameful. “You should have seen the look on his face.”

Klaudia laughs softly. “If you ask me, he seems to be really fond of you. A bit too much for it to be professional, I think.”

He stops, and looks back at her. “What do you mean?”

She stands up, heads towards the door and stops. “Well, to begin with; he went through an awful lot of trouble to keep you safe after you got hurt, and he seems to want you around him all the time. But more importantly; you kissed him and you’re still working for him. I don’t know; it just seems to me like he might not be so indifferent to you.”

Thomas watches her go, and swallows his bite. His head suddenly beating at the even possibility that Miroslav might not be so against the idea of them together. No. He shakes his head at the thought. Klaudia doesn’t even know Miro. It’s not possible, in spite of how much he may want it.

 

 


 

It’s a quiet way back, and not quite the same when he returns to his platoon. He doesn’t see anyone he knows until he reaches the indicated tent. Manuel is there and greets him.

“We’ve lost Hans last night.” 

Thomas squints, not sure of who Hans was. It surprises how little importance he gives it. He gives Manu an apologetic look, though, to show sympathy. A more pressing matter comes to his mind.

“How’s Holger?” 

“They took him to a hospital. He wasn’t getting better here, you know, with the bombs. Bastian has the details, oh and you’re off duty until further notice. Klose had to go with Lahm.”

That’s the first time Thomas feels really alone. No matter where they were, he and Holger would always be together. Now, when he goes to bed, he’s not there to talk to. He tries to tell himself that he’s not dead. He’s alive and he’s getting treated. Even so, Thomas can’t find himself to care about the conversations that Mats and Benedikt start at dinner. He doesn’t get invested in the planning of movements. He even avoids Bastian and Lukas, not being in the mood to hear news about his best friend.

It’s overwhelming, to think of Holger, of Miroslav and Simon. He can’t even go home now with his brother. What if Simon dies? His last memory would be him hugging Klaudia. He longs to be home, to hide near the lake where he knows no one can find him. One day, Toni tells him about how some young lad blew his hand off just so he’d be sent home.

“The bastard is resting away from all this hell now. Don’t you sometimes wish to run away?”

He can’t reply to the question, because a grenade goes off next to him, and they’re forced to attack. Guardiola screams orders and they obey, like cattle. Thomas wonders how much longer he can go on like this.

 

 

“You do realise you’re ready now.” Oberstleutnant Lahm tells Miroslav, as they both approach the front trench. “You haven’t had any blinding incidents since what-- a year? 10 months?”The Hauptmann stops him, and shakes his head.

“I want to keep him,”

Philipp smiles at the irony. “You’re really fond of him, aren’t you?”

Miroslav shrugs, trying not to think about the incident that happened before Thomas went on leave. The truth was that he hadn’t processed it when it happened. He was delirious with his fever, and it might not have meant anything at all, yet Thomas remembered it.

I’m sorry about what I did. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.

He had apologized in his tent, and Miroslav had wanted nothing more but to tell him that it was alright. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t patriotic. He was supposed to marry a girl and have babies with her. It bothered Miroslav to no end that he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“Anyway, I’ll leave you to your unit.” Philipp waves goodbye, leaving Miro back to his thoughts. It’s a surprisingly quiet night, he notices. The British must be tired on the other side, and he’s grateful this is the way he comes back into the trenches.

“Hauptmann.” Some soldier greets him, and Miroslav signals back.

He’s about to find Guardiola to relieve him, when from the corner of his eye, catches no other but Thomas.

He’s sitting against the wall of the trench, on his own. Miroslav thinks he must miss that friend of his. After Thomas had left home, he and Bastian had ensured that he would get to a clinic back in Germany. They hadn’t heard news of him since, but he knew that hospital and those doctors. They would be able to help Holger, they had helped him cope with his blindness. 

There’s an impulse he must fight to take a few steps to him. As much as calm and at ease he feels when Thomas is around, he cannot permit that to affect his career and his life. There’s nothing between them except that he is his assistant. He stands there staring at him long enough to see him light up a match. This is when he notices he’s trembling, and the tear on his face.

It breaks his heart, to see him like that, and the impulse gets stronger. He even takes a step involuntarily, towards him. But when Thomas sobs, and moves the lighted match above his head and most importantly, above the trench, Miroslav understands what he’s trying to do. This time, he can’t stop himself and he’s over him in a second, throwing the match away from his hands. It falls on the ground and the small fire on it dies. There’s gunshots, they take cover for a moment. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” He whispers, and Thomas looks shocked. If he had managed to keep the light long enough, a British sniper might have gotten a clear shot and blown his hand off. Thomas sobs further, confirming that it was his intention. He lets his head fall on his chest, and Miroslav places his arm around him. “Come on,”

 

They go to his personal tent, and Miro sits Thomas down on his bed, being the only comfortable piece of furniture he can find. He’s stopped crying, at least. Miroslav goes to his desk, trying to locate anything to eat that might make him feel better. He does find some cookies, turns and hands them immediately.

Thomas smiles a bit, but it’s only an echo of his usual smile. It makes Miroslav feel awful. Was he this broken because he sent him away? He can’t help but feel guilty over it-- but it had been true. He had requested his assistant’s leave before they got caught up in that whole sniper drama leading to the kiss. If anyone deserved a moment away from this hell; it was Thomas.

Whatever it was, Miroslav couldn’t stand the idea of Thomas feeling so bad he had to turn to voluntarily mutilation. He sits down next to him, and after a moment of trying to figure out his wording, starts.

“Listen, Thomas.” His assistant turns to him, swallowing the second cookie. “About what happened,” And the fact that Thomas stops chewing the third one means he’s caught his attention. “Do you want to talk about what made you want to do that?” 

Thomas’ look drops, and he shakes his head. Miroslav can guess it is about the kiss, or Holger, or both. He doesn’t want to risk mentioning that kiss again though, so he goes with the other likely cause. “If it’s about your friend, don’t worry. I’m making sure he’s getting the best attention.”

“What?” He says, for the first time since they walked into the tent. “Really?”

Miroslav nods, “He’s going to be fine, I promise. I’m doing everything in my power.” He tries to give him a comfort smile, and it seems to work, because Thomas seems to lighten up a bit.

“Thank you, Miro.” He adds. “I feel like I’ve let him down.”

“You almost died to keep him safe, and this is caused by the war, not you. If anything, you saved him from it.”

They stay like that for a moment, and Thomas closes his eyes, sighing heavily. Miro watches him, and without really thinking, places a hand on his shoulder.

“Promise me you’ll never try to do something like that again.” Miroslav has to say, making Thomas bring back his eyes open. He nods slowly, “I promise,” He says, finally turning his face.

“We have a lot of paperwork to do, too. So I need you on your top form.”

Thomas laughs slightly this time more like his older self, and Miroslav gets a strange familiar feeling of delight. Without thinking, Miro adds. “And about the other thing… It’s okay. I don’t… It’s just… It’s okay.”

They both stare at each other for a moment, until Thomas nods again then gets up headed towards the paperwork. Miro lets out a breath he hadn't noticed he was holding and blinks. What a mess. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You know, I’m actually very buff underneath this uniform.” Thomas lets out on an amused tone. Miro turns to him with a raised eyebrow. He’s carrying a can of sardines. He focuses on his arms, which don’t seem that strong. Thomas was made of a lankly set of limbs with messed up hair. 

“Never would have imagined,”

“I know, it’s like my secret weapon,” He winks, earning an honest laugh from Miro. “How else would you expect me to keep up with this kind of work? There’s a lot you don’t know about me,”

"Is there?" Another laugh, and Miro suddenly stops, “Oh, we forgot the water, go on” He takes the can from Thomas, “Go, meet you at the tent.”

Thomas nods with his wicked grin, and as Miro watches him turn back his smile fades. A thought crosses his mind. The way Thomas had said that had led his eyes straight to his muscles. Was he being flirted at? The worst part was that he didn’t seem to mind. No, not mind. Miro blinks because he was actually enjoying Thomas flirting at him.

Was it flirting though? He thinks, maybe Thomas simply liked to talk about his body to his friends. He might have overreacted over nothing. 

A person standing in front interrupts him from his thoughts, and Miro almost jumps. 

“Sir, the new Leutnant is here,”

“Ah, yeah, what’s your name?” Miroslav looks up, to the man in front of him. He makes a mental note to ask Philipp for a favor back as this isn’t part of his duties. Maybe he could get a free bottle in exchange. Though he is thankful, because this is able to take his mind off of Thomas’ flirtations. Even if it is only for a moment.

“Simon Müller, sir.”

He blinks, focusing on his features. Of course, Miro smiles at the irony. Is he to be haunted by the Müllers forever? For a moment he tries not to be too obvious. They look extremely alike, except Simon’s features are slightly different. “From Weilheim?” He asks, without looking at the file.

“Yeah, it’s Bavaria--” The man replies, surprised.

If there’s something that will help Thomas, it’ll be to see his newly transferred brother. He smiles to the man and shrugs. “I think I may know someone you know. Walk with me.”

The Leutnant, Simon Müller, is forced to follow him, after all, Miroslav is still his superior officer. They end up in his tent, but there’s no sign of Thomas. The man looks slightly confused, expecting something more. He makes an expression that Miro has seen on Thomas before. It’s funny how some things seem to be family-like.

“How are things up north?” Miroslav finally breaks the silence. “Please, sit down.” If there was a difference between Thomas and his brother, it was definitely the fact that Simon didn’t talk much.

He shrugs. “Just like everywhere else. The British lost many troops at la Somme.”

Miroslav is incredibly grateful when Thomas bursts in the tent, carrying two cans filled with water in each hand.

“You’ll never guess what Bastian and Lukas did to Manuel today!” He exclaims, not aware that Simon is sitting on the chair next to him.

The voice is enough for him to recognize Thomas. His brother gets up and turns to him. He doesn’t say a word, but Miro is surprised when Thomas drops the cans and his expression turns into a shocked one. Wouldn’t he be happy to see him? He knows how often he writes home, and from what he can gather Thomas has always been incredibly close to his family. Simon shifts his focus on Miroslav, then back at his brother. He shakes his head, and excuses himself.

“Excuse me, Hauptmann.”

After storming off, Miroslav simply turns his surprised face to Thomas. “I-- Wait,” He mumbles, following his brother outside the tent.

 

 

 

Thomas rushes after Simon. It’s not long before he reaches him and places a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

“Not even saying hello?” He lets out, not entirely thinking. His brother turns to him, and shoves the hand off him. “Are you still --”

“You’re still working for him?” Simon narrows his eyes, in an accusing tone. Thomas swallows, quite surprised Simon remembered Miro so well, and turns back to the tent. He nods, “He’s a good man, we’re not--”

But he can’t finish. “Whatever,” He walks away, leaving Thomas on his own. It’s not fair, he thinks, Simon doesn’t know Miro or everything he’s done for him. When he finally returns to the tent, the Hauptmann is waiting for him, awaiting an explanation. However, he doesn’t need to say a word, because Miroslav simply asks.

“He knows, doesn’t he.”

Thomas looks down to his feet, and nods. Miro gets up from his chair and exits the tent leaving him alone in it.

 

 

“You know; we could arrange a visit.” Bastian tells him, “He’s not that far, and apparently they’ve got bombings but they’re fine.”

He almost spills his soup, the idea of seeing Holger better being the best goddamn news he’s gotten all week. Thomas nods furiously.

“I’ll let Philipp know, you might want to warn your boss.”

 

 

Miroslav had always considered himself a good man. A good, patriotic man. Maybe not the best man, but a good man nonetheless. That’s what he thought of himself when he saved Philipp and Löw. He had risked his life, endured consequences because of those actions, but those actions made him patriotic. Now, he found himself at an impasse.

Thomas.

What was it about Thomas that made him feel so-- different? With him gone to visit his friend, Miro had thought he’d get some time to get his mind off of things, but Thomas was everywhere he went. He was in the eyes of the young soldats, in the way someone aims their rifle.

There had been the Eulenburg affair back in 1907, of course. Everyone had heard about that. The homosexual scandal between the members of the Kaiser’s own cabinet. It was thought that those were men who deserved nothing but trash. Politicians in their own country surely came as a shock but nevertheless, Miroslav had never met them. It was easy to ignore.

But then he had met Bastian and Lukas, which were also involved in their little adventure. Only a fool wouldn’t be able to see that those two had a thing going on. Miroslav remembers opening the closet door and finding Bastian’s lips locked on Lukas’. The two had apologized immediately, and begged to keep their secret. Philipp found out about it eventually, ordering them both to stop for their sakes. Some accusations followed, and they both got lucky. Afterword, both him and Philipp knew that the pair didn’t stop, but pretended not to notice. It became sort of a taboo subject between them, never mentioning anything about it. Miroslav always figured that he loved Bastian and Lukas-- which is why the whole affair didn’t bother him as much.

He might had accepted his friends, but Miroslav knew that he wasn’t-- like them. He thinks back of his first time he had sex-- he must have been 18 or 19 at the time. If he was honest, he had been disappointed. Between the guys, they always described sex as the ultimate feeling. It had been fun, but nothing out of this world. Miro found more enjoyment in other things, such as books or writing.

He wasn’t like the guys in the cabinet, or like his friends-- yet here he was, laying on his bed not being able to stop thinking about Thomas. He could push him away, send him far where he’d never be a problem-- but he knows how big of a mistake that would be. They had become a bit dependant on the other. Thomas made him feel so young, and at ease. Besides, Miro needed Thomas to make it through the war. He wasn't going to abandon him. He'd never felt like this with anyone before. Something in his gut had told him to pick him from the list of assistants Bastian had. Miroslav could blame it on the war-- on the situation, but there’s no use to trying to lie to himself. He thinks of that crooked smile, and closes his eyes.

 

  

The truck taking them to the clinic passes through some quiet plains. It’s designed to take soldiers on leave, but with the right influences, the three of them are on their way to see Holger. He shouldn’t have been surprised to see Lukas with Bastian. As the soldiers are asleep, he spots from the corner of his eye the way Lukas leans a bit too close to Basti. It reminds him of his relationship with Miroslav, of course. Thomas had found a bad habit of wanting to find himself close to his superior officer, in a somewhat flirty way, but never giving away too much. He couldn’t help it, by the time he realised what he was doing it was too late. It was nearing December now, and neither of them had said a word about the kiss ever since Thomas had tried that awful incident.

As they get off and walk through the snow, Thomas wants to say something about the situation. It’s the thought of Simon that stops him, the anger and disapproval in his eyes still fresh in his memory. At least Miroslav still has him close, it’s all that he can ask. After that incident, his feelings had intensified in a strange way. It no longer made him nervous. Maybe he had just learned to live with it.

“Hysteria,” The doctor says, “He’s not the first to show these symptoms. The Kaiser’s army has been filled with these cases. He’ll be sent to work on the home front next week.”

Thomas doesn’t stay to finish the diagnosing; he walks inside the room. Tall long windows on the wall illuminate the several beds in the room. There are amputated, deformed men everywhere. He finally spots him next to a window, and it’s a relief. He’s reading with a calm expression on face. It’s as if he’s back to being Holger, the ghost at the front having returned back to his body. As he stands next to him, Holger looks up and smiles. Thomas has to dry the tear on his cheek, before he sits down.

“I’m much better, don’t worry,” Holger says, after a few typical conversations on the war situation and the casualties.  “Have you been home?”

“Yeah, September. But-- I got into a fight with Simon.”

“That’s unusual.” He takes a bite of some mushed food, then noticing the sad look on Thomas’ face. “Why did you two fight over?”

The kiss. Miroslav. Thomas bites his lip, and looks around to confirm that they’re alone. He wanted to tell Holger so many times about this, but hasn’t. He almost lost his best friend, and with Simon cross at him, Thomas makes a calculated decision. “I did something he didn’t approve of.”

He raises an eyebrow, because Holger knows as well as Thomas that Simon has never disapproved of something he’s done. Simon always stood for Thomas. He looks straight into his eyes, and the words come naturally. “I kissed Hauptmann Klose in the summer.”

Holger’s mouth drops open, and he needs to put the soup on the table next to them. His eyes are wide, and as he processes the information, then simply says. “I see why he’d be upset about that.”

