Warning: This WW2 AU contains a near rape, and non-graphic talk
about child sexual abuse. L PG-13 for this, and for violence, so
don’t read it if you’re sensitive about these topics—it’s a tough
Thank you to Tina for pointing out a couple of errors so I could fix
them. All errors remain my own. I welcome corrections for
historical accuracy (at least, if it seems like something I can fix).
Fortunes of War
“Private Starsky—you’re with me. Come on.” Sergeant Mansen jerked his head. “We’ll scout out ahead and be back in an hour.”
An hour, alone, with Sergeant Mansen. What joy. Starsky glanced back at his friend Colby, willing him to volunteer instead. Colby just returned his look, apparently not understanding the silent plea.
“Starsky—come on.” Mansen prodded him in the ribs. He was a big, gruff, bear-shaped man who towered over his young, still-green men. Starsky was barely three weeks out of boot camp, hadn’t fought any Germans yet or anything, but he knew some things about life, and he knew he didn’t like the way Sergeant Mansen looked at him sometimes, when he thought no one saw.
But what could he do about it? Refuse to scout with the Sergeant? Not likely. You could be court martialed, or just plain shot, for disobeying a direct order.
He followed the Sergeant. What could happen in an hour, anyway?
“Hey you. American! Get some water.” One of Hutch’s fellow soldiers flung a bucket at his feet, making him jump, and drop the book he’d been reading. The others, who had been watching, laughed—even the Sergeant.
Hutch rose slowly to his feet, keeping his face blank. How long would this antagonism endure? Until, he supposed, he shot one of the Allied troops they were supposed to be facing any day now, and ‘proved’ he was a real soldier.
Only thing was, that wasn’t going to happen.
Karl Hutchinson had been pulled out of school to fight—drafted away from his college studies. His English was good enough he could have been a spy, but since his mother was English, he was considered too disloyal for espionage. Now he was a foot soldier—a grunt—cannon fodder—and apparently mostly here for the more willing soldiers to make sport of.
He picked up the bucket and went. At least it would get him away from the other soldiers for awhile. They made him sick to his stomach. Hutch didn’t want to be in this war. He certainly didn’t want to be on the wrong side.
“Thought we were scouting ahead?” Starsky looked around the empty, abandoned barn Mansen had found. It smelled musty, of too-old hay, not-quite-cleaned stalls, and bird and bat droppings. “We need to stay here or something?”
“Or something.” Mansen dropped his sack and turned to Starsky. His smile was one Starsky had never wanted to see again.
He found himself taking a step backwards. Thump. His back hit the wall, and he turned to run, commanding officer or no.
“Not so fast, my little one.” Mansen caught his arms, and pressed him against the wall. His hand fumbled for Starsky’s gun, and with one quick flick of the wrist, sent it to land in some moldy straw. “Now.” He turned back to face Starsky, grinning. His breath smelled of foul meat.
Hutch was walking past an old, dilapidated barn that looked like it had needed painted ten years ago, when he heard the sound. It was like a child whimpering, or a trapped puppy. He started immediately for the noise, which seemed to come from inside the barn.
Hutch eased around the half-open door, being careful not to move it and let it creak. He might not have been in a firefight before, but he was well aware how close they were being set upon by the Allies at any point. And, well, as much as Hutch didn’t want to kill anyone, he also didn’t want to be killed.
What he saw made his blood run chill.
A huge man in an Allied uniform was pressing a smaller person against the barn wall, his intentions obvious from his power-hungry posture, and the hands he was running indiscriminately over the other.
“No…please don’t.” Someone was begging, and probably crying. Hutch couldn’t see anything of the victim; the attacker was too big, completely shielding her from view. “Not again.”
“You have a choice,” said the gravelly voice of the Allied man. “We can do this the easy way or the hard— Oh? Again, is it? Then you know just how this goes. Take your clothes off. Now. Because you know I can just shoot you and say the Krauts did it.” One big hand came up and pawed at the victim’s chest; Hutch heard buttons ripping.
From cold, Hutch’s blood churned to boiling. The roots that had grown from his feet disappeared and he lunged forward. If anyone did that to his sister…
He ran up beside the pair and aimed his gun at the back of the big man’s head. “Get away from here.” Hutch’s English came out crisp and coldly furious.
The big man growled with fury at the interruption. He moved one huge hand to cover his victim’s throat, squeezing and pressing against the wall. “Or you’ll what? Shoot? Get back to camp, Mackey!”
