By Cat Bountry
Author’s note: This was for Smoke and Mirrors in the 2011 TF2chan Secret Santa exchange. I liked it so much I decided to post it here. This fic is not canon to any of my other stories.
No one had told him just how cold the Russian winter was; his fingers and toes were so cold they burned through his gloves and his boots like hot coals, his green jacket was nowhere near warm enough to keep him warm, and he was quite sure that he could no longer feel the end of his nose. He pushed his glasses up as his unit trudged forward through the snow… the frigid, merciless, damnable snow. They were going to die out here before they saw sign of any Russian troops. He never even wanted to be here, working as a field medic for these men. He’d wanted to be a doctor; not just any doctor, mind you, but a doctor that would push the very limits of medical science. Alas, that simply was not meant to be.
“MEDIC!” a soldier called out.
The medic lifted his head. He was about to call back when he’d noticed just how far behind he’d fallen from the others. He trotted far enough to rejoin the group before he slowed down to his previous pace.
“Was anyone in need of assistance?” he asked the closest soldier to him; a young man named Dieter.
“No,” said Dieter, shaking his head. “You were falling behind again. You’d better keep up the pace. You’re the only field medic we’ve got.”
He nodded. “I know,” he said. “It’s so goddamned cold here, I feel like my blood is going to coagulate in my veins.”
“Going to what, now?” Dieter asked.
“Stop your whining!” Leutant Oppenheimer barked. “We’re all freezing out here, and you’ll keep freezing if you don’t shut up and keep moving!”
Oppenheimer, the medic thought with a sneer. The way he carried himself, chest puffed out like a proud pigeon even as his troop trudged through the snow, head held high, hawkish nose jutting off his face like a spigot that leaked mucus. Medic had noticed the man whipping at that nose with a handkerchief with increasing frequency. More for Medic to worry about later, when he would inevitably succumb to the weather and whine for medical attention, he thought. He hissed through gritted teeth, and shivered.
“Wasn’t there supposed to be an enemy base nearby?” asked some soldier that the Medic had forgotten the name of. What was it again? Fredrich, Fritz, something beginning with an “f,” he was sure…
“I was sure there would be,” said Dieter in a hushed voice. “Didn’t Oppenheimer say there would be?”
The medic just nodded. They were approaching the area where they had heard there would be a group of Russian soldiers defending a nearby town. Instead, they were approaching an empty clearing in the woods, with no sign of life anywhere nearby.
“Suppose it’s a trap?” The medic whispered to Dieter.
Dieter’s bright eyes went wide. “You think so?”
The procession stopped as Oppenheimer raised his hand in a signal, and he looked back and forth.
“Careful, men,” he said. “We may be headed into a trap.”
The medic smirked humorlessly.
“What do we do?” Franz-Fritz-Fredrich-What’s-His-Name asked.
“Keep alert and at arms,” said Oppenheimer, lifting his weapon. “It could be noth-” He was cut off suddenly, his body lurching as a bullet pierced his throat, squirting blood onto the snow. He clasped at the wound, gasping and gurgling, and turned to his comrades with wide, wild eyes.
“SNIPER!” someone shouted. “FIND THE SNIPER!”
With their leader gone the troop was now in panic. One soldier started shooting blindly around him, only to take a sniper bullet between the eyes and fall into the snow with a heavy thump. There was much shouting and confusion, and the medic found himself frozen in place, his feet rooted to the ground. The men around him fell to the ground and spray bright, vivid red onto the white snow, and his mind was struggling to think of something to do. Run? Help them? Grab a weapon and shoot back? He dropped to his knees and crawled to his nearest comrade. It was the man whose name he couldn’t get right… Ferdinand. Yes, that was it. He noticed that Ferdinand had taken a bullet to the stomach, and was bleeding out. The medic placed a gloved hand over the wound to put pressure on it, while shucking off the first aid bag and rifling through it with his other hand.
“RETREAT!” Dieter shouted. “EVERYONE RETREAT!” He grabbed at the medic’s shoulder and shook it.
“He’s a dead man, come on!”
“I can save him!” the medic shouted back. “Help me move him somewhere safe!”
