Dorian showered luxuriously, then went to pick over his newly arrived trunks for something that would catch Majek's fancy. Something for an ex-army man with simple tastes. He decided on English Country Classic, a British version of Majek's own wardrobe. A simple white shirt and pleated pants of thin soft tweed, topped by a cable-knit jumper from the Orkneys with periwinkle blue highlights that brought out the blue of his own eyes. He surveyed himself in the mirror. Yes, he was ravishing. Not the flaming youth he'd been, but with something more settled in his bearing. Four hundred years of British aristocracy were embodied in his wide shoulders and long legs, and another eight hundred of settled gentry behind that. He'd always known he was the heir to a tradition, but it had never seemed as personal as it did today.

   Humming a little, he went down to the lobby, located the elevator to the penthouse and returned to the fourteenth floor. The hinges of the outer door were now invisible, as they should be. Majek's men evidently got things done. He punched the code, walked through, and rang the bell of the front door. It was an unknown blond soldier who let him in after giving him a quick look-over. Dorian spoke to him in Russian, but the man smiled and shook his head. The lack of a mutual language proved no impediment to hospitality, however. In the living room the guard took bottles from the liquor cabinet until Dorian found something he wanted, filled the glass until Dorian stopped him, held up the ice bucket and raised fingers until Dorian nodded, then handed Dorian his scotch on the rocks with a bow.

   "Sergei?" Dorian asked.

   The man looked blank. Dorian didn't think he could make a reasonable attempt at Sergei's Circassian name, so he tried "Majek?" instead.

   The man pointed down the corridor, held up a hand, palm out, then indicated the sofa. Dorian assumed he was to wait until Majek was at liberty, and hoped it wouldn't be too long. In fact he'd been sitting only a moment when the man returned and gestured him to follow. He was more than a little surprised when he was conducted to the kitchen, and flabbergasted to find Majek there in a white apron, expertly trussing a leg of lamb with the help of the short black-haired guard. Majek gave him a smile and a soldier's nod.

   "You'll stay for dinner, of course?"

   "I- yes, of course. Thank you."

   He watched while Majek lowered the joint into a roasting pan, and the guard took it over to the stove.

   "Do you cook?" Majek asked.

   "I can manage basic things," Dorian said carefully.

   "You can chop vegetables at least? Good. Take that knife there- and that chopping board- and do the carrots. Araszyam, get him an apron."

   Dorian allowed himself to be draped with aplomb, and turned his attention to the carrots.

   "Coins or Julien?"


   "Round or square?" He demonstrated with the knife.

   "Ahh- 'coins'. I see. We call them wheels and matches. Make them coins. You might as well go," he said to the guard. "Samh' Dorian will help me." He himself began peeling potatoes expertly with a knife. Dorian found it hard to keep his eyes away from those capable blunt-fingered hands.

   "Is this your hobby?" he asked.

   "Hobby? Hardly. A man has to eat."

   "But you could have someone else do it for you-

   "What's the fun of that? I had cooks when I was on campaign and too busy to cook for myself, but then I was too busy to taste what they made either. A man's best off doing for himself." Long ribbons of peel fell onto the counter one after another.

   "Depends on his area of expertise, surely. If I let my accountant cook, I'd be eating nothing but fish heads and left-overs. Do I use all these carrots? There's a lot."

   "Mh. There are ten of us, counting the men."

   "Your bodyguards?"

   "They're from my son's personal staff. He insisted I bring them with me. You know my son?"

   "I've seen him on the news. His reforms are famous." Dorian turned his attention to the carrots, lest he fall behind.

   "He's got a good head on his shoulders, and he takes care of his old Papa." Majek's face glowed with pride and Dorian, who'd paid scant attention to the young General of Circassia up until now, suddenly concluded that he detested the man. "How old is your father?"

   "Actually, he died when I was eighteen."

   "I'm sorry to hear it. Do you miss him?"

   "Very much. He was my best friend."

   "That's as it should be. You were fortunate. A pity he died so young. A battle?"

   "No, a heart attack. He was fifty-two."

   "Then he was-- thirty-four when you were born? That's almost old enough to be a grandfather. What happened to your brothers?"

   "I don't have any. There were all girls ahead of me. I'm the youngest."

   "Ah- girls. I forgot. We don't have them in our family."

   "Why not?"

   "Because we're the hereditary guardians of the sacred blue stone and our blood is too strong to produce females."

   "Oh," said Dorian. "I see." He sliced diligently.

   Majek laughed in his throat, unamused. "Because we're the hereditary guardians of the sacred blue stone and dangerously inbred. You don't need to babble about chromosomes like Kinta to know what happens then. Any man who raises sheep could tell you."

   "So with a little outbreeding--"

   "If it happens. I wish Szincza would get married but I won't force his choice. My brother and I were betrothed in our cradles, and look at the results."

   "The results?"

   "Gunmar. Sergei's told you he's my son?" Majek had made short work of peeling the potatoes and was now quartering them with two quick strokes apiece.

   "Yes. But look who brought him up. No wonder he turned out that way. And he is- well- nice."

   "Nice. My son was born to lead armies."

   "Well, but Szincz- I'm sorry, Szintarow- the General- he turned out alright-"

   Majek's smiled at some private knowledge. "Szincza isn't an Aouille. Not to flaunt our shame before outsiders, but he's not Ruza's." Well, that explained that. "And I say thank God for it when I look at the one who is."

   "There's no doubt about his parentage?"

   "None. You only have to look at him. His father's face, feature for feature. His father's temperament, too. These scientists," Majek said angrily, and slammed his knife into the potato he was cutting so violently that Dorian jumped. "They never think one step ahead of where they are. A blind man could see where this discovery will lead, but Kinta just goes blundering along, following his nose. And when he finds he's caused more damage than he can undo, he'll go to pieces, the way his father did. 'But I didn't mean it to happen...' And a lot of good that will do us." Majek closed his mouth and chopped potatoes savagely. Dorian found himself watching, mesmerized, the play of tendons in the back of his hands.

   After a moment Majek said, more calmly, "I don't know how much Sergei's told you about us-"

   "Well, this and that. We didn't know each other for very long, you know." He saw an opportunity to set the record straight. "Two weeks, actually."

   "When you were working for NATO? How did you meet?"

   Dorian told him about Klaus' investigation into the President's assassination plot. "But it was obvious from the first that Sergei had nothing to do with it, and we got to know each other, and then I found out he was your brother-"

   "He told you that? He'd cut all his ties with us at the time."

   "I found out by accident. He has this picture of you he carries in the inside pocket of his coat, and I saw it." 

   "Does he now?" Majek said, with raised eyebrows. "Then what?"

   "I told him what I knew about the plot, and he was able to identify Marquère, and he went to confront Halim and make him stop. So you see, I really had nothing to do with it. It was just luck that I found out who he was. You don't owe me anything." It was worse, looking into Majek's inhuman blue eyes. It seemed impossible ever to look away.

   Majek shook his head, breaking the spell. "We see it differently. Your luck is as much a part of you as your will, and since you used it in my service, I'm in your debt. You're a man of strong luck, samh' Dorian; I could tell by looking at you. I'd like to have that luck on my side."

   "It's yours," Dorian said, "and anything else I can give you. But you're a man of strong luck too."

   "Yes. I've been lucky all my life, and needed to be. And I need to be still, to win against Kinta." He swept the potatoes into a large pot and took it to the sink. "I thought I'd made my peace with Ruza, but apparently not. His spirit is still troubled, and works his son against me."

   Dorian thought there was probably a simpler explanation. Kinta doubtless resented his father's murder: but it didn't seem politic to mention that to Majek.

