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One Little Kiss

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If anyone could see him now, they would no doubt be wondering what René Artois, notorious ladies’ man and hero of the Résistance, was doing in the bed of Lieutenant Gruber at four o’clock in the morning without any clothes on. For once, it was not as a result of a plot by the Résistance, nor had he been tricked by the Gestapo. In fact, the circumstances were very mundane, and yet René could hardly believe them himself. And since it was currently too dark to find his trousers, and he was being cuddled by a soundly-sleeping German officer, he had time to reflect on the events that had led him here…

***

It had been a quiet evening at Café René, apart from Edith’s singing. Michelle had not appeared to rope him into a hare-brained scheme which she would explain only once. No Gestapo officers had required the use of the back room, so the two British airmen had not needed to be moved. The colonel had had a good time with the girls, leaving René several litres of paraffin and kilos of butter better off. And he had arranged for a little cuddle with Mimi in the airing cupboard after closing time.

“Yvette, lock the door while I count the takings,” he called over his shoulder.

“René!” Yvette had paused, one hand on the blinds. “Something very strange is happening outside!”

“Well it is none of our business,” René replied waspishly. Michelle was not about to drag him into her lunacy at this hour. “We are closed.”

Edith joined Yvette at the door. “Officer Crabtree is outside – and so is Lieutenant Gruber!” She pressed a hand to her bosom. “Oh, René, they look as though they are about to start fighting!”

René heaved an exasperated sigh. Of course one night of peace and quiet was too much to hope for.

“Edith, it is none of our business!” he repeated, but she had already opened the door. The sounds of arguing filtered inside.

“Oh ’eck,” René grumbled. He could not have a disturbance outside his café late at night – it was very bad for business. Closing the till, he joined Edith and Yvette at the door.

Having run a bar for many years now, René knew a drunken man when he saw one. Lieutenant Gruber was certainly that. Red-faced and sweaty, he swayed unsteadily as he glared at Officer Crabtree. René had not seen the lieutenant all evening, but clearly he had been drinking somewhere, and far more than was customary.

“I have my dirty to do,” Crabtree insisted. “Surrender the coos to your tonk.”

“I have not got them, you fool!” Gruber replied imperiously – if a bit slurred. “I am trying to find my driver, Clarence.”

“You are disturbing the piss.” The idiot British agent refused to back down. If his terrible French did not blow his cover, attempting to arrest a German officer would. “Come aling with moo. You can wit for your drover in the sills.”

He moved towards Gruber and René’s blood ran cold – drunk or not, the lieutenant’s pistol was still on his hip and his expression was utterly thunderous. Fortunately, Gruber only grabbed his gloves.

“Shoo!”

He almost overbalanced as he swatted at Crabtree, and René decided it was best to intervene before his patio furniture bore the brunt of Gruber’s inebriated flailing.

“Officer Crabtree –”

“…René.” Momentarily the anger lifted, and Gruber favoured him with a smile. “This idiot policeman is preventing me from finding Clarence.”

He lurched forward and, naturally, ended up clinging to René for support. René took a deep breath to steady his nerves. One problem at a time.

“Officer Crabtree, how would it be if the lieutenant waited inside while you looked for his driver, Clarence?” Crabtree frowned and René added, “Then he would not be disturbing the piss…” He lowered his voice and hissed, “…and you would not get us all shot by trying to arrest him.”

“Very well,” Crabtree answered. He turned to Gruber. “Do you have a descraption of your drover?”

The lieutenant looked momentarily confused, which was a bad sign, as René could not recall ever seeing the mysterious Clarence. Fortunately, Gruber was able to decipher Crabtree’s appalling French.

“Clarence is tall… blond…” One of his hands drifted a little too low for comfort, and René quickly moved it somewhere more respectable. “…and very well-built.”

“Well, that narroos it deen,” Crabtree replied with a roll of his eyes. “I will make enqueeries.”

“Thank you, officer,” René said quickly. Gruber was leaning on him and his hands were slipping again. “Come, come this way, Lieutenant.” He manoeuvred the man inside the café and through to the kitchen, with Edith and the girls following in their wake. Gruber let go of him as they drew closer to the table, and managed to find the chair without any assistance. René let out a sigh of relief.

“Let us all have a little coffee while we wait, hm?” he suggested, doing his best to sound jolly. “Edith, coffee for the lieutenant.”

“Of course,” Edith replied. “Yvette, Mimi, sweep up the bar and keep an eye out for Officer Crabtree.”

As the girls left the room and Edith busied herself with the coffee pot, René turned his attention back to the German officer. Gruber was leaning on the table, rubbing his eyes. René had never seen him so worse for wear, nor looking quite so sad.

“I am sorry, René,” he mumbled. “I am keeping all of you from your beds.” He pulled his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. “I am afraid I am a little drunk.”

“He is a lot drunk,” Edith remarked archly, setting the coffee on the table.

“Edith, if you cannot say anything useful, then go and help the girls to tidy up,” René snapped. Edith scowled, but departed to the café. “Do not worry, Lieutenant. I am sure Officer Crabtree will be back soon with Clarence, and then you can go home.”

“He is probably shacked up somewhere with a French girl,” Gruber replied. He heaved a sigh. “I envy him.”

René of course knew what Gruber meant, but where the Germans were concerned it was always best to play dumb. “Well, if after your coffee you would like to take Yvette or Mimi upstairs –”

Gruber shook his head.

“It is… very hard to be a soldier who does not like girls,” he slurred. His hand strayed to the gold locket around his neck. “I too have needs… feelings… but the Gestapo, and my position…”

René squirmed as he trailed off. It was impossible to miss that Gruber fancied him, but this was the closest the lieutenant had ever come to admitting that he was indeed one of them, and it had not merely been a case of it being lonely on the Russian front. He could not help feeling some sympathy for the man. Going a few days without a little bedroom fun was bad enough. A few months would be torture.

“…I only wish there was something I could do –”

“Kiss me?”

He had walked right into that one. Gruber was gazing at him earnestly, a hint of desperation in his eyes, and René scrambled for a response that would not completely break his heart, or worse – result in a certain little tank being driven through his café. Before he could speak, the lieutenant lowered his gaze.

“Forgive me – I should not have asked,” he mumbled. “But I am on fire for you, René. I – I cannot quench it.”

“I can see it is not for want of trying,” René muttered. Gruber cradled his face in one hand, and to René’s horror he thought he heard a sob.

“Oh – there, there, Lieutenant…” Reluctantly, he moved his chair closer to the drunken officer, and tentatively patted him on the back. Curse these good looks that drove even men to distraction! “Edith and the girls are outside. You would not want them to hear you cry, would you?”

His words seemed to do the trick. Gruber’s body hitched once, then he wiped his eyes and pulled himself together. He sipped his coffee quietly, though it did not seem to be having any effect. René glanced from his watch to the kitchen clock and back again. Where was Crabtree? It was far too late in the night for awkward confessions of love, especially from a German officer.

“René!”

At last Yvette appeared at the kitchen door. “Officer Crabtree has returned!”

“Thank God,” René muttered. “Has he found Clarence?”

Before Yvette could reply, Crabtree himself appeared behind her.

“Good moaning,” he remarked. “I have bad nose. According to a coffee owner in the Rue de Gascoigne, Clarence is shocked up with a couple of French tits and cannot be disturbed.”

Gruber let out a small groan.

“I have loft weird for him to lick for the lieutenant here,” Crabtree continued.

“Wha – why here?!” René exclaimed. “Are there no other Germans in the town who can take him home?”

“Not at this whore of the nit,” Crabtree replied.

