Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!
Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Angel

by Kay Reynolds

 

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach sat next to the thief, Eroica, who was also known as Dorian, the Earl of Red Gloria on less felonious occasions on a wooden bench in a stark, stone room. Unfortunately, it was the only piece of furniture in the room and although Klaus sat as far from the blond haired young man as possible, he considered the distance still too close. Eroica glanced at him as if he were going to speak, then sighed and went back to watching the space on the floor between his feet.

This had been going on for hours and did nothing to break the monotony of their incarceration. If anything, it only served to accentuate it. But Klaus refused to encourage conversation. The Eberbachs were made of sterner stuff. He glared at the wall. If the bricks had been one of his agents, it would have shattered long ago under the force of his stare. However, the wall wasn't human and gave no sign of cracking — unlike the Major.

Beside him, Eroica shifted, sighed, stared at his feet – again.

"Stop it!"

Blue eyes widened with surprise. "I beg your pardon?"

"All that noise. That moaning and groaning. Stop it."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying you are sorry," Klaus snapped. "You are not at all sorry."

"How was I supposed to know you were going to be there? How was I supposed to know NATO was interested in that gold? That's not really your sort of job. You don't know about alarm systems -"

"Ha!"

"Like I do, like Bonham does," Eroica continued stubbornly. "It's what we do."

"So, now I am to report to you? The thief? I am to get your approval before I allow my people to act?"

"You've got to admit–"

"I will not admit anything to you! You - you are ein Dieb! A thief! A ... a selfish child! You expect the world to wait on your every whim!"

"Well ... not the whole world. But we're friends."

"We are not friends," Klaus growled, a low and dangerous pitch. "We have never been friends. We will never be friends. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Major."

"Gut."

"But, Major ... I still love you."

Something seemed to burst inside Eberbach. He rose to his feet and turned on the Briton in one fluid movement. Fists clenched on Eroica's arms as Klaus jerked him up from the bench and shook him. Even though he stood at a slender six foot, Eroica was not a small man. It took a lot of rage-induced strength for the Major to shake him that ferociously and that thoroughly. Eroica's head threatened to snap off his neck. The Major railed at him throughout in a torrent of angry German. He did not hear the door open behind them. When a guard made the mistake of grabbing his arm to pull him off the thief, Klaus lashed out with a fist.

Effectively.

There was the sound of someone hitting a wall. That was satisfying. Klaus turned on his opponent only to find himself staring down the business end of six M-16s. He was still holding Eroica up with one hand. Now Klaus let him drop back onto the bench.

"What are you doing?"

Eberbach glowered but Richard "King" Cole continued to meet his green eyes. Not many men could do that. Klaus reevaluated the situation. "Just checking to see if this idiot has any brains left in his empty head," he snapped.

"We'll take care of the interrogations, Major," Cole told him. "Now you will come with us."

Klaus resigned himself to follow Cole. There were too many armed men to attempt an escape. Besides, this afforded him a perfect opportunity to determine exactly what King Cole was up to. Frequently, a captor would brag about his plans to a supposedly helpless prisoner. Klaus doubted that his highness would not prove to be an exception to this rule. He would wait to hear those plans. Then, of course, all he had to do was escape.

Simple.

"Get up!" One of the guards pushed his rifle barrel into Eroica's ribs when the thief continued to sit on the bench.

The blond supported himself with one hand and pressed the other to his head. Cole frowned.

"Get him to his feet, Ahmed."

Muscle listing towards bulk, Ahmed could have made two of Eroica, Klaus noted. He also noted that Ahmed could have bathed. The Major's nose wrinkled with distaste. He didn't think that any of the guards bathed more than once a year. He wondered if their uniforms had ever seen a laundry.

The thief was dragged unceremoniously to his feet. He staggered, falling against the guard. Ahmed supported the slim body. Eroica stared up at him, smiled.

"Sorry," the blond murmured. "Still dizzy."

Ahmed ogled him, drinking in blue eyes, pale skin, a perfect rose colored mouth. "Pretty, he observed, bluntly. "Pretty like Ahmed?"

Startled, Eroica drew back. "I say there, we've only just met."

"Pretty." Ahmed shoved him towards the Major. It was a small gesture, but his strength was enough that Eroica would have fallen if Klaus hadn't caught him.

Frowning, the Major let Eroica get his footing, pointedly looking away from him. He kept his distance from the thief as they followed Cole. As they walked down the hall, Klaus was aware of the heavy-set guard's leering attention and Eroica's growing discomfort. Well, that was the thief's problem. Let him have a taste of his own medicine. It was about time.

They were led to a small cell at the end of a long line of identical empty cells. For some reason, that made Klaus uncomfortable. He wondered what kind of establishment Cole had created. Was he working with the Egyptian government or not? He had assumed these men were involved in some official capacity. Instinctively, the Major began to doubt that now.

Klaus faced Cole as the door to their cell was locked behind them.

"All this for a little gold?" Klaus demanded.

"More than a little gold, Major, as you and your friend are aware. And it's more than just gold," Cole replied.

"It's part of the lost Alexandrian treasure," Eroica said. "No one's seen it since the time of Cleopatra. It disappeared during the burning of Alexandria when they lost the library. It's not just the gold, Major, it's old scrolls, manuscripts. Art that modern man has never seen."

"Your associate has a better grasp of the importance of this find than you do, Eberbach," the balding man observed wryly. "But he's a thief, isn't he? It's his business to know the true value of what he pursues."

Eroica inclined his head, graciously. Klaus' scowl deepened.

"What I would like to know," the Major snapped, "is why you find this so-called treasure important."

Cole grinned. "Yes, Major Eberbach. I imagine you would."

With that, King Cole turned on his heel and walked away, his gang of thugs trailing behind.

Alone, the two surveyed the confines of their new lodging.

"Well, here we are, locked up together again," Eroica said attempting a faint stab at humor. "It's getting to be a habit."

"Do not start with me," Klaus warned, as always, unamused. He began a more thorough exploration of their cell, checking for any possible avenue of escape.

Eroica watched him work and stayed out of the way. "What do you think King wants with the gold, Major?" he asked after a short interlude.

"Could be one of several things," Klaus said. "NATO's interested because it is an important historical piece that means a great many things to a great many people. Cole could hold out for the highest bidder. Or he could simply be interested in the gold alone."

"But you don't think so?"

"King Cole rarely extends himself to work for himself alone. He is a mercenary, always hired by others. We will have to wait to find out what he is really up to. Not that we have any choice."

The thief's blue eyes sparkled under long lashes. "We may not have to wait as long as you think. Look, when I stumbled against that guard, I picked something up – just for you."

Eroica pulled a lock blade knife for a hiding place in his shirt. He offered it up to the Major with the air of an ingenious child. Klaus took it from him, opened the long, thin blade. It was clean and sharp.

"So," the Major said. "I see you didn't lose all your brains."

"No thanks to you." Eroica smiled. "I thought we might use a weapon."

"Can you use it to pick the lock?"

"Not hardly. We could use it to chip our way out through the stone in a century or two." He took in the iron door and bars. Then heaved a small sigh. "That's the problem with these hot, dry climates. No rust. In a more humid environment, in a crate this old, you could use your brute strength to break us out."