“You do?” Thomas replies, not exactly expecting that reply. Holger can’t help but crack into a laugh, shaking his head. “No-- I just feel like it must have been quite the shock.”

A silence, as if Thomas is scared to say something to make Holger yell at him. When he spots his friend grabbing his soup again, he starts again;

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m just surprised. Didn’t think you’d actually do it.”

Thomas blinks, not exactly sure what his friend means by that. Holger swallows, and gives him a sorry smile.

“Thomas, I suspected you liked the dude ever since we met him in the front. Bastian suspects it too, by the way.”

He blinks, “Bastian?”

“Which means Lukas as well,”

“Well,” He concludes, wondering how long the pair has been involved. In anyway, it’s a relief that Holger is responding positively to this. “I didn’t mean to kiss him, it just happened. He didn’t turn me in either, and he hasn’t exactly taken distance from me. Gosh,” His hands travel to his head. “I don’t know how this happened,”

“You really like him don’t you?” Thomas sighs heavily, “Do you think-- he likes you too?”

The image of Miro laughing to his bad flirtatious jokes and taking care of him passes his mind, but Thomas shakes his head.

“It doesn’t matter, because even if he did, which I seriously doubt-- nothing can ever happen between us.”

 

Holger watches him, but before he can reply, they’re interrupted by Lukas and Bastian; and forced to change the subject, but Thomas feels so much better, now that Holgi knows. A huge weight taken from his shoulders.

 

  

 

The first thing Thomas notices once they’re back is the sudden mobilization of some troops. They’re gathered in a crowd, and he can’t quite make out the reason why. Bastian leaves them back to his post, leaving him and Lukas on their own. Intrigued, he decides to take a step closer. He nearly stumbles when he sees in the middle of the sea of people circled around, Simon standing his hands behind his back.

“What’s this?” He asks, not really directed to anyone. To his fortune, some soldier replies. “Traitor tried to run away, he’s getting court martialled.”

Thomas watches in horror how they drag his brother away. It doesn’t make sense; Simon would never desert. It’s simply not in him, he knows this. He jumps across the dusted ways, desperately looking for an authority. Up ahead, he spots Philipp monitoring the area.

“He didn’t do it, I’m sure of it. There must have been a mistake.”

The Oberstleutnant raises an eyebrow. “Your brother, isn’t he?”

He nods, “Sir, I swear on everything. It couldn’t have been him.”

But there’s not a reply, Philipp gives him a sorry look, and turns around. He must be a part of the council-- Thomas can at least deduce that. He takes a step forward to follow him only to have some arms around him, holding him still.

He turns to Lukas, who shakes his head. “You’ll just make things worse.”

 

They end up in Miroslav’s tent, Thomas growing more and more nervous every passing minute. “He wouldn’t run away. I know him. He’s the bravest man I know.” 

Bastian shrugs, “War makes us do things we wouldn’t usually do--”

“He wouldn’t,” Thomas replies.

It’s only at night that Miroslav comes back from the trial, and the look on his face indicates that things did not go as planned. Thomas gets on his feet, but when Miro simply looks down, he knows that the worst is going to happen to Simon.

“When?” Lukas asks for him.

“Tomorrow morning,”

Bastian turns to leave, and waves. “Come on Thomas-- I’ll see that you can get your goodbye,” Thomas’ eyes meet with Miro’s, and he nods. “I’ll be right out.”

With Bastian and Lukas outside, Thomas takes a step closer to him. “There has to be something we can do,”

“They found him 10 miles away from the resting zone. He was supposed to be on trench duty, said he was helping a friend, but he died. No witnesses. I’m sorry Thomas-- I tried,”

His voice trails, and Thomas feels the sting of war, bitterness and devastation in his chest.  “No-- you don’t understand; this is Simon-- I--” The tears only come naturally after. He sobs-- trying as best as he can not to make it too obvious. Miroslav’s expression is worried; he raises a hand maybe to rest it on Thomas. Before he’s able to, Lukas’ voice comes out from outside calling him. 

“I ca-- can’t lose hi-- him.” He whimpers. Even so, he knows this is none of Miroslav’s problems. He turns his body and follows Bastian outside, leaving Miro on his own.

 

 

Chapter Text

 He remembers the first time Thomas rode a bike. Not being the most skillful of all, he fell off of it and cried his eyes out. Simon didn’t stop to help, he kept on going, until his father called him back. His brother was sobbing, his knee scrambled. I’ll never learn how to do this; Thomas had whined but his father had shaken his head. He had given a look to Simon. As long as you two have each other, you’ll be able to do anything. Here; Simon had then understood what his father meant. It was his job to teach Thomas how to ride it. After a few weeks, he had successfully managed to teach him how to brace himself. The joy on Thomas’ face was something he’d never forget. Look Simon! Look look looook! I’m flying! I’m invincible! 

Simon wonders how he ended up in a cell, in an endless war, without his father and his brother. He shakes his head-- how did he let things get so bad. 

“So what are you here for?” A voice asks from across the room.

He figures that no harm can be done from sharing his story. “Tried to help a comrade. Wasn’t much help in the end, he died anyway.”

A muffled sigh comes out of his voice, the fresh memory of Hans-- blown up by some forgotten mine as Simon helped him go back home. He hadn’t even noticed the distance. He thought that he would be able to be back on the front without anyone noticing. Now he had lost his own life too. The overwhelming thought of Thomas comes back into his mind. Would he see his brother once more? It hurt him that he had distanced himself so much-- now that it came to this. What was the last thing he’d said to him? He doesn’t even remember; shame on him.

“No visits are allowed,” The man continues, and Simon feels the guilt on him weight even heavier. “I’m going to rot in this cell, you’re lucky your suffering ends tomorrow.”

“You’re not getting shot?”

“Nah-- My crime was just thievery. I’m crippled anyway,”

The man moves his body to show his amputated leg, and Simon nods. “I’m sorry,” He muffles.

“Don’t be, you’re the one dying tomorrow-- remember?"

Was he scared of dying? Simon had so many times rushed into war-- taking it as a possibility. Now he knew it was coming, and he found it extremely uneasy. Still-- he didn’t say it out loud, now that his roommate had fallen asleep, the realisation of what would happen tomorrow had crept on him. His heartbeat knew that he wouldn’t sleep that night at all. He concentrated on the stars shining through the tiny window on the wall. It was a nice moon too-- reflecting on his skin. He’d never say goodbye to Klaudia, to his mother-- to Thomas. His father would be ashamed, Simon knows. Maybe he’ll get the chance to ask him for forgiveness, when he joins him.

 

The door suddenly busts open-- interrupting his thoughts completely. A couple of armed man enter with a candle on. It’s far too early for the execution. His roommate wakes up in a jump, and Simon cannot believe his eyes when he recognizes Hauptmann Klose out of the shadows.

“Keep an eye out, Bastian.” He orders, and the soldier complies.

“Now, you-- listen,” He’s talking directly to him, but his tone is cold and focused. “My two friends here will safely guide you behind the front lines, where you’ll be able to catch a truck under this name, Bismarck.

He hands Simon some papers, “But-- how?”

“Your name shall be Arne Friederich, you understand? You cannot let them know who you are. From this moment on, your true identity is erased from the military. Go back to your farm, and stay hidden.” Hesitant, he adds; “If the war ever ends.”

“But what happens when they come looking for me and I am gone? They’ll go after my mother and sister.”

A silence, Klose turns back at the other man accompanying him.

“Don’t do this.” The man says, and the Hauptmann decides to ignore him, turning back at Simon.

“Take off your clothes, we need to exchange outfits.”

The man in the cell, who had been quiet all this time realises what he’s trying to do. “You’re going to take his place? You? A Hauptmann?” Turning to Simon, “Damn, who are you?”

Simon realises what he’s doing, and automatically shakes his head. “No, I can’t let you do that.”

“They put a bag on the top of the victim, so they won’t even notice it’s not you;” Klose tries, at the sight of Simon’s shaking his head, “I’m your superior officer and I’m ordering you to do so,”

“I’m sentenced to death, there’s not much else you can do if I don’t obey that order, sir.

It must have surprised the Hauptmann, because the man blankly stares at him for a moment. An exasperated sigh comes from Klose eventually, taking a step closer and in a lower voice so no one else can hear, whispers. “Listen, I don’t have time for this. I’m offering you and your family a chance to live together. Take it, don’t be a fool.”

Simon looks startled, a somewhat selfish feeling crawling upon him-- sure, he could take it. It’s the easy way to take it, but to see an innocent man shot? He could never live with that on his conscience. A voice from behind interrupts them.

“Let me do it,”

The pair turn, and in union ask, “What?”

“I’m crippled and sick-- please, let me die. They’re punishing me by keeping me here,” Simon thinks about it, and by the sight of Klose next to him, can tell he is also considering it. “Please help me,”

Klose takes a few steps towards him, “What’s your name?”

“Soldat Marco Reus,”

“You’re very brave,” He tells him.

He smiles, and nods. Simon can’t quite believe what’s happening, but they’re outside the building in about ten minutes, following the two men and Klose.

“Wait-- Thomas,” He says, suddenly remembering. “I need to tell him.”

“We don’t have time for that,” One of the soldats replies, yet he doesn’t miss how Klose’s eyes turn to him at the mention of his brother’s name. They get on the truck, but Klose tells the pair that he’ll drive it-- that this is his problem. The pair agree nonchalantly, and they’re on their way.

 

He doesn’t say a word on the truck. Only wondering if he isn’t only dreaming and his cold body is really still rotting in the cell. He thinks of this Marco Reus fellow; someone he will never forget. Yet this Hauptmann had wanted to take his place-- was prepared to do so. If Reus hadn’t been there, it would be Klose waiting in the cell for an execution. Klose would be dead. 

“Why are you doing this?” He asks, straight into the eyes of the Hauptmann. They’ve reached their destination.

“Walk down this path, and remember, Arne Friederich.”

“Please answer me,”

Klose looks away, and shrugs. “You know why,” He simply says.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it isn’t, when Simon mutters the one word enough for Klose to look back at him.

Thomas,”

A silence, Simon not knowing what to say, and Klose trying to find the words. “I-- He couldn’t lose you, I’ve seen how much he worries about you, and how much you mean to him.”

“So you were going to sacrifice yourself instead?”

“I couldn’t ask that of anyone else.” It’s a very good argument, one that Simon can’t argue against. He looks around, the sun is starting to rise. It’s a comfort to know that this isn’t the last dawn he’d ever get to see.

This was the man who had saved his brother’s life, who had now even saved his own. Klose starts the engine again, and starts maneuvering the car. Before he turns around, Simon waves.

“I was-- wrong about you; I’m sorry.”

Klose stops, and turns to him. He nods and acknowledges. “Take care,” He adds, thought it feels more like a formal thing to say than an actual wish. 

 


 

“You don’t want to be there;” Manuel tries to stop him, but it’s useless. Thomas manages to break through the crowd, leading up to the execution. 

“I need to stop them!” He yells, “He’s innocent,”

By the time the pair get to the building, they spot the six men with rifles getting ready. It’s a myth that one of the rifles doesn’t have a loaded bullet; something to ease the guilt on the part of the soldats. There’d be the possibility of it being yours and not killing the criminal. It’s stupid, Thomas thinks. When you fire a gun you feel the bullet fly away in the gunpowder. 

“Where’s--” Thomas starts, desperately looking for Simon. He’s stopped by the sight of men carrying him, a bag on his head, straight into the chair across them. But there’s something wrong, Thomas notices that he doesn’t have a leg. And he’s a lot thinner than Simon too.

“I didn’t know your brother was injured.” Manuel comments,

“We are here gathered to make an example of the upmost blasphemy: desertion. You, Simon Müller, have betrayed the fatherland and your crime has been decided to be punished with death.” A man starts, and goes on with some pathetic nonsense.

Thomas turns to look for Philipp or Miroslav, trying to tell him that this isn’t his brother. He can’t find Miro through the crowd, but he spots Fips easily. They’re going to shoot an innocent man; he has to warn them. But it is too late: before he can even reach the podium, the guns fire and the man crumbles to the ground, blood oozing from his dirty Leutnant uniform.

Manuel places a hand on his shoulder, “Thomas? Are you oka--”

“That wasn’t my brother,” He whispers, as soon as the officers are gone. “That wasn’t Simon.” 

Still, he needs to find Miroslav, he needs to find explanations. Philipp is gone, why didn’t Miroslav even bother to go to the execution?

 

 

About to open the fabric of the tent, Thomas stops at a couple of voices. He recognizes them soon enough as Miroslav and Lukas. 

“Are you out of your mind Mirek?”

“Lukas pleas-”

“You do realise what you did? You didn’t only risk your career, or your position; you risked your life.”

Thomas blinks, not sure of what is going on. He does get the feeling that he shouldn’t interrupt. Instead, he stands there, awkwardly listening.

“What would you have me done? Let him die? Didn’t you see the look on Thoma--”

“That’s exactly my point! You risked your own life just for your assistant. You would have died out there, Miro, you’d be dead.

“I know that but--”

He feels his heart racing faster and faster, as this has probably to do with Simon. Miroslav sounds defeated, as he adds.

“I’m compelled to protect Thomas, and those he loves.”

“Yeah but, you’re not expendable. Imagine Fips found out, he’d have you sent straight home away from the army.”

“Yeah, and you’re not going to tell him,”  

A silence, and Thomas has a hard time assimilating the bits and pieces. All he knows so far is that Simon is safe, and somehow Miroslav had to do with it-- almost dying in the process. The thought makes him sick, imagining losing him for something like this. Lukas brings him back from his thoughts.

“All I know is that there’s only one person I would have done everything you did last night, and you know exactly who that is-- and why.”

“If you’re suggesting that I have--”

He stops, “If you have what?” Lukas, asks, playing dumb. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s not such a bad thing, you know.”

“Thomas works for me, and he’s my friend. That’s all there is to it.”

He sighs, “If you say so-- Bastian seems to think the boy is head over heels in love with you.”

“Wait, what?”

He needs to intervene before Lukas tells Miroslav something worst that could ruin his life as it stands today. He bursts in, pretending to be panting and only looking at Miro. Lukas seems very surprised that it happened to be Thomas who busted in like that.

In an attempt to clear out the conversation from his head, Thomas thinks of the one thing he is able to pinpoint together.

“That wasn’t Simon, that man was crippled and I know my brother. They shot the wrong man.”

Lukas bites his lips almost in an amused fashion, and nods. “I’ll talk to you later-- g’luck.” He leaves, Thomas again on his own with Miro.

“That wasn’--” He starts again, but this time the Hauptmann stops him. Taking a step up from his chair, he only stops inches away from Thomas. “I’m going to tell you very little about what happened, and I don’t want questions. That’s an order.” 

Thomas blinks, but manages a small nod. Miroslav licks his lips, and looks to the sides. “He’s safe, back to Bavaria. Arne Friederich, that’s all you need to know.”

His mind goes back Lukas’ words, that stated that there were in fact some life threatening situations for this to happen. Maybe some people got shot to get him to safety, the possibilities are endless. He feels some relief through his body, and Thomas can’t help it, he opens his arms and jumps on Miroslav.

He hasn’t been this close to him since the summer, when he was injured. Now, with the euphoria of his brother safe, and all thanks to Miroslav. He can feel his body trembling, but there’s that feeling of relaxation throughout his body when Miro’s hands wrap themselves around his waist. He relaxes into him, breathing his scent slowly. Lukas’ words flow back into his head, head over heels in love with you. Love? Thomas hadn’t really thought about it before, and he probably shouldn’t, but this, being caught in an embrace with Miro…

“Thank you,” He says, after what seems to feel like a long time of them simply holding each other. He feels Miro nod into his shoulder, a quiet reply. It’s absurd, because he doesn’t even know what he’s thanking him for-- but it shouldn’t matter. The important fact is that Simon is going to be fine, and maybe that Miroslav is also holding him tight against him.

 


  

On one of the following times they’re in the front, it’s almost summer. This time, there’s no attack, which is something they should all be grateful for. Thomas sighs, staring straight ahead. Guardiola is guarding the trench, but hasn’t really said a word yet.  With Manuel gone someplace to meet up with Kimmich, Thomas found himself against the dirt in the middle of the night. A flare suddenly lights up the sky, and for a moment it looks like a shooting star.

