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  1. #21
    Gilda Engel and Isaac Fishblatt

    "I thought you would say that," Gilda said - and smiled, genuinely. "You did more than you had to last night, Gerhard. You could simply have turned away and let me act alone, and still claimed a clear conscience. But you chose to help. It doesn't surprise me that you want to help again."

    Now, some awkward revelations. Gilda would soften them as best she could. Even so, soon she would look much less heroic than they might imagine her now.

    "I'll tell my commanding officer that you both want to help. I'll tell him... soon. But first, I have a little something to smooth over. This wouldn't be a good time to introduce you; I have to get back in his good graces. You see, I... uh...."

    She rubbed her hands together nervously. "I disobeyed my orders last night. In a rather serious way. You have to understand, Marco is not a bad man by any means, but he's a soldier, not a humanitarian. His view is of the whole battlefield, not the individuals inhabiting it. Last night, I wasn't supposed to leave any loose ends. But I... left a rather significant one..."

    "You were supposed to kill me," Isaac deduced bluntly. She nodded to confirm, and he asked, "So why didn't you?"

    "Because it was a stupid order," Gilda replied. "Your death was unnecessary and would have served no purpose. There was no need for a casualty. I'm a killer. I admit it. But I only kill Nazis. Not their victims."

    Isaac accepted her answer with a nod - but they both knew there was more to the story. Gilda had explained why she hadn't murdered him, yes, but not why she had gone so far to save his life instead of letting fate take its course. She didn't volunteer an answer to that, and he didn't ask.

    Isaac looked worried... and Gilda completely misinterpreted the reason. "I'm so sorry, Isaac," she said. "But I'm telling the truth that this is a safe place. I won't hurt you, or allow you to come to harm..."

    Isaac shook his head. "I know," he said. "I'm not concerned about that."

    After all, she had done more than just spare his life. She had tended to him, fed him, cleaned him, cared for his every need, talked to him... it would have been ludicrous to turn around and accuse her of hostile intent. Her good will was clear.

    "It's just... I don't want you to get hurt on my account, either," Isaac said haltingly. "If there's retaliation for disobeying an order..."

    "There won't be," Gilda assured him. "Marco wouldn't harm me. He'll yell and bluster, but that will be the end of it."

    Gilda was rather taken aback by Isaac's response to the situation. He had calmly accepted a threat to his life... and his first thought was worry for her? No one had ever placed the kind of value on Gilda's life that Isaac genuinely seemed to. It was baffling - but more welcome than she cared to admit.

    "I'll sort things out with Marco tonight," Gilda said optimistically. "And as odious as it is, I need to go back to Kraus."

    Gilda saw the look on Isaac's face... and realized he didn't know. This was his first time hearing that she was with Kraus. He hadn't seen them last night as Gerhard had - and apparently he hadn't been alert enough the previous night to try to sort out who or what Gilda smelled like, despite her sweaty tangle on the couch. Isaac looked shocked, horrified. Gilda had never felt more ashamed.

    Color rising to her cheeks and blinking back moisture, she looked away from him, staring at the floor.

    "I'm sorry," she said - to both of them. "Kraus is a monster. I don't have feelings for him, and I never will. But he has information. We need that information. And I have the means to get it..."

    "Gilda..." Isaac said softly. She wouldn't look at him, couldn't look at him. So he said her name again, and took her hand. "Gilda, it's alright. I'm not judging you. I swear I'm not. I understand. I'm upset because I'm scared. I'm scared for you. Kraus is a cruel man with no heart. He could hurt you. I'm scared you won't be safe with him..."

    Gilda felt like her whole world was upside down and everything she had expected was the opposite. Isaac was... afraid for her? She had admitted she was seducing his torturer, and his first reaction was to worry that the course of action wasn't safe for her?

    All the time she had spent seducing Nazis... this was the first time anyone had expressed concern about the risks. It was all she could do not to break down on the spot.

    She had always known she was nothing more than a pretty face and a siren song. Why the hell did he care so much?

    Gilda forced herself to pull it together. This wasn't the time to cry. "I'll be alright. I'll be careful," she promised. She realized she was still clutching Isaac's hand - what must he think of her, acting like this? - and hastily let go.

    "Is there anything else I can do to help, Gerhard?" Gilda asked, breaking the tension - she hoped - with a return to business. "Anything you need to make... what I know will be a huge change? Anything I can give besides my gratitude?"
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 09-26-2019 at 04:32 PM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #22
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Gerhard

    He was brought up short by the Gilda's admission that her superior had actually ordered Isaac's death. For a moment, he supposed he had seen this Resistance in a almost romantic light. The small and few courageously standing up to the atrocities of the Third Reicht. But clearly, the shining armour had only been a dream. Reality was that it was still war - just a sneakier one - and war always created atrocities on both sides. He could have laughed at himself. However, when Gilda brought up Kraus, any humour disappeared in an instant. He'd almost forgotten. Isaac had every right to be afraid for her - Kraus was not a good man. Gerhard's opinion of Gilda raised up another notch as he realized how incredibly difficult it must be to pretend to admire someone she hated so much. He hoped he would not have to be as good an actor.