   "Troubled by what?" he asked, approaching the matter sideways.

   "An old grudge. He blames me for not being God. He was never one to think ahead- he always assumed I'd take care of things if he got himself into trouble, and I always did. But finally he did something that couldn't be undone, not by me or by anyone. He harmed the one person he cared about and he couldn't live with himself afterwards. In the end he ran off to war, trying to get himself killed, and he succeeded." Majek snorted in bitter amusement. "Even dead he won't take the consequences of what he did. He chose to act and he chose to die. But still he blames me, like a child, for not having made it all come out right." Majek put the potatoes on the stove and lit the gas.

   "You didn't encourage him to go and fight?"

   "Of course not. He was useless with weapons. I told him he was a fool but he wouldn't listen to me."

   "But couldn't you have stopped him?"

   "Not without locking him up, and why should I have? He was a grown man and overdue to take on a man's responsibilities. Are you finished with those carrots? Put them on to boil."

   Dorian pulled himself together. He added water to the pan that held the carrots, and put them on the burner beside the potatoes. Majek's silver smoke hair was only a few inches away from his mouth. He swallowed hard.

   "Don't they need salt?"

   "Ruins the taste. These are better." Dorian watched him crumble herbs into the water. "Start cutting those beans."

   Dorian sighed at his dismissal but picked up his knife and began frenching the beans adroitly. "Sergei told me quite a different story about all this. Did he ever find out what really happened to Ruza?"

   "Yes- not that it ever made him apologize for what he did to get even."

   "He didn't sound exactly proud of it when he told me. I'd bet it was Takamatsu's idea, myself. He boasted to me once about the revenge he'd had on you, and how no-one would ever find out what it was."

   Majek grunted in agreement. "That's Takamatsu. Ruza brought a snake into the house when he had that young man to live with us. I'd never have suspected it. He seemed so insignificant at the time."

   "Was it Takamatsu that Ruza hurt?"

   "Takamatsu can't be hurt. It was Sergei."

   "Sergei? How?"

   "Sergei had a friend when he was young. He was killed in their first battle together."

   "Yes, I know. Sergei shot him by accident."

   "No he didn't. Ruza had been following their squad that day. He came up after the ambush and found the two of them lying among the enemy dead, hurt but alive. Sergei was unconscious, so before he came to Ruza finished the boy off."

   "What!? But why?"

   Majek stirred the pot. "He was a spy on the other side. Ruza found out about it and set out to stop him- without telling me first, of course. I was coming up with reinforcements but I arrived too late. I could have hit him when I saw what he'd done."

   "Oh." Dorian was stunned. "A spy? Are you- are you sure?"

   Majek gave him an odd look. "Of course I'm sure." Well, it was a stupid question. But this put an appalling new perspective on Sergei's past. "Does Sergei know?"

   "He found out. During the war, like everything else."

   "Oh my God." What must Sergei feel about Jahn now? He grasped at a straw of comfort. "I suppose Ruza did it to protect him?"

   "Sergei was in no danger. The boy was using their friendship as cover. Ruza should have told me. A spy who doesn't know he's been unmasked can be very useful. But Ruza hated him and was happy to have an excuse to be rid of him. And of course he never stopped to think how it would affect Sergei afterwards."

   "But why didn't you tell Sergei at the time?" Dorian asked, becoming more appalled the more he thought about it. "All those years- he thought he was a murderer who'd killed his best friend. How could you let him suffer like that?"

   "I had no choice. He'd have suffered more if he'd learned the truth then, and he still might not have believed it. He might even have called feud on his brother. I couldn't take that chance. And after Ruza's death he was in no state to hear it. I knew he'd blame himself if we called it an accident, but I thought it would be easier on him that way. He took it very very hard when he did find out."

   "So I would think- finding out that all his life had been a lie. We have a saying, you know, about the road to hell."

   "I've heard it. Still, it would have been alright if Ruza'd behaved like a man. Of course Sergei was upset at first, but if Ruza had put his mind to consoling him he'd have got over it. But no- he went all to pieces himself, with his damned guilt and remorse, and then took the coward's way out. That's what did the damage."

   "You can't really believe that."

   Majek looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"

   "Sergei loved Jahn. He believed Jahn loved him. However much Ruza tried to help him he wouldn't have got over his death just like that."

   "It was a young man's attachment. We all have them. We grow up and go on to other things. That's what Sergei should have done. I've never understood him, I'll admit it, but Ruza did. He should have shown him how to be a man. He didn't, and Sergei never grew past the age of eighteen. He's spent the rest of his life trying to find his friend again."

   Dorian shook his head in amazement. "It doesn't work that way. It's men he loves, the way he loves Jean-"

   "That's exactly what I mean-" 

   "-the way he loved me."


   "I'm the same kind of man as he and Jean are. I love men. And I love you."

   Majek sighed in exasperation. "You Europeans never grow up either. I know that. A man your age should be married with children, not playing games like this."

   "It's not a game." Dorian put his knife down and came closer to Majek. "I love you. We belong together. You know it."

   "I'm different from you, Lord Gloria. You have a woman's nature in you. One can see that at a glance. I don't. I'm a man."

   "And the male is naturally attracted to the female?"

   "Of course."

   "But if I have a woman's nature, you must be attracted to me. And you are."

   "You play with words. I'm not."

   "When we saw each other this morning, you felt it too- that energy between us. What do you call that?"

   Majek put both hands on the counter and looked at Dorian. His eyes were clear, and the light fell oddly through them. "Fate," he said. "I knew we were meant to meet. I thought it was part of my luck, but now I'm not sure. You're too strange, too different-- too uncontrolled. Like a winter storm. If I were a prudent man I'd throw you out of my home now, in spite of my obligations to you. If I were a very prudent man, I would kill you."

   "And will you?" Dorian asked, leaning even closer.

   "No. Prudence is too often another name for fear. We'll see what fate you bring me and whether it harms me or I prevail against it. I'll enjoy the struggle, even though I may regret it. I think you could be as dangerous as Takamatsu."

   Dorian's head jerked in outrage. "Takamatsu! Is that how low you rate me?"

   Majek laughed. "Don't despise him. Remember how much harm he did to me and mine."

   "If you think I'd ever hurt you, in any way-"

   "Ah, but remember too what a service he did me, however unintentionally. You also might serve me as well and as unwittingly. I'll keep you."

   "I'll serve you in whatever way you want and maybe a few you haven't imagined. Better than Takamatsu, for certain."

   "You couldn't." Majek turned back to the stove. "Takamatsu gave me Szincza. If he took Gunmar in exchange, I still got the best of the bargain."

   "You're a philosopher, General."

   "I'm an old man who has seen much and I'm not a general any more. Call me by my name."



   "I'll have you yet."

   "Never." He clicked the burner under the carrots to low. "Have you finished those beans?"

   Dorian took hold of Majek's broad shoulders and turned him round. He brought his lips to Majek's and kissed him slowly and lavishly. Majek didn't resist. Yes, there was a taste of tobacco to him, and his lips were full and amazingly warm. Majek's hands came up to grip his arms. Dorian's head swam at the touch and he pressed closer, his legs beginning to go weak. The mouth under his moved in response: Majek was kissing him back. Dorian trembled violently with dizziness and desire. Majek pushed him gently away and held him at half arm's length, smiling with satisfaction into his sweating face.

   "You see? I'm as steady as a rock and you're near to fainting. You'd fall if I let you go."

   "You shouldn't have done that," Dorian said. "I have to have you now."

