Iron Pokers Into True-Love Knots

by Kadorienne

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots.

~"On Donne's Poetry", Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

At first, the Major was merely contemptuous. What an idiot, expending so much effort in a hopeless quest. In Dorian’s case, love was not only blind, but also deaf and stupid.

By imperceptible degrees, the contempt was, of necessity, transmuted to determination, that he was not going to do this.

And from there, it was only a matter of time — a lot of time, to be sure — before determination not to give in became waiting for a good reason to do so.

It was that hellish night in Alexandria that the truth ambushed him, wrestled him to the ground and forced itself into his skull despite his struggles.

Dorian was drunk. Drunk enough to stand up and make even more of a spectacle of himself than usual - a striptease, for God's sake. Though on further reflection, the Major wasn't at all sure that Eroica needed to be drunk to do something like that.

The Major put a stop to the display when he had realized Dorian actually meant to undo his zipper — right in front of him and several other witnesses! Klaus literally carried him to the men's room, where the blasted idiot proceeded, quite trustingly, to pass out cold in the middle of Klaus's browbeating.

"Wake up, Schwuchtel!"* Klaus shouted in alarm, shaking the senseless thief. "Don't fall asleep here!"

Dorian replied by slumping to the floor.

"I'll hit and kick you while you're sleeping!" Klaus warned at the top of his lungs, panicking for reasons he did not know. "Because I detest you, don't you know that?!? I could — I could put you in a bag and throw you into the ocean!"

Unconcerned, Dorian remained soundly asleep. Beautiful. Peaceful. Helpless.

Harmless.

And even as Eroica's maddening beauty penetrated the Major's mind, the feel of the skin of the thief's bare shoulder under Klaus's hand registered in his suddenly stalled consciousness. Very soft, though not too soft, not at all like a woman's skin. Very warm.

Like most people, Dorian looked like the most innocent of children while asleep.

And the damned idiot trusted him enough not to even try to remain conscious.

At some level, the Major had long since admitted to himself that the thief was attractive. He had told himself that the pervert's overwhelming sex appeal simply served to make him more annoying.

But at this moment, it was as if someone had thrown a lightswitch and flooded a dark room full of hidden things with bright illumination, changing the landscape of the world in one instant.

Once Eberbach had taken a bullet in the chest. It had pierced his lung, and he had been in hospital for an insufferably long time. He knew how to withstand pain, had been trained to do so, but that slug of lead lodged in his lung had given new meaning to the word pain. He had seemed to hurt all over his entire body, so badly that he lacked even the spirit to fight it, or anything. Every breath sent fiery pain throughout his body. He could not bear the slightest movement. He detested medicines, especially those that clouded his mind, but he had willingly consumed the powerful painkillers the doctors had administered, to the amazement of his alphabets and his Chief.

This sensation, as he looked at Dorian with those sky-colored eyes closed and the bright yellow curls falling carelessly into his too-pretty face, was very similar to being shot in the chest. He felt actual physical pain in his heart, just like every idiot love song he had ever heard and assumed to be metaphorical. The impact rendered him unable to move for a full minute.

I love him, came the unbidden thought.

The last time Klaus had cried, he had been five and his mother dead for a month. His mother had always been the one to cuddle and cajole him out of childish woes. Now that she was gone, his father had cuffed him, almost absently, and informed him that men did not cry. Accordingly, he never had again. But at this moment, he wished that he could.

I love him.

Unable to think beyond that revelation, able only to gape at it, Klaus slowly shook out Dorian's jacket and wrapped it around him, too dazed to be surprised at his own protectiveness. If Dorian had awakened at that moment, Klaus probably would have tossed caution to the wind and kissed him and let nature take its course.

Instead, Mischa came along. Later, Klaus would reflect that the Cub had probably done him a good turn, just this once. He prayed that neither Mischa nor Dorian would notice that he was protecting Dorian from the damned Soviet. To his amazement, it seemed that neither did. In fact, when Dorian regained consciousness to find Klaus and Mischa both regarding him coolly, he looked completely terrified.

It was the effect Klaus had been aiming for. Quite aside from the need to intimidate Eroica into cooperating with his mission, he had hoped to scare some sense into the idiot. Maybe then he would stay out of international espionage intrigue.

Still, seeing that look of utter fear on Dorian's beautiful face, Klaus felt a stab of disappointment, and something else that he was forced to concede was hurt. Did Dorian really believe that Klaus would allow that KGB sadist to hurt him? Yes, Klaus was quick to resort to his fists, but that was innocuous compared to what Mischa could do with properly applied electric currents.

Klaus spent the next few days certain that his brain was telegraphing his secret to everyone he met, and the next several weeks being buffeted by serious doubts for the first time in his adult life. He was never able to make himself doubt the revelation of that night.

I love him.

It was, quite simply, a fact.

Well. If it was a fact, the question was, how to work around it, how to order his life and his objectives so that this caused no conflict.

So he told himself, often. But the fact remained. Gnawing pain took up residence permanently in his chest, a yearning for all the things he had accepted without question that he would never have. He hadn't really cared, before. Or at least, he had thought that he didn't. But now, he thought of Dorian, and thought of him, and thought of him. Wanted him. Longed for him. He wanted to do insane things, like walk out of his office in the middle of a workday, charter a plane to England, show up unannounced at North Downs and take the Earl in his arms without a word of explanation. With panic, he realized that he was entirely capable of taking such action. Nothing in his sensible, structured life had ever hinted that he could act like a lunatic. Now he knew that he could.

But he wouldn't. Because every time he thought about accepting what was being so constantly, aggressively offered, his brain asserted itself quite firmly.

Want him if you must, it told him. (I must.) Protect him from his own idiocy if you can't stop yourself. (I can't.) But you cannot trust him. Look at the way he parades himself, his perversion, his desire for you. He is not capable of discretion. He cannot be trusted. This is too dangerous. You cannot have it.

He wouldn't harm me. He loves me.

Do you actually believe that? He's a child. An exhibitionist. Perhaps he means it - but what is it that he means? That he desires your body? That he cannot resist the challenge you present? Does he mean that he will be loyal to you, will do what is good for you even at his own cost? The man's completely self-serving.

Then why the hell do I love him?

But he was never able to get an answer for that. The only reason he was ever able to imagine was that the man's extravagant personality was sheerly overwhelming, sweeping all sense and reason away. Eroica was like an explosion that changed everything by his mere presence.

Eberbach was a man of high moral standards. He had the most withering contempt for those of lesser character. And so he strove to reason himself out of love with Eroica by constantly reminding himself of the Earl's many flaws.

