(A/N: In this fic Edwin is 34; Ruud is 28; Rio is 26.)
On September 17th, 1944, Ruud van Nistelrooy didn’t go to work on the railways near Amsterdam, because the Allies were coming, and everyone he worked with had been told to stay away, to hamper the German defense.
A week later, the Allies weren’t going to go any further, and in the dead of night, he ran from his house to the nearest church, thinking wildly of some old-fashioned notion of sanctuary.
“You,” the Father said to him several days later, as he distributed food among the several men taking shelter in the cramped quarters he ostensibly lived in behind the chapel. “You know how to keep a secret?”
Except it wasn’t really a question the way he asked it, and Ruud knew that, given the circumstances, it wasn’t a good idea for him to say no as he followed Gio out. The small, quick man was far too good at his job and far too good at nonchalantly hiding random runaways from the patrols that went stomping or driving past every few hours to be disobeyed. He bore the proof of his activity, too, having had to stay inside for several days himself with his face blackened and bruised. Ruud hadn’t dared to ask him what had happened.
“You’re a railway worker, yes? Good. I need someone good with their hands. And getting you away from here will help you – you’re a bit of a hulk to go about day by day, when they’re rounding up labor all the time,” Gio said, with a tight smile. “Will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Go into hiding. Do some work for the LO. We’ll make sure you’re as well-supplied as we can manage.” (1)
Which was how Ruud had ended up traipsing through the night, following a priest he didn’t know if he could trust, looking for a man codenamed the Ice Rabbit.
Ijskonijn. Honestly. What sort of a name was that?
“We’ll leave food as often as we can,” Gio was whispering as they crept along the canals of the Jordaan. “During the day, most often. It’s best if you move around at night, if at all. You’ll get forged papers soon, and eventually you might be moved elsewhere. Het ijskonijn’s a bit of a strange one, but he knows what he’s doing. You might be able to help him, he’s got a lot on his plate.”
He must have noticed Ruud’s skeptical look, because he laughed, bright and sarcastic. “Relax. We’ve been doing this for four years.”
The hiding place was a garden shed in the back of a canal-facing house, not visible from the street, as one had to be admitted to the cramped yard through a doubly-locked wooden fence, and then the shed was unobtrusive enough, with dark, shabby windows and no signs of life. It was big enough for a man to take a few long paces in all directions, but not much more than that.
A few sharp taps at the door was answered by a few furtive ones back, and when Gio had replied with a few more the door swung open, but the room beyond was still totally dark – Ruud could only slowly make out the shape of a mattress on the floor, and then a man, taller than him, a packet of cigarettes in his long-fingered, pale hands.
“No, I’m really not,” Gio said with a smirk, taking the bag he had carried with him off of his shoulder and unloading several things out of it onto the floor – a few packets of cigarettes, a hard loaf of bread, some cheese and glass bottles of weak beer. “I’ve got a good feeling about him.”
“The last one nearly got us both arrested. You know I can’t have anyone near here, not now.”
“Too bad,” the priest said, picking up his lightened load. “If he’s too much trouble, put a sign that says ‘COLLABORATOR’ on his back, and shoot him. It’s no concern of mine anymore, I’ve got enough to do.” (2)
The Ijskonijn laughed. “What happened to your face? You were already ugly, you didn’t need to make it worse.”
“My wife would disagree with you,” Gio said dryly as he hauled his bag further onto his shoulder and made ready to leave. “I got roughed up for wearing a carnation. On the Prince’s birthday.” (3)
“Idiot,” the man said, his voice low and serious. “Don’t get yourself noticed for banalities.” There was a pause, and then he spoke again, although it sounded grudging. “Stay safe.”
Gio snorted. “Here,” he said, slipping what looked like a wallet into the Ijskonijn’s hand. “More from Van Tuyl. For paper and ink.”
“The NSF is busy these days,” (4) the man said with a smirk, peering through what looked like a large wad of cash – certainly more than Ruud had seen in months – before he put it in his pocket.
“You should be grateful for it.”
“Did I ever say I wasn’t?”
Gio grinned, shook his head, and left the two of them alone, shutting the door firmly behind him – with the dawn coming on there was just enough light coming in through the rotting roof that he could make out his new protector’s (was that the right word, anyway?) form. He was even taller than Ruud, and thinner, his mop of hair tousled and grimy with what looked like soot. In the sudden silence after Gio’s departure, he pulled a package of cigarettes from his other pocket, lit one with the last match in the accompanying matchbook, and breathed in a long lungful of smoke. “I’m Edwin. You?”