   "Tell me that when you can stand on your own two feet, little brother." He squeezed Dorian's shoulders and put him aside. Dorian leaned heavily on the counter, trying to still his pounding heart.

   There was a step in the corridor.

   "Papa-" Gunmar came into the kitchen, gave  Majek a quick casual hug and a kiss and Dorian a wide smile. "How long till dinner?"

   "Half an hour. I'm just finishing here. Take Samh' Dorian and get him some sherry, or whatever."

   Gunmar twined his arm in Dorian's, and Dorian had no choice but to leave.


   "It's so lovely to see you again, Lord Gloria. I used to think about you a lot when I was in Paris. You were such a help to me."

   "I was?" Dorian asked distractedly.

   "Oh yes. I was so unhappy about Szincza at the time, and you were so encouraging."

   "I honestly don't remember how, though I'm glad if it's true." Dorian felt as though he was babbling, and strove to pull himself together. Gunmar had taken him to the sitting room that opened off the balcony and was rummaging in the liquor cabinet.

   "I wish Miyagui would put the bottles back where they belong- oh, here it is. Sherry, Lord Gloria? or would you like oporto? There's Cinzano--"

   "Cinzano's fine." 

   Gunmar handed him the glass and sat on the sofa next to him, beaming over his own glass of Amontillado.

    "It's nice to have you alone for a bit. Jean and Kinta are off in the study talking about something in one of the papers this afternoon. It suggested a new line and they're trying to work it out. I didn't understand a word, of course."

   "Oh yes. It's not your field, is it? You were into robots, or something."

   "I am. I just try to keep up with Kinta's interests."

   "Why?" He hoped that didn't sound as ungracious to Gunmar as it did to him.

   Gunmar laughed. "Well, why do you think?"

   "I don't know. You seem to be able to get on with him. Are you friends?"

   Gunmar looked at him, bemused. "How odd. I thought you'd understand, of all people."

   Dorian felt as if he'd been punched in the chest. "You're joking."

   "No, of course not." He smiled brilliantly. "Do you remember back in Paris, you told me miracles happen? I never forgot that. I thought if you said it, it must be true. And it is."

   "Kinta is a miracle?" God, Majek had him rattled. How could anyone put their foot in it as often as he was doing now?

   "I don't know what else to call it. I wanted my cousin Szintarow and I got my cousin Szintarow. As simple as that, and so completely different from what I'd thought. Doesn't that amaze you? It does me."

   "I suppose it's- unexpected."

   "You don't like him," Gunmar said sadly. "You mustn't be put off by what he says, you know. He's under a lot of stress just now. Really he's very nice."

   "Look, Gunmar- he may be very nice, but that's not the way he behaves to me or to Sergei or to your father."

   "Well, but that's the trouble, don't you see? He wants to give this paper very badly, and Papa and Uncle Savijc are trying to stop him, and you're on their side. It's nothing personal."

   Personal was exactly what it looked like to Dorian but he refrained from saying so.

   "He could be a little less aggressive."

   "But that's the only way he knows how to get things- by going straight after them. He's a lot like Papa that way. It's not surprising they don't get along."

   "Majek's not like that!" Dorian protested automatically.

   "He's mellowed a little, but he was like that most of his life. When I was young, at a military parade once, a tank rolled by and I said 'That's like Uncle Majek.'" Gunmar laughed heartily, and Dorian winced. "And when he and Szincza argued it was like two rhinoceroses butting horns, if that's what rhinoceroses do. The walls used to shake. It's only in the last few years that he's calmed down."

   "It'd be nice if Kinta would calm down too and give Majek a little peace. Can't you get him to be less unpleasant?"

   "You don't understand. It's because of the way he grew up. He was locked away like a prisoner until he was twenty-five. He could never do what he wanted, he never had anything of his own..."

   "Why would anyone do that to a child? It sounds bizarre."

   "Politics. There was this feud with the Acailles and he got caught in it."

   "Naturally." The British had cricket, the Italians had soccer, and the Circassians had feuds. He knew that. It was hard to sympathize with Kinta, but the idea of a little child locked away by himself touched a small chord.

   "So you must see how it's affected him. He has to do things his way now. He can't stand to be forced. And he's still learning how to deal with people."

   "Why don't you teach him then?"

   "I don't want to interfere. It's his life, finally. If he makes mistakes, at least they're his own mistakes."

   That was surprisingly mature, coming from Gunmar. And of course he'd pick precisely the wrong time to be an adult.

   "You don't have to bully him or anything. Just a gentle hint."

   "He doesn't take hints, and he doesn't like me telling him things."

   "Doesn't that make your relationship difficult?"

   "Oh no." Gunmar looked surprised. "Why would it?"

   "Because- oh, never mind. What happens when you disagree- or do you?"

   "Of course. Well, sometimes. We fight. We yell a lot. But Takamatsu always sorts things out before they get really bad."

   "Takamatsu. He's part of the menage?" Damn, he was still doing it. What had happened to his savoir faire? 'A gentleman is never unintentionally rude' his father had said, and here he was being it.

   "We live with him, of course."

   "Of course. Doesn't Kinta mind"-- 'living with his mother-in-law?' This time he caught the unsayable part of his thought before it escaped his mouth.

   "No, of course not." Gunmar was looking perplexed. "Why would he? Takamatsu was the first person who ever cared about him. He was on Kinta's side from the first. He's like a father to him."

   Takamatsu had a sixth sense for vulnerability. Maybe Kinta was more a victim than he'd thought.

   "In fact, I was jealous, to start with. I didn't like Kinta at all, then. But Takamatsu got hurt in the war, and that brought us together. And now I'm glad. Kinta needs people on his side. Jean's helped him a lot, too. He has someone he can share his interests with who doesn't look down on him for being self-taught."

   "He is? Why?"

   "They both are, pretty much. It's natural. They couldn't go to university when they were young, of course, so they had to study on their own. We don't think twice about it at home. Very few people even get past high school. But the Europeans and Americans think of them as amateurs."

   "I see." That complicated things. "So this is Kinta's one chance at glory?"

   "Not his one chance," Gunmar protested. "There will be others. But it's a stunning discovery. It would make his reputation overnight."

   "And maybe get him killed as well."

   "You think that too, do you?" Gunmar looked unhappy. "Why would anyone want to kill Kinta and Jean?"

   "It's not personal. But most people would kill for a chance at a prolonged youth; and other people would kill to prevent people having it."

   "But it doesn't work like that. There's no proof it can apply to other people. Even with genetic engineering, it would be decades before you knew if it had worked."

   "Decades is what countries have. Think of a population that stayed young into their fifties and sixties and lived well past a hundred. It would be a dream. Everyone strong and beautiful and active into their eighties and nineties- no need for old age pensions or old people's homes-"

   "I think it would be a nightmare. A population that ages slowly with an expanded lifetime, and still has children from an early age- You'd have to control reproduction like in China, and you'd have to do it everywhere in the world."

   "Oh come," Dorian protested. "Circassia isn't exactly overrun with people."

   "Life isn't easy there. People are always being killed in famines and floods or feuds and battles. Or they were. It's been calm for a while now and the population's growing. Szincza wants to introduce birth control, but people don't like the idea."

   "Birth control!" Dorian sighed impatiently. "Why are we talking about something so unromantic? I'd much rather imagine a world full of young men. That's much pleasanter."

   "I always had a thing for older men, myself. It's just an accident that I wound up with someone my own age."

   Dorian didn't want to hear any revelations even remotely connected to Takamatsu. "You're not serious, surely? Old men are so ugly. Their bodies are wrinkled and smelly and their hair falls out and their breath is like a cesspool, especially if they smoke..."

