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

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

"Lean back ... a little more," Dorian coaxed. "That's it. Are you comfortable?"

"No."

"You are going to love this."

"That is what you said."

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No. You may continue."

Dorian smiled softly. He couldn't detect much hesitation in Klaus' voice, already that much trust had grown between them. He reached down and carded silk-black locks through his hands. The midnight mane was still damp from the shower and inky strands clung briefly to his flesh, reluctant to let go. His smile deepened. He liked the way Klaus' hair looked sliding through his own long, slim artist's fingers. What a match they were for each other. Dorian could just picture how they looked together - his golden curls lashed beneath the Major's black hair, slender and supple limbs striving in concert with Klaus' more muscle-sculpted form.

What a way to raise the sun. It was hard to feel anything but wonderful. Dorian continued his ministrations, entertaining himself with visions of how they might have appeared as rendered by Caravaggio's skill (lightning highlights gliding along a stopped-motion of passion) ... or the High Baroque of Guercino (marvelously detailed stormy and moody scenes - still, the muscles were always softened in a way that would never do Klaus proper justice). Then there was the windswept déshabillé of Thomas Gainsborough - possibly positioned against a lush, summer landscape ... or Boucher (a confection in the style Pompadour, complete with decorative garden and hovering cupids - which Klaus would probably feel obliged to shoot. He could almost hear the Major barking out, No witnesses!)

Dorian swallowed a laugh.

"What is taking so long?" Klaus snapped, impatient.

"Nothing ... I was just thinking."

The Major corrected him, "You were dreaming. Again."

"Well, of course." Dorian smoothed Klaus' hair behind his ears and gently pulled his head back. From this angle, he could have leaned over and placed an upside-down kiss on the Major's mouth ... and just continued exploring over his chin and down his throat....

"We must leave this morning," Klaus advised, staring back. "Get on with it."

"Let's see if it's warm enough." Dorian tried for a more business-like approach - Klaus liked that - but it was hard to get in the mood. They had shared such an excellent night and an even better wake-up. Their time together had been gentle and healing, each touch a deliberate affirmation of care ... although it took a while to get there. At first, Dorian had wondered if anything would take place.

They had retreated into the bedroom directly after dinner. Klaus had shed his sweater and undershirt, pausing to fold them neatly and packing them away in the proper fashion. He'd sat down on the bed to remove his boots. There was no wasted motion. Klaus prepared for sex as efficiently and effectively as he prepared for everything else.

Dorian had dawdled, watching him. He had removed his vest and dropped it to hang on the wardrobe doorknob. He took pains with his shirt, stretching up and displaying torso to best advantage, bringing the material up over his head, letting it drift, caressing, over his skin. He flexed his shoulders, loosening them, arched his neck. Then draped the linen with artful carelessness over the bedpost. In the morning, these stray bits of clothing would be spied upon rising, stirring memories of how their night had begun ... and how it had eventually played out. He wondered about how it would go - but not too much. Whatever happened, it was going to be good.

Klaus had waited, not too impatiently ... assuring himself that it was not such a terrible thing to be bewitched. He shook his head when Dorian started to open the clasps on his bracelets.

"Leave those," the Major ordered. "They suit you."

"They might scratch."

"If they do, I will remove them. Leave the ring on your ankle, too."

Green eyes glittered. "Komm hier."

Smiling, Dorian crossed the short distance to the bed, positioning himself before Klaus. The Major put his arms around his thighs, letting his hands come to rest on denim sheathed buttocks, guiding his legs a little further apart. Then he paused. Dorian shifted a bit, uncomfortable. He was already as hard as it was possible to be and too-aware of the restrictions of extra-snug jeans. The thief placed his hands on Klaus' shoulders and pressed his fingertips into muscle, encouraging, Go on....

But then, everything had just stopped. Klaus was glaring up with that storm-cloud military-frown on his face. Dorian knew that look. It preluded every lecture where he had, somehow, fallen into error. Immediately, the Earl understood that his best response would be an inquisitive - but respectful - silence ... until he discovered which way the ground lay.

"Why did you not tell me I was hurting you?" Klaus demanded at last.

That was a completely unexpected line of inquiry. Dorian responded with appropriate intelligence, "What?"

"I changed the sheets while you were sleeping. I found blood tracks there."

"Oh...." The thief blinked. The mystery was solved - except he had no suitable response. He blushed instead, felt stupid about it, and blushed harder.

"Well?" Klaus was demanding a reply. Obviously, they would proceed no further until he was satisfied.

Dorian shrugged. He caught his lip between his teeth.

"That is no answer." The Major scowled. "Do you like that? Do you want to be hurt?"

"No. I don't. That's not my preference at all," the Earl burst out. "It shouldn't have gone like that ... wouldn't have, except we kept at it. Like we did. I suppose I just got carried away and you wouldn't have known to be cautious, would you?"

Klaus cocked his head to one side, staring up at him. His expression hadn't changed.

Dorian tried to explain. "I told you it had been a long time. No, I shouldn't have kept on like that. I should have said something. We could have stopped ... and I know you would have ... except I didn't."

"Why?"

"I never thought...." Dorian faltered, his fingers kneading Klaus' shoulders. He tried to think of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. "I never thought I'd have you - then, when I did, I never wanted it to stop. You have no idea what it's like - having you inside me." He stopped massaging Klaus' shoulders and traced a path up along the side of his throat, cupped the Major's jaw in his hand. "There's all sorts of things a person can do to give themselves a physical rush. I like fucking and I like being fucked. I don't like being hurt and I certainly don't like being fucked bloody. But this was different. It's all I can think to tell you."

Klaus took in a deep breath. Shook his head. "I do not understand."

"Well ... that's not such a big surprise, is it?" Dorian asked gently. "Tell me what you're thinking."

"I feel ... strange about it. About you. You have done all these things - things I never have."

"Did you ever want to?"

"No."

That reply came out so flat and strong, an honest Eberbach decision, Dorian felt a smile lick at the corners of his mouth.

"What we do together, it's good," the Earl said. "I like it. Don't you?"

"Yes - but -" Klaus paused. Then continued, deliberate. "I have no idea what goes on in your head. What are you used to? What do you want?"

The smile blossomed. "I thought that was obvious."

Klaus regarded him silently.

"Look, if you want, I can tell you all about what it was like coming of age in the 70's - you remember how it was then. Very wild, very free. For a long time, that was enough ... willing men, anonymous bodies, lots of them." Dorian touched Klaus gently. "I'm not telling you this to make you angry or to hurt you - understand?"

"Ja."

"All that was quite fine for a long time. For too long. And then, suddenly, it wasn't. I felt it long before the plague ... long before I met you although I didn't think to act on it. Everything was just empty. The only thing that mattered was my art. My work. It was all I could really care about. Do you know what I mean?"

Klaus inclined his head. "Yes, I believe I do."

Dorian nodded, frowning beautifully. He caressed the face before him. "The work wasn't enough. Creating - being Eroica - it wasn't enough. I thought it might be and it came very close, but...." Blue eyes were both tender and sad.

The Major took Dorian's hand in his and pressed the palm to his face, his lips, inhaled. Dorian was smiling at him again after. He laced his fingers loosely through Klaus'.

"You know how people can look at a bottle of wine and see that it's either half-full or half-empty?" Dorian continued. "I've always been the sort who found the bottle half-full. Still brimming with promise, with pleasure. Always just enough to keep the party going until you can lay your hands on another. For too long a time there, it got so I saw the bottle was half-empty."

Klaus smiled, bemused. "You are telling me I am your half-full bottle of wine?"

"Not at all." Dorian grinned. "You fill me quite considerably, Herr Major. You know, I can feel you long after ... almost all the time. Even way later ... all I have to do is breathe hard. When I sit or walk, I can tell how you've opened me up. You've put your mark on me where no one else can see, no one else can know. And I know I've got your seed in me, your life - and it just makes me burn." The thief shivered deliciously. "It's positively maddening. I ache, I burn and, quite frankly, I itch - at incredibly inappropriate times ... and I can't wait for you to fill me up again."

Klaus flushed deep scarlet. He didn't look unpleased, just completely unprepared. Dorian's grin went to a smile, considering. Did this mean he had finally successfully thwarted a von Eberbach lecture? Laughing, he took a step back, then dove onto the bed, lunging past Klaus and landing somewhere near the headboard. He rolled onto his back and opened his arms.

"Do you have to talk so much? Ask so many questions all the time?" the Earl teased. "Ve haf vork to do here," he finished in a bad imitation of Klaus' German-flavored English.

Klaus pushed himself up on the bed, turning into Dorian's embrace. They kissed and wrestled together, anxious for touch, each thrilling to that sharp, electric rush of bare flesh meeting flesh. Long legs entwined, still clothed, straining against each other. Sprawling over the covers, Dorian struggled to the top. He pressed Klaus into the mattress, purring with pleasure, fixing his open mouth on the Major's lips, exploring inside even as his hands kept up their insatiable investigation.

Klaus opened his legs to let Dorian's hips fall between them. He thrust up, pushing their erections together. The Major locked his arms around the thief's body, ever mindful of old bruises, maintaining an insistent pressure. Dorian felt their pelvis bones grind together and tore his head away, moaning. Klaus took the advantage to flip him over on his back again and bear down. It was just where the thief had been longing to be ... except that the tension was nearly approaching pain. The Major buried him once more under another kiss and Dorian groaned again, trying for air, for any kind of relief.

