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

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Eight

 

Sunlight poured through the unshuttered windows, filling the cottage with its blaze, the brilliance made even more intense by the snow that still covered the ground outside. Klaus opened his eyes slowly and blinked, peering about, then let his lids fall shut again. It was very late in the day - very late. Still, he felt no urgent need to be up and about. He sighed, feeling the weight draped across his body rise with him, then settle again peacefully. He tried to drift back into dream but it was no use. Klaus was actually waking up.

The bedroom looked strange from this perspective, so close to the floor. It made him feel smaller, almost like a child again, and he didn't like that. Childhood had never held much appeal. Klaus had stormed his way into adulthood, he couldn't wait to be a Grown-Up and In-Charge. Yet even he would have admitted that his objective was based on a sense of How-Things-Should-Be-According-To-Klaus mixed with a generous touch of revenge.

But all he had managed to accomplish was to trade one set of restrictions for another, hadn't he? And now he'd gone and demolished all that, let it all come tumbling down in one, irrefutable pounce that had landed him here on this mattress on this floor. Was there any commandment he hadn't shattered? Klaus wondered, running through the list. Well, so far - among other things - he hadn't coveted his neighbor's wife. Peering at the riot of gold that covered his chest and trailed over his shoulder, it didn't seem likely that that would become a problem.

And how did he feel about that? The Eberbach scowl settled back onto his face, locking onto brows and eyes and lips as if cast from molded metal. How could he feel?

"The Eberbachs mate for life," that's what Herr Haselmann had told him. Klaus had been very young when he'd asked the question which had received that answer. Cook had still been part of the household and Schotzi had been his best and only friend. Schloss Eberbach had just endured a particularly painful and angry visit from the Master of the House.

"Why is Papa so mad all the time?" young Klaus had demanded. "Why is he so mean?"

"That is not the proper way to speak about your father," Herr Haselmann had warned. "He is a good man and his life is very complicated just now." The butler thought for a long while and then added, "Your Papa is a sad man, a very lonely man."

"Why?"

"He has been so since Madam Eberbach passed away."

"Since his wife died," young Klaus confirmed. Always the woman was referred to as Madam Eberbach or The Master's Wife, never as Klaus' mother. The boy had never thought to question that distinction. It was Just-The-Way-Things-Were. "Well, if Papa is so unhappy," Klaus reasoned, "why doesn't he go and get another wife?"

His child's logic failed to impress Haselmann in a favorable way. The old butler - and even back then, the man had seemed quite old - became angry with Klaus. "Be quiet with your questions. That is a foolish, thoughtless thing to say," Haselmann snapped in a rare display of temper. "You do not just go out and get a new wife. Your father and mother - they loved each other very much. You cannot simply replace one person with another. Besides, it is well known that the men in your family marry for love, the Eberbachs mate for life. Now, go away with you. Have you finished with your lessons? No, I did not think so."

There were some lessons, Klaus understood, that would never be completed. Dorian stirred, sprawled across the Major's chest as he had the day before. Klaus could feel the awareness return to the thief's body.

"It's so bright in here." Dorian raised his head, blue eyes squinting.

"Ja," Klaus said. "The sun is high. It is late."

Dorian regarded him with drowsy affection. His eyes were just barely open and his lashes rested on his cheeks. "What are you thinking about?" he murmured. "You've got such a look on your face...."

Klaus frowned. "I was thinking about how much I love you."

"Lots, I hope."

"Ja. Lots."

The kiss they shared was long, slow and searching, reconfirming both the pleasure and the joy they had discovered in each other. Klaus stroked Dorian's back, thought again of flower petals. Would he ever get enough of that cream-smooth skin? Fingers and palms smoothed shoulders to waist to buttocks and back again. He explored the bony texture of Dorian's spine and shoulder blades - Here is where the wings go - his mind still hovering on the edge of dream-time. He wrapped his arms around Dorian and held him tighter. The weight of his lover's body was warm and solid. He liked the way they fit together, the way their chests rose and fell together as if they shared one breath, one heartbeat.

