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

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Seven

 

It wasn't that the furnace was a lost cause. No, indeed. It was the smoke and stench that poured out of the ancient fuel lines that required the Major to re-think his course of action. He could not imagine himself staying for very long in any place that reeked like a burning tar pit. It annoyed him to have to shut down and close off the ancient monster once he'd got it up and running but living with the odor would have aggravated him more. Regardless, he'd gotten the thing working, hadn't he? His mission had been accomplished.

Klaus made his way back upstairs, took a quick look around and acknowledged that he'd been deserted. Which was just as well, he told himself. He walked into the kitchen alcove and took a beer from the pantry. Something was bubbling happily away on the stove so he raised the lid and took a peek. It looked for all the world like some kind of stew. Klaus picked up the ladle and stirred the contents noting with approval the thick chunks of meat and vegetables. He tried a small taste. Considered. While it wasn't bad, it didn't do much for the palate either. Klaus thought about it for a few seconds, then up-ended his bottle of beer into the mixture, recalling how Cook performed such actions back in the old days at Schloss Eberbach. The liquid foamed on contact turning the pot into a miniature volcano but the Major drove it back with the ladle, stirring the liquid in thoroughly. Afterwards, he snagged two more beers and headed into the bathroom.

The cottage was curiously silent with the thief gone. Klaus drank his beer, lay back in a mound of billowing suds and wished he'd turned on the radio. It would have occupied his too-active mind which had filled with pictures of Dorian mucking about in the snow building snowmen, making angels. That sort of rot. Well, the Earl was lucky that he could afford to indulge his childish fantasies. Other men had work to accomplish. The Major finished off his beer and ran more steaming water into the tub. He settled back into the bubbles and opened the next bottle, searching for the usual muscle-relaxing comfort a hot bath usually brought him. Peace, however, continued to elude him.

Klaus' eyes were continually drawn to the same unsettling vision. There were two toothbrushes in the bathroom holder. The Major's reality only contained one. That was normal. That was the way it was supposed to be. But this particular observation had initiated his rising sense of disquiet. Try as he would, Klaus could not get used to sharing a bathroom with Dorian Red. He could not accustom himself to the sight of his things and the thief's things sharing the same space. It wasn't that Dorian's toiletries were so very unusual. Klaus checked around, suspicious, anticipating all kinds of abnormalities. But, for the most part, he could only find the standard issue accessories of the male traveler.

Still, there was a clear, unlabeled glass jar with a silver lid on the edge of the tub. It was filled with a rose-colored gel. He opened it up and found bits of flowers and leaves drifting about inside. The contents smelled like someone's garden and ... soap? Speaking of which, there was a bar of that in the dish. It was quite large and lathered up well and fit the Major's hand very nicely. But it was a pale, almost transparent blue-green color. The wrapper, which he'd spotted in the trash, indicated that the soap was a privately milled extravagance. The flowing, hand-written script on the label read Winter Rain.

On the counter near the sink was a tall bottle of pale lavender liquid. Klaus noted an exotic but established aftershave and its matching cologne. On the shelf over the commode, he saw a heap of antique combs made for piling the hair up off one's neck as well as a wide-toothed tortoiseshell comb and brush positioned beside the customary talc, shaving soap and brush. Lying alongside that was an ancient, ivory handled straight razor. That was difficult to fathom. Klaus could not imagine squaring off every morning with such a lethal implement. But then, the thief was famed for his expertise with edged weapons. The Major had never seen anyone better.

Klaus pulled the plug and hit the shower. He lathered the grit and oil-stink out of his hair. He rinsed off, deliberately ignoring the other shampoo and conditioner positioned next to his. Afterwards, Klaus stepped out of tub and began to dry himself. But curiosity soon had him lurking about the medicine cabinet where he found aspirin, toothpaste, lineament, antacid. Antacid? The brand was the same Herr Haselmann packed for Klaus. With a terrible sensation of dread, the Major noted that Dorian also used the same Norwegian formula hand cream that he always carried.

Shuddering, Klaus closed the cabinet and escaped into clean clothes. Part of him wished he'd brought a third beer along while another cautioned against excess. Klaus felt quite up against the wall; the sensation was similar to an escalating mission - the kind where, try as he would, there was no getting a handle on it. No control. The Major had hoped to escape Dorian's presence in the sanctuary of the bath. He'd experienced better luck with the furnace.

Is there nothing else that needs repair? Klaus wondered, breaking out into the living room. He felt an almost overwhelming urge to pound on something but he'd already cleaned his tools and packed them away. Klaus lit a cigarette and marched back into the kitchen. Opened another beer. And where has the thief got himself to? he puzzled. The Major peered outside the kitchen window. Twilight was setting in. It would be dark soon, too late for playing in the snow. He considered for a long moment. Had Dorian given up on this crazed enterprise and opted for home? Klaus decided against that. That was too good to be true.

I will relax and wait for him, the Major decided. I will give him twenty more minutes to play - and then I will find him and kill him. It is too dark to be out so long, it is too cold. He could have burned down the house leaving this pot to cook on the stove alone.

Determined, Klaus turned on the radio, found a station playing a jazz program and put more wood on the fire. He located the book he'd been reading and settled down on the couch. Lit another cigarette. Waited. Not too patiently. It was much easier to ignore Dorian when he was in the same room. When the thief was away, Klaus could not help but speculate about his activities.

Some twenty minutes later, the Major prepared himself to launch a one-man search party. Sitting at the fire, he had managed to read the same paragraph about thirty-six times. He had filled an ashtray. He had finished his third beer. It was either start on the fourth or get his coat and start looking. Looking seemed his best option but before Klaus could make a move in that direction, the door opened and Dorian swept in.

The thief was wearing a red leather jacket with his black jeans and boots. His gloves and scarf were white. He'd lost his hat and his hair framed his face in a wind blown riot of curls. Dorian slammed the door shut behind him and fell back against the wood. Klaus could not help but notice the healthy flush in his perfect English complexion or the spark in his blue eyes.

"I have just one question," the thief began abruptly. "Have you ever experienced any doubts about the way I feel about you?"

"No." Klaus was startled into answering.

"You know I'm in love with you, right? I've made my intentions absolutely clear?"

"Yes," the Major replied, mystified. "You have told me that you loved me. Many times."

"Good." Dorian nodded, satisfied. "Have we got a working security system here?"

"Yes, but it is minimal. This is not a high risk safehouse. It is more of a stopover shelter."

"Well, whatever we have available, I think we should switch it on." Dorian removed his scarf and gloves, took off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack. He paused for a moment, taking in the room. "What is that odor?"

"What odor?" Klaus said, defensive.

"It smells like burnt tar. And the smoke ... it's thicker in here than London at midnight. You've been smoking too much again, Major. I wish you'd have a care for yourself."

"You are not my nursemaid." Klaus scowled. "Where have you been?"

"In the woods talking with Charlie Kello. He tracked us here,

Major."

Klaus suddenly noted the pallor beneath the thief's wind blush. He was on his feet at once. "Was the woman with him, Sable Volovoi?"

"No, Charlie was alone."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Positive," Dorian confirmed. "If she'd been out there, I'd be dead now. She'd have come after you, too. Charlie told me."

Klaus came to a halt in front of the thief. He stood close enough to touch him but thrust his hands in his pockets instead.

"What else did Kello tell you?"

Dorian gave him an abbreviated version of his conversation with the Shoemaker. He watched the Major's scowl deepen as he went on. When he finished, Klaus remained silent for a time watching him. Trouble shaded green eyes. The Major took a deliberate step closer. Very carefully, he placed his hands on Dorian's shoulders.

"What aren't you telling me?" Klaus demanded.

"Nothing important ... some personal things." Dorian shook his head slowly. "I've told you everything that matters. What's going on, Major? What aren't you telling me?"

"There is nothing I can say. It's all classified. I don't know everything myself."

"But it's big, isn't it? And Volovoi is important...." Dorian took in a deep breath. Klaus' fingers kneaded his arms gently, his touch nearly a caress. He was quite certain the Major was unaware of his actions, of the effect he was creating. The Earl wished he could lose himself in the sensation. It would be so much easier than thinking....

