The Iron Mask

by Kadorienne

 

All he could think about was the throbbing pain at the back of his head. He kept his eyes tightly shut; opening them let in far too much blinding light, making the pain stab more fiercely. A couple of pairs of rough hands were dragging him into a van, but he was too busy trying to stay more or less on his feet to resist.

Inside the back of the van, he slumped into the seat they shoved him into and put his hands to his head, groaning.

"You hit him too hard, depp," a voice growled from somewhere.

"His skull’s made of iron. He’ll be fine. Take his weapon."

The hands groped at his chest, pulling a Magnum from a shoulder holster. Feeling an instinctive incompleteness without the familiar weight of the weapon, he made a rather clumsy grab for it, but it was swiftly moved out of reach, and the attempt at moving made sharp spikes of pain stab through his head again.

"You’ll get it back later, Major," the second voice said. That was the last thing he heard before he blacked out.

When he came to, he was no longer in the van, but in an office somewhere, stretched on a hard couch. The pain was still throbbing at the back of his skull, but the frantic bursts of it had ebbed; it was possible to think. And to open his eyes.

Four men stood before him. All of them wore dark suits with suspicious bulges, and all of them looked dangerous. More interestingly, they were all watching him alertly. Evidently, they considered him dangerous as well.

A fifth man sat behind a desk, regarding him dispassionately. "If you had killed him, he would be useless to us," he said coldly to one of the other men, who nodded sullenly. "We cannot afford mistakes of that kind."

He slowly sat up. The movement made his head hurt, but he could do it. Once he was fully upright, there was a moment of dizziness, but that passed. He put a hand to the lump forming on the back of his head and flinched at his own light touch.

"Get him something cold," the man behind the desk muttered, and one of the others left, to return a minute later with a soda can, cold from a refrigerator somewhere. He took it without comment and put it to the back of his head with relief.

"I have been looking forward to meeting you, Major Eberbach," the man behind the desk said coolly.

That was when the Major realized that he had no idea what was going on.

He propped one elbow on his knee and put his face in his hand for a minute, buying time.

It did no good. The blow to his head had knocked everything out of it. He didn’t remember who he was, or who these men were, or what they were doing there.

He forced himself to resist the rising tide of panic. He was a survivor, he remembered that much. He would bluff his way out of this.

He made himself straighten, putting down the soda can, and glared at the other man, saying nothing.

The man behind the desk smirked. "You don’t need to know my name, Major. What I want and what I can offer in return are sufficient."

The Major responded with an impatiently inquiring look.

"What I want is copies of certain documents to which you and very few others have access."

The Major glared.

"And you have probably already guessed what I can offer you in return." He held up a manila envelope. "Negatives."

The Major’s stomach knotted. Blackmail. Even though he had no memory of what the negatives might contain, he felt annoyed at himself for having put himself in this position.

Hoping the contents would give him some clue, he took the envelope and opened it.

The pictures were of him… and another man. Nothing too racy, just a few embraces and a kiss, but there was no room for doubt as to his relation to the other man.

And looking at the other man, the Major understood why he had taken such a foolish risk.

The man was absolutely beautiful.

Gazing at the high cheekbones, finely drawn features and tumbling golden hair, the Major wished he could recall more. A cascade of disconnected images moved through his mind: this man giving him a coy, sidelong glance of flirtation; the man tossing that mane of yellow hair over his shoulders, showing off; the man moving with startling grace, wearing a tight black suit; the man with a smile as radiant as the sun.

Even though no specific details seemed willing to come to him, there was a general impression: of attachment, of passion, of disquiet. It was not difficult to guess the cause of the mixed emotions: whoever he was, the Major had to conceal his relationship to this man. They probably argued about it all the time. Certainly, merely thinking about it now, the entire thought of the necessary discretion was angering him.

He shoved the photos back into the envelope and scowled at the other man. "What exactly do you want?"

The other man smiled nastily. "You will be contacted periodically with my requests. Every time you fill one, you will get the negative of one more photo."

