The air at the end of the corridor grew warmer and steamier. It appeared that preparations for dinner were, literally, in full boil. He heard Majek talking in the kitchen and his heart rose as he hastened to the door.

   "You could make yourself useful," Majek's deep voice chided him. His mouth was open to respond when he realized Majek wasn't talking to him. Sitting on the stool by the counter was a large blond man, chin on fist, watching Majek's activities in smiling indolence. Dorian blinked. The newcomer was gorgeous, but absolutely. A thick mane of untamed gold hair, deeper than the Aouille light blond; night-blue eyes that danced in ambiguous amusement; strong dark-brown eyebrows that seemed nearly black; a wide mouth that curved sardonically up at the corners, and a long well-shaped nose. Everything about that face indicated a vast energy only momentarily at rest, and the whole effect was quite, quite shocking. It was like coming on a lion or a bonfire sitting there among the pots and pans. One felt it shouldn't be loose. More personally, it shouldn't be here, usurping Dorian's place by Majek's side.

   "I burn things when I cook," the man was saying in a satisfied baritone, and filched a turnip slice from under Majek's knife. Majek smacked his hand, fatherly, and the other laughed, crunching the vegetable between very white teeth.

   "I did my best with you," Majek complained, sounding unbearably smug, "but you still turned out useless."

   Was this Majek's son, come a day early? Not possible, surely. Szintarow was an Acaille. A blond teenager might go dark but not the other way around. Dorian stepped into the kitchen.

   "Hohh," the man said before he could open his mouth. "What have we here?"

   Majek turned. "Ah, Dorian. Good. I could use some help."

   "Good evening, Majek," Dorian said complacently, and got himself an apron as if it were his everyday habit.

   "This is Dorian Red Gloria, an English lord who's guesting with us for a while. Try not to be too upcountry around him. They're civilized where he comes from."     

    "Mmh." The stranger's piercing eyes looked him over. To his credit, the dubiousness in his gaze wasn't totally obvious. Dorian looked back at him, smiling pleasantly, and began chopping the apples Majek indicated. If his thoughts hadn't been so abstracted when he came to the door, and more particularly if the rest of him hadn't been completely drained after his afternoon with Araszyam, he might be responding to the stranger in a rather different fashion. The man was so very much alive, after all, and really quite stunning. But as it was, Dorian found he could consider him in a purely aesthetic light with no fleshly promptings at all.    

   "You're a friend of Savijc's, I suppose?" the man said.

   "He's a friend of mine," Majek corrected him, and Dorian glowed.

   "Since when?" He sounded astonished.

   "Ten years- eleven."

   The blue eyes narrowed a little. No, the man was no fool. "Can I talk freely in front of him?"  

   "As freely as you like. He's my luck."

   "You find your luck in strange places. A foreigner?"

   "You're hardly the one to talk."

   "My men are my men. I know what they're good for. My luck I make for myself. And really, Majek-" The eyebrows cocked at Dorian's lace and silk.

   "I've told you not to despise what's different from you--"

   "I know, I know. 'Savijc has his own strengths.' I've heard it already."

   "And so does Dorian. He's the one who spiked your conspiracy with the President."

   Dorian and the stranger both froze. Dorian stared at Halim and Halim looked back at him.

   "And he put a knife through Maaqa," Halim said, recovering. "You nearly cost me a good man," he told Dorian with a remarkable lack of heat.

   "No hard feelings, I hope. He was trying to flash-fry Sergei and me at the time."

   "So I heard. He forgot to mention that detail in his report but he confessed it later."        

   "Talk about taking your life in your hands," Majek said. "I always thought Maaqa had a streak of suicidal chivalry in him."    

   "He told me after he knew I wouldn't kill him for it. Honour is one thing and stupidity quite another. Maaqa isn't stupid."

   "Did you bring him along?"

   "Yes, but you can't have him. I need him. I'll lend you the others."

   "I wouldn't have him. I've got Araszyam here. And you can keep the Italian as well."

   "No problem. He's still in Tangier. Will six men be enough?"

   "Plenty. This will be over on Friday, God willing. Now Kinta's agreed to change his paper-"

   "Only if Takamatsu agrees to the operation. What if he doesn't?"

   "He can be forced. He'll probably have to be."

   "And what if Szincza doesn't go along with it?"

   "He'll see my point when I tell him the circumstances. He's a realist. He understands necessity."

   Halim shook his head. "You're getting soft in your old age, brother. Let me take Takamatsu back to Circassia now- keep him safe until Kinta returns-"


   "He'll run for it. I would."

   "Unlike you, little brother, Takamatsu is devoted to something other than his own sweet self." Majek went to the stove and dumped the turnips into one of the steaming pans of water. "Are you finished those apples? They go in here too." Dorian slid the apple slices off his carving board.

   "If he was as devoted as all that, he'd have agreed to the operation before now," Halim was arguing.

   "His devotion, let's say, is divided between Ruza and Ruza's son." Majek was rummaging in the refrigerator.

   "Ruza's a long time dead."

   "Ruza has a habit of not staying that way."

   "What do you mean?" Halim's voice was sharp.

   "Remember you got the feeling, during the war, that he was still somewhere around?"

   "Right after Kinta turned up. And how right I was."

   "Well, it's the same since I got here. I can feel him." He came back to the counter with an armful of green vegetables.

   "Here?" Halim indicated the apartment with his chin.

   "Here in T--. Out in the streets. I don't know what he wants, but he won't stay quiet."

   "He wouldn't, damn him," Halim said. "We took him back and buried him properly with all the rites, but he still--"  He stopped in disgust.

   "And if I sense him, be sure Takamatsu does too. Dorian, wash these, will you?" Majek turned to him with two heads of bib lettuce. "The drier is next to the sink."


   "Your lucky Englishman thinks we're insane," Halim remarked, eyes flicking over him. "Or a bunch of superstitious peasants. Right, Lord Gloria?"

   "Wrong," Dorian said, turning on the taps.

   "Westerners don't believe in ghosts. Takamatsu doesn't, for sure."

   "I'm an Englishman, and we live with our ghosts quite comfortably. The third earl of Red Gloria- who died in 1668, should you be interested- still uses his  bedroom in the east wing of my country house, and his great-grandson regularly appears in the hothouse to inspect his fruit trees from the Indies. They're not there any more, of course, but that doesn't stop him." He put the lettuce in the wire basket and swung it with vigour. "Oh, sorry," he apologized politely as Halim, swearing, ducked the shower of water drops.

   "Wasn't it an Englishman who said 'Dead men rise up never'?" Halim scowled as he dabbed at his jacket with a tea towel.

   "Swinburne, yes. A poem called The Garden of Proserpine.


                                                    'From too much love of living

                                                       From hope and fear set free

                                                    We thank with brief thanksgiving

                                                       Whatever gods there be

                                                    That no man lives forever

                                                    That dead men rise up never

                                                    That even the weariest river

                                                       Winds somewhere safe to sea.'


A lovely poem, but wrong, of course."

   There was a peculiar silence. Halim was looking at him as if he had two heads. Majek said something in Circassian and Halim, snorting, relaxed.

   "This can't have anything to do with Takamatsu," he said to Majek. "Takamatsu wouldn't admit that ghosts exist even if he saw one."

   "But Ruza could be behind this refusal of his. Kinta thinks so, and Savijc half does, and Takamatsu himself is much too insistent that Ruza's got nothing to do with it. It's pretty odd on the face of it. Takamatsu's always had a careful regard for his own health and well-being. Why's he choosing death over life now, I wonder? Could it be Ruza whispering in his ear?" He took the pannier from Dorian and dumped the lettuce leaves into the salad bowl.

   "You know," Dorian said, helping Majek to tear the lettuce into smaller pieces, "your brother had a great success here many years ago. Don't you think it's more likely a ghost from the past you're feeling? A memory from that time when he was happy?"

   "What I'm feeling isn't happy. It has that genuine Ruza nagging insistence. He wants me to do something for him and I'm damned if I know what. I'm already doing what I can to protect his son from his own stupidity."

   "Could he want Kinta to have a chance at the fame he missed himself? Maybe he wants you to let him give the paper."

   "Then he can want," Majek said shortly.

   "If I know Ruza, he probably just wants you all to go away," Halim said. "You're disturbing his happy afterlife."

   "What right has he to tell me to go away?" Majek demanded in a sudden rage that made Dorian's stomach tighten. "Who does that brother-betrayer think he is? Going and getting himself killed because his life had become a burden to him- forgetting his duty, forgetting his family-- He deserted me like a coward in battle. How dared he? He was my brother. For as long as I can remember he was there beside me, the way Savijc was there with you. I needed him. I depended on him. And then suddenly he was gone, and I was alone with no-one at my back. Do you know what that was like?"

   "I know what that was like," Halim said, and gave his brother a peculiar smile. "Believe me, I know." Dorian's heart contracted. He knew that smile. It was the one Klaus wore when he was badly hurt- it meant torn flesh and dislocated knees and pain that Klaus would never admit to--

   He looked down and went on ripping lettuce. The only thing he could do was pretend not to notice, the way he'd pretended for Klaus. It was, in fact, the only polite thing to do. The other two weren't even aware of him.

   "Halim-" Majek was looking at him in pity and exasperation.

   "Majek," Halim said, smooth and undisturbed. Majek reached over and knuckled his head.

   "Why did you have to be my brother?"

   "Heredity. It was even odds one of us would be."

   "God." Majek, sighing, turned his attention back to the salad. "Won't you at least change your mind about staying the night?"