"They're dealing in nuclear arms, aren't they?" Sudden understanding tumbled out of Dorian's mouth. "That's the big secret, isn't it? Charlie's got access to Soviet nuclear weapons through Sable Volovoi and he's offered them for sale."

"Yes." Klaus' admission came reluctantly. "That is true."

"Then what the hell are you doing here? What are we doing here? Why aren't we after them?"

"We are too well known to these people, both of us. Our involvement would only compromise the mission. We would only drive them further underground."

"But why didn't you tell me?"

"What was the point? There is nothing you can tell me about the Shoemaker that we do not already know. And he is your friend, a friend of your family, so you said. When they catch him this time - and they will catch him, the woman, too - they will kill him. It was not ... necessary to tell you that."

Dorian's mouth set in a hard, firm line. "Why? Were you afraid I'd jeopardize your mission? Search them out and spill your plans?"

"No. I did not think it was my place to hurt you by telling you about something you would be helpless to prevent. You cannot save Charlie Kello."

"Balls!" Dorian's temper flared. "You made that choice for me? You wouldn't even let me try to -"

"You made the choice," Klaus insisted, interrupting. "When you told me you had seen Kello in town. You were following your instincts, ja? That is how you operate. I think you knew something then ... or perhaps felt it. That would be like you. You knew something was wrong with him."

"But if you had told me -"

"He might have killed you out there in the woods if he thought you understood. He would have come for me next, perhaps. I would have finished him. But you would be dead."

"No." Dorian shook his head again, in protest or denial it was impossible to say. He stepped away from Klaus and walked towards the fire. The Earl wrapped his arms around himself, staring into the flames.

Klaus studied him quietly. There was a fragility in the set of those fine shoulders that left him aching. He remembered how strong they had been the night before, when he had needed them to be strong. He remembered how sweet the skin had felt beneath his hands. Klaus forced his fingers to close into fists. "I will set the security system," he said after a short while. "I must also make some calls. Why don't you have a drink? You look like you could use one."

"No, thank you, Major. I believe I've had enough for the time being." Dorian kept his back to Klaus, he continued to stare at the flames. "Go ahead and make your calls. You must do what you think is best."

"Yes." Klaus nodded once. Then, "You will be all right?"

"Of course." The voice was soft, almost a whisper. "Just perfect."

"Gut." Klaus' return was strong, depicting a certainty he didn't feel. He hesitated a moment.

But in the end, the Major went downstairs to the radio.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Dorian had never cared much for brooding, not in himself and not in others. Still, it wasn't as if he wasn't subject to mood swings. His was a mercurial personality; he could plumb the depths as well as the heights of the emotional spectrum. He just didn't care much for despair and he loathed self-pity. Still, it was difficult to shake the depression that settled into his heart. The Earl stirred himself enough to build up the fire, hoping to drive off the chill that had penetrated his soul. It didn't help much. He curled into a corner of the couch, tucking his legs up beneath him, and studied Charlie's parting gift, turning the flask about in his hands. There was a small sound of liquid sloshing about when he shook it.

The sun set. The room went dark except for the fire. Klaus continued to talk to his superiors on the radio below but Dorian could not bring himself to care much about what was being said. He didn't even want to try to listen in. Too many other thoughts crowded his mind, begging attention.

A shadow separated itself from the flickering lights and made its way towards the fireplace. That caught and held the Earl's eye. He watched the cat progress across the worn carpet and settle her lean, battle-scarred self on the hearth. The cat stared at Dorian with wide, unblinking, moon-jade eyes. Dorian smiled back.

"Well, good evening, darling," the thief whispered. "How lovely of you to come visit."

The cat wrinkled her nose, lifting her head. She had quite a fine set of bristly whiskers.

"We should become friends, you and I," Dorian confided. "We're both intruders, aren't we? Always going where we're not wanted, filching what belongs to others ... getting away with it, pretty much, in the end. Well, such as it is, it's a life - isn't it?" He closed his eyes and stifled a tiny sob. "It's all we've got, love. Better make the best of it."

The cat remained quiet. Diplomatic, she didn't disagree.

Eventually, Dorian's eyes opened again, wide. "Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?" He unfolded his long legs and stood. "Let's see what we've got, shall we?" He left the flask behind on the mantle.

The cat trotted back to the kitchen following after the Earl, demonstrating only a modicum of wariness. It was as if she knew she had encountered one of her own - or an easy touch. Dorian rummaged through the pantry shelves, routing out various cans and packages. He came up with a tin of sardines. From the refrigerator, he took out a jar of caviar.

"This should fit the bill." Dorian wheeled back the lid and placed several plump, silvery fish onto Dresden china. He dolloped out a generous portion of caviar.

"It's Beluga," the Earl said, placing the plate on the bar. "Quite fine, too. Help yourself, my dear. I have lost my taste for things Russian for the time being."

The cat leapt up onto the bar and approached the plate. Her whiskers twitched again with approval. She then proceeded to demonstrate a healthy appetite. Dorian leaned back into the corner and watched the cat eat, such delicate and fastidious little movements despite the obvious hunger. He was impressed and strangely comforted at the same time.

Also hungry. The sensation hit Dorian with all the impact of a brick. He hadn't partaken of even the smallest of nibbles since he'd set out to lay his cat-bait. The pot on the stove was giving out an appetizing odor. He raised the lid and peered in hopefully. Poked it a bit with the ladle. The contents didn't look too dreadful but it was still a fairly dank-looking brown. Struck by a sudden flash of inspiration, Dorian grasped hold of a bottle of wine. He uncorked the rich Burgundy and poured in a healthy amount. The stew burped at him at bit but gulped it down. Yes, the Earl reasoned happily, this was the ticket. Bonham always added wine to his stews and soups, he said it sweetened the meat. Or, rather, it marinated the tough old flesh Mr. James brought home and gave it a taste and texture other than that of antique shoe leather. Confident, Dorian stirred more wine into the pot. The stew base was beginning to go a healthier-looking red, a Rembrandt hue. Dorian located his crystal wineglass and helped himself to a generous dash of Burgundy. That made him think of a deep, Carravagio scarlet when he held it up to the light. He swallowed it down. It didn't completely wash out the taste of cognac but it helped. Dorian considered. Then opened another bottle to let it breathe.

A blues diva was wailing out a sad old tune of betrayal and loss on the radio. Dorian shook his head and reached for the dial. "Sorry to cut you off, dear," he said. "Ordinarily, I'd love to hear you croon but tonight you'd have me slashing my wrists." He played with the tuner, searching for a more suitable program. A blare of trumpets combined with drums and guitars caught and held his attention.

The cat looked up from her dish and gave an abbreviated "eow" of consent, then returned to her sardines.

Dorian turned up the volume and refilled his glass. He opened up the cupboards, pantry and refrigerator. There had to be something he could find to eat while he waited for the stew to finish up. Besides, he couldn't actually begin dinner without the Major, could he?

"Sé que aún me queda una opportunidad," the Spanish woman's voice filled the cottage. "... Con los años que me quedan, yo vivré por darte amor. Borrando cada dolor, con besos llenos de pasión, como te amé por vez primera.... Sabes que eres mi adoración y los serás mi vida entera...."

A wistful smile played along Dorian's lips. "I know I still have a chance...." He hummed the sensuous melody, pulling items out of the refrigerator. "With the years that I have left I will live to give you love. I'll erase every hurt with kisses filled with passion. I'll love you like it was the first time.... You know how I adore you and will my whole life long."

A first time, Dorian mused, just one time with Klaus.... Wouldn't it be marvelous if it were ever to happen?

Would they ever survive it if it did? He sighed again and shook his head. It wasn't even possible to imagine.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

The Major opened the soundproof basement door into what his audio senses told him was a Cuban night club. All of his other faculties went to war with that impression. Confused but intrigued, he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

Dorian had wedged himself into a corner by the bar, bracing himself up with his long legs. He was dipping bits of fruit into a container of clotted cream. The cat was helping to clean up the excess drips of which there were plenty. From the look of it, they had been sampling at several items. The counter was littered with a wide variety of dishes and foods.

"Sorry. We started without you," Dorian said. "We waited and waited but you were gone such a long time."

