Chapter 1: A Life with No Luck
Will gets assigned a new military position that he never wanted.
Thank you to achiliads for the amazing cover!
Word Count: 2774
Rating: General Audiences
Content Warning: None
I’ve edited and lengthened the story since you last read, so I’d recommend rereading this chapter, even if you saw the preview I posted a few weeks ago.
Bit of a disclaimer before I get started:
I want to make it clear that there will NOT be any super graphic imagery pertaining to the Holocaust or Nazi regime. I'm not going to back away from the injustice of the situation, but this story is NOT about the atrocities they committed, nor does it glorify or attempt to humanize the Nazis. I understand the weight and sensitivity of this topic (I’m actually a Middle Eastern religious Jew, and I lost family in the Holocaust) and want to do everything in my power to represent this story in a respectful way. Any feedback on how you think I should approach this topic is welcome.
In that vein, please remember to read between the lines in the letters and dialogue of the story. Characters will often say and write things with double meanings to get around the censorship issue of both the German and Italian regimes. None of the main good-guy characters are sympathetic to the Nazis. I want to make that absolutely clear.
I also do as much research on the military history, politics, and social tendencies of the time. I’m just passionate about history. I apologize in advance for any other history nerds who might notice a historically inaccurate detail I overlooked, but I am doing my absolute best.
I also decided against beta readers for this fic because I want to write each chapter relatively close to when I post it. I’m doing that as opposed to writing it all in one go because I want to incorporate your feedback in the comments should there be any critique on how I’m approaching the subject. It’s easier to change course if the story isn’t completely written (tho I’ve written a detailed planner so I know where I’m going with it all).
And all the characters are owned by Rick Riordan.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
February 23, 1943
How is everything in the land of olives and goats?
I’m sure you’ve heard the results of your assessment by now. I know you were nervous, but Austin and I know that you’ll go above and beyond the expectations set for you. After all, that’s what a soldier does, and you’re nothing if not that. We can’t wait to hear that you got top marks. Be patient, someday soon you’ll be sent to the front and make us proud.
I’ve become engaged since my last letter. His name is Henry Knowles--and don’t worry, he’s of German descent. I wouldn’t entertain anyone below your standards. He’s a work friend of Austin’s, actually. I went to the bar to drop off Austin’s dinner, and, since it was dark, Henry offered to walk me home as a favor to him. And things took off from there. We haven’t set a date for the wedding yet, but it will be soon.
This country has gone mad with the war propaganda. You can’t escape it, no matter where you go! The lies it spreads about Germany and the Führer… it must be a Jewish conspiracy. Every time I see one of those nasty billboards disturbing my view of the countryside, I think of you and how lucky you are to be on the sensible side of this conflict. America better come to its senses soon, or I may riot.
I miss my big brother. May the right side triumph, and may we be on the same side of the Atlantic soon.
I didn’t want to join the Nazi Party.
I know what you’re thinking, “of course he’d say that,” but it’s the truth. I didn’t. Even as I signed my life away, even then, there was that little voice in my head that told me it was wrong. Unforgivable.
But I did. And I have to face that.
Why did I do it? I was terrified, that’s why.
I was born in Texas, in America, the third child of five. I came into this world in 1914, just at the outbreak of World War One. My father died in the war in 1918, a sharpshooter for the American forces in the heart of France. I never got to meet him. My mother did what she could to provide for me and my brothers and sister, but what could she do? She worked day and night in a steel mill until the place exploded and she died too.
After that, a distant relative of ours back in my dad’s homeland of Greece sent for us. None of us wanted to go, but it was the Depression. What could we do? Four orphan boys and a girl with nothing to their name? So, we went.
The Nazis and Italians invaded in April of 1941. My brothers and I signed up to fight the invading force, but the resistance lost. Lester, our guardian, and Lee and Michael, the two oldest, died in the crossfire, leaving me the head of the family to care for Kayla and Austin.
Well, I did what any sane person would do: I sent them on a boat back to Texas. And how did I get the authorization to do that?
