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ich schütze dich

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She knows as soon as the trial starts that she’s going to lose. Truthfully, her only chance was for Alfred to claim the child as his and marry her, but he won’t meet her eyes across the cold courtroom. He’s surrounded by family and friends she vaguely recognises, while the baby’s slight kicks under her freshly ironed white dress are the only sign she has that maybe she’s not entirely alone.

He shrugs nonchalantly when the judge asks if he’s the father, smirks and jerks his thumb at the two men behind him. Matthias and Gerhard (Klara remembers, now, how they would tag along on her dates with Alfred) are both claiming to have been with her and she knows no one will believe them, they can’t, haven’t they seen how she looks at Alfred?

“Das stimmt doch nicht,” she cries, daring to cross the courtroom and reach for his hand. He steps back like she’ll spread her dishonour to him (dishonour he’s the cause of) and his mother steps in between them. Slowly she backs away, sitting down heavily in the uncomfortable wooden chair and blinking tears out of her eyes. Throughout all of this, the judge has barely spared her a glance, shuffling papers in a way that makes it clear he doesn’t care what she says or thinks.

She hears the gavel slam, hears the judge’s clinical, objective voice declare the case closed, that Alfred Ill won’t have to recognise Klara Wäscher’s child as his. Her body goes numb and all she can do is scream “Nein! Nein!” as he’s rushed away and she’s left behind, not a single person looking back at her. Then, everything goes hazy and quiet, like it used to when she was little and hid under her bed when her parents fought. Somehow, she makes it out of the courthouse and her feet carry her across town, her father’s voice echoing in her ears.

“Wenn er dich nicht heiraten wird, musst du nicht wieder nach Hause kommen,” he’d told Klara on his way to work that morning. He’s barely held a conversation with her since she found out she was expecting a child, won’t look at her as the signs of pregnancy become more obvious, and now he’ll never have to do either again. 

(Maybe her mother would’ve understood; she was so young when they had her, after all. But her mother’s been gone for years, died when Klara was eleven and needed her mother most.)

She looks up, realising she’s found her way to the Blumhard barn, the first place she’d felt at home, the first place Alfred kissed her. 

The place where...no, she can’t, won’t, think about that, not now. 

The double doors are already slightly ajar and Klara’s turning to leave when she hears familiar steps pacing. Slipping through the gap in the doors, she sees Alfred, hands in his pockets and looking significantly more disheveled than a mere hour ago.

“Alfred, how could you?” she sobs before she can think twice, half-running across the barn and pounding her fists into his chest. He steps back and she nearly falls, catching herself like she’s gotten so good at doing. His eyes, when she dares to look at them again, are filled with pleading and what she thinks might be a hint of regret.

“Kläri, please understand, Schatz . You have your whole life ahead of you, I’d be holding you back,” he says, staring at her like this should justify his public rejection and denial of their love, of what their love has created. Klara knows better than to believe this, though. She’s seen him look enviously at the businessmen on the trains passing by, sees how he has ambitions beyond their tiny hometown that she can’t help him reach because her family doesn’t have money or connections.

“Not anymore, I don’t. Not after you betrayed me,” she says after a brief pause, tamping down her emotions like she does for the rest of the world and never thought she’d have to for him. He looks back at her blankly and she clenches her fists slightly. 

“You won’t say you’re the father of our child, you’ve taken away any respect, any future here, that I might have had,” she whispers, voice breaking more than she’d like on “our.” Alfred steps closer at that, jaw tightening like her father’s does when he’s angry. He grasps her chin in one hand almost gently, lifting her face until their eyes meet. 

“Don’t you see I love you too much to let you stay with me? I’d give up everything for you to be happy,” he snaps, and this time it’s Klara who pulls away briefly, angry and suddenly afraid of the man she loves (loved?

“Happy?” she says, the syllables of the word sticking in her throat, “Alfred, I’m—I’m only happy when I’m with you and you just—you just—” She grabs at his shirt, tries to make him look at her, listen, and understand that, whatever he says he’s done for her, the last thing she’s going to be now is happy.  

“Let go, Kläri ,” he says, but she won’t, she can’t , because she knows if she lets go, he’ll leave. 

“Alfred, Alfred bitte wir lieben uns doch —” 

“I said let go, Klara,” he snaps, and then his hands are encircling her wrists and he’s pushing her back, hard.

Alfred’s push sends Klara tumbling to the ground, her left leg twisting underneath her as she tries to catch her balance, arms shifting to cover her stomach seconds too late. She hits the floor of the barn hard and immediately pulls herself up and onto her back as best she can. In the back of her mind, she dimly registers that her left leg won’t move, but most of her attention is drawn to the blood spilling out from between her legs and the pain in her abdomen like she’s never felt before. 

“It...it was an accident,” Alfred whispers like he’s trying to convince himself, his face blanching as he watches the blood seep into her dress. Klara can feel tears pooling at the corners of her eyes, but he’s not looking at her anymore, and before she can say anything, he spins on his heel and runs out of the barn. She does cry, then, biting her hand to muffle the noise as much as possible.

