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Not So Horrible

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After a perfunctory knock, Klaus entered the Chief's office. This time D had really done it. Normally one of Klaus's steadier agents, D had blurted out NATO secrets on the street while talking to J. The information had been picked up by some busybody and spread to the seedier elements. Klaus had gotten a phone call from Eroica about it, for fuck's sake! The Brit had even sounded concerned! D was going to Alaska – no, fucking Greenland if Klaus could swing it.

"Ah, Major Eberbach! Come in, come in, I was just about to send for you."

The Chief ... smiled at him. Fatso's up to something. Trying to make me leave G at the office again? But no, that long, on-going debate could not have prompted the Chief's current jolliness.

"Is there a new mission for me, sir?" Klaus asked, feeling somewhat hopeful. He could do with a good mission – as long as the sticky-fingered limey stayed away.

"Funny you should ask – why, yes, I do have a new mission for you, Major Eberbach. A very important one. Sit. Interpol has asked our help with handling one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. Lucifer Black. Have you heard of him?"

"Bits and pieces. A killer for hire. Some call him 'The Tsar of Death'. Utterly mad. A bit of the netherworld boogie man. I'm to capture him?" While glorified hitmen weren't Klaus's favourite target among the scum – he preferred dealing with terrorists, Russians and Neo Nazis – he had an idea that this Lucifer Black might be worth his time.

"No. He has diplomatic immunity, so there's not much that can be done about him. Legally."

"Tough. So, what does NATO want me to do, then?"

The Chief's smile widened. If Klaus had been the type to do so, he might have crossed himself. His sixth sense, the one all good agents develop warning them of impending danger, tingled like a spider-web with a newly caught horse fly.

"Little is known about the Tsar," the Chief said, "but from what our sources tell us you would be ideal to send to find out more about him. A reconnaissance mission, if you will. On Friday you fly to the capital of Svart, where he lives. It's in Africa, near Egypt. Here, Major, are the mission details."

He handed over a flat, grey folder. The mission summary consisted of a single page. Half-way through, Klaus casually lowered one hand to hide a balled fist away from sight under the Chief's desk. The folder also held what he didn't have to examine closer to recognize as merely background information and the necessary papers to prepare him for his undercover role. They can't seriously expect me to go along with this.

"Major Eberbach, I hope I don't have to remind you that if you refuse this mission we will have no choice but to suspend you from your duty." The Chief sounded ever so slightly smug.

"Of course not. I know that an agent must accept an assigned mission," Klaus replied, adding, "sir," after a sufficiently long pause as to make it seem as if he had forgotten the honorific. But I can't do this. I just bloody hell fucking can't!

"This is an important mission to prepare for the capture of - or possibly elimination of - Mr Black. If you won't do your part, we will have to send someone else. Z, perhaps?"

You bastard!

His eyes were most likely to betray him. He could keep his face fully blank or make it display any emotion at will, but his eyes tended to give him away if he didn't concentrate. When he looked up, he tilted his chin just so. "That's twice you've more or less implied this would make me balk. Sir. I have said nothing of a kind. If this is what NATO asks of me, this is what I do."

Oh, if it had been a regular mission and there had been something for him to complain about – which most of the time there was - he would have ranted and shouted and made it all sorts of clear that he wasn't happy about the situation. This though ... The Chief had it in for him. Klaus had known for some time that something was brewing, but he hadn't thought that even Fatso would sink to this depth. This was personal. If he flinched; if he even blinked the other would know that he had finally found leverage to keep Iron Klaus in check. Besides, Klaus also knew the man well enough to know that the unnecessary warnings were no bluffs. If he refused he might very well get suspended. Fired. They might send Z.

He considered his suspicion confirmed when the Chief actually looked taken back.

Disappointed, are you, you slimy pest? Did you think you could break me this easily?

"The mission doesn't start until Friday, sir. I came here to request a couple of days off. A minor, personal problem have come up that I wish to deal with. Especially before this, so that I can concentrate properly on my mission. I trust this won't be a problem. You're always after me that I should take time off. I will bring the folder with me to familiarise myself with the details before Friday."

The Chief looked hesitant and Klaus decided then and there that if Fatso denied his request he would go AWOL and damn the consequences. He would return by Friday anyway, to make sure they didn't send Z. Fatso might not have any problem with sending the boy, but Klaus would have no such a thing on his conscience. If he was forced to take leave without permission he would see the mission through, yes – but afterwards, NATO could go to Hell.

"Of course you may take the next couple of days of, Major Eberbach. Good luck with your personal problem. I expect you to report in on Friday morning. Perhaps you should fill Z in on the particulars before you leave. Just in case you get ill. Or something."

Why don't you eat some more fucking sugar cubes, have a heart attack and die?

"Very well, sir, I'll do that." Klaus stood, tucked the folder under his arm and left. Not until the door had fallen shut behind him did he carefully unfold his loosely fisted left hand. Blood stained a half circle just below his little finger, where he had gouged his thumb nail to keep from showing any emotion during the last part of the short conversation. As he absentmindedly licked off the red fluid he considered how to put Z out of commission for the week. Just in case.


"Rrrr-rrr-rr-rr-rr!"

As the ring sounded, the see-through telephone lit up from the inside in a warm, inviting red. The colour peaked and then faded.

"Rrrr-rrr-rr-rr-rr!"

The next colour was blue. Dorian stopped playing the piano to admire the technology.

"Rrrr-rrr—!"

Bonham answered before the green really had time to blossom. "The Earl of Red Gloria's residence, North Downs, Bonham speaking."

"Yes, the Earl is home. He will take the call on another telephone. Hang on ... John Paul. Old chap."

Frowning, Bonham hung up and turned to his employer. Dorian met his eyes expectantly, with his fingers steepled before him. "Something wrong, Bonham, since you wouldn't let me take it right away? Friend of yours? John Paul?"

"No, that's just it, my Lord. I haven't the faintest as to who that is, but he seems to know me. 'Bonham, old chap,' he said. 'This is John Paul Jr. speaking. Is my old chum Dorian there?'"

"'John Paul,' he said? No, the name doesn't ring a bell. A fellow countryman, then?"

"Yes, but I'll be hung if I could tell you where he's from. A bit of Oxford, perhaps. Upper class, I wager, but more than that I haven't got a clue."

"Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. Hand me the receiver, that's a dear, Bonnie."

"Earl Dorian Red-Gloria speaking," he said in the half-singing lilt he used to answer the phone.

"Ah, Dorian, old chum! Splendid! Good to hear your voice, old chap."

Dorian blinked. The voice spoke upper class English, yes, just as Bonham had said. Male. Something about it was ever so slightly familiar, but normally he could always match a name to a voice. Now he had both a name and a voice, but neither produced a face. So, should he admit the embarrassing truth that he had forgotten someone who apparently considered himself a friend? He pondered the matter for a split second. "John Paul, how good to hear from you! I don't think I've heard from you since, oh—"

"That time in Rome. Oh yes, we had more fun there than that time you stole Sister Theresa's tape of the Beethoven Eroica Symphony. Brilliant stuff, marvellous. Say, Dorian, old chum, I'm having a yearning for some good traditional English Alphabet Soup and thought I would pop on over. Are you still up at North Downs? What say you if I come on over? I'll bring a magnum bottle of that Mosel wine you're always on about and you can show me that major renovation you've done to the place. It'll be just like that time in Russia."

"I ... ah ... suppose so. Yes. Yes, I'm still at North Downs."

"Splendid! Well, I'll just go find my belt then and I'll be on my way. I'll be there before you can say Alaska. Ta ta."

"Ta ... ta."

Rome. John Paul? Junior? The Eroica Symphony. Alphabet--

"My Lord? Is something wrong?"

"I ... think so, yes. Bonham ... I never thought I would ever have to say this, but ... Initiate the Mona Lisa defence."


Klaus hadn't worked for NATO for so long without learning how to slip away undetected. Granted, he didn't think Fatso would have him followed. Their feud wasn't official in any way. If he wasn't back by Friday the word would be out quick enough that Iron Klaus had chickened out, but until then no one should really care where he went. The trick was not to have anyone find out by mistake or have someone guess what he had been up to. That would be too embarrassing to consider.

From the depths of his wardrobe he retrieved a scarlet jogging suit jacket and shoes to match. These he squeezed into his overnight travel bag. Then he drove towards Eberbach. About twenty minutes down the road he detoured into the forest. To change plates on his Mercedes was a moment's work. He also changed clothes, braided his hair tight and pushed back his forelock with gel, before donning a Stetson. To further change his face he put on square, brown-tinted glasses. Then he turned the car around and headed back towards the Flughafen Köln/Bonn. Where tickets waited for him under the name of John McAffrey, Englishman of Scottish descent. One of his many identities, but noticeably one of the few not arranged courtesy of NATO. An invitation to a shooting competition in London dealt with the gun issue. Not that he didn't trust NATO as a whole, but there were bad peas in all pods and to use a NATO identity for a private flight might be reported. Early in his career he had decided to always have a second plan ready, should the worst happen. While far from "the worst", the Chief's stunt felt important enough to use a fake identity for. He could always arrange another, regardless if he stayed with NATO or not.

