"You little shit, you cheated!"
"How could I possibly have cheated, darling? You were the one who said you could hit Cupid's arrow from here. I just suggested making a bet of it. Really, my dear, I thought you were a better loser than this."
"I should have hit it. For fuck's sake, it's not a difficult target!"
"No, dear. But, Klaus, my darling, you are ... not as young as you once were. Maybe—"
"Shut your trap! Look here – the fucking shell jammed, that's all. Otherwise I would have fucking hit that stupid statue."
"Of course, my dear. Oh well, you better not try again, with that branch in the way now. I guess one of us will just have to climb to get the arrow, instead. And I guess it'll have to be me."
Klaus shrugged. "I'll try to catch you if you fall."
"Oh, I feel so reassured now. Pitter patter, then, let's go."
They started walking towards the newly branch-adorned statue.
"What do you want for winning the bloody bet? Do you want to ravish me before we go back to the others?"
"Oh, that does sound positively delightful. Alas, no. I have something else in mind. You did say I could chose whatever I wanted."
"I'm not sucking you off while you drive that stupid pimpmobile."
"Or in the Mercedes! And under no circumstances while Z is driving."
"That was a joke, love." It might have been and it might not have been. Even if Dorian privately thought Z wouldn't have minded much.
"What do you want, then? In the tank? You might be able to persuade me to do it in the tank, if it's just the two of us."
"Oh? Well, that would be ... But no. Next time, perhaps. There's this little thing I want to go to and I was hoping you would accompany me."
"You want us to go on a ... date?"
The disbelief in Klaus's voice reaffirmed Dorian's decision to not just ask for Klaus's company. To manoeuvre Klaus into a bet was far simpler and might actually succeed. Usually they used their betting game to explore fantasies, but he really wanted Klaus to come with him. He had been very nervous about handling the Magnum while Klaus was busy with the Alphabet, though. If Klaus had caught him adding the sticky stuff Bonham had given him to the shell-throwing mechanism there would have been Hell to pay.
"When you said you wanted me to take you on a date, I thought you meant you wanted to go to dinner and a movie or something," Klaus grumbled. "Not to Ireland."
"My date; my decision, dearest. We're almost there. Oh bugger – I knew we should have taken a different car. The wind is messing with my hair. I look dreadful, don't I?"
Years of experience had taught Klaus that if he at this point said anything about "bushy" or "wild", they would never get to where they were going. Also, he might not get nookie tonight. "You spent three hours getting it even curlier than usual this morning. You used half a can of spray. That mane of yours wouldn't get mussed if you fell on it."
"Maybe I should have worn the red shirt instead?"
As if he, the Iron Klaus, was some kind of fashion consultant? On the other hand ... he liked nookie. "Green is a good colour. I like green better than red."
"Yes ... And I suppose we are in Ireland. So green is suitable. But what about the trousers? Should I have taken the black pair?"
Klaus was actually kind of partial to the black pair, as they were so tight and thin that he could feel Dorian's pulse through them. They were not suitable for anyone else's eyes, though, and besides, if he mentioned them, the hotel they stayed at was half an hour's drive back. Not to mention that if Dorian changed trousers, he would probably change shirts as well – and think his hair had gotten messed up in the process. And then God help them if the shoes didn't match ...
On the other hand – not even for nookie could Klaus force himself to say something nice about the gold lamé/white ruffles monstrosities that currently covered the lower half of his lover's body. "What the fuck is going on? Last time you fussed this much was before I introduced you to my father. Where exactly are we going?"
"I guess these'll do. The black ones are too plain anyway. Oh, did I forget to tell you?"
"Yes," he answered tersely. "You 'forgot'."
"Dreadfully sorry. But we're here now – look. It's the Fowl Manor."
Klaus had seen the house as they approached. On the lawn stood a large number of cars, from sensible Mercedes cars to every gaudy speed explosion in existence. Dorian's purple and gold convertible fit among the throng like a DaVinci at the Louvre.
