Le Bel Homme Sans Merci
The Unicorn Tamer
"Once upon a time there was a noble knight. An evil king seized the throne of his land and started wars with neighboring kingdoms. All the knights had to protect the common people, who were not to blame, from the foreign warriors."
"Why didn't the knights throw the evil king into the dungeon and get a good king, Papa?" Klaus asked, as he did almost every time his father told him this bedtime story. He didn't understand why the question always made him look so sad.
"Some of them tried. But the evil king had evil warriors defending him, and all the knights who tried were killed.
"The evil king also had evil sorcerers working for him. But the evil sorcerers were not very powerful, so they sent their minions to capture a fairy, hoping to use her magic for their own evil ends. And the noble knight was charged with delivering the fairy to the sorcerers."
It was a humiliating assignment for someone of his rank. Perhaps Lt. Colonel Eberbach had annoyed someone and this idiotic assignment, accompanying a female prisoner to Berlin, was his punishment.
Or perhaps the young woman was valuable enough that the Allies would try to take her back, or even kill her rather than let the Germans extract whatever she knew from her. He assumed she was a spy, there was no other reason for a solitary female to be so valuable that orders would have come from Berlin, from the Secretary of the Interior himself, to transport her there from the Teutoburg forest (what the hell had she been doing there?) Or maybe, if the more improbable rumors he had heard were true, she had magical powers which the Ahnenerbe hoped to harness. He snorted mentally; Berlin was overrun with lunatics these days, he wouldn't put it past them to try magic.
She had been delivered to him in heavy iron chains, which he had been ordered specifically to keep on her at all times. It was ridiculous - a slip of a girl like her could barely stand in such heavy chains, even without them any of his men could chase her down easily if she tried to run - but there was no sense arguing. She stayed huddled in a corner of the truck, never speaking, not looking at the sergeant on duty - of course they needed strapping young men with rifles watching one girl weighted down with fifty pounds of chains, rather than at the front trying to stop foreigners from killing German civilians.
When they stopped for the night, he made his usual cursory check on the woman. She did not look up, she never did. It was amazing how clear, almost luminous her skin was, after days in captivity. "You three stay with her. Drexler will bring supper to you." Accompanied by Drexler and the two other officers who had been saddled with this stupid task, Eberbach went into the only restaurant still operating in the tiny town they had stopped in. Like most these days, the selection was limited, and they ate without enjoyment, only fueling their bodies like good soldiers.
Eberbach looked up. It was Sergeant Drexler. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"Sir, she's not eating. We should have told you before, but we thought she was just scared the first couple of days, that she'd eat when she got hungry enough."
He frowned at the young man. "Are you saying she hasn't eaten at all since we collected her?"
"She's eaten a little bit, sir, but it's always just a few nibbles every meal."
"Did she say anything about why she's not eating?"
"We urged her to eat, sir. We even threatened to force-feed her - not that we would without your orders, sir, of course - but she didn't even look at us."
Eberbach rose. "We'll see if she'll talk to me."
He ordered the enlisted men out of the truck, being stunningly courageous about facing a chained, unarmed woman alone, and sat across from her, silent at first. He studied her, trying not for the first time to gain a clue about her identity. She was wearing a grey cloak over some sort of cotton dress, like the kind of thing the nature nuts used to wear before the war. Her flame-colored hair was quite striking against the grey, and her features were finely drawn. After a long minute, she darted the tiniest glance at him. It was the most reaction he had seen from her yet.
"It is my duty to keep you alive," he said. "I have to see to it that you eat enough to keep body and soul together."
For the first time since Eberbach and his men had taken charge of her, she spoke.
"I do not wish to starve myself. But I cannot eat this." She waved a graceful hand at the plate. Her accent was unfamiliar, but she did not sound as if she were speaking a language foreign to her.
He thought ruefully of some of the things he had eaten in the last couple of years. "War is a bad time to be a choosy eater."
"I am not choosy. If I ate that, my stomach would send it right back up." There was no tone of asking for pity in her voice, just a simple statement of fact.
"What could you eat?" he asked, wearily foreseeing days of scrambling for some odd diet - or forcing the contents of her plate down her throat somehow, or frightening her into believing that eating was the only alternative to him inflicting some horrible torture onto her. He was going to be an old man before this war was over.
The restaurant's cook looked at him oddly, but made what he requested. When it was done, he took it to the girl himself. She snatched it from his hands and bit into it in most unladylike fashion while he watched, appalled. "You should have said something sooner."
Swallowing the first voracious bite, she visibly controlled herself. Clutching the loaf, she looked him in the eye for the first time.
Eberbach was frozen in place. He felt certain he could not have moved had his life depended on it. He could not have put a name to what he felt, but it invaded every corner of his soul.
Dimly he was aware that she had placed one of her hands on his.
"Thank you," she said.
Throughout the night his mind replayed those two words and the way those green eyes of hers had glowed as she had looked into his very soul. At dawn he still had not fallen asleep.
"The knight pitied the beautiful fairy, and tried to make her captivity more bearable by giving her fairy foods and a feather bed to sleep upon. But the time came when they reached the castle and he had to let the evil sorcerers take her."
"We will reach Berlin tomorrow," he told her when they stopped that night. He had avoided her since the night he had given her the undercooked bread. Since then he had sent it to her through the soldiers, and she ate without fail.
But now, somehow he could not stay away from her.
"I suggest you tell them whatever they want to know. Spare yourself," he advised gently.
At that she looked up, and into his eyes again. He could only drink her in, and when her mouth - soft and pliable and sweet, even after days locked in a dark truck - captured his, not the smallest bit of his mind recalled where they were or why he should not do this.
When she moved away, it was as if he had been maimed. He could not live without her kiss, her touch.
"Help me, Erich," she whispered.
He climbed out of the truck a minute later fully intending to take the most insane risk of his life and take her far away from the Ahnerbe. But waiting for him, in the comic-opera uniforms favored by these fantasists who were playing at soldiers, were four SS men.
"We shall take your prisoner, Lt. Colonel," one of them said without explanation. The other three looked on coldly.
"What do you want with this girl?" Eberbach asked. Without the fire of her kiss still racing through his veins, he could not have dreamed of questioning these icy demons. It was no secret what they could do to him, what they would do.
As it turned out, it only cost him a few weeks in the hospital. By the time he regained consciousness, the woman was of course long gone to who knew where. Eberbach was sent back to duty as if nothing had happened. Perhaps they thought he had learned his lesson.
"The fairy was put into a secret dungeon and the evil sorcerers tried to take her magic from her, but they could not. The knight had to keep the warriors of other kingdoms outside the borders, but he kept asking until he found the squires who had helped him guard the fairy, and had them brought to him. He asked them where her dungeon was, and at last one of them was able to tell him how to find the secret passage. The knight was going to abandon his duty to rescue her, but just then, the evil king died at last. There was such confusion in the kingdom that no one argued when he said he had orders to go back to the castle, and when he went to the secret dungeon with other knights and squires behind him, no one dared to stop them.
"The fairy was weak and sad, but she was still beautiful. When she saw the knight, she told him...."
"What did she tell him, Papa?" Klaus asked when the pause became too long.
