Iron Is Good For The Blood

by Anne-Li

Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than McFlurry Ballerina Kladdkaka. Corrections to my language (and other things) are also most welcome. Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 7.066 words. Written in March 2011.

To Eve on her birthday 2011. Partly inspired by one of her fics, Blood and Iron.

Betaed by Heather Sparrows (thank you!!) and Kadorienne (thank you!!). You're great!

Working in intelligence, one forgoes certain things that the average worker takes for granted. A sacrifice Klaus never questioned, but then - he had known little else. Some Alphabets, however, had lived part of their lives in more mundane capacities. Traditions and inputs from the civilian world would work their way into NATO HQ and, if nothing else, Klaus could always be counted on to respect tradition. He drew the line very firmly at G cutting his tie on Weiberfastnacht, but most Alphabets did quickly develop a healthy sense for which matters Klaus could be approached about.

Strangely, one tradition rather forcefully imposed on him came not from the office at all, but from Herr Hinkel who, the year Klaus had first been given command of his own unit, had hinted rather heavily that the young master ought to invite everyone on a joint Christmas dinner towards the middle of December. Klaus had ignored this suggestion at his own peril and had known a butler's wrath well past Epiphany. Oh, nothing tangible - nothing that couldn't be met by a lifted eyebrow and a respectful "The kitchen staff shall be informed accordingly, Master Klaus," - but Klaus knew good and well that he was in the dog house. And truth be told: Iron Klaus might laugh in the face of danger, sneer at his boss and turn his back on amorous art thieves - but he knew better than to antagonize the butler.

The following Christmas Klaus took the entire Alphabet out for dinner. Or rather he didn't take them out, as that would have exposed them all needlessly to enemy agents while inebriated. Klaus had been forced to admit, if only to himself, that he was rather glad for his inheritance and the staffed Schloss, as he took all 26 men there, with an additional 15 spouses, girlfriends and - in the case of Agent J - mother. The event was very well received and the Iron Klaus Christmas Dinners were thereafter spoken of in hushed, reverent tones.

In the years to follow, Christmas dinners were held annually at Schloss Eberbach. Their location had the additional advantage that in his own home and castle, even Iron Klaus could relax and have a beer without worrying overly about possible spies - enemy spies, that is - taking advantage. Or anyone else, such as art thieves and homosexual suitors: all right then, Eroica. Herr Hinkel had now been fully briefed on the foppish Earl and guarded accordingly - if mostly the good china, rather than his young master's virtue. The butler was a man of strange notions and seemed obsessed with seeing Klaus in a relationship - any kind of relationship.

Not that Klaus'd guzzle back hard liquor, become a loud drunk, proposition A's wife and belly dance on the table or anything even remotely similar, but just one beer. A proper, German beer: the local Heidelberger Pils, chilled and spicy and good, enjoyed with Herr Gottschalk's excellent food and served under Herr Hinkel's watchful, approving eyes.

If the Iron Klaus Christmas Dinner table held an unusual amount of fried potatoes in the face of tradition, Klaus certainly didn't complain - and no one else dared comment.

So, Klaus drank his Heidelberger Pils and ate the mushroom soup and the fried potatoes and the goose with red cabbage and dumplings and all was well. Low key Christmas music contributed to the high spirits and everyone seemed happy. Until about half an hour later, when first B and then M's wife and T and S nodded off in quick succession - followed by I and V and Klaus was feeling strangely sleepy himself, with the world gradually darkening and he had to force his eyes apart to keep them open, when he realised that not even Schloss Eberbach was fully secure and that perhaps Herr Hinkel hadn't properly screened the extra help brought in for the feast.

Then the drug in the Heidelberger Pils claimed him and everything went black.

When Klaus regained consciousness he was no longer in the Schloss dining hall. Nor was he in his bedroom in the Schloss. Or in the Schloss in the first place. Even whether he was in Germany any longer was debatable, since he couldn't tell for sure either way.

Where he was, however, was in a cave. The cold, uneven rock under his back was undeniable, as was the damp, stale air - and, when Klaus cautiously opened his eyes, the pale, grey rock, glistening faintly with ice or minerals. Large safety lamps lit the area, protected by small steel cages. Steel cages which were miniatures of the big ones in which Klaus and the Alphabet were imprisoned.

