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The Major was standing a few feet away, his back to Dorian, scanning
the passerby. How like Klaus. A beautiful spring day like this, and he
was searching for suspicious characters. He had to be hot, even if heat
and cold were a matter of discipline, but he was still wearing that adorably
drab brown trench coat. Maybe he just didn't want Dorian to be able to
see his first-rate legs and derriere. How any man with a body like the
Major's could resist showing it off was beyond Dorian's comprehension,
but then, almost everything about Klaus was. Once they were lovers, Dorian
would really have to get him into some better suits. Something from Harrod's,
that would do justice to that lovely body. Mosel green, perhaps. But no,
best not to take attention away from those emerald eyes.

Dorian reached up and plucked off a sprig of blossoms from the apple
tree beside him, tucking it behind one ear. When Klaus noticed it, he would
scowl in that adorable way of his, as he always did when Dorian did himself
up.

To get his irascible darling's attention, Dorian gently shook a branch
of the tree, releasing a shower of little white petals into the breeze.
A second later the shower enveloped Klaus, who quickly turned.

"Stop that!" he snapped. His eyes rested for an instant on the flower
behind Dorian's ear, and as expected, he scowled at it. Dorian had to restrain
a giggle at his beloved's predictability. "It's getting all over me." He
set to work brushing the petals off his coat. 

Dorian released the branch and moved at once to his Major's side, where,
with a delicate touch, he began extricating the petals from Klaus's silky
dark hair.

Klaus promptly snapped to attention, his posture ramrod-straight, every
muscle in his body tense, his face both wary and warning as his eyes quickly
met Dorian's. Dorian let his fingers pause.

"Or I could leave all these petals in your hair. You do look rather
charming, like a satyr or a faun."

The Major scowled again. "Get them out, then. And be quick about it."

Dorian followed the first instruction but not the second, pretending
to be intent on his task while actually pondering the brief wariness in
his darling's green eyes a moment earlier. It was a look he saw often,
and it was most intriguing. It was not the look of a man expecting to have
to fend off irritating and unwanted advances. It was the look of a man
afraid of something in himself. And to Dorian's mind, that could only mean
one thing.

His poor darling. Why was he so afraid of pleasure?

Klaus abruptly lost patience with Dorian's attentions and stepped away,
brushing at his own hair vigorously, not looking at Dorian. Dorian sighed.

"There are times when I wish that I didn't love you," Dorian said wistfully,
without thinking.

"I wish it all the time," Klaus snapped back. "Let's get to business."

Eroica sighed again. "Yes, business. What do you need from me this time?"

As expected, the Major looked annoyed at the phrasing, but let it pass.
"There are some documents we need from the Tagariello Institute in Chicago."

Dorian's eyebrows lifted. "The Tagariello Institute? You do know who
they are, I take it?"

Klaus nodded grimly. "If you're caught, they probably won't bother to
arrest you." He paused. "We'll provide you with backup, naturally. But
I won't pretend to you that there's not a possibility that we won't be
enough."

"Will you be there, Major? You personally?"

"Of course. This is an important assignment. Can't be left to subordinates."

"If you're there, that'll be enough," Dorian said with his most adoring
smile. Klaus glowered before looking away. "Still, even aside from the
risk to life and limb ... I know something about their security. It's among
the best there is. Even for me, it'll be quite a challenge."

"It's difficult and dangerous," Klaus acknowledged. "If you ask me,
you'd be an idiot to take the job. It's not as if NATO's aims mean anything
to you."

"Not a thing, darling. But your aims mean a great deal to me."

"STOP THAT PERVERTED NONSENSE!" Klaus yelled. A few passerby glanced
at them curiously.

Dorian turned his ear to Klaus. "Would you speak up, darling? I can't
hear you."

The Major glared. "Idiot," he growled. "Will you do it? The job," he
added quickly.

"Of course I will," Eroica replied seriously. "You know I'd do anything
for you, Major."

The gravity of Dorian's tone seemed to startle Klaus. He met Dorian's
eyes again, his own gaze searching, inquiring.

"Then you're an idiot," he said at last.

"So you keep reminding me," Dorian returned composedly, not breaking
the gaze.

It was a long time before Klaus spoke again, and then it was in a quiet
tone that Dorian had never heard before.

"Suppose I asked you to do something you genuinely did not want to do?"

Dorian's heart leapt. Had he breached that iron reserve after all? Was
he going to be given a chance to prove his love at last? "Anything in my
power, darling," he said with only half a second's consideration.

Which turned out not to be enough. Klaus's beautiful eyes were still,
and his face quite grim, as it always was when he was about to perform
an unpleasant duty.

"Then I am asking you to stop pursuing me."

The smile fell from Dorian's face as swiftly as his soaring spirits
were dashed to the ground. He felt very cold inside.

He looked at the ground, trying to think. It didn't help. The color
of the grass only reminded him of the eyes of the man he loved.

"Oh, Major. I'm not sure I can. I love you too much."

"Suppose I offered you something in return," came the stern voice. As
always, he sounded as if he were ordering, not coaxing.

Dorian met the hard green gaze. "I can't think of anything I would rather
have than you, my darling."

Klaus's jaw was set. Dorian had a sudden, irrelevant thought that this
was how Klaus would look if he were about to be tortured.

"I am proposing a bargain. You will leave me alone and never bother
me again, after I... spend one night with you."

Dorian's heart turned over. It took him a moment to summon enough composure
to speak. And Klaus was glaring at him as if they were discussing a life-threatening
mission.

"One night of playing pinochle?" Dorian asked, and was rewarded with
a quelling look. That is, it would have quelled anyone but Eroica.

"One night of what you've been asking for," Klaus said harshly. "In
return for a lifetime of peace and quiet."

"You want peace and quiet? Is that why you became a NATO agent?"

"You generate the wrong kind of turmoil for my tastes," Klaus retorted.

Dorian's mind was racing as swiftly as his heart. If Klaus was this
troubled by his pursuit, it must mean that part of him wished to give in.
And here the Major had devised an excuse which doubtless made perfect sense
to a repressed, military mind such as his. It was strictly expediency.
A small sacrifice in the service of the greater good.

Dorian smiled slightly. His Major could fool himself, perhaps, but he
could not fool Dorian.

"Well?" Klaus demanded. "Do we have a bargain? One night, and then you
leave me alone."

But will you be able to leave me alone, Major? Dorian
asked silently, and with no doubt of the answer. Having experienced it
once, Klaus would be driven mad by the need to have Dorian again. Dorian
would see to that. Dorian would keep his end of the bargain. He would stay
away from his Major. He could afford to, when the Major would be climbing
the rose vines to his bedchamber within a month.

"Shall we shake hands on it, my love?" Dorian asked with his most charming
smile. Klaus did seem to take longer than usual to summon his usual glare
in response. But then he put his hand out. Such a large hand, the fingers
thicker than Dorian's slender lockpicking digits. Dorian mused about the
possibilities suggested by such hands as he abstractedly reached over his
head and plucked another sprig of apple blossom from the tree. He shook
his darling's hand, and pressed the flower into it. "Friday. My castle.
I'll give everyone holiday."

Klaus accepted the flower as if it were a live scorpion. But he did
not drop it. His face was as stony as if he were arranging a suicide mission,
not an assignation. 

It was a good thing Dorian liked challenges so much.

 

 

*** 

 

 

The Earl glanced at his retainers but did not speak to them as he entered
his library. Such abstraction was unusual, but Bonham and Jones thought
nothing of it. At first.

"So how was Uncle NATO today, milord?" Bonham asked.

Eroica glanced at him, startled, as if he'd forgotten anyone was there.
"The Major? Oh, he was fine. Just fine." He lapsed back into silence, crossing
to the window and staring out at the garden, absently plucking a rose from
the vase nearby (Ming, stolen in Italy four years earlier) and toying with
it. His employees frowned.

"Is anything wrong, milord?" Jones asked. "Did he hit you this time?"

"Not even once."

The other two men exchanged a glance. The Earl never expressed himself
without arch humor and unnecessary elaboration. Something was wrong.
"Was it the Major you spoke to?"

The Earl looked at them sharply. "Yes, it was. Why?" he demanded.

They both shrugged, trying to look unconcerned. Eroica resumed gazing
out the window, twisting the rose in his slender fingers. A few petals
fell from it, unheeded. After a moment, Jones tried again.

"Have we got another job, then, milord?"

"Hm? Oh, yes. The job. Er ... middle of next week, Chicago. The Tagariello
Institute."

"The what?" Jones gasped.

"He'd better have offered to sleep with you in exchange for breaking
into that place!" Bonham exclaimed.

"Don't talk like that!" Dorian yelled, throwing the rose to the
floor.

Jones and Bonham stared at their employer, then exchanged another, longer,
look. Bonham dared not try to mend his remark, so it was Jones who eventually
broke the silence.

"Eroica... you know how dangerous a job like that will be. Are you sure
you--"

"Anyone who does not wish to participate is excused. With pay," the
Earl recited flatly. He had said these words many times over the years,
every time his people had pointed out the risks of his endeavours. None
of them had deserted him yet. "I am not interested in hearing any more
arguments."

Jones nodded slowly, resigned. "Then we'd better start doing research.
I'll go to London tomorrow, and--"

"Why not wait a few more days? Go this weekend." Eroica shrugged, his
tone offhand. He suddenly became intently interested in carefully picking
up the rose he had thrown down, and gathering up the petals it had shed
as if each were priceless. "Leave ... say, Friday morning. Both of you. And
... why not take a few days in the city? You haven't been there in a while."

Bonham opened his mouth to ask if the Earl would join them, and then
closed it.

"In fact, I think I'll give all of you a holiday. Yes, you'll need it,
to rest up for Chicago. Everybody leave on Friday morning. Come back on
Monday. Tell everyone. I don't want a soul left around this place. You
must all go and have some fun." Eroica had managed an imitation of his
usual insouciant tone. Jones and Bonham decided to be fooled.

"Very good, milord. A holiday it is."

