Chapter 1: A is for A, who is A and A
"They have given me a transfer."
Her blue eyes widened a little, but, "Oh," was all she said.
"It is to the NATO branch in Bonn, where the HQ is located."
"Ah. The capital. That doesn't sound like a punishment."
His cheeks heated up, as he remembered the stunt for which he was being banished. He had been tipsy on duty, albeit after celebrating his father's 75th birthday. "I'll help put together a new team. It will be difficult. I will be very busy. It is a bit of a second chance." One he didn't deserve. He should have been fired, really. But he had certainly learned his lesson now. He would never, ever drink so much again that he risked not sobering up to the next day. "Uncle pulled some strings for me."
"It is good to have a family that supports you," she said, sounding a bit wistful. She was an only child to only children, with her parents long since dead.
"Yes. Ah ... I've been thinking ... We've been going steady for six months now."
"Well, we grew up together, so I don't think you can really count these past months as anything special."
"Berit, the last six months have been the best of my life. Come with me to Bonn. Marry me!"
She smiled gently at him, warming his heart like sunshine. "My dear, dear Andrew. Of course I will."
Chapter 2: B is for B, who is B and B
B is a little overweight. Not dangerously so, but enough that everyone is aware of his extra kilos. The Major constantly harps at him about getting more exercise. B never does, not really. Instead he monitors his weight carefully, keeping at exactly fifteen kilos above what he should weigh, but not letting the scales tip more than a single kilo in either direction before running or eating as necessary.
The extra kilos are like his haircut. Of course he could get rid of the tight bundle of curls, that would be no more than a few moment's work. Same thing with his general behaviour. He does know better than to sprawl about with his wallet visible and pocket watch dangling invitingly when sharing a train compartment with a known thief. Not that he had worried about Eroica doing anything gauche - the man was an art thief, after all, not a common thug. B had studied Eroica's NATO file in detail, on the evening of the very first day he had learned of the British lord's secret identity. Not for any particular reason, though - he does that with everyone.
B isn't stupid either, even if some of the other Alphabets believe him to be. B is not lazy. It's just best to let everyone underestimate him. B is not who he appears to be.
Chapter 3: C is for C, who is C and C
Of course C admires Major von dem Eberbach.
They all do. It's bloody near a requirement for becoming an Alphabet - or at least for staying one. Major von dem Eberbach isn't vain and he doesn't demand for anyone to love him: but if you don't admire the man at least on some level, you simply don't have the strength to even remotely try to keep up with him.
The little supermarket is dingy. Clean, yes, but somehow managing to give a dingy impression nevertheless. Some places are just naturally like that, in C's experience. The little store certainly isn't much to write home about. Four rows of articles, bare necessities, what people might realise that they have just run out of at the last minute and figure it wouldn't be worth the effort to drive to one of the greater superstores to shop for, so they shell out a little extra money and get it within walking distance of home. Only one employee, up by the counter, reading a book and occasionally glancing around to give the impression of showing attention.
C looks harmless enough. He knows that. Oh, he's not like S, who can disappear into shadows; or much less like T, who doesn't even need shadows to hide in. But he does look harmless and trustworthy. Like someone you could leave valuables around and he would never even consider taking a closer look at them, much less appropriate them for his own gain. Nor would he. Valuables are ... valuable. People keep track of them. No, C is much too careful for something like that.
A dingy supermarket, though, oh, that's completely different. There might be a camera, sure, but those cameras are never good enough. Besides, they were in Norway, of all places, and on their way through, stat, leaving in 30 minutes. He'd be in Italy before anyone would even consider checking any security cameras. Should they even bother in the first place, which he found exceedingly unlikely. He wasn't there to rob the place, after all.
His Norwegian isn't as good as Major von dem Eberbach would like, but C can recognize chocolate candy in any number of languages. He lifted two bars of some brand he felt drawn to due to the colorful image on the front. When taking them he used his right hand only: a casual, easy, natural movement. Then he reached with his left hand to take a third bar, this time lifting the chocolate higher and bending his neck as if to inspect the list of ingredients. While trying to decypher the unfamiliar words - some of them similar to English, some even to German - he slipped one of the first two bars into his pocket: a smooth, even moment as if he had lowered his arm momentarily to work out a strain in the shoulder. He brought the hand up again immediately, transferring its now lone bar to his left hand. Then he played it cool, looking over the selection for a bit longer before he started for the counter. As he walked he dug into his pocket for his wallet, feeling a deep satisfaction when the slick wrapper paper of the purloined chocolate bar caressed the back of his hand.
Of course C admires Major von dem Eberbach. C just admires Lord Gloria as well.
