There is no King of Thieves. Several princes, yes—but no king, not for a couple of centuries now. There are many reasons for this. A king already holds the reins to his kingdom, has married the fair maiden princess, vanquished his enemies and conquered all that he wanted. A prince, however, has work left to do.
The Heir Apparent sits at the throne's foot, with both elbows on the seat, leaning backwards. He is sprawled out in a pose sensual and carefree, calculated to expose his stunning body to perfection. From the way his mane's golden curls spill over his shoulders and catch all sunlight; to his long, long legs, spread to show the bulge between them, he manages without effort to look every bit an aristocrat. The throne is his for the taking, but he will not reach for his rightful inheritance. Not yet.
At the age of 33, the Prince of Thieves has stolen everything he deemed worthy of stealing—and rather a lot of things he didn't. Museums across the globe live in fear of his little visits. Some of them, thought, take pride in his interest, proudly displaying his MANY THANKS, EROICA-notes—often beside the painting or statue or jewellery he ransomed back when he no longer fancied it. In all but one thing, he is fickle. He has even had a one-night-stand with Mona Lisa, with the painting propped up against the head of his bed and gently, oh so carefully, pressing his full lips to hers in as close a contact he ever wished to come to a woman.
He has accomplished everything he ever set out to do. Save for one. He never stole the heart of the fair mai… jor.
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Welcome. Welcome to the fiery pit of the Abyss. Welcome… to Hell. There's pain here. Pain and torment and torture beyond imagination—and it will never… ever… end… Welcome and well met. Stay a while. Stay forever.
The Devil sits on a divan covered by the skin of unborn babies whose mothers committed suicide. The Father of Lies drinks iced pear lemonade as he smells the burning flesh of sinners. He—for he has the shape of a man—is not very remarkable, except for his sharp, deep-set eyes and proud nose. Not old, but not young either. He has dark hair, carefully combed back and pushed behind his ears. Many would say that he looks like a salesman. Do you want to buy what he is selling? The price is fixed—but he will still cheat you.
Hell has only one guard dog, but also only one hunting dog. The latter—human, not canine—lies with his head in his master's lap, getting lovingly petted. They say that he is the only man ever to receive a GET OUT OF HELL FREE-card from Lucifer Morningstar. They say he got a second chance at life on Earth, for service performed by bringing back escaped souls to the Abyss. They say he looked at both the Earth and at the Devil, then threw the card over his shoulder and went back to Hell.
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The gate to Hell is locked from the outside. Hell is a prison, meant to keep beings in, not someone else out. Still, the lock is—pardon the pun—devilishly clever. You can do it, yes, but only since you are at the height of your skill. A month ago you wouldn't have had the experience. A month from now, you won't have the dexterity. As it is, you manage just barely. Sweat dampens large parts of your cat suit, and you breathe heavily. One little mistake—even the tiniest miscalculation or hesitation—would alert the Hell guards. Oh—not to worry—you would still be able to slip inside, as you finally do. To get into Hell isn't a problem. To get into Hell is easy. Anyone can do it. The Hell guards would gladly let you enter, no matter what mistake you might make. Only, when the gate closed behind you, it would relock and the guards would escort you to your new—permanent—home. You do want to get into Hell, yes—but not to stay.
Actually, when you do step onto the cursed plane, you're still not fully sure that you managed to unlock the gate properly. Perhaps the Devil is just waiting, allowing you get on with things only to dash your hope at the very last minute. You trust yourself, though, and take pride in your skill. Besides, once you set foot on the hot rock that forms the floor of Hell, you have no choice but to continue.
Cerberus poses no problem, since you came in the "legal" way. Besides, he loves to get petted, and you always were able to charm anyone and anything you wanted—except the pants off a NATO major, which has proven impossible. That is why you're here. You spend a good ten minutes scratching and patting, until the huge dog is on its back with a totally blissed-out expression—tongues lolling out of all three snouts and the long tail wagging up a storm.
How you cross the river Styx is anyone's guess. Sufficient to say is that it is a feat only three men and one woman alive on Earth could repeat. None of whom would be able to steal back the coin from the ferryman afterwards.
The stench and mess in Hell makes you shudder. You see things that threaten to drive you mad, yet you continue. You have a fixed goal in mind; something that will gain you the one thing you find that you still yearn for. The one thing that will make you utterly, completely, impossibly happy. Thoughts of touching your would-be lover's long, black hair and seeing passion in his emerald green eyes push you forward… give you the strength and determination to keep walking.
Distance is a tricky thing in Hell. Though you have walked for hours, you can still see the gate, how Cerberus's tail whips about and how the water floats serenely on the river. You've passed countless sinners being tormented by minor devils and demons. At a distance you see the centre of Hell, where the very first inmate-cum-warden relaxes with his Earth-born lover. The sight makes you smile. In the fires of doom, two beings have found their own little slice of Heaven.
You pass the suicides, the murderers, the rapists and the heretics and venture into the areas of more complicated combinations. People who have raped and killed; people who have killed, then committed suicide; people who had lain with their siblings and killed the resulting babe. You walk carefully, so that you're not caught by their grasping hands as they reach for any kind of salvation. Thankfully you do not pass the thieves—not that you think that what you do is a crime. Not really. It's not as if you've ever hurt anyone. At least never on purpose.
Later you reach an area with people who have killed to impress their beloved or committed atrocities in the name of love. Finally, the people who resorted to dark magic to seduce someone and use him or her for their own perverted pleasures. That is where you find her. She lies in the middle of a ring of witches and wizards. This is in a lull of their punishment. Hell does permit such things, so that the heights of torment shall have proper resonance. Nimue—also known as Vivien, Nineve, Niniane, Nymenche, Uiuiane or just plain the Lady of the Lake—screams as the flesh of her abdomen is carved away, strip by strip. To take the cup she holds loosely in one hand is far easier than to slip a belt out of the loops in a NATO Major's pants.
Not until you are back among the heretics do you take a moment to inspect the Cup of Nimue. Outwardly it is pretty enough. It is golden with red stones and a band of pure diamonds: a treasure worthy of your attention in its own right. Of course, that is not why you stole it. If you had just gone to Hell to steal something—to crown your career as the world's best thief—there would have been countless options. Perhaps you would have gone for the most obvious, if less spectacular, prize—stealing again the fire of Prometheus. Useless as such a thing would be nowadays, there would have been a certain romantic sense of completeness to such a deed. No, you have chosen the Cup of Nimue for another reason. You found the mention of the Cup in an old book, and that was what spurred this entire adventure. The Cup itself—its Earthly shape—has been destroyed centuries ago, which was how it came to join its mistress in the land of torment.
