'Dear Ivan ... Where do I begin? I have so many emotions that it is difficult for me to get them all across in this letter which is limited by my time. Firstly I suppose I should briefly address my extreme grief for the whole Leningrad situation. I hope that Makar is okay. I know this war is hard on someone so young such as he, where as you and I both are more experienced with this type of thing. Tell Viktor to run over some of those Nazi bastards with his tank for me. Tell Leo to lead the Second Division right across the line and hammer them for me. Tell Makar to throw some grenades in my stead, and, tell yourself to fight as if I'm right there beside you. ...Since this letter is so long already, I'll close now. I love you, Ivan. If you ever face an impossible situation, just remember that when you come back, I'll be right here waiting for you. With much, much love, [Name].'
Ivan stared at the paper that Makar had just handed him with a frown. The mail boy [Name] gave it to had personally delivered the letter to Makar's post, being a battlefield messenger himself, and entrusted the best Soviet messenger boy with it. However, though the letter addressed to the Marshal himself traveled fast, word from the Kremlin to Leningrad traveled faster. Despite the purposeful absence of [Name's] recent struggles, Ivan knew about the kitchen battle and now knew that his wife had been shot. With weary eyes, he glanced to his closest men and greatest friends - their faces wore similar expressions to that of his own. Even the ever upbeat Makar was somber.
"I'm going to run him over with a goddamn tank." Viktor muttered, shattering the silence.
"I would like to see that." Ivan mused.
"At least [Name] is okay." Leo sighed.
"[Name] isn't going to be okay if Beria remains. I always knew there was something off with him. And now, because of my ignorance, my wife is exposed to his gross habits. And his bad temper. And the Kremlin's armory at his fingertips..." The General hung his head.
"You forget that [Name] has the entire armory at her fingertips too, you know." The soft, youthful voice of Makar rang softly in the tent.
Viktor unexpectedly chuckled. "Yeah... just imagine, [Name] charging out with two Mosin-Nagants and a belt full of F1s."
The thought made Ivan feel slightly better. He had taught her how to use each and every weapon at her grasp. She knew every rifle, every pistol, every scrap of metal in that damn Kremlin like the back of her hand. She knew how to repair it, clean it, reload it, scrap it, she knew how to do it all. She was the Highway Man of Soviet weaponry. There was no doubt in Ivan's mind that she was capable of defending herself. But what bothered him was that he knew she would throw herself in front of a train if it meant Sasha would be safe -- Beria was the train, in this case. [Name] was going to take every form of punishment if it meant the girl could escape this tragic fate. It also bothered him that he knew Stalin would do nothing about it. [Name] was on her own along with her handful of close comrades to deal with Beria and his crew. He closed his eyes and began to think abut who Beria was with and those who she'd be up against.
'The two bodyguards Beria has most is Boris and Nikolai. She must have gone up against them first. There's Leonid-- but he's an old politician. Luckily, most of Beria's crew consists of old, soggy men. They wouldn't stand a snowballs chance in Hell with her.' Before Ivan knew it to catch himself, his mind began to wander. 'I almost wish I were there to watch her mow them down. That scene Viktor described... that's something out of a movie. Quite... attractive, if I'm being honest. Yeah, thinking about--' His eyes flew open as he caught himself beginning to think about more intimate things. Of course, this was normal -- he'd been away for much longer than a few days without [Name] before. These intrusive thoughts were nothing new to him, but still embarrassing all the more with his comrades no less than a few feet in front of him. His new thoughts of trying to get himself away from the deliciously sinful thoughts that dared to creep into his mind were interrupted with Leo and Viktor's loud laughing. Even they realized what had just happened.
"You want a magazine, Ivan?" Viktor laughed.
"Yes, actually - I'll unload the entire contents of it in your flesh, stupid." He playfully hissed.
"C'mon... that's a waste of ammunition." Leo teased.
"You're right, Leo. Viktor's not worth the iron he'd be being blessed with. Soviet iron is nothing short of a miracle, considering the conditions!" Ivan laughed.
At this, Makar began joining in on the roasting session, and in a rare moment of normality, the four of them laughed as good friends hanging around...
In the dead of the frigid winter night, [Name] and Shiveov snuck Sasha into Ivan's room desperate not to wake anyone up. [Name] stood guard while Shiveov and Sasha silently went into the room. She then joined them, shutting the door quietly. Thankfully, it did not creak. Once inside the room, [Name] looked to Sasha.
"We're not out of the frying pan yet. There's still one more step."
