Actions

Work Header

Servant of Two Masters

Work Text:

I loved your master perfectly, I taught him all that he knew,
He was starving in some deep mystery like a man who is sure what is true,
And I sent you to him with my guarantee I could teach him something new,
And I taught him how he would long for me no matter what you said, no matter what you'd do. ~~ Leonard Cohen

 

"Gruber, Hans..." Fouchon chewed his lower lip. "I recognize the name. Volksfrei, isn't he? What is all this?" he asked Pik.

"Contract."

He read further, then threw the document onto the table between them. "It's no good; I don't want to get involved in international terrorism. It doesn't pay."

Pik took the contract and scanned it again, as if he might be unfamiliar with the contents. Punctuation, Fouchon thought with no little annoyance; Pik was big on gestures.

"He's offering a decent wage, which is more than can be said for anyone else. In living memory," Pik added under his breath.

Fouchon noted that his lover was looking more foxlike than usual. His fine, dark eyes were darker, his short hair sleeker. Everything about him seemed more so. Perhaps it was only the contrast of their surroundings, but Fouchon doubted it. Something was happening with Pik; it showed in their incessant arguing and their hopelessly stagnant sex life, and in the loss--which Fouchon regretted more than anything else--of the playfulness which had always been the most private, perfect aspect of their relationship. The change was almost physically painful for him and he found himself striking out almost without thinking.

"Have you discovered a latent social conscience?" he asked, a bit more archly than was strictly necessary. "You know I prefer private contractors; citizens have a lot more to lose than these characters. They'd sell us out without turning a hair."

Pik ignored the sarcasm and the rationalization and cut to the chase. "We haven't worked in months, Emil; the risk is part of the job and we could use the money."

"Standards. We have standards to maintain." Outside their hotel room, the early spring weather was relentlessly grey, damp and depressing. Fouchon would not have been surprised to see shit falling out of the sky.

Pik rolled his eyes. "Oh by all means, let's starve to death in style." He threw the contract back onto the table and folded his arms around himself in the troubling, self-protective gesture he used when he was most unhappy.

Fouchon stared out the window onto the busy street below their hotel room. Sky, earth, buildings even cars; all shades of dirty grey. He wasn't ready for another fight over money and doing what needed to be done to earn it--he had done some spectacularly vile things for money in his life. But it seemed this one job would make all the difference; it would get Pik off his back for another few month, and possibly it would give them some of the working capital they needed to get out of the assassination business all together. He sighed softly and picked up the prospectus Pik had prepared. "I'd have to talk to him first."

Never one to take unfair advantage of capitulation, no matter how oblique, Pik merely replied, "I don't think that should be a problem."

Not for anyone but Fouchon, apparently.

 

Gruber, Hans... cool, elegant, carrying a good six inches of psychic ice around himself. A man with every dark-blond hair in place, and every option accounted for. Not handsome by any stretch with a long, scholar's face and a substantial nose, but...oddly attractive if you gave him more than a moment's thought; something Fouchon wasn't inclined to do.

"You don't look much like mercenaries," Gruber observed as he shook hands with Fouchon first, then Pik.

"And you don't look like a terrorist," Pik countered. He had moved to the mantel and was examining a small porcelain jar. He set it down and crossed his index fingers at Fouchon. Crossed swords; the piece was old Meissen.

There was a fleeting smile from Gruber who had not observed the exchange. "What do I look like?"

A dozen flippant answers shot through Fouchon's mind; "a bitch" led the list, but he opted for something less honest and more potentially irritating. "A banker," he snapped and was pleased to see that Gruber didn't quite know how to respond.

"And you look nouveau riche," Gruber countered quickly, "but I won't hold it against you. Are you going to do the job?"

The comment grated on Fouchon. "I haven't decided. Why on earth do you want to hire someone to do it? Surely you can find one of your own people? You're all mad for murder, aren't you?"

Gruber's composure didn't waver, even as he watched Pik prowl the large sitting room. Pik had a habit of touching things that drove some people mad but Gruber didn't seem to mind watching his things being handled. "Most of my people are idiots, Monsieur Fouchon," he explained as Pik stroked the arm of a Dresden-blue-upholstered, mahogany chair. As you have probably noticed, most people are idiots. This requires to be done correctly."

It was the one answer Fouchon couldn't argue. He nodded. "I suppose I ought to be flattered."

"If you prefer to be, you may. You've read the particulars?"

"May one ask why you want von Eberbach dead?" Pik enquired. He'd settled in a wing chair near the fireplace, and was looking very lord-of-the-manner-ish.

"One may not."

"I don't like the idea of tangling with NATO, Herr Gruber..." Fouchon paused, realizing suddenly that Gruber wasn't ready to tangle with NATO either which is why he was hiring an independent contractor. Briefly Fouchon wondered if this were a personal vendetta.

"But?" Gruber prompted.

"But you offer sufficient compensation payable under terms we find satisfactory."

"And you can do it?"

"He can do it," Pik said quickly.

Gruber did not look at the younger man, but directly at Fouchon. "And you will do it?"

"That remains to be seen, doesn't it?"

Gruber stared for a moment, then smiled without warmth. "I see. Would you care for a drink?"

"Thank you. I thought you'd never ask."

This time the other man's smile was genuine. "Herr Gruber your manners are appalling," he murmured. "Forgive me; when I discuss business I tend to focus." He poured three glasses of brandy and handed them around.

"Not all together a bad thing," Fouchon remarked. "But forgive me if I ask...why this business?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Terrorism. I can't see it." A sip of brandy made him even more certain that he was correct in his assessment. "You're entirely too worldly."

"Monsieur Fouchon there are things more important than money."

"Oh, I doubt it, Herr Gruber. And after all, you're here in this hotel room--which, by the way is rather grand for someone with your lofty ideals--not enjoying the People's Air. So much more oxygen than in the west, eh, Herr Gruber? Ah, the moral superiority of the east." He made a broad gesture. "A little too much Chinoiserie for my taste, but it does have style, and it's expensive."

Han's jaw tightened slightly. "What about principle?"

Pik laughed, attracting Gruber's attention at last. "You mean power, don't you? Political power? It's transitory...an illusion. There are only two really important things in life: money and personal power."

Fouchon winked at Pik, sat back and sipped his drink. They both watched Gruber work with the thought.

Finally the other man answered. "I'm not immune to the desire for either," he said softly. "But there's so little scope. I don't intend to go into your line of work," he added quickly. "Killing is a means to an end, not an end in itself."

"For some," Fouchon replied. "And then again, there are some who rather enjoy the exercise."

Pik chuckled again and tossed down the last of his brandy in one swallow. He was beginning to seem thoroughly at home in the rich apartment.

The tension drained out of Gruber. "Oh dear, are you one of those?" His expression was almost...pleased. He was staring straight at Pik now, and the look on his face was one of fascination and something more; something which made Fouchon slightly uneasy.

"First installment tonight, if you please," he said in his most businesslike tones.

Gruber watched Pik for a few moments more, then got up, opened the secretary and took two envelopes from the drawer. One was fat with the currency of several nations, the other, a slim manilla envelope. "Payment and what information we have on von Eberbach. When will you be in touch?"

"In three days I'll let you know if I'm willing to take the job. Now you must excuse me; I have homework to do." The silence in the room was heavy, and Fouchon could feel Pik staring at him.

"You'll do business with me from now on," Pik said as he stood and gave a little stretch. Fouchon could not mistake the gesture for anything but an invitation, and he tensed, then immediately pushed the thought away. If he were going to do business with Hans he had to put aside other considerations.

"How nice," Gruber replied.

With the need for commitment postponed for another three days, Fouchon allowed himself to relax slightly as they walked back to their small and decidedly inelegant hotel through the violet dusk. A light ground fog swirled around their ankles and here and there they walked through pools of warm yellow light spilling out of a shop window or restaurant doorway. Pik was uncharacteristically silent which meant that he was annoyed about something. Most likely it was that Fouchon had refused to make a firm committment to Gruber's plan.

The money...he was close enough to smell it now; he'd touched it with each thing of Gruber's he'd handled that afternoon. He wanted it and he didn't much care how they got it.

Most of the fights they had been having had something to do with money; at least, they always ended up being about money. Pik who had never been wealthy, had never been without; Fouchon, on the other hand, had come from nothing and while he was determined never to return to it, he could live on very little if he had to. It made him angry that Pik couldn't be satisfied as simply. It made Pik angry that Fouchon could.

Three days. And he knew that unless he thought it was an impossible job, he'd take it. Pik didn't know that, though,and it wouldn't pay to tell him, either.

As soon as Pik entered their hotel room, he pulled off his jacket and threw it in a corner. The television went on and a bottle of brandy came out of the nightstand.

"Are you going to drink all night?" Fouchon asked.

"Possibly."

Fouchon picked up the jacket and hung it over a chair. "What have I done this time, Pik? Enlighten me, will you, so I can sulk, too?"

"Absolutely nothing," he replied. Then, under his breath he added, "As usual."

"Which means?
"You figure it out, master mind." He drained his glass and poured himself a second. His eyes were already lightly glazed from the combination of alcohol on an empty stomach. It meant that there wouldn't be anything in the way of sex that night.

"You think I should have agreed. Without discussion? Without planning? Without..."

"I think you're going to refuse to do it no matter what. You just went there to shut me up."

The accusation, which was more or less accurate, caught Fouchon on the raw. "Oh...fuck you!" he spat, unwilling to put any thought into a more comprehensive reply.

"I doubt it."

Fouchon stalked into the bathroom and slammed the door. There was always the shower, he decided; a better escape than sleep. Given the frequency of their disagreements these days, they were easily the cleanest pair of killers in the city.

He stripped and hung his clothes on the hook on the door. Pik's dirty laundry lay under the sink; no wonder he never had anything to wear. The shower wasn't hot as he would have liked, but it was acceptably warm and the pressure was good. He leaned up against one cool, tiled wall and let the water sluice over him. Don't think about it, he kept saying to himself. Don't think at all.

The television was off and the bottle had been put away when he came back into the bedroom. Pik was lying on top of the bed spread, still dressed in slacks and a sweater. His long, tanned feet were bare, his face was expressionless. The smell of alcohol hung about him, a scent which Fouchon had associated with anger since he was a child. He climbed into bed and turned onto his side.

"You want the lights off?" Pik asked.

"Doesn't matter."

"You hungry?"

"No."

There was a long silence, then: "What's happened to us?"

"I don't know," Fouchon replied, his eyes squeezed shut tight against the harsh light from the overhead lamp. "It happens like this sometimes, I guess."