Within this cup Nimue infused all her power. During the forging, the metal was cooled—over and over again—with the blood of virgins, males as well as females. With this cup, Nimue seduced the great Sorcerer Merlin once and for all, then trapped him and took his powers. When you turn it upside down, you read the Celtic words underneath, where a drinker would not notice them. The message is simple, stating the cup's purpose.
Whoever from this cup drinketh, will with the person who filled it fall in love.
You close your eyes briefly. This was never your plan when you first started chasing him, nearly six years ago. But the iron heart never melted, and you must have all you want—that's your policy. This way, he will love you, too; he really will! You will finally have his love. You will both be happy. Still, reading the words underneath the chalice, you shudder. It shouldn't have to be this way!
Feeling sad, you continue your trek back through Hell. After having crossed the river, you spend a little while longer with Cerberus before approaching the gate again. Your stomach is in a knot as you press your hand to the black obsidian, applying pressure. This is the moment you've dreaded. But no alarm sounds, and no heavy, clawed hand lands on your shoulder. The gates open. You leave, closing the door behind you and nudging the levers until they slide back into the locked position.
When you look around, the sun never seemed so nice and bright and the air never so sweet and fresh. Carefully, you wrap the cup and shrug on your backpack. Then you return to the world of the living.
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Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO's Intelligence Division liked running. To run served both to keep his body trim and to give him a chance to mull over whatever mission lay before him or—if a new mission had yet to be assigned—to go over the past. He would evaluate his own actions as well as those of his men: what should have been done better and how he would compensate for defects in the future. Beyond that, he found a certain calm in driving his body to step after step of never faltering ease. To run was as close to meditation he could ever bring himself. When he ran, people mostly left him alone. Few could keep up his speed and maintain a conversation. A good run would leave him feeling simultaneously alert and at peace.
Klaus ran with long, gliding steps along the road circling Eberbach, his hometown. Autumn leaves brightened the late German evening, and the river made the air pleasantly humid to breathe. As he ran, he found himself thinking about Eroica. The Brit had been suspiciously absent and silent for a couple of months. Klaus hadn't even gotten one of those gaudy post cards from one capital or another, which the thief for some reason usually took time to pester him with on a more or less monthly basis. Which, granted, saved Klaus the trouble of ripping them to pieces in front of his butler, but still raised a nagging concern as to what the magpie was up to. Not that he —God forbid!—worried or anything!
Despite what many persons would claim—both so called "friends" and foes—Major von dem Eberbach was a mere mortal. An extraordinary one, perhaps—strong and brave and with a will to match anyone he came across. Some might vent an opinion that he lacked certain qualities, but they seldom dared to do so out loud in his presence. In truth—like all men, Major von dem Eberbach was fallible. He made mistakes, failed at certain things, and now and then ran into streaks of bad luck. While normally he had good enough control over his body to make it do his bidding, accidents do happen—even to NATO's Iron Klaus.
A stone about the size of an egg lay innocently on the path. Perhaps a passing animal had kicked it there, just where the flittering shadows formed by the trees' leaves concealed its presence. His foot came down on it hard, then slid sideways and sent him sprawling.
The Major turned his fall into a roll and kept rolling, since to gather his legs under him for a leap or anything more co-ordinated would cost precious time. He crashed into the bushes and—Magnum in hand without having actively sought the weapon—took shelter behind a tree.
It did occur to him that the faint hiss he had heard as he fell might have been something completely innocent. A wasp perhaps. A noise from some far-away animal or bird. Maybe even an odd sound produced by the very tree he crouched behind. There was also the remote possibility that it had been nothing more than a brain-ghost—a memory which for whatever reason suddenly woke in his ears. Though if there was one thing Klaus trusted, it was his sense of self-preservation, which screamed at him that as he fell the air just behind his head had been clipped by a bullet.
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He didn't report the incident. Nothing more had happened in the forest, and he had found no trace of a would-be killer. Besides, if he informed his superiors, there would be a circus—and eventually whoever investigated would decide that he had imagined things. Best-case scenario, he would get sent to cool his heels in a safe house for a while—as if he couldn't take care of himself! So he had decided to let it be… for now. He would keep a sharp eye on things and wait for anything else to happen.
When he entered his and the Alphabets' room, G—the transvestite for the day dressed in a NATO-issued skirt of modest length—handed him an envelope. "From the Chief. He was on his way out, so he told me to give this to you."
More likely didn't want to talk to me about whatever it is, Klaus thought. He sat down at his desk at the back of the room and slit open the envelope. His letter opener was one of the very few things in his possession that he strongly suspected originated as one of Eroica's bloody "courting" gifts. He had kept it since it was both functional and interesting—a pocket knife in the shape of a golden bullet. More importantly, he couldn't prove it had actually been Eroica who had put it where he would find it, and thus it was safe to use.
The memo came from higher up than the Chief… from General Tmano himself, ordering him to cooperate fully with an American detective working for Interpol on an important case. No information about what the case entailed, when the mission would start, nothing. Klaus dropped the single page in a desk drawer, figuring he would just have to wait until the detective showed. He instead turned his attention to paperwork left to do from the previous mission, a request for leave from C—as it was to C's own wedding and subsequent honeymoon, Klaus supposed he would have to grant it—and some other such details. He also worked on a training mission he intended to take some of the more out–of-shape Alphabets on. Interpol, eh? Perhaps I should ask him whether anything special has been stolen lately and if the fop is suspected.
Several hours later a knock got his attention, and he looked up. H rose to intercept a man at the door. The man was of average height; with light, slightly shaggy brown hair; faint five o'clock shadow; dressed in a long, dark grey coat. He had open, slightly boyish features; in fact, he resembled an older Z just a little. H, having asked the man's intent, stepped to the side to let him in and showed him to of Klaus's desk. Klaus rose.
"Major Eberbach?" said the man. He had a very distinct American accent.
"Ja. And you are?" Klaus guessed he must be the detective Tmano had written about, but wouldn't make the assumption out loud, just in case.
The man held out a hand, so Klaus grudgingly shook. He noted that the other had a very strong grip, but that he didn't try to initiate a competition during the brief handshake. Good. Klaus detested such things.
