Author'sNotes: This was originally intended for the Obscure Fandom's May Challenge in time for the Major's birthday. But I didn't actually write it until July, in time for Dorian's. The challenge prompts were: the color purple, a secret, and the balcony of a building.
Warnings: Contains no graphic mansex.
By Margaret Price
"Major von dem Eberbach?"
Klaus turned from the briefing he was giving his men. Across the warehouse in which he stood, a man in brown coveralls was walking towards him pushing a hand truck with a smallish wooden crate on it.
This was all very unremarkable. It was the diplomatic seal on the crate that made it remarkable and instantly gained the Major's attention. He took a step forward to further separate himself from his men.
"That would be me," he replied.
"Your Chief said I would find you here."
The Major nodded absently. His Chief had already told him to expect a delivery, but had not indicated what it would be. Klaus assumed it would just be further instructions about an upcoming mission, not a box with a diplomatic seal on it.
The deliveryman handed the Major a clipboard for his signature before sliding the crate onto the floor. He took back the clipboard, thanked the officer, turned on his heel, and left.
Klaus scowled down at the wooden box a moment before picking up the manila envelope that was lying on top of it, also addressed to him. "Someone get this thing open," he ordered, waving a hand at the crate. When his men started to give an excellent imitation of a Chinese fire drill, he added, "Carefully!" Then he turned his attention to the contents of the envelope.
As the Alphabet searched for something to pry the crate open with, the Major pulled the papers from the envelope. To his astonishment and horror, they turned out to be from Eroica. Clipped to the top of the pack was a generic-looking birthday card that was signed simply, Dorian. Under this was a letter written in the Earl's very precise script.
To Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach:
On the occasion of his birthday, this 15th day of May, in the year of our Lord, two thousand and seven.
Major von dem Eberbach,
Thirty years ago, I had what I thought at the time was the misfortune of making your acquaintance. The focus of my life was on other pursuits, not a man that I was sure was my complete and utter opposite. A man with no concept of aesthetics who would think nothing of converting a beautiful work of art into a mass of iron.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you weren't the complete Philistine you made yourself out to be. That you actually could appreciate beauty, even if it was hidden in a mass of polished steel. Which brings me to the reason for all this.
Thirty years ago, I also rather impulsively stole your Leopard tank. I think that returning it to you at this point in time would be inappropriate, considering how outdated it probably is. So I have done the next best thing.
Inside the case that accompanies this letter, my dearest Major, is an exact replica of your beloved Leopard tank. It was created exclusively for you by one of the finest jewelers in Switzerland. His certificate and the design drawings are attached for your examination.
Sincerest regards on this, your birthday,
Dorian, Earl of Gloria
The stunned Klaus flipped through the other documents, finding a certificate from the Swiss Embassy from which the crate originated. He found the certification from the jeweler that listed all of the gemstones used in the crafting to the replica. Klaus recognized the name as belonging to one of the finest watchmakers in Switzerland.
The Major looked up sharply when the crate was opened with a loud crack. Excelsior was pulled out and then there was a collective gasp as the contents was revealed. Agent A was about to step away when the Major ordered, "Don't just stand there, A. Pull that contraption out of there."
The replica turned out to be quite heavy. It took the efforts of A and another to carefully extract it from the crate. After a brief struggle, it was being gently placed on the floor. There were hushed Oooo's and Aaaa's from the assembled Alphabets as the stray strands of packing material were pulled off, revealing the shining object studded with gemstones.
Agent G removed a card that was attached to the back. "It says, 'Please press switch,'" he said, looking up nervously.
The Major took in the faces of his men. They tried to appear disinterested—and were failing miserably. Their eyes, bright with excitement, gave them away. I'll get you for this Eroica, Klaus thought as he turned back to G "Press it."
There was a buzz, a click, and then music.
"It's a music box!" G squeaked delightedly.
The whole group fell silent as the sweet sounds coming from the extraordinary object filled the air. The Major recognized the tune instantly, and found himself touched and annoyed at the same time. After thirty years, the idiot still remembered the song that he'd sung to pass the time until they were rescued from that wretched island.
