The Course Of True Love

by Kadorienne.

Alternate sequel to Too Good To Be True.

Ay me! What perils do environ
The man that meddles with cold iron!

~Samuel Butler

 

Klaus could not suppress the urge to look over his shoulder one more time before he entered the bar, even though he had been very careful not to be followed. Not that any man inside took it amiss if they noticed; he wasn't the only one who was nervous about being here, he was sure. For most of his kind, paranoia was a way of life. Perhaps that had influenced his choice of profession.

He took a quick, instinctive survey of the room before going to stand at the bar and ordering a gin. When he got it, he took a more careful survey of the men present.

As usual, most of the goodlooking ones were already paired off. Though you couldn't always tell; just because a man had his arm around another didn't necessarily mean they were lovers, not in a place like this. Klaus also noticed, as he had the last few times he had made excursions like this, that there weren't as many pretty men as there used to be. It seemed that foppishness was going out of style, even among homosexuals. A shame.

Klaus had never understood his own tastes, but the fact remained that he was attracted only to men who were utterly unlike himself. Pretty for his own ruggedness, foppish for his severely tailored suits, refined for his own brusqueness.

He had chosen Paris because the French had the right attitude toward this sort of thing. These anonymous encounters were sordid by their very nature, but for some men, that did not necessitate that they act in a sordid fashion. In years of dreary experimentation, Klaus had learned that he had the best chances of a night of romantic illusions in France or Italy. Germans were appallingly pragmatic about such encounters, one never knew how an American might turn out, and the English -- well, best not to think about the English.

The French understood the game. They were willing to let a night like this be beautiful, even knowing full well it would vanish with the morning dew. Klaus thought that he should despise this wish in himself, but he could not. Not quite. Relieving his body’s demands was not enough, especially now, as he grew older, as the lines around his eyes slowly increased and deepened. Now the fantasy was becoming more important to him, the fleeting illusion that he was not alone, his heart was not empty, his future not hopeless.

But there was one down side to France, he reflected as he exchanged some guardedly appreciative looks with a raven-haired, dusky-skinned man at one of the tables. Very few blonds. Since he had first begun to realize the truth about himself, as his childhood ended, he had always had an incomprehensible but very strong preference for blonds. The last time he had needed this outlet, he had gone to Sweden for it, but he did not dare to visit the same place too often.

He wondered how many men traveled as far as he did for something as simple as sex.

The door opened, and Klaus gave a glance and then a second look to the man who entered. He was tall and trimly muscular. Even in the dim light of the bar, his features were well-defined, with deep hollows beneath his cheekbones and a shapely mouth about which Klaus indulged a few pleasant thoughts. The newcomer wore simple clothes; a voluminous dark sweater, jeans, an unobtrusive crystal on a leather thong around his neck his sole jewelry. Generally Klaus preferred more frills, someone as unlike himself as possible, but this man was very attractive. And he was a blond. A fairly dark blond, as far as could be judged in this light, but a blond nonetheless, straight dark gold hair curving from the center of his brow to his firm jawline. The man wasn't perfect, not uncannily suited to Klaus's tastes like some stinking liars he could name, but he was very attractive indeed.

Klaus did not bother to conceal his appreciation. The blond noticed his scrutiny and appeared slightly taken aback, but he did not hesitate long before approaching the bar. Klaus signaled the bartender, who promptly served the blond a drink.

"You are in need of company, monsieur?" the blond asked in French.

Klaus shrugged. "I could stand some," he replied. He extended a hand. "Heinrich," he introduced himself.

Was it his imagination, or was there an ironic glint in the blond's hazel eyes? Well, he couldn't be the first man to give a false name in such a place. Still, the blond took his hand without arguing and held it instead of shaking it, smiling at Klaus. "I am André."

They engaged in a few minutes of innocuous conversation in which neither revealed a thing about themselves before André smiled slightly and cordially suggested they repair to his flat. The invitation was phrased quite delicately; remembering some of the crude requests he had gotten over the years, Klaus accepted. This man would be willing to maintain the illusion Klaus desired.

The small flat was tasteful, but unpretentious and not especially expensive. Something like its occupant, pleasant to rest the eyes upon but not likely to attract undue attention in a crowd. André's skin was slightly olive, Klaus noticed in the stronger light, and his hair indeed a dark blond, with a few lighter streaks Klaus supposed were not altogether natural.

"We should have wine and candlelight, should we not?" André suggested softly as he locked the door and gestured to the overstuffed sofa.

Klaus rather liked the idea, but replied noncommittally, "If you wish."

A few minutes later, the room’s sole illumination was from various candles scattered about the room, giving off faintly pleasant odors, and André had returned from the small kitchen with two wineglasses and a bottle whose deep green color made Klaus frown when he saw it.

"You do not like Mosel’s?"

"I like it," Klaus said, realizing belatedly that his tone had said the contrary. André was studying him thoughtfully.

"It makes you think of someone, perhaps?"

Klaus shrugged. "You could say that." He hoped the man would not pry.

André looked at him for another minute before turning. "I will serve something else."

The something else proved to be a red French wine with no particular associations for Klaus. Klaus preferred gin or beer, but wine was all right, on occasion. And Klaus was willing to indulge André’s little whims in return for the illusion.

Which included kissing and caressing for a very long time before getting down to brass tacks, as if they were truly lovers instead of strangers accepting the comfort of a night. It was a good half hour after the first kiss before Klaus even began undoing the other man’s buttons. And when he pulled back to pull André's shirt off, he noticed the high glisten in the other man’s eyes. He paused.

"You are thinking of someone too," he said, as gently as he knew how.

André blinked a few times, shrugging and looking away. "You are truly the sweet one, are you not? I expected you to be a brute."

Klaus smiled very slightly. "Are you disappointed?"

The other man sighed deeply. In spite of the melancholy sound, the answer was, "Not in the slightest. I just would not have expected a man like you to be… such a gentleman."

"I do not get to be one often." What havoc would be wreaked on his life if he ever showed this side of himself? It didn't bear thinking of. But for tonight, he would be as idiotically romantic as he wanted to be. For a few hours, he would pretend to himself that he was letting someone through his defenses.

Let the illusion last forever, he thought as André kissed him again.

***

Even though it had been quite late when Klaus had finally fallen asleep, his body’s habit was to awaken shortly after dawn. But instead of rising at once, as he usually did, Klaus allowed himself to lie still, enjoying what companionship remained. It would be nice to wake up beside someone more often, someone he could trust – but of course, trust was not an option in his life, never had been.

Still. For now, he could pretend. He lay still, not to disturb his companion, who was sleeping quite soundly and peacefully. André was quite handsome. Not as beautiful as some men he wasn't going to think of, but handsome. Though of course, he had hardly seen the man in a strong light. Met him in a nightclub of shifting, colored lights; lay with him surrounded by flickering candles that lent a warm glow to both their skins; and now watched him in the dim morning light filtered through curtains. Appropriate, he supposed. One did not hold illusions up to a strong light.

