A Rose Vine and A Wire Rope

by Kadorienne

 

 

Alaska was really quite a beautiful place, Klaus von Eberbach reflected as he paused in his hike to take in the mountain landscape. It was summer, which meant a bracing cool here, and the place was hardly the desolate expanse of snow he and his alphabets had always assumed. There was only snow on the highest mountain peaks, and there were not only trees and grass, but even flowers. Yet the place still had a spartan look and feel to it, like the bleak landscapes of stormy skies and rocky cliffs which were the only works of art he'd ever cared for. Too bad the Yanks had it.

Klaus continued his ascent. The incline was steep enough to make the muscles of his legs strain as he walked. Rigorous physical activity was the only thing that gave him any relief these days. He would hike until he could scarcely walk from the hotel lobby to his room. That way, he might be able to sleep tonight.

It was not till after dark that Klaus returned to the hotel, moving a bit stiffly from the harsh treatment he had given his body that day, and the ten or fifteen days previous. He paused at the front desk to inquire if there were any messages for him. There weren't. There hadn't been, since he had arrived.

He was turning to head to the elevators when a flash of gold caught his eye. Turning to it, he saw the last person in the world he wanted to see. But then, he should have expected Eroica to turn up sometime or other.

As their eyes met, Eroica — Dorian — simply smiled with unfeigned pleasure. No flirtation, at least. Not that it mattered.

Klaus' lip curled in a snarl. He turned on his heel without a word and stalked into the opening elevator. As it took him to his floor, he hoped that the Earl would take a hint and leave. Then it occurred to him just how idiotic that hope was. He suddenly cursed aloud in German, earning a wary look from the elevator's other occupants. Right now, Eroica's pursuit was the last thing in the world he needed to contend with.

In his room, he followed the same routine he had every night in the several days he had spent in this hotel. He swept the room for bugs as a matter of habit, though it was unlikely anyone would bother to spy on him now. He ordered a meal — he did not want to be around other people more than absolutely necessary, and so had avoided the restaurant downstairs, just as he had chosen long hikes or cycling on a rented mountain bike over the hotel's gym. Having eaten and bathed, he then turned off all of the lights and sat in front of the window, staring at the night sky. His attaché case rested by his feet. In this position, gazing at darkness from darkness, he smoked a single cigarette. When it was finished, he took his Magnum from the attaché case and held it, resting on his knee. He sat like that for a very long time before rising, putting the gun away, and going to bed.

Klaus had breakfast in his room, as usual, and read the paper carefully. He didn't quite believe that he was the only reason Dorian was here. But the paper reported no notable art exhibits or jewel displays. Nothing that should have attracted the Earl's capricious attention.

No, Klaus amended to himself, Dorian's attention was anything but capricious. It had been fixed on him quite constantly and steadily — and flamboyantly — for years now. Just as it had been fixed on a succession of objets d'art, until each was systematically added to the Earl's collection. Most likely forgotten once acquired, Klaus suspected. Just as he would have been forgotten, had he allowed himself to be acquired. Perhaps he should have given in, years ago, and spared himself the irritation of that constant pursuit—

Klaus stood, appalled at his own train of thought. It showed what he had come to, that such a thing could even enter his head, after so many years of discipline. He needed exercise. He dressed and hurried out of the hotel. He half worried that Dorian might be lurking in the lobby watching for him again — or still — but it was far too early for a decadent fop to be out of bed.

But when Klaus returned to the hotel that night, physically exhausted but mentally still jumpy, he realized that it was time for a change of strategy. Relentless physical exertion had not given his mind any peace. It was time to try something else. He headed for the hotel's restaurant and chose a dark booth in the bar. When a polite young man in uniform approached, he ordered a Jagermeister. But when it arrived, his eye fell on the label's words, which he had not noticed in many years, and he wished he had ordered something else.

"It is the Hunter's honor that he protects and preserves his game, hunt sportsmanlike, honors the Creator in his creatures."

If he had not been in a restaurant, he would have broken the damned bottle. Instead, he downed its contents swiftly, signaled the polite young man, and demanded Doppelkorn this time.

Only a few seconds after it arrived, before the waiter had time to go, Dorian slid into the seat opposite him. "Cointreau," he said to the waiter, then fixed his sky-blue eyes on Klaus. "How like you to exile yourself to Alaska, darling."

"Go away," Klaus grunted.

"Lovely to see you again as well, Major."

Klaus' fist slammed into the table. "Don't call me that!"

Dorian actually looked contrite. "Oh, Klaus. I'm sorry. That was dreadfully tactless of me."

