For once, Iron Klaus smiled. "For five years now, I’ve found him naked in my bed on my birthday. Seems as good a time as any to just crawl in."
As usual, Klaus celebrated his birthday by working late, fortified with cigarettes and Nescafé, before going home for dinner and a grueling workout. That is, the exact same way he spent every other day. Conrad did make sure the cook made a large portion of fried potatoes, as he always did on this date, but he knew better than to acknowledge the occasion in any other way, and Klaus pretended not to know why he was being served his favorite food. He considered it absurd to make a fuss over birthdays, especially for an adult, and he had trained everyone in his life to respect his wishes.
With, of course, one exception.
But the Major had not encountered that particular nuisance for months, and so was expecting nothing to happen before he went to sleep except for his usual after-workout shower.
He did not expect to find his bed infested with a naked art thief.
Klaus stopped in his tracks when he saw Eroica, snuggled down under Klaus's crisp white sheets, reclining against the pillows the thief had piled up. The Major opened his mouth, but he was too shocked to breathe, let alone speak. He opened his eyes wider, in case they were mistaken, but they weren't, the thief was still there.
Klaus was still sputtering when Dorian spoke, his voice soft as a caress. “Happy birthday, Major.”
The Major found his voice, sort of. “You – pervert – how dare – why – GET OUT!”
Disappointment flickered briefly over the Earl's too-pretty face, before he quickly regained his composure. “But my love, I haven't given you your present yet.”
There was no misunderstanding the implication of that. Scarlet-faced, Klaus yelled, “I don't want anything you could give me, you pervert!” He stormed over to the bed, seized the thief's arm, and yanked. “Get out-” Belatedly, he realized that pulling Dorian out of his bed divested the Earl of what covering he had. For half of an appalled second Klaus couldn't help staring, before he resolutely averted his gaze and dragged Dorian to the door. Lithe as a cat, the thief twisted out of Klaus's grip.
“All right, all right, if that's how you're going to be, at least let me put my clothes on.”
Klaus thought he would have heart failure when Dorian bent over to retrieve his catsuit. Once he was fairly certain he wasn't going to drop dead after all, he seized Dorian's arm again. “Put them on in the hall, you sick faggot! I don't want you contaminating my bedroom!”
Dorian stumbled, keeping up as he was dragged back to the door, clutching the tight black suit. “My boots-”
The Major shoved Dorian into the hallway and raced back for the boots, both of which he threw at his uninvited guest. Alas, Dorian really was nimble as a cat; one of the boots barely grazed his shoulder, the other missed him completely.
Klaus slammed the door and locked it. He could hear the soft noises of the thief pulling his clothes on outside as Klaus frantically scrutinized the room to see if any other sign of him was in the room. Then he stripped the sheets off his bed. After a couple of minutes, he opened the door a crack and peeked out cautiously. The thief was gone.
“Conrad!” the Major roared. When his bewildered butler appeared, Klaus pointed to the sheets he had thrown down the stairs. “Burn those!”
Klaus then turned on his heel, not waiting for the stammered, “V-very good, Master Klaus,” that followed him. He locked his door again, wedged a chair under the knob, and showered with his gun within easy reach, just in case the thief came back.
Once he was clean and had put fresh, untainted sheets on his bed, he laid down and scowled at the ceiling. I am never going to get to sleep, he realized.
With resignation, he opened his nightstand drawer so he could relax with the latest issue of Guns & Ammo, but his hand encountered something he hadn't put there. He sat up to investigate and discovered that the Earl had, after all, left something more behind.
The following morning, the Major got up half an hour early despite having gone to sleep later than usual. He needed time to drive miles away from both the Schloss and NATO headquarters so that he could put the bundle of atrocities from his nightstand into the city dump. He couldn't simply throw it away; what if the servants found it in the garbage bin?
After such an uncordial reception, it never occurred to Klaus that Eroica would repeat the stunt. On his next birthday, he would realize it was the height of folly to expect anything to make the thickskulled idiot give up.
