Slapping Peeled Tanks While Leopards Eat My Face

written by StukaGoggles & Arty
This is the transcript of a roleplay that I did with my friend, where we are writing out what happened "behind the scenes" of our characters' Heroes conversations. It's still going on, so this will be updated every now and then.

Somewhere in the North.

Spring, 83W

Ruth had been afraid that they'd never leave. She had been stuck at the bunker near Ruindom for almost two weeks now and her sanity did not take that too well. Of course, the Scavengers had saved her from certain death but... it did seem like they had only done so to let her rot in their bunker. Even after the TRV had restored her to an airworthy condition, they didn't even let her outside once. They said she could leave once they get their teammate's location from her.   How was she supposed to know? It didn't help that they were just calling her Claudia. Ruth had gathered that she must've been a Maus and - according to Angler - she had been the coolest girl he ever met. She figured that he hadn't met many girls.   But now, almost all of the Scavengers had gone out to do what their name suggested. It was just Ruth and Winston in the bunker. That was her chance.   She turned towards him. "I have to go now. But for that I will need your help, Winston." She slowly drove over to where the Scavengers kept their ammo. "A... friend of mine is in very serious danger, I have to help him. So that he can help me getting you out of here, ok? But for that I need bombs."   She pointed at the room's door. There was no way she could fit in there. "I know that there are in there. Can you get them for me? Just... push them, it should be fine. It's ok."   A second hand reached out to gently pat Winston on his tarp turret, a gesture that probably went unnoticed by him.  
Being left behind at the bunker regularly, Winston actually didn’t mind the company he was getting for once. But it seemed like the new acquaintance had no intentions of staying any longer, now that she got her first chance to leave. Winston couldn’t blame her for it.   As she made her request, he didn’t think twice. Really, he had no qualms about stealing from his own team at this point. Or helping their “hostage” escape. There was much resentment pent up in this core of his.   He nodded and turned around, entering the room. Getting the bombs outside was a bit of a challenge. He had no hands anymore, and getting the explosives out of the door by just pushing them around didn’t feel very safe to him. He gave it a try, anyway – so what if he blew up the whole bunker and himself.   With difficulty, but successfully, he managed to push them through the door one by one.  
Honestly, Ruth didn't think that this would work. Not because she feared the bombs to go off but because Winston wasn't the most agile. But he did it anyway. Looked like there was more to him that met the eye!   "Thank you so much," she said and affixed the bombs to her wings. They were awfully mismatched and it took a few minutes to find out which bombs balanced each other out the best. It was going to be a wild ride nevertheless.   "Ok, I'll leave now. But I will come back, I promise. See you soon, Winston." She pushed the bunker doors open and rolled outside. Great, rainy weather. The perfect conditions to test out a random TRV's work.   Optics darting around to see if any of the Scavengers were around, she made her way towards Ruindom. The streets there looked a bit roughed up but it was a better option than to take off in a field.  
Winston waved his cannon at Ruth as she departed. He had to admit to himself that he was feeling a bit sad about it. She did promise that she’d come back, but he found it hard to put much hope into that. Back to being by himself it was, for now. He turned around and drove back to his room.   Meanwhile, elsewhere, a certain Hetzer’s optics were shifting to the tank that was following him around. The officer hadn’t made it a secret that Fafnir would be kept a close eye on until his unit would come pick him up. That meant that he could move around in the camp somewhat freely, at least. But he didn’t like the constant being-watched-thing at all.   It was kind of hard to adjust to the circumstances of his “home” after being gone for so long. Everything felt kind of alien and uncomfortable. Everyone looked and acted grumpy and unfriendly. And worst of all, while Fafnir had been able to fool the chief of this unit by saying a different name, he knew with complete certainty that Snare would see right through that bluff. And the likely thing to happen was Fafnir getting burned to death after all, with the unlikely thing to happen being that he’d get rescued by a freakish incident again.   He was only clinging to the vague promise of another ex-Legion member coming to rescue him. But he wouldn’t count on that actually happening. What was one scouting plane gonna do? Would she even make it in time? This fortress was full of ‘gangers and protected by guards, and the Unit 37-42 would arrive in two days the latest. He hadn’t heard from Ruth in a while, either. Who knew, maybe she had taken his advice to heart and found herself a team…   Fafnir put down his fuel can and went about returning to the troop tent he had been assigned to for the time being. He couldn’t get anything down his intake right now. Oh, what a predicament…  
It was a bumpy ride to the city, especially because the rain made the ground slippery and in some places even dangerously muddy. If I get stuck here I'd die of embarrassment first before the Scavengers can get me, Ruth thought to herself as she awkwardly circled around a puddle.   But at least she was outside again. She looked up to the sky. Although it was overcast at the moment, it was by far the most beautiful thing she saw for weeks now.   But there was no time to take in the sight, she had a job to do. And a dangerous one at that. Why was she out to help Fafnir again? That was a question she couldn't really answer. Sure, she felt pity for him. And his attempt to desert was relatable. After all, she was a deserter now as well. So they had something in common.   After a few more minutes Ruth finally reached a strip of asphalt that looked good enough to take off on. A bit short but it would do. She lined herself up, put her flaps down and set her engine to full throttle.   Flying after several weeks of being grounded was one of the most relieving feelings Ruth had experienced to far. She would've loved to just fly some maneuvers right then and there but the unbalanced bomb load made that too risky. Instead she raced towards the Scharnhorst fortress as fast as her wings could carry her.   When the plane finally got into radio range of the fortress, she tried contacting Fafnir over his private frequency: « Fafnir, this is Ruth. Can you hear me? »  
After sitting in the troop tent in silence for a long while and frantically trying to come up with an escape plan (unsuccessfully), the sudden incoming radio message startled the hell out of Fafnir.   He quickly looked around him to make sure that no one else in the tent had noticed him flinching; but the only present tank who wasn’t just parked there with a completely blank stare was busy reading a newspaper.   Finally, he replied nonverbally – talking into his radio would definitely not have gone unnoticed.   «Yes! I’m still at the camp.»   The text didn’t quite do his emotions in that moment justice. He had immediately been thrown into great turmoil, almost unable to believe that Ruth was showing up for real to maybe save him indeed. Who would have thought!  
Looked like he was still alive enough to respond. Even though he probably had some company nearby because of the non-verbal answer. Not ideal.   «Are there any planes in this camp? If yes, how many and what model? »   That was the most pressing question Ruth had. She wasn't familar with that particular unit, so there could be a nasty surprise waiting for her when she attacked. Her guns were all set on ammo but she'd rather not waste any fuel on a dogfight. Who knew when the next opportunity to refuel would present itself.  
Fafnir tilted his cannon at the question. He couldn’t answer it as precisely as Ruth probably hoped, but he did his best.   «There’s one spotter plane… It is… the kind with wings.»   He realized how unhelpful that probably was, but how the hell was he supposed to know what models planes were? He hadn’t even seen this one from up close yet. But he had seen the local TRV mess with it.   «I think it’s not airworthy right now, though.»  
Just when Fafnir pinpointed the model of the plane to "the kind with wings", Ruth contemplated on just turning around for this comment alone. Did he think he was being funny? Or was he just that stupid? She bit back a snarky comment and instead explained her plan:   «Alright, I will arrive in about seven minutes to bomb the base. First, I will go for the airstrip and then for wherever the most people stand. Keep away from crowds and be ready to run eastwards. And if you can, grab as much fuel as possible! They should be distracted enough for you to reach the forest. I will meet up with you later. Just keep driving. Clear?»   There would be no mistaking about her identity when she attacked. Not with the Legion insignia and her unit number painted bright red on her wings and fuselage... But after all, why not? Why shouldn't she let them know that their actions were going to bite them in the ass? Surely, this wouldn't be the first time a plane turned on them.  
S-Seven minutes?? Fafnir was in such a hurry to send his reply that it was riddled with typos.   «Taht’s not alotof time!!»   His gaze darted around as if he had forgotten the way out of the tent. He quickly drove out of it and tried to think of any spot in this camp that would be in any way bomb-safe, but suspected that even the big castle walls would just crumble if they were hit… burying him underneath… Oh, how terrifying to even think about that.   In his mind, the seconds ticked down to the seven minutes Ruth had given him. From the corner of his optics he saw his personal guard watch him with furrowed optic ridges as the Hetzer was just running around in the camp like a headless chicken.   Okay, Fafnir. Think. Ruth asked him to grab fuel. He couldn’t do that right now, since the supply storage was guarded as well. But maybe he would get a chance once the plane attacked. It was vaguely at the East-ish side of the camp too, so if he was quick, he’d be able to run from there. The guards would probably be too busy to notice him.   Alright, that was a plan. Fafnir halted for a moment, and then purposefully drove into the direction of the supply storage, while anxiously watching the sky.  
About five and a half minutes later the fortress came into sight for Ruth. The visual conditions in this rainy weather were less than optimal for a bombing run, especially if there was one tank in that base who had to stay unharmed. Wherever he was.   At least locating the airstrip was a cinch. It had even been asphalted. Why is it always the other units which get runways like this?, she thought. It was almost a shame to destroy it.   A radio call interrupted her train of thought: «Approaching plane, identify yourself or we will open fire.»   Open fire with what? Perhaps with the P-51 who was leaving the hangar at the airfield. Fafnir didn't lie about them being 'the kind with wings' but he sure had a different definition of 'not airworthy' than her. This plane looked more than airworthy and it was taxiing to take off.   «Fafnir, you moron!» Ruth cried out as she quickly activated all the bombs under her wings. If that P-51 managed to take off, she was in for a bad time. Diving down with full speed, she dropped her first bomb halfway down the airstrip.   While pulling back up, she was met with a round of machine gun fire from the plane on the ground. The bullets swished past her, missing their mark completely. Probably because the P-51 had other things to be worried about. Mainly the bomb detonating with a deafening crash where they were supposed to take off.   That was one problem taken care of. The next one was the fact that everybody in the fortress now knew that Ruth was here and up to no good. The faster she could drop that second bomb, the better.   After a short climb she dove down again, dropping a bomb on a row of tents while being faced with a mix of machine gun fire and tanks firing their main guns at her.  
