Some people, Klaus thought darkly, were lucky enough to turn eighteen without having someone else's name appear on their wrist. He would have liked to be one of them. He could have been free from the expectation that he would love the person who the name on his wrist said was perfect for him. He wouldn't have had to listen to his father and his butler constantly haranguing him about finding the person whose name it was. He wouldn't have had to endure the Chief's insinuations about his reasons for keeping the name secret. Most of all, he wouldn't have had to spend the years since the name appeared, and most especially the last fifteen of those years, keeping his wrist guard on at all times only to have it ripped off in what might have been one of the worst situations possible.
The look on Agnelli's face when he looked down at Klaus's wrist was one of complete shock. "This is not possible."
Too bad it wasn't Agnelli himself holding Klaus's wrist. The henchman didn't seem to know what he was looking at and so didn't react in any way that could have been used to Klaus's advantage.
Agnelli shoved Klaus's wrist away from himself. The henchman had Klaus's wrist cuffed to the chair too quickly for Klaus's yank against his hold to do any good.
Agnelli took all three of his henchmen with him when he left the wine cellar that had been hastily emptied to hold Klaus instead.
The chair was metal, as were the cuffs they'd used on Klaus's wrists and ankles. Bare wrist now, and he would have to worry about that after he got out of there. They hadn't bolted the chair to the floor, which was a mistake Klaus could take advantage of.
Jumping and scraping the chair across the floor was both loud and awkward. It didn't bring anyone in to check on him. Klaus downgraded his opinion of Agnelli's henchmen.
Klaus was half a meter from the door when the lights went out. He went totally still and listened for any sound beyond his breathing. There was nothing he could hear, and then there was the click of the lock and the brush of the door across the threshold as it was opened.
"Major," a familiar and unwelcome voice said at a volume designed not to carry any farther than Klaus's ears.
Klaus couldn't see anything, but Eroica must have had some sort of night vision equipment; he came unerringly to Klaus's side and bent so close over Klaus as he unlocked the cuffs that Klaus could smell him. There was the most minuscule pause when Eroica's hand brushed over Klaus's wrist, right where his wrist guard very definitely wasn't.
"Hurry up," Klaus hissed. Then, deciding that wasn't adequate, he added, "Pervert."
"If I really were, I would have left you locked up," Eroica said.
The moment both of Klaus's ankles were free, there was the rush of air that meant Eroica was moving out of his reach. Klaus didn't need to see him to imagine the look on Eroica's face.
"Take my arm," Eroica said, "and stay close."
"No." Klaus held out his hand. "Give me the goggles. You can follow me."
"You don't know where you're going."
"Of course I do," Klaus snapped. "Out of here."
"I'm very familiar with Marco's estate." Eroica said. "Take my arm."
Klaus did nothing of the sort.
Eroica sighed, and then there was a pair of night vision goggles in Klaus's hand.
The room came into green-outlined focus. Eroica was there in something that seemed to be sensibly dark if pervertedly tight. He was wearing goggles too.
The detail wasn't good enough for Klaus to see Eroica's expression, but the unconcerned shrug was clear enough, and he could imagine the rest.
"I had to try," Eroica said. Then he turned, and Klaus looked away from the shape of his body in its skintight catsuit. "This way, Major."
Klaus thought about going his own way, but he had to admit that Eroica was likely to have a better escape route planned than he could put together in the moment on his own.
Eroica led him down a hallway and up a staircase. There weren't any guards around, though whether that was because they were incompetent or because Eroica had somehow lured them away wasn't clear.
They were sneaking around the edges of a large room when the lights came back on. Men came through doors on either side of Klaus and Eroica.
Klaus hit out at them, catching one of them with a solid punch across the jaw that sent the man to the floor. There were more of them, though, and then there was a gun trained on him, and he put his hands up in surrender. There were two more guns, and then a henchman grabbing each of his arms, and a third ripping off the goggles.
"I should have expected that you would try to help him," Agnelli said, and it didn't seem to be directed at Klaus.
