Biggles stood by the door of the hut, his gun trained on von Stalhein as he sat at his desk with his hands flat on the table in front of him. He wanted to pace up and down, but he knew better than to give von Stalhein the opportunity to comment on his restlessness.
"You're playing for time," von Stalhein observed anyway. He had been watching Biggles as intently as Biggles watched him, not moving a muscle, his icy blue eyes never leaving Biggles's face. Then his voice dropped. "Some methods are better than others for passing the time, if we're to be stuck here for a while."
It was not quite true to say that Biggles had not thought of this for many years. In some of his daydreams he was back at that aerodrome, back in the castle, those other times when danger and excitement bled into each other, when anger and admiration met, when he had that slim strong body hard against his and their combat was turned to a different field.
But it was not possible to kiss someone at gunpoint: once you were within arm's reach a gun became a liability, not a weapon, and Biggles answered von Stalhein's remark simply by moving his gun hand a little.
Other men would have needed an explanation; von Stalhein understood the problem at once. His quickness was one of the most fascinating things about him. Any move Biggles made, he could counter. He countered this too, extending his wrists together in front of him. Biggles swallowed, suddenly feeling too warm in the little hut. He glanced around and at once saw what he needed. Careful to keep the gun trained on von Stalhein, he crossed the room and removed the curtain cord and tested it one-handed for strength. Von Stalhein watched him, and only someone who knew him very well would have realised he was much less impassive than he seemed. He stood up, his movements slow and deliberate, and stepped away from the desk. Biggles made a rotating gesture with the muzzle of his automatic, and von Stalhein obediently turned to face the wall, holding his hands together behind his back.
Biggles approached cautiously, ready for a trick, but von Stalhein remained still. He used the cord to fasten von Stalhein's wrists together behind his back, not taking any risks with the knots, but disturbingly aware of von Stalhein's body bare inches from his. He slipped the gun into his pocket and checked the bonds again, running a finger along von Stalhein's wrist and down to his fingers to be sure he hadn't cut off circulation. Von Stalhein twitched his fingers, combing them through Biggles's, and Biggles ran his free hand up von Stalhein's spine to the nape of his neck. He leaned forward and kissed him there, inhaling the familiar scent of his cologne mingled with sweat. Von Stalhein did not move, but he exhaled slowly as if laying down a burden. Biggles turned him around with hands firm on his shoulders. Von Stalhein leaned against the wall, head tilted back, and Biggles let his hands slide down to find a grip on von Stalhein's waist.
"You're quite right," he said, "this will be a much better way to pass the time."
"I always knew you had a vicious streak in you," von Stalhein responded, eyes glinting, and pushed off the wall so that he was balancing himself on Biggles instead. Biggles wrapped his arms around von Stalhein, toying briefly with the fingers of his bound hands, gasping as von Stalhein's mouth found his neck, teeth scraping the skin. Biggles pushed back then, forcing von Stalhein against the wall, one hand in the small of his back, the other cupping the nape of his neck and tilting his head until their mouths met, hot and urgent and fierce. He was overwhelmingly aware that von Stalhein was bound, his responses intensified by being limited, tongue and lips and the arching of his back standing in for what he could not do with his hands.
And his voice. "Imagine," von Stalhein whispered in his ear, in between nips at his earlobe, "if one of your men came in now, and found you," he paused, gasped as Biggles pressed his hips inwards, "found you ravishing your bound and helpless prisoner."
Biggles pulled von Stalhein's body even closer to his, set up a friction that had von Stalhein's breath coming shaky and fast against his neck, then stepped abruptly back. Von Stalhein leaned weak-kneed against the wall. "I could stop if you prefer," Biggles told him sharply.
"I was under the impression," von Stalhein managed, "that the English did not torture their prisoners."
Biggles laughed and seized him again, and this time von Stalhein made no commentary other than low urging for more, don't stop, like that, Bigglesworth, gasped out between kisses. Biggles unfastened his own trousers, then von Stalhein's, and von Stalhein swore in German as Biggles's hand closed on him, his eyelids drifting shut for a moment, then gazing poleaxed at Biggles's face. He struggled, trying to pull his wrists free, panting as Biggles let his fingers wander. Biggles reached around with his other hand to close on von Stalhein's wrists over the cord and whispered, "Steady, Erich, don't hurt yourself. If you'll give me your word to behave I'll untie you for a bit."