Somehow, Klaus managed to get his hand between them. He thumbed open the clasp on Dorian's jeans and raked the zipper down. Turning them to a side position, he reached in and pulled the shaft free, plunged deeper for balls, lifting them out over the opening.

Dorian relaxed under the caress, curling around him. He made to push his face into Klaus' shoulder but the Major drew back.

"No more fucking," Klaus ordered, the storm flashing back in his eyes. "Not until you have healed."

Dorian hadn't been inclined to argue. He nodded, breathing hard.

"Anything you say," he murmured, pulling himself closer. "Anything...."

Klaus nodded, returning to action. There hadn't been much more talking. Their touching had grown less frenzied, more calculated. They had set a slow and careful pace. Well, Dorian recalled beneath an arched brow, they'd gone as slow as they could, done everything possible to prolong the experience. Afterwards, he had awakened feeling rested and renewed ... if still somewhat shell shocked. He had encountered so many surprises during their time together, he nearly required paper and pen to keep track.

Memory, it seemed, had a will of her own with more twists than he'd ever thought possible. It had been very disturbing to have fallen flat-out into such ugly secrets buried in his own background. His own family. He still couldn't say how he felt about it. Relief in having it done with was the prevailing mood. But there were other sentiments involved as well. There was still anger, fear ... hurt.

No, he had never gotten on well with his mother and this new revelation wasn't going to help the relationship. He couldn't think what he'd say or do when he faced her next. Didn't really want to think about it. Always Dorian had been made to feel responsible for all of the myriad and irreconcilable differences between his parents - even when the most basic logic dictated that it just wasn't possible. Revealing that misery with Victor Marsh had been as hideous as living it all over again. Dorian frowned. He had felt like a child again except he'd experienced all the bad parts of that situation and none of the good. That was the problem in living for the moment. He'd dis-remembered the reality of being so much smaller than the adults ... how it had felt to be in the control of others, treated like a someone's property with no mind or will of his own. He'd forgotten how it had felt to know you were different, to understand you'd never fit in with the pack and worry at how you'd ever survive it. He understood more clearly than ever how he had learned to use guile and charm and wit to manipulate his way around authority. Born into an outlaw family, he'd started training very young and taken in all they'd had to offer.

Now, Dorian found himself wondering if memory had played her game out or if the lady had more in store for him. He could not quite squelch his sense of betrayal ... or the accompanying sense of fear. Recollections were still shifting about in his head, changing sequence and significance. The most severe emotional impact was fading a bit - but personal experience indicated events usually came in sets of three. So far, Dorian had encountered only two - the trouble with Victor Marsh and his mother's dreadful solution.

So something else was probably lurking about, just waiting to be revealed. He couldn't begin to guess what it was but, in confronting Marsh, the man had had the gall to speak of his father. Search as he could, Dorian could not remember his father being involved in those final actions at all. It had taken place during one of those periods when the family had been lucky to see the man a collective three months out of the year. All he could recall was that things had changed somewhat after. Dad had been around more, his work had kept him home for a time. All in all, it had been a most enjoyable interval which had stretched on until he'd been sent away to school after that wretched business with Lord Price. Those details had remained very clear in his mind.

Dorian frowned, shifting uncomfortably. He didn't want to uncover any new-old shadow that would involve his father. Still, he had made an attempt to explore it. Sitting about the cottage, he'd done his best to investigate ... possibilities. But there'd been nothing. Nothing - except the presence of Klaus silently watching after him. Taking care of him. The Major had been a dark, brooding, no-nonsense kind of angel armored in muscle and green eyes. What did Klaus need with weapons when he had eyes like that? They could kill with one brutal, lightning flash - and resurrect with a glance.

No matter what horror memory brought, could it ever hurt him as badly now that Klaus was with him? Regardless of how things changed in years to come, there would always be this time at the cottage when he had felt protected, where he had been made to feel safe and loved ... cared for like a cherished child.

Dorian's grin returned. For the most part, he remembered his childhood as ever so much less traumatic. He had been quite the indulged and pampered brat - and he'd enjoyed that experience very much.

He was pleased enough to laugh out loud. Didn't. Perhaps it was simply a glandular condition. Some years ago, the Earl had read a scientific report advising that strong emotions brought about a hormonal rush which could induce a state of natural euphoria in the human body. It was just an attempt to explain away the wonder of love.

Balls, Dorian thought. It's still magic. And I'm probably acting like a complete ass. Isn't it marvelous? That thought was followed by another, more sober realization, Better enjoy it while you can.

He thrust misgiving away and picked up an ancient ceramic container and splashed a bit of heated water across the surface. Klaus watched him whip the mixture into a frothy lather, still wary. Dorian paused in his activities. Smiled. And unbuttoned the front of his robe.

"Why are you doing that?" Klaus' eyes traveled across the expanse of revealed flesh. "It is cold in here."

"Not that cold." Dorian gave a shrug which resulted in the robe opening further. "Besides, I thought you might enjoy this view more. It might help you relax."

"I am relaxed." Determined, Klaus settled into the wooden chair. "Just get on with it."

"So, you've never been barbered with a straight razor before,"

Dorian said, adopting a more conversational tone. He applied the lather to the Major's face and throat. "It's quite an experience."

"So you say."

"Mm ... yes." Dorian took up the ivory handled antique and stropped the edge a final time. Light danced along the sharpened steel. "You're not nervous, are you?"

"No."

"You sound so convinced.... Major, you know how good I am with a blade. Just remember, I've never drawn blood unless I meant to."

Ever attentive, always imperious, Klaus watched him, eyes glittering under a wealth of black lashes and heavy brows. Delighted, Dorian beamed back at him. Goya might have performed miracles on canvas with eyes like those for a model. He wondered how a fresh white t-shirt and pressed, black jeans would have looked captured in those classic oils.

Dorian urged Klaus' head back just a fraction further and applied shining steel to his cheek, sliding it down to jaw and away leaving behind a flawless streak of flesh. He wiped the remains on a towel folded over his arm.

"Did you ever think that, in some earlier time," the thief murmured, "I might have been your slave?"

"Was?!"

"Well, it could have happened, you know. I might have been your property. I would have had to do anything you asked."

"Just as you do now," Klaus jeered. His lips twitched, repressing a laugh as the razor slid over his face. A docile Dorian was beyond belief. "If you had been a slave of mine, I am certain I would have to trade you in for a more obedient model."

"You'd never do that. How would you be able to get along without me?"

"Getting along with you - that would be the challenge, I am thinking."

"That's what you say. No other decent slave would have you. Your bad temper would drive everyone else away." Dorian persisted, undaunted, "Just imagine - you, a conquering Roman and me a Saxon slave. What a combination that would be."

"I am not Italian. My family is German."

"Well, then, perhaps a weary, noble Crusader home from the wars, yes? There were German Crusaders, weren't there?"

"Ja," Klaus acknowledged, intrigued despite himself.

"Home from campaigning against the infidels ... endless, hopeless battles in a hot, arid land. Now it's winter and freezing outside. The whole countryside's covered with snow and ice ... though it's nothing compared to the misery inside your heart." Dorian pressed close, feeling the warmth from Klaus' arm against his lower belly as he angled a position at the Major's throat. "There's just no hope left in you - no, nor need for hope ... or dreams. You've lost the desire for it, all that soldiering's taught you the futility of fancy. Your family and your retainers are concerned because nothing reaches you ... nothing."

Dorian's story went on even as Klaus' whiskers came off. He could feel the Major opening up to his words even if he'd never admit it out loud.

"You've stopped noticing people. You avoid them completely," Dorian said, concentrating on clearing a path of stubble from the join of jaw to throat. "Now there's a whole lot of them inside your father's best study asking permission for a wedding to take place at the Christmas feast. A pair of eyes lock onto yours and, for the first time in years you feel - something."

"I suppose you would have me noticing the groom to be," Klaus returned dryly. "And that the groom would be you. Not that there would be anything to be done about it."

"Doesn't stop you thinking, though, does it?" Dorian chuckled and lifted a hot, steaming towel from a bowl on the hearth. He cleaned the dregs of the shaving cream from Klaus' face. "You'd be thinking and thinking - all the way up to the wedding day itself."

"And what would you be doing?" Amused, Klaus lightly stroked Dorian's stomach with the back of his hand. He went on to trail his fingertips over a pale hip.

"Me? I'd be dying. No way I'd be looking to attach myself to anyone - especially after meeting you eye-to-eye."

"So why would you do it?"

"Duty. Obligation. Because there's nothing else to be done. All the usual bad reasons." The thief made a face. "Because there's no prince around to rescue me."

"I am a prince, too?"

"Of course, this is a fairy tale, isn't it? Still, you're a warrior first with a warrior's heart, yes?"

"What happens to us?"

"Well, the Christmas wedding day comes and there's a great celebration - all the usual drinking and carousing and carrying on." Dorian picked up another steaming towel and, straddling Klaus' legs, sat down, his white robe billowing out behind. Carefully, he molded the material to the Major's freshly shaved face and throat. "Everyone's having a fantastic time - except the Crusader and the groom. They never speak. They never touch. Always they're in the same room together ... always they're looking at each other. But nobody notices. Nobody knows what's going on in the silence between them ... not even the bride."