"Ezekiel Stone, NYPD." He had a hoarse voice, like he had either drunk too much alcohol or screamed a lot lately.
"Detective. Come, sit."
They sat. As soon as his butt made contact with the chair, Klaus sensed someone behind him and turned. The narrow space between him and the wall was, just as it should be, empty. Annoyed with his body's recent habit of playing games on him, Klaus turned back. "General Tmano wrote a note to tell me you would be coming, but didn't see fit to tell me what this was about. What is a New York detective doing so far away from his city? What am I to help you with?"
"Well, I—" The detective broke off and glanced over Klaus's shoulder. Then he briefly closed his eyes as if in pain, before looking back at Klaus. "I've been told that you have contact with—" He broke off again and glanced away—this time over Klaus's other shoulder. "That you have contact with a thief known as Eroica."
As if yesterday wasn't enough, getting shot at! "I'm not begging for his help in stealing something again!" Klaus growled. He had had quite enough of NATO using him as their Eroica-go-between—he certainly wouldn't let them use him as some Eroica-pimp when dealing with other agencies.
Far from looking in any way intimidated, the strange American smiled. "On the contrary, Major Eberbach. I'm here to ask for your assistance in his arrest."
Hallelujah! Klaus thought. There is a God! And he likes me! Still, he frowned. "Why now? What did he do this time?"
Again, the detective's eyes flickered. Klaus resisted looking over his shoulder, but only since he knew that no one could have gotten there without him noticing. Damn it, though, it feels as if someone is standing behind me!
"He stole an important object," the detective finally said. "I can't discuss it further than that. You know how it is."
"I don't appreciate getting thrown blindly into a situation. It must be important if the General ordered me to help you."
"Let's just say that he managed to offend people both high and low. I understand your hesitation, Major. But the object in question really doesn't matter. To find him does. You are the world's leading expert on Eroica. Well, at least on the right side of the law. How do we find him?"
Klaus frowned. "I'm not sure. It's usually more of a question of trying to avoid him. He just shows up."
"Surely you have some idea?"
"There was that one time I had to ask for his help. I sent him some tickets anonymously. He's a magpie for shiny things too." And me. If I took my shirt off when I go jogging next time, I bet he'd show up even if he was in the West Indies. He decided not to offer. "He lives in England. Mostly in a place called North Downs. A decadent nest, full of degenerates and thieves—it's Hell on Earth."
The detective snorted and mumbled something which sounded suspiciously like, "I doubt it's anything like it," before saying aloud, "Then we'll go there. NATO has special planes and such, right? Can you arrange a trip for us to England?"
"Ja. J! Plane to England, tomorrow at 08.00. Arrange it."
"Yes, Major," J acknowledged and reached for his phone.
When Klaus turned back to the detective, the man was once again looking at the wall behind Klaus and… rolling his eyes? Been hit over the head once too many, Yank? Klaus wondered. "If 08.00 isn't too early for you, Detective Stone?"
Strangely enough, it appeared as if the man had to tear his eyes away from whatever invisible thing he watched. "No, no, that works fine. I don't sleep much anyway, nowadays. Now, if you could fill me in a little on this Eroica-fellow?"
"Just remember to watch your pants around him, and you should be fine."
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On his way back to his apartment, Klaus pondered the strange American. The man really didn't seem to be playing with a full deck. The worst part was, though, how Klaus himself had become more and more convinced that there had been someone or something behind him that repeatedly called for the man's attention. While Klaus wouldn't go as far as to say he had a sixth sense, he had felt a very tangible presence behind him—a strange mixture of benevolence and threat. The Yank himself had been remarkably well behaved for one of his kind. Polite, mild-mannered and gentleman-like; didn't even bat an eye at G. He had some quirks though, that was for sure. Asking if they sold "Reggie bars" in Germany! And looking for a hotel that didn't charge more than $36.27, of all sums, grumbling about needing a raise. Surely even tight-ass America must send its detectives off on a mission with more than that?
Klaus's apartment was on the second level of a two-floor house in the southwest part of Bonn. It wasn't very big, but had been his sanctuary away from Eberbach for many years. In some ways he preferred staying there to going to the Schloss. In his apartment, he could relax as much as he wanted. Not that he ever went sloppy and threw clothes on the floor or anything, but sometimes he would lie on the sofa and watch football, even once in a while indulge in fried potatoes or spread parts of his Magnum all over the kitchen while cleaning it and scratch his belly without anyone staring at him. It was his own place. He never invited co-workers or anyone else there. On the few occasions someone had come to pick him up on their way someplace, they had never come inside. His father had visited once, that was all.
As soon as he opened the door, he knew that someone had entered his domain uninvited. He held the Magnum in hand even as the door opened and looked around for any sign of the intruder.
"I'm in the kitchen, darling!"
He closed his eyes momentarily, but then did holster the Magnum. Figures.
"I could have you arrested for breaking and entering, you stupid limey!" he growled and went to the kitchen, looking around to make sure that the man hadn't brought along the usually-present pest of an accountant.
"How was your day, darling? I have dinner ready for you."
Which was—mostly—what had alerted him upon entering. The scent of roasted meat and fried potatoes—a rather tantalizing mixture, to be honest. He went into the kitchen, where the Earl of Red Gloria graced him with his sunniest, most welcoming smile.
"I thought about waiting for you in the nude, you know. But then I figured we could eat first."
The dinner did look rather nice, even in the light of the flickering candles. Those are for emergency use, stupid, if the electricity fails. His best china—with the Eberbach boar—had been used, together with two god-awful golden cups with shimmering jewels. There were also flowers—roses and begonias—in crystal vases which decidedly did not belong to him. An idea occurred to him. Oh yes, Eroica, I've got you now….
"You have guts," he had to admit. "Breaking into my home to wine me and dine me? Eroica—"
"Call me Dorian. And I'm celebrating something. I will be on my very best behaviour, Scout's honour. Drink with me?"
Scout? Ha! "I'm not a fourteen-year-old girl you can impress with a stunt like this."
"If you were a fourteen-year-old girl, I wouldn't want to. Anyway, I'm not seeing you wave fists or Magnum at me either," Dorian replied, sounding cautious. "Is the way to your heart through your stomach then, my dear Major? Have I finally found a good way to woo you?"
Klaus looked back to the table and shrugged. "I need to eat. I would prefer not to have all this silly girly stuff all over the place, though."