You guessed it: destroy any evidence of my involvement in the Greek resistance, and become a Nazi.
I couldn’t leave the party (or the country) for so many reasons. When you join the Nazi party, you join for life… or else. I couldn’t risk anyone finding out about my past in the Greek resistance, or, worse, digging up my deepest secret: I was a homosexual. I’d go from card-carrying elite to disgraced enemy-of-the-state in a millisecond. I’d be tortured and killed long before I ever made it over the border, and Kayla and Austin would lose yet another brother.
Besides, I was lucky. Well, as lucky as I could be with a history marred by tragedy. My mother was of German descent, and I had the papers to prove it. It wasn’t as good as being a full Aryan, but it gave me decent standing compared to my other Mediterranean brethren. And, what’s more, my father Apollo had made quite the reputation as an American sharpshooter. As soon as my higher-ups found out we were related, they started training me up for the military. And I showed enough prowess in that regard that I got eyes on me. As long as I made sure to pledge loyalty to the party and my siblings and I were careful about what we wrote in our letters, everything would be fine.
...or so I thought.
It had been over a year since I’d signed up to join the Nazi Party. One of my superiors called me to his office, and, when I arrived, he wasn’t alone. There was a German with him in an S.S. uniform. He looked familiar, very familiar. I’d seen pictures of him in the military base, but I couldn’t put a name to his face.
“Heil Hitler,” I said with the usual salute. The German responded in kind. I expected him to tell me his name, but he didn’t. Instead, he turned to my Greek superior and said in German, “Translate for me. ‘Do you know why you’re here?’”
My superior repeated the sentence in Greek. “No, I don’t,” I said, purposefully in German.
The German raised his eyebrows, impressed. “You speak German? That is surprising.”
“I’ve studied it every day since you welcomed me into your ranks,” I said. It was true. I’d studied the language diligently from the day I signed up. I figured it would come in handy and possibly add legitimacy to my mother’s German origins.
“At ease, then,” the German said. He waved his hand at my superior, and he left the room. I was alone with the S.S. officer. My heart started to race.
“You are half-Aryan, yes?” the German asked.
“Yes, on my mother’s side,” I answered. “Would you like to see my papers?”
“I already have,” the German said. “You are from America?”
“Yes,” I said again.
“You have not been to Germany?”
“No.” Then, I quickly added, “but I would like to.” I needed to make a good impression. One mess-up with a man with such high standing would be my death sentence.
The German smiled. Mission accomplished. “Your wish will be granted,” he said.
My eyes widened. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying, ‘what? ’”
“This…” I gulped, “this is an honor, sir.”
“An honor? Yes. You are by far the best sharpshooter in the Greek military; possibly one of the best in Germany’s ranks, period.”
He paused. “I’m honored,” I said, to fill the silence.
“Yes, yes. Your superiors speak most highly of you. They say there is none better in skill or discretion.”
If you only knew, I thought as my secrets crossed my mind.
“You are hereby appointed as the Führer’s personal guard.”
“What?” I said in English before I could stop myself. My heart went into overdrive. Cold sweat coated my palms and upper lip. My mouth hung open. I was terrified. I was beyond terrified. What if German spies looked into my past? What if they already have? What if they found out about my time in the Greek resistance--or, worse, my homosexuality? Was this a prank? A test? A trick? Would I end up tortured behind bars the moment I stepped inside Germany’s borders?
“There was a plot discovered,” the German continued as though he hadn’t heard my exclamation. “An attempt on the Führer’s life. After the incompetence displayed by his former guard, I have personally overseen this restaffing. You are to be flown to Berlin immediately to begin your new position. Lodgings, clothing, and other necessities will be provided for you when you arrive.”
“Th-- thank you, sir,” I stammered. My brain was running at a million miles an hour.