Maybe if he made a wish, it would work as well as a star might? The thought is encouraging enough to let him go on, and Thomas closes his eyes.

He’s got a lot of wishes to ask for, so there’s a moment he has to take to prioritize them. He has Holger in the hospital, Simon almost getting shot, the war seems to rage on. For a moment, his thoughts eventually drift to Miroslav. Maybe he ought to wish for his safety, or--

“Müller,”

He turns to Manuel, opening his eyes widely. He feels exhausted, and hadn’t even realised he was back.

“Don’t fall asleep, with Guardiola patrolling-- here, a letter from your sister.”

It’s a nice time to think of home, and of Klaudia of course. He opens the letter to find some fantastic news. He’s almost euphoric to read that Arne Friederich has returned home safely. Manuel seems to notice the huge grin on his face, and comments on it. “Only you manage to keep your spirit so high, don’t you?”

“Have you ever been in love, Manu?”

The question throws Manuel so off-guard that he even blushes. “I-- Well-- Not really, no. I mean, I’ve had my flings but-- I don’t know, with war everything gets complicated.”

There’s so much truth in his answer, Thomas understands how war has pushed him directly into Miroslav. All their situations were clearly consequences from the conflict that had now lasted almost three years.

“Is this about your impossible love?”

It’s unbelievable that he still remembers Bastian’s terrible joke, but Thomas shakes his head instead. “I don’t think you can call it love unless it’s requited.”

A silence spans between the pair, and Manuel looks back the way he came. “What do you do if it’s not right though?”

“You learn to live with it,” Thomas finally replies, images of Miro overwhelmingly invading his mind. He knows him and Miroslav can’t ever be an object. Yet, his heart still aches for his superior officer to laugh at his lame jokes and smile at him with that shy expression.

“Don’t listen to Bastian and Lukas, they just like to mess around. I have faith that you’ll pull through,” Manuel smiles, and Thomas joins him.

“Thanks.”

 

Chapter Text

“For the billionth time, I’m fine.”  

“You’ve been overworking yourself for months now.”

“With the death of the Kaiser in Austria Hungary, things are getting rockier.” Miroslav sighs, and shakes his head. Even with the Russians falling apart in the east since February, the situation for them hasn’t changed a lot. It’s always fighting over the same pieces of land they’ve been trying to capture for about two years now. Sometimes Thomas wonders about their fate.

“Yeah, but if you keep doing that forever--”

“Not forever, just until the war is over.”

“If it ends.”

“All wars end,”

As much as he’d like to believe that, he’s tried to for the past years. For now, he’s learnt to survive, each day outliving the next. He can’t say the same for most of the people he’s met here. Miroslav seems to notice the unusual silence in him. He sighs again.

“I’m sorry, Thomas. I don’t even have much where to go back to,”

“Oh,” Thomas blinks. He had assumed that he’d have somewhere to go to, but now that he thinks about it; Miroslav never writes home, unlike him. Miro gives him the hint of a smile, thinking he’s won this battle. He returns to his list of incoming resources. His assistant continues. “You could come to my farm.”

The suggestion is enough to pull his attention back to him. It’s an incredibly bold move, earning a risen eyebrow from the Hauptmann. Is he joking? Thomas shakes away the blush, and continues. “You could say you’re going to Opole, and just come with me. It’s a very relaxing environment, and I’m sure my sister and-- Arne, would be more than happy to receive you.”

Miroslav lets himself smile a bit for a moment, but then reason strikes him. He shakes his head. As much as he would want to, they both know they can’t.

“I can’t, I’ve got duties and--“

A loud voice interrupts from outside, they both recognize as Guardiola. Thomas better get moving out of the bunker, and Miroslav makes an acknowledging nod, showing that he’s aware of the situation.

“Think about it,” Thomas simply adds, loving the idea of Miroslav in his farm with a crooked smile. “See you later on the muddy trench!”

 

 

It’s not hard at all to find Manuel, alongside Jonas. The three of them move forward. There’s the usual sound of shells, alongside with bodies that have been rotting ever since they dug this stupid trench. Thomas wished they could give them a proper burying, but as Bastian had explained, their bodies are too exposed; the British would surely kill him as soon as his head rose. 

After a few hours, night falls and Thomas sits down on the bench against the wall, even if it’s just for a moment. He closes his eyes for maybe five minutes of sleep, or if he’s lucky even more. He only wakes up maybe a couple of hours later.

Manuel is still by his side, and Thomas decides to wash the dirt off of his face the best way he can with the mud. It’s not much use, but it’s something. Manuel is staring at the stars dreamingly, and for a split second Thomas gets a couple of chills. He closes his eyes, fighting with every inch of his body not to give in and stay sane.

It’s hard not to think about the bodies lying around them, or the constant explosions between the trenches. Everything feels more vivid, just like his senses. He doesn’t hear anymore; he listens. He doesn’t see anymore, he observes. When he breathes, there’s the gunpowder and death. It’s draining, and taking every bit of energy he has.

It’s only the noise from behind them that brings him back. The pair jump on their feet and raise their rifles to the dark no man’s land separating the enemy from them. There aren’t any visible men on it, but the sound of gunshot was absolutely no accident. They need to be wary of any possible threat.

They stay like that for a good moment. Thomas can feel his eyelids slowly begging to close themselves. His body is shaking, showing the exhaustion. Suddenly, a ticking goes off. It takes far longer than it should to realise what’s been thrown. There’s only the touch of Manuel pulling him down, along with his shout before the explosion blasts.

“Grenade!”

The dirt falls on them, and in the dark it’s even harder to see. What’s wrong with these Brits? Hadn’t they heard of the word night or evening? Thomas trips as he follows Manuel, a flamethrower illuminating the sky enough for them to see a small number of soldiers on their left in between the trenches.

A man falls right on Manuel, hitting him right in the face. He’s dead before he can take another step though, blood oozing from the bullet who just pierced his chest. Thomas helps his friend up, but the number of enemy troops on their trenches seems to diminish. It can’t have been more than a handful of them, that said, they did have the night advantage.

“That’s funny.” Manuel points out, when the pair have settled their rifles under the bags. “There aren’t nearly as many of them to take the trench, so why risk it?”

It hadn’t occurred to Thomas, but in that moment, he doesn’t really seem to understand what Manu means. Looking back at the battlefield, he shrugs. To this point, he can’t even bring himself to care. He thinks his vision is messing with him when he sees two shadows incoming. Brits. Thomas automatically raises his gun, aiming directly. But when the flamethrower illuminates the sky again, he can make out it’s a German Soldat followed by a British Private. It’s the hats that let him know. It’s only in his instinct to aim his gun at the enemy and pulls the trigger, the man falling to his knees.

The German stops, and turns back to the man. Thomas doesn’t understand, if he could tell better-- he’d tell that he’s taking care of the body. Suddenly it all goes quiet, or Thomas hadn’t realised how quiet it was until Manuel places a hand on his arm and shakes him.

“Thomas! Are you listening to me?”

He blinks, Manuel not really expecting an answer.

“Why’d you do that for?”

It’s the tone that takes him aback. What else was he supposed to do? “Shoot him?” He replies, in a skeptical tone.

Manuel blinks, “Come on, let’s see if he made it.”

“What do you me--” His sentence can’t be finished as he’s dragged to the point where the pair of soldiers fall back into the trench. Thomas now recognizes Mats in his German uniform and what appears to be Benedikt behind him, for some reason in British clothes. His mouth drops when he spots the blood coming from his lower abdomen. Manuel gives him a confused look, as Mats starts, as angry as Thomas had ever heard him.

“Who’s the fucker who shot him?!”

He’s still breathing, but twitching in pain. Some men are able to carry him into the back line, where hopefully he’ll find medical assistance. Thomas can barely breathe, reliving the exact moment where he aimed at one of his only friends.

“I-- I didn’t know,” He whimpers, tears forming on his eyes. He was only protecting his comrade, not even knowing this was Benedikt or Mats, who was now looking at him as if he was vermin, or worse.

“Müller?” He says, clearly hurt.

He tries to apologize, but his nerves betray him. He babbles something not even understandable to himself, as Mats interrupts him.

“What part of ‘Don’t shoot, we’re the scouting team, don’t shoot’ did you not fucking understand? Are you suddenly deaf now?”

He takes the steps closer to him, Thomas shaking his head. He doesn’t follow, all Thomas is able to think about is the shot next to the bloody image of Benedikt against the trench wall. He’s not sure if he trips, or if Mats pushes him to the ground, but he falls on his back.

“That’s enough Mats! He didn’t know!” Manuel tries to defend him, but it’s useless. He’s already kicking him, Thomas scrabbling for the life of him, protecting himself.  “Mats! Stop!”

“Soldat Hummels.” It’s only when Klose’s voice echoing through that makes Mats take a step back. Guardiola is right behind him, contemplating the scene.

“He shot Höwedes, sir.” Mats simply says, “You ought to have him arrested.”

Taking his rifle, he aims it straight at Thomas. “Or shot. He’s a bloody traitor!”

“Soldat. Dismissed.” Miroslav’s voice is steady and certain. And Thomas opens one eye to see that Mats backs down. He turns to follow the trail where the men carried Benedikt. The other men also turn back to their business, leaving only a few left to witness the scene. Helplessly, Thomas finds some strength to turn his eyes to Miroslav, who looks far too calm, his hands behind his back.

Manuel helps Thomas up, as Hauptmann Guardiola gives them both a smug look. A wave of embarrassment shots through him. He is a traitor, what is Miroslav going to think of him now? He can read the struggle in his eyes, the way his icy blue ones are staring back at him question marks written all over them. He wants to shout; he wants to tell him that it’s not what it seems. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. It’s Manuel who helps him.

“Benedikt was dressed as a Brit, we didn’t hear Mats.”

He’s lying. Thomas always knows when Manuel is lying. He makes a strange tone when he does, and neither Guardiola or Miroslav are fools to notice. What concerns him is that he doesn’t remember hearing Mats or his warning. For him, it’s not a lie.

“Yeah--” Miroslav sighs, “Go back to your posts,” For whatever what reason, Thomas notices that Miroslav pretends to buy the lie.

Turning on his heels, Guardiola takes a step closer to him, and with the coldest tone, adds. “We don’t have the time or resources to send you back to have you shot, so make yourself useful and defend your trench.”

 

Thomas starts breaking down the minute that they step away, shaking his head. “I did-- didn’t mean to shoot him-- I-- I didn’t-- You’ve got to believe me.”

His friend pushes him around until they find a place to take cover. Thankfully, the fighing seem to have calmed down. Manuel shakes his head, taking his helmet off. “Sounds like they were sneaking in-- cutting barbed wire or something. Benni must have been disguised in case they got caught. It also explains why so few men chased them down. I just don’t understand why you took the shot. Mats’ warning was loud.” 

“I didn’t-- I wasn’t listening--” He tries to reply, but his voice trails. “I swear I didn’t hear him.”

“Maybe you blocked it out. Our brains can mess with us in ways we can’t even understand.” Thomas sniffs and quakes, Manuel turns to him. “Don’t listen to Mats, he was just very upset over Benedikt. Let’s just hope he makes it.”

 

 

 

Benedikt does make it. A week later, Thomas can’t bring himself to see him though. The scene hasn’t let him have a moment of peace since the incident. When the men start moving, he stays there, sitting on the mud and the cement. It’s nothing better than he deserves. Mats spots him from afar and turns back. 

“It’s like Klose, you know.” A voice sits next to him.

“What is like Klose?” Thomas replies in an annoyed tone. Bastian shrugs, “Mats. I mean, he’s very upset because he thought he had lost Benedikt. They’re very close, just like you and Miroslav are.”

He looks at him, not sure of what Bastian means or is implying. Either way, he’s in the possible worst mood to deal with teasing. He decides to test it. “Like you and Lukas?”

Bastian bursts out laughing, surprised by the comeback. “Yeah--” He finally adds, “Something like that.”

“Are they going to shoot me?” He asks, hands shaking.

“No, they’re not. I understand that someone talked to Philipp about the entire situation. Benedikt isn’t dead either. It was a mistake Thomas,”

As his friends gets on his feet, Thomas focuses on the first part of the sentence. “Someone?”

“Isn’t it kind of obvious?” He winks, before joining the others.

 

 

“Miro--”

“Yes, Thomas.”

“Can I ask you something?”

The man puts the book down, to look at the younger one. “Sure.” He knows the traumatic experience he’s been through. Thomas had insisted that he didn’t need a break, refusing leave. There’s something about the way that he’s moving his hands, revealing that he may have had enough of Philipp’s old bottle of wine to make him slightly more than just tipsy. Miroslav had moved most of his working materials to the bunker, far closer to the combat.

“Actually, I want to ask a few things.” He adds, a bittersweet tone. “I-- Why do you keep doing-- What are we?”

He should have seen the question coming at some point. It was only a matter of time before it was too much. “What do you me--” He tries, but Thomas cuts him straight out.

“You know exactly what I mean-- You didn’t report me when I kissed you; You saved my brother; You always stand up to me even when I’m a traitor who shoots his friends. You ran after me at la Somme, saving my life over and over and over and I just don’t understand what-- I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like you care far more about me than you actually let me on. It’s frustrating. Sometimes I don’t really get it. What are we? Friends? Coworkers? Love--”

He stops at the last word, suddenly realising everything that has come out of his mouth. There’s the hint of a bitter smile, shaking his head. Miroslav doesn’t know how to react; he turns to the empty bottle of wine. It was a matter of time, really, that this bomb would explode. This is Thomas confronting him over all those things. However, he knows that if it weren’t the combination of the drink and the events that happened in the past week, Thomas wouldn’t dare to touch the subject.

“You’re upset over what happened,”

The assistant continues, as if Miroslav hadn’t said anything. “I don’t know if I should keep working for you, it’s just-- it’s so hard.”

Losing Thomas has always been a real threat, with the bombs and shells going off around them. But Miroslav understands that keeping him sane is an entire different affair. He doesn’t reply anything this time, which seems to frustrate the young man.

“Say something!”

He can’t help but remember the image of Thomas kissing him, then bringing him to the hospital, making sure he’d recover from his fever crawls back. A silence breaks between them, and Miroslav finds the courage to look at him straight into the eyes. “You’re angry, Thomas. About Höwedess, it’s normal.”

“I just-- I wish I understood what you want. You seem to want me close but at the same time--”

We can’t.”

The words come out as bullets, it’s exactly what Miroslav had wanted to avoid. Thomas looks devastated, the red circles around his eyes from tiredness becoming even more noticeable. It breaks his heart, and Miroslav gives him a sorry expression. He’s compelled to take a step forward, ignoring the warnings in his head. He cups the back of his neck with his hand and pulls him closer, resting his head on him.

He can feel his sniff, then slowly the sobbing against his chest. “I didn’t mean to shoot him. I wasn’t listening.”

“I know,” Miro replies, both of his arms holding him closer now. “I know.”

 

 

“Soldat Müller.”

Philipp’s voice makes him jump immediately. He stares blankly, not sure what merits this visit. Though, he might just be looking for Miroslav. The man sits next to him at the table.

“I find myself at an impasse you see. One to which you can help me.”

“Sir?”

“I have friends, as you may know. Friends that I want to protect and keep them healthy. Last time I told Klose to take leave, he agreed and went to Munich with me. Now, I’ve been told by the Hauptmann himself that he refuses.”

“Well, we need all the man power we can get,” He replies, the weight of the guilt entirely on him. It’s not really a surprise that Miroslav won’t take a break though.

“That wasn’t his reason,” He states. “He claims that you can’t be left alone, and that you refuse to take leave.”

Now that is a surprise, and a hard one to believe. There’s even a bit of blushing on his cheeks that he hopes the Oberstleutnant won’t notice. “No, sir, you must be mistaking. I’ve told him to go home and he won’t accept it.”

Philipp seems amused by his defensive response. “It’s funny isn’t it?”

Funny? Everything about this place is anything but funny. Thomas misses the feeling of finding something amusing and laughing it off. Those times are rarer now, and only come when he’s not on his own contemplating his life. Philipp goes on.

“Tell me Müller, how did you manage to-- capture him, the way you’ve had. I’ve never seen him behave like this with anyone. Not even with the girls back at the academy.”

