“I want very much to understand us, as we are unusual and strange.”

Kobalt (WIP) Chapter 85: An Unusual Couple

New York City 



The elevator ride was quick, though Kat would never enjoy being in confined, machine operated spaces. The plane ride over had been exquisite torture, even with the aid of several vodka tonics, so she felt she could endure the minor annoyance of the elevator. The queasiness increased when the doors opened, and she had to remind herself that Augustin was with her. That this was their new home, and she needed to absorb this pain, this anguish, to defeat it as she had defeated so many other enemies. 

She opened the door to the apartment, the lock moving easily. Colonel Jones had taken the liberty of having the place thoroughly cleaned before their arrival, but it was still like opening a door to a room full of cobwebs. Taking a deep breath, she moved to enter, but Augustin touched her arm.

“Wait here,” he instructed gently.

Perplexed, she stood at the threshold while he carried their bags in and set them down, fixing him with a questioning look as he returned. He smiled, then scooped her up in his arms. She always forgot how physically powerful he was under his all his bookishness, and she couldn’t help but smile as he carried her over the threshold, all the way through to the bedroom, where he’d turned on the single bedside lamp.

He did not immediately set her down, instead holding her close in those strong arms, refusing to let her feet, flesh and artificial, touch the floor as together they examined the space. That it had once belonged to Miles Fisher was evident in the framed art deco prints, the mismatched bookshelves piled with worn novels picked up from the Stand bookstore and left carelessly half read. It was otherwise rather spartan, with patchwork curtains and an unremarkable bedspread. 

It did not, as it had not when she’d last been here, feel lived in. It was more of a bolthole, a place where Fisher paused on his way to other places. A place to keep his wardrobe and the occasional lover, but not somewhere he kept his heart. There was little of the care or refinement in its decor. Nothing of the aesthetic instinct he had exhibited in other parts of his life. In spite of his mockery of her little room in Washington, it was clear he hadn’t much cared for this residence. It had always been hard for Kat to imagine him settling down anywhere longer than a few days.

Still, the memory of those few days were close to her skin. She remembered this bed, remembered the occasions when they’d fallen into it for a brief tussle, either halfway dressed, or halfway undressed in their impatience. He’d made her scream and giggle in turns. She’d made his eyes water, his breath catch. It wasn’t yet easy between them, their early moments characterized by the electric charge of lust and insecurity.

Jones had offered, very diplomatically, to put Fisher’s few possessions in storage, but Kat had said no. She loved these things because they’d been his, however little he may have regarded them. That meant enduring the reminder. But she could stand it, she thought. She could feel her husband’s inquiring gaze, then his face pressed into her hair, one of his small subverbal gestures of tender concern.

“I’m all right,” she whispered. “Put me down.”

He obeyed, following her to the window as she pushed aside the curtains. Outside, beyond the reflection of them cast by the small lamp, were other Manhattan towers, each dark concrete and steel fortress showing rows and rows of lit apartments and offices. Now and then they would see silhouettes moving past, or else lingering at the window as they were lingering, but they were too far from their neighbouring buildings to see much detail beyond the glass. Below, a little corner of Central Park cut a dark section from the proliferation of lights below — street lights, traffic lights, the lights of taxis as they crawled along Park Avenue. 

“What’s missing?” she murmured, leaning back against him. “Can you spot it?”

It took him a moment. He rested his chin on her shoulder, draping his arms around her waist. “No wall.”

She knew he was already overwhelmed by the bounty of the west, by its greedy, pushy contradictions, its callous disregard for the unfortunate. She felt it too — a sense of limitation removed, and then the sudden desire for some kind of barrier to anchor her, to provide the resistance she needed to contrive a way forward. Without the spiritual drag weighing her down, it was difficult to know which way was up.

Miles Fisher’s greatest gift to her, beyond helping her discover her joy in her own sexuality, was his articulate love of simple pleasures. Below them, Manhattan offered pleasures in a greater array than could be found anywhere else in America. That which were both simple and fine could be found close at hand, and by that token, she and her dyed-in-the-wool East German husband would preserve their sanity as they partook.

Augustin reached over and switched off the lamp, leaving them illuminated only by the strange, lateral firmament of other lamps in other apartments not yet darkened for the night. His mouth was soft on her throat, his hands gentle as they pulled apart her blouse, everything in his attitude sensual, tender, and patient. It was his best deception, this amorous delicacy. These kisses like soft petals floating on the surface, concealing his unfathomable, inchoate depths. The unseen abyss of raw greed.

