Author: The Infamous Black Valkyrie PM
When a Ukrainian intelligence agent is sent to spy on a German assassin, she soon finds that there was more to him than could be said with one file. What happens when she begins to develop feelings for this man, whom she barely knows? And what happens when the organization she works for finds out and goes after him? (Rating upgraded because of violence.)Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Chapters: 9 - Words: 35,337 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 05-10-13 - Published: 02-20-13 - id: 3102588
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter Three: Enlightenment
Next day; 7:38 pm...
It had been, Natalya had to admit, a rather boring day.
She had spent all of it thus far in her hotel room, surrounded by surveillance equipment, doing her job.
Thus far, she had learned nothing from her observations. The video had turned up nothing today, other than him just going about his usual business. The audio feeds were only a little more interesting, because at least there, with the constant stream of music that he kept going all day, she'd had something to listen to other than just the silence and the sound of her own footsteps.
I don't pity the guys who have to go through all this data when I get back. she thought. I imagine they'll be as bored as I am now.
Yawning, she looked back at the video monitor and caught sight of the big man walking in front of it, and, for the hundredth time today, remembered that she was to meet with him tonight.
About twenty minutes from now. she realized, looking at her watch.
Without another moment's hesitation, she began to shut down the recording equipment, knowing as she did so that, while she could more than likely pass it off as a technical error, that if Fedorchak ever realized what she had really done, he'd have her job for this.
This could be seen as fraternizing with the enemy. she thought. Even if we don't know yet if he truly is an enemy.
She strongly suspected he was not. While there's no way she could be certain, he appeared to her to be just like any other man making a living to support his family. Even if his occupation was not at all what would be considered a "normal" one.
Or even a legal one.
Shutting down the last of her equipment, she walked over to the full-length mirror on one side of the room and gave her appearance a quick look-over.
This isn't a formal thing. she told herself, after ascertaining that there was nothing she needed to fix with her appearance. I'm just going to talk to the man.
Nevertheless, she couldn't help but feel edgy as she grabbed her coat and the keys to her rented car as she made her way to the door. The entire drive there, she couldn't help but go over the lunacy of what she was doing. It was very much possible that he had contrived a way to completely destroy her mission.
Possible, yes. But is it likely?
She had no answer to that, even as she pulled up to his apartment building. Parking out front, she looked up at his window. The blinds were thrown wide open, permitting her a view straight up into the apartment. She couldn't help but notice that the only times the blinds were ever open was at night. They were closed during the day every time she'd kept watch over the place for the first three days. He only opened them at night.
I'll have to ask him about that. she thought as she locked the car door behind her, walking into the building, making her way up the stairs. Upon actually reaching his apartment, she froze. After she knocked on the door there would be no turning back.
One chance to turn tail and run, she thought.
She did not leave. Raising one slightly shaking hand, she knocked on the door, the loudness of the sound startling her. Perhaps because she was already so on edge. From inside the apartment she could hear muffled footsteps, before the door swung open and he was standing there, straight-faced as he ever was.
"Hello, Ms. Lukashenko." he said, stepping aside to permit her entrance. "Won't you come in?"
Wordlessly, she entered the apartment, instinctively looking around to check the place out, to check for anything that might be a threat. After ascertaining to her own satisfaction that there probably wasn't anything here that was a threat to her, she said, "Thank you for letting me come over here tonight. I know this probably wasn't the easiest decision for you."
He did not respond, but she could tell it wasn't. It didn't show in his face, but she could tell. He was nervous. Probably thinking the same thing she was, namely, that this was a big mistake. There was an awkward silence between the two before Ludwig said, "There's a pot of coffee on. If you want a cup..." He gestured towards the kitchen area, before taking his eyes off her once more.
She did not respond, only nodding her head in thanks, as she walked over to the coffeepot. Grabbing an empty mug, she couldn't help but still be tense about the whole ordeal.
Walking back into the main room a moment later with her cup, she asked, "So, anywhere I can sit?"
He gestured towards the couch, heading in that direction himself. She noticed as she walked in that direction that he, as usual, had music playing. This time, she could, at least, tell who the composer was.
"Beethoven?" she asked, gesturing towards the stereo.
A look of surprise flitted across his face. But only for a moment, before he nodded and said, "It is, yes. He is another of my favorites." He took a seat, turned the stereo down a bit, and said, "So, you wanted to talk. Anything in particular to start the conversation off?"
This pulled her up short. Now what was she supposed to say? She hadn't actually thought about what she was going to ask him. Now she had to think of something to say quickly, before her silence made her look like an idiot. So she said the first thing that came to mind...
"I've noticed that you only open your blinds at night. Why is that?"
At this, she quickly had to resist the urge to smack herself in the forehead for asking what she was certain he would interpret as a dumb question.
To his credit, he didn't appear to think that at all. He merely said, "I like being able to see out over the city at night. I've always found it a beautiful sight."