“Right.” Edwin nodded, sticking the cigarette in a corner of his long mouth, and then tilted his head. “C’mon then. I’ll show you downstairs.”
The mattress was shoved away to reveal a trapdoor, made of the same rotting wood, and underneath, a pale glow. Edwin disappeared into the hazy light, and Ruud fumbled down after him, feeling his way along damp earthen walls until his feet were off of the crooked steps and on a soggy floor.
It was, if the hyperbole could be borne, a bit of an Aladdin’s cave. A radio sat on a rickety table in one corner, complete with headphones and an aerial that vibrated slightly under the movement of their feet, sticking up through the wooden ceiling to get closer to the unobstructed air outside; its power cable, too, snaked away to an unknown source, probably in a neighboring house. A little pile of identity cards sat on top of it, all with the same grubby little picture of what Ruud assumed was Edwin – next to them, lying perpendicular to the wall, two rifles and three pistols. In another corner, a beast of a printing press, its innards ripped open on one side so it could be modified to work on hand-cranked power. Stacks of paper and type, things tacked onto the dirt wall, broadsheets and pamphlets that Ruud recognized from the few illegal ones that had been passed among the men back at the church. Photographs of men clipped from newspapers, one labeled “GERRIT VAN DER VEEN” (5) in a loopy hand; everything was illuminated by a sputtering paraffin lamp.
And in the third corner –
“Shut the door,” Edwin said, still smoking. “But quietly. We don’t want to wake our guest.”
Ruud stared. The soldier – or rather airman – was lying on a stretcher, his dirty boots still on, most of his uniform covered by a thin blanket, a veritable mass of bandages piled under his lower back. His skeletal, dark face was pinched and drawn, his breathing labored.
“English,” Edwin said, tapping ashes from his cigarette as though he was commenting on the weather. “He was shot down a few days ago. It looks like there’s shrapnel in his spine, so I doubt he’ll walk again.”
Ruud blinked and looked at Edwin instead, open-mouthed, blankly taking in more of his appearance – the rangy, stubbled face, the long arms and broad chest and the hint of blond under the soot in his hair. His eyes sparked blue even in the dark. “Is he going to die?”
“Who knows?” Edwin shrugged. “We can’t take him to a hospital, even disguised – if his nightmares are anything to go by he is very English and very not-Dutch,” he continued, sniggering a little. “He’d stick out like a sore thumb with that tongue.”
“No,” he said, pulling the blanket further up to the airman’s chin. “I’ll do what I can for him here. If the Allies make another push he might even get back home.”
The tone of his voice left Ruud with little doubt, as they both went back up to the room above, that he didn’t expect this to happen.
“So,” Edwin said as they sat down on the floor and Ruud finally took some time to stretch out his cramped limbs.
“So,” Ruud said, feeling exactly none of his tension dissipate away. “How long have you been out here?”
Edwin drew on the cigarette and blew the smoke sideways out through a crack in the blacked-out window before handing it over to Ruud. “Since the end of April.”
“Five months? Christ,” Ruud muttered, sucking smoke deep into his lungs in the vain hope it would calm him down. “I’ve only been with you people for a week and I’m already going crazy.”
Ed seemed inappropriately amused, his thin lips stretched in a ruthless smile. “Seventeen months. I went into hiding when they tried to call up all the army men.”
He learned a lot about Ed in those first few hours. He wasn’t a naturally gregarious type, but the more questions Ruud asked the more he thought of, and Ed had a habit of answering them all, no matter how stupid an idea it was to even bring them up. So soon he knew that Ed had always been good with his hands, and that it had been easy to at least start at medical school, and then leave to be a medic because he was bored, and stick it out even though there hadn’t been much to do besides hang around and wonder when everything was going to go tits-up.
He told Ruud more than he wanted to know, really. He learned about those short five days when he didn’t sleep and was dragging men down roads that he no longer could recognize, carrying them until they died and he could pick up another one. He learned more than he wanted to about those five days, and he learned how then – after then, after that, then – Rotterdam was gone and it was over, the surrender signed, and they could go home as though nothing had ever happened. About living a relatively normal life – albeit one filled with broken oaths and students hauled out of the nearby university for sheltering or refusing to denounce Jewish friends – until the world intruded again and the call went out that all former Dutch Army conscripts were to report for hard labour. About how he’d met Gio in those chaotic few days and watched from a window when – it was said – half a million people turned out to spontaneously strike against the planned theft of all those men.