Chapter 4: D is for D, who is D and D
No one is transferred to Major von dem Eberbach as some sort of reward. To become an Alphabet is really the opposite of being promoted. The Alphabets are the ones that no one else wants - or that no one else could handle. Strangely enough, these two groups fused together under the Major's iron tutelage. The strong protected the weak and the weak used their strong brethren as a protective net to lash out from within.
D had always known that he was different from the other boys on his block and at his school. Growing up, he had tried hard to meld in, but at some point during his teens he had come to the regrettable conclusion that he would never be like the others. For a long while he withdrew, not wanting to bother with trying to explain to the rest of the world how differently he saw things. To even try was utterly pointless. Besides, while he knew that the vast majority viewed things differently from him, he still thought that they were all, simply, wrong.
He was not, and had never been, violent. For many years he had wondered about that. He had read any number of books - most of the time, books were fairly easy for him to understand: books were written to make sense; to have an understandable flow of events and logic, without as many random factors to keep track of as real life required. Some books mentioned people that seemed to share certain of his difficulties. From reading those books - and seeing some movies - he had gotten the idea that most people that, like him, didn't view the world in the same way as the rest of humanity, sooner or later started to kill people.
D had wondered, on and off, when he had come to think of such things, if one day he would fall asleep with a brand new collection of cut off fingers and perhaps clutching someone's still damp heart (that movie had been rather strange, he thought, and he didn't think he would like to clutch a heart when he went to bed, that sounded a bit yucky. You would get blood all over your PJs and didn't sound very tempting at all in the first place).
On even rarer occasions someone did him wrong. Some people just did that, tried to tease him or even hurt him and he didn't understand why, really, when he had done nothing to them. Maybe they sensed that he wasn't like them, somehow? Whatever the reason, that sometimes made him idly consider matters. Wouldn't life be easier if this person was just, simply, dead? And, if so, ought he kill them?
There was even that one time when he reached the conclusion that, yes, life would be easier if that man was dead. And D liked the easy life. So he thought about killing and realised that killing someone would actually be quite a bother. You would have to find the person without being seen - and the man lived across the country, so D would have to get there in the first place. Go in disguise maybe? At that time he hadn't even had a driver's license, so that had added to his problem. And he hadn't known yet how to get fake identity papers to rent a car under a different name, which struck him as a smart thing to do. Not to mention that he would have to go to Dusseldorf not just once, but several times, to scout out the place, to learn the man's habits and find a way to kill him undetected. That was a big thing. D didn't want to go to prison. As previously stated, he liked his life easy and going to prison would definitely not be easy, so he would not risk going there. In the end he decided that while life would be easier if the man was dead, actually killing him would make his life harder instead, so he dropped the project.
When he did, eventually, kill for the first time, it meant nothing to him. Well, it did mean a mission accomplished. He had joined the army by then, finding that he could understand the orders and requirements of the military life most of the time. Accomplishing a mission meant that he had done well, that he would still be in employment, get paid and be able to buy things he wanted in order to live the easy life. Those were all good things. The killing itself gave him no thrill or sexual reaction. If anything, he had been mildly pleased to have his long standing suspicion confirmed - sure, he could kill. Not that this came as any sort of surprise, he had always been sure of that.
Still, before actually killing some small part of D had wondered - again, mildly, no big deal, just interesting to know - if at the last minute some part of him would object to take that supposedly so precious human life. But no. He killed without regret or remorse, because the person he killed had no value to him, being an unknown and not a part of the sphere of life that D called his. It never even occurred to him to draw things out, inflict pain or anything. He just accomplished his objective and that was that.
Oh, there were evaluations afterwards and they made him do tests and he knew enough about humanity to fake having some problems with what he had done, but the unadorned truth was - he felt no difference. Another thing he had wondered a bit idly about beforehand was if that first kill would set off something, maybe an ear collecting habit or some such nonsense, but everything just continued, business as usual.
Some people realise he's not right, though. He found himself passed from commander to commander, always with good words, but also with no regrets. Finally he is sent to Bonn. Where Major von dem Eberbach looks deeply into his eyes ... and smiles.
They're not the same type of animal. The Major is different from him. They have some areas where they overlap, though, like distant cousins or predators recognizing that the other not even remotely falls into the prey section. And D, who isn't a hunter, even if he can kill, lets the Major take the lead and finds himself a member of a team, for the first time in his life maybe even for real. He is one of the strong members and, slowly, his sphere of people expands until he holds them all in his heart.
They're his. He's not a serial killer, but for his weaker brethren he is prepared to kill armies.
Chapter 5: E is for E, who is E and E
E has a dream. This dream of his has nothing to do with changing the world or anything big and important like that: but it is a dream and it is his and he hopes that one day he just might make it come true. That is why he is one of Major von dem Eberbach's best men, eager to do any work, the first to volunteer in a risky situation, ready with any information that the Major might require, wanting to be there - no, dreaming of being there at the exactly right moment.
