DISCLAIMER - From Eroica With Love and its characters is the copyright of Yasuko Aoike and Princess Comics and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan  June 2001.

Author's note - massive thanks to Eve for invaluable beta duties. This story is much the better for her intervention.

 Did I need to sell my soul for pleasure like this
 Did I have to lose control to treasure your kiss
 Did I need to place my heart in the palm of your hand
 Before I could even start to understand
   - Depeche Mode "Only when I lose myself"

Klaus leaned back against the decadently soft leather of the car seat and let the sense of relief slowly wash over him. That had been close, too close. For a brief, adrenaline-inducing moment he honestly hadn't been sure if they would make it out alive, but they had - barely. Now they simply had to wait here in the quiet darkness for a short while until the decoy team had done its job of misdirection and then they could drive to their rendezvous with the rest of Klaus' people. He had no doubt that his Alphabets had been as successful in their endeavours tonight as he had.

In the suddenly oppressive silence, Klaus risked a glance across at the man sitting next to him in the car. Dorian was sitting rigidly upright in his own seat, not a trace of relaxation evident in the slender, dark-clad frame. He was staring fixedly ahead, his face partially obscured by the mass of blond curls he had freed from their concealment once they reached safety.

Safe... Dorian very nearly hadn't been tonight. A man had held the sharp edge of a knife to the thief's throat with every intention of slitting it - until Klaus had crept up behind him, cat-quiet, and shot him at point blank range with his silenced gun.

At that point, Dorian had looked as if he might be violently sick. Instead, he had simply reached up to feel the slight stickiness of blood on his neck, where the blade had begun to bite, without comment. To give him credit, though, he had then proceeded to do what he'd been brought along for with all his customary efficiency, if somewhat less of his normal insouciance. And so, here they both were, alive, waiting, another successful mission behind them.

Dorian was still noticeably affected by what had happened, though. That much was clear to Klaus. He could see the fine tremors which shook the other man - reaction setting in, no doubt. Well, such a close brush with death would be unsettling to even the best trained agent, Klaus conceded. And, after all, Eroica simply wasn't accustomed to being caught whilst doing what he did best.

Too close. If he had been only seconds later... Klaus found himself suppressing a shudder of his own at the realisation of what that would have meant. True, he had been tempted to wring Dorian's neck with his own bare hands on more than one occasion, but this was different. The man might be - was - an idiotic, infuriating pervert, but did he really want him dead? No... at least, not with his throat cut like a slaughtered animal and not at the hands of some criminal low-life. It wasn't that he would miss the thief, but he was useful.

Watching Dorian slowly lean back in the seat next to him, still fighting for composure, Klaus recognised the lie for what it was. He would miss him, if he weren't around to bring a bright spark of havoc into Klaus' otherwise dully organised existence. But that was ridiculous... Dorian was the bane of his life with his perverted ways and his misguided pursuit of him.

Those moments when Klaus found himself unavoidably trapped by Eroica, subject to his touch, had been positively disgusting. They disgusted him anew every time he remembered them... A kiss of greeting in Iran, the press of a wet, naked body in Rome... Why could he still recall those moments so vividly? Why did he hoard them - the way Eroica hoarded pieces of art - and bring them out to gaze upon like treasure from time to time? He should have forgotten them, banished them to the darkest corners of his mind, never to be looked at again.

Heart thumping with a renewed rush of adrenaline, Klaus tore his gaze away from the disturbingly silent figure beside him. Dorian was never this quiet... Then again, his silence was a blessing at present. Had he spoken, Klaus would have had no idea what to say to him. Or, perhaps, was he more afraid of what he might say to him in an unguarded moment?

But did admitting that he didn't want Dorian dead, that he would miss him if he were absent, really mean anything? Of course not, that was the full extent of his feelings for Eroica. He had no desire to explore those ridiculous, perverted notions of love that the thief regularly paraded before him. The mere thought of touching that slim, muscular body was wholly abhorrent to him and he never wanted to taste that warm, sweet mouth again as long as he lived.

