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Hesitation Waltz

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The Chief puffed at his cigarette and hit the button on the slide projector. “You know, of course, the Countess Roberta McKinnon?”

Klaus considered the image projected on the wall, and tamped out his own cigarette. The room was thick with smoke, but it wasn’t as though he could open the door. Their conversation was of the utmost confidentiality. “I’ve read her file, of course. Occasional arms dealer and general trafficker of stolen goods. It doesn’t look like we’ve gathered much sensitive intel on her.” He picked up his coffee cup; the drink was already lukewarm.

The Chief hit the button, and brought up a photo of Countess McKinnon. It was a candid shot, taken from far away and above - a nearby rooftop, most likely. There wasn’t much detail, but Klaus got the impression of old money and perfectly coiffed hair. “We’ve never been able to make it to her inner circle, and frankly, we never thought we’d have need to. I mean, how much harm could a woman do? Intentionally, at least.” He laughed and gestured expansively with his cigarette. “But it turns out that while playing things close to the chest, she was also developing an intelligence stockpile. She's got information on top secret weapons developed by the Americans.”

“Which means that they must’ve been compromised.” Klaus took a sip of his coffee.

“Exactly. Depending on what she knows, and what she’s shared, the Cold War could get a whole lot hotter.” The Chief shook his head, and ground the stub of his cigar into his ashtray. “We need to find her source.”

“If it were a straightforward surveillance mission, you wouldn’t have come to me,” Klaus stated flatly. He had no time for the Chief’s games. “What do you need?”

The Chief shifted in his seat, and Klaus began to feel uneasy. It was an instinct honed by years of spycraft, tempered in the fires of front-line confrontations with deadly enemies. This mission would be dangerous, even deadly.

“McKinnon is an incredibly dangerous woman. She’s cautious to the verge of paranoia, and is high society enough that she rarely interacts with anyone outside her circle of peers. People who spark her suspicions tend to end up dead. There’s only one possible point of approach we’ve identified.” The Chief hit the next slide on the projector, revealing the image of a beautifully-embossed party invitation. “Every year, she holds a springtime retreat for a select group of high society types. Security is intense of course, but getting someone inside as a guest is our best shot at gathering information.”

“I don’t suppose I’ve been invited in a show of European solidarity.”

“No, but your pet thief Eroica has.”

Klaus balled his hands into fists. This was going to be nothing good. “So what do I need to do, pose as his bodyguard?”

“Not exactly. Security’s all provided. The only people that guests are allowed to bring are their spouses.”

“That’s a shame, then,” Klaus said, shaking his head. “No way anyone would ever believe that Eroica had married a woman.”

“You’re right, and no one is going to have to believe it.” The Chief smiled, and Klaus felt his suspicion snap into sudden, freezing terror as the Chief tossed something across the table. Klaus caught it without a fumble. It was a small black box, the likes of which Klaus had only ever seen contain one thing. He flipped it open.

“Sir. You must be joking,” Klaus said, as he pulled a simple gold wedding band from the box.

“I’m afraid not.” The Chief leaned back in his chair. “Congratulations, you’re getting married.”

 

*****

 

“It’s not funny, you ludicrous pervert,” Klaus said.

“I assure you, Major, it is exceptionally funny,” Dorian gasped. He had been laughing hysterically for the last two minutes, by Klaus’s count, only taking breaks for air. The Alphabets had started doing their best to surreptitiously look through the blinds on the office window. Klaus looked at his watch, and let him continue for another half a minute before intervening.

“Here,” Klaus said, holding out a bottle of water. “Get a hold of yourself, you’re like a cackling old hag.”

“Does NATO really have no female agents they could send?” Dorian said, once he had gotten himself under control. “Have you thought about sending G? You didn’t think of crossdressing, did you?”

“Out of the question,” Klaus snapped. “It’s much more plausible for someone to introduce their long-term gay lover that no one has ever met before than it is to introduce a secret new wife. Besides,” Klaus grimaced, this entire subject was deeply distasteful, “your own predilections for men are well known.”

“So you’re absolutely positive this isn’t your director pulling a prank?” Dorian said. He was flushed from laughing, and his loose shirt had opened even wider than usual, revealing an unacceptable amount of chest.

Klaus snatched the water bottle out of Dorian’s hard. “This is a dangerous mission. Lives are at stake. No one knows where exactly the Countess’s base of operations is. If she uncovers us, she’ll have us killed.”

“Why Major, it sounds like you’re trying to talk me out of this,” Dorian said. “Perhaps it’s best if I don’t take part.”

Klaus paused. It hadn’t really occurred to him that the Earl would turn his offer down - a chance to humiliate Klaus was all he seemed to live for. “We’ll provide payment, of course.”

“Payment? Despite what James may have told you, I have far more money than I can use.” Dorian shook his head. “What I want is a favor.”

Klaus frowned. “What kind of favor?”

“The kind of favor that you owe me. To be redeemed, however I see fit, at the end of the mission.”

Klaus’s frown deepened into a grimace. No doubt the Earl would pick something horrendously inappropriate. “Nothing illegal. Or sexual.”

Dorian smiled. “What a disappointment. I'll have to make due with immoral and fraternal.”

Klaus fought the urge to shout Dorian out of the office. The Earl knew how much NATO needed him, he'd wheedle and push as much as he could get away with. “Do you accept, then?”

“I do.”

“Then I can’t have you playing your usual foppish tricks.” Klaus walked over to the window and banged it with his fist. There was a squawk as the assembled Alphabets hurled themselves away. “This mission is too vital.”

“To the contrary,” Dorian said, leaning back in his chair. “Roberta is an old society chum. She’d certainly notice any unusual behavior from me and grow suspicious.” He leaned backwards with a grin. “If we want to convince her, my foppish tricks are absolutely necessary to our cover.”

“If you use this take advantage of this situation, you goddamned thief…”

“No more of that, I think.” Dorian cut him off. “You’ll have to call me by name from here out. It wouldn’t do to be calling your dear husband ‘thief’. Unless it was something like ‘the thief of my heart.’”

Klaus snorted. “Don’t make me vomit. I’ll call you Dorian.”

The Earl lit up. Klaus thought it possible that at this point he could probably be seen from the street like a neon sign. “We’ll need to drill you on your cover.”

“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” Dorian said, “but I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life. You, on the other hand, seem far less capable of convincing anyone that you’re in love with anyone, much less me.”

Klaus frowned. It was true, his favorite part of espionage had never been the play-acting required to maintain a cover identity. He had learned his strengths and stuck to them. The Chief had suggested that he simper and sigh like an empty-headed boy, but Klaus knew enough of his acting talents that he could never pull off a role that far from his own natural temperament.

“I’m a professional. I’ll find some way to make it work,” Klaus said.

 

*****

 

“This is a terrible idea, just awful, I've got no idea what you're thinking,” James said, for what felt like the fiftieth time. Dorian had suggested taking his limo, staff included, together to McKinnon’s private jet to keep up appearances, but Klaus was seriously considering manslaughter. Even the Earl was getting annoyed. He slid the divider from the driver's compartment closed, muffling James's noise to a more manageable irate hum, and turned back to Klaus.

"What's your name?"

Klaus turned away from the window with a jerk, but recovered quickly. "Klaus Schmidt," he said. "I'm a security manager for the Smithfield auction house, which is how we met."

"Very good! I almost believed it myself," Dorian smiled. "Now, where did we get married?"

Klaus grimaced. The Earl was deriving an unnecessary amount of enjoyment from this whole process. "I don't see why this is necessary. Everyone knows homosexuals can't get married."

"This isn't the sort of event where people bring their boy-toy of the season. It's private. Even if we can't be officially married, it's reasonable we'd have done a touching ceremony with a few close friends." Dorian nodded sagely. "I bet your father cried."

"I didn't think homosexuals cared about things like marriage,” Klaus said.

Dorian gave Klaus a strange look. "It's not like we're a different species. Most people want to share their love, and have it validated. Which reminds me..." Dorian dug into his pocket and removed a small black box, which he gently tossed to Klaus.

Klaus caught it one handed and flipped it open. "I already have a ring to wear," Klaus said, flashing his left hand.

"That cheap prop? I would never buy something so tacky for my husband," Dorian said. "Besides, this one matches the lovely ring you got me." Dorian raised his own hand, revealing a shining band clustered with emeralds.

"Do you have to be so gleeful about this?" Klaus said, but he did slide the new ring onto his finger, and put the old one in the box.

"Is it so wrong that I enjoy my work? Now tell me where we got married."

Klaus weighed his odds of survival if he flung himself from the moving car onto the highway. "At your estate in England. In September. But we honeymooned in Rome."

"And when is my birthday?"

"No one actually remembers their wife's birthday. They have their assistant remind them when it's getting close."

"That's a fascinating glimpse into your childhood," Dorian said, and Klaus glared at him. "It's July 28th, by the way. And I already knew yours, even before the mission."

The car pulled to a stop - they had reached the airport. The Duchess's private jet was waiting, the tarmac dotted with similar limousines and town cars.

"I don't think I'm morally obligated to keep track of my stalker's birthday."

“Major, you wound me.” He moved to get out of the car, but hesitated. “There’s one last thing I think we should do, before we get on the plane.”

“And what is that?”

“Major… Klaus, I need to kiss you.” Dorian raised a placating hand. “Not because I want to. But because a level of physical intimacy is going to be expected for us, and I need to know you aren’t going to flinch the first time I touch you and give the game away.”

"No." Klaus looked away from him, jaw clenched. "I am a professional. I know how to pretend.”

“It's better to get used to it now…"

"No," Klaus said. "You're going to have to trust me."

Dorian sighed. “Alright,” he said, and leaned forward to swing the door open. Before he reached the handle, he swung his hand sideways and laid a single finger on Klaus’s nose.

Klaus jerked backwards, banging his head against the ceiling in the process. “What the hell are you doing?”

“You see!” Dorian shouted, pointing accusatorially. “That wasn’t even a kiss, and you were jumping out of your skin!”

“Yes, because you swung a hand at my face! It’s not the same thing at all,” Klaus said. “Just don’t jump out and ambush-kiss me, and we’ll be fine.”

Dorian frowned. “Very well. But if we get caught because you punch me for taking your hand, I am going to hold it against you for the rest of our very brief lives."

Klaus snorted. "If you're an expert in romancing me, I'm an expert in not punching you."

Dorian swung open the car door. “Let’s get out there, then. I’ve got to show you off to so many of my old friends.”

Klaus grimaced and hurled himself at the car door. “Even talking to society idiots is better than being in here with you.”

Dorian tutted, and followed behind. “Why Klaus, I remember when you first said that to me in your wedding vows.”

 

*****

 

They were the last couple into the plane - it was already packed with wealthy and vacant-looking guests. Klaus stayed close to Dorian’s side, nodded politely as Dorian waved hello and shook hands, and watched people look him up and down with pursed lips.

“Dorian, it has been too long!” Klaus turned to see a short blonde woman, close to Dorian’s age and wearing what was certainly a heinously expensive dress.

“Lucy, so good to see you,” Dorian said, with what sounded like genuine warmth. “And where is your better half?”

“Oh, Monty’s in the back with Camille, he’ll be so pleased to see you again,” Lucy said. “And who is this strapping young gentleman?”

Dorian put a proprietary hand around Klaus’s shoulder. “Please forgive me, Klaus, this is my dear old friend Baroness Lucy Brookridge. Lucy, this is my incredibly dashing husband, Klaus.”

Klaus stuck his hand out, and his small smile barely twitched. “A pleasure to meet you, Baroness.”

Lucy looked from Klaus to Dorian, and her face lit up with an incredulous grin. “Dorian, why didn’t you tell me!” She slapped him lightly on the arm. “And why wasn’t I invited to the ceremony?”

“It was a private ceremony, really, just for close family,” Klaus cut in. “We didn’t want too much attention.”

Lucy raised an eyebrow. Klaus realized his error - no one had ever accused Dorian of trying to avoid attention.

“I’m sure you understand, dear,” Dorian added, “why we’d want to keep it…intimate.” He slid his hand down from its position on Klaus’s shoulder, landing at this waist with a gentle squeeze. Klaus moved his arm to make room for Dorian's, but managed a quick jab to his ribs.

Lucy followed his movement with her eyes and chuckled. “Oh Dorian, you really are incorrigible. We’d best get to our seats before takeoff.”

Dorian steered them towards a window seat towards the back of the plane. They sat and buckled in, but it was unnecessary - takeoff was smooth, and it was only moments until they were gliding over the endless blue of the Atlantic. As Dorian waved and shook hands with more people that Klaus cataloged as effete, dim, or both, Klaus did his best to get as much of a view from the window as possible. It wasn’t likely, but he could possibly get a fix on their position from the sun or any available landmarks.

