Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach felt very pleased with himself. Not only had the packet he carried been wrapped well in shiny red paper, he was also positive that the gift would be well received. He had never bothered with either of these details before. When invited to a celebration that required the presentation of a tribute, he would send his butler or, if away from home, G, to acquire something suitable. He might, on a rare occasion, stumble upon something that he knew wouldn't get him into too much trouble with his father. The packet he now carried, however, was far, far different.
Everything must be perfect. This would be the day the two of them would celebrate as their very own, special day in the future; the day he finally would give in to Dorian and let the Englishman know that he had melted Iron Klaus's heart. He had even dressed up for the occasion, in his finest dress uniform with all his medals. Dorian had once claimed that the green tie made his eyes glow, so he had that on as well. Beneath the strict outfit - which he secretly hoped Dorian would enjoy removing - he wore a brand new shirt, but not the one he had found, gaily wrapped next to his bed on waking up. There had been no trace of an intruder, but who else than the Earl would break into Schloss Eberbach to leave a gift? For a moment Klaus had been incensed, ready to change the day's plan to involve mayhem rather than courting, when he had stopped cold at the thought of Dorian, in a black catsuit, leaning over his bed and smiling down at him. Then and there he decided to hold off on extracting prompt vengeance on having his home invaded, at least until after the main event of the day had been dealt with. Should things go badly, he could always resort to violence to cover his embarrassment. For now, he chose to see the gift as a positive sign for the day to come. Of course, he had rejected the idea of wearing it out of hand. Not because it was green and not because it was made of raw silk either. Both facts would have shocked his poor Alphabet, but he would have worn it anyway, for the look he could imagine on Dorian's face when the Englishman realised that Klaus wore the gift he had been given. No, the blasted thing still reeked when he prepared to leave the Schloss and not even for Dorian would Klaus come to the office smelling of roses.
He had shined his boots and let the barber he frequented trim his hair. The last thing he did before leaving headquarters was to sneak into the men's room to brush his teeth, just in case, and although he did feel a little nervous he hadn't smoked since.
Birds were singing and the sun smiled down on him. It was the 14th of February, Valentine's Day, and Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach was going a-courting.
The whole thing had begun two months earlier, in Stockholm. The mission's first part had gone much quicker than anticipated, largely thanks to Dorian's widespread net of contacts. A giant of a man, well over two meters in height, had unexpectedly shown up with just the thing they needed, purring like a happy kitten when Dorian scratched under his chin. Clearly a deranged lunatic, one of the many Klaus had noticed following Dorian around like puppies. What they saw in the Limey he would never understand.
Since the next step couldn't be executed until well after midnight, Klaus had given his Alphabet the day off. He imagined that most of them rushed around shopping for Christmas presents. Dorian had left too, possibly to scout the museums sprinkled throughout the city. Klaus had made a mental note to inform the Swedish police later on, not that he thought an advance warning would do them any good. He himself had decided that he might as well see if he could find anything marginally suitable for his father, so he worked his way in a widening circle outwards from their hotel.
To find something that met the exacting demands of the elder von dem Eberbach was next to impossible, but Klaus, who rarely had the time or the inclination to shop, suddenly found himself ... certainly not enjoying the experience, but at least finding it oddly peaceful. For a few hours he was just another body in the throng. That he would run into anyone he knew was exceedingly unlikely and, if so, the acquaintance would probably be just an Alphabet or that infuriating British fop. In the old part of the city, very imaginatively called "The Old City," he found an antique store with a large number of military artefacts in the window display. Lured in by the sight, he found to his disappointment that they actually carried very little of these things. He still took time to glance over the shelves, just in case. That's when he saw it. The box.
What caught his attention was the beautiful painting of a watchful boar, with huge tusks, its sides sleek in brown and gold, on the lid. The beast stood in a heart-shaped field of grass, surrounded by roses that gradually grew from being painted to be sculpted in china, bigger and bigger, until those at the box's edge measured a centimetre in height. They were white, except for a second heart drawn in red, and those along the edges, which were golden. A multitude of painted roses covered the sides. The one at the top were ball roses, but the painted ones were all different, as if one for each type in existence. Their colors also varied, covering the entire available spectrum. The result could have been clashing and it certainly looked wild and unpredictable, but it also held a surprising allure. Klaus could imagine that someone with an interest in flowers could spend hours studying the thing, trying to identify them all.
//What a foppish thing,// he thought. //The Earl would have bought it in a heartbeat. Boars and roses. Bha! I should buy it and destroy it, just so that he won't get his hands on it.//
"Kan jag hjälpa till?"
He knew little Swedish, but some words resembled German and/or English enough for him to guess their gist, especially in such an obvious context. "Nein," he replied shortly.
The shopkeeper, a blond man dressed informally in jeans and a blue shirt, obviously either didn't understand even the simplest German or ignored his visitor's wish in favour for trying to make a sale. "That's a genuine Royal Worcester box, sir. Bone china from the finest bone china maker in England and hand painted by one of their best artists."
"'m not interested."
He turned and left. Only to return the next morning. The mission had been a success, however, as they walked across a bridge leading from the old city, Dorian had fallen on a patch of clear ice, hidden under the new snow. Klaus had seen him suddenly jerk and fall, to land hard with the unmistakable, sickening crunch that heralds a broken leg. He had heard Dorian's startled gasp, followed by an animalistic wail in pain. There had just been the two of them, since breaking into the Royal Castle had been deemed a very sensitive operation. An ambulance soon arrived and he had followed Dorian to the hospital. Not that the fop had known, as he had been concussed and soon fell unconscious. Once Dorian had been admitted and the swarming doctors had forced Klaus to leave his side, Klaus had phoned the hotel the thieves stayed at. Soon Bonham and James arrived and Klaus no longer had a valid reason to stay.
