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This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine

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Obergruppenführer John Smith kept his eyes shut for one last moment of respite as the alarm clock blared beside him. Finally he sighed and reached for it, but his hand fumbled a little. The clock wasn't in its usual spot; he must have moved it a bit the night before. He blinked his eyes open and sighed, finally hitting the button on the top, and then he frowned.

The clock was different. His alarm clock was a small black thing with one simple button on the top, efficient and clean-looking. This one was brown with more round edges. Smith sat up a little and muttered,

"Helen, did you replace the alarm clock, honey?"

There was no response, so he turned over his shoulder. The bed beside him was empty. Smith felt a spike of dread drive down his spine then as he looked around the bedroom. This wasn't his house. This was somewhere entirely different. The curtains, the carpeting, the furniture... this wasn't his house.

Smith rose slowly from the bed and walked over to the window, pulling back the wispy inner curtains to see a quiet, tree-lined street below. But it wasn't his street.

"Helen?" He called the name anxiously, but there was no reply. He began walking through the strange house, wondering if he'd been arrested or kidnapped or simply very drunk. He tried to think of a reason why he would wake up in a place like this. It was an ordinary enough house, he found as he stormed through bathrooms and formal guest rooms and the downstairs level. It just wasn't his house. And, yet, there were signs that he'd been here for awhile. His uniforms were in the closet upstairs. The bathroom had toothpaste and a toothbrush that looked used. There was a portrait of Hitler in the living room below, and, next to it, a framed photograph of Smith standing solemnly beside Goebbels.

But there was no Helen. There was no Thomas, no sign of the girls. Something was very wrong, and as Smith stood looking at the framed photograph of himself, his heart beat like a war drum in his chest. Suddenly the front door of the house opened, and Smith whirled round to see Juliana Crain come walking straight inside.

"Juliana?" He frowned, taking a step toward her. "What's going on? What is the meaning of this?"

She looked a little taken aback, and her mouth fell open as she stammered,

"I... I can come back, Obergruppenführer. I'm sorry; you're usually on your way out by now."

Smith tried to keep his face steady. "Running late this morning," he said in a hoarse voice. He looked up and down Juliana's form, realizing that she was wearing some kind of uniform. Housekeeper, he identified at once. She was a hired housekeeper. He cleared his throat and asked, "Where are Helen and the kids?"

Now Juliana looked worried, and she stepped into the living room as she said, "I don't know who that is. Obergruppenführer, are you feeling all right?"

"Yes. I'm fine," he lied. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard, and then he knew that he was somewhere else. Somewhere beside his normal existence. He thought of the tapes, of the thousands of tapes he'd seen. Videos of things that were impossible, of people he recognized doing unrecognizable things, living unrecognizable lives. Those tapes hadn't come from nowhere, he thought. They'd come from... somewheres. A great many somewheres. And he, it seemed, had been taken to a different somewhere.

"Can I see your papers?" He opened his eyes and whispered the request, and though Juliana seemed confused, she nodded. She opened her cheap-looking handbag and pulled out a passport and set of other documents, and she passed them to Smith. He looked them over, digging his teeth into his lip as he did.

Juliana Crain. It said so right there. She'd defected five years earlier and had been approved for citizenship. She was employed as a housekeeper. She lived in Montauk. She was an enrolled member of the Nazi party.

This was not Julia Mills or anything like her, Smith thought as he passed back the documentation. He sniffed and studied her hair, her eyes, trying to see some demonstrable proof that this was a different person. But this was Juliana Crain. There was no doubt. She seemed quite worried then as she told him,

"Your car is waiting outside, sir. Do you think... you should get dressed?"

He glanced down and finally noted that he was still in dark blue flannel pajamas. He felt his cheeks go a little warm, and he nodded. Then he asked,

"Who's in the car?"

Juliana blinked. "The Corporal's driving," she said, as if it were obvious. "I saw Sturmbahnführer Raeder in the back seat."

"Erich," Smith mumbled, nodding. "Will you... ask him to come inside, Juliana?"

Her brows furrowed deeply, and she asked softly, "Obergruppenführer, are you sure you're all right?"

"I think I'm just... coming down with something," Smith muttered. "Little cold or something. It's nothing. Go get Erich, please."

He turned and quickly walked up the stairs before she could answer. He made his way back into the bedroom where he'd awakened, and he opened the drawer of the desk in there. If he'd been living in this house, that was where he'd keep his own papers. Sure enough, all sort of documentation was in there. He pulled out his passport and looked at it. His date of birth, birthplace, and other biographical information was the same. His employment was the same. On his other documents, though, he found more damning information. Unmarried. No children. He, too, apparently lived in Montauk. He looked around the bedroom and felt a heavy pit settle in his stomach. Something had gone terribly wrong. He'd been moved. Shifted.