He was a thief, stole anything that caught his fancy. He stole paintings and statues and jewels and airplanes and tanks. He displayed no remorse whatever. He was a criminal. Utterly unscrupulous.

I love him.

He was an utter hedonist, an exhibitionist, always making grandstand plays. He needed no encouragement to make a spectacle of himself, even in the middle of a mission. That striptease hadn't been the most outrageous attention-getting ploy he had ever tried. Even if his protestations of love had some basis in fact, the fact remained that he made a public circus of them. If the Earl had had any sense, if he had really wanted his offers to be accepted, wouldn't it have made more sense for him to tell Klaus his feelings discreetly and privately, instead of proclaiming them to the world?

I love him.

He was a complete Schwuchtel, embodying every damned stereotype. Even when he wasn't swashbuckling around declaiming idiot poetry, his appearance alone attracted attention. Granted, he could hardly help being beautiful, but he could have cut off those tumbling sunny curls, and he could refrain from dressing as if every day were Halloween. He wore flashy colors and ruffles and lace and even, on occasion, dresses. He flourished with his hands and tossed his absurd hair and fluttered his lashes — and could drop all the effeminate mannerisms in an instant when it suited him, so why the hell did he insist on acting like that most of the time? Dorian completely ignored almost everything Klaus believed that being a man meant.

I love him.

It seemed that there truly was no sense or reason to love. There were a thousand reasons for him to despise Eroica, and not even one for him to love him. Not that the damned nuisance entirely lacked redeeming traits, but none of them should have prompted this sort of feeling.

I love him.

He couldn't have him. He knew that. He never even asked himself if it were an option. He knew it wasn't. He was doomed, doomed to spend his entire life with this ache, this yearning that would never be fulfilled. He would want Dorian for the rest of his life. And he could never have him.

I love him.

How was it that he was still able to believe in love? Klaus had become convinced that love was insanity. People fixated on someone and tossed their wits out the window and behaved in the most idiotic way imaginable. Klaus supposed it was some immature rebellion against the need to behave rationally; tired of being cautious and sensible, people would hand themselves this golden rationale, made the more palatable by sex, for doing stupid things. "But I was in love!" they would wail later, in the ruins of their lives.

Klaus had seen people torturing themselves over love for someone. Insanely elated when the affair was going well. Absurdly crushed at the slightest problem. Devastated when it ended. He had seen people wreck their lives completely over a failed romance, turning to drink or drugs, sabotaging their careers, even committing suicide. And if they managed to avoid doing any of these things, then a year later they had completely forgotten the object of their former insanity who they had believed they couldn't live without. It was like a virus that just needed time to fade — provided the infection did not kill the host.

Klaus had seen people use love as a weapon. He had seen men and women quite deliberately lure someone to fall in love with them and then use that love to their own advantage, for their own ends, cold-bloodedly indifferent to the genuine suffering of their victims.

And still, it seemed that Klaus believed in Love. True Love, no less. He could stand back and know perfectly well that he was being an idiot. Dorian was a completely unacceptable partner, and his gender was the least of the reasons, when you came right down to it. Klaus knew better. Yes, Klaus could stand back and know all of that, could even snort in disgust at his own ludicrous notions that they had been destined to love each other, that regardless of the time and place and situation in which they found themselves, their souls called to each other. And still he was completely certain that this was no infatuation that would fade over time, nor was it some combination of rational causes, of physical attraction and novelty and intermittent proximity. No.

I love him.

"My personal feelings have nothing to do with it," Klaus lied.

The Chief leered. "You must concede that Eroica is the best at what he does."

Klaus did not bother to acknowledge the innuendo. "He is unreliable. He always has his own agenda and follows orders only when it suits him. He is completely unsuited to this sort of work. We should hire someone else."

The Chief's eyes narrowed in malicious glee. "I do hope you enjoy working with Eroica next week, Eberbach."

In other words: Hire him — that's an order!

Klaus glowered. "Yes, sir," he snapped.

Looking smug, the Chief began dropping sugar cubes into his coffee. Ten sugars in just one cup of coffee. Klaus hated sweets anyway, but that amount of sugar — just looking at it turned his stomach.

"Will there be anything else, sir?" Klaus asked with the formal respect that was part and parcel of being the model officer he was, even as he looked down his nose at the despicable Chief.

"Why don't you join me for lunch, Major?" the Chief asked in a parody of politeness. Klaus mentally cringed at the idea of watching the potbellied Chief put away more vile sweets.

"Too much work, sir," he replied stiffly, lighting a cigarette. "I'm going to order in a sandwich."

"Cigarettes are terrible for your health, you know, young man."

Klaus slowly, deliberately took a long drag and then released a cloud of tobacco-scented smoke.

The Chief scowled, waving the smoke away with a meaty hand. "How is G, by the way? I haven't seen him in a while."

Klaus tried very hard not to smile. He almost succeeded. "I sent him to Hong Kong for a three-month mission with C and T."

As he had expected, the mention of T in proximity with G made the Chief's face flush with anger. T was considered very handsome, turning the head of every secretary and stenographer in the office, often assigned to question women who knew things NATO needed to know because of his demonstrated ability to addle feminine judgment. Klaus did not consider himself qualified to judge male beauty, with one luminous exception, but it was certain that T was tall and trim and well-built, bound to dispel any interest G might have harbored in the corpulent Chief. That was why Klaus had sent G off with him, and the Chief damn well knew it. Klaus held his superior's gaze for a moment, his expression just a shade away from insolent.

The Chief might outrank him, and might be able to choose his contractors for him, but he couldn't stop Klaus from polluting the air with his cigarettes and he couldn't stop him from handling his subordinates as he saw fit. Just as Klaus's father couldn't stop him from working for NATO instead of retiring to devote himself to the family estates, and couldn't force him to marry one of those fecund shrews of good family who were constantly plotting to snare him. Just as no one, not his teachers from his school days or his superiors in the army or the idiot politicians and diplomats he was forced to babysit from time to time, no one could change the fact that he had better judgment than any of them, and that he was proven right over and over again.

"Give the Earl of Gloria my regards," the Chief snarled in helpless fury, and dismissed Klaus.

Being attracted to Eroica was a damned inconvenience.

Being in love with Eroica was a grave misfortune.

But the real calamity was when he could no longer stop himself from trusting the damned thief.

It was in Austria that Dorian broke that barrier. That KGB swine Morozoff crossed over the border with the microfilm only seconds before Klaus caught up to him. The Major had little choice but to stop; as a NATO official, pursuing him into neutral territory would have caused an ugly incident.