"The fairy told the knight that she loved him, but that she had to return to Fairyland. After so long out of it she had grown weak and sick. So the knight took her back to where the sorcerers' minions had first captured her, at the Externsteine by the edge of a great forest. The journey there took many days, and every night the fairy kissed him and avowed her love for him."
"Did the knight love the fairy too?" the boy asked. He always had to, or his father left that bit out.
"Yes. The knight loved the fairy more than anything in the world."
His father was always quiet for a minute after telling that part, which gave the boy time to think it over. Girls were silly things, but fairies must be different. It was too bad that fairies weren't proper consorts for knights, as they must be so much more interesting.
"Then what happened, Papa?"
"When they reached the gate to Fairyland, it had been closed. The fairies had been afraid that more of their kind would be captured by the evil sorcerers, and so they sealed it up."
Lorelle - Eberbach knew her name now, had whispered it into her hair each night as she clasped her arms around him and intoxicated him as no wine could do - Lorelle stared at the Externsteine wide-eyed, more forlorn even than she had been in iron chains. It tore at his heart, seeing her dismay. For her part, she seemed to have forgotten he was there as she paced from one spot to another, desperately seeking what was no longer there.
At last she fell to the ground with a cry of anguish which shattered him. He would have happily given her up to spare her this.
During the days they had spent together, there had been no more deceiving himself about what she was. Those rumors about black magic had been true. (Every incredible rumor he had heard for the past four years, it seemed, had been true.) And here he was, a soldier, a man of the twentieth century, the lover of a fairy. They had been able to hold her because of the iron, but they had not known how to draw her magic from her, and their experiments had failed. The past year must have been a nightmare for her, but she was alive, she was whole, and she had a swain ready to give his life for her if need be.
He went to her, clasped her unresisting form to him. "Lorelle. Don't weep, I can't bear it. Stay with me. I couldn't ask you when I thought I could take you to your home, but now - I love you. I will care for you. I'll never let anything harm you."
It was a long time before she raised her head and answered.
"You are the only bit of the human world I was sorry to leave, Erich," she told him.
"The knight and the fairy were married, and for five years they were happy enough. There were troubles. Fairies are used to taking anything they happen to want, and the knight was always having to stop her. She couldn't understand human rules. The knight gave her many gifts, jewels and rare silks, in the hope that she would be satisfied and not take things. And she did not understand human obligations. The knight would have to practice with his sword, or take his turn at guard duty, or attend the new king, and she would try to lure him away from his duties, to dance in the forest in the moonlight with her or listen to the enchanting music she played on her lute. Fairies are mischievous, and she would play pranks on their servants or neighbors if he didn't watch her.
"But the knight loved the fairy with all his heart, and believed her when she said she loved him too. When they had a son, he believed his life was perfect, after all those terrible years with the evil king."
"Did the fairy love their son too?" Klaus asked.
His father patted his hand, as always at this point in the story. "I am sure she did, Klaus.
"One day the knight journeyed with his wife and child to another village so that his kinsmen could see the boy. What none of them knew was that there was another gate to Fairyland in that village."
Isabel, his cousin's wife, ran in clutching the baby to her. His heart in his mouth, Eberbach jumped to his feet.
"What is it? Is he hurt?" Already he was taking the child from her, looking him over. The boy was crying, but seemed all right.
"No! No, but I found him just lying on the path, and Lorelle was nowhere in sight! I called and called her but I didn't hear anything. She must have been kidnapped! Oh, thank God they left the baby!"
Eberbach was filled with foreboding. For one instant he wondered if Isabel were right, if someone from the old Ahnerbe might have grabbed her. But a more likely possibility crept through his mind.
"Isabel, please, look after Klaus. I must search for her." He handed the child back and hurried out the door, his cousin Michael close behind him.
"The knight and his kinsmen searched the nearby forest. They went to the riverbank, fearing that the fairy had fallen in and drowned. Then the knight stepped into a clearing, and there before him was an entire procession of fairies, dozens of them. All of them as beautiful as the sun. And his wife was among them."
"Didn't the fairies see him?"
"They did, but only his wife paid any attention to him."
"What about the knight's kinsmen? Did they see the fairies?"
"The fairies were invisible to the others. Only the knight could see them."
His heart seemed to stop when his eyes fell on that familiar flaming hair. She saw him. Her uncanny green eyes met his, and she looked terribly, terribly sad.
But nonetheless she turned away from him and left with the others.
His cousin found him screaming his wife's name in despair.
"How could the fairy leave her baby?" Klaus always wanted to know.
"Perhaps she couldn't help it," his father said, though he did not sound as if he believed that. "But that was when the knight knew that he had made a mistake. Fairies and humans should never marry each other, and no human should ever trust a fairy."
"Then what happened?"
"The knight knew that he had to raise his half-fairy son to be a good human knight and not a faithless fairy, who would steal things and disrupt order and shirk important work. You want to be a brave human knight when you grow up, don't you, Klaus?"
"Then say your prayers and go to sleep, and be sure to pay attention in school tomorrow."
Klaus's back ached and all he wanted out of life just now was a hot bath and then a firm mattress. He needed some aspirin. Or a drink.
What he didn't need was a beautiful golden-haired man leaning against the doorway of the safehouse.
"I have a message for you." The voice was soft and inviting.
Klaus glared briefly before averting his eyes. "Return to sender." He didn't knock yet; he had to get rid of the fairy before going inside.
"You are so cruel. Your mother is longing to see you."
"She is the one who abandoned me."
"That was years ago. Now it is time you took your place at the Fae court." The fairy tilted his head with an alluring smile. His hair was dark gold and wild, his eyes the same color as his hair. "I would be happy to introduce you to... Faerie customs."
Klaus's face burned. Since he was twelve they had been sending beautiful Faerie lasses for him. Their brazen advances had only instilled in him a habit of recoiling from all approaches. Some time after he reached adulthood, sensing their error, they had changed tactics and started sending Faerie lads instead.
That's what he had thought the thief was, the first time he had seen him. Dorian was excessively beautiful - no normal human was so fair. And Klaus had sensed the magic in him just as he had around the emissaries sent to lure him into the other world.
Not that Dorian knew what that magic was. Later Klaus had carefully scrutinized Eroica's dossier, asked Dorian leading questions, even called him a "fairy" repeatedly to his face, and the conclusion seemed inescapable: Dorian did not know about his own tainted blood. He had no idea why he could not restrain himself from taking whatever he wanted. He didn't even understand why he was so good at thieving, did not realize that it was the Fae magic he unconsciously released that magnified his skill beyond all reasonable limits.
Neither of Dorian's parents, so far as the records showed, had had mysterious origins or disappearances, so the Fae must have entered his bloodline generations before. Perhaps there had even been more than one dalliance, causing a melange of fairy genes which might crop up at irregular intervals, bypassing his humdrum sisters and flowering in him.
The fairy was still smiling at him, was saying something flirtatious. Klaus didn't bother to listen. Slowly, as if entranced, he reached for the fairy's hand. Then drew it closer, towards his groin. The fairy's smile widened.
And vanished in a cry of pain when Klaus instead pressed the fairy's hand to the Magnum holstered at his waist.