Over and over again that night he woke from a nightmare in which he had heard, not just the sound of Dorian's leg breaking, but an even more horrible one coming from the Brit's neck.
They had what they came to Stockholm for. So, in the morning he sent the Alphabet to the airport. He would have gone with them, only instead he found himself back at the antique shop. The box hadn't been sold. Since it was a genuine Royal Worcester, it cost him nearly a month's pay. He called himself all kinds of idiot for buying it, but he still held the packet securely in his lap the entire way back to Germany.
Since the mission in Stockholm he had continued to call himself all kinds of idiot. What a faggish thing to do, buying that box! Dorian would take it the entirely wrong way; Klaus just knew that he would. Only ... as the days passed he came to wonder if it really would be the wrong way after all. At seeing Dorian fall his heart had just about stopped. And it had been so completely unexpected. Not during a mission, not during a heist, not while doing anything potentially dangerous, just while walking along, a mishap of nature and ... all that glorious light could have been extinguished.
During the cold, long nights in the depth of Schloss Eberbach during the German winter, Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach had come to terms with that he might not hate Earl Dorian Red Gloria after all.
The box he kept on his bedside drawer. He saw the blasted thing when he woke up in the morning and before he turned off the light at night. The box that he had bought for Dorian. Dorian's box. The box he would give to Dorian. And one day he heard G whisper to Z that he expected Dorian to be in Bonn on Valentine's Day. He suspected that the Earl would try to give Klaus some sort of present.
//Good,// Klaus thought. //Then I will give the pervert the box in return. It will be very suitable.// It might even be, heaven forbid, *romantic* ...
Dorian stayed at Bonn's finest hotel, the Petersberg, overlooking the Rhine, anything else was out of the question. Klaus had already procured the suite number, claiming that he needed it for reasons of National Security, and stood by the elevator, straightening his tie, when he heard the all too familiar squeal of a delighted G. On turning towards the noise he couldn't miss Dorian's mane of curls as the English Lord towered over the petite German agent. They were obviously in deep conversation and Klaus reflected on that he had never seen G so happy. //G and my Dorian? No, that's impossible! They're up to something, they must be!// When Dorian placed a long-fingered hand on G's shoulder and steered them both towards the hotel's dining room, Klaus followed. He disliked this delay in his plan, but he also wanted to know what had G so worked up. Besides, he certainly wasn't going to let G watch as he laid his heart at Dorian's feet.
The pair settled at a table by a pillar. Klaus snuck up to sit on the other side, where he would be hidden from their view while still able to hear them. Both of them ordered tea. When the waiter approached Klaus he sent the man running with a hard glare, the likes of which he would otherwise reserve for Mischa and Dorian - not that it helped him much with either of them.
"Go on then, show me," Dorian urged. He sounded amused and indulgent.
The sound of paper being moved and crinkled followed, then a sucking noise, more crinkling, a hiss and Dorian's appreciative cooing. "It's exquisite, dear G!"
"Oh, I know! I feel all weak-kneed just looking at it! And it was just sitting there, next to my bed, when I woke up this morning."
Dorian chuckled. "Bonham is one of my best men. He's very good at breaking in."
"I just think it is so incredibly romantic!"
"Isn't it just? Well, it is Valentine's Day. But that isn't something casual, mind, he must have planned for this for some time."
//Bonham broke into G's apartment to give him a Valentine's Day gift?// Klaus thought. //I really must have a stern word with my men about consorting with known criminals.//
The thought distracted him momentarily. When he turned his attention back to the other table, both Dorian and G giggled about something. "Not on my life," Dorian said. "If I had stayed Klaus would have killed me when he woke up from the sleeping gas! No, I just put it by his bed and left. But you should have seen how sweet he looks when he sleeps!"
Klaus all but swallowed the cigarette he had been smoking.
Unaware of this, Dorian prattled on, "Besides, this way at least I can fool myself into thinking that he might keep it rather than cutting it to ribbons and burning it."
"But it's just a shirt. He does wear them. I'm sure he will like it. And it's Valentine's Day, after all. You're allowed to give gifts on Valentine's Day."
"Ah, but you forget, sweet G - it's from little me. He probably called the Bomb Squad to deal with it. And especially so since it is Valentine's Day! Christmas I might get away with, eventually. Possibly even his birthday, in a decade or two. But Valentine's Day? Oh no. Not my dear, darling Iron Klausie. As much as I worship the ground he walks on, I must admit, he doesn't have a romantic bone in his body. The dear heart just isn't wired that way."
Klaus glared at the pillar separating them. Him? Not romantic? He pulled the packet with the box closer to his chest.
"No, you're right," G agreed. "He'd rather die than to do something sweet like what dear Bonham did."
The paper that the packet was wrapped in wasn't just red, it had tiny golden sparkles all over it! Granted, only because he had found no other suitable paper in his apartment than on last year's Christmas wine bottle from the Alphabet, unwrapped since he had forgotten all about it, but still. He had even wrapped the bloody thing himself! Which had required a surprising amount of both dexterity and tape.
"Exactly. Sadly, his idea of romantic would probably be ... I don't know ... to ask her father for her hand in marriage rather than just grab her hair and throw her over his shoulder."
While it hadn't been said with malice, both of them giggled. Klaus rose and stalked away, fuming in anger, yet still taking care not to be spotted by either the fop or the nuisance. He almost threw the packet into a waste bin he passed, but then changed his mind. //Me? Not a romantic bone in my body? Ha! And how dare he talk about me that way? I'll show that fop, I will! I'll romance him, all right. And I'll be much better at it than he could ever dream of being. I could do it standing on my head. Yes, I'll romance him without him even knowing what I'm doing. Ha! Then we'll see who's the most romantic of us!//
In his haste to get back to headquarters he almost ran over three Alphabets. Once he sat at his desk he grabbed a pen and a paper and started to outline his plan. The fop would learn that there's nothing more dangerous than an Eberbach on a mission. And there was no Eberbach more dangerous than Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.