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Dorian's mouth fell open. Food? Food actually works?! Burn Mona Lisa, I could have ordered from a five star restaurant years ago! He quickly caught himself and smiled. "I could remove the flowers, if that would make it more to your liking?"
Klaus looked towards the table again, then nodded slowly.
Oh my god! It is working! Bless you, Filet Oscar! Bless you, fried potatoes! Dorian hastily threw the Eroica Roses and Eroica Begonias in the bin. A pity, as they had been difficult to get hold of, but if Klaus preferred them gone, then bye-bye pretty flowers.
He turned back to find that Klaus had taken a step further into the room. The Major still didn't look quite convinced, though. Dorian surveyed the table, then quickly grabbed the cups and put them on the sink, replacing them with ordinary glasses. "Better?"
Klaus had never acted this calm on finding the two of them alone before. Oh, they had had temporary truces once in a while, stolen minutes that kept Dorian awake for many a sleepless night, contemplating the meaning of a less-than-hateful sneer or snort. Over the years he had received a carefully hoarded couple of praising words, mostly for his skill with acquiring objects NATO wanted. Never for a romantic gesture though. None of those ever got this quiet acceptance. Can it possibly be? Has the iron weakened, just a little bit? If so, to Hell, eh… back to Hell with the Cup of Nimue. After all, that had really been a last, desperate resort. He had been about to give up. Now though… Maybe I could even learn to cook food? What a novel idea!
"I was thinking about you today," Klaus said and stepped closer. Not towards the table though. Towards… him? And the candlelight made his eyes look so warm! Dorian felt his knees tremble.
"Thinking. About you. Today." The German accent had deepened, just a little—in a way that went directly to Dorian's loins.
"And I have decided that I…" Klaus's hand—Klaus's very warm hand—landed on Dorian's shoulder, and Klaus leaned in. "…want you."
Dorian couldn't think. He could hardly breathe! He could just stare, wide-eyed, at the other man. Who… nudged at him? Pushed at him? Grabbed him and turned him around? Took his wrists and pushed him against the wall, whispering into his ear, oh so sexily….
"And so does Interpol… Arrested, that is."
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To be able to pull a fast one over Eroica would normally have made Klaus's day—if it hadn't been for the sudden tension in his belly at the devastated, betrayed look the master thief bestowed on him. Okay, so he supposed that he had gone a little overboard on the teasing—but, damn it, the magpie had broken into his apartment! He deserved his comeuppance.
After having secured Dorian to a kitchen chair, he quickly located the number to the hotel J had recommended to the American detective and called, letting the man know that he had captured Eroica and would hold him until Stone got there. Then he turned back to his prisoner—and the table. The food really did look appetizing, and he did need to eat. After a brief hesitation he untied Dorian's right hand. As he sat down he put his Magnum beside his plate.
"If your hand at any point goes under the table, I will shoot you," he said in a friendly tone.
"I can't cut the meat this way."
Klaus shrugged. "I'm not cutting it for you. I don't know why I let you eat in the first place."
Luckily, for Dorian, the meat was really tender, and he could easily saw through it with only one hand, before spearing the pieces with his fork. He even made it look elegant.
The meal tasted great, with the meat just the way he liked it and plenty of potatoes. He very seldom made a pig of himself, but for once he didn't feel all that self-conscious in Dorian's presence and so, he ate.
"That was a very evil thing you did, Major von dem Eberbach."
He shrugged again. "What did you steal this time, anyway?" he asked between mouthfuls.
"I haven't stolen anything in a couple of months. I've been busy with a special project."
"That thing you wanted to celebrate?"
"Yes. But I think I've changed my mind about that. It wasn't all that fun anyway."
"The cop I have to work with said something about you having offended people both high and low. Sounds like you stole something valuable."
"As I said, not for a couple of months. Well, except for this project, but believe me—no one will come looking for it."
Klaus snorted in disbelief. He had gobbled down his portion and decided that a smoke would be in order as he allowed the nobleman to finish. Turning, he started to reach over to his jacket on the counter, when a bullet hit him in the head, and he crashed to the floor.
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The fork dropped from Dorian's suddenly limp fingers. Klaus had put down his knife and turned, reaching around—and had then jerked. Glass had exploded in the window and Klaus fell in a red haze.
After a heart-stopping second in which a thousand thoughts clamoured for his attention, Dorian threw himself—chair and all—to the floor, managing to hit his head on the sink on his way down and almost blacking out. He had to bite his tongue to stay awake as he worked frantically on the rope with the little knife he kept on the inside of his sleeve—he didn't know how Klaus could have missed it while patting him down, unless the man hadn't been distracted by Dorian's pleased moans. Simultaneously he tried to wriggle farther towards Klaus's body. The German's head had lolled to the side and a pool of blood spread sluggishly. Finally the last strand broke, and he pushed the ropes around his legs roughly down and off the chair legs. Then he crawled, heart in throat, the last bit up to his unconscious— Please let him be just unconscious! Please let him be just unconscious! Please let him be just unconscious! —beloved, grabbed him under one arm and proceeded to drag him out of the kitchen. You're NATO's Iron Klaus! You can't die like this! Please don't die!
He had visited the apartment before and knew the layout fairly well. So he hauled Klaus into the living room, where the only window looked out into the garden separating this row of houses from the next. Whoever had shot at them wouldn't be able to hit them in there. Only then did he take time to assess the damage. As he realised that it wasn't as bad as he had first feared, he breathed out a huge sigh of relief. Klaus had been shot, yes, but the bullet had only brushed the right side of his head. The wound bled sluggishly. Far more blood came from his nose, which he had apparently bumped hard on the floor.
Seeing that his Major wasn't dying, Dorian felt himself go limp all over and allowed himself a moment's rest with his forehead on Klaus's chest, hoping against hope to get thrown off and verbally abused. Then he rushed to the bathroom to get Klaus's first aid kit.
Going back, he passed the kitchen. No more shots had been fired. Maybe the shooter thought he had killed the Major, or perhaps he could not overlook the floor from his position. Also, clearly Klaus had been the target, not Dorian. He should be safe enough if he crawled in. Not right now, perhaps—he would have to get Klaus's wound dealt with first—but later. The Cup of Nimue still stood on the sink. Heart-shaped diamonds and precious stones glittering seductively, promising all he ever wanted. Dorian shook himself hard, then continued to the living room. First things first.