He found himself in one such cage, in one corner of the room, while the others were in a much larger cage in the opposite corner. To either side of their cages, tunnels continued to the left and to the right. There seemed to be no guards or gawkers, so no use feigning sleep. Klaus, feeling a bit bilious and with a simmering headache, got up.



"Are you all right, sir?"

He quieted them with a firm wave and took stock of the situation. Only seven Alphabets were awake so far, though two of them, X and Y, were in bad shape. Neither man drank, X due to a habit in his youth and Y who claimed not to like the taste of alcohol - the other agents said he put the y in crazy. Thus neither had been affected by the drug. Instead, once the others had begun to drop off, X and Y had tried their best to protect the group. However, they had been unable to do much, as they had been forcefully overpowered. Strangely enough, by one man only.

"He was inhumanly strong," X mumbled through swollen lips - a brutal blow to his face had knocked him unconscious and he, too, had only just woken up. "Threw Y like a pillow. Lifted the table to reach me."

The Schloss Eberbach grand oak table, capable of seating 20 people at the time. Which normally took at least six men to move.

Of the various extras who had participated in the Christmas dinner there was no trace, nor of any Schloss Eberbach servants. Klaus filed that as worrying, but nothing anyone could do anything about just yet. All Alphabets were accounted for, most still unconscious, though a couple more now showing signs of waking up. Klaus delegated X, C and D to do their best to wake the sleepers, while the rest thoroughly investigated every millimetre of their prison.

Everyone did their best, but, sadly, not even the most diligent search yielded anything the least bit useful.

An hour later, the last Alphabet lazing about - Agent R - had finally reached full consciousness and been briefed. Klaus strongly suspected that R had drunk X and Y's beers as well.

Shortly afterwards they heard steps approaching from the left. Out from the shade strode a man: six feet even, pale face, blond hair, lanky and dressed up in one of the Schloss Eberbach servant uniforms. Klaus would have recognized him even without the outfit, as an extra hired by Herr Hinkel at a couple of occasions: at Klaus's father's 75th birthday in October and the Eberbach November Society Ball and now, the Christmas Alphabet Party. "Herr Backfol," Klaus said curtly. "Though I guess not."

That earned him a faint, humourless smile. "Correct, Major von dem Eberbach. You know another of my names better. Is Pieter Guerten more familiar to you?"

Klaus instantly located the file in his mind. It was short, but contained cross-references to several other files. One of the files had a little red kiss mark on it - and Klaus had most certainly NOT placed it there! How dare that fop place hearts in my mental archive! Klaus ruthlessly ignored this outrageous behaviour. "The summit meeting. You planted the bomb. And placed the instructions on a pair of fucking underwear, you pervy loon. You're with the Neo-Nazis."

Guerten kept smiling faintly: a close-mouthed, smart-ass smile which Klaus hated on sight.

"Very good, Major von dem Eberbach. I'm glad you remember me. Even if we never met."

Klaus didn't bother answering. The perp was getting close. Very close. Soon he would be too close for his own good. And he wasn't waving a weapon about either. Good. One step closer and Klaus would lash out, get hold of the guy's clothing, tug forcefully, introducing the guy's head to the firm bars of the cage and-- But Guerten lifted a set of keys from a pocket and dangled them in Klaus's view. To the cell? Cocky bastard. But good. That would make it easier to get them, so Klaus wouldn't have to feel the guy up by going through his pockets.

"Gunnar met you though, Major von dem Eberbach. Remember him? Lovely boy. Mine. You treated him rather badly. Did you know he killed himself in prison?"

Sure, Klaus had known. It hadn't bothered him overly. From what he had been told, the boy had done just fine in prison - gotten by with his looks, no doubt. Then he had suffered a mental breakdown: screaming for Guerten; claiming that Guerten was calling for him, that he needed to go, gradually slipping deeper and deeper into his illusions. He had been taken into a mental ward and given good care, but had one day stolen a box of razor blades and managed to kill himself by eating them. Not a pretty death, but not one Klaus felt particularly responsible for.

