The Ostfront was many things.
It was a massive, sprawling theatre where the Imperial Army grappled to the death with the seemingly endless hordes of the Federation. It was a nightmare of poor roads, incompatible railway gauges, and partisan raids that kept Logistics up at night. It was the front line of a war that was swiftly growing to consume the entire world.
But above all, it was cold.
It was that bitter cold that worked its way into the Imperial soldiers, that chilled them to the bone and ground down even the most fanatical patriot's will to fight. And it was that same cold that greeted Lieutenant Colonel Tanya von Degurechaff as she awoke in her billet, neither her threadbare sheets nor her winter officer's coat seeming to offer any protection. As her blue eyes struggled open, heavy from lack of proper sleep, Tanya noted one source of heat tugging at her left shoulder and unconsciously leaned into it.
"Colonel von Degurechaff, ma'am, your morning coffee is ready," the familiar voice of First Lieutenant Viktoriya Ivanovna Serebryakov, Tanya's flight partner, adjutant, and very first subordinate announced as she continued to gently shake her commanding officer awake.
Tanya's nose twitched as the scent finally hit her, the fine Arabica beans her old acquaintance from Logistics continued to provide for her Kampfgruppe tempting her towards wakefulness. Her tired eyes focused on the sight of Viktoriya by her bedside, the older girl offering the steaming mug in her direction.
Sleepily taking the proffered drink, Tanya took a long swig. As expected of Serebryakov, the coffee was just how she liked it. Whereas others would see her childlike appearance and instinctively load her coffee down with a disgusting amount of creamer and sugar, her adjutant always provided a strong and bitter brew.
I really lucked out finding a resource with such potential, Tanya mused to herself. She closed her eyes and took a moment to savor the aroma and taste, before letting out a contented sigh as a comforting heat settled in her stomach. "Sometimes it feels like I wouldn't even be able to get out of bed without you, Serebryakov," she muttered, still half-asleep.
"Ah-? M-ma'am?" the Lieutenant stuttered, making Tanya pause in enjoying her coffee. She cracked an eye open and saw Viktoriya staring wide-eyed at her, face flushed. As the caffeine finally worked its way into the little officer's system and kicked her into gear, she realized what she'd just done.
...I said that out loud? I must be even more exhausted than I realized, Tanya thought, annoyed at her lack of self control. It wasn't good for a superior to carelessly verbalize their every thought in front of their subordinates. Still, this wasn't really a problem. Praising a valued employee for doing a good job was fine. Of course, doing it too often could lead to them becoming complacent and their work performance suffering, but Tanya judged that to be unlikely in this case. After all, Serebryakov was a veteran of the Rhine Front just like her.
Tanya favored the older girl with her best attempt at a smile. "No offense to Weiss or Grantz or any of the others, but I wouldn't want anyone taking your place, Lieutenant," she said, honestly meaning it. Weiss was an excellent officer, but she knew he was far too much of a war nut to saddle with even more administration duties. And Grantz…
She shuddered. Until his transfer to the 203rd, she had never met someone who could burn coffee. What a waste of good beans that would be, having someone like him making her morning coffee when it could be Serebryakov instead. That level of waste almost put the entire war to shame.
"No," Tanya continued, "You're the one I want here beside me."
As Tanya closed her eyes again and took another blissful sip of her coffee, content in the fact that she had effectively masked her slip of the tongue and even taken the opportunity to reinforce her assistant's morale and personal loyalty, she was entirely unaware of the stunned look painted across Viktoriya's blushing face.
By the time she reopened her eyes and made to get up, struggling to don the winter coat she had been using as an extra blanket without spilling her drink, Viktoriya had managed to school her expression back into something approaching normal.
Collecting her cap from her bedside table, Tanya set out into the cold to see to her duties, and put the incident out of her mind.
You're the one I want here beside me.
Viktoriya found that the sound of her own heart pounding in her ears drowned out everything around her as Colonel Degurechaff's words continued to repeat in her head. Even the crunch of the packed, frozen earth beneath her boots was inaudible as she wandered the camp that was the Kampfgruppe's headquarters. No matter how she tried to interpret her commander's words, they sounded like a confession. It made her head spin, the idea that the terrifying, rules-obsessed founder of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion could have feelings for anyone, much less her!
She frowned at that thought, biting her lip. That's...not fair. I remember what she said back at the Rhine Front, that even she would prefer peace.
Even Tanya von Degurechaff, the feared and respected White Silver, was a human being. And Viktoriya knew that she was a good person, no matter how frightening she could be. She pushed her subordinates hard, right up to their limits, but never left them behind. She always led the charge, inspiring her unit with displays of unmatched bravery and skill. And Viktoriya remembered that day, back in the west, when the then-Major's usually unflappable demeanor had cracked at seeing the chance for peace slip out of the Empire's grasp. It was telling that only Degurechaff continued to think of her Fatherland when everyone else, even the members of the 203rd, were drunk on the army's stunning victory over the Francois.
