Let There Be Light
Click on image to enlarge.
by R. Cooper
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: In war-torn Europe of 1872, Karol and Hart devoted themselves to protecting England and the peace England maintained. Hart was a spy and bodyguard for Karol, a brilliant but hotheaded scientist. Their partnership was almost unstoppable... until Hart could no longer bear to see Karol in danger--or with other men--and seeing Hart repeatedly put his life on the line came to terrify Karol. Then a horrible accident separated them for what they believed would be forever. Now the enemy's plan to kidnap Karol has Hart volunteering to guard him once again. Alone together with their fear and pain from the past might destroy them... or it might give them hope for a brighter future.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [122 KB]
Reading time: 80-112 min.
Hart scanned the space in front of him without slowing his stride, or taking away the hand hovering just over the gun in his belt. There was a fine line of tension behind his thoughts, but he wasn't anticipating a battle. It may have been years since he'd been down in the Menagerie, but the kinds of dangers lurking within its walls were generally not the sort that required skill with a pistol.
As the potential for action remained just the same, he did not lower his hand. He headed up the steps through the great arched doorway and ignored both the carved figures of Galileo and Copernicus above the door and the sentries standing at attention beneath them.
The guards held the doors for the three following after him, but Hart turned without waiting toward one of many available corridors and entered the east wing, though he did take a moment to note that the rest of the guards here seemed to have grown just as lax as the two at the door. Most snapped to attentiveness only when they saw his face; a few seemed positively terrified when they then quickly glanced away from his face and got a good look at his rather famous coat.
It was a plain black coat, cut in the military style, unbuttoned to reveal the white shirt he wore underneath and the large, heavy gun tucked into his sword belt as well as the sword at one hip. The sword curved up just under where the coat ended, at his knees, revealing a nondescript scabbard that matched his coat, bare of any insignia. The only decoration was the gray wool lining, just visible when he moved.
The lack of insignia said who he was as much as his face or the patch slanting over his eye, but Hart didn't mind their speculation or their fear if it meant they would now perform their duties properly. If lives hadn't potentially been at stake, he might have even been amused.
Isabel had noticed their inattention as well. She was behind him with her pad of paper, her pencil scratching as she took down their names and positions. Captain Rogers was supposed to be in charge of security in the Menagerie. It was clear he'd have to be replaced, and Hart--or, rather, Isabel--would have to start making personal inspections. Soldiers were here to guard those who could not protect themselves, not to fall asleep at their posts. He had a feeling Isabel's thoughts were the same.
There was no room for incompetency, especially in this work. He didn't care how bored the guards got, standing for hours in front of laboratories, listening to scientific babble they didn't understand. This place might have come to be affectionately or mockingly referred to as Victoria's Zoo, always out of Her Majesty's hearing, but the scientists chosen to work here, the experiments funded by the Crown, were of national importance. Anything in these rooms might someday affect all of Britain. If they couldn't understand that, then he'd send them over to give tours of the Tower Green to remind them of the cost of failure.
His gaze slid over the marks on the walls as he turned another corner. He knew the way well enough, though it had been years. It was one of the reasons for his promotion, along with his inability to work in the field anymore with such an infamous face.
Hart finally smiled, wide enough to feel the pull on the left side of his face. C had been amused at the time as well. He'd mentioned Hart's face--his eye--as he'd been handing him his papers for the promotion. There was no one better suited to keep an eye on the city, was what he'd said, with a look at the patch.
Hart had offered a brief smile in return, if for no other reason than because no one, not even Isabel, ever directly commented on his injuries, though he'd never made an attempt to hide the wide spots of smooth scar tissue and the hints of pale pink that had once been a furious and bloody red. He wore the eye patch for formal events and polite company. The vision in his eye had been only slightly impaired by the accident, but looking at the damaged flesh around it made some uncomfortable.
The building around them had been built at the start of the century--after the last one had burned down--but already showed similar signs of devotion to England's causes. Between the rooms where there should have been blank patches of wall were scribbled equations and scorch marks, along with the occasional quote and incomprehensible--if probably rude--graffiti. There was graffiti over the doors to the safety stations as well.
Those were fairly new, instituted at Hart's insistence the moment the Zoo had come under his purview. One wooden cabinet every hundred feet, with spigots for the running water they'd painstakingly piped into this building. They were also filled with buckets, kits of medicine, and telephones that ran on batteries to call the fire brigade if necessary. The stations had already proven themselves worth the expense with lives and experiments saved. He was pleased to see them in place, and obviously used.
Isabel scratched another notation. Her pencil was louder than the footsteps of the two men flanking her, as it should be. Hart had trained them, though their swords weren't sharper than the glint in his secretary's eyes.
