Distant Drums

by Anne-Li

Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than Marabou Sensation Double Creme Wafers. Corrections to my language are welcome as are comments! Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 6.157 words. Written in December 2009.

Warnings: deaths. Lots of deaths.

To Cassie Ingaben

Betaed by Heather Sparrows (You're the best!) and Kadorienne (You're also the best!) and Cassie Ingaben (And you too!). I really appreciate all your help! Remaining errors are all mine.

20th of June, 1985.

When Dorian got the news the world stopped. At least that was how it felt; the only reason he could account for the violent pressure which suddenly squeezed him tightly, the way his head spun and how his thoughts flew wild as if they too, somehow, had become unanchored by the lack of gravity. Then reality snapped back and he forced himself to concentrate on the goal his entire being demanded that he achieved - to go there! Now! Intellectually he knew that he was in a state of shock, especially when he heard his voice issue commands and only later remembered what he had intended to say.

That strange stage only lasted for a few minutes. Horrific as the news was, it wasn't utterly hopeless. He brought Bonham and James along to Heathrow - in the 'ghini, with both men in the passenger seat, clinging frantically to each other as Dorian pressed the pedal to the floor, coaxing the sports car to the maximum speed even remotely safe over the tricky roads. He drove that fast despite the fact that the plane wouldn't leave for at least another hour after they reached the airport.

Tickets waited for them at the Lufthansa counter. But also a message from John Paul, who manned the station in North Downs. And thus Dorian received the second set of news. Perhaps the previous shock had numbed him, for while he felt hollow with horror, his voice never wavered when he ordered Bonham to check if there were any faster flights available - any at all! He would rent a plane if he had to - and while James moaned at the very thought, the accountant didn't protest. Just as he hadn't protested when John Paul had apologised to him earlier, when telling him that only first class tickets could be had to the first plane to Germany.

Fifteen years later

Over the years Sedenford's local gay bar had undergone several changes, but its current name was Moss's Warren. The Warren was a nice, laid-back place, with decent beer and usually a dart game going on. All in all it resembled most any pub in England, though with a fair amount more naked chests than was usually the norm in such establishments. Joseph counted himself a regular and liked to go there occasionally, especially when one of his London friends visited. The city boys generally found the Warren dull, but quaint. Joe quite liked the place. He could relax there and get some flirting done.

"Joe, have a look at that? Heaven must've opened up, because an angel just walked in."

The speaker was Arthur, the friend Joe currently showed around Sedenford - and a man he had a fairly secret crush on. Sometimes Joe felt as if he was just waiting for his friend to grow up a bit, so they could get on the same page. He turned obediently, to see who had caught Art's attention. On recognising the vision that had just entered, he smiled.

"Out of your league, Art," he cautioned. "Besides, he's waiting for someone."

As always a bit too indifferent to things like fidelity and monogamy for Joe's taste, Art shrugged. Then he smiled: that warm, intense smile that always made Joe's gut twist a little. "Well, if he's waiting, maybe he's waiting for me."

Joe snorted. He found that he didn't particularly mind having Art barking up that particular tree, since that might teach his friend a lesson or two - maybe even give the heartbreaker a case of heartbreak all his own.

"Could be," he began to say, to encourage. Then, his in-bred honesty kicked in and he had to qualify his statement. "But if it is you he's waiting for, you've kept him waiting for an awful long time now." Almost as long as you've kept me waiting, he nearly added, but didn't.

"Yeah? What do you mean? The bloke just stepped in."

"True. But Lord Golden has been waiting for far longer than that. He's been waiting for almost fifteen years now."

The Klinikum on Venusberg was of high standards, well equipped and with any number of specialists running around. Yet Dorian felt what the place lacked as distinctly as he would have felt the lack of his own right thumb. What the hospital lacked was the horde of Alphabet agents who should be hovering about, getting underfoot, trying to stay out of Dorian's line of sight, gaze adoringly at him or with trusting naivety expose their wallets to his skilled hands.