"No," von Stalhein panted, "no, don't, I want--" He dove for Biggles's mouth, as if speech could not express what he wanted sufficiently well. Sweat was darkening his hair, his eyes were closed, his body hot and urgent against Biggles. Biggles felt the same urgency rising in him and let his head fall back, his neck open and vulnerable against von Stalhein's frantic mouth. A few moments more and they were both over the edge in a flurry of gasping and groans. Biggles let himself sink forwards, pressing von Stalhein against the wall. His eyes were wide, glazed, their blue intensity fogged with desire, resting on Biggles's face.
Slowly they sank down the wall until they were both sitting in a tangle of limbs, von Stalhein still held in Biggles's arms. He lowered his head to Biggles's shoulder, recovering his breath. Still bound. Biggles would have untied him then, but the effort of moving seemed too great. Instead he ran his fingers through von Stalhein's hair, along his cheek, his neck, delighting in every languid touch. Von Stalhein sighed and sank a little further, almost liquid in Biggles's grasp. Biggles bestirred himself enough to make use of a handkerchief and refasten their trousers, then leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on von Stalhein's exposed neck.
The fond touch had the exact opposite effect: von Stalhein jerked away as if the kiss had broken a spell, as if Biggles's lips had branded him. With that movement, Biggles regained an awareness of what was happening around them, the distant voices and sounds of movement from the rest of the encampment, and he straightened, recalling his mind to the task at hand. Von Stalhein struggled to pull away and stand up, but with bound hands he couldn't get the leverage. He inhaled harshly, but closed his mouth on whatever angry remark he had been thinking when Biggles rose to his feet and stood looking down at him.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"This was a mistake," von Stalhein snapped, averting his gaze.
"No," Biggles said quietly. He stooped down and pulled von Stalhein to his feet, though von Stalhein tensed at every touch as if they hadn't just shared as intimate a touch as two men could. "No, this is the only thing you've done today that isn't a mistake."
Von Stalhein marched back to his desk and leaned back against it, half-disguising his bound hands, disclaiming all softness or vulnerability. The posture was so familiar that for an instant Biggles was back at the Count's office in Zabala, the Count seated at the desk, von Stalhein leaning against it laying lethal traps with his tongue. Biggles followed and stood deliberately close, rewriting the memory, then pulled out his cigarette case and lit two cigarettes.
"If you do not intend to free my hands," von Stalhein said icily, "you will find my holder in my left pocket."
Biggles smiled and reached into von Stalhein's pocket, feeling the warmth of his body and the edge of his hip through the fabric. He took out the amber holder, slipped one of the cigarettes into it and placed it between von Stalhein's lips with the gentle deliberation of another kiss. Von Stalhein drew on the cigarette and glared at him as if he would have preferred roughness. His hair was streaked with sweat. Biggles wanted to tidy it for him, smooth it straight, soothe von Stalhein's bitterness at the same time, but he kept his hands still. He stood by von Stalhein, smoking, aware of the weight of the silence between them. But there was nothing to say. This attraction, real and fierce though it was, could not burn through the fetters of history and anger and pain.
One fetter he could release. Biggles extracted his automatic from his pocket again. Von Stalhein turned his back, sullenly rather than with the simmering enthusiasm of earlier, and Biggles untied his wrists, then stepped smartly backwards. Von Stalhein shook out his hands and rolled his shoulders to restore feeling, then sat down rather quickly behind his desk, fidgeting with his cigarette holder and not looking at Biggles. There were red marks on both his wrists from when he'd struggled against the cord. He pulled his cuffs down to cover them, then left one hand resting on the opposite wrist as if to recreate the sensation, or guard against it.
There was still a little left in the bottle of vodka, and two glasses. Biggles poured out two measures and set one down on von Stalhein's desk.
"Will you drink to better days ahead?" he asked.
"Better days?" Von Stalhein made a dismissive gesture with his long cigarette holder. "An illusion only."
Biggles, his glass held poised halfway to making the toast, frowned at this. "I don't think it's impossible. For you or me."
"I suppose," von Stalhein said with real bitterness, "that you would have me wish that I could surrender fully to you instead of having to be tied."
Biggles regarded him steadily, then smiled and raised his glass again. "You know me too well to suppose I'd batter myself against a brick wall when there's a window open. I'll drink to taking pleasure while we may, instead."
Von Stalhein looked back at him then, and a little of the earlier intensity was in his eyes again. He raised his own glass. "To that I can agree."