"Make it up to me. Go away."

"Like everyone else did? I think not. I never run with the herd."

Klaus was making steady progress in his mission of drinking himself under the table. He paused in this project to study Dorian as Dorian accepted his own drink and whispered a request to the waiter that he keep both of them steadily supplied.

At least Dorian had had the decency to pester him in — for him — conservative clothes. Of course, the ice-cream suit was without a doubt custom made, and the tailor was likely one who clothed movie stars and royalty, and the maroon tie perfectly matched the silk handkerchief in his breast pocket and the stones in his earrings. And it would be impossible for a six-foot man with long, curly blond hair, a face far too beautiful for a man's, and a flamboyantly foppish manner to blend in anywhere. But at least he was wearing a suit, a man's suit, and not one of those outrageous frilly getups he usually favored.

As the waiter left them, Dorian regarded Klaus seriously. It was odd to see Eroica being serious, and Klaus found himself, against his better judgment, waiting to see what he would say.

"It wasn't your fault, Klaus," Dorian said gently.

"NATO disagrees with you. My chief disagrees with you. My father disagrees with you." Klaus scowled at the tabletop for a second before adding, "I disagree with you."

"That's absurd. I know you, Klaus. You don't know how to be careless. You would have crossed every t and dotted every i. If this happened, there is no way you could have prevented it."

"Prevented top secret material from getting into the hands of the KGB," Klaus said sourly. "Refrained from making a blunder that would make a first-year agent look bad. Made eight years of several agents' work utterly worthless. No way I could have prevented any of it. Bollocks. I failed. Quite inexcusably. No excuses. Now go away."

Dorian was watching him with compassion. Compassion from that pervert. It was infuriating. Klaus spent half a second considering whether Dorian feeling sorry for him was preferable to Dorian trying to drag him into bed before deciding that his real preference was for Dorian on another continent.

"So it's all true," Dorian said, crestfallen. "I had hoped this was all a clever trick to allow you to do some undercover work of some sort."

Klaus glared at him, his knuckles white around the bottle. "It's true," he retorted, his voice tight with anger. "I've been relieved of my military rank, I was thrown out of NATO, I've disgraced my family name, my father has disowned his only son and heir, and the only person I know who is still willing to speak to me is a thief and a pervert." In the back of his mind, Klaus derived a bit of nasty satisfaction from the slight flinch that marred Dorian's composure for a fleeting instant. "I suppose you thought that, now that my honor is destroyed, I'd be an easy target for your perverted desires? That I'd fall right into your — well, you thought wrong!" Klaus' voice was rising, and he was starting to attract curious glances, but he didn't care. He stood up. "Your ridiculous advances will get you nowhere, so why don't you just pack up your foppish clothes and go back wherever you came from!"

Dorian had regarded him with quiet attention throughout this diatribe. Now at last he said calmly, "Sit down, darling. I had no intention of trying to seduce you anytime soon. I was going to wait until you were in a happier frame of mind. I didn't think you would be interested in sex at a time like this." He paused, and then years of habit took over and he arched an eyebrow suggestively, his expression becoming coy. "Although, if I was wrong...."

"Pervert!" Klaus snarled before turning on his heel and storming out.

Dorian frowned slightly, annoyed with himself for slipping up. Habits, alas. "Don't worry, I'll pay for whatever he had," he told the embarrassed waiter.

Alone, Klaus considered having a few more drinks before following his evening routine, but decided that, with the Earl in the hotel, it would not be wise to get thoroughly drunk. He checked for bugs — still nothing — showered, and then took his seat in front of the window in the darkened room. Klaus watched the swirls of his cigarette's smoke catching the faint light from the half-moon. When the cigarette was through, Klaus dropped the butt in the ashtray and reached into his attaché case for his Magnum.

As soon as he lifted it, he knew that something was wrong. Quickly he checked the chamber. It had been unloaded. Switching on the lamp, he searched the attaché case, then yanked open the drawers of the bureau, all of which contained only his precisely folded stacks of shirts and trousers. His bullets were nowhere to be found. And he knew exactly who had removed them.

Sixty seconds later he was at the front desk, demanding of a sullen clerk, "What room is the Earl of Red Gloria staying in?"

The Yank looked at him insolently for a minute before drawling, "We can't give out our guests' room numbers. Security reasons." He paused in satisfaction at Klaus' silent seething before he went on, "But there is a message for you, Mr. Ehberbatch."

