Chapter 1: You Already Knew That
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 2: I'm Supposed to Thank You
"Do you have the tapes?"
John Smith sauntered into the media room where Erich was waiting for him. Erich nodded and gestured to the screens before them.
"They're on the reel, sir."
Smith tightened his lips. "Did you watch them?"
"No, sir," Erich said firmly. Smith dragged his fingers over the edge of the desk before him and asked in a bored voice,
"Did we hear back from the Japanese about that Resistance name? Cameron Seagram."
"I put in a formal request for documentation yesterday with the Embassy, but I haven't heard anything back," Erich said. "I will update you as soon as I have any information, Obergruppenführer."
Smith just nodded and stared at the little screen before him, which showed a man and a woman sitting at a dinner table. He picked up the headphones from the desk and asked Erich,
"Give me the room, will you? Shut the door."
"Yes, sir." Erich saluted tightly, and then he turned sharply on his boot and left. As soon as the door shut, Smith pulled the headphones on and looked down at the media panel. He pressed the Start button and cranked up the volume, and then he watched.
"Juliana. That's really a lovely name." The corporal sitting opposite her in the restaurant sat very straight in his chair. The video was hazy and colorless, but he was a handsome young man, Smith could tell.
"Thank you, Corporal O'Brien," Juliana said, and he instantly commanded her,
"Call me Caleb. Please."
"Caleb." She nodded, looking down and the menu and sighing. "So many options."
"You like the food better here?" Caleb O'Brien asked. "Or was the food better in the Pacific States?"
She'd know how to answer, Smith knew. Whether it was the Juliana Crain he'd known back home or the one in this strange world, she'd know what to say just now. So he was unsurprised when she smoothly replied,
"It's not even a contest. The food in the Reich is civilized."
The corporal seemed very pleased with that answer, and Smith found himself with his lips curled up a little as he watched. Juliana had one glass of wine and then another, and the dinner conversation got dull. They talked about how O'Brien wanted to visit Berlin to see the Führer speak in person someday. They talked about Juliana's little apartment and how it was nice enough. Then she seemed to be getting a little clumsy, her hand almost dropping her nearly-empty third glass of wine. She giggled softly and confessed,
"I can't hold my liquor. Sorry."
"That's okay." All of a sudden, the corporal's body language shifted. Smith was very good at reading people's gestures, the little ways their movements gave them away. And so he saw the little tip of O'Brien's head, and his stomach clenched a little. O'Brien kept his voice light as he asked,
"So you're working now for Obergruppenführer Smith? That must be interesting."
"Well, I wouldn't... it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss him too much. Behind his back. You know." Juliana was sounding just sloppy enough that Smith's brows knitted together where he stood watching the surveillance tape. O'Brien seemed to pick up on it, too, and he hurried to pay the bill in cash. Then he said,
"Well, I've had a lovely time, Juliana. Would you consider... extending this night a little?"
Juliana was silent for a moment, and then she lowered her face.
"You want to go to a bar or something?" She knew the answer to that, of course, and the way she knitted her hands together in her lap gave away her nervousness. Corporal O'Brien leaned across the table and spoke so quietly that John Smith had to crank up the volume and listen through white noise to make out what he was murmuring.
"You're really pretty, Juliana," O'Brien said. "Maybe I could show you my place."
She cleared her throat and answered him, "That's kind of you to offer, but I -"
"You can't lead a guy on, Juliana." O'Brien's voice was too slick now, and Smith scowled, putting his hands on the edge of the desk and leaning forward. O'Brien was quiet for a minute, and then he said, "Come on out to my car."
"No, thanks. I really had fun, Caleb, but I think I'll... I'll walk home." Juliana finally raised her face, but O'Brien shook her head.
"No. You've had way too much to drink to walk home in the dark by yourself. Come out to my car." That time there was no question in his voice, and Juliana appeared to take a very long breath before she stood. O'Brien came around the table and put his hand between her shoulder blades, and Juliana flinched visibly. O'Brien walked out of the restaurant with his hand on her, and then they were out of view of the camera. Smith pressed the Stop button and slowly took off the headphones.
He really should not care about this, he thought. He genuinely shouldn't care at all what had happened to Juliana Crain on a date with a corporal. After all, he had much bigger concerns, like why he was currently in an existence that did not include his family.
For some reason, he cared.
He blinked and stared at the screen for a moment, and then he went and took the surveillance film from the reel. He put it into a tin and shut it, and he stared at it, thinking of other films. The films he'd seen in Berlin. He hadn't understood then how it could be that an event might really take place and simultaneously be impossible. Now he understood, or he was beginning to understand. There was more than one place, more than one somewhere. More than one reality. It seemed bizarre, and it had kept him awake most of the night perseverationg on the idea. He had no idea how or why he'd been transported to this slightly altered reality, one in which the only substantial change seemed to be his personal life. But he knew that there must have been a reason for it, and so he would live here just like he'd lived at home. Someday he would see Helen again. He would see his children. He was sure of that, too, somehow.
For now, he cared what had happened to Juliana Crain on her date with a corporal.
When he came home, he moved quietly. He put his hat on the rack by the front door and stepped just so to keep his boots quiet. He looked around the threshold into the kitchen and she was there, standing in front of the sink, staring blankly out the window.
"Good evening, Juliana." Smith stepped into the kitchen with more lively steps then, and she practically leaped from her skin. She whirled round and leaned back on the countertop, her chest heaving with fear as she blinked quickly. She sniffed a little and nodded.
"Hello, Obergruppenführer. Dinner's ready. I hope chicken's all right. I've already cleaned up; your plate's warming in the oven. I'll be back tomorrow to clean."
She bowed her head a little in deference and then started to walk by him, but he said sharply,
She froze, her low heels stuttering on the tile floor as she steadied herself. John Smith was not a particularly compassionate man, and here he was without the only people - his family - who had ever injected him with an ounce of humanity. So his voice was sharp, unkind even, as he asked her,
"How was your date?"
Juliana shut her eyes and shook her head. "I don't think Corporal O'Brien and I are a good match, sir."
"No? Why not?" Smith took a step toward her, and she winced as though she feared he would hit her. He pulled back a little, and he cleared his throat softly. Then he asked her, much more gently than before, "What happened in his car?"
Juliana raised her wide eyes, her bottom lip shaking. She shook her head in disbelief. "You were watching."
"I watched surveillance tapes this morning," Smith admitted. Juliana frowned.
"It's not your place to ask why," Smith said simply, folding his hands before him. "What happened in his car, Juliana?"
"Please." She squeezed her eyes shut and whispered, "I don't want trouble."
Suddenly John Smith found himself incredibly irritated, and his voice was flinty again as he demanded, "Tell me what happened in that car, Juliana. Now."
Her eyes - pretty eyes, Smith thought distantly again - welled up, and she shrugged helplessly. "He stuck his hand up my skirt. I slapped him; that made him angry. He said I owed him for dinner and that I was going to give him a good night. So I punched him... down there. Between his legs."
Smith did everything he could then to repress an amused smile. "You punched him between his legs."
"Yes," Juliana nodded. "And I ran from his car, and I walked home. It took a long time. I didn't care. But he knows where I live, and I... I made him really angry."
"Yes, well... what he did was illegal," Smith said simply. "This is easily remedied. Excuse me for a moment."
He walked briskly from the kitchen into the house's living room, picking up the phone and saying to the operator,
"Get me Sturmbannführer Nick Mason, please."
He waited for the call to connect, and while he did, he stared through the doorway that led to the kitchen. Juliana was standing there with her fingernails to her lips, shifting anxiously on her feet. She looked on the verge of tears, but she seemed to resist. Smith stared at her for a long moment, and then he heard a voice on the other end of the line.
"This is Obergruppenführer John Smith."
"Obergruppenführer, sir. How may I assist you?" Mason was known for efficiency, so Smith knew he'd been the right one to call in this instance. Smith said simply,
"I have documented evidence of a corporal committing carnal assault against an unmarried female citizen of the Reich. I need him arrested immediately. You may carry out the appropriate sentence."
Death. The appropriate sentence for a sexual crime was a bullet shot at close range from behind. There was a pause, and then Mason said tightly,
"I can make that happen tonight, sir. What is the name of the offender?"
"Corporal Caleb O'Brien," Smith said. He watched as Juliana shut her eyes and disappeared back into the kitchen. He cleared his throat a little, and then Mason said,
"The disciplinary action will be carried out immediately, sir. Documentation will be in your office tomorrow, Obergruppenführer."
"Thank you." Smith put the phone back into the cradle, and as he looked around the house, he thought again that he ought to have Helen here. The girls should be off arguing about something. Thomas should be studying. But this wasn't his house, or it hadn't been. It was his house here.
"I guess I'm supposed to thank you," Juliana said, and Smith realized she'd come into the living room. Her eyes were wet now, and she said, "I don't want to get anybody killed. I'm fine. It was... stupid. It was..."
"Illegal." Smith said the word as coldly as he could. He raised his eyebrows at Juliana and informed her, "He broke the law. Criminals in the Reich are punished when the break the law."
He thought of Thomas then, of the way he'd turned himself into medical authorities because of the law. He blinked quickly, his own eyes abruptly burning. He sighed and told Juliana,
"You can go if you want. Thank you for dinner."
She hesitated and then whispered, "Obergruppenführer Smith?"
"Yes?" He gave her an expectant look, and her chiseled face suddenly went a bit peaceful.
Chapter 3: Everything Else The Same
"You were working in the office of marriage registration," said John Smith, looking over the papers before him, "and you falsified documents. Why?"
The woman before him slumped in her chair, bleeding profusely from one swollen eye. Her lip was split open, and her breathing seemed labored. Smith sniffed a little and demanded again,
"What reason did you have to create counterfeit documents?"
"They were just people desperate to marry each other," the woman croaked, seeming very tired all of a sudden. "People in love."
"You stand accused of facilitating no fewer than eighty-six illegal marriages, including some between genetically and mentally flawed individuals and those of clean background. You have actively contributed to making the population of the Reich filthy. What apology do you make for this crime?"
She scoffed a little and shook her head as blood oozed from her eye. "None. I remember when... when the fight was just... to let Negros marry white folks. But that was America."
John Smith nodded. "Yes. I also remember what it like in those times. Chaos. Sieg Heil, Mrs Stuart."
The woman laughed bitterly, and then she began to cry. She shook her head, tears coming from the one eye that wasn't swollen shut. She trembled fiercely and whispered,
"I'm not sorry."
"Well. As long as everybody's on the same page, then. You are guilty of treason against the Führer, Mrs Stuart. I don't need to explain to you what that means, do I?"
"No, you filthy Nazi son of a bitch," the woman growled. "You don't need to explain."
"All right." Smith rose from his chair and straightened his jacket. He nodded at the two soldiers standing on either wall, and they moved to each loop an arm under one of Mrs Stuart's. Smith folded up her file and held it before him, watching as the soldiers dragged the woman silently toward the other end of the interrogation chamber. They thrust her up against the concrete wall, and she tipped her head up in defiance as they backed away. One of the soldiers aimed his pistol at her from a distance of about ten feet, and the woman said again,
"I am not sorry."
Her blood painted the wall in a vibrant splatter when the shot rang out, and she collapsed to the ground in a sloppy, unmoving heap.
Smith walked briskly from the interrogation chamber, handing the file off to a lower officer in the hallway. Back in his office, he settled down at his desk chair just as Erich came marching in. Erich saluted and then approached Smith's desk.
"Obergruppenführer," he began, setting a file down on Smith's desk, "I found something on Cameron Seagram. We just weren't looking in the right places."
Smith raised his eyebrows and picked up the file. He read through everything inside, and he mumbled,
"Female, aged thirteen, escaped to the Neutral Zone in 1954 with her family. You're telling me that the Resistance fighters from Massachusetts confessed the name of their superior, and that superior is a thirteen-year-old girl? A child?"
He set down the file, and Erich shrugged. "That's all we have, sir. Cameron Seagram has not been seen in the Reich since she was five years old. Her father was executed for treason; he was in possession of contraband."
"What kind of contraband?" Smith thumbed through the old surveillance photos of a young girl walking down the street, sitting in school.
"Films," Erich said simply. "He was caught with over three dozen reels of films that the Führer had ordered destroyed. His wife and Cameron, his daughter, disappeared. They were last seen by a spy in the Neutral Zone in 1959, just outside of Denver."
Smith sighed. "How quickly can we be in contact with The Marshall?"
Erich frowned. "The Marshall, sir? You want me to have him take her out?"
"No. I need her alive. I need to know why the daughter of a film-smuggler, a little girl, is being named by Resistance prisoners as their superior. Tell The Marshall we'll make it worth his while. I need Cameron Seagram in New York as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir. Heil Hitler." Erich saluted again, and John Smith answered dutifully,
It was only four in the afternoon when John Smith went "home." He had experienced a sufficiently intense day at work that he felt fine heading back to the house a little early. As he did, he stared out the window of the back seat of the car, wondering where his family was.
Was he still with them in the life he'd always known, or had he really moved away from them? Was Thomas alive in that place, or had they killed him, after all? Were the girls in school somewhere? Where was Helen? He'd spent so long with her, so much of their lives, that not knowing where she was felt a little like she'd died. After seeing the cache of films in Berlin, after viewing some of them, he now believed that there were multiple realities, multiple real places. He could not help but wonder if he might have been permanently torn from Helen, from Thomas, from the girls.
The Juliana Crain here was not the woman he'd swept up from the asylum detention center at home. She had lived a different past here. Helen had never been born, much less any of his children. But some force, some cosmic magnetic pull, had yanked John Smith from one side to another, from one reality to another, and he had no idea what he was supposed to do about it.
It had been odd this morning waking up without Helen and having no idea where she was. It had been strange to drink his orange juice and eat his breakfast alone. For years, breakfast had been a family affair. He'd taken a shower and dressed in silence, feeling profoundly alone in the strange new house. But nothing had pulled him back to his old life. He was supposed to be here.
Cameron Seagram was the daughter of an executed film smuggler. Before he'd left work, Smith had sought more information about what exact films the man had possessed, but there was little documentation on it, and apparently the film reels had been burned. But the man's daughter was now a thirteen-year-old who was apparently a leader in the Resistance. What did she know about the films, John Smith wondered? He'd know soon enough. The Marshall would find her. He would sniff the girl out in the Neutral Zone, and then Smith would have some answers.
For now, he stepped into his house and found it still and quiet. He stripped off his raincoat and hat and hung them up. He meandered up the stairs to go change clothes, his boots thudding quietly on the wooden steps. He started to unfasten the belt buckle around his waist, feeling more tired than he should as he stepped into the large master bedroom.
He froze, for Juliana Crain was making up his bed. She stood up straight with her folded her hands before her, and he quickly fastened his belt back up.
"I didn't know you were here," he said, feeling his cheeks go a little warm. "Sorry."
"I work quietly," she said with a bit of a smile. She finished straightening up the blankets on the bed and then rubbed her hands together. "I was actually just going to go start on dinner, sir."
He blinked and swallowed hard.
"I think... I'll eat out tonight."
Juliana looked confused for a moment, but she shrugged and said,
"All right, then. I've finished cleaning. May I go?"
"Mmm-hmm." Smith stepped aside from the doorway and waited for her to leave. She made her way over and then paused before him.
"I wanted to thank you again," she said quietly, "for... taking care of what happened with the corporal."
"I'm sorry that happened to you," Smith said, realizing he would never have sorry for Juliana Crain at home. But now, as she stood before him, wide-eyed and just a little more gentle-looking than she'd been when he'd known her, he did feel sorry. He thought of the young corporal assaulting her in his car, sticking his hand up Juliana's skirt, and for some reason he felt his ears go hot with anger. He reassured Juliana, "He's gone. The kid. O'Brien."
Juliana did not seem as upset by that news as she would have been in the world John Smith had once known. She would have been indignant, he thought, about even a man like O'Brien being executed. But this Juliana seemed almost relieved. She shut her eyes and whispered again,
"Thank you, Obergruppenführer. I worried, you know... what he might do to somebody else. It wasn't just about what he'd done to me. It was about what he was capable of doing."
In that instant, John Smith realized that Juliana Crain was exactly the same no matter what past she'd had, no matter what reality surrounded her. She turned her wide eyes up to him, and he saw the same burning determination in them that he'd first seen at the asylum center.
She started to go again, and it was pure, unadulterated impulse that made Smith ask,
"Would you like to come with me?"
She turned around, surprised, and shook her head in confusion. "Where, sir?"
"To dinner," he said. "Seems like you had a bad experience the other night. Maybe tonight might be a little more pleasant."
Her mouth fell open a little, and Smith realized he'd just about asked her on a date. That made no sense for many reasons, not the least of which was that somewhere in the universe, he had a wife. He had Helen. Not here, of course, but somewhere. And this wasn't just any woman. This was Juliana Crain, obnoxious and insidious refugee drifting between Resistance and Nazi allegiances. She was hardly his ally; she was not a woman to be taken out to dinner by Obergruppenführer John Smith. But apparently in this world, he'd considered pursuing her. He'd inquired after her fo the purposes of pairing up with her. He wondered briefly if there was some significance to that. This did not feel like a place comprised of coincidences.
"I'm... I'm wearing my uniform," Juliana said, looking with embarrassment down at her neat, tunic-style dress. Smith shrugged.
"So am I."
She laughed a little and shook her head. "Holzapfel is within walking distance. Nice and casual. But would an Obergruppenführer risk being seen at a diner like that?"
"No, probably not," Smith admitted. He sighed and shook his head. "It was a stupid idea. Sorry. I'll just eat something out of the pantry."
Juliana rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I can make you something quickly, sir."
"You can stay," he said, trying to keep his voice casual. She licked her bottom lip and lowered her eyes, and she said,
"For dinner, you mean."
"Mmm-hmm. I'll just change and clean up while you cook. I'll be down in a little while." Smith watched her nod and go, and he shut the bedroom door behind her. He took his uniform off one piece at a time, making his way into the bathroom adjoining his bedroom and scrubbing at his arms and face with soap. He stared at his reflection in the mirror above the sink, and he whispered,
"Where are you, Helen?"
But there was no response. She was gone, at least from here. He was gone from her.
"Prost." John Smith held up his glass of water, and Juliana smirked as she did the same. It was odd to toast with water, but just the same, she repeated,
He dug into the food she'd made, a pie of meat and vegetables, and he nodded after he swallowed a bite.
"I'm glad, Obergruppenführer." Juliana carefully took a bite from her own plate, and he said simply,
She looked surprised then, and she silently shook her head. He knew why. For a housekeeper to address an Obergruppenführer by their first name was absurd. But it also seemed ridiculous that they would sit and dine at the same table and be so stilted. So he cleared his throat, touched his napkin to his lips, and he instructed her,
"I'd like for you to call me John, please."
"Okay." Juliana kept her eyes down then, taking another few bites in silence. Smith studied her, the way her hair had been styled carefully into dark waves around her face, the way she wore a simple silver Swastika pendant, the way she had on unobtrusive but attractive makeup.
He'd noticed, in his other existence, that Juliana Crain had been a beautiful woman. That had been obvious to anyone with eyes. But she'd been little more than an enemy, and he'd been married.
She wasn't his enemy here, and apparently he was not married. Helen was out there, somewhere in the universe, but she was not here. He may never see her again. Would she be angry, he wondered, if she knew he was eating dinner alone with Juliana Crain?
Of course she would, he thought. Helen had always been patient and understanding, but she'd also had a jealous streak, a hint of paranoia that had always shaded the way John Smith interacted with others. He shut his eyes and silently apologized to Helen for eating dinner with this Juliana, the one with the Swastika pendant and the executed Resistance husband.
"Where were you working before my previous housekeeper retired?" He asked the question simply, but he could read immediately in her eyes that he should know the answer to this. He raised his eyebrows as if to challenge her, and Juliana indulged him.
"I was on the janitorial staff at the Headquarters, sir. You... you asked specifically for me when you needed someone new."
"Hmm." Smith nodded, taking a bite of food and looking away. So he'd been interested in Juliana to some degree months earlier, then. He wondered suddenly about the version of himself that had been here before. Had that John Smith vaporized into some other existence? How many iterations of himself were there?
He began to feel anxious, thinking through all of that, and finally he set down his fork. He swigged from his water and asked plainly,
"Do you like working here? At my house?"
Juliana looked surprised by the question, but she nodded firmly. "Yes, John," she said, and the sound of his name from her again made the hair on his neck stand up a bit. "I like working here. I'm very grateful."
He scratched at his head a little and saw it then. He could read people like books, and now he could see it very obviously in her face. It was all over her, like writing scrawled on a wall. She wanted him. Whether it was a romantic crush or physical lust, he couldn't quite tell, but the sharp blaze of want was there in her wild, pale eyes.
John Smith picked his fork back up and finished eating without saying anything else. By the time he'd finished, she'd only eaten half of her plate, but she quickly cleared the dishes and got to work washing them in the kitchen sink. He watched her move in the golden light of the evening that was streaming in through the kitchen window, and suddenly he thought of Helen.
"Thank you for dinner, Juliana," he said from the table. "You can go home now."
She turned, obviously able to sense the chill in his voice. She set down the dish rag she'd been using and nodded.
"Have a good evening, Obergruppenführer Smith."
She turned and started to walk from the kitchen, and suddenly he realized something. So much of this existence seemed exactly the same. Erich was the same. His office was the same. His job was the same. The politics, the buildings, the food, the cars, the daily lives of those around him... everything was the same except for his life and hers. Juliana's past was different. Her motive for coming to the Reich was different. As far as John Smith knew, Joe Blake and Juliana Crain had never met. The world around them was the same, but they were different, the two of them. Why, he wondered, had he come to a reality where everything was the same except for his life and Juliana's? Why her, of all people? Why was she the variable?
He found himself flying to his feet and quickly following her. She was pulling her gloves on at the door when he stepped up to her, and he demanded,
"What do you want from me, Juliana?"
She looked frightened, shaking her head and whispering, "I don't want anything from you, sir."
"Really." He took a step closer to her, and she shrank away a little. She knew what he was capable of doing, surely. He hovered over her and said in a taunting sort of voice, "You like working here."
"If you want me to work somewhere else, Obergruppenführer, I will -"
"John," he snapped. "You called me John."
She frowned, and he knew he'd sounded odd then. In his other existence, he'd meant. Juliana Crain had called him John there. And she'd said it tonight, too, in this strange place.
He shut his eyes and wondered if The Marshall had been contacted about Cameron Seagram, the apparently dangerous daughter of a film-smuggling traitor. The films, the smuggled ones, had represented somewheres like this. This place was as real as the one he'd left He was here for a reason. Everything was the same except for him and Juliana. He was here to learn why the films existed. He was supposed to know Juliana differently than he had in his other life. Everything was the same except for the two of them. The films all came from somewheres.
He opened his eyes, and Juliana seemed very worried where she stood before him. He had been swaying a little where he stood, he thought. He felt dizzy. He put his hand to his head and took a few deep breaths, and Juliana said softly,
"You really haven't been yourself these last few days. Please, is there anything I can do?"
"Um... no. No, I'm all right. I'm sorry." He blinked hard a few times, reading profound concern on Juliana's face. She finally nodded and whispered,
"I'll go, then."
"Okay." He reached for the doorknob and opened it for her, watching her cross the threshold and trot down his front stairs. She turned back as she walked away, staring up at the front door where he stood. She seemed to be studying him, searching for an answer to explain his odd behavior, but after a moment, she turned away and hurried off down the sidewalk.
Obergruppenführer John Smith shut the door of his new house, leaned heavily back against it, and whispered into the empty space,
Author's Note: Since this is a small (but awesome!) fandom, I would be especially grateful if you might take a moment and let me know your thoughts as you're reading. Thanks so very much!
Chapter 4: Unless You Tell Me No
Author's Note: Yes, the third-person reference has changed from "Smith" to "John" in this chapter. No, that is not accidental.
Obergruppenführer John Smith had never been good at weekends. Unless there was something very urgent, he'd always had Saturdays to himself, at least in theory. But Helen had always complained that he'd found ways to work on weekends, ways that had sometimes interfered with valuable family time. Now, here in this new existence, it was a Saturday, and he was not expected in his office. He stared into his glass of water, thinking of the time that Thomas had climbed a tree in their yard and had gotten himself stuck. He'd sobbed like a baby as his father fished him out of the tree.
Another time, Thomas had come bursting through the front door, eyes brimming with elation, because he'd been awarded a medal in the Hitler Youth. He'd been pleased to win the award, but more than anything he'd wanted to see John's smile of approval.
Thomas was gone, John realized, and not just in this existence. He'd turned himself into the medical authorities. John could still hear Helen's anguished wailing upon his return from Berlin. He could still feel her fists pounding at his chest. But Helen was just as gone as Thomas was. The girls were gone. John was alone here, except for her. Juliana.
Right on cue, there was a knocking on the front door, and John suspected he knew who it was. He set his glass of water down and rose from where he'd been sitting mutely in the living room. He went to the front door and opened it, and Juliana stood there in a simple but elegant black dress.
"I came to check on you," she said plainly. John frowned a little but opened the door and stood aside, gesturing for her to come in. At least he was dressed this time, he thought. He'd put his uniform on because it was comforting in how familiar it was. It made him think of home to wear it. Juliana looked him up and down and asked, "Are you working today?"
"No," he said. "I just... I'm more comfortable in uniform, I guess. Once a soldier, always a soldier."
Her eyes flashed strangely at that, and she sighed as he shut the door. She didn't take off her gloves, and she stayed in the foyer, as if she was fully intending on leaving in a moment.
"I was on my way through the neighborhood," she said, "and I couldn't... not stop. To check on you."
"You're always very good at worrying about other people, Juliana," John said, though it must have seemed a strange thing for her to hear. She didn't act surprised. She just nodded and requested,
"Reassure me that you're all right? Ever since I walked in here the other day, I've barely slept. You were confused; you were -"
"I think you're getting ahead of yourself," John said, a hint of warning in his voice. She seemed immediately to understand that she'd been dangerously close to hinting at insanity, and she nodded again.
"Just tell me you're all right, sir."
"Yeah. I'm all right." That was a complete lie, of course. He was lost in a completely separate existence from his own, and his family was gone. His wife, his children. Gone, or at least living somewhere he couldn't reach. He was not all right; how was he meant to be all right? Somehow he found the breath to ask her, "Why do you care, Juliana?"
Her face softened a little, and she said, "Well. It's like you said. I'm a worrier. And I mean nothing inappropriate by it, Obergruppenführer, but I've been working for you for six months. I feel like... like I know you pretty well now. So seeing you confused and anxious... it worried me. That's all."
He saw it again then, the little flash of want in her eyes, and he tried to remind himself that there must be a reason he was here. There must be a reason he and Juliana's lives were the variables, why his family had been erased and she'd been put so near to him. He gulped hard, thinking again that she was awfully pretty and he was very much alone here.
"Where were you going?" His voice was too sharp then, even to his own ears. This wasn't an interrogation. She wasn't going to be shot for her answer.
"Groceries," she said simply, and he turned up half his mouth.
"Not another date?"
"No. I don't think I'll go on another date any time soon," she said. "Last one kind of put me off of them."
"Yeah. I don't blame you." John shut his eyes then and kept them closed as he said, "I had Erich pull your file at work... to see if... if you were a potential match. For me. Do you know why I would do a thing like that? Is there anything I've done that would lead to that?"
There was a heavy silence then, and when John opened his eyes, Juliana was staring up at him in shock.
"You vetted me?" Her voice cracked a little, and he nodded.
"You don't have any genealogy."
She blinked and shook her head as she whispered, "No; they don't do that in the Pacific States, remember?"
He'd given himself away entirely, though the actions he'd undertaken before arriving here were just as much a mystery to John as they were to Juliana. He did not know why he'd asked Erich to vet Juliana as a match for him. He did not know why, months earlier, he'd specifically requested that she be employed at his home. There had to be a reason, he thought, why Helen wasn't here and Juliana very much was, in ways she'd never been there before.
"I shouldn't have told you that, probably," he said honestly, "but... you came to check on me. You were worried."
The unspoken question that hung in the air then, about whether she desired her employer, felt so heavy that John could hardly breathe. She was prettier than he remembered. He'd never even looked at her lips before, not once, but he looked at them now.
"John." Juliana stared up at him, her eyes wide and curious, and suddenly he wondered what she tasted like. It had been so long since he'd had any woman besides Helen, and he would have never been an unfaithful husband. But he wasn't a husband here. So he took a step toward Juliana, toward this Juliana, the one whose life seemed oddly tangled with his. He watched her chest rise and fall quickly, watched her cheeks flush a little, and he reminded them both,
"I asked specifically for you. I had Erich pull your file."
"John?" This time his name was just a little desperate breath off her lips, and he found himself reaching to hold her face in his hands. He stared down at her, at her eyes and her lips, at the face he'd known somewhere very far away under very different circumstances.
And then he kissed her, because it seemed for some bizarre reason like it was the only thing to be done. He was careful, worried that she'd slap him or push him away, but she didn't. Instead she put her gloved hands to the chest of his uniform jacket, and her breath shook a little through her lips. He kissed her again, just a bit more firmly, and then he quickly stepped away.
Cinnamon. She'd tasted like cinnamon.
"I'm going to... send for a car," John said with a firm nod. "I'm going to go into the office. I'll go out for dinner tonight; no need for you to cook."
She hesitated where she stood, looking almost hurt and certainly very confused. She asked in a small voice,
"Are you angry with me?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Have a good day, Juliana."
She reached for the door and showed herself out, and she whispered, "Goodbye, John."
"Any news from The Marshall?" John looked up from his desk, but Erich shook his head.
"Wherever he is, he's not anywhere we can contact, him, Obergruppenführer."
"Well, it hasn't been very long. The Neutral Zone's like a different planet. I'm sure he'll find the girl." He drummed his fingers on the desk. "The resistance nest in Connecticut?"
"Eliminated, sir," Erich said, and John nodded.
"I'm going to head home, then," he said. He let Erich salute him, and he waited until the office door shut. He put his head in his hands and just sat for a long moment. For the last five days, he'd avoided Juliana like the plague. He'd avoided thoughts of his family, too. It hurt to think of Helen, especially now that he'd betrayed her. Somehow, it had felt like he hadn't had much of a choice. He was still convinced that there was a concrete reason why he'd been plucked from his life and dropped into this world. He was still convinced that there was a purpose for him being a bachelor here, for Juliana working in his home. There was some reason why he'd apparently been chasing Juliana here, and there was some reason there was no Helen in this existence.
The tapes had shown America winning the war. Somewhere, that was real. Somewhere, Hitler had died in a bunker in 1945. Somewhere, maybe, Thomas was alive. In the midst of all John's anguished and anxious thought, that idea had crept in. In his old life, Thomas had turned himself into the medical authorities. In this world, Thomas didn't exist at all. Somewhere, America had won the war. Maybe somewhere else, somewhere far away, Thomas would grow into an old man.
But here, John had kissed Juliana, and he couldn't take that back. He'd whispered apologies to Helen every night in his strange new bed, wondering if she could hear him through whatever time or distance separated them now. He whispered that he was sorry, that he loved her, but all he got back was silence. And as hard as he'd tried over the last few days, he had not been able to erase the taste of cinnamon from his lips. Juliana had tasted like cinnamon. And he didn't hate her here.
When he walked through the door of his house, he smelled garlic and onion and some kind of meat, and he heard sizzling coming from the kitchen. She was here. John sighed, knowing he wasn't going to be able to avoid her forever. In fact, he thought, it was probably exactly the wrong thing to try and avoid her. Their lives were the variables. They were all tangled up here, the two of them, and there had to be a reason. So he put his hat and trench coat on the hook by the door, and he strode confidently down the hallway. She'd hear his boots, he knew.
When he walked into the kitchen, she was standing there looking a little too pretty. Had she worn red lipstick today? It seemed like she had. She nodded at him and said quietly,
"Good evening, Obergruppenführer Smith."
"Don't." He stepped toward her, the floorboards protesting a little beneath his boots. "Don't do that."
He tipped her chin up when he reached her, and he stared at her for so long that she frantically whispered,
"The food's going to burn, John."
He let her quickly attend to it, watching her haul the pot of sausages from the oven before it was destroyed. She sighed, facing away from him, and dragged her wrist across her forehead.
"Turn around, Juliana," John mumbled, and she obeyed at once. She seemed almost resigned then, her eyes just a little sad as she stared up at him. He cleared his throat and informed her,
"I liked it, and I want to do it again."
"Kissing me, you mean," she nodded. Then she turned her eyes away and said, "I don't think that's a good idea, sir."
"Because," she said, shutting her eyes, "I don't have any genealogy, Obergruppenführer. They don't do that kind of thing in the Pacific States."
"But you know your family history four generations back, and all your medical tests are clean." John's voice was icy and bitter even to his own ears. He blinked once, shoving away thoughts of the world from which he'd been taken, and he added, "Besides, Juliana... I've decided that I want to kiss you. So unless you distinctly tell me no, I'm going to do it."
A steely look crossed her face then, and she nodded as she turned her eyes to his once more.
"Go on, then, John," she whispered. "Do it."
He did, seizing her face and crushing her mouth with his in one smooth motion. He had her pushed up against the refrigerator before he knew what was happening. She wasn't a short woman, but he felt tall pressed against her. He breathed in the flowery scent of her perfume and tasted cinnamon on her again, and he grunted a little. His hand flew to her narrow waist, holding her a little too tightly there, and his other hand found hers. He threaded his fingers through hers and pressed her harder against the refrigerator. His tongue curled against hers, searching for some kind of relief in her mouth, and he found she was kissing him back with enthusiasm. Her own hand went to his cheek, and she seemed eager for more.
She tasted good. She felt good. She was very pretty, John thought, and he was very alone here. Their lives were the variables; they were meant to be linked up somehow.
"Your food will get cold," Juliana huffed when at last John pulled away. He thought about telling her that he didn't care. He thought about dragging her upstairs and taking her to his bed and finding out for the first time in decades what new intimacy felt like. Instead he just nodded and stepped away, tugging down his uniform jacket in a futile effort to conceal the way she'd awakened his body.
"I'll wash the pots and pans later," he murmured. "Thank you for dinner."
Juliana took a deep breath and pulled herself away from the refrigerator. She nodded, looking dizzy, and she said in a dazed sort of voice,
"I'll be here tomorrow morning to clean."
"Okay." John watched her go out to foyer, watched her pull on her gloves and put her handbag over her shoulder and open the door. He watched her walk over the threshold, and then he sat down to a very solitary meal of burned sausages.
Author's Note: Uh-oh. He's surrendering a little too completely to the idea that this new existence serves a serious purpose. And what's the deal with little Cameron? Hmm... Please do leave a comment if you get a quick moment. Thanks!
Chapter 5: Ruin in the Mouth of a Fool
He shouldn't have been happy to see her come walking through his front door just as he descended his stairs, but he was.
"Hi," Juliana said simply, shutting the door behind her. John continued down the steps and replied,
"Morning, Miss Crain. How would you like a break from cooking dinner tonight?"
She pulled off her gloves and set them on the table by the door with her handbag, and she asked, "Are you going out, sir?"
"I'd like to." He watched as she registered that, as she realized he was very indirectly asking her out on a date. He shouldn't be doing that, of course, and for a moment he saw Helen's hurt face in his mind. But Helen had never even been born here, and there was certainly something compelling John to be nearer to Juliana here. Taking her on a date seemed like the next logical step.
She gave him a shy little smile and teased, "Are we going to a diner?"
"No. To Sullivan's." He descended the last three steps into the foyer and watched her reaction to that part. Sullivan's was in the city, a formal and renowned establishment frequented by SS officers. In his old life, John had taken Helen there once. Thomas had watched the girls at home, and Helen had worn a pretty, shimmery dress that had set off the color of her hair.
But Helen wasn't here.
"Sullivan's," he heard Juliana repeat. "That sounds... that sounds very nice. I, um... should I meet you there?"
"Come to my office at six. I'll put you on the guest register, so tell them downstairs that I'm expecting you. We'll take a car from there."
"Okay. Thank you." Juliana hesitated and then reached for John's uniform hat off the rack. She held it out to him, and his fingers brushed lightly against hers as he took it. He put the hat on his head and took a long moment to get it just so. She'd spend the next few hours cleaning his house, which seemed strange now that he'd kissed her against the refrigerator. It should have felt strange that he'd kissed Juliana Crain, of course, but it didn't. Somehow, in this world where he was entirely alone, surrounded by things at once foreign and familiar, John did not feel strange enough about kissing Juliana Crain.
He left the house without another word, nodding to acknowledge the chauffeur who stood saluting him in his driveway.
Somewhere, Helen was baking a cake, John had decided. He couldn't reach her, couldn't talk to her, but some form of him would come home to her and eat the cake and tell her that she was the best pastry chef in the Reich. John stared out the window at the drizzling rain and imagined the taste of Helen's cake, the happy smile she'd give him when he liked it. John would even let Amy take a bite off of his plate after she'd finished her own piece. Somewhere, far away but right this minute, that was happening. John had to believe such things, or he couldn't keep on breathing.
He was jarred away from the rain and the daydreams by the vivid ring of his office phone. He took a steadying breath and centered himself in where he was, and he picked up the phone.
"It's Kahler," said the voice on the other end of the line. Kahler. The Marshal. John sat up straighter in his chair and asked,
"Have you found her?"
"No," Kahler said without apology, "but I did find her mother."
John cleared his throat and asked calmly, "And what did Mrs. Seagram have to say?"
"She hasn't seen Cameron since 1959," Kahler said, and John immediately demanded,
"You believe her?"
"Trust me, Obergruppenführer, I tortured the lady in ways even a guy like you couldn't have dreamed up. Yeah, I believe her. She has no idea where Cameron is."
John frowned and shook his head. "Well, what happened? She just vanished?"
"She went to the store to get bread and eggs," Kahler said, "and she never came home. Yes. She vanished. I'll keep looking, but my gut tells me she's out East. In the Reich."
There was a click then, and John realized Kahler had disconnected the call. John stared at the receiver for a moment and then put it back into the cradle, rising from his desk and raking his fingers over his close-cropped hair. He moved briskly through the hallways, ignoring the salutes of his inferiors as he made his way to the media center.
"Heil Hitler," said the lieutenant working the room. John nodded and said,
"There was a recent interrogation of Resistance fighters from Massachusetts. I need to see the footage."
"I'll pull it for you now, Obergruppenführer." The lieutenant went back into the archives, and a few minutes later, he came out with two reels of film. He silently began setting the films up on the playing reels, and then pictures from surveillance cameras appeared on two of the television screens before them. John nodded.
"Thank you. Wait outside."
The lieutenant snapped into a salute and left, and John pulled the headphones from the desk onto his head. He pressed the Start button and began watching the first reel, but he quickly realized the three prisoners were still belligerent, defiant. He turned a dial to speed through the footage, but all he saw was quiet stubbornness. Eventually the prisoners were dragged over to chains, stripped, and strung up. John slowed the footage back down and watched the beginnings of the floggings, the way questions were screamed and echoed off the concrete walls. But the prisoners weren't giving anything up. That tape ran out, and John turned his attention to the second, shorter reel. He watched in silence as a young woman and a thin man were tortured. The thin man was clobbered over the skull with a truncheon, and then the SS officers spent some time yelling at one another for accidentally killing one of them too quickly. This was a clumsy interrogation, John thought, and he resolved to have the officers who had worked it demoted.
There was a third prisoner, a shorter, more stout man who seemed oblivious to the way he'd been beaten to a pulp. He dangled quietly from his chains as the woman was choked slowly, and when she was gone, the man laughed a little. The interrogating officer marched over to him, put all his force into a high kick against the man's ribs, and sneered as blood poured from the prisoner's mouth.
"You were going to collect contraband," the officer screamed. "What was it? What was the contraband?"
The bloodied prisoner shook his head a little, and the officer tried another line of questioning.
"Who's in charge? Who do you answer to?"
Finally the bloodied man looked up, and John cranked up the volume to hear his crackling, weak voice.
"Cameron," the man said, sounding almost proud. He did not sound like a man who was giving up valuable information. "Cameron Seagram."
"Cameron Seagram," the officer repeated, nodding to his comrade. "Who's that? Who's Cameron Seagram?"
The prisoner let his head dangle for a moment, and blood streamed grotesquely from all manner of places on his body. The SS officer stalked up to the man and pulled out his switchblade, which he dragged slowly across the man's chest, eliciting more gore. The prisoner didn't seem to mind.
"What was the contraband you were sent to collect?" The officer's voice was a low, angry growl now. The prisoner raised his head just a tiny bit, and when he spoke, John couldn't quite hear. He turned the volume up higher and struggled through the white noise to make out,
"The grasshopper... lies heavy."
The SS officer scoffed, and his voice was oppressively loud in the headphones as he snapped, "The grasshopper lies heavy. What's that? What does that mean?"
He got no reply, and the man on the chains seemed to have gone still. The SS officer went over to the table and drank from a glass of water there, but John heard a small sound from the prisoner on the chain. He'd spoken again, but John couldn't make it out. He backed the tape up a little, increased the volume to its maximum, and played it again. It took three tries before he finally understood the whisper.
"It's a film."
The SS officer clearly hadn't heard. He took his time at the table, and when he came back to the chains, he touched his fingers to the prisoner's neck and shook his head. He turned to his fellow interrogator and said,
"He's dead. Get the message to Obergruppenführer Smith. Their leader is someone called Cameron Seagram."
The tape ended then, flicking over the projector with a dull clicking sound. John slowly took off the headphones and set them down, staring at the television screen before him. He turned and walked so quickly from the media center that the lieutenant outside called desperately,
"Obergruppenführer, sir, should I put those back into the files?"
John looked over his shoulder and nodded, continuing off down the hallway. He took the elevator down to the halls of records, the vast library of documentation that gave guidance on law, on history, on regulation and morality and data. He passed right by the saluting records officer. He knew where he was going.
He quickly located the official policies on contraband, which were organized by type of offense. Banned substances and medical paraphernalia. Forbidden clothing, household appliances, toys. Then the media. Banned words and phrases, books, music. Films.
John pulled out the leather-bound book of banned films, which was thick so that the official registrar could add to it whenever new illicit titles needed to be officially forbidden. John took the book over to a small reading desk and sat, opening its cover and finding that pages had been typed up on a typewriter and then added one by one into the registry. He glanced over the first few pages, seeing American titles that had been popular before the war. He recognized some of them, and even distantly remembered a few. The Public Enemy - a pre-Code talkie with James Cagney. John Smith had gone as a boy to see that with his father. His mother had been furious about it. Violence and debauchery, she'd said.