"Mm ... you taste good. You feel good...." Dorian heaved a deep and contented sigh. He nestled in under Klaus' chin. "Lord and Lady, bless this union."

Klaus' hands froze in mid-stroke. "What?"

The body beneath his hands tensed and stiffened - not with pleasure. Klaus captured a fist full of curls and tugged Dorian's head up, gently but firmly, until they were looking at each other, green eyes to blue.

"Is there something you would like to tell me?" Klaus asked.

"Would I like to tell you? I'm not sure." Dorian hesitated. "Would you actually like to know?"

Klaus emitted a sigh of his own, not quite as peaceful. "You are a Pagan, a witch." He didn't make it a question.

"Charlie made a joke about how my family was here to greet the Normans when they arrived but the Gloria line goes back much farther than that," Dorian admitted. "Much, much farther. Yes, many of my family still celebrate an older faith. And we learned long ago not to spread it about. Are you very upset?"

"Upset? My lover is a flamboyant, outspoken homosexual, an international art thief and a notorious pickpocket. Now I discover that he is a practitioner of witchcraft who comes from a long line of witches. I am but a conventional Catholic. Why should I be upset?"

"You forgot that I also crossdress from time to time."

"No," Klaus assured him. "I did not forget that."

"Please, don't be so serious. I was only trying to make you laugh. I'm more of a disguise artist than a transvestite. I know it's a lot to accept and it's all come together rather suddenly -" Dorian faltered. Klaus continued to stare at him - in stark and absolute silence. "Look," he began again, "it's not as if I scurry about sacrificing innocent animals or -"

"I have been educated regarding the differences between paganism and other shaministic practices. Those studies are part of every agent's training, especially now that there are so many extremists blowing up this and that in the name of whatever new or ancient god - or goddess - they have chosen to follow. You and I will have to talk - about many things." Klaus' fist tightened on Dorian's scalp and he gave his head a little shake. "But, at this time, I have only one word to say to you...."

Dorian's eyes widened, almost alarmed. He was completely awake now. "What's that?"

"Food! I am starving! Let us find something to eat - schnell!"

Klaus threw back the covers and Dorian shrieked as the frigid air hit him full force. He clutched frantically for shelter but Klaus tossed the quilts out of reach and sat up, depositing Dorian in a somewhat less than graceful heap on the floor.

"It is time to get up," the Major insisted.

"You sadistic bastard!"

"No. Only hungry."

Klaus reached for the discarded clothing of the night before but

Dorian snatched the sweater out of his hands. "I'll take that, thank you," he snapped. "You ripped my shirt to shreds, remember? Besides...." Mock fury was replaced with a happy, lascivious grin. "...I like smelling like you."

Dorian laughed, watching the color rise in Klaus' face. He grabbed slacks and boots, then darted up and out of the bedroom before the Major could make good on any rebuke or threat. He was still grinning - Like a loon! he realized - when Klaus followed him into the main room. Laughter bubbled out of his throat again, erupting as a gasp of shaky relief. He still couldn't quite believe what was happening. The temptation to pinch himself was fairly strong. But Klaus set about making up a fresh fire and Dorian crunched his way through broken crockery to put water on to boil. Filling the kettle, he noticed the rag of his blue silk tee draped half-in/half-out of the sink. The gray cat jumped up on the countertop and regarded him with a frank and companionable eye.

So, you're here at last, she seemed to say. I trust you've enjoyed yourself.... What's to eat? She sat down and smoothed back an immaculate whisker with a delicate paw.

That somehow struck the Earl as the ultimate in evidence. A witness - and one he could relate to. He set the kettle on the stove and fired up the gas. Klaus crossed over to brew up his usual vile mug of instant coffee and lit the first cigarette of the day. Dorian took out filter, strainer and ground French Roast - still covertly watching Klaus from the corner of his eye; he sliced bread to toast and selected a cup of fruit yogurt. Klaus searched out a news program on the radio and sipped at his wretched Nescafe looking a bit lost - Probably longing for his newspapers, Dorian thought. They didn't talk much; but then again, the Earl reasoned, they never had on first wake-up. There was comfort in falling into their normal routine even if the night before had been anything but.

