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“…or the Orient?”

He tilts his chin, grinning sweet as a girl and it raises a prickling sweat on Stiglitz’ back. The playful t-t-tap of his tongue on the end of the word, like a boot sole, yet this is a man who won’t tap his feet idly - like a couple of teasing, preliminary slaps of braided leather on a black-breeched thigh, again if - if - he were given to such gauche gestures. Like a ticking bomb.

The Major smiles, reveling in his cleverness and Hugo sees again the prison walls, the mild amusement of the officer watching him, hears the trooper shifting foot to foot behind him and an unfinished sentence that fell into a time-bomb click after jetzt. Now.

The skin’s closed on his back now, but he shivers in the space after Hellstrom’s words, holds his muscles still and stiffly forwards in his chair, freezing his fist on the table while his knife rests at his side like a loyal hand he longs to touch again, just once though he knows it would bring them all undone.

He can feel himself in the alley again, the night dim and chill and his heart thudding eager and hungry as he walked behind his man. He could almost feel the Major’s soft-skinned neck strain then give way under his hands.

He smiled, a wolf in maiden’s clothing smile when he spun around, his gun already drawn. The smell of the leather coat blanketing him, the knee on his back, the gun at his head pushing his face down, the grit-taste of the dirt that gagged him. Hugo feels it all flood back to fill him as he watches the man beside him. To Major Dieter Hellstrom the three of them may not be worth numbering, but Hugo Stiglitz has always kept count of those who matter. He loosens then clenches his fist, imagining his knife and its perfect fit as he breathes calmly, logically and waits for what follows. He remembers him. His Fourteen.