It hasn't happened yet, but maybe one day it will.
Maybe, one day, E will save the life of Major von dem Eberbach.
And he will do it in a good way. An impressive way. A downright spectacular, legendary way.
The Major will be impressed. And grateful. And willing.
No, not sex.
God, no; not sex.
Okay then, maybe, but the sex is entirely beside the point.
No, E will save the life of Major von dem Eberbach in a good, impressive, downright spectacular, legendary way and the Major will be impressed and grateful and willing to do anything that his bold rescuer and faithful subordinate asks of him.
Let's just ignore the sex thing for the time being, okay? Geeze, you're a perv.
Major von dem Eberbach will pose.
And E will draw.
And it is E's dream and he can dream any way he wants and that is what he wants.
Of course, sometimes E dreams of drawing nudes as well.
Chapter 6: F is for F, who is F and F
F is a plant.
Everyone knows. It's just so obvious, from the way his German isn't quite right; how he gets some minor details wrong and how he sometimes panics over the strangest things that no one else understands.
The thing is, everyone has plants. That is just the way of the world in which they work. Any spy organisation larger than three men will have an infiltrator, it's some sub-clause of Murphy's law. Some spy organisations of three men have them too. Sometimes duos would glance worriedly at one another. And let's not discuss the Gray Fox, let's just not, who managed to infiltrate himself by way of multiple personalities. Any spy organisation larger than one personality, maybe?
You had plants and you watered them with some juicy information now and then; and if you treated them just right they might blossom and be very useful. Paradoxically, if you just knew who the plants belonged to originally and took that into account in everything you did, the plants could be among your best agents, willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to blend in and be kept around.
What no one could figure out, though, among all the other Alphabets, was exactly who F was a plant for. Major von dem Eberbach never seemed to hesitate in sending F off against the Russians, the Americans, the English, the French, the Arabs, even the Japanese and the Italians. The other agents spends hours trying to figure out the puzzle. An unthinkable alternative finally occured to them. As impossible as it seemed, F might be ... Canadian.
Which is laughable and patently not true.
The Major knows the truth, even if it took even him a long time to even guess at the possibility and he might not even have believed it if he hadn't cornered F on a very bad day and found out the truth in black and, well, green.
F only came to be where he is due to an experiment gone horribly wrong.
F comes from another dimension.
F is a plant.
Chapter 7: G is for G, who is G and G
Sometimes G doesn't dress in women's clothing. It's usually when he's not feeling all that well and he just can't be bothered: when it's simply much easier just to pull on men's clothes and go. Well, needless to say, he showers and shaves and uses lotion and everything, of course - he's not a slob! But sometimes the rest of all the little things that he needs to do to look perfect and delightfully feminine are just too much. Especially when he has a tearing headache and only goes to work because migraines do not equal sick days in Major von dem Eberbach's book. G isn't really sure what does equal sick days in the good major's book, apart from possibly plague and death - and broken legs while trapped by evil doctors at a hospital.
Being stopped at the entry point of NATO HQ and forced to hand over identification, as the guard he had passed daily for months didn't recognize him in his male outfit, did little to improve G's day. Actually, the guy looked a bit disappointed when he realised who G actually was, which G wasn't sure was good or bad, because the guy was kind of cute, in a clear-cut, non-crazy military way.
It was, however, when he finally reached the Alphabet's room and four of the younger 'bets refused to let him sit at his desk, accusing him of being some sort of impostor, that he realised that perhaps he had spent a little too much time in women's clothing lately.
The Earl's disappointed moue when he entered cut him to the core, though, and the Major's bewildered "Agent G! What is the meaning of this outfit?" told him that he just should have stayed in bed anyway.
Chapter 8: H is for H, who is H and H
H would like to be an author. Sometimes he writes silly little stories in his head about their missions. Even more rarely he writes something down on paper - though never based on an actual mission, that would be just plain stupid. Though based on humans he knew, sometimes. If he ever got anything published Major von dem Eberbach would very likely shoot him for treason. The Earl, however, would probably buy up every single copy he could find.
H thought that "To Conquer An Iron Heart" sounded like a good title for his first book.
Chapter 9: I is for I, who is I and I
"--to base. Certainly, General Mesiner. Ich, I will go to the meeting in Frankfurt."
Most people probably wouldn't even have noticed the slight stumble between "ich" and "I". Those who did no doubt put this down to Major von dem Eberbach, the speaker, being German and thusly on rare occasion expected and allowed to fall back to his native tongue, even when speaking otherwise fluent English. At least for such basic words like "I" and "ich".
I knows better. They all do. Klaus had referred to his agents prior in the sentence, thus had felt the need to point out that with "I" he did mean "ich" - himself, personally, the Major, and not, well, "I".