Mackey? Who was Mackey?
“Let her go or I swear I’ll shoot.”
The big man turned and looked at him for the first time, surprise etched on his thick features. “Hey, you’re not Mackey.”
Hutch grabbed his arm and yanked it away from the girl’s face. He caught only a glimpse of a dark haired, short-haired person in green, bending forward and gasping.
The man was going for his gun. “Drop it!” The man fumbled, yanking it from his pants, and raising—
Hutch shot him.
He blinked. The sound reverberated around the room. Hutch’s mouth fell open, slack, as the man’s gun dropped—and the man followed. His chest was a mass of blood. He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but only blood came out. His eyes didn’t even close; it seemed like your eyes should close when you died.
Hutch’s mind felt blank and whirring. Behind him, he heard the girl emptying the contents of her stomach.
He staggered back, looking down at his feet so he wouldn’t fall—they didn’t look like the feet of a killer—and came to rest against the barn wall. He slid down, and rested his hands on his knees—still holding the gun. He stared at the dead man, and then at his gun, and then at the dead man.
After awhile, the gagging and gasping stopped. Only then did Hutch remember to glance over to the girl.
It wasn’t a girl after all, but rather a soldier Hutch’s age, or a little younger. He wore an Allied uniform, his shirt halfway ripped open, several buttons missing, showing some hair growing on a thin chest.
He had short, dark hair, and a thin face gone very pale. He was shaking, and trying to stop crying. He kept his eyes down, as if too thoroughly shamed to meet anyone’s gaze. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped one arm around them. With the other, he wiped at his nose with his sleeve. This soldier was probably not much younger than Hutch, but in that moment, he looked very young indeed.
“Here.” Hutch fumbled for his handkerchief, and handed it over. “Are you okay?” he asked nonsensically, his concern about the soldier momentarily overcoming his horror at killing the Allied soldier. There was, after all, a reason.
The boy nodded, and hiccupped. He coughed, and gagged again, and bent sideways. But his retching produced nothing.
Without thinking about it, Hutch reached out and rested a hand on the short, dark hair. The boy jerked as though he’d been electrocuted. He started shaking again, harder. He looked at Hutch with huge, nervous, dark blue eyes, and edged away from him, wrapping his arms around himself more tightly still.
It made Hutch’s throat hurt, to know he’d become a killer, and been suspected of being a rapist all in one day.
“I wouldn’t hurt you,” he said quietly.
The boy soldier stared at him, the look of terror still on his face. He wrapped his arms tightly around his knees, and just stared, still trembling.
Starsky stared at the strange German. He didn’t look any older than Starsky. He was light-haired and long limbed, but with something of the colt still about him, as if he wasn’t used to his adult height yet. He didn’t really look dangerous, but then again, he had just shot Sergeant Mansen (and good riddance, although when Starsky saw his body—).
Starsky swallowed. His eyes flicked to the gun. The German held it in a very knowledgably, professional way, just resting, tilted, on his knee.
Starsky swallowed a few more times, tasting the horrible brack of vomit in his throat. If only he had his canteen…
The German looked around, and slung one off his shoulder. He handed it to Starsky.
Starsky stared at him for a moment. Had this guy just read his mind or what? He fumbled with the cap, his hands still shaking.
He wished he could pull himself together. He had no desire to go to pieces like this before an enemy soldier.
He supposed this meant the end of the war for him—a POW camp, and who knows what kind of treatment. Maybe they’d even take him out back and just shoot him, to save the food and care. He found he couldn’t really care. Nothing seemed to matter at the moment—although it would have been nice to have a drink of water, if he could just get the canteen open.
“Here.” The German sat his gun down beside him, with a quiet noise in the dirt of the barn, and took the canteen back with gentle hands. Starsky noticed those hands were shaking a little, too. But the light-haired young man unscrewed the lid easily, and handed it back.
Starsky drank lukewarm water that tasted only faintly of metal, still watching and being watched by those light blue eyes. He found he couldn’t fear them. They were not the eyes of a soldier. They were the eyes of a young man, like himself, eyes that seemed far too gentle to have been behind the hands that pulled that trigger and killed the Sergeant.
What’ll I tell the guys? Oh, wait. He wouldn’t have to. He’d be a prisoner of war now. Well, at least it saved him that one onerous duty. He glanced again at the corpse, the man who had tried to rape him. He felt nothing but cold and sick inside at the sight—and the memory of him again, pressing and pawing.