He explained this to Dorian, seething at his own helplessness, at the absurdity of the rules by which he had to live. Dorian grinned. "If it's a mere civilian who runs after Morozoff on the bridge, it wouldn't be such a big deal," he pointed out, and before Klaus realized he really meant to do it, he was over the border, launching himself at that burly man for whom he was no match. The damned idiot.

Klaus watched grimly, not wanting to admit his own distress, seeing Dorian battered by that bastard, unable to do a thing about it. He tried to tell himself the idiot had brought it on himself. He tried to tell himself he was glad the curly-haired bugger was learning a lesson. He really did try.

When Morozoff was through, Dorian, bruised and rumpled, walked unsteadily back to the border. When he finally met Klaus's eye, he quickly flashed him a V-for-Victory sign before crumpling to the ground at Klaus's feet. "Give me a hand."

Klaus was too alarmed to balk at Dorian’s muffled request to be helped up; he quickly leaned over and took Dorian’s hand. And as he pulled Dorian to his feet, he felt something small and cold press against his palm.

The microfilm. Of course.

Bloody pickpocket had let himself get beaten up just to get Klaus’s intel for him.

Eroica was looking at Klaus, smiling in simple pleasure like a little boy who’d found his mother’s missing ring. In that smile was nothing calculating — the thief wasn’t even thinking of reward or gratitude. No, there were only the purest of motives here.

One of Dorian’s eyes was already bruised and swelling shut, his hair was disheveled, and he wasn’t nearly so foppishly dressed as usual.

Klaus thought that he had never looked more beautiful.

"I'll give you my shoulder, too," Klaus said awkwardly. Dorian put an arm around Klaus’s shoulder with relief, leaning against him, still shaky. As they began to walk, slowly, Klaus allowed his own arm to circle Dorian’s back, keeping his other hand carefully in his pocket. They had done this once before, in Greece, when those idiotic seajackers had gotten a notion to take the useless Earl hostage, and knocked him around a bit. Klaus had put a stop to that, though it would have served the stupid seajackers right if he’d let them keep Eroica. Dorian had started flirting with him then. It had been quite disconcerting. Bloody pervert.

"I'm glad you are willing to support me like this," Dorian murmured, sounding genuinely grateful.

"Shut up." Klaus was trying very hard not to think. If Dorian said the wrong words now… all sorts of things might happen. Though of course that was ridiculous, they wouldn’t. "You say things that only aggravate me."

Dorian looked innocently hurt. After his delight of only a moment before, it was… irritating. "That's too heartless, isn't it?" Dorian said, a note of pleading in his voice. "Whenever I tell you how I feel, you start getting angry. For no reason at all."

"I said shut up!" Klaus was having trouble controlling his thoughts — they kept going over the same few moments over and over: Dorian reeling at Morozoff’s blows, Dorian falling at his feet, the feel of the microfilm in his palm, Dorian’s simple joy melting into equally simple hurt. There was something very dangerous about this line of thought.

"Major," Dorian began, but Klaus stopped him, staring straight ahead.

"I can't get angry at you right now," he said curtly, his voice as hard as he could make it. What he was feeling was shockingly close to fear. "Don't make me."

Perplexed, Dorian studied him for a moment… and then his face lit up, his lovely blue eyes widening, and the chasm opened at Klaus’s feet. "Major, you—"

Klaus did the only thing he knew to do: yelled at the thief. Not that it had ever been an effective tactic in the past. "I’m telling you not to do that!"

Dorian didn't say another word, but it didn’t really help. His eyes, fastened on Klaus as if he were a shrine, said more than enough. But if he said whatever foppish nonsense he had planned to say, God knew….

Had Klaus been allowing himself to think at all, he would have despised himself for it, but he heard his own voice asking the thief for mercy. "Don't talk, Lord Gloria... please...."

Dorian smiled slightly, and, damn him, showed mercy, not speaking until they reached the car.

Dorian even allowed him to flee afterwards. Flee? Nonsense. Klaus wasn’t hiding in his room, he was resting, until it was time to act again. He especially wasn’t thinking about Eroica, about him running right into that Russian’s fists like an idiot, about his shaking hand pressing the microfilm into Klaus’s, about the way his eyes had widened when Klaus had told him to shut the hell up….

If he could just get home without thinking about it, any of it, it would all be fine. Everything would be fine.

He expected to hear a knock on his door at any moment, a knock, a pert entrance, another attempted seduction. He cringed at every sound. But Eroica was tactful for once. The Major didn’t see him again until the Hofbrug ball.

The Major was making hypocritical small talk with some enemy spies, finding the task not so difficult as it usually was. He was, in fact, perfectly at ease until a woman cut across the room towards him, every line of her body telegraphing outrage.

Yes, for a few seconds Klaus believed that it really was a woman. But of course it wasn’t. Eroica, his golden curls swept up, wearing an elegant long black dress.

Dorian in a dress. Exactly what he didn’t need.

Klaus tried to get rid of him, but of course it was impossible. They argued — later Klaus was never able to remember about what. It didn’t matter. There was always something to bicker about, always would be. What he did remember was how unsuitably pretty Dorian had looked, his robin’s-egg eyes flashing with anger, his features taut, the delicate planes of his face displayed more clearly than usual by the elegant coiffure. Even the black eye didn’t ruin it, somehow. A man in a lady’s dress and hairdo — he should have looked ridiculous. He didn’t.

Dorian’s features were really too fine and pretty for a man’s, his body was too slender, and his hair was flat-out unacceptable. The few times Klaus had seen him in properly masculine garb, he had looked even more frivolous and delicate by contrast. Now, in an evening dress, he looked more… masculine than Klaus had ever seen him appear. His delicate features were still too broad for a woman’s, his lips a bit too thin, his shoulders too wide, his form too muscular and big-boned, willowy as he was.

Klaus tried not to look at him as they squabbled. He was glad of the distraction of Metternich’s envelope — until he saw what was in it. A snapshot of him looking utterly ridiculous, doing that stupid folk dance — the things he did in the line of duty….

Dorian, of course, thought the photo was cute. He snatched it away from Klaus and, playing his role of the moment to the hilt as always, took the traditional feminine strategy of shoving it down the front of his dress, taunting Klaus. Did he know that Klaus didn’t dare to take it from him by force? Not then. On other occasions, it might have been possible, but after that day, on the border….

The idiotic photo securely concealed, Dorian regarded him with eyes sparkling with mischief. "Dance with me, Major," he invited.

Klaus felt sweat beginning to form on his brow. He fell back on old tactics. Insults, for instance. "I thought I should have a higher opinion of you, but I was wrong! You are an outrageous balloon filled with foul, poisonous gas!"