"Major? Eroica is here," B said hesitantly, leaning into Klaus's temporary office without actually stepping inside.
"Have him wait five minutes, then send him in."
"Yes, Major," B confirmed and withdrew.
Not that Klaus needed five minutes to prepare. From the largest desk drawer he retrieved the flower-box. Then he gently placed it in the garbage bin, on top of the stack of papers that had until only recently filled his in-box. He had been amazed to actually find a good use for those papers.
After another minute he lit a cigarette and went on to fill out another bloody report. Finally, just after the five minutes were up he rose. As the door began to open he strode towards it, bumping hard into Dorian. "Watch where you're going, you idiot!" he growled.
"I'm so sorry, Major," the Earl answered smoothly. "Awfully clumsy of me, I didn't see you coming there."
"I've been called to the Chief. You will stay in here and not bother my Alphabet in any way. Don't touch anything either."
He left without waiting for a response, wondering if the thief would take the bait or not. When he returned some twenty minutes later, he found Dorian standing by the window, not touching anything as requested, and the box still in plain view where he had left it.
"Sit," he ordered and indicated the chair while sitting down himself. Dorian obeyed, watching him with shimmering eyes, obviously pleased with just being in his company. "NATO has a mission for you. It should be simply enough, even for the likes of you." He proceeded to line out the simple theft, ending with, "--where Agent Rhosel of the Secret Service will collect the microfilm."
Dorian pouted. "Won't you go with me, Major? I so looked forward to being with you."
"Nein. But you accept the mission?"
"Anything for you, Major, you know that. So, yes. Ah ... forgive me, Dear, but ... why have you thrown away that darling box?"
Ah, so the thief had at least noticed the bait. "I have no use for it."
"But why not? It is such a lovely Wooster piece."
"A what?!" Wooster? It was a fake? He would kill that bloody salesman.
"Royal Wooster, Darling. Royal Wor-cest-er. Wooster. High quality bone china. They make the most darling ballerina pieces too. I have some of their Doris Lindner horses. Marvellous stuff. Reminds me of you, some of them. This is worth a pretty penny, my love."
"Don't call me that!"
Dorian daintily picked up the box. "Each of these roses are made by hand, you know. And such a lovely workmanship on the painting. Whereever did you find this? And I can't bear the thought of you just throwing it away. This should be preserved, Love, it's a such a sweet little thing."
"I already threw it away. If you dig in garbage bins you get what you deserve, you idiot. If you want it, take it, I have no further use for it."
Dorian's mouth fell open. "I can-I can ... You're giving it to me?"
Klaus sighed and glared at him. "I said you can take it. Don't make a scene of it. 't can't be worth a fraction of that painting you stole last week."
Dorian's eyes looked suspiciously moist and his voice wavered at the first words, "Oh, but Darling, it is worth far, far more to me. Thank you, my love."
Klaus shot up from his chair. "Get out of here, you pervert! I don't want to hear another word out of your mouth! Move!"
Holding the box as if cradling a newborn, Dorian slipped away. Only after having slammed the door shut did Klaus allow himself to smile, just the tiniest bit. "First part of the mission accomplished," he told himself and lit another cigarette.
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach hated paperwork. Normally he wasn't keen on phone calls either, as they distracted him from more important things. He had, however, been waiting for this one.
"von dem Eberbach!"
"It most certainly is. Hello, Darling."
"Don't call me that!"
"Oh. Then you don't want me to tell you about the mission either, Dar- ah, Major?" He could hear Dorian's pout all the way from England and, since the fop couldn't see him, smiled.
"Don't be an idiot! That's an entirely different thing. Report."
"You haven't heard from that dreadful Secret Service man already? Didn't he tell you that everything went well?"
"Of course he did. Why are you calling if you knew that?"
"To hear your voice, of course. I've been looking forward to it all day. Well, and to ask you about the earrings, my love. He gave them back to me once he had removed the microfilm. I-I've been very careful with them."
"You have better been!" Klaus didn't have to pretend to be stern about that. His greatest worry about the entire plot had been that Dorian wouldn't realise how important the rings were.
"Of course, Major. I know they were your mother's."
The Eberbach earrings, in white gold and blue diamonds. Remade into clips after his parent's wedding, due to an accident he had only heard gossip about from the servants. Klaus snorted, but said nothing more, preferring to let Dorian stew.
"So ... shall I send them over?" Dorian finally asked, sounding hesitant.
Klaus snorted again. "I think not. They would require special guards. It is not something you send over the mail, you stupid fop." He tapped his finger against the phone affectionately.
"Oh. Ah ... So shall I come over with them personally? Visit you at the Schloss, maybe? We cou--"
"Nein! I've seen enough of you for a while. Just make sure they're here in time for the wedding."
"You're getting married?!"
"Y-y-you! You-you-you! W-who? Who's that man-stealing hussy? Where did you meet her? What does she look like? What was she wearing? How long have you known her? How do you know Mischa didn't send her?" Dorian's voice rose for each question and he hadn't stopped to breathe yet. "She's probably a gold digger anyway! Have you researched her? Have you--"
"Eventually, Earl Gloria. Eventually I will marry." For a long time nothing was said in the other end of the phone. He didn't even hear Dorian breathe. Finally he felt prompted to inquire, "Did you hang up, fop?"
"You won't marry right away?" Dorian said, very quietly.
"No, Earl Gloria."
"But I will, eventually. And I will need you there with the rings when I do. They have gone from bride to bride for four centuries."