That's it. We've been together for too long. I'm starting to use art analogies, for fuck's sake!
"A party, then?" he asked. At least it – hopefully – wasn't a fashion show this time.
"Kind of, my dear. Ah ... do you remember that first time you demanded to see me naked?"
For a moment Klaus floundered. As far as he remembered, he had never had to actually ask Dorian to remove his clothes. If Dorian played coy – which he did, sometimes – Klaus knew that was his cue to forcefully remove said clothes. Then ... "It was your underwear I wanted, you pervert, not to see you naked."
Dorian snorted as he manoeuvred the car into an empty lot. "Yes, yes, likely story. Seriously – 'The fate of the world hangs on the underwear he's wearing!' – darling, you did feel a little thrill at demanding them, didn't you?"
"I did not! What has this to do with— Oh fuck, this is one of those stupid meeting things, isn't it?"
"Rogues' Gallery, my dear. We have them every year." He studied his face in the car mirror, pouting a little and turning this way and that.
"And why I'll never know. It's stupid, risky and overall idiotic! What if Interpol hears of it? They could take all of you in one swoop." Not that Klaus didn't have a contingency plan set up for just that eventuality.
Dorian laughed. "We have our sources too, my dear. And there are protections in place. I have full confidence in this year's host. Come on now, dear, and please don't frown at anyone. You promised to behave."
"I promised no such thing," he said sternly as he went with Dorian to the back of the car. Dorian retrieved a square packet covered by shiny gold and red paper.
He was kissed on the cheek. "Please, Klaus?"
"If I see a crime being committed—"
"Oh, don't be such a silly billy! We might ... talk some shop, but one does not foul one's own nest, dear. So, please? Pretty please? We can play Intelligence Spy and Art Thief tonight, if you want? I have my cat suit with me ..."
"It's not my jurisdiction anyway."
He was kissed again, this time on the mouth, eagerly. Then Dorian pulled back. "Thank you, dear. This ... really means a lot to me. I really wanted you to be here tonight."
Klaus wanted to ask, if the thieves and assorted rabble had this conference thing every year, why this year was any different from the others. Just then Dorian's name was shouted from the Manor's front door. Volovolonte – now almost completely bald and with what little hair he had left pure white, waved for his favourite thief to join him. Dorian started towards the mob boss and Klaus trudged along, frowning at the Italian. He had always thought the man's women suspiciously resembled Dorian in drag.
Moments later they were inside and Dorian was assaulted by the gathered horde. Klaus tensed up at the mass of people who apparently all wanted to cop a feel off his lover. They were quickly separated, but he forced his way in between the criminals to keep his very own one in sight. If someone actually did cop a feel he felt in the mood for a fist fight. Hands were mostly kept in sight though and Dorian as often as not the one who initiated the hugs and silly mwa-mwa cheek kisses.
A waiter approached Klaus with a silver platter crowded with small glasses containing bluish fluid. "Drink, sir?"
"Beer. German, preferably."
"Of course, sir. Just a moment."
"Klaus, come here," Dorian called. So Klaus elbowed his way to his lover's side. The other stood by a short, dark-haired man with a high widow peak. "This is my Klaus. You missed him at North Downs, so I wanted you to meet him now."
"von dem Eberbach," Dorian smoothly ended the stuttering. "Of NATO. Klaus, dear, this is my old frien—" The short man tugged at Dorian's sleeve and the two exchanged a quick look that Klaus couldn't decipher. "—friend, Verbal Kint." Dorian's last words sounded oddly resigned.
Klaus gave Mr Kint a quick head bow and held out his hand. When the short man stepped closer, one of his feet dragged against the floor and he held one hand awkwardly to his chest. His handshake was weak and shivering. For one of Dorian's old friends, the man seemed uncommonly ... common.
"Verbal, dear," Dorian said. "We simply must speak later. Save a dance for me?"
"Ye-ye-yes. I-I-I loo-loo-loo-ook fo-fo-forward to it."