“William Solace, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Obersturmführer [lieutenant] and accepted into the ranks of the Schutzstaffel [S.S.] as Führer Hitler’s personal guard.” He handed me a new uniform to change into, complete with the badges and sleeves of an S.S. officer. I accepted it; it took everything I had to keep my hands from shaking. “Change quickly. The automobile to your ship leaves within the half-hour. Heil Hitler.”
“Heil Hitler,” I managed with the proper salute. I held my stance as I watched the German walk away.
Then, suddenly, I realized who he was.
Heinrich Himmler stopped in the doorway and turned back to me. “The party is counting on you, Lieutenant Solace. Don’t fail them.”
I hated ships. After my first experience coming to Greece from America, I was so traumatized that I swore never to be on a boat again. But, this time was worse. A large, commercial ship going at a normal pace with my family around me was one thing. Speeding on rocky waves at full throttle alone for four days straight was another. I spent the entire trip in my cabin with a bucket next to my head for when I threw up. And I threw up a lot.
I was so seasick that I was actually thankful when we reached port in Hamburg. The captain ushered me into an automobile the moment I touched ground, and it was there on the four-hour ride to Berlin that terror finally set in. I was in enemy territory. I was a pretender with secrets that made me a traitor to the most powerful and brutal regime in the world. And, now, not only was I going to live and serve in their base of operations, I was also going to spend every day with the leader of it all. All eyes would be on me. How long could I hope to conceal my true self from dozens--maybe even hundreds--of people who, whether out of envy or hatred, wanted me gone? Hitler had already had one attempt on his life; what if there was another? Now I would be the first line of defense; the first target to take out. How long would I last?
How long until Austin and Kayla lost another brother?
I’ll have to write them, I realized. I won’t be able to tell them how afraid I am, but they’ll be able to read between the lines, I think. They’re smart enough to know.
If I’d had a pen and paper with me, I’d have written them right in the car, just to distract myself. But, I didn’t, so I was left alone with my swirling, racing thoughts. I soon closed my eyes, and those thoughts turned into vivid nightmares of every horror I was sure would come.
The sun had already set when I felt the auto screech to a halt. Roused from my sleep, I opened my eyes right as the driver opened my door. My hands played with the badges sewn on my collar. I was dead nervous. Emphasis on the “dead.”
“Welcome to the Old Chancellery, Lieutenant Solace,” the driver said.
I stepped out of the auto and had to stifle a gasp. In front of me stood the largest building I’d ever seen. It was three floors of what looked like white marble, complete with grand columns and windows and cobblestone roofing. In the center of it all was a beautiful courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the building and contained behind a wrought-iron fence with brick pillars. It was definitely grand enough to be the center of the S.S., to say the absolute least.
“It is quite impressive, isn’t it?” a woman said. I jumped a little, startled. I hadn’t even noticed she was there. She was a pretty young woman around my age, dressed in fine clothes and pearls. She stood behind a man in an S.S. uniform.
“You could say that,” I said. I gave the two of them the usual greeting and salute, which they echoed.
“At ease,” the man said. “Your reputation precedes you, Lieutenant.”
“It’s an honor to be here, sir,” I said with the most convincing smile I could muster.
“I’m Colonel Erich Octavian,” the man said. “And this is my fiancée, Bianca di Angelo.”
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Miss di Angelo said. “Do you have any belongings in the car?”
“No, ma’am,” I said.
“Well then, shall we?” Colonel Octavian gestured towards the open gate.
“Lead the way, sir,” I said. Colonel Octavian started down the path, Miss di Angelo walking close behind. I took a deep breath. That gate… would it be the gate of heaven or hell?
Only one way to find out, I thought, and mustered the strength to enter.
I didn’t sleep that night. How could I, knowing that, as soon as the sun rose, I’d be within an arm’s length of Adolf Hitler? The dread of what was to come chased away any chance my body might’ve had at resting. And, after four days throwing up, insomnia was quite a feat.
I debated writing Kayla and Austin, but Heinrich Himmler had specifically mentioned discretion when he promoted me, so there was a pretty decent chance that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about my new position. Writing them and even hinting at my promotion could be grounds for execution for me, and possibly releasing a hit squad for my brother and sister. I couldn’t risk that. Still, that meant I had to endure the terror alone. And that was nearly unbearable.
