Ariel's Author's Note: Hey everybody! Okay, so I admit, this story was done. D.O.N.E. But then this cretin (the one noting below me) held a gun to my head and was all like WRITE. WRIIIITE. (Don't fall for her false sweetness SHE IS NOT SWEET!). Anyways. Seriously, if you want to thank anyone for this chapter, thank her. (If you want someone to blame for all the tears and feels though, blame ME.) I probably would not have touched Prinzessin again if it wasn't for her. She is amazing, and pushy, and a fantastic editor, creates so many wonderful things that I can't even.. anyways. I'm planning to keep this hooligan around for quite some time. We are currently working on an amazing Duncney story, and she will also be helping me with the Untold Story. Again, you can thank her. I hope you guys really enjoy this, because we really worked our asses off. Every night for a week we spent about six hours on this chapter, (and she was pushing me to write half the time), and she probably spent more editing it because I simply cannot edit. Please, review, relax, and enjoy the final (or is it?) chapter that will break your hearts, and blow your minds at the same time. Thanks to her, I can honestly say that this is the best-written chapter, and the one I am most proud of.
Love you all, always. Thanks for continuing to send me kind reviews and even kinder PMs. (Keep 'em coming, especially now. Stray and I have a bet going to see if we get another rank higher on the most-reviewed TD Stories list).
Stray's Author's Note: So this idea came to me after I finished reading the main Prinzessin story, before the epilogue came out. I put together an outline for it immediately but didn't actually get down to writing it due to other commitments and time constraints and by the time those cleared up, Ariel had already posted her epilogue and had started on the sequel. But a few weeks ago, I sent her the outline to cheer her up when I saw she was having a bad day on tumblr and she liked it so much she wanted to write it right away and I suggested a collab and LO AND BEHOLD you now have the chapter in front of you.
"Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?"
"Pour me another," Duncan growls at the bartender, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. Greasy hair falls into his face as he does so, but he doesn't care enough to push it back. The bartender sighs but pours the man another glass of whiskey. Duncan is new to this bar; the old one had kicked him out after he'd started a fight. It had been the other man's fault. He'd dared talk back to him after Duncan ordered him to move out of his way. Who did that man think he was, disobeying the orders of an ex-SS?
Even an ex-SS with a deathwish as powerful as Duncan's.
Duncan shoots the glass back, the burning numbness glossing down his throat. But he'd never be numb enough. He gets drunker and drunker, each time more wasted than the last, and it never helps. He still dreams of them. Courtney and Channa. Still sees them every single time he closes his eyes for more than a couple of seconds.
He sees them the way he last saw them, on the hospital bed, tiny arms squirming from a bundle in a lifeless, stiffening embrace that should have been his. His and not hers, his…
His fault. All your fault. All your fault.
"More," he says gravely, violently slamming the glass on the table.
"Sir, are you alright?"
"I'll be fine as soon as you pour me another goddamned glass!" Duncan says, already growing more agitated by the second.
"Sir, you're bleeding," the bartender says, throwing a clean dishrag in Duncan's direction. "I'm going to go get the first aid kit," he adds before disappearing into the back.
"For Christ's sake," Duncan mutters angrily, looking down at his hand. He must have cut it when he slammed the glass down. But the funny thing is, it doesn't even hurt. It should, but he only watches it bleed lazily as his hand resumes to grip the chipped whiskey glass. He presses his thumb to the razor precision of the German glassmaker's craft, presses his palm, presses his wrist, applying pressure. Pressure.
His hand stalls. Of course. Of course he can't do it. If he couldn't do it with a revolver or a rope or all the narcotics he could buy, he wasn't going to do it with a sliver of glass. He is far too much of a coward and he knows it. He needs someone to pour him the arsenic. He needs the fucking German army to piss off someone else so he can throw himself into the next war and into the first bullet's path he saw and be done with it.
Your fault. All your fault.
It's been four years since the end of the war, but it feels like so much longer to Duncan. For him, the war never really ended, only moved from the battlefield to the inside of his mind. And now it was spilling out of him, bar after bar after bar. He doesn't need a fucking first aid kit. A first aid kit isn't going to solve a goddamned thing. He needs a bullet in the brain but is too much of a fucking feigling to do it himself. So a whiskey coma will have to do.
He slides off the barstool before the bartender comes back. He'll just find another bar for the night.
Duncan stumbles to the door, not bothering with the pretense of paying. If it gets him into a fight, good. That's what he wants anyway. When he's knocked out, it's different than when he's asleep. When he's knocked out, he doesn't see Courtney and Channa.
As the bartender's footsteps signal his return, Duncan staggers to the door, not sure of where the floor is, or where the door is either. He makes it up against the glass and as he pushes. It doesn't move. Fucking window, needed to be five feet to the left and-
Something on the other side of the glass catches his unfocused eye. The crowd of people walk by normally but among all the perfect blondes and tailored suits and Allied military personnel now watching on the street corners, someone is out who doesn't belong.
A little dark haired girl. Dark skinned. Blue eyed.
Duncan stops breathing.
Every time he saw her, she looked just like that. Perfect dark brown curls, Courtney's skin, his eyes. Was he dreaming? He blinked again but the little girl was still there, smiling as she skipped to school, laughing and curtseying when a stranger complimented her on her dress.
"Channa," he whispers, his hands going clammy.
It can't be her. He'd killed her; he'd been the one to sentence her to death, not even a day after she'd been born. But this girl...she looks so much like her he can hardly believe it. He stumbles a few steps closer to the door, but he barely makes it out of the bar before the bartender grabs his arm, shouting at him, telling him who did he think he was, SS officer or not, trying to skip out on paying his bill.
Duncan grunts in frustration but he can't be kicked out now, even if that is what he wanted when he walked in. Not when whatever they're serving him at this bar is making him see Channa. He turns around and digs into his pocket and shoves whatever bills he grabs at the man, then turns back to the window. But the little girl is gone.
He runs into the first person he encounters on the street when he stumbles out in his desperate need to get outside. Searching the crowd proves useless though, everyone is too tall. It was a miracle he saw her through the window at all.
Duncan breathes deep, trying to sober himself unsuccessfully so he can keep looking. When the world keeps spinning, he decides to walk back to his too empty house at the edge of town. He was surprised he was allowed to keep it after the war, but given the sop story he'd given the war police at his trial, he didn't feel too bad about it.
