Mutti's hands are cold, Ansel. Help me warm them up
An explosion of shouts erupted from outside, sending torrents of cries that murdered the silence that once ruled before. The young Schütze's eyes snapped open and he sluggishly rolled to his side, finding himself back in the tent. At first, his surroundings were nothing more than splotched colors swaying back and forth. He carefully sat up, a hand hovering an inch over his eyes. The words grew louder; one of the voices sounded familiar. Sitting still, he felt around for anything to help him stand. His fingers brushed against the rough wool of his blanket, the biting cold of the ground, and finally the smooth yet icy texture of his rifle barrel. He shivered at the touch; what he wouldn't give to get his gloves back. Firmly placing the butt of the rifle on the ground, he gave a mighty heave to his feet. His movement was too fast for his body's liking and he stumbled backwards and out of the tent.
Meine Steinmann tripped over his own feet and toppled right into another soldier, a man by the name of Benno Vogel, Obergefreiter. Vogel was a perfect model for the Aryan image: tall, intelligent, built with fair skin and even fairer muscle, beautiful with no physical weakness, and complete with the smooth blonde hair and striking blue eyes. Meine was a direct contrast to him. His intellect was nothing short of pitiful. Though tall, he was lacking the muscle or frame for any woman to woo over him; he could have been easily mistaken for a twig if looked at the wrong way. His uniform practically hung slacked from his body.
A hand enveloped itself over Meine's wrist and jerked him around, facing Benno. A blind man could tell he was having a bad day. A deep scowl played on his lips, his brows furrowed. "You almost knocked me down, Steinmann! What the hell is your problem?"
Glaring, Benno shoved him away. "Well!?"
Meine managed to keep himself from falling. "Please, Ben
I mean, Herr Obergefreiter, I... I didn't know y-you were out here... I lost my balance, and..."
"Oh, shut up!" He took a step towards Meine and moved as if to strike him. The scowl on his face deepened when he saw the young soldier flinch. "Look at you, calling yourself a member of the Fuhrer's proud army...! It's people like you that make me sick."
Meine remained silent; any attempt at talking back would result in Vogel beating him senseless. He moved to slip past Vogel and hoped to blend into the background, but was pushed back before the soldier, his sinewy hand digging its fingers into his shoulder. He fought to hold a straight face and not cringe, but that simply made things worse. He froze as he watched Vogel's eyes blaze and was forcibly pushed to the ground, landing on a small mound of earth. His teeth sank into the inside of his lip and he rolled to his side. Through the corner of his eyes he saw onlookers, fellow Schützes. Some diverted their gaze and shuffled to the side; others turned their head and walked away. His hands gripped the few blades of grass and struggled to push himself to his knees, but a strong foot pressed into his back and drove him to the ground, the heel mercilessly jamming into his spine.
"I didn't give you permission to walk away from your superior, Steinmann! I was expecting you would have gotten that through your thick skull back in training, but that would be raising my expectations, hm?"
"I'm sorry; I didn't quite hear your reporting statement. Let's see if this helps!" Vogel put on a sneer and bore his heel deeper.
Meine tried to suppress a cry, but it broke through his defenses and echoed through that part of the camp. His eyes sewed themselves shut; any means of escape were fading. The soldiers who heard it turned their heads for only a second, though turned back when Vogel threatened to do the same to them. Meine could only stare at the ground in defeat and hope that Vogel wouldn't snap him in half.
There was a loud yell and Vogel's foot was suddenly jerked into the air. Surprised, Meine scrambled away and jumped to his feet, doing his best to brush off the pang in his back. He stared, watching as Vogel had a hand over his right shoulder, cringing. A small rock whizzed past Meine and struck Vogel in the hand and he screamed out, tucking his injured limb under his armpit. His eyes were a wildfire, his face turning brick red. The young soldier's eyes were drowning in fear and he took a step back, his quaking hands tightly clenching the hem of his jackets. Meine had witnessed all levels of Vogel's anger back in training; this one, however, was on a completely different height.
Vogel's voice seemed to echo throughout the entire camp. "Who threw rocks at me?! Step up, now!"
Meine turned, his eyes widening. It was the familiar voice, the one he heard when he awoke. A few feet away stood a man, wearing a cocky smirk and playfully tossing pebbles in the air and catching them without a sweat. The man was taller than Meine, give or take two inches. He sported muscle and a lean body, actually making his uniform look good over it. His hair was a natural brown, his eyes a charming blue.
Vogel looked close to blowing a blood vessel, but he managed to smile crookedly. "I should have known
Are you finally looking to granting your death wish, Hexenkopf?"
Maxim H.S.T.W. 'Hexenkopf', or Max, as he much rather preferred, shrugged his shoulders, still smirking. "I was about to ask you the same thing, Vogel. I thought you learned your lesson the last time I beat you to the ground."
The smile instantly vanished. "You
son of a bitch! I am your superior! I could have you court-martialed for this!"