Klaus remained quiet, muffled behind the towel, although his eyes were bright and calculating. He slipped his hands inside Dorian's open robe, running his fingers over ribs, back, hips. Was the thief trying to seduce him again with words? There was really not much need for such talk.

Dorian tilted his head to one side. "You're wondering if this story has a happy ending?"

"I am not wondering too hard." The words came out muted. "This is one of your bedroom fantasies, ja?"

"No reason you can't play as well."

Klaus removed the cooling towel and let it drop. He reached up and slipped Dorian's robe down over his shoulders. The thief smiled back. Perched lightly atop Klaus' thighs, his long robe splayed open and peeled half off his shoulders, he looked ready to be ravished. Even eager. His cock was flushed a deepening rose-color and firming up again quite nicely. It curved away from his body, leaving balls exposed and swollen. Those compact orbs were covered with a light, golden down that evolved into a lush, curling thatch at his loins. The Major grinned. What could he have been thinking of? His thief was altogether too elegant for brass. He shifted a bit which had the effect of parting Dorian's legs further. The movement allowed him to slip his hand down to cradle the sack gently in his palm.

Dorian caught his breath. Who'd ever have thought the Major would take to this play of flesh on flesh so well ... and so naturally? He gripped Klaus' arms gently, arching his back. His instinctive preference would have been to lean forward, to kiss or rest his head against the Major's shoulder or nuzzle against that freshly shaved throat. But that would hide the view and one thing Dorian had learned in a very short time was that Klaus liked to look while he touched him. The Major liked to see his reactions and, as usual, Dorian was pleased to be the center of attention. Blunt, calloused fingers tracked the cord that joined balls to rectum, one of his more sensitive spots. Dorian felt his entire body contract with that touch, a new sheen of perspiration pearled his skin.

Klaus made a growling sound deep in his throat that Dorian recognized as a laugh. The Major slid an arm around his thief's waist, steadying him.

"Are you not forgetting something?" Klaus asked, amused.

Dorian leaned down and took up a bottle of after shave, poured a small pool into his hands and applied the lotion, caressing, to Klaus' face and throat.

"Well, what would you do?" Dorian questioned. His voice had gone husky. "How would you end the story? What would happen?"

Klaus shrugged, nonchalant. "I can only suppose, the night of the wedding, the Crusader would pack up his gear and head back into the desert."

"Balls, that's no good. This is a fantasy. Where's the happy ending?"

"How can you have a happy ending with a story like this?" Klaus demanded, ever pragmatic. "Everyone is watching - what can they do?"

Dorian laced his fingers behind Klaus' head, cradling the skull in his hands. He leaned forward and kissed him - slowly and thoroughly.

"The Crusader is a prince and a warrior," he whispered into Klaus's mouth. "He knows what he wants. I should imagine he would figure a way to work things out."

"All right. He has the bride beheaded -"

"No!" Dorian lurched back and struck Klaus' shoulder lightly with his fist. "You can't do that. That's not heroic. The poor woman's just a victim of circumstance, just like the groom."

"You said it was my story. I should be able to end it the way I want."

"Yes - but try again. You can do better."

Klaus deliberated. At some point, actual work would have to be done. Or so he tried to convince himself. They would have to leave the safehouse and head into Duxford. Sometime. He wondered, once they left, when they would be able to indulge in such liberties with one another again.

"Now think ... the bride and groom have been sung upstairs. Disaster looms," Dorian reminded him. "It's now or never."

"Knowing how you are with women, it is probably never," Klaus said with friendly sarcasm. "However, I am sure that your bride must be aware of that as well. So, this is an arranged affair with both of you looking for a way out, ja?"

"Yes, that's it."

"But I would not know that at the time." Klaus' brows beetled together. "As a prince of the realm, I could follow you to your bridal chamber and demand droit du seigneur, enforce the lord's right of the first night - except that I would choose you instead of the woman."

"And no one would know what really happened except the three of us." Dorian glowed with approval.

"I would still have to leave for the desert the next day," Klaus amended quickly. "Only you would come with me."

"Why?"

"One night would not be enough for us."

Dorian smiled and kissed him again. Then he asked, "And the bride would remain at the castle?"

"No, she could come along, too. Be a soldier if she wants."

"Really? You think so?"

"Ach, ja. Women make good warriors. They are very focused, very strong. They squat to piss, you know."

The Earl blanched. "I beg your pardon?"

"Try doing that with fifty pounds of field equipment strapped to your back. It toughens you up."

"Yes, I imagine it would."

"Besides, anyone who bleeds five days non-stop out of every month without dying or even going to hospital is worthy of respect. It gives them attitude."

"That's for certain."

Catching the tone, Klaus looked up. "What is it?"

Dorian hesitated only slightly. "You've been with a woman before, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"I thought you might have." He nodded, almost as if to himself. "Lots of women?"

"In a manner of speaking, once there were lots of women. Yes." Klaus considered briefly. Then concluded, "That was a long time ago."

"Do you miss it?"

"No. I do not miss that."

"I wondered ... you'd have to guess I would. I never have, you know. I never will."

"Do you dislike women?"

"No, they're all right. I just don't like them in that way."

"You like me instead, ja?"

Dorian laughed, the sunlight returning to his smile. "You know I do. Keine sorge. Du wirst geliebt, liebling."

"Gut."

Klaus put both hands around Dorian's waist, spreading his fingers out, possessive, drawing him forward. He put lips and tongue against the thief's nipple, drawing rucked skin into his mouth, capturing the fleshy bud between his teeth. Klaus pressed his fingers into the small of Dorian's back, his thumbs riding up under his ribs where he could feel the thief's breath going in and out of his body. Beneath the rising scent of sex, Dorian still smelled fresh from the shower. He liked the texture of Dorian's bare skin against his clothing and knew he would carry a faint trace of that fragrance with him throughout the day. Eventually, Klaus moved to work at the other rosebud, striving to leave that one as swollen and blushed as its mate.

Dorian gave another cry and shuddered hard under the fresh assault. His hand went up to hold the back of the Major's head, staying him.

Klaus looked up. "Have I hurt you?"

Dorian shook his head. "No." He offered a timid smile. "But things are moving on a bit quickly."

"You have a problem with that?"

"No, but I'll ruin your clothes if you keep on."

"I see." Klaus regarded him frankly. "I have noticed, you are always very quick to this condition. Almost always, you are first off and, by the time I am done, you are ready again. You are not necessarily fatigued after. Has that always been the way with you?"

"Well, I've always been somewhat ... highly charged. It's just my nature, I suppose."

"Like a ferret in heat. Mr. Bonham was not just referring to your appetite for food."

"No...."

Klaus nodded curtly. "Put your arms around my neck."

"That's ... not going to help."

"Just hold onto me."

There wasn't time for questions or protests. Klaus placed his hands beneath Dorian's ass and stood up. Rather than have them both go over, Dorian locked his arms and legs around Klaus and held on as ordered. That Klaus could go from a sitting position to a straight lift of some hundred and fifty pounds was either a testament to training and ability or determination and madness. Whichever, Dorian was hard pressed to guess. At any rate, the timing didn't seem right for conversation.

Registering more shock, Dorian noted that they weren't headed towards the bedroom - which would have been lovely. Or to the bath - which, considering their original plan of going to work, might have been more appropriate. He wouldn't have put it past Klaus to unload him under a cold shower.

No ... they were headed towards the kitchen.

Klaus sat Dorian up on the bar and perched himself on the edge of a nearby stool. Mystified, Dorian braced himself steady with the heels of his hands, fastening onto the edge of the bar behind him. The Major pulled his stool in closer and swept Dorian's legs up over his shoulders.

"I have been thinking about this," Klaus announced. He smoothed his cheek over the inside of Dorian's thigh, moving in towards the moist heat of the thief's groin.

"Wait - wait a minute!" Dorian protested breathlessly. "What are you doing?"

Klaus ceased his ministrations long enough to shoot him a look. "What do you think I am doing?"

"I know, but -" But what?!? Dorian asked himself. His head was spinning, he couldn't think what to say ... even though his body wasn't demonstrating any hesitation. His balls throbbed, his cock head oozed a trail of freshwater pearls that glistened, iridescent, in the sunlit room.

Klaus nuzzled along the inside thigh again, the softest and most sensitive expanse of skin he'd found to date. He felt the flesh quiver beneath his freshly shaved face.

"Do you want me to stop?" Klaus asked, lifting his head to gaze into shock-widened blue. The thief's lips were slightly parted and he thought about what it would be like to kiss him ... afterwards.

Dorian shook his head, briefly, No ... go on.... He'd momentarily lost the use of his voice, all his air was caught inside his throat.

Klaus nodded once. He positioned himself more securely, hefted Dorian's legs higher and moved in.

Dorian watched the dark head lowering over his loins. He felt a flicker of tongue lash across the underside of his shaft, hesitant at first, then growing bolder. Wet and warm, it moved down towards the join of cock and balls, pressing almost delicately into the creases and folds of skin, tasting him. Then Klaus' mouth opened to take the ball sack, first one side - then the other - laving them thoroughly, slowly ... and the thief found his voice again.

