by Jane Carnall
for Barbara with love, in lieu of kisses
"Really? All three of you?" Dorian smiled widely. "I'm delighted."
Sugar blurted "You don't even mind about Caesar?"
"You forget. I still have that adorable statue you and Leopard were kind enough to make for me."
"I shall send you a wedding present. Caesar will look charming in white, but I won't attend the ceremony."
"We're not getting married," Leopard said. "Sugar won't -- "
"Marry one of them and not the other, and even if -- "
"Leopard and I could be married, we couldn't -- "
"Find anywhere that would marry three people to each other," Leopard finished.
Dorian waited a moment, until he was quite sure they were finished. "I had in mind a rather more practical way to marry," he said. "Incorporation."
Dorian went to the window and signalled. He had been unable to prevent James from coming along on this visit to Caesar Gabriel. Bonham was holding him in the car, but nothing could hold James if he thought that Dorian wanted him.
Seconds later, James flew into the room, hair flopping over one eye as usual, waving a handgun and yelping "My lord! I knew you couldn't trust him!"
"Be quiet, Mr James..." Dorian looked at Leopard. "Do you know how to use guns?"
"Good. Take it away from him." Leopard did, with a muscular ease and grace which Dorian found admirable.
James did not. His eyes widened, tears beginning to drip. "That cost a lot of money!"
"He'll give it back to you when you leave," Dorian promised.
Leopard, unloading the gun, looked as if he thought this unlikely.
"I have a job for you, Mr James..."
James' distress cleared up instantly. "My lord!"
"These three lovely young people have decided to get married." James showed absolutely no surprise; it occurred to Dorian that quite possibly his dedicated accountant didn't even know this was an unusual way of going about things. "They want you to incorporate their finances."
"We do?" Leopard asked.
"Yes, you do. Mr James is the best accountant anywhere in the world outside Japan."
James looked sulky. "Yes. But I don't want to work for that revolting boy."
Dorian sighed. James loved two things in the world; Dorian and money. He loved intensely, with endearing loyalty and distinctly annoying possessiveness. "James, my darling twit, you know I find Caesar rather irresistible. And Leopard does have a certain muscular charm." James' face screwed up to howl. "But," Dorian went on, "I never have affairs with married men. You really should make sure that these three very beautiful people are quite thoroughly married... they probably all have terribly muddled finances. I'm sure you can sort it out for them."
James looked brighter. "How many bank accounts do you have? Do you have separate investment portfolios? What are your insurance and pension plans?" he demanded.
"I have seventeen accounts," Leopard offered. "You see, you get special offers if you're a student opening a bank account for the first time..."
"I have investments in Tokyo, New York, and London," Sugar said helpfully.
"I'm really not sure," Caesar murmured vaguely, staring wistfully over James' shoulder as the Earl of Red Gloria grinned, flirted a wink at Leopard, blew a kiss to Caesar, and waved a hand in Sugar's direction, before disappearing, silently, out the door.
"Where's James, my lord?" Bonham asked, as Dorian slid into the driver's seat.
"He's inside, in ecstasy," Dorian said cheerfully. "Where did he get the gun?"
"Stuck under the seat."
"I didn't know that." Dorian started the car.
Bonham preserved a discreet silence, while the car purred down the street. Everyone who worked for the Earl or for Eroica knew he was a complete incompetent with guns. He'd never minded having this pointed out to him until that time he stole the tank and became sporadically involved with NATO. After that, he'd grown somewhat sensitive on the subject. Not that Bonham blamed him... being shouted at by Uncle NATO was enough to make anyone sensitive.
"Still," Dorian said brightly, "from the sound of it, he'll be there for the next three days. Now..." His grin became elfinly mischievous, "I have to find a wedding present."
Lady Hunstanton greeted the Earl with pleased surprise. "My lord, I didn't know you were in London!"
"I hoped you would forgive me for attending without an invitation." Dorian smiled down at her, showing no sign of dislike.
"Didn't my secretary send you a card? Such a careless girl."
Eroica smiled. Any of his subordinates, and a certain wire rope, would have known the difference between Eroica's smile of campaign and the Earl's social graces. "The pleasure's mine, my lady." Or it will be.
Lady Hunstanton was bright enough to know that a gay bachelor didn't mean what it had meant when she was a girl, but not unladylike enough to attribute such behaviour to anyone she actually knew socially. Eroica retrieved himself from her social grip and began to circulate around the large ballroom. Hunstanton House was a wonderful place for parties, but none of the owners for the past three hundred years, nor their wives, had had any taste in art. Except for one piece, probably acquired by accident, which Dorian remembered from childhood visits to the house as being in a glass-fronted case in the third hall. Since Eroica never stole from houses when he had been invited as a guest, it was fortunate that it hadn't occurred to Lady Hunstanton to put his name on the guest-list. Eroica didn't believe the story of a careless secretary for one moment; it was just like Lady Hunstanton to put the blame on a servant.