It had been thus since that little misunderstanding in Detroit, when I had thought that the major ordered him to meet up with Eroica back at the safe house.
I never wanted to be mistaken for "ich" again. He still couldn't get the picture of what he had seen in the safe house out of his head. Though he had only arrived there about ten minutes after "ich" and, to be fair, both the Major and Eroica had still been wearing clothes. Still. Some things just can't be unseen.
Chapter 10: J is for J, who is J and J
J admires G. It's hard not to. G is so out there and open and looks so cute in his feminine garb. Sure, he gets hell for his bravery - from the Major and from many others as well. The Chief hits on him! The very thought is enough to make J want to vomit. On the other hand, there's him being able to flirt openly with men on assignments, even with the Major on occasion (J might be just a hint jealous of that) and the open approval from Lord Gloria.
Sometimes J thinks they'd make a nice couple, J and G, but sadly there's just no sexual tension between them. Only mutual admiration - and a little envy. Sometimes - just rarely - J would like to wear dresses like G. Sadly, J just doesn't have the figure for it, with too much belly and a too fat butt - and from experience feeling air up a dress made J self-conscious and prone to think people were staring. J just wasn't the type for dresses.
No, it's a crisp uniform for J - even the Major had never found a fault in the get-up - with polished shoes and solid belts. Shoulder holster, trenchcoat, preferably a hat. When in civilian garb, J favours jeans and a western style shirt with shoulder pads.
J is better at cross-dressing than G is, but she still admires him.
Chapter 11: K is for K, who is K and K
K hears voices sometimes. They tell him things. Things like that people are looking at him and judging him and might be going to hurt him if he doesn’t take precautionary actions.
He is aware that sane people don’t hear voices. Still, he hears them. So, maybe he's not entirely sane. This possibility bothers him, so he tries not to focus on the voices, unless he's really sad or bored or nervous.
Sometimes the voices get really loud, though, and he can't help but ask other people to repeat what they are saying. Sometimes he wonders if/hopes that other people hear the voices too; that maybe the voices are part of some conversation in the distance.
The voices make things more difficult for him, not easier, so he doesn't trust what they say any longer. They have him shipped from unit to unit, until they land him in the Alphabet squad.
He likes it there. Major von dem Eberbach is louder than all the voices.
Chapter 12: L is for L, who is L and L
L is not like most of the other Alphabets. L is a family man.
"Lenny - Lenny? Have you heard a word I'm saying?"
"Yes, dear. Potatoes, at least 20 of them, large; 1 packet of medium-roasted coffee; 1 large cucumber; 4 tomatoes, also large ones; beans; toast; butter; salt; whitening tooth paste; a packet of hot dogs and toilet paper, the soft kind." He hadn't really been listening, but he had ample training in playing back conversations, memorising as he went along, especially such easy things as a shopping list where he recognized all the words. Besides, all things considered, it wasn't a very long list. Major von dem Eberbach routinely expected them to remember much more than that.
"Papa? Papa? I need more money. We're going on a school trip to Köln."
"Of course, dear. Here you go." He wasn't home much, so he liked to spoil his three children as much as possible when he was.
"Papa? Can I talk to you?" His older daughter, Janine, looked at him with her brown eyes wide and a bit scared, alerting him that something was very wrong. They were alone in the kitchen and, sensing that a hug was needed, he held out his arms. She slipped into his embrace and he held her hard, breathing in the fresh scent of her shampoo and enjoying the rare treat of a daughter's hug. "Papa, I think I might be pregnant."
Thirty minutes later he had established that, no, she was in fact not at all pregnant, more than likely still virgo intacta, but had a very hazy idea on how pregnancies worked and that there was a young man to whom L would have to explain in great detail just how easy it would be for L to either just shoot him and hide the body - or tell Major von dem Eberbach that he strongly suspected the young man to be a cleverly disguised Russian. Kisses were as far as the young man and L's daughter would get before Janine moved away from home, which L estimated would be somewhere around the next century.
The dog, however, was pregnant. No one knew who the father was.
Most days, family man or no, L is rather glad to leave his little house and go to NATO HQs to join the other Alphabets. Things are less stressful there.
Chapter 13: M is for M, who is M and M
M is well aware of his status as a temporary Alphabet. Major von dem Eberbach all but exploded on learning that he must take on something as distasteful as an American. An American not even working for NATO, but was just a temporary liaison with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Still, the previous Agent M had just left NATO - in tears, M had heard, though he wasn't quite sure why or even if to credit such rumours. Major von dem Eberbach was harsh, yes, a very exacting man who expected nothing but perfection from his men, but that M could understand completely and utterly agreed with. Still, with the former Agent M just out the door, the Major had slotted the American into the available spot - stressing the “temporary” part of the assignment multiple times.