Fafnir had reached the vicinity of the storage by now, and ducked with a drawn-out cry of «Soooooorryyyyyyyyyy!!» on the radio as Ruth called him out. The Hetzer almost went into a state of paralyzation from the impact of the first bomb, even though it was on the other side of the camp. The blast wave shook the entire fortress. So, shit was getting real now. He looked up with instant panic, a sentiment that the entire non-ganger population of the camp shared. An armed plane with hostile intentions was always the most direct way to putting the fear of the gods into any tank.   The guard of the supply storage came rushing past Fafnir as the second bomb dropped, close enough to make everyone nearby yelp and scream – at least those who were 1) sentient enough to know what was going on and 2) not disintegrated in an instant. Fafnir’s senses were yelling at him to get out of there right now and just run as far and fast as possible, but he luckily remembered his mission just before he could turn around and follow his instinct.   He rushed onward and into the supply storage room, and hastily grabbed as many canisters as he could get his claws on at once. Throwing them into his fighting compartment and holding the rest, he was about to leave again when he noticed two other tanks bursting through the door. Fafnir thought that of course they had come to stop him, but instead, they immediately went about doing the same thing he had done. Well, seems like they had similar ideas.   Fafnir paid no further attention to the looters and drove back outside, where hell was still loose.  
Ruth had completely forgotten how incredible it felt to bomb some tanks. It had been years since she had gotten the chance to do that. The sight of them staring up in terror and scattering before her second bomb detonated just had something so deeply satisfying about it. A part of her wished that there would have been less gangers. They didn't run and scream the way their sentient comrades did.   Yes, run. Run for your sorry lives.   Why not make another run? She still had four bombs left, she could destroy the whole fortress with them. Fortunately for her, a machine gun bullet ripped through her wing tip. The sharp pain caused her to snap out of her daydream about slaughtering an entire Legion unit. A not so gentle reminder that she wasn't by any means invincible in this situation.   «Fafnir, I will make a run for it now. Just continue heading eastward about 50 kilometres.» She also gave him the coordinates of where they would eventually meet up again. A clearing she had passed over a lot of times on her scouting missions, just big and flat enough to make for a good landing spot.   With that, Ruth flew off into the opposite direction until the fortress was out of sight before heading to the meetup point.   Of course she arrived there way earlier than Fafnir. In fact, it only took her 15 minutes. After a smooth landing, she rolled up to the treeline and parked there. Her arms pushed her canopy back and rummaged around until they found a large camo net. Pulling it out and draping it over herself, Ruth went for a little nap while waiting for Fafnir to arrive.  
If Fafnir’s hands wouldn’t have been occupied with canisters, he would have clasped them on top of his fighting compartment right then – as if that would have shielded him against another bomb dropping on top of him… or even the shrapnel from a nearby explosion. Luckily, it seemed like Ruth was done terrorizing the camp. But that also meant that Fafnir didn’t have much time left before everyone would regain their bearings and notice him running.   «Gotcha, I’m on the way!» he wheezed into the radio as he received the coordinates. That was quite a roadtrip, but it shouldn’t take him longer than two hours to arrive hopefully. He was nimble on his tracks, after all. That was of course assuming no one would come after him, and that he’d not run into any strangers, either.   It felt delightful, but also scary to leave the fortress behind. All alone against whatever was awaiting him out there? He hadn’t forgotten that this world was hostile. As he rushed through the currently unguarded gates, he almost halted out of a strange hesitation. But the urge to run was stronger; his tracks carried him away all by themselves.   By some sort of miracle, Fafnir actually made it to the meeting point undetected. He had been going rather cautiously and thus more slowly than anticipated, anxiously looking into all directions at all times to spot any potential enemy the entire time. Therefore, it took him two hours indeed. Other than a tank from a free team, it didn’t occur to Fafnir to announce his arrival on the radio first; he hardly ever had been going anywhere on his own, and when approaching Legion bases, it was the officers’ task to inform the inhabitants that allies were coming.   So, he just kinda barged into the clearing, looking for Ruth. He was a bit nervous to actually meet her for the first time, even if he couldn’t really pinpoint a reason for that. It was probably just the scare from her just murdering half of the fortress. He spotted her by the trees and drove up to her, with a tentative “…Hi?”.
During the time Fafnir had been on his way, the little nap Ruth had planned had developed into a full-on sleep. She hadn't been able to rest comfortably at the Scavengers' bunker and the rain had made way for a cloudless sky; the sun rays warming up her wings and lulling her to sleep.   Until Fafnir showed up and addressed her, that is. The plane started awake and instinctively fired a round from her wing-mounted guns. Of course they missed Fafnir my far, instead going wide over the tree tops.   "Fuck! Who-" She looked down at the tank in front of her. He was... tiny. Even for tank standards. The odd paintjob gave away that this had to be Fafnir. That and the fact that she hadn't been shot on sight.   "Don't sneak up on people like that!"  
That wasn’t the reaction Fafnir had been expecting at all, and he screamed and dropped the fuel cans as Ruth suddenly started shooting.   “IT’S ME! Don’tkillmeplease-“ he yelped and ducked, covering his optics with his now free hands.   Only when he realized he had been missed, he dared to peek out from between his claws.   “I’m sorry!” he said sheepishly and went about picking up the cans again. He also threw an anxious look around, hoping that no one was nearby to hear the shots or yelling. Only when nothing suspicious happened for a few seconds, the Hetzer turned to Ruth again.   “Uh… nice to meet you in person? I’m Faf-… I mean, you know that I guess-” he said with a tilted cannon and averted optics.  
Seeing him cowering in front of her like that made Ruth's initial anger dissipate immediately. She adjusted her camo net sheepishly and replied: "No, I'm sorry. I feel asleep. Nice to meet you, too."   Her optics fell on the plentiful loot the Hetzer was carrying in his arms. A welcome sight, especially since it's been some time since she had seen that many fuel cans in one place. Turned out the Scavengers had been just as stingy as The Legion when it came to her fuel rations.   "Mind if I..." She trailed off to reach for one of the fuel cans but waited for Fafnir to give it up. She wasn't that rude. Even if she could be a little bit cranky when hungry.  
Fafnir didn’t know what Ruth wanted him not to mind as she extended her arm towards him, so he just stared at her with wide optics, resisting the urge to back away. It took a moment until it occurred to him that she was probably taking interest in the fuel he had brought.   “O-Of course!” he quickly mumbled and handed over one of the cans. He was actually rather hungry too – it had been a long drive and the unit he had been staying with hadn’t been feeding him plenty, not to mention that he hadn’t been able to refuel even that little bit with all the worry about his impending doom. So, basically, his fuel gauge was already pointing to “Reserve”.   He took one of the remaining cans and popped it open, and even though he only took a hesitant sip at first, he quickly couldn’t help but start gulping the fuel down greedily. He hadn’t even realized how hungry he really had been. The can was empty in no time and he didn’t even have to put any conscious thought into swiftly opening and draining the next one.  
Ruth would have commented on Fafnir practically inhaling two fuel cans if she hadn't been busy doing the exact same. Eventually she had to force herself to stop after the fifth can. The temptation to just down the entire stash was immense, after all those 100 l felt like a drop in the ocean for her. Her arms retreated back into her fuselage and stayed there to prevent herself from grabbing another can.   "Thanks for bringing the fuel. That was much needed. But I'm afraid that we'll need more of that soon." She got lost in her thoughts about how they could pull off a raid but snapped out of it after a few moments. The fuel issue was pressing but there was something else on her mind as well.   "How do you feel, Fafnir?"  
Once Fafnir was coming back to his senses – and feeling awkward about being so self-indulgent – he had to admit to himself that he hadn’t even thought much further than his escape. He hadn’t expected to get this far. It was indeed not very relaxing to think about that. His previous attempts at getting by outside the Legion, when he had run away the first time, had only ended up with him almost starving and nearly getting killed before he had been caught and returned. He wasn’t sure what to do differently this time.   With that in mind, there was really only one way he could answer Ruth’s question.   “…Physically I’m fine I guess, but on every other level I’m currently tumbling down a steep cliffside so hard that my core flew out my loading hatch,” he said deadpan. Did that sound too dramatic…? He let out a strained chuckle to make it look like he was joking. “What about you?”  
That was... an unexpected answer. Ruth didn't think of Fafnir as a poet but here they were. At least it sounded like he was being honest. Brutally honest at that.   "That's... not good to hear. But at least you won't get executed anytime soon," she said. "I'm still a bit hungry but otherwise I'm fine. I did get shot, though."   She had almost forgotten about the bullet hole in her wing; the pain had subsided relatively quickly after the impact. Right now, only a slight stinging sensation reminded her of the injury. One of her arms snaked over her wing to inspect the hole. A carefully prodding finger went straight through, confirming that the bullet wasn't stuck anywhere. Instead the pain came right back and caused Ruth to hiss a few German curses.   A little box was fished out of her cockpit and she pulled a roll of duct tape. "But that's nothing tape can't fix," she told Fafnir and went to covering the hole on both sides of her wings with a small patch of the silver tape.  
Fafnir shrugged uneasily. He agreed that execution was not a likely fate right now, but was starving to death much better? Ah, he could have worried himself sick about this, but Ruth’s injury caught his attention and took his mind off it for a moment.   He watched with a deep frown as the plane just fixed her wing with duct tape like it was a broken toy or something. It was baffling that this was apparently sufficient. Just putting tape on a hole in a tank’s armor would have never worked, after all – planes really were strange creatures.   There was another important thought and issue to tackle, though.   “So, uh… what now?” he asked awkwardly. Maybe Ruth had a better idea of where to go from here.  