Those tapes hadn't come from nowhere.

This place was a somewhere.

He pulled on his uniform with shaking hands, barely able to do up the buttons or cinch his belt. If he was going to survive in this place, whatever it was, he would need to quickly get his bearings and pretend he knew exactly what was going on. If he were perceived as even slightly insane - by mentioning a wife and children that apparently did not exist here, for example - he would be written off. He'd be carted off by the authorities just like Thomas had let happen to himself.

Smith's fingers froze on his belt buckle as he allowed himself three solid seconds to think of Helen and the children. He'd get back to them somehow, he thought. Or maybe he wouldn't. He had no idea what had happened, much less how to undo it. All he knew was that he'd fallen asleep beside Helen in the house they'd shared for years, and he'd awakened to a world where he was a bachelor and Juliana was his maid.

He stared at his fingers and forced them to steady. It wouldn't do for him to face Erich - this Erich, whatever that meant - with shaking hands. He could not seem nervous. They would kill him if he seemed nervous or sick. He reached for his hat and walked with fabricated confidence down the staircase. Erich was waiting in the foyer of this unfamiliar house, and he snapped to attention and saluted. Smith nodded, and Erich relaxed. Then his face twisted a little, and he said,

"Miss Crain says you're not feeling well, sir. Should I cancel your schedule today?"

Smith hesitated. "What's on my schedule for today, Erich?"

Erich glanced toward Juliana, who quickly left the room. A moment later, Smith could hear something heavy being taken from a closet, and after another moment, the high whir of a vacuum cleaner running filled the house.

Smart girl, Juliana, he thought.

"The Resistance fighters brought in from Boston, sir," Erich said. "You were going to oversee their interrogation. That's all you had scheduled for today."

"Hmm." Smith nodded and sucked on his bottom lip. He could tell Erich that he had caught a cold, that he needed to stay home. But as he glanced over his shoulder to where Juliana was cleaning, he knew he needed answers. Perhaps in interrogating prisoners, he might find them. Perhaps he might get home.


 

The Resistance fighters knew nothing. They were low-level, new recruits, less than useless. One had died halfway through a flogging because the careless soldier beating him had hit just the wrong place on his skull. Smith felt frustrated by the time he made it back to his office. It was the same office he'd always had. In fact, so much here felt familiar, eerily so.

But there was no record of a Helen Smith, or of Thomas, or of the girls. He checked. No marriage on record, no birth records. They did not exist here. In whatever sideways world he'd awakened into this morning, he was a lifelong bachelor. Juliana's papers held up. He checked those, too. There was no evidence she was Resistance or ever had been. She'd been assigned to him as a housekeeper six months earlier after his previous housekeeper had apparently retired. Of course he'd need a housekeeper, Smith realized. He was an Obergruppenführer without a wife. Why did they let him stay unmarried? He found no evidence in his own records of ever having been widowed or of fathering a child. Why did they let him stay alone?

Then he found the answer. As he sat at his desk thumbing through his own confidential file, he paused on a page that detailed the way he'd spent years undercover, rooting out and assassinating Resistance fighters. He'd apparently been very effective in that capacity.

The door to his office opened, and Erich came in and saluted. He passed over a card with a two words written on it, and he said in a serious tone,

"The name of their direct supervisor, Obergruppenführer. The last one gave it up just before he died."

Smith looked down at the card and read, "Cameron Seagram. We have a file on this person? Man? Woman?"

"We do not have a file, sir, and it's unclear whether it's a male or a female." Erich shifted a little on his feet. Smith tried to appear normal, tried to make it seem like he was merely continuing on ongoing investigation, and he said,

"File a formal request with the Japanese for some sort of information. Could be someone from the Pacific States. See if there's a birth record with the name. Actually, look up everyone named Cameron. This could be an alias or a married name."

"Yes, sir," Erich said obediently. Smith set the card down.

"They're all taken care of? The prisoners?"

"All gone, sir," Erich confirmed. Smith nodded and stared out the window for a moment, still not quite able to calibrate the little ways in which this place was off. What had moved him? How? Why had he been shifted?

The films had been real, he thought suddenly. There had really been a place where Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt had victoriously divvied up Europe. That had happened. It was possible, because this was possible. It was possible for him to wake up in a home that was strange and yet apparently his, in a world where he had no family and never had, in a world where Juliana Crain of all people was his housekeeper, of all things.

"Obergruppenführer, sir?"

Smith was jolted from his thoughts, and he turned his face up to Erich expectantly. Erich hesitated a little, and then he said,

"You asked yesterday about Miss Crain not being a suitable option."