"I don't think I want to come to your wedding, my dear," Dorian said, sounding so very sad.
"You better be there," Klaus growled, though he smiled, and then disconnected the call before Dorian could say anything else. "And you better be wearing the rings," he said to the presence that always lingered beside him. Then he returned to his paperwork.
"Thank you for driving me to the airport, Love."
"Don't call me that, you pervert! And I would happily drive you anywhere, as long as it means getting you away from me."
"Well, I still think it is very sweet of you."
"I'll have to get the car disinfected afterwards," Klaus grumbled in return.
"I do so love going in German cars."
Klaus grunted approvingly. "They are very efficient, well-made cars."
"Oh, it's more that I'm used to the English cars, Dear. This feels like I'm in the driving seat, yet I don't have to do a thing. Quite delightful, really. There are some other things I would like to do in the driver's seat without having to move, Love. And I'm positive that you could handle the action part of things then as well."
"I have no idea what you are talking about, but I suspect it is some perverse insinuation. Shut up or I will toss you out in the street and you can walk the rest of the way with your six luggages." In truth he paid very little attention to the conversation, concentrating instead on the traffic and the slight commotion at the stop sign a block ahead.
"Don't call me that."
"No, Dearest. Don't look now, but there's a tiger handing out flowers by the next intersection."
Which was true. A man wearing a tiger outfit stood between the files, handing out bouquets of flowers to the passing cars. He wobbled slightly, no doubt affected by the strong midday sun.
"'Pack a tiger into the tank of your car.' And don't call me that either."
"You want me to do what? I've never heard it be called that before, Dear."
Klaus took a deep breath, struggling to keep calm. "No. 'Pack a tiger into the tank of your car.' 'ts a slogan. An oil company. 'ts a campaign of some sort. And don't call me anything like that, no endearments of any kind, is this clear to you?"
Dorian tittered and seemed about to say something more, but they had just reached the crossroad. Klaus had to slow down a trifle and when he did, a yellow-furred paw thrust through his open window, holding a huge bouquet. Klaus hollered an insult and floored the Benz. The tiger yelped and the blue, white and purple flowers dropped onto Klaus's lap as they sped away. Once past the intersection he grabbed them and slapped them firmly against Dorian's chest. Both of Dorian's hands came up to hold them safe.
"Throw them out!"
"Nonsense, Darling, not even if you threatened to shoot me. You gave them to me! I'll dry them and hang them-- oh."
Something about Dorian's confused little noise made Klaus's stomach turn. He glanced over to his passenger. "What is wrong?"
"Did you know you just promised me eternal love, faithfulness and devotion?"
"Blue violets for faithfulness, white roses for eternal love - and innocence, but we can change that later, my love - and lavender for devotion."
Klaus snorted, internally relieved. In the last minute he had had a sudden doubt if the English version of the flower language might differ from the German one.
"Though ... I'm not quite sure what you mean with the nasturtium, Dear?"
His head swirled again. "What?" he all but squeaked. Nasturtium? He hadn't ordered any nasturtiums!
Dorian indicated a single flower pressed close to one of the violets. "So, do you consider me a conquest, Love? Nasturtium stands for conquest, victory in battle and patriotism."
He'd kill that incompetent, bungling T, if the sun didn't do the trick for him. "I consider you a bloody nuisance," he lied.
"Then perhaps you should have given me withered flowers, my own. Yellow carnations, maybe, or orange lilies."
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach had once heard that writing was supposed to be easy. "All that one has to do is sit before a blank piece of paper until drops of blood fall from the forehead." Now he had stared at the bloody paper for so long that he had begun to wonder if it would do him any good if he tried to help the process along a bit. Say with his Magnum.
How hard could it be? It was only a matter of stringing a series of words together in a pleasing manner! Only, words weren't his strength. Especially not in English, and it had to be in English. The fop could speak passable German, but Klaus just knew that Dorian would prefer to be wooed in his own tongue. Besides, didn't the saying go that "I love you" always sounded sweetest in the words that your mother used? Though Klaus had always found that saying somewhat perverse.
He tried to describe Dorian's looks and everything that fascinated him so about the man. Unfortunately, it ended up sounding more like something from a wanted poster. "Verdammt!" A good soldier knows when to call for reinforcement. He lifted his gaze to quickly locate his prey.
"G! Come here!"
The petite agent, in the discreet office make-up that they had wordlessly agreed that G would use and Klaus ignore, rushed up to him. "Yes, Major?"
Klaus made himself smile. Since this wasn't strictly NATO business he realised that G was not, technically speaking, obligated to lend his assistance. Still. "What rhymes with 'luminous'?"
"One word. That rhymes with 'luminous'. A good word. You should know these things."
"A good word? That rhymes with 'luminous'?" Drops of sweat rose on G's forehead.
Klaus lit a cigarette and sucked at it. "'Translucent' then? What rhymes on 'translucent'?"
G stuttered, "I-is this a trick question, Major?"
"'Radiance'?" Klaus barked.
"Will I be sent to Alaska if I don't know the answer?"
Klaus firmly pushed back his hair behind his ears. //I don't need a bloody sissy to help me write good poetry!// He stared at the paper some more. Finally he got an idea and scribbled it down. "Everybody out!" he ordered and the Alphabet scattered like mice released in front of a cat. Then, with a furtive look towards the door to make doubly sure that it was closed and that the Alphabet no doubt gathered outside could not hear him, he read his poem, first in a mumble, then in a normal tone of voice and finally proclaiming it. If he couldn't bear to say the thing out loud, he figured, it had no business being said at all.
"Roses are red, violets are blue. Here are flowers and sweet chocolate too."
