Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!
Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Eleven

 

It couldn't be easy, Dorian reasoned, being a traveling pain-in-the-ass. Anyone, male or female, could be an asshole in their own home court. It was the uniquely gifted individual who could march into another outfit's environment where the command structure, the personalities, habits and procedures were already established and secure the upper hand. It wasn't the Earl's preferred form of entertainment, watching the human wolves ripping into each other, but he understood that if one did not take the advantage in those early moments, one would never get it. The locals would then proceed to muck around until everyone's efforts became worse than useless. A military unit existed to be led and there could only be one leader.

Klaus, of course, was born to lead.

After a brief and nasty confrontation, the Major was in full command of the situation regarding the investigation and defusing of Charlie's explosive package. The initial showdown with the locals was over in minutes, a record-setter if ever the Earl had seen one. The ensuing hours passed rather slowly after the introductory fireworks. Dorian settled in for the duration, watching Klaus in action - a not unpleasant task. Still, there were other activities he would have preferred and by the time things were put to rights and they were on their way again, Dorian had come up with quite a long and fanciful list.

"Do you think it's smart going back to the safehouse?" the Earl asked, shelving his list for later. "Surely by now, Charlie and Sable know we haven't been blown to smithereens. Will they try anything else?"

"They might," Klaus returned sharply, still in verbal-combat mode. "A surveillance team will be on watch to ensure that they do not."

"And catch them in the act."

"Exactly."

They drove in silence, watching the re-commandeered Mercedes eat up the road.

"Are you sure that lot won't decide to switch sides and take us out themselves?" Dorian asked after a short while.

Klaus pondered that for a moment, then decided the thief was making a joke and gave a short laugh.

"I'm only half kidding," Dorian said. "You rode roughshod over those lads. It's not as if they're incompetent. They know their job, they were only trying to help."

"So I did what was necessary for them to be successful. I take full responsibility for my actions. It is not necessary for them to worry."

"Until Charlie and Sable try to take us out again."

"The Army tells their soldiers to show initiative," Klaus explained. "But this only works if you are getting the job done. That is particularly so if the government you are working with is not fully behind you or is not willing to recognize you or your work - and there is a mission that is very important and is equally difficult to carry out. It is necessary that you take the power you need to get it done properly." Klaus turned off onto the country road. "They do not really care too much what you do as long as the mission is successful. If it is not successful, then they make you pay for it."

"So, what's the reward when you get it all right?"

"Reward?" The Major gave another laugh, not a happy sound. "They pat you on the head like a dog and send you on your way. They forget you, if you are lucky, until there is another wretched mess to clean up. That is why I never stay around for all the medal-swapping and cocktail-swilling after. It draws too much attention."

Dorian regarded him, wide-eyed. "Is it really that bad?"

"It is."

"Then why stick with it?"

"Because I am not fit for any other way of life."

"You keep saying that." The Earl frowned thoughtfully. "And I don't understand it. You're a very tough man, Major, the toughest man I know - always testing yourself, proving again and again how good you are at what you do. The problem is, the only competition you've got is yourself. You're like a knight of old. You wear your honor like a shield, your pride is your armor, and you keep yourself apart and alone inside of it."

"You cannot be honorable when it is easy. It is only possible when there is a challenge."

"You mean you think you've got to suffer?" Dorian demanded, astonished. "That it's some kind of fundamental requirement like food and air and water? How very German of you. Forget the knight's armor, bring on the martyr's robes."

"What do you want to know all this for?" Klaus protested. "Why do you talk about it so much?"

"Well, that's why we came here, isn't it? To talk?"

"So ... you are that anxious to tell me of your past with Victor Marsh?" Klaus glanced at him, then returned his gaze to the road. "Ach, I did not think so."

Dorian shifted uncomfortably. "As you've so kindly pointed out, I've already done quite a lot of talking." He wanted to remind Klaus of their deal, remind him that it was his turn for sharing secrets. He opened his mouth to do so, then downshifted into silence. Briefly. "I was bluffing a bit back in London, letting you think I had something significant to tell you about the doctor's ancient activities. What happened was significant - but it only mattered to me ... and my family. Mostly to me, I suppose."

"So?"

"So what? You still want to hear about it anyway?"

"Would it make such a difference if I did?" Klaus cruised up to the safehouse. He remained quiet until he parked the car and cut the engine. "It does not matter to me what Marsh did to you," he began again. "That cannot affect how I feel about you - for good or for bad. What I see is that it is difficult for you to talk about it. This has been true from the start and it has caused much trouble. Yet, you are a person to whom talk comes easy. You are eager to explore feelings and express sentiment. That is not my way."

"I know," Dorian began. "But -"

"But you expect me to talk about painful things." Storm green eyes flashed. There was anger in Klaus' voice. "You want to know everything. Why? So you can feel sorry for me? So you can sit in judgment on me? No - I will not explain myself, I will not apologize for who I am or what I have done - not to you or to anyone."

"My god, Klaus, that wasn't my intention at all. I'm sorry you think it is." Dorian faltered, searching for words. "You live life on your own terms. I admire that. It's one of the things we have in common. It's not an easy way to live ... your path has been harder than mine in some ways, I suspect. I've always had someone I could trust, someone to love. Someone I could depend on. And now I've got you, too. Don't I?"

Klaus blinked, taken aback. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I can call on you for help - can't I? If I need you, you'll be there for me," Dorian said, very serious. "You'll be there because of who we are to each other. Not just lovers, but partners - comrades. Your code of honor wouldn't let you do anything else."

"Yes."

"Don't you see it's as important to me that I'm there for you?

There's honor among thieves, too."

Klaus looked away, he would not be trapped by those blue eyes.

"Don't turn away from me, Klaus." Dorian touched him gently, a cat's sheathed caress. "It's not necessary. I thought maybe ... maybe you wanted to talk. Don't worry, I won't force the issue." He took in a deep breath, let it out. "If you want to run, that's fine by me. Just let me run with you, that's all I ask. I know all the good hiding spots anyway. It would be a privilege to share them with you."

"Running?" The voice was bitter. "Is that what you think I am doing?"

"Doesn't everyone? Fight or flight - it's the nature of the human beast, dear heart. A self-preserving instinct and nothing to be ashamed of." Dorian's smile quirked up at one corner. "When are you going to admit you're only human, Major? Honor, autonomy, armor and all? You are still only flesh and bone and blood."

"Never."

"Ha." Dorian shook his head. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Get out of the car."

"Only if you ask politely."

"Please get out of the car, damnit. I do not want to stay in here all night."

"Well, since you've put your request so sweetly...." Dorian swung out of the Mercedes. He unloaded supplies while Klaus checked the traps he'd set around the entrance of the house, looking to see who might have trespassed in their absence. The only transgressor appeared to be the cat who they found waiting inside the doorway. She administered an enthusiastic greeting, then led the way into the kitchen.

"I've been wondering," Dorian said, emptying cartons into the pantry and refrigerator.

"Not again," Klaus groaned.

The Earl ignored him. "Why do you suppose they used semtex? It's something you'd associate with an IRA attack. It doesn't quite seem Charlie's style."

"Semtex is used by many terrorists," Klaus said. "It is new, it is very stable - very easy to work with and detonates with a simple electrical charge. The marzipan odor makes it easy to disguise. Most of the current available stockpile originated from the breakdown of the Soviet block so that is consistent with Kello's new associate." He opened a bottle of schnapps and poured himself a glass. "Whoever placed the bomb had to work fast. I will assume Kello utilized available materials."

"Yes, but Charlie doesn't carry his stock with him and he isn't known for working the goods."

"Perhaps he has a friend among the IRA who owed him a favor. Someone who could have planted the brooch and the bomb at the same time." Klaus shrugged. "Perhaps Sable set the bomb herself. She was KGB, remember?"

"That would make sense," Dorian mused. "But the timing would have had to have been so precise. How long could it have taken them to discover we were trying to trace their purchase? Then follow us, pick up the semtex, plant the explosives while we were in the market...." He rattled to a halt, then shook his head, baffled.

