torch, July 2001

Disclaimer: Still don't know any Japanese, unlike Yasuko Aoike. Many thanks to elynross and C. Feedback makes me happy. Do not archive this story without permission.

In plain sight

They went in through the back door, Klaus hugging the wall with his gun at the ready, and Dorian ghosting after him, tensely silent. The kitchen was empty and painfully clean. Dorian cocked his head and listened. He heard nothing except the Major's quiet breathing. Klaus looked at him and jerked his head sideways; Dorian nodded, and they split up, Klaus taking the lower floor, Dorian going upstairs.

The house was sparsely furnished, and there were not many places where a sturdily built double agent could easily hide. Dorian opened closets and peered under the one bed, and found nothing. Threadbare sheets. Well-scrubbed floors. Blank walls without pictures. There were only two rooms upstairs, and he came back down in time to meet Klaus in the doorway to the kitchen again. "She's not here."

"No," Klaus said darkly.

"I could have sworn that couple being taken away by the soldiers meant for us to go to this house." There had been such urgency in the way they looked, in the few elliptic sentences they'd had time for. Surely there must be something important here. "Maybe there's a clue somewhere that we overlooked."

"Maybe you got it wrong, you fucking idiot, and we're wasting time here while she's getting away!" Klaus' voice rose to a window-shaking bellow. Dorian stood his ground. "Now what the hell—"

A thin wail cut through Klaus' angry words, stopping him cold. Dorian looked around the kitchen; the sound seemed to bounce off the walls. Klaus stalked unerringly to the large chest by the stove and flung its lid open. "Goddammit!"

Dorian eased up next to the Major and looked down to see a baby, wearing something striped, wrapped in a hand-knitted blanket, its round face scrunched up with intense unhappiness. "Good God," he said involuntarily. "So that's what they meant."

Scowling, Klaus bent down and scooped the child up, tucking it into the crook of his arm. It stopped wailing and waved its feet, kicking at the gun still in Klaus' hand. "Stop that," Klaus said.

"Aren't you supposed to support the head?" Dorian asked, eyeing the child with some uncertainty.

"Babies' heads," Klaus said curtly. "This child is about six months. Here," he said, thrusting it at Dorian. "You take it."

Dorian backed away. "I'm not very good with children." Klaus followed and pressed the child into Dorian's arms, turning away. The child started wailing again. "I don't think it likes me. And it's very loud. Take it back."

"Shut up. You even like dressing up as a woman! Just take care of it."

Klaus got something else out of the chest and slammed it down on the kitchen table. Pampers. Dorian blanched, and he backed up another step. "Oh, no."

"Get it changed." Klaus opened the refrigerator and began to hunt for something.

"I don't know how," Dorian said, holding the screaming child at arm's length. It was crying, too. He turned it around, trying to see how the striped garment was fastened at the back, and got his elbow kicked. The child was squirming so hard he nearly dropped it.

"Of all the fucking incompetent idiots I've ever been saddled with, you are the worst," Klaus said, kicking the fridge door shut. He put two glass jars next to the diapers, and lit a cigarette before holstering his gun and taking the child from Dorian. It stopped crying at once. Klaus plunked it down on the table and changed it in what seemed to Dorian like thirty seconds flat. It was a girl.

Dorian picked up one of the glass jars and looked at it: mango and banana puree. He decided to make himself useful and hunted through the kitchen drawers for a small spoon. When he turned around again, he found Klaus holding the child; she had both hands clutched in his hair. Cigarette smoke curled up to halo them both. "You remind me of a madonna I saw once in a small private collection," Dorian said, and found himself staring down the barrel of Klaus' gun. "But I guess I won't mention that just now. I didn't know you liked children."

"I don't," Klaus said in a flat voice. "You feed her." He tried to hand the little girl over, but she refused to let go of his hair. "All children are terrorists. They use blackmail and physical violence."

"Was that a joke?" Dorian opened the jar of puree. He sniffed it and decided it smelled perfectly revolting, but he wasn't the one who would have to eat it. He spooned up a small mouthful and held it out to the child, who lashed out with one fist. The puree went down the front of Klaus' shirt. "Oops."

Klaus snarled. "Do that again and I'll beat the crap out of you."

"I didn't do it," Dorian said, incensed. "She did!"

The next spoonful went into Klaus' hair. Klaus said something in German that Dorian did his best not to understand, took the jar, and pressed the child into Dorian's arms again. She made a sound of loud discontent, but when Klaus started feeding her, she settled down. After a few spoonfuls, Klaus said, "You are extremely bad with children."

"Well, pardon me." Dorian scowled. "I have no intention of becoming a father, you know." The child kicked him just below the ribs. "We can't all have your natural parenting abilities. I suppose you've always planned to fill Schloss Eberbach with brats in your own image one day."

Klaus didn't answer. The child wiggled; Dorian tried to get a better grip, and when he looked at Klaus again, the other man was putting the glass jar on the table. The little girl rubbed her mango-sticky face against Dorian's shirt-sleeve, looked consideringly up at him, and wailed.

Deciding that turnabout was fair play, Dorian shoved the child back into the crook of Klaus' arm. Klaus slung her against one shoulder, where she began to chew on his hair, and lit another cigarette. "Are your men closer than mine?"

Dorian calculated rapidly in his head. "Yes. But it will give away our presence—"

"Call them." Klaus stood looking out the window, gun back in his free hand, smoke rising over his head. "We can't take her with us, and we can't leave her." Dorian hesitated, looking around for a telephone. "Hurry, damn it. We've wasted enough time."

Dorian opened his mouth to say that Klaus was the one who had insisted on changing and feeding the child, shut it again, and walked out of the kitchen. In the room across the narrow hall, he found a phone sitting on a well-worn desk. He got hold of Bonham easily enough and gave him directions for "a small extraction." The call had to be kept short, after all, and the shock would probably do Bonham good, particularly if the first thing he saw on arrival was Uncle NATO holding the baby.

Once he'd put the receiver down, Dorian stood by the desk for a while, tracing the scuffed surface with one fingertip. Then he straightened up and went back to the kitchen.

Klaus was still by the window, and the room smelled of cigarette smoke. "Smoke isn't good for children," Dorian said.

Klaus dropped the cigarette to the floor and ground it out with his heel. "Leave me the fuck alone."

"I think you've missed your true calling, major." Dorian screwed the lid back on the half-empty puree jar and returned it to the fridge. "You'd make a wonderful nanny," the hand holding the gun twitched, "and bodyguard. Bonham will be here in a minute."

He rinsed the spoon under the tap and looked at what he could see of Klaus: straight fall of hair, straight back, long straight legs. The child was silently asleep and drooling on the lapel of Klaus' suit. Dorian closed the lid of the chest where they'd found the child hidden and heard the sound of a car engine outside. Commendably prompt.

Klaus turned at the sound, hoisting the child higher on his shoulder and striding across the kitchen. He paused to look at Dorian with eyes as flat and hard as sea-polished glass.

"I will never have children," he said, and went out. Dorian stared after him without breathing, then dropped the spoon in the sink with a clatter and ran for the door.

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