A Garden in Paris

by MJJ

An invitation to dinner at the Savoy Hotel with the man of one's dreams should be enough to make anyone happy, but not when one's beloved behaves as perversely as Klaus was behaving now. Bad enough that he looked as if Dorian had some pestilential disease that might be contagious, which from Klaus' point of view he did: and if only, thought Dorian, gazing dreamily into the sea-green eyes, Klaus would contract it. But worse, much worse, was being made to look at other men's pictures: and such unattractive men at that.

"You know the General, of course," Klaus said as if he doubted it, laying down a photo of a blond sharp-featured man in his late forties.

"I don't believe we've actually met," Dorian murmured, barely giving it a glance.

"No of course you haven't met," said Klaus testily. "As far as we know, he's never left his native Circassia: assuming of course, that it *is* his native Circassia. We can't be sure of anything about his origins."

"Oh, in that case, no, I don't know him. I've never been to Circassia."

Klaus gave him a small smile. "Why don't you go?" he suggested mildly.

Dorian looked confused. "But isn't there a war on or something? Or am I thinking of somewhere else? All those little countries get a touch muddled in my head..."

"It's not just Slavic countries that get muddled, Lord Gloria, not in *your* head. And yes, for your information, there is indeed a war on in Circassia and has been for three years. A very bloody, bitter, sectarian religious war. There are two or three major armies involved and as many more small ones, and between them they've succeeded in tearing the country apart. All efforts to stabilize the situation, or even to negotiate a cease fire, have met with failure." Klaus sounded rather like a BBC newscaster. Since the BBC news was Dorian's favourite cure for insomnia, he found himself giving a reflex yawn.

"Religious wars are always so destructive," he sighed. "And so pointless. Rather like religion, some people would say."

"No doubt they would," Klaus replied with distaste. "But not the kind of person I prefer to associate with. In any case, the religious problem is minor compared to the tribal and territorial issues involved. Back of this war there are centuries of bad feeling, and because of it Circassia has been, until just recently, on the verge of disintegrating into a number of armed camps and nothing more."

He tapped the photograph. "But last year, one of the smaller armies began to have a series of stunning successes. The General is a mercenary with no known religious ties. Apparently he comes from one of the hill tribes. They've always fought among themselves but generally held aloof from conflict down in the plains. Using his own army of mercenaries, bolstered by defectors from other factions, he's taken three of the major towns and held them against all odds. He's now in the process of fighting for the capital. If he can take that, some kind of stability may return to the country."

This was all vaguely familiar. Dorian supposed he'd seen the face on the cover of magazines like The Economist and Time. The thatch of sun-bleached blonde hair, the amazingly bright blue eyes, the sharp features surrounded by a network of tiny, almost invisible lines... It was a good photograph. And it made him feel a little cold. The eyes were not quite sane, the mouth betrayed an ambition to be filled at all costs, and the whole face conveyed a virility that Dorian found oddly- very oddly- repulsive. Maybe if I were a woman, he thought abstractedly...

"I'm glad I don't know him," he said without thinking.

Klaus gave him a peculiar glance. "He's a dangerous and unprincipled man, with neither religion nor morals. But he's the only hope for the country. NATO wants to keep him alive. And unfortunately, someone else wants him dead."

"All the other armies, surely?"

"Naturally," said Klaus dismissively. "But this assassination plot appears to have originated outside the country, and to be connected to someone actually in the general's camp. Unfortunately our informant was killed in the shelling of Vbronsk. The details he managed to pass on to us are extremely scanty. The centre of the plot seems to be in Paris. That being the case we're fairly safe in assuming that the instigation comes from this man."

A second photograph was laid beside the first. It showed a large man with a black moustache, in formal dress, chatting animatedly with a woman in a ball gown and tiara. The face displayed an almost exaggerated wellbeing and bonhomie, but the pale pursy little eyes told another story.

"Taken at the Paris Opera last year. The exiled President is a great supporter of the arts."

"Oh," said Dorian. "Now this one I *do* know. He has- I mean, he had- quite a nice Matisse..."

"Please," said Klaus with distaste, "Spare me the details of your burglarious career. I dislike thieves almost as much as I dislike perverts, and you happen to be both."

"I don't think you've met enough thieves *or* perverts to form a reasonable judgment, Major. If you expanded your circle a little, you might change your mind."

"One is enough, thank you. Kindly pay attention to what I'm saying. It's important that you understand the background to this mission but I'd like to conclude this interview as quickly as possible."

"Oh very well. But politics make me thirsty; I hope you don't mind if I send for reinforcements?" Dorian raised a finger and a young Beardsley faun of a waiter appeared at his side, ready with adoring eyes to take his order.

"More wine, Major?" Klaus made a stiff sign of refusal. "Ah well, in that case, a half bottle of the Macon '75 please, dear."

He smiled winsomely at the young man who trotted off on his errand with the expression of one who has been vouchsafed a glimpse of the beatific vision.

"If I may continue..." Klaus said repressively. "The civil war began after a coup d'état which sent the President- and the fortune he amassed during his term of office- off to a pleasant exile in Paris. In spite of the fact that there's virtually nothing left of his native country worth going back to, he seems desirous of returning. He's been trying to get his supporters in the capital to arrange an amnesty. The General has said he'll personally castrate him if he sets foot on Circassian soil. He probably means it."

"Fascinating," Dorian murmured, watching the Macon slide into his wine glass. "You're sure you won't have some, Major? Dear, bring another wineglass. I'm sure he'll change his mind in time."

Klaus ignored the interruption. "Now we come to the area where you're involved. Are you acquainted with the de Marquère family?"

Dorian was surprised. "Why yes, of course. I've been to the Baroness' salon several times. A charming woman, even if she does collect only modern art of the obstinately ugly school. Braques and Bacon and such. Her husband at least buys eighteenth century prints: too pale for me, though the composition can be charming enough..."

"Never mind their artistic tastes. Our agent said that de Marquère was definitely involved in the plot. We've been unable to turn up any connection between the de Marquères and the President beyond the most superficial social contacts, which argues that the conspirators are being very cautious. But we've discovered a Circassian connection in the Baron's personal circle, who must be the link between him and the conspiracy. It's possible that you know him as well."

Klaus laid the third photograph in front of Dorian. It was an interior shot and the lighting was not of the best. Madame la Baronne, small and vivacious, was standing next to the short dapper Baron, her head turned to smile up at a tall pale man on her other side. Beside the dark bird-like de Marquères, so vivid and alive even in a photograph, the other's features seemed to lack both definition and expression. His colouring looked washed out, almost albino, but that might have been the fault of the photographer who had taken a spur of the moment picture with too bright a flash.

"I don't think I do, but then he doesn't seem the sort of person one would remember offhand. It's hard to tell, with all this dirt on the negative." Dorian's finger indicated the dark blob which obscured part of the unknown man's face."

"That's an eyepatch. He lost an eye in the war. It makes him easy to identify."

"And when he doesn't have it on, does it make it hard?" Dorian was simply being facetious, but Klaus stared at him as if he'd been struck in the face. Dorian grew alarmed. "Major, dear, whatever is the matter? Did I say something I shouldn't have?"

Klaus blinked and swallowed hard. "No, no, not at all. I forget occasionally that you are not always and necessarily a fool, Lord Gloria."

"Darling, you say the sweetest things," Dorian burbled, covering Klaus' chagrin with frivolity.

It worked. "Don't call me darling," Klaus snapped with reflex irritation. "This friend of the de Marquère's is called M.Serge. He seems to function without a last name, unless of course that *is* his last name. He runs an antiquarian book and print store somewhere back of the Boulevard St. Germain, with a number of distinguished clients, the Baron among them. He's probably the source of those prints you find so unsatisfactory. Claims to have studied in Berlin, has a degree in fine arts from the Sorbonne. Travels regularly to Holland, Austria and Germany, less often to Britain and Italy: always on business, attending auctions. I'm surprised you don't know him."

"Prints," Dorian murmured deprecatingly. "So dull, so--

colourless. Give me a good oil painting anytime."

"Or else, of course, you'll take it. Acquaintances say M.Serge is polite and pleasant but not forthcoming. Solitary, lives by himself, associates with his clients and other dealers but appears to have no close friends. He travels on a French passport which gives his irthplace as Circassia. With the present state of that country, naturally, it's impossible to verify any other facts about him. Including, as you've just pointed out, whether he really has one eye or two. He lives on the second and third floors above his bookstore. We want you to break into his house."

"Oh," said Dorian, only half pretending surprise. "But... I mean, what do you want found?"

"Anything that would tie him to the President or a plot to kill the General. Anything at all suspicious. Large, unaccounted-for sums of money, lists of names, correspondence not related to business. Anything, in fact, that might shed light on the man and his movements."

"But Major- this is all so vague. If I know exactly what I'm looking for, of course I can find it without difficulty. But I'm a thief, not an agent. How do I know what's suspicious and what isn't? You know I love to be of use to you, Klaus, but really, wouldn't one of your own men be better?"

"I've said all this to the Chief already. He simply won't listen to reason. Tracing the source of this plot is absolutely important and- though God alone knows why- he's convinced only you have the background to uncover the truth about M.Serge. I don't think you've got the knowledge or the common sense to find what we're looking for, but I've received my orders." Klaus looked at him with an intensification of the old dislike.

For once, Dorian was almost inclined to agree with the Major's assessment. This wasn't his kind of thing at all. He hoped the stakes weren't too high. Klaus' next statement immediately disillusioned him.

"NATO of course informed the General that there was a plot against his life which might involve some of the men around him, in the hopes that he'd take extra precautions. The General, unfortunately, is a true hillsmen. His distrust of outsiders is pathological. He refused to believe a word, demanded the proof we don't have, accused us of trying to cause disruption in his faction and had our agent slung out of his camp. If this plot is to be stopped and the country saved from ruin, we- or rather, you- are going to have to do it alone." Klaus' bleak expression left no doubt about how he estimated Dorian's chance of success.

"Here are your tickets to Paris and your hotel reservation. You leave tomorrow morning. I have to return to Bonn this evening; in fact-" glancing at his watch- "I must leave for the airport at once."

"But darling- I ran out and got us tickets for the opera as soon as I heard you were coming. Pavarotti is singing Calaf--"

"I don't care for opera," Klaus said shortly. "Contact me at this number tomorrow night when you've completed your mission."

He laid all the papers on the table. Dorian opened his mouth to protest, his instinctive dislike of the proposal intensified by Klaus' treating him like some underling who could be ordered about from here to breakfast. Realization dawned just in time. Of course Klaus would always obey orders conscientiously and never knowingly sabotage a mission; but unconsciously he was doing his best to make Dorian refuse. How tiresome. There was no chance this time of wringing concessions from the man he loved as the price of his co-operation. Klaus would only resist adamantly, and report to his superiors that Eroica had refused to give his services.

Klaus thought he would fail. Well, that made it all the more imperative that he succeed. Not merely to be of use to his beloved but to have that beloved seriously in his debt. Dorian's self-confidence bounced back from its momentary doubts like a squash ball off the court wall.

"Of course, darling. Anything you say. And you will drink a toast to my success, won't you?" He poured the last of the Macon into the other wineglass and handed it to von dem Eberbach.

Klaus smiled grimly and raised his glass. "To your success, Lord Gloria," he said, and drank it down quickly. Dorian felt giddy with wine and exhilaration.

"How about a kiss for luck?" he suggested.

"Absolutely not!" the Major roared, and seizing his briefcase he strode out of the dining room.

"Au'voir, mon amour!" Dorian called to his fleeing back, and sat smiling to himself for quite fifteen minutes afterwards.



2.

Sitting next day in a somewhat different restaurant, Eroica was feeling much less buoyant. It might be spring elsewhere but in Paris the sky was grey and, even in a Fair Isle jumper, Dorian was distinctly chilly. The dark asphalt streets, still wet with the rain that was falling when he'd disembarked at Charles de Gaulle airport this morning, breathed off a cold dispiriting dankness. He'd dropped by the print store, a narrow three-storey building in the rue Galande, to see what he could discover in daylight, only to find that M.Serge subscribed to the lunatic French custom of closing on Wednesday afternoons. It was all very well for sweet shops and iron mongers in small English villages to be closed on Wednesdays, Dorian thought in cosmopolitan disgust, but one expected something more of the City of Lights.

So now he was sitting in the Café de l'Odeon at the corner of the Rue St. Germain and the Boul'Mich, while the thunderous Parisian traffic roared past him and the high-strung Parisian inhabitants sat smoking all around him. Wet pavement, diesel exhaust and Gauloises, that was the smell of Paris: and thanks to the latter two, the air was blue and nearly unbreatheable.