The servant returned with beer. By the time Klaus had taken a swig, Dorian had kissed Verbal's cheek and stuck an arm under Klaus's free one, moving them away. "Selina! Darling! Looking good!" he told a passing woman wearing much too much leather, then, once they were out of Mr Kint's hearing admonished Klaus under his breath, "You scared him!"
"I didn't do anything," Klaus protested. He knew he could be fairly intimidating even under the best circumstances, but he really had neither glared nor towered more than unavoidable.
Dorian sighed audibly. "No, I know. The Keys – I mean, the key to Verbal is that he is easily rattled, that's all. Give him a bit of time and he might show you his true self. You must have a little patience with dear Verbal."
Klaus didn't see the point, but refrained from saying so. "Who let the kid in?" he asked instead.
Klaus nodded his chin in the direction of the young boy who had approached Verbal after they left him. Fifteen – sixteen at the most; slightly nerdish looking. "Someone brought their kid to a criminal get-together?"
"Ah ... Well ... He does, sort of, belong to the tall Eurasian gentleman just behind him, I guess," Dorian ventured hesitatingly.
Klaus had noticed the man, but when Dorian directed his attention to him he looked again. Their eyes met and Klaus's well-developed sixth sense flashed, "Danger!" Of course, he admonished himself. There's bound to be some dangerous types in a meeting like this, no matter what "gentlemen thieves" garbage Dorian prattles on about. What surprised him most was how the giant of a man – six foot five if he was an inch - radiated a contained, passive danger rather than a more aggressive kind.
Klaus quickly spun to watch a woman in a striking red outfit envelop Dorian and how they danced around each other. He raised an eyebrow at the sight – if it had been a man he would have raised something else entirely – fist or gun he wasn't quite sure of. Then he took a step closer, just in case, and tried to ascertain that the figure really was female and not another ruddy cross-dresser. If she ... ah ... he ... was, (s)he was far better at it than Dorian even in his heyday.
"I hoped you would be here," Dorian said. "You weren't at North Downs either. Amanda, this is—"
"Major von dem Eberbach, I presume," she said and Klaus actually felt her eyes moving over his body. He nodded shortly. "I feel as if I already know you. Dorian is always talking about you on our meets. Speaking of which – Dorian, I missed you last year, you naughty boy!"
"Klaus, this is Amanda, another old friend of mine. Amanda, love, I simply couldn't make it. Dreadfully sorry, but Klaus and I celebrated a second honeymoon, you might say."
Roughly a year ago some Arabic terrorists had captured them. They had spent two weeks in a cave before managing to escape. They had been left mostly alone and amongst the food given to them each morning had been some kind of thick paste that turned out to be the best lube they had ever tried. Dorian had since started importing the stuff.
"All right then, I forgive you. But Dorian – we have so much to talk about. There's this little thing that me, the Saint and Cory – sorry, Krycek or whatever he calls himself these days - are planning that I'm sure you might find amusing. Perhaps we can get together tomorrow? You are planning on staying the night, yes?"
"Not at the manor, big sister, but at a little hotel on the other side of Dublin. Beautiful house with the most splendid flower garden. Yes, though, we're staying for a couple of days. We'll do brunch, it'll be like old days."
Big sister? She's got to be at least fifteen years younger than him. He decided to ask about this. Later. When Dorian was more prone to answering his questions. Like just after an orgasm.
For the next hour Klaus was pulled along from thief to thief, being introduced and sometimes told stories about heists past that he really wished they would keep silent about. In all likelihood not all of them were thieves either, but those into other forms of criminality seemed less forward about their activities.
There were the Bakchials. The father of old, he who adored Dorian so, had died a decade ago, but instead the third generation had come into his own and worshipped Dorian with dark doe eyes.
