General Note: I'm only going to reformat my fics so much when this site is the one at fault. So if the formatting is weird, please check out my profile for more info. Thank you.
This fic is a chapter of the Edelweiss arc, of which you can find more about in my profile.
WARNING: This fic has to do with the Holocaust and reads rather like a black comedy at points (hence the rating). Just so you know what you're getting into.
Obligatory (but ultimately pointless) CYA: I don't own it.
(Time period: 1943.)
Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos
In hindsight, desertion was not the best course of action.
Not the best course of action by a long shot, but Austria still has his principles. If nothing else—no longer his own empire, but now part of another—he still has his principles. War is one thing; genocide an entirely different thing. Especially when it involves his own people. And when a course of action goes against a gentleman's principles, he ceases the action, simple as that.
The thoughts do little to comfort him as he is herded into the workers' barracks. The majority of the people around him are not his, but some—enough—are. Austria anxiously scans his surroundings, as if he might find some convenient route of escape. As if there aren't those of his who were sent to the left.
For a terrifying moment, Austria swears he can feel his throat closing.
"Well, hey—look what the Gestapo dragged in." He jumps at the voice, and jerks his head around.
Poland waves with lazy indifference. "Yo."
Austria blinks. "Poland," he murmurs. "Why are you here?"
The blond nation points to the badge on his shirt, emblazoned with a 'P.' "Duh."
Austria feels his shoulders drop. Of course. He should have guessed as much. If being Jewish is a crime, why not being Polish?
Poland nods at him. "So, like, what about you? Weren't you and Germany total roomies?" Austria fully turns, allowing him to see his own badge. Poland gapes and laughs. "You tried deserting?" he practically hoots. "That's, like, stupid and awesome all at once! This I totally gotta hear."
Austria doesn't see anything even resembling humor in this situation. "Mauthausen," he stiffly says, his lips curling back with the utterance. It is all he can do to keep from outright spitting the name.
Poland slings his hands into his pockets and rocks back on his heels. "Yeah, just be glad you only have one." Austria isn't sure if he should be sympathetic of the other nation's undeniably worse situation, or offended by his offhand tone, and instead just ignores that particular comment.
"How do we get out?" he asks.
"I think that's, like, not the point," Poland says.
Austria refrains from rolling his eyes at the obtuse response. "I mean, what do we do?" It's a question he fears has no good answer, or worse yet, no answer at all.
Poland thinks about this. "I say we make a dress." This decision is resolute, matter-of-fact, and sincere to the utmost degree. He picks at his clothes in disgust. "These are beyond lame and unflattering. Granted, trying to make something fab out of this material is going to be like trying to polish a turd, but I think we could manage something with a good fit, at least. Maybe a nice pencil skirt, you know?" He glances up at Austria, as if for his input.
Austria resists the urge to bang his head against the wall. Instead, he removes his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose, willing his tolerance for idiocy to increase. He is quite sure he is in hell at this moment. There is no other explanation for it. That, or God hates him.
No. That would just be Hitler who hates him. Hah. Austria is dreadfully ashamed of the fact that he once claimed such a man as one of his people. Well. Germany can have him, at this point. Foolish, naïve, blind Germany can just go search for his supposed divine artifacts and fight for his supposed divine right, and return to find his Jewish population dead. Along with his cripples and homosexuals. And probably the healthy and heterosexual, by the end of it. Because really, if you're on a roll, why stop at the minorities? Hell, if you breathe air, if you drink water, no doubt you, too, are part of the Problem.
Austria replaces his glasses and closes his eyes. His mind goes back to Poland's suggestion simply because he can't bear to think about how cynical he has become. "Pray tell, what," he asks with terse indulgence, "do you intend to do with a dress?"
"Wear it, duh."
It takes Austria a moment to gather words. When he does, they come out short on patience and long on suffering. "Do you not realize we're in a concentration camp?" he demands.
"Uh, yah," Poland drawls. "It's a little hard to miss? Like, did you not wonder why they shaved your head?"
"I am perfectly aware of why!" Panic is finally starting to lick at his nerves, and he sputters in angry disbelief. "What I wonder is how you can be concerned with—with dresses and—p-pencil skirts!"
"Hey, man," Poland says nonchalantly. "You play the piano; I cross-dress. We all have our ways of coping."
"I don't believe I'm doing this," Austria mutters, pinning a side-seam.
Poland flicks his head dramatically, as if he still has hair long enough to flip out of his eyes. "Hey, I offered to let you be the model. You were the one who turned down the easy job."