"So, you're here for revenge?" Klaus asked calmly, waiting for the perp to take just that one step too close.

"Partly. But you ruined my plan for the summit meeting as well, so I'm equally angry with you for that."

"I do my job." If Klaus had thought it'd make the guy step closer he would have tried begging pitifully or whatever, but so far he saw no reason to show weakness.

And then the perp did Klaus's job for him, and stepped closer all on his own. Keys in hand, no less. Reaching for the lock. Perhaps he's barmy as well, Klaus thought. Well, no skin off his back if the guy thought he could take on Iron Klaus in a one-to-one fight. He's tall, but he's sure no Bear Cub.

Yes, the guy actually unlocked the door. The cage actually opened. And Guerten still hadn't pulled a gun or even a knife or a freaking hand grenade or something. Did the stupid sod have a death wish? Suicide by Iron Klaus, to follow that boy of his into death or something strange like that? Klaus had read about such idiocies. No doubt that fruity Earl of Gloria would have tried to explain it, had Klaus allowed him.

The door was now fully open. And Guerten was just standing there. "I'm going to make you pay, Major von dem Eberbach," he said. And smiled.

Stupid smile.

Klaus attacked.

From childhood he had been expertly trained in the art of fighting - both the clean kind and the very dirty kind. He was exceptionally strong for his body mass, not held back by overly bulky muscles either, but limber and agile: he knew exactly where to hit to get the best effect from each blow; and how to quickly bring his opponent down. To lose himself in a no holds barred fight was something that he, on occasion and with decent opposition, could find enjoyable, even liberating.

Which was why he was completely baffled when he was caught effortlessly, as if he had been a toddler running head-long into his father's arms. Caught, lifted in the air, turned around and - with an odd gentleness - pushed up against the cell bars. He stood stock still for a heartbeat, unsure if he had just imagined the last couple of seconds.

Klaus attacked again.

He chose a different direction this time, but moved just as quickly and lethally, going for the kidney while blocking a counter-attack with his left hand in a blow to the chest which, if it had connected, would have broken ribs.

Both his hands were intercepted by what felt like ribbons of steel and forced out. When Guerten side-stepped, Klaus's momentum swung him around, twirling them like dancers - and then Guerten pushed again, just as gently as before, and Klaus stumbled back, this time across the hallway into the bars to the Alphabet's cage.

This is wrong. Not even if the guy was a karate expert pumped on LSD should he have been able to do what he had just done.

Another tactic was necessary. Klaus leaped sideways and backed out in the tunnel. When Guerten approached, with that strange little smile still on his lips, Klaus slid around him and came down low with all his weight, hitting Guerten full in the stomach with his shoulder.

Guerten took a small step back, though the part of Klaus's mind which tirelessly analysed the least aspect of the situation deemed it more likely that Guerten had lost his balance than that he had actually been forced to move. That didn't matter. The small step had been enough. From within the cage now behind him a forest of arms reached out and grabbed, taking hold with all their strength of whatever part of Guerten they could.

Klaus pulled back, fists still clenched, waiting, if unsure what he waited for, but knowing that something was wrong and wondering what Guerten's reaction would be.

The reaction turned out to be a smile. A wider one this time. Showing--

Guerten took a step forward. Hands held on, straining, white-knuckled. Another step.


The hands were forced to let go, the last of them tearing some of Guerten's pristine white shirt.



Guerten took one more step, still smiling. "See, Major von dem Eberbach." He laughed and twirled, no doubt favouring the Alphabets with the same impossible sight.

Hearing the gasps, Klaus attacked again, this time going for the exposed throat, thinking only vaguely along the lines of that you had to cut the head off a vampire, so should follow that their necks were vulnerable. He was captured with effortless ease, like a child lifting a favourite teddy bear. Then he was swung around once, twice, thrice, and then gently put down, this time again with his back to the Alphabets' cell.

"You're going to pay for what you did to my sweet Gunnar, Major von dem Eberbach. And for ruining my plan."

