Sunday, October 20, 2013

12/25/44 - Le Réveillon - pt. 2

* * *

premier cours
oie rôtie avec farce orange et gelées de pommes de terre

* * *
"Oh man, this is !@#$ing incredible," (REDACTED) says, ripping off a hunk of the massive, fragrant roast duck for himself, just before Faust -- who's risen to carve for the others -- can get to it. The others just roll their eyes and laugh, somehow knowing that's just the way he is.

(Though how they know is not any more certain than this place, here, or how two groups of sworn enemies are willing to sit and eat a meal with one another.)

"Good of you to wait, my friend," Faust says, smiling as he forks him some potatoes and stuffing to go with his duck: "I presume all would care for some?"

"Oh please," Major Force says, making a show of being polite, and realizing that his subordinate just does not care: "You're the one who carves at home?"

"I am," Faust says with a smile, making sure the man gets a good measure of what's on offer: "Well, it's been a while since I've had that pleasure. I've been rather busy, these last few years."

"Same here," the Major admits, waiting until all others are served before having some of his own. Faust serves Lightning, then Heimdall, then Nacht-Maske, and then himself. 

"Should we say grace?" Lightning asks: "I feel like we kind of skipped that part."

"I don't remember whether we did or not," Nacht-Maske agrees, looking around: "We just sort of were drinking, I think. And then the waiters brought the food."

"Well, if no one has any objections?" Faust asks, bowing and looking around -- especially at (REDACTED), who's scarfing down his plate. The man realizes all eyes are on him, stops chewing, and then nods.

"Sorry," he says: "Big family. If you waited you starved."

"I think we are in no danger of that," Nacht-Maske says, bowing his head and delivering it. 

The prayer is a simple one:

Vater, segne diese Speise
Uns zur Kraft und dir zum Preise.
Hilf, Gott, heut und allezeit,
Mach uns bereit fuer die Ewigkei

"Amen," Major Force and Lt. Lightning echo. (REDACTED) has already tucked back into his food, which -- as the others soon discover -- tastes as amazing as it looks and smells.

* * *

"I just think I've had much of a choice in things," Major Force admits, his mind reeling from the taste sensations he's enjoying: "I was in the Army before the war started. Everything since then's just been a big blur." 

"Why did you join the Army?" Nacht-Maske asks, pushing his plate away, as he plans to save room for dessert. 

"I just felt it was the right thing to do, though... if I'm honest? My father was in it. And so was my grandfather. And his father before him. We've had an unbroken line of men in uniform in my family, all the way back to the Civil War." 

"Which side?" Lightning asks, smiling a little. 

"The right side," he replies, clearly not wanting to elaborate. 

"You know, we'd get along a !@#$ of a lot better if you'd !@#$ing open up more," (REDACTED) says, shoveling down a succulent piece of duck, stacked high with gooey potato: "That's the one !@#$ thing that's bugged me since you joined up with us. It's like we're holding out our hands and you're just batting them away."

"It's not a leader's place to be friends with his men, Sgt," Major Force rebuts: "I have to be alone and above. If I come down to you, then it becomes harder to rise above you when I need to. And I can't lose that edge. Not in peace, not in war."

"I cannot disagree," Nacht-Maske says.

"I can't disagree more," Faust replies, getting some more duck: "I think you need to know when to be steel and when to be skin, yes. But a leader can be both. Especially when men are demoralized and uncertain."

"I'd love to see you ask Der Fuhrer to be soft and meek," Heimdall snorts.

"We don't need him to be. He is our symbol of our nation, which should be the rock upon which we stand. But though we lead for him, we can still be human beings. That's how I do it, anyway."

Lt. Lightning smiles, thinking of the last pieces of advice his father gave him before he went off to Boot Camp. General advice any man might give his son, along with the most important ones at the time -- how to take orders and how to give them.  

And how to lead from behind. 

* * *

les treize desserts

* * *
And then comes dessert: deceptively simple at first, and then more complex.