Klaus frowned, resting his fists on his hips. "I see you changed your mind about having a drink."

"Just a glass or two of wine."

"You are drunk."

"I am not. I'm tired. And I was so hungry. The stew turned out very well. I only meant to try a taste but then...." Dorian lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "You were gone such a long time."

"So I have heard." Klaus made his way towards the stove. He pulled a clean bowl down from the cabinet. In a way the Major felt relieved. He hadn't been sure what to expect from the thief upon his return but he had handled a drunken Dorian before. It was not a preferable state but it was easier to deal with than many other conditions he could have encountered.

"I see you have found the resident animal," Klaus said, nodding towards the cat. The cat regarded the Major with acute feline vigilance and maintained distance.

"No, she found me," Dorian corrected. "But I did sort of invite her in."

"Sort of?"

"Yes."

Klaus ladled stew into the bowl. "This is very ... liquid," he observed. "More like soup."

"Tear some bread up in it, that's what I did. And look out - it tastes a bit strange at first. But then it's quite lovely."

Perhaps I put too much beer in there, Klaus thought without much remorse. Still, he took Dorian's advice and thickened the stock with bread. He was too hungry to care much about what it tasted like. As long as it was edible, he was prepared to bolt it down.

Trumpets blared from the small radio. The Major winced over his first spoonful. "What is that noise?" he demanded.

"Calypso?" Dorian appeared thoughtful. "Yes. That's it." He offered his cream laden fingers to the cat.

Klaus gathered up his bowl, spoon and - what the hell - another beer. Two could pass out just as effectively as one, he thought. Besides, his ears might need anesthetizing if the "music" continued. The Major retreated to the couch at the far end of the room. Dorian continued to stand about, apparently lost in thought. The thief looked nearly dazed. He alternatively sipped at his wine and licked cream off his fingers once he had run out of fruit. The cat continued to be helpful regarding dairy mishaps.

Klaus finished his first bowl of stew, went back for seconds and, ultimately, thirds scraping the pot clean. If he stumbled a bit walking back to the couch, the Major chalked it up to fatigue rather than dinner. He tried to read his book again but that turned out to be a useless effort. His mind and eyes kept drifting as the tempo of the music changed from calypso to samba to ballad. It was impossible to follow one sentence to the next.

Disgruntled, the Major put more logs on the fire. He contemplated a trip outside for extra wood and decided against it. The weather was too icy and, for the moment, he was disinclined to challenge the cold. He took out a cigarette.

"Smoking again, Major?" Dorian's voice was a husky whisper very close behind him. "You know it's not good for you."

"Sue me." Klaus turned, settling back against the mantle. Early training prohibited him from lashing out at a sudden interruption. The Major acted on threats; he never simply reacted. And this, he assured himself smugly, was no threat.

Dorian had made his way across the room to lean, arms folded, against the back of the couch. He moved more quietly than the cat although, Klaus realized, it was not a deliberate attempt at stealth. There were times when he believed the agile thief had to work at making himself heard. Grace came so naturally to him.

Dorian sighed and stretched, digging his fingers into the back of the cushions. Klaus watched the slender muscles strain across his back and shoulders. The thief's body swayed, gently but noticeably, to the music. Blue eyes tracked Klaus from beneath thick, half-lowered lashes. He drew in his breath slowly, let it out with a hiss.

"Do you know what I would really love to have now?" Dorian's words came out as a darkly vibrant purr.

"No," Klaus said coldly. He scowled. So, it was coming back to this again.

"I would love some trifle." The thief let his eyes flicker shut. "I'd give over my favorite Ruebens for a bowl of trifle right now. Well ... maybe not the Ruebens ... but certainly the van Eyck." He stretched again and his eyes became sparkling little slits. A small, wistful smile dropped onto his mouth. "But I'd even give up my Ruebens for some chocolate. Have you ever had any of those dark-on-dark Belgium truffles, Major? They taste like midnight sin."

"No."

"Too bad." A new song blasted out of the radio and Dorian's eyes went wide again. He straightened up, moving to the beat in a way Klaus would have thought impossible for a human body to execute. "Oh, I love this song. It's so hot. Dance with me, Major."

"No. I do not dance to this ... whatever this is."

"It's folk music, Spanish gypsy music. That's all. Come on." Blue eyes teased and pleaded at the same time. "It's no fun dancing alone."

"Eroica, this behavior is inappropriate. Dancing." Klaus made a face. "You were the one who insisted we turn on the security system - and with good reason. Someone should try to keep watch in case there is trouble."

"So what if there is trouble, Major? What can we do about it - out here alone? If Charlie decides to use one of his new devices on us, it'll be over in a flash, won't it? Have you ever thought what you would do if you knew you would die tomorrow?"

"Yes," Klaus admitted, surprised. "Of course I have."

"And?"

"And it is a subject I do not care to address. I live as well as I can from day to day. Long ago, I came to the understanding that my life could end very suddenly."

"So you keep yourself pure, noble and clean at all times. How very Catholic of you. Still, it's nothing less than I expected." Dorian laughed and Klaus stiffened, immediately defensive. "Don't retreat, Major," the Earl soothed. "I don't mean to insult you or your faith. On the contrary, I, myself, have never given much thought to ... endings. All I know is that tonight I can't have trifle or chocolate or even you, as we all know. But I could dance, if I had a partner. So - Major, I ask you again, will you dance with me?"

Klaus glared at the thief from the opposite side of the couch. There was a glitter of fever in his eyes, not fear or even rage - but something else entirely.

"No, I will not dance with you. I do not play games," he growled. "It is ridiculous. Always you must be the clever one. Always you are the one who is laughing. How can anyone ever take you serious-ly, the things you do or the things you say?"

"Why should it be such a crime if I crave pleasure instead of despair? There's enough misery in the world without my contributing to it. Leave me my own defenses, Major. I know it's not your way ... I can't help that." Dorian faced Klaus squarely. "I decided long ago - if I enter a room, let me be the first to laugh ... and more loudly and accurately than anyone else. If there is scorn to be dished out, I will wield it with a shovel. No one will dictate my politics, friends, moods or preferences. If I choose to duel with words instead of fists, who's to say I'm the lessor man for it?" He pressed his hand to his temple as if massaging away an ache, then ran his fingers back through his hair. "Why must every conversation with you turn into such a war of wills? I didn't ask to be different, Major. I started young in this, I had no choice. You see before you the end product of many years and battles, drawing room and sidewalk carnage that you wouldn't have believed possible. I know I never did. I am what I am - and I will not, I can not change that for anyone, not even you. Nor," he concluded more gently, "will I ever ask anyone to change for me."

"Why do you love me?" Klaus' question was simple, straightforward and shocked them both.

"Why must there be a reason?" Dorian returned, just as blunt.

"That was not an easy question for me to ask. I do not believe I deserve an evasion."

"Excuse me, that was not my intention. But, really, Major, don't you think I've wondered about the same thing? I was never meant for a life of celibacy, you know." The ghost of laughter returned to Dorian's lips. "All I can tell you is, the heart wants what the heart wants. There is no logic to love."

Klaus made a sound, annoyed. "That is no answer."

"Why should I need a reason to love you?"

"Because it does not make sense. It is insane to love where there is no return and no hope of it. How can you believe there is any connection between us? Do we communicate with each other outside of our work? Do gifts bearing your name make their way from Bonn to whatever playland you are frequenting with your followers? Do we go on trips together, do we talk on the phone, do we mail each other declarations of devotion? The answer is - no! There is nothing between us."

"I disagree."

"Ha! Of course." Klaus threw up his hands. "Why I should I think you would see the sense in anything I say? You exist to contradict me!"

"I would bet you - if you were a gambling man - that I am very rarely far from your thoughts." Dorian's smile was slow, sure and only a little tipsy. "You care about me, Major. You care what I do ... who I see ... where I go. I bet you think of me almost as often as I think of you."

"Bet anything you want," Klaus jeered. "You would lose and lose badly."

"Spare me, Major. We both know what a wonderful liar you are. I could tangle spiders in the webs you weave."