    How quickly the topics changed, though he couldn't blame her for wanting to move on in the conversation, but it left him at yet one more crossroad. He had come prepared, just in case, and after what he'd heard in this tiny kitchen, he knew it had to be done. Gerhard reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small photograph. He held it for a moment, holding the person within in his eyes for a long second before passing it to Gilda.

    "There is one thing. This is my sister. As you may have guessed, I don't talk about her with the other officers, but my landlady knows I send letters and money away every payday. I am concerned that if things go...poorly, that she will put the Gestapo on the scent. I think my sister would approve of these new actions, but I don't want her to suffer on my account if it can be helped. I don't know what you can do, but if there is something..."

    The woman in the photograph had long brown hair curled in the style that was all the rage several years ago. The dress she had on was patterned, had a broad collar, and was missing a button at the very top of the neck. At first glance, one might have missed the telltale arms of the chair that had been unsuccessfully hidden beneath blankets and a bouquet of wildflowers. Honestly, the girl's bright eyes and winning smile distracted from her disability. Of the three members of the family who had contracted polio, she was the only one to survive, though it had left its mark in her. The girl was a cripple.

    "Her name is Berta." Gerhard's voice was little more than a whisper. There was dampness in his eyes as he continued to look at the photograph, though he could only see the back of it from where it rested in Gilda's hand. "She means the world to me. She is all I have left."
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  3. #23
    Gilda Engel and Isaac Fishblatt

    Gilda looked at the photo, and held it so Isaac could see. A pretty young woman - and probably kind, Gilda thought. At least Berta looked so in the picture. Also clear, though, was her disability.

    "Don't tell Kraus!" Both of them said it, overlapping each other.

    "I know that probably sounds obvious," Gilda said. "But Kraus acts friendly to his men. He acts sympathetic, like he wants to help with your problems. Maybe he truly does want to help - but only for people like him. If he finds out, he won't hesitate to give the order. Just... remember that. No matter what he says. He isn't your friend. Even if he acts like one."

    "Never tell him," Isaac agreed. There was no need for Isaac to testify to the doctor's wickedness. Gerhard had witnessed it himself last night. He would still see it stamped on Isaac's bruised, injured body.

    "I do think there is help I can offer," Gilda assured Gerhard. "I have a safehouse. Up north, on the coast. It's a rather lonely and forlorn place, but if things get too hot, you can send Berta there. She'll be safe."

    Of course, Gilda couldn't tell him why it was safe. It was more than just the remote location. The place was heavily guarded with all manner of Fae wards.

    Gerhard couldn't know about immortals yet, though. He seemed trustworthy for now, but he would have to prove himself to earn a knowledge that could alter the fate of every human being on the planet.

    For now, an offer of a remote safehouse far off the beaten path should suffice.

    "No one would look for her there," Gilda assured him. "It's nothing they even really associate with me. Just an old place I inherited. From... from a family that kept me for awhile as a child."

    She looked away, firmly closing the door on that subject for now. This wasn't the time to pour her heart out about the family her mere presence had torn apart. The parents who had tried to murder her. An old will that no one had thought to write her out of, despite her responsibility for the destruction.

    She hadn't changed a thing in the cottage, other than bringing in her books. It still looked like a place where parents and children lived. It had never felt like hers. Just a safehouse she provided for the Resistance. Not a home.

    "Anyway, here, I'll write down the address. Take her there if you need to." Gilda scribbled down the directions on a piece of paper. "Well, Gerhard. Are you ready to go convince your superiors that nothing has changed?"
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 10-17-2019 at 03:42 PM.

  4. #24
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Gerhard Einsbrecht

    He was almost annoyed that they thought he was stupid enough to tell Kraus about his disabled sister - but caught himself. Gilda was right. Kraus was disarming. He'd seen more than one officer spill secrets unexpectedly as a result of Kraus' praise and camaraderie. The warning was fair.

    "I won't," he assured them, "I know all too well what the general feeling is toward the disabled."

    That Gilda would offer her own home to Berta brought him up short. The woman meant what she said when she said she'd help. "Thank-you. I will...let you know. I appreciate that you'd look out for her by offering your home. I hope that won't be necessary, but nothing is assured in this day and age."

    "I will do my best to go back to work as usual. I'll wait for your signal after you talk to your superior. All the best with your upcoming confrontation." He paused, even as he turned to leave, "And do be careful with the other meeting you have planned." Kraus. Gerhard couldn't bear to think of what the 'good doctor' might...so he didn't. He left with nothing more than his best wishes and the posies behind him.