In the right mood and under the right circumstances Dorian rather liked the Parisians, but today he found them merely wearing. All the people who passed him leaned forward as if walking into a strong wind, and the slowest gait visible was a fast scuttle. Strolling seemed unheard of. Wherever the crowds were going, they obviously couldn't wait to get there. A little valium in the water supply, Dorian mused, would do the Parisians absolutely no harm at all...  All the young couples at the tables around him-- they were almost all young, this being the university district, and almost all couples, the French being hopelessly heterosexual most of the time-- were carrying on animated conversations, their hands and the inevitable cigarettes held in them never stopping for a moment. Dorian felt surrounded by a forest of fluttering little birds and was obsessively remembering the incomprehensible punchline to a joke some small American child had once told him on a trans-Atlantic liner: "Let your pages do the walking through the yellow fingers." Fortunately the steak and frites he was eating were excellent, and the pichet of red wine was superb, even for a vin ordinaire. Otherwise he might almost- almost- have been tempted to forget the whole thing and go home.

It was ridiculous, to think of the de Marquères plotting the death of a Circassian general. Such nice people, in spite of their unfortunate artistic tastes. It was, in fact, owing to those tastes that Dorian's acquaintance with them had been able to pass beyond a preliminary reconnoitre of the apartment. Surely it must be someone else?: except that there were no other de Marquères. The present Baron's grandfather's grandfather had been ennobled by Napoleon III for efficient victualling of the Emperor's troops, and since that time the family had produced one male offspring per generation and no more. Dorian had been admiring a picture of the only son, a dark charmer whose fascination with the mechanics of banking and the Bourse seemed almost to outstrip his own dear James', when that piece of information had emerged. He and the Baron had then commiserated with each other on the frailty of noble titles, always a melancholy subject for Dorian. But young Jean-Claude, with his Place d'Etoile friends, hardly seemed the sort to get involved in assassination plots of minor East European generals. Even the Baron seemed more likely.

Perhaps the de Marquères were simply being used by this mysterious M.Serge. Dorian was a little vague on how one went about passing secret information: his mind furnished the words 'cipher' and 'code' and mistily suggested something like a first edition of - oh, A Rebours, perhaps - no, an antiquarian dealer: Michelangelo's sonnets, then- with pinpricks under significant words... "My dear Baroness, could you possibly give this to the President if you see him tonight at the Opera? I meant to go myself but I have the most excruciating migraine..." Well, it was not impossible. The clue would be inside M.Serge's safe: and that would have to wait another twelve hours until the dead of night.

Meanwhile, on Wednesdays the Baroness was 'at home'. The de Marquère women had always been famous for the brilliance of their salons. It was a Baronesse de Marquère who'd charmed Proust out of his cork-lined room, in spite of his horror of parvenues, and who had cheered Oscar Wilde's exile by inviting a succession of artistic and charming young men on the afternoons when the Irishman was in attendance. Another had borne with unruffled equanimity the aging Colette's cats, which she'd insisted on bringing with her, the passes Garcia Lorca kept making at her husband, and Alice B. Toklas' regular requests for the recipe of everything she ate under the de Marquère roof. Only Ernest Hemingway had succeeded in making her lose her sang froid: she had requested that his one, drunken, visit not be repeated. The Baron's mother, an even more accommodating woman, had pretended not to notice when Genet took the spoons and salt cellars, and had allowed Cocteau to decorate her bathroom with a larger than life size (in certain areas) nude drawing of Jean Marais.

The rain was still holding off, andit was a short pleasant walk to the apartment in the Rue de Bièvre. Dorian was not, in fact, prepared for the gendarmes in the street when he reached it, who stopped him and civilly inquired his business. They seemed delighted to learn that he was an English lord and that he was off to visit a French baron; especially as it transpired that they were presently guarding the residence of the new Socialist president. Wondering just why the French insisted on calling themselves republicans, Dorian at last found himself entering the third floor 'appartement de grand standing', and being kissed on both cheeks by Madame la Baronne in a cloud of Chanel perfume and a dress from the same house.

"My dear Lord Gloria, it's been an age, but simply an eternity, since I saw you last. Henri, it's Dorian."

"Ah, mon vieux, how are things going?" The Baron too kissed him twice. Though older than Dorian cared for, he was still a handsome man, with the high cheekbones and cat-like good looks common to many Parisians. It was as well that he also possessed a shapely skull because, like so many of his countrymen, his hair had started to recede when he was still in his thirties. All those hormones, thought the Earl, had certain drawbacks. Aloud, he said, "Oh, very well, very well, thank you. I came to catch the new exhibit at the Louvre. But my dear Baron, I'm taking you from your guests."

"Oh, that's alright." He looked down his thin nose with amusement and murmured, sotto voce, "This lot can take care of themselves. They never stop talking long enough to notice whether we're there or not. A new fad of Mathilde's. If you're going to sit in on the conversation, by all means let Georges bring you a gin and cassis. A double, Georges. And another one for me."

Dorian took his drink with some hesitation and perched on a deep-gold brocade armchair. A number of men and women were keeping up a lively conversation, finishing each other's sentences and laughing uproariously.

"Well," one was saying, "we no longer need to persevere, since the père sevère has traded l'amour for la mort-"

"Achieved closure," another chimed in.

"Taking his père versions with him," a third laughed.

"He never cared for mine. Said I kept inserting my Name of the Father into inappropriate lacuna-"

"Lacana-"

"Never that. All I wanted was to bring signification to someone's manque, or some man's c- I won't say it-"

"Another repressed signifier?"

"Lack is expressed by zero, the round hole, hence the signified must be the same above and below and on both sides. After all, the woman doesn't exist..."

Eroica, who had thought he understood French, was utterly adrift. "The stern Father?" "Name of the Father?" It sounded like Christianity to him. Tentatively he tapped the shoulder of the woman sitting on his right.

"Excuse me, are they talking about religion?"

She looked at him in surprise. "No of course not. Penises."

Dorian, who'd thought he knew something about that subject too, was floored. He looked around for Henri or Mathilde, hoping for enlightenment or at any rate sanity. But the Baron was deep in discussion with a solid bull-dog of a man who had 'banker' written all over him, while his hostess and a pair of woman friends were having a simultaneous three-way conversation, their low voices swooping up and down like swallows and their hands fluttering like butterflies' wings: "Mais c'est terrible, cette pauvre fille..." "Bien qu'elle soit un peu complexée, quoi..." "Mais c'est tout a fait dingue, comme disent les gosses..."

Over in the corner, however, a single man stood leafing through one of the large folios that the Baron kept out on the table. A curé of some sort, to judge by the black cassock: although Dorian hadn't realized the Church had become so liberal in the length it allowed its priests to wear their hair. This one's blonde ponytail reached halfway down his back. Was that a soutaine he had on? On closer view it looked more like some kind of cossack coat with a slightly tailored waist, its severe black relieved only by a thin red piping on the front between the high rounded collar and the hem. The skirt stopped just below the calf, showing black boots beneath. Something about the whole ensemble suggested old photographs of Dostoevsky and Rasputin...

"Hello," he said to the stranger. "Do allow me to introduce myself. I'm..."

The other's head turned and Dorian lost his breath. A pale, plain face- no, a pale beautiful face- no, not pale... Even as he looked it changed almost out of recognition. It was like watching someone peel the backing off a transfer, the bright colours suddenly showing clearly where all had been undefined a moment before. Suddenly there was life and a world of meaning in the wide carved mouth, the long oval face with its high cheekbones, the upslanting brows, and the thick-lashed-- eye: because the other one was covered by a black silk eye-patch.

Serge, he thought, but remotely, while last night's opera sang gloriously in his head: o sognio, o maraviglia, divina belleza...   Their eyes locked together. Serge's fingers, long and delicate, moved trance-like to touch, ever so gently and briefly, the ravelled gold silk of Dorian's curls, and a small spasm shook the slender black-clad frame.

"You are?" The voice was light in timbre, barely above a murmur.

"Dorian." His own hand reached undirected to place its first two fingers on that beautiful mouth. The warm lips moved as the other said his name, "Serge", making it into a kiss.

"Shall we leave?" Afterwards, he wasn't sure which of them had put words to the thought that was in both their minds. Acting as if they had one consciousness, they slipped out of the flat, Serge flipping a hand at the Baron over the banker's head, Dorian kissing the back of Mathilde's neck in passing and murmuring

"A'voir, chérie. Des affaires..".

Five minutes brought them to the Rue Galande. Serge unlocked the narrow door and Dorian entered a green and brown twilight, eyes barely taking in dark wooden bookshelves and display tables in the dim light that came through the oilcloth blinds. As Serge turned from locking the door again, Dorian threw both arms about his neck in blissful anticipation. Oh. Oh, but--no...

"Oh, my dear," he said involuntarily to the look in back of the other's face. No; this was not, after all, going to be one of those long, slow, friendly sessions he himself liked so much. Not unless he insisted, and he didn't think he could. When you offer a meal to a starving man you don't make him sit through cocktails and canapes and an hour's chat beforehand. Serge's face in the darkened room was like a panther's glimpsed in the forest, full of a desperate hunger. But he was keeping himself rigidly in check, refusing, even now, to reach and grab for what he most needed.

There was no time to debate the whys and wherefores. Dorian opened his arms wide, palms up. Take me, I'm yours. The only line of Rabelais he knew came conveniently to mind to make his meaning plain. "Fay ce que vouldras," he said, and gave his sweetest smile.

An answering smile flashed briefly across the pale features, then Serge's arms were around him and his face buried in the mass of Dorian's curls. Hot breath, warm lips and blunted teeth stormed up and down the side of his neck, across his earlobes and over his temples. Strong fingers grasped his hips and pressed their groins tightly together. The Circassian knew what he wanted and Dorian had only to let him do it. This was all for Serge; his own needs could wait until later. Still he found himself longing for the moment when that exquisite mouth would come down on his own. Perversely, it didn't. His eyebrows, his eyelids, the hollow of his cheekbones, the back of his neck, all were subjected to a fierce and passionate adoration, but Serge bypassed his lips as if they didn't exist.

A faint sense of frustration tormented him but there were soon other, pleasanter torments to think about. The circular motions of the other's thighs had begun a fire between his legs that made the tight raw silk trousers he wore a hell of confinement. He undid the buttons of his fly, giving himself some relief. Serge pulled the bottom of his jumper free and slipped it up and over his head. The sight of the Earl's naked torso seemed to excite him further: a new shower of kisses fell on the bare shoulders and chest. Filament-fine strands of yellow hair brushed down Dorian's skin, starting small shudders that had nothing to do with distaste. Long cool hands traced parallel lines on either side of his spine and slipped at last into the back of his trousers, moving down and ever down to the base of his body.

Dorian could only cling tightly with his arms around the other's neck, feeling himself begin to slide away on a tide of pleasure. Serge steered them to the nearby desk. Loosing him just long enough to strip off his coat, fold it to a double thickness and lay it down as impromptu padding, he bent Dorian over the polished oak surface. Dorian's face nestled against the smooth fine-woven wool that smelled faintly of Sobranies and an indefinable odour that must be Serge's own, while his forearms and hands rested on the smooth worn desk top. He breathed deeply to relax the tension of anticipation, his finger tip idly tracing the shallow grain of the wood, while Serge pulled out a drawer and rummaged in it briefly. Behind him there was the quick snick of a zipper opening and a whisper of cloth. Strong fingers took hold of the waistband of his own trousers and peeled them down to his knees.  

The mounded cream was cold at first, but warmed as Serge rubbed it gently into the narrow declivity and through the tight opening. A supple finger pushed itself in up to the joint, checking his readiness; satisfied with his acquiescent openness, it withdrew. Serge took hold of his hips, poised himself, and entered swiftly and smoothly. The worst moment was over almost before he could feel it, and he found himself once again in that happily ambiguous place where pain was indistinguishable from pleasure and pleasure so intense as to be painful.

The familiar fire began to run through his veins, from the centre of his body up to his forehead and back down his spine and legs. Serge was perfect, neither too big nor too small, filling him up beautifully. He adjusted his hips minutely to give the other the most complete access, and in response that lovely fullness began to move out of him, but slowly, so slowly, a centimetre at a time. Dorian knitted his brows in puzzlement. Why? Is he afraid of hurting me...? With infinite care, Serge withdrew almost completely, waited a long, long moment, and came back at the same agonizingly deliberate pace. Dorian fretted, his fire dampened and flagging. This is too slow, he thought, I can't stand it, but he willed himself to patience: this one was for Serge.

Once more Serge quitted him unhurriedly and then repaired back again in a leisurely fashion, apparently with all the time in the world. Dorian could have cried with vexation. Where was the violent ravishment promised a few moments before in that beautiful animal-like face? Deep within him he felt again the minute movements of withdrawal but this time there was a difference in his response. Subtle nervous messages, usually drowned out by the rising clamour of lust, were coming across loud and clear, tiny responses and unsuspected sensations producing a cornucopia of unknown pleasures. He felt every millimetre of that careful retreat and fought it each step of the way. The long instant when Serge stood within the threshold of his body stoked the fire of anticipation, and every atom in him welcomed the loving, painstaking return.