The whole business with arranging the flight and using the secret identity kept him occupied until he boarded the plane for Heathrow. Then the situation began to catch up with him and he wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. He waved off the very attentive flight attendants and sat the entire flight with his eyes firmly closed. Some thought he slept, others – based on his stiff back and clenched jaw – that he was afraid of flying. Not until the wheels bounced onto British soil did he look up again, less sure than ever of what he was about to do. Since he had only brought hand luggage he soon found himself in the "Arrivals" part of the airport. There he rented a car, not even bothering to make a fuss about the vehicle being of an inferior, British make rather than a good German car.

He drove to North Downs mostly on automatic. If he hadn't had to pay attention to driving on the "wrong" side of the road he probably wouldn't have remembered anything about the trip afterwards. He felt exhausted, as if he had been on a non-stop mission for several weeks. Perhaps I should have waited. Have had a good night's sleep. Gone tomorrow morning instead. 't wouldn't have made much difference. Except that then he would have still been in Germany for another night. Perhaps something would have happened and he wouldn't have had the chance to make his escape. For that was what it was, part of him grudgingly admitted, if only to himself. An escape. He had turned tail and fled. True, he had all intention of returning, but he wouldn't have made his get-away if the Chief hadn't played his trump card.

He almost drove the little blue car straight into the gate to the wall surrounding North Downs. Which was kind of strange, because he had never seen the gate closed before. Nor did he have a memory of the walls being topped by spear heads and rolls of barbed wire. That's not very ... What's that word he uses? ... aesthetic at all. After the car had screeched to a stop he glanced around to make sure he hadn't taken a wrong turn somewhere, but there was the castle, all right, the ancestral home of the Red-Gloria clan.

The gates began to open and he wondered who was on detail to keep the road in sight. During the trip he had removed the braids, combed out his hair and taken off the glasses as well as the loathed scarlet jacket, so he should be easily recognizable. He couldn't help but to give a tired sneer at the thought that he actually trusted the fop's men not to give away his whereabouts when he wouldn't have even hinted about it to one of his own agents – not even to Z, who – if Klaus's calculations were correct – currently was having his stomach pumped at a local hospital in Bonn.

As he continued up the white- and pink-shingled road to the castle he noticed that most of the building's windows were shuttered. Why would the wankers do such a stupid thing? It's stifling hot outside. Of course - hot and cold were just a matter of discipline, but the thieves had repeatedly proven that they had very little of the latter. And then – the surprise made him actually shift the car almost onto the grass beside the road – he saw his tank! Not only that – it moved at a slow speed over the luxurious lawn, heading for the gate!

He didn't intercept the Leopard, since he had called ahead. They had known for some time that he was coming, so if they had wanted to hide it from him they could have done so with plenty of time to spare. Klaus shook his head. At least they seem to have fixed it and kept it operable.

Something swift and close to the ground moved in a far away area by the wall. Klaus couldn't make out any details, but guessed at something canine.

The last part of the road went through a lovely little birch alley, where sunlight played in the trees and dappled the road prettily. Or used to. At first Klaus assumed that the fickle Earl had tired of the alley and perhaps had wanted a clear view from the castle over the miniature labyrinth rose garden. And perhaps so. But if so, his change of heart had come very recently. The trees still lay where they had fallen and Klaus couldn't imagine Eroica allowing such a blemish on his perfect home for any period of time longer than absolutely necessary.

Before he had even stopped the car, the castle gate opened. Bonham emerged and Klaus could only stare as he mechanically turned off the engine and grabbed blindly for his bag. If he had been the theatrical sort he might have hummed the Twilight Zone theme song. Bonham wore one of his regular T-shirts; so far, so good. A black one which read "My Boss went to Eberbach" in white letters on the front. What rocked Klaus was the camouflage-coloured green pants and the military boots. Not to mention the ammunition belts and the gun holster. Maybe I am in the Twilight Zone. Maybe I switched universes while passing the English Channel. Maybe when I get back home I will find my wardrobe full of pink uniforms.

Or, far more likely, I bet they're playing some kind of kinky, stupid game. After all, Eroica did seem to have something of a military fetish. Maybe he would leave me alone if I became an accountant? Somehow he doubted it.

"This way, Major," Bonham called and waved for him.

Ignoring a nagging sense of foreboding, Klaus followed the other into the castle. When the gate was not only closed behind him, but locked and bolted, a cold shiver tickled down his back. He tightened his arm muscles minutely, just to feel his own gun holster. His jacket was open in the front. If the perverts tried anything he would have easy access.

Bonham led him through several narrow corridors and up three sets of stairs. They passed two others in Eroica's entourage. That both of them also were dressed like some sort of pseudo-military – albeit one with a manic obsession for fashion – did nothing to soothe Klaus's tingling sixth sense. Then Bonham opened the door to a cosy little library. A small fire burned in the fireplace and living candles fluttered here and there. The window wasn't shuttered, but had been enforced with gold and silver bars on the inside. "Here, Major von dem Eberbach. Sit down. The Earl will be with you in a minute." When Klaus had sat down, Bonham made as if to leave, in the process showing "and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" on his back.

Klaus decided to indulge his curiosity. "I've been a bit occupied. Did England declare war when I wasn't looking? Or did the thief finally get around to raiding the Louvre?"

He expected a quick smile. Which he got, but it wavered. "Well, Major ... Funny you should mention the Louvre ..."

No. No, no, no! Oh, shit! It felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over him. "Tell me that the idiot didn't! Tell me—"

"No, no, no, Major! Calm down! He didn't. It's just – we call this—" He gestured to the windows and at his own outfit. "—the Mona Lisa defence."

"The Mona Lisa defence?" Klaus repeated.

"Yes. My Lord had everything installed by experts, oh, years ago. It's for if—"

"—if I ever get something immensely precious in here which I need to protect," said the Earl.

Lord Dorian Red-Gloria stood in the door. Even Klaus had to admit that the man cut a fine figure in close-fitting black with white ruffles and white boots. The fashion-mad military designer had been at work there too; not as much with guns and ammunition as with gold-ornamented knife sheaths – two, four, seven, ten – at least twelve of them, likely more. All occupied, of course, and Klaus knew from experience that while to put guns anywhere near the Earl was a recipe for disaster, the man could wield anything sharp like nobody's business.

"Oh Major! What's wrong?" Dorian broke his pose and all but leaped up to Klaus's chair, where he sank to his knees. He put a hand on the left armrest and actually looked worried. "What do you need me to do? What happened?"

Klaus wondered what had betrayed him this time. He had kept a blank face, that he knew, and he had thought he had control over his eyes as well. Apparently not as much as he could have hoped. Or perhaps the sissy would have done the same no matter what?

"I need to talk to you," he said, adding a terse, "Alone." He would rather run naked through Moscow than make his request in front of an audience. Especially one in close contact with one of his more gossip-prone men.

The Earl made a jerking gesture with his free hand and Bonham was out of the door within heartbeats. "There. Just the two of us. Major ... You look so tired. What is it? Have you been awake for several days during a mission again? Shall I stand sentry for you? You do look so sweet when you're asleep."

Klaus reminded himself sharply to have patience. "No. Sit in a chair, would you?" The presence of the other, so close, made his skin itch.

Dorian stood, perhaps a little more stiffly than normally would have been the case. Possibly due to the knives. "Of course. Oh, and where are my manners? Would you like something do drink? Perhaps some Earl Grey with lemon, old chap?"

Klaus smiled weakly. "Coffee, if you have it."

"Nescafé. Gold Blend. No milk. No sugar. Of course I keep a stash, just for you. Coming right up."

He had turned and reached half-way to the door – Klaus counted another four knives from the new perspective – before Klaus had time to add, "And some whisky."

Dorian hesitated, then continued. "Of course. Just a moment." He soon returned. This time he settled in the chair beside Klaus, first turning it so that they could look at one another.

Or so you can ogle me, anyway.

"Bonham will come up with it shortly. And now – what's with all the cloaks and daggers, my dear?"

"I would ... appreciate it if you told your men not to tell anyone I was here." He lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

"Consider it done. But darling, you're frightening me here. Who is after you? Or does this have anything to do with those ... sensitive papers D spoke of to J? Do they think you have them on you? Or do they think you've done something? Are the police after you? Or do they—"

"Nothing like that. Do you know of a Lucifer Black? Goes by the nickname of 'The Tsar of Death'?"

While he had looked worried before, Dorian had still smiled – up until he heard the name. "Of course I know Lutz. He's a member of the Rogues' Gallery. He was here that time you actually expressed an interest in seeing me naked, and—"

Klaus clenched his jaw. "I wanted your underwear, not you." He tried to remember who else had been there the first time he had visited North Downs, but he couldn't remember anyone in specific who might match the very sparse description in his file. Or rather, there had been several tall blonds present.