As Viktoriya continued to meander aimlessly through the camp, ignoring the biting chill that suffused the air, she only felt more unsure. Colonel Degurechaff really was amazing, but that just made the idea that she would be interested in her all the more outlandish to Viktoriya. A volunteer known for her fierce patriotism and a Named Ace of Aces, falling for a conscripted refugee from the Federation? It was ridiculous, but...she couldn't deny that the idea was strangely exciting. Even the fact that they were both girls bothered her less than she would have imagined. Maybe it was the fact that gender was so much less important in the life of an Imperial mage.
Is it possible that I...return her feelings, then? Viktoriya wondered, her hand idly moving to toy with the edge of her computation orb, the familiar shape and feel of it helping to calm her racing thoughts. In terms of appearance, the Colonel was certainly cute, almost ethereal with her pale skin and shining blue eyes, but she was still maturing. It felt slightly wrong to think of her like that. Admittedly, Viktoriya herself was only a few years older, herself…
With a sigh, she realized that age really wasn't a concern. When she first met Degurechaff, she was already a recipient of the Silver Wings Assault Badge. Even then, the small girl had the maturity and intellect of someone over twice her age. And after years of following her commander through hell, Viktoriya couldn't be considered an ordinary girl either.
Colonel von Degurechaff…
She hesitated, stopping in her endless wandering. She was at a precipice, she knew. If she took this next step, there would be no going back. She wouldn't be able to look at her commanding officer the same way, to go back to the way things worth. But she owed her growth as a soldier to Tanya, and she did not train cowards-
A strange lightness welled up in Viktoriya's chest. For the first time, she had thought of the other girl as Tanya. No rank or knighthood, neither von nor decoration. Just...Tanya. The person she owed so much to. It may have been the fearsome Colonel von Degurechaff that destroyed the Fatherland's enemies and safeguarded its people, but it was Tanya who congratulated her on being accepted for officer training, as if she hadn't been the one who put in the recommendation to begin with. It was Tanya who kept her alive on the Rhine Front, and chose her as her only flight partner and aide through years of war. It was Tanya who always enjoyed her coffee, and who had awkwardly tried to turn the Battalion's raid on Moskva into a personal gift for her.
She couldn't help but giggle at that bizzare memory. The knowledge that Tanya liked her certainly put that incident in a different light.
At the time, she'd been too confused and too on edge from the act of invading enemy airspace to really respond to the "gift", though. That thought made her frown. She knew that Tanya wasn't exactly normal, but looking back, that odd situation seemed like a sincere attempt at making her happy. It wasn't right for her to not have at least acknowledged the effort.
Wait, she was getting off track. She was supposed to be figuring out if she liked Tanya back or not. I mean, I guess I don't dislike the idea...i-it's actually pretty flattering that she would feel that way about me… she thought, her face heating up despite the chill.
Viktoriya yelped as a shout rang out from right beside her, and she instinctively spun to face the source with one hand clenched around her Type 97 and the other splayed out in front of her. "Explosion formula!"
Eyes wide, First Lieutenant Vooren Grantz responded by throwing his arms up in front of himself as a shield. "Woah, wait, stop! It's me, Visha!" he called out hastily, taking a step back.
Blinking in recognition, Viktoriya let her formula dissipate and lowered her hand. "Grantz? Geez, you scared me! What were you doing, sneaking up on me like that?"
Swallowing, Grantz lowered his arms. "Y-You've been standing there making weird faces for a while. I was just making sure you were alright."
"Oh," Viktoriya said, giving an embarrassed laugh. "Eh heh...I was just thinking about something."
Grantz didn't seem convinced. "It must have been something important, with how out of it you were," he said, skeptically.
"Yeah," Viktoriya chuckled weakly, before giving her fellow Lieutenant a look. "Hey, can I ask you a weird question?"
"Um, sure," Grantz replied, running a hand through his messy blonde hair as he continued to eye her with mild concern. "Shoot."
"Do you...know how to tell if you like someone?" she asked quietly, her expression sheepish.
Grantz froze. "Uh. I, er…" the young man stuttered. "You mean...like, right?" he asked, to which Viktoriya nodded. "Um...well, I guess, i-imagine being with them. If you'd be happy being beside them years from now, even after the war's over, then…" he trailed off, face flushed.
"After the war…" she murmured, looking thoughtful. I haven't really thought much about what I'll do then. I guess I just assumed I would go back to being a civilian, but...Tanya volunteered, so I doubt she would leave the military, she mused. If she returned to civilian life, she'd be leaving Tanya behind. Someone else would end up taking her place.
Her chest tightened. She...didn't want that.
"Thank you, Grantz," she said suddenly, determination filling her. Clenching her fists, she turned on her heel and ran off. Her boots dug into snow and dirt as she rushed back through the camp, narrowly avoiding a bewildered artilleryman as he emerged from a tent. "I'm going to tell her the first chance I get!"