The statement makes him extremely uncomfortable, afraid to give away any hint of their not sure how to name it relationship. Thomas swallows. “He’s saved my life countless times. I owe him a lot.”

“He’s saved my life too,” He admits, and Thomas remembers the story of Miroslav being the hero and earning his cross. Seems a bit useless right now, considering the number of casualties they have surrounding them. “But it’s more than that. You remember I forced him into getting an assistant don’t you?”

“Because he gets randomly blind at times. I’m not sure that’s still around, sir. It’s only happened once.”

Philipp laughs, “You don’t get it.”  

Thomas turns to him, confused. He thinks of Simon, the Benedikt incident, the Guardiola sniper story and even that time where he had thought of getting his hand shot just to go home. There’s not been a single time where he’s saved Miroslav, it’s always been the way around.

It seems to amuse Philipp slightly, “Anyway, I came here to tell you that you and the entire platoon is on leave for a week in august.”

“The entire platoon sir?”

He nods. “If my officers won’t take leave because of their assistants, I take it that you won’t refuse an order from me?”

“Business with my assistant, Oberstleutnant?” Miroslav himself interrupts. Thomas can’t help but be glad, he immediately stands leaving him alone.

Philipp shrugs. “No harm done, I was just letting him know about the leave period.” Then, turning to Thomas. “See, you may know that your boss is a workaholic, so you’re going to be my witness that he has to go on leave with the rest of his troops.”

“Sir I--”

“No, no buts. You’re going and that is my final word. If you stay I will report you to Löw.”

It seems to do the trick, as Miro can’t reply anything. When Philipp is finally gone, he helps Miroslav with some artillery supplies. The conversation he had with Philipp lingering in his head troubles him.

“Miro?”

“What is it?”

“Is there a particular reason why you don’t want to leave the front?”

Miroslav stares back at him, sighing heavily.

“Considering you’re the closest person I have here, so I guess there’s no harm in letting you know. I wish I could go home, but my family is gone. My parents died when I was younger, and all I ever had was the army. Home isn’t a healing place for me, hasn’t been for years. And--”

His voice trails off; not sure he wants to share the other reason. Thomas can understand why but his thoughs are more taken by this revelation. He had no idea. With the weight of the world upon his shoulders, Thomas’ mind is flooded with the only person who he wants to spend time with. He figures there’s no harm done playing around the idea, again.

“There’s still a bed free in my farm, you know.”

The Hauptmann stares at him for a good minute, not sure if he’s joking again. “I promise I won’t yell at you again over, you know.” He adds, hoping to lighten up the mood. “Or kiss yo--”

“Alright.”

The pair stare a moment at each other. Thomas not sure he heard right, to his superior officer accepting to go on leave with him. Miroslav not sure of the word he just spoke, his impulsive judgement taking over the rational one to make his decisions for him.

“Alright.” Thomas confirms, as they both turn back to their duties.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I’ve never visited the south other than München,” Miroslav points out, in the train. It’s the first set of words he says since they boarded it. Thomas doesn’t really need someone to keep his conversation going, usually being satisfied when people simply listen to him. It’s still very nice to have a reply. 

“We have a lot of animals there, and there’s always a kind of quiet spirit, you know. And with the mountains just there, you can get lost and--” Thomas babbles on and on about it. Truth is, he’s never thought much of home as a touristic destination. After a while, he notices that Miroslav has fallen asleep next to him. Thomas wonders when the last time he’s been able to sleep this quietly was. He notices the way the light hits his face just right. Next to the mountains, it’s certainly a fairer setting, compared to the never ending shells and the candlelight in the bunker.

His mind wanders to Benedikt and Mats, just before leaving-- Thomas had apologized. Benni wasn’t mad, he joked about it being his own fault for wearing that hat. Mats seemed to have forgiven him too, even if Thomas was convinced Benedikt was behind his apology for throwing him to the ground like that. He doesn’t know how he would have coped with the guilt if it weren’t for Miroslav.

Thomas lets himself smile, even if it’s just for a week, he’ll be away from all the terrible things the pair have been living together. Shifting his view to the landscape outside, he tries to focus on the little details such as the mountains and the sun. He lets his body slowly fall against the seat, his head eventually drifting closer to Miroslav. His eyes suddenly feel incredibly sleepy, and when he makes contact with his shoulder, he drifts off to sleep as well. He’s sure Miroslav won’t mind.

The train station is still the same, the two of them being probably the only ones to stop there. If before he felt as if it was a town of ghosts, now there’s even a sadder ring to it. The ghosts are in the trenches now. It’s late too, and the reflection of the few lampposts give it a sort of glow to it. He’s thinking of apologizing to Miroslav about it, when he beats him to it and says something instead.

“It’s beautiful,” Miro says, and Thomas can’t help but stare at him instead.

On the way home, Thomas stops at Holger’s house. The lights are turned off, and there’s no response after he knocks on the door a few times. He wonders where he is, if he’s still at the hospital or returned to the front. He’s hoping he’s fine-- wherever he is.

His own house is also empty when they both get in. Taking a few steps inside to find the switches of electricity, Thomas trips with an unexpected piece of furniture in his way. He tries to brace himself to stop from losing balance, but ends up clashing with Miroslav behind him.

They both stumble a few steps back and accidentally hit the wall. Awkwardly moving in the dark away from him, he mumbles an apology. By the time he gets to the switch, he can see Miroslav is laughing. It warms his heart, that maybe his own clumsiness has managed to bring his day a little. He sighs in relief, still not exactly sure that he managed to get Miro here with him.

“It’s not much, but it’s home.”

Miro looks up, there’s a broken part of the wall, where the painting has worn off. Thomas wonders how his childhood was-- “No one’s here?”

“Apparently not. Listen, you can sleep in my room, I’ll just crash on the couch or something.”

Miro looks at the stairs, and nods. After Thomas watches him go, he looks around for any note explaining the lack of family inside his house. Not finding anything, he gives in and falls on the old couch. Closing his eyes, the quiet around him is unsettling. He’s forgotten to sleep in the silence.

 

 

“Little Brüder!” Simon’s voice accompanied by a shake wake him up instantly. He jumps to the sight of his older brother not having any gentleness to his slumber. It’s already light outside, and Thomas first notices the chair in the middle of the hall, probably the thing they tripped over the night before. 

“Simon!” Thomas grins at the sight of his brother healthy and alive in front of him. Leaving his couch, he walks to him and opens his arms to hug him. “I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy.” He adds, his voice still sleepy.

As Simon sits down on the table with some coffee, he asks. “Where were you?”

“I stayed-- uh, home with Cathie, down the street. You remember her, right?”

He doesn’t but it doesn’t matter. Simon smiles, then hesitating, asks.

“Why were you sleeping on the couch?”

That’s the exact moment Miroslav decides to walk down the stairs, revealing the answer to his question. Simon almost chokes on his coffee, and stands up immediately. He’s not sure how Simon and Miroslav’s relationship is, after that whole thing went down, so Thomas decides to take a step back.

“Hauptmann Klose, sir.”

Miroslav looks like he was expecting just to see Thomas, because he also jumps. “Oh, hey.” He replies, his expression filled with confusion. His hair is messy too, something Thomas tries not to focus much on. Eventually, Miroslav turns to Thomas, waiting for the explanation.

“I invited him over for the leave, if that’s okay.”

Simon raises an eyebrow at Thomas for this. Before he can say another word, he manages to change the subject. “Where’s Klaudia? And mother?”

“Klaudia is busy at the front, working as a nurse. Mother is at working on that factory in München. I’m the only one here now, barely surviving though. There aren’t any jobs left here.”

Thomas hadn’t noticed the night before, but now that he’s looking out the window, he immediately notices the empty fields. “Where are our cows? What about our horses?”

Those animals had been with him since he was born-- there was no way they were just gone now.

“They had to sell them-- the economy is terrible. We live on rations, everything reserved for the soldiers. It wasn’t long until we couldn’t find food for the animals anymore.”

It breaks his heart, war having reached his home at last, tainting with his deathly aura. There’s a silence, and Miroslav decides to excuse himself, not knowing whether or not he should be in this personal conversation. They watch him go outside to the dusty path, maybe looking around in the sun.

“I can’t believe you brought him.” Simon says.

“It’s okay, we’re not-- we’re friends.”

Simon looks at him with a surprised face. “I was wrong. It’s taken me time to accept it, but I meant what I said. I really am sorry Thomas. He really surprised me,”

“For saving your life?”

“Well it wasn’t just that-- the fact he would have taken my place at the execution had that one prisoner not intervened.”

Thomas realises that he never knew what Miroslav had done. All he knew was that it was thanks to him he still had Simon alive, and that it had been dangerous. He had imagined Miroslav breaking in the prison cell and helping him runaway, killing guards or something. “What?” He asks.

“He didn’t tell you?” At the shake of his head, Simon blinks. “Oh, well I thought you knew. I was in my cell when Miroslav busted in, ordering me to put his own clothes on. He was going to let himself get shot for treason. A crippled prisoner in my cell offered to take my place, which spared Miroslav. But he was ready to do it, and he didn’t do it for me or the greater good. He did it because of you.”

He doesn’t have words, to describe the way his heart suddenly started beating. He would have stood in front of the rifles, no wonder why Lukas was so upset over it. The door opens again, letting Miroslav in. He looks so peaceful and unsuspecting. Why didn’t he tell Thomas?

“I found a horse down the field, is that one yours?”

“That would be Dave, he’s Thomas’” His brother agrees, “He’s been around since he was a baby. Actually, you should go check the water tanks. They’ve been a bit rusty.”  

Thomas snaps back into the world, and nods. Not even sure what he’s agreeing to.

“Why doesn’t Miroslav go with you? That way you can show him around the grounds.” Simon smiles, and Thomas feels a blush on his cheeks. Thankfully, Miroslav is too busy looking out the window to notice. 

Walking outside, Thomas spots his horse immediately. He rushes to it and the animal recognizes him immediately. He’s always liked it when his hands pet his neck. Leaning closer, Thomas hugs him. It’s been far too long, he thinks, since he’s had a fun ride. Turning to Miro, an idea sparkles in his eyes.

“No way,” Miro shakes his head but it’s too late, Thomas already has his hands on his arms and is dragging him. “Trust me, I’ve been on horses my entire life. It’ll be fine,” He laughs.

The way Miro’s arms wrap around him as Dave moves is something interesting. His breath is close enough for him to hear it, and Thomas feels like he’s in a dream-- some fantasy that his mind has created. Never in a thousand years would have he imagined that he’d be riding his horse at home with the man he’s fallen in love with at his back.

The fields are still there too, even if they’re a bit shaken down on the usual maintenance. Miro rests his head against Thomas’ shoulder, sending a few chills down his spine.

 

 

After reaching and fixing the pipes down the water tanks, the pair eat a little lunch provided by Simon himself. Thomas shows him around the fields of the region, explaining how he could never get lost up here. They lay in the grass together for most part of the day, simply relaxing in nature. Dave seems to enjoy it too, drinking off the water down at the lake.

“We could run away here, if we wanted.” Thomas lets his mind go. “No one would find us here; I know these mountains too well.”

Miro looks at him, then thoughtful, shifts his focus away. He almost feels bad for mentioning something unpatriotic as this, but there’s a faint reply. “That’d be nice.”

The wind is soft, feeling more of a tickle against their skin than anything else. They eventually walk into a field that looks abandoned, but still walkable. The grass is a bit shorter than his knees. This is summer 1917, it’s been now two years since he’s joined the army, three for Miroslav. It’s amazing how much his life has changed since then. His mind can’t help but go back to what Simon told him, was Miroslav really willing to take his place? He had known that Miro had been in danger, but it never occurred to him that he was going to go that far.

And for him. Miroslav Klose had almost stood in front of six rifles because of Thomas Müller.

They reach a bit of a hill from over which there’s a clear view of the trees as well as the lake behind it. It looks like a painting, even Dave being part of the landscape having dinner with the grass. With the sky settling to an orange coloured sky, Miroslav leans back to the worn out fence separating some property. People might have lived here once, but now it’s just an abandoned meadow. He closes his eyes and smiles, a genuine one too, Thomas can tell.

“I don’t think I’ve felt this relaxed in years.”

“Miro,” Thomas starts, his feelings unable to let him see anything else. He can’t take it anymore, it’s now or never. There might be a million ways to explain it, or maybe a less direct way of saying it but Thomas has never been one to beat around the bush. When Miro turns to him, the hint of his smile still on him, the words tumble without hesitation.

 

“I love you,”

 

Miroslav’s mouth drops, Thomas tries to explain. “I’m sorry I-- I tried not to, but Miro, you’re just so--” He shakes his head, not finding the correct word. “I can’t pull away from you. Simon told me about how you saved him. Truth is-- I’m sorry that we can’t ever-- But the thing is-- How could I not fall for you? I know it’s wrong, and that we can’t-- ever do anything about it. But it’s just the way I feel, I just had to let you know.”

He turns around, his lower back part hitting the fence. His hands travel to his face. “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot.”

There’s a silence which Thomas uses to think of more explanations of this malfunction of his. It’s Miro that surprises him now.

“Don’t be,”

Thomas looks up, not entirely sure he heard right. “What?” This time it’s Miro who gets closer.

“I should be the one that’s sorry. It’d be unfair to let you dwell on something like that when I haven’t exactly been honest either.”

At the sight of Thomas completely lost for words, Miro lets out a laugh. “It's always surprising when I get you to stop talking.”

Turning back to his seriousness, though, he looks at the ground.

“There was once this man,” He starts. “This man who believed in defending his country as if it was the most important and the only thing that mattered. He was prepared to do anything for it, even go to war behind something he didn’t understand at the time. He watched his friends get slaughtered. One night, the French decided to make a stand before getting to Paris. This man may have saved other people’s lives, but he failed to save his best friend’s. Just as they were getting away, a French soldier blew his brains out in front of him, all of it falling on the soldier.”

Thomas can’t remember his heart beating so fast, a small thought wondering why he was only finding out about this now.

“Ivan died in front of me and I couldn’t do anything about it. It changed me forever, and one of the main reasons why I don’t really warm up to new people. After that, the blindness came hand in hand with the grief. Only they couldn’t find a medical cause, it seemed to be triggered randomly.  I had lost my focus until--” His eyes meet Thomas’ and there’s a certain expression in them. “Until I met you,”

“Miro I--”

“Haven’t you noticed? The blindness has stopped.” He smiles a bit, “I’m sure you helped me stop it.”

There’s no denying that Thomas only witnessed the incident once, when he was only starting to get along with him. Even so, he has a hard time believe that it’s his own doing.

“I think you overestimate me,” He replies, half joking to hide the way his body is slightly shaking. Miroslav takes a step closer to him and stops a few inches away from Thomas.

“I don’t think I am. You have this soothing effect on me, a sort of aura around you. It helps tremendously to get back to my tent and find you there, suddenly, that got me thinking. I’ve been doing a lot of that, my head won’t leave me alone.”

“Thinking?” Thomas can’t help but feel the pull to him, the one he always has to fight when Miroslav stands too close to him.

“How can something that heals me this well, and makes me feel so much better be so wrong?”

That’s the question. The implication of what he’s saying sinks in, and Thomas lets out a sigh. It’s terribly unfair, to not being able to openly love a person. A sudden memory flashes in his head. That night when Bastian asked him to lure Lukas into the bunker for a surprise party.

“Someone once told me that war has a way of distinguishing the things that don’t matter,” Miroslav immediately recognizing the quote, looks conflicted. “And the things that do.”

With him only inches away, Thomas emphasizes on the word do. “Hm--” Miroslav ponders, then slowly starts leaning over to close the gap between them. As shy as it is, it only lasts seconds, but it’s enough to send chills throughout his entire body. His first reaction is to smile, of course. Had Hauptmann Klose really just kissed him?  

“Mirooo,” His name is enough for him not to pull away too far, and this time Thomas takes his chance and pushes his lips against his.