Klaus snatched the thick envelope from the idiot without bothering to correct the pronunciation of his name. A foreigner couldn't be expected to know better, after all. He took the envelope to a relatively private corner of the lobby before opening it. The scent of roses had betrayed its giver the instant the clerk had handed it over. Nor was Klaus especially surprised to find a room key inside, along with a short note in a decadently artistic script he had seen too many times.

From Eroica With Love, it said.

Too angry to speak, even to swear, Klaus went to the stairwell — he could not have abided holding still in the elevator — and swiftly ran up them to the tenth floor. He strode to the room whose number was on the key and opened it without knocking.

Dorian was sitting in the easy chair, a book on his lap and a wineglass in one hand. Smarmy classical music was playing, Klaus didn't know or care from where. Dorian looked up at him and smiled.

"Hello, darling. How nice to see you."

Klaus did not dignify this foppish nonsense with an answer. Without a word, he began rifling through the drawers and suitcases, but he found only foppish expensive clothing and a few ludicrous books, mostly on art history.

"You didn't really think they'd be in here, did you, darling?" Dorian inquired, not moving from his seat.

Klaus finished his search, just in case Dorian was bluffing. When it became certain that he wasn't, Klaus turned to glower at him and spoke for the first time. "Give them to me."

Dorian's expression was more serious than he had ever seen it. "What for?" he asked.

Klaus was taken aback. "Because they're mine, blast it!"

"And what are you going to do with them if I return them?" Dorian asked evenly.

"That's none of your concern."

"Oh, but it is, Ma- darling. I love you. What you do is very much my concern. And I know you too well not to be concerned about your plans for those bullets."

Klaus could come up with only one reply to this. He closed the distance between them, gathered the fabric of the front of Dorian's ice-cream suit in his fists, and hauled Dorian to his feet, glaring into his eyes. "Give them to me," he ground out between clenched teeth.

Dorian let his book fall to the floor. He looked apprehensive, but did not even try to evade Klaus' grasp. Not that he would have had a chance of succeeding anyway. He drew a breath. "You'll get them back. I mailed them to your flat in Germany."

Klaus glared at him for a moment before shoving him away. "Get out of here now or I will hurt you."

Dorian let a moment pass before he spoke, his tone amused. "Klaus... this is my room."

Klaus whirled, his face murderous. Dorian was as imperturbed as ever. For a long minute Klaus thought he was not going to be able to refrain from smashing the Earl's too-lovely face, but then he stalked out of the room, then out of the hotel. It was cold and he did not have his coat, only his relatively light jacket, but he walked through the dark streets anyway. At least the cold distracted him. A little bit.

Distracted him from the truth about himself. That he had spent years — all his adult life, and his adolescence too — trying to disprove. Eroica had been a constant, annoying reminder, every time Klaus managed to almost forget. Until now, when, after years of successfully fooling everyone in the world except himself and his father — and Eroica, damn him — he had finally shown his true colors, had made the idiotic blunders he'd always known were only an inch away, had utterly and irretrievably failed in his mission, in his career....

Klaus looked up at the stars, which always seemed brighter in the cold. Their remote peace gave him no relief. The fact remained that he had ruined everything he had worked for all of his life, and now he was left to begin again, to see if anything could be salvaged. He had to find a new purpose, and a new occupation, and new ways to fill his hours. He had to find a new reason to live.

If he was to live at all.

In the morning, Klaus opened the door to room service's soft knock. When he saw the person pushing the dining cart, he promptly moved to block the way into his room. Dorian, naturally. Dressed more like himself this time, in a white shirt with ruffles at the cuffs, black trousers that fit his lean hips and legs quite snugly, and flashing gold bracelets. He looked like a movie pirate. Though Klaus had seen him wearing worse.

"You've done it at last," Klaus informed him grimly. "You've proven that your silly protestations to me are true."

Dorian's blue eyes widened. "Really, darling? How on earth have I done that?"

"Only true love could have made you get up at this hour."

Dorian's laughter was genuine and delighted. "Klaus! I had no idea you had a sense of humor!"

"It is seldom appropriate for me to display it," said Klaus, still grim. His jokes were ironic, dry, and almost always unvoiced.

"Don't worry, darling." Dorian winked unabashedly, causing Klaus to scowl at him. "Your secret is safe with me."

The aptness of the words prompted Klaus to speculate on their veracity, if applied to other areas. A moment later, Dorian's voice broke into his reverie and he realized that he was still standing in the doorway.

"Are you going to let me in to serve you, or are you just going to snatch the cart away and throw me out?" Dorian inquired.