"How many do you have?"

The other man only smiled harder.

The Major felt certain that doing what this man demanded was utterly impossible. He would have to play for time to find a way to foil the man’s scheme. In the meantime, he would have to pretend to comply.

"It appears I have no choice."

"You are a sensible man, Major. My colleagues will escort you back to your office."

The Major felt apprehensive about getting back into the van with these men, but he seemed to have few options. He was simply going to have to adopt a strategy of watching and waiting until he figured out who he was and what was going on. Once he remembered, he could solve this dilemma, he was certain. Accordingly, he cooperated.

The back of the van was carefully screened so that he could not see where they were going. Judging by the frequent twists and turns, he was being taken by a roundabout route to confuse his sense of direction. It was working. In time, he was deposited in front of a tall and ominous-looking building, and his Magnum, completely dismantled, returned to him. Dark clouds loomed ominously overhead.

Cautiously, he walked inside. The array of security guards and receptionists inside nodded cordially to him and waved him through. He paused before the elevators, unsure what to do next.

Fate lent a helping hand. The elevator opened and a young man with a shock of yellow hair and a sober expression stepped out. "Good afternoon, Major," he said respectfully.

The Major replied, "Come back to the office with me."

"You don’t want me to go to the meeting?"

What meeting? "It can wait five minutes. I want a progress report." And a guide to my office.

The young man nodded deferentially and got back into the elevator with the Major. The Major let him press the proper button. They did not speak on the upward journey, allowing the Major to probe his mind for some trace of the earnest young man beside him. All the images that sprang to mind were of the same serious expression and respectful manner. The Major had the impression that he thought well of him.

The elevator doors opened and the Major walked beside the other man, letting him lead the way by a length of an inch. The halls and the large roomful of desks they entered looked… right. This was his domain, yes.

Most of the desks were occupied, but few of those at them even looked up, though their tension as he passed made it clear they were aware of his presence. They all kept their eyes trained firmly on the papers and computer screens before them.

Everybody was afraid of him, the Major noted with approval.

The younger man led him into a smaller office at the back of the larger room. Slowly, the Major sat behind the desk there. The young man earnestly informed him of the latest progress on his current mission. The Major listened carefully, but none of the young man’s words made any sense to him. When he was finished, the Major dismissed him curtly, adding, "Tell everyone I’m not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency."

"Yes, sir."

Safely alone, the Major gazed around the small, barren, utilitarian room for a moment before beginning an investigation… of himself.

An hour later, he had thoroughly rifled the contents of his desk, the filing cabinet behind him, and his own pockets. He had learned his full name, his address, and other vital statistics, and nebulous memories of the missions the files on his desk pertained to were returning, but it wasn’t enough. He still could not remember anything about his own past, and the room had contained no clue whatsoever to the beautiful man in the photographs. Which was a pity, because Klaus would have liked to see him, and not only for purposes of refreshing his memory.

Alone, the Major deliberated on what to do next. For the first time, it occurred to him that he should probably see a doctor. With that thought, he was instantly reminded that he had a pathological dislike of doctors and hospitals. No, it would do no good to have a bunch of idiots poking and prodding him, no doubt declaring him unfit for work and telling him to quit smoking. The only cure for amnesia was time, he knew perfectly well. Taking time off wouldn’t help anything. Besides… he had to be here when that blackmailer called.

His memory would come back in a few days. That was how it worked. In the meantime, he would simply have to bluff it out.

He muddled his way through the workday by giving vague, curt orders such as "Proceed" every time one of the agents bothered him. It was nerve-wracking, though. He had no idea what he was doing. What if he screwed everything up? What if he gave himself away?

It was a relief when the day ended, even though that presented him with a new set of problems. There were keys to a Benz in his pocket, but he had no idea where his car was parked, or where to drive it when he found it. He decided to take a short walk; perhaps a look around the area would jog his memory.