"And you are a master of disillusion, Herr Dieb." Klaus gave a quick laugh. He lit another cigarette. "Why you should think we are suited to one another is beyond me. And insulting, too."

"Why must you always complain so much?" Dorian lifted his eyes heavenward. "I'm not such a terrible prize, you could do far worse. There have been other men who have pursued me - wealthy, powerful, handsome. It's not as if I lacked offers."

"Who has pursued you?"

"You'd be surprised."

"Name one."

"The Sheik Salim al-Sabah." Dorian traced the floral pattern of the couch with a slender fingertip. He spared Klaus a long, sideways glance. "You don't believe me?"

"I do not," Klaus spat back. "Al-Sabah has dozens of beautiful wives in his harem, he travels with a stable of lovers. He can have his choice of any woman, any man for that matter, if he so desires."

"Well ... he's never had me."

Klaus scowled and dropped into silence.

"Why do you think Salim pursued us so aggressively?" Dorian asked softly. "Why did he insist on crossing swords with me and me alone? He really wanted me dead, you know. Even you had to guess it was personal."

The scowl deepened. "Not that personal."

Dorian laughed, throwing his head back. The thief was enjoying himself, Klaus was sure of it.

"All right," the Major continued, grim. "Who else - in your vast array of admirers - who else has sought your favors? Which famous rogue or king or politician have you favored in return? Shall we count Mr. James among your lovers or is he too commonplace? Astonish me with your revelations."

"Well, there is Arsène Lupin." The answer was a demure whisper.

"What - that French fiend?! That thieving bastard? You have been with him?"

"Oh, come on, Major - Arsène isn't such a fiend. And he's certainly no bastard. He's a professional man. And he's very. Very. Good. At what he does."

Black brows knotted over storming green eyes. Klaus folded his arms over his chest. "It is a lie. I do not believe it."

"Good for you, Major. You're right, I made it up."

"Why?"

"It served you right for being so obnoxious. And I wanted to prove a point."

"Which is?"

"That you do care."

"And I tell you again that you are wrong." The Major leaned back against the mantle, attempting a more casual pose. "I was indulging in nothing more than a ... a morbid curiosity. For shame, Eroica. Your lies are usually more inspired. Everyone knows Lupin only takes women to his bed. He is famous for that."

"And the Sheik Salim al-Sabah has dozens of wives."

Klaus glared at him and went silent again. The thief shook his head.

"I do love you, you know. And I admit, it's a ridiculous, impossible, insane situation," Dorian said. "Why do I love you? Heaven knows - and she's not telling me. Sometimes I think it's nothing but a bad joke. You are a handsome man, Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach - but there are other handsome men. You are strong and intelligent and you have a bizarre sense of humor that I genuinely enjoy. You are a slave to duty. You are also one of the most intolerant bigots I have ever met. Still, you will put all that aside to do what you think is right or to accomplish a mission. You have a vicious temper and you react with your fists almost as often as you do with your brain. That makes you a bully and not exactly the man I would have chosen to fall in love with by any means." Dorian's sigh was almost a groan. "Altogether, your negative points outweigh your good ones. I am reminded of this every time you use me as your personal punching bag. But ... you see the truth in fairy tales and nursery rhymes. You know all the lyrics to the Tank Commander song, even though it humiliates you to admit it. And you still sing it, even though it embarrasses you to do it. You indulge your love for music like a child sneaking a guilty pleasure - so afraid of being found out. And I find that unbelievably endearing." He faltered a moment, then raised his head, tossing his curls back. "And, say what you will, Major, you're an outsider, too. Just like me. You've never fit in with any group anywhere, always pretended it didn't matter, too - even when it did. Very much. The difference between us is that I've made up a family of my own and you've never let anyone get that close. Not anyone!"

"That is not true," Klaus protested, angry. He took several steps toward the Earl. Then came to an abrupt halt and shut down.

Silence grew between them, punctuated by steel guitars and castanets. Finally - deliberately - Dorian took a small step forward. Then another. Klaus shot him a warning look.

"Surely, it would be better if there was a little peace between us, Major," he whispered. "There is so much war in the world outside, do we have to carry it in here with us now? I never meant to fight with you tonight."

"I must always fight you," Klaus insisted, sternly. "Always!"

"So determined." Dorian shook his head, clucked his tongue. Still, he reached out and captured the Major's hands in his own. "All this fuss ... and all I wanted was to dance with you."

"I do not know how."

"Then let me teach you."

"What is this music?" Klaus glowered as the upbeat tempo filled the room.

"It's a love song, of course. All Spanish songs are love songs."

"This is a song of love?"

"Tus ojos, claro de monte, como guitarras trovadors de San Juan. Tus ojos, son mi suplicio, son mi perdón, mi redención, mi despertar," Dorian murmured. "`Your eyes are like a clearing in the woods, they sing like the troubadour guitars of San Juan. Your eyes are my torment, they are my forgiveness, my redemption, my awakening....'"

"That is a stupid song." Klaus frowned, perplexed. "How can eyes be like a clearing in the woods or sing like guitars?"

"Oh, shut up and cope with it." Dorian tugged Klaus out into the center of the room. "No more fighting, idiot. Just dance."

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

They danced. And drank when their throats and mouths went dry, the sweat pouring off their bodies to the pulse of gypsy guitars. Klaus discovered that it was not so difficult to imitate the thief's movements after another beer.

"You should be drinking wine," Dorian urged. "Sparkling, red wine."

"But you are drinking Burgundy and it doesn't sparkle," Klaus pointed out.

"Details ... details." Dorian stepped forward. Klaus took his hands again and spun the thief under his arm, holding him against his body.

"It tastes very good," Dorian insisted. "They drink a lot of red wine in Spain."

"I know what they drink in Spain. I know what you have drunk tonight. I am surprised that you are still standing."

"I am not standing," Dorian gasped out, twisting away again. "I am dancing. We are dancing!"

"Ja, ja, ja...," Klaus groaned and reached for him again.

Dancing was not as dreadful as the Major had thought it would be. The steps were not that difficult. Mostly it seemed there was a lot of increasingly complex improvisation. Once Klaus had mastered a specific pattern, Dorian altered the model - just enough to keep it interesting. Despite himself, Klaus was intrigued. There was challenge to this form of dancing, a one-on-one contest of eyes and bodies. It wasn't long before he was composing his own sequence of moves and steps.

Dorian whooped, approving, and removed his sweater, tossing it across the room to land on the couch. He was wearing a silky, frost-blue t-shirt beneath. The material was cool and slick beneath Klaus' hands even while the thief's body was warm.

Dorian's body ... now that was an education of sorts as well, Klaus noted. Throughout the dance, the Major held the thief, handling him in a near imitation of passion. It was a strange although not unpleasant sensation. Klaus had known Dorian for years and never, under any circumstances, no matter how much the thief had made himself available, had the Major allowed himself this liberty of tactile contact. Now he found that the skin was soft while the muscle beneath was firm. The thief was more slender than Klaus had guessed; he could easily feel bone through flesh. The hair was like a cloud of silk, Klaus had never known anything like it - the way it crushed against his skin and sprang back after as if it had life of its own.

Now he could put a name to some of the scents that surrounded Dorian Red Gloria. There was a faint odor of roses and lavender from those jars in the bath, a breath of frosted, winter rain. Klaus noted a mixture of expensive cologne and aftershave and something else that could only be Dorian's own, personal fragrance rising up in the heat of the dance, spicy and oddly clean.

Dorian laughed, sliding out from under the Major's arm and whirling away at the insistence of a Latin beat. He could have just as easily remained in the shelter of that iron limb but that nearness might have proved too tempting in the end. And far too lethal to consider. The wolf had allowed himself to play for the time being and was, apparently, enjoying the diversion.

Outside, the snow was piling up in the yard and woods. Inside, the sound of salsa merged with the fireplace heat and seemed to be holding its own. Dorian stallion pranced away from Klaus, arching his back, lifting the hair from the back of his neck. He backed towards the hearth. Klaus followed close after. Dorian could not help but feel pleased at how quickly the Major had picked up all the movements although he had never expected anything less. Klaus had a natural dexterity, an inner rhythm and instinct that had adapted to more hazardous stimuli than a bolero. He was a born athlete, every movement swift and sure.