Indigo eyes flick up in irritation. "I am not cross-dressing for your benefit." The severity he tries to infuse into his voice is rather negated by the smuggled pins he holds between his teeth. He wishes they were cigarettes. As they aren't, he takes yet another in his hand and slides it through the fabric. "We have different measurements, besides," he adds, as if the blond might follow this line of reasoning.
"Eh, we look pretty similar around the waist." Poland shrugs. "And we're getting thinner every day, so, like, whatever." Austria is at once horrified and fascinated by how casual he can be about their being over-worked to the point of exhaustion and under-fed to the point of starvation.
The sides are almost completely secured when the barracks door bangs open. New inmates are being shown in, escorted by SS guards, and Austria freezes, face blanching, pins falling from suddenly trembling lips.
They keep to the corner when they work, in what little off time they have, to avoid notice—but Poland's uniform is quite obviously not regulation anymore. Not with the trouser legs cut at the knee and joined into a skirt, and not with the sides currently being taken in to create a more "feminine silhouette." Austria severely doubts the Nazis will take too kindly to cross-dressers, let alone their accomplices.
Four times the amount being shown in weren't lucky enough to be sent to the right, he knows. Thirty-eight are his, soon to be were his.
Poland glances over his shoulder, makes a derisive face, and rolls his eyes before dismissively turning back. "What's the worst they can do, huh?"
Cold fingers claw at material. "They can kill us," Austria hears himself murmur. "Maybe not directly, but if enough of our people die…enough assimilation of culture…"
Poland's pale eyebrow quirks dubiously. "Dude," he says, all blasé counsel. "You gotta have more faith in yourself. No wonder Hungary left you."
At that, Austria's hand clenches into a bony fist at his side. Digging his broken fingernails into his palm is all he can do to keep from cracking the other country across the jaw. But no—he is a gentleman; gentlemen are above that.
He is a gentleman, and he isn't above anything. Look where he landed. Respect begat nothing. Certainly not mutual respect. The modern world has no place for the propriety he has held so dear for centuries.
Perhaps that realization is the straw to break the proverbial camel's back, because Austria suddenly feels as if he's about to break down in tears.
Poland's face falls. "Oh, shit," he says gravely. "Hey, look, totally bad joke on my part. Like, fantastically sucky joke, I admit. I shouldn't have said that." His hands flutter, trying to grab the other country's attention. "Like, seriously. I'm really sorry."
"You are not," Austria whispers.
"Okay," Poland confesses, "so maybe there was, like, a little nugget of sincerity to it—but for the most part I totally am! Me and Hungary are bros, you know, and yeah, you had your asshole moments—"
"I don't want to talk about it," Austria chokes out.
"—but she really liked you—"
"I don't want to talk about it, Poland!" There is a ragged edge of warning to his voice. From the gas, no doubt. He can taste it, he is sure he can taste it.
"Okay, what do you want to talk about?" Poland demands.
"Nothing," Austria says, a desperate sort of almost-cry. He fumbles for the pins, unable to focus enough to even pick them up. He is the boy who will never again be held by his mother, the husband who could not kiss his wife good-bye, the grandfather who will never see his grandchildren—
"Too bad," Poland says, whip-sharp. "Chopin. We're talking Chopin. You like him. Don't try to deny it, just because he's one of mine. And don't try to say he's one of France's, because that's a bullshit technicality."
"He's dead," is all Austria can think to say about the musician.
"Pshh. Big deal. His compositions could beat the pants off of any of Beethoven's."
Austria blinks. Poland is pushing back his cuticles with his thumb-nail. "B-Beethoven?"
"Yeah. I mean, he's alright." Poland shrugs. "Nothing special, though."
Austria gapes. Is just affronted enough to respond. "D-did Chopin manage to compose while deaf?" he demands.
"No," Poland scoffs, "and his work is, like, totally so much better for it because he could actually hear what he was writing."
Austria's posture stiffens. "I'll admit I hold Chopin in high regard, but to dismiss quite possibly the most crucial figure in the transition from Classical to Romantic simply because—"
"Whatever," Poland says, dismissively cutting him off. "Just pin, will you? My arms are getting tired."
"Maybe if you flapped them as much as your mouth, they'd have more stamina," Austria snaps.
Poland rolls his eyes and mimes talking with his hand. "Blah, blah, blah."
Austria shoots him an irritated look, already onto the next order of business. "Hem," he says, brusquely holding the tape measure up. "How long?"
"Hey, wow," Poland says, genuinely impressed. "This stitching is really good."