"Well, we can be certain that Kello's business in Duxford is not finished." Klaus poured himself another drink. "So, his client - or clients - are still with him."

"Or Charlie's building a team to begin a new operation."

"Some place nearby."

"Yes." Dinner finished, the cat jumped up on the counter again, aggressively affectionate. Dorian picked her up in his arms, smoothing her head under his chin. She purred loudly. "I just can't think what it could be," he went on. "There's so many things going on this time of year. The world's become so much smaller. England's quite a jumping off place for any number of hot spots."

Klaus picked up the Baccarat and poured another glass of schnapps. He handed it to Dorian.

"You do not seem as upset over this recent brush with death," the Major said. "Before, when Kello tried the poison, when you came back, I could see that you were distressed."

"And here I thought you hadn't noticed." Dorian accepted the liquor. A wry smile danced over his lips, then he swallowed down a taste. "Oh, this is nice. Peach flavored. It smells like a glass full of summer."

"I thought you might like it better."

"I do." Dorian considered for a moment, then laughed. "Did you choose this before or after you decked me in the market?"

"Does that make a difference?"

"No. Just curious." From the blush on the Major's face, Dorian thought he could guess the answer. He finished his drink and held the glass out for more. "That time with Charlie - in the woods - that was frightening. It was so personal, so unexpected. And he was trying to scare me, too. Did a fine job of it." They both drank more schnapps. "Tonight was different. He could have taken us both out. That was his intention, yes?"

Klaus nodded, grim.

"So much has changed between then and now," Dorian continued, thoughtfully. "We're together - that's the big thing. It's more than I ever expected. There's such ... satisfaction in that. Not that I feel my life's now complete or that sort of rot," he added quickly. "I love romance and fantasy but I know the difference between dream-real and real-real. I prefer living with you, Klaus, not dying."

"But that could have happened tonight."

"Yes. But it could have happened lots of other times, too," Dorian replied. "Yes, it scared me tonight - but it was exciting as well. There was so much going on, I couldn't stop to think about it. Maybe later ... maybe I'll feel it more then." The Earl fell into silence, sharing the quiet with his lover. When he looked up again, he said, "They tried their best but they couldn't take us down. After all the unanswered questions all day long, we finally got some answers. Yes - It was exciting."

Klaus nodded, sagely. "It is as I thought. You are insane."

"Now, that's the pot calling the kettle names, isn't it? You were just as excited tonight as I was."

The Major gave a slight shrug, noncommittal. He had wedged himself comfortably into a corner counter section. Dark lashes veiled green eyes.

"You are such a force for good in this world, aren't you? You do so try." Dorian's schnapps-laced voice was lazy, almost mocking. "Still, if all you'd wanted to be was `good,' I suppose you could have been a social worker."

Klaus choked on his drink and sputtered.

The Earl laughed. "But you're not. You're a soldier, a warrior - my knight in shining armor. I've known that from the start. Violence is only a by-product of your work, not the desired result. But it's there and you handle it as it comes up. Quite well, actually. But so do I. I'm no soldier, but you must admit my lifestyle sees its share of action. And violence, too, from time to time. Cause and effect. I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Even if it kills you?"

"At least I'll know I lived first. And loved, too." Dorian lifted his head, defiant. He shook gypsy curls away from his face. It felt good to laugh and he did it again, letting the sound rise out of his throat in a lazy chuckle. He stretched, easing the knots in his shoulders, his arms, and welcomed the heat that spread from the fire pit in his stomach throughout the rest of his limbs. The Earl was tired of talking. He lifted his glass and finished it off, watching Klaus and wondering which of them might make the first move. Everything he knew about close-calls was true, a celebration of life was very much in order. And what better way to celebrate than through the act of love?

It was difficult to tell what the Major was thinking but Klaus, in turn, was watching him back, very quiet now - a wolf in human form. There was something wildly feral in the way the man stood there, legs slightly apart, the straightforward and direct look in his eyes, the thin, straight, aristocratic nose - slightly flared at the nostrils as if he were scenting him.

The Earl shivered and held out his glass. "Can I have some more, please?" he asked.

Klaus tipped the bottle to crystal and filled it again. Silent - just like a wolf on the prowl, Dorian thought, and took another sip. He wanted to laugh again, just for the pure pleasure of it, but held the noise back letting it build within.

And waited....

... Not too long. Klaus set the bottle down and took Dorian's glass from his hand. He closed the distance, pulling the Earl to him. Klaus held him with one arm around his waist, the other around his shoulders so that Dorian was crushed against him. The Earl shifted his weight, settling close. There was no way he could move out of that grip - no way that he could think of that he wanted to try. It was too delicious.

In the next moment, he felt Klaus' lips on his, his tongue demanding entrance, invading. Dorian was ready and welcoming. It isn't true what they say, he thought. You can't just make love - you either are or you aren't. Klaus was proof of that, all ice and muscle and formal reserve on the outside, all strength and passion within. Dorian felt Klaus' hand slide up to catch the curls at the back of his neck and pull his head back, holding him very still. He traced a growling path down Dorian's throat, tongue lashing the pulse, tasting him, teeth locking into flesh - hard enough for the Earl to feel but not so hard that he would bruise or tear. Dorian held his breath, his heart hammering through his ribs. Something inside left him wanting to scream, not from fear or pain. It was just that no one had ever done this to him before, no one had ever made him feel like this before. He had never been so completely possessed, never felt that his pleasure depended so much on another's satisfaction. There was no turning away from this ... no coming back.

Even if he wanted to. Even if it meant his life.

But this is my life, Dorian realized with a start. Understanding left him shaking. He didn't want to think any more, didn't want to move or talk. It was enough just to feel.

Finally, Klaus' hands moved on him again, relaxing slightly. He released Dorian's hair, kissed the throat he had held with his teeth. Dorian shuddered in his arms, a reflexive struggle, his hands opening on the Major's chest.

"Please," the Earl whispered, hoarsely. "Please...." And swallowed, his eyes opening again, wide and dark.

Klaus stared back at him, so close he could feel the summer-laced breath on his mouth.

"Please," Dorian gasped, breathless. "Let me hold you, too."

Klaus pulled back enough to let him move and allowed himself to be enfolded. Dorian's arms were strong and felt good around him, as good as anything the Major had ever allowed himself to feel. He knew it would be even better when they were back in bed together. And despite all the recent crisis activity, the need for precautions and safeguards, Klaus knew he would have to have that, would insist on it if it were necessary. I will have this, he thought. This is mine ... he is mine. Klaus felt another loosening of internal bonds, a sense of soaring freedom. He wanted this act of bonding, was impatient for it now, for the feel of soft skin covering lean, firm muscle ... the smell of him, the sounds he made in his arms - the words whispered into his ear and his alone.

Dorian rubbed against him and Klaus felt himself growing, hardening. He let his hands drop to Dorian's hips and pulled him, rough, against him. The Earl caught his breath.

"If we don't get into bed soon," Dorian choked. "I'm going to come right here."

"What difference does that make?" Klaus growled back. "As long as I can make you come again?"

"Lord and Lady." Dorian released a breathy little laugh. He shook his head as much as space permitted and let it drop on Klaus' shoulder. "Remind me to ask you later - and I want a fair answer, too."

"What?"

"Have kitchens always been such a turn on for you?"

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

The room was dark except for the invading moonlight. The mattress was soft and slightly musty smelling beneath the scent of sex and peaches. Still, it wasn't too soft and it wasn't too loud. No springs squeaked when Klaus moved some time later, waking up. Dorian was curled beside him, his leg and arm thrown over the Major's body. Klaus flexed gently, trying to slide away without waking him.

"It's all right," Dorian said quietly. "I'm awake ... I never went to sleep."

"Is anything wrong?" Klaus whispered back, too cautious to raise his voice. Immediately alert, he listened hard for the sound of something amiss.