René huffed in exasperation and ran a hand through his hair. Why did it have to be Gruber? If it were any other German soldier, he would have rolled him into the gutter and left him to his own devices. He wanted to strangle Clarence, and whatever “coffee owner” had let the lieutenant get into this state.

“Oh, very well, I suppose we are stuck with it,” he grumbled. Standing up, he approached Crabtree and lowered his voice. “Go and tell those two other British idiots in the back room that we have a German officer spending the night, so they must move to the cellar.”

“I will goo at wince,” Crabtree said with a nod.

As he left, Yvette jerked her head at the lieutenant. “Where shall we put him? All our rooms are full!”

“The sofa in the parlour,” René answered. “Be sure to put a sturdy book under it.” He returned to the table. Gruber’s face was almost resting on it. Hoping he had not fallen asleep, René shook him gently by the shoulders.

“Lieutenant?” The German grunted and stirred himself, shaking his head. René breathed a sigh of relief. “Come through to the parlour, you will have to stay here tonight.”

Gruber perked up a little at that, a tipsy smile spreading across his face. He managed to stand up under his own power, but promptly swayed and grabbed at the table for support. René huffed and slid his arm around Gruber’s back, picking up his hat with his free hand.

“This way.”

“Mm, René.”

He did not like the lieutenant’s tone, which was positively sultry. He liked the fact that the lieutenant’s hands were once again wandering even less. One was drifting towards his backside; the other was kneading his belly and threatening to venture further south. Thank heaven they did not have far to go.

“This way, Lieutenant… just through here…” Gruber was leaning on him perhaps more than necessary, breathing alcohol fumes against his neck. There did not appear to be anyone in the back parlour. René prayed that Crabtree had got the British airmen to the cellar. If he had not, it was too late now. He guided Gruber to the sofa and sat him down on it. Thankfully it did not collapse under him.

Now came the hard part.

“Let me help you off with your boots, eh?”

“Oh, René.” The lieutenant’s purr was worthy of Yvette. Luckily his jackboots slid off without too much trouble. René set them aside and reluctantly moved to unbutton Gruber’s tunic. He was not sure if his pistol was loaded, but the last thing he needed was to find him dead in the morning because he had rolled over and accidentally shot himself.

Unfortunately in Gruber’s inebriated state he seemed determined to misinterpret René’s intentions.

“…René.” How many hands did the lieutenant have?! They seemed to be everywhere, which was not conducive to getting him undressed. Nor was it doing René’s jangled nerves any good.

“No – no, Lieutenant, I am just trying to make you comfortable –” One hand went somewhere that made him yelp. He was out of his depth. Love songs and adoring looks from across the bar were easily dealt with. Gruber behaving like a randy octopus was not.

Out of desperation, he said something rash.

“Lieutenant – if you keep your hands to yourself, I will give you a kiss goodnight, yes?”

He did not like how Gruber’s face lit up, but he did like how he let go of him. He even co-operated as René took his tunic off.

“There.” René breathed a sigh of relief and hung Gruber’s tunic and hat on a nearby chair. He glanced back at the lieutenant, who was now reclining on the couch expectantly.

Oh, ’eck.

“Err…” René shifted awkwardly.

Gruber’s face fell.

Suddenly René could not look at him. He crossed to the window and busied himself with the curtains. The lieutenant had begged for a kiss earlier, then apologised immediately. And he had never tried to grope him before, not even when stuffing forged paintings down René’s trousers. Perhaps he was afraid of being found out. The colonel and the general were prepared to look the other way, but Herr Flick might not, and who knew how large the Gestapo network was? It would be as if Edith had spies everywhere – a thought that made him shudder.

He glanced over his shoulder at the lieutenant, who was once again looking very sad. One little kiss for a man who had saved his skin more than once would not be so terrible. Gruber was drunk enough; perhaps he would not even remember it. And after all, it was hardly Gruber’s fault that René was irresistible.

He perched on the edge of the sofa, and wet his lips. Gruber looked up at him, half hopeful, half wary. René flashed him a nervous smile.

He puckered up and leaned down.

Immediately the lieutenant was on him and it was clear he would not be content with a mere peck on the lips. His hot tongue invaded René’s mouth with the speed of a panzer division on a blitzkrieg, eagerly conquering new territory. René could not pull away - Gruber was holding him more tightly and strongly than Louise, or even Denise. A large hand rested at the small of his back, while a second played with his thinning hair.

As a red-blooded Frenchman, René knew unbridled passion when he saw it – or in this case, tasted it. It was only slightly spoiled by the taste of cigars and whatever paint stripper the lieutenant had been pouring down his throat all night. Clearly Gruber had been longing for him far more strongly than René could have imagined. Even Yvette did not burn for him so intensely. On fire, indeed, and who could blame him?

Of their own accord, his arms encircled the lieutenant’s strong, broad back.

At last Gruber released him, panting for breath. His grip on René relaxed and he sank back onto the couch, lips slightly swollen from the kiss. René felt a little light-headed as he gazed down at him. The officer’s face was flushed, his eyes shining, no different from Yvette or Mimi when they got started. He was quivering under him, chest heaving, nipples sticking out against his undershirt. As René looked down he realised something else of the lieutenant’s was sticking out very far indeed… and dear God, something of his was rising to meet it.

“I will get you a blanket,” René stuttered, and fled the room as fast as he was able.

He did not stop fleeing till he was inside the airing cupboard, staring stupidly at the clean linens while he got his bearings. Now why had that happened? He should have been desperate to wash his mouth out. Instead… oh, what was this heat in his belly? He closed his eyes and did his best to think about his wife’s mother cavorting with M. LeClerc. That usually made everything go away…

“René!”

He almost jumped out of his skin. Mimi had stolen in after him, a mischievous look on her face.

“I was afraid with all the excitement you had forgotten our rendezvous,” she said impishly. “Embrace me, René. Make my heart beat in time with yours!”

She moved towards him and he put his hands out to stop her. He felt far too unsettled by what had just happened for a cuddle now, but his little problem had not quite resolved itself and would give the lie to any excuse he made.

“Mimi, my sweet, I am afraid my nerves are shot,” he said apologetically. “We have under our roof a drunken German officer and two British airmen. I have only come in here to fetch a blanket for Lieutenant Gruber. I do not want him waking up in the night because he is cold.”

Mimi scowled in disappointment. “I will fetch for him a pillow.”

René breathed a sigh as she left, and grabbed one of the blankets. He wished he did not have to go back into the parlour, where Gruber was waiting for him with a trouser tent big enough for a whole battalion to sleep under. But if he did not then the German might look for him, and he did not need him staggering around the café at this time of night. Reluctantly he made his way downstairs.

Mimi, pillow under one arm, was whispering in Yvette’s ear as he came down into the café. A moment later both of them disappeared into the back parlour.

“René.” Edith put the broom away and approached him. “Yvette says Lieutenant Gruber is spending the night.”

“Yes,” René replied distractedly. “Yes, he is on the sofa in the parlour.”

“Oh, that sofa is not very comfortable,” Edith remarked. “I hope he will not be stiff in the morning.”

“He is stiff already,” René answered without thinking. This fluttery sensation in his stomach was disquieting, and he could still taste the lieutenant in his mouth. Why was he not disgusted?

“Oh dear.” Edith had thankfully missed his meaning. “Then let us do our best to make sure he has a pleasant night’s sleep.” She gave him a little push in the direction of the parlour.

“…I told you.”

“What a waste.”

René stopped in his tracks. Mimi and Yvette were both in the back parlour, gazing wistfully at Lieutenant Gruber’s not-so-little problem.

“Oh, my God,” he muttered. “What do you two think you are doing?

“Do not worry!” Yvette snorted, putting one hand on her hip. She waved dismissively at the lieutenant. “He has passed out!”