The feeling of it earns a muffled sound from the pair. Miro opens his mouth for Thomas to deepen it. This time it’s slower, the both of them taking their time to fully enjoy it. He can’t help it; and smiles into it, which is better when Miroslav joins him. His heart jumps as well, not speeding down from its incredible rate. His hands find his sides, as he can feel Miro’s own hands on his cheeks. It’s a dream, it has to be. Eventually they pull away, both of them unable to stop blushing. Miroslav is panting, betraying his emotions. Thomas can’t remember ever seeing his cheeks red, and decides he likes that color on him.  

“Is this your way of saying you love me too?” He asks, biting his lower lip. He catches Miro’s eyes not missing it, as he smiles and shrugs. “The things that matter,” He points out, a sort of confirmation. It’s a reminder of reality, one of which Thomas has no interest or going back to, specially not now. He places his hands behind Miro and pulls him in again, kissing him.

 

 

This is a dream he doesn’t want to wake up from.

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s dark by the time they get back to the farm, and Thomas opens the door to the barn, refusing to face anyone else after their confession. Miro had kissed him; he couldn’t get the thought out of his head. The last thing either of them need right, is the rest of the world. Even if it’s empty, the cows missing from their home, it’s enough. Miroslav looks around, not realising there are bales of hay in front of him. He trips over one and Thomas can’t help but giggle over it. He extends his hand, offering help when Miroslav pulls him down with him.

With Thomas’ body against his own, he’s only compelled to kiss him again, this time far more privately. He complies, and Miro moves around so that Thomas is laying against his back and Miro is on top of him. It makes him tremble, the way their bodies are surprisingly close to each other. He’s always wondered how it would feel to be this close to anyone.

It’s shy at first, he can tell Miro is hesitant. His lips slowly push against his cheeks and it feels like fire. He can also feel from the way he’s pushing him down, that he’s been wanting this for a while. He takes the chance to drop soft kisses up against his neck. Between them, he breathes some hot air against his skin, Miro’s shivers being the only reply he needs.

It feels good in ways he couldn’t even have imagined possible, the quiet heat in his lower stomach growing. Thomas’ hands move down, pulling out the tucked in shirt from his pants. He manages to open the buttons. There are scars on his skin, presumably from the war. Thomas is very well aware of his own bruises and marks. He helps Miro pull his own shirt over his head, but when Thomas leans up again for another kiss, Miro flinches, staring down at his chest.

It doesn’t take long for him to sit up, panting and suddenly incredibly nervous. “I need a minu-- minute,” He manages as he jumps on his feet and ends right on next to the window, where the moonlight comes right in. Thomas can tell he’s scared, and for a moment doubts that he did the right thing in to just throw logic and common sense aside. He follows him quietly and from behind, wraps his arms around his stomach. He lets his head drop on Miro’s shoulder, hoping it will help.

“We don’t have to, you know-- It’s okay, we-- we can just hug, or do whatever you want.”

Miro laughs softly, his hands tracing Thomas’ arms. “I’m sorry,” He replies, still half out of breath, “It’s just-- fast.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. There’s no hurry at all,” He whispers, Miro turns at him and nods. Back into the bale of hay, they lie together, limbs tangled in each other. Contact like this feels very nice, Thomas doesn’t want to close his eyes, he’s thankful for a moment where they can just gaze as long as they want. Miro’s shirt is still open, and he takes the opportunity to carefully examine his wounds. He lifts his head and drops it on his chest. He imagines he has some sort of healing power, remembering what Miro had told him earlier about the blindness. Miro lets out an unwilling happy sound, which makes him intensively proud.

“I could stay like this forever,” Thomas smiles,

“Feels good huh?” Miro teases him, his fingers playing with his hair.

A question crosses his mind. As much as he’s scared to ask it, Thomas can’t let it go unspoken. “What happens when we get back?”

It’s something neither of them know how to respond. Miroslav moves his hand from Thomas’ curls into the back of his neck. He sighs, “What do you want to do?”

“I want us to be okay. You know, like around each other. I don’t want to lose you.”

“Lose me?” He chuckles, “Alright.” From his chest, Thomas can feel him nod. He lifts his head, now looking at him directly in his eyes. It’s exactly the kind of answer Thomas had wished for. Leaning in, he aims for his lips again.

“Can you make me a promise?” Miroslav starts instead, a hand on his cheek. Thomas nods,  “Promise me you’ll survive the war. At this point, I don’t care about the government, or anything else. I just-- you’re more important.”

Philipp’s question pops back into his head. Tell me Müller, how did you manage to-- capture him, the way you’ve had. Thomas smiles, “We both will, you’ll see.”

The idea seems to please Miro, who hums and completely rests his forehead against Thomas’. His eyes close, indicating that he’s about to fall asleep. This is some way of sleeping Thomas sure wouldn’t mind getting used to.

 

 

Thomas is the first to wake up, Miroslav’s arms still around him. Never in a thousand years had he imagined he’d spend the best night of his life in hay. He manages to untwine himself and take a few steps near the door. A peak is enough to tell that the sky is as clear and blue as you’d expect from a summer morning. Looking back inside, Thomas smiles warmly at Miroslav still completely lost in slumber. He decides to bring him breakfast, and begs to all the gods that Simon isn’t downstairs. He’s about to run up the stairs when a woman figure starts waving from a distance.

“Thomas! Is that you!” She screams, and he can’t believe his eyes. Klaudia rushes in, her bags falling to the sides and jumping to hug her. “You’re home!”

“You are too!” He comments, to which she smiles. “It’s so good to see you!”

Her eyes change suddenly, showing a bunch of emotions. Thomas can only guess what she’s gone through. Life at the front for nurses was as hard as it was for the soldiers. They had to tend the wounds of every situation they faced during the battles. In a way, he admired them for dealing with so many patients.

“I have to tell you something, is Simon home? You both need to hear it.”

Suddenly aware that sleeping in a barn isn’t normal, specially not with another man, Thomas blinks. “Oh-- I’m sure he’s in.”

Klaudia doesn’t seem to pay attention to his awkwardness, because she rants on. “Thomas, it’s been so long since we’ve talked. I do miss your letters. Simon writes to me a lot, he tells me about the entire affair he went through. So much has happened, come on, let’s go inside. I need to-- wait, who is that?”

To Thomas’ worst possible scenario, he turns to a sleepy Miroslav. His shirt is buttoned the wrong way and he’s simply standing about a few meters from them. Immediately realizing they’re not alone, he straightens up and greets her.

“Friend of yours?” Klaudia asks, when Miro blinks at the sudden silence. “Yeah-- from the front,”

She doesn’t really seem to mind, and smiles. “Welcome to the Müller Farm!” Turning to her bags and rushing back inside, Thomas shrugs.

“My sister, Klaudia. You’re only missing my mom now and you’ll know my entire family! If only you could have known my dad, he used to--”

It seems to make Miroslav smile, and with a satisfied hum he follows Klaudia inside, leaving Thomas rambling on about his life.

 

 

Klaudia cooks them breakfast, having always known best her way around the kitchen. There’s not much to work on because of the rationing, but it’s something. Simon and Miroslav seem to have dissolved themselves in an interesting conversation about sports. It’s hard to remember the fact that there used to be international competitions before the war started. Suddenly, Thomas turns to Klaudia who seems more nervous than usual. Standing up, she closes her eyes.

“I’m pregnant,”

Thomas and Simon gasp, the room suddenly turning silent. Quickly enough though, she goes on. “It’s Laurent’s. He was taken prisoner by our soldiers, and I was assigned to heal the badly wounded, he was there. What were the chances? I had to help him,” Turning to Thomas, adds. “You surely know how it feels.”

Simon shakes his head, “What happened after?”

“Thanks to his German skills, I stole some clothes and passed him off as a Soldat. I let him stay with me a couple of days until we decided it was safe for him to go back to his side of the war. After that-- Well, I found out thanks to a friend there in the clinic. Her sister had been pregnant the year before. They sent me home immediately.”

“Congratulations,” Thomas smiles, and Miro thinks he can see a tear forming in his eyes. “I’m so happy for you,”

Klaudia smiles fondly, “I want this child to be raised away from the horrors of the war with its father.”

“Laurent will come home, I’m sure of it.” Simon nods.

  

 

He’s going to be an uncle. The feeling doesn’t cheer him up as much as it should. He’s too concerned as with everything that comes with it. What if this war goes on forever? Will this child have to live with it like they have? Will there even be a world left? If it's a boy, he too will have to join them eventually in 18 years with conscription. Miro’s voice brings him back.  

“Can I ask you something?” 

Thomas nods, his hand lingering a bit too close to Miro’s for it to be appropriate. Klaudia has gone to bed, and Simon is someplace else. They’re on their own again, Thomas can’t help but enjoy a quiet moment together on the couch.

“Do you want to have a family?”

It’s probably been all the talk going on and on about Klaudia and Laurent. He opens his mouth, but Miro shifts his eyes on him, waiting carefully for his reply. This is risky terrain, and he knows that any bad move he makes could shatter Miro’s insecurity about their whole affair. He ponders for a bit on the thought instead. Ever since they were kids, Thomas always knew Simon would be the one to have a wonderful family, and he was glad. That would make his parents proud. If it had been up to him, he isn’t sure if he would have been able to succeed at it.

Looking at Miro now, he knows the exact reason why he never felt like that was the right path for him.

“I don’t,” He replies, with a hint of a smile, in an attempt to lighten up the mood. “I’m barely an adult myself. Maybe if we hadn’t been sucked into a war like this, you might have known a much relaxed person.”

“Being a farm boy for the rest of your life?”

“Nah, I would have left eventually I guess. Maybe become a professional sports player. Football would have been nice.” He makes a face, referencing the conversation he was having about football with Simon.

Miroslav laughs. “I wonder if I would have made a fair striker. I always liked heading the ball in as a kid.”

“Pff, come on. I’m sure you could have broken records with one hand on the hip.”

He hadn’t noticed the way Miro was now gazing at him, his face resting on his hand. He looks completely taken by Thomas, which makes him blush.

“Well, I’m sure you would have made the craziest player in history. The pride of wherever you’d play, even the entire country.” He whispers, and Thomas genuinely laughs. He remembers Miro’s question at the beginning and as much as he’s scared of listening to the answer, it’s something he needs to know as well.  

“What about you, have you ever wanted a family?”

If the answer is yes, Thomas knows what this means. They can’t last. He hates it as much as he hates the war, but at one point they’ll have to separate. Miro sighs, his hands now gently rubbing his back. It makes Thomas feel incredibly sleepy, his body truly relaxing under his touch.

“I can’t lie to you and tell you that it’s never crossed my mind.” He opens one eye, to find that Miro is looking straight at him. He’s prepared to nod, and acknowledge the fact that he’s not surprised. “But now, holding you like this I-- it seems all so distant, doesn’t it? I shouldn't have to pick.

He nods, and returns to lie his head on Miro’s chest this time his eyes shutting down. “Thank you for coming,” He mumbles, before falling asleep. 

 

 

 

“Try coming back in a few months, I’d like you to meet your nephew.” Klaudia smiles. Thomas nods, turning around and opening his arms for a hug. It’s too soon for it to be over, but their leave is nearing its end. These past few days with Miro the way they’ve been together has blown everything inside him out of proportion.

“I’m happy for you and Miroslav.”

Thomas tries to hide the blush, but she simply smiles, “Simon told me what he did, he’s a good man. Take care of him, from what I’ve seen-- war takes away the good ones first.” Then, turning to him. “And watch over yourself as well.”

The door opens and Miroslav is wearing his officer uniform including the hat, ready to go.

As they board the train, Thomas can’t help but feel a tiny chest pain. What waits for him back at the trenches? Will this war ever be over? Will he be fine with Miroslav at his side? If he could he’d just rush and hug him. Alas, on the train he can feel society staring them down.

Yet, he doesn’t care. He loves Miroslav and he loves Thomas, and that’s all that matters in that instant.

Chapter Text

“A death zone.” Philipp repeats. Löw nods. “We build defenses back, and retreat. Except when we go back, we destroy them leaving them vulnerable.” 

“This sounds like Hindenburg all over it.”  

“We don’t get to question the guys above. If anyone can end this war, it’s him.”

Philipp sighs, even he now after three years of war is starting to lose his fairer judgement. Who can blame him? The constant stress of leading his men into certain death will drive anyone mad. He’s seen bodies ripped apart, friends of him shot and dead. It’s a bloodbath around him without having a clear answer or solution.

“What about the troops? They’re getting ideas from the communists. Lenin is firing up his revolution,”

Miroslav walks into them, his boots soaking in mud. He politely salutes them both and Philipp takes the opportunity to sneak away from his superior. If he’s good at something it is certainly at reading people’s body language. His friend seems different, unusually relaxed. 

“Looks like you took advantage of your time away from the front, didn’t you?”

The Hauptmann breaks into a small smile, the kind that seems genuine. He’s glad to see him like this, but alas, the importance of leading battles falls into his head again. Philipp wishes he could also take a break from the constant shots around him. He is too dedicated to his job however, and knows how important his opinion and judgement are.

“I’m actually going to have the night free. I’m almost done for the day.”

Miroslav ‘organised’ Klose. Philipp nods, and turns back to the path.   

“I’ll see you later,” He waves, and walks back into the bunker with Joachim. From the corner of his eyes, he can catch Miroslav greeting that assistant of his. He has a grin on his face, and Fips shakes his head wondering how on earth the man manages to keep his mood up like this.

 

 

Bastian gets the reports back. Americans have sunk another ship, and the troops up north need more people, more men to defend what they’ve already won. It seems ironic that their next strategy is to fall back. He thinks about writing home, to his wife. The thought of Claudia on her own makes him feel uneasy. It’s something he cannot allow his mind to linger on long.

“So, Fips. What are you doing later?”

He raises an eyebrow. It’s not really unusual for Bastian to come up with some mischievous scheme. He doesn’t need to give an answer for him to reply.

“Lukas got this new deck of cards. We’re going to try them out.”

There are far more important things on his desk that need to be checking and matters to attend, yet Philipp doesn’t want to say no. A moment away from his desk wouldn’t be catastrophic. He accepts, like Bastian had planned. They both go back to their reports without another word.

 

 

It’s a surprisingly clear night. It’s unbelievable the luck Lukas has, keeps on getting the best hands. Fips himself isn’t the best at it, but he manages. It doesn’t really matter, since they’re not really betting anything. Bastian looks smugly proud next to him even though he himself has yet to have a winning hand. Manuel and Joshua seem certainly glad not lose either. The Gefreiter had brought some bread with him with potatoes. Kimmich tells them a joke he heard on the northern side of the front where he was a few days ago, it helps everyone relax. It’s not long before Mats, Benedikt, Jonas and even Toni join them.

The evening goes by smoothly until Manuel raises an eyebrow. “Hey, where’s Thomas?”

Bastian shrugs. “He said he couldn’t come, work to do. Probably Hauptmann Klose stuff.”

Strange. Miroslav pointed out earlier that he had hurried to finish today’s work. Maybe something else came up. His attention is temporarily taken back by Löw, who seems to be waving at him from the side.

“Sir.” He greets. Joachim nods, “This is urgent, Oberstleutnant. I have the list of the promotions,”

Philipp glances at the list, spotting one of the bigger names. Bastian Schweinsteiger. His eyes follow to the right until he finds the title ‘Hauptmann’. Finally, he’s been fighting for that spot as a captain. However, Bastian being promoted also means one other thing.

“Where are you sending him?”

“Passchendaele.”

He blinks at the location. Even at the front, some places had worst reputation than others. They’ve heard about that place where the British kept on sending their men. Not exactly like the Somme offensive last year, the rumors went even further into the horrors of the mud. Men sinking in it as if the earth swallowed them alive. The thought of his friend being sent there isn’t exactly his cup of tea. Even so, there is nothing he can do about it. He knows Bastian is a survivor, and he’ll fight his way through it. 

The next thing he needs to do is to let Miroslav know about this. Usually he’s the one to deal with how officers are promoted and the new order. He walks to the bunker, door shut and locked. He knocks on the door, and it takes a few moments for it to actually open.

“Philipp--” Miro says, with a most agitated breath. Glancing to his left, he spots Thomas near the desk. He seems nervous as well. It intrigues him for a moment, almost forgetting the reason he came here in the first place.

“Here are the lists. Bastian got promoted: Hauptmann.”