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Pain. His whole head seemed swallowed by pain, as well as part of his side and shoulder. He tried to move, to get away from whatever hurt him. Gentle, cool hands caught him and a voice crooned at him. He didn't understand the words—they seemed to come from far, far away—but they were calming and reassuring. He recognized something about the voice, something which he classified as trustworthy. Someone who would take care of him and remove the pain. Someone who loved him. He stopped struggling.
Cold touched his mouth. He tried to turn away.
The voice sounded again, stronger this time. Something about… father? His father? No, that couldn't be right. He was certain that the presence wasn't his father—it smelled all wrong, for starters—rich and flowery and pleasant.
The touch returned, cold and… wet? Oh. He opened his mouth, accepting the liquid and swallowing as best as he could. Some ran down his chin and was dried away. The voice spoke again. It sounded pleased, as if he had done something good. Glad for this, he let himself drift away.
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Dorian sat with his back to Klaus's sofa, with the man's head in his lap, slowly brushing his fingers through the long strands of hair.
He looked up and through the living room to the front door. It might be the killer. Maybe he wants to make sure he finished the job. Either that or that detective my dear Major spoke to. He still wasn't sure what he had done to warrant Interpol to be looking for him with particular haste. He hadn't had to avoid them actively since that silly Mona Lisa incident.
Klaus turned his head to the side, then stiffened and rolled back, blinking up at Dorian. "Hello, my love," Dorian said softly and smiled. "How do you feel?"
Before Klaus had time to answer, there was a new knock on the door, a little more insistent this time.
"I was shot?" Klaus asked, trying to sit up. His voice sounded rough.
"Yes," Dorian confirmed, then helped support the other's weight—getting a good feel of Klaus's shoulders in the process. "A bullet grazed your temple. I think you were knocked unconscious when you fell."
"Where's my Magnum? Have I been out long?"
"There, on the table. Not even a quarter of an hour. Ah… Are you sure you can handle a gun right now?"
"I'll handle it better than you when I'm dead and in the ground," Klaus grumbled, but the way he held the Magnum was a far cry from his usual effortless ease—he used both hands, for one. Which didn't stop him, when the front door fell off its hinges, from shooting the intruder straight in the chest.
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
Ezekiel made a face as the Magnum bullet burned against his body. He really disliked getting shot at, no matter that the only lasting result was a tear in his coat. Force of habit, maybe. Five shots to the face and neck will do that to a man.
He took in the room, belatedly thinking that perhaps he should have introduced himself before ramming his way through the door when no one answered. "It's me, Detective Stone," he said.
The NATO agent was a sight to behold, with blood in his hair and on his face, gun in hand and a stunned expression. And the thief—Ezekiel had seen him in pictures, of course, but those hadn't done justice to the man's magnetic presence.
"He is quite a sight too, isn't he?" said the devil. He stood to Ezekiel's left and munched popcorn.
Ezekiel didn't answer, fairly sure that he was the only one who saw the Father of All Things Evil. He stepped further into the room, and the Magnum was raised, this time levelled at his head—forehead, he hoped, rather than his eyes. Not that he was particularly worried about getting sent back to Hell again, but it was a rather unpleasant journey, even without Morningstar going "Wheee!" and "Whooo!" in the sharp corners.
"You're here for me, aren't you?" said the thief. His voice trembled a little. "I recognize you. Take me if you must, but please don't hurt my Major."
The military man took two slightly wobbly steps to the right, to stand in front of the thief. "Nobody takes anybody anywhere before you've told me what's going on here. Detective Stone—you're not really a detective, are you?"
"Actually, I am. Or I was."
"Am, Ezekiel," said the Devil. "You're at this very moment enjoying a very unhealthy burger in Chicago. Those things will kill you, you know."
"Am," he repeated. "It's a bit complicated."
"Uncomplicate it," the German ordered.
"So butch," said Satan. "Seriously, who does he think he's kidding? I'm surprised he hasn't tattooed 'Property of Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach' on the pretty thief's forehead already. Ah, young love…."
"I said, 'Uncomplicate it!' Why did you break the door? Was it you who shot me?"
"No, Major. Maybe we should all just sit down, and I'll—"
"Can I sit in your lap?"
The Major's expression at their simultaneous reaction was so amusing that Ezekiel had to fight a smile. Then the German said, sounding a tad hesitant, "I think he was talking to me."
Ezekiel, who had answered Morningstar's request just as vehemently as the German had the thief's identical one, just shook his head and gave his unrepentant lover a glare. "Fine. Let's just all sit down."
They sat, though the German kept a hand on his Magnum. Ezekiel also noted that the man had sat down so that his body still covered most of the thief from view.
"That shot should have dropped you," Major von dem Eberbach said accusingly. "Kevlar vest or no, the punch from a Magnum should have dropped you."
"I don't think he's wearing a Kevlar vest, dear," the thief said softly. He stared at Ezekiel over the Major's shoulder.
Figuring he might as well get the introduction over with, Ezekiel unbuttoned his coat and pulled down his light grey shirt to show that, indeed, he wore no such thing.
"I hit you. My hands might be a bit unsteady, but I know I did."
Ezekiel nodded, then quickly buttoned up his clothes again, covering his unmarred chest—bare now, with the exception of a single tattoo over his heart. Originally he had been branded with 113 of them, one for each escaped soul from Hell. One by one they had burned away, though, when he had sent their counterpart back to the Abyss. This, however, was a new one, whose meaning he couldn't put in words, but which touched his very soul. "You did. Mr. Red—"
The Master of Hell giggled.
"—perhaps you could tell the Major just where you saw me?"
"Yes, that might be a good idea. Klaus, my dearest, I saw him in Hell."
"In Hell. I saw him in Hell. I went there to steal the… something and—"
The Major got up and crossed the room, turning so he could keep them both in sight. He moved a little easier now. "In Hell? It's finally happened. You've gone mad."
"No, Major, you've got to believe me. I went to Hell to—"
"I always knew you would go there one day."
"Oh, ha ha. I went to Hell to steal something. Which I did. Detective Ezekiel here is a… citizen of Hell."
The Major's attention focused on Ezekiel, completely unaware that some strands of his hair were being carefully braided by the Father of All Evil. "Well? Are you going to corroborate this crazy story?"
"Yes, Major, I am. My name is Ezekiel Stone. I was a cop—one of the best. Manhattan South, Homicide. Then my wife got raped. I tracked down the man who did it and killed him. A little later a trigger-happy punk shot me five times to the face and neck. I died and went to Hell."
"For killing a man that raped your wife? That doesn't sound like a crime to me."