A British Earl showed up occasionally to steal something either for them or from them - or just to flirt outrageously with the Major. He was a bit of a distraction and M wondered how far DADT stretched - and if NATO would let Major von dem Eberbach keep his position if it emerged that he had a relationship with the pretty thief. Which M more or less thought a given, based on a few revealing details he'd observed.
All in all M found his time in Germany highly educative and an interesting memory for life. Also, threathening to send troublesome subordinates to Alaska struck him as an excellent solution - or perhaps somewhere even colder.
Later he ran into Major von dem Eberbach during a joint NATO/NCIS operation - and, yes, the thief had been present there as well. The former M, now using his real name of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, belatedly congratulated the couple on their marriage.
Chapter 14: N is for N, who is N and N
Major von dem Eberbach stalked out from the temporary interrogation room - the mole's living room - with his boots snapping thunder against the kitchen floor as he headed straight for the pot of hot water and the canister with Nescafe.
N raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. He knew better than to ask how something was going. Either way, if he needed to know, the major would tell him.
From the way his superior moved, though, much like an angry cat, he surmised that the interrogation was going less than well. That was interesting - and rare. The good major had a way to intimidate prisoners that rivalled any man N had ever met - and N had met some fascinating people in his days.
The major gently put the steaming cup of Nescafe on the table, then flung himself down in a chair, staring at the obviously too hot drink as if offended by its very heat.
"He's an idealist! A fanatical idealist!"
N winced and nodded his understanding.
"Fuck it all, we don't have time for torture! If they pull off that bloody 'rescue mission' of theirs thousands of people will die! We need the truth now." Major von dem Eberbach's eyes were hard and ungiving, capturing N's gaze relentlessly. "I can break anyone within four days, but fanatical idealists will hold out for the longest and we don't have that time! Tough little buggers. This calls for drastic measures. Do it."
"Jawohl," N answered and rose gracefully.
What he was about to do didn't follow NATO regulations. However, Major von dem Eberbach and the rest of the Alphabet had found out - in a rather spectacular fashion, really; he had been so embarrassed he hadn't known which way to look and had actually blushed in the first time in what felt like a hundred years - about N's little ... speciality. Since then, on occasion the good Major would call on N to help out. And while in previous years N had buggered off to start a new life if someone had discovered his secrets, this time he had found an astonishing acceptance and, after much internal debating, had elected to stay.
He left Major von dem Eberbach in the kitchen. In the living room he stopped to take in the quiet disdain in the blue eyes of the fanatic idealistic terrorist wannabe who, if that wannabe came true, would cause the death of thousands.
This might even be a bit enjoyable, he thought to himself. He wasn't very sadistic, but some people definitely deserved to be taken down a peg or two.
"You will tell me everything," N stated calmly and paused, just for a few seconds, to let his words sink in.
When the jerk snorted - actually snorted at him! - N judged the time ripe.
As his eyes shifted pitch black he hissed hard, showing off a rather impressive set of fangs.
Oh yes, the jerk was going to tell him everything he wanted to know.
Out in the kitchen, Major von dem Eberbach sipped his Nescafe.
Chapter 15: O is for O, who is O and O
O is a plant.
The other Alphabets and Major von dem Eberbach found out in Siberia, on the run from another NATO plan that had gone spectacularly wrong. Mischa had captured them, they had managed to escape, had been captured once more and managed to escape yet again. During both escapes the art thief had been instrumental in freeing them - the second time despite Mischa putting them in separate prisons.
As they ran O had displayed knowledge of the area above and beyond what any NATO employee reasonably could have been expected to know. Sure, he claimed to have taken a special interest and to have studied the geography in his spare time. A perfectly reasonable explanation and one that everyone had politely pretended to buy.
To have one of the natives greet him with a hug and call him "cousin" was a bit more difficult to explain.
Then Mischa captured them again - only this time O was the one who managed to free them.
O is a plant.
That's okay. He's their plant now.
Chapter 16: P is for P, who is P and P
P is the most intrepid of all Alphabets.
The others gaze at him with undisguised admiration when he corrects Major von dem Eberbach's mission summaries or points out a plan weakness which none of the others would ever have dared to actually bring up.
He takes toilet breaks that exceed the 3 minutes limit! When confronted he calmly says that there are some things a man shouldn't hurry.
Not only that! He takes sick days! And he requests leave for frivolous activities such as visiting a Christmas market in Berlin or his sister's theatre opening night!
During missions he always obeys Major von dem Eberbach, of course - to do otherwise wouldn't be brave, it simply would be suicidal. It is the way he obeys that has all the others secretly wanting to set up a P fan club. He almost questions orders - to get more information, he claims, but he doesn't just leap blindly when the major tells them to jump. And if something unexpected happens he wings things - and more often than not, Major von dem Eberbach doesn't even yell at him for doing so!