He makes it back onto his couch where he grabs his own stash of liquor from the scattered bottles on the floor. He knows where he's going to be tomorrow and the next day and the next from now on, but until that hour of the day ticked by again, he has nothing to do but what he's been doing for the last four years: wishing to die and still fucking living.
If she is real, he'll see her again. He'll make sure of it. And if she isn't, then he'll settle himself to drinking at that bar every day of what's left of his life if only to see her beautiful face through the window. If he drinks hard enough, maybe he'll see his other Channa, too.
For a month he shows up to that same bar, drinking until he's almost blind, and then seeing her. Every day at three on the dot she passes by, schoolbag in hand. Sometimes she has a friend with her, but more often than not she walks alone. Why was she alone? He takes it until he can't take it anymore. Is he dreaming? Is he merely hallucinating, or is the little girl actually there?
There's only one way to find out.
For a week he stays home, in pure hell, and drinks nothing, instead upchucking every organ in his damned body. His hands shake, and puddles grow on the floor from his sweat, but he convinces himself that she's worth it. His Channa is worth millions of nights like these if he can just find out once and for all if she's real.
When the headaches and the shaking stop, he goes back to the bar, not daring to enter. This time he leans against the wall, smoking his sixth pack of cigarettes that day.
She appears, just like all the other times.
She is so beautiful. Her long brown curls are tied back with a blue ribbon to match her eyes. Her school dress is neatly ironed, not a single wrinkle in sight. She holds a doll and talks to her as she walks, giggling when she passes him; it sounds like little bells.
He can't take it. Enough with being tormented by the sight of a dead daughter who may or may not be a manifestation of his crippling guilt.
He stands in front of her and cuts off her path. She almost bumps into him because she's so engrossed with her little blonde doll.
She looks up at him, her eyes brilliant in her dark face, and for a second there's confusion.
Then there's fear.
Duncan doesn't know what to do.
When he doesn't say anything, she clutches the dolly to her chest and says, in a polite, but small voice, "Excuse me," in perfect German.
Courtney never could pronounce a proper word of German to save her life and to hear the fully formed syllables roll off her little pink tongue dislodges the words from Duncan's throat.
"What's your name?" he demands in his officer's voice.
The little girl takes a timid step back. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
She looks like she's going to run. He can't let her run. Not after all this time. Not now when he's sure he'll go mad without the sight of her. Duncan lurches forward on unsteady, withdrawal-ridden feet and grabs her arm in a vice. His palm fits around the whole thing, she's so small.
"What's your name?" he orders again, shouting. "What is your name?"
The little girl trembles in his hold and he can see the tears forming in her eyes. "Please," she begs. "Please, I want my Mama and Papa," she chokes out. "Please don't hurt me," she says in the smallest voice she can muster under his stern glare. Passersby are starting to stare.
Duncan doesn't let go, yanking at her arm. "Tell me what your name is!"
She begins to scream.
"Let her go," a young man demands, putting a hand on Duncan's shoulder.
"Don't tell me what to do," he snaps, not liking the attention that they were gathering around them. "Everything is okay. It's okay, I'm her father," he says. That deters the stranger and he lets go. Duncan grabs the girl by her shoulders roughly, not noticing if he was hurting her.
"I order you to tell me your name!" he commands her, shaking her furiously, almost wanting to beat it out of her if she doesn't answer him soon. The girl starts to cry and screams louder for help. Someone else puts a rougher hand on Duncan's shoulder and by now he's had it. He lets go of her for a second to punch the man in the face but the girl is quick, leaving her doll behind as she runs back the way she was going.
"Shit!" Duncan hisses, forgetting about the people that were crowding him and fights through them to take off after her like a maniac. He can't let her get away.
Because she is real. Not a dream.
He touched her, he held her in his very hands. She's real. He isn't losing his mind.
She's fast, but he's got legs as long as she is tall. He loses her in the masses on the street for only a moment but then he catches the edge of her dress disappearing into the doorway of a nearby house, the door slamming loudly.
He's on the porch in an instant, beating on the door. "Open the door!" he orders. "I am an SS Officer on official business! Open this door at once!"
He can't hear himself, doesn't know if he really does sound like a SS Officer or not, doesn't really care. She's real. She's real. He isn't crazy. Or, then again, he's even crazier than he thought he could ever be.
Duncan continues to shout and make a scene. He can hear the little girl crying inside, tiny and terrified, and he's about to break through the window when the door clicks open a fraction to reveal a blonde woman, roughly his age, wearing a plaid dress and a hat.
The anger, the maternal instinct is written in every muscle of her posture when his blue eyes lock with her own and she comes up short. It takes him an instant, only an instant, to recognize the face staring at him through the crack in the door.
She recognizes him faster because she slams the door immediately shut again and double bolts it. He hears her shouting for her husband.
"Brigida," he breathes, the name coming to him after a moment. The camp hospital. The icy marble of her eyes. The twist of her blonde braid as it fell over her shoulder when as she folded the bloodied sheets where the tiny monster had stolen his Courtney from him.
The cold now settles into his stomach. Brigida. Brigida…
Four Years Ago
Duncan's breathing was shallow as he ran back to the hospital. He could still do this, still save his daughter. It hadn't even been that long since he had left her with Courtney. As soon as he had her in his arms he would never let her go again; he would stuff her in his shirt and sneak her out of the camp like that if he had to. His chest pounded harder as he ran in, blindly trying to make his way to the room Courtney had just been in.
He shoved past nurses who gave him mild glares, and saw prisoners who had just come here to make death come by faster. Finally he managed to find the room, pushing the curtain back and entering.
But it was empty.
Courtney was gone. And so was Channa.
Instead he found a pretty blonde in a nurse's uniform, picking up the filthy sheets from the bed that had held his Prinzessin. They were covered in blood, drenched in sweat and grime, and she was picking it up and folding it before tossing it inside a basket that rested on the chair beside the bed. He had sat in that chair not even three hours ago, holding his infant daughter for the first time.
The blonde turned her head towards him, her eyes cold, grey and emotionless. "This is a private room," she barked. "You have no right to be in here."
"I am an SS officer," he snarled. "I have more right than anyone else to be in here!" He then grabbed the nurse by her uniform and pinned her against the wall. "Where are they? Where are they?!"