It was raining heavily, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t melt. He walked along the sidewalk, looking through shop windows, studying restaurant entrances, trying to encourage the little flickers of familiarity as he became, bit by bit, thoroughly drenched. It wasn’t too cold, but as his hair stuck to his skull and his trench coat got wetter, he began to feel gloomy. What the hell was he supposed to do, unable to identify his own Mercedes and find his way home, for chrissake?

 

 

A limousine pulled up to the curb. Klaus whirled, instantly alarmed.

The back door opened.

"Darling, what on earth are you doing wandering around in the rain?"

Klaus almost collapsed with relief. It was the exquisite blond man from the photographs. Here was at least one person he could trust. He climbed into the car beside the man without a word.

"Where shall I take you, darling?" The man’s accent was English and aristocratic, quite pleasant to hear.

"Wherever you wish."

The other man seemed a bit surprised at that. Giving Klaus an inquiring look, he said, "Well, we really ought to get you out of those wet clothes." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked as if he regretted them. He sent a quick, apprehensive glance Klaus’ way. When Klaus only nodded mutely, the other man continued, "My flat is closer than the schloss, if that’s all right."

"Of course."

Klaus had said something wrong. The confusion in the blond’s face was muted, but it was there. Klaus only hoped he could get his bearings without offending the man. A lovers’ quarrel was all he needed now.

"The flat, Bonham," the blond said to the chauffeur. "At least it will help us keep up appearances," the blond added, not looking at Klaus, his voice slightly barbed.

The words did not exactly make sense, but they did recall Klaus’ encounter with the blackmailers. His guess had been right: his need for discretion was an issue between them. Perhaps when he regained his memory, he could mend the problem some way.

"Here, darling, it’ll warm you up." The blond opened a panel and produced a bottle of brandy. Klaus took the shot glass that was offered and drank it without comment.

The drive to the flat took only a few minutes, and they traveled it in silence. Klaus had no idea what to say, and the blond seemed oddly reticent.

Inside, Klaus shrugged off his trench coat and let the other man take it. The blond brushed Klaus’ wet hair back from his forehead, a bit gingerly.

"I could give you a robe while your clothes are drying," he offered, oddly hesitant. Klaus nodded agreement, and to his surprise, after handing him a voluminous bathrobe, the blond left him alone in the bedroom to undress.

Verdammt. The truth suddenly occurred to Klaus. They had obviously been quarreling recently, and the other man was still angry at him, though his wistful looks implied he was willing to make it up. Thank God for that much, at least. The last thing Klaus needed right now was to be fighting with the one man he knew he could trust. But how could he make up a quarrel he did not remember?

I’ll be as cooperative as I can, he resolved. That should fix things between us.

He also resolved not to tell the blond about the blackmail yet. No need to worry the other man. He would tell him about it when he had found a solution to the problem.

"This robe looks new," he said as he emerged. It was dark blue and very simple in design, though the soft fabric was obviously expensive. The man Bonham took his wet clothes from him impassively and disappeared.

The blond smiled, a bit sheepishly. "I bought it for you. Some time ago. It’s been waiting."

"Thank you." Klaus sat on the couch, trying to think of some way to broach a reconciliation. The other man seemed to be attempting the same thing; he picked up a towel and gave Klaus a nervous look.

"Why don’t you let me dry your hair, darling?" the blond asked, his manner suddenly teasing and flirtatious. Klaus supposed it was his way of covering his nervousness. Klaus was simply relieved that he was not the only one who felt nervous.

"Certainly," he said calmly. After all, he had decided to be cooperative. It seemed to surprise the blond, but after a brief hesitation he came to sit beside the Major. He wrapped the towel around the Major’s long dark hair and started to pat it dry.

Klaus winced suddenly as the man’s agile fingers touched the back of his head. "What’s the matter?" the blond asked at once, stopping.

"I — fell. Hit my head," Klaus explained, gingerly touching the lump.

"Fell." The blond did not sound at all convinced, but he did not argue. Very lightly, his fingertips found the lump. "Good God. Let me get an icepack."

