Klaus was not in uniform. He had flown halfway across Europe in the last eighteen hours, with no chance to shower, shave or change. Until just now he hadn't given a second thought to such minor inconveniences. He hadn't given a second thought to anything but finding Eroica and accomplishing his mission. But when he walked across the spacious lobby and up to the front desk of the luxury resort, the concierge had looked at his blackened left eye and his generally haggard appearance, and given him a look that came right up to the edge of being deliberately insulting. Klaus narrowed his eyes as the last twenty-four hours came crashing back down on him like a lead blanket. What if the officious little man refused to confirm Lord Gloria's location? Klaus couldn't pull rank any more, couldn't threaten the man with consequences for impeding an official investigation.
But he wasn't going to think about that now. It wouldn't do any good. There was nothing to be done. Instead of raising his voice, he raised one hand to unbutton his suit jacket, then leaned over the counter so that his jacket gaped open, revealing the dark bulk of his holster against his wrinkled white shirt. The concierge's eyes widened, and when he glanced up again to meet Klaus' eyes, Klaus smiled. Slowly.
The concierge, revealing that he possessed a modicum of intelligence, quickly came to the conclusion that it would absolutely be his pleasure to assist in locating Lord Gloria.
The winding path led through the lush grounds of the resort, ending at a low metal gate around the edge of the patio. Klaus paused in the shadow of a palm tree, assessing the situation. The resort's swimming area was sparsely attended this early in the day. There was a small group of young men and women splashing and laughing in a hot tub at the far end of the patio, one athletic young man doing laps in the large pool, and three bikini-clad women at a table under a large red umbrella, flirting with their waiter. And there, reclining in a deck-chair under another oversized red umbrella-- Eroica.
No one had noticed Klaus' approach. Of course not. They were a lot of self-absorbed hedonists. Why would they bother to pay the slightest bit of attention to their surroundings? Klaus was obscurely comforted by their inattention, then felt a flash of self-contempt. He did not care what these people thought of him. He did not care what conclusions they would draw from his behavior.
First, because no matter how sordid or damning their assumptions, they could not be worse than the truth. And second, because Klaus no longer had anything to lose.
He had avoided looking at Eroica too closely, apart from the initial confirmation of his presence. Now, as he pushed open the gate and stepped out onto the patio, he allowed himself to look. Eroica had a cold drink at a small table at his elbow, and he was idly glancing through a thick paperback book with a garish cover. His hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, but one long strand had come free, and he was curling it, lazily, round and round one long finger.
As for his attire, usually the most striking thing about him... this morning, Eroica was wearing only some large sepia-toned sunglasses and a pair of sky-blue swim trunks so disgracefully tight and brief that Klaus wondered why he hadn't been arrested as soon as he stepped out into public. Then again, being a lavish tipper probably covered a multitude of sins.
He took a short breath and headed for Eroica.
The damned thief gave absolutely no indication that he was aware of Klaus' approach, which meant of course that he had spotted Klaus ages ago, and was ignoring him on purpose, simply to be annoying. His control was almost admirable; he couldn't possibly have been anticipating Klaus' arrival, but as Klaus came closer, Eroica didn't startle, didn't twitch a single muscle-- and given his current state of undress, it would've been only too obvious if he had. Finally Klaus came to a stop at the foot of Eroica's deck-chair, blocking his sun and casting a broad shadow over his chest. Eroica did nothing but blink slowly behind those ridiculous sunglasses and study his idiotic novel as though it were infinitely fascinating.
Klaus stood there, set his jaw, and let himself look. Let himself really look. He started at Eroica's finely formed bare feet and ankles, and let his gaze sweep freely, slowly, up the other man's body. His chest felt oddly tight and there was something hot low in his gut that wasn't revulsion. He took it all in: Eroica's long, strong legs and narrow hips, the lines of his obliques slanting down into that obscene swimsuit. His muscled chest, gleaming faintly in places with traces of suntan oil; his collarbones, the fine golden hair on his arms, those deceptively bony wrists. Those artist's hands. One long blond curl was still trapped, wrapped around Eroica's finger, being drawn in tighter and tighter. The tendons in his neck were tense, just slightly, but there was still no other visible indication that he'd even noticed Klaus standing above him. Bastard.
Despite himself, despite everything, Klaus couldn't suppress a quick, sharp smile, just a twitch at the corner of his mouth. He was more than tempted to turn and walk away without saying a word. Then he could ring up Eroica from Lisbon or Hong Kong, and let him know just what he'd missed out on by being so goddamned obnoxious.
But he wasn't going to do that now. It would be the easy way out. He took one more step forward, his shadow falling over Eroica's face now.