"You mean the gypsy jew and her baby," she answered evenly. "The girl was dead. They carried her out a few minutes ago."
"And the baby?" he whispered, finding his knees growing weaker. His little Channa, his precious little engel…
"She was taken to the crematorium not even five minutes ago. I gave her to the sonderkommando myself." Duncan felt the blood leave his face as his mouth went dry as sandpaper.
"You sent her to be killed."
"Under your orders," the nurse said bluntly. "But no one was going to claim the gypsy jew baby anyway. Now let go of me. I have to prepare the room for another filthy one."
"You're going to pay for what you've done," Duncan swore, spitting in her face.
"I did my job," she replied, a hint of a challenge in her steely glare. "And if you had any sense left in you, you'd do yours as well. But go ahead, run," she mocked. "You might still be able to catch the little jew baby. Go explain to the sonderkommando how you fucked the girl, and now you want her baby for yourself."
"That isn't true," Duncan said weakly, letting go of the nurse, his mind already racing to think of the fastest way to get to the crematorium. What if he was too late? No, he couldn't be, she was just taken there. He had to save her, he just had to. He barely heard the midwife coming in, calling for Nurse Brigida before he pushed her away and started racing to the crematorium.
A thousand miles away, in the back of his frantic awareness, he heard the nurse say to the midwife, "Burn the sheets, there's no getting the filth off of these."
Snow was falling outside and the cold, icy droplets stunned Duncan's face but he couldn't care less. The only thought that ran through his mind was that he had to save her, he had to save her before it was too late. There had been a dozen babies killed just today alone, what difference would just one make? But he couldn't handle a dead baby on his hands; he had thought he could, but he couldn't. Not this dead baby. Not his baby. Duncan didn't want to live another day on this planet if it wasn't with his daughter by his side.
A pain through his heart. He didn't want to live without Courtney, either. But Channa would have to do. She was all he had left of his Channa, even if she was the monster that had killed her.
He found the sonderkommando by the crematorium and grabbed him by the cuff of his shirt, seeing the bundle in his arms. But when the man turned around… the bundle was empty. He recognized that blanket. Channa had been wrapped in it.
"Where is the baby?" he choked, pain in his eyes as he tried to glare at the jew in front of him.
"We just loaded up the last.. last of the night," the man answered, averting Duncan's glare and keeping his head down. Duncan shook his head, grabbing the blanket in the man's arms incredulously, fingering the ragged material beneath his fingers.
His daughter was dead.
Rage flooded him.
"You stupid animal!" Duncan roared, punching the man in the face. "It was a mistake! It was the wrong baby!"
Stomping hard on his stomach, he screamed, "She wasn't a jew, she was my daughter!"
You should have never left her with Courtney.
"You're going to pay for this! You and that nurse both! I'll make you pay. I'll make you pay!" he lashed out, climbing on top of the man and beating him mercilessly, ignoring his screams and pleads for mercy until the man stopped fighting, going limp in his grip.
The smoke was replaced with black ashes, ashes of the dead.
Ashes of his daughter.
All your fault.
Duncan's fists shake and his cut hand splatters blood on the door like paint as he screams, "BRIGIDA! BRIGIDA, OPEN THIS DOOR! LET ME SEE HER! LET ME SEE HER!"
The door unlocks again and Duncan readies himself to overpower her, he knows he can, but the blonde that looks out at him from the crack of door is a man a head taller, broad chested, and clearly military trained from his stance.
"Who are you?" he demands, no nonsense. "What do you want with my wife?"
"Your wife is a wretch and thief!" Duncan accuses. Everything makes sense to him now. It has to make sense. "You're all thieves! I want what's mine!"
"Comrade," the man intones, falsely formal, muscular enough to give Duncan a healthy challenge. "You're drunk, you should go home."
If only. If only he were drunk. He'd never been less drunk in his life. "She's my little girl. Your wife stole her from me. She's mine, she's my little girl!" Duncan fights to see around him. "She's my daughter! I have every right to reclaim her! I am an SS Officer-!"
He catches a glimpse of them, Brigida and the girl, cowering halfway up the stairs.
"Channa!" he shouts at her. "Channa, come here! Come here! Come to daddy!"
"Georg," Brigida intones.
"Get the fuck off my porch," the man threatens, louder, moving to obstruct Duncan's view, moving to close the door again, "Or I will remove you myself. You're upsetting my wife and my daughter."
He can't let the door close. He can't lose Channa again. Once was more than enough for several lifetimes. He won't do it again. He won't.
Duncan lodges his foot between the door and Georg and throws his full weight against it. The other man stumbles back with the force. Duncan tackles him to the ground before he can find his stance again, overpowering him with his adrenaline rush despite the other man's size. He slams Georg into the ground and the impact of his skull knocking against the wood floor echoes through the house. The little girl screams.
"She's not your your daughter," Duncan snarls at him, getting to his feet over the unconscious Georg. He sets his eyes on the girl again where she stands, clutching at Brigida's plaid dress in terror and marches towards her. He'll take back his Channa kicking and screaming over Brigida's dead body if he has to.
He's so focused on the impossibly real details of the girl, the freckles between her eyes, the dirt under her fingernails, that he's unprepared when Brigada points a revolver at him.
And it's the weapon, not the woman, that stops him in his tracks.
Brigida's eyes are as they were in the hospital room four years ago. "Renata, go to your room and lock the door. Don't come down until Mommy tells you to."
"You can't tell her what to do," Duncan spits. Then, a little softer, "Channa, come here."
But the girl doesn't need to be told twice. She releases her tiny vice grip on Brigida's dress and runs up the stairs as fast as she can. A moment later, a door slams.
"Bring her back!" he shouts, moving to go up the stairs.
"Stay exactly where you are, Duncan," she says, stepping in front of him and pointing the revolver between his eyes. She definitely remembered him too.
"As your superior officer, I order you to bring her down or I am going up!" Duncan threatens.
Brigida pulls back the hammer on the gun. Her voice is as icy cool, as condescending as he'd ever heard it. "Or you'll what, Captain? You'll rape me to death too? Isn't that your preferred method of execution?"
His blood boils. "How dare you fucking speak to me like that! I am an SS Officer-"
"THE WAR IS OVER!" she screams.
The words hang between them. Then, after a long moment, Brigida goes on. "And in case you missed the notification, we lost. You lost."