"Shut up about that." It was an automatic response; Klaus was too preoccupied to put any genuine wrath behind his words. He closed the knife and hid it under the mattress of one of the small cots. "Nice work."

"How long do you think they'll keep us here?"

"Anxious to leave? I thought you would want to see your new boyfriend again." Klaus laughed at Eroica's wide-eyed look of dismay.

The thief shuddered. "I don't like him."

"Now you know what it is like – Pretty."

"I'm not like that."

"No ... you are literate." Klaus chuckled. "I though you liked strong men. I thought you liked dark hair. Cheer up, Eroica. Perhaps, for you, he might even bathe."

"It's not funny."

"Depends on what side of the fence you are standing."

"Major ... Klaus, you know how I feel. You know I'd never–"

"I know how you feel. Mein Gott, I know." The threatened storm cloud turned into another chuckle. "And now, I expect, you know how I feel."

The Prince of Thieves glared at him. Klaus laughed thinking, If looks could kill.... Fortunately, the German was safe, at least for the moment. He sat down on the cot where the knife was hidden.

"I am going to get some rest," the Major announced. "I suggest that you do the same. Over there – on that side of the room. I do not want to see you any closer than that line there." He pointed at the floor indicating a line running through the center from the pattern of tile.

Blue eyes remained more than a little chilly. "Don't worry, Major. I'll keep my distance."

"See that you do."

Klaus stretched out on his back. He rested his head on his folded arms and stared up at the ceiling. From the corner of his eye, he could see Eroica sitting on the cot opposite him, his knees drawn up to his chin, arms wrapped around his legs. Sulking, and, he reflected, hurt. Maybe he shouldn't have teased him. Maybe he shouldn't have laughed so hard. No.... Klaus shook himself mentally. The idiot deserved it. It was obvious Eroica could dish it out, he just couldn't take it back. Heaving a sigh of self-righteous justification, green eyes closed and eased into sleep.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Dorian's memory wandered through the hot, dusty city of Cairo from his prison cell. Only this past afternoon he had studied the winding maze that made up the city streets from the arched window of his apartments. A huge, golden disk of a sun had beat down upon the grand Mosque and the bazaars. He had gazed upon a shifting sea of humanity, natives and tourists alike, and inhaled the faraway perfume of the Valley of Kings, the promise of adventure, the dream of romance. Swathed in a gauzy caftan, Dorian sipped a glass of steaming sweet-spiced tea and finalized his evening plans.

Which didn't include a run-in with you, my beautiful enemy, no matter what you might think.

The Earl took in a deep breath and held it locked in his chest. "If I am the sky, you are the sea ... we can never join." He flicked a glance towards the Major's lightly sleeping body.

I'm not a masochist, he thought matter-of-factly. Don't you think I've tried to keep out of your way? And yet, here you are again. Here we are. Oh. Hell. He exhaled slowly. It had been such a simple, uncomplicated, no-risk operation. Until the Major had appeared.

It boggled the mind how everything could go so badly so quickly. Well, at least the others had gotten away. And if King Cole hadn't discovered and disposed of all their little toys, Bonham, Z and the rest of the crew might have been able to track them. No, he and the Major would be rescuing themselves from this disaster. They were on their own.

The sharp clack of military boots striking pavement broke into Dorian's thoughts. From lowered lashes, he watched Klaus sit up, swinging his legs over the side of his cot as he did, instantly alert.

Three of Cole's guards, the heavy-set Ahmed in the lead, were advancing towards the cell, their expressions grim. Klaus reached over to shake him awake. Dorian was just sitting up when Ahmed unlocked the cell door. The other two guards stood outside, their rifles trained on the two within. Ahmed shoved Klaus out of his way. The cot hit the back of the Major's knees causing him to lose balance. Ahmed caught Dorian's upper arm in a bone crushing grip, yanked him to his feet and out of the cell. The door crashed shut behind them.

Ahmed's hand smashed against the Earl's face, snapping his head to one side. Dorian cried out. The guard shook him and thrust him hard against the wall. Dorian's head struck with an audible crack. He was back-handed again.

"Where it is?" Ahmed demanded.

"Search him!" one of the guards ordered.

Dorian winced as Ahmed took his arm again.

"What do you want?" Klaus watched from the cell, his fists clenched on the bars.

"He took my knife," Ahmed snarled. "Want my knife."

"You searched us before. He does not have any knife."

The guard turned Dorian to face the wall. "Search again. Find my knife."

A hand twisted in Dorian's hair and pushed his face against the wall. Rough bricks scraped his bruised cheek. His hands were placed on either side of his head. Someone pulled his hips back, spread his legs. Frightened, Dorian stood there. He caught his lower lip between his teeth, then shook his head. He didn't want the Major to know he was afraid. He was the Earl, Dorian Red Gloria, Eroica, the Prince of Thieves. He wouldn't let anyone know how afraid he was.

A fist rammed into his kidneys. His head fell back, his back arched. A harsh cry burst from his throat. Brutal hands repositioned him on the wall and began to frisk him thoroughly. Ahmed paused at his waist. He pulled Dorian's shirt out of his pants. When he began his search again, his hands moved up under the shirt, lingering against bare skin. Ahmed's face was so close to Dorian's that he could feel the damp heat of his breath against his cheek; the sound was unnaturally loud in his ear. With perverse, frightened logic, Dorian found himself holding his own breath, as if that would stop what was being done to him.

Ahmed smelled old food, the stench of sweat and worse. Rough, moist hands worked their way across the flat of this stomach and down. One of the other guards sniggered.

"Get off!" Dorian pulled himself away, eyes blazing. "Don't touch me!"

His fist lashed out inexpertly. Ahmed caught his wrist easily, twisted. Pain shot up his arm. Dorian screamed. Ahmed's fingers closed on the neck of Dorian's shirt and ripped it open with one quick pull. Again, the blond was shoved face first against the wall.

"This is what you want!" Klaus held the knife between the bars of the cell. "Take it!"

One of the guards stepped forward and snatched the lock knife from the Major's hand. Stepped back. Klaus' hands fastened on the bars again.

Ahmed held Dorian's hips. The Earl made a sound between a sob and a moan as the hands began to roam over him again.

"Leave him alone," Klaus ordered. He tried to sound as military as possible. "You have what you came for. Report to your commander."

The guards looked at him, surprised and uncertain. Klaus attempted to appear as though he looked down at them from a great height. It always worked with his men. Of course, he usually didn't have to dictate from behind locked bars.

"Listen, idiot, you were stupid enough to lose the knife in the first place," the Major snapped. "You are not going to be stupid enough to damage your commander's prisoner unnecessarily?"

Slowly, the rifles were lowered. One of the men nudged Ahmed's arm. The guard growled, but he pulled the Earl away from the wall as the cell door was unlocked. Ahmed grinned down at him. He lifted a grimy hand to paw the cascade of yellow curls that framed the bruised, young face. Dorian shrank from his touch with a half-smothered cry.

"Pretty," Ahmed said. "Tonight. I come for you."