John made his way through the registry of feature films, copies of which had been seized and burned early in the days of the American Reich. Surely there weren't any remaining iterations of James Cagney films. The titles shifted to political productions - anti-Nazi propaganda films made when the Resistance had been moneyed and numerous. Then John came to a page of handwritten titles, the look of which contrasted sharply with the typed pages that had come before. He frowned at the cryptic titles that had been carefully written on the page.
The Fatherless Widow.
Ruin in the Mouth of a Fool.
All is Vanity.
The Vineyard and the Olive Yard.
Mansions in the Houses.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.
John froze, his finger pressed to the page beside the title. He thought back to the way the prisoner in the surveillance footage had given up Cameron Seagram's name, seeming as though that was no secret at all. And he'd given up the name of a film, too, even if the SS officer had been too focused on his water to realize that was what had happened.
A man had been executed for smuggling contraband films. Years later, his young daughter was committing the same crime. And John Smith knew what was on films like that. Americans kissing each other in Times Square, celebrating victory over the Nazis. Roosevelt as the triumphant American president. Hitler dead, Goebbels dead, the Reich toppled.
Somewhere Helen was baking a cake, and John was enjoying it.
But for now, he thought, shutting the book and silently filing it back on the shelf, he was supposed to be here. He was in this particular somewhere for a reason, and he suspected Cameron Seagram might have more to say about it.
Author's Note: Whew! I didn't want this fic to just be John and Juliana randomly hooking up in the multiverse, so bear with me as we sort through this political plot that will eventually give John some answers where right now he has many questions. And in the next chapter, a dinner date... because this really is a John/Juliana fic. :) PLEASE leave a quick review if you get a moment; I value the feedback more than I can say.
Chapter 6: Liebestraum
"Obergruppenführer Smith. Welcome to Sullivan's, sir. We have your table just this way."
The maitre d' had been phoned earlier in the day, and it was obvious the restaurant had made preparations for the Obergruppenführer. This restaurant was frequented by SS officers, but ones as high ranking as John Smith were still rare enough to demand special accommodation. John walked beside Juliana as they followed the maitre d' through the elegant restaurant, above which hung a large crystal chandelier. Every now and then, a lower-ranking officer would rise from his table and snap into a salute, and John nodded at each of them. He was the ranking officer here, he could tell. People might wonder who the beautiful young woman with the Obergruppenführer was, but they wouldn't discuss it at their tables. They would know far better than that.
Juliana looked beautiful in a red chiffon dress with an attached cape. It set off her dark hair and her blue eyes, he thought. She wore her silver Swastika pendant, and he had found himself wondering in the car whether or not she owned any other jewelry. She probably didn't make very much money as his housekeeper, and she'd come here as a defector.
She seemed ill at ease when the maitre d' pulled out her chair for her and put her napkin on her lap, and then John realized that this Juliana had almost certainly never been anywhere near a place like Sullivan's. He cleared his throat as he handed his hat off to be hung up, and he sat carefully. They'd been given a table in the back corner for the sake of propriety; the Obergruppenführer wasn't to be planted out in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by his inferiors. John took the card stock menu from the maitre d', and he watched Juliana's eyes go round as saucers as she read over hers. Prices, he thought. She was shocked by the prices.
"A good bottle of Champagne to start," John said quietly, and the maitre d' nodded respectfully before heading off. Once he'd gone, Juliana whispered,
"It's so beautiful in here."
John turned his attention for a moment to the pianist who was playing beneath the chandelier. Juliana's eyes flicked over there, and she said quietly,
"You had Liszt in the Pacific States?" John asked, but Juliana shook her head.
"No. I have a record player in my apartment. I don't have that many records, but one of them is Liszt. Liebestraum."
"You're probably tired of it by now, then," John said, but Juliana smiled a little.
"I like it. It's pretty."
She studied her menu carefully then, and John found himself staring rather shamelessly at her. She'd curled her hair just so. She'd lined her eyes and smothered her lips in scarlet. She'd tried tonight, very obviously, to look the part of a woman worthy of an Obergruppenführer's attention. John thought back to the Juliana he'd first seen in the detention center, her hair long and her body covered in scrapes and bruises and scars from a bus accident that had never happened here.
Helen had never been born here, but somewhere far away, John was taking her to dinner at Sullivan's and telling her she was the prettiest woman in the room. Right this minute, in some place he couldn't reach, Helen was deciding what to have for dinner. He had to believe things like that, because in this place there was no Helen and Juliana was impossible to ignore.
He decided on the roast chicken with mashed potato and asparagus. It was a safe choice, but he was barely hungry. His stomach was anxious, from what he'd learned today at work and from the woman before him. He was here for reasons he could not yet fully discern, but it was starting to look like one of those reasons was Juliana Crain.
"What would you like to eat?" he asked her, hoping that she would know that etiquette demanded he place her order in a restaurant like this. Juliana hesitated and then said quietly,
"They have steak. Real steak."
"Have you never eaten a steak?" John raised his eyebrows, and Juliana shook her head.
"No. I could never afford real beef in the Pacific States, and the best I can get here is stew meat or cheap ground stuff."
John tipped his head and reminded her, "You cooked a steak for me a few days ago."
"One steak," she said softly. John smirked and nodded.
"Steak it is, then."
He stopped talking for a moment as a white-jacketed waiter came over and popped open a bottle of expensive Champagne. They still produced this stuff in France, John knew, but these days this kind of good wine was reserved for the SS and for the highest-ranking officials in Reich administration. So he was unsurprised by the way Juliana's eyes went wide again, as the golden, bubbly liquid filled the glass saucer before her. John nodded at the waiter, who set up an ice bucket and wrapped the bottle before bowing his head and walking away. John lifted his saucer of Champagne and said quietly,
"Prost." Juliana sipped at her Champagne, smiling at the taste. It made John's heart race a little to see her smile like that. He wasn't sure why. It never would have affected him before - whether or not Juliana Crain was happy. In fact, there had been many occasions in which he'd found himself rather reveling in Juliana's unhappiness. He'd been irritated, sometimes, by the way Thomas had stared at Juliana. It had been a boyhood crush, he knew. Nothing more, But Juliana had known about Thomas' sickness; Thomas had confided in her. Then Thomas had turned himself in, and Juliana had run away.
But Thomas had never been born here. He was busy growing old somewhere else, busy earning himself accolades and bragging about them to his schoolmates. Somewhere John couldn't reach, Thomas was healthy. Here, tonight, in Sullivan's, Juliana was happy. And so John drank his Champagne and ate his chicken when it came, and he watched as Juliana tried to stifle her delight with her steak.
"It's really good," she said as she swallowed a bite, and then her eyes crinkled with genuine glee. John found his lips curling up at her. He liked her here, he thought. Sitting here with her made him forget a lot of things, like Cameron Seagram and smuggled films and people that had never been born in this existence. Here, right now, in Sullivan's, all he could see was a very pretty young woman who seemed genuinely good-hearted. He cleared his throat and set down his fork and knife, and he asked her,
"Have you got many friends here in the Reich?"
"I've tried," she said. "I joined the Women's Group in my apartment building. But it's just a bunch of bored ladies making care packages for soldiers stationed far from home. Not that that's not important; I make the care packages, but..."
"But it's boring," John said with a little smirk. Juliana blushed a little and shrugged.
"When I worked at the Headquarters, I knew some people on support staff. I've tried to keep in touch, but it's hard. I never really fit in, you know? I'm foreign."
"You're a citizen of the Greater Reich," John corrected her, sipping from his Champagne. "You're not foreign."
She rolled her eyes a little. "You know what I mean, Obergruppenführer. Do you know how often I get asked to say something in Japanese?"
He took another sip and teased her, "Say something in Japanese."
Juliana dragged her fingertip around the rim of her Champagne saucer, narrowing her blue eyes as she said quietly, "Anata wa hansamudesu."
John sipped from his Champagne again, starting to feel the buzz from it. "And what does that mean?"
"Well, if I told you, that would spoil the fun, wouldn't it?" Juliana seemed rather pleased with herself then, and she shrugged. "People ask me to say things in Japanese all the time, Obergruppenführer Smith. Coming up with ridiculous things to say has become something of a hobby for me."
John sipped again. "So what ridiculous thing did you say to me, Juliana?"
She hesitated and lowered her eyes. "I said you were a very handsome man, John."
He scoffed, but he felt his cheeks go a little warm. Juliana pretended to be very interested then in watching the piano player. She seemed surprised when the master d' insisted that their meal was on the house, with the compliments and paid respects of the restaurant's staff. John thanked the man, but he wasn't surprised, for this had happened before. Even in the other world he'd known, his rank had earned him a great many pleasantries.
John held the car door for Juliana himself but let the chauffeur open hers. The corporal driving them seemed uneasy about asking, but he finally said from the front,
"Where to, Obergruppenführer?"
John flicked his eyes over to Juliana. She stared at her lap, and he whispered,
"You want to go straight back to your apartment?"
"No," she replied, and John felt his stomach go tight with anticipation. He cleared his throat and told the corporal,
The driver played the radio softly as they left the city and made their way back out onto Long Island. Juliana's gloved hand sat flat on the leather seat in the back, and for a long time, John stared at it. He tried to convince himself not to touch her. He tried to think of the life, the family, from which he'd been taken. But then he thought of Cameron Seagram, of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. He thought of films that showed the Americans winning the war. He thought about Thomas turning himself into the medical authorities. He thought about Juliana in the detention center.
Then he looked out the window at the American Reich, and he turned his eyes to Juliana's face, and he reached for her hand.
His leather glove creaked around her fingers, but she made no movement at all. She kept staring out the window, her eyelids fluttering a little as she silently turned her hand and stroked her fingers against his. They sat like that all the way out to Montauk, the car eerily quiet, their hands moving carefully against one another. John started to feel the kind of stirring he hadn't experienced in decades - the pulse of excited want that only came once. This sort of vibration only came the first time with a new woman, he knew. Lovers grew comfortable enough to become spouses, and sex became an easy comfort, and this kind of thrill had been gone from him for a very long time.
At his house, the corporal driving the car asked awkwardly,
"Should I wait here, Obergruppenführer?"
"I'll call for another car if I need one, corporal," John said smoothly, and his chauffeur snapped into a salute. John pushed open the door of this new strange house and walked inside, and Juliana followed him. He took her black wool coat and hung it up, and she pulled off her little white gloves. She wordlessly stepped out of her black heels, standing there in her vibrant red dress and staring up at John.
"Thank you for dinner," she said finally, and he resisted to urge to remind her that he hadn't paid for it. He just nodded, hanging his hat up on the hook. He needed some way to initate things with her now, he realized. He wanted her, far more badly than he should, but he couldn't just slam her against the wall and hike her skirts up. It didn't feel right tonight to be aggressive with her like that. He wanted to feel her skin. He wanted to smell her perfume on her neck. He shut his eyes and murmured,
"I had a... very long day at work. I think I might go change into something more comfortable."
"You told me you were most comfortable in your uniform," Juliana teased him gently, and John couldn't help but smile a little. He opened his eyes and stared very deliberately at her for a moment.
"I'm going to go hang these clothes up in my closet. Would you... will you come with me?"
Juliana's breath shook a little as she nodded, and John turned to wordlessly climb the stairs. She followed him, her stockinged feet silent on the wooden steps. He turned to the left at the landing and strode into his room, and without saying anything else, he began stripping off his uniform just like he always did. He was methodical, starting with his belt and then unbuttoning his jacket. He hung it up and brushed it clean, and then he took off his medals and carefully set them on the shelf in the closet. He pulled off his shirt, then his boots, then yanked down his suspenders and then paused, his fingers on the waist of his uniform pants.
"You can go, if you want," he said quietly. "You don't have to... to do anything, Juliana. I don't want you to feel obligated."
"I don't feel obligated, John."
There was something strange about her voice then, and when he turned to face her, he saw fire in her blue eyes. She'd unzipped her dress while he'd been facing his closet, and now she pulled it away from her shoulders and let it fall around her ankles. It pooled there on the ground, violently red against the cream-colored carpet. She looked entirely unashamed in her flesh-colored bra and the garter holding up her stockings. She started to take those off, too, one piece at a time, and she seemed to be mocking him with how gracefully she could move. She was like a dancer when she bent and rolled her stockings down. When she stood back up, unashamedly naked, John just blinked.
It seemed absolutely ludicrous that he was standing here with Juliana Crain of all people, studying the swell of her breasts and the way her tiny waist curved into her hips. It was complete madness, the way that Juliana Crain of all people was staring at him with desire in her eyes. He had never viewed her as anything less than a threat in his real life, in the real world he'd left.
But this place was real, too, he thought. And in this real place, Obergruppenführer John Smith was a bachelor who had spent months pursuing Juliana Crain.
He finished unbuttoning his uniform pants and pushed them down with his underwear, feeling the way his hardened cock sprang loose of the fabric and suddenly not caring. He peeled his undershirt up and over his head, and then he found himself walking very quickly to where Juliana stood.
He pushed her gently onto the bed, locking his mouth against hers as she sucked in air sharply. He urged her backward, up onto the blankets and pillows that she'd arranged for him earlier in the day. His hand flew up to play with her breast, pawing rather anxiously at her as he the unfamiliar flesh yielded to his touch. He hadn't touched any woman but Helen in a place like this in so long that he'd almost forgotten that breasts could be like this - small but soft with their own shape that was just Juliana's. John stared at his hand on her for a moment, watching his own thumb drag over her eager pink nipple. She'd been married here, he knew. Sex wasn't novel to her. But she acted like it was; she arched her back as he touched her, and she whispered,
"Kiss me, John."
He did, harder than he'd done yet. He felt like he was drowning in her, like she was pulling him in and he was just melting against her. His fingers trailed from her breast down over her flat stomach and wormed between her legs, and Juliana gasped a little as he carefully felt her there. She was wet, so wet that John lost his breath for a moment. She wanted him badly. He could see it in her blazing eyes; he could feel it there between her legs. He swallowed hard and whispered,
"I don't... I don't have a condom..."
She smirked a bit, cycling her hips up against his hand. "Yes, you do."
He frowned, and she reminded him,
"I clean here. You have a dozen of them in your bedside table. Unexpired. I was nosy."
"Oh. I, um... I don't use them. I mean, I haven't been using them." John blinked, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. SS Officers were provided as many condoms as they wanted free of charge. That was to prevent the SS from having to clean up messes - unintended pregnancies from the mistresses or casual dalliances that many SS officers had. John hadn't used condoms back home with Helen; they'd been a married couple who had happily provided three children for the Reich. But Helen wasn't here and Juliana was, and John needed a condom. So he leaned over a little and reached into the bedside table, and he pulled out one of the little packages he found inside. His fingers shook like mad as he opened the package, and he was surprised when Juliana took it from him and gave him a meaningful look.
Her hand felt so good rolling the latex down over his cock. He hadn't had anyone else's hand on him in decades - just his and Helen's and very occasionally a doctor who needed to confirm he hadn't somehow contracted syphilis. But Juliana's hand felt very good, and when she pulled her fingers away, he let out a little sound of need.
"Could I... can I get on top of you?" Juliana asked, and John raised his eyebrows. Sex at home had been comfortable and pleasant but as rare as was to be expected in a long-term marriage. It had been anything but daring, and John figured he could count on one hand the number times he'd ever had a woman on top of him. But he silently moved to lie on his back, and he watched in awe as Juliana sent one lithe leg across his hips. She lined him up with her drenched entrance, and as she sank down, John groaned. It felt good, too good, and he was going to lose himself. He wrenched his eyes shut and held his breath, and then he felt Juliana start to move.
"Look at me, John," she whispered, but he couldn't. If he did, it would all be over. Finally he forced his eyes open, taking deep and shaking breaths as he watched her hips undulate. He felt her walls hugging his cock closely, felt the wet heat of her, and he dragged his eyes up her young and beautiful form. Her breasts heaved slowly and her stomach flexed and relaxed with every swivel of her hips. She started to speed up, to get more urgent in her movements, and John found himself touching her everywhere he could. Her thighs, her waist, her ribs, her breasts. Down her arms until he snagged her hands in his and squeezed. He watched her head tip back, heard her breath hitch a little, and then her body clamped around him in as satisfaction washed over her. John lost it then; it was entirely too much. He drove his head back against the pillow and rode out his own climax, humiliated to hear himself whispering her name into the dark bedroom.
After a long moment, he started to go soft inside of her, and Juliana released his hands. She carefully climbed off of him, and John wordlessly slithered off the bed. He didn't look at her as he went into the bathroom that adjoined his bedroom. He left the door ajar as he threw out the condom and cleaned himself up. He scrubbed his hands and stared into the mirror. Somewhere he couldn't reach, somewhere far away but real and right now, he had just finished making love to Helen. That idea had to be real, just as real as this one. John had to believe things like that.
He shut off the sink and touched his damp palms to his overheated face. He finally convinced himself to go back out into his bedroom, and he saw that Juliana had already put her lingerie back on. She was shimmying up into her dress, and John said in a hoarse voice,
"I'll call you a car."
He turned to his dresser and pulled out some underwear and a pair of flannel pajama pants. As he yanked them on, Juliana said softly from behind him,
"I'll walk home, John. I do it every day. My apartment's not far."
"It's not safe," he muttered. He turned to face her and looked her up and down. "Beautiful woman in a beautiful dress late at night? I'll call you a car."
"I can take care of myself," she insisted, and then she turned around and asked, "Would you mind doing up the zipper?"
John sighed and crossed the room to her, slowly pulling up the zip and watching her milky flesh disappear behind the red fabric. Juliana rotated back to face him, tugging at her dress to adjust it and then reaching up to tuck her messy hair behind her ears. She let out a quivering breath and seemed like she wanted to say something but was unable to find the right words. John breathed in the smell of her perfume, suddenly wishing he'd spent some time kissing her on the neck. That would have felt nice. Maybe some other time, he thought, and then, right on cue, Juliana asked,
"Is this... going somewhere?"
This. Them. He gulped.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Do you want it to go somewhere?"
"I don't know," she replied. She leaned forward then and touched her lips carefully to his chest, and she whispered, "Thank you very much for dinner. I had a wonderful time."
"So did I." John found her eyes and then couldn't tear his gaze away, and he asked her, "Will you say it again? What you told me in Japanese."
"That you're a handsome man?" She smiled playfully, looking so pretty that his stomach clenched. She kissed his chest again, very carefully, and then said in a sibilant murmur, "I'm in the Greater Reich now, so I'll say it in German. I've been practicing my German. Du bist ein gut aussehender Mann."
John couldn't help but kiss her then, his lips toying with hers for a moment before it deepned into tangled tongues and little nips from careful teeth. When he pulled away from her, dizzy and more than a little confused by all of this, he asked,
"You sure you don't want a car?"
"I'm sure. Thank you again for dinner. I'll... I'll cook tomorrow. Let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like. Sir." Her cheeks went a little pink then as they both recalibrated the fact that she was his housekeeper and cook, his servant. He was an Obergruppenführer. He shrugged and told her,
"Anything's fine. Cook for two."
One side of her mouth curled into a little smile at that, and she reached to squeeze his hand. He started to move, thinking he'd show her out, but of course she knew the way just fine, and she whispered gently,
"Goodnight, Juliana," he replied, watching the way her red caped dress swished a little as she walked out of his room and down the stairs. He listened to the front door open and shut, and he went over to the window. He watched her make her way down the sidewalk, her steps quick and confident in the light from the street lamps. John sighed and flopped into the bed where he'd just taken her. It still smelled like her perfume.
Somewhere he couldn't reach, he was living his old life. Somewhere else, Thomas would die an old, happy man. Somewhere else, the Americans had won the war. But here, in this world, he had Juliana, and there was no helping that.
His sleep was deep and untroubled that night.
Author's Note: Thanks as always for reading! Please do leave a comment if you get a chance.
Chapter 7: Beyond the Euphrates
John's eyes sprang open at the sound of insistent knocking downstairs. He frowned as he sat up in bed and the knocking continued. He hurried to pull on the flannel robe from his bedpost and peered out his bedroom window. He saw no headlights in the driveway. He pattered down the stairs in the darkness as the knocking kept on going, and then he found himself wishing there were windows in the front door of this house. He opened the door slowly, carefully, and then the hand that had been knocking lowered.
He didn't need to ask who she was, the blonde-haired girl standing before him in a dark blue peacoat. He didn't need to ask because her round eyes were the same as they'd been in photographs from her early childhood, before she'd disappeared.
"Cameron Seagram," John said, his voice hoarse with sleep. He nodded once and and made a move to grab her arm, but the girl said in a smooth voice devoid of fear,
"I am not here to be arrested, John. Let me inside. I have something for you."
He frowned deeply at the way she'd addressed him, the preternatural adulthood that came through her young voice. He was unnerved by her, like she was some kind of ghost. He shifted on his feet and demanded,
"Why have you come to my private residence?"
Cameron blinked and said simply, "For a private conversation, John. Let me inside."
He hesitated, then remembered that he wasn't from here, that something unnatural had happened to tear him away from his family and his life. It had something to do with the films. It had to. Cameron Seagram was tied up in all of that, somehow. John stepped aside and opened the door, flicking on the light in the foyer and peering outside in search of eyes or cameras.
"No one's here," Cameron said, shutting the door. She reached into the canvas bag she had over one shoulder, and she pulled out a photograph. She wordlessly handed it over to John, whose mouth fell open the moment he saw it.
It was a photograph of him, standing proudly in his uniform in the front yard of the house he'd shared with Helen. She was there, too, on his arm with a wide grin on her sweet face, and John found himself dragging his fingers over Helen's black and white image. Jennifer and Amy were little, sitting cross-legged on the grass, and Thomas was kneeling behind them looking like a proud brother. John remembered when this photo had been taken. It had been for his fortieth birthday.
"Where... where did you get this?" He raised his eyes to Cameron, whose icy blue eyes were frighteningly pale. Her young face was utterly emotionless as she said,
"I got it in a different place, John. I think you know where. You're there with them. With Helen, with Thomas, with Jennifer and Amy."
John couldn't breathe then, and he whispered, "Who are you?"
The girl tipped her head and smirked. "I'm a traveler just like you. A courier just like my father. And, like I said, I have something for you. Here."
She reached into her bag again, this time pulling out a round tin. Film. She handed it over, and John saw that tape had been spread across the tin and a title had been scrawled in black ink. Beyond the Euphrates.
"There's a film projector in the closet under the stairs," Cameron informed him, and John did not dare ask how she knew such a thing. Cameron continued, "What you see on that film is real. It really happened, just not here. You need to remember that - everything you've seen in all the films. It's all real. Every last image."
John licked his lip and shook his head. "That's not possible."
"I promise you it is," Cameron nodded. "And when the time is right, John, something else will be brought to you, and you'll take it back to the life you left behind."
He scowled. "What will be brought to me? When?"
"I have no way of knowing that," Cameron said coldly. "When the time is right."
John shoved the tin of film down into her arms and snapped, "I will not be complicit in treason. You are a wanted criminal. These films are banned."
"Not this one." Cameron handed the tin back to him, her hands steadier than any John had ever seen. She nodded once and told him, "You don't have to send the Marshal after me. I'm leaving."
He scoffed and threw up an eyebrow. "No. You're going to prison or worse. You're a smuggler. The Resistance gave you up during an interrogation."
She shrugged. "They usually do. But it won't matter; I'll be gone in a few minutes. You can search, but you won't find me, John. Direct your energy elsewhere. When the time is right, you'll be given something, and you'll go home. But in the meantime... stay the course with Juliana."
"What are you talking about?" John's eyes seared with confusion. This child was unnatural. She was some sort of demon. Cameron's ice blue eyes warmed for just a moment, and she looked at the photograph she'd given him. She took it back, and John made a little sound of protest. He thought about wrestling the photo away from the girl, but Cameron calmly tucked it into her bag.
"Here, John, you have her. Juliana. What you see on that film is real. This photograph is real. And Juliana is real. Goodnight, John."
She opened the door and made a move to leave, but John snatched roughly at her arm, knowing he was being physically cruel with a child and not caring. This was no ordinary child. He wrenched her back into the house and seethed,
"You think I'm just going to let you walk out of this house and leave?"
Cameron slowly pulled her arm from his grip and nodded. "Yes, John. I think that's exactly what you're going to do, because I think you understand... at least a little bit. Goodnight."
Then she quickly walked away, down the front steps and through the gate, and as she walked briskly down the sidewalk into the darkness, she vanished into the air like a phantom.
An hour later, John sat in his living room and started the film over. He was watching it for the tenth time - Beyond the Euphrates, the film that Cameron Seagram had given him. He couldn't stop watching it.
He stared at the white wall, at the flickering projected images of him and Helen and the kids on a camping trip. They were on a lake somewhere; someone else was filming them. John had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and was cooking American-style hot dogs on an iron grill in a park. The girls were using large hoops to make bubbles in the air. Thomas was sitting against a tree trunk with a book, contentedly drinking a lemonade. And Helen was cutting up cake.
Then the picture changed and showed American flags waving on State Street in Chicago, outside the large Marshall Field's store there. The scene was detached, impersonal, until John saw Juliana Crain come walking out of Field's with bags on her arms and get into a taxi.
The images changed back to him with his family, this time opening presents around a tinsel-bedecked Christmas tree. They had on matching pajamas, which seemed to annoy Thomas and amuse Jennifer. The film was silent, but they were laughing. The kids had presents and Helen had a cup of coffee cradled in her hands, and everyone was laughing.
Then there was footage of the mayor of Chicago giving a speech, cutting a big ribbon, people celebrating. Beside him was Juliana, dressed elegantly and smiling as the mayor planted a swift kiss on her lips.
The film ran out again, clicking on the projector as it whirled around helplessly. The white light shining onto the wall was blank then, and finally John stood and pulled the reel of film from the projector. This was real, Cameron had said. It wasn't a life he had ever known - where he was just a casual father, where the kids were living an American-style childhood, where Juliana Crain was the wife of the mayor of Chicago. It was an utterly foreign reality. But it gave John hope that the thoughts he'd used to cope weren't so bizarre. If this film was real, then somewhere Thomas would grow old and would be happy and healthy. He could believe that now.
He put the film back into the tin and wondered why he hadn't arrested Cameron Seagram. Then he told himself again that he wasn't from here, from this world. Neither was Cameron. She was from somewhere else. She'd been to his old life; she'd taken a photograph of his family from there. And she'd told him that he would go home someday, when the time was right. But first, she'd said, there was Juliana.
All of that was irritating and confusing and made John's stomach hurt, so he made his way into the kitchen and got very drunk. He stared at the tin of film on the table and poured an endless stream of whiskey into a tumbler. He drank it down one gulp after another, letting it burn and sear until his head was floating. He almost never got drunk, but he wasn't sure how he was supposed to watch the kind of film he'd seen, how he was supposed to have Cameron Seagram show up and then disappear like a wraith, and not get drunk. So he drank, steadily and quickly until he found himself staggering to shove the projector back into the closet under the stairs. He pried back some floorboards in the closet with clumsy hands yielding a screwdriver, and he shoved the tin of film down into the floor. He put the projector over it and threw a blanket over the whole thing, and he locked the closet and flushed the key down the toilet.
He couldn't have Juliana sweeping in there, after all. She might see herself as the wife of the mayor of Chicago, and that would hardly do.
Author's Note: I promise to get back to some John/Juliana relationship building very soon, but first I wanted to establish just what/who Cameron is and confuse poor John a little more. Thanks for reading; please do leave a review if you get a moment!
Chapter 8: I Do A Lot of the Telling
When John woke in the morning, it was in a heap beside the understairs closet, a puddle of his own vomit reeking beside him. The bottle of whiskey was there, too, almost entirely empty. He staggered to his feet, still drunk and feeling it. He had only hazy, swirling memories from the night before - distant whispers in his mind of Cameron Seagram handing him a photograph and a film that showed his family and Juliana in a victorious America.
He nearly threw up again as he mopped up his own vomit and tossed the rags into the trash. He threw the rest of the whiskey out, too, and then went upstairs and took a blisteringly hot shower. He scrubbed his mouth out four times with toothpaste, glaring at his own reflection in the mirror above the sink. He glared and glared until finally his fist flew forward and smashed against the glass, and he shut his eyes.
He felt the blood leaking from his torn-open knuckles, and as he stared down, he watched it flow in scarlet streams all over the shards of mirror that had fallen into the sink. John huffed as he realized he'd made yet another mess, and it was with a twinge of regret that he threw the broken mirror shards away and carefully washed his mangled hand. He felt queasy as he dressed, as he buckled his uniform belt and pulled on his clean black boots. He felt like going anywhere but work today, but his car was already waiting outside.
It was hardly as though he could explain that he'd be out of work today due to a monstrous hangover and confusion over an impossible film. It was hardly as though he could admit that little Cameron Seagram had come to his house, handed him a photograph of the family he didn't have here and a reel of film, and then disappeared as she sauntered off down the sidewalk.
So he went to work, and he took aspirin and seltzer water, and he suffered through one meeting and phone call after another. Finally it started to get dark outside, and he mumbled over a phone line,
"Where was the car headed, Captain?"
"We believe he was on his way to Philadelphia, Obergruppenführer. At least, that's what the travel papers said. Unfortunately, as soon as the car was stopped at the checkpoint, the driver tried to run, and the checkpoint officer shot at him. The bullet hit the man's lung, and he died before he could be interrogated."
John frowned at rubbed at his aching head. "And you found nothing odd on this man's person?"
"No, Obergruppenführer," said the captain on the other end of the line. "Just the cache of guns in the trunk of the car. They seem to have been made in the Pacific States; there was Japanese stamping on the guns. We still aren't sure how they were smuggled into the Reich."
"Do you have an ID on the driver?" John asked, and the captain replied,
"He had a Greater Reich passport with the name of Harrow Stoteman, but we cross-referenced that, and it must have been forged. We have no record of any such man being a citizen of the Reich."
John sighed deeply, feeling a little confused. "How many guns were in the trunk of the car?"
"Seventy-two in total, Obergruppenführer," said the captain. John rubbed his head again and said in a voice hoarse from dehydration,
"I want that car torn apart, Captain. The floors. The ceiling. Dismantle the dashboard, the radio. Look underneath, in the hood. I need to know if this man - Harrow Stoteman or otherwise - was smuggling anything besides guns from the Pacific."
There was a short silence, and then the captain on the other end of the line asked, "Is there something in particular we are searching for, Obergruppenführer?"
"Films," John said without hesitation. "Reels of banned films. If you find any, bring them to me personally."
The captain sounded confused then. "Yes, Obergruppenführer."
"Melt down the guns; we have no use for them in any official capacity, and I don't even want them in evidence. Photograph everything. Document everything. Get a better ID on the suspect. And tear that car to pieces." John sniffed and sipped from his seltzer, and the captain said more firmly,
"Yes, Obergruppenführer Smith. Heil Hitler."
John nodded to himself and answered, "Heil Hitler."
"Hi." Juliana's voice was warm and concerned as John stepped carefully into the kitchen. Dinner was already finished, he could see; she'd made some sort of hearty-looking casserole and had a pitcher of ice water on the counter. That water looked very good right now, John thought. He nodded at Juliana and muttered,
She licked her lip carefully and worked her hands together before her stomach. "John," she said gently, "I took out all the trash."
He sniffed. "Thank you."
She tipped her head a little. "Dirty rags... and you missed a spot on the hallway floor, by the way... a nearly empty bottle of whiskey that I know was full a few days ago. The mirror's broken upstairs, there were bloody rags up there and now I see your hand, and... well. Are you okay?"
He nodded and lied, "I'm fine. Rough... last few days at work."
He frowned, knowing he wasn't sounding very convincing. But how was he supposed to tell Juliana about the film or the photograph, about Cameron Seagram? He made his way over to the table and sank down into a chair, saying nothing as Juliana spooned casserole onto a plate and put some bread with it. She poured him a glass of water and brought it all over, and then she drummed her fingers on the table and stared down at him.
"I wish I could believe you," she said, "that you're okay. Because I don't believe you, but I know you won't let me help."
"Big difference between won't and can't." John sucked on his teeth for a moment, looking down at the noodles and cheese and meat on his plate, and he asked, "Would you like to stay and eat with me?"
She hesitated, and when he looked up, she shifted a little on her feet and cleared her throat.
"I have... I have to go out to dinner tonight," she said in a stilted voice, "with an Untersturmführer they assigned me. Um... I'm under a lot of pressure, you know, to find someone. While I'm still young enough to..."
She trailed off, her face going very red. He knew what she meant. She was still young enough to reproduce. Young enough to make a child for the Reich. But she was lacking in documentation, so the best she'd be able to hope for was some low-ranking officer. That would be a best-case scenario for her. Still, John found himself scowling down at his plate and saying softly,
"I took you to Sullivan's. We were naked upstairs in my bed."
"I know." Juliana took a shaking breath. "Trust me, John. I don't want to go out tonight; I told the marriage authority officer who banged down my door that I wasn't interested. They didn't seem to care. Getting too close to thirty, they said, to be meandering around as an unmarried woman."
John made a little sound of disgust and shook his head determinedly. He slid his chair back and stood, and he insisted,
"No. I don't want you to go on a date with an Untersturmführer, Juliana. I want to you to stay here with me and eat dinner with me, and I want... um... I don't want you to go on that date."
She shut her eyes and said helplessly, "I don't have a genealogy, John. I'm a defector, a refugee. I have to do what I'm told."
"I do a lot of the telling," John pointed out. He tipped his head and informed her, "I could get the marriage office dogs off your back with one phone call, Juliana, and you could stay here tonight or any other night. You could be... with me, you understand? So tell me if you want me to make that phone call."
She blinked quickly a few times and stepped closer to him. She put her hands onto the chest of his uniform coat and studied his face, and then she said quietly,
"Do you know, John, that when they told me you'd asked for me specifically, that you wanted me to come and work in your house... I went home and I made a fool of myself dancing in my living room to a record. I'm no idiot; I'm sure there are cameras in my apartment. So someone got an entertaining show of a woman who was entirely too happy to learn that Obergruppenführer John Smith wanted her to work for him."
"Should I call, Juliana?" John raised his eyebrows, and she nodded once.
"Yes, please," she whispered.
"Okay." He stepped around her then, making his way to the telephone in the living room.
The food was long since eaten, the plates sitting dirty and ignored on the table, and John had rather casually stripped off his uniform coat and hung it over the back of his chair. They'd been talking for over an hour about everything - about the old widow who lived above Juliana and was nearly deaf so that her record player was always blasting, about the way John had been stuck in a broken elevator for a half hour at work with a hapless corporal, about the new Leni Riefenstahl film coming out and how they both wanted to see it. Now John found himself genuinely amused, for the first time in a very long while, as Juliana relayed a story to him.
"And I just couldn't stand it; it was like she was taunting me with that red hair," Juliana was saying. "Sitting right in front of me, her stupid little braids hanging down her back and pooling on my desk and just... taunting me! I wanted that hair so badly! So one day we were using scissors, cutting little squares of paper in art class, you know? And I just..."
"No, you didn't," John grinned, sipping from his water. "You're much too nice to -"
"I cut those braids off with absolutely no shame," Juliana finished. She shut her eyes tightly and winced a little. "Oh, Maude cried for hours! Hours! And the haircut she came in with the next day was just so badly done, and then I felt terrible! The school principal whipped me until I was a bleeding heap on the floor. Oh, it was awful. I thought I'd feel better, but, no."
John shook his head and playfully scolded her, "Sounds like you were a very naughty little girl, Miss Crain."
"I was completely out of control," she joked. "Caused all kinds of problems."
"So did she ever forgive you? Little Maude? Did the braids grow back in?" John sipped his water again, smirking, and Juliana's smile disappeared as she scratched at her eyebrow.
"Um... I mean, it was the during the war, you know? And... she died. Maude. There was a bombing raid and she died. The next year. I never saw braids on her again."
"Oh." John's mirth dissolved into the air, and he sighed as silence fell heavily on the table. Juliana stood and started to clear the plates, and suddenly she looked upset about something. Homesickness, he realized at once, or bad memories of home. He could relate to that; more than once in his life, he'd woken up from a nightmare of people screaming, people dying, fires blazing. Gunshots.
"Tell me something happy, Obergruppenführer Smith," Juliana said from the sink. John stood from his chair, leaving his jacket on the back of it, and his boots made soft sounds on the tile as he crossed into he kitchen. He stood beside Juliana as she washed the plates, and he murmured,
"I can do that for you."
"It's my job," she whispered back, turning her face and saying again, "Tell me something happy."
"Okay." He turned and leaned back against the counter, crossing his arms in his white shirt and clearing his throat. "I think you have the most beautiful eyes in the entire world, Juliana."
Her hands stilled on the plate she was washing, and her lips curled up a little. John swallowed the nervous knot that had formed in his throat for some reason, and he added,
"I also suspect you're one of the only genuinely good people I've ever met. Those things make me happy."
Juliana seemed to be blinking through tears then, and she shut off the sink and set the plates aside to dry. She came to stand before him, tipping her head as she whispered,
"Can I do something to you?"
He furrowed his brows and shrugged playfully. "Depends on what that thing is, I suppose."
Her fingers went to the buttons on his uniform pants then, and as she unbuttoned them, John felt himself start to flush a bit hard. She was staring at him with the steely determination that always made her eyes so pretty, and on instinct, he pulled down his suspenders. He was a little shocked then to see her lower herself to the floor, arranging herself on her knees before him.
"Oh. Juliana." John shut his eyes, realizing what she meant to do. Helen had never done this, not this particular thing. Their sex had been pleasant but very conventional, and this kind of thing wasn't for nice married ladies. His hands flew down and his fingers tangled into Juliana's dark hair, and he whispered, "You don't have to... um... you don't..."
"I really want to." She raised her wide eyes up to him, and he just nodded quickly, leaning back further against the counter to keep his knees from buckling. Her hand slid up the side of his leg until her fingers bunched around the waistband of his uniform pants, and she tugged them down a little along with his underwear. John squeezed his eyes tightly shut when she wrapped her hand around his cock and pulled him out. He was quickly going firm beneath her touch, and when he heard the way her breath had sped up, he twitched a little.
Then there was the feeling of something warm and wet then, and John gasped, trying to make himself open his eyes, when he did, he let out a throaty sound of want. Her lips were wrapped around him, sliding down his length, and when his tip hit the back of his throat, John groaned again. He curled his fingers tightly against her scalp, but she didn't seem to mind. She slid all the way up and down his shaft a few times, and then she paused to play with the tip. John sucked in air and writhed against the counter, trying not to ram himself down her throat. Her tongue felt too good swirling around him, flicking around the bottom of his cock where he was most sensitive. Her hand worked up and down his length while her mouth expertly pleasured the tip, and John suspected she had a good deal of experience with this. He didn't care. He couldn't care about her past, and he couldn't care about his.
Here he had Juliana, Cameron Seagram had said before vanishing into the night like a ghost.
John tipped his head back as Juliana suckled him tightly down her throat again. She made gulping motions that tightened her mouth around him, and he gasped helplessly. He findally said through clenched teeth,
"Make up your mind about the mess, Juliana, because I'm going to... oh... oh..."
His heart was thudding in his chest then as Juliana flicked her eyes up. He was still buried in her mouth as she curled her lips up into a devilish smirk, and then John lost himself. He panted and smacked at the counter a little as he came, pumping himself into Juliana's willing mouth. It was completely overwhelming, the feeling of finishing between her lips like that. She swallowed it all without complaint, and she then kept him nestled against her lips, planting little kisses on his hypersensitive skin as he started to soften. John was dizzy where he stood, and he he could find neither the breath nor to words to articulate anything. So he just watched as she carefully tucked him back into his underwear and fixed up the buttons on his pants. He left his suspenders down around his waist, reaching to help her stand and seeing through her stockings the way her knees were patched red from the tile floor.
"Sorry," she murmured. "I just... really wanted you."
"Sorry?" John coughed out a little laugh and shook his head. He reached her hair behind her ear and said seriously, "You can't go on dates, Juliana. You won't be hearing from the marriage authorities anymore."
"Okay." She nodded, looking a little anxious, and she lowered her eyes. "If I've been too eager, I'm sorry."
"You haven't been. Stop apologizing." John heard too much flint in his voice then, so he reached for her hair again and pulled her a little closer. Then he decided he wanted to hold her against him, and he was grateful when she leaned forward and put her face against his chest. She'd hear his heart racing through his shirt, he knew, but he didn't care.
His mind suddenly went back to the film he'd seen, the one where he'd been grilling hot dogs and Helen had been cutting up cake. The girls had been playing with bubbles and Thomas had been reading and drinking lemonade. And Juliana had come walking out of Marshall Field's in Chicago under a row of American flags overhead.
That was real, Cameron Seagram had said. Everything in that film had been real. And so was this. Someday John would go home, but he had no idea when. And in the meantime, he was supposed to do this, to have Juliana. He wasn't sure why, but he found himself now entirely unable to question it. He liked her. He liked the feel of her mouth on him, the feel of being buried inside of her. He liked to take her to Sullivan's, to sit talking with her at the kitchen table. He liked her eyes. He liked the smell of her perfume.
"John?" Her breath was warm through his shirt, and he realized he'd been carefully stroking her back while he thought. He bent to put a kiss on her hair, and he hummed,
Juliana raised her eyes up to him and whispered, "Thank you for making that phone call. I don't want to go on dates with other men. I... I want you. Only you."
John's heart accelerated again, and he squared his jaw. Finally he told her,
"I want you, too, Juliana."
Her eyes stayed locked on his for a long moment then, for so long that John got entirely lost in the blue of her gaze. He leaned down at last and touched his forehead to hers. This was real. He was supposed to have her here. Whatever had happened in the past, whatever would happen in the future... none of it mattered right this minute. Right now, here in this world, he was supposed to have Juliana. So he whispered,
"Stay the night," and she answered immediately,
Author's Note: Uh-oh. Obergruppenführer John Smith is falling a little too deeply into this reality, no? Thank you for reading, and a HUUUUGE thank you to those who have left comments. The feedback is so very appreciated.