André had been curled close to him, as if seeking reassurance, but now he rolled over abruptly. He was still asleep; Klaus noticed the flickering of his eyelids and realized he must be dreaming. Well, Klaus would not disturb him. Unless the dream seemed to be a bad one. It would be pleasant to have someone to wake up from nightmares, to have someone chase one’s own nightmares away.

Klaus wrenched his gaze away from André and stared at the ceiling. Verdammt. He knew better than to wish for the fantasy to continue. He had known for years that such dreams were forever out of his grasp. He had no business continuing to feel sorry for himself about it. He could, after all, give up his career, his duty, his mission in life, and then he might, perhaps, have a chance at this dream. But he could not give those things up. He would never be able to live that way and he knew it.

If he sacrificed everything, he might, just maybe, have a chance at love. Or he might not. Duty was guaranteed. It would always be there.

It was getting so that gratifying these desires was more frustrating than ignoring them.

André interrupted his melancholy thoughts by shifting in his sleep again and murmuring.

"Oh, balls, Jamesie," André muttered.

In a distinctly English accent.

For an instant Klaus was as shocked as if he’d just taken a bullet. Then, too swiftly to reflect, he was on top of the other man, wrenching at his straight blond hair brutally.

Dorian awoke with a cry of pain as the well-secured wig was torn from his head. Wild golden curls tumbled free.

The two of them stared at each other for a long minute.

The disguise was transparent enough now. Cosmetics to give that fair English skin the faintly olive tone of a Frenchman; careful shading with dark powder to alter the planes of the face; a wig and tinted contacts -- a disguise like this was child's play to Eroica.

At last Dorian managed to speak, though his voice was scratchy. "If you’re going to kill me, please get it over with."

"If I kill you," Klaus said coldly, "I am going to take my time about it."

Dorian shuddered.

Common sense suddenly penetrated Klaus’s shock and fury… and humiliation. Keeping Dorian pinned down by sitting on him, Klaus seized the bedsheet and ripped it into strips. Then he quickly and efficiently tied Dorian’s wrists to the headboard, letting the fabric cut into Dorian’s skin. He expected an arch joke about it, but Dorian was, for once, too frightened.

"Klaus?"

Klaus briskly slapped him. "Don’t call me that."

Dorian gasped, but wisely remained silent. Klaus rose, pulled on his boxers -- too aware of the thief’s gaze on him -- and began searching the room.

"What are you looking for?" Dorian dared to ask, but Klaus did not answer. After a moment, Dorian said, "Oh. There’s no bugs or cameras, I already checked. This flat belongs to a friend of mine, he let me borrow it."

As far as Klaus could tell, Dorian was telling the truth. There weren’t any recording devices in the room. So, the thief’s objective was a bit more long range. Klaus gathered his clothes and went into the bathroom to dress. He emerged fully dressed, complete with jacket and tie. Dorian watched him, still looking alarmed. Good. About time the idiot was alarmed.

Klaus sat beside the bed. He ripped the remaining blankets away, depriving Dorian of what little covering he had had. There was no way not to feel nervous when you were naked and bound, especially when a fully dressed and very angry man was sitting next to you, regarding you with icy calculation.

Klaus examined his captive wordlessly. He pulled out a cigarette, tapped it against the pack, and lit it. He sat smoking without speaking until Dorian could not endure the silence any longer and had to whisper, "Major… what are you going to do to me?"

Klaus considered, taking a drag on his cigarette. "The smart thing to do would be to kill you."

"You can’t kill a Peer of the Realm without it getting noticed," Dorian pointed out, in a voice that only wavered slightly. "My government will demand answers."

"True," Klaus conceded. "There are other possibilities. It might be useful to have Interpol owe me a favor."

Dorian shrugged, as well as he could with his wrists tied. "True. Of course, I always assumed that the only reason you didn't turn me over to them years ago was that I know too many things. And now I know one thing more than I did before, don't I? If I were going to prison, there wouldn't be any reason for me not to talk about last night, among other things. And maybe make up some stories about other nights."

Klaus looked at him for a minute. Then he stood, holding his cigarette between his lips, and slapped Dorian again, harder this time. Dorian closed his eyes against the blow and drew the sort of breath that meant he was trying not to cry. Suddenly cheerful, Klaus decided that he would make damn sure that, before he was through, the bloody thief did cry. It would make up for an awful lot of things.

Dorian saw Klaus’s happier mood and had the sense not to be comforted. He swallowed. "What do you want me to do?" he asked in a low voice.

Klaus thought for a minute. "You are definitely going to hurt before you leave this room," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Dorian shuddered again. He was good and scared, Klaus noted with satisfaction. "But you might not hurt as much if you answer my questions accurately."

Dorian took a deep breath. "If I can."

Klaus thought about all the criminal activities Dorian knew about, but decided instead to ask what he really wanted to know. "How did you know to look for me there last night?"

Dorian licked his lips. "Well... I’m sure you realize that I watch you, Major. I have a lot of people filling me in on your activities. And I couldn’t help but notice that a couple of times a year, you went away alone for a weekend, leaving no word of where you were. I tried to find out where you went, what you were doing, but it was a dead end. But I… developed a theory." Dorian stole a glance at Klaus. "Can I say it without your hitting me?"

Klaus stubbed out his cigarette, stood, and hit Dorian. A decent punch in the jaw, though not the kind of wallop he would have delivered to a dangerous opponent. He sat down and lit a new cigarette, giving Dorian’s head a minute to stop ringing before he said, "There, now I’ve already hit you. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. What was your theory?"

Dorian squeezed his eyes shut, not speaking. Klaus began to stand up again. Quickly, Dorian said, "Put it this way: my theory has been proven correct."

Klaus stood glaring coldly down at him.

Throwing caution to the wind, Dorian flung the words at his captor’s face. "Every time I’ve seen you, I’ve become more certain that you were -- like me. The first time I saw you, I thought it. Only the closet cases react so strongly to a little bit of harmless flirting. Straight men don’t get as mad as you did. A lot of the time they even think it’s amusing."

Klaus glared. He didn’t move.

"And then – the way you fought me so hard. The way you panicked every time I got close. The way that no matter how loudly you said you hated me, you always cared what I thought of you. All the times you saved my life. The way you cringed whenever a woman looked at you – you hated that more than you hated for me to! You might as well have it tattooed on your forehead. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can tell." Dorian jutted his chin defiantly.

"I suppose you expect me to hit you for that," Klaus said evenly.

"Aren’t you going to?"

"If you like." Klaus gave him a casual backhanded slap. Dorian’s mouth, swollen from Klaus’s kisses, now had a spot of blood on it. "Go on."

Dorian’s eyes were swimming now, but he seemed to accept the inevitable. "I was sure that you were gay, and… the way you looked at me sometimes, just looked without frowning or saying a word, convinced me that you knew it. The only question left was, did you ever act on it? There have never been any rumors about you and any man besides me--"

"That reminds me. I have been told of unfounded rumors about the two of us. I’ve been meaning to beat you for that."

Dorian’s eyes darted about uselessly, seeking a nonexistent escape, then closed. "Well, get it over with."

Klaus shrugged. "Later. You aren’t going anywhere."

That did it. Dorian burst into tears. "Damn you!" he cried.

