"What do you mean, you can't upgrade my room to a double? Surely there must be one room available, somewhere - there were plenty last night!"
The woman at the desk just smiled politely - it was a testimony to her valor that she could do so when faced with an angry Major Eberbach. "I'm sorry, sir, but the circumstances are different tonight than they were last night. What with that exhibit opening tomorrow, in the convention center right across the street, some people made reservations months in advance. You do know about that one painting, the one that's never been shown before in public? It's said to be cursed, and that sort of thing draws a crowd."
"And not a single one has cancelled?" Klaus continued, disbelieving.
"Actually, a few of our patrons did - then others with standing reservations upgraded to a double. That's the only reason you were able to get a room at all on such short notice."
Klaus briefly wondered if she was a plant by some rival intelligence agency, or perhaps a terrorist organization; this was too much. Besides, this wasn't the only strange thing about the atmosphere at the hotel, though it didn't inspire thoughts of intelligence agencies - or intelligence at all. "So you're telling me," he stated evenly, "that all these fluffy-headed young girls have their mirrors out to fix their makeup everywhere I look in the lobby... because they're going to see some moldy old painting that's supposed to bring misfortune."
"Oh no, sir." The clerk's smile turned as dreamy as theirs. "They're here because of that note Eroica left about the cursed painting. Have you heard of Eroica all the way in Germany, sir? He's something of a legend in this country - an incredible art thief, romantic and rumored to be very handsome."
Klaus dismissed the notion that she was a plant, or a terrorist. She was something far worse - a Brit. He was absolutely sure now that everyone in the British Isles was part of some vast, diabolical plot to make him go completely insane.
Case in point - Klaus glared over his shoulder at his two reasons for trying to upgrade his room. First, the SIS had sent Laurence over to work with him on this case, since they both had experience with Eroica - and, Laurence reported with an annoying twinkle in his eye, they worked so well together. It made Klaus want to punch him in the face, but nearly everything about the man did.
Second, as if that hadn't been enough trouble, they'd managed to find James poking around the convention center. In hopes that Eroica might behave himself with one of his men in custody, they'd nabbed him and brought him to their base of operations for the night. Unfortunately, since Laurence had assumed it would all have been taken care of by Klaus, and thus had made no arrangements, their base of operations was the small single hotel room Klaus had gotten, under the initial assumption that he would be on his own.
Making matters even worse, Klaus had discovered that that idiot Laurence actually got along with the stingy bug. He'd known Laurence was lacking in any sort of common sense, but that was beyond anything he could have imagined. But there they'd been, Laurence babbling about some ridiculous James Bond gadget he'd imagined, and James agreeing that it could make a lot of money, at which point Laurence admitted that he'd have to commission someone to build it, because he had no idea how, and then James offered his expertise on fundraising... The two of them were still brainstorming, now going on about small trained dogs leaping through rings of fire, and how it would be even better if they were wearing red capes and little goggles. As long as the capes were flame-retardant... Klaus was trying very hard not to hear any more of what they were saying than he had to, so that he wouldn't think about it.
"Yes, we have heard of Eroica in Germany," Klaus replied to the clerk flatly. "Our legends say that he's a fucking faggot."
With that, he gave up on hoping for a decent night, and turned his attention to plotting a way to make it slightly less intolerable.
The first thing he did, once they were up in his room - now their room - was to take Laurence aside while James was distracted by his calculations of just how much money he should tell the Earl to demand from NATO for his mistreatment. "I know he's acting friendly to you," he told his fellow agent, "but don't be a fool. He's still a thief, and one of Eroica's oldest accomplices. He'll try to escape while we're asleep."
Laurence's eyes widened. "I see... Maybe you should share the bed with him instead of me," he suggested, obviously believing this to be a generous offer, "so that you'll be alerted to any movement on his part right away." He held up a hand, as if to ward off protest. "No, no, don't worry about me - I'll be perfectly fine sleeping on the floor. I do it all the time, you see!"
Klaus refrained from comment about how very aware he was of this fact, and just smiled the kind of genuine smile that would have sent his alphabets to frantically pack their long underwear. To an idiot like Laurence, it probably just looked companionable. "I had a better idea. The bathroom is close to the door out - why don't you take the spare blanket and pillow and set up as if to sleep in the bathtub? Then if you hear him trying to sneak away, and I haven't already caught him, you can jump out and catch him."