René let out a breath. Whatever booze Gruber had filled himself with had finally taken effect, and despite still standing to attention he was fast asleep. Still, that was no excuse for staring – which even Edith was doing now. He felt a rush of anger and was not really sure why.

“And suppose he wakes up and sees you all gawking at him?” he whispered fiercely. “You will get us all shot!” He snatched the pillow from Mimi. “Give me that!”

Edith gave herself a shake. “René is quite right,” she agreed. “Besides…” She eyed the sleeping German. “…that is not for you.” With a pointed glance at René, she shepherded Yvette and Mimi out of the room.

For once, René found himself wishing that Edith had stayed. He crept towards the sofa and gingerly lifted Gruber’s head, slipping the pillow behind it. The officer’s face was flushed and pink, lips still a little swollen. And speaking of swollen…

He looked down at the lieutenant’s trousers. As a man who was often similarly afflicted, he knew they could not be comfortable. It would not take very much to open them. He would even find out once and for all whether Gruber really did wear ladies’ underwear. A vision swam in his mind’s eye: red silk tenting around his erection, shiny and smooth under his fingertips –

Hurriedly he covered Gruber with the blanket, put out the light and rushed upstairs.

***

René barely slept a wink in the hours that followed. Well, who could sleep with two idiot British airmen in the cellar and an inebriated German officer in the back parlour? Suppose the airmen were to get peckish in the night? Or if Michelle were to sneak in and steal the lieutenant’s uniform? Or if Mimi were to creep downstairs and murder Gruber with his own weapon?

Oh, that did it. He would have to go downstairs and check on the lieutenant. For his own safety, of course.

With candle in hand, René crept downstairs and into the back parlour. Gruber was still fast asleep on the couch, and thankfully was no longer doing an impression of the Eiffel Tower closed for repairs. His hat, tunic and boots were where René had left them, and fortunately so was his pistol. With a quiet sigh of relief, René turned his attention back to the lieutenant. Dark sweat-stains were visible on the armpits of his undershirt, and even in the flickering candlelight he did not look well. Perhaps a strategically placed bucket would be a good idea. He fetched one from the scullery and set it within grabbing distance of the officer.

Now that he knew Gruber was breathing and had not been sick, robbed, or murdered in his sleep, René no longer had any reason to still be so unsettled. It was not that the kiss was still weighing on his mind. That would be quite ridiculous, to still be preoccupied with one little very passionate kiss. After all, he had been kissed more times than he had had hot dinners. He turned his back on Gruber and went into the kitchen. Perhaps a cup of cocoa would calm him down…

“Ohhhhh, Rrrrené!

He started a little and turned to see Yvette in the doorway, a naughty grin on her face.

“Oh, Yvette,” he sighed. She was always a welcome sight, especially in that little nightdress. “What are you doing up?”

“I heard you creep downstairs,” Yvette replied, sidling over to him. She set her candle on the table and held out her arms. “Oh, René – hold me!”

How could he refuse? She was soft and slender in his arms, her tongue hot as it invaded his mouth while she ran her fingers through his hair –

He broke off the kiss, prompting Yvette to stare at him in surprise.

“René – what is the matter?”

A warm blush flooded over his cheeks as he struggled for an answer. He could not tell her that she had unwittingly reminded him of being kissed by an inebriated German officer. However, said German officer could still provide an explanation for his behaviour.

“Oh – nothing, my sweet, it is just Lieutenant Gruber,” he began, and did not have to go any further before Yvette interrupted him.

“René, you are not cross with me because I was peeking at him?” she asked, batting her eyelashes. “You know you are ten times the man he is.”

How he wished she had not brought that up. “No, it is not that,” René assured her with a weak smile. “It is just, with all the excitement –” he wished he had not used that particular word “ – I am having trouble sleeping.”

Yvette gave him a naughty look.

“I know something that will help you to sleep,” she purred, backing him into a chair. René shuddered in anticipation as she ran her hands under his nightshirt. Soon he was standing to attention, and a moment later Yvette was straddling him, sinking onto his aching manhood. René buried his face in her breasts as she began to move, revelling in their plump softness. This, this was what he liked. Nothing else.

***

Dawn was breaking outside when René woke from his post-coital slumber. He groaned as he stretched, stiff from sleeping in the kitchen chair. He tutted as he glanced down – he had slept the last few hours with his legs apart and his nightshirt up around his waist. Hopefully nobody had wandered into the kitchen between Yvette going back to bed and now. He made himself decent and stood up, stretching yet again. There was just enough time to creep back upstairs and get in bed next to Edith before anyone –

A loud knocking at the front door interrupted his thoughts. It was probably Clarence. Well, he could wait on the doorstep until he put on some clothes. Huffing, René left the kitchen and started upstairs.

“René!”

Unfortunately the banging had also awoken Edith, and she met him on the staircase. “Who is at the door?” She backed up a step and eyed him suspiciously. “And what are you doing out of bed so early?”

“Well I came down to see who it was,” René answered. “In case it was Michelle or somebody.”

“Well?” Edith asked. He stared at her blankly, and she continued, “Who is it?”

Drat – he had not checked, and knowing his luck it actually was Michelle outside.

“Oh – er – I was on my way down when I realised I was not wearing any trousers,” he said hastily. “I cannot answer the door in my bare legs.”

“That is good thinking,” Edith agreed, and he let out a silent sigh of relief. “I have on my dressing gown. I will see who it is.”

She continued downstairs while René got dressed. Briefly he considered trying for a quick cuddle with one of the girls, but dismissed the thought. He had not time now – Edith would expect him in the café to deal with their unexpected visitor. He finished buttoning his shirt and went back down.

A tall young soldier with a shock of very blond hair was hovering by the bar, a nervous look on his face.

“I am here for Lieutenant Gruber,” he said, nodding to René.

“You must be Clarence,” René answered, adding silently and last night’s rotten mess is all your fault.

“René will fetch the lieutenant for you,” Edith declared, giving him a little push towards the back parlour before he could object. “Would you like some coffee, Private?”

Clarence shook his head. “No thank you, Madame. I think it is best that I be ready to leave with Lieutenant Gruber. I am sure he is already cross with me.”

“Hm.” René cast his eye over the young soldier. “If you do not want him to be even more cross, you should get that lipstick off your chin.”

As Clarence rummaged for a handkerchief, René went into the parlour and stopped dead. Gruber was not there. The blanket was thrown back, his boots, hat and tunic were where René had left them, and the bucket was empty. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep, calming breath. After all, there was only one place a man would be the morning after a night of heavy drinking.

The bathroom door was ajar, and René pushed it open carefully. As he had expected, Gruber was inside, one hand braced against the wall as he pissed loudly into the bowl. Watching him made René feel a little funny. The officer moaned softly as he finished. René took that as his cue to knock gently on the door.

“Lieutenant,” he called quietly. “Your driver Clarence is here.”

Gruber did not acknowledge him, instead moving to wash his hands. René stayed where he was, watching as Gruber washed his face and tidied his hair. Finally he turned and shuffled to the doorway, not even looking at René as he passed by.

René followed Gruber to the parlour and hovered nervously as the lieutenant sat down heavily on the sofa. Perhaps he should give the officer some privacy to pull himself together. He had almost convinced himself to leave when Gruber froze, clamped one hand over his mouth, and gestured at René in alarm.

“Oh – oh yes –” Quickly René passed him the bucket. He grimaced as the lieutenant proceeded to noisily throw up everything he had drunk the night before.

“There, there, Lieutenant,” he soothed as Gruber clutched the bucket and groaned. “You will feel better now.”

There was a rap on the door.

“René!” Edith called from the other side. “Is everything all right?”