It was a dreadful crush, which was all the better for Eroica's purposes, but meant he failed to notice a tall dark-haired figure watching him. No instinct warned him when a slender, strong hand touched his arm. "Dorian."
Eroica turned; Dorian smiled. "Tom! What on earth are you doing here?"
"Mummy invited me to lunch in Claridges. By the time she'd ordered dessert, I was just glad all she wanted was for me to come to my sister's coming-out ball."
"All?" Dorian raised his eyebrows. "Tom, darling, you hate Claridges and you hate balls."
"Yes, but I hate making scenes in Claridges."
"You should have invited me." Dorian grinned impishly. "I love making scenes in Claridges and they do utterly delicious things with whipped cream and pastry."
"I will next time. Listen, Dorian, do you mind if I stay with you all evening? Mummy's keeping an eye on me. She won't let me be a wallflower all evening -- I'd rather be a clinging vine, if I can cling to you."
Eroica did mind; although the Honourable Thomasina Hunstanton had all the aesthetic sensibility of the rest of her family, she was bound to notice if the Earl paid such particular attention as he had in mind to a certain piece of porcelain. But Dorian smiled. "For you, Tom, anything."
Tom tucked a hand through Dorian's arm. "Thanks. I'm dancing every waltz with you."
"Oh, you can waltz now?" Dorian grinned, moving casually on down the ballroom. Tom had rendered more than one dancing class interesting, in their shared childhood, by her habit of treating her dancing partners as opponents in a kicking match. She usually won. "And how's Sarah?"
"At home, watching -- " Tom glanced at her watch " -- Cagney and Lacey. We simply must buy one of those video recorders. She's fine."
They passed a glossy young man who bowed to Tom, noticed her partner, and blushed red. Dorian blew him a kiss, and added, for Tom's ears only, "Why don't you marry him? He's a perfectly nice boy, he wouldn't bother you much, and your mother would stop inviting you to Claridges for those nightmare lunches."
"No she wouldn't," Tom said dryly. "If I got married, she would start about grandchildren. If I had children, she'd never leave them alone. This isn't fair, Dorian -- just because your mother leaves you alone."
Dorian's mother had not spoken to him in six years; since she hardly went out into society, no one had noticed. Eroica smiled into Tom's eyes. "It's true. But she does have all my sisters' children to play with."
"Seven or eight," Dorian shrugged. "I send christening presents when required."
They had reached a door to the second hall; Dorian raised an eyebrow at Tom and slid them both through it. It was cooler, and less crowded. Lady Hunstanton was still standing at the top of the sweep of stairs down to the entrance hall, exchanging social politenesses with two or three older guests. The cabinet he was interested in was just up the next flight of stairs; Eroica wondered about claiming a call of nature and retreating in that direction. No, that was inartistic.
"Can I get you anything?" he offered, gallantly. "Fruit cup?"
"God, no," Tom said, alarmed. "You haven't been drinking it, have you? I saw one of my brother's brainless friends tip a bottle of Gordon's Gin into it. They've probably all been at it, it'll be lethal by this time."
"I think I'd rather just sit down," Tom said, heading for a bench half-hidden behind a pillar. "I haven't dared sit down since dinner, in case Mummy saw me and dragged another man over to partner me. And these shoes are killing my feet."
Dorian sat down beside her. Tom shot him a rueful look. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting to see you at one of Mummy's stuffy parties, but I'm really glad you came."
"I wasn't particularly enjoying it, until I saw you," Eroica said truthfully. "But I came here to look for someone, and I'll need to circulate until I find him."
Tom gave a doubtful look at her feet. "Twenty minutes and I can walk again," she said heroically, and then, more doubtfully, "I think...."
"I'll fetch you supper in twenty minutes," Eroica offered, "and we can dawdle over that until you feel like getting on your feet again."
"Wonderful." Tom leant back against the wall and sighed. "Who is it you're looking for?"
"I don't suppose you know him."
"Probably not." She was gazing absently down the hall, and suddenly started, sitting bolt upright. "Dorian... look!"
Dorian followed her glance. Eroica raised his eyebrows and said, very calmly, "Good heavens. I didn't expect to see them here."
"Do you know them?"
"Who is that gorgeous blonde? Will you introduce me?"
"What will Sarah think?"
"She'll think it's impossible to get up to anything at a ball, for God's sake. Who is that woman?"
Dorian was watching the couple, smiling dreamily. However difficult it made matters, he was very glad to see his favourite wire rope. "He's in NATO," he answered absently.
"Not the man. Though he is gorgeous," Tom added fairly. "The woman."
Dorian grinned sideways at her. "The woman is who I meant. He's in NATO. So is the other man."