"Brilliant idea!" Laurence exclaimed. "Indeed, that's just what I'll do. Don't worry, you can count on me!"
"I'm sure I can."
Klaus was sure that he could count on Laurence - to fall asleep in the bathtub without discomfort. After all, he'd seen him sleep soundly in a bathtub before, during that terrible night they'd spent together in Hamburg. He was also sure that he could count on Laurence to sleepwalk right out of the bathtub and crawl into bed with him - because he'd seen him do exactly that, that night in Hamburg.
Which was why there was a second phase to his plan, which he would begin as soon as Laurence got his blanket and pillow and went in to set up his temporary bed...
"Hey, you garbage bug."
James ducked behind the bed with a yelp at being addressed by the Major directly; it seemed he was still terrified of Klaus. That was fine with Klaus - he didn't want to be the freakish little man's friend. For now, though, he would be friendly.
"I'm not going to beat you up," he said, resigned, and a mop of curly dark hair peeked up from behind the bed, one eye regarding him dubiously. "Promise. After all, you haven't done anything wrong this time, except for being in the same place as your idiot boss."
James still looked extremely wary. "What do you want?"
Klaus shrugged, pretending to look casual. "As I said, you haven't done anything wrong, so I thought I'd suggest a way for you to be comfortable tonight. I know you've got deviant tastes, you bugger," he grumbled. Being too friendly, of course, would be suspicious. Even to someone as stupid as James.
Slowly, the rest of the accountant's head emerged from behind the bed, wearing a disbelieving frown. "What would someone like you know about my tastes?"
"I know you don't like being too comfortable," Klaus replied, frowning right back at him with disdain. "Laurence is a nice guy - he offered to sleep in the bathtub so that you could have half the bed - but I don't think he understands you very well if he thinks that would make you happy."
Sure enough, James' visible eye widened in shock and hurt. "But I wanted the bathtub! It would be so hard and cold and miserable!"
"That's what I figured," Klaus said with a nod. "But he insisted. So here's a backup plan - once he's all settled for the night in there, you can lie down in front of the bathroom door. It'll be miserable there, too - and I've shared a room with Laurence, I know he sleepwalks. He'll probably get up a few times in the dead of night and try to leave the bathroom - and when he does, the door will hit you in the back."
James' jaw dropped. "Really?"
Klaus nodded. "You can pretend you're a bum in the gutter, with people kicking you."
Well, phase two seemed to be working, Klaus thought smugly. The only other times Klaus had ever seen the bug's face light up so cheerfully, it had had to do with money.
On the other hand, it occurred to him that apparently he knew the little bastard far too well, which sent him right back to being annoyed.
Late that night, or perhaps it was early the next morning already, Klaus still lay awake, finally relaxing now that he was sure his plan had worked. Sure enough, he'd heard the bathroom's doorknob click a few times now - each time followed by a muffled thud, and then a happy little sigh. No one had so far crawled into bed with him. Laurence apparently was trapped, and James apparently was overjoyed to act as a doorstop.
It was utterly pathetic, he thought abruptly, that he had to enlist their hostage's help to keep his assistant contained. But as long as it worked...
Klaus sighed softly himself and rolled over onto his back, ready to sleep at last. Only a few seconds later came another click, then the thud, then a contented humming sound. He could almost hear the smile in the bug's voice. He smiled himself, thinking of the bruises the little man would have tomorrow - and he hadn't even lifted a finger.
"Nnnn... yes, m'lord..."
...It figured the bug would talk in his sleep. At least it was less annoying than Laurence trying to molest him in his sleep. Klaus settled back down.
"Ohh, yes... Mmm... m'lord, yes..."
Klaus opened his eyes and blinked up at the ceiling. James' voice sounded... a bit more than content.
"...S'like that... lord, please... uhhhn..."
James and... Lord Gloria? ...Like that? Klaus knew they'd worked together for a long time, but for some reason it had never occurred to him that they might have... Lord Gloria might be a pervert, but he had to have some standards, didn't he?
"Mmm... ohhhh... nonono, let me..."