Edwin ground out his cigarette in the floorboards and left it sputtering. “Sometimes I feel like I ghost,” he said cryptically, giving Ruud that same hard grin. “It’s not safe for me to go out during the day. Tall fucker like me, I get noticed.”
Ruud sat still, feeling the cold creep its way through his clothes, and watched the last of the tobacco flare out.
They slept on the same rough pallet that day, but didn’t have to share a blanket – a second one had been provided by Gio, who dropped by around lunchtime, his dark clothes of the night before replaced by an inoffensive suit that made him look as though he was normal. Edwin got up several times to check on the pilot, but other than that he was quiet, napping in fits and starts, leaving Ruud to stare up at the ruined roof as he struggled to readjust his body to sleeping in daylight and the cold.
At one point, he rolled over and watched Edwin sleeping, on his front with the handle of a pistol sticking out of the waistband of his trousers at the small of his back. It looked like it couldn’t be comfortable, so Ruud reached over to take it out.
Edwin was awake and trying to choke him before he could blink. “Don’t.”
“Christ!” Ruud wheezed. “I was just – ”
“I know.” The hard lines around the edges of Ed’s eyes softened. “Don’t.”
On September 30th, the pilot woke up and started talking properly.
Ruud heard him as he slowly woke around dusk, his head heavy with a sleepy fog. Three days without bread, a nasty voice said at the back of his head as he got up and the world spun, as though he’d forgotten.
The Germans had stopped all food-bearing trains headed to the provinces.
“What the fuck do you mean, it didn’ work?”
Ruud winced. The injured man must have worked up quite a head of steam to be heard through the floor. During a gap in the shouted conversation, he took his chance and dropped down into the cellar, letting the door close with a snap behind him.
It turned out his name was Rio. What sort of name that was for an Englishman Ruud really didn’t know, but it was, at least, a relief to see him awake and angry and talking after watching over what would have better been his corpse for days.
Well, for a bit. After a few minutes Ruud was just annoyed, and Ed wasn’t helping a bit by looking murderously amused at it all.
“What, there’s more of you?” The powerful body on the stretcher looked about ready to lift itself up and punch its way straight through Ruud, damaged spine be damned. “Are all of you Dutch tits this big?”
“Some,” Ed sniggered mildly. “Lie still.”
Rio sniffed, and Ruud got the horrible feeling that he was every bit as insane as Edwin was turning out to be. “Don’t like the look of him.”
“Tough. He was all ready to give up his rations for you, too.”
“I fucking well wasn’t!” The fury was swelling in Ruud now, as though in direct defiance of his knowledge that he couldn’t do anything about it. “I didn’t ask to be here!”
“Join the club,” Rio said nastily, and Ed rolled his eyes before pushing Ruud back up into the house and slamming the trapdoor shut.
“Tha’s bollocks, mate. We were gonna win at Arnhem!” (6)
Ed spent many hours down in the basement talking to Rio. Ruud could recognize the beginning of an inexplicable and generally frightening friendship when he saw it, so he tended to stay away while the Dutchman and Englishman cackled their way through their respective war stories over the course of days and nights, and seemed to share a private, sniggering joke whenever Ruud interrupted them. He learned enough, at any rate, to know that Rio had been a gunner on a bomber, and that he’d just had time to think that he was in a colossal amount of shit with his parachute above him and fire in his back, before he blacked out and didn’t remember anything much before waking up to Ed and Ruud’s faces.
Ed’s initial diagnosis, though, had still been correct, and one evening Ruud had woken and was about to descend with the latest package of supplies when he heard the pilot weeping, grieving for his freedom and his useless legs, and, through one of the many holes dotting the rotten wood, he saw Edwin holding his hand, giving him something to struggle and fight against, his other hand behind his head to guide it to his.
Ruud swallowed, and looked away.
Rio still slept during the night most of the time, which meant that Ruud could spend time down in the dark without being infuriated and just watch Edwin work. His eyes were starting to adjust to the point where he felt like a blinking mole every time he happened to catch a glimpse of any sunlight, but the paraffin lamps and the way they illuminated every angle of the dusty press drew him like a moth.
