Fandom: Glee (no, really. Well...squint.)
Rating: R, for allusions to war crimes & violence (nothing overtly explicit)
Word Count: 6000
Summary: A side step from the “Where There’s Smoke” universe. This is the story of Sister, the homeless man on Kurt and Rachel’s train. Never forget that every person has a story. (Begins with the Nazi occupation of Serbia.)
Warnings: Bad things happen, and this story mentions many atrocities such as war crimes, ethnic cleansing, how tribal Eastern Europe still is and the hatred that comes from that, and hints at violence towards a particular woman (an o/c.)
A/N: MASSIVE thanks to no_detective for correcting my Serbian translations so they read properly. :) TRANSLATIONS ARE AT THE END OF THE STORY. Thanks always belong to flaming_muse for encouraging me to not delete things, for tucking my commas in where they belong, and talking to me for hours on end about made up characters.
Um, sorry that I didn’t write oodles of Blaine POV porn? (I’m not in the slightest, actually. Eh, no one is going to read this, I'm coming to terms with it, ha.) Not linking this in the K_B comm since there's no B and the K is with Rachel.
He had never been a political creature; to be political in Eastern Europe after the German-Russian war was almost an act of suicide. He had never been one to draw attention to himself. His mother had taught him early that the man who stuck his neck out was usually the one first to lose their head.
He and his twin sister, along with their mother, were all that were left of the Vasiljevic family in the small village of Orašac. Famine had hit hard after the Nazis were driven out of Serbia by the Russians, leaving destruction in their wake. They were both War Children; his mother was a native Serb, and his father was some nameless German soldier that had carried with him a bar of American chocolate and a pair of stockings. It had been common enough at the time that the judgments against his family were fairly rare.
However, during the political unrest of the late fifties a new leader rose to power, one who denounced the former occupation of Nazis and the subsequent support of Stalinist Russia. Ɖuro could recall being a small boy of about nine, driven before a crowd of angry nationalists. His mother had been forced to shave her head in the public square with the other women that had allowed German soldiers to warm their beds. The children had been close to being driven from the village to fend for themselves.
When they were allowed to go home – he with a black eye from an older boy wielding a stick, his sister Ɖurđica with a tear in her dress and a nasty scratch down her arm – their mother had put water on the stove for their bath and given them each a large knot of soda bread with a thick chunk of feta and a precious slice of kulen for their dinner. After wrapping her scratched and bare head with a colorful scarf, she silently went about their nighttime routine but for the extra touches on their shoulders, the additional warm-up of hot water to allow them take their bath a little longer. She even let Ɖuro bring their sheep-dog inside to sleep by his bedside, a rare treat.
As a man thinking back on it, he knew that it was his mother's way of insuring the dog wasn't poisoned and their sheep driven off. Still, it felt like a lovely gift from her, even after all this time. With the exception of his beloved sister, the dog had been his only other friend.
The public shaming had been his first lesson that he was no one, that he would never be right. Jugoslav, Croat, Serb, Kosovar, Albanian...no one could tolerate the other; it was best to keep your head down, his mother insisted. The government had taken over everything by this point. Their farm was no longer their own; they were only allowed to keep a portion of the crops that they were able to raise in the marshlands along the Sava River. Sometimes government officials threatened to throw them off their ancestral land. Those were the months when they learned to do with even less. Ɖuro and Ɖurđica were lucky their mother was so adept at making pottery favored by government officials' wives.
The twins were lovely to look at, even as poor and thin as they were. Ɖurđica had beautiful brown hair that fell to her waist and high cheekbones. Her eyes were a clear blue, ringed with thick lashes. Ɖuro grew tall and broad-shouldered, his hair a far darker brown than his sister's, and his eyes were dark and heavily lashed to match. Even though they dressed in rags that their mother stitched together, they had their fair share of looks from other young people in the village as they grew into adulthood.