Sasha didn't question what [Name] meant by that but rather, watched with astonishment as she walked over to the closet, slid the doors open, and moved some boxes to reveal a trap door. It was thick and hard to tug up. [Name] struggled with it for a few minutes before it came open with a loud wood-on-wood WHOOSH! They all looked to one another when the loud sound echoed through the room. It felt like they'd dropped a bomb in the Kremlin - surely someone heard it? But much to their surprise, minutes passed and no one came in the room. [Name] hurriedly grabbed Sasha's arm and led her down to the secret bunker. It was awfully dark and the metal ladder was partly rusted and cold as hell, but it would do it's job. [Name] had decided to go down first - if Sasha fell, at least [Name] could catch her and takes the brunt of the fall without too much damage. Sasha's teeth began chattering about halfway down from the freezing cold. To be fair, the temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees from the room above. [Name] knew this bunker could get quite cold during winter and she knew the shock was to be expected. She just hoped the the supplies from before would be enough to hold Sasha over until they could get more down to her. After what felt like hours, [Name], Sasha and Shiveov finally reached the hard brick flooring of the bunker. [Name] turned around from the ladder's face and stared at a large wooden door. It appeared to be made from the same material as the trap door. [Name] tugged on it and finally got it open. It too made a loud noise, but [Name] wasn't concerned. No one heard it from above, chances were. She ushered Sasha and Shiveov in before leaving and returning upstairs to make the scene in the closet look less noticeable. The last thing she needed was a comrade coming in and reporting the mess to Stalin -- this bunker needed to be kept utmost secret. While she was away, Sasha began to question the bunker.
"W-why do [Name] and Ivan have a secret bunker?" She whispered.
"Ivan and some friends made it not too long ago. It was so that [Name] could stay at the Kremlin without being noticed. Staying here without staying, basically. No one ever found out about it, so it has just been sitting down here waiting for the next secret mission."
"Oh... that is quite interesting. So.. she lived down here?"
"Well at first Ivan would throw a fit if she stayed here longer than three days at the time because of how cold it got. But eventually Ivan and [Name] were able to make it homely and once she stayed for three months. The time frame is logged somewhere in Stalin's evaluations. I know because it declares that he is "unusually happy" and "almost always cheerful". She really helped him along when she stayed here. All that was before he finally dropped the question though." Shiveov closed his eyes, remembering the time.
Sasha giggled, "He finally asked her to wed him?"
Shiveov grinned at her, "Nah. He finally asked Stalin if she could have unlimited visiting rights. About two months after that, the war was rapidly approaching so he dropped the question to her then."
"That sounds romantic... they must make a nice pair. I have never seen them together."
"Yeah... He is gone right now. [Name] is sorta taking his place."
"I cannot believe how fast she recovered from that wound! She is almost superhuman!"
'You would not believe half of it.' Shiveov thought to himself
"Yeah, she is a tough one alright." He replied.
"Who's a tough one?"
Sasha and Shiveov looked over to see [Name] walking in with a grin on her face. She was carrying a sack that read "rations" in Russian.
"You, of course." Shiveov replied with a grin.
"So, as you can see Sasha, we are in a bunker. It isn't that old, but it's not exactly grade A technology either."
The bunker, Sasha noted, was pretty simple and plain. The bricks were quality, but looked hastily thrown together. There was very little decoration; Russian propaganda posters mostly littered the walls. Above the doorway in which they'd come in was a mounted Hammer and Sickle. She seemed to become nervous at the sight of it. Had she been tricked? [Name] noticed her change in body language and frowned, looking up at the doorway. Finding nothing but the mounted farm tools, she chuckled a bit.
"Don't worry, Sasha. Ivan put those there for me. I really take interest in history and stuff. I find the sickle to be real cool."
Sasha nodded, trembling slightly; [Name] couldn't tell if she was afraid or cold. Moving from the sight, Sasha noticed there was another shoddy doorway to the right. Now there was some color. She stood up and looked to [Name], then glanced back toward the room. The color in all this gray was intriguing to her; it was practically begging for her attention.
"...May I... take a look back there?"
"Of course. It's your bedroom after all."
Sasha took a lantern from Shiveov and walked back toward the splash of color that enticed her so. And boy, was it worth it! The room was full of color. The colors of soft lavender, natural browns and a light, light lilac all went together nicely. They were very appealing to the eye. Sasha smiled at the sight and rushed back into the main section.
"The room is beautiful!"
"Thank you. Ivan wanted a place that had color in the bunker... he said a woman could not possibly reside in a space with such drab walls. I told him I could make any color scheme work, and so we came up with this. It's about the only colored space in this place so it's practically a sanctuary. I hope that it brings you joy while you stay here." [Name] smiled.
"It is...really something else." Sasha uttered; it was clear to [Name] that she wanted to say other things, but held them back.
'Why? Why does she hold her words back? Does she fail to trust us? Does she fail to trust me? It bothers me greatly... but I won't pressure her on the matter. Perhaps, with time, she will tell me herself.'
"On to more pressing matters, then. Let me give you a quick rundown of what you can do in the bunker."
Sasha nodded, though her mind still wandered to the room as the officer spoke.
