by Thia

Of course Dorian had heard of the Astarte of Adana. He'd dreamed over her picture in his art history texts, trying to read the ancient secrets hidden behind her blank eyes. Alas, when the Astarte finally emerged from her hiding place and went up for auction, Dorian's team refused point-blank to go into the Middle East to retrieve her. "Too soon after the last time," Bonham explained apologetically. Thus the Astarte vanished from Dorian's knowledge again.

Two weeks before Dorian's birthday, he received a newspaper clipping in his mail, dateline Nice. A private collector was to open his doors to the public, July 26th through 28th only, proceeds benefiting some charity or other. The collection included several very dull modern pieces, one or two rather plebian Greek marbles — and the Astarte.

Dorian checked the postmark. France. He smiled to himself, and passed envelope and clipping on to Bonham.

One week before his birthday, a thicker envelope arrived — plane tickets, not only for Dorian but for his entire team, down to Nice. James' eyes went wide at the implied expense, and one or two of the newer members cautiously suggested it might be a trap.

Dorian shook his head, but glanced at Bonham. Bonham coughed. "You were right about the handwriting, m'lord. He still might—"

"He wouldn't," Dorian interrupted blithely. "It's a birthday present, after all." And so delightfully subtle of Klaus, too. He hadn't thought the Major had it in him.

So it was that Dorian Red Gloria greeted the evening of his birthday in his favorite outfit — a skintight black cat-burglar suit. Two of the lads took care of the motion-sensors out by the wall. One of Jones' ingenious devices hissed smoke into the air, pinpointing the lasers that barred the hallway, so Dorian could slide and arch and dance his way through them. The guards by the inner courtyard struggled for only a little while against the gas grenade Dorian tossed in — all this before ever he reached the safe where the collector had stowed the Astarte after his brief, boasting 'exhibition'. In a safe, Dorian thought with a silent, commiserating shake of his head. Beauty like the Astarte deserved to be admired, nay, worshiped as she was in the old days. Not tucked away in some drawer.

But in the meantime...he leaned in, listening intently, as he turned the knob. This he loved better than all the fancy tricks Jones might invent: good old-fashioned burgling, the skill of his hands and his ear against the skill of the safe-maker. Nine left — seven right — two, three, four, five, six left — ah! And the door opened.

Astarte lay in the center of the safe, wrapped in black velvet. Holding his breath, Dorian flipped open the black velvet to reveal her — hardly bigger than his gloved hand, ivory-pale, a chain of lilies about her neck flaunting her utter lack of modesty. Lilies — ah, the ancients had the right idea about that flower. None of this church-yard purity. Lilies were for beauty alone. Unless you meant a Major of his acquaintance, who managed both beauty and purity, and wouldn't Klaus abhor that comparison...

"Are you finished staring?"

"Not quite yet," Dorian said, an even more delicious shiver chasing up his back. He recognized that voice, and oh, that made things even better. "It's splendid to see you, Major."

"I didn't come here to see you, Eroica," Klaus informed him, not moving from the shadows that hid him, over by the door. "There is an envelope of papers next to your Astarte. Hand it to me."

Orders, always orders. Klaus would have to wait, Dorian thought stubbornly: this was his birthday. He tucked Astarte away into his bag and replaced her with a cheap plastic replica he'd brought with him, before wrapping it up in the black velvet once more.

"Eroica. The guards are waking up. We don't have time."

Startled, Dorian glanced back over his shoulder. Klaus had stepped out of the shadows at last: he wore nearly the same sort of cat-burglar suit that Dorian himself preferred, black and black, Magnum deadly at his shoulder. Not a white lily, staid beauty and starched purity, but a black lily. "One moment," he said, and tweaked the manila envelope out of the safe to fall neatly into his hands, then closed the safe and spun the lock carefully back to the same spot it had been in before.

As usual, Klaus hardly waited for him before setting off down the hallway. Dorian followed, paying attention to the different path they followed with only half his mind. Klaus was quite beautiful from behind — and he knew Dorian thought so. Either his Major was being enormously subtle indeed, or very careless.

"Stop staring at me, pervert," Klaus hissed over his shoulder. He knelt down, and peered around a particular corner, then drew his Magnum. "Two guards. I'll go first and knock them out."

"I could go first and distract them," Dorian offered, keeping his voice just as low.

Klaus shook his head. "Too easily identified later. Herr Reisen would be after you for this— He gestured with the manila envelope. "The KGB will kill for it much sooner than another collector would kill for that heathen goddess in your bag."

So Dorian watched around the corner as Klaus dispatched the two guards with one punch each, then applauded softly. Klaus glared and grabbed him by the wrist, dragging him along the hallway. Four doors down, he stopped. "My men are to the left," he said quietly. "Yours are off to the right: that door leads to a window out."

"So considerate." Dorian rubbed his wrist ruefully, and batted his eyelashes at Klaus.

To his infinite astonishment, his black lily smiled at him, took his hand, and kissed the back of it. "Happy birthday, Eroica." Klaus straightened up immediately and walked quickly out of the hallway, almost a run.

For a long, long moment, Dorian could only stare at the empty hall. Then he looked down at his hand, half-expecting some mystical imprint from Klaus's lips. He was right. He was winning. Astarte had brought him luck: he would have to tell James never, ever to sell her.

Humming under his breath, Dorian turned right. He hadn't gotten any flowers, but this would do splendidly. A job to his taste, to match his gift to Klaus — and just a little bit more. Oh, life would be glorious this year, he knew it!