Klaus smiled, slowly.

"Fucking hypocrite!" Dorian threw at him. " Faggot!"

Klaus leaned over him, still smiling. Dorian blanched at the sight and held his breath.

"Call me that again," Klaus suggested softly. "Really. I want you to. Any time you like. I think you’ll find the consequences… instructive."

By now Dorian’s tears had stopped, and his hazel-tinted eyes had gone stony. "So you can dish it out but you can’t take it, hm?"

"I don’t have to take it," Klaus whispered, still smiling. He sat back. "You’re angry," he said in a more normal tone. "It’s going to lead you to act in a self-defeating manner. We’ll be quiet for a minute so that you can gather your senses."

Dorian drew a couple of deep breaths. He did seem to be thinking things over, though his bound hands were shaking and his face was pale beneath the olive makeup. With an air of one taking the bull by the horns, Dorian said, "Kl- Major. You know perfectly well that I’m in love with you. I thought… that this might be my only chance to have you. Or at least, to find out for sure if -- if I was right." He turned swimming eyes on Klaus. When Klaus only sneered, Dorian continued hotly, "And I found out that I was, that you’re just as queer as I am. But that you’re a slut who’d rather be screwed by some stranger you’re never going to see again than by a man who loves you." Closing his eyes, Dorian let the tears flow hopelessly.

"You are not in a position to insult me, Eroica," Klaus remarked. "I advise you not to do it again."

Dorian’s eyes snapped open. "So you’ll batter me while I’m naked and tied up? Coward."

God damn it. The bloody thief could always do this to him, goad him into being more of a bully than he wished to be, and then make him ashamed. Klaus found himself sickened at the things he had done in the last ten minutes. What the hell had he been thinking? But of course, he hadn't been thinking. That was the whole problem. He had acted on his first impulse instead of thinking his strategy through like a sensible operative. His wits always seemed to desert him when Eroica was around. The man was his killercycle.

Had there been less at stake, Klaus would have released the idiot and called a halt to the whole fiasco. But… but this was a unique opportunity to learn what he had wanted to know for years: who had sent the bastard to work him over. He wouldn’t really hurt the idiot, he promised himself. Scaring the hell out of him would be enough. And a good scare would do the thief a world of good.

"You should know me better than to rely on my better nature to protect you," Klaus said, standing and raising his hand. It turned his stomach, but he was committed to this course of action.

Dorian blurted, "It’s because I know you so well that I do rely on it!"

Klaus stared at him.

Verdammt. He had lost. Again.

The thief was naked and bound, his face red from Klaus’ blows, and he had gained the upper hand as always.

Klaus knew his bluff was over. He dropped his hand and wearily went back to the bathroom. Dorian looked apprehensive when he returned with scissors, but he only cut the thief loose and turned away. He walked out without another word.

***

"B! G! Are you two ready?"

G, in a dress as usual, was the one who replied, "Whenever you are, Major." B simply nodded in agreement.

"Gut. You two get through the security check. You!" Klaus barked. Agent U hurried over. The Major had actually been addressing Agent F, but he ordered U, "Wait for them to open the north door. If any of you runs into trouble, push the button and page us."

It was a simple enough operation. NATO suspected that a nest of hostile spies were using this Hamburg office building as a front, and the Major had been ordered to investigate. B and G would go in the front door, using forged identification and a glib explanation of what they were doing there at this hour. Once inside, they would open the north door, whereupon Agent U would signal Eroica and go with him to the fifth floor, acting as the thief's bodyguard in case he was caught cracking the suspicious safe in room 512, and B and G continued pretending they belonged there and distracting the night watchman.

The Major stole a covert glance at the thief before glaring back out the window to watch B and G approach the office building arm in arm. Eroica was perched on top of a desk, examining his nails idly, wearing one of those damned skintight catsuits that had always driven Klaus mad, but letting his extravagant hair flow free.

When the Chief had announced that he was hiring Eroica for this mission, Klaus had been almost certain that the Earl would decline it. After their last encounter three weeks before, even Eroica had to have realized he was playing with fire. But he had accepted it, and Klaus hadn't had a decent night's sleep since.

Klaus wasn't worried so much about exposure -- if Eroica "outed" him, that would destroy Klaus's value as a blackmail subject -- as about Eroica's next move. "Get me a copy of Secret Document X or I'll tell everyone your little secret, darling." Or perhaps a more cunning approach: "Spend another night with me or I'll tell everyone about the one you already did." And this time there would be a hidden camera, and then would come the demands, and he would have to resign.

To Klaus's secret relief, Eroica's behavior towards him was almost exactly the way it had always been. The difference was so subtle that Klaus was certain no one else had noticed it: an increase in the frequency of the wistful glances that never had fooled him one bit.

Klaus raised his binoculars and managed to see through the glass front doors of the building. B and G were speaking to the security guard, and passing his desk into the hallway. So far, everything according to plan.

"A, F, watch for U's signal," Klaus snapped, stalking into the other room. He had to be alone, if only for a moment. Eroica had always been distracting. He was much more so now. The Major was going to have to find some way of convincing the Chief not to use him anymore. It was going to affect the quality of his work.

Klaus busied himself with re-checking his Magnum, which he had checked several times this evening already. It gave him something to do while he cleared his head away from that god damned rose perfume.

A soft step in the doorway made the Major look up and scowl. "Get back in there."

"But darling, I haven't had a minute alone with you all mission," Eroica crooned as he shut the door. The moment it was closed, the artful flirtation fell away from his face and he regarded Klaus soberly. "How long are you going to pretend that it didn't happen?" Dorian asked quietly.

Klaus holstered his Magnum before the temptation became irresistible. "Until you get it through your head that it isn't going to again. I would have thought you would have the sense to keep away from me after that."

"Then you were wrong," Dorian replied with a hint of his usual flippancy. Then he grew serious again, crossing the room to stand closer to him. Was the idiot suicidal? "Klaus, I don't understand. There's no more need for pretense between us. We both know you want it. Why don't you take it? I'm here, I'm more than willing...."

"And you are completely out of bounds. If it hadn't been for that damned disguise, you know perfectly well I would never have touched you."

Dorian's eyes were challenging. "Admit it. I was the best you've ever had."

It was true, of course. It had been wonderful. Klaus would never forgive either of them for that. But he gave Dorian his coldest glare. "In the dark, all faggots are alike."

Dorian's eyes widened, and a minute later Klaus's cheek stung from the time-honored gesture of a scorned lover.

Somehow, the slap didn't enrage Klaus as he would have expected. He let his lip curl.

"You hit like a girl," he told Dorian.

"You fuck like one," was the prompt retort.

Then Dorian's expression changed to one Klaus had never seen him wear before.

Klaus often saw fear in people's faces, but pure, undiluted terror was a rare thing. Most of the men who had shown it to him were now dead. The few who had lived were never quite the same after. Klaus had always wondered how his own face must look at moments like this, to inspire that kind of fear.

Klaus retained only enough rationality to note that Dorian was quite lovely when he was terrified.

The gunshots from the office building saved Dorian's life.

"Scheisse!" The Major shoved Eroica roughly out of the way and charged through the door, where his agents were already checking their weapons.

