HELL AND HIGH WATER

by Kadorienne

The Story So Far, to refresh the memory of those who have not recently read the first story, Rose Vines & Wire Ropes: In the first story, Klaus had been discharged from NATO for screwing up a mission. Klaus, being Klaus, reacted by exiling himself to Alaska. Dorian, being Dorian, followed him to Alaska to offer unsolicited emotional support. After a few days of bickering and Eroican pranks, they ended up where they belong. (In bed together.) Klaus admitted that he has known since the age of 12 that he preferred men, but never before allowed himself to act on it. He also admitted his true feelings – that's right, he said the magic words: "I love you." The pair spent the next three weeks enjoying each other at the swankiest hotel in Anchorage, until one day at the swimming pool Klaus recognized an old enemy of his. The first story ended with his announcement that he intended to go after the man. Now we pick up about an hour after this declaration:

 

Some things hadn't changed. They still argued constantly. Or rather, Klaus argued, and Dorian leaned back and gazed at him adoringly, occasionally making some lazy Wildean remark.

"I want you to leave!" Klaus shouted for the tenth time. "It isn't safe here, with that maniac around! I don't know why I love an unprincipled thief, but I do, and I want you out of danger!"

"Darling. You do say the nicest things."

"Idiot." Klaus stopped his panther-like prowling and stubbed out the remains of his cigarette, promptly lighting a new one. "Then I'll have to tell you who he is. Maybe then you'll stop being an idiot."

"I doubt it."

Klaus disregarded this. "His name is Henrik Schmidt. He's an assassin."

"A mercenary, or does he work for someone?"

"Oh, he works for someone all right."

"Who?"

Klaus met Dorian's eyes grimly. "A German Neo-Nazi terrorist organization."

Dorian's eyes widened. Now he understood. An adversary like this would allow Klaus to uphold, in his own eyes, every principle he felt he had betrayed in the last month. No wonder he was so chillingly determined.

"...which is why you're going to leave! Today! Right now!" Klaus was telling him, rather more loudly than necessary.

Dorian stood and stretched idly. "Do we have time for dinner before we go after this nasty chap, darling?"

"Dorian! Haven't you been listening to me?"

"No. Why, did you say something clever?"

For the first time, though he suspected it would not be the last, Klaus wished he had not promised never to hit Dorian again. "I'm about to. I don't know exactly what that bastard is here to do, but I do know that he's a dangerous man, and if he catches sight of you - well, you aren't exactly subtle, are you, Eroica?" He lowered his voice. "Does the phrase 'pink triangle' mean anything to you?"

Dorian's sky-colored eyes had become hard. Expressionless, he replied, "Yes. When I was fourteen, a few of my schoolmates beat me up in the showers and took all of my clothes except for my shirt, to which they glued a pink triangle that clashed horribly."

Klaus was stopped. Looking ill, he was silent a moment before saying tentatively, "Dorian, did...."

Before he could continue, Dorian cut in coldly. "Klaus! This may come as a surprise to you, but we perverts do have a code of conduct among ourselves. And one of the unwritten rules of it is that there are certain questions we do not ask each other." He held Klaus' gaze, his blue eyes stony with warning. "You're about to ask one of them. Don't."

Klaus resumed pacing, frowning. After a moment he decided to drop it — for the moment. It was an old score; it could wait a bit longer for Klaus to even it.

He brought himself back to the subject at hand. "Then you know that homosexuals were near the top of the Nazis' list of undesirables. If this bastard sees you, he'll want to kill you. Understand? Now will you go?"

Dorian idly twined a lock of sunny hair around one finger. "Well, I suppose I could... of course, since I don't have my staff, it'll take me a week or so to get packed...."

Klaus didn't doubt that; Dorian had more foppish clothes in the hotel with them than Klaus had known existed in the world. And Klaus was sure that there were even more at his castle in England. Klaus still thought it was idiotic to waste so much time and money on one's clothes, but he could no longer deny the effect Dorian's appearance had on him. And if one was as beautiful as Dorian, perhaps it made sense to work so hard at it, he reflected, and then wondered when he had become so disgustingly sentimental. That's what happened if you spent too much time around arty people.

"Dorian, this man is dangerous. He could even succeed in killing me, I won't pretend otherwise. He almost did, on a couple of occasions."

Dorian chuckled mirthlessly. "Only an idiot would think that piece of information would make me leave, darling. Besides, there's no one amusing in London right now; everyone's in Paris, and have you ever been to Paris in August? All that humidity frizzes my hair."

"DORIAN! BE SERIOUS!"

Dorian stood and met Klaus' eyes with a level gaze and spoke evenly. "Very well. I shall be serious. And I assure you that you will not like it." Klaus was actually rather startled at the sober tone. "I love you. If these are going to be the last days of your life, I am certainly not going to miss them now that I have you. And I have never run away from a homophobe yet, not even you." Klaus winced. "I certainly am not going to start now. Besides, darling, isn't it the professional's rule never to be without backup? And don't tell me that a thief won't come in handy, whatever you're planning."

Having exhausted his arguments, Klaus gave in gracelessly. "If I find out you've tried anything stupid I'll handcuff you to the bed!" he threatened.

Dorian tried to come up with a clever answer, but instead, after a few seconds of heroic restraint, he burst into helpless laughter. Klaus' poleaxed expression only made him laugh harder, and when Klaus finally saw the joke, the deep flush that spread over his face had Dorian gasping for breath.

"Pervert," Klaus muttered, embarrassed. "Let’s go find out what room that maniac is staying in."

They expected this to be a simple enough matter for men in their professions, but Schmidt had been prepared. Klaus’ unauthorized survey of the guests registered at the hotel showed no suspicious names and none of Schmidt’s known aliases. Dorian’s charming and apparently idle questioning of hotel staff was likewise unproductive; it seemed Schmidt was keeping to himself.

"I could break into all the rooms that have lone men checked into them," Dorian offered when they met back in their suite.

Klaus was glowering out the window at the twilight, though he was too much the professional to stand directly in front of it, at any time. "I’m not sure I want you doing that," he retorted.

"I love it when you’re jealous, darling."

Klaus frowned in genuine confusion for a second before seeing the joke. He gave his best you-know-what-I-meant look, which Dorian had recently learned was Klaus’ version of laughter, before speaking. "We should probably move. Without formally checking out. This room is in your real name."

"My name. Yours isn’t even in the register."

"Still. He may know of your connection to NATO. Or of your erstwhile pursuit of me — you certainly never made any effort to be discreet about it. We had better not come to this room again until he’s in custody or taken care of."

"Taken care of?" Dorian prodded, not pretending he didn’t understand.

"I want to interrogate him," Klaus answered the unspoken question.

"So besides me breaking in to all those rooms, how can we find him?"

Still gazing out the window, Klaus did not answer for a few seconds. Then he said, "By looking out the window."

"He’s out there?"