René looked at the lieutenant, who was cradling the bucket and moaning softly. It was hard enough dealing with Edith while sober – he was not about to inflict her on a man suffering a hangover. He went to the door and opened it. The girls had come downstairs while he had been attending to their overnight guest. Clarence was on the other side of the bar, eyeing them and failing to be discreet about it.

“Lieutenant Gruber is just freshening up,” he called to the young soldier, plastering on a smile. “He will be with you in a moment.” Turning to Edith and the girls, he lowered his voice. “Yvette, fetch a towel and a basin. Mimi, a glass of water.”

Gruber had set the bucket aside and was pulling on his boots when René returned to the back parlour. He set the glass, the towel and the basin of water where the lieutenant could easily reach them. Moving more slowly than M. LeClerc, Gruber washed his face and drank the water in small, careful sips. René fought the almost overwhelming impulse to fidget. A dreadful nervous energy was filling him, and suddenly he wanted the officer out of there as fast as possible.

At last Gruber rose and made his way over to the chair where his hat and tunic hung. He leaned heavily on the chair and groaned, hanging his head down. René approached the ailing officer and gently nudged his hands out of the way.

“Here…” He slid the tunic off the chair. “…let me help you, Lieutenant.”

Gruber co-operated as René slipped the garment up his arms and onto his shoulders. Thankfully he did not need any help to button it. He picked up his hat and at last looked at René, a guilty blush flooding over his cheeks.

“Thank you, René,” he mumbled, then made for the door.

Clarence snapped to attention as soon as Gruber emerged from the back room, throwing up his arm in a salute. “Heil Hitler!”

He cringed a little as Gruber shot him an icy stare.

“You will scrub every millimetre of my little tank with a toothbrush,” he commanded, his imperious bearing only slightly undermined by his queasy expression.

Clarence winced but clicked his heels. “Yes, Herr Lieutenant.”

“I hope,” Gruber continued witheringly, “that she was worth it.”

He moved around the bar and strode out of the café. Clarence followed, but not before winking at René.

“The poor lieutenant looked very green,” Edith remarked. “I hope Clarence drives carefully.”

René found himself hoping that Clarence got the clap.

“That reminds me…” He fetched the bucket from the back parlour and handed it over. “Get rid of this, will you?”

Edith looked, scowled, and disappeared to the kitchen.

***

Lt. Gruber did not visit the café that evening. This was to be expected, given his pitiable state that morning. Nor did he come to the café the following evening. This too was not so unusual – sometimes it took a couple of days to get well. But when the third night brought with it no sign of the lieutenant, René began to feel uneasy.

Under normal circumstances he would have been glad of a reprieve from having to walk a fine line between humouring Gruber’s coy flirting and gently discouraging him. But after - that incident, well. For some stupid reason it seemed to be looming very large in his mind, and perhaps it would not if Gruber would just show his face and they could laugh it off or agree that it had never happened, whichever would best save the lieutenant’s blushes.

“Oh, where is Gruber?” he grumbled to Edith the following evening as they washed the glasses. “He cannot still be feeling delicate. It has been four days!”

“He is probably ashamed of himself,” Edith replied. “We are his friends, and now we have seen him drunk as a newt and sick as a dog.”

René huffed. “Well he is a big boy –” Suddenly he was reminded of the lieutenant lying under him, flushed and pink and pitching a military issue tent in his trousers. He shook off the funny tingle in his stomach, and continued. “ – he should have gotten over it by now.”

“You cruel thing!” Edith hissed, slapping him on the arm. “Have you never humiliated yourself in front of the man you fancy?”

Perhaps the vision of the lieutenant was still on his mind, because her words stung him.

“Wha – Edith, I have never fancied men!”

Edith looked at him in surprise, then glanced him up and down.

“I wonder.”

He spluttered, momentarily lost for words. “Wh-what is that supposed to mean?!”

“Well,” Edith sniffed, turning to put away the glasses, “you have not touched me since before the war.” She regarded him for a few moments. “Maybe you have gone funny.”

“I have not –” René put his hand on his hip, swiftly thought better of it, and let it drop to his side. “I have not gone funny!” He ran a hand through his hair. “It is just all this stress, with the Germans and the Résistance and everything.”

Edith arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps that is why Gruber is attracted to you. They do say it takes one to know one.” Before he could protest further, she had left to serve some customers.

He could not have – it was not catching, after all. Was it? It would explain why he kept thinking about Lt. Gruber lying on the sofa in the back parlour, chest heaving, flushed with arousal and ready to be taken –

No. No, it was all very simple. Usually when he was kissed like that, hanky-panky was to follow. His body had just gotten confused, that was all. Indulging himself with Yvette and Mimi would soon straighten him out. He did his best to have it away with both of them as much as possible, focusing on their soft, supple young bodies and warm female wetness. René Artois was a boy from Nancy, not a nancy boy.

Yet still he could not get the lieutenant out of his mind. And now, in unguarded moments, it seemed he was not content to simply dwell on the memory. No, now his treacherous imagination joined in, picturing in vivid detail how Gruber would be in bed. How eager he would be to please him. How he would use his mouth for more than kissing. What it would be like to feel larger hands on his body…

This time, instead of fleeing, he leaned down and kissed the lieutenant for a second time, tasting cognac and cigars. The man moaned under him, clutching at his back, hard length pressing against his thigh. A large hand palmed René’s erection through his trousers, Gruber desperately whispering his name…

“Oh, René.”

He stirred out of his sleep to find slender fingers on his aching manhood and Edith kissing his neck.

“You were having a naughty dream,” she teased.

“…Only of you, love of my life,” René managed weakly.

“Then let me make it come true for you,” Edith purred. Eagerly she turned her back, raising her nightdress. “Hurry my darling, the cock will be crowing soon!”

René sighed. There was not much to crow about here. He could hardly tell her he was not in the mood. Still, at least it was dark, and who knew – perhaps it would take his mind off Lt. Gruber.

It did not. Worse still, it only succeeded in making Edith frisky. He hardly dared to sleep anymore for fear of having another dream. He was at his limit. Everything had to go back to normal. He needed Gruber – that was to say, he needed him in his usual place propping up the bar, gazing at him adoringly, and occasionally making his blood run cold by asking him to bend over.

But it had now been a full week since he had last seen the lieutenant, and a new worry was surfacing in his mind. Suppose that Gruber had been transferred out of the district? The only German in all of Nouvion who would not happily have him shot might be halfway to Stalingrad by now – and if that was not bad enough, with Gruber gone he might never be rid of these strange feelings.

He would have to find out one way or the other. But he could not ask the colonel – he would surely tell Gruber that he had asked for him, and given the lieutenant’s tendency towards wishful thinking, he would no doubt get all kinds of wrong ideas. It was almost a relief when Michelle appeared like a phantom in the back room right before the dinner rush.

“Listen very carefully,” she declared as they gathered round the table, “I shall say this only once.” With a furtive glance around the room, she continued, “The plan to get the British airmen away using the underground stream is a solid one. British Intelligence want us to try again, but with a few adjustments.”

“…Wine barrels marked ‘Condemned’?” René ventured.

“No,” Michelle answered. “The British airmen are to be disguised as squids. They will float down the underground stream and be hauled aboard a trawler in the harbour as part of their catch.”

“Oh!” Edith clapped her hands. “How inventive!”

“That is one way of putting it,” René muttered. “And I suppose we are the ones who are to make the squid costumes?”

“Your job is to keep hiding the British airmen until they are ready to float down the stream,” Michelle answered with a scowl. “It will take a few weeks before the costumes are ready. There are many legs to sew on.”

“You can rely on us,” Edith promised before René could object.

“Good,” Michelle replied, getting up from the table. “Now I will disappear like a phantom down the back passage.”