"Yes, yes, details, details ..." Dorian waved off his refutation and then placed his right hand dramatically on his chest. "I can still remember the flutter of my heart as you looked me straight in the eyes and told me to take off my pants."

"Whatever. What does he look like?"

Dorian frowned. "Major ... You know I would do a lot of things for you, but we in the Rogues' Gallery have something of a gentleman's agreement between us. We do not reveal information about one another to people who might not have our best interests at heart. If you've come here, expecting me to sing like a nightingale for you—"

Eroica sounded annoyed, which did not fit into Klaus's plans at all. "I only asked since you said he was here when I was here. Forget it."

"Very well then. You know you are always welcome here, Major, but – and do forgive me for repeating myself – why have you come? Not for this 'traditional English Alphabet Soup' you mentioned, I trust. You seem to have left some key ingredients for it back in Germany."

"I shouldn't tell you. To do so is against the NATO rules, so don't betray me in this. You are aware of that Lucifer Black has diplomatic immunity?"

"Yes. Quite handy, that."

"I have been given a scouting mission. I will go to Svart to find out more information about him."

"Darling ... If you have come here to ask me to break into the Svart Royal Palace ... Again, I will do my best to help you with whatever you need, but it is my professional opinion that it is not physically possible to break into the Svart Royal Palace. The Black's know their business. I would much rather take on Buckingham Palace for you, dear. In fact, I have this—"

"The Svart Royal Palace?"

"Well, they don't call him 'Tsar' for nothing, you know."

Klaus felt an insistent headache creep up on him. "I didn't know. They forgot to mention that."

"How negligent. That's why he has diplomatic immunity. As I said, quite handy, that. Hmm ... King Dorian of Redde. Does that sound good to you? I think I have a position open for King-Consort, if you would be interested."

A knock saved Klaus from having to answer. Bonham entered, carrying a tray with a coffee mug; a tea set; a whisky bottle and two small glasses.

"Thank you, Bonham. Just a moment, please, though, before you go. Major von dem Eberbach, love of my life, I'm still not quite sure what it is you want of me, but am I at least to understand that you are in no immediate danger? You didn't come here with Lucifer in high pursuit, did you?"

"Nein. I just needed to get away with no one at NATO the wiser." He accepted the coffee mug from Bonham. Somehow he was not at all surprised to see the Eberbach boar, in black, trotting over the blue water of Neckar, on it. Below read the caption "775 Jahre Stadt Eberbach". Absentmindedly he wondered just how often Dorian visited his home-town. The mug was warm against his hands and he gratefully took a sip.

"Good, love. Bonham, tell everyone that Major von dem Eberbach was never here. He never called; he never came; he never left – and Major, you are welcome to stay for as long as you like. Stay forever. Oh, and Bonham, it seems as if I was a tiny bit rash on initiating the Mona Lisa defence. Be a good man and get everything back to normal."

"Of course, my Lord. Ah ... Though if it's all the same to you, I think I'll wait a bit on telling James. He seems so happy in the bunker."

"You might as well wait a bit with that, yes. Very good. Thank you, Bonham."

Bonham left again. Klaus opted to push the conversation himself, since Dorian had a tendency to distract him. "I don't want you to break into the Svart Royal Palace. It's a one man mission. I have an identity ready and will go there by plane on Friday. I am to work in the Royal Guard. So I guess someone knew about the Tsar-business not being just a fancy nickname."

"Oh. You're a little dark-haired for most of the guards, my own, but not unbelievably so. Most of the guards are blond."

"You've been there?"

"Only to visit. How did you think I know that the palace is as burglary-proof as it gets? You didn't think I took someone's word for it, did you?"

The headache intensified. Not now. I can't afford a headache right now. He drank some more coffee. "I'm to work in the Royal Guard, find Lucifer Black and get the information the ... old-fashioned way."

Dorian pulled back. "Torture and scopolamine?" he asked in a high tone of voice. His tea cup clattered against the plate when he put it down.

Klaus snorted. "You watch too many spy movies." He cleared his throat before giving the correct answer. "Pillow talk."

Dorian blinked twice, slowly. "Pillow talk?" he repeated, enunciating the word as if Klaus had accidentally spoken it in German.

"Ja. Him talking while his head is on the same pillow as my head. Normally while we are lying in bed. Traditionally after having had sex." He spelled it out not only for Dorian's sake, but a little for his own as well, listening carefully if his voice would waver. It didn't.

"I forbid it!"

"Excuse me?"

"I forbid it! Who do they think they are? How could they make you do such a thing? And you're going to do it?! How can you just do that? How can you just sit there and tell me that you're going to whore yourse--"

Klaus had grabbed the Earl's ruffled outfit and shook him hard. "Lord Gloria!" he hissed. "Shut! Up!" He gave the Earl one more violent shake and then flung him back into the chair. All his instincts screamed for him to leave. To stop himself he grabbed the Eberbach mug again, holding it with both hands and looking at the heraldic shield. That's what he thinks of me now. A whore. Well, perhaps that's just as well. That should teach me not to trust other people. Perhaps I should-- Oh, no-- Words forced their way out of his mouth when he had had no intention to give away his pain. "It's not like I want to!"

"Major? I ..." Dorian's voice, now sounding more horrified than angry, trailed off.

He made himself look up from the Eberbach boar and meet the Earl's eyes. Next thing he knew, Dorian was on his knees again. This time he held onto both arm rests, effectively hemming Klaus in.

"Oh, God, Klaus – I'm so, so sorry! I can't believe I said that! I'm so sorry!" The Earl's anguished wail broke through the wall Klaus had started to erect around himself. "Klaus? Forgive me! I'm so, so sorry! I'm really, really sorry. My stupid mouth, I just blurted it out! Please – I didn't mean it! Klaus?"

Carefully, long fingers reached up to touch Klaus's hands. Merely touch them, fingertips to his cold skin, as if Dorian feared he would bolt like a scared horse. Which was just as much touch as Klaus felt he could tolerate.

"Klaus? Major von dem Eberbach?"

He shrugged, unable to deny the honest pain in Dorian's eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, when he to his absolute horror felt something swell in his throat. If you start crying, von dem Eberbach, I'll blow your brains out all over his fancy fireplace! He took a deep breath and, when the air didn't catch in his chest, told Dorian the truth. "It is a demand NATO can make of its agents, if it is unavoidable. Many—"

"Then fuck NATO!" Dorian hissed. His blue eyes glimmered dangerously.

"—female NATO agents are asked to perform this duty. That a male agent—"

"Fuck them all, they have no right!"

"—is asked is more rare, but it happens. As a NATO agent, I must follow given orders—"

"Not when the orders are idiotic!"

"—no matter how idiotic the orders might be. If I refuse to accept an assigned mission—"

"It's not a mission, it's a fucking travesty!"

"—I will get suspended. Depending on the reason for my failure to comply—"

"You don't need NATO, Major! I know you love your country and your work, but—"

"—I might get fired. I do love my country. I do love my work. I don't want to do this. I—"

"Then don't! Again – you don't need them! There are tons of available jobs out there for you, Major!"

"—have to do it! It's my duty! I can't shirk it just because I don't—" and his voice did waver then, no matter how much he tried to prevent it,"—like what I've been told to do. I—"

"Fuck your duty! Join me, then! You're welcome here, you know it! No strings attached, I swear it on my father's grave!"

He closed his eyes. "—can't let him win, can't you see? He thinks this will break me. I won't give him the satisfaction. I must—"

"Who's 'he', Major? Tell me his name and I'll have him killed this very night, I swear!"

The cold, serious, calculating tone in Dorian's voice made Klaus focus on him again. "For fuck's sake, no! You'll do no such thing!"

"What he wants you to do is no better than if he had raped you himself!"

He lowered his gaze again, looking at the Earl's ruffled outfit and the swirls of gold in the knife hilts. "And if I don't go, he made clear that they will send Z."

Which shouldn't be possible, considering the nifty little tape/band aid thing he had fastened to Z's ear – and he had thought Z would have some sort of attack when he ruffled his hair. For as long as the adhesive held, Z would be down for the count. Only, Klaus couldn't be sure of how long that would be. Z might accidentally scratch it off or something.

"Oh, darling! That's a marvellous idea!"

Klaus prided himself with his quick, agile mind. What took him so long to compute the Earl's exclamation was the man's pleased tone in combination with the words themselves. Neither were within the range of Klaus's possible responses in regards to sending innocent Z to a madman's bed. He stared at the Earl, who smiled; bright and happy as if this solved all their problems.

"You—" he began and then had to stop as he mentally rattled through his entire – and rather impressive, by most standards – store of insults, spanning not only German and English, but Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Russian and even a few from various oriental languages. They all failed to express his fury. He considered just going through them all out loud, anyway - it was either that or simply deck the fucker - when hands grabbed his wrist.