Dorian’s pretty face was triumphant. "Just once, Major. If you dance this waltz with me, I'll give it back to you."

But after that waltz, it would be too late. Did Dorian realize that? Was that why he looked so exultant? Or was he simply getting a bit of his own back, after all Klaus had done to him during the past week?

"Nein! I'd rather die than dance with you!" Klaus managed through numb lips. He was beginning to suspect that there was no way out of this trap. Except perhaps to ask for quarter, and he had done that once today already; he wouldn’t give that curly-haired bugger the satisfaction twice….

"Don't worry, we won't look like a male couple." Dorian’s voice was flirtatious.

"That's not the issue!" Klaus snapped, and then mentally kicked himself. If the damned thief asked what was the issue, what the hell was he going to say?

Dimpling, Eroica let his slender hands flutter gracefully over his bosom. "Then I'll make copies of this picture and distribute them to your alphabets," he teased.

"You bastard!" That was what he was so afraid of, naturally. Klaus seized onto that humiliating prospect with relief, not asking himself at what point he had admitted that he was afraid at all.

Dorian extended a hand to him gracefully. He had even gone to the length of having his nails painted, Klaus noticed irrelevantly. "You shouldn't humiliate a lady, Major." And then a hint of true wistfulness emerged through the teasing. "Please," Dorian said, his tone suddenly softer.

Dammit, they were supposed to be fighting! "Nein!" Klaus had shouted, trying to recapture the sense of battle. "Nein!"

But Dorian wouldn’t play. His hand still outstretched, waiting with dignity to be rejected, Dorian said quietly, "Dance with me, Major. Just once. Please."

Just once. Did Dorian honestly believe that was possible?

He did. Klaus looked into those sky-colored eyes and saw only hopelessness and devotion. Dorian wanted only to pretend for a few minutes. He didn’t know.

Klaus had no idea how long they stood like that, gazes locked, Dorian’s hand still patiently outstretched, Klaus’s hands bunched into fists. An eternity, perhaps.

Klaus looked at the other man’s face, far too lovely for a man’s. Eroica would never give up. That much was beyond doubt. No, resistance would no longer give Klaus any control.

At length Klaus decided that, since he was defeated, the only thing to do was acknowledge it with dignity. He forced his face to relax from its customary scowl, uncurled his fists, and wordlessly, slowly took Dorian’s hand.

Dorian’s face was relieved for an instant — yes, he really didn’t know he had won, thank God, not yet — and then there was that simple joy once more. Klaus stalked to the dance floor, not allowing himself to drag the other man roughly as he would have liked to. He found them a bit of room and then took the correct posture, and held Dorian in his arms for the first time. It hurt. This was going to change him, he knew, and he also knew that there was no turning back now.

He was aware of Eroica’s glowing eyes on his face, but he was careful not to look right at the man. Dorian would know soon enough. Klaus looked at their entwined hands, let his eyes go unfocused over Dorian’s silk-clad shoulder. The entire universe, really, was just Dorian’s warmth a few inches away from him, and the scent of roses that Klaus drew into himself with every breath.

"I love you," Dorian whispered sadly just before the waltz ended. Klaus’s throat closed. The music ceased, and Klaus gripped Dorian’s arm above the elbow, steering him out of the Hofbrug.

When they reached the bracing night air, Dorian reached into the front of his dress, fumbling for the photograph. Klaus ignored him, dragging him to a taxi. "Where are we going?" Dorian asked blankly.

"Where are you staying?" Klaus retorted, not looking at him.

Dorian blurted the name of his hotel, nonplused. Klaus relayed the name to the cab driver as he got in, pulling Dorian after him. As the car began to move, Klaus stared firmly out the window, wordless. He could sense Dorian’s nervousness, but all the thief did was slowly fish the picture out of his dress and proffer it. Klaus took it without looking at the other man, slowly crumpling the damned thing in one hand. If only Polar Bear knew that he was about to miss a much better photo opportunity.

Klaus paid for the cab and steered Dorian into the hotel. In the lobby, he turned and looked at Eroica at last. Eroica’s eyes were enormous, his whole body tense.

"Major…?" he ventured.

"Do you have your own room?" Klaus demanded in a low voice. It had suddenly occurred to him to worry about Eroica’s team, all those English perverts always following their Earl around….

"Yes." Dorian’s voice sounded parched.

"Let’s go then." Klaus did not realize it until later, but his tone and bearing were those he assumed when he was approaching a mission that bordered on suicide. He felt much the same, as well. No two ways about it, he was terrified.

In the elaborate suite — he should have expected such extravagance from Eroica — he turned to Dorian. He knew there was no use fighting it anymore, but that damned dress…. "Get rid of that ridiculous outfit," he ordered.

Dorian looked at him. "Certainly, darling," he said, and began to unfasten the dress’s buttons, holding Klaus’s gaze.

"I meant—" Klaus stopped. He watched as the black silk fell around Dorian’s ankles, and discovered the thief’s disguise had been quite complete. He turned and went to the window, to peer through the curtains at the night outside, while Dorian removed the slip and stockings. A dress was one thing, but lingerie was just too much.

"Major," came the soft voice. Apprehensively, Klaus turned, in time to see Dorian’s curls come tumbling down from their coiffure. Those golden curls were now Dorian’s only clothing. Klaus looked at the other man, tense and beautiful and bruised and maddening and looking as if his heart would break at a wrong word, and drew a slow, ragged breath.

Klaus walked very slowly toward Dorian, as cautiously as he might have approached a dangerous animal. Dorian, his eyes wide, stood trembling, waiting, as if afraid that moving would frighten Klaus away. Later Klaus had realized that his own face must have shown just as much trepidation, despite a lifetime of practice in hiding such emotions.

He stopped right in front of Dorian and slowly lifted a hand. Dorian sucked in his breath and waited. Tentatively, Klaus allowed his fingertips to brush Dorian's unbruised cheekbone. Dorian closed his eyes at the touch, his lips parting slightly, his whole body seeming to melt into that slight contact.

The response was reassuring. It gave Klaus the courage to press on, moving his hand into Dorian's mass of tousled sunny locks. Dorian shivered a bit. He looked as if he were about to swoon.

Klaus found that he could go no further. He might as well have been paralyzed there.

At length Dorian opened his eyes inquiringly.

"I can't," Klaus managed.

Dorian's eyes widened in dismay.

"You'll have to," Klaus added, and braced himself.

Dorian's eyes brimmed over with adoration. Visibly restraining himself, he duplicated Klaus's caress, over Klaus's cheekbone to his straight dark hair. He stopped there, for the moment.