Sometimes when this happens, A swears that he can even see a hint of approval in Major von dem Eberbach's sharp, green eyes. That possibility unsettles them all. Of course, they all know that this is just the lull before a storm. P will very, very soon find himself somewhere far colder and they will all mourn his passing.
P is aware that they all think he is crazy. That's okay. Maybe he is, just a little. But ever since P was a toddler, his greatest dream has always been to move to Alaska.
Chapter 17: Q is for Q, who is Q and Q
With the code name of Q, Q of course got all the Star Trek jokes. He smiled tensely at the people teasing him, told them that he had heard all the jokes a thousand times before and, no, he wouldn't snap his fingers and whip them up a room full of beer and buxom blondes. The major wouldn't approve.
Not that he couldn't do it, if he actually wanted to. He just didn't like people telling him what to do and, besides, he preferred his men bald.
Chapter 18: R is for R, who is R and R
R had never met a woman he didn't like. Well, of course he had met several women with really nasty personalities, for example an otherwise lovely lady who had taken great joy in attempting to carve out his eyes with a crocheting-needle, which even R interpreted as a fairly strong sign that a great romance was probably not on the horizon. That didn't matter in the least. A great romance wasn't R's goal anyway. He just loved women! Even the ones that wanted to drip acid in his ears. He found some shard of beauty in them all - if not in their personality, then in some aspect of physical attraction - he found something he could admire in everyone.
He adored the older women, for their security, their wisdom, their strength, their determination, the fragility of their bodies, the beauty of their skins and the way they would positively glow when he gave them his undivided attention. The very old ones usually scolded him for being a shameless flirt, not taking him at all seriously, but he was happy just to have made them smile. The young ones - well, not the very young ones - it was women he loved, not girl-children - he loved for their spirit, their beauty, their hope and their sheer joy of living. Not to mention all the women in between, who enchanted him utterly. He found attraction in a kind smile, a clever mind, a shade of blue to the eyes, a hint of auburn in the hair. Obese women were just so much woman for him to admire, why would he ever want them to lose weight? But on the other hand - bodybuilders - how could he resist all those muscles, to feel such incredible strength and dedication all over? Tiny breasts, hardly large enough to fit in his mouth - or big enough that he could bury his entire face in their generosity - why would he choose? The word was a smörgåsboard: an enormous oyster with pearls strewn everywhere R looked!
Sheer femininity was enough. R always had a smile and an honest compliment for G - though he didn't actively pursue this, in respect for a valueable team member. And he would, of course, in his own way, show respect to J, tantalized by the hidden femininity - though in J's case, he didn't pursue out of respect for a life choice that sadly excluded him. But lesbians - oh, most of R's best friends were lesbians! Sure, he had plenty of male friends he could talk about women with, but how could he possibly resist women who actually shared his primary interest?
Sex was good too, of course, but most of all he was an old-fashioned gentleman to the core, raised with firm views on how a man should value and respect women. If he could help it he would never hurt a single one of them: he lived to bring them joy and to put smiles on their faces. Through sex, if they'd let him - and if they did, his greatest pleasure was the pleasure he brought.
Major von dem Eberbach never asked R to use his love for women to seduce a target. Oh, he might have tried, once or twice, in the beginning, before he realised how pointless trying this actually was. R was great - nay, brilliant - at seduction - but seduced himself every single time, falling deeply in love as he always did. Luckily he had plenty of experience with falling in and out of love - if given enough options he could manage it, oh, twenty times a day.
However, Major von dem Eberbach was certainly not above bringing R along to any party his Father forced him to attend - and aim him unerringly at the eligible woman his Father had hinted were of marriagable age and had good hips for child-bearing. R was always happy to deflect the woman's attention. Of course. She was a woman.
Chapter 19: S is for S, who is S and S
It's not that S looks for shadows or that he even makes an effort to blend into them. Oh, when on a mission he might, but even then it's not much of an effort to make. The shadows are always just there and S only has to relax for them to welcome him as a part of the darkness.
He doesn't dislike light. Sometimes he even goes to the beach and sprawls in the sun, feeling the intense heat warm him from the skin inwards. He thoroughly enjoys that, but when he steps into the shade afterwards, the coolness is like an almost pleasurable caress, as if the shadows themselves soak up the sunshine from his skin. Without light, there could be no shadows, only darkness - and that's completely different.
The shadows aren't alive, but when he passes from light to darkness he feels an alien intellect embrace him, eager for his presence. Why this sentient presence would be interested in him of all people he doesn't know. As far as he is aware he is a perfectly ordinary human being. It's not even like he has any cool super powers when he's in the shadows. He can just blend in well, protected by a darkness that seems to encourage people's eyes to slide away from him.