Klaus nodded curtly. Dorian rose at once to look, but Klaus held up a hand to stop him, moving back from the glass himself. His Magnum was already in its shoulder holster. He paused to put a .22 at his ankle. "Let’s go. Stay where I can keep an eye on you."

"Yes, sir, right away, sir."

"Stop trying to talk like a soldier. You sound ridiculous."

Dorian smiled demurely as he followed Klaus out the door. Klaus shot him a glower. Next time he’d have to lock the bloody thief up. Though of course, he’d only pick the lock….

Earlier that day Klaus had insisted that Dorian put on one of his less eye-catching outfits, an innocuous long sweater and slacks. Good thing, he reflected grimly as they followed Schmidt down the street at a distance of a good block. It was difficult enough for two six-foot-tall men with long hair to be inconspicuous without Dorian’s wardrobe to contend with. At least night was falling.

Henrik was walking on briskly, in the purposeful manner of a man with a very specific destination. He was two or three inches shy of six feet tall. His hair was pale yellow, but Klaus knew that it was bleached in an attempt to look more "Aryan"; Henrik's face was not visible to him at the moment, but his eyebrows were light brown, his chin weak, his lashes thin. Like most who subscribed to the whole nonsense of eugenics, he himself did not fit the image he cherished. Henrik did not look behind him, but Klaus knew better than to feel safe because of it.

Four blocks away from the hotel, Henrik turned abruptly into a parking garage. Clever idea, Klaus conceded. Keeping a car, or perhaps a second car, somewhere away from where one was staying. Cautiously, he took a different entrance to the garage, Dorian close and silent behind him.

Henrik was nowhere in sight. Neither was anyone else. Klaus surveyed the place quickly. The garage was very full, which meant the upper floors were probably well filled as well. There was no telling which one Henrik was on, or what kind of vehicle he’d taken.

Klaus hurried toward the stairwell. He could easily not have heard the tiny sound that alerted him. Without taking the time to see if the worst conclusions were justified, he shoved Dorian down between two cars and dove after, covering the thief’s body with his own even as he drew his Magnum.

The bullets missed them by perhaps half a heartbeat.

Dorian crouched absolutely still between the cars. His face in the shadows was pale, but quite composed in spite of the tension of the muscles around his mouth. At one time, it had annoyed Klaus that the foppish thief had been so reliable in an emergency. Now he was damned grateful.

After a few rounds, the gunfire stopped. A heavy silence ensued. Klaus spent the time cursing himself for having been idiotic enough to walk right into an ambush. The assassin had known what room he was in, had deliberately walked in view of the window and waited to be followed, and Klaus had fallen for it.

"You aren’t NATO anymore, Iron Klaus," a voice called out in German. Meeting Dorian’s eyes, Klaus put a finger to his lips. There was a chance, after all, the assassin didn’t know their exact location.

Henrik continued. From the travelling sound of his voice, it was clear Henrik was moving, searching the rows of cars for them. He was still several yards away.

"Now that those traitors to the Aryan Race have turned their backs on you, perhaps you will stop collaborating with their debased policies."

Klaus’ lip curled. He made no other movement.

"You are a clear example of the Ubermensch, Eberbach. Only a true Aryan could shoot a Magnum one-handed. Acknowledge your true destiny and join us in the fight."

Looking at Klaus’ eyes, Dorian hoped he wasn’t around when his beloved got his hands on the assassin. He didn’t have the stomach to watch that encounter.

Henrik was drawing closer. Klaus did not have to shift position; he had been ready all along. Abruptly he rose from his crouching position, fired two shots at the assassin, and quickly lowered himself back to safety as Schmidt dove for cover unharmed.

Another oppressive silence followed. Klaus leaned over Dorian, his lips almost touching Dorian’s ear, and breathed, "Move a few rows over. Don’t make a sound." Dorian nodded slightly, and a few seconds later was crawling away, silent as a cat. Klaus covered his departure by springing up to take a couple more shots at the wall near Schmidt’s hiding place.

Klaus let his lover get a minute’s head start before he began his own furtive move. He opted to move only one car over, in the direction opposite that Dorian had taken. He flattened himself against the asphalt when another volley of shots tore into the silence. He heard no cry of pain, so Dorian must not be hit. When the shots ceased, he stayed frozen for a good two minutes before moving on.

When he heard another sound, Klaus knew he had to seize the opportunity and trust to his luck. He leapt to his feet and aimed swiftly. Only to be forced to crouch behind the car once more as another barrage of bullets came his way.

And stopped abruptly.

Either Schmidt was out of bullets, or he was bluffing.

Balking at risks was no part of Klaus’ character or training. He stood and leveled his Magnum, nicking Schmidt’s shoulder as the assassin threw himself behind another car.

Sounds of a scuffle instantly ensued. Klaus cursed. He had driven Schmidt right into Dorian’s hiding place. Bloody hell, he had lost his touch, and after only a month. Without hesitation, Klaus tore in the direction of the other two.

It was too late. From between two vehicles emerged Schmidt, holding Dorian in front of him, a broken beer bottle at the thief’s jugular, Dorian's right arm twisted painfully behind his back. Klaus did not spare time to be afraid, but he did note Schmidt’s swollen lip and Dorian’s bleeding nose with satisfaction; Dorian hadn’t gone down without a fight.

His Magnum trained on the assassin’s face, Klaus ordered in a low and deadly voice, "Let him go, and you might die quickly."

Schmidt was clever. He kept moving his head, weaving back and forth behind Dorian, preventing even a marksman of Klaus’ caliber from getting a good shot. Schmidt was two or three inches shorter than Dorian, but considerably more muscular.

"Drop the gun, Eberbach," Schmidt ordered.

"Don’t do it!" Dorian shouted, then winced as the glass pierced his skin.

"Shut up!" Klaus and Schmidt shouted in unison.

"You smell like flowers," Schmidt remarked to Dorian in a sneering voice. "So what’s a fairy like you doing with the Iron Major?" He leered over Dorian’s shoulder. "Can it be that a good German like Iron Klaus is a queer?"

In that instant, Klaus knew that he had been cured of what Dorian had called his "internalized homophobia".

Henrik had probably only been baiting him, not actually accusing, but Klaus returned him glare for glare and growled, "It sure as hell can."

In spite of his predicament, Dorian found the time to be stunned. His jaw dropped.

Henrik’s lip curled incredulously. Then he looked at Dorian.

"You’re as guilty as he is, Englishman. You may not be German, but look at you, your height and coloring — you are clearly a member of the Master Race. You have a duty to the Race to reproduce."

Klaus’ face contorted. Seeing it, Dorian seized the instant. He stomped on Schmidt’s foot, hard, and then threw himself to the ground. Klaus put a bullet in the Nazi’s heart. Schmidt went down with a grunt.

"Dorian!"

Dorian was sitting up, dragging himself away from his assailant, putting a hand to his bleeding neck. "I’m all right," he said, pulling out a handkerchief. "I’m just sorry I let him get me."