Dorian completed preparations for his coffee, first rinsing the pot with boiling water to warm it, then setting up the strainer and splashing a bit of liquid over the grounds to `burst' the beans. Soon the scent of strong, rich French Roast was mixing in with the wood smoke from the fire. Standing across from Klaus at the bar, Dorian spooned up a bit of yogurt and contemplated various absurdities. It had been ages since he had taken a new lover to bed and enjoyed the thrill of exploration and discovery. Experience told him that next-mornings were the big challenge, coping with the long-ingrained habits of one's recent bed partner - as well as other mixed emotions. Such ordeals heralded the end of many a new relationship. Perversely, he and Klaus already knew and understood each other's living habits quite well.

Still, last night had changed everything ... hadn't it?

Dorian lost himself then, staring at the man standing just across from him, so near. Close enough to touch - knowing now that his touch would be welcomed. He felt the same rush of warmth well up inside him that he always experienced in the Major's presence. Well, he'd felt it from the beginning, hadn't he? Just hadn't recognized it for what it was at first, this distinct and peculiar heat that throbbed through him like a pulse, a statement of being. And now, of belonging. If I looked at you and didn't feel this, I'd know I was dead, wouldn't I? This new understanding deepened the smile on his lips and brightened the shine in blue eyes.

"I should check the security system," Klaus announced abruptly. "I must also call in for messages." He hesitated, then added awkwardly. "Downstairs. In the basement. At the radio."

"Take your time, darling. I'll wait up."

"Of course." The Major was blushing again, for no apparent reason that he could tell, and it made him a bit angry. Good. He was used to that feeling; he could deal with it. Klaus turned towards the cellar door with renewed confidence.

"So, I'll fix breakfast, shall I?" Dorian's voice floated after him, teasing, melodic, a throaty mix laced through with equal parts affection and desire. It was a sound of promise that registered somewhere in the midst of Klaus' solar plexus and lifted every hair on his body - especially now that he had firsthand knowledge of what that promise entailed.

"Yes. If you like," he said in a rush. "Whatever you would like to eat."

Dorian paused on the brink of a too-easy jest that certainly would have provoked another full-body blush - and thought better of it. "I'll do the best I can," he offered instead. "I'm not much of a cook, you know. That's Bonham's forte."

"Yes," Klaus agreed. "I know."

Dorian winced. "You really don't have any use for tact or subtlety, do you?"

Klaus paused, hand on the doorknob, obviously considering what he had to say. "I can be subtle when it is necessary. I know also how to be tactful. With you, I did not think these trivial social courtesies would be mandatory. I have not found it necessary to lie to you about these things in the past. Now that we have been together - as we were - last night - I did not think...." Klaus blundered to halt and sighed, baffled. Just what was he trying to convey? Green eyes peered about helplessly. Was there some answer locked in the wallpaper, the ceiling plaster?

Dorian had been teasing again and hadn't expected such a serious and heart felt response. "What you're saying is, you don't just love me for my cooking." His smile softened.

"No. Of course not." Klaus was only slightly taken aback. Then, catching on, he allowed a grin to slip back onto his face. "In spite of it, perhaps, but certainly not because of it."

Then he disappeared into the basement.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Klaus threaded his way down into the darkened cellar. The scent of damp earth and ancient oil assaulted his senses displacing the more pleasant odors of coffee, wood smoke and roses. He lit another cigarette off the stub of the last one, bringing his hands up to his face. No ... the scent of roses and a piercing, masculine musk was still with him. For a brief moment, all of the night before came soaring back to him - the shock of his desire, the satisfaction of fulfillment, the promise of continued pleasure. God, he had been hungry on awakening, positively starved, and yet all he'd thought to take with him was his cup of lukewarm instant. Was this how it would be from now on? Where had his brain gone to?