"She's mine," Duncan breathes. With the girl gone from his sight, the gravity of the world is suddenly suffocating him with the possibility that this is all real. That he's not dreaming. "She is mine, isn't she?"
Her expression is stone when she says, "Get the fuck out of my house."
Funny, how a month ago he would have welcomed the bullet. But now...with Channa alive...with Courtney alive this way…
Duncan's hands begin to shake, and he does his best to will them to stop but it just isn't working.
"Tell me the truth," he orders. "I need to know. I need to know if she is my daughter." He knows that it is her; or maybe it's just hope, hope so strong to blind him and make him forget the truth. He still has her ragged blanket to this very day, buried beneath old junk in a drawer.
"What did you do? What did you do to her?" he demands.
"You're daughter is dead," she says. "You left her to feed off the corpse of your gypsy jew."
She's lying. She has to be lying. Why is she still lying? Duncan takes a step up and calls, "Channa!"
The revolver goes off. The bullet whizzes by his ear, extremely off the mark, and when the shock passes, Duncan allows a smirk to unfurl across his lips.
"Out of practice, are you?"
Her arm stays steady, but something like nervousness unthaws from behind Brigida's eyes.
"Don't you fucking move another step."
"What did you do to her?" he orders again. "Why doesn't she recognize me? What did you do to my Channa! Tell me!"
"You don't deserve to know," Brigida hisses. "You don't deserve the truth, Duncan."
Now she steps down towards him, and she isn't ice any more. She's fire.
"You deserve this. Every second of it. Every moment of torture that haunts you. I can see it in your eyes and it's yours, all yours. You earned it. Like we all did. You deserve this."
"She is my daughter," he says firmly. "She needs to know the truth."
"No, she's not. And she will remain upstairs, away from the likes of you," she snarls, her upper lip pulled back into a disgusted sneer.
"And what's stopping me from grabbing her and forcing her to listen?" he challenges, taking a step forward. Brigida takes a step back, her arm starting to shake.
"I'll call the authorities. Won't they like to have you right in the palms of their hands. They'll reopen your case and I will be the first to testify to all the crimes you should have been arrested for," she counters, the ice slithering back into her voice as if it had never left to begin with.
Duncan scoffs, taking another step forward. "Testifying is a two way street.. You committed just as many crimes, if not more heinous ones than I did. All those patients you helped by escorting them to Dr. Mengele? You're bluffing," he says viciously, taking another step closer. "There is nothing you can do to stop me from taking her with me."
"You think you're so tough? This is killing you. Not knowing whether or not she's your daughter," Brigida counters, the gun still shaking slightly. "I saw your face the moment you realized that you might be able to save her, back at the camp. So much hope. So much delusion. But just as much fear as well. Deep inside you already knew she was beyond saving."
Duncan finds he has no words to respond with and Brigida takes it to her advantage.
"And you know the best part? It's still there, that torment in your eyes. I can see exactly what you've gone through since the war ended. Your clothes reek of alcohol, and god only knows what else. But none of that has helped, has it? All the drugs, those late nights at the bar, even the suicide missions that you hoped would kill you so you wouldn't have to look at another family on the street, laughing and happy. How helpful has it been, Duncan?"
Flashes of Courtney hugging what should have been their daughter fly through his mind. So happy, and smiling, and Channa loved nothing in the world more than her mother.
"Fuck you," Duncan says weakly, his knees shaking.
You killed them.
He blinks furiously, trying to chase the images away, but the harder he blinks, the more images come. Courtney and Channa walking down the street. Channa holding her hand before she tucks her in and kissed her goodnight. Channa giggling as she hides from her mom, and Courtney searching for her, shaking her head good-naturedly when they find each other.
All your fault.
"You have nobody but yourself to blame. You don't deserve the truth, Duncan, but I'll give it to you if you leave the girl alone. Now will you sit down and listen, or do I have to call the authorities?"
He eyes her a little longer, surprised, torn. She is stalling, that much he knows. He can take Brigida down easily, really, he could, and he knows that too. Push her off the stairs and take the girl anyway. But he realizes that he wants answers. Because it could all be a lie, something whispers inside him. A terrible trick.
The idea starts to poison him.
Brigida could be deceiving him, toying with him. She said she saw the anguish in his eyes that day. She mocked him. She could be playing him even now.
He remembers the smell of the ashes when his loves, and his world, went up in flames. The little girl upstairs could be a stranger, another jew's child Brigida could have raised with the purpose of torturing him with a lie that wore the mask of the truth he wanted so much to believe.
But the girl's eyes…
All your fault.
No. The truth would have to do. And it would have to be good enough.
Duncan steps off the stairs and walks to the couch in the parlor. He snatches an ornate decanter of brandy off a table top near the door and sits down, watching her.
"Talk fast. And pray to God I like your answer."
A groan comes from the foyer; her husband is awake.
Brigida walks down the stairs quickly, clipped, and comes to her husband's aid, without ever facing the set of her shoulders away from Duncan. The revolver is still in her hand, but she releases the hammer. For now.
"Du hurensohn," the man hisses. "Son of a bitch!"
He spots Duncan on the couch, drinking straight from the decanter and lunges at him, swearing in German. Duncan doesn't flinch as Brigida stands between the men, saying firmly, "Georg, control yourself."
"This lunatic threatens you and Renata and you let him sit in our house and drink our liquor? Have you gone mad, woman?" he shouts at her.
"Georg," she says again, harder. "This man is an SS Officer-"
"He could be the fucking Führer for all I care, Brigida! I want him out of my house!"
"He's SS-Totenkopfverbände," she tells him, eyes on Duncan. "In charge of the camps."
Georg looks at Duncan too, the missing piece of the puzzle presented to him. He turns serious and limp under the gentle push of his wife's hand. And in that moment, Duncan realizes that the man is in on it too. Whatever game Brigida is playing with him, Georg is playing it too. A perfect pair of Arians. Liars and thieves, the whole bunch.
"Sit with me," she says in a low voice, with a warmth Duncan isn't supposed to hear. "Stay with me."
Georg breathes hard and he doubles in size when he does, but he deflates under Brigida's touch and comes with her to sit on the couch across from Duncan.
Brigida doesn't bother with formalities, and Duncan doesn't expect her to. This isn't a personal affair, and the couple is merely tolerating him for the moment. Once the truth is out he isn't sure exactly who will attack who.