Chapter 9: Rough
Author's Note: This chapter is mostly just John/Juliana smut. Regularly scheduled plot to resume next chapter. ;)
She was very pretty when she was asleep.
That was an odd thought to have, but John couldn't help himself. He had been a married father in his other life, and as much as he adored Helen, he hadn't spent much time in the last few years staring at her in her sleep. Things felt different here, and not just because Helen didn't exist in this world. Juliana was like a breath of winter air rocketing through his lungs, cold and invigorating and oddly beautiful.
So he stared.
He stared through the darkness of his bedroom as a hard rain fell outside, and he reached to stroke a little at her hair. She was completely naked; neither of them had bothered with pajamas after careening into the bed together. John had lasted a long time - probably too long; Juliana seemed worn out by the end of it - and they'd both been slick with sweat and breathless. She'd felt good around him, snug and warm and wet and wonderful. And now he lay beside her, petting her hair a little, listening to the rain as she slept.
"Juliana?" He finally found the courage to say her name quietly, and her eyes fluttered halfway open. She made a little tired sound and rolled onto her back, baring her breasts to him as the blanket slid off her chest a bit. She covered her yawn and murmured,
"You interrupted a very nice dream, Obergruppenführer Smith."
"Did I?" His fingers drifted down over her cheek and shoulder, and he told her, "I do apologize, Miss Crain."
She smiled up at the ceiling and stretched a little, her breasts so alluring in the moonlight through the window that John went a little hard. He felt his breath catch, and then he heard Juliana hum,
"Like what you see, Obergruppenführer?"
"Yes," he said simply. Juliana turned her head toward him then, and she reached under the blankets until her hand curled around his cock. Her eyes went a little wide when she felt that he was mostly hard, and John shifted a little.
"What, you think I'm too old for three times in one night?" He cocked up an eyebrow, remembering the way she's used her mouth on him in the kitchen, the way he'd taken her earlier in the bed. It didn't seem to matter; his body wanted her badly. Juliana pushed herself up onto one elbow and looked very serious all of a sudden.
"John," she said, her voice low, "Can I ask you to do something? A favor."
John tipped his head and hissed a little against the feel of her fingers on him. He shut his eyes and told her,
"I never agree to a favor until I have all the details, Miss Crain."
"I want you to be rough with me," she whispered, and John opened his eyes, feeling himself twitch beneath her touch. She nodded gravely, and he cleared his throat a bit.
"Rough?" He licked his lip. "Be careful what you wish for, Juliana; I can be an extraordinarily rough man."
"I know." She nodded and pulled her hand away from his cock, and she lay on her back again. He watched her bottom lip shake a little, and she said softly, "I want you to be rough. Please."
He felt a little dizzy then, and it took everything he had to slowly sit up and open the bedside drawer beside him. He wordlessly opened a condom and slid it on; he was already achingly hard and knew if he didn't do this now, he wouldn't stop himself later. He set the wrapper on the little table and turned his attention back to Juliana. He peeled the blankets back from her and stared down as she lay in submissive silent, and he took a trembling breath.
Then he reached for her breast, not giving any warning at all before he squeezed it so hard that she yelped. Her fingers flew to the sheets and clenched as John molested both breasts, his hands kneading her flesh and pulling unkindly at her nipples. Juliana wrenched her eyes shut, but other than a few little whimpers, she stayed quiet. John managed to keep himself from groaning with delight as her back arched a little. Instead he yanked her toward him and wrenched her legs open, and he shoved two fingers into her body so firmly that Juliana cried out in pain. John added a third finger and twisted, and Juliana's fingers tightened on the sheets. He watched her toes curl as he moved between her legs and pumped his hand relentlessly. He used his other hand to work on her clit, to work circles and push down just so.
"So wet," he mumbled. "You want this too badly."
"I can't help it," she gasped in response, bucking her hips up against his hands and driving her head against the pillow. John hooked and twisted and pumped his fingers and kept his other fingers moving on her clit, and he barked firmly,
"Come for me, Juliana."
She didn't respond; she just panted and writhed, and John quickened his hands on her as he felt a fresh rush of wetness. She was close, he could tell. So close. She was tense and twisting and softly moaning now, and he instructed her again,
"Come, Juliana. Now. Do it now. Listen to me."
"John." She sounded almost desperate, her head lolling to the side as her body finally snapped. He watched her breasts heave as her walls clamped erratically around his fingers. He watched her eyes squeeze more tightly shut, watched her fingers flex and release on the sheets. He almost lost himself into the condom just kneeling there, one hand buried inside of her and the other drenched with her arousal.
"Good girl," he whispered, hearing the rickety giveaway in his own voice, the proof of how badly she'd worked him up. He slowly pulled his hands from her and gave her a half a minute to recover, and then he snapped, "Get on your hands and knees."
She started to move, too slowly, and he reached for her tiny waist to wrench her up and around. She yelped, apparently sensitive from the vicious way he'd fingered her, but she helped him get her arranged the way he wanted. John stared at her for a long moment, the way her swollen womanhood was presented to him like they were animals. He dragged his fingers around her folds a few times, and when she let out a low moan, he pulled his hand away. Then he smacked her, his palm cracking across her backside. She gasped and choked out a sound of shock, and John immediately spanked her again. He hit the same spot again and again, smacking her and until the flesh there was flushed dark and felt hot as fire. Juliana was groaning softly, her head hung down where she knelt, and John knew he couldn't wait anymore.
He lined himself up with her, holding her waist tightly enough that he knew it would hurt, and he drove himself into her with one thrust. He buried himself and held it there, drinking in the sensation of her wet and hot and tight around him. Then he started to move, using his hands to pull her away from him and then to yank her back. He pumped his own hips as hard as he could, and soon enough he was moving like a jackhammer against her. He could hardly breathe; he could hardly think. He was distantly aware of the way she was crying his name, the way her moans turned into choking gasps the harder he pounded her.
This was fucking. This was not making love; this was not ordinary sex. This was fucking, plain and simple. John had never been like this with Helen. It wasn't the way Helen had ever wanted it, and he wouldn't have forced something like this on her. But it felt good, viscerally good in a way he couldn't remember anything feeling. His veins were flush with satisfaction even as his lungs burned with exertion. Finally he found himself slowing, unable to keep up the pace, and he bucked himself a few more times before everything went white and hot in his mind. He came so hard that he thought he would faint, and he rubbed at the sore, hot place on Juliana's backside. He bent down and peeled her hair away and pressed his lips to her neck, and all he could manage to breathlessly whisper was her name.
"Juliana." It felt like tasting sugar to say it. It was a delicious word to say just now.
John managed to pull himself out of her body, to drag his fingers down her spine and make her shiver, and he wordlessly made his way to the bathroom to clean himself up. It still felt strange, pulling off a condom full of his seed and wiping himself down with a rag. This wasn't the life he had led, pounding a young woman into the sheets and then having to clean up like this. He stared into the mirror as the sink ran, and he touched at the glass and whispered,
"I'll be home soon, Helen."
Somewhere far away, somewhere he couldn't reach, Helen was curled up beside him in their old bed. John had to believe that. Here, he was supposed to have Juliana. It wasn't just allowed; it was what was supposed to happen. He had to believe that, too.
When he came back out into the bedroom and pulled some pajama pants from his dresser, he said quietly to Juliana,
"Come dancing with me, will you?"
"Dancing?" Her voice still sounded a little out of breath, and John smirked at her as he tied up his pajamas. He nodded.
"Do you like to dance? There's a club for SS officers; it's a nice place."
"I like to dance." Juliana smiled a bit, playing with the blanket, but then she hesitated. "I'll embarrass you. I don't have anything to wear for dancing."
John went to the little desk where all his official papers were, and he opened the top right drawer. He found a leather pouch full of Marks and began counting some out, but Juliana protested,
"No, John. I can't take money from you."
"I'm your employer," he reminded her, zipping the pouch shut. "It's a bonus for exemplary performance."
She hesitated as he approached the bed, holding the money out to her. She stared at the notes and pointed out,
"Feels a little strange to take money right after having sex with my boss."
"Take it in the morning, then," John said, setting the money on his bedside table and pulling himself back beneath the blankets. He turned Juliana until she faced him, and he kissed her forehead and said, "Or don't take it. It doesn't matter to me. I'd like to dance with you, that's all."
He breathed in the scent of her, the way she smelled like perfume and sex, and he heard her whisper,
"I... feel very strongly toward you, John. Too strongly, probably."
"No. That's all right." He held her against him as he rolled onto his back, and she quietly snuggled up against him. He stared at the ceiling until his eyelids got heavy, until he couldn't keep them open anymore. Then he rubbed at Juliana's ribs and arm beneath the blankets until his hand was stilled by sleep.
Author's Note: Awww, look at them being all sexy and unrepentant with each other. Too bad nothing can stay nice for long, right? They've gotten just comfortable enough for stuff to come crumbling down. Brace yourself for some serious mystery and angst coming up in the next chapter!
Chapter 10: Confusion and Lies
"Obergruppenführer, sir. I have the file on the intercepted truck. The one with the weapons cache." Erich set a folder down on John's desk, and John sighed as he opened it. He gestured for Erich to sit opposite him, and he began to flip through the file.
"They didn't find any films?" John asked, and Erich shook his head.
"No, sir. They're still trying to ascertain where the truck was headed so other arrests might be made. We need to find out who this man was going to meet."
John looked at photographs of guns stacked up together, close-up shots of Japanese stamping on metal. He studied the photograph of the driver who had been killed. He'd been shot from behind and photographed where he lay on the ground. Then there was a photo of the man's face, taken in the morgue, and John froze.
"They still don't have a positive identity on the driver," Erich was saying. "His passport and papers didn't -"
"Joseph Blake," John said numbly, his eyes going up and down Joe's familiar features. He flicked his gaze up to Erich and said again, "This is Joe Blake."
There was no sign of recognition on Erich's face, but he asked carefully, "Obergruppenführer, may I ask how you know the man?"
"He worked for me, once upon a time," John said, feeling shaky all of a sudden. He set the photograph down and shrugged. "He's a traitor. It's a good thing he's dead. But I need more information on this. I need to know where he was going, who he was in contact with. Where did he get the guns? Was he taking them to someone or accepting a shipment? Get more men on this, Erich."
"Yes, Obergruppenführer." Erich stood and saluted, and as he left, John picked up the photograph of Joe Blake again. It was odd to see the young man dead there on the page. What had he been doing in this existence? He hadn't had a film, at least not when he'd been intercepted, but he'd had Japanese guns. Who had Joe been working for here? John could only hope he hadn't made some terrible mistake in telling Erich that Joe had worked for him. What if that had never been true here? What if Joe had never really been a Nazi in this world? John felt ill at ease as he put the photograph back into the file and shut it.
He'd spent three hours earlier today helping to torture a man who had made an attempt on the life of an Untersturmführer. It turned out the man was a hapless loner, not part of the organized resistance, but John had managed to get blood all over his uniform just the same. He'd had to change, to have someone bring him a clean change of clothes, because tonight he was taking Juliana dancing.
He spent the next hour reexamining every page in the file from Joe Blake's arrest, wondering if Juliana had ever met him here, whether Joe had been working as a double agent or fully for the resistance. He stared at the guns, at the Japanese stamps on them, trying to figure out how and why such a large cache had been brought from the Pacific States. He made a few phone calls - border patrol, for one, to try and figure out how such a large array of Japanese guns had crossed into the Greater Reich. He got few answers and wound up more confused than ever when six o'clock rolled around.
Juliana was supposed to come to his office, but by six-fifteen, John began to wonder if perhaps she was having trouble with security downstairs. He called down to ensure she was on the list of approved visitors, but they hadn't seen her. John occupied himself with other files for another half hour. By now, she was forty-five minutes late, which seemed uncharacteristic. John picked up his office phone and quietly asked for Juliana's apartment, glad he'd memorized the unit number.
The phone rang and rang, but no one picked up. Ten rings. Fifteen. Twenty. Finally John hung up, feeling a strange twinge in his stomach. Something was wrong. He rose and picked his hat up from his desk, taking his leather coat from the its hook and carefully pulling it on. He made his way smoothly down the hallway, trying not to show the nerves that were wracking him at the moment. He asked his chauffeur to drive him out to Long Island, giving him Juliana's address, and he stared out the window the entire way there.
Something was wrong. He could feel it.
Her apartment building was a dreary red brick place on a quiet little street, not very far from his own house. John asked the corporal to wait in the car, and he walked briskly up to the building. There were no cameras on the units here; she didn't live in a dormitory like she had in his own world. John found himself wishing all of a sudden that there had been better surveillance. Somehow, he knew he'd be wanting tapes tonight.
She lived in unit 4, on the second level of the building and halfway down the hallway. John knocked, quietly at first, and when she didn't answer, he knocked again. He finally opened the door, glad no one used locks anymore, and walked into the unit.
Nothing looked out of place. There had been no fight, no struggle. But Juliana wasn't here. John walked through the clean living room, into the tiny bedroom with its carefully made-up bed. He checked the bathroom, his eyes drifting over her toothbrush on the edge of the sink. He made his way back out through the living room again and into the kitchen, and then he saw it. There was a reel of film on the table. He picked up the red tin, which had a strip of tape across it and a carefully-written title - Mansions in the Houses. John tucked the reel into his coat and lowered his eyes again, his gaze settling on a napkin on the linoleum table. He picked up the napkin and scowled as he read the note on it.
It was two in the morning and thunderstorming wildly, and John just paced. He sipped from a glass of water, determined to stay sober, and he paced. He still had his uniform on; he'd spent hours looking everywhere that made sense, trying to find Juliana. He hadn't watched the reel of film that Cameron had left in Juliana's kitchen. He'd been too busy for watching those sorts of films. He'd checked surveillance tapes from outside her building and had seen her walking calmly with Cameron, getting into a car and driving away. That had been at four-thirty in the afternoon. Now it was two in the morning.
Cameron Seagram had come back somehow. Could she float in and out of the many worlds that seemed to coexist, John wondered? What did she want with Juliana? Suddenly he stopped his pacing, setting his glass of water down and missing the table so that it clattered to the wooden floor and broke. He ignored it, his boots pounding on the ground as he dashed toward the front door of his house.
She was outside, walking slowly through the storm, hunched over with a coat wrapped tightly around her. John flung the door open and ran outside, wrapping her up in one arm and guiding her toward his house.
"What happened?" He demanded, but Juliana looked numb and a little broken as he pulled her up the steps and over the threshold. Inside the house, he stripped off her soaked wool coat and flung it aside, and he yanked her into the living room. He was rougher than he intended as he pushed Juliana onto the couch and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.
"What did they do to you?" His voice was too shaky, he realized. Too concerned. Juliana stared up at him, looking drunk or drugged, and he realized they'd dosed her with something. Her head lolled a little, and she murmured,
"They showed me... the most impossible thing, John."
His stomach went cold, and he crossed his arms over his uniform coat. "Who did? What did they show you?"
"This... this girl. A few others. I don't know where... they put something in my... in my arm." Juliana's head fell to the side then, and John found himself yanking up her sleeve and examining her skin. There was a slightly bruised little spot where someone had obviously done a sloppy job with a hypodermic needle. So they had drugged her. Why? He knelt before her and said fervently,
"Listen to me, Juliana. Whatever they showed you, it isn't real. It's just propaganda."
"Helen," whispered Juliana, and John's fingers tightened on her arm. His mouth fell open, and Juliana's words were slurred as she mumbled, "That day you were... so confused... you asked me. You said, 'Where are Helen and the kids?' And I didn't know, John; I didn't know who Helen was."
He said nothing. He gulped hard, blinking once and whispering, "It's all lies, made up to confuse -"
"She's pretty," Juliana murmured. "And so are the girls. Pretty little girls you have, John. A son who wants to be like... like his father. Where is Thomas? Where is Helen?"
"You don't know what you're saying, Juliana." John shook his head wildly, feeling his eyes burn for some reason. "You need to sleep. You've been drugged, and you need to sleep. Come on upstairs with me."
She didn't move, and for a moment he feared that her heart might have stopped from whatever they'd given her. He shook her, and when she whimpered quietly, he scooped her up off the couch. She was tall but thin, so she weighed hardly anything in John's arms as he stomped up the stairs in his boots. He took her into his bedroom and stripped off her wet cotton dress and her shoes. He slid her under the blankets and added an extra one for warmth, and he sat on the edge of the bed beside her.
"We were supposed to go dancing," Juliana whispered, and John nodded.
"We'll go tomorrow." He pet her wet hair for a moment, staring down at her and only now realizing how deeply the idea of her possibly being dead had affected him. He had fallen too far into this world, he thought. He was losing his grip on home. He shut his eyes and said again, "It wasn't real, Juliana. What they showed you was a lie."
"What who showed me?" She sounded very groggy then, and John fingered her wet tendrils of hair carefully.
"Cameron is a liar," he said. "She's just a confused child. There is no Helen. Not here."
"Okay." Juliana yawned, and as she nestled against the pillow, she drawled, "We'll go dancing tomorrow."
John nodded, hoping with all his might that when she woke, she wouldn't remember any of this. He let out a shaking sigh and confirmed, "We'll go dancing tomorrow, Juliana."
Author's Note: Whew! So what exactly was Joe up to when he got killed? And why did Cameron kidnap Juliana to show her video of Helen? Will Juliana remember in the morning? Big questions to be answered! Please do leave a review if you get a quick moment; it would mean a lot. Thank you so much!
Chapter 11: She Knows Better Than to Ask Again
At three-thirty in the morning, John had lit a fire in his fireplace and had thrown the film into it. He had no desire or need to see this film, this Mansions in the Houses. He was sick of playing along with Cameron Seagram's game. He would not bend to the will of a child like this. So he'd burned the film without watching it. It didn't matter what was on the film, anyway. Nothing that film could show him would make it worth his time to watch it.
Then he'd gone upstairs and had helped Juliana into a pair of his flannel pajamas. They were much too big on her, but it didn't feel right to have her lying drugged in his bed in nothing but her lingerie. He brought a dining room chair upstairs and had put it next to his bed, and he'd just sat, still wearing his uniform, waiting for whatever drug they'd given Juliana to wear off.
What would she say when she woke, he wondered? Would she go on and on about Helen, about Thomas and the girls? Would she start to wonder just who John Smith was and what secret life he had been living?
Helen didn't exist here, he reminded himself, but Juliana did.
He phoned Erich at five-thirty and told him to cancel his chauffeur for the day. Follow up on the Joe Blake case, John told Erich. He wouldn't be into the office today; he had a pressing matter to attend to. It was hardly as though an Obergruppenführer would be questioned for working outside the office on something of import.
By six-thirty, Juliana was starting to stir in the bed, and John found himself impatiently watching her rouse. She slowly sat up, stretching a little and then looking down to see herself in John's pajamas. She glanced over to where he sat in his uniform, and she asked in a hoarse voice,
"What the hell happened to me, John?"
He shook his head and admitted, "I was hoping you could tell me more about that."
She shut her eyes and put her fingers to her forehead, as though she had a terrible headache. She probably did. She cleared her throat and mumbled, "Um. I was getting ready to go dancing. I bought a new dress and everything. I was doing my makeup. Someone came into the apartment. A girl, a blonde girl. Maybe twelve, thirteen? She had two men with her. The men pinned me to the wall and... someone jabbed something into my arm. They took me outside. I got into a car. Fell asleep for a while... there was some kind of film, some kind of movie they made me watch."
"What was on the film?" John struggled to keep his voice calm. Juliana narrowed her eyes and shook her head.
"I don't remember," she whispered. "There was a picnic. A lady cutting a cake. Some girls playing with bubbles. There were American flags. I don't remember the rest."
John swallowed hard. "You don't remember the rest."
"No." Juliana turned her face slowly to him. "Should I?"
John shrugged. "I watched surveillance. Saw you leave your building and get into the car. I couldn't see the plate through the rain. You showed up here in the middle of the night, drugged and confused."
"I'm sorry." Juliana shut her eyes and murmured, "I feel queasy."
"I'm not sure what they drugged you with," John admitted. Then she shifted in his seat and said, "I think you were kidnapped by resistance members because you've been associating with me. They were hoping to brainwash you, probably. To plant doubt. Maybe even turn you against me."
He really did think that had been the motive, so he wasn't telling an untruth to Juliana. The fact that she'd seen Beyond the Euphrates, the film that he had buried in the closet under his stairs, was something he left out. She didn't remember it well, anyway. Cameron Seagram's goons had botched the job; they'd drugged Juliana so much that she couldn't even fully recall the film she'd seen.
"I think it would be safest if you stayed here for a while," John nodded, and Juliana chewed her lip for a moment as she hesitated.
"You want me to stay... here? In your house?"
"Mmm-hmm." John nodded once. "I don't trust that apartment building. Even if I put more surveillance in place... I'd need to have SS guarding the outside of the place, and... anyway, I'll take you there later to pack up some things, and then you should stay here."
"Okay." Juliana touched her head again and slowly lay back down, whispering, "Dizzy."
"You've still got drugs in your system," John noted. "You should rest. We don't know what they gave you. I'll go get you some water."
He stood up, feeling creaky and sore from sitting tensely for so long. He wordlessly made his way downstairs and filled a glass with water from the sink, blinking quickly through his own fatigue. He stifled a yawn and glanced down, wishing he had taken his uniform off hours ago. He slowly climbed the stairs again, but when he came into his bedroom, Juliana had fallen back asleep.
"Juliana?" He came beside her and set the glass of water down, but she just pulled the blanket up more tightly around her and made a quiet sound of fatigue. John sighed and went over to the closet, stripping off his uniform one piece at a time and hanging it all up. If she could rest, so could he. Now that he knew she didn't remember, now that he'd told Erich he wasn't coming in today, he could rest. He put on another pair of his pajamas and slithered into the bed beside Juliana, and he whispered,
"Try and think. What was the film about, Juliana?"
"Film," she repeated numbly, her eyes still closed. "The one they showed me? A lady with cake. Little girls with bubbles. American flags. I don't remember the rest. A man put a needle into my arm in my apartment... there was a car. It's all hazy, John."
"Okay." He stroked at her hair a little, and suddenly his breath caught in his chest a little. Now that he was lying here beside her, he finally realized the fear that had pulsed through him during the hours she'd been missing. It would have affected him badly to lose her, he knew now. That shouldn't have been true, but it was. He slid his fingers through her hair and whispered, "I was worried. When I couldn't... find you..."
"I'm sorry, John." Juliana reached up for his hand and laced her fingers through his, and when she squeezed a little, John felt a pull in his chest. Juliana's lips curled up a little as she drifted back off to sleep, and she whispered, "Promise me that we'll go dancing."
"Yes," he replied at once. "Yes. We'll go dancing."
"Okay," she nodded, and then she seemed lost to sleep again.
She looked like she'd fallen out of the night sky, like she was a star that had come crashing to the Earth. Her dress was silvery and hugged her thin body just so. Her makeup was more dramatic than anything she'd worn with him yet. She'd pulled her hair back with a sparkly clip she'd probably bought at some second-hand store. She was beautiful, and as John danced with her, he found himself wondering if this was what he thought it was.
He remembered, very distantly, what it had felt like to fall in love with Helen. It had felt like a thrumming inside his chest that wouldn't go away, whether he was awake or asleep. It had been a nagging thought, a constant want, a sense of contentment. And he felt all of that now, dancing with Juliana and staring down into her blue eyes.
"Are you okay, John?" She dragged her thumb over his, and he forced himself to nod silently. They swayed to the soft music, to the sounds of piano and clarinet and accordion. This was German music, but it was pleasant enough for dancing, quiet enough to allow conversation in the smoky officers' club.
"You sure you feel all right?" John asked, and Juliana nodded. It had taken awhile for the drug to work its way from her system, and John had worked two solid days before taking her dancing. He'd been stressed at the office; he'd discovered that there was no evidence Joe Blake had ever been a loyal Nazi in this world. So he'd simply told Erich and the others that Joe's double agency was thoroughly classified, and now Joe Blake was filed in official records only as a slain member of the resistance.
"John?" Juliana's face looked very worried all of a sudden, and she blinked a few times as she looked away. "Who's Helen?"
John stumbled as he danced then, quickly recovering so that the other officers wouldn't notice anything strange about him. He said nothing, and Juliana continued,
"I remember now... that blonde girl, she told me that the woman in the film was named Helen. That she was yours. And that morning when you came downstairs in your pajamas, you asked me where Helen and the kids were."
John shut his eyes for a moment and decided to lie. He had no choice. It wasn't as though he could tell Juliana the truth.
"I had a family, but they're gone now," he said simply, realizing quickly that that wasn't actually too far from the truth. He huffed a little sigh and said, "Don't you worry about Helen or my kids, Juliana. Whoever they were, they don't exist anymore. That's all you need to know."
Juliana's eyes welled as she looked back up at him and frowned. "They're... dead?"
"I need you to stop asking questions about this," John insisted, his voice suddenly ice on stone. He squeezed Juliana's hand a little, just hard enough that she squirmed as they danced, and when he released his hold on her, he tipped his head and noted, "People are taken all the time. Even from high command like me. I need you to stop asking about them, about Helen and the kids. You can't ever bring them up again. You were shown that film because the resistance thrives on planting doubt and eliciting questions that shouldn't be asked. Yes, I had a family. I don't have them here. Not anymore. Do you understand?"
Juliana looked very frightened, but she nodded and whispered, "I understand, John."
"I need a drink." He pulled away from her suddenly, wanting whiskey. He didn't drink often, and he had no intention of getting drunk tonight, but he needed whiskey to burn his throat right now. He went up to the bar and ordered whiskey for himself and a glass of white wine for Juliana, and he took the drinks back to their little table. He stayed standing as he sipped from his whiskey, and Juliana sat slowly in one of the two chairs at the table. She sipped silently from her wine, and after a half hour of just standing there letting the whiskey sear his mouth, John said,
"Dance with me, Juliana."
"Okay." She set her mostly-empty glass of wine down and took the hand he held out to her, rising slowly and following him back out to the dance floor. She understandably seemed troubled, and as John put one hand on her back and wrapped the other around her fingers, he murmured,
"I am alone now. I am alone here. That's the truth, Juliana."
"You're not alone, John." Her voice sounded like she was trying to force it to steady, and she raised her eyes to him and nodded once. "You have me."
His stomach twisted a little, and then he knew that he'd been right before. This was what it had felt like, all those years earlier when he'd fallen in love with Helen. It had felt just like this - the way the room faded away except for her, the way he wanted to take her home and kiss her all over, the way he was already planning his next date with her.
In the car on the way home, he held Juliana's hand in his lap and stroked his fingers over the back of her knuckles. She seemed sleepy as she leaned onto his shoulder and listened to the radio. She'd know better than to ask about Helen or his children again, he knew. She'd make some sort of gruesome assumption - that they'd been killed in by the resistance, that they'd been executed to punish John for some offense, that they'd been defective and had been taken out by the medical authorities. She'd know there wasn't a pretty reason why John had had a family and now he didn't. But she wouldn't ask again, because she was too intelligent for that kind of foolishness. So John would never have to explain that he'd been yanked from them in a flash, dropped into this world where the Juliana Crain he'd known was a different woman entirely.
And because she wouldn't ask, and because there was no Helen here, John could focus just a little bit of his attention on the idea that he was falling in love with her, with this particular Juliana Crain.
Author's Note: Well, we all know the basis of a solid relationship is a nice, dirty lie, right? And what good will it do John to fall so hard for this Juliana when he's been promised by Cameron that he'll be going home someday? Will he want to at this point? Will he want to return to a world where Thomas is gone and Juliana's run away? Hmm... Thank you for reading - please do leave a comment if you get a quick moment. Thank you!
Chapter 12: Berlin
"Obergruppenführer Smith, sir? I have a call from Berlin on line one."
"Thank you." John nodded and waited for his office door to shut, and then he picked up his phone and pressed the blinking white light on the panel. He cleared his throat and said firmly, "Obergruppenführer John Smith."
"Obergruppenführer Smith. My name is Brigadeführer Adal Stolz. I am calling from Berlin on behalf of the office of Minister Goebbels."
John frowned and tapped the pen he was holding on the desk. "How can I help you, Brigadeführer Stolz?"
"Minister Goebbels would like to begin preparations for next year's celebration. Thirty years since the Führer was first made Chancellor," said Stolz from the other end of the line. "He spoke with Reichsführer Himmler about a good representative of the SS in the American Reich. Reichsführer Himmler spoke very highly of you, and Minister Goebbels would like you to come to Berlin and work with him and Leni Riefenstahl. They would like you to participate in promotional materials that highlight the work and prestige of the American SS."
John felt his eyebrows shoot up, and he scoffed a little. "Minister Goebbels and Reichsführer Himmler want me to be in some kind of... what, film? Pamphlet? I don't understand."
"It is desired that you should represent the SS in the American Reich in a good many upcoming propaganda materials," Stolz said plainly. "How soon can you be on a plane to Berlin?"
"Um..." John shook his head, trying to center himself. "Tomorrow. I can be on a plane tomorrow."
"Very good, Obergruppenführer. I shall notify Reichsführer Himmler and Minister Goebbels. Your accommodations will be arranged."
"If it's all right, I'll be bringing someone." John panicked a little at the thought of leaving Juliana here while he went to Germany. For all he knew, Cameron Seagram and the resistance would murder Juliana, or take her to some other existence while he was gone. He thought fast and told the German man on the other end of the line, "I am in the process of courting an eligible young woman, and I would like to show her Berlin."
"I don't think that will be a problem, Obergruppenführer," said Stolz. "There will be a car and hotel ready for you tomorrow, and I will arrange for you to meet the day after with Minister Goebbels."
"Thank you, Brigadeführer Stolz," John said. "Heil Hitler."
"Heil Hitler." There was a click then, and John knew the call had been disconnected. He put the receiver down for a moment and then picked it back up, and when he got the SS operator on the other end of the line, he said,
"This is Obergruppenführer John Smith. Connect me to my own house, please."
"Yes, Obergruppenführer." The woman operating the line had a brusque, low voice, and after a moment, John heard the call connect. It rang a few times and he frowned, wondering if Juliana had gone grocery shopping or on some other errand. He waited through four more rings and was about to hang up, but then he heard her breathlessly say,
"This is the residence of Obergruppenführer John Smith."
"Juliana?" He furrowed his brows. "Why do you sound like you just ran a mile?"
"Sorry," she panted. "I was vacuuming across the house and then I heard the phone ringing. Is something wrong?"
"How'd you like to go to Germany?" John set down the pen he'd been holding and rolled it a little, and there was a heavy pause as Juliana seemed to process what he'd asked.
"Me? Go to Germany?" She sounded disbelieving, but John pursed his lips and informed her,
"I've been summoned to Berlin. They want me to... um... I'm not sure how classified it all is. Anyway, I have to go to Berlin for a few days. If you'd like, there's plenty of money in the leather pouch in my desk upstairs. Take as much as you need and go shopping so you feel comfortable."
"John..." Juliana's voice sounded halfway between fear and uncertainty. "Maybe I should just stay here while you go."
"No." He left no room for debate, shaking his head where he sat. "No, I'd like you to come with me. Go ahead and buy yourself some clothes, Juliana."
"John," she began again, but he cut her off by saying,
"I'll be there in a few hours. Goodbye."
He hung up the phone before she could protest anymore, and he rolled his pen back and forth on his desk.
"I've never actually been on an airplane," Juliana admitted as she settled into her wide leather seat. "I came from the Pacific States on a truck through the Neutral Zone."
"Oh. Well, on these supersonic jets, it only takes a few hours to get to Berlin," John said. "Not too bad."
He realized then that Juliana was frightened, that she was looking around the jet with apprehension in her wide blue eyes. When the uniformed stewardess came and offered Juliana a pillow and blanket, she seemed anxious, her hands shaking as she took the materials from the woman. She curled up a little in her seat and stared out the window as the crew outside loaded luggage into the bottom of the jet. This was an official flight with only twelve loaded passengers, so the plane was quiet except for the hum of the engines and air conditioning system.
"Juliana." John kept his voice low, and when she turned her face to him, he reached for her hand beneath her blanket and nodded once. "It's perfectly peaceful once we get up into the air."
"Okay." Juliana squeezed his hand back, and she looked out the window again. The pilot announced over the PA system that they'd be leaving shortly, and then the stewardesses took their own seats. The jet pushed back and made its way to the runway, and when it took off like a rocket, Juliana squeezed John's hand so tightly that it hurt. His own stomach lurched just a little when the jet hurled up into the air, and as they quickly rose, he popped his ears to relieve the pressure. He'd flown dozens of times in his past life, but he could still remember his first time in one of these jets, and so he did not blame Juliana one bit for the way she trembled. He certainly didn't blame her for gladly accepting a gin and tonic from the stewardess, nor for the way she sucked the drink down like it was water.
John was the ranking officer onboard the jet, and so he knew he needed to maintain a cold and steady appearance. But he did keep his hand beneath Juliana's blanket, carefully dragging his fingers over hers in an attempt to comfort her. She reclined her seat and shut her eyes, seeming more comfortable by shutting out the stimulus of the jet ride. John pulled out a little book from his jacket, a pocket-sized collection of speeches made by Hitler over the years. He read through a few of them, amazed as always by the way Hitler had been able to spin words on top of each other and whip crowds into a frenzy. Even now, as an old man that everyone knew had been enfeebled by age and illness, Hitler entranced with every appearance.
"What are you reading?" Juliana asked after awhile. John handed over the book, and she pulled her hand from beneath the blanket and read for a few minutes. She nodded and said,
"The speeches made to us were always by Japanese officials and occasionally by the Emperor or the Crown Prince. They were sedate. Nothing like Hitler's work."
"I suppose the Japanese were not able to achieve or enforce the same sort of allegiance in their American subjects as the Reich has done," John said proudly, and Juliana confirmed,
"None of us ever felt very Japanese, no matter how hard they tried. It's nothing like in the Reich." She handed the book back over, and John smiled a bit at her before reading some more. Before he knew it, they were descending over Germany, and then the jet landed with smooth expertise on a runway in Berlin.
"Obergruppenführer Smith?" A stewardess approached them as the plane taxied. "There will be a car waiting for you on the tarmac, sir. Your luggage will be brought to you."
"Thank you." John had always rather enjoyed his trips to Berlin, if for no reason besides the way he was treated. As an extremely high-ranking officer in the American SS, he'd always been catered to by German command eager to impress. In this world, it seemed much the same as it had been in the life he'd lived before.
He let Juliana walk before him down the stairs from the jet to the tarmac, and then he strode confidently to a sleek black car with small Nazi flags to demarcate it as a government vehicle. He was saluted by a low-ranking SS officer serving as chauffeur, and when the back door was opened, John gestured for Juliana to slide inside.
She'd done as he'd said and had gone shopping, and so today she wore a turquoise dress and matching coat with a simple black hat. She looked elegant, pretty, and John secretly found himself hoping other people would notice her. She was his, in a way, and toting her around Berlin felt rather nice. He was not a young man, not anymore, but she was a beautiful young woman, and she was with him. That felt good. Perhaps it shouldn't have, but it did.
"Obergruppenführer Smith," said the chauffeur in a heavy accent, "There is a suite reserved for you at the Hotel Neumann. You have a meeting scheduled tomorrow at nine with Minister Goebbels, and a car will be at your hotel at eight. Is all of this amenable to you, Obergruppenführer Smith?"
John tried not to smirk. "Yes. That sounds fine. Thank you."
The car took off then, driving quickly and smoothly away from the airport, out onto the Autobahn that ran through forested lanes toward the city. Juliana seemed mesmerized as she studied everything, and as they drove into Berlin, she began to smile and did not stop.
"What an amazing city," she finally said, and the chauffeur up front proudly declared,
"Berlin is the shining jewel of our amazing Reich. Heil Hitler!"
"Heil Hitler," Juliana murmured. The driver was amusingly enthusiastic, John thought, but he avoided any hint of mockery as he nodded and chimed in,
The Hotel Neumann was a new-looking building, severe in its concrete construction and adorned with silver-toned nationalist symbols. This was clearly a place meant for government business and government guests. It was staffed by uniformed men at the front desk; a soldier in a Swastika armband carried their bags up to their suite. John was impressed by the rooms he'd been given. They were spacious and airy with big windows. There was a good sized sitting area, a little bar in the corner, a luxurious bathroom, and a bedroom with a wide and comfortable-looking bed. He nodded his thanks to the bellman, who saluted crisply before leaving. Once the bellman had gone, John sighed and walked over to the window in the sitting room. They were only five stories up, but it was still interesting to watch the city moving beneath them.
"I can't believe I'm really here," Juliana mused from beside him. "Here in Berlin. Thank you for bringing me."
"I couldn't leave you alone at home," John said simply. "Not after you'd already been kidnapped once by the resistance."
"I know." Juliana gave him a sad little smile and shrugged. "Can we pretend you brought me because you wanted me here?"
"I do want you here," he said honestly. He took off his hat and ran his fingers over his hair, and he informed her, "I also want a shower. I always feel dirty after travel."
"Mmm. A shower sounds nice. You can go first," she said. John cocked up an eyebrow.
"Did you see the size of that thing? I think we might be able to go at the same time," he said. Juliana gave him a wicked little look and walked over toward the bathroom, glancing inside. She grinned then and started to strip where she stood. John's eyebrows flew up as she peeled off her turquoise coat and then reached to undo the zip down her back. She stepped out of her dress and peeled off her gloves, and she said in a seductive little voice,
"Come on in with me, Obergruppenführer Smith."
"Juliana." He cast his eyes up and down her form, at her breasts cradled in her bra, at her stockinged legs. He shut his eyes and unbuckled his belt, and he moved into the bedroom to carefully pull off his uniform. Boots and his coat, his medals and tie, his white shirt and his dark pants and underwear... he took it all off and laid it carefully on the bed, knowing he'd have to put it all back on later for dinner. He stepped over the pile of Juliana's clothes as he followed her into the bathroom, feeling himself flush a bit hard at the sight of her stepping naked into the glass shower. She turned on the water and stood aside from it, smiling a bit at him as she raked her fingers through her carefully styled hair.
"Juliana," he whispered again. Somewhere he was with Helen, but for some reason, she was a very distant consideration just now. His old life was a dim echo. He was here; he was in Berlin with this iteration of Juliana Crain. As he stepped under the hot water with her, reaching for the bar of crisp-smelling soap and lathering up his hands, he murmured down to her,
"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?"
She just shook her head, letting the water flow over her hair and face. She stepped out of the stream and let him wash her, let him put his hands all over her. She gasped a little when he massaged her breasts. She hummed with delight when he squeezed at her backside. And she tipped her head against his chest when he rubbed down her arms, up her ribcage, and across her back.
"John," he heard her whisper. She reached for the soap and did the same to him, scrubbing away the feel of grit and the coating of travel that had been bothering him. Her hands moved smoothly all over him until she settled on his cock, using the soap and water as lubrication as she pumped both her hands on him. He tipped his head back a little, pushing his hips against her hands, and he felt dizzy with want. He didn't just want her here, right now in this shower. He wanted her everywhere. All the time. He wanted to take her to every restaurant in Berlin. He wanted to dance with her over and over, to wake up next to her each morning. She had a wry sense of humor. She was intelligent, witty, restrained when she needed to be and bold at other times. She was beautiful. He was falling in love with her.
He was falling in love with her.
He couldn't deny that anymore, not as he stared down into her blue eyes and studied her parted lips, as he soaked in the feel of her hands pumping madly against him. It felt so good, beyond good, everything tensing and tightening inside of him. Physical satisfaction hadn't been this strong for him in decades. In fact, he didn't think it had ever felt quite this good. He panted, desperately putting a shaking hand to the tile wall and feeling everything burst inside of him. As he came, his seed leaping in wild spurts on the tile and washing down the drain, he leaned heavily against the wall and whispered her name, his whisper echoing off the tile. Juliana. Juliana.
He cradled her against him when she leaned forward, and he bent to kiss her wet cheek. He stood there with her for a long time, wondering if he ought to attend to her own satisfaction, but she seemed perfectly content to just wash their hair in silence and then shut the water off. They wrapped themselves up in fluffy white robes embroidered with black Swastikas on the collars that were waiting on hooks in the bathroom. As Juliana tied her hair back and walked toward the bedroom, John reached for her hand until she turned around.
"I couldn't leave you alone at home," he told her again, "but I wanted you here, Juliana. I want you with me everywhere. Rather permanently. You understand?"
Her blue eyes flashed, and he realized she hadn't had any idea until right this minute how strongly he felt. He was only just figuring it out for himself. Juliana nodded silently, and he pulled her close against him. He cradled her jaw in his hand and leaned down to kiss her, his lips soft but urgent. No other life mattered now, for some reason. The past was gone entirely, lost to some inky void he couldn't see and didn't want to try to reach. His mind and his soul were entirely here, entirely in Berlin with Juliana. He kissed her again, harder this time, and he tried desperately to figure out some way to communicate it all to her. He was falling in love with her. He wanted her to be his, really and truly his, in this world.
He wouldn't have been able to say why; the Juliana he'd known before was not the same as this woman. He would never have loved Juliana Crain in the life he'd been made to leave behind. But in this world, Thomas hadn't turned himself over to the medical authorities. John had no daughters here, no wife. There was no Helen. And Juliana Crain was a different woman, and he was falling in love with her. So he kissed her until he knew he was bruising her lips, and he let her lead him, stumbling and dizzy, into the bedroom.
Author's Note: Oh, dear. Now John seems to have given up entirely on the life he was plucked out of. He seems awfully able (and willing!) to accept this new world as his permanent reality. But Cameron did say he would be going home eventually. How's that all going to go over? And what exactly does Goebbels want him to do/say in propaganda materials? Hmm. As always, thank you so much for reading, and please do leave a review if you can. Thanks!
Chapter 13: Dancing a Polka
"Let's try again, Obergruppenführer, from the beginning." Leni Riefenstahl moved behind her camera again, and John shifted on the stool upon which they'd perched him. He cleared his throat and reached for the glass of water that was out of frame. A set worker came up and carefully adjusted his uniform hat just so, and John thought again about how ridiculous this all seemed. He was handsome, they'd told him, but old enough to seem authoritative. He was high-ranking and handsome and sufficiently aged. And he had a good reputation. That was why he was representing the American SS in Goebbels' propaganda for the thirtieth anniversary of Hitler's chancellorship.