If he had to admit it - and Klaus did - he acknowledged that his need to be alone at the moment superseded his need for food or anything else. There were things he had to think about and it wasn't possible to actually think upstairs right now, was it? Not in The Presence.

It bothered him, the thought that he could allow himself to become distracted from those things that so filled his life - his job, his men. His duty. Last night, Klaus had felt very little concern for those responsibilities. He'd thought even less about them on rising. The lack of remorse was more disorienting than any act he had shared with the thief. It left him feeling ... odd. Not himself.

But the Major sat down before the radio and soon fell into his usual routine. It was a secured line; Klaus was able to check the progress of several operations. However, he didn't hear any news to gladden his heart, just more reports of political chaos - secret meetings that were anything but, hyperinflation coupled with crippling war costs and economic disaster, natural calamities, more missing weapons, bribes, impossible ultimatums, standoffs guaranteed to generate more death and more devastation.

Manipulations, betrayals and carnage - this was the stuff of which Eberbach's world was made; it was his life. Everything else had to be considered irrelevant.

Klaus switched off the radio, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the creaking, wooden chair. A darker and ultimately more practical logic was taking hold of him - a voice of reason, not the dream-stuff that had fevered his senses these past few hours. The Major shook his head. Long ago, he had made a decision not to believe in love, to keep those who would offer companionship and affection well-distanced. He could not afford these distractions. He would not pay love's price. He couldn't do it.

Not again.

Klaus' sigh came out as a groan. He rubbed at a pain in his temple that hadn't been there when he'd first awakened - a hangover headache. He swallowed and the taste of bad coffee and cigarettes turned his spit to acid.

He was still brooding on the problem when the basement door opened and Dorian appeared at the head of the stairs. The thief made his way down looking for all the world like an invading shaft of sunlight even while dressed in rumpled black slacks and Klaus' dark, blue-green sweater. He thought of Alice dropping down into the rabbit hole, of an androgynous Persephone on a jaunt to the pit. Had she arrived with breakfast for Hades? No, she'd eaten the pomegranate seeds herself - to her eternal doom. The frown deepened on Klaus' face.

"Well, since the Major couldn't come to breakfast, the breakfast has come to the Major," Dorian announced cheerfully. He placed a tray of food on the radio table. "I fixed eggs and sausage. It's awfully hard to muck up eggs so it should be safe."

"Thank you."

"My pleasure." Dorian picked up a triangle of toast and smeared marmalade over it. "You don't look half miserable, darling. Simply starving to death. Here. Best to keep up your strength, don't you think?"

Klaus accepted the toast. "Thank you," he said again.

"You're welcome." Dorian raised a quizzical eyebrow. Waited. The silence deepened between them. "What's up - bad news?" he asked at last. "Or are you allowed to say?"

"No. It is not so much bad news as it is the same news."

Dorian's head dipped to one side, his eyes going wide and serious.

"World going to hell in a handcart again? That kind of thing?"

"Generally speaking."

"I'm almost relieved to hear you say that, more's the pity." A wry grin creased the Earl's face. "I was beginning to think you'd gone and had second thoughts on me. That you'd decided I'd gone back to being a `Tool of Satan' again - that or some other such misery."

Klaus was startled into a short laugh before he could stop himself. Dorian gave a brief nod, accepting; he would take what he could get. He moved to stand behind Klaus' chair, settled his fingers against the Major's neck and kneaded gently.

"Good god," Dorian said, grimacing. "It feels as if you've got the whole Russian army marching through here."

Klaus shrugged away. "Stop that. I do not need to be coddled."

"Is that so? Well, I beg to disagree.... No surprise in that, is there?"

"No." Klaus scowled managing, somehow, to sit at attention.

"You might as well give it up, love." Dorian resumed his gentle massage. "You're my lover now, you know. It's my duty - and my prerogative - to coddle you from time to time, as I wish."

"As you wish?"