Klaus' first impulse was to take the latter action, but such tactics had not discouraged the Earl before. Perhaps if he let him in, he could persuade him to leave Alaska. He stood back from the door. Dorian's face lit up and he wheeled the dining cart inside.

The Earl tried to fuss over Klaus, spreading a napkin and draping it in Klaus' lap, asking how he liked his coffee, but Klaus put a stop to it. "Sit down, you idiot," he snapped. "I want to talk to you."

Dorian bounced into the seat opposite him and started pouring his own coffee. To Klaus' surprise, he took it black. He'd have thought a foppish pervert would have sweetened his coffee beyond recognition. "I am all attention, darling."

"Stop calling me that."

"Stop calling me 'pervert' and 'idiot'," Dorian countered sweetly. Klaus glowered. Dorian glowed. The first round went to Dorian.

Klaus braced himself with a swallow of hot coffee. "I want you to leave this hotel."

"Why, of course, if you plan to check into a nicer one. I hope you appreciate my being here. I can't think of another man for whom I'd be willing to endure such dismal accommodations," Dorian said lightly, waving a disdainful hand around at the admittedly simple hotel room. Klaus had chosen a functional middle-priced hotel. Of course the Earl was used to more luxurious surroundings. If he proved stubborn about lingering, perhaps Klaus could scare him off by moving into some unhygienic, badly decorated flophouse.

"Stop pretending you don't understand me," Klaus ordered. "I want you to stay away from me."

"Nonsense, darling, of course you don't. And even if I believed you, which I don't for one moment, do you actually think I'd leave you alone when you need me the most?"

Klaus shot to his feet. "I don't need you!" he sputtered furiously.

Unmoved by the outburst, Dorian drawled, "Of course you do. Why not admit it? Even Iron Klaus needs someone from time to time. No one is completely—"

"Dorian! Listen to me, you bloodyminded pervert!" But then Klaus calmed himself with an effort and sat back down. Years of invective had not deterred Eroica in the slightest. Perhaps reasoning would. Though Klaus doubted it. But it was something he had not tried before. "Dorian, what would it take to convince you to go away and leave me alone?"

Dorian looked pensive as he spread jam on a croissant. After considering for a couple of minutes, he answered slowly, "You would have to convince me that you were happy."

Klaus made a little sound of disgust. "Happy? Who in this world is happy? It is childish and self-indulgent to attach much importance to such matters."

Dorian looked innocently horrified, like a small child seeing cruelty for the first time. "My poor darling," he said softly, sadly. "How in the world did you get like this? Am I the only person in the world who wants to make you happy instead of demand that you reach some sort of Procrustean standard?"

"I don't care for your methods of making me happy," Klaus said curtly.

Dorian lifted a brow. "I told you that I had no intention of trying to seduce you anytime soon. Not until you're yourself again. As far as I'm concerned, your chastity is quite safe for the time being."

"Then why are you here?" Klaus demanded.

Dorian actually looked hurt. "I'm here for you, darling. This is what friends do for each other in difficult times."

"We're not—" Klaus broke off the sentence. Dorian looked slightly chastened, but not remotely close to giving up.

"I'm your friend, Klaus, whether you wish me to be or not. And I won't abandon you now." He gave a lopsided smile that looked more honest than any other expression Klaus had ever seen on his face. "The only way you'll get rid of me is to kill me. But don't worry." His artful manner was back in place. "I set my affairs in order before leaving England, so no one will be much inconvenienced if you do."

"Idiot," Klaus growled. "Why? In God's name, why do you follow me like this? I've done nothing but insult and even assault you from the beginning! And yet you still persist in flinging yourself at me!"

"Of course, my love. All of that simply proves how much you need me," Dorian replied composedly. Klaus replied with a few obscenities in German, which turned out to be a mistake, because Dorian knew what they meant and gave his most flirtatious smile. "If you like, darling. Shall we finish breakfast first, or do that right now?"

"Pervert."

Dorian sighed. "Klaus, let's be serious."

"I have been!"

"I'm not going to leave. And I'm not going to try to get you into bed. But I know you must need someone to talk to. When you're ready to admit that... you have someone."

Klaus was stopped. Dorian's tone and expression were simple and sincere. The perverted fop actually meant what he said, just that and no more. Why? Why couldn't he have turned his back on Klaus along with the rest of the world? Of all the people to be loyal to him, why did it have to be Eroica?

But no, it was fitting, in a cruel and ironic way.

"Perhaps you could answer a question, then," Klaus said after a time.

"Anything, darling."