The printing assignments varied from night to night. Sometimes Ed received scraps of scrawled paper tucked in among the meager food and paraffin supplies that were left for them every afternoon, pamphlets that he would have to set himself and then get sent back to the authors or to others for distribution. Sometimes the set block of type for the little broadsheets would arrive complete, wrapped up with little screws of paper and cloth to make sure it didn’t rattle, and all Edwin would do was ink it up and print. Still other times – when he went into a pacing, silent, irritable mood, and Ruud would hear him stalking back and forth on the boards above him while he was trying to sleep properly down in the dark – he would write something himself, and his fingers would fly across paper holding a leaking fountain pen, or, to Ruud’s aching eyes, become a blur as he slotted letter after letter directly into the printing frame.
Stealing enough power for the radio was difficult enough, with electricity so scarce and gas not much better, so the press had to be wound. If it had needed the paper to be hand-fed, Ruud could have helped, but as it was he just spent three weeks watching the little handles and grips flicking back and forth as sheets of damp paper disappeared in and out of it, and Ed’s back straining as he worked the hand-crank, smoke wafting gently around his head.
By the middle of October, he was having to take breaks, and Ruud would take his turn, fumbling a little each time before he got into the rhythm of it as the machine, as if protesting against its no longer automatic existence, threatened to snarl. Ed would sit against the wall, wiping his damp brow, eyes fluttering as he struggled to catch his breath, until Ruud was in the same condition and needed a rest of his own, and they would trade places.
What food they had, they were mostly giving to Rio (not that Ruud would admit to it, of course – he let Ed bring the Englishman his meals). The temperature, too, seemed far too cold for October, and was only getting worse. Ruud’s body felt like it was withering, breaking into pieces and floating away from him day by day as the loaves of bread shrunk and they had to leave the wax of any cheese they got in the basket to be picked up again so it could be used to make candles. The only things that kept coming were things that weren’t quite useful for staying alive.
Ed seemed to notice it in him, too, and had taken to watching him carefully, his lightly blue eyes settling on Ruud’s face whenever he helped him work, whenever they ate together or maintained the quiet silence they had adopted for lack of anything interesting to say. Sometimes, but only sometimes, Ruud looked back, because whenever he did he had to look away again for fear he was falling too deep into something far too dangerous.
On October 18th, Ed stopped Ruud when he was about to go back upstairs as dawn began to break. “Wait. Listen to the radio with me.”
Ruud paused. He knew Edwin had been listening every morning, and sometimes more often – the BBC was on for most of the day and night, he knew that much at least – but he had never offered to share before, and Ruud, as long as whatever information about the war was passed on (which it was), had never asked.
He could have said it was just about the fact that there was only one pair of headphones, or the fact that the heavy German-made machine, battered and a bit rusty, with the “Fu. H – ” of its name wearing away, intimidated him. But there Ed was holding out the headphones to him, the infernal machine was already on and blinking, and Rio was still asleep, so why the hell not?
“We’ve missed most of the BBC News,” Ed said quietly, muffled as he helped adjust the headphones over Ruud’s ears and then turned to the receiver to adjust the frequency, with static crackling hard in Ruud’s head. Up close, he exuded sweat and fatigue. “But it’s almost eight o’clock, so. How’s that?”
“Good, I think.”
Pip pip pip piiiiiiiip –
Pip pip pip piiiiiiiip –
“What is that?”
Ed seemed to know immediately what he was asking about, even though he wasn’t listening. “It’s the Morse Code sign for ‘V.’”
“Radio Oranje, de stem van strijdend Nederland – ” (7)
Ed leaned forward and kissed him for a long time, the smell of ink and grease filling his senses until the headphones fell down around his neck.
On October 21st, Edwin was up long before dusk and, by the time Ruud woke, was hurriedly dressing in dark clothes that must have been dropped off during the day, drawing a hat down so low it was almost covering his eyes and the pistol back in his waistband.
“Where are you going?”
“The knokploeg need a few extra hands tonight.” (8)
Ruud’s throat constricted, and every muscle in his body wanted nothing more than to hold Ed still until he could no longer move. “You’ll get yourself killed.”
“I’ve been out with them before.”
“Like that makes a difference!”
“Come with me,” Ed breathed against Ruud’s cheek, his eyes dark blue and manic with hunger, as though he were back on that long walk away from the front. “We could use you.”