"So," Klaus replied calmly, as if facing vampires was an everyday occurrence. "You're going to kill me, drink my blood, all that crap?" He found himself wondering where they were; if they were in Germany; if their bodies would be found; if anyone but the Earl would miss him and then he told himself firmly that not everything was lost, not yet, and that only surrender would lose the battle for sure.

"Yes. I will drink your blood. Yes, I will kill you. But only once."

So, vampires could also be barmy. Possibly useful to know. "You only get one chance."

He was laughed at. Klaus hated when people laughed at him - and precious few dared these days. Apart from the fop. And should the fop chose this particular moment to get involved in Klaus's business and suddenly nancy inside, maybe with a wrist covered with silver or some useful silver necklaces or even a silver wedding ring to offer Klaus, Klaus would, would ... shake his hand in sincere thank you, he most certainly would!

"This is what I have in mind," Guerten said and Klaus just knew that Nazi boy would be one of those villains, who had some pathological need to tell the hero the entire plot before finally getting on with things. Which was fine with Klaus, because that usually meant he would get plenty of chances to get out of whatever was planned. "I am going to drink your blood. You are going to die. Once you are dead, I will put you and your Alphabet in the canyon outside." Guerten waved vaguely to his right, as if Klaus should know there happened to be some canyon in that direction. "Neither vampires nor mortal men can climb the walls and when you come back to life you will be too blind by blood lust to care. If you ever wake up, that is. Perhaps your men will make sure you stay dead, to save their own hides. Not that doing so will do them much good, in the long run. Either I will return tomorrow night and drink them dry one by one or else I might just leave your pups there to starve. But maybe they feel some misguided sense of loyalty to you and they won't kill you and when you wake up you will tear them apart yourself, gorging yourself on their sweet blood - and when the sun reaches the bottom of the canyon, you will die in the most unimaginable, unspeakable pain you have ever felt. Either way, when I return tomorrow night, you, Major, will be just dust "

And he kept smiling all through his speech. Likes to hear his own voice no doubt.

Klaus gave Guerten a firm, Danish skull in the mouth, but, unfortunately, that didn't work either.

Equally unfortunately, now Klaus might know what was about to happen, but he was powerless to prevent anything. A cold hand, unstoppable like an avalanche, pushed his head to a sharp angle. Strong fingers combed through his hair once, pushing the dark strands sideways to expose his neck. And then Guerten bent in. For a surreal second Klaus knew he would get kissed - he had obviously hung around with the fop too much - but instead, sharp pain exploded, followed by the nauseating feel of lips pressed against his skin and then a hard pull, so forceful that Klaus almost cried out. The sensation tugged through his entire body, as relentless as irresistible. He struggled, in vain, but the strength was too overwhelming.

Within seconds Klaus had lost all sense but the incredible rush through his body. Luckily the feeling was too strong to be sensual. Pain was involved, but distant, as if his mind wasn't sure what to make of the signals coursing through his nerves. He hung as if in darkness. It took a second - or forever. Then he recognized vertigo, more darkness, and star dust pouring into his mouth: sparkling, tickling, flooding, filling like electricity. From his mouth outwards, definitely sensual now, though not in a way that made his hips thrust, just heating his skin, teasing his pleasure points, making him feel so good that there could be nothing like it on Earth. The spread reached every part of himself, setting his nerves on fire - too much. More than he could handle. Wrong. The star dust became too insistent, as if it dug through his very cells and with a pain-filled groan, Iron Klaus crashed into oblivion.

When he came back to awareness, the star dust lingered. Like light reflected in diamonds, glittering with such intensity he saw nothing else. It shimmered in his ears too, blocking his hearing. In fact, the distracting star dust dulled all his senses - and his thoughts felt sluggish, as if the substance had penetrated his very mind.

He only had odd seconds to consider how strange everything felt, before another sensation rose - that of total, inescapable, shattering, mind-blowing hunger.

Then all which remained were insistent orders, screamed at such a volume he couldn't think, hammering out the message - "Food! Eat! Food! Now! Drink! Eat! Food! Now! Now! Now! Eat!"

Hunger like a living creature, clawing out from his veins through his starved body, its imperative overriding any order Klaus had ever been issued.