"It was my fault. I shouldn’t have let you–" Klaus broke off, holstering his Magnum and yanking the handkerchief away to look at the cut. It was deeper than he was happy about, but it hadn’t hit a vein. He gave the handkerchief back to Dorian and turned to glare at Schmidt’s prone form.

"No, it was mine," Dorian confessed. "I suppose you’ll have to make good on your threat and handcuff me to the bed, because I let him do it — I took the chance that–"

Schmidt’s eyes opened. Before Klaus could react, the assassin jumped to his feet and tore up the stairs. A bullet-proof vest. Of course. Cursing silently, Klaus followed, ducking a couple of beer bottles the other man snatched from the ground and threw his way. As Klaus emerged from the stairwell, a traffic cone that had been one of several cordoning off a large patch of damaged concrete was flung at his face. Instinctively he threw up his hands to ward it off. Schmidt was able to use the seconds to pull out a second pistol. Klaus threw himself back around the corner to evade the bullets. Schmidt kept up the fire until he got into a car and revved the engine, and the car was gone in a flurry of squealing tires before Klaus could emerge to shoot out the tires. He only caught a glimpse of dark green chrome before the vehicle rounded a corner.

The assassin had escaped.

Klaus did not bother to swear. He holstered his Magnum and moved briskly back down the stairs. Dorian was waiting for him.

"Going back to the hotel is too risky," Klaus informed him.

"There’s an office building next door. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if we stopped there for a bit."

"Don’t steal anything," Klaus growled as they headed for it. Dorian responded with an insolent smile, but it didn’t quite come off. He was shaken, a bit. Well, he should be. Klaus was discovering he was fairly shaken himself.

In fact, as he stood guard while Dorian dealt with the office building's locks and the adrenaline wore off, he was downright scared. Scared as he had never been over any threat to his own life. And, if he was ruthlessly honest, as he never had been over any of his agents, hard as he took it on the very rare occasion that he lost one.

He carefully took a slow, deep breath.

This was exactly why he had avoided attachments until now.

The door yielded to Dorian’s clever fingers, as everything did eventually. They entered softly. The building appeared to be deserted. They chose an office that boasted a couple of sofas, where they sank, both fatigued as the heat of the emergency faded.

After only a minute’s rest, Klaus helped himself to tissue and clear tape from the desk and created a makeshift bandage for the cut on Dorian’s neck. In the middle of applying it, he found that he had an idiotic impulse to stop this practical task and fling his arms around the thief. He resisted it, annoyed at himself. If he wanted either of them to make it out of this alive, he was going to have to start thinking like Iron Klaus again.

Dorian, however, had no such compunctions. He leaned his head against Klaus’ shoulder wearily. Klaus tolerated this, but asked briskly, "What did you mean about it being your fault that he caught you?"

"When I realized it was going to be difficult to fend him off, I decided to let him catch me so that I could pick his pockets." Dorian reached into his own pocket and pulled out a folded, crumpled sheet of notebook paper. "This was all he had — I don’t know if it’ll be any use to us."

Klaus took it and unfolded it. It was a roughly drawn map. There were a few street names, but the handwriting was virtually illegible. With handwriting like that, who needed secret codes? He squinted at it for a few minutes until he thought he had deciphered some of it. Then he carefully folded it back along its original creases and put it in his front pocket. He would tend to that later. At the moment, he had another job to do. He turned Dorian to face him.

"Are you satisfied? Will you leave now? I can't be looking after you in all this."

"My place is with you, darling."

"Don't be absurd. Don't you understand that I don't want you here anymore? You're getting in the way!"

"Really, darling, these could be your last days, you said so yourself. You don't think I'd miss out on them, do you?"

Klaus stood and paced restlessly back and forth a couple of times. His stomach was compressing into a cold knot. But he knew what he had to do.

Klaus stopped his pacing. He squared his shoulders as he always did when it was time to perform an unpleasant duty. Then he turned to face Dorian, fixing him with his coldest glare.

"I told you to go." He spoke in the tone he used for enemy agents he was about to slowly dismember.

It didn't faze Dorian, the idiot. Standing up and fussing with his clothes, he said tranquilly, "I'm not going, darling. You need me now more than—"

Dorian's words were cut short by Klaus' solid punch to his jaw.

Dorian stumbled a few steps and then regained his footing, to stare incredulously at him.

Klaus forced himself to glare. What he really wanted to do was find a blunt instrument and bash his own head with it.

It was certainly not the hardest punch he'd ever thrown Eroica's way, but it had to be the most painful.

For both of them.

"You bastard," Dorian whispered after a long and heavy silence.

So that he wouldn't crumble, Klaus started yelling. At first it was difficult to find words, but after a few sentences they took on a momentum of their own, born of years of habit. "What the hell did you expect, you bloody queer? Good God, you caught me at my worst, in my weakest moment - don't tell me you weren't planning to take advantage of it all along! You knew I wouldn't have any defenses from your blasted manipulations and your perverted wiles!"

"Don't pretend you don't know better than that!"

"Bloody hell, Eroica, you've been nothing a nuisance from the minute we met! What in God's name will it take to keep you away from me?!?"

Dorian's lips were white. He stood up and said furiously, "I knew it! The minute you got your bloody precious work back—"

It wasn't working. It was time to use weapons that would hurt. "It was bad enough that I destroyed myself professionally - discovering that I'm capable of this level of debauchery has cost me what little self-respect I had left!" Klaus shouted. Dimly he realized he'd gone further than he'd meant to, but he found himself unable to stop. "And your presence is a constant reminder of that! It was bad enough to have these perverted desires, but at least I managed never to act on them, and I never would have if you hadn't come along and engaged in your damned campaign to drag me down to your level-"

"Stop it!" Dorian's voice was hoarse, his eyes narrow and appraising, very cold. After a long minute, he said softly, "Get out."

Klaus headed for the door. "Stay away from the hotel. Get out of Alaska," he tossed over his shoulder. Dorian nodded once, curtly.

As he shut the door behind him, Klaus' shoulders sagged, just for a second. He knew it had been the right thing to do. But duty had never been more bitter. It was not the first time the requirements of his duty had turned his stomach, but this was different. As Dorian had predicted, Klaus had broken Dorian's heart. As Klaus had predicted, Klaus had broken his own along with it.

He made himself walk briskly down the hall - if he heard... anything from the office behind him, he would not be able to stop himself from going back in and telling the truth....

The truth. Klaus was unable to concentrate on his mission until he had performed one simple, vital errand. Before leaving the building, he chose another office and kicked the door in. None of Dorian’s finesse, but it was functional enough. On a sheet of borrowed stationery, he wrote the necessary letter.

 

Dorian,

Forgive me for lying to you, and for breaking my promise. It was the only way I knew to save your life. I love you.

Klaus

 

He wished he could think of more to say, but he was a man of action, not words. As a final afterthought, he reached into his wallet and pulled out a crumpled paper he had carried with him everywhere for the last three weeks, though he hadn’t told Dorian he had kept it. It was the sentimental haiku Dorian had left him along with that insane sea of roses. Such a Dorian thing to do. Klaus shoved that thought out of his mind as he sealed up the letter and the poem. On the envelope he wrote the address of Castle Red Gloria. He took several stamps from the desk’s top drawer and dropped the letter into the building’s mail chute. If he didn’t make it through the night, if he never had the chance to set things right with Dorian, at least the letter would.