"A few days after the gypsy girl died, the camp was liberated by the Allied forces," Brigida begins, drumming her fingers against her leg. "You know this now. But we knew it already. We knew it was coming.
"My husband fought on the front lines, and for weeks he could tell that the war was coming to an end. It was certain that it would not end in our favor. He sent me a letter, informing me of the upcoming demise, and I concocted a plan.
"In order to make it out of this war, alive, we had to become Allied sympathizers. We had to deliberately disobey orders. My husband secretly helped the Allied troops. I gave medicines to the sick prisoners and helped smuggle out a few of the healthy ones under the illusion that I was transporting them for experimentation. But it wasn't enough," she says, her eyes lowering.
Duncan knows where this is headed before she says it.
"We had to secure a way to make sure we were not bigots. That we were Allied."
"You never gave my daughter to be executed, did you?" he whispers, his hands shaking feverishly. Brigida merely smirks.
"I gave her to some other Jew to watch until I was sure you were gone. I didn't think you really needed her so badly if you had just left her there in the first place," she says condescendingly. "Once the coast was clear I took the baby back, and kept her as my own until they liberated the camp. We were put on trial, just as you had, only our sentences seem to have differed," she says with a cruel smile. "Our deeds were repaid, the prisoners and Georg's Allied comrades testified that we were both secretly spies, and were helping them, thus we were saved from executions, with only the meager 'punishments' of fines and such to pay for our certain crimes."
"And the baby?" Duncan asks, glaring at the woman.
"We told the war council we had fallen in love with the gypsy baby," Georg says tightly, straining with the discomfort of the situation. He takes Brigida's hand in his. "You see, we cannot have any children."
Brigida squeezes Georg's hand, but it is more of a warning to keep quiet than it is a comfort. She finishes for him. "With the baby, George and I felt more like a family than we ever had before. Since she had no living kin, they allowed us to keep her."
"I am her living kin," Duncan says angrily, throwing his fist down on the table. "I am her father!"
"So where have you been the last four years, then?" Georg demands. Brigida grips his hand harder, but Georg keeps talking, albeit less passionately, "Where were you when she cried through the night or fell and scraped her knees?"
Duncan points angrily out the window. "I was fifteen houses down thinking my daughter was dead!"
"Because you killed her," Georg answers.
Duncan's accusatory finger lands on Brigida. "Because you killed her!"
"I did my job," Brigida repeats, and it's in such the same tone as when she said it all those years ago, that Duncan has to fight his memory taking him back to that place again. "We all did our jobs."
"So you both were trying to save your own skins," Duncan says, looking between them. "You're the same important, egocentric Nazis you were when you first came into the war. The only difference is you're lying has greatly improved since then. You managed to trick the authorities into believing that you actually loved the girl," and now it's Duncan's turn to be sly, "but how can you? She's the daughter of a Jew. You could never love her as much as you would a pure, blonde Aryan," he spits viciously.
"Though it may have started as a lie, it is the truth," Brigida spits back, just as viciously.
Georg asserts, "We love her the same as we would a child of our own blood. She is our Renata, and she belongs to our family."
Duncan stands, drains the last of the decanter, and decides that he has heard enough of their truth.
"Have her packed and ready to come with me in half an hour," he says.
Brigida shoots to her feet, pointing at him with the revolver that had never left her hand.
"I won't let you take her from us! She is ours! What kind of monstrum are you, trying to tear our daughter away from us?" She jabs the nose of the gun at his chest. "You leave your child for dead and disappear for years and suddenly you expect her to just go back with you? Well fuck you! If you didn't want to be a father you should have thought of that before you fucked the gypsy whore!"
For a second, fury makes him numb. Makes whatever she says next inaudible, unimportant.
Then he feels the thick glass decanter in his fist and shatters it on Brigida's skull.
Before her body even hits the ground, Georg throws himself from the couch with such force, it topples backward. He goes for Duncan, his eyes only for the bottleneck still in Duncan's iron grip. He grabs Duncan by the wrists and Duncan pushes back, hard, bottle still in hand. The rug slips from under them, and they both topple to the ground, fighting for footing, for power. Georg gets the upper hand, pinning Duncan down, his fist over Duncan's, over the bottle, with such force, the remaining glass cracks in Duncan's grip, and he shouts in pain when the shards dig into his hand.
Duncan elbows him in the throat with his other arm, forcing them over so he's in control. He holds Georg down by his throat with the weight of his arm, his hand stabbing with pain. He tries to get control of Georg's other other arm with his own. Georg thrashes and gets his teeth around Duncan's forearm and bites hard enough to push through the flesh. Duncan screams through his teeth but he doesn't let go, fights through the pain to keep Georg down. He's not sure he'll get an upper hand again. He hopes to choke Georg with his blood.
He releases his grip on Georg's other arm and presses it to his nose, his eyes, suffocating him, blinding him. Georg starts beating on Duncan's lower back, pummeling his kidney's with just the movement from his elbows. Duncan almost whites out from the pain. Georg wasn't some sick and starved defenseless Jew. He had all the same training as Duncan, all the same instincts.
Georg blindly shoves his hand in Duncan's face, still fighting hard despite his lack of air. He bites down harder and pushes Duncan's face away from him, trying to crush Duncan's skull in one hand. And in the adrenaline of the moment, Duncan had almost forgotten the revolver.
But he sees it now, a few inches from Brigida's unconscious hand as the light catches on the glass shards in her hair like snow. Duncan releases his crippling pressure on Georg for a second, enough that Georg fights to sit up, only to then toss all his weight back down on him, striking his head on the floor. Not nearly as strongly as he had the first time, when he was crazed and fueled only by his ghosts, but enough to hopefully disorient him enough.
Duncan scrambles off him, crawls quickly on a bleeding hand towards Brigida and the gun. Georg throws himself on top of him, crushing him, just before he can get his hand on the weapon.
He pins Duncan's bad arm behind his back, spitting Duncan's own blood into his face as he hisses, "Don't you touch her. Don't you dare fucking touch her!"
Duncan can feel his shoulder straining, pulling from the tendons. He tries to command, to say anything, but the pain makes the words stick in his throat, makes the world start to flash before him and he feels himself slipping under, into the pain.
Both men stop. The little girl stands halfway down the stairs, protected by the railing, staring at the scene in horror.