Dorian pulled away from him and Ahmed led him go so abruptly that he stumbled against the bars. Dorian hesitated, confused. Then a guard shoved him in and the door closed behind him. Shaking, Dorian sank down on the edge of his cot. He wrapped his arms around himself, swallowing against nausea. He stared down at his knees, he couldn't look at Klaus. He heard the guards swagger off, their laughter echoing against the walls.

"Here. Use this."

The Earl looked up. Klaus stood in front of him; he held out a clean handkerchief. Trust the Major to come up with clean linen in a place like this.

"You are bleeding," Klaus said. "Take it."

The unexpected compassion was almost as startling as Ahmed's fist and, in its way, more brutal. Dorian felt the tears well in his eyes, threatening to spill down his cheeks. He trembled with pain, anger ... shame.

"I am not like him." Dorian was surprised at how clear, how reasonable his voice sounded. He would have preferred screaming.

The Major's hand never faltered. "It was a bad joke, Eroica. You were right to be angry with me."

The Earl sighed. "I'm not angry with you. How could I be angry with you?"

"Take this," Klaus said briskly. "Do not talk now."

Dorian's fingers closed on the neatly folded cloth. His head bowed again, too drained to pursue the subject. "Thank you," he murmured.

Dorian didn't – couldn't move. Silence was uncomfortable between them.

"You will be all right?" the Major asked after a long while.

Dorian pressed the handkerchief to his face. The tears had over-flowed despite his efforts to keep them back. He nodded. "Yes," he whispered. "I'll be all right."

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Klaus sat up on his cot, his back against the wall. He was restless, tired of sitting still, but Eroica lay quietly, not sleeping, of that he was sure. This game had ceased to be amusing, it had lost its appeal. The slender thief had curled in on his side, his back to the Major, locked in some private, personal shell that Klaus was loathe to disturb. A frown creased his face and the infamous Eberbach temper hovered at its edge. Green eyes sparked storm clouds.

Damn him anyway with his angel's face and sunlight curls. What made him think he could walk into these situations and escape unscathed? This was the real world. Those were bad guys and bad guys made people hurt, they bullied and humiliated. They tortured what they could get their hands on and they drove the sunshine out of everything they touched. It was a constant battle, a no-win situation that Klaus was powerless to overcome. When Ahmed came back for Eroica, he would be helpless to stop him. He did not like to feel helpless.

The Major brought a clenched fist down on his leg. It hurt, distracted, but was not enough to make him forget. He glared at Eroica's too vulnerable back. The thief was clever; he was talented but he wasn't strong and he couldn't fight. Klaus' teeth ground against an outburst he knew he would regret. Stupid, he thought raging as much against himself as Eroica. Stupid!

Time passed slowly.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Startled out of a troubled sleep, Dorian awoke with a gasp looking up to see the Major staring down at him. Klaus wasn't smiling.

So what else was new?

"Get up, Eroica," the Major said. "Cole has sent for us."

Dorian sat up. He felt light-headed. He had not expected to sleep. He could not remember dreaming but that was probably just as well. He stood up and tried to straighten what was left of his shirt. It was a lost cause but he carefully tucked the shirt tails into his pants. Klaus watched him silently.

Dorian smiled. "Well, it's not dress court, but it'll have to do, I suppose."

Klaus growled, exasperated. "Idiot. Come on."

The fragile smile washed from his face as he followed the Major out of the cell. So it was going to be like that. Dorian shuddered. He knew that the Major despised him now. Previously, Klaus had only hated him.

Yet another significant accomplishment on what was turning out to be a, frankly, hideous night.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Guards escorted them to King Cole's office and let them inside. The balding man was waiting for them.

"We meet again," Cole said. "Tea? Or would either of you care for something stronger?"

Klaus shook his head curtly. Dorian accepted the tea he was offered, pleased to see that his hands didn't shake. It was comforting to take part in ordinary ritual ... if being interrogated by the enemy could be considered ordinary. A small laugh burst from his lips and he covered his mouth with his hand.

"You find your situation amusing?" Cole asked.

Dorian shook his head. He forced a smile back to his lips. "No," he said. "I was just thinking how a civilized criminal like yourself could be part of so much barbarism. Strange, don't you think?"

"Not any more barbaric than your arrangement with Major Eberbach, I assure you. My men are crude but effective. I understand my man, Ahmed, finds you attractive. You're obviously well-bred. Perhaps he's not totally hopeless."

"Let Eroica go," Klaus said. "He is of no value here."

Cole raised an eyebrow. "I should let him go so he will, perchance, be of value to you elsewhere? I don't think so, Major."

Klaus shrugged. "He is freelance. A mercenary like yourself. He could be of value to you, Cole, someday."

"Now I understand. You're his agent then? Does he cut you in for a percent of the take? You don't bring home enough on your NATO salary? I had no idea you two were such good friends."

Klaus did not like being laughed at. "We are not friends. Eroica is the chain around my neck. He is the thorn in my side. He was the reason this mission failed. The less I see of him, the better."

"You Germans are all alike. Always giving orders." Cole frowned. "I give the orders here, Eberbach. Remember that."

Klaus nodded, grim.

"Well, I'm not anxious to go anywhere," Dorian broke in. "Not until I find out what you've done with the gold. You're obviously much more clever than either of us. You've got it now, haven't you?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Would you like to see it?"

Blue eyes sparkled. "Oh, yes."

Cole crossed to a mahogany table in the middle of the room. He lifted a drop cloth from a tray. Klaus heard Dorian catch his breath in wonder. He had to admit that the gold was impressive heaped there with the light catching it just so. Scrolls, odd bits of ancient papyrus were heaped to one side. Dorian picked up an old, delicately embossed silver flute, nearly black with age. His fine, long-fingered hands caressed it tenderly.

"Oh ... it is here!" he murmured. "The flute of Bagoas. How lovely ... how exquisite!"

Klaus stared at the thief. Dorian glowed with delight. "What the hell is the flute of Bagoas?" he growled.

"Bagoas was a beautiful Persian slave boy," Dorian explained. "He belonged to King Darius. Later, he was given to Alexander the Great Alexander as a peace offering to his household. Historians say Bagoas was one of the most beautiful boys who ever lived. His singing, his dancing were remarkable. He won the Olympic games for dance more than once. He loved his master and Alexander loved him, too. When Alexander died, there was nothing but chaos rioting right at the deathbed, everyone fighting over who would rule. When it was over, when they had taken his lover away, Bagoas gathered these few items. No one tried to stop him. No one cared. These things were only important to Bagoas and Alexander." Dorian paused, his voice wistful. "Some time after Bagoas died, this was placed in the library in Alexandria. But just before the city was burned by the Romans, the treasure disappeared."

"Until now," Cole said.

"Mm...." the Earl murmured. He returned the flute reverently to the tray. He ran a tentative finger over the first of the scrolls, then picked it up and began to unwind it gently. "Look at the condition of the papyrus!" he gasped. "It's not at all brittle. Major, look!"

Klaus peered over the thief's shoulder. He saw columns of ancient glyphs. Decorative, but indecipherable to the untrained eye. "What is it?" he asked. "Battle plans? Memoirs?"

"These are the letters from Alexander to Bagoas," Dorian whispered.