All at once, Klaus felt his body suffused with a sudden rush of heat. At the same time, he found himself preternaturally aware of the man sitting beside him, tense and clearly upset, the scent of roses only just masking the smell of fear-sweat. Verdammt! Why wasn't Dorian chattering inanely the way he usually did so that Klaus could fall back on long established patterns of contempt and barely-suppressed violence? Why did he exude this air of need, forcing Klaus to feel this sudden urge to reach out - to touch, to comfort, to...

Klaus' lips thinned in self-disgust. This was insupportable! The sooner they could be out of here the better. Even silent, Eroica was nothing but trouble, tempting him to incautious, impossible acts. He turned his head slightly and found himself looking into wide, troubled eyes. Their extravagant blue was dulled by the darkness and a lingering shadow of fear. Dorian's composure was evidently still shaken and those eyes begged mutely for reassurance. Klaus dragged his gaze away, refusing the plea.

A cool hand suddenly came to rest on Klaus' arm and he felt the faint tremor in the long fingers. He glanced down at it - pale skin against the dark of his practical, utilitarian clothing. The warmth he had felt earlier returned, seeming to gather at the point of contact, threatening to scorch his skin even through layers of material. Uneasy, Klaus shook off the hand, trying not to hear the faint sound of distress Eroica made at the abrupt, unfeeling gesture.

"Don't touch me!" Klaus growled automatically, but the words sounded unconvincing even to his own ears, lacking their usual heat.

"Major... I wanted to thank you - for saving my life tonight. There was no chance earlier."

Dorian's voice was as quiet and subdued as the rest of his manner. The wrongness of it grated on Klaus' nerves even more than his usual flamboyance and flirting behaviour. It was easy to hate that Dorian... Eroica. This shadow-Dorian was far harder to deal with.

"'S all right," Klaus replied finally. "Besides, I needed you to complete the mission," he added callously, heedless of the hurt his words caused.

"Of course..." Dorian's voice was strangely detached. "My death would have hindered the mission. How silly of me to have thought you might have any other reason for saving me."

Klaus looked up at that, caught by the echo of his own earlier thoughts. But Dorian somehow managed to make his motivation seem - unpleasant. So, he'd saved the man's life in the line of duty. What was wrong with that? Dorian always wanted to see his every action in another light. Still looking for a possible reciprocation of affection, perhaps... Did he really imagine that was why Klaus had saved him?

The golden head was bowed, the wild tumble of blond curls once more falling forward to conceal the too-perfect features. Klaus stared at the lone spot of brightness in the otherwise gloomy interior of the car: so extravagant, that hair, so utterly characteristic of the man himself...

Catching himself in the act, Klaus shook his own head to clear it of the irrelevant thoughts. The faint sound of his movement, clear in the oppressive silence, made Dorian look up at once. The soft blue eyes locked with his own and Klaus almost swore. Such a wounded look haunted them, accusing without words. It contrived to make him feel like such a cold, heartless bastard. That wasn't right; his actions were driven only by practicality - what was required for the success of the mission. Besides, should he even care what the thief thought? Strangely, Klaus found that he did.

"It wasn't like that," he said defensively. "There was no time to think. If I hadn't acted at once he would have slit your throat. Whatever the reason, I didn't want you dead," Klaus concluded honestly. "Isn't that enough?"

A convulsive shudder ran through Dorian at the mention of his brush with death. His eyes drifted shut as the fingers of one hand rose to touch his throat, finding the thin line of dried blood which marked where the knife had begun to bite into his fair skin.

Klaus found his eyes drawn by the movement of the fluttering fingers, coming to rest on the long neck. He felt the heat start to rise in him once more. Scheisse! What was wrong with him?

"I'm sorry," Dorian said softly into the renewed silence. "I really am grateful for what you did. Take no notice of me..."

"Easier said than done," muttered Klaus, and instantly regretted the words.

Dorian's eyes flew open, startled. His gaze caught and held Klaus', suddenly alert. He peered into the cool green eyes searchingly, his expression slowly turning wondering.

