The Thistle

by Thia

His alarm went off at 6 AM precisely. Habit dragged him out of bed, carefully trained and fostered habit. A traitorous part of Klaus von dem Eberbach wished, quite intensely, that today he could turn the verdammt thing off, roll over and go back to sleep. A headache pounded at his temples. Not a hangover, as he never drank to excess. Just a headache.

Klaus popped two aspirin into his mouth, grimly ignored the complaints of his body as he stripped, and stepped into his shower.

He'd nearly finished his second cup of Nescafe at breakfast when he noticed the flower in a vase sitting in front of him. Not the usual decorous arrangement from the Eberbach hothouses. Not a rose either, for which Klaus supposed he should be grateful, as a rose would have meant Eroica was about somewhere, and he'd have to shout at the fucking faggot for breaking in. His head wouldn't take much shouting. It wasn't a rose, though. Something purple and spiky. It looked like a little soldier, standing upright in the vase.

"What's that?"

"A thistle, sir," the butler said, standing very stiff indeed against the wall and not looking at Klaus. "The housekeeper desired to try something, er, different."

"Mmm." Klaus studied the thing a moment more, then turned back to his breakfast. At least the flower didn't smell of anything. His headache still hadn't gone away.

When Klaus reached the office, he opened the door to find half the Alphabets missing. He opened his mouth to demand their whereabouts, and stopped short when Z looked up, rose to his feet, and came over. "The Chief wants to see you, sir," he said respectfully.

Klaus closed his mouth again. The same part of him that had wanted to sleep in imprudently pointed out that shouting would have only made the headache worse. He ignored it, again, and headed off to his Chief's office, wishing he'd brought the bottle of aspirin with him. The headache was likely to only grow worse after this conversation.

He found the Chief talking with G, A and B, though the conversation broke off as soon as Klaus stepped through the door. "Eberbach," the Chief greeted him. "Good, good. I've a mission for you -- something Interpol has handed over to us."

"Eroica?" Klaus automatically came to a stop in front of the Chief's desk, standing at attention.

"No, not Eroica." The Chief glanced over at G and A quickly, then back to Klaus. "Some sort of illegal weapons sales, you know the kind. Except every single buyer so far has been rebels -- in Afghanistan, in the Russian Republic, in the Balkans, even in those far leftists in France -- so Interpol thought it might be politically motivated, more our department than theirs."

Klaus took the folder of information the Chief handed him, and flipped through it unenthusiastically. "Paperwork, sir?"

"More like paper trail, sir," A said, speaking for the first time.

Klaus looked up (though his head protested at the quick movement). "Do we know where the arms sellers are based?"

"Hints only," the Chief said, grumbling rather. "I want you to track down those idiots and teach them a lesson."

Klaus smiled despite the pain. "Yes, sir!"

* * *

It took him longer than at breakfast to notice the oddness at the office. Yes, he had this fucking headache which aspirin apparently couldn't touch, but that was no excuse. He'd tracked those arms-mongering fuckers through three layers of false corporations, hadn't he? He could think, headache or no headache. The oddness just wasn't anything...obvious. Not like a rose in a vase. More like a what-did-they-call-it, a thistle, instead of a proper arrangement of hothouse flowers.

The Alphabets were at half their complement -- but it was the good half, the ones he knew could be depended on to track down the information they'd need, or shoot straight, or soothe the politicos after Klaus had trodden on some idiot's dainty sensibilities. The real idiots were all somewhere else. Alaska, Klaus hoped. He'd threatened them with it often enough.

Further, the ones who were there, were all... well, on best behavior. B hadn't panicked once, even when Klaus glared at him. G wore a nice dark suit with pants, though Klaus suspected they were still women's pants. Even the Chief didn't tweak him once about his cigarettes, though he glared when Klaus lit up during one of their conferences.

Odd. Subtly off. The little part of him that he was ignoring made a few suggestions as to the reason, and the person behind it, but Klaus paid it no more attention than he had before. He had better things to concentrate on.

Just before the end of the day, R (their best hacker) tracked down the name and address of the goddamn idiots who'd tried to start up World War Three. Klaus wanted to go grab them right then, but the Chief pointed out they needed more evidence -- er, more legally acquired evidence. Which they could get by staking out the address until the next sale was due to take place, in two days. Since the address was conveniently within driving distance of Bonn, everyone except those on actual stake-out duty (which pointedly did not include Klaus) were firmly sent home. Klaus protested, but the headache still hadn't gone away, so he didn't protest nearly as hard as he might have done.

When he arrived home at Schloss Eberbach, the thistle was still sitting on the dining room table. He looked at it every so often as he ate dinner. Then he went upstairs, worked out, took his shower, and went climb into bed.

Someone had left a card on his pillow. No signature. It merely said, 'Happy Birthday.'

Klaus stared at it. The little voice in the back of his head was screaming now, and all the headaches in the world couldn't block it out. The card didn't smell of roses, but really it didn't need to. Who else would do such a thing? Eroica couldn't have controlled it all, but the thistle this morning, the mysterious vanishing of the real idiots among his agents, the mission exactly to his taste, even the good behavior of the Alphabet and the Chief...

Klaus hesitated a long moment, then tossed the card into the fire. He was tired, and his headache was finally, finally, beginning to fade.

Tomorrow, he'd find out when Dorian's birthday was. He'd never let the faggot show him up before, he told himself with a little smile. He didn't intend to start now.