Klaus grimaced. "At least use my name instead of that idiotic endearment. What I want to know is... what in God's name has led you to believe that you might succeed in getting me into bed? Because you won't. Have I inadvertently done something to encourage you?"

Dorian considered. "You have protested rather too much."

Damn it. "You know I'm not a pervert like you," Klaus said carefully.

"You're nothing like me," Eroica replied with equal care.

"Then why do you still persist?"

"I'm an incurable optimist."

"In other words, an idiot."

Dorian sighed. "Klaus, I haven't given up because I can't. I'm in love with you, and I can't imagine us staying apart forever. We belong together."

Klaus stood, dropping his napkin on his plate. "Dorian, I am tired of arguing with you. I am going out, and I want to be alone. If you follow me, I will react as I always have when your presence has been unwelcome. But I am simply asking you to respect my wishes and not follow me today."

Dorian rose as well. "Give me your word that you won't commit suicide today."

"You still think my word is good for anything?"

"Don't be absurd. Of course I do."

Hard green eyes met wide blue ones for a strained minute. "I give you my word," Klaus said.

"Then I won't follow you," Dorian agreed reluctantly. "But why don't you have dinner with me, darling? Say, seven o'clock? You should have had enough isolation for one day by then."

"Idiot," Klaus said before stalking out, leaving Eroica in his room. Why not? It wasn't as if a lock could keep him out. And really, there was nothing Klaus would miss if it were stolen.

Klaus' first errand of the day was to buy new bullets. Then he went on one of his long, exhausting hikes. His mind was occupied the entire day with speculation about how he could get Dorian to go away. The man had been a constant annoyance ever since that day seven years ago when he'd declared — declaimed, really, posturing like an idiot actor — "I believe our paths have been crossed somewhere already. I think an entanglement of wire rope and a rose vine is a rather sadistically wonderful combination." Ever since then, Klaus hadn't been able to get rid of him.

It was not until he was almost back at the hotel that he realized that he had scarcely even thought of his tarnished honor or newly pointless life all day.

Dorian has accomplished his purpose, Klaus thought wryly. He's gotten my mind off things after all.

He remained wryly, bleakly amused until he reached his room and discovered that it was crammed full of roses. Fragrant red roses, in vases and wreaths and garlands, completely blanketing the whole stupid room. There was not even space to sit down, or to set down the small box containing his new bullets.

A closer look revealed that the garlands were made of wire ropes with roses twined about them.

Dead center, right on the bed, was a white envelope, a stark contrast to the sea of red petals.

Klaus looked at the envelope as if it were the barrel of a gun. At last he picked it up and pulled out the square of paper inside. When his eye fell on the contents, he snorted aloud in disgust. It was one of those stupid Japanese poems, or was it Korean, a haiku or a sestina or something.

The taut wire rope frays
The rose vine twines with it
Wonderful tangling
~From Eroica With Love

His hands slowly crumpled the pristine white paper. Klaus stared at the lavish display, his blood pressure escalating with each second, until he had no choice but to sprint to the stairs and up them to Eroica's door. He pounded on it furiously.

The Earl's impeccably aristocratic accent responded from inside at once, serene as ever. "Take a deep breath and count to ten, darling, and then I'll let you in."

"OPEN THIS DOOR THIS INSTANT, YOU BLOODY IDIOT!" Klaus bellowed.

"Dear me. Make it twenty."

Damn Dorian. Damn him for being so unintimidated, even when Klaus was at his most dangerous. Put to other uses, that kind of nerve would be quite admirable. Damn him for being so devoted, unasked and unwanted. Damn him for reminding Klaus of the one thing that he wanted to forget.

In a towering rage, Klaus began shouting the count at the closed door. "Eins!" Doors down the corridor began to open warily. "Zwei!" People were peering out, annoyed but afraid of the six-foot-two slender tank staring at the Earl's door as if the ferocity of his gaze could melt it. Deppen. "Drei!"

Behind his locked hotel door, Dorian giggled.

Klaus was going to burst a blood vessel. Another drop of adrenaline and he would be able to punch his way through the solid metal door. "Was ist so komisch?" He groped after his English. "What is so blasted funny, you insane pervert?!?"

Dorian's voice was full of stifled giggles. "Put your hand in your jacket pocket, my love."

Automatically, Klaus did so. His fingers met the room key Eroica had delivered to him the night before. In his fury, he had forgotten it. Feeling now as enraged at himself as at Dorian, he unlocked the door with hands that shook with anger.

Dorian was standing on the far end of the room, by the window. The bed was between them, a very rudimentary barricade.