"Mm ... just so. And I'll have you know I take my responsibilities just as seriously as you do." Strong, slender fingers bit harder into tension strained muscle. Klaus let out an audible gasp. Dorian grinned, a very private and triumphant smile. "Don't tell me you're not enjoying this," he purred - and laughed softly at the loud silence that rose from the chair before him.

Klaus tried to keep the scowl but it was difficult. He considered the implications of Dorian's words. Yes, he had to admit that the actions of the night before had garnered the thief some rights over him. Oddly enough, it didn't upset him as much as he thought it should.

"I was listening to the news upstairs," Dorian continued conversationally. "There is some hope on the horizon. Apparently, Prime Minister Major has promised to meet with representatives from the Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams himself, I believe. They were saying there's an agreement in the works to end the fighting."

Humor mixed with the acid in Klaus' laugh. "Impossible. There can be no dealing with terrorists, no treaties. Those people only believe in absolutes - absolute life and absolute death. The referendum will only be used as a stalling technique while IRA terrorists develop new plans. They will play to the people's hopes and then strike."

"I should have guessed you'd already heard about this."

"Ach, ja." With an unconscious shift, Klaus leaned into the comfort provided by Dorian's hands. "It has been through all the networks already. They are making bets even in the steno pool regarding how quickly the bombing will begin again."

"How dreadful."

"The American president has made no secret of his communications to John Major - peace at any price. As if the Yanks can point the way to that. Children in the United States arm themselves with Glocks. Their drug dealers employ the use of light air support. It turns a simple walk to the store or to school into a combat zone. What will be next, you wonder? Tanks on the streets?"

"Glocks? Is that a timing device, a bomb?"

"It is a gun, a nine millimeter semi-automatic weapon. There are many models but the magazine capacity averages thirteen to seventeen rounds. The current street retail value is approximately five hundred fifty dollars American." The Major sighed again. "It makes one nostalgic for Saturday night specials." He took a bite out of the toast triangle, then another, finishing it. He picked up the plate of eggs and sausages and started in.

"Then you think the peace talks are all a waste of time?" Dorian couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice.

"I think the people who live in Ireland and the people who live in Great Britain want peace very badly. They want the killing to end. There have been more than 3,000 citizens murdered since this debacle began. More who have been wounded. Many of the victims have been children. But there is no reasoning with fanatics, particularly fanatics with bombs who believe `god' is on their side who regard a shopping mall as a military target. They will always take the advantage."

"But why do you suppose they do it? The IRA, the Palestinians, all of them? I wouldn't think they had any hope of winning."

"No, it is not possible for them to win and this, I believe, they understand. Some of them, at least," Klaus explained between mouthfuls of egg and sausage. "No, they seek to terrorize - and in this they are very successful. They are good at it. They live with fear, they understand the mechanics of terror. Their only chance at satisfaction is to make others more afraid than they are them-selves. If everyone gave up and said, Yes, I will believe what you want me to believe - you win, the evil would still continue but in a new form. The terrorists would then become tyrants and inflict new tortures on the people."

Nimble fingers worked their way across Klaus' upper back and arms. Dorian frowned. "How did it get to be like this? Do you ever wonder?"

"When was it not like this?" Klaus half-turned, glancing up at Dorian. "You have studied history. The world has never known any lasting time of peace. The weapons are bigger now, the strike zones bigger, communications feed a world of violence into homes. It is easy to see how combat extends beyond one's village nowadays. Ja?"

"If you truly believe that, how can you go on with it - day after day? When you know the fighting can never end, how can you face another morning?"

"I am a soldier. My family has always been soldiers," Klaus explained. "There have always been only two possibilities, fighting for what is good or what is evil. Of course, every soldier has his own idea of right and wrong. Still, there is no - how would you say? - in between? Neutral ground? There is no safety or protection in neutrality. No life. Only victims."

"But isn't peace the true objective of war?"

Klaus paused, amazed. "You are quoting Sun Tzu?" he accused.