"Cold blood and all that. I might have gotten away with it if it had been a heat-of-the-moment thing. Since then I've become the devil's hunting dog. If anyone gets out of Hell, I'm sent to get them back. About 17 years from now, 113 demons will escape from Hell—"
"Seventeen years from now? Will?"
"Time doesn't actually run in Hell like it does up here. Anyway, I was sent to get them back. Which I did. And now I've been sent out again."
"For me," said the Earl of Red Gloria in a small voice.
"You're both insane," said the German. He mustered them both sharply.
"My love—if I and Detective Stone are both insane… who is braiding your hair?"
As if to illustrate this very good point, Lucifer tugged at the braid he had just fastened with a pink ribbon. The Major leaped sideways and aimed his Magnum at the thin air. Then he jumped again as his cheek was kissed by the fiery red lips that suddenly materialized beside him. A shot rang out.
"Major Eberbach!" Ezekiel called out, only to get aimed at again, by the now very wild-eyed man. "It's no use. He can't be killed. Believe me, I've tried."
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
Klaus slowly realised that Dorian and the American weren't insane. There existed, though, a very good possibility that he himself was.
When nothing else assaulted him, he had let Dorian talk him into sitting down again. The thief had deftly manoeuvred the chairs around the sofa so that Klaus would be able to watch both him and the detective at the same time. He had also efficiently undone the braid made by the unseen presence, then brushed his fingers through the hair. Klaus had growled at him for that, of course, but he also refused to think about how nice it had felt to have someone play with his hair.
"Who was that?" he asked sharply.
"My boss," Detective Stone replied. A moment later, he added, to Klaus's right, "Cut that out, you know what I mean."
Klaus pulled away from that direction, eyeing the space between the sofa and his bookcase with distrust. "He's still here?"
"Yes. Pay him no attention, and he'll go away. He usually does when it gets boring."
"Your boss. He is… the devil?" He felt so stupid for even voicing the assumption. It couldn't be. Surely! He went to church, yes, but only for tradition's sake. Evil he believed in—yes, there was evil in the world. But Satan himself? God's fallen angel? God existed? He mentally shook himself. There was something there, that was obvious. However, that had to wait; he needed to know what was actually going on, first.
"And you're here for Dor… Lord Red-Gloria?" The very thought filled him with an odd sort of dread. He couldn't let the Earl be taken to Hell—that just wouldn't be right. He's a NATO contractor! he told himself firmly. I can't let them jeopardise our working relationship.
"Not at all."
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
Dorian had been gazing at his Major—determined to do so for as long as possible, if this was the last time he would ever set eyes on the man. Detective Stone's casual statement made him look away, though. "You're not here for me?"
The man merely shook his head.
"Why are you here, then?"
"Well, we would like to have the cup back. It's better off where it was. It's that thing, right?" The American nodded towards the cup, standing so innocently on the table next to its less precious 'twin'.
"Yes. You can take it. I don't want it any longer."
"It's not actually a crime to steal from Hell, you know. But if you're sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I have no further use for it."
The detective frowned, glared at the empty air, then shrugged and reached for the cup. He threw it up, and it disappeared in a cloud of lingering darkness.
"What are you here for, then?" Dorian asked again, more curious now than truly afraid.
"Well… Major Eberbach? Do you remember a man named Oleg?"
Klaus frowned for a moment. "Yes. A KGB assassin who tried to kill me. I shot him through the head."
"Tuuuut-tuuut-tuuuut!" sounded, as Satan—having appeared next to Klaus wearing a party hat—blew a party trumpet. "Congratulati—"
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The devil was thrown out of the sofa, but landed on his feet with his hands pressed to his bleeding chest. "Aaaaaaargh," he said. "I'm dying." He staggered a step forth, then stumbled with an odd gracefulness down on one knee and sank sideways to lean against Ezekiel's chair. "Shot by a white-souled Major, I'll never live down the embarrassment. Aaaaaargh. I'm dying. My nether kingdom of eternal torment I leave to my eldest son, Damien, to do as—" Then he blinked once. "Wait a minute!" He stood, frowning. "I don't have a son named Damien." He looked over speculatively at the detective. "Yet. Ezekiel… What's your stance on Mpreg?"
The devil pouted. "You're no fun. I won't call him Damien though; that's so passé. Hmm… Alexander, perhaps." Then, he vanished.
Hell's hunting dog massaged his temples, then gave the mortals an annoyed glare. His eyes shimmered with just a hint of doom fire. "If I have a son when I get back to Hell, I'll hold you two responsible. You'll be godfathers. Devilfathers. Whatever. Oh, and Major Eberbach—don't shoot him in the chest. That never helps. The eyes. The eyes are windows to the soul. If you take out the eyes, the damned get a one-way ticket back to Hell. That goes for Oleg too. He's back. When you…" He nodded towards Dorian. "…entered Hell, you let him out. He smelled Major Eberbach here on you and was awakened enough to want to finish the job."
Dorian sucked a great gulp of breath. "I did it?! I let him out!? I—"
"I always said you would be the death of me."
"Major!" Dorian wailed, feeling terrible. "That isn't funny!"
Klaus snorted in a way that made it clear that he, at least, had found the situation moderately amusing.
"We don't have a door to Hell to keep the heat in," said the devil, who had materialized again on the sofa. This time he held the cup of Nimue in his right hand, sniffing the contents. "We have it to hold the lock so that no one escapes."
"As if that helps," Ezekiel grumbled.
The devil made tsk-tsk noises. His dark, penetrating eyes captured Dorian's. "Yes, little Earl of Red-Gloria. It is all your fault. You made it happen. Aaaah, I just love the look of guilt. Major von dem Eberbach, a drink?" He held out the cup.
At the same time as he heard Ezekiel cry out, "Hey!" Dorian dove over Klaus and crashed his fist into the cup, which went sailing. He ended up across Klaus's lap, from which he was forcibly evicted, to instead land on the floor. A shame, as he had rather enjoyed the feel of muscular thighs beneath him.
"Lucifer Morningstar!" the detective bellowed. "Out!"
"This instant! I saw you!"
"I wasn't going to—"
"I'll go see little Lexie, then," said the devil. With a sparkle he was gone.
"Lord Gloria," Klaus said, sounding surprisingly calm, albeit deadly serious. "I now have wine all over my living room—or whatever that red liquid is. You will answer my questions or lick up every drop of it. What is special about that cup? And what exactly is Mpreg?"