Time as he usually thought of it ceased to have meaning: awareness was all turned inward to the exquisite minuet his heightened nerves were playing. Oh, he thought, but joyfully this time, I can't stand it, I can't stand it. This had definitely been worth waiting for.

He reared up on his forearms, the better to receive the gentle thrusts, and Serge's arms came round to encircle his belly and chest. His climax began mounting in him, slowly and relentlessly, a heat so intense as to seem almost cold. His fingers clutched convulsively at the material wadded beneath him. Serge's coat... A slight alarm sounded in the back of his head. There were few things that Dorian rated higher than sexual pleasure, but fine workmanship was one of them. For a hideous instant the certainty of a world-shattering climax fought his instinctive respect for a beautiful object. Aesthetics, alas, won.

"Serge- love," he gasped, "Just a moment. Your coat..."

The deliberate movement stopped, disconcerted. The body welded to his began to shake. Serge put his head down on Dorian's shoulder and laughed silently but convulsively, so hard that he slipped out from him entirely.

"I'm sorry," said Dorian, crestfallen in more ways than one.

Serge shook his head, the loosened hair flying.

"It's- it's alright," he gasped. "I shouldn't have laughed.

Shall we start again?"

Without waiting for an answer he knelt and pulled Dorian's pants off completely, prising the shoes off along with them. He was in no hurry to get up, seeming to feel a need first to kiss and caress every inch of the sensitive skin on the back of Dorian's legs. By the time he reached the swelling hills at the top, Dorian was in a fair way to being in his previous condition. He pushed the coat to the far end of the desk: a wise precaution, because Serge's mouth suddenly enveloped the sac between his legs, causing a sprinkle of dew to fall on the desktop. He rocked a little on his toes, wanting to have his partner inside him before his climax came.

"Darling," he gasped through the pounding in his blood, "Please- take me..."

Serge complied- but with his tongue. Strong and pointed, it darted between his cheeks, focussing unerringly on what had become the tight centre of Dorian's being. It was more than he could bear. Fists clenched, mouth open, he succumbed so fiercely to his orgasm that for a few moments it was as if he ceased to exist entirely.

When he came back to himself, Serge had him turned around and was holding him against his chest. Raising a flushed wet face, he found the one grey eye regarding him with both tender satisfaction and the predatory sparklings of lust.

"Ready?" the other murmured, and Dorian nodded. Serge laid him on his back on the desk, legs hooked over his shoulders.

Stretching out a hand for the cream he renewed their lubrication, then entered him with the same easy mastery as before. He repeated the slow deliberate stroke, a little faster this time, in and out, then harder and harder. His long fine hair had slipped out of its band and fell across the blind sweating face as he laboured within Dorian. When the spasm began Sergei reached over and pulled him up by the shoulders; responding to his cue, Dorian wrapped arms and legs around the heaving body and held him through the violent upheaval of his climax.

Serge shook for several moments afterwards, his face buried in the waves of golden hair and his breath sobbing in Dorian's ear. Gradually he calmed, the muscles growing slack and relaxed. At length he looked up. His face was streaked with sweat and tears, and a painful red line showed across his forehead where the band of the eyepatch had shifted a little, but his expression was composed.

"Thank you," he said, simply.

"The pleasure's mine," said Dorian. "You're a very patient lover."

"My partners are patient. I'm just slow. I assure you I've had complaints."

"The best things are always worth waiting for," Dorian rejoined cheerfully, retrieving his pants, "and that was definitely one of the best I've ever had."

"You're very kind," Serge said with an odd formality. "May I offer you a little hospitality? My apartments are upstairs..."

"Thanks," said Dorian. "I'd be glad to freshen up a bit. Lead on, dear."



3.

Serge took him silently up the cold stone stairway at the back of the building and unlocked a thick oak door on the second floor. Pushing aside the moss green velvet curtain which covered the entranceway on the inside, he let his guest into a parqueted foyer, dim in the halflight. He flicked on the overhead chandelier and pressed another button, hidden behind the curtain, which Dorian recognized as a security alert attached probably to the nearest police station. The walls of the hallway were papered in lozenged burgundy above dark wood panelling, and dotted here and there with gilt mirrors and miniature oil paintings. Halfway along the corridor Serge indicated a bathroom to Dorian, and left him there to put himself to rights.

Fifteen minutes later, feeling better for a little hot water, sandalwood soap, and a thick white towel, he emerged and went in search of his host. Following an enticing smell of coffee and the muted clink of china, he found him in a pale green and gold livingroom, setting out small cups and saucers next to the large brass samovar.

"Do you drink coffee?" Serge asked. "It's very black."

"The way I love it," Dorian assured him, coming over and hugging him from behind, "Serge."

"Call me Sergei," he said, crossing his arms over Dorian's.

"Is that your real name?"

"What it turns into in Russian. A bit closer to the original than the French."

"French isn't much good with foreign names, is it?" Dorian agreed, remembering how he tended to turn into 'Milord Rei de Gloire' on hotel registers.

"And the dialect I speak is one of the more difficult ones. My real name is virtually unpronounceable by foreigners."

"Try me."

He did. The 's' was still there, but the vowel had an unfamiliar roll, the r was flapped, the g was somewhere between a v and an f, and the whole thing ended in a suppressed sneeze.

"I suppose I shouldn't ask about your last name," said Dorian, a little appalled.

"Better not," Sergei agreed serenely. "May I ask yours?"

"Red Gloria- but it's my title, not my name. I'm an earl-- an English nobleman," he explained, remembering European insularity about British noble orders.

Sergei turned his head, amusement lighting his face. "I'm honoured."

"Not at all. Earls are fairly thick on the ground in England."

"My father was a sheep farmer. His son has definitely come up in the world."

The curving smile and mischievous eye made Dorian's legs go weak all over again. He'd never known anyone with such a shifting clear-and-cloudy beauty as Sergei's: but when the sun was shining, as it was now, he was irresistible. Dorian didn't even try. He turned the pale face towards him and reached over to give it a kiss. Sergei laid his hand gently but firmly over Dorian's mouth.

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding it. "I can't."

"But darling, why ever not?"

"It's a long story." His finger stroked Dorian's lips tenderly but his expression showed no sign of giving in. "Just accept that that's the way it is."

Dorian acquiesced gracefully- for the moment. He knew he was lucky that his own nature led him to have preferences rather than prejudices, and he tried to be patient with those partners whose ideas of masculinity forbade them the enjoyment of certain pleasures: patient, at least, until he could bring them round to a more balanced view of the matter. Well, like Klaus... But not being able to kiss Sergei's mouth was a definite deprivation: and, really, nothing else about him suggested one of those he-men who think tenderness an effeminate intrusion on manly sex. He was going to have to get to work very soon on this annoying little quirk of Sergei's.

Meanwhile he picked up his coffee cup and changed the subject.

"This is a lovely room. Did you decorate it yourself?"

"Yes, mostly. A pastoral theme."

It was easy to see what he meant. On the pale-green toile de Jouy wallpaper, 18th century shepherds and sheperdesses cavorted charmingly. The arm chairs and the small sofa were covered in floral silks, and the gold-green rug was dotted with small flowers. The furniture was light, cream-coloured Louis XV, court chairs playing at being peasant furnishings. On one wall, a large tapestry showed a group of women doing much the same thing, reclining gracefully under a tree with their silken skirts arranged to good advantage, listening to a white wigged shepherd reading verse from a book.

"It's based on Watteau's Divertissements Champ lang=EN-US style='font-family:"Courier New"; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho"'>ê lang=EN-US style='font-family: tres," Dorian said, recognizing the subject.

"Quite right. Do you collect as well?"

"As much as I can. Oils and porcelain, mostly." He smiled mischievously at Sergei. "I find prints depress me. So washed out. And oil paintings are so glorious, so warm..."

"And so expensive. Especially in this period. The masterpieces are all in galleries. You can have third rate artists at astronomical prices, or a simulacrum, like that." He indicated the tapestry.

"I don't believe in settling for second best," Dorian said firmly.

"I used to agree with you. If I couldn't have the real thing it seemed more honest to have nothing. Now I'm not so sure. There's a certain comfort in substitutes. They remind you that the real thing exists, even if not for you."

"But why not for you?" Dorian argued. "If you want a thing it belongs to you already. Acquiring it is just a formality."

Sergei was looking at him with an odd tenderness. "If you want a thing, it probably is yours. You're a very rare type. Most of us have to settle for what we can get- or what we can keep." His hand went involuntarily to his right eye.

"You lost that in the war?"

"Along with other things," Sergei said, turning his head aside. "I suppose the Baron told you?"

In fact, Dorian couldn't immediately recall where he'd heard the story. He was more concerned that Sergei was withdrawing from him and he sought for a topic to bring him back.

"Mm," he said. "It was you who supplied de Marquère with most of his collection?"

"A large amount. Now, there's a man who actually prefers prints to oils. I think he finds them more- rational, if you understand me. He said once that he thinks oil paintings overdone. Mind you, we were talking about his wife's collection at the time, so perhaps it's not the medium itself he objects to."

"They are ugly, aren't they?"

"And she's such a nice woman."

"And you? Which do you prefer? You don't have any prints here, I noticed."

"Books are my passion and prints are merely business. That way I avoid the dealer's temptation, to keep the best stock for oneself; and meanwhile the rent still has to be paid. But as between paintings and prints- I don't know. Sometimes I agree with the Baron. The world in the oil paintings- so sensual, so enticing, so fraudulent. It's not true, any of it. But I love them. Watteau, Fragonard, Boucher... That image of an Arcady: the perfect garden world where shepherdesses wear silk and powdered wigs, and life is a picnic on a long summer's afternoon."

His glance flicked over at Dorian, as if wondering how much he would understand. "My country is beautiful in a primitive way- the mountains at dawn, or the sunsets in winter; but there's no... no grace, no delicacy," he said as if in explanation. "The men are farmers, and like farmers everywhere concerned mostly with survival. From time to time they get drunk and start fights with each other; that's their idea of fun. I think they have feuds more to break the monotony of their lives than to get a little more land. The women marry at fifteen and are grandmothers- crones- twenty years later. When I look around me here, I can't believe such a place exists. I don't know how anybody stands it. No books, no paintings, no music to speak of; no scholars, no ideas, no conversation..."

Sergei turned to him with a smile that meant to be sardonic but which succeeded only in being rueful.

"I'm greedy, Lord Gloria. I want it all. I want the beauty of my country, the simplicity of my life there; and I want the pleasures and amenities of civilization. In short, I want an Arcady, where the shepherds discuss the nature of love while they shear their sheep."

Dorian remembered a summer spent on his godfather's farm in Shropshire. "Have you ever sheared a sheep? They don't give you much chance for conversation."

Sergei laughed delightedly. "No they don't. Sheep deserve all their reputation for stupidity and then some. But I'm surprised you know."

"Landed gentry often means just that. We're supposed to know how to manage our farms. But the flies-"

"And the green shit-"

"And your hands get so greasy-"

"Lanolin is good for the skin."

"But it smells. I'll take mine from a tube."

"A jar, actually. It's what I keep in the desk."

Dorian blushed beautifully at the memory.

"So you've created an Arcady for yourself here. And the shepherds?"

"There are enough of them. Willing and agreeable young men; and being French, they certainly know how to converse. It's more a question of getting them to shut up at critical moments. They take ideas seriously and life- including romance- not at all. Love comes and it's wonderful, and then it goes and it's sad, and then it comes again. Very pleasant and bittersweet, like a Piaf song. But I'm rattling on. Sorry. I'm usually what we call at home a no-mouth."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning I don't talk much. More coffee?"

"Please." Dorian handed over his cup.

"If you'll wait a moment, there are some cakes from Printemps as well." Sergei disappeared in the direction of the kitchen leaving his guest, bemused, to consider the things his host had left unsaid.

After all these months besieging the barbed and barricaded citadel of Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, it was a pleasure to be with someone as velvety smooth, as silkenly supple, as Sergei. The same ideas, the same tastes, the same values: all welcoming and easy, with no little frictions, no resistances. Sergei was like his own beloved Arcadia, a civilized garden within walls made only for delight. One could wander there at will, picking flowers and whiling away the time, with no thought but of pleasure. A few years ago that would have been enough for Dorian; and a few years ago he wouldn't have noticed anything more. It must have been his experience with Klaus that had sharpened his vision: for now he could see, clear as noonday, that in the centre of the garden was a tower, and in that tower a man whom, he suspected, few if any of his lovers knew existed. Poor Sergei. That was the real hunger in him: not for sex, whatever he himself might think, but for someone who would have the love and the patience to besiege his isolation, demanding that he show himself as he truly was: someone who would do for him what Dorian was doing for Klaus.