Klaus let the man fuss over him. The blond brought him an icepack and aspirin, suggested he should see a doctor, and acted annoyed though not surprised when Klaus refused to. The attentions still seemed oddly hesitant, and Klaus’ obliging surrender to them only seemed to make the other man more uncertain.

The option of confessing his memory loss scarcely even entered Klaus’ head. It would sound too idiotic. He dismissed the option without examining it and cast about for something else.

It was like a bad joke: he could not even remember the man’s name.

"Liebling," he tried, and at once regretted it, because it earned a stunned look. The blond was lovely with his eyes so wide and his lips slightly parted in disbelief, but just the same, it was not the effect he had been angling for.

"Klaus — Major," the blond corrected himself quickly, making Klaus wince with the reminder they were not on the best of terms, "why did you call me that? It isn’t funny. You know this isn’t a joke to me."

An opportunity, perhaps. "What would you prefer I call you?"

The other man looked at him with eyes that were threatening to well up. God, he was beautiful. "Don’t you know? Dorian. Not Eroica, not Lord Gloria, not idiot, not pervert. Dorian."

"Dorian," Klaus repeated obediently. It must have been a hell of a quarrel. He wished they hadn’t had it; all he wanted to do was wrap himself in the other man’s embrace.

"Dorian… I’m sorry," he tried.

Yet another look of amazement. That was going to become tiresome. "For what?" Dorian asked after a long pause.

He shrugged. "It seems I’ve been an idiot."

Dorian laughed incredulously. "I never thought I’d hear you say that."

"Then don’t be like this." Nervously but with determination, he walked to the other man and slowly put his arms around him. "I need you tonight," he said in a low voice.

Dorian’s eyes became, impossibly, even wider. "Klaus?"

"I need you," he insisted.

Dorian’s resistance only lasted one more second. Then his arms were fiercely tight around Klaus and his body pressed urgently close. "Oh, God, Klaus, I need you too," came the choked whisper.

Painfully relieved, Klaus kissed him. They stumbled into the bedroom, frantically undressing each other on the way.

When they reached the bed, their pace slowed; both of them wanted to draw the moment out and relish it to its fullest. Dorian was looking at him with outright awe. Anyone would have thought Klaus was the center of the universe. Dorian’s arch manner of earlier had been shed with his clothes, and beneath it was a touching candor and sweetness that made Klaus’ heart ache. Klaus followed his instincts, touching and kissing the beautiful man beneath him, and every touch of his was answered with trembling and moans. God, no wonder Klaus had been willing to risk his career for this; Dorian seemed to find lovemaking with him a religious experience.

Klaus came to a point where he was not certain how to proceed. He frowned and hesitated, cursing his empty memory, but Dorian did not seem at all distressed. "Just a moment," he whispered, and rose from the bed. He returned only a moment later. "Here," he said softly, and patiently took the next step himself, to Klaus’ immense relief.

"You’re worth it," Klaus whispered later. Which inspired Dorian to start all over again.

 

 

Klaus awoke to Dorian’s gentle shaking. "You look adorable when you sleep, darling, but you do have to get to the office."

Klaus sat up reluctantly, remembering everything that had happened the day before, but nothing before that. His memory was still gone. Damn it. How long was this going to take?

And how was he going to deal with today?

"Could you pick me up again tonight?" Klaus asked, deciding to solve one problem well in advance.

Dorian looked surprised, again. Well, perhaps being picked up from his office wasn’t wise, but since he couldn’t remember what his car looked like….

"Of course, darling. Shall we say three blocks west of your office? Will that be far enough?"

Klaus nodded and stood. Dorian sat up in bed, his back against the pillows. "My people washed and ironed your clothes last night."

Klaus nodded and borrowed Dorian’s hairbrush to work the tangles from his hair before he showered. "Won’t people notice that I’m wearing the same suit two days in a row?"

"All of your suits look alike anyway. But if you like, you could borrow something of mine," Dorian teased.