Klara’s not sure how long she lies there, unsuccessfully fighting back fresh waves of tears every time the cramps start again. She knows she’s been crying for hours, the emptiness inside her and the growing evening shadows tell her that much. The tears spilling out of her now in breath-stealing shudders are all the ones she’s bottled up and carried around, the pain of today momentarily buried under the pain of the last six years. She’s nothing if not good at hiding her tears, however, and so she chokes down the cry rising in her throat when she hears a rustle outside the barn and sees a faint shadow in the doorway. 

 

* * *

 

It’s the sound that draws her to the barn first, the sound she’s sure is someone crying and trying very hard to not sound like they are. At first she thinks maybe it’s a child--God knows enough children try to sneak around the Blumhard barn--but the sinking feeling in her stomach doesn’t go away and she knows it isn’t. 

She steps in quietly, and whoever it is must have heard her because the sobbing instantly stops. 

“Alfred?” the voice calls, and Mathilde’s heart drops because it’s the same voice she heard screaming at the trial earlier. 

“Klara?” 

Shuffling then, a muffled "Scheiße" that makes Mathilde flinch even as she steps forward. The light in the barn is dim but she can still make out Klara’s form crumpled on the floor, the bottoms of her bare feet dirty and one of her legs twisted, the knee swollen in a way that looks wrong.

And then the blood. So much blood, and at first Mathilde thinks it’s from her leg but then her eyes travel up and Klara’s white dress, the one Mathilde always sees her running around in (and she’s pretty sure it’s the only one she owns), is stained, blood like a dark poppy spreading over the hem. 

“Klara, was ist los?” Mathilde says, unable to stop the panic from rising in her voice. 

“Nichts,” Klara spits, and if Mathilde had had doubts before that it was Klara Wäscher huddled in her barn she doesn’t know, the derision in her tone so strong when it’s clear that something is definitely wrong. Klara’s dark red hair is matted against her head, almost the same color of the blood. “Lass mich, Mathilde.”

“I’m not leaving you, you’re hurt,” Mathilde says, and before Klara can stop her she kneels down and gently places her hand on Klara’s knee. The younger girl stiffens. “What happened?”

“I fell,” Klara says, and Mathilde knows she’s lying but the look on her face is a challenge, daring Mathilde to question her. 

“You... but you’re bleeding.”

Klara’s face pales as if she’s suddenly seeing the blood for the first time. “Nein,” she chokes out, and then she’s scrabbling away from Mathilde and clutching at her stomach, "Nein nein nein" repeated over and over. 

“I’m—I’m going to call the doctor,” Mathilde says, because someone has to do something, but Klara’s hand reaches out and seizes Mathilde’s wrist in an iron grip, fear in her pale blue eyes. 

“No,” she says, “no, I’m fine, really—”

Doch Klara your leg— und dein Kind —”

“I’m fine,” Klara repeats, stubbornly trying to stand, her nails digging half moons into Mathilde’s arm. 

“Klara, you shouldn’t—” but no sooner has she said it than Klara tries to stand and immediately cries out, falling back down and nearly pulling Mathilde with her. Her fingers leave small scratches on Mathilde’s wrist and she snatches them quickly away. 

“Kein Arzt,” Klara whispers, hands now going back to protectively encircling her stomach. 

“Aber dein Kind…” Mathilde whispers, and either Klara has not heard her or she’s choosing to ignore her. “At least—do you have somewhere to stay?”

Klara shakes her head, too quick. 

“Okay, well—” Mathilde glances around the barn. “Du kannst—du kannst doch hier bleiben,” she says, and as soon as she’s said it she knows it’s—well if not the right thing to do, then something. 

Klara looks like she’s about to argue but she can only manage a whimper. Mathilde takes a half-step toward her and Klara scrabbles back, her back now against the rough wood of the barn. Hay sticks to the patches of blood on her dress. 

“Klara…” 

“Geh,” Klara says. “Please, Mathilde. You can--you can come check on me in the morning if it will really make you feel better, but I’ll be fine.” She tries to manage a wobbly smile but all she can do is grimace. “My… my father will be looking for me so I won’t… I won’t stay too long.” 

“Natürlich,” Mathilde says, and tries to pretend for Klara even though they both know Klara’s father will do no such thing. What little Mathilde knows of Klara’s parents other than by gossip was only further cemented when she had no one at the trial with her today.

And if there’s one thing Mathilde’s painfully, achingly familiar with, it’s that sort of emptiness.

“Bis…bis Morgen, dann,” Mathilde says, and Klara nods, her eyes unfocused, not even looking at Mathilde. “Are you sure…” 

“I’m fine,” Klara says again. “I’ll see you in the morning.” 

Mathilde presses her lips together and nods before finally allowing herself to turn her back on the girl crumpled in her barn, only registering as she closes the door that Klara has started crying again.