Tom choked. "Dorian! You mean my mother's invited a gay couple, one of them a transvestite, to my sister's coming out ball? That's really wonderful! You have to introduce me."
"I don't think she knew what she was doing."
"I'm absolutely certain she didn't." Tom was suppressing giggles. "I love it, I love it." She stood up, grimacing faintly at the pain in her feet. "Come on. Introduce me."
Dorian grinned. "I'd love to."
Klaus was not looking forward to this evening. He had not been looking forward to this evening for what felt like a very long time. G, on his arm, was quivering with delight only repressed by fear of being sent to Alaska. That was one reason why Klaus was not looking forward to this evening.
But he had a mission to accomplish. He clicked heels and bowed to his hostess with formality, presenting his companion as "Miss Gaia Neuhaus."
"Charmed," Lady Hunstanton murmured. She looked tired, but was performing her social duties with the dedication of someone who knows what is expected of her. Klaus approved. Almost he regretted his mission; though it was intended that it should be accomplished without scandal.
Then he saw nemesis approaching. Nemesis, tall, blond, and blue-eyed, had a woman on his arm whom Klaus recognised as the elder daughter of the house, not someone who could be evaded with courtesy. She was not dressed with the precision of her mother. Klaus scowled.
"Good evening, Major." Eroica smiled, holding out his hand.
"Lord Gloria." Klaus ignored the hand.
"Miss Hunstanton," Eroica said, very correctly, "may I present to you Major Klaus von dem Eberbach?"
"How lovely to meet a friend of Dorian's," the woman said. Klaus had the strong impression she was nearly laughing out loud. "And your charming friend?"
"Miss Hunstanton: Miss Gaia Neuhaus."
G curtsied, very gracefully. Klaus caught Eroica's eye, and knew that the damned queer was laughing at him. Klaus remained in fuming silence while Miss Hunstanton chatted, very pleasantly, with G.
Klaus was relieved when he could retrieve his partner for the evening and go into the ballroom. Dancing was a social skill that Klaus had taken pains to learn, but he hated profoundly and inexpressibly having to do it with that effeminate catamite of the Chief's in his arms. Particularly as G was a good dancer.
His subordinate was full of bright conversation about how good-looking Lord Gloria was, and how nice Miss Hunstanton had looked, and what a delightful party this was... knowing damned well, Klaus thought, that the Chief wouldn't let him send G to Alaska for anything but gross incompetence, and that the Major couldn't yell at him right now.
They had made a full circuit of the ballroom, and Klaus halted by the main door. Soon he would have to take G down to supper, and then they would have to dance again. But first, a duty that was also pure pleasure. Klaus smiled down at G. "Will you be all right by yourself for a little while?"
"Oh, yes!" G smiled rapturously. "But hurry back, I'll miss you."
Klaus put an arm round him. "That's good," he said clearly, and then leant closer to G's ear. "Remember," he whispered, "this is a mission. If you screw it up, I will send you to Alaska. Observe carefully anyone who talks to you." He was still smiling. No one would have noticed anything; G looked a little subdued, but after all he was supposed to be madly in love with Major Eberbach who had just left him alone. Her. Goddammit.
The toilet one of the servants directed him to was hardly utilitarian, but it had a thick wooden door that locked. Klaus relieved himself, flushed, and pulled out his R/T. "Operation Dresden." When HQ acknowledged, Klaus used the codephrases for All well, Eroica present, Inform INTERPOL.
He waited. After a moment, HQ replied "Acknowledged," and added the codephrases for Referred to Bonn. Wait. Klaus cursed silently, and flushed the toilet again, to provide some excuse for being shut in here. Someone knocked on the door.
"A moment!" Klaus shouted.
The R/T said, Mr A. sounding terrified even at this distance, "Sir..." and added, in code, a message that Klaus would have known had come from his Chief even if it hadn't been prefixed with the Bonn command code.
When he got back to HQ, the subordinate who had referred his message to Bonn was going to Alaska by the next plane.
There was another knock on the door. "Acknowledged!" Klaus barked, and slid his R/T away. He flushed the toilet a third time and slammed the door open.
Eroica stood outside, smiling. "Major, darling, is something wrong?"
"No," Klaus snapped.
"Your charming G -- Gaia was getting quite concerned about you. You don't have diarrhoea or something nasty like that?"
"No," Klaus snapped, disgusted.
"I was just going to take my partner down to supper," Eroica said. "Why don't we all go down together? If you're sure you're all right." He batted his eyelashes again, and with a profound effort Klaus stopped himself from yelling.
Eroica stared at him, for a long moment. Klaus stared back. The bugger looked... smug.
"You've stolen something, haven't you?"
"Oh, Major... you know me so well."