Klaus looked to the side. They'd taken Eroica's goggles too, and pulled off the balaclava masking the hair that now spilled over his shoulders in an unruly mess of golden curls.
"What have you gotten yourself into, Marco?" Despite the henchmen holding his arms and the red mark on his cheek that looked like the impression of a fist, Eroica held himself with complete poise. "The Major wouldn't go after you for art theft."
"Oh, I'm sure he overlooks yours," Agnelli said, "considering that you're his soulmate."
Eroica blinked with what looked like completely genuine confusion. "I'm not."
Agnelli scowled. "Don't lie to me, Eroica."
Klaus could see what was going to happen even before it did. At a gesture from Agnelli, one of his henchmen turned Klaus's wrist up and pushed back his sleeve, letting Eroica see what was written there: the small, faint letters spelling out Dorian, and the darker script overlapping them, nearly obscuring them, that said Eroica.
Eroica's jaw dropped and he spluttered in a way that might have given Klaus some satisfaction if it had been in any other circumstance.
Agnelli crossed his arms across his chest. "You can stop playacting now."
"I'm not." Without looking away from Klaus's wrist, Eroica tugged against the henchmen's hold; they let him go at a nod from Agnelli. Eroica pulled up his sleeve to reveal a wrist guard in sensible black instead of his usual flashy gold. He took it off and turned his wrist up. There was a mark there, but instead of letters, it was a box made out of tight crosshatching, as if someone had written over the name to be sure it couldn't be read.
It was Klaus's name under there, but the crosshatching explained why Eroica, in all the years he'd been making advances toward him, hadn't said a word about them being soulmates. Klaus wasn't sure if that was better or worse than the most likely possibility he'd considered over the years: that Eroica's name was on his wrist but his wasn't on Eroica's.
Agnelli stared at Eroica's wrist, then reached out to rub at the mark. Smart; something like that could be faked.
Klaus yanked against the henchmen's hold, which did him no good; Eroica's dramatics hadn't caused them to lose focus. "Are you done?"
Agnelli looked at him, and then his eyes slide back to Eroica. Agnelli sighed deeply and shook his head at Eroica. "I am very sorry, old friend."
Henchmen snapped handcuffs onto both of them, put a bag over Klaus's head, and marched them through the house. By listening to the echoes of their footsteps, Klaus could tell when they passed from the house into what had to be the garage. His guess was proven correct when he was bundled into a trunk.
They drove for a while, Klaus picking up what few clues he could, and then stopped. Two of the henchmen pulled him out of the trunk and dropped him on the ground. The car drove away.
Klaus swore and sat up. There was a clanking of handcuffs falling to the ground, and he swore again. "Eroica! Get these off of me." He shook the cuffs still holding his wrists together.
Eroica plucked the bag off his head, which meant Klaus could turn his glare directly on him.
Eroica glared back at him, which was unusual. "If I take them off, are you going to hit me?"
Klaus swore. "Unlock them. Now!"
"I'm not one of your Alphabets," Eroica snapped. Klaus ignored it, because he also stepped around Klaus and opened the cuffs. "I'm your soulmate."
Klaus turned around to glare at him. "You are not, and you will not tell anyone you are."
Eroica snatched at Klaus's wrist; he was fast enough to grab it. "This says I am."
Klaus jerked his arm back. "I say you aren't. Stay away from me, pervert."
They glared at each other, and then there was a noise intruding. A pair of noises. Klaus looked up at the sky, then down the road they'd been dumped at the end of.
The zeppelin reached them first, a rope ladder lowered from it as Bonham called out, "Earl!"
Eroica tangled his arm in the ladder and put one foot up on the bottom rung. He blew a kiss at Klaus as the zeppelin rose into the air.
The car stopped next to Klaus. Z leapt out of it.
"Major! We got here as soon as we could. Did you get the microfilm?"
Klaus jerked his sleeve down over his wrist. "No," he snapped. He pulled the driver's side door open. A scrambled out of the car, and Klaus took his place behind the wheel.