Oddly, he fell asleep before he could catch Pik's reply.

 

Pik was pleased to be out of the hotel. He was also rather pleased to be seeing Gruber again; the man was magnetic, exciting. Pik had spent more than a little time in the last few days wondering how hard it would be to seduce him. Emil swore that Gruber was nothing but a "pole-up-the-ass queen with delusions of grandeur" but Pik wasn't as certain. He was in the mood to push a few boundaries that afternoon and Gruber's were at the top of his list.

Pik and Emil hadn't properly had sex in weeks--proper sex being, for Pik at least, something more than sucking someone off to shut them up, or giving a quick hand-job as an antidote to boredom or a sleep aid. Sex was a complex dance of desire and negotiation; it was contact on a hundred fine levels, a thousand. Pik was anxious to make contact with someone and Gruber was as good a choice as any.

Pik rearranged his priorities slightly; pushing Emil's boundaries was at the top of his list. Gruber's, though alluring, were somewhat below that and possibly more easily accessible. In the chilly spring afternoon, with the wind ruffling his hair and nothing better to do than wait for Gruber, Pik found himself reviewing his current list of frustrations. Money, though it remained the central focus of his arguments with Emil, was surprisingly not at the head of his list. He could do without despite accusations to the contrary. Fouchon often forgot that in the early days of their partnership, they had nothing but a room with a bed and a couple of cheap pistols..

It wasn't about money, no matter how many times they both tried to pretend it was. It was about them; the way they fit together, the way the corners were growing back on each of them and how that made it impossible for them to fit together in any comfortable way.

Sometimes when Pik thought of what they'd become together he wanted to weep. But he was not a weeper and there was no release for this pain. So he simply grew more sharp edges, honed on people like Gruber, and realized that the day was coming when he and Emil would either part or try to murder each other. He wanted to be gone before that last step came. Get out before the rot set in. He turned his face into the cool, damp wind and, all unbidden, the image of Fouchon came to him - Fouchon on a beach in Morocco, dressed in white, laughing, limned with sunshine.

The ache inside deepened.

Gruber arrived looking pulled-together despite the wind, in a camel-hair coat and very expensive hand-stitched leather gloves. "Let's go down the street to Kleinert's; they have wonderful coffee."

Pik, who wasn't expecting coffee or, in fact, anything more than a few terse words of agreement, was pleased. Gruber had suddenly moved the possibility of seduction so much closer.

They didn't talk as they made their way to the cafe. Gruber's long legs ate up the distance so that Pik, used to the stride of a smaller man, had to readjust his own pace. Once inside, Gruber chose a table in the corner. He ordered for them both and then seemed to relax suddenly as if just getting there had been some sort of test.

"Have you good news for me?" he asked.

Pik nodded. "He's decided to do it. He'll need two weeks to set up; he already has something in mind."

"He's difficult, isn't he?"

Pik didn't reply. Their food arrived; two slices of Sacher torte almost hidden by mounds of whipped cream, and two sizable pots of coffee also nearly hidden by the dishes of whipped cream which accompanied them.

"Life in Germany is always mit schlag," Gruber remarked as he poured his coffee. "It cushions us from so many of life's little disappointments. Tell me, do you have an exclusive arrangement with him?" He plopped a spoonful of cream into his coffee and stirred. Globs of butterfat appeared on the surface and Pik grinned.

"We have a very comprehensive understanding of each other's needs," he replied, filling his own cup and topping it off with a spoonful of cream. "We both have our little indulgences."

Hans' brow furrowed slightly. "I'd never thought of myself as an indulgence," he murmured.

"Mit schlag," said Pik.

 

Comparisons were inevitable, though Pik tried not to let them intrude too far into the moment. Gruber's size alone was an advantage. Pik, used to a man slightly smaller than himself, one who seemed almost delicate, enjoyed the feel of a larger man in his arms, the weight of Gruber on top of himself, the substance which--rightly or wrongly--Pik equated with durability under the stresses of rigorous sex. He was always a little afraid to take Emil the way he wanted to, afraid the smaller man might break, even though he knew that Emil was shatterproof.

Gruber had nice skin; not as perfect as Fouchon's but satiny and responsive. He was long and lanky, a little soft around the middle perhaps but Pik hadn't yet met a terrorist who looked really fit. He had a fine throat which begged to be devoured and the prettiest feet Pik had ever seen on a man. He was also hung like a Cape Buffalo. The sight of such a substantial set of tackle made Pik smile and Gruber caught on immediately.

"Tell me," he said as they undressed each other, "is Monsieur Fouchon a small man in all ways?"

Pik caught a handful of sandy hair and twisted just hard enough to make his point. "There's nothing small about him, Hans. Don't ever make that mistake again." Then he ran his hand through the thick locks. "His hair is a bit thin, I suppose, but I like it that way. Anyway, mine's thinner. You look good messy."

Gruber brushed his hair back into place and bent to kiss Pik on the mouth. His tongue snaked between Pik's teeth and brushed like wet silk across Pik's tongue. His hands dragged at the other man's trousers, tugging, shoving, almost tearing them off in his haste to remove that last barrier. "I find you fascinating," Gruber murmured.

"Is that "you" singular or plural?"

Big hands caught hold of Pik's hips and pulled him close. "Why should I be interested in him? You tell me."

They tumbled back onto the big bed and Pik kicked free of his slacks and wrapped his legs around Hans. "No reason I can think of." Still, he was; Pik could feel the curiosity pouring off of the bigger man like sweat during a hard fuck.

"Except that he's your keeper isn't he? And I'm beginning to wonder what sort of a man it takes to keep you in line." Hans bit at Pik's lips, sucked his chin and nibbled down the curve of his neck. Pik was unused to facial hair and found Gruber's beard and mustache a little uncomfortable. He pushed the bigger man away.

"Take it easy with that thing," he said.

"Turn over and it won't bother you so much."

Click. He had Gruber's measure suddenly, and understood exactly what this was about. "Forget it; I only ever give it up to one person." Increased interest glittered in Gruber's eyes and Pik was idiotically pleased at having so soon found a controlling lever.

"Isn't that limiting?" Gruber asked as he fondled Pik's backside. Indeed, from that moment, he could keep neither his hands nor, apparently, his mind off of Pik's ass. While they kissed, he cupped it in his big hands, pulling them together to grind his cock against Pik's. While he sucked Pik's cock...and he was good at it, too. A man of many talents and no obvious hang-ups...while he devoured Pik's cock, he squeezed and fondled the tight, muscular cheeks.

"You're a swimmer?"

"You noticed."

"Thighs and ass like steel? I noticed. Hard not to."

Pik felt slick fingers probe him, carefully at first then more brazenly. He choked back a groan as they discovered the special place, the one that made his brain fizz like champagne.

"Do you know how much better it would feel if this were my cock instead of my fingers?" Gruber whispered, his breath moist on Pik's face. "Do you know how much noise you're capable of making?" His hand was clever; his touches were promises. Emil's hands were cleverer and his touches were always generous. Pik shuddered as he imagined Emil's hands.

"Yes, you like the way it feels, don't you? Why him?"

Pik chuckled and ignored the questions. Gruber was working for this, working hard. "You want it so much?"

"I'd kill to fuck you," he said and Pik had the feeling that it wasn't far from true. He wrapped a long swimmer's leg around Hans' waist.

"High praise," he said against Gruber's mouth. In a moment or two the fingers were replaced by the bulk of Gruber's penis pressing inwards. "Jesus..." Pik muttered, wondering if this was going to be a huge mistake; even with a film of lubricant--the sneaky bastard was pretty certain of himself after all--the penetration was hurting like hell.

"Why him?" Gruber asked again, his breath hot and damp against Pik's face. "Why?"

"You'll never understand. Oh leave it!" The discomfort began to ease.

"You'll tell him about this, won't you? Won't you?"

Pik laughed in Gruber's face. A heat began to spread through his belly as Hans moved languidly inside him.

Contact. It was like electricity between them. Eyes locked they rocked together in the same rhythm, moving furiously towards the same goal. It was rough, competitive, wildly arousing; it was everything Pik could want from sex save for one thing: it wasn't with Emil.

He decided not to let that bother him.

 

It was dinnertime when Pik got back to the hotel. Emil was frostily unconcerned.

"Have you eaten?" he asked.

"I'm not particularly hungry. You go ahead."

"I already ate. When will he deliver the second installment?"

"He wanted to okay the plan; I vetoed that. I told him I'd pick up the money on the tenth which is the day before you're scheduled to do the job. The final installment will come when he has proof that von Eberbach is dead."

Fouchon nodded. He didn't look up from his book.

"I want to take a shower."

"Good idea. I can smell him on you from here."

Pik sniffed at his hands. "Eau de Gruber. Christ, what a prosaic name for a scent," he said with a laugh. Then, knowing that he might be provoking Emil, he shoved a hand under his lover's nose. "Nice cologne, eh? Expensive."

Fouchon snarled and grabbed Pik's wrist, shoving him backwards against the bed. An advantage of small hotel rooms, Pik thought as he caught at Emil's shirt and dragged it up over his head, tearing the buttons off it. The bed's convenient to everything.

After all the arid weeks, this was at last emotional contact of a sort. Anger was almost as good as passion. Almost. It was something they could share, some emotion they both felt. Pik needed to feel a part of Emil again, even if it was by way of a shared anger. He bit and tore at Fouchon, licked, sucked, probed and fondled whatever came into contact with his flesh, with mouth or hands, teeth or nails. When a touch felt good he was elated, when it hurt, he rejoiced that at least they were making each other feel something. The sort of numbness he'd been feeling frightened him; it reminded him too much of his childhood. He came, screaming into the flimsy pillows, not knowing if he was in pain or pleasure, and not caring much either way.

Much later, he turned over onto his side and stared across the ruined sheets. Emil had that look...the relentless one. Pik braced himself.

"That was unpleasant," Fouchon muttered.

Pik felt a tiny pain inside himself like the beginnings of a toothache; a warning of worse to come. "It was all right." Jesus, listen to me beg...

"Why not just haul out the whips and handcuffs? It was terrible; I'm sorry, I know I hurt you."

"It doesn't have to be... Emil, listen to me, It was something. It was something to feel," he insisted, knowing that he was explaining badly, but knowing also that he had to try to explain what it was he needed. "I need to feel again. Please..."

It fell on ears that did not want to hear. The pain on Fouchon's face was palpable as he said "Possibly we should avoid this sort of thing from now on."