More than anything, I needed a friend.
As soon as I was able, I rose from my bed and meticulously got myself dressed, making sure to iron out every wrinkle, straighten every patch, button every button. I had to look as respectable as possible or Hilter might see me as disrespectful, and pissing off such a man wouldn’t be good for my health. Everything had to be absolutely perfect. I had to be absolutely perfect.
So, you know, no pressure.
My room was a big step up from the Greek barracks. A large bed, a small closet, dressers, a bookshelf, a desk… all were luxuries I hadn’t had in my impoverished life. I had a carpet beneath my feet and framed pictures hanging on walls covered with actual paint instead of whitewash. I got the sense that other bedrooms would be quite larger and grander than this one, but I was more than happy with what I got.
As Himmler promised, the room was stocked with everything I could ever need. The closet hung fresh uniforms, the desk drawers brimmed with paper, pens, and other office supplies, and the bookshelf was stuffed with novels of both fiction and non-fiction (and, of course, a whole lot of Nazi propoganda). The only real thing lacking was civilian clothing, but I doubted I’d ever be allowed to wear such a thing, even at my own wedding. I’d probably be buried in the same uniform I was wearing right now, with the symbols of my biggest shame plastered across every inch of my body.
While I waited for someone to come fetch me from my room, my eyes wandered to the bookshelf. I ran my fingers across the spines of each book. Hardcover. They were all hardcover. Had I ever seen a hardcover book before?
I laughed when I saw I’d been provided with a few textbook volumes on the German language. “To assist you with your studies,” I said to myself in an over exaggerated German accent. I wasn’t sure if those books were a compliment on my initiative or an insult that I was not up to par.
No one here liked anyone who was different.
My eyes were drawn to another book, one with its title in vivid scarlet, sitting in the center of the shelf at eye-level. “Mein Kampf,” I read aloud. I’d heard of this book before, it was the book Hitler wrote before he rose to power.
I stood there, staring at the book that started it all, in a sort of trance. Part of me debated whether I should pick it up or not. But, I never got the chance, because my door opened and Colonel Octavian came into the room.
I stood at attention. His eyes grazed over my uniform. I waited, nervous, but his face revealed nothing. “I am to escort you to the Führer. Come.”
He turned and walked out of the room. I glanced around one last time, and, heart racing, followed… the image of Mein Kampf still seared into my brain.
Please comment so I know what you think! See you next week!
Chapter 2: Operation: Half-Blood
Nico gets an important letter from his sister. Will experiences his first day as Hitler’s new personal guard.
Word Count: 3444
Rating: General Audiences
Content Warning: None
And all the characters are owned by Rick Riordan.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
February 19, 1943
I hope that by the time this letter reaches you, you’ve found Rome more to your liking. Yes, I know that nowhere in Italy can compare to our native Venice, but the city that built the magnificent Roman Empire must be spectacular. There must be some great importance in the air, as it is here in Berlin, where the new German Empire begins.
Remember, you must do everything in your power to help Papà. He was appointed on the most crucial mission of his life. The task before him is both an honor and of the utmost importance to the survival of the great German-Italian alliance. We must stop the American forces from advancing, and that will only happen if Il Duce’s government sees sense. We hear the most troubling rumors here that they are planning an armistice with the invaders. That cannot happen.
My dear Colonel Octavian has taken a special interest in you. Should you prove your worth, I suspect you’ll be richly rewarded. I am counting down the days in earnest when I can marry my beloved Colonel so I may present you with a nephew on your return.
Bianca di Angelo
P.S. It seems a new soldier will join us here in Berlin. I am very curious about how he will measure up. I suppose only time will tell.
The problem with Rome was that it was pretty hard to hate.
I mean it. The city itself was beautiful, atmospheric, and brimming with culture. Some places were crowded with people, and some were so quiet you could hear a pin drop. In the brief moments I didn’t have much to do, I’d sneak to some of those quiet places and write my friends back in Venice or my sister Bianca in Berlin.