Ruth didn't even listen to what Fafnir had said. Instead she froze mid-taping as she got the message that Stub was about to be interrogated by Concord about the amounts of illegally hoarded fuel in their hangar back at Unit 21-13. In a desperate attempt to reason with Concord, she replied non-verbally and hoped that he would fall for it.   Back at the Unit 21-13's base, Stub had a giant problem to handle. And that problem was Leopard-shaped.   "You wanted to talk to me, sir?" he asked as he drove up to where Concord was standing. The other interrogations had taken place inside the commanding officer's tent but there was no way the Spitfire could fit in there. So he had been ordered to meet the unit's supply officer in front of it.   The issue that was about to be discussed had been no secret. Stub knew what was coming. He had meant to get rid of the fuel stash before Concord arrived but... he didn't make it. That damned tank had been too fast. Well, there was nothing that could've been done about it now.   That grounding will suck.so.much.  
Fafnir of course noticed the instant change in Ruth’s attitude and it was highly concerning. Was something wrong? Was it something he had said? He watched her for a moment, then waved one of his hands in front of her nose and asked anxiously, “Hey, hello? What’s wrong?”   Concord looked up from a small booklet as an unfamiliar voice announced the arrival of yet another soldier. Seeing as it was a plane, there was really only one possibility who it could be.   A curt tank-smile appeared on the Leopard’s features for a moment.   “Ah, you must be… Stub,” he said in a tone that was patient and friendly on the surface, but betrayed by his expression growing callous. He looked down at his booklet again, turned the page, and checked off something with a pen. After looking up once more, he added, “Do you know why you’ve been called here?”   The nearby guards that Concord had brought with him seemed impassive to the situation, but were probably watching the interaction closely.  
Ruth snapped out of her when something was waved in front of her. She instinctively rolled backwards a bit before realising that it was Fafnir's arm. And that he was talking to her.   "I need to get back to my unit's base. Now," she said firmly and looked at the remaining fuel cans. She didn't know if it would be enough. "Stub...my best friend is in serious trouble. Fuck, I cannot simply show up there. Not without knowing where we can get fuel from first. He's going to kill him, I know it."   If that bastard of a tank did anything to hurt Stub in any way, shape or form he'd be done for. The Focke-Wulf rolled forward a bit, then stopped again to contemplate.   Wow, that Leopard was a real charmer, now wasn't he? There was no reason to beat around the bush now, though. The fact that Concord already knew about every single wreck in every single soldier's garage had spread like wildfire after his arrival.   Slumping down on his gear, Stub tried it with the good old way of acting sorry for his misdeeds. "I think I do. It's because fuel had went missing from the supply. I admit that I have taken some for my own, aside from my regular rations. And I'm sorry for that, it was wrong. Most of it is still in my hangar, you can take it back," he explained, "But believe me that the comrade I share the hangar with had no idea that I had been stealing. I kept it to myself."   Even though Ruth was still missing in action he had no intentions to get her grounded once she returned. That she would return, he had absolutely no doubt about. A little bit of fuel starvation couldn't kill that bad bitch.  
Fafnir’s optics grew wide and he immediately shook his cannon fiercely. “No no no no. Are you insane?” he gasped. “That’s right, you can’t go back there!”   He quickly drove after Ruth and in front of her to block her path, even though she had stopped already. “What- what are we even dealing with here?? Who’s he??  Honestly, Concord hadn’t expected this interrogation to go over so easily. The other soldiers had at least tried to worm themselves out of admitting their guilt or vehemently denied everything. A lot of them were of course actually innocent or only had committed minor offences, Concord knew that. Even some of those had admitted to all kinds of crimes, though. It was really telling of the overall morale how quickly and easily these guys broke down under even moderate pressure.   The thing, though, was that it literally didn’t matter who had admitted to doing what. Concord’s decision who would be prosecuted had been made before he had even arrived. This trial was nothing but a farce.   “I see. Thank you for your… cooperation,” he said, raising an optic ridge at the claim that Ruth didn’t know anything about the hoarding. That sounded familiar, didn’t it? Naturally, Stub’s hope was naïve, as he should definitely know what happened to traitors; his friend’s fate had been sealed even before she had started antagonizing Concord on the radio.   “Unfortunately, I’m afraid simply returning the supplies won’t do,” he then added with a sardonic wave of his hand. His tone turned patronizing. “As per my announcement of the 9th of Spring, you were made aware that hoarding resources will have consequences. You had plenty of time since to come forward and report yourself and mitigate the damage, but chose not to.”   Without looking this time, Concord raised his booklet again and obviously crossed out a line.   “For that, you will face disciplinary action. The sanctions against you and the other offenders will be announced in two hours. It should go without saying that attendance will be mandatory for the entire unit.”   He gave Stub a last sneer. “That is all. You’re dismissed.”
 
Ruth took a deep breath to cool her racing engine off. "That guy, he's the new officer. Supply officer. He, he found out that Stub and I had been stealing fuel." Another string of German curses left her. She needed to calm down. Panicking wouldn't get her anywhere, if anything her fuel would run out faster.   "Ok, let's see. I could fly over there and maybe have enough fuel to get back here. But then what? We could go back to Ruindom, it's closer to my unit's base so my way back wouldn't be that far. To the team which has flayed their leader and which has more than a few screws loose." This was not looking good...   Disciplinary action. Fun.   Stub didn't think about anything worse than a few weeks of grounding, though. That would be agonizing enough. "Thank you, sir," was the automatic response from him even though he didn't know what he just thanked Concord for.   After making his way back to the hangar, he closed the doors of it. A weird feeling overcame him, a sudden sense of dread whose source he couldn't pinpoint. Oh Gods, what did I do wrong? It feels like I did something wrong, he thought and fidgeted with his claws. A terrible thought entered his mind: What if the supply officer didn't plan on grounding him but to... get rid of him?   Should he make a run for it? He would need some fuel and one or two bombs could come in handy. Both those things were at his disposal in his hangar.   "I guess I could prepare some things," he mumbled and took a single 550 lbs bomb to store it in his fuselage. Mounting it on the outside was not an option, of course. The bomb was soon joined by a few cans of fuel from his (rightful) rations. The Spitfire didn't feel like he would need all of that but he sure felt a lot... safer than before.  
“You did what…?“ Fafnir asked, but it was more of a rhetorical question. He covered his optics in despair again and cried out, “Oh boy…!!” The Hetzer had peripherally witnessed who the new Supply Officer was and what he was like, and that did. not. bode well. Ruth may have been trying to calm down, but Fafnir took care of panicking anyway for her.   “Just… just forget it! Your friend is dead and the only thing you’re gonna achieve is getting put in the ground next to him!” he pleaded frantically. Not to mention that Fafnir had zero intentions of making the acquaintance with the freaky scavenger team either.   Concord just nodded and turned around to drive back into his tent. There were still a handful of soldiers he had to question, among them the chief. Afterwards, until it was time for the big announcement, the Leopard intended to spend some time on self-maintenance. There hadn’t been a need for using his gun in a while. It would most definitely need some recalibrating and accumulated dust removal in preparation for today’s highlight of the day.  
Fafnir was really doing a great job to make Ruth fall back into hysteria. "No, I have to help him! I cannot just leave him there, he means the world to me!," she cried out and tried to push the Hetzer out of her way with all of her arms. A fruitless endeavour, of course.   "Move, I have to get to the base! He needs me! We can figure out what to do after that, I promise!" Just the thought of leaving Stub at the mercy of Concord was making her fuel tank feel like it would turn inside out at any moment. And she was the one who had invited Concord to join The Legion! If anything happened to Stub, it would be her fault. Indirectly.   Stub was at a loss about what to spend the two hours on. He tuned into The Legion's propaganda channel for a few minutes but was already fed up with it after the second marching song about victory and excellence. He skipped to his and Ruth's private frequency.   «Ruth, this is Stub. Ruth, please come in.»   No response. Not that he had expected one.   Flipping through old report notes it was, then. There wasn't anything Stub hadn't seen before but he did like to look at the pictures both Ruth and him had occasionally made of the landscape below them. They weren't artistic masterpieces but served their purpose to file enemy bases.  
Fafnir, displaying a remarkable amount of willpower for his standards, refused to get out of the way. The thing was, even if Ruth maybe wasn’t a tank and maybe didn’t have an idea how they’d make it, it was still better to have anyone by his side rather than no one.   “He’ll be fine!!” he argued, not because he really believed that, but because he didn’t know what else to say. The following one and a half hours were spent with him freaking out and wailing about how she couldn’t just leave him behind and how she would get killed if she went on this trip, and how they needed all their fuel too much for her to blow it on flying around.   Only when he had managed to talk himself into a complete meltdown, he forgot that he was trying to block her from going forward and drove to her side to hide under her wing.   In the meantime, Concord had spent the time as he had intended; his cannon was luckily still fully functional, and looked like new as well after some thorough cleaning and fixing some scratches in the paint. With some spare time left, he had touched up the insignias on his turret a bit as well while he was at it, and tightened some of the bolts on his tracks. Now it was time to leave his tent and assemble the unit.   He turned off the music on his radio and rolled outside. Informing the guards and the unit that the briefing was about to start, he drove towards the big open space in the middle of the base. The tanks of the unit were slowly gathering, forming a couple neat lines as they were trained to do. Concord stood in front of them and oversaw the assembling crowd, waiting until everyone had arrived before he was going to formally announce his verdict.  
Ruth was at the brink of just taking one of her bombs and whacking Fafnir with it. Just to make him get out of the way. It wasn't like she didn't feel sorry for him, she really did, but she really needed to go.   Fortunately that dire action wasn't necessary as the Hetzer moved by himself. He was a mental wreck by then and Ruth wondered if he would still be alive when she returned. But if she didn't leave right then, a person who was - quite frankly - more dear to her than Fafnir would definitely not be alive at the end of the day.   An arm reached down to Fafnir to gently pat him on the roof. That poor tank was trembling. Three other arms discreetly grabbed a fuel can each and stashed them in Ruth's cockpit.   "I am so sorry, Fafnir. I will come back. I promise."   With that she took off rolling as fast as she could, engine revving loudly. She could practically hear her fuel tank emptying during that stunt. Poor Fafnir didn't even have the chance to react. In a matter of half a minute Ruth was in the air and speeding westward.   Stub had arrived relatively early, parking at the left end of a line in the back. It wasn't like he had anything better to do, anyway. The sense of dread bubbled up inside of him again when he spotted Concord in the front. He didn't have to assemble the entire unit only to tell the Spitfire that he was a bad boy and that he will be grounded for a week or two.   Something was off, Stub felt it. Almost unconsciously his mind wandered off to count his deeds. As a deeply religious plane he did that quite often, about every week or so. In his opinion the scales were level, maybe tipping a bit to the good side. His missions had helped The Legion with its effort and although he was used as a spotter plane he did collect a few kills. On the rare occasions of a dogfight he had fought according the the Code of the Air. Honorable.   Sure, he had also stolen from The Legion and that was a big chunk of bad karma. But he had been hungry. So maybe it wasn't that bad.