It was unexpected and it hurt. "Whatever you say," Pik said dully, unwilling to slog through yet another argument. Maybe Emil was right about this, maybe they would be better off without the physical entanglement. Better to keep sex recreational, and business smooth and efficient.

A long silence, then: "What was it like?" Not "What was he like?" but "It." "What was it like?" Pik knew exactly what and who Emil meant and, still raw from rejection, he saw an opportunity to score a hit or two himself.

"He asked much the same about you," he replied, shoving the pillows back into a good sleeping position. One was wet where he'd chewed it; he flipped it over.

"I expect you told him."

Pik was silent at first, then he sighed. "Why does no one think me able to keep my own council?"

"You let him fuck you."

"Let him? I almost dared him to do it," Pik told him.

Emil went a little pale. The change was subtle, but Pik, used to every nuance of expression in his lover's face, saw it and was gratified. "He loved it when I told him you were the only man I'd turn over for. Very nearly tied himself in a knot trying to get me onto my face." He laughed, both at the memory of Gruber's transparent manipulations and the look on Fouchon's face. Two of a kind was his honest assessment, and pathetically easy to finesse..

Emil was silent, lying on his back staring into space. Pik, impatient and anxious to draw just a little more blood, continued: "He's thinking of striking out on his own, getting out of the terrorist line all together."

"To do what?" Fouchon asked disdainfully, as if he couldn't imagine Gruber fit for anything but theory.

"White-collar things; high-stakes fraud or robbery. Sounds fun."

He got half a glance. "Perhaps you'll want to try your hand at that."

"Perhaps. He did ask. I've been giving it some thought."

The fleeting expression of pain on his lover's face shook his confidence a little; he had expected anger, another argument, perhaps, which could end with more sex. "You'd do well," Fouchon said quietly. "I doubt he will."

"Why not?"

"Too arrogant. He doesn't believe he can make a mistake." Fouchon turned onto his side, facing away from Pik. "You do what you want but not until this job is over, all right?" The slim shoulders were tense. The dark, ragged voice was tense.

"I'll honor my commitments," Pik assured him. Ask me to stay, he begged silently, but Fouchon was silent, too.

 

An after-dinner walk in the Tiergarten should have made Pik feel better. It was why, after all, he had suggested to Hans that they meet there that evening to discuss business. But Gruber was in an ugly mood when he arrived at their rendezvous. He sat down on the bench and said, "Well, what is it now?"

"I needed to ask you if you have any maps of Schloss von Eberbach."

"Either of you could have done that over the phone."

"I don't like to do business by phone and besides, I thought you might like to take the air, enjoy the evening. Good weather has been so rare..."

"Pik, I don't have time for this nonsense. Is there anything else you need? I'd like not to be dragged away from my work like this for every little detail."

"Interior and exterior. I thought you'd invite me back to your hotel."

Gruber examined his fingernails. "I don't think so; not for the obvious at any rate. Remember, I've been there already; it's not a prize any longer. But get some results for me and I'll be more inclined to be romantic." He stood.

Pik was about to reply in kind when he sensed that they were no longer alone. He looked up. Three men were standing quite close to the bench. Skinheads: dirty, tattered, littered with Nazi insignia and the sort of nihilistic junk that American and European metalheads considered fashion statements. Pik disliked them instinctively. Coupled with Gruber's brush-off and Pik's annoyance with himself for not having noticed the young men sooner, their appearance provoked him to unreasonable anger. "What do you want?" he demanded.

"Englander?" the first one asked. He was obviously the leader; he looked more like a Nazi wannabe than the others with a swastika tattoo on his forehead and a heavy, silver swastika ring on the index finger of his right hand. A tiny skull grinned down at Pik from the man's ear.

"South African, not that it's your business." He stood up and started to move away from the bench.

"South African?" the leader repeated. "Sehr gut; we approve of keeping those ones in place, but you far enough do not go," he lectured. He also made the mistake of grabbing at Pik's sleeve. "The Jews, the mongrel mixed bloods...

Pik hated this mentality; hated everything about the creatures standing in front of him, thinking themselves so superior. Fouchon - half French, half Algerian Arab-Jew - was the most superior man Pik had ever known, but to these sneering cretins he would be no more than a mongrel dog. "Go fuck yourself," he snapped, pulling away from the grubby, clutching fingers.

The general air of non-comprehension annoyed Pik even further. "Gruber, translate for me."

"Er sagen, "Geht scheiss dich."" Hans told the men with a distinct air of amusement.

The young men puffed up with resentment like bloating carcases.

"We are here telling you of our approval," said the pudgy one.

"I don't need your approval, you idiot," Pik replied, speaking slowly enough so that they could pick up most of the words. "Why don't you go off and sing the Horst Wessel Lied to someone who cares?"

Gruber burst into a gale of derisive laughter and the expressions on the faces of the skinheads grew even more sour.

"You have trouble for yourself made!" promised the painfully thin one.

"We are killing for less," the leader snarled.

Pik grabbed him by his tattered jacket and pulled him up so that they were nose-to-nose. "You all should have been exposed at birth; you're worse than useless and you're ugly, too." He pushed him away. "Now fuck off back to whatever hole you crawled out of and take Goebbels and Goering with you."

They withdrew slowly, muttering to each other and throwing the occasional insult at Pik and Gruber. Their grasp of English idiom would have been laughable had Pik not been so appalled by them.

"They don't appear to like you," Hans observed. "Though making three enemies might not have been the best idea."

"Don't worry about me," Pik snapped. "Can you get the maps or not?"

"Of course. In fact, I have the map of the grounds at my hotel room."

There was a long silence. "I can wait downstairs," Pik said.

Gruber laughed again. "Possibly I was too hasty; I suspect I can clear a half an hour for you."

"I can wait downstairs," Pik repeated. He didn't like to be patronized, and he was restless and hungry for blood now. If he stayed with Gruber he might well damage the man and queer the deal.

They walked down through the park towards the hotel, stopping at the news kiosk so that Hans could buy a paper. A few blocks from the hotel, as they rounded a corner off a side street, the three skinheads stepped out of the shadows. They were all holding knives.

Gruber was fast with his gun, but Pik was already on the leader of the gang. He smashed the man's kneecap with a well-placed kick, knocking him to the ground. The other two hesitated a moment, then fled into the night.

"That was a lot easier..." Gruber began, but Pik wasn't finished; he was still too angry...in truth, he was too aroused to let the attack pass. He knew Emil would never approve of what he was going to to, but Emil wasn't there to stop him. He knelt on the fallen man's back, lifted his head and sliced him open from ear to ear, cutting so deep he could feel the tip of his knife snick against bone. The blood on his hands was hot; he shut his eyes and took a deep breath of the sweet, rusty scent of life and shuddered with pleasure. If Pik had a failing it was, according to Fouchon at least, the fact that he loved killing just a little too much; he was always too willing to distribute a little death. Pik maintained that he was only offering it to those who truly deserved a taste. This one died for Emil; for the superb mongrel that he was.

Pik grabbed the man's hand and tugged at the silver ring; it didn't budge. He began to saw at the finger with his knife.

"God, what're you doing?" Gruber gasped, watching the index finger snap free of the hand.

"Souvenier." Pik slipped the ring from the severed end of the finger; it would make a good addition to his trophy chain. "Know your limitations," he whispered to the dead man. "And never hesitate." He looked up. Hans was staring down at him with an expression which Pik could read only too well. Now, with his need to hurt something in abatement, Pik could afford to be interested in the other man's interest.

Gruber dragged Pik into the hotel through a side entrance, and into an empty elevator where Pik began to wipe blood on Gruber's face as they kissed. The sweet, metallic scent turned him on almost as much as the smell of male rising off Gruber's flesh, mixed with his expensive cologne. Death, sex, money. Pik tore at the man's high-priced tie, at his rich cotton shirt, at the suit that cost as much as Pik and Fouchon used to make in a year of killing for hire in the East. He covered the clothes with blood from his hands, hauled Gruber out of the elevator and nearly threw him into the suite.

"You like the death even more than I do, don't you, Hans?" he rasped as he tore off what was left of the expensive clothing. Hans was staring at him, his eyes wide and wild, and a mad smile twisting the man's pretty, harlequin mouth into something almost ugly.

"You are the craziest animal I've ever met. Did you keep the finger?"

"You want it?"

"Yes!"

"You want it?" he demanded again. His nails scraped bloody furrows down Gruber's thighs.

"Yes! For Christ's sake, YES!"

"I ate it."

"What?"

Pik laughed. "God, you're unbelievable."

Gruber surged up underneath him, knocking him to the floor, and threw himself down on top of Pik. He hit the younger man across the face twice very hard, but as he raised his hand for the third blow, Pik caught his wrist and bent it backwards. Gruber yielded to the pressure and slid off of Pik rather than let his bones snap.

"I'm not your fucking boy," Pik hissed and released Gruber. Then his fist crashed down against the other man's shoulder nearly hard enough to break bone. "The next one will be against your face," he promised with a smile that didn't fade even as he felt the barrel of a gun pressed to his temple. "Shoot then, Hans," he purred. His hands relaxed and he lay them against the man's bare chest, palms down over hard, small, dark nipples. "Kill me. You'd like to kill me and fuck me, wouldn't you? Or fuck me and kill me? Or if you could find a way to do both at the same time you'd like that best, wouldn't you?"

He lowered his head slowly. The pistol followed his every move. He opened his mouth, extended his tongue very, very slowly and flicked it across one of those small, dark nipples that were so bad at keeping Gruber's secrets.

Gruber gasped softly; the pressure of the gun barrel eased away from Pik's temple for a moment.

"Kill me while I'm kissing you," Pik breathed, his mouth close to the harlequin mouth. "Blow my brains out all over yourself. Give me some death, Hans." He turned his head, opened his mouth and engulfed the barrel of the gun as if it were Gruber's rigid cock. Gruber's finger twitched away from the trigger and Pik felt the man's penis swell against his thigh.

Gruber yanked the gun out of Pik's mouth, nearly chipping a tooth in the process, and tossed it on the floor. He began to tear at Pik's clothes. "I need you naked," he growled.

Pik chuckled and rolled onto his back, and allowed himself to be stripped by hands that trembled just a little. "What is it you want, Gruber?" he purred.

"To fuck you."

"What?"

"To fuck you!"

"I don't think so. What is it you really want?"

"To fuck you, you homicidal bastard lunatic animal..." his hands were hard on Pik's flesh, grabbing, pinching, scratching. He sucked a mouthful of Pik's skin into his mouth, bit at it hard.