"Firstly, while the upper floors cannot hear you, please keep it quiet. Ivan and I never got louder than regular talking voice... it is advised that you do the same. For safety precautions. Secondly, you can do pretty much anything you want in here. Read, draw, write... you could run around if you wanted to, I guess. Ivan and I talked a lot down here. But I was also down here alone for several long hours at the time. In the bedroom there should be a ball -- I bounced that on the walls when I got bored or doing other things. It's quite fun. Um... there should be some books in there too. Otherwise... you'll have to come up with your own hobbies I'm afraid. Ah... Next, the rationing of the meals. Evidently you'll be eating off of rations for the next few days. I recommend eating them sparingly. When Ivan was here, no one questioned him on bringing his food to his room but since he isn't, we would draw heads smuggling food into his room. Shiveov and I will try to bring you some stuff down when we can. Now, when we bring down the supplies, we'll knock on the door like this," [Name] walked over to the brick wall and knocked on it in a rhythm, "and then you can open the door for us. Sometimes, we might only be able to drop the supplies down the hole. When that happens, wait fifteen minutes before you check on them. And then, take a gun with you. There should be one in the bedroom under the bed. Oh, and, the bathroom is just before the bedroom. Ah... it's just a hole in the floor I'm afraid. Um... otherwise, that's it, I believe. Here are your starting rations."
Sasha nodded again as she took the cloth bag from [Name].
"Thank you so much, [Name]. You are too kind. Truly."
"I would have done this for anyone who needed it, Sasha. Beria will no longer continue to have you in his nasty claws. I promise it."
"Thank you..." The girl breathed.
"Well, [Name], we should probably head back up. It has been about an hour."
"Yes.. yes. Sasha-- we cannot stay down here with you. Will you be alright?"
"I think I will be fine. Here I feel safe. I know I will not be forced to work tomorrow morning. I know I will not be forced to do anything down here."
[Name] smiled and felt tears rise to her eyes; this girl had not known this much freedom in her whole life, it seemed.
"Good, Sasha. Good."
With those final words, Shiveov and [Name] tightly shut the door as they left. [Name] looked back at the door with a frown; she knew how it felt to be down there for the first few nights alone. [Name] had trouble sleeping for awhile. If you weren't looking at a good book, it got incredibly boring... and it was absolutely frigid. But despite these hurdles, Sasha looked so happy. [Name] looked to Shiveov with a nod before going with him back up the ladder, and then going to sleep in their respective rooms...
Sasha looked at the door for a good ten minutes after they'd left the bunker. She didn't know why she kept looking at it, but she had this anxious feeling about her, as if it would burst open any second with Beria and his men hot on his heels. She couldn't believe she was truly safe. Perhaps her hour of desperation was over. Perhaps she was finally free of the painful existence she'd known from above. She'd be living off of rations for a few days, and practically in the dark at that. But anything was better compared to being subjected to Beria's whims and bouts of mania. The young girl took the lantern and walked back into the bedroom, shutting the cheap, plywood door. Sasha's eyes wandered around the relaxing room. The lavender made her anxiety melt, the brown took her away to a peaceful place and the dreamy lilac whisked her away to her own paradise. It smelt faintly like [Name] and even fainter still of what Sasha presumed to be Ivan's cologne. Spotting a dresser, she raised an eyebrow toward it.
'How did they manage to get that down here? The hole is awfully small for this. Did he build it down here or something?'
Curious of it's contents, she opened the first drawer and was shocked to find letters. They all had some sort of wear and tear marking on them, but indeed they were envelopes. Sasha carefully picked up one and read the outside. It was addressed to "Marie S. Gatinsky"; how odd. There was no one here named "Marie S. Gatinsky" at all. Sasha would know. However, upon opening the envelope, it was obvious that the intended receiver was no "Marie" at all. One of the first words in the letter was [Name's] name. "Marie" was simply a cover up.
'[Name] must have been in hiding down here at the time. Or something.'
Sasha read the letter in a whisper to herself:
"Dear [Name]; I hope my comrades remember what I told them. Otherwise, they will all be confused about this "Marie". I am very sorry I could not write to you as yourself; your beautiful name is such a pleasure to write. But I would not want them to catch drift of you and I just yet. And by 'them', I mean my bosses. They would try to take you away from me; something that I very much fear. I regret that I cannot personally stay by your side in this dire hour. But work is work and, as stated before, if I did not report, they would know something was up. I pray to whoever listens that you are kept safe until Arthur can do the spell. It is so far, yet so close to us. I can practically taste the salvation! Once you and I are one in the same, you will be with me forever and I the same. We will conquer anything in our path! And then I will not have to worry about you so much when I am away. I only hope that my wish comes true. I can only hope my prayers are answered. And that you'll be there when I return. Stay strong, my beautiful sunflower. Thinking of a life without you, well... Pray, I do not think on it now. Please, [Name], stay out of trouble. Please.
With all of my love, Yours Truly, Ivan."
Sasha felt tears come to her eyes. She'd never read anything so heart wrenching... and it wasn't even that sad. What made it sad was the image of Ivan Sasha had built in her head; Strong, Tall, a stone wall of protection between [Name] and anything on the outside that might hurt her. Seeing him break down toward the end of the letter, seeing those real, honest-to-God human emotions made her sad. It was as if she watched this giant temple of steel begin to erode and buckle under the pressure. She sniffled a bit and gazed back to the drawer of letters. Though Sasha knew the outcome of all Ivan's prayers, part of her was anxious to read the next letter, as if she were in a story. So, she fed her curiosity and began to read the letters until her eyes were too heavy to blink. Only then did she put the letters away, put out her lantern and fall into a much needed slumber...