~1~

Klaus opened his eyes and promptly closed them again. It didn't help. Even though he could no longer see the mane of golden curls on the pillow beside his, he could still smell the scent of roses.

He lay still for a minute before sitting up, feeling surprisingly calm. Dorian's robin's-egg eyes opened and settled on him, waiting, revealing nothing.

"Do you mind if I shower first?" Klaus asked politely.

There was a tiny shade of relief in Dorian's face. "Not at all."

Klaus stood and headed for the bathroom. "Why don't you order breakfast for us while I'm in here?" he asked.

Under the steaming water, trying to lather with the idiotically small soap bars hotels inflicted on their guests, Klaus went over the mental jumble of the previous night's events. The mission, of course... completed successfully, as far as keeping certain intelligence out of the wrong hands, of course, but not as far as P, T or R were concerned. And even though Klaus knew he had done all that he could, and even though it was a hazard of the job and they all knew it going in, still as always he could not stop blaming himself.

He remembered the tap at his door late last night, and Eroica standing there with a large bottle of strong drink. The Earl hadn't been in the least flirtatious or seductive, Klaus remembered that well enough. He had been quiet and serious, ready to listen or to remain silent, whatever Klaus needed....

Klaus closed his eyes and turned his face to the stinging spray of the shower. A little more than a year ago, he had admitted to himself that it might happen, someday. It had never occurred to him that he might be the one to initiate it.

When he emerged, wrapped in one of the hotel's bathrobes, Dorian looked at his face quickly and then went into the shower without comment. Klaus accepted his silence gratefully. Just as Dorian had been willing to be quiet and slow and gentle the previous night, he was still providing what Klaus needed. He had never seen Eroica so sedate before. And it was a blessed relief. This morning, as with the previous night, to hear any of those supercilious, drawling remarks would have been more than he could bear. He spent a few minutes gazing somberly out the window. He was glad it was grey and cloudy. Sunshine on this day would have been intolerable.

He was fully dressed when room service knocked. The waiter had scarcely gone when Dorian emerged, his curls darkly damp, looking younger than usual with his freshly scrubbed face. He remained quiet and watchful as he sat across from Klaus.

"Dorian," Klaus finally said while the other man was pouring the coffee. The sky-blue eyes met his. Klaus frowned slightly at the tablecloth before saying gently, inadequately, "Thank you."

To his surprise, a sad smile flitted across the other man's lovely face. This was not the usual Eroica, arch and self-possessed, systematically driving him up the nearest wall... but neither was he the usual Iron Klaus, only a inch away from a killing rage. Both of them seemed unable to summon any of their normal defenses.

It was a couple of minutes before Dorian spoke, and then it was to say, simply, "I love you."

When he did not continue, Klaus said, "Dorian, I'm not... I don't know if we can... ever again."

The blond man nodded calmly. "You know where to find me."

Klaus had braced himself for an appeal. When none was forthcoming, he found that he had to speak. "I hate to -- to use you and cast you aside, but I honestly don't know if I can do this."

Dorian drew a long breath and considered before answering. "Klaus, I've always known that our first morning after would probably be rather awkward." Klaus frowned at the Earl's matter-of-fact tone. "I half expected you to beat me senseless this morning."

"You did? Then why...."

"It would have been worth it."

Klaus only shook his head, staring at his plate as if he had never seen bacon and eggs before. He never had understood Eroica. Now he understood him even less.

Dorian had eaten a few forkfuls of egg in a disinterested fashion. Now he put down his fork and stood. "I'm not hungry. I'll get dressed and go now," he murmured.

Klaus continued to pick at his own food absently, not watching as Dorian reassembled his frilly, foppish ensemble. But as the Earl moved towards the door, he spoke again. "Dorian." When the other man turned to look at him, Klaus frowned, staring into his coffee cup. "I need--" he broke off, searching for tactful words.

Dorian gave a weary half-smile. "I won't tell anyone," he said drearily.

"Thank you," Klaus said formally, embarrassed.

Dorian studied him for a moment. "May I ask for something in return?"

"What?" he asked, looking at Dorian warily.

The answer was very quiet. "A goodbye kiss."

Relief and something else poured into Klaus' heart. He stood. "You didn't have to bargain for that, Dorian."

Dorian surrendered to his embrace easily, and the two studied each other's faces for a long moment before their mouths joined. As the moment stretched, Klaus forgot everything else.

Dorian stepped back. "I love you," he whispered again, and left without another word.

Klaus went to stand by the window again. Neither of them had been behaving normally this morning. God knew how they would face each other again, or when. The only thing Klaus was certain of was that the kiss they had just shared would not be their last.

 

 

Snippets

Eroica