Klaus released the fairy after only one or two seconds; he wasn't ruthless enough for more. The iron in the weapon caused Klaus enough discomfort, and Klaus was half human and had spent his entire life building up his endurance to the metal. For a full Fae, it must be agony.
Holding his hand, the fairy glared at Klaus, informed him that he could not ejaculate in a straight line, and stormed away.
Klaus pounded on the door, which was opened promptly. Entering, Klaus snapped, "B, bring me aspirin and Nescafé. A, call the hotels and find out where that pervert is-" He broke off. For a startled second, he thought it was yet another Fae sent to entice him. But it was only the pervert in question, sitting sideways on the faded easy chair with his legs draped over the arm, wearing an ensemble outrageous even by Dorian's standards.
The first thing that caught the eye was a leather vest with a Dracula collar that rose halfway up his head. Then, of course, the foppish white shirt open almost down to his navel. The getup also featured a great deal of eye makeup and the usual high heeled boots (Klaus suspected Dorian wore them partly so that he would be taller than Klaus). But what really drew the eye was the light grey trousers.
Tights, more like. And they left nothing to the imagination.
Klaus curled his lip. "Appropriate, I suppose. A fairy dressed like an elf."
Dorian actually looked angry at that, in a childish sort of way. "Not an elf! I'm Jareth!"
"The Goblin King! He was so well-dressed, except that his trousers were rather too loose for my tastes, but my tailor remedied that for me."
A and B were pressing their hands to their mouths to stifle their laughter, so they must have seen the cartoon or whatever it was that "Jareth" was from. Klaus strode to the sofa, ready to grab the thief by his foppish shirt and shake the microfilm out of him, but by the time he was in grabbing range the microfilm was in Dorian's hand, and he held it out to the Major. Klaus seized it and stalked away, snatching the coffee and aspirin B was proffering. "Why the hell did you steal this from me if you were just going to give it back, you idiot?"
"To have an excuse to see you, my love." The Earl's tone grew more playful. "I haven't got a place to stay tonight. I don't suppose there's room for me here?"
Klaus almost told him he supposed right, but keeping the thief close by where he could supervise him wasn't a bad idea. "A, B, you'll have to bunk together. Show the Earl his room, whichever is the least comfortable."
He ignored the predictable sallies the thief made about sharing Klaus's room, instead picking up the phone to call headquarters. "Mission accomplished. We'll return first thing in the morning," he informed G. "Report." G did so, using the code they used on unsecured lines. No disasters, no emergencies, missions progressing as anticipated.
Regretfully, he gave up the idea of soaking in a hot bath. It would be a balm to his muscles, but there was no way he could relax with the lecherous thief in the house.
Instead, after a swiftly prepared supper of sandwiches, Klaus settled at the table to clean his gun. The ritual was soothing, as was the slight burn of the iron as he cleaned the weapon. The pain was not great, but it strengthened him, somehow, as the pleasant burn of exercise strengthened him. This, and the strict order of his regimented life, was what kept him human, protected him from the other aspect of himself.
A and B sat down with a checkerboard and a couple of beers, part of their long-established routine.
Klaus was beginning to feel almost relaxed when Dorian emerged from his room. "Don't bother me," Klaus said automatically, not looking up.
"Would playing my guitar be bothering you?" Dorian asked with faux meekness.
"If it isn't too loud." Klaus was actually glad of the prospect. He hated excessive quiet, and his subordinates were too intimidated by him to talk much in his presence. He had heard Dorian play on a few occasions before, and there was nothing displeasing about it. Besides, it was best that the fop have something to occupy himself.
The surveillance and the retrieval of the microfilm had gone off without a hitch, until Eroica showed up. Generally, where Eroica appeared, chaos followed soon after. It wasn't only that Eroica stole things that Klaus was trying to acquire. It was that he contrived to entangle all sorts of other characters in the simplest transaction. Once a mission which should have been straightforward snatch-and-grab had ended up with Klaus in Alexandria competing with Mischa to buy his objective from a decadent sheik complete with harem, with the thief attempting to distract them all with a striptease.
The fairy couldn't help it. The Fae drops in his blood craved chaos, mischief. Resistance to that required practicing for years, as Klaus had.
This occasion had not been as bad as some. At least he had been able to settle everything here in this tiny, sickeningly quaint Irish town, instead of them chasing each other across half the globe. And in only a couple of days, not over the course of aggravating weeks. The main complication was the effect Dorian would have on him.
It was always a struggle to keep that other aspect under control when Eroica was near. The Fae in him responded to the Fae in the thief, awakening and striving to take over, drawn instinctively to that eldritch element. Perhaps the urge would be less powerful if Dorian had also trained himself to resist his fairy blood, but Dorian indulged it, surrendered to it, gave it free rein over him.
Dorian fetched his instrument, and soon the gentle strains of his guitar filled the room. He began to hum softly. Dorian had a pleasant voice, not an exceptional one, a light tenor marked by his lilting aristocratic accent.
Klaus kept his eyes on the gun he was reassembling, but he couldn't block his ears. When Dorian began to sing, Klaus's knuckles whitened. He knew this song.
Dorian would probably be surprised to know Klaus had seen the movie it came from. Wicker Man, about an island full of crazy Englishmen (a redundant description, that). Klaus had watched it on television one night, tired from a day of work and exercise but unable to fall asleep so early. At such times, too fatigued to concentrate on reading or anything else important, he would distract himself by watching stupid movies, generally about vampires or cowboys or rampaging kung fu masters or anything else that was completely irrelevant to his life.
One scene from this one had stuck in his mind. The chaste man of law was in his lonely bedroom, sweating and clawing the walls as he resisted the siren song of the exquisite, free-spirited, golden-haired pagan who sang this same melancholy, sensuous song to him. The parallels to his own predicament had been obvious.
Who is there?
No one but me my dear.
Say how do
The things I'll give to you
A stroke as gentle as a feather
I am here
Am I not young and fair?
Say how do
things I'll show to you
Would you have a wond'rous sight?
The midday sun at midnight
How did Dorian always know? Had he guessed how many times Klaus had remembered this scene as he himself gritted his teeth in some dreary hotel room, willing himself not to walk down the corridor to the welcome he knew he would receive?
Abruptly, Klaus swept up the gun and all the paraphernalia and stalked into his bedroom. And locked the door.
When Klaus woke at dawn, the others were still asleep. He quietly pulled on his sweatsuit and trainers and went out for his morning run. The safehouse was on the edge of town, making for a pleasant, sparsely populated running route. He made a stop to buy a newspaper to read as he ran. In a couple of hours, he would be on a plane back to Bonn.
He returned to find the others eating breakfast. Or rather, A and B were eating, while Eroica groggily nursed a cup of the wretched brew favored by the English. A quickly jumped up to pour his superior a cup of Nescafé.
Klaus only had time for one sip and a couple of bites of toast before the screams started.
All three Germans were at the windows with their guns drawn before the first scream ended. Jolted into alertness, Eroica positioned himself at another window a few seconds later.
They saw people running for cover and a couple of deep gouges in wooden fences. No obvious threat was in sight, until a flash of blinding white moved into view, partly obscured from their view by a few trees.
Klaus's blood turned cold as the shape became clearer.