This answer gave her an idea for her next question. She took a sip of her own coffee before setting the cup down on the end table and asking, "Have you lived in Stuttgart your entire life?"
"Yes. Born and raised here." he answered, looking out the window, a distant look in his eyes. "I've never lived anywhere else. Nor do I particularly want to."
"Why is that?" she asked. "If I may ask."
"I've never known anywhere else." he replied, his fingers drumming out a rhythm against the arm of the couch. He had not yet taken his eyes from the window. "I know this city like the back of my hand. It's home. Why would I want to leave that?"
She understood what he meant by that. If somebody asked her if she wanted to leave her home, her answer would be a firm "no", as well. Besides the fact that she saw no reason to leave, Kharkiv was where her family was. She suspected that was the same reason for him not leaving Stuttgart, but if he was going to say that, he would have said it by now. So she simply said, "You wouldn't. It makes sense."
"And you..." he started, grabbing his mug from the table beside him. He looked back over at her and said, "I've got a few questions of my own."
I knew it. she thought. This is going to turn into a cross-examination.
"What made you want to become a spy?"
Oh, is that it? And here I thought he was going to ask where I lived. she thought. Not like I'd tell him.
"I wanted action." she said. "I wasn't going to get it by following the path my parents wanted me to walk down."
"Oh?" he asked, one eyebrow raised. "What path is that?"
"They wanted me to go off and get educated in business." she said, wrinkling her nose at the thought. "Business!" she said again, hurling the word like an epithet. "Why in God's name I would want to spend all day sitting behind a desk doing paperwork? Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me."
He did not respond as he took a sip of his coffee, but she could have sworn she saw a slight smile cross his face, half-hidden behind his mug.
"So I initially decided I would become a police officer." she said, looking up at the ceiling, memories flashing through her mind. "Halfway through my training I was approached by someone working for my country's intelligence service. They recruited me. That's how I wound up here now." That's all she would tell him, she decided, on this particular subject. Technically, she shouldn't have even told him that much. But, she figured, he already knew who she worked for, so no harm done in telling him.
"I assume you've seen a lot of action in this business." He said, running a finger along the rim of his cup. "I know I certainly see a lot of action in mine." He was silent a moment. "I've been at this for close to seven years now."
"How many jobs have you taken over those years?" she asked.
He hesitated a moment. Had she accidentally hit territory that he didn't want to go into?
"Thirteen." he finally said. "I've taken in thirteen jobs in the last seven years."
"That's it?" she asked, surprised. "I would have thought that in that time frame you'd be taking in a lot more than that."
"No. When you consider how specific my criteria is for taking a job, you realize there's really not many opportunities. I do this to ensure that the people that I... well, that the targets that I take out are truly those that need to be assassinated." A moment. "That they are those who are literally too dangerous to be left alive."
She couldn't help but hear how his tone shifted when he almost said "the people that I kill"; how his voice got noticeably tight and how he had to force himself to finish the sentence. It was like the subject was almost painful to him.
"This job really weighs on your conscience, doesn't it?"
She didn't expect an answer out of him. It was an intensely personal question, and she knew it. So when he answered, it came as a shock to her.
"More than anything. It's all I can do not to go mad thinking about it." he said, looking down at the floor. "I know the moral ramifications of what I'm doing. I know that I make a living by ending the lives of others." She looked into those stormy grey eyes and saw only pain. "I try to tell myself that these are people who make their livings doing worse things than myself. People who deliberately oppress and murder others for their own personal gain." His fists were clenched so tightly by now that his knuckles were white. As he went on, she could hear the frustration inherent in his situation. "I try to remind myself that I'm not doing this for myself, but for those who are counting on me. But it doesn't help. It doesn't make it easier when it comes time to pull the trigger on someone."
She wasn't certain she had any words that were adequate. She hadn't realized that anyone could be this conflicted about their occupation. This was not a man who ought to be in that occupation. He may have looked like a brute, but he was a genuinely good man underneath that.
Even if his occupation was very questionable, both morally and legally.
"I'm sorry." she finally said, not looking at him. "I can't imagine having to go through that kind of conflict."
He was silent for several seconds, before he said, "It just frustrates me, because it's not like I have much of a choice. Because the jobs I am willing to take are so few and far between, it just seems like it's never enough." A beat. "I get paid fifty thousand Euros a job. But over the course of several months without a job coming along, with both my expenses and those of my parents, it's not as much as one would think. I've had to take to fighting in underground fight clubs throughout Baden-Württemberg in order to make enough to keep both me and my parents comfortably afloat." He started drumming his fingers against the arm of the couch again before continuing. "That's... actually what I had come back from doing the night I caught you in my apartment."
He had been out fighting that night? This was news to her.
"You weren't out very long, though." she said. "How could you have been out fighting that night?"
"I was gone for almost four hours." he said, one eyebrow raised curiously. "You didn't realize?"
No, I had no idea. she thought, taken aback. Did I really lose track of time that badly? After a moment, another thought crossed her mind.