“That’s great,” Miroslav takes the folder. It surprises Philipp that he still hasn’t understood the implication of this move. Instead, he keeps on licking his lips, the way he does it when he’s agitated.

“They’re sending him to Passchendaele.” He announces, and this time Miro does get it. He looks at him with a concerned look.

Thomas’ voice from behind asks, “You’re sending Basti away?”

“Not me, it’s an army thing. Anyhow, they say Passchendaele is pretty bad.” Philipp sums it up, before Miro can open his mouth. Thomas nods, his hands uneasily playing around with the edge of the table. Did he interrupt something? He looks back at Miroslav, who really seems unlike himself as well.

“I’ll see myself out.” Philipp says, wondering if his exhaustion is playing tricks on him. “Get some rest.” Miro replies, politely.

A few steps away from the door, Philipp stops. His attention is taken by a broken gun on the floor. If that doesn’t symbolise their moral at the front he doesn’t know what does. Perhaps he should go back to playing cards with the lads. But before that, he realises he forgot to tell Miroslav about the ceremony being held a week early for the troops to head out.

He follows back and without hesitation bursts into the room. He stops at the sight of Thomas and Miro both breaking away from what seemed to be a hug. The pair look back with surprised expressions. They’re now simply standing next to each other, but this-- it’s familiar. It hits him, Philipp connects the dots. A flashback to the academy flashes before he can even think about it.

He shakes his head, and having completely forgotten about the ceremony, walks out leaving the door open.

He’s only stopped by Miroslav’s hand on his arm a few steps back into the trenches. He’s never seen his friend so concerned. Not even when he lost his sight after that one battle in 14’.

“Please, Fip--”

Philipp shakes his head, not really wanting to talk about it. He’s already had one couple of friends going down this road. “What are doing? Don’t you remember what Bastian and Lukas went through in the academy? It almost got their asses to jail.”

“It was never confirmed. And it’s not like that.”

Philipp gives him a look, then getting back to the subject at hand. “What are you thinking? Fooling around? Can’t you find someone less risky? Have you any idea of what would happen if someone found out? You’re a Hauptmann Miroslav. This can’t possibly go on.”

Miro gives him one of the saddest looks he’s ever seen on anyone. He closes his eyes, then looking down, says.

“I can't stop loving him.”

Out of all the arguments he could have expected from Miro, Fips blinks in surprise. He’s unable to reply to that. Love? He’s never even heard Miroslav talk about the subject before.

“I-- He, he heals me. In every way that he can. We didn’t plan for this to happen. I can’t not love him, it’s beyond me, Philipp. You have to understand. I didn’t choose this, Thomas just-- snuck up on me. At first I didn’t understand it either, I tried to fight it; but these feelings, what we have…  Love isn’t just-- love comes in different ways. He’s taught me that, he’s made me stronger.” 

There’s a moment between them, that Philipp needs to analyse. Miroslav has never let his feelings come before his job. Always the rational one on his side. He’s never let anything beat him, it’s even been difficult for him to make friends. Specially with his blindness, he didn’t allow people to get close to him. Philipp was always shocked how easily Thomas and him hit it off.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk so much in one sentence.” Philipp points out. Miroslav lets out a sigh awkwardly. “Listen, I can’t tell you what to do, but know that I won’t say anything.” He means it. “Just be careful. Very careful.”

There’s a spark in Miro’s eyes when he listens to those words that make Philipp somewhat satisfied.

“You haven’t lost your sight since he’s been around, have you?”

Miro nods to confirm what Philipp had had in mind. In a weird way, he can see how much his friend has changed to for the better.

“Thank you.” Miro turns around, heading back to the bunker. Philipp can spot Thomas’ worried head from it.

“Maybe try somewhere else than the Hauptmann bunker too.” He says just loud enough knowing very well that Miroslav can hear him. “Be more careful than that.”

 

 

 

“Well?” Thomas impatiently asks Miro when he returns. “What happened?”

What had started as a hug had turned into a much deeper embrace. The knocking on the wall had thrown the both of them off. It had been no other than Philipp Lahm, the Oberstleutnant. If there’s something Miro knew about his friend, is that he’d be able to figure it out with no problem. They had almost gotten away with it, Philipp leaving them alone and Miro trying to calm his heart racing by laying a hand on Thomas’ neck. But when Philipp had come back, he could see in his eyes the way everything became clear to him.

“He just wants us to be careful.”

“He’s not going to tell on us? How?”

Miro shakes his head, wanting avoid that speech that convinced Philipp. Even so, he has to admit his friend is right. “We do need to be more careful though,” It’s something Thomas can’t deny, so instead he moves to the door and locks it.

“You’re the only one who has a key, right.” He asks, walking back to Miro. He nods, it’s a sort of confirmation and Thomas finally finds his way into Miro’s arms. Uninterrupted, it feels the way it should be. Miro is tense at first, but eventually relaxes into Thomas. There’s an explosion nearby that’s loud enough to shake the ground. Every moment that passes convinces him more and more that what he has with Thomas is the right thing. He presses his lips to his temple, and Thomas seems to acknowledge it with a happy sound.

 

 

 

“Congratulations, Hauptmann.”

Bastian looks up at Miroslav, and his eyes light up. “Seriously?”

He nods, and automatically grabs the folder with his now new units. As a Hauptmann, he’ll be head of a company himself. The first thing Miro notices him is opening the folder looking frantically for a name. He lets out a sign of relief when he spots the name.

“Lukas,” He tells Miro, though there’s no need. “He’ll be in my company.”

“They’re sending you to Belgium, Passchendale. You’ve heard of the place right?”

“Mud fest isn’t it? It’s probably same as all around the front. It’s fine, as long as I’m not alone, I’ll be fine.”

Miroslav smiles softly. For the first time as long as he’s known him, he can finally understand. The feeling of holding on to someone and not letting them go. He’s glad to hear that him and Lukas will still be together and not torn apart. Even if he’s never explicitly said it, they all know that the pair would probably perish without the other. It’s a thought that makes Miro feel better, he knows that as long as Thomas remains his assistant, he can’t leave his side either.

He hesitates, perhaps Bastian would be glad to hear about him and Thomas. “Uh--” He starts, but his nerves betray him trailing his voice. Thankfully, however, Bastian is busier checking the names on his list than listening to Miro.

“I get Neuer too?” He asks, confused. If he’s honest, Miro didn’t really check all of the names. A company is over a thousand men; he usually scams through the names. Then it hits him: Gefreiter Neuer. Miroslav blinks, his heart starting to race. Bastian confirms his sudden worry.

“Isn’t he Thomas’ superior?”

Bastian goes back to the names, searching for Müller. Miroslav doesn’t really know how to react, if he really is there, this means that he’ll be going with Bastian to Passchandale. More importantly, he’ll be stripped from his assistant and the two of them will be apart. It only takes an apologetic look from Bastian to confirm that Thomas’ name is indeed on the list. Desperate, he turns on his heels to talk to Philipp. He’s probably the only one who can help them.

 

 
As expected, Philipp sighs heavily. Miroslav doesn’t remember anytime he’s asked this much out of his friend, not even when they wanted to discharge him from the army over his blindness.

“Please,” He repeats, hoping to convey the overwhelming stress his body is going through. The thought of being away from the one person he’s been able to open to this much scares him to no end. It’s more than he’d like to admit.

“Miro-- I don’t make the lists. I don’t think even Jogi does that, it’s from the top.”

He blinks, “But maybe we can send another Gefreiter in,”

“And you’ll be the one to explain it to them? What reason are you even going to give them?” There’s a heavy implication on that last part, one that Miro hates to be true. Fips goes on, “I’m sorry, Miro. I know how much he means to you. Let me see what I can do.”

It’s better than nothing, so Miroslav agrees. On his way back, his feelings betray him. Shaking his head, he tries to think that Philipp will find a way, the way he always does. A sudden explosion blows up on the south side of the field and lights up the sky with it. Miro blinks, the familiar scenario flowing his mind. He starts breathing faster at his vision getting blurry. No, he’s stronger now, with Thomas at his side he can fight it. Except his brain reminds him he won’t be there with him anymore.

He decides to sit down, his vision lingering between clearing or not. He hopes nobody notices it, but he need to get a hold of himself. Ever since he’s had Thomas around, it hasn’t happened. He can try and tell himself that Thomas has made him stronger, but with him gone, would that go away as well?

He closes his eyes, hoping when he reopens them the vision will be back. Even so, this isn’t as bad as the other times.

 

“Miro?”

It’s no other than Thomas’ voice. He still doesn’t want to open his eyes, trying to hide away the obvious situation. Thomas isn’t fooled, he quickly places Miro’s arm around his back and helps him up. They both go quickly back to the bunker.

Illuminated only by the light of a candle in the bunker, Thomas sits Miro on the bed. It’s only now that he dares to open his eyes. Right above him, he can see Thomas clearly now, and can’t help wrapping his arms around him. What is he going to do without him?

“What’s wrong? I thought you weren’t--” He starts, a huge concern on his voice. Miro figures he has to know, but somehow even saying it out loud. For now, he settles for hugging his waist, Thomas’ hands brush through his hair, incredibly relaxing. He eventually pulls him down on the bed with him, the pair resting tangled with each other. It reminds him of just a few weeks ago, the way they held each other so close.

“Did you lock the door?” Miro asks, suddenly wanting to avoid an unwanted interruption to which Thomas nods. He looks straight into his eyes, a clear way of his to ask about what had happened earlier. As his fingers trace Thomas’ cheeks, Miro sighs.

“You heard about Bastian’s promotion didn’t you?”

Thomas doesn’t pull back, clearly enjoying the small contact, yet there’s still a confused expression in his face. “What does that have to do with--”

“Let me finish,” Miro lets himself chuckle slightly at his impatience, “Each Hauptmann has a few units under his command, but now--” This is when he stutters, “Bastian found that he has Manuel under his command, which means, everyone under his command also needs to go with him.”

“Oh,” Thomas says, and this time he does pull away from Miroslav. He sits up, and stares right ahead at the wall, as if something was there. None of them say much after that, not until Miroslav remembers that he’s tried to do something about it.

“I talked to Philipp, but some things aren’t in his control. He’ll let me know,”

“Let’s just-- Enjoy right now. Miro, I’ll never stop loving you.” Miro blinks, it’s baffling how open Thomas is about his feelings. From where he’s lying, he can see the way Thomas turns his head to him and moves back into his arms.

“Even if I’m all the way across the world, I swear, I won’t.”

He wishes he could say the same, but it somehow doesn’t seem enough. He doesn’t just love Thomas, the emotions he is feeling through his body surpass that concept. He doesn’t have words to describe it, but thankfully, he doesn’t need to say anything. Thomas seems to understand it by the way he’s now looking at him. He leans over slowly and kisses him, Miro closing his eyes and losing himself in him. He opens for him, deepening the kiss. He consciously makes the decision to listen to him, and focus on this moment right now. Thomas at his side, kissing him breathless and both of their heartbeats accelerated.  

Chapter Text

He’s the first to wake up the next morning, Thomas is still there sleeping on his chest. He’s mumbling something, which can’t help but amuse Miroslav. They’ve never done this before at the front, to just wake up naturally and stay in bed for a moment. It’s a special occasion; he tells himself grimly, as his fingers twirl around Thomas’ messy hair. 

His heartbeat almost speeds up again as he thinks of last night. Of course, they hadn’t done anything he didn’t want-- Thomas was extremely careful not to force him into anything. Miro was thankful that he cared so much, but he’d be lying if he hadn’t thought about more. Who wouldn’t, with so many kisses filled with passion such as Thomas’s? It was hard to ignore the way he moved against him and Miro let out a small sigh remembering the sensation his body felt last night.

Thomas opens his eyes a bit then shuts them back, indicating that he doesn’t really want to wake up. It’s the most comfortable sleep they’ve gotten since they’ve been back. His head turns up to Miro, who smiles endearingly. He blinks, and his hands travel to his eyes, clearly still blurry. Opening his mouth to say something, they’re both interrupted by a huge knock on the door.

“Miro, are you in here?”

It’s Philipp, and Miro scrambles. He turns to Thomas, who is only wearing his undershirts. He needs to hide, they both realise. There is only so much Philipp can accept, so he grabs his arm and pulls him towards the table in the corner. If he keeps Fips on the other side of the bunker, he shouldn’t spot him.

“Were you still sleeping?!” He asks, utterly surprised that Miroslav Klose had overslept for the first time in his entire life.

“I had a late shift last night,” Miro replies, hoping Philipp won’t notice his agitation, (again).

Philipp looks at him apologetically, then agrees. “We all are tired; I’ll give you that. Most importantly however, I talked to Joachim.”

Hope, Miro waits for him to continue, knowing fully that Thomas is on the other side under the table listening carefully as well.

“Six months.” There’s no reply, as the sudden realisation of what he means sinks in. Philipp continues, “I got the Gefreiters to be switched but the minimum period for that is six months. After that I can try to get Manuel to be reinstalled here. It’s the best I can do.”

Miro nods, knowing that his friend has done all that he could. Even so, six months seems like an eternity specially during this endless war. He, better than anyone, knows how much can happen in six months.

“When are they leaving?”

“A week, I think. You have time to say your goodbyes.”

 Oberstleutnant Lahm turns on his heels headed towards the door. He stops a few feet away of the stairs, staring at the bed.

“Why are there two pair of boots--” Then turning to Miro, and realising he’s not exactly properly dressed. “Wait, don’t answer that.”

As the door goes shut behind him, Miro can feel his cheeks blush. Thomas finally comes out from his hiding place, but doesn’t say anything. He finds his vest, boots and hat, Miro quietly observing. He can only imagine what is going on through his head, echoing what is going through his. However, before he steps outside, Thomas takes a step closer to him, grabbing his hands and kisses him on the cheek.

“I’ll see you later,” He says, and Miro realises how cold his hands feel when Thomas isn’t there to hold them.

 

 

 

It’s Lukas who is the first to talk to him, Thomas has been sulking all day. Usually it’d be Holger to cheer him up, but he’s not around. He misses him, somebody at dinner was talking about how he was now stationed in Gelsenkirchen. Hopefully he’s doing better than Thomas right now. He tries to think about how he’ll still have Bastian around-- but it’s not even close to being the same support he’s gotten from Miro.

“You okay?”

“As good as I can be,” He says vaguely, his sight set firmly to the no man’s land. Six months, that’s all he has to endure. He thinks about Simon, or Klaudia. His mother must be so worried. There's even the thought of Dave, his horse back home. 

He guesses Bastian must have told Lukas about the situation, the way he’s staring at him. Thomas figures he needs to talk about it to someone, or he’ll lose his head. It’s not even the fact that he feels bonded to Miro in some sort of way, he’s also concerned about the blindness.

“I’m worried about Miro.” He lets out. “He has this problem-- sometimes he loses his sight temporarily. It happened because he lost one of his friends at the beginning of the war. He told me that he hasn’t had it anymore because he--”. Thomas stops at that, unsure of what word to use instead of love. Lukas would have usually already made a joke about it. Instead, he looks for something inside his pocket.

“Here,”

He hands a piece of jewelry, a golden ring. Thomas looks at him confused, not understanding why he’s handing it to him. “Are you-- proposing?” He asks, skeptical.

“No-- look, Basti has the other one. We got these before joining the war, it’s sort of a lucky charm.”

“And commitment,” Thomas adds, not hiding the hint of smile on his lips. “You know; rings usually mean marriage.”

Lukas smiles-- and looks back into the no man’s land. “Well, it’s not like we can walk into a church and make it official, you know, it’s more of a verbal agreement. Maybe that would help Miro, and you too. That way no matter how far you are from each other, you can both look at it and remember.”

 

 

 

What would Miro find special? He only has a few days left until the company leaves, and Thomas is desperate. He can’t find anything valuable. The only piece of metal he has on him is his ID tag, not exactly the most romantic thing. He’s tempted to ask Philipp but he knows that he must have far more important things on his mind rather than a ‘what can Thomas give his superior’. They’re certainly in a sort of relationship, he’d like to believe, it’s just a difficult one to explain. 

He runs into Jonas, who’s in a hurry to get back. It’s been a while since he’s last seen him. Thomas takes his chance to talk to him.

“Hey--”

“Oh, Müller, listen can you help me out?”