"No, everything's fine." Dorian ran a soothing hand over Klaus' chest. "I was just watching out for you. I knew the only way you could get some rest was if someone you trusted was on guard."

"I see."

"Besides, I like watching you sleep." Dorian stretched a little and sat up. He reached over to the nightstand and found cigarettes, matches and ashtray. He put a cigarette in his mouth, lit it and gave it to Klaus.

"I thank you for indulging my bad habits," the Major said from beneath a wry eyebrow. He inhaled deeply and settled back with his arm behind his head.

Dorian retrieved the smoke and took a drag himself. "Thank you for indulging mine." He tapped the ash into the ashtray on Klaus' chest, then returned the cigarette.

Klaus flushed and Dorian felt it in the rising heat of his skin. Otherwise, his blush was invisible in the dark. "I am sorry I could not...." The Major cleared his throat.

"Forget it."

"I mean it," Klaus insisted. "I want to do what you want-"

"I said, forget it. It only works when you want it, too." Dorian smiled, brightening the room more than the moon. "You don't hear me complaining, do you?"

"No." But the voice was uncertain.

Dorian laid his palm along the side of Klaus' face. "I knew from the first time I saw you that I was going to love you. Everything inside me just - charged off. Detonated all at once, like someone'd dropped a bomb. It was absolutely incredible and it took me a long time to realize what it was. Took even longer for you to feel it, too. For you to let yourself feel it." He paused and grinned. "We've come a long way in the last few hours - again and again, as if I have to remind you, you randy beast. I'm not going to play the brat now just because you don't want to suck my cock."

This time, Klaus' blush was apparent even in the dark. Dorian chuckled deep in his throat and the Major felt the sound vibrate through him. It warmed the chill room.

"We are going to be lovers," Dorian said. "We are going to be good for each other. And if I try to sit on your face again before you're ready-"

"I will smack your ass again," Klaus said.

"Exactly."

The Earl went quiet, still grinning. Klaus finished the cigarette and crushed it out.

"What?" the Major demanded, eventually. "Why do you wear that cat smile?"

"If you must know, I was thinking that I rather enjoyed that smack. You've got such good hands ... and lots of practice with them."

Klaus looked as if he couldn't decide whether to be appalled or upset. He settled for disbelief and embarrassment. His expression forced the Earl into laughter again which he tried to smother in Klaus' shoulder.

"It's true, isn't it?" Dorian demanded, peering up through disheveled curls. "That's always been one of your biggest fantasies, yes? To have me in your total power so you could paddle my bare behind until I begged for mercy. Am I right? Am I?"

"How did you know?"

"Hm ... I know. I have that effect on people. More than you'd guess." Dorian wrinkled his nose, frowning. He rescued the ashtray and placed it back on the nightstand.

Klaus started to sit up. Dorian stopped him, a hand on his chest.

"Don't get up yet," the Earl pleaded. "Let's just lie here together for a while. Hold me."

"All right." Klaus opened his arms to Dorian and let the thief snuggle down on top of him. It was a very pleasant, very natural position - and surprising. The Major hadn't expected to enjoy sharing his bed, he never had before. And he had his reasons. Still, now he was discovering that he could get used to this warm, human covering. He rubbed Dorian's shoulders.

"That's good." Dorian sighed and burrowed closer still. "I like that. Don't stop, all right?"

Klaus shook his head, coasting along on the edge of wake-up even through all the Earl's shameless shenanigans. He had never known this kind of sharing before, this lull of quiet intimacy and it was intoxicating. They were quiet for a long time, feeling the minutes slide by, caught in that timelessness of dark that only nightworkers knew, spies and thieves, heroes and villains. Klaus wondered what the hour was.

"You have not slept at all?" the Major finally asked. His voice was still soft, like a child whispering secrets in the dark.

"I dozed a bit," Dorian confessed. "But I thought better of it."

"I do not think there will be any more problems tonight. I will keep watch now. Go to sleep."

"It wasn't that hard to stay awake, if you must know." He shivered. "I think the day finally caught up with me."

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"No." Dorian shook his head. He held Klaus tighter. "I've done enough talking for now. Let's give it a rest, shall we?"

There was some trouble there, Klaus could feel it. Still, he couldn't make Dorian talk if he didn't want to. He worried, for a moment, that he had done something to cause this distress but it didn't seem logical. Dorian had no problems talking about the most peculiar things; he demonstrated no difficulty in asking for what he wanted in bed or accepting what Klaus had to give. There was nothing wrong there.

Let him keep his secrets and be at peace. The Major pressed his lips to the crest of golden curls. Smiled as he felt the tension flow out of the body beside him. Let the thief keep his secrets ... and let me keep mine....

Not that the story of Major Rudolph Löwen's Command was so very confidential. Well, Klaus acknowledged, part of it was. There was information that no amount of debriefing could cause to surface - and no amount of work or discipline could make Klaus forget.

An interesting concept, the Major thought, startled. Do I want to forget? That didn't take much deliberation. No. Klaus would carry those memories to his grave ... memories of a warm spring and a rendezvous at a bar on the east side of the Wall. It had been such a deceptively beautiful day, as false as a whore's promise but none the less alluring for all that. They had wandered towards the open air tables in the street, Major Löwen and the young Lieutenant Eberbach, deciding it was best to make contact out among the people, taking the fresh air like everyone else, keeping their secret work in the public eye, just another pair of wanderers. Klaus had ordered dark German beer from the waiter when the man had found time to shuffle to their table.

"Peach schnapps," Rudy Löwen had commanded. "A glass of summer to toast such a fine, spring day."

The waiter had only glared. "We have beer," the man said. "We have vodka."

Löwen settled for beer and the two men fell into quiet, waiting for the man they were supposed to meet, Dr. Johann Heidenreich, a new defector to the West. Heidenreich's scientific research made him a frequent traveler between borders - as long as his wife and daughter were kept hostage in the East. That was the mission then, to initiate an operation that would relocate the whole family to a new life on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Heidenreich's work was certainly important but the psychological coup was equally significant. It was the kind of escapade that was just made for media coverage. And, of course, it would make the Russians absolutely crazy.

It probably wasn't natural, perhaps even some form of perversion, Klaus supposed, that he should enjoy his work so much. He had followed the family vocation into the military where he waged battle in the Cold War as a spy, handpicked out of the university for Lionheart's outfit. Well, there hadn't been much call for real soldiering despite all the border tensions. He certainly couldn't see himself trailing along the diplomatic path his father had planned for him. What a falling out they had had over that.

No, he had bid traditional family life, even marriage farewell. Klaus never intended to wed, never meant to sire offspring from his family's ancient bloodline because the work came first. And he loved it. He loved the secrecy of it, he loved the danger, the risk. He liked being in control and making up his own rules. He liked tweaking authority's nose and getting away with it, even rewarded for it from time to time.

And now there were friends, too, real family, the kind he'd waited his entire life to know. Klaus didn't let himself think too much about that but he was quietly jubilant to accept it for what it was. His comrades couldn't have been more his brothers than if they'd been manufactured from the same seed and egg.

Smiling, Klaus had finished his first beer, already anticipating their upcoming triumph. Good was good and the Lionheart's Knitting Needle and Shotgun Brigade had never failed a mission. No loose ends - everybody goes home, that was their motto. It never occurred to Klaus to question their unparalleled success record, to consider the workings of fate or just plain bad luck.

The waiter brought Klaus another beer just as Johann Heidenreich made his appearance, shuffling nervously down the sunlit street, swathed in a huge overcoat, dark hat and heavy boots. The man looked older than his fifty-odd years even hidden behind the big, black sunglasses perched on his nose. Klaus groaned inwardly and exchanged a look with Löwen. All heads turned as Heidenreich walked towards the bar; he could not have been more obvious than if he had carried a sign reading, Arrest me. I am defecting to the West.