The man outside the hospital room marked 416 was obviously military, with crew-cut hair, ramrod straight back, wide-toed stance and vigilant eyes. Actually, a type of man Dorian himself rather favoured these days. With a proper width of shoulders, but overall slender, solid body that hinted at good stamina and agility. Oh, and long, long legs, of course. Normally Dorian would have found a minute to spare for the guard, just to make the man aware that there existed a possibility that those long, long legs would, all in all, look rather dashing if slung over Dorian's shoulders.

To make butch soldiers blush usually made Dorian's day. But this day could never be made and Dorian had neither time nor heart to make even a token effort. He just marched up to the door, fingers reaching for the small tube of sleeping gas he always kept in a special pocket on his long purple coat. One spray and then Bonham, who trailed him, would deal with soldier boy before he fell.

However, before Dorian had time to follow through with this alternative, more direct way of dealing with soldiers, the man in question - who had been unable to miss seeing Dorian's rapid approach - opened his mouth. "You're the fop, aren't you?"

Dorian stopped, within spraying range anyway, and narrowed his eyes. "Bloody right I'm the fop," he said.

"I was told you'd show up."

And then the non-Alphabet stepped to the side, granting Dorian entrance.

Over a month later

After the funerals and the arrangements, Dorian had returned to England, to rest and gather strength. Now he was back. This time he hadn't flown to Köln/Bonn, but had gone to Frankfurt, from where he took the ICE to Mannheim, then the S-Bahn to Eberbach. Finally, a taxi to the castle ruins. The new castle ruins, rather than the old ones.

Normally Dorian preferred driving himself, even on the wrong side of the road. There was something almost sensual about handling a really fast car. But Dorian didn't feel up to sensual at the moment, a fact which was rather sobering in itself. He wanted reliable and steady. German trains just about fitted the bill. He liked being in Germany, hearing the language smatter around him - he understood it just fine when he bothered to listen, though Klaus had told him often enough never to utter another syllable of German in his presence again, as his pronunciation apparently was horrid. During this trip Dorian just listened, letting the familiar sounds soothe him and help rebuild his strength.

The ruins. After well over a month they were no less heart-wrenching. In slightly better shape, possibly, as a few healthy rains had washed away some soot, but that was merely degrees in hell in Dorian's opinion.

As far as the NATO bomb experts had been able to establish, the bomb had detonated between the kitchen and the main dining room, at exactly 19:05, when those areas would have been filled with people eating or working.

Dorian had seen the disaster area before, but only in photographs. On-site, with his nostrils twitching to the still lingering smell of burned wood, he wasn't sure what to do, but he started to slowly circle the castle, just to get a feel of things. The uppermost floor and attic were relatively intact, but unstable, due to the damaged foundation. He had hired experts to save everything salvageable from inside the building, and put it in storage. Meanwhile, other experts had also been hired, to estimate the cost of restoring. They had all been for starting anew: tearing down the remaining walls and bulldoze the place, but Dorian insisted that as much as possible of the original structure be saved. No matter that the cost would be astronomical. He wanted the castle back as it once had been, or at least a reasonably realistic approximation thereof.

Buying the ruins themselves hadn't cost much at all.

Fifteen years later

"Fifteen years? What do you mean fifteen years? Oh, look at those legs, they go all the way to heaven! What, was he ten when he started coming here?"

Joe snorted again, then smiled a little too, remembering all those years ago. "He's older than he looks. He's looked pretty much the same as back then. One of those who never seem to age, you know."

"Bastard. Some got all the luck. Oh, baby - look at that arse. Nice! Who cares for age when you have that to look at. But the face - plastic surgery?"

"No one can say for sure and he's not telling. And he has this really withering glare if anyone asks him anything stupid. But I tell you - he looked worse the first few months he came here. Between you and me and this Pale ale here, we thought he had AIDS or cancer or something. No sign of that now, though."

"He's a regular, then?"

"Once a month, always on the 20th, regular as Big Ben. I think it is some kind of anniversary of something, I'm not sure, but the 20th each month, anyway. I swear, the one time he didn't come we all thought he had kicked the bucket. We were ready to hold a wake if he didn't show the next month, but he did. Seemed a little taken aback at how we had worried. That was a fun night."