“Maybe now we can get on with running a business,” René declared, resisting the urge to chase after her. “Girls, go and open up. Edith, you had better take the British airmen some food.”

Once they had departed, René hurried down the back passage, hoping Michelle had not gone far. He emerged into the alley behind the café and looked around. Drat. No sign of her –

He almost leaped a foot in the air when cold metal jabbed him in the back.

“René?” Thankfully, Michelle took her gun away. “What are you doing, creeping up on me like that? I could have shot you!”

He turned to face her, one hand on his chest as he tried to get his heart to stop racing.

“Do not look at me!” Michelle warned, jabbing her gun into his back again. René swiftly turned back around. “I am concealed in the shadows, you will give me away! Now speak quietly – anyone may be listening.”

“Michelle, I wanted to ask you for a favour,” he murmured, “only I could not do so in front of my wife and the girls.”

He cringed a little – that had not come out right.

“What sort of favour?”

“There is a German officer, Lieutenant Gruber –”

“The tank-driving little ponce who fancies you,” Michelle replied.

René was thankful that she could not see how red he was getting.

“That is the one, yes.” He wet his lips nervously. “I have not seen him for a week, and I am worried he may have left the area.”

He could almost hear her rolling her eyes. “Have you not got enough admirers?”

René ran a hand through his hair with an exasperated sigh. “Michelle, please, this is serious! I may have lost a valuable ally!”

“He is a friend to the Résistance?” Michelle asked.

“…Well, not exactly,” René confessed. “But he has saved my life a number of times – what with being in love with me, you understand – and if he has been transferred somewhere else, then all this Résistance work has suddenly become a lot more risky.” Before she could scold him for his cowardice, he went on, “And not just for me. I must think of my wife, and the girls.”

He waited, the gun still in his back, as the seconds ticked by.

“Very well,” she grumbled at last, taking the gun away. “Leave it to the Résistance. We will soon discover the whereabouts of your Boche boyfriend.”

“He is not my boyfriend!” René spluttered, turning around, but Michelle had already departed. A moment later there was a clatter of dustbins further down the alleyway. Honestly, that girl disappeared more like a poltergeist than a phantom.

That night he watched hopefully for Gruber’s return to the café, but in vain. He was beginning to feel quite cross with him. He had never been this preoccupied with someone, much less a man. Why could not the colonel have the hots for him? He was old and fat and bald. But no, it was just his luck that Gruber was young, slim, rather handsome –

He downed a large glass of wine and abandoned that line of thought.

***

They had just opened for business the next day when Officer Crabtree arrived.

“Good moaning, Ronnie!” he greeted. He crossed to the bar and leaned in conspiratorially. “I have a massage for you from Michelle.”

René braced himself for an onslaught of mangled French that would have to do with either squid costumes or Lt. Gruber. Normally he would call Yvette over to interpret, but he did not want anyone knowing that he had been asking about the lieutenant’s whereabouts. “What is your massage?”

“Lieutenant Gruber is still bulleted in the chiteau,” Crabtree answered. “He has been spitted in the grands, wicking his Illsuitions and licking sid.”

“Who is Sid?!” René blurted out indignantly. He felt himself blushing as Crabtree looked at him in puzzlement.

“Lieutenant Gruber is sid!” he explained. “Deen in the damps. Deprossed.”

“Oh, sad,” René answered with a nod of understanding. That certainly made more sense.

“Is this not what I sod?” Crabtree responded with a roll of his eyes. “I must love you now, I have my dirty to do.”

“Yes – goodbye, Officer,” René called out distractedly. He worried at his thumbnail. He should have been relieved at the thought that Gruber had a new love interest, and annoyed that that was not the case. Not the other way around. What was happening to him?

Edith emerged from the kitchen just in time to see the British agent leave. “What did Officer Crabtree want?”

“Oh, nothing in particular,” René answered, doing his best to be nonchalant. He picked up a cloth and began to wipe down the bar. “But apparently Lieutenant Gruber has not gone anywhere. He is just avoiding us.”

“See?” Edith nudged him with her elbow. “I told you he was ashamed of being such a mess last week. We must go and see him, and tell him we do not mind.”

“Ah – I will go by myself, Edith,” René said quickly. He did not want anyone else to know about that kiss. “He will feel more embarrassed if we both go. And after all, I am the one who put him to bed, I am the one who saw him being sick, and if I do not mind he will know that you do not mind.”

“Oh, René, you are always so considerate of the feelings of others,” Edith purred. She snuggled up against him and he made a face. “Go tonight – put the poor lieutenant out of his misery.”

“Tonight,” René agreed. The sooner he cleared the air with Gruber, the sooner everything could go back to normal.

***

Dusk was falling as René approached the chateau. Despite his earlier resolve, his courage was beginning to fail him. There was no curfew in effect at the moment, but that did not mean the guards would not pull him aside for questioning. If he walked right up to the gate and showed plenty of cringing deference, hopefully he would avoid any harsh treatment.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

He took a deep breath.

“Er – Heil Hitler,” he saluted with a weak grin. “My name is René Artois, a simple café owner from the village. I am here to see Lieutenant Gruber…”

“Ah, yes,” the guard replied. “We have permanent orders to let you in.” He stood aside. “Come with me, I shall escort you.” He eyed René suspiciously. “We cannot have peasants wandering about the chateau unaccompanied.”

“Quite understandable,” René declared with a nervous smile.

As they climbed the stairs he rehearsed what he was going to say. We miss you at the café. Oh, think nothing of it. The kiss? – why, I have forgotten all about it. He was even prepared to stay a while and have a drink, if the lieutenant asked. It was a good and simple plan.

What a pity it went completely out of his head when they arrived at Gruber’s door.

The guard’s knock sounded very loud, and somehow the silence that followed was even more deafening. Suppose that Gruber was not here? No – the guards would know if he was out. Perhaps he was asleep, or having a bath. Troublingly, that last thought did not draw a shudder from him as it usually would.

At last the door opened.

“Lieutenant, a peasant named René Artois is here to see you!”

Gruber looked shocked and surprised to see him. He was wearing a dressing gown – thankfully with pyjamas underneath. They gazed at each other for a few seconds before the lieutenant spoke.

“René – please, come in,” he stammered, stepping back. René swallowed hard and stepped across the threshold. “Thank you, soldier, you may leave us now.”

The bang of the door startled him slightly and he glanced behind him, wringing the brim of his hat nervously in his hands. Here he was, alone with Lt. Gruber, behind thick walls and a stout door, and for once he was not afraid of what Gruber might do. Butterflies gathered in his stomach and he tried very hard not to look at the large bed by the window. He was here to persuade the lieutenant to frequent the café as he had always done, and get everything back to normal.

“So,” he said at last, gesturing at their surroundings. “This is where you have been hiding.”

Now almost all the way across the room, Gruber cringed.

“I am sorry, René,” he replied ashamedly. “I owe you an explanation, I know.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “It was Clarence, you see – he is a sweet boy, but very fond of the French girls. That night, we were out together and he was once again working his magic. When he left with them, I was so… angry and envious that I –” He went red and looked away. “ – I drank myself silly. I wanted a reason to punish him.” He looked at René. “But I did not mean to end up outside your café, or to behave so disgracefully towards you. And I have been too cowardly to come and see you in case you were cross with me.”

Gruber could hardly look at him. All he had to do was assure him that it was all forgotten. But for some reason all he could think of was how desperately, greedily, the lieutenant had kissed him, and instead what came out was,

“Well, I am a little cross with you, yes. You cannot kiss somebody like that and then disappear, I have not been able… to sleep…”

Gruber’s entire demeanour changed, and René flushed as he realised exactly what he had said.

“Oh?”