"And now, I really must go through my spring wardrobe...." The Earl tossed
the rose and its loose petals in the general direction of one of the deal
tables ... they missed, but the Earl didn't notice ... and headed for the staircase.

As soon as the door was shut behind the Earl, the two men looked at
each other.

"So who's going to tell James?" Bonham asked.

Jones pulled out a coin. "Flip you for it." He tossed it. Bonham caught
it in the air and examined it. It was tails on both sides. He grimaced
at Jones, who looked sheepish. "Perhaps we could keep it from him, then."

A sudden loud wailing sounded from the other end of the house. Their
glances met, resigned.

"Too late," they said in unison.

 

 

***

 

 

The Major marched into the office the next day looking only slightly
more irate than usual. A came forward to greet him.

"Welcome back, sir. What did Eroica say to your request?"

"WHAT'S IT TO YOU?"

The room, already quiet as it invariably was when the Major drew nigh,
became absolutely still. A wished that the Major would stomp into his inner
office, but he stayed where he was, keeping A skewered by his vivid green
gaze.

After a few eternities, A choked out, "I just wondered if I should requisition
his fee for the mission, sir."

He waited for another outburst, but after another half an eternity of
those eyes boring into him, the Major snapped, "Yes," and finally resumed
walking. A almost fell over without that glare to pinion him in place.

He looked to B, and around the room in general. All twenty-six of the
alphabets were exchanging wary looks. Whatever Eroica had done this time,
the Major was incensed even for him. A wondered if they would end up at
war with England if the Major killed an Earl.

Iron Klaus stalked to the door of his inner office, but paused and turned
on the threshold. "A through G, T through Z, you're all coming to Chicago
with me and Eroica."

Z often dared to speak to Iron Klaus when no one else did, because his
unwavering deference made him less likely to draw the Major's fire even
at the worst of times. Now he asked respectfully, "When do we leave, sir?"

"Not on Friday," the Major snapped, and a perplexed Z subsided into
silence with everyone else. Everyone waited. Iron Klaus shrugged off his
trenchcoat, tossed it at Z, and turned on his heel.

As Z moved to hang the coat up, something wispy fell from it to the
floor. G, impetuous as always, retrieved it, doing a careful plié
so that his no-nonsense narrow grey skirt would not show too much leg as
he did so. Straightening, he called out, "Major! You dropped this."

"What?" the Major barked over his shoulder, not seeming to care.

G frowned at the frail brown scrap in his nicely manicured hand. "Oh,
it's just a wilted apple blossom. Must've gotten caught in--"

"Give me that," Iron Klaus snarled, snatching it and almost taking a
couple of G's fingers with it. Before anyone could say anything else, he
had retreated into his office and the room rocked from the familiar door
slam at last.

An awed hush fell over the room as the alphabets stared at the door,
too stunned even to pretend to be working. All bets were off and the world
had gone askew. No one spoke or moved or even breathed for a very long
time. The silence seemed to be shouting what everyone was trying very hard
not to think.

It was G who at last blurted, "You don't suppose--"

"SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Twenty-five voices shushed him simultaneously,
and A, taking no chances, clapped a hand over the petit agent's mouth,
ignoring the lipstick that got on his palm.

Once it was certain that G had been silenced, B spoke, very quietly.

"I think I'll go to Alaska now and beat the rush."

 

 

***

 

 

Klaus industriously persisted in his mission of treading a deep groove
into the carpet of his London hotel room. The succession of his cigarettes
proceeded even more rapidly than usual. He only occasionally paused in
this project, to monitor the relentless but sadistically slow march of
time.

It was now 5:49, Friday afternoon.

Klaus glared at the clock and went back to work on the carpet. 

He worked on it till precisely eighteen hundred hours, when he judged
it was not too early to take a shower. Showering seemed to be only good
manners. Wasn't it?

He showered thoroughly, going over his entire body three times and using
painfully hot water. When he opened his shaving kit, which his butler had
packed, his eye fell on the bottle of scented aftershave, which had traveled
with the kit unopened ever since some relative had given it to him five
... no, six, years ago. He contemplated it for a minute before snarling at
himself. Stupid idea. He never wore that kind of stuff. This would be the
worst possible night to make an exception.

He turned away from the shaving kit to study the minibar the hotel provided,
but decided against that option too. He could not afford to cloud his judgment
around Eroica. Especially not tonight.

Choosing a suit to wear presented problems as well. In response to Klaus's
admittedly vague orders, the butler had packed several suits proper to
numerous occasions. Still, aside from uniforms and exercise clothes, his
entire wardrobe consisted of virtually identical conservative suits. His
only real choice was: tan, black, or grey?

He pondered this choice for some time. As he did so, it crossed his
mind to wonder what outlandish costume Eroica would consider appropriate
garb for this evening. He winced at the thought. But at least he wouldn't
have to tolerate the Earl's overly-imaginative wardrobe too much; whatever
foppish getup he appeared in tonight, he wouldn't be wearing it for long.

At that thought, Klaus brusquely seized a suit at random and put it
on, carefully not taking one bit more care than usual over his neat, practical
clothing.

A glance out the window showed a sun low against the horizon, and the
fluffy white apple trees going soft grey. The groove in the carpet was
coming along nicely. 

The clock said 7:37.

It was time to go. A few minutes past time, actually.

Klaus looked at the door before deciding that perhaps just one drink
was in order after all. 

 

 

***

 

 

Klaus did not knock. He simply opened the door to Dorian's castle, correctly
guessing that it would be unlocked, and walked in, bolting it behind him.
He had draped his trench coat over a dainty Edwardian chair before Dorian
had time to come in and offer to take it.

Dorian stopped on the threshold of his grand entry hall, his throat
tight at the sight before him.

At last, the man he loved had come to him. Klaus's face was grimly determined,
and as always he was wearing an adorably sensible suit and smoking a cigarette.
Dorian wanted to fling himself at his Iron Major, but Klaus looked like
he was ready to bolt, and he probably was. But Dorian had not wanted Klaus
to look amorous or expectant; if iron were to lose its iron-ness, that
would be the end of the world. Though he really had to wonder what molten
iron would be like.

Well, he would find out very soon.

"This way," he said softly, turning and walking down the corridor, leaving
Klaus to follow.

Dorian had spent all week planning the setting. This room with its huge
fireplace had the proper ambience, and the fire was already lit. It was
spring, but the nights were still chilly; a fire would be very cozy. And
it gave such romantic light. There were no electric lights on, only the
hearth and the candles. He had considered music, but decided to settle
for the low crackle of cedar logs burning. Soft, intimate. Before the hearth
was a carefully arranged pile of large satin-covered cushions. Dorian happened
to know they would be quite comfortable. And several carefully-placed vases
of roses filled the air with Dorian's signature fragrance.

Dorian heroically restrained himself from dragging Klaus to the cushions
and tearing his clothes off at once. He knew his beloved better than that.
No one could be so strong unless they were afraid of something. Normally
Dorian delighted in pushing at his Major's limits and driving him up the
wall, but for tonight, when at least one of those walls was coming down,
he was going to be the perfect gentleman. Patient. Tactful. Klaus was going
to see that it was safe to let Dorian get close.

Without asking, Dorian poured wine for both of them. Mosel's Wehlener
Sonnenuhr, naturally. He extended one fluted glass to Klaus, who had paused
just inside the doorway, still looking as if he expected a bullet between
his eyes. Klaus glanced at the green bottle, just long enough for Dorian
to know he had noticed, and remembered.

When Klaus did not at once come to take the glass, Dorian said, "You
look as if you were going to be executed, Major."

His darling scowled. "What did you expect?"

"I expected you to look as if you were going to be executed. I'm unarmed,
darling. If you don't believe me, you're more than welcome to frisk me."

Klaus grimaced as he walked stiffly in Dorian's direction. "I trust
you were discreet, as we agreed?" he demanded.

"Of course, Major. My team doesn't suspect a thing. Except James, of
course, but he always jumps to conclusions every time we're on the same
continent." Dorian refilled Klaus's already-drained glass. "And frankly,
I hope you were discreet as well. This would hardly enhance my reputation."

Klaus snorted. "Of course. My alphabets will never know a thing."

Dorian studied his one true love, who was knocking back the wine as
if he would have liked something much stronger. "I'm curious, darling.
What would you have done if I hadn't agreed to your bargain?"

"I did not come here to talk." It sounded like a threat.

Dorian smiled. "Military men. So direct."

Klaus looked at him for a moment with an unreadable expression. Then
he emptied his wineglass, set it down on a nearby desk, took Dorian's and
set it down as well, and then picked Dorian up, slinging him over his shoulder
and carrying him toward the array of cushions before the fireplace.

Dorian, smiling gleefully, made no attempt to resist. He had carefully
planned his approach, intending to coax his darling with the utmost solicitude.
Now he saw that he had miscalculated. It wasn't too much of a surprise,
really; alpha males often needed to behave as the aggressors when they
finally succumbed to another man's advances. Dorian knew better than to
argue. Macho men were so sexy, but Dorian was quite happy he wasn't one;
life must be terribly complicated with so many issues.

Dorian did not realize that joy had made him laugh aloud till Klaus's
grip on him tightened. "What is so funny?"

"Nothing, darling. I'm just so happy."

Klaus dropped him onto the cushions, quite unceremoniously, and sat
before him, his sharply planed face still grim. He tossed his cigarette
into the hearth. "Idiot."

"My love, I've grown quite fond of that pet name, but perhaps just for
tonight you could use my name."

Klaus's expression did not alter. "Later."

Later. Dorian felt warm all over at that. His pulse quickening
already, he reached out to his beloved. Klaus stopped him with an upraised
hand.

"Not yet," Klaus ordered. Dorian obligingly held still. He was going
to restrain himself and make this night as perfect for Klaus as he possibly
could, twine himself gracefully around the wire rope, even though all he
wanted to do was pounce on this magnificent creature who was within his
reach at last....

After a moment, Klaus slowly reached out and placed his open palm against
Dorian's cheek. Dorian caught his breath at the light touch. Klaus spoke
again, softly, the gentle touch and tone at odds with the glaring emerald
eyes.