A and Z had enough sense to tumble into the car before Klaus roared off down the road.
"Hello, Major." Eroica hadn't just greeted Klaus; he'd also half-draped himself over Klaus's shoulder. "Just how did you get an invitation?"
Klaus shoved him off. "Stay out of my way, Eroica." Klaus turned a glare on him, and then on his outfit. Indecently tight red pants, shoes with some sort of heel, and a sleeveless white shirt that fell across his chest in indecent drapes. "And keep your hands off!"
Eroica looked him up and down. "No, I don't think I will." He hooked his arm through Klaus's. "This is a very exclusive gathering. You can't possibly have an invitation, and you're very obviously an agent trying to infiltrate it."
Eroica resisted every effort of Klaus's to discreetly disentangle himself under the eyes that had turned in their direction. "Let go of me, pervert."
"Bad idea, darling. Half the people here know who you are, and the rest know how to spot your sort. You'd be found out in a minute." Eroica smiled at him, and Klaus couldn't tell if the affection in it was fully real or a show for their audience. "But my soulmate will be accepted, agent or not."
"I told you, you're not my soulmate." Klaus practically spit out the last word.
Eroica's smile dimmed but didn't leave his face. "No use denying it. Half the people here already know."
"Because you told them."
Eroica winced for a moment before his smile was back in force. "Do you really think I would spread the tale that I'm so pathetic my soulmate doesn't want anything to do with me?"
It didn't sound like something Eroica would do. Unless he used it to try to gain sympathy. That seemed like his kind of thing.
"Marco told Julien Roche, and he's a terrible gossip," Eroica said. "It'll get around to the rest of them soon enough." Eroica's smile seemed genuine again. "I can get you into the party."
They stared at each other, Eroica still smiling and Klaus glaring. He wasn't going to let Eroica parade him around like a conquest.
Klaus ground his teeth together. There was still a mission to complete. Eroica's assistance might be the best way to achieve his objective. "Don't try anything," he warned.
Something about the quality of Eroica's smile changed. "Of course not, darling." He began to stroll toward one of the small groups of people. "We'll mingle for a bit," he said softly, "and then we'll go find what you came here for. Other than me."
"I didn't come for you," Klaus said. Then they reached a group of people and Klaus suffered through an interminable fifteen minutes of small talk.
Finally Eroica said to one of the men in their group, "I'm dying to hear all about it, but Klaus doesn't have a drink. Do excuse us."
Eroica steered them toward the bar. "You could at least try to look as if you're enjoying this."
"This is a party full of thieves," Klaus said.
"Yes," Eroica said with a dreamy sigh. "Isn't it wonderful?"
"No." Klaus glared at the bartender. He was on duty and needed to keep a clear head. "Soda with lime."
"Make that two," Eroica said. He patted Klaus's arm far too familiarly. "We'll have a real drink later."
They would do no such thing, not if Klaus could help it.
After they had drinks in hand, Klaus suffered through another thirty minutes of Eroica dragging him around the room making small talk with people who were, at least, mostly smart enough to keep from admitting to crimes in front of Klaus.
"Eroica," Klaus growled when Eroica seemed inclined to steer him into another conversation.
Eroica glanced at him, and then redirected them down a hallway. "What are you looking for?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because then I can help you find it." Eroica let go of him and they faced off in the hallway. Eroica wasn't smiling anymore. "I am your best shot at this. What is it?"
"Microfilm." That he probably could have guessed anyway, and it wasn't as if Klaus were going to tell him what was on it.
Eroica nodded. "With his things or with the art?"
"The art," Klaus said. "It's going to be passed to the buyer that way."
Eroica nodded again, and glanced around the hallway. "This way, Major." He led them down the hallway, through three locked doors, down another hallway, through a door that took him more than a few seconds to unlock, and into a cavernous space filled too many crates and art pieces to search everything.
"There's a system to it," Eroica said. He hmmed as he led Klaus through the room.