"I don't think that's what you want at all, Hans. You tell me what it is you want."

"To fuck you!" Hans shouted.

"What is it?"

"To fuck you."

"What?"

Gruber whispered, "Fuck me."

In a few seconds, Gruber was on his face. Pik pressed him down against the thick carpet and probed between his cheeks. "I thought so. You want it up the ass and you want it rough, don't you?" he said with a laugh. "You want it to hurt." And then, without another thought or word he drove himself into Gruber's body.

 

Three a.m.

Pik lay back down and almost immediately, an arm wrapped around his waist. He could tell by the regular breathing, that Hans was still asleep and had reached out to him instinctively, and he liked the idea. He liked the idea more than he liked Hans, and if he were forced to be honest with himself, he would have affirmed that he was spending his night in this bed because the other had become so cold.

Emil never was very good at the grace notes; he was always the first to admit that, but he'd always been remarkably generous with his body, probably to try to make up for the emotional void in which he sometimes seemed to exist. But just lately, he had withdrawn himself so far from Pik's life that the younger man was left wondering why they bothered staying together.

The probable answer was not one he wanted to explore too closely: Without Pik, Emil would be forced to buy whatever sex he needed, and he was not a man who liked trading in flesh.

At least, not for sex, Pik thought, feeling sorry for himself. He didn't much like Gruber, and he didn't believe that Hans cared two beans for him despite all the sweet words praising his beauty that tumbled out of the man's mouth that night after the rough, angry sex had subsided; words intended to tame the wild animal beside him. It would never happen, of course; the only one who could ever hold Pik on a leash had been Emil. But the fiction was alluring; it was something he'd never realized he missed until Hans started calling him "Liebling."

All the talk about the big plans...they didn't matter to Pik. Nakatomi meant nothing to him; hostages, ransom; it was all too big, too implausable for him to even care about and when Hans asked him to join the team he was putting together, Pik just shook his head and said, "Not my style, really." Emil was right; Hans was arrogant. Still, he had a way with all the endearments, knew all the right words. He knew how to touch a cold place in Pik and make it seem warmer.

So Pik was staying for a mouthful of sweet lies and a little warmth in a cold, damp spring. Pathetic. He would lie in bed beside Hans and long for it to be Emil saying those things to him because then he could believe them; he could value them, if they came from a man he loved more than his own life.

 

Three a.m.

Pik was still gone. No surprise there.

Fouchon had spent a lot of sleepless hours in the last two weeks, and while many of them revolved around the job he was going to do, many more were spent wondering what he could have done to keep Pik by his side. Up until that eveing he had still cherished a slight hope that once this job was done (and if he survived it, which didn't look promising) they could be together again without acrimony, but the look on Pik's face that night as he walked out of the hotel was a terrible memory. He looked anxious, excited, happy to be away. His spirits lifted visibly as he slipped into his jacket and searched for his keys; Fouchon could feel the anticipation rising off of him like body heat.

He'd wanted to stop him, to shout at him, beg him to stay, order him to stay. He'd wanted to seduce him into staying. He'd wanted to lean against the door and say: "Pik, why can't we just love each other again?" But none of those things were in his nature, or at least none had been for a very long time. Perhaps he didn't really love Pik enough, anyway. Had he loved the younger man enough, he might have been able to at least say, "Stay; it's only two more nights. Be with me. I think I'm going to die this time..."

Not good enough. Not ever fucking good enough. He rolled, clutched Pik's pillow to his chest, and tried to search out the scent of his lover, but the hotel maid had efficiently stripped the linen that morning, and Pik's presence in the bed had been ruthlessly eradicated. He lay clutching it for a few minutes.

Three-forty-five. He got up and went into the bathroom. Pik's black tee shirt lay under the sink. Fouchon picked it up and pressed it against his face.

 

Pik was being efficient. He was good at it; he had the knack for doing things quickly and getting them right which was why Emil always had him check over his arms and ammunition before a job.

Pik loved the Thompson; it wasn't his weapon of choice, but there was something about it that excited him. One shot. You had to be damn sure of yourself if you were using a Thompson, even with its spectacular stopping power. That was Emil: sure of himself, but thorough.

He carried a Browning, too, but only used it in case of extreme emergency. Pik checked it over carefully, and pronounced both fit for service. "You should consider a rifle," he said as he fit the Thompson rounds into Fouchon's belt.

"Why?"

"The Thompson gets you in too close, Emil."

"That's the way I like to do things. Besides, it won't be any less dangerous at any other distance. Now look, that reminds me, I want to talk to you about something."

Pik laid the Thompson in its case, shut the lid and folded his hands. "All right."

"As always it's best to be prepared for the chance that something might go wrong; I suggest that if you haven't heard from me in 48 hours, cut your losses and get out of Berlin fast. Don't assume for any reason that Gruber will pay you the balance due on this job."

Pik felt a coldness well in the pit of his stomach.

Fouchon continued. "If all goes well, then you're free to do whatever you wish. I've transferred a third of the money into your private account as per our agreement: one third to the operation and one third to each of us."

"Will you miss me?" Pik asked quietly.

"I doubt it."

He sat, hands folded, for a long time, while Emil packed his things.

"Hand me the belt, will you, Pik? Pik?" Emil stared at him. "Pik, wake up."

"I am awake."

"What's wrong with you?" He grabbed for the belt, but Pik caught hold of his wrist and pulled him close. He began to rub his face on the softness of Fouchon's cashmere sweater.

"Pik, stop it."

Pik's hands slid under the sweater, tugging Fouchon's undershirt out of his slacks so he could touch bare flesh, press his lips against the warm, sweet softness of his lover's body.

"Pik..."

He unzipped Emil's slacks with hands that trembled and eased them down over narrow hips to lay bare the thick, arching shaft beneath. He lifted the organ and took it into his mouth. Emil had at least stopped protesting.

You'll remember me, he thought as his lips slid up the length of the shaft and down to the tip. You will never forget this moment. His tongue tip teased the swollen head; he tasted Emil, musk exploding inside his head.

When Emil finished, Pik licked him clean, wiped his spit from the softening flesh and tucked it back into Fouchon's underwear. "For luck" he murmured as he straightened Fouchon's clothing.

Emil caught his face between his hands and tilted it up so that at last their eyes met. "Leave the city today, Pik. Go someplace safer. Don't trust him, for God's sake." Then he kissed Pik softly, longingly, and turned away.

Pik watched him finish packing in silence. Emil didn't turn and say his good-byes at the door; he had done that already with his kiss.

Good-bye. I love you. Remember me.

Pik dressed quickly and went to Gruber.

"Call it off. I can give you back the second installment." He was closer to hysteria than he had ever been in his life.

"Why should I want to call it off?"

"So you can keep the money. You'd rather have that anyway; you don't care if von Eberbach dies."

"But I do. I dislike him, rather."

"Hans, just call it off! Stop Emil before he does this thing. It's insane; he can't do it. He's going to die out there!"

Gruber poured himself a drink. "It's gone too far, I think."

Pik wrapped his arms around himself; he was so cold. "What is it you want?"

"All the money."

"You know we've spent part on the operation."

Gruber shrugged. "I'd have to have it all back. I can't show this sort of balance sheet to my comrades. What would they think of me?"

Pik's anger flared. "You don't give a damn what they think. What will you take to call it off?" His fingers curled around the Lahti in his pocket.

Gruber looked out the window. "I thought we'd never see the sun again, didn't you?" Then, as if he could feel Pik's intentions, he asked, "You're prepared to kill me, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Not that it would help, but I'm suitably impressed. What I would like is a firm commitment from you. I'm sick of your waffling. Yes or no?"

"Yes. Of course, yes. What did you think?" It was frighteningly hard to control the urge to shout, to shriek at Gruber. He hated the sight of that smug face, the sound of the syrupy voice. He was selling himself to save the only thing on earth he truly valued. "I should be out there with him," he said miserably.

"Oh that would have been a waste. I thought--God knows why--that I'd seen the last of you. You will admit you've been difficult to pin down." He sighed. "Well, that was easily settled. You'll stay here. I'll go find him and stop him from doing anything rash, shall I? Where exactly is he, by the way?"

"Schloss von Eberbach. There's a gamekeeper's cottage to the southwest of the house. He's going to wait there until nightfall and then he'll do it."

"Oh dear, he is impudent, isn't he? Walking into the lion's den? I wonder what the weather is like up in the Alps..."

"You'd better hope it's good enough for you to reach him before anything happens to him," Pik said evenly.

"I believe you mean that. I think I enjoy you because you're as unpredictable as a wild animal, Pik. And you have the morals of one, too."

The phone rang before Pik could reply in kind. Gruber answered in English, then turned away from Pik and spoke in low, rapid German. When he hung up the phone he was grinning.

"Have whatever you want to eat or drink. I'll be back with your precious Fouchon by noon tomorrow at the latest."

 

Fouchon had the Browning in his hand when Gruber walked through the door of the gamekeeper's cottage. "What are you doing here?" He had a fleeting image of himself shooting Gruber and leaving him in the corner for the rats. "You really should knock, you know." Late afternoon sunlight turned Gruber's sandy hair into a halo,and Fouchon felt a brief moment of appreciation for nature's ironies.

"I've come to stop you; Pik told me how to find you...no, don't be angry with him. The deal is off."

"Don't be angry with Pik for blabbing my whereabouts? Jesus," he spat, slamming his gun case shut. "Who else did he tell? Interpol? Scotland Yard? James Fucking Bond? And what do you mean the deal is off?"

"He won't be alone in the house."

"Servants..."

"A guest. An important one. One who shouldn't be involved in this. I had the word a few hours ago."

Fouchon folded his arms and regarded Gruber with suspicion tempered by a blunt dislike. It gave him the air of a cat whose fur had been brushed backwards. "Officially off?"

"As official as Volksfrei is likely to be in matters of this nature. Sorry," he said with just a hint of sarcasm.

Fouchon locked the gun case and carried it out to his car. The light snow had turned heavy while he was in the cottage. In truth he was a little relieved; he hadn't counted on a blizzard; the weather reports hadn't forecast more than occasional light snow through the next morning. Getting to the big house, killing von Eberbach and getting back to his car would have been difficult enough. Getting the car out of a snowdrift might have proved impossible. And though he had gone there prepared to die, he was just as happy to be reprieved.

Unfortunately his car was stuck.

"Leave it, we'll take mine," Gruber suggested. "They can't trace that one to you, can they?"

"Of course not." Given a choice of freezing to death in the Schwabian Alps or riding down to Stuttgart with Gruber, he chose Gruber...only just. "Let's go."