He must feed. Yes. Naturally. Desperate to find nourishment, Klaus forced his eyes open wide, willing himself to see beyond the obscuring glitter. He tried to reach out, not considering why, if not because maybe his hands would encounter something edible - and became aware of a restraint.

Something tried to hold him - but then the diamond shine in his nose eased to allow the most delicious smell possible to slap against him - food! What kind he didn't know and he couldn't care less, he only knew that it was edible - and he struggled to get it. Food was close and he must eat! Now!

He moved, but couldn't get far, still held by whatever prevented him from easing his starvation. Snatches of meaningless sound struck his ear drums. Suddenly something so cold it couldn't be of this world burned against his throat and he recoiled, vaguely surprised that something could be more important than reaching the food. Yet that strange cold was dangerous and what little left of him that didn't blindly seek nourishment knew he must escape the burning chill. Only he had nowhere to go!

Frustrated beyond reason he turned this way and that, struggling against whatever tried to hold him - it smelled delicious, but he couldn't reach it to eat it and the terrible cold flittered about, touching him here and there, stopping his lunges, and he never knew where it would be and it wasn't fair! He hungered!

Brief snatches of colour erupted. Mostly tantalizing hints of dark blue, near purple, which instinct told him hid some other colour, which he knew would be incredible and he could eat, yes, gorge himself on that colour and he would eat forever, quenching the hunger that still screamed with such force he knew that he would never stop hearing it.

And then! It just happened! One of the blue-purple-covering things came to him! It came down to him - why was he down? - and he finally reached it! Unable to stop himself- not that he ever would want to - he bit down and he ate and ate and ate and ate and then he--

Several hours later:

Guerten wondered what would meet him in the canyon. Would Iron Klaus have killed all his men, his precious Alphabet agents? Possibly, but he judged it more likely, given the time that the Alphabets would have had to consider the situation, that they would have killed their fearless leader before he got the chance to munch on them. Either way worked fine for Guerten. Either way would give him the satisfaction of having exacted his revenge.

Of course, had the Alphabets killed the good major, Guerten would have a ready supply of victims lined up for the next couple of weeks - not a bad thing in itself. He might even throw them some food, to keep the last ones alive for a few days longer.

He took the elevator down to the mine shaft and the cells he had kept his prisoners in. Inhaling the intoxicating, lingering scent of scared humans made him smile on his way to the steel-enforced door leading to the canyon. Stopping for a second to prolong the anticipation, he then unlocked the door and stepped through.

The smell of blood was strong, but not overwhelming. From his viewpoint he could see a number of Alphabets on their feet, but ten or so on the ground, unmoving. Interesting ... It seemed as if the Alphabets hadn't killed their superior quickly enough, not until after he had managed to do damage to a good number of them. No doubt the agents had argued the matter, waiting until the last moment, maybe praying for rescue - and then they had waited a moment too long. But Guerten also saw, well away from the throng of men, as if they didn't want to come near it, an empty trench coat on the ground. Well, not completely empty. A pair of trousers lay under it, with boots sticking up from one end, rounding part of the material, but unmistakably the legs themselves were empty. Guerten fancied that he could see some vampire dust too, even if most ashes should have blown away by then.

Guerten stepped out in the canyon, surveying his food store and feeling rather good about things. A bit of each then - even better! The major had been forced to kill a few of his subordinates - and then they had killed him. Poetic justice, very good. And Guerten still had plenty of food to spare. Also very good.

The Alphabets slowly backed away from him. He enjoyed their fright-filled stares and stalked them just for the pleasure of seeing them retreat. Then they stopped and he wondered why.

Several hours earlier:

--and ate and ate and ate and then he suddenly felt the burning grey on his left and his right and it hurt! It pressed into him and burned so badly and he ate, but it hurt and it pressed insistently and he had to pull back and the blue-cover-red wasn't down by him any longer! He struggled and almost reached it, but the cold forced him back, so utterly relentless he could no nothing to escape it.

The hunger remained - worse than ever, teased into blossom by the tiny, tiny taste of what he so desperately craved. He must have more! "Eat! Food! Now! Drink! Food! Now! Now!"