Plates full of crisp nuts and dried figs give way to succulent, fresh fruit -- the first some of them have seen in months. The apples, oranges, pears, and grapes are eagerly devoured, and then replaced by further delights, most notably black and white nougat, warm spiced bread, and light thin waffles.

Finally, a yule log, which everyone seems to have just enough room for a slice. Coffee, tea, dessert wines, warm milk...

"So..." Nacht-Maske says, barely able to think from all the food he's eaten at this table, this night: "After the war?"

"I'm going back home, finding the best woman I can find, raising a family, and telling my kids to go be better than they started out," Lightning says, patting his chest and wondering how they made this amazing coffee.

"That is all that's important to you?" Heimdall asks.

"Well, let me put it this way," Lightning says: "I get out of this war, I got another one waiting at home. Same one I left, really."

"Is it really that bad for you at home?" Nacht-Maske asks: "We were told you and those like you were all over the place. It's what we're supposed to tell our men, anyway."

"Oh we are, but we're treated like dirt under your foot. Basically, most folks would rather we just stayed invisible.

"Like, for example, back in town? You all are fighting us, and our men are stretched tighter than a bed at bootcamp. But you know what all the soldiers like me are doing right now? Driving !@#$ cars and cleaning up mess halls. They trained us to fight when we joined, but they won't give any of us guns and tell us to go fight now, because the rest of the men won't have it."

"A tragic waste of resources," Faust says.

"That's what I said. So yeah, I want my children to be better than this. I want them to earn their way, but I want them to be allowed to earn it."

"Hear hear," (REDACTED) says: "My people got the same !@#$ when they came over. No one wanted any Italians doing a !@#$ thing for them-"

"Or the Irish," Major Force chuckles.

"Yeah, well, maybe if they got sober enough to work," (REDACTED) shorts: "But at least we could pretend to be something else. My friend Rob, here? Good !@#$ing luck with that."

"So you may win a war here, only to have to fight another one at home," Faust says: "A sad thing. I wish you well in that."

"Not that you're going to win, of course!" Nacht-Maske quickly adds, which makes everyone laugh.

"I do not think the war will end for me," Heimdall says, still working on his spiced Christmas Bread: "I see myself fighting for Der Fuhrer until the day I die. I imagine it will be overseas, perhaps in your streets in America. Or perhaps in Asia, when we finally turn the tables on the Japanese."

"And what happens there?" Nacht-Maske asks.

"I think I will finally meet a worthy adversary, and he will best me. I will die happy to have met him, knowing my death will be avenged."

And he goes back to eating, hoping no one realizes all that was a lie. 

"Ah, that's !@#$ing crazy," (REDACTED) says, cutting some more Yule Log for himself: "I'm gonna kick !@#$ until they say we're done and then go back to New York City. And then..."

He thinks for a moment, and then shrugs and goes back to eating.

"And then you don't know?" Major Force asks, disbelieving.

"I haven't !@#$ing thought that far ahead yet," he admits: "I guess I'm too !@#$ing much in the here and now, you know?"

"I know how you feel," Nacht-Maske admits: "I keep thinking I'll get home to Berlin, and party like there's no tomorrow. I say I'll burn down the officers' clubs with my antics, maybe get disciplined, busted back down to corporal. But I just don't see it."

"You think you're going to die?" Lightning asks.

"No. Maybe. I don't know," the man sighs: "It's hard to see, you know? Ever since I got the power, the more time I spend in the darkness, the more it calls to me. Sometimes I dream I've died and gone to hell, but then I wake up and realize I went into the darkness when I slept, even without my mask on.

"One day, I'm afraid I'm going to forget to wake up."

That sours things a little, and there is silence for a time.

"I don't see a future for me, either, " Major Force admits: "Maybe that's why I can't open up to people, (REDACTED). I feel like I'm just passing through. I don't want to weigh you down with a memory."