Ɖuro was quiet, observant. He had been pulled aside many times by his mother and the by the local priest, told over and over to keep a close watch on his beautiful sister. There were always fears of women being taken away, of being ruined. His sister was the type that immediately drew attention: vibrant, quick to laugh and even quicker to tease. She inherited their mother's lovely singing voice, and one of his favorite moments of the day was as the three of them finished their chores before dinner, the two women singing in harmony, their voices carrying through the opened door as he finished tending the animals.
They didn't have much but each other, and that was fine by him. He belonged to this family, to their traditions. It was enough, the feeling that he was a part of something. He was a twin. He was a clever woman’s son. It was enough.
When Ɖurđica became old enough to accept suitors, his mother insisted that he accompany them on walks. She knew far too well what men were capable of. A young Romanian man, traveling with his father from Belgrade to the Dalmatian sea, took a liking to Ɖurđica and began paying all sorts of visits to their small two-room home. He brought small gifts, cleverly carved wooden toys that made her laugh and her eyes shine. Ɖuro loved seeing his sister so happy, but he sat still, ever-watchful, noticing how the young man would stare at her body and lick his lips like a wolf stalking a young rabbit.
Coming back from the field one day, he heard his sister cry out, then fall silent. He whistled sharply at their dog, who immediately circled the sheep and kept them under watch as Ɖuro raced back to the house. He found his sister sprawled against the kitchen table, unconscious, and the young man rucking her skirts up with one hand and untying the stays of his breeches with the other. Ɖuro grabbed a split piece of log from the pile at the door and smashed it down upon his head, knocking him to the floor. He kicked the young man's body aside, tossing the log on top of him as he reached for his sister, crying out at the blood pooling at her temple.
He grabbed her in his arms and raced outside to the water's edge, splashing it on her face. She came to, coughing and sputtering. He held his sister in his arms until her crying ceased. Her pain was his pain, and it quickly turned into sharp fury. He dragged the young man from their house until he reached the road, dumping him in a cloud of dust. Ɖuro kicked him in the ribs a few times, spat in his face, and then raced back to the field. A sharp whistle cut the air, and the animals followed him back to their small pen between their home and the river.
That night his mother stood in the doorway watching each star come out as she smoked on her pipe. The twins prepared dinner and waited for her at the table, aware that the food was growing cold, but respectful of their family's customs. It felt like their lives were hanging in a balance, but they were too young to understand why, or what it could mean to their family, this act of violence.
As their mother finally sank into her chair at the table, she told them that she had decided that Ɖurđica would enter the nunnery in Dobrska Celija as soon as the twins could leave at first light; the monastery served the lesser orders, and they wouldn't be offended by Ɖurđica not being from a notable family. Ɖuro would travel to Montenegro with her while their mother would keep the farm running. He knew it would be the safest for Ɖurđica, but Ɖuro still mourned the loss of his beautiful sister, who really was the other half of him.
They clung to each other that night, communicating silently in the way that only twins have. The next day, their mother held each of them tightly before they left, shooing them off to begin the long trip instead of doing their morning work.
They walked side by side, sometimes holding hands, for hours. They didn't speak much; they didn't have to. That night Ɖuro found a small copse of trees where they could sleep, out of sight from any travelers on the main road. Ɖurđica made a simple dinner of bread and bacon fat. They sat together, leaning against a tree and each other. He hummed a song from their childhood until she fell asleep, then stayed awake for another hour, his fingers playing with her long, soft hair.
They traveled for three days, eating only the kachamak their mother had packed for them along with a small tin of sunflower oil and paprika. They finally reached the small building hidden from the main road by a tree-lined hillside. They stood on the weed-strewn path to the front entrance, holding hands, neither willing to take those final steps. A man with a long grey beard and a black cloth draped over his koukoul stepped through the doors, leading out a small group of young boys. He patted each of them on their heads as they ran off, laughing and talking.
The twins stepped forward, bowing their heads slightly as they approached the monk. Ɖuro haltingly explained why they were there. The monk frowned at them both, stroking his beard, then called out for the Igumanija to take Ɖurđica under her wing. Her brother was not permitted to follow.
He would be allowed to visit on High Holy Days only.
