From the balcony Z watched the crowd; the men suited in formal black silks; the women arrayed in every colour under the sun, their jewellery flashing bright enough to rival the light scintillating through the ballroom's crystal chandeliers. The elite of diplomatic society formed a humming, constantly shifting field of black wasps and dangerous flowers below him.

He could see J and D at position 3, the obvious security detail. Less obvious, G was currently waltzing (clad rather appropriately in scarlet) with an obviously infatuated man he recognised as one of the Swedish delegation. He shuddered to think of G's beau's reaction if one of those shoelace straps broke. Then again, from what he'd heard about Herr Holmlund perhaps it wouldn't bother him at all.

Major Eberbach was also on the floor, 'mingling with the hoipolloi' as he'd said with disdain earlier. His long hair was groomed tidily for once and gleamed darkly, and the suit set off his tall figure very elegantly. He looked to be in his element, if somewhat stiff-backed - but then the Major was a very proper gentleman. Despite his violent tendencies.

"He is a lovely sight, isn't he?"

Z startled, almost dropping the glass of ginger ale he'd been carrying as camouflage. Earl Dorian Red Gloria had appeared beside him. The earl was usually so obvious with his presence that when he did sneak up on you unnoticed it was doubly startling. Especially when he was wearing that sort of thing. Z blinked in amazement. True, it was a suit, but it was turquoise, trimmed with gold lace, and more suited to the latter part of the seventeenth century than the twentieth. And whilst they were exquisite, Z was sure the diamond earrings came from the women's section of Tiffany's.

Then what the earl had said registered. Z was uncertain what the other man was getting at, but he blushed anyway.


The earl's mouth curved into a wicked little smile and he leant forward, brushing his fingers lightly across the flush on Z's cheekbone and purring in a throaty voice,

"Now Z, we've surely grown past the 'Sir' stage - you know you can call me 'Dorian'."

A jolt of something passed through Z's body. The earl always managed to disconcert him somehow, though oddly enough he didn't find his presence unpleasant - quite the opposite in fact. But also a bit. . . unsettling.

"Thank you, sir."

"I see I have my work cut out for me," said the Earl, raising an eyebrow, "Never mind, I do love a good hard. . . challenge."

Z wasn't quite sure what to say to that.

"So how are you enjoying this little soiree?"

"Well, I am working but other than that, it's quite pleasant, thank you."

The earl said nothing and rather than allow an awkward silence to fall, Z kept talking,

"I'm not much used to these events. My father works as a nuclear powerplant safety inspector, so as you can imagine I didn't get to attend this sort of thing growing up. It's quite interesting."

"'Interesting'. What a delightfully politic way of putting it, Z!" the earl laughed, "You're halfway to being a diplomat already."

"Thank you, sir."

"Hmmm. Given our beloved Major's opinion on politicians and their ilk, I'm not sure it's a compliment. These parties are a dreadful bore really. Not something an energetic young man would voluntarily attend," the Earl flicked a glance at Z from under his eyelashes, "I'm sure you do a lot more interesting things in your time off. Do tell me about them."

The earl leant back against the balcony rail and drank from his champagne glass. The tip of a pink tongue darted out and slid almost languorously over his bottom lip, licking away a spilled drop. Z took a quick gulp of the ginger ale and wondered whether the air-conditioning was working properly. It was getting a little hot in the ballroom.

"Dorian! Get away from my agent, you damned pervert!"

The Major's voice barked from behind Z. He startled and blushed again, embarrassed at being caught out twice in one night. He turned to his commanding officer, but the Major was scowling at the earl.

"What are you doing here? You should be retrieving the microfiche."

"Oh, that's already done, dear Major. I'm merely here establishing my alibi."

"You were supposed to make it an obvious burglary."

"Yes, which is why I'm in even more need of an alibi. Speaking of which, being seen talking to you in five minutes time will undoubtedly do my reputation immeasurable damage. And even worse," he tossed back his champagne, "my bubbly's run out! I shall go find a refill before I expire of thirst. Bye-bye Z. Major."

Z was sure he imagined that light pat on his backside as the earl passed him. The Major murmured something into his handpiece to the rest of the team, then,

"Z, report!"

Z's attention snapped to his superior officer, instead of watching the earl leave.

"Sir! All clear here, a couple of people came up earlier but soon left. The Attache and his secretary haven't left the ballroom since the start of the evening."

"Good," the Major commented, then just looked at him. It seemed to Z he was indecisive about something - an unusual occurrence.

"The Earl. Eroica," the Major said then stopped abruptly. Pulling a packet of cigarettes from his jacket, he extracted one and lit it. He took a couple of deep drags before continuing, "The Earl is a flighty piece of work. Not the type of man you should be thinking of trusting with. . . things."

"Sir, I realise you have difficulties with him," Z replied earnestly, "But I'm sure the Chief wouldn't contract him to work with us if he were untrustworthy."