He stopped, horrified, as Dorian placed a hand on his neck, pushing his hair out of the way. “It’s not like you’re going to see us fly past the Coliseum, Klaus,” Dorian whispered, once his mouth was centimeters from Klaus’s ear. “Sit back, you look like you’re trying to jump out the window.”

Klaus jerked back, ready to start yelling, but Dorian cut him off. “Pardon my hands, but it gives us the advantage of speaking privately without looking suspicious. Running into Lucy first was a stroke of luck as well, she’s an old friend, and a gossip.” He leaned in again, breath ghosting across Klaus’s ear. “She’ll make sure everyone knows the juicy details before we even land.”

“There aren’t any juicy details.”

“She’s very creative. I’m sure she’ll come up with something.”

“If you don’t stop touching me this second,” Klaus hissed, “I am going to have you thrown in jail.”

“Lord Gloria, so good to see you again,” the Countess announced from over Dorian’s shoulder, and Klaus stiffened. He didn’t pull away guiltily, but it was a near thing. Dorian looked close to throttling him, but he turned his expression easily into a professional smile.

“Countess! You’re looking more radiant than ever.” He took her hand in his. The Countess was an intimidating woman - she must’ve been nearly 50, but carried herself with the unassailable dignity of someone with money and power.

“Thank you for coming, darling,” she said. “And this must be your new husband.” She smiled thinly. “How dashing the two of you look together.”

“Klaus, Klaus Schmidt,” he said, holding out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” The Countess held out her hand palm down, forcing Klaus to awkwardly substitute his handshake for an antiquated kiss.

“I hope you’ll enjoy your stay with us, Mr. Schmidt,” the Countess said.

“It’s all been very luxurious so far,” Klaus said.

“What is it that you do, exactly?” The Countess asked. “I take it you are employed?”

“Yes, I work for the Smithfield Auction house, in security.”

“Well, isn’t that the respectable profession,” The Countess said. “I hope you don’t find it too challenging.” Klaus bristled at her tone - it was absurd for someone who never worked an honest day in their life to be so patronizing. Before he could say anything, he felt Dorian take his hand.

“Klaus, why don’t you fetch me a drink from the bar?” Dorian cut in. “And the Countess something as well.”

“Of course,” Klaus said, hiding his irritation. As irritating as she was, he was supposed to be gathering information on the Countess and there was no way to do that if Dorian kept sending him off. He walked to the bar rather faster than necessary, picked up two glasses of wine headed back over.

The Countess had settled down into Klaus’s vacated seat, and the pair of them seemed to be in deep discussion. Klaus came up behind them, close enough to hear, and fixed his gaze on a painting she had, somewhat incredibly, hung on the wall of the plane.

“… I just never thought you would go for the strong and silent type,” The Countess said. Klaus pretended not to be listening. “But you can’t always hold out for someone who is your, let’s say, intellectual equal. I admire your pragmatism.”

“Allow me to reassure you, Klaus and I are equals in a vast variety of ways,” Dorian said. Klaus grimaced - it was hard not to be offended, even on behalf of his fake cover. “Are you involved with anyone, these days?”

“Oh, there may be someone,” the Countess said. “You’ll meet him on the island.”

“What’s he like? Tall, dark, and handsome? Short, pasty, and Welsh?”

The Countess laughed. “He's and American, I’m afraid. But you mustn’t hold that against him, he’s fairly enamored with me.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially, and Klaus leaned in slightly as well. “And I have been known to be just as pragmatic as you are.”

Klaus grimaced, he really didn’t need to overhear anyone discuss the sordid details of Dorian’s sex life. News of an American was potentially very interesting, however. He moved around in front of them, cleared his throat to announce his presence.

“Here you are,” he said, and handed out the glasses he had acquired.

“Why Klaus, you remembered my favorite!” Dorian exclaimed, sipping his wine. “How considerate.”

“Yes,” Klaus said. “Sure.”

“I’ll give you boys some time,” the Countess said, and gave Klaus back his seat. She left to go talk to a thin man with a trimmed mustache, and probably say judgmental things about his life choices.

“Did you hear that about an American boyfriend?” Dorian asked.

Klaus nodded. “It may be a seduction angle, using him for information. Or they could be in this together.”

Dorian shrugged. “Well, nothing for it till we land.” He threw back the rest of his wine, and lay back in the seat.

“What are you doing?” Klaus said. “We should be talking to people.”

“Klaus, we’re going to be trapped on an island with them for days.” He rolled over and closed his eyes. “Take advantage of the peace and quiet while you can.”

Klaus considered trying to go talk to the other guests on his own. Instead, he decided to read a paperback.

 

*****

 

The Countess’s castle wasn’t far from the airstrip. Klaus had seen his share of intimidating European architecture in his day (including the castle Eberbach) but every inch of the villa dripped money, from the beautiful buttresses to the immaculately maintained medieval walls. The multitude of highly armed and dark-suited security personnel added their own touch of feudal charm.

The help rushed from the gates upon their arrival, picking up bags and bustling the guests inside. Klaus kept half his attention on Dorian as he surveyed the surroundings.

The Countess’s island was beautiful - wherever it was, it was about ten degrees warmer leaving the plane than it had been in England. The villa was perched in a cleared patch at the edge of a forest, and Klaus could see rolling fields spread out before the steep drop to the sea. As he suspected, they had been heading south, probably to Italy, or Greece. Klaus fought the urge to fiddle with the small transmitter slipped into his bag - it would be too suspicious if anyone were intercept a new radio signal that appeared as soon as the visitors landed. He'd have to set it up somewhere tonight.

“It’s quite beautiful, is it not?” one of the empty-headed twits interjected. Klaus glanced at Dorian, found him at the doorway of the house talking to a butler.

“Very charming,” Klaus said with a smile. “Though I have to say the security lessens the view.”

He chuckled as though Klaus had said something remarkably droll. “I would’ve expected the sight of such muscular young men might enhance the experience for you.”

Klaus stiffened - he had forgotten that being gay would mean liking men aside from Lord Gloria. If he had been married to a woman, it would’ve been normal, if romantic, to refrain from looking at other women. From everything he'd heard, it was unlikely that gay men shared that compunction. He wasn't sure what to make of the other man’s tone, either - was it mocking, or flirtatious? Both prospects were horrifying.

"Not particularly," Klaus said. "I'm very devoted to my husband."

"How curious," the man said, expression coalescing into a smirk. "I had no idea that your kind were interested in that kind of loyalty."

"William, Klaus, I'm so glad you two are getting on," Dorian said, with one of what Klaus recognized as one of his falser smiles. Klaus couldn't help but feel relieved that he'd arrived. "But we've all fallen behind! Everyone else has gone on for dinner, and I can't stand to be late." He grabbed Klaus by the arm and pulled him up the steps into the villa.

"What a pillock," Klaus said, once they were out of earshot, and through the villa doors. He took note of a security camera perched above them, cleverly concealed behind a gargoyle.

"I'm afraid that William's always been a bastard," Dorian said. "Sorry you got stuck with him."

They walked past a security guard, and Klaus scowled at him. "The nerve of him, implying that just because I'm a homosexual, that I'm sort of, I don't know, man-whore."

Dorian jerked to a stop in front of a large painting of some past person in a silly hat. "Klaus, you know you say worse things than that about me on a daily basis."

"Well, yes," Klaus said, defensive. "But that's different."

"How is this possibly different?" Dorian said, waving his arm. "Because it's happening to you instead of me?"

"No," Klaus said, trying not to sound sullen. "Because we have a long-standing relationship, and with us it's... banter."

Dorian raised a pair of well-maintained and skeptical eyebrows. “You don’t seriously believe that.”

“Just because I’m being insulting, doesn’t mean that I’m - ugh, you know what I mean.” Klaus said. “My point is, it’s different.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“No it isn’t,” Klaus said. “You want to hear ridiculous? You kidnapped the Pope.”

Dorian shot a pointed look at the security guards stationed along the passage. “Enough,” Dorian hissed, and led Klaus into the dining hall.

It was a huge, ornate room, full of large paintings and heavy draped curtains. The Countess stood at the head of her guests, deep in conversation with a tall man.

“Dorian, Klaus, dear,” the Countess said, and waved them over. “I don’t believe either of you have met my dear friend Henry Foster.”

He was near the Countess’s age, with salt and pepper hair and the build of a former athlete. Before he opened his mouth, Klaus was positive that he was the American. “Nice to meet you both,” he said.

“The pleasure’s mine, Mr. Foster,” Klaus said, and shook hands.

“Please, call me Henry,” Henry said.

A butler appeared, passed a note to the Countess, and whispered something in her ear. “Dinner is served,” she announced, and they all filed into place around a large table. Klaus tried to make his way towards the head of the table, where Henry and Roberta sat, but Dorian grabbed his arm.

"We need to be invited to sit with the host," Dorian said.

"And how do we get invited?"

Dorian shrugged. "Do something notable, I suppose. Pique her interest."

Klaus snorted, and let Dorian steer him down to the end of the table. "You're not notable enough for her?"

"I'm old news." They sat, and Dorian poured them both a generous helping of wine.

Lucy sat down across from Dorian with her husband, who had the thoroughly ridiculous name of Monty, on her left. And, unfortunately, William took the seat across from Klaus.

They made it through the soup course on the strength of Dorian's social skills, but by the time the salmon in béchamel sauce had arrived Klaus was forced to enter the conversation.

"Do you play any sports, Klaus?" Monty asked. "You seem the type."

"My Monty played rugby at Cambridge," Lucy said, and but her hand on his arm. Klaus reached for Dorian's arm to do the same, but missed, and stuck his fingers in the sauce.

"I played some football, in Gymnasium," Klaus said. "And I play tennis, from time to time."

"We always have a round of tennis in the afternoons," William said. "You must join us."

"It'll help even up the numbers," Monty said. "Since the Earl never takes part."

"No?" Klaus asked.

"He always avoided sports, even when we were in school," William said.

"I was always drawn towards less physically demanding pursuits," Dorian said. Klaus snorted - he'd seen the Earl climb sheer castle wall at midnight for the sake of a heist. Clearly his priorities had changed since school.

"We can't all be athletically inclined." William smiled. "If we were, who would keep the couches and tea rooms occupied?"

Klaus noticed Dorian stiffen slightly beside him. "I have always found Dorian to be very athletic," Klaus said.

Monty choked slightly on his wine, and Lucy hid her smile behind a napkin. "I mean he can run fast," Klaus flatly clarified.

"Klaus is very kind," Dorian said. "But I'm really not interested in that sort of thing." He patted Klaus's hand. Klaus looked at his watch - he had to get the transmitter running tonight.

"Tell us about how you and Dorian met," Lucy said. He was grateful to him for changing the topic, until he realized what she'd asked.

"Nothing too romantic, I'm afraid," Dorian said. "We were both…pursuing the same man, shall we say. But it was pretty obvious that we were a better match. We ended up locked out of his apartment, and Klaus lent me his coat while we waited for the locksmith to arrive. To keep our spirits up, he sang to me." Dorian blushed. "I fell in love right then and there."

"Why, Dorian," Lucy said. "That's very romantic."

"It almost sounds like the premise of a romance novel," William said, glib. "Did you end up huddling together for warmth?"

Klaus was speechless. That wasn't at all how it had happened. Dorian hadn't lied, as such, but when he said it all like that, it started to sound much more sordid.

“What ever happened to Caesar, anyway?” Dorian asked.

“I really don’t remember,” Klaus said. “We should go back to our room." He wasn't running from the conversation, it would just be easier to get the transmitter placed with most of the guests at dinner.

"In the middle of dinner?" Dorian asked. Klaus stared at him, hoping to convey "It's for a very important case reason" with his eyes.

"Yes, we should go," Dorian said. "You must be tired, from the flight. You're not an experienced flyer, it's so draining."

"Dorian? Surely you're not leaving," the Countess said. Klaus hadn't thought she could see them from the head of the table.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," Dorian said, apologetically.

"I'm a bit tired from the flight," Klaus added.

The Countess smiled over her wineglass. "Oh yes, 'tired.' I was young once, boys, you don't have to come up with excuses for me."

The table twittered, and Klaus wondered how ethical it would be to burn the place to the ground and salt the ashes to that nothing more would ever grow.

"Ha ha," said Klaus.

"What can I say?" Dorian said, sliding his arm around Klaus. "Young love."

*****

As soon as they were out of the dining hall, Klaus turned to Dorian. "Not a word from you.”

Dorian raised his hands, the picture of innocence. "Not a word was said."