"Who's my rival, then? Who's the guy he's waiting for?"

Dorian had never liked hospitals. They were so white, sucking colour out of life, leaving behind a starkness that only reminded him off illness and loss. The same held true for this room. There were elements of colour: like in the gaudy painting, which in all honesty looked like a child's handiwork; the metal work in the bed frame and the furniture; the thin stripes of pale blue and green on the linen and on the patient's clothes. However, the colours all paled compared to the shoulder-length, black hair of the man sitting in the bed. His head was turned away, towards the window, and he didn't even twitch when Dorian entered.

Why isn't he moving? He should have moved; he should have checked who I was! I could have been an assassin or a KGB agent! The atypical non-reaction felt so utterly wrong that Dorian wanted to hit something. Instead he stepped further into the room, unconsciously hugging himself in an attempt to get some warmth into his still numb body.

He considered clearing his throat delicately or at least rounding the bed to put himself in the line of sight of the man sitting in it. Just as he started to move, though, a voice came from the bed, speaking slowly, almost hesitantly.

"A ... is ... dead."

The words tore at Dorian's heart, as the name brought remembrance of the man himself: the agent who had died. A. Loyal, trustworthy, a bit naive at times, easy to persuade to do Dorian's bidding. With a loving wife, now widow, whom Dorian had actually met and who had loved her husband with a fierce passion that Dorian must respect, even if she was of the female persuasion. But A was dead now.

"B ... is ... dead."

B. Slightly overweight, but with such nice hair and lovely, loyal eyes. Who might not have much brains to talk about, but who was just as loyal as those eyes promised: ready to do anything to accomplish what he had been ordered to do. Dorian had stolen his wallet any number of times, not to take money from it, but just because he liked the way B blushed when he realised that the object Dorian was handing him was actually his in the first place. But B was dead now.

"C ... is ... dead."

Oh, Dorian had known C too. Of course. He had known the entire Alphabet. And he had known Klaus's father as well, and at least some of the servants who had worked at Schloss Eberbach. But they were all dead now.

Fifteen years later

"No clue. He never says. But that's what he said, fifteen years ago, when he first started coming here. As I said, always on the same day, the 20th of each month."

Which was one of the reasons Joe liked to go to Moss's Warren on the 20th, if he could. To have something pretty to look at, even if it was as far out of his reach as a rainbow.

"Yeah? Then I bet he's tired of waiting and is ready for some action, eh?"

Joe felt like banging his forehead against the bar desk. Art never had any sense for what was obvious. "Don't make a fool out of yourself," he urged. "It's not like no one has ever tried. If you're lucky he might let you buy him a drink and compliment him, but that's it. He's not a flirt and he's never gone home with anyone in all these years. Believe me, I would have heard."

"Then why the outfit? He certainly looks as if he wants to be picked up. Some kind of cock-tease, is he?"

Banging his forehead felt like a better and better idea. "No, Art," he said with barely reined in temper. "He's always very clear with everyone that he's not interested. Most people respect that. A few idiots have tried a bit more forward approach - I wouldn't recommend it. We had us all a really nice bar brawl just four years ago over him. He came out unharmed, but two guys ended up in the local hospital. Whatever you're thinking of - try to buy him a drink if you want, but don't expect anything more than a smile in thanks."

Art snorted. Joe sighed.

About four years later

Even James seemed to miss the good old days, before the split. Perhaps because bookkeeping had been simpler back then. There was still Eroica, who pulled off stunning art heists occasionally, though not with the same fanaticism and boundless energy as before. Now there was also Fidelio, Dorian's other work alias - and currently much busier self. Fidelio didn't bother much with art, but went for intricate bank jobs and diamond smugglers, relying half on skill and half on scam to pull off one job after the other, bringing in huge amounts of money.

Bringing in huge amounts of money would normally have made James a very happy man. However, none of this new, lovely money actually stayed with James! A good deal of it went to the rebuilding of Schloss Eberbach, a project which, by anyone's approximation, would take over a decade. And a good deal funded another, even more important project, Operation Revenge, and so all those pretty little coins ran like so much sand through James's frantically clutching fingers.