Dorian let his head sink back to the floor. He fondly patted Klaus's foot, which was the only body part he could reach. "I'll tell you when you're older."
He deftly avoided the kick Klaus aimed at him. Then Klaus shook his right hand, frowned and lifted it to his face. His nostrils fluttered. He bent a little closer.
"Stop!" Dorian shouted at the same time Detective Stone growled, "Don't!"
Klaus glared at them. "I wasn't going to lick my wrist like a dog," he said with a snort. "What is this shit? Is it toxic? It smells like wine."
"It probably is," said the detective. "Just don't get any of it inside of you. I'd rather not have the competition. In fact, you better take a shower. Mr. Red? Did you get any on you?"
"A perfectly good shirt ruined, sadly, yes."
"Then you'd better shower, too."
Dorian sat up. "Oh, I like your idea, Detective! Shall we, my dear?"
Klaus's glare turned his way. "In your dreams."
"Forget it! Since whatever this is seems unhealthy, you may borrow my shower—after I'm done."
Dorian pouted, but hadn't really been hopeful. He lovingly admired Klaus's buttocks as the other man made his way towards the bathroom. Then he sighed and turned towards the mess in the living room. "At least I stopped him from drinking," he said and gave the actually rather cute detective a winsome smile.
"Thank God. I better burn away the wine, but it'll smell. Can you open a window?"
"I can open anything."
Dorian then watched in fascination as the American dragged his palms over the splattered areas. Small clouds of vaporized wine rose, but the surface beneath was unharmed. "Handy trick that," he said.
"I've learned a few," Stone replied. "You didn't make him drink while you could have."
"I was truly tempted, but…. When I got here, he made this stupid joke…. Not even a joke really, he was just pulling my leg, making me think he wanted me. Finally. And it felt so good. For one glorious moment, every dream I've ever had came true. So very good…. So, after that, I just couldn't. It would have been a mockery. Still, I could have. When I'm old and…." His voice wavered. "…unattractive, I can always think back on this day and console myself with that. I didn't take his love by force, though I could have."
Dorian laughed sadly. "Oh no. I don't think I ever could. How does that saying go—'You can't make someone love you, you can just stalk them and hope they panic and give in'? Though my dear Major isn't prone to panicking, I'm afraid."
"No, he doesn't seem the type. You know, if he's still being difficult… try to get him to Berlin on November the 11th, 1989. I think he might be in a good mood."
"Oh? Why, thank you, Detective, I'll try that!"
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
Ezekiel had just settled back in one of the chairs, wondering morosely if his lover actually intended to bring about a child and the possible ramifications thereof, when the Major once more emerged from his bathroom.
"You look delightfully flushed, my love," said the Englishman. "As if you had done something… straining." The pause between the last words made it clear what kind of straining he actually had in mind.
The German's subsequent glare made Ezekiel smile. It was actually kind of cute how the two of them bickered like an old married couple. Then Dorian went into the bathroom, and the room suddenly felt a little empty.
After having looked around, the Major asked, "You took care of the wine?"
Ezekiel nodded. "It seemed polite."
"What was so dangerous about that wine?"
"Difficult to explain. Nothing in itself, but it would have acted as a love potion, you might say."
"From that chalice thing?"
"He could have given it to me."
Since the man obviously didn't mean Satan, Ezekiel nodded. "He changed his mind."
The Major nodded.
They watched one another, and Ezekiel felt a certain sense of fellowship with the other man. Both tried to do what was best, only to find themselves pursued by someone who didn't play by the same rules. "You're never temped to give in?" he asked, genuinely curious.
The Major's glare would probably have worked better on someone not used to breathing brimstone fumes. "I would rather play with razor blades. He's nothing but trouble: interferes with my missions, embarrasses me in front of everyone, he stole the bloody Pope, for fuck's sake!"
"I heard about that. Morningstar was kind of amused. But Major… If you think you have trouble—you don't. You have it easy. I was pursued by the Inventor of Sin. I win."
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
"Under no circumstances!"
"But I look good in your clothes, my love, I—"
"Have you gone deaf? No! You'd probably do unspeakable things to them, you pervert!"
"I assure you, Major, your clothes' virtue would be perfectly safe with me. And I feel responsible. He wouldn't be out shooting at you if I hadn't done what I did."
"I'm not a coward to hide in my hole while you go traipsing around, trying to draw out the killer. Go home to England, Lord Gloria; just get out of my face!"
Amused at the German's growl, Ezekiel broke in, "Major? If I might suggest something?"
"A lure to catch him might work."
"I'm not letting that hen-brain get my clothes soiled as he gets himself shot!"
Privately Ezekiel doubted that the clothes were really the stubborn git's first priority. "I agree. Makes no sense to have him play you. We have to use someone who won't get hurt."
"Oooh! I know, I know!" said the Earl and brought his hands together. "We can do like Sherlock Holmes! We put up a bust of the Major and move it around a bit now and then with a broom."
"You're an idiot," the Major said, though without particular rancour.
"In this day and age, a professional assassin won't fall for that," Ezekiel said. "I was thinking about myself, actually. He can shoot me, but with Morningstar's added protection, I'll be fine. Worst thing that can happen is that he takes out my eyes and send me back to Hell, but since he won't know who I am, I wager he'll aim for the easier-to-hit targets, especially if my back is to him."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Detective," said the Englishman and gave him an apologetic smile, "but you simply don't have the height to pull off impersonating my dear Major."
"Don't call me that! I'm not yours!"
"Well, you would be if you just stopped struggling so much…."
"Just lie still and let you rape me, is that it?!"
"If you laid still and let me, it wouldn't be rape, Major. Besides—"
Ezekiel shook his head in wonder. "Eberbach!" he barked, followed by, "Gloria!" That got their attention all right, with matching looks of surprise—as he had used the Major's deep, strong voice to call them. Once he had their undivided attention, he took a deep breath and lengthened his body, widening it a bit—pulling out more hair (that felt rather disgusting) and changing his eyes. "Do you think I could pull it off now?" he asked the baffled thief.
"I… Oh… Oooh!" The cornflower blue eyes went from large and filled with wonder to, well…. Ezekiel had seen Morningstar's eyes glitter like that. Moments later he was in the thief's embrace.
I hope Lucifer is busy with— he had time to think, before he was forcefully pushed away from the clinging thief. As one of the damned, he would have been strong enough to resist even an enraged Iron Klaus's strength, but he let himself be moved.