But I was usually busy. Papà was a senior member of Mussolini’s government, and I was essentially his personal secretary. I spent a lot of time with him taking notes in meetings, or doing paperwork, or answering letters from this and that diplomat. A lot of said correspondence was from Berlin, which meant I spent a fair amount of time studying the German language, too.
Papà and I weren’t merely government officials. We were secretly part of a small spy ring connected to the Italian resistance and American C.I.A. forces. Operation: Half-Blood. Our job was to feed whatever information we could to Agent Chiron, who would pass it on to Agent Grace and McLean, our contacts in Washington. We didn’t have too many members, twenty at most, but that was probably for the best. The bigger the operation, the better chance you’ve got of getting caught.
My family, the di Angelo family, was Operation: Half-Blood’s most valuable asset. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a former diplomat in Washington from the days before Mussolini’s grab for power. He and Mamma had died before Mussolini rose, which meant their reputations as respectable, Italian patriots were left intact. That gave my family a lot of clout. Add old money and aristocratic ties to that legacy, and you’ve got yourself a golden goose.
Agent Chiron put us to good use. With the CIA pulling some strings, Papà was easily appointed to Mussolini’s government. A quick word here and there, and--what a surprise!--my sister happened to become engaged to one of Hitler’s lackeys. My other sister, my half-sister Hazel (from Papà’s second marriage), stayed at the spy headquarters in Venice and served as the go-between for all of us di Angelo’s.
I knew my occupation was dangerous, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be someone important. I wanted to be an asset to the liberation of my country and defeat the Nazi regime. I wanted to serve the causes I believed in with all my heart. Here, I could do that. And that was worth any risk I had to take.
The sun had long since set when Papà came back from Palazzo Braschi, Mussolini’s headquarters. “I hope your day was more fruitful than mine,” Papà grumbled, kicking off his shoes. “Meetings all day, if you can even call them that. Just a bunch of cowardly, sniveling, idiotic generals stroking Mussolini’s ego and assuring him all’s well on the front.” He collapsed on our couch, exhausted, and rubbed his temples. “I swear, Italy may lose this war without our help from sheer incompetence alone.”
“That would be nice,” I said, plopping on the couch next to him. “I was going through the mail today, and--”
“Don’t talk to me about work,” Papà groaned. “I’ve had enough of that today.” He leaned his head back on the couch and closed his eyes.
“Papà, it’s important,” I insisted.
“Shhh. I’m asleep.”
I grabbed a pillow from the couch and started hitting him with it. “Wake up.”
With lightning fast reflexes, Papà put me in a headlock and smothered me with his chest. I started to shove and hit him blind. Finally, he relented and let me go.
“I’m twenty-nine years old, Papà, you can’t give me noogies anymore,” I complained.
“Then don’t wake me up.”
“You weren’t even asleep.”
“This is why I told your mother I didn’t want children.”
“Never discount the insults of an exhausted man.”
I grabbed Bianca’s letter from the coffee table in front of us. “I need to show you this,” I said. “It’s a letter from Bianca.” Papà took it from me and scanned the contents. His eyes widened. “We need to show this to Castellan.” Agent Luke Castellan was another Italian native, serving in King Victor Emmanuel’s court. His father was some aristocrat, and an old friend of the King’s.
“Exactly, that’s why I was trying to wake you up.” I grabbed my keys from the coat hook by the front door.
As usual, Papà groaned at the sight of them. “Can’t we walk?”
“They live an hour away on foot and it’s ten o’clock at night with no moon. No, we cannot walk.”
Papà hated automobiles; he didn’t trust them, called them ‘metal death machines.’ When Bianca first told him she was going to get her license, he looked at her like she was an alien and said, “By God, why?” When I told him the same the following year, he’d shaken his head and said, “So, you’ve fallen into their trap, too?”