"Someone's horse is having a bit of a spree," Dorian remarked, amused fellow-feeling in his tone.
Around the tightness in his chest, Klaus drew in enough breath to speak. Very softly.
"That isn't a horse."
He heard the others gasp when the creature came into full view. A horse of impossibly pure white, gleaming white that almost hurt the eyes. Cloven hooves, not the normal hooves of a horse.
And, of course, the horn.
Dorian, the idiot, threw the door open and started to step through it. Klaus seized him. "What the fuck are you doing!" he hissed.
"Unhand me, you bloody Hun." Dorian was squirming out of his grip when the unicorn spotted them.
It pawed the ground for a second, and then charged.
The thief was too amazed to do anything but stare. Klaus took advantage of it to yank him back and slam the door.
The creature's long horn pierced the door in a hail of splinters. They could hear it snort irritably as it had difficulty pulling its horn free. The agents aimed their guns. Holstering his own, Klaus reminded himself that none of them could be expected to know any better. "Hold your fire! You idiots think a gunshot can kill a unicorn?"
The unicorn's horn withdrew, doing more damage to the door as it went. "So what the bloody hell do we do, then?" Dorian demanded, keeping his voice down.
"Find a virgin?" B joked weakly.
Without saying a word, Klaus opened the door, stepped outside, and shut the door behind him while the others gaped.
The unicorn was still prancing about angrily, and it turned a hostile glare upon Klaus. Klaus steeled himself not to flinch as it feinted at him. One of the others, watching through the windows, made a sound of alarm.
"Stay there!" he ordered. "It will kill any of you." It was true. A and B were both married men, and Dorian... well.
Cautiously, clearly ready to attack if need be, the unicorn stretched forth its neck and sniffed him. Klaus stayed still.
It took several agonizingly long moments, but in time, Klaus was sitting on the ground and the unicorn was sleeping peacefully with its magnificent, lethal head in his lap. Moving his head slowly, he looked up to see that B had opened his window and was waiting for orders.
Klaus spoke softly, evenly. "B, go from house to house, tell everyone to stay inside until I've taken it away. Tell them... tell them that some idiot tied a horn to a horse and injected it with PCP as a stupid prank." The unicorn squirmed a little. Klaus stroked its neck soothingly and it sighed, contented. "A. Move very quietly. Go out the back door into the woods and look around. There'll be a place that looks odd, shimmery or something. Find it, stay the fuck away from it, and come back to tell me where it is."
They obeyed, both looking shellshocked. Dorian quietly moved to the open window, gazing wistfully through.
"It's so beautiful."
"And deadly. Stay inside."
Dorian was quiet for a bit. At length he said, "So... you can tame unicorns."
"They teach that skill at a secret NATO training camp."
"Do you slay vampires there too? Exorcise ghosts?"
"Yeah, all that kind of thing."
"Tell me the truth. You weren't surprised to see a real unicorn. You knew about them. And you knew...." He gave Klaus a searching look.
"I knew about them. Not from NATO." He paused. "My father told me."
"Did he tell you to preserve your chastity against this day?"
"No. That was just luck."
"Then it's true? You're a... a virgin?"
Klaus grimaced at him, exasperated. "What the hell did you think? That I was the Emperor of the Hamburg Nights?"
"But... never? Not once?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but no. Never. If I had, you would be dead right now."
"Sir." A appeared at the edge of the trees, stepping as softly as he could. "I found the spot."
"Lead me to it. Stay as far ahead as you can without losing sight of me."
A slowly walked back the way he had come. Klaus gently nudged the unicorn's head out of his lap. It opened its eyes and looked at him. Klaus slowly rose and the beast did the same. He grasped a hank of hair from its mane - still gently - and began to follow his agent at a leisurely pace. The unicorn went along with him, meek as a lamb.
He heard a very soft step behind him and realized that the idiot thief was following them. He wanted to yell at him to stay where he was, but startling a creature with a three-foot razor-sharp horn was generally a bad idea. If it galloped off, Klaus didn't even want to think about what he'd have to do to find it again. Not to mention the consequences if anyone else saw it, and maybe even got a picture.
Klaus dismissed these worrisome thoughts from his mind. A had stopped up ahead. When he drew close enough to see, A pointed to his left. He gave an unconscious nod of approval that the agent had followed his instructions to keep clear of the spot, which was just a smear of iridescence, only visible when the light hit it just right.
As he passed A, he murmured, "Don't let anyone near it. If anyone tries to come out of it, just wave your guns at them - they can't abide iron."
And with that, still grasping the unicorn's mane, after a lifetime of resistance, Klaus stepped for the first time into Faerie.
Although the temperature was balmy, the air had the hazy look of a very humid day, and the sunlight filtered sleepily through it. Klaus scrutinized the area sharply.
The castle had not been visible three paces ago, before he had stepped through the portal, but now it rose up before him, an edifice of gleaming marble three stories high.
Through an arched doorway, a cherubically pretty child of perhaps ten years stepped. "I'll take the unicorn back to his herd, my lord," he said, reaching up to affectionately stroke the creature as if it were a pet. "They are awaiting you within." The unicorn bent its lethal head. Klaus was an instant away from snatching the Fae child out of danger, but the unicorn only nuzzled the child's hand before docilely allowing him to guide it off into the abundant, overflowered trees.
The moment the unicorn was out of sight, a preternaturally beautiful Fae woman stepped out of the arched doorway, surprising Klaus. He had thought the Fae had gotten it through their heads that that approach was useless.
"Where is the idiot who sent the unicorn into my world?" he demanded, gruff.
The fairy woman smiled at him. "I will show you the way." She turned and went back inside, leaving Klaus to follow. He did, his hand on the holster of his gun. They passed through a courtyard, a sumptuous garden whose plants and trees should have been groaning under the weight of so many flowers. Various Fae loitered about, playing lutes or twining flowers into wreaths, openly staring at him. They were almost human in appearance, except for unearthly beauty. And eternal youth, not an aged face or grey hair among them. Their clothes, as in the tales and pictures, somewhat resembled those of medieval humans, but were far more whimsical and elaborate.
More of them were leaning out of the windows or peering down from balconies, watching him with insolent curiosity. The one who had tried to entice Klaus the night before was lounging with two others by a fountain, staring at him with unconcealed hostility. Klaus ignored him.
The fairy woman led him through another doorway, and this one passed into a banquet hall. Delicacies crowded the table and musicians played entrancing music to which a few especially beautiful Fae danced.
Klaus stopped a few steps inside, ignoring his guide's urging him on. He drew his weapon and drew breath for a patented Eberbach roar.
His command had the desired effect. The music ceased, all of the Fae were now staring at him, and five strapping Fae lads surrounded him with spears ready to pierce him.
Ignoring them, Klaus glared around for a moment before skewering the man at the head of the table with his gaze. "Are you the one who sent the unicorn into the human world?" he demanded. The man's lavishly jeweled green-and-gold clothes, more elaborate than any others in the room, marked him as the highest ranking Fae present.
The green-and-gold man inclined his head in assent. He did not seem in the least perturbed, only curious about the strange human who presumed to speak to him out of turn.
"That creature could have killed someone. Release another Faerie monster into my world and I will return it along with a small army wielding iron weapons just like this one."