"They got caught, Major," A said swiftly. "U's gone down, but I think he's still alive."

Klaus snatched F's binoculars and surveyed the building quickly. Some of the previously dark windows were now lit, but little else could be ascertained.

"A through F, take up your positions surrounding the building," the Major barked. "S, T, we're going in there to get our people out. The rest of you, cover us."

Under the explosive shelter of his agent's bullets, the Major and the two he'd chosen to accompany him ran to the office building in a half-crouch. Sure enough, Agent U was lying in the open north door in a pool of blood. "T! Get him back there!"

T shouldered U, who was mercifully unconscious, and S followed Klaus inside. The Major took each turn cautiously, ready to shoot as he rounded each corner. Two gunmen, it turned out, had been sheltering themselves from the alphabets' bullets just inside the north door. The Major shot them both and plunged on, S behind him.

They paused at every twist and turn of the hallways. Klaus's blood was racing, as it always did at such moments. Where the hell were G and B? What had given them away?

Well, at least one part of their mission had been accomplished. They had determined whether or not this building housed a nest of KGB agents. Unfortunately, they now had no chance at the contents of that safe on the fifth floor.

The Major and S found three more gunmen and dispatched them efficiently. Klaus briefly considered signalling the agents outside to enter the building in order to take prisoners, but instantly determined that this would have to wait until he knew the status of B and G.

"Quiet!" he ordered S, and they froze, listening. Deeper inside the building, more gunshots sounded. Klaus and S moved stealthily in their direction.

Fate smiled on Klaus for the first time in a while. He and S emerged at the ideal spot: right behind the agents who were standing off against B and G. The alphabets had created a barricade out of a couple of desks and were holding their ground, but their attackers outnumbered them five to two.

The Major smiled grimly as he stopped in the doorway. The KGB agents didn't even have time to turn all the way around at the sound of his approach before they were taken out, three by Klaus himself.

"Injuries?" he yelled at B and G.

"I'm shot in the leg, sir," B said, standing up slowly. "G's not hurt."

"Help B walk," Klaus ordered S. "G, how are you on ammunition?"

"Fully stocked, Major."

"Gut. We'll have to cover them on our way out of here."

The Major and G shot their way out of the building, wounding several more KGB agents in the process. It seemed to take a very long time, but eventually they reached the comparative safety of their makeshift hideout.

"We have to move out!" Klaus roared. "Get into the vans!" Alphabets sprinted from their various hiding places or else emerged from them cautiously, walking backwards, shooting all the way.

As they all piled into the two vehicles, it was G who blurted, "Where's Lord Gloria?"

Klaus scowled and whipped out his radio to speak to the agents in the other van. "Is Eroica with you?"

"No, sir. We thought he was with y--"

"Where is that goddamned Limey thief?"

No one knew. "Last time we saw him was in the hideout."

"Scheisse. Get moving. Pick me up three blocks south of here."

"But Major--"

Klaus jumped out of the van. A second later it obediently screeched off as he ran silently into the hideout.

Which was empty. No conniving English thieves, no burglary tools, no agents of either side. No one.

As he completed his search of the rooms, the Major suddenly realized how absurd this was. Twenty minutes ago, he had been exactly one breath away from finally snapping that pretty neck. Now he was set on hauling the idiot out of trouble. If he'd discovered that the enemy spies had captured the bloody thief, he would have risked his own neck to rescue the bastard without a thought. As he would for anyone who worked for him.

There really was such a thing as carrying duty too far.

He surveyed the room again. There was some limited disarray caused by his own people's hasty decampment, but no sign of a struggle. Eroica had left of his own free will.

More to the point, Eroica had fled. Probably fled Klaus, not the KGB.

So it seemed Klaus was finally free of the man whose lies had tormented him. The man he hated more than any other. The most painful reminder of the hopelessness of his own destiny.

The wave of depression that resulted from this thought only made Klaus despise himself more.

Sentimental balderdash, he reminded himself as he stalked out and headed for his rendezvous with his alphabets.

***

B and U were deposited at the hospital, A with them to confer with the doctors. From there the rest headed for the safehouse. Everyone was quiet; a failed mission and a defecting contractor were guaranteed to put the Major in mood that was bad even by his standards.

Klaus promptly called Bonn to report, and to berate the Chief for underestimating the danger of the mission. He and the Chief were having a less than amiable discussion of where the contents of that safe might get removed to now, and what their chances were of recovering it, when the door opened. "A's here," the Major snapped. "I'll call you back."

He hung up on the Chief's protest and turned to A. B had limped in behind him, looking worried. A had a satchel under his arm and a cowed expression. The other alphabets, all trying to calm down after the trying night, immediately tensed up again.

"U will have to be in hospital for a few weeks," A began nervously. "And B's leg is fine... he'll have to stay off it for a while, but it'll be--"

"What is that?" Klaus demanded, indicating the satchel.

A's eyes flickered around the room nervously. "Well. Erm. Eroica showed up in the hospital waiting room while I was there. He asked after all of us, and said to give you this." He cleared his throat. "While we were all shooting, he sneaked in and cracked that safe."

A dropped pin would have deafened everyone in the room.

"So. Ah. He said to give this to you. Sir."

The Major glared at him, his expression revealing nothing.

Then he snatched the satchel and stalked into the small private room he had claimed for himself to investigate it.

He had only had time to unfasten the clasp when A quietly knocked and entered.

A stammered, "Er -- Major -- Eroica also asked me to give you a message." He swallowed at the sudden iciness in his superior's eyes. "He said to tell you he was sorry, he didn't say for what," A blushed furiously, "and that he wouldn't be bothering you anymore."

The Major frowned and waved his hand in curt dismissal.

"I'll believe that when I see it," A heard him mutter.

***

"Darling, this is very cruel," Dorian warned. "It will ruin you forever for anything that can be found in normal shops. You'll be fated to scour the gourmet shops for the rest of your days."

Fernando grinned. "A risk I am willing to take. What is this?"

"Uniekas Parrano. A Dutch cheese. And if you think it isn't worth taking a cheese all that way, it's because you haven't had any yet." Dorian cut off a thin slice and extended it to his lover.

It was morning -- it truly was; it was still almost an hour before noon -- and they were sitting on the balcony adjacent to Dorian's bedroom at Castle Gloria, indulging in a very leisurely breakfast of fresh bread and appallingly expensive jams and honeys and fruits that Fernando hadn't known existed. The cheese really was wonderful, and Dorian was right: Fernando would never be able to settle for anything less costly again. There was, it turned out, a reason such things were so expensive.

It was a beautiful day, and Eroica was absolutely perfect. Fernando could not have found a more perfect lover had he designed the man himself.

There was the Earl's beauty, of course. That was so blinding as to need no mention.

Then, there was professional admiration on both sides. They were both masters in the same field. Though Fernando tended to steal more practical things than paintings.

But that was part of Dorian's charm, actually. His unabashed romanticism. He knew how to make life a work of art. It was precisely what Fernando looked for in a man, but had never found to such perfection before.