Ruud stared at him, his mouth dry, and a few minutes later they were running west behind the black hulks of houses, windows that murmured and puddles trickling their way across their shoes. Patrol, Edwin whispered once, and as they pressed together into an alley until it was safe, Ed’s body covering his, Ruud’s heart slammed through his clothes and pulsed against Ed’s warning touch on his neck.
There were four other men, none of which Ruud knew, waiting for them near the registry office on the edge of the Sloterpark. “Well?” Ed whispered.
“One guard. He’s out,” one of the men grinned, holding the soldier’s stolen rifle in his hands. “My wife cooks for him, ja? Her waterzooi (9) is so tasteless it puts people to sleep.” He paused. “The Jenever (10) might have helped too.”
Ruud held back a sharp intake of breath at the snickers of agreement. I have gone mad, he thought. Mad, mad, I am –
“Let’s go,” someone else whispered, and Ed grabbed Ruud’s arm to pull him towards the deserted building.
The efficiency was just as frightening. Locks punched out of doors, ration cards stuffed into pockets, food stamps and travel passes tied together into piles with pieces of string and distributed to each man so they could take them back to their groups, and all done in a silence so profound that Ruud was surprised he even dared to keep breathing. They’d put him on lookout, but all he could do was look back and stare at Edwin as he ransacked cabinets, the ever-present gun on a desk beside him. As the other men were finishing, he carried a pile of papers over to a half-empty rubbish bin, tossed them inside, lit a match from his empty packet of cigarettes, and dropped it in. As the flames rose, Ruud watched his gleeful face turn demonic.
One of the other men hissed. “They’ll see the light!”
“Yeah,” Edwin laughed as he finally turned away and started to leave. “But without the population lists they won’t know who to pressgang, now will they?”
Ruud didn’t remember anything of the trip back apart from the fact that Rio had gotten ahold of something in the cellar and was throwing it up to the ceiling to try and get attention, the dull thud of whatever it was alternating with the grunt as it fell back on top of him. Ruud felt drunk on adrenaline, so high it was actually making him boneless, and it seemed Ed was in the same straits, because his step was distinctly unsteady as he wavered over to the trapdoor and stumbled down the stairs.
“Shut up, you English heathen,” he cackled, as Rio glared mightily at both him and Ruud, watching from above and failing to control his grin. “Welcome us back. We’ve been fucking heroes tonight.”
“Yeah?” Ruud could tell the cocky soldier was actually interested, and failing quite spectacularly to hide it as he pouted back. “Y’could have fucking tol’ me where y’were going!”
“What good would it have done you?” Ed laughed, and pressed an insolent kiss to the bridge of Rio’s nose, startling him and Ruud both. “Go to sleep. I’ll celebrate getting random innocents killed with you in the morning.”
“Why you – !”
Ed shut the trapdoor on him and collapsed onto their sleeping pallet, his pale body heaving. Ruud couldn’t do much more than join him, press him close, tell him as loudly as he could without words how terrified he was and how much he wanted him to just stay…
Edwin rolled over until he lay on top of him, traced a circle around each of his eyes. “They shouldn’t have brought you to me.”
“We’re too noticeable.”
Ed’s pause was very long before he leaned down and kissed the corner of Ruud’s mouth. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“What was that you said about getting people killed?”
“They’ll probably drag someone out of their house and shoot them in retribution for our raid.”
Ed moved on him silently, his eyes slipping closed when Ruud’s hands took the gun’s place under his belt, and Ruud welcomed the attempt at oblivion as he forgot himself.
On November 8th, Edwin was asked to go to a meeting in Rotterdam. The following evening he was dressing to go, and Ruud felt as though the last thing he might have had some pull over, some influence, some inkling of a feeling that he mattered, was slipping away from him.
Ed huffed out a sigh as he stuffed his pockets with his gun, identity cards, ration cards, forged travel passes. “Don’t look at me like that.”
He paused, and then his face gradually lost its irritated edge. “I like being able to fix things,” he said gently. “Don’t stop me from trying.”
Ed settled his jacket more firmly onto his shoulders. “I’ll be back in two days. You won’t get any new drops until then. Don’t let anyone in.”
Ed kissed him, held him for a long moment so they were sharing what was left of their body heat, and Ruud lifted a hand to cover Ed’s, wanting to soak up some of the dirt, the ink-stains in the folds of Ed’s palm. “Someday I won’t do this.”