The sight of her gives Duncan strength he didn't think he had left. He throws his head back, making contact with Georg's face, hearing something crack. Geoff cries out, releasing Duncan's arm to hold to his face and Duncan wriggles out from under him and snatches the gun. He pulls the hammer back and points it at the center of Georg's broad chest.
And pulls the trigger.
The bullet goes through Georg and out, shattering a window pane behind him. He breathes hard once, twice.
Duncan fires again, twice more. Finally, after another second, Georg gives out, collapsing on his front.
Duncan sits, shaking, in a pool of his own blood. The liquid is pouring out of his arm. He presses the wound between his stomach and his leg and tries to breathe. He closes his eyes to the little girl's screaming. He keeps his eyes closed as he hears her tiny feet on the wooden stairs, the wooden floor.
When he opens them finally, when he thinks he can, the little girl is shaking Georg.
"Daddy? Daddy wake up! Wake up!"
"He's not your daddy," Duncan says evenly. The tremor of his hands is missing from his voice.
The girl doesn't hear him. "Daddy! Daddy, please! Please wake up!"
These words only make him angrier. "He isn't your Daddy," he says, louder this time, making sure she can hear him. The girl looks at him before throwing her arms around Georg's neck, still pleading with him to wake up, to look at her.
Duncan locks the revolver and thrusts it in his belt loop before getting to his feet, cradling his bad arm against his stomach. He calmly walks over to the little girl. He won the fight; now he gets to claim his prize. He tears her away from Georg, his hand gripping her small shoulder. "Get up, I said he isn't your father," he says without any emotion, "and get packed. We're leaving, Channa."
The girl shakes her head in terror, wanting to do anything but leave with this man. "No, no, you have to help Daddy, to wake him up!" she begs, tears streaming down her face.
"He isn't your father!" Duncan roars, yanking her to the stairs and pushing her at them. "And you have two minutes to grab your things or you're going to be next!" He only wants to threaten her, he doesn't really mean it.
The girl stares at him for a few moments, cowering on the steps where she's fallen, sniffling pathetically. Then she scrambles upstairs to grab her things. He smirks for a moment, remembering how Courtney used to obey him like that.
To his delight, Brigida and Georg have a lovely assortment of liquor in the cabinet above the stove. He pulls a case of whiskey out and sips directly from the nozzle. Not bad; it must have been pricey. He dumps some of it on his arm and his hand, swearing violently when it burns him. Then he goes back to his seat in the parlor and drinks blissfully for the first time in a week.
As he finishes a quarter of the bottle and the little girl still hasn't showed, he stands. Looks like he would have to drag her out kicking and screaming after all, not his first choice.
He leaves what's left of the bottle on the kitchen counter before walking back through the living room, tracking Georg's blood through the house.
"Are you coming down or do I have to come up and get you?" he shouts up the stairs.
Before he can climb the first step, he hears her door open slowly, and she comes out shaking and still crying softly, carrying a little pink suitcase.
Duncan recognizes the look of pure terror on her face as she descends the stairs towards him at a ridiculously slow pace, and he understands. After all, she had just watched him shoot who she thought was her father.
So he softens his tone a little. "Come now, Channa. Stop crying. Daddy's going to take you home."
She looks back into the living room. "But...but daddy…"
"Hey!" he shouts, grabbing her by the arms and shaking her hard. "He's not your daddy! I'm your daddy! I'm your father! Those people stole you from me! Do you understand?"
She nods her head fervently, obediently
When she doesn't move, he picks her and her little suitcase up and leaves the house without another word.
The girl won't stop crying the whole walk to his house. He ignores her. She'll get over it, if she's anything like her mother. Surely she inherited some of Courtney's brains and will learn to adapt quickly.
When he opens the door to his house, he curses, smelling the stench of old booze, rotten food, and the vomit stains in his bathroom. The girl gags in his arms, and he has to think fast before she pukes on him. His eyes dart around the house before they land on the guest bedroom door. He always found that room a mystery, because he never had any guests. He shoves open the door and plops her down with her suitcase.
"Stay here," he says gruffly. "I need to clean up a bit. Don't touch anything," he adds sternly, glaring down at the girl. She sniffles and nods, looking to the bed.
"C-Can I sit?"
Duncan rolls his eyes.
"Do what you want. But stay put," he warns, and her eyes quickly dart to the revolver on his belt loop before sitting immediately.
"Good girl," he says, almost affectionately, before closing the door behind him and locking it shut.
How on earth is he going to raise a kid in this dump? The smell of liquor and narcotics are everywhere, and he'll probably have to spray something to get the smell away. Quickly he gets to work, grabbing a trash bag and throwing broken bottles inside, muttering to himself as he does so. He hates cleaning, but he can't just let the kid barf on him.
He manages to clean up most of the trash and goes to the bathroom to tend to his injuries before doing any more serious cleaning. He wraps his arm in scraps of linen from a bedset he never bothered using and sits on the rim of the tub for a few minutes, painfully picking shards of glass out of his hand.
That's when he hears it and scowls. The kid is still crying. Well fine, she can cry all night if she wants to, he isn't taking her back home either way. Duncan resumes, unperturbed by this little interruption.
Duncan wraps his hand up too and cleans up the stains in the bathroom to the best of his ability before he disinfects the whole place. There, it smells better, at least. And no illegal substances or alcohol in sight. When he's all finished he rewards himself by grabbing one of his father's prized cigars, lighting it and sitting in the armchair he was always forbidden to touch as a child. After a second thought, he grabs the seat and drags it across the house, setting it up outside the guest room.
She's still crying. No use in trying to talk to her in this state.
So Duncan smokes his cigar and plays the waiting game.
It occurs to him that he's not a hundred percent sure what he's waiting on though. Waiting for her to stop crying? Why should she stop crying? Why shouldn't she be as tortured and conflicted over everything that happened as he was? After all, she was the one responsible for killing Court-
He stops himself. Stops himself dead cold. No. He can't think like that anymore.
Even though it's true. All her fault. All her fault...
NO. He can't hate her. He doesn't want to hate her any more. He takes a particularly harsh drag of his cigar and tells himself she's his daughter, she's all he has left. And if the only thing he could ever have back of Courtney was the monster that killed her, then-
The cigar isn't working. He walks to the trash bag of beer bottles by his front door and pulls out one of the half empty ones and resumes his seat to the background noise of whimpering and sobbing.