“We’re sitting ducks out here!” said Dieter, his voice high and desperate. “We need you more than anybody! We can’t-” he was cut off by the sound of a rifle, and the Medic felt a warm spray of blood dot his face and his glasses. Through the red-flecked lenses, he could see the only closest thing to a friend in his troop standing with wide, terrified eyes. Dieter’s jaw hung slack, blood pouring out of his mouth as he realized he has been shot through the cheek and could no longer close his mouth. His tongue squirmed in his mouth like a bleeding, dying worm, and Dieter raised his hands and let out a gurgling scream.
The medic blanched at the site, and without any forethought he started to run. His sense of self-preservation had taken over, spurring his otherwise frozen legs to pump through the snow and propel him towards the woods.
As the frigid air raked his lungs and tears stung his eyes, he became aware that he was abandoning his duties. He stopped to catch his breath, and listened as more gunshots cracked through the air. He could not hear the others in his troop. Were all of them dead? Quite a few of them fell to the sniper’s bullets. He hugged himself, rubbing his arms through his sleeves and shivering as he let out a long plume of breath through his parted lips. Anybody left alive back there could very well be executed, or taken prisoner and sent to the gulags that he’d heard of. The Russians were crude, brutish people, after all. Who knows what they would do to him if he went back?
Perhaps, he thought, he could find his way back to the German base, he could be safe. He dug through his pockets until he found his compass. The base was about 10 miles west of where they were now… could he make it on his own, in this cold?
He had no choice but to try.
The medic took a deep breath, and headed west. The snow was deep and was soaking through the legs of his trousers, but the trees at least blocked any wind. As he walked, he tried to shut the scene he’d only just witnessed from out of his mind, but this did little, and in fact only enhanced the deep, dark red of the blood on the snow, and reminded him of the specks of Dieter’s blood on his glasses. He removed them, breathed on them and wiped them off on his coat. Poor Dieter, he thought. The man had been friendly enough, and the medic had been more than willing to listen to him yammer on about his family or his fiancé. His stomach sank as the realization that he was most likely dead set in. There would be no returning home for him, no wedding, no children to be had. Dieter would just be another cold corpse frozen in the snow. A shudder overtook the medic, and he tried to push those thoughts from his head.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been shambling through the woods, but it had felt like hours. The sun was hanging lower in the sky, and it was starting to get colder. There was no way he’d be able to make it to the German base before the sun set. He would need to find shelter.
His stomach growled, and somehow in the quiet of the forest it sounded much louder. He did have but a few rations, but it would be prudent to make them last. He came across a fallen tree that was bare of any snow, and sat on its trunk. He opened his satchel and dug for his rations, when he heard the sound of crunching snow. His head snapped upright, and he looked around his surroundings like a startled deer.
After hearing nothing more, he shrugged it off as some animal. Again, he rummaged through his satchel, grabbing a hold of the parcel that held his next meal, when he heard the sound of footfalls in the snow again. He clutched his satchel to his chest with one hand and pulled out a pistol with the other, jumping to his feet and pointing his gun in the direction of the noise.
“Who’s there?” he barked, trying not to sound too terrified. “Show yourself!”
The medic’s breath caught in his throat as someone peered back at him from behind a tree. It was a boy, probably about 12 or 13 by the looks of him. He was stocky and his face was round and reddened from the cold. He looked back at the medic with cold, blue eyes, and held a rifle in his shaky hands.
The two simply stared at each other, motionless as the forest itself. The boy’s face was scrunched up into a bulldog-like scowl, and his eyes never left the medic’s, pinning the older man on the spot. The medic lowered his pistol until it pointed to the ground, and called out to the boy. “Do you speak German?” he asked.
The boy said nothing, but he lowered his pistol slightly as he craned his neck to better look the medic over. He said something in Russian, something that the medic could not understand. Oh, if only he’d left Germany sooner, fled for the United States like he’d wanted to… he could not speak any Russian at all, and the only other language he knew anything of was… well…
“Vhat about English?” asked the Medic. “Do you speak English?”
The boy’s brow knitted, and after a second or two his eyes went wide. “Oh,” he said. “You… are English?”
The medic let out a nervous laugh. “Vell, ah… no. No, I’m not… I do not vish to start any trouble I am… I am very lost.”
“Are German,” said the boy. It was not a question.
“I… yes,” the medic admitted.
Straightening his posture, the boy narrowed his eyes and raised his gun back up to aim it at the medic. “You are doktor?”
“How did you-?” the medic remembered his sleeves, and the cross on his armband and his helmet. “Almost. I am a field medic.”