"You're looking well, Lord Gloria." After he spoke, just a moment too late, it occurred to him to wonder if Eroica would be able to tell. If he'd be able to hear it in Klaus' voice. Surely not. He stiffened anyway, reflexively.
But apparently not. Eroica just yawned, finally letting that one loose curl escape as he covered his mouth.
"And you look like hell." He still hadn't looked up.
Klaus frowned. Bending down, he hooked a finger under the hinge of Eroica's sunglasses, swiped them off his face, and straightened up again. Eroica sat up straight, bristling like a cat. His face was flushed, but to be fair, perhaps it was only a touch of sun.
"Oh, what?" he snapped. "What do you want?"
Klaus folded Eroica's sunglasses closed, gently. He wished that Eroica had called him 'Major.' It would've been one of the easier ways to bring up what he'd come here to discuss.
"I want to talk to you," he said.
"I didn't do it and you can't prove a thing," Eroica said, sounding bored. "And if you came here to get me to do you a favor, well, all I can say is that it had better sound more enjoyable than having lovely young men bring me drinks while I work on my suntan and read silly novels." He sprawled back in his deck-chair and opened his book again. This time he held it open with both hands, so that it blocked his face. For the first time Klaus noticed the author and title, and flinched.
Stupid fucking so-called spy novels. Their ostensible heroes were all the same, just a collection of moronic grand-standing cowboys and James Bond clones. Saying 'fuck you' to their idiot superiors at the least provocation. Going off and doing whatever they wanted, whatever they thought was right. And the ends, as always, justified the means, so at the close of the story the stupid cowboy got a medal, a congratulatory handshake, the thanks of a grateful superior--
It didn't work out that way in real life. Klaus' hand shot out again before he even realized what he was doing. Eroica's novel made a satisfying splash in the pool. It floated momentarily but the pages were rapidly soaking up water.
"What the hell!" Eroica leapt to his feet, wisely keeping the deck-chair between them, and glared. Klaus scowled back stubbornly. Probably everybody was looking at them now. Well, this wasn't how he'd meant to start this conversation, but it was the conversation they were having now.
"I want to talk to you. Not here."
"I said no," Eroica said. "What will you do now, throw my drink in the pool?"
Klaus shrugged and reached for it, but Eroica snatched it up before he could even get close-- even worse, he made it look easy. Those thief's reflexes of his were impressive, even in a situation as relatively mundane as this one.
"What's the matter with you?" Eroica stared at Klaus, exasperated. "Don't you ever give up?"
"Yes," Klaus said, because it was true. "On lots of things, apparently."
Eroica's expression shifted into incredulity. "What?"
"I am giving up, yes," Klaus said. Eroica just kept staring, and Klaus sighed and came around the deck-chair, leaning closer and lowering his voice. "Look at me. Would you look? I'm saying yes."
"I don't know what that's supposed to--" Eroica began irritably, and then his voice cut out as if someone had turned it off with a switch. His jaw dropped.
Klaus would not exactly have said that it had been worth it to hold out against Eroica for eight fucking years, just to see the look on his face when it finally sunk in when the thief realized what he was saying, but it was still honestly a little satisfying.
"I'm not..." Eroica began carefully, then reconsidered and started over. "Did something happen?"
"You've rented one of the villas here?" Klaus said, glancing away.
"I suspect you already know that I have, and which one," Eroica said, but he was smiling.
That smile wavered-- slightly, but it still wavered-- when Klaus smiled back and said "Show me."
Eroica had put on a thin blue terrycloth robe, and Klaus had followed, two steps behind the other man, all the way up the winding path to the biggest villa, the one with the best view, perched on the edge of the cliff, high above the beach. Instead of bringing him in through the front door, Eroica led him around to the side, and up a short flight of stone stairs to a balcony overlooking the ocean.
The wind and the sea were loud, the sun just as bright here as it had been by the pool, and Eroica kept a hand up by his face to keep his hair from blowing in his eyes.
"Well, darling?" he said, squinting at Klaus.
"I want you to come work for me."
"For you. Not for NATO," Eroica said, calm and knowing.
"Yes, for me. I'm an independent agent now." Klaus had to say it loudly, to be heard over the wind and waves, and that made it easier, perversely. The words were bitter in his mouth, but he thought he could get used to them. In time. "G is coming with me. Why not you? Tell me you're not bored with thieving after all these years. Tell me you don't want a new challenge."
"Well, I never have overthrown the government of a small African nation." Eroica arched an eyebrow.
"We are not going to overthrow any governments, small, African or otherwise," Klaus said. "Idiot."