"I did." Smith had no idea what Erich was talking about, but he kept his glare steely and gestured for Erich to sit opposite him. A suitable candidate for what, he wondered? Erich cleared his throat and sat, and he said,

"I went through her files, sir. She's young enough, and her medical reports are clean, but the fact that she doesn't have any genealogy records is... a problem. You'd have trouble convincing them that an Obergruppenführer should be able to pair up with a Pacific States defector who has no genealogy. They're so lax with racial standards out there; who knows what she -"

"Pair up," Smith repeated, shaking his head. Erich frowned in confusion, and he muttered,

"You'd said, sir, that you were considering pursuing her? That you were fond of her, that she might be a good candidate since you don't have to work clandestinely anymore."

"Right." Smith felt his head whirl then, and he scoffed and shook his head. "She's just a housekeeper. It doesn't matter."

Erich's face darkened, and he said carefully, "Obergruppenführer, I do not mean to overstep in asking, but... have you lost interest in her? You seemed adamant. Should I stop researching?"

"You've told me everything I need to know," Smith said. "She's young, she's clean. But she has no genealogy. That's all I need to know. Thank you, Erich. Get that request filed with the Japanese for the Resistance records."

"Right away, sir," Erich said, and Smith nodded.

"You're dismissed."


 

Smith was dropped off at the strange house where he'd woken up, but he pretended he knew the place well as he walked in the front door and pulled off his hat. There was a strong but pleasant smell of cooking sausages and something else savoury. Smith walked slowly down the foyer corridor, his boots making the floorboards creak a little. He was surprised as he peered around the threshold into the kitchen to hear soft humming, and he gulped when he saw Juliana standing in front of the stove, using a wooden spoon to stir at something in a large pot.

"Juliana?" He only said her name because it seemed odd to be standing there watching her without her knowing about it. She turned over her shoulder and smiled at him, looking prettier than he remembered. Maybe that was because he'd hated a good part of her where he'd come from.

"Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes, Obergruppenführer, and I'll get all this washed up and get out of your hair."

Smith blinked and asked hoarsely, "How often do you cook?"

Juliana laughed a little. "Well... I guess if you can consider the meals I scrap together for you actual cooking, then the answer is every night. Or, at least, every night that you're home. I do my best."

He looked around at the house and noted. "Everything's clean. Food smells good. Seems like you do fine."

Juliana put her hand on her narrow hip and shook her head.

"Obergruppenführer, you really don't seem like yourself today. Can I ask... are you all right? Forgive me if it's inappropriate to ask, but... I'm worried."

"You're worried about me." Smith snorted a bitter little laugh and dragged his thumb over the brim of his hat. He stepped into the kitchen and asked, "Juliana, do you know a boy named Thomas?"

"Thomas?" She seemed to be considering something, and then a look of realization came over her face. "That corporal that used to drive for you. His name was Thomas. I can't remember his last name. He was young."

"No, not him." Smith felt a pang of fear then. Had his family disappeared into the ether? Had he lost them entirely? He squared his jaw and demanded of this Juliana, "What about a woman named Helen?"

Juliana set down her wooden spoon and asked seriously, "You mean like the Helen you mentioned this morning, sir? Am I in trouble for something?"

"Should you be?" Smith kept his voice cold, but Juliana raised her eyebrows and shook her head.

"No. I don't think so." She turned her attention to the sausages and onions on the stove, and, apparently determining that they were finished, she scooped them out onto a plate she had sitting on the countertop. She added some mashed potatoes from the little pot beside the sausages, and she asked quietly,

"Would you like a beer, sir?"

"Just water," he whispered hoarsely. He watched as Juliana silently set his dinner at the single place setting in the adjacent dining room. She poured a glass of water for him and set it beside his plate, and he went over to eat. He watched her as he did, watched the way she moved comfortably in the kitchen to empty and scrape and wash the pots and pans. Once they were drying, she turned to him and said,

"You have cleaning again on Friday, sir, but I'll have dinner for you tomorrow. Do you need anything else?"

He just stared at her for a moment from where he sat, and finally he pushed out the chair beside him and muttered,

"Sit down, Juliana."

She looked worried, but she obeyed. She folded her hands on the table and seemed anxious, as though she couldn't understand why her employer was so altered today. He could hardly blame her. His behavior probably did seem bizarre. Smith set down his fork and knife and asked her,

"Why did you come here? From the Pacific States?"

"You know this story, Obergruppenführer," she whispered, but he shrugged.

"Tell it again. I like storytelling."

She sighed. "My husband was in the Resistance out there. Got himself killed. I didn't know he was involved, but the Japanese tortured me anyway. When they finally let me go, I defected. I knew I wasn't safe with the Resistance, and I wasn't safe with the Japanese. So I came to the Reich to start over."