"Alexander conquered a world. His lover was a dancer, not trained for war or battle. Alexander would never risk Bagoas' life by taking him with him on campaigns, no matter how much Bagoas argued with him. So they wrote to each other. I had heard these existed somewhere. Actually, they were considered to be more legend than fact... but here they are."

"What about all the gold?" Klaus asked.

"Look at it."

The Major picked up one of the coins. It was heavy in his hand. He had seen ancient coins before and at first, he wondered if what he held was a forgery. It looked as though it had just come from the mint. He stared at the crisp, relief portrait of a handsome young man.

"That's Alexander," Dorian said indicating the man on the coin. "He was only thirty-three when he died. And Bagoas was still so young, so beautiful. They say he never took another lover after Alexander."

"Ancient love letters between two faggots," Cole sneered. "What a find."

Dorian's face flushed with anger. "Alexander was one of the most magnificent men who ever lived, everyone recognizes that. He was a brilliant commander and tactician. He conquered the known world before he was thirty. He ruled with both compassion and wisdom, merging cultures and –"

"Everyone knows about Alexander the Great," Cole broke in. "His preference in lovers is no secret but it's not something his country brags about either."

"Macedonia? I was not aware that their current political status was of international importance."

There was the katana's edge of sarcasm in the thief's voice. As long as it wasn't directed at him, Klaus could find it amusing. If the situation had not been so ugly, he would have enjoyed watching Cole try to take Dorian in a discussion over the significance of historical properties and their actual value. Once again, as long as the thief's commentaries were not directed at him.

"There are other parties interested in these mislaid documents," Cole replied. "Interested in keeping them that way."

"What do you mean?" Klaus asked.

"They're to be destroyed," Cole said.

"Oh no! You can't!" Dorian blanched. "Don't you understand what these are? Yes, everyone knows about Alexander and what he did, but no one really knows the man. These are his letters, his life, not some military document. They'll tell us who he was, what he thought, what his life was like. You can't put a price on that. You can't destroy these!"

"What about the gold?" Klaus asked.

Cole shrugged. "Gold is gold. Melted down, who's to know where or when it came from?"

"Who are you working for, Cole?"

"My own best interests, Major. What I'd like to know is what NATO's interest is in this?"

"Rumors of this discovery have a certain significance for historians of several nations for much the same reasons Eroica just gave. They were aware that there would also be people who would want to see it destroyed. It is my job to stop that. My mission is to see to it that the Alexander treasure is delivered to the proper authorities."

"It seems we are at cross purposes, Major." Cole replaced the dustcover over the gold, parchments and flute. "But, I suspect, the better man has won."

"We are not finished yet," Klaus insisted. "It seems to me that you must show your superiors evidence of the find before you can destroy it. It will have to be authenticated before you are rewarded. A lot could happen between now and then."

Cole threw back his head and laughed. "When did the Germans become so optimistic? You're a rare bird, Major. As it is, I expect my sponsors to arrive within the hour. We will destroy the parchments then. As for you two, by morning I expect you both to be dead. Unless, of course, you can convince Ahmed you're worth saving, Eroica. You're too pale to be a Persian boy. Perhaps you could be Ahmed's English nance?"

The Major glanced at the too-silent Dorian. The thief continued to stare at the cloth-covered heap on the table. He could not read his expression.

"It's been interesting. I won't say fun. Iron Klaus and Eroica, Prince of

Thieves...." Cole shook his head, his lips twisting in a sneer. "We won't be seeing each other again. Frankly, I must confess to disappointment. From what I gathered of your collective reputations, I expected you both to be more of a challenge."

Dorian tossed his hair back over his shoulders, still defiant. "Life is full of little disappointments." He paused by the tea cart and looked down.

"Thank you for the tepid tea. You might try warming the pot next time before you brew it."

"I'll remember that," Cole said. "And when I do, I'll think of you."

Three guards appeared to escort Klaus and Dorian back to their cell. As they left the room, the Earl looked back over his shoulder. King Cole was going about his business as if their interview had never taken place. As far as he was concerned, they were already dead. The blond shivered.

Back in the cell, Dorian watched Klaus pace the short space within like a caged wolf. A big and angry caged wolf.

"We must find a way out of here," the Major snapped. "Quickly."

"I agree."

Dorian crossed to the cell door, knelt and studied the lock. He took a butter knife out of the top of his pants and began to work at the large, old fashioned keyhole. It was a poor choice of instrument but the best he'd been able to find. The tip was long, slender and blunt. The work was rough going. Klaus stared at him.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"The tea tray," Dorian said. "I hope they won't miss it right away."

"Like Ahmed missed his knife?"

"I didn't thank you for giving that up. Thank you, Major."

"Do not be ridiculous. They would have searched the cell eventually and found it anyway."

"Oh. I see."

"If it hadn't been for your idiot maneuvers, we would not be in this situation to begin with."

"That's one way of looking at it," Dorian agreed. "But I can't help but wonder, Major, what with a discovery of this size, knowing my skill at this sort of thing, why you didn't consult with me regarding its rescue? I'm surprised Chief Twitterswell didn't suggest it."

Klaus' rage flattened into uncomfortable silence.

Dorian laughed softly. "I thought so. The Chief did want me in on this. The fault, dear Major, lies in your hands, not mine."

"You are nothing but excuses." Klaus glowered. "Are you going to take forever with that?"

"Not forever," the blond purred. "There!"

There was a sharp "clack" as the cell door popped open just as the two heard footsteps heading their way. Klaus frowned, concentrating.

"Two," he muttered. "No – three. Scheisse!"

Dorian quickly pulled the cell door shut and stepped back. He slipped the knife into the top of his boot. Klaus caught his arm. He winced as the

Major's hand closed over old bruises.

"What are you doing?" Klaus hissed. "We could have jumped them?"

"Three armed guards? You're suicidal!"

"Damn it, Eroica, this is not one of your games!"

"Well, I've got to admit," the Earl grimaced. "I'm not having as good a time as I'd planned."

Klaus shook him. "Idiot! Stupid!"

"Please let go. You're hurting my arm."

There was something in his voice. Realization flooded the Major's face.

"You're going with Ahmed."

"There are other ways out of here, Major."

"I should have known."

"Oh, of course." Blue eyes sparked in anger. "You're the one who wants to go charging out into three M-16s, right? That's a great plan, isn't it? Where's your cover? Your strategy? You're going to get yourself killed!"

"There's always a risk–"

"I'm trying to save your ass, Klaus!"

"I do not want your favors! I can save my own ass!"

"Well, it's not your ass that bastard wants, is it?"

Klaus hit Dorian hard enough to knock him off his feet. The thief fell across the cot; he raised his hand to his face. For a time, silence blazed between green eyes and blue.

"You know...." Dorian sighed out eventually. "The thing about you that attracts me most is your brilliant conversation and your sparkling wit. There's nothing to match it on Earth ... at least, not since the Neanderthals died out."

"You can not fool me, Eroica," Klaus blazed. "I know how you operate. You do not give a damn about anyone except yourself and your idiot art!"

"Is that what you really think?"