Fafnir realized way too late what Ruth was about to do, and could just watch. He turned around and drove after the plane, but she was already in the air, and there was nothing he could do about it.   «Please be safe…» he sent one last radio message.   He looked around himself, still shaken, but at least had the presence of mind to go hide between the trees for now.   The last latecomers showed up, and the lines were finally complete. The chief had parked himself next to the first line, and saluted as he reported that everyone was now present. Concord let his gaze wander over them sternly and nodded, then pulled his little booklet out of his fighting compartment. He opened it on a particular page and then addressed the crowd.   “Unit 21-13, you have been assembled to receive my final verdict on the charges brought against you. My investigation has been concluded and four of you have been found guilty of misappropriating resources of the Legion.”   His tone was formal and firm, with not a hint of his usual charm.   “Would the following tanks… and plane please drive forward: Indigo, Raytheon, Stub, Chief Solnice.”   He waved a hand at a spot in front of himself and backed up to make space. The chief’s expression in particular as he came to a halt next to the others who had been singled out was one that spoke of his fuel tank turning. It was never a good sign when the chief of a unit was pulled into a trial as well. Their rank granted them a certain degree of safety when it came to putting one’s turret in line… but it also meant being the first in that line whenever a higher-up wanted to make an example. His gaze darted back and forth between the guards and the Leopard. Concord waited for the addressed machines to finish relocating before he went on.   “You have been convicted of gross violation of the Legion’s General Resource Allocation Rules, last amended on the 9th of Spring. As per section 3 of the aforementioned rules, disciplinary action is required.”   It was obvious that the Leopard was taking his sweet time, and despite his somber attitude, absolutely enjoying all the fancy talk. He made a short pause before finally getting to the point.   “By fiat of your General and my jurisdiction as the Supply Officer of your unit, you are hereby sentenced to execution, effective immediately.”   In the silence following this statement, Concord turned his cannon towards the chief, and everyone could hear the MBT load a shell.
«I will, please stay in the area if you can,» was the last transmission from Ruth for the time being. She raced on for about ten minutes, her throttle pushed all the way to 'Notleistung' until her water and oil overheated and then some. Just when the heat inside of her started to become unbearable she it back to 100%.   Who knew how much time Stub had left... so she continued to push her engine to the limit and hoped she didn't have to waste time refueling mid-air.   Concord's cannon loading sounded awfully loud over the otherwise dead silent crowd. Before Stub could fully grasp the situation, the Leopard fired his first shot. A deafening crash and the unit's chief slumped down on his suspension. The spitfire immediately started counting.   6...5...3...2...1...   The next shell found its target, ripping straight through Indigo's turret. That was not a lot of time. Next to him, Raytheon started to yell something about mercy. Stub knew that this day would eventually come but why had it to be so soon? He had barely seen anything he wanted to see, barely had done what he wanted to do!   Concord's third shot cut Raytheon's pleads short.   6....5...4...   As soon as today I will wake up at a factory far, far away from here. Stub closed his optics.   With a surprisingly steady and firm voice he told Concord: "You cannot kill me in a way that matters."  
It wasn’t like Concord took excessive pleasure from putting these defenceless tanks to death. But he would be lying if he had to claim to anyone that it wasn’t at least a little bit, morbidly satisfying. Back home, in the Far Lands, it would have been a lot trickier to kill anyone else in just one shot. But these folks here? Pathetically fragile. Lambs to the slaughter. It wasn’t like he cared much about the Legion’s ideology, but he was starting to understand now where they were coming from.   As he was pointing his cannon at Stub and leisurely loading the next shell into his breech, he was caught a little off-guard by the plane’s cryptic last words. Even as he finished loading his cannon, he didn’t shoot immediately like he had done with the others. During this pause, the crowd’s haunted optics rested on the Leopard. He took his aim off Stub for a moment to let his gaze wander, and in a musing tone replied, “That’s a matter of perspective.”   His turret locked onto the target again and he fired. He couldn’t have anticipated just how grave of a mistake that was.   MBT minds were quick – much quicker than any other type’s. In many situations, that sort of quick thinking allowed them to outwit their enemies and survive. This was not such a situation. The only thing this quick thought process granted to Concord in that moment was that he was able to consciously observe the plane in front of him detonating, and having the time to think “Fuck.”   The next thing he knew was… pain. A whole lot of pain. In fact, despite his respectable age and a vague uncertainty about the distant past caused by it, the Leopard was absolutely sure that he had never been in this much pain before.   Before he could open his optics, he felt like the Earth had started spinning a lot faster. When he did regain his conscience enough to attempt to look around himself, he had to find out that firstly, he could not see anything in front of him anymore, and secondly, it contributed nothing to stopping his dizziness. But even as he managed to somewhat steady his vision, all he saw was flames and smoke.   Was he even still in one piece?? He wasn’t sure. All his systems had either failed or were seriously messed up. But his turret at least seemed still attached, even if an attempt to turn it even slightly didn’t yield any noticeable result. Okay, so much for that. Maybe driving was still possible? He laboriously started his engine – or at least tried to. It made some strained sounds and then died down again. Stuck and guaranteed to pass out soon? Great.   What now…? He wasn’t sure about that either. He closed his optics again and hoped that he’d get an idea as soon as this horrible dizziness would subside.
Ruth was just a few minutes away from her destination when she saw the explosion rise in the distance. The rolling thunder of it followed a few seconds later. There was no question about what had exploded there. She knew exactly what a detonating aerial bomb looked like.   It felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from her engine when she put one and one together. Stub must've managed to escape his verdict and had done the only logical thing: Kill that bastard Concord. A bit overkill to use such a big one, she thought and slowed down. There was no hurry anymore, she just had to spot the Spitfire and then they could head back to Fafnir. Together.   «Nice job, Stub! I didn't know you could lift that much weight, I'm proud of you,» she cheered over their private frequency. There was no answer. «Hey, where are you? Let's get out of here, I have someone waiting back east. You'll love him.»   Still only silent static.   «Stub?»   The Focke-Wulf circled the base a few times and looked for any signs of her friend in the air and on the ground. Nothing. Instead, a gory sight greeted her through the pillar of smoke rising from where the bomb detonated.   What looked like the entire unit, all gathered on the drill ground and in various degrees of destruction. Not one of them was moving, except from the flames flickering out of some empty hulls. "Oh no..."   After another low pass Ruth had gathered that there was noone left alive, or at least not conscious. What she was about to do was risky but... she had know if Stub was down there among them. So she landed at the weirdly familiar airstrip at the other end of the base and rushed to the explosion site.   "Stub? Stub?! Hello?!," she cried out and started to rummage around the tank corpses with all of her arms. The longer she did that the more she panicked, hoping to not find any traces of her friend and simultaneously wishing to at least get some certainty about his fate.  
It was hard to tell how much time had passed while Concord had just been sitting there. It felt like hours, but maybe it had only been minutes. Maybe he had passed out for a bit in between. But then there was suddenly a loud noise… an engine? It seemed to pass by several times, as if whoever was approaching couldn’t make up their mind about that intention.   Finally, the noise approached one last time and then seemed to die down somewhere in front of him. And then he heard… that voice. That couldn’t be. That was literally not what he needed right now.   The Leopard blew a frustrated sigh through his vents. He couldn’t see her, but there was no doubt who had just arrived. Oh joy.   There was nothing he could think of to say right then, which was only partly due to the dizziness and pain making it tough to think straight. It was probably not needed anyway. Ruth would realize soon enough on her own, even without a hint, that there was most likely not much left to find of her friend.  
After going through the debris with her hands for who knows how long Ruth finally found what she had (or hadn't) been looking for. A piece of metal that had unmistakably once been a landing gear. She carefully picked it up but dropped it the moment she realised what she was holding. Her whole body started to tremble and she let out a distraught scream.   "That bastard! That fucking bastard! Where is he?!"   Surely Concord couldn't be much more alive than anyone else. But by Scorn and Hate - two planes that she usually didn't hold very high in her mind - she would take her anger out on his body. Surprisingly, it just took her a right hand turn before she spotted his form among the flames.   A moment later a hail of bullets rained down on the Leopard, accompanied with a string of curses.  
Well, on a scale from 1 to rampage, it looked like Ruth was not taking her discovery well. Concord didn’t even flinch when the bullets started plinking off his scorched armor plating, since something as small caliber as that had never once worried him in his life before. But that didn’t mean that he was happy being a punching bag.   His voice was an exasperated growl as he simply said, “Stop.”  
The rapid fire stopped when he told Ruth to. Not because she was obeying him but because she was baffled to see that he was still alive. Quickly she backed off and circled around him. The turret was not following her. Tough luck for him.   "You," she hissed and approached him from behind, careful not to get stuck on the torn-open ground. "What have you done to him? What did you make him do?"   Oh, how much Ruth would've loved to end this. But quite frankly, she didn't think she could. Not on the ground. It did look like time would do the honors for her, though. That tank was looking like he was minutes away from dying.  
How polite of Ruth to move into his currently severely limited field of vision. Somewhat out of instinct, Concord tried to turn his cannon towards her, but his turret was still not moving an inch. There was only a metallic grinding sound, whatever it meant.   Not that he could have glared at her with those backwards facing optics (as opposed to his main ones), but he kind of liked seeing her furious. And even now when he had decidedly no reason to, he still felt like he had the high ground… somehow. The only problem was that he wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it for much longer. He was beginning to fade back into unconsciousness.   And needless to say, he did not feel cooperative at all right then. Instead of replying to her questions, he let a few seconds pass and then made a sardonic snort.   “Ah,…Dra til helvete, fitt-....…,“ he sneered, his voice trailing off until he simply blacked out mid-word.  
