Warning: This story is rated T, but the rating will go up to M for sexual violence in future chapters. I want you to know this so you can decide whether you want to read it (which of course I hope) or not.
1. Prologue: A day in a Russian prison camp
"Wake up!" The voice of the guard is ringing through our cabin, causing a stirring and bustling as everyone gets up from their bunks.
It is six o'clock in the morning, still pitch-dark outside. I sit up on the straw in my bunk and rub my eyes. The guy that I share my bunk with, Bulgaria, has already left. As I look around the room, I find that Estonia and Latvia have already gone outside, too, while Lithuania is trying to convince his bunkmate Poland to get out of bed.
"Are you okay, Po? Please, get up." Lithuania looks worriedly at the blond guy, trying to turn his face towards the lamplight.
"Let me sleep, Liet! I'm tired and it's sooo cold!" he complains and draws the blanket over his head.
"Morning!" I exclaim distinctly cheerful, grinning down at them from my upper bunk.
As expected, Lithuania throws me a slightly annoyed look. "So at least someone's in good spirits. A couple more days in here and you won't be so excited about getting up," he says disapprovingly.
Poland peeks out from under his blanket and asks, "Tell me, Prussia, what makes you so happy about getting up? Is it the freaking cold, or the prospect of having to work all day in that stupid forest?"
Quickly grabbing my toothbrush, soap bar and towel I reply, "It must be your pitiful faces." I jump down from my bunk and dash to the door to escape their whining. Poland can be fun, but Lithuania should loosen up a little. He definitely worries too much. I simply refuse to walk around quiet and downcast all day with a dejected look on my face like he does.
My feet are getting cold on the chilly ground so I tighten the footwraps around them, slip into my shoes and step outside. "Good morning, Gilbert!" the others greet me. The cold and crisp Siberian air has me wide awake in an instant. It creeps under my clothes and mercilessly squeezes out the last remaining bits of bunk warmth.
"Morning!" I greet them back, breath forming white clouds in the clear air.
Bulgaria passes me on his way back inside the cabin. "Man, the water was frozen today! I had to break the ice in the basin before I could wash myself," he warns me with chattering teeth.
In front of our cabin, the trusty had placed a basin half-filled with ice-cold water on the snowy ground. This is for the six people in the cabin to wash in. I usually grab my personal items and rush outside at the sound of the wake-up call to be the first to wash in clean water. Today, though, it took me longer than usual to wake up – this nasty cold had me lie awake during the night – so that now I'm only the fourth person to wash in the water. As I wait for my turn, I watch Estonia and Latvia wash themselves, shivering from the cold. When it's finally my turn, half of the water is spilled, the remaining quantum dark with dirt. I don't change my clothes, as I only have the ones that I wear on my body. Everyone sleeps and works in the same clothes.
Next is breakfast. To us, who are constantly hungry, this is a central event of the day. Another trusty draws a cart past the row of cabins, stopping at each door to hand out the food. We are sitting around the table in our cabin, with our tin cups placed in front of us, impatiently waiting for the trusty to reach our cabin, stomachs growling.
The most famished of us is Latvia. He is the smallest and youngest of us and still growing, so he needs a lot of food which he obviously doesn't get around here. His greatest fear is that he will stop growing and stay small for the rest of his life because of the lack of food.
Right now, he's fidgeting around in his seat, playing with his spoon. "Why does it take so long today? They haven't run out of rations again, have they?" he asks anxiously, referring to an unfortunate event some time ago when the camp ran out of provisions because of a general food shortage in the entire country.
"No, I'm sure we would have heard about that." Bulgaria dismisses Latvia's hunger-driven anxieties, but you can see that he is not entirely sure of it himself. Latvia's suggestion has planted a tiny trace of doubt in the back of his mind. The subject of food and mealtimes is so vital to us that everything related to it must be taken seriously.
A particular loud grumbling emanates from Latvia's stomach. He curls up in his seat, moaning with hunger.
"Stomach's complaining, eh?" I ask.
He squints and throws me an annoyed look.
"Oh come on, don't be mad at me. Forget about the food shortage. Can't you smell the coffee already?" I say reassuringly, trying to lighten up his spirits.
Latvia sits up again, but looks questioningly over to Estonia for confirmation.