The only reason I even owned an automobile was that Persephone, Papà’s third and current wife, had bought one for me as a sort of peace offering after their wedding. Let’s just say that she and I hadn’t… gotten along during their engagement. Persephone was currently living with her mother in Greece; she’d been pregnant when the C.I.A. first contacted Papà about Operation: Half-Blood. The two of them decided it was best to keep her somewhere safe in case things went horribly wrong. She wrote often, and kept sending us pictures of my new half-sister, Macaria, who’d just turned seven months old.
Eventually, I dragged Papà into the auto and we headed to the Castellan’s home, northeast near Villa Ada. Papà raced out of the car as fast as he could. With a sigh, I followed.
Papà knocked on the door, and Castellan's wife opened it. “You’re here to see Luke?” she asked.
I nodded. “Is he busy?”
Mrs. Castellan rolled her eyes. “Always. Come in, I’ll get him.” She retreated back into the apartment, leaving the door open for us. We followed her inside.
“Luke!” she yelled through the closed bedroom door. “The di Angelo’s are here to see you!”
“Tell them I’m busy!” came the response.
“Sleeping at eight p.m. is not busy!”
“I’ve been in meetings all day--!”
“And you have one more, which means--!”
“I’m trying to sleep--!”
“Get in here right now or I swear to Jesus Christ--!”
“God, don’t blow your top! I’m coming, I’m coming!”
“Thalia Castellan...” Papà dryly whispered to me. I did my best not to laugh in case she heard me.
Agent Castellan opened the door. “God, Thalia, could you at least close the front door before you shout like that?”
“What, have you been getting complaints?”
She kissed him on the cheek. “You really do sound half asleep,” she said with a laugh.
“I know. Please, close the door.”
You couldn't miss the affection in their eyes. I wondered if I'd ever find a marriage where we were secure enough in our relationship that we could scream the ever-loving piss out of each other. I rolled my eyes at the thought. As if I'd ever find a woman dumb enough to marry me for anything but a political leg-up. Love wasn't in the cards for me. I'd never fallen for anyone in my life. I couldn't even fathom what that would be like.
Agent Castellan turned to Papà and I. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked.
“I got a letter from Bianca,” I said, pulling myself from my musings. I unfolded it as Papà and the Castellan’s gathered around me. “Look here.” I pointed to her P.S..
“‘A new soldier will join us in Berlin,’” Mrs. Castellan read out loud. “Isn’t Himmler looking for a new guard for Hitler?”
“Exactly,” I said. “This new soldier has to be the one.”
“We should put eyes on him,” Agent Castellan said. “Being so close to Hitler… the things he might overhear would be invaluable.”
“We’re in agreement there,” Papà said. “Perhaps a lady friend?”
“It worked with the Colonel,” Agent Castellan agreed. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here.”
“Annabeth Jackson,” Mrs. Castellan suggested at once. “She’s smart, and good at manipulation. She’d get in bed with him easily.”
“Percy will love that,” I said sarcastically. He was her husband, and a good friend of mine.
“Well, he’ll have to suck it up,” Mrs. Castellan shot back. I had to bite my lip to stop from laughing. Thalia Castellan was anything but lady-like.
“Are you sure?” Agent Castellan asked. “Sending Annabeth to Berlin will be dangerous.” I didn’t blame him for his concern. He’d known Mrs. Jackson since she was a little girl; he’d practically raised her.
“I know,” Mrs. Castellan told him, “but she’s smart and resourceful. She can handle it. She’ll be fine.”
“I’ll write to Chiron at once,” Papà said. “With any luck, she’ll be in Berlin by the time this new soldier arrives.”
The wait was agony.
Colonel Octavian took me to Hitler’s personal office, where the man was likely hard at work doing... whatever it was he did each morning. I expected him to come out, or Colonel Octavian to take me in, but neither happened. Instead, Colonel Octavian pointed to the door and said, “Stand there.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, and stood where he was pointing.
“Good.” Then, he turned and walked away. Leaving me standing there. In front of the door. Alone.