Grantz slumped in disappointment as he watched her go. "Yeah, should've known it wasn't me," he muttered, before pausing in realization. "Wait, her? But the only other girl in the unit is…"
Lieutenant Vooren Grantz forcibly ended that train of thought, and decided to go find some kind of duty to volunteer for. 'Hold until relieved' sounded good right about now.
Tanya let out an irritable sigh as she stepped into her and Lieutenant Serebryakov's billet, the small cabin's interior seeming barely warmer than the outside. Another month of this and we'll have to fall back, for no other reason than lack of ammo. These fucking Reds have more bodies than we have bullets, she griped to herself, setting her cap aside and brushing the light dusting of snow her coat had accumulated off onto the floor.
Behind her, the door clicked shut. Hm, Serebryakov must have finished the admin work I dumped on her early. It's surprisingly nice having an overachiever for a subordinate. A moment later, her bunkmate's voice piped up nervously. "C-Colonel von Degurechaff, ma'am! I have a personal matter I would like to speak with you about!"
Tanya stopped, turning to face the Lieutenant with a raised brow.
Serebryakov flinched slightly. "I-If that's okay, that is…"
Well, this was unexpected, but when a valued employee had something to say, it was only right for their boss to at least hear them out. Tanya nodded. "Go ahead, Lieutenant."
"I…" Serebryakov wavered, wringing her hands nervously. After a short silence, the brunette straightened her back, steeled herself, and came right out with it. "I like you too, ma'am!"
"...Huh?" Tanya eloquently responded.
"The things you said this morning made me very happy," Serebryakov continued, her face a bright shade of red. "I don't really know what I've done to make you feel that way about me, but...if you're sure, I-I'll happily stay beside you!"
"I see," Tanya choked, staring at her subordinate in utter confusion. This morning? What the hell? she wondered, mind whirling. I vaguely remember complimenting her on something or other, but this kind of reaction is absurd! I can't help but feel like there's been a serious miscommunication here!
Looking off to the side, Serebryakov rubbed at her arm. "Sorry, I know I'm not very good at this, but...I wanted to make sure to tell you."
Tanya continued staring. What...do I do? her overloaded brain tried to figure out. Surely there are regulations against something like this? No, wait, she seems convinced that I'm the one who instigated this. And as her superior, I would likely be placed under heavier scrutiny if it came to an inquiry. Damn it, workplace relationships are always a mess!
The Lieutenant continued to fidget under her gaze, seeming to grow more and more nervous at Tanya's lack of response.
I'm trapped. If I turn her down now, I'll be throwing away a carefully cultivated resource. The Battalion's command structure could be thrown into chaos, which would effect the entire Kampfgruppe, Tanya groaned internally. The only other option is…
...To accept. Managing to muster a smirk, she finally replied with "Well, I didn't actually expect you to feel the same. This is a surprise." No, really, where did this come from?
Serebryakov's eyes lit up, and she gave her commander a warm smile. "I thought hard about it after what you said," she admitted. "I realized how important you've become to me. So I decided that if you want to be together like...you know...that I'm happy to accept."
Please stop making it seem like this was my idea! Tanya pleaded mentally, struggling to maintain her composure. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she considered that she was at least fortunate that it was Serebryakov who had done this. The thought of Grantz, or Weiss propositioning her made her feel nauseous. "T-Thank you, Lieutenant."
"To be honest, I feel like I should be thanking you," Serebryakov giggled.
"...Right, well, we should be getting some sleep. We still have a war to win, after a-" Tanya began, taking a step towards her bed and shrugging off her coat, only to hiss as a bit of snow she'd missed splattered on her uniform, making her shiver.
"Ma'am?" Serebryakov asked in concern.
Tanya waved it off. "I'm fine, just the cold."
The older girl gave her another concerned look, before moving towards her own bed.
At this rate, General Winter will finish me off before the Federation even gets a turn, Tanya thought bleakly as she sat down on her frigid mattress. She was just about to lie down when a sudden thought occurred to her. ...If I'm being forced into this arrangement, I should at least benefit from it where I can right?
Serebryakov started at the use of her nickname, turning back around. "Y-Yes?"
"Would you care to share a bed?" Tanya asked nonchalantly, patting the spot beside her.
"Hah?!" Serebryakov squeaked, flushing scarlet.
Tanya tilted her head. "It's freezing in here. We'll both be warmer if we sleep together."
"Bu-bu-but what if someone comes in?!"
Tanya gave her an annoyed look. "We're the only ones with keys, remember?"
Serebryakov bit her lip, and the small cabin fell silent. Tanya was about to speak up again, when the other girl nodded and started to walk over, a blush still adorning her features.
The two of them crawled into bed, shifting as they tried to get comfortable. The bed was only made for one person, but Tanya's small size made it workable. Still, as they draped their coats and sheets over themselves, every brush of skin on skin made Serebryakov's blush intensify. That was fine for Tanya, because it meant that the brunette was practically radiating heat when she wrapped her arms around her and pulled them together.
...Maybe this won't be so bad after all, the blonde thought with a smirk as she drifted off to sleep.
It was the best sleep she'd had in either of her lives.