They clung to each other, Ɖuro burying his face in her hair, petting it gently and telling her to be brave, that she was his heart, and that here she would be safe. She was led away by the older woman, only daring to look back and give him a tremulous smile once. He sat by the roadside for some time, staring out at the distant water shimmering at the horizon's edge as his finger trailed in the dirt. He sensed someone behind him; he turned and found himself looking up in the face of the nun that had taken his sister away. She held in her hands a bit of rope and passed it down to him. He looked at it – it was a long braid of Ɖurđica’s hair. The nun kissed his cheek, her old skin papery skin thin against his, and gently pushed him on his way.
By the time he had returned home, his mother had been dead for several days. Someone in the village later told him that the Romanian boy's father had come seeking revenge and to force Ɖurđica to marry his son lest he be shamed. When he discovered that she had been removed and that Ɖuro was nowhere to be found to fight for his honor, the father struck their mother in the head with the same bit of wood used on the young man.
He carefully cleaned his mother's face and buried her in the small family plot behind the sheep pen. She would be the last of their family to be buried there. Women from the village came and mourned with him, shoving their eligible daughters in front of him. He kindly asked them to leave and went about his life's routine of tending the small crops they fed themselves with, tending the sheep, and selling their wool back to the government to keep a roof over his head.
For three years he made the long trek to Dobrska Celija to see his sister, hiring a young boy to stay in his home and tend the sheep. Each time the twins greeted each other with a fierce hug and kiss, silent, save for the songs they would sing in mass. The first time he had seen her face wrapped in the black scarf was when he realized that her long hair had been completely shaved, leaving her skull as bare and vulnerable-looking as a freshly shorn lamb.
She clutched her scarf with tears in her eyes, blinking them back as she smiled and stroked his hair behind his ear. They clasped hands and sat at service together, permitted that first time. For weeks after he would carry the sweet, high voice of his sister in his heart, happy that she was somewhere safe. He began to live like a ghost, going through the motions of the day, wondering what his sister was learning that month, counting down the time until he could travel again to see her, to listen to her beautiful voice raised in worshipful song.
Ɖuro never married, a fact that had the old ladies of the village clucking their tongues at him. He had a farm that kept him fed and they knew that with a wife he could do better. But he couldn't see the point in it. Why marry when he had no heart to share? The only family he had known had been taken from him, viciously. He didn’t want another.
He went about his days, his routine all that marked the passage of time, that and the three times a year when he was permitted to remember that there was still love in the world, there was still something good when he was allowed to come listen to the voice of his beautiful sister as she sang.
“Daj odmora pobožnima,” her voice cried to the heavens. “Smiluj nam se.” He sat silently in the hard pew, eyes closed, his sister’s prayer speaking for him as well. He kissed his fingers and sent his own prayer to a God he wasn’t sure he believed in when he was alone. He always believed when he was here. Always. Ɖurđica did not only keep his heart for him, but she also held his soul, damaged and tattered though it was becoming. He only had need of it when he was here in the one place that truly felt holy.
News came that ethnic cleansing was happening again. Every few years various ethnic groups gained power, determined to wipe the others out. The Albanians, the Turks, the Croatians, the Serbs, each had their period of violence against the other. The first place of attack was usually the religious institutions. Entire monasteries were razed to the ground, precious artifacts, ancient books, even the bodies of saints were defiled, only to be rebuilt, rewritten, restored as much as possible.
Hushed whispers filtered through the small village of Orašac, eventually reaching a lonely man who spent his days tending a rag-tag herd of sheep. The monks of Dobrska Celija had been run out of the monastery, the head monastics, both the men and women, had been summarily shot. A few novices, again, both the males and females, had been raped and tortured, sent south to be humiliated and made examples of.
Word finally reached the village of one woman in particular. It was whispered that one woman, newly tonsured and thereby no longer having a name, that had once been known as Ɖurđica, had been one of the people raped and killed. She was the nun with the eyes the color of the sea and the voice of an angel. Ɖuro heard two women talking of it as they gathered along the roadside. He was sitting on a stump by the front porch, smoking his mother's pipe while sipping his coffee and watching the sun rise as the old crones gossiped.