Still, the Lionheart Brigade had encountered this sort of thing before smuggling people out from communities where every comrade-neighbor was an informer, where the Secret Police stood on street corners armed with their cigarette lighter cameras, their miniature transceivers and so-lethal Mausers. They had confronted it before and lived to celebrate the successfully concluded mission after-wards.

Even so, Klaus felt a distinctive chill at the sight of that old man stumbling up the pavement. It was on his tongue-tip to deliver his impression to Major Löwen, he had felt it that strongly. He might have carried it off, too, if he'd acted quickly, on instant-impulse as he'd learned to do later. But that day, Klaus had hesitated, uncertain.

There were so many black hours when he replayed that moment again and again. If only he had spoken, tried to stop Löwen from greeting the man ... if only ... if only - it was the refrain of a child's nightmare.

"Heda, Heidenreich!" Löwen had called, half-rising. "Here we are. Come and join us, old friend."

The doctor stumbled to their table and took a seat beneath the waiter's twitchy nose.

"Still suffering from that flu?" Löwen asked kindly. "And on such a warm day. What is Ute giving you for it?"

Ute was the name of Heidenreich's beloved wife but the man blinked, round-eyed and without comprehension behind his dark glasses. Löwen could have inquired about a cold-cure for a Martian warlord and elicited a more intelligent response.

And then everything went much from bad to critical. Another man approached the table, this one more appropriately dressed. More alert, too.

"Major Löwen," the man cried - too loudly. "What a surprise to see you here. Woody Mavens, Washington Post - you remember me, don't you?"

Löwen's smile had gone very tight. "Mavens, yes," he said. "I remember you."

"Haven't seen you since the end of the war." The American seated himself at their table. "Congratulations, I heard about your promotion. But I've got to tell you, I'm surprised to see you over here on this side of the Wall."

"Mr. Mavens is a reporter for an American newspaper," Löwen explained for Klaus and Heidenreich's benefit. The doctor looked as if he would have a stroke at this announcement. Every eye on the street and in the tiny café had zeroed in on the men at the table.

"I'm working independent, now," Mavens said. "This story will go to the highest bidder. If I can get anyone to talk. So far, all I've been able to meet is the local constabulary. Perhaps `talk' is too strong a word for it. Mostly they've just followed me about like a bad tempered dog-pack looking for a free meal. It's good to see you, Lionheart. What brings you here?"

Löwen had kept smiling. "You have appeared at a very bad time, Mr. Mavens."

"There's something going on, isn't there?" Mavens had finally taken a good look around. Recognition danced into weathered eyes as he took in the doctor's presence. "I've walked right into it, haven't I? Ruined everything."

"Try not to look so distressed. And remember, I am not known as Major Löwen here," he continued softly. "We will finish our drinks. Quickly, I think. Then we will be going." He looked at Heidenreich, regret in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but our arrangements are canceled."

"You cannot do this." Heidenreich shook his head, protesting. "We have everything prepared. We are ready to leave. We must leave."

"I am very sorry. Perhaps another time."

"That cannot be." Heidenreich was close to tears. "We must go now. Ute was dismissed from her position. No reason was given."

"When?" Löwen demanded.

"Yesterday."

"Then they are already on to you. It is too late. We cannot risk moving you out now."

"Oh shit," the reporter was saying. "Oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit." Klaus made a mental note, the man appeared genuinely sorry.

Not that that was going to help.

"Is there anything I can do?" Mavens asked.

Löwen shook his head, made a bit of a show of looking at his watch. "Stay out of it. I am sorry, Doctor ... Mr. Mavens ... but you must excuse us. We must go."

Klaus was ready to leave. He did not want to give up but he knew when it was best to fight and when retreat was the only answer. Watch the wolves, that's what Löwen had told him on their first mission together. The wolves run from impossible odds, from danger, without recrimination. Even hunger will not cloud their judgement. They know there will be other opportunities - if they can just survive till then. Trust the Lionheart to find words for what Klaus had always known instinctively.

He hoped, once they were all safely away, that they would find the means to salvage this mission. Erich, the Professor, Ludek and Mouser were all in place - there had been months of the most detailed planning. Klaus walked away from the bar with Major Löwen, already planning what their next move should be - but those hopes were finished in minutes.

When the first group of guards appeared in front of them, only a half-block away, Klaus thought about running, about pulling his gun and shooting it out. Löwen stopped him. The street was too narrow; there were too many guards around them, too many guns to outrun.

So, they were brought in and quickly taken to a place of interrogation. After the noise and the shouting of the streets, Klaus found it very quiet there except for the constant drip of melting ice and snow leaking through ancient stone, except for the rustle of vermin scurrying about ... except for the screaming.

They crippled old Heidenreich and relocated his wife and daughter someplace south of Siberia effectively ending the doctor's dreams of escape. Mavens was brought in as well. His American citizenship didn't save him, the guards worked him over for hours even when it was obvious that he had nothing to tell. Later, when he was back on his own side of the border and recuperating in hospital, Klaus learned that it had been reported that Mavens had died in a car accident, the body burned beyond recognition. Identification had been made from dental records. Klaus recalled how very careful the guards had been about hitting the reporter in the face.

They had been equally careful in their handling of the young Lieutenant Eberbach, generally, he supposed, because they'd wanted him to last. There hadn't been so many questions ... no, they'd just wanted to show Löwen what they could do, what he could expect. They treated the Lionheart with great courtesy, his reputation as well as his rank had earned him that much regard, but they had forced him to witness the interrogation of his officer. Once, one of the guards, sneering, had asked the Major if he were enjoying the show.

"The light is bad in here," Löwen had calmly replied. "I can't see very well ... but do not fear. I will remember everything. And everyone."

Then the Lionheart had smiled. Klaus had caught that expression through the veil of blood dripping into his eyes. It was a wickedly gleeful display, a smile that was both cold and hot at the same time, enthusiastically predatory. It sent the bully back a step or two before he regained himself. The guards quickly returned to their torments but it hadn't continued long, the heart had gone out of them.

Klaus frowned, remembering, and wished for his cigarettes, an automatic response, but they were just out of reach on the nightstand. Dorian made a sound and stirred restlessly against him. Klaus smoothed his hair and rubbed his back until he settled into sleep again.

Cigarettes hadn't been available at the interrogation center either. There were no small victories in that cell, every day that found him breathing was an accomplishment. None of his training - and it had been extensive - had prepared him for that kind of brutality. Nights had been the worse. Or, rather, what Klaus had assumed to be night, all hours passed so much the same in the cell. Deliberately, time was allowed to pass, enough time that one became almost comfortable, one was almost able to sleep. Then the guards would return and it would all start up again, the questions with their impossible answers - and the pain. How was it possible that a body could be hurt so badly and still cling to life, still survive? How was it possible that men could conceive of and then perform such atrocities on another of their kind?

"You cannot think about that," Löwen had told him. "Do not think. Just live."

Klaus made a sound that could have passed for a "yes." It was meal time and Löwen was spooning soup into him. The food was not so dreadful, they had actually been fed well, all things considered. But handling eating utensils was beyond Klaus' abilities. His appetite had disappeared as well.

"Thank you," Klaus had said. "But I am not hungry."

"You have to eat." Löwen remained adamant.

Klaus attempted another spoonful. Choked. Gasping for breath, he felt something sharp lancing into his side from deep within. Broken ribs, he hazarded, maybe something else. Löwen held him up, letting him lean back against him, until he stopped strangling.

"Please," Klaus gasped afterwards. "I am not really so very hungry."

"Let's rest a moment. It will be better later."

Klaus began a grateful nod, then stopped. The movement hurt too much. He settled instead into Löwen's arms and let his head fall back to rest on the Major's shoulder. Klaus was quite comfortable until he thought about what he was doing, then struggled to sit up again.

"It's all right," Löwen said quietly. "Be at ease."

"This is not proper," Klaus protested although, truthfully, he didn't have the heart to move. "What if we are seen?"