And poor Dorian, if it came to that. Sergei knew himself better than the Major; he would be much more appreciative of Eroica's efforts. Whereas Klaus- beautiful, delightful, damnable Klaus- fought him at every turn, not giving an inch. But then again, maybe not. Sergei was obviously a veteran in the wars of love, one who knew all the tricks of strategy and sieges. It would be no easy matter to reduce his defences. Whereas Klaus had only the one weapon at his disposal, an hysterical denial of everything Dorian stood for; and when that was exhausted and his native honesty asserted itself, the citadel would capitulate at once and entirely. There was at least that advantage in loving a man with a scrupulous conscience.

But how long would it be? When would he be as comfortable with Klaus as he was with this man he'd met less than two hours ago? He wanted the same friendliness, the same easy intimacy, the same delight in Klaus' face when Klaus looked at him...

Sergei, behind him, brushed a finger down the side of his cheek. "Whoever he is, can't you forget him for a little, now that I'm here?"

Dorian smiled up. "I will if you kiss me."

Sergei lifted the heavy mass of golden curls with both hands and leaned down to kiss the bare nape of Dorian's neck.

"On the mouth," Dorian insisted, pouting. Sergei smiled a little sadly.

"I told you, I can't."

"Not even for me?"

"Not even for you."

"This is torture."

"I'm sorry. No-one else has minded much."

"No-one else has my aesthetic instincts. Everything beautiful in the world belongs to me by right. And your mouth is extremely beautiful. Why are you keeping it from me?"

Sergei sat down beside him.

"Try to understand. In my country we are very conservative. Men like me-"

"Us."

"How easily you say it. Men like us fear for their- our- lives. In my village, what we did downstairs would get us stoned in the streets."

"This isn't your village, it's Paris. Isn't it time you got rid of your country attitudes?"

"That's not it." Sergei sighed. "This is hard to explain. When did you first fall in love?"

"When I was four. The gardener's boy. I used to steal lump sugar from the tea-table and give it to him in the potting shed."

Unexpectedly, Sergei laughed. "I was a little older. After my father was killed, my oldest brother took over the family. I had brains- well, he thought I did; and he decided I should go on to high school in the city down in the plains. I made a friend there." His eye was distant, looking at a memory too private to bring a change of expression to his face.

"We were inseparable. Studied together, ate together, bathed together, shared a bed at night- nobody in my country sleeps alone; we don't have the space. You can imagine what it would be like even here, a hundred adolescent boys cooped up together with no women around at all. At home we see only our mothers and our sisters until they get married; I seldom met even my brothers' wives. And in my country men touch each other all the time, and kiss and embrace. The boys made jokes, of course. There was a lot of smutty horseplay. Everybody seemed to know what men do together. That was how I found out as well."

"And there were romantic friendships. The literature of my country, what there is of it, is all medieval sagas-- comrade warriors who use the same shield as a pillow, who swear vows of eternal devotion the night before the battle and die in each other's arms the next day. For him, I think, our friendship was like that. At least I hope, now, that it was."

"He always had an arm around my shoulder or my neck, and he would kiss me when he was happy or excited, which was a lot of the time... We did everything but have sex together. I wanted to, but I was afraid to ask; afraid he would look at me as if I was a monster and begin to hate me; afraid that I would lose the happiness I had, even if it wasn't perfect... I hope he wasn't thinking the same thing, wanting me but afraid to say it."

Sergei fell silent. Dorian put his arms around him. "What happened?"

"There was a battle, our first one. Battle: five hundred men fighting over a few acres too barren to do anything but graze goats on. I never thought twice about it at the time. Everyone in my country is a soldier. You fight for your kinsmen and your kinsmen's allies. It's what a man does." He paused. "We kissed each other before the fighting started, like Turmis and Bayalim leaving the keep, going out to face the Turks." There was another pause. "I've never told anyone else about this. I don't know why--" He drew a deep breath, then said without expression, "I was there when he died. I knew then that he would be the last man I'd ever kiss like that. A little later I left home, left my country, and began wandering. And that's the whole story."

He started to move away but Dorian held him tightly.

"That's so beautiful," he said, swallowing the lump in his throat, "and I'm so sorry." He blinked away tears. "Are you angry that I made you tell me?"

Sergei relaxed against him. "No," he said eventually, "No, I'm not." He turned in Dorian's arms and took his face between his hands as if it were a precious object. Once again the sun shone through the clouds, lighting up the pale features from within.

"Whoever he is, he's a lucky man."

"He doesn't want me."

"He will. How could he resist?"

Dorian smiled, wobbly but cheekily. "That's what I think. But he does."

"Lord Gloria, you're wonderful. You're like an August morning after a week of Parisian rain. Come upstairs. There's one more thing I should show you."

He took him to the stairs leading to the third floor, talking as he went.

"You must have had a classic English education. I suppose you read Vergil?"

"Endlessly. I preferred Catullus."

"Some people do. What Vergil? Just the Aeneid? Or did you make it to the Eclogues?"

"Possibly. I forgot it all as soon as I could."

"So you wouldn't remember the second Eclogue? "'Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim/ delicias domini, nec quid speraret habebat."'

"Oh, that one," said Dorian, enlightened. "'Corydon the shepherd burned with love for his master's favourite/ Handsome Alexis, but saw little reason for hope.' We used to pass it around the dormitory at night. Poor old Corydon. I always felt sorry for him, turned down by a spoiled little tart like that."

"A certain Frenchman agreed with you, back in the eighteenth century. He rewrote the story in heroic couplets and gave it a happy ending." Sergei was leading him down the length of the corridor, passing half opened doors on the way. Dorian had a glimpse of a deep rose canopied bed with dark wooden posts in one room, and ceiling high bookshelves with tobacco-coloured leather armchairs in another. But the room they turned into, on the right near the end of the hall, was small and nearly unfurnished, containing only a plain mahogany escritoire and chair, several filing cabinets, and a conspicuous wall safe.

"I keep it locked in here for security," Sergei said, and confused Dorian by walking right past the safe. At his noise of surprise the Circassian stopped and smiled.

"That?" he asked, nodding at the large metal plate. "Window dressing. Accounts and tax returns and so on. The really valuable things are here." He stopped at a point halfway along the opposite wall and ran his hands down the narrow rectangular molding. The whole panel came out, revealing the door of a much smaller safe. His long fingers spun the dial, opened the door and took out a canvas packet which he brought over to the desk.

Carefully he unwrapped the layers to reveal a quarto volume bound in cream calfskin, with the name printed on the spine in faded gold lettering: Les Amours d'Alexys et Corydon.

"No names, either of the author or illustrator," Sergei noted. "Homosexuals were still castrated and burned at the stake in eighteenth century France. That's why it was published in Leiden. But the pictures speak for themselves. You can guess whose work they are." He opened the book at random.

The elongated wavering letters of eighteenth century typeface covered the right hand page, but Dorian's eye went at once to the left, where a ringletted young shepherd, wearing buskins and nothing else, was depicted in a very friendly pose with a slender dark-haired youth of classical mien. The tender pink flesh, the shining golden hair, the rose red of the dark youth's mantle and the deep green surrounding trees glowed richly in spite of age, causing Dorian's pulse to beat more strongly.

"Watteau," he murmured, almost absently, and turned to another page.   Here the two young men were seen at the moment of consummation, a tangle of arms and legs on the greensward: but the faces showed a serene, unhurried happiness as they gazed tranquilly into each other's eyes. Dorian made a little noise, almost of pain.

"Corydon is you to the life," Sergei said. "I saw it at once." It was true, but he barely noticed; for Alexis' face could have been drawn from Klaus'. A young Klaus, one he had never known, no more than eighteen. He turned the pages slowly, poised between delight and agony at the sight of himself and Klaus indulging unstintingly in all those pleasures which the real Klaus would never allow him. He couldn't bear to go on looking and he couldn't bear to stop. At last he put both hands down on the table and closed his eyes, trying to still his trembling.

"Sergei," he said, using words he'd never thought to hear from his mouth, "What do you want for it?"

He knew the answer before the other spoke. "I'm sorry. It's not for sale."

"Why not?" he asked from the depths of his frustration, but suddenly he knew that answer too. "The same reason you won't kiss me?"

Sergei nodded. "Not a close resemblance, but enough. It made my heart stop the first time I saw it." His forefinger briefly stroked the head of the dark figure as if it caressed the hair of a living being. A pang of jealousy went through Dorian, but he tried to calm it. It wasn't Klaus Sergei wanted, only someone long dead who looked a little, just a little, like him. That was understandable. Taking what comfort he could, Dorian put both arms around the other's neck and hugged him hard. Sergei hugged him back. In the next room a clock played a short minuet and struck five.

"Lord Gloria."

"Can't you call me Dorian?"

"I'm a peasant. It pleases me no end to have an aristocrat in my arms. Dorian-- I have to go to Dijon tonight on business. I return tomorrow evening. Will you still be in Paris?"

"Yes. What time will you get back?"

"Not before eight. Can you come then?"

"Yes."

"If something comes up, where shall I leave a message?"

"I always stay at the Georges V. Can I reach you here?"

"Yes. I'm in the book."

Serge escorted him down the two flights of stairs. In the store he kissed him on both cheeks. "Until tomorrow."

"Until tomorrow." Dorian waved his fingers, and walked out into the street.



4.

Dizzy with joy and excitement and frustration, he walked unseeingly towards the Boul' Mich. What luck, what a find, how beautiful... He wasn't entirely certain if he meant the Watteau prints or Sergei or some combination of both. Those intimate glowing pictures, mixed with the memories of the preceding love-making, contrived to send him into a fever of desire. He wanted that book, he wanted Klaus, he wanted Sergei; it-- he-- they belonged to him. And by some incomprehensible quirk of a sadistic universe, at the moment he didn't have any one of them. Patience, patience. Patience. He would have them all, soon enough. What he needed now was some distraction to keep him occupied until his meeting tomorrow with Klaus. Well, of course, first of all he had to take care of Klaus' errand itself. That assassination plot. He was supposed to break into--

It felt like walking into a wall. For a moment his mind floundered in confusion, as if he'd just been startled out of a deep sleep. It took several moments of concentration before he could accept the plain fact, which somehow had simply not occurred to him before. Incredible as it was, the M.Serge whom Klaus suspected of promoting an assassination was the Sergei he'd just spent the afternoon with.

He put a hand to his spinning head, and collapsed into a nearby café chair. How lucky that there were always cafés in Paris. You never knew when you were going to have to sit down in a hurry.

But it was ludicrous. Sergei was no murderer. No-one with his beautiful sensibilities could be involved in anything of the sort. Klaus was simply wrong: about him, about the Marquères, about the whole situation. He'd call him up and tell him- that number was still in his wallet... And how would he convince his dear obstinate Major of what he knew to be the truth? "You're saying he's not a killer because you slept with him?!?" No, obviously that approach wouldn't work.

Well, there was no help for it. On principle he disliked the idea of breaking into an acquaintance's house. It was, if nothing else, bad manners. But his motives were impeccably disinterested: he wanted only to clear Sergei of this ridiculous suspicion. When his safe proved to be empty of anything incriminating, Klaus would have to turn his attention to finding the real plotters; and maybe someday Dorian would tell Sergei how he'd burgled his house to prove that he wasn't an international assassin.

Since the place was empty, there was no need to wait til the dead of night before making his entry. Accordingly, after returning to his hotel for dinner and a change into black clothes, Dorian was back in the Rue Galande well before eleven. The French bourgeoisie- healthy, wealthy and wise as ever- went to bed at a ridiculous hour, so the neighbouring apartments were mostly dark as he began his ascent up the building and entered by an attic skylight. The low garret space barely gave him room to stand up in and he ran quickly down the two flights to the front hallway. Shutting off the alarm as he had seen Sergei do, he returned to the small room on the third floor.

Ever cautious, he did his reconnoitring by torchlight. Business before pleasure, he thought, and worked at the larger wall safe for a minute or two before hearing the click of the tumblers. As Sergei had said, there were accounts and tax files and records of major orders; a boring mass of paper kept under lock only to preserve it from possible fires. He closed the door with a sense of duty done and turned his attention to the hidden safe. Sergei had been quick as he opened it, but Eroica's practised eye had noted the combination automatically.

Heart beating wildly, he took out the quarto. Just one look, he thought, unwrapping it and opening the stiff covers. Yes, there it was, as beautiful as he remembered: himself and Klaus disporting themselves in Arcadia. Klaus kissing him passionately, Klaus lying on his back with raised legs, Klaus--hmm, what was Klaus doing in this one? Or was it a question of what he was doing to Klaus? Either way, it didn't look anatomically possible, although it might be fun to try. The Major didn't have, as far as he knew, a particularly bad back, and a few pillows might relieve the strain if one were to undertake it in an indoor setting...

With a superhuman effort, Dorian closed the book. If he wanted the real Klaus, he'd better get on with the business at hand. Now for the rest of Sergei's papers.

There were very few. A thin notebook contained a list of names and phone numbers. Michel, Jean-Luc, Thierry, Menoud... There were no last names: Sergei's 'shepherds', presumably. A bulky manila envelope held a large number of new Deutschmarks, probably for buying trips in Europe; as good an international currency as any. And in the wooden box...

