~18~

 In a cheap rented office, two heads bent over a radio, straining not to miss a word that emerged from the static.

***

The Major stormed into the cozy little hotel room, prepared to shake some sense into a certain errant young von dem Eberbach.

And found himself facing, not his cousin's son and a certain adolescent Englishwoman whose familial connections had made Klaus cringe when he was informed of them, but instead a familiar figure he had not seen in over two years, a tall blond man with elegant posture and a face too beautiful for a man's.

Klaus stopped for a second, able only to stare. Several months ago, he had finally stopped expecting to see that exquisitely sculpted face around every corner. Now here it was again, and that face and that slim body affected him just as they always had.

Eroica was standing beside a bed whose rumpled condition spoke of a night of exuberant pleasure. On the bedstand were two champagne glasses and a slightly wilted red rose.

The tableau was disquieting.

Dorian turned from his examination of the items carelessly scattered on the bedstand to look at Klaus.

Klaus took refuge in a snarl.

"What the hell are you doing here?!?"

Dorian regarded him. He had not seen Klaus in more than two years, but his expression was much the same: adoring, admiring, desiring. The only differences were the hint of surprise, as if he had not expected Klaus to still be attractive to him, and a wistfulness which had seldom manifested itself before.

The long absence seemed to have lowered Klaus' immunity to Dorian's sadness.

"Good gracious," Dorian murmured, irrelevant as always. "Has it really been two years since you yelled at me, Major?"

"Of course. It’s been two years since I’ve seen you!" the Major retorted, lowering his voice but not changing his tone. "Now answer–"

"Trying to avoid having you as an in-law, of course." He continued to gaze at Klaus as if mesmerized. Klaus was irritated. If Dorian was still so captivated, where the hell had he been all this time? "They've already moved on. Without checking out. I suppose they know they're being pursued."

"Your family sent you after your niece?"

"Well, I was the one to whom she addressed her runaway note. A lovely little note about how she's fallen in love with Friedrich von dem Eberbach and they're going to get married in the South of France and she knows I'll understand. And a touchingly phrased request that I wear her favorite earrings in honor of her new happiness."

"I suppose those are them," Klaus prodded grimly. Dorian was no stranger to foppish jewelry, but the pearl clusters in his ears had seemed a bit too feminine even for him.

"Of course I honored her wishes!" Dorian seemed to forget what he was saying for a few seconds as his eyes moved up and down Klaus again as if unconsciously. Klaus fancied that he could feel the gaze on his skin, through his clothes. "Actually," Dorian continued, "I insisted upon being the one to find her. Her parents would have been too hard on her, I suspect. I suppose you intend to hang your nephew up by his thumbs."

"He's behaving like an idiot and needs to learn a lesson," Klaus replied with a glower.

Dorian sighed. "I suppose you didn't do a single stupid thing when you were seventeen."

"Of course I did! That's why young people have to be shown—-" Klaus stopped.

Dorian sighed again. "Whatever young people have to be shown, I'm very sorry that it was shown to you, Major. Whatever you were shown, you still haven't recovered from it, God help you."

You never claimed what he offered you. Don't blame him for withdrawing the offer.

"I don't have time to listen to silly bullshit. I'm here to find Friedrich."

"I know. I wonder if England's refugee policy might protect him."

Klaus put his hands on his hips. The feel of the oxhide belt against his knuckles reminded him of the occasion when Dorian had stolen this very belt. He had returned it eventually – with the addition of an electronic bug. Klaus should have expected no less of such a worthy adversary. "I would have thought you would consider eloping at seventeen to be romantic," Klaus growled.

"I do. But my niece is rather giving up any future chances at romance quite early, don't you think? If they were only running around, that would be all right, but they're actually planning to get—-"

"Good God! My cousin's son may be behaving like a rake, but at least he's being an honest rake! Are you saying you'd rather he had simply—-" Klaus broke off.

