~2~

The ball was tedious, the mission was going as smoothly as such things ever did, and the Major was in a bad mood. All in all, a normal evening.

Klaus knew better than to try to make excuses when an elderly countess of his family's acquaintance found him, made boring conversation for a time, and then suggested that he dance with her eligible daughter. He had suffered through many evenings like this. At least there was something to distract him from the tedium: an eagle's eye out for the retrieval of the microfilm. He just hoped their contractor would not prove too distracting.

Just then, said contractor stepped back into the ballroom from whatever depths of the mansion he had infiltrated. Klaus' irritation rose at the mere sight of Eroica.

"How nice," he said when his dancing partner paused in her stilted chatter. She gave him a slightly quizzical look; perhaps his words did not match whatever she had said, because she fell silent. No matter. He kept one eye on the Earl of Red Gloria as he continued dancing in silence.

He had plenty of reason to be irritated, of course. The damned thief had found what they needed and obtained it without a hitch, he'd bet anything. But how on earth could a thief not have the self-preservation to be more unobtrusive? Of course, he couldn't really help having a face that was too beautiful for a man's. But he could help his clothes. The white tuxedo was bad enough; why the hell couldn't Dorian wear a regular black one? And then there were the sapphire earrings -- earrings, for God's sake -- that perfectly matched the Earl's deep blue eyes, and beyond a doubt he knew it. But the cape, floor length and creamy white, was going too far even for Eroica. He hadn't even let the butler take it, but was sashaying around the ballroom in it.

Anyone would think Eroica was afraid that someone, somewhere, might not have figured out that he was a queer.

When the waltz was over, Klaus would make his way to the Earl's side and get the microfilm from him. Once it was in his hands, the damned thief and his idiotic wardrobe wouldn't be his problem anymore. At least, not for the rest of this particular night.

Klaus kept a suspicious eye on Eroica as he mechanically followed the line of dance. He always had hated dancing, but at times it was his duty. The Earl, he had noticed earlier that evening with irritation but no surprise, was an excellent dancer. Even now, as he was merely going from one cluster of formally dressed aristocrats and notables to another, curling toes with his blasted foppish charm, doubtless evaluating the fortune in gems displayed on every neck and wrist, he moved with annoying grace. The man was good with his body, no question.

He could have really amounted to something. Idiotic waste, Klaus thought grumpily.

Dorian gave his cape a little swirl, which irritated the Major so much that he looked away, and consequently almost missed the flash of slightly darker fabric as Eroica took something from under his cape and smoothly passed it to someone else. Looking back sharply, Klaus recognized Eroica's man Bonham, casually tucking away a long cloth- wrapped cylinder and strolling away with it while all eyes remained riveted on his employer.

So that was why the damned thief had insisted on wearing that idiotic cape.

"Blast!" Klaus barked without thinking. His partner's eyes widened.

"Excuse me?" she said.

He glanced down at her. He'd forgotten she was there. "You stepped on my foot," he muttered, and walked away, leaving behind one less candidate for the next mistress of Schloss Eberbach. He intercepted Eroica in between two clusters of people.

"Put it back," he said in a low voice.

The Earl fluttered his lashes, making Klaus fume harder. "I don't think so, Major. Really. You can't deny that I deserve something in return for my efforts on NATO's behalf here tonight."

Klaus glanced around the ballroom. None of the diplomats, aristocrats, and assorted tycoons in their fancy dress seemed to be taking particular notice of them, but still, it would likely be best to take their conversation to a slightly more private spot. Klaus seized Eroica's arm above the elbow and dragged him onto the balcony.

Dorian did not resist the grip. Instead he smiled in an adoring manner that made Klaus' teeth grind. "It's a full moon," Dorian remarked dreamily.

"Stop that perverted nonsense," Klaus ordered. "Give me the microfilm." Eroica handed it over at once, and Klaus pocketed it. "Now put that painting back. NATO is paying you for your work; that blasted stingy-bug saw to that."

"Really, Major," Eroica drawled, "you knew I was a thief when you hired me."

"Goddammit, you bloody idiot!" Klaus seized Dorian by the front of his idiotic white tuxedo and slammed him against the wall. Dorian made no resistance, as usual, simply met Klaus' eyes and waited.

Klaus parted his lips to begin one of his tirades, but then he froze, abruptly made aware by the sudden stillness of Dorian's face of the intimacy of their positions. The entire lengths of their bodies were pressed together, and Klaus could not even blame Dorian for it. He had done it all himself.

Klaus remembered that he was supposed to be yelling. "You can't just...." His voice trailed off as he lost the trail of his thought. Dorian's body was slender and warm. The thief was not moving, in fact seemed to be holding his breath.

Klaus mentally shook himself. "We can't have you stealing artworks when you're on missions for us, you idiot!" He waited for a reply, an argument, one of the Earl's frivolous observations, but none was forthcoming. Dorian was quiet, for once, scarcely breathing, his too-beautiful face still, his eyes searching Klaus' face.

Klaus found himself returning that gaze, feeling oddly safe with the Earl's unaccustomed stillness and silence. Without his usual amused expression, the supercilious pose which guarded him from the world, the beauty of his finely drawn features was even more evident, and it seemed purer, cleaner than when it was parodied by the Earl's usual Wildean manner.

Their eyes met, and Klaus saw, for once, emotion undiluted by bravado. Often he wondered if Dorian's pursuit was a mere game, if his sole objective was to kindle Klaus' temper and then stand back to watch the explosion with glee. But now, looking into Dorian's unguarded eyes, he knew that was not the case. No, Dorian meant exactly what he said, and his overly stylized way of saying it was merely defense against the inevitable rejection.

Their chests were barely touching, and the lengths of their thighs were pressed together. Klaus swallowed.

Klaus had forgotten what he had been going to say. But suddenly he realized that he had been silent for far too long. He frowned, drawing a breath to speak, and the scent of roses distracted him again.

Dorian's expression grew more reserved as he saw that Klaus was coming to himself again, though he did not adopt his drawing-room pose at once. Instead, he moved very slightly, shifting his hip against Klaus. The blood rushed to Klaus' face as he realized that he had actually responded to the bloody thief. His whole body tensed in anticipation of the mockery that must surely follow.

The corners of Dorian's full mouth turned up ever so slightly, not a smile, not mockery, but mere acknowledgement. His eyes were enormous. He did not speak, but their held gaze said enough.

Klaus released Dorian so abruptly that he stumbled. By the time he had straightened, Klaus was back in the safety of the ballroom crowd once more.

Dorian followed serenely a minute later, smiling as he tucked the microfilm he had retrieved from his beloved's pocket securely into his own breast pocket. His darling Major would be furious... but not to press an advantage like this would be idiotic.

 

 

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