On rare occasions Eroica and Fidelio even pulled off joint operations: Eroica selecting a few choice paintings, while Fidelio took everything else.

"I ... --"

I. Not the brightest light bulb in the box, but then - few of the Alphabets had exactly been Mensa-material. But I had worked hard - had been honest in the sense that when he was put to a task simple enough for him to understand he would give it everything he had.

"-- is ...--"

Transition from one state to another. I had been hard working, loyal, secure. Now he was ...

"-- dead."

Finality. Death. Over with. Gone. Klaus had seen the body. Of course. He had seen all the bodies, before his injured back had gotten the better of him and he had reluctantly allowed Major Naviers to escort him to the medics.

"J ... --"

J liked to paint. Draw sketches of this and that and everything. With considerably more skill than Klaus - of course, trained elephants had more artistic skill than Klaus. J had actually taught Klaus some, on an utterly boring day on a mission in the far east, when they had been alone and the only thing to alleviate the boredom had been a pen and a paper. The young agent had at first been terrified, but after a few hours he had proudly shown Klaus how to draw circles and triangles to achieve rough proportions of bodies - tricks Klaus wouldn't have thought of himself in a million years.

"-- is ...--"

Transition again. That had been then and this was now. Always important to remember, because while the change worked in one direction, it would never work in the other direction.

"-- dead."

J had been easy to identify - his face had been largely unscratched from the bomb, which had instead taken most of his arms and chest. Not everyone had been that easy, but Klaus knew his men, certainly knew them well enough to identify them. That was the least a commander should be able to do for his men, Klaus had always thought - and short of witnessing the funerals it might all too frequently be the last thing a commander would do for his men.

"K ... --"

Oh, but K hurt. He hadn't been among the original set of Alphabets assigned to Klaus, but he had been the first replacement, when the original K had run away. Klaus had been pissed about the entire situation, so K had had a really bad time of it at the start. But he had come through well.

"-- ... is ... --"

Transition. K deserved some special mentioning. K had been the only one of the Alphabet - with the possible exception of A, but he had already mentioned that A was dead, hadn't he? - who had understood what they were working for. He had been a klutz and only among the brightest of the Alphabets (that really wasn't saying much), but still.

"-- dead. He was my favourite, you know."

"Oh? I ... rather thought Z was your favourite?"

Z? Oh.

"Z ...--"

Z, with his innocent eyes and that little swagger in his gait, at least when he thought no one was watching. So young, hardly more than a teenager. He still had pimples, for God's sake! Looking up to Klaus more like to an older brother - or even a very young father - rather than to a commanding officer.

"-- ... is ... --"

Z had needed him. And some part of Klaus had answered to that, taking care of the younger man, perhaps a little more than he should have. But that was immaterial now, wasn't it? Z no longer needed him. Z was ...

"-- dead."

And that was all there was to it. Dead. Laid out on a slab at a morgue. Klaus wanted to be there, to walk among the dead one last time, to take his farewell with the husks still remaining, but he had to stay at the hospital for a while yet. That way, the doctors would let him out in time for the first in a very long line of funerals.

"Y ...--"

The joker amongst the Alphabet. Always pulling T and S into trouble. Klaus always had to reprimand the three of them. They even petitioned for Y to be renamed R, but Klaus had refused.

"-- ... is ... --"

Sometimes their antics had amused him, not like he ever let on. Like the time when they switched the contents of A's and Z's desks. But they would no longer do anything like that, ever again. Because Y was ...

"-- dead."

As were his brethren in crime, but Klaus would get to them: get to them later. This was for Y, who had joked so much about his own name - well, his and U's and I's, mostly. At least in English. A good man, at heart, though, and almost as good a pistol shooter as Klaus himself, at least on his good days. Klaus would remember Y's good days.

"X ...--"

There had always been something off about X, something strange that Klaus hadn't been able to pinpoint. Now he would never know. And "X marks the spot". When the Alphabets had to tell Klaus something without words, they always put X where they wanted Klaus to go or to look. "X marks the spot."