Austria sniffs. "There's no pride in a job poorly done, no matter how ludicrous the task."
Poland drops an eyebrow. "Yeah, okay, try not to sneeze on the ceiling, huh?" He looks back down at the make-shift dress. "No, seriously, this is, like, really good. Where'd you learn to sew so well?"
Austria tenses, and looks off to the side. "After Prussia," he says shortly. "In 1866. I had to dismiss a lot of my staff." The circumstances that led to his marriage, and he waits for Poland to make some crack about that. As if to keep the conversation from taking that turn, he adds, "And let's just say the '20s weren't exactly my best decade." He tries to keep the tell-tale bitterness from his voice, and is not entirely sure if he succeeds.
"Oh," Poland says. "Huh."
Austria waits, but nothing more comes. He looks back to see Poland shimmying the dress down over his torso. He buttons the front, adjusts the skirt, and looks up, holding his arms out to better display the garment.
"Okay, how do I look?"
Poland rolls his eyes. "How do I look! Is it, like, figure-flattering?" He twists, as if to try to get a good look at his backside.
Austria grimaces. "You're a man in a dress—there's nothing flattering about that!"
"Whoa, excuse me, but you wore ruffles for, like, how many centuries? Yeah, I am so sure you're not effeminate at all." Poland turns from sarcastic to genuinely entreating. "Come on, you know a good cut, you actually care about a good cut—help a fellow fashionista out."
"I care about a good cut on men's clothing, thank you very much."
"And you've been around plenty enough high-class ladies in your time. You must have picked up something about women's fashion."
Poland will obviously not relent. Austria huffs and, after a one-handed rub at his temples, resigns himself to giving his cross-dressing companion a good looking-over. "It…it fits well," he reluctantly admits. Truthfully, considering what little resources they had, it looks downright nice. "Really, it's…you pull off the drop-waist look very well."
Poland looks about as giddy as a school-girl at the verdict. "Awesome!" He regards himself for a moment. "I wish I had a pair of heels, but this'll have to do, I guess. Well," he says, looking back up, planting his hands on his hips like some sort of bizarre cheerleader, "I am totally ready to start some shit."
"Okay, so I know this guy who's a mechanic. Gets to test drive the cars he works on. He says he can get us one."
Austria is torn between the desperate hope in his heart and the logical part of his brain that says this plan is completely asinine and entirely dangerous to boot. "Do you honestly think we can simply drive out of here?"
"Totally! We know where they store their uniforms and guns—we only pass by it, like, every single day. All we have to do is break in and change clothes."
"But we have no papers!" Austria argues, whispering anxiously. "What if they stop us at the gates?"
"Jesus! You are, like, such a Debbie Downer, do you know that?" Poland demands. "You're freakin' Austria! Criticize the shininess of their boots or something."
Austria rolls his eyes exasperatedly. "And if that doesn't work?"
"Then we make a break for it, duh! We'll have guns, you know."
"Oh, certainly, raise a commotion," he says sarcastically. "Assuming we make it out, what'll happen to our people left here?" he demands.
"The same thing that'll happen if we don't do anything!" Poland points out. "This place has a death camp attached to it for a reason, you know. What, you think the Nazis are going to, like, let your Jews off on good behavior or something?"
That manages to silence Austria.
"We're nations," Poland says, uncharacteristically sober. "That guy who's gonna get us a vehicle? Dude knows what he's risking, but he's doing it for his country. Our people are willing to die for us so that we can get out of here and live. Don't shit on that sacrifice by doing squat with it."
Austria breathes, looks at Poland who looks steadily back, swallows, and nods. "…Okay," he says levelly, nodding again. "We'll try it."
"And totally succeed because we're totally awesome," Poland says, leaning back and downing his bread and water rations in anticipation.
Quietly chewing his own pathetic excuse for a meal, Austria refuses to be so verbally optimistic. But secretly—so secretly he barely lets himself acknowledge it, lest he be painfully flung back into reality if it fails—he believes it might just work.
"Oh, but hey," Poland adds, all too casually, "if we do happen to get caught and, like, thrown in a gas chamber, remember—shallow breaths. You're less likely to pass out and wake up at the bottom of a cart full of corpses that way."
Austria stares for a long moment in what would best be described as abject horror. "How many times have you done this?" he demands incredulously.
"Just the once. But, you know—live and learn."