Klaus von dem Eberbach stared into wide blue eyes. Dorian regarded him with the same direct, child-like intensity that had confused and annoyed and, somehow, always intrigued him. Perhaps that was the secret. More child than man, Dorian couldn't be expected to understand responsibility... duty like a true adult. And yet, he had such promise. He could be so clever. A clever child, Klaus thought, with no more thought towards tomorrow, towards the next minute than any other spoiled, willful brat!

"It does not matter what I think," the Major snapped. "You will do what you want in this matter regardless." He turned away, crossing his arms over his chest.

Dorian sat up, leaned forward. "Major, listen. I –"

"Do not speak to me."

Dorian watched Klaus in agonized silence. At least one of us will be outside, he wanted to say. One of us will be free to help the other ... if I get away....

Ahmed and the two guards reached the cell. Perched on the edge of the cot, Dorian's fingers curled, white-knuckled around the frame. The cell door opened and Ahmed's bulk filled the entrance save for a slight gap at the top. Dorian stared up at him, helplessly. How was he going to escape this?

"Come here, Pretty."

Dorian sat where he was as if frozen in place.

"Come here!"

Ahmed pulled Dorian to his feet and out of the cell. The door crashed shut behind them. Then Dorian found himself looking into very small, very dark eyes from much closer quarters than he had ever wanted to be. Dorian's lips parted with a startled gasp as Ahmed's arms closed around his body, as he pressed his mouth against his. A hand tangled painfully in his hair. Ahmed's tongue thrust into his mouth and Dorian swallowed bile. He reacted with instinct; he couldn't have stopped himself.

The big man drew his head back, his bloody mouth twisting into what Dorian supposed was a smile. It was the most frightening thing he had ever seen. Ahmed slowly backed him into the wall, pinned his wrists.

"You like teeth?"

Dorian's breath came in short, animal gasps. Ahmed leered, lowered his face to Dorian's shoulder. Dorian shook his head, wildly. Screamed.

A wet mouth was pressed to Dorian's again; he tasted something metallic, salty, and most desperately wanted to be sick. This couldn't be happening. Dorian opened his eyes. He saw Klaus standing inside the cell; the Major's face was white, his lips a thin line. Dorian blinked back tears of pain and humiliation.

Ahmed barked a short command, and the two guards moved out of the cell area. Half-dazed, Dorian watched them go. He was numb, Ahmed was literally holding him up. Dorian moaned; it had to stop. He would die if it didn't stop.

But that, ultimately, was the idea, wasn't it? And, once he'd been disposed of, Cole's thugs would quickly finish the Major, too. It was just the sort of morbid finish King Cole relished on a job. Messy death. Mean, bloody and memorable – that was Cole's trademark. He'd butchered his way to the top of his particular dung heap like a barbarian invader of old, a vulgar bully and his horde of primitives. Every schoolyard and boardroom had one. Dorian could not permit either himself or the Major to be beaten down by the likes of that. Stalled, perhaps ... subdued a little if necessary.

But never conquered.

One did what one must. That's how the game was played. How it was won. Mate and check.

Slowly, Dorian raised his arms and placed them around Ahmed's neck. He shook off paralysis and pressed his body into the bulk that held him. The guard looked at him. The thief smiled....

"You're so strong...."

Klaus gasped, amazed. Dorian's voice was hoarse with desire; his body swayed sensuously against the guard's. Ahmed began to maul him again. For as much as he knew of it, he would not, could not identify that as making love. Dorian's soft, musical laugh contrasted harshly with Ahmed's labored, rutting gasps. Ahmed began to urge Dorian into one of the cells. The thief stayed him, his fingers toying with hair on the guard's chest.

"Wait," Dorian purred. "We don't have to go anywhere. Here. Let's do it here."

Ahmed looked puzzled. Dorian nodded in the Major's direction. "Don't you want him to see how strong you are? Let him watch." He released a small, teasing laugh. "Don't you think that's ... exciting?"

Comprehension broke through for Ahmed and the Major.

"You perverted son of a bitch," Klaus snarled. "Maggot."

Dorian laughed again and looked up at Ahmed under seductively lowered lashes. Ahmed grinned back at him.

"You wait," the guard said.

"I'm not going anywhere, darling."

Dorian crossed to the cell and leaned against the bars. Klaus stared at him. The thief's rag of a shirt draped around his arms in a way that was somehow more lascivious than if he had simply removed it. Blood trickled down his chest from his shoulder; the wound was bruised, torn.

"You'll want to watch this, Major," Dorian said softly. "You might learn something."

Klaus hardened himself against pity. The Eberbach temper sparked green eyes to black. "I've seen enough," he said shortly.

Ahmed returned dragging a mattress from one of the empty cells. He threw it on the floor at the thief's feet and dropped to his knees.

"How considerate." Dorian tried to laugh again but his mouth was too dry. "Perhaps the brute's more civilized than we thought, Major."

Klaus made a noise, half fury, half disgust. He might have spoken again but Ahmed captured Dorian's wrist and pulled him down onto the mattress. He shoved the thief onto his back without further preliminary and bore down on him, burying the slim form beneath his bulk. In hoarse, guttural tones, he began to describe what he planned to do. What he expected Dorian to do.

Klaus shuddered. He could close his eyes. He wished he could close his ears, but that was impossible. Despite everything he'd railed about for years, he couldn't believe the thief would allow himself to be part of this. He moved towards the far end of the cell, turned his back.

"Major...." Dorian's voice trembled, following after him. "Major, please pay attention to this ... look...."

Then:

"Klaus – open your bloody eyes and look! Help me!"

Klaus jerked his head around and stared. Dorian's hand was thrust through the bars of the cell, the key ring dangling from his fingers. He threw the keys with a slight flick of his wrist. They hit the floor and slid under the cot.

Ahmed was alert as soon as they landed. He bellowed with rage and started to his feet, but Dorian held him down, his arms locked around the massive neck. Ahmed threw him off as Klaus made a dive for the keys. The Major overturned the cot and snatched up the ring. Ahmed went for his rifle against the wall. Dorian grabbed his leg and was rewarded with a savage kick. He cried out, but refused to let go. Klaus fumbled with the keys at the door. The guard made for his weapon, dragging the thief with him; he kicked him again. Dorian half lost his grip. Then he pulled the knife from his boot and buried it as deep as he could into the back of Ahmed's thigh.

Enraged, Ahmed reached down and pulled Dorian up with one hand. The other closed around his throat. Panicked, Dorian tried to twist out of the guard's grip and was slammed back against the wall. His chest burned as he struggled for air. The fist on his throat tightened. He clawed, frantic, at Ahmed's fingers, lashing out with a blind, ineffective fist. Helplessly, Dorian found himself staring into what seemed a demon's face only inches away from his own. Then the face began to disappear, eaten away around the edges as if by a hungry, gray rat. Dorian lifted his fist again. He didn't feel it fall.

It seemed to take forever to find the right key. When he did, when the door opened at last, Klaus sprang out of the cell like a freed wolf. He crossed the distance from the door to Ahmed in two steps. Dorian hung like a limp rag in the guard's fists. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. The Major's hands closed on Ahmed's shoulders with the unyielding strength of iron. Ahmed could not hold Dorian and fight Klaus at the same time. The thief dropped from his grasp like a stone, sliding down the wall to fall in a crumpled heap on the tile.