There was a vague suggestion that things had been grouped together. It seemed to make more sense to Eroica, who stopped in front of a stack of paintings and a jumble of sculptures. "These are Marco's. You search the statues, I'll take the paintings."
Klaus looked at the statues, several of which were naked or nearly-naked figures. "You search the statues. I'll take the paintings."
Eroica ignored him and started running his hands around one of the painting's frames. "You'll damage them. I know what I'm doing. Quickly, Major. That lock was a new variety that shows how long since it was last opened. If the guards come around, they'll know we're here."
Klaus had no idea what kind of security Perez had in place; as much as he wanted to argue, there might not be time for it. He settled for glaring at Eroica before turning his attention to the statues.
Klaus had run his hands along any number of perverted statues but hadn't found anything yet when there were footsteps. Eroica had heard them too; he silently replaced the paintings he'd been looking at and took a few noiseless steps to Klaus's side.
"Darling, I think our best option is to play this one out." Eroica met Klaus's eyes. "Follow my lead, and don't hit me."
Eroica stepped closer, too close, backing Klaus up against one of the statues. A fully clothed one, at least. Then Eroica's hands were on him, one at his waist and one on his shoulder. And then Eroica's mouth was on his. The shock of it kept Klaus still for just long enough to realize that opening his mouth in this situation would be a very bad idea.
The footsteps coming their way were the only thing keeping Klaus from shoving Eroica off of him. He put his hands on Eroica's shoulders, where he could push him away as soon as he was free to do so. Eroica's shirt shifted under Klaus's touch, leaving his hands on a mix of the silky material and Eroica's bare skin. He could smell Eroica, his skin and some sort of spicy aftershave or cologne. All he could see was every millimeter of Eroica's skin, until he closed his eyes against it.
The worst of it was the way Klaus's heart pounded, and the way his body wanted to pull Eroica even closer. Klaus didn't let it.
The footsteps came closer, louder than the beat of Klaus's heart.
"Hey! What are you doing in here?"
Klaus dropped his hands from Eroica's shoulders. Eroica drew back slowly, blinking at the pair of guards who'd found them. There were quickly fading red marks on his skin where Klaus had been holding too tightly.
"Oh, hello. I didn't expect anyone else to be down here." He smiled at the guards and twirled a lock of his hair with his free hand. "I just wanted to be among the art with my soulmate."
Eroica pulled Klaus's arm behind him, where the guards couldn't see it, and took off his wrist guard. Eroica had stolen his belt before; he could have done that without Klaus noticing.
Klaus said, "Foppish nonsense," and held out his freed wrist for the guard to read. He tried not to let his expression settle into something that would give the guards a reason to doubt them.
One of the guards looked from his wrist to Eroica. "You'll have to come with us."
The guards took them to an office, and stayed with them while they radioed in. Perez had better henchmen than Agnelli.
Perez came in with another pair of guards. "Eroica," he said. "I'm not surprised it was you. I am surprised you got caught."
Eroica shrugged. "I wasn't trying that hard." He runs a hand down Klaus's arm from shoulder to wrist. "And I was distracted."
Perez eyed Klaus with interest. "He's really your soulmate?"
"Yes," Klaus said, well aware it was the first time he'd said that out loud. He held out his wrist for Perez's inspection.
"Well," Perez said, far too amused for Klaus's liking, "Iron Klaus's soulmate is a thief." He laughed. He was still chuckling when he said, "You'll have to leave of course. Two of my men will be following you until this event is over." He nodded at Eroica. "You can stay. You'll also be guarded at all times."
Eroica dipped his head. "Of course. If you'll allow me to say goodbye?"
Perez gestured him forward.
Eroica came too close to Klaus, and put his arms around him again. "I'll miss you, darling." There was real regret in his eyes, and he murmured, "I'm sorry," as he pulled Klaus close and pressed their lips together.
It was over much faster than before.
Klaus glared at the guards Perez waved on to escort him out of the estate and at Eroica when he called, "I love you," after him.