Fernando had entered the thieving profession at the very bottom, pushed by cruel necessity. As a grubby child, sleeping in a crowded tenement in Barcelona and picking pockets for a Fagin who beat him, he had taken note of the things the wealthy of the city had. And even then, as a child who could not so much as spell his own name and whose paternity would remain forever a mystery, he had seen not only the comfort of those things, but the beauty of them as well. He could have spent his entire life scrambling to maintain a mere existence, but early on he had set his sights on better things. Born and reared in the gutter, he had yet somehow acquired a gentleman's tastes and a poet's ideals.

And had pursued them by the only means available to him. He was among his profession's most respected stars.

As he had progressed, by the sheer force of his will, from pickpocket to robber to cat burglar, his colleagues had made it clear, though not in so many words, that they believed most of his dreams were foolishness. Those fated to follow this profession were condemned to enjoy only the lowest joys of life. Money, which was expected to be spent on the most transitory pleasures imaginable; the rush of adrenalin, in place of the satisfaction of real achievement; and of course, sex of the most animalistic sort, devoid of love or romance. Even many of the most successful professionals in his field never seemed to question that such was their lot in life. Their petty pleasures were more costly, but just as fleeting.

But Eroica knew better. Just as Fernando did.

Dorian's life had been considerably easier than Fernando's. Still, he had had his own trials. So much was evident in the ghost of sadness that flitted occasionally across that perfect face.

There could have been many sources for that sadness. The broken home in which Dorian had grown up, for instance. But though Fernando never asked, he could guess. What could it be but a man? A cad. He had to be, to break a heart like this. Not to mention an idiot, to give up the perfect lover. But then, Fernando already knew that the world was full of idiots who let treasures slip through their grasp. And into his.

In any case, whoever the man was, Fernando would make Dorian forget him.

Bonham appeared in the doorway. "Telephone, me lord."

Dorian did not move. "Anyone interesting?"

"The Chief in Bonn, me lord."

Dorian looked up. "I told you -- never mind. I'll talk to him." He took the phone. "Darling. How lovely of you to call." He listened for a moment, then said, "No, I don't think so. I'm sure you can get someone else to do it." Another pause, then, "Oh, just the usual. I'm sure you understand. I'm afraid I just won't be able to work with you boys any longer. Ta, darling."

He hung up and turned to Fernando with a smile that looked, Fernando fancied, more peaceful than those he was accustomed to seeing on that face. "That's that," Dorian said.

"That's what?"

"NATO." Dorian made a dismissive gesture, brushing NATO away with his hand.

"You worked for NATO?"

"On occasion. I had my reasons. But no more. Now, darling, what would you like to do today? Shall we go someplace nice, or..." Dorian gave a sly glance to the bedroom doors. "...or stay someplace nice?"

Fernando smiled as he considered. The one-sided phone conversation had shed little light on Dorian's ghosts, but somehow, he felt certain that a crossroads had just been passed. And that the road taken was in Fernando's favor.

***

The suspense was killing Klaus.

He probably should have gone the hell ahead and strangled the damned thief on that mission. Because now he was exactly where the bastard wanted him. Whatever Eroica's plans to manipulate him had been, they had all obviously been shattered. So now Eroica would no doubt take the easier route and blackmail him about his secret life. Or else seek revenge for their most recent encounters.

So Klaus waited, and waited, and waited.

But no blackmail demands were submitted. And no unwelcome revelations about Klaus's furtive excursions were made.

And as the months passed, Klaus began to think that neither would happen. And to wonder why.

And one day, he noticed that somewhere along the line, he had actually begun to question his conclusions about Eroica.

If his conviction about the conniving thief had been on target, then surely by now his disastrous night with the man would have had some sort of result. Public exposure and disgrace, or threats of same offered in return for the state secrets Klaus knew. Surely, after all the trouble Eroica had gone to for all these years, he would make sure he got some sort of result from it.

But he didn't. The last Klaus had heard from him was A's message. Eroica had risked his frivolous life by walking into a building which was full of spies shooting at each other, cracked a safe, and then turned over the (highly sensitive) documents within, and Klaus hadn't heard a word from him since.

The Major kept turning that one over in his mind. Eroica risking his neck that way seemed really to be going overboard in the course of a blackmail scheme. It was either a stunningly clever move, or else it wasn't a move at all.

Two months after that night, the Chief called him into his office and demanded to know what he had done to Eroica.

Klaus shrugged. "I didn't hit him even once this time," he said truthfully.

"You must have done something to upset him. He says he won't work for NATO anymore."

"He's just holding out for more money. Raise his fee."

"I did. I raised it until his pet Scrooge begged him to take the job. He wouldn't. And he won't tell me what you did." The Chief's eyes narrowed as he studied Klaus. "I asked him several times, offered to officially reprimand you for him, but he wouldn't say a word."

That didn't make any sense. Eroica should have seized the opportunity....

"There wasn't a word to say," Klaus snapped. "And there are other thieves in the world. Hire someone else. Now, if you don't have anything to say that's worth my time, I have work to do."

The Major had turned on his heel and left, and had hardly gotten any work done for the rest of that day.

Why the hell hadn't Eroica taken the chance to make trouble for him? It didn't make any sense.

Come to think of it... a lot of things didn't make sense.

And when reports of Eroica's new alliance with a Spanish thief named Fernando Montaya came his way, they made even less.

Or rather, they started to make an entirely new kind of sense.

Because, after all, if Eroica was a professional spy, which he would have had to be to spend so many years and such carefully calculated effort setting Klaus up... then why would he be wasting his time on another civilian thief with no intelligence connections whatever?

Klaus did not know quite when it happened, but at some point, he began to doubt his suspicions of Eroica.

One day he noticed the warmer weather, realized a little more than a year had passed since he had last seen the Earl of Gloria, and that no blackmail threats or fresh advances had been made.

That was the day he knew that he had been wrong.

***

Klaus hated occasions like these. Too many eligible women, for one thing. Too many people who knew about art, for another.

He had never attended one before, but his rank and fortune could have gained him entree to any auction of this sort, where moldy old paintings were sold for the value of Leopard tanks and in the outer rooms patrons downed obscure and antique wines as they displayed their jewelry collections on their necks and wrists and earlobes.

The entire event was the purest folly. These might be the beautiful people, but they were also idiots, brazenly advertising their valuables so that thieves could pick and choose which of them to rob first.

Speaking of thieves....

The man Klaus had come here to see was standing in front of some stupid old painting of a man in ridiculous clothes. Even though Dorian's back was turned, there was no mistaking that mane of golden curls.

Klaus surveyed the room quickly. There was no sign of Fernando Montoya. Had he been present, Klaus would have recognized him instantly; the Spanish thief's dark, handsome face was permanently imprinted on Klaus's brain. Had Montoya not been occupying the bed of the man of Klaus's dreams, Klaus might have had a different sort of interest in him.

Klaus steeled himself and walked across the room, feeling as if he were moving underwater. When he was a few feet away from Eroica, the Earl turned around and saw him. He stared at Klaus for a moment, then turned back to the painting, ostentatiously ignoring him.

Klaus swallowed. "Dorian," he began awkwardly. Dorian turned back to him, lifting an eyebrow.