Klaus counted to six before Dorian said: "However, I'm not the one who decided to flee in the middle of dinner."

Klaus sighed. "I've got a transmitter in my bag, I need to set it up someplace open, but not likely to be disturbed. It'll transmit our location back to NATO."

"And making an enormous scene was important, because this transmitter is powered by rich people gossip?"

"I thought it would be easier, without every single remaining offspring of the Hapsburg line trying to peek in on us."

Klaus looked for Dorian, and realized that he had stopped several doors back.

"The Hapsburg Empire was German," Dorian said.

"I am aware of that," Klaus snapped, and followed him back into their room. His bags had been piled elegantly in the corner, and didn't appeared to have been tampered with. He did a preliminary sweep of the room for bugs, and turned up a small microphone tucked into the elaborate armoire by the bed.

Dorian opened his mouth to say something, and Klaus held a finger to his lips. "Bugged," he mouthed, and flipped on the TV. It began playing the BBC coverage of a recent Premier League game. The noise would help cover their actions, but it wasn't safe to speak. Klaus mimed writing on his palm, and checked the far side of the room: there was a mic on the bedside table as well. No doubt the phones were also tapped.

Dorian dug into his pocket to produce a small notebook and pen. He wrote a message, and passed the paper to Klaus to read. Get rid of them!

Klaus shook his head, grabbed the pen away from Dorian. We can't let them know I've noticed. Act normal.

Does she know? Dorian wrote.

Maybe. It could be that she does this with all her guests. To learn their secrets. He grimaced. Or other intimate details.

Dorian snatched the paper back and wrote quickly. That pervert! I always wondered how she found out about the piercing thing. Klaus frowned. The end of the note wasn't as legible as the start - the Earl's handwriting became much harder to read as he got more irate.

You're one to talk, Klaus wrote, intentionally keeping his letters crisp and clear.

Do you think there were any in the hall? Dorian wrote.

Klaus shrugged. Even if, she won't be listening in to each mic every second. Prob. only checks personally when she thinks she might hear something interesting.

Dorian frowned, and then a strange expression passed over his face. Dorian looked away from Klaus, scrawled something down, and threw it at him.

We basically announced to everyone that we were leaving to have sex.

Klaus blanched. It hadn't occurred to him that they would have to follow up on any of their talk. If only Dorian hadn't been playing the flirt...

"I'm sorry, honey," Dorian said out loud, a little louder than he needed to, "I have a headache tonight."

Klaus shook his head, wrote Dorian a note. She won’t stop listening until she hears something gross.

Out loud, he said. "But Dorian, you promised."

Dorian read his note and shook his head emphatically.

"I expected you to be more enthusiastic," Klaus said out loud. He thought it worked equally well for both layers of conversation.

"Of course I'm enthusiastic," Dorian said. Of course I'm not ENTHUSIASTIC, Dorian wrote, and threw the notebook at Klaus’s head. This is coercive! Stressful! NOT ROMANTIC.

"Then come over here and let's get started," Klaus said. He hoped it sounded romantic, and not businesslike. We can just make noise and pretend, he wrote, and handed it to Dorian.

"Klaus, I love it when you take charge," Dorian said. For all his sulking, he did make it sound believable. He wrote, Follow my lead.

"Why you?" Klaus hissed.

Dorian didn't reply, just gestured to himself, as though to say, "Really?"

 

*****

 

"Come on now, Klaus, like that," Dorian gasped. They were seated in chairs on the opposite sides of the bed, and Dorian gave his side a kick.

Klaus kicked his own side of the bed; the springs creaked obligingly. "Yes, yes, Dorian," he said, without much enthusiasm. Dorian shot him a look, and Klaus added a groan that he hoped sounded realistic.

The earl seemed to be having no problems with realism at all. He moaned in a well-practiced way, and reached over to the sofa to pick up a magazine. "Keep going, yes, yes." Dorian flipped the magazine cover open. It had a feature story on Ronald Reagan, apparently. "Oh Klaus, you're so tight."

Klaus frowned - he hadn't pictured himself on the bottom. If he was going to have to have voyeuristic fake gay sex, at the very least he shouldn't have to be on the bottom. "Yeah, Dorian, my dick is tight inside of you," he said.

Dorian shot him another look, and raised his hands in a 'what are you doing?' kind of gesture. "Just like that. Take me into you." Dorian said, and punctuated it with a deep, breathy groan.

"I'm riding you, like a farmer," Klaus said, declaratively, and threw in a grunt at the end. He wasn't sure if he was using the right terminology.

"Sure, because you're a power bottom," Dorian said, and threw the magazine at Klaus's head.

Klaus leaned over the bed. "Stop that! You're making it confusing," he said, low, and kicked the headboard.

"I'm making it confusing? You started it!" Dorian hissed. "Oh Klaus you're so close, take me in your mouth," he said, loud enough that no one listening could miss it.

Klaus blushed. "Maybe you should give me a blowjob instead."

"Wow, you're doing such a great job enunciating with that cock down your throat," Dorian said.

Klaus let out an angry squawk, and dove across the bed. "Oh yeah, make that sound for me baby," Dorian said, dodging Klaus's grip. The thief twisted past him and pulled him over so they hit the bed, hard, with a heavy squeal of bedsprings. Klaus rolled over - he was going to have Dorian sent to Alaska and pecked to death by bald eagles, but in the meantime, maybe he could smother him with a pillow.

Klaus grabbed a pillow where it had fallen off the bed, and held it over Dorian's face. Dorian swung at Klaus, wildly, and connected with his left shoulder. Klaus let out a muffled grunt and put more weight on the pillow. Dorian crossed his arms, and managed to look disappointed even without the use of his face. He was saying something Klaus couldn't quite hear through the pillow. He lifted it away.

"I came," Dorian said, breathlessly. Then he punched Klaus in the face.

Klaus hit the bed, hard. "Me too."

He hoped that the Countess had gotten her show.

 

*****

 

Klaus dragged them both into the bathroom and turned on the shower. The noise of the water would keep the bugs from picking anything up.

"What the hell was that?" Dorian said, as soon as Klaus indicated it was safe to speak. "All you had to do was sit back and say ‘yes, Dorian, yes,’ how could you possibly mess that up?"

Klaus sat on the edge of the sink. "What do you mean? You're the one who decided that I was going to be your…" - he fumbled for the word - "…bottom."

"Bottom?" Dorian said. "Honestly, Klaus, it's not like joining a religion, people go back and forth and experiment and do all sorts of things. You don’t just get assigned a role and stick with it for life."

Klaus blushed. "It's not my fault that you weren't doing things fairly."

"I am a very caring fictional lover, Klaus!" Dorian hissed, louder than the shower. "Which you would know, if you had let me finish! You have had sex before, right? You know it's not a competition?"

"Of course I've had sex," Klaus glowered. "Though not nearly as often as you, I'm sure."

"Don't act like you actually know anything about my sexual history," Dorian said. "And don't act like it's some crime to enjoy sex. The repressed German bit is getting old."

"I'm not a repressed German," Klaus said.

"What's your number, then? Does it perfectly straddle the line between prudishness and depravity?"

Klaus turned away. "I'm going to set up the locator." He turned the doorknob and slipped out of the room without looking behind.

The hallways were mostly deserted. Twice, he had to duck into enclaves or behind statues to avoid the security patrol, but the beautiful marble halls meant it was easy to hear people coming. It was only about five minutes to the roof, but another five of setting the locator into place, and letting it calibrate.

Klaus resented the time alone with his thoughts - he knew exactly where he would end up. He wasn't a virgin, of course. No one looking to get into his field could be. It read as suspicious, for someone to have a personal life that was too private, too discreet. Every few years he found someone he liked at a bar or one of the Alphabets set him up on a date, and he went along with it. It wasn't like he was pretending; he just made sure it happened someplace easy to surveil. It was usually pleasurable, rarely memorable, and often awkward.

Klaus never really understood why sex was so important. He enjoyed the sensation, of course, but not any more than if he were to do it for himself. It was difficult, to have to focus so much on another person and their needs, to try and anticipate them in ways you didn't understand and couldn't always succeed at doing. Particularly when you don't know anything about them at all. His cheek hurt. Dorian hadn't hit him particularly hard, but it still stung.

The transmitter beeped once. NATO had their location now, in case of emergencies, and he could send out short messages from the transmitter. Ideally, he wouldn't have to, since there were only so many times he could get to the roof without garnering suspicion.

The trip back to the room was uneventful. Klaus pulled the door open quietly, but Dorian had been thoughtful enough to leave the TV on, to cover the noise of the door. He was curled on the bed, sound asleep. Klaus sighed - he had intended to sleep on the couch, but the microphones could easily notice a discrepancy like that. He turned off the TV, put on pajamas, and got into bed next to Dorian.

 

*****

 

The next morning, Dorian and Klaus got ready for brunch. Their conversation in the room was limited by the bugs, which meant that Dorian could say whatever ridiculous things he fancied, like “I slept so well last night,” and “you’re so beautiful when you’re sleeping,” and “I had a dream that you were a mermaid and we opened a ramen shop together under the sea,” and Klaus was forced to respond civilly.

By the time they got down to dining hall, Klaus was already frazzled and exhausted.

"I don't know why you're making such a fuss," Dorian said, over a glass of orange juice and a waffle. "This can't possibly have been worse than sleeping with Lawrence."

Klaus glowered murderously over the top of his coffee cup, but stopped when he saw Lucy approaching.

"Dorian, you look fresh this morning," Lucy said, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Well, I had a very invigorating night," Dorian said. He seemed to enjoy watching Klaus turn interesting shades of red.

"Why don't you join me for a ride this morning?" Lucy said. "If your husband can spare you, of course."

"No problem," Klaus said, managing something reminiscent of a smile. "Have a good time."

"I'll miss you terribly," Dorian said, and squeezed Klaus's shoulder before leaving. Klaus took advantage of Dorian’s proximity to drop a tiny microphone in his jacket pocket.

“So long,” he said casually, and waited until they were out of sight before running back to the room for his transmitter. This Lucy was an unknown entity, and apparently a friend of Dorian’s. He might be foolish enough to tell her the real reason why they were there. And if he happened to overhear personal gossip he could use against Dorian, all the better.

Klaus slipped on the headphones and adjusted his dial. By the time he found the right frequency, Dorian and Lucy were already on the trail.

"What's there to tell? I love him dearly," Dorian said. The sound of his voice was mingled with the steady clack of horses’ hooves and the softer sounds of nature.

Lucy snorted. "Dorian, there's always something to tell." Her voice was fainter, further from the microphone and harder to hear.

"He's clever, and he's handsome," Dorian said, flippant. "Not to mention, he's amazing in the sack." Klaus scowled. Dorian wasn’t doing anything unexpected, at least.

"He hates when you do that, you know," Lucy said.

Klaus furrowed his forehead, confused. Dorian must’ve felt the same way, because he hesitated before asking. "What do you mean?"

"Every time you make a sex joke, or some kind of innuendo, he tenses up," Lucy said. There was a snapping noise, like breaking a tree branch. "You must've noticed."

"We tease each other. It's very normal," Dorian said. He was trying for light, but Klaus could tell how measured his tone was.

"Yes, Monty and I have our inside jokes as well," Lucy said. "But you needle him."

“Monty’s a very nice man, but the last joke I heard him tell was, my hand to God, about why the chicken crossed the road.” Dorian said. “I doubt that humor is the foundation of your partnership.”

“Fine, yes, it’s more like I have jokes at Monty’s expense,” Lucy said. “But there you go again, trying to distract me by playing outrageous.”

“Well of course I do that.” Dorian’s horse slowed. "It's easier, who ever wants to have these kind of conversations?” Privately, Klaus agreed with him. It was painful even to listen to.

“I do. Not every day, certainly, but I think it’s healthy.”

“You don’t know what Klaus is like,” Dorian said. “He’s not very interested in emotions. Mine, his own, anyone else’s.”

Klaus frowned. Dorian was headed far off-script from where their pretend relationship was supposed to be. Klaus gripped the transmitter, as though he could keep Dorian from blowing their cover on sheer force of will.

“Why should I open up to him, if I know he’s just going to throw it back in my face?” Dorian asked. There was a pregnant pause, full of woodland sounds, before Dorian added, in a rush: “Not that he doesn’t care about me, of course, I know that.”

“Dorian,” Lucy said, sympathetically. “You’re a very sensitive person.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Dorian said. Klaus exhaled; it was kind of a relief to hear him be sarcastic.

“It’s not an insult, honestly,” Lucy said. “It just means that you’ve developed ways to protect yourself.”

There was another long pause. Klaus tapped his nails against the transmitter. It was an absurd conversation to be having, and Klaus, for the first time, felt a twinge of guilt for listening in. But he didn’t take his headphones off.