   "Mnh." Halim shook his head, and took a cucumber from the bowl. "I've people to see this evening- not the kind you can take official notice of. I told you, it's just luck I happened to be in town the same time as you."

   "You're sure you can spare the men?"

   "Positive. The next round is still in the planning stages. Maaqa's enough for protection now. You're sure you don't want me to kidnap Takamatsu?"

   "Yes. We do this by the book."

   "Szincza's book. Good luck. What about some vodka for me too?"

   "In the living room. You want it, you go get it."

   "Where's the living room, for god's sake? Trust you to live in a palace even when you're a tourist."

   "Forgive my idiot brother, Dorian. His nurse dropped him on his head when he was a baby. Could you show him where the vodka is? Then you can come back. He won't need any more company."

   "My loving brother." Halim got up, put an arm round Majek's neck, and kissed him on the mouth. Majek swatted his head and Halim went laughing out the door. Dorian raised his eyebrows at Majek and went after.

    "Now," said Halim in a very different voice when they were well down the corridor. He stopped short and loomed over Dorian. They were much of a height- maybe an inch or two in Halim's favour- but the other man had the bulk that he lacked and there was no doubt it was all muscle. Nor did it help that Halim's expression showed not the slightest trace of friendly feeling.

   "I know what you are, you damned sodomite. I've met enough westerners to tell. Don't think you can pretend with me."

   "It wouldn't occur to me. What I am is no secret."

   "Then what's got into Majek, to take a perfumed ponce like yourself into the house?"

   "Perhaps he wants a change? Maybe he wants something that actually looks like a damned sodomite instead of just acting like one?"

   Halim smiled, unamused. "Who are you talking about?" He moved threateningly closer.

   Dorian stepped forward so that they were breast to breast. He matched Halim's smile. "Who indeed? A certain mercenary I can think of who surrounds himself with non-Circassian men, strangers who have to be-- secured-- on a regular basis, no doubt. Right, Squad Commander?" He patted himself on the back for remembering Halim's title even as he watched the dark eyes go diamond-like with rage. "Someone who zeroes in on any innocent who walks into his path- as it might be, a young man who'd been kept from human company all his life and had no idea of what's allowable in a relationship and what's not." The other man drew a deep angry breath and Dorian cut in before he could speak. "Someone who finds it easier to plot his brother's murder than to tell him that he loves him."

   He felt the reflex jerk of Halim's body. Halim said, in very calm tones, "I'm going to kill you.

   "Good," Dorian answered. "That makes it unanimous. Now I've had death threats from all three of you." He pressed closer to the wall-like body. Their eyes held for a long moment.

   "I'm not surprised," Halim said, and stepped back. "Or only surprised that the others didn't carry through." He looked at Dorian without expression while his mouth decided whether to go up or down. It went up. "Hell, come and have some vodka." He clapped him on the shoulder- Dorian, prepared, managed not to stagger- and dragged him down the hall.

   "Here," Dorian instructed him as they reached the living room. He found the vodka in the liquor cabinet, poured two glasses and gave one to Halim. They faced each other.

   "You're a degenerate," Halim said with conviction, lifting his glass.

   "You're unspeakable," Dorian responded, lifting his.

   "Here's to us," Halim smiled, and tossed off the vodka in a gulp.

   "And a barbarian," Dorian remarked, taking a small reproving sip.

   "That's no way to drink." Halim poured himself another glass.

   "I'm a degenerate. I'm allowed to savour my liquor." He sat down in an armchair.

   "How nice. I'm a man, and I'm not."

   "I don't understand you," Dorian said exasperated. "You're a law to yourself. Why put up with these silly shoulds and should nots?"

   Halim laughed shortly. "'A law to myself.' Not likely- not while I'm still Majek's brother."

   "I don't get the feeling Majek confines you in any way." He put the emphasis on the 'you.'

   "Majek always confines people. Just by existing. The world isn't big enough for two when he's around. You have to shape yourself to fit his desires." He looked at Dorian through his vodka. "Savijc knew that long before I did. That's why he left. I only found it out when I stopped being the good brother and left myself."

   "The good brother with his regular conspiracies," Dorian pointed out.

   "Of course. That's what good brothers do in his scheme of things. Why do you think I kept on trying to kill him? Because that's the only form of love he can accept- the love of enemies. Oh yes-" he cut off Dorian's protest. "He did it again with Szincza. I didn't understand how it worked until I watched it happen there. He drove his son to rebellion, step by step, over seven long years. Even after they broke and Szincza had run away- Szincza would have settled at any time but Majek wouldn't give an inch. It was only when Szincza was ready to kill him that he had a change of heart. He wouldn't settle for anything less. He'll believe he matters to us if we're ready to murder him."

   This was mumbo-jumbo. "Why didn't you ever try telling him straight to his face? Just a plain, simple, 'I love you'? Too scared?"

   "I knew better. I saw what happened with Savijc. He was fool enough to say it, and he got his heart broken for his pains. Ask him sometime how Majek behaved when he was wounded and needing comfort."


   "I said, ask him."

   "Not if my life depended on it. Give, Halim."

   "He got the back of Majek's hand. Majek treated him like damaged goods, fit for the rubbish heap."

   "But that was because--" He hesitated, realizing he was about to step on a landmine. Well, so what? He continued boldly, "--that was because of Jahn."

   "Jahn." It wasn't a question.

   "The outsider. An Acaille. The one who came into your close family circle and made off with your brother. You're alike, you and Majek- you both hate losing what's yours. No, don't bother denying it. Sergei threatened to break my neck once for even suggesting you might have been jealous of Jahn. I don't need any more proof than that."

   "Christ," Halim said after a minute. "Majek was right about you. Go on- if you dare."

   "Easily," Dorian said. "None of you liked him. Ruza hated him, and with good reason. And then he was dead and you thought everything could go back to normal. Only it didn't. Sergei had changed." He took a sip of vodka. "It must have driven Majek crazy. He knew Jahn was a spy, and I'd guess he told you as well." Halim nodded, eyes intent. "But you couldn't tell Sergei- you didn't dare tell Sergei- and there he was, mourning for someone who'd betrayed him and refusing to be comforted. And there was Majek with his hands tied. And I bet he hates having his hands tied."

   "Oh god," Halim said. "You don't know."

   "He couldn't do anything. He couldn't act and he was going crazy with frustration and impatience. And Sergei read that as anger and rejection. It wasn't- it was the exact opposite- but that's what it looked like."

   "Close," said Halim. "Very very close." His eyes brooded on Dorian. "He just wouldn't stop," he said. "He walked around the house like a ghost- with his head and eye bandaged, like a half-wrapped corpse- and when we talked to him he only looked back at us and wouldn't say anything. We were at our wits' end- scared shitless he'd be the next to go. And at night I had to listen to him crying beside me in the bed. I wanted to hit him- I wanted to make him pull himself together- and I couldn't do anything. What can you do, when someone you love just goes on suffering and won't stop?"

   "You can get angry at them," Dorian suggested. "That keeps the pain away from yourself. You can throw your heart away and refuse to feel anything. Only then the dead emotions come back like ghosts some day-"

   "Christ!" Halim started up violently and grabbed Dorian's shirt. "How the hell did you find out about-- Did Sergei tell you? He wouldn't dare--"

   "He didn't tell me anything," Dorian said. "I'm guessing.

   Halim let him go, turned and poured himself another vodka. "It's over now," he said. "It all came out in the war and it got settled then. You can conjure the dead men alive for awhile, Lord Gloria, but then they go back to their graves."

   "I'm glad," Dorian said. "Did you ever get your heart back?"

   "Where were you brought up, for god's sake? Have you no decency?"

   "None," said Dorian. "Sergei told me that ten years ago. Neither do you, so I thought you wouldn't mind."

   "I do mind," Halim said.

   "Then I apologize. Let's change the subject."

   "And now you're going to play at being a gentleman."

   "We can play at something else if you like. I'm amenable."

   "Oh no. Let's go on rattling my family skeletons. I never get to do this with outsiders. What else do you want to talk about? Ruza's little games? Takamatsu and Gunmar? Szincza and his friends?"

   "Szintarow..." Dorian said thoughtfully. "He's the one I don't understand."

   "He'll be here tomorrow. You'll see then."

   "Not Szintarow himself. Szintarow and Majek. Why does Majek love him the way he does? Didn't he ever suspect he wasn't his son?"

   "If he did, he never said anything. You don't argue with Majek's likes and dislikes. We kept our thoughts to ourselves."

   "But you must have seen the resemblance. Sergei did, of course."


   "To his father."

   "What are you talking about?"


   "What--" Halim's face split in an unbelieving grin. "You think he's- Oh god. That's lovely. That's beautiful." He started to laugh.

   "But that's why Ruza killed Jahn--" Dorian protested. Halim shook his head, convulsed.

   "Oh, Lord Gloria, you're wonderful. I love you. Here, have some more vodka. God, I haven't heard anything this funny in ages-"

   "But Sergei said they looked exactly alike--" Dorian was getting seriously annoyed.

   "A lot alike. All the Acailles do. They're inbred. Comes from centuries of isolating themselves in the mountains. Have a look at Araszyam some time and compare him to Jean. They could be brothers."

   Well, now Halim mentioned it, it was true. But--

   "Then who's the father?"

   "We haven't the foggiest idea." Halim shrugged. "It wasn't Ruza, it can't have been Jahn- the house was a day's journey from the city and surrounded by guards. He never came there. So we just don't know. And if you want to keep on enjoying Majek's hospitality, don't ask. He doesn't care, and neither should you." He looked at Dorian and the corners of his mouth started to twitch again.