It was just a soft sound but to Dorian, it felt like a scream. All the breath he'd held locked inside came rushing out at once. His head went back and he shivered, feeling the empty expanse of space behind him. The bar left no support except that which he grasped with his hands and Klaus' hold on him. It was so precarious ... so exciting. I could break my neck going over backwards, Dorian caught his breath again on a half-laugh. So don't, idiot! he cautioned himself and gave up on rational thought for the duration.

Actually, the whole experience endured very nicely. Klaus didn't seem inclined to rush and Dorian felt no need to hurry him along. The Major proceeded, trying the techniques Dorian had used on him, instigating others as he progressed. He wasn't hesitant, didn't seem repulsed by the deed. It was interesting, the Earl thought - while he still could - the acts Klaus chose to duplicate. So that's what he likes, Dorian thought and smiled.

Klaus moved back to mouth his way up the hardened flesh. He licked at, then pressed his tongue into the weeping slit savoring flavor as well as scent. There was more texture than taste to the fluid. Curious. It was hot like the surrounding skin, viscous ... almost creamy with a slight salt tang as well as something else that was uniquely Dorian. Klaus had sampled his own essence from the thief himself, kissing him after Dorian had finished this act with him. The thief tasted somehow sweeter, smoother.

He pulled at the head, gently, and felt the shaft pulse beneath his lips and tongue. Dorian's hips lifted, thrusting, trembling with obvious restraint. Klaus could appreciate his willingness to try to go slow. This kind of consideration had been a part of their time together from the start. It touched him deeply that his lover should demonstrate so much concern, even in the most heated moment. Klaus smoothed Dorian's flank the way he might gentle a nervous animal, holding him more firmly. He supposed his thief had been right ... there was something about kitchens.

Dorian had become more vocal, tossing his head. Every breath carried a moan, there was only so much more that he could bear. Klaus had taken him in as deep as he could, moving up and down until he was slick with their combined juices. Sometimes the friction was smooth, sometimes rough and Dorian felt teeth on him - not hard enough to hurt, never that. Just enough to tease him, dancing along the edge of release. Then pulling back at the last second. Dorian shuddered watching black hair spread out over him, longing to touch him ... understanding full well that he couldn't, not without bringing everything to a literal, crashing halt. Still, it didn't dissipate the need. At last, he felt the power building in his hips and stretching out through his belly and limbs. His vocabulary had left him long ago, but Dorian pushed his hips back as hard as he could, letting Klaus know it was time, giving him a chance to pull back.

But the Major held on, going down as far as he could, swallowing deep and trying to take more. His fists locked onto Dorian's hips, holding him hard.

When Dorian finally came, he felt the lightning roar through every atom of his body. And Klaus stayed with him, too, shaking his head from side to side, keeping with him until it was done.

With a small cry, Dorian's arms finally collapsed but Klaus was standing and holding him, lifting him up from the bar, setting him down on the floor. Dorian wound his arms around Klaus' neck and held on, pressing against him, gasping for air. In the next instant, Klaus had caught hold of his curls, forcing Dorian's mouth to his and open. For a brief instant, the Earl struggled against him, fighting to breathe. Just as quickly, the struggle stopped and he relaxed in Klaus' grip and let him have his way. His mind nearly melted under the hot play.

When he was done, Klaus let Dorian slump against him, waiting for the thief to return to Earth. Dorian shook his head slightly, trying to clear it. He was almost afraid to look Klaus in the eye, he had lost himself so completely. And Klaus ... this was one act that the Major had steadfastly avoided. What could he be thinking now? What was he feeling?

He must have made some move or sound because Klaus loosened his hold enough so that Dorian could step back. After some slight hesitation, the Earl looked up. He prided himself on his ability to read people ... but the Major's thoughts had always been so difficult to penetrate.

Still, all Klaus said was, "You make a lot of noise, Dieb."

Pleasure flooded Dorian's face. Everything was all right. "Yes," he agreed. "That's true ... and you love it."

"I do."

They kissed again - less aggressively.

You also have a kink for scent and messy sheets ... as long as it's our mess, Dorian kept those observations to himself. I think the wolf likes to mark his territory. Results oriented, Klaus took pleasure in the proof of his triumphs. Well, it was a very wolf-like thing to do. The Earl had known other men whose thrills had come from leaving their mark on his flesh in the form of bruises and welts. He'd always tried to avoid that lot although there'd been times when he'd been more ruled by lust than common sense. Dorian shivered, remembering. What a relief to know Klaus did not lean in that direction. The Earl tightened his hold around his lover.

When they finally broke apart, it was with reluctance.

"I'd better get dressed ... or something," Dorian lamented.

"Or something," Klaus agreed. "We must leave here. There is work-"

"To do. Right." Dorian shook his head, gave a laugh. "You are full of surprises, Herr Major."

"Yes." Klaus ran his hand over his jaw. "You were right. That was a very exceptional shave."

"I'm pleased you found the service satisfactory. I don't believe you've ever rewarded me so pleasantly and thoroughly for my work." Blue eyes sparkled. "Are you sure there's nothing more I can do for you this morning?"

"You will owe me one. Be sure that I intend to collect ... later. If we do not move now, we will never get out of here."

Would that be so terrible? Dorian wondered - but the answer was obvious. Klaus would allow his sense of duty to be forestalled only so long. Work together now, he imagined, would be very interesting. Speculating, Dorian picked up his shaving gear and headed off to clean up, dress and finish packing.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Dorian and Klaus sat in the Mercedes parked on a street in Duxford. It was only a bit after 9:00 a.m. but they'd had to circle for some time before jamming themselves into a space left by a departing Citroen. The weather had gone gray and nasty, threatening an ice storm according to weather reports, but the town itself was much more crowded than it had been during any of their previous visits. A constant flow of foot traffic hurtled by the car, Brits on holiday from the look of it although both men spotted a few obvious foreigners, all traveling in groups or family packs. Mostly, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Dorian eyed the street theater playing out before him. These were the descendants of people whom Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Shaw and so many others had written about. He had seen their faces reproduced in centuries of paintings and sculpture. They were rough drafts on the prowl, scattering about the pavement, creating new adventures all their own. Similar scenes were taking place in London from magnificent Mayfair to the grim alleyways of the East End. He found himself wondering what Bonham and the rest of his staff were up to. He considered the various ways he might approach Mr. James upon his return, once this job was over.

Peering at the Major from subtly lowered lashes, he wondered what it would be like when Klaus returned home to Bonn. For both of them.

Then, from the back seat of the car, the cat farted again.

Simultaneously, both Klaus and Dorian reached for their individual window buttons and slid the glass down halfway. Frigid November air blasted through the interior.

"That's the last time you glut yourself on sausage, my dear," Dorian darted a look at the creature. "It just doesn't agree with you."

"I am being gassed to death inside of my own car." Klaus scowled.

"It isn't fatal - just unpleasant. You wouldn't have me leave her behind, would you?"

"She was doing well enough for herself before we came along."

"How can you say that? She was dying of loneliness."

Klaus began another reply, then bit it off. I am arguing about the feelings of a cat, he winced, exasperated. Why?!? How does he do this to me?

"That animal is your responsibility," the Major growled. "Do not look to me to interfere."

"Miriam and I are perfectly suited to one another," Dorian assured him. "You needn't worry about a thing."

"Miriam?"

"Yes, Miriam. She gave me her name just before we left." The Earl spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "I couldn't just walk away and leave her after she'd named herself for me, could I? Could you?"

"Yes. I could." Klaus frowned and lit a cigarette, hoping to combat the pungent odor of cat gastritis.

Dorian fanned the air in front of him and made a face. You wouldn't have left her behind either, he thought. You're just on-edge because nothing's happening and looking to make a fuss.

"So," the Earl began again, lowering his window a tad further. "What's the plan?"

Klaus remained silent.

"Got any ideas - other than leaving the safehouse?" Dorian persisted after a short pause. "Do we just sit here and await developments? Hope they toss a bomb at us again or what?"

"What day is this?" Klaus asked abruptly.

"Sunday, the fourteenth. I believe we've stumbled onto the Remembrance Day celebration. That's why the crowds. It'll be even worse in London."

"Remembrance Day - but that is held on the eleventh day, yes?"

"The eleventh is the proper day for it - but they always hold the honors ceremony on Sunday. When it doesn't fall just right, they choose the one closest to the eleventh. That would be today."

Klaus nodded. He was familiar with the ceremony. Seventy-five years ago, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month, what was then called The Great War - World War I, the "war to end all wars" - had come to a close. It hadn't ended all wars, of course. Nothing ever would, it seemed. Still, at precisely eleven o'clock as Big Ben began its sonorous chiming, a single cannon, fired by the King's Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery would boom out over the city and all of London would fall eerily silent for two minutes. The only sound would be the bitter, biting wind from the northeast whistling through bare tree limbs and whipping ropes against flagpoles that stretched their limbs towards the iron gray sky.

Afterwards, another cannon would boom followed by a Royal Marine bugler sounding Last Post and then, Reveille. In the center of Whitehall, a snow white obelisk, the Cenotaph, would be surrounded by representatives from all of Britain's armed services, by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister and hundreds of other officials who, each in turn, would place wreaths of red poppies around a tablet bearing the legend, The Glorious Dead. Others would then march by, brigadier and private together, soldiers from so many different wars. Each would leave their scarlet tribute until the white stone was garbed in a blood red necklace, a wound in the middle of Whitehall that could never be stanched.