"I don't want to know you! At all!" Klaus kept his voice down. If his damned alphabet soup had managed to inform INTERPOL, Eroica could have been allowed to walk out with whatever he'd stolen. As it was, Klaus wanted no distractions. "You'll have to return it."
Eroica's smile grew teasing. "Major, just how do you think you're going to make me do that?"
"You are a guest in this house!"
"Lady Hunstanton told me her secretary forgot to invite me."
Speechless, Klaus could only glare. Eroica smiled. "Come on, Major... let's return to the ladies."
Tom and G were standing by the head of the staircase. Dorian swept towards them, enjoying himself. The Major looked marvellous when he was furious, and he was so easily driven into a fury that it was a shame not to provoke him. Besides, if the Major wouldn't give Dorian what he wanted one way, then it was a matter of principle that Eroica should make him give what he wanted another way.
The Major took G's arm, Eroica gave Miss Hunstanton his, and they went down the staircase together like a party of friends. The supper-room was crowded; Eroica found a table seconds after another group vacated it, and seated Miss Hunstanton with a grin. Across the small table, the Major was seating G. Eroica smiled. "Why don't you and I fight our way through to the buffet tables, Major, and leave Tom and Gaia to talk?"
"Tom?" For one furious instant, Klaus thought he had been wasting time and civilities on some transvestite friend of Eroica's.
The woman laughed. She was a woman, Klaus realised; no queer could be quite that convincingly careless about details. "My Christian name is Thomasina, Major Eberbach. Everyone calls me Tom."
Klaus nodded, curtly, and moved off with Eroica. G was no longer, dammit, a key part of the mission, though he didn't know it; and repellent though G was, at least he could be controlled to a certain extent. Eroica was uncontrollable. The Chief was a fool. Orders from a superior were to be obeyed.
"She knows about G, by the way," Eroica said chattily, selecting cheeses.
"Well, I told her."
Klaus gritted his teeth. Eroica giggled. "I know," he said. "You'd love to yell at me. Do yell at me twice when you next get the chance, to make up for it. She won't tell anyone. Are you here for a mission, or just to relax and have fun?" Eroica batted his ridiculously long eyelashes at Klaus.
"I am here because the West German Embassy was sent cards for this occasion," Klaus said frostily.
"Oh, fun for your country." Eroica batted his eyelashes again. "How delightful. Is G having fun for his country, too?"
"Miss Neuhaus is here as my guest," Klaus said, very carefully. "As it happens, the Embassy was sent the guest list, as a courtesy, and I do not recall your name on it."
"I gatecrashed. Just like you."
"I have an invitation."
"Lady Hunstanton would never have invited a male couple," Eroica said, and smiled, handing Klaus two plates and picking up two more. "Shall we go back to the ladies, Major darling?"
The food was as good as any caterer's; Eroica ate and chattered lightly. He'd never seen Klaus in formal evening clothes before, and the Major looked absolutely gorgeous in the elegant lines of his black dinner jacket. He wasn't eating much, and he was staring at Dorian in an appalled sort of way -- quite different from the usual stare of enmity; the Major looked... shocked.
Dorian frowned, watching the Major intently. Was it really because the Major believed Eroica had stolen something while a guest? That was promising, in a way; that the Major could be shocked by something Eroica did. I'm getting under your skin, aren't I, my dear Major Eberbach? I'd like to be closer... much closer. A wire rope tangled up with a rose vine. Dorian's mouth curved in a smile. A sadistically wonderful combination. If the Major really wanted to persuade Eroica to replace what he'd stolen, Dorian intended to be persuadable.
Klaus stared at Eroica. He had to do it; and be noticed. The best way would be to leave this room together, abandoning Miss Hunstanton and G to their own devices. That would be discourteous, but G hardly mattered, any friend of Eroica's must be used to eccentric behaviour, and Klaus did not care what anyone in this room thought of him anyway.
"Lord Gloria," he said abruptly, rising to his feet. "Please come with me."
"I'd love to," Eroica said. Klaus heard Miss Hunstanton giggle breathlessly. Standing, Eroica was only an inch or so shorter than Klaus. He smiled. "Shall we go somewhere more private?"
Dorian was aware of a few curious stares as he followed the Major out of the supper room. He had a reputation for being eccentric (such, such were the joys of being rich and titled... no one would ever accuse the Earl of Gloria of being a pervert... no one except Klaus von dem Eberbach) but never before for being... ungallant. It was remarkably easy to be gallant, after all, and didn't actually require any active participation, at least not at a formal party.
Klaus clamped a hand on Eroica's wrist the moment they were out of the room. "Where did you steal it from?"
Up one flight, ignoring the guests who gave them both sideways looks, recognising Dorian. Up the second flight. A small, glass-fronted cabinet, with a fairly repellent collection of china. Except for one piece. Dorian pointed out the porcelain figure in the centre of the third shelf down. "That's it."