"Major... Klaus?"

Klaus found himself unaccountably afraid of what Dorian had found in his intent perusal to cause that note of awe in his voice. Fleetingly, he found himself wishing for the return of the quiet, cowed man who had been sharing the car with him, but it was too late for that. Besides, if he were honest, he was glad to see the renewed spark in Dorian's blue eyes, the sharply engaged expression on his face... If only the thief weren't so damnably focused on him.

"Do I sense something of a dilemma here, Major?"

There was only the faintest trace of amusement in the lilting voice and, Gott sei Dank, not a trace of seduction.

"No!" Klaus growled, silently cursing himself for the lack of conviction in his tone.

"But you admit that you've been noticing me," Dorian persisted, hopefully.

"How could I not? Whenever I turn around, there you are, like the proverbial bad penny! I'm always tripping over you..." Klaus glowered at the thief. It should have been enough to quell the man, but somehow it seemed to have the opposite effect.

"Oh, but think how immeasurably dull your life would be without me around to keep you on your toes." Dorian gifted him with one of his sunniest smiles. "You know you'd miss it if I weren't there to be tripped over."

Klaus shook his head and gave a disparaging snort. He pointedly chose to ignore his earlier thoughts on just that subject. "I can but dream."

"Ah, Major, you'd never indulge in anything so frivolous as dreaming so I know you don't mean that," Dorian pouted artfully.

"Is that so? Very well, tell me how you have reached such a conclusion." Whatever Eroica had to say would be easy enough to refute.

"Are you sure you really want to know?" There was mischief in both the sparkling eyes and the lilting voice.

Ignoring a faint twinge of misgiving, Klaus nodded.

"Well, if I only paid attention to the things you said I'd have been utterly discouraged years ago. Your actions, on the other hand, really can be most eloquent, darling," Dorian insisted. "Just as they were today."

"If my actions speak as clearly as you claim they do, why do you never get the message when I hit you or point a gun at your head?" Klaus gritted out between clenched teeth, belatedly cursing himself for getting suckered into this conversation.

"Oh, but I do," Dorian assured him lightly, his eyes very bright. "I hear you telling me that I'm getting closer to the truth than you're comfortable with, and so you try to drive me away. It'll never work, y'know," he added casually.

Klaus grimaced, his hands automatically clenching into fists where they rested in his lap. He looked as if he were about to explode in a rage, but in the end he only snarled wordlessly, glaring at Dorian balefully.

Dorian missed none of it. His gaze dropped meaningfully to the tightly clenched fists, then slowly returned to focus on Klaus' sharp-featured face. "See," said the thief helpfully, "but it's all right; I'm sure I'm the only one who has it all worked out."

With an effort, Klaus forced the tension out of his fingers, relaxing them until his hands lay flat on his thighs. Staring at the offending digits, he found himself wishing for a cigarette to occupy them, but he had checked the box in the glove compartment earlier, and it was empty. So much for distractions.

"And I figured out that you're a fucking idiot a long time ago," he muttered finally, unwilling to let Dorian have the last word on the subject. He turned towards the window, his dark lashes lowering to hide the icy gleam of irritation in his eyes.

But Dorian wasn't finished. "There is no shame in wanting to touch me. Honestly. Though you never believe me when I tell you that." He sighed wistfully. "You really don't have to resort to violence every time."

"Shame? What would you know of shame?" Klaus snapped, unwilling to dignify the rest of Eroica's comments with a response. "You're the most shameless, perverted - idiot I know!"

"Try and sound like you mean it if you must say it, darling." And this time the amusement was undeniable, albeit allied with an undercurrent of wonder. "You really were worried about me, weren't you?"

"Was not."

Klaus had the grace to look aggrieved when he realised just how petulant and childish he sounded. How was it that Eroica always managed to bring out the worst in him?

"Of course not," Dorian agreed soothingly.