“Happy birthday, Major,” the silken purr sounded from the bed again.
Klaus stared at him. “What the hell made you think it would be any different this time?”
The Earl gave a slow, seductive smile. “I live in hope. I still have the birthday present I intended to give you last year. Why don't you accept it this time?”
By way of reply, Klaus tossed the thief's clothes onto the bed, then yanked the corners of the fitted sheet out from under the mattress. He then bundled the thief up in the sheets and blankets. When he had the squirming Earl mummified, he lifted him off the bed.
“This is how Cleopatra was delivered to Caesar,” Dorian said, his voice muffled by the blankets.
“I was thinking more in terms of Jael and Sisera,” Klaus retorted. He put Eroica down at the top of the stairs and gave a shove.
As he was locking his bedroom door, he heard Eroica use several English words which the Major noted for his own future use. For a poofter, the Earl sure could cuss when he wanted to.
With dread, he opened his nightstand and peeked in. Then shoved it closed with resignation. He was going to have to get up early again tomorrow.
The third year, Klaus climbed the stairs to his bedroom filled with apprehension. Sure enough, there the blasted thief was, perfumed and languorous, lying in wait for him.
“Happy birthday, Major.”
The Major had not been certain Eroica would try again, but he was prepared anyway. After only the briefest of glances in the thief's direction, he went straight to the telephone on the (now doubtless polluted) nightstand. Not looking at the other man, he swiftly dialed a number he had memorized that afternoon.
“Yes, I know it's late. This is important. This is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach here. I have just learned the current whereabouts of the notorious thief Eroica. Yes, I'll hold.”
Eroica was sitting up now, one hand clutching the sheets to his chest. “Who are you calling?” he demanded.
“Interpol,” Klaus answered without glancing at him.
For a moment, Dorian didn't move. “I don't believe you,” he said then, but he did not sound entirely sure.
Klaus shrugged. “So don't believe me.” The receiver emitted a tinny voice. “Hello? Mr. Bannai? Yes, Eroica is right here in my castle. The address is-”
“You bastard!” The Earl threw back the covers and grabbed his clothes. This time the Major was prepared – Eroica didn't seem to have the slightest embarrassment about parading around in the nude, so he had made sure his eyes were aimed elsewhere. He gave Bannai the address, adding, “Hurry. I don't have him in custody, so he may flee before your men arrive.”
Fully dressed, Eroica strode to the door, where he paused for a parting shot.
“Just for that, you aren't getting your present,” he said, tossing his excessive hair.
“Speaking of which, if you don't take whatever you left in my nightstand drawer this time, I'll throw you in the Schloss's dungeon until Tarao Bannai gets here.”
Eroica smirked, fetched something (the Major refused to look at what it was this time) from the drawer, and flounced out.
A few minutes later, Conrad arrived with fresh sheets. “I could simply wash these, Master Klaus,” he offered, indicating the rumpled pile on the floor.
“Burn them,” Klaus ordered.
“Very good, Master Klaus,” Conrad said, resigned. In future, he would have to make sure that the Schloss's most worn sheets were on the bed on this date.
The fourth year, Klaus had had a very trying week. Three alphabets home with the flu, the Chief driving him up the wall, a mission which came far too close to failure for his comfort, and a drawn-out fistfight with Mischa left him no energy to waste being angry at the curly-haired pest who was waiting for him.
So he strode in, ignoring the sultry murmur of “Happy birthday, Major,” and opened the window before briskly tossing Dorian's catsuit and boots out of it. Then he turned to the thief.
“You're going out the window too. You can go under your own power or not.”
Eroica studied him for a second, apparently saw that he meant it, and pouted prettily as he got out of the bed. Unabashedly naked, he sulked, “You're no fun.”
“I've been trying to tell you that for years.”
Dorian swung himself out the window with practiced ease. “By the way, Major... my birthday is July 28th.” He tilted his head, flirtatious. “You know, in case you ever want to return the favor.”