“Is like doktor?” the boy asked.
“Yes,” said the medic. “Like a doctor.”
The boy nodded. “Good,” he said. “I take you. Come vit me. No running. You run, I kill you. Understand?”
“I understand,” the medic said with a nod.
“Good,” said the boy. “Now, give gun.”
The medic held out his pistol in his palm towards the boy, only for the boy to shake his head in disapproval.
“Put down,” he said, and pointed to the ground. “Then valk backwards. I take gun, you follow.”
“Of course,” said the medic. Slowly, he placed the gun down in the snow in front of him, and backed away, holding up his open palms in surrender. The child waddled forward, keeping his eye on his adult prisoner, and picked up the pistol. He tucked it into his belt, and spread his legs apart, assuming the posture of a cowboy in an American western film. He looked back up at the medic, scrutinizing him one last time.
“Come,” he said, and slung his rifle over his shoulder. “You valk in front.”
The medic walked in front of the boy as commanded, his hands still up. He’d never been taken prisoner before, let alone by a mere child, and he wasn’t sure if there was any kind of standard procedure for this sort of thing. He was at least grateful that he hadn’t been captured by the Russian army, as they would probably not be as merciful as the boy. As he marched in front of his captor, he lamented that he was now headed in the wrong direction. He certainly wouldn’t be making it back to the German base anytime soon.
“Vhere ah you taking me?” the medic asked, trying to turn his head back to look at the boy.
“No talking!” the child barked. “Valk.”
They continued to walk in silence, the only sounds that could be heard being their own footfalls through the snow. They continued through the silent forest for about thirty minutes before they came in view of a cottage on the edge of the woods. It had a crooked stone chimney that bellowed smoke, and little else. The medic had stopped in his footsteps, only to be prodded by the barrel of his captor’s rifle into walking again.
As they approached the front door, the boy walked ahead of the medic, giving him a warning glare as he opened the door. “In,” he commanded, and the medic slipped inside.
The boy shut the door behind him, and the inhabitants of the house, a woman and a teenage girl, turned to gawk at the stranger standing just inside their house wearing an enemy uniform. The boy spoke to them in his native tongue, and the woman (probably the boy’s mother, the medic thought) started yelling at him in panic. The two argued made wild, overblown gestures, and the medic found himself backing up against the wall and wishing he could melt into it. He wondered how hard it would be to escape this cottage… not at all really. He could easily sneak out right now and make a break for it. It was doubtful that anyone in this house could catch up to him and effectively subdue him…
The argument was interrupted by abrupt, rattling cough, and the medic noticed there was another member of this family; a small, sickly looking girl in one of the only two beds in the cottage. Her mother went to the girl in bed, patted her head and felt her forehead, and the boy looked at the medic.
“You help,” the boy said, pointing towards the girl.
The medic crossed his arms. “And vhat if I don’t?”
“Then I kill you,” said the boy.
The medic gulped, his throat feeling dry. The weathered matriarch hovering over the girl cast the German a fearsome glare full of hatred and fire, and the medic shuddered. He stepped up to the girl’s bedside, removed his glove, and lifted the girl’s chin, exposing a swollen neck. He rested the back of his hand on the girl’s head, and nodded.
“She’s been coughing for a vhile now, yes?” the medic asked the boy.
The boy nodded. “Yes. She has.”
“I’ve seen zis before,” said the medic. He opened his satchel, and removed a medicine bottle.
“Is very bad?” the boy asked.
“Yes, if left untreated,” said the medic. He unscrewed the bottle and tipped it over, pouring out a single white pill. “She’s going to need to swallow this.”
The little girl in the bed gave her brother a worried, pitiful look, to which the boy reassured her in Russian. The girl looked up to the medic with wide and bright blue eyes, and opened her mouth. The medic gave a soft smile and popped it into her mouth, as her mother came to her side with a cup of soup to wash the pill down.
“She should take one of zese twice a day until ze symptoms ah gone,” said the medic, handing the bottle to the boy. “And make sure she gets plenty of rest.” He slung his satchel over his shoulder, and started to walk towards the door, only to be cut off by the boy.
“Vhere are you going?” the boy demanded.
“I vas leaving,” said the medic. “My vork is done. You let me leave in exchange for helping your sister, yes?”
“Nyet!” the boy said. “You are prisoner! You cannot leave!”