He rose to his feet, looking at them in their worn clothes, clucking their tongues. The last bit of himself, of him belonging to something snapped like a dry twig under a heavy boot. He left the sheep in their pen. His beloved sheep-dog long passed; he never bothered to get another. He didn’t bother entering the house; there was nothing there for him anymore. He began walking, far away from the old women with their hateful, heartless gossip, away from the road he gladly took three times a year. He only knew that he was moving away from the direction that led to her, needing to be as far from that place as possible.
He walked and walked until he no longer recognized where he was. The river before him wasn't the familiar twisting and turning Sava, but something that roiled black over heavy rocks. The air was cold and crisp, the trees high and stark. He sat against the back of a straggling pine and wondered what the point of living was.
A wolf passed him in the night, stopping to smell his feet, its hackles raised and its growl low in the back of its throat. Ɖuro looked into its cold eyes; the moon was high in the night's sky, and he could see they were a vivid blue. He laughed once, almost a bark. The wolf startled, darting back and down on its front legs. It gave one sharp howl, whined briefly in its confusion, then ran off to join the rest of its brothers.
Eventually Ɖuro moved on. He heard a caravan pass by in the early hours of the morning, the sound of the children laughing snapping him out of his stasis. Every now and then the wind would pick up and he could catch snippets of the children, a girl and a boy, laughing and teasing each other. He assumed they were by the tone of their voice; they spoke a different dialect of Slavic than he was used to.
By the time he reached the border of Romania his shoes had long been discarded. He didn't mind; most of the time he and Ɖurđica had run around their farm shoeless. As he crested a hill thick with ash trees, a man stepped out of the woods, a shotgun draped over his arm, a pipe in his mouth and a glint in his eye. He spoke harshly in Romanian; Ɖuro didn't understand and tried to speak back to him in his native tongue. He held his hands out to the man – I have nothing. I am nothing.
The man regarded him for a moment, chewing on the end of his pipe, then threw a knapsack at Ɖuro's feet. He looked at the worn cloth, then back at the man. He picked the sack up and nodded with his head. Yes, he would help carry, he would contribute. The man led the way to the caravan where the family eyed Ɖuro warily. He hung back, not wanting to frighten anyone, his eyes helplessly tracking the children as they climbed on the side of the horse-drawn cart, oblivious to the tension with the adults.
An old woman, as gnarled and wrinkled as a dried apple, shuffled to him and grabbed his face, staring into his eyes. She called him Shilmulo, nodded twice, and spit in the palm of her hand, eventually holding it out. Her other hand was in the form of the evil eye. He eyed her and repeated her action of spitting in his hand and shaking hers. He waited until they were all on the move again, him bringing up the rear, before wiping his hand off on his worn trousers.
He followed the family for several weeks, bringing them kunits he'd ensnared with a bit of string or berries he’d found. They let him sit by their fire eventually, the men always nearby. Ɖuro never spoke; he only sat as close as he could to gather warmth into his bones and watch the young children play, watch their mother hold them and kiss them.
One day the little girl brought him a flower, speaking in quick Romanian that he couldn't understand. She had brown eyes and dark hair. After she left to run off with her brother, he dropped the flower on the ground and went back to braiding more rope from dried bits of grass. When he woke the next morning, the caravan had moved on, the fire was cold, and the tracks had been swept away to prevent him from following.
He stayed by the cold remains of the fire, holding the crushed flower in his hand. Later, he pushed off south.
Ɖuro simply existed. He did not try to start a new life, he did not long for his old one. He found work when available, lived by his wits when it wasn't. He spent months at a time sleeping in the forest, eating when he could, trading snares for victuals on occasion. Some villages welcomed him, tried to help. He did not want their pity. Some villages quickly shooed him on. Those were the places he respected. They kept their own under close guard as it should be.
As the years passed life pressed down on him, bending him, twisting his spine as he slept night after night on the hard ground in the cold mountains. His face became heavily lined, his bones began to protrude from his face, his shoulders. His gaze became wary, skeptical, ever watchful for the evil that men could do. It was dangerous to be a lone man wandering in that part of the world, but what choice had life given him? Eventually he made his way to Greece, careful to never set foot in Kosovo, never in Albania; his accent would give him away. He barely used his voice; there was no point.
