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Time.

It seemed so inconsistent in this place- sometimes so fast that it was a wonder what had happened to the hours, and sometimes so slow that it felt like it didn't move forward at all.  The doctor hated that inconsistency.  Worse, however, was the fact that he could not attribute these stretches and compressions of time to any particular activity, or time of day.

Fleischer had quickly discovered that one of the only constants was the relationship between work and survival.  Though the doctor was a big man, he was generally also one of relative subtlety and self-control.  There were amazing subtleties, he had quickly discovered, in the ways a person could swing a hammer or pickaxe- subtleties that made all the difference between leaving the quarry exhausted and a little achy, or unbearably sore and ready to drop.  Subtleties made all the difference between a safe downward swing and one that could pull and tear muscles.  An injured man was one that couldn't work- a man that couldn't work was one that soon died.

There was a harsh cycle; if you didn't meet your quota, you didn't get full rations; if you didn't get full rations, you didn't have the energy to meet your quota, and your rations were reduced even more.  Those who were starving, or even those who were simply hungry (everyone was hungry, there- even the guards at times, the doctor was convinced) would sometimes- would often- steal bread right out of the mouths of their fellow inmates if they could manage it.  Those strong enough or even just desperate enough weren't above brutalizing others to steal their food, or even any scrap of cloth off of their back, like savage animals.

Over the years, Fleischer had seen many men arrive at Stalingrad; prisoners of war, political dissidents, and Soviet citizens who claimed (perhaps entirely truthfully) that they had committed no wrong, and were simply unlucky.  There were a number, of course, of real criminals as well- murderers, thieves, rapists- people who deserved to be there… like him.

The Obersturmführer did not try to plead his innocence when the Soviets had raided the camp.  He had not been in uniform when he was found, but he was in the camp, and undoubtedly German, and Aryan to boot- that was the only 'admission of guilt' the soldiers had needed.

The traits that made the doctor desired- even prized- in his home country were, here, despised; they were a symbol of all that the Reich had aspired to achieve- the Reich that had betrayed and brutalized the Soviet Union and its people.  It was no surprise to Fleischer, then, that he was not initially well-received in Stalingrad by anyone.  The only people that greeted his arrival with any sort of warmth or even neutrality were a few of his countrymen that had survived the trip, and the gulag's quartermaster- a jaded, middle-aged man who took any personal possessions from the new arrivals 'to be returned upon their release.'

Fleischer had, for a brief second, entertained the idea of trying to hide his grandfather's pocket watch.  It was a plan that couldn't possibly work, he knew.  The watch and its contents were of incredible sentimental value to him- but bullets were cheap, and that was something all of the guards undoubtedly had plenty of.  He stole one last glance at the watch- at the fine engravings in the silver, and delicate chain, and, lastly, at the inside of it where he had tucked away something else.  The blonde snapped the watch carefully shut, and tried not to appear as despondent as he really felt as he handed it to the quartermaster.  The doctor was quite certain that it would have been less painful to cut his own hand off and offer it up to the man.

The guards had escorted the line of prisoners, next, to the camp barbers.  It was like an assembly line, the doctor thought- personal affects dropped off, clothing stripped and tossed in a pile, in to see the 'barbers' for a full-body shave, shower, receive uniforms, go to assigned bunkhouse.

The shave was degrading- but the shower was terrifying.  The only thing keeping the former Obersturmführer from focusing on the uncomfortable fact that he was sharing space with twenty or thirty other naked men, apart from the overall gravity of his situation, was the fear that at any moment Zyklon pellets would come raining into the room.  It would have been a bitter, deserved irony- clamoring for an exit along with the other new arrivals, pounding and clawing at the locked doors like a terrified animal until his body was too robbed of oxygen to move any longer and collapsed, foaming at the mouth, and bleeding from the ears.  But, the poison never came.

Perhaps it was a remaining shred of dignity, or just a desperate desire for some sort of comforting, familiar habit that caused Fleischer to keep his usual calm, professional expression as he filed into the bunkhouse with some of the other new arrivals.  Given the look of some of the men that already occupied that cramped space, he feared that they could see right through his façade and to the silent, quaking terror just below.  

He tried not to look at any of the wiry, tattooed figures playing cards in the corner, or any of the worn, weathered faces staring at him as he found his assigned bunk.  It was little more than a cot, really, with another bunk on one side, and a small sort of night stand on the other.  The young man sitting in the bed next to his glanced at him with a small chuckle, muttered something in Russian, and shook his head before going back to writing in what looked like a journal.