"If this is how you react to flowers, it's a good thing I didn't send chocolates as well," Dorian remarked.

"Why did you do that?!?"

"To remind you that I care, my love." Looking Klaus over with wary amusement, he asked, "Should I strangle myself and save you the trouble?"

Klaus stalked across the room, straight for Dorian. Dorian did not move, though the tension in his posture belied his cool expression. Klaus stopped when they were a foot apart. The moment he had seen those blasted roses, he had known this was inevitable now, after all those years of hard fighting.

 

Dorian held his breath as the love of his life stalked toward him exuding menace, violence in his eyes. Really, this was a bit more than he'd bargained for. He'd expected a few growls and to see a handful of hotel employees hustled up to remove his gifts. He had merely hoped to irritate Klaus out of his despondency for a time. But how those green eyes glittered — now he knew he'd be lucky to escape with a black eye.

When the expected assault came, he was totally unprepared. Unprepared for what he'd dreamed of and schemed for and hoped for over years.

Klaus seized him, yanked him close, and claimed his mouth for a brutal, bruising kiss.

At first Dorian was too surprised to respond, or to do anything but moan. Then he simply wound his arms around his one true love's neck and surrendered. Surrendered to the kisses, which did not become one bit gentler, and to the hands that were shredding his clothes — an Adrian suit, James would have a fit....

Dorian had imagined making love to Klaus a thousand times. A hundred thousand. He had expected to have to coax him. He had expected to be the one who had to take action. He had expected to have to prove how wonderful it could be.

Instead he found that he was not allowed to act; with that iron grip on him, he could do nothing but yield. Klaus' hands roved over him; Dorian knew that they were leaving bruises.

Dorian had also expected to have to carefully persuade Klaus to reciprocate. He had even plotted to use Klaus' sense of honor and fair play to get him to do so, if necessary. And now he found himself shoved naked onto the bed and his own pleasure being drawn ruthlessly from him while he cried out under the attack of ecstasy.

"There's no need to rape me, darling," he managed to remark dryly, his voice betraying only a hint of tremor. "I assure you I'm quite willing."

The only answer he received was to have his head thrown back for another dizzying kiss. His lips were sore. He was trembling from head to foot.

When Klaus' strong hands shoved him into a new position, Dorian's sense of self-preservation awoke at last. "Let me use my mouth, darling, please," he pleaded in a whisper. Klaus froze for a moment before giving in to this request, though he did not allow Dorian to control this act either. A shame, Dorian thought; all his skill was going completely to waste.

Perhaps next time.

Klaus' viselike grip did not let up until they both collapsed, exhausted, their limbs tangled, their breaths ragged.

It was a very long time before Klaus, staring fixedly at the ceiling, asked, "Did I... are you all right?"

"Quite, darling. I don't mind it rough."

"Pervert."

Dorian laughed softly. "You can talk!"

After a moment, Klaus said stiffly, "You are right. How did you know? That I was a pervert?"

It took all of Dorian's self-control not to laugh. "I didn't, darling. I merely hoped. Are you telling me you've known all along that you liked men?"

"I've known since I was twelve."

With a rush of compassion, Dorian rolled closer and folded Klaus in his arms. "My love. Why do you torture yourself over it? Over everything? What is so terrible about preferring men to women?"

Klaus scowled, though he made no move to evade Dorian's embrace. "You wouldn't understand."

"I could try."

Klaus only shook his head and sat up.

"Where are you going?" Dorian asked.

"To my room. To sleep."

"On a bed of roses? Stay with me, my love."

 

Klaus wanted to refuse. But the day's exercise — the exercise of the last several days — and the exertions of the last hour had exhausted him. The mere thought of clearing all those blasted roses off his bed was too much. He let Dorian turn back the covers and guide him between them. It wasn't long before he was asleep in Dorian's arms.

Klaus awoke before dawn and eased himself out of Dorian's arms and Dorian's bed as carefully as he could. The Earl did not awaken; indeed, he slept as soundly as a child. Klaus left the room with the silence taught by years in the spy trade.

He went into his own room long enough to take a searingly hot shower and put on fresh clothes. Then he left the hotel without breakfast — though not without leaving orders at the desk that all of the roses were to be removed from his room before he returned.

From there he proceeded to his daily hike. He bought a couple of candy bars which served as his breakfast and ate them as he walked away from town, from civilization, from Dorian.

When Klaus returned that night, Dorian was waiting for him in the lobby again. He rose to his feet, his unsuitably beautiful face lighting up. "Klaus! Thank God. I was so worried."