Hart tightened his mouth. He didn't need a secretary for this, but then this whole idea was insane. He'd never liked it when his advice was ignored, and liked it even less when his hands were tied by orders. This ... incredibly foolish, utterly ridiculous thing he was about to do was the best of his options. A fact that went beyond irksome, as he should never have been forced into this situation. There would have been alternatives had he been consulted before.
He flicked his thumb over the cool black grip of his pistol before he dropped his hand.
He had a job to do, and wondering what C was up to do was a waste of time, though he was very aware that this had been deliberately hidden from him. But it wasn't his place to question, and C had yet to steer him wrong, so after a limited, quiet protest, he'd nodded and made his suggestions. To complain about that now was just as foolish.
He hurried down another small set of stairs, increasing his speed not to hasten his arrival, but to dispel the energy from his anger. The early hour meant that the closed, dim, gaslit halls were almost abandoned, though there was an occasional whirring sound from the odd room, then a muffled boom in the distance as he pushed open another door and swept past another set of nervous, jumping soldiers and out into the morning sunlight.
Noise hit him the moment he emerged, somewhat distant but ever present. The trains carrying troops and civilians alike in and out of the city, clearly audible even here on the outskirts of the academy, the clock tower chiming away, steamships in the harbor.
The air was a mix of pale blue and gray, the tops of steam towers and vents just visible over the trees scattered throughout this part of the grounds. If he turned, he would see other buildings, hints of the seat of government, domes more black than white with the dust from the munitions factories.
There was no fog; that was something. With no fog and a few thin rays of sunshine today and hopefully tomorrow, he'd have clear line of sight for the long day ahead. Though seeing the danger wasn't going to make him any safer.
His hand twitched back toward his gun again at his first glimpse of the tower, his thumb gliding over the barely perceptible marks of craftsmanship and the signature of the maker etched into the handle. Then he looked up and allowed himself to view the tower.
It had once been connected to the main building, probably when it had first been constructed, but stood by itself now.
That decision had been made to benefit everyone.
There was a path leading to the door at the base. Hart glanced over at the two guards posted just inside the doorway, then tilted his head back to count the number of metal fans on the roof spinning like tops in the slight breeze and the lightning rods next to them, as well as the--there was no other word but perplexing--pipes running up and down the side of the tower.
What sunlight made it through the city smoke glinted off the copper, which made him think they were water pipes, though he didn't see the need for water up there unless the stories were true and the man was truly living in his laboratory year-round now. At the base was a small shed of iron and wood, housing something that hummed. The sound grew louder as he approached the door. If they were water pipes, then that was hiding a boiler, perhaps a pump. But he wasn't going to ask.
Hart stopped abruptly at the single step that lead into the porch. It was the first moment of stillness he had allowed himself since his briefing late last night. On the door was a brass sign that said 850. Zieliski. Beneath that, on the door itself, someone had taken a thick pen to the wood and written Danger! Go away! in six languages. Someone else had taken a different pen and scrawled Bastard underneath Zieliski.
Hart didn't smile at that, just leaned his head back enough to notice that tikkun olam was still painted above the door in the same handwriting as all those go aways, as was the pax Britannica next to it, written in blue India ink and an entirely different hand.
He tapped a finger on the butt of his gun, on the name indelibly etched there, then took his hand away and stepped forward. The soldiers by the door didn't attempt to stop him, another sign that a firmer hand was needed in this department. For now they were already being replaced by the two men in his command. Isabel was lingering as well, despite not being necessary. She was concerned about his decision; that was clear. He turned enough to dismiss her, directing a brief, stern look her way before opening the door.
He stopped dead at the glimpse of the wire just over the threshold.
A trip wire. A thrice-damned trip wire. Which he had only seen because he'd bloody well learned to look for them.
With restraint, with a few inward curses at mad geniuses, he followed the path of the wire until he saw the bell at one end and then let out a small breath.
An alarm system. Scientists were a paranoid lot with more codes and secrets than any spy, but an actual trip wire...
Hart tightened his jaw and stepped silently over the trap, closing the door behind him. He paused again on the other side, looking for more traps while he was at it and taking in the scene.
The room had been divided in two; the small area directly in front of the door had a counter and stools, with a few ratty chairs and a small strange humming box taking up what little space remained. Pipes ran down the walls into a sink, and there was a potbellied stove nearly within reach. When he opened the door all the way, there were a few scant inches between it and the stools at the counter.
There was a fine layer of dust over everything but the stove, and grease-stained books in stacks on the floor. In other words, not much had changed. He was grateful he hadn't brought a bag--he wouldn't have known where to set it.
Cranking sounds were coming from the other room, which was open, as someone had torn out the wide doors a long time ago to move equipment in and out. Hart went past the staircase that lead to the top of the tower and stopped by the rough edges of wood and plaster that had once been a doorway.