The doctor, for his part, wound up sitting on the hard mattress of his bunk, leaning against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest.  He tried to tell himself that it was just to try and keep warm in the poorly-heated bunkhouse, but it wasn't the chill air that had him shivering- that had his eyes darting around the room from person to person and group to group.  His gaze finally settled on the young man sitting next to him, again.  He couldn't have been much older than his mid-twenties, but his face was just a little too gaunt to be healthy- a clear sign of starvation.  He didn't seem to have any of the tattoos that adorned many of the other prisoners, though, and the German wasn't certain whether that was good or bad.  For all he knew about navigating the social rules and hierarchy of this place, he might as well have been abandoned on an alien planet- he supposed he would be stuck learning simply by observation.

Wiry and a little underweight though the younger man was, he had plenty of fire in his eyes as he snapped his head up to look at his observer in irritation.  Fleischer quickly looked away, directing his gaze back to the threadbare sheets on his bunk with a quiet apology, though he didn't really expect the man to understand a word of what he said.  It was a force of habit, something of a comforting distraction, that caused that caused the doctor to raise a hand to run his fingers back through his hair- it was disconcerting to feel scalp and stubble, instead.

"Keeps the lice down."

Fleischer's head snapped up and he looked to the side at the young man with the journal.  His accent was atrocious, but he had spoken German- unless the doctor was imagining things, and that in and of itself was not a promising sign.  He was stunned enough that he couldn't really even put together the words, 'I know.'

"Winter will be here soon," the younger man added, "little bastards will really start biting, then.  Haven't had any typhus outbreaks yet, though, so I suppose you'll mostly just have to worry about filling your quota.  Shouldn't be a problem for a big guy like you, unless those shoulders are just for show."

The doctor remained silent.  Honestly, he was more than a little overwhelmed, and terrified, and just trying to get his head put back together and wrapped around his situation.  One of the guards had explained to them in broken German that they would be assigned a quota, and meeting that quota would mean full rations.  He was startled from his thinking by a loud bang and an angry shout from across the room where the tattooed men were playing cards.  The volume of their voices quickly escalated, and it wasn't long before two of them had come to blows.

"You have to keep an eye on that bunch," the doctor's 'bunkmate' said, successfully drawing his attention away from the brawl- for the most part.  "They're thieves, murderers, rapists- but so very full of pride for their motherland," he added, making a sweeping gesture at the propaganda posters that all but covered many of the walls and even the ceiling in places.  The doctor had the feeling those posters wouldn't change much in his twenty-five year sentence- if he lived to see it through.

"And you aren't..?" Fleischer asked, his voice a little more shaky than he would have liked.

The young man chuckled a little.  "Aren't what?  A criminal, or full of pride for the motherland?"  He shook his head a little.  "Let's just say I'm here because after two years in the Red Army I said some things I shouldn't have said in regards to the motherland and her glorious leader."

"Said some things..?"

"Well, more like read a book I wasn't supposed to," the young man replied with a shrug, picking a little at his bed sheets.  Fleischer couldn't say he was terribly surprised that the Soviets were stuck dealing with their own 'Gestapo'.  It was a very uncomfortable topic of conversation that needed to be changed for the sake of both of them.

"Your German is very good…" the doctor said, suddenly finding the conversation a lot more comforting than concentrating on the angry yelling from across the room- it was civil, and subdued, and human.

"You're not the first German to come through here," the other man stated, a small smile forming on his face, "but you are the first one not to tell me my accent's horrible.  Name's Fedor."

Fleischer looked to the hand the man offered him and quickly noticed that his pinky finger was entirely gone, along with the last joint of the ring finger.  The scarring left behind was reminiscent of frostbite, and the doctor couldn't help but wring his own hands a little at the thought of losing any of his digits or limbs, let alone to the elements.  To top it off, he had never particularly liked shaking hands- but he had forced himself to simply get used to 'helpings' of it, and this was the only person at the camp so far that had bothered trying to address him like another human being.

"Nicklaus…" he said as he carefully gripped the Russian's mutilated hand and shook.

"You just stick with me, then, Nicklaus," Fedor said with a nod.  "You're big and quiet, and that'll scare the hell out of the thugs a lot more than I've been able to.  I may not be a tank, like you, but I know my way around the place.  Hell, with my help you might make it through your first winter, and if you do that, you'll probably live to say goodbye to this shithole."

Fedor did know his way around, too.  Fleischer knew well enough how to handle a sledgehammer- splitting rock wasn't so terribly different from splitting firewood.  He had soon taught his bunkmate (and anyone else willing to listen, really) how to position his feet on the ground and his hands on the handle, how to make a downward swing that didn't strain the back and shoulders quite so hard.  The doctor's build and quiet demeanor kept the more violent inmates away, and, by proximity, kept them away from Fedor as well.  The Russian proved to be an expert guide to the groups in the camp- who was safe, who to stay away from, which guards were good-humored and which of them were likely to shoot you for stepping out of line because they were in a particularly foul mood that day.