"I am certain," Dorian said icily, "that a von dem Eberbach knows the proper way to address an Earl."

Klaus's face warmed. "My lord," he said with emphasis. "I have to ask you something."

"No, I am not going to work for NATO again. I don't care how vital the mission is. Not even if some madman has a diabolical scheme to pollute the world's water supply with a chemical that cures homosexuality. I won't do it."

"No," Klaus said in a strained voice. "This is... personal."

Dorian turned wide eyes that promptly became cynical to him. "Oh, I can tell already that this is going to be rich." His voice was drawling and sardonic.

Klaus thought about walking away. He stayed put. "Could we talk someplace more private?" At Dorian's wary glance, he added quickly, "I'm not going to hurt you."

"Pardon me if I don't trust you. I'm staying right here."

Klaus sighed. "Have it your way." He tried to take a deep breath. He didn't quite manage it. "Why haven't you... told anyone?"

"What, that you're queer?" Dorian snorted. He seemed to dismiss the idea at once. "God knows you deserve it. But I suppose that, despite years of association with you, I'm just not mean enough."

He was sincere. He hadn't blackmailed Klaus. He hadn't even threatened him. And now, he apparently still had no interest in wrecking Klaus's reputation. "Where's Montoya?" Klaus asked.

Dorian snorted again. "I should have known the minute you heard I had found someone else, you'd turn into a green-eyed monster."

Klaus swallowed. "I was wrong."

"Do you imagine that's news to me?"

"Will you at least let me explain?"

Dorian's lip curled disdainfully. "Is this going to get any lamer?"

"Probably."

This simple reply surprised Dorian a bit. "Then go ahead. After all, I think there may be a cliché or two you haven't gotten to yet."

Klaus's throat was tight, his mouth dry. He had to force every word out. "I wanted to explain to you... why I... always turned down your offers."

Dorian lifted an eyebrow and waited silently.

"You see, I... you were so perfect... you were everything I wanted...."

"I can tell you wrote this dialogue yourself," Dorian said cuttingly. "So, you treated me like dirt because I was what you wanted and your nasty childhood taught you to resist anything that you wanted because pleasure is weakness. And that's not going to get you back on my couch, for more psychoanalysis or anything else."

Klaus writhed inwardly. Outwardly he forced himself to continue. "No, I meant... I'm not that lucky. I couldn't believe that anything that good, that I wanted that much, could be real."

"Are you saying you didn't believe that I'm a natural blond? Well, only my hairdresser knows for sure, darling, and he never kisses and tells."

"I'm saying... I didn't believe that you really...." He couldn't say the words. "That you really felt the way you said you did."

The thief looked weary. "If I hadn't loved you, why on earth would I have made such an ass of myself over you? Or put up with the way you treated me? Idiot."

"I thought you had an ulterior motive." Klaus tried to swallow, but couldn't. "I thought... I thought you were sent by someone to work me over."

Dorian stared at him, his supercilious pose dropped. "Wait a minute. Are you saying that... you thought I was... a spy?!?"

"Well, yes, it was the only explanation that made...." Klaus's voice trailed off at the burning intensity of the other man's blue eyes.

Dorian's face had gone very white, and his blue eyes were absolutely blazing. When he finally spoke, it was in a hard, shaking voice.

"Klaus. You have always accused me of being a frivolous narcissist, and you were absolutely right. I live for pretty clothes and pretty pictures and pretty boys. Everything I do, I do because I enjoy it. I don't do anything important with my life, except for my bit of work for NATO, and my motives for that had nothing to do with making the world safe for democracy. I'm a hedonist. I want peace with Russia so that I can rely on getting good caviar. And before I met you, I would tumble any good-looking man who came along." He drew a breath. "But there is one thing in my life which has been completely serious. Just one thing that I held sacred. Just one. And that was my love for you." He shook his head slightly, gazing at Klaus with disturbing intensity. "And now -- all these years, I thought you simply weren't willing to face your own feelings. Now I find out that you didn't believe me. All I let you put me through, and you thought--" Dorian broke off and stepped away.

Klaus reached out and seized Dorian's wrist. Dorian twisted away. "Let go of me!"

"Dorian -- I'm sorry -- isn't there--"

"Major." He spoke the title with emphasis. Klaus fell silent, apprehensive. And Dorian's next words were quiet and full of venom.

"I never want to see you again."

***

Klaus hated hospitals. They were full of polite people who treated him like an invalid and wouldn't let him smoke. And being in one meant he wouldn't get to do any real work for a long while. It generally also meant that his mission had, more or less, screwed up. Well, the objective of this one had been achieved. The intelligence concerned was still in the appropriate hands. Though the bullet concerned was not in the appropriate stomach; it was in Klaus's. Or rather, it had been, till the doctors had removed it. Leaving a burning center of pain in its place which the drugs they made him take didn't help much. Klaus stared morosely at the pristine white ceiling. All he could do now, and for the next few weeks, was hurt and wait.

The door opened. Klaus glanced over with his eyes, not bothering to move his head, and resumed his inspection of the ceiling.

"Were you trying to get yourself killed, Eberbach?" the Chief demanded.

"No, sir," Klaus lied.

"That was a boneheaded thing to do. Jumping right out in front of the enemy like a first-year agent. What's the matter with you?"

"There was a bee," Klaus said.

"Well, you'll be out of action for a good three months at least. But look on the bright side: you can catch up on your paperwork." The Chief grinned. Klaus said a few nasty words. The Chief left, still grinning. Klaus said a few more nasty words at the closed door before quitting.

He had to concede that they were right. He wasn't fit for action. Soon he would be no more use to himself or anyone else, if things continued in this way.

But in a way, it was fortunate that he was at his desk that month, or else he might not have read a certain report concerning Interpol.

***

It was always good to see Arthur again. Arthur who had taught Dorian everything he knew about the thieving profession. And who never disapproved of anything he did, with the exception of mooning over psychotic repressed NATO Majors. And who was consequently very pleased with Dorian at the moment.

"Montoya's among the best in Spain, you know, Eroica," Arthur informed him with approval. They were lounging on the leather-upholstered sofas in Arthur's living room, along with a couple of his other former students. Old friends.

"Where is he tonight?" asked Ron, the older of them. "We would have liked to meet him."

"Jealous, Ron?" Tobias jibed lightly, hauling himself reluctantly to his feet. He had never altogether stopped ribbing Ron about his brief liaison with Dorian some years earlier, even though it remained Ron's only such encounter with another man. And even though Tobias would not, at the time, have been averse to such a liaison himself, had Dorian been interested. But Tobias simply wasn't attractive, not to Dorian. "I'll go mix us another batch." Tobias picked up the empty pitcher which had held margaritas a few minutes ago and ambled out to the kitchen.

Dorian smiled at Ron, a friendly smile that said all that was over and forgotten. "He's going to some reception, staking out his next job. I never go with him; I think I'd be a bit too eye-catching."

The others chuckled. "I'm glad to hear you two are getting along so well," Arthur said with an affectionate look at his favorite pupil. "How long has it been?"

Dorian thought. "Gracious. It's been a little more than a year."