Lest we forget, that's what his father had told him the one time they had journeyed to London for the ceremony. Klaus had watched the man place his own offering, a single perfect blossom among thousands of scarlet blooms. Although he had been very young, he remembered the occasion clearly. His father had seemed quite the hero to him at that time.

Klaus had never had much luck with heroes.

"Have you ever seen the ceremony?" Dorian asked, bringing him back from reverie.

"Once. With my father." Klaus added, almost as an afterthought, "It was many years ago."

"My father used to take me every year. My sisters, too, until he and Mother separated." Dorian sighed. "I haven't been in years now." He paused before continuing, "One year we stopped off in a pub after. Well, we usually did that. But that time, there was the most incredible old man with this amazing voice - like that actor who was in the film about the big shark?" Klaus nodded, comprehending. "His name was Ian McLunn and he was ninety years old. He told us how in 1916 he helped pipe the Gordon Highlanders out of the trenches and over the top on the first day of the Battle of Somme. He said that, by nightfall, over 60,000 soldiers had fallen ... nearly 20,000 never to rise again. `It was Britain's bloodiest day ever,' he told us. Then he looked at me hard and said, `What do you know about soldiering, boy? About killing and battles and wars?' He looked angry enough to swallow me alive. He nearly frightened the life out of me. I just stared back at him and said, `Nothing.'"

"What did he do then?" Klaus asked.

"He patted my shoulder and said, `Good.' Then he began to cry. Not loud or even so you'd really notice. You could only tell what was happening because of the tracks left on his face. He had skin like ancient leather, crevices the tears would just fall into and disappear. Poor old dear." Dorian offered Klaus a tremulous smile. "Dad stayed with him through the rest of the evening. Mother and my sisters went along home."

"And you stayed, too?"

"Yes."

The sky darkened a bit more. Crowd noises filtered into the car but there was no uneasiness in the silence that circulated between them. The cat finished grooming herself and settled down for another nap.

"That's all anyone ever talked about while I was growing up - the war and Hitler and all the damage that was done. As if you couldn't see it with your own eyes. Everywhere you looked, people were rebuilding. There wasn't any family who hadn't lost someone. And the men, most of them so young looking, but moving about like ancients. Some missing arms, legs - or burned and scarred. You know, they used to send the burn victims out early - as soon as they could move about - so they could get used to people staring at them. So they could learn to deal with the reactions. Dad told me about that. It was so sad ... but listening to old McLunn that night, I knew I'd never be a soldier," Dorian finished. He gave a small laugh. "And look where I am now."

Klaus raised an eyebrow. Offered no comment. He sat slouched in the driver's seat, arms folded comfortably over his chest. "This will pass," he said. "Something will develop."

"Because we're here?"

"Ja."

"Do you think Sable and Charlie know we're here?"

"They know - and you may be sure all their associates know as well. Surely, there has been a watch on the house. It was for the best we moved out of there."

"They don't much like us when we come into town. We seem to pose some sort of threat."

"We are an affront to their operations, an irritant. They have not been able to rid themselves of us."

"So we sit here?"

"More or less."

"Like bait?"

Klaus nodded. Once.

"Quel peachy."

"Do you have a better idea?"

"We could try moving about a bit," Dorian suggested. "At least look like we're onto something-"

"Or not."

"Yes, we could come off like a pair of idiots wandering about. But the best bait I've ever used is the sort that maneuvers around ... and lures the package in."

"Where exactly did you plan to maneuver?" Klaus asked dryly.

"How about the War Museum Annex?"

"Why am I not surprised to hear this?"

"You shouldn't be. We talked about going to see Musashi's tsuba,"

Dorian said reasonably. "Besides, it's the only place Charlie mentioned as part of his travel agenda."

"And it has been investigated and staked out by the square inch. Never mind the sword guards. I think you would rather be shopping for souvenirs of the day."

"Major, I am so wounded. You do me such an injustice," the thief protested, placing a hand over his heart. "Would I rip a plane from the Imperial War Museum?"

"Why not?" Klaus demanded. "A plane could not be half as difficult to transport as a tank. Speaking of which, where is my Leopard? What did you do with my tank?"

Dorian opened the car door and bounced out onto the pavement. "We'll never find another parking place in all this mob," he said in a cheery rush. "We'd better start walking before the weather starts in." He slammed the door shut and moved into the crowd.

Klaus followed, scowling. "I want an answer, Dieb. Now. Where is my tank?"

"What?" Dorian allowed himself to be swept along with the crowd. He shook his head. "I can't hear you."

Klaus smiled, beckoning. "Come here. Let us talk." It wasn't a very nice smile.

Dorian's return smile was much sweeter - but he kept his distance.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

The Imperial War Museum Annex in Duxford did not boast the kind of atmosphere that encouraged loud chatter. Both the subject matter and the holiday were enough to sober the most frivolous visitor. It was even enough to quiet a disgruntled Major who had suddenly recalled a missing tank. Dorian hadn't counted on that but knew enough to accept a diversion when it made itself available.

They wandered through displays of weapons, uniforms and other memorabilia of destruction. They rambled through rooms of tribute, offerings from Germans, Italians and Japanese to the victors. They stood for some time before the glass case that housed Musashi's sword guard, two simple, bronze ovals linked together - elegant, stark and strong. Dorian kept his hands in his pockets and stared, entranced.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he breathed out at last. "Just beautiful."

Klaus, who had been more intent on watching Dorian's rapt reflection in the glass tomb, agreed, "Yes ... beautiful."

Hearing the tone in his voice, Dorian broke off his study of the antique bronze to favor his lover with an especially direct smile. The Earl was wearing a cream white, cowl-necked sweater tucked into a pair of cognac-colored pants. The pants were suede cinched with a high, wide waistband and myriad tiny buckles. The trouser legs flared out in a modified jodhpur effect and tapered down, clinging to his leg like a second skin and disappearing into knee-high black boots. It was all topped off with a double breasted, dark-chocolate frock coat with big pockets, wide cuffs and a collar large enough to frame his face, holding yellow curls back to display the tigers-eye, scarab studs Dorian wore in his ears. Under cover of this exotic finery were knives - one in the left boot, one in a wrist-sheath up the right sleeve and a third tucked away in a harness at the back of his neck.

"`Among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised,'" Dorian had quoted at him, completing a last minute touch up as they left the safehouse that morning.

"That is Machiavelli," Klaus had answered.

"Correct - will you be claiming your reward now or later?"

"Get moving!" had been his only reply accompanied by a smack to that delectable rear.

Now, Musashi's spell broken, they glided past encased exhibits of paired katanas and other edged weapons. Klaus nudged Dorian along, insistent.

"I will never understand why you have such difficulty with guns,"

Klaus said. "These blades are very pretty and they are lethal but they provide no stopping power."

"Used effectively, they can cut someone up short enough."

"But the subject must get so close." Klaus shook his head. "It is not an efficient procedure in a modern battle."

"Don't you think the fight more fair when you can close in on your opponent, face to face?"

"There is nothing fair about war and fighting. Throughout history, everyone has striven to obtain the better weapon in order to conquer those with inferior defenses. People do battle with guns now, not knives. Not swords. They will shoot you down while you are drawing that knife."

"That's why I leave all the fighting to the professionals." Dorian grinned. "I'm a thief, darling, not a warrior. There's a big difference."

Brooding, Klaus didn't answer.

"You wish I'd learn to use to a gun, don't you?" the thief asked.

"You know I do."

"But you've seen how I am with modern firepower ... I took out a whole train once. I nearly took your head off the time before that - and I was only trying to help on each occasion." His grin softened. "Who do you know that would be insane enough to try to teach me? Are you volunteering, Major? Speak up - I'll call Mr. Bonham and have him notify your next of kin before we start. It'll save time."

Klaus groaned. "It is impossible to reason with you over this."

"So why try?"

"Because I have never learned to accept defeat."

"That's because you're usually undefeatable." They passed through a crowd of photo-snapping tourists and Dorian was able to take Klaus' arm. He hugged close, briefly. "You certainly conquered me, didn't you?"

"I am not sure about that," Klaus returned. He tried to look exasperated and had trouble pulling it off. His grin kept getting in the way. "And what do you mean by `usually'?"

They pushed their way into the next hall, separating as the mob thinned around them.

"Let's go outside," Klaus said. "It is packed in here. Even if there were trouble, we would never be able to do anything about it."

They exited the building and moved towards the exhibits bordering the air fields. In the near distance, the great hulks of World War fighter planes and bombers were positioned like a herd of dozing but deadly goliaths. Their matte green and gray hulls stood out against the stormy horizon, dinosaurs at rest, but who could be awakened at a moment's notice. Overhead, they heard the angry, pterodactyl-snarl of a stunt plane going through its paces and skirted the accompanying spectators, studying the crowd as they passed.

"See any familiar faces?" Dorian asked, scanning.

"Yes, I do," Klaus admitted. "However, they are not the faces we are looking for. There are many security personnel here, in uniform and in plain clothes."

"Yes, I've seen them, too." Dorian gave a little shrug when Klaus glanced at him. "I've got an instinct for police."