Schmidt obviously knew where Klaus had been staying. If he wanted another crack at Klaus, Klaus would give it to him. Klaus walked back to the hotel, not trying to hide as he strode down the sidewalk. He walked through the lobby brazenly and right back to the suite he had been sharing with Dorian. The outlandishly comfortable rooms seemed surreal after the past hour. When they had first moved into them, he had felt like an intruder amid the frippery. Gradually, he had become more at ease in what was, indisputably, Dorian's domain. Now he felt once more his own alien nature to Dorian's entire world of pleasure and beauty. What the hell was he doing there, in his severe brown suit and his shoulder holster? Dorian might have pointed out, but never had, that Klaus clashed terribly.

Klaus gave Schmidt a few minutes, but apparently the assassin was not planning on ambushing him again here. Klaus took out the paper Dorian had retrieved from the assassin and examined it again. The street names were familiar; he and Dorian had done their share of sightseeing. He had even consented to go shopping with the English fop a couple of times; Dorian had teased him by covertly ordering ten identical, ruthlessly simple navy blue suits delivered to the hotel. Klaus hadn't quite seen the humor in it, nor had he really understood why Dorian was so amused when he actually wore the suits.

Verdammt. These memories were going to bother him for the rest of his life. And the ice around his heart was going to incapacitate him and he was going to screw up his self-appointed mission. Again.

He closed his eyes for a moment at that thought. No. That was not going to happen. His broken heart was a fair price for a living Dorian and a jailed Neo-Nazi assassin. He had had three weeks of delights he had never hoped to indulge in. It was more than he had had any right to expect. He had no business letting it weaken him when he had a duty to perform. He had not earned his nickname by allowing himself to knuckle under because of a little pain.

I am going to get him, Klaus thought, in a grim and quiet way that left no tolerance for his own pain or fears. It was this that had made it possible for him to do everything he had until this moment in his life, and it would not fail him now.

Either Schmidt was waiting by his rented Benz to attack him again, or else the Benz was safe. Either way, Klaus won. Taking the scribbled map and two extra cartridges of bullets, he went to the parking lot and found his respectable black Mercedes. He and Dorian had squabbled about whose car they would take every time they had gone anywhere. He sternly turned that thought away as he surveyed the Benz for tampering. Nothing obvious, and the assassin hadn't had time for anything subtle. Nor was there any sign of Schmidt.

Klaus got inside and pulled the maps of Anchorage out of the glove compartment, comparing them to the barely legible words on the notebook paper. Since Schmidt was apparently not pursuing him at the moment, this was the only lead he had.

He had been on these roads. What had he been doing there? Schmidt had been too clever to put an X or any other obvious mark on the map. Still, there had to be something important in that area. A government building or a research facility or—

Or an oil refinery. With exciting research on shale oil being done right on the premises. Whose leading research physicist, Klaus remembered from the newspapers, was a middle-aged woman named Rebecca Kaufmannn. A valuable industry, owned by a hated enemy nation of the Nazis, and a Jewish genius. Two things guaranteed to draw the ire of vermin like Schmidt.

Without further ado, Klaus revved the engine and pulled out of his parking space. If he reached the refinery and there was no sign of Schmidt, he decided, he would notify the proper authorities, the police and the FBI and yes, NATO. They might not simply take his word now, but they would have to investigate.

On the other hand, if Schmidt was there — if he had decided that Klaus' presence required that he speed up his plans — then Klaus would simply have to deal with the matter himself.

As he sped down the road, Klaus shrugged slightly to feel the hard, reassuring press of his Magnum in its shoulder holster. He hadn't realized how much he had missed wearing it. The uncompromising solidity of the weapon seemed to infect him with its obduracy. Good. He would need it.

A quick survey of the refinery's parking lot showed a green chrome Benz with a rental company's sticker on its dashboard. His gamble had paid off; Schmidt was here.

He stopped at the gate, not from any respect for the paunchy security guard stationed there, but to give him orders. Flashing his German driver’s license, he barked, "Klaus von dem Eberbach of NATO. There’s a terrorist inside. Call the police and have them send a bomb squad."

The idiot looked at him as if he were a stray madman. "What? Wait, who are—"

Klaus floored the gas without replying. He parked right in front of the main entrance, heedless of the half-dozen signs which indicated that he was not supposed to. Feeling alive as he only did while chasing assassins or sleeping with Dorian, he charged inside.

The guards in the reception area had been notified about him. The idiots actually tried to detain him. He brusquely gave them the same information he had given the idiot at the gate. When he drew his Magnum, their arguments evaporated. Some security. Doubtless they would call the police and report, not a terrorist, but an escaped lunatic.

Glancing around the reception area, Klaus saw the answer to one of his problems, at least. He lunged at the fire alarm and pulled the lever. An ear-splitting ringing started at once, and in just a few seconds, people were filing out, seeming more irritated than alarmed. Probably assumed it was a drill. But at least they would be out of the building. Klaus found time to be taken aback by how many workers were emerging. That was Yank industry for you. Around the clock.

Sidestepping security’s inept attempts to detain him, Klaus sprinted past numerous signs explaining that authorized personnel only were permitted in this area and plunged into the heart of the factory. Schmidt would either make sure he killed the Jewish physicist or else make the biggest explosion possible. Klaus gambled on the latter possibility.

He knew his way around the refinery. He had insisted upon taking a guided tour of it a couple of weeks ago. Dorian had accompanied him, obviously bored and complaining about the smell, which, he said, was like that of oil paints, but far too strong. He had been openly amused at Klaus’ fascination with the technology — a lot of sensible things amused Dorian. Dorian had called him "Ninotchka" for the rest of the day, until Klaus had countered by dumping a tall glass of ice water over his curly golden head. Dorian’s retaliation had been more playful than vengeful, and Klaus had been surprised to discover that he, Klaus, still knew how to play. The tussle had ended quite pleasantly.

Once more Klaus shoved the intruding memories out of his mind. Christ! Was he ever going to be able to concentrate on a mission again? He had been right to hold out against that maddening thief for so many years. It was a good thing said thief was no doubt fed up with him for good.

That thought created a sudden empty ache inside Klaus like nothing he had felt before. Even scanning the plant for bombs could not cast it away.

Ten minutes later, there was still no sign of Henrik, and Klaus was forced to admit that there was no bomb in the machinery, as he had expected there to be. Outside, he could hear sirens. He had to find the bomb before he was arrested for disturbing the peace or something. He doubted one could be arrested for insanity in America. He only hoped circumstances didn’t prove his sanity too dramatically.

He knew the general direction of the research laboratories. They were deserted, thanks to the fire alarm. The area was a bit labyrinthine, but it only took him a couple of minutes to find the small room with "Dr. Rebecca Kaufmannn" on the door. He burst in.