“I suppose you’re right,” Dorian said. Klaus turned up the volume; Dorian had gotten softer. The mic had likely shifted in his pocket. “I’d rather have my jokes brushed off than my actual feelings.”

"You're worried about being vulnerable."

"I suppose I am," Dorian said, wry. "No one can hurt you like the people you love.”

“Yes, but love is being able to trust people not to hurt you,” Lucy said. "Honestly, I thought being a man might give you an advantage in understanding your husband, but I see I was mistaken."

Dorian laughed, weakly. "I hope I haven't given you the wrong idea about our marriage. We're really quite happy together."

"Of course, it's clear how much he cares for you," Lucy said, and there was a noise that sounded kind of like Dorian riding into a tree branch, and swatting it away. "It would be much stranger if your marriage was all sunshine and roses. It's clear you've put a lot of emotional labor into your relationship."

"Well, marriage is hard work?" Dorian sounded vaguely breathless. Klaus wondered how hard he had hit that branch.

Lucy nodded. "And I want to see you at it. No more of that teasing, not around me at least. If I don't hear you being genuine, I'll have Roberta give you a talking to."

Dorian forced a laugh, and kicked his horse into a trot again. They continued talking about the weather and Lucy’s plans for summering in South America, but Klaus found it hard to listen. It was strange, to hear Dorian’s feelings laid out like that to another person. They seemed so normal. Klaus took off his headphones, and went downstairs to find something, anything to investigate.

 

*****

 

By the time Dorian got back to the villa, Klaus had finished his coffee, eaten a cruller, wandered the grounds, and completely failed to gather any valuable information on Henry or the Countess. He’d found the Countess’s office on the second floor, but was politely shooed away by the staff before he could examine the safe mounted on the wall. The Countess herself had rounded up most of the female guests for some unfathomable activity. Henry, for his part, had stayed behind but refused to do anything interesting. The man was jocular enough, but almost constantly surrounded by other guests and highly skilled at giving non-answers.

"What is it that you do, exactly?" Hamilton Grisham asked him. The men had gathered under an umbrella in one of the villa's many outdoor lounges, smoking Cuban cigars. Klaus sat in a white wicker chaise lounge and tried to observe surreptitiously from behind a paperback.

"Government work, mainly," Henry said, "Nothing worth writing home about."

“But I'm sure some of it must be exciting," Hamilton said. Klaus sighed into his book - Henry wouldn't have gotten far in his line of work if he would succumb to such a clumsy line of questioning. His attention shifted to the door to the house, which opened to admit Dorian and Lucy to the outside.

"How was your ride?" Klaus asked, not looking up from the book. Dorian perched at the foot of the lounge, though there wasn't much room around Klaus's long legs. Lucy headed over to the bar to fetch drinks.

"Not bad," Dorian said. "Relaxing. Anything interesting get on here?" He tilted his head meaningfully at Henry.

"Afraid not," Klaus said. Hamilton had moved on from pestering Henry to talking about his own investment in shipping businesses. While Dorian was looking over, Klaus pulled the mic from his pocket and slid it into his own. It had made sense to do, of course, but now that he thought it, there was no reason to include it in the final report. It wasn’t as though Dorian had spilled anything about the case.

"Where's the Countess?" Dorian asked.

“Doing something feminine,” Klaus said. "Couldn't follow her."

"She could’ve slipped away. She could be meeting a contact now. We don’t know when her next exchange is going to be.”

"I know that," Klaus said. "But running around the grounds looking for her with no idea where she is or what she's doing, if she’s doing anything at all, is only going to raise more suspicions."

"Enough talking," Henry said, and Klaus turned his attention back to his table. "Let's enjoy the weather and have a game."

"Splendid," William said. "I'd be honored if you'd join me for a tennis match."

"Let's make it doubles," Klaus said, and rose from his chair. If he needed to get Henry's attention, a respectable showing on the court would be a simple way to do it.

"I'm afraid we can't," William said, with visibly insincere disappointment. "Hamilton's injured his knee, and I'm afraid Carmichael and the boys are down at the vineyard. And Dorian never plays, of course. Not really the competitive type."

"That is a shame," Klaus said, mostly to cover for his vast disbelief that Dorian could be described as 'not competitive'. "Dorian, do you think you could play this year? For me?"

Klaus turned to Dorian and smiled. Knowing the Earl, he'd have to bargain.

"I can't deny you anything, Klaus," Dorian said, and slid languidly to his feet. "I think I would enjoy a game. It's been such a long time."

"Oh Dorian, won't that be a treat?" Lucy said. "I must go get Roberta, I know she'd hate to miss the match."

The tennis courts were located on the level below their lounge, giving the guests an excellent view from the terrace. The equipment shed was off to the side, and Klaus pulled Dorian in with him. He hadn't brought any tennis clothes, but the attendants were happy to provide him and Dorian with outfits in their sizes.

"I assume this has something to do with the case?" Dorian said lowly and swept up his hair into a rather dramatic ponytail.

"It's a good way to get Henry's attention," Klaus said. He turned to face the far wall, and unbuttoned his shirt. "The more we interact, the more invasive my questions can be."

"Assuming that you don't suffer a humiliating and abject loss." Dorian said.

Klaus pulled on his shirt, and shot a quick look over his shoulder. Dorian quickly averted his eyes, went over to the wall to consider rackets. He had changed with remarkable speed. Probably born of practice changing into impractical and dramatic outfits at a moments' notice. Klaus waited for some perverse comment about his body, but Dorian didn’t look over again, just turned the racket over in his hands.

"I don't need to win, whatever team I'm on. I just need to hold my own." Klaus picked up a racket, and gave it an experimental swing. At least he wouldn't have to worry about shoddy equipment, everything the Countess had was top-notch and barely used.

"How should we divide the teams?" Henry asked, when they emerged. He spun the racket in his hand, like the hilt of a sword.

Klaus paused. Being Henry's partner would bond them together, but defeating him could earn his respect. In the second that Klaus took to consider, William leapt forward sycophantically.

"I'll be on your team, Henry," William said.

"Ah, good," Dorian said. "That leaves me and Klaus."

"That's a shame, " William said. “It won’t be much contest, the two of us against two queens. Maybe we can switch up our pairings for the next match, so it’s something of a challenge.”

“No need,” Klaus said, coolly. “I wouldn’t underestimate us.”

They made their way to their side of the court. Dorian gave his racket an experimental swing.

“Forget what I just said to him,” Klaus said. “We don't have to win. It doesn't matter if you can't play. Just leave it to me.”

The first serve came down the center, and Klaus batted it back. Henry and William were both skilled players, and clearly saw the Earl as a weak link. They concentrated their returns on him, and Klaus fought to cover for Dorian without leaving his own side unguarded. The second he strayed too far towards Dorian's half, William got a ball past him for the point.

"Too bad," William said, disingenuously, as Klaus went to pick up the ball for the serve.

The match progressed much the same, until Henry lobbed a shot past Klaus, into Dorian's zone. Dorian hit it fast and straight, passing between William and Henry for the point.

"Good shot," Klaus said.

"Very lucky," William added, and served.

Klaus left Dorian room to tend his own side of the court, and they scored the next point. They stayed neck in neck for the rest of the set. Henry and William were stronger technical players than Klaus and Dorian, even Klaus could see that. But they were making mistakes, stepping on each other's plays and leaving openings that they should've accounted for. Klaus and Dorian weren't as fast or as good at controlling the ball, but when Klaus let something through his guard, Dorian was fast to send it back. And it was easy to predict when the Earl was going to miss a shot, or feint to give Klaus a chance to surprise their opponent.

They took a brief break before the start of the last game. Some of the other guests yelled their encouragement from their vantage point on the terrace above. Klaus recovered a water bottle from one of the many hovering attendants and passed it to Dorian.

Henry wiped the sweat from his eyes, and grinned across the court. "What a game! You fellas sure know how to play."

"Quite," William said. He looked irritated, and Klaus felt irrationally pleased at the prospect. "Dorian, you've been holding back on us. All these years, we thought you were just for decoration."

Klaus looked at Dorian. Dorian smiled at William. Klaus thought that if the Earl ever smiled at him like that, he'd catch the first available flight to a different continent, but William didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.

"You'll find that being beautiful and being functional aren't mutually exclusive," Dorian said. “At least, not for some of us.”

William’s face darkened. “No one asked you for your perverted opinion.”

The guests watching them twittered uncomfortably. Some hid smiles behind their hands.

“C’mon, enough chatting,” Henry said. "Let's get back to the game."

Klaus picked up the tennis ball, very careful to not look over at Dorian. He tossed the ball into the air experimentally, before serving it, hard and true, into William's right eye. William grabbed his face and swore; the crowd winced in sympathy. Henry barked out a laugh.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Klaus said. "I should have been more careful. It was such a fast serve, of course you'd miss it."

"Do you need us to stop?" Dorian asked. "We can take a break, get you some ice. Maybe a cold drink, or some lotion?”

"It's fine," William gritted out, and picked up his racket. "Let's keep going."

“Alright,” Klaus said.

“If you insist,” Dorian said.

“Quite inspirational.”

“Too brave.”

They ended up winning the match. The crowd applauded their approval, and Klaus saw a few dollars change hands as bets resolved. The Countess came down to fuss over Henry, and the rest of the group followed. Klaus found himself the victim of a number of vigorous back-pats and hand shakes.

"You didn't tell me you could actually play," Klaus said. He put his hand on Dorian's shoulder and patted him on the back. "Though I should've guessed, it's exactly the kind of useless skill you would have."

Dorian looked deeply unimpressed. "Are you sure we shouldn't have thrown the match?" he said, quietly.

"Yes," Klaus said, and turned away from graciously accepting Penelope's congratulations. "He'll respect us for winning."

"I hope you're right." Dorian had let down his hair again and it had gone frizzy in the heat, surrounding his head like a glowing halo. "I'd hate to compromise the case," he drawled.

Klaus watched William hold a glass of lemonade to his eye, while one of the other guests gave his arm a consoling pat. "It's not all about the case," he admitted, grudgingly. "I'm glad we got to take William down a peg."

Dorian burst into a blinding grin, and Klaus waited for him to say something unbearable. Possibly about pegging.

"I'm glad too," Dorian said, finally.

"I haven't had a match that good in years," Henry said. The Countess was holding on to one arm, but he used the free one to slap Dorian on the back. "You fellas put on one hell of a show."

"You were an excellent opponent," Klaus said. "And a very gracious loser."

Henry chuckled. "You'll have to sit with us at dinner tonight, so we can talk strategy."

"It wasn't about strategy, dear," the Countess said. "Your mistake was going against a married couple."

"How so?" Dorian asked.

"I've never seen two people more in sync with each other. Clearly the result of practiced teamwork."

"Ha ha, yes. Clearly," Klaus said. No need to correct the Countess of her convenient delusion.

 

*****

 

After they had changed and washed up, Lucy and Portia Brighton called Dorian and Klaus over for a few rounds of bridge. Klaus had never played before, but he was quite happy to lose - they were both full of gossip about some mysterious person the Countess was contacting at all hours.

"It's an affair, it has to be," Lucy said, and nibbled at a biscuit.

"I think she's being blackmailed," Portia said. She had wide brown eyes and a small blue hat she kept perched on the side of her head with some fastening device Klaus couldn’t conceive of. "She's got a bastard son who's looking to be acknowledged."

Lucy rolled her eyes. "We're not in some gothic novel, honestly."

"Have either of you seen this person?" Dorian said. "It could be a sordid romance, or it could be a business acquaintance." He continued his practice of refusing to sit like a normal person, and was sprawled languidly, one leg atop the arm of his chair.

They both shook their heads. "It can't be," Lucy said. "I've seen her, she got this little notebook she writes things down in. Carries it with her everywhere, won’t let anyone else see.”

"Hmm," Dorian said, with a conspiratorial smile. “Sounds very suspicious. Hard to imagine why she’d cheat on Henry, though. He’s quite dashing.”

Lucy and Portia giggled.

“I suppose, if you like senior citizens,” Klaus said. “And it could easily just be her diary,” he added.

“Klaus is very practical,” Dorian said, in a tone of voice usually reserved for apologizing for screaming children.

“It’s not just that,” Portia said. “I’ve seen her getting messages from her staff at odd hours. When Henry isn’t around.”

“She runs an estate, I’m sure there’s all sorts of business she has to see to,” Klaus said.

“Business that she can’t acknowledge around Henry?” Lucy said. “That is a bit unusual, at least.”

Klaus shot Dorian a look, and lost the rest of the rounds until dinner.