"The guards have already seen me looking after you. It has not created any disruption in their morale. At least, none that I am aware of. It is not necessary for you to play the stoic, Iron Klaus."

"Do you really think I am playing?" Klaus frowned, stung.

"No, of course not." Löwen sighed. "I think you are a very serious and stubborn young wolf. We should have put chips on your shoulders instead of stripes. Then we would call you Lieutenant Chips, yes?"

"That is an American-style joke."

"Americans are not so bad."

"They are sloppy and loud."

"I know Germans who are sloppy and loud. There are worse sins, I believe."

"Like playing at stoicism."

"You will not drop that bone, will you?" The Lionheart sighed. "You are a very difficult man to like. You could show yourself a little kindness, Lieutenant, from time to time. No one would think any less of you, I assure you."

It was an old argument, a shared joke that left Klaus missing his team mates.

"I am sorry to have been disrespectful," Klaus said in lieu of talking about the others. "Your reporter friend, did you know him long?"

"Woody Mavens? No ... we only met the one time," Löwen said. "But, occasionally, I saw his name on an article or story. He was a good reporter. He was a good man, one of the few Americans I met at the end of the war who did not believe all Germans were monsters to be shot on sight."

"Where did you meet him?"

"At a bar...." There was a smile on the Major's face, Klaus could hear it in his voice. "I was standing alone, the only German in uniform in the place, when Mr. Mavens walked up and introduced himself. He was a reporter with the American military newspapers then."

"What did he say?"

"I was feeling ... not very comfortable and very angry. The bartender, he didn't want to serve me. It was obvious that he wanted me to leave and so I decided to stay," Löwen continued. "Mr. Mavens ordered two beers and, when the bartender set them up, he passed one to me. Then he said, `What do you like better, big band music or jazz?' I told him I liked jazz but I preferred blues. We spent the rest of the night talking. When the bar closed, we went to another place. And then we went our separate ways."

"How did he know you liked music?" Klaus wondered.

Löwen laughed. "What German doesn't like music?"

"My father."

"What a pity." The laugh became another sigh. "You should have stayed on leave."

"No! This is where I am supposed to be. This is my work!"

"Of course."

"You do not understand about my father."

"Naturally," Löwen soothed. "Don't upset yourself."

Klaus opened his mouth to protest further, then closed it before the words escaped. In all his life, he had never given voice to the feelings he had for his father. Discipline stopped him again. Pain took him instead, not just the agony of his ribs but the inner damage as well, his kidneys, his stomach. It left him gasping for breath and shivering uncontrollably. Next, he was seized by a large, jerking spasm followed by a series of small shudders.

The Major slipped out from behind him and laid Klaus back on the mattress. Löwen took soaked towels from the basin and applied them to the worst of the swelling, the worst welts. The water was frigid and still bloody from before. He pulled up the threadbare blankets and held him down until the convulsions stopped.

Klaus groaned, tossing his head. The blankets, the towels were rough. His body was nothing but one giant misery speared together by flesh and bone, but the warmth from Löwen's body was good. He tried to relax under that, used what strength he had to hold the man to him.

In the next instant, Klaus was struggling to rise again.

"What?" Löwen demanded.

"Sick," Klaus gasped. "Help me...."

Löwen got him up and over to the slop can where Klaus threw up, choked, and threw up again. When it was over, he was too weak to stand and could only cling to Löwen, hoping he wouldn't fall into the bucket. There was still enough spirit left in him to feel ashamed about that. Angry, too. He didn't like the feeling of being a hurt animal, helpless and frightened and lost.

Löwen stood, swinging Klaus up in his arms with surprising ease. He carried his young officer back to the bed and rearranged the blankets. Then sat down, again, beside him. He wiped the sweat and fresh blood from Klaus' face with a not too-unclean handkerchief.

"If you disliked the soup that much, you should have told me sooner," Löwen said after a short while.

"What do you think," Klaus murmured, "they will do with us?"

"We are to be transferred to Moscow. Soon, I think."

"Both of us?"

"Yes. That is the plan."

"For more questioning?"

"Yes."

I will never make it, Klaus choked those words back; they smacked too much of self-pity. "I am cold," he said instead.

"Yes." Löwen sounded almost surprised. "It is freezing in here. Winter has returned for a time, I think. One of the guards told me there was snow last night."

His next words came out before Klaus could stop them again, distinct and without emotion. "I will not live to see the spring."

"As things are going, probably not."

Klaus smiled. He could trust the Lionheart not to mouth out false comfort or deny the obvious. They had both witnessed death too many times together in the last five years. Still, the Lady Reaper had never come so close before. Now she hovered in the cell like a third presence, an uninvited guest, too genteel to be but so intrusive, too obstinate to leave.

"Are you upset?" Löwen asked after a time.

"No." Klaus was surprised to find that that was true. The only shock he felt was at how little distress he felt. His life had been nothing but struggle; there was nothing to leave behind that he would miss.

Except his work ... except his team mates which meant, naturally, Rudy Löwen. Klaus found himself trying not to think about that very much. He tried instead to conjure up specific events ... faces, people he had known - friends, family, enemies - but no image lasted longer than a second. Long ago, Klaus had determined not to become close to anyone or anything; he'd been fairly successful at it.

"There is nothing that keeps me here," Klaus said, relishing the strange peace after all the recent pain. "It is not necessary to talk about it."

Löwen shook his head. "I could not disagree with you more. It is very necessary that you talk about it, very necessary that you find what will keep you in this life - if for nothing else so that you can spit in those bastards' eyes later."

"I have already tried that, Herr Major. It did not do me much good."

"So your will to live is broken? Your wolf spirit has deserted you?"

"The wolf is still here." Green eyes flashed in the near dark. "And he is alone as always. He lives alone - and he will die. Alone."

"That is where you are also mistaken. I am here."

"You know what I am meaning. This," Klaus sighed, "is a pointless conversation."

"That is not true. To talk of dying as if it were nothing, as if your life didn't matter, especially when the time is so near, is not such a trivial subject." Löwen re-folded his handkerchief and put it away. He remained quiet for a time, sitting on the edge of the cot, staring at Klaus.

And Klaus stared back, wondering what would come next, curious as to the sense of anticipation that had drifted into the room, the air of intimacy and secrets. He did not regret the familiarity that had grown between them. Klaus had experienced this sense of intense camaraderie before in other crisis situations and had learned to welcome it when it came. Yet after, when the mission was over, there had always been a return to the conventions of duty, to discipline and order.

Now, it seemed, they were only two men again, both working a similar job and utilizing their exceptional skills and talents as required. The only difference this time was that one of the men was dying and the other would go on. This time, there would be no after.

"If you do not mind dying so much, can it be because you have never discovered what makes living worth the pain?" Rudolph Löwen asked. He put his fingers to Klaus' forehead again and brushed stubborn, black locks away. The touch was soothing and Klaus smiled under the caress. The Lionheart smoothed his hair back again, weaving it through his fingers, nails running over the scalp. There was something other than comfort in that touch. The sensation was positively electric, Klaus felt it down to his toes.

Cigarettes ... Eberbach had to have cigarettes. Determined, the Major slid out from under Dorian's solidly sleeping body and stood up. He snatched up the pack and lighter, grabbed his robe and headed into the main room.

Klaus went to the fireplace where coals still flickered and the hearth was warm. He took out a cigarette and fired it up, inhaled deeply and shot twin streams of smoke from his nostrils. Quietly, he took up the fireplace poker and raked through the glowing embers. There was still enough going to welcome another log if he coaxed it along gently. And he felt that he wanted some light to go with this memory, he wanted the heat of fire - something that would welcome this ghost to him ... or banish it forever.

That night - on the other side of a Wall that no longer existed, in the midst of a war that was already history - Klaus recalled that he had not required much coaxing to build a fire of his own ... or to share that flame with another. It had started slowly enough - and, once again, without surprise. Klaus wondered, did death's proximity rob men of their sense of shock ... of shame? He had agonized over the question for years now understanding that, according to the rules of Sun Tzu as well as his own experience, desperate situations created desperate acts - a complete erosion of caution, a surrender to impulse.