A fairy woman stood, imperious. Her elaborate gown of marigold silk, sewn with thousands of gleaming tiny gems, and the golden ornaments weighting down her neck and her copper hair, and most of all her imperious posture, all betokened high rank. "How else could we bring you here? You have refused our more cordial invitations for years."
"What is wrong with your kind, that you can never take no for an answer?" he began, but she met his eyes evenly and he found his voice dying. For a long moment, silence reigned.
At last, Klaus spoke.
"Mother," he said, his face grim.
Of course A tried to stop Eroica from going through the portal, but Dorian was too fast for him. As if he would pass up a chance to see fairyland! He was tingling all over at the very idea. He no longer even felt surprised. Now it seemed silly that he had always believed these things weren't real.
When he had passed through, he looked around warily in case he needed to evade another unicorn charge. The creatures were terribly unreasonable. What virgin could appreciate their beauty better than he could?
But the unicorn was nowhere in sight. Instead, there was a shining white castle, and three of the most exquisite men he had ever seen lounging about an arched doorway, turning to look at him with interest.
"You aren't carrying iron too, are you?" the tallest of them asked, a man with wild golden hair and sly, slanting golden eyes.
"Iron? No, why - oh!" Dorian gasped, enraptured. "You - you're fairies, aren't you?"
A slow, amused smile spread across the man's face. "The proper term is 'Fae'." He stepped closer, taking Dorian in with his eyes, giving Dorian a pleasant shivery feeling. "And unless I am very much mistaken, you have a few drops of Fae in you."
"Do you really think so?" Dorian was delighted.
"No full-blooded human is as beautiful as you." It was one of the other men. All three of them were now giving him looks with unmistakable meaning. If he weren't in love with Klaus....
The Fae exchanged glances and then the tallest one gave a dramatic bow. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sindri. This is Aelfdene, and Hefeydd."
Enjoying the moment to its utmost, Dorian returned the bow with equal flourish. "Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria."
Sindri stepped closer, smiling into Dorian's eyes. Dorian returned his gaze. He felt that he could spend hours standing there, drinking in the man's exotic beauty. His eyes were flecked with what seemed to be a hundred shades of gold, glowing like a banked fire. His skin seemed faintly golden as well, smooth and clear as no human's skin could be. Dorian found himself reaching up to touch that skin, to see if it was real. It was like warm silk under his fingers. And Sindri smelled of amber.
Sindri's mouth was on his before Dorian thought to protest. And the sensation was so sweet that he did not want to. It had been too many years since he had experienced this, and the movement of Sindri's lips was hypnotic. Just one kiss, Dorian promised himself before giving himself up to it.
When the kiss was over, Sindri studied him speculatively. "Tell me, Dorian Red. Are you acquainted with the unicorn tamer who came to join us a few minutes ago? I suppose you can't know him very well, or he wouldn't be a unicorn tamer."
It took a moment for Dorian to make sense of Sindri's words. "The - oh, him." Dorian tried to remember the man's name, but it escaped him, just at that moment. "Yes, I... I work with him, sometimes." Dorian swayed closer, taking Sindri's lovely face in his hands, and Sindri let him capture his mouth again. The fairy was an excellent kisser, lavishing infinite care on giving Dorian as much dizzying sensation as could be gotten from a kiss. This time when it stopped, Dorian had to hold on to him for a moment just to stay on his feet.
Hefeydd and Aelfdene were also gazing at Dorian as if enraptured by his novel human beauty. Dorian had forgotten their presence entirely during the kiss. He would have expected prurience or taunting in their eyes, but they looked as if watching their friend kiss a newly met stranger was of no moment.
"You must visit our court, Dorian Red," Sindri purred. "It is a fitting setting for one such as you."
Dorian's heart sped up at the prospect of seeing the court of Faerie. "Accompanied by a Jareth of my very own?" Dorian straightened and allowed himself to be steered into the castle. "How could I refuse?"
"Lately humans have been calling me that. Mostly young girls. Whatever does it mean?" Sindri asked, bemused.
It was her eyes that identified her. Green eyes were unusual enough in humans, but Klaus's were an unusually vivid shade, one he had seen in no one else. Until now.
"Klaus," she said softly, stepping close to him. The lads made way for her, but still held their spears at the ready. "My son. At last you have returned to me."
He stepped back when she would have taken his arm. "I only came to return your tricked-up horse. And to tell you - all of you - never to do that again. Harass me if you must, but leave the rest of my species alone."
She studied him for a moment, then smiled. "You are so like your father, coming straight to the point without distraction." Something that resembled wistfulness crossed her face. "Erich - is he still alive?"
Klaus hesitated. "Yes."
"And is he well?"
"Is he happy? Did he remarry?"
For as long as Klaus could remember, his father had never so much as given any woman a single glance. After decades, he pined for her still. Klaus would not give her the satisfaction of knowing it. "Remember what I said and send no more monsters," he announced to the avidly listening Fae. "I keep my promises. I take after my father in that respect."
"There is no need, now that you have come to claim your place at our court," his mother answered with a catlike smile. She understood that the argument was not yet settled - but she clearly had no doubt that she would win.
"You are my son. Your place is with me."
"It was you who abandoned me." Klaus kept his tone icy.
"I had no choice." If she had sounded pleading, he would have dismissed her words, but she spoke calmly, stating a simple fact. "Your world is alien to us. It weakens us, constantly drains us. You cannot know what it was like, all of those years. I could not have stayed out of Faerie if I had tried. It reclaimed me."
Klaus supposed it was true, but was disinclined to be forgiving. "You can stop sending fairies to seduce me. I am returning to the human world, where I belong."
"Returning? To what? Your vassals do not recognize you as their lord, and at your age you can still tame unicorns."
Several of the Fae smirked at that, and a few snickered out loud. As for Klaus, the experience of his mother discussing his virginity in front of a room full of total strangers reconciled him to having grown up motherless on the spot. He aimed his gun at each of the spear-bearers in turn, and they recoiled from the iron. When he turned on his heel to leave, no one tried to stop him.
As he passed through the courtyard and out of the castle, every Fae who saw him stared at him, but none spoke or impeded him. He reached the outside safely. The portal was where he had left it. He all but threw himself through it.
Drawing a deep breath of blessedly unmagical air, he raised his head. A and B were still standing at a safe distance, looking scared. Glancing around, Klaus saw why.
He straightened. Before he could ask, A blurted, "We tried to stop him, sir! We didn't realize what he was doing until he was almost in it, and you said to stay away from it-"
"Idiots. Now I'll have to go back in and fetch him."
The agents glanced at each other. "Sir, he made the decision himself to-"
Klaus cut them off. "Stay here until the portal closes. If it hasn't closed by sundown, leave and call my father, he'll know what to do." Klaus hoped. "Don't tell the Chief about this. Don't tell anyone."
As he turned away, B's panicked voice rose behind him. "But sir! What if you come back and find that a hundred years have passed here?"
"On the waning moon?" Klaus tried not to roll his eyes; B really couldn't be expected to know how time distortion magic worked. "I'll come back. Or I won't."
He had time for nothing more. Back into Faerie he ran.