"No, Klaus, no! I didn't mean it like that! Listen to me! He'd be safe, I swear it!"

Then why can't you swear it for me? he wondered and just kept glaring. The intrusive touch burned his skin, but he forced himself to ignore his unease.

"Klaus – if Lucifer wouldn't have recognized me I would have offered to take your place in a heartbeat. I would have been just as safe. Lucifer would have just ... tickled under my chin—" The Earl sat straighter, pushed back his shoulders and reached up towards Klaus's face. Klaus batted his hand away. Dorian withdrew, still smiling just a little. "—called me 'such a pretty one' and sent me off to play with the other boys. As he will do with Z, I guarantee it."

"Why would he?"

"Same reason the guard is predominantly blond. Lucifer adores blonds – but purely, and I mean this, purely platonically. He has brothers – a number of brothers, I'm honestly not sure how many – all of them blond. I'm guessing that's why, anyway. Blonds are a total turn-off for him."

Klaus sighed. "You shouldn't have told me. Now I have to tell Z to colour his hair if he must go."

"That won't help. One of Lutz's brothers colours his, so that's just as bad. Unless Z was to colour his hair ... all over. And even so – dear Z doesn't look the type to have much knowledge of this kind of thing. To keep your body hair – all your body hair – perfectly coloured is not easy. I tried it once, so I'm talking from experience here. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that if Lucifer finds out that Z colours all of his body hair to suit Lucifer's taste, Lutz will know that something is up."

Disgusted, Klaus threw Dorian's hand which still lingered on his arm off him. "And you had to tell me that too, didn't you, you id—..." He bit off the last word, reminding himself sternly what he had spent the entire trip preparing for – not insulting Dorian. True, Klaus's normal slurs seemed to roll off the thief like water off a goose, but on occasion Klaus wondered how much of it really did and how much of the serene acceptance was Eroica's game face. "Now I have to tell them that too."

Dorian brought his hands back to the arm rests and smiled brilliantly. "So they can't send Z! Wasn't that what you wanted, dear?"

"No! I mean ... yes! Of course! But they would send someone else, then. Who should I have on my conscience, Lord Gloria, if I chicken out?"

Dorian's smile fell. "Oh. I didn't think of that." He sat back on the Persian carpet and brought his arms around his knees.

After a minute or so in silence Klaus reached for the whisky. Something Scottish - The Original Dimple – established in 1627, this particular kind 15 years old. "You want some?"

"Yes."

"Then sit up."

Of course Dorian could have drunk where he was, but Klaus was getting a little itchy with having him there. The Brit didn't question the order, but returned to his chair. Klaus tossed back a glass before pouring another one for himself and filling up Dorian's. The shivering fire of the alcohol spread down his throat and stomach before slowly starting to work its way outwards. They sat in silence, drinking and thinking. When Dorian held out his glass again, Klaus filled it and topped his own, before placing the bottle on the floor by Dorian's chair. He did have a great capacity for drinking, but he had a feeling that if he let himself he would drink himself into a stupor. That wouldn't help.

"So ... " Dorian said, swirling the golden liquid in his glass thoughtfully. "You intend to go through with this madness?"

"Ja."

"Because you don't want anyone else to have to do it in your stead."

"That's part of it."

"Oh, yes. Let's not forget that you also intend to do it because you're a proud son of a bitch who won't turn down a mission no matter what it costs you to go through with it."

"That's why they call me Iron Klaus. Or partly why, anyway."

Dorian smiled. "And that's partly why I love you. I still don't approve in any way, you realise. What if they do it again, then? What if they do it over and over again?"

Klaus shook his head. "No."

"But they could. You said it yourself. What if ... what if I were to do the Louvre and say they could have her Ladyship back if I get to get lucky with Major von dem Eberbach?"

Klaus looked up sharply. The fop watched him with an expression ... it wasn't expectant as if he gauged the possibility of doing just such a thing. He didn't leer. There was nothing about him that indicated that he was aware of that he had said something that very well could be taken as an – if somewhat subtle - blackmail attempt. Or at the very least as the limey's normal teasing, completely out of line for the occasion. He looked concerned, if anything, as if he actually worried about NATO's possible surrender to such a demand. Though he had begun to frown a little, so perhaps he had started to consider what he had just said. Klaus shook his head again, to prevent another case of Dorian fawning at his feet. "No," he repeated. "Once I can do it, to show them I would if necessary. If they try again, I can turn them down – and I will. And if they insist--" He took a deep breath. "--perhaps that job offer you mentioned might still be open. Not the King-Consort one."

Dorian laughed sadly. "Major – if you had meant the King-Consort one, I would have started a revolution. But the no strings attached one will always be open. Not that I actually think you want it."

Click.

Klaus swirled towards the window, in time to see the metal bars slide into the window frames. Left were tiny pegs which fitted right into the décor.

"Elaborate system, your Mona Lisa defence."

"I did want something that wouldn't clutter things up unless absolutely necessary. I have some cousins who are very good at these sort of things. They did the Svart Royal Palace too, though that is far more elaborate. Now, Major von dem Eberbach ... It seems as if I can't persuade you to drop this and elope with me—"

Klaus rolled his eyes.

"—so I'm more or less back to my original question. I will assume that the German noblesse doesn't have an etiquette that requires one to personally inform unwanted suitors that they are about to get their hearts broken. So. Why are you really here, Major? What do you need me to do?"

"Do you know what The Tsar of Death does?"

"Yes, Major. He's a killer. A good one. The best, some say."

"The worst, I'd say. Lord Gloria – he has killed more people than some wars. He has practically committed genocide on a one by one basis. He's an insane, cold-blooded serial-killer who happens to have found a way to get paid for his jollies."

"Charming."

Klaus drank the last of his whisky and eyed the bottle speculatively. Perhaps just one more glass wouldn't hurt? No. Not now. Not yet. You're almost there, now. Then you can drink some more. Just wait a little longer. "They call me Iron Klaus."

Both of the Earl's eyebrows went up. "Yes, I do believe I've heard that moniker being used."

"Iron is rough, hard and cold. And so am I." He put away the whisky glass and looked Dorian in the eyes. "I'm frigid."

"Pardon?"

"'m frigid. Not into sex. Of any kind. I have no interest or desire to touch anyone. Man, woman, child or animal. I hardly even masturbate. When I do it, it is just to relax my body. The idea of having sex with anyone is to me, frankly, repulsive."

He had never told anyone before. On some level it felt good to have someone else know.

Dorian groped for the bottle without moving his big, staring eyes. He quickly refilled his glass, holding the Dimple out in a mute offer. Klaus considered it, then held out his glass. He didn't drink though, just kept the alcohol in reserve.

"Maybe you just haven't found ... Miss Right yet?" Dorian suggested in an uncertain, tentative tone.

Klaus shook his head. "I doubt it. I just don't feel the urge."

"Maybe the people you've ... been with, so far, haven't been very ... skilled?"

"Lord Gloria – I'm a virgin."

He had timed it to the second. Dorian had just taken a chug and now coughed desperately. Klaus rewarded himself with a quick sip. In a way it was kind of amusing, how Dorian looked at him – tough in a way rather sad too.

"So it wasn't just that you found me repulsive, then, Major?"

He shook his head. In fact, from a little distance he could very well admire the other's looks. It was just when Eroica got too close and started pawing at him that his stomach would tighten up and all his nerve endings tickled.

"Well ... I suppose that is at least something good. I was wondering a little if I had lost my charm."

Klaus shrugged. He certainly wouldn't say anything that might give the bugger any ideas.

"Major ... I feel a little bit as if I've been dropped into the Twilight Zone. I wasn't expecting ... this, when you called."

He snorted. "When Fatso gave me the mission—"

"So it was him."

"Ja." He saw no problem with revealing that. For the Prince of Thieves it would be easy to find out such a thing. The glint in Eroica's eyes hinted strongly that something would be done, but as long as the man didn't say anything out loud, Klaus could ignore it. And as long as no one actually died. "When Fatso gave me the mission—" he repeated, "—I told him that I needed a few days off before Friday to deal with a personal problem."

The calculating gleam instantly vanished, replace by attentiveness. "Yes?"

"So, can you help me?"

"I'll do anything in my power to help you. More exactly with what, my love?"

"My virginity. I want to get rid of it."


This isn't happening. None of this is happening. The last shipment of sleeping gas was contaminated and I've managed to inhale some. I'm hallucinating. Please, sweet muses, don't let me wake up!

Major von dem Eberbach watched him with a gleam of his usual disdain. If he had been any other, Dorian would have expected him to, at any minute now, start laughing and going, "Fooled you!" However, the major's sense of humour was far more direct and tended towards the physical. Nor would he go to such an extent just to lull Dorian in. Which meant ... "You're serious?"

The major shrugged. "Rather you than him. Besides, perhaps that'll get you off my back too. Two birds with one stone and all that crap."