And, of course, Klaus was beautiful to watch with his thick, black satin hair and piercing green eyes. Dorian shivered. They were dangerous eyes, almost feral. Firelight bathed Klaus' skin in shades of gold and bronze. It brought out the highlights of aristocratic features, nearly Asian cheekbones, long, bow-shaped lips and midnight brows and lashes. Klaus was like some fine and elegant beast, all tightly leashed fury. Sleek muscles tensed, ready to pounce.

Dorian backed into the couch and stumbled to a halt. There was no more retreating now. Klaus placed his hands on Dorian's waist, holding him tight this time and once again, the Earl felt the electric thrill of contact. It hit him even harder than it had that morning - an exquisite promise of heat that locked in at his loins and rose to melt him down from the inside out. He let his hands fall on Klaus' shoulders, to pull him closer or shove him away, he couldn't say. Holding him off would have been the smart thing to do. Striving for decision, Dorian tried to swallow and found he didn't have the spit to pull it off.

Klaus broke through the thief's half-hearted resistance, pulling him against his body, wheeling about and dipping him down into a deep embrace. Dorian felt his hair sweep the floor. He had to clutch at the Major to keep from going over completely and a small, panicked sound escaped his lips. Klaus was grinning at him, his face more wolf-like than ever. Dorian felt his eyes become quite round, he didn't dare look away. What an intense mixture of desire and fear - and through it all, that uncanny sense of security, of protection. Still, it was such a natural and healthy rush of lust, it was impossible to see how Klaus could ignore it. But, trust the Major - he would find a way! Laughter bubbled up in Dorian's throat and he fought to keep it down. Sister Riding Hood, he thought, you can keep your virtue and welcome to it. There is no door I wouldn't open for this wolf... and follow him after. He slid his arms more tightly around Klaus' body. Smiled up at the face hovering so close to his own.

The music stopped. An announcer's voice cut in against the sudden hush, "This concludes our Latino program for the evening. Join us tomorrow night when...." He prattled on about upcoming artists and events.

Klaus set Dorian back firmly on his feet. "That was more entertaining than I thought it would be," he said. "Danke schön."

Dorian nodded, still lost in a wolf's reckless grin and wild eyes. Dancing, Klaus had looked and acted years younger. Now the Major had returned to his formal behavior so completely, Dorian had the impression that he would click his heels together and bow. The walls were up again and in force.

"The pleasure was all mine, I assure you, Major." Two could play this game of formalities. Still, it wasn't what he would have preferred. Disappointed, Dorian crossed the room to snap off the blathering dj. Klaus returned to his spot by the fireplace.

"Where did you learn that kind of dancing?" The tone was pleasantly conversational.

"Here and there." Dorian sought out the cat who had made the kitchen her base of operations. He held his fingers towards the animal.

"You are reluctant to talk about it. Why is that?"

"Because I don't want to give answers you don't want to hear. You wouldn't really want to hear about who taught me or when or where. We enjoyed our dance, Major. I don't want to spoil the evening with another argument."

"You seem upset." Klaus was puzzled.

"No. Just tired. That's all."

The cat sniffed at Dorian's fingertips. The Earl wasn't offering food so she regarded him with a narrowed, suspicious eye. Eventually, however, she permitted him to stroke the top of her head without darting away. Dorian beamed softly, pleased with his conquest. It was good to touch something warm and living and have that contact welcomed in return. The cat purred under his fingers and pushed her head against his hand.

"Will you look at that? She must have been someone's pet once," Dorian said. "How could they have deserted her out here?"

"Perhaps they had no choice in the matter."

"Oh, I think there's almost always a choice, Major."

"I disagree."

"Well ... that's to be expected, isn't it?"

"It is time we prepared for bed," Klaus announced. His head was spinning too much to make sense of the thief's moods.

"Have you given any thought as to our sleeping arrangements?" Dorian asked carefully. "The loft's still a disaster area and we've only the one bed."

"I thought I would handcuff you to the headboard." Klaus located his cigarettes on the mantle and lit one up. "Or you can sleep on the floor if you like."

"I don't think I like either option very much."

"Well, take it or leave it."

"Do you really think I'd make a play for your virtue when I know you could kill me with one hand tied behind your back - and probably would?"

"Do you really think I would give you the chance to try?"

"But I haven't tried anything lately. Did I do something tonight? Have I said something to offend you?"

"When are you not offensive?"

The Earl began a response. And stopped. There was a sudden lump caught in his throat. He swallowed around it, unexpectedly hurt. The usual banter would not come.

Klaus smoked in silence, watching from across the room. He felt, somehow, ashamed. And didn't like it.

"I am joking with you. Perhaps I sound more rude than I intend," the Major advised grudgingly. "Still, I am not joking about the handcuffs. No, I will not sleep with you again without them." He threw the remains of his cigarette into the fire and immediately lit up another. "I will not talk more about this tonight but I will try to explain. You have seen the scars I wear on my body. I will tell you that the men who put them there would come for us in the night time, in the darkness. Since that time, I have preferred to sleep alone."

Dorian swallowed the old lump. Felt another one rise to replace it. "Thank you for telling me."

"Perhaps we should clean up before retiring," Klaus said abruptly, changing the subject. "You have made such a mess in here."

"Just in the kitchen. And it's not that bad."

"What about this?" Klaus lifted the flask from the mantle and shook it as he made his way towards the kitchen. "I do not think you were drinking only wine tonight."

"No, I didn't just drink the wine." Dorian kept his attention focused on the cat.

"Brought something special from home, ja?" Triumphant, Klaus set the flask down on the bar. The cat scampered away.

"Not at all. Charlie gave it to me this afternoon when we were walking in the woods."

"Charlie Kello gave it to you?"

"I believe he meant it to be a lesson. He made a gift of it afterward. He chose correctly. It's just the kind of item I might have picked for my own collection - if my tastes ran to assassination instead of sculpture and painting."

"What do you mean? What is it?" A little scowl of confusion locked in at Klaus' brow.

"It's a Borgia Flask." Dorian picked it up and turned the ornate silver about in his hands. "That's what it was called although it's not a Renaissance item. It's a Victorian piece developed by the silversmith, Thomas Harold Edsall. He was always coming up with these lethal but ornate little devices. You see, the trick is that the assassin can offer his victim a drink, passing the flask back and forth. This way, his quarry won't get suspicious. When he's ready to end it, you squeeze this little gizmo here which opens the seal and releases the poison into the flask." Dorian indicated a mechanism in the sculpted silver. "The only problem with the Borgia flask was that the seals didn't always join properly. It was beyond the mechanics of the time. Sometimes it worked, sometimes...."

"Sometimes the poisoner ended up being poisoned," Klaus said.

"Exactly." Dorian nodded. "You had to be very sure the seal was working properly - or use a poison you'd built up an immunity to or carry an antidote ... which may or may not have been effective. You know what medicine was like back then."

"Poor."

"Little more than hit or miss," Dorian acknowledged. "Leeches were still very much in demand, you know. At best, the Borgia Flask offered a Russian Roulette form of assassination. For a time, it generated a brief surge of popularity within certain military and aristocratic circles. Would-be killers only used the flask on victims they considered friends or worthy opponents. They felt it evened the odds somewhat."

"Putting the assassin in as much peril as his prey," Klaus concluded. His frown deepened. "Both you and Charlie walked away from your meeting today."

"Yes, Major. We did."

"But he intended to kill you."

"I thought about it - but I don't think so. The Shoemaker only sells weapons, he never drops the bombs or pulls the trigger. He meant to warn me and put himself at risk to do it."

Klaus took the flask from Dorian and studied it more closely. To be sure, it was a very decorative item and looked well suited to grace a display case. An androgynous female beauty in long, flowing robes stretched her length along the body of the vessel. She stood in a bed of deadly flowers, a vine of blossoms traveled up to form a belt at her waist, a garland at her brow. Again, when he shook it, he heard a faint sound of liquid. Determined, Klaus opened the flask. He upended it over the sink. Nothing came out, not even a drop. But still there was the sound of liquid and a weight centered in the base that was more than metal.