Soon it became dangerous everywhere to be a Serbian. Slobodan Milošević had come to power and ethnic tensions had reached an all-time high. He heard that some merchant vessels were willing to take on Serbians to move them out of the region and away from danger. It was an opportunity to go to the Americas. Ɖuro was becoming an old man by this time; he had no home, no family, why not go somewhere new? One place was as bad as another. At least in the states no one would know the difference between a Serb, a Croat or other Slav.
The size of the large metal boats floating on the water was daunting; he forced himself to approach a man that seemed to be in charge of menial jobs. He was given the task of cleaning up the heads on a steamer that was bound for New York in exchange for his fare. He was quiet, kept to himself, and didn't cause trouble. His supervisor said he could find Ɖuro work in the states, but once they made port, all of the jobs were mysteriously gone.
He found that he didn't care; he'd done with less.
New York changed him. Never had he seen so much concrete, so much steel. People everywhere, always in a hurry to this place and that place, no time to stop and admire the wonder of civilization, the miracle of modern machinery. He had never seen a subway before; where would he have seen such a thing with the life he’d led? It had taken him weeks to be brave enough to climb into the metal tube, letting it whisk him under the great city. He clutched the metal bar in the center of the car as if his life depended on it, wondering how these people could just sit and yawn as if a great wonder wasn't happening.
He began to love the trains, riding on them to pass the time. People would give him coins, would press their half-eaten sandwiches into his hands, a look of distaste on their faces. What did he care, he was being fed. He was always sure to thank them, his rarely-used voice croaking out, “Hvala lepo,” even though they didn't understand him.
He found the animal shelter after living on the streets of Manhattan for two years. He had taken a nap on Centre Street after riding the subway all night when he saw a sheep-dog with a chewed electrical cord tied around its neck as a makeshift leash. He clucked and cooed at the animal until it finally stopped shying away. He held his hand out, knuckles held out to the bedraggled creature until it sniffed him and found him to be safe. He pet the dog's matted fur over and over, calming it, whispering, “Jadniče, jadniče... jesu li i tebe ostavili?”
With his knees creaking and sounding like split celery, he stood and gave a sharp whistle at the dog as he walked towards a knot of businessmen. The dog followed him closely, sitting pertly when he stopped. He asked the men in halting English, “Where? Dog take where?”
The men looked at him, debating if he was worth acknowledging. One man, his nose pursed against the smell of him, pointed down the street. “251. Other side, and down a block.”
He nodded at the men, whistled at the dog, and headed towards the building in the distance. It was a no-kill shelter, he came to understand. They didn't seem happy to see another animal, and tried to convince him to keep the dog, but he had nothing; how do you halve nothing with some other poor creature? They let him visit, and after a month, they let him sleep with the dog in exchange for cleaning out the animal pens. He didn't mind; he much preferred the company of animals to humans, most days.
He had something of a life, now. He turned on the large hose in the mornings, spraying the urine and shit from the animals to the large center drain in the concrete floor, their happy barking greeting him. Then he would have coffee – the shelter always had thin, watery coffee, but it was hot and it was free – and spend the day riding the trains. Later, he came home (he thought of it as home) and cleaned out the pens again, practicing his halting English on the dogs, to finally curl up with his friend and sleep, safe off the streets.
And then one day on the train he heard a voice. High, beautiful, clear as a bell. He didn't realize that he had climbed to his feet until he found himself swaying with the train as it moved under the Hudson, almost falling over. He grabbed one of the holds overhead, his head craning this way and that, looking for a black scarf, looking for a face that meant everything to him, a face he barely dreamed about, it hurt so much.