At one point Klaus stood over his kneeling lover as the latter gazed up into the snoring face of an old, old man with glasses and a bowler hat. Despite the noise level in the room Dorian sneaked away, only to turn back and hug Klaus hard while still looking at the old man. "He was my teacher. Taught me everything he knew. Years and years ago, of course. When I was a child. Before I met you. I want to introduce you to him. He almost never comes to these kind of things – doesn't think it is his place, you see. He is very timid – sweetest old man I've ever met. He must be almost a hundred now, but spry for his age. I'm always afraid that the next thing I hear about him will be about his death, though. We'll let him sleep for a while longer; catch him later instead. He'll wake up to the speech, if nothing else."
Then Klaus was left with another giant of a man, taller even than the Eurasian. When they approached him he had been standing in a corner looking around as if slightly puzzled by the whole event. "Klaus, this is Lutz. Lutz, this is my lover, Klaus. Klaus – Lutz. Lutz – Klaus. Klaus, Lutz likes guns. Lutz, could you talk with Klaus for a mo'? There's something I need to discuss with Lex." Then Dorian flittered off.
Left me with a nanny, did you, you little shit? Klaus thought, but resolutely set his face in his "good boy"-expression. "So, you like guns?" At least Dorian had bothered to find someone with the same interest to leave him with.
The big man nodded gravely. "They are easily understandable," he said softly. He had a slightly singing accent which Klaus automatically attributed to one of the Nordic countries – likely Sweden or Norway. Strangely, he couldn't read the large man. Normally he would get some kind of vibe from people he met; if they radiated danger or innocence or hid something, but all he got from Lutz was a complete lack of input.
"What kind of guns do you prefer?" he tried.
He was watched for a moment as if he had said something strange. "Handguns?" was the final verdict, though it sounded more like a question. "Rifles are nice too. I like knives. They are very personal."
It was Klaus's turn to nod. He wasn't much of a conversationalist either, but they slowly fell into a discussion about different makes of firearms while he tried not to think too much about what Dorian had deemed unsuitable for him to hear. After all this time he would have thought himself unshockable and trusted, but perhaps Dorian planned a surprise of some kind. I hope this won't be like that fucking surprise promotion party he planned. Well, the night after was ... interesting, but the dancers, augh ...
When hands touched his hips he quickly turned to ascertain that it really was his own art thief touching him and not someone else's. He had made the wrong assumption exactly one time and still heard about it. Luckily, it turned out to really be Dorian and his vigilance was awarded with a quick kiss. The public display of affection made him feel a little uneasy, but not as much as it would have done elsewhere. This is Dorian's family, he realised. Apart from his gang, these are his brothers and sisters and nephews and fathers ... When he glanced over his lover's blond mane he saw a few gazes aimed their way, but only filled with affection and amusement, not with a single hint of negativity. So he gave Dorian a kiss in return, just because he could.
Dorian's eyes glowed when they pulled apart. "I love you," he said. "But come now, my own. It is time for my speech."
"Hello everyone!" Dorian sing-songed. "Attention! Everyone, look at me!"
Klaus snorted. He watched from below the raised area. The latter was high enough to make Dorian head and shoulders above everyone else, the giants included. The humming of conversation stopped almost completely, saved for some shuffling as the people moved about for everyone to be able to see him.
"Friends, new and old!" Dorian continued. "Brothers! Sisters! I'm so happy to be here amongst you today, celebrating my 31st year as your leader."
Klaus's jaw dropped and he hastily closed his mouth. Their ... leader?! Oh, he and Dorian certainly had a lot to talk about once they were alone. Their fucking ... leader?!
"I've never been prouder than that day, 31 years ago, when I took over the torch from Skinner. Bless his soul, wherever he is. Has anyone seen him?"
A thunderous laughter erupted, as if the fop had said something astonishingly funny.
"I didn't do it alone, though. You all know my boys. I'm sad they couldn't be here tonight, but I assure you that they are celebrating back home. Still, I have with me someone without whom I probably would have lost interest years ago and started to collect stamps instead. I've tried to get him to come with me for years, but it feels only suitable that he was there that first year and now again this year. He's not really just a plain Major any longer, but I'll only confuse you if I use his real title after having called him my Major for so long. Everyone, a hand for my very own Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach!"