This room was larger and obviously more used. A fireplace on the opposite end of the room was lit and glowing brightly with a brass case in front of it that seemed to waft warmed air in his direction. Glass bulbs of uneven sizes lined the ceiling in rows, darkened for the moment. He'd never seen so many in one place before, though the window in one wall gave the room light enough. There was a sofa, just as old as the chairs in the other room, covered in plump, mismatched pillows, adding to the general air of decadence from the heating device by the fireplace, at odds with the workbenches along the walls.
Rugs were on one side of the room only, the part where Karol liked to sit in that beastly heat in front of the fire and read books by people he considered inferior. The rest of the room was for work, had tools hanging in rows, shelves full of what looked like junk but which were most likely remnants of brilliant ideas that had been abandoned.
In the middle of that was an engine. Hart knew enough to know it was an engine, could see the pistons and the parts in the center that would probably rotate too fast for him to see when it was on. He had no idea what was its purpose or even how it was powered, though there was a box next to it with wires trailing from it. Behind that, sitting on the floor and working a wrench, was the man he'd come to see.
Working alone--that wasn't a surprise. Karol had no patience for anyone slower than him, which meant doctoral candidates, students, and lab assistants never lasted long. His reputation for being difficult had only gotten worse in the past three years, judging from the number of requests for transfers that had crossed Hart's desk from the soldiers sent to guard Lab 850. Karol's attitude toward his security detail was as constant as the other part of his reputation.
Acts between men had only been officially decriminalized for ten years, but Karol had been taking advantage of the Crown's willingness to overlook the misbehavior of its top minds--provided they produced results--for years before then. It had been yet another reason his assistants and security details had never lasted. They might have been hoping for more, but all they'd gotten was one night.
What should have been behind closed doors never really was with someone as well-known and resistant to embarrassment and public pressure as Karol. Hart probably would have learned who the man had been coaxing into his bed even had he not worked for the Intelligence Service. As it was, he had more than enough information.
For the past three years Karol had apparently been delighting in running off his guards with a combination of his usual seduce-and-discard routine when they caught his eye, and outright harassment, calling them all manner of names whenever they fell short in their duties. Hart had been prepared to take him to task for it, but seeing the state of this department's security, he was inclined to think it was Karol's way of filing complaints of his own.
Hart took another step into the room, enough to see around the edge of the giant hunk of metal. Despite every complaint he'd ever made about being cold, Karol was working in an unbuttoned shirt. His shirttails hung loose, over the suspenders he'd left to dangle from his waist, over his light trousers, and the shirt itself may have once been all white but was now smeared with blackened engine grease. There was a great deal of almost golden, olive-colored skin on display, from his flat stomach up to the chest sprinkled with hair, and the line of his throat as he swallowed and muttered something to himself. Thick goggles hid most of his face, at least, though he seemed focused on his work. There was stubble at his chin that meant he'd been up all night, and he was too thin again, though Hart could see muscle flexing as Karol finished tightening whatever he was tightening.
Hart's gaze slid to his hair, the brown curls gleaming with the oil Karol sometimes brushed into it in an attempt to keep those curls under control.
It had yet to work. Taming that hair would be like getting Karol to eat or sleep on a regular basis--an impossible task.
"Another dog sent to fetch me?" Karol remarked without looking up. He cranked something else with a breathless, angry exclamation and then set down the wrench. "I'm busy. Go away." He ripped off one glove just to reach under the engine bare-handed. He seemed satisfied with whatever he felt; he smiled before continuing. "Unless you're good-looking. In which case, the bed's upstairs. I'll be along."
He got to his feet without once looking to see who he was talking to, and Hart paused, then let his mouth twist into a smile.
"I'm not here to sleep with you, Zieliski." His voice stayed level. That was something. Almost as much of a victory as the way Karol's head instantly came up. He froze, his eyes hidden by goggles and layer of grease, and then he pulled those down to his neck. He dropped the other glove to the floor without seeming to notice.
Hart realized he was sweating slightly, no surprise with the heat in the room. Karol always had bitched about the faintest chill; that beastly heating device was obviously his remedy. But there was a glimmer of perspiration on Karol's skin too, at his throat. Hart quickly brought his gaze up in time to catch Karol's study of him.
It seemed brief, cursory, but he doubted Karol missed anything, from his scuffed boots to the collection of visible weapons to the pomade holding his black hair in place, as Hart refused to wear a hat, when hats were just another thing to obscure his field of vision. But Karol's stare stopped at Hart's face, at his mouth and his upper lip, where there had been enough damage to the skin to prevent Hart from growing a mustache again, at his cheek, marred with more scars. There were more, spots on his neck currently hidden by the turned-up collar of his coat, spots on his head where hair would never grow again, though he brushed the rest of his hair to disguise those.
Hart let him stare. It had been three years, and this man more than anyone else had a right to see.
With that in mind he reached up, not quite holding his breath as he pulled off the eye patch and stuffed it in a pocket.