Portia and Lucy left to freshen up, leaving Klaus and Dorian alone in the lounge.

“It does sound suspicious,” Klaus said. “But it doesn’t prove anything.”

“We saw her get a message, though,” Dorian said. “Before dinner, last night.”

“They might be arranging a meet," Klaus said. “Or they might be letting her know that her order of lace doilies has arrived.”

“Only one way to find out.”

The bell rang for dinner. True to his word, Henry gestured Klaus and Dorian to come sit across from him, at the head of the table. Dorian sat at Roberta’s left, Henry on her right. Klaus slid in next to Dorian. Klaus was pleased to note that William sat at the very end of the table, next to a loud elderly man who had already begun berating his server for the amount of pepper in his soup. Klaus’s own soup was flavored perfectly.

"I hope you won't take offense at my curiosity," Henry said. Dorian turned his attention back to more pressing, less petty matters. "But I haven't met too many people like you before." He gestured with his wine glass, encompassing Klaus and Dorian.

"Henry," the Countess said, a note of warning in her voice.

"No offense meant, of course. It's just that you're both more normal than I expected."

Klaus laughed. "I can see why you might have that impression, not all gay men are secret cross dressers or eccentrics like your J. Edgar Hoover."

Dorian burst out laughing, and to his surprise, found Henry joining him.

"Oh, I know some feebs who'd have your guts for that one," Henry said, chuckling. "They still get a bit sensitive about old Ed."

"You work with the FBI, then?" Klaus asked. Dorian sipped his wine, looked excessively casual.

"Sometimes," Henry said. "I'm with Army intelligence, mostly." He lowered his voice and leaned forward across the table slightly. "It's not as glamorous as the movies say, but it does involve a lot of sensitive material."

"Is there anything you're allowed to tell us about?" Klaus asked.

"I can't go into details, but we're working on something new that'll make life pretty difficult for the Soviets," Henry said. The waiters came to bring out the second course, and Henry paused. Klaus glanced over at the Countess, but her eyes were fixed on Henry, assessing.

"Nothing dangerous, I hope," Dorian said, the soul of innocence..

“Well, not if you stay on our good side.” Henry smiled. “The best way to prevent violence is to have better weapons than the other side. If the Cold War’s been proving anything, it’s that.”

“You don’t worry about escalation?” Dorian asked.

“Trust me, even the threat of the SCYLLA is going to have the Soviets…”

"Henry, that's enough about work," the Countess cut in. She was still the very image of aristocratic ease in her chair, but her hand was clenched tight around her wineglass.

"You're right, I'm sorry," Henry said diplomatically, and leaned over to press a peck to her cheek.

Talk turned back to the dinner and the Grisham’s new vacation home through to dessert, when a server arrived to tell Henry about an urgent phone call.

"I'll be right back," he said, and slipped away from the table. Klaus looked up from his soufflé and tried to think of an excuse to follow him, when he noticed the butler stop to whisper something in the Countess's ear. He was talking too softly for Klaus to hear, but he noticed when the butler passed her a small folded piece of paper. She flipped it open, scanned it briefly, and set it down.

Klaus met Dorian's eyes briefly, no doubt he had also observed the entire exchange. Klaus couldn’t reach the note, but he could draw the Countess’s attention, give Dorian space to work.

"Countess, you must tell me more about how you met Henry," Klaus said.

“My, that’s quite a story,” the Countess said. “It was a year ago, I was in New York for business, and had stopped by my friend Claire’s to visit…”

Klaus kept his eyes focused on the Countess, nodded, asked follow-up questions. Did everything but look at Dorian, even for an instant. So he had no idea if the thief had finished by the time Henry returned.

"No trouble, I hope?" The Countess asked.

He shook his head. "Just some local official."

Klaus shot a glance at Dorian. No doubt it would be easy for the Countess to arrange a phone call when necessary to get Henry out of the way, if there was business she needed to deal with in secret.

After dessert was cleared, nightcaps were had, and the last of the gossip was picked over, the guests went back to their rooms. As soon as the door was shut, Klaus pulled Dorian into the bathroom, turned on the water.

"Did you get to the note?"

Dorian nodded. “She’s meeting someone tonight, at midnight. In the woods, but the note didn't say where, exactly."

Klaus grinned. "We'll beat her to the forest, and follow her in to the meeting point." He moved away to his suitcase and began to pull out the surveillance equipment he had snuck in. "Well done, Dorian."

"Two compliments from you in one day? You'll spoil me," Dorian said. “Now, where did I put my turtleneck?”

 

*****

 

Klaus had done his fair share of surveillance missions - often more than his fair share, before he was promoted high enough that his brusqueness didn't count as insubordination. They were always, as a rule, dull. He had perfected the art of waiting, eyes focused but not fixed, mind meditatively blank. Unsurprisingly, Dorian was much less adept at the process.

"You can go wait in the room," Klaus said, after the 14th time Dorian had sighed and popped his knuckles. He had already had to prevent Dorian from shredding nearby foliage, which was at least quiet but likely to give away their position, and humming, which was likely to do both.

"Are you joking?" Dorian said. "I'm the closest thing you have to backup."

That was, unfortunately, true, and not likely to be helpful. "Then stop fidgeting."

Dorian stopped moving, and Klaus counted to 97 before Dorian said, "If you want me not to fidget, you need to talk."

"Talking is a distraction. We could miss something important." Klaus sank lower to the ground. From their position, they could see both exits to the house, and the Countess's bedroom window. She hadn't yet moved from her settee.

"I'm a walking distraction," Dorian said. "It hasn't held you back at all, over the years."

"Please," Klaus snorted. "Maybe I'd be director of NATO now, if you didn't manage to mess up all my cases."

"Or maybe you'd have been sent to Alaska for all the times you would've failed completely without my help." Dorian said. "Or be dead in a ditch somewhere."

"Fine.” Klaus said. “What do you want to talk about?"

Dorian paused. It was clear he hadn't thought that far ahead.

"So how's the case going?" Dorian asked, eventually.

"Fine."

Dorian waited. After a minute, he said, "That doesn't count as talking, you know."

"We've gathered new intel, we haven't been compromised. We’ve verified the source’s identity, though he doesn’t have any idea that he’s a source, apparently, and we should have enough evidence to send them both to jail for a long time." Klaus said. "So, like I said, well."

“Do you know that that SCYLLA thing Henry was talking about is?”

Klaus shook his head. “The way the Countess reacted, it may be what she’s interested in.” He shifted his weight, even though it was warmer here, the dirt was cool and damp at night, and it was soaking through his trousers. “It would be nice to have some department resources. They’ve traced our position by now, but there’s no quick way to call for backup.”

"Do you miss the Alphabets?" Dorian asked. He'd tied his hair back for the sake of camouflage, but a few rebellious curls had broken free and slid out from under his knit cap.

"What? Why do you ask?" Klaus said.

"Just curious," Dorian said. "They're your team. Great as I am, I'm sure I can't compensate for them."

"I miss having people to do the grunt work," Klaus admitted. "They're all quite competent, when they need to be." He frowned. "But don't ever tell them that."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Dorian said.

"How about your team?" Klaus asked. "You don't miss James, obviously."

Dorian laughed, quiet, and muffled it with his arm. "It can be a nice change of pace. I never bring my crew on Roberta's getaways, though."

"Hard to see them fitting in."

"No." Dorian smiled. "It's getting harder to see myself fitting in, too."

Klaus paused. He had a thought, but wasn't sure of how to phrase it. "I've always thought you were ridiculous, but these people…" He trailed off. "You could've come out much worse, I suppose."

"Thanks for that," Dorian said, dry as a bone.

"No, that's not... I expected that these people would show me something new about you." Klaus grimaced, that sounded unacceptably personal. "From an intelligence standpoint, I mean. But the people here don't know a thing about you. Except Lucy, maybe."

"It's not like I advertise the fact that I'm Eroica to these people," Dorian said.

"Sure, but it isn't only that. They're cruel, and insipid. And wrong, a lot of the time." Klaus said. "I mean, even I know more about you."

"Klaus, they don't behave any worse to me than the rest of the world does," Dorian said. "You're playacting at being a gay man, but I have to live with it, every day. You get a thick skin." He shrugged.

"I expected they would be your friends," Klaus said.

"They aren't. Which is better, really. I don't have to care about what they think," Dorian said. "I haven't cut my ties with high society, but there's a reason I tend to avoid it. I've found other, more fulfilling things to do with myself."

"By which you mean crime."

Dorian tipped his head. "Crime, yes. And art. I like working with you, too. And I consider you a friend."

He said it simply, tossed off, so much so that Klaus nearly didn't focus on it. Klaus wasn't an emotional person, not by choice or design, but by nature. The simplicity of the sentiment felt like it slid between his ribs.

"I…" Klaus said, but there was a flurry of movement at the side door, and the Countess slid out of the house, accompanied by a small troop of bodyguards.

"Here we go," Klaus said, and sank close to the ground. She entered the woods north of them.

The Countess and her crew made enough noise moving through the woods that Klaus and Dorian could follow behind, out of sight. They came to a halt in a clearing where a group of men were already waiting. Klaus lead Dorian around the side of the clearing, where the trees were thicker. By the time they had settled and gotten their gear into position, they had missed any introductions.

“Your conduct of late has been disappointing,” the new man said. He was Russian, and he carried himself with KGB stiffness and authority.

“Kiril, I can’t see how that’s possible. No one else has managed to get any information on the SCYLLA satellites for you, much less the launch codes.”

“True,” Kiril said. “But no one else has arrested an agent of mine, in friendly territory, while trying to meet at a rendezvous point.”

“A very regrettable accident,” The Countess said.

“You clearly don’t have your American pet under control.”

“I assure you, he has no idea of my operation. As far as he knows, your man was tailing him.”

Kiril laughed derisively. One of the Countess’s men shifted, adjusted his grip on his gun. “Just keep him from, how does the expression go? Thinking with his head?”

"I was selling secrets back when you were still learning the alphabet in your ridiculous collective primary school," The Countess said, icy. "I don't need you to tell me how to do my job. If you want the plans, you need to pay for them. Or is that too complicated for you? I understand that you may have some problems with capitalism.”

Kiril took a furious step forward, and Klaus tensed along with every person in the clearing. A firefight in the woods, in the dark, would be messy. He grabbed Dorian by the shoulder, pressed him low to the ground, but Kiril schooled his expression, stepped back.

“I understand,” he said, and shook the Countess’s hand with only a hint of stiffness. The group began to break up, and Klaus began packing his supplies. He didn’t bring much, just a small recording device and binoculars. They waited 15 minutes, long enough for the Countess to make her way back to the house, before they started moving through the dark.

They had made it within sight of the house when Klaus heard the deliberate sound of someone moving through the underbrush - the Countess had left guards to patrol the woods. Klaus grabbed Dorian, but he was already moving, pushing his back the way they came. He tried to move quietly, but was impossible to do it and be quick.

“Who’s there?” The guard said, and Klaus dropped his bag, tossed it into a bush. At the very least, they wouldn’t catch him with it. Dorian turned to him, eyes wide, but not panicking.

“Run,” Klaus hissed, and took a step in the guard’s direction. There was no way to hide. He could lead the guard off, maybe even take him one-on-one. If not, Dorian could get away, send for backup.

Dorian reached out and grabbed Klaus’s arm. “Absolutely not.”

Klaus whirled towards him in exasperation, ready to tear away, and instead Dorian was reaching out to him, drawing him close. “I’m sorry,” Dorian said, pulling off his hat, and Klaus knew exactly what was going to happen.

They had only seconds but the time stretched, infinite, as Dorian reached his hand up to Klaus’s face, running his fingers along his jaw. Klaus had shaved that morning, but the barest trace of stubble remained, a slight roughness that caught against the pad of Dorian’s thumb. He tilted Klaus’s head back and drew him close, gentle, getting him used to the sensation of Dorian’s breath on his face, his fingers in his hair. Klaus could feel his breath quicken, his face flush, in what he told himself was anger. The kiss itself was almost anticlimactic - a soft press of the lips, dry and hot, to the side of Klaus’s mouth. Dorian moved his head - the motion would imply a deeper kiss, and his curtain of hair would keep others from seeing too closely.

Klaus grabbed Dorian; his first thought to pull away, to come up with a better plan. The guard must’ve been close, almost on top of them, but Klaus couldn’t tell, he couldn’t hear anything beyond the beating of his heart, or feel beyond the heavy press of Dorian against him, the smell of his skin. There was warmth under his hands, and he realized that he had worked his way up Dorian’s body, lifting his shirt, grabbing his hair. Dorian gasped in surprise and Klaus pulled Dorian’s face towards his own with astonishing fervor, kissing him like it was something real.