"Yes, I know." The Major frowned, gazing out over the thickening swarm. They reminded him too much of a herd of mindlessly content herbivores grazing about while the predators slept. He knew from experience that, most times, those predators were stalking the edges, just waiting for their opportunity. Unfortunately, they were rarely uncovered until after the damage had been done. "I hate holidays," Klaus said with great sincerity. "Especially these kind of holidays. These are the sort of conditions that bring out the radical order."

"Just think, in times past, the biggest worry in a crowd like this was pick pockets and cut purses."

"And lice and fleas," Klaus said and laughed at the vexed expression that darted across the thief's features. "Your Mr. Dainty should be doing good business today."

"I hope so." Dorian glanced at him and grinned. "You are a swine. You know that, don't you?"

"It is all the practice I get," Klaus said. "I work at it every day."

"Well, at least you're my swine. For what it's worth."

"Is that so? Only this morning, I was a warrior prince."

"Oh, you still are - you've just been transformed a bit. But don't worry, I know how to take care of that."

"So do I," Klaus returned. "According to Grimm and Andersen, the process requires the kiss of a beautiful princess, usually virginal. How will you be accomplishing that, I wonder?"

"I'd give you a demonstration but we wouldn't want to shock the tourists, would we?" Dorian smiled. "Wait till later," he promised. "I know some techniques that Grimm and Andersen never heard of."

"Picked them up from your fairy godmother, did you?"

"Why would I need a fairy godmother? I've got my own magic wand, I have, and I know how to use it, too. If you promise to be good today, perhaps I'll let you play with it later."

Klaus raised an eyebrow. To the casual observer, they could have been talking about anything, the weather, some wagered sports event, even taxes. "Just how good do I have to be?" he asked.

"I wouldn't worry about it too much." Dorian chuckled. "Just avoid strafing and firebombs. Try not to nuke anyone, that should do well enough."

"Would the use of harsh language be acceptable?"

"Like the sort you used last night? Major, really - there are children present."

Klaus nodded, his expression going grim again. There were a lot of children about. Too many for his tastes. Can you not feel what is happening here, he wondered. Go home ... all of you.

Dorian laid his hand on the Major's shoulder, squeezed it briefly. Klaus glanced at him, comprehending. Under the careless banter, the thief shared the same concerns. Neither one of them would feel easy until the day had passed.

And what then? Klaus puzzled over that as well. What would happen if they couldn't find and stop Volovoi and Kello? It might be best to turn attention to possible targets and prepare for the worst. The only problem was, there were just too many targets. They covered the globe. How could anyone prepare for that?

As slim a lead as it was, patrolling the museum grounds was all they had. Dorian and Klaus watched the crowd together, looking for the right familiar faces, knowing the work might probably be futile but sticking to it anyway. There was an edge in the atmosphere that was heightened by the incoming storm. It was obvious that the weather would go badly and probably soon but those on holiday were determined to make the most of their day before it hit. The sentiment of the occasion whipped up the emotional pitch as well. A small group of ancient, be-medaled warriors wandered past in loose formation and a rag woman bellowed out a cheer at their passing. She was decked out in a coat of yellow naugahyde whose several large rips were crudely sewn together with twine. There was a flowered kerchief tied around her head. She had no shoes, her feet were wrapped in rags.

"Bravo," she cried out in a pre-Higgins, Liza-Doolittle-screech, waving frantically. "God bless you all. Well done!"

A pair of Royal Air Force women sauntered by and the old woman cheered out again, "Bravo - God bless you ladies. Do keep typing proper, won't you?"

One of the women broke out laughing but her partner, Boadicea in a dress uniform, was not amused. The crowd swallowed them before the incident could develop. Diplomatically, Dorian and Klaus retreated to a more isolated, up-wind position.

"I thought you were supposed to pick pockets to steal," the Major murmured. "Not slip cash in."

Dorian blushed, discovered. "She'll need a pint or two before the day is over. It's bloody cold out."

"Why not simply give her the money?"

"Do you want her cheering and following us about for the rest of the day?"

"No."

"Well then."

They rounded a corner and were met head-on by the wind. Dorian hunched into his coat, hair streaming out behind. Klaus quickly guided them into the shelter of a partially enclosed monument. The snow, which had been slush only the day before, began to go to ice beneath their feet.

"This is a hell of a day for a parade," the Earl said. "They'll be freezing on Whitehall."

"They are already freezing in Duxford," Klaus returned. "Perhaps the weather will make everyone move along faster."

"Perhaps. Some of those on parade are pretty well advanced in years."

"They will not cancel for a storm?"

"Not bloody likely. You know us British. Leaving early or canceling on short notice wouldn't be considered proper." Dorian took out his cigarettes and fired one up. "So ... you and your father came over for Remembrance Day all those years back."

Klaus nodded.

"Forgive me, Major, but wasn't that a bit unusual? We don't really see too many visiting Germans on Remembrance Day. When I first began going, we didn't see any."

"I believe my father came to commemorate a colleague who had died that year."

"An Englishman?"

"Ja."

"Someone he'd known during the war?"

"Ja." Klaus dug out his own cigarettes. "An honored adversary. At the time, my father considered me too young to be advised of any details. As you are aware, we do not talk often now."

"Mm...." Dorian took a deep drag, exhaling smoke and frost. "Still, doesn't it strike you odd to think we were both in the same place on the same day all those years ago?"

"What is unusual? You are English, why wouldn't you have been there?"

"You know what I mean. Don't be so obstinate."

"I am not obstinate. I am just not the romantic that you are." Klaus shook his head again. "You find signs in everything."

"Well, I'm in love. That's what people in love do - find signs and omens and so forth. What's wrong with that?"

"If I answer, it will only start another fight with us."

"Fine. All right. Don't answer." Dorian crossed over to a trash receptacle, ground out the remains of his cigarette and tossed it in.

The Major turned his back to the wind and Dorian; he busied himself with reading the bronze marker on the memorial. This small shrine had been positioned apart from the other monuments. It was a place of prayers and meditation, a secluded spot for lovers to meet and make plans, share confidences ... and start fights. Now you are doing it, too, he warned himself. Shut up with that thinking.

Dorian stepped up behind and began reading over his shoulder. "I see," he said shortly. "It's another holocaust memorial."

Klaus could not keep back his surprise at that toneless inflection. "Is there something wrong with that?" he asked.

"Should there be?"

The Major sighed, resigned. "So now you are angry with me."

"I am not angry with you." The Earl stood with his hands in his pockets. He lifted his shoulders in a half-frozen shrug. "Really. I'm not angry. It's just that I've just seen rather a lot of these." He nodded towards the memorial.

"So? Is this not a worthy tribute?"

"It's as good as any I've seen."

Klaus' eyebrows lifted.

"What?" Dorian demanded. He sounded almost irritable.

"For one who must deliver a speech about every carved-up piece of rock and paint-smeared canvas he encounters, to say so little about an artistic structure speaks volumes to my ears. It makes me wonder what is wrong." Klaus gave a shrug of his own. "So - what is wrong?"

"Well, it's all wrong, isn't it? All those people slaughtered. You know, there were plenty outside of Germany who knew about the camps, who had some understanding of Hitler's plans, right? But they didn't do anything about it. Then after the war, once they had to face the remains, everyone decides to go all noble. Not that I'm saying they should have ignored it. What I mean is, it should never have been allowed to happen in the first place - but it did. And there's more responsible for letting it get started and go on than got the blame for it. Can you believe it?" Dorian raised anguished eyes. "There are people today who are trying to prove the holocaust never happened at all."

"By now I have seen enough to believe almost anything."

"Do you ever wonder why they'd try to disprove it?"

Klaus answered bluntly, "So someone can do it again."

"That would be my theory, too." Dorian stepped forward. He reached out and trailed his fingers over the bronze plaque, tracing the lettering. "Millions tortured and killed, children, women, men ... Jews, Russians, Gypsies...."

"Homosexuals," Klaus added shortly.

Dorian regarded him, unblinking. "Strange, I don't see that group listed here."

"You will not find them listed on any memorial."

"No - except for the ones who happened to be Jewish or Russian or Gypsy or one of the other acknowledged victims." The Earl's frown deepened. "Do you think the omission could have anything to do with the thought that most of the gay men and women sent to the camps were probably German?"

Klaus shook his head. "I had not thought of that."

"Well, the Nazis weren't making inquiries among the other groups, were they?"

"There was no need."

"Exactly."

"Why torment yourself with this?" Klaus asked quietly. "There is nothing you can do ... nothing you could have done."

"Yes, I know that." Dorian shuddered visibly. His voice had gone a little unsteady, a little thick. "I know.... It's just so rotten ... so bloody unfair."

They stood for a time without speaking. Klaus longed very much to touch him, to offer a hand or put an arm around his shoulders. But he didn't dare. He had rejected demonstrations of familiarity at an early age, done all he could to force such needs from his nature. Now that he felt the call, he was unsure of how to act on it. There was no crowd to push them together this time. Klaus felt himself balanced on a very rocky bridge, caught between the intoxicating and addicting freedom of their time alone together and the restraint that was necessary to carry out his public duties. Maintaining distance, even when there was no one to see, was probably best.

Well, he'd understood that right from the start. He just hadn't expected it to be so difficult to accomplish.