Dorian frowned. "I suppose I should be grateful that you consider me a step up from a homicidal maniac, my dear. Though I'm certain you will be disappointed in the latter. I don't give up easily."

Klaus abruptly stood. "We'll see. So. Your bedroom is two corridors to the left, second door from here, right? Let's go." He jerked his chin towards the door.

"Who-a, there, Major! Who-a! Sit down again. I don't think this discussion is quite finished yet." Nor did he think his knees would carry him if he got up.


All but growling in frustration, Klaus threw himself down on the chair again. What's wrong, you fucking—Oh, to Hell with this. "What's wrong, you fucking wanker? I hand you myself on a fucking platter and you fucking want to have a fucking conversation?"

Dorian gave a helpless laughter. "I know, Major, I know - it's absurd. It's just ... maybe we really are in the Twilight Zone. It certainly feels as if we are."

"Get yourself together, man. We're not." At least Klaus didn't think so. "Look, Lord Gloria, it's very simple. I want to prepare for my mission. I will have to perform something I have no prior knowledge of. I need to get educated. I get an expert to teach me. You're an expert in your field. Teach me."

"It sounds so easy when you say it like that, my own, but ... I can't help feeling that I would be helping ... him. Fatso. Your chief."

"You'll be helping me. Isn't that what you said you would do? I need to know at a bare minimum what to expect." What he hadn't expected was to have to persuade the pervert to take advantage of him.

"I don't like it. It still feels like some kind of rape. You are not here of your own free will."

Klaus mentally threw up his hands. "Well, if you hate it so much, I can go back to Germany and pick up a prostitute."

"Why didn't you? If all you wanted was an ... expert in my field."

To admit the truth was difficult, but apparently necessary. "Trust."

"I ... think I misheard you, my love. What did you say?"

"I could do it, but I wouldn't feel safe. It'll be difficult enough as it is. You I know where I've got. If you hurt me, I can find you." He didn't mean physically hurt, though the thief would come to regret that too, if things went overboard.

"And you trust ... me, of all people?"

Klaus shrugged. "What choice do I have? No one seems much interested, anyway. It's not like I have herds of screaming fangirls chasing after me."

He glanced over to Dorian, wondering with considerable annoyance what else he could say that might do the trick. Or perhaps he should just revert to Plan B, which had been – if he had chickened out from talking things over with Dorian – to throw the man over his shoulder, march to the castle's master bedroom, dump the thief in the bed and strip. Plan B felt more tempting by the minute.

Dorian stared at him. Then he blinked. And stared some more. His mouth hung half-open.

Is it finally sinking into your little brain or what?

"No one? Seems much interested? Klaus – I'm going to call you Klaus, if we're going to make love I damn well will call you by your first name - tell me, which colour is the sky in your part of the Twilight Zone?"

"You don't count."

"I always count. However, there are other human beings out there who haven't had their ocular nerves damaged. Klaus – the only reason why you aren't pursued like a bitch in heat is that you carry a friggin' Magnum!"

"Oh, if I wanted to have sex with anyone I could find partners. What I mean, Lord Gloria—"

"Dorian."

"—is that they aren't serious. No one has ever made a real effort. Except for you. They might want my body, but you're the only one who ever has seemed to want ... me." And that was the high and low of it. Without the use of heavy drugs it would take a skilled torturer days to get it out of him, but if he had to have sex with anyone, at least he wanted it to be with someone for whom it would matter – someone for whom he mattered.

"Then they are fools."

"So are most people."

"But what about ... what about Z, then? Z loves you."

If he had been drinking, this would have been his turn to snort liquid through his nose. "Like a brother! Don't judge everyone by your own standards, Lord Gloria—"

"Dorian."

"—Z might have a bit of a hero worship thing going on with me, but he's a good, heterosexual boy!"

"You keep telling yourself that, love. G, then?"

"That's just subterfuge. I protect him and draw interest away from someone he actually likes. At least lately. Besides, come on, Lord Gloria—"

"Dorian."

"—would you sleep with one of your—Never mind, forget I asked. And if you even breathe a word about Laurence I will use your head as a football."

"I wasn't about to, dear. There are things man was not meant to think of and that would be one of them."

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"So ... You want me to show you – teach you? – about what exactly? Oral and anal penetration?"

"Ja."

"Both as a top and as a bottom?"

"Ja."

"Ah ... You do know what those words mean, right?"

"I'm not fucking stupid!"

"Okay, okay, just checking. I'll throw in some kisses and some rimming too, though you might want to stay on the receiving end on that one, dearest."

"Whatever." In truth, he wasn't quite clear on what that last part entailed, but he felt sure he could take anything the Earl dished out.

"Right. I'm still not all happy about the situation, but I want two things in return."

That did it. The headache blossomed. "You get to have sex with me, you degenerate! And you have the gall to ask me for more?!"

Dorian got off the chair again and – for the third time – knelt before Klaus. You enjoy that position or what, you pervert?

Tentative hands stroked over Klaus's own. "It's not like that. I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was absolutely necessary. Hear me out?" The cool, light touch was acceptable, hardly offensive at all.

"Then talk."

"You have until Friday before you must be back in Bonn. I want one more day with you. Not with sex! Just one day when we are both on our best behaviour, getting to know one another. You're always a bit on the edge, but right now you're so tense I fear you will snap. We need to ... get a little bit more comfortable with each other. So. Tonight we just sleep together. No sex. That's for tomorrow night."

"This is stupid. I'll get more tense, not relax. I want this over with today."

"What did you call me? An expert in my field?"

"Ja."

"You came to get expert help. I'm the expert. It is in my expert opinion that we should wait."

The fop's mouth was set in a determined line and he sounded as if he wasn't going to budge. Besides, what did Klaus really have to get back to in Germany? He was in no hurry and with a headache to boot. "And the second thing?"

"A cousin of mine is coming over tomorrow evening. He won't stay for long. Ten minutes – fifteen tops. I don't require you to do anything but to be present while he is here and not object when I allude to the two of us being in a relationship."

"I won't let you trot me around like some kind of bloody trophy wife!"

"I wouldn't do it like that, Klaus. Please agree to this. It's very, very important to me." The Earl cocked his head and pouted a little. His blue eyes glittered up a storm.

Theatrical little shit. Klaus snorted. "I suppose I can stand it for ten minutes, Lord Gloria."

"Dorian," he was, once more, gently reminded.

"Whatever."


They ate in Dorian's private dining room. Beef filet, both medium well, with three sauces and a small mountain of fried potatoes. Klaus half expected Mosel wine, but what Dorian poured for both of them was of some different sort, no doubt horribly expensive. They spoke little and only of general things. Which is to say – Dorian spoke of general things and Klaus concentrated on filling his belly. Now and then he snorted, injected a grunt or shook his head. At one point, when Dorian regaled him with a story of something incredibly stupid Rufus, one of Dorian's men, had done, Klaus admitted that E had done the very same thing.

After dinner Dorian walked him around the castle. Klaus automatically memorized the artwork, for later checking against the Interpol database. He was fairly sure he recognized some and had a nagging suspicion that Dorian would find hanging copies gauche. Other than that he saw little of interest and merely allowed himself to be led. He did perk up when they, in a room neighbouring Dorian's suite, reached North Down's armoury.

Who would have thought? There are some useful things in this place after all.

Knives. Swords. Garrottes. Even a couple of ornamented axes, for fuck's sake! Most bore the fop's stamp of prettiness in jewels, damascened blades and patterned hilts, but not more so than that they could still be used - and they were obviously cared for. Some hung on the walls, mounted on shields of dark wood. Others were in display cabinets. Here and there a small spotlight glittered in diamonds or made a sharp edge cast reflections.

"I shan't be a minute," Dorian promised, though in fact it took him almost five to divest himself of the carried knives. The final count added up to 26. Klaus felt slightly amazed that the man had been able to move, much less with his usual, effortless grace.

They proceeded to Dorian's bedchamber. "Normally I would be up a little longer, but it's been an exhausting day," Dorian said. "For you too, I'm sure. So, I suggest we retire. Do you need to borrow some pyjamas, dear? Not that I would mind sleeping next to your naked body, but I do happen to have something in just your size that I think you wouldn't find too offensive."

"I have something." Not that he had thought he would get to wear it this night – at least not for long - but he had brought his regular overnight bag, so there should be sufficient clothing. Feeling a little awkward he hefted the bag and looked around.

"My bathroom is through there, if you need to freshen up."

By the time Klaus got back after having put on his pyjamas and brushed his teeth, Dorian had also changed, into rich, dark blue pyjamas with a gold pattern to rival a pasha's ceremonial costume. The thief greeted Klaus with a smile and put down the phone before he himself went into the bathroom for the last preparations for the evening. Klaus found himself standing by the bed, staring at the red and gold quilt. It had tassels along the edges, in the same colours. He poked the covers and sighed inwardly. I should never have agreed to this. Where did I go wrong? He was to jump me as soon as I indicated that I might not break his jaw if he tried. It wasn't supposed to be this entire production.