There’s something about Jonas that reminds him of Klaudia, only now does he realise it. It’s some sort of young optimism that never dies, so Thomas agrees even if he has other things to do. Turns out he only needs someone to help him carry some barrels.

“There you go,” Thomas nods, still looking around for an idea to give. Jonas turns to him and hands him a huge coin, brighter than usual.

“You’ve been a good friend to me Thomas, thank you.”

“What is it?” Thomas blinks. It looks like--

“It’s a piece of gold, don’t spend it all on food. My friend left it after he died, it means too many memories for me, so I want you to have it. We’re going to miss you.”

Thomas can’t help it, he wraps his arms around Jonas and his heart aches. After he’s gone, Thomas looks at the coin: It's perfect for Miro. His attention is taken by the trenches, and the sudden blasts behind them. He automatically covers his head for cover. It's the British, trying another offensive. His grip tight around his rifle, he braces himself for the attack, the dead and the inevitable hollow feeling. It calms down again, like it always does, and Thomas checks his pockets for the golden coin. It's still there, but it's a painful reminder that he'll be gone in just a few days. 

 

 

“Do you still think I’d be a good football player?” Thomas asks, trying to change the subject again for what seems the tenth time. Tomorrow is the big day, his small bag is packed and ready. No use staying outside with the rest of the troops when he can be inside in Miroslav's bunker. “I bet I could score loads of goals against France or England. Maybe we could settle this war with a match, would be nicer.”

But Miro doesn’t reply, instead his gaze steady on his notes. Thomas moves from lying on the bed to the edge, carefully observing him. It's a hard job, trying to not focus on tomorrow and what it means. 

“I wasn’t joking when I said that I’d love you no matter where I went.”

“I know you weren’t.” Miro doesn’t take his eyes off the checklist. Thomas wonders if he’ll find another assistant when he’s gone. He's avoided the subject ever since Philipp had told them about the six months. As much as he doesn’t exactly fancy the idea of someone else spending the ridiculous amount of time with the Hauptmann, he’s more worried over his health.

“Who are you going to get after I’m gone?"

This time, it’s enough to pull him out of the paper, Miro’s eyes are on him. “What do you mean?” 

“You need someone to be your assistant Miro, we both know you do.”

“No, I’m fine,” He shakes his head, and Thomas lets out an involuntary sigh which Miro does not miss. “I can take care of myself, please just… Trust me.”

This isn’t about trust; Thomas knows that Miro does too. “Promise me you’ll find someone,” He tries again, but Miro shakes his head. 

“I don’t want anyone else. Listen, Thomas: It’s not going to work because they’re not going to have the same effect as you do.”

Lukas’ words echo in his head. He takes out the golden coin from his pocket and stands up in front of Miro.

“I-- want you to have this.”

He hands the glittering object, and Miro’s attention is clearly taken. His mouth drops, and he can’t hide the confused expression.

“How did you--”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bending down, he places it in Miro’s hands. "I thought maybe this can help you calm down when the blindness starts," He leaves it in the palm of his hand, his fingers lingering. He’s not prepared for Miro’s response when the Hauptmann simply drops the coin on the table and kisses him fully on the mouth. The chair he was sitting on falls behind him, and Miro’s palms cup his cheeks.

“The door-- it’s not-- locke--” Thomas tries to protest, but with Miro’s breathless kisses: it’s useless. They’re both already too busy, lost in each other. The next thing he is able to register is the wall behind him he’s being pushed into. Miro’s attention shifts to the hole in his neck. Thomas can’t help it and lets out a moan, which echoes in the bunker. He worries for a second that it was too loud, especially when Miro pulls back and heads to the door.

Thomas lets out an honest laugh when Miro simply locks it. “I thought--” He starts, but can’t finish because Miro is already kissing him again, hard. They end up on the bed, this time under Miro. He’s not sure if he’s aware of how good it feels to have him like this on top of him. The way Miro moves is mesmerizing. He’s rocking his hips up and down, closely to Thomas’. He definitely can’t hide how good it feels, and after a while he finds himself stuttering.

“Mi- Miro,”

The Hauptmann looks at him straight in the eyes, the blue in them strong enough to make him shiver again. Then his gaze drops down to Thomas’ crotch, and obviously gets it. He doesn’t want to push Miro into doing anything he’d regret, or wouldn’t want to. It comes as a surprise when Miro replies, half out of breath.

“Me too--”

Thomas immediately looks down as well, looking for it, but Miro’s trousers are too baggy for it. Instead he giggles, a sort of relief. Miro smiles, and Thomas leans on his elbows to reach up and kiss him again. He wants to ask if he’s sure, but Miro beats him to it. He nods and he sits back to take his shirt off. It’s surprising how fast his heart his beating. Thomas swallows, and as if Miro was a magnet he couldn’t resist, wraps his arms around him to pull him closer.

 

 

They’re not able to sleep that night, especially not after the rush that happened.

“I’ll come back… to you,” Thomas drowsily whispers, his head on Miro’s bare chest. They entire bunker stinks of sex, but he guesses it’s the least of Miro’s concerns. His superior nods, and gently drops a few kisses on his head.

 "Just promise me that you’ll find someone,” Thomas continues,

There’s a heavy sigh, and Thomas grips his arms around Miro a little bit tighter, scared that he’ll pull away. It’s a reasonable fear, because he actually does sit back against the wall.  

“He doesn’t have to take it away, just be there in case it happens. Please.”

“But--”

Thomas beats him to it and kisses him, shutting him up. “Please.”

“You have more efficient methods of convincing than Fips, you know that?” Miro replies. His voice trails. “Always taking care of me, thank you for being my assistant.”

“You’re the one that picked me,” Thomas reminds him, his grin spreading wildly across his face. “You’re special, Miro.”

“You’re the special one,” Miro replies, his hands pulling him back for another kiss. They try their best to ignore the fact that in a few hours they’ll be separated by the war. Right now they’re together, and even if it’s just for a second, they can forget the world and believe in their illusion.

 

 

It doesn’t break until they’re outside in front of the truck. The trumpets sound far too loud for their liking and Thomas knows what they’re meant for. He feels the overwhelming need to hold on to the man behind him. He instinctively takes a step closer into Miro’s arms, and the two stand together in a locked embrace. He feels Miro’s heart go faster, echoing his own.

“I’ll come back to you, I promise.” Thomas repeats, as they walk closer to the trucks. Miro still has a strong grip on his vest. He spots Bastian and Lukas on the bus already, as well as Philipp on the other side. If he’d have his way, he’d turn around and kiss Miro right on the lips in front of everyone. It’s a sort of sting to the heart to know he can’t, that they can’t. 

So instead, the moment where Miro’s grip loosens and he has to go on his own, he turns to the man he loves. “Take care of you--” Miro starts, but Thomas cuts him right through his sentence. “Marry me,”

It comes out as a low whisper, but it’s definitely loud enough for Miro to listen. He splutters in surprise, but Thomas’ sight is set firmly on him, showing how serious he is. Miro looks around, to the soldiers, to the trumpets, to the trenches and to the dirt.

“Come on, Müller, time to go!” Someone shouts from the truck. Thomas finally looks back, maybe he could have asked earlier, privately. Would have probably made more sense. It simply came out of his mind, that there is no one else he’d rather spend his life with. It’s a promise too, that they’ll both make it pass the war, if it ever ends. But he can’t wait for his reply, the pressure is too great and he’s forced to head towards the truck.

“Thomas,” Miro’s voice calls him as he jumps on the truck. He turns, his helmet almost falling off to catch the sight of Miro smiling faintly and nodding with his head. He's also playing with the golden coin between his hands. Thomas blinks, then the engine starts and he’s moving away, leaving the camp along with his heart in it.

 

 

Chapter Text

For Lukas it’s always been about Bastian. Ever since they met at school, there was an instant connection the two of them were fully aware of. It wasn’t a surprise when they both enlisted for the war when it first was announced, back in 1914. It was the same when Basti was promoted. Lukas had thought that as long as they were together they could withhold anything. Now, staring at the mud between his legs and his boots, he realises it’s been for a while now since he’s been holding on to Bastian for dear life. He knows that he couldn’t have found the strength to ever get out of the dirt holes if it weren’t for the energy Bastian gave him.

It’s the main reason why Thomas is so easy to read. He looks as if a part of him has been torn and there’s no need to be a genius to know exactly where it stayed. It’s funny, he doesn’t really know Thomas, not like he knows Miro, anyway. 

“Let’s play cards, maybe you can show me a trick or two.” Bastian seems to know exactly the things to say for Thomas to come back for a moment or two. He nods and starts to explain a bunch of ridiculous rituals about bluffing. Lukas gives Bastian a look to explain that he knows what he’s doing.

 

 

Bastian notices how Thomas shakes his head and scraps the piece of paper. It’s the fifth attempt of a letter he’s tried today, and maybe Bastian has made a mistake by not confronting Thomas about Miro in the time they’ve been away. It’ll be a month in a couple of days. 

“I’m sure he’d like anything you write, if that’s what bothers you.”

He doesn’t get a glance back, just a head shake. “It just makes me feel like shit. I should be there with him.” Thomas replies, before he gets up from the table, leaving his drink next to what’s left of the piece of paper.

It’s full of mud. I swear. Anywhere you go there’s already your knees stuck in tons of mass dirt mixed with water. I-- How’s Philipp? Have you found someone?

 

 

"What's the deal with you babysitting Thomas anyway?" 

“Miro asked me to take care of him,” Bastian explains, later when they’re sure Thomas isn’t listening. “As if I wouldn’t take care of my Soldaten.”  

After catching Thomas volunteering to the front to another Hauptmann, causing rumors and gossip about their regiment’s sanity, Lukas had found Bastian. They stop in front of the entrance to his bunker.

“We have to keep him sane. And we have to send him back to him.” He agrees, obviously aware that Miro must also not be doing quite good without his assistant. Lukas opens his mouth but Bastian beats him to it. 

“Yeah, he knows about Miro’s blindness.”

His friend giggles, and Bastian continues, an amused smile on his face.

“Well they did spend all of their time together. I was always convinced Miro’s thing was psychological,” then, serious again, “losing Ivan like that-- a type of stress that works as some sort of trigger.”

Lukas nods, but here, with Bastian next to him so close, he can’t help but find comfort. He craves contact, with all his new functions as Hauptmann they’ve barely had time to be together at all. The way he’s looking back at him, he knows Bastian feels the same.

“What was that about stress trigger?”

Thomas decides to pop between them at that exact moment. He has a letter in his hand, ready to be sent. Half his face is covered in mud which is sadly not an uncommon sight. Half the men have perished due to diseases here already. Bastian shrugs,

“It’s like Holger, all of us have a thing that sets us off. Some people are more affected by the gunshots and bombs than others. I see you finally managed to write a letter.”

Thomas shrugs, probably thinking about Holger now too. Before he leaves, Bastian wants to add something, but hesitates.

“Hey, you will see him again!”

He doesn’t mean Holger, Lukas knows that, but Thomas is too far to hear it, or maybe he just doesn’t want to hear it.

 

 

The mud is a nightmare, they’ve all discovered here near Ypres. Manuel and Thomas are sitting against each other, feeling the drops fall on them. Thomas can’t remember the last time there was so much rain. They haven’t said a word for a few hours now since the enemy’s artillery has been heavy work this morning. For a moment it stops giving some quiet, but still likely to reanimate again. Manuel has a thought about the mixture of gunpowder and rain, but then they go quiet again. It begins again soon enough, and this time they’re forced to move a canon, that has already begun to sink in the mud.

 

 

It’s during a day in October that Thomas really opens up to Bastian for the first time. Bastian has had enough of this ghost self of Thomas’.

“Sit down, and drink.”

A drink is always welcome, specially after all they’ve been through.

“I used to do this with Miro, you know? Get drunk with the Hauptmann.” Then, he’s quiet, as if the mention of Miro had suddenly caught him by surprise. Bastian can tell that he is ready to talk though. Maybe it’s because he has no one else to talk to about these kind of things without Miro or Holger around.

“What are you thinking?” Bastian doesn’t soften the question.

“He’s just-- like my Lukas-- I miss him so much.”  

After listening for a moment he realises he’s opening up because Bastian is the one friend he has that can understand. He had suspected most of it anyway, but it’s a nice feeling to be trusted with the information now.

Thomas tells him about Miro, the way he couldn’t resist him and how he struggled at first. He tells him about the kiss and how surprisingly Miro ended up falling in love as well and how bonded they felt before leaving. It amuses Bastian greatly, imagining Miroslav’s expression after receiving a kiss.

“I thought there was something wrong with me. So did Miro.”

“Well, we all think you’re a strange guy Thomas.” He jokes, which earns a face from Thomas. Bastian can relate though, his risky relationship with Lukas has almost cost them a lot. However, there’s a darker tone in Thomas’ voice. “He hasn’t written any letters.”

“He must be busy, and it can’t be easy.”

“What if he’s-- dead.”

Bastian is taken aback by the tone in which Thomas puts it. The way he says it, sounds like he’s been thinking about it for a while, and everything makes sense.

“No listen, you can’t afford to think like that.” He lets out the coldest sigh he possibly could, that only pushes Bastian more. “He’s a skilled Hauptmann Thomas, the guy has saved lives and earned medals, he’s harder to kill than you think. You should be looking out for yourself more.”

“For myself?”

“You’ve been fucking reckless since you’ve gotten here. Manuel told me about how you haven’t even been checking for grenades in the trenches. You do realise that if you die here, Miro will never see you again, do you have any idea of what that would do to him?”

Thomas is quiet, clearly not expecting all of this out of his comment. There’s only the rain drops on the bunker roof.

“If you’re really worried about Miro, you’ll take care of yourself as much as you’d take care of him.”  

 

 

There’s something about distance, Thomas can’t quite place it, that intensifies love. The mud between his thighs does not allow him to do much, expect contemplate the men passing by the trench. The front here is horrid, and he realises he had been relying on to Miro to make it through a bit too much. It’s hard though, to think of the good times they spent together when there’s so much else going on around him.

He closes his eyes and forces himself to think of Miro kissing him softly at home, laughing shyly at his horrible flirtatious advances. They work as some sort of soother for a while, until another shot is heard, and brings him back to his reality.

He has to live, he repeats himself, he can’t let go.

 

 

Some of the time though, he gets to spend it behind the lines, between houses and hospitals. He usually prefers to stay away from the medical houses, knowing exactly the kind of patients that are lying in the beds. It’s because of Bastian that he’s in one that day. One of his Gefreiters got injured, and with Lukas back in the front, he had been the closest friend to take.

While Bastian is busy talking to his soldier, Thomas looks a bit around. There are nurses rushing with bloodied bandages, and other things that would make the regular man sick. He’s used to that sight by now though.

“Is it as muddy as they say it is in the front lines?” A voice comes from behind, and Thomas isn’t sure it’s directed at him. A small woman, with hands on her hips is staring at him. Her eyebrow is raised, as if Thomas had done something to offend her. He shrugs,

“That depends on what they say I guess,”

She agrees, and her expression softens. “I’m nurse Maria.”

“Thomas,” He extends his hand, amused by the whole situation. She takes it, with a risen eyebrow.

“No rank? I thought you were in an uniform.”

They’re in the middle of a fun conversation about proper farm milk when Bastian comes back. Turns out Maria is also from a farm, located in the south of Germany. Her parents are Swabian, and Thomas is really glad to have made a new friend. He thinks about it for a moment and realises why he’s so fond of this nurse: she reminds him of Klaudia.

 

 

He’s always loved the fields behind his farm and running through them with Dave. The sun is soft and it is summer, Thomas relaxes. Behind him, he hears another horse towards him. His father smiles as he passes him leading him to follow. They only stop at a lake, which he doesn’t remember. It’s unusual, Thomas always remembers his whereabouts.

“You’ve done good, my son. I’m proud of you.”

It’s then when he realises the ache in his heart. “I miss you dad.”

“And I miss you, and all at home. I’m happy you’re not alone, even in the mud.”

Thomas thinks of Miroslav, and hesitates. But by the time he can reply, he’s gone, and so is his horse. There’s a branch noise behind him that startles him. Something in his body makes him realise that it’s Miro, running away from him.