“I’ve humored you long enough,” said the medic, crossing his arms. “I need to get back to my base. Now.”
The boy reached for his rifle and aimed it square at the German man. They stood staring at each other for several seconds as the boy’s mother and sister looked on in suspense, until the medic heaved a sigh.
“Vhat more do you vant from me?” the medic asked.
“To turn you in,” said the boy. “You are enemy of motherland. Are German.”
“I helped your sister,” the medic protested.
“Are still German,” said the boy.
The medic looked down the rifle barrel, and backed away from the boy. He pulled out a chair from a table nearby, and sat, not breaking eye contact with his captor. Satisfied, the boy put down his rifle, leaning it against the wall. The boy’s mother gave the medic one last suspicious look before ignoring him completely, while the older sister just gawked at this stranger in curiosity. The family kept their distance from the German, as they prepared their dinner. The medic simply sat there, arms crossed, contemplating this situation he’d found himself in. The smell of the mother’s cooking caused the medic’s stomach to growl far too loudly. He hunched over, covering his empty belly and shifted his chair to face the wall.
There was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned to see the boy shoving a bowl of soup into his face. “Eat,” he commanded.
The medic took the bowl and, noticing the lack of any spoon, drank from it. It was hot, and scalded his tongue but it warmed his guts. “It’s good,” he said to the boy. “Zhank you.”
The boy seemed surprised at being thanked, but said nothing, and went back to have dinner with his family. They huddled around a fire that provided the only light in this cottage, and the medic listened to them talk among themselves in a language that he could not understand. He finished his soup, and sat in his chair, looking out of a tiny window. Alone.
In a way, it wasn’t so different from being with his own family.
The medic turned his head and noticed the boy was staring at him, and he straightened his posture.
“What now?” He asked.
“Am keeping eye on you,” said the boy.
“Right,” said the medic, hugging himself. “Of course.”
The boy pulled up a chair and sat across from the medic, staring him down. The medic tried to ignore this by turning his attention back to the window, but those blue eyes were boring into him.
“Tell me,” said the medic, “vhat is your name, hmmm?”
“Not telling you,” the boy huffed.
“Of course not,” said the medic. “I suppose you also vill not tell me vhere you learned English, hm?”
“N-nyet,” the boy stuttered. “Is not your…busyness.”
The medic surrendered a small chuckle. “I zink I know vhy you decided to learn it, zhough,” he said. “If it’s at all vhy I decided to learn it.”
The boy said nothing, but his eyes widened in curiosity, and he leaned forward.
“You vant to leave here, don’t you?” asked the medic.
“Leave for vhere?” asked the boy.
“Don’t play dumb,” said the medic. “I learned English because I vanted to leave Germany.”
“You… do not like Germany?” asked the boy. “But vhy fight?”
The medic let out a sigh. “Zings have simply not vorked out vell for me,” he said. “I still love Germany, but I do not like vhat it has become… I don’t like having to hide myself…” his voice trailed off, and he fidgeted in his chair.
“You are communist?” asked the boy.
“No,” said the medic. “Not a communist, no… but still… an undesireable.”
“Oh,” said the boy.
“Don’t you vorry about it,” said the medic, waving a dismissive hand. “Eventually, I’ll be free of zhat place.”
The boy nodded. “Did not know that Germans did not like Hitler…”
“Ve ah not all ze same, you know,” said the medic. “You have heard ve ah savage monsters, and ve have heard ze same of ze Russians… it vould seem ve ah bozh wrong.”
“Germans tought ve are… monsters?” the boy asked.
“I don’t,” said the medic. “You obviously have taken it upon yourself to take care of your family.”
“I had to,” said the boy. “Father, grandfather, older brother… all go off to fight. Have not heard from them since they leave…”
The medic said nothing. From what he had heard, the Russians they were fighting were often felled by the thousands, using their sheer number as their main advantage.
“I am sure zey ah proud of you,” said the medic. “You ah very brave.”
The boy beamed at the compliment. “You think so?”
The medic nodded. “I know so.”
The two of them continued to talk with each other, as the sun sat and the wind outside howled like a lonely animal, and the snow blew across the window. There was no bed for the medic, and all the boy could offer him was a quilt to wrap around him. It was heavy and warm, and the German soon found himself nodding off in his seat as the boy went to his mother’s bed.