Klaus closed his eyes. He drew four slow breaths. Then he opened them. With the two of them standing so close together, their fingers in each other's hair… it was becoming possible.

Reading Klaus's consent in the new steadiness of his gaze, Dorian leaned forward and kissed him. Unhurriedly. Sweetly.

A corner of Klaus's mind was irritated that Dorian was being so bloody considerate. The damned thief had no business understanding him this well. Eroica should have just pounced on him, torn his clothes off, and dragged him to the bed, taking him by storm. He had no business lavishing so much time on coaxing Klaus, waiting till he felt easy with each step before moving on. Klaus was not accustomed to being coddled. There was no need for Dorian to spend a good ten minutes kissing him and stroking his hair before gently touching his tongue to Klaus's lips, courteously asking for admission instead of demanding it, waiting till Klaus parted his lips of his own accord before beginning a leisurely exploration of Klaus's mouth.

By the time Dorian's hands slid beneath Klaus's jacket, Klaus was too dazed to be alarmed at the more intimate touch. It was pleasant, even felt oddly safe. And Dorian seemed perfectly content to stroke Klaus's chest and back through the fabric of his shirt and undershirt, seemed to feel no urgency to move on. So that when he did finally move on, gently moving the jacket off Klaus's shoulders and unbuttoning his shirt as if he had years to do it in, it was not in the least daunting. The coolness of the air on Klaus's skin did not distract him from the warmth of Dorian's lips and hands and skin, a warmth which seemed to be enveloping him completely.

Being led by the hand to the bed should have made Klaus nervous, but it didn't. And once they got there, he didn't think at all about what he was allowing Dorian to do to him — no, what he was welcoming, what he was actively encouraging, what he would die if Dorian stopped doing — he only lay on the cool sheets feeling it as he had never felt anything in his life.

I love you, was the first thought Klaus had when he was, an eternity later, able to think again.

Klaus propped himself on his elbow and looked down at Dorian, who was more beautiful than ever with his hair in abandoned disarray and his fair skin flushed, half-open cornflower eyes watching him in drowsy contentment.

Get out now, Klaus's mind ordered. It isn't too late. You can still escape. This is far too dangerous. You can't stay.

Klaus put his palm to Dorian's cheek, then let it slowly move down, over the slim throat to the leanly muscled chest. Dorian sighed happily. Klaus found that touching him was no longer frightening.

Klaus abruptly pinned Dorian's wrists to the mattress and covered him with his own body. He had only a second to enjoy Dorian's look of delighted surprise before he was completely absorbed in claiming him with all his brand-new knowledge. He supposed he must be clumsy, but Dorian wasn't complaining. Not a bit.

"Tell me that isn't better than doing it with a woman," Dorian purred, much later.

"I've never—" Klaus broke off.

Dorian's eyes widened. He studied Klaus for a long minute. "Never?"

Klaus looked away, coloring, wishing the light were out. Turning it off hadn't occurred to him earlier.

A minute later Dorian's arms were gathering him closer, and Dorian's head was cuddled up on his chest. "Then you're all mine," Dorian murmured.

Klaus panicked, but quietly.

"I love you," Dorian added.

Klaus's throat constricted. He said nothing. Dorian sighed wistfully.

"Are you going to hate me in the morning?" Dorian whispered at last.

"No," was Klaus's prompt reply. "But I might hate myself."

Dorian was silent for so long after that that Klaus thought he wasn't going to reply, but at length the quiet answer came. "I would rather you hated me."

I love you. The words were in Klaus's mouth, but he couldn't quite say them. They did not speak again that night.

The next morning, Klaus rose as soon as he awoke and began to dress. He tried to be quiet, but Dorian woke anyway and sat up, watching him with an apprehensive question in his eyes. A question which Klaus did not answer until he was fully dressed, standing unsmiling beside the rumpled bed, looking at the beautiful Earl with an expression that was not quite a glare.

"I'm through running," he said gruffly, and left.

For the moment, it seemed to satisfy the other man.

It was several days before Klaus was able to shake the irrational conviction that everyone could tell what had happened just by looking at him. But no one seemed to notice anything amiss. His alphabets remained cowed, his superiors remained belligerent in their attempts to control Iron Klaus, his father remained outraged at his few defiances.

Klaus was a bit disconcerted that his father, as if alerted by some instinct, chose the very day after his capitulation to Eroica to call Klaus and lecture him about finding a wife. As Klaus listened with the stiff respect that his father had always demanded from him, he reflected with relief that apparently the old autocrat had never guessed why there had been no women in Klaus's life. But then, Colonel Eberbach had never been one to question the reasons for things, only to command that they be altered to his own wishes.

"When I was your age, I was already married," his father reminded him for the thousandth time. "And I had a higher rank," he added cuttingly.

"I am aware of that, sir," Klaus said woodenly. He did not deign to offer excuses for his own failure to receive promotion. He knew the probable reason. He always obeyed the letter of his superiors' orders, but often not the spirit. And he took full advantage of whatever leeway his own rank granted him — sending the Chief's darling G away as often as possible, for instance, knowing full well the older man would be annoyed. He never did anything overt that could be pointed out as insubordination, but he was insubordinate. Why the hell shouldn't he be? He had more sense than those pompous fogies.

But now his father wanted to talk about Rommel. Klaus lit another cigarette and settled in to listen to the story. Again. It had long since lost its impact on him, but he could not conceive of interrupting his father. That sort of openly insolent behavior was no part of Iron Klaus.

But as he listened to the story, mentally reciting a few words ahead, Klaus suddenly found himself reflecting on his father's reaction if he knew what his wayward son had been doing the night before. Klaus gazed meditatively at the glowing tip of his cigarette. His father would be aghast. Appalled. Horrified. Especially if he knew exactly what they had done, the first time.

Thinking this, Klaus suddenly grinned, a wide, wolfish grin which would have loosened the bowels of anyone who had seen it.

He was going to sleep with the Earl of Gloria.

And there was nothing anybody could do about it.

When he returned to Bonn, he discovered that Eroica had installed himself in Klaus's bachelor flat, the small furnished apartment where he stayed when he had to get away from his proud heritage or go mad. The Earl looked quite out of place amid the shabby furnishings — Klaus had never cared enough to replace anything in the place — but he ensconced himself comfortably as if it were a matter of course. Klaus did not argue. They never discussed the change in their relationship, only proceeded with it.

The sex, of course, was wonderful. That was no surprise. It was the other benefits that were a surprise.

