The Major had been slumped over, snatching what rest he could tied to the hard wooden chair, but when he heard the door creak he straightened quickly and aimed a glare at whoever was coming through it.

That "whoever" startled him so much that he promptly forgot to glare.

"Eroica?" Stunned as he was, he was not sufficiently idiotic to raise his voice above a whisper.

The thief smiled. He was wearing one of his form-fitting black catsuits, and his extravagant golden hair was tamed in a long, thick braid. Somehow, the simplicity of his garb did not make his appearance any less flamboyant than usual. He spoke softly, but in a light-hearted tone meant for exchanging pleasantries over cocktails.

"I came here to steal something beautiful, darling, but let me make certain it's in good condition first."

Klaus did not bother to be annoyed at this circumlocution. "I'm fine. Just a few scratches. They haven't gotten to the ugly stuff yet. Untie me, quick."

The Earl paused, studying him. "When I first came in, you looked so fierce. And then, when you saw it was me -- I've never seen such raw panic! Would you rather I have been one of those nasty, badly dressed men come to torture you?"

"Stop that idiotic--" Klaus stopped in mid-syllable when Eroica put a finger to his lips. In situations like these, you couldn't afford to ignore such signals, even if they were given by aggravating queers.

Sure enough, a moment later he heard footsteps in the corridor. They both froze. The steps paused and came to rest.

Eroica silently pulled a short, sharp knife out and moved toward Klaus with a catlike step. A couple of feet in front of him, Eroica stopped, his irrepressible blue eyes dancing. Klaus gave him a warning look that did not quell him in the least. Eroica let his eyes run up and down Klaus appreciatively, tauntingly, over the broad shoulders and slender waist and muscular legs. Too furious to care that it was futile, Klaus pulled uselessly at the ropes that held him, clenching his teeth. But though his face was red with anger, he kept carefully silent.

Eroica waited as Klaus strained, smiling in a way that would have gotten him punched if the Major's arms had been free. After a few seconds Klaus recognized the inevitable and held still, his jaw set as it was whenever he had to endure something bravely.

The thief looked more amused than ever at his show of stoicism. Klaus' glare would have blistered paint. Eroica moved towards him, smiling, his eyes flickering between Klaus' narrowed green eyes and his tightly set mouth.

Klaus inhaled sharply. The scent of roses filled his mind. The thief was leaning in even closer, smiling knowingly. The damned pervert had Klaus exactly where he wanted him now. Their lips were only a few inches apart.

And now, without having to claim one bit of the blame, Klaus would learn what he had been wondering about for years now....

The short blade swept, and Klaus' arms were free. He was too amazed to do anything but stare as the thief dropped to one knee to cut the ropes around his ankles. Then Dorian straightened, smiling at his surprise.

Klaus only spared a second to be surprised before he stood, massaging his arms to make blood flow into the cramped muscles. He only had two seconds for this before the guard in the corridor threw the door open; quiet as they had been, the goon had heard something. Klaus' arms screamed in protest as he knocked the goon unconscious with a couple of decisive blows and then borrowed his gun.

"I'll thrash you for this later," he growled at Eroica in a low tone as they started down the hall.

"Thrash me for not taking advantage of you?" Eroica inquired with amusement, and with red-hot irritation, Klaus realized that the thief had him there. He declined to answer, which was as close as he ever came to conceding a point.

As the silence lengthened, the Earl added, "Or for saving your life?"

"Why didn't you take advantage, you bloody pervert?" he growled.

"You're welcome, Major. Happy to save your life any old time, without even a kiss for my trouble. No bother at all."

"Answer my question, you idiot."

"After everything you've put me through, you didn't think I'd make it that easy for you, did you, darling?" Eroica whispered sweetly.

I am definitely going to thrash him, the Major promised himself as they crept through the corridors to freedom, even though he knew that even he couldn't bring himself to beat up a man who had just saved his life.

Eroica never did make anything easy for him.



illustration by Kat Benedict, originally in Companions in Chaos #1