“Wait!” He yells, and takes a few steps towards the forest. He’s barely made it inside when he can see him, standing on top of a rock.  His helmet is on, as well as the rest of his dirty uniform but somehow it doesn’t surprise Thomas. “Miro,” He lets out, but then it’s enough to make Miro jump, and trip. He falls down and Thomas gets this rush of panic. He yells louder his name but he’s stuck, and unable to move. He’s about to shout again when Manuel’s hands are on his sides.

He opens his eyes, sweating. Manu is serious above him until Thomas lets him know that he’s okay now.

“You were shouting Miro pretty bad.” He lets him know, and Thomas shrugs. “He haunts my thoughts all day it’s only normal he’d be in my dreams as well.”

After a silence, Thomas adds. “My dad was in my dream as well.” He doesn’t talk about his parents often, mainly because it seems like such a different life. It’s almost been three months since they’ve been away, and Thomas still hasn’t received a letter or any news about Miroslav. He sighs, and tries to fall asleep again, in the cold.

 

 

“So you were at la Somme? People say it’s been hell there.” 

“They aren’t lying. I broke a rib, was out of it for months.”

"Yet your humor survived." 

He had run into Maria at the town’s pseudobar. A break from the trenches was in order and their company had been spending the week there. Beside that time they had met in the hospital, they had managed to chat a few times throughout the months, even managing to steal some supplies for soldiers in the hospital. Thomas was glad he had made a friend that wasn't in the trenches. 

“Do you want to go for a walk?”

A distraction, one that Thomas had no problem in taking whatsoever. After a while of wandering away from the town, they reach the top of a small hill surrounded by woods. Sometimes he wonders if he could run away and find his way back to Philipp’s company. His mind goes to Miro again, until Maria stops and grabs his hand.

It’s-- uncomfortable, Thomas thinks as he tries to untangle. He doesn’t expect her throwing her body at him and kissing him fully on the lips. He chokes immediately, and pushes her away, eyes wide open. It’s awkward, the way they’re just standing across each other. She stutters, 

“I-- I thought. You said you didn’t have a girlfriend.” Yes, Thomas had mentioned that, but he never expected it to rub off the wrong way. In his head he had been honest because, in fact, he did not have a girlfriend. He’s speechless though, leaving Maria to continue. “I’ve seen the way you look at me! You clearly enjoy spending time with me, aren’t you lonely?”

The words hit Thomas like bullets. He’s never once considered her in that way, “I’m sorry,” Is all he manages to say before she sighs and storms off. Thomas decides he needs to sit down, and finds the nearest log.

Lonely.

His head falls to his hands, unable to deny the awful feeling creeping on him.

 

 

“Guess what came through today? A letter from our good friend Fips!” Bastian announces to Lukas, who doesn’t really acknowledge it. Ignoring the indifference, Bastian opens it and starts reading out loud.

“Numbers of shells imported to out division, number of-- shit this is all administration stuff, you’d think the guy would at least add a person--”

Bastian stops, which peaks Lukas’ interest. He looks back from his book to find a serious Bastian.

“What is it?”

When he’s done, he throws the letter to the table and shakes his head. "Unbelievable, they're like two drops of water." he adds as he places on his helmet and leaves the bunker. 

Lukas gets up and grabs the piece of paper.

PS.- I’m sure you’re looking for news of our troubled Hauptmann. Using names would be too dangerous, Lukas figures. Well, I’ll be honest. He’s barely himself. He’s not eating well and hasn’t hired anyone new, no matter how hard I insist. Last week we suffered a gas attack and he failed to get his mask on. He's going to get himself killed if he continues this way. I fear sending him on leave might make things worse. At least here I can monitor him. Do you have any suggestions on how to help? I’ve tried everything.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Dear Oberstleutnant,  

Just remind him who he needs to stay alive for. That’s what we did for the Soldat on this side of the front.  

Hauptmann Schweinsteiger.

 

Easier said than done, Philipp sighs. Each passing day, he feels the heavier weight of his soldiers around him. There isn’t much to do beside keeping on fighting for the fatherland that they can do. Even if he didn’t show it often, Philipp cared immensely about his friends.  Miroslav’s health was one of his main concerns nowadays. He had only been as worried as when he had lost Ivan, in the Marne battle back in 1914.

“Hire someone,”

“No.”

“Miro, it’s only for six months, then he’ll be back and--“

The last argument he had had with Miroslav had not ended well at all. His officer had stormed out of the room being the opposite of what he had hoped for. It had created a sort of drift between them as well, and Philipp no longer could talk to him other than the usual orders.

If it weren’t for Thomas, Miroslav would have never become the man he is today. In his assistant, he had found someone to take care of, and even if he didn’t understand it completely, he knew how much Thomas had gotten under his skin. Miroslav was always the type of man to never let anyone in, completely devoted to duty. After what had happened with Ivan at the beginning of the war, Philipp knew he was as closed off to the world as he had ever been. Yet Thomas had managed to break down his walls, and enter his heart.

The thought of something happening to Thomas and how Miroslav would react is an unsettling one. Philipp wonders if he didn’t make a mistake in letting them become so dependent of each other. He guesses it’s too late now.

 

On a cold morning Fips decides to use another method. It’s mainly due to the fact that he’s had enough of this distance between them. 

“Where are you going to go when the war ends?” 

It’s enough to surprise Miro enough to make him look up from his list. He looks confused, not a rare expression in him. There’s no reply though, so Fips tries a little bit harder.

“I think I’d like living around Bavaria, retire, play some sports.”

“If the war ever ends.” He coldly replies, then for a split second Philipp doesn’t miss the regret in his expression. “I mean--” 

“No war can go forever,” As much wishful thinking that it may sound like, he actually has considered the resources from the intel he’s gathered from the allies and from his own superiors. Unless they intend on leaving the country without a single piece of bread, they have to stop at some point and surrender to the other, and he’s known for a while now that their resources aren’t as great as they were two years ago. Not to mention the fact that the United States was now on board. Miro hesitates, and Philipp gives him a small nod, indicating that his answer is fine.

“I’d like to live in Thomas’ farm. It’s really a wonderful place. He used to have lots of animals apparently, something that could be fixed in the long run. It was, uh, stuff happened there that won’t ever leave my memory ever I think.” He blushes, and Philipp wonders what exactly happened down there, then quickly dismisses the thought. “I met his horse, and his siblings. They’re all so terribly kind. I’ve always craved that; you know? Some sort of belonging. I think that’s why I joined the army, I wanted to belong to something and give my soul to it.” He gives in to a soft smile. “I guess I never expected to give my soul to someone else.”

It’s a sight he hasn’t seen in a while, and Philipp smiles back. Suddenly, Miro’s expression changes, to a guilty one. He goes back to his list and tries to step away, but with the thought there, he can’t escape it anymore. Before exiting the room, he stops and lowers the piece of paper.

“I’m sorry Fips, I just-- I don’t like talking about it. I’ve been a idiot.”

“I think you’ll make a wonderful farmer.” He shrugs, as he takes a stand next to him. They both look out to the horizon, artillery firing on the other side of the trench mixed with airplanes flying above them.

Miro doesn’t say anything, but when Philipp turns his head to him, he doesn’t miss his eyes glistening.

“It’ll be okay, Miro. I promise”

 

 

 

“They’re fucking destroying us.”  

Joachim slams his fist on the table, clearly frustrated. After a few months of heavy combat, they’re stationed at Cambrai behind the reserve trenches. It’s a very strong strategic point for their army, and if it were to be compromised by the British, the Empire would have a very hard time recovering from it. Miroslav happens to walk in the minute he sits down on the chair with his glass of alcohol. Philipp shakes his head, indicating him that this is not a good time.

“It’s those goddamned tanks of theirs, have you heard of the Mark IV? They’re advancing on us. We cannot compete with our own. They took Klinsmann weeks ago; bastard couldn’t even get his troops out. It’s the Americans; they’ve given the Brits and French some soul to fight with.”

Philipp stares at the map, sketched about 7 times in the last few hours trying to think of a better plan to attack. Gas maneuvers had been over rehearsed by the troops over and over making them no longer a good surprise against the enemy.

“As much as I hate the idea of retreating; it might be our only way out for the moment.”

Philipp doesn’t reply anything, so Joachim continues. “Look into it.” The final order is understood, and just as he leaves the building, Miroslav reveals himself, showing he never left. Walking down the stairs to the old church, where their superiors were now staying, they reach an old commentary.

“What was that all about?”

“We’re a target, Cambrai provides a quarter of the shells for this side of the front. Their tanks are closing in.”

He stops to stare deep into the horizon. The sky is unusually blue, blending in with the clouds of smokes issued by the horrors ahead. Miroslav is quiet for a bit, until he starts thinking out loud.

“Tanks. If only they had a weakness.” 

“Well, everyone has one,” He replies, a thought he had for some reason forgotten, without hesitation he adds. “Tanks are slow on mud.”

If there’s something that his superiors love in him, it’s his ability to find solutions during hard times. Of course, it hits him that it’s not about the enemy’s tactics, everything depends on the way they react. His eyes light up and he turns back to the church.

“Tanks are slow on mud!”

 

Joachim is not even done with his drink when he slams the door open. 

“We lure them, sir.” Miroslav follows behind him, quite intrigued by his friends’ sudden breakthrough. Moving to the map, he grabs the chalk on the table and starts drawing around the area. “This abandoned church, the one close to the trench line, it was once British. It’s the perfect bait. We abandon it, and they’ll be sure to notice. We leave the trench open and they’re use it as a bridge to Cambrai.”

“Which is a target they’ve been wanting for years.” Miro completes.

“Exactly, it’ll be too good to resist. When they do, however, we’ll be waiting for them inside with our own troops and tanks. We drop water on the dirt to make mud, that way the tank won’t be able to escape, but it’ll still be too good of a way to get to Cambrai. They’ll be outnumbered and we can capture their Marks IV. Hopefully to understand the mechanics and get the technology on our side.”

Joachim looks straight at him, clearly taken by the idea. “The problem is that we absolutely cannot leave Cambrai unprotected. It’s too risky, for the whole of the army.”

“Then we bring in troops from the north, to help defend. We can have them here as soon as the message comes through.”

He can’t ignore the way Miroslav turns to him at the suggestion. Philipp continues. “It’s doable,”

“Very well,” Löw nods, “Find us ten companies to reinforce the town, then plan the attack. You have this week and the next.”

On their way out, Miro doesn’t have to say anything for Philipp to acknowledge it. “Bastian’s crew will be my priority” He turns to his friend, his face turned into a shocked new found hope. He might be with Thomas again before the year ended.

“I promise.”

“Thank you,”

 

 

Miroslav knows when something is up with his friend, and the way Philipp walks in, is clear he’s lost a battle. Trouble sweeps through him.

“What’s wrong?” He dares to ask, unsure if he’s brave enough to hear the answer.

His superior sighs, and sits on the table, taking his hat off. “I have news, but not about Bastian.”  Something in him relaxes, but not for long. “You’re to be in charge of the assault on the tank, next week.”

“Me?”

“Joachim knows how talented you are in those situations. He personally requested you, and really trusts you I take it. There was no one else he wanted.”

“You don’t seem too enthusiastic about it.”

“Because it’s one of the most dangerous missions we’ve ever planned, and he doesn’t know what we do. Miroslav, you need to find someone to take with you and to tell them about the goddamned blindness. I don’t give a crap if it’s not Thomas. This is your life we’re talking about and we cannot risk losing you.”

Miroslav is quiet, the eye incident had indeed not happened since he had heard the news that Thomas was leaving, but then again he knows he hasn’t been in positions of immediate danger. He knows Philipp does as well.

It still hurts though, to consider having someone other than Thomas with him. He feels as if he’s cheating on him, in a weird twisted way. He hesitates, but Philipp beats him to whatever he can say.

“Thomas will be back by the time you capture the tank and come back. Isn’t that worth taking an extra precaution? You have to come back to him.”

It’s hard to believe Philipp is using Thomas against him, yet he’s always been known to use all the weapons at his disposal. Thomas is Miroslav’s weakness even more than the blindness, and it’s no secret between them.

“Alright,” As he had once agreed in the past to find someone and had found Thomas, he tells himself it’s just for this mission. “Thomas will be here when I come back?”

“The companies are on their way as we speak, including Bastian.” He raises an eyebrow. “He had no problem whatsoever with ‘helping Obersleutnant Lahm with his duties.’”

 

 

It’s a day with rain, that they’re set to start the plan. While it's still dark, the troops move out to occupy the location. Miro closes an eye as he feels the drops fall on his helmet. Next to him, a tall but young man is covering him. Niklas Süle had only enlisted this year even if according to reports, was doing an excellent job. 

As they advance near the trench lines, he spots several soldiers doing their duty. What are their stories? They’re all human beings caught in the horrible crossfire between two nations. When the war had broken out, his priority was to fight for his Empire, defend the Fatherland. Yet now, all of that seems so distant. There’s nothing left in him but the inertia of continuing to fight like cattle. He doesn’t even hate the British, the French, or the Americans at all. He might even relate a bit to them, under orders to kill the opposite side. A part of him even resents his own chain of command, for keeping the bloodshed on.

Even with all those thoughts, here he was sitting in the dark for the sun to come and for more blood to be spilled. He tries to change his thoughts, closing his eyes. When he’ll be back, Thomas will be here. It’s easy to think of his last image of him on the truck. He wonders what it’ll be like when he gets to hold him again. 

“Can you hear them?” Süle whispers, and Miro can make out a few bombings coming closer. It’s tank guns, by the way the ground vibrates under them. He simply nods, it is far too dark for it to be seen. Every explosion, every movement has them all nervous.

One of the soldiers shoots a flare gun, indicating that the tank now found itself in the mud, struggling to break free. It’s time to act.

 

“Now!” Miroslav yells, and the troops jump next to him. The British knew better than to only send their tank, however. He quickly spots the set of men behind it, immediately reacting and shooting them. “Artillery, now! Remember! Aim to disarm the guns!” 

He spots the men moving the canons by his orders, when the tank beats him to it and sends a missile to destroy the first one in one blow. Miroslav is stunned, he now only realises he’s never been up against such an advanced type of machinery. He rushes back into the church, climbing up the stairs to have a better view of the scenario. He might not have Philipp’s resourcefulness, but he’s still a capable Hauptmann.

Unseen by the enemy, he manages to slip to the bell of the church. First hoping to see where the enemy was coming for or optimal spots for the artillery, he ends up noticing an important cloud of smoke coming from the back of the British tank. The strangest thing is the pigeon flying away back into the British sector. From his position, he waves at artillery to continue firing on the tank leaving it defenseless.

 

It works, because the tank shuts down and the guns go quiet.  

“On it!” He yells, and some troops climb the tank, hitting it hard with their riffles or anything they can. For a second, Miroslav feels delight in his body: they’ve done it. The last enemy soldiers are shocked at their failure as well, and decide to rush away back into the trenches. For a short moment and the high position next to the bell, he feels like the king of the world. He can already imagine his superiors expressions. It's going to be priceless.

The moment is gone fast enough though, because he notices Süle on the ground who gets shot in the chest and falls down. He snaps back in a second, suddenly rushing down the stairs to tend him. He knows it is too late though, and Miroslav feels horrible for it, he wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place.

“Sir! They’ve left. I don’t understand.” A voice stops him from behind right on his tracks. It’s true, beside the flames and the gases, they’ve left the tank whole. His thoughts go back to the pigeon. Why would they need a homing pigeon to-- Shit. The realization that they must have given a signal back on their side of the trench dawns in. He turns away from the exit, looking around for the heaviest pillars he can find.  

“Everyone, move out! They’re going to--”

It’s too late, and Miroslav can barely finish his words when the sound of missiles approaching grow in microseconds. The only thing he can grasp is the force of which his body is thrown against the walls. It's as loud as he can imagine, then the opposite in the most quiet way. Opening his eyes, a blurred vision takes hold of him. There’s a sort of buzzing that doesn’t let him focus on his surroundings. He tries to grab on to something, but there’s nothing.

He can’t go, not like this. He survived la Marne, la Somme, having Ivan in his arms, not to go on some stupid mission. He tries to crawl a bit around, and manages to place himself on top some debris. As much as he fights against it, his eyes close and it’s all dark.