The first surprise, to Klaus, had been how obliging Dorian generally was. In almost every small matter, he was quite happy to yield to Klaus's wishes. Klaus was unaccustomed to asking for consideration; he generally demanded it at gunpoint or stoically went without. When he awkwardly voiced a few requests to Dorian, they were granted instantly and cheerfully, even enthusiastically.

Not that Dorian never applied pressure. But the pressure was different from any Klaus had experienced. Dorian applied steady pressure to make Klaus enjoy himself whether he liked it or not. Every time Klaus admitted that he liked anything, he was soon deluged with it. Klaus's first impulse was always to resist these assaults on his spartan life, but Dorian never relented until Klaus had accepted whatever enjoyment his insane lover was determined to force onto him.

And Dorian did demand certain things for himself, but again, it was different. Dorian managed, God alone knew how, to find out and keep track of how much leave time Klaus had accumulated, and he demanded that Klaus take vacation — and spend it with Dorian — until Klaus gave in simply to escape the constant requests.

It took a few quarrels for Klaus to realize that a quarrel was not a reason to give up on someone. The first few times they could not quickly resolve something, Klaus had concluded that they were simply going to have to call it quits, and had accordingly avoided the Earl for some time after. Perhaps he should not have been surprised that Dorian was not so easily discouraged. A few days after a quarrel, Klaus would arrive at Schloss Eberbach in the evening and open the door to his bedroom to discover his personal demon perched impudently on the huge formal bed. The first words out of Dorian's mouth would generally be something along the lines of, "You're a beast for doing this to me, but I can see that I have no choice but to put up with it." Before Klaus could argue or even accept this barbed capitulation, Dorian would be all over him, kissing him, slipping his hands under Klaus's clothes, overwhelming him with sensation and driving further argument from his thoughts. The first couple of times, Klaus was so swept away by this tactic that he conceded the quarrel to Dorian, giving in on the points he had been so resolved to stand by.

Dorian did not stay in Bonn all the time, of course. He had his own home and affairs to tend to in England, and his own work took him all over the world. But Klaus would receive a phone call at his office without warning, a clipped English voice saying, "I'm in town tonight, darling," and Klaus's blood would quicken in his veins and it would take all of his considerable willpower to focus on his work for the rest of that day. Or he would be driving away from work in the evening, intending to spend the night at the Schloss, and would notice the lights in the window of his flat as he drove by. He would park and go inside, and Dorian would be waiting for him with Mosel's Wehlener Sonnenuhr and smoked salmon, or with dark beer and fried potatoes, and always with an embrace and a kiss Klaus had missed more than he had thought would be possible.

Only a few weeks after they had begun to share the flat, things started changing. One little — or big — thing at a time.

It began with the Jacuzzi. One day Klaus came in and discovered his nice normal tub vanished and a huge, decadent Jacuzzi in its place.

They quarreled about it, of course. Klaus demanded to know why he hadn’t been consulted about the change, and Dorian tranquilly replied that if he had been consulted, he wouldn’t have agreed. Klaus responded to this by yelling for a while. When he was tired and had to take a break, he realized that Dorian hadn’t been yelling back, but had been listening patiently and attentively. It was very annoying.

Klaus then demanded what perverted plans Dorian had for that Jacuzzi. It was a rhetorical question, but of course that never stopped Eroica. He began to describe those plans in detail. Klaus tried to shut him up, but once he had started talking about it, Dorian would not be stopped until Klaus found he had no choice but to carry those plans out before he lost his mind.

The next time he returned to the flat after sustaining numerous minor injuries in a tussle with some terrorists, Dorian without comment hustled him into the Jacuzzi. Klaus was too tired to argue, and thus discovered the Jacuzzi’s kindness to strained muscles and sore bones. He never did get around to voicing any approval of the decadent thing, but his grumbling vanished.

The bed was next.

In fairness, Klaus had to admit that getting a king-sized bed only made sense, given some of the activities Dorian liked to get up to. But the mattress was too comfortable to be decent; it encouraged one to curl up or lounge rather than lie properly flat on the back — something he never saw Dorian do, incidentally. At least the frame was respectable solid oak. There was no canopy, but there was a solid bed poster at each corner, a fact whose significance he did not appreciate till later. Apparently Eroica could use even the most respectable items in the pursuit of decadence.

As soon as Klaus stopped complaining about the bed, the chair appeared.

It was a nice tame color, at least, leather-upholstered, but far too… cushiony to be proper. If it wasn’t going to be something functional and military, it ought to be an antique, a national cultural heritage like the furnishings of Schloss Eberbach. Dorian’s helpful information that the blasted thing had been designed in America did not improve matters. When he had at last, to make Dorian shut up about it, sat in it, its national origins had been confirmed: spoiled bloody Yanks had worked comfort down to a science.

Once he was sitting in it, he found himself oddly reluctant to rise again; the contours of it fitted his body perfectly. The next thing he knew, he was opening his eyes and three hours had passed. After that, he didn’t feel he could continue griping about it. Dorian, thankfully, always gloated silently; otherwise he might have had to get rid of the chair anyway.

Klaus tried to remember if he had ever encountered comfortable furniture before Dorian had provided some. He didn’t think so; it was a novel sensation.

Dorian was clever. The day the handsome bookcases appeared in every room, attractively displaying everything that resided in the apartment, Klaus was too distracted by the state-of-the-art stereo system that appeared simultaneously to protest at the flat’s increasingly attractive appearance. Dorian sat curled up on the shamelessly comfortable sofa he had insinuated a year earlier, smiling slightly as he watched Klaus fiddle with the electronics for nearly two hours. Dorian did always seem amused by Klaus's interest in machinery, though why, Klaus never fathomed. It was only natural for a man to be interested in gadgets.

Klaus always suspected that the vertical blinds had been intended as a dig; perhaps he had complained one too many times that their cleaning people could not seem to get the folds in the draperies evenly spaced. In any case, one day those draperies were gone and the blinds in their place. He did not trouble himself to comment. The blinds were never unevenly spaced.

One day Dorian indicated the framed pictures on the flat's walls and inquired, with great casualness, "When did you get those hunting prints?"

"Um. They came with the flat."

Dorian breathed. "Thank God."

Klaus scowled, sensing more redecoration imminent. "What's wrong with hunting prints?" he demanded.

"They're hunting prints," Dorian replied, in the tone he might have used to refer to virulent germs.

Klaus glowered. "If you put up a bunch of foppish pictures of flowers and naked people, I'll burn them even if they are natural cultural heritages!"

Dorian laughed. It was irritating how delighted Dorian always seemed whenever Klaus acted like himself. There was nothing delightful about it, after all. Arty people were strange.