“Who, oh, um…” The guard interrupted them, finally, and they broke apart. Klaus did not look at Dorian. The guard facilitated by waving his flashlight around, anywhere but on them.

“What’s the problem here?” Klaus said. He fought to keep his voice steady.

“No guests are allowed in the woods after dark,” the guard said, regaining some of his composure. “What’re you doing out here?”

“Oh, we had no idea,” Dorian said. He sounded breathless. “We just came out here for some privacy, you know.”

“The woods are very romantic,” Klaus said.

“We didn’t mean to cause any trouble,” Dorian added.

“It’s fine,” the guard said, clearly not fine. He had put away his gun, and was reaching for his radio. “I’ll need to walk you back to the villa.”

“Of course,” Klaus said. “There’s no need to tell anyone about this, is there?”

The guard looked at his radio. “I mean, it’s a bit embarrassing. And we don’t want to get you involved,” Klaus continued.

The guard paused, probably to consider how much teasing he’d be subjected to when news of this got back to his squad.

“Alright. But you can’t come back here again.”

“Yes, sir,” Dorian said.

“Definitely not,” Klaus added.

The guard dropped them off at the door of the villa, and they walked the rest of the way to their room in silence.

“So,” Dorian said, once they opened the door. Klaus didn’t reply, just went into the bathroom and locked the door. His hands were shaking, but he brushed his teeth, maybe for longer than was necessary. It had never, or rather, he had never, felt like that. It had been awkward, pleasant, fun, sometimes, but not… He threw his toothbrush into the mirror - it bounced and landed in the bathtub. He picked it up and put it back in the sink.

Dorian was sitting on the bed when he came out, flipping through a catalog and trying very hard to be casual. “So,” Dorian said, looking up. “Do you want to talk?”

“No.” Klaus said, and waited for Dorian to push, to needle, to make some terrible innuendo that would let Klaus be angry and normal again.

“Okay,” Dorian said. They didn’t say anything else for the rest of the night.

 

*****

 

They were out of the room in record time the next morning. No one appeared to have told the Countess about their night in the woods, since she treated them the same as ever.

“I’m afraid you’ll all have to entertain yourselves today,” she announced at the dining room table. Klaus concentrated on shredding a cheese danish. “I’m going to be busy getting things in order for the ball tonight!”

“Ball?” Klaus asked Dorian.

“There’s a black tie event, last night of the retreat, every year,” Dorian said. He, likewise, was avoiding eye contact, and was instead focusing on his mimosa. “I could’ve sworn I told you.”

Klaus sighed. “And I suppose that if I look through our bags, I’ll find a tuxedo in my size?”

“You know me too well,” Dorian said.

Klaus grimaced. This would be the time to nip things in the bud - he had gotten caught up in a moment, done something he never should’ve done. The normal thing to do would be to blame Dorian for finding some flimsy excuse to kiss him. Even if he’d done it to save their lives. Even if he’d apologized beforehand.

Dorian started speaking before Klaus could rally his thoughts. “I know you’re upset about last night, but I didn’t have a choice. It was a much better idea than leaving you there by yourself.”

Klaus looked around: the rest of the guests sat in small clusters, nursing hangovers and studiously ignoring the rather increased guard count posted along the perimeter of the room. It would be safe to talk.

“I understand,” Klaus said. “You thought quickly, and did the right thing. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable by being unprofessional.”

Dorian blinked. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable,” he said.

“Good,” Klaus said, with certainty he didn’t actually feel.

“I feel like this is backwards from how this usually goes,” Dorian said faintly.

“Not really; you never even bother apologizing to me,” Klaus said.

“Fair enough.”

"More importantly, we need to figure out where she's keeping the SCYLLA specs," Klaus said, and pulled over a croissant to replace his danish. "I've checked out her office, it definitely has a safe in it."

Dorian looked startled by the abrupt change of topic, but recovered quickly. He poured himself more mimosa. “She wouldn’t use that safe, I've seen the butler and staff use it. Something this sensitive means her personal safe.”

"Where is it?" Klaus asked.

Dorian tilted his head towards the head of the table. Opposite the fireplace stood a large, ostentatious painting of frolicking youths, exactly the kind of thing Dorian was inclined to steal.

"It's behind the painting? I wonder how you could've figured that out," Klaus said, dry.

"Klaus, I hope you aren't implying that I would consider stealing such a lovely painting from a dear friend," Dorian said. “For one thing, it’s very heavy and impossible to smuggle out..."

"There are people in here every hour of the day, there's no way we can sneak in," Klaus said.

To Klaus's surprise, Dorian grinned. "Most of the time, yes. But during the ball tonight, the place will be deserted."

"That's good," Klaus said. "We don't need to go to the ball, then."

"I'm afraid we do. We need the combination to the safe, and the only way to get it is from the Countess."

Klaus frowned, tore his croissant to pieces. "Her notebook."

Dorian nodded. "She might have it there."

"If she doesn't, we're in trouble.”

There was an eruption of laughter from the table by the window, and Klaus noticed that Lucy's attention was fixed on him.

"That can't be good," Dorian said.

Sure enough, Lucy glided over and grabbed Klaus’s arm. “The girls are all going off to the pool, and you must join us, Klaus. I feel like we’ve had hardly any time to get to know each other.”

“I could go for a dip,” Dorian said, diplomatically, but Lucy waved him away.

“I’m afraid that Monty needs an extra for the polo game.”

Dorian sighed. “This is why I avoid sports. First it’s a round of tennis, if you don’t put a stop to it you wake up captain of the Olympic rugby team.”

Klaus could have protested, but it was something of a relief to be away from Dorian for a few hours. Spending time with Lucy and the women was easy, they entertained themselves and left Klaus to nod and smile and plan for tonight. Klaus acquired a drink with an umbrella and sat near the edge of the pool near some sunbathers.

It wasn’t that working with Dorian was going poorly. It was just confusing. Every second he let his mind wander, it seemed to loop back to that moment in the woods, the feeling of Dorian’s breath on his lips. It was unbearable. He wished he could glare his own subconscious into submission.

“Klaus,” Lucy said, interrupting his reverie. “Are you coming in the water?”

Klaus looked over. He had acquiesced to putting on swim shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, but he had no intention of actually getting in the pool.

“No, thank you,” Klaus said. “I’d prefer to stay up here.”

“That’s a shame. Though I suppose I don’t need to worry about you enjoying the view too much.” She laughed at her own joke.

It took Klaus a minute to realize that she was talking about the abundance of well-toned and bikini-clad women making themselves comfortable at the side of the pool.

“Oh, well, yes,” Klaus said. “Not an area of interest.”

As soon as there was a reasonable break in the conversation, he slipped away from the crowd with the excuse of a headache. He avoided the house and instead entered the woods, trying to retrace his steps from last night. The forest looked different in the light of day, but with some wandering in circles he was able to find a small clearing that might have been the one that they had used. He poked around in the bushes, but didn’t have any luck finding the surveillance equipment.

Klaus checked his watch - it was nearly time for the ball, and staying in the woods was making him uncomfortable. The entire place was a reminder of the confusion of the night before. He expected Dorian to be waiting around every tree, face flushed and hair flying and eyes gentle. He kicked a log hard enough to scare off a rabbit, a snake, and a pair of sparrows, and gave up the search for the bag.

 

*****

 

When he got back to the room, Dorian was nowhere to be found. He’d left a note explaining that he had already changed into his formalwear. Klaus got dressed as well; the tuxedo was distressingly well tailored. The Earl clearly had a very good grasp of his measurements.

The ballroom was an open, airy space, huge windows lining the wall and glistening chandeliers low and heavy on the ceiling. The musicians, a small orchestra, were clustered at one end of the hall, and long tables with hors d’oeuvres and drinks were down at the other. Klaus adjusted a cufflink, and scanned the room for a view of Dorian. He found him near a window, holding two delicate flutes of champagne. It was incongruous seeing Dorian in a tuxedo, the masculine cut of the suit drawing attention to the loose curls of his hair, the gentle swoop of his mouth, which was currently curved up into a smirk.

“Klaus,” Dorian said, and held out the champagne in greeting.

“I don’t want to hear anything about how I look,” Klaus said. “We make an appearance, get the combination from the Countess, and slip out after a non-suspicious amount of time.”

Dorian pouted, but nodded. “Oh, fine. What do you need me to do?”

Klaus tapped his foot against the marble floor. “We need to get on the dance floor. It’s the best way to get close to the Countess.”

“Are you asking me to dance?” Dorian said. He looked like he was trying quite unsuccessfully to avoid smiling.

Klaus scowled. “I’ll lead. I imagine you have more practice with the ladies part.”

Dorian made a small huffing noise that Klaus knew meant he thought Klaus was being particularly ridiculous. “Alright, if that matters to you.”

“I said, I’ll lead,” Klaus found it difficult to be appropriately threatening while holding a champagne glass.

“Fine.” Dorian said. The orchestra struck up a foxtrot, and Dorian led him out to the floor.

Klaus found it easy to slip into the rhythm of the ballroom. It had been years since his father had made him (or “strongly encouraged” him to) attend a ball, but the dances were familiar, and it was easy to fall into step. Even if Dorian was an unconventional partner, he danced well. Klaus moved with the flow of the other dancers, and watched the Countess dance with Lucy’s husband.

“I still consider it the great disappointment of my life that I didn’t get to see you do the traditional Tyrolean dance, you know,” Dorian said. His hand rested on Klaus’s shoulder, thumb just brushing his lapel. “The photos where quite evocative.”

Klaus glared at Dorian, and steered them towards the Countess’s position. “It’s for the best you weren’t there, I would’ve had to kill you.”

Dorian laughed. “It might have been worth it.”

It felt strange to rest his hand on a man’s waist. The last time he had done it was when he had to help Dorian off the bridge to Czechoslovakia. By the time he had gotten Dorian to the hospital, he was basically carrying him, supporting Dorian’s weight in the car as he tried to keep him conscious. Klaus looked down: his hand had tightened on Dorian’s waist. He made himself loosen his grip.

The song ended, and there was a dignified scramble for new partners. William claimed the Countess before Klaus could offer a dance, so he took Dorian’s hand again. William’s eye was a rather cheering shade of purple and yellow.

“You two make quite a pair,” Portia said as she passed by, and patted Klaus on the arm. “I hope one of you will dance with me later tonight?”

“Of course,” Klaus said, and the music started back up again. Portia whirled off with her husband.

“I don’t know why people keep doing that,” Klaus grumbled, once they were safely out of hearing.

“Doing what, complimenting you?” Dorian said. “I know, it’s hard to believe.”

“They’re not complimenting me, they’re complimenting us. It’s been happening all weekend.”

Dorian gave him a measuring look, and Klaus remembered that he wasn’t supposed to have any knowledge of Dorian’s conversation with Lucy. “I mean, the Countess said the same thing, after the match. You’ve noticed it too, haven’t you?” he continued.

“I suppose I have heard a few comments to that effect,” Dorian admitted. “I suppose it bothers you, to be lumped together with me?”

“Not exactly,” Klaus said. “I just don’t know what they’re seeing.”

“Klaus,” Dorian said, head tilted, voice light. “You’re the smartest, most insightful spy I’ve ever met. You can’t tell me that you don’t see how well we work together. I don’t believe you.”

Klaus wanted to jerk away, to run from the conversation, but Dorian held him in place, kept them whirling around the room. He was still following, technically, but very much in control.

“Even when we’re working against each other, we still manage to accomplish more than your alphabet has ever done. We understand each other, we anticipate each other. Keeping up with you has pushed me to take risks, to be smarter,” he shook his head a little, self-deprecating. “To be brave. We could do anything, Klaus!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Klaus snapped. “But how am I supposed to work with you if I can’t trust you?”

Klaus realized that the music had stopped, and the Countess had paired with Henry for the next dance. Dorian moved to pull away, but Klaus kept a hold on his hand, and pulled him back. The band struck up a waltz, low and heavy.

“We need to get closer to the Countess,” Klaus said. Dorian didn’t say anything in reply. “And I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be harsh.”

“It’s all right,” Dorian said. He focused his gaze on Klaus’s pocket square, and smiled to himself. “Do you remember, after that business in Austria, I asked you for a dance?”

“I said no. For all the good it did.”

“Life does have a way of working out,” Dorian said, and pulled himself closer, so they were less in a waltz than an embrace. He leaned his head on Klaus’ shoulder. “Not to sound like a greeting card.”

Klaus could feel the vibrations of Dorian’s voice through his chest. “We’re playing pretend,” Klaus said. “You know that.”

“Of course,” Dorian said. “I like pretend, though, and there’s no harm in enjoying it.”