"She's your daughter," he says aloud, drinks. "She's your little girl."
She's also the reason you don't have her mother anymore.
"She's the only thing I have left of her mother," he snarls at himself. And she was her mother's kid all right. Wouldn't look at him or speak to him, thought he was responsible for the death of everyone she cared about.
The thought gives him a strange sort of peace. She took Courtney from him, he took her parents. It was justice, he thinks. Now they were even. They were both monsters now. They were two of a kind. They weren't going anywhere without each other. She'd see that. She'd come to appreciate the beautiful irony of it all.
But when? He didn't have all day to be sitting around outside this door, waiting for her to come to this same realization. It had taken Courtney months to come to that conclusion and he didn't have that kind of time available now, especially if someone were to go poking around at the death of Georg whatshisname and his missing kid. Brigida could identify him, if she ever woke up, so he needed to get Channa on his side and then get them both out of this town, to somewhere else, anywhere else, where no one could recognize either of them. They could live free just the two of them.
Except Duncan doesn't know the first thing about raising a child, or being a father. What did they eat? When did they sleep? What did they do when they weren't cowering before you or crying?
When he was younger, his only experience with children was when he watched his baby sister die in his father's arms. The poor thing hadn't been able to breathe, and he found himself crying even though his father slapped him afterwards and told him not to. Then when his father remarried, he was given another sister, but it was too late. He didn't want a stranger's baby, he wanted his little sister back.
Every day he woke up and made it his goal to be cruel to her. If she cried, even better, and because she was a pathetic little thing, she cried often. He found every excuse and reason in the book to hate her, and when his father became suspicious, he only became more crafty in his torture. Only when she cried and screamed did he feel satisfied. Good, she should feel pain. She was the reason that his sister was dead; he was sure of that.
Before he met Courtney, his fellow SS and he used to play a game. How many kids could they clear out in one day? Duncan always found them to be annoying, useless distractions to himself and the other prisoners trying to work. If an officer could take them to the hospital or to the chambers it was a certain number of points. Shooting them on sight was extra points. He would personally enjoy as the kids ran to hide in the midden, and when they couldn't run fast enough or couldn't stand the stench of it to hide long enough until he passed, he would scoop them up and personally escort them to the gas chambers.
Once there had been two brothers, one older, and one younger. The little one always used to cling to his brother's pant leg, and the oldest would often glare at him as he walked by; Duncan took that as a challenge. He would make a game of it, telling the oldest that he bet the younger one would die first. And all he would do was glare, for he was smart enough to know that if he answered back then his brother would be left alone while his corpse rotted in a ditch. One day, the little one had scraped his knee, and didn't want to go into the midden. When Duncan grabbed him the older one came forward and quickly held his brother's hand.
"We're going together. Don't be scared. We're going to see Mama, and Papa," he had said, so calmly, betraying no fear, or pain. Duncan wanted to make him suffer; he should have been scared. So he whipped the oldest one and made the younger watch before gassing them both.
Later, when Prinzessin had come around, he found other ways to entertain himself. She was plenty amusing, after all. And he found the old ritual of killing children to be too bothersome, and sometimes immature. The brats were going to die anyways, there was no use in toying with them. And yet, when that baby Prinzessin had thrown a fit about was killed and the man responsible was worshipped like a god for a week, he had already grown tired of the game. Even though it was double bonus points if the parents were watching when you killed the child.
Duncan doesn't know how to raise a child. Only cause one pain.
He gets up and goes to check his ice box. He has nothing edible for an adult male let alone a four year old girl. Duncan walks back to his chair with his beer and his cigar and glares at the guest room door. What was he thinking? Maybe he shouldn't have followed his ghosts. He should have just let himself believe she'd died in the camps. Then he wouldn't have to wrestle with the fact that his torment and salvation was bawling her eyes out in his house.
Duncan listens, then straightens up when he doesn't hear anything. She's stopped crying. That was faster than he'd anticipated. He drains the rest of his beer, puts on his officer's face, and unlocks the door.
The bolt unlocking sounds like a bullet in the quiet house and he hears a single whimper in response before he opens the door fully and can get a good look at her. Her suitcase is on the bed, still shut, and she is curled up in the corner of the room, staring at him silently.
He walks over and sits down on the bed, cigar still in his mouth, watching her. She watches him back.
For a long time, neither of them speaks. Or blinks. Duncan tries to think around the drumming thoughts in his head, tries to see the girl in the corner as something more than human. She was Courtney, but she was him too, wasn't she? How hard could all this really be?
Finally, he decides to start at the beginning.
"What's your name?" he asks.
She blinks. She doesn't answer, but shifts her eyes to her suitcase.
"Come now, I'm not going to fucking bite you," he says, more forcefully.
She looks at him again like she doesn't believe him. Why should she? But she mumbles a word against her knees.
"Speak loudly and clearly," he orders. "What is your name?"
"Renata," she says in a shaky voice. "My name is Renata."
Duncan scoffs. "What kind of a stupid name is that?"
"It...it means 'rebirth'," she says timidly, "in the...mother tongue."
"That isn't your name," Duncan corrects her harshly. "Your name is Channa. Say it. Your name is Channa."
She doesn't respond for a second and Duncan has to shout, "Say it!" before she actually does.
"Channa," she repeats. "My name is Channa."
But it's wrong. She says it with a German accent, the 'ch' too hard. Not soft, not how Courtney would say it. Not how she said it to him the first time he heard it.
"Not 'CHAH-nna'," he barks, "Softer." But when he tries to demonstrate, when he tries to say it the way Courtney did, he can't pronounce it right either, his own vowels too harsh. It infuriates him. It drives him mad and he can't understand why.
"Your name is Channa," he says, the word like rust on his tongue. "It was your mother's name. She named you Channa before she died."
He's still not saying it right. Why had he never noticed he wasn't saying it right?
"My...my momma?" she says quietly. "My momma's name is Brigida."
Something snaps inside Duncan. Every part of him snaps.
"THAT'S WRONG! YOU'RE WRONG!" he screams and the little girl jumps, cowering again. "Your mother's name was Channa and she was a Jew! Do you understand? I bet Brigida never told you that, huh?" he says viciously, and a small flicker of understanding flashes in the girl's eyes. Brigida and Georg would have taught her all about those filthy Jews.