The first new painting that appeared was of Admiral Nelson, on the deck of his ship in the midst of battle. Klaus examined the picture intently and discovered, to his approved surprise, that the uniforms and weaponry were almost perfect in their historical accuracy. But that did not mean he found nothing with which to quibble.

"Idiotic," he stated flatly.

"Oh?"

"He wouldn’t have been wearing all those medals and whatnot in battle. It’d make him an easy target. And he’d been at sea for weeks — he would have been dirty and unshaven and his uniform wouldn’t have been in such pristine shape."

Dorian seemed to consider this seriously before he answered. "A painting is not a photograph. It is not intended to represent the mundane reality of what things literally looked like, but the more important reality of what kind of man Lord Nelson was. A hero. A great leader. The painter honored him by portraying him as looking as close to perfect as possible."

Klaus frowned slightly and looked at the painting again. Dorian had turned to hide his smile, busying himself with something else.

Klaus spent quite a while studying the painting. Then he said, "Hm," and moved away from it. He never remarked on it again, but sometimes he found himself gazing at it, thinking of what Dorian had said.

The pictures that followed were less intriguing but quite agreeable. A couple more military scenes of historical import, neither more recent than Nelson, both highly accurate in historical detail. A couple of landscapes of Germany's most beautiful spots; world travel had only confirmed for Klaus the obvious truth that Germany was easily the most beautiful country in the world. And from somewhere, Dorian dug up an obscure artist of the early twentieth century who had painted machines and factories, who had seen the beauty of perfectly functioning machines and burnished metal just as Klaus did.

Dorian never irritated him with any tripe about how these artists were from the pre-post-modern school or whatever, just let him look at them in peace. Though one day Klaus did notice a book on a shelf that he knew he hadn't put there himself: The Complete Idiot's Guide To Art History.

Given the Earl's many good points, Klaus supposed he could endure his sense of humor.

The first time they had to work together after the change between them, they tried to act as they always had. Dorian, for the most part, managed it. Klaus failed abysmally.

The angry words refused to come. He had to be more careful than ever not to look at the Earl if he could avoid it; he knew his face was completely unguarded. The carefully neutral expressions on the faces of the alphabet proved that he wasn't fooling anyone in the least. It was completely humiliating.

After that mission, Eroica courteously declined NATO assignments, but it was too late.

What Klaus had been dreading all along happened a few weeks later. He was summoned for a meeting with his superiors. The meeting's purpose was unspecified. Klaus knew precisely what it was.

That evening, Klaus returned to the flat to find Dorian waiting for him anxiously. "Well?" Dorian demanded, as soon as he walked in. "The meeting was today, wasn't it?"

Klaus nodded pensively.

"And? Were you right? Do they know about us?"

His eyes met Dorian's steadily. "Yes."

Dorian dropped his gaze and swallowed. "I'm sorry."

In silence, Klaus hung up his coat and came to sit on the divan beside Dorian. He lit a cigarette and thoughtfully watched the smoke curl from it.

At last Dorian found his voice. "I suppose you've been…."

"No. They do not intend to discharge me."

Dorian's eyes flew to Klaus's. "You're not kicked out?"

Klaus smiled slightly. "No. They're willing to look the other way. They're not willing to lose an operative of my caliber over an irregularity or two."

Dorian smiled tentatively. "So - you're still my Major!"

Klaus frowned. "I am considering resigning."

"What?"

Unable to remain still, Klaus stood and paced. "Dorian, do you have any idea how many regulations I would be breaking if I had NATO and you at the same time? And I have no intention of giving you up."

Dorian looked as if he would melt at the matter-of-fact pronouncement.

Klaus spoke in the tone of writing a list. "NATO operatives are not supposed to sleep with NATO contractors. Army officers are not supposed to sleep with other men. And most of all, neither are supposed to sleep with internationally notorious criminals!"

"But if they were willing to keep you anyway, in spite of all their stuffy regulations–"

"That’s just it, Dorian. Their stuffy regulations. They’re breaking their own rules."

The light seemed to dawn on Dorian's face, as if he suddenly understood Klaus's conflict.

"That is so like you, darling," he said. "Refusing to belong to an organization which would have you as a member."

"It is their duty to uphold regulations," Klaus insisted. "They have no right not to throw me out."

Dorian laughed aloud. "They would have no right to deprive the free world of its best defender."

Klaus scowled, and Dorian's tone became more serious.

"Darling, you need your work. What would you do without it?" He added teasingly, "You think I want you around twenty-four hours a day, getting underfoot? You’d drive me crazy."

"It’d serve you right."

Dorian smiled at this. Klaus sat down, and let his lover snuggle up to him. "Seriously, darling, I can't tell you how relieved I am. I was so worried that I was going to cause trouble for you."

Klaus saw only sincerity on the exquisite face, and suddenly realized that resigning over Dorian would only make Dorian feel guilty. Now he had a duty to Dorian to remain in NATO. He tried to remember if duty had ever led him in confusing paths before Eroica. He couldn't recall that it had.

"I suppose you're right," he said tiredly. "Very well, I won't resign."

Dorian gave him an adoring gaze. "I love you."

Klaus frowned and kissed him, but did not reply. Not out loud. Dorian, as usual, did not press him.

Klaus wished he would. Why didn't the bloody nuisance ever make anything easy for him?

Eroica no longer accepted NATO contracts, but that didn't stop him from interfering with Klaus's missions. In secrecy, usually — Dorian didn't let the alphabets know of his presence if it could be helped — but interfering nonetheless. Klaus adhered to his tradition of never admitting that Eroica was, at times, helpful. He didn't want to encourage the damned thief, even if he was in love with him.

"I want you to stay out of this one," Klaus had ordered right at the outset, when he was assigned to prevent an assassination and, preferably, apprehend Michael Frost, Killing Frost, the notorious assassin believed to be hired for the job. "It's going to be very dangerous."

If Klaus had thought about it, he would have realized that this was the worst possible way to keep Dorian out of it.

Still, Dorian wisely allowed Klaus to think he was getting his way. During the days that Klaus was tracking Frost, he saw no sign of Dorian anywhere. He was idiot enough to assume that meant that Dorian had stayed the hell home where he belonged.

Frost had discovered, somehow, that Iron Klaus was after him. Accordingly, he had countered by hunting his hunter. He had gone about his business as if completely unaware that he was being observed, and then he had come after Klaus in the dark hours before dawn.

Klaus was asleep, of course. Only instincts as finely honed as his would have been roused at the tiny sounds Frost made as he entered Klaus's hotel room. Klaus awoke just in time to throw himself off the bed just as Frost put a couple of bullets in the mattress, his silenced gun making two soft coughs with the shots.