"`Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting,'" Dorian quoted back, eyes sparkling. "Yes, of course I've read The Art of War and I know those thirteen chapters by heart from `The Laying of Plans' to `The Use of Spies.' I've also read Machiavelli's Prince and Musashi's Book of Five Rings and lots and lots of others. This is the fun part, love - you'll like this, I think. I read them and studied them long before I ever met you. There are all kinds of conflicts ... all kinds of war, if you will. My father taught me that the success of any operation depended on its tactics. Good foreplay. He was quite emphatic regarding the trust, understanding and knowledge of one's own men. Knowing their strong points, their weak points, allowing for independent action - all that. He was equally insistent about appreciating one's enemy. `If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.' If you're going to play the game, it's best to know the rules inside and out - if you hope to have a successful go at it."

"You believe that Sun Tzu wrote the best rules?"

"Oh, absolutely. Don't you think so?" The Earl paused, considering. "I can't believe there are that many people studying Sun Tzu today. Or taking him seriously if they do. I very much suspect we wouldn't be in this mess if they had."

Klaus captured Dorian's wrist and pulled him around to stand, facing him. For a long moment, he held onto the thief's hand feeling the pulse of blood throb through his wrist, feeling the heat there. Dorian beamed down at him, a buoyant, slumming angel.

After a while, Klaus asked carefully, "Do you have any idea how many enemies I have?"

"Quite a lot, I should imagine," Dorian replied brightly. "You're forever pissing folks off."

"Do you have any idea of what could happen - to you - if this ... relationship ... were to become public knowledge?"

"I don't see why it has to be anyone's business but our own." Dorian frowned, slightly. "I'm not stupid, Klaus. What kind of man do you think I am? I love you - I've been in love with you for a long time. Last night wasn't some trophy fuck. Do you think I mean to brag about it, send stories to the tabloids, bandy your name around the clubs and bar circuits? That kind of rot?"

"I did not know what to think about what you would do."

"Well, I can tell you that I'm not one for outing people or for playing at kiss and tell," Dorian said, firmly. "Think about our discussion last night if you don't believe me. Did I give you one name? Did I actually reveal any of my former lovers?"

Klaus thought carefully, then shook his head. "No," he said. "You did not."

"I've trusted you with my life. And you've trusted me. Life and death, game and check. Can't you trust me enough to love me?"

"I have never been involved with anyone before," Klaus blurted out. "Not like this."

"You would care, then, if something happened to me?"

"Ja - yes, I would care." Klaus' fingers closed hard around Dorian's wrist. "That is what I am trying to tell you. Verstechen sie? I might not be able to stop it, I might not be able to help you, to save you - but I would care about it. Yes!"

Dorian took in a deep breath - and held it reading the words Klaus couldn't say in the Major's face, in his eyes. I would do anything I could to protect you but if I could not, if I failed you ... it would kill me. A very simple message, logical and frightening, too.

Dorian lifted his free hand and ran his fingers through Klaus' hair, smoothing it back from the troubled face. He let his fingers play against the scalp, traced the line of cheek to chin and was pleased when his hand didn't tremble.

"Klaus, liebling, I wouldn't hurt your feelings for the world but I don't need you to protect me." Luminous eyes sparkled, slightly amused, infinitely touched. "I've gotten along without you for quite some years. I've fended off the people I wanted to fend off all by myself. Quite successfully, too. And I've welcomed whomever I wanted to welcome." Dorian smiled again, suddenly, and Klaus felt his stomach muscles tighten from the sheer, unabashed joy and approval in it. It was almost overwhelming, that smile. "Make no mistake," the thief concluded. "I have no complaints about your sudden protective and proprietary interest in me. You know how I love attention. I've been trying to get yours for years."

Klaus shook his head, grim as ever. "I do not think I could change that about myself."

"Oh, I hope not. I don't want to change you, darling. It would be so insulting - to both of us, I think."

"You can love me, knowing what I am - a killer, an assassin?"

Dorian let out his breath in a sigh. We're going to need lots of reassurance here, aren't we? he thought. He slipped his hand back up into Klaus' hair and shook him, the way he might tousle an unruly dog. Or a wolf.