"Is that why I had such an easy time taking you down the other night?" she asked. "If you were out fighting, conceivably you wouldn't have been at your best by the time I fought you..."
"You're right. That is probably a major factor in why I was so easy to take down." he confirmed, nodding once. At least now he appeared less tense about the previous topic. "You caught me after four intense fights. One of which nearly saw me knocked out." He thought for a moment. "I took a bad uppercut that knocked me to the canvas. Barely managed to get up before the count wound down. My reactions were probably slower that night because of it."
Oh, wow. To think what that fight would have been like if he had been out doing something normal before he returned. she thought. He very well could have taken her down with ease. Now that she thought about it, there had been something in the way he fought that night that suggested he hadn't been in top form.
"I really have nothing to say to that." she admitted. "Because while I'm not happy you got hurt like that, it probably made things easier for me."
"There's really not much to say about that." he conceded. "I never had any real intention of hurting you that night, either. I'm glad I didn't. You simply startled me by being here. That's why I reacted like I did. Why I stopped you from leaving. I wanted to know why you were here and now I do. It's in the past."
"You know, I imagine you are a frightening opponent when you're at your peak." she said, an odd half-smile crossing her face. "I mean, you had me intimidated when you were weakened. I can only imagine how you fight when you're at full strength."
"Well, let me put it this way. Back when I was a professional boxer, I was mostly undefeated." he said. There was no arrogance behind the words; he could have been telling her the time for all the lack of emotion behind it. "There were a few times, certainly, in my early career, but for the most part I won my fights. I even won a championship title, once."
"Then how is it that you never made it big?" she asked. "If you were that skilled, why didn't you make it, say, onto the international stage?"
"I don't know." he admitted, shrugging. "I guess maybe I just wasn't what they were looking for."
Ouch. Most people having to admit that would look somewhat embarrassed at it. But he said it like it was nothing more than a minor disappointment. She found herself not wanting to talk about this subject anymore, and her brain was scrambling for an alternative. Finally she said, "Speaking of talent, yesterday you told me you could sing bass, right?"
That brought him up short. Such a sudden turn in conversation.
"Yes, I did say that." he answered, hesitantly. "Why?"
"Because..." she started, before looking away, somewhat awkwardly. "Because I wanted to hear that."
He was silent a moment. He just sat there for several seconds, before finally getting to his feet and walking over to the stereo. The music abruptly went silent as he pressed several buttons on the front. He appeared to be trying to pick something to play. Finally, the sounds of music filled the room once more. This music was dramatically different than what he had just been playing. He hesitated for several seconds before joining in with the singer on the recording.
She couldn't help but be amazed as she listened. His voice was powerful, but carried a lot of emotion behind the words he sang. It didn't matter to her that she couldn't understand the words, as they were all in German. Just to listen to him; as the song went on, to watch as he surrendered himself completely to the music, shutting out the rest of the world as he did so...
She had never seen anything like it. She didn't think she was ever likely to again.
She didn't know much about opera. But she could tell that this was more than just a mechanical performance, more than just him singing the words with no true emotion behind them. He truly found himself lost in the words he sang. This was every emotion he had ever felt, ever experienced, all rising to the surface at once.
She was captivated by it.
When he fell silent after the end of the song, he stood there a moment, his eyes closed, as if still lost in the sound. When he finally opened his eyes, his gaze fell on her, and his expression almost suggested that he had forgotten that she was there. He was silent a moment before he said, "Well... um... there you go."
"That was amazing." she said, sounding awed. "And how many people have heard you sing before now?"
"Honestly? Just me, you, and my parents." he said, turning the music back down before heading back to the couch. "It's not a skill I feel the need to share."
"I don't see why not." she said. "You were incredible. What was that you were singing, anyways?"
"Act One of Die Walküre by Wagner. Or part of Act One, anyways." he said, taking his seat once more, taking a long pull off his coffee mug. "Like I said, music is my true passion in life. I'm glad you liked it."
"Well, thank you for sharing that with me. It truly was amazing."
The two sat there talking for close to two hours after that, and after neither seemed to have anything more to say, Natalya got up and, retrieving her coat, said, "Well, I don't know if we'll run into each other again, so let me at least say it was nice talking to you this evening."
"Thank you. The feeling is mutual." Ludwig answered, getting to his feet, taking a step forward. Extending his hand to shake, he said, "I must say, for such an odd first encounter as we had, this has been an interesting evening."
She shook the offered hand, before saying, "Well, I must get going, then." She released the hand and walked towards the door. As her hand came to rest on the handle, she turned back around and said, "So, I suppose this is it, then. Goodbye, Herr Engelhardt."
Ludwig was silent a moment before responding, "And goodbye to you as well, Ms. Lukashenko."
Closing the door behind her, she couldn't help but feel she had closed the door on something more. As she walked towards her car, she thought, Maybe I'll try to keep an eye on him after I go back. Just to see what his life is really like when he thinks nobody's watching.
It was something to consider, at least.