Klaus found the arched entrance to the courtyard blocked with an immense oaken door. He pounded upon it, and a second later the same fairy woman who had led him to the banquet hall was leaning from a window high above him. "You will not be permitted inside with that horrible thing of iron again, unicorn tamer," she told him sweetly. "Return it to the human world and the door shall be opened."
Klaus looked around for some other entrance, but there was none. Reluctantly, he removed it, holster and all, and leaned back through the portal. "A! Take this!" he ordered, handing the agent his weapon, then withdrawing. By the time he had turned around, his guide had vanished from the window and the door was opening.
Back in the courtyard, Klaus stormed to the first Fae in sight, an apparently young man with ebony hair and impossibly fair skin. "Where is he?" he demanded, gripping the Fae by the frills on his shirtfront.
The Fae was several inches shorter than Klaus, but nonetheless managed to look down his nose at him. Another man might have gotten frostbite from his look. "Where is who?" he replied with the sort of patience generally shown to annoying children who are about to be sent to stand in the corner, rather than to very dangerous grown men.
"A human with Fae blood and curly yellow hair. He only came here a few minutes ago."
"Oh, the mongrel. Sindri has him. But what do you care? You clearly wouldn't know what to do with a pretty mongrel like that, unicorn tamer."
A chorus of titters rose from the courtyard at that. Klaus hadn't encountered so much interest in who was and was not a virgin since his first year at university. "And where is this Sindri?"
The Fae waved a negligent hand. "Inside."
Eroica was not in the banquet hall, but the feast was still going on and Klaus's mother was still there. He stalked over to her. "Where is the Earl of Gloria?"
She looked up at him, unperturbed. "Do you mean Sindri's new pet? The mongrel?"
"He is not a pet. He's coming back with me."
"That's quite impossible. He belongs to Sindri now." Thoughtful calculation entered her vivid green eyes. "But if you fancy him, I am certain His Majesty would make a gift of him to you. Provided, of course, that you stay here."
"And if I go, and leave him here? What will become of him?"
She rose now and scrutinized him. "The mongrel means something to you? You, the unicorn tamer?"
Klaus was already heartily sick of the epithet. "We have worked together - you would not understand. He is my responsibility."
For a long moment she appraised him. "Erich no doubt educated you in our lore. You know that every seven years we must give a tithe of souls to Hell."
Ice slid down Klaus's spine. "I won't let you to do that to him."
"Claim your rightful place here and he will be yours. He will not be part of the tithe until you tire of him."
Klaus stared at her, at the casual amorality of her words. He had never entirely believed the things his father had told him of the innocent evil of the Fae - innocent because they were unable to conceive of the difference between good and evil, just as a cat is unable to imagine compassion for a mouse. She did not know it, could not, but with those few words she had done more to fortify his allegiance to his human half than all the decades of lessons from his father.
He elbowed past her, much to her irritation, and forced himself to speak to the king with a degree of respect. "Your Majesty. There must be some way that both I and the 'mongrel' can return to the human world."
His Majesty looked exceedingly bored. Klaus guessed that he was losing patience with Lorelle's efforts to ensnare her son. Sure enough, she protested, "Sire, it is my right to have my son at my side!"
"And it is his to challenge Sindri." Wicked amusement glinted in the king's eyes. "Challenge Sindri to a contest. The winner can do as he likes with the mongrel. But if you lose, you shall stay here, unicorn tamer." This last was said with a resigned glance at Lorelle.
"What kind of contest?"
"Even a human should know better than that. The challenged has the choice of weapons."
That left an unpleasant element of chance, but Klaus was confident of his ability to best a hedonistic Fae with any weapon. "Fine. Where is he?"
The king waved his hand and a servant - a slightly different species from the Fae, it seemed, diminutive and with pointed ears - hurried forward to bow to Klaus. "If my lord will be so good as to follow me."
Ignoring his mother's glower, Klaus did. They went down a twisting, turning corridor, and up a winding flight of stairs, and past many chambers of Fae at assorted useless diversions. Until finally they came to one with the Fae who had tried to lure Klaus the night before, a few other exquisite male Fae, and Dorian. All of them having gems woven into their hair by more of the pointy-eared servants. Dorian's eyes were unfocused, as if he were in a trance. When Klaus entered the room, he looked at him with a vague smile, as if recognizing someone he had known years ago.
"I suppose you're Sindri." Klaus glared at the Fae with dark gold hair in resignation.
Sindri grinned unpleasantly. "And I suppose you are the unicorn tamer."
Klaus looked at him. "Eroica. You are coming with me. Back to the human world."
Dorian did not even seem to understand the words. Sindri put a possessive hand on Dorian's arm. "You must know he cannot. He has tasted my wine and my lips."
"He ate the pomegranate seeds." Klaus gave the thief a withering look. He should have known better.
Sindri frowned. "What do pomegranates have to do with it?"
Klaus took a step forward. "I challenge you for him."
Sindri smiled lazily, amused. "I have the right to choose the contest."
The smile grew poisonous. "I choose the art of love, O tamer of unicorns."
"You're too cowardly to face me with any weapon I might beat you with!"
Faint incredulity showed in Sindri's golden eyes. "Cowardly? I am sensible. I wish to keep my new pet. And the Lady Lorelle will be so pleased with me when I win. She has wanted you by her side for so long now."
"How can we determine who won?" For a moment, Klaus imagined a tally of climaxes.
"The mongrel will decide himself. It is difficult to lie to a Fae, you know. I shall take him now. You may have him at nightfall, when you shall have your turn." The Fae's look was taunting, salacious.
"And when he'll be tired out, and satisfied. Don't you want a fair fight? A challenge?" Klaus demanded.
The Fae laughed. "Why on earth would I want that?" He looked at Dorian, then back to Klaus. "Do you accept my contest? Or shall you return to your world without him?"
The risk was the greatest Klaus had ever taken. He did not look at Dorian, Dorian with his face dazed and the otherworldly glaze in his eyes. This was not the Dorian he knew, who had tempted and tormented him for years. But in his mind rose an image of his Dorian, who in a shy half-whisper had reluctantly confessed his feelings in front of a roomful of strangers, unable to help sweetly smiling even though he knew his love was unwanted, that he was courting heartbreak as ardently as he had courted that silly psychic boy.
Klaus considered, but purely as a matter of form. "I challenge you," he repeated. The Fae laughed, and sauntered off... with Dorian.
In the hours till nightfall, Klaus tried to prepare. He tried to clear his mind and plot a strategy, as he would for battle or a mission, but this was unlike any mission he had ever undertaken. Never before had he been asked to excel at a skill he had never once practiced. He tried to imagine some way of giving the Earl more pleasure than the Fae could, but could see no way. He had some idea of what the Fae were capable of, and this Fae had doubtless been practicing since long before Klaus had been born. The Fae had even claimed the tactical advantage of the first attack on Dorian's lust, leaving Klaus to attempt to awaken a sated appetite.
Klaus bowed his head, despairing. His only chance was one that seemed absurd to him, that true love conquered all.
And did he truly love the thief?
At the thought, Klaus put his head in his hands. Because now he knew that he did.