The words would, naturally, be accompanied by flowers (ivy for fidelity, baby's breath for everlasting love and a white lily for his virginity) and a box of fine German chocolate. He couldn't help but to think that to both recite poetry and give chocolate at the same time was kind of like cheating, since he tried to do one act of courting at a time, but he hadn't been able to come up with a single good idea on how to give the fop chocolate otherwise. Only ... the poem wasn't quite right. He tried to say it again, softening his voice, trying to make the words sound more romantic. Seductive, even. Soon he realised that if he rolled the rs just so and strung the words out just a little bit while stressing the "too" at the end the poem sounded ... completely obscene.
//t's a stupid poem anyway. Roses aren't necessary red!// He had seen pink roses, yellow roses and white roses, as well as those bloody red ones. Why, at the Schloss alone his mother had tended some rare green roses! Clearly an inferior, English verse. Nor did his own addition actually rhyme with the first part, though his accent made it sound as if it did.
He took another long drag on his cigarette. Then he leaned his forehead on the desk. After a moment he lifted his head, just a little, before letting it drop again with a rather satisfactory thunk.
Many, many hours later, when all good Alphabets were long since snug as bugs in their beds, Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach finally rose from his desk. He held out the paper and read from it, enunciating each word in the clearest, crispest British English he could manage. They rhymed. They also contained roses, Love and everything else he wanted the poem to say. He nodded. Then he frowned. He put the paper down on the desk again, grabbed his pen and hastily rubbed out the word "bloody". It might have been misunderstood, he felt, and didn't quite convey his romantic intentions. He straightened his back and recited the poem, this time without consulting the paper. Then he nodded once. //That will do.//
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach loathed chocolate. Though he did appreciate the possibility of performing two tasks at once. Besides, after the rather disappointing end to the flower-episode, he figured that the fop owed him one. If he would have to suffer, then so would Dorian. Not that he had any other alternative. The two of them had ended up separated from the rest of the team and there were no one else there to help them find the clue vital for the continuing of the mission.
"You have found it?"
"Then keep eating."
"I'm starting to feel ill, Darling. And I'm really not tasting anything at all, right now."
"Have some more champagne, then. It will clear your tastebuds."
"I think I'm going to throw up. Are you positive that we need to eat all this chocolate, Major?"
"Ja. The cipher clearly stated that the next clue was hidden in the box with chocolate that had a piece that tasted like pear rather than strawberry. Why are you moaning? When I gave you the first package you were delighted. 'Chocolate, champagne and strawberries!' you said. Though the champagne was your idea. You called it 'romantic'. I thought you wanted to be romantic with me, you degenerate."
"Oh yes, Major, I do! But that was two kilos of chocolate ago ... I never want to eat another piece of chocolate again in my life!"
"You promised you would do anything for me. Shut up and keep eating."
//A kitten. Dorian would like a kitten. A white kitten. A fluffy white kitten.//
Yes. A fluffy white kitten. One of those hairy, noseless breeds. Utterly useless for mouse catching, but decorative. It would sleep in the sun all day, lap milk, let Dorian pet it and purr for him. Dorian was, most definitely, a cat-person. He would like a cat.
"Don't call me that," Klaus answered automatically, before he even turned towards his visitor. //Call me Klaus,// he wanted to say.
Dorian stood just outside the library, looking in with an odd mixture of determination and hesitation. "G called Bonham and told him that you wanted to talk to me," he said. The uncertain gleam in his eyes made clear that he found this highly suspicious.
"Ja. Get in here."
Dorian took a slow step into the room, clearly still not convinced. "So you did tell G to call Bonham?"
"Of course. The little twit wouldn't dare to do something like that without my say so."
"Oh." Dorian sounded lost. Then he straightened his back and tossed his hair. A few long steps later he settled into the chair opposite to Klaus's. Though he kept Klaus firmly in sight the entire time, as if prepared to rush away were there any unexpected movements. "Well, I'm here now, Darling. What was it you wanted?"
"I heard G tell Z you were in the area. You're not here for the Man in Purple again, are you?"
Dorian's eyes widened. "Why, of course not, Darling. The only thing I would steal from Schloss Eberbach would be your-- But never mind that now. No, I'm not here for the Man In Purple, handsome though he is. There's this darling little Faberge egg that I--"
"I don't want to hear it."
"No, Major. Ah ... Why am I here?"
"How is North Downs protected?"
Dorian's eyes widened further still. "Why, Darling? Are you planning on invading?" He winked once. "There will be very little resistance, I assure you." His flirtatious smile conveyed that if there was, in fact, resistance, it would be betrayed from the inside.
Klaus grunted. "Of course not, you fool. How is your castle protected?"
"You're not planning on siccing Interpol on me, are you?"
This was not how Klaus had envisioned the conversation to go. He quickly lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "Nein, you idiot. Answer and ... I might have something for you."
Dorian's eyes looked ready to pop out of his head. "You might have something? For me?"
Klaus glared at him. "A bullet. If you don't answer me soon."
Dorian tsked. "Electric fences, mostly. A thief always gets in, my love, so I really don't see the point of keeping burglar alarms or anything. Besides, whatever they steal I can always steal back."
"Idiot! What if they were out to hurt you?"
At this, Dorian chuckled. "It is nice to know you care, Darling. But no one really wants to hurt me. I'm just Earl Dorian Red Gloria, the fun-loving art-admirer. Not Eroica the thief who sometimes work for NATO. And I can take care of myself, you know. Besides, I have Bonham and James and Jones and all the others."
Klaus snorted. "Then you need all the help you can get." He took another long drag at the cigarette, knowing well that nothing betrayed his sudden nervosity. "Heinz, komm her!"