"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" the Major sounded exasperated. "The earl is. . . friendly with anyone he finds attractive. He has no morals and he's hardly the type of person you should look to as a role model."

Z smiled brightly at the Major.

"Well, I don't know about the 'attractive' bit, sir, but the earl's always been very kind to me and I admire him a lot. But not as much as I admire you, sir."

The Major's eyes widened for some reason. He gave Z a measuring look, then ordered,

"Come with me."

He turned and marched downstairs, Z trailing in his wake as he cut a swathe through the crowds. The Major stopped in front of a young woman leaning against the wall and people-watching. Z was surprised she was alone, as she was more than averagely pretty, with long dark hair and piercing green eyes. In fact, Z thought, glancing between the two, there was a distinct resemblance; the Major's handsome features softened and refined into a woman's beauty.

"Gisela, I would like to introduce to you Kapitan Erich Gernhofer, one of my subordinates. Erich, this is my cousin twice-removed, Fraulein Gisela von Junker."

"He always insists on stating the twice-removed part," the woman said, holding out her hand to Z, "I think he hopes it makes us somewhat less related."

"I can't imagine why he would not wish to be related to such a lovely lady,"

Z replied, taking her hand and somewhat to his own surprise, raising it to his lips and kissing it lightly. She laughed and said,

"Oh, I like this one, Klaus! Bend your head down for a moment, Erich."

Z was puzzled but complied, bowing his head to her.

"No grey hairs! And you work for my cousin? You must have nerves of steel."

"Gisela," the Major frowned at her, "That i...."

From further inside the building an alarm suddenly started screaming. Heads turned and the noise level rose even higher. Security around the edges of the room made frantic conversation with their handpieces.

"What has that idiot done now?" the Major grumbled, "Z, stay here, look after Gisela."

He stormed off in the direction of the alarm, scattering diplomats left and right with the force of his glare alone. Gisela sighed and said,

"Well, it's good to see some things never change. Klaus is as odd and uptight as ever."

"Fraulein von Junker, may I escort you to the dining room?" Z asked, trying to avoid having to agree with her critique of his superior officer. Aforesaid dining room was also in the opposite direction of the alarm.

"Oh please, call me Gisa! Only old fossils like Klaus call me 'Gisela'. And you don't look like a fossil to me."

Gisa grinned at him and Z noticed that her smile was slightly crooked. It only added to her charm.

The hair across the hotel doorframe was no longer there. Klaus drew his gun, turned the key and then the door handle as quickly as he could, and thrust the door open with his foot. A quick scan of the room from around the doorframe showed a familiar figure draped in a languorous fashion along the chaise longue.

He growled, but stepped inside the room, locking it and holstering his gun before snarling at his uninvited guest,

"Don't loll across my couch like that! It's obscene."

"Terribly sorry, darling."

Dorian sat up, slid one velvet-clad leg over the other and leant back on his hands; body one long, arched offering. If anything, thought Klaus, that pose was even more obscene. There was just no winning, so he moved on to business.

"How did you manage it? Kim's security swore they only just missed the burglar."

"Smoke and mirrors, dear Major. And a bit of wire." At Klaus's incredulous look Dorian laughed lightly, "You don't honestly expect me to give up trade secrets, do you?"

Klaus collapsed back onto the bed, arms crossed under his head.

"I doubt you've done anything honestly in your entire misbegotten life."

"Now, now, there's no reason to drag what my parents did into this."

"Must you make everything into a sexual innuendo?" It was more resigned statement than annoyed question.

"Well, if you must lead my thoughts down certain paths. . . " Dorian's voice lowered to a suggestive purr.

Klaus snorted.

"You don't need any leading whatsoever."

Dorian just laughed.

"So, dear Major. . . "

"So what?"

"Was I right? Does your little alphabet have a crush on you?"

Klaus sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He bent down and started unlacing his shoes.

"What was that you said, darling?" Dorian's tone was laced with glee.

The words muttered from below the dark shiny cap of hair that was all he could see sounded remarkably like 'ja', 'obnoxious' and 'degenerate'.

Dorian laughed again, then continued,

"And then you immediately palmed him off on your cousin, the lovely if somewhat outspoken Gisa? Whom he was rather taken with if I'm not mistaken. Very clever of you, darling. Swift, decisive, masterful," he stopped and sighed, "Is it any wonder I'm madly in love with you?"

"Don't say such things! They make me sick."

Dorian pouted, an expression Klaus was familiar with and reassuringly indifferent to,

"Well, at least I know that I am. Your pet agent doesn't have a clue in that pretty little head of his."

"Nonsense. Just a schoolboy crush, like you said. You don't need to worry about me running off to Gretna Green with him."

The last was said with more than a touch of sarcasm.

"You found him a distraction so I wouldn't get jealous? Darling! You do love me!"

Klaus glared at Dorian and started wrenching at the damned torture-device commonly known as a tie,

"I did no such thing! Conceited pervert. Shut up. And come to bed."

"Gladly, darling."


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