Crouched on the ground, using the bed as a cover, Klaus's mind raced, searching for some way to retaliate. His Magnum was under his pillow. He couldn't get to it without exposing himself to more bullets. Was there anything within reach he could use as a weapon?

Frost wasn’t wasting time, crossing the room, coming around the bed. Klaus had no time to be choosy. He hurled himself on the assassin the instant the man came into view. He heard another cough as he wrapped his fingers around the man's neck, but it took a minute for him to be aware of the sudden fire spreading through his belly. A bullet right in the stomach, dammit.

Klaus tore one of his hands away from the man's neck to reach for the gun. There was another cough, but apparently this bullet had planted itself in the wall somewhere. With a vicious twist, Klaus made Frost drop the gun, and kicked it as it hit the floor. It skidded across the carpeting, and Klaus knew neither of them had much chance of finding it in the dark. He tried to break the man's neck.

He probably would have succeeded if Frost hadn't had another weapon. A knife this time, making a deep slice in Klaus's arm, weakening his grip. Klaus snarled profanities as he strove to relieve his opponent of the blade. He had to act quickly; he could tell by his increasing dizziness that he was losing blood.

They were still grappling over the knife, which made quite a few shallow cuts in Klaus's arms as they wrestled, when they both froze briefly at a whistling sound. An instant later the window had shattered and some small, hard object clattered onto the floor.

Klaus dove into the bathroom, expecting an explosion. Instead, an oddly familiar chemical smell filled the room as the object made a quiet pop.

It took Klaus a moment to recognize the smell as Eroica's sleeping gas.

"What the hell?" Frost muttered, coughing. He was fumbling for the light so that he could find his gun. Klaus swallowed a lungful of relatively clean air and launched himself at the man again, ignoring the fact that, after another minute, the worst damage he was going to be able to inflict would be bleeding on the man's clothes. But another minute after that, they would both be unconscious. If he could just stall the assassin till the gas took effect….

He knocked Frost off his feet by sheer weight. Frost had the advantage after only a few seconds; blood loss and burning pain was weakening Klaus. But Klaus had no intention of yielding. He fought fiercely even as he felt his strength slipping away.

They were both too absorbed in their struggles to hear the door opening, so they were surprised to be blinded when the light turned on.

Eroica, naturally. His mouth and nose covered by the special veil that served the vain fop as a gas mask.

Klaus and Frost both spared only a second to squint at the man in the doorway before glancing around frantically for Frost's gun. Frost saw it first, and dove for it. Klaus tried to obstruct him, but Frost was stopped from grasping the gun by a nasty cut to Frost's hand, inflicted by Eroica's expertly thrown knife. Frost flinched back with an indignant howl of pain.

Dorian had two more knives ready to be hurled. "Put your hands on top of your head," he order. "Stand up."

Frost snarled and reached for his gun again. This time, the knife not only cut his hand, but stayed planted in it, halfway of the blade buried in his flesh. His cry this time was high-pitched.

"Put your hands on top of your head," Dorian repeated patiently as he drew another knife. "And stand up slowly."

Standing in the doorway, brandishing two gleaming knives, his face coldly determined, Eroica looked like an avenging angel.

Frost grudgingly obeyed. As Klaus had expected, his movements were unsteady; the gas was taking effect. Only seconds after standing up straight, Frost crumpled unconscious to the floor.

Outside, Klaus dimly heard footsteps. His alphabets, he assumed, or maybe Eroica's team. The good guys. He relaxed and felt his tenuous hold on consciousness slipping.

Dorian had swiftly sheathed his knives and rushed to kneel beside him, looking fearfully at the rapidly spreading bloodstains. "Klaus?" he whispered, taking his lover's hand.

Klaus found just enough strength to briefly caress Dorian's cheek with his free hand. "Dorian, I…."

He would have said it, except that he passed out just then.

Klaus awoke in a hospital. He hated hospitals, but he was in no shape to argue. The nurse promptly reassured him, the first time he regained consciousness, that she had spoken with his colleagues and that Frost had been apprehended, and that he himself was going to be fine.

Between the blood loss and the painkillers, it was several days before he was able to stay awake for more than half an hour at a time. It was quite frustrating. The bullet in his stomach had done considerable damage, and he was warned of all sorts of tedious complications to come.

The first day that he was allowed visitors, one of the nurses entered with a smile. "Frau Eberbach is here," she told him.

It took Klaus about two seconds to figure out who it must be. Then he grinned. Her smile widening, the nurse left. In the hall, he could hear her saying, "You should have seen his face light up when he heard you were here!" An instant later, his visitor sauntered in.

Dorian's curly hair was swept up in a chignon and he was wearing a proper hat with a little veil, a rather formal dark blue dress, and a string of ladylike pearls. Klaus suspected he was spoofing his role of respectability a bit.

Klaus regarded him and said, loudly enough for the nurses in the corridor to hear, "Hello, Mother."

Dorian tried to look angry, but he could not control his grin. "You're lucky you're so badly injured!" he informed Klaus. "Otherwise you'd get clobbered for that. You happen to be five years older than me, old boy."

Klaus was thinking that, even in that blasted dress, Dorian was a sight for sore eyes. "You're always interfering with my missions, dammit!" he said aloud.

Dorian smiled as if relieved. "Good to hear that you're back to your old self, darling."

Klaus sat up and glared at him. "I told you to stay out of it!"

"I remember," was the bland reply.

"You could have been killed!"

"But I wasn't."

Klaus's hands clenched into fists. "Dammit, can't I rely on you to stay out of the way when I tell you to?"

Dorian returned his gaze coolly. "Are you going to hit me for saving your life?"

"I probably should, for your own damned good! Have you no sense of self-preservation whatsoever? You scared the hell out of me!"

Dorian's arch expression dropped from his face. He looked at Klaus for a moment before saying quietly, "I did?"

Yielding to a rare impulsiveness, Klaus seized Dorian's hand and pulled him roughly close, pressing his cheek to the fabric of Dorian's dress, wrapping his arms around Dorian's waist. His voice was husky as he blurted, "Of course you did! I—"

They both froze.

Dorian pulled back enough to meet Klaus's eyes. "You what?" he asked softly.

Klaus's throat closed. They locked gazes for a long minute.

"I love you," he said at last, simply, evenly. "But then, you knew that."

Dorian's smile could have melted steel - or iron.

"Yes," he said, glowing. "I did."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*Schwuchtel: German for "faggot".

 

Eroica