How dare that bastard pass out on her like that? The foreign words were lost to Ruth but she suspected that it hadn't been a flowery love confession. Fair enough, she would've done the same if she had been in his place.   That explosion couldn't possibly go unnoticed for long, though. If it wasn't The Legion who would check up on this disaster then it would be scavengers. At this point, Ruth barely cared who found the base first. She wouldn't leave much to steal for them.   Her first stop was her old hangar. A few essentials were hastily grabbed: her additional fuel tank, a few folders with notes. The other reports got ripped apart by her. Leave nothing behind. She also exchanged the bombs from the Scavengers for her own, more balanced ones. Not a heavy load, though. There were more important things to carry.   Fuel, for example. If Ruth hadn't been in such a gloomy mood, she would've rejoiced at the feeling of a full fuel tank. And an additional fuel tank filled to the brim, as well. After loading up on as many fuel cans as possible (and two buckets of paint), she took off again. Time to leave that cursed place for good... and hope that Concord drowns in his own fluids down there.  
Back at where Ruth had left him behind to go save her friend, Fafnir had started pacing about anxiously. He had just somewhat recovered from an animal startling the hell out of him a few minutes ago, and went back to checking the sky every few seconds for a returning Ruth. He hadn’t kept track of how much time had passed, but the longer it took, the more he lost hope that she would return at all.   Surely, she had simply been shot down. Or perhaps crashed. Or run out of fuel. Or-   No, all these thoughts were only driving him crazy. He shook his cannon and tried to chase them away. He decided that he’d wait for another hour before writing her off. And if she wouldn’t show up by then… he remembered her words about Ruindom. Maybe going there was something he could do, if push came to shove.   It indeed didn’t take long until the first curious visitors were attracted to the site of the explosion. A band of scavengers cautiously approached the base. They made sure that firstly, they were the only ones who had the idea of coming here, and secondly, they wouldn’t be greeted by wounded – and likely very angry – tanks.   It became clear quickly that no one was still alive here, however. Not even remotely. The visitors marvelled at the absolute state of destruction that had befallen this place.   “What’d you think that was?” one of them, a Wolverine, asked. He was currently trying to wrench a loose piece of scrap metal from one of the burnt-out wrecks. There was nothing else to find here but scrap metal, it seemed. Disappointing.   A nearby T-34 tilted her cannon, then shrugged. “Guess someone blew their ammo rack,” she mused. She continued picking up track links that had been splattered all over the ground.   “Dipstick,” the Wolverine frowned. “I ain’t never seen an ammo explosion of that caliber.”   Before the T-34 could retort something, one of their teammates radioed in.   «Guys, check this out. You’re not gonna believe what’s over here.»   The two tanks looked at each other for a moment, and then drove over to the other scavenger’s position. They didn’t expect anything mind-blowing, but were wrong with that assumption. Both of them slowed to a halt as their teammate’s find came into sight.   “You’re shitting me,” the Wolverine murmured. That was… an MBT. An entire MBT…just sitting there. And despite the heavy damage it seemed to have suffered from whatever blew up in its face, the sum of its parts was still going to be worth more than the entire camp’s remains combined. The Wolverine looked at the T-34, who returned that look with an expression that spoke of pure disbelief. A moment later, they high-fived each other.   “We’re freakin’ rich, boys!” the Wolverine cheered.
 
The flight back to Fafnir worked wonders for calming Ruth down. She took her time and stayed relatively low, although out of range for anyone who thought to take a quick shot at her from below. Her initial rage had subsided for now. It was hard to be angry at someone who was already dead and probably about to be cut into pieces.   He could've suffered for a little longer. Maybe a few hours, maybe a day. But life wasn't fair sometimes.   After about an hour the plane approached the clearing where she had left Fafnir. A few circles later she concluded that the coast was clear; no signs of battle or other vehicles in the vicinity. Fafnir was nowhere to be seen either but Ruth suspected that he was hiding like a good little tank.   «Fafnir, this is Ruth. I'm coming in now,» she proclaimed. This time the landing was hard on the gear, the weight of her precious cargo making some joints creak as she touched down. A quick look around still yielded no results of hostile tanks so the Focke-Wulf came to a halt at the treeline, taxiing so that she faced the field in case of a quick takeoff.   Then, cans upon cans of fuel were unloaded from her fuselage.  
By the time Ruth returned, Fafnir had – unfortunately – already thrown away his nerves. He was in fact already on the way to Ruindom… but hadn’t made it far enough yet to not receive Ruth’s radio transmission.   The Hetzer stopped dead in his tracks and awkwardly turned around to hurry back to the clearing immediately.   «UHHH, I’ll be with you in a few minutes!» he quickly reported and could only hope that the plane wouldn’t realize that he had left because he had already declared her dead.  
So he really thought that she had left him, huh? Ruth couldn't blame him, though. From what she had gathered, the Hetzer had been through hell and back without someone giving a damn about him. So why should he think that the plane actually wanted to help him?   « Hurry, it's getting late,»Ruth deadpanned. In fact, she could see the sun already setting in the direction where she had come from. A direction she'd rather stay away from for some time.   After piling up the fuel cans next to her, she grabbed one of the paint buckets and gave it a firm shake. A small splash of the dark grey fluid covered her hand when she popped the lid off with one of her claws. "Ja klar, was auch sonst," she softly sighed. A paintbrush was fished out of her cockpit and gently dipped into the paint.   The despised nose art was the first thing to go. After that, she started to work on her Legion insignias and the 21-13 still adorning her sides.  
«I am hurrying,» Fafnir replied in a whiny tone. It was really good to hear her, though. It was good to know that she had made it.   A few minutes later, he rolled back onto the clearing, then quickly looked around and found Ruth between the trees. She might have noticed that he had come out of a direction that was pretty much the opposite from where Ruindom was located. Fafnir himself was unaware of this fact.   He waved at Ruth and then ogled the fuel cans with relief. His optics fell on the plane again and he tilted his cannon as he watched her paint over her insignias.   “What are you doing?” he asked, as if it wasn’t obvious.  
"Getting rid of some bad luck charms," she replied and gave one of the fuel cans next to her a gentle nudge with the back of her hand.   "Fill up, there's enough." She wasn't in the mood to talk right now. But she did crave some distraction from her thoughts that had wandered off westward again. But luckily there was still a task on hand.   Fafnir looked absolutely ridiculous with... well, it couldn't really be described as a paint job. A paint job would require him actually being covered in paint, not only base coat.   Fortunately for him Ruth had planned ahead and also brought a second, bigger bucket with dark green paint. Tanks liked dark green, right? It would sure help him to blend in better with his surroundings.   She patted the lid of the green paint bucket to emphasise her question: "Want me to do you after that?"  
Ruth didn’t need to say it twice – Fafnir gladly went about gulping down more of that fuel. He made a slightly confused “Eh…?” at the plane’s offer, but then shrugged. “No no, it’s fine. I can take care of that myself,” he said quickly, even if his current ‘paint job’ was probably what had made her think the opposite.   He looked at the paint bucket, and then realized what color of paint she was offering there. Green? Really? What did she think he was? A Krasny? But he didn’t want to look ungrateful and hesitantly grabbed the offered bucket anyway. “Thanks,” he murmured.  
Wow, that 'thanks' sounded a lot like 'thanks, I hate it' to the plane. Guess she had been wrong about all tanks having the same taste in camo. Honestly, she should've known by seeing that Chaffee earlier. That man might not know how to camouflage himself but he sure knew how to look dashing.   "I have some dark grey as well, I won't use it all," she added and finished the last few brush strokes before the red 3 vanished behind the new coat of grey.   While waiting for the paint to dry, Ruth pulled out some maps and looked them over. Most of them were hand-drawn by either Stub or her, showing a vast majority of the North's center. At a scale made for planes, though. Meaning that it covered a lot of ground but wasn't very detailed. Only the most important landmarks like rivers and bigger cities were marked to serve as an orientation for long-range travel.  
Fafnir put down the green bucket and reached for the grey one. That was… more acceptable. He started repainting himself immediately, starting with his cannon and then the mantlet, then going from there……. and running out as he reached his mudguards.   Ruth looked busy with her maps, so he gently tried to get her attention by clearing his vents.   “Ahem. Ruth… There is… a problem,” he said, sounding embarrassed and slightly distressed.  
The plane slightly turned towards him with a "Hmm?". Oh boy. Oh boy. That paint job looked far from done and the bucket looked far too close to being completely empty.   Ruth couldn't really decide which part looked the worst. It was either the clash of white meeting red meeting grey or the way the new paint fading into the old one with those horrible dry, smudged brush strokes. It was a mess but... something about that was incredibly funny to her. The way he was standing there, the distressed pitch of his voice.   At first she tried to hold the laughter in. She really tried. But after a few suppressed giggles the Focke-Wulf broke out into booming laughter. "Oh, fuck," she wheezed, "I'm so...so sorry but... pffft, that's a good look." At least it did wonders to her mood right then.   "Do you really don't want any help?"  
Fafnir had somehow expected harsh words or some sort of wrath, punishment,… anything else really than laughter. He just stood there for a moment, completely dumbfounded. Then, he covered his optics with his hands, averted his gun, and let out a drawn-out, whiny “Nooooooooo…! Don’t laugh at me!”   He was still covering his optics, but peeked out sheepishly as she asked him a question.   “Yes, I can do it! I really can,” he insisted. He wasn’t sure how to fix this mess, but then had an idea. He extended another arm and grabbed the green paint instead. His other hands sank and he lifted the bucket above himself to hold it behind him. The front didn’t work out – he would just start with the rear this time!   Too bad that the handle slipped out of his claws on the way there, and the bucket landed on top of him. Of course, it spilled its contents all over his hull roof.   He just stayed silent and sat still, not able to cope with what had just happened.  