//Ja, it really should have been a fluffy white kitten.//
The problem with fluffy white kittens was two-fold. First of all there was no circumstance whatsoever that would end up with Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach in the possession of a fluffy white kitten. Second of all, should Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach by some miracle end up with a fluffy white kitten, there was no circumstance whatsoever that would allow Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach to give said fluffy white kitten to Earl Dorian Red Gloria in such a way that Earl Dorian Red Gloria would not suspect the real motive of Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. Had Klaus found a runaway fluffy white kitten, Klaus would have sought the owner. Had no owner been found, Klaus would have given the fluffy white kitten to a shelter. Had no shelter accepted the fluffy white kitten, Klaus would have given the fluffy white kitten to his little cousin Helga, some other relative, one of his Alphabet, the Chief, a stranger on the street, Mischa, just anyone except Earl Dorian Red Gloria. However, a fully trained guardian Dobermann was an entirely different thing.
Heinz IV of Eberbach rose from behind his master's chair, where Klaus had most sternly instructed him to stay until then; a dark shadow that almost melted into the tapestry of the library wall. The elegant lines of his muscular, yet sleek, square body were further emphasized by the fawn socks and face mask. His dark eyes watched Dorian with an intent watchfulness. Klaus almost smiled when Dorian hastily pulled his feet up under him. "Heinz, sitz!"
Heinz sat, though he never took his eyes off the intruder.
"Heinz does not go well with Tyrian, the leader dog. You are the only one I know with grounds for him to patrol and the need of such a dog. He requires regular meals, some grooming and when he is not on patrol he needs to be walked. I have written down the instructions." Klaus indicated some papers on the table beside his chair.
As could be expected, Dorian latched onto the least important fact. "Heinz? His name is Heinz?"
"Ja. All Eberbach dogs are named after family members."
"Oh." Dorian's eyes sparkled mischievously. "Does that mean I could have gotten a dog named Klaus?"
Klaus the human closed his eyes briefly and sighed. "I would rather have put him down."
Dorian pouted. "You're no fun. I would have liked a dog named Klaus. That would have been neat. Why, just think of all the possibilities. Komm her, Klaus! Sitz, Klaus! Oh, guter Junge, Klaus! Platz, Klaus! Leg dich, Klaus!" Though while Dorian jested Klaus noticed that the man had shifted his weight a bit, as if prepared to abandon the chair if Klaus reacted badly.
Since he didn't want to disappoint, Klaus bared his teeth and, keeping his jaws clenched, growled, "Klaus would rather have played 'toter Hund'!"
Dorian pulled back. A nervous giggle spilled from his lips. Then he laughed his full, melodic laughter that never failed to make Klaus want to smile back. As always, he resisted. Instead he just stared at the silly Limey until Dorian sobered and said wistfully, "Kinky. Still, I bet Klaus would have been such a fine beast. But Heinz is a beautiful name too. I can't believe you're giving him to me! Thank you so very much, Major! I will take the best care of him! Hello, Heinz! Maybe I'll give you an emerald necklace, what do you think, boy? It would be just the color for you. And such a beautiful color you have. Hello, boy! And maybe diamond studs for those proud ears of yours?" He reached out before Klaus could stop him. "Oh, guter Jun--"
Heinz's jaws snapped, only millimetres from burying his teeth in Dorian's hand.
"Heinz! Ruhig!" Klaus barked as Dorian leaped back, falling over the chair and landing on his side. "Dorian! Bleib!"
Dorian did, of course, do no such thing as stayed. He was already on his feet. "He tried to kill me!" he wailed.
"Don't be ridiculous! He did no such thing! Dorian, sit!"
Dorian weighed back and forth on the pads of his feet. Then he did sit down again. "I thought it was 'sitz'," he grumbled. Then he brightened considerably. "You called me Dorian, Love!"
That had not been fully intentional. "It was quicker to say than Lord Red Gloria. And don't call me that, you degenerate." //Not just yet, my very own degenerate, depraved fop.// "He did not attack you. You came too close and you have not been properly introduced. He merely warned you."
"Like master, like dog, I suppose. Though I certainly wouldn't mind if you nibbled me when I petted you and called you a hübscher Junge, Darling."
"Stop saying such things!" The images the words provoked were much too vivid. "I will introduce you," he stated. Then he rose from his chair, but before he moved further he stretched once and rolled his shoulders, fully aware of the thin line of pale, flat stomach that winked at Dorian as he did. He had chosen the silver grey sweater with exactly that little effect in mind. Then he quickly knelt before Dorian's chair. "May I have your hand?"
"Oh, forever, Darling," Dorian replied smoothly and held out said appendage.
Klaus snorted. "Danke," he said stiffly. //Saves me from having to hunt down your mother, at least.// Something he hadn't looked forward to. He took the offered hand gently, holding it as if it was a lady's hand that he would kiss in greeting. He even bent a little closer just because he knew that Dorian's thoughts would be on the very same thing, but instead he pulled Dorian's hand to Heinz's long nose. "Heinz, Freund!" he ordered.
Heinz leaned forward and sniffed. His long tongue went out and rasped over Dorian's knuckles. Klaus patted the dog once, then released Dorian's hand and rose, turning towards his chair. From behind him he heard Dorian repeat, in an amazed, dreamy tone of voice, "Freund."
Klaus took the papers and handed them over to the dazed-looking art-thief. "Here are the instructions on how to keep him properly, including a list of the commands he will follow. They are all in German, of course."
He sat down to wait for Dorian to regain his equilibrium. The man looked blankly at the list. After a moment he blinked and frowned. "Darling? Are you sure that 'Fass den Geizkragen' really means 'Say hello to dear Jamesie'?"
And there were some things that fluffy white kittens just couldn't do. "Oh yes," Klaus said, with an assertive nod. "I'm quite positive."