More like die and learn, Austria thinks. He suddenly wishes he had a cigarette. Or a violin. Ideally both. Not having either, he instead tries to steady himself with some mental Brahms. "Alright. Shallow breaths," he mutters, then shoots his companion a look that is so severe in its warning, it's almost threatening. "But let's try to avoid that scenario, shall we?"
"Oh, totally," Poland agrees. "I didn't have a dress last time, you know. Pants totally harsh my mellow when it comes to stuff like this."
Austria's skin fairly crawls in the SS uniform. He's sure he's never hated a set of clothing so much. He's also sure that suffering a uniform that represents principles he loathes is preferable to suffering even one more day in this camp. Austria might mourn for his lowered standards, if he was currently more than knees, elbows, and nerves.
Poland drives. All that is left is the out-most gate, and as they round a bend, the guard tower finally comes into view. Austria shifts his stolen rifle, trying to ignore the way his palms are sweating.
They're maybe a hundred meters away. It's impossible that they haven't yet been sighted. Still, the gate has not lifted.
Eighty meters away. Poland shifts down into second gear. Still, the gate has not lifted.
Then thirty meters.
Then fifteen meters, and still, the gate has not lifted.
They're dead, he thinks. They're absolutely dead.
"Like, do something," Poland hisses, and Austria suddenly remembers that his heart is, in fact, pounding, indicating that he is, in fact, still alive, and that if they can only get beyond this barrier, they will, in fact, be free.
Grabbing the top of the windshield for support, he stands. His grip is hard, trying to mask trembling fingers. He looks up at the tower guard and miraculously manages to snap, "Well? Are we to wait here all day?"
"Papers," the gate operator prompts, and Austria's eyes jerk over to him, frozen. As if in a dream, a nightmare, he watches the man step forward, hand ready to receive a pass, orders, anything, and all he can do is stare. The moments tick by in a panicking pulse, and all Austria can do is stare.
He's a broad man, this German guard. Tall, and blue-eyed.
It's a strange thing that comes over Austria then. Almost as if his body has disconnected from his brain, he finds himself dropping back down onto his seat. He opens the car door, steps out, slams it shut, strides up to the man, reaches into his jacket, and—
What in God's name is he doing?
—somehow pulls out a pistol, the butt of which he promptly rams into the guard's face. He falls to the ground, nose broken, out cold. Austria comes back to his sensibilities just in time to remember that the other guard is still standing, and that he just happens to wield a submachine gun.
The next instants are a blur: Austria throws himself to the side, Poland swears, fire opens, the guard yells, and Austria suddenly discovers that he's no longer being shot at. The guard drops out of sight, dead, and the next moment sees Austria rifling through the gate operator's jacket on an insane whim, wasting precious half-seconds on the hope that maybe, Christ, please, maybe this Nazi isn't a model one—
Oh, praise God. There. Today must be his lucky day. Two measly cigarettes and he feels as if he just won the lottery. He shoves them in his pocket, along with a pack of matches, scrambles to the car, and practically vaults himself over the side and onto the back seat. Poland guns it, barreling through the gate before he can even properly situate himself. Austria isn't bothered by this in the least.
"Dude," Poland says back to him, yelling over the wind. "Okay, seriously? I gotta give you props for the way you cold-cocked that guy. That was pretty badass."
Austria silently disagrees, pulling himself up straight, tearing the SS hat from his head. It was pretty vicious, that's what it was. Not befitting of a gentleman at all.
They stop outside the village of Radziszów, after the sun breaks the horizon. Poland turns off the engine, gets out of the car, and merrily stretches. Austria numbly opens his own door and swings his legs out onto the ground.
Search patrols are going to be on their way. Reprisals are going to being taken. And even though they are free, they aren't, not really. They are still nations and this is still a war, and so Austria reaches into his jacket for one of his pilfered cigarettes. It's a meager relief of stress, but a relief nonetheless. Wearily, he stands, and smokes, and sighs.
"Hey, like, share the wealth, why don'tcha."
With a frown and a sideways glance, Austria offers the cigarette. Poland takes one long drag and hands it back.
"Wow," he says. "That's utter shit."
Austria inhales another lungful of cheap smoke. "Totally," he agrees.
Poland leans back against the car. "You know, I've got this awesome cigarette holder back home. You'd probably love it," he rambles, talking with his hands. "It's all long and elegant. I sometimes bust it out at state parties and stuff. Makes me feel like Greta Garbo. It's so great."
All of Poland's chit-chat is finally too much, and Austria finds himself blurting out the question before he even knows what he wants to ask, exactly. "How can you…?" He gestures exasperatedly at the other nation, as if that will help him articulate the words. "How can you be so casual about all of this?" he demands. He points in the direction they just fled from. "About all of that?"