"Charlie Kello intended to kill you," the Major asserted firmly.

"Does it make such a difference now if he did? It's pointless to go on about it. What's done is done." The smile that settled onto Dorian's face was both open and bright. "I'm alive - and I've had a wonderful evening, thanks to you. Let's try not to wreck it, shall we?"

He took the flask away from Klaus and deposited it on the far shelf. His hands were graceful, like the rest of him, an angel on the verge of flight, his fingers like white wings. Dorian began to gather up dishes and utensils.

"If we're going to clean up, let's get at it," the Earl said. "I'd like to get some sleep sometime tonight."

Klaus began to collect up the dishes, bowls, plates and glasses, while Dorian secured and refrigerated various food items. He wandered out into the main room, scouring for glasses, dirty ashtrays and the like. The cottage had gone unnaturally silent without the radio blasting away. The pop and crackle of the hearth was almost heartstopping, the noise too reminiscent of gunfire and sudden death. All that was missing was the stink of cordite.

The walls drew in on him, then fell apart. Klaus paused by the window, looking out at the bright, moonlit snow. The sky was clear now. He remembered how the yard had looked earlier, the way the golden light of sunset had suddenly burst through the clouds, slanting its yellow rays across the flawless white blanket. He had been preparing to look for Dorian then. What would he have found had things gone differently with the Shoemaker's gift?

No - he would not think of that. He would not!

But the image returned, persistent, every detail perfect - Dorian, dead, laid out on the snow. Klaus was familiar with killing and all its many variations. It was not such a difficult picture to conjure up, the emptiness of the body once the soul had taken flight - eyes opened or closed, body slack and still or contorted with pain, riddled and ripped by violence. What the Major hadn't experienced in his profession wasn't worth mentioning but he knew the worst deaths were the ones that came through the hand of a friend.

Klaus found himself wondering what kind of poison lurked within Kello's pretty bottle. Would it be the fast-acting kind, the sort that paralyzed and dropped its victim like stone - gone before he hit the ground? Was it the kind that crept in like fog, freezing the muscles while forcing its prey into certain and never-ending sleep? He could not think that Charlie would have used anything particularly caustic or painful. After all, the Shoemaker had put himself at risk as much as he had the thief. Hadn't he?

So, Klaus understood he might have found himself looking for Dorian - and would have kept on looking until he found him out there ... paler than the snow. Colder, too. All that mercurial enthusiasm leeched out of him, that seraphim grace permanently stilled.

Nothing left. Nothing ... but ghosts - and seven years' worth of memories. Klaus was familiar with the pain memory could bring, usually at the oddest hours of the night. He knew the persistence of haunting spirits, the might-have-beens that could never be but ate at one all the same. Regret and Reproach made up the cobblestones of every road in Hell. He knew each track by heart. A tiny, bright pain lodged in Klaus' skull, spreading out like an electric shock. It tingled down his arms, his shoulders and back. He picked up his stack of dishes and carried them into the kitchen.

"That's quite a load," Dorian said. "You know we'll be washing up till dawn and use up all the hot water as well. They won't be going anywhere. Can't this wait until tomorrow?"

"No."

"Somehow, I just knew you were going to say that. Well, you'll always be a slave to duty," the Earl teased. "It's the German in your soul, I suppose."

What happened next was an accident. Dorian placed his hand upon the Major's shoulder and gave him a light squeeze. He raised himself on tiptoe and brushed a kiss against Klaus' cheek. Back at home, it would have been only a careless, spontaneous gesture of affection, something he would have done perhaps a dozen times in a day without thinking. It might have even gone unremarked at this time, as well.

Except that Klaus moved.

Klaus turned his head, a retort hovering at the back of his throat. He looked up - at just the wrong instant - and Dorian's kiss found the Major's mouth instead of his cheek. It was a awkward kiss to be sure, inexpert and clumsy in execution. Still, it was an on-the-lips kiss, nevertheless.

BLAM! China smashed into glass, shattering into the sink and scattering out over the floor in a rain of bell-like shards. Klaus' hand fastened onto Dorian's arm. There was no velvet glove covering that fist, his fingers gouged into the bone. Despite the pain, Dorian simply froze, even though every fiber in his being went wailing, Oh, no - I didn't mean it! I didn't mean to spoil it, everything was going so well.

But the words wouldn't come out. Dorian caught his breath and tried to explain but it was hopeless. There was nothing he could do, nothing that would take back that one stupid, careless gesture. They stared at one another, locked in breath-heavy silence. Dorian had never seen Klaus so enraged. The Major's green eyes were blazing and coming closer. His fist tightened on Dorian's arm and, this time, the thief couldn't keep from crying out.

Klaus still wouldn't let go. Dorian was dimly aware that the Major had raised his other hand and steeled himself for the blow to come. But Klaus only placed his hand against the back of Dorian's head, sliding his fingers into the riot of curls. Instead of tearing Dorian away, Klaus' palm and fingers cradled his skull, tilting his head back, bringing him close enough to share breath. Then Klaus covered Dorian's mouth with his own and words became useless. Dorian made a shocked little sound deep in his throat. Klaus took advantage of that, forcing his lips open and drinking him in.

For himself, Dorian could only stand stunned in this embrace. He heard the heavy rasp of Klaus' breathing, the quick intake of his own breath. He was aware of the sound their clothes made moving against each other, aware of the rhythm of hearts together. He felt the pressure of Klaus' teeth against his own and his tongue, a slippery invasion, aggressively searching him out. But his surprise was still so vast, it took a whole heartbeat for Dorian to respond, to rise up and meet and claim Klaus in return. After that it was impossible to think of anything else, the whole world dissolved into a series of tastes and textures and sound. It had been so long since he had kissed anyone like this, since anyone had kissed him in return. Klaus took his breath away - and gave it back in a rush.

Dorian thought of the air that revived a drowning man. He let his head fall back, longing to drown again. It was nothing like anything he had known before. This was hunger on the edge of starvation - ravenous, devouring. Klaus backed him against the counter and held him there, pinned as if he were afraid he might take flight. When he finally released Dorian, he locked his own arms around the thief's body and held him hard. Dorian's legs parted around him. Shivering, he could feel Klaus' hardened sex like some weapon hidden in layers of fabric. Yet he still couldn't quite bring himself to return Klaus' embrace. What if this was all some kind of horrible mistake?

Dorian's stunned passivity only made Klaus more determined. His fists clenched onto the back of Dorian's shirt. Nothing short of chain mail could have held against that attack. The silk shredded and dissolved and Klaus wandered the curves and plains of milk white skin as if it were a substance to be consumed through the communion of flesh on flesh.

Still standing - somehow - in a wreck of smashed china, torn clothing and bruised flesh, Dorian managed, at last, to hold Klaus back. Yet his gestures were more comforting than passionate.

Yes.... Dorian's heart was pounding like a bird trapped in his chest. Yes, give this to me ... even if there's never to be anything else. Give me your loneliness, this terrible despair. You don't have to be so alone....

Tears filled his eyes, threatening to overflow, but he didn't try to stop them. Dorian could never say these things aloud. Klaus could never hear them; he would only take it as a sign of weakness, the Major's code of iron would not allow him to understand.

Klaus took his arm again, marching out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. Dorian stumbled keeping up. He almost laughed and pressed the back of his hand against his lips to stop the sound.

"What?" Klaus demanded.

"The bed - it looks so small," Dorian gasped, laughter bordering hysteria crept into his voice.

"Hah." A scornful sound. Klaus released Dorian long enough to yank the coverlet off and away. He grabbed the top mattress and heaved it down onto the floor. Then reclaimed his prize.

Dorian smiled at him this time and came willingly into his arms. He placed his hands along Klaus' face, felt the midnight lash of thick, black hair in his fingers, the raw silk of his skin, slightly rough where he would shave in the morning. There were shadows beneath Klaus' eyes and in the hollows of his cheeks - the ghosts of wounds long past. Dorian wanted to kiss them away, to drink them in and destroy them ... all of those fine yet terrible lines that marked Klaus' brow and mouth - scars of anger, of pain. Yes, Klaus would have learned to hide his feelings from the time he was a child. He could never show tenderness, there was no room for wonder, love or compassion. Only discipline and duty. The strength this man possessed ... it was a miracle they hadn't destroyed him completely. Dorian caught his breath hard; in another moment, he would be absolutely bawling.