“I'm getting my gun,” Klaus announced. As he had expected, by the time he was back at the window, there was no sign of Eroica.
The fifth year, Klaus opened his bedroom door to find a very irate thief emerging from his bathroom wrapped in a towel. “You sneaky bastard,” Eroica accused.
Klaus scowled. “I didn't say you could use my shower.”
“I wasn't going to put my suit back on with itching powder all over me!”
The Major tried to keep his frown, but he couldn't. This year, he had been prepared. That morning he had sprinkled a hefty dose of the powder on his sheets and left orders that they were not to be changed. Despite having showered, Dorian was still scratching every few seconds. While Dorian glared, Klaus allowed himself to laugh loud and hard.
“Get out,” Klaus ordered when his mirth had subsided.
Taking his time, Dorian ambled over to the bureau where he had left his catsuit and started dressing. “Since when did you start reading that kind of magazine?” he sniped as he pulled the tight trousers on.
At this, Klaus couldn't resist another bout of laughter. He had considered nailing the nightstand drawer shut, or perhaps putting it in another room, but then he had hit on another ingredient for his ambush. The last time he had been out of the country on a mission, he had gone (with a circuitous route and lots of doubling back to shake any possible tails) to an “adult” store where he had bought the nastiest, most vulgar skin magazine he could find – one which featured naked women, of course. Flipping through it had been an ordeal – he felt certain that even most men who liked pictures of naked women would be put off by such crudity – but he had found the most graphic photo the magazine had to offer, and left it open to that page in his drawer. When Eroica had opened the drawer to plant the accessories for his perverted plans, he had been greeted with a sight that would probably haunt his nightmares for months to come.
It was the best birthday Klaus had had in years.
The year after that, on his birthday Klaus opened the door to his bedroom and, as expected, found Dorian waiting for him. Naked in his bed, as usual, though Klaus was sure that this time Dorian had been a bit more cautious before crawling in. Unnecessarily, as this year Klaus hadn't left any booby traps for him. Not even the literal booby trap that had been in the nightstand last year.
“Happy birthday, Major,” Dorian said softly.
Klaus stood a few feet from the bed and studied him. Dorian was leaning back against the pillows as usual, but one hand was tight around the edge of the sheets, ready to throw them off, and his body was taut, poised to leap out of bed and flee whatever Klaus came up with to do to him. If he had expected a welcome the first couple of years, he certainly didn't now.
Yet still he was here, as he was every year.
Klaus looked at him for a long minute before speaking. “Don't you ever give up?”
Dorian's fingers tightened on the sheets, but otherwise he remained still. He looked Klaus in the eye and spoke with directness, simplicity. “Where you're concerned? Never.”
Klaus nodded once, then went back to the door and locked it. Then he sat down and started taking off his shoes.
Dorian watched, wide-eyed. But it wasn't until Klaus rose, barefoot, and pulled his sweatshirt over his head that he spoke. “Major?”
“Don't tell me you're changing your mind now,” Klaus said, dumping the sweatshirt and his socks into the hamper.
Dorian's eyes were enormous. “Major... don't tease me. It's mean.”
“Idiot.” Klaus divested himself of his sweatpants.
Dorian's mouth dropped open, but no sound came out.
Klaus walked to the bed and hesitated. The way Dorian was staring at him made him too self-conscious to take off his boxers.
Dorian swallowed visibly and spoke in a strangled voice. “Major, if you aren't going to go through with this, please don't....”
His voice trailed off as Klaus flipped the sheets back and slid into bed with him. “Don't call me that right now,” Klaus said tersely as he switched off the lamp.
He heard Dorian catch his breath in the darkness as Klaus put his arms around him. “Klaus?” the Earl's voice said, uncertain.
“That's better,” Klaus said, and kissed him.
When their lips parted, Klaus said, “So how about that birthday present you promised me?”
He could hear the smile in Dorian's voice. “Let me get at your nightstand drawer.”