It took over an hour just to go what amounted to two miles. They bickered the whole way and when the car ended up in a snowdrift, Fouchon shouted, "You're fucking hopeless! You can't kill for yourself, can't even drive in a snowstorm. I'd be better off walking."

"I'd be better off if you were walking, too," Hans shouted back. "Get out of my car."

"Well, it's not going anywhere, is it? So I'd have to get out anyway." He climbed out and tried to slam the door, but his coat got caught and it closed with a soft thud. He wrenched at it. Hans got out and came around to his side to watch.

"Just leave me alone!"

"You do know you locked the door, don't you?"

Fouchon struggled out of the coat, then grabbed the bundle of wool in his arms and tugged as hard as he could.

The car shifted. It slid forwards and Hans grabbed Fouchon around the waist and hauled him backwards. From the shoulder of the road they watched as the black Mercedes slid gracefully down the incline, hit the top of a crag and tumbled over the edge of the cliff below, taking a few young pines with it. The snow was so heavy they barely heard it hit bottom.

"Fuck," Fouchon breathed. "My coat."

"Thank you, Hans, for saving my life. Do you know what that car cost?"

"Thank you, Hans, for thinking I'm so stupid I wouldn't have let go. I see we're both going to be walking. That wasn't a rental, then?"

Hans shook his head and Fouchon allowed himself a tiny, inward smile.

Five minutes down the road was a small inn. They were the only travelers there that day; the look on the innkeeper's face suggested that he had hoped to have the day to himself. Still, he gave them the best double room in the house connected to a bathroom which was well-appointed enough to ease Fouchon's annoyance considerably.

They ate a nearly silent dinner in the empty hotel dining room, then Fouchon went upstairs to bathe while Gruber tried to arrange some transportation for the morning.

Fouchon had tried to call Pik earlier, but there had been no answer at the hotel. Perhaps he'd taken Emil's advice and cleared out of the city, or perhaps he was simply out enjoying his share of the money. Either way, Fouchon couldn't afford to worry about him. He undressed and ran himself a really hot bath. He was cold, wet and tired, and he wanted nothing more than to relax and try to forget the last few hours. The last few months.

Hans wasn't going to make it easy. He burst into the bathroom. "Do you have any idea how long it will be before they can get up here?"

Fouchon opened one eye. "Close the door, will you? It's cold."

Gruber kicked the door shut behind himself. "They won't come out until the storm is over unless someone is in immediate danger. Up here that could be days."

"You could always go down and sit in the car; I'd tell them you were pinned in the wreck. So we're here for the duration? I hope you have money on you."

Hans stared at him for so long that finally Emil opened both eyes and said, "What?"

The tall man sat down on the edge of the sink. "I was just thinking that perhaps you're the more expensive fuck of the two."

"Not that you'll ever find out."

"There is the matter of the rest of the money." Hans moved over to the bath and sank down beside it. He let his hand trail in the hot water. "The least you could do is share the hot water; I'm cold, too."

"I shared Pik with you; I'm not sharing my bath. And that money is mine."

Gruber's smile was predatory. "It's not yours until you have it," he said, his hand snaking down towards the smaller man's groin.

Fouchon pushed the big hand away from his genitals. "I gave up selling that a long time ago, Hans, so you can just fucking forget it."

"Don't you want to know why our pet found me so irresistible?"

"I assume it was the hotel room; he hated ours. Or the food. Or the money. Did you pay him?"

"What do you think?"

"I think he'd have taken the money. I don't remember him in raptures about your technique if that's what you mean."

Hans laughed. "Nor do I recall him in raptures over you," he replied. "And judging from what he's said about you..."

Fouchon's head snapped up and he stared hard at Hans for a moment. The look on the other man's face was triumphant and Fouchon cursed himself for his lack of self-control. "Yes. I'm sure he's had a lot to say about me," he said acidly. "You want the bath, it's yours."

He hauled himself up and out of the tub, stepping behind Gruber to get out. His ass got fondled, but it was marginally better than exposing his cock and balls to the other man's fast hands.

But Gruber wasn't so easy to put off. He followed Fouchon into the bedroom. "I flatter myself that I've come to know Pik rather well in the last fortnight, but I still can't help but wonder what it is he saw in you." Gruber asked as he tugged at the towel Fouchon had wrapped around his waist and plucked at the one he had slung around his neck.

"Yes, you flatter yourself. Hans, if you don't keep your fucking hands to yourself..."

"Oh come on, don't play virgin with me. Men like you sell everything if the price is right. What's your price?"

"You can't afford it," Emil snapped. He rewrapped himself.

"Very, very soon, I will be able to afford any price you can imagine, my dear Emil. I have plans you may be interested in."

"I doubt that." Fouchon rubbed his hair dry and threw the towel in a corner near the fireplace. There was a fire burning cheerfully in the grate and the room was surprisingly warm.

"You can't have any idea. Corporate Japan is not only wealthy beyond most people's wildest dreams, it's ripe for harvesting by someone with the brains and the connections to liberate some of those millions."

"Oh...another righteous cause? And what part of humanity benefits from this plan, Hans? Which of your favorite charities is going to be the beneficiary of this plan? Cut the crap. You can't afford me."

"Can't I? You have no idea how many currencies I deal in. Name one. Name your favorite," he said as he pulled the towel loose with one hard tug.

Fouchon stood naked in front of him. "If you've hurt him I'll kill you."

"Oh calm down. I didn't have to hurt him. He's probably lying in bed watching television right now, drinking my cognac no doubt." He searched Fouchon's face and smiled his harlequin smile.

Fouchon flinched as Gruber's hand slipped around his waist and pulled him close. "I dislike being handled," he said between clenched teeth.

Hans cocked his head. "I thought we'd agreed on a price. You don't believe me, do you? Very well." He pulled his pen out of his pocket and wrote down a number on the back of a magazine lying on the bedside table. "Call this number."

Fouchon hesitated. He didn't want to hear Pik's voice just then and certainly not at Gruber's number, but the expression on Hans' face was a challenge. He picked up the phone. Gruber wrapped his long legs around Fouchon's and began to rub his face against the smaller man's belly.

The phone rang three times. On the third ring, Pik answered. Emil listened to the too-familiar voice saying, "Hello?" but couldn't reply. So Pik had made the choice for both of them. And yet, as often as Fouchon had imagined this moment, he'd never really believed it would happen. He handed the phone to Gruber.

"Hello, Liebling. Everything's all right. I just wanted you to know in case you were worried. Yes, it's all taken care of, but we're stuck up here at a little Gasthaus. Snow. The roads are terrible; I don't know when we'll be back. What? Right this minute? I'm fondling him." He laughed. "I probably will, later. Oh, don't be like that; you know it's you I love."

He hung up the phone. "Hot tempered. It's part of his charm. Well, have we a deal?"

"I don't know what you think you just sold me, Hans." Fouchon tried to step out of the tangle of long limbs, but a few seconds later he found himself on his back with Gruber on top of him.

"I'm selling him back to you." Gruber wriggled out of his sweater and began to unfasten his slacks. "I fuck you, you get him back."

For sheer, cold-blooded effrontery, Gruber took the prize. Fouchon was so stunned by the man's icy self-assurance that he lay back and simply allowed himself to be fondled. For some reason it had suddenly ceased to have any meaning. He felt so divorced from his body that whatever Gruber did to him was beyond his concern.

Hans stared down at him. "You might show some enthusiasm."

"I didn't think you were requiring enthusiasm, only a warm body."

"God. I've hit a nerve, haven't I? You love him. Stupid. Bei Nacht sind alle Katzen grau."

Knowing his eyes were blank and empty made it easy to meet Hans' gaze. "What I feel is my own business, Gruber. But he's yours. You keep him," he said, and felt a small shudder run through the big frame. "I want the money."

"For?"

"For whatever it is you want from me. I want that money."

"Enthusiasm?"

"You repel me, you know. But I'll try."

It happened surprisingly quickly; Hans was a little overheated. When he finished, he rolled off of Fouchon and threw an arm over his eyes. His other hand still gripped the smaller man's wrist; Emil tried to pull away, but Gruber's grip was steely.

"I assume you're finished; it felt like you finished," Fouchon said, wiping his belly with the edge of the sheet.

"I did."

"Then I'd like to get out of here."

"Not yet: I may be finished for the moment, but I'm far from satisfied."

Fouchon sighed audibly, but relaxed and rested his head on his arm, remembering other men like Gruber for whom sex was a play with more than one act. His adolescence had taught him how to wait for the last curtain. He shut his eyes and was asleep in a few seconds.

He woke to find Hans climbing on top of him. "You weigh a ton," he complained.

"What's it worth to you?" Gruber asked.

"What's what worth to me?"

"The money, Pik... Whichever you decide you want. How much do those commodities buy me?"

"As little as possible. Oh Hans, get it over with; it doesn't matter. I've been fucked in the ass by worse and I've survived it." Long fingers penetrated his body and he took a deep, relaxing breath. "I doubt you're clever enough to ring any truly disgusting changes."

"I have a suspicion you like flopping around in the mud," Gruber said as he positioned himself and pushed into Fouchon. "Aaaahhhh," he sighed. "I knew you'd be a good fit. Put your legs around my waist and your arms around my neck," he ordered.

After a moment's hesitation, Fouchon did as he was told. Gruber sat up. Fouchon felt the hardness push deeper and there was an answering twinge of nausea. "God," he breathed. Hard on the pain, though, there was an old, familiar thrill of pleasure in the pit of his stomach.

"You are an ugly son-of-a-bitch," Gruber whispered, his big hands stroking the length of Fouchon's back. "Mean, untrustworthy, vicious, ugly..." His mouth brushed Fouchon's cheek, his tongue snaked into Fouchon's ear and his breath was moist and warm. "But you own that beautiful animal and I don't know how you do it. I can't control him; if he were mine I'd have to kill him eventually. What is it about you that you can keep him on such a short leash?"

Fouchon shut his eyes and began to pant; the discomfort was ebbing and the touches were starting to excite him. There was, and always had been, for him, a kind of power in making a man pay for this one act; he had learned that power as a young man and had never forgotten it, never forgotten that some men would give up anything for this. That Gruber was one such surprised him a little. "You'll never understand, Gruber. Forget it."

"You're a gutter-rat. No sane man would trust you this close to his balls and yet I find you more exciting than anyone I've ever known. Look at me. Look at me!" he insisted.

Fouchon looked into wolfish, golden eyes; laughed in Gruber's face.

