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Sanctuary - Confessional
johnd
dbalthasar
This started as a response to the history battle prompt "John Druitt.  U-boat."  and went... elsewhere.  Warnings for discussion of violence and murder, and, seriously, Jack the Ripper, because this is, if anything, a meditation on murders.

John has come east as the war wanes, not because there are rumors of vampires in the Serbian woods, and certainly not because his rage has flagged, sated and perhaps even stunned by the scale of the devastation.  His talents are needed here, and he haunts the ports, a bloody-handed nightmare who keeps the Germans close to home.

But he has not hunted in Salamis, and when word seeps out of a killing very like his own, he finds himself drawn to the site, curious to know who’s had the nerve to copy his techniques.  Partisans, he assumes, until he reaches the port and realizes that he knew the dead man more than a decade ago, in Berlin.  He was a street thug then, and a senior SS officer and a camp commander now, but there’s no mistaking him, even dead:  a man who’d earned his enemies.  John doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know the killer then, not when he sees the fair-haired oberleutnant knocking back a brandy in one of the dockside bars.  The profile has coarsened — he’s ten years older and twenty pounds heavier and he’s been through a war — but he’s still unmistakable.  John waits, and when the oberleutnant leaves the others, John is there to step from the shadows.

“Hello, Silver-shoes,” he says.

There’s only the sliver of a moon, but even by that chancy light, John can see the oberleutnant’s eyes widen.  John takes him by the front of his uniform, and they are abruptly on the overlook, far above the harbor and the surrounding town.  It’s blackout dark, and the sea and the stars are brighter than the buildings below them.  Silver-shoes twists free, swearing, and then stumbles awkwardly away from the cliff edge.  Once, John thinks, he was a graceful thing, a toast of the old El Dorado and the Cabaret Exotique.

“I knew a murderer once in Berlin,” Silver-shoes says, his voice sharp with fear.  “He had a gift like yours.”

John smiles.  The knife is honed in his pocket — he has never been without one, not since the first deaths, never not had that choice ready to hand.  There is a hut further up in the hills, abandoned and a long way from anything, if he decides he wants to take his time.  The options are soothing, let him relax into the night, time stretching, the rage a familiar comfort in his chest.  “And I knew a boy in Berlin once,” he says.  “In a blue-black dress and silver shoes.”  He watches the oberleutnant’s face, bleak in the thin moonlight.  “You always said you hated uniforms.”

“It seemed like the best idea at the time.”

“And blood.”  John waits, and Silver-shoes shrugs.

“That seemed like a good idea, too.” He gives John a sidelong glance.  “I really didn’t think you’d mind.”

He’s never known anyone else who’s killed like this, John thinks, never known anyone who shared that rage, that incandescent pleasure.  “Tell me how it felt,” he says.

“Like nothing.”  The oberleutnant will not meet his eyes.  “I felt nothing.”

“Liar.”  No one carves a man to pieces and feels nothing.  John is sure of that.

“He was threatening to denounce me,” Silver-shoes says.  “Oh, I could tell you other things, and they’d be true, but — he was going to denounce me, and I couldn’t stand the scrutiny.”

“Go on,” John says, and Silver-shoes closes his eyes.

“I told him I wanted to talk — I knew he’d like that, that he’d want to see me crawl — and I was right, he was more than willing.  I went to his rooms, and I got behind him, and I cut his throat.  I felt — happy, I think.  Relieved, certainly. Especially relieved.”  He shakes his head, the blond hair sleek and pale against the dark.   “I wanted people to think — partisans, I suppose, but anyway not an ordinary murder because he wasn’t an ordinary murderer himself, not him.  Because he deserved it.  Because he’d hurt me and threatened me and I was done with it —” He stops, and after a moment manages a shrug.  “So I cut him up.”

There is a silence then.  John waits, letting the night do his work for him, and after a while Silver-shoes looks almost shyly at him.

“I didn’t realize how hard it would be — physically, I mean, how much effort it takes to cut someone like that.”

“You needed a better knife,” John says.  “Sharper.”

“Probably.”

John waits again, not sure quite what he expects or wants to hear — some sense that he’s not the only monster, or perhaps he just wants someone else to put words to it, to lay a name to the nameless, the fury at his heart.  But that, he thinks, is too much to hope for.  Silver-shoes was angry, yes, but also terrified.

“It turned into a job,” Silver-shoes says, “one that I couldn’t remember why I’d started, but that I might as well finish.  So I did.”

“And a thorough job you made of it,” John says.

The oberleutnant shrugs.  “Pity I didn’t do it sooner.”

Not the same, John thinks, waiting for the rage to rise in him, not the same at all.  He’s aware, not for the first time, of how alone he is.  It’s not just that no one will know if he lives or dies, or that anyone who might care would prefer to see him dead, and it’s not that he knows now he cannot ever stay long in any place, not without losing control.  Those things are bad enough, and also inevitable.  But there is no one, no one at all, who feels what he feels when the knives are out, the power, the anger, the despair.  No one else who cannot resist the knowledge of what they can do.

“I enjoyed it,” Silver-shoes says.  “The first cut, the first time I saw bone — yes, that was good.  But then it was just a job.”

And then he does weep, though John doubts he could have said for what.  After a moment, he holds out his arm, as he would have done in Berlin, and Silver-shoes moves into its doubtful shelter, pressing his face against John’s chest as though there was some comfort there.  John holds him lightly, poised in the moment of decision.  It would take so little to kill him, just the slightest shift of weight, a hand in the pocket and then the knife.  Or there was the hut waiting, if he wanted to make a night of it.  But if he kills him, there will be no one who know even this much — who knows the drag of the dulled knife, the sheer effort of it all. He tightens his hold, and they are in Salamis before the curfew, in the shadows behind a shuttered bar.  And then he’s gone again, north for Serbia, to see if there are vampires in the woods.
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Thank you very much! This - wasn't where I intended to go with this prompt, but it became something I really wanted to write about, and I'm glad it works. And I'm so glad you noticed all the edges. :-)

(And actually I'd be interested to see how this reads aloud, because I think the dialogue would work, but I'm not so sure about the narrative?)

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I have swords. Rather a lot of them, when I think about it, including a lovely rapier-and-dagger set that was a gift from my brother-in-law, and one I inherited from my great-great aunt the Army nurse...

Oberleutnant... Oh-ber-loyt-nant, stress on the first syllable. Hope that helps!

Oh, oh, oh, ouch. This is so painful. Really good.

Thank you. He has nothing at this point, and the only thing he can share is what he's done....

Oh my. This is why I've admired your writing for twenty years! Spare, achingly clear, and absolutely crisply insightful. This is a new facet, a new corner, and it's reflected perfectly in Uli.

And John, who spares him because he knows. He knows something no one else does, and someone should know.

This is going to be one of those stories I read over and over.

Thank you so much! As I said, I wasn't intending to go here, but... yeah. I'm glad I did. (And I owe you, because you've given me some new thoughts for Uli as well.)

Ow. So spare and brutal. Beautiful in a terrifying kind of way. I wish I was coherent enough to say more. Well done.

Thank you. This one... obsessed me for a while. But I'm glad to have worked it out, and glad it worked.

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