I stood there for hours, waiting for Hitler to come out, or someone to tell me to go in, or for something to happen.
I spent the morning wondering if I was close enough to the door that I’d get smacked in the face when it finally opened. I spent the afternoon wondering when I’d get to eat something. I spent the evening wondering why Hitler hadn’t left that office all day--didn’t he have meetings? What if he wasn’t in there after all? What if I lost the Führer?????
Just after sunset, I heard the doorknob turn. I turned the heel and moved to the side of the door in case I was close enough to get hit after all. I focused on a spot on the wall in front of me and forced my breathing to even out.
Here it comes, I thought. It all comes down to this.
One mistake, and I’d be dead.
The door opened, blocking my line of sight. After a moment, a figure stepped into view. I straightened my back, threw my hand into a salute, and bellowed, “Heil Hitler!” with as much gusto as possible.
The man in front of me turned.
He looked me over once.
And he walked away. I shut the door behind him and followed at his heels.
I wasn’t sure where we were going, and I didn’t dare ask. We weaved through the unfamiliar halls until we stood in front of a pair of impressive-looking doors. “Wait here,” Hitler said, and went inside. I turned my back to the door, and resumed what I was sure would become my usual stance.
Oh joy, I thought. I love this promotion. What an honor. What a use of my sharpshooting skills.
“Lieutenant Solace, what a pleasure,” came a familiar voice a few feet to my left. I didn’t dare turn in case some official saw me break protocol. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Miss di Angelo come out of the nook she’d been standing in.
“Miss di Angelo,” I said, still unable to look at her.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” she said with a bit of a laugh. “No one will fault you for that. You aren’t on the front lines.”
I relaxed ever so slightly, but I was too afraid to do much more than that. “I must not leave my post, ma’am,” I said.
“I’m not asking you to, I promise,” she said with an easy smile. I liked her smile. It was warm, friendly, genuine… the first one I’d seen since the Nazis invaded Greece. No one had much to smile about anymore. “I’m waiting for my fiancé,” Miss di Angelo explained. “He wanted to introduce me to the ambassador after the men finish playing in there.”
“Playing?” I asked.
“Showing off,” she said, half-joking. “We may be allies with Japan, but even brothers compare themselves.”
“There is no comparison,” I said, almost robotically. “Germany is the greatest nation in the world.”
“You believe that?”
Her comment shocked me. This woman was engaged to a high ranking Nazi, and she was questioning Germany’s exceptionalism? Was it a test of loyalty? Was she waiting for me to admit I wasn’t as fond of Berlin as I should be? It didn’t sound like it, but what other explanation could there be?
I didn’t know what to say, so I changed the subject. “The Führer is meeting with an ambassador of Japan?”
Miss di Angelo nodded. “Admiral Ethan Nakamura. There’s going to be a great dinner tonight in his honor. I’ve been helping to arrange it; my dear Colonel is so thoughtful to give me such an important task.” She smiled at me again. “I’ve made sure to sit you with us.”
“You don’t need to trouble yourself with me, ma’am.”
“It’s no trouble. Besides, everyone needs a friend.” I said nothing. She raised her eyebrows at me. “Am I wrong?”
“No,” I admitted. “It is lonely.”
“I know, I remember.”
“When I came from Venice to marry Colonel Octavian,” she explained. “You must’ve gathered from my name that I’m not from here.”
“I didn’t think about it,” I admitted. “You speak German very well.”
“As do you, Mr. Greece.”
“America?” She actually looked impressed. “You’ve been all over, haven’t you, Lieutenant?”
“Indeed, ma’am,” I said.
We heard clapping coming from the room behind me. I straightened my stance. Soon, the door opened, and a bunch of officers spilled out. Miss di Angelo picked Colonel Octavian out of the crowd. “Until next time, Lieutenant,” she said with one last smile, then took her fiancé’s arm and walked off.
It was a good while before Hitler allowed me to go to my room and get ready for Admiral Nakamura’s reception. It felt good to shower, and even better to sit down for a minute. I’d been on my feet for at least twelve hours straight, without breakfast or lunch. I felt as though I was about to fall over.