He glanced around the opulent room. To him it was overfilled with artsy objects, packed so tight that surely it must be considered gaudy. I don't belong here. He should be home, in Germany, studying up for his mission. The folder on the Tsar had been paltry – surely there must be more information to be had. Fatso must have short-changed him somehow. Some books might have helped him with that whole "sex with a man"-issue. Besides, perhaps him being a virgin might actually have worked in his favour with the Tsar. Some men liked virgins, he knew. That didn't make much sense to him – surely a skilled partner would be preferable? But since he had no personal experience, perhaps there was something he was unaware of.

The bathroom door opened again. Dorian went over to the bedside table, from which he lifted two knives. "I forgot about these, before, I'll just go put them up. Why don't you get into bed in the meanwhile? Either side you want is fine by me. I'll be with you in a moment."

Klaus opted for the right side, closest to the door. The bed was as disgustingly soft as he had suspected and the covering just as thick and warm.

Dorian came back, lit a rose-shaped lamp by the bed's head, returned to the door and put out the overhead lights.

"I can't breathe in here," Klaus told him. "Open a window."

"Of course." On his way back Dorian detoured to open a small side-window. The glass was mosaic in bright colours; mostly red and green and gold. From the angle Klaus couldn't see it clearly, but it looked like a black-haired knight on a white horse, surrounded by roses. Then Dorian lifted the edge of the sheet and crept in. A few moments later he turned off the rose-light. The evening was still bright enough to let Klaus see fairly clearly, if in varying shades of grey.

He expected to get pawed at, no matter that he had been promised a reprieve. When Dorian shifted closer, he forced himself to remain still, sure of what would come. Instead soft lips pressed against his cheek. "Good night, my Major." Then Dorian shifted away and laid down.

"'night," he replied. If it was be good or not, he would decide come morning.

He closed his eyes. What a fucked up day. Right. Summary. Worked out. Went to work. Phone call from the fop. D spilled secrets. Chewed him out. Cry-baby. Went to Fatso. Fucker. Mission to seduce the Tsar of Death, starts on Friday. Claimed time off for personal problem. Not a lie. Travelled to England. Used John McAffrey. Reached North Downs. Convinced fop to help me. In bed with him now. Not naked. He's still an idiot, but seems to understand. We haven't had sex yet. Sex. He was going to have sex with Lord Dorian Red-Gloria - the Earl of Red Gloria. A.k.a. Eroica, the Prince of Thieves. The thought made his stomach churn, but perhaps less so than he would have anticipated. Of course, the Earl had been after him for so long that in a way he had come to get used to the idea that no doubt sooner or later the Earl would snare him. At least this way he had the initiative and could control what happened. And, to be honest, there really was no one else he had ever even considered being with. Might as well get it over with. Millions of people do it every night, I might as well try to find out what the fuss is about. He had been tortured, if not to any extensive length. It couldn't very well be worse than that. Still, the thought of being tortured never had him sweating and wanting to avoid a mission. Maybe, when things came down to it—

"Klaus? You can't sleep?"

What do you think, you daft degenerate? That I'm awake for the fun of it? Or are you trying to wake me up if I had actually managed to doze off? Do you want to do something with me anyway?

"Klaus? Sleep now. Rest your weary eyes. Things will look better tomorrow."

How, you damn idiot? How can they possibly look better tomorrow?

"Klaus? Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb—"


When Klaus opened his eyes again, hands touched his shoulders. One on his left, from a hand wedged in under him, and a second curled over his right with the weight of an arm over his chest. Heat leaned against his left side and across his legs. When he breathed in, he smelled something sweet and familiar. A flood of flaxen curls over his left arm and shoulder further jogged his for once slightly sluggish memory.

He quelled his first reaction to push the Brit off – perhaps with a fist. How did the little shit creep so close without me waking up? He can't have been singing lullabies all night! Or, knowing the Earl, perhaps he had, for the privilege of snuggling Klaus's sleeping body. Klaus looked around, but saw no clock. The room was fairly light, but it was almost summer, so it might still be early. If he had been back home, he would have guessed he had overslept somehow, but he didn't have an automatic feel for what hour the light heralded in England. He would like to think it was 6:25, when he usually woke up, but considering the full day yesterday, the time differences between the countries and that they had gone to bed early, he couldn't be fully sure.

Time to get up, anyway. He glanced at the man curled half around him. The additional body heat on top of the already warm bedding – the open window had made a good effort, but hadn't succeeded to cool the room to his liking – felt sticky and oppressive. He quelled a second reaction to push the Brit off, even if this time he hadn't been planning on using his fist. Instead he began to extract his leg from under Dorian's, nudging the other's limb on its way with his right.

The Earl of Red Gloria pulled back his leg, but rubbed his face against Klaus's pyjamas and murmured happily, "Darling ... My own ... My love ..."

Klaus quelled a third reaction. Get used to it, von dem Eberbach! That's why you're here! He sighed quietly. Though he had to admit that apart from the sticky warmth he was fairly all right with the current situation. If this was all he wanted, I wouldn't mind giving this to him. This far he could go.

Perhaps some kissing wouldn't be too disgusting either. He had some little experience with that – both of the non-sexual kind from various female Eberbachs and of the more sexual one while experimenting in his youth. Skin-kisses posed no problem, on his face or neck or even hands. Kisses on the mouth were also tolerable, though at first he hadn't known how to turn to avoid nose-collisions. Open-mouth kisses began to turn him off and normally the pawing that accompanied them did the rest of the trick. Besides, it all felt so ... pointless. I'm just not wired the right way. A sense of shame always followed the acknowledgement. However, things were as they were and he couldn't deny them. The best he could do was to get over his instinctive withdrawals and make a good show.

He took a deep breath and rolled a little, enough so that he could reach the Earl's half-open mouth. The other sighed and moved closer, meeting him with lips soft yet strong. Dorian murmured something, obviously still asleep, but the syllables made no sense. Klaus pulled back, which earned him a pleading moan. He took a new breath and leaned down again, continuing the slow kiss. Lips moving against lips – it still felt rather pointless, not igniting passions as it was supposed to do. There was no great hardship involved, only a vague sense of regret. Something wet touched – licked - at him, so he opened his mouth and made his own tongue reach out in turn. He tensed a little, waiting for the tastes to start bothering him. Only, he was in luck. True, the Earl didn't exactly taste minty fresh after the night, but neither did he taste overly bitter or overly sharp. The taste bordered to sweet without passing into repugnant. All in all, it was fairly inoffensive.

The body now half under his stiffened. Then the foreign tongue in his mouth snapped back and the Earl pulled away. "Klaus! What are you doing!?"

He didn't bother to reply, as the answer was pretty obvious.

The Brit actually frowned. "We said we would wait until tonight, dearheart."

"One would think that you were the virgin here! I just kissed you, not fucked you in your sleep. I felt relaxed and thought I might as well try it."

Dorian scooted further away and sat up. Klaus did the same.

"Yes, darling. Ah ... That ... That's good. I ... That's good. Ah ... I just ... I'm not exactly my best in the morning. I apologise. You were doing great. Very good."

Then the Earl came at him. Klaus tensed, prepared to be mauled. Yet the Earl only took one, tender kiss – he didn't even linger before pulling back with a beatific smile.

"I feel as if all my dreams have been fulfilled. Well, not all of them, perhaps ..." He yawned. "I only wish you weren't such a morning person, dearest. I – Oh, heavens, it's not even seven o'clock!"

Apparently there was a clock somewhere, do doubt hiding as an antique.

"Good time to get some exercise then, Lord Gloria."

"We settled on first names last night, my love. No, Klaus, it is a splendid time to go back to sleep."

"Then go back to sleep. I want to run."

Dorian crawled back down. "You do that, love. Just follow the road to the gate and then there's a track around the inside of the wall. You might see Ruby, he should be up and running now too. Disgusting habit, that. So the dogs are in. Have fun, dear, and I'll see you later. If I'm still asleep when you come back you may wake me up with another kiss, if you want. That was the best wake up call I have had in years."


Klaus had a good run, going several laps around North Downs and passing the Ruby-thief three times. On returning to the bedroom he obediently woke Dorian in the requested manner, but had then been shooed to the bathroom, since, "Your masculine essence makes me want to ravish you. So you better shower." He suspected that actually meant "you stink" in foppish.

On exiting the bathroom he had been kissed again. Apparently Dorian no longer hesitated about doing so or had perhaps set about to desensitize him. Klaus let the Earl take his liberties, but the session only lasted for a couple of seconds, before Dorian breezed past him with a casual, "We'll breakfast when I'm decent." Which Klaus privately thought meant he would starve to death, though he choose to wait until the Earl got out of the bathroom. Which certainly took an indecent amount of time. When Dorian finally emerged – fully dressed and looking quite flushed – Klaus submitted to more kisses before they went to eat.