"I love you because your strength is the strength of ten, because your heart is pure," Dorian announced with broad, dramatic flair. "I love you because you're not afraid to take a stand, to act on what you believe," he continued, more seriously. "You've never shot anybody just for a lark, have you? Though you've come pretty close with me from time to time, right?" He laughed. "`All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.' Well, there's no threat of that happening with you around, is there?"

Klaus stared up at him, eyes wide, dumbfounded. His lips parted in a little gasp but he remained silent. Dorian sighed again.

"Edmund Burke said that," the thief explained, "not Sun Tzu."

"Rudy Löwen used to say that, too," Klaus said.

"What a lovely name, the Wolf Lion," Dorian said and shivered. The temperature in the basement seemed to drop a degree or two. It was already cold; he looked forward to the fire upstairs. "Who's Rudy Löwen?"

Klaus' answer was curt and cold, colder than the room. He could have chipped diamonds with the harshness of it.

"Rudy Löwen is dead," Klaus said.

"Oh." Dorian blinked. And then blinked again. Staring down at Klaus, he felt himself poised on the edge of some dark and fathomless abyss. The Major stared back at him, eyes still wide, pupils rounded into midnight wells but the soul within those depths was bathed in ribbons of flame. Dorian drew in a slow, deep breath and forced himself to stay put, to not step back. As sometimes happened in the course of events, the Earl found himself in far, far over his head. He didn't know why or how it had happened, he simply trusted his intuition that it had and dealt with it the best way he could. Such inner-trust had kept him alive before. He hoped it might do the same now, for both him and Klaus.

"Perhaps you would like to tell me about him." Dorian kept his voice as light as possible. "Perhaps we should go upstairs, yes? Sit by the fire...."

His fingers tightened around the Major's hand and tugged, urging him up, moving towards the stairs.

"There is nothing to talk about," Klaus said. "The man is dead."

"Well, then we won't talk, will we? I've found talking to be vastly overrated anyway. We'll just sit, won't we? Sit and thaw."

"Nein. It is not necessary." Klaus detached himself from the thief's grasp. "I will finish my work down here. You go upstairs."

"No. You've done your part for god and country today. I'm not leaving you alone down here." Dorian shook his head. "Listen, you don't have to tell me anything. I won't force secrets from you, I won't even talk myself if that's what you want. But I'm not leaving you here in this stinking, black pit in this stinking black mood. I just won't so there's no use trying for it. You're a spoiled, stubborn brat, Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, and so am I. Shall we try to out-do one another, right here? Right now? Are you ready for a championship match?"

"God-fucking-damnit, I told you to go!"

"Well, I won't, will I?" Dorian tossed his curls. "The only way to get me out is to pitch me out and that still means you'll have to go upstairs to do it so I'll win anyway."

Klaus glowered at him. Dorian glowered back, equally resolute. They stared at each other, toe to toe, for several long and furious minutes. Eventually, Dorian shivered, wrapping his arms around himself.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Klaus, I'm freezing to death," he said. "If you care anything at all for me, let's go upstairs."

"Go ahead - freeze to death! I do not care!"

Dorian regarded him with a steady, blue-eyed gaze. "Oh. Yes. You. Do."

Klaus struggled a bit longer, then snapped out, "Fine. All right. I will go upstairs." He brushed past Dorian and mounted the steps, snarling behind him. "To get my gun!"

"You do that, darling," Dorian purred, only a step behind.

Ever obedient, ever willing, eternally devoted....

He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.... Dorian counted Sun Tzu's rules of victory as he climbed the stairs. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared ... he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks ... he will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces....

Klaus slammed open the basement door and stalked through the kitchen. Dorian closed the door carefully behind them, trailing serenely in the Major's wrath. Appearances could be very deceiving; his every nerve was screaming. There was so much at stake here, so much to lose.

He will win, the Earl reminded himself, ever hopeful, who knows when to fight and when not to fight.

 




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