"Get away f-fr-from a body looking like mine!" the Major growled at the thief, but Ezekiel couldn't help but to note that the shove had been aimed towards him, not the Englishman.
"The man asked me a question! I just needed to make an in-depth testing," the Earl answered. "Another handy skill of yours, Detective? I like it."
Ezekiel smiled. "Normally it takes a couple of centuries for someone to learn, even in Hell, but I needed it to bring back the last of the damned. Long story. Morningstar likes it too." He was actually rather proud of his accomplishment—and the uses it had when used for his and Morningstar's enjoyment.
"You'll need other clothes," the Major broke in, stepping between them.
Ezekiel let himself be herded away from the thief and into the Major's bedroom. "Wardrobe," von dem Eberbach said and pointed towards it.
"What about underclothes?" said the Earl from the living room. "He needs underclothes too. May I come in?"
The German's face reddened. "He does not need my underwear to pretend to be me!" he growled over his shoulder, then stepped back out and closed the door.
Hoping that the pair wouldn't kill and/or rape one another while he changed, Ezekiel hastily located and donned clothes closely resembling the ones the Major already wore. A suspicious silence outside the room had him out the door still buttoning the shirt. The Earl sat primly on Klaus's sofa—the same seat that Klaus had been sitting in earlier—and Klaus stood by the bookshelf with his arms crossed and looking disapproving in general.
Four minutes later, the Major and the art thief slipped out of the apartment by way of the living room window. After a quarter of an hour, Ezekiel pulled close all his defensive power and went out into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. To his disappointment, the Major mustn't be much of a coffee drinker—all he found was a large pack of Nescafe.
We have better stuff than this in Hell, he thought.
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
Two shadows moved through the Bonn evening, in synch, yet without uttering a word between them. Klaus knew what must be done, and he knew that the thief knew as well. The angle of the shot and the area on that side of the house made clear that there was only one possible place the bullet could have come from. If the killer hadn't left already, either to wait for word somewhere else or to check out the apartment himself, he should still be there.
The kitchen window overlooked a road—and on the other side a small park. In the more distant area stood a two-story building. Hanging yellow flowers covered it almost completely. Once it had been a house where people lived, but nowadays it served as a shed. The door leading in was on the opposite side and only took a matter of seconds for the Prince of Thieves to open. He squatted down, allowing Klaus to aim over his head as they silently entered the building. Lights shone inside, a clear indication that they, indeed, were in the right place. Of course, the shooter—if still present—should be on the upper floor. They still had to make sure that he hadn't gone down for some reason. Slowly they made their way through the rooms in the lower part of the building, working in tandem to cover everything as efficiently as possible.
Then followed the daunting task of climbing the stairs. It proved to be somewhat noisy, so they ended up on all fours, slowly shifting their weights while listening for the least sounds both from the wood below and the rooms above. All in all, they managed fairly well, though, and nothing met them at the top. Klaus looked out over a narrow corridor with four doors—three closed and the one furthest away open. In unspoken agreement with his thief, he made his way over there. To open a closed door might have attracted attention—better to start with the one already open. Besides, the killer might have just have walked in, not bothering to close it behind him.
They stepped into the doorway as if performing a dance rehearsed for a long time. There he was, the killer, by the window, watching with binoculars. Oleg held the large rifle in his left hand, with the barrel snug against his leg, rubbing the metal a little against himself. Klaus lifted his aim to the back of the man's skull. To know that he was about to kill didn't bother him, not in the least. If anything, he was a little frustrated that he needed to aim at the eyes—he preferred a straight head-shot or heart-shot, though he wouldn't shoot a man in the back, no matter how much the other might deserve it.
We need to get him to turn around. Taking out both eyes will be a bit tricky. Call for him? He'll jump sideways. Knock the doorframe? The sound will be too close to him; he'll react in the same way. Throw something through the corridor. He will go investigate. Ja.
Then the difficult part—what to throw? Klaus wasn't carrying anything, having left even his lighter in his apartment. Sloppy! He turned his head a little, to let his eyes dart towards Dorian. The blond nuisance looked back at him. He held a knife in his right hand—by the blade, not the hilt—and in his left… a bracelet? They nodded simultaneously, and then both turned back towards the killer. Klaus didn't see Dorian initiate the throw, just heard the metallic rustle as the jewellery landed somewhere close to the stairs.
The KGB assassin turned. Even as he pulled the trigger, Klaus heard a swish beside him. His bullet hit, just where he had aimed—of course—and twin rays of lights burst forth. In the other eye a knife was embedded to the hilt. The man howled. The lights became brighter and brighter, burning so hot they drained all colour from the room, then swirling downwards, melting the man's body away. Oleg vanished.
"My knife!" Dorian protested. "He took it with him!"
Klaus turned toward the Earl, who was pouting. "Nice throw," he said.
The Englishman turned towards him and smiled widely and brightly as if he hadn't just helped send a damned soul back to Hell. At the sight, Klaus felt another little part of him melt. Besides, it had been a very nice throw.
** D/K ** D/K ** D/K **
"There," said Lucifer and ruffled the hair of his hunting dog/lover. "Time to go to Hell."
"I want a word with the Major first," Ezekiel said. A moment later he found himself outside the man's apartment rather than inside it. Figuring that some time must have passed since he had been there, he knocked. The door opened, and he was let in.
"What do you want, Detective Stone? I thought your mission was over," the Major growled suspiciously.
"Don't worry, I'm still not here for the Earl. I wanted to talk to you, though. Major—you have a gorgeous man hunting you. He won't wait forever, you know. Don't be so stubborn."
The Major's eyes narrowed. "That's none of your business, Detective."
"I'm dead. I can afford to be blunt. Just in case you're worried, I have it on high authority that it isn't a sin for man to lie with man. I could have gone to heaven, you know. Even with what happened between me and Morningstar."
"That's not what concerns me. I am what I am, and I like what I like, and I do what I do. If God disapproves, he can take it up with me in person."
"What is it that concerns you then, Major?"
Again their eyes met, and again Ezekiel felt that little fizzle of connection. Perhaps the Major felt it too, for he shrugged. "Permanency. I've been dumped by his type before. But he does seem to make an effort still."
"So he has a chance?"
The Major shrugged. "I might let him catch me in May."
For once, Iron Klaus smiled. "For five years now, I've found him naked in my bed on my birthday. Seems as good a time as any to just crawl in."