"Don't tell me Eroica has finally settled down!" Ron teased.

"And why not?" Dorian smiled secretly at what little remained of his margarita.

"It seems to suit you," Arthur commented. "You look better than you have in years."

Dorian laughed. "Thanks, I think."

"No, I mean... you've got more color. You look happier."

"And it's obvious he adores you," Ron said, a little sheepishly.

"Being adored suits me, I suppose," Dorian answered cheerfully.

"Better than a wire rope, anyway," Ron agreed, just as Tobias came in with a fresh pitcher.

"Wire rope? I gather Eroica's telling you what happened to his Major?"

Dorian's head whipped around to Tobias. Then he forced himself to look casually out the window. "He isn't 'my' Major anymore. Well, all right, he never was."

Tobias refilled everyone's margaritas. "Well, good thing. He almost bought it a few weeks ago. Word is he's burnt out."

The heightened color Arthur had approved of in Dorian's face was gone. Dorian gave up trying to give the impression that there was anything interesting about the oak tree outside and looked at Tobias. "What have you heard? What do you mean, he almost bought it?"

Ron and Arthur exchanged glances. Tobias answered blithely as he settled back down. "I mean he took a bullet right in the gut. He's riding a desk now."

"And what about his being burnt out?"

Tobias shrugged. "Maybe he misses you," he said flippantly, not noticing the warning looks from the others. "But it seems he's taken some dumb chances over the last year. I heard somebody call him Rusty Klaus."

It was a while before Dorian was able to look any of the others in the eye.

"Well, after all, I was in love with him for years," he said defensively. "I can't help still caring what happens to him. It isn't as if that sort of thing just evaporates."

"What about Fernando?" Ron prodded gently.

"I adore Fernando. He's everything I could possibly want."

"You're not thinking of taking up with that German psychopath again," Arthur said.

Dorian rolled his eyes. "Someday I'll tell you about the last few times I saw him. Even I have my limits. Not that I was entirely blameless," he admitted as an afterthought.

"That Eroica's saying that is a bad sign," Ron informed Arthur.

Dorian turned solemn eyes on him. "So the old Eberbach virus isn't entirely out of my system yet," he remarked. "But now I've got Fernando. I couldn't do that to him, even if I were crazy enough to want to."

Tobias, wishing to mend his gaffe, raised his margarita glass. "To Fernando Montoya, then."

They all raised their glasses and drank. In his pocket, where no one could see, Arthur crossed his fingers. No one mentioned the Major again that evening.

***

Fernando Montoya glowered at the walls of his Interpol cell and blamed himself.

Stupid mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He knew better. He knew a mansion like that one would have had a better security system than that. It was clever, he had to admit, putting up two separate systems so that anyone who disabled the first would then stroll unawares right into the second. Still. A thief of his stature should have seen it coming.

He sat on his bed, his knees drawn up to his chest and his back very straight, head high, absorbed in contemplation of his own idiocy.

He wouldn't have thought that an affair of the heart could blunt his edge so much. He wouldn't have believed that he could let it. But he had overlooked the secondary alarm system that night because he was preoccupied with Dorian, and there was no use pretending otherwise.

At that thought, he let his head fall forward and laced his fingers in his own hair. Dorian.

Something was wrong with Dorian, he knew it. And he was terribly afraid he knew what it was.

There was nothing tangible. No unexplained absences. No flimsy excuses. Nothing like that. But that flash of sadness, which had almost vanished, had suddenly returned a hundredfold. On any given day or night, it would show up at least a dozen times.

Dorian never complained. And Fernando never doubted that Dorian cared for him. But as the weeks went by, Fernando found himself progressively more certain that the ghost of whatever man had broken Dorian's heart had been resurrected; why, he did not know. And Fernando couldn't figure out how to fight that.

Hearing the key in the lock, Fernando promptly straightened and looked haughtily at the guard. Who held up a pair of cuffs. "You have a visitor, Montoya."

Fernando frowned. His lawyer had been in only yesterday. Surely Dorian wouldn't have been insane enough to...? "Who is it?"

The guard scowled impatiently. "Let's go."

Fernando submitted to the cuffs with stony dignity and let himself be guided through the halls, into the same sanitized room where the lawyer Dorian had sent to him had spoken with him. But now there was a man Fernando did not know sitting there, a man with shoulder-length dark brown hair that belied his military posture, wearing a perfectly pressed and spartanly tailored tan suit and a tie that Fernando would have burned had it shown up in his own closet. He was taking a drag on a cigarette as Fernando entered, and he exhaled a cloud of smoke before raising unfriendly green eyes to him.

"Who are you?" Fernando asked bluntly.

"Major Klaus von dem Eberbach. NATO." The man spoke Fernando's native Spanish with a German accent. Fernando decided that the man would have been handsome had his expression been less sour. He walked slowly to a chair and sat down, taking his time.

"I wasn't aware that I was wanted by NATO. Are you all going to fight over who gets to imprison me?" Fernando asked drily.

"Shut up, you idiot." Good God. Even for a cop, the German had no manners. "I'm prepared to secure your release. I'll claim that your intended victim was a suspected spy and that you were working for me when you attempted that break-in. I can call in enough favors to smooth over any complications."

Fernando stared at the German, bewildered. "In return for what? You want me to work for NATO?" He didn't like the idea at all. But needs must when the devil drives....

"No." The Major's refusal was very firm. He seemed to be slightly queasy at the idea. "This... is personal." He stubbed out his half-finished cigarette and immediately lit another one, having a bit of trouble making the lighter work.

Fernando said nothing, entertaining unpleasant suspicions. At length the Major got his cigarette lit and dropped his lighter on the tabletop, where it made a surprisingly loud clatter.

"You've been... seeing... Eroica for quite a while," the Major said at last.

"If you want me to turn him in, you could've saved yourself the trip over here," Fernando said promptly.

Emerald eyes focused on him appraisingly. "Good. Because what I want...." The German drew an uneasy breath. "I want you to stay with him."

Fernando's eyes widened. Flummoxed, all he could say was, "What?"

"I want you to...." The Major examined his cigarette, the wall, a pen on the tabletop as if all were exotic objects. "To give him... whatever it is he needs. Make him happy," he snapped, in the tone he might have used if someone were arguing with him, as if hoping an abrasive tone would counteract his words. Abruptly, he skewered Fernando with that deep green glare again. "Have you ever hit him?" he demanded.

"Of course not," Fernando answered, horrified.

The German nodded brusquely. "See to it that you don't. Or I will find you and kill you. Slowly."

Light dawned in Fernando's reeling brain. "You're the one," he said slowly. "You're the one he's been carrying the torch for all these years."

The Major did not look at him. "I blew it," he said flatly, drawing in more smoke as if it were the only thing anchoring him. "I thought -- well, I was an idiot."

"What did you do to him?" Fernando demanded as the import of the Major's odd question dawned on him. Without realizing it, he was rising, calculating the distance to the Major's jugular.