   "Uncle Halim?" Gunmar stopped in the doorway. "I thought it was your voice. Why are you here? Did Papa send for you?" He wandered over and kissed Halim absently on each cheek. He had the unfocussed vagueness of someone on drugs, but Dorian, adept at discerning the lineaments of gratified desire, realized his manner was the result of a more natural high.

   "Halim." Kinta, coming in with the same abstracted expression, greeted him with a nod. Halim smiled.

   "Haven't you got a kiss for your uncle?" He stood up.

   Kinta regarded him for a moment with what looked oddly like satisfaction, then smiled his sudden sweet smile. This time there was an edge to it and Halim gave a reflex frown. Kinta kissed him properly on each cheek, and once very improperly on the mouth, and sat down by Gunmar with an arm around his shoulders. Dorian observed with interest this unusual evidence of conjugal harmony, while Halim gulped vodka in annoyance.

   "I was passing through and thought I'd look in on you. I didn't know Majek was here and I didn't know you'd all started getting yourself attacked."

   "They're crazy here in the West," Kinta shrugged. "It's nothing to worry about."

   "Naturally- only I'm leaving six of my men until the weekend, just to be on the safe side."

   "It's not necessary-"

   "Let's hope not."

   "-But thanks anyway."

   Halim's eyebrows flicked. "I hear you're putting the screws on Takamatsu."

   "I'm doing what has to be done for his safety."

   "Like your father- you always have the best motives for everything, and you're always right."

   Kinta stretched his long legs, again with that creamy smile of satisfaction. "I could be like my uncle, and always wrong."

   "Oh, don't fight," Gunmar said, and shifted sideways to lean back against his cousin's chest. "It's too nice a day." Kinta ran his fingers through the fine blond hair, smiling down at him.

   "Christ, Kinta," Halim said in disgust. "What's got into you today?"

   Kinta choked on a sudden hiccup of laughter, going red. Gunmar put a hand over his face to hide a smile. Halim watched their mirth in growing irritation. Dorian half-sympathized. Kinta and Gunmar were behaving like a pair of giddy adolescents but it was nice to see them so happy together.

   There was a heavy tread behind him and Koczi came into the room, addressing himself to Halim.

   "Majek wants you," Halim translated. Dorian bounded to his feet, beaming. "God," said Halim, looking from him to his nephews. "I'll be outside. Maybe Araszyam can still talk sense."

   Dorian, unheeding, flew down the corridor.

   "There you are," Majek said, straightening up from the oven. "What were you doing? Making friends with Halim?"

   "Just getting the preliminary death threats over with," Dorian said flippantly. "He's got an odd way of ingratiating himself."

   "He always did," Majek said, lifting lids. "First he tries to dazzle and if that doesn't work he tries to intimidate. After that he's rational. Help me drain these."

   Dorian held the lid while Majek poured steaming water from the turnips and apples and dumped them into a bowl.

   "That's a good way to get followers," Dorian noted, "but a terrible way to make friends."

   "Followers are what he wants," Majek said, putting the bowl in the warming oven. "He's got the wrong temperament for a middle son. He should have been the first, in someone else's family."

   "How can he be middle? He and Sergei came at the end."

   "I know. But he was always so much bigger and stronger that he seemed older. Savijc was like the youngest child- and yes, I'll admit we spoiled him like one." Majek rummaged in a drawer for a carving knife and whetstone. "We let him read his books and have his own way and never called him to account. 'Savijc is so delicate.' 'Savijc is so sensitive.' I suppose we treated him like the girl-child our family can't have. That must be why he turned out as he did."

   Dorian sighed. Argument was useless, but he felt compelled to try. "You think he's girlish? He's one of the deadliest fighters I know. Wasn't he the one who trained your son?"

   "Yes, of course. But he's still not a man." Majek was sharpening the knife with whip-whip strokes, stopping to examine the blade periodically.

   "He's very much a man. I've slept with him and I know."

   Majek made a noise of exasperation. "It's like having a dragon in the house. You shouldn't exist in the first place and I've no idea what you'll do next. Go get me the carving board. It's down there."

   Dorian brought it from the cupboard next to the sink. It must be all those hormones fizzing about him- Gunmar and Kinta, Sergei and Jean, himself and Ara- or possibly just the vodka on top of an empty stomach. He felt giddy and daring and randy as hell, and the most sensible thing to do seemed to be to nuzzle Majek's neck from behind as he stood by the oven. Oh, lovely, lovely. His skin was warm and the shaggy hair smelled of spice.

   "Dorian," Majek said warningly.

   "Mm-m-h?" He moved over to the earlobe and nibbled the edge. There was an uncomfortable pricking sensation at the front of his neck. He straightened up slowly, the point of the carving knife coming with him as Majek turned around.

   Dorian gazed at him reproachfully along the blade, doing his best impersonation of a spaniel refused a table-scrap. Majek smiled in appreciation and indicated the counter. Dorian put the board down. The knife flicked in the direction of the stool and Dorian went and sat on it, sighing deeply.

   "You're driving me crazy," he complained.

   "Haven't you learned yet that you can't have things just because you want them?"

   "Of course I can. What I want is mine by definition."

   "You and Halim alike- you think if you want it you're entitled to have it."

   "Why do you always insult me? You know I'm not at all like Halim."

   "True. Halim's learned to do without. Time you did too. Make yourself useful. Those potatoes need mashing."

   Dorian fetched the pan and the potato masher and worked out some of his frustration while Majek removed a stuffed loin of veal from its roasting pan and placed it on the carving board.

   "This needs to cool. Those can go in the warming oven when you're done."

   Dorian sighed again. It was heaven to be in the same room as Majek, but his role of saucier's apprentice was beginning to bore him.

   Majek put the carving board down on the counter, took the stool for himself and sipped at a glass of vodka-and-something. "What you want is yours by definition, is it? Meaning, if you want it you take it. Is that why Takamatsu called you a thief?"

   Dorian's heart jumped. "Yes. I am a thief. I'm the greatest thief of my generation."

   Majek's eyebrows rose. "You're joking, of course."

   "I'm completely serious."

   "You boast of being a criminal?"


   "What do you steal?" Majek asked, unsmiling.



   "Paintings. Statues. Porcelain. Tapestries."

   Majek blinked. "These are valuable goods?"


   "And then what do you do with them?"

   "I sell them back to their owners, sometimes, but mostly I keep them."


   "They're beautiful. I want them with me always. Why else?"

   Majek snorted and went over to the carving board. "If you're going to steal, why not take something useful?" he asked, picking up the bone-handled knife and fork.

   "I used to take practical things for Kl- for NATO- microchips and blueprints and so on- but it's so unromantic. It's a waste of my talents."

   Majek's mouth was expressive as he made the first incision. "Paintings. Good god. It must be because your father died so young. He'd have straightened you out otherwise."

   "My father encouraged me in my career. It's a family tradition. He got me the best tutors, helped me with my first lessons in picking pockets--"

   Majek turned icicle-coloured eyes on him. "I don't take well to being mocked, Dorian."

   A shiver went up Dorian's spine, surprising him. "I'm not mocking you," he said as seriously as he knew how. "My family was ennobled in the 16th century for plundering Spanish ships when we were at war with the Hapsburgs. We've always been thieves. Really, it's an honourable tradition with us."

   "You English are insane. I'd heard it said but I'd never actually believed it. Get me a platter."

   Relieved to find himself still in Majek's good graces- or at least not totally out of them- Dorian complied.

   "Did your father know about--" Majek gave a vague nod in his direction.

   "Yes. He was homosexual himself, actually," Dorian said apologetically, in case Majek took offence again. Majek frowned.

   "Still, he married and had children. Why don't you?"

   "My father wanted a son and thought that a good enough reason to make some woman miserable by marrying her. I don't."

   "You're a fool. Having a son-" Majek was smiling as he carved the roast. "Having a son is the greatest happiness a man can know." Dorian's heart contracted in jealousy.

   "I wish I was your son," he said without thinking. "Then you'd love me."

   "Be grateful you're not. You wouldn't be alive now if you were. I wasn't always as mild as I am now."

   "But it's now that I know you. Why not adopt me?" He edged a little closer. "Wouldn't it be useful to have a clever thief in your family? You never know when you'll need a lock opened. Or in your army, at least. Here's a stranger just dying to be secured by you." He nudged meaningfully against Majek's side.

   Majek put the knife and fork down and turned towards him, raising his arms. Dorian stepped nearer in rapture as Majek's hands went round his neck and pressed hard on his windpipe. The blue eyes were frozen in fury and the face would have turned an army to stone. Dorian stood perfectly still as his breath was cut off. He could do nothing but look into those terrible eyes, watching a moment of infinity stretch out before him like a long black line. Dots swam in his sight and the world became blood-tinged at the edges. Gazing still at Majek he waited for the inevitable blackness.

   The pressure eased, letting him draw a gasping breath, but Majek's hands were still on his throat.

   "You're a dirty little child," Majek informed him thickly, "playing your dirty little games, and you understand nothing. The tie between man and lord is sacred. When a man takes his oath to me and swears it with his body, he gives me a part of his soul. It costs him something to give, and it costs me something to take, and what happens between us is not a joke to be sniggered at by some she-male perversion who'll open his arse to any man."

   "Not any man," Dorian said rawly. "I have my standards."