"I don't know that song. What is that?" one of the newer agents asked.
"It's The Tank Song, you idiot" the Major snapped. He looked back at the certificate from the jeweler, finding a folded paper attached that turned out to be a copy of the schematic the Earl had mentioned. He opened it, his eyes sweeping over the intricate design.
How appropriate, G thought. He exchanged knowing looks with his fellow agents. Those who had been with the Major from the beginning knew all about his love affair with tanks, as well as how Eroica had spirited away the Leopard tank after he had been left alone with it.
Klaus came out of his daze and looked up. "Shut that thing off," he ordered, waving a hand at the miniature tank.
As he flicked off the music switch, G saw a second one. "Sir, I think I should've hit this switch, too."
Before the Major could stop him, the switch was hit and the tank came to life. Tiny wheels started to move the tracks and the tank slowly moved along the floor, the turret moving from side to side as if searching out a target. After going a short distance, it stopped. There was a loud pop and flash from the cannon, much to the amusement of the awestruck Alphabet.
This went on for a minute before G realized he was supposed to be shutting the thing off. He quickly did so and then looked at his commanding officer.
"That's nothing like any of the other gifts from Eroica," A observed quietly.
The Major's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I do not accept gifts from idiot thieves or deluded Englishman," he stated flatly.
"No, sir." A exchanged a knowing look with Agent G. This had never been in question. In fact, a few of the agents were half expecting the Major to pull his gun and blast the miniature into a million gleaming, gem-studded pieces.
The Major turned his gaze to the miniature tank that was practically at his feet. Now that it was closer, he could see more of the exacting detail, the masterful skill in its design, the precision that was necessary in its construction. He stood staring down at it in silence and his men held their breath.
Several hours later, in the study of Schloss Eberbach, the Major was still staring at the replica of his long lost Leopard tank. Despite being a "miniature," it was still rather large and dominated the center of his desk.
"Such an appropriate gift for your birthday, Master. I dare say, even your own father would change his mind concerning music boxes if he saw this one."
The Major looked up when his butler spoke, giving a noncommittal grunt in reply.
In the music room of the Schloss was an ornate music box that belonged to his mother. His father had stated on numerous occasions that the flowery porcelain figurine was a ridiculously frivolous covering for a simple wind-up box with a pinned wheel and metal tines inside. Of course, Klaus had noticed that, while his father held such distain for the object, he never actively sought to have it removed from his sight. To that day, it still remained in its place of honor in the music room.
Klaus watched as his butler withdrew, his eyes falling on The Man In Purple as he passed it. The portrait Eroica had been looking at all those years ago when the officer first laid eyes on him. He had returned to the Schloss to find he had a guest. A guest who had set his sights on The Man In Purple no matter what.
"I will admit, it's valuable," Klaus had said.
"So, you actually understand its worth?" Eroica had replied somewhat condescendingly.
His tone so annoyed the Major that he could not resist shocking the presumptuous Englishman with his next statement. "I could buy a Leopard tank with it." Little did he know the thief would take his words to heart, using the painting he had later stolen as payment for his Leopard tank.
Again, the Major's eye returned to his birthday present. He grudgingly admitted, if only to himself, that it was a remarkable piece of craftsmanship. It was obvious that the Earl had put considerable time, effort, money, and, more importantly, thought into finding an appropriate gift for this particular birthday. Not like the year he had sent long-stem roses, one for each year of his age, just to annoy the hell out of him.
Klaus sat back in his chair. There was no way in hell he could possibly keep this gift, no matter how appropriate it might be. If he accepted this—or any other gift—after so many years it would be like admitting defeat.
He stood up, taking hold of the replica. He jumped when the top moved in his hands. Had he broken it already? Shit. It's not a real tank, you fool, it's just a clockwork one. He made a quick examination of the turret. Then he noticed a latch, discovering the reason the top had moved. It was meant to be opened.
Carefully this time, Klaus opened the top of the turret, discovering that the interior had also been replicated in exacting detail. Too exacting, he realized, when he saw the figures within holding one another just as he and the Earl had done thirty years ago. They were trying to keep that wimp Caesar Gabriel from freezing.