"Ready, Obergruppenführer?" Leni Riefenstahl gave him a winning smile from behind the camera, and John nodded. Riefenstahl pressed something on the camera and murmured, "Rolling... and... action."
"My name is Obergruppenführer John Smith, and I proudly serve in the American division of the Schutzstaffel for the Greater Nazi Reich," John said in a clear, calm voice, looking right at the camera as instructed. "The SS is tasked with defending the citizens of the Reich from all manner of threats, both within and without the Reich. We work diligently to ensure that the mission of our Führer can be sustained and promoted. Many of the threats the SS eliminates go undisclosed, and we like it that way. We don't want to make our enemies feel important, and we in the SS do not seek glory. We are honored to do our duty to the Reich and to the Führer."
"And... cut." Leni Riefenstahl stood up from the camera and pushed her gray hair out of her eyes. She smiled broadly and turned back to where Joseph Goebbels was leaning against the back wall of the studio. Riefenstahl asked, "That seemed perfect, didn't it, Minister?"
"It's good," Goebbels said in a heavy accent. "It will work well for audiences in the American Reich. How is your German, Obergruppenführer Smith?"
John felt his cheeks go warm, and he shook his head as he admitted, "It's not anything that should be filmed, probably, Herr Goebbels."
Goebbels laughed a little but nodded. "Before you go for the day, let's do a good solid photo shoot. The statement will be used in videos promoting service in the SS - meant to recruit the best, you know. We'll be using the photos in pamphlets targeting women, informing them of just what the SS does to protect them."
"Women," John repeated, smirking a little. He shook his head. "I'm afraid I might scare off the women, Herr Goebbels."
"On the contrary, Obergruppenführer Smith," said Leni Riefenstahl, "we think you've got just precisely the face to reassure housewives in the American Reich that the SS is constantly looking out for their best interests."
She gave Goebbels a knowing look, and John felt a little uneasy. He'd been told before, in his previous life, that he was handsome. Even Helen had admitted that her friends thought John was far better looking than their own husbands. But he'd never paid it any mind. He'd been married, and he'd had work to do. He couldn't care what people thought of his cheekbones or eyes.
Now, though, standing before a white backdrop as a photographer adjusted lights around him, he felt the glare of gazes bearing down upon him. Leni Riefenstahl, a woman in late middle age, at least ten years older than John, stood with her arms crossed and asked playfully,
"However have you stayed unmarried, Obergruppenführer Smith?"
He didn't have a good answer for that, not in this world, so he just shrugged and said helplessly, "I'm... um... I'm hoping that changes soon, Frau Riefenstahl."
"Yes, I heard you brought a lovely young woman with you to Berlin," Goebbels said from behind the photographer. "A defector from the Pacific States, they told me this morning. Beautiful blue eyes, they said - a paradigm of Aryan loveliness. And she willingly came to the Reich?"
John's stomach clenched with anxiety, but he nodded. "Yes, Minister. She's a citizen of the Reich; she was fleeing both the Japanese and the resistance when she came."
"If she's so pretty as all that, and with such an interesting story, perhaps she might play a good role in propaganda herself, Minister Goebbels," said Leni Riefenstahl quietly, but Goebbels shook her head.
"It would only serve as a political inflammation against the Japanese to use her," he said. "I considered it. Still, she'll look good upon the arm of the man who's now the face of the SS. Do you plan on marrying her, Obergruppenführer Smith?"
John felt his eyes go wide. A lightbulb flashed brightly, and he blinked as he stammered, "I... um... I really hadn't reached that point yet, Herr Goebbels."
"You should reach that point sooner rather than later, I think." Goebbels raised his gray eyebrows. "She is young and beautiful with a heroic tale of defecting to the Fatherland. You are the handsome but admittedly aging face of the American SS. What a perfect couple. Consider marrying her, Obergruppenführer Smith. For the good of the Reich."
Before John could answer, he was being manhandled by a production assistant. Photographs were taken in rapid fire then. He stood at an angle like they instructed him, turning his face back to the camera with a serious glare. Then they wanted his hands folded behind him, his feet shoulder width apart, with a warmer expression on his face. One pose after another, John followed instructions and stared into the camera. Finally the photographer looked to Goebbels, who nodded and told John,
"Enjoy the rest of your day in Berlin, Obergruppenführer Smith. We'll film more tomorrow once I've had a chance to review what we have here. You may go."
"Thank you, Herr Goebbels." John rather self-consciously made his way out of the studio, down the elevator and out to the car waiting for him. He stared out the window at Berlin as he made his way back to the Hotell Neumann. Up in the suite, he found Juliana reading a book by the window, looking very pretty in a red and black ensemble. It was getting dark outside, and John's stomach was rumbling, so as he came into the living room, he said without pretense,
"Let's go get dinner."
"How did it go?" Juliana rose to her feet, and John shrugged quickly.
"They want me to represent the American SS in propaganda." He knew this room was almost certainly being monitored, so he measured his words carefully. "Why they think I'm sufficiently handsome for such a responsibility, I don't know, but -"
"Oh, but they're right," Juliana insisted. "If you're the face of the American SS, women will be falling all over themselves to support the SS however they can."
John scowled. "I suppose I fail to see how that does anyone any good. Women falling all over themselves."
Juliana turned up half her mouth. "I think Minister Goebbels knows what he's doing, John."
He sighed. "All right. If you say so. Can we go get dinner?"
Juliana put her hands to the chest of his uniform jacket and nodded. "Yes, sir. We can go get dinner."
"I guess we have to try the sauerbraten," Juliana called over the noise of the Bavarian brass band playing in the raucous restaurant. She jabbed a finger at the menu and said, "I know enough German to see that they take great pride in it here."
"It's one of the most important national dishes," John agreed. When the waiter, wearing chintzy-looking lederhosen, came over for their order, he held up two fingers and said loudly, "Zwei sauerbraten, bitte."
"Ja, Herr Obergruppenführer." The waiter left, and John picked up his large stein of beer. This place was meant to bring Munich into Berlin, and it felt like a complete tourist attraction. But there was something fun about it, something that made his head light even before the beer kicked in.
He was aware, all of a sudden, of women's eyes on him. He'd never paid attention to a thing like that, not until Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels had decided that he was a suitably handsome candidate to represent the American SS. John had never thought of himself as any kind of magnet for women. He'd always been too caught up in work, in his life at home, to pay any heed to gazes that settled on him. Now, here in this beer garden, he found himself noticing more than one woman on the arm of another man flicking her eyes up and down his form. He might have puffed his chest up at all of it, but it made him strangely uncomfortable. The only eyes he cared about tonight were Juliana's blue ones, staring at him across the table with unadulterated admiration.
They ate their meat and potatoes and cabbage without much conversation, because the band was playing far too loudly for them to hear one another. Down the table, a group laughed uproariously as a young woman in a dirndl sat on an SD officer's lap and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. There was joy here, John thought, and as he turned his eyes back to Juliana, he found himself calling,
"Do you know how to dance a polka?"
Juliana shook her head and sipped from her stein of beer. "No idea!"
"I'll teach you." John rose from the bench where he'd been sitting and walked around to Juliana, holding his hand out to her. He smiled just a bit as she hesitantly followed him to where couples were jovially dancing. He put his right hand to her back and urged her to wrap her left arm up and around his shoulder. He held their hands out together and stepped to the side, guiding Juliana's uncertain motions. She had hardly grown up with dances like this, he knew. He hadn't, either; he and Helen had danced American steps in their courtship. But John Smith had learned German ways quickly enough, and he'd spent years at social events dancing the polka with Helen. He could certainly do it here, here in this Berlin beer hall with Juliana.
"Now hop," John told her, and Juliana carefully leapt just a little with him. Step, hop. Step, hop. He guided them in a little square for a while and then brought her in a swing back to begin again. He lifted her arm up over her head and twisted just so, bringing her beside him for a little walk around, and then he began the whole process anew. Juliana seemed breathless, her eyes wide with wonder as she let him show her the steps again. Soon enough, she'd caught on, and John wished suddenly that he was a little younger. There was serious exertion in this kind of dancing, but he didn't mind. He liked it. He liked to move with her, to watch her lips curl up whenever he swung her back to the beginning of the dance.
By the time the band finished their tune and started another one, John leaned down and said into Juliana's ear,
"I'm thirsty. Let's go get more beer, shall we?"
He pulled back, for her voice had seemed rather serious then. He blinked, confused by the steely look that had come over her. The band was playing a slow two-step now, a langorous but romantic piece, and Juliana held her arms up as she said firmly,
"One more dance."
John smiled a little and obliged her, holding her far more closely to his body than he would have done with anyone else. He rocked with her through the simple dance, and for a moment she put her head against his chest. John rather impulsively bowed his head and kissed her hair, not much caring who saw. Someone was almost certainly here watching him tonight, he thought. Joseph Goebbels of all people would ensure that he'd made the right choice in selecting a face for the American SS. In the swarm of humanity that had gathered here, someone had come with the sole assignment of watching Obergruppenführer John Smith. He knew that. But still he kissed Juliana's hair, and he murmured down to her,
"I do enjoy dancing with you, you know."
"John," she said again, more desperately this time. She pulled her face back a little stared up at him, her blue eyes searching his green ones. Then she nodded once and seemed to summon courage from within herself, and she informed him, "I love you."
His mouth opened in surprise, and for a half second he couldn't make his feet move. Finally he found the beat again and squeezed a bit at Juliana's hand. He tried to answer her, tried to say something. Anything. But when he just moved in silence, she shut her eyes tightly and he saw her whisper,
"No." John cleared his throat and glanced quickly around him. He nodded and pressed his hand more carefully to her back. "I... um... I feel similarly."
She laughed a little then, looking very embarrassed, and she insisted. "I've had too much beer."
She hadn't; she'd been sipping slowly for an hour and a half before they'd started dancing. But John just sighed and asked her,
"Would you like to go back to the hotel, Juliana?"
This time when she met his eyes, he could read fear. She was afraid of what she'd done, what she'd said. So he bent a little and put his lips beside her ear, and he informed her,
"I have a desperate need to make love to you right now, Juliana. Let's go back to the hotel."
"Okay," she whispered in response. He let his hand slide from her back and stepped away, but he did not release her other hand. He led her through the crowded beer hall, nodding to acknowledge salutes he received from inferior-ranking German SS members. He took a final swig of beer at their table and set down a small stack of Marks, and then, still not having released Juliana's hand, he led her outside and down the sidewalk to where a car was waiting for them. Just before they reached it, Juliana said quietly,
"I'm sorry, John. Please forget I said -"
"I told you that I feel the same way," John said rather tightly, shooing the chauffeur away and opening the back door of the car himself. She gave him a wide-eyed look as she slid into the car. John followed her in and pulled the door shut, and as the chauffeur started to drive off toward their hotel, he took her hand again. He stared out the window and nodded, and he murmured very quietly, "It's entirely mutual, Miss Crain."
She said nothing then, and he was grateful for her silence. This was part of what he appreciated about her, he thought. She said all the right things at all the right times, and she kept quiet when that was the proper thing to do.
And he did have every intention of making love to her at the hotel.
Author's Note: So Obergruppenführer John Smith is the new poster boy for the American SS! Will he take Goebbels' advice and marry Juliana in this existence? Can he convince himself thoroughly enough that he's alone here to do such a thing? Or will Cameron and her cronies rip him away from all of this - and from Juliana - before he gets the chance? Thanks for reading. Please review if you get a moment.
Chapter 14: I'm In Charge
Author's Note: Just a smutty John/Juliana interlude before regularly scheduled plot resumes. :}
"John, are you mad at me?"
"No." He kept his voice curt and simple as he pulled the zipper down the back of Juliana's red dress. He pushed it off the front of her, watching it pool on the ground around her ankles as she stepped out of her shiny black pumps. He unclasped her bra and she shucked it, and then she started to peel off her garter and underwear and stockings. She flicked her eyes around the bedroom and asked cautiously,
"You think there are cameras in here?"
"Oh, there are definitely cameras in the living room," John nodded. "Maybe not in here, but... well... if there are, let's give them a show."
She smirked as she turned around, looking beautiful in her nudity. Suddenly John felt a swell of something primal inside of him. He took his hat off and set it on the desk along the wall, but he kept the rest of his uniform on as he crisply informed Juliana,
"I'm in charge tonight."
She tipped her head. "You're in charge all the time, Obergruppenführer Smith."
He just stared for a second, savoring the feel of breath in his lungs, and then he whispered, "Get up onto the bed, Juliana."
Her cheeks colored, but she nodded and walked quickly to climb onto the wide bed. She lay carefully on her back, and John came to sit on the edge of the bed. He moved smoothly then, pushing her legs open and rubbing at her thighs a little as he whispered,
"Pretty girl. What a pretty little thing you are."
He let his fingers drift between her legs then, and he scoffed derisively at her when he felt her with the pads of his fingers. His voice was a mean sneer as he noted, "Completely soaking wet. You just want to be fucked, don't you?"
"Mmm-hmm." She shut her eyes and reached for his knee, but he shoved her hand away and shook his head.
"Don't touch," he hissed, and Juliana looked like she would faint right where she lay. John took his time then, dragging his fingers all around the drenched folds of her womanhood and up around her clit. She bucked her hips up, trying to get him to move faster, to press harder. He shoved her thin hip down and barked,
"I can't," she complained, swiveling her pelvis up against his touch. John raised his eyebrows, struggling now to keep his own voice steady as he asked,
"Do I need to restrain you, Miss Crain?"
Her lips fell open, and there was no hint of sarcasm or irony as she whispered, "Maybe."
John pulled his hand from her and moved his fingers to his belt buckle, unfastening it and pulling the thick leather uniform belt from around his waist. He snatched one of Juliana's hands in his, then the other, and he wrenched them roughly over her head. He shoved them against the round bedpost and set to lashing her there, winding the belt around the post and then her wrists before buckling it securely. Juliana pulled at her hands a little and moaned at the feeling of being restrained. John put one finger to his lips to silence her, and then he returned his touch to the spot between her legs.
She was still impatient, rolling her hips along with his fingers as he massaged her. John pinned her pelvis to the mattress, his fingers pressing in a way he knew would leave bruises. He couldn't care. He started to twist one finger inside of her, then a second one, and his thumb kept working on her clit. Juliana groaned softly and tried to move again, but John squeezed at her hip until she yelped in pain. He pushed a third finger into her, then mentally ordered her body to accommodate him as he shoved in a fourth. He kept his fingers tight together inside of her, but it was still so much for her, and when he turned his fingers, she cried out loudly enough that John thought someone might think she was being attacked. He twisted his fingers the other direction, slowly and carefully working on her clit with his thumb, and he ordered her,
"Come for me, Juliana."
"Oh, John. Oh. Oh, I can't... I..." Juliana drove her head back and panted, and John watched a red flush work its way from her cheeks down over her neck and chest. Her nipples stood at attention and her toes curled, and John said again,
"Now, Juliana. Come for me. Now."
"Okay," she whispered desperately. With one last twist of his fingers, he felt her snap. Her walls clenched around him in a pulse that made his cock ache, and he found himself breathless all of a sudden. Her voice was a low drone of satisfaction as her body took its time enjoying the climax. When at last she stopped trembling and collapsed, going slack against the blankets, John huffed out a shaking breath. He was very careful as he pulled his fingers from her, knowing he'd stretched her and pushed her. He wiped his fingers on the blankets and rose, reaching up beneath his uniform coat and unbuttoning his pants.
It would take him ten seconds to come once he put a hand on himself, he knew. He'd worked himself into a quiet frenzy by touching her, by feeling her around his fingers. He stared down at her breasts, at her flat stomach, at the way her wrists were bound to the bed. He stared at her eyes, and he thought he might finish right there without ever touching himself. He finally managed to pull his cock out and push his pants down a little, and he stepped right up to the side of the bed and began pumping his hand on his length. He used his left hand to squeeze at Juliana's jaw, and he commanded her,
"Open your mouth."
"Oh, John," she breathed, parting her lips in anticipation. He squeezed harder at her face and barked,
She obeyed just in time. John struggled to aim his seed at her mouth, and most of it wound up spattered across her lips and cheeks. But she looked beautiful like that, lashed to the bed and covered in the result of his pleasure. He stared down at the obscene puddles he'd put on her as he recovered from the dizzy heat that had come over him. Juliana closed her lips and shut her eyes, lying there in a complete mess and seeming preternaturally happy.
John tucked himself away and buttoned himself up, and he went into the bathroom and wet a rag with soapy water. When he came back out to the bedroom, Juliana was still and quiet, still covered in his come, still bound to the bed. John worked on her face first, knowing he was taking off her makeup along with his own filth. Once she was clean, he reached up and unbuckled his belt, and he pulled Juliana's wrists up to his lips one at a time to kiss them as he freed her.
She sat up slowly, looking as though she were rather in awe of what had happened. John stared down at the belt in his hands for a moment, then back up to Juliana's beautiful eyes, and he nodded once.
"I love you, too, Juliana," he said, and then he went over to his suitcase to find some pajamas.
Author's Note: Bet Helen was never quite game for anything like that. Mwah hahaha. Thanks for reading.
Chapter 15: Phone Calls and Photographs
"Obergruppenführer Smith, sir?"
"Erich. Come on in." John set aside the report he'd been reading and nodded as Erich saluted at the door to his office. The other man approached his desk, and John gestured for him to sit. Erich's voice was oddly light then as he asked,
"How was your trip to Berlin, sir?"
John rolled his eyes. "Well, you'll be seeing my photograph all over the place soon enough. Minister Goebbels decided for some reason that I'd make a good face for the American SS."
Erich's eyebrows went up, and he smiled. "Well, that's exciting news."
John shook his head and scoffed. "It's all a little... well."
He couldn't mock the idea too much more, he knew. To do so would be questioning the judgment of Joseph Goebbels, which was sin enough to earn John punishment. Instead John huffed a little breath and drummed his fingers on his desk.
"So, what did I miss?"
"Well, Obergruppenführer," Erich said carefully, "We did more investigation on the truck carrying the Japanese guns. More investigation into the driver."
"Joe Blake," John nodded, and Erich shifted a little in his chair.
"He made a call, sir. From a pay phone located ten miles from the checkpoint. It was fifteen minutes before he was shot. I think... I think you may want to listen to the recording of the call, sir."
John felt a little ripple of unease go through him. He nodded and rose, following Erich down the hall to the media center. They shooed the guards outside, and Erich set up the audio tapes labeled "Joseph Blake - Pay Phone Recording."
John pulled on the headphones and sank down into a chair at the desk in the media center, and he watched Erich take a few steps away. John pressed the Start button and listened to the sound of a phone ringing over the line.
"Cam." Joe Blake's voice sounded frightened, shaking. Cam. He was talking to Cameron Seagram. John recognized the girl's voice at once as she said,
"I didn't think I'd hear from you anymore."
"Well," Joe said quietly, "You're hearing from me."
There was a little silence, a bit of white noise on the recording, and then Cameron's voice said,
"I'll see you soon, Joey. And I won't be a kid like this when you see me again. Okay?"
"I... I still don't understand," Joe stammered. "I'm so confused, Cam; I don't -"
"Have you talked to him here?" Cameron interrupted, and there was a beat before Joe said,
"John, you mean. No... he doesn't know me here."
"You'd be surprised," Cameron said. John listened to her take a breath, and she said again, "I'll see you soon, Joey, okay? It'll be quick. You'll barely feel a thing."
"I don't think I want to go back," Joe said numbly. "I'm not ready. I like it here."
"Well, try not to get shot, then," Cameron said, sounding almost amused, and Joe scoffed.
"Right. Try not to get shot as I drive up to them with a truck full of Japanese guns. When I go back, Cam, I'm going to wake up in a German prison. I'm not ready. I want to stay here."
There were at least ten solid seconds of silence then, and finally Cameron Seagram told Joe,
"You need to get into that truck, drive up to the checkpoint, let them open the back, and then run. You will be shot. You will die on the street. And you will go home, Joe, because it's time for you to go home. And I will see you soon."
Joe's breath shook over the line. He was crying a little, John thought. His voice was broken then as he said one more time, "Cam..."
"Do your job, Joe." Cameron's voice was like ice then. There was more quiet in which Joe's trembling breaths were all John could hear, and Cameron said in a softer tone, "I want you to hang up the phone and go get behind the wheel of that truck, Joe. I will see you soon."
"Okay. Okay... yeah. Okay." Joe seemed to steel himself then, and he cleared his throat roughly. "Goodbye, Cameron."
"Goodbye, Joe." There was a click then, and it was obvious that Cameron had been the one to disconnect the call. The recording ended, and John's fingers shook as he pulled the headphones off and set them down.
Joe Blake, the one who had been shot, knew John. Was he from the world John knew, or from a different one? He'd mentioned a German prison. Had Joe been plucked out of his old life just like John had been? How was Cameron Seagram controlling all of this? Somewhere else, Cameron wasn't a child. Somewhere else, Joe Blake was in Berlin.
Somewhere else, Helen was mourning Thomas.
John cradled his head in his hands for a few moments and then mumbled,
"Erich, who's heard this recording?"
"An investigating lieutenant and myself, sir," Erich said confidently. John nodded and said dryly,
"Joseph Blake is dead. Cameron Seagram is up to something, obviously... something very sinister. I want her found, and I want her dead. She's here; she's in this... place."
He stopped himself then, because he realized it sounded just a little bit like he understood all the confusing banter from the phone call. He turned to look at Erich, and he said firmly,
"I want Cameron Seagram with a bullet put through her brain. I don't want her brought in; I don't want her interrogated. I want her dead. Call Kahler and offer him something unprecedented. More money than he's ever been offered. All he has to do is shoot Cameron Seagram in the head. Understood?"
Erich looked very confused, but he nodded. "Yes, Obergruppenführer Smith. I understand. Heil Hitler."
John rose and tightly saluted. "Heil Hitler."
John walked quickly down the hall and into the kitchen, but Juliana wasn't there. He frowned and called again,
"I'm upstairs," he heard her call. He scowled as he pattered up the wooden steps, and he finally found her sitting on the edge of his bed, cradling a pillow against her stomach. She raised her red-rimmed eyes to him, and he could tell at once that she'd been crying for a very long time.
"The doorbell rang," Juliana said, her voice tight and strained. "I was cleaning the living room, and the doorbell rang. I went to answer it, but no one was there. All there was was a photograph with a rock pinning it down."
"A photograph," John repeated. Juliana shut her eyes and reached for something beside her. She kept her eyes shut and silently held out the photograph. John could see at once what it was. It was the photo taken on his fortieth birthday, the one in front of his old house, the one with Helen and all three children and him in his uniform. He walked the few steps to close the gap between himself and Juliana. He took the photo and studied it for a moment, staring at Helen's smiling face, at the girls looking content, at Thomas looking eager to live a life that would be taken from him.
John gulped, remembering the way Thomas had gone to Juliana in his old life for help, begging her to explain to him what kind of sickness he had. How could John tell any of that to this Juliana? How could he explain Thomas' muscular dystrophy or the circumstances under which Juliana had come to know about it?
"That's Helen," Juliana said numbly. "Those are your children."
"Yes," he admitted, looking up, "but they don't exist anymore."
"What happened to them, John?" Juliana's pretty blue eyes were full of pain then, and he shook his head helplessly and spoke as honestly as he could.
"They were taken from me... very suddenly. I wish I could give you more detail than that, Juliana, but I simply can't."
He put his lips into a line and gave her a meaningful look. She was an intelligent woman. She would deduce that if he couldn't tell her what had happened to his family, that there was a good reason. He licked his bottom lip and gave her another kernel of half-truth in an attempt to end the conversation once and for all.
"There was a very serious illness that ran in the family and... and my son Thomas began to show symptoms."
Juliana sighed and nodded then, and he knew the conclusion she'd reached. His wife and three children had been tainted by a medical inheritance that had rendered them unfit for life. That wasn't strictly true; after all, Thomas' disease had been inherited through John's side. While it hadn't yet been clear if the girls would get sick, too, Helen certainly hadn't been defective. But Juliana had concluded that it was Helen, that all three children had something wrong with them. Fine, John thought. Let her believe that. It wasn't too far from the truth, and at least she would understand that he'd had a family and lost them.
"Why would someone bring that photograph here?" Juliana asked, and John dragged his finger around the rim of the photo as he told her,
"You give people too much credit, Juliana. I'm an Obergruppenführer in the SS; what resistance member wouldn't taunt me with the family I've lost if they were given the opportunity to do so?"
Juliana was quiet then, and he thought about her file. Her husband, Frank, had been in the resistance in the Pacific States. It was suspected that he was a Semite, but Juliana's file gave no hard evidence one way or the other about that. What was known was that Frank had attempted to assassinate a high-ranking member of the Japanese order and had gotten himself killed. Juliana had been pursued by the resistance, who thought she knew too much about Frank's doings, and by the Japanese, who thought she'd been complicit in the assassination attempt. Her interrogation upon defecting to the Reich had indicated very definitively that she'd been neutral in it all, widowed by a man whose insanity and political leanings she hadn't fully understood.
John sniffed a little and stared down at the photograph again. He walked over to the desk against the wall and opened one of the drawers, carefully setting the photograph inside. Juliana wouldn't fault him for keeping it, he thought. Not this Juliana. She didn't seem like the kind of woman who would begrudge a husband and father his grief.
Cameron Seagram had told him that he was going to go home, and maybe he should. Maybe he should let Cameron send him home so that he could kiss Helen again, so that he could pick Amy up and whirl her around, so that he could squeeze Jennifer's hand. Maybe Thomas would come home someday, too. Probably not, but maybe.
Somehow, though, John was convinced he was still there. He believed with all of his heart that he was still coming downstairs in the mornings and eating breakfast with Helen and the girls. He had to believe that, especially now that he'd managed to fall in love with this Juliana Crain.
He was even worse off than Joe Blake had been when Joe had declared that he wasn't ready to go back to the old existence. Had he been sent back after he'd been shot, John wondered? Had his body been a bloody corpse while his consciousness had wound up in a Berlin prison again?
He turned slowly, taking off his hat at last and setting it down on the desk. Juliana had set aside the pillow that she'd been clutching, and she slowly stood from the bed. She walked over to him, her bare feet silent on the carpet, and she put her hands to the front of his uniform jacket.
"I can't help it if I love you," she said quietly. "I know you... that you belonged to her, to Helen, but I -"
"Juliana, my life right now is in this house. With you." John reached for her hand and brought her knuckles to his lips. He reached with his other hand to cup her jaw in his hand, and he bent to touch his lips softly against hers. Then he let out a shaking breath and noted, "I'm famished."
"I didn't cook dinner yet. I'm sorry. I was distracted," Juliana mumbled, but John squeezed at her hand a little and kissed her carefully again.
"Let me call us a car," he suggested, "and we'll go to Sullivan's."
Juliana seemed surprised as she raised her eyes to his. Suddenly John remembered the way Goebbels had told him to marry Juliana, and he swallowed hard.
"Come with me to Sullivan's," he murmured. "I need to be... with you... right now."
She seemed as if she understood. She was a very understanding person, John thought. She was very compassionate and warm-hearted and kind. He kissed her again, more firmly this time, and when he pulled away, he told her,
"I'll call a car. You go ahead and get dressed."
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in updating! I have been working on several other projects that have monopolized my writing time a bit! So, now John knows that he's definitely not the only traveler, that Joe was transferred, too. At least he's managed to come up with a version of events that this Juliana can believe, but will John follow Goebbels' advice and take things even further with her? And just what exactly is the freaking deal with Cameron Seagram?! We'll find all of this out. Promise! :) Please do leave a comment if you get a chance. Thank you for reading!
Chapter 16: Time to Go Home
"Juliana, there's something we need to discuss." John set down his fork and his steak knife, and Juliana gave him a nervous look as she swallowed her bite of food. She set down her own cutlery and said softly,
John cleared his throat and was suddenly very grateful for the way the pianist was hammering out Beethoven here in Sullivan's. It bought them just enough privacy for him to say,
"The marriage authorities were putting a lot of pressure on you not so long ago. Is that right?"
Juliana's lips parted a little, and she nodded. "Yes. That's right. Thank you for calling them off me."
"Yeah. It was no problem." John pursed his lips and brought his fist up to his mouth. He cleared his throat again, feeling abruptly nauseated and dizzy, and he noted quietly, "Minister Goebbels suggested in Berlin that... that the optics would be very good if I were married. Specifically, if I were married to you, because you're a defector into the Reich, and you're... young and pretty."
He realized immediately how unromantic that had sounded. When he'd proposed to Helen, it had been in a little Italian restaurant, and he'd gotten down on on knee, and the old lady at the next table had cried tears of joy on their behalf. This felt a little different.
"So... you want me to marry you... for optics," Juliana said slowly, raising her eyebrows. John gulped.
"For the good of the Reich," he insisted, and when Juliana frowned, he added, "and because I'm in love with you."
Her face softened a little, and she picked up her glass of white wine. She sipped carefully from it and then said, "You sure know how to make a girl feel special, Obergruppenführer."
"I'm sorry." He shut his eyes and shook his head firmly, and then he asked, "Juliana, would you please consider marrying me?"
She was silent then, and when he opened his eyes, he could see that her blue ones had welled up considerably. A tiny smile crossed her lips, and she nodded a bit.
"Yes, John," she said softly. "I'll marry you."
She was warm and soft beneath him. Comforting. He moved above her, his hips going slowly on purpose because he didn't want this to end too quickly. He leaned down to kiss her neck and felt her arms snare around his shoulders. Then she whispered into his ear,
His name was like honey in the air between them, and he groaned a bit against the skin of her neck. He cycled his hips a bit more and felt her knees tighten around his waist. He rolled a bit, bringing her with him, and once they were facing each other on their sides, he forced their bodies closer. She wrapped one leg and one arm around him, stroking at his dark curls with her thin fingers as he pumped slowly and deeply into her.
"I want you to be happy," Juliana whispered, looking almost unfathomably pretty in the lamplight. "Will it make you happy if I'm your wife, John?"
"Yes," he said confidently, and he cupped her jaw and kissed her hard. He drove himself as far into her as he could then, burying himself to the hilt and feeling his seed jet forth from his body. She massaged his scalp through his climax, and she kissed his lips as if she were afraid to hurt him.
Eventually John found it in himself to pull away and go clean himself up, and as he stood in the bathroom tossing the condom into the trash, he called out to Juliana,
"We can go pick out a ring if you'd like. I want you to choose something that you'll enjoy wearing."
"That's sweet." She'd appeared at the bathroom door, and John smirked at her as he used a washcloth to clean off his limp cock.
"I've been called a lot of things, Miss Crain; 'sweet' is rarely one of them."
"Yeah, well... you're sweet to me." She leaned against the threshold of the bathroom door, and as John approached her, she held her arms out to him. She giggled when he scooped her up; she was tall but light and easy to carry. He hauled her over to the bed and flopped her down, her laughter pealing into the still bedroom air, and he bent to kiss her on her breast. Juliana swatted him away with a little laugh and started to pull herself under the blankets.
"Going to sleep naked?" John asked, and Juliana gave him a playful look.
"Is that a problem?"
"No. Definitely not a problem." For his part, John pulled out a set of gray flannel pajamas from his dresser and yanked them on, and when he crawled into the bed, Juliana snuggled against him. She smelled like perfume and sex, and when he kissed her hair, he noticed - not for the first time - just how soft it was. How soft she was. She was beautiful, he thought. And she was all he had here.
John's eyes sprang open. He could swear he'd heard the door downstairs open and shut. His heart accelerated where he lay, and he carefully pushed the sleeping Juliana off of him and opened the drawer of the bedside table. He pulled out his revolver and cocked it, glancing back to Juliana and seeing that she was fast asleep. He crept out of the bedroom and down the stairs, holding his gun up at the ready. There was no sign of any invasion, and he began to wonder if he'd imagined the sound of the door. But then he heard a calm voice from the living room say,
"I'm in here, John."
He pattered down the last few steps and kept his gun up as he flicked the light switch up, and then he found himself staring at Cameron Seagram, who was sitting on his couch in a prim little navy blue dress. She tucked her blonde hair behind her ears and then raised her hands up.
"No need to shoot," she said quietly. "I just have a delivery."
"Fuck you and fuck your deliveries, Cameron," John said, his voice thick with sleep. Cameron huffed a little sigh and lowered her gaze to the coffee table. On it lay two black and white photographs, and John approached the table to see what they were. He kept his gun aimed at Cameron as he picked one photograph up, and then his mouth fell open.
It was him in a tuxedo and Juliana in a wedding gown, both of them grinning as people around them tossed rice and smiled.
"That's real, John," Cameron said softly. "Somewhere far away, somewhere you can't reach, that's real."
"I'm going to marry her here," John snarled, but Cameron just flicked her eyes down to the other photograph. John's hand shook fiercely as he picked it up. It was him in his US Army uniform, standing beside a heavily pregnant Helen. She was pregnant with Thomas in that picture, he knew, but he didn't remember ever taking it.
"So many things are real," Cameron mused, "in so many places. Unfathomable realities. Limitless universes. Isn't it amazing, John?"
"You have five seconds to get out of my house before I shoot you in the face." He dropped the photos onto the ground, but Cameron lowered her hands and reached for the canvas bag on the couch beside her. John took a step closer to her, his finger shaking against the trigger of his gun as he warned her again, "Leave. Now."
Cameron slowly shook her head and whispered, "So many things are real for you, John Smith. It's time to go home."
Then she pulled something from her bag, and before John could react, there was a sharp, searing pain in his chest, and he'd crumpled to the ground. Everything went silent at once, except for his heart thumping in his ears, and there was a split second of ice cold that shot through his veins.
And then he was awake.
He was sitting up in bed, in the old bed he'd had for years, gasping for breath and covered in a sheen of sweat.
"John? John, honey... are you okay? Just a dream. It was just a bad dream."
"Helen." He turned his face to see her beside him, looking extraordinarily concerned. Helen pinched her lips and assured him,
"I've dreamed of him every night since he turned himself in, John. It's okay to dream of him. Come here and hold me."
John quickly pulled himself from the bed, glancing down to see that he was wearing dark blue pajamas. He stared around the bedroom, at the windows and the closet and the dresser and the wife that had all been familiar, once upon a time. Then he clutched his hands into fists at his sides, realizing that in this world, his son was gone and Juliana had run away.
"John," Helen said softly again, "come back to bed, honey."
He did, sliding under the blanket at staring at the ceiling and ignoring the way Helen tried to calm a storm she could never understand.
Chapter 17: Julia Mills
John poked his fork at his breakfast sausage and ignored his daughter.
"Father?" Amy asked again, and finally John flicked his eyes over to her.
Amy's little face seemed worried, and she reached to cover John's hand with her own.
"Father, are you… having a difficult day?"
John gulped and shut his eyes tightly, and he wrapped his fingers around Amy's tiny hand.
"I'm all right, sweetheart. You'd better hurry; can't be late for school."
"Jennifer, no running today," Helen said as the girls hurried out the door. John frowned. They were walking to school? That was unusual. He sighed heavily and raised his eyes to Helen, who sat opposite him, her plate long cleared.
"John," she said quietly, "You haven't been all right since that dream last night. Perhaps you could phone in today and tell them you're… you're… maybe you have a cold or something."
"I'm not sick, Helen." John said the words carefully, setting his fork down and pushing his plate forward a little. Helen's eyes rimmed red almost at once, but she reached across the table and picked up John's plate. He watched her empty his uneaten breakfast into the trash, and then he stared at the chair where Thomas had always eaten breakfast.
"What if the girls are sick, John?" Helen asked from the sink, her hands moving slowly as she washed his plate. John gulped hard and shook his head. The thought had occurred to him many times. If Thomas could inherit the awful disease that had claimed John's brother, what was sparing Amy and Jennifer? Nothing but time.
"No," he said firmly. "The girls are fine."
There was a long quiet then, and finally Helen said, "Julia's coming over today. I'll be glad for her company, I think."
"Julia." John felt his heart start to accelerate in his chest, and he blinked quickly as he asked, "Julia Mills?"
Helen seemed confused. She nodded from the sink and shrugged. "Thomas had a little crush on her, I think. She was so kind to him, more than once. She kept his… his secret. She's been a good friend to me in my grief. A far better friend than the ladies who seem to think that what happened to Thomas was right and just."
John shut his eyes and forced himself to whisper, "Thomas turned himself in, in accordance with the law, because Thomas was a good and loyal -"
"Don't do that to me, John. Not today." Helen wiped her hands on a dish towel and glanced out the window. "She'll be here any minute. She promised to keep me company while the girls are at school."
"Julia Mills," John repeated, and again Helen seemed awfully confused. She leaned onto the counter with one hand and asked softly, "Are you sure you're all right, John? I know it's been difficult since you got back from Berlin… coming home to news that Thomas was gone. The hero's reception. The promotion. I get it; it's been overwhelming. But you don't seem yourself at all."
Something was off here, John thought. This was a very slightly different somewhere than the one he'd left in the first place. He'd woken up in a world where Juliana was his maid, and then he'd been shot by Cameron Seagram and he'd come here. Home, she'd said, and it seemed like home, but Julia Mills was still friends with Helen. That was off. Something wasn't quite right; there was a puzzle piece out of place.
"Maybe you're right," John said, dragging his fingers over the tablecloth. "I… could use a day to work from home, probably. I've got plenty I can do from my office here. I'll phone in."
Helen looked relieved, pushing her strawberry hair from her eyes and nodding warmly. "You know, John, that anything I can do for you… any bit of comfort or help I can give you… I'm your wife, and you know I adore you."
"Yes." John rose from his chair and walked over to where she stood. He put his hands on her shoulders and bent just a little to kiss her cheek. "I love you, Helen."
The words felt a little empty, for some reason. Maybe that was because, the night before, John had been hovering above Juliana Crain, his mouth pressed to hers after he'd proposed marriage to her. Maybe that was why it felt a bit hollow to kiss Helen's cheek and tell her that he loved her.
He phoned into the office and informed a nervous-sounding captain that he'd be working from home today. That didn't seem to be a problem, and after a while, John had settled into his office and was working with files that were familiar to him. Pockets of resistance in Chicago.
There was a knock on his office door after a while, and when he looked up, Helen stood on the other side seeming concerned. He nodded and Helen opened the door, and she chewed her lip as she asked,
"Is it uncouth of me to call Julia and see if she's still coming? She's almost two hours late."
John pinched his lips and glanced at his phone. "I'll call her. Won't sound as desperate that way."
Helen smiled warmly and nodded. She turned to go, shutting the door behind her, and she murmured, "Thank you, John."
Once John knew he had complete privacy, he picked up the phone and asked the operator for Juliana's dormitory line. This line - the personal line of an Oberstgruppenführer - would not be tapped or recorded. He knew that very well. Still, he took a shaking breath when the line connected and Juliana's familiar voice said,
"Juliana." He said her name almost impulsively, and then he quickly amended, "Um… Miss Mills."
"John?" There was a little crack in her voice, something very strange. Something he'd only heard in that other world, that faraway place. He cleared his throat and said carefully,
"Helen… um, she was expecting you. You had told her you'd keep her company. It's difficult for her… since Thomas turned himself in."
"Oh. Yes. I expect it's been very difficult." There was a long pause, and Juliana asked cautiously, "She's expecting me? At… at your house?"
Suddenly John's stomach churned, and pieces began to click into place. He shut his eyes and whispered,
"Do you know our address, Juliana?"
"I… I thought I did, Obergruppenführer," Juliana answered, and John's breath caught. He adjusted the receiver against his cheek and said,
"It's Oberstgruppenführer Smith now. Since everything that happened in Berlin."
"Berlin." She sounded baffled, but she was trying to hide it. John felt his nostrils flare as he struggled to control his breath and his pulse, and he let his eyelids flutter shut as he dared to ask,
"When you woke up, Juliana, did you recognize the place that you were?"
There was a very long silence then, and finally Juliana mumbled,
"No, I didn't."
"When is the last time you saw me?" John asked, and Juliana didn't answer. He cleared his throat roughly, and he demanded again, "When is the last time you saw me, Juliana?"
He could hear her sigh over the phone line, and finally she said, "I saw you lying in a heap on the ground in your living room, surrounded by blood. I bent down to help you. The girl - the blonde girl - she called herself Cameron. She showed me photographs. I was screaming. I was crying. Then she… she shot me, John, and I woke up here."
He said nothing, unable to breathe, unable to think. Finally he heard Juliana whisper,
"Did you come from the same place I did?"
"Yes," he answered at once. He glanced down at his left hand, at the wedding ring he'd put on his finger the day he'd made Helen his bride. His eyes seared a little, and he said seriously, "I would have married you there, Juliana."
"I know," she replied. There was another pause then, and she admitted, "I won't know how to talk to her. To Helen. I don't know her. You say she's expecting me. That Thomas turned himself in. I need more information, John. I can't make it here without your help."
John drummed his fingers on his desk and said, "My son Thomas turned himself into the medical authorities while I was in Berlin on important business. I was helping to stop a treasonous coup, you understand. And he turned himself in, Thomas did, because he had an incurable disease. My daughters are here. Helen is here. I woke up beside her. And the two of you… you had become friends of sorts, and Thomas looked up to you. And Helen tells me that you promised to come and keep her company. I'm working from home today. I'll help you."
Juliana's breath was quick and shallow over the phone, and she whispered,
"Can you give me the address?"
He did, and when he hung up the phone, he went out to find Helen scrubbing the counters in the kitchen. He shrugged and told her,
"Juliana's not feeling her best, either, but she'll be here soon."
Helen frowned deeply. "Juliana?"
"Julia. I'm not thinking clearly. Sorry." John wrenched his eyes shut and shook his head, realizing he'd forgotten to tell Juliana about her pseudonym and back story. He shook his head and told Helen, "The last thing you need is a woman with a thick head cold sitting here trying to comfort you. She can come tomorrow. I have to go into work for a few hours this afternoon, but I'll stay with you this morning, all right? If your husband can't comfort you, no one can."
Helen turned up half her mouth and nodded. "Thank you, John. You're a good husband."
"This seems like a strange place to meet," Juliana admitted as she walked up to John in the shadowy, wooded park. He stood in a trench coat and a fedora pulled low over his face. As far as he knew, there were no cameras with a direct view of this particular bench, but he couldn't take chances. He'd phone Juliana and told her to come in a hat with a veil and a thick coat. She'd followed his advice, and as she sat on the bench beside him, he handed her a file.