They were handwritten, five or six sheets of thin onionskin paper, each with numbers at the top that looked like dates. So they must be letters: but he couldn't read a word of the foreign script. Letters from home, no doubt. No doubt in his mind. But when Klaus asked him what was in the safe, and he answered-- a list of names and phone numbers, a large amount of money, and letters in a foreign language; well, it was easy to see how that could all be made to add up to a suspicious total. Dorian considered his dilemma. It was no use thinking of lying: the Major seemed to have a second sense for his prevarications and dissimulations. But the only alternative was to take the letters, and this occasioned a slight crisis of, not so much conscience as aesthetics.

Eroica had stringent principles when it came to his metier. He took what would make Dorian Red Gloria happy and left the rest. Stealing someone else's letters was-- vulgar: like a private detective tracking a straying husband. Dorian disliked having the integrity of his romanticism compromised by mundane theft, but in a good cause he could stoop to anything.

And this was unarguably a good cause. It was necessary to clear Sergei of suspicion and necessary to satisfy Klaus. And as satisfying Klaus was necessary to Dorian's own emotional well-being, he concluded happily that the present situation in no way violated his high standards of behaviour. The only problem was the slight possibility that Sergei would discover that the letters were missing before he had a chance to put them back. Well, and if he did, Dorian would simply have to tell him the whole story. And being Sergei, he'd probably think it all very funny. Sergei seemed to find him terribly amusing quite a lot of the time.

He slipped the thin packet into his waistband under the black windcheater. Why hadn't it occurred to him that he might have to take something away with him? He'd have worn a jacket with pockets. Silly of him. So now for Corydon and Alexis. He began another ardent perusal of the pictures but stopped himself suddenly. Klaus- the real Klaus- was expecting his call; it wouldn't do to keep the Major waiting. He stole a last look at the frontispiece, where the two of them embraced smilingly under a tree. Sergei was right: if only one could live in Arcadia. Quickly he rewrapped the book in its canvas covering. He'd take it with him, of course -- only there was no place to put it.

He gaped momentarily, shocked beyond words that his unconscious mind could betray him so basely. Was that why he'd worn an outfit with no pockets? But what on earth for? The book was clearly his. Even Sergei had agreed that Dorian was entitled to whatever Dorian wanted, and he knew Dorian wanted this. He wouldn't mind him taking it. Well, he wouldn't mind much. Well... He was remembering, unwillingly, Sergei's forefinger stroking the pictured youth's hair, gently and tenderly. For Dorian and the love of his life there was a future and the promise of happiness to come. For Sergei and his friend all was over. There was nothing but memories.

Yes, but... But how could he leave the book here? Of course he was sorry for Sergei, but... It would be like handing Klaus over to another man. The idea was unbearable.

He switched off the torch as if darkness would somehow assist his thoughts. There was no problem with the lack of pockets. He'd tuck his windcheater into his waistband and carry the book inside that, and sucks to his unconscious. Well, good; he'd do that. But still he sat unmoving, watching the reflection of the trees outside which the streetlamp cast on the drawn curtains. Finally, without thought, he thrust the book back into the safe and shut it. It was instinct. He couldn't explain it. He'd have the book eventually, of that he was certain, but now- somehow... Well, the best things were always worth waiting for; and meanwhile Sergei could enjoy his treasure for a few days longer. His magnanimity made him feel better. There was nothing like a little selflessness from time to time, so long as it didn't get out of hand.

His eyes were accustomed now to the dark, and the muffled light from the street showed the outline of furniture as he rose to go. The torch wouldn't be necessary until he got back to the attic. He took two steps and was completely unprepared for the iron hand that seized his arm and twisted it painfully up behind his back.

"Missing me?" Sergei's light-timbred voice inquired gently. He tried to turn but the unyielding grip on his wrist held him still. He'd never have thought Sergei was so strong, as he was marched helplessly to the door where his captor switched on the light.

"I thought you were in Dijon," he stammered foolishly.

"Evidently. I doubt you'd have broken into my house with me in it."

"Sergei, no. It's not what it seems."

"And neither are you. What's your name?"

"Dorian earl of Re-" Pain streaked up his arm.

"Your real name, thief."

Dorian drew himself up in indignation. Sergei spoke the cherished title with all the scorn of a petit bourgeois-- or a peasant. "That is my real name, M.Serge. I am also-- Eroica."

The Circassian let his arm go. "The art thief. But naturally. Very nicely done, M.Eroica. Though of course you had the benefit of my full co-operation. I did everything but put the book into your hands. An interesting modus operandi, yours. What do you do with heterosexual dealers? Dress up as a woman?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Dorian was outraged. He'd come here with the best of intentions- he'd meant only to help this idiot who didn't even realize the trouble he was in- and now Sergei was looking at him as if he were something that had crawled out from under a rock.

"I doubt if the actual performance is as convincing as yours was this afternoon, but men will believe anything their gonads tell them. I congratulate you. Now return my property."

"I don't have it. It's in the safe."

Sergei gave a 'tchah' of exasperation and ran his hands over Dorian's body in a quick brutal search. His face grew still."Go back and open the safe," he said quietly. The tone was gentle as ever but there was a world of menace in the words.

Dorian did as he was told, feeling sweat begin under his armpits. Sergei had been in the room for ages-- certainly long enough to see him with the book-- and he hadn't sensed his presence even once. What kind of art dealer moved like a ninja and was trained in unarmed combat? Why was he in Paris when he'd said he'd be in Dijon? Those names, those Deutschmarks-- what if Dorian had been wrong all along? Names of conspirators, money to buy arms; and the letters? Communiques from the agent placed in the General's camp? At all costs he had to stop Sergei from discovering that those letters were missing.

He took out the book, unwrapped it and held it out.

"Put it back."

Dorian obeyed, keeping his eyes averted as if in fear. He was thinking fast, calculating possibilities, and so was prepared when Sergei seized his shoulder and threw him against the wall, pinioning him there with a hand around his neck. Those long fingered hands looked so sensitive, he hadn't noticed how large they were. This one spanned his throat easily and pressed uncomfortably on his windpipe.

Sergei's face was close to his own, and the one grey eye regarded him with no warmth at all.

"And now, Monsieur, " he said, "you will tell me why you're and who sent you. "

Dorian opened blue eyes wide and looked haughty.

"Sent me? No-one sends Eroica anywhere. I'm my own agent, M.Serge. I thought you knew that much about me, at least."

"What did you come for?"

"The book, of course. Only..." He dropped his eyes, and blushed.

"Only?" Sergei's voice was unyielding.

"Well, you were so nice to me this afternoon. I felt- well, you know- badly about taking it from you... "

Sergei took his hand from Dorian's throat and slapped him hard, nearly knocking him over.

"That trick won't work twice," he said calmly. "Try another."

Dorian looked up with an injured expression, eyes welling.

"It's the truth," he said unshakeably, since it was.

"Fine feelings from a thief? Gratitude? Don't make me laugh."

"Well, why not?" He didn't have to feign the note of exasperation that crept into his voice. "Listen, M.Serge. I steal because I have fine feelings and high ideals, not in spite of them. Who else can appreciate a beautiful object, or a beautiful man, the way I can? Beauty only achieves its full potential when I look at it. I'll admit I shouldn't have let those Watteau prints tempt me and I shouldn't have come back here tonight when you were away. It was bad behaviour. I apologize. But I did, and then I found I couldn't steal from you after all. Not after what happened this afternoon." He gazed earnestly into Sergei's face. "I don't know what you're going to do to me, and I don't care; but at least believe what I'm telling you. It's the truth."

His voice broke on the last sentence, and his eyes overflowed. Brilliant. Perhaps he should take his seat in the House of Lords after all: he had so few opportunities to employ his oratorical skills like this in everyday life.

Sergei was looking at him expressionlessly.

"Get out," he said.

"What?"

"M.Eroica. I could kill you. You do realize that?"

Dorian nodded.

"I'm not going to. But if I see you anywhere near my store again, I will. Now get out."



5.

Dorian couldn't wait until he got to the hotel to call Klaus, though finding a public telephone that wasn't broken proved, as always, a problem. He passed half a dozen with the disheartening "En panne" notice attached before finding one that worked. Some wag had written "Ça marche!" on it, and a second had remarked "A Paris? C'est pas possible!" Dorian was afraid it might prove so, but when he put his coins in the dial tone came on and he got through to Klaus with no difficulty.

"You were right, Major!" he announced triumphantly. "It was all as you said. A list of names, a large sum of money, and letters from Circassia. I brought the letters with me: can you read Circassian?"

"Agent W can. I'll bring him with me tomorrow morning. What about the list of names?"

"Oh, I can go back and get those any time. They were all French,"- well, some had been Arabic, but no need to tell Klaus that- "it's just possible there's no connection. But the man is definitely dangerous."

"How do you know?"

"I dropped by the Marquères this afternoon and met him there. Pure coincidence. We didn't talk much: there was something about him ..."

"What?" Really, Klaus was being more unbending than usual.

"Oh, maybe just my fancy. He made my blood run cold. Icy, remote, unreasonable..."

"Unreasonable, Lord Gloria? What do you mean?"

"Unreasonable means unreasonable, Major. Like yourself. I'll see you tomorrow, at my hotel, at 10 o'clock for breakfast."

"Eight o'clock," said Klaus shortly.

"Nine," Eroica compromised. "Major, I'm tired, I've had a tryi-- a busy day, and I'm going to bed. Goodnight."

He was tired, and for no good reason- after all, didn't he have a date with Klaus tomorrow morning?- depressed. The pile of messages waiting for him at the front desk didn't help. "6:00 M.Serge called en route to Dijon." "7:25 M.Serge called from Dijon- returning Paris this evening, please call after 11." "11:15 M.Serge called. Please call when you return." So Sergei had gone to Dijon and- the conclusion was inescapable- had come back simply in order to see him. Dorian swept the messages into the wastepaper basket. Sergei was an agent and an assassin and he, Dorian, had had a close call. The letters would prove it.



Agent W read through the thin stack of paper with an increasingly puzzled expression.

"Well, Major," he said diffidently, "I'm not quite sure what we have here. Unless it's an agreed upon code of some sort..."

Klaus was looking thunderous.

"What do they say?" he demanded.

"Well, to all appearances they seem to be about domestic matters-- Aah, this last one, it's dated four months ago, it reads, unh"- he cleared his throat nervously, "'Dear brother: We hope this letter reaches you and that you are in health. Did you hear Ormansk has fallen? It seems the war may end this year, God willing. Are you married yet? Your nephews send their love. The little one is walking now. When are you coming back? Your loving brother, Halim.'"

"Any evidence of a cipher?"

"I don't think so. Perhaps something in the paper..." He held it up to the light.

"We'll need further analysis- laboratory tests and a full computer cipher scan. Lord Gloria- what's the matter with you?"

Eroica wasn't listening. He drooped in his chair, eyes fixed on the ground. A tear ran down his cheek.

"Get a hold of yourself, man. What's the matter?"

"Major," he said, "You're wrong. There's no connection. Sergei isn't involved in anything."

"Sergei?"

"That's what he likes to be called."

"I thought you said you didn't talk much. But if you're on such good terms with him, so much the better. We need further information, starting with that list of names-"

"No," Dorian said vehemently. "Listen to me. You're looking in the wrong place entirely. If you want to stop this plot against the General- and frankly, I can't think why you do, because he's quite obviously a horrible man- then you've got to start elsewhere."

"I'll be the judge of that."

The beloved face was looking angrily at him. Well, when had it ever done anything else?

"If you won't believe me, you'll have to operate without me. I'm sorry, Major. I can't compromise my principles even for you."

"Your principles?!" Both Klaus' eyebrows disappeared into his fringe. "What principles? You're like a whore preaching chastity, Lord Gloria: slightly lacking in believability."

Dorian said tiredly, "I have my principles, Major, and I try to abide by them. You don't have to believe that if you don't want to. But I was wrong about Sergei, and I did him an injustice. And now I intend to make it up to him."

He had the letters in his hand and was halfway to the door before Klaus even knew what he was doing. As he slipped through the entrance, he saw Klaus' pursuit being stopped by the maitre'd and a burly waiter waving the bill. So far, so good.

He threw his toilet necessities into a bag, took the service elevator down, and was in a cab for Charles de Gaulle within minutes. What he wanted was in London: in the Wallace Collection, to be precise.



Next day, towards nightfall, he walked slowly along the broad expanse of the Rue St.Germain. A rose sunset stained the cream walls of the Musée de Cluny a pale pink, and overhead the first star had appeared, a white pinprick in the tender blue April sky. The street lamps had just come on and under the budding trees the cafés were beginning to fill with early dinner patrons. The sidewalk was crowded with cheerful young Parisians finished with work and classes for the week and ready for the small pleasures of the evening: supper, a bottle of wine, coffee, the conversation of friends late into the night and a lover to sleep beside afterwards.