"-- ... is ...--"

X wouldn't mark the spot any longer of course. Things had changed. X was ...

"-- ... dead."

Now an X would mark the spot where X lay buried. The gravestones would bear the agents' real names, of course. But Klaus had already decided to go back to the graveyards, one night, after the last man had been buried, and mark each grave with the character which belonged there, on his final rounds of farewells. There would be no more Alphabets.

"W ...--"

So many of them. Going through them all took time. Time the people at the hospital hadn't been willing to give him. He had never gotten past the first four or five names before. But the blond who now sat on the bed at his side, he just sat there, and listened. Maybe he understood. Maybe he was the one who would let Klaus continue, to get it all said, to get past everything, to remember them all. All of the Alphabets, every single one of them. And then he would be able to go on to the next grief: the next assault, the one that had levelled Schloss Eberbach to the ground, killing everyone inside, including the one relative Klaus had still had. But time for that later. Now he must concentrate. He must remember W. W with his knowledge of bombs and electronics. W had been very useful, that way. Though there had always been something about the way his eyes lit up when Klaus ordered him to blow something up had sometimes been just a hint unsettling.

"-- ... is ... --"

No more bombs for W. He had been blown up, just like everyone else Klaus had cared for. With the one possible exception of the man sitting next to him, listening with patience. Everyone else - was ...

"-- ... dead."

Fifteen years later

"Seriously, Art, I mean it. The man's not interested. He just comes here once a month, drinks some, but not much, and he's waiting for someone, so don't bother trying to get closer."

"Doesn't he even dance?"


"Thinks he's better than us, does he? What did you call him? Lord Goldilocks?"

"Lord Golden. And he is. Or at least there was this one time that a guy came here: tried to get him to leave. Little runt of a thing, cute as a button but with hair over half his face. Dashed in here one night. He was crying about something or other, kept calling Lord Golden 'Milord'. But Lord Golden just dismissed him, something about receipts or ordering a new car or whatever it was. So we think he's a real Lord. Don't know which denomination, kind of thing, but a honest to God blue blood. So, we used to call him Golden before that and after that he's Lord Golden."

"So, he just comes here, drinks, get flirted at and leaves?"

"Pretty much, yeah. Well, he likes to watch the telly sometimes. He follows the Neo-Nazi Massacres. Moss likes to have the Beeb on and if there's anything about the massacres, Lord Golden is there, swift as you please and all ears."

"Are you sure he's even gay? I've known some straight guys who like to hang in gay bars, get admired and panted after and look at what's going on, but basically just being pretty cockteases."

"Oh, he's gay alright. You don't get much gayer than that. If you want to be gayer than him you'll have to get a guy to walk in front of you and announce that you're gay. Trust me."

"Frau Lena Barger ...--"

A maid, she had only worked for the Schloss for thirty eight days. In the beginning, there had been some minor trouble with her, as she preferred hanging out with the gardener, young Herr Glimm, but Herr Hinkel had put a quick stop to that. He had been very efficient that way, Herr Hinkel.

"-- ... is ... --"

In a way, the civilians were both harder and easier to deal with. Most of them, Klaus had had limited contact with. He had seen them at the Schloss, perhaps nodded at them, of course considered them under his protection and he would have helped if he could, had one of them approached him with some problem. But he hadn't worked with them day after day, had never been the one they relied on for back-up and, when things got worse, saving. Had never been the one to - finally also literally - send them to what might be their deaths. Of course, on the other hand - he had, in the end, been responsible for the deaths of the civilians as well.

"-- ... dead."

Dead. Yes. And that was that.

He focused his eyes. All his long list of faces and names was gone over. Every one had been considered and remembered and seared into his heart. He slowly let his eyes move, finding the gaudily dressed man beside him, who sat silent, studying him with so much pain etched in his handsome features. Finally, Klaus could think of other things. Of course, he had considered his possibilities ever since the assaults, so it wasn't as much as he could think of them now, but that he was now ready to make a decision.