Klaus scowled. It was obvious from miles away what kind of man Dorian was. Standing within ten feet of him doubtless led any observers to draw conclusions about Klaus.

Not that Klaus had any reputation left to consider.

"You must be starved," Dorian said, coming to his side. "Would you prefer to go to the dining room or order room service?"

Klaus spent a few seconds weighing the relative merits of Dorian's marginally more restrained behavior in public versus the lack of concern over other people's speculation about them, and decided he was too tired to worry about it.

"I don't care. You decide."

Dorian looked downright alarmed at that, but he said only, "Then let's go to my room."

Klaus followed obediently, and in the Earl's room, sank tiredly into a chair. He had reached only one conclusion during the day's hike: that there was no point in lying about anything anymore. So he would not.

Dorian had the menu out. "What would you like?"

"Something with fried potatoes."

Dorian lifted an eyebrow. "Very well." He made the call, then sat across from Klaus, studying him soberly. "Are you angry at me, because of last night?"

Klaus felt his face burn. "I think you are the one who has cause to be angry." He had felt a stab of shame when he had noticed the sprinkling of small bruises on Dorian's skin that morning.

"Are you always like that?" Dorian inquired.

Klaus scowled at him. "What do you think, you idiot?" he demanded.

Dorian's eyes widened. "Of course. How foolish of me. That was your first time, wasn't it? And not just your first with a man, either."

Klaus looked away.

"Klaus. I'm honored." He tilted his head to one side. "I'll allow you to sodomize me tonight, if you can control yourself sufficiently not to hurt me," Dorian said archly.

Klaus' face burned. "I'm not going to hurt you tonight," he said in a voice so low Dorian could scarcely hear it. Dorian did not quite dare to close the distance between them; he could tell there was something more Klaus needed to say first. The tense silence lengthened. At last Klaus broke it, still scarcely able to speak.

"I apologize," Klaus managed.

Dorian took a breath. "Darling," was all he said before moving to take Klaus in his arms.

 

They couldn't very well give the room service man the most memorable errand of his life, so Dorian left his love's clothes on for the time being. Which was quite all right; he could happily kiss Klaus for days on end.

When the meal arrived, Dorian insisted quite firmly that they actually eat it. His beloved was going to need his strength, after all. They spoke little as they ate, and as soon as the meal was mostly eaten, Klaus had pounced on him again. At least one of Dorian's predictions had come true: once Klaus had finally given in, he gave in completely. That was Iron Klaus — nothing in half measures. But the previous night's ferocity was not repeated. That had completely vanished, and Klaus demonstrated that, iron or not, he could be gentle... and loving.

Long after midnight, they finally paused in their explorations of each other and simply held each other and drowsed, thinking of nothing.

"I love you," Dorian whispered.

Klaus' eyes opened. He no longer doubted the sincerity of Dorian's declarations. "How can you?" he asked with sudden gruffness. "The way I've always behaved toward you — how can you love me?"

After a long pause, Dorian gave a long sigh. "God knows," he said. "I've asked myself that time and again. I've tried to stop loving you. But I just can't seem to help myself." His voice broke off, and when it resumed, it was tight with held-in tears. "And I'm so glad we've got this time now, but I know that you're going to break my heart."

Klaus lay uneasily still as Dorian rolled away, turning his back on him, clearly trying to restrain his sobs. One corner of his brain demanded what in God's name he was doing lying in a bed beside a naked, long-haired pervert who didn't even know that crying was not a manly thing to do. The rest of it was too busy trying very hard not to put what it now knew into words.

Slowly, as if moving underwater, Klaus reached out and put a hand on Dorian's shoulder. Dorian attempted to shrug off this inept attempt at comfort. His ire roused, Klaus seized Dorian and pulled him roughly close. As he might have expected, this only made Dorian weep the harder, without restraint now, while Klaus held him, at a loss.

But after a few minutes, Klaus found that he had to speak. Words which he probably would regret, but they demanded to be said.

"Dorian... you're right. I probably will. But I'll break my own with it." As Dorian stifled his sobs to hear, Klaus heard his own voice whispering, "I love you."

Dorian stopped crying. They lay in helpless silence, until Dorian said at last, "Then it will be worth it."

The next morning, Dorian awoke to find his lover still beside him. He smiled contentedly and snuggled close. Klaus opened his eyes and frowned, but made no resistance.

The bigger they come, the harder they fall, Dorian mused, but decided it would be wiser not to share the joke with his iron-clad darling.