In spite of himself Dorian's heart was beating hard as he turned into the Rue Galande. Sergei should just be closing.   The blinds were indeed still up. Inside he could see faded brown and cream coloured volumes standing upright on the dark bookshelves, the gilt lettering on their leather spines sparkling here and there in the light from the overhead chandelier, while below, large folios lay open on the glass covered tables. Sergei was at the desk, a stray lock of blond hair hiding his face as he bent over the ledger in which he was making notes.

Dorian swallowed hard and opened the door.

"I came to apologize," he said quickly, before Sergei's expression had a chance to change. "And to return your property." He held out the letters.

After a moment Sergei came over and took the proffered bundle.

"These? These are what you were after? I don't understand."

"Actually, besides being a thief, I'm also an agent- a sort of agent. I work for NATO from time to time. On a freelance basis, of course. There was a misunderstanding. They thought you were involved in something you aren't. I was supposed to see if you had anything suspicious in your possession. And these-- well, I couldn't read them, so I had to take them with me. And I'm very sorry."

"They're just letters from home."

"I know. How many nephews do you have?"

"Three. I've never even seen the youngest."

"Oh." There was a pause. "Sergei. I wasn't instructed to meet you. That really was an accident."

"I see." Sergei didn't seem particularly interested. His expression remained cool and withdrawn.

"Don't be angry at me, Sergei. I truly am sorry. I brought you a present." He held out the leather tube. "Please. Let's be friends."

"What's this?" He hesitated, then unscrewed the cap at the end.

"It's something specially for you. I hope you like it."

Sergei extracted the canvas bundle and unrolled it on the desk. Dorian, watching, saw his face go white with shock.

"The Divertissements--" His lips moved, but he seemed incapable of making another sound. After a minute he groped his way to the chair and sat down, never taking his eyes for a moment from the glowing canvas on the desktop.

"This is in the Wallace Collection in London," he said at last, helplessly.

"It was in the Wallace Collection. Now it's here. It's yours."

"No," he whispered, shaking his head a little, "No." His gaze devoured the delicate reclining figures, the bosky darkness of the trees, and the luminous sunlight that glinted on the shimmering silk costumes.

"I see," he said at last, as if to himself, and put his head in his hands. After a moment he looked up at Dorian, like a man who watches a winter night sky, picking out the stars.

"Lord Gloria. You know you'll have to put this back?"

"But I took it for you. I know you want it."

"I do. Thank you very much. But I can't accept it."

"Nonsense, Sergei. If you want something..."

Sergei was shaking his head, gazing down at the picture with a strange, almost painful little smile, his eye invisible under the long blond lashes.

"That man of yours- I think I'm beginning to feel a bit sorry for him." He looked at Dorian again. "Wanting something doesn't make it mine. For you, yes; but not for me. Not for most people, if it comes to that. We live in different worlds, Lord Gloria, that's all. If you love me, take it back."

Disappointed, Dorian rolled up his present and put it back in the tube. Behind him Sergei sighed deeply as if some ordeal was over. Dorian's shoulders slumped.

"You're still angry at me," he said sadly.

"Don't be silly."

At the tone in his voice, Dorian's heart leapt. He peeked over his shoulder and the expression on Sergei's face made his groin tighten. He turned around.

"I missed you." They both spoke at once, then smiled self-consciously, then smiled with no self-consciousness at all.

"Well then- "

"Before dinner or after?"

"Before and after, why not?"

"Why not indeed."

Dorian's eye went to the desk.

"I think we can manage something more comfortable this time. My house has no secrets from you, after all."

"Sergei," Dorian pleaded, and the other laughed softly. He leaned over and nipped Dorian's earlobe.

"A moment. I'll lock up."



7.

They ran up the stairs to the bedroom, eager as teenagers, hands already busy with buttons and snaps . Dorian's Shetland jumper was abandoned on the second floor and his peach coloured silk shirt fell by the doorway, while Sergei's coat barely made it on to the chest of drawers. Dorian turned and caught Sergei in his arms, one hand reaching for his behind. The next minute he found himself flying through the air and landing on his back on the bed.

"Wha-? ! "

"Jujitsu," Sergei said, as if in explanation, pulling Dorian's shoes off .

Dorian brought his legs up, sending Sergei sprawling on top of him, with an arm all ready to flip him over. Remembering his partner's economy from last time, he peeled off pants, briefs, socks and shoes together in almost one movement.

"Like a banana," said Sergei approvingly. What an odd simile,

Dorian thought, but Sergei's hands were busy at his waistband and he had other things to think about. In a minute he was naked as well, lying half on top of, half beside Sergei in a welter of rose silk duvet and soft white sheets.

"More comfortable?" Sergei inquired from two inches away.

"Much. Speaking of comfortable, why don't you take that off?"

He nodded at the eyepatch.

"It's alright."

"No it's not. The band digs into your skin."

"I have to keep it fairly tight. Otherwise it shifts."

"You don't wear it all the time, surely?"

"When I'm in company. It's not a sight for civilized eyes, I assure you."

"You're not in company, Sergei, you're in your own bed, with me. You might as well be comfy."

"Lord Gloria, let's not discuss this."

It must have been the faint remaining suspicion in the back of Dorian's mind that was responsible for what he did next. Unthinkingly, his hand moved an inch and pulled the eyepatch up and over Sergei's head. The Circassian snarled and Dorian's arm was caught in a grip so fierce that he yelped in pain.

Sergei was staring at him from an immobile white face. Where his right eye should have been, there was only a wide gaping hole, with no eyelid or lashes. The surrounding flesh had been scored deeply and healed in furrowing white scars. No wonder he hadn't wanted Dorian to see.

It was his upbringing that saved him. Iron nursery training in ignoring the unseemly kept his face perfectly calm.

"That must have hurt," he said in what he was glad to hear was a completely natural voice. He rubbed the red line across Sergei's forehead with his free hand. "You really shouldn't wear this, you know. Your skin is so delicate, you'll mark it for good."

Beneath him, Sergei started shaking. He was laughing, but in a painful, frightening way, and tears ran from his left eye. He let go of Dorian, pushed him away, and turned over on his side, laughing and crying into the arms that covered his face.

Alarmed, Dorian tried to hold the shuddering body, kissing whatever parts he could reach.

"Sergei- Sergei, love- what is it? What's the matter?" He rubbed the rigid shoulders and kissed the back of his neck, while Sergei's hysteric laughter turned gradually into fullhearted weeping. At last even that ceased and he lay stiff and unresponsive, his face burrowed protectively into his arms.

Dorian was appalled at the effects of his thoughtlessness. He'd had no intention in the world of hurting Sergei, but he seemed to have managed it quite efficiently nonetheless. Desperately he cast about for a way of making amends. With great care he undid the band that held Sergei's hair at the back, freeing the whole thick yellow mass. It filled his hands like heavy silk, and he brought it forward to cover Sergei's averted face, talking to him the while.

"If you don't want people to see you, why don't you use this instead? It's ever so much prettier. One of my friends wears his hair this way- it's really very sweet."

Sergei stirred. One hand came up and took hold of the bright curtain, pulling it well across the right side of his face. Unresisting, he let Dorian turn him half over onto his back. His face was colourless and defeated, empty of all energy and beauty. He lay looking at Dorian as if at something very very far away.

"I thought-," he said, in a dry husky voice, "I truly thought nothing could frighten me anymore. But you do. If there were two men like yourself I don't think Western civilization would survive. You have as much decency and restraint as an avalanche."

"I don't understand," Dorian said helplessly. "Truly, Sergei, I only wanted-"

Sergei put a hand over his mouth. "I know you don't understand. Who would ever have thought innocence could be so terrifying?"

Dorian didn't bother to protest that he was scarcely an innocent. Sergei was too upset to know what he was saying. He stroked the gleaming hair and wiped the remaining tears from the wet cheeks.

"When you want something, Lord Gloria, you just take it, isn't that right?"

"Yes."

Sergei sighed deeply. "Well, then," he said, and put up his mouth to be kissed.

Dorian blinked in disbelief and joy, then swooped down to kiss him with all the skill and tenderness at his command. A small sob caught in Sergei's chest, but after a moment's hesitation he began to respond, tentatively at first, then more passionately, as if remembering a long-unused skill. Lips moved across lips, tongues twined, and their hips naturally found a way of fitting together that pleasured them both. With small slow movements their bodies shifted against each other, like snakes dancing. Fingers and hands began to travel in exploration and excitement, and the tempo of the dance grew swifter. It was Sergei who broke away first, gasping for breath.

"I'm a little out of practice," he said.

"You're doing just fine," Dorian encouraged him.

"Yes, but my lips hurt. Can we give them a rest for a moment? There are other bits of me I'm sure you'll like quite as much."

"Such as?"

"Find out for yourself, lazy. I'm not giving hints."

Dorian tested the cheekbones and the tender skin at the temples, moved over to nibble at the fleshy edge of the ear, then dipped into the rounded shell of the ear itself. Sergei, surprisingly, caught his breath, his hands suddenly tense on Dorian's shoulders. Dorian probed further, his tongue tracing the inner whorls, and Sergei writhed underneath him.

A hideous thought struck him.

"I'm not tickling you, am I?"

"No--no--" Sergei was breathless. "Just- I never- It's amazing. Do it again." He did, and Sergei moaned. His hands began to claw at Dorian's back and Dorian at length had to pull away.

"Easy, darling, or we'll be through too soon. I thought you said you were slow."

Sergei's chest rose and fell deeply. "I thought I was. It hasn't been like this since I was a teenager."

"Who did you do it with then?"

"My brother. No, not what you think. We were twins. Touching him was like touching myself. I did that too, of course."

"It must be nice, having brothers. How many?"

"There were four of us. One died in the war. Are you an only child, then?"

"Sisters. We didn't get along."

"It can be like that with brothers too, you know. Don't be too romantic about it."

"Mm. Have you cooled off yet?"

"Yes, thank you. If you're gentle, you can even kiss me again."

The dance began once more. Sergei was clearly trying to hold back for Dorian's sake, but his control seemed to have vanished. The fire within him was burning far too fiercely, no longer subject to his will.

"It's alright," Dorian assured him. "What do you want me to do?"

The gentle pressure on his shoulder was hint enough. He slid down in the bed and took Sergei into his mouth. Not much was required of him: his partner was already teetering on the edge of ecstasy, and the gentle windings of Dorian's tongue were enough to push him over. He spasmed inside Dorian's throat, and almost at once pulled him back up, probing his mouth with his tongue as if trying to find the flavour of his own seed. Sergei's wantonness fanned his own flames into a bonfire.

"Any lanolin up here?" he enquired of the Circassian's ear.

"Sorry. Petroleum jelly. In the drawer," he nodded, "-your side."

Dorian sat up, groped, and found the plastic jar. His eyes consulted Sergei, who gave a ghost of the old smile from his flushed and beautiful face.

"Are you up for it?" he whispered.

"All the old music hall jokes," Dorian groaned, and Sergei laughed almost like his old self.

He raised his pelvis to make it easier for Dorian's hand to find him, and Dorian slid his legs underneath, resting the narrow hips on his thighs. He slipped a finger inside, then a second to keep it company, and finally a third. He rotated them slowly, leisurely, concentrating on the hot slippery sensations of inside-Sergei, while the other breathed deeply, clenching his muscles tightly around Dorian's hand as if to hold him there forever. Their eyes met, and his fingers stilled. What was in Sergei's face, what was in his own, he didn't know, nor what message they were sending each other, but for a moment time stopped while an excitement so great he could barely grasp it beat its wings about him. That huge undefined emotion narrowed, focussed on his groin, and urged him on with its need. He pulled his hand free and raised Sergei's legs.

"I like to be on my face for this," Sergei said mildly.

"My turn," Dorian reminded him, and Sergei obediently braced his narrow feet against Dorian's shoulders until Dorian was deep inside him.

"Come on up, love." He pulled Sergei slowly into a sitting position across his thighs, the other gasping a little as the movement stretched him. Sergei put his arms around his neck, with his ankles locked together against Dorian's buttocks and his head drooping onto Dorian's shoulder. Like foam on water, the Englishman's golden curls and the Circassian's yellow hair flowed together down their chests.

Dorian turned the averted face to his and kissed it deeply, savouring with immense satisfaction the moment that marked his final possession of both Sergei's mouths. At last he let him lean away and began rocking in and out, while Sergei braced his feet on the bed and pulled against him, rider and ridden, posting up and down on Dorian's thighs. Dorian closed his eyes, willing the timeless journey to continue forever.

But his body began to demand a fiercer satisfaction. He might as well have pity on Sergei. With a little difficulty, and thanks largely to the other's agility, he got him turned around without having to withdraw from him. Sergei thrust a pillow beneath himself and raised his hips, while Dorian did his best to be as slow as possible. It was harder than he'd thought, reining in his body's urge for speed. Finally, ruefully awarding Sergei the prize for technique, he abandoned the fight and let his instincts do what they would. But he was aware that his partner had to some extent recovered, and was caressing himself in rhythm with Dorian's movements as he slid in and out of him. His climax arrived suddenly, and he fell with a voluptuous shudder onto the already collapsing body of the Circassian.