    Going back to work was a simple enough thought, but Gerhard found himself distracted. Lack of sleep notwithstanding, he felt like he was be suspiciously normal. He shrugged it off as best as he could and carried out his duties as efficiently as he always had.

  5. #25
    Gilda Engel and Isaac Fishblatt

    "You're welcome," Gilda said. "You be careful out there too, Gerhard. You know all too well how dangerous it is."

    When the door had closed behind him, Isaac said, “Well, that went rather well. And I didn’t humiliate myself too badly, did I?”

    “You didn’t humiliate yourself at all,” Gilda assured him. “What you did just now – that was admirable.”

    “I was afraid,” Isaac admitted. “I’m still afraid of him.”

    He wondered why he was telling her this, when he so badly wanted to impress her – a ridiculous notion, given his current circumstances, but he couldn’t help it. Yet somehow, she was just so easy to talk to. He found himself spilling his secrets to her, despite his desperation for her good regard.

    Well… maybe not quite every secret. Not that his feelings for her were starting to go beyond rescuer and rescued. That one, he would need to keep buried.

    “That’s only natural,” Gilda replied. “He’s a Nazi. A recovering one, I hope – but you’re wise to be wary, nonetheless. Quite frankly, I would question your sanity if a few minutes’ worth of kind words from him could make you overlook everything they did to you. You’re a brave man, Isaac – but you’re not a fool. You understand how dangerous they are. You may call it plain fear; I call it sensible survival instinct.”

    “Thank you,” Isaac said. “In a way, the worst part of what happened to me was the constant dread. Not just this beating, or that medical experiment – but knowing it would happen over and over, and you couldn’t stop it. You could never just… relax a little, because at least the worst of it was finally over. It went on and on. Always waiting for the next bad thing. It’s hard to stop waiting, to stop expecting it. It’s hard to know what’s reasonable anymore, when the last few years have been such a nightmare. It’s hard to judge myself, or other people. The normal standards of humanity stopped applying – and I don’t know where to pick up again.”

    He had meant it as a mere explanation of why the situation with Gerhard was so confusing for him. As he spoke, though, he felt emotion rising – not about just one young German man who had lost the way, not even about Isaac himself or his own family. About how all of Europe had turned into a massive killing field and graveyard, and he was powerless to stop it.

    “I’m sorry,” he said. Slow deep breaths, trying to steady himself. “You’ve listened to me ramble enough about such things already.”

    “No, I haven’t,” Gilda said. “You’ve hardly talked about it at all, and it has to be on your mind. You’ll drive yourself mad trying to bottle it all up. It’s better if you talk about it.”

    “I don’t want to burden you.”

    “It’s not a burden. I want you to tell me.”

    “I just don’t understand,” Isaac said softly, shakily. “I don’t understand what I did. What my people did. To make them hate us so much. I go over and over it in my head, trying to figure it out. Why did they decide we deserve this? When we were dragged from our homes by the soldiers – when we were beaten, humiliated in front of everyone, shipped off to ghettos and camps – our neighbors just watched. Or did more than watch. They laughed. They mocked us. They cheered. They spit on us. People I had lived beside all my life. I thought we were friends. Did they hate us all along? What did we do, that they should turn on us that way?”

    “There’s nothing,” Gilda said gently, firmly. She squeezed his hand. “You didn’t do anything. Your people didn’t do anything. It’s just… it’s their hatred… I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know…”

    Gilda foundered, struggling for an explanation, but words failed her. The truth was, she didn’t know either. Always an outsider herself, she didn’t understand and didn’t know how to answer for it. Clearly the Jews themselves were not responsible – but the actual cause was elusive. She felt silly and inadequate.

    Isaac smiled sadly at her, though, apparently not angered by her lack of illumination of the subject. “Of course you don’t,” he said. “How could you know? You don’t share their hate. You have such a good heart, Gilda. You have kindness to your core. You couldn’t be otherwise.”

    Gilda blushed bright red and looked away. She was surprised and embarrassed by her own reaction. Men complimented her all the time. Why was this so different? There were two reasons, she realized, and they were interrelated. She was unused to praise that wasn’t based on her appearance. And it was because it was Isaac. What was wrong with her? With all she was – with all she had done – how had she managed to develop a silly schoolgirl crush on an unattainable man?

    “Tell me about your family,” Gilda said. “You said you lost your sister and brother. Before didn’t seem the right time to ask, but what happened to them?”

    “My sister died in the gas chamber,” he said softly, staring off into space. “She was pregnant. She couldn’t work. So they had no use for her. My brother-in-law tried to save her. They shot him. I wasn’t there for that. They were on another train. But I did see my brother die. They worked him to death. They wouldn’t even let me have a moment to mourn. If I had stopped working, they would have killed me too.” He took a shuddering breath, and shook himself as if trying to wake himself. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear about all this…”

    “Yes, I do,” Gilda insisted gently. She knelt in front of his chair and took his hands. “I need to hear. What were their names?”