   Majek loosed his neck and slapped him so hard he nearly fell over. He was saved only by Majek slapping him on the other side and so straightening him up again.

   "Any man," Majek repeated. "Do you think I don't know what you've been doing since you came in here? You've gone through my household like a lion through the sheep fold. I can see it in their faces. You've bedded with my brother and his friend and my nephew and my son, and even Takamatsu though I'm damned if I know how you managed it. Twenty years ago I'd have turned you into the woman you behave like for so abusing my hospitality. Is there anyone you haven't laid your hands on?"

   "Gunmar, actually."

   "Don't lie to me. Gunmar had his catamite's eye on you from the minute you walked in."

   "I don't say we wouldn't like to. I would and he would. But I gave my word not to."

   "To whom?"


   "That means nothing."

   "It means everything. My word binds me the way your oaths bind you. You don't understand a gentleman's honour, of course, because you're not a gentleman. You're a small-souled peasant who'd sneer at his own son. Gunmar's not a catamite and never was. Not that it's any of your business, but he was a virgin until he was a grown man, which has got to be more than you can say. And he's generous and kind and loving and too damned good to be the son of a butcher like yourself." Dorian blinked tears of rage. "I can't think why he acknowledges you as his father. He's criminally good-natured. If it were me I'd disinherit myself." He turned his back on Majek and headed for the door.


   He stopped, fists balled.

   "What?" he said, refusing to turn around.

   "Five minutes ago you were saying you wanted to be my son. You see what it would have been like? Come back here."

   Unwillingly, Dorian turned around. Majek was smiling a little, ruefully, and Dorian's heart melted. He frowned ferociously to cover it, but all that did was bring a hint of tenderness to Majek's eyes and threaten to complete his downfall.

   "What am I to do with you, little brother? You're a stranger to my land, and you insult our customs. Don't make me angry, Dorian. I had enough of that in the past, and I don't enjoy it any more."

   Dorian fought to hold on to a shred of self-respect.

   "You insult me," he said, pretending offence. "If I'm a pervert and a child by your standards, what do you think you are by mine?"

   "You told me. A butcher. I don't deny it. Come, Dorian. You have a man's courage in that woman's nature of yours. Let's be friends again."

   "We can't be friends," he said bitterly. "I love you and it's killing me."    

   Majek came over and put an arm on his shoulder, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, little brother."

   Dorian leaned against him in sudden pain, but even as his heart stabbed him a thought came into his mind. He looked down at Majek through narrowed eyes.

   "What is it?" Majek asked, puzzled.

   "Oh, but you're good. I thought I was good at this, but you-- My god, next to you I'm an amateur. And it's all natural, isn't it?

   "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

   "The secret of your success, General. You make men fall in love with you. No wonder they line up to join your army. You do it by instinct. You don't know you're doing it and they don't know it's being done. It takes a man like me to see how it works."

   Majek looked at him a long moment, then turned back to his carving.

   "It's true, isn't it?" Dorian challenged him.

   "Dorian, Dorian- ah well. Never mind." Majek was smiling to himself. "It's natural to see things in a way that's familiar. You charm men without intending to, and you think that's how all men behave. Go call Miyagui. It's time we got dinner on the table."

   "Right," said Dorian smoothly, removing his apron. "At once." He was smiling too. Now he understood the territory and had the measure of his opponent. Now he was ready to go to war.  


    As he started down the corridor, he almost bumped into Gunmar coming from the washroom.

   "Oh, Lord Gloria," Gunmar said, and gave him an exuberant hug. "I've got to thank you. You're so wonderful!"

   "I try to please," Dorian said. "What did I do?"

   "Oh- you know. Everything's so different when you're around. I'd never have had the nerve to ask for myself if you hadn't suggested it, and I don't think he'd have agreed if you hadn't- you know- with him. But he says- Kinta says-" Gunmar lowered his voice, beaming like the noonday sun, "it's just so much better with me than with Uncle Halim, there's no comparison."

   "Oh," Dorian said in comprehension. "Today you are a man. I'm glad to hear it. So- what do you think of it?"

   "It's- interesting. I think I still like it better when he does it to me, but it's nice for a change. We're going to try it again tonight."

   They'd come to the livingroom.

   "Where's Miyagui, by the way? I'm supposed to send him to Majek."

   "In the front with Koczi. I'll go get him." He hastened off.

   Kinta looked up from his journal as Dorian came in and gave him a wide smile.

   "Halim?" Dorian asked.

   "Gone to get his men. There was a call from the front desk."

   "Oh, good. Umm- I take it things are alright now?"

   "Yes, perfect. I can't believe how everything's changed, just in one day." A trace of self-consciousness crept into his smile, stripping years off his already young face so that he looked like a shy teenager. "Majek said you're his luck but I think- I think you must be mine."

   "Maybe I'm a family possession. Do you believe in luck? I do, of course, but you're a scientist..."

   "I never did before, but now- It's amazing, what can happen."

   He stood up as Gunmar came back into the room and put an arm around his shoulder. They went out into the hallway. "When Takamatsu's cured and we're all back home- there's this new angle Gruber has on inherited immunity. Jean's quite excited by it, and we were thinking- well, never mind. I won't bore you. But really, this is the first time in forever that I'm actually looking forward to the future. So much seems possible, now that things are finally going my way."

   "You don't think Takamatsu will mind too much?" Gunmar asked. "He hasn't come back yet."

   "He'll come round when he realizes we're doing it for his own good. He's a scientist too, after all. He's just getting stubborn in his old age."

   Jean and Sergei were already seated in the diningroom, talking in low tones. Sergei had a hand on Jean's thigh under the table. Their heads turned together at Kinta's last words.

   "Majek?" Jean asked, eyebrows flicking a little at Gunmar and Kinta's affectionate pose.

   "Takamatsu," Kinta said, dropping his arm.

   "That's not old age. He was always like that," Sergei said. "He'd have run Ruza's life for him if Ruza had let him."

   "The tyranny of the servant," Jean said. "I never know if he gets it from his Russian side or his Japanese one."

   "Don't talk like that," Gunmar said, looking unhappy as he took his seat.

   "But it's true," Kinta said. "We've always done what he wanted. We just didn't notice."

   Majek came in with Ara and Miyagui. "Dorian, take the other end of the table. I don't suppose we should expect Takamatsu, but he might turn up." Bowls were passed around and wine was served. Araszyam gave Dorian a fleeting soft smile as he filled his glass and Dorian gave him a small wink back. About to take a sip, he saw the corners of Majek's mouth tighten as he registered the exchange. Dorian sat up straighter and smiled at him directly, heart lifting in sudden realization. They'd worked a love-charm this afternoon, was what they'd done. He and Ara, Kinta and Gunmar, Jean and Sergei, working separately and unknowingly, had together described three points of a triangle of love and lust, and Majek was caught in the middle of it. It was only a matter of time before the spell had its effect.

   "To your health, General," Dorian said, lifting his glass.

   "To yours, Lord Gloria," Majek responded. "But the General will be here tomorrow. Save your toasts till then."

   A deep male voice boomed in the hallway. Sergei jerked upright. Halim burst through the doors, a crowd of one who made the dining room seem suddenly too small.

   "Good," he said. "I'm starved. My loving little brother-" He enveloped Sergei in a huge hug that left him blinking and frowning. "Jean-" He mussed Jean's hair, to his obvious annoyance, and threw himself into the chair on Dorian's right. "Food!" he said peremptorily to Araszyam.

   The platter of veal had come to rest by Dorian. He picked it up and placed it bodily on Halim's plate.

   "Have some meat, Commander."

   "I could eat all that," Halim said, helping himself liberally.

   "But you won't," Jean said, whisking it adroitly out of his hand and passing it across the table to Kinta.

   "When did you get in?" Sergei asked in a resigned voice. "And what are you doing here?"

   "This afternoon. I thought I'd drop in on you on my way back to Amsterdam, but when I found out Majek was here of course I stayed for dinner. I've missed your cooking, brother." Halim was shovelling meat and vegetables into his mouth. It looked like he could indeed have eaten the whole platter merely by way of appetizer.

    "Don't talk with your mouth full," Majek said automatically. "And what are your men doing in the suite?"

    "Checking for bugs."

    "It's been checked already."

    "Not by G, it hasn't. If he says it's clean, then I'll believe it."

    "G?!" Dorian said, startled.

    "One of my men. Impossible name- German- so we just call him G."

    It couldn't be, of course. G wouldn't moonlight. Klaus would have his skin if he did- but the coincidence--

    "What does he look like? Not small and blond by any chance?"

    "Not by any chance."

    "If they break anything, it's your neck," Majek said.

    "Don't worry. They're pros."

    "Why are you going to Amsterdam?" Gunmar asked.

    "Business. Don't ask."

    "Drugs?" Sergei inquired neutrally. "Or guns?"

    "Both, of course."

    "Don't tease your brother. No-one's asking what your business is. We can't afford to know."

    "True. Let's talk about something else. Who wants to bet me Takamatsu doesn't come back tonight?"

    "No takers," Jean said.

    "Or tomorrow?"

    "He'll be back tomorrow," Kinta said with certainty.

    "Where would he go?" Gunmar asked.

    "The British Embassy, maybe. Or the American one- even better. Violation of his rights under the Geneva Convention- he'd have a good case for refugee status."

    "Don't be absurd," Kinta said. Gunmar was looking troubled.

   "Cut it out, Halim," Majek said.

   "Face facts, will you? You've threatened him with surgical treatment. That's going to sound really nice if he tells anyone about it."