Klaus glanced at the frilly garments on the floor. "Maybe I should keep a few suits here — if that’s all right."

Evidently it was, because Dorian replied by staring at him for a second, then jumping out of bed, throwing his arms around Klaus and kissing him within an inch of his life.

When they had to break apart for breath, Dorian still clung to him, burying his face in Klaus’ neck. Klaus stroked his rose-scented hair. He was beginning to uncomfortably suspect that he was going to remember that he was a complete heel.

Dorian suddenly straightened and looked at him, smiling radiantly. "Darling, I’m sorry I was so silly last night."

"Silly?"

Before Klaus could say more, Dorian was going on, "I just — I didn’t realize, at first, what you were trying to say, and when I did," he laughed softly, "I couldn’t believe it. I know it must have been difficult for you, and I’m afraid I didn’t make it any easier."

"Don’t worry about it," was all Klaus could think of to say. He had no trouble believing that apologizing was not easy for him. Maybe it was lucky he’d forgotten everything for a while.

The day was not too daunting, for the most part. It seemed he was not required in the field for the moment, so he could remain safely barricaded in his office, studying files in an attempt to jog his memory. Periodically, agents would enter his office timidly and request orders. He tried telling them to do as they thought best, but this resulted in such shocked expressions that he only used this tactic twice. After that, noticing the cowed manner in which he was approached, he snarled generalities at them, after which they were only too happy to flee and try to figure things out on their own.

As he continued plowing through the files, things began to make a bit more sense. Bit by bit, he connected the agents in the outer office with their designations and with assorted random mental images. It wouldn’t be long before he remembered everything and was functioning again.

Mid-morning, he looked up the telephone number of his home, called it, and ordered the servant who answered to deliver three changes of clothing to his office. So much for wearing the same suit every day. Or trying to find his car in order to get home.

In the early afternoon, he received a call from the blackmailer. He recognized the voice immediately. The blackmailer informed him of what document he wanted a copy of, and where to drop it.

It took Klaus longer to find the desired document, given that he no longer remembered where anything was, than it did for him to create a forgery with vital changes on his computer. At the end of the day, he dropped off the false document, and proceeded to his rendezvous point to meet Dorian in good spirits, enjoying the clear afternoon sky. He had gotten through the day without giving himself away, and managed everything that he had to do. In a few days his memory would be back, and no one would be the wiser.

Dorian was waiting for him in the back seat of the limousine, and embraced him eagerly as soon as the door was closed. He seemed hardly able to believe their quarrel, whatever it had been, was mended. Klaus, however, did his best to convince him that it was.

They hardly finished the intimate candlelit dinner Dorian had set up before moving on to other pursuits. Dorian was absolutely amazing. He gave himself up to the experience utterly. He whispered in Klaus’ ear almost nonstop throughout, encouragements and endearments and requests Klaus was only too happy to fill. He clung to Klaus like a starving man. His words, his kisses, and his caresses made Klaus’ head spin.

Yes, Dorian was indubitably worth it. Klaus was, in fact, incredibly lucky. He wished he could remember what Dorian saw in him.

Klaus decided he knew the way well enough to walk to the office the next morning. Which was where all the trouble started.

He kissed Dorian goodbye and walked out the door. The hint of domesticity was quite pleasant. He supposed he must lead a fairly lonely life, when Dorian was not around. When he got his memory back, he was going to have to improve things.

The sky was cloudy again. Only a few steps away from the flat’s door, his lips still soft from Dorian’s kisses, Klaus saw a car that looked familiar out of the corner of his eye. He whipped his head around, only to discover A and B sitting in it, A driving, both of them goggle-eyed. When his gaze fell on them, they quickly looked straight ahead, doing a thoroughly unconvincing job of pretending they hadn’t seen him.

Hadn’t seen him coming out of Dorian’s flat at seven o’clock in the morning.

Verdammt.