He took two paces closer to him, a shy smile on his face.

“Have I perhaps… awoken something in you, René?”

Well, he did not want to flee – backwards.

“…Perhaps,” René managed. He found himself gazing at the lieutenant’s lips as the other man sidled closer.

“Would you…” Gruber shrugged. “…care to experiment?”

Heat was filling him up. “W-what did you have in mind?”

The lieutenant put his hands behind his back and coyly looked him up and down.

“…Kiss me?”

René did his best to squelch the unexpected flutter of anticipation in his stomach. A kiss had caused all this trouble in the first place. It was lunacy to even consider repeating it. But on the other hand, it might be different now that Gruber was not drunk and jealous and needy. If he felt nothing this time, that would surely break the spell.

It was worth a try.

He wet his lips and leaned in.

Gruber did not hold him quite so tightly this time, nor was he quite so desperate. But his passion, his longing, was still evident as his hot, wet tongue explored René’s mouth, and it seemed even better now that the lieutenant was taking his time. There were large warm hands, one roaming his back, one in his hair, and there was the first stirring of something against his leg, and the combination was causing his pulse to race.

He finished the kiss and gazed at the officer, who was once again all flushed and pink and a little breathless.

“Well?” Gruber asked hopefully.

René took a moment to assess the situation. His skin was tingling just as it did with Yvette and Mimi, blood heading south in anticipation. He was at the tipping point – any further stimulation and his body would insist on more, no matter what was to follow.

“It… could go either way,” he admitted weakly.

“Ah.” The lieutenant did not make any move, resting his hands respectfully above René’s waist. Waiting for him.

René swallowed.

“Perhaps… one more time,” he murmured. After all, Gruber had done most of the kissing so far, and he could hardly judge properly without kissing him back.

He leaned in again, crushing his lips to the other man’s lips. Gruber opened up for him willingly, running his hands up and down René’s back. The lieutenant had had a drink this evening, something fruity and of far better quality than whatever he had been guzzling that fateful night a week ago. Gruber’s dressing gown was silky and smooth under his fingertips, bringing to mind Yvette’s naughty little nightie. Oh, but what was poking him was not at all like Yvette… and instead of frightening him, it was making him poke the lieutenant back.

Perhaps it was the danger that was turning him on.

He finished kissing the German officer and stood there panting, at full attention now and with his hands on Gruber’s waist.

The lieutenant wet his lips.

“The bed is quite comfortable,” he ventured.

René looked. It was certainly large enough for two men. “Is – is it?”

“Mm.” Gruber glanced from the bed to him and back again. “Although... it has felt rather empty these past few months…”

The words conjured up the image of Gruber in that large bed, aching desperately for him, taking himself in hand as he moaned René’s name. A wave of lust went through him, making his whole body shudder. Oh, this ego of his!

Gruber pressed against him briefly, then moved to the bed and pulled back the covers. He perched on the edge of the mattress and shyly patted the spot beside him.

This really was his very last chance to make some excuse and escape with his virtue intact. Instead the only thing on his mind was the pulse of his body and the coy look on Gruber’s face. There was no fear, no little spikes of panic. Just anticipation of something… new.

He gulped and joined Gruber on the bed.

The lieutenant undid his dressing gown and let it fall to the floor. René toed off his shoes and shed his coat, awkwardly looking around for somewhere to put it. He settled for hanging it on the bedpost. Turning back around, he found Gruber leaning towards him.

“I have dreamed of this moment,” he purred, slowly unbuttoning his pyjama shirt. René suddenly felt sorry that he could not say the same. He watched as the silk parted, revealing smooth, pale flesh. Gruber cast the garment aside and belatedly René realised he was expected to do likewise. He made quick work of his waistcoat and tie, but when he got to his shirt he hesitated. The lieutenant was slender and fit, while he was – well. His own, rather round, shape had never bothered him before, but now…

Perhaps he had glanced at his tummy, because Gruber slid forward and rested his hands on it.

“Oh come along now, René,” he chided with a smile. “I have seen you with your top off before.”

“…Oh yes,” René murmured with a nod. That had been an uncomfortable moment, Gruber gazing appreciatively at him from atop his little tank while he desperately tried to cover himself. But if the lieutenant had liked what he had seen then, there was no need for him to worry now. He did not resist as Gruber gently pushed him back against the pillows, nimble fingers unbuttoning his shirt. It soon joined the lieutenant’s pyjama top on the floor.

Gruber paused, gazing at his exposed flesh with such longing that it made René blush. With a soft moan, the lieutenant bent his head and began to kiss his way down his chest, hands roaming over his belly. It occurred to René suddenly that it had been quite some time since he had had the privacy to take things slowly. Not that the frenzied encounters he had with the girls were not enjoyable, but it was a strain having to constantly keep one ear cocked for the wife. And Yvette and Mimi never had the time to lavish attention on his body as Gruber was doing now.

Although, he thought as each hot little kiss made his nerve endings sing, perhaps a frenzied encounter would have been better. He had no idea what to do with the other man, and he was hesitant to try anything.

“Lieutenant…” Gruber looked up at him, flicking a thumb over his nipple. René blew out a breath and continued apologetically, “…this is all very new to me…”

Gruber smiled at him.

“Then let us begin with something with which I am sure you are familiar.”

René barely had time to wonder what it could be before the lieutenant slid down the bed and freed his aching erection from his trousers. He groaned and shivered as Gruber enveloped him in his hot, wet mouth, sucking slowly but firmly. Ohhh, it was exactly as he had imagined, the officer taking his time, secure in the knowledge that they would not be disturbed. He had honed his skills somewhere – licking along the underside of René’s aching cock, swirling his tongue around the head before swallowing him down again. René let his hands drift into Gruber’s hair, stroking it gently as he fought the urge to buck his hips up or push his head down. The German was sucking him so nicely, the pleasure building wonderfully, that he was almost there when he suddenly wondered what Gruber would want in return.

“Lieutenant – Lieutenant –” He tapped the other man on the head and he looked up, removing that lovely warm mouth from his manhood.

“What is the matter?” Gruber asked in dismay. “Are you not enjoying it?”

René almost whined in regret, suddenly sure that Gruber would have sucked him dry and not asked for anything in exchange, but that would hardly be fair and he did not like to be in debt to the Germans for anything.

“Oh, it is not that, Lieutenant,” he answered. He swallowed, steeling himself for one more step into the unknown. “It is just that… it is your turn now.”

Gruber’s face lit up and he sat back, reclining on his elbows. His pyjamas offered even less restraint than his uniform. The proof of his lust for him made René feel nervous and giddy all at once.

“To think that a million francs fit in there,” he blurted out.

The lieutenant blushed, a shy smile on his face.

“Well, I am a grower, not a shower, René.”

René chuckled nervously and turned his attention back to the circus tent in Gruber’s lap. He reached out, then hesitated. Why was this so hard? He had one of those, he ought to know what to do with it.

“Do not be nervous,” the lieutenant said kindly. He hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his pyjamas and lowered them enough to let his erection spring free. “Just…” He wet his lips in anticipation. “…touch me with those beautiful artistic hands of yours.”

René let out a breath he had not realised he had been holding. That was simple enough. He reached out and hesitantly wrapped his fingers around the fine specimen of German manhood on display. It was hot and thick in his hands, pulsing under his fingertips and leaking a little at the top. Gruber shuddered and moaned at his touch, and René felt confident enough to start stroking him.

It was not so different to touching himself, just a bit the other way around. He was a little out of practice, not usually having to attend to his own needs, but the lieutenant did not seem to mind. Indeed, he bucked his hips into René’s touch, little moans leaving him at every stroke. René felt a flush of heat go through him as he gazed down at the lieutenant, lying under him with half-closed eyes and a pink blush creeping up his chest. It always thrilled him when the girls squirmed and moaned in response to his touch, and with Gruber it was no different. He stroked the lieutenant a little harder, even venturing to cup his balls with one hand.