    Isaac gazed at her for a moment, gauging her sincerity, and decided she was. “Rachela Birnbaum. Salomon Birnbaum. Benjamin Fishblatt.”

    “Rachela. Salomon. Benjamin.” Gilda repeated the names slowly, committing them to memory. “I’m sorry I never got a chance to meet them. But I promise, I won’t forget them. They deserve to be remembered.”

    For a moment, Isaac didn’t speak. Finally he said, “Thank you. I never really got to say goodbye. We were all trying so hard to survive. I can’t stop thinking about it, though. My sister, choking on gas. When my brother collapsed beside me. That gunshot. I can’t get it out of my head. I haven’t seen my parents since the ghetto, and I don’t know what happened to them, but I can’t imagine they’re still alive either. But you couldn’t talk about it. You had to go on. You couldn’t get closure. And frankly, after what happened, after how they died, I didn’t think they would ever be important to… well… to people who aren’t...”

    “Jews too?” Gilda suggested bluntly.

    “Yes,” he replied. He might as well be equally forthright.

    “They are important. When you’re feeling better, we’ll have some kind of memorial for them,” Gilda assured him. “You can tell me what to do. How they should be honored. And we’ll do it. I’ll listen to what you want to say about them. I’ll help you say goodbye.”

    “You don’t have to…”

    “I want to,” Gilda said firmly.

    She sat down beside him, put her hand on his shoulder, and then gently rubbed his back, soft and comforting. Isaac wondered if she had any idea how much the physical contact was helping. That the kind touch of another being made him feel human again. For so long, the only touch he had felt had been in the form of beating, shoving, manhandling, medical cruelty. It was as if his skin itself hungered for affectionate contact, even as his body had been starved for food. Isaac wasn’t sure if she knew that or was simply acting on instinct, but either way he was grateful for it.

    That night, Isaac’s fever spiked again. Gilda had known that might happen – that his recovery might have ups and downs – and the fever wasn’t life-threatening. He was uncomfortable, though; she could tell, even though he didn’t complain. Gilda cooled his brow with a damp cloth, held his hand, sang to him – not a siren song this time, just an old, half-recalled lullaby from sometime back in her uncertain childhood. He started to drift off… then shook himself awake.

    “I don’t want to put you out of your bed again,” he said. “You slept on the floor last night. I’ll take my turn.”

    The sentiment was kind, but in Gilda’s view very misplaced. He was still ill, and still recovering from broken bones. She was afraid he might always ache a little from what had been done to him. He would be terribly uncomfortable spending the night on the floor.

    “I really don’t mind…” Gilda said, but then registered his expression. He was concerned for her. Just as she was concerned for him. Gilda just wasn’t used to the concern going that direction. She took a different tactic. “There’s enough room for us both,” she said. “Scoot over. We’ll share.”

    “Are you sure? I… I don’t want to make you uncomfortable…”

    “You won’t. I trust you.”

    She did trust him… and not because of his weakened state. There were liberties even an injured man could take. Gilda knew Isaac wouldn’t, though. He hadn’t so much as tried to sneak a glance when she was changing; she was sure his hands wouldn’t end up where they weren’t invited.

    Isaac moved over, and Gilda lay beside him and closed her eyes. She had been right; she didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. She felt safer than she could ever remember feeling before. Indulging in that that too much was unwise, she told herself. She couldn’t become dependent on Isaac. She had to be ready to go back to her ordinary, one-person life when he inevitably moved on. Still, she slept better than she had in a long time.


    ***

    Isaac woke first. Gilda had nestled against him in her sleep, burying her face against his shoulder. Isaac held as still as possible, barely breathing, careful not to disturb her. She had been doing so much for him; she was tired and needed her rest. That should be the only reason, he told himself… but he had to admit how good it felt to have her snuggled into him.

    For a moment, he allowed himself to daydream. Their chemistry was difficult to deny, after all. But then reality intruded. He remembered what he had seen in the mirror. The gaunt face, pallid, haunted. The starved, wasted body and weakened limbs. Hair growing back unevenly and at odd angles after his head had been forcibly shaved – and that hair now streaked with grey that he was too young for, grey that had not been there before the camps. The nose that had been broken more than once. The body scarred by beating after beating, even before Kraus and his men had their way. A number forever seared onto his arm, marking him.

    Isaac barely recognized the man he saw in the mirror now. How could he go to Gilda with his heart in his hands?