The Major's fist plowed into Ahmed's stomach carrying all the anger Klaus had stored from his moment of capture. He could not have used another weapon if he had one. There was too much rage. Too much pain. He wanted to tear it apart, destroy it utterly. In his mind's eye, he pictured his fist driving through flesh, from one wall of the body to the other again and again.

Half-conscious, Dorian sprawled on the floor. His body curled in on itself seeking escape in darkness. Everything hurt. Everything. Gentle hands turned him at last, holding him almost tenderly. He moaned. A mistake. His throat felt like he had swallowed liquid fire.

"Engel ... Engel Eroica.... You must wake up. Eroica!"

Dorian's eyes fluttered open, focused. Klaus stared down at him, brow furrowed in concern. Puzzled, Dorian wondered for who, over what? But those eyes... Mosel green glass eyes and warm, like the arm around his shoulders was warm. This was obviously some kind of dream. He didn't want to move, didn't want to disturb that image. Dorian closed his eyes and buried his face against a strong shoulder, inhaled a rich, masculine odor. Clean. Sweet.

"Eroica - no! We must go." An insistent hand shook him back to wakefulness. The thief sighed. It would be impossible to drift back into darkness now. His body reminded him that he hurt too much. Dorian opened his eyes. Struggled to sit up.

"Klaus...."

"Ja." The Major was shaking his head. "Eroica ... you cut your games too close."

"You're still angry...."

Klaus wiped blood from Dorian's chin with his fingers. He cringed away from the despair, the pain in that soft voice and found his hand was shaking. "I am furious with you," he murmured. It was all he could get out. Speech was too difficult, he felt as if he had to force his voice up from the soles of his feet.

Bewildered, Dorian stared up at him, totally disoriented. Klaus had said he was furious but, still, the Major didn't act furious. The thief was familiar with the Eberbach rage. This was like nothing he had seen before. Dorian steeled himself for the worst.

Instead, the Major helped him to his feet. Dorian's head whirled; he couldn't find his balance. For the moment, all he could do was cling to Klaus. It felt good. Despite the urgency of their situation, he couldn't want that to end. And surprisingly, Klaus put his arm around him; his arms circled Dorian with more than support as if some unknown instinct had broken self-imposed barriers. Dorian stopped shaking. There was peace. He felt as if he held the other half of his soul.

Suddenly, the Earl remembered Ahmed with a little rush of fear. He looked at the Major's face and followed his gaze. A little way from their feet, Ahmed sprawled on the floor, unnaturally still. Dorian drew back with a shudder. Klaus' arm tightened around his shoulders. His hand smoothed blond hair.

The Major was silent.

Dorian stared at the man who held him, the man he had chosen to love. There was such strength in him. Strength he could never understand, only accept. He wondered how much of that strength, how much of what he knew as Klaus von dem Eberbach was born from pain? Only minutes ago, Dorian had felt his life slipping from him. Revived, he could appreciate how precious life was and how much it had to offer. Yet if he could hold Klaus to him and crush that pain away, he knew he would return to the edge of death, gladly, and remain.

Pressure from the arm around his shoulders urged Dorian on. Klaus half-supported him down the hall. Dorian regained control of uncooperative arms and legs. He caught his second wind as they made their way along the halls. The thief shuddered; his recent confrontation gave whole new meaning to the concept of "second wind" but somehow, he didn't feel like laughing.

They hurried towards Cole's office, cat-wary, cat-quick. Dorian thrilled to the way their strides matched, how even their slightest gesture complimented the other. Klaus executed every movement with a deliberate economy of motion; his strength was like the iron for which he was named, inflexible, relentless. Dorian had never known that kind of power. Klaus knew what he wanted and how to go after it. Dorian was the feather in the wind, the Major's opposite in almost every way. Still, he could never be anything less than himself, not even for Klaus. It was his nature to maintain a willow-wand pliancy. He could bend, could accept and deal with whatever adversity, whatever joy came his way. He would not break. Iron was frequently less fortunate.

Klaus cautioned him to be still. There was a guard in the hall outside of Cole's office. The Major pressed something into Dorian's hand and the thief's fingers closed around Ahmed's knife. When he realized what he had, he trembled. Well, at least it was a knife. He was not good with guns, they seemed unnatural to him.

Klaus stalked across the corridor, a moving shadow with a guarding-angel following after. The guard never knew what hit him. The last thing he saw was Ahmed's recently requisitioned M-16 coming up, butt first and fast under his chin. Dorian caught him as he fell. Klaus helped to drag him into another doorway, out of sight.

Afterwards, Dorian leaned against the door jamb. He pressed his hand to his head. Klaus took his arm.

"Can you make it?" the Major asked in a low voice.

Dorian started to nod a "yes," but the room began to spin. He took a deep breath instead, smiled. "Yes," he whispered.

Klaus squeezed his shoulder lightly. "Gut. Let us go. Take his gun," he hissed. "Do it."

Dorian stifled a sigh and took the automatic from the guard's belt. It was not as comfortable as the knife.

They paused for a moment on either side of the threshold of Cole's office. Klaus nodded, signaling Dorian. The Major kicked the door open and entered, rifle aimed high. Dorian followed, the automatic cradled in both hands taking the low man's position. He hoped he looked more effective than he felt.

King Cole sprang up from behind his desk. He started to reach for his gun, looked at Klaus, and thought better of it. He raised his hands.

There was no one else in the room. Dorian closed the door behind them. He crossed to the mahogany table. The gold, the scrolls, even the flute was still there. "It's all here," he said, pleased. "They haven't touched a thing."

"Pack it up," Klaus ordered. "It is as you see, Cole. I told you a lot could happen before your superiors arrived."

"I underestimated you." Cole frowned slightly. "Next time, I'll know better."

"I would not count on there being a next time."

Dorian found a large leather satchel. He dumped the contents and began to pack the gold and the flute. He wrapped the scrolls as securely as possible in the oiled drop cloth. They heard a car door slam outside, the crunch of footsteps on gravel.

"You timing's off, Major." Cole was grinning again. "My company has arrived – with their own security, no doubt."

"Too bad you will have to miss them," Klaus said. "Eroica, hurry!"

"I've just about got it." Dorian fashioned a sling around the parcel and draped it over his shoulder.

King Cole looked at the thief as if he had just noticed him. "What happened to you, Pretty?" he began. "Have fun with Ahmed?"

Before Dorian could react, Klaus' fist had smashed across Cole's face. The Major brought his prisoner up short by the collar.

"Ahmed is dead." Klaus' expression had gone very feral. "Do you want to join him?"

Cole shook his head, quickly. Silent.

"Then you do not speak to Eroica again. Not like that. Understand?"

Cole nodded. Klaus secured the office door, then shoved him ahead. He joined Dorian outside in the balcony shadows. A sleek, black limousine was parked below. It stood out in stark contrast to the other battered, dust-covered vehicles.

"Look at those plates," Dorian whispered. "That's the Papal crest."

Klaus studied the vehicle below. The insignia on the license plates was unmistakable.

"It would appear that King's employer has direct connections to the

Vatican," Dorian concluded.