Ohhhh, René.” Lt. Gruber’s groan seemed to come from deep inside him. Gently he pushed his hands away and scooted off the bed. “Take off your trousers – I will get the Vaseline.”

Eagerly, René rid himself of his trousers and underwear – wait, what?!

“Oh – you do not need to get that,” he spluttered. He sat down very firmly on the bed and grabbed one of the pillows for good measure. “I, I am happy to keep going, really!”

“Nonsense!” Gruber wriggled out of his pyjama pants and climbed onto the bed. “Your hands will be getting tired.” He plucked the pillow from his grasp and set it aside. René clenched his fists in the sheets, eyeing the Vaseline as Gruber opened it.

“Besides,” the lieutenant continued, “I know something we can both enjoy.”

Eyeing the German’s sizeable equipment, René was not sure about that. He was about to object when Gruber reached out with a Vaseline-coated hand and thoroughly coated his flagging erection with jelly.

“…Oh, I see.” He relaxed as the lieutenant’s slick fingers stroked him to full attention again. That was a relief.

“This will make everything go much more smoothly,” Gruber explained, smearing the jelly over his own cock. “Lie back.”

René could not imagine what the lieutenant had in mind, but as his primary fear had been assuaged he did as he was told. He looked down in surprise as Gruber knelt above him and pressed his erection against his own.

“…Oh.” The sensation of the other man’s flesh throbbing against him was unlike anything he had felt before. Gruber began to rock his hips against him and he gasped.

“I can feel your heart beating,” he managed.

“And I yours, René.” The officer lowered his head and began to kiss his way along his neck. René let out a moan in response, running his hands up Gruber’s naked back. His body was awash with sensation – the other man’s cock pulsing against his own, wet kisses at the side of his neck, a large warm hand massaging his pudgy chest, then trailing down his belly, along the inside of his thigh, and then –

He twitched as a slippery finger circled the entrance to his back passage.

“Lieutenant –”

The finger ceased its movement and Gruber looked at him.

“Do not worry,” he murmured. “I have never met a man who did not enjoy this.”

René bit back the urge to reply of course you have not. “That may be, but…” He glanced down between them and gulped. “…do you not think it will be a tight fit?”

Gruber looked at him in surprise.

“It is only one finger.”

“Oh.” He felt a little relief, but only a little. “Still…”

“René.” Gruber rolled his hips against him, sending a shudder of pleasure to him. “Have I steered you wrong so far?”

René unsuccessfully attempted to stifle a moan. No, he could not argue with the lieutenant there. And he had proved all his assumptions about how it was between two men completely wrong. Perhaps too he was wrong about this.

“I suppose,” he paused and wet his lips, “if it hurt, you would not do it.” Gruber rocked against him again and the sensation was enough to break down the rest of his resolve. “Ohhh, all right, but one finger only!”

The lieutenant leaned down and kissed him hard while that one finger once again circled and probed his entrance. The sensation when it entered was not terrible, but neither was it particularly pleasant. Still, there was so much going on at the front that he supposed he could bear it for now. He concentrated instead on the hard pulsing flesh sliding against his own, driving him almost to distraction…

And then, without warning, that wandering finger touched some magic place inside him.

René gasped and bucked at the unexpected sensation. Now in addition to the familiar feeling of pleasure in his cock and balls a similar feeling was building deep inside him, making him squirm and pant as the lieutenant continued to do whatever he was doing up there. He was utterly at the mercy of a German officer and for once he was not afraid. It was all building and building and he found himself shamelessly begging Gruber not to stop, clutching desperately at the other man’s sweaty body. His toes curled in the sheets and suddenly, suddenly – dear God, the waves of pleasure were coming from inside as he came harder than he ever had before, making a sticky mess on his belly and chest. Above him, Gruber gasped his name as his movements grew erratic, and a moment later the lieutenant’s love was all over him.

René sagged against the pillows, utterly spent. Above him Gruber panted like a man who had just finished a 10k hike, forelock plastered to his brow. The heavy smell of sweat and sex hung in the air. For a few moments neither of them stirred. The Gruber shifted his weight and moved off him.

René watched dazedly as the officer slid off the bed and walked toward the bureau. He closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath. What on earth had he done with that finger –

He clutched at the sheets again as another intense wave of pleasure from that same mysterious place flooded over him. How – he was not even hard! He groaned loudly as he rode it out, and opened his eyes to find Lt. Gruber perching on the edge of the bed, cleaning his armpits with a washcloth.

“I will wager that never happened with Madame Edith,” he chuckled.

“No,” René panted. He stared at him with what he suspected was wonder. “What did you do to me?”

Gruber smiled as he placed a towel and a basin of water on the bed.

“It takes a man to satisfy a man, René,” he replied.

That was no answer, but as the lieutenant was gently cleaning their combined mess from his belly, he was not about to argue.

“My legs have gone,” he said, because they had.

“Then stay until they are back,” Gruber replied, patting him dry. He took the bowl away and returned to the bed. “Would you care for a cigar?”

A smoke sounded very good just now. “Yes, thank you, Lieutenant.”

Gruber handed him a cigar and lit it for him. René took a deep drag on it and blew the smoke out slowly while his host turned the lamps down and set an ashtray on the bed. He could hardly believe how relaxed he was. He did not even care that Lt. Gruber was lying stark naked beside him. The silence between them as they smoked felt utterly comfortable. Unfortunately René was not even halfway through his cigar when he felt his eyelids growing heavy.

“Forgive me, Lieutenant,” he yawned, putting out his cigar, “I am quite exhausted.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Gruber chuckled. “It has been a… magical evening.”

René settled back on the pillow and reached for the blankets as Gruber took the ashtray away. He had just closed his eyes for some much-needed rest when the mattress dipped.

“René…”

He looked at the officer, now perching on the edge of the bed. The lieutenant seemed uneasy all of a sudden, unable to hold his gaze.

“…I hope you will not think less of me… but…”

“You want me to leave?” René asked in surprise. That was a pity – the bed was quite warm and he was very tired – but he supposed it made sense. It would not look good for him to be seen sneaking out of Gruber’s room in the morning, after all...

“No!” Gruber said hastily. “Rather… I… er…”

René felt a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Lieutenant… are you trying to ask for a cuddle?”

Gruber wrung his hands, a faint blush flooding over his face. “Well…”

Just a few short weeks ago the thought of being cuddled by a naked Lt. Gruber would have sent shivers down his spine. But after the lieutenant had shown him such a good time, René found that he did not mind. He stretched out his arm and beckoned for Gruber to join him. The other man’s face lit up and he dove under the covers, resting his head against René’s chest.

“I can scarcely believe this has happened,” he murmured.

“I feel the same way,” René answered truthfully. It had been a strange week, and an even stranger evening. But lying in a comfortable bed with an attentive lover, he was not about to complain. With the girls, he barely had time to wipe himself down with a wet handkerchief and button his trousers before Edith wondered what he was up to. It had been a very long while since he had been able to relax like this.

“I hope my snoring will not keep you awake,” he yawned.

Gruber hummed against his chest. “I will blow in your ear if I want you to stop.”

René nodded. “Good night, Lieutenant Gruber.”

“Good night, René.”

***

So. There it was. After many months of resisting his charms, he had finally had it off with Lt. Gruber. And now that the sky was slowly brightening, he was beginning to realise how much more complicated his life had just become. For one thing, the lieutenant would surely be hoping for a repeat performance. René found to his surprise that he was not opposed to that, but he was already juggling Yvette and Mimi and trying to keep Edith from finding out about both of them. Not to mention Denise Laroque of the Communist Résistance and her deputy Louise had both promised to come back for him someday, and as far as he knew they still had the hots for him. At least Gruber could not demand that he marry him… although that did not mean that he was not the jealous type.