Then Klaus realized that something was missing and scowled. He pulled a magnifying glass and flashlight from a drawer, using them to examine the interior. To his horror, he realized there were only two figures within the tank. Clearly, Eroica had chosen to completely omit Caesar Gabriel from the equation.
"You self-centered, egotistical bastard!"
Klaus thrust the magnifying glass and flashlight back onto the desk drawer. He had never told anyone what had transpired inside that tank when he was stranded with the Earl, impatiently waiting for his men to arrive. Never told anyone how he and the Earl had kept the little wimp warm. How he had sung The Tank Song just to pass the time and break the unbearable tension in the confined space.
Klaus quickly closed the top of the tank and dropped into his chair. He didn't realize he had touched the music switch until the tune started up again—right where it left off earlier in the day. His first instinct was to switch it off. Then he stopped, lighting a cigarette instead. He leaned back in his chair and listened to the familiar song. He looked across the room, his eyes falling on The Man In Purple again.
As his butler passed by the study, he paused, a smile coming to his face as he heard the Master singing a song from his childhood. It was so good to hear him happy for a change. Yes, a very appropriate gift indeed.
The Major knew all about deadlines. Like so many other times, this one could not be missed. Fortunately, also like so many other times, he had an extensive number of contacts he could call upon. It did not take long for him to locate the person he needed for this rush job.
The Major had been told that Wolfgang was the best at his craft, which meant he might not be available. Fortunately, he had at least agreed to listen to what was needed for the job and how quickly. To the Major's surprise, the man actually agreed to take on the task. In fact, he seemed thrilled by the challenge it involved.
"I would be honored to do this for you, Major," Wolfgang said delightedly. "But before I begin, I will require measurements and photographs. And several hours in direct contact—"
The Major waved a hand in the air. "Whatever you require, you'll have," he stated flatly, adding, "And money is no object."
Wolfgang's mouth dropped open. He had named a large sum for his services, and that didn't include his expenses. He got to his feet, holding out a hand. "The work will be completed on time, to your fullest satisfaction. You have my word. Even if I have to work night and day to finish."
The Major's eyebrows went up. He rose to his feet, looked at the extended hand, and finally shook it "The clock starts now."
Dorian had waited for the inevitable sparks to fly when the Major received his birthday gift. Especially when he had gone to such elaborate measures to make sure he received it in front of an audience. The Major's superior had jumped at the chance to assist in annoying his difficult subordinate officer. And by pulling only a few strings, and a promise of one romantic dinner, Dorian had been able to arrange to have the gift cleared as a diplomatic shipment.
The most difficult hurdle in the whole project, of course, was Mr. James. He had pitched innumerable fits. First, he didn't like that the Earl wanted to give the Major a gift. He didn't think the German machine maniac deserved anything unless it was going to explode in his face. Then he didn't want the work done outside of the country. He had argued and complained about every detail, especially the expense.
Finally, Dorian had had enough and put his foot down, which only served to trigger a crying fit. After this, he just bribed his accountant with several pairs of his underwear and some very lucrative thefts.
Now, here it was, nearly the end of May and he had not heard a single peep from the volatile German. He thought for sure he would have gotten the usual angry phone call berating him for having the gall to send a present, which was usually returned in irreparable bits. And considering how touchy the Major was when reminded of his age, one of the Iron Major's few twinges of vanity, his current silence was all the more baffling. Especially after Bonham received an email from Agent A in which he repeated what the Major had said about keeping, or rather not keeping the gift.
"Naught from Uncle Nato, M'lord?" Bonham asked as he entered the drawing room.
Dorian looked up from his unenthusiastic examination of the week old newspaper in his lap. "No." He drew a deep breath, waving his hand in the air. "Perhaps he's decided to dismantle it before shipping it back in tiny pieces."
"I wouldn't put it past 'im t' blow it up," Bonham replied.
Dorian giggled as he sat back in his seat. "Neither would I, but even Iron Klaus would think twice before destroying a tank, even a miniature one."
"Yeah. But Mr. A said 'e was dead set against keepin' it."