It was a laboratory, crammed with filing cabinets and a couple of computers and a few complicated-looking machines. His swift search of the room yielded nothing. The device turned out to be next door, in Dr. Kaufmann’s office, under her desk. It would have killed her and her colleagues in the next room, and probably anyone on this side of the building as well. Not to mention the fire that would have followed.

Klaus evaluated the device quickly. It was simple enough, but no less dangerous for that. It had been welded to the modesty panel of the metal desk, obviously a rudimentary and quickly accomplished job, but an effective one. Wrenching it loose by force would almost certainly cause an explosion of whatever volatile materials were inside. Detaching it would take time and care. Best to defuse it where it was. There were four different wires going from the detonator to the small metal box that held the explosives. Without specialized equipment, it was impossible to tell which was the correct one. The only thing to do was disconnect the detonator from the explosive, but the metal box had also been welded shut. Schmidt had been prepared.

The timer said 3:44.

Swearing, Klaus rifled through the drawers, careful not to jar the bomb. In the second drawer from the top was what he had hoped for: a handful of practical personal care items — brush, comb, hand lotion, metal nail file. He just hoped it would open the box in time.

This was not the kind of thing Klaus von dem Eberbach was good at. He was good at kicking in doors and scaring the daylights out of spies and terrorists. A job like this called for patience and stillness.

He forced himself to breathe slowly and deeply as he stretched out on the floor to begin working on the bomb.

He was not an expert on defusing bombs, and this device really called for one, but there was no time. He would simply have to do it himself.

Klaus knew better than to hurry under such circumstances. The desire for haste only made for sloppy work. He wiped everything else from his mind: the risk, Schmidt, Dorian, even the relentless timer. The entire universe was the metal box in front of him.

With steady hands, he set to work.

When the timer said 1:55, he detected a lightheadedness. At first he put it down to the ebb of the adrenaline. But as he shifted position to relieve his cramped muscles, his eyes briefly went to the wall and noticed a bit of gauze protruding from the edges of the vent. In a flash he understood. The bomb was not the only attack here. This gauze was an insurance policy of sorts. It was a trick he had only seen used two or three times: the gauze had been treated with some chemical, and the movement of the air through it wafted its fumes into the room. Was it deadly, or a mere soporific? Klaus had no time to find out. He didn’t even have time to rip the sheet out of the vent, or to try to air the room — there was no window, only steel walls. He would not risk precious seconds when a bomb of this size was ticking away, and the job only half done. He concentrated on staying alert while he worked on opening the metal box.

It became more difficult with each second.

When he had scraped away the welding that held the box closed, the timer said 0:08.

Very slowly and carefully, he removed the lid. Without disturbing the pungent chemicals inside it, he pulled the detonator out of the mess and hurled it, wires, timer and all, across the room. It landed near the wall and made a dull pop as the countdown ended.

He had succeeded.

His eyelids had gotten very heavy. Sheer willpower alone had kept him awake this long.

He crawled out from under the desk. If he could drag himself to the door — walking didn’t quite seem to be an option — then everything would be all right… he would be able to breathe then….

He made it halfway before collapsing.

He was not completely unconscious, but in a dream state where he couldn’t seem to hold on to any particular thought. It was comfortable, and dark, and warm. He didn’t know how, but he had managed to get onto a raft or a boat — he could tell, because he was floating and drifting….

It seemed like a very long time drifted by a hand gently pinched his nose closed, and when he automatically parted his lips to breathe, a familiar mouth covered his and blew warm air into his lungs.

Klaus’ head cleared marginally at the clean oxygen, enough for him to be vaguely aware of being dragged into the hallway. He lay on his stomach on the cold floor, gulping clear if oil-scented air, his senses gradually clearing until he was collected enough to remember where he was, and to lift his head to view his rescuer, who was kneeling beside him.

Klaus’ lips parted in shock as he met the sparkling blue eyes and impish grin of the most aggravatingly loyal, perverted thief on the planet.

"Dorian!"

"Miss me, darling?" Dorian responded, looking quite delighted with himself.

Klaus answered by sitting up, wrapping his arms around the other man and kissing him passionately and thoroughly. Dorian responded as if nothing had passed since their most recent kiss except a breath of air. Everything was all right.

As soon as their lips parted, Klaus yelled, "IDIOT! What the hell are you doing here? You could've been killed!" His voice echoed off the metal walls.

A relieved smile spread over the Earl’s face. "Could you speak up, darling? I can’t hear you."

"Dorian. I am not accustomed to being disobeyed," Klaus growled.

"Well, new experiences are broadening," Dorian replied with his most disarming smile.

"I told you I didn't want you here! Don't you ever listen to me?"

Dorian arched an elegant eyebrow. "Really, darling. You've been telling me you didn't want me for seven years. Why should I start believing you now?"

Klaus was stopped. The thief's expression was blasé and self-possessed as ever, but Klaus had seen the flash of pain in his eyes.

"Dorian, what I said to you- what I did-" He broke off. "Damn, we don't have time. I'll apologize later. Now listen. That Nazi got away, and they’re probably going to arrest me and cart me off to an asylum."

"They’ll have to catch you first. Can you stand? Schmidt can’t have gone far."

Klaus forced himself to stand, refusing Dorian’s offered arm in spite of the wave of dizziness that hit him as he straightened. "No, but we have no idea where he is."

Dorian pulled a little device out of his pocket. "While you two were in here having fun without me, I took the liberty of putting a homing device on his car."

"I knew you'd come in handy if you stuck around." For Klaus, it amounted to admitting that he had been wrong. "Wait a minute. How did you manage to follow me here in the first place without my noticing? Am I slipping that badly?"

"Not at all, darling. Remember that time I stole your belt? You may recall that I returned it with a bug in the buckle."

Klaus' hand fell automatically to his belt buckle. "You didn't."

Eroica's blue eyes sparkled. "The minute you started talking about keeping me out of the fun, I suspected I might need to keep tabs on you at some point. I suppose you’ll be mad at me for that."

Klaus took Dorian’s head in his hands and planted a quick but emphatic kiss on that teasing mouth. "Furious," he replied before running for the exit with Eroica on his heels.

"We’re taking my car and I’m driving," Dorian announced with finality as they emerged from a side entrance.

Klaus glanced at the police officers and security guards surrounding his illegally parked Benz. "We’ll have to take your car, but I’m driving."

"You were just drugged, you pigheaded German. You can’t drive. Get in." Dorian leapt behind the wheel of his car, that damned gold Miata, before Klaus could elbow him out of the way. Deciding not to waste time arguing, Klaus got in. Dorian floored the gas, tossing his abundant hair over his shoulders with the exhilaration of speed. Several refinery employees stared after them in confusion. Dorian neatly evaded the gate guards who tried, again, to stop them. He tossed the homing device to Klaus, who used it to direct him through the streets.