En route to North Downs Klaus saw the bright purple Lamborghini swoosh past and swore. He continued anyway. At the Earl's castle he was met by a worried-looking Bonham, who told him that the Earl would be right back. Something about the way the thief stuttered and blushed made clear that whatever Dorian was up to might not be totally in the lawful territory.
"I will wait in his sitting room," Klaus decided. He hefted the large, flat, rectangular packet he carried and glared at Bonham. "Show me the way."
"Yes, Major. Shall I take that for you?"
"Nein. Is Heinz here? The dog. I want to make sure he is treated well."
"Oh yes he is, Major. Eats better than we do, most of the time. The Earl refuses to let James shop for him, does it himself, he does. Best dog food in the world. This way, Major."
Bonham turned to lead Klaus in a different direction than before. After a few turns Klaus had an uncanny feeling that he knew where they were heading, as he had gone that way before.
"The Earl even lets Heinz sleep in his bedroom, he does, Major," Bonham added a bit hesitantly, as if expecting the other man to have a fit.
Klaus snorted derisively, but said nothing. Soon they reached the ornamental door he very well remembered. Barely allowing Bonham time to use his key, Klaus pushed past and entered. "Heinz, komm her!" he ordered, mostly to let the dog hear his voice.
The big Dobermann trotted up to him, with its tongue hanging out. Heinz was obviously in perfect shape, happy and pleased to see his other master. His ears were unadorned and he wore a perfectly ordinary leather collar. Klaus put down his packet and reached out to let the dog sniff his hand. As he did he sneaked a quick peak around the room. What he saw made him smile, though he was careful not to let Bonham see. The rose box stood on a pillar right by Dorian's spacious bed. Above it hung the bouquet. The flowers had been dried and a red velvet ribbon wrapped around the stems to hold them together.
With one of his worries put to rest, Klaus allowed Bonham to take him to the sitting room: a cosy little library, complete with an open fire that sparkled merrily. Bonham fetched him tea, then left him alone, promising to send the Earl up right away. He must have done so, although Klaus had to wait longer than he would have expected from Bonham's earlier words. Nevertheless, he could still determine that the man hadn't even taken time to explain exactly who waited in the library. When Dorian entered, he still wore the blue diamond Eberbach earrings.
"Earl Red Gloria," Klaus said, pretending not to notice. //You made a heist wearing my mother's jewellery? You silly fop.// He rose and turned to lift his packet again. From behind him he heard a pained hiss. When he turned back the earrings were gone and the Earl's hands came up from his pockets, where they had noticeably not been before. "I've come to offer you a trade."
"I'm sorry, Darling, did you just say that you've turned trade? Not the rough kind, I hope. You do know what 'trade' stands for?"
"Nein. And I'm sure I don't want to know."
Dorian chuckled. "Never mind, then. But now I'm intrigued, my darling, and you do know that I want all you can offer me. Well, unless it is more chocolate, that is. So, what did you have in mind?"
"Earl Red Gloria ..." He paused, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he pulled back the corners of his mouth in a patently false smile. "Dorian."
Said Dorian's eyes widened in shock. "Yes, K-Klaus?" He seemed to expect to be slapped down for his presumption, even though Klaus had used his given name first and thus consented to Dorian doing the same in return. Never mind that Dorian had done so shamelessly and with every sign of enjoyment in the past.
"Dorian. I-I need something from you."
Dorian's mouth formed the cutest little 'o'. "Whatever could that be, Maj-- Klaus?" Then he smiled sweetly, looking pleased.
"My tank. I need my tank back. Now."
"Ja. Please, Dorian, I really do need it. They are pressuring me hard about it. I am prepared to ... give you this in return." He held out the packet. Dorian, looking stunned, made no move to accept it. So Klaus instead put it down and knelt to removed the plain, brown wrapping paper. The last protective emballage fell away to reveal The Man In Purple. Klaus looked up at the other man and took a deep breath. "This is very important to me. I ask you - nicely, I might add - to trade me back my tank. I need it, Dorian. Seriously."
Dorian made a strangled sound. Feeling rather pleased with himself, Klaus rose again.
The Earl of Red Gloria blinked repeatedly. Gradually the confused gleam in his eyes disappeared, to be replaced by something utterly unholy. "It is a very pretty painting. I would certainly enjoy having it. Perhaps I would even hang it over my bed."
Klaus coughed, as if trying to subdue a response. Then he took another deep breath. "So you agree to the trade?"
"I just not sure, Klaus ... I am sort of fond of that sweet little tank. Happy memories, you know."
"Listen here, you-- I mean, please, Dorian? You said that you would do anything for me?"
"And I would, my love, do absolutely anything for you, of course I would. But ... I do want something more than just the painting."
Klaus gasped and clenched his hands into fists. Then he shouted, "I'm not doing anything perverted with you!"
Dorian giggled. "Oh, my dear love, I would never suggest such an uncought, horrid, dreadful thing. However, I was wondering if you would might be persuaded to have dinner with me? I know this darling little restaurant not too far from here. They have the most delightful fried potatoes, I'm sure you'll approve of."
Klaus frowned. "Dinner? You want me to eat dinner with you?" His tone implied that he found this only marginally less perverted than ... whatever perverted thing he had first assumed that Dorian had suggested.
"Yes, Darling. And I promise to be on my best behaviour all night."
Klaus sighed and hung his head. "But you will let me have my tank back afterwards?"
"Oh, yes, Darling. Cross my heart and hope to die."
Klaus straightened his back and did his best to look furious yet defeated. "Very well, then. I will have dinner with you."