Sitting up, Klaus pressed a hand to his mouth in alarm. The amorous tone in the bug's voice, the realization that the bug had the nerve to have that kind of dream while in the same room with him, the very disturbing mental images that appeared unbidden... it all made him feel rather ill. And the bathroom was off-limits, with Laurence in there and James blocking the door. No way was Klaus going to wake him up in the middle of that dream, who knew what he'd try to do?
...Maybe he could just go out to the balcony and get some fresh air. And a cigarette. Yes, that would make him feel much better.
Several minutes and more than one cigarette later, Klaus had recovered enough to stick his head back inside the room and listen. James seemed to be faster asleep now, simply snoring instead of mumbling. Good, Klaus thought as he got back into bed. Now he could finally sleep.
He'd almost drifted off when a much louder thud than the previous ones snapped him awake, followed by a quiet, painful yelp. So Laurence and his sleepwalking were getting a little more determined, huh, Klaus thought with a smirk. Good. After those disgusting mental images, the bug deserved to be hit harder.
There were two more thuds in rapid succession, and little sleepy exclamations. If Klaus wasn't going to get any sleep, he supposed that this was entertaining enough to listen to.
...Or so he thought at first. "Yehh... harder..." he heard James mumble, before the snoring resumed. Another thud. "Oh...! ...Yesssssnnnxxxx..."
Klaus covered his face with one hand, even in the dark. He should have figured the bug was a masochist.
...Did Lord Gloria really play those kinds of games? With James?
Apparently Laurence really was restless - the bathroom door shook and rattled and banged against James. Klaus could now identify those little yelps as a sound of delight. "...harder, harder... annnhhh..."
Klaus clutched at his head, which was full of horrifying images now, and sat up. It might actually have been better to have Laurence pawing at him all night than to have to hear this. Back to the balcony he would go, then - and maybe he'd just sleep out there. Yes, good idea. He grabbed the comforter off the bed, and one of the pillows, and dragged them across the floor to the sliding glass door.
Immediately upon reaching for the handle, he heard the sound of distant thunder. Now wasn't that perfect?
Even so, being wet was better than listening to that. After the moment's brief hesitation, Klaus slid the door open, trying not to listen to James' ramblings behind him as Laurence continued his efforts to get out of the bathroom. "Ah, again, ah, ah yes, ahhhh, more, more..."
Klaus froze, halfway outside, at one last sleepy murmur. "...Please, Major..."
Even the KGB had never found a way to break Iron Klaus. But then, they'd never had James on their side. This might just have done the trick.
"Uhhhn, harder harder yes oh Major yes ohhhh...!"
Klaus was frozen in horror. How dare the bug have dreams like that about him! It was humiliating... disgusting! And he couldn't even beat the little bastard up for it, because he'd probably enjoy it!
There was another round of thudding. "Again, again... yes Major, ohhhh yesssss...!"
All those fond memories of beating and abusing James, forever destroyed by this hideous night. All the consoling thoughts that he'd get to beat him up again in the future, ruined. ...Had James enjoyed it before when he'd hit him? Had he actually been...
...And if his gun had been within reach, Klaus might have shot himself in the head just to get rid of whatever sick portion of his brain actually felt kind of smug that he apparently could provide such pleasure to someone without even thinking about it. Not to mention those unwanted mental images, which now included...
"Ah more more oh yes please Major, mooore...!"
That was enough. Klaus dropped the pillow where it was, and dragged the blanket over to drop it on top of James. He didn't dare actually touch the man, so he just wrapped it around him and rolled him out to the balcony. Being snuggled by Laurence was far more appealing.
Rain began to spatter the door as he slid it firmly shut. Turning around, he went to the bathroom to wash his hands; touching the bug when he was having a dream like that, even through the blanket, left Klaus feeling unclean.
He was so distracted that it took him until he turned to look for a towel before he realized that Laurence was no longer in the bathtub. Sure enough, when Klaus left the bathroom (carefully stepping well over the area before the door - he didn't even want to touch the carpet James had been dreaming on), he found Laurence tossing and turning in the bed.
...The floor was fine, Klaus decided. The floor was great. And so was the fully stocked minibar that had come with the room. He swallowed a good portion of it, just to make sure that he didn't lie awake thinking about anything that had happened that night.
The next morning, Klaus woke to the sound of a drowsy, affectionate chuckle. "...f course, love t'stay, but... duty b'fore beauty..." There was a soft sigh.