“Because it’s safer.”

“Yes, and because there’s a chance that you’ll play along.”

“Dorian, I don’t like games and make-believe. I’m not a… fanciful… person like you are.” Klaus felt like every word was a shard of glass - terrible to speak but worse to swallow. “I can’t be with someone if I don’t know where I stand with them, if I can’t trust them, if they’re using me.”

“I’m sorry,” Dorian said, and lifted his head, pulled. “I shouldn’t have…”

“You’re not listening to me.” Klaus said, and somehow he kept turning, spinning the steps of the dance. “If I’m going to be in… in a relationship with, someone, I need to trust them.” Klaus could feel that Dorian had stopped breathing. “I need to know they aren’t pretending.”

Dorian’s face was so close to his own. It was so simple to lean down, to press their lips together. It lasted for a heartbeat, just long enough to register, then Dorian was spinning Klaus around and saying, “Countess! So good to see you, I know Klaus was dying to ask you for a dance.”

Klaus turned to find the Countess and Henry. “Would you do me the honor?” he asked, rather louder than he intended.

“It would be my pleasure,” the Countess said, and held out her hand, and then Henry was taking Dorian by the arm and they were lost in the crowd.

Klaus hardly remembered how to make casual conversation, but he stammered through some pleasantries. The Countess had a small bag dangling from her wrist. He started coming up with a plan for accessing it, but some traitorous part of his mind kept leading his eyes back to the crowd, searching for Dorian.

“What do you think about it?”

Klaus turned his attention back to the Countess - with his mind pulled fifteen different directions, he had completely forgotten to pay attention to what he was saying.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t…” Klaus said.

“It’s all right,” she said smoothly. “I didn’t mean to take you away from your husband. You’re quite devoted to him.”

Klaus bit his tongue. He’d had a lifetime’s worth of people trying to explain things to him they didn’t even understand. “Please forgive me.”

“That’s not what you need to be apologizing for,” she said. “It’s a much lesser offense than spying on me.”

Klaus kept his face expressionless, but faltered half a step. He was sure the Countess noticed. “Spying? I don’t know what you mean.”

“Please, let’s not waste time on denials, we found your equipment bag in the woods,” the Countess said. He fought the urge to turn his head, look for Dorian - the last he saw, he was with Henry, who wasn’t working with the Countess, but her guards were everywhere, it would be only a matter of seconds for one of them to grab him. “I do wonder how you managed to get Dorian to agree to it. Some kind of blackmail, I suppose? Or perhaps you seduced him. He always was rather gullible.”

Klaus clenched his jaw. “You must know I’ve been in contact with my agency. If you do anything to me, there won’t be a place on Earth you can run to.”

“I don’t know about that,” the Countess said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am very wealthy. And I own everyone and everything on this island.”

“This is a very small island,” Klaus said.

There was a sharp crack, of glass breaking, and then every light in the room went out. Klaus’s body reacted before his brain even caught up - he twisted the Countess’s arm, pulled the bag from her wrist, and ran out of the ballroom. He didn’t know what had caused the distraction, but he had been in the field long enough to know when to take advantage of one.

He heard the Countess shouting behind him for security, but she was interrupted by shouting in Russian. Klaus swore under his breath - as he had feared, the Soviets had gotten tired of waiting, and had decided to accelerate the deal. The other guests had stopped dancing, and Klaus took advantage of their confusion to run for the door.

He took one last look around the ballroom for Dorian, but even with the moonlight through the windows it was too dark to pick him out, or even be sure he was still in the room. He turned and left, before the Countess could figure out which way he had gone.

His best bet was to get to the dining hall and get the specs, stay one step ahead of Kiril and his men. He turned towards the dining hall, but dove under a decorative table when he heard other people coming. Some of the shouting was in English, now - the security forces had encountered the KGB, he could only assume. Klaus lay still as the men moved through the hall. The situation hadn’t escalated to full-scale panic yet -the Soviets were likely trying to find the safe, and the security forces were trying to keep the situation low-key. It would avoid panicking the guests, but it was much more likely to get them killed, if the Soviets got past security.

Klaus took advantage of the opportunity to look through the Countess’s notebook. It was neatly organized, which was a nice quality in general but a drawback for her in this kind of situation; it was simple for Klaus to find the key to the safe he needed. It was a long string of numbers and letters, and a cryptic note on the side that read “two people.” Klaus repeated the combination to himself to memorize it, and tore the page from the book. When the hallway finally quieted, Klaus crawled out from under the table and threw the page into a nearby flower vase.

Klaus ran towards the dining hall, but stopped at the sound of voices. The doors to the library were partially open, and he pressed up against them to look into the room. He had to find Dorian.

The room was dark, either the lights were out in the entire villa or someone had shut them off in the room. The voices weren’t Russian, Klaus could pick out what he thought was Henry’s voice, murmuring and low.

“I haven’t, I don’t…” Henry said, his voice fading out.

“But you want it, I can tell,” a second voice said, and Klaus recognized Dorian, instantly. “And I want it too.”

Klaus frowned. It was hard to make sense of their conversation. He slid the door open further, slipped through it. His motion cast a shadow against the wall, but Dorian and Henry didn’t notice. They stood in front of a bookshelf, eyes locked on each other.

“What about Klaus?” Henry said, and Klaus froze at the sound of his name.

“Forget about him,” Dorian said. He tilted his head in a way Klaus knew would show off his neck, his hair, his jaw. Even in the darkness, he could see that Dorian had his hand resting on Henry’s belt. “It’s never exclusive, with people like us. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

Klaus felt sick. Henry and Dorian had no idea of the danger outside, they had just come here to be alone together. He heard footsteps outside and curled himself up behind an armchair just as the door swung open.

Henry pushed Dorian away with a speed that would’ve been comical, under different circumstances. A black-suited guard murmured something insistent to Henry, updating him on the attack, no doubt. Klaus wondered idly how the Countess was going to explain this to him in a way that he would believe.

Henry grabbed the guard’s gun, and gestured at Dorian. “Stay here with him,” he said, and took off into the hallway.

“What’s going on?” Dorian asked. He didn’t seem embarrassed, just wary.

The guard started to answer, but Klaus unfolded himself from his hiding spot, grabbed him, and knocked him unconscious in a matter of seconds.

“Klaus!” Dorian said. “Thank god…” He looked so happy to see him. It was amazing what a good liar he was.

“We don’t have time,” Klaus said. He couldn’t look Dorian in the eye. “The KGB are here. We need to get to the safe.”

“Right,” Dorian said. He took a step forward, and reached for Klaus’s hand. “I have to…”

“Don’t touch me.” Klaus yanked his hand away.

“What’s wrong?”

Klaus stepped over the prone guard’s body. “What’s wrong? You couldn’t even wait until the mission was over to get into someone else’s pants, that’s what’s wrong.”

Dorian froze. He looked like he was bracing himself for impact. Klaus turned away. It wasn’t like one kiss would change years of who they both had been. He should’ve known better than to expect anything else from the Earl. He shouldn’t even be angry, it was just another sign of his own weakness.

“Did you need intel from him, or was he that irresistible?”

“That’s not what happened, Klaus,” Dorian said.

Klaus didn’t respond, just started down the hallway. There wasn’t any time, either the Countess’s security would finish with the Soviets, or the Soviets would reach the dining hall. He didn’t wait for Dorian, who had wasted so much of his time already.

Dorian finally caught up to him at the mercifully empty dining room. “Klaus, stop, don’t be angry,” he said. “Just look at me.”

“I’m not angry at you,” Klaus said. He pulled the painting off of the wall and threw it onto the dining room table, shattering some glassware in the process. “I’m mad at myself. After all this time, I should have known better when working with a... a... -“

“With a what?” Dorian’s voice was cold and brittle. Klaus didn't respond.

Dorian grabbed Klaus by the lapel of his tuxedo and threw him up against the wall. Klaus was too surprised to struggle.

“I came on to Henry because he knows about us. I needed to make him think that I was being coerced by you, so he’d believe I would want to work with him. To save both of our necks.” Dorian was angrier than Klaus had ever seen him, shaking with it.

Klaus tried to push back against Dorian's arms, but the Earl was remarkably strong. “The Countess…” Klaus said.

“They’ve been working together the whole time. Henry’s been using her to broker the deal with the Russians. All of which I could have told you, if you’d listened to me for five seconds, instead of assuming the worst of me, like you always do. I am sick of excusing your behavior just because I love you."

Dorian paused. He was breathing heavily; Klaus felt like he couldn’t breathe at all. “It’s not my fault that after all these years, after everything I have done for you, you still don’t trust me. It’s your own goddamn fault for still seeing me as some-” Dorian bit back his words. His grip loosened, then dropped.

“You don’t know a damned thing about me.” He turned away, started walking back to the door.

“Where are you going?” Klaus asked.

“I’ll get to the roof, send a transmission,” Dorian said.

“It’s dangerous. You should wait.”

“You don’t need me here,” Dorian said.

“Dorian...” Klaus started.

To his surprise, Dorian did stop, and waited for Klaus to finish speaking. Klaus realized that he didn’t have any way to finish his sentence.

“Klaus, you remember that I asked for a favor, in exchange for doing this job?” Dorian said.

Klaus nodded.

“When we get out of this, I need you to not contact me again.” Dorian said. “That’s my favor.”

He didn’t wait for Klaus’s response.

Klaus turned his attention back to the safe. His anger had left, replaced with some terrible vacuum that he didn’t have time to think about, not with the task at hand.

The safe had a complicated locking mechanism, dual keypads, connected to a device mounted within the door. Klaus had seen safes with this design before. It required two people entering the same combination simultaneously to open, with a failsafe that would blow the head off whichever one entered the wrong code. A good design for the paranoid. He’d have to go get Dorian.

Something heavy struck the side of his head, and the scene exploded into stars and darkness. Klaus had been knocked unconscious enough times to recognize the sensation.

 

*****

 

Klaus woke up on the floor. His head throbbed and his hands were tied; pressing it against the cold marble was almost a relief. He couldn’t remember what had happened, how he had gotten there.

“Major Eberbach,” a voice said. Russian accent, not too heavy, definitely a man. That all did very little to narrow Klaus’s options down.

Opening his eyes seemed like unimaginable labor, but he managed it. The Russian speaker seemed around Klaus’s age, with a closely trimmed beard and short blond hair. Kiril, his brain helpfully supplied. The details of his situation began to fill themselves in, accompanied by a deep, writhing guilt. He pushed it all down.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Klaus said. Kiril wasn’t alone. Klaus could see another of his men standing along the back wall, hand resting on his gun. Klaus twisted his wrist, the ropes were tight, but with time, he could get them off, maybe. And then charge at two heavily armed men, while still seeing double.

“Your reputation precedes you, Iron Klaus,” Kiril said. “Mischa is going to be very jealous that I get to be the one to bring you in. It’ll make a good story for the Kremlin office parties.”

“You haven’t brought me anywhere yet.” Indeed, Klaus was surprised to find himself still in the dining room. No doubt they needed him to give them the combination for the safe.

“That’s true,” Kiril said, and gestured expansively at the safe. “We have work to do here first.”

“Why not get the Countess to do it for you?” Klaus asked, climbing to his feet. If he ever managed to get his arms free, he’d need to be in a better position to attack. “A good chance to humiliate her.”

“Why bother, when I have you right here?”

“She got away, didn’t she,” Klaus said, faux sympathy dripping from his voice. “She’s crafty, for a middle-aged society toff.”

Kiril narrowed his eyes; Klaus had been right. Which was bad news, since it meant that the Countess’s security forces were unlikely to interrupt and save them. She’d chosen to run and let them kill each other.

“You will open the safe for us.”

“You must’ve figured out how the mechanism works,” Klaus said. “All you’re doing is giving me a painless way to kill myself.”

“And that’s why you won’t be entering the combination,” Kiril said.

The guilt returned, with strangling intensity, as two KGB came into the room, dragging Dorian behind them. “Once we found you, we knew your boy wouldn’t be far.”

Dorian’s head rolled on his shoulders, and Klaus relaxed slightly - he had seen the Earl truly injured enough times to tell when he was playing it up. But his hands were cuffed, his mouth was bloody, and each of Kiril’s men outweighed him by at least fifty pounds.

"One of our men will be opening the door, along with Eroica.”

The Russians wrestled Dorian forward and shoved him in front of the safe. "You will be telling us the correct combination, of course, unless NATO values the lives of their collaborators so little."