The medic snorted as he was roused from slumber by a hand shaking his shoulder. It was the boy, dressed in his parka and oversized ushanka and his rifle slung over his shoulder.
“Ve must go,” said the boy. “Put on coat and come.”
The medic did as he was told, and looked one last time at the mother and her two daughters. The youngest, still in bed but looking much better, smiled at him and waved, exposing two missing front teeth, only to have the mother take her hand and lower it. The medic gave the girl a weak wave back, and he and the boy went outside, and headed back into the forest.
They trudged through the freshly fallen snow, the medic walking in front of the boy, just as he had when they had met.
“Vhere ah you taking me?” he asked the boy.
The boy did not answer, but merely gestured for the German to keep walking, his rifle at the ready.
They finally came to a familiar clearing, and medic recognized it as where they had first met. He looked over the fallen log and around the surrounding trees. “Vhat is ze meaning of zis?” he asked. “Vhat ah you-?” He was cut off abruptly by the loud crack of gunfire.
The medic stumbled forward in surprise, and fell into the snow. He flipped himself around, and felt his torso… he was uninjured, He looked at the boy, who was holding the rifle, aiming it up at the grey sky. The boy’s face was ruddy, and he was shaking.
“Ah you crazy?” the medic asked. “Ah you trying to get us killed? Who knows who could have heard zat?”
“I’ve killed you,” said the boy.
The medic just stared for a moment, before the realization dawned on his features. “Oh…” he said. “O-oh! Right! Of course!” He got up off the ground, and brushed the snow off his trousers. “Yes… very clever of you…”
The boy smiled. “Da,” he said, and tapped his temple. “I plan dis. Mama tink you are too dangerous… had to get rid of you.”
“Zank you,” said the medic, “for sparing my life…”
“Nyet,” said the boy, shaking his head. “Tank you. You help my sister. I am on debt to you.”
“In debt,” the medic corrected.
“In debt,” the boy repeated. “Yes.”
They looked at each other for a few moments, before the boy rushed forward and hugged the medic as tight as he dared. The medic hugged the boy back, patting him on the head. They broke their embrace, and the boy beamed him, his face red from the cold and beautiful.
“If ve meet again,” he said, “I vill pay you back. I promise.”
“Zank you, mein freund,” said the medic. “I vill not forget you.”
“I vill not forget you,” said the boy. “You must hurry. I give you some food in your bag. I must go. If gone too long… my mother vill get vorried…”
“I understand,” said the medic. “Good luck.”
The boy turned and ran, and as the medic watched him go, he realized he had not even gotten the boy’s name, or told him his own… but he was too far gone to flag down. He took a deep breath of the cold air, and trekked back in the direction of the German camp…
Twenty four years later, at Teufort, it was snowing. Snow at Teufort was rare, and when it drifted towards the bare earth it felt out of place. Medic was standing just outside of the base, and the sounds of RED team’s Christmas party could be heard and the warm glow of the lights fell onto the ground. Medic noticed a long ray of light splaying out onto the dirt, and a large shadow blocking it out. He turned his head and saw the Heavy in the doorway.
“Doktor?” Heavy asked, peering outside. “Are you all right?”
“I am fine,” said Medic. He cheeks were a bit flushed from the alcohol. “I was just recalling vhen ve first met, is all…”
Heavy smiled, and stepped outside, standing beside the German. “Is funny,” he said, “never tought ve could meet again. Is small vorld, yes?”
“It vould seem,” said the medic as Heavy wrapped his arms around the doctor. “Did you hear from your sisters?”
“Da,” said Heavy. “They are doing vell. Natasha says hello.”
Medic craned his neck up to Heavy and gave him a quick peck on the nose. “Zat’s good to hear,” he said.
“Do you vant to come back inside?” Heavy asked. “Everyvone else is still enjoying party.”
“I suppose so,” said Medic, letting out a long breath, which turned into a cloud once it hit the cold air.
“Do you remember vhen you said you vanted to pay me back for saving Natasha?”
Heavy chuckled. “I do.”
“You don’t have to vorry about it,” said Medic. “You already have.”
The Russian smiled. “Tank you, Doktor.”
“No…” said Medic, snuggling closer to Heavy. “Zank you, Heavy. Zank you.”
Medic took Heavy’s hand, and the two of them went back inside together as the snow began to settle upon the ground around 2fort.