    Before the war, it might have been possible. Back when he was working in the library, if she had come in to check out books… He had been so optimistic back then. Germany hadn’t been the easiest place to live as a Jew, even then – there had been harsh words, and whispered stories of brutal violence. But he had thought that it would turn out alright. That the people would surely recover their senses before things got unbearably bad. He couldn’t believe how idealistic he’d been. Young, and so full of hope. Perhaps the man he used to be would have a had a chance with Gilda. Her beauty might have put her out of his league, but if he had been charming and witty, maybe he could have caught her attention. Maybe he could have won her heart.

    But now it was much too late. That innocent young man was long gone, beaten and starved and terrorized out of him. Anything more than a daydream of love now was surely a farce.

    It wasn’t too late for friendship, though. She had offered that, and he had gladly accepted. Her friendship was a tremendous gift, and he would do his best to prove worthy of it.
    Gilda’s eyes began to flutter open a few minutes later, and she reflexively nuzzled her face against his shoulder – then she reached full wakefulness and was appalled by her own unconscious behavior.

    “I’m so sorry,” she said, pulling back so fast that she almost rolled off the bed. “That was terrible of me. You were so worried about making me uncomfortable, and I’ve done it to you instead…”

    “I’m not uncomfortable,” Isaac replied. His voice was calm, amiable – not shocked or offended as Gilda had expected. “It’s fine. It feels nice.”

    Gilda had to agree; it did feel good. And that was a problem. Gilda was used to being alone. She had to be able to be alone. She couldn’t let this friendship lull her into imagining that could change. Falling for Isaac had not been the plan. But Gilda could no longer deny that it had happened. Now all she could do was minimize the fallout, avoid being too damaged when the bubble burst.

    She closed her eyes and leaned into him, glad that he couldn’t read her thoughts. It was going to be alright, she reminded herself. Isaac had a happy future ahead of him. Not with her, of course – but Gilda was glad that she’d played a small part in it. That was enough of a reward.

  6. #26
    Gilda Engel and Marco Pasolini

    Marco was sitting at his desk when Gilda entered, his cigarette in his hand, studiously bent over a stack of papers. He looked up at her with annoyance on his face, and said without preamble, “Well, that was more dramatic than I had hoped. I guess ‘just shoot the poor bastard’ didn’t appeal enough to your sense of flair? Instead you had to set all of Berlin gossiping about intrigues in the hospital?”

    Gilda took a deep breath, steeled herself, and drew herself up to her full modest height. “Actually, I decided to change the mission parameters when the situation was different than what we expected. There was no reason for the experimental subject to be killed. I helped him to escape. There may be gossip, but let them talk – only Kraus knows what was really happening down in the basement, and he won’t be sharing that information.”

    “What?!” Marco shouted, slamming his fist down on the desk so hard he crushed his cigarette. It made Gilda jump. “You idiot! I told you not to let him live.”

    “And I told you there was no reason for him to die!” Gilda couldn’t match Marco in volume, but she could easily match his vehemence. “He’s no danger to our side. The Nazis tortured him. He’s a Jew. We don’t have to worry that he’s going to start sieg heil-ing any time soon. He has no reason to help them, and every reason to support us.”

    “That doesn’t matter! His very existence is a danger to us. Walking around with a number tattooed on his arm and a live virus in his blood… how long do you think it will be before they take him back, and we’re worse off than we were before your little stunt?”

    “They won’t, because we’re going to protect him. He wants to help the Resistance. He’s smart. He can break codes or forge documents, and he can use a radio set. He’ll be useful to us. All we have to do is make sure the Nazis don’t find him, and that we have an exit plan for him if they do.”

    But Marco was shaking his head. “Too big a risk. If you don’t have the stomach to kill him, I’ll send someone else to do it.”

    “Then that someone will be taking a swan dive off a balcony,” Gilda said with steely eyes. “And you will never see me again. I’ll turn my back on this whole thing. You need me. And this Lycan’s life is the price of my continued cooperation.”

    The bafflement showed on Marco’s face. “What? I thought you were devoted to the Resistance. That it was your life. You would walk away from all of that for the sake of the life of one stranger?”

    “I am, and it is. But this whole thing is an utterly pointless exercise if we murder Jews too! We have to be different than the Nazis, Marco. We have to be better. If we’re not, I’m finished with it.”

    Marco sighed, and absently pushed his papers around. “Fine,” he said. “You win. The Lycan lives. We’ll find him something to do, and a backup plan for him if things get too hot. But you have to earn your keep. You have to go back to Kraus. Do what you do. Lie on your back for him. Whatever it takes.”

    “I know. I will.”

    “Oh, and Gilda… you know your pointless little mercy display doesn’t change anything, don’t you? It doesn’t change what you are. You’re still a monster. That’s your power. You should be embracing it. You’re important here because you’re our monster.”

    “I know,” she said.