   "No-one's threatened him with anything yet," Majek said. "Kinta's made it a condition. Takamatsu's objected. It's for Szincza to decide what happens in the end."

   "He'll decide your way, of course; and your way is to use force, and Takamatsu knows it. Now he has a head start. You're slipping, brother. You should never have let him out of the apartment."

   Gunmar had stopped eating entirely. "Takamatsu wouldn't go to outsiders. Or if he was going to leave, he'd tell us first."

   "So you could stop him? Use your head, Gunmar. You don't have the same relationship you did before. Your- cousin- changed all that this afternoon."

   Gunmar went green and Kinta's eyes blazed in fury. Sergei said in a cold voice, "You're going to look a complete prat when he walks in tomorrow, but of course you'll be long gone by then. Congratulations. You did what you came to do: you've upset Gunmar and annoyed everyone else. Now will you just shut up and eat?"

   Halim turned on him. "Why do you all stick your heads in the sa--"

   Dorian, reaching for the bowl of potatoes, bumped the Chateau Lafite Rothschild with his elbow. Red wine flooded Halim's plate, dripped onto his trousers and splashed his jacket. He jumped up, swearing and dabbing at the stains.

   "Oh, I am so sorry," Dorian said, rising and hastening to right the bottle. "And a Lafite Rothschild '89 too," he added sadly.

   "Fuck the wine!" Halim bellowed. "My pants-"

   "Salt," Dorian said briskly, seizing the cellar and twisting the top off. "Pour it on the stains and it soaks them right up-" He did so, unstintingly. Long practice at teasing Klaus told him precisely when to duck to avoid the swing of Halim's fist. "Then you can launder them and the marks come right ou-" He dodged neatly behind his chair as Halim grabbed at him.

   "Commander," a German voice said behind them.

   "What the hell do you want?!?" Halim whirled in the extremes of rage. Dorian glanced over his shoulder and found himself beside a huge slab of a man, easily two metres tall and wide in proportion, who dwarfed even the sizable Halim. This was G? My God.

   "We found this," the giant said with no change of voice or expression, and held out a hand half again the size of Dorian's.

   "What the fuck is it, then?"

   "One of the new microscopic bugs." The craggy face remained mpassive despite the increase in volume.

   "Where, dammit??" Halim's command style, Dorian meditated, wasn't that much different from Klaus', but his men's reaction certainly was.

   "In the study telephone." Any of Klaus' men would

have been jelly by now, but this one didn't even blink. Dorian, who'd never encountered a phlegmatic German before, was intrigued to discover that the breed did indeed exist.

   Halim, somehow calmed by the lack of reaction, peered into the massive fist and picked it out with a thumb and forefinger.

   "Any idea where it came from?"

   "It's a Swiss original, not a Spanish imitation. They cost, and you need to know the right people."

   "You've been through the rooms as well?" Majek asked.

   "Yes sir. They're clean."

   "You keep an eye on the hotel's staff when they're here?" Halim asked his brother.

   "Every minute."

   "This comes from before, then. Your men missed it." He smiled in satisfaction.

   "You haven't used the phone- Jean? Kinta? To talk to each other?"

   They glanced at each other and shook their heads.

   "You remember you said not to," Jean added.

   "You were here before I was."

   "Well, I haven't," Kinta said. "When I want to talk to Jean I do it here."

   "You others? Gunmar? Have you mentioned Kinta's paper?"

   He shook his head. "I had a call from van der Hoek but we only talked about my project."

   Sergei said, "The same. Calls to and from Dubois, calls to the hotel management. Nothing to do with the paper."

   "Then we're in the clear, God willing," Majek said.

   "You can hope," Halim said. "But they're obviously after you. All of you- take one of my men with you any time you go out. Next time they may up the numbers."

   "If it's the same people," Jean pointed out. "And won't it just call attention to ourselves if Kinta and I have a bodyguard with us?"

   "All the Circassians here will have bodyguards--"

   "No-one knows they're Circassian. They're registered under different nationalities and names," Majek said. "Kinta's Estonian and Jean's Cypriot."

   "Christ. Why?"

   "Because there are no other Estonians or Cypriots here, of course."

   "Anyone watching the lobby has seen them using the special elevator. They'll figure out the connection."

   "There are other connections we might have," Jean said. "Any conference is a hotbed of scandal. Let's give them the Cypriot scientist and the Circassian antiquarian to talk about." He put a lascivious hand on Sergei's thigh, and Sergei laughed soundlessly. "Maybe you two could camp it up a little too," he suggested, grinning over at Kinta and Gunmar.

   "Absolutely not," Majek snapped. "I won't have Circassia's reputation compromised."

   "How much reputation do we have left, I wonder, with Dorian in and out of here every day?" Sergei asked. Majek looked stunned.

   "One queer doesn't make this place a hotbed of homodom," Halim objected.

   There was the oddest little silence. Jean gave a small choking sound and Sergei's mouth twitched at the corners. Gunmar started to shake with repressed giggles and Kinta frowned ferociously, battling laughter.

   "Alright, hw does," Halim said in disgust. "Go ahead and flaunt it then. And bring your knives with you. You," he said to the impassive German. "Take this to the hotel laundry and tell them I want it back, spotless, in an hour." He shrugged off his jacket. "And send for a change of clothes from the hotel." He looked at Dorian in annoyance and sat down. The hovering Ara whisked his plate away and substituted another and Halim proceeded to load it up again.

   "And as for Takamatsu-" he started.

   "The subject's closed," Majek said. "Mention his name again and I'll throw you out of here myself. Understood?"

   Halim smiled at him cheerfully. "Absolutely, brother. We need another bottle of wine. So when's Szincza arriving and who's he bringing with him?"

   "He lands tomorrow at eleven, and he's bringing whoever he pleases."

   "Kostya coming?"

   "Of course not. It's not safe."

   "I haven't seen him in years. Has he started talking again?"

   "Some. Not much. We're making progress, but it's slow." Majek frowned down at his plate.

   "We ran tests on him," Kinta said. "His intelligence wasn't affected. It was the shock that made him regress to early childhood."

   "He can talk when he wants to. He has long conversations with Koczi, evidently."

   "Koczi!? Dear God."

   "He's got a simple nature," Jean said. "He's the same all the way through. I think Kostya finds that reassuring."

   "You'd think he'd get bored." Halim poured himself more wine.

   "We hope he does. It might make him talk more to other people."

   "He'd better. He's- what?- fourteen now? He'll be a man soon."

   "It'll be a long time before he's a man," Majek said sombrely.

   "Oh come, brother. No need for the long face. You were saying the same thing about Szincza when he was fully grown. Seventeen years old and 'He's still a child.'"

   "He was," Sergei said. "You didn't have to put up with his tantrums."

   "Neither did you," Majek said. "He always behaved like a lamb when you were around."

   "Until he found himself stuck with me on a mountain side and no way of getting home for six months. Then he let loose."

   "Really?" Gunmar asked in interest. "What did you do?"

   "Took his clothes away."

   "What?" Gunmar looked delighted.

   "You're joking," Majek said, appalled.

   "I left him his pants."

   "And his shoes, I hope."


   "Savijc, it was October--!"

   "And very cold," Sergei agreed. "And it still took him every day of three weeks to settle down and do what he was told. Give him his due, he was tougher than I thought he was."

   "If I'd known what you were doing-" Majek began.

   "You'd have had fits too. That's why I didn't tell you." Sergei smiled at his brother. "Ask him if he has any hard feelings."

   "You know he doesn't," Majek said.

   "Of course, there was the little matter of that fire barrage he and Araszyam laid on for you at the start of the war," Jean remarked. "Maybe he got the hard feelings out of his system that way."

   Ara, removing plates from the table, reddened in mortification.

   "Then there was the little matter of that knife you stuck into Szincza at the end of the war," Sergei said. "Did that get them out of yours?"

   Jean went dull red in his turn. "Misunderstandings happen," he shrugged. "That's what the amnesty was for."

   "Misunderstanding, was it?" Halim mused. "Oh I see. A little left-over jealousy. You thought like Lord Gloria here that Szincza was Jahn's son. Silly mistake."

   Jean choked on a mouthful of wine and turned a brighter shade of crimson. Sergei, mouth stiff with annoyance, pounded his back with unnecessary vigour. Dorian's ears burned as he saw that the others, even Majek, were hiding smiles or silent laughter.

   "It was a natural mistake," he protested, mortified. "I don't know why you think it's so funny. It's not my fault if all the Acailles look alike."

   "Oh-" Jean gasped. "You've got it backwards. It's you non-Acailles who all look alike." He wiped his eyes.

   "No we don't-"

   "Yes you do. All blond and blue-eyed. How can you tell yourselves apart?"

   That started them laughing, and they adjoined to the living room in good humour. Dorian was half-way through his coffee when Miyagui came in and spoke to Majek.

   "Dorian, you have a phone call."


   "I told the front desk to reroute any calls here if you weren't in your room," Sergei said.

   "Oh. Well- thank you." He followed Miyagui into the study and took the receiver. "Hello."

   "Lord Gloria." It was Klaus' voice. His heart jumped in surprise. "Would it be possible to see you for a moment?"


   "Official business. I am acting, as you may guess, under orders. You needn't  worry that I'll bring up any personal matters." Klaus spoke as if to a stranger, save that Klaus was rarely this polite to strangers. Certainly he'd never been so civil to him.

   "I'm a little busy just now--"

   "At your convenience, of course."