The day slowly progressed from then on. Klaus spent some time on and in his tank, going over it in detail before declaring it fit for usage. They argued about Dorian returning it, but the fop had been surprisingly firm in that he had no intention of doing so. They had lunched by way of picnicking under a massive oak in the further end of the opulent garden. Dorian insisted on getting to lie with his head in Klaus's lap, which Klaus had reluctantly agreed to. He hadn't been happy about being used as a pillow, but took secret delight in "accidentally" dropping breadcrumbs in Dorian's hair.

They kissed some more.

Around two-ish Klaus felt restless and jittery. When he announced that he might as well go for another run, Dorian instead led him to a long building hidden in the forest beyond the garden. "I hardly ever go here, but I know that Bonham keeps things in shape and I think Timmy and Peter use it quite frequently. Silly boys. My cousins too, when they visit, they're the ones who insisted." "Here" turned out to be the last thing Klaus would have expected on a property belonging to the Earl, since the fop was completely incompetent in the area. A shooting court.

"There should be some weapons in the safe over there too, if you want to have a look."

He did and there was and he spent the rest of the afternoon more or less enjoying himself. Dorian stayed with him, occupying himself with sketching Klaus as he went about his business. Since the fop's favourite angles seemed to be from mostly behind him, Klaus had no problem with that. He was quite used to having an audience while shooting at a court.

And they kissed some more.

Afterwards they did run. Dorian kept up fairly well, even if he did excuse himself after five laps.

When Klaus had freshened up – again ... – Dorian led him back to the small library to which Bonham had taken him the first day. "My cousin called from the airport a while back. He is on his way and should be here shortly. As I said, he won't stay long. You remember what you are to do?"

"Not object to anything you say."

"Yes. And Klaus –I beg of you – act civilly. No matter what you think or want to say or do – just don't, all right? Please? Think of it as one of your precious missions. You're undercover and everything will be ruined if you do something wrong." The Earl sounded tense and worried.

Klaus snorted and sat in "his" chair.

Dorian stomped. "I'm serious! Please pay attention! As I said – this is very important to me. Please?"

"Ja, ja, whatever."

Dorian went over to the window. "This has been a good day, hasn't it, dear?"

"It hasn't been a complete waste." In fact, if his last "vacation" had been anything like it, he might actually have been away for the full time instead of returning after only a couple of days.

"And you slept well, right?"

"The bed was too soft and the room too warm."

"Those things are easily fixed, my dear. And the kisses? They weren't too horrible, were they?"

Klaus considered it, then admitted, "Not so horrible, no."

"Good. Then I know I can still hope. Ah, here he comes."

Dorian's step away from the window took him almost up to Klaus's chair. It wasn't a very large room, after all. In the same fluent movement he turned and straddled Klaus's lap.

Klaus recoiled. "Lord Gloria, what do you—"

Then Dorian's mouth was on him. This kiss was the deepest so far, with Dorian's tongue mapping Klaus's mouth, almost frantic in its eagerness. Klaus felt a little queasy and tried to pull away, but short of physically overpowering the Earl he had no means of doing that. And while he certainly could have done it – hell, all he had to do was to get up and the other man would have been dumped on his arse - he stayed in the seat. Again – this was why he was there, wasn't it, to learn to tolerate such behaviour? So he placed his hands firmly on Dorian's hips and concentrated on pushing the invading tongue out with his own. That actually proved somewhat amusing, as they did battle that way – a form of war he had never experienced before.

Knock, knock.

Dorian threw his head back, panting hard. He stared at Klaus with pupils dilated with passion. Slowly he leaned forward and rested their foreheads together for a few seconds. Then he stole one more, quick kiss, just on Klaus's lips, no tongues involved.

"Not so horrible, eh? Maybe, in time, it might even start to feel good, my own."

He abandoned Klaus's lap and stretched quickly before padding over to the door and opening it. Then he was lifted in the air – up, up and up. A giant of a man strode into the room, carrying the Earl as easily as a toddler. His whitish flaxen hair all but brushed against the ornamented ceiling, which easily put him at 2.30 or thereabout, with wide shoulders to match. He dressed in an immaculate black suit and when he over Dorian's head looked in Klaus's direction, Klaus saw the family resemblance. They were eerily similar, yet different, as if the huge man was a primitive copy of the refined Earl. He could have been Dorian's ancestor; a dozen or so generations removed and the family since then bred for noblesse.

"Cousin Dorian," the man said. He spoke slowly and with a voice so deep that if Klaus had had any leanings what so ever towards poetry he would have started thinking about comparing it to the sea or the mountains. "Always good to be in your presence. And this is your current beau? Such a pretty one."

Klaus's stomach tensed up, but he didn't let anything show. Undercover mission. Right. Pretend to be "boyfriend". He set his face in a vapid smile.

"Past, current and forever, dear cousin. He is all I ever dreamed of. Let me down. Come, sit with us. I have a surprise for you."

"I love surprises."

Dorian pulled a tassel hanging by the fireplace. "Bonham will be in with it shortly."

"Not the sweet little thing?"

"Ah, no. Jamie is currently ... testing some aspects of the Mona Lisa defence."

"Pity. Yes, we noticed you had it on for a bit yesterday. False alarm, I take it. Good you called, the Murg insisted we go on over."

"Oh yes. So. Did you have a nice flight?"

"Ja."

He's not English? On the other hand, the casual 'ja' hadn't been a German 'ja' either, though it apparently served the same purpose. He has no accent that I can hear. Where's he from, then? Scandinavia, perhaps, they have the same 'ja' as we do.

Dorian arranged his chair so they would form a rough triangle, before sitting. "How are your brothers?"

"Baal is well. The Murg is currently terrified of drops of water. They send their love."

"Good that you live in a desert country, then. Give them all hugs and kisses from me, when you get back. And how are—Ah, Bonham! Capital. Let me hold that for you. Push the table over here. Thank you, dear, you go now."

The Eberbach mug steamed, which spoke for coffee for him, at least. Then a tea set – two cups this time. And ... yellow buns? Dorian offered a plate with them – shaped like two joined balls and topped with raisins – to his cousin. Who leaned down, closed his eyes, obviously smelled deeply and gave a beatific smile before opening his eyes again. "Lussekatter," he said, reverently.

"I baked them myself. Well ... Johan helped, just a little. Not as good as your grandmother's, of course—"

"No one makes buns as well as she did."

"You are absolutely right. But I hope you will like these."

"I'm sure I will," he said, in an utterly serious tone of voice, and took one.

Dorian held out the plate to Klaus, pleading with his eyes. "They're made with saffron," he explained.

Klaus reluctantly took one, gingerly putting it on his leg and hoping that the fabric of his trousers wouldn't be stained. The bun was still a little warm and, he had to admit, did smell rather nice. He then received his mug and drunk deeply.

"Klaus works for NATO. He's one of their best agents!"

He almost choked. Idiot! You're worse than D! Bad enough that my name is bandied about in spy circles, there's no need to spread it to all and sundry!

"That is good work. Useful."

"Oh, nothing like that. Oh – as I was saying – how is Matthew doing? Is he still being ... difficult?"

The big man had begun to nibble on his bun and obviously swallowed before answering. "Yes. I will go visit him soon, though. Fraco said he think he's weakening. I hope so."

"That's wonderful to hear! I do so hope it works out for you. A winter wedding, perhaps? I do expect to get invited. Since I and Klaus finally got together I've been ecstatically happy. I don't know how I managed without him."

Klaus drank some more, wishing for the rest of that nice whisky he and Dorian had shared the other night.

"I'm glad for you. And of course you will be invited."

They both drank from their tea cups. Then the cousin's eyes turned Klaus's way, studying him intently. "Looks strong," he said after a moment.

"Oh yes! Klaus is very strong. He can shoot a Magnum one-handed, you know!"

The Earl sounded so fucking proud. Klaus wanted to groan, especially so when the stranger, still looking at him, slowly lifted an eyebrow. Then, for one strange moment they connected, sharing an amusement over the Earl and ... something else, which Klaus strongly felt but couldn't put into words. He felt ever so slightly relieved when the cousin turned his attention back to Dorian. "Looks as if he can run too."

"Oh yes, he can! All day, if he wants too."

How does he do it? Manage to say something totally innocent and still pollute it with a sexual connotation?

"That is very good."

"Oh yes! So, cousin mine, have you considered my proposal? It really would mean the world to me!"

The man drank again. As he did, his eyes wandered lazily over Klaus's body.

Great. Another pervert. Is the family breeding for it, or what?

"It is an interesting proposal," he finally said. "I think it might be mutually beneficial."

"Absolutely not! The benefit is mine and—"

"Not that, little one. I know better. I meant the situation in itself. It won't be a burden. With Matthew and everything, it might be to my advantage. And it is always good to get the security tested."

Are they discussing a theft? I don't understand. Gah, I'm getting another headache ...