And - like in answer to a prayer he hadn't made - it happened again! The dark-blue-purple-cover-red came to him! It came down to where he could eat and eat and eat! He fed viciously, trying to get down as much as possible before - damn it! That evil cold again! Forcing him away from any hope of avoiding starvation! Hurting him! He needed to feed!

But again - the miracle! The blue-cover-red returned and he drank again. Far from enough to ever sate him, but giving such an immense, perfect satisfaction while he fed that could he have formed words, he would have begged when the cold grey returned, once more stealing away what he needed.

Slowly, however, a rhythm settled. He learned - reluctantly, but with resignation - that the food would return, if he just stopped feeding once the chill touched him. So he began to force himself to stop, even if the cheated hunger made him gasp, and after an agonizing eternity the food would return to him. He didn't know why he was teased so cruelly, but he had no choice but to obey - that was the only way he'd get anything at all to eat and he needed to eat so desperately.

And just as slowly, little by little, the paralysing hunger faded. With it, it took the sparkling star dust and he started to become aware of other things, apart from the starvation and the chill and the blue-cover-red. He began to catch glimpses of voices he knew he ought to recognize, talking - sometimes he heard his name clearly, especially just before the silver chill instructed him to let go of his food. Realising that the two were connected, he pre-empted the icy pain by unhooking his jaws and the voices - he didn't understand the words, but they sounded pleased.

After forever he no longer needed to gulp down his food, but could drink more calmly. This, too, seemed to please the voices. He recognized some of them now. Alphabets. His men. He was Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. He was German. He worked for NATO. When he realised that the dark blue-purple-cover-red was blood veins seen through fair skin and that what he so eagerly swallowed was blood he wanted to cry, but he hadn't cried since childhood and rarely even then. He kept drinking, unable to stop, but forced himself to pause between offerings and look around. Little by little he was able to concentrate more and more on the mess they found themselves in.

Sucking slowly on Y's wrist, Klaus surveyed the canyon. It was deep and, yes, nothing anyone could climb out of. It was also, worryingly, getting brighter by the minute. He had hoped that it was the receding star dust in his eyes that lit up the rocks, but unmistakably an orange rim worked its way down the steep walls. The progress looked strangely liquid and the colours clearer than he ever remembered having seen them, making him wonder if his own vision had improved. Looking around, he noted that several Alphabets also followed the progress of the sun with worried frowns. He understood them. Now he remembered everything that had happened, including Guerten's mocking words about how he would die in the sun, in unimaginable, unspeakable pain. Not good.

He accepted Z's arm in exchange for Y's, not because the hunger forced him to drink, but mostly because he knew that the Alphabet had done things alphabetically - they always did, if given the least chance, with A taking a courageous lead and the others following suit. If Klaus didn't finish off with Z this would leave everyone uneven and cranky. Did I drink from all of them only once or twice or even more than that already? He glanced around and studied their faces, but none seemed on the verge of fainting, so hopefully he hadn't over-indulged from any one source. Good.

The many hands that had held him before had let go. G still sat beside him, silver earrings in hand, but staring towards the approaching sun, no longer really prepared to stop him. Also good.

He met Z's slightly worried blue eyes, and gently dislodged his fangs. While they weren't extremely long, sliding them out of the tasty flesh seemed to take forever, like sliding his spent cock out of a woman's sheath. The unexpected simile made his cheek heat up as he realised that he actually had an almost painfully stiff hard-on. He quickly nodded once, in thanks.

"A!" he called out - his voice was hoarse and he wondered if some of the sounds he hadn't understood had been he himself, screaming. "Report."

"Approximately five minutes to sunrise, sir."

"Hello again, Herr Guerten," said a voice from just behind him and Guerten turned.

Before him, half-naked and shining with health like only a brimful of blood could make a vampire - Major von dem Eberbach. Then inhumanly strong hands grabbed him and exerted a pressure of such magnitude that it would have broken iron - it most certainly broke Guerten's neck.

Klaus let the barely alive Guerten fall to the ground. His own speed had almost shocked him and he anticipated exploring the change later. Guerten certainly hadn't been an opponent to write home about. After a brief hesitation, he knelt by the body and turned the head aside - it lolled limply and he dug in, finally drinking just as deeply as he had yearned to all day.