'Stepping out of line' was a very literal thing to avoid at the camp.  The doctor always tried to ensure that he was standing next to Fedor as they went to work in the morning.  The inmates always walked in a column- five abreast, and surrounded by armed guards and dogs.  Fedor was always able to translate what the guards shouted, but Nicklaus quickly came to know the phrase, 'a step to the left or the right is considered an escape attempt, and will be met with deadly force,' by heart.  It wasn't a month in that he saw one of the Germans that had arrived with him, one of the old camp guards, stumble over a rock buried in the snow.  He had staggered, and run a few steps to the side as he attempted to regain his balance- and one of the guards made good on their threats.

Everything fell into a routine- wake up, march to the quarry, split stones until sunset, march back from the quarry, wait in line for rations, try to think of something to do with what little free time you had, and then go to bed.  Sleeping was not an easy task, though.  The doctor always met his work quota and always received full rations- but it was only just enough.  A ladle full of thin soup and a lump of bread wasn't enough calories to make up for those burned doing the hard work in the quarry- not even for a man of average size, but the occasional (blessed, blessed) bowl of thicker stew managed to just make up for it- for the most part.  It was enough to keep the German going, but not enough to keep his body from having to slowly burn up almost all of what reserves of fat he had.

Fedor, on the other hand, did not fare so well.

The doctor's companion had a number of tricks to get a full ration- writing down unclaimed pieces of split stone as part of his quota, for instance.  It didn't give the man enough food all the time, though.

During Fleischer's fourth winter at Stalingrad he had to all but carry his companion back to the bunkhouse at the end of each day, and after hours of dangerous and difficult labor, he could barely shoulder even that weight.  It was on their way back from the quarry, not far from the barracks, that they passed the camp cemetery.  It was little more than a small plot where inmates who were claimed by starvation or the elements were buried.  Fleischer, on more than one occasion, had been ordered at the end of a long day in the quarry to carry a corpse back and dig a hole in the frozen earth of the plot to bury it.  Signs adorned the cemetery, and when the doctor had first arrived, his companion told him that they read, 'The Graveyard of the Lazy.'  Now he feared that Fedor would soon wind up there, himself, and that he would ultimately be the one to bury his friend.

The Soviet refused Fleischer's every attempt to share even the smallest piece of bread or spoonful of soup with him.

"You worked for that," the younger man said tiredly, staring at his own half-ration of soup.  "Hell, I've been half-cheating…"  Fedor had on occasion talked about the possible consequences of writing down 'unclaimed' stone as part of his own quota- the possibility that he was stealing someone else's work- someone else's food.  "There's not enough leftover stone lying around at the end of the day this winter to get me a full ration, and you're one of the only people I've seen able to actually meet their quota."  He shook his head and let out a long, shaky sigh, before a faint smile finally crept onto his face.  "Don't you worry about me, though, Nicklaus, you know I'm a crafty bastard- I'll think of something."

Fleischer wasn't so sure, but he did his best to force a smile for the Russian's sake.  "Just don't get yourself in trouble, bitte, or you'll just wind up dead, anyway."

"You always were a ball of sunshine," Fedor said with a faint laugh.  "Hey, stop rubbing your damn head."  The Russian tiredly batted his friend's arm down, and shook his head with a sigh.  "Four years and you're still not used to a shaved head?"

The doctor just looked down at the floor a little sheepishly.  No- he hadn't gotten used to feeling bare scalp under his fingertips, and he hoped he never did; he feared the day that having a shaved head crossed the line from alien to familiar.  He had never complained, though- especially not out loud.  Hadn't he and his countrymen done the exact same to the prisoners at their own camps?  Besides, it was better, he supposed than suffering the crawling, biting vermin and the diseases they could pass.  The German feared that Fedor, in his weakened state, might succumb to such a disease if hunger or the elements didn't claim him, first.

He didn't, though.  If anything, Fleischer saw him quickly becoming healthier over the following months.  Fedor suddenly began receiving extra rations despite working no more than usual- rations which he insisted his companion take at least a small part of.

"After that big fight you were in, I figure you could use a boost," the Soviet insisted, pouring some of the thick stew from his bowl in with the doctor's soup.

'That big fight' still had the German riding on pins and needles, and he curled his arm a little more tightly around his bowl as his bunkmate reached for it.  He muttered an apology when he realized what he was doing, and then thanked Fedor as he added a few chunks of meat from his own bowl.  That little bit of thick stew was something the doctor wanted to savor- but after what had happened, and knowing what could become of one's food if they waited too long to eat it, he all but devoured what he had been given and didn't release the dented tin bowl from his grip until it had been licked clean.