Dorian nodded absently. Then he drew a sharp breath, a hand going to his mouth as an extraordinary thought struck him. "Bonham! You don't suppose he actually decided to keep it after all, do you?"
Dorian was beginning to wonder if the world was conspiring against him. He had decided to have Castle Gloria renovated, having stolen more than enough to pay for the Major's birthday gift. And the castle hadn't had any updates since he hosted the International Thieves' Convention nearly thirty years ago. He had left James to argue with the renovation company and make sure they did exactly what they were being paid to do.
As June moved into July, the Earl started to distance himself from his men. Bonham suspected it was more than just boredom. It was the fact that the Earl's birthday was rapidly approaching and he had come to the realization that he was no longer the rising star of the thieving world that he had been when he had hosted the Thieves' Convention. Now, he was an icon, who was beginning to fear that his star would come crashing down in flames rather than sink gracefully below the horizon.
Dorian originally planned to spend the whole summer in London. That was before a deluge of biblical proportions caused similar flooding of biblical proportions, along with power outages, unsafe water and…well, it ceased to be fun.
Dorian had no idea how he had ended up in Switzerland. He had left London for Paris, where he quickly got bored. So he set his sights on Germany, where he would be close to his beloved Major. Along the way, he was sidetracked by a small bauble that caught his eye, which he subsequently stole. Somehow, he found himself heading to his house in Switzerland, but he quickly realized that the long walks he had in mind would only reinforce his solitude. He changed destinations again, this time for Zürich, where his friend Marcus was. He was the one who had arranged the diplomatic shipping of his package to the Major. He was also the one that Dorian had promised a romantic dinner to, which was exactly what the Earl felt he needed at this point. He checked himself into the most expensive hotel with an available penthouse suite where he could be pampered without any interference from Mr. James.
"Christ, I don't believe it!" a voice exclaimed as the Earl walked down the street. "You here to hide money from that scrooge accountant of yours?"
Dorian spun around, seeing the Major striding toward him. His mouth dropped open and he had to struggle to collect his thoughts. Then he broke into a dazzling smile. "Major!" he cried delightedly. "And how about yourself? Is this where your family fortune is stashed?"
The Major gave the Earl a piercing look, his eyes slowly narrowing. "My father happens to live in Switzerland," he stated coldly. "Thanks to my butler, he heard about that…thing you gave me and asked to see it."
Dorian's eyes lit up. He continued to smile brightly but resisted the urge to poke fun at this, considering how highly the Major regarded his father. "Is that why you didn't send it back directly?"
This took the Major completely off guard. "What?"
"Because your father…" Dorian suddenly wondered if he were entering forbidden territory and waved a hand. "Don't mind me, I haven't been myself lately."
The Major gave a snort, looking the Earl up and down. "Really? Then why are you still dressing like—"
"Not today, Major," Dorian said sharply, holding up a hand. "I'll take a rain check on your insults. Now, excuse me, I have a dinner engagement." So saying, he strode off.
The Major watched him go, his expression unchanged. Then a small smile started to curl the edges of his mouth.
Dorian enjoyed a delightful and diverting evening with his old friend, Marcus. They were in the process of savoring a fine wine after dinner when a man appeared with a card in his hand. "The gentleman said I was to place it in your hands, sir," he said, holding the card out to Dorian.
Dorian's eyebrows went up. "A scary-looking man with long dark hair?" he asked.
The man's eyes widened. "Yes, sir. You got it in one." He gave a slight bow when the Earl exchanged the card for a folded bill. "Enjoy your evening, sir," he said before he turned on his heel and strode off.
"A birthday greeting from a dark-haired stranger?" Marcus said with a laugh.
Dorian gave him a sideways glance. Dark-haired, yes. Stranger, most definitely not. He looked at the card in his hand and sighed. He had been able to successfully put the fact that it was his birthday out of his mind up until that moment. Damn you, Major, I don't like being reminded either, he thought as he finally opened the card. A folded paper fell into his lap as he did so. The card was just an ordinary greeting card, unsigned. The paper, however, was not. Dorian instantly recognized the Major's bold handwriting.
To Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria, also known as Eroica, Prince of Thieves.