"For now... just let me."

Dorian had many plans, but a night was a long time. He could show off
his abilities later. For now ... what could possibly be better than having
Klaus make love to him?

"With pleasure, darling," he murmured, and waited.

Klaus frowned slightly. "Close your eyes."

Dorian complied.

"Keep them closed, for now."

Dorian loved looking at Klaus, but being touched by Klaus promised to
be even better. And besides... they had all night. He would follow Klaus's
request. He would do what Klaus needed, to make it easier to start. Once
the ice was broken... who knew?

A second later, Klaus's mouth was on his.

Dorian moaned softly. At last, after all these years, at last....

Klaus's lips scarcely moved at first, but soon responded instinctively
to the movement of Dorian's. And from there Klaus proceeded slowly, but
without hesitation, as if each move were deliberated over and then carried
out meticulously. Even here, the perfect German, Dorian thought
affectionately. He cooperated, allowing Klaus to set the pace, following
his lead, but it took all his willpower. 

Soon the hands that touched him in the darkness were trembling, oh,
only slightly, that iron control did not let up, but trembling nonetheless.
Dorian could not keep silent; he gasped his beloved's name, he whispered
declarations of love. No words answered him, but Klaus's breaths became
loud and ragged ... yes, even Iron Klaus could be breathless. 

A corner of Dorian's soul had always feared that perhaps Klaus truly
did not want him. That fear was soon dispelled forever. Oh, his darling
wanted him all right ... though his eyes were closed, there was no concealing
that any longer.

And with that proof, Dorian lost his self-restraint and set about making
Klaus lose his. And Klaus did. Several times that wonderfully muscled body
tensed as if to resist, but Klaus remained true to his bargain and allowed
Dorian to please him, and soon he was gasping for breath and whispering
Dorian's name ... whispering Dorian, not Eroica or my lord or pervert
or idiot, Dorian ... and in between gasps came groaned words in German,
and Dorian thrilled to them without knowing what they meant....

But when the low, stifled groan sounded helplessly in Dorian's ear,
that thrilled him still more. Because he knew exactly what that meant.

 

 

***

 

 

"Now I see why they call you--"

"One indecent joke about my nickname and I will go into your room and
set fire to your foppish wardrobe."

"Then I'd better refrain. James will never let me replace it all."

"Humph."

"How did you get this scar?"

"'S classified."

"Ah. I should have guessed.... I love you."

"How the hell can you?"

"Because yours is the only personality I've ever encountered that is
as extreme as my own. You're wonderful, Major. Everything you do is very,
very you."

"I could say the same of you, but you'd probably be idiotic enough to
take it as a compliment."

"Probably. What does 'hubsch' mean?"

"What difference does it make?"

"What difference does it make what the man I love gasped into my ear
while he was making love to me?"

"Stop talking like that!"

"All right. I will if you answer my question, my one true l--"

"It means 'beautiful'."

"You finally admit it? You think I'm beautiful?"

"If you wanted someone who was good at foppish mushy talk, you shouldn't
have wasted seven years on pestering me."

"It was worth it."

"Idiot."

"I liked 'Dorian' better. What does 'bitte hör niemals auf'
mean?"

"If you Limeys cannot be bothered to learn the languages of your neighbors,
I see no reason why I should enlighten you."

"Too true, my love whose eyes are as green as a Mosel bottle filled
with emeralds, whose hair is black as a raven's wing at midnight on a moonless
night, whose burnished muscles gleam like highly polished steel, whose--"

"Roughly translated, it means...." 

"Darling, I can spin poetry all night if need be."

"Damn it. It means 'Keep doing that'."

"...Really. Now, aren't you sorry you waited so long? Now you know what
you've been missing, don't you wish you'd come 'round years ago?"

"I am not here to talk."

"Is that so. Then what are y-- mmph... oh, darling...."

 

 

***

 

 

It was wonderful. It was the most ecstatic, blissful night of Klaus's
life. All those idiotic bromides were absolutely accurate: it was paradise,
it was the merging of two souls, it was the meaning of life. 

They were still for the moment, their legs tangled together, their fingers
laced in each other's hair.

Klaus had hoped, though without much optimism, that he would not respond
to Eroica. His body had betrayed him and left him at the bloody pervert's
mercy. He was never going to forgive it.

He really wished the damned thief had been his usual obnoxious self
this night. Everything would have been simpler, if Dorian had made it possible
to hate him.

He hadn't. He had been very obliging, allowing Klaus to take the initiative;
now that Klaus had made up his mind, he was not going to be led like a
lamb to the slaughter. The first half hour had been... awkward, but Dorian
had made it as easy as it could be, even consenting to close those adoring
eyes that saw far too much. With Dorian's eyes closed, Klaus had felt,
illogically enough, as if the setting were more private. And once they
had begun, it had all become distressingly easy. 

Dorian was an expert. Klaus had known he would be. So it should not
have been a surprise that before long Klaus's determination had been replaced
by urgency.

Klaus had determined that, no matter what, there were certain things
that he was not going to do on this night.

By midnight, he had done most of them.

By dawn, he had done them all. 

Regardless of the concrete sensations of each particular moment, or
the actual physical acts they engaged in, Klaus's impressions remained the
same: of softness, of enveloping warmth, of comfort. It was his instinct
to fight that comfort; comfort inspired relaxation, and relaxation could
be deadly for a man in his profession. He was a soldier, trained to endure
hard beds and extreme temperatures indifferently. It had been years since
he took note of physical discomfort. Now he was noticing its absence, and
it was quite... disconcerting. If he was too much at ease here, he would
never want to leave.

Which was why he would have to, and never come back.

How much longer would he have been able to hold out? A month? Two, perhaps?
And then he would have fallen into the foppish thief's grasp like a ripe
fruit.

Dorian had been an idiot to agree to this bargain. Once Klaus had given
in ... and he admitted, though only to himself, that he would have, and very
soon ... he would never have been able to resist future blandishments. He
had had to stop Dorian's advances, and this had been the only way he could
think of. Now, if he could just survive this night with his sanity intact. 

Or rather, rebuild it once the cold light of dawn appeared.

Klaus disengaged himself and sat up to light a cigarette. The brief
flare of the match illuminated Dorian's flushed, beautiful face. Klaus
found that he felt no need to avert his gaze as he tossed the match into
the fireplace and studied Eroica in the shifting firelight. It was quite
pleasant, actually, to sit like this, in this dark room, with someone who
was not a threat.

Who did not seem to be a threat at the moment, Klaus corrected himself.

He could easily understand now how so many otherwise responsible men
were able to reveal state secrets at times like these. It was beguiling,
deceptively safe. He had lost all self-control several times this night,
and revealed far more about himself than he had wanted Eroica to know.
He had said more idiotic things than he cared to remember, though at least
he had been befuddled enough to say most of them in German, and so was
able to modify them when Dorian demanded translations during their slightly
more lucid intervals. Yes, he understood now, but he would not be idiotic
enough to be fooled.

Dorian smiled hazily at him and propped himself on an elbow to fill
their wineglasses once more. Klaus wished for something stronger than wine,
but he knew better than to dull his faculties around Eroica. Especially
this night. He had to be certain he did not do anything he would regret.
Or rather, not anything more than necessary. At any rate, the night was
nearly over.

"You look more relaxed than I've ever seen you," Dorian remarked softly
as he handed Klaus his glass. He said it like it was a good thing.

Klaus took the glass without replying. Dorian settled against him, cuddling
close. They sat in disturbingly comfortable silence, gazing into the fire,
drinking the wine, Klaus letting his cigarette last rather than puffing
in his usual industrious fashion.

"I love you," Dorian said.

Klaus tensed almost imperceptibly. Surely Eroica did not expect him
to respond in kind? But Dorian seemed quite content to receive no answer.
Klaus wanted to ask him ... he wasn't quite sure what. What exactly he meant
by that declaration, perhaps. Or how sincerely he meant it. But that would
only encourage him, just as Klaus was finally putting this disturbance
to rest. Klaus said nothing.

"Klaus?" Dorian said suddenly. When Klaus remained silent, Dorian turned
to look at him. Klaus continued to stare into the fire. Dorian's tone had
been that of someone about to say something serious, and Klaus was not
going to be drawn into that sort of conversation. He had agreed to bare
his body on this night. He had no intention of baring his soul as well.
As long as they did not speak, he did not have to think, and if he did
not think, it was possible to do what he had agreed to do.

After a moment, Dorian took the hint and looked back into the fire without
speaking again. They finished their wine in silence. When the glasses were
empty, Dorian's hands resumed their maddening work on Klaus's skin. 

Generally, when anyone touched Klaus, they were trying to kill him.
That, no doubt, accounted for the tremors now coursing through him.

Klaus had thought he had reached his limit. Dorian skillfully set about
proving him wrong. The damned thief had stolen control over his body, long
after exhaustion should have put him beyond reach. And so, once more before
dawn granted him his freedom, Klaus surrendered.

When Dorian's embrace slackened and their breaths slowed, Klaus opened
his eyes onto a lightening room. Glancing up, he saw that there was just
one window in the room, a small, ornamental one high up near the vaulted
ceiling. At night, it had not been visible in the shadows, but now it had
gone from black to pink.

The night was over.

Klaus sat up. Dorian's eyes blinked open.

"Do you mind if I shower before I go?"

"Please do." Dorian gestured languidly, giving him a besotted look.
His lips were faintly swollen from a night's worth of kissing, and his
golden curls were tousled beyond belief. He was lovely. Klaus looked away.
"You're welcome to sleep here. Alone, if you wish ... there's plenty of guest
rooms."

"I do appreciate the offer," Klaus said politely, "but no thank you."

"Sure you're all right to drive?"

"Yes."

"Very well." Dorian stretched, catlike. "I'm sure I'll be asleep when
you get out of the shower. Kiss me goodbye, darling." When Klaus hesitated,
Dorian went on, "You're getting what you want. One last kiss."

"You'll never ask for another. Or another... night."

"Never."