Sometimes S thinks it would be so easy to edge a little further into the darkness; to lose himself completely in the soft hues of grey. He knows that the shadows would welcome him. And what might he not discover, there, in the absence of light? But not yet. No, not yet. Not while Major von dem Eberbach's sharp eyes can find him in the deepest of shadows and the Earl of Gloria shines on them like a sun of their own.
Chapter 20: T is for T, who is T and T
There is no T. You can't see him. T is not here. Ignore. Move on. There was never a T.
Some months T didn't receive a pay cheque, because everyone had forgotten about him. Those were good months.
Chapter 21: U is for U, who is U and U
"What do you want?" "I don't know, let's ask him."
"I told you to answer the phone!" "Sorry, L, I thought you meant U."
"Did anyone see U on the way?" "No, I was very careful."
And then they laughed. So U laughed too, even if he had to force himself. Sure, I had a rough time of things sometimes, as did Y - and even others, but U really had the raw end of the deal. But in his heart of hearts he knew that he was more than a vowel that could be pronounced to misinterpret an English sentences.
One day he would show them! U had ambitions! There's no U in Team. One day, he would be M for Major!
Chapter 22: V is for V, who is V and V
Major von dem Eberbach did have an office. Normally he preferred to stay in the Alphabet's room, though, to keep a firm eye on his subordinates. However, on a very rare occasion he would, grudgingly, invite a hapless agent into his sanctum for a Private Talk. Most Alphabets tried to avoid this at any cost.
V quickly glanced around, puzzled as to why his superior didn't use the room more, when thought had obviously gone into the interior. Behind the major's desk hung four rifles, six revolvers and two pistols, in military-straight lines. There was a good-sized locker with "Major von dem Eberbach" neatly written on a bronze plate. No doubt V would find the major's clothes inside, maybe even a set of civilian garb, had he dared to look. Books were crammed tight on a small bookshelf, but V stood too far away to see the titles clearly. The smell of coffee and cigarettes permeated the room. Understandable, since the major would retreat there to make especially important, secret phone calls. Presumably he would smoke as he spoke, since he smoked as he did so pretty much everywhere else.
"Mischa is blackmailing you to provide him with information?"
V nodded, wondering if he would get sent to Alaska or fired or both.
The major snorted, lifted his coffee mug and chugged. Even as he drank, his sharp eyes never left V.
"What does he have on you?"
"An inappropriate relationship, sir. He .. has photographs."
V nearly blushed. "Intercourse, sir."
"'Always check for hidden cameras', sir. I ... am aware. I apologise, sir."
The major made a dark noise in the back of his throat, not quite a growl, but a very distinct, disappointed noise that all Alphabets had learned to fear. Then he reached into his desk, pulled up a small, brown envelope and tossed it at V, who caught it neatly.
He cut open the paper with his finger and then looked down at the very photographs in question. Then he looked up, thoroughly bewildered.
"You weren't the only one he tried to blackmail," the major said gruffly. "What's his name, Beck? Went to Dorian, who stole the images. Replaced them with stills from some porn movie featuring a woman who looks a lot like Mischa's wife, Dorian told me."
Dorian? V thought, but kept an impassive face. He had never heard the major refer to Eroica with such familiarity before.
Major von dem Eberbach made the dark noise again, but this time the sound seemed imbued with a hint of amusement, rather than plain annoyance. Then he fixed V again with his gimlet stare.
"Never forget rule number five when you meet up with a lover, V. I never do."
Chapter 23: W is for W, who is W and W
When W was sent to the Alphabet team various more or less well-meaning associates had told him that he was joining a team of losers. Not an uplifting, inspiring thing to hear, of course, but orders are orders and short of leaving the military there wasn't much he could do but to go where ordered. Besides, it would only be a temporary liaison.
To his surprise, what he found might be a team of losers, sure; but they were a well-oiled, well-trained, well-managed team of losers, who might have little going for them as individuals, but as a group transcended any explanation other than the razor-sharp, keen military mind of their admittedly at times somewhat overzealous leader.
W, on loan to NATO from America's armed forces, took careful notes and made up his mind then and there that, yes, if Franklin Clay ever took command, he would never be afraid to add losers to his team. In fact, he would be the King of Losers.
Chapter 24: X is for X, who is X and X
Eight hours a day (really, more like 12 hours a day, but officially they only worked eight hours a day) his name wasn't even a name, just an X, which could stand for anything. More like 24 hours a day, on one of their frequent missions. Little wonder, then, that when he was asked for identification, he would sometimes stare at his wallet with a worried frown, not quite remembering if the name he saw was his own or not. Sometimes he was sure it wasn't.