"You know," Dorian began again. "The most ghastly irony is that so many people believe the Nazis were gay themselves, as if being homosexual were part of the elitist Reich lifestyle. God, that must have been absolute hell for you."

"It is something I have learned to deal with," Klaus said shortly.

"Not accept?"

"No." The Major blinked, shoving his fists in his coat pockets, moving himself another step apart. The comment surprised him. He had never expected anyone to understand, not even Dorian Red Gloria. Shock startled him into speech. "When I was growing up, I heard all the stories," he said. "The obscene jokes and the vulgar speculations - that too often were more like invitations. Understand?" Dorian nodded and Klaus went on, his voice cold and clear. "I was sent to a multi-national Catholic school for the children of diplomats and service personnel. Later, I went to a military college. Children are not shy about voicing their parents' ideologies or acting on them. It makes them feel important. They feel it gives them a kind of power and, in a way, that is true. Especially when there are so many of them repeating the same thoughts. When I went into service, it did not become better. Then I dealt with the parents ... as effectively as I dealt with their sons."

Dorian said softly, "I can just imagine."

Klaus glanced at him. "Do you? The homosexual lifestyle was held up as an example of Nazi degeneracy which was always translated to mean German degeneracy. It was impossible to view it as anything except perversion. Impossible to accept those feelings in myself. It is one of the worst, most damnable evils. I am Catholic as well, you know. You understand how they regard that sin?"

"Yes. I understand."

"Everyone always points to Ernst Röhm. The man began his career in the party as one of Hitler's top aides but he did not keep the position. People do not want to remember the Röhm purge. It is a selective forgetting, I think, as if that massacre never happened. If they bother to know of it, most believe the death penalty Germany imposed in 1942 was a joke and only enforced upon the out-of-favor faggots."

"To acknowledge anything else wrecks havoc on the basic hero-villain concept. Nazis still make the best villains, you know ... seconded only by perverts," Dorian said with bitter humor. "Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, we're all supposed to be friends with the Russians."

"We could send them to talk with Sable Volovoi or Bear Cub Misha." Klaus' wolf grin returned, flashing across his face briefly. "I wonder how friendly Misha is feeling lately?"

Dorian rocked back on his heels, lost in thought, the ice wind forgotten. "I had no idea what it had been like for you, growing up after the war. No one could have known. Thank you for telling me." He shook his head. "All that time I was chasing you about, it must have been so insulting. I feel like such a horse's ass."

"It was not so insulting." Klaus stared at him, straight and solemn. "It was infuriating. You are infuriating. And very persistent. But you never seemed to take it for granted that I was - that way. So I could not be angry with you for that."

"I didn't much care what you were. I just wanted you to love me." Dorian scooped a handful of wind-snarled curls from his face, held them back. Blue eyes sparkled, very solemn. "I have a question ... if you'll let me ask it."

"What?"

"You said you couldn't accept certain feelings in yourself. Does that mean -"

"It does not mean anything," Klaus snapped. "It is none of your concern."

"Sorry ... I just ... I don't want to offend you. I'm not asking out of curiosity or to pry into your personal business. I want to understand. If I could just help in some way...."

"There is nothing to help." Klaus sigh was nearly a groan. "We cannot speak of these things here," he said in a low, harsh voice. "It is too public. We should leave."

"Give it a minute," Dorian urged. "There isn't anyone around to hear. Feel the ice in that wind? They're all packed together out there just trying to keep warm." He smiled tentatively, trying to shift the subject into safer and yet, he sensed, more revealing ground. "You've never talked with me like this ... about all these things. That bloody war - we weren't even born till after but it's mucked with both of us, hasn't it?"

"You can look at it like that I suppose."

"Well, I do look at it like that," Dorian said fiercely. "And it makes me angry. Don't you ever wonder how they managed it all? I've heard all the theories but how could all those soldiers round up and kill all those civilians? You've said it yourself, they weren't a military target."

"Adolf thought they were - and he was able to convince others of their significance. The concept of a master race was no fantasy to him. He really meant to accomplish it. He nearly did."

"But it was so appalling. What kind of man does a thing like that? It's one thing for a maniac to order the extermination of an entire race - or races. It's quite another for thousands of soldiers and civilian officials to carry out those orders."

"Some did not."

"Enough certainly did," Dorian shot back. "Really, Major, it's not like you to be evasive. I'll bet you've thought about this quite a lot. What are your theories?"

"I did not intend to be either evasive or defensive," Klaus said. "This is a complicated issue and not easy to talk about. You are right, the men obeyed orders. Women as well. That is what Germans do - obey the authority in charge - especially the old-style Germans. Traditional methods of rearing children called for the breaking of the spirit before they reached the age of two years. Children were taught to obey orders. That was the essential lesson. When they grew up, they knew they were to obey their leaders. They never learned to think of themselves or for themselves. They did not question. It was not considered proper."

Dorian's eyes widened. "What you're describing is ritualized child abuse."

"No one thinks of it like that."

"But when you beat or shame a child into submission, you take away his self-respect. And, if someone is made to feel worthless, how can he ever value anyone else?"

"Well, you are supposed to consider the parents or their appointed agents worthy. Then, when you are an adult, there is always your boss. Always there is someone in charge to look up to and obey."

"Like Twitterswell?"

"Never," Klaus snapped. "The chief is an idiot. Do not be absurd."

"I was just checking." Dorian bit his lip, stifling a sudden grin. "You had me worried there for a minute. You sounded so sincere."

"I was sincere. I was trying to answer your question."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful," Dorian soothed. "It was a very good answer. The only one I've heard that made any sense."

Klaus shrugged. He located his cigarettes and lit one up. Dorian watched him, alert beneath veiled lashes.

"You could have offered me one of those," the Earl said.

"You have your own brand with you," Klaus said. "Help yourself."

Dorian did that, smiling. The Major continued to glare at him.

"What are you thinking of, Dieb?"

"If you must know," the Earl exhaled a stream of smoke. "I am thinking that that sort of childhood conditioning must have had an opposite effect on you. I've never met anyone with less respect for authority."

"You do not know me as well as you think. I am disciplined. I work hard. I perform my duty."

"Oh, I agree on all three counts. You perform your work most effectively - but with a complete disregard for all the proper procedures and protocol. I've watched you lay traps for various `officials' and their subordinates - and then annihilate them - just because you could. You like doing that, I know you do."

"You would rather infiltrate the ranks and twist them around your pretty curls," Klaus observed, amused.

"My techniques work ... generally."

"They did not work on me."

"No. And your methods didn't exactly bring my affairs to a crashing halt either." Dorian laughed soundlessly. "No, you're not the type to follow orders blindly. Your father's training has produced an anarchist cloaked in officer's clothing. Either that or you're some new breed of German entirely."

"Shut up," Klaus snapped. "There is no new Germany and no new Germans. It is all chaos - just like before. Just like everywhere else. You talk too much."

"So I've heard." Dorian raised an eyebrow, baffled by the sudden shift in mood.

Angrily, the Major berated himself for his choice of shelter. He ground out his cigarette beneath his heel and wished they hadn't turned into this alcove, wished they'd wandered into some other spot or braved the cold. Klaus scowled fiercely. They were supposed to be at work, weren't they?

Still, for the moment, it was impossible to think of anything except this stark shrine and its glaring omission. And all the insistent, noisy memories clamoring about. In his way, Dorian echoed Löwen's sentiments so closely, that restless spirit moved about so freely here. As much as he tried to bury it, the past kept rising up and slamming itself against his present, his future.

At the end of the war, survivors wearing the pink triangle had been considered nothing more than strayed Aryans, deviants of the deviants, and beyond the victors' compassion. Well, Klaus reasoned, such men had never been deliberately sent en masse to the extermination camps although many had died in the gas chambers there. By and large, their fate had been to be systematically humiliated, tortured, starved and worked to death in the death pits of the concentration camps. The SS had decreed them to be `Level 3' prisoners which meant that average life expectancy could be no more than three months. Only when the prisoner's allotted time had passed beyond its limit had he been sent to a more permanent destination.

Klaus had always understood that every military organization had its share of homosexuals in service. That would never change. Ultimately, Adolf had no more success in eliminating them than he had in exterminating any other group. Regardless, when the Reich faced defeat, it had even sought these men out, promising freedom to those they had tried so hard to destroy. All they had to do was volunteer to serve as cannon-fodder in the wake of a retreating and vanquished army.

Unconsciously, Klaus had fallen into parade rest position, holding his own against the blast of ice-wind. He dragged his thoughts back to the present. Re-focusing, he found himself staring at Dorian's back ... and felt suddenly sickened. They would have taken him immediately, he realized. There would be no hiding for him ... not like Löwen, not like I could have hidden if it had been me.... There is no way he could have survived if they took him. No way I could have saved him.

Revelation brought all those bodies rattling up from their graves again. Memory provided a more effective paralysis than self-control or personal denial ever had. His mind filled with terrible details. Everything he knew about the camps rushed in to fill his heart with horror.

Klaus must have made some sound because Dorian turned, peering at him from under the fall of wind-tossed curls. The Earl raked the hair from his eyes again, moving closer.

"Major...?" Alarmed, Dorian placed his hand on his shoulder. "Klaus, are you all right?"