  7. #27
    Gilda Engel and Doctor Hermann Kraus

    “Fraulein Engel!” Kraus said, his face lighting up with pleasure. “I’m glad you decided to drop by again. Your lovely face is a welcome sight.”

    “I couldn’t stay away,” Gilda told him. “I heard a rumor that there were… difficulties… after the party, and I didn’t want to interrupt you, but I so wanted to see you…”

    “Think nothing of that,” Kraus said with a slight excess of bravado. “Come into my office and we can chat.”

    As the door closed behind them, Gilda felt a tightness in her chest, the word trapped hanging heavily in the air. But her smile never dropped, even as Kraus turned to her with a serious expression on his face.

    “To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure you would come,” he said. “Questions were raised about your loyalties.” He headed off her predictable rebuttal with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Don’t worry. I told them that was all nonsense. That you would never betray me, or our great cause.”

    “Then I thank you for your wisdom,” Gilda said, drawing him in for a kiss.

    Kraus allowed their lips to lock for a moment, then pulled back to look at her. Danger signals sounded in Gilda’s brain again.

    “Was it really wise?” he mused. “I hope so. I hope our feelings are mutual.”

    “Of course they are…”

    “You denied me last time, Gilda. I think it’s time for you to show me how committed you are. Assuming you are committed, that is. If not, well…”

    Gilda felt bile rise in her throat – but then she forced herself to get some perspective. She couldn’t lose Kraus as an information source. Not now, when she knew he had found a virus that could turn the tide of the war, even if he didn’t realize it for certain himself yet. She thought about what Kraus had done. What he would continue to do, if the Resistance couldn’t stop him. What was about to happen was nothing compared to that.

    “Then I will show you that you have no reason to doubt me,” she assured him, kissing his lips and then his neck. “I am grateful for the chance to demonstrate my loyalty to you.”

    She had hoped to get it over with quickly. Push some clothing aside, a frenetic tumble, then go their separate ways. That clearly wasn’t what Kraus had in mind, though.

    “I cleared my afternoon schedule for you just in case,” he said in what he imagined was a hopeful tone, but to her ears sounded too smug.

    Gilda battled internally to hide her disgust. On the surface, she was all smiles and playful affection. Inside, a war was waging between what she knew she had to do, and how much she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want him to see her bare and vulnerable… but it was clear that was expected. With every touch, the memory that these were the hands that had shattered Isaac’s bones as he begged for mercy. A monster’s hands. But she had to smile. Had to force her body to respond to him, even as her every instinct demanded that she pull away.

    She couldn’t do this. It was too much. But as she started to make a weak protest, he kissed her hard, silencing the whisper that she hadn’t even quite formulated into words.

    “It’s too late, Gilda,” he said. “You already made your decision. Just enjoy it.”

    She nodded and smiled, and kissed him again, because what else was there to do but let it happen and feign enjoyment?

    He was rougher than she had expected him to be. Still frustrated about the loss of his experimental subject, he had finally found an outlet. When she asked him to be gentler, he laughed it off, so she just closed her eyes and tried to distance herself in her head until it was over. Gilda still felt dazed as she collected her clothes, but apparently she performed her role well enough that he took it to be a haze of pleasure.

    “Will I see you again?” Kraus asked, kissing her goodbye at the office door.

    “Of course you will,” she replied with a grin. That was inevitable. She didn’t have everything she needed yet.

    “Do you love me?” he whispered, nuzzling his lips against her cheek.

    Gilda fought down the urge to scream in his face. Was giving the monster her body not enough? Now he was going to demand this too?

    “Oh yes,” she purred. “I love you so much, my darling!”

    His hands drifted down the outside of the front of her blouse again – and in the privacy of her mind, Gilda heaved a sigh, was he ever just going to be done so she could go home? - and she gasped when he suddenly squeezed her flesh so hard that it caused pain. Kraus chuckled at her reaction.

    “You belong to me,” he told her. “Never forget that.”

    “I won’t forget.”

    She wouldn’t forget. How could she?

  8. #28
    Gilda Engel and Isaac Fishblatt

    Gilda had no memory of walking home, but she must have, because she was mechanically unlocking the door of the building, then of her apartment, and stepping inside. As soon as the door closed behind her, she collapsed against it, hitting the floor hard and drawing her knees up to her chest, cocooning herself against the world as the tears began to flow.

    Not much longer, she told herself. Only till the end of the war. Then free, one way or another.

    That was an easy decision. She was too polluted to live a real life. With everything she had done… the world would hold no place for her anymore. Right now, that thought was a welcome one.

    Not much longer…

    “Gilda…?”

    She had forgotten there was another person in the apartment. Gilda was so used to burying her pain alone that it had not occurred to her that Isaac would hear the sobs that she could no longer control.