Klaus bent and allowed one last, lingering kiss. When it ended, Dorian
said nothing, but watched him wistfully as he gathered his scattered clothes
and went into the predictably decadent bathroom to wash the previous ten
hours off his skin. And if possible, his mind.

He emerged fully dressed, smelling faintly of soap instead of sweat
and roses, his hair neatly combed and faintly damp. He was careful not
to glance at the sleeping man stretched on the cushions. He unbolted the
front door and stepped into the bracing cool of morning and the safety
of his rented Benz.

He got in, turned the key in the ignition, and lit a cigarette.

So much for that.

 

 

***

 

 

"How do you do, Major," Dorian said politely as he and his team entered
the rented conference room in Chicago.

Klaus nodded cordially. "Once more, NATO appreciates your cooperation,
Eroica."

On one side of the room, Major Eberbach's alphabets busied themselves
with weapons and electronic listening devices. Eroica's team set up on
the other side, spreading out blueprints of the Tagariello Institute's
security systems. Except for James, who was punching away on his calculator
at a fervid pace. No one looked at their two leaders who were formally
greeting each other.

"You have blueprints of the Institute, Major? Allow me to compare them
with ours for discrepancies." 

"Of course." Klaus took the blueprints in question from Z, who had hurried
to offer them without being asked, and handed them to Dorian. Dorian efficiently
sat down to go over them at once. "I also have here all the data we were
able to compile about the security, though I suppose your own sources were
more thorough on that point."

The subordinates of both men kept their heads bent over their work,
except for James, who had looked up from his calculator to watch the conversation.
None of them spoke.

Dorian got down to business with the promptness of the professional.
"I would think so. I decided the south entrance would probably be the best.
You believe the materials to be on the fourth floor, you said?"

 

"Yes. We will be stationed at the points marked in red to provide backup,
if need be. Do you have all the equipment you need?" 

"Much more than I'll need, no doubt. I'm prepared for anything."

The conversation continued in this civil vein until Eroica left to stroll
by the Institute and see what he could in person. A short time later, the
Major went into his private office to telephone Bonn. Both teams of subordinates
were left to continue their work. But even after the door had closed behind
the Major, everyone seemed curiously disinclined to talk.

Everyone, that was, but James. He had been looking quite cheerful even
as everyone else's face was quietly neutral. Now he stood up, hugging his
calculator gleefully. 

For years he had been watching Major Eberbach's relations with his beloved
(if profligate) employer with one suspicious eye. He had refused to believe
the Earl's protestations that his suit had been unsuccessful. He knew what
those two had been up to that dreadful time in Persia when disguise had
forced the two to embrace in the Arabic manner. Never mind that the Major
had been holding a gun to Eroica's chin, or that Eroica had pressed the
point of his knife to the Major's neck. That made no difference whatsoever.
And when Mischa the Cub had locked Eroica and the Major in the same cell
... James knew better than to believe that anyone would miss such a golden
opportunity to get at his Earl!

Now, James declared ecstatically to the room at large, "At last! The
Earl is finally over that machine maniac!"

He skipped out of the room happily to try to talk the hotel staff into
lowering their room service prices, leaving behind a roomful of men who
had not spoken a single word in the last hour. Nor did they seem eager
to start now. But as the silence stretched, the two teams found themselves
exchanging glances.

"Things certainly have been going normally with us," Bonham remarked
at last.

"We haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary at all," A agreed.

Another silence fell, until G broke it.

"How long does the eye of a hurricane last?" he asked.

No one answered, but no one looked happy that he'd asked.

 

 

***

 

 

Dorian congratulated himself as the safe slid open under his agile fingers.
You've done it, Eroica, old boy, he gloated. Gotten the documents NATO
wants, and given the Major the night of his life, and no one suspects a
thing about the latter.

And Dorian knew that he had shone on Friday night. The Major wasn't
ready to admit it, not yet, but he had loved it. He had taken to it like
the proverbial duck to water. And he would be back for more. If Klaus could
walk away from that night, he wasn't human.

Dorian's behavior had been completely scrupulous since. He hadn't flirted
even a little bit. He had been as formal as if he and the Major had never
met, had never been anything to each other. No one could possibly suspect
that they'd finally done the deed. Even James was convinced at last. 

And Dorian was going to keep his word. He secretly suspected this was
one last test he had to pass to win Klaus completely. He had proven he
was loyal, beyond any shadow of a doubt. On Friday, he had proven... well,
he had proven all sorts of things. That he knew how to give pleasure, for
one. And now ... well, now he had to show Klaus that he was a man of his
word and that he was capable of discretion. And show Klaus he would.

"Hands outta the cookie jar, Goldilocks," a nasal voice said behind
him.

Dorian stopped sorting through the documents in the safe and slowly
straightened, putting his hands up. He was playing for time, pure and simple;
he was wired, and his dashing Major and his alphabetical henchmen would
hear what was going on and come to his rescue. Despite all the warnings
about the Tagariellos, Dorian felt completely safe. How could he not, with
Iron Klaus ready to defend him?

Dorian turned around slowly. There were two of them, both brawny, both
pointing guns at him. Dorian swallowed. He did not like guns. Of
course, when Klaus was pointing one at him, he was able to remain quite
calm, but he never believed for a minute that Klaus would actually use
it.

One of the men, who had had his nose broken at some point in his life,
kept Dorian covered with his gun, while the other holstered his and frisked
Dorian, none too gently. He found the wire and pulled it out of Dorian's
tight black shirt.

"Youse ain't gonna hear no more," he said into the tiny microphone,
"so I'll just tell ya: we're about to beat the daylights outta your pansy
friend here."

Dorian hoped Klaus could understand this approximation of English.

With that he crushed the microphone under his heel. Then he punched
Dorian in the stomach. While Dorian was doubled over, gasping for breath,
he said, "So tell us, pansy, who was that we was just talking to?"

For the next couple of minutes, the thug asked various questions and
applied his fists to Dorian. Dorian said nothing, only pressed his lips
together and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. The door burst open and Iron Klaus shot
in. He'd knocked the broken-nosed brute who was covering Dorian unconscious
before the thug could even take in the Major's presence. Dorian's attacker
actually managed to make a swing (he missed) before crumpling under the
Major's expert blows.

A, D, V and Z appeared and carried the senseless thugs out of the room
without comment, surveying the corridors to see if the noise had brought
others. Klaus dropped to one knee beside Dorian, who was now slumped against
the wall.

"Dorian! How badly are you hurt?" Klaus didn't seem to notice that he'd
used Eroica's real name.

Dorian tried to straighten. His breath was ragged. "Just some bruises,
I think." He tried a smile. The thug hadn't hit him in the mouth, so he
managed it. "I knew you'd come through for me."

Klaus's eyes locked with Dorian's.

Now, Dorian thought. Now you know you care, I can see it in
those Mosel eyes clear as day. Kiss me, Major....

Klaus's eyes flickered, resting, just for a second, on Dorian's lips.
Dorian felt his blood warm, oh, so sweetly. Klaus wanted to kiss him now,
no doubt about that. Dorian knew that he could get away with initiating
the kiss himself, Klaus was ready, but he had promised, so he waited.

And waited.

Klaus suddenly exhaled sharply, as if just realizing he'd been holding
his breath. An instant later, he had straightened and turned back to the
safe. "You got it open, I see, Eroica." He bent and swiftly pulled out
the papers inside, rifled through them briefly, and then brusquely stuffed
them all into Dorian's sack, which he shouldered himself.

Dorian remained sitting with his back against the wall, feeling mildly
dazed. He watched his beloved stalk to the door with the documents in tow,
his back to Dorian.

Just inside the door, he paused. He looked over his shoulder, back to
Dorian.

Dorian caught his breath. Here it was, a perfect re-enactment of the
moment he had first fallen in love with Klaus. Those nasty seajackers in
Greece had been holding him for ransom, and they had knocked him around
a bit ... no real damage, but no fun either, and quite scary at the time.
Then the Major had burst in on the scene. He'd beaten them all up, singlehanded.
In response to Dorian's shaky compliment, he'd replied coolly, "I'm a professional."

Being rescued by a handsome man who was capable of beating up five thugs
without breaking a sweat or losing his cigarette was quite thrilling, to
be sure. But that wasn't what had done it. It was when Klaus had turned
to go and then glanced back to look at Dorian, who had been leaning weakly
against the wall, waiting for his knees to turn from jelly back to flesh
and bone. After a brief hesitation, the Major had gone back to Dorian,
helped him up, and then supported him with an arm around Dorian's waist
as they walked inside. It was that gesture of unexpected kindness from
this man of iron that had made a frivolous attraction crystallize into
love for Dorian. From that moment forth, he hadn't belonged to himself.

And now he needed help again, and Klaus was standing just as he had
that day in Greece, with his back to Dorian, looking at him over his shoulder
with what would be uncertainty in any other man.

Dorian caught his breath as their gazes locked once more. They stood
frozen like that for a long time.

Come here, my love, Dorian thought. Come here and help me
to stand and then take me in your strong arms and kiss me and then everything
will be all right for both of us forever....

Klaus turned his head suddenly to look into the hall. "A!" he barked.
"Get in here and help Eroica. He's injured."

The Major strode out of sight without another word. Dorian sat frozen.
He felt as if cold water had been dashed into his face.

When A entered and diffidently offered a hand, Dorian took it dejectedly
and accepted the agent's help out of the room. He had almost left this
room with everything he'd wanted. It had been his for the taking, but his
promise barred him from taking it... until it was given.

Well. It was just going to take longer than he had expected, that was
all. 

Iron did not bend very easily, after all.

 

 

***

 

 

"Sir, I contacted Eroica, as you ordered."

B was hovering rather nervously in the Major's office door. Three months
had passed since the Tagariello Institute. True to his word, Eroica had
not contacted the Major or shown up to interfere with any of his missions.
Life had been much quieter. But eventually the day had to come, and now
it had: they needed a contractor capable of breaking into a highly sophisticated
security system, and the Chief had not missed the opportunity to exasperate
Klaus by insisting upon hiring Eroica.

