They weren't used to the prisoners sounding like humans. They were used to them braying like cattle, humming with the bleats and whimpers of sheep and dogs. Even the way they died was a wolf howl in the night, grotesque and animal.
They were not used to the grief of men or the way their voices pitched in a scream of rage and horror. Daniel reached out his hands for the body and in a moment of clarity Rorschach dragged him back. Daniel swung out like a thing possessed, lurching back on his starving body and slamming back into Rorschach as he fell. And Rorschach smelled it then. The truest scent of a man beneath the sickness and sweat and filth.
Daniel smelled like sweaters. Phantom grain itched in his hands and desire shot through him in a moment of pure heat. Rorschach dropped him and stepped away. The guards were readying their weapons for an execution.
No. It was happening too fast, he needed to repay the debt.
Rorschach stepped up to S.S. officer Hanz with a blank face and tight military posture.
" A moment, sir."
Hanz looked surprised. Rorschach had never really spoken to him beyond the cursory yes sirs and no sirs of the job.
" What is it lieutenant?"
"This prisoner has been keeping the others in a state of high morale. The production rate has doubled. Might I suggest to plant false hope, we isolate the prisoner until he can be broken and then return him to the work force. "
Hanz's eyes narrowed down to slits. Rorschach stared back with perfect earnestness.
" I was just thinking of these men on the front lines, sir. Good morale means better production quality. Better weapons for mother Germany."
Hanz's tight infant scowl vanished and split into a flat wide smile.
" You, little patriot, have much to learn about how to phrase a question. But I suppose you have proven youself free of the sympathies I have found in other men. Where did you have in mind?"
" I think he should be put to work as a clerk. Make him peruse and file the death certificates of his friends and collaborators. I suggest that spiritually is how we will break this rebel."
Hanz looked very pleased. Rorschach sealed the deal with youthful self deprecation.
" Besides I need an assistant with better handwriting. Mine has become especially poor since acquiring my service wound." He subtly jangled his mangled hand.
Hanz nodded brusquely and clapped Rorschach firmly on the shoulder.
" Go on, take the rat and do what you will with him. I don't think he'll cause much more trouble regardless. "
The other guards were poking at Daniel with the butt of their guns. He was slumped in the muck like a dead thing, sides bulging with muffled sobs.
Rorschach seized him under one arm and lifted the man to his feet. Daniel came willingly under the eyes of the camp.
It was his first day at Dachau prison camp. His uniform was stiff with starch and his war wound was weakening his whole left side. The mud and rocks weren't helping. He didn't let on that he was hurting. He was a symbol, after all.
His superior, Hanz Abelard ( "Call me Hanz of course!) was picking through the rock like a deer, after insisting on giving Rorschach the tour. "I understand the sympathy some can feel here. You see a child and you think, " ah they are not yet like their elders, surely we can mold them into true citizens. But this is not the case. Eventually they all take on the features and characteristics of their cousin, the rat. Better to send them to God before they are corrupted, yes?"
Rorschach nodded with a diplomatic smirk. One of the prisoners was staring at him from the field. His blue eyes were catching the light fiercely. Rorschach didn't look at him. Even a glance had told him what he needed to know. He knew that man. He knew him from a former life.
When Walter Rorschach had been young, the war had ended. His father had died in vain for mother Germany. His mother, to make ends meet, had whored herself to returning soldiers and local businessmen. She was murdered under a bridge when he was nine. He reflected that he would have been more disgusted with her, had she not protected him from the worst of starvation. Inflation gave the children plenty of paper to play with but nothing to eat. Some children in Walter's neighborhood had been stunted in their growth or died in their sleep but not Walter.
Dirty money had kept him alive. He left dandelions under the bridge every Sunday when the orphanage would let them out. It was a good orphanage, still over crowded and filthy but Walter always ate and no one had the time or energy to mock him for his ugliness. Starving sat on the forefront of everyone's minds.
When the town priest shot himself at night, the nuns fled the country's poverty and life got substantially harder. He missed his mother when he starved. It was no use begging, no one was wealthy anymore and anyone who was well off avoided their part of town anyway so Walter walked. He walked until the houses improved so much as many of them weren't bowled over or burnt with bombs. He had been digging in the ground for some kind of root to suck on, when a Jew had approached him. Walter knew about Jews, the nuns didn't care much for them so he didn't look up. The boy wore thick glasses and a sweater. He was carrying a bag.
" My mother always packs me with enough for an army. Care to help me out?"
Walter glanced up from under heavy brows. The boy was sitting near him in the grass. He was sweating from the heat. He wasn't a chubby child but he clearly had been once. He didn't have the tone of someone who had ever gone hungry. The boy opened his pack and took out a sandwich wrapped in paper.
He held it out. He smiled.
Walter said no but he was already eating the sandwich. Daniel chatted on and on as Walter ate, surreptitiously pushing the majority of the hearty meal on Walter as he did. He talked about wanting to travel to England (traitor) to see where Shakespeare's plays had been performed. Walter perked up somewhat. The nuns had loved English plays, Walter and the others would act them out on days when they were feeling rich with food and attention. It wasn't often but the affection hadn't faded.
"Which play is your favorite?"
Daniel jumped. He clearly had been expecting to lose Walter int the conversation. Then his face split in joy.
" I love Hamlet."
Walter hated Hamlet, he was a poor soldier avoiding revenge for fear of death. No matter how much Walter loved the english plays, he knew he wouldn't wibble so if he were a soldier. He would do his duty. Like his father did.
Daniel looked surprised. Apparently Walter had said a great deal of this out loud.
" That makes sense" Daniel said blithely, " so your father was a soldier. Mine was too."
Well…Walter's interest was getting perked left and right today.
" Yeah," Daniel said with clear unhappiness. " I think he suffered pretty bad. He doesn't talk much anymore. And he's quicker to hit than he ever was."
Walter didn't know what to say. The idea that a father might come back from war at all was kind of novelty, damaged or not.
Daniel had apologized for being grim and left, hinting that he would be back tomorrow as school was still out. He prodded Walter into a rusty hand shake. He left his sweater. Walter put it on and lay down in the grass under a tree, warm and full. He stretched like a cat and wondered at the nuns, who had never spoken to him with such interest and warmth. Perhaps they had exaggerated. He didn't want to be a bad Christian though so he didn't think on it further. He napped and waited for Daniel to come back.