    “Just a minute!” she said, trying to pull herself together, trying to sound cheery – but that just made it worse. She gave up and admitted, “I smell like Kraus. I’ll talk to you after I clean up.” A sensitive Lycan nose would easily pick up on where she had been, and the last thing Isaac needed was that particular memory trigger. She was sure he was doing quite enough remembering without being forcibly drawn back into it.

    “I don’t care how you smell,” Isaac said decisively. “Please – I’m worried about you. Can we just talk now?”

    She nodded, and scooted over so he had room to sit beside her. He wordlessly offered her a hug, and she accepted gratefully, burying her face against his chest as his arms encircled her.

    “It was consensual,” she said in a muffled voice. “Just so you know, before you start feeling sorry for me.”

    She fully expected him to pull away when she said that, but she didn’t feel him react at all. He just held her, and she could hear the comforting sound of his heartbeat.
    “But you’re sad,” he replied after a moment. “Of course I have sympathy for that.”

    Gilda didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know how to explain it in a way he would understand. Isaac didn’t seem to be waiting for an explanation, though. He didn’t seem to expect her to say anything at all.

    “Thank you for not hating me,” she finally whispered.

    “How could I possibly hate you?”

    “Because I slept with Kraus. I’m disgusting…”

    “You’re not disgusting. You’re not. Gilda, we’ve all made compromises. None of us are the same people we were before the war. I don’t hate you for that – and you shouldn’t hate yourself for it, either.”

    Lulled by his warmth and his kind words, by the sound of his heartbeat, she could almost believe that. Almost. She wished she could hold onto this moment of comfort forever.
    Gilda shifted her weight slightly so she could continue to rest on him – and she winced at the movement. She hoped Isaac wouldn’t notice it, but he did, and frowned. “He hurt you.” Not a question.

    “Not badly. I’m just a little sore. It’s nothing compared to what he did to you. It doesn’t matter.”

    “Yes, it does matter. It isn’t right. He shouldn’t have left you like this. Sad and hurting…”

    The unbidden thought occurred to her to wonder what Isaac would be like in bed. But no need to speculate, she was sure she knew – he would be gentle and loving. A brief, foolish stab of jealousy pierced her, thinking about that woman who would someday win his heart.

    Don’t be stupid! she told herself. Monsters don’t get gentleness and love. Monsters get other monsters. That’s why you’re with Kraus, not someone like Isaac.

    “Can you hold me a little longer?” she asked. It felt a little pathetic to make the request, but this whole thing was pathetic enough, so what could it hurt? “No one has ever done this for me before, and I need to memorize it so next time I’m sad, I can remember what it felt like.”

    “No one has ever done what? I’m not really doing anything…”

    “Yes you are. I was crying and you’re holding me. You’re comforting me. You care.”

    “And that’s… new for you?”

    Gilda nodded. It was something she had done many times for others, but could not remember anyone ever doing for her. When she cried, she always cried alone.
    He seemed taken aback by that. Gilda wondered why.

    “Well,” Isaac said after a moment. “I can certainly keep holding you, but it’s not really necessary for memorization purposes. Next time you’re sad, just come to me and I’ll hug you again.”

    Gilda’s pleasant bubble burst, because it suddenly occurred to her that she was taking advantage of his good nature. He was being so innocently kind to her, imagining her thoughts were pure and platonic. If he knew, he wouldn’t let her do this. Siren or not, he was the one person she couldn’t bear to manipulate.

    “Isaac, you can’t keep being nice to me like this,” she said carefully. “You need to keep your distance from someone like me. Otherwise I might… I might start to fall for you.”

    “And would that be so terrible?” he asked gently.

    “Maybe not for you, but for me…” She let the sentence trail off, assuming he would know what she meant.

    Clearly he didn’t, though, because when she looked up at him, she saw a flash of hurt in his eyes before he banished it with a smile. “I get it,” he said. “You’ve seen me at my worst. You cared for me when I was completely dependent. It would be hard to see me as anything more than a victim to patch up. It would be hard to see me as a man.”

    That guess was so wildly off the mark that Gilda had to resist the urge to laugh – painful, hysterical laughter. “Of course I see you as a man! That’s not the problem…”

    “Because I’m a Jew?”

    “Oh, good heavens, no. It’s not anything about you. You’re perfect. Too perfect. That’s what’s wrong. If I were a person – if I had a soul – believe me, I would throw myself at you!”

    “Okay, you lost me there. If you were a person? You are a person. You do have a soul.”

    Gilda shook her head. “I told you what I am. You even knew the rhyme. I thought you understood…”

    Isaac was quiet for a moment. Finally he asked, “How many people have told you that you don’t deserve any good things?”

    “A lot,” she admitted, closing her eyes and feeling his heartbeat and his breathing.

    “Well, they were wrong,” he told her firmly. “I know what – I know who –you are. And I say you deserve to be happy. If you think you could be happy with me… if you decide that’s what you want… all you have to do is say the word.”