"Too !@#$ late for that," (REDACTED) says, and there's some laughter at that.

"My wife will never worry, and my children will never want," Faust says, gesturing for one of the waiters to bring him some more coffee: "I will be the best father they could have. The best husband. And hopefully, in the future, they will remember that everything I did, I did for them."

"I'll drink to that," Nacht-Maske says, and all glasses of dessert wine or coffee are brought together for that.

It helps him forget that his fears are even more bleak and terrifying than he's willing to say.  

* * *

assiette de fromages

* * *
 "So this is the Reveillon?" Heimdall asks, helping himself to a slice of something gooey and tart.

"I guess so," Lightning says: "I had some people back in Paris tell me I had to go to one, when Christmas or New Years' rolled around. Now I see why."

"What the !@#$ does that mean?" (REDACTED) asks, not sure about some of the cheeses the others are enjoying.

"Well, it's a traditional feast amongst the French," Faust explains: "Reveil means 'wake,' which they use because they eat so !@#$ late. You gather your friends and family, and eat a wonderful meal, and stay up as late as you can."

"Does that mean we're friends, now?" Nacht-Maske asks.  

"Aw !@#$ no," (REDACTED) snorts: "I mean, no !@#$ing offense, but as soon as we're done here, I plan on killing your kraut !@#$es. I don't know how this happened-" 

"I've been wondering about that, myself," Faust says: "This is like a dream, isn't it? The sort where you're having lunch and suddenly your first school marm makes you a sandwich, and you talk for hours about something you never had in common, but yet you did." 

"The waiters all have the same face," Heimdall announces, looking around: "The stones are the same pattern, over and over again. The torches make the same swirls of flame, every minute, like the workings of a clock." 

"And you didn't tell us this before because...?" Nacht-Maske asks, to which Heimdall shrugs and has some more of the gooey cheese.

"So this is a dream," Lightning says: "Not a bad one, really. But !@#$ if I know what it means-" 

"It means we're family," Major Force answers: "Brothers in arms, I think. No different than any other soldier, just different sides of the war."

"I like that," Faust says, clinking his glass to the Major's: "But it still doesn't explain what we do next."

"Kill or die?" Heimdall asks, maybe a little too eagerly. 

"Fight and live," Lt. Lightning says.

"Maybe learn something to take back with us," Nacht-Maske hopes.

"Maybe go get some !@#$ing answers," (REDACTED) says, getting up from the table and, once he remembers how to walk, heading for the area where the waiters are bringing the food and drink from: "I'll be back. Gotta take a !@#$."

He wanders all the way down the hall, growing smaller and smaller as he does. How far down does the hall go? 

(And would anyone stop him if he just !@#$ed up against the wall?)

"He's quite a fellow," Nacht-Maske says to the others, once (REDACTED) is no longer visible.

You have no idea, a voice says to them.

They all turn to look at the being that spoke those words. The shock and surprise on their face is a palpable thing.

"How..." Major Force asks, looking around. They are no longer alone: all the waiters that have been serving them have appeared from nowhere.

And they all know them -- every single face is totally familiar. 

"Mien Gott..." Faust says, suddenly realizing something.

In a sense, yes, Werner. But that's not important now. We have other things to talk about, you and I.

Heimdall inexplicably starts to scream, reaching for his eyes. And then- 

* * *

 Der Faust die Vaterlandes and Sgt. Shatter stand in front of each other, shaken by what has just occurred. 

The blonde man's silver hands are gone. Sgt. Shatter's blade is also missing. And everything around them is dust and ashes.

It is as if they were in the center of a bomb blast. The trees are on fire, the snow is turning to steam, and everything around them for a mile is flattered and smoldering.

(Including the tanks they'd come to destroy.)

Lt. Lightning is cradling Major Force, saying things that (REDACTED) can't quite make out. Heimdall is knocked out cold, and Nacht-Maske is picking him up and spiriting him away, back into the darkness.