Klaus kept walking as if nothing were wrong, but his mind was racing. His subordinates were terrified of him. That was good; they would probably be afraid to speak of what they had seen. But then, if he was such an ogre, they might use it against him, a sort of petty blackmail of their own to make him back off.

By the time Klaus had reached his office, he was seething inside. He snapped at everyone, which made them cower, though they did not seem at all surprised. When he walked through the outer office, A was speaking in a low voice on the phone; Klaus caught something about, "Pack all my warm clothes." B, on the other hand, was busy pretending that Klaus did not exist. They certainly did not seem to be in a hurry to take advantage of their knowledge, at least.

The day had begun badly. This decreased Klaus’ patience with dealing blindly with the various matters he was expected to contend with throughout the day. The only comforting note was that no one seemed to find his cantankerous behavior anything amiss.

His irritability had reached fever pitch when the phone rang at the end of the afternoon. He picked it up and barked, "Eberbach."

"That was very stupid of you, Major." It was the blackmailer’s slippery voice.

"What was?" he snapped.

"Did you really think we wouldn’t detect the fake? We will expect the real thing tomorrow afternoon."

"What the hell are you—"

"Or else you can expect far worse than to have your reputation destroyed."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"You wouldn’t want your sweetheart’s pretty face messed up, would you?" Click.

If the man had been physically present, Klaus would have snapped his spine.

After grinding his teeth for a furious minute, Klaus pressed the phone’s button and then quickly, furiously dialed the number of Dorian’s flat. Bonham answered, and quickly put Dorian on the line.

"Has anything happened?" Klaus demanded hoarsely.

"I — met a couple of them," came the shaky reply.

"And?"

"And they knocked me about a bit. Nothing too bad."

"Is that the truth?"

"Yes, darling. I gather it was intended only as a warning."

"They’ll get more than that," Klaus growled. "I’ll be there as soon as I can."

"We could pick you up—"

"I’d rather you stay there. Wait. Where did you meet them? Did they go there?"

"No, I was out shopping."

"All right. Stay the hell there."

It was as well he had no idea what his car looked like; he couldn’t afford, at this point, to park near Dorian’s flat. He walked furiously. Passerby leapt out of his way.

At the flat he found a shaken but mostly unhurt Dorian waiting for him. Even now, Dorian seemed a bit surprised by Klaus’ comforting embrace, but not at all averse. Which was a good thing, because the truth was that Klaus was trying to console himself more than the other man. In fact, as far as Klaus could tell, Dorian wasn’t nearly as upset as he was.

He ordered Bonham to pour a couple of stiff drinks and leave. Bonham seemed a bit nonplused by something, Klaus didn’t know what, but he complied without arguing.

Klaus made Dorian swallow some of the drink and knocked back his own in one gulp. Then he ordered, "Tell me everything."

In a steadier voice, Dorian explained how a couple of the thugs had dragged him into an alley, subjected him to a minute’s worth of brisk punches, and then jumped into a car and screeched away. The descriptions of the men matched those of a couple of the thugs Klaus himself had encountered.

"Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of them," Klaus said when the story was told, with far more confidence than he actually felt. Not that he doubted that he could do it. He just had no earthly idea how he would.

Dorian smiled, obviously trying to be brave. He really shouldn’t bother; that was Klaus’ job.

They were both too upset to make love, and ended up spending the evening chatting about inconsequential things. Dorian, it emerged, was something of an art aficionado, and went on about paintings for some time, periodically teasing Klaus about his own ignorance of the subject.

When it got late, they each took a sleeping pill and climbed into bed in each other’s arms.

"Klaus? Klaus! Wake up!"

Klaus sat up in bed, gasping, his heart threatening to hammer its way out of his ribcage.

"Klaus, it’s all right. It was only a dream." Dorian’s voice was anxious but soothing, and his slender hands stroked Klaus’ back gently.

The nightmare’s jumbled images, of dangerous men and guns and threats to him and the man beside him, receded, leaving crystal clarity behind.

"Mein Gott…."