"It was the Chief's order," Klaus corrected. "I leave negotiating his
fee between you and the stingy-bug. We leave on the fourteenth--"

"Sir. Eroica refused the assignment."

Klaus did not react at all. His expression did not change, and he said
nothing for a full minute.

"Contact Carroll. He can do it." The Major followed this order with
a rapidly-recited list of documents he wanted to see before dismissing
B. 

At least no one suspected. They couldn't. He and the Earl had been perfectly
civil and formal together, not at all like two people who'd spent an entire
insane night doing all kinds of things that a NATO agent, not to mention
a von dem Eberbach, had no business even contemplating.

That evening during his nightly workout, the Major found that Eroica's
refusal was lingering in his mind more than it should have. It was, of
course, a relief. And on hearing the news, Klaus had felt an unmistakable
stab of approval: the thief was keeping his word. But now there was also
a strange and lingering disquiet which Klaus could not identify.

Or perhaps he could. After all... there was, unfortunately, no denying
that he had enjoyed that night. He wished he could deny it. 

He had been wise to strike that bargain with Eroica, however. That moment
in Chicago had confirmed his suspicion that once he had experienced it,
he would not have found it easy to resist again. Had Eroica seized the
moment and kissed him, he would have spent that night in the thief's bed.
He wouldn't have even tried to resist. Thank God he hadn't had to. Thank
God Eroica had kept his word. Though come to think of it, it was curious
that Klaus had so implicitly trusted the bloody thief to do so.

So now he knew that Dorian ... Eroica ... could be trusted, at least. Not
that it made any difference. Such entanglements ... rose vines and wire ropes
... were too dangerous. He had never let anyone in without regretting it.
They had always betrayed him, or failed to live up to his standards. Which
were admittedly quite high, but then, he himself adhered to them.

And perhaps his life had erred just a bit on the side of abstemiousness,
because now his body was troubling him with demands he had thought long
since quieted.

Well. He would continue to do a lot of running. It would go away eventually.

So would the dreams of firelight and golden curls and the scent of roses.
And the half-conscious expectation of encountering an exasperating, flirtatious
nuisance of a thief around every corner. That was it, of course; he was
so accustomed to this particular annoyance that he ... didn't exactly miss
him, of course... but his mind still expected him.

But it would go away. It would just take longer than he had expected,
that was all.

 

 

***

 

 

Dorian lay in his bed, alone, holding the Heart of Darkness.

James, naturally, had wanted to sell the gem. It was worth a fortune.
But Dorian would never part with this sapphire that was as black as a raven's
wing at midnight on a moonless night.

Sapphires darkened when exposed to heat. Jewelers sometimes heated them
deliberately, to deepen the color. This large sapphire had once been as
light as Dorian's eyes. 

It had hung around the slim white throat of a young Russian countess,
decades ago. Her first ball had been cut short by a Bolshevik bomb which
killed her and three other aristocrats. The adolescent countess had been
right beside the explosion. The heat of the blast had turned the robin's-egg
stone to a deep inky black.

After that it had passed through many hands, till someone managed to
get it through the Iron Curtain. A decade ago, it had been purchased by
a Wall Street shark for a bulimic wife who wore it once and then forgot
it, leaving it unloved and unappreciated amid mountains of lesser stones.

Rescuing it had been an act of mercy, not larceny.

The gem was enthralling, with its tragic history and sinister beauty.
Dorian could never part with it, not for any sum. None of his team could
understand that. James had howled, but one expected that of him. The others
had greeted Dorian's effusions over the gem with amused indulgence. His
people would do anything for him, Dorian knew, but sometimes they acted
like they were humoring a child. They weren't adding machines like James,
but they weren't dreamers the way Dorian was.

Few people were. But Dorian firmly believed that dreamers such as himself
made the world go round. Some dreamers believed that things as they were
could be improved upon, and the lot of humanity was bettered because they
believed that it could be. Some dreamers pursued or created beauty, providing
the world with an inner image of what should be. Some dreamers drove themselves
without mercy to adhere to impossibly iron-clad standards of stoicism and
purity, reminding lesser men of what was possible.

Alone on his satin sheets, Dorian gazed into the Heart of Darkness and
dreamed wistfully of what was possible.

 

 

***

 

 

It was appallingly easy, really. All Klaus had to do was go into the
right kind of place and stand still.

He had been in third world prisons, organized crime lairs, and grand
parties at Schloss Eberbach well attended by eligible young ladies. This
place was more threatening than any of them.

Klaus could scarcely see the men ... only men ... who lounged and danced
and drank throughout the large, low-ceilinged room. Most of the lights
were flashing and oddly colored. But he was glad the place was dark. If,
by some bizarre chance, anyone he knew was here, they wouldn't recognize
him. Which, come to think of it, was probably the point. He couldn't be
the only man here who didn't want to be seen. The thought made him feel
fractionally less nervous. 

"Hi."

Klaus quickly examined the man who had spoken to him. He was physically
fit, appeared healthy, was handsome ... and was quite unlike Dorian. Eroica.
His chestnut hair was short, his eyes a pleasing hazel, and his body tanned
and muscular. Judging from the single syllable he had spoken, and from
his general look and manner, he was an American, but that was no worse
than an Englishman. Well, not much worse. Besides... Klaus didn't think he
could bring himself to do this sort of thing with a German. It would not
seem right at all.

This man would do. He was the fourth man to approach Klaus since his
arrival, but the others had all been unacceptable even at one glance in
the dim light.

"Hello," Klaus replied. He frowned as he tried to think of something
more to shout over the oppressively loud music ... if that unmelodic syncopation
could be called music. He had never been good at small talk, even at formal
gatherings where the people were known and the subject matter dictated
by custom. He had no idea what to say to this American to lead up to the
request he still did not know how he was going to make. Klaus had no idea
how such invitations were extended.

"Why don't we get a room?" the American said.

Oh.

Klaus nodded. It seemed the younger man was acquainted with the place.
He went to one of the employees and made the request briskly. Klaus paid
for the room without comment. He wasn't sure why he felt as if he was the
one who was supposed to, but he did. The American led the way to the stairwell
without hesitation. He had done this before. Klaus's stomach knotted. Well,
he was prepared to protect himself from disease, at least. He was not going
to be more of an idiot than necessary tonight. He was only here to defuse
a bomb, to satisfy these lawless desires before they grew out of control
and drove him to do something idiotic. Well, more idiotic than this. Such
as allow someone to infiltrate his life and disrupt all of his plans and
all of his routines and all of his convictions.

Inside the room, the American promptly went into the bathroom. Klaus
stood by the door, his jaw clamped, waiting.

This would be different. There would be no adoring gazes and no honeyed
words and no excessive admiration and no amused understanding of his rigid
temperament and easily offended sensibilities. He would make an offering
of sorts to the thoughts that had plagued him for the last four months
and hope this token would satisfy them and they would leave him in peace.

Come to think of it, he had made a token offering in return for peace
four months ago.

He wanted to bolt. He tried to tell himself that he had to do this.
For a long minute he stood balanced between the two courses of action.
Go through with this, or run.

He was still fighting it out with himself when the American emerged
and casually flipped on the overhead light. In the brighter light, the
young man looked at Klaus... and then looked more closely. At his clamped
jaw and glaring eyes and rigid posture.

"Forget it," he said flatly.

Klaus was too startled to do anything but exclaim, "What?"

"I said forget it. I know your kind, and I give you psychos a wide berth."

"What?" Klaus repeated, incredulously. "All I've done since we
came in here is stand here. How can you say--"

"I've seen that look in enough men's eyes to know what it means."

Klaus's face burned scorchingly. He had thought Dorian's advances were
embarrassing. That was nothing. This was without a doubt the most mortifying
moment of his entire life. He wished that he had bolted before the impudent
American queer had had the chance to say any of this.

Years of ingrained habit propelled him a step forward, his face hard
and his fists slowly clenching.

The younger man glared at him, backing up a pace. "Come anywhere near
me and I'll scream," he said.

This ludicrous threat made Klaus want to show the silly Yank just how
out of his depth he was. But his rational mind stepped in and made him
relax his fists and assume a less threatening posture. The wary young man
did not take his eyes off Klaus for one instant. 

"I don't know what your deal is and I don't care. All I do know is,
your kind always gets violent once you've had what you want. Well, work
out your internalized homophobia on someone else, buddy. I'm leaving."

"Internalized homophobia?" Klaus echoed blankly. The phrase brought
an interesting fact to his mind. Somehow, during all the years he had been
fighting his own attraction to Dorian, it had never occurred to him to
ask himself if he were queer. That had seemed quite beside the point. All
that had mattered was that, God only knew how, Dorian had gotten through.
All his armor, carefully erected over a lifetime, and Dorian had somehow
found every chink, as if by an instinct. As if he were fated to do so.

Klaus shoved that idiotic notion out of his mind. Besides, the American
was still talking.

"Back away from the door, pal. I'm outta here."

Klaus stared at him for another minute before obligingly opening the
door and walking out. Not exactly what the pervert had requested, but it
served the purpose. He left the bar very very quickly. 

There was no way this was going to happen to him twice.

 

 

***

 

 

Eroica wondered what on earth had possessed government officials ... German
government officials, no less, or Austrian, which was practically the same
thing ... to buy a Klimt and hang it on the walls of a government building.
Even if this was Vienna, it made no sense. It was his duty to set things
right. He had even brought a nice stuffy portrait of some dead Austrian
notable he'd never heard of to replace it. It would be amusing if the portrait
was so perfectly suitable to a dull official building that no one noticed
the switch.

And he needed a challenge. Anything to focus his mind. It had been six
months since he had last seen Klaus. He had never expected it to take this
long. Evidently the melting point of iron was a bit higher than he had
anticipated.

His team still didn't know anything, but they must have noticed that
he was rather moping. Doubtless that was why Bonham had suggested this
job, to give him something to think about. He and Jones had already had
almost the whole thing worked out before they even mentioned it to him.
They must be genuinely worried for him, Dorian thought affectionately.
Well, he would show them everything was fine. Tonight's theft would go
off without a hitch.