"You need to memorize everything in here," he said simply. It was the back story of Julia Mills, and he explained to her, "You got tangled up between the Kempetai and the Resistance before you defected to the Reich. My family helped you get settled, in large part because I wanted information from you. Information about films."
"Films," Juliana repeated. "Like the ones from my home? Like the ones Cameron showed me?"
"There are hundreds. Thousands," John said. "I saw them with my own eyes in Berlin, and you saw them with your own eyes in this world. There are countless worlds, Juliana. Countless realities. You and I have been played around with like toys, tossed from one life to the next. But I had a life with you, a life where my family had been taken from me, and I fell in love with you there. I did."
Juliana shook her head, looking through her delicate veil like she might cry.
"You have Helen here," she whispered. John reached to pull the veil back, and he studied her blue eyes as he whispered,
"I also have you. What kind of monster does that make me, I wonder?"
"A bigamist monster," Juliana said, snorting a bitter little laugh. John shook his head firmly and took Juliana's face in his hands.
"The love I have for Helen is an old love. A comfortable love. The kind of love that means a kiss on the cheek at breakfast and too-comfortable conversations with toothpaste in your mouth. But, Juliana… what I felt for you in that other place was new. Exciting. Like fire in my veins, and I can't let that go. Not now that you're here."
"Why would we both be sent to this world together?" Juliana demanded. "Why send us both to a world where you still have your family?"
"Not all of them," John corrected her, and Juliana shifted on the bench as she nodded solemnly.
"I'm sorry about your son. About Thomas. It isn't right, what happened to him."
John dragged his teeth over his bottom lip, staring at Juliana's mouth, at her cheeks and her eyes. He took her gloved hands in his and whispered again,
"I fell in love with you there."
"You can't have me here, John," Juliana whispered. "You have a wife. You have a home, a life. You're an Oberstgruppenführer. I'm just a defector… Julia Mills… living in a dormitory for single women."
"I want to see you," John said firmly. "I am going to take a business trip to Chicago, and you're going to come on a separate flight."
Juliana looked confused and shook her head again. "We can't have an affair, John."
He squared his jaw and reminded her, "I asked you to marry me."
"Because of optics, you said." Her eyes welled with tears then, and John released her hands.
"And because I was in love with you." His voice was almost harsh then as he pulled out an envelope of Marks from his trench coat and put it in her lap. "You're to book a flight to Chicago. Day after tomorrow. Meet me at the Drake hotel; you'll have a suite booked under Julia Mills. If Helen asks you or me, you're going to Atlanta to visit family you haven't seen since before the war. I will be seeing you in Chicago, Juliana. Is that understood?"
Her face hardened then, and she put the envelope of Marks into her handbag. She nodded once and whispered,
"Understood, Oberstgruppenführer Smith."
He took her jaw in his hand and leaned toward her then, pressing his lips to hers and almost groaning at the way it felt so familiar. He deepened the kiss, and soon enough she was kissing him back, her tongue urgent and her own hands searching his chest beneath his coat as though she wanted to really feel him. Finally he pulled away, breathless and hot-cheeked, and he whispered,
"I'll see you in Chicago, Juliana."
She shut her eyes and nodded. "Okay, John."
He rose from the park bench and walked quickly away, suddenly realizing he had at least one thing to thank Cameron Seagram for.
Author's Note: So sneaky Cameron was good enough to take the John from one world, the Juliana from another world, and put them together in a very slightly altered version of John's original world. Got it? Now… do we feel badly for Helen here or not? Hmmm… ;)
Chapter 18: Stay
"Good evening, Oberstgruppenführer Smith. How may I help you?"
John sniffed a little at the use of his title. He had rather been hoping to keep this as private as possible. Apparently, that wasn't going to happen.
"Please connect me with the room of a guest - a Miss Julia Mills."
"Right away, sir." There was a little silence, and then a click, and then he could hear the phone ringing in Juliana's room. John shifted where he stood in his uniform, feeling very nervous for some reason, and he cleared his throat as Juliana picked up the phone and said carefully,
"Would you like dinner?" John asked simply, and there was a pregnant pause. Juliana mumbled,
"I can't go out to dinner with you, John."
"Room service," he said in a brusque tone. "Why don't you look at the menu next to your phone and tell me what you'd like, and I'll order it."
Juliana sighed heavily over the phone. "You know what I like, don't you?"
John smirked a little. "Steak, medium rare. Roasted potatoes and asparagus… looks like the closest they can do is mashed potatoes and green beans. Will that work for you?"
Juliana laughed just a little and murmured, "Yeah. That'll work. Where are you?"
"Suite 161," John said. "Don't worry; what an SS Oberstgruppenführer does with his personal time on a business trip is not exactly the concern of people watching cameras or listening to phone calls."
Juliana sighed again. "I'll be there in an hour. My flight just got in not too long ago; I kind of want a shower, if that's all right."
"Yeah. See you soon." John hung up the phone and then picked it back up, placing an order with room service for two steaks and a bottle of a good red wine. He passed the next hour stripping down a bit, taking off his uniform jacket and all his medals and his tie until he was left in his suspenders, pants, and crisp white shirt. He paced the room and studied the file on the Chicago resistance cells. There were three houses up in the tony northern suburbs of the city that had been raided; they'd been communal homes for well-funded capitalist extremists. Two of them had been discovered to be Semites who had escaped the cleansings with forged documentation for the last few decades.
They hadn't given up much during the interrogations, which seemed like they'd been botched a bit. One of the Semites had confessed that there was a secret synagogue somewhere in the Chicago area, frequented by Semites in hiding, but he hadn't revealed the exact location or any other attendees before his body had surrendered to the torture.
John carefully put the file away in his leather briefcase; his work wasn't Juliana's concern. Not here, not now, not ever. Eventually there was a knock on the door, and for a brief moment, he thought it was her. But when he opened the door, he was greeted by a groveling sort of hotel worker who brought it a cart full of steaks and wine and laid it all out on the suite's small table. John handed the man a few Marks as a tip, which were received with obnoxious gratitude, and then the man left. John stared at the food for a long moment, thinking that the steaks would get cold, but then there was another knock. This time, he found himself keeping his steps slow and steady as he approached the door.
There she was, standing on the other side of the threshold, looking like he'd never left her. It was like neither of them had been shot, like they were back in the bedroom of his house from that place. Her blue eyes were as beautiful as ever, and it took everything John had to whisper,
"Come on in."
He pulled her chair out for her at the table, and he stacked the metal lids covering their plates on the dresser nearby. He sat opposite her and poured them wine, and her face seemed very stoic as she whispered,
"I saw you dead. You were there, John, on the floor… absolutely covered in blood. And Cameron showed me a photograph… you and me, happy. On a wedding day, surrounded by other happy people… and then she shot me, John. And do you know what she said right before she did it? Right before she shot me?"
"No." John sawed into his steak, determined to eat it while it was hot. He swallowed and shrugged. "What did Cameron say to you, Juliana?"
"She said… 'The you from here and the him from there… now you've found one another, and you're welcome for that.' She said that, John, and then she raised a gun at me and shot me straight in the chest. And when I woke up, I was in a dormitory for single women that I didn't recognize. And then you called me, and you started talking about Helen expecting me, and…"
"I think," John said, poking at his mashed potatoes a little, "that perhaps we exist in almost unlimited forms. In almost unlimited places. I don't know why I was taken from the first life I knew. I don't know why I was dropped back here, where you and Helen are friends but my son is still gone. I don't know why. Maybe Cameron was right. The you from there… that's the you I fell in love with."
Juliana took a few moments to eat in silence, and then she sipped from her wine and asked plainly,
"In your old life, John, in the first life… could you have ever loved me there?"
"No." He shook his head firmly. "No. I couldn't trust you; you'd done work for the resistance. You'd worked with a man - a man called Joe Blake - whom I had trusted and who turned out to be a snake. So I could never have trusted you, and in that old life, when I came back from Berlin after saving the Reich from folding in on itself under treason… you were gone. You'd gone to the Neutral Zone. So imagine my surprise when my wife told me you were coming over to my house."
Juliana shook her head and set down her fork. "I don't think we're ever going to fully understand it. I don't think we should try too much harder. What really matters now? You're here. I'm here. And, John, I have to tell you… I've felt a lot of pain before. Physical pain, emotional pain. But nothing compared to seeing you face-down in a heap, dead. I felt something crack inside of me. So when I picked up the phone and I heard your voice…"
She stopped then, rare tears boiling up and over her eyes as she swiped furiously at them. John reached across the table for her hand and rubbed his thumb over hers. Then he asked quietly,
"Do you have scars here? When you look in the mirror?"
She blinked quickly a few times and nodded. "How did you know?"
"You got hit by a bus in San Francisco a few years ago," John said. "You… fractured your pelvis. Erich… um… a man that works for me… he wanted to deny your asylum request because there was doubt that a woman your age would be able to bear children after that kind of injury. But I insisted you be given asylum. Despite the scars."
"Why?" Juliana started to pull her hand from John's, but he tightened his grip on her and admitted,
"I needed information from you. About the films. You had seen them, Juliana. You had seen the Man in the High Castle. So many films you had seen, and then I saw them in Berlin. I don't doubt any of them. I don't doubt a single of any of them. So, no, I'm not going to think too hard anymore about why you and I are sitting eating steaks at the Drake Hotel in Chicago."
He licked his lip and finally released her hand, and he shoveled some potatoes into his mouth and sipped from his wine. Juliana drank more slowly, her hands shaking a little, and she finally said,
"I'm so sorry about Thomas."
"Please, let's not discuss him." John stared out the window at the glittering city for a long moment. He couldn't help thinking of Thomas, of fishing trips and playing catch in the yard. He wondered for a moment if they'd been kind to Thomas in his last moments, if they'd been compassionate. He certainly hoped so. Thomas deserved kindness. He had been a very kind boy.
He turned his head at the sound of Juliana's voice, and she dragged her teeth along her lip as she asked,
"Was it really for optics? Was it really just because Minister Goebbels said you should be married to me?"
John set his knife and fork down and shook his head firmly. "No, Juliana. It was almost entirely because I had fallen very seriously in love with you. And… you know, that didn't change, just because we got shot and rocketed to a different somewhere. I still… I'm still in love with you, right this minute. Right now."
Juliana shut her eyes. "You're married."
John huffed a frustrated breath. "I can't force myself to fall out of love, Juliana; it doesn't work like that."
She pushed her chair back and rose, and John shoved his own chair back as he expected to see her go storming out of the suite. Instead she surprised him by approaching him and pulling gently at the hem of her full, knee-length skirts. She straddled him in his chair, and suddenly John found himself very breathless. Juliana wrapped her arms around his shoulders and leaned in to kiss him, and he groaned softly as he opened his mouth and let her tongue trail all over. Around the roof of his mouth, twining with his own tongue, tracing his lips. They both tasted like food, like wine, but it didn't matter. She was delicious to him. His hands went to her waist, then up her ribcage until he was cupping her breasts.
"I want to get an apartment in the city," John panted, his lips a hair's breath from Juliana's. "I work late so many nights; it's such a long drive back home, and -"
"You can't get an apartment just so you can have an affair with me," Juliana insisted, shaking her head firmly. John wrenched his eyes shut.
"Fine. I want… I want to get you a secretarial job or something. Work in the SS Headquarters. And I'll get you an apartment; I'll pay for it myself. I need to be able to see you. I need to be able to have you, Juliana."
She just kissed him again, and then she started to grind her hips down against his. It felt good, so incredibly good, and for a moment John worried he might spill himself inside his uniform. He squeezed at her waist and drove her rhythmically down against him, gasping as her mouth moved to his neck. He tipped his head back and moaned just a little as he insisted,
"You're going to work in the city, and you're going to live in the city, and I'm going to keep you for my own, you understand?"
"I can't share you, John," she murmured against his neck, "and I would never in a million years ask you to leave Helen or the girls. So, no… you can't have me. This… tonight. This is going to be it."
"No. No, it will not." John wrenched her back, seizing her face in his hands and watching as her features were suddenly painted by fear. He was so hard it hurt, and he bucked his hips up roughly against her as he reminded her, "I was going to marry you there, Juliana; I am not about to just… let go of you."
She covered his hands with her own and urged him to loosen his grip, and then he realized he'd been hurting her a little. Suddenly they both startled; the phone in the suite had begun ringing with a volume that seemed almost impossible. John shook his head and tightened his hands again.
"Let it ring."
"No, John. It could be work. It could be important." Juliana climbed slowly off of him, smoothing her skirts, and he finally sighed as he stood. His erection was prominent and obvious, but he couldn't care. He was a little short on breath from the way they'd been kissing, from how they'd been grinding together, and he tried hard to steady himself as he reached for the phone.
"This is Oberstgruppenführer John Smith."
"Oh, good. You got in okay. You were supposed to call me when you got checked into the hotel, remember?"
"Helen." John flicked his eyes over to Juliana to see her pull her knuckles to her lips and shake her head slowly. John let out a shaking sigh and touched his forehead as a headache started to develop. "Helen, I'm sorry, honey. The situation with surviving Semites and resistance pockets out here is pretty dire. I had a lot of work; I went straight from the airport to the headquarters here. I was just now sitting down for some room service."
"Well, I won't keep you," Helen said, "but you should know something. Jennifer was confronted by a group of three girls at school today."
John scowled and turned away from Juliana as he asked quietly, "What happened?"
There was a long silence, and then finally Helen said, "The girls were taunting her about… about… Thomas. They were teasing her about having a defective brother, saying she was probably defective, too."
John felt rage boil up in his chest, and he barked, "Well, were the other girls punished?"
"They were scolded for taunting and teasing, both of which are against school rules," Helen said carefully, "but the director made it clear that it is… important to remember the necessity of eliminating defective… members of society, and that…"
She was sobbing now, John could hear, and he felt his own eyes burn as he told her,
"You tell Amy and Jennifer that if anybody teases them about their brother, they respond that their father is an Oberstgruppenführer who helped save the whole damn Reich, okay?"
"John…" Helen sounded exasperated then, for John almost never played up his own accomplishments and had always taught his children that bragging was wrong. But he barreled on,
"No. You tell our girls that if anyone gives them trouble, they remind those people that the Smith family has done more for the American Reich than just about anybody else. I have to go, Helen. I love you."
"I love you, too, John. I love you so much." Helen's voice was breaking, but she was strong enough not to cry hard anymore, and he could hear her sniffling as he hung up the phone. He stared at the lamp on the bedside table for a long moment, and then he heard Juliana say from behind him,
"I'm… gonna go. Thanks for the steak."
"Stay." His voice was harsh, he knew, and as he turned around, Juliana hesitated. She dragged her fingers through her hair and shook her head, but he stalked over to her, his boots clicking a little on the wooden floor, and he took her face in his hands. His grip was gentler this time, but his voice was an icy quiver. "Stay with me, Juliana."
She sighed and reminded him, "You can't have two women at once."
"Yes, I can." He nodded firmly and bent to kiss her. At first, he just touched his lips to hers, but then he deepened it, and her own gloved hands snaked around to his back. He thought about how different Juliana was from Helen. Where Helen was obedient and dutiful, motherly and warm, Juliana was the opposite. She had a cold exterior with compassion lying beneath. She was determined, steely, intelligent and witty and sexy. Why couldn't he love them both? His love for them was so very different. He loved Helen as the mother of his children, as his longtime confidante, as the pleasant constant and the warm glow in his life. He loved Juliana for the adventure that she was, the spark of life that lay behind her eyes. He loved her physically; he loved her mind. Why couldn't he love them both?
He pulled back from the bruising kiss and stared Juliana right in her sapphire eyes, and he said in a voice that left absolutely no room for debate,
"You will join the secretarial staff at the SS Headquarters in New York City. You will move from the single women's dormitory on Long Island to a private apartment in Manhattan. You can keep visiting Helen; she'll like that. But you'll be mine, Juliana, because I was going to make you mine in that other place, and because I am in love with you. Do you understand?"
Juliana let out a very long breath and nodded once. "Yes, John. I understand."
He glanced over his shoulder at the wide, comfortable-looking bed, and he whispered far more mercifully,
"Stay the night."
Juliana smirked a little and shrugged. "Okay."
Author's Note: So John appears to be okay with having two women to himself, especially since they're so different. And it's true; if Cameron hadn't dragged them together and then tossed them back into this world, John would not be in a situation where he still has Helen and the girls and is in love with Juliana. What to do with all of that? Well… let's find out.
Chapter 19: Goodnight, John
He couldn't stop. He couldn't stop kissing her neck, even though he knew he was bruising her up and leaving marks. Juliana's fingers snared into the curls atop his head, and her grip tightened as she choked out his name again in desperation.
"Mmph." He sucked so hard on one spot of her neck that Juliana whimpered in obvious agony, and finally John pulled back from her. She had tears streaming down from her eyes, running over her temples onto the pillow, and John used his trembling thumbs to wipe them away.
"I need you tonight," he informed her rather crisply, and Juliana nodded as she moved her hands from his hair to his scruffy jaw.
"I need you, too, John."
She was already naked; he'd already torn her clothes from her so roughly that he'd broken the zipper on the back of her dress. He'd get that fixed. Right now she needed to be naked. He reached between her legs with one hand and felt her sopping wet there, and he groaned a little as he realized how badly he wanted to taste her. He'd never tasted Helen, not there. She would have blushed at the suggestion. She would have been scandalized by the idea of her husband's face between her legs.
Juliana would like it.
John slid downward, kissing at her breasts and then her flat, smooth stomach as his hands glided over her ribs and her slim hips. She seemed to realize what he meant to do, and she arched her back a little as she whispered,
"Oh, John… yes. Yes. Please."
She wanted this, this scandalous way of tasting her, so John growled against the inside of her thigh and gripped her hips until she writhed in response. He stared up at her, his gaze boring into hers for a long moment as her fingers flexed and released on the hotel bed. Then John latched his mouth onto her, as if he were drinking her in.
Iron. She tasted like iron, like some kind of delicious metal. Tang and salt and some kind of heavy musky undertone. She tasted like woman, so very human in her flavor, and John groaned loudly against her. He moved on instinct then; he'd never had the opportunity to do this to a woman. He'd wanted it more than once, but he'd never possessed the willpower to actually suggest it to Helen. He dragged his tongue up and around her satin-smooth folds, the lips that ensconced her womanhood. Juliana's back arched again, and she let out an almost angry sound through gritted teeth.
She liked this.
John held her hips more firmly than ever and smashed his face against her, feeling a sudden need to be overwhelmed by the taste and smell of her. He nuzzled his nose against her, driving his tongue inside of her and hooking it to stimulate her. He suckled on her clit, and when that made her squeal, he did it again. And again, and again, until finally Juliana actually screamed.
Someone would hear. John didn't care. All he cared about was the way Juliana was coming against his mouth, the way her walls were snapping around his tongue and lips, the way she'd flushed so wet that he could actually lap up the fluid. He didn't have time to put a condom on, he thought suddenly. He was about to come on the blankets; he'd been rubbing himself there while he'd worked between Juliana's legs.
So he sat up quickly and straddled her thighs, pumping at his impatient cock a few times. He met Juliana's half-closed eyes and watched her whisper,
"Thank you, John."
That pushed him over the edge. Seeing her dark hair disheveled, her blue eyes drowsy with satisfaction… it was too much. He tipped his hips down a little and watched his come land in puddles all over her perfectly flat stomach. He liked her stomach, the way it was so obvious she'd never borne a child, the way it was almost concave and milky white. He liked to look at his come there, little pools of it spattered on that perfect flesh. He was so dizzy for a moment that his hands waved about looking for support. Juliana reached up and caught one of his hands with hers, and then she stared right at him as her other hand went to her stomach.
John gasped as she dragged a finger through his come, spreading it around her skin as it glistened in the light of the lamp beside the bed. Then she brought her finger to her mouth and sucked it between her lips, shutting her eyes and moaning with delight at the taste of it. John choked out a desperate little sound, climbing off of Juliana as he realized Helen would never, ever do anything like that.
He would make love quietly to Helen. He would kiss her in their bed, whispering a goodnight and a wish for happy dreams, and he'd fall asleep beside her. He'd done all that for years, and he enjoyed doing it. He loved Helen. But this… this, what he had right here, right this minute with Juliana…
He needed this.
"Go take a shower," he ordered her, and Juliana didn't hesitate in slithering off the bed. John waited until he heard the shower running from the bathroom, and then he sat naked on the edge of the bed. He put his head in his hands and took a deep, shaking breath, and then he startled, because the phone was ringing. He stared at it for a moment and then picked it up.
He frowned and looked at the clock. "Helen? What's wrong, honey? It's almost midnight there."
"I had a nightmare, John, and I just needed to hear your voice. I'm sorry for calling so late."
John sighed and blinked a few times. "Everything's fine, Helen."
"I dreamed that the girls were sick, that they made us hand them over," Helen said tearfully. John wanted to tell her that was ridiculous, that such a dream was ludicrous, but he couldn't. Thomas had inherited his sickness; the girls had an equal chance of doing so. So he was silent.
"I love you, Helen," John said honestly. Then he looked up and listened to the sound of the shower running, and he glanced down at his own naked body, at the limp cock that had just covered Juliana in obscene puddles of come. He licked his bottom lip and tasted the metallic bite of Juliana's womanhood there. He felt nauseated for a brief moment, and then he nodded once and said again, very firmly, "I love you. I'll be home in a few days, after I help the local SS units get a better hold on the resistance here."
"Promise me something," Helen said softly. "Promise me, John, that when you come home, you'll walk in the door and you'll wrap your arms around me and kiss me. Please promise me that."
He raised his eyebrows and sighed a little. All of a sudden, he realized he felt no lust for Helen. Love. Lots of love, endless, boundless love. But lust? No. For the woman in the shower washing his mess from her her body, he felt lust and love and all sorts of other complicated emotions. Nothing was complicated with Helen. They were companions in life, the two of them.
"I will hold you, Helen, and I will kiss you. I love you. I'll see you soon. Try and sleep, all right?"
Helen sniffled over the line, and John could tell she was trying not to cry. Finally she whispered, "Goodnight, John."
"Goodnight." He hung up the phone and stared at his suitcase, thinking of putting on some pajamas. But then he realized he wanted to feel Juliana's naked body cradled beside him, that he wanted to spend the night touching her bare skin, so he just tucked himself beneath the blankets.
When she came out of the shower, Juliana wordlessly crawled into bed beside him and laced herself up against him. She put a leg across his, an arm across his chest, and she whispered,
"Do you think we were put in the same place for a reason, John?"
"Yes," he said simply. He kissed her damp hair, and Juliana sighed.
"I'd like to think so. You know why? Because I was really unhappy, John, until you started taking me to Sullivan's and spending hours talking with me and dancing the polka with me in Berlin. I've never been a happy person, not in my whole life… except for when I'm with you."
"And do I make you happy, Juliana?" John stared at the ceiling and rubbed her arm, and he felt her nod against him.
"Yes, John. You make me very happy." She was quiet for a long time, and then she murmured, "Goodnight, John."
He kissed her hair again and whispered, "Goodnight."
Author's Note: Soooo… MiTHC has made most of its fans oddly sympathetic toward John Smith, who is - let us not forget - a Nazi. But he's also so human, a deeply flawed human. It seems perfectly reasonable that he's fallen in love with Juliana, that he bears a great fondness for Helen, but… is it just me, or does it seem like he's playing a bit of a dangerous and cruel game here? Hm… thanks so much for reading; please do leave a comment if you get a quick moment.
Chapter 20: Best Friends
He shut his eyes, because for some reason, he couldn't look at her right now. He couldn't look at Helen, at the woman he'd loved for decades. She was beneath him; he was moving atop her in the bed they'd shared for years. This was a familiar mattress, a familiar feeling. Being inside of her should be warm and comfortable. Comforting.
Helen's hands coursed over John's bare back, and he shivered a little at the touch. He wanted someone else under him right now, and the fact that he wanted that made him feel like a verifiable cur. He pumped his hips steadily. In and out. In and out. In and out. He was a machine, moving smoothly and predictably and mechanically. He kept his hands planted flat on the sheets, his palms unmoving as his breath came slow and steady. He should be panting, he thought. He should be groaning with pleasure, but he wasn't.
"John…" Helen sounded serene, and John knew this was comforting for her, at least. He was her husband. They'd lost their son. She needed him right now - she needed John. So he moved, in and out, in and out, over and over. Helen didn't seem anywhere near climax, but she rarely came with him. She never seemed to mind that fact.
Juliana always came, and John could tell perfectly well that she never faked it.
Suddenly he could feel himself going soft, his erection fading quickly inside of Helen's body. He wasn't going to finish, he realized at once. He huffed out a frustrated breath and let himself slide from her, and Helen frowned deeply as she reached up to hold John's face.
"You're distracted," she said as he climbed off of her and collapsed onto his back beside her. He slithered under the blankets and reached for the flannel pajama pants he'd discarded. As he pulled them on, he muttered,
"Sorry." He brought his forearm up to his face and growled in irritation. "I'm sorry, Helen."
Her hand pressed to his bare chest, and she rubbed his skin with all the gentleness of a woman who had become a mother to the core of her soul. She kissed his cheek and murmured,
"It was a difficult trip to Chicago. I could tell. I know you can't tell me anything classified, but it's obvious you're dealing with a lot right now. I can't imagine, John… it's hard enough for me with all of our family business. Then you have all of the professional stress on top of -"
"It's not work, and it's not your fault," John said, softening his voice when he noticed how he'd snapped at her. He turned his face and shrugged as he said somewhat defensively, "I'm getting older, Helen. Sometimes it doesn't work as you get older. There's not always something to blame."
Helen looked a little embarrassed as she lay back on her own pillow. "You're right. I'm sorry."
There was a long, heavy silence in the bedroom then, and finally Helen said,
"I hope it's all right… Julia Mills is coming over for dinner tonight."
John snapped his face back to her and scowled. "What?"
Helen seemed surprised by his reaction. "She's started a new job in the city and moved into an apartment there. I had trouble tracking her down. But she's a good friend to me, John. She works until five, she says, but she'll come for dinner at seven. I want to see her. I need friends, and some of the other girls are just cruel in discussing… defective people."
"So, what… you and Julia Mills are going to be best friends now?" John pushed himself up onto his elbow, and Helen did the same.
"Is that a problem, John?"
"No," he lied. Then he scratched at his hair and asked, "When did you invite her?"
"Just yesterday," Helen said cautiously. "Why?"
"She didn't mention it, that's all," John mumbled, and he immediately realized he'd slipped. Helen seemed enormously confused, and she laughed nervously.
"Do you talk to her often, John?"
"She… her new job is in the SS Headquarters," John said, trying to sound offhanded. "I arranged for her to get a secretarial position in the records department, since she was having trouble finding anything permanent."
"Oh. That was kind of you." Helen smiled a little and then said, "Maybe she could just ride home with you tomorrow. Since you've got a chauffeur… that way she wouldn't have to take the bus all the way out here from the city."
John stared at Helen for a long moment. She was no idiot. She'd never been an idiot. She'd helped him arrange for arrests, for executions to happen. She was a manipulator on John's behalf and had been for years. Was she manipulating him now? What did Helen suspect? What did she know? John cleared his throat and shrugged.
"I'll offer," he said. "Maybe the girls could go to Susan's house and play with their kids so it can stay an adult affair."
He flinched a little on that last word, but Helen showed no emotion to it. She did frown and sigh and say,
"Susan's daughter was one of the ones who taunted Jennifer at school. About Thomas. I'm trying not to burn bridges with Susan, since her husband's SS, but I'm not about to send Jennifer over there."
"Oh. No. Of course not." John lay back down and said softly, "The girls can be at dinner, of course. That'll be fine. Get some sleep, Helen."
She reached for her nightgown and pulled it over her head, lying on her side facing John. Then she said in a voice that seemed more than a little broken,
"I love you, John Smith."
He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth, and he mumbled back, "I love you, too, Helen."
He was staring at her, at Juliana, but he had absolutely no idea how he was supposed to keep from doing it.
The ride in the car from the city had been mostly silent, because there was a driver. But Juliana had slid her gloved hand to the middle of the wide backseat, and John had put his own gloved hand on top of hers. That had been enough, at least for the ride out to Long Island. But now he was staring at Juliana in her full-skirted, dark plaid dress, her hair pulled halfway back, her makeup elegant and simple. He was staring, not really listening to the conversation between his wife and his lover.
"So I just do the filing work," Juliana was telling Helen. "I only work with declassified materials - stuff that's public but important to have on file at the SS Headquarters. Marriages, births, deaths… things like that. It's mundane, but I'm so grateful to John for arranging the position."
"Yes. John's very good at arranging things." Helen winked and sipped from her wine glass. Amy blurted out,
"Will you find a husband in the SS? It's almost all men, isn't it?"
"Amy!" Helen seemed utterly scandalized, but Juliana laughed a little and shrugged.
"You know, Amy, maybe I will. Lots of those SS men look pretty good in their uniform."
"Oh, Julia." Helen shook her head with mock anger, and then both women giggled a little. John cleared his throat and joked quietly,
"Yes, I think they designed the uniforms specifically to ensure that all the SS men would wind up married."
"Well, I married you before you had an SS uniform, John." Helen tipped her head, and suddenly she wasn't smiling. Juliana flicked her eyes back and forth between the two of them, and she muttered,
"I'm sorry, Helen. I shouldn't have teased you, Amy. It's important for all women in the Reich to marry. At some point, when the time is right, I'll do that, because it's my duty. Someday, you'll do the same."
"I'm going to get married when I'm fifteen," said Jennifer confidently, and John snapped at her,
"No, you most certainly will not. Enough talk of marriage; it's not an appropriate dinner conversation for you girls."
"Sorry, Father," Amy said, poking at the peas on her plate. She sighed, sounding bored as she asked, "May I be excused, please?"
"You may," John nodded, and he nodded his permission to Jennifer to go, too. The girls took their plates into the kitchen, and he could hear them dutifully scrubbing them in the sink a moment later. John folded his hands in his lap and listened as Helen asked,
"So, where is your new apartment, Julia?"
"It's not too far from the SS Headquarters," Juliana said, "which is very convenient. I can walk to work in ten minutes."
"What an ideal location," Helen said rather primly. She turned her face to John and raised her eyebrows. "Did you arrange that, too?"
"Mmm-hmm." He touched his napkin to his throat and then sipped at his wine, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see Juliana's cheeks flush deep scarlet.
"I'm just so grateful," Juliana murmured. "Not that I minded the dormitory, but I feel so much more independent this way."
"It wasn't a silly question, what Amy asked," Helen noted. "You've been granted permanent residency now; I'm sure the authorities expect you to find a husband soon, no?"
Juliana pursed her lips. "I… um… I'm Aryan, you know? I mean, I'm definitely Aryan. But the problem is that the Pacific States don't keep genealogical records, so…"
Helen frowned a little and sounded almost haughty, in a way that John wasn't used to hearing her speak, as she said, "I'm so surprised - pleasantly surprised - that you were granted asylum if you didn't have the proper documentation for marriage and reproduction."
Juliana glanced over to John, and he fought not to shake his head at her. Finally he decided to shut the conversation down by saying firmly,
"When Julia defected, her particular situation meant that we could ignore factors like that. You don't have to marry anybody, Julia, and that's coming straight to you from an Oberstgruppenführer."
He sipped more deeply from his wine then, a silence settling over the dining room that made him shudder with discomfort.
"Are you sure you don't mind them giving me a ride back?" Juliana asked, staring up at John with far too affectionate a look. "I can take the bus. I really don't mind, John."
"No. No, take the car. See you tomorrow." He nodded and cleared his throat, impulsively adding, "Or not. I… probably won't be in the records department for any reason."
"Right." She chewed her lip a little and then gave him the crooked little smile she often flashed him when she was coming out of showers, when he'd told a little joke. She nodded and seemed to want to touch him, but she clasped her hands together and said quietly, "Thank you for dinner, John. Helen. The cooking was wonderful, the company even better. We'll visit again soon."
"Yes. It'll be much more difficult now that you're in the city," Helen said, almost harshly. "Congratulations on the new job, Julia. And the new apartment. Have a safe ride back."
Juliana seemed very uncomfortable then, and she glanced from Helen to John and whispered, "Goodnight."
"I'll take you out to the car," John said firmly, and he walked outside with Juliana. She was silent as they descended his brick steps and went out to the driveway. John waved off the corporal chauffeuring the car, and he opened the door of the backseat. Juliana stared at him for a moment before climbing in, and she murmured,
John let out a very long sigh, studying Juliana's pretty blue eyes, and he said simply, "Have a sife ride home, Miss Mills. Thank you for coming. Goodnight."
She shut her eyes and started to climb in. "Goodnight, John."
He gave the driver her address, though of course Juliana was more than capable of doing so herself, and once the car had pulled away, John ambled back up to the house, his hands in the pockets of his uniform pants. He hadn't had time to change into comfortable clothes since he and Juliana had come straight from the city, so he was still in full uniform. Somehow, right now, when he knew what he was about to face, it seemed right that he was covered in medals and swastikas.
He opened the door of the house and stepped inside, and he was unsurprised to see that Helen had made her way into the living room and already had a glass of liquor in her hand. She stared ahead, her eyes blank. John came into the living room and said lightly,
"Dinner was delicious."
"Don't." Helen's voice was a sharp bite, and she shut her eyes as she sipped from the amber-colored liquor. "She's very young, and very beautiful, and I have been jealous of her since the day you first brought her into this house. But she was so good to Thomas, so good to me, and I wanted her for my friend. Have you always done this to me, John? How many women have you kept besides me?"
"None," John said very honestly. He cleared his throat and said rather helplessly, "I have loved you, Helen, since we lived in that old and awful world. I have never, ever stopped loving you. I never will."
"But she's yours, isn't she?" Helen turned her face to John and raised her eyebrows, sipping the liquor again. Then she scoffed and said in a very mean-spirited snarl, "I bet you can stay hard for her."
John felt a flush or rage go through him. How could Helen possibly understand that he'd been plucked away from her and thrust into a world where he couldn't help falling in love with Juliana Crain? How could Helen understand any of this? She couldn't. He shook his head and told Helen,
"Think whatever you want. I'm not going to stand here and be insulted or accused. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Helen."
He was halfway up the stairs when he heard Helen say in a tearful voice,
Author's Note: John, John, John. Did you really think Helen wouldn't figure it out? Now what? Will Helen stand by her man? Will Juliana cut things off? Will Cameron decide to… well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. ;) Thanks for reading; please do review if you get a moment.
Chapter 21: Truth and Lies
"What are you doing here, John?"
That wasn't exactly the reception he'd expected when Juliana had opened the door to her apartment unit, but he put his lips into a line and dragged his thumb over the brim of his hat as he asked,
"May I come in, please?"
Juliana stepped aside and let John stalk into the small but elegant space. She shut the door as he looked around; he hadn't actually been inside this unit since Juliana had moved in. It was a clean, modern unit, just an eat-in kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, and a bedroom. The furnishings were economical but stylish. Juliana seemed to have settled in nicely, but he asked quietly,
"You like it here?"
"Yes. Thank you very much for arranging my new job and living arrangements, Oberstgruppenführer Smith." Juliana stared at the floor and folded her hands before her, and John sighed as he walked into the living room and sat down on the gray tweed sofa. He put his hat beside him and drummed his fingers on his knees. Juliana moved to stand before him, and she shrugged a little.
"Can I get you… some cake?" She glanced back toward her kitchen. "I think I have some coffee cake. Or something to drink?"
"No. Thank you. Just sit, will you?" John gestured to the modern armchair opposite him, and Juliana sank down. She straightened her black pencil skirt, the one that she wore as a uniform in the SS Headquarters along with a simple black collared blouse and a small pin denoting her employment within the SS. She looked pretty in a uniform, John thought. It suited her, the crisp black, the double lightning bolts on her lapel. She wasn't a sworn member of the SS, of course, but she needed the uniform just by virtue of her employment. He liked it on her.
"Helen knows," Juliana said, snapping John out of his admiring reverie. When he met Juliana's eyes, he could read shame in her gaze, and she shook her head. "You belong to her, John. Not to me."
John cleared his throat rather roughly and informed Juliana, "I tried to be physical with her the other night, and I couldn't do it."
Juliana frowned. "What?"
John shrugged. "I couldn't… um… couldn't finish. You know? I, um… I kept wishing it was you, and things just sort of fell apart."
He scratched at his dark hair, and Juliana shut her eyes. "John, please don't do this to me. You're… this is torturing me, you know."
John gulped. "I dream sometimes of marrying you. Of that photograph Cameron showed me. You in that long wedding gown with the lace sleeves. Sometimes I dream about it and wake up and remember how clumsy I was in asking you at Sullivan's… I was going to marry you there, Juliana."
"You're married here," she said firmly. "We aren't there anymore. All I could ever be for you here is a mistress. Your slut."
"Don't you dare put it that way." John sneered a little, rising quickly from the sofa and reaching almost roughly for her wrists. He yanked her up to stand and snatched her face in his hands, and he growled, "Don't you realize that I was prepared to have an actual life with you before I heard the door open downstairs and left you in my bed and got shot? Don't you realize, Juliana, that you were my life there?"
"But, John," she whispered desperately, covering his hands with hers, "We aren't there anymore."
"I don't care." He bent to kiss her, crushing his mouth against hers and yanking her back toward the couch. He pulled her down with him as he sat, and though she snuggled up beside him, she let out a sound of frustration.
"I want you," she whispered. "I want you so badly, John. I want you right now."
"Good," he said simply. "Let's go to the bedroom."
"I can't." Juliana's face went red, and she whispered, "Bad time of month."
John nodded. He'd been married long enough to know full well what it meant to accommodate the schedule of women's bodies. He knew she wouldn't want him squeezing her breasts right now, that he couldn't caress her between her legs. But he ached for her; she was so beautiful in that damned black uniform, and -
"I should feel more guilty, shouldn't I?" Juliana was saying from beside him, her head tipped against the shoulder of his uniform coat. "I should feel like an awful bitch, sitting here wanting to do the things to you that I want to do."
"What do you want to do, Juliana?" John reached for her knee, rubbing a bit at the place where her skirt gave way to stocking. He heard her suck in breath, and she whispered,
"I want to feel you in my throat, John."
He shut his eyes then, his breath shaking wildly in his nostrils. She'd first used her mouth on him in the kitchen of the house he'd had in that other world, that other life. No one had ever done that to him before. He'd adored it; it had been pure bliss. Now she was slithering off the couch, her fingers pulling his coat up so she could unbutton his uniform pants. He was going hard inside his underwear, watching her pretty face focus on the task at hand. He petted her hair a little and told her,
"It's not as though I could just stop wanting you when Cameron shot me."
"I know." Juliana nodded as she pulled his cock out, and she stared up at him for a moment as she stroked at his length. He tipped his head back and just absorbed the feel of her, of her mouth wet and tight around his tip. He groaned when she suckled at him, pulling him all the way to the back of her throat and then sliding him out again. She kept repeating that, tugging him in deeply and then using her tongue to play with his tip. It was so much, too much, and his hands tangled into her hair as he frantically begged her,
"Don't swallow it, Juliana."
"Why not?" Her words were garbled by the way she had him in her mouth, and her blue eyes were curious as they gazed up into his. John tried hard to find enough breath to gasp out,
"Because… I want to see it… on your face."
Juliana smirked then, letting him slide out between her pearlescent lips. She used her hand to pump at him; he was slick with her saliva and her fingers moved easily. She toyed with just the right place, the spot on the bottom of his shaft near the tip, and it pushed him over the edge. John felt his cock swell up and go hard as a stone, and he bucked his hip against her hand a little as everything went hot and tight. He watched himself come all over her, the milky white stain of his pleasure spurting in ropes that criss-crossed her forehead and cheeks. It dripped over her eyes, which she shut, and it dribbled onto her lips. She licked them, and John choked out a desperate sound of satisfaction at that.
For a long while, he just stared. She still had her hand on him, and even as he started to go a little soft, her touch was so comforting he could have fallen asleep right there. But she had her eyes shut, her eyelashes coated with his seed, and she smiled a little as she whispered,
"John, can you get a rag?"
"Oh. Um… yes." He snatched his half-hard cock from her hand and shoved it into his underwear, buttoning and zipping himself back up and rising from the sofa. He left her kneeling on the ground, still and quiet and covered in his essence, and he hurried into her bathroom. He found a washrag and quickly wet it with lukewarm water from the sink, rubbing a little bar soap onto it. He wrung it out and walked quickly into the living room again, crouching down to carefully clean off Juliana's face. There was something deeply erotic and intimate about this, about taking off makeup and come from her pretty skin with a rag in his hand. She seemed to think similarly; her breath quickened a little, and she murmured softly,
"I'll never have enough of you."
He didn't say anything in response to that. He just finished cleaning her off, and when at last she opened her eyes, he blinked a few times and told her flatly,
"I'm still in love with you, Juliana Crain."
"It's Julia Mills here," she reminded him. John stood and helped her up, and he cupped her jaw in his hand. He tipped his head and murmured,
"You are Juliana Crain, and you and I were dropped here together for a reason. You are not my… my slut, Juliana. You are my…"
He stopped then, because he realized at once that he had no good, respectable way to describe what she was. She was his mistress at best. He was a philandering husband. He'd cheated on Helen many times over; he'd been unfaithful in the other world to the point of proposing marriage to Juliana. Here, just now, he'd come on the face of a woman who was not his wife. Juliana just stared at him and sighed.
"You should probably go home," she said. "Getting close to dinner time."
John tightened his jaw and bent to touch his lips to Juliana's.
"See you tomorrow, Miss Crain." He nodded, put his uniform hat back on his head, and walked quickly out of her apartment.
"Father, I wanted to tell you that I won an award in an essay contest." Jennifer looked up from her plate of chicken and potatoes, seeming rather proud of herself. "The prompt was to write an essay on the greatest gift in our lives."
"Oh? And what did you say was the greatest gift?" John asked, chewing another bite of chicken. Jennifer smiled a little and said serenely,
"I said that my greatest gift was knowing that my father worked so hard to defend all of us. I said that it was a gift to have such a good example in my father, and that it was a gift to learn from you how to serve the Reich and all the people in it."
John felt his eyes burn a little all of a sudden, and he quickly swallowed a large gulp of water. He flicked his eyes to Helen, who was staring down at her lap with a sour look on her face. Then he turned his eyes to Jennifer and nodded.