Poland blinks unaffectedly, as if he finds the very question ridiculous. "Dude. I've had to put up with, like, three hundred years of getting my ass raped. Sometimes by you, in case you forgot. Well, I mean, not literally. By you. Um. Yeah." Poland looks off to the side awkwardly. Austria does the same in the opposite direction and huffs, trying his damnedest to not get a mental image in his head.
"But I mean, like," he continues, shrugging his foot-in-mouth moment off, "you can get used to anything, you know? And I know it sounds all totally cliché, but if you believe in yourself, you'll make it through. I mean, you guys tried to kill me how many times?"
That, Austria has to admit, is a good point. He frowns thoughtfully at this new information. "I simply thought that you were too dense to realize you were dead."
"Hardee-fucking-har, pansy-ass. You know, I might wear dresses, but at least I don't mind getting mud on the skirt."
At the jibe, Austria snorts in a very pathetic approximation of a laugh. Something about this exchange is somehow humorous. Or maybe it isn't, and he just needs to pretend it is. Either way, Poland smirks in a similarly mirthless fashion, slings his hands into his pockets, and looks down the road toward town.
Austria takes another drag. "So now what?" he asks.
Poland shrugs. "Keep your head down, start a resistance. Well, at least, that's what I usually do. It's probably a bit different for you, since you're, like, officially on Germany's side and all."
The words actually put a bad taste in his mouth, and he grimaces in disgust. "I could do without the reminder, thank you."
"Well hey, if you go along with it, what's the worst that'll happen? You end up on the front lines?"
"How very reassuring," Austria mutters darkly.
"Keep your chin up, bro." And with a light, demonstrative jab of his elbow, Poland starts walking away.
"What about the car?" Austria asks.
"Eh, take it. This is my turf. I'll get around just fine."
Austria nods, breathes one last plume of smoke, toes the butt out in the dirt, and moves tiredly toward the driver's seat.
"Hey," Poland calls, and Austria turns. Poland hesitates. "She really loved you, you know. But it was a bad time for her, too."
Austria stiffens. His voice turns cold. "Good-bye, Poland."
Poland shrugs, as if to say, 'well, I tried.' He offers an offhand wave. "Later. Thanks for the extra set of hands with the dress." And then he turns and continues ambling away. The low morning sun gilds his frame in orange fire. A phoenix with a love for women's fashion.
Austria decides, in that moment, that if the both of them survive this war, he's going to track down the most elegant, sparkly gown he can find and have it sent to Warsaw as a thank you.
A/N: Can I just say I love Poland? Because HOLY HELL I LOVE POLAND.
-While the concentration camps are most (in)famous for their Jewish extermination, a number of other "undesirables" were sent to the camps, including POWs, spies, and those who deserted the German armed forces.
-The Mauthausen Concentration Camp (officially known as Mauthausen-Gusen after 1940) was Austria's only concentration camp, but one of the first massive complexes in Nazi Germany. Unlike many other extermination-through-labor camps, it was intended for members of the intelligentsia and political enemies—so by all means, Austria probably would have ended up there instead of Auschwitz, but then we wouldn't have had all that awesome Poland-Austria interaction, so…yeah. Artistic license. (Poland, by comparison, had twelve camps, seven of them being (or including) death camps, where inmates were simply gassed right away.)
-Hitler was ethnically Austrian (born in Austria-Hungary), but fell in love with Germany at a young age and more or less wanted nothing to do with his country of origin until he began his whole "let's unify all the German areas" quest. He officially became a German citizen in 1932.
-Chopin was of Polish and French heritage, but identified himself completely with the country of his birth. After the November Uprising of 1830 failed, he emigrated to France, where he lived out the rest of his life.
-1866: a reference to the Austro-Prussian War, in which Prussia totally whomped Austria, sending him from a mere decline in power into a Very Bad Place (though not quite as bad as the one he was in after WWI). Poor, weak, and in need of a government overhaul, the solution was to get him hitched.
-The escape was inspired by the real-life Auschwitz escape of Eugeniusz Bendera, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart—they procured a car (Bendera worked in the garage as an auto mechanic), dressed in SS uniforms, and literally bluffed their way out of the complex. The difference is that they weren't stopped at the gates for papers (and had agreed to commit suicide if they were, lest reprisals be taken out on the other inmates). So I took a couple liberties. (I wanted to write a bit of action, I'll admit. OTL.)