"Oh. Splendid, then! I'm sorry if I spoke sharply to you. It's just ... Well, you know."

"I know. Of course. Don't worry. I took no offence." The giant put down his tea cup, looked mournfully at the last piece of his yellow bun and then popped it in his mouth.

Like a magician, Dorian produced a small plastic bag, filled with the lusse-things. "For the trip," he said. "And with my gratitude."

A smile lit up the cousin's face. For a moment his features didn't look so rough and the family resemblance to the Earl was much clearer. "Thank you," he said and took the little bag, holding it to his chest. "It is much appreciated." He stood again, towering like a creature out of a fairytale. Once more he looked towards Klaus. "It was nice seeing you, Major von dem Eberbach. Perhaps, one day, we will run together."

I hope you mean that in the literal sense, you overgrown wanker. Klaus nodded. "It is nice to have someone to run with," he said, though in fact he didn't mind in the least to run alone.

The other smiled. Dorian got up and was again lifted into the air by a hug, before being carefully deposited on the floor. A large hand ruffled his curls and then the giant strode over to the door and left.

Dorian collapsed into his chair, tipping his head over the back and breathing out a long sigh.

Klaus refrained from asking, "Was that all?" since – obviously – it had been. The whole thing hadn't even taken ten minutes. "Long trip for tea and a yellow bun," he instead said. He gingerly lifted his own bun – the leg of his trouser didn't seem stained – and put it back on the plate. Then he chugged the last of his Nescafé. Maybe I should ask for some whisky? Might be good to relax a little before later tonight. He glanced out and noted the first signs of the impending dusk.

"Lussekatt," Dorian corrected. Then he sat up again and smiled a bit shakily. "You did your part well. Thank you."

Klaus shrugged, still hoping that he hadn't been part of some thieving agreement. If the Louvre is raided when I get back from my mission ... he thought, but couldn't make up his mind exactly what he would do if that was the case.

"Klaus ..."

Something about the fop's serious, yet hesitant tone alerted him and he looked over. "He knew my name," he said. "You've spoken about me to him before."

"Well ... yes. They're family and I do speak about you a lot. I can't help it, Klaus. I'm hopelessly in love with you. I've told you that."

He grunted. For someone proclaiming to love me, you're remarkably slow in getting on with your "love-making" lectures.

"Besides, I had to tell him about you and your work to get him to agree with helping me."

No. No. I don't want to hear this! Damn it, if you use me to make a deal with one of your fellow magpies, at least have the brain not to tell me about it!

"And he needed to come here so he would see us together and approve of you."

"What the fuck are you talking about? I'm not helping you steal anything, you kleptomaniac wanker!"

The cornflower blue eyes widened. "Steal something? Klaus, I ... Um ... How to explain this ... My name is Dorian Red Gloria, Earl Dorian Red—"

"I fucking Hell know your name! I wish I'd never heard it, but I know it!"

"Yes, dear. Only ... I know of a writer named White. And one by the name of Green too, come to think of it. And there's that ... John Brown, from that song, you know, 'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Glory—"

"Stop! Singing! What are you blathering about?"

"Colours, Major. I'm talking about colours. Red, white, green, brown – they're all colours."

Klaus nodded knowingly. "It's finally happened," he said, not unkindly. "You've lost your mind."

"What I'm trying to say, Klaus, is that while Red-Gloria is an old family, it is far from the only family to take its name from a colour. Normally colour-families aren't related at all, though some of them are. Red is a very nice colour; the colour of blood – of love – of passion ... Other colours have other associations. Have you ... had contact with any other family with a colour surname lately?"

Klaus was still fairly convinced of the "Eroica has finally snapped"-theory. However ... "Lucifer Black? What about him?"

"I'm not explaining very well. Black isn't an actual colour – its more of an absence of colour. Or is it all colours at the same time? I always forget. Anyway – Black; Red. There's a connection, you know."

The Earl's expressive eyes tried to tell him something. Something important. Something he was fairly sure he wouldn't like.

What wouldn't I like for him to say right now? Red? Black? A connection? In the Rogues' Gallery. Tall. Blond. Live in a desert. Near Egypt. Oh, fucking God ... He worked his jaw, but couldn't utter a sound. Colours. Some of them are. Related. Association. Fuck! "Your ... c-cousin ..." He actually stuttered.

"He gives great piggy back rides," Dorian said defensively.

"Your cousin! You fucking prick! That was-- He was-- That was him! Wasn't it?!"

"I know Lutz has a very bad reputation, but he's always been very good to me. He cares about family, you know. It's very important to him."

Klaus held Dorian by the throat before he had even given conscious order for his hands to do so. He hauled the man off the chair and shook him hard. "You! Outed! Me! To! Lucifer! Black! You ruined my mission! You—"

"You didn't even want the mission!"

He shook him violently again, then gave in and boxed him hard over the ear, only reining in his strength enough as not to beat him unconscious at the first go. Oh no! I'm going to take my time! I'm going to fucking enjoy this!

"Not the fucking point, you worthless, interfering wanker! Idiot! I hate you! Why are you doing this?"

He struck again, a few centimetres lower this time.

"Ow! Klaus! I—"

He squeezed harder, seriously contemplating murder. "Don't you fucking Hell 'Klaus' me! We're not friends of any sort, you depraved traitor!"

"You can still go!" the Earl wheezed.

"With him recognizing me? You moron! He'll have me killed!" He lifted his hand again.

Something pressed against his throat. Something sharp.

"Stop hitting me, Major von dem Eberbach! I don't want to hurt you, but you're much too strong for me to let you hit me again!"

The thief sounded desperate enough to actually make some damage, so Klaus reluctantly lowered his hand. A slender dagger moved away from his skin, but was kept protectively between them.

"He won't kill you, Major, I swear it! That's what I arranged with him! Let me go and I'll explain."

Klaus tossed the thief into his chair, already regretting not hitting him just one more time, just hard enough to render him unconscious. It wouldn't have been too difficult and the degenerate wouldn't have had time to cut him. Then take his bloody knife and slit his fucking throat! Good thing I came in disguise. I'll kill the rest too and burn the castle down!

The Earl moved his hands and the dagger vanished, apparently secreted up a ruffled sleeve or into a hidden pocket.

"All this was a fucking charade! You mocked me – got me into your bed – tricked me!"

"I tricked you, yes – I needed to keep you here to let cousin Lutz see you and not have you run off and do something stupid! I called him and asked him to come. But I did not take advantage of you! I feel that under the circumstances I was the model of restraint! And let the record show that you initiated the kissing, not me! Major von dem Eberbach – if you intend to holler rape I will be sorely disappointed!"

He growled.

"Listen to me, Major. I know my cousin. What did you call him? 'An insane, cold-blooded serial-killer who happens to have found a way to get paid for his jollies'? The jollies part I will refute, but the rest is true. He is insane, has little understanding for human feelings and is as rich as Croesus. James worships him. If you'd tried to infiltrate his guard and seduce him, he would have found out and killed you - slowly. That is my firm belief and I needed to protect you."

"I don't need no fucking protection from you, faggot!"

"Major – I've heard what my cousins do to people who betray them. I couldn't risk it! I'd rather that you hate me forever than you being dead. Look – your mission is safe, Z is safe – you are safe. You can go down there, stay a while and then return to NATO with whatever you find. You don't owe NATO more than that, not when they treat you like this! Lutz will even give you some information titbits that will be worth something. You won't be compromised and in the future you can turn down similar missions without anyone thinking you weak."

"And what do you get out of this, you pervert? I'll be at your beck and call or you tell them the truth, is that it?"

"Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach! Really! For your information, if I wanted to take advantage of you I could have had you yesterday! I could have had you this morning! I could have had you at lunch! I could have had you this afternoon! I could have had you just before Lutz got here! Remind me - did I at any of these points actually have you?"

"No," he reluctantly acknowledged and sat down. But there had to be a catch somewhere. "What do you want, then?"

"Oh, Klaus ... I wanted to help you – that's all I ever wanted. Though the kisses was a nice bonus, I will confess."

Ah yes. The kisses. "I should go," he said, testing if the prat would actually let him off the hook without trying to get a little something more for his effort.

Dorian looked towards the fireplace, where nothing burned. "Perhaps you should," he said. He sounded tired.

Klaus stood. "Your plan might work, " he admitted. After a moment he added, stiffly, "Thank you for your assistance, Lord Gloria."

Dorian dropped his head to the back of his chair again and closed his eyes. "Think nothing of it. My pleasure." His voice was thin and strained, but British aristocracy held up to the last. "You can find your own way out, I trust. Ask anyone you meet if you get lost."

"It wasn't so horrible after all," Klaus said. "Dorian."

The thief looked up again, just as Klaus kissed him. The half-swallowed yelp he made was quite gratifying. Then Klaus straightened, nodded once and walked away.

Not so horrible at all.

THE END. Continue in Part 2.