Sun had drenched the canyon floor for just about exactly four hours. Those 240 minutes had been the truest test to Klaus's willpower he had ever encountered - lying prone on the cold ground, with 28 shirts covering his back - and about ten or so Alphabets as well, the heat from above sapping his strength and the blood smell nearly overwhelmingly enticing. Only the knowledge that it would soon be over - and blood freely, willingly offered - had kept him still as he lived through every one of the 14.400 seconds.

He had drunk Guerten's blood before, the star dust which had transformed him into his current state of being. This time, with the change already over, the effect was far less pronounced, though it still made his tongue tingle. Apart from that, vampire blood was also ... different from human blood. Not tastier, Klaus decided, though part of his mind still recoiled from putting that label on human fluids. It was undeniably edible, though, spicy strong and nourishing. And some faint knowledge, possibly transferred into him by the star dust, told him that the blood he drank this day, his first as a vampire, was of special value, that it would help determine how strong he would get. And Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach had never been one to turn down strength.

At long last he straightened, knowing that there was nothing more to be had from the empty husk on the canyon floor. He turned to the waiting Alphabets and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Let's go home."

On waking, Klaus automatically turned off the alarm before his clock had time to ring. He blinked once and was then completely alert. A quick glance towards the bedside table confirmed that the time was exactly one minute before the set time.

Which was 12:00. Mentally rolling his eyes at the previously unimaginable wake-up time, Klaus still rose and headed over to the bathroom. It, just as his bedroom, had been specially refurbished with tinted, bullet proof one-way glass, allowing him to look out and let in some light, but didn't allow anyone to see in - and also filtered away most of the dangerous sun rays. Some experimentation, courtesy of a cousin of C's, who owned a local glass factory, had proven highly successful. The same reconstruction was underway at the Schloss. Of course, the windows at his and the Alphabet's room at NATO HQ had been first priority and Klaus thought he was making good headway in persuading the director that they needed to change all glass in the entire building - if necessary at Klaus's expense.

So what if some nitwits clearly suspected that he had become even more paranoid than usual?

He opened the small window - keeping his body well out of sight from the hot beams, but extending his left hand - his weaker one, even if he was ambidextrous when it came to shooting - and placed it in the light. He felt the heat at once, but not as pain. No, at first there was just warmth. Hotter than it should be, but not unbearable, more like 30 degree midsummer than around zero late winter. Standing at ramrod attention Klaus kept his hand in the light, waiting patiently. He fancied he could almost feel the heat rising, past midsummer into desert heat, 40 degrees. There it hovered for a long while. After about twenty minutes, the hand was turning decidedly flushed, then little red dots began to appear. They itched and over the next twenty minutes Klaus clenched his jaws as the itch turned into pain and grew increasingly worse. Almost an hour into the experiment, the first blister appeared, near the knuckle of his index finger. He kept the hand out for another ten minutes, until most of the skin looked boiled.

Only then did he lower his hand and - using his other one - closed the window again. A small smile played on his lips. A full hour. Very promising. The first time he had tried his little experiment the same process had taken less than 15 minutes. Since then, his tolerance for sun had gone up in leaps and bounds. Exactly how far he would continue to improve only time would tell - and once the weather got warmer he didn't know how much more the stronger sun of spring and summer would affect him either. Still, he took whatever he would get and now he knew he could afford to be trapped outside for a full hour, at least in this temperature - likely a good bit longer, before things got critical.

He put some cooling cream on the hand - it would go back to normal within the hour, that he also knew from previous experimentations. The last thing he put on before leaving the bathroom was a thorough layer of strength 50 sun block on his face, ears and neck. Then he went down to the car, keeping his head down. The Mercedes, too, had the new windows, so he had no problem driving it. The late time even allowed for a smoother drive through the Bonn traffic than morning rush, and he arrived at NATO HQ just in time, walking into his and the Alphabet's office on the dot of 14.00 hours.