//My ancestors will roll in their graves,// he thought. //Except perhaps Tyrian. He might have understood. I wonder if the Leopard will fit in the garage at Schloss Eberbach? It would be a shame to have to destroy it. Now, how shall I make Dorian force me to submit to a good night kiss?//
The most difficult part of the final step in Klaus's plan turned out to be to find a suitable white stallion. He had a fairly good idea what kind of animal Dorian would envision as the ultimate mount, but to locate such a beast proved surprisingly time-consuming. Especially so since the English language for some god-forgotten reason called white horses not "white", but "grey". Finally he had sat down with a horse-book, on loan from T's daughter, writing up suitable breeds that came in this "grey", after which he called the horse breeder's association in England, got the name of people standing stallions of the right breeds and color in the London area and then sent the Alphabet out to examine the prospective mounts. Thus it came to be that Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach approached North Downs on the back of a shiny white Andalusian stallion, La Muerte Blanca. He had been told that the horse was "baroque" and he wasn't quite sure what this meant, but he was positive that the word was some artistic term for something, which he hoped Dorian would approve of. The horse wasn't very large, but it had mass. It was also the required bright white, with just the tiniest bit of grey over its knees and muzzle. Its enormous white wavy mane reached down to its chest and it had huge, soul-filled brown eyes.
He had sent J through M to sneak onto the castle grounds in advance to scout the area. G, crying, held the white stallion's reins for him when K called in to notify him of that the target had been sighted doing exercises in the garden at the far back of the castle - an excellent location for what Klaus had in mind. R handed him the flowers, A the black velvet box. Even the Chief was making his fat useful, by sitting on James, who had been captured beforehand. Klaus looked out over his men. A surprising number of them had join in the escapade. Not that he had actually asked them to come. When he had gone to board the plane for London first A and B had tried to sneak past him, then G, Z, R and H had joined, followed at the last minute by the Chief and six others. That had been most unexpected, not the least because he hadn't thought that any of them had realised what he was doing. Still, since they refused to leave he had allowed them to come and instead put them to work. He nodded once to them all as he smoothed out his green silk shirt.
"Sir!" Z called just as Klaus gathered the reins in preparation for taking off. "Your belt, sir!"
Klaus blinked once. Then he hastily pulled off said belt and leaned over to hand the ox leather to his favourite agent. "Good thinking, Z. Guard it well."
"With my life, sir. Good luck!"
Finally ready, Klaus shanked the horse and rode off. On reaching North Downs he cursed his much too trusting nature. //I should have sent Z. Or gone myself.//
Not that he doubted that Dorian was actually in the garden. It was just a matter of deciding which of the twenty or so men, all dressed in tight black catsuits, complete with ski masks hiding their individual features, most of them in various stages of grappling up the castle's back wall, was, in fact, the Earl.
Klaus reined in the stallion, hoping to gain more time in which to identify the right thief. Just then he heard a shrill whistle and shouts of, "Intruder!"
Most of the climbing men were near the top of the wall. These scrambled faster to get up. Only three men had stood on the ground when the warning sounded. They might have been supervising the others or merely waiting their turn. "Earl! Get up here!" someone yelled down and all three burst into action, catching a rope each and all but running up the wall. From this Klaus knew that his thief must be one of the three. But which one?
He urged the horse to a rapid canter as his eyes darted frantically between the three. Which one?
"Dorian!" he shouted, but none of them as much as twitched. //Double damned, bloody British fops!// One of the three he could eliminate, based on body width, but the other two both had the right height and reach. //Dorian will never forgive me if I take the wrong fop.// Even as he levelled his Magnum he couldn't make up his mind, but then he saw those long, narrow, elegant fingers. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach had *fantasised* about those fingers!
The Magnum barked once, but one shot was all he had time for. The horse leaped sideways to escape the roar by its ear and when Klaus had it back under control the other possibility had reached the top of the wall and the first, whose rope Klaus's bullet had severed, had landed on the ground with catlike grace and whirled to face him.
Klaus expertly holstered his weapon. After having pulled the stallion to a halt he dismounted with military efficiency. Then he walked up to the lone thief still in the rose garden. From above he heard screams and he knew that he would only have very little time before his own men came rushing in to check what the shot had been all about. //Please be the right fop,// he asked the still figure in front of him. //Though if you're not, Dorian does care for his men. I will be able to hold you hostage to get him down here.//
He tore off the offending mask - only to breathe an inward sigh of relief as an incomparable mane of curls rippled free. Dorian's blue eyes were fastened on him with a sort of blank, shocked expression. Klaus felt rather pleased to have rendered the thief speechless. Not about to let the opportunity slip by, he buried one hand in that luxurious hair. He might have fantasised about that hair as well. His other hand grasped Dorian's hip and he pulled the thief up flush against himself. He bent down and initiated what he later remembered as the sweetest kiss he had ever experienced. Not that he had all that much experience. No matter. Dorian's taste went straight to Klaus's soul. He could have stood there forever, moving his mouth softly and licking gently to gain entrance. When Dorian's tongue met his, first tentatively and then with increasing enthusiasm, the sensations quickly mounted. Dorian's hands came into play; one stroking over Klaus's shoulders while the other ghosted down past the no longer existing barrier of his removed belt.
What broke Klaus's intense concentration was hesitant applause from both behind and above. He pulled back, noting with pride that Dorian had to lean against the castle wall to keep upright. The thief looked particularly beautiful with bruised lips and pleasure-dilated eyes. With a flourish, Klaus went down on one knee. Then he retrieved the little black box from his pocket, opened it and held it out. Within lay a ring specially ordered to match the Eberbach earrings. He cleared his throat.
"My love is like a red, red rose, newly
sprung in spring.
The look on Dorian's face was worth all the effort of Klaus's mission of romance. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach felt very pleased with himself. He was positive that he and Earl Dorian Red Gloria had a glorious future together ahead of them. As soon as Dorian woke up from his faint.