Just when Ruth had thought that her little laughing fit had died down, Fafnir presented this excellent slapstick routine. That's when it came back full force.   "I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you! I'm-" Another wave of laughter overcame her, her wings bobbing slightly up and down because she was shaking so bad. It took her a few moments until she recovered with a drawn-out sigh.   "Hold still." The brush was taken from Fafnir's hand and Ruth got to work trying to fix that mess. The paint was still wet enough to push it around and smooth it out. "You're disastrously funny, you know that? Tell me if I'm pushing too hard." She did have to apply some pressure here and there, decreasing the lifespan of that poor brush rapidly. The thought of tanks being way more resistant than any plane didn't come to her mind in that moment.  
Fafnir just slumped on his suspension, and was seriously considering taking out his shovel to dig a little hole to hide inside. Ruth was laughing even more, which made him even more flustered… but at the very least she wasn’t angry.   “Too hard…? I’m barely feeling this,” he replied sheepishly to the plane’s odd concern. Did she think his armor was as fragile as his mind? Really, anything less than her shooting him, or smacking him really hard with a flagpole… or something… would hardly register through his plating.  
Now it was Ruth's turn to feel stupid. There was probably nothing she could do to hurt him, even if she wanted. Physically, that was. Mentally? Fafnir could be destroyed in three words or less, for sure. But at least she didn't have to worry about being gentle.   Half an hour later the job was done. It wasn't perfect; especially the hull's lower part was still sporting some white. But it was an improvement. Just in time as well because it was getting quite dark.   "Let that dry now," Ruth told the Hetzer and retreated her arms back into her fuselage.  
There was nothing Fafnir could do but sit through the repainting ordeal silently. Well, at least he wouldn’t look like someone had dumped a bucket of paint on him anymore now. But just plain green… that looked weird. It didn’t occur to him early enough to ask Ruth to try to paint some sort of pattern, though. By the time he thought of it, she was done.   “Okay,” he said defeatedly.   He couldn’t exactly take a look at himself, but hoped that either the grey or at least the green paint had finally gotten rid of his Legion insignia. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought of getting rid of it before. Definitely not a sentimental attachment… but maybe some sort of qualms, inhibitions.   He sat up straighter on his suspension and then pulled a camo net out of his fighting compartment. “You should get some rest… if you want to,” he told Ruth as he draped the net over himself, and then started driving around to pick up twigs from the nearby trees and bushes to make a small pile of makeshift camo material. He gestured at it to let Ruth know she was free to take some of it too, and then started “improving” his camo net himself with some of the foliage. Couldn’t be thorough enough with this stuff.   Only in the middle of that activity, it suddenly came to his mind that… he would have to be lucky if the camo net wouldn’t stick to the not-very-dry-yet paint in the morning. He decided to not point out that thought and hope that Ruth wouldn’t realize the same.  
Ruth did the same as the Hetzer, draping her own, bigger camo net over herself and adding twigs to obscure her silhouette. Being as small as Fafnir must be a huge advantage when trying to hide... because she sure as hell didn't feel hidden. However, she did feel something else: terribly worn out.   "I don't know if I want to but I guess I'll have to," she grumbled. Being alone with her thoughts until she fell asleep wasn't something the plane was looking forward to. There was so much to contemplate. What had happened today and what would happen tomorrow, next week, next month. All that while she felt like she was sitting on a silver plate for any lucky team who came around.   A deep sigh left her vents as she slumped down on her gear. At least she had someone by her side. Things could be worse. But things could definitely be better, as well.  
As soon as he was done camouflaging himself (which in the end however made him look more like a pile of compost than the intended bush), Fafnir watched Ruth do the same for a bit. When it became clear that she was settling down to sleep, the Hetzer tried to join her in the land of dreams and defragmentation. But…   Exactly 12 and a half minutes passed before one could hear a tentative, quiet, “…Hey, Ruth?”  
The plane in question perked up a bit, her camo net rustling ever so slightly. "Hmm?" She tried to sound as if she had been drifting off to sleep already but the speed at which she had reacted was a dead giveaway.   Even if she was exhausted and could've just passed out for the next eight hours, sleep wouldn't come to her. So the Hetzer not being able to do so as well was a welcome distraction.  
In the few minutes since he had been trying to fall asleep, Fafnir’s thoughts had gone many places, but most prominently, to the base that Ruth had flown to. To save her friend. She hadn’t really given any explanation or note of what had gone down over there. But Fafnir had an assumption, and he had no idea yet how badly he was about to blunder with his next words.   “So, uh… Your friend…,” he asked in a drawn-out tone. “When will he arrive here? He’ll join us, right?”   Fafnir simply was assuming that this friend must have been a tank, and that he was definitely on the way, just driving. That was the only explanation how Ruth could have returned without him, right?  
Out of every topic Fafnir could've chosen this was the one? The camo net rustled some more as Ruth tensed up at the question. She could feel her anger and grief bubble up inside her again.   "No, he won't," was the response the Hetzer got in a thin voice. "He won't join us, he-" Ruth's voice broke off mid-sentence.  
It took Fafnir a while to realize that Ruth wasn’t going to finish that sentence and that he was supposed to figure out the – obvious – rest of it on his own. At least he got the broad hint.   His optics grew wide and some of the makeshift camo fell off as he turned towards Ruth with a flinch. “I-… I’m so sorry-,” he wheezed, then slumped with a sigh. “Crap...”   He looked down, feeling like his plating was burning. How embarrassing. He should have put two and two together. And how terrible. Ruth must have arrived too late to save her friend.   “So… that Supply Officer…” he eventually mumbled, but his tone turned angry as he went on. “He can’t get away with that…! Did you kill him?” Fafnir tensed up. “Please tell me you did...”  
Ruth let out a deep sigh to calm herself down. With a her voice trying its best to stay steady she explained what happened: "I've been too late by... just a few minutes. I could've prevented that shit. But I wasn't fast enough."   She had to make a short pause, her engine racing again.   "Stub must've set off a bomb. The whole unit... they were dead." Except for one. That bastard Concord. Well, at least for a while. "...including that Supply Officer. He died shortly after I arrived."   At least that was what she believed. There was no way the tank could've survived an explosion like this. Noone could. That was one of the only big advantages planes had against tanks, after all.   "... there was nothing left of him. Stub, I mean. I... I only found bits and pieces..."  
Fafnir’s gun sank as he turned away again and sighed again.   “I’m sorry,” he repeated, unsure what else to tell her. The loss must have been horrible for Ruth, but there was no choice but to move on. Mourning for a dead plane wouldn’t bring him back to life. “I’m sure Stub went with the Wardens,” he added quietly. It was the best condolences he had to offer, and his most genuine way to express them.   It was reassuring to hear that at least that fucking Leopard hadn’t made it.   …But how wrong they were.   Elsewhere, at a scavenger camp, a group of tanks was just returning to their home. A Wolverine impatiently oversaw two of his T-34 teammates struggling to “reel in” their catch.   “That bastard is so heavy!” one of the T-34’s complained. She finally halted, her engine’s coolant feeling close to boiling, and untied the towing ropes.   “Stop whining,” the Wolverine grouched. “Get him over there, let’s hook him up and see if that engine still runs. And check the ammo for anything we’ve a use for.” He gestured at the part of the camp they used as a makeshift workshop – usually to take apart wrecks or test parts… like they were about to do with this MBT.   Said and done, they kickstarted the engine of the presumed dead tank. A functional engine was, after all, worth more than a broken one. All the more startling it was when the engine worked indeed, and after a few seconds, the whole MBT suddenly stopped being motionless. The apparently not-so-dead stranger raised his cannon slightly and a pained growl could be heard.   All the other present tanks immediately scattered, diving for cover. It was an instinctual, straightforward response to seeing an alive MBT. Only when no one started shooting, after a minute, some of them stuck their turrets back out and peeked cautiously.   “…You don’t need to hide,” the MBT said soberly, his voice more of a dizzy groan than anything that would command fear.   The Wolverine hesitantly drove forward as the other tank’s turret didn’t move and didn’t point his cannon at him either.   “How the hell are you alive?” he asked the MBT. He didn’t get an answer. But it was more of a rhetoric question, anyway. The plan hadn’t changed. He looked at his teammates and gave them a brisk nod. “What’re you idiots staring at? Get to work!” he barked.   “Wait…!” the MBT quickly threw in. “I’m… more valuable to you alive.”   “What?” the Wolverine asked harshly. “What’d you mean?”   “I can fight by your side,” the MBT explained. “You saved me, so I’m in your debt… I’ll honor that.”   The Wolverine tilted his cannon warily. He couldn’t help but immediately daydream about having such a strong ally. He looked to his teammates, and they seemed to share the enthrallment.   “Alright. Deal,” the Wolverine eventually said.   Concord was far too damaged to smile, but his voice turned amicable as he confirmed, “Deal.”
Ah yes, the Wardens. Ruth had heard about them when she had still been a part of a free team, years ago. It was a nice fairy tale, very comforting. But a fairy tale nevertheless. However, breaking Fafnir's faith wasn't on Ruth's to-do list that night. Instead, she recalled what Stub had told her about what planes were supposed to believe in. That naive fool of a Spitfire .   "Wardens and the peaceful fields are for tanks," Ruth mused and looked at the clear night sky. "Planes get rebuild. He... he was such a good man. He would deserve to come back as something great. And try again."   As rosy as this outlook was, Ruth couldn't believe in it. It felt like a story to make death more bearable. And it worked for many planes. Not for her, though. To her, death was the end. Nothing came after that. And to her that was even more comforting than being reincarnated.  
Fafnir was dumbfounded a moment by the claim that planes had some sort of different idea of dying and what happened afterwards. He looked down and pondered about it for a few seconds. Now that Ruth mentioned it, he really hadn’t ever heard a story of a plane going to the peaceful fields. It felt a bit unfair, in his opinion. Going to that place seemed more desirable than having to start over.   “I see,” he eventually said.   What a bleak subject… Fafnir didn’t really want to continue this conversation. It was only making him feel gloomy. He fell silent and tried again to get some rest. He would try not to disturb Ruth anymore for the rest of the night.  