Before the final curtain, the last act will play out. One's most hidden nature would be discovered and revealed ... whether it was acceptable or not. Whether it was welcomed or not.

But Klaus had been eager to welcome Löwen's attentions that night. He hadn't even stopped to think about it, it was as if he'd been waiting his entire life for this particular moment.

They had started slowly, the Lion and the Wolf ... and continued, carried along with their own inexorable momentum. Clothing had been loosened, opened with lingering and careful hands, the touching made more tender for calloused skin on such abused flesh. Klaus blinked, staring into the fire. To be touched ... touched like that after all those days when he had known only torture - cruel, calculated, deliberate. They had shared such cramped and miserable quarters and yet, for those too-short hours, it had been all the world.

Eberbach finished his cigarette, tossed it into the flames. Started another. He tried to think analytically, eschewing the memory of passion, but that was impossible. Especially now.... At that time, with Löwen, such feeling had not been part of his experience. Yes, there had been sex, usually at the end of the mission. There would be drinking and carousing and women. The celebration would conclude with the customary bedroom traditions. Then it would be back to duty and preparation for the next mission. Klaus couldn't help but notice how much Erich enjoyed the whole sexual fraternization ordeal. The man's behavior was extreme; he was never without a woman and frequently kept two or three on line. Of course, Erich's appetite created problems, trouble which enveloped the rest of the team from time to time. Klaus was always being requisitioned to aid in various escapes and "explanations." It was no wonder that the young lieutenant had grown to view interaction between the sexes as tiresome - at best. Observing Erich's affaires de coeur only reinforced Klaus' commitment to bachelorhood and duty. No amount of physical gratification could be worth that much trouble.

But even as it was happening, Klaus knew his experience with Major Löwen didn't belong in the same category. The event defied any attempt at classification. What he was most sure of was that he didn't want it to stop and that he was most eager to have it happen again.

The physical give-and-take of the deed had continued long past orgasm. They had lain together afterwards, adrift in a sea of sweat and semen and blood, trying to stay away ... trying not to return to the cell and the cold and the dark, dank presence of death. Klaus had choked, trying to control his breathing. Löwen had held him, heart to heart, soul to soul. In the corridor, they had listened to the tap of leather on stone as a guard completed his rounds. Klaus had shut his eyes tight, holding his breath against the blood in his throat, and prayed that discovery would pass them by. He prayed to live, that he would open his eyes to see another sun, another spring....

So it seemed Major Löwen achieved his goal.

And it seemed that life had chosen Klaus as well. True to Löwen's prediction, they had been packed off for Moscow the next day. Happily, the rest of the Lionheart Brigade had shown up to divert them from that end-destination. Klaus didn't witness much of the battle. All he could remember was a flash of light followed by a near-deafening explosion and a shattering barrage of gunfire. He had been thrown to the floor of the truck, his scalp wound reopened. Scrambling for balance, Klaus had felt a warm, red wetness tickle down his face, a sensation he had grown very familiar with of late. Dazed, he watched his blood freeze on contact, going slick and sticky on his hands, caking black into the links of his wrist cuffs. Then there was darkness so absolute it was as if he'd been buried alive. He neither saw nor felt anything more until he woke up in a stark white room in a stark white bed many days later.

The first time he came awake, Klaus saw his father sitting beside the bed. The old man was frowning, no doubt formulating a lecture. But Major Löwen had been standing there as well, framed in front of a sunny window. That vision had put Klaus at ease and he had blissfully drifted back into sleep. Afterwards, hospital affairs would not run so smoothly.

It came as no shock to learn how displeased the department was regarding their escape. The failure of the Heidenreich defection combined with Woody Mavens' death had thoroughly embarrassed the Western espionage community. The mission should have put the Russians in a state - and it had to some effect ... a state of hysteria. The Lionheart Brigade was in disgrace.

This climate of official disapproval was new to Klaus. He experienced little in the way of debriefing and was given scant opportunity to present the facts as he knew them to be. At first, Klaus found the air of official dismissal bewildering but, eventually, he fell into a state somewhere between fury and frustration.

"You did well," Löwen said guiding Klaus' wheelchair through the hospital grounds. "Don't worry about what the suits are thinking. There will be other missions."

Klaus nodded, an easier task to accomplish now that he was stitched up and on the mend. Besides, it felt good to be out in the sunlight even if it was still cool. German summers were over so quickly. At any rate, his mood lightened appreciatively - and noticeably - whenever the Lionheart was around.

"I have recommended you for a promotion," Löwen continued casually. "It should be approved shortly. Congratulations. I wanted to let you know so you would not appear too surprised."

"I don't want a promotion." Klaus was startled into speaking. He had been in recovery so long that he had become unused to talking. His voice sounded strange to him.

"No, this advance is overdue. You have performed very well under extraordinary circumstances," Löwen said. "Your previous record is excellent. Accept your reward like a good wolf and try not to be so suspicious. Show a little gratitude at the ceremony. They'll like that. It will help keep them out of your hair the next time you decide upon a course of ... independent action." He playfully ruffled Klaus' glossy mane, the only person who had ever done so and lived. "Then again, maybe not."

"No one else on the team has received any awards or promotions for this mission."

"That is true."

"It isn't fair. That assignment was botched before we arrived. You heard what Heidenreich said about his wife's dismissal. The guards were waiting for us, there too many of them about for it to be anything but a set up."

"Well, that is also true and I am certain the home office is aware of it. Something went wrong somewhere but now those in charge must find someone to blame. That is just the way things are in this life. Better get used to it. It will save you some grief later." Löwen brought them to a stop beside a sprawling, ornate fountain. A marble Atlas rose from the center, the world lashed to his back. "You know the Soviets considered our capture quite a coup," he said, leaning against the stone. "Our side is still reeling from that horselaugh - even while they publicly denounce our actions as criminal. They say our intent was to kidnap Heidenreich and they are very loud about it in the press."

"So what?" Klaus demanded.

"So now our people find themselves in an awkward position," Löwen said. "Understand that after our capture, they had washed their hands of the whole affair. Then the Brigade marches in and carts us home - after they were expressly forbidden to."

"I know, I know," Klaus began impatiently. "But -"

"But nothing. Heidenreich's defection was designed to have made a great political statement. Now the doctor follows the lead of his Soviet masters. He protests we were taking him out against his will, that we were responsible for his injuries. And for Mavens' death."

"I thought they were calling that a car accident?"

Löwen shook his head. "You have been in this business long enough to know how the propaganda wheel spins."

Klaus digested that piece of news slowly. "Doctor Heidenreich says what he must in order to stay alive, in order to protect his family." There was no bitterness in his voice. "I wish things had gone differently."

"Yes," the Lionheart agreed dryly. "Everyone does, Heidenreich most of all."

"There isn't much chance of getting him out now, is there?"

"No."

Klaus frowned. The doctor had been such a silly looking old man with his disguise hat and coat and sunglasses. He had been trying so hard to do everything just right. He could not believe Heidenreich had been part of any hoax, his desperation was too real, the consequences too severe.

"I won't tell you to forget the old man." Löwen's voice was so soft,

Klaus had to strain to hear him over the water fountain. "Heidenreich deserves to be remembered ... not swallowed up in the fairy tales they're spreading about now."

"I could not forget him if I tried." Klaus fumbled for the cigarettes he'd hidden in his robe. The doctors were after him to quit especially after all the internal damage. He was willing enough to stop, too, especially when the smoke set him to coughing. But there were times when a cigarette was absolutely necessary.

"Well. So. The wheel keeps turning." Löwen took Klaus' lighter and helped him to light the cigarette against the wind. "Best to keep out from under that monster if you can. It can crush you. Finish you."

"What about the truth?" Klaus demanded from behind a cloud of gray. "Or doesn't that matter?"