"And I want you more than anyone I've ever known. Pik means nothing; take him, keep him, for God's sake because I don't know what to do with him when he gets that look in his eyes...take the money," he hissed, lifting Fouchon slightly as he canted his hips downward. "Stay with me; be my partner."

So, it wasn't merely his class, his reminiscent odor of poverty and degradation that attracted Gruber. "Fuck you." Jeezus, he was hard. Well, it was Gruber's class and the smell of money which had held Fouchon for this long. They were two of a kind after all. "What if I don't want him back?"

"Keep him on the side; have whatever you want, but stay with me; no strings," Hans promised blindly. He grabbed Fouchon's head between his hands and tried to force the smaller man into a kiss, but Fouchon twisted away from the seeking mouth.

"I'd sooner eat glass," Emil spat, his balls growing tight. If only Gruber would shut up about Pik, he might have some leverage, but as it was, the Afrikaner was and would always remain the divisive point between them. Fouchon hated Hans for even having touched Pik.

Gruber shoved the smaller man back onto the bed, lifted his legs and began to fuck him as hard as he could. Fouchon gagged on the discomfort; his erection wilted and he tried to kick Gruber in the head, but the big man tightened his grip and shoved back hard on Emil's leg. Muscles and nerves protested. He tried to relax, shutting his eyes, trying to find some pleasant place in his mind to which he could go for sanctuary. He'd known so few of them in his life, and for the last two decades, they'd all contained Pik.

No, that would be a mistake. He raced back, beyond the day they'd met and tried to find the comforting fantasy world he'd inhabited as a child. It was there, but was in tatters, its gleam tarnished, its towers ruined and its glow extinguished.

Gruber gave a harsh, barking cry; his fingernails dug into Fouchon's skin for a moment, then his hands went limp. "Wohl. Gott," he muttered as he pulled away from the smaller man. "So you do have some limits. I was beginning to wonder if you were in love with the pain."

"Do let me know when you're satisfied," Emil managed. There was no reply. He looked over and saw that Gruber was asleep beside him. He desperately wanted to be gone, but sleep began to creep up on him as well, and before he could shake it off it had hold of him.

 

When he woke, he was under the duvet, and Hans was spooned up against his back. The big man's cock nestled against the cleft of his ass, soft, vulnerable...Fouchon could have had a satisfying revenge at that moment, but it hardly seemed worth the effort. He stirred, tried to get out of bed, but an arm slipped around his waist..

"No, it's too pleasant like this," Gruber murmured. "And we're not finished."

"Oh Christ, what more could you want?" Fouchon groaned. There was no answer which in itself was a coy response. He decided to fish for the truth. "I suppose you want me to fuck you, now; you're such a democratic bastard, Hans."

The man pulled him closer; Hans' breath was warm on Emil's shoulder. "You disappointed me a little; I expected a less compliant partner."

Fouchon laughed again at Gruber's expense. "You wanted me to fight you, didn't you? And win? Oh God, Hans, you're so twisted you can't even ask to be fucked in the ass without making a production of it."

This time Gruber's silence was one of affront. "What a disappointment I must have been," Fouchon joked. "You should have told me I was supposed to care about who was on top."

"Oh shut up." Gruber rolled over. Fouchon thought about getting up, but he was too warm and comfortable; he nodded off again to the sound of Hans' breathing, deep and regular in the darkness.

The room was a watery blue-grey when he woke again. He needed a piss. Walking was uncomfortable and he really needed to have another bath, but settled for a quick swipe of the washcloth before he stumbled into his clothes. The smell of Gruber, the one that had clung so alluringly to Pik's golden flesh, now rose off his own skin like some stink of death and decay, reminding him of what he'd lost that day.

He came back into the bedroom and dressed, then began to go through Gruber's clothes, trying to find the money.

Gruber woke and sat up in bed. "Looking for something?"

"My money."

Gruber chuckled. "Oh that's right. I forgot that whores like to be paid beforehand." He reached into the drawer of the night-stand and tossed a packet to Fouchon. "You're making a mistake."

Fouchon pulled his gun case out of the wardrobe and checked it.

"It's barely light and it's bitter out there. You'll freeze to death."

"I'll take my chances."

Gruber studied him for a few seconds, then said, "The highway is about a thousand yards through the trees."

"I know," Emil said, happy to let the other man know that he'd been tested and found wanting.

As Fouchon left the room, Hans shouted, "I'll recommend you to all my friends!" The sound of his laughter followed Emil down the steps.

The snow had all but stopped. Fouchon struggled through the drifts in the early morning light and just past the treeline he found the highway again. It was snowy, but passable, and there were cars moving on it. He planted himself on the shoulder and stuck out his thumb, and almost immediately, a silver Rolls Royce pulled over to pick him up.

"Thanks," he muttered as he kicked the snow off his shoes and climbed in.

"Oh. You're not German." The accent was British, cultured. Fouchon took a good look at the driver and bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud.

"Nor are you," he countered. His homework on von Eberbach had taught him a good deal about this man, too. So this was the "important guest" who would have been with the Major, the one for whom the job had been canceled. Life was beginning to resemble a French bedroom farce.

The Earl of Gloria asked, "Don't you have a coat?" as he pulled back onto the highway. "Or are you one of those...what do you call them in the states? Polar bears?"

"I had an accident."

The aristocrat/thief gave him a sidelong glance. "Are you quite all right?"

"Thank you, yes. It's my coat that is in need of rescuing. And my car."

"I see. Shall I take you to a police station?"

"I don't think so. It's taken care of."

"I see," Eroica repeated. "Well my trip didn't turn out quite as I had imagined it, either. That's the way life works, isn't it?"

"Is it?"

"Are you one of those according-to-plan types?" Dorian countered.

Fouchon stared down at his hands. He could still smell Gruber. "No. Not at all, I'm afraid." He wiped his hands on his trousers.

"Don't sound so sad. There's a great deal to be said for spontaneity."

"Give me one example," Fouchon challenged.

"Were we truly spontaneous, we could stop at some little hotel up ahead and rent a room with a huge bed and enjoy a mutually satisfying but necessarily brief encounter."

Fouchon was silent for a long time, and for a long time Dorian was quiet, too. Finally the Earl said, "If I've given offense, I apologize," but Fouchon didn't respond. He was too busy noticing that Eroica's subtle rose scent had begun to overpower the smell of Gruber's cologne and sweat and musk.

He looked up. "I think we might stop for a few hours," he said, in a near whisper. "I slept badly last night."

"And I slept not at all. I feel certain that it would be safer if we were not on the road," Gloria replied.

Within the hour, they were in a big bed in a charming little Gasthaus, and Fouchon was losing himself in the comfort of honey-colored hair and roses. Seldom in his life had he known sex without subtext; this was all purity of intent.

Eroica was clever, experienced and though he was clearly used to being in control, was suprisingly deferential. His calm compliance, defused a lot of Emil's anger, allowing him to appreciate the act for what it was: a simple exercise in mutual satisfaction. And when they were finished, neither man raced to escape the scene, but rather lay side-by-side in the downy embrace of the feather bed and pillows, drifting, mindless, boneless.

Fouchon wanted to speak, but found he had neither words nor voice. It was a feeling, an expression of gratitude he longed to make, but before he could capture it, there was a knock at the door.

"Herein." Aside, Eroica muttered "Silly language. Entrez!" he sang out.

The door swung open. Major Klaus von Eberbach swept into the room, saw Fouchon and stopped. "My God, you're hopeless," he spat. Fouchon, who had only ever seen photos of the man was stunned at Klaus' tightly wound presence and unearthly beauty. It would have been a shame to kill this man, especially for someone like Hans.

"Darling, you have it all wrong. This gentleman and I were simply trying to warm each other. It's very cold out, you know." Eroica jumped out of bed and padded over to the Major, who stood at the foot of the carved wooden bed, glowering down at Fouchon. Eroica's hands slipped under the Major's jacket and Klaus twitched away from him.

"Stop that!"

It was time to leave. Fouchon got out of bed and began to dress again. Eberbach watched him as one would watch a roach crawl across the floor.

"Klaus, I know I said some things..."

"Not now." He was waiting for Emil to leave and Emil was only to glad to be gone. But at the door, Dorian caught hold of his arm.

"Wait, I don't want you to freeze. Here, take my coat. It's miles too long for you, but it will keep you warm." He held the coat for Fouchon. The material fell nearly to the floor. "It has a certain style," Dorian said with a smile. He kissed Fouchon's mouth softly. "In another life..." he said, then released the smaller man. "Take care."

Dorian's Rolls, dusted with snow like sugar on a child's sweet, stood just outside the entrance. Fouchon hesitated only a moment, then opened the door with the keys he'd found in the coat pocket, got behind the wheel and pulled out onto the road. The Major had a car, after all, he reasoned, and Gloria would be happier to ride with von Eberbach than to drive alone to his destination. And Emil knew the Earl's reputation; the loss of a car, even a Rolls Royce, would be nothing to a man like that. Perhaps he'd even meant Fouchon to have the car. He had given him the coat, after all, and the keys had been in the pocket.

He headed back to the highway which would take him to Berlin. He tried not to imagine Pik waiting for him at the hotel; it was not going to happen.

 

"Where is he?"

Gruber looked startled. "Frankly, I have no idea. Haven't you heard from him?" he asked Pik. He was so obviously in the dark about Fouchon's whereabouts that Pik wanted to strike him.

"Of course I haven't; he was with you," he said evenly.

"Was. He left me rather precipitously." He unbuttoned his coat and shrugged it off. "I take it then that he was more than a little upset about hearing your voice on the phone."

"What?" Pik could feel his vital organs twisting. "What d'you mean?"

"The phone; when I called from the gasthaus. Well, he actually did the calling. I thought he'd speak to you, but when he heard your voice, he just handed the phone to me. I gather he was upset," Hans repeated. "Oh dear, what a tangle."

Pik felt sick. He wanted to scream to hit something. He wanted to kill Hans, but feared the man might be lying to him. He might know where Emil was, what his plans were. "When did he leave you?"

"Not long after I spoke to you on the phone. We fucked; twice, in fact and it was remarkable. You look a little depressed," Gruber observed.

Pik wrapped his arms around himself. "You had sex with him?"

"Twice. He really is amazing," Hans said as he hung his coat up. "I do see now what it is that held you. What a sweet body he has, and so generous with it. And so responsive; don't you find it so? But what I think I like best about him is the voice. It's so much more exciting hearing someone with a voice like that urge you to fuck him, suck him...even the most bluntly sexual talk becomes somehow...elevated, I guess you'd say. And afterwards, when he's nearly asleep and curled up in your arms..."