The silence following Fafnir's last statement was more than welcome as Ruth's mood wasn't much better than his. Surprisingly, she managed to get a good night's sleep. Probably because of how worn out she was.   A few hours later, in the early morning hours, the plane woke up from her slumber. It was cold. Very cold. The morning dew covering her wings didn't make the situation much better. Oh, how she missed sleeping in a hangar. And it had only been one night!   Instead of waking Fafnir up, she pulled out her maps again and tried to think of what they were going to do now. Winston was still waiting at the Ruindom bunker. Sure, he wouldn't run away anytime soon but the sooner they got to him, the better. Who knew what other freaky ideas those Scavengers would have.   Then, they could maybe look for a clan who they could join? That sounded like a solid idea.  
The first sign of Fafnir waking up was that he suddenly jolted upright on his suspension with a small yelp. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t in danger, and to remember that the huge, intimidating figure in his peripheral vision was just Ruth.   “G-Good morning,” the Hetzer mumbled sheepishly. He looked at her for a moment, then started brushing the makeshift camouflage off his frame. The camo net was next, but it turned out to be stuck to his paint somewhat indeed. He awkwardly used all four arms to pull in several places while trying to not rip it apart in the process.  
Ruth was startled by the sudden movement and the yelp coming from the tank. Was he ok? After his greeting she had figured that it must've been a nightmare that had awoken him that harshly.   "Good morning, Fafnir," the plane replied and watched him struggle with the camo net for a moment. She could comment on that but Fafnir looked defeated enough as it was already. Instead, she presented her plan to him:   "I've been thinking about what to do next. You see, you're not the only one I have promised to rescue." Only then it dawned on Ruth that she was handing out promises pretty freely recently. If she kept on going, she would have an entire freak show together by the end of next week. "We need to get the Scavenger's leader out of their bunker in Ruindom. Then, our best bet would be to look for a clan which would be willing to take us in. And give poor Winston a new body."   Finding a clan wouldn't be too difficult. Her maps had most of the important bases marked (mostly for navigational purposes, though).  
Fafnir paused his efforts for a moment to look to Ruth with an incredulous expression. “What do you mean?” he asked, even though he knew exactly what she meant. He went on, already seeing a disaster brewing in his imagination. “Do you think they’ll just let us… take him?”   Really, he liked the rest of the idea better. “Let’s just… skip straight to looking for a clan, maybe?” As much as he hated to say it – and thus he didn’t, but he thought it – that ‘peeled’ tank could only slow them down and be detrimental to their survival efforts.  
Of course Fafnir wanted to chicken out on that plan. But by the Gods - if there were any - Ruth wouldn't let him get out of this easily.   "Of course they won't let us in. That's why we will have to be clever about it." A little ill-willed voice deep down in her core told her that this wasn't one of the Hetzer's strong suits. Along with many other things. "They go out on raids sometimes. We have enough fuel to go there and wait until they leave. The bunker's not locked. You'll go in there and tow Winston out."   Fafnir probably wouldn't be convinced by that alone so Ruth added something that would be more of his liking: "And then, and only then, we will head straight to..." She consulted her map about the nearest suitable clan base. "... the Linden Clan base. We'll be safe there, get Winston fixed and get you-" She gently booped his thin flamethrower barrel with her finger. "- a proper gun. Sound good?"  
“Oof…“ was the only comment Fafnir had on that plan. He very obviously wasn’t thrilled about it in the first place, and even less now that it should require his direct involvement. Did he want to do any of this? No, not in the least. Did Ruth’s offer to get him a real cannon in return for his cooperation sound alluring? Very much so. He did the equivalent of looking at the plane’s hand cross-eyed, and finally – if reluctantly agreed. “…Sounds good…”  
"Now that's what I like to hear!," Ruth said with a laugh. The reward for his compliance was a last gentle pat on the barrel.   There was a problem, though... The travelling speed. "There are two options. Either I fly ahead and check the Scavenger's movements to maybe make out a pattern or we stick together. Which do you prefer?" Her guess was on the latter. And in the plane's opinion, it didn't make a big difference. She had enough fuel at that moment to have the luxury of flying circles for hours.   Besides, it looked like it was going to be a sunny day so she might be able to hop onto some thermals to save fuel.  
That pat was extremely awkward to Fafnir; it wasn’t like he could feel it, but he still somehow felt like his personal space was unproportionately invaded.   He inched backwards a little and quickly went back to messing with his camo net. It did come off finally, and Fafnir breathed a sigh of relief before sharing his thoughts about Ruth’s question.   “We should definitely stick together. In the air you could draw some attention on you. There’s no way people won’t see you fly around. And I don’t wanna go to the same place they saw you land, you know?” he mused while putting away the camo net.  
"Good point. I will have to think about that until we set up camp tonight." Every time she landed somewhere there was the risk of someone watching. And once she touched down it would be ridiculously easy to shoot her... But the plane already had an idea for that.   Before they could think about where to camp that night the unlikely duo still had a few hours of travel before them, though. "We should get going," Ruth said and started rolling.  
Fafnir gave the plane one last worried glance, and then followed her. He was aware that the travel would take a long time, especially if they stayed off the roads. And he was already feeling awkward about it. Was there anything they could talk about during their trip or would it just be a horribly embarrassing silence? He wasn’t sure what to converse about with Ruth. Sure, they could lament at each other how horrible their life was so far… Nope. Better be silent than that.  
Without further ado, the Focke-Wulf took to the clear sky. It was crazy how content she felt when finally left the ground and its threats behind.   That feeling quickly made way to impatience after a few hours of travel, though. How in the world could someone move as slow as Fafnir? Sure, he was carrying all the fuel but couldn't he like... drive faster?   "Lahmarsch," she quietly mumbled to herself while flying yet another loop to stay close to his position. At least there was the thermals she had hoped for. Actually, the area where she was soaring right then housed an especially strong one. So much that she could put her engine on idle and just let the thermal carry her round and round. That was pretty fun, now that she was doing it.   « Wow, the weather's great today, » she unironically said while enjoying the warm air from below.  
Meanwhile, poor Fafnir had to drive over hedge and ditch. And that didn't allow him to go very fast. He took great care to avoid open spaces too, leading to more than one detour. One optic was always turned to the sky with worry, where he saw Ruth every now and then.   «I dunno…,» he replied hesitantly to the radio transmission, «If it was bad, visibility would be worse, at least…» That meant, for people not fluent in Fafnir-speak, that he’d preferred if thick clouds had hidden the plane and dense fog had obscured himself.   But on the other hand, perhaps the clear sight was not too bad. If there wasn’t dense fog hiding himself, that meant that it also wouldn’t hiding enemies. So that would mean Fafnir wouldn’t just merrily drive in front of someone’s gun, like…  Halt.  …like he had done just now.   The Hetzer froze and peeked behind him, from where the unfamiliar voice had called out to him. From between the trees, a very intimidatingly long tank barrel was pointing at him. Its owner was hard to make out at first, because they were covered in foliage and thus blending in with the surroundings almost perfectly. Had Fafnir just driven right past them….??   Fafnir didn’t know what to say or to do. He just knew that whatever was about to happen couldn’t be good. He composed a quick, nonverbal radio message.   «Ruth. HELP.»  
The plane couldn't help but roll her optics at Fafnir's pessimistic attitude about the weather. He should lighten up. And -above all- hurry up. Where was he, anyway?   Ruth's search for the Hetzer down below got a whole new level of urgency when the radio message got to her. Something was definitely wrong down there. But where was he? All she could see were the green treetops, side by side. Right then, Fafnir's red paint job would have been a blessing. Unfortunately, he now blended in too well with the foliage. At least from above.   With her engine still on idle, the Fockw-Wulf let herself glide down silently in big circles while trying to spot her friend on the ground. At least she didn't hear any shots yet.   «How many and how far away from you?»  
It felt like an eternity until Ruth’s reply arrived, even though realistically, it probably had been almost instant. Fafnir was staring at the gun barrel behind him, and was getting stared at in return. The seconds passed in tense silence, until the stranger spoke again.   “Allegiance?” they asked harshly.   “N-None,” Fafnir replied, his voice as shaky as his frame was right then. He turned to his radio again.   «Only one… as far as I can TELL. Right beside me.»   The lack of the sound of a loading gun gave away that the stranger’s cannon was definitely loaded already. And who knew, there was probably more of those loaded cannons pointed at him right now, just not in immediate sight like this one.   “You’re trespassing,” the stranger informed Fafnir in a stern voice, and then, with a slight tilt of their cannon and a very uncomfortably intrigued tone, added, “A Hetzer, huh? Lookin’ pretty factory-complete…”   That just couldn’t bode well. Another message sent.   «DO SOMETHING!!»  
Easier said than done with the lack of visuals. «I can't see yo-» There, something moved. It was pure luck that Ruth was looking down directly at the tank who ambushed Fafnir. They would've stayed hidden from her optics if they hadn't tilted their cannon at the wrong moment.   «Don't freak out now, I'm just doing a low pass to try and scare them off. If they don't leave, threaten them with me attacking them. Lay it on thick,» were her commands over the radio.   There had been times tanks had fled from her just from her form appearing above them. Let's hope that this particular one was a coward as well. Swiftly, the plane dove down and when she was low enough she hit the throttle. A bit too harshly, as it turned out. The sudden jolt of her engine caught her by surprise. But what was way more concerning than the speed boost she got was the feeling of an impending over rev. As quickly as the throttle had went up, Ruth took it back again; probably saving her pistons in the process.   Hopefully that display was enough to scare the tank off.  
A few more seconds, and Fafnir’s last moment would have come. He didn’t know what to reply to the stranger, but the sudden roar of an engine from above startled both tanks equally. Additionally, leaves and dirt were kicked up, unmistakably announcing the presence of a plane.   In the whirl of the foliage shaking and in the blur of a conditioned fear response kicking in, Fafnir almost missed the movement of the hostile tank. It looked up as well. Then, as fast as it had appeared, it was leaving. The cannon was still pointed at the Hetzer for a bit longer, but it – together with the tank it was attached to – departed fast. Vanishing inside the undergrowth, it was gone in a matter of seconds.   Fafnir didn’t have time to be relieved. He quickly reminded himself that staying in the same spot was only an invitation for the other tank to come back eventually. He set himself into motion and hurried to bring as much distance between himself and this territory as possible.   «Good job, Ruth!! That did the trick!» he cheered into his radio.  