He got inside without incident and easily evaded the security guards
on his way to the correct corridor. The Klimt was in the reception room
of a particular suite of offices. Dorian found the door to the suite and
went to work on its electronic lock. It was quite an elaborate one. This
was promising; a lock like this had to be protecting a great deal more
than just one painting. Perhaps Eroica could find enough of value to reconcile
James to this expedition.

Eroica did not hear a door, or any footsteps. The first thing he heard
was a familiar deep, furious voice behind him.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Dorian whirled. Standing before him, in a splendidly formfitting black
catsuit like Dorian's own, pointing a gun at Dorian and looking decidedly
annoyed, was the love of Dorian's life.

Dorian glowed in the comforting, familiar warmth of Klaus's steely glare.
"Major. Darling."

"Answer me, damn it!"

"The same thing you are, darling. My job."

Dorian's starved eyes drank in the sight of his beloved. Klaus's body
was even more trim and muscular than it had been the last time Dorian had
seen him, nearly six months ago. He must have been working out even harder
than usual. Really, he was every bit as vain as Dorian.

"Am I allowed to say how much I missed you?" Dorian asked fondly.

Klaus glowered.

"All right, I won't say it then. I will say I'm glad to see you, even
if it is by accident."

"Accident. Do you expect me to still believe that it's coincidence,
the way you always turn up in the middle of my missions?"

"It usually wasn't, in the past," Dorian admitted. "But this time, honestly,
I had no idea you were even in Vienna. This job was all Bonham's idea anywa--...
oh."

Klaus raised impatient black eyebrows.

"I'll speak to him," Dorian promised, abashed. "I imagine they were
wondering why I haven't arranged to see you in so long. It won't happen
again."

"See to it," Klaus said brusquely. "And whatever you came here to steal,
leave without it."

Dorian nodded mutely. Klaus looked at him inquiringly. The Major had
made such demands many times over the years. This was the first time Eroica
had given in without a fight.

Dorian stood motionless in front of the door, waiting. Klaus's face shifted,
as if he realized that for once Dorian was being cooperative. They held
each other's gazes, until Klaus's eyes flickered very briefly to Dorian's
mouth.

Dorian held his breath.

"Get away from that door. I have to get through it. Get out of Vienna,
in fact. If any major thefts happen in the next few days, I'll know exactly
where to look."

It took Dorian a moment to reply. But it seemed that tonight was not
to be the night. Well. Now that Klaus had seen him again, surely he wouldn't
be stubborn for much longer.

"I'm sorry, Major," he said quietly at last. "I wouldn't have come if
I'd known you were here. I'll go now." Dorian took a couple of steps before
pausing. "Unless you want me to help you break in."

Klaus, who was already hunched over the lock, lifted his head and gave
him a cold, level look. 

"What I want is irrelevant," he stated. "A man with my responsibilities
has more to consider than what he happens to want." 

With that, he leaned back over the lock, his brows knitting together
in concentration.

Dorian stood paralyzed, his heart suddenly an arctic waste. Only now
did he see the enormity of his error.

He had spent years striving to make Klaus admit that he wanted him.
Now, tacitly at least, he had admitted it.

Dorian had taken every opportunity, and at last one entire glorious
night, to prove that Klaus would enjoy him. He had proven it.

And neither had done him a bit of good.

Dorian had assumed, foolishly, that at this point Klaus would fall into
his arms ... and stay there. Oh, how he had miscalculated. He had misunderstood
the problem completely.

Klaus did not consider his own enjoyment reason enough to do anything.
Dorian's poor masochistic hero would do what he thought was his duty. It
was highly unlikely that Klaus would give in just for his own pleasure.
And if he did, he would despise himself for it ... and hate Dorian for being
the cause. The way Klaus had fought to retain reserve and self-control
even in the throes of passion proved that.

Had Dorian schemed to put Klaus under some sort of obligation to him,
that would have gotten the wire rope into his bed ... and kept him there.
But even if he'd had the stomach for such manipulation ... and he wasn't
at all sure he did ... he no longer had the opportunity for it. His promise
forced him to avoid the uptight, bullheaded, German militaristic
machine of a man he was crazy enough to love. 

It seemed so obvious to Dorian that he and Klaus completed each other
perfectly. He had spent seven years trying to prove that to Klaus. He had
done everything in his power, finally even agreeing to that infernal bargain,
which he now realized had been a thoroughly stupid thing to do. Now all
that was left was for him to find some sort of point in his existence,
now that he had irretrievably lost the man he loved.

Who was now crouching with his back to Dorian, intent on circumventing
the electronic lock. Oblivious to Dorian's breaking heart and indifferent
to the loneliness and barrenness of his own life. 

Dorian had gambled, and lost.

The lock slid open. Klaus opened the door carefully and went inside
without another glance at Dorian.

Who went back to his hotel room and lay listlessly in bed for the rest
of the week, too desolate to shed tears.

 

 

***

 

 

"Ow!" Dorian winced as Bonham gently pressed the icepack to his cheek.

"Sorry, milord. Try to keep it on; it'll stop the swelling."

Dorian whimpered as he lifted a hand to hold the icepack in place. His
cheek throbbed. It had been a terrible night, and if just one more thing
happened, he was going to start throwing things and kicking and whining
like James. He knew, with a tiny corner of his mind that remained rational,
that he was acting childish, but really, after all this, he had a right
to.

They were in the Earl's London townhouse, trying to regroup after the
night's disastrously foiled theft. At least Dorian's bruised face was the
only casualty, but the coveted paintings were still imprisoned with their
rightful owners.

"What happened, milord?"

"I don't know!" Dorian said pettishly. "I didn't notice a thing until
they were actually walking into the room. That's why I had to run for it.
And I don't know how, but I misjudged the leap ... well, it was dark ... that's
how I hit my face." He removed the icepack for a moment. "Do you think
it'll scar?" he asked anxiously.

"Of course not, milord. The skin's not broken. You'll just have a nasty
bruise for a bit."

Dorian calmed at this news, and then relaxed further, into dejection.
"What difference does it make, anyway."

He listlessly raised the icepack again, but not in time to hide the
already-forming bruise from James as he entered the room. Seeing the mark,
James emitted a screech.

"Oh, no, my lord! You mustn't get injured! You nearly got caught tonight!
Please, my lord, do be more careful! After all--"

Dorian closed his eyes wearily. "I know...."

"--your life insurance is minimal...."

Jones collared James and half-carried him out of the room, still whining.
Dorian and Bonham were left alone.

"Perhaps you'd best take a vacation, my lord," Bonham suggested.

"I've hardly stolen anything since ... since Chicago," Dorian protested
half-heartedly. "I'm going to lose my touch."

"What happened in Chicago?" Bonham asked quietly.

"I got caught and beaten up! You know about that!"

"That's not what I meant. What happened between you and Uncle NATO?"

Dorian's eyes widened incredulously. "What makes you think anything
happened--" His voice trailed off. "How did you know?"

Bonham turned his face away, pretending to busy himself with pouring
the Earl more wine until he could school his expression. "You've been so
unhappy these last few months."

"I never knew you were so perceptive!" Dorian remarked, impressed. Then
he sighed disconsolately. His eyes suddenly welled up. "I've lost him."
He rolled over onto his side, staring at the wall, still pressing the ice
pack to his throbbing cheek.

Bonham spoke hesitantly. "Perhaps I shouldn't have set you up to meet
him, my lord. I only thought, if he saw you again--"

"I would have thought so too, Bonham." The Earl's voice was muffled.
"Neither of us understood what goes on inside that iron skull. Not till
it was too late."

"It can't be too late. Perhaps if you stole something of concern to
him--"

"No. I've ruined it."

"Surely there must be something we could do."

After a very long silence, Eroica murmured, "We would have to buy his
soul."

Bonham looked at the man he lived to serve, slumped on his side, unable
to muster the spirit even to make an arch witticism. The irrepressibly
high spirits, the Quixotic optimism, all the vibrant life that made Eroica
Eroica had been quenched.

Bonham sighed. "For us to buy his soul," he muttered to himself, too
low for his lord to hear, "he would have to have one."

 

 

***

 

 

A returned to Bonn after a two-day mission in Geneva to discover eight
new faces among the alphabet. Alaska, he understood, was a large state,
but it had to be getting crowded over the last seven months. Ever since
the change in the air which all of the alphabets had come to refer to,
simply, as "Chicago". And while no one had ever phrased it more clearly
than that, they all had a fairly apt guess as to what "Chicago" entailed.
The only other word that anyone had ever dared to apply to it was when
B had muttered under his breath, shortly after the Tagariello Institute,
"Finally." Everyone had shushed him vehemently, and that had been the end
of it.

The new letters had that deer-in-the-headlights look of agents newly
acquainted with Major Eberbach. A approached to give what reassurance he
could. After all, he was one of the four agents who had, somehow, managed
to hang in there with Iron Klaus for years.

A bit of color had returned to the new agents' faces when the door to
the Major's inner office burst open. Everyone, not just the new letters,
blanched again.

"G! Where the hell are those files on that damned satellite?"

"I put them on your desk, sir," G said meekly. He rose and went into
the Major's office, walking with the excellent posture required by high
heels. His military training was certainly helpful in that regard. 

The files in question were in the exact center of the Major's desk.
On top of everything else. In plain sight.

G quietly picked them up, handed them to the Major without meeting his
eyes, and scurried out.

This was not the first time the Major had not been able to find something
that was right before his nose. It was happening with increasing frequency
of late.

Worse, on no fewer than two separate occasions in the last month, Iron
Klaus had shot in the course of a mission... and missed his target. By only
an inch or so, to be sure, but this was Iron Klaus. It was unprecedented.
Everyone had reeled with shock when it had happened. Though of course the
event was spoken of only in whispers.

Z had observed the exchange between the Major and G. Now he drew a deep
breath, rose, and went into the Major's office, closing the door behind
him.

Iron Klaus was scowling as he flipped through the files G had just handed
him. He looked up impatiently.

"Excuse me, sir," Z said with his customary deference. He then asked
a couple of trivial questions about his latest assignment which really
could have waited. When the Major had rapped out brusque answers, Z remained
standing before the desk.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Major?" he asked quietly.