So he made the decision. It was strangely easy, as if had already been made and just waited for his mind to catch up and for him to make the verbal declaration.

He caught the other man's - Dorian's - eyes with his own and said, very clearly;

"They must all die. The ones behind this. I must kill them all."

Fifteen years later

"So, he comes in once a month, stays a bit, drinks a little, lets the guys admire him, doesn't flirt, doesn't dance, nothing, just ... waits?"

"That's it."

"Waits for someone, but you don't know who."

"Sums it up."

"Must be a fool who keeps a man like that waiting for fifteen years."

"Amen to that."

"I wouldn't keep him waiting for fifteen minutes, much less for longer."

"You and me both."

"So ... I guess he's waiting for someone really special, then?"

"Yeah. A fool, but a special one, I guess."

"Who are they?" Dorian asked. He heard a faint tremble to his own voice. A strange exhaustion engulfed him, only partly due to the shock of the massacre, but mostly from seeing his beloved major so ... bewildered, nearly catatonic.

"Neo-Nazis. They're behind this. To punish me."

Dorian wanted rather desperately to hug Klaus. Not to mention that Klaus, for once upon a blue moon, actually looked as if he might accept a hug. But Dorian didn't, not wanting to risk upsetting the fragile situation. "That's terrible," he said instead, meaning it from the bottom of his heart. "I can't even begin to say how horrible I think it is."

"The Schloss. That is how I know. That it is personal. If they had just ... killed the Alphabet, that could have been professional. We've put away many of them. You know my recent missions. Too many. They're scared and angry. So they took the Alphabet from me. But they want me to hurt, they took the Schloss, everyone there, Herr Hinkel - my Father was there ... I am ... all alone now."

"You still have me," Dorian wanted to say. But he knew that such a declaration wasn't what Klaus wanted to hear - and he also knew that those words wouldn't make anything the least bit better. "I will help you any way I can," he instead vowed and it really meant the same thing, in the end. "Money, breaking into--"

"No. I'm doing this myself. You must stay away. Money … An operation like this is expensive. If what I will do is found out, they might freeze my assets. The more money I have backing me up, the better."

"So, you will ... leave NATO?" That sounded impossible to Dorian's ears, but neither was NATO in the habit of letting its agents go on killing sprees.

At this, he got a slow, measured nod. "Yes. I ... will kill them all. Do you understand?"

"Not ... really. I mean, yes, I hear you and ... yes, they deserve that. After what they did. But I don't really know who 'they' are. Aren't there awfully many Neo-Nazis? All over the world? Not everyone was 'in' on what happened, surely? How will you find them all? What help do you need from me?"

"There will be difficulties. And it will take time. Many years, even. I can't give you any promises. But I will find out and I will deal with the matter. I owe them that, A and B and C and D and E and--" Klaus visibly stopped himself from continuing. "-- everyone." Then he unexpectedly reached out and took hold of Dorian's arms, pulling him a bit closer - for a dizzying moment Dorian was sure - positive! - that Klaus would kiss him.

"I think Fatso was in on it," he said instead of kissing - and Dorian felt punched in the gut. "He said something which I in retrospect find highly suspicious. I will check this."

"Ah, Klaus? Perhaps you shouldn't speak of this here. Perhaps the room is bugged."

Klaus shook his head, looking a little annoyed. "No, it's fine. Listen to me now, Lord-- No. I will call you Dorian from now on."

"Do-- Yes, yes, of course. P-please do. K-Klaus." Dorian's head spun. He certainly wasn't going to protest if Klaus wanted to be on first-name basis. Especially not since he had been calling Klaus by his first name for a good while already. And he certainly wasn't going to doubt if Iron Klaus declared that a room wasn't bugged.

"Good. I ..." Sharp, green eyes first lowered and then closed. Then they opened again, and once more sought out his own. "... I will be going away for a long time. I will be doing horrible things. I will kill hundreds of people. When I return, I will not be the same person I am now."

Dorian nodded. "I ... understand."

Klaus shook his head impatiently, as if denying Dorian's understanding, but went on to say, "They didn't hurt you, because they think I find you a nuisance. That is ... not completely true. I have kept you at a distance, but partly so that you wouldn't get hurt if ... something happened."