There was also an arm pillowing his head, and another around his waist. A little more investigation of his surroundings revealed that there was someone beneath his arm.
Klaus almost panicked, then recalled who had been in the room with him the night before. The voice was too low and too smooth for James - it was just Laurence. This was confirmed when he dared to open his eyes.
It was a sign of just how far gone his life was, Klaus thought, when he could be relieved that he'd woken up on the floor with Charles Laurence in his arms.
Not so relieved, of course, that he wanted to stay there. The arm over Laurence's torso shoved at him instead. "Hey. Stop snuggling with me, I'm not some Bond bimbo," he growled.
"Whuh...?" Laurence opened his eyes sleepily, clearly not expecting to hear a male voice in response to his. Then he had the nerve to smile. "Oh, Major Eberbach, it's you. Pity, I was having such a nice dream."
"No, I don't want to hear about it," Klaus snapped, lifting his head so that Laurence could remove his arm.
"Too bad," Laurence told him, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "If you'd have been there, I'm sure you would have loved it."
"I doubt that very much."
Suddenly it dawned on Klaus that although Laurence was sitting up, rubbing his eyes, now stretching... there was still a pair of arms wrapped around him, from the other side. There was a stale alcohol taste in his mouth, too - that was right, he'd had a few drinks to try to forget about... something. He lay there, perfectly still and tense. He had a sinking feeling that figuring out whose arms were around him was going to make those drinks go to waste.
The noise had apparently roused whoever it was, because now they wiggled a little against his back, and he could feel their breath on his neck as they buried their face in his hair. "...Had a very scary dream, m'lord..."
It all came back to Klaus at that moment, and he turned his head - just as James opened an eye.
His shout was nearly drowned out by James' shriek, as they both dove for opposite sides of the room.
"What on earth...?" Laurence pondered aloud.
"How did he get in here!" Klaus demanded, pointing at James. "I left him out on the balcony!"
"Oh, I woke up and saw him out there, so I brought him back inside," Laurence said, beaming proudly. His air of confidence was somewhat ruined by James hiding behind him, whimpering. "It was just as you said - he must have been trying to escape! It's a good thing you alerted me, or he might have gotten away unnoticed."
"I don't care anymore," Klaus said, stumbling to his feet with his hand over his eyes. "He can go. Get him out of my sight."
Laurence looked startled. "But Major Eberbach... What about Eroica?"
"Don't care, he can steal the damn painting if he wants to," Klaus managed, heading for the bathroom. "S'cursed anyway, maybe he'll have a fatal accident and we won't have to deal with him again. I'm going to take a shower, and I don't want to see him here when I come out."
"Well..." Laurence scratched his head. "You're the expert, I suppose. It seems odd, though, after going to all this trouble..."
Klaus ignored him, and grabbed some fresh clothes before closing himself in the bathroom and locking it. And wedging a towel under the edge of the door to make it harder to open, just in case. He then proceeded to scrub until his skin was raw. Too bad there was no way to scrub his brain clean of the memory of what he'd heard last night.
Laurence was reliable when it really mattered, it seemed. When Klaus cautiously opened the bathroom door, neither he nor James were anywhere in sight.
Not long after, in a different and much cheaper hotel, Dorian frowned at James, quite baffled. "...And he actually told Laurence to let you go?"
"Yes - demanded it, in fact," James repeated, looking quite pleased. "Without any conditions. You'd think he would have at least asked for a ransom. He knows I'm indispensible to you, m'lord."
"Of course," Dorian answered absently. "But yes, that's not like the Major at all. I wonder what's gotten into him...?"
"Oh, and m'lord!" James added, looking vaguely troubled. "I had the strangest dream about him, too..."
"What is it, Jamesie?"
"I... I can't say it aloud, m'lord..."
As James whispered in his ear, Dorian's eyes widened - and then his mouth fell open. "In your dream... he did that?"
James nodded. "But it was more terrifying than exciting. Even taking coins from the hotel fountain on the way out didn't make me forget," he added with a shudder.
"...That's... not fair!" Dorian exclaimed abruptly, his shock turning to dismay. "Not only were you in the story far more than me - and you're only supporting cast, while I, the main character, only get to make an appearance at the very end - but you got to have a dream like that about the Major as well!"
"Maybe that painting really is cursed," James suggested miserably.