The Major continued to glare at the folder in his hands for a minute
before slowly raising his eyes to meet Z's. The two of them looked at each
other. Z held his breath. His tone and manner had been impeccable as always,
but still ... even though no one had ever put it into words, his feelings
for Iron Klaus were no secret ... the Major had to understand.

The Major looked back at his files. The scowl had relaxed, to be replaced
by something that looked almost like sadness.

"No, thank you, Z."

Neither those words nor the tired tone were anything Z had heard from
Major Eberbach before.

"Yes, sir," he said, just as quietly. He walked out feeling quite somber,
but at the same time decisive. When you loved someone, you wanted them
to have... what they needed. Never mind if you were not the one who could
give it to them. He returned to his desk and waited for his moment.

A few minutes later, B answered the phone and was forced to inform the
Major, "The Chief wants to see you."

Iron Klaus snarled, told the room at large what he thought of the Chief
in terms that made the air crackle, and stomped out. 

"This cannot go on!" B groaned when the angry footsteps had receded
down the hall. "We'll all wind up in Alaska at this rate."

"I wish that boneheaded--" A stopped himself. "I wish the Major would
make things easier on himself."

"I don't see why he doesn't," G said wistfully. "Can you imagine anyone
staying away from Eroica?"

The entire alphabet looked alarmed. This was the closest anyone had
come to putting into words what they all inferred.

"Unless something happens," A mumbled, "we're all goners."

Z cleared his throat. "Perhaps we should make something happen."

All eyes turned to the youngest alphabet, whose unwaveringly respectful
demeanor had earned him the nickname "Major's Pet" ... a nickname spoken
only when said Major was in another country.

"Did you have something in mind?" A asked cautiously.

Z bit his lip, looking terribly young. "I can't believe I'm saying this,
but I think I do."

 

 

***

 

 

G licked his lips, hoping he did not seem more nervous than usual. All
twenty-six of them had agreed that the first of them to get the opportunity
would relay the collection of half-truths and outright lies that Z, of
all people, had concocted. And given the requirements of the mission G
was discussing with the Major today, it was entirely possible that G would
have that opportunity any moment now.

Who would have thought Z had it in him. But Z understood what motivated
their Iron Major better than anyone. If this pack of lies didn't do the
trick, they might as well just move Headquarters to Alaska. 

And just imagine someone needing to be tricked into the arms
of the Earl of Gloria.

"We'll need someone to get through that security system," G said carefully,
trying to speak steadily, "so the Chief said to hire--"

"Oh, hell," Iron Klaus snarled, closing his eyes.

"No, sir, not Eroica. Word is he's been slipping lately," G said ingenuously.

The Major opened his eyes. "Slipping?"

"Yes, Major. He's botched a few jobs in the last few months, and almost
got caught a couple of times. Everyone thinks getting beaten up in Chicago
broke his nerves; he hasn't been the same since," G went on innocently.
"And he's also--" He broke off abruptly.

"Also what?" the Major demanded.

"I don't think you'll be interested," G said demurely.

"Given the way we tend to cross paths with that bloody nuisance, I'd
better know," the Major said casually. G tried to recall the Major ever
speaking casually before. He couldn't.

"Well. This is just rumor, you understand, but I hear he's taken up
with... the wrong kind of man."

Emerald eyes went colder than usual. "And what is the 'wrong kind'?"

"Violent types. Oh, not like you, Major," G added hastily. "I mean,
nasty types. I hear all his friends are quite worried. So anyway, the Chief
said to hire Carroll again, so with your permission, A will contact him...."

G continued to talk about the mission. When the Major had occasion to
speak again, the subject of Eroica was not mentioned. It took all G's discipline
not to bring it up again, but he had the sense to know that would give
it away. Not that the Major would ever give him credit for so much sense.

As he was dismissing G, the Major added, "Send Z in here."

Z knocked and entered the office promptly. 

"Close the door," the Major ordered. Z complied, and the Major launched
into a long list of tasks for Z. In the exact middle of the list, the Major
said matter-of-factly, "Find out the expected whereabouts of Eroica for
the next week," and launched into the next order without pause. Z meticulously
noted each order and replied to it all with his unerringly respectful,
"Yes, sir."

When he emerged from the Major's office ... which had a lot of whispered
nicknames among the alphabets, none pleasant but all respectful ... he smiled
at the room at large before going to his desk to begin.

The entire alphabet breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"I'll buy you both dinner," A murmured to G and Z.

 

 

***

 

 

Anthony stopped in his tracks as he was shown into the sitting room.
"Good Lord, Dorian! What happened to you?"

The Earl of Gloria managed a lopsided smile. The large, dark bruise
across one high cheekbone made it a bit painful for him to smile properly.
"I had a bit of a mishap climbing out the window of a bedroom I wasn't
supposed to be in," he confessed. Well, it was the truth. Though Anthony
would probably assume he had been in that bedroom to get something other
than a Renoir.

"Dear me. I hope he was worth it." Anthony accepted Dorian's wordless
invitation to sit down on the divan and took the drink Jones served him
before discreetly withdrawing. "Where have you been all season, love? Everyone's
missed you dreadfully."

Dorian shrugged, draping himself decoratively over the divan beside
Anthony. "I just haven't felt like... being around anyone."

Anthony looked at Dorian sharply. "And how did you really get that bruise?"

"I told you--"

"Mmm hmm. What's his name?"

Dorian gave his old friend a startled look. "Oh, no, Anthony. That is,
you're quite right that I've been moping because of a man. But I really
did get this in an accident. I've only seen him once in the last seven
months, and that once, he didn't lay a finger on me." Dorian sighed.

"He must be an idiot, then," Anthony said. Dorian laughed sharply. "Really,
Dorian, whoever he is, forget him. There are plenty of men out there who'd
appreciate you. You don't have to put up with this."

Dorian bowed his head over his wineglass. "You don't know how many years
I've tried to forget him," he whispered.

"Want me to kick some sense into him?" Anthony offered.

Dorian's eyes flitted to Anthony's thickly muscled arms. Some years
ago, Dorian had been quite impressed by Anthony's sculpted physique. But
all that muscle was purely ornamental; Anthony's sole use for it was to
show it off to other men. He never lifted anything heavy, and as far as
Dorian knew, he had never been in a fight. That strong build now seemed
a bit silly, with no real use for it.

Dorian laughed mirthlessly. "With all due respect, darling, you're no
match for him. He's not a human being, he's a tank."

Anthony put a comforting arm around Dorian's shoulders. The Earl wearily
rested his head on Anthony's muscular shoulder. The two sat in companionable
silence for a few minutes.

Until they heard loud footsteps like gunshots coming towards the door.

 

 

 

 

The servants had made no attempt to delay him. Bonham had quite correctly
offered to announce him, but Klaus had retorted by demanding to know where
the Earl was. Bonham had indicated the sitting room, and Klaus had stomped
toward it.

The door flew open at Klaus's kick. He barged in and swiftly took in
the scene: Dorian, his lovely face marred with a swelling blue-purple bruise
across one high cheekbone; another man, brawny but obviously as queer as
Eroica, one arm draped possessively around Dorian. Both turned startled
looks toward Klaus.

It was the first time in years that Dorian had seen Klaus and not welcomed
him with unconcealed pleasure. Even when Klaus had him at gunpoint, Dorian
had glowed with a smile as sunny as his golden curls. Now, however, he
merely looked stunned.

Klaus stared at the ugly bruise that marred Dorian's perfect cheek.
He felt sick. This was his fault, he knew. And he had never meant for anything
like this to happen.

Of course he was a violent man. It was his profession. But despite how
things must sometimes look, he was not a bully. He was not in the
habit of battering people who couldn't defend themselves. Foppish queers,
for instance.

That first time he had hit Dorian, he had, admittedly, simply lost his
temper. Well, it had been mortifying, having the damned pervert say he
loved him in front of Italian police and NATO officials and Interpol and
God only knew who else. And that after an entire week packed with trouble
that had nearly ruined his mission several times ... trouble directly traceable
to a certain foppish English thief. He had been secretly relieved that
those wops had hustled Dorian out of the room so that Klaus could get a
grip on himself without inflicting further damage. 

On later occasions... he had simply been trying to discourage those relentless
advances. He had expected the thief to give up after a black eye or two.
If he had realized it wouldn't even slow the idiot down, he would never
have done it in the first place.

But he had hit Dorian, on several occasions, and the idiot had
gotten used to it and was now putting up with it from other men. And it
was, indisputably, Klaus's fault.

Well, he would fix that.

He fixed the muscular man with his most piercing glare. The man looked
gratifyingly intimidated.

"Get out," he snarled.

How dare that sonofabitch hurt someone who was under Iron Klaus's protection.
He really wanted to teach the brute a lesson he'd never forget, but in
his present state, if he threw one punch he'd probably end up killing the
bastard, and he seemed to recall some regulation prohibiting the unnecessary
killing of civilians. So he settled for snarling again: "Out."

The man's eyes were enormous. He opened his mouth, but nothing came
out. What an idiot.

"I said get out of here!" Klaus yelled. "And don't you ever come anywhere
near him again or I'll break every bone in your body and feed you to a
pack of wild dogs!"

The man glanced at Dorian, stammering. Klaus stepped nearer to him and
went quiet, looking at him steadily. Very slowly, Klaus allowed a tiny
smile to tug up the corners of his mouth. Just a little.

The man blanched. Stronger men than he had done so under that look.
He stared at Klaus like a mouse mesmerized by a cobra's undulations.

The Earl's arch voice shattered the thickening silence. "Anthony, it's
been lovely catching up with you. Do drop by again sometime." Dorian straightened,
drawing away from Anthony's arm and patting him briskly on the shoulder.

Anthony found his voice. "I can't leave you alone with this lunatic!"

"He's not a lunatic, darling, he's just German. Run along."

Anthony wavered between worry and relief a moment before hurrying out
the door. Still lounging on the divan, Dorian turned his gaze to Klaus,
holding the crystal wineglass in one elegant, white-knuckled hand.