In the car, with Perez's guards in a car right behind him, Klaus reached into his pocket for his cigarettes. They were gone. In their place were a pair of wrist guards, his sensible black and Eroica's gaudy gold, hooked together and an all too familiar card with "From Eroica With Love" in script across a pattern of roses.
No microfilm. Two kisses from Eroica. An entire network of criminals who knew what was on his wrist. Not his best mission.
Klaus's cheap tuxedo let him blend in with the waiters, and Megalos was unlikely to venture into the kitchens. Klaus hadn't been able to retrieve the microfilm from Agnelli before it was sold or during the purchase. His last chance was to take it from Megalos now, before he could do anything with it.
One of the other waiters grabbed at his arm and pulled him into an alcove. Klaus turned to shout at him. His mouth snapped shut when he got a good look at the man.
"What are you doing here?" Klaus avoided names and yelling. Neither of them would advance his mission.
"Getting the microfilm for you," Eroica said.
"You idiot." Klaus made up for the lack of volume with harshness.
"What are you doing here?" Eroica asked.
"Getting the microfilm," Klaus snapped, "because it's my mission." He didn't care about Eroica's safety, but the next thing he said was, "It's not safe for you to be here."
That made Eroica give him a horrifyingly soppy look. "Darling, it's not safe for you either."
"It's my mission," Klaus repeated. "Get out of here and stay out of my way." He turned to leave the alcove.
Eroica grabbed his wrist. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Megalos knows you." Klaus shouldn't have cared. Didn't care. Except that it was his responsibility and Eroica was, technically, a civilian.
"He'll know you too." Eroica's fingers caressed Klaus's wrist, drawing his attention to the fact that Eroica was still holding it. "It's not safe for either of us."
They stared at each other, one of those moments where time drew out while they met each other's eyes.
Klaus pulled his wrist out of Eroica's grasp. "Don't get us caught."
Eroica flashed him a blinding smile.
They worked their way into the estate, picking up and leaving behind trays, linens, and plates as they went so they wouldn't be noticed. They passed several of the guards, none of whom looked twice at them.
They took more care once they were into the private areas of the estate, watching for guards and ducking into rooms to avoid them. Klaus kept watch while Eroica made quick work of the lock on Megalos's office.
In the office, they silently split tasks. Klaus went through the desk while Eroica pushed aside a painting and broke into the safe.
"Not here," Eroica said softly. He replaced the painting, looked around the room, and pulled up a carpet to reveal a second safe.
"Not in the desk," Klaus said, having sorted through its contents. There were any number of records about illegal dealings, but no microfilm.
"Here either." Eroica closed the safe in the floor and stood with a kind of effortless grace that Klaus struggled to look away from.
Klaus looked through the items on a small set of shelves while Eroica pulled aside paintings and felt around the edges of the furniture's upholstery.
"Nothing." Klaus turned to look all the way around the room. There wasn't anywhere they hadn't checked. "It's not here."
Eroica looked at him with such determination that Klaus actually admired him before he remembered who he was looking at. "Let's try his bedroom. It's the usual place for a second safe."
Klaus gave a curt nod. They snuck out of the room and down the hallway.
Footsteps and voices came from around a corner. Eroica noiselessly opened a door, and they slipped into the room behind it. It was pure bad luck that Megalos and his guards chose the same room.
Klaus hit out at the first guard through the door, sending him to the floor. The second one nearly tripped, and Klaus's fist clipped his shoulder. The guard charged at him. Klaus met him with a block, and then a strike that knocked him back but not out.
"That's enough," a voice said, and it was accompanied by the cocking of at least two guns.
Klaus looked around. Megalos had Eroica pulled closely to his body, a gun pressed to his head. Two of the other guards had guns trained on Klaus.
"It would be a shame to destroy Eroica's pretty face," Megalos said.
Klaus folded his arms across his chest. "Doesn't matter to me." He kept a close eye on the guards. He could use any slip in their attention to his advantage.
"I almost feel sorry for you," Megalos said to Eroica, "but you've been thieving in my house."
"I haven't taken anything." Eroica tossed his hair. "I just wanted to be here because Klaus was."