He lay with his face in the sea of Sergei's hair, letting the afterglow fade. Reaching through the veil, he kissed whatever bit of Sergei was under it, then rolled away to flounder for his pants on the floor. Though he didn't usually care for post-coital cigarettes, he was suddenly seized with a craving for the taste of tobacco. He reached into his pocket, to discover nothing there but flat crackling cellophane.

"Bother," he said in consternation.

"Mmh? Something wrong?" the other asked, in the honey tones of drowned contentment.

"I smoked my last cigarette before I came here."

"There's some in my coat. Bring the lighter too?"

Dorian picked up the beautiful garment- the nap of the fine wool was almost as delicious as its owner's skin- and plunged his hands into various pockets. Keys, change, Cross pen-- his fingers met only unwanted metal, all the wrong shape. The inside one? There. He got hold of the lighter, but the cigarettes were blocked by something thin and plastic, too big for a credit card, wedged across the inside. He prised it out and gave it a glance as he retrieved the Sobranies. A photograph, encased in vinyl, of three people: Sergei smiling down at a grinning dark-haired teenager making a V-for-Victory sign, and next to them -- Dorian blinked, but there was no mistake: the same blond mop of hair, piercing blue eyes and determined features that he'd seen in Klaus' photograph. But here the General's expression was tender, almost indulgent; he too was looking at the dark-haired boy.

"Who's this?"

"In the photo? My family. My brother and his oldest son."

"He's your brother? The General?"

"Ah." Sergei gave a small sigh. "You know him, of course."

"Well, he's rather famous these days."

He replaced the photograph. Climbing back into the welter of sheets, he slid down beside Sergei's warmth. Sergei raised himself on one elbow and took a cigarette, waiting for Dorian to light it.

"Now," he said, "What did you want to ask me about my brother?"

"What makes you think--"

"It's natural. People always do, when they find out who I am. Pass the ashtray, please."

Dorian put it on the mattress between them, thinking what to say. "Do you love your brother?"

Sergei was quiet for a moment. "What an odd man you are, Lord Gloria. No-one's ever asked me that before. The answer, I suppose, even now, is yes."

"Why don't you talk about him?"

"I prefer not to. For many reasons. This," he gestured at the space between them, "is one, of course. My brother is liberal for a Circassian- he wouldn't want me stoned to death-- but he disapproves. He finds my desires incomprehensible and-- distasteful. I feel the same way about his." He drew deeply on his cigarette. "I sleep with men. He kills them. We have little in common."

"You were in his army when-"

"Yes. Naturally. Whose else?"

"You didn't learn jujitsu there, by any chance?" The question had been bothering him.

"No, of course not. Just how to fire a gun." He smiled, a little sadly. "It was my friend who taught me to fight. I was too bookish for it as a boy. After he died, I wanted to go on thinking of myself as a fighter: it was the only thing I had left of him. But I needed to learn to do it one-eyed, so eventually I began studying the Eastern arts- tae kwon do, kung fu, jujitsu. Wherever I went, I trained... Between whiles I'd go home, but nothing had changed there so I came away again. After the last time-- I decided not to go back."

"Suppose," Dorian said carefully, "you knew your brother needed you?"

"I've wasted too much of my life thinking my brother needed me," said Sergei flatly. "He needs no-one; and if he did, he wouldn't admit it."

"And- your country? If you could help there, would you--"

Sergei interrupted him impatiently. "My country, Lord Gloria, isn't a country except in the minds of people who don't live there. It's a collection of tribes, each sitting on its own little piece of land. Circassia as a political entity simply doesn't exist, a fact you Eurorpeans have never grasped. The only thing we understand are personal loyalties, the tie between rulers and the men who fight for them. The reason the ex-President was thrown out is not that he bled the country dry, but that he didn't share enough with his men. There's no room for patriotism in a place like that." He took a deep breath and spoke more calmly. "Probably the best we can hope for is a strongman like my brother, someone who will keep the various factions under control. He's always wanted a kingdom and now it seems he may get one. It took him twenty years to bring the hill tribes together; the plains should take him a year at most; and then... But for me- my country is France. This is where I live. I'll go back for my brother's coronation or inauguration or whatever it is he has, when he has it. Maybe."

"Did he hurt you that badly?"

Sergei rubbed a tired hand over his face. "I was forgetting. Lord Gloria, how do you survive in polite society? You have the terrible candour of a child. Don't you know there are things you can't say?"

"No," said Dorian simply. "What I think, I say. What I want, I take. How else can one live?"

"As I do," said Sergei, stubbing out his cigarette and turning on his side, away from Dorian.

Dorian cuddled up to his back. "Then learn to live another way. Stop settling for second best. What is it you want, Sergei?"

"To be able to go back to where it all went wrong and have it different. To be given a second chance. For us all to have been someone else in the first place. Or failing that, simply to forget. I want a lot of things, Lord Gloria, and I can't have any of them. Unless- if you would be so kind- I also want you to kiss me again."

Dorian did, feeling immensely sorry for him. Let the General go, he thought: it would only hurt Sergei to get him involved. Only, having experienced some of the things love can make a man do, he wondered why Sergei carried his brother's picture around with him everywhere if he was really so indifferent to his fate. Would he in fact not care if the General died? Somehow Dorian didn't believe it. This man was the key to the success of Klaus' mission. Klaus had as good as said so. It was just possible he might know something; Dorian should ask...

Sergei broke away from him. "What is it? Has it made that much of a difference, finding out who I am?"

Dorian blushed for his incompetence. "Yes, sort of. Not the way you think. There's something I should tell you. It's this thing NATO thought you were involved in..."

He related everything that Klaus had told him. It wasn't much, boiled down to basic facts. Sergei listened without expression.

"I don't know how de Marquère can be involved," Dorian ended.

"All I can think is that the information was mistaken."

"Or it could be someone using his name, or one similar to it.

Your informant- did he definitely say that this man de Marquère was in Paris?"

"I don't think so. Just that there was a de Marquère involved. Oh- I see. Is there anyone called that in your brother's camp?"

"I'm trying to remember. Marquère," said Sergei, sounding the syllables out. "Not that I know of but I haven't been back in over three years. If he's there, he's probably only recently arrived."

He stirred restlessly.

"How would you pronounce it in Circassian?"

"Oh. How true. Mahker. Mahka. Ma-- oh my god." He sat up, looking shocked. "Maaqa. Maaqa. He even looks..." He turned round and reached over Dorian for the phone. "What time is it? They might still be in--" His fingers pressed buttons impatiently. Dorian could hear the faint ringing at the other end, and the "Allo, allo" as it was answered.

"Good evening, Baron. It's Serge. You must excuse my appalling behaviour the other day, running out on you and the Baroness like that." He smiled at whatever the Baron was saying. "Yes, and talented. But spoken for, alas. Baron, I'm about to compound my rudeness with insolence. I want to ask about your family- a possible relation of yours. He's calling himself Marquère; I don't know his first name. Young, maybe twenty-six or so by now, medium height, on the thin side. Black hair and eyes. He looks a bit like Jean-Claude, same face and cheekbones. Slightly tilted eyes, rather à la Chinoise. Very intelligent, a little wild I would guess, and- pardon?"

"Not to be trusted? Forgive me, Baron, but I would definitely say so, yes." A pause. "Yes. I see. Yes. No, at home. Three years ago. A chance meeting. Yes, I see. My apologies, Baron. Mm? Yes indeed, I will. Au revoir." He hung up, and lit another cigarette.

"The Baron sends his regards." He sounded abstracted.

"He knows about you?"

"He couldn't not."

"What?"

"A man of liberal ideas, the Baron, and quite attractive. Only once or twice, of course. He's devoted to the Baroness."

"Sergei, he's old. He must be--"

"Fifty-three."

"Well, there you are. How could you--"

"How old do you think I am?"

"Twenty-seven, twenty-eight-"

"Forty next year."

Dorian sat stunned. He peered at Sergei, but there were no lines, no wrinkles, no roughening of the skin.

"You're joking," he decided, relieved.

"I'll show you my passport sometime." Sergei put out his cigarette. "Will you call your friend in NATO?" In spite of the phrasing it wasn't a request. "I want to speak to him as soon as possible. To-night for choice. Don't tell him I'm the General's brother; just say I have some information that might be of help." He handed Dorian the phone with a peremptoriness worthy of Klaus.

"Wait a minute. What did the Baron say?"

"It's a nephew of his- the oldest sister's second boy. Apparently something of a black sheep. Thrown out of the Polytechnique, quarrelled with his father, took off for Africa, then Iran. He comes home from time to time, won't tell his family where he's been or what he's doing, and disappears again. His last visit was in March. He's definitely your contact."

He spoke with barely concealed impatience, eye on the telephone, and Dorian realized that the Earl of Red Gloria was no longer the first thing on his mind. Pleased as he was at being right about Sergei's feelings, and natural as they no doubt were, it was still galling to find himself ranked below the General in his brother's affections.

"How interesting," he said, reaching for a cigarette and lighting it slowly. He didn't really want another, but he did want to tease Sergei. It was hard to resist, when men got all hot and bothered about something other than himself. "I'm sure the Major will be fascinated. But right now I could do with dinner. I'm famished. Aren't you?"

Sergei turned a stern and affronted glare on him, which Dorian, long inured to the same treatment from Klaus, met with a provokingly innocent smile. Sergei's mouth suddenly softened into tenderness, the like of which Klaus had never shown.

"I beg your pardon. I was forgetting," he said, plucking the cigarette from Dorian's hand and putting it out in the ashtray. He carried the hand to his lips and kissed each fingertip in turn. "You're a child." Catching the other hand, he kissed both palms, then leaned over to do the same to Dorian's eyes. That was better. "And," Sergei murmured in his ear, "this is the way I deal with wilful children."

He yanked both wrists forward, and Dorian sprawled face down across his legs. One large hand pinned his arms, while the other moved to his behind.

"Sergei, you wouldn't--" he said, between horror and delight.

"No, I wouldn't. Another time maybe. But now..." His hand slipped between Dorian's legs, into that very sensitive area between his groin and thigh, and began to tickle. Dorian squealed and tried to clamp his legs together to still those devilish fingers, but they moved onto the back of his thigh and down to the knee. He howled and kicked, rolling half over, and they found his ribs and belly instead. When he squirmed back onto his stomach, they moved up to his armpits.

"Sergei, stop- oh- Sergei- not there, please-; no- stop- Sergei,- please," he gasped, his face flushed and wet.

"NATO," Sergei suggested. "A certain Major. On the telephone."

"Yes, yes," Dorian agreed.

"Now," said Sergei, kissing the tears from the side of his face that lay uppermost.

"Now." Dorian capitulated, and Sergei let him up. What a persuasive man. If only he would give Klaus some tips. If only Klaus would take them.

Klaus, in the event, although making it unmistakably clear that he was still angry about the other day, agreed to meet them at Les Deux Colombes on the Rue St.Germain in the forty-five minutes it would take him to come across town.

"We'll be able to get something to eat before he comes," said Dorian, pulling on his black velvet pants and ruffled peach silk shirt.

"They do a nice Coquille St.Jacques," said Sergei, absently, closing the multiple fastenings of his coat. He reached for the eyepatch, then caught Dorian's glance. After a minute he dropped it back on the bed. "I feel naked," he said, and turned to look at himself in the mirror.

"I wish you were, but it would distract the waiters too much.

You'll do as you are, love. If you're worried--" Dorian picked up a tortoise shell brush and ran it through the pale blond hair, arranging it in a smooth thick curtain across Sergei's face. "There. Nothing shows. The only trouble is, you look twice as enticing as before. You do remember that you promised me after dinner as well?"



8.

They had just finished when von dem Eberbach strode into the restaurant. Dorian effected the introductions, ignoring Sergei's small start of surprise when he saw Klaus' face. Klaus sized Sergei up with an antagonism that was well-hidden but apparent to Dorian's eye, and went as if by reflex onto the offensive.

"I believe, M.Serge, you were in the army?"

"One of them, Major. We have several," Sergei replied calmly.

"Your rank?"

"Meaningless in a European context. Approximately lieutenant."

"Hmph. How much has Lord Gloria told you about NATO's concerns with your country?"

"Merely that you've been informed of a plot against the General's life which seems to originate here and to involve a certain de Marquère, soi-disant."

"Ah- so you have definite information about the man?"

"Yes, and I'll be more than happy to give it to you. But in return I must ask for your word that everything I tell you about myself will remain confidential."

"You're afraid of the police?"

Sergei smiled at him like an old friend and didn't answer. Klaus too sat calmly, prepared to outwait the Circassian. There was a few minutes' silence, in which time the facts of the situation became evident to everyone present: Klaus wanted information that Sergei had no pressing need to deliver.