   "Klaus, look-"

   "Lord Gloria, you gave me to understand this morning that our-- relationship-- had returned to its former footing. Please use my title."

   "Are you going to pretend it just never happened?"

   "When may I see you, Lord Gloria?"

   "Well- how long will it take?"

   "No more than twenty minutes, if that."

   "Where are you?"

   "In the café across from the hotel. If you would meet me here-"

   "Can't you just come to my room?"

   There was a pause. "I prefer not. My associations with the place are not pleasant."

   Dorian cursed his tactlessness. Even Klaus had feelings. It was just hard to believe at times.

   "I'm sorry. Alright, I'll be right over."

   He went into the hallway, seeing Halim by the front door with a pair of trousers and a shirt over his arm, apparently giving orders to the man who'd delivered them. Dorian went back to the living room and over to Majek.

   "I have to go out on business for about half an hour. I shouldn't be long."

   "I'll walk you to the door." Majek took his arm and Dorian's heart swelled with happiness. But seeing his brother in the corridor, Majek turned into the study instead and shut the door. Dorian had a presentiment. Majek's bleached mouth was grim, and his eyes held a warning light.

   "Dorian. A word before you go. I should be angry at you but as I said, I had enough of that in the past. However, I'm not at all pleased."

   "I'm sorry about the wine. Really-"

   "I'm not talking about the wine. For that you have my thanks. Halim was being impossible. I'm talking about Araszyam."

   Dorian tried to adopt a Circassian frame of mind. "Do you want me to apologize? I will, if you want."

   "Do you feel you've done anything to apologize for?"

   "Well, no- but you do, so--"

   "Then there's no point in apologizing. I make allowances for the differences in our customs but there's a limit. You shame me, Dorian. You've turned my house into a brothel. My family are as they are- I accept that even if I don't approve- but my men are my responsibility, and I can't have them corrupted. When you leave tonight, don't come back."

   The blood drained from Dorian's face. He could feel it go, sinking down to his belly where it churned in near-nausea. His lips moved but nothing would come out. Majek indicated the door, motioning for Dorian to precede him.

   Dorian shook his head, not so much in refusal as disbelief. The catastrophe was too complete and too sudden.

   "Lord Gloria," Majek said unmoved. "Go."

   Tears, totally unexpected, burst from his eyes and ran down his cheeks. He fell to his knees and grasped Majek's hand in both his own.

   "Please," he said, in a shaking voice- "please-" but the rest was suffocated in his throat.

   "That won't help. Men have begged me for their lives in this fashion. It made no difference to me then and it makes none now. Get up."

   Dorian found his voice. "It's exactly the same. If you send me away you'll kill me. General- listen- how much longer will you be in T--? Two days? Three?"

   "What does it matter?"

   "You'll go back to Circassia and I'll never see you again. You've taken my heart and given me nothing in return- only emptiness and the memory of a few hours in your company. Where else could I find another man like you? There are no men like you. Once I've seen the best, how can I be satisfied with anything less?" The returning spate of words steadied him, and his heart returned to a more normal pace. "And you're going to send me away- forbid me to see you- Majek, it's only a few more days. Have mercy. Let me stay. Please. I'll be good. I promise." He looked up at Majek with an expression of transparent sincerity. Majek was frowning and the strange blue eyes under the knitted eyebrows were full of turmoil. Dorian dropped his own eyes at once and went perfectly still, scarcely daring to draw breath. 'I saw nothing-' he told himself, 'nothing-', so that no slightest trace of the singing victory in his heart would show in his face. He hadn't won yet- not until Majek would admit what his face had just betrayed. "Please," he said in a small, desperate voice, the voice of one who knows he's lost and makes his final capitulation. "Let me stay. I give you my word I'll behave."

   "Your word." Majek's tone was flat. "Your famous word as a gentleman."

   "Yes," he said, and pressed his forehead to Majek's hand. "Exactly that."

   "And what's that worth to me?"

   "It's all I've got. Does a man's honour mean nothing to you?"

   "Much. But I'm not sure what it means to you, if anything."

   "It kept me out of Gunmar's bed." Out of, not off of, he added mentally, in case God was listening.

   "A major sacrifice, I'm sure."

   In desperation Dorian clung more tightly to his hand.

   "You have my word. If I break it, you can cut my heart out. And if you send me away now, I'll cut it out for you. It's yours anyway. You might as well have it. Please- please- let me stay."

   There was a stomach-churning silence. Then Majek said measuredly, "Dorian-- there have been men who broke their promises to me in the past. It wasn't their hearts I cut out. Do you understand me?"

   "Yes sir."

   "You promise you'll keep your hands off my men?"


   "And my family?"


   "That includes Jean too, you know." Dorian's heart bounded at the tone, but he said meekly, "Yes, I know. He's your brother-in-law."

   Majek gave a small grunt. "You can have Takamatsu if you're so inclined. Get up." Dorian obeyed. Majek looked at him under his eyebrows. "I'm still going to punish you for Araszyam. You can come back tomorrow but I don't want to see any more of you tonight. Now go."

   "Yes sir." It felt like the end of an interview with the headmaster. Dorian went light-headed with relief. "Please- you won't be too hard on Ara, will you? It wasn't his fault."

   "He knows better, but I'll take your influence into account. Good night, Lord Gloria."

   "Good-night, General."

   He left and went through the coded door. Halim was out in front of the lift having a low-voiced conversation with G and the second soldier, a dark man with a birthmark like a burn on one side of his face. Dorian turned his back to them. Reaction was making him limp as jelly, and he hugged himself as a small shiver ran up his spine. A damn' close-run thing, that. He'd played it well, though. Majek was hooked- he knew it, he'd seen it in his eyes and felt it in his body: hooked and thrashing desperately as he felt himself being reeled in. He'd have to give him room- just enough not to make him break away entirely- Oh, it was true, the dangerous men were the best after all. He hadn't expected him to strike for freedom so early. Thank God for his instinctive responses. That had been an instinctive response, what he'd done- he hadn't planned it- he couldn't have done it as well if he'd planned it-

   "You're leaving us?" Halim asked.

   Dorian pulled himself together. "Some business. I won't be back tonight. Will I see you tomorrow, Commander?"

   "No, we're out of here on an early plane."

   "Bon voyage, then."

   "Farewell, Lord Gloria. My man will accompany you down."

   Dorian got on the lift followed by the birth-marked soldier. and the doors closed on Halim's smile and G's expressionless face. Dorian barely saw them. Majek was his. It was only a matter of time. He'd played it well. Oh hell- he gave a sudden explosive sigh. He hadn't been playing. He'd meant it all, every word of it, and that fact shocked him rigid.

   He crossed the lobby in a daze. This affair was going to cost him. Well, had he ever thought any different? A man like Majek- of course there was a price tag attached. It just wasn't the one he'd thought it would be. He'd no objection to paying with his body. That had never been beneath him, whatever it was the other man wanted, like Klaus and his fists. This wasn't even the first time that someone had wanted a piece of his soul. It was the first time he thought he might actually have to give it and he didn't know if the idea thrilled him or terrified him. To have no defences- to have both body and soul no longer entirely his own, and likely to betray him when he least expected it- there was no telling what might come of that. It might take him anywhere, anywhere at all. It all depended on Majek, and he had no idea what things Majek might want from him.


   He walked out into the night, heading for the cross-walk that would take him across the street. Vaguely he was aware of the soldier still accompanying him.

   "It's alright," he said over his shoulder. "I'll be fine from now on."

   "Don't stop, Lord Gloria," a familiar voice said in his ear. "I'd like a little conversation with you."

   After one lurch of his heart, Dorian walked calmly on. "Certainly, M. de Roussaye. Forgive me for not recognizing you. I take it that's a wound from the war?"

   "From the last battle, yes. No need to apologize. The light was very bad last time. Cross here to the other side."

   "Where are we going?"

   "Into the restaurant behind that café."

   "I've had dinner, thank you."

   "We're not going to dine."

   Dorian's eyes ran ahead, searching for Klaus among the outdoor tables. Oh God- way over in the corner, with a paper. Did he see him?"

   "Here," Maaqa said as they came to the terrasse. "Walk straight on through to the table at the back."

   Dorian turned his glance away lest Maaqa follow it, and concentrated on picking a way amongst the tables as his mind calculated possibilities. The restaurant was as full as the café in front, with few empty spots. Maaqa couldn't be intending to kill him in public so he must be planning to get him into the back of the building somehow where his presumed confederates were-

   "Good evening, messieurs," Klaus' voice said behind him, and Dorian whirled. Klaus was standing between Maaqa and himself, empty-handed and smiling. "M. de Roussaye, isn't it? The drug smuggler."

   There was a small pause. "Major von dem Eberbach," Maaqa responded. "The spy."

   "As long as there's no mistake," Klaus said friendlily.

   "You're misinformed as to my name and occupation, monsieur. Otherwise, no mistake."

   "You're name is de Roussaye, even if you call yourself Maaqa, and you're a drug dealer, even if you call yourself a mercenary."

   "I call myself Marquère, and I call my occupation arms dealing, and I wonder what concern NATO has with either."

   "None at all. My concern is with your companion, the thief Eroica."

   "Your colleague."


   "You can have him in a minute. I have a prior claim on his time."

   "I think you wanted to tell me something?" Dorian interposed encouragingly. "Here is as good a place as any."