"They've been a little touchy in Rome since those ancient same-sex marriage rituals were brought up from the vaults," Cole confessed. "No one expected those documents to be found. Several publishers are already nosing around. The last thing the church needs now is another affirmation of love between a couple of fags."

"So, they decided to destroy this particular evidence instead of just hiding it away inside the vaults?" Dorian asked.

Cole shrugged. "Safety before publication."

"Enough talking," Klaus snapped. "Let's go."

Peering down over the balcony, Cole blanched. "That's kind of a drop there."

"Gut. Maybe you will break your neck and save me the trouble of an arrest." Klaus used his rifle to herd Cole towards the window. "Eroica, you go first. Take the gold and the scrolls. Wait for us."

This was the game Dorian loved to play best. He studied the distance from balcony to ground with a practiced eye. It wasn't that high. There was no one about. He reasoned that whatever guards had been outside were now entering the building with the Vatican representatives and making their way to the office. Were they going to be in for a surprise! It was absolutely delightful.

Dorian landed with feline grace and shook blond curls out of his face. The cool night air felt good on his skin, reviving. He pulled the gun out of his belt and, smiling, waved to Klaus. Cole landed suddenly – awkwardly – in front of him. Even in the dark, Dorian could see the experience had left him pale and shaking.

"Don't be silly." Dorian offered Cole a hand up. "It wasn't that high."

Cole stared at him, incredulous. "You're maniacs," he gasped. "Both of you."

Dorian laughed softly. Klaus landed silently beside them. He shoved Cole towards the Jeep in the driveway. Confident, the Earl bound Cole's wrists while Klaus hot-wired the engine. It was good to be free. He knew everything was going to be all right now.

They pulled out into the desert night before anyone missed them. The Major cut off the road as soon as he could, speeding across the sand, putting as much distance between them and Cole's headquarters as possible. There was no moon. Klaus knew Cole's men would not be able to pick up their trail until morning. By then, he estimated they would be on their way back to Germany. He would be glad to be home, mission accomplished.

When Klaus had achieved what he considered to be a safe distance, he stopped long enough to use the radio to call his contacts. Quickly, he arranged a meeting place and headed towards it. After a short drive, they reached a series of caves. The Major pulled the Jeep into one of the openings and stopped.

"Watch him," Klaus cautioned Dorian as he went out to brush tire tracks from the entrance. "I will be back."

From his seat on the front fender, Dorian nodded cheerfully. He put the gun aside, took out the knife and studied it, testing it for balance. His body throbbed with pain; his head hurt. He had been more badly frightened than he would ever care to admit, even to himself. But he didn't have to think about that now. He and Klaus were free. They had the Alexander treasure. King Cole was secure, bound hand and foot sitting on the floor of the cave, his back to the dry mud wall. Dorian noticed the man watching him, a difficult thing to do considering the gloom.

"How freelance are you?" Cole asked as soon as he was sure that Klaus was out of earshot.

Dorian regarded him, curious. "I beg your pardon?"

"Eberbach says you're a free agent. You want a quick job, good salary, short working hours?"

"You want me to help you escape with Alexander's treasure?"

"Keep the treasure," Cole said generously. "Just help me escape. I don't want to deal with NATO intelligence."

"The Major can be difficult when he's upset," Dorian agreed, also generous. "He has a tendency to overreact. The Americans would say he's got a short fuse. I'd have to agree."

"So ... how about it?"

"No, thank you." Dorian tested the weight of the blade. He tossed it into the air. It glittered in the half-light. He caught it with casual ease. Tossed it up again.

"Why not?" Cole persisted.

"I am the Major's man."

King Cole blinked. Then his mouth twisted in a sneer. "Shit!" he muttered. There was no mistaking the contempt in his voice.

The knife flew from Dorian's fingers like a small, silver arrow. It hit the soft dirt of the cave wall, point first, less than an inch above Cole's balding head.

"The Major is his own man," the thief said coldly. "You know, I didn't care for what you said about faggot love letters either. You ought to learn to be more tolerant. Live and let live, that's what I always say... how lucky for you."

Dorian crossed over to the wall and removed the knife. Cole watched him, apprehensive, as the Earl reexamined the blade. "So sorry, " he purred. "The balance is dreadful."

Dorian hesitated, glancing down at the bound man. Looked again. Blue eyes widened in surprise. He laughed. It hurt his throat but he couldn't stop.

"What is going on here?" Klaus growled as he reentered the cave.

"I'm afraid the King has had an accident."

"What?" Klaus came closer. He peered at his prisoner.

King Cole tried to ignore Eberbach's laughter as he squirmed in a puddle of wet sand. It had not turned out to be his day. Not at all.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

The Major crushed another cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. They had been in the room for less than an hour and the air was already filled with smoke. The Earl, Dorian Red Gloria a.k.a. Eroica, watched him, eyes glittering under demurely lowered lashes. He didn't look any the worse for his recent adventure. In fact, he looked very good indeed. Yellow curls rioted over his shoulders and down his back like spun sunlight. The bruise on his cheek had faded or had been artfully covered with make-up. Klaus wasn't sure. He had hidden the bruises on his throat with a pale, rose-colored silk scarf tucked into the neck of a heavier blue-on-blue striped silk shirt. With a white jacket thrown casually, but elegantly, over his shoulders, pearl gray, perfectly creased slacks and hand crafted, Italian boots, he did not appear to be the kind of person who spent his nights burgling homes, museums and what-have-yous like a two-footed pack rat... an ingenious pack rat with very exotic tastes and skills, but nevertheless, Klaus refused to allow him any further status than that. For the most part, Eroica was trouble. He would never be anything but trouble!

He is the killer cycle personified, Klaus reminded himself. A man of pure malice!

Dorian seemed to sense he was the object of the Major's scrutiny. And was very much enjoying that. He glanced at Klaus, smiling as if the two of them shared some private joke. Klaus glowered and looked away.

The Earl's young accountant, James, stood behind his master and Bonham, Dorian's long-suffering lieutenant, stood next to the youth. James hovered over Dorian like a one-chick mother hen; he fanned the air with a well worn ledger and glared at Klaus. Klaus, obligingly, glared back. The war went on.

Dorian smiled. "James, stop fussing. You're annoying the Major."

Chief Twitterswell turned his attention to his head operative. "You do smoke too much, Major Eberbach. You should cut back or at least have a care for the others in your presence."

Klaus thought of a reply to that. Then he thought better.

"I'm glad to see you took my advice about asking Eroica for his assistance in recovering the Alexander treasure," Twitterswell went on. "I know I can always trust you to put personal differences aside for the good of a mission."

"I do my duty," Klaus said shortly.

"You're too modest. The Major and I get along so well now," Dorian's smile became mischievous. "We've become such good friends."

That was the last straw. Klaus rose to his feet. "We are not friends," he roared. "We have never been friends –"

"We will never be friends," Dorian chimed in. He smiled up at the wrath of Klaus. "That's all right. I'd much rather be your lover."

There were times when even Klaus reached a level that left him speechless. This was one of those times. He had a choice: kill the thief or leave the room. The Major left the room. The door slammed shut behind him.

Bonham cringed. "Aw ... Eroica. You've done it again."