Estonia just nods. He's a calm and silent man, and Latvia apparently trusts him more than me.
Lithuania has walked over to the door to check how far the trusty has already proceeded with his breakfast distribution. "He has only just arrived at cabin number three," he shares his observations.
"So it's still going to take a while," Bulgaria says. "Might as well use the time to take a nap. Wake me up when breakfast is served." He yawns, crosses his arms on the table and rests his head on them in an attempt at catching up on some sleep.
After what seems like an eternity, we hear the familiar sounds of the kettle clanging in front of our cabin door. Bulgaria awakens all by himself. He needn't have asked us to wake him up. No matter how tired we may have been before, at the sounds promising food everyone is wide awake and jumps up from their seats. The prospect of food lifts our spirits. We cheer the long awaited appearance of the trusty with a loud hooray. "Sorry for the delay, folks. Little organisational problem in the kitchen …," he apologizes as everyone stands in line to receive breakfast.
"Hey mate, what is it this morning?" Bulgaria calls out to the trusty. "Can I smell banitsa and boza?" he jokingly lists up the ingredients of his favourite Bulgarian breakfast.
"What on earth is that? Don't you have any decent food in Bulgaria? It's got to be freshly baked bread rolls with butter and marmalade, and hot chocolate," I toss in, trying to surpass his fantasies about food.
"Dream on," the trusty answers flatly. Being a prisoner himself, he gets to eat the same food as we, so he's not mad at our remarks. He fills each tin cup with a dark liquid they call coffee and hands everyone two slices of brown bread. We also receive a jug of water for the six of us to share. Today we are lucky: The coffee is still warm, in contrast to the water, which has partly turned to ice on its way from the kitchen to our cabin. As we sit down at the table, I clutch my bowl of coffee to warm my hands and take a sip of the dark liquid, savoring its warmth. It tastes very bitter and leaves my teeth stained, but it warms me from the inside out.
"Does any one of you know what this Communist 'coffee' is made of?"
"Acorns, by the taste of it," Estonia suggests.
"No, I don't think it's made of acorns. Acorns are far too good." Poland vehemently shakes his head in disagreement. "To me, it tastes like it's made of horse droppings mixed with acid. How can you possibly drink such horrible stuff?" He screws up his nose in disgust. He never drinks his coffee. In fact, it is the same scenario every morning; it has almost become a breakfast ritual: Not even taking one sip of his coffee, Poland leaves all of it to Lithuania despite his friend's endeavours to get his protégé to drink some of it.
At the cue, the usual conversation between the two ensues. "Come on, Po, try at least a little bit of it," Lithuania urges his friend. "Even if you don't like the taste, it will warm you up."
"Nooo." Poland contorts his face in abhorrence at the mere thought of drinking coffee, and with the tips of his fingers, as if he's afraid to dirty his hands by touching it, he pushes his cup over to Lithuania. "You can have it," he says as he settles back in his seat. "It doesn't have any calories anyway."
Lithuania drinks some of Poland's coffee, then passes the cup on to Latvia, who avidly gulps down most of its contents.
Poland frowns when he sees it. "Why did you give Latvia my coffee? It was for you," he nags in the direction of Lithuania.
"I already drank as much as I wanted, and I thought the others might want some of it, too," Lithuania explains patiently.
"But it was my coffee," Poland sulks.
"You said you didn't want it," the ever-patient Lithuania says in a calm voice.
Latvia passes the mug with the remaining coffee on to me. I'm about to take a sip of it, when Poland complains,
"I don't want Prussia to drink any of my coffee."
"Why not?" Lithuania asks him, still not the slightest bit annoyed. I wonder at this man's tolerance.
"Because I hate him," Poland says in reply.
I take an extra large swallow, eyeing him, looking forward to his reaction. Action is what we need here.
"Hey!" Poland calls out in protest, but does nothing about it except to cast a reproachful look at Lithuania, as if he was the one to blame.
"Aaah, that was good," I say, smirking as I place the cup back on the table, hoping to incite a further reaction.
"Liet, do something about it! He's not supposed to drink my coffee!" Poland cries out.
Lithuania audibly breathes out, but says nothing. He just grabs the cup and passes it on to Bulgaria.
I had hoped for some sort of fight or argument, but it is rather difficult to stir up any action among these quiet and serious - in other words boring - people. At least I don't care that the coffee is gone, as the best that can be said about it is that it's warm.