"That's… that is really and truly a wonderful thing to hear you say, Jennifer. Thank you. And congratulations on the award."
"Thank you, Father."
Jennifer seemed to have grown up a little since Thomas had gone, John realized. She'd taken up the mantle of being the child who desperately wanted to please John. That had always been Thomas' job. Amy was still focused on childhood, and John wouldn't rush her out of that. The family finished eating in peace, and once the girls were dismissed from the table to go finish their homework, John began clearing plates.
"I'll do it," Helen said, almost in a bark. John frowned at her and stacked his salad plate atop his dinner plate. He silently carried them into the kitchen, and he was shocked when Helen snatched the plates from his hands, almost dropping them. She scowled at him and said, "I am the wife and mother of this family. My job is to make our home a peaceful, clean, and harmonious place. I cooked dinner, and I will clean it up. Why don't you go work for a while in your office, John?"
Her eyes were wet then, and John put his hands on his hips as he said softly,
"Why don't I help you so it goes faster, and we can sit together on the couch and watch something on the television?"
Helen scoffed. She shook her head and put the plates into the sink, staring at them for a long moment. Then she shut her eyes and whispered,
"I can smell her perfume on you, John."
He furrowed his brow and took a half a step back. Could she really smell Juliana's delicately floral perfume on his uniform? That seemed absurd. He licked his bottom lip and said gently,
"I think you've become a little paranoid, Helen."
Helen raised her bright, shining eyes to John, and in them he could see all the years of strife and joy they'd spent together. She swiped a knuckle at one eye and said in a quiet, firm voice,
"I want you to tell me the truth, John Smith. No lies. Not now. Tell me honestly. Are you in love with her?"
John's mouth fell open a little. He wanted to lie. He wanted to kiss Helen hard, to push her against the wall and hike her skirts up, to whisper into her ear that she was the only woman he'd ever loved. He wanted to remind her of how she'd been there for him, and he for her, during countless good times and difficult stretches. He wanted to murmur against her lips that there could never, ever in a million years be any woman for him except for her, except for Mrs. Helen Smith.
But he couldn't lie. Not to her. He couldn't do it. So he just stood there, silent and guilty and confused, and tears started to silently stream down Helen's cheeks. She nodded and whispered in a shaking voice,
"Okay. As long as I'm clear on… on just what the situation is."
She started to walk away, and a shock of panic went through John's chest. He had a sudden vision of losing her, of losing Helen and the girls forever. Then he thought of losing Juliana. He felt sick; he felt dizzy. He reached for Helen's wrist and said desperately,
She whirled around quickly and slapped him, her hand smacking so hard against his cheek that he felt heat spread over his tingling skin. For a half second, Helen seemed shocked that she'd hit him. But then she looked almost proud, or at least very confident, and she ripped her wrist from his hand. She smoothed her skirts and tipped her chin up and told him,
"That uniform needs to be cleaned, John. It smells like your whore."
Then she turned on her heel and stalked quickly out of the kitchen, leaving John with the dirty dishes and a roiling, conflicted sense of misery.
Chapter 22: I Do Not Consent
John picked up the phone from his desk after one ring and heard Erich’s voice on the other end.
“Oberst-Gruppenführer, sir? I’m sorry to trouble you with this. There is a young woman who showed a visitor’s pass at the reception downstairs, but she isn’t on our list. She’s insisting that you will meet with her if you know who she is. Should I arrest her, or -”
“Who is it?” John frowned, and then his breath caught in his throat when Erich said,
“Her documentation says her name is Cameron Seagram.”
John wrenched his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was quiet for a long moment, and then Erich said tentatively,
“Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith? Should I take her into custody?”
“No. Bring her in here immediately. No calls, Erich.”
“Yes, sir.” Erich sounded unsure, but the line disconnected, and John hung up the phone with a shaking hand. He waited in uneasy silence, his heart picking up speed with every passing moment. He opened the drawer to the right of his desk and moved efficiently and discreetly to shut off all the microphones and cameras monitoring his office. This meeting was private.
The door opened, and Erich came stomping in, snapping his heels together and saluting as he barked,
John watched as a young woman entered behind Erich. It was her - it was Cameron. But she was older, perhaps twenty. Not quite twenty-five. Her face had sharpened; she’d grown a few inches. But she was still the same, her eyes powder blue and piercing, her blonde hair cut in a sharp bob around her face. She wore a simple black dress with a lightweight coat, and as she walked past Erich, she nodded and clutched her gloved hands around the handles of a canvas bag.
“Were her belongings searched, Erich?” John asked, and Erich glanced down to the bag. His mouth fell open a little, and John scoffed.
“That’s a no, then. A visitor’s pass gets one far in a building like this. You’re dismissed, Erich. I’m not to be disturbed, and this visit does not exist in any official record whatsoever.”
Erich looked very confused, and he glared at Cameron, but he said crisply, “Yes, Oberstgruppenführer.”
He left then, shutting the heavy door behind him, and Cameron walked slowly through the office, her low heels clicking on the floor. She approached John’s desk and pulled out the chair opposite him without asking. She sank down into the chair and folded her hands on John’s desk.
“For you,” she began, “it hasn’t been a very long time since we were face to face. For me, it’s been eight years.”
John shook his head and whispered, “How is that possible? Why did you shoot me?”
“To get you here, of course,” Cameron said simply. “You have to understand, John, that I follow orders. Just like you’ve always done. And my orders were to get you and Juliana Crain - this you, and that Juliana - in the same place. To make it impossible for you not to pair up. Then to move you to this reality. Those were my orders, and I did what I had to do to follow them. I’m sure a career serviceman like yourself can understand that.”
“And who gives you your orders, Cameron?” John demanded. When Cameron just smiled a little, he nodded. “The Man in the High Castle.”
Cameron glanced at the bag she’d put on the ground.
“I brought you a present.”
“A present.” John smirked and shrugged. “By all means… bestow upon me your benevolent gifts, Miss Seagram.”
She reached down, and when she came back up, John’s smirk vanished. Cameron set three tins down on the desk. Films. John opened the lids one by one and examined the titles on the tape inside. The Strength of the Shield. To Give You the Kingdom. Beauty in the Ashes.
“Why did you bring these?” John demanded. “What’s on them.”
“They’re actually not very exciting,” Cameron admitted. “They’re just footage of the Allies winning the war. A battle between British forces and Nazis in Belgium. Americans digging the Japanese out of foxholes on tiny islands in the Pacific. Concentration camps liberated with surviving Jewish prisoners. A Panzer on fire in North Africa. It’s the way the war could have gone. The way it did go, somewhere you can’t reach. It’s real, all of it, but you’re not in it, and neither is Juliana. But your government has a fetish for collecting these, just like my boss. And they’re a gift. An apology for shooting you.”
“And why do you feel compelled to apologize to me, Cameron?” John shut the lid on the film marked Beauty in the Ashes. He opened the large drawer to the right of his desk and put all three tins of film inside. Cameron cleared her throat a little and said quietly, almost primly,
“My boss knows more than I do. He’s seen thousands of the films; I’ve only seen a few dozen. I just follow orders, John, and my orders were to get you and Juliana together in this existence, living as a pair. Those were my orders, and I was made to understand in no uncertain terms that there were millions of lives at stake if I didn’t follow those orders carefully.”
“Millions of lives.” John scowled. “What are you talking about?”
Cameron shrugged. “You understand, John, what it is to give and receive orders without having all the surrounding information. All I was told was that millions of lives depended on this you and that Juliana Crain living as a pair in this existence. So I followed my orders.”
“And where have you been?” John demanded. “Why are you older?”
Cameron licked her bottom lip and hesitated. “Time and space are both fickle, strange forces, John. I’ve got one more gift for you.”
“You gonna shoot me again?” John snapped, but Cameron shook her head seriously. She was a little different now, John thought. She was less petulant, more focused. She’d grown up. She reached down into her bag again and brought a manila folder up onto the desk. She touched her hand to it and said matter-of-factly,
“This is completed documentation to commission Juliana Crain into the SS as a Helferin. All it’s waiting for is your signature. She’ll continue working in the records department, but she’ll be a formal part of the SS. That will make it much easier for you to justify replacing Helen with her. Oh, that and the rest of the documentation in here.”
She opened the folder and started to pull out papers, but John stammered,
“Replace… replace Helen? What, you expect me to divorce my wife? The mother of my children?”
Cameron raised her pale eyebrows and nodded once. “My orders are to ensure that you and Juliana are living as a pair, John. If you can’t make that happen, I will.”
John’s stomach twisted, his mind flooded with the idea of Cameron seeing to it that Helen was killed. “Is that a threat?”
“It’s a promise, just like I promised to follow my orders. Now. It’s been a thorn in everyone’s side that Juliana had no genealogy. She’ll have to stop using the pseudonym you gave her upon intake from the detention center - Julia Mills - because all of her papers from the Pacific States clearly state that she’s Juliana Crain. The Japanese won’t chase her anymore. Not if she’s SS and the partner of the Nazi Oberstgruppenführer who prevented global war.”
“What… what is this?” John took the papers Cameron had pulled from the folder, and then he felt a little dizzy. Juliana’s birth certificate from the State of California, 1935. Birth certificates for her parents, her grandparents, and all of her eight great-grandparents, going all the way back to one from 1847 in Ireland. Documentation of her schooling, first in the United States and then in the Pacific States. Health records from her childhood, from American doctors and then later from Japanese ones. It was extensive, and it seemed legitimate.
“Are these forgeries?” John asked, but Cameron shook her head and said in a sly voice,
“Sometimes it takes a long time, but you can find all the right papers if you contact the right people. She’s fully documented, and it’s all verifiable. She’s Aryan. She’s healthy except for scarring from the bus accident. Perfectly suitable as an SS Helferin, and certainly as the woman of childbearing age beside the heroic Oberstgruppenführer John Smith.”
He shook his head and set the papers down.
“I’m not going to leave Helen.”
“Then Helen will leave you,” Cameron said quietly. John stared straight into her eyes, looking for some sort of tell that she was bluffing, that she was trying to manipulate him with empty threats. But Cameron Seagram had shot him and Juliana and sent them through time and space. There was nothing empty in her threats. John looked through the SS commissioning paperwork, which had been filled out with a typewriter using information from the accompanying personal documentation. Everything was ready except for his signature. So he picked up the fountain pen sitting beside the phone on his desk, pulled off the lid, and signed his name on the last page.
“There,” he said in a low growl. “Juliana Crain - not Julia Mills, but Juliana Crain, the young and beautiful and competent defector into the Reich, will be an official part of the SS. And I will make her mine like I intended to do in that other world. Happy, Cameron? Are you happy? Are you fucking happy?”
He had pushed himself up to stand and had stalked around his desk, and he loomed over Cameron as he snarled down at her,
“Are you happy, you psychotic little bitch?”
Cameron sighed deeply. “My happiness is irrelevant, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith. I am merely following my orders. I appreciate your cooperation more than you know. The films are yours. Take them to Berlin. Keep them here. Destroy them. That decision is yours to make. But you will make Juliana yours, and you will have to cast Helen aside to do that. I am sorry. I really am.”
She picked up her empty canvas bag and stood, staring up at John as she nodded and told him,
“Thank you for seeing me, John.” She turned and started to walk away.
“What am I supposed to tell my wife?” John called after her, and Cameron paused. She glanced over her shoulder, looking almost sad, though John thought she probably was not capable of sadness. She said quietly,
“Tell her the truth to the fullest extent you’re able. Goodbye, John.”
John stood outside Juliana’s apartment unit, glad he’d decided against calling her into his office. This was too private to be discussed at work, even with microphones and cameras switched off. He pulled his leather gloves off and raised his fist to knock. A moment later, the door opened, and Juliana gave him a rather happy little smile.
“John,” she said warmly. She stepped aside and let him in, but when she read the seriousness on his face, she asked, “Everything okay?”
“Um… no. Not really. Can we talk in the kitchen?” John started walking that way, and Juliana seemed nervous as she sat in the chair opposite him. She glanced up to the pot on her stove and informed him,
“I’ve got stew going if you want some in a little while.”
John ignored the rumble in his stomach and said, “Maybe. Thanks. Um… right. So, today I had a visitor.”
He told her everything then. He told her about how Cameron Seagram had talked her way into his office, the way she’d come bearing films, the way she’d insisted that millions of lives would be endangered if John and Juliana didn’t live together in this existence. By the time he’d finished, Juliana was staring at him with silent tears running down her cheeks. John reached into his briefcase and silently handed over the folder. She wasn’t an idiot; she could read it all for herself. Juliana took a long moment to flip through the birth certificates, the educational and health records, and then the commission documentation for her to become an SS Helferin. She finally shut the folder and silently handed it back over to John.
She rose without speaking and opened one of her kitchen cabinets. John watched with confused fascination as she pulled two bowls from the cabinet and then ladled stew into them. She took spoons from a drawer and filled two glasses with water. John tucked the folder back into his briefcase as Juliana set the stew and water before him. She sat down opposite him and chewed her lip.
“What are you going to do with the films?”
“I’m going to take them to Berlin,” John said honestly. “I can’t let anyone else do it, obviously. It was the Führer who began collecting them, of course, but Goebbels and Himmler will still want to stockpile any of them we get our hands on.”
“And we’re not in those films?” Juliana asked, spooning some stew into her mouth. John shook his head.
“If Cameron’s telling the truth, it’s just military footage of an Allied victory. Obviously, I intend on watching them before I take them to Berlin. I’d like for you to come with me; I don’t think it’s safe to be an ocean away from you right now.”
Juliana pinched her lips and asked softly, “And will I be getting on that airplane in an SS uniform?”
“Yes,” John replied. He and Juliana ate in silence for a few moments, until he set his spoon down and noted, “I asked you to marry me in that other place, Juliana, and you said yes.”
“You’re married to Helen,” Juliana said, like she’d said a hundred times before. John chewed the inside of his cheek and muttered,
“I love Helen very much. I love my daughters. But I firmly believe that if I do not divorce Helen, she will be killed. Maybe the girls, too. I will not take that risk. So, Juliana… this is just as unromantic as it was in Sullivan’s. It isn’t for optics, and I do love you, but I’m not asking as much as informing now. I need you to marry me, please.”
Juliana touched her fingertips to her forehead and scoffed bitterly. “I love you so much it hurts. So much that I lie awake at night and stare at the ceiling and wish you were beside me. Yes, John. Of course I will marry you. In a hundred thousands different ways, I don’t have any choice.”
“Thank you.” John took another bite of stew, and Juliana asked him,
“What are you going to tell Helen? That you’re saving her life by leaving her?”
“No,” John snapped, setting his spoon down and swigging from his water. “How exactly am I supposed to tell Helen that? How am I supposed to explain any of this to her? The films, the traveling, getting shot and waking up beside her? How am I supposed to explain to her that I fell in love with you in a world where I was a bachelor and you were my housekeeper?”
“So what will you tell her?” Juliana asked again, her voice very gentle now. Her eyes were so beautiful, John thought distantly. Then he remembered Cameron’s words in his office, and he said,
“I’m going to tell Helen the closest thing to the truth that I can.”
“You missed dinner and the girls are already in bed.” Helen was standing at the sink scrubbing out a pot, and as she filled it with hot, soapy water to soak, John muttered,
“I apologize. We need to talk, Helen.”
“Yes. We do.” She turned around and wiped her hands on her apron, which she untied and hung on the hook beside the sink. She stomped over to the kitchen table and sat down, but John hesitated.
“In my office? This isn’t a conversation I want the girls to hear.”
Helen narrowed her eyes at him, but she slid up from her chair and followed John down the hall to his office. He quietly shut the door and sat at his desk. Helen sat opposite him, and she folded her hands in her lap and opened her mouth to speak. Before she could, John said,
“The woman you know as Julia Mills -”
“Don’t say her name to me,” Helen hissed, but John continued calmly,
“The woman you know as Julia Mills has a real name, a name that she brought with her from the Pacific States. Julia Mills is a pseudonym I gave her when she defected. Her real name is Juliana Crain, and she’ll be using that name once she’s commissioned into the SS as a Helferin. I’ll be using that name to refer to her from now on.”
Helen looked disgusted. “I would really prefer if you did not refer to her at all, John. Listen. I understand what’s happened.”
“You do?” John tried to put some bite in his voice and failed. He felt like throwing up. Helen nodded and began to cry, and John reached quickly into his uniform coat and pulled out a handkerchief that was plain except for the little black swastika embroidered on the corner. Helen snatched the handkerchief from John’s hand and touched it to each eye. She took a very shaky breath and said,
“You’ve let your attention wander. I understand. It’s a thing that happens, especially when marriages become… dull around the corners over time.”
“Helen,” John whispered, shutting his eyes, but she snapped,
“Let me finish, John.”
He opened his eyes to see that she’d resolutely balled up the handkerchief. She was beautiful all of a sudden. She was the young woman John had danced with as a US Army soldier. She was the woman who had stood beside him through absolutely every joy and sorrow. And she would die if he did not cast her aside. He tried desperately to swallow past the thick knot in his throat as Helen said,
“I understand that you fell in love with her. I can’t blame you. She’s young and beautiful and obviously infatuated with you. She’s smart and sweet and interesting and new. So I don’t blame you, John. I really don’t. But I do need you to make me a few promises.”
He said nothing. He could promise her nothing. Not now. He just blinked, and Helen looked irritated, but she said,
“Promise me that you will put an immediate end to whatever little affair you’ve been having with Julia… Juliana. Whatever her real name is. Promise me you’ll end it, that you’ll keep things professional with her. Promise me that you will refocus on us - on the children we still have, on our marriage, on the life we have built together. Promise me, John, that you… that you still love me.”
Her voice broke on that last bit, and John felt his own eyes burn so badly that it took every shred of self-control he had not to break down right there like a child. He blinked through the blur of unshed tears, and he said in a gravelly, honest voice,
“I do love you, Helen. I love you very much.”
Her voice was soft and desperate then as she started to say, “Then promise me we’ll move forward together and -”
“Helen, you and I will be getting a divorce.” John said the words quickly so that he wouldn’t stop himself. He sat up in his chair, his back going ramrod straight, and he put a hand on either thigh. He cleared his throat roughly and averted his eyes away from Helen.
“What?” She didn’t believe him. Her voice was almost amused by what he’d said. She scoffed, and when John kept staring at the wall, she demanded in an angry voice, “You look me in the eye, John Smith.”
He forced himself to obey her. He owed her eye contact now, at least. He studied her warm, pale eyes and knew that his own were cold and hard. Helen seemed to understand that he’d been serious, so she shook her head and said in a voice thick with tears,
“N-no. No. There won’t be a divorce; I do not consent to it.”
“The law states that I do not require your consent,” John reminded her. He’d rehearsed these words in his head during the car ride to the house. Having them ready to spew at her, armed with this hurtful venom, made it possible to speak. He would have been a complete mess right now if he hadn’t practiced the conversation ten times during the ride here. He was still a mess inside his head, his mind flooded with imagery of Helen in the kitchen, showing the girls how to bake… a younger Helen cradling Thomas against her chest and singing softly to him… her smile on their wedding day, the warm smell of her beside him in bed.
“Helen.” He said her name as if he’d never be allowed to speak it again. She didn’t answer. She bowed her head, and he watched one tear after another tumble from her eyes and land on her skirts.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered. Then she raised her face, her eyes rimmed red and her cheeks splotched scarlet. “Please, John. You can keep her; you can visit her at her apartment whenever you want.”
“I love you,” he said, and when her face twisted with agonized rage, he clarified, “I love you, and I will not make you share me. I will not put you through… the years we have spent together are too precious to me to… Helen, I don’t have a fucking choice!”
He nearly shouted that last part, and suddenly Helen looked irate. She flew to her feet and threw his handkerchief onto his desk. She reached across the desk and seized his face in her hands, her grip so hard that John winced in pain. She did not let up; she stared him straight in the eyes and she said through clenched teeth,
“Of course you have a choice. And you are choosing to abandon the wife who has been your very staunchest ally, the daughters who adore their father, the home and the life that we have earned together. You are choosing to abandon us for a whore who ran away from the Japs. Well, enjoy your whore, John. Enjoy whatever life you carve out for yourself. I always knew you were cruel, but you were never cruel to me. It was inevitable, maybe. I always knew you were ruthless, but you were never ruthless to me. I see you now, John Smith. I see you very plainly, and I hate you. Do you understand me?”
He reached up to pry her fingers from his face, because she was gripping him so hard that there would be difficult-to-explain bruises. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, that he had never wanted to leave her in the first place, that he had never meant to fall in love with Juliana, that he was trying to save his family by walking away now. Instead he just squeezed a little at her hands, bringing her knuckles to his lips to kiss them. Helen snatched her hands away and said again, without an ounce of hesitation,
“I hate you, John. I do. Go pack a bag and stay the night at the slut’s apartment in the city. Send a lackey for your belongings, and have someone bring by whatever papers I need to sign.”
She stormed from his office then, leaving the door wide open as her heels clacked on the wood.
Author’s Note: Everybody say it with me… “Damn it, Cameron!” So maybe Juliana and John will be a happy, successful couple, and now they can get married. But will John see his daughters? Will Helen really accept this? Why the hell does the Man in the High Castle *need* John and Juliana to be together, without Helen, in this existence to save millions of lives? It’ll all be explained. Promise.
For those reading my Vicbourne story - I am currently really focused on this fic. I ordinarily do not work on two stories at once, for good reason. My brain just doesn’t do it well. I promise that as soon as this MiTHC fic is done, I will finish my Vicbourne fic. I want to do both stories justice, and I need to finish this one before I can finish the other. Thanks for your understanding and patience.
Thanks for reading and please do leave a quick comment if you get a moment.
Chapter 23: Please Sign Here
For a half second, John thought about knocking on the door of his own house. But there was a corporal driving the car in the driveway, and it would look awfully strange if the Oberst-Gruppenführer didn’t just walk into his own home. So John opened the door slowly and called in a loud, clear voice,
He stepped inside and heard soft piano music playing on the radio in the living room. He let his teeth dig into his bottom lip when he saw that Amy’s school sweater was hanging by the front door. It was too warm today for a sweater. John had come a few days before to explain to Amy and Jennifer just what was happening, but he’d stumbled over his words and had wound up admitting that he was leaving their mother to be with the woman they’d called Julia. Jennifer, especially, had not taken kindly to the news. When John had called the night before to say goodnight to the girls, Amy had given him a terse few words, but Jennifer had refused entirely to talk. John could hardly blame her.
“Helen?” he called again, and finally Helen came staggering from the kitchen. She had a nearly-empty glass of liquor in her hand, and John realized at once that she was completely sloshed. He walked quickly up to her and took the glass, guiding her with a hand between her shoulder blades into the kitchen. For some reason, she let him touch her. Maybe she knew there wouldn’t be many more chances.
He knew why she was drunk. They’d arranged for John to come with the legal documents today while the girls were at school. They didn’t need to be around for this. Helen had probably started swigging whiskey at breakfast, judging by the glassy look in her eyes and the way she swayed in the chair where John helped her sit. He frowned deeply and sat opposite her, and as he reached into his briefcase, he said rather tightly,
“I need to tell you something, Helen, before we do all of this. You won’t believe me, and I don’t blame you for that, but I have to tell you anyway.”
“Sure. Go ahead. Nothing you could say no could hurt any more than…” Helen trailed off, bringing her knuckles to her lips. She shook a bit and reminded him, “I have loved you, John Smith, for so long. I have been devoted to you. I have given my life to our family. And you’re leaving me… just because of some pretty young -”
“I am divorcing you to protect you,” John said, looking down at the folder before him. When Helen scoffed obnoxiously, John tipped his head and insisted, “I have had to do many things in my life to protect my family, Helen. I have had to kill people before to protect my family, and you know that damned well.”
He raised his eyes to her and watched her swipe frantically at the tears that were tumbling down her cheeks. She seemed confused, and John finally said,
“To keep you and the girls safe, Helen, I have to divorce you. That does not mean that I have stopped loving you; I will never stop loving you. I promise you with every shred of honor I possess that I have only brought these documents here today because I need to ensure that you and the girls stay safe. I can’t give you any more information than that.”
Helen frowned deeply and shook her head as she whispered in a drunken slur, “I don’t understand.”
“That’s all I can tell you,” John said again. He opened the folder and pulled a heavy, luxurious metal pen from his briefcase. “All I can say, Helen, is that I love you and our daughters - and, yes, Thomas, too - with every fiber of my soul. I will never, ever stop loving any of you. But I’m here today to divorce you, because it is the only choice we have. So let’s sign the papers, okay?”
He pulled out the bound packet inside the folder. It was a prepared legal document that had been typed up by the marriage authorities with John’s and Helen’s personal information. He’d had to submit a reason for divorcing Helen, and he’d lied on the application. He’d never tell Helen what he’d put, because it would wound her to her core to know that he’d written, Wife frigid about attempts at procreation. Rejects requests by husband for marital relations. Wife likely past childbearing age; husband has discussed marriage with Juliana Crain, an SS Helferin of childbearing age.
He wouldn’t tell her that he’d said any of that.
Instead he studied the packet, which was full of legalese outlining the fact that there were ‘irreconcilable differences’ and ‘concerns about procreative and intimate abilities’ between the two divorcing spouses. John flipped to the third page, where he saw his own name and Helen’s with a line beside each. He cleared his throat and signed his own name, and then he carefully put the packet before Helen and held out the pen.
“This signature indicates that you understand the legal procedure happening is a permanent and complete dissolution of our marriage.”
Helen began to sob then, to heave with cries as tears streamed down her face, taking black mascara with them. She took the pen from John’s hand, her fingers shaking like mad as she finally signed on the line, Helen Smith .
Seeing her write her name like that made John’s eyes burn, but he managed to compose himself enough to take the packet back and summarize certain parts aloud.
“As you and I agreed, I have purchased a penthouse apartment in Manhattan and will be living there. There will be a bedroom for each of the girls; they will visit me the third weekend of each month, provided I am in New York. If I am traveling, you and I will make other accommodations for a visit. A car will come and pick them up after school on Friday and bring them back to Long Island on Sunday evening. If the girls wish to come to Manhattan at any other time, they are more than welcome, and with your permission, they will be chauffeured to my residence. This house, while remaining in my legal ownership, will be the full-time residence for you and the girls. You will be sent a check each month for living expenses. All parenting decisions except for those regarding medical or schooling concerns are yours to make; I will be consulted on more serious matters. When the girls visit each month, they will bring with them a letter that you’ve written summarizing their activities for the previous month. If you agree with all of that, sign here, please.”
He pushed the packet back across the table to Helen, and she glared at him with eyes that could hardly focus. Her bottom lip trembled, and she whispered,
“Our poor, sweet girls.”
“I am doing this to keep you safe, Helen,” John said again. “To keep Amy and Jennifer safe. If I could explain more, I would. I need you to trust me. You have trusted me for years. Trust me now. Please sign the papers.”
He handed Helen the pen, and she sniffled as she signed her name. John took it back and signed on his own line. He turned a few pages and said quietly,
“Both of us are free to remarry at will; if you do remarry, the monthly allowance you receive from me will be reassessed by a magistrate.”
“You’ll be remarrying sooner rather than later, I suppose,” Helen drawled, struggling in her intoxication to fold her hands on the table. She sniffed roughly, and John just said,
“There’s… no rush on that.”
“But you are marrying her,” Helen snapped. John licked his bottom lip and whispered,
“I would kill a hundred thousand people with my own bare hands to keep you and the girls safe. Instead, I have to do this. I love you, Helen. Please sign here.”
“How did it go?”
John shut the door of his posh new Manhattan penthouse and pulled his hat from his head. Juliana came up to him and took the hat and his coat, which she hung in the closet near the front door. John dragged his fingers over his head and muttered,
“I need a shower.”
Juliana nodded and knitted her hands together before her. She’d understand how unclean he felt, having gone to see the mother of his children and force her to sign divorce papers. Juliana would understand that he’d felt like a complete cur filing the paperwork with the marriage authorities. The two of them were leaving in three days for Berlin; John had arranged a meeting with Himmler to personally hand over the films.
Now he stood under a blazing hot stream of water and raked a washcloth over his skin. He scrubbed soap over the hair-covered flesh on his legs, over and over, thinking of the steps he’d taken through the woods while camping with Thomas. He soaped up his arms and rubbed the cloth until it hurt, and he thought of the way Amy had taken ten terrifying minutes to first cry when she’d been born. He’d held her once the doctors had finally handed her over, and he’d found Helen’s exhausted eyes and smiled.
John watched the suds go down the drain, shutting his eyes and remembering the way Cameron Seagram had threatened Helen and the girls. It was critical, Cameron had said, that this John and that Juliana wind up in the same place, that they live as a pair, that he cast Helen aside. Millions of lives depended on it, somehow.
John shut off the water and stood in the shower until the water on him dried cold. He shivered with a hand on the white subway tile, and then he heard Juliana’s voice say gently,
“Here’s a towel, John.”
He pushed open the glass door and wordlessly took the fluffy white towel from her. He wrapped it around his waist and noticed that she’d taken off her own black skirted SS uniform and had changed into a short, rather tight nightgown in deep purple. It was pretty, he thought. He must let himself find her pretty now. He was not only prohibited from being Helen’s wife, but apparently millions of lives depended in some way upon him loving Juliana.
And he did love her. As he scrubbed at his dark hair and then wrapped the towel around his waist, he thought about just how comfortable he was being naked in front of Juliana, how little he minded the intimate nature of standing alone with her in a bathroom. He took her face in his hands and stared into her sapphire eyes for a long moment.
“Can I confess something to you, John?” Juliana whispered, and he nodded silently. Her lips curled up just a little, and her hands pressed flat against his chest as she said,
“I have something… a page I tore out a magazine four days ago. I must have looked at it a dozen times today at work.”
John smirked. “Yeah? What’s on the page?”
“A wedding dress,” Juliana said simply, and when John brushed his thumbs under her eyes, Juliana said in the most compassionate voice he could imagine, “I know we have to wait a while, that it’ll just be you and me in front of the magistrate. I know. But there’s a part of me that grew up as a little girl in the Pacific States, seeing the Japanese women getting married in their beautiful kimono or their lacy Western-style gowns. And even though we have to wait, and even though it’ll just be you and me, I… I just kind of want a pretty dress. Is that selfish, John?”
“No.” He shook his head firmly. She was an SS-Helferin; women in the service were allowed to wear formal gowns for their weddings. As an Oberst-Gruppenführer, John would marry Juliana in his SS uniform, standing in an office at the marriage authority headquarters. It would be crisp and brief and very official. But, of course, Juliana needed a pretty dress.
“What does it look like?” He shut his eyes and soaked in the feel of Juliana’s hands pressed against his chest. “The dress. What does it look like?”
“Well, it’s white,” she joked, and John couldn’t help smiling a little. But then Juliana started to rub at his shoulders and down his arms, and she said, “It’s made of silk taffeta. The whole thing. It’s got a high neck with a lace overlay, and tight long sleeves, and a sort of sash-looking part around the waist. And it’s got a full skirt that would reach my calves. I’d wear white satin heels and lace gloves, and -”
“Pearl earrings,” John finished for her, opening his eyes. He brushed his knuckle over the lobe of Juliana’s ear, and she asked shyly,
“How’d you know I’ve always wanted pearl earrings?”
“They must be popular with Japanese women,” John reasoned, “but you wouldn’t have been able to afford them. I’ll buy you a pair… maybe in Berlin.”
Juliana smiled more broadly then and asked him, “Will we dance the polka in Berlin, John? Like we did the last time?”
Suddenly a thought came over John, rushing through him like an ocean wave, and he murmured, “Berlin.”
“John?” Juliana seemed concerned, but John took her face in his hands again and whispered,
“I’m going to marry you in Berlin.”
“What?” Juliana furrowed her brows and shook her head. “What are you -”
“We’ll have Himmler do it. Talk about optics. And then… then we don’t have to wait, and it’s not in some stuffy office in Brooklyn, and… please, Juliana; say you’ll marry me in Berlin.”
Her mouth fell open, and she said softly, “I’ll have to go after work tomorrow and get a dress.”
“Okay.” John nodded and tore the towel from his waist. He needed her all of a sudden. She was his. It was very important - not just to him - that Juliana be his. He hoisted her easily up onto the bathroom counter; she was so thin and lithe and moved so easily in his hands. He reached beneath her nightgown and pulled her underwear down, and he reached quickly for the drawer beside the sink. There were condoms in there; he kept them everywhere these days. Soon enough he wouldn’t need them; he would be expected to put a child in Juliana for the good of the Reich. But for today, he tore the package open and slipped it onto his cock. He’d gone hard thinking about marrying her, thinking about her in a pretty silk dress, wearing pearl earrings.
She buried her face into the crook of his neck as he entered her, and her hands moved all over his arms and back and stomach. She rubbed and his neck and cooed little sounds of delight as he pumped himself into her. She cradled his hips with her knees, her breath warm on his skin as it accelerated in tandem with his movements. John flicked his eyes up to the mirror and watched. He watched the way her back heaved with arousal, the way her hair was a little rumpled. He stared at his own face, pink-cheeked and eager. He watched his own hands rub at her narrow waist, at her hips and thighs. He watched his own eyes, cold as ice and sharp as daggers.
He had washed his old life down the drain in the shower. He’d had to do it; he’d had no choice about it. He had Juliana. She was his life now. She was everything now.
John shut his eyes, unable to stave off his climax in order to keep watching in the mirror. Just before his own body snapped, he felt Juliana come with a slow, easy undulation of her walls clenching on him. Her voice huffed a little whine against his neck, and she kissed him there as her subtle climax gave way to his. This felt easy, too, the way his own come filled the condom inside of her, his member twitching just a little as a pleasant heat took him over.
He slid out of her but stayed with her cradled against him, and he turned his face to kiss at her cheek and whisper again,
“I’m going to marry you in Berlin, Juliana.”
Author’s Note: Geez, John. I understand Cameron threatened your family and you *had* to divorce Helen. I also understand that you’re in love with Juliana and had proposed in the other world. But… just a few days from now with Himmler? Talk about a slap to Helen’s face, no? John, John, John… ;) As always, thanks for reading and for any feedback
Chapter 24: Elegant and Kind
“It’s exactly the same as… as, you know, it was in the other place.” Juliana turned and gave John a meaningful look after the bellman left their suite in the Hotel Neumann. He sighed and looked around for cameras. He knew exactly what to look for to find them. Finally, he murmured,
“Apparently an Oberst-Gruppenführer has earned the privilege of privacy in a hotel suite.” He walked around and kept looking into nooks, crannies, vents. Windowsills, furniture. There were no cameras. No microphones. He knew what to look for. Juliana seemed surprised when John stood up and took his hat off and said, “There’s no surveillance.”
“Well, that’s kind of nice,” Juliana said with a little smile. John nodded and walked over to the stack of their luggage. He pulled off the beige hard-sided case from the top and unlatched it, and when he peeled open the lid, he checked to ensure that all three films were still there. The case hadn’t been out of his sight since New York, but for some reason he needed to lay eyes on the films.
“I’m meeting with Reichsführer Himmler immediately to hand over the films. I’ll discuss the marriage ceremony then. He’s obviously certified by the Reich to perform it.”
“And if he says no?” Juliana peeled her gloves off and took off her feminine black hat. John smirked a little and looked at the garment bag that he knew contained a white silk taffeta dress.
“Then we go back home and get married in front of a magistrate in Brooklyn,” he said. “Make yourself comfortable and rest a while; be ready to go out for dinner when I come back from the meeting, all right?”
“Yes. I’m assuming I should keep a uniform on?” Juliana glanced down at her neatly tailored SS-Helferin uniform, and John nodded crisply.
“Yes, of course. I’ll be back soon.” He took his briefcase in one hand and the beige hard-sided case in the other, and he stepped up to Juliana. He gave her a crooked little smile and said, “My hands are full, Helferin Crain. Kiss me, would you?”
She grinned and tipped herself up onto her toes, pressing her lips to John’s and whispering in a sweet voice, “I love you, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith.”
He stepped back from her and sighed heavily, and he murmured, “Sieg Heil, Helferin Crain.”
She ought to have saluted him at that, because he far outranked her, but instead she just curled her lips up and whispered, “See you soon, John.”
“John! How good to see you.”
John came out of his salute and picked up his bags, stepping into the office of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. He gave a polite little smile and said,
“Thank you kindly for meeting with me so soon after my arrival in Berlin, Reichsführer Himmler.”
“Sit, sit, sit.” Himmler sank into his own chair; his office was massive and imposing. John sat opposite him, and Himmler raised his gray brows behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “So. Something has brought you all the way from New York with urgency. Would it be safe to assume it’s got something to do with films?”
John smirked a little and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He reached for the hard case and put it onto Himmler’s stout desk. He pushed it toward Himmler and said softly,
“There are three of them, sir.”
Himmler opened the case and began examining them - the tins, the titles. He gave John a meaningful look and asked,
“Have you watched them?”
“No, sir,” John lied, knowing that his eyes and voice were steady. He was a very good liar. He’d watched the films five times each. Cameron had been telling the truth. They were footage of the military activities and aftermath of a war the Allies had won. They were frightening in that way - seeing the destruction of the Reich by American and British forces - but that’s all they were. Frightening military footage. It was all real, somewhere John couldn’t reach, but it wasn’t real here. He sighed lightly and said to Himmler,
“The Führer - may he rest in eternal glory - made it very clear to me that I was to find the films and bring them in. My duties as Oberst-Gruppenführer are broader now. I have to oversee the entirety of the American SS. But I’m still concerned with these films. If the Führer himself wanted every last one, I will continue to track them down.”
Himmler nodded and put the films back into the case, which he shut. His voice was grave then as he said seriously,
“You are one of the Reich’s greatest assets, John Smith, and I do not say that as an empty compliment.”
John just bowed his head submissively. Then he cleared his throat and said,
“Reichsführer, I have a personal request to make of you while I’m here in Berlin.”
Himmler’s bushy eyebrows went up again, and he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I should think you have earned nearly any request at this point, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith.”
John folded his hands in his lap, his mouth feeling dry for some reason. He cleared his throat and shifted, and Himmler laughed a little.
“You are nervous, John. Out with it.”
“I have divorced my wife, Helen,” John said, and Himmler looked surprised.
“I met her a few times, I believe,” he said. “Lovely woman. Elegant and kind. May I ask what transpired?”
John shut his eyes and said simply, “I fell in love with someone else, sir.”
“Ah. Yes. Well, that happens.” Himmler drummed his fingers on his desk, and when John opened his eyes, Himmler was smiling a little. “Let me guess. It’s the young, beautiful defector from the Pacific States, the one you commissioned as an SS-Helferin, the one you brought with you to Germany. Juliana Crain.”
John’s breath shook as he let out a sigh, and he nodded. “Yes, sir. I intend on marrying her, sooner rather than later.”
“Good. The sooner you marry her, the sooner she can bear children for the Reich,” Himmler said. He sniffed and looked out the window. “And the sooner you can discern whether that fractured pelvis of hers will prove a detriment to such a thing.”
John’s stomach felt cold then. Heinrich Himmler had access to every file in the Reich, he knew. Of course he would have read up on Juliana upon learning John was bringing her to Berlin. He wasn’t surprised at all by Himmler’s words. Still, he struggled to sound confident as he said,
“I’ve spoken with a few doctors who assert she could easily bear children if she delivered through cesarean section, Reichsführer Himmler. Beyond any other issues Helen and I had in our marriage, there was no doubt that Amy would be last child Helen would give me.”
He felt disgusting talking about Helen and Juliana like this, but he knew full well what the priorities of the Reich were. Himmler nodded and pursed his lips, still staring out the window,
“Helferin Crain’s direct supervisor states that she is a very hard worker. Focused and obedient. A model woman, she would seem. I’m sure she will make a very good wife for you. Have you already bought the rings?”
He turned his head to John, who gulped hard and stammered,
“Sh-she isn’t allowed diamond jewelry with her SS uniform, of course, and it felt rather inappropriate so soon after my divorce. But I do have simple gold bands for the actual ceremony.”
And pearl earrings, which he’d purchased the day before they’d left New York. Those were buried in his luggage at the moment, intended to be given to Juliana during a more private moment. John huffed a breath and asked, “Reichsführer Himmler, I wonder if you would be good enough to perform the civil ceremony for us here in Berlin. There could be no higher honor for us to be joined in marriage, to swear ourselves to one another and to the Reich, if the ceremony were performed by you.”
Himmler grinned broadly then and nodded once.
“Yes, John. Of course. Bring her here tomorrow at four in the afternoon. I’ll have the paperwork drawn up today.”
John felt a nervous quiver in his stomach, but he nodded quickly. “Thank you, sir. Is it… must she wear her uniform, or may she wear a bridal dress?”
“She must be in white, of course!” Himmler cried. He laughed a little and patted the hard case with the films in it. “I shall file these at once. You have done your duty honorably in bringing them yourself, Oberst-Gruppenführer. Now, go back to your hotel and tell Helferin Juliana Crain that by tomorrow evening, she will be Helferin Juliana Smith. You may go.”
John rose from his chair and clicked his heels tightly together. He snapped his arm up, straight as an arrow and at just the precise angle, and he stared ahead of him as he barked,
Himmler just nodded, dismissing his most able American representative, and he said smoothly, “Sieg Heil, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith.”
Author’s Note: Squeeeeee. So they’re going to get married! And she’ll be in a pretty dress with pretty pearl earrings and… um… it’s the head of the SS marrying them, and… um… yeah. If your moral compass isn’t spinning out of control, check yourself. ;)
Chapter 25: I Do Promise
John stalked nervously around the living room of his hotel suite, trying to keep his breathing steady. Soon enough, Himmler would be more than just the Reichsführer who had assumed control after Heusmann’s treachery. He’d be more than the SS leader who was Acting Chancellor. Soon enough, Heinrich Himmler would succeed Adolf Hitler as the Führer of the Reich.
That would happen soon, John knew. The Reichstag would hold its sham vote probably within the next few days. There would be minimal ceremony in bringing Himmler in as the new Führer, because the people were still in deep mourning for Hitler, and it would seem uncouth to be celebratory about the succession. But there would be a parade in Berlin, and probably rallies all over the Greater Reich. John would need to be present at many of those; he’d probably have to give a few speeches.