Dropping the rocks, Max calmly walked over to Vogel. His smirk vanished. "The only reason you're here is because your dad kissed enough ass to get you that fancy little rank. I could care less if you were a Hauptmann or the Fuhrer. You have a problem with him
" He pointed at Meine. "You have a problem with me."
Meine tensed as he saw Vogel's hands ball into fists. His lips curled into a twisted sneer. "The second we get into a battle, you're going to have the honor to be my first target."
"And when you try it, I'll plant one right between those white little stains you call eyes." Max put on his smirk and placed a hand on his waist. "I proved I could kick your ass in training, and I sure as hell can kick your ass right here, right now. Go ahead, try it!"
Everyone fell silent, their sights on Vogel. Meine dared to look at the Aryan, in fear of being attacked in the future for this incident. One glance was all he needed for his legs to buckle beneath him; he was more worried about Max's safety than his legs, however. The silence went on for a good minute, with both soldiers not moving an inch, until Vogel stepped back, flushed with embarrassment.
"That's much better," said Max, shoving a hand into his pocket. "Now, go be a good little boy and hide your shame before I accidentally tell Feldwebel Kappel about what you did to Steinmann."
"This is not over, Hexenkopf. Not by a long shot."
"Good. I'll have something to look forward to tomorrow."
A glint of rage appeared in Vogel's eyes and he opened his mouth to speak, but thought against it and turned, pushing his way past the others, muttering obscenities that would make a nun blush. A few moments came and went before the crowd had lost all interest and dispersed.
Max sighed and raked his hair. "Dummkopf..." He looked over at Meine and smiled. "Hey, you okay?"
"Um... j-ja, I'm fine." Meine managed a small smile and rubbed his arm. "Thanks..."
"Don't thank me, kid. You shouldn't let that idiot push you around! Vogel's threats are about as hollow as his head." He smirked and wrapped an arm around Meine's shoulders. "Just because he's an Obergefreiter doesn't mean he's the supreme ruler of us all. That's Kappel's job."
Martin Kappel was the Feldwebel for the 510 Kompanie, a broad-looking man with a permanent scowl on his face. Max had a hunch that he was born with that scowl. He had been in the Heer for close to twenty years, and rumor had it he married his commander's daughter. Of course, that was nothing but a rumor. He was strict beyond imagination, demanding nothing but a hundred and ten percent from his troops. Back in training, he was their training sergeant, and now, he was their sergeant for the war. The only difference between now and then was the riding crop Kappel carried around to correct any soldiers acting out of line, Max especially. Meine only had to suffer from the crop three times, all from not saluting properly to officers.
Max, however, was a different story. He and his cousin, Emmerich, were primary targets for Kappel and his crop. Not a day would pass that Max wouldn't feel the stinging welts on the back of his thighs, or rear, but that was on rare occasion.
Meine rubbed his arm again. "I... I suppose, but... it was my fault. I bumped into him, Max. I started it."
"Oh, that's bull, and you know it!" Max frowned and prodded down on Meine's head. "You didn't do anything to piss him off. It's the stick up his ass that's pissing him off. It's stuck so far up there... eh, never mind. C'mon, let's get outta here. The mess tent is serving lunch and I don't want to be served last this time."
Late afternoon found the two men sitting in a semi-circle with three other soldiers: Emmerich, who was fiddling with a watch he won from Max, Armin, a tall, lean soldier recently transferred to the regiment after being discharged from the hospital, and Falk, a small man who always had a problem keeping his glasses steady. Meine barely socialized with any of the regiment; most of them wanted nothing to do with him. He didn't need a genius to know that he was a total screw-up and made everyone pay for it.
Emmerich looked over at Max. "Vogel again?"
"Mhmm!" Max reached for the loaf of bread in the middle of the group and tore two small pieces for himself and Meine. "I'm starting to think him and Kappel are related. They both get pissed off when they see me."
"For good reason. You're annoying." Emmerich put on a smirk and put his back against a crate.
"Oooooh, you're hilarious." Max stuffed the piece of bread in his mouth and handed the other piece to Meine. "Vogel can't do shit to me. He tried, and look what happened. A broken nose and a shiner. He threatened to have me sent away, but I'm still here!"
"You should be careful, though... He sounded pretty serious when... when he said he was going to shoot you..." Meine crossed his legs and fiddled with the hem of his pants.
Max caught the fear in Meine's voice and laughed. "I would love to see him try. Let me tell you something: he's nothing but talk. I was there when we were shooting for the first time. He could barely let off a rifle without pissing himself. I doubt he could hit a British if the man was standing right in front of him!"
Armin and Falk both gave a nod of agreement. Emmerich just rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief. Meine, however, smiled in admiration at Max. How he yearned to be like that... to be able to laugh anything off, to have nothing get to him. To be able to tell correct jokes, intimidate bullies, and throw a good punch; Meine wanted it all. He glanced at his hands, and his smile faltered some. He could never be Max, not even if he had all eternity to practice. He couldn't fight anyone and win; he could barely punch and make a mark! He sighed and hung his head in silence.
He was no Max; he was just Meine Steinmann, Schütze, and screw-up.