He shuddered, and looked down at the floor. He shoved the canteen back into the German’s hands. He didn’t want to throw up on it.
The dark-haired soldier leaned forward again, a green look on his face. He rocked slightly, and made a gagging noise.
“Hey. Calm down. You are okay.” Hutch rested a hand on the boy’s back, before he remembered not to. But this time, the Allied soldier didn’t jerk from his touch. Hutch patted him, slow and calm, as if he were a baby with colic. He’d spent time doing that when his sister was a baby. She’d seemed to respond well to him, and his mother had often needed a break from her fretting. Now he patted this boy in the same firm, slow way—and the silent heaves slowed and finally stopped. The boy sat still, drained, panting a little. Gradually, his shaking eased, and he caught his breath. Hutch waited a moment, then removed his hand.
The boy sat back and looked at him, eyes wide, but more aware and even assessing now.
“You speak really good English.” The boy spoke for the first time. Hutch heard a strong accent in it, one he recognized from the movies as vaguely east coast. New York City, maybe?
“Yes, my mother was English. She taught me.”
The boy’s eyebrows rose. “Wow. You must be good at languages to speak two. It’s h-hard enough sometimes just speakin’ one.” He looked down at his scuffed shoes, his arms laced loosely around his knees, which were still drawn towards his chest. He seemed more at ease within himself now, less tightly strung.
He leaned forward slightly, and Hutch glimpsed a flash of gold swing out from where his chest had been bared. Without thinking, he reached out and fingered it. A delicate gold Star of David hung on a petite chain.
“Your necklace. You’re Jewish?”
The boy tucked it quickly back inside his shirt and pushed Hutch’s hand away. The tension was there again. He met Hutch’s eyes defiantly, but as though he didn’t want to. “Yes. It was my mother’s. I wear it to remember her.” There was something frightened, feral, and fierce in those eyes now.
“Remember her. Ah. I’m sorry.”
I just saved a Jewish boy. An American Jewish boy. Hutch smiled inwardly at the thought of how angry that would make Hitler—or his father, if he knew.
The boy watched him closely, his expression turning hesitant. “Do they—treat Jewish prisoners any different?”
‘They’—not ‘you.’ It was an important distinction, one Hutch made all the time in his own mind. He was surprised the boy was making it though—unless it was a misspeak.
Hutch thought of his fellow soldiers, those callous and cruel men he was shamed to share a uniform with. “We are not going to find out.”
The boy blinked at him. “What d’you mean?”
“What is your name?”
“Starsky. David…Starsky.” His eyes were very watchful and brimmed with confusion.
“Well, David Starsky. This is your lucky day—you caught a German prisoner.” He raised his hands slowly, a wry smile twitching his mouth. “I surrender.”
“You can’t surrender. You have the gun.” Starsky pointed. “I don’t have one, see?” He patted his sides to prove it.
“We can fix that.” Hutch reached over, picked up his gun, and put it gently, butt-first, into Starsky’s hands.
They stared at each other.
Hutch would be a POW, and probably have to work hard at backbreaking labor for men who would treat him no better than his squad mates. But he would be out of the killing. He would never have to kill again.
This is my ticket, thought Hutch. My ticket out of the war. And he smiled at Starsky.
“But you can’t.” Starsky gestured to the dead Sergeant. “You killed him. What am I supposed to say, I did it? You think they’ll let you live, if I bring in the man who killed Mansen? I know what it says about prisoners of war, but things are different out here, an’ some of the guys really liked M-Mansen.”
He shuddered again, once. Get control, Starsky. Stay in control! He didn’t want the gentle German to have to comfort him again. After all, he was supposed to be an adult now.
He glanced nervously up at the flaxen-haired soldier. “What’s your name?”
“Karl Hutchinson. Hutch.”
Starsky swallowed. “Well, Hutch, if you want to be nice to me, you can let me go, an’ I’ll go back to my squad. But I can’t take you with me or they’ll kill ya, and that’ud be fine payment, wouldn’t it? After you saved me an’ everything.” He hugged his knees again, letting the German’s gun slip to the floor.
The gentle eyes were watching him, gauging him. A hand reached out to touch him, but Starsky raised one of his own. “I’m fine.”
But he couldn’t help wishing he’d had someone like this German around when his uncle had started…doing that thing he used to do. Someone to shoot his uncle. Or at least stop him. Someone to comfort Starsky. Someone gentle, with hands that wouldn’t hurt him.