Only a few moments before, another inmate, one of the tattooed thugs had managed to swipe the doctor's helping of bread right out of his hands.  The man hadn't been that thin- not thin enough to steal from someone so much bigger out of desperation- unless one of his 'friends' had put him up to it.  Either way, he had managed to devour half of the stolen bread, and had not been inclined to acquiesce to his victim's attempt to reclaim his ration.  In fact, he had managed to strike the German squarely in the face.  A second later, after his vision had cleared, Fleischer had returned the favor.

He had never started a fight at the camp, or at the quarry- starting fights was just another step to becoming less of a human and more of a desperate animal, to say nothing of the energy it spent that he couldn't afford to lose.  He could afford to spend that energy, however, more than he could afford to lose his rations to a petty thief trying to impress his friends.  In the end it was the thug's 'friends' that finally dragged his unconscious body away from the place on the hard floor where Fleischer had let it drop.

"You sure your nose isn't broken?" Fedor questioned as the doctor wiped a little blood from above his upper lip.

The German lightly touched the tips of his fingers to the bridge of his nose.  "Positive.  It's not that hard to get a nose to bleed," not with how cold and dry it had been that winter- his fifth winter.  It was hard to believe so much time had passed, and, at times, even harder to believe that he had managed to stay alive for so long.  There had been plenty of nights, though, where he had thought about simply… giving up- nights where he was particularly hungry, or cold, or simply exhausted.  It was impossible to keep himself from thinking about his situation very often, but there had been several days when it felt as though the entire gravity of it all simply collapsed atop him.

In the end he always decided that he couldn't simply give up, and it was always a decision born of fear.  Fedor had become particularly disliked among the less savory of the camp's residents, and the doctor's mere presence offered him protection- he feared what would happen to the man if he simply allowed himself to die.  Fleischer's nightly prayers had long-since turned to silent pleas for forgiveness that he knew he could never deserve.  He longed to see his son, but feared what would ultimately become of him when he too left the mortal coil.

There were nights where he would see Lukas- where the boy was so real that he swore he could reach out and take his hand.  His son would look up at him and smile, and ask to be held, and Fleischer could feel his heart soar, feel a swelling of happiness, and relief, and comfort, and then he would reach out and touch the boy's arm- and he would scream.

The doctor's fingers left angry red marks on the boy's skin- marks that started to blister, and blacken.  Lukas sobbed in terror and pain, and begged for his father to help him- to comfort him.  Fleischer didn't even think before wrapping his arms around his son and drawing him close.  The child's skin grew suddenly and unbearably hot under his touch, and a scream of agony was drowned out by the sudden roar of cloth and flesh catching flame.

In the split-second it took for Fleischer to be overwhelmed by a sense of panicked horror there was nothing left but ashes.  Even those were swiftly stolen by the faintest breath of the scorching breeze, a burning wind that soon began to blister the doctor's own skin.  The sensation of his flesh searing was torture beyond measure- and it still could not compare to the unbearable, all-consuming feeling of loss.

Blackened, peeled skin cracked and fell away as he lifted his head, but all he could see was shadow.  The doctor's sole illumination was provided by the fire that was blazing over and through his own body- an impossibly slow, inexorable torment.

Nobody came to his rescue- not usually.  This time, however, a voice called from somewhere in the distance.  It was faint, but growing louder, gathering substance.

"Doc!"

The Medic snapped awake when he felt someone touch his shoulder, and he found himself unthinkingly, reflexively, desperately clinging to his team's Scout as tears streamed down his face.

Jacob, for once, was rendered speechless.
Sorry it took forever. Hope it doesn't suck =U

Part 1 - [link]
Part 2 - [link]
Part 3 - [link]
Part 4 - [link]
Part 5 - [link]
Part 6 - [link]
Part 7 - [link]
Part 8 - [link]
Part 9 - [link]
Part 10 - [link]
Part 11 - [link]
Part 12 - [link]
Part 13 - [link]
:iconklaybird:
KlayBird Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2010
YAY! More of the story and his personal history!!

Poor Fedor, I can only guess (and I'm quite sure I'm correct) as to how/where he was getting the extra rations...*eep!*
But if someone is desperate enough, they'll do anything to survive if their will to live is strong enough.

Will we learn why (or will it be hinted at) as to why his son was sent to the furnace? I can guess by whom....or was it someone else's doing, knowing full well who Fleischer would blame? ( !!! )
If it will be mentioned in upcoming chapters, don't answer, the wait will be SO worth it!
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:iconangel--of--music:
angel--of--music Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2010  Student General Artist
This chapter does not suck. Take as long as you want.


Fleischer needs a hug though :C
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