"Husband." Smith nodded and stared at his plate. "You were married."

"Yes," she said softly. "But you knew that, Obergruppenführer."

"Mmm-hmm." He did quick math in his head. She'd apparently been here for years; she had to have been widowed very young. She'd married some fool here in this existence, but she did not seem as foolish as the Juliana he'd known. He hesitated for a moment, and then he raised his eyes to her and asked,

"Have you ever... what you know about the Man in the High Castle?"

Juliana frowned. "The guy who made the propaganda videos? I thought they were all destroyed."

"Uh-huh." Smith thought of the cache of thousands of films he'd seen in Berlin. Did those films exist here? Was he living now in the world shown in one of those films? He sniffed a little and said apologetically to Juliana, "I'm sorry I've... I've been off today. I'm very tired. Haven't been sleeping well."

She quirked up a little smile and shrugged. "It's all right, sir. I just worry because... you're always so predictable."

He smirked. "Predictable. Boring, you mean."

"Steady," she corrected, and for some reason then he noticed her eyes. They had a lovely shape to them, he thought distantly. Then he thought of Helen and he turned his face away. Here, apparently, he was a bachelor who had meant to pursue Juliana. That was almost laughable to the real John Smith. Pursuing Juliana Crain, of all people. And, anyway, he had Helen.

Just not here.

He had no idea at all how he was meant to get home, or if he ever would. He sucked on his bottom lip and asked,

"Why don't you have genealogy records, Juliana?"

"They don't keep records like that in the Pacific States," Juliana said, as if she'd answered this question dozens of times. "But I know my family's history going back four generations on each side. That's why they're finally letting me go on a real live date."

She grinned a little, and Smith frowned as he turned his eyes back to her. "A date?"

"Yeah. With a really nice corporal. He's... he seems nice."

She was comfortable with him, Smith realized. They'd developed some kind of rapport, the two of them, with her as his housekeeper and him as the consummate bachelor. He drummed his fingers on the table and said tightly,

"Well, Miss Crain, I hope you enjoy your date with the corporal."

"Thanks." She seemed almost sad then, and he thought he knew why. She must have suspected something. If he'd been having Erich pull records on her, if he'd been strongly considering pursuing her, surely she'd suspected something. Maybe she'd been hoping that tonight he might tell her not to go on the date with the corporal, and that he'd ask for her attention for himself.

But John Smith did not know this Juliana Crain. She was different. He was the same man thrust into a different world, but she was not at all the same. Her eyes were the same. Her voice was the same. But her documented past was different - no bus accident, no sister, no films.

The films had not come from nowhere, John Smith thought again. They represented somewheres like this. He was sideways, somehow.

Helen was gone. His children were gone. And he did not know this Juliana.

"Where's he taking you?" Smith found himself asking, as if he were a father worrying after his daughter. Juliana looked a little surprised, but she said,

"Gruber's. For dinner."

"When?" Smith asked, and Juliana hesitated.

"Tonight. I have to hurry home and get ready."

"Oh." Smith nodded and said again, "Well, enjoy yourself. Uphold the womanly ideals of the Reich and compose yourself with dignity. Men too often look for opportunities to take advantage of women."

Juliana seemed to be stifling a grin then, and she said, "I appreciate the concern, Obergruppenführer, but I can take care of myself."

He nodded. "Yeah. Yeah. I know you can. Thank you for dinner. I'll get the dishes. You can go."

"Goodnight, sir," she said quietly, rising from the chair where he'd ordered her to sit. He watched her go, listened to the front door shut, and he immediately rose and got Erich on the phone.

"I need eyes and ears at Gruber's on Long Island," he told Erich. "There's a corporal dining with Miss Crain tonight; I want a full recording of their conversation."

"Yes, sir. Heil Hitler." There was a click then as Erich hung up, and Smith put the phone back into its cradle. He walked around the house slowly then, staring at furnishings he'd never seen before. There was a conspicuous absence of childhood in this house. No toys. No shouts or laughter. It was quiet and still and unnerving. Smith wrenched his eyes shut where he stood and opened them again, thinking that he might come to at his own dinner table with the girls and his son. With Helen. But he was alone, the half-eaten dinner that Juliana had made sitting on the lonely table getting cold.

The tapes had come from somewheres like this.

Author's Note: This will be a Juliana/John slow burn with lots of mystery/intrigue along the way. It will be novel-length when completed. I update quickly. For those following my Victoria fanfic - don't worry; I'll be putting up the last few chapters to that story within the next few days. I just couldn't wait to get this one started. :) Thanks for joining me on this ride. Please do leave a quick comment if you get a chance.