"What were you dreaming, darling? Do you remember?"

"Ja…." He remembered.

He remembered everything.

Good God. Here he was now, in bed with that… that perverted, exquisite, maddening, tempting, sweet son-of-a-bitch….

"Klaus? My love? Can I get you anything?"

"A drink," he rasped. A minute alone.

Dorian kissed him quickly and gently before rising.

When he was almost to the bedroom door, Klaus added, "Something strong."

Dorian nodded and walked out, unself-consciously naked. Well, why not? He was beautiful. And Klaus had now seen it all already. He put his face in his hands.

He always had hated doctors. He never had been willing to trust them. Well, now his stubborn reluctance to listen to anyone had backfired royally.

He remembered everything now. His entire life of denial, for one thing. His decades-long battle against desires he had thought under control — until he had met Eroica. His frantic attempts to elude the persistent thief. The secretly cherished moments of truce with his personal demon. And the inability, once he had confessed the truth of his feelings to himself, to swallow his pride and give in. How could he reverse himself without looking like an idiot?

He remembered the way he had panicked when this mission was assigned to him and Eroica. It was spite on the Chief’s part, he was certain; there had to be simpler ways to entrap a blackmailing ring. He remembered the efforts to create the illusion of a clandestine affair: furtive liaisons, short, cryptic phone calls, and a few staged embraces and kisses for the benefit of an unseen camera. That last part had been harrowing; he had been constantly in terror that Dorian would guess the truth, and that he would consequently look like an idiot.

Dorian came back to sit beside him, holding out a glass. Klaus took it without looking at the other man. He could not helping tensing up as Dorian put a comforting arm around him. Dorian gave him an inquiring look.

"What is it, darling?"

Klaus opened his mouth to speak… and then closed it.

What the hell could he say?

I’ve spent the last three nights in bed with you because I had amnesia and was too paranoid to tell anyone and couldn’t remember that our affair was a fraud.

Talk about looking like an idiot.

He closed his eyes and, for a second, allowed himself to concentrate on the scent of roses.

For three days, he had been granted a reprieve from the traps that had kept him out of this man’s arms.

Now he was back in those traps, but he had made good use of the furlough.

On the rare occasion that Fate did one a favor, it was best not to argue.

He swallowed the drink, put the glass on the bedside table, and kissed Dorian soundly.

"I trust you enjoyed this mission, Major," the Chief leered. Klaus gave his superior the expected glare in return.

"Do you have enough evidence to put those punks away?" he demanded.

The Chief looked a bit disappointed at not having gotten a stronger reaction, but he conceded, "Now that they’re in custody, yes. Took us years to smoke those bastards out."

"It took me a month," Klaus remarked coolly, concealing his enjoyment of the Chief’s offended expression. "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do."

He turned on his heel and stalked out, not looking directly at Dorian. Dorian was an excellent actor; he looked quite thoroughly glum. He was beautiful with a sad demeanour. And no one who saw him now would doubt for an instant that his seduction campaign was still an unqualified failure.

When Klaus had made his second offering to the blackmailers, he had been prepared this time to have the drop location watched, and the man who collected the document followed. Within hours, the whole blasted gang had been arrested.

The next day, A and B had shamefacedly assured him that they hadn’t gossiped about their misapprehension about his emergence from Eroica’s flat. "We should have realized it was a put-up job!" B said, shaking his head.

Klaus stomped to his office, pleasantly aware of the cringes of the alphabet as he passed their desks. "Q, P, Z," he barked. The agents named jumped up to follow him.

As they stood anxiously before him, he churned out a series of orders concerning their latest mission. It was going to be an unqualified success, as nearly all of his missions were, because now he knew exactly what he was doing. And he was the best.

He lit a cigarette as he dismissed them. His career was safe, his reputation intact.

The work day would be over in another hour. He knew exactly what his Benz looked like and where it was parked. And that night, he and the Earl of Gloria were going to celebrate a successful mission.

 

Eroica