They caught sight of him after a few minutes — at the speed Dorian was going, they nearly passed him. Dorian followed the dark green Benz through the moderately busy streets with ease. "I’ve always wanted to do this," he said with a grin. Klaus snorted. Dorian laughed.

"He must know he’s being followed," Klaus said after a few turns. "This flashy car of yours can’t have escaped his notice."

"Are we trying to hide from him?"

"Nein. But you should understand that he’s expecting us. When he stops somewhere — what do I have to do to talk you into staying out of the way?"

Dorian considered as he neatly passed a meandering Cadillac, evading a head-on collision with a pickup truck by a hand’s breadth. "Stay out of the way yourself," he suggested blandly.

Klaus uttered a few unaesthetic words. Dorian arched an eyebrow.

"Seriously, darling, you’re quite right. Stealth is my forté. Fisticuffs is yours. Once he gets out of that car, he’s all yours."

"See to it," Klaus ordered grimly, compulsively checking his Magnum. God, the weapon felt good back in his hand. He always felt vaguely incomplete without it.

Dorian frowned. "He’s slowing down."

Schmidt was. He was signaling his turns, too. Accurately. A couple of cautious turns later, they were on a road that would turn into a highway a few blocks later.

"He’s leading us out of town," Klaus said.

"What?"

"He doesn’t want witnesses. Dorian, pull over and get out. I’ll follow him alone."

Dorian’s eyes narrowed. He did not look at Klaus. "We’ve been through this twice today already, darling."

"Dorian…."

"I liked it better when you were griping about my cars and clothes and hairstyles. Couldn’t you go back to that?"

"Verdammt! This is not a game, Dorian. He and I are going out there to kill each other."

"And I’m supposed to stay home and wave my hankie from the tower window while you big boys go play. Forget it."

Klaus ground his teeth. Dorian followed Schmidt’s car away from the buildings and streetlights, into the chilly Alaskan night.

They drove after Schmidt for an hour. Klaus and Dorian began chatting in a desultory fashion about wine, and how much more beautiful European churches were than American ones, and whether swimming was better exercise than running. They did not mention the events of the last twenty-four hours, or the battle ahead.

Schmidt pulled off the highway well outside Anchorage, onto a dirt road that led into a wooded area that would provide plenty of concealment from the highway for them. No policeman would wonder why two cars had stopped just off the road and pull over to investigate.

"Let me get out and you go back. I’ll take his car back to the city," Klaus ordered.

"Where do you want me to park, darling?" Dorian asked imperturbably.

Klaus sighed, exasperated. "Over there, past that big tree. I want some distance between us." Dorian moved into the indicated spot and parked. Klaus looked at him. "Will you at least promise me that you’ll stay in the bloody car?"

"Yes."

Klaus took his small pistol from his ankle holster and extended it to Dorian, who recoiled from it.

"You might need it," Dorian protested.

Klaus took Dorian’s hand and pressed the small gun into it. "If you have to use it, try to shoot me. That way I know you won’t hit me," he instructed.

Dorian looked at the pistol with apprehension. Klaus opened the car door and stepped out.

"Lock it, and get in the back seat where you won't be an easy target," Klaus said in a low voice, and pushed the door closed. Dorian turned off the lights and the engine. The night was heavily silent now. The sky was pale with false dawn.

Klaus stood behind a tree with a thick trunk, listening to the wind lazily rustling the trees, waiting for some other sound. The moment stretched, oddly restful, two adversaries patiently waiting until the moment came to attack each other. He had never spoken of it to anyone, but he felt certain that other men of danger felt the same as he did. He loved these moments. No, love was not the right word. He needed them. At these times when one’s only companions were the observing sky and an enemy and death, all the lies and trivia of civilization were forgotten and put in their true perspective. Only someone who understood this was capable of the patience such moments required.

The light was too dim to read a watch, but Klaus knew it must have been a very long time before he heard a sound. A very slight one. He smiled to himself and did not move. It was a trick as old as the game of hunter and hunted, he was certain: the assassin had thrown a rock, counting on Klaus to shoot in the direction of the noise and give away his own position. Schmidt was losing patience. Fool. If you lost patience, you lost the game.

Klaus looked towards the Miata. There was no hint of movement within. Klaus gave a mental nod of approval. Thieving required patience, too.

Rapid footsteps broke the silence. Klaus felt a grin spread over his face as he stepped swiftly from his hiding place, aimed, and shot low. He was rewarded by a cry of pain and the sound of a man falling.

"Damn queer traitor!" Henrik yelled shrilly. Klaus smiled slightly. Really, this was no time to lose one’s temper.

Klaus returned to the shelter of the tree. He had hit the assassin in the calf. He wanted to take him alive. He had a lot of questions to ask him. Mostly about where other scum like him could be flushed out and dealt with.

Sure enough, a second later several bullets hit the tree and the surrounding ground in quick succession. Klaus counted the shots. Four. The idiot was wasting ammunition. He was panicked now.

With grunts of pain, Schmidt began dragging himself in the direction of his car. Klaus smiled coldly. He wondered if Schmidt was harried enough to fall for his own trick. He bent silently, felt on the ground for a rock, and threw it.

Two bullets blasted in the direction of the rock before Klaus stepped out and shot the pistol out of Henrik’s hand. Judging from the yell, he had damaged Henrik’s hand as well. Before the assassin had time to draw another weapon, Klaus was on him, knocking him senseless with a well-placed blow before frisking him and binding his wrists with Schmidt’s own tie.

Klaus pocketed Schmidt’s pistol and quickly searched his car for more suspicious items. The trunk had a briefcase with a handful of papers in it. Klaus claimed it. He found nothing else of interest in the car except some adhesive tape and gauze in the glove compartment. Schmidt must have used them to bandage the wound in his shoulder he had acquired when Klaus’ bullet nicked him there earlier. Klaus used them to bind the bulletholes in Schmidt’s leg and hand; he didn’t want the Nazi bleeding to death before he was interrogated. He dragged the half-conscious assassin to the back seat of the Miata.

"You hurt?" was all Dorian said as Klaus slid into the seat beside him.

"No."

Without another word, Dorian turned the key in the ignition, returned Klaus’ small pistol, and drove back to the highway. Klaus sat turned half around in his seat, watching Schmidt. Every so often, Schmidt would show signs of regaining consciousness, and Klaus would punch him again.

It was not until they were halfway back that he realized that, during his entire vigil and the ensuing battle, he had not once been distracted by thoughts of Dorian. Not when he had known that Dorian was safe and his.

"Police station?" Dorian asked as the lights of Anchorage neared them in the utter blackness that divides the false dawn from the true one.

"No. They’ll ask too many stupid questions. FBI." Klaus gave Dorian the address. He had made sure he knew where local headquarters of all intelligence agencies were located as soon as he had arrived in Anchorage, a habit he had sustained even on vacation throughout his years in this field.

Dorian pulled into the parking lot of the building Klaus indicated and heaved a sigh. "I hope they have Nescafé," was all he said.