I could have been so good for you then, he thought. Please, let me be good for you now....

Dorian placed his most tender kiss - moist, parted lips, gentle as baby's breath, clinging - no penetration or violation - but promising, loving - on Klaus' mouth ... once ... twice ... a third time.

The Major's green eyes flickered shut, a sigh came up from the depths of his heart and forced itself, shuddering from his throat. When Klaus opened his eyes again, he found himself looking into unwavering blue. His hands tightened, insistent, around Dorian's waist.

"Careful, darling," Dorian murmured, cautioning. "You don't have to force or rush anything. I am what the Americans call `a sure thing'... as long as that's all right. If this is what you want - if you're sure," he finished lamely. God, he had to drag those words out. But they had to be said, he had to be sure.

No, Klaus had to be sure. Nothing else seemed quite as important at the moment.

"I know what I am doing," Klaus growled.

"Do you?"

"In my heart, I have already committed this act with you so I am damned regardless ... I was damned before you came into my life - if you believe that. I know you do not." Klaus sighed again, deeply, and let his head fall forward to rest his brow against Dorian's. "Meiner Schön Engel, let me take what small piece of heaven I can still claim while I live. Do not argue with me. I, too, am tired of fighting."

"Do you love me?"

"Does that really matter so much?" The voice was very bitter.

"Yes - of course it matters." Dorian swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "You already know you can have anything you want from me. I won't refuse you. But love matters to me ... and to you as well, I think. Especially now, especially in this."

A pall of defenseless confusion settled over Klaus. He started back and away, shaking his head as if he would suddenly deny everything from the mattress on the floor to the man in his arms. He looked as though he were ready to run. Then the ghost of reason returned to his eyes.

"Love you? God help me," Klaus confessed, grimly, "I do."

"Then I thank your God." Dorian breathed again. "It's all right. It's going to be all right."

"So you say. But you? I am wondering what you are thinking now. Now that I am like some great fool."

"You're no fool." Dorian laughed softly. "You're the thief, Herr Major, as I am sure you are aware. You stole my heart long ago."

As if in proof, Dorian relaxed into Klaus' arms and offered his mouth up to be kissed. The touch that came back was thrilling in its tenderness. Klaus embraced him, wrapping him in the iron strength of his arms. For a time it seemed all that was best and necessary in the world was just to stand together like that, holding each other. Dorian could feel the rigid severity slowly melting out of Klaus' body; he could feel the strength of passion return and take hold of him again, the fire igniting them both. Walking away had ceased to be an option. His need was so intense, he would have begged for it had it been necessary, would have endured any act, offered anything.

They took their time. Suddenly, that was as important as the deed itself. Klaus lit candles until the room was ablaze with their golden flame. Clothes were shed slowly, deliberately. Dorian found himself curiously shy. He had never been timid about his or any other body but it felt so strange to have Klaus undress him, to watch their garments tumble to the floor and scatter about their feet. Such an odd mixture of fallen blossoms.

For himself, Klaus had never felt more bold; he became more assertive with every caress. He alternatively gathered Dorian into his arms and released him, never completely losing touch. He was more committed to this moment than to anything he had felt in a long, long while. He would not let Dorian stray from his hand, from his glance. He refused to hold anything back, he looked at all of Dorian's body, touched everything.

At first, when Klaus kissed the thief, he thought, This shall be enough. But he was wrong. He touched Dorian, filling his hands with the smooth, creamy flesh, sliding over breasts and shoulders, back and ribs, down to the rich swell of buttocks. I shall stop with this, he promised himself. He will go away now. This is too much.

But wondrously, he was wrong again.

Klaus' hands betrayed him, locking onto Dorian's hips, pulling him tight against him. Their mouths opened to each other, limbs locked around each other. Dorian's sex pressed against the Major's, soaring up from its nest of dark, rough gold, trapped between their bellies - delicious friction between playful weapons, a duel of flesh. Klaus knew he would never release him, not now. Perhaps not ever.

Dorian moaned, tossing his head, feeling his curls sweep across his shoulders and over the lower part of his back. Klaus filled his hands with them, crushed them in his fingers, pressed them to his lips. He caught Dorian up to him and kissed him again and again. His singular angel, so unique. Could anyone else ever look so innocent and so wanton at the same time?

Dorian slid down to kneel at Klaus' feet, leaving a trail of hungry promises along the Major's chest and arms and hands. He touched the scars, the old wounds, with deliberate care, learning the feel of them. He tried to understand the hurt both inside and out, tried to take it into himself, to know it - make it part of him and absolve it. But it was beyond his ability. More to the point, he found he did not so much want to understand as to change it - to make the wounds go away. Still, there was nothing he could do about it, so little he could offer in return. It made him feel quite helpless and Dorian didn't like feeling helpless. Tears stung his eyes, little wasps of pain and grief.

For a brief moment, he lay his face against Klaus' lower belly where the skin was finer than velvet - unscarred and whole. Dorian pressed himself against Klaus, feeling the strength of his legs and thighs against his arms, his chest. Then he encircled Klaus' hips with his arms and honored the sword that had risen between them. Dorian held the silky scrotum in his hand, letting the weight of the balls roll onto his palm. The sack was stretched tight, the cock-head taut and flushed with color. He mouthed the tip, lapping up the first pearly drops of seed. Bending close, he tried to take the whole of the sack into his mouth, caressing the flesh with his tongue, drinking in the bitter-salt taste of it, breathing in the musk of Klaus' damp, musky heat. Dorian withdrew and began a line of tiny, open-lipped, murmuring kisses rising up from the base until he took the head into his mouth. Then abruptly sank down over it, swallowing, taking it inside. He heard Klaus moan - felt it, too. Klaus' hands tangled in his hair, pulling him in, matching Dorian's rhythm until the thief finally wrenched his head away, gasping.

"Please," Dorian panted. He grasped Klaus' hands and pulled him down onto the mattress with him.

Klaus followed willingly, rolling into a tangle of silken arms and legs and hair. They wrestled against each other, anxious explorers, reveling in each new discovery. Every nerve ending felt dipped in gasoline and set ablaze. Klaus entwined himself with Dorian, drunk with the smell of him, the taste of his skin, his mouth. The thief had strength in his limbs and hands equal to the Major's own and yet there was such tenderness joined to this power. Even in the midst of passion, elegance never completely deserted Dorian. Always, there was beauty, always grace even though he gave of himself with such absolute abandon.

Dorian might have been the easy master of this campaign but Klaus was an ingenious soldier. As in their earlier dance, he was quick to make up and implement his own moves. Klaus hesitated once, only briefly, curiosity soaring through every other sensation when Dorian put his hand on his chest, halting him.

"Let me up a moment, darling," he whispered. "I have to get something."

Klaus frowned, confused. It was impossible to imagine a need for anything else right then. His arms tightened around Dorian's body. The thief went still at his command, he stopped in the act of sitting up. However, Dorian shook his head, putting a halt on further activities.

"I want you inside me," he murmured. "Do you understand?"

Something went to war in Klaus' eyes. Dorian could feel that conflict washing over him, pouring out of suddenly vulnerable green. It was all there, played out for him to see - desire, anxiety, frustration. Immediately, he reached up and smoothed the hair from Klaus' face.

"We don't have to," Dorian assured him quickly. "But I want it - very much. I think ... I think you want it, too."

"But I do not know -"

"Hush...." Dorian's fingertips brushed against Klaus' lips. "I'll show you. It'll be all right. I promise."

Eventually, Klaus felt himself nod. It was an almost imperceptible movement, something he was barely aware of. Still, Dorian grasped his consent. He wriggled free, darting up and out of the room, a slim, pale figure moving like a Sidhe just glimpsed in the candlelight. He returned quickly bringing towels and the hand cream from the bath.

So these were the realities of their love, Klaus thought and swallowed hard. He felt surprised and vaguely alarmed - but curious, as well. He shivered feeling the cream being spread onto him, cold at first, then warming to his body heat and Dorian's caress.