   Maaqa's eyes turned on him. Then the tightness went out of his body. "Merely to give you my thanks for that piece of advice. You were right and you were wrong, but it doesn't matter. We got him away and he's ours now." The narrow mouth turned up in a brief smile like a snake's tongue flicking in and out. "And the men have orders to shoot to kill-- any intruder, on sight. Remember to mention that when you debrief." He bowed slightly in an old-school salute, turned on his booted heel and was gone.

   "What's that about?" Klaus asked.

   "He thought I was working for you."

   "And where are these men?"

   "They're stationed- oh." Dorian stopped.


   "Well, but- Klaus- I'm not working for you, am I?"

   "Come sit down," Klaus said, and took him over to a table at the side. "No, you're not- yet. The Chief wants to know if you'll accept a job."


   "Where else?"

   Dorian looked down at the ground.

   "Lord Gloria- the ex-General of Circassia spent the day with the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also the secretary of the Finance Committee and the head of the Euro-Bank. His brother has been frequenting an antiquarian bookstore in the Rue Vosages. His other brother- on whom the police keep a close eye- arrived today from Algeria with ten men, six of whom went to the hotel across the street this evening. And this morning I found you in bed with his nephew's tutor. There are a lot of prominent Circassians in T--, and they all seem to come to that hotel."

   "Son," Dorian said.


   "His son's tutor, not his nephew's. There was a mix-up."

   "So you're in with the family again. Then I may take it they're staying in the penthouse suite whose elevator you take every day?"

   "Some of them are, yes," Dorian temporized. Halim, after all, was staying elsewhere.

   "But the head of their clan is there, and naturally they all come to pay their respects." Dorian's breath was getting tight. He'd never been able to deceive Klaus for long about anything: the Major seemed able to read his mind. And what Klaus didn't know, he guessed. "How's your search going for those two scientists? Any luck?"

   "My what?"

   "Don't bother pretending. You're looking for Aouille and Acaille, like everyone else. The difference is that you've got the connections-- and the means to use them." Klaus gave a sour smile. "So, did Takamatsu tell you anything useful?"

   "I don't know what you mean."

   "Oh, you don't." Klaus leaned back in his chair and smiled at him. "It was a nice piece of acting. I believed it for all of ten minutes, until I realized you could only have one reason for sleeping with a man like that."

   "Yes. I was horny."

   "And his connection to the centre of Circassian life here is purely coincidental."

   "Yes." Even he had to admit it didn't sound likely.

   "Fine. So the only question is, are you going to share your information with us or not?"

   "I don't have any information."

   "Of course not. And why do Halim's men have orders to shoot to kill?"

   "Someone tried to abduct Gunmar- the General's son- this morning, and Sergei this afternoon."

   Klaus snorted. "Amateurs. Probably the Russians." He stretched out his long legs, put his elbows on the arms of his chair and rested his chin on his steepled hands. The brilliant green eyes were disconcerting.

   "Have you lined up another source for tonight, or have you time for me?"

   "Klaus- look-"

   "Major. We've broken up, remember?" Klaus was smiling again. Really, it was just as disconcerting as Z always said it was, having Klaus be friendly.

   "Major. Yes, we've broken up. You seemed to accept that half an hour ago-"

   "Talking on a phone that was probably bugged-" Klaus nodded.

   "I meant it. Klaus, we're not good for each other. We've done nothing but fight for the last four years. It was a living nightmare, and it's over."

   "Yes, of course. Who are you with tonight?"

   "No-one. No, damn it, it's none of your business."

   "M. Serge?"

   "He has a lover- some Cypriot he met here," Dorian said waspishly.

   "Hmm. What about his nephew, the cyberneticist?"

   "Klaus, I'm not going to talk about the Aouilles. If you want to talk, let's talk about us."

   "Let's. You're free tonight, then. Come back to the pension."

   "No. Why won't you understand-"

   "So it is the nephew. Where are you meeting him?"

   "Christ!" Dorian got up in fury, making to go, but Klaus' iron hand pulled him down into the chair beside him.

   "You're not going," Klaus said through his teeth. "I won't let you go. I-"  He stopped, breathing hard. They stared at each other. "I need you," Klaus said, as though his fingernails were being ripped from him with the words. "There's no-one but you- no-one--" He shuddered once, involuntarily. "Is this what you wanted, Dorian? To see me on my knees in the dirt, begging?" His voice was low and ragged, with an edge of rage. "Alright- here I am- begging. Come back."

   "Klaus," Dorian pleaded. He took both his hands and held them between his own. "Klaus, don't- please-"

   "For seven years you've been the ground under my feet- the only thing I've been sure of in a world where everything changes. When you left yesterday- it was as if gravity had stopped- I'm falling in blackness-- Dorian-" He closed his eyes in pain.

   "You should have told me this before," Dorian said. "If I'd known-- All you ever did was yell at me and hit me. Klaus- I wasn't even your lover. I was your fuck buddy- you only wanted me when you needed some release, and the rest of the time--" He blinked tears. "You never said you loved me. You haven't said it yet."

   "I'm not that kind of man, Dorian. I've never told anyone I loved them. I don't. You have me crawling now- you've stripped me of my manhood- do you want me to tear my heart out as well?"

   "No," Dorian said. "No, it's not necessary." He brought Klaus' right hand to his cheek. "Are we starting over again, then?"

   "Are we?"


   "Will you come back with me- now-"



   In a dream Dorian walked by Klaus' side back through the twisty streets to the canal. He could feel Klaus' eyes on him and the hunger in their look, and it made him so lust-ridden he could barely walk.

   "Say something," he said at last. "Something ordinary."

   After a moment Klaus said, "How is M. Serge?"

   "Very well. Very happy."

   "You've renewed your- acquaintance, then?" It was meant to be neutral, but the heat of jealousy was clear as the noonday sun.

   "We had a farewell tryst. It's over, Klaus. He's in love."

   "But you still spend all day in his suite."

   "His brother's suite. Sergei told Majek about that conspiracy- how I was involved- and Majek gave me the entrée out of gratitude."

   "How fortunate." Klaus didn't sound happy. "At least it lets you pursue your search for the fountain of youth."

   "There isn't one. Sergei told me what it is. The highland Circassians have an extra chromosome and an extended lifespan. They think there's a connection. That's all."

   "That's it? That's what all the fuss is about?"


   "So why all the secrecy?"

   "Because Majek thinks it will turn world opinion against Circassia. He's afraid people will fight shy of Circassians as something- well, not quite human."

   Klaus snorted. "That's what you'd expect of a peasant. He thinks everyone fears the unknown as much as he does. Strange, I thought he was more intelligent than that."

   "He's very intelligent."

   "But he still doesn't understand how civilized men think. A minor difference like that means nothing. Unless there's some practical application you don't know about--"

   "Gunmar said there wasn't. He said it's not certain even that biological engineering would work.

   "So it's all a mare's nest. There's nothing."

   "Unless someone could duplicate the chromosome artificially and find a way to make it usable by non-Circassians. Some of them want to sell the discovery to a major drug company--"

   "It would take years of research, even then. It's useless. This is what they're going to say in their paper?"


   "Then after Friday there'll be no more mystery. I was right. I told you there was nothing to this."

   "Yes," said Dorian sadly, "you were."

   "Good. Then there's no need to continue this charade. Good night, Lord Gloria." He turned back in the direction they'd come from. Dorian, thinking he'd gone mad, stood still for nearly five seconds before he gathered the wits to go after him.

   "Klaus, what on earth-"

   "Lord Gloria, I agree absolutely with your assessment of our relationship. We're not good for each other. I'm an officer and an Eberbach and you are, unblushingly, a thief and a whore. I should never have allowed you to tempt me into the compromising situation you did. Now that I'm out of it, I can only thank God I escaped with my honour and my career intact."

   "But you said-"

   "I said what I had to say to fulfill my mission. My mission's finished. Thanks for your help." Klaus smiled at him pleasantly.

   "You were lying?" Dorian asked in disbelief.

   "Of course. Actually, I was a bit surprised you bought any of it."

   "How could you do this?" Dorian flamed at him. "You've got no heart- no soul-"

   "I have something better- my duty as an officer of NATO. There are things, Lord Gloria, that are more important than any one man's feelings. A pity you never understood that." He pursed his lips, turned, and went his way.

   Dorian felt sick with rage. He leaned against the railings of the canal and shook so hard he thought he would vomit. He hadn't felt this murderous hatred for anyone in years, not since the day he'd opened his birthday present and found the fake Giorgione. "I'll kill him," he thought, "I'll kill him--" and saw himself, in clear slow motion, putting his knife between Klaus' ribs and the red bubbles frothing on Klaus' lips as he died. He pushed himself off the rail and started to walk, quickly and then more quickly, as if pursued by fiends. "I'll kill him," he thought, weeping in rage, and imagined his hands around Klaus' throat, squeezing until his face turned as black as his heart, "I'll kill him-" He shuddered uncontrollably and bile rose in his throat. Hastily he turned aside and was rackingly ill among the bushes. It went on forever, and he jackknifed in agony long after he was empty. When it was finally over he dabbed at his mouth with a handkerchief, discarded it, and rose up. He was cold as a corpse but sweating icily, and he couldn't think quite clearly. There was a cloud of darkness in the centre of his mind that his thoughts limped around as if trying not to step on an open wound. He walked because there was nothing else to do. He couldn't bear to be where there was light or walls or people. The cold black water of the canal struck an obscure terror into him but the idea of being on one of the boulevards nearly made him sick again.