For a short moment, Ruth considered the existence of gods above and beyond. She would've thanked them if she had come to the conclusion that they existed. But most likely it was just the subconscious fear of planes that had made them flee instead of some higher being's will.   After soaking up the little compliment from Fafnir, Ruth climbed again. Out of range for any lucky shots from whoever might still be lurking in the forest. The fact that someone had managed to interrupt their journey was worrisome, though.   «Thank you. But do keep a lookout for any other threats, ok?» she replied to Fafnir. «Who knows if that trick will work the next time. Besides, I nearly blew my engine with that stunt.»   It didn't feel or sound like anything was broken, fortunately. Just a little hot. The last thing she needed right then was a wrecked piston or worse...  
Fafnir didn’t slow down yet. «I’ll be careful,» he said, «as soon as I’m out of here!» He hurried on for a bit longer, until he should hopefully be far away enough from whatever team’s or platoon’s turf he had waltzed into.   Only after about 20 minutes of running he dared to give his engine a break. No other threats showed themselves in that time, but probably only because he hadn’t trespassed onto someone else’s territory yet. But that could change with every meter now. Okay, time to be actually careful.   He drove on in a slow pace and kept a closer eye on his surroundings. It really didn’t take all too long – only about three hours – until he did spot something that spooked the hell out of him. Merrily driving along the edge of a field, he suddenly saw… someone on the other side.   «RUTH! There’s someone again-» he quickly sent a message, and reversed behind the nearest bush as fast as he could. It seemed like the new enemy hadn’t seen him in return? Or maybe it had and was waiting for him to poke out from cover again? Either way, he wasn’t sure what to do now and just sat still for now.  
This time, Ruth immediately had visual contact with the tank in question. They were facing away from her, seemingly not taking notice of the approaching threat.   «Aw, it's a Hetzer!» she cooed over the radio and gauged the distance to them. Years ago when she had still been part of a free team, she had killed one of those. That was definitely not something to brag about at a campfire when Fafnir was around. That poor man didn't need to know that his back plating was as vulnerable as his self-esteem when it came to Ruth's cannons.   A quick check of her ammo sealed Ruth's decision. 90 out of 90 rounds, thanks to her restocking back at her unit's base. Besides, dropping a bomb on them would be a waste. Those could probably come in handier later on.   «I'm pretty sure I got this.»   Pushing her nose down, the Focke-Wulf engaged in a strafing run. A few bullets tore open the ground behind the Hetzer but the majority planted themselves in the back plating. The tank wasn't fazed. They didn't move, at all.   Almost sounding disappointed, Ruth added to her last message: «They're dead already.»  
Fafnir was busy cowering behind the bush, but he wholeheartedly appreciated Ruth’s intervention. When she started shooting, he flinched and ducked even more. Her last words made him blink and peek out from his hiding place.   «What do you mean they’re-…» he mumbled sheepishly, and stared at the motionless enemy. «…ah.» Well, that would explain why they hadn’t moved before. Fafnir didn’t want to imagine how long he would have been sitting here and observing a dead tank if it hadn’t been for Ruth’s help.   He suddenly realized that this dead tank being the same model as him meant… spare parts galore! And he quickly hurried across the field to claim the loot… except that he didn’t get that far. As he made it halfway across, a shot rang out from somewhere to his right. It happened too fast. Fafnir didn’t even realize that he had been shot.   The only thing he knew was that there were suddenly holes on both sides of his fighting compartment, where the shell had gone right through. He came to an abrupt halt.   Whoever had set up this ambush, they had aimed right for the oblivious Fafnir’s ammo storage… and that was really the only reason why he was still alive right then. He wasn’t carrying any shells.   As it sunk in what had just happened, the Hetzer yelped and quickly kicked his engine into gear again.   «RUUUUTH! HELP!!» he cried into his radio, while rushing across the rest of the field in hopes of the reload of the unknown attacker being long enough that he’d make it to cover in time, in one piece.  
«Don't go, it could b-»   When the shot ripped through Fafnir's fighting compartment followed by him skidding to a halt Ruth felt like she was going to fall out of the sky out of shock. That must've killed him, for sure. But then he started moving again, faster than before.   It was incredibly relieving to hear his voice screaming over the radio. People who can still scream and run aren't dead yet. Yet. Ruth's optics scanned the area where the shot had come from. There was noone in sight.   It didn't take long until the enemy's next shot betrayed their position, though. As much as Ruth would've loved to look if the shell had hit Fafnir, she had to focus on where the muzzle flash had lit up at a treeline. There they were.   The tank retreated further into the small patch of trees at the edge of the field. Although that did something to obscure their form, it didn't protect him from the bomb Ruth dropped on them. Even if it wasn't a killing blow, that should be enough to either scare the tank (and his companions who were lurking about for sure) or distract them long enough for Fafnir to put some distance between himself and them.   «Fafnir, are you alright?! Don't stop running!» she cried out over the radio, hoping to get an answer.  
If Ruth looked into her teammate’s direction now, she would find him sitting near the edge of the field and looking miserable.   «I’m….I can’t. Oof.» he whined his reply. His optics turned towards the attacker anxiously, he felt like his end was near for real this time.   His right idler wheel had been hit by the second shot and torn off by the force of the impacting shell, which in turn had made his track snap off. He had managed to drive about a half meter further before there had been no going forward anymore.   But it seemed like the bomb hadn’t missed its target and purpose. There was no more shooting right then. Fafnir slumped and let out a drawn-out “Sooooon of a guuuuun…!”, which was partly an expression of relief, but also frustration. He waited for a moment longer to make sure he wasn’t gonna get shot again, and then looked at the sky.   «…Ruth? I think you got them.» he said. «Can you … uh…. come down here and lend me a hand, maybe?»  
A quick look for any further threats yielded no results but that explosion could've attracted who-knows-what. Fafnir did need Ruth's help, though. So reluctantly, the plane landed on the field and drove over to the injured Hetzer. It was a bumpy ride, her wings bobbing up and down as she went.   "Ach du Scheiße..."   The hole from the first shot looked massive. No amount of duct tape could fix that one. Not to mention that the tank was rendered immobile as well. "Are you... are you ok? Does it hurt?"   Her arms reached over to him but stopped inches before touching the Hetzer. She had no idea what to do or how to help. This was definitely a first.  
Ruth’s reaction when she saw him wasn’t the most comforting to Fafnir. He knew that he had been hit in the side and that it hurt and caused all sorts of – luckily mostly negligible – internal damages as the shell had passed through. But the plane’s words made it sound like he was missing half of his fighting compartment or something.   “Does… does it look that bad…??” he asked with an anxious frown. Without being able to take a look himself, he was however still sure that this wouldn’t kill him. It was just some fucked up steel plating… right? He was more worried about his track and wheel. “I think I’ll live. But can you check the dead Hetzer? Maybe you can grab its idler?”  
The fact that Fafnir was worrying more about his track was reassuring. That meant that it couldn't be that bad. Sure, Ruth had seen tanks with way more damage at the Legion but most of them had died more than once before that.   She awkwardly wobbled over to the tank wreck and looked it over. Her bullets had mostly gone through, nice to know. Now, the idler... where was it? What was it?   «Uh, what's an idler and where can I find it?» she asked sheepishly over the radio. She'd be more embarrassed if it wasn't for the feeling of being watched by someone other than Fafnir. Just the paranoia of being on the ground involuntarily, right? If anyone decided to sneak up on her, she wouldn't stand a chance. Not with her facing the wreck.  
Fafnir was indeed watching, and wondering what took Ruth so long. Weren’t the instructions super clear? Just take the idler and bring it to him….? Well, her radio transmission solved the big mystery.   «Really…?» he replied with a sigh. «It’s the big wheel with the round holes! In the back…»   He picked up the broken wheel that was lying beside himself and held it up for Ruth to see from all the way over where she was, pointing at it with two hands as well to make it super obvious.   «C’mon, grab it and hurry!» he urged. There really was no time for being so painfully… plane-y right now.  
There had been absolutely no need for Fafnir to hit Ruth with the Really...? but he had done so anyway. But there was no time to start bickering. Now that it was clear which part of the wreck he needed, Ruth took a closer look at it. Of course it was screwed on.   It took her only two tries to find the fitting instrument for that in her tool kit. Fortunately, the rest of the procedure went on smoothly and soon after Ruth was back at Fafnir's side with the desired wheel.   "Don't blame me for not knowing, this one doesn't look much different than all the others that you have down there," she tried to defend herself. "Besides, why don't we also take their cannon? It would fit you, right?" Of course they would need a TRV to install it but... it was sitting right there. Waiting to be picked up.  
For Fafnir, the distinction between the wheels was painfully obvious… but he didn’t try to rub it in any further. Those silly planes and their uniform wheels… He took the wheel from Ruth and went about removing some remaining shreds of metal from the old one, then put the new one in its place. He could do this without looking, as it was a routine task, really. That also meant he didn’t have to look at how horribly mismatched the three-tone camo of the new wheel was compared to the rest of his paintjob.   While he was busy with this, he mused about Ruth’s question. Should they grab the cannon indeed…?   “It should fit, yes…” he said slowly. “But it’s gonna be heavy. If we can lift it, we could strap it to my roof and I could carry it, I guess. But it will slow me down.” He checked something for a moment, his gaze turned inward. “I’m pretty close to my load limit. But if I could throw out the flame fuel tank, then maybe my suspension could take it…”   He thoughtfully scratched his gun mantlet while tightening the last screws on the new idler. Then, he went about affixing the track back onto his wheels, which luckily turned out to be rather effortless. It hadn’t taken any serious damage. He just had to take out the bolts on one of the links and spool the whole thing back on.   “Let me just finish this here, then we can go and see if we can unmount it,” he murmured, not 100% confident that he himself would be able to figure out how to remove the cannon without damaging it or forgetting some important part that was attached to it. This was also a TRV’s job, or at least the job of someone who was more experienced with looting other tanks. But they could give it a try.
To be continued...

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