Dorian studied the back of his hand. "Well, at least I've got a perfect score." He sighed, got to his feet and offered his hand to the Chief. "Thank you for your confidence in me. You know I'm always ... available to NATO intelligence."

"We appreciate your cooperation, Eroica, as always." Twitterswell cleared his throat. "Your loyalty as well as your skills. I don't suppose, however...."

"That I'd consider working with another operative?" Dorian asked, politely aghast. "Chief, you'd never ask me to do that?"

"Wot Eroica is trying to say is, these skills of 'is are wery delicate," Bonham explained. "'E's got to work wif someone 'e can trust, guvnor, or it's no good so you might as well not even bother trying' it on."

"Well, perhaps we could come to some other arrangement," Twitterswell continued, desperate. "We could initiate a new agent that Eroica could learn to work with. Agent Z perhaps?"

"We might consider that...." Dorian looked at Bonham sharply and his lieutenant winked under cover of a shrug. "But I don't think your Major

Eberbach would ever tolerate it. Still, if we can talk the right money...."

"How much?"

"Jimmy's our financial man," Bonham said. "We'll leave that to you and 'im to work out. Talk to the man, Jimmy."

"My name is James," the diminutive youth said coldly. "Mr. James." He took over Dorian's recently vacated seat. The chair dwarfed his frame. The Chief regarded him with discomfort. Dorian and Bonham left the room.

As they strolled down the hall, a worried frown creased Dorian's brow. "Do you really think that was a good idea, Bonham?"

"Relax, M'lord," Bonham said, dropping the Cockney. "Jimmy knows what's what. He'd never sell you down the river."

"James would never hurt me intentionally but for a six-percent increase in the gross annual profit...." The Earl looked at his lieutenant meaningfully.

Bonham faltered. "Maybe I'd better go back and keep an ear out," he said.

"Maybe you'd better."

Dorian watched Bonham charge back into the Chief's office. This would probably take a while. He sighed, entering the men's room and walked into a fog, a real London pea-souper. Major Klaus von dem Eberbach sat perched on the sink, a litter of cigarette butts accumulating at his feet. Dorian was delighted.

"Klaus!"

"Do not speak to me."

"Now ... don't be rude."

"Rude? I am not rude."

"Well, don't be so ... so German, then. Truce?"

Klaus ignored him.

"I'm sorry I mouthed off in front of the Chief," Dorian said. "You know I can't resist an audience and you're so easy to tease."

"That is why I hate you."

Dorian flinched. That hurt. It always hurt. "Well, regardless... I don't hate you," he offered quietly. "May I have a cigarette?"

Klaus shrugged. Dorian picked up the pack on the sink, shook out a cigarette, lit it. He leaned against the wall and watched Klaus silently, thinking.

"It must have been very difficult for you not to let King turn those materials over to the Vatican representatives," he said after a while.

Klaus glared at him. "It was not difficult. I did my duty. That is all."

"Even when it goes against your personal beliefs? You are Catholic, after all."

"The Papal Council has sent their own representatives to study the scrolls in addition to the Eastern Orthodoxy and other historical research organizations. They will have a say in determining what is to be done with them."

"But they won't be destroyed now, will they?"

"I doubt it." Klaus continued to stare straight ahead. He could have been carved in stone except for the motion of lifting his cigarette to his lips. "The matter is no longer of concern to me."

"The mission is over."

"It is."

"Just so," Dorian said. "Why did you kill Ahmed?"

Klaus looked at him. The abrupt question, the sound of Dorian's voice - although still as soft as ever - startled him as much as the query. He found himself shrugging again, but for a moment, a series of mental images filled his head. This close, under the harsh overhead lights, he could see past the makeup to the bruises on cheek and throat. This close, he could feel the warmth that radiated from the thief's slender body. A series of mental images filled his head, recent memories. He struggled to bury them again.

"Why did you do it?" Dorian asked again.

"I did not intend to kill anyone," Klaus answered shortly. "It just happened."

"Klaus... I saw him. You beat him to death."

The Major took a long drag off his cigarette. Released it slowly. He returned his gaze to the wall. "How is your throat?" he asked.

Dorian blinked, puzzled. "Fine... now."

"Gut."

The Earl smiled shyly. "Klaus... did you call me `engel'... angel? When we were at the cell and I was coming to, I thought I heard you -"

"No!"

Dorian started at the vehemence in that voice. Was it a protest or a denial? He couldn't tell. "But I thought I heard...." He shook his head. "You touched my hair. I...." He blushed with the agony of uncertainty.

"You heard wrong. I said, `Eroica.' That is all." Klaus laughed harshly. "Why in god's name would I call you `angel'? Devil, maybe. Angel? Ha!"

The Earl's blush deepened and threatened to overwhelm his scarf. Yes." He laughed regretfully. "I suppose that is a bit much. But I hoped... perhaps...."

"I have got to go back to work, Eroica." Klaus ground his cigarette out under his heel. "I have wasted enough time with you today."

"Would you like to have dinner? I'll be in town-" Dorian found himself talking to an empty room. The door closed silently.

The Earl lifted his cigarette to his lips and found that his hand was shaking. Blue eyes closed; teeth clenched against a sob. He had been so certain he had heard... something. And Klaus had held him! Dorian shook his head. Nothing had changed. He felt like a fool.

Again.

The door swung open again. Dorian turned, his body taut with expectation. The Major had been joking - or he'd had second thoughts. Klaus had returned and he would take him in his arms and everything was going to be-

"Wait'll you hear what Jimmy's done this time, M'lord," Bonham groaned.

"It's not as bad as it seems," Mr. James objected in a high, shrill, fast voice. "We're going to make a lot of money off this. I'm talking percentages."

Bonham and James took one look at Dorian's face and the verbal brawl screeched to a halt. With a despairing wail, James crossed the room and threw his arms around the Earl. He held Dorian with more enthusiasm than grace but with all the love one youth could contain. "Don't look like that, M'lord! Please don't ever look like that!" James cried.

The Earl tried to disentangle his arms from where James had effectively pinned them to his sides. He put his arms around the boy, smoothed the tangle of brown curls. There was relief in comforting another.

"Are you all right, M'lord?" Bonham asked, concerned.

The Earl, Dorian Red Gloria - Eroica, Prince of Thieves - smiled. A tear slid down his cheek; he brushed it away with the back of his hand.

"Of course I'm all right, Bonham. Aren't I always?"

"That you are, M'lord."

Dorian released James and shrugged into his jacket. "Let's get out of here." He slipped an arm around each of them as they made their way into the hall. He needed to hold something... someone. "Now, perhaps you'd better fill me in on this new proposal."

James beamed with pleasure. "It's terrific. Just wait till you hear."

"Yeah," Bonham echoed with considerably less zeal. "Just wait."

"Sounds exciting," Dorian soothed. "I can barely control my anticipation."

"That's highly debatable."

"Shut up, Bonham. Let me talk!"

For a moment, Dorian's vision blurred. He shook his head fiercely. He was the wand. He would not break.

Eroica laughed briefly. "Do go on, gentlemen," he said, urging them down the hall. "I assure you, I'm all ears."

 


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