Chapter 25: Y is for Y, who is Y and Y
"... and you would be assigned a letter of the Alphabet, which would then be your code name."
Sir Guy Philliston, leader of the British intelligence organization known as the Source, glanced down at the papers in front of him with his lips pursed in a moue of distaste. Then he nodded. "Certainly, that letter seems to be currently available."
Henry blinked, then decided to let the matter rest. As long as he got away from the Source and Sir Guy, he was willing to do pretty much anything, even up to and including moving to Germany and be known as a question.
"Are you sure, Henry? We will so miss you here!" And Sir Guy batted his eyelashes seductively at him.
With a blank smile, Henry nodded. Germany would be much better, of that he was certain. Anything to get away from flirty British aristocrats with a yen for secret service agents.
Chapter 26: Z is for Z, who is Z and Z
Many who met Z in those early days thought him too good for their world of espionage, inflitration and betrayal. Many others started to suspect that he might actually not be the innocent, good-natured, honest young man he gave every impression of being.
Certainly Major von dem Eberbach had his suspicions. For a good while he carefully nurtured the newest agent to find out if all that earnest goodness hid something more devious beneath. Could a youngster of today truly be as guileless, honest and, well, sweet-natured as Z? You knew there is something wrong when a jaded spy master started to think about another man as having a sweet nature - such words simply shouldn't be applicable to a fellow agent.
Oh, Z could be devious. Klaus even sent him undercover with marked success. But it was a strange kind of deviousness, adhering desperately to his script. Even after Z had been in the field for months, when Klaus told him to watch his trousers around someone, well ... the young man actually seemed to think that Klaus warned him that someone might otherwise steal said trousers, not ... be after something entirely different.
Z could even hurt others. Not torture, perhaps, that never proved necessary, but in fisti-cuffs he gave as good as he got and he never hesitated to defend a teammate. And he could loom threatheningly like nobody's business, frowning darkly as long as no one said anything that made him smile, at which point he lost his entire frightening demeanour and instead radiated a warm, calm happiness.
For a long time Klaus was at a complete loss as to his best cause of action. Z was eager to serve both his country and his fellow human beings. He was a good soldier, that was all too clear, but it was also all too clear that the boy just wasn't cut out for the darker parts of cloaks and daggers. Klaus tried hinting at this, but his veiled suggestions were met by puzzled frowns and promises to do better in the future.
Finally he reached the end of his patience when Z stopped mid-pursuit to help an old woman who had fallen over. Sure, help the elderly and all that. Klaus had been brought up to show respect and he normally would have assisted the woman too. Normally. Not in high pursuit. Had Z never heard of planted distractions? Sure, they caught their prey anyway and the old woman happened to have been C's mother, but still, it was the principle of the thing!
So, Klaus sat down and considered the problem in depth. Then he made a call. On hearing the affirmative reply, he cashed in a few favors and arranged for a new mission. And when the statue of St. Lucia started crying, Klaus never hesitated. He merely pointed at Z and said out loud - and when Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach wants to be loud, he is very loud in deed - "It was he! He did it! He fell on it, and then it started to cry. It was his touch that did it! It's a sign!"
Okay, so maybe "he fell on it" could have been put more like "I pushed him into it", but sure, technically the crying had begun after Z fell on the statue.
Which was later examined, as was Z, but the odd phenomenon repeated itself twice more, only ever after Z having touched the statue.
"Very strange," Klaus told Z seriously when they were alone for a moment, waiting for an apostolic visitation to arrive. "I don't know how this could be happening."
And he didn't exactly know, even if he could venture a guess. Dorian had laughed, said "Leave everything to me," and Klaus had pointedly not asked his lover for details.
"Maybe you should join the church, Z," he added gravely. "I think the vocation would suit you. And the priest at Eberbach needs a replacement. He couldn't keep his sermons to decent nap-length if the Pope himself told him."
Z, looking overwhelmed by all the attention he had received, nevertheless got a strange kind of gleam in his eyes. Of course, Klaus had read a few letters to the young man's sister, a nun in Claerford, and knew the Birchwast family to be intensely religious. Apart from the nun, one of the other sons was already a priest and an uncle had been promoted to cardinal. Z had, by all accounts, only chosen to join NATO because he felt that a priest and a nun and a cardinal in the family was enough already.
"Do you really think that I should, sir?"
"Yes," Klaus said with a determined nod. "Do. And make me proud."
Forty-five years later, when the white smoke rose above the Vatican, Cardinal Joseph Z Birchwast, soon to become Pope Nicholas VI and possibly never quite as innocent as his former superior had agonized over, lowered his lips to his praying hands, thanking God for granting him the privilege and trust to change the world - and Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach for setting the ball rolling.