He shuddered once again, and swallowed. Sergeant Mansen had brought all of that back, damn him. And just when I thought I’d put it in the past. ‘I’m a grown up now, and nobody can ever hurt me that way again.’ How wrong could he have been?
It was even part of why he’d joined the army. Oh, of course, everyone was doing it—and there was the draft to consider, if he’d waited—but even so, it would prove he was a man. And his uncle would never again try to touch him. You just couldn’t abuse a soldier of the United States Army that way.
Starsky had imagined standing straight and tall on his first leave, resplendent in his uniform, and looking his uncle in the eye squarely, no longer afraid of him. No longer afraid of anyone. Well. That was a ball of laughs, wasn’t it? He wasn’t even safe with his own Sergeant.
“Starsky.” The German’s large, gentle hand rested on his head, smoothing, soothing. Starsky’s eyes closed momentarily, to hide the tears. He leaned his head back, with a thump, against the wall, and the German’s hand lit off it, light as a butterfly.
“It was my uncle. He—used to—” He swallowed hard, and brought a hand up angrily to swipe at his eyes. Adult, damn it! Not crying! “He used to…do things to me.” He felt an odd calm descend, even though he was aware of trembling again. He’d never told anyone, before. It felt so good, to let the terrible secret out.
“I’m sorry,” said the German, and wrapped his arms around Starsky, pulling him into a gentle, warm hug. He rubbed Starsky’s arm, and Starsky cried. He hated this. He hated that he had to cry. But…but…he did.
Hutch’s jaw tightened in anger at that invisible, terrible relative. He held the Jewish soldier until he’d cried himself out. Starsky looked exhausted, completely worn out—but also so relieved. At last he drew back from Hutch’s comfort, and straightened his shirt and wiped at his eyes again—Hutch’s handkerchief was a soiled, crumpled mess by this time.
“They’re expectin’ us back. S’pposed to be only an hour.” He harrumphed, clearing his throat loudly, and handed the crumpled handkerchief back awkwardly. “They’ll come lookin’. I hafta go. Th-thanks for everything.” He rose slowly to his feet, straightening his uniform again, keeping his eyes down, shamed, on the ground.
“You need your gun?”
“Where…?” Starsky pointed to a pile of straw. Hutch took the few steps over, past the corpse, and fetched the gun, trying not to even glance at the dead man. (Stop thinking about it! he told himself. You can think about it later. And if anybody deserved it, that guy did.)
Hutch handed the gun to Starsky and watched him slide it into his belt. Still avoiding Hutch’s gaze.
“David.” Starsky looked up with a quick jerk of his head at his name. Hutch looked at him, smiling a little, looked at him intently, trying to convey some of what he meant. He put as much love and acceptance into his eyes as he could. Almost immediately, he saw Starsky’s shoulders relax, and some of the anxiety leave his eyes.
“It was not your fault.” He laid a hand on the Starsky’s side, to touch him, to show him he wasn’t dirty. He wished there was more he could do, but this was all he knew.
Starsky looked at him, and nodded once. He grinned, suddenly. “Yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t. He was the grown up.” He started from the barn, his steps light. He turned once, and raised his hand. “Thanks, man!”
Hutch watched him go, welling inside with sadness. The things people could do…
He swallowed. He’d have given anything to walk out of here beside Starsky, instead of heading back into Nazi power. The Nazis and their philosophy were different from, but just as evil as Sergeant Mansen’s. And Starsky’s uncle.
He glanced around the barn, and slowly picked up his gun and his dropped bucket. He turned dejectedly and started from the building as well, heading the other direction. He went to get the water, and then go back to his squad.
Maybe there were evil people in every nation, if someone could have done those horrible things to Starsky.
I thought I knew a lot about life. I guess I don’t.
He had the feeling he was soon going to learn a great deal more about life, war—and death. He just wished it could have been with Starsky instead of so alone.
You never feel so alone as when you’ve had a little taste of not being alone, thought Hutch, and wondered if that was deep or if he was shaken up inside from having just shot a man.
Whatever the case, he wished he and Starsky could have been on the same side—or better yet, not in a war at all.
Take care of yourself, my Jewish friend. I wish I could do it, but I can’t.
As his long strides took him away from the barn, and the man he’d killed, and the friend he’d made, he wondered if he’d ever see or hear from Starsky again.