   "Oh," said Gunmar dubiously. "Do you think so?"

   "Of course. It's an unavoidable conclusion."

   "Oh." He drooped a little in his seat.

   "Well, you don't have to worry. Kinta will be young for a while yet."

   "Yes but-" Gunmar looked at him, blue eyes swimming suspiciously. "I thought- I mean, does that mean-"

   "What?" Dorian asked, bewildered.

   "Oh, sorry. I thought somehow that you and Papa- you know-"

   "Oh. Oh but- but you're father isn't an old man. He's- he's- he's indescribable."

   "Yes, isn't he," Gunmar said, reviving. "So you are in love with him?" He looked like he'd won the lottery.

   "Yes. Passionately. That makes you happy?"

   "Oh yes. Papa's never had anyone in love with him that I can remember. People love him, and they'd die for him, but that's different, isn't it?"

   "Yes, I suppose it is." He studied him a moment. "Aren't you going to tell me it's dangerous? Everyone else has."

   "Well, it is, but you already know that. Would it be any fun if it wasn't?"

   "Not at all. But I think you've all got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I thought Majek would be pulling guns on me if I even looked in his direction, and just now he let me kiss him. That doesn't square with what I'd heard about Circassians, or about him."

   "Mmmh," Gunmar said dubiously. "We're not typical Circassians, perhaps. Don't you find that whatever country it is, the aristocracy pretty much does what it wants?" He smiled. "Like yourself."

   "Well, there's that, true-"

   "And nobody minds kissing. Everybody does it. But be careful what else you try. I mean- test the waters first. Remember you can't think like a European with Majek."

   "I'm an Englishman, not a European."

   "Is there a difference? I always thought the English were just like the Germans. Aren't you related?"

   "Not at all. The Germans are- are rigid and dutybound and no fun at all. We English have a sense of play and romance. Germans only love machines."

   "But Germans are very romantic. They have Goethe and Beethoven and-"

   "German romanticism is just an excuse to go and invade Poland. There's nothing light-hearted about it. Germans are stuffy and constipated and mean-spirited-"

   Gunmar was smiling. "What was his name?"

   Dorian smiled too, unwillingly. "Klaus."

   "And he was no fun?"

   "None at all. He had to control everything and he gave nothing back. Take, take, take- emotionally and sexually and every other way. He'd have done better with an inflatable rubber doll than with me." Stupid tears suddenly blurred his sight.

   "I'm sorry it didn't work out." Gunmar patted his hand.

   "God, don't be silly." Dorian wiped his eyes impatiently. "It was a bad idea from the start. I'm glad it's over."

   "How long has it been?"

   He consulted his watch. "Nine hours."

   "Oh dear, Lord Gloria. Do you really think-"

   "Stop it, for heaven's sake. You sound like your uncle."

   Gunmar choked on a small laugh. "No-one's ever said that before. But- oh well. Never mind. I guess- I wish you luck. I hope it turns out."

   "Samh' Gunmar." That was the Ara fellow, from the door. "Dinner is served."

   "Oh good. Come along, Lord Gloria."


    The dining room table was laid with linen and gleamed with silver and gold-edged china. The savory smell of lamb and garlic met them as they came in the doors. Jean and Kinta were standing to one side but broke off their conversation when they saw Gunmar and Dorian.

   "Where's Lord Gloria going to sit?" Gunmar asked.

   "He can have Sergei's place. He's dining with Dubois," Majek said, emerging from the kitchen with a platter of meat and going to the head of the table. "Here on my left, Dorian."

   Jean sat on Dorian's other side. "Does that mean he's clinched the deal, or that he's still negotiating?"

   "He didn't say, but it sounds like a good sign."

   Gunmar and Kinta were ranged across from him, with an empty chair next to Kinta corresponding to the empty chair by Jean.

   "Where's Takamatsu?" Kinta asked.

   "Where's Takamatsu ever? Doesn't he tell you where he's going?"

   "I'm not his keeper," Kinta answered shortly, and speared three potatoes from the dish the blond soldier was holding for him.

   Dorian helped himself to a fragrant slice of meat and passed the platter to Jean.

   "He goes walking in the city," Gunmar said peaceably. "He said he hasn't been here in thirty years and he wants to see how it's changed."

   Ara finished filling Majek's wine glass and served Dorian next. Dorian sniffed the bouquet appreciatively- a deep body, clearly a Burgundy '89. He checked swiftly to see if the others had started before taking a sip. No grace or toasts in Circassia, evidently: a sensible country.

   "The hell he does," Kinta said, swallowing a mouthful of food. "He just wants to avoid us."

   "Not really," Jean demurred. "He came here when he was a student, with your father. It's probably just a bit of nostalgia."

   "Takamatsu, nostalgic?" Majek asked. "I suppose it's possible."

   "He won't admit it if you ask, though, so don't bother."

   "Who won't admit what?" Takamatsu said, coming into the room. "Is this your latest adopted son, General?" he went on, not waiting for an answer. "Or is he just replacing Sergei for the duration?"

   "Forget it, Takamatsu," Majek said, eating calmly. "I know all about the best defence being a spirited offence, and it won't work."

   "Anyway, you're the most spiritedly offensive person we know. It's no use any of us trying to compete." Jean smiled at him wickedly and Takamatsu frowned in annoyance. "Have some wine. It'll make you feel better." Ara had already moved swiftly and silently to fill the Doctor's glass.

   "So where is Sergei?" Takamatsu asked, tackling his plate.

   "Having dinner with Dubois."

   "Who's Dubois?" Dorian asked.

   "An antiquarian dealer. He's got a book Uncle Savijc wants."

   "They've been negotiating for forever and this is the final round," Jean said. "I think it's probably his."

   "He's got such a winning way with him," Kinta remarked.

   "Laid over an innate sense of double entry bookkeeping," Jean said. "He has the soul of a calculator. Believe me, I supply all the romance in the relationship."

   Kinta flushed a little and ate stolidly, but Gunmar said teasingly, "You- the hard-headed scientist?"

   "Me," Jean agreed. "This hard-headed scientist has the soul of a lost puppy. Feed me and I'm yours." He barked at Majek and Majek laughed back, snorting a little. The wine was excellent and abundant and seemed to loosen even the morose Kinta. They were finishing the second bottle when they heard Sergei returning.

   "Got it?" Jean asked.

   "Got it," Sergei said, seating himself at the end of the table across from Majek. "You'll want to see this, Dorian. It's a first edition of Linnaeus."

   "Fascinating," Dorian said.

   Sergei laughed. "Yes it is. Beautifully preserved, in lovely condition, and the colours hardly faded at all."

   "Who's Linnaeus?" Majek asked.

   "A Swedish botanist of the eighteenth century."

   "This is a book about plants?" Majek looked puzzled.

   "An old book of plants, and very valuable."

   "I don't suppose the real botanists here will get to look at it," Takamatsu remarked.

   "Certainly, but I'll have Koczi and his Uzi beside me while you do. You won't be able to keep your hands off it." He was glowing with satisfaction.

   "It's Lord Gloria who's the thief, not me."

   "Lord Gloria's not a thief, he's a human magnet," Jean said. "Michelangelos and microchips just fly into his arms."

   "What's this-" Majek began, but Ara had come and was speaking low-voiced in his ear. Majek's eyebrows drew together and he got up and left the room.

   "You never learn, do you?" Sergei said to Takamatsu the minute he was gone.

   "A simple man is best speaking the truth," Takamatsu said smugly.