“Someday soon.” It wasn’t a question, just like when Gio had said he could keep a secret. Ed said nothing, just opened the door and went.
It was easier to spend time with Rio, somehow, once Ed was gone. A day and a half slipped quietly by with the Englishman before the pilot really stirred and stared with only a little hostility at Ruud as the sun set on the 11th.
“How come you an’ me never talk?”
Ruud took a few moments to wrap his mouth around the unfamiliar, if relatively easy English. “I didn’t think you wanted to.”
“Shows what you know,” Rio said snidely, before relaxing again. He had kept on trying to get up, even though he just fell helplessly whenever he tried, and it looked as though it was gearing up to give it another go, his upper body flexing and fidgeting. “Stop looking like you’ve got a rod up y’arse. He’ll come back t’ya.”
Ruud held back a cough, wrapping his arms around himself to try and keep out the cold. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Balls,” Rio said bluntly. “He knows you’re too good f’r ‘im not ta.”
Ruud had to take a while to figure that one out, but by the time he did a distant hammering was suddenly thundering downwards from the front door, and he forgot how to breathe. Rio paused on his elbows, started to speak, and Ruud put a hand over his mouth, ignoring the enraged glare and threat of biting he got in return as the din continued.
“Van Nistelrooy!” someone shouted – he couldn’t tell who it was. He had to let go of Rio to stand up and reach for the lamp, knocking it over so they were left in darkness. A creak, a huge crash, and the door had been forced, and shit where were the pistols, shit shit shit there they were, give one to Rio and take the other for yourself, cock it muffled beneath your clothes so they don’t hear the metallic click –
The trapdoor flew open, and Ruud was so startled all he could do was blink. “Thank God,” Gio said as he came quickly down, followed by five men Ruud vaguely recognized from the church. “We thought they might get here before us.”
Two of the men had already grabbed the ends of Rio’s stretcher and were lifting him. “Oi!” Gio was nearly strangled as the outraged Englishman grabbed for his collar – Ruud had been summarily pushed aside as the other men went straight for the radio set and examined the dirty press as though they wanted to dismantle it. “What th’fuck’s goin’ on?”
“We need to get you out. They’ve raided Rotterdam.”
Ruud grabbed for the wall as he watched Rio’s fingers loosen and Gio stand up, rubbing at his neck. “They’ve taken fifty thousand men. Crammed into trains and taken to Germany after they just took them off the streets, and we’ve had no word from Ijskonijn.” He turned to Ruud. “Have you?”
Ruud didn’t trust himself to speak. Gio’s eyes lowered in apology, and with a curt gesture the two men manhandled Rio up the stairs – Ruud, through the spinning of the room around him, vaguely caught a glimpse of the Englishman staring back at him as though it was all his fault.
Gio grabbed Ruud’s wrist as the last of the men left. “Come. We’re going to get you into the country. Hiding people in the smaller villages has been surprisingly successful.”
“Someone will keep running it.” Gio, kinder than he had ever been, was not pulling him away, just holding him and waiting, but Ruud knew he wouldn’t wait much longer. “We’ll keep an eye out, Ruud. I promise you.”
Eventually he stopped waiting, and Ruud allowed himself to be led.
He ended up in a tiny hamlet near Vijfhuizen, halfway to Haarlem, where a farmer’s family offered him a place in their barn. He had sleep-walked most of the way there, guided by not much more than half-hidden roadsigns and his body-clock, which drove him into hedges and fields to sleep until it was night again. He spent most of the first night idly hoping he would be found and searched, and that the multiple copies of his identity card – sent for by Edwin, and given to him by Gio – would sign his death warrant. The family barely had enough to feed themselves, so to be the recipient of their kindness, and the fact that the children started calling him their Uncle by December, just made him feel worse.
Just after Christmas, he ate his first tulip bulb in place of an onion. In January, a child in the village died of malnutrition, and its mother soon after. February and March he spent in a prolonged, almost feverish state of hibernation, shutting out any contact with the outside world, even when he was told there were other resistance men nearby he could have made contact with.
How a mere six weeks could have destroyed so much he would never be able to tell, or at least not articulate. His mind had been blasted clear of almost everything, and, left with only the memory of the cranky sound of the press, he preferred to remain oblivious.
In April, the few bulbs that hadn’t been dug up for food began to sprout, and he measured the passage of time by the varying weight of the children he carried around the farm, because they liked piggybacks and their father had left to join the underground men who would come out armed when the Allies arrived. The mother never asked what Ruud’s life had been like in Amsterdam, and he never told.