"Some men," Dorian drawled. "Spend one night with them, and they don't
want you to have any friends."

Klaus ignored this, pointing a commanding finger at him. "Dorian, this
is going to stop! Right now! Do you understand me?" 

Blue eyes widened. "No."

"Just because I was an idiot is no excuse for you to be one as
well! I won't have you running around with men like that!"

 

 

 

 

Dorian lowered his eyes. Those who knew him well realized that generally,
the more blithe he appeared, the more edgy he was. He very slowly took
a sip of his wine and then swirled the liquid in its glass, watching the
reflections on its surface meditatively. It gave him time to think. And
helped him resist the urge to jump up and throw his arms around a certain
wire rope.

"And what concern is it of yours, Major?" 

Klaus was staring at the bruise, looking quite horrified. "Damn it,
Dorian. I never intended--This is all my fault, I know."

Dorian's eyes widened for a second in surprise and comprehension. This
was the second time in half an hour that someone had jumped to the same
incorrect conclusion about his injury. "Oh. I see. Klaus, he didn't--"

"Stop defending him, you idiot! Now listen. I'm ashamed enough as it
is. You don't have to remind me. But I'll do what I can to make up for
it."

"To... what?"

"I know this is all my fault. You wouldn't be putting up with ... with
that sort of thing if I hadn't--" He broke off, grimacing. "But I'll
fix it. This won't happen again." He drew a breath and squared his shoulders.
"Dorian. What would it take to keep you out of... this sort of thing?"

For a minute Dorian couldn't speak at all. It was rather dizzying, after
all, to resign oneself to a very bleak fate and then have one's dearest
wish, not dropped in one's lap, but shoved down one's throat.

"Oh, Klaus," Dorian sighed, dropping his show of blasé
self-possession. "It isn't like that--"

"Don't make excuses for him! And don't make them for me either. I'm
not an idiot. I can see what's going on. And I know about those close calls
of yours, too. You nearly got caught! You, Eroica! Don't try to tell me
that's normal or coincidental! You're slipping, and you could get caught,
or killed, and I won't have that on my conscience! I created this mess,
and I'll do what's necessary to straighten it out!"

Dorian parted his lips to protest again... and then pressed them closed. 

His conscience stated for the record that it did not approve, and then
conceded the field. Not that it had ever caused him undue inconvenience
in the past.

It wasn't as if he were going to lie, after all. He just wasn't
going to dispute Klaus's misapprehension. He could not bring himself to
argue now, not with his love's warm, breathing, glowering presence here
with him again. Now that the wire rope had become sufficiently tangled
that his overdeveloped sense of duty applied to Dorian ... how could Dorian
bring himself to object? 

In a way, it was his duty to Klaus to manipulate him into being happy.

"Dorian? What is necessary?" Though of course Klaus already knew.

Dorian swallowed. He looked at his hands, which now clutched his wineglass
with a white-knuckled grip. "Oh, Klaus. I can't say it. I promised." 

Klaus frowned deeply, as he did when he was considering the best tactic
to take.

Before Klaus could find words, Dorian looked up abruptly. "I should
never have accepted that bargain of yours, should I?"

"It was idiotic of you," Klaus stated, still gazing at him steadily.
Ruthlessly. "But... it did give you the opportunity to prove that you are
trustworthy."

"You trusted me already. You trusted me to keep that damned bargain.
What could you have done if I hadn't? Sued me for breach of contract?"

As ever, Klaus did not trouble himself to pursue a fruitless line of
conversation. "I release you from your promise. Say it."

Dorian drew a long, shaky breath as he put his glass aside, trying to
still his racing thoughts. This would be his only chance. He had to find
the right words.

He stood up and met his beloved's piercing gaze as steadily as he could.

"I need," he said slowly, "to make you happy."

 

 

 

 

Klaus looked at the other man with annoyance. Leave it to Dorian to
drag in such irrelevant concerns. But then, Dorian was not a NATO operative,
or a soldier, or a von dem Eberbach. He wasn't even a German. He really
couldn't be expected to know better. That sort of thing was Klaus's job. 

"Klaus," Dorian's voice was insisting gently, "what would it take to
make you happy?"

Even an idiot could have guessed what answer Dorian wanted to hear.
Unfortunately, Klaus strongly suspected that that answer might be the true
one.

"I have never considered it," he said stiffly.

"Consider it now," came the softly spoken command. Amazing how considerate
Eroica could be when he thought it likely that he would get his way. For
all his obnoxious habits, gloating over victory did not seem to be one
of them. 

Klaus wished he could say something proper, something about duty and
achievement, but Dorian's rose scent was evoking images he had tried without
success to forget, of delirious physical ecstasy and unaccustomed emotional
comfort.

At least this duty would be more pleasant than some.

"I am not certain I have the capacity for happiness," he said at last.
"But if I am capable of it at all... then you are the one who can provide
it."

 

 

 

 

Dorian smiled around his tight throat. From Iron Klaus, this amounted
to a flowery declaration. 

In a warning tone, Klaus ordered, "Dorian. Think about this.
Wouldn't you be better off with a man who was free to be with you openly,
who could say foppish mushy things, who was experienced enough to have
the skill to which you are no doubt accustomed--"

"Darling, will you please get it through your thick German skull that
I don't want to change you? I love you. I love the man you are."
Dorian tilted his head. "A rose vine needs something sturdy to twine around,
after all."

Klaus still looked ominous. "Dorian, you could not have possibly made
a worse choice. But you were the one who took it into your idiot head to
decide on me, so you will simply have to accept it all."

"Klaus... what are you saying?"

"I am saying that I... I will not walk away from you again. You are my
responsibility."

It was not exactly what Dorian had hoped to hear, but then, basking
in that emerald green glare, he was not inclined to quibble. In time, Dorian
promised himself, Klaus would say exactly the words he wanted to hear.
No, he would not quibble.

Not much.

"Do you want to be with me, darling?" 

His beloved's jaw clamped. "What I want is not relevant," Klaus said
sternly.

"It is to me," Dorian insisted gently, and waited.

"Yes," Klaus admitted grudgingly, at length. "But that is not why I
am doing it."

"Oh, don't worry, darling," Dorian assured him sweetly. "I would never
suspect you of acting on such motives." 

Klaus snorted. Dorian allowed his most radiant smile to blossom fully,
heedless of the ache of his bruised cheek. It was so lovely to hear that
disgusted snort again. He hadn't realized how much he had missed it.

"My love," he said softly, "your duty to me requires that you forget
that freight of notions about what you ought to do, and do what
you want to do right now." 

Dorian held his breath. If he had miscalculated again....

Klaus stepped to him, buried his hands in Dorian's abundant hair, and
kissed him.

Dorian melted promptly into his proper place in nature ... that place
being Klaus's embrace. He mused, even in the painful relief of touching
his beloved again after all these months, that Klaus was probably not aware
of the clear message his posture was sending: that he felt comfortable
in Dorian's arms. That hard body ... as hard as the man's damnable soul ...
molded to his perfectly and easily.

 

 

 

 

Klaus had wanted to do this for years now. And with the exception of
one night, he had not been free to do so... till now.

If some corner of Klaus's mind was relieved to have found an excuse to
yield, it was wise enough not to draw attention to itself.

Klaus knew that spending that night with Dorian seven months before
had changed him. He had been so proud of himself, that night in Vienna.
It had been painfully difficult, but he had won over himself. But now,
his duties called for a different course of action.

Klaus had told himself, during many sleepless nights, that if he were
to try it again, it would be inevitably disappointing. It was not. He had
been right about one thing, however: the instant he touched Dorian again,
he was powerless to resist. After only a few seconds his resistance had
evaporated and he was devouring the soft, yielding mouth beneath his. It
seemed that he was immersed in a warm whirlpool that closed over his head,
and when he surfaced just for an instant, he discovered that he and Dorian
were both on the floor, and their clothes had somehow or other disappeared....

"What do you want?" Dorian whispered when their mouths parted for a
few seconds.

Klaus could not bring himself to put it into words, but then, he had
always believed that actions spoke louder.

He wanted a lot of things. He found himself suddenly gripped by a powerful,
healthy greed he had not known himself capable of. He wanted to touch this
beautiful man, over every inch of his fair skin, and kiss the hollow at
the base of his throat and hear the little moan that resulted, and bury
his face in all that absurd extravagant hair and inhale the scent of roses.
He wanted to feel that slender body arch against his. He wanted to stop
thinking about plans and principles for a time, and think only about a
touch that was slowly rendering him insane. He wanted his body to build
up more and more tension, infinitely more than the constant tension of
his normal perilous life, until that tension exploded and left behind a
relaxation just as complete.

And so he did.

 

 

 

 

It was late that night when they were both too exhausted to stay awake
for another minute. By then they had long since moved to Dorian's bedroom,
not bothering to conceal the move from Eroica's team, who had all been
discreetly out of sight in the halls of Castle Red Gloria as they made
the journey from the sitting room. Dorian had spared an instant to make
a mental note to reward whoever had seen to it that James did not make
a scene.

But Dorian found himself drifting on the edge of sleep for longer than
usual. Perhaps because it had been such a bewildering day. It had begun
with the promise of being one more bleak day in a lifetime of bleak days
stretching out before him. It had transmuted into a celebration as debauched
as that single night seven months earlier. And now the world was a beautiful
place again, and after months of apathy there were so many things he wanted
to do now, both with his beloved Major and alone. Exotic places to travel
to, operas to attend, paintings to steal... life was sweet again.

Sleepily, Dorian opened his eyes and spent just a second looking at
Klaus's sharply planed face in the dimness of his boudoir. Most people looked
younger and more innocent in sleep, but Klaus was always so tense and suspicious
and irate when conscious that the difference was far more striking in him.
Dorian suspected that the Major was usually tense and edgy even in sleep...
when sleep was not preceeded by hours of love.

Dorian smiled to himself as he closed his eyes again, lying in the arms
of the man he loved. He had a mission in life too now.

He was going to make Klaus happy.

Whether Klaus liked it or not.