   "You mean this man is a thief?" Kinta demanded. "And you let him into the house?"

   "I'm a thief of a very specialized and professional nature," Dorian said, "and proud of it. My life is a quest for beauty: the beauty of art, beauty of the body, and beauty of the soul. You needn't worry that I'll take anything from you." Jean touched his leg, invisibly, on their side of the table and Dorian subsided.

   "I don't believe you," Kinta said. The insult seemed to have gone straight over his head. It was Takamatsu who was red with rage.

   "You insolent little peacock! Who are you to talk about beauty? You've the taste of a madam from the capital, and you look like one as well."

   "You'd know, Doctor," Dorian murmured.

   "Lord Gloria, please stop. Stop now. And you too Takamatsu," Gunmar said.

   "Samhet, this man-" Takamatsu began, but Kinta rode over him, turning on Gunmar.

   "Why do you think he's so damned wonderful? Has he been wiggling his ass at you as well as everyone else here? God, I can't trust you alone with anything in pants, can I?"

   Gunmar looked down at the tablecloth and said nothing. Dorian opened his mouth in protest but Jean's fingers sank into his leg. He bit his lip, swallowing rage. There was a short hideous silence.

   "Aren't we going to have coffee?" Gunmar asked in an ordinary voice. "It'll be getting cold in the living room."

   The tension eased, and they all rose from the table, babbling about nothing. Dorian was still seething but he was remembering a certain Arab who'd had a gift for handling Klaus' rages and how nonplussed Klaus had been by it. Dorian wasn't above emulating his enemies, and he deliberately made his way over to Kinta and Takamatsu.

   "Samh' Sascha," he said, and Kinta whirled on him, glaring. "I'm sorry. I was offensive. You too, Doctor. My apologies to you both. Believe me, I don't normally go around insulting my hosts."

   "But of course, his hosts don't normally go around insulting him," Sergei mentioned at his elbow. "I think you owe him an apology back, Takamatsu."

   "But this man is a thief-" Kinta protested.

   "Kinta- one, we're not in Circassia any more; two, Lord Gloria is slightly different from your average sheep stealer; and three, you're talking about rope in the house of the hanged man. Spare Takamatsu's blushes at least, if not my own."

   Kinta's face closed, and Takamatsu's eyes flashed annoyance at Sergei.

   "I'm not apologizing. Lord Gloria has a genius for appearing where he's not wanted. Why can't he simply mind his own business?"

   "I can't, is all. I'm sorry. Where beauty calls I have no choice but to follow, even if it's into other people's affairs."

   "Beauty will call you over the edge of a cliff one of these fine days, and you'll follow right after. I hope it's soon." Takamatsu turned his back and walked out onto the balcony. Kinta, grinning at the Doctor's last remark, went with him.

   "Had enough?" Sergei asked, subsiding into an armchair as the blond guard came up with two small cups of very black coffee.

   "Nearly. How do you stand it?" Dorian took the chair beside him.

   "Practice. Takamatsu's not usually this bad. Something's got him running." He spoke softly, turning automatically to check where Gunmar was. Dorian's eyes followed to the other side of the room where he and Jean were standing close together in conversation. Jean had a hand on his arm and was speaking seriously, while Gunmar nodded a little in response, gaze turned to the carpet.

   Dorian kept his own voice down. "He's quite a find."

   "Yes, isn't he? I've been a very lucky man."

   "Lucky? You can still say that?"

   "What do you mean?"

   "I hope you don't mind, but-- Majek told me what really happened with your brother, and about your friend-"

   "Oh. And?"

   "Well- ohh- I suppose I just wanted to say I'm sorry."

   "About what? That I found out? Or that there was something to find out?"

   "Both. It must have been terrible for you."

   "Mm, well. You know what Nietzsche said- 'What doesn't kill us makes us strong.' It's true."

   "I can imagine. Are you really alright?"

   "Yes, really. It wasn't fun, but after that I'm not worried about being able to handle anything else life throws at me."

   "There's that to be said for baptism by fire."

   Sergei smiled slightly. "There's something to be said for everything if you look hard enough. Well, Gunmar?" as his nephew came up to them, with Jean behind him.

   "I have to go and get some work in. I've been neglecting the current project. Good-night, Uncle Savijc." He bent and kissed him on both cheeks. "Good-night, Jean." He kissed him on one. "Good-night, Lord Gloria." He gave him a small smile, but his eyes had gone to the balcony and he didn't try to kiss him at all. "Say good-night to Papa for me when he gets back. I wonder what's taking him so long?" He trailed out of the room.

   Jean stretched a long leg around Sergei and sat down behind him on the same chair. Sergei's eyebrow quirked in amused surprise but he shifted a little to give him room. Jean put both arms about his waist and nuzzled at his neck.

   "So what does Dubois want for his old plants?"

   "The Canaletto cartoon."

   "But that's valuable-"

   "Not so very much. The foxing's quite bad. I found it in Perugia-" he explained  to Dorian, "in someone's summer home, all mixed in with family documents in a drafty cupboard in an unheated room. It's surprising the mice hadn't eaten it..." He broke off as Majek entered the room suddenly, looking both satisfied and annoyed, and came to sit next to them. The blond guard brought his coffee and the Ara fellow followed with a snifter of brandy.

   "They all know I'm here now," Majek said, taking a gulp of the former. "I've three cabinet ministers and two ECC officials wanting to waste my time tomorrow."

   "You said yes? You could have refused."

   "Not a good policy. Szincza can use the connections."

   "Put in for an ambassador's salary, then," Jean teased.

   "At least get Araszyam to handle the scheduling. You needn't do it yourself."

   "But it's so much fun, insisting that the bigwigs speak to me directly," Majek smiled. "It makes their secretaries go all wobbly in the voice. I thought one of them was going to cry."

   "My brother does a good impersonation of an honest peasant when he's minded to: blunt and direct and not too bright," Sergei told Dorian.

   "An honest soldier. I don't think anyone believes the peasant part any more."

   "Odd, considering our ancestry."

   "Why don't you handle these calls for me? You know who to refuse-"

   "No I don't. Diplomats give me migraines. I'd tell them all that you'd gone home. Tell Araszyam who you won't see, and when you're not available, and let him go at it. It's more his sort of thing than mine."

   "Mmh. You may be right about that. He picked up a lot of Maaqa's devious-ness."

   Dorian made a noise of surprise and inquiry.

   "He was Maaqa's protegé," Sergei explained. "Don't worry, they parted company early on. He won't be trying for your throat."

   "Oh good," Dorian said palely. The other three laughed.

   "There aren't as many feuds as there used to be back in the good old days," Jean assured him. "You don't have to keep track of all your grandfather's enemy's grandsons any more."

   "Boring, isn't it?" Sergei agreed.

   "No," Majek said. "Not while there are family feuds to be going on with. Where's Kinta, anyway?"

   "Here," he said, stepping inside with Takamatsu behind him. "What is it?"

   "I'm going to be busy all day tomorrow. We'll meet tomorrow evening."

   "If you say so."

   Majek's eyebrows drew together. "You'll have some time to think about Savijc's proposal. Gunmar- where is he?"

   "Working," Sergei said. "He said to tell you good-night."

   "Well- talk to Gunmar. And remember that I'm prepared to bribe you fairly heavily over this."

   Kinta looked taken aback. Majek finished his brandy and rose.

   "I'll say goodnight now. They didn't leave me much time to get ready for these meetings." Dorian and Sergei and Jean got up as well.