He shifted in the soft leather seat, turning so that he was facing his Iron Major. The profile was as stern as ever, but Dorian knew what he'd seen earlier in those forest-green eyes. What would it take for Klaus to overcome all those deeply ingrained prejudices and actually act on his newly acknowledged awareness? Dorian didn't want to push too hard; if he did he risked forcing Klaus back into his comfortable patterns of denial, but this was simply too good an opportunity to let it just slip away unremarked.

"It isn't wrong," said Dorian softly as the silence stretched. "And if it's what you want..."

Klaus frowned as he glanced across at Eroica. The man was sitting sideways in his seat with one long leg drawn up under him and he looked, now, utterly poised and at ease. What he wanted... Klaus let his eyes encompass the whole infuriatingly, provokingly, contradictory package. And if a slender, blond-haired, blue-eyed thief was what he wanted, what then?

The compromise that would be required in the dark recesses of his mind to allow him - even if only for a brief period - to cease to be Iron Klaus and become, simply, Eroica's 'Darling Major'... If such a compromise was possible, surely he risked losing his soul forever. Did he really want that transformation? Or was it just a delusion, born of the evening's too-close call?

No...

Those aforementioned dark recesses of his mind denied it, but Klaus' body knew otherwise. It reminded him of it with each new flush of heat that washed over him whenever he thought of Dorian - and himself.

Caught up once again in the now familiarly adoring gaze of those clear, blue eyes, Klaus knew which of his inner voices was currently the stronger. He shivered in unanticipated reaction. This was even more disquieting than he had imagined it would be.

What Dorian had always so openly offered - was still offering - was damnably wrong, unavoidably perverted. And yet, shut in the quiet darkness of the car with Dorian so close, Klaus found his will wavering. Could he do this and live with himself afterwards? Dare he? Would everyone he knew and worked with look at him and know what he had done? Surely they would all be able to see the difference in him - sense the stain on his morals - as absolutely as he knew he would be able to feel it...

But it made it so impossibly hard to think of consequences, to care about them, when he was alive, aware, every nerve ending unaccountably energised... And it was doubly difficult when, scant inches away from him, sat the equally joyously alive Dorian. Especially when the man insisted on staring at him as if he were the centre of his entire universe. Perhaps, at the moment, he was...

Dorian must be as relieved as he was at the outcome of their mission when it had come so close to utter disaster. And they had both been running on pure adrenaline for hours - it took time for the effects of that to wear off. Klaus was well acquainted with the thrill of staring into the face of danger and emerging from the experience unscathed. It was an acceptable excitement, but still enough to wreak havoc with the good sense of even the most rational man. And Klaus was nothing if not a rational man.

If pushed, Klaus would have confessed to finding his current state of mind both confusing and distressing, but he suspected Dorian was already well aware of that. Why was it that he had to be observed in his moment of weakness by the one person who would be most eager to take advantage of it? Then again, if he were sitting here with anyone but Dorian the weakness wouldn't even exist. Only Eroica was capable of leaving him this off-balance.

If nothing else, though, the near miss and its aftermath would at least provide some kind of justification for the wholly uncharacteristic feelings he was experiencing - even if not a particularly convincing one. But right now Klaus needed that justification, however thin, or else he would be forced to fall back on a far more unpalatable truth - that he actually wanted what Dorian had so flagrantly offered at every possible opportunity. And - no matter what insanity he was currently poised on the brink of - that couldn't possibly be so. There was some other, perfectly logical explanation for what he suddenly knew, with absolute certainty, he was about to do.

Apparently his resolve must have showed itself in the quality of his gaze, because Dorian abruptly tensed, his blue eyes alert and wary.

"Major...?" he ventured cautiously.

Before he could think better of it, or be dissuaded by his inner voices, Klaus went into action. He moved as swiftly and as surely as he would have done in the course of any mission. Turning, he leaned across the small space separating him from Dorian and halted any further questions by the simple expedient of closing his mouth over the other man's soft, still moving lips.