"Of course I would." Dorian turned and tilted his head, studying Klaus. "You haven't changed a bit."

"What did you expect?"

Dorian shrugged, smiling slightly. "I thought that perhaps, when I saw you again, I wouldn't see the man who's possessed my soul for the last ten years."

Klaus felt that a disgusted snort was called for, so he gave one. "I always knew you would tire of the game," he tested.

"Not at all. I still love you as much as ever." As always, Dorian made the statement simply, as if heedless of its reception. "I just… it got too painful, seeing you and knowing that you were indifferent to me."

"Whatever else I was, I was not indifferent," Klaus said coldly, turning to begin searching the room. He pretended not to notice Dorian's suddenly wide eyes as he opened drawers and looked under lamps and vases in search of some clue as to where their young kinsmen had gone. Dorian's gaze had always been a balm to him, though he had never admitted it.

"Did you miss me?" Eroica's tone was lightly flirtatious, but Klaus knew the man too well not to catch the serious note in it, the undercurrent of hopeless hope.

"Don't be an idiot," Klaus retorted. This was territory he would have to reconnoiter with caution. "But I'll confess to being curious. What made you come to your senses?"

"I finally realized that you weren't going to come to yours."

"Humph. I suppose you've been pestering some other beleaguered man for the last couple of years."

"Oh, I've dated a bit, but no one special. I couldn't find anyone who could make me forget you. Though I tried hard enough."

Klaus straightened from the dresser and looked at Dorian again. Dorian's face was serious and wistful. Klaus made his decision instantly.

"We now have the same objective," he announced, schooling his expression to its usual glare. "It only makes sense for us to join forces."

Hope was timidly dawning on Dorian's face. "Then – we'll search for our runaways together?" He looked incredulous, and small wonder; in the past, Klaus had always vehemently rejected such propositions, however practical, and had worked with Eroica only when forced to.

Klaus shrugged, scowling. "If I can't keep an eye on you, you will only get in my way."

He had to turn to look out the window to escape Dorian's expression. Dorian knew better than to hope for too much, that much was clearly written on his face, but the clouded joy was clear as well. Dorian did feel the same as always. With that thought, a tight vise Klaus had not known was strangling his heart was suddenly released.

But Dorian could not continue to offer unreturned devotion. He had reached his limit. To keep that devotion… Klaus was going to have to offer something in return. It was bloody inconvenient. And how he was going to make that offer without looking like a complete idiot, he had no idea. No matter. He would find a way. If they were going to be pursuing their errant young kinsmen together, he would have plenty of opportunities.

***

In the cheap rented office, Friedrich von dem Eberbach and Sophia Devereaux exchanged looks of wide-eyed glee.

"Did you hear that? He asked your uncle to work with him! I told you!"

Sophia took off the headset, grinning. "And I told you Uncle Dorian would wear the earrings if I asked him to."

"I still can't believe your uncle's staff would help you spy on him," Friedrich remarked, still vaguely scandalized. "Bugging those earrings of yours, and my uncle's belt."

"It's for his own good. They want Uncle Dorian to catch the Major as much as we do."

"Poor Cousin Klaus. I think he's convinced everyone but himself and me that he isn't interested."

"He's convinced Uncle Dorian," Sophia agreed. "And me, too. How can you be so sure?"

"Takes one to know one," Friedrich answered briefly.

"Well, I hope you're right. I'm sure it'll be easier for you to tell your family about you and Stefan if the head of the family comes out first."

"Infinitely. But it isn't just that. I wouldn't have thought Cousin Klaus could be unhappier than he already was, but you should have seen him over the last year, when he realized your uncle gave up. Nothing overt, but if you knew him…." Friedrich gave his companion a half-smile. "And if your uncle settles down with the right man, I don't think your family will be able to give you much trouble about going to the Netherlands to marry Julie."

"Hey, our kind has to stick together." Sophia pointed at the radio apparatus with a smile. "We help them get together, they help us get together."

 

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