Dorian caught the question in Klaus' face, he touched a hand to his lover's breast. "We have to use something or you'll tear me apart," he whispered. His voice was hoarse, he nearly choked. He'd lost his full volume somewhere back in the kitchen.

But Dorian could see his answer didn't solve the problem. The question was still there, accompanied now by concern. He doesn't know what to do, Dorian rode out a wave of panic. Despite the obvious, it didn't seem to be the place for more explanations. Doing what came naturally would work just as well and Dorian was determined. They had to share this act.

He rolled onto his side bringing Klaus up behind him. Their sweat slicked bodies coupled together like spoons. Dorian reached behind and took Klaus' weapon into his hand, brought it to the sheathe.

Klaus went very still. The first nudge into that tight, little opening was nearly petrifying with pleasure. He captured Dorian's wrist and moved his hand away, striving to see.

Dorian writhed beneath him, working his hips, trying to take Klaus deeper. He had forgotten how much this could hurt. At the first pressure, he felt his entire body contract. Every muscle tensed and rebelled, trying to break free. But he moaned and worked his hips back, trying to get past the first crush of entry. For a long instant, there was nothing but agony - nothing but fire and blood and a hideous sense of violation that wasn't lessened by the understanding that he'd brought this on himself. Then it was over and Dorian felt himself loosening, opening ... welcoming ... as if something long lost were awakening deep inside him.

Klaus could feel hidden muscles pulling at him, drinking him in. He shifted and let Dorian have more. Agonizing bliss, a rough little mouth of delight that bit at him and tickled and teased. Such a language it spoke, not to mention the words that were rushing out of Dorian's lips. Entering was so tight, it almost hurt. Klaus reached down to explore the opening around his cock. Dorian struggled beneath him, wilder now, striving to take all of him. With a quick shift of position, Klaus brought them up to their knees. Dorian lay with his head in his arms, sobbing for breath. Klaus encircled slim hips with his hands and gave an experimental shove.

With a hoarse cry, Dorian arched his spine and spread his legs. He took more. Klaus pulled him back until Dorian was sitting on his lap. The thief nearly screamed, he let his head drop back onto Klaus' shoulder, helpless, shaking, gasping.

This was what it meant to be impaled, to be pierced through to the heart, utterly possessed and filled. Dorian moved and felt Klaus leap within him. So, he had been right, this was a weapon - primal and pagan, a sword of iron and magic. Irresistible. It had been so long, he had waited so long for this. Dorian's sobs dissolved into choking laughter.

Klaus' arms surrounded him, powerful and comforting at the same time. He pressed his face to Dorian's cheek, shaking, and Dorian turned his head so that they could kiss again.

"You are all right?" Klaus gasped.

"It's unbelievable." Dorian shuddered. He worked his hips moving up along the shaft and down. "It's good. Like this ... feel...."

"Mein Gott, I can." Klaus caught his breath. "I can do it."

Klaus reached around in front of Dorian, feeling his belly as if he could locate where he had lodged inside. This body was so slim and, suddenly, Klaus felt so large. Impossible - he was afraid to move. But it was fantastic, too. He had never experienced this kind of power. Dorian moved on him again and Klaus growled with the pleasure of it. Such a sound coming from his mouth, it was frightening - but it made him laugh a little, too. He caught Dorian's blade in his hand, a long, slim rapier, hot and throbbing. Klaus sheathed that in his fist and worked the metal until it pulsed and streamed. Dorian came with a cry, nearly struggling free of him for one brief instant, then collapsing back into his arms. He seemed only half-conscious.

But Klaus couldn't stop for him now. He lunged forward, driving Dorian down beneath him. The thief's head lay between outstretched arms, his face nearly buried beneath a cloud of curls. Klaus faltered abruptly. Had he ever seen anything as vulnerable, as perfect as this slim back with its fine bones, the twin blades working in his shoulders? Dorian's breathing quieted, his body became completely still - like some beautiful, living and so-willing altar. Klaus pulled out of him, nearly to the head. Then sank back in again. That brought the life back into his thief. Dorian raised his hips, riding him out, meeting thrust after thrust. Klaus bore down, bewitched by the heat inside Dorian's body, seduced by the pale flesh of his back, the exposed neck where the hair parted over it. He found his own, pounding rhythm and submerged Dorian to his will. There was no resistance. At the last, Klaus forced himself in as deep as he could until he was only grinding himself in, one hand digging into Dorian's shoulder, the other clenched onto the edge of the mattress. He buried his face into the mass of wild curls, sought the sweet-salt sweat of Dorian's throat with his lips and teeth.

There was one, infinitely long moment of the most exquisite promise, where bliss breached the walls of flesh, bursting in wave after thundering wave. Klaus heard/felt the beating of wings soaring in his chest, felt the answering rhythm in the body below him.

This is what it is like to die, the Major understood the words - later. Afterwards ... when he lay still - but not still - slowly catching his breath until he could move off Dorian. He gathered his lover to him as he rolled onto his side. Once again, Klaus found himself staring into fathomless blue.

He tried to smooth the hair away from Dorian's face but it had a will of its own and kept tumbling back. The thief curled close, nestling against his chest and shoulder, and Klaus slid his leg over Dorian's, bringing him still nearer, unconsciously possessive.

"You know a lot of tricks, thief," Klaus said after a long while. He smoothed Dorian's brow with his finger, gently touched his eyelashes, traced the pattern of cheek and jaw and lips.

"And you learn very fast, Major mein." Dorian shaped the words like kisses against Klaus' shoulder. He glanced up, trouble filling his eyes. "You're not sorry, are you? You're all right? I mean...."

"I am well. This is good."

Dorian continued to gaze at him, concern showing under star-kissed lashes. Klaus kissed him.

"I mean it. I am not sure what to do with it but you were correct. Love is important. It makes a difference," Klaus explained, ever the pragmatic German. "I can not imagine doing this with anyone other than you."

"Restrain yourself, you romantic fool," Dorian said dryly. Then laughed, rolling his eyes upward. "You have such a way with words - like a blunt instrument. How could I ever love anyone but you?"

Klaus' arms tightened around him. "You have truly waited for me all this time?"

"Do you doubt it?"

"No, I do not. But...."

"What?"

"Something Bonham said, about you being alone so long. Waiting so long. For that, I believe I am sorry."

Dorian smiled, a disheveled angel. "Well, I'm not sorry," he purred, sliding even closer. "Not about waiting for you. It was worth it. Definitely worth it."

"Well...." Klaus blushed, pleased. He couldn't think of anything to say.

Dorian nodded, agreeing. "Just that, Major mein - well!"

And, laughing, let himself be ravished again.

It wasn't finished. Throughout the night and long into the sunrise, Klaus took him again and again. And Dorian begged to be taken. They never actually slept. One would fall into dozing and awake to find the other moving against him, sometimes tender and gentle, sometimes not. They took the flight to heaven again, falling back to earth afterwards, only to rise one more time.

"One more time," Dorian pleaded. With languid grace, he raised himself to straddle Klaus' hips. "Just one more time ... please...."

Klaus smiled his wolf's smile, stretched and arched his back. Now familiar hands holding him, possessing him, driving him up inside that slick, dark sheathe.

Dorian made that purring sound again, driving Klaus home. The muscles rippled in his belly. He leaned backwards, displaying his body in an impossible, supple arc, letting his hair trail over Klaus's feet and legs. He sat up slowly and swept his hair up over his head with his arms. Then let it tumble down around his shoulders. Suddenly, Dorian darted forward, whipping it over his head, letting it fall over Klaus' face until it made a veil surrounding them. Klaus captured Dorian's hands in his own, holding him down. Dorian kissed him, sliding his tongue into Klaus' eager mouth, teasing, questing, a tiny replica of the sword lodged again within Dorian's body.

Dorian pulled back enough so that they could gaze eye to eye. He rested his chin on Klaus'. "Do you want me to dance for you again, Herr Major, or would you like to sacrifice me? Again?"

A dark brow quirked up over one emerald eye, speculating. Klaus' mouth twisted into a smile.

So this was how it was to be now.

Decisions ... decisions....

 




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