Again, Dorian felt sucker-punched. Was that a declaration of ... caring? "What--"

"Say nothing. Not yet. I want you to consider what I'm about to say very carefully before you answer. I ... would like a promise from you. I ... need something from you. You offered money. That is good, because I will need it, to get this dealt with. But I can get that elsewhere. What I ne-- would like from you is a promise. If you make this promise you must keep it. I need a promise to ... rely on, while I'm working."

"Just tell me what it is," Dorian said, ready for anything.

The green eyes closed again. Instead the grip on Dorian's arms tightened. It actually hurt; Dorian suspected that he would have bruises afterwards - an oddly appealing prospect. Then Klaus looked up one more time.

"Again, think this through very, very carefully before you answer, because if you promise I will hold it to you. I don't care if you take lovers while I'm gone. I don't care if you fuck a thousand men. But I need to have you to ... look forward to. Afterwards. I need you to promise that you will wait for me. Be there for after I'm done."

But Dorian needed no time to think that over.

"I'll wait for you."

Over the years Dorian would doubt that even Iron Klaus would be able to follow through on what he had decided to do. He even had some minor regrets, due to the sheer amount of deaths involved. But he nearly religiously followed the news and his commitment was bolstered by every new reportage about the Neo-Nazi Massacres. Always of the really bad guys, never just the lost teenagers who didn't really know the meaning of the swastika and the Sieg Heil, but those who had dedicated their souls to a pointless, hateful war.

He cried, sometimes. But he planned his heists: efficiently and without hesitation gathering the money needed to support his soldier's mission. And he waited.

Fifteen years later

Joe glanced at his watch. "Two to twelve."

Art smiled, one of those warm, open grins that always took Joe's breath away. "Will you have to leave the ball at twelve, Cinderella?" he said and boxed Joe's shoulder playfully. "We haven't even danced yet."

Was Art asking him to dance? "Ah, well ... I ... He'll leave. At twelve. He always does. He rises and then he looks all around the place, real slow like. And then he sort of sighs, gives us all a dashing smile - it's really something worth seeing - and leaves."

"Yeah, I saw that he doesn't smile much, so a smile would be nice. Let's wait for the next song, then."

Did Art want to dance? Joe nodded. And so they waited. And soon enough, the dashing nobleman stood and started to put on his coat. Joe noticed that quite many of the regulars also watched the man, apparently also waiting for "their" smile before he left. It really was worth seeing.

Then Lord Golden started to look around, his gaze slow, sweeping, as if checking each and every one of them, as if looking for--

And for the first time the man's seeking eyes stopped. His aristocratic jaw fell and his eyes went round. Puzzled, Joe tried to follow his gaze - and just before Lord Golden stood a tall man with a stark face and shoulder-length, black hair. Joe had never seen him at the Warren before. A handsome man, but with deep eyes, as if he had seen so much of the world that nothing would ever be new to him again.

The bar was so silent that Joe heard the noise, almost a moan, from Lord Golden's lips. He had dropped his shoulder bag on the floor when his arms, visibly shivering, unfurled.

The black-haired man slowly approached. There was something suspicious in the set of his shoulders, as if he half expected to be shunned.

Instead, he was gathered into a deep embrace and over the man's shoulder Joe saw Lord Golden's face; tears running down the pale cheeks and the beatific smile, as if all his dreams had come true.

Someone started to applaud. Everyone followed suit and damn if Joe didn't feel tears rise in his own eyes as he looked at the embracing men.

"Awww ..." he heard Art say, followed by: "Well, that's a bit of good, then. Say, did you want to dance or something?"

But the strangest thing was that, as he let Art lead him to the dance floor, Joe looked around the bar and the place seemed uncommonly packed. Lining the room were thirty or so men who hadn't been there a moment earlier. Most of them in trench coats, but also an elderly couple, one of whom had dressed up like a butler and the other as a business man. Then he blinked and they were gone, so he must have imagined them. But they had been smiling.

The End

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Castle Gloria
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