"It's still there." Klaus turned to glare at Eroica.
"I brought a copy to replace the original," Eroica explained. "That way it'll be years before they notice the theft, if they ever do."
"You really are..." Klaus met Eroica's bland blue look with a fierce glare.
"Yes, Major?" Eroica was standing very close to him.
"Impossible," Klaus said flatly, turning away. "Completely impossible. Just return what you stole."
"How do you intend to persuade me to do that, Major?"
What? Klaus stared. Eroica stared back.
Dorian leaned very close to the Major, close enough to feel his breath, and whispered, "I think you know how to persuade me..."
"No," Klaus bit off. "Just put it back."
The cabinet was in a small niche off the hall, and there was no one about. No one would see them. "No," Klaus snarled.
"No?" Eroica was practically pressed up against him.
"Put it back! Then..."
"Oh, all right." Eroica slid his hand inside his jacket, as if he were drawing a gun; but instead what appeared in his hand was a flat box, about big enough for a Walther PPK. Inside, surrounded by padding, lay what looked to Klaus exactly like the figure in the cabinet.
Eroica put the box down for a moment to pull on silk gloves. "Being caught for a theft I didn't make would be very embarrassing," he said softly. In a moment, the glass doors were open, the substitution made, and the porcelain figure was in the padded box being shoved back under Eroica's jacket just where any normal person would have a shoulder holster.
"Now, Major..." Eroica smiled, pulling off his gloves. Klaus retreated.
Dorian grinned and followed him. The Major was halfway down the stairs before Dorian caught up with him. "Major, a NATO officer should never break his word."
"I promised you nothing!" The Major had his back to the marble balustrade. Dorian grinned, moving forward, wrapping himself round the Major's slim waist and pressing his mouth to the Major's.
For an instant, Dorian felt the Major's lips part under his, felt all of the Major responding to his kiss in a way that Dorian knew meant surrender. Then control returned; Dorian could pinpoint the exact moment when it changed from a kiss he was forcing on the Major -- to a kiss the Major was forcing on him. Iron-hard hands gripped him, pulling him closer, iron-cold mouth forcing Dorian's mouth open, tongue penetrating him. Dorian gasped and clutched the Major -- Klaus -- wanting him closer, even closer, adoring every instant and storing it in the art gallery of his memory forever.
Then with one sharp push, the Major broke them apart. Dorian stood a foot away from Klaus, glancing round, realising that there were half a dozen witnesses to their impassioned staircase embrace... one of them an old friend of his mother's.
The Earl plastered a fatuous smile on his face "Claudia, darling!" he trilled. "So sorry I didn't see you, but you know there are some things I just can't be expected to resist."
"Dorian, you are an ill-mannered child," Lady Hambly retorted, with a slight, ladylike, snort. She turned away, placing a hand on the arm of her partner. "Come, Denis. I find the atmosphere rather too hot here."
Just before the Major moved on down the staircase, he shot Dorian a swift, unfathomable look. There was anger there, yes, but also satisfaction; as if the Major had achieved something.
Dorian glided down the marble stairs after his wire love. After all, perhaps Klaus had.
G and Miss Hunstanton were still in the supper room. It hadn't taken so very long. "Excuse me, Miss Hunstanton," Klaus said shortly. "We must go, G."
"But..." G stood. "I thought you were going to..."
"Alaska?" Klaus enquired. G went pale and shut up.
"It's been a pleasure meeting you, Major Eberbach," Miss Hunstanton said. "Do you know where Dorian is?"
"I regret that I do not," Klaus said tensely. He suspected that Dorian was waiting outside for him. "I should not wait for him, if I were you."
"Oh well. That's Dorian. Goodbye, Gaia -- and good luck. Good night, Major Eberbach."
Outside, the night was warm. Klaus hustled G into the back of the waiting Embassy car, got in beside the driver, and snapped "To HQ."
B drove off without a word. He had certainly overheard the message Klaus had sent earlier, but for once had the sense not to mention it.
"What?" Klaus snapped.
"We're being followed."
"Idiot! I know."
"By... er, Eroica." The flashy red Lamborghini was conspicuous under the London streetlights.
"And also by the black Ford two cars behind it. Don't lose them."
B didn't. Probably he couldn't have even if he'd tried. Klaus sank back into the austere comfort of a well-made German car and watched the cars behind them.
And when, hours later, Klaus left NATO HQ in his own Benz, he knew the black Ford and the red Lamborghini were ready to follow him. He went to the flat belonging to the West German Embassy, which had been loaned to him for his stay in Britain.
There was a ring at the doorbell. Klaus went to the door, yanked it open. "Oh, s'you. What do you want?"
Eroica slid inside, under Klaus' arm. "The same as you, Major." He smiled.