   "Good-night, Kinta." They kissed briefly, arms at their sides. "Takamatsu, Jean." He nodded at each name. "Dorian-" He smiled and held out his hand. Dorian shook it in deep dudgeon, reproaching Majek with his eyes, which only made him smile more. "Savijc-" His tone changed, and he looked at him for a long moment before suddenly engulfing him in a bear hug. "Sleep well, brother," he said tenderly, kissing his cheek. He loosed him, turned and left the room.

   "What was that all about?" Takamatsu wondered.

   "Just an access of family feeling. He has them."

   "But why now?" Jean asked.

   "How would I know?" Sergei shrugged. He looked at his watch. "If we're going to make that party you wanted to go to, we should be leaving. Kinta-"

   "I've changed my mind," he said. "I'll stay here." He glared at Dorian.

   "Gruber will be there," Jean remarked. "You said you wanted to talk with him."

   "I'll see him tomorrow."

   "Lord Gloria," Takamatsu said suddenly, "why don't we take a small stroll down to the Platz and back? I could show you some wonderful cafés you probably don't know about."

   "I couldn't possibly impose on you, Doctor," Dorian rejoined, declining to be turfed out without a struggle.

   "For instance, there's a tavern where they serve beer in the original Hohenstoffer steins, that have somehow remained unbroken through two centuries of use. And another where the seats are the medieval choir stalls that the Protector ordered removed from the Cathedral when it became a Protestant church. The rood screen's there too. It's well worth a look. And the café that Rops used to frequent, with a few of his doodles framed on the walls- although maybe you don't care for decadent art?"

   Dorian bit his lip. This was patent manipulation-- but Majek was gone, and his only reason for staying would be to spite Kinta. It was hardly worth it. And besides- a Rops drawing... and Hohenstoffer steins...

   "Well, if you're going out anyway, maybe I'll accompany you."

   They divided their various ways, and Dorian found himself descending in the lift with Takamatsu. Almost immediately he regretted his decision, Rops or no Rops. An evening of the Doctor's company could only count as time off his time in Purgatory.

   They came out into the busy evening sidewalk in front of the hotel. "Shall we walk along the canal?" Takamatsu asked. "I find it more tranquil than the boulevards."

   "As you wish," Dorian answered, and followed him through the twisty streets to the cool dark ribbon of the canal. They paced silently under the globed lights spaced at long distances along the path, rising up from the bushes on their left like strange plants. Through the iron railings their reflection winked on the gurgling water. Takamatsu was mercifully silent, and Dorian could be alone with his thoughts and the blue-black sky overhead spangled with stars.

   He looked up at them, remembering his Sappho:

       The rainy Pleiads wester

       Orion plunges prone

but the verse continued in his head:

       The stroke of midnight ceases

       And I lie down alone.

That wasn't what he wanted to be thinking. He could feel melancholy steal into his soul like ink swirling in water. He would be alone tonight, unless he found a companion in one of the cafés- or went back to the pension--

   God no, not that. There'd be another of their familiar quarrels, laced with Klaus' cold anger and violent recriminations, and no guarantee it would be either preceded or followed by the familiar consolations of Klaus' body-- such as they were. He shouldn't have slept with Sergei this afternoon. It had reminded him what sex could be like with a generous and affable partner. It had reminded him of what he'd done without for far too many years while he was wasting his youth in pursuit of a man not worth having. No, that wasn't true. The pursuit had been a pleasure. The mistake had been in fixing his happiness on him after he was won, as though one man alone could supply all Dorian's wants. As if his career had begun and ended with the first picture he'd ever stolen- that Titian- which he was fond of, naturally: but if he'd stopped there, he'd never have had the Tintoretto or those Rubens or the Caravaggio that hung in his bedroom at home... He smiled at the thought of his children back in Kent and gave a happy sigh.

   "Something pleases you, Lord Gloria?"

   Takamatsu's voice pulled him back to the unpleasant present.

   "I was just thinking of home."

   "Homesick, are you? Why don't you return to England?"

   Dorian stopped dead. "You know, Doctor, I just rid myself of one determinedly unpleasant man this morning, and I'm damned if I know why I agreed to spend the evening with another. Let's say good-night now."

   "I don't think-"

   "Rest easy. It's not Gunmar I'm after. This has nothing to do with either you or Kinta, so why don't you both just back off? Or do you simply enjoy being poisonous for no good reason?"

   "No good reason?" Takamatsu said grimly. "You're a thief, Lord Gloria. You take whatever you can. Would you let a wolf wander at will around your sheep folds? Well, neither will I."

   "What do you care whether I get Majek or not? You don't even like the man."

   "You can have Majek, for all of me. He's not my concern. Give me your word as a gentleman that you'll keep your hands off Samh' Gunmar-"

   "You have my word. I won't try for him."

   "What if he tries for you?"

   "Oh. Well." Dorian considered. "That would be different, wouldn't it?"

   "No," Takamatsu said ferociously, "it would not be different. Your word."

   "Gunmar's an adult now- no thanks to you. He can make his own decisions. And from what I've seen, he could do a good deal better than his cousin. When will you stop trying to lead his life for him? He's not yours."

   Takamatsu was breathing heavily. He turned and leaned against the railing. "You're wrong," he said quietly after a moment. "He is mine. I raised him from the time he was a baby. I never knew my own father, and the fault may be that the only example of fatherhood I had to follow was Majek's. I know we're both fools about our children, but that's the way it is. Samh' Gunmar is my son. I want him to be happy and I know that what makes him happy is loving other people: not always wisely."

   "As with Kinta."

   "No. They suit each other. Samh' Gunmar's always needed someone he can look after, someone who needs him. He was miserable for years over his cousin Szintarow because he couldn't accept that Szintarow has no need of him or of anybody. But Samh' Kinta does. He had no-one to love him or care about him until he was a grown man, and now he has Samh' Gunmar. I don't want to see their happiness ruined by a casual philanderer who'll break it without even noticing that he's doing it."

   "Kinta's doing a very good job of ruining it all by himself. If he doesn't behave decently to Gunmar, he'll lose him. That's common sense."

   "He's under a lot of stress just now. He's really quite lovely ordinarily. But he's his father all over again. He takes life very hard. When things go badly he gets anxious- he thinks he'll lose everything that matters to him and it makes him short with people. You'd understand if you knew what his childhood was like. He's had nothing, all his life. Is it so difficult for you to let him keep Gunmar?"

   Takamatsu was laying it on overly thick but there could be no doubt as to his sincerity. Dorian shrugged, quite prepared to give up something he hadn't much wanted in the first place.

   "Alright, Doctor. I'll be chaste as Lucretia, if that's how you want it. Let Gunmar tempt me as he pleases, I'll be granite."

   "I have your word?"

   "How terribly old-fashioned you are. Yes, you have my word."

   "Good." Takamatsu sounded hugely relieved.

   "And in return, can I ask you to keep your knife out of my back? No more indiscreet revelations, for instance?"

   "Are there any more I could make?"

   "There might be. Why don't you help me instead? Wouldn't it give Majek something else to think of if you were pressing my suit?"

   "The best recommendation you can have with Majek is the fact that you detest me and I, you. He's never forgiven me for Gunmar."

   "I rather think he has. He said he got the best of the bargain."

   "He's wrong. I did. But that doesn't change the fact that I took something of his and made it my own."

   "Oh, so that's what Sergei meant. I'd hardly call that stealing."

   "It is to a Circassian. They feel strongly about property."

   "Oh wonderful. And you called me a thief in front of him. Now how am I to explain that?" He looked at Takamatsu wrathfully.

   "As part of your work for NATO. You're a soldier following orders. The Major told you to steal, and you stole. No problem. I'll explain it to him myself if you like. And no, I won't make reference to any little bibelots you might have happened to pick up on the way."