His hands also moved of their own volition. One curved around Dorian's cheek, holding him steady as Klaus thoroughly explored the warm, moist depths of his mouth with a tongue that suddenly seemed to have a mind of its own. The other sank deep into the soft cascade of blond curls, clutching and caressing and releasing Dorian's signature scent of roses into the enclosed space.

The contact was both shocking and arousing - electric, but, after all Klaus' fears, not at all unpleasant. When he had the wit for coherent thought once more, all Klaus could think was that if he was to be damned, he couldn't think of a more pleasing way for it to happen.

Dorian, on the other hand, appeared stunned. He permitted the liberties Klaus was taking with his mouth, but seemed unwilling, or incapable, of responding. Considering how long he had pursued the major with just this goal in mind, it seemed a strange reaction - or lack of it. When the kiss was done, he wrenched himself away from Klaus' hands, unmindful of the blond strands torn out by the abruptness of his withdrawal. His eyes were wide and startlingly blue against the unnatural paleness of his face. The expression in them was compounded of fear, shock, disbelief and, somewhere deep down, desire.

Klaus stared back at him, confusion once more growing in his mind. What was wrong with the man? Wasn't this exactly what he'd been angling for all these years? And hadn't he just been encouraging Klaus to take what he wanted? Why so shocked now?

"Tell me, was that really such an unpleasant experience for you? You look as if you can't wait to get away from me," Klaus blurted out unthinkingly.

He was suddenly filled with an irrational fear that after all this anticipation he simply hadn't lived up to Dorian's expectations. Perhaps he hadn't liked what he'd done. Or was there some etiquette to kissing between two men that he was unaware of?

"I realise I don't have your experience or your skill," he added stiffly, "but..."

"What? Oh, Klaus, no!" Dorian finally seemed to piece together his scattered wits sufficiently to understand that his stunned silence had put a serious dent in the major's already shaky confidence. "Not at all, quite the contrary in fact. My God... I had no idea you'd really do it - or be so forceful. Oh my..."

Dorian laughed - he was trying for flirtatious, but the sound came out a trifle shakily as he attempted to get his breath back after the most unexpectedly devastating kiss he'd received in his entire life.

"Well, when you make up your mind to do something, darling, you certainly don't do it by half measures!"

"Would you expect anything less?" retorted Klaus gruffly, to hide his growing sense of relief and a certain pride at having managed to surprise Eroica to the point of speechlessness.

"Oh no," breathed Dorian, his irrepressible smile returning as he realised Klaus wasn't about to hit him or grow angry and retreat into denial. "I always expect you to go into everything with wholehearted intensity, Klaus, and I'm so rarely disappointed."

Klaus raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "You can still say that after all the times I refused your affections - violently or otherwise?" he challenged.

"Even then - at least I always knew you could never ignore me," replied Dorian blithely. "And it was worth the wait, to have you kiss me willingly in the end, you know."

"I cannot take all this as lightly as you seem to," warned Klaus, frowning.

"I know." Dorian sighed. "Do you have to put a damper on things quite so soon, though, darling? I really was rather hoping to just enjoy the moment."

"Well, one of us has to retain their wits sufficiently to remember that we have a rendezvous to make," Klaus reminded him pointedly.

"Ah yes, duty before pleasure - as always," Dorian pouted, though he had to concede the major was right in this case.

Pleasant as the distraction would be, they still had to make their way back to the rest of the NATO team before they came searching for them. It wouldn't do for Iron Klaus to be caught in a compromising position with him, after all. And then there would be all the inevitable reports and paperwork and... Dorian groaned in frustration.

"Dorian, if you wish to pursue this, it is how it must be," Klaus cautioned him seriously.

"I know." Dorian sighed again. "It doesn't mean that I have to like it, though. Ah well, if you weren't so dedicated to your duty you wouldn't be my Klaus, would you. Come on, let's get it over with then."

Green eyes met blue and held their gaze steadily. "But once duty has been attended to..." Klaus offered carefully.

"Yes?" Dorian enquired casually, his head tilted artfully to one side.

"Yes," replied Klaus with emphasis. And there was no mistaking that it was a promise.

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