"We have nothing in common."
"You're wrong, Major." Eroica's mouth was wide and warm.
"Come through here," Klaus said abruptly. He switched on the light as he came into the bedroom, and closed the door behind them.
The room was comfortable enough, and spacious. It was decorated in shades of beige, a typical diplomat idea of style. Klaus had been staying there three days; it still looked like a hotel bedroom to him.
Eroica stood looking round the impersonal room. When he caught the Major's eye, he smiled seraphically, but Klaus had the strange feeling that Eroica felt sorry for him. He glared.
"Major darling, your own bedroom? How sweet of you. Let's waste no more time."
"Idiot," Klaus said flatly. "This room is the only one I can be certain isn't bugged. Otherwise I would not let you within a mile of it. What do you imagine we have in common?"
"You're a simply wonderful kisser... and so am I."
For a moment, Dorian thought the Major was going to hit him. But Eberbach only lit a cigarette, though he was glaring. "It was a mistake. I did not intend that." He walked over to the window and stood there, looking down at the street below. Dorian followed him.
"Can I have a cigarette, Major?"
Klaus shoved the rest of the packet at him. Eroica lit one with an engraved gold lighter. "Thanks."
"It was nothing. Eroica, what happened was your idea. If I was... momentarily... deluded by you, it will never happen again."
"Listen..." Eroica held out his hands, not touching the Major. "You loved it. I did too. I'm sorry I didn't think that people would notice, but you know they all know I'm an eccentric."
"I did not 'love it'," Klaus said with harsh sarcasm, "and as for your... eccentricity, I would use stronger terms. You are an ill-mannered, impossible, wilful, egocentric pervert."
"Pervert?" Eroica's blue eyes gleamed suddenly. "Major, you're very difficult. If I'm perverted, you are too." He leaned forward, taking the Major's shoulders between his hands, and kissed him.
The Major turned and shoved Eroica away; he tripped over his own feet, and landed flat on his back on the bed. Undeterred, he smiled. "Very forceful, Major."
"Shut up. Stay there."
"Anything you say, darling."
Klaus picked up the telephone beside the bed, dialled the HQ number, and demanded to be put through to Bonn. He had a lengthy and completely one-sided yelling match with the Chief, including appropriate pauses, finishing by slamming the phone down. Eroica had been watching him throughout the conversation, propped up on one elbow, pushing the mass of fluffy yellow hair back over his forehead with his other hand.
"The Chief says that I am not to inform your national police," Klaus said grimly. "He says I am not to inform INTERPOL. He says I am to allow you to leave unharmed. So get out. OUT!"
Dorian was confused. Something very weird was going on. But it appeared that he had no choice, at least not about leaving. So he smiled winsomely. "All right, Major." He looked deep into the Major's green eyes. "Bye bye, darling. Sleep well. Sweet dreams."
"Idiot," the Major muttered, but he slammed the door shut after Dorian with no more than the usual amount of force.
Dorian went out and down the stairs. It was past two in the morning; he could go home, sleep or talk about the next operation with Bonham; or he could drive away and go somewhere else. Scotland was nice at this time of year. The Major might leave London at any time.
Standing by his car, Dorian looked reflectively along the street. His expression did not change even when he recognised the black Ford. It had followed him all the way from the Hunstanton party to NATO HQ; and here it was again. Very casually, Dorian climbed into his car and started it up. He drove down the street, turned swiftly to the left and then to the right, keeping an eye on the mirror. The Ford was not following him. That meant it had been tailing Major Eberbach.
Dorian parked the Lamborghini by a handy meter, stuffed in the maximum amount of money -- traffic wardens were impossible to bribe and difficult to evade, and Dorian was rather attached to his bright red car that annoyed the Major so effectively. Pulling a black woolly hat from the back of the car, Dorian left it, and stole the nearest unobtrusively-coloured car. He tucked the mass of his hair into the cap, and drove back to the street where the Major was staying.
He passed the black Ford coming out, and turned to follow it again, keeping two cars behind. The driver took an unobtrusive route, but didn't seem to realise he had a follower.
"Good thing James is busy, isn't it, my lord?" Bonham had neutralised the outer security systems of the house in the quiet Regency street; they were standing in the shadows of the doorway, Eroica busy on the lock.
"Hope he stays that way till the end of the episode," Dorian murmured. "He really can be a rather officious character." The door swung open.
It was really almost tediously easy. The man was sitting downstairs in the study, his back to the door; he said, without looking over his shoulder, "Bring me coffee, sweetheart. It's late for you to be up, isn't it?"
Bonham tapped him over the head. "Far too late," he murmured.
There was a young woman asleep on the right hand side of a double bed upstairs; Eroica gave her a dose of his special sleeping gas. She wouldn't wake up for hours. There was no one else in the house.