“It’s very high,” he said against her ear in that soft, low voice that had so much resonance when he cared to use it. She leaned back against him, her eyes moving over the other towers, wondering if they had counterparts who were indulging in such decadence.

“Does it frighten you?”

“A little,” he chuckled. “I’ve never been so high inside a building before. I’ll have to get used to it.”

She turned to him, her hands working quickly to undo his collar, to unbutton him out of his shirt. She wanted the feel of his skin, his coarse body hair, the warmth of him. She wanted to feel that hot flush against her own skin, and sighed against his mouth when that desire was immediately fulfilled by his firm embrace. It was still new between them, and Kat was slow to relinquish her power. Submission was not something that came naturally to her, and it wasn’t something he’d ever asked of her, but she was learning there was a kind of freedom to be had in surrender. The trust between them meant she could do so without feeling beholden or competitive. 

They’d even talked about it in frank discussions, something that never would have occurred to her. They talked about sex, and she listened to him, enjoying his theories, his knowledge. Those daylight conversations meant she could swim those dark waters with him, feel the sensations, the pressure, the current of him without having to know her destination. She could dive under the surface, feel that erotic turbulence enacting on her body without fear that she would drown, that she would go over the waterfall’s edge. Total immersion meant wasn’t always sure who she was or where when they were done making love, and the not knowing was delicious instead of frightening. 

“What was it like the last time you were here?”

Kat blinked in the darkness, surprised by the question. Augustin no longer pried into her past, especially when he was aware it might be painful for her. She was silent for a while, her fingers tracing over the wrist of the arm wrapped around her.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he said gently. “If it’s too— ”

“No,” she said quietly. “No it’s just… stupid, actually.” 

“In what way?”

“He bought these opals for me, earrings and a lariat made of opal beads, then had me wear them while we… I think that was the real reason he purchased them. Probably cost a month’s pay, just to dress me up in them like lingerie.”

“I don’t know that I’d call that stupid,” Augustin said contemplatively. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes,” she murmured, feeling strangely detached from the memory. She and Fisher were still learning each other then, not yet full confidants. “He liked to… well, play was the word he’d use for it. Not the clinical way you use it.”

“I imagine not,” he said. “But I do know what you mean. Elements of whimsy, fantasy, dynamic. It would be pleasing to see you in nothing but jewels, to enjoy the slight power of being able to induce your cooperation, to see you wear the badge of that power.”

“Does that interest you?”

“Yes,” he said with perfect frankness. “There are creative inspirations I wish to indulge, but one can’t without a certain level of familiarity. I haven’t allowed much beyond shallow romances.”

“Creative inspirations,” she mocked softly. “Is that just Augustin-speak for fantasies?”

“I think of it as more voluntary,” he mused, stroking her hair. “Desires I wish to enact on you, sensations I want to evoke from you. I suppose the benefit of experience is being able to be considered about these things, and being able to share them with you.”

She kissed him. “Then tell me what inspires you.”

“The mystery that is us,” Augustin said, now pulling her against him. “I want very much to understand us, as we are unusual and strange.”


“Sexually, romantically. How many marriages are there like ours? Two people in middle age going into it almost as blind as it might be in an arranged marriage.” 

“People in arranged marriages don’t usually have sex with each other beforehand.”

“Yes,” he agreed, inviting her to play the student and continue the thread. “What else?”

“They generally don’t meet twenty years before.”

“And one doesn’t typically completely forget the other.” 

One doesn’t almost murder the other, she thought with a little prickle of shame, but didn’t say it out loud. She pressed her mouth against his neck, holding tight to him in a moment of fear. Reminding herself that he was here with her, safe. This was the meaning of the home they were going to make here.

It was a few weeks before the sting of Miles Fisher’s imprint dulled to manageable ache, helped by the fact that she and her husband were now burdened by the pleasant tasks of outfitting the apartment. Neither of them had ever really experienced the indulgence of the western experience, because neither of them possessed real money after 1940. Fisher and the US government had financed her outgoings during their years together, but that had been an expenditure meant to make them look wealthy. It wasn’t the same as having real choice. 

They browsed department stores, putting in orders for pillows, for drapes, for patio furniture to replace the rusted things that had been slowly disintegrating on their balcony. It was heady for her, but she could tell Augustin was slowly being overwhelmed by all of the luxury. Each purchase made him visibly nervous, often forgetting they were entitled to her years of back pay and her pension secured for her from the French government. His own reward for his part in recovering the Frühlingsmorgen collection was also compounding as each missing piece was slowly repatriated. 