On the occasion of his birthday, the 28th day of July, in the year two thousand and seven.
Like yourself, thirty years ago, I had the misfortune of making your acquaintance. Your appearance at my home and subsequent interference in my mission only served to reinforce my initial opinion of you as a shallow, egotistical bastard. From that point to this day, you have taken great pains to insinuate yourself into my life and my missions at every opportunity.
Thirty years ago, you stole my Leopard tank. This past May, you attempted to make restitution by giving me a miniature replica. It seems you still do not understand that I cannot and will not accept gifts of any kind from idiot thieves or deluded Englishman. Do I have to draw you a picture? Hopefully, the package waiting in your hotel room will finally underscore this point for me.
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach
Dorian sat staring at the paper in his hands for nearly a minute before he folded it and slipped it back into the card. "Well, I guess that explains what happened to the music box," he sighed. He put the card into a pocket before downing the remainder of his wine.
"Steady on, Gloria," Marcus said as the Earl gulped down another glass. "The night's young."
Dorian looked at his dinner partner and gave him a weak smile. "I'm sorry, my darling Marcus. I'm just not all that…up tonight." He couldn't even find the energy to play on the suggestive nature of his remark.
"Birthdays aren't supposed to be like funerals, dear boy. We're supposed to be celebrating."
"I've just decided to give up having birthdays. D'you know, I found a gray hair the other day?" Dorian slowly got to his feet. "Forgive me, but…I don't feel much like celebrating."
"What the hell was in that card?" Marcus practically demanded.
"Nothing you'd understand." Dorian gave the man a kiss on the cheek. "But I will accept your picking up the check as my birthday present."
"That's more like you," Marcus laughed. "But you have to promise to let me take you out to actually celebrate next time you're in town."
For this, Dorian managed a semblance of his bright smile. "It's a date."
Dorian walked for a while before finally returning to his hotel. He looked up at the sky as he arrived, turning his gaze to the penthouse. The doorman opened the door for him, waited, and then came over.
"Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"
Dorian did not lower his gaze. "Do you know how many romances end with the broken hearted lover throwing themselves from a great height?" he asked conversationally.
The doorman's eyes grew wide. "Sir? Are you quite alright, sir?"
The panic in the man's voice registered in the Earl's brain and he finally looked at him. Then he realized how his words might have been taken and he leaned over to whisper in the man's ear. "Between you and me, I can't see it. All that blood, you see. And there's no way one can have an open casket funeral." He straightened, giving the man a dazzling smile. "Personally, I much prefer having sex on a balcony with someone as lovely as yourself rather than jumping."
The doorman made a strangled noise upon hearing this. Then he realized the Earl was moving and he rushed over to open the door for him, watching in a stunned silence as the man breezed into the lobby.
Dorian was still giggling when he stepped from the penthouse elevator. Teasing the doorman had done wonders in lifting his spirits. He turned on the lights and stopped dead in his tracks, his good spirits evaporating at the same time. In the center of the living area was a crate with a diplomatic seal on it.
He sighed heavily, dropping onto the sofa where he sat staring at the box. After several minutes, Dorian pulled the card from his pocket, glanced down at it, and then tossed it onto a table. He leaned back, closing his eyes, a hand going to his head. "Happy fucking birthday, Eroica, you broken down old queen," he said bitterly.
"Well, this is a first," came a calm voice from the balcony. "Eroica feeling sorry for himself without an audience."
Dorian was so startled he actually cried out, a hand going to his chest. "Christ, Major!" he scolded. "What the hell are you doing creeping around my—" He broke off, waving a hand in the air. "Never mind. Just say what you want to say and leave."
The Major's eyes flickered as he moved further into the room. "You haven't opened your box," he observed.
Dorian gave him a dark look. "Why bother? We both know what's in it." He got to his feet and crossed to the bar, making himself a stiff drink. "I tried, Major, I really tried this time. And when you didn't call screaming at me right away…" He looked at the glass in his hand and sighed, pushing it aside and turning back. "I was so sure that…this time…"
"I had accepted your gift?"
The Major crossed to the crate. "You stole my tank and then you tried to return it with a replica," he said as he bent down to remove the cover.