   "Thank you very much." Well, better to have Takamatsu on his side- however marginally- than against him. He held out his hand. "Deal?"

   Takamatsu shook it. "Deal."

   "So where are we going- the church or the Rops? Or do either of them really exist?"

   "So untrusting. They exist. We turn off in a minute."

   "How do you know about them?"

   "Samh' Ruza took me there when we came here before."

   "That was a long time ago- thirty years, I think Gunmar said. How do you know they're still there?"

   "I've been checking, these last few days. Revisiting all the old spots."

   "A pilgrimage?"

   Takamatsu turned his head sharply. "You wouldn't understand, of course. You've never lost anyone."

   "Perhaps. But I understand the pleasure of visiting places where one has been happy. It's like finding old flowers pressed in a book, that you forgot you put there."

   Takamatsu was silent for a moment. "Yes," he said finally. "I was happy during that month here with him. We both were." He paced along. "I thought it was just the first of many such trips. I had ideas- oh, I fancied myself when I was eighteen- that I could get him away from Circassia entirely: leave the poverty and dirt and the endless tangles of family and clan, and come to live in a clean rational world. I couldn't, of course. He wouldn't have wanted it. He couldn't live with Majek and he couldn't live without him, and that left him no choice but death."

   "I thought it was because of Sergei-"

   "I suppose that was the immediate cause. When he saw what he'd done to him- how he was only a shell of himself after Jahn died- he fell into despair. But at some level I think he'd always known his life was impossible. What happened with Sergei must finally have convinced him that he was damned and so he sought his grave."

   "But you still blame Majek for that?"

   "No. Blaming Majek for having the effect he does is like blaming potassium for reacting when it meets water- or blaming people like you and Sergei because half the men in the world find you irresistible. I'll accept that you aren't doing it consciously, but it means misery for anyone who's susceptible. You can't blame me if it makes me angry."

   "What would you have us do? Put a bag over our heads?"

   "Be a little aware of what you're about. As Samh' Kinta put it- vulgarly but accurately- stop wiggling your ass at every man you meet."

   "I don't. I'm just myself."

   "Beautiful and golden and enticing, and devil take the hindmost. Well, at least you've promised to leave Gunmar alone."

   Something like a revolution was happening in Dorian's head. "Look, Doctor- if you want me, why not just say so?"

   Takamatsu stopped. There was an absolute silence for half a minute.

   "Oh," he said finally, "I'm so glad- so glad you decided to go after Majek. Do your best, Lord Gloria. One or the other of you is bound to be hurt- to the extent that either of you can be hurt, of course- and I'll be more delighted than I can say when it happens. Your damned arrogance might actually get its just deserts for once."

   "You know the saying about people in glass houses, Doctor? Have you ever wondered why you dislike the two of us so much? Because if we're talking about people being impervious and arrogant, you're a charter member of the club."

   "My arrogance has never extended to assuming the world is pining for my perfect body."

   "It does extend to assuming that's my assumption, and frankly, I resent it."  

   "Then try not to be so transparent. Thank you for your kindness to an old man, noble Lord, but it's not needed. I can still find my own bed mates."

   "I don't doubt it. But can you keep from sharpening your tongue on them once you've got them?"

   Takamatsu smiled unexpectedly. "Some people like that sort of thing. You don't, naturally."

   "I prefer at least a pretence of friendly feeling. Otherwise I'd have suggested we go back to my room if you wanted to."

   Takamatsu eyed him sardonically. "This is all so sudden, my lord. What prompts the invitation? Noblesse oblige? Kalloi k'agathoi- you believe the good and the beautiful have an obligation to screw the wicked and the ugly?"

   "Forget the fantasies, Doctor. I don't like sleeping alone, that's all. But I'm tired of-- I dislike being savaged by my bed partners."

   "Ah, that unpleasant man you dismissed this morning. I'd forgotten. Who was he? Someone like the Major?"

   "Someone like him, yes."  

   "And now you're going after Majek on the rebound. You're sure you're not a masochist?"

   "Quite sure. Good-night, Doctor."

   "Oh come. Let me at least buy you one drink. And if you see someone you fancy, I'll discreetly disappear."

   Dorian turned back, unwillingly. "Alright. One drink. And I walk out at the first piece of bitchery."

   "Whichever comes first. Done. This way, Lord Gloria."


   He wouldn't have thought Takamatsu had it in him. It was almost unsettling. For the next three hours the Doctor turned into a complete stranger. Dorian found himself with an amusing and well-bred guide who conducted him through various cafés and wine cellars, pointing out the artistic curiosities of the place and deferring to him on questions of merit and provenance. The coffee he drank was good and the beer was better and his melancholy quickly burned away like the morning fog. As he regarded the denizens of the third bar over an exquisitely enamelled Hohenstoffer stein, Takamatsu began suggesting this and that young man as a possible bedmate for the evening. Dorian raised aesthetic objections, and the two of them proceeded, through several rounds of refills, to an increasingly hilarious and progressively smuttier assessment of the choices available. Luckily for them, none of the company understood Russian.

   At last Takamatsu looked at his watch. "It's after twelve, Lord Gloria. We should be getting back."

   "'The stroke of midnight ceases'" Dorian quoted at him, owlishly, "'and I lie down alone.'"

   "Never mind lying down. Can you stand up alone?"

   "Of course," Dorian replied, and proved it. "I can stand on my own two feet, whatever Majek says. On the other hand," he added after deliberation, "I'm not sure I can walk. How odd. The floor's going up and down. You didn't tell me we were on a boat."

   Takamatsu put an arm under his shoulders and helped him into the street, around a corner and on to one of the boulevards. There was a taxi stand not too far away, and they fell into a cab. Dorian leaned against Takamatsu, feeling himself drifting in a happy mist.

   "You shunt've cut your hair," he said with conviction. "Men shun cut their hair. You lose your strenth when you cut your hair. You had nice hair, too. Klaus had long hair but you had longer hair than Klaus." It seemed important to establish that point. "You had longer hair, right? Did Klaus cut his hair? Oh no- that was Gunmar. Gunmar cut his hair. But-"

   "We're here, Lord Gloria." Takamatsu got him out of the cab, into the hotel and up to Dorian's suite without difficulty, but that, Dorian knew, was because he weighed nothing. His feet barely touched the floor.

   "Where's your man?" Takamatsu asked, turning on lights as they traversed the rooms.

   "I don'ave a man," Dorian said unhappily. "Not tonight. My man 'supstairs." He let Takamatsu guide him towards the bedroom. "The rainy Pleiads wester'" he quoted precisely, "'An seek beyon the sea/ The head that I shall dream of,/ An twill not dream of me.'" Housman was such a sad sad poet. He felt tears leaking from his eyes.

   "You brought no servants with you?"

   "'ts evry man for'mself in love and war," Dorian informed him. He let go of Takamatsu and sat down hard on the bed.

   "Hmf." Takamatsu stripped off Dorian's shoes and socks. "Now the jumper." He pulled it over his head and something landed dully on the carpet. "What- How did you manage to walk off with that?" he asked in surprise.

   "'M a magnet." He reached for the stein but the Doctor had already put it up on the bureau. "'Ats mine..."

   "I know." Takamatsu undid the buttons of his shirt and pulled it off. His moist cool hands felt good on Dorian's hot skin and Dorian pressed against him, arms going round his neck.

   "Lord Gloria-" Takamatsu sounded impatient and he tried to push Dorian away

   "Mm?" Dorian's head was buried in the Doctor's tweed jacket.