    “I can’t,” Gilda replied, looking away. “I wish I could, but I can’t. I can’t be in a relationship. Not with anyone. I can’t stop what I’m doing for the Resistance. If I stop, people will die, and I can’t put my own happiness before their lives…”

    “I’m not asking that. I’m not asking you to stop, or to choose this over anyone’s life. I understand why you’re doing it. I understand. I’m not trying to get you to change. I just wonder if there’s a corner of your life that has room for me too...”

    Too good to be true, she thought. Surely too good to be true.

    “You aren’t bewitched,” Gilda said worriedly, trying to convince herself as well as him. “I didn’t mess with your mind. I’m sure I didn’t. I was careful not to. I think that’s why you can remember my singing, they usually don’t…”

    “Gilda. I know. I’m fully myself. Fully in my right mind.”

    He kissed her forehead. There was nothing forceful about it, nothing insistent. It was the sort of kiss you could give a friend. It wasn’t a demand. And somehow, his lips on her forehead finally broke through the haze, as if the touch of them cleared some of the layers of contamination away.

    “Yes,” she said, and meant it. “I want to be with you.”

    Gilda wasn’t quite sure what being together entailed for Isaac, but apparently it didn’t mean anything more physical – at least not tonight. She had assumed he wasn’t well enough yet for lovemaking, but in her experience men always pushed the boundaries. Isaac didn’t seem to have any expectation that her agreement was transactional, though. He didn’t even try for a kiss on the lips. He just smiled, and held her, and talked to her – and listened to what she had to say. Maybe it was just a beautiful dream, but Gilda planned to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

  9. #29
    Doctor Hermann Kraus

    After Gilda had gone, Kraus felt much more relaxed. Getting his mind off his trouble had helped him gain some perspective.

    The experimental subject was surely dead. He couldn't have survived on his own - and surely no one would have bothered with the effort it would take to sustain his life. So he was gone - and while that was a setback, it was not an irrecoverable one. It lessened the risk of discovery. And with the other avenues to pursue, all was not lost. Not by a long shot.

    It was going to be alright after all. Kraus was still on top. He was the master of the situation.

    He opened his door and poked his head out, looking for someone to share his magnanimous mood with. His eyes fell upon poor Gerhard Einsbrecht. Perfect!

    "Herr Einsbrecht!" he said warmly. "I'd been hoping to speak with you. Please, come in for a drink!"

    Technically an offer rather than an order - but one it would have been unwise to refuse.

    "Can I offer you brandy or scotch? I'm afraid the options are rather limited. Wartime shortages and all."

    He poured himself a generous portion of the brandy, then directed Gerhard to a plumply stuffed armchair.

    "Please, have a seat. I owe you an apology, my good man. I was rude to you last night. It was not personal toward you - I was upset and distracted, but I apologize sincerely that I let it get the best of me. You see, a piece of property was stolen from me last night. The item itself had no inherent value, but it was useful in my research. The loss of it upset me quite a lot. But anyhow, I'm sorry."

    Kraus was feeling expansive, chatty. If there was ever a good time to press him casually for information, this was it.

    "I had a little... visit... with a lovely blonde Fraulein this afternoon. If you catch my meaning." Kraus smirked; he was sure the meaning was quite plain to them both. "It made me feel rather more relaxed. I hope I haven't damaged your regard for me irreparably by my discourtesy last night. Tell me - how can I make it up to you?"

    His regret seemed to be entirely genuine, and his blue eyes were full of friendly concern.

  10. #30
    Paladin Quaxo9 is offline Quaxo9's Avatar
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    Gerhard Einsbrect

    It was good that Gerhard had cultivated an emotionless exterior, particularly while at work. It meant that he was able to suppress a shudder when Kraus called him into his office, leave his eyebrows level when Kraus suggested that ignoring Gerhard was a greater risk to obtaining his poor regard than the fact he'd just slept with another woman, and keep his hands from forming fists knowing that woman was Gilda. Instead, Gerhard sat, nodded when offered a drink, and generally paid attention to Herr Doctor. Gilda and Isaac had been right on the money - Kraus was being incredibly...chummy. Clearing his throat into his gloved hand, he merely shook his head and offered what he hoped was a friendly sort of smile.

    "Think nothing of it, Herr Doctor, I certainly did not notice any sleight on your part last night. Your dedication to your work is well-known and I had surmised that you were busy looking out for our country's best interests. I am the one who should be apologizing. Had I been quicker...you would not have been in such a plight. I hope your work, pardon - research, was not compromised by my lack of fortitude."

    Perhaps it was risky putting his ineptitude to the forefront. But, he still felt as though putting himself back in Kraus' debt would be a safe place than the other way around. He could only imagine what Kraus would try to do to 'make things up to him'.

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