"Very well," said Klaus cutting his losses. "I withdraw that remark. Why do you require confidentiality?"

"You'll understand that, Major, when you hear what I have to say. But you may rest assured that there's nothing illicit behind my request. You are doubtless aware that I have somewhat less than happy memories of my country. At some cost, I've attained a certain peace of mind and personal security here in France. Both would be threatened if what I'm about to tell you were to become public knowledge."

The old world formality of Sergei's speech appeared to have a reassuring effect on the Major. Dorian had often suspected that if he himself spoke Whitehall Stuffed Shirt rather than Mayfair camp,

Klaus would be an awful lot nicer to him. A pity he didn't have Sergei's facility with languages.

"Very well," said Klaus, unbending a little. "You have my word."

Sergei took the photograph from his pocket and handed it over. Klaus' eyebrows rose.

"I'm the General's youngest brother. We're not on the best of terms at the moment, but I have no desire to see him assassinated. I'm willing to tell you what I know about this man Marquère. I met him briefly the last time I was home, three years ago. His name, incidentally, isn't Marquère but de Roussaye. He's the nephew of the present Baron, using his mother's maiden name since he's been virtually disowned by his father. It never occurred to me to connect him with the Baron, since we pronounce the name in Circassian fashion, quite different from the French. But now the family resemblance is obvious to me."

"What position does he hold in your brother's army?"

"When I left, he was attached to the elite commando team headed by my brother Halim- my other brother, not the General. We like to keep things in the family." Sergei smiled grimly. "He's undoubtedly still there, but in a higher position- chief aide, would be my guess."

"And have you any idea what his role in the conspiracy might be?"

"Fairly obviously, he's the liaison between the President and the head of the conspiracy in my brother's camp."

"And who is--oh." Enlightenment dawned in Klaus' eyes. Sergei nodded, mouth crooked sardonically.

"Yes indeed. Everything in the family, Major. Something of a Circassian tradition, the fraternal power struggle."

Klaus was thinking hard. "This puts a new complexion on matters, M.Serge. Have you proof of any of this?"

"None in the world. I know Halim, that's all. He's my twin. I assure you there's no mistake. If I might, I would suggest a word in the ex-President's ear: an intimation that NATO knows all about young de Roussaye and his activities. The man is fond of power, but he's also- well, prudent is perhaps the kindest word for it. He won't risk his neck on anything that's not completely sure."

"We'll need to secure the situation on both fronts. The General must be informed as well. Are you willing to tell him your suspicions? He wouldn't believe us without definite proof."

"I don't doubt it. My brother distrusts Westerners. He thinks they despise him." Sergei smiled politely, as if deprecating the General's folly. Klaus, to his credit as a NATO operative, did not blush. "I'm willing to return to Circassia. I'll need transport as far as Turkey. Can you pull strings in Ankara, Major?"

"That's not necessary. We'll fly you into the country."

"I'll fly myself in. A helicopter. I'll be landing in the mountains."

"M.Serge-"

"My pilot's licence is still valid, Major," Sergei said

without emphasis.

They faced each other down, Klaus imperious, Sergei calm.

Klaus opened his mouth to speak, but Sergei cut in ahead of him.

"I'm not going to tell the General unless it's absolutely unavoidable. He would have to take measures, measures that would be noticed and interpreted as a split in the family. To keep the men's confidence and forestall other attempts, the command must be seen as united. I'll confront Halim directly. When he knows I know, he'll back off."

"He's willing to kill your older brother. Why shouldn't he kill you?"

"He won't. He can't. You won't understand this, Major. If we were capable of killing each other, we would have done it long ago. "

"You're right," said Klaus. "I don't understand. Your plan isn't sufficiently secure, M. Serge. I want the General informed directly."

"What makes you think he'll believe me rather than Halim? You forget, Major, that from his point of view, I 'm a deserter. Brothers are supposed to stay at home and support the head of the family."

"Everything I know about the General suggests an astute man. I imagine he already has his own ideas about Halim's trustworthiness."

Sergei raised an amused eyebrow, conceding Klaus points. "Nonetheless, I have no desire to meet him face to face unless I absolutely must. Unfortunately, Major, if you want my help, you must permit me to do it my way. Otherwise I will withdraw from the business entirely, and you’ll be left exactly where you were before."

"If you do that, and Halim's plot succeeds, you'll see your country in ruins. Do you want that to happen?"

"I don't care if it does. I'm not a patriot, Major. Desole."

Dorian expected a sneer from the Major, but Klaus was merely looking at Sergei thoughtfully.

"You understand, M. Serge, that I must prepare for a worst case scenario. You go to Circassia, you die, and we have absolutely nothing that will incriminate Halim. Would you be willing to write a full statement of what you know and suspect, which we can show to the General if you don't come back?"

"If you like."

Klaus sat back in his chair. "Write it now." He took pen and paper from his shoulder bag.

Sergei wrote quickly for several minutes, the flowing Circassian characters twisting across the page. He finished, folded the sheet in three, and handed it to Dorian.

"Lord Gloria, please deliver this to Major von dem Eberbach if you don't hear from me by a certain date. Otherwise, of course," he looked at Klaus unsmilingly, "I will expect it to be returned to me." Dorian took the paper gingerly. Klaus' mouth was stiff with anger. "Major. You don't understand my country and you don't understand my family. With the best intentions in the world, you could do incalculable harm."

They looked each other in the eye for a long moment. Klaus was far from pleased, but he was also a realist.

"Very well, M. Serge. Our hands are tied. We’ll do it your way."

They went on to discuss details, brisk and business-like.

Dorian felt like a child at a board meeting, watching the adults doing their incomprehensible thing, not expected to take part.

"Very well," Klaus said. "The arrangements should be finished by Monday morning. You can fly out then. Is that satisfactory?"

"Perfectly."

"We might as well meet at the Georges V, at nine." He rose to go, and Sergei also stood up.

"That's an interesting hair style, M. Serge. A recent change?"

"Lord Gloria's suggestion."

Klaus looked suspiciously at Dorian. "You've missed your calling, Lord Gloria. You should have been a hair dresser. A much more suitable profession. "

"Any time you want a shampoo and blow j -, uh, dry, Major, I'm at your service."

"Thank you, no. M.Serge, good evening. Until Monday." After an infinitisimal hesitation he put out his hand and Sergei shook it gravely. Dorian, jealous, didn't miss the trace of respect in Klaus' eye.

"Ouf," Sergei said, sitting down heavily, "I need a drink."

He beckoned to the waiter. "The Major is a very hard ticket. Remind me never to play chess with him. "

"They call him Iron Klaus in the service, " said Dorian, chin on hand, wistfully watching Klaus' figure disappear down the boulevard .

"He's the one? I was afraid he might be. Oh dear, Dorian."

Dorian turned around, smiling helplessly.

"It wasn’t my idea. It just happened." The look almost of pity in Sergei's face annoyed him. "You don’t think much of my chances."

"I think you have your work cut out for you. The immovable object and the irresistible force, indeed. But I’ll drink to your success." He lifted his wineglass.

"How about a kiss for luck?"

"Certainly, " said Sergei, and leant over and kissed his mouth.



9.

The weekend went by in a sunny dream. Sergei and Dorian strolled in the Bois de Boulogne, drank coffee on the Avenue de l'Opera, attended the Comedie Francaise, and spent endless hours in bed. After a Sunday evening passed in the latter location, Sergei sent him back to his hotel early.

"I have preparations, m'ami . I’ll see you in the morning."

"Sergei, it's only nine. We have hours yet."

"Time, but not much else. You're too charming, my dear. After three days of your company, I’ll be celibate for a month."

"You know that's not true." Dorian's tongue invaded his ear, with the desired effect. It was ten thirty by the time he left, but leave he did. Sergei was adamant.

Back in his hotel he racked his brains for some sort of memento to give Sergei as a parting present. Something to wear, perhaps? All that black was so somber, though he did look good in it. Dorian cast a considering eye over his collection of scarves and shirts. The pinks and mauves and golds and peacock blues-- no, he wanted something Sergei would actually use. He was going off to the mountains- in April... What had he brought in the way of warm clothes? Rummaging through the closet he found, with no little dismay, the very thing. There was no doubt, this was it, and he rarely wore it anymore himself. But- but- it had such sentimental value- sentimental value that wasn't really connected with Klaus, of course... It cost him a pang, but he wrapped it up anyway. Sergei was a special person...

They met in the hotel lobby next morning. Sergei, evidently a light traveller, was carrying only a shoulder bag. He looked keen and alert, like someone leaving for a long awaited holiday.

"Where will you be on Thursday?" was the first thing he said.

Dorian had to think. "At home, in Kent."

"Give me your phone number there. I'll call or wire from Turkey. There's no point in relying on the Circassian system to be operational."

"Sergei, this really is dangerous, what you're doing." It hadn't quite registered before. "What will I do if you don't come back?"

"Give that paper to the Major, of course. But make him work

for it a little. You can tell him I said to." Sergei smiled happily, obviously in the best of spirits.

"You're not enjoying this, are you?"

"Yes, I think I am. So many more things seem possible, all of a sudden. Maybe we all need the occasional earthquake or avalanche to keep us on our toes: or an angel with a fiery sword to drive us from our safe little gardens. At least I can always come back to mine."

"Will you?"

"I'll definitely try."

"I have a present for you, a keepsake. No, it's not stolen," he said in annoyance at Sergei's raised eyebrow. "It's all mine. I thought you might need something to keep you warm in the mountains." He took out the black velvet coat with its fluffy white fur collar and the white fur at the cuffs. Sergei laughed softly. "Sergei, why are you always laughing at me?"

"I'm sorry. I was just wondering if you're the kind who likes to make over his boyfriends. First the hair, next the wardrobe..."

"It's nothing of the sort. This is what I was wearing when I met the last man I fell in love with... just before I met Klaus. His name was Caesar; you look a little like him. I want you to have it."

Sergei put out a hand and stroked the thick velvet, back and forth and then again, as if he couldn't stop.

"Thank you," he said, and taking the coat, slung it around his shoulders. "It's beautiful. I'll think of you whenever I wear it."

Their eyes met, but before they could say anything more, Klaus came sweeping in through the front doors.

"Ah, good, M.Serge. You're ready. The car is here; my agent will drive you to Charlie."

"Thank you, Major. I'll be with you in a moment." He turned back to Dorian. "I've closed the shop for a week, and the concierge from next door will look in on my apartment from time to time. But if you'd do me a favour--"

"Anything, Sergei."

He reached into his bag. "This is too valuable to be left in an unattended house. I'd feel much safer if you'd look after it for me for-- well, shall we say, a while?"

Dorian took the canvas packet. He knew he was smiling uncontrollably, but he couldn't help it.

"Of course, Sergei. I'll take good care of it."

"Thank you, Lord Gloria. Au revoir. " He kissed him on both cheeks, murmuring, "And don't show it to the Major. He'd have a heart attack."

"I won't," Dorian murmured back, and thought, "Maybe." With a sudden rush of feeling, he put his free arm around Sergei's neck and kissed him hard on the mouth. Sergei kissed him back, fully and deeply. They let go of each other, to find Klaus watching them in white-faced shock, a sick comprehension beginning in his eyes.

"I'm ready, Major." Sergei smiled pleasantly at him, and Klaus snapped, "W! " That hapless agent escorted Sergei to the waiting car. Dorian waved good-bye, blowing kisses until they were out of sight.

"I do hope he’ll be alright, " he said to Klaus.

The Major seemed not to hear.

"A homo. A damned homo. Just like you. That's why the Chief-"

He was too angry to continue.

"Well, it worked," said Dorian matter-of-factly. "You're not jealous, Klaus, surely? Because I was with another man?"

"Hardly. But to be used as a- a pandar-" Klaus spat the word

out.

"Go-between, dear. Or Cupid." There was a thought. Klaus with wings and a bow and nothing else on- no, on second thought, better think about something else. Like the book under his arm. Klaus with sandals and a rose mantle and nothing else on- oh dear, everything seemed to lead to the same conclusion today. Sighing, he slipped an arm around Klaus' waist, which the Major in his fury seemed not to notice.

"Don't worry, Klaus. You're the only man I'11 ever love."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Klaus said, pushing him away impatiently. "Your kind- they’re everywhere."

"Yes, aren’t we?" Dorian agreed. "In the most unlikely place too." Like your mirror, he thought.

"I almost thought well of that- that pervert," Klaus fumed.

"Really?" Dorian feigned surprise . "I can't think why. Just because he's brave and loyal and honourable and intelligent-" and got the best of you in a confrontation- "surely that can’t be allowed to outweigh his sexual tastes. Can it, Major? Come on, " he added without waiting for an answer, "Let’s go have coffee somewhere. There's nothing more we can do until Thursday."

They walked out into the mild April sunshine, the great city sparkling around them; and if the Major, sunk in thoughtfulness, was more silent than usual, Dorian for once had no complaints.

 

Eroica