   "You're drunk and you're half asleep. Let go of me while I get your pants off."

   "Ohh yes," Dorian agreed, and helped as much as he could, but a lot of wiggling was necessary to get everything around the stiff length of his cock.

"There," he said when he was disentangled. "There's nice." He stretched himself out on the bed, intending coquetry, but a warm sleepy wave rolled over him and he gave a huge yawn. "You coming?" he asked around it, but he felt himself falling into a delicious well of repose before he could hear the answer. After a little while the lights went out and the bed bounced slightly as someone lay down beside him. The smoothness of sheets and duvets came up to cover him and he turned happily on his side, feeling the body at his back comforting as a wall. Something was pushing his leg up to the level of his waist. A finger slid inside him, slick with cream, and he wriggled his arse around it happily. It withdrew, to be replaced by the satisfying width of someone's cock plugging him up from behind, while someone's hand worked on him in front. Someone had a very nice hand- a very nice hand- he yawned again- and someone was moving nicely in and almost-out back there- and if he paid attention he might have a really nice orgasm but the deep sea of sleep was closer and nicer still...


   He came muzzily to the surface, shivering under the sheet because Klaus was hogging the blanket as usual. He rolled fretfully over, meaning to grab it back from the coccooned hump beside him from which the black head only just protruded. The insistent jangling noise that had woken him came again. He reached out a flailing arm to the bedside table and found the phone on the second try.

   "Lord Gloria? This is the front desk. You have a visitor. May he come to your room? It's the man you were with yesterday."

   "But of course," Dorian said, trying to remember which day yesterday had been through the spiteful little pain above each eye, and who he might have been with then. Maybe he shouldn't have said yes with Klaus still here. But Klaus showed no sign of waking and Dorian slid out of bed, going over to the wardrobe- only the wardrobe wasn't where it should have been on the right hand wall. In fact, the room was completely unfamiliar. Good God, he thought, it must have been quite a party. I wonder whose party it was. But here was his bathrobe, at any rate, on a chair by the dresser, and after opening two wrong doors with increasing urgency, there was the bathroom, thank God. He relieved his aching bladder, splashed cold water over his face, and tried to concentrate. He'd been dreaming, he knew, something about his father, and the bright images of his dream came between him and his present surroundings. Something about his father and the King of England and a feeling of truly wonderful well-being that went with it- but the details had faded into the throbbing of his head. He opened the medicine cabinet, hoping for aspirin, but it was empty-- and there was the doorbell, drat it.

   He went from bedroom to sitting room and located the front door in the vestibule beyond by following the persistent ringing.

   "All right, all right," he yelled, unbolting it. It flew open, and he found himself face to face with-- Klaus.

   "What are you doing here?" he asked blankly. "You're in the bedroom."

   "What do you mean? I'm here, and I've come to take you back. Go get packed."

   "Back--?" The pension- that American couple- oh yes- he was--

   "Back. Come on." Klaus pushed past him and into the suite. "Where's the bedroom?"

   Dorian followed slowly, remembering the revolution that had happened to him yesterday. Majek, yes- he was in Majek's hotel, on the floor below, in the suite he'd rented- but his memory of getting here was gone. He came into the bedroom just as Klaus snarled, "What are you doing here?!"

   "Smoking, as you can see, Ma- but of course you're not a Major any more. What's your rank these days?"

   Klaus went purple. "Get out." 

   "What's he doing here?" Takamatsu asked Dorian.

   "I've come to take him back where he belongs."

   "Doctor," said Dorian, "do you have some aspirin?'

   "In my bag." Takamatsu nodded at a brown shoulder bag hooked over the chair by the desk, and Dorian went and rummaged in it. Klaus came and grabbed his wrist.

   "Tell him to get out of here," he ordered. "You've taken leave of your senses. We'll talk about this later."

   "Klaus, I have a headache, a bad headache, and you're making it worse. I'm not talking about anything until I can think straight, and I'm not talking about anything with you until you stop bullying me."

   "Bullying? What the hell are you talking about?"

   "Bullying," Takamatsu said, getting out of bed. "As in yelling, threatening, browbeating, and no doubt occasionally using your fists. I know all about it." He paused by Klaus, not a whit disturbed at the fact that he was stark naked. "I was in love with a man like you, once. But he had his moments of charm and you have none." He disappeared into the bathroom.

   "That's what you spent the night with?!" Klaus demanded. "You're insane!"

   Dorian found the package of aspirin. They were coated and he was able to swallow the tablets dry.

   "You're not serious," Klaus insisted. "How could you find that slimy Chink attractive?"

   "He's Japanese," Dorian said remotely. "And half Russian." Slowly he was remembering the other things that had happened yesterday, and the reason why Klaus' knowledge of what he was doing now had to stop at Takamatsu. The line that led from Gunmar and Sergei to Kinta and Jean was too direct. Worse, if Klaus learned Majek was here he'd realize at once that something unusual was afoot and he wouldn't rest until he'd found out what.

   "I've always known I couldn't trust you alone for a minute, but- Jesus. How long has this been going on?"

   "Since yesterday. I ran into him by the canal as I was coming back to pick up my things."

   "Oh right. Couldn't stand to be five minutes without some man's cock up your ass. You don't waste time. I thought you had more taste."

   Dorian shrugged. "Le coeur a ses raisons... I'm sorry, Klaus. It was nice, but it didn't work, and it's over. There's someone else now."

   "Don't be stupid. It's not over until I say it is. I'm not letting you go."

   "True. You're not. I'm leaving you."

   "For him? I don't believe it. It's not possible."

   "If not him, then another. There's no reason for us to stay together. You know it."

   "But- to leave me for that." Klaus' face was twisted with disgust and anger and what might in someone else have been the effort not to cry. Dorian cast an apprehensive glance at him- but of course he needn't have worried. Klaus would never cry over him. "Alright, it's over. After this, it's over. Thank God I'm rid of you. And don't even think you can use what's happened between us as leverage. Believe me, the first hint of blackmail I hear from you will be your last."

   "I believe you, Major," Dorian said from the sudden coldness that squeezed his heart.

   Klaus stood a moment looking at him, then snorted and turned to go. Dorian didn't watch him leave. After a little while he was aware of Takamatsu in the room, silently getting dressed. He waited for him to be gone as well.

   Takamatsu took his jacket from the chair beside Dorian.

   "Lord Gloria." Dorian didn't look at him. "I know my sympathy is both impertinent and unwelcome, but you have it anyway. I'm sorry." His heavy tread crossed the room.

   "Doctor," Dorian said before it reached the sitting room, "are you going back upstairs?"

   "I hadn't intended to before lunch. Why?"

   "No reason. What time is it?"

   "Seven forty-five."


   There was a small pause. "Can I do anything for you?"


   "Good day, then, Lord Gloria."

   He left. Dorian went back to the bed and lay down, feeling exhausted. It's over, he thought, it's finally over. I'm glad it's over. Tears ran out of his eyes, and he buried his face in the pillow. This is just reaction. I need to get it out of my system. Of course Klaus would think first of blackmail- he's an agent, all he understands is security- all he cares about is security... He hugged the pillow hard, ludicrously trying to muffle his sobs. No-one can hear me- I can howl like an infant if I like- look, I'm practically sucking my thumb as it is. He bit at the fist pressed against his mouth and gave a small hiccup of laughter. Into his head came a picture of Gunmar in the kitchen last night, hugging Majek and calling him Papa. Majek, Dorian thought in the minute before he fell asleep again, I want Majek: and then he thought nothing more for a long while.