At nightfall, a serving-fairy approached and, snickering, offered to lead Klaus to his assignation. He rose and followed, feeling doomed. "We who are about to die salute you," he thought.
Sindri was just emerging from the bedchamber, ostentatiously smug, smirking. "Good luck, halfling. May you tame him as easily as you tamed that unicorn."
Klaus ignored him and passed into the chamber, bolting the door behind him. Then, apprehensively, he looked at the man draped on the enormous bed amidst the silken cushions and velvet coverlets.
Dorian was as beautiful as ever, perhaps more so. The unearthly glow about his face had intensified, also the iridescence of his eyes. He lolled on his back, languidly opening unfocused eyes which scarcely recognized him.
God, if you exist.... Klaus began to pray despite himself, then realized how absurd this prayer would be. Help him to do an able job of seducing a Fae pervert? Even if God existed, He would hardly lend aid to this.
Klaus hesitantly drew near to the bed. He was unfamiliar with the musky scents in the air, but could guess at what they were. That told him where to start, at least; he found perfumed water not far from the bed, dipped a cloth (absurd, towels made of silk) into it, and set about administering a sponge bath to the bonelessly relaxed thief. He could not bring himself to smell that degenerate Fae's scent on Dorian as he made love to him.
Touching Dorian's body, in this practical way, was daunting. For so many years he had longed to, and had gritted his teeth, restraining himself. Now he was not merely allowed but obliged to, but years of restraint made him expect some sort of retribution at any moment. A bolt of lightning, perhaps. At least he had the excuse of a concrete task to perform. It made it slightly less fearsome to learn that Dorian's skin was soft as silk, that he was fair and creamy where his clothes usually covered him, that... that he had the sort of perfectly proportioned form which had inspired the great sculptors of Greece and the Renaissance.
Dorian was watching him through half-lidded eyes. But at last the memory of who Klaus was, and their history together, seemed to distantly recall itself to him. "Klaus," he said, as if reminding himself of the man's identity. "Why are you doing that?"
"Do you object?" was all Klaus could think of to reply.
"Why are you here?"
Klaus paused in his ministrations. He met those alien eyes in the familiar face. "I want you to come back to the human world with me."
Dorian laughed gently. "Why would I do that?"
Klaus pulled him out of the bed, to his feet. Then he ripped away the sheets Dorian and the Fae had coupled upon, and most of the cushions and blankets. Beneath was simple, soft cotton. Much better. He drew Dorian to sit down on the edge of the bed, still naked, and looked at him searchingly. "Do you remember me?"
Dorian moved a disconcertingly possessive hand over his hair and neck. "I loved you once, didn't I? You were the most beautiful human I ever saw."
An idea, desperate and compelling, was occurring to Klaus. He captured Dorian's wandering hands and held them. "Was that all it was? Did you see anything in me that you loved, besides beauty?"
Dorian shrugged, still weary from his day of lovemaking. "I suppose I may have."
Klaus's hands tightened insistently. "Tell me."
"Whatever for? Let me sleep if you aren't going to lie with me."
"I am going to lie with you," Klaus said, his voice low and his face burning. This sparked Dorian's interest. "But not yet. Answer my question."
Reluctantly, as if looking up from an absorbing novel to deal with tedious everyday matters, Dorian groped for the answer. "You were always so brave. Nothing seemed to frighten you - except me." The thought gave Dorian a wolfish grin.
"You...." Eroica frowned slightly, trying to remember. "You are as big a dreamer as I am. You have an impossible heroic ideal in your mind, and you force yourself to live up to it every moment of every day."
Klaus, only too aware of the occasions when he had fallen far short of his own ideal, felt ashamed, hearing this. He had always assumed the thief felt only lust for him, lust and the mutual response of the Fae in their blood. He touched Dorian's face gently. "That's ridiculous. I'm not a knight on a white horse. I'm a grouchy, foul-mouthed pain in the ass."
Dorian laughed at that, and the old light was in his eyes. He was seeing Klaus again, and it heartened Klaus more than he could ever have imagined it would. "That's true," Dorian agreed, his tone teasing. "But that only made it the more real. If you had seemed like a storybook hero, I never would have believed you were real, that it wasn't playacting. You did everything you could to stop people from seeing the hero in you. It doesn't work, you know. You haven't fooled anyone. Your alphabet worships you no matter how you discourage them. And I...."
Klaus stared. When Dorian leaned closer and captured his mouth in a kiss, he could only give in.
It was absurd that such a simple touch could feel like the meeting of two souls, but it did.
Dorian's hands were wandering, and he was crooning a wordless tune under his breath. The pleasure was instantaneous and hypnotic. Klaus gasped, closing his eyes... and then snapped upright, gripping Dorian's wrists. "No!"
"You said you were going to," Dorian complained.
"Not like that. You're making love like a Fae."
"I am a Fae. So are you. It's better this way, take it from me." Eroica's eyes were hazy and glittering once more.
"No! We are both part human. We will do this as humans do."
"If we do, it will hurt," Dorian warned. Klaus flushed anew at the implication, but did not protest. He had already resolved that he would consent to whatever act the thief required.
"I don't care," he insisted. "We're doing this the human way." And for emphasis, he planted a firm, clumsy, and decidedly human kiss on the thief's mouth. After the ethereal caresses of a moment ago, this unskilled kiss was rather a comedown, and Klaus knew it. "Dorian. What can I do for you that he did not?" And Klaus braced himself for some bizarre acrobatic deed.
Dorian laughed again. "Very little. He is a master. An expert."
Klaus thought. "You have had so many mortal lovers. Were any of them better?"
Dorian tried to remember, reluctantly. His human memories were becoming misty as his Fae side grew in strength. "Most of them weren't like him. Weren't experts."
"What do you mean? Didn't you choose the most skilled lovers you could find?"
"Oh, no. I've always had a taste for virgins."
That seemed strange to Klaus. "Why?"
The Earl smiled reminiscently. "Innocent young men are so intense. They've never experienced it before, so they feel as if I've made the world end and the stars fall for them. And they're usually nervous, and it's so lovely to turn all that fear and self-consciousness into pure passion. It reminds me of how I felt a long time ago."
Klaus was exploring new vicissitudes of blushing. Dorian noticed and stroked his cheek, almost purring.
"Why are you still a virgin, my dear Major?"
"A lot of reasons."
"Surely I can't be the only person who ever wanted you. A great many women must have fancied you."
"My experience, besides fleeing from you, consists of one kiss, from a girl when I was sixteen."
"Only one? Didn't she want to kiss you again?"
"I didn't want to kiss her again. I only let her do it the first time because I hoped... if I tried...."
"Yes?" Dorian prompted.
"Why do you want to know?" Klaus snapped, his defenses back up. Already he had revealed far more than was his custom.
"Because I want to know your soul, my darling. Your history, how your mind works, what your soul craves. The beauty of the complete picture of what makes you yourself, all the elements assembling to result in Iron Klaus. It's like a great work of art, all the disparate elements uniting in a single final theme. And seeing this, exploring this, is as much a part of making love as the physical act."
Klaus was surprised. He had felt what the Earl was describing for a very few people in his life, the Earl himself among them. One of the reasons he was always alone was that so few people understood this sort of knowing of another person.