"Just shut up, Hans!"

"You're not upset about that, are you, liebling?" He smiled and tried to pat Pik's cheek, but Pik pulled away from him. "Dear me, I suppose, then, that I shouldn't tell you what he said about you."

"What?"

"You're sure you want to hear this?" Gruber asked, and Pik fought the urge to strangle him.

"I'm sure."

"He said I could keep you; that he'd take the money instead."

Strangely it wasn't a surprise, and hearing it stated so baldly did not hurt so much as empty Pik out and leave him utterly free of pain. He shut his eyes. "Yes, I can see that," he said softly. "It's like him."

"Is it? He's a strange one, isn't he? Fascinating. But then you know that. You do know that, don't you?"

"Yes, of course."

"I'm going to get him back," Gruber said, and Pik looked up at him. "I will have him again. I think he was just being contrary this time; I think he liked what I had to offer. He certainly enjoyed the sex."

"Oh yes? You fucked him then?"

"Of course, and he loved it."

"You're a fucking liar, Hans; he hates it. He only does it to get something he wants. Even with me he only does it if he has to. You're lying; he hated every minute you were together."

Hans stared at him. "I'm going to get him back."

Pik smiled, but without warmth. "I doubt that, but what makes you think it in the first place?"

Gruber began to undress. "A sense of unfinished business, I suppose. That and the fact that by New Year's I'm going to be wealthier than he's ever dreamed of being. He'll come back to me for that, won't he?"

Pik thought about it for so long that Gruber lost patience. "Won't he?" he asked again.

"I certainly hope so," Pik told him. If he comes for your money I'll give it to him. "But if he doesn't, I suppose there'll be some consolation in the fact that we've both lost him. We're both fools, Hans, and liars, and we've both lost him, probably for good. Maybe you and I can make something out of that. Something for the future?"

There was some small satisfaction in the expression on Gruber's face.

 

Fouchon could only guess what the unexpected cache of treasure was worth. And he knew that to try to sell it would only invite disaster, unless he sold it to the right person, the person from whom he'd taken it. He put in a collect call to England from his hotel in Vienna under the name of "Durer" in honor of the painting he'd found in the trunk of Dorian's car.

"Herr Durer?" The Earl's voice was light, playful. "How nice to hear your voice again, and what an appropriate name. I believe you have something of mine to return?"

"Yes, I've had the coat cleaned."

"Good. I was fond of it. And the car?"

"I'm not certain I'm ready to part with it. What I'm calling about is the souveniers I found in the trunk."

"Oh, those. I suppose I could send someone to pick them up," Dorian said with mock resignation. "If you insist."

"What I had in mind," Fouchon continued, "was a kind of trade. I give you the items in question and you give me money."

"Money? How much money?"

"One."

"Million?"

"Yes."

"Dollars or Sterling?"

"Let's say dollars. I'm not a greedy man."

"No, you're not," Dorian replied without irony. "Considering what you must know about those items, it's a generous offer."

"I am not in your league, Lord Gloria, but I do need to finance a little venture."

Dorian sighed. "For what must have been a spur-of-the-moment decision, you've been well served, I think. Very well, I can meet your price. Shall I come to fetch the things? Or I could send their previous owner..."

Fouchon laughed. "Please don't. No, I'd much rather do business with you."

"Then I'd suggest, Herr Durer, that you choose a cozy little room for two since I make it a rule always to mix business with pleasure."

"I wonder..."

"What?"

Fouchon chuckled. "I've been wondering what the previous owner of the trinkets said when he found your car missing."

Dorian began to laugh, and Fouchon, who had heard nothing but laughter tinged with sarcasm and anger for the last year, found the honest sound refreshing. "He was not at all a happy man," Dorian admitted. "Had you hesitated even a few moments over the car we might have caught you. As it was, I had to chase him, stark naked, through the gasthaus and out into the snow. He was livid. Literally. He went the strangest shade of violet."

Fouchon began to chuckle.

"And though I love him dearly, I have to tell you he has no sense of humor."

"He lost a Durer portrait and a Gutenberg Bible, Dorian, and I can only imagine what the helmet is worth; I don't think that anything short of murder would be considered bad form under those circumstances. Why on earth did you take them to begin with?"

There was a long silence.

"I know who you are, Dorian," Fouchon admitted.

"Ah. Then you know who he is."

"Yes."

"And you probably already knew that he doesn't have a sense of humor about these things."

"That would have been my first guess," Fouchon said dryly. "He didn't look amused."

Dorian laughed again; it seemed his own sense of humor was intact and irrepressible. "He dragged me back upstairs and read me the riot act in three languages. I hate it when he starts in German; he gets so agitated he sounds like some comic book Hitler. Achtung, du vill meine gehthingen gehfetchen!"

"Why did you take them?" Fouchon asked again.

"We needed a change of venue. Oh look...what is your real name, anyway? It's not Durer, obviously, but I doubt it's really William as you said when we met."

"Emil."

"All right then, Emil, what difference does it make? It backfired on me. I'm lucky to be able to make it right. When and where can we meet for an exchange?"

"Vienna, Friday night."

"Delightful. I'll take a room at the Bristol under the name "Harry Lime.""

It was Fouchon's turn to laugh from pure delight.

 

Friday. Winter had finally deserted this part of the world and Vienna was blooming. The weather was cool and sunny, and Fouchon, who had planned to check into the hotel early and wait for Dorian to arrive, fell lure to the sunshine and the scent and color of hyacinths and daffodils. He walked all over the city's center, stopping only to listen to the music being played in the parks. Mozart, Strauss, Schubert...the air was filled not only with perfume but with lilting, soaring music. It was the sort of an afternoon he would have loved to share with Pik, the sort of afternoon they used to share before life had become so difficult and demanding. Or perhaps before he had become so difficult and demanding. He was no longer sure who was more to blame, he knew only that he had lost his soul that spring.

After sunset, he walked back to the Bristol and called up to Dorian's room.

"Herr Lime, it's Herr Durer."

Dorian chuckled. "Come up," he said, "I have champagne chilling."

Not only was there champagne on ice, but the bed was turned down and there was Mozart drifting out of the stereo. "A little night music," Dorian whispered as he wrapped long arms around Fouchon and pulled him close. Warm lips brushed Emil's ear. "Where are the knick-knacks?"

Fouchon produced a key to a room on a lower floor. "Safe," he said.

Dorian took the key and released him. He opened the door to his suite and gave a short, sharp whistle, and a man appeared at the door. Dorian gave him the key, shut the door and turned back to Fouchon. "I can give you my undivided attention now," he said, an audible purr in his voice.

They had made it as far as the bed when there was a staccato knock at the door. Dorian groaned. "Now what?" he muttered.

Klaus again. This time it was Fouchon's turn to groan.

But instead of the controlled anger of their first meeting, there was a fine, high fury to Klaus this time. He stormed past Dorian and went straight for Fouchon, hauling him off the bed by his belt. A second later Fouchon had the barrel of the Thompson pressed to Klaus' forehead. "Don't even think you could win this fight," Fouchon said quietly. "It's a Thompson; it'll make raspberry jam out of your head."

Klaus' grip didn't ease, nor did his gaze waver.

"Klaus, put him down," Dorian said. "Your things are safe. They're on their way back to Eberbach. Klaus!"

"It's just a night," Emil told von Eberbach. "It's not much out of your life or his."

Klaus blinked. His hands relaxed slightly.

"Klaus, don't," Dorian begged. "Please let go."

Fouchon stared into Klaus' eyes. "Dorian, can you wait outside for a few minutes?"

"What?"

"The Major and I have a few things to discuss."

There was a long moment of silence and perfect stillness as all three of them waited for someone else to make a move or say the right words that would allow them all to relax. Dorian broke first. "I'll be right outside," he said, more as a warning to Fouchon than an assurance.

"He's safe with me so long as I don't feel threatened," Emil promised him.

When the door closed behind Dorian, Fouchon moved the Thompson away from Klaus' head. "Now let go of me," he said softly, and Klaus let him fall back onto the bed.

"You have nerves of steel," Klaus said with grudging admiration.

"I return the compliment. May I say something to you that you might not like?"

A smile transformed the beautiful face fleetingly, then disappeared. "Of course."

"If you don't let him know you love him, you'll lose him forever."

It seemed to Emil that the Major was ducking and bobbing and trying to avoid the blow, but in the end he took it squarely and said, "How can I let him know? He'd lose interest if he ever thought he'd made this conquest."

"It's easier to face the prospect of having your brains decorate an expensive hotel suite than to say to him, "I love you." isn't it?"

"Infinitely. And why should you care?"

"I shouldn't. I really should be trying to woo him away from you; I could enjoy the man in ways you never will. But I'm telling you this as a sort of pennance. There was someone I loved and I drove him away because I couldn't be the sort of lover he needed. Do you understand?"

Klaus stared at him for a long time, then nodded. His eyes were sad.

Fouchon straightened his clothes, and went searching for his shoes. "And now I'm going to leave before I regret having said these things to you. There's champagne on ice and the bed is still mostly pristine. I suggest you make use of both. And tell him how you feel."

Klaus' eyes closed; he looked weary and Fouchon thought that it was a little like looking into a mirror at a picture of his own soul. He was so tired; he ached to rest there beside them, and feel the currents of their emotion swirl around him. Why couldn't they share that small bit of their lives with him?

Because Klaus wasn't a man who shared easily. Fouchon knew the type. "We're two of a kind, Major which is why I can tell you these things." He slipped his shoes on and picked his jacket up off the floor. Dorian had slipped a packet of money into the pocket.

"I'm going to do you another favor, Major, out of enlightened self-interest more than anything else. Now listen to me carefully..."

Klaus nodded.

"Volksfrei; you know the name, don't you? Hans Gruber?" The slight twitch of Klaus' mouth was all the answer Fouchon needed. "Yes, that's the way I feel about him, too. He wants you dead; I don't know why, it's not my business. Consider yourself warned."

"And?" Klaus asked.

"And there may be a man working with him. A South African."

"You want him dead?"

"I want him left alive if possible."

"I see. I'll do all I can for you, Herr..."

"Durer."

This time Klaus found it impossible to control the smile that spread across his face. "Herr Durer. How nice to meet you."

"Thanks, and I hope I never have occasion to see you again."

"Consider the feeling mutual. I'll take your advice under consideration."

Fouchon nodded at him, and left the suite. Dorian was lounging against the wall near the elevator. "Is he still speaking to me?"