But today, Heinrich Himmler wasn’t the Führer, and John Smith wasn’t giving speeches. Today, John Smith was marrying Juliana Crain, and Heinrich Himmler was officiating. Later, when Himmler did fully ascend to power, John and Juliana would be able to proudly declare that they’d been married by the Führer himself. That would be a rare honor, but it was one John knew Himmler believed him to have earned. Himmler had sung John Smith’s praises in the Volkshalle; he’d declared John a hero and had promoted him. And they both knew full well that, without John’s efforts, Heusmann’s malicious and destructive scheming would have ruined them all. Performing this marriage ceremony was, frankly, the least Himmler could do.
Just the same, John was nervous. It had nothing to do with Himmler, really. It had everything to do with Helen, with his daughters, with Juliana. He glanced at the clock. 2:56. That meant it was almost ten in the morning in New York. The girls were almost certainly in school right now, sitting in classrooms, raising their hands to answer questions. Their hair would be done up in braids made by Helen’s skilled and quick fingers. John felt his eyes burn suddenly, and he whispered aloud,
“I’m sorry, Helen.”
Then he thought of Cameron Seagram, because it was impossible not to do so. He hated that woman with all of his heart, and yet he’d believed her when she’d said she was following orders. Was she right about the absolute necessity of John being with Juliana in this particular existence? How could she know of such a necessity? There must be a film, John thought, or perhaps many films, that corroborated the notion. Where were those films? He needed them. He needed to see them, to see the proof that he had saved millions of lives by divorcing Helen, that the world would somehow be better off because he was starting a new life with Juliana.
Juliana, who just the night before had made love to him for over an hour. It had been slow, comfortable, and easy, and yet it had set John’s veins on fire. He adored every square inch of her body. He adored the way she demurely smiled and laughed at his bad jokes, the way she talked about her childhood with a wistful sort of regret. He adored the way she looked when she was reading - something she enjoyed doing very much. He adored the sight of eyes when she was staring out a window and thinking hard about something. He adored her, all of her, from the inside out and outside back in. He would enjoy being married to her, and if it was meant to be, he would enjoy fathering children with her.
Suddenly he had a mental image of Juliana cradling a baby swaddled in a white blanket, and his stomach twisted. He wanted that. He wanted it more than almost anything else. He wanted her, wholly and completely. And in just a little while, she would be his in every conceivable way.
The door to the suite’s bathroom opened, and Juliana came walking out. John could have sworn that his heart stopped beating entirely then. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. She was almost impossibly beautiful in the dress she’d bought, the one that sounded suspiciously like the magazine page she’d ripped out. Silk taffeta with tight sleeves and full, swishing skirts that reached her calves. White satin heels. Lace gloves. And she’d pulled her dark hair back into an elegant twist, which rather conveniently exposed her ears. John cleared his throat roughly and murmured,
“You look… you... “
His lips shook, and Juliana grinned, her bright red lipstick applied just so. He was going to wind up with that lipstick all over his own face, John realized, but he didn’t care. He let his eyes flutter shut, and he informed her,
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Juliana.”
“Oh. John…” She sounded a little emotional then. He moved to his briefcase and pulled out the black velvet box he’d brought from New York. He walked over to Juliana and held it out to her, and when she hesitated, he cracked open the clamshell lid. Her eyes went wide at the sight of the pearl earrings he’d bought for her. The salesman had assured John that these - harvested from the sea, not grown in a cheap factory farm - were the highest quality he could have. They had silver overtones, John had been told, which was good for a woman like Juliana, with her dark hair and her vibrant blue eyes.
“John,” she whispered, her gloved fingers shaking as she took the earrings out one at a time and put them into her ears. He hardly had time to observe what she looked like before she dashed back into the bathroom and stared at the mirror. She smiled broadly, admiring the way the pearls looked, and she told him,
“I have always, always wanted a pair of these. Do you know how often I’d see a wealthy Japanese woman go walking by with a pair of these in, and I’d think… someday. Someday I’ll have a pair of my own. I knew better; I knew I’d never have them.”
“You do now,” John noted, and Juliana nodded. She smiled so brightly that John found himself grinning a little. She turned from the mirror and nodded.
“Thank you, John.”
“We should go,” he told her. “Supposed to be in Himmler’s office at four. With the car ride in traffic, and by the time we get through security at the building…”
“Yes. Okay. Let’s go.” Juliana reached for John’s hand and squeezed a little, and in that moment, John knew beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt that he was doing the right thing in marrying Juliana Crain.
Juliana saluted perfectly, and as John came out of his own salute, he realized it aroused him a little to see her behave like that. He cleared his throat as Himmler gestured for them to come into his office.
“SS-Helferin Juliana Crain,” he acknowledged, and Juliana bowed her head a little. An old holdover, John thought, from her days in the Pacific States.
“Reichsführer Himmler,” she said softly. “Please allow me to thank you most sincerely for your willingness to perform the marriage rite.”
“I am happy to do it,” Himmler said firmly. “You are about to marry one of the greatest men in the Reich, Helferin Crain. You know this?”
Juliana smiled up at John, and the admiration in her blue eyes made his breath catch. She nodded.
“Oh, yes, Reichsführer. I know how special he is.”
Juliana had learned of what John had done in this world. In her other existence, in the place where they’d fallen in love, Hitler had still been alive. The deeds for which John had been branded a hero had not come to pass. But he’d told Juliana everything. He’d shown her the newsreels, the papers and the magazines that covered it. She’d been astonished by it all, and more than a little impressed.
“Shall we get right down to business?” Himmler suggested, and John managed to give a crisp nod. He followed Himmler over to a table alongside the wood-paneled wall. He could see two stacks of papers on the table - the contractual papers that would need to be signed to make the marriage legal, and the script for the marriage rite, in English, to be used by the celebrant. Himmler picked up the script and said,
“If you will stand before me, please.”
They did, and Juliana suddenly seemed terrified of something. John wanted to reach for her hand, to reassure her that everything was fine, but he just stood beside her and folded his hands. These ceremonies were nothing like the elaborate, maudlin way he’d married Helen. Public, large weddings were permitted in the Reich, and there was space in the script to add things like poetry readings or the playing of music to drag out the length of the ceremony. But most civil marriages took only a few moments. Ritual was important in the Reich, of course, but when it came to marriage, the most important thing was what happened after the union was solemnized.
Himmler cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses, and he opened the bound script. He read aloud,
“Today we have come to perform and witness the union of John Smith and Juliana Crain in marriage. This ceremony is intended to bind them together - heart, mind, body, and spirit. As a married couple, they will be loyal to the Greater Nazi Reich in every way, and will assist one another in leading virtuous, productive lives. I, Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, stand before them to consecrate this union in the name our late, beloved Führer, Adolf Hitler.”
He took a deep breath then, and John knew that was because it was right and appropriate to take a moment and silently mourn the man who had started it all. After a half a minute, Himmler continued,
“John and Juliana. Have you both come here of your own volition with the intention of marrying one another?”
“I have, Reichsführer,” Juliana nodded, and John affirmed,
“Is there any impediment - moral, legal, medical, or on the basis of purity and worthiness - that would invalidate your ability to marry one another?” Himmler asked. Juliana shook her head.
“No, sir,” John echoed. Himmler nodded and turned the page of his script, sniffing lightly.
“Juliana. Remove your gloves, if you please. John… the rings.”
Juliana pulled off her lace gloves and set them on the table, taking her place beside John again. He reached into the pocket inside the chest of his uniform coat and felt the cold metallic smoothness of the two gold rings he’d bought. He stared at them in his palm for a moment. The ring he’d put on when he’d married Juliana was in a drawer in his office desk in New York. He would never wear it again. He’d wear this one now. Juliana’s ring.
“SS-Helferin Juliana Crain,” Himmler said, and Juliana turned her eyes to the Reichsführer. Himmler asked solemnly, “Do you promise to be loyal to the Greater Nazi Reich by serving as a model woman and wife - by making a good home for your husband and by procreating to ensure the future of a pure Nazi population?”
“I do promise,” Juliana nodded. Himmler continued,
“And do you promise to be a true, faithful, obedient, and loving wife to John?”
“I do promise,” Juliana said. Himmler turned to John and said,
“Put the ring upon Juliana’s finger, John. Juliana, repeat after me. I, Juliana Crain, do swear myself to you, John Smith, and to the Greater Nazi Reich. Sieg Heil.”
Juliana’s voice trembled as John slid her tiny ring onto her thin finger, but she managed to repeat,
“I, Juliana Crain, do swear myself to you, John Smith, and to the Greater Nazi Reich. Sieg Heil.”
John squeezed her fingers a little and smiled down at her, and he saw joy in her eyes then instead of fear. Himmler said,
“SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith, do you promise to be loyal to the Greater Nazi Reich by serving as a model man and husband - by providing financially and materially for your family and by procreating to ensure the future of a pure Nazi population?”
“I do promise.” John turned his head to Himmler for that part. He still hadn’t released Juliana’s hand. Something was keeping him from doing so. Himmler bore on,
“And do you promise to be a true, faithful, merciful, and loving husband to Juliana?”
Faithful. He hadn’t done that part very well for Helen. But John pinched his lips and remembered everything Cameron had said, and he resolved to do better for Juliana. He stared right into her blue eyes then as he said almost aggressively,
“I do promise.”
“Juliana, put the ring on John’s finger. John, repeat after me. I, John Smith, do swear myself to you, Juliana Crain, and to the Greater Nazi Reich. Sieg Heil.”
Juliana almost dropped the ring when John handed it to her, but he brushed his thumb over palm to steady her, and he helped her slip the ring onto his finger as he said quietly,
“I, John Smith, do swear myself to you, Juliana Crain, and to the Greater Nazi Reich. Sieg Heil.”
“In the name of our late, beloved Führer, Adolf Hitler, and under the authority of the law of the Greater Nazi Reich, I do declare that the man and woman before me are henceforth bound in marriage. John and Juliana, you are now husband and wife. Seal your vows now with a kiss.”
John smirked down at Juliana and gently took her cheeks in his hands. He kissed her deliberately but gently, not wanting to make a show in front of Himmler. They would make a show later, he thought. When he pulled away from Juliana, he nodded at Himmler and said sincerely,
“Thank you, Reichsführer.”
Himmler smiled more warmly than John was used to seeing him do. He shrugged and said,
“Anything I can do to facilitate your success and happiness, John. After what you’ve done for the Reich, you deserve to be happy. Helferin Smith… make him happy.”
Juliana’s mouth fell open at the use of John’s surname with her own SS title. She nodded fervently. She and John signed the paperwork that Himmler had brought. Himmler signed it, too, and then he walked to his desk and pressed a button on his phone. A moment later, a Standartenführer who clearly served Himmler the way Erich served John came into the office and saluted. Himmler handed over the paperwork to the Standartenführer and instructed that it be filed at once with both the German and the American marriage authorities. Then he said with a smile,
“ Schick den Fotografen sofort hier rein .”
“We don’t need any photos, sir,” John said good-naturedly once the Standartenführer had gone, but Himmler waved him off.
“Nonsense. The people all know who you are now, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith. A wedding photograph will need to be in every newspaper.”
Suddenly John’s stomach sank. He shut his eyes and cleared his throat.
“Is that really necessary, sir?”
“You are thinking that it will wound your former wife to see such photos,” Himmler nodded, “but you are a hero of the Reich, John Smith, and you have just married a beautiful, young SS-Helferin. Of course there will be photos.”
“John…” Juliana whispered his name carefully, and when he turned to look down at her, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“No. Today is a happy day,” John said, almost growling out the words. He reached for Juliana’s hand and said very seriously, “I love you.”
The photographer came into the room and arranged John and Juliana carefully against the elegant wooden wall. He took many photos, and then he said in a thick German accent,
“Please, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith, will you just smile a little bit? Nothing dramatic. Helferin Smith, please give me a beautiful smile. Yes. Just like that. Thank you.”
He took about ten more pictures, and then he was dismissed by Himmler. John studied Juliana again, the way she looked so very beautiful as she pulled her lace gloves back on.
“Thank you again, Reichsführer Himmler,” Juliana said. “We won’t keep you; we’ve taken more than enough of your time.”
“How diplomatic she is, your lovely new wife,” Himmler said to John. Then he nodded at each of them and said, “Congratulations to you both. Sieg Heil.”
Author’s Note: Okay. So, they’re married. Happy happy joy joy, right? Except not so much for Helen, who’s apparently going to see her hero ex-husband’s wedding photos all over the media. Bet her bridge club meetings will be a little awkward now, huh? And will Juliana actually be able to conceive the way her duty compels her to? Well, we’ll need a good sour lemon to start finding that out, eh?
I will be out of town with friends tonight and tomorrow, and therefore I may not update until Monday. I appreciate your patience. In the meantime, thank you for reading and thank you so much for any feedback!
Chapter 26: Sorry I Woke You
Author’s Note: Just some good old wedding night smut before regularly-scheduled plot resumes next chapter… :}
“Hmm.” He rolled a little, unsure of whether he was still dreaming. He could feel lips on his cheekbone, a hand sliding down his bare front. John curled against the warm body beside him and whispered, “Juliana.”
They’d gone out to dinner after their wedding ceremony. The meal had been compliments of the restaurant, Das Silberne Pferd. Word would spread quickly, John knew, that the American Oberst-Gruppenführer had taken a beautiful new wife, a young defector from the Pacific States who served in the SS herself. He’d felt a hundred eyes on them in the restaurant, and it had been a relief to come back to the hotel suite.
He’d stripped Juliana bare and kissed her in the shower, each of them scrubbing the day off the other before stumbling naked into the bedroom and spending a half hour engaged in slow but intense sex. They’d talked and then fallen asleep, and John had dreamed that he and Thomas and Juliana were sitting on a dock, all three of them fishing.
Now he was blinking his eyes open, staring at Juliana through the dim light from the lamp she’d flicked on. She stroked at his cheek a little and curled up her lips, her hand drifting around his bare stomach as he asked her,
“Do you need something, Helferin Smith?”
She laughed a little and nodded. She silently reached for John’s hand and brought it to her body. They’d fallen asleep naked, so there was nothing blocking the way of his fingers as she brought them between her thighs. She sucked in air hard when John dragged the pad of his middle finger around her folds. She was soaking wet there, he could feel. Inflamed and ready. He smirked.
“Did you have some kind of dream, Juliana?”
“No,” she whispered, her blue eyes going intense. “I woke up and I just stared at you, John, and I got wet. Is that so bad?”
“No.” He felt his cock flushing hard, and he gulped as he said in a hoarse voice, “That’s perfectly fine.”
She moved then, pushing blankets back and urging John closer to the center of the bed as she swung her left leg over him. She straddled him and tucked his cock up against her front, playing with it as it got harder and harder. John tipped his head back a little and held her thighs, sliding his fingertips up until he clutched her backside.
“Can I ride you, John?” Her voice was like honey in the air, and John just nodded. He couldn’t speak for some reason; his ears were ringing and he was a little dizzy. He hadn’t been expecting to be awakened by his new wife, by her young body’s hunger for him. It was almost overwhelming.
As Juliana rose up and guided the tip of his cock toward her entrance, he wondered distantly how long it would take her to conceive. The reality was that, while doctors had told him Juliana would be able to safely deliver a baby through cesarean section, no one had been able to confidently assert that her reproductive organs had escaped damage in the bus accident. She bled every month, he’d told the doctors, but they’d all seemed a little skeptical. Her pelvic area had taken quite a lot of trauma.
Perhaps in that other world, the place where they’d fallen in love, Juliana would have been able to conceive without any problem at all. There had been no bus accident there, no fractured pelvis, no scars. And perhaps here, there wouldn’t be any problem, either. In any case, John had two living children and one son he mourned daily. He wasn’t aching for another child. But he knew that if Juliana went years without managing to conceive, it would look badly for everyone involved.
So, as she slid down onto his length, he hoped with a corner of his mind that his seed would take, that she would bear a child for the Reich. Then the thought of all that slipped away, and he surrendered to the blanket of pleasure that lay heavy on him as she moved. This was good, so very good, the way she enveloped his cock with her wet, tight heat. He let his hands slide up and down, over her hips and waist and ribcage and breasts, around her arms and down her front, and finally he let his fingers come to rest.
One hand gripped the cheek of her backside while the other worked at her clit, and Juliana buckled over a little as John started to play with her there. Her cheeks flushed, and she was obviously struggling to keep moving. John pushed hard on her clit, drawing circles with his thumb, and Juliana’s palms landed flat against his chest. Her hips stuttered, and she choked out,
“Oh… John… please…”
“Please what?” His voice was almost harsh then, and he went harder than ever inside of her as her hips stopped moving and her eyes squeezed shut. She’d been very aroused before any of this had even started, he knew. Fingering her clit like this would drive her over the edge in seconds. He smirked where he lay and felt her knees go taut around his thighs, felt her fingers worm anxiously around his chest.
“Please what?” he asked again, this time in a dangerous sort of whisper.
“Please… oh… I want to be…” Juliana’s lips shook, and John knew she was seconds away from finishing. He carefully pulled his hand away from her, and when she whimpered in protest, he demanded,
“You want to be what , Juliana?”
“Fucked!” Her eyes sprang open then, and she stared at him with such intensity that he almost spilled himself up into her. She sat up straighter, cycling her hips a little, and she said more confidently, “I want to be fucked.”
John threw up an eyebrow. “That can be arranged. Get off of me and get on your hands and knees.”
“Okay.” Her cheeks flushed darker than ever as she pulled herself up and away from him. She liked this, he knew. She liked when he bossed her around in bed, when he pinned his weight on her or held her down or slapped her backside. She liked it, and he liked doing it. Helen - it pained him to think of her at all just now - had always seemed uncomfortable with any show of force in bed. She’d always wanted John to be gentle, slow, careful, affectionate. But John liked to be rough, and Juliana liked to have her wrists held, so that was what he did now.
He slammed her wrists together above her head and smashed her shoulders down with her other hand, eliciting a yelp of surprise and then a groan muffled by the mattress.
“Spread your legs for me, Juliana,” John barked, and she did, tipping her hips up a little as if to present herself to him. John stared for a long moment, knowing that she’d feel self-conscious and aroused at once by the way he was examining her. He studied the curve of her backside, the way her entrance was swollen and pink and nearly dripping with how badly she wanted this. John released Juliana’s wrists for a moment and knelt behind her, dragging his left hand up her thigh as his right hand twisted two fingers into her body. She moaned, and John smiled crookedly at the sound of it. This would only take a moment, he knew.
He was right. Within a half of minute of his fingers hooking and twisting and his thumb toying, he was watching her come. He could see the erratic contractions as he felt them around his fingers, and the sight was so incredibly arousing that he lost his breath for a little while. Finally, as Juliana keened against the sheets, he slid his slick fingers from her. He replaced his fingers with his cock, shoving himself down the hilt in one vicious thrust, and then he fucked her like a beast.
He’d never moved like this, he didn’t think. This savage, cadenced pistoning was not the sort of motion he was accustomed to using with a woman. Nor had he ever grown used to holding a woman’s little waist so tightly that he knew she’d have finger-shaped bruises the next day. But he breathlessly whispered her name now, moving like a machine, like a wild creature.
She’d told him that she’d wanted to be fucked, so he was fucking her.
He felt her come again at one point, and he was distantly aware of the way she’d snatched a pillow and buried her face into it to muffle most of the volume of her shrieking. If he was hurting her, she made no attempt to stop him. She liked this. She was soaking wet; her body was trembling. She had her fingers snared into her own hair in desperation.
John could hardly think through the heat and sound in his ears, the whoosh of a freight train in his brain. He could hear himself whispering through his frantic panting. Juliana, Juliana… Juliana . Her name was a chant, a prayer, a plea. Medicine. After an instant or an eternity - he never would have been able to discern which - he felt himself go tight from the inside out. He was spilling himself into her, he could feel. His hips didn’t move fluidly then; he was only able to buck and jerk with wild, arrhythmic movement for a while. He gasped a bit when he glanced down to see his come oozing back out of her body. That was almost as arousing as the way he’d watched her contracting for him.
“Juliana.” John let his softening cock slide out of her, and then he couldn’t kneel anymore. He collapsed down onto the bed beside her and felt her curl up against the chest that had become completely slick with sweat. His heart was still beating a rushed, desperate tattoo inside his chest, and he his breathing felt labored. He groaned up at the ceiling and whispered,
“Oh, I’m too old to do that, I think.”
“Obviously not.” Juliana’s voice sounded thirsty and hoarse, and he wondered just how loudly and constantly she’d been crying out. He turned his head to study her face, and she blinked slowly as if she were on the verge of sleep.
“I need water,” John noted, “and probably a quick rinse in the shower. Care to join me?”
Juliana nodded and let John help her off the bed. His legs felt like jelly beneath him, and she looked like she was drunk as she staggered a bit toward the bathroom. As John stood in the shower with her for the second time that night, he cradled her against him and kissed her wet hair, and she murmured,
“I’m sorry I woke you up.”
“No, you’re not,” he teased, “and neither am I.”
“I’m tired,” she insisted, and John felt his lips curl up a bit. He was fully capable of wearing her out, and he liked that thought. He glanced down at the left hand that he’d curled around her back, at the gold wedding band she’d put on him in front of Himmler. He kissed her hair again and said quietly,
“Let’s go back to bed, Helferin Smith, and this time let’s stay asleep until the morning.”
Chapter 27: Johnny Boy
"You didn't have to come up to the door. I would have sent the girls out. I didn't even think you'd come in the car, actually." Helen said it all in a sharp clip from where she stood in the doorway, and John swallowed hard as he dragged his thumb around the hem of his uniform coat.
"Of course I'll come and get them," he said quietly. "I was actually wondering if we could speak for a few minutes before -"
"No." Helen shook her head roughly. She leaned against the threshold as if to physically block John's entry into the house, and she scoffed, "I saw the copy of The American Reich Today. You married her in Germany? With Himmler. You certainly wasted no time, you selfish prick."
John scowled, because he'd never in his life heard Helen say anything like that, and certainly not to him. He opened his mouth to defend himself, but Helen snapped,
"She looked very pretty in the pictures. Very pretty and very young. Ready to bear children for you and for the Reich, the article was quick to point out. And you looked so very noble, John. But there's absolutely nothing noble about what you've done."
She drummed her fingers on the door and glared, and John finally said quietly,
"Helen, if I could begin to make you understand, then -"
"Yes, clearly the problem here is a lack of understanding on my part." Helen's eyes welled. From behind her, John heard Jennifer's voice say quietly,
"Mother? Will you come in for a minute, please?"
Helen raised her red eyebrows and licked at her lip a little. John wanted to follow her inside, to go and see the girls and walk them out to the car, but Helen closed the door in his face. He blinked a few times as he stared at the knocker, and he took a half step backward. He glanced over his shoulder at the shiny black limousine in the driveway, knowing the chauffeur would be inappropriately intrigued by the drama unfolding here. John felt sick for a long moment, and when the door opened, Helen looked so smug that he knew what she was going to say.
"The girls don't want to come to Manhattan. I'm sorry."
"You're not sorry," John growled, "and it's not optional. This is part of the legal arrangement; they're to visit with me once a month."
Helen's face softened a little. She frowned deeply and stepped outside, shutting the door behind her. She crossed her arms over her chest and said up to John,
"Those poor girls cried for hours when they saw the magazine article. They had to go to school the next day and endure the snickers and comments from other students about how quickly their father had left his family for a new wife. Perhaps most of the Reich sees you as a hero, John, but your girls are hurt. I am hurt. I can cope with your selfishness, but don't ask Amy and Jennifer to do that. Give them another month."
"Helen." John shook his head and said helplessly, "I was going to… to take them to the opera. They like the opera, and I got tickets for the three of us to -"
"You think those poor children want to go to the opera with you right now, John Smith?" Helen sighed very deeply and shut her eyes. "You have chosen to give yourself distance from us, time away from us. You don't get to set the terms about all of this. If our daughters refuse to come to Manhattan with you right now, you will have to physically force them, because I won't make them go."
"Okay." John was forced to bring a knuckle up to his eye then, to brush away a tear that had had threatened to make him look like a fool. He nodded and whispered, "I'm sorry, Helen. To all of you. I really am."
"I hope you're happy," Helen choked out, and when John met her eyes, she reached to pat at his chest. She sniffled a little and nodded. "I hope she makes you happy. I can't stand the thought of you being unhappy. I still love you; I can't help it. So I hope you're very happy, Johnny Boy."
His chest caught at that. She hadn't called him that since the old world, since they'd been Americans. It had been a playful nickname she'd used early in their time together. It was too much to hear it now, so John just muttered,
"Tell the girls their father adores them. Goodbye, Helen."
"Wait," she said as he turned to go. She reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out an envelope, holding it out for him. She cocked up an eyebrow and shrugged. "It hasn't been a full month, but part of the arrangement was that I provide you a letter with information about their lives. So… here it is. Have a safe ride back to the city, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith. Congratulations."
It took John a half hour in the car before he finally gathered the courage to tear open the envelope and pull out the letter inside. Helen's distinctive writing was neat and small on the page.
Jennifer is experiencing difficulties with bullying at school. Most of it surrounds Thomas and the idea that Jennifer might also be defective. Some of it stems from your behavior. She is tormented daily by a group of girls, and her schoolwork has suffered as a result. I finally went into the Director's office uninvited, demanding that the matter be addressed or that she be permitted to transfer schools. I will keep you apprised on any improvements or worsening of the situation.
It may be helpful, given your rank, if you could make a call to the school about this.
Amy achieves at an average level in school. She thrives in social situations, where she continues to be considered a kind and compassionate friend in her group of girls. Her singing voice continues to improve; her vocal instructor insists that Amy is a rare talent whose abilities should be shared. She will be singing in a pageant next month at school. I will send you all pertinent details in case you'd like to attend.
Both girls have been quiet at home. They are having difficulty processing your absence from family meals. They do not understand how it is possible for you to have left me so abruptly, much less to have remarried so quickly. I explain as much as I can without vilifying you; I do not think it appropriate for parents to weaponize children in a divorce.
Wishing you health and happiness with a heart full of sorrow. Sieg Heil.
He turned his head and stared at Juliana in the lamplight as she slid into bed beside him. She'd been good enough to make them dinner after they'd come home from a long day of work at the SS Headquarters, and it occurred to John that they should hire a housekeeper and cook since Juliana was working outside the home.
"John? I need to ask you something."
He frowned over at her, and she wrung her hands a little as she whispered, "What did I eat the first time we went to Sullivan's?"
"Steak," he said simply. Then he realized why she'd asked him that question. He cupped her face in his hand and sighed heavily. "It's me. It's… it's the same me. I've been in a foul mood, I know, but…"
He'd gone to try and pick up the girls on Friday and ever since then, he'd barely spoken or moved unless necessary. It was Tuesday now. Juliana had been concerned that she wasn't actually communicating with the man who had traversed space and time with her. John shut his eyes and informed her,
"This is difficult for me, Juliana. You know I love you. You know I wanted to marry you there. But marrying you there didn't involve leaving Helen or my daughters. And here I wasn't given a choice. So it's hard for me."
"I know. I'm sorry, John." Juliana curled to lie facing away from him, and John scowled deeply as he demanded,
"Why are you doing that? Lying like that?"
She peered over her shoulder and said carefully, "I don't want to cling."
"No, I…" John chewed his lip hard. "I need to you cling, just a little bit. I have to have someone right now, Juliana. I feel more than a little reviled by my family, so… please, can you show me that you don't hate me right along with them?"
Juliana turned to face him and slid up flush against his body.
"How could I hate you?" she demanded, and John considered telling her why she'd come to despise him in the first reality they'd experienced together. Instead he just breathed in the feel of her, and he asked blandly,
She snorted a little laugh and raised her eyes to him. "Record-keeping is completely fascinating. In fact, today, I filed birth records for not one, not two, but three sets of twins born in New York on the same day. Isn't that fascinating?"
"Yes, it is," John whispered, but Juliana rolled her eyes.
"Work is work. I'm grateful to be doing it. How about you, Oberst-Gruppenführer?"
"Don't call me that," he spat softly, and when he lowered his eyes, Juliana seemed a little confused.
"I was just joking," she whispered, but John pulled away a little and reminded her,
"I'm your damned husband. I'm not an SS officer in this bed, Juliana."
Her eyebrows went up. "Okay. Let's not talk about work. There's a new film coming out - a romance that takes place in the desert. It looks good. You want to see it?"
"Yeah. Sure. Okay." John lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. People at work had probably noticed his depression, too, he realized. He'd been mentally dragging, struggling to keep up with the situation in Chicago. He'd be going back there soon, he knew, and this time he'd have to go alone. It would only be a trip of a few days, and Juliana would have to stay to work in New York. He managed to say thickly,
"I'm going to Chicago next week. Don't know what day yet… won't be for long."
"Okay." Juliana planted her hand on his chest and kissed at the flannel covering his skin. She looked worried as she asked him, "What can I do for you, John? I want to make you happy. I want… I need… to help you out of this mental pit. The Reich needs you to pull out of this. I understand why it hurts. I also understand that you need to… to…"
"To get my shit together," John said hoarsely, and Juliana just sighed. She was right, of course. An SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer who was letting his marital life affect his job performance wouldn't last long in a position of authority. He needed to find himself again - the icy figure of stone he'd become professionally over the last few decades. So he cleared his throat roughly and glared up at the ceiling as he said in a cold, detached sort of voice,
"I have something I want to tell you."
Juliana propped herself up on one elbow and sounded vaguely intrigued. "Okay."
"Sex with Helen was boring. It always was, even in the beginning," John pronounced. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Juliana had shrunk back a little, surprised by his willingness to discuss his sex life with Helen. John reached for her arm and stroked at her skin with his knuckles, his eyes still boring up at the ceiling as he said quietly,
"Sex with you is not boring, Juliana. You let me do things I've wanted to do for a very long time. You like those things. You ask for those things."
Juliana pulled herself up to sit beside John, wrapping her arms around her shins and touching her chin to her knees. He flicked his eyes over to her, and he could read realization in her pretty blue eyes.
"Is there anything else, John?" She kept her voice low and quiet and alluringly silky. "Is there anything that you haven't dared ask for? Anything you… crave?"
"Yes." He blinked quickly and then shut his eyes, taking himself back to Berlin, to the way he'd stared at her, arranged behind her with her womanhood presented to him. He'd watched her come; he'd watched the contractions of her body around his fingers. He needed more than that. He needed to see, to feel, something far more unconventional.
"It would hurt, probably," he murmured. "Even with… I don't know. Oil or something."
"Oh." Juliana's voice was a little hollow, and when he opened his eyes, her cheeks colored and she whispered, "You want me… there? You want to… to what? To touch me there, or to put your cock there?"
"Yes," he replied simply. "It's something I didn't know I wanted until… Berlin… and I…" He found himself a little breathless all of a sudden, found himself sliding his hand under the blankets to paw at the bulge in his pajama pants as his head started to spin. He didn't need to explain himself further, he thought. She'd asked what he wanted, and he'd told her. He would dominate her by taking that part of her body for his own, that tight forbidden place. He'd find a way for her to enjoy it, but he'd also relish the sound of her screaming into a pillow with him conquering her.
And then he'd find that icy, stone hearted Oberst-Gruppenführer again. He'd find himself with her help, with Juliana's help. She'd let him unleash the darkest parts of himself upon her and she'd like it, and in doing so, she'd bring him back from the pit into which he'd fallen.
"Where are you going?" he asked, anxiously watching her slither off the bed. Juliana glanced at him as she headed for the bedroom door, and she smirked a little.
"You're right," she said. "It'll probably still hurt, at least a little… even with oil. But you're going to need that oil, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith. So let me go get it."
Author's Note: I'm cutting the chapter off here because I realize that not everyone is into the type of VERY rough lemon coming up the next chapter. Fair warning that there will be facial slapping, knife play, and, yes, some anal stuff (not something I commonly write and not something everyone enjoys). If you really want to skip the next chapter, you should be able to do so without missing a ton of plot, although bear in mind that there's a reason the next chapter is going to be so brutal, and it's key to some character development that will directly impact upcoming plot.
Thanks as always for reading and for any feedback.
Chapter 28: Not About Them
Author's Note: This will be the only chapter in the story from Juliana's POV. I'm breaking our normal POV because this chapter is key to us reestablishing that John Smith is not just some sweet n' cuddly family man. He's also, you know, terrifying. Please be warned that there are shadows of dubious consent and nonconventional sexual behavior in this chapter. It's really nothing THAT extreme, so if you can handle it, please do. There be serious character development ahead, mateys.
When Juliana came back into the bedroom, her shaking hand clutching a glass bottle of cheap cooking vegetable oil, she was surprised to see John putting his uniform back on. He turned to look at her as she walked into the room. She set the bottle of oil down on the table beside the bed and folded her hands before her. Something about the way he was methodically doing up the buttons of his uniform coat made her blood go cold, and for the first time since she'd met him, she was genuinely afraid. He wanted - needed, perhaps - to be in his SS uniform for the sex they were about to have. THat was telling in the worst way.
Tonight wasn't about them, Juliana knew, much less about her. It was about him and him alone. Tonight, the fact that Helen had made him feel guilty, the fact that his daughter had rebuffed him, didn't matter. It didn't matter that Thomas had turned himself into the medical authorities. It didn't matter that Juliana was his wife, that they loved one another. None of that mattered. The personal life, the romantic trials and tribulations, the parenting struggles of John Smith didn't matter tonight. He was finding the Oberst-Gruppenführer again here in this bedroom, and Juliana knew it would be vicious. So she was afraid.
"Take of your clothes." His voice was cold, detached, quiet. Juliana nodded and whispered,
"Yes, sir." She stripped off her nightgown and carefully folded it, laying it on the ground beside the bed. She slid her underwear down over her thighs and pulled them off, laying them atop the nightgown. She stood there, chilly despite the warmth in the room, and rubbed at her right arm with her left hand. John finished dressing and stalked over, his boots shining in the lamplight as he flicked his eyes up and down Juliana's form. He jerked his chin toward the wall and murmured,
"Stand over there."
She watched him open the top drawer of his dresser, moving smoothly and methodically. He pulled something out, and it wasn't until his hand jerked and there was a glint of silver that Juliana realized what he was holding. It was the seven inch folding pocket knife issued to all SS officers. John seemed to be studying the blade for a moment, and then he sighed and turned toward Juliana. Her heart thrummed anxiously in her chest and she pressed her palms back against the wall, trying to stay perfectly still as John approached. He wasn't going to kill her, she thought. He was going to put his cock in a hole where it didn't belong. That was what they'd discussed. But all of a sudden she found herself with a blade touching her neck, her chin pushed up by the knuckles of John's left hand. A smirk crossed his face, and he dragged the blade just so, in a way that didn't cut her but let her feel it. Juliana tried not to gulp, tried not to cry, not to move, but she whispered,
"I could slit your throat right now. I know how to do it so you'd bleed out in half a minute," John nodded. He tipped his head. "I've done it before, many times. So many times."
"I don't doubt that," Juliana said in a trembling voice. John moved the knife from her neck to her chest, brushing it horizontally along the swell of her breast. He seemed to be considering something, and then he whispered,
"I don't want to cut you open, Juliana. You know that."
"Okay." She wasn't sure what else to say. John held the knife against the bottom of her breast, the blade pushing rather insistently against the pillowy flesh there, and he said in a clip,
"Kiss me, Juliana."
"Okay," she said again, reaching up with barely-controlled hands and holding him. She leaned up onto her tiptoes, and as her lips touched John's, she found no response. She kissed him again, more urgently this time, dragging her tongue along his bottom lip. Then, very suddenly, he was kissing her back. She was being smashed against the wall by his mouth and his hands, and the blade went back up to her neck. He held it there, and it frightened Juliana with the way it shook against her delicate skin. What if he cut her on accident? Her brain whirled with the idea of her bleeding to death on his carpet because they'd played this stupid game.
Was it a game?
"Mmph." John tossed the blade aside and it landed on the carpeting a few feet away. His right hand slithered down between them and touched at her clit, but of course Juliana wasn't wet. How could she possibly be aroused right now? Kissing him felt like being assaulted; the knife had sent fear rippling through her veins.
"Juliana," John whispered, lowering his face to her neck and kissing carefully there. She almost unwillingly felt a little rush between her legs, a tingle on her skin, and she squirmed a bit against the wall. Her hands still had his head cradled, and she rubbed at his scalp a bit. His lips pressed just below her ear, making her shiver, and suddenly his finger was moving easily. She'd gone wet for him, just like he wanted, very much without meaning to do so. She felt his breath hitch a little, and he whispered into her ear, "Good girl. You're my good, sweet girl, aren't you?"
"I try," Juliana joked weakly. John brought his hand to her wrist and tightened his grip slowly, squeezing until it hurt and Juliana whimpered. He silenced her with a bruising kiss, and then he dragged her away from the wall and shoved her - literally shoved her shoulders - toward the bed. Juliana stumbled, and John wrenched her down onto the bed by her waist as if they were wrestling opponents. Juliana scowled at him a little over her shoulder, but John's expression was completely stony as he yanked her back by the hips, closer to the edge of the bed. On instinct, Juliana tipped her hips up and showed herself to him, showed him the bare, wet womanhood and the other place he wanted. John grunted softly and commanded her,
"Reach up and touch yourself."
"Okay." Juliana turned her face back down the bed and shut her eyes. She dropped to one elbow, tipping her hips up further. She reached back and began pulsing her fingers against her clit, pushing two of them into her body after awhile. She was distantly aware of the sound of John's boots soft on the carpet, crossing the room as she obeyed him and touched herself. She heard his dresser open again, and she wondered what weapon he meant to pull out this time. But after another minute, her head was being yanked up and back, and Juliana gasped. She let her fingers fall, damp and messy on the blankets as John's fingertips stroked her cheeks. Then something covered her eyes, taking her vision away, and Juliana felt the soft drag of silk against her skin. His tie. This was one of his SS uniform ties, and he was using it to blindfold her.
Juliana's breath quickened anxiously in her lungs, her heart like the stamping of a racehorse beneath her ribs. She shook where she knelt, and she whispered,
He didn't answer. She heard the scrape of glass on wood and knew he'd picked up the bottle of oil. Juliana looked around frantically, but all she could see was a little sliver of light down by her nose where the tie didn't quite block her vision. She gasped and then growled when she felt slippery fingertips rubbing around her anus, a place no one else had touched her, and she whispered in a cracked voice of desperation,
"If you want me to stop - really need me to stop, Juliana - then tell me to stop and I will. Otherwise, I'm not going to stop."
"Okay." She bowed her head down until her forehead touched the blankets. He needed this, she knew. He needed to be cruel and dominant, to take something he craved from her. She tried her best to stay silent when he pushed an exploratory finger inside of her, but when the second went in and stretched her, she couldn't stay quiet. She reached blindly for a pillow and put it beneath her face, snarling and choking out sounds of pain as his fingers twisted and pushed. Then, after a few moments, something shifted. It didn't hurt so badly, not anymore, and in fact it almost felt…
Juliana's hands clutched at the pillow and she panted against the cotton, the tie slipping off her eyes a little. She was drooling onto the pillow, she knew, but she couldn't care. His fingers felt good. She liked it. Then she felt his other hand slip against her womanhood, the place where he normally played with her.
Suddenly two of his fingers were in her backside and two from the other side were playing with her folds and her clit. He kept his motions steady, firm, insistent, and Juliana groaned. She twisted her hips against him and held the pillow more tightly, and then she heard his voice breathlessly taunt her from behind.
"You little slut; you like this."
"I do." She moaned and nodded against the pillow, knowing she was only moments away from a climax she wouldn't be able to fight off. She heard John whisper her name a few times, sounding vaguely unhinged himself. His fingers were shaking inside of her, she noticed. In her slick womanhood and the other, far less willing place, his fingers were trembling like mad. She felt the rough push of wool against her hip and the cheek of her backside and realized he was grinding himself against her. She could feel the shape of his cock as he thrust it against her skin through the uniform, and his hands worked more deliberately than ever in her holes. Juliana remembered the feel of his tongue in her mouth as his knife blade had been pressed to her skin, and then she lost herself.
It wouldn't always be like this, she knew. It would usually be the two of them naked in bed, kissing and talking about loving each other. Sweaty and passionate and fast sometimes. Slow and romantic and sweet other times. But this madness - knives and blindfolds and his fingers buried in forbidden places - this would not be normal. Tonight was so that Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith could remind himself of just who he was, what he did in his life, what he'd done in the past and what he'd do in the future. It was so he could separate - unequivocally and completely - his life as an SS officer from the conflicted way he experienced his life as a husband and father.
Tonight he was being brutal with Juliana so he could be brutal at the SS Headquarters, so that he could be a loving father and good to Helen even after leaving her, good to Juliana now that he had her.
He was coming, she realized. She could feel the damp of his come soaking through the wool of his uniform. That had undoubtedly been triggered by the feel of her own orgasm around his fingers. He'd liked watching her before, and she knew full well that he was watching now, watching the clamp and contraction of her walls and the wink of her other hole. He was feeling it around his fingers. He could hear the frantic keen of Juliana's voice against the pillow, she knew. It felt good for her, a pulsing heat even as he stretched her. She was sore and oddly tired, and as his hands pulled away, she listened to his shaking breath and knew they both needed showers and sleep.
"Juliana," he said an hour later, once they'd settled back into the bed together. She blinked slowly as she turned to look at him, and he nodded up at the ceiling, his throat bobbing. "Thank you. I love you."
She reached to stroke the shadow of stubble on his jaw, and she reached herself over to carefully kiss his lips.
"I love you, too, John."
Chapter 29: I Like to Cook
John flipped through the files from Chicago, feeling a swell of happiness at how much had been accomplished there in the last two weeks. He’d gone out for three days and set up a strict hierarchy, increased manpower, and established concrete goals. The results had come quickly. Four former US Army servicemen, now in their forties and subversive members of the resistance, were dead. Their families had been tracked down and eliminated. The employer of one had been arrested after it was shown he had helped print illegal materials. There was real progress being made in Chicago, and it was John’s doing.
The phone beside him squawked, jarring him away from the Chicago files. He heard Erich’s voice through the mechanical filter.
“Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith, sir? You have a call on Line One, sir.”
John frowned and pressed the talk button. He did not like to be unprepared for conversations. “Who is it, Erich?”
There was a very long pause, and then finally the tinny sound of Erich’s voice said cautiously, “It’s Mrs. Smith, sir. It’s… um… it’s Helen.”