For a second, the only things in the world are those two men. There's no hate or anger on their faces -- only puzzlement and shock.

They know each other, somehow. Did they meet once? Did they have dinner together, somewhere?

Do they actually know each other's names?

They take a step back from each other. As they do, Faust's hands reappear, as does (REDACTED)'s sword.

The two men look at one another, and their extremities. And then they look back up again, and slowly nod.

"Merry Christmas," (REDACTED) says, reaching out a hand to shake.

"Froliche weihnachten," Faust says, taking it in his and giving it a firm and friendly pump.

And with that -- slowly, and with many looks over the shoulder -- they both walk away, back to where they came from. The war can keep for the night. 

It's Christmas, after all. 

* * *

The Battle of the Bulge went on until the 25th of January, 1945, but Bastogne was the turning point. When Hitler's primary offensive was shattered on the weight of the Allies' air and ground power, it was all the Wehrmacht could do to stumble backwards in an orderly fashion.

It's been said that was one of the major turning points of the European Theater. But maybe that's just how we deal with the fact that 100,000 Americans died to make that happen.

One other good thing: faced with incredible odds, certain people got their heads out of their !@#$es and let African-American men take up arms and fight, which led to the desegregation of the American armed forces. And about !@#$ing time, too.

Nacht-Maske was recalled to Berlin following the American breakthrough on the 25th of January. It's said he had a private meeting with Hitler, but no one knows what was said or ordered during it. All that's known is that, after that meeting, no one ever saw Nacht-Maske again. Not even ABWEHR, after the war.

It's like he vanished into thin air, or maybe something else.

Lt. Lightning survived that battle, and kept on going. After the war, he went back home, got a good job, got married, had kids, became a superhero, got divorced, wrote a best-selling autobiography, got remarried, had more kids. He died happy, surrounded by friends and family who loved him and thought the world of him. He was a veteran, he was a super hero.

He was a man. 

Heimdall surrendered to the Allies after Germany's surrender. Unfortunately, he surrendered to the Russians, rather than the Americans, and they scooped his eyes out with a rusty spoon before his trial. No one's really sure what happened to him, but rumors of a blind German prisoner in a Gulag made for "Super War Criminals" persisted up until the late 70's. That could, of course, be bull!@#$.

No one's sure what happened to his magnificent gun. 

Major Force
died at the end of the Battle of the Bulge. He strode into a column of enemy soldiers and knocked them down until a bullet finally returned the favor. He was the last member of the Camp Rogers crew to die in Europe, and would later be recognized as America's first strategic talent.

He never told his fellow STs his real name. They had to find out by visiting his grave.
Der Faust die Vaterlandes disappeared into the war, shortly before Germany's surrender. He was last seen defending Berlin on the west, as the Soviets approached, and may have simply been annihilated during their advance. Or perhaps he saw a chance to get away, once he realized all was lost, and went back to Dusseldorf to find his wife and children. One can only hope he found them alive.

Rumors persist of his possible involvement in West Germany's postwar, anti-Soviet Strategic Talents program, but no one from that organization (or what remains of it, today) will confirm or deny anything. 

Sgt. Shatter may or may not have won the war in Europe for the Allies, depending on who you listen to. He went on to do several secret missions in postwar Europe, taking on both ABWEHR and the Soviets. He should have died several times -- due to both the odds and his own recklessness -- but somehow kept on going, as if someone was watching out for him.

Which is why, in the early 50's -- when it was decided that having superheroes running around with military ranks they hadn't earned was bad for morale -- a certain Warrant Officer from New York City was sarcastically codenamed "SPYGOD" by his handler. By all reports, he didn't like it at first, but, by the time he became the handler, the name had become as well-weathered as an old glove, and he kept it.

But why he doesn't use his signature superpower -- the basis of his wartime codename -- is not a subject he cares to bring up, these days.

(SPYGOD is listening to Le Huron Overture (Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry) and having more of that god beer)

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