"I have no idea what to do with the rest of my life," Klaus said flatly.

Dorian kissed him. "Good morning to you too, darling. Shall I order us a nice big breakfast?"

"Can't you ever be serious?"

"My love, they call us gay for a reason." He added, "I thought about making a suggestion about how you might spend the rest of your life, but I was afraid you'd hit me."

Klaus' face became granite. "Dorian... I'm sorry. I will never strike you again. No matter what the provocation." It was so typical of Iron Klaus that he should look his sternest and fiercest when apologizing and promising to be kind.

Dorian arched an eyebrow. "It's quite tempting to test that resolution, my love, but I think you deserve for me to restrain myself for once." More seriously, he added, "Right now, actually, I'm simply overjoyed to hear that you plan for there to be a rest of your life."

Klaus nodded briefly and rose to go to wash his face. He made the proprietary gesture of using the Earl's silver-backed hairbrush without asking. Lying in bed, Dorian watched contentedly.

"I've always wondered about that hair of yours," Dorian remarked. "Not long enough for a hippie, but far too long for a military man."

"Precisely." Klaus looked grimly into the mirror. "I grew it out like this to remind myself, every time I shaved, that I wasn't altogether the — your English word is apt — clean-cut agent I strove to be. But neither can I become one of you, you frivolous, irresponsible, long-haired degenerates. I don't truly belong anywhere. It is my fate to be an oval peg in a round hole."

"Almost fitting, but never quite," Dorian said thoughtfully. "Much more frustrating than being an out-and-out square peg, I should think."

Klaus shrugged.

"I was determined to behave like a gentleman while I was here," Dorian confided. "I wasn't going to get fresh with you no matter how golden the opportunity. Why is it that I finally get you into bed when I'm not trying to?"

Klaus sighed, putting the brush down and coming to sit on the edge of the bed. "I have nothing left to lose."

Sadly, Dorian answered, "Then I'll have to give you something new." He sat up and caressed Klaus' cheek. Klaus frowned at him, but he looked more pensive than annoyed. Dorian leaned close and whispered, "I don't know about the rest of your life, but I have a splendid idea about what you could do with the rest of this month."

That afternoon the Earl of Red Gloria and a companion checked into Anchorage's most luxurious hotel.

Like most ascetics, having yielded to the flesh once, Klaus found that he no longer had the slightest resistance. When he and Dorian were alone, he could not keep his hands off the blond man for an instant. Even when others were present, it was all he could do to restrain himself. And in the dark, Dorian's slightest gesture had the power to reduce him to trembling, helpless need, and Iron Klaus would dissolve into a crazed, lust-driven animal who could be drawn into anything his lover desired.

Klaus still had not found a new purpose in life, but his methodical search for one had not ended. More importantly, he no longer doubted that he would find one. Dorian felt no need to steal his new box of bullets.

Dorian had never been happier. Being with Klaus was just as wonderful as he had always known it would be. And as their days of enjoyment stretched into weeks, he allowed himself to hope that they might last forever, and finally to determine that they would. Now that he had Klaus, he would never let him go, come hell or high water.

Hell and high water came toward the end of their third week together. It was afternoon, and Dorian was lolling by the indoor pool watching the perfect body of his one true love swim laps with methodical intensity. When he finished, he got out, water dripping from all those gorgeous slender muscles; he reached for the towel Dorian held out for him and glanced around the large room as he dried his face.

Dorian could pinpoint the exact instant that his darling became Iron Klaus again. His whole stance changed. His off-duty, "relaxed" bearing seemed straight and military enough, until one saw his true military posture. The wire rope went from slack to taut.

"Let's go to our suite," Klaus ordered in a low voice. Even Dorian knew better than to argue.

When they were upstairs and alone, Klaus wordlessly and promptly took his Magnum and bullets from his attaché case and checked them.

"What happened down there, darling?" Dorian asked evenly.

"I saw someone I know."

"A bad guy, I take it."

Klaus' face became, impossibly, even grimmer. "Very bad."

"What are you going to do?"

"Catch him, of course."

Dorian licked his lips. "Klaus... you know, you aren't a NATO agent anymore."

Klaus' chilly green eyes fixed on him, and Dorian held his breath.

"I may be a disgraced pervert," Klaus said flatly at last, "but I'm still Iron Klaus." With that, he stalked into the bedroom and started one of his routine sweeps for bugs.

Dorian smiled slightly and spoke softly to the empty sitting room. "I'm glad you understand that now, darling."

 

 

Read the sequel, Hell and High Water.

From Eroica With Love