“Oh.” John didn’t even press the talk button before saying that. He just picked up the phone and pressed the square button for Line One. He cleared his throat rather roughly and said, “Good morning, Helen.”
“John.” Her voice was tight over the phone line. “I’ll keep this brief. Jennifer still refuses to see you, but Amy will come. You’ll be coming for her this Friday, I assume?”
John felt a wrench in his chest and licked his bottom lip. “I… actually, I was going to call you later today, Helen. I have to go to Berlin. I have to leave tomorrow. I’ve just been informed.”
Helen was silent on the other end of the line, and John felt dizzy with guilt as he quietly asked,
“I wonder if maybe two weekends from now might work? Or she could come sooner? Tomorrow?”
“She has school, John,” Helen snapped. “Amy misses you. She can’t come during the week, and you’re going to make her wait two more weeks to see her?”
John pinched his lips, irritated now. “She’d have to wait two weeks to see me even if I was still married to you, Helen. My trip to Berlin is not optional. Amy has always had a father who travels for business.”
“Don’t think I don’t know why you’re going to Berlin,” Helen spat. “They accidentally sent an invitation here, or didn’t you know? A beautiful engraved invitation for the official celebration of the installation of the new Führer. Congratulations, John. All kinds of balls and parties. Sounds fun. They addressed the invitation to ‘Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith and Mrs. Smith.’ Guess they didn’t realize there’s a new Mrs. Smith.”
John scowled. Of course they knew that. They knew his new address. Someone was responsible for this, for torturing Helen on purpose. He cleared his throat again and murmured,
“Well, I’m sorry that happened, Helen. Really, I am. Please tell Amy that I’m very sorry, that I love her, and I’ll call her tonight so she can tell me all about her school day.”
Helen scoffed. “I have been trying to convince these girls that you’re not some kind of demon, John Smith. I have been fighting for you, to keep you alive and well in their minds as their father. You’re not helping. Have fun in Berlin. I’m assuming your slut is going?”
John gnawed his lip and snapped, “If you’re going to talk like that, this conversation is over.”
“Then this conversation is over. I’ll tell Amy she has to wait a few weeks to see her father. Goodbye, John.” Helen hung up the phone before John could say anything else. There was a quiet click as the line disconnected, and John stared at the receiver in his hand for a moment before setting it back into the cradle. Then he frowned deeply and pulled out a pad of his stationery. It had the seal of the American Reich at the top and was labeled with his title and name. He uncapped a good quality pen and took one sheet, and he wrote,
I am more sad than I can say that you don’t want to see me right now, but I do understand. Really, I do. Please know that I love you very deeply and I will always be your father, no matter what. I hope things are going better for you at school. I also hope that you’ll come, sooner rather than later, to the city for a visit.
Love, Father .
He set the sheet aside so the ink could dry, and then he took another sheet of paper and wrote,
I am so sorry that I have to go to Berlin during our scheduled visit. I promise I was looking forward to it even more than you were. I will tell you all about the parties and rallies when I get home - over a heaping bowl of ice cream. Promise. I love you.
John put the letters into an envelope and scratched out his old address on the front. He wrote Helen’s name, too, and then he paged Erich in and asked for a corporal to drive the letters over to his Long Island house at once.
Then he spent another hour poring over the Chicago files, looking for clues on how best to direct the team he had on the ground there.
“John? Is that you?”
“No. It’s a dangerous intruder,” he joked, and Juliana smirked over her shoulder as he came walking into the kitchen. He sniffed at the air and informed her,
“Smells good. But I told you I’d get someone to cook for us.”
He stepped behind her and slid his arms around her, kissing a little at her neck as she poked a wooden spatula at the onions and meat in the pan before her.
“I like to cook,” she insisted, but John countered,
“You’re the wife of an Oberst-Gruppenführer and an SS-Helferin. It’s ridiculous to ask you to -”
“I like to cook,” Juliana said again, more softly this time. John tightened his hands on her uniformed waist a bit and murmured,
“Listen,” Juliana said, turning her face a little, “Someone showed up at the records office today with a bundle of death certificates for filing.”
Her face seemed strange then, so John stepped away. He leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms over his coat.
“Were they medical files? Was Thomas in there?”
“No. No, it wasn’t that,” Juliana said. She sighed and slid the onions and meat around as she said quietly, “It was Cameron Seagram. She was older than the last time I’d seen her. She just stood there while I went through the death certificates she handed me. They were all dated a week ago, and they were people in Philadelphia. Name after name after name of people declared ‘dead due to injuries suffered during detonation of atomic bomb.’”
“Atomic bomb?” John stood up straighter, and suddenly he felt dizzy. Juliana turned the burner off on the stove and nodded. She faced John and said,
“Cameron told me that she brought those files from a place where you and I didn’t follow instructions. A place where we were apart and you weren’t able to do what you needed to do. All those people with the death certificates were alive here, she said. Then she took the files back and congratulated me on our marriage.”
John blinked quickly and shook his head. “Why would she… she said that by marrying, we’d save millions of lives.”
“Yes. Here, it would seem. I don’t know, John. I have no idea how you divorcing Helen and marrying me would prevent millions of people from dying in atomic blasts. But Cameron seemed pretty sure of that, and she left so quickly…”
“Why didn’t you come right up to my office after this?” John demanded, but he knew the answer before Juliana rolled her eyes and said,
“It wasn’t anything we could discuss at work.”
“No. You’re right.” John sighed deeply and nodded. Then he mused, “I really should hate that girl.”
“I know.” Juliana seemed to be thinking the same thing he was - that if it weren’t for Cameron, things would be very different, and not in entirely positive ways. Juliana started spooning out onions and meat from one pan and mashed potatoes from another, and she handed John his plate.
“Are you ready for Berlin?” he asked a few minutes later, once wine had been poured and they’d settled at the dining table. Juliana smiled shyly and admitted,
“I felt bad spending so much money last night on clothes. I’ve never, ever spent that much in one sitting.”
“You’re my wife,” John said, not for the first time tonight. “It’s important that you look dignified. You won’t need any help looking beautiful, that’s for damned sure.”
“I’m nervous,” Juliana admitted. “My German is so terrible.”
John set his fork down and said gently, “ Alles wird gut, Liebling. ”
Juliana smiled a little. She knew enough to know that he’d told her everything would be fine, that he’d called her ‘darling.’ Then she surprised him by saying,
“ Ich verspreche, ich werde versuchen, dich nicht in Verlegenheit zu bringen. ”
John’s eyebrows flew up. “How could you possibly embarrass me with German like that? Yes, I think you’ll do just fine. You’re happy with the clothes you bought?”
“Yes. Thank you,” Juliana nodded. “And I got a fresh haircut. Got my nails painted. It doesn’t matter; I’m still nervous.”
“We’re going over there to celebrate,” John reminded her, sipping from his glass of red wine. “So let’s do that, Helferin Smith. Let’s celebrate. We’ll start now. To the new Führer, Himmler, that he may honor and continue the deeds of his predecessor.”
Juliana raised her glass and touched it lightly to John’s, and she nodded with a half smile. “Heil Himmler.”
Author’s Note: If you don’t know whether to feel bad for or be annoyed with Helen, clap your hands! *clap clap* If you don’t know whether to be grateful for or to hate Cameron, clap your hands! *clap clap* If you’re confused and you know it, then you’re probably reading this story. If you somehow find yourself rooting for the Nazi, clap your hands! *clap clap*
Chapter 30: Disarmingly Beautiful
He whirled at the sound of his name, almost spilling his Champagne. Then John moved his glass to his left hand so he could salute properly, and once he'd lowered his arm, he said politely,
"Reichsführer Weber. Ich bin froh Sie wiederzusehen."
"Please, John," said Weber, waving his hand dismissively. "My English is far better than your German."
He smirked a little and sipped from his own glass of deep red wine. Lutz Weber had succeeded Heinrich Himmler as Commander of the Schutzstaffel once Himmler had become the Führer of the Greater Reich. Weber had a reputation for cruelty that nearly matched the one Heydrich had carried. During the war, Weber had personally seen to it that children were murdered in front of their parents' eyes. He'd helped establish the camp system in the American Reich just after victory, and it was there that John had gotten to know him. Weber had a reputation, too, for wild nights involving excessive Jagermeister and girls far too young to attend such parties. Weber had a wife, a pudgy middle-aged woman with a sour face who was across the ballroom tonight. John sighed a little, knowing that, at the very least, Lutz Weber was competent when it came to SS administration.
"Thank you very much for inviting us tonight, Reichsführer," John said, and Weber laughed obnoxiously.
"As if I could fail to invite the great, heroic American Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith? Why, you're practically the guest of honor, John."
John shook his head. "The Führer is the guest of honor, of course."
"Of course," Weber conceded. "And I hear he performed your recent wedding ceremony himself. I admit… I was looking forward to seeing Helen. She always seemed like a kind soul."
John felt bile in his throat, but he nodded and said softly, "I'll give her your regards, sir, the next time we speak."
Weber guffawed and shook his head. "You are a man of great diplomacy, John Smith. I hear your pretty new wife is a refugee. A defector from the Pacific States. Is it true?"
John flicked his eyes over to where Juliana stood in a strapless black gown of wispy tulle. She looked absolutely marvelous where she was chatting with a few other wives. John took a deep breath and told his superior,
"She was escaping both the Japanese and the resistance. She hasn't just adjusted in the Reich; she's become an archetypal female symbol of our cause. Good-looking, hard-working, devoted to her position in the SS and to her household and husband…"
"Careful, John," Weber teased, "or I'll snatch her from you myself. Ah. Speaking of which. In an hour or so, a few of the boys and I are going to sneak off to another part of the villa… a special place with special girls. It'll be fun. You should join us."
John frowned deeply. This man was his direct superior, the Commander of the entire SS. Refusing an 'invitation' from him was tantamount to refusing orders. But John wasn't about to sneak off to some room with teenaged prostitutes. He swallowed hard and shook his head a little, and he said quietly,
"Thank you for the invitation, sir, but if it's all the same to you, I think I'll dance with my wife."
Weber curled up half his mouth and let out a low, rumbling laugh. He sipped from his wine and said,
"Can't say I blame you, you know. Trading in for a new model. Helen was good, but she was aging right alongside you. Isn't it nice when we get older and they get younger? Spend the evening with your lovely Helferin bride, John. I don't blame you in the least. As for me, I'll be with… Helga. Or was it Else? Oh, it doesn't matter; I'll probably have them both. Ha!"
John forced a grimace, then worked it up into a little smile, and he nodded. "Well, enjoy yourself, Reichsführer. The party out here is marvelous. Thank you again."
"Heil Himmler," Weber said carefully, and John answered in a confident voice,
Once Weber had gone, John stalked across the parquet flooring of the ballroom, marveling a little at the extravagance of Weber's villa. John lived in absolute comfort in his ritzy Manhattan penthouse, and his place on Long Island was spacious and well-appointed. But it was nothing like this. This felt like a palace, and Weber had possessed it long before he'd been a Reichsführer. He came from money, John knew. He stared for a moment at the almost garish decorations, the mirrors on the wall with their chunky gilded framing. As he neared the group of women where Helen was, he received bowed heads and little smiles.
"Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith," said one of the German women, a petite blonde with a sharp chin, "Helferin Smith was just telling us all about New York. We all want to visit someday. Will you convince our husbands?"
"I'll certainly try," John promised, though he couldn't quite keep track of who was married to whom. He smiled a bit at the women and then turned his face to Juliana.
"I hate to interrupt," he lied, "but I wonder if you'd dance with me, Helferin Smith."
Juliana nodded and adjusted her elbow-length black gloves. She took John's hand and said warmly, "I'd love to." She nodded at the women she'd been talking to and said, "Geniesst den Abend, Frauen."
She was quiet as John led her out to the dance floor, but he couldn't help noticing just how ridiculously lovely she was. As he swept her into the neat two-step the hired strings were playing, he informed her,
"You're making every single woman in this room look completely hideous."
Juliana snorted. "That's a mean way to tell me I look pretty."
"You don't look pretty; you are disarmingly beautiful," John said. Juliana's face softened, and she rubbed a little with her gloved hand at his shoulder.
"I feel like I should be in uniform tonight," she admitted, "but I'm glad I was permitted to wear a gown."
"There's not a man at this party who would rather see you in your skirted SS suit than in… this. What you've got on," John said. He gulped a little then, admiring the black velvet choker with its swastika pendant that wound around Juliana's neck. She had her pearl earrings in and her hair pulled partially back with a decorative comb whose silver swastika embellishment matched her necklace. Most of her chest was bared by the strapless gown. Her shoulders, her arms… she was so pretty. He'd seen dozens of eyes train upon her tonight, entranced by her. He couldn't blame a single man for staring, or a single woman for being jealous.
And she was his.
"I got invited to a sex party," John said suddenly, his voice a low murmur as he swayed carefully with Juliana. Her feet paused for a moment, and her brows furrowed, and he half expected the sort of emotional meltdown he'd have gotten from Helen at such a pronouncement. But this was Juliana, so she broke into a wide grin and giggled a little as she started dancing again.
"Are you going?" she asked, and John snorted a laugh.
"No. Weber's known for liking… young girls. Apparently he's got a stock of them in some corner of this villa, and he and some friends are going to partake later."
"Ugh." Juliana rolled her eyes and shook her head. "He's my superior, too, and I won't slander him, but… just… ugh."
"Right." John nodded his agreement. It was dangerous for them to be dancing in Weber's house and start calling him names. So they left it at that, both knowing they were equally disgusted by the entire notion. Juliana pulled her thumb over John's and whispered,
"You don't need a party, anyway. I fully intend on tasting you tonight, John. On having it go straight down my throat."
John felt his eyes go wide, and he flicked his glance around as he struggled to keep dancing. Juliana's eyes were playful, and she whispered more carefully,
"I'm going to lick that spot on the bottom… you know exactly where I'm talking about… and then I'm going to -"
"Juliana," John hissed, not sure whether to laugh or to genuinely scold her. He was starting to go a little hard, which wouldn't do, so he shut his eyes and focused on the dance. Then he frowned a little, realizing Juliana was taunting him with promises of oral pleasure. She wasn't talking about him being inside of her. He started counting days in his head, and when he opened his eyes, he said quietly,
"Not this month then, hmm?"
Juliana seemed a little embarrassed, and she shook her head quietly. John knew then. She was bleeding. It was scarcely of any matter to him, and he reassured her,
"Sometimes it takes months, or years, or never happens at all. I'm certainly in no rush. I'll gladly take your mouth tonight."
He squeezed a bit at her hand then and gave her a flirtatious sort of look, but Juliana was serious all of a sudden.
"What if I can't… what if I never…" Her eyes welled, and she hissed, "What if they're right? The doctors who say my organs were probably damaged?"
John shrugged. "Then your organs are damaged and you don't have a child. I'm not sure what the problem is, Juliana."
"The Führer mostly seemed interested in us marrying quickly so that I could reproduce," Juliana said darkly. Himmler, she meant. John sighed.
"The Führer has far more important things to concern himself with than whether an American SS officer has a baby."
"You're not just any American SS officer, and you know it, Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith," Juliana said meaningfully. The song ended, so they paused and waited for the beat of the next one. As they started dancing again, Juliana begged him,
"Let's talk about something else. Anything else."
"Parade tomorrow," John reminded her, "in Paris."
"Paris." Juliana smiled a little then. John hadn't known, when he'd first been summoned to Berlin for celebrations, that he'd be expected at a few other rallies and parades on the Continent. But the Reich was far more than Berlin, and the installation of Himmler as Führer needed to be celebrated everywhere. Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith was the Marshall of the parade in Paris the next day, owing to his global fame as the man who had saved the Reich from war. He and Juliana would be riding in an open limousine down the Champs-Élysées, and he had to admit he was looking forward to seeing the city again.
"I haven't been there since… oh… fifty-six," John noted. Last time he'd gone to Paris, he'd taken Helen, and she'd gone shopping like mad. But Juliana insisted,
"I'm most interested in seeing the Place de la Concorde. We learned about French history in the Pacific States, but just a little, and I want to see it all for myself."
"The French are a historically revolutionary people," John said rather bitingly. "It's a testament to the Reich that these last fifteen years or so have passed in France with virtually no uprisings."
Juliana pursed her lips and asked quietly, "You're not worried, are you? About someone… doing something?"
"Someone doing something?" John raised his eyebrows. "You mean during the parade?"
Juliana huffed and looked like she was going to throw up. "In my old life, my husband, Frank… he… he illegally obtained a gun, and he…"
"No one's going to shoot at us during the parade, Juliana," John snapped, making their dance steps more dramatic out of frustration. She was ruining his jovial mood. But of course it was reasonable for her to worry. Her own husband had been a would-be assassin. There had been plots to murder Hitler. And they'd both been shot by Cameron Seagram. Who was he to stand here and confidently declare that they'd make it through the parade in Paris unscathed?
"It'll be fun," he said very firmly, "and when the parade's done, we'll go to the Place de la Concorde."
"Okay." Juliana seemed to steel herself then, and she settled into the dance.
Author's Note: So John's willing to be good and faithful as a husband nowwwww… Geez, John. But will they make it out of that parade alive or not? Hmm...
Chapter 31: Jägermeister
“We’re not going to Paris. Not today.”
John took his hat off as he stepped into the hotel suite, where Juliana was waiting in her black SS uniform. She frowned deeply and stalked toward him.
“What do you mean, we’re not going to Paris?”
“The parade’s been postponed. They’re on their third day of heavy rain, and there’s some mild flooding in the streets. The Reichsmeteorologe has conducted calculations saying the rain won’t stop and the streets won’t dry out for another four days. The Führer wants a massive turnout in Paris. Reichsminister Goebbels needs a big crowd for his propaganda. Anyway, the parade’s been rescheduled. Saturday. We’ll leave Saturday morning.”
Juliana looked disappointed, but she shrugged and nodded. “So, what do we do between now and Saturday?”
John shifted on his feet and said rather awkwardly, “When I met with the Führer this morning, Reichsführer Weber was there. He’s having a gathering of the highest-ranking SS officers over to his villa late this afternoon and into the evening. Drinks and cards, he said. No girls. It’s… I can’t really say no, Juliana.”
Her face crumpled for a half second, but she quickly recovered herself and waved her hand almost dismissively.
“There are a few women, wives of German SS Obergruppenführers. They gave me contact cards at the party last night. Maybe I’ll call and see if they want to have a ladies’ night out at a restaurant or something.”
John felt a rush of relief go through him, and he nodded. He stepped up to Juliana and took her face in his hands, and he bent to kiss her carefully.
“I love you,” he said simply, and Juliana just whispered back,
“I love you, too, John Smith.”
“All right… Obergruppenführer Schneider. A toast! In English, if you’re not too drunk to manage!” Lutz Weber smirked as a scantily-clad young woman went around pouring more Jägermeister into the men’s shot glasses. John sighed as his was filled, and he blinked a few times. This was his fourth shot; Weber was insisting they all go around the circle in which they’d gathered in a sunroom to make toasts. John wasn’t the only one present for whom German wasn’t a native language; there was a Frenchman, an Englishman, and one other American. But Schneider, the Austrian Obergruppenführer called upon now, seemed to struggle mightily with his English. The sandy-haired man held his shot glass aloft and managed,
“To… education. May all little girls and little boys in the Reich know of greatness of our Führer.”
Weber laughed a little but nodded. “To education. Prost!”
“Prost,” John repeated, knocking back the ice-cold, spicy, bitter liquor. He sipped from the glass of water beside him, mercifully provided by the poor little serving girl. The next man up for a toast was the Brit, Brigadeführer Wesley Stewart. He waited for the wispy teenaged girl to fill his shot glass, and then he slurred with all the confidence only a Brit could muster,
“To the continued success of the Greater Nazi Reich, particularly in those areas that initially saw substantial resistance, and to their ongoing acceptance of the noble Führer.”
Weber choked out a little scoff and said, “You English have a way with words, don’t you? Prost. Drink.”
John drank this shot more slowly, which was a mistake. It burned going down, and he nearly gagged before he swigged some water. Weber himself was next, and all eyes turned to him as he looked straight at John. Weber raised his freshly filled shot glass and said in a blurry sort of growl,
“I propose a toast to Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith and his beautiful, intelligent new wife, SS-Helferin Juliana Smith. May their lives be happy and fruitful in service of the Reich. Sieg Heil!”
John forced a smile and held his glass up a little, and he said right along with the others, “Sieg Heil.”
He knocked this shot back quickly, and the ones he’d taken before started to settle heavy in his veins. They’d been here for hours, first drinking beer from chilled steins as they discussed business and politics. As the evening had worn into night, they’d moved to the hard liquor, to the toasts. Now it was John’s turn, and he waited for his glass to be filled. Then he said very carefully,
“To the repose of the soul of our beloved, departed Führer, Adolf Hitler, and to the health and happiness of his successor. Heil Himmler.”
“Heil Himmler,” said the others, and they drank. There were two more toasts after that, and somehow through the swampy feeling in his skull, John tallied up drinks. The beer had mostly worked its way through his system, but he was just starting to feel the nine shots of Jägermeister. The little party mercifully dispersed as the men became almost dysfunctionally intoxicated, and John stumbled out to the shiny black Mercedes waiting for him in front of the villa. He mumbled his thanks to Weber, to the chauffeur, and when he got into the backseat, he tipped his head against the glass.
“Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith?” he heard after a long while. “We are at your hotel, sir.”
“Mmph.” John dragged his head away from the window and looked blearily about. Everything was dragging, and he was very dizzy. The chauffeur opened the door and asked cautiously,
“Do you require assistance, sir?”
“N-no. Thank you.” John stumbled away from the car and through the lobby of the Hotel Neumann. If people were staring at how drunk the famous American Oberst-Gruppenführer was, he didn’t notice. He didn’t actually notice whether or not anyone else was even around. He managed his way into the elevator, and he said quietly to the operator,
“I’m on… floor… um… I dunno; let me…”
“I believe your suite is on the topmost floor, Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith,” he heard the elevator operator say in polite, clipped English. “The fifteenth floor.”
“ Danke ,” John mumbled. Soon enough the elevator doors opened, and John just stared for a moment before making his way out. The liquor was hitting him hard now. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this drunk.
Yes, he could. It had been that night in the other place, in the other world, when he’d watched the video showing his family together under an Allied victory. Mansions in the Houses . He’d put the film under the floorboards and locked up the closet and had drunk whiskey until he’d vomited on the floor and fallen asleep beside the puddle of sick.
That was the last time he’d been this drunk.
This was different, somehow. He wasn’t angry tonight. He wasn’t particularly happy, either, but he hadn’t drunk to drown anything in particular. So as he stumbled to the suite door - the only one on this level - he didn’t feel the pounding grief he’d felt in that other place. Instead he felt anticipation. Juliana was in there, inside the suite, and he wanted her.
He fumbled in his pockets for a key, but he couldn’t find one, so he just started banging loudly on the door. If he really pounded hard, he reckoned, she’d hear him more easily.
He almost fell over the threshold when the door swung open. Juliana was in a fluffy white bathrobe, her hair wet and neatly combed, and she’d washed off her makeup.
“John.” She took his elbow and carefully guided him into the suite. The moment the door was shut, he slammed her hard against it, and she yelped. He yanked at the tie around her waist and shoved the white robe open, but Juliana wrenched it shut again and mumbled,
“John, I’m bleeding, remember?”
“Oh. Fuck. Damn it.” He rarely swore, but he was irritated. He’d forgotten he couldn’t have her tonight. He huffed a sigh and kissed her so hard that she squealed in protest and pushed at his uniformed chest.
“John!” Her sapphire eyes went wide as saucers, and she shook her head. “Oh, you are drunk. You are so very, very drunk.”
“Yes, well… nine toasts after hours drinking beer will… you know… make a man drunk.” John nodded and staggered away from her, collapsing onto the sofa. He started yanking at his boots, and then his fingers made a clumsy attempt at the buttons on his jacket. Suddenly she was before him, kneeling on the ground as she helped him get his boots off. She set them aside and stripped off his long socks, which she folded carefully. She reached up and started unfastening his jacket, unbuckling his belt. She pushed it all off and took it away, and John found himself murmuring,
“You are so beautiful. Oh, God, Juliana, you are… I love you so much. Do you know that? Tell me… tell me that you know that, okay?”
“I know.” Juliana nodded as she pulled his suspenders down over his shoulders and stripped off his undershirt. Then she unbuttoned and unzipped his uniform trousers, and she started to drag her fingertips around his crotch. John groaned a little at that, tipping his head back. Juliana cleared her throat softly and said,
“You’re probably too drunk to… you know.”
“What, you think I can’t get hard?” John’s voice was sharp and defensive, but Juliana replied warmly,
“I don’t think most men can after drinking that much, John. I can be patient.”
He started to stroke at her hair and tried to focus his blurry vision on her eyes, and he asked,
“Are you hungry for me, Juliana?”
“Mmm-hmm.” She nodded, and John felt blood flush straight between his legs. He shifted a little, watching as Juliana licked her lip and hesitated. Finally she said,
“You do know, don’t you…? How big you are?”
John snorted and shook his head, which just sent a surge of dizziness through him. “You don’t have to lie and… flatter me, Juliana.”
Juliana seemed rather serious all of a sudden. Her fingers moved to shove his uniform trousers and underwear down, and she wrapped her fingers around his half-hard cock.
“See how my fingers don’t meet, even now?” She cocked up an eyebrow at him and said rather playfully, “That’s not normal, Oberst-Gruppenführer.”
John let his head loll back and sucked in air as Juliana started lapping at him, making him go harder with each passing second as her tongue and lips caressed him. Was he really bigger than most men? He remembered, vaguely, collective showers in Army barracks and during SS training. He hadn’t paid much attention to the other men, except that he’d noticed some seemed almost laughably small. Or was it that he’d been big?
“Helen never said anything about it.” He blurted that out before he realized he’d done it. Juliana was remarkably understanding of his mentioning Juliana, and as he lowered his eyes to hers, she smiled a bit and shrugged.
“Maybe she didn’t have a point of comparison.”
“Have you seen a lot of… these?” John asked almost accusingly, gesturing down to his cock. Juliana laughed softly and admitted,
“I’ve seen enough of them to know that yours is really, awfully big. Not too big, mind you. Wonderfully big.”
“You’re making things up to tease me because I’m so drunk,” John said, his head falling back again, “and you think I’ll believe you.”
“Believe whatever you want,” Juliana said jovially. “I know the truth, which is that my husband has a remarkably thick and terrifyingly long cock.”
With that, she delved her mouth onto him, and it was then that John noticed his tip was hitting the back of her throat, but she was nowhere near taking him whole. Did he feel better than average inside of her, he wondered suddenly? Did he fill her in a way most men wouldn’t have been able to do? Even if she was lying - and somehow, now, he did not think she was - it served to puff up his ego. And with an inflated ego, his cock hardened further.
Juliana was suckling now, or at least he thought she was. He could barely focus on anything other than how good it felt. The details of what she was doing were hazy, but John knew it felt good. He shut his eyes and just let her lick and pull and him with her skilled mouth, her careful hands moving around his thighs and balls. Her voice was buzzing on him, a low moan that made his breath catch. His hands went down of their own accord to her head, and he started to pet her gently there.
“I love you,” he heard himself said softly. He told her often enough, but tonight he couldn’t stop saying it. He’d had entirely to much to drink to censor himself into stone tonight. He was soft from the liquor, he knew; his rough edges had been sanded smooth by Jägermeister. He started to ramble, his voice a blurry mess as Juliana pleasured him.
“I always thought you were pretty. Even the you I first knew here. Beautiful, even. But there… there , I thought… she’s so careful, so caring. She’s warm and cold and hard and soft in all the right places, and I want her. I wanted you, Juliana. I dreamed of you. I still… I dream of you. But now I wake up… and you’re beside me, and I… I love you so much.”
He stopped then, because his balls were drawing up toward his body and everything had gone warm and tight. He started making nondescript, desperate, throaty noises, his fingers tightening in Juliana’s hair. He was close, so close, and he didn’t even have time to warn her. She didn’t seem to mind. When he came, his ears going hot and ringing through the burst of exquisite pleasure, Juliana swallowed it all down as if she had orders to do so. She was methodical, her mouth still moving on him even as she gulped down every drop.
“Good girl,” John whispered, sliding his fingers down her hair. “My good, good, sweet girl.”
He shut his eyes then, overwhelmed by fatigue from the climax and the alcohol. He was distantly aware of how Juliana was pulling his underwear back up, of how she was stripping him of his trousers. She was pulling at his hands then, and her voice said very quietly,
“I can’t carry you, so you’ll have to either help me get you to the bed, or you’ll have stay on the sofa.”
“I’m coming,” John insisted. He tried to heave himself off the sofa but stumbled immediately, and Juliana did her best to catch him. He snared his arms around her and yanked her close, smelling perfume and come on her in a way that made him feel more intoxicated than ever. He touched his lips to her forehead and whispered, “Thank you.”
“Come to bed,” Juliana insisted. She helped him stagger through the living room and toward the bedroom, and then she asked in a voice that was obviously tempered by caution, “Were there a lot of girls at this party? Or just a few?”
John gave her a serious look, knowing his eyes were glassy and unfocused.
“There was one girl,” he said. “The girl pouring the drinks. Juliana, I would never… I could never…”
She stopped him near the side of the bed and reminded him,
“You were physical with me when you were still married to Helen.”
Once a cheat, always a cheat. That was what she was thinking. John’s chest yanked, and he shook his head with a clumsy lack of coordination.
“N-no; I fell in love with you.”
“You had sex with me before you fell in love with me,” Juliana insisted. John shut his eyes and whispered desperately,
“She wasn’t there. Helen had never even been born there. I asked you to marry me because she was gone. I couldn’t… don’t do this to me. Juliana, I would never… fuck some random girl at a party…”
“Okay. Let’s just get you into bed. You’re going to have a monstrous headache tomorrow; I hope you haven’t got anything scheduled in the morning.” Juliana helped him beneath the sheets, and John muttered,
“Nothing till three. A meeting… about Chicago.”
“Okay.” Juliana tucked the blankets up around him, and he watched her. His vision was demolished by all the alcohol, but he could see that she’d pulled a nightgown from the dresser drawer and had taken it into the bathroom. A few moments later, she came out, and he wished hard that she hadn’t been bleeding. He wanted to be inside of her. He’d only have to wait a few days, he knew.
Paris. They’d be in Paris in a few days. Then, after a few more weeks, they’d go back to New York, and he’d see his girls. Or at least Amy. As far as he knew, Jennifer still hated him. Helen definitely hated him. He should hate Cameron.
He rolled his head toward Juliana as she cuddled up beneath the blankets and faced him. She reached to stroke his cheek, and she told him,
“It’s not good for you to drink this much.”
John scowled “I wasn’t driving; I was at a party that I -”
“It’s not good because you might say something that makes you sound either insane or insidious,” Juliana said very meaningfully, and suddenly John knew what she meant. If he was drunk around the wrong person and he started talking about films and getting shot, about Cameron Seagram and Joe dying in that other world, he’d be interrogated at best and executed at worst. She was right. He needed to be as clear-headed as possible, given the strange circumstances he’d lived already. He nodded and touched his forehead to hers, and he whispered sincerely,
“You are the most able, the kindest and most beautiful and most wonderful… companion… wife… I love you, Juliana.”
He was rambling again, but he couldn’t help himself. She didn’t seem to mind. She curled herself against him and kissed his bare chest, and she whispered,
“Get some sleep, John. I’ll have aspirin and seltzer ready for you when you wake up.”
He shut his eyes, loving her so much that it was causing him a physical ache somewhere between his chest and his stomach. He stroked at her hair with fingers that slowed by the second as sleep took him over, and he managed to slur,
He was almost gone, almost completely drowned from consciousness when he heard her caramel voice murmur back,
Author’s Note: Yes, we’ll see the parade in Paris (action chapter!), and we’ll get more details about Chicago and Cameron and all kinds of stuff, but first I wanted to explore Drunk!John and a little bit of fluffy smut to contrast with what we’ve seen from them recently. Thanks so much for reading. Please do leave a comment if you get a moment.
Chapter 32: Buggy
The parade was grander than John could have imagined.
At the very front, leading the charge down the Champs-Elysées, was a neatly marching block of Hitler Youth and Girls’ League participants from the Paris region. Each crisply uniformed child carried a banner on a pole - a black swastika on a red background with metallic gold tasseling. Behind the children was a brigade of infantrymen - low-ranking grunts, but French, and therefore important to show the people of the city. They goose-stepped in perfect lines and saluted when they passed the enormous painted banner of Himmler’s face hanging from a building. Next came the marching band, consisting entirely of brass and drums, playing one nationalistic anthem after another as the parade made its way past the screaming throngs.
Bringing up the very rear of the parade was Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith, hero of the Reich and model of Schutzstaffel dignity. And beside him was SS-Helferin Juliana Smith - hero’s wife, active defector into the Reich, and female Schutzstaffel. She looked almost terrifying today, John thought. She was in her black skirted uniform, with her hat just so upon her severely styled hair. When she raised her right hand for a demure little wave - nothing dramatic, just as Goebbels had ordered - she was waving a tight black leather glove.
John himself was to nod politely as the Mercedes convertible followed the rest of the parade, so he did. Goebbels wanted him to look at once personable but serious, and John was doing his best. The people lining the street were separated from the actual parade by Waffen-SS with rifles at the ready. There were elderly women waving Nazi flags, little children saluting with their tiny arms. There were women shrieking with glee and men applauding. Thousands and thousands of Parisians, here in their multitude, adoring the children and the infantry and the marching band and the hero.
“Oh, my nose itches,” Juliana said quietly from beside John, and he snorted a little laugh. She couldn’t itch it right now, he knew. She’d have to take off her leather glove and scratch at her face in front of everybody, and she couldn’t do that. John sighed a little as he stared at a little girl in the crowd who looked just like his daughter Amy.
Buggy . He’d called Amy Buggy for years, because she’d had an odd fascination as a toddler with ladybugs and ants. She’d moved past the obsession, but he still patted her between the shoulders sometimes and called her Buggy .
Amy had wanted to come into New York, but John had left. He resolved to see her as soon as he possibly could, to take her out for ice cream sundaes with loads of chocolate syrup and sprinkled nuts. Someday, he’d spend good time with Jennifer again, when Jennifer was ready. But Amy - Buggy - wanted her father, and her father needed to see her very soon.
The little French girl along the road grinned widely when John made eye contact. He nodded, just like Goebbels had told him to do.
“John. John, look . Look over there.”
Juliana’s voice was suddenly frantic, suddenly urgent and fearful, and John trained his eyes to where she was looking. Then he saw her.
She was standing in a powder blue wool coat, her blonde hair cropped neatly around her chin. She looked younger than ever - eleven, maybe twelve? Perhaps even a bit younger than that. She was alone, surrounded by the enthusiastic French. Her eyes were cold, almost burning in their frigidity, and John hissed down to the driver,
“Stop. Stop the car.”
“John, no,” Juliana insisted, but before she could stop him, he had hopped out of of the shiny black Mercedes and was stalking quickly toward the sidewalk. The Waffen-SS guards looked confused, and the crowds screamed louder than ever, but John just reached forward and crooked his leather glove.
“Come here, Cameron,” he said sharply. The smiles on the people around Cameron Seagram slowly vanished as they realized how irritated the Oberst-Gruppenführer was. The parade had been halted; Juliana was in the car behind John. Cameron calmly stepped into the street, staring up at John. Her voice sounded more childlike than he’d ever heard it as she asked quietly,
“You’re John Smith?”
Then he realized it. He realized that this might be the first time Cameron had ever laid eyes on him. She’d been a little older in the world where he’d met Juliana, where they’d been shot. She’d been much older in his world, where she’d brought Juliana death records from an atomic blast that had never happened. Space and places were fluid, it seemed, but the timeline of one single iteration of a life was linear. He had seen Cameron as a young teen, as a grown woman. Now he was seeing her - certainly not for the first time in his experience - as a child. When she’d shot him in his house, did she already have a memory of this parade? When she’d come into Juliana’s workplace with death records, was she thinking of today?
“Why are you here?” John asked, his voice feeling dry. Cameron just blinked and said,
“He sent me. The Man in the High Castle. He said it was important that I see you like this.”
“Like what?” John snapped, and Cameron’s little face seemed confused. She glanced up and down his form, then back to the car, her eyes settling on Juliana.
“That’s your wife? Juliana Crain?”
John’s breath caught a little, and he just nodded. The crowd behind Juliana had gone quiet, held back by the Waffen-SS guards, so John lowered his voice and murmured,
“I’m only married to her, Cameron, because you ripped me away from the first family I had and practically shoved Juliana into my arms. Then you shot us and moved us and told us we had to get married. Did you know that? Did you know any of that?”
Cameron’s eyes flashed. “He isn’t lying, then. Hawthorne.”
John scowled, but before he could say anything else, Cameron leaned closer, her bobbed blonde hair wisping around her face in the breeze.
“He said I needed to see you like this, because this is the happy ending. This is the story that ends the right way. And I have to get you here… I have to make this happen.”
John gulped. “Well… you do. You will.”
He should hate her, he thought, not at all for the first time. Instead he glanced around at all the people staring at him, and he mumbled,
“Salute me and give me a good Sieg Heil, Cameron.”
She furrowed her brows but stepped back, and she raised her arm in a Nazi salute and cried,
“Sieg Heil,” John replied calmly. He jerked his chin back toward the crowd, all of whom had joined into a communal salute-and-chant. He nodded crisply at the crowd and stalked back to the car, and when he climbed in and signalled to a Waffen-SS guard that the parade could start again, Juliana plastered on a smile and hissed,
“What the hell was that about?”
“We’ll discuss it later,” John answered sharply. “For now, smile and wave, Juliana. But look dignified in doing it.”
John was jolted awake by the sound of a telephone ringing. He immediately blinked himself to rights and hurled himself from bed, knowing that a phone ringing at one in the morning was probably something very important. He dashed through the suite to the little desk against the wall where the phone was, and when he picked it up, he said in a gravelly voice,
“This is Smith.”
His heart stopped, or at least he thought it did, if just for a moment. John’s eyes welled heavily at once, and he said quietly,
“I’m sorry… it’s late there. I don’t know the time difference,” said Amy’s little voice, but John insisted,
“N-no, sweetheart; it’s… I don’t mind. How are you?”
“I saw you on the television just now,” Amy said, almost proudly. “Jennifer didn’t want to watch, but Mother put it on for me. The parade in Paris. I saw you in the car. I was happy to see you, even if it was just on the television.”
“Oh, Buggy.” John shook his head and said roughly, “I’m going to take you out for ice cream sundaes as soon as I come home, okay?”
“Okay,” Amy said happily. There was a pause, and then she asked, “Could I get a banana split?”
“You can have whatever dessert you want, Buggy; I’ll find it for you,” John promised. He felt an actual tear well over his eye then, and when he glanced up, he saw Juliana leaning against the living room wall, her arms crossed and a sad look on her face. She turned to go, but John held up his hand to stop her. He cleared his throat and asked Amy, “Does your mother know you called me, Amy?”
There was a long pause, and John chuckled a little as he pretended to scold her.
“Are you making secret calls, Buggy?”
“I figured you probably pay the phone bill,” Amy reasoned, “and I figured you wouldn’t mind. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” John licked his bottom lip and asked, “You think Jennifer will come to the city when I get back?”
“I can try to convince her,” Amy said hesitantly, but John immediately burst forth,
“No, Amy; that’s not your job. Your job is to… to come to Manhattan and eat banana splits, okay?”
There was another long pause, and then Amy asked, “Will Julia - I mean, Juliana - be there?”
John looked up to where Juliana stood, looking away and chewing at a fingernail, and he said quietly to Amy,
“It’ll be just how you want it, Buggy.”
“I like her,” Amy said firmly. “Maybe it can just be you and me for the sundaes, but I want to see her again. Julia. Juliana, I mean. I like her. She’s very nice and very pretty.”
“Amy, who are you talking to?”
Helen. That was Helen’s voice in the background. When Amy didn’t answer, John heard Helen bark,
“Give me the phone, Amy. Hello? Who is this?”
“It’s just me, Helen. She called me,” John said, as gently as he could manage. Helen sighed audibly over the phone.
“Well, it’s the middle of the night there and she has homework to finish. She’ll see you when you get back. Nice parade, John. I mean it.”
“Thanks. Can I tell her goodnight, please?” John’s stomach hurt all of a sudden, and then he rushed to say before Helen could hand the phone over, “Helen? Tell Jennifer I love her, please.”
“Okay, John. Here, Amy. Finish it up; that’s an transatlantic call and it costs a fortune.”
“Hello?” Amy’s voice was back, and John shut his eyes tightly as he told her,
“Go finish your homework, okay, Amy? I’m glad you liked the parade.”
“I’ll see you soon for sundaes,” Amy said, her little voice almost tragically desperate. For a moment, John simply couldn’t answer, but finally he nodded to himself and said in a cracked voice,
“G’night. Love you.” There was a click then, and John hesitated for a very long moment before he finally hung the phone up. He stared at it as Juliana stepped up beside him, and then he reached to slip his hand into hers.
“She made me leave them,” he whispered, and Juliana nodded.
“I know you love me, John, but you only meant to marry me in a world where they didn’t exist. You never meant to leave them with divorce papers. I know it.”
“She was just a child today,” John said in disbelief. He turned his face until his eyes locked on Juliana’s, and he shrugged. “We’ve seen parts of her life that she hadn’t lived yet. She’s seen world we’ve never known? How much is out there? Is it all just… endless lines criss-crossing, changing direction now and then, and…”
His head hurt, all of a sudden, from pondering such a weighty sort of idea. He gulped and squeezed at Juliana’s hand, and he shut his eyes.
“Today, as a child, she told me that the Man in the High Castle told her that it was critical you and I get to this point - married, powerful. When Cameron was older, she was on a mission to achieve that. And when she was much older, she brought you proof that it had always been necessary. This… this … us. You and I together, married, in the positions we’re in now… for some reason, it’s vital. It’s the only happy ending.”
“Then, John,” Juliana sighed, “let’s make it the happiest ending we can. Let’s go back to bed.”
Author’s Note: Sorry for the break in updates; we are doing home renovations that are eating up my writing time. Please do take a moment to leave a comment if you get a quick moment. Thank you!