"I was ... thinking." He shook himself, stammering. Let us leave this place, that's what he wanted to say. Except his feet refused to carry him, he couldn't move. Klaus cleared his throat and tried again. He would talk about anything rather than hold onto that hideous mental picture. "I was just thinking ... about my first commanding officer, Major Löwen...."

"Rudy Löwen - the man you mentioned the other morning?" Dorian's brows creased in a frown, puzzled.

"Löwen served during the war. He was a soldier and a party member."

"He was a Nazi? But how could he keep on in service - especially as an officer? I thought ... well, weren't party members forced out afterwards?"

"No - Löwen was no Nazi. He only joined so that they would not find out about him. So they would not know he was...."

"He was gay."

"Yes."

"My god." Dorian sank down on the stone bench. "My god, how horrible. Do you know what he did in the war, where he was stationed?"

"Not at the camps." Stiffly, Klaus sat down beside him. "He was a soldier, he was on campaign in France ... in Poland. Other places. We talked about that. He was not stationed at the camps but he knew about them. Everyone did eventually. After the war, the allies forced surviving Germans to visit them so they could see for themselves what had happened there. Löwen saw it, too."

"You've been there yourself?"

"Yes. I have seen the camps."

Dorian nodded. "It changes your whole way of looking at everything, doesn't it?" He grasped Klaus' hand in both of his. Held on. "I visited Dachau. Once."

"Why?"

"Had to see it myself, didn't I?"

Klaus' fingers tightened around Dorian's hand. Yes, he understood. No matter how dreadful, some things required seeing. It was the only way they could be believed.

"Your friend must have suffered a great deal, having to hide like that," Dorian said after a while. "And under such terrible circumstances."

"Why do you call him my friend?" Klaus demanded.

"Well, he would've had to be your friend to tell you the truth about himself, wouldn't he? It's not something he'd blab to just anyone. I suppose he must have spent his whole life in hiding."

"No one ever knew," Klaus admitted gruffly. "He was a very private man."

"He trusted you."

"Ach, you do not know anything." Klaus shrugged away, angry again. "It was a mistake, that telling. He was a soldier, an officer. The best officer I have ever known - except for that. And even he did everything he could to hide it, to deny it. So he could do his job. Rudy Löwen was the best. There was no one else like him. He could have continued to work except ... except...." Klaus shut down abruptly. His eyes had gone bright, like glittering shards of broken glass. "Löwen would have been all right except that he did not keep secret that part of himself."

"What happened to him?" Dorian asked "You said he was dead."

"Everyone is dead. Erich, der Professor, Ludek, Mouser ... all of them."

"Those were his men?"

Klaus nodded.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

"It was so long ago now." Near panic, Klaus wondered why he continued to talk. He never had before and this was certainly not the time or place for it. Still, he couldn't seem to stop the words. "One of our agents was captured, an important man. It was necessary to have him returned or ... rendered incapable of harm."

"You mean he was to be killed if they couldn't rescue him?"

"Yes."

"That doesn't leave many options, does it?"

"There were no options. None. Recently, our team had been involved in some difficulty - a defection that went badly. We were set up but we never knew who or how. Major Löwen and I were taken. Later, the others were able to rescue us before we were delivered to Moscow."

"Is that how you were hurt?" Dorian asked gently. "When you were captured?"

"Yes."

"Did they torture Major Löwen, too?"

"He was hurt as well. It was different for him but it was all very bad."

Dorian blinked, trying to take it all in. He had never expected

Klaus to tell him so much about himself. But whatever had been eating at him had suddenly chosen this awkward time to break free. He couldn't feel good about it. The threat of exposure was so near - and Klaus would never forgive him, never forgive himself, if that were to happen. Listening between the words, Dorian heard so much more ... truth he couldn't dare himself to bring up, You cared for each other, didn't you? Löwen loved you. That's why he told you about himself.... Could it have happened? Could you have been lovers?

It was almost impossible to believe ... but equally impossible to ignore. It would have explained so much.

"The rescue mission was another trap," Klaus finished, hurriedly. "The man was a double agent. Löwen led them into a trap. Everyone on the team was killed. Löwen as well. The agent was able to remain with the Russians."

And it was my fault, the words hung unspoken between them.

"You think something ... or someone diverted Löwen's attention from his work?" Dorian asked carefully.

"I know it did."

"He'd discussed his - orientation with you. When you were captured. His secret was out and he was worried that he'd been indiscreet?"

"Something like that. Yes."

"Forgive me, Klaus, but it doesn't make any sense," the Earl protested. "You're not the kind of man to go spreading secrets. Secrets are your profession. And if Löwen was the man you say, he wouldn't have told you about himself unless he trusted you. He -"

"Löwen thought I would be dead," Klaus snarled. "We both thought that."

Dorian flinched from the violence in his voice. Digested that information. Then shook his head again, adamant. "No ... I won't believe it," he insisted. "And neither should you. You said he was the best. I've never heard you speak like that about anyone. Löwen trusted you, cared for you. If you really believe Rudy Löwen was that good a man, how could you think he'd lead his own men to their deaths? How can you think he'd behave like such a coward?"

"Shut. Up." Green eyes flashed dangerously.

"No - listen - I've been in love with you for years, I think I know what it's like." Dorian swallowed, feeling his throat go dry and tight in the face of Klaus' fury. "You were set up for that botched defection, you said so yourself. Couldn't Löwen and his men have been set up by the same party - or parties - when they were sent after that agent? But you didn't go ... you weren't part of it. Löwen must have pulled some strings to keep you out, yes? Maybe he was suspicious about it. Maybe he knew it was hopeless from the start."

"Are you out of your mind? Do you really believe our government would send five men to their deaths just to set up a mole? Those five men?"

"We are sitting in a shrine commemorating the deaths of over six million people who were killed only because they happened to be drawing breath - because of who they were, not for anything they'd done." Dorian took in a deep breath. Held it for a moment. When he spoke again, he chose his words very carefully. "Governments - the only thing they care about is making policy and making money. No matter what they say, they don't care about people. People are expendable, they're a constantly replenishable source of cannon fodder ... when they're not being bled dry for taxes. How do you think outlaws came to be? Some tyrant somewhere said, `Go forth and be slaughtered for the cause,' and someone else said back, `No thanks - I don't think so.' So the next thing that happens is the poor sod finds himself in jail or worse, right along with his family and his associates. If he escapes that punishment, those penalties, he's forever destined to live outside the circle of normal society ... outside the law. And his family and friends, too. You're an honorable man, Klaus. I'll bet Rudy Löwen was as well. But there's no honor in government, they're just a gang of bullies looking for someone to torment. You can take their money but you don't ever trust them. Not ever."

Klaus seethed. No so silently. "This is just another joke to you. Another fairy tale."

"I assure you, I am very serious."

Klaus glared at him, his hands gone to fists on his lap. Dorian watched him back, determined. The Earl wasn't aware of holding his breath until his chest began to ache.

"You look like you're getting ready to hit me," Dorian said after a time.

"I am trying very hard not to."

"I wish you wouldn't. I really hate it when you do. It hurts."

"You never try to stop me. You never fight back."

"Did, too. Once. Remember that time in the abbey ... when I had that angel's wing? You'd been running amuck and shooting up the statuary. I let you have it that time."

Klaus nodded stiffly, remembering. "You did."

Dorian nodded back. "Stopped you right in your tracks. You looked very surprised ... but I was too pissed with you to care."

"Well, it hurt."

"You're looking almost as stunned today." Dorian reached up and lightly stroked the side of Klaus' face. Then dropped his hand away. "I feel like I'm fumbling along through a mine field, talking to you about all this. I feel like I'm hurting you. I don't mean to."

Klaus remained silent, an apprehensive wolf. He felt exhausted, almost too tired to speak.

"I don't know how to explain what I know - except to say that I feel it inside ... and strongly, too," Dorian said. "Both of us, we tend to think our way from the inside out ... feel our way along on a job. Because of the way we live and the work we do, it's more important to know what to do rather than how to do it - or why."

"I do not understand you."

"It's like intuition. You've never reviewed the details of Major Löwen's last assignment, have you?"

"That information is restricted."

Dorian's eyes softened. Afraid of what you'll find out, aren't you? Once again, he grasped Klaus' hand in both of his, held it gently. It was like smoothing a leather-gloved stone between his fingers.

"Well," the Earl began, "all that's probably changed a bit with the shake up in the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Wall. You've got the rank to get in there and find out what really happened. You've got the clout for it. I've never known anyone to stand in your way for very long. You can investigate Löwen's case yourself, if you want."

"If I want?" Klaus asked, surprised. "Why would I want to do that? Why would it be necessary?"

"Rudy Löwen was a soldier's soldier. He sacrificed everything for his career but he went down in disgrace. He failed that last mission, all his men were killed. The bad guys won and they danced on his grave." Dorian met and held Klaus' gaze squarely. "You owe it to him to find out if that's really true."

"Why?"

"Because Löwen was the best man you ever knew. Because he'd expect you to look into it - wouldn't he? To take care of things. Clear his name."

Klaus blinked, taken aback.

"Yes," the Major said. "He would." He was silent for a long minute, thinking, frowning. Finally, Klaus demanded, "How do you know these things?"

"I don't," Dorian replied, blunt. "You know. That's all that matters."

The frown deepened into a scowl. "I really hate it," Klaus growled, "when you are right."

"Yes," the thief said. "I know."

 




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