"Truth is dictated by the victors, not the victims. It's not what men say that matters, nor even what they do - it's what they believe to have happened. And, like it or not, others control that, the power brokers, the suits-in-charge. The world climate now is such that it is easy to believe the worst of Germans. We are all Nazis, don't you know that? We put those people in the camps, we are all responsible for the butchery. There must always be a villain and, until someone better comes along, we will play that part."

"Not every German knew about the camps," Klaus began.

"Don't lose yourself in that line of thought," Löwen broke in. "There were too many factors involved, the mail and transportation system, the police, the army. What do you suppose people were thinking about when their neighbors were rounded up and carted away? People knew or didn't know depending on ... many things. But I am not just talking about Germans, either. Understand?"

"You are talking about politics again, yes? About wheels and suits."

Löwen grew thoughtful. He leaned against the outer wall of the fountain, turning about some inner friction, Klaus could see it sparking in his eyes. He was sorry for the turmoil but it was no great difficulty to watch the Lion. Löwen was well over fifty but maintained the kind of carriage and vitality that made people believe he was in his late thirties. Of course, the Lionheart was in very good, athletic shape. He had begun life very fair but had been out in all kinds of weather for so long that his skin had taken on a permanently bronzed tone. Löwen had a square-jawed, high cheek-boned face and, obviously, someone had broken his nose once or maybe twice. He kept his hair in a crew cut that was always threatening to grow out. When he read, he wore rimless glasses which no one really used anymore. Just another item that set him apart in Klaus' opinion. Secretly, Klaus fancied Löwen in glasses; it was one of the few times the Lionheart looked vulnerable.

Löwen shifted position. He didn't look very comfortable. Klaus wondered what was eating at him. For a moment he wondered if Löwen was about to address what had happened between them in the cell, then quickly put that out of his mind. What had gone on was too special to speak of. Even so, this was far too public a place for such a dialogue.

Finally, Löwen said, "People do things, sometimes, they would never consider doing otherwise just to survive."

"I know," Klaus said, curious. "Like Heidenreich."

"Heidenreich, yes ... of course...." A frown settled onto the Lionheart's features which deepened the lines around his eyes and mouth and made him appear much older. "I was a party member myself. It is how I got by in the War."

Klaus froze in the act of lifting his cigarette to his lips. For an instant, he felt as if sheet ice covered his every muscle.

"That information was removed from my records long ago," Löwen said. "But there are those who know about it."

Klaus could not disguise his disbelief. "You were a Nazi?"

"No. I was, I am a fighter, a survivor." The gleam in Löwen's eyes was very sharp. "I am a homosexual."

That wasn't what Klaus had wanted to hear either. He went from ice to stone into his chair, his cigarette burning, forgotten.

"Even before the camps, deviant behavior was dealt with most severely under paragraph 175. Under Adolph, it got worse. Between 1931 and 1933 some 2,000 men were convicted and sentenced. By 1939, the number had risen to over 20,000 and the punishments were much worse. So, I was very discreet, yes, but the information filtered down through ranks - and the fear was always there."

"And you became a Nazi?"

"Yes." Löwen nodded once, curtly. "Homosexuals were interred in the camps along with the Jews, the Poles, the gypsies - so many others marked for termination. These men, men like myself, were tortured and executed. Perhaps the number was only tens of thousands as opposed to millions, but what of that? What does it mean, those numbers? They had value, those lives." Löwen was speaking very softly but Klaus felt himself cringe under the intensity of his words. "They suffered. They died. There were so many, they took whoever they could find - whoever they suspected. A kiss on the cheek, a touch of the hand, even a hug among friends, among family ... these acts became like death warrants. I took the steps necessary to survive. I did," he insisted and Klaus heard the defiance in his voice - and the defensiveness. "After the war, it was still easier to exist as a former Nazi than as an admitted homosexual. The allies released everyone from the camps and cared for them ... but they kept homosexual men imprisoned there along with other `convicted' criminals. When these men were finally released, they went home to find their property confiscated, their belongings destroyed and reputations ruined. There was no compensation for their suffering, no memorial or celebration, no reunions with surviving loved ones. In their old neighborhoods, people knew why they had been taken away, and there was no welcome for them there."

"Everyone knows all this," Klaus hissed. "Why talk about it now?"

"Because the past is so easy to repeat when people start forgetting it. That is one reason." Löwen gazed out over the hospital grounds but it did not seem as if he saw the trees and statuary. "I don't know. Another reason might be that this is history I think you should be more aware of.... You are a strong man, Wolf. Those men were also strong."

"I grew up in the shadow of that war," Klaus said. "There was hardly a building left standing in the cities. The Russians and the Americans ruled everything and everyone in Germany for the next ten years. They treated our people worse than animals. And you say that homosexuals suffered? What of it? Everyone suffered - and those men were degenerates, perverts, not fit for society. Even Hitler purged them from his staff."

"Wasn't very successful at it, was he?"

"The man was a maniac."

"Talk to anyone today and you will wonder how Adolph could have ever come to power. He had so few supporters." Löwen gave a short and mirthless laugh. "Well ... so ... the world is safe, content to keep her current heroes and villains. Never let it be said that, no matter what state of misery you are thrown into, there is always one that is worse. Someone you can point to and say, I am better than that."

"I am not ... not like that."

"Like what, Lieutenant? A pervert or a bigot?"

"No," Klaus shot back, angry. "I will not be labeled. I will not be judged. I am a man, I am German. What we did together - I ... you...."

Klaus stammered to a halt, trapped in an agony of doubt. The ensuing silence was wretched. He tossed the dead stub of his cigarette away, wondering how to turn the topic of conversation into something less volatile. He most desperately wished that Löwen hadn't shared his secret. Why had the Lionheart spoken at all, why couldn't he have just left things as they were?

But Löwen continued to stare at him, his eyes darker than river-washed stone. "You are Catholic as well, Lieutenant. You have been schooled since birth regarding the acceptance of deviant behavior. There is none. Your god, as well as Adolph, says that what we did, what we feel is wrong."

This conversation was going from bad to worse. A wave of shame and anger washed over Klaus' face. He struggled for control of his emotions.

"We do not need to talk about this," he insisted. "Not now...." What he wanted to say was, I love you, what else could matter? Let's accept it and just keep quiet about the rest. What is this talk of villains? From the first, you have been my hero. The only one who I have looked up to, who has never betrayed me, never disappointed me. Don't destroy this....

"For some time I have thought I understood some of your struggles," Löwen said. "From that time in Belgium, remember?"

"Yes. Of course." Klaus searched out another cigarette, lit it himself. "I thought he was a woman."

"You would have kept on believing so, until later. Perhaps you might have worked things out, left to your own devices. But Erich decided to help you out."

"Erich meant for the best. He was just looking out for me."

"Erich is an ass. He has many skills and talents, but he has never learned to think with the big head, yes?" Löwen made an effort to smile and gave a little shrug instead. "So he made a scene. Stupid. It was too bad. That was one of the few times I ever saw you look as though you were enjoying yourself."

"It was a mistake," Klaus growled. The expression he turned on Löwen was brittle and accusing. "At the time, I thought you were stopping me from making another one. Because you were concerned for my career, for my honor. Now I know you were just protecting another of your kind."

"My kind..." Löwen mused wistfully. "Tell me, what would it have accomplished if you had gone back there and beaten that boy?"

"Nothing. It would have served no purpose. You taught me that." Klaus laughed, hating the sound of it. The noise was so bitter. "Strangely enough, I still believe you were right."

"Do you?"

"Yes." Klaus looked away, hoping his admission would put an end to the dialogue. He needed silence again, needed time to think and sort things out. He could not believe this conversation was happening.

As usual, Löwen seemed to sense what Klaus was thinking. "You are shivering," he said kindly. "Would you like to go back to your room?"

"Yes." That was easy enough to agree to.