Klaus felt his heart sink in his chest. If he gave them the right combination, they would have no further use for Dorian and they would shoot him. Unless they decided to use him as a tool in Klaus’s “questioning” first. If he gave the wrong one, Dorian would be dead as much as his Russian partner. The only thing that might work would be to give Dorian the right combination and the Russian the wrong one, but they would need to have worked out a code ahead of time. Klaus hung his head, pulled at his bonds, he needed more time, he tried to think of something, anything...

"I'm afraid that you’ve made a mistake,” Dorian said, and Klaus's head snapped up to look at him. "Faulty intel and all that, happens to everyone. There's no way he'll give you the correct combination, you'll just get one of your men killed. Major Eberbach doesn’t have time for personal considerations. He’s completely professional.”

It was standard procedure, to throw your opponent off guard, but Klaus felt the bite in it: it was an accusation. It also gave him an idea.

"I'll tell you the combination," Klaus said. "It's 17HB3 BGT79VF N121." He twisted his wrists again, pulled the heel of his palm loose.

“What? You can't expect me to memorize all that," Dorian snapped. Kiril looked like he agreed.

"Fine," Klaus said, and repeated the number, but paused before the last section. "You should be able to remember this last part, Lord Gloria, it's your birthday." He snorted. "And you accused me of lacking people skills.”

Klaus stared at Dorian, watched him for any sign that he understood. He was interrupted by a sharp blow to the head, another wave of pain - Kiril had whipped him with his gun. He staggered on his feet, but didn’t fall. He thought he saw Dorian move towards him, but that was likely the undulation of the room.

"Less editorializing from you, spy,” Kiril snapped. "Enter the code. Make sure you do it at the same time."

Kiril began to read the code back to them, and Dorian began typing with his Russian partner. He didn’t even glance at Klaus. Klaus kept his eyes fixed on Dorian’s back, as though he could will him into understanding him. But Dorian didn’t trust him, how could Klaus expect him to, after all that had happened? If Dorian died here, like this, it was going to be his own fault.

Klaus twisted and ripped his left wrist, tearing it free from the rope. The device fired, there was a burst of blood, and Klaus watched as both Dorian and the Russian fell to the ground.

"Why-" Kiril whirled at Klaus, furious, but Klaus was already moving forward, had his arms wrapped around Kiril's throat. He was still dizzy, nauseous, but it was all buried, secondary to the adrenaline and horror that rose up over everything else like a wave.

Kiril struggled, raised his gun into position to shoot, but Klaus trapped his arm, twisted it, grabbed the gun. He jerked Kiril in front of him like a human shield as Kiril's remaining men leveled their guns at him.

"Back off," Klaus said. It would be smart to keep Kiril alive as a shield, but all Klaus wanted to do was put a bullet in his head. So he could pretend that this was his fault, instead of Klaus's. His eyes drifted past the guards to the floor behind them, where Kiril's man lay in a pool of his own blood, and Dorian - Dorian was nowhere to be seen.

Klaus let out a breath that was almost a laugh, and let his weight rest, just for a moment, against Kiril’s back. The relief was a tangible, physical sensation, like being able to breathe again after minutes underwater. Dorian was on his feet, behind one of the Russians with frightening speed. Kiril shouted a warning to his man, but Dorian had already brought a beautiful and likely very expensive vase down on his head. The remaining KGB agent turned towards Dorian, raising his gun, but Klaus fired and dropped him.

Klaus threw Kiril down, pulled his radio from his belt, and used the ropes to start tying his arms behind his back. But his eyes were on Dorian, who was wiping blood away from his mouth.

“Here,” Dorian said, and held out his handcuffs. “Though I found them easy to get out of.”

Klaus reached out, took the cuffs from him. His fingers lingered at Dorian’s wrist an instant before he pulled them away. Dorian was alive, but that didn’t mean that he had forgiven Klaus. He cuffed Kiril to the elaborate metalwork of the fireplace.

“Damn you, and damn NATO!” Kiril growled. “You’re not making it off this island alive. Not you or your lover.”

Klaus drew his arm back for a punch, and paused. The idea that most of the USSR thought he was a homosexual was like a slap, a stain on his honor, a threat to his position. Or at least it had been. At the moment, with Dorian alive, and his own behavior laid bare before him, it seemed so petty. That didn’t mean it was true. It just didn’t feel like much of anything at all. He let his hand fall, and tied a gag over his mouth.

Dorian joined him at the safe. They entered the combination in unison and the door opened without a hitch, though Klaus had to fight the urge to jerk his head out of the way as they opened it. The SCYLLA plans were tucked into the corner, along with several folders and documents that were sure to be of interest to NATO. He grabbed them all.

The hallway was deserted, but Klaus continued to be wary. Now that the immediate confrontation was over, the each step he took seemed to undulate the floor, and his head throbbed to the beat of his heart.

“You’re injured,” Dorian said, softly.

“Concussed,” Klaus admitted. “But not badly. You’re all right?”

Dorian waved his hand. “Punched once or twice. Nothing to write home about.” He did take the opportunity to wipe more blood from his mouth, still bleeding sluggishly.

“Good,” Klaus said.

“See, there are benefits, when people don’t see you as a threat.”

Klaus started to roll his eyes, but that made him dizzier, so he stopped.

“Keep an eye out, there may still be more KGB on the loose,” Klaus said, and gestured with the radio. It was silent, but he’d have to listen for chatter. “Did you make it to the transmitter?”

“No, they caught me on the way.”

Klaus nodded, he’d figured as much. “We’ve got to make it to the roof.” As though to undermine his words, he stumbled, unsteady.

“Here,” Dorian said, and grabbed him by the arm, balancing him. “Let me.”

Klaus acquiesced without an argument. It was faster this way, and he could keep the gun he took in his free hand. There was the added benefit of keeping Dorian close to his side. Less likely to wander off and cause trouble.

“That was very well done,” Klaus said, eventually. The villa’s hallways seemed endlessly, unaccountably long.

“Yes, well, I figured out your plan, and thought it would be better to catch them off guard a second time,” Dorian said. “To be perfectly honest, I needed another minute to get out of the handcuffs as well.”

Klaus huffed out a laugh. “You nearly gave me a heart attack,” he admitted.

“That’s only because you don’t eat well,” Dorian said. “It’s hardly my fault.”

They began to climb the marble staircase to the top floor. Klaus scanned the upper flights; this open, echoing space would be a perfect spot to attack them.

“How did you get to the roof?” Dorian asked.

“There’s a trapdoor, over in the billiards room,” Klaus said.

There wasn’t any KGB between them and the roof - mounting evidence for Klaus’s suspicion that they were holed up somewhere, waiting for him to slip up.

The walk across the planed and sloping roof, in pitch darkness, was slow and more terrifying in his current condition than he would ever admit, but Dorian’s hand was like a vice on his arm. The transmitter was still tucked into place; it was a matter of minutes to transmit the codes for emergency evacuation. The response was equally swift.

“Well?” Dorian asked.

“They’ll be here within half an hour,” Klaus said. “We can stay here, it’ll be easy to extract us, and we can see anyone coming.” His head felt swollen, tender, and planning was exhausting.

Dorian seemed to get that, since he pushed Klaus down. “Sit down. You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“I need to keep watch,” Klaus argued, lifted the gun, checked the chamber. Five shots left.

Dorian frowned. “Klaus, how many of me are you seeing right now? Two, or four?”

“Doesn’t change anything. I’m still a better shot than you are.”

Dorian snorted. “I heard that irritability was a side effect of concussions.”

“I’m always irritable,” Klaus said, vaguely surprised at himself. Maybe honesty was a side effect of concussions. “I’m glad you understood my code, you know.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t complicated. If anything, we were incredibly lucky that my birthday was part of the code. And that neither of us do that “month-day-year” nonsense the Americans do.”

“Maybe it’s not luck,” Klaus said, half joking. “Maybe it’s divine intervention.”

“Klaus, we’re both atheists,” Dorian said.

“I know. But I think some things qualify as miracles.”

“The only miracle is that you managed to remember my birthday,” Dorian snorted.

“I suppose that means I need to get you a present, this year,” Klaus said.

He expected Dorian to laugh, but the smile slid from his face. “When I asked for that favor,” he said hesitantly, like he was testing each word in his mouth before he said it. “I was angry, but I was serious.”

“Oh,” Klaus said.

“I need to not see you. At least, not right now,” Dorian said. “It’s clear that my loving you isn’t helping either of us. Maybe things will be better if I find a way to move on.”

A few days ago, Klaus would’ve told himself that this was the best news he’d heard all year. A few hours ago, he’d have been furious. Now, he wasn’t quite so sure.

Before he could respond, he heard the familiar whirr of a helicopter overhead. On the ground, dozens of armed men stormed through the house. Klaus recognized A in the crowd, and raised a hand in greeting.

 

*****

 

The next few hours were a blur: Klaus handed over the Countess’s intel and gave a cursory debrief before G very forcefully insisted that he see a doctor, since he was having difficulty sitting up without tilting dramatically. The last of the KGB agents were in the ballroom, keeping the guests and security hostage, but they surrendered when they realized how drastically they were outnumbered. Z kept him company in the medical tent, updating him on the situation as doctors flashed lights in his eyes and generally fiddled around unhelpfully.

By the time Klaus managed to slip away, the sun was starting to rise. All he wanted was a nap and a bath, but he settled for the cup of coffee the size of his head that Z had managed to find for him. He found Dorian not far from the medical tents, talking to a crowd of the other guests. Klaus hung back - he had no desire to try to explain himself to the very high-strung and exhausted rich. Instead, he watched Lucy hug Dorian, and quite a few of the others pat him on the back and shake his hand.

Once the crowd had drifted away, Klaus finished his coffee and went over. “Quite the fan club you’ve gotten.”

“I’m afraid that rumor got around that I knocked one of the attackers unconscious and called for help,” Dorian said. “It’s all rather embarrassing.”

“Yes, I know how much you hate to be the center of attention,” Klaus said, dryly. “But you deserve it. I wasn’t lying, when I said you did good work.”

“Thank you,” Dorian said. He looked tired, medical had patched him up, but there was a purpling bruise by his mouth, and his hair was in shambles. Klaus felt a very strange urge to run his fingers through it, put it in order.

Instead, he said, “I was shocked, you know. When I found out that the Countess and Henry were actually working together. I assumed she was using him.”

Dorian smiled. “I did too. A criminal and a fed, how could they ever make it work?”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “It must’ve been difficult.”

“We still don’t know the whole story,” Dorian said. “He could’ve been blackmailing her, or they could’ve been using each other.”

“That’s true,” Klaus admitted. “But I think it was love.”

Dorian nodded, eyes fixed on the sunrise. “I think it was too.”

Klaus took a deep breath. “I’ve thought about what you said, before,” Klaus said. This was their second emotionally loaded relationship conversation in twelve hours, which felt unnecessarily cruel. “I’ll respect your wishes. I won’t contact you again.”

Dorian crossed his arms, looked down, away from him. “Okay. Thank you.”

“But if this is going to be the last time we see each other, there’s something I need to do,” Klaus said, and then he pulled Dorian forward and kissed him. It was nothing like their kiss in the woods, which was half shock and horror and desperation, or the chaste peck at the dance. This was slow, deliberate, like Klaus was mapping Dorian, to have something to remember. It was also completely filthy. Dorian was the first to pull away.

“You asshole,” Dorian said. “I can’t believe your timing.”

“I’m a slow learner,” Klaus said.

Dorian threw his hands in the air. “If you had told me years ago that all I needed to do to get you to have your big gay epiphany was threaten to leave you, I would’ve done that!”

“Well, it’s not like I knew that,” Klaus snapped. “And who said anything about an epiphany?”

“What the hell else is this, then?” Dorian said. They were getting quite loud, but if any of the Alphabet valued their jobs, they’d stay far away.

“I don’t know, Klaus said, hesitant. “But... I want to figure it out. Is that enough for you?”

Dorian put his head in his hand, palm covering his mouth. “Yes.” He shook his head. “Klaus…”

“Because we still need to find the Countess and her American,” Klaus said. “A says that they’ve taken their jet to Switzerland, but who knows where they’ll go from there.”

“I am going to strangle you,” Dorian said.

“If we’re doing this, no more violence,” Klaus said. “I’m not into that sort of thing.”

“That’s not my problem!” Dorian said. “I’m not the one who punches people at the drop of a hat!”

“You punched me less than 48 hours ago,” Klaus said. “In the head.”

“Oh, yes. A fond memory,” Dorian said. “But you were trying to smother me at the time, if I recall."

“Point taken.”

“We don’t have to talk about feelings anymore,” Dorian said. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“Oh thank God,” Klaus said.

They stood for a few moments in silence, watching the sun rise over the top of the forest. Klaus’s hand bumped against Dorian’s as it hung at his side, gently, like waves lapping the shore.