"Did Sindri do that for you?"
Dorian frowned, distantly disturbed. "There didn't seem to be time for all that, somehow...."
Klaus straightened his spine. "I already knew, when I was sixteen, that I was... that I was drawn to other men. I hoped that kissing, touching a pretty girl would change that. It didn't. As soon as our lips touched, I knew I could never... never lie with a woman. And lying with a man was out of the question, if I was to serve my country."
"And so you have kept your chastity for all of these years," Dorian said with a kind of wonder in his voice. "And yet, at last you have decided to give it to me?"
"Dorian... what is it that you mean when you say that you love me?" The question was embarrassing, and Klaus had to blurt it out.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," Dorian quoted lightly, the alien shimmer in his eyes again.
"No! Answer me! Do you remember the first time that you said it?"
Dorian dropped his eyes. And in them Klaus could see a hint of their usual turmoil, his self-preservation battling with his love.
"Yes. You remember. Tell me how you felt. What you were thinking at that moment. What you hoped for and what you were afraid of."
Dorian paused for so long that Klaus almost gave up hope of getting an answer. But then Dorian spoke in a low voice.
"If you will tell me the same thing."
Klaus swallowed. On the few occasions when any human had made amorous overtures towards him, he had been, under the icy fury, afraid. Terrified of letting anyone touch his skin, see his body without its usual demure coverings, of allowing anyone to draw forth responses that would give them any measure of power over him. But there was one thing that was even more frightening to him, and that was baring his soul. Letting it show what he cared about, what could hurt or disappoint him, what gave him that secret thrill of joy. But this was what Dorian required. What restoring Dorian to himself would take. Klaus would have to surrender his body, and his soul as well.
And if his gamble failed, Faerie would claim him, and probably damn him. So his soul was lost either way.
Klaus set his jaw, took his heart in his hands, and proffered it to Dorian.
The entire night went so. Klaus would prompt Dorian to relate his memories of their times together. "When did you know that you loved me?" Klaus would ask, or "What did you think the first time that you saw me?" And in return for Dorian dredging up everything that was human in him, Klaus had to do the same. His face burning, he would confess in a low voice, "I thought you were the most beautiful man I had ever seen. I wondered how I would be able to get out of the room without seizing you. I'll never know how I did." After a few hours, their memories of each other were exhausted and he probed further into the thief's soul. "Why do you love art so much? Why did you become a thief? Who was your first lover?" And here too, he was asked reciprocal questions, and revealed everything he had locked in his heart for all of his life; his love for his nation, his grief at the tragedy into which it had fallen - or marched, his vow to preserve it so that it could become again what it was meant to be. The particular bond, so hard to convey to civilians, felt by warriors who battled together. The painfully acute pride he had felt at his first promotion, pride that made him wish he were alone so that he could weep for it, pride that he could not bear for anyone else to see.
And in between this exchange of memories and easily-bruised feelings, Klaus yielded his chastity after decades of clutching it close. At Dorian's prompting, he lay back and let the thief bare his skin an inch at a time. Knowing that Dorian relished his apprehension for its intensity, he did not try to calm himself, but let himself tremble like a schoolboy. Nor did he try to resist the ecstasy Dorian's touch evoked with daunting ease, but let it swallow him up and leave him helpless beneath the thief's deft hands and mouth. He denied Dorian nothing, and Dorian made it worth his while, making sure that every act progressed from one of unknown terror to one of unimagined bliss.
By dawn, he had given Dorian everything he had to give, body and soul.
When he reached for the embroidered drapes and pulled them back, letting the sun shine on the beloved face, he knew that he had succeeded.
"There's only one more thing," Dorian whispered, blinking in the still-pinkish light. "One thing you haven't told me."
By now Klaus could not even be apprehensive. What was one more portal opened to this man who now held the key to every one of them? "What is that?"
It was Dorian who now found a remaining shred of shyness. He had to make himself meet Klaus's eyes. "Do you love me?"
Klaus was only surprised. "Idiot. I thought that was obvious."
"Then say it," Dorian insisted, childishly hurt.
Klaus sat up, pulled the other man close. Put his lips close to his ear. Very softly, so that no one else could possibly hear it, said the words for the first time in his life.
Dorian, it seemed, understood the import of these words for Klaus, greater than that when so many bandied the words about. He put his arms around Klaus, rested his head on Klaus's shoulder, and wept. Just for a few minutes. Klaus held him silently, understanding.
When Klaus opened the door to the bedchamber, Sindri and his mother were both waiting, triumphant. Klaus remembered the barbaric old custom of a new husband displaying the sheet bearing his bride's virgin blood to a room full of feasting guests. Those poor girls must have felt much as he now did.
Still, the embarrassment was worth seeing the smugness vanish from Sindri's face as he saw the way Dorian clung to Klaus's arm, how he looked at him. Lorelle's dismay was not so pleasant, but Klaus only tightened his grasp on Dorian's arm and shoved their way past.
"Klaus! My son. Do not leave me. Keep the mongrel, or return him to the human world, but stay here with me. You can have a dozen pretty mongrels for pets. You can have whatever you want."
He paused long enough to give her a bittersweet smile. "You cannot give me anything that I want, Mother."
She followed him, pleading and arguing. No other Fae made any effort to stop them. The decidedly unentranced, human looks in their eyes told all that the battle was settled. He suspected Sindri would never live this down.
When they walked through the arched doorway out of the courtyard, Lorelle made one last attempt.
"I allowed your father to keep you for half a human lifetime. It is only fitting that you should stay with me now!"
Klaus paused and looked at her. Her eyes pleaded with him.
Very gently, he said, "Thank you for leaving me with him."
And then turned away and stepped, with Dorian, through the portal. It closed behind them.
Lorelle wept as she once had at another closed portal between the worlds.
Klaus and Dorian stumbled arm in arm into the early morning light. A and B were both nearby, in sleeping bags, opening bleary eyes at the sound of their footsteps. Beside them, sitting on a camp stool bundled in a thick coat, was Erich von dem Eberbach.
Klaus stopped short. He started to release Dorian's arm, but didn't; it was too late already, judging by his father's surprised expression.
His father visibly shoved his surprise aside, stepped to his son and clasped his free hand. "Thank God you're back." His gaze flickered to Dorian. "This is the Earl?"
"My agents told you the situation?"
"They called me at sundown last night. I got on a plane at once."
"Thank you." Klaus tried to marshal his thoughts. "Lord Gloria is part Fae. They were going to keep him there. Make him part of the tithe."
"What tithe?" Dorian asked.
"Then it's good you got him out," Erich said, setting his jaw to make the best of things.
"I will explain later," Klaus said to Dorian. Then to his father, "I saw her. She asked about you."
A bottomless well of sadness opened in Erich's eyes, but he only said, "You are - both - back where you belong. Come back to the house, you must both need rest."
A and B were rolling up their sleeping bags. A returned Klaus's gun to him. Eroica and the Eberbachs moved slowly in the direction of the safehouse. The alphabets followed a short distance behind them.
When the Major, saying something to his father, released Eroica's arm only to put his arm around the man's shoulders, the agents looked at each other.
Under his breath, A muttered, "Let's hope we don't need any more unicorns tamed."