The Lionheart began to guide Klaus' chair back towards the hospital. They did not speak again until the entrance was in view.

"With your promotion will come a transfer," Löwen said. "It is not possible that the Shotgun Brigade keep two majors in service."

"Major ... I'm to be promoted to major?"

"It is my understanding. Yes."

"Where will they send me?" Once again, Klaus found himself surprised to the point of shock.

"I believe you will have the pick of many choice assignments. I'm sure you will find something that will appeal, something worthy of your talents."

"But that is such a...."

"Accept the commission, Wolf. Do not fight it." Löwen's voice was grim. "Your records will indicate that the standard protocols were followed. Remember, rank is power. Use it where you feel it will do the most good. Don't worry about what others think."

Treading panic, Klaus grappled for words. All he could think of was, But I don't want to go - I want to stay with you ... I thought we would be together now ... I thought....

Suddenly, everything seemed very clear. He felt the plummet in temperature, watched the sky go gray heralding the arrival of a summer storm. Felt the gale latch onto his soul and lock.

He feels no shame for what he says he is ... he defends himself - those men - too well, Klaus thought. Does he wish to be rid of me ... this promotion ... am I being paid off to keep silent?

No - it wasn't possible. He couldn't believe that ... could he? By his own words, Löwen had gone to great lengths to protect himself, to survive. That Klaus had better luck understanding. What was harder to grasp was this apparent rejection. Even a man as cavalier as Erich Karlsson favored his partners with more compassion.

Löwen wheeled Klaus up to the door.

"Listen, now, Wolf," the Lionheart concluded. "I have talked with your father. He is not your enemy. You are his son, he wants only the best for you."

That provoked a sharp reaction. "What did he say?" Klaus demanded.

"Nothing that none of us do not already know. Your old man is of the old school, too. He went through both wars, you know. Three if you include this posturing tragedy." Löwen turned the chair about so that they could face one another. "You are the new Germany, Klaus. You cannot just think of yourself. You-"

"I have heard this speech before." The words came out from between clenched teeth. "Many. Times." Resentment and suspicion raged in green eyes. "I never thought you'd scrape knuckles to the old man. I never thought you'd back down from the likes of him."

"I am an old man myself, Lieutenant," Löwen advised in return, "as well as your superior officer and deserving of respect. See that you remember it."

"I will never forget."

"Klaus...." The expression softened. "If I were a younger man, if I had anything more to offer you than ... if I felt there was anything we could...." Löwen took in a deep breath. "There are too many ghosts in me. There is not enough inside left over for you."

"I do not understand. Why does it have to change? Why are you making things change?" The questions rattled out in a rush. "We can keep things as they were, we could-"

Aghast, Klaus cut himself off. There was too much sympathy in Löwen's dark eyes. This entire situation was all so confusing, so humiliating. So painful.

The Lionheart didn't even bother to make a denial or issue any further explanation. "We will see each other from time to time, Lieutenant," he said. "We will be officers together. Later, you will see -"

"I believe I see well enough already. Thank you." Klaus seethed. The words issued from a throat spiked with ground glass. "You ... you were everything I ever wanted to be, everything. Everything."

"Good god...." Löwen actually took a step back, genuinely appalled. "I hope not. That anyone would want that - it the last thing I would wish."

Klaus and Löwen both fell into silence after that. The Lionheart wheeled Klaus through the hospital doors and back up to his room. Immediately thereafter, he took his leave. Klaus heaved himself into his bed and stared out of the window. Outside, the sky continued to blacken, much like his mood. The storm stirred itself up into a frenzy and spent itself, slanting down in sheets and sheets of gray. Gusting wind snapped at the damp, slapping it against the window, the bricks. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

That wasn't the last time Klaus had seen Rudy Löwen. The Major put in an appearance at the promotion ceremony and the celebration that followed. They talked for a time, superficially, about possible assignments and career moves. No one seemed to detect the strain between them and Klaus told himself that that was a good thing. He could convince himself that any breakdown in their relationship had been the result of extenuating circumstances brought about through torture and other physical and mental deprivations. It didn't mean anything. An unfortunate and embarrassing situation that time and new, increased responsibilities would heal. Just so. Absolutely. Of course.

The rest of his team mates had been cheerful but preoccupied. Still and all, they seemed quite sincerely pleased with his promotion. However, the party remained a subdued affair even after the departure of the various dignitaries, even after his father had left. Already, he understood the Lionheart Brigade was making ready for a new mission and Klaus was no longer a part of them.

So he had departed for Schloss Eberbach not too long after midnight, thinking, perhaps - no perhaps about it - knowing that his former team mates had gone on to another club. Somewhere together to unwind after the night's formalities, to talk about the upcoming assignment and life in general. Klaus had always been alone, he was used to that feeling. It was just that he had never been aware of being left out before. Excluded. Abandoned. He had never allowed himself to become close to anyone and this new, enforced solitude was akin to napalm eating into his skin.

Klaus remained lost in his discoveries until a slight movement in the dark of the front steps captured his attention. It wasn't so much an actual movement as it was a shift in air pressure, the sound of breath going in and stopping. Klaus was immediately on guard and reaching for his gun. But then Rudy Löwen materialized from the shadows - just barely.

"Major?" Klaus began, hesitant, his hand still groping towards the magnum.

The man stood still in the darkness, a black-on-black presence, his face the only genuine focal point. The skin was white and stark, the hollows of his face and eyes shadowed with midnight. Löwen looked as pale as one of his ghosts.

They didn't speak, standing there in the night damp air and, eventually, Klaus let his gun hand fall to his side. He swallowed a breath and tried to speak but his mouth was too dry. Klaus felt the nerve-sweat come out on his face and go cool. He raised a hand and ran it back through his hair, away from his face. He cleared his throat and tried to speak again - What is it? What do you want?

Suddenly, Löwen stepped forward and grabbed Klaus by the shoulders. He slammed his mouth against Klaus' in a gesture that was as ferocious as it was abrupt. Teeth collided, grazed, then struck again.

Klaus' lip was cut and he tasted blood. He struggled and that made Löwen hold him harder. Surprise and suddenness kept Klaus off balance but fighting. For a brief moment, he was able to shove Löwen back, gasping, panicking, frightened by both the rage in those dark eyes and the fury that was growing inside himself. His fists locked onto the Lionheart's shoulders. It was like hanging onto free-swinging steel cable.

"What is it?" Klaus demanded. "What are you doing?"

But Löwen would only swear at him, curse him, and come at him again. He was all over Klaus, his breath heaving out in short, snarling bursts, tearing at him. Holding him. Shortly, Klaus found himself clawing at Löwen in return, tearing at his clothing, bringing him down to the ground and under cover of the front shrubs.

It was nothing like what Klaus had experienced in the cell. The act was completely violent, out of control and terrifying. And exciting, too, as they thrashed together on the wet grass. It was more like fighting than making love and, throughout it all, there was the taste of blood from his cut lip. The only reminder of that first time, the only time before.

Afterwards, Klaus lay on the ground panting, reminding himself how to breathe again. Already he was feeling the sting of scrapes, the ache of bruises to come. "Jesus wept," he gasped. "God...."

Rudy Löwen kept his prayers to himself. He elbowed up, leaning down over Klaus, peering into the young officer's face. They were still there, Klaus noted, the demon shadows in his eyes, in the shape of his mouth. That look of pain was not so unfamiliar. He'd seen it before in the faces of refugees, in those made homeless by the violence of war, in the eyes of luckless defectors. He'd seen it, on occasion, in his morning mirror just before he'd covered it up with shaving foam and prepared for yet another glorious damn day in the free world.

Despite the need for air, Klaus had caught his breath and held it, waiting for Löwen to speak. To explain. To say - anything.

But there was nothing. Löwen had closed his hand on Klaus' shoulder and squeezed it briefly, gently. Then he was up and gone leaving nothing but questions behind.

It was the last time that Klaus von dem Eberbach had ever seen the man alive.

 




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