"I think you'll find him rather more agreeable than when he walked into the room," Fouchon told him."

Dorian straightened up. His honey-colored hair fell into his eyes and he shook it back with an impatient toss of his head. "I shan't see you again, shall I?"

"I don't think so."

Dorian nodded, then walked across the hallway and let himself into his suite.

 

They say Christmas is a time for remembering. It was all there was for Fouchon on the year which began with losing Pik to Gruber and ended with losing him to death.

Christmas Eve. Los Angeles. It was on all the stations; CNN carried the story in grim detail: Terrorists capturing the Nakatomi building in downtown Los Angeles, the FBI brought in, a lone policeman foiling the terrorists' plans.

Gruber, Hans. When Fouchon heard his name, saw his photo on the screen it was as if an old wound had been torn open. The men with Gruber...one of them had to be Pik. And of them all, only two made it out alive. Neither of them was Pik.

Fouchon watched through the night in his Washington apartment where he was staying while he set up his new business, watched as the story unfolded, watched as it ended with Hans falling to his death from the thirtieth floor, and watched the hours of recaps, analysis, hours of hoping against hope that somehow all the bodies would be quickly identified. At least, if he saw Pik's name among the dead, he'd know for sure, he could get on with his life. But there were three who would probably never be identified.

And every time they showed Hans falling, falling, to land like a squashed bug on the nice, new pavement...every time, he thought: You took him from me, and now you die without giving me peace.

The morning was bright and sunny. Christmas. In better times, he and Pik would have had a walk together before their dinner. They would have exchanged gifts, talked about the future. This year they would have discussed the business they'd planned for so long; The Hunt. This year they would have walked through the bare-branched cherry trees and exchanged ideas about the hows, whens and wherefores of this new venture. Fouchon recalled other times and reflected that he'd been a fool not to know what happiness had felt like.

About noon, full of bourbon and despair, he put his Thompson in his mouth and spent a quarter of an hour wondering why it was so difficult to take the next, small step. By twelve-thirty, though, he had sobered up and knew he wasn't going to be able to give in to the comfort of dying, so he went out for a long walk past the Jefferson memorial where he killed the first person he met; a street person huddled behind the monument. It was what Pik would have done, but it didn't help.

He stopped for coffee on the way back. Coffee and a doughnut. Then eggs and bacon. Then a steak. But it wasn't enough; there wasn't enough food in the universe to fill the emptiness.

 

He spent a month in Washington, then moved on to Miami to put together the first of his hunts, sending out word along acceptable channels that he needed trackers for something rather special. Very few of the applicants met his standards...or rather, met the standards that Pik had set. He kept a list of the possibles; it was short.

Late on the last afternoon of interviews, he sat alone in his study and wondered if he were doing the right thing. Without Pik, it seemed futile; he was the touchstone for all that Fouchon valued. Though it had taken a few years of bumping up against the corners, Pik had gone from being a gauche, uncivilized boy who simply liked to kill things for sport, to a clever and disciplined hunter and--seemingly--an indispensable part of Fouchon's life. The man had been more than a lover, he had been the most dependable and talented partner Fouchon could ever have wished for.

He was seriously considering packing it all in and going back to assassinations and arms smuggling when the doorbell rang.

The sight of Pik provoked a sensation he could put no name to. It was beyond anything he had ever experienced: Joy, despair, rage, gratitude...what wasn't he feeling? And would he never, ever be able to stop mourning this man?

"I thought you were dead," he said, so quietly he wasn't sure he'd actually spoken the words instead of thinking them.

But Pik had heard. "I was afraid you might. That's why I've been looking for you. When I heard about the man looking for trackers, I thought it might be you.

Fouchon stared; he was beyond thought. "At Christmas... When I saw what happened..."

"I left him during the summer, Emil. It wasn't working."

"I'm sorry."

Pik looked about to reply, but then he shook his head. "It was nothing. Look, I just came to see you and let you know that I'm all right. You disappeared so quickly after Berlin..." He took a deep breath; his expression was troubled. "I'd better go."

He was out the door before Fouchon came to his senses and called after him. "Pik!"

The younger man turned.

"Are you all right? Do you need anything?" he asked from the doorway.

"I have what I came for. I'm fine."

"Would you... Come back inside for a moment, will you?"

Pik hesitated for just a few seconds, then walked back up the drive and into the house. Fouchon shut the door and leaned against it. "Would you come home, Pik?"

The silence was terrifying. Finally Pik said, "Would you ever believe I did it for anything but the money?"

"I wouldn't care."

"You would, you know. And I wouldn't blame you."

Fouchon slumped. "Pik, listen; I've always been good at wanting things, but never at needing them. Please...I don't care why; I swear to you I'll never ask."

"That's like selling your soul to the devil," Pik remarked as he stepped close to Fouchon and ran a finger down the older man's thin, creased cheek. "But we both did that the day we met, didn't we?" He leaned in for a kiss; Fouchon didn't disappoint him.

"I have a condition," he said as his fingers slid into the open neck of Fouchon's shirt to touch smooth flesh over the curve of his collar bone. "From now on we have no limits between us, understand?"

Fouchon wasn't sure he did, but he was willing to agree to anything. "Yes, of course," he breathed. No one knew his body the way Pik did; no one could rouse him the way Pik could.

"I don't think you do. Where's the bedroom?"

"Upstairs."

"Then go upstairs and I'll show you what I mean."

Pik followed him, saying nothing. In the bedroom he grabbed Fouchon's lapels and pulled him into his arms. "You tell me now what it is you feel for me, or I swear I walk out of your life for good, Emil. You tell me what's in your heart from now on or I will make you so miserable it won't be worth living, understand?"

Fouchon's eyes widened. "What?"

"I'm tired of guessing, of never knowing. Emil, the sex isn't enough; I need more of you than your body."

Of all the things he could have demanded, this was the most terrifying. "I'm no good at... Pik you know how it is with me."

Pik's mouth was hot against his skin, hungering over the curve of collar bone laid bare by the open-necked shirt; his fingers stroked softly down the length of Fouchon's inner forearm where the skin was so delicate it was nearly transparent. "I know. I remember telling you that you never had to say the word "love" to me again, but I was wrong. I need to hear it. And I'm telling you that you're going to get better at this part."

Fouchon slumped in the strong grip, laid his head against Pik's shoulder. "I thought I'd die if I couldn't listen to your heart beat just once more," he confessed, and heard the organ in question beat steadily, slowly.

After a moment, Pik said, "There, that wasn't hard, was it?"

"Like climbing Everest." Fouchon began to laugh weakly. "You've gotten very demanding.

"You don't know the half of it, yet. Get undressed and get into bed. You and I are going to explore some unfamiliar terrain. I'm going to find out if you are breakable."

 

The next house, in Sri Lanka, was far bigger than the one in Miami, but very nearly bare.

"I think we'll have to find some furniture," Pik remarked as they walked through the empty rooms. In one they found a mattress lying in a spill of sunlight near a pair of French doors.

"We have a bed," Fouchon observed wryly, and Pik chuckled. Fouchon was reminded suddenly of the first few years of their relationship, the laughter and the foolishness and the little things like a mattress on the floor which would make them both so happy.

He stared at the mattress and then shoved Pik down onto it. But instead of joining him, he grabbed one of Pik's boots and yanked it off his foot. He gave a wordless cry of conquest as he dashed out of the bedroom and down the hallway.

It was an old game with them; ambushes, a little rough play and the capture of a piece of clothing which was abandoned in some out of the way cupboard or closet. A good way to get undressed, they'd always said.

Pik surprised him in one of the rear bedrooms and tore his jacket off. Before he could get away, Fouchon had Pik's belt.

At the bottom of the stairs, Pik lost his sweater. Pik tripped Emil in the doorway of the music room and took his trousers and both shoes. Fouchon later found one of the shoes in a rhododendron bush.

Most of the rooms had more than one door, many opened into other rooms so that the potential for a little playful mayhem was exceptional. Pik doubled back through two bedrooms and the library to catch Emil in the dining room. They struggled briefly over Pik's trousers which tore in half, and over Fouchon's silk shirt which resisted Pik's best efforts at shredding. Finally he grabbed the front and pulled, popping the buttons off in all directions.

Fouchon was laughing so hard he didn't even try to stop Pik from capturing his shorts. With a hoot of triumph, Pik dashed out of the dining room, leaving his lover lying on the floor, naked save for a pair of blue socks, and wheezing with laughter.

When he recovered enough to get to his feet, he pulled off his socks and dropped them in the hallway. Socks on an otherwise naked man struck him as prissy, and very silly-looking.

He found Pik in the bedroom with the mattress. Pik leaned against one pristine white wall, sunlight pooled around his long, slender feet, shadow heavy on his face. His fingers were laced behind his neck and his hips were canted slightly so that the jut of his sex was all the more apparent through the delicate white silk of the pouch he wore. Saint Sebastien in heat. "Do you concede?" he murmured.

"I gave up my socks voluntarily."

"Then we'll call it a tie." He grinned white in the deep shadow.

Emil crossed to where he stood and sank to his knees, pressing his mouth to the silk. As it grew wet, it grew transparent, showing the warm, flushed skin beneath, the dark, silky hair and the outline of Pik's swelling penis. Fouchon hooked a finger in the silk tie at the waist, and pulled it loose, and the damp pouch peeled away from Pik's flesh. He took the thick shaft into his mouth.

He never tired of the taste of his lover, the feel of his skin or the scent of him like sunlight, musk and pepper. Pik's long fingers twined in his hair and caressed his scalp, his soft groans were a familiar accompaniment. He made Pik's body respond, made his flesh obey his desires. His own cock rose and swelled, seeking the same sensation. "Pik..."

"Wait, wait," he whispered. "I want to lie down with you and touch you."

They tumbled onto the mattress and twined around each other like vines. Their kisses were deep, wet; they were suddenly salty and Emil realized that there were tears on his face, on Pik's. How can we love like this? Damaged as we are, how can we love each other so completely?

Pik held him close. Their cocks, trapped between smooth skin and hard muscle, lay side by side, sliding, chafing, sending jolts of pleasure through both men. Fouchon didn't know which was the more amazing: That anyone could be as important to him as Pik was, or that he himself could be that important to another human being.

Sweat rolled into the hollow of his back. Pik's fingers trailed in the wetness; he sucked them clean. Pik's hair had begun to curl at the temples. Their lips touched and breath whispered between them as if they were one creature. Nothing more perfect existed in the universe.

Pik whispered, "This is the way it ends."

Oh, yes. This was the for-ever-and-ever part.