Instead he saw two young people laughing and singing with each other. The young woman was dark complected with black hair, and he flashed on a young girl handing him a flower. But the other person... Startling blue eyes in a clear complexion as pure as a primrose. Life and joy and possibility were abundant in his face. And then...then the boy opened his mouth and sang back to his friend, and Ɖuro couldn't help himself at that point. He moved forward blindly, his hand reaching out, wanting nothing more than to bury his face in long, soft brown hair that only existed in his memory so he could feel for one brief moment that everything that had mattered to him hadn't been taken away in a brutish instant.
The boy startled as Ɖuro reached out to him, and the voice stopped. The boy gave the man a look of fear, and the two people moved on to the other end of the car. Alone with nothing but his memories and confusion, he sat down without grace in an empty seat, the plastic hard on his thin, wan body as he pressed his face into the glass window, thinking not that he was a bent and toothless old man, but a child with a soft hand in his, the taste of his mother’s homemade slatko on his tongue, and a sweet voice singing with joy and wonder ringing in his ears.
He began to ride that same train every day, hoping to just hear that voice. His heart, it ached; the dreams he began to have during his now-fitful sleep left him waking with tears on his face and his friend whining. It was a deep ache, like a limb had been cut off and he could still feel it, but couldn't reach it. But the memories were too sweet, had been too long forgotten; he wanted them to come, no matter how much it hurt.
He always sat in the same car, far away from the door, hoping that today the young man and young lady would come from where ever they had been, and that this time they would be filled with song and would share it brazenly with the other people of the train. He pressed his hands together, muttering “Molim te, samo za trenutak. Molim te, pevaj. Pomozi mi da se setim,” under his breath willing the boy to not be a pretty-faced boy on a train, but to simply be a voice that brought back memories of a thatched-roof home on the side of a clear blue river, the feel of sheep’s wool in his hand, the sound of his mother and sister lovingly singing to one another before calling him to join them for supper.
He sat as close as he dared, not looking right into the boy's face, just listening with his eyes closed and remembering Ɖurđica. It was better when he didn't look at his face, seeing the hints of masculine features. That day the boy was singing something mournful, something soft and painful, and he found that he couldn't help himself. He tried to grab the boy's hand, tried to tell the boy what he meant to him and was only able to say, “Sister,” struggling to remember the English for the words in his native tongue that were crowding his heart.
In the end he only frightened the boy into not taking the train for days.
After that he remembered to not touch, that in America the men didn't touch; they didn't greet with kisses, they didn't share the same customs as his people. So he just sat, watching the platform to know which car the boy would take, silently moving through the doors to find him, always wanting to be close enough in case the boy sang but not close enough to frighten him away.
He needed to hear it: the beautiful, high, clear voice. He had been reminded that everything in his hard, merciless life hadn’t always been a kick to the side of his head, a slur called out in anger, looks of disgust. Once - so long ago that it almost felt like one of the fairy tales his mother had told him as a small child - once he had been happy, loved by his small family. They had been all he’d had, but they had been all he had needed. He so desperately needed to remember that once upon a time there was a young woman who had beautiful blue eyes the color of the sea and had the voice of an angel, and she had been his heart.
His name had been Ɖuro, and he had loved his beautiful sister.
Igumanija - Serbian Orthodox equivalent to a Mother Superior
Daj odmora pobožnima. Smiluj nam se. - Give rest with the just. Have mercy on us. (From liturgical hymns.)
Shilmulo - literally a dead man walking
kunit - hare, or rabbit
”Hvala lepo” - “Thank you very much.”
”Jadniče, jadniče... jesu li i tebe ostavili?” - “Poor creature, poor thing...did they leave you, too?”
slatko - fruit preserves with rose petals, a special treat
Molim te, samo za trenutak. Molim te, pevaj. Pomozi mi da se setim. - “Please, just for a moment. Please sing. Help me remember.”
Random side note: the very first subway train was in Budapest, Hungary, but being Serbian and poor, Ɖuro never would have seen it. My husband, who speaks Hungarian fluently and lived there for a short period of time, wanted me to mention that because he's a pedant. :)
Note: the one-shots for WTS won't all be this...sorrowful. It just made me sad how many people commented with how bothered they were by Sister. :( Erm, this has been my back story for him all along, btw.