You know how to keep a secret.
The day in May that a man came rushing into the village on a tyre-less bicycle screaming that the Canadians (of all people) had arrived, he put the children down and walked back to Amsterdam, into the sea of orange and red-white-blue flags. The color, after so long, blinded him.
He stayed away from the conflicts between the returning government and the resistance men who thought they should have a say; he was more interested in waiting at the Central Station, watching all the trains full of the emaciated displaced come back and fall into the arms of their families. Tens if not hundreds of work camps and worse were vomiting forth their inmates, and all of them were instantly coming home if they could.
But if they didn’t come home, there was no way to find them. And Edwin didn’t come home.
Gio had survived, and was just starting to look a normal weight when Ruud found him, overwhelmed with almost as much work setting a tilted society back onto its feet as he had ever had during the war. He had no news, and no time to console Ruud as he obviously wanted to.
On July 10th, 1946, most of the trains had stopped coming, and a letter from England was waiting for Ruud at his local post office when he came home from working on the rebuilt railroads. A hand that had managed to look shaky and spiky at the same time had written in English on the back flap:
Don’t rip the envelope, you stupid git. You’ll need the return address.
And inside, a cheap and blurry photograph of a ghost.
Why Rio had chosen Hastings Ruud wasn’t really sure, but the smell of the sea being nearby was a comfort when he arrived, pulling up in the ever-present darkness. He was beginning to think he’d never really be back in the world that existed in the glow of light seeping out of every house he walked past; didn’t believe it, at least, until Rio opened his door. He had a cane, now, and even though he still looked like he had wasted away, the strength of his upper body kept him ramrod straight.
“’Bout bloody time,” he grinned, his skeletal face breaking out into a fantastically weird, warm smile. “Oi! Dutchie! Guest for ya.”
He limped away into the house, motioning for Ruud to follow. Edwin said Ruud’s name from somewhere inside, his presence announced by a gentle puff of smoke, and Ruud stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
(A/N: I did not have the time nor the resources to research the background of this story as deeply as I would have wished. Certain details of the Dutch resistance movement’s activities and the hongerwinter are no doubt incorrect; nevertheless, I hope I did the best with what I had [which was several books and many websites], and filled in gaps in my knowledge with alternatives that are at least plausible. Many of the smaller details of daily life during the occupation used in this fic came from personal accounts told by war survivors and collected in the BBC’s “WW2 People’s War” project at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/ ; in the context of this fic they are likewise subjective and representative rather than specific to Amsterdam in 1944-45. For the record, I haven’t been to Amsterdam’s Dutch Resistance Museum. The title of this fic is from the song “I’ll Never Mention Your Name,” sung by Gladys Tell – you can listen to it here.
(1) The LO was the Landelijke Organisatie voor hulp aan onderduikers, or National Organization for Help to People in Hiding; it organized food and other supplies to distribute to families in distress or those in hiding.
(2) There were several incidents during the war of Nazi collaborators among the population being shot dead by members of the resistance.
(3) To wear an orange carnation on Prince Bernard’s birthday (September 6th) was an act of passive resistance.
(4) The NSF, or Nationaal Steunfonds (National Assistance Fund) was set up in 1943 by Walraven “Wally” van Hall, a banker and stockbroker who went by the codename “Van Tuyl” and who defrauded the Nederlandsche Bank out of millions of guilders over two years to help the resistance. He was arrested in January 1945, his identity betrayed while he was in prison, and executed in February.
(5) A resistance fighter and former sculptor who was wounded and then executed by the Nazis in May/June 1944 after unsuccessfully attempting to free other resistance men from prison.
(6) Arnhem was where the Allied advance in September 1944 had been halted. The northern Netherlands would not be liberated until May 1945.
(7) Radio Oranje was the radio station/frequency run by the Dutch government-in-exile in London. Beginning its broadcasts in May 1940, immediately after the surrender, it became a vital source of news and a medium through which Queen Wilhelmina was able to address any Dutch lucky enough to have safely hidden their radios (the Nazis started to confiscate them in 1942).
(8) The KP was a “task force” or “thug group” often involved in more violent resistance activities. They were active in Limburg.
(9) A soup traditionally made with either fish or chicken, with vegetables, herbs, eggs, and butter.
(10) A juniper-based spirit.