Megalos shoved Eroica toward the guard Klaus had hit but hadn't managed to fell. "Search both of them."
Klaus kept a wary eye on the guns while the guards patted them down. Eroica's pockets turned up a few more gadgets and tools than Klaus's did, but they hadn't stolen anything, so there wasn't anything for Megalos to hold against them.
"I told you I hadn't taken anything." Eroica tossed his hair. "Your taste is terrible. You don't have anything I want. Except the Major." Eroica took two steps toward Klaus, which was a spectacularly bad idea as Megalos grabbed his arm and jerked him back. Eroica winced, and then held still when the gun pressed to his temple again.
"Let him go," Klaus said. "You can't kill us. My agents are outside. They'll know it was you if we don't come back."
Megalos looked at him and snorted. "This is your soulmate, Eroica? I almost feel sorry for you." He shoved Eroica at one of the guards. "Get them out of here."
They were put in a van and dumped out on the edge of the road somewhere Klaus estimated to be approximately five kilometers from the estate. He rounded on Eroica.
"Why would you do that?"
Eroica looked largely unconcerned about the whole thing, although his breath was coming a bit too fast. "Which part, darling?"
"All of it," Klaus shouted. "Breaking in, helping me, provoking Megalos." He grabbed Eroica's arms and shook him. "You could have been killed!"
"So could you," Eroica pointed out.
Klaus shook him again, wanted to shake him until he understood how monumentally stupid it was. "It was my mission. I chose to do this!"
"I chose you!" Eroica stared into his eyes, and then spoke at a lower volume. "I chose you, even before I knew you were my soulmate." He rubbed his fingers over Klaus's wrist, which was when Klaus noticed that he'd taken off Klaus's wrist guard again. "I figured it out, you know. You couldn't ever love me if I were only Dorian Red Gloria, the art collecting noble. But I'm also the thief Eroica, and that makes me useful to you."
"I don't love you," Klaus said, his heart pounding in a very unwelcome way.
"That's my name on your wrist." Eroica held up his wrist, and it was bare too. "That's your name under there. I know you didn't want to be my soulmate."
Klaus interrupted to correct him. "I don't want to be anyone's soulmate."
"I know," Eroica said. "But you are, and I'm yours. Darling, you can't avoid that forever. And you can't deny that I'm useful."
Klaus scowled at him. "Not this time."
"This time too." Eroica pressed something into his hand. The microfilm. "Megalos had it on him."
The microfilm. His mission, and he wouldn't have been able to complete it if they hadn't gotten caught. If Eroica hadn't provoked Megalos to get close to him again.
It was as if some sort of madness took Klaus over. He grabbed at Eroica, hands closing over his biceps again, and jerked him close. Eroica's eyes widened. They were bare inches apart. Time seemed to stop.
"You idiot," Klaus said, and then he pressed his lips to Eroica's. It was a brief moment of his body taking control from his mind before Klaus gained control and pushed Eroica back a few inches.
They stared into each other's eyes. They were both breathing too hard, and there was a smile starting to take over Eroica's face. It was terrible, and Klaus's body still wanted to pull Eroica close again.
A's cry of, "Major!" overlapped with Bonham's, "Earl!"
Klaus let go of Eroica and stepped back, turning to see the Alphabets and Eroica's men descending on them in one undifferentiated mass.
Klaus turned his attention on the Alphabets. "Have you been working with them?"
A's eyes went wide. "N-no, sir."
"Hmph. You'd better not have." Klaus held up the microfilm. "We have the microfilm. Let's go."
Eroica had been surrounded by his men. His arm came up out of the mass of them, and he waved at Klaus, a strip of fabric flying from his hand. A familiar-looking strip of fabric. Klaus felt at his collar. Eroica had stolen his tie.
The only answer was Eroica's laughter.
Klaus shook his head in irritation and turned with his Alphabets to take care of everything his retrieval of the microfilm meant for his work.
He wasn't surprised when he finally made it home in the middle of the night four days later to find Eroica sleeping in his bed.