Startled, Eroica actually laughed. "Major--"
Now he said it. "I handed in my official resignation," Klaus interrupted. He wanted to turn away, to go to the balcony and pretend to look out at the ocean, so that he wouldn't have to look at Eroica. But Eroica, perhaps better than anyone, knew how little Klaus cared about the visual appeal of a pretty landscape scene. It would, far too obviously, be a retreat. And Klaus wasn't ready to show weakness yet. Not even-- maybe especially not to Eroica. "Then I came here. I'm not a Major any more. I'm not-- I'm not anything now."
"I didn't come here to talk about that," Klaus said, irritated at having to state the obvious.
"What did you mean earlier when you said yes?" Eroica moved to a different tack so quickly Klaus suspected him of getting sentimental just so he could be told to change the subject. "Did you actually mean yes to everything I've ever asked you? Yes to the suggestion I made in that steamy Roman bath?" He raised his eyebrows. "Yes to the promise I made you at that border crossing-- you remember, I was holding a knife to your throat at the time? Do you remember what I asked you in that little Swiss restaurant--"
"You can have what's left of me," Klaus said, cutting Eroica off. "If you want it."
"Well, how bloody romantic," Eroica snapped, then winced at Klaus' startled look. He shook his head and blinked apologetically. He should have looked ridiculous, barefoot in a blue robe, the wind tugging at his curls. But he only seemed solemn, and a little sad. "I'm sorry, Maj-- I'm sorry, Klaus. It's just--" He smiled, a little wearily. "You know me. I wanted you to choose me. I didn't want to be your consolation prize."
Klaus was not really surprised. He and Eroica both had their own sort of pride. "You aren't," he said. "You're the start of my new life."
Eroica's eyes went wide as saucers. The hand holding his hair back dropped slowly to his side. Quickly, the wind caught at his hair, playing with it and tangling it. He took a careful step towards Klaus, then another. He stopped when he was close enough to-- to touch Klaus, if he'd wanted to.
Klaus waited. One thing he'd learned from Eroica was that there was no point in getting impatient when Eroica had that look on his face. Either he wanted you to know what he was thinking and would definitely tell you, probably at the top of his voice at the worst possible moment... or else wild horses would never be able to drag it out of him, and there would still be no point in asking. So Klaus waited, the ocean loud in his ears.
Finally Eroica sighed, and leaned forward and kissed him.
Klaus stood still and made himself take it, bear up under it, the sudden burning down of everything he'd tried to believe about himself. Everything he'd tried not to be. It was harder than he'd thought, and then suddenly he wasn't sure if he wanted to push Eroica away or to take him by the arms and pull him closer, and that was what startled him enough to make him finally break the kiss.
Lips pressed together, breathing hard through his nose, he stared at Eroica, trying instinctively to ignore the things his body was demanding, to not show any of it, to not feel it--
"Your poor face," Eroica said, tracing a hand gently around the perimeter of Klaus' black eye. Klaus bared his teeth at him, jerking his head away. Eroica just smiled.
"You haven't answered my question," Klaus said, trying to keep his train of thought from crashing completely off the rails.
"About working for you? You didn't ask one, darling. But we'll discuss it."
Klaus nodded, jerkily, and Eroica grinned at him.
"But first, I really think you'd feel better in the long run if we just went to bed together right now. It's like pulling a tooth. You feel much better if you get it over with, instead of waiting and waiting and worrying at it." He smiled like a demon. "I will try to be gentle."
"Fuck you." Klaus' hands twitched and for once he let himself follow an impulse, to grab Eroica like he'd wanted to. Kiss him like he'd always wanted to, all those times he'd never let himself acknowledge. When he let Eroica go, the other man's lips were reddened and wet, and his robe had slipped down off his shoulder, revealing one muscular bicep and one perfectly sculpted collarbone.
"Come inside," Eroica said, and he stepped back slowly, not taking his eyes off Klaus. He backed up to the wide French doors that led inside, reached back and opened them without looking, and kept retreating into the room. He seemed almost disbelieving when Klaus continued to follow, but Klaus couldn't have turned back now, not for the world. Eroica actually laughed aloud when Klaus stepped over the threshhold.
"Welcome to your new life," he said. "I suppose--"
"Don't say it," Klaus warned, and Dorian pressed his lips together in all apparent innocence.
"I suppose not," he said agreeably. "Now come to bed with me, will you?"
Klaus stood still for the count of five, just to be stubborn, just long enough to see the light of impatience in Dorian's eyes. He would've made it longer, but... oh, hell.
Dorian was probably right about getting the worst of it over with right away.
"Dorian," he said, using the name he'd hardly ever used before. "Dorian," he said again, just for the feel of it in his mouth.
"Yes, darling," Dorian said, eyes dancing.
Klaus crossed to him and curled one hand around his neck, sliding his fingers up into the sun-warmed curls.
"Dorian," Klaus said. "Don't be gentle."