I'd just finished dressing when I heard a knock at my door. “One moment!” I called, straightening my cuffs as I ran across the room. I opened the door; there was a woman on the other side, a beautiful woman with grey eyes and curly blonde hair. She looked like something off the silver screen of Hollywood, especially with the fancy dress she was wearing.
“I’m here to bring you to dinner, Lieutenant,” the woman said.
“Does the Führer normally send beautiful women to collect his officers?” I asked. She laughed, and I laughed along with her. It felt good to laugh.
“No, no, I’m a friend of Bianca di Angelo’s,” the woman explained, a little flustered. “I’m in the city visiting, and she thought--”
“--that you should have a date,” I finished for her. I calmed her nerves with a reassuring smile. “It would be a pleasure to escort you to dinner, Miss…?”
“Chase,” she said. “Annabeth Chase.”
“Lieutenant Will Solace, at your service, ma’am.” I offered her my arm, and she took it. “I hope you know where you’re going,” I admitted. “I don’t know my way around this place at all.”
“Bianca told me where to go, and I have a good memory,” Miss Chase assured me. “Follow me.”
We chatted on our way to the reception. She was an incredibly interesting woman, fiery, intelligent, and confident, but kind, too. I could picture any man falling in love with her and then some. I’d heard that the right woman can help a man overcome his homosexuality--maybe Annabeth Chase would be my saving grace?
My heart sank when Miss Chase said, “We’re almost there, the banquet’s just around the corner.” I peered around the bend and saw the doors of the reception hall, standing large and menacing, and I ached to sink into the corner and hide.
“Can I tell you something?” I asked. She nodded, though she looked a little confused (perhaps even startled) at the sudden vulnerability. “I really don’t want to go in there.”
“Your stomach begs to differ,” she shot back with a mischievous smirk. I laughed for the second time since I’d met her. A new record.
“Has it been so loud?” I bit my lip, and the smile fell away. “I’m terrified, Miss Chase.”
I met her eye. The confusion she’d once displayed on her face was now replaced by concern. “My promotion happened so... so suddenly. I wasn’t prepared for it--I’m still not. I'm sure that someday soon I’m going to make a fool of myself in front of the Führer or Admiral or someone else important and… face the consequences.” My words dripped with deeper meaning. “I know that being here in Berlin is a great honor, but I wish the honor had gone to another Greek; someone more worthy of it than I.”
Miss Chase took my hand in hers and squeezed it. Our relationship was far too young for such intimacy, but I didn’t mind it so much. The warmth of her hand calmed my nerves a little.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I’ll stay by your side tonight, no matter what, and make sure that doesn’t happen. But, even tomorrow, when I’m not beside you, you’ll do just fine.”
“How can you know that?” I asked.
“Because you’re made of better stock than the rest of them. And it shows, even in one conversation.”
I knew that Miss Chase was referring to my Aryan heritage, that she was saying that I was made of better stuff than the other Greeks… but, in my head, I twisted her words so I could pretend that she meant I was made of better things than the Nazis around me. That, somehow, the cloud of evil they spread hadn’t corrupted my soul.
But it has, a little voice reminded me. You’re wearing the uniform with a red band on your arm. You’ve spent years complicit in everything they’re doing, sitting back and watching from the comfort of your barrack. Why does it matter that you have reservations when you shout “heil Hitler!” if you’ve never once raised a finger to save anyone but yourself and your family?
“You overestimate me, Miss Chase,” I told her.
“No, Lieutenant, I don’t think I do.” She squeezed my hand. “Now, come on, you have an Admiral to impress.”
Under the penetrating gaze of her grey eyes, I released her hand and once again offered her my arm. I straightened my back, puffed my chest, let my face fall free of emotion, and escorted my first real friend into the banquet.
Hey, look, I finally wrote a fic where Nico doesn’t have massive daddy issues!
Please comment so I know what you think! See you next week!