Klaus awoke in their hotel suite at four o’clock in the afternoon, feeling better than he had in weeks. After hours of debriefing and explanations, during which they had often simply put their heads down on the nearest table and dozed from sheer exhaustion, they had eventually been allowed to return. They had been chauffeured by a young Fibbie in a suit and dark glasses. He might as well have had "spy" written on his forehead. Yank agents were about as subtle as everything else about them.

Klaus and Dorian had fallen into bed still half-dressed, and it had taken half an hour for their heartbeats to slow from the caffeine that had kept them moving all morning enough that they could sleep.

Now, as Dorian began to stir, Klaus reached for him. For a second, Dorian cuddled close to him, but then abruptly rolled over, turning his back to Klaus.

It only took Klaus a moment to understand.

Klaus drew a breath. This wasn't the sort of thing he was good at, but... well, Dorian was entitled.

"Dorian," he said quietly. The other man's shoulders grew fractionally more tense. He made no other response. Klaus searched his mind for the right words. He didn't find them, so he threw out what he could come up with. "You know why I — hit you." He forced himself to say the words, flatly, full of self-reproach. "You know I didn't mean the things I said."

"I knew you were lying, even while you were saying it," Dorian said in a curt voice unlike him. "That didn't help much."

Klaus had never been good at apologizing. He slowly moved closer to Dorian, whose only response was to stiffen his spine even more. Klaus raised a hand to touch him, but thought better of it.

He had no idea what to say. But there must be something that would work, or Dorian would not be waiting to hear it.

"I’m sorry," he tried. "I love you," he added. "I thought that breaking my promise and walking away from you was going to kill me. I would not blame you if you never wanted to see me again." He stifled the impulse to make promises of future good conduct; he had no right to make any more promises. "I don’t know what else to say."

After a pause, Dorian said, "I suppose there isn’t anything else you can say." But his tone was defeated, and his eyes were weary as he turned back to Klaus’ embrace.

Klaus kissed his lover with all the tenderness he knew how to muster. Helplessly trying to make amends, he moved his hands and mouth over the familiar body with all of the skill he had acquired over the last three weeks, rewarded by the moans and tremors that resulted.

But after a minute, Dorian pulled back and gave Klaus a level look he hadn't thought a fop would be capable of.

"Darling," the thief said quietly, "if you ever tell me you don't want me again... I'll believe you."

The bottom dropped out of Klaus' stomach as he understood that his lunatic lover's insane loyalty could no longer be taken for granted. From now on, he would have to respond in kind.

He drew a breath and lifted his chin. He nodded.

"I want you," he whispered. And set about proving it.

The phone rang perhaps thirty seconds into the golden afterglow. They looked at each other and laughed at the perfect timing. Dorian’s face was flushed and relaxed, surrounded by tousled golden curls, just the way he was supposed to look.

Klaus lifted the phone grudgingly but promptly. "Eberbach. Ja…. Z?"

Dorian lifted an eyebrow as Klaus sat up straighter and continued the conversation in German. Dorian managed to follow most of it, though Klaus was speaking rapidly. Z and A, it seemed, had come to Alaska to collect Schmidt. A meeting with their erstwhile Major was necessary.

"I just woke up," Klaus said. "We’ll be there as soon as I’ve showered and dressed."

"We?" Dorian asked as Klaus hung up.

"You were there. They want to question you too."

Dorian sat up thoughtfully. "And Z called you here, at my suite?"

Klaus’ eyes flickered for a moment, but he said only, "This is the number I gave them."

"People are bound to draw conclusions."

Klaus shrugged, though his brow was slightly furrowed. "It would hardly be subtle to get a new room now." With that he rose and went into the bathroom, and a second later the shower started running.

Dorian lay back on the pillows, unable to keep the languorous smile from his face. Klaus was wonderful. He made love the way he did everything: intently, purposefully, and with his usual driving need to be the best at everything he turned his hand to. For all that, his touch was surprisingly gentle — but it was the deliberate gentleness of a strong man who must restrain himself so as not to cause injury. Feeling that carefully restrained touch — and better, feeling it lose that restraint — was wonderfully maddening.

Dorian rose reluctantly and chose an outfit that would annoy all those drab intelligence types. There was too much uncertainty in the hours ahead, too many questions he did not quite dare to ask even in his mind. The only thing to do at such times was nail one’s flag to the mast.

After Dorian had told A, Z, and some more ominous-looking Feds — he thought these might be CIA, but didn’t ask — about his own part in the previous night’s adventure several times, they finally released him to loiter in the coffee room while they grilled Klaus some more. Dorian was quite happy to escape the stifling room and repetitive questions. Really. He was one of the good guys.

Dorian was starting to think he had dressed a bit too tamely; all those forbidding Americans hadn’t given a second look to his flowing cream-colored silk tunic with its draped cowl neckline and sweeping wide sleeves. Even Klaus hadn’t bothered to gripe about it. Perhaps he should have worn red. Or perhaps, instead of his snug black pants, he should have worn lavender ones — the right shade of lavender would probably go quite well with cream.

Dorian had resigned himself to a long and boring wait when Z entered. "I was told to drive you back to your hotel, Lord Gloria," he said with his usual perfect deference. "The Major’s going to be here for a while longer."

"Major? Don’t tell me he’s been reinstated already!"

Z gave a happy little grin that it took him a few seconds to smother. He had looked quite cheerful at seeing them both, beneath his professionally serious demeanour. He had to be delighted at having his idol back. "Not yet. I simply can’t call him anything else. And I suppose he will be soon, after yesterday, and after what I was able to find out about the setup," he explained as they left the building and headed for a tedious black sedan.

"Setup?"

Z looked at him in mild surprise as he held the door open for Dorian, a perfect gentleman as always. "Yes. The setup — the contractor who sold that information to the KGB and tried to make it look like the Major let them get it."

Dorian waited impatiently for Z to walk around the car and get into the driver’s seat. "He didn’t bungle the mission? He was framed?" Dorian demanded as soon as Z was inside.

"Of course. I knew that had to be it, but it took me a few weeks to find proof, especially since B and I had to do it on the sly — the Chief was only too happy to have an excuse to be rid of…." Z stopped suddenly, realizing he had probably said too much. He suddenly became very attentive to negotiating his way out of the parking lot onto the street.

Dorian smiled and shook his head. "I understand. So you two brave lads investigated on your own? Why didn’t you tell him sooner?"

"We didn’t know where to reach him. I think the Chief had his contact information, but we didn’t." With conscientious effort, Z kept his eyes on the road, visibly holding back a dozen indelicate questions.

Dorian could have answered those questions, but he would let Klaus deal with his people’s speculations, he decided. Instead he said, "Klaus told me that no one he knew was willing to speak to him." Only after saying it did he realize that he had used Klaus’ first name. Z had to notice. Oh, well.

"A, B and I all tried," Z confided. "Right after the whole mess. But he wouldn’t speak to us."

"Too proud." Dorian nodded. "Very like him."

"Still, B and I found proof that Dubois set him up and showed it to the Chief. And to a couple of other officials. They’ll have to take him back now." Z was almost gloating — gloating in his quiet, earnest way.