To switch from 08:00-17:00 job to 14:00-23:00 had gone surprisingly smoothly. He had just declared his intent to the director, mentioned that his work would be so much more efficient if he could keep the same hours as the majority of his opponents, that he'd pay for the Alphabet's overtime from his own pocket and that had been that. Agent A had accompanied him as the Alphabet representative and had told the director that Klaus wasn't forcing them to the change against their will and also that they had all worked out a schedule that would keep two agents in the office during the mornings, to deal with incoming calls and other necessities. A, also surprised at how easy it had all been, had later ventured a guess that Klaus's new vampire powers included persuasion, like hypnotism. Klaus had dismissed this as the Alphabets now watching way too many vampire movies for anyone's good. Of course, if the right opportunity presented himself, he might try things out. Even if it was fun to beat up thugs to get them to spill the beans.

He had even contemplated going on full night shift, but that would cut him off too much from the everyday world. Also, it would rouse too much suspicion. He could function well enough during the day, but once the sun had set, he always felt more alert as if, despite the new windows and the thick curtains, some remaining pressure from the sun still lingered.

Second thing on Klaus's agenda for the day was a quick meeting in the chief's office, together with Major Naviers of the Prime Numbers Team and Major Logan of the Furniture Team. As senior team leader, Klaus got his pick of the lined up cases. He really wanted to take the Blue Star-case, but glancing through the summary - his reading speed had also improved, which he found very useful - he noted that the main lead seemed to point towards Nigeria. Swallowing his pride, he took the file for the Norway mission instead. "I think I know who the ring leader is," he said. "I want this one."

So the Blue Star-case went to Naviers, who gave Klaus a somewhat concerned glance, but otherwise seemed very pleased. Naviers was a decent enough agent, so Klaus wished him well. Oslo would suit him and his team better, with late winter dawns and early dusks. He was proud, but there's pride and there's stupidity - and he wasn't stupid.

Back in the office at 15:00, Klaus informed the Alphabet of their new case and handed out copies of the pertinent folders. As the rest read the material he looked towards P and met the agent's questioning glance with a small nod. P got up and the two retreated to Klaus's office, which these days saw more use than ever before.

The other 25 men paid them no attention and when they emerged five minutes later, the others were still engrossed in their files.

"Take the day off," Klaus instructed. P, with a strong flush colouring his face, nodded acceptance. He walked with stiff legs over to his desk to retrieve his things. Klaus worried slightly that he had drunk too deeply, but he knew that a healthy male could loose quite a lot of blood once in a while. With rest, plenty of food, liquids and vitamins, P would be good as new in the morning and there'd be another month before he would again have his turn.

The first thing on Klaus's agenda on the day - same as every day - had been to personally scan the room for bugs. His heightened senses came to good use - he found bugs almost daily. No wonder. Agencies all around the globe had seen a change in him and wondered what was up. The ones in the inner sanctuary he removed religiously, and only in there did any of the Alphabets ever mention anything about Klaus's new little ... thing - and even then only in code. Those out in the main room he located, identified and then treated on a case by case basis. He would randomly remove some, but let some stick around for a day or two as not to raise suspicion.

That is, of course, except for the one he didn't remove. An old, decrepit one, no doubt second hand. Apart from various military organisations, there were also other interested parties. And at least one who soon would start wondering why an Alphabet a day - in Alphabetic order, of course - went home early each day - directly after having visited with Klaus in his office. And also why they - following the same, Alphabetical order - had taken to visiting Klaus during weekends, either at the Schloss or at his apartment. Someone who would come up with all kinds of demented theories, no doubt, and who sooner rather than later would come running, ready to accuse Klaus of all kinds of degenerations.

Let the Earl come. 26 willing blood donors didn't even cover February, much less the remaining months. And Klaus did worry that while he never drank more than a few mouthfuls from any one Alphabet, that continued blood loss so often might prove detrimental to their health in the long run. If he could add the Earl's menagerie to his available sources that would improve the situation considerably.

Besides - having 26 willing blood donors might give Klaus a clear advantage over most other vampires - but it didn't help with the intense and highly embarrassing sexual arousal he felt while feeding. No doubt the Earl would be happy to help with that as well.

The End

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