You fucker ... Klaus had time to think before he was applauded by a whole room full of assorted criminals. He kept from glaring at Dorian with a supreme effort of will.
"And, just to set the record straight: I've been a bit evasive about details, for he's been a little reticent about us telling anyone, but I bagged him 16 years ago and he's still a devil in bed."
Klaus closed his eyes in mortification. One of us will be sleeping on the couch tonight, you wanker – and it won't be me! Some laughter followed – he was fairly sure he recognized the Amanda woman as one of the sources, but the sound quickly stopped. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. His thief watched him with love shining so bright in his eyes that Klaus couldn't really remain angry for very long.
"But enough of my personal accomplishments. With 31 years I broke the record of Moriarty's 30, which really was my goal. I mean, Skinner had over 60 years, but I think we all agree that he was a ... special case, yes?"
There were murmurs of agreement.
"And really, over 30 years is enough for me. Not that I will give up on stealing, heaven forbid! But my body is starting to remember its years. To run from the police or the FBI or the Swiss Guard isn't what it used to be. Klaus is about to retire too, soon, and I have this little island that I was thinking about spending our golden years on. With some trips to the museums now and then, for household needs, of course."
As Klaus hadn't been informed of these plans, he was slightly surprised to hear this. He and Dorian hadn't discussed the future much. Mainly because he still wasn't sure if they would have a future. His work was very dangerous and Dorian's wasn't without risks either. But his retirement suddenly loomed, rather than remained at a distance. They would have to talk about that too, in detail, later.
"So, it is with a great sense of accomplishment that I will now appoint my successor. First though ... "
He turned and went to the further end of the stage. From a table he lifted a square of glass. Klaus moved to see better. Held in gold rings to the back of the square, hung a burned-out cone of wood: black at the upper end; pale at the bottom.
"Sisters, brothers - the torch!"
A whisper of intake breaths and delighted sighs went across the room. From somewhere an applaud started, which quickly spread. Dorian lifted the box higher and the applaud grew in strength. Then it died when he lowered the object and motioned for silence.
"As I broke Moriarty's record, I'm sure my successor will break mine. From the look of things, perhaps he might even break Skinner's. I actually know one record he has already broken. Why, I don't know, as I actually consider it criminal of him to have waited as long as he did. Of course, it would have been a real crime if he hadn't, but then – why would criminal masterminds such as ourselves pay any attention to the laws of the land?"
Again, people laughed. Klaus felt distinctly outside, as he had no idea what his lover spoke of. He also felt rather uneasy with this open talk about breaking laws. Or not breaking a law, which here in itself was a crime? Strange people ...
"I had to hunt my man for 15 years before I finally got a leg over—"
I topped the first time, Klaus grumbled inwardly, but said nothing. This was apparently a Big Moment for Dorian. Klaus was willing to let his lover shine.
"—but I know that on this very day, you have waited for yours for sixteen. And again – why I'll never understand, considering that we all know how he has worshipped you since the day you were born. Still, that is your choice and you look radiantly happy about it. Please come up on the stage and ... Happy birthday, Artemis, happy sixteenth!"
To the applauds of the Rogues' Gallery, he held out the glass square towards the left end of the stage. Where the Eurasian giant with effortless ease lifted the kid so that he could get up and receive his prize. The youngster and Dorian solemnly shook hands. Then Dorian slipped down and went over to Klaus, turned and fitted their bodies together with Klaus's front to his back. Then he threaded their fingers together and Klaus placed a quick kiss on the thief's cheek, before going back to staring at the teenager.
On stage, Artemis Fowl the Second smiled and surveyed his new kingdom. "My man is a bit old-fashioned," he said. "So, I agreed to wait. And sometimes the wait makes the success all the sweeter."