"Dubois? Maurice Dubois?" Dorian knew the man, a professional thief like himself. And had never trusted him. He had tried to warn Klaus about using him as a contractor, and not only because a mission for which Dubois was hired was a mission on which Dorian would not get to see his Major, but of course Klaus hadn’t listened.

Z nodded, instantly contrite. "Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything."

"Oh, come along. What's he going to do, send you to Alaska? You’re already here."

Z managed an embarrassed smile. They chatted idly for the rest of the drive, and Dorian returned to the suite with relief. He still had a long, boring wait, but at least it was a long, boring wait in a comfortable room.

It was nearly midnight when he heard Klaus’ key in the lock.

Dorian turned quickly as the door opened. Klaus entered, looking calmer than Dorian had seen him since they had arrived in Alaska. Or, come to think of it, ever.

"What happened?"

Klaus came and sat down beside Dorian. "A great deal." He smiled slightly. "Schmidt and the contacts here he named have all been taken into custody."

"What about the way you were set up?"

Klaus nodded. "Everyone was quite interested in that. I believe our little understanding with Dubois is off. He will be in the hands of Interpol very soon."

"I can’t believe you used Dubois in the first place," Dorian said. "Really, why didn’t the Chief contact me? I was available."

Klaus examined the arm of the couch for a few seconds. "He wanted to. I hired Dubois before he could call you."

Dorian lifted a brow.

Klaus’ gaze rose to meet Dorian’s and he spoke with a trace of his usual sternness. "Shut up!"

"I didn’t say a word, darling," Dorian drawled.

"You were thinking it at the top of your lungs."

Dorian was. There was poetic justice for you. Klaus hired another thief so that he wouldn’t have to have Dorian around, that thief betrayed NATO and nearly destroyed Klaus’ career, and the resulting disaster hurled Klaus straight into Dorian’s arms.

It was so perfect that Dorian could afford to generously avoid pointing it out. He went back to the important matter. "So they know now that you were set up? That it really wasn’t your mistake?"

"Yes. My Chief will be very unhappy to hear it. I believe he was the one who insisted I be dismissed for gross incompetence. He’s always hated me, you know, and I suppose he’s been waiting for years for an excuse. The officials I spoke with tonight seemed rather interested that I had been dismissed so quickly, and for one failure. I don’t think they considered it sufficient grounds. My Chief will have some questions to answer in a couple of days." Klaus was trying to keep the gloating tone out of his voice, but without undue success.

"Does that mean…?"

Klaus nodded slowly. He kept his voice low to control the emotion he could not altogether conceal. "I have a very good chance of being reinstated."

And me? Where does that leave me? Dorian wanted to ask, but did not dare. He bit his lip. He didn’t want to hear it, not yet. Not ever, but especially not right this minute.

"I’m flying to Bonn on a government flight tomorrow," Klaus said. "Are you coming with me? They want to question you too."

"More bloody questions? I’ve already told them everything ten times."

"They want you to tell them again."

Dorian sighed. "You really should take up professional crime, darling. No tedious debriefings. Yes, of course I’ll come with you." He studied Klaus’ oddly calm face and abruptly resolved to make the most of whatever time remained. "Did they feed you?"

"Yes. ‘M not hungry."

Concealing his nervousness with the ease of years of practice, Dorian coolly began unknotting his beloved’s tie. He relaxed instantly when Klaus pulled him close. Whatever tomorrow brought, there would be tonight, at least.

Dorian was unusually quiet, Klaus thought later. Generally after lovemaking Dorian took shameless advantage of Klaus’ relaxed state to talk to him, drawing him into telling secrets and whispering endearments he would not be capable of at any other time. Tonight, however, he was silent, only holding Klaus wrapped in a clinging embrace.

"You’re still angry at me, aren’t you?" Klaus asked softly.

Dorian didn’t answer for a minute. At last he sighed. "I suppose I am."

"I was trying to protect you!"

"I know." Dorian did not sound at all comforted, only sad. But not reproachful. He did not seem to be making any attempt to make Klaus feel guilty. He was hurt, and he was quietly accepting it.

Klaus would much have preferred sulking and tantrums. This dignified resignation made him feel even more like a heel.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," Klaus tried.

Dorian smiled sadly. "You always do." He lifted his chin and said firmly, "Klaus, I knew I couldn’t expect much from you. I loved you so much that I chose to pursue you anyway. It was my decision."

I don’t deserve him, Klaus thought, and then was stunned by his own thought. But re-examining it, he could not revise it. He had done nothing to merit this kind of devotion.

Unable to speak, he cradled the other man’s golden head against his heart. And in that silent moment, what had been a possibility hardened into determination.

"Go to sleep," was all he said. "We have an early flight."

When the plane began its descent, Dorian could not keep silence any longer. "Klaus," he said softly. When his beloved turned his head to look at him, he went on, "I’m sure you know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: I won’t ruin your reputation." He swallowed. "Whether… whether you choose to keep on seeing me or not, either way, I know you need discretion, and you’ll have it."

Klaus smiled, very slightly. It wasn’t something he did often, and Dorian was a bit taken aback. "Thank you, Dorian. I appreciate it," he said quietly. A minute later, he added, "Don’t think that I’ll forget who stood by me in my disgrace."

Dorian managed a brave smile. He restrained himself from asking any questions as they disembarked, met by a couple of agents Dorian didn’t know, and were driven to a NATO building — not the one where Klaus’ office had been.

The anonymous agents escorted them to a forbidding high-ceilinged room that looked like something out of a science fiction movie. Around the table sat several stern-looking older men. Dorian recognized Klaus’ Chief, another of Klaus’ superiors whose name Dorian had never learned, and Klaus’ father, who had doubtless used his rank and connections to get into this meeting where he technically had no business being. All were ready to grimly welcome their prodigal back into the fold. A few dismissive glances were sent Dorian’s way, but most of the men did not even give him that much acknowledgement.

"Well, Eberbach," the Chief began dourly, as the door closed and, no doubt, locked behind Klaus and Dorian. "It seems your dismissal may have to be reconsidered."

Klaus stopped, still only a couple of feet away from the door. He turned to Dorian, placed his hand lightly on the side of Dorian’s neck, and, very simply, leaned over to kiss him. Not a lingering kiss, just a few seconds long, the matter-of-fact greeting of a husband. When he pulled back, his eyes met Dorian’s briefly in serene confirmation. Then he turned back to the stunned men who were waiting about the table with jaws dropped.

"Perhaps," Klaus said calmly, guiding Dorian to their chairs with a hand lightly resting between Dorian's shoulderblades.

Dorian had forgotten how to breathe. It took a great deal of effort not to break into a huge and goofy grin when Klaus held the chair out for him. He watched as Klaus sat down beside him and looked around at his horrified superiors with an implacable green gaze.

In the midst of an awe unlike anything he had ever felt before, Dorian could only think:

And I thought I loved him before.

 

 

Eroica