"I thought it was your philosophy only to steal beautiful things?" Bonham asked, with a twinkle. They were wrapping the man from the black Ford up in several layers of bindings. He had a flat face and a big belly. He was going bald.
"No, no." Eroica smiled. "Everything beautiful in the world belongs to me by right." Especially that beautiful twisted wire rope, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, who persistently says no to me.... "And my principle is that what I want, I get." And I do not want my adorably angry Major to be blackmailed because of me...
The bundle containing the man, the photographs he had taken of Dorian and Klaus kissing on the staircase and in front of the window in the Major's flat, and all the negatives, was dumped in the doorway of NATO HQ a little later that morning. Dorian let Bonham drive them both home.
James was, thank God, not home. He was probably still incorporating Leopard Solid, Sugar Plum, and Caesar Gabriel, into one unbreakable unit. Probably not necessary, Dorian decided, as he fell across his bed. He had never met any couple as married as the three of them were, as they had been even when Caesar had been an absolutely unkissed innocent.
Dorian slept. The sun coming in the window woke him, but not far; he rolled over to shield his face behind his arm and sleep again.
The door crashed open. Dorian sat up.
The Major stood in the room, blazing mad. "IDIOT!"
Dorian blinked. He didn't think this was a dream. "Major, darling," the Earl said sweetly, "what a delightful surprise."
"What did you think you were doing?"
"Sleeping," Eroica said, and smiled. "Next time you want to break into my bedroom first thing in the morning, do you think you could kiss me awake, instead of shouting?"
Jones slipped past the Major's elbow to hand Dorian a cup of coffee. "Thank you. Major, would you like some coffee?"
"Then you can go, Jones. Major, if you'd like to speak to me in private, why don't you shut the door and shout a little more quietly?"
The Major slammed the door shut and came across the room. Dorian admired his quick, powerful stride. "Eroica. Last night, after you finally left my flat, you went to the house of a Mr Edgar Northcott."
"Was that his name?"
"You kidnapped him, tied him up, and left him in front of NATO HQ. With some photographs."
"Yes." Eroica reached into his bedside table and pulled out the only photo he had kept. "Isn't this beautiful? It quite broke my heart to part with them. But I thought you would want them more than I did."
The Major snatched it from his hand, looked at the image of himself and Dorian, blond hair and black intermingling, locked in a passionate embrace on a staircase. With a snarl, he scrumpled it in his hand and shoved it into a pocket. "Goddammit, Eroica, why do you always have to bugger up my missions?!"
"I'm sorry?" Eroica looked winsomely apologetic.
"I was meant to be blackmailed by this man so that NATO could track his employer in the KGB!"
"Oh." Dorian was genuinely apologetic. "I'm sorry, Major; I didn't realise."
"You should have done! What the hell did you think I was doing at that damned party last night with that faggot!"
"Well, yes, I did wonder." Dorian swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stood up. The Major flinched back. "Major, really. I have to get dressed somehow. You see, I do believe all may not yet be lost."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Dorian pulled on a clinging black shirt and thin black trousers. "I don't like blackmailers, Major," he explained patiently.
"You wouldn't care if you were blackmailed," the Major snarled. "You're the most flamboyant bugger I've ever seen!"
"Oh, please," Dorian protested, "it's too early for this sort of thing. We both had a late night. Major, everyone has likes and dislikes. You don't like anything except modern weaponry and German cars. I don't like blackmailers. It's the Raffles in me. So of course I stole all the papers from this man's house, and told my staff to burn them in the furnace. But if there's anything there you want, you're welcome to it. Providing they haven't turned the furnace up yet."
"Where's your furnace?" the Major demanded.
"Somewhere down below the kitchen, I believe," Dorian said, smothering a yawn as he followed the Major downstairs. Half a dozen of the alphabet, B to H excluding G, were standing around the hall, surrounded by an excitable collection of staff and strike team. "Sorry about the disturbance," Dorian called. "Just let those nice men go where they like and do what they like, and could I have breakfast for two in the morning room within twenty minutes?"
The butler who had been forced to let the Major in half an hour ago stopped Klaus on his way out the door. "His lordship wishes to see you in the morning room, sir. If you would -- "
"Very well," Klaus snapped. Snarling an order to B, C, D, E, F, and H to get everything into the cars and wait outside, he strode into the room the butler indicated.
"Thank you, Taylor. Do sit down, Major. You woke me up, the least you can do is share my breakfast."