Dorian gave the man a quizzical look. "Are you saying you still want that tank back? After all this time?"
"No." Klaus carefully pulled the packing from the case. "I told you, I cannot accept a gift from you. Any gift from you. It would…compromise everything."
"However, I am allowed to pay you for it."
"Major, what on Earth are you on about?"
Dorian's mouth dropped open when the officer extracted a small easel from the crate, which he carefully set down on the table beside the card the Earl had tossed there earlier. This was followed by a rectangular object that was covered with a velvet cloth.
Klaus looked up, an amused look on his face. He pulled off the cloth, revealing a miniature replica of The Man In Purple. "I told you once that I could buy a tank with the original. So why not pay for a replica tank with a replica painting?" He set the painting on the easel and then stepped back as the dazzled Earl crossed to it, his eyes taking in every detail.
"It's…Oh, Major, it's…" Dorian looked up, his eyes dancing. "I don't have the words."
Klaus had to fight the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. "Incidentally, you are not a broken down queen."
Dorian gave a hollow laugh. "But you can't deny that I am old."
"We both are, you idiot!" Klaus saw a pained look pass behind the Earl's eyes. "Dorian, I didn't come here to argue with you again. I came for your birthday."
Klaus gave an exasperated sigh, crossed the room, and grabbed hold of the Earl. The next thing Dorian knew, the Major was kissing him for all he was worth.
When Klaus broke the kiss, he practically shouted, "Now, will you stop whining! You sound like James!"
A brilliant smile spread across Dorian's face. "God, I love you!"
Klaus tried to ignore the fact that he was suddenly being undressed in order to remain serious. "Did you really think you could pull that birthday gift shit and not have me do something about it?"
"I was hoping that you'd come to England to scream blue murder at me. Then I could apologize and jump your bones," Dorian replied as he continued to strip the man of his clothes.
"I see. There is an annoying Yank expression that my men have taken to using that would be appropriate here."
"And what would that be?"
Klaus waited until Dorian looked him in the eye before he said, "My bad."
Dorian burst out laughing. He closed his eyes and gave a contented sigh as strong hands started to remove his clothes, caress his skin, move upward to tangle in his hair. Then Klaus leaned close to his ear. "Thank you for my gift," he said softly.
Dorian ran a hand down the Major's now naked body. "Gift? Didn't you just pay for that?"
Klaus gave him a steady look. "Yes. My bad again, it seems."
Again, Dorian laughed. "I shall have to come up with a suitable replacement," he purred. "Something that you can accept."
By this time, Klaus was having a difficult time remaining serious. "I will have to…examine this replacement beforehand."
"Oh! I was hoping you would say something like that," Dorian said as he dragged him to the floor.
Several hours later, Klaus awoke when Dorian turned in bed and then snuggled up against him. He shifted position to put his arm around him, and the Earl happily snuggled in further, moving the sheet covering them to wrap his leg around him.
"Keep that up and you'll be on top of me," Klaus said softly.
Dorian smiled and gave a contented sigh. "You know you shouldn't tempt like that, my darling Klaus."
The reply was a small grunt.
"I'm glad you came for my birthday."
Another grunt. "I told you I would."
"Yes, you did." Dorian sat up enough to give the man a kiss on the lips. Then he put an arm across Klaus's chest, resting his chin on his hand so he could look him in the eye. "But you still haven't examined all the replacements for your gift."
"Sex on the balcony is not an acceptable replacement," Klaus stated flatly.
"You'll never know until you try it."
"No way in hell."
Dorian giggled and started to run his fingers over the man's bare skin. "That's what you used to say about this, too."
"The day you get me out on a balcony naked will be the day that I throw you off it," Klaus replied firmly.
"We'll see," Dorian purred.
The look in the Earl's eyes gave Klaus the uncomfortable feeling that he would one day be lying naked on a balcony somewhere.
"I like what I like," Eroica had said all those years ago. "And what I like, I always make mine."
And so he had, Klaus reflected. When Dorian disappeared under the sheet, his intentions obvious, Klaus found himself wondering what the next thirty years would bring.
— THE END —