"Hart," Karol said, nearly whispered it, then flinched and frowned at the floor. He took a moment before raising his eyes. By then he appeared calm, albeit with something boiling just below the surface. "I mean Robert." He breathed out. "Sir Robert. You were knighted, weren't you? Something you 'dulce et decorum est, death for queen and country' service men love." He lowered his chin, though he would still have to look up to glare into Hart's face, and the words sparked as much as the man's beloved electricity.
His frown went from affected to real in the second it took for him to glance around Hart. He had to notice that Hart had come alone. Karol was smart, even when off balance. Too smart. But Hart already knew he was going to win this one, so he inhaled and then leaned against the wall to let the genius work out why he'd come here.
"You've either come to get me or to tell me something I won't want to hear. Otherwise any of those other monkeys with guns outside would have passed on any relevant information. Or a letter."
"You don't read your mail," Hart responded with the same appearance of calm, settling into a relaxed and lazy posture that made Karol narrow his eyes. Hart immediately crossed his arms for good measure but kept his expression vaguely amused.
The less he reacted, the more Karol would. It was an equation he'd learned early, the way he'd learned that Karol didn't read his mail because Hart had been asked to read it for him often enough. He used to walk in and slide over a pile of unanswered letters, and then Karol would wave from his lab and ask him to pick out the ones from his family and read them aloud if they weren't too boring. The ones from other academics requesting help could sit there for months without being touched.
"If it was ever important, I would." Karol kicked the glove out of his way, then stopped again. "So they sent you," he added, and his expression changed, went from irritated to blank as his attention seemed to turn inward. Hart watched, knowing that look for what it was and resisting the urge to offer a snide smile when Karol focused back on him moments later.
It was the look of a prophet or an oracle or of Karol visualizing an invention he had yet to make real. It also meant he was thinking, something to make cautious men be on their guards if they weren't already.
"What? Has war broken out again? No. It's not a national crisis. But it is life or death. It's the only thing that would bring you here." Karol seemed certain of that, but his expression said he didn't care for Hart's slow smile or the nod Hart gave for an answer. Strange, when Karol usually enjoyed being correct.
Hart couldn't help making his smile wider; it was an old habit, annoying the genius, watching what was under the surface rise to the top, and Karol's gaze traveled over him and his relaxed posture before the other man swore something to himself in another language and marched over to him.
"Why, that sounds almost like you missed me," Hart drawled before Karol could manage English. Karol snarled, tilting his head back to make up for the difference in height between them.
"Perhaps I'm just surprised to see you alive," he spat, the words a shock between them both, so strong that Karol immediately took a step forward and put out his hand.
Glass shattered, and someone inhaled to scream. Frightened. Terrified.
Hart shook his head to banish the memory and Karol's lips parted, as though the great man wished to call back what he'd said, but Hart straightened so he wouldn't have to hear it and Karol's hand fell.
"That's new." He jerked his head at the engine, one of the few changes he'd noted.
"Did you expect things to remain static?" Karol pushed out crossly, not happy with Hart, with the subject change, what he'd just said. "Time alters everything, for better or worse." He jerked his hand in a frustrated gesture, at the room or Hart, but his eyes came back up to Hart's face. Hart waited, but with a blink, Karol turned away.
Another change. The old Karol would have said something rude, blunt, and yet matter of fact, his words barely under control, hot and blue and painful. Most people couldn't stand them, but in a world filled with lies and liars, Hart had found them invigorating. Had found Karol invigorating.
He followed after him as the other man walked into the smaller room and slipped behind the counter. Karol grabbed a teakettle from the pile of dirty dishes. He filled it at the sink, put it on the stove, and stoked that fire before busying himself rinsing out the remnants of his last pot of tea from a plain teapot.
"I thought things might have changed when you left the service," Hart pressed, not raising his voice. Karol chose a tin of tea leaves before he turned around.
"It has changed. There are always changes even when the eye alone cannot see them." He explained the basic scientific principle in a sickly sweet voice as though Hart was a mentally deficient child and then turned again to grab a cup. Just one, which, if anything, indicated his own childish tendencies. Though he looked over again, almost too quickly, before bending down to the small, humming box.
It turned out to be an ice chest of some kind, cold vapor escaping as Karol pulled out a small pitcher of cream.
"Don't they teach you killers anything at that camp up north that you all deny exists?" There was the faintest trace of a foreign accent seeping into Karol's words. He'd been born in England, but that accent was a gift from his parents, and the language they'd spoken in his childhood home after fleeing from their country and the invading Imperial Russian Army. They had never gone on to America like so many others, but had stayed and raised their children here. It was one of the reasons that Karol had always been mostly above suspicion.
For the accent to be audible meant he was upset, and when Hart again chose to say nothing, Karol set down the pitcher of cream with a clatter.
"Why are you here, Hart?" he demanded, and that Hart could answer.