Still, he was confident that a man in the lieutenant’s position would understand if he insisted that they be discreet. No, just now he had a more pressing problem, one that made him inch away from his bedfellow. He had not intended to be out all night. Although he had warned Edith not to wait up for him, if she woke up to find that he was not in bed she would assume that he was in trouble. Indeed, there was a good chance that she was even now crawling around the secret passages of the chateau, armed with a hare-brained scheme to rescue him. And he did not think he could come up with a reason that he and Lt. Gruber were naked in bed together that even Edith would believe.

Carefully René shuffled to the edge of the mattress and eased his way out from under the covers. He dressed hurriedly in the dim, pre-dawn light and began to creep towards the door.

The bedclothes rustled behind him.

“René?”

He winced and turned around. Gruber was sitting up in bed, holding the blanket so that it covered his chest.

“You are leaving?” he asked in surprise.

René forced a smile. “I must get home before I am missed.”

The lieutenant looked hurt. “…Without saying goodbye?”

This at least was familiar territory to him. “Well, you looked so peaceful,” he lied reassuringly, perching on the edge of the bed. “I did not want to wake you.”

Clearly Gruber had not heard that one before, as he relaxed at once.

“Of course,” he said with a smile. “If you wait a few minutes while I get dressed, I will give you a lift in my little tank –”

“No!” René interrupted in dismay. A tank rolling up outside the café would draw attention, not to mention lead to all sorts of awkward questions. Before he could continue, Gruber looked away.

“You are having regrets,” he remarked, sounding dangerously like he might cry. René grimaced – if he broke the lieutenant’s heart now, he would really be in hot water.

“No, no, Lieutenant, it is nothing like that,” he insisted. “It is just – ” He almost said my wife, but remembered that Gruber still believed he was his own twin brother and that he was living in sin with his sister-in-law Edith. Really, this war was getting far too complicated.

“…It is just that if the Résistance – who I do not know at all – find out that I have spent the night in the bed of a German officer, they may shoot me as a collaborator.” At Gruber’s look of horror, he pressed on. “And to save my life I might have to agree to spy on you, or tell them that you paid me.” While Gruber considered his words, he laid it on a little thicker. “That is to say nothing of what might happen to you if the Gestapo were to find out…”

Gruber let out a strangled yelp, pressing a hand to his chest in alarm.

“You are right, René,” he agreed. “I think it is best if we behave normally around each other, so that no-one suspects…” He cast his eye over René appreciatively, a coy smile on his face. “…what we have shared.”

René breathed a sigh of relief. There was just one more thing that needed to be said.

“Lieutenant…” He shifted a little closer, choosing his words carefully. “…I do not know when we will be able to do this again. It is difficult for me to get away without arousing suspicion, and I would not want to get you into any trouble.”

“I understand, René.” Gruber reached out and squeezed his hand. “I will treasure last night always.” He moved closer, cupping René’s cheek. “I hope that, some day, you will find another excuse to come and visit me.”

This time, when the lieutenant kissed him it felt like the most natural thing in the world. René kissed back, running his fingers through the other man’s soft brown hair, sliding his other hand around his trim waist. A shudder of desire went through him as their lips parted, and he fought the urge to dive back under the sheets. Later. Much later.

Gruber crossed to the bureau and looked at his watch.

“Go now,” he instructed. “Take the back stairs. In precisely two minutes, the sentry at the rear door will step away from his post for an assignation with one of the scullery maids.”

“The German army is certainly punctual,” René observed. He got up, then paused as a thought struck him. “What if I am stopped?”

“Many ladies of the town entertain officers here,” Gruber answered with a shrug. “If anyone should ask, you will say that you were ensuring they were fairly paid.”

“You think of everything,” René said with a nod.

Now he really should go, and yet for some reason he found himself lingering. Gruber shrugged on his dressing gown and escorted him to the door. Gesturing for René to wait, he opened it and poked his head into the hallway.

“The coast is clear. Go now,” he insisted gently. “I will see you later, at the café.”

“I am looking forward to it,” René agreed, and for once, he was being truthful. With one last look at the lieutenant, he snuck into the hallway and made for the back stairs.

As Gruber had said, he found himself falling in behind half a dozen of the local tarts. Luckily neither Yvette nor Mimi was among them. All the same, he pulled the brim of his hat down on his brow and hung back a little. The rear door was indeed unguarded, and sounds of giggling filtered out of the kitchen. If only the Résistance knew about that! René hurried through the door and began the trek home.

He arrived at the café shortly after sunrise. It did not look as though anyone was up yet. He unlocked the door as quietly as he was able and closed it gently behind him. So far, so good. Now all that remained was to slip upstairs and into bed before Edith –

RENÉ!

He almost leapt out of his skin, as much at the sight of her facemask and curlers as her sudden presence on the stairs behind him.

“What do you mean by staying out all night?” Edith hissed, coming towards him. “Why are your clothes all wrinkled? And…” She sniffed him carefully. “…why do you smell of cigars, diesel and aftershave?”

René glared at her for a few moments while he considered carefully everything that needed to be explained.

“You stupid woman!” he answered witheringly. “Can you not see that I have spent the night reassuring Lieutenant Gruber that we are still his friends?”

Edith looked uncertain, and he summoned as much indignation as he could muster.

“I could not simply tell him that we do not mind that he turned up on our doorstep drunk, and then come straight home! No, I had to stay and have a drink – a few drinks, in fact – to set his mind at ease. And then, as it had gotten quite late and I was a bit tipsy, he insisted that I spend the night in his quarters!” He threw up his arms. “Have you any idea what a night I have had? I have had to sleep in my trousers in the bed of a man who fancies me, and all to keep on the right side of the only German in Nouvion who does not want to shoot us.”

“Oh, forgive me, René!” Edith exclaimed apologetically. “I do not know what came over me.”

“I should think so,” René answered grumpily. “It is bad enough that I have had to sneak out of the chateau smelling like Lieutenant Gruber and walk all the way home, hoping that the Résistance do not see me and get the wrong idea, without my own wife assuming that I have been playing Hide the Knockwurst with a German tank officer. Not to mention that I have barely had a wink of sleep all night.”

He let out an exaggerated yawn and Edith wrapped her arms around him.

“Oh, my poor brave husband,” she fussed. “Go upstairs and lie down, I will bring you your breakfast in bed.”

“There is no need for that, Edith,” René told her magnanimously, patting her on the back. “Yvette can bring my breakfast while you open up.”

“Of course.” Edith smiled up at him. “I will dress and get the girls and M’sieur LeClerc out of bed while you take things easy.”

“Thank you, dearest,” René answered, giving her a peck on the cheek. He let out a sigh of relief as she hurried back upstairs. Thank God for this honest face.

René washed himself as thoroughly as possible with what was left of his soap ration. He did not want to have to explain himself to Yvette. He might not be able to remember the whole story, and if she and Edith compared notes and found differences it would be disastrous. Once he was confident that he no longer smelled as though he had spent the night in the arms of a sweaty German lieutenant, he slipped on a clean nightshirt and retired to bed.

All in all, he reflected, everything had turned out all right. He had the morning free and Yvette was on her way with breakfast and a cuddle. Gruber would be at the café this evening, and everything was back to normal.

Apart from the fact that he had gained yet another lover. And that he was wondering if he could persuade Yvette to look for that magic spot up his back passage. And if it would feel even better if something a little bigger went up there.

…oh, ’eck.