"Yes, that's right. Your mother was a proud, stubborn Jew. And you know what else? So are you! You were born in a concentration camp! The same one Brigida worked in. She helped kill your real mother," Duncan says, smirking at her look of horror. It isn't the truth, but it's worth it to see the look on her face. "The only person who ever really loved you, and Brigida killed her. And your real mother only loved you because she was insane! Batshit insane!"
He gets to his feet and the girl disappears further into her corner in terror. "She was horrible to me! Always putting herself first! Before any of my needs! Always putting you before me! We were going to be together! We were going to escape, and live happily for the first time in our whole lives! And thenthat all went to fucking hell when you came along! Then all she could talk about was you! The baby this. The baby that! She was a selfish, stupid bitch! A filthy Jew, just like you!" he hollers.
He grabs the bedside table, the lamp atop it, and lets the pain in his arm and hand fuel his anger. He throws both clear across the room. They smash against the opposite wall with a thundering crash.
"What makes you any different than her, huh?!" he roars. "Same face! Same hair! I hated her hair! I hated it, because it made her beautiful, and she couldn't be beautiful for anyone but me! She was mine! Mine, and you stole her from me! You killed her, you killed her!"
Duncan grabs her by the wrist and pulls her off the ground like a doll, rearing back his other hand to slap her.
The little girl shakes her head, desperately, pleadingly.
"What!? What do you possibly have to say to me?!"
"I'm sorry," she says, barely above a whisper. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to kill anyone, please, I'm sorry..."
Duncan focuses on her eyes, so intensely blue in her dark face, and his own eyes widen. Suddenly he feels like he's going to collapse.
He remembers holding his baby girl in the hospital. When she opened her eyes and looked straight at him; she had his eyes, not Courtney's. She had his eyes.
He drops her, lowers his hand.
"I hate your mother," he says unevenly, trying to keep it together. "I don't hate anybody in the world more than I hate that woman. She was the only one who made me feel whole, and then she left me. She left me and gave me you instead…" He feels tears rising for the first time since the night Courtney died.
"And I left you.. I left you, wailing on her lap, like you were dead to me. Because you killed her. Do you understand, Channa? You killed her, you took her away from me. I got her pregnant, I made her hate her life, I killed everyone she loved, but you killed…!"
All your fault.
Duncan's hands try to hold his head, try to force all the thoughts back inside where they can't be real. He tries to keep it all in but the truth just keeps tumbling forward and he can't stop it. He sinks to the floor, not seeing anything in front of him.
"God fucking damn it, Courtney!" he howls, shutting his eyes tight to keep the images deep inside, but they keep coming. Courtney, dead, bleeding on the hospital cot. Channa, with his blue eyes, wailing in her mother's arms. Courtney, pale, asking him to watch their daughter, as her last wish. She was all he had. She was all they had. Channa's blanket, the sinking feeling in his stomach as he held it, empty, seeing her ashes, breathing them in.
You killed them.
"You weren't supposed to leave me, Courtney! You were supposed to stay! You were supposed to be mine! We were supposed to escape and then you just had to go and die! Why couldn't you have been born in another week?!" he screams. "Why!? The camp was liberated! We could have made it! It's all the war's fault!"
No, YOU killed them.
"I hate the war! I hate the fighting! I hate that it took you away from me and I hate that I left you and I'm sorry! Channa, I'm sorry," he begs the ghost of his first Channa, as the creature wearing her mother's skin, her mother's name, looks on with no color left in her wan face.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Channa, Channa, I'm sorry, forgive me," he repeats over and over, as if it'll make anything better. But it won't, it never will. This little girl will never be his, he doesn't deserve anything as good as her. Anything so pure, so precious and loveable. He can't have her, because she isn't his to have.
He can't even say her damn name right.
It sounds wrong. Everything about it sounds wrong. It doesn't sound earthy and warm and soft at the edges, the way it did when Courtney would said it, because Courtney never learned German first. Neither he nor his daughter will ever be able to say it right. And he'll never hear Courtney say her name again. The word died with her.
The thought makes him choke on a sob.
If it died with Courtney, then it wasn't real. It would never be real without Courtney here with them. They would never be a true family. Everything Duncan thought he wanted all this time was a delusion. He would never be able to raise their daughter without her; he didn't even know where to start. Even if he tried it would be nothing but a cheap imitation of what it could have been like, with Courtney.
So he really had lost both of his Channas in the camp, just like he had known all along.
Don't you see?
It's ALL. YOUR. FAULT.
"It's all my fault.. It's all my fault.." he chokes out, the tears running down his face. "I killed them, I killed her, I killed her," he mutters, again and again because it's the truth. Brigida was right. The truth set him free.
Duncan trembles and sobs and folds in on himself like a coward. Because that's what he is. A coward. A monster.
What kind of man kills his family?
He catches a glimpse of the girl in the corner, the little girl he'd left for dead, who's just sitting there, not knowing what to do.
He finds himself stumbling as he gets to his feet, grabbing hold of the bed to steady himself. He's started to bleed through his bandages again. He staggers to the door and throws it open before looking at her again.
"Get out," he snarls. "Get out, and don't come back here again. Go back home. To your real home. Never come back."
"GET OUT!" Duncan roars, and before he can count to one, she scrambles to her feet, leaving her suitcase behind. Duncan doesn't move until he hears the front door open and close.
She's gone, like she was never really there to begin with.
Duncan sniffles, looking at the door before he turns, going to take the girl's previous spot. He snaps the lock on her suitcase and opens it, choking out another sob and covering his mouth as he starts taking out the contents. Little, beautiful handmade dresses. Courtney had told him that she used to make her own clothes; she would have loved to make Channa her own clothes. Little toys, and books. Toys and books that he and Courtney should have bought for her together.
He takes out every little item, sobbing like a madman, realizing that these were the things he should have been able to buy for his daughter, but never could because she wasn't real. She was never real. Duncan sits there among her things, crying for hours until the tears run out and his eyes are sore.
Then he stands.
There is nothing he can do to change what's already been done; the past is in the past. He shoves all the things back in her suitcase, then throws the case out the window.
You know whose fault this really is.
He goes to the kitchen to get himself another cigar, and heads out to get another drink. He reaches for Brigida's revolver in his belt loop and clicks open the chamber. One bullet left.