"I have breakfasted," Klaus snapped. Eroica was sitting at a broad table, spread with a ridiculously foppish meal. Croissants, freshly-baked little round loaves of white bread, very salt butter, sardines preserved in olive oil, minced kidneys, poached eggs and frizzled bacon, very fat sausages all bursting out of their skins, a home-made pork-pie, with cold jelly and yolk of egg peeking out from beneath the crust, a bowl of strawberries and cream with sifted sugar, a bowl of raspberries and cream with blobs of sugar-candyish scrunchy brown sugar, some nice new mushrooms and chicken, a honeycomb with cream, coffee with crystals of white sugar candy, bowls of yellow plums, greengages, and ripe blue plums. There was a second plate opposite from Eroica's.
The Earl of Red Gloria shrugged, took a croissant, and spread it with marmalade. "Did you find what you needed, Major?"
"I believe so." Klaus gritted his teeth. "I appreciate your cooperation, Lord Gloria. You were very thorough."
"I do try, Major. And I love cooperating with you."
"Damn you!" Klaus slammed his hands down on the table, making the jars, cups, and bowls rattle. "Damn you, Eroica, why must you always try to drag everything down to the gutter your mind lives in!"
Eroica put the croissant down, untasted, and leant back in his chair. "I don't live in the gutter, Major." His voice was very quiet. "I flirt with you because I can't have anything else. I thought for a little while last night you'd decided to stop pretending, but you called me a pervert and threw me out. Then I tried to save you from being blackmailed, and it turned out this was all part of your latest mission, including leading me on, keeping me in your bedroom for long enough to make the blackmailer think we'd had sex, and then throwing me out."
"You don't deserve anything better!"
"Then neither do you." Dorian stood up. "Because there was a moment last night, the first time I kissed you, when you wanted me. We both know it."
There was a brief silence as they stared at each other. "Lord Gloria," Klaus said at last, "you are at least consistent. You pervert everything you touch, and you steal whatever you want. I dislike you and I despise you, but since you are a man, why can't you behave like one?"
"I do." Dorian spread his hands. "I behave like the kind of man I am."
"A dishonest, foppish queer?"
"A man," Dorian said, almost smiling, "like you."
"Damn you, Dorian," Klaus said, very quietly, turned, and went out.
Dorian flung his napkin down on the table, and called the butler to come and clear his uneaten meal away. Bonham was out disposing of last night's stolen car, which meant Dorian would have to go and collect the Lamborghini himself; there was no one else he would trust to drive it. He went upstairs, the corners of his mouth turning upward in faint amusement, to collect the contents of last night's dinner jacket.
Eroica entered the house through a top-storey window. He was on the way down the stairs before he encountered Sugar Plum. "It's all right. Just don't tell Mr James I'm here. He is still here, isn't he?"
"Oh yes," Sugar agreed, rather nervously. "Caesar says he's doing a very good job."
"I have a present for the three of you."
"Oh..." Her voice trailed off.
Dorian laughed. "It's quite harmless, really."
Leopard came running up the staircase; he stared at Dorian suspiciously. A few minutes later, Caesar followed. Dorian handed him the box. Sliding the lid open, Caesar carefully took out the figurine Dorian had removed from the glass cabinet last night. Euphrosyne, Aglaia, Thalia, stood in fine porcelain as they had stood for a hundred and seventy years.
"What is it?" Leopard asked.
"It's beautiful," Sugar whispered.
"Meissen porcelain, early eighteenth century," Caesar said, nearly breathless. "My lord..."
"The three Graces," Dorian said. "I thought it was appropriate."
"Where did you steal it?" Leopard asked.
Eroica raised his eyebrows. "Leopard, do you think I would steal a wedding present?" The tone of the question strongly implied a negative. "Don't worry," Dorian added more honestly, "no one will ever bother you three about it."
No one ever would. Eroica had, under the Major's very eyes, replaced the original Meissen porcelain figure with one of its innumerable modern copies. The chances were that no one would even notice it was gone for years. Especially no one in the Hunstanton family. The original ancient beauty stood in Caesar's cupped hands, fragile and exquisite. Dorian kissed Leopard's hand, patted Sugar on the cheek, and would have kissed Caesar goodbye one last time if it hadn't been likely that if he did, Caesar would drop the figure of three in one, one in three, intertwined and interdependent, forever symbolised in porcelain.
"Good luck." And he was gone.
Damn you, Dorian. The Major, and eight agents, were on a plane to Bonn, along with the most interesting papers from the blackmailer's collection. The Chief would be pleased. The Chief would be very funny about the photographs of Klaus embracing Eroica, for all that the Chief had sent him on that mission.
Eroica... the Earl of Gloria... Dorian. A man... like you.
A man who perverts everything he touches. A man who steals whatever he wants.
The man who touched me, last night, and stole my self-control. And smiled.
Damn you, Dorian... for making me want you.
c.1992 - written when I was sent copies of Eroica in English, as a thank-you, whenever that was!
Author's Note: Dorian's fabulous breakfast was borrowed directly from the dream-breakfast Kay eats in The Midnight Folk
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