It recalled to her the way she’d felt when Fisher had gleefully showered her with frocks, jewellery and expensive dinners. It was a different kind of spoilage; she and Augustin were shopping not for the sake of it, but for the things they would need for their home together. She did indulge in the occasional dress, and was slowly leading him down the path of indulgence with gifts of tailored clothes, summer-weight fabrics that moved with him even in his hunched over thinker’s posture, but it was against his nature to be entirely frivolous.

For her own part, she was still riding high on the amputation of her hated right foot. It had taken her a little time to acclimate to Major Dionne’s wedding present, but now she didn’t feel the metal bolted into her bones. The ball joint set into the durable hard rubber foot meant she hardly limped at all, meant that when she danced, she could keep toes on the ground, could let herself move naturally. She could even, when she was game enough to test it, run. Dionne had worked with her in Scotland, helping her learn to lengthen her stride, to push back off the molded heel.

She almost always left the cane entirely behind now, relying on several attachments when required of her. She had an array of feet, usually to accommodate the needs of shoes with heels, or various sporting needs like swimming. All of these were mechanical wonders to her, all of them fashioned for her beyond the imaginings of most prosthetics, and she treasured them. 

Having the ability to move returned years to her life, but having Augustin gave it meaning. He had a powerful stillness, an ability to be with her and yet within himself at the same time, especially when they were in a crowd. His English was rapidly improving, and she knew he’d soon reach a fluency that would enable him to pursue a career of his own, but she still enjoyed the moments when they walked silently together along the streets of the Village, thinking together in German. These were unspoken conversations they couldn’t share with others, traumas and pain that were so distinctive and personal that the words didn’t exist to explain them. 

It was after one of their long, watchful consitutionals that Kat sensed his restlessness. He gave her his full attention once they returned to the apartment, but afterwards, as they lay together in bed, she felt him slip away into his anxiety.

“What is it?” she said quietly, touching his cheek. “Nightmares again?”

“Not exactly. I’ve been having… I’m not sure how to describe it. Surfacing memories, perhaps – particularly of the Institut.”

“And they frighten you?” 

“They sadden me. But they also make me curious.”

“You never really told me why you wanted to study at the Institut,” she said, suppressing a yawn as she cuddled up to him. “You guessed at your own motives, but I think you do know and you haven’t shared it with me.”

He smiled. “There was a girl I knew from the academy. She had at one point lived under another name, and as another gender. I wanted her with only the kind of mindless bull lust a teenage boy can experience, but she would not allow me the merest purchase. Her parents were early members of Hirschfeld’s great social experiment, and were, I believe, learning acceptance through participation. I wanted to also. I was fascinated by the idea that everything I had been ordered to accept as truth didn’t align with anything I’d observed as fact. Not in ancient history, not in nature, and not in Berlin.”

“And did you and she ever… ?”

“No,” Augustin said, a little frown appearing between his brows. “Maybe that’s why I try so hard not to recall those years. After the Institut came down, her parents forced her to wear trousers, to put on a Hitler Youth uniform. To change her name, to become another Jan or Franz, or Rolf. That girl… sometimes I feel like I imagined her. I don’t remember what she was called. I couldn’t even do that much for her.”

“I don’t think this society is any more enlightened than the Reich is on such matters,” Kat said quietly. “But would you continue your study, given the resources?”

“When my English is better,” he said in his deeply accented Austrian Professor’s voice, then grinning as he lapsed back into their language. “I want to write, Kat. For every word of retraction or denunciation, I want to write words that are true.”

In the morning, Kat placed a call to Colonel Jones. By the afternoon, Augustin was enrolled in State Department’s English language classes, where he would be at home among the foreign diplomats, high-level defectors, and, of course, the spies. In the mean time she turned her attention to her own prospects. Hesitant as she was to call in favours for herself, she couldn’t deny Fisher’s wisdom any longer. She was best at training soldiers, and when she put it to Jones, she was unsurprised to find that a place had already been secured for her at West Point. 

The following day, she and Augustin agreed that she would first go alone to assay the farm at Cold Spring. It would be their first time apart since Scotland, but their relationship was tempered to the point where her fear of separation was far less than the pleasure of looking forward to their reunion. She took him out for a decadent steak dinner, ordered champagne, and left him with a kiss and a hangover before setting out to take up her latest post.