As I eat my first piece of bread, the grains are crunching between my teeth. Even the bread doesn't taste like real bread. They must have mixed the flour with some ersatz stuff. I put the second slice in my pocket. It is meant as a lunch that we can eat during the day, as our next meal, supper, will not be provided before evening. On my first morning in camp, I ate both slices at once, not knowing that the Communists didn't serve lunch to their captives. I was sorry by early afternoon …
After breakfast, we set off for work. This camp is a logging camp, so most of the detainees cut down timber in the forest. Only the lucky ones get jobs with the officers to help them do secretarial work. Another job that is considered advantageous is cleaning around the camp, as the work is easy compared to logging. Some time ago, Poland and Lithuania, these lucky bastards, managed to obtain two of these posts. They clean our cabin and other areas of the camp on two days per week now, which means that they don't have to cut wood on those days.
Since I arrived at the camp, I've been on a team that fells trees together with the other nations. That work burns up a lot of energy. Every morning after breakfast we march to the forest which is a few miles away, accompanied by a guard. There we spend the entire day chopping down trees, sawing them into smaller pieces and loading them on carts. At noon, the work is interrupted for half an hour. That is the time when I eat my second slice of bread. When we get thirsty, we eat snow. After lunch, work is resumed until six o'clock in the evening, when we march back to the camp. Ravenous by then, we can hardly wait until supper is distributed.
We gather around the table in the cabin again and are each provided with a bowl of watery soup and two chunks of bread. With our stomachs filled and the day's work done, the ensuing hours are the happiest time of day. The evening is spent talking and playing card games before we go to sleep early to save energy. You can't burn up many calories when you're lying in your bunk, right? Plus, it's warm under the blankets.
Two evenings a week and on Sundays, prisoners have to attend classes. We are taught Russian, and we learn about the benefits of Communism. Apart from maybe the Russian language lessons (they come in quite handy), I can't take these lessons seriously, no-one does. Like the others, I spend my time in class dozing off. Nobody bothers to learn anything, even though most of the teachers are nice and seem genuinely motivated to teach us apathetic bunch about their beloved Communism. They must think we are retarded, but don't worry. As long as you don't ask critical questions or stick out in any way, Communist indoctrination is a lot better than work: The classroom is relatively well-heated and you have the opportunity to take a nap in a warm place.
Living together with the other nations sure is fun, but I absolutely hate that they starve us while letting us do all the hard work. Officially, our stay at this camp is supposed to re-educate us so that we become proper Communist countries.
I can only sneer at that idea. In the little time that I have spent here, I have gotten considerably thinner. I wonder how I'm supposed to transform into a "proper Communist country" when my body is dwindling away in front of my own eyes. Hell, my ass has become so skinny my pants keep dropping if I don't hold them up. I swear I'm not kidding here. On top of that, it's winter, which means the temperature drops very low here. The few clothes that we get are insufficient to protect us from the cold, skinny as we all have become. The cold makes it hard to sleep. My hands and feet are already covered with frostbites. I know this cannot go on forever.
If, after all this complaining, you think that I'm down and depressed, you are very much mistaken. I won't let Russia break me so easily. I am determined to survive, and ever since the day of my arrival at this camp, I've been thinking of a plan to get out of here. The harsher the conditions get, the stronger my will to survive and get out of this place. The camp is barely secured, the only safety measures are a wall and a fence that are lit at night and a few watch officers who guard it. Yet, hardly anybody has tried to run away from here.
During my first days in camp I heard about three people who escaped. They were found dead a couple of days later some 25 miles away from here, frozen to death. We couldn't even bury their bodies because the earth is frozen solid. These sorry guys must wait until spring for their funeral. The Russians know that our chances of survival outside equal zero during this time of year. So simply running away is not an option, at least not now. I will have to delay my flight until spring and better weather conditions. My aim is to survive until then. I am determined to seize any chance that will help me last longer. And trust me, I will get out of here the first day the weather allows it. Around this time in a few months, I'll be back in Germany with my brother. You better believe me.
A/N: Critique is always appreciated! I know begging for reviews is frowned upon, but they inspire me to keep writing. So I'd be happy if you review! :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Hetalia or any of its characters.