The German cast him a derisive glance. "Sit down and keep still, idiot. I'll never see him again. I've burned my bridges there. Blew them to smithereens," he added as if to himself. "I can't give him what he needs. Not now." His voice was very hard, as if he were daring Fernando to laugh at him. "But I can do this much. You want out of here, you agree to my price. You will remain Eroica's lover for as long as he wants you. You will never hurt him in any way. And you will never tell him, or anyone, about this. About my telling you this, or my getting you out of trouble with Interpol. Break the bargain, and prison will be the least of your worries. Refuse it, and I'll arrange for you to be extradited to the most backward third world prison I can find. And I know where all of them are."

Fernando studied the German for a few minutes. The silence was broken only by the flick of the Major's lighter as he ignited yet another cigarette.

"You still love him," Fernando said at last.

The Major met his glance for just one second.

Fernando found himself cold and shivering inside.

Dorian had shown him some painting of Hell once. As he had told Fernando all about the work's history, Dorian had quoted some classic that Fernando, with his sketchy education, had never read: "This is hell, nor am I out of it."

The most haunting thing about the work had not been the imaginative torments the demons had been subjecting the damned souls to, but the eyes of one of those souls. It had made Fernando shiver even then.

But it was much worse in real life.

"I accept," Fernando said numbly. And for that moment, his chief motive was not his own love for Eroica, or his desire for freedom. It was compassion for the man sitting across from him.

***

"Look what the cat dragged in, me lord," Bonham announced cheerfully.

Dorian, sitting crosslegged in the center of his bedroom surrounded by alarm schematics, looked up and then scrambled to his feet. "Fernando!" In an instant he was across the room, his arms wrapped tight around his lover.

Fernando returned the embrace with relief, closing his eyes and burying his face in soft golden curls. He wished he had a god to pray to.

"How did you get out?" Dorian breathed as Bonham exited, quietly closing the door behind him.

Fernando's brows drew together. He took a breath. "Some Major from NATO told them I was working for him."

Dorian's response was instant and unmistakable. He went rigid in Fernando's arms, while Fernando felt again that coldness he had when looking into satanic green eyes.

Dorian slowly pulled back and looked at him. Dorian's lips were white, and his face was ashen.

"What?" Dorian asked at last, in a strained voice.

Fernando had already decided that he was going to break two of the three promises he had made the German. Now he broke the first. He told Dorian all about his conversation with the Major. Dorian listened in stunned silence.

"You still love him, don't you?" Fernando asked quietly.

Dorian looked at the floor. "Fernando -- you're utterly wonderful...."

"That's what I thought," Fernando answered bitterly. He leaned forward to brush Dorian's lips with his own. It would have been easier to cut off his own right arm than to step away from that embrace. Fernando stepped away from it. And proceeded to break his second promise to the Major.

Fernando held Dorian's gaze. Dorian's eyes were wide and anguished.

"He loves you enough to give you up," Fernando said softly. "So do I."

He turned on his heel and headed for the door.

This is hell, nor am I out of it.

Dorian had ruined him forever for normal pleasures. He would be fated to scour the gourmet shops forever, searching for exotic foods and for another thief with the soul of a poet and the face of an angel.

Call me back. Please God, Dorian, call me back. Don't let me walk out that door.

Fernando reached the door, and put his hand on the knob, and opened it, and walked through, and closed it behind him.

And not a word was said to stop him.

***

Klaus entered the garish little Amsterdam bar feeling disappointed in advance. For almost two years now the demands of his body had been overridden by the aftershocks of his night with Dorian. The fear of discovery, the sense of betrayal and guilt, and the sure knowledge that no one could measure up to Eroica had all kept him taking cold showers and doing a lot of running. Now, defeated, he walked in and morosely surveyed the clientele.

There would be no romantic illusion, this time. He couldn't endure it, not now. Tonight would be pure animal rutting, exactly the sort of thing he had always despised.

He could not conceal his gloom, which frightened away the first few men he approached. After a few tries, he sat alone at the bar, torn between getting out of the dismal place and meeting his body's demands.

The bartender placed a fresh drink in front of him. Klaus looked up in mild surprise. The bartender jerked his head. "From the lovely lad in the last booth," he explained.

Klaus swiftly finished the drink he already had, picked up the new one, and headed for the booth. Probably a shy or perhaps homely man, figuring that if Klaus had already struck out a few times tonight, he would be willing to settle. Well, maybe he would. He had already had the best; anyone would be a comedown after Dorian anyway.

He reached the booth and turned as its occupant stood... and his dreams came true.

Dorian took Klaus's drink and set it on the table without a word. And without preamble, he embraced Klaus and kissed him.

It was bliss to hold Dorian again. Knowing that it was him. Klaus's mind warned that this could not be real, this could not last. So Klaus kept his eyes closed and breathed in the scent of roses and kept on kissing, making the moment last.

Let the illusion last forever.

"You have to do one thing for me," Dorian said when they had to stop to breathe, not releasing him.

"Anything," Klaus answered simply.

"Don't kill Fernando. He told me everything. Because he knew that he was going to lose me."

"But... why?"

"Because I have an incurable case of Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. I love you."

"You can't. After all I've done--"

"I told you. There is just one thing in my life which is serious and sacred. Just one thing that isn't for pure, hedonistic pleasure. You, darling. Once I began to love you, I could never be the same again."

"You're an idiot," Klaus sighed, shaking his head.

"Lucky for you," Dorian agreed, and kissed him again. When their lips parted, Dorian added, "'You can't' is not the proper response to 'I love you.'"

Klaus's innards twisted. "I have no right to--"

"I want to hear it," Dorian told him serenely.

Klaus swallowed and spoke in a low voice. "I love you. I always have."

Dorian closed his eyes and drew a breath as if he'd been holding it for a long time. "It's about time." And kissed him again, for so long that Klaus felt as if he were drowning. And then Dorian simply wrapped his arms around Klaus's neck and held him, burying his face against Klaus's chest. Klaus wound trembling fingers in tumbling golden curls.

"I don't deserve you," Klaus protested.

"No, you don't," Dorian agreed calmly. "But I deserve you."

"Aren't you fed up with me yet?"

"Indeed I am. There'll be no more nonsense from you, laddy-buck." Dorian's tone was playful, but Klaus could not miss the serious undercurrent to it. "No more insults," Dorian ordered, planting a brief kiss on Klaus's mouth. "No more physical assaults." He punctuated his phrases with a series of kisses along Klaus's jaw. "No more death threats." Klaus had to cling to the other man to stay upright; his knees had dissolved. "No more idiotic kamikaze moves in the line of duty." Dorian twined his long fingers in Klaus's straight dark hair. "No more running around with strange men." This last was accompanied by a reproving look which quickly melted into affection as Dorian drew him closer. "You're going to behave much better from here on out, darling."

"Do you want to hit me?" Klaus heard his own voice asking.

Dorian regarded him, speculative and a bit startled. He shook his head slightly. "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

Klaus whispered inanely, "Dorian -- I'll make it up to you -- I swear, no matter what I have to do, if it takes me the rest of our lives, I swear I'll make it up to you...."

Dorian looked up at him. His smile glowed incandescently. Klaus felt as if he were looking straight into the sun.

Dorian said in a low, husky tone, "You just did."

 

 
Eroica