   The exercise seemed to help. The icy sweat dried as his blood moved, warming his cold hands and feet- warming everything but the frozen blackness in his mind that stopped him from thinking. Eventually he was aware of a small breeze fanning his temples. The unwholesome dank of the canal had been replaced by the fresher smell of moving water. He was by the river.

   He came to the promenade, empty and unpeopled by night. His eye followed the line of white-globed lamps to its end. Beyond was only the gap of the river's mouth as it flowed out to sea, and at sight of that nothingness- black water flowing into black sky- his strength deserted him. He sat down on a bench and put his head in his hands.


   Klaus, he thought, Klaus, and the hot tears spilled over again. He tried to call his anger back but it wouldn't come. All there was was the awful hurting pain of Klaus' betrayal, filling the world and crowding the stars overhead. He moaned aloud, startling himself. He sat up, letting the tears run unchecked down his face. The dark river flowed before his eyes, silent and purposeful, and he watched it go its own way, feeling as if his heart's blood was flowing out with it. Death must be like this- cold and dark and silent: an end to everything-- Maybe a relief, after all, because in that darkness there might be an end to pain. No more wanting and not having, no more hurting, no more anything...

   "Lord Gloria."

   He turned his head slowly and unwillingly. He didn't want to have his grief interrupted by outside voices, but the voice was there, and it was Takamatsu's, and it sounded very much as if it didn't want to be interrupted by him.

   At first he literally didn't see him. Then Takamatsu rose from the darkness of the next bench and came over to the circle of light where Dorian was sitting. The lamplight bleached his already pale skin and cast dark shadows in the hollows under his eyes. He stood unspeaking, looking down at Dorian.

   "Disaster strikes," he commented in a flat voice, and sat down. Dorian made to speak, but sobbed instead. He dug about for a handkerchief, in vain, of course. Takamatsu handed him one from his breast pocket and Dorian mopped his face, biting at the cambric when the unwanted sobs burst forth.

   "What happened?" Takamatsu asked in the same uninterested tone. "Majek?" Dorian shook his head, knowing he couldn't trust his voice.  


   "Um-umh." He tried to answer. "K- K-" A Niagara poured from his eyes, and he had to make use of the handkerchief again.


   Dorian nodded. "He- he-" No, dammit, he would speak. "He s-said he w-wanted to get- back- together," he gulped desperately, "b-but he- he was l-lying. He w-wanted to find out- about the paper-"

   "Mmmm. And you told him?"

   Dorian nodded again. "About the e-extra chromosome, and how- how maybe it- makes them live longer- B-but you can't do anything with it- and when he found out about that, he- he-"

   "He said he had no further need of your company." 

   Dorian's face twisted. "Mph," he said to the handkerchief.

   "Well done, Lord Gloria."

   Dorian cried out in pain and protest.

   "I'm not being sarcastic." Takamatsu sounded weary. "That was exactly the right thing to say. How did he react to the information?"

   "He said it was all n-nothing- a mare's nest. He was p-pleased about being right."

   "Nice if he'd pass the information along to the other agencies. Any chance?"

   "No," Dorian said dully. "None."

   "Oh. Well, you know him."

   "I thought I knew him." Dorian's mouth was trembling again. "I know how twisted he is- but I never d-dreamed h-he'd d-do..." His handkerchief was entirely sodden by now, but he wiped his eyes with it anyway.

   "I know," Takamatsu said as if it didn't matter much. "You never dream..."

   "Majek will be angry at me," Dorian said in sudden realization. "And he's already angry." He looked at the flowing water as the implications of this new disaster sank in.

   "I doubt he'll be angry. Tell him exactly what you told the Major and see if he isn't pleased."

   "But this is the secret everyone's been guarding with their lives."

   "Oh come," Takamatsu said contemptuously. "Do you think so?"

   "It isn't? You mean it isn't true?"

   "It's true- as far as it goes."

   "You mean there's more?"

   "Of course."

   "For God's sake, what is it?"

   "Why should I tell you? So you can use it to buy the Major back? No- no wait." He put a hand on Dorian's arm almost before he had time to recoil. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry." He bit his lip, eyes shadowed.

   "It's alright," Dorian said after a moment. "You haven't been having a wonderful day either."

   "Oh God," Takamatsu sighed deeply. "No. And I dread going home tonight."

   "They're not expecting you. Jean said you wouldn't come back."

   "Jean," Takamatsu said with unexpected ferocity. "Damn Jean to hell and back."

   "Why?" Dorian said, surprised. "I like Jean. What'd he do?"

   "So do I like Jean. He's very likable. But I wish to God Sergei had never met him. He doesn't make trouble, but trouble follows him. Like his studies of longevity- so normal and boring- but now Samh' Kinta has this damned idea of-" He fell abruptly silent.

   "Look," said Dorian carefully, "I'm not trying to pry--"

   "Oh no?"

   "When you say 'this idea', you're not talking about the paper, are you? You're too angry for that. It's got something to do with the treatment, right?"

   Takamatsu turned away. "I'm not going to betray Samh' Kinta-"

   "-even though he's betrayed you."

   "I didn't say that!"

   "But that's how it feels, isn't it?"

   There was silence. "Hell, why not tell you?" Takamatsu said tiredly. "This illness of mine- you have it too. It's called life. A terminal degenerative disease. We grow old and we die."

   Dorian waited for him to continue, and when he didn't, murmured, "And the treatment?"

   "They've extracted the chromosome from tissue and duplicated it. They want to try chromosomal surgery on me to see if it can be made active in a non-Circassians and have the same effect."

   "You mean, make you live longer? Live as long as they do?"

   Takamatsu hesitated. "Yes," he said finally.

   "But that's wonderful! Wonderful! Why don't you want-"

   Takamatsu gazed out over the river. "The chromosome extends life somehow- perhaps by slowing down the aging process, perhaps by regenerating tissue. But the how is still conjectural. All they really know is that it does extend life."

   "Well, what's wrong with that?"

   "Suppose that's all it does- make us live longer. Suppose it doesn't stop the aging process. Suppose that's the function of some other enzyme or substance they have and we don't. We'd have a protracted life but keep on aging through it- deaf, blind, toothless, rheumatic, incontinent..." He turned to Dorian. "Do you know the myth of Aurora and Tithonous? Aurora begged Zeus to grant her husband eternal life-"

   "But forgot to ask for eternal youth." Dorian felt cold. "He grew into a wizened stick of a man, shrilling and piping, and at last Zeus took pity on him and turned him into a grasshopper."


   Dorian chewed his lip. "But it's worth the risk, surely? Just the possibility of an extended youth-"

   "It wouldn't be youth for me. I've enjoyed my vices for fifty years and I was badly hurt in the last war. For me it would be a prolonged misery of aching joints and aching bones and crumbling teeth and failing eyes... No, I don't think so."

   "You've said all that to him?"

   "I've said all that. I've said more. I've told him he'd make me a prisoner inside my own body. I thought that would move him, but no. He refuses to believe it won't work exactly as he wants it to."

   "And the others- Gunmar?"

   "Samh' Gunmar thinks, quite happily, that if I don't like it I can always kill myself. He's promised to help: should I, for instance, find myself with Alzheimer's Syndrome."

   "Oh. Could you?"

   "Probably. My mother always said her father was senile. Think of that- an eternity of fear and confusion. Not knowing who I am, not knowing who the people around me are-" He shuddered. "No."

   "Don't you think you're being too negative about this? I'd take that treatment in a minute. Why assume it won't work exactly as it does for them? You're not young, alright- but you're in healthy middle age and you could go on being that for another sixty years."

   "Optimists," Takamatsu growled. "Why am I surrounded by happy fools?"

   "Pessimists," Dorian countered. "Why worry about things before they happen? Our way makes life much easier. Yes, you could turn into a vegetable. Equally, you could win the Nobel Prize when you're ninety. Prepare for the worst and expect the best."

   "I prepare for the worst. If I become lost, can you really see Samh' Gunmar giving me a fatal injection? Can you see Samh' Kinta allowing it? No- he thinks of me as his property. He won't let me go."

   "He loves you and he's terrified of losing you. That's all. Besides, it doesn't happen overnight. You'd have time to make your own preparations."

   "Yes." Takamatsu looked over the river. "But I wonder if I'd have the courage for it, in the end."

   Dorian watched him in exasperation and pity. His own spirits had taken an amazing upswing. Really, the world was a wonderful place in spite of the bumpy bits. This Slavic melancholy of Takamatsu's was so- so unnecessary.

   "Doctor- Have you had dinner?"

   "No. I'm not hungry."

   "Come have something with me."

   "No thank you."

   "Well, come have me, then."

   "Lord Gloria-"

   "I've been lied to and abandoned by the man I trusted. If I go to bed alone I'll lie awake weeping all night. Come and console me, Doctor."

   "This is absurd-" Takamatsu's eyes were annoyed. "It's still early evening. Go back to Majek."

   "I can't. He's angry with me about something-"

   "Someone, that means."

   "Ara-whatsits, actually."

   "Oh God. You didn't seduce one of his men?"

   "I wouldn't call it seduction, exactly-"

   "But Majek would. And you came out of it with a whole skin?"

   "I'm a bit flayed about the soul. Majek tore me off a strip and told me not to come back till tomorrow. So I'm free, and I wouldn't mind seeing what you're like when I'm sober and awake."

   "No. Drowning one's grief in sex is as bad as drowning it in alcohol. When the spell wears off it's twice as bad. I'll have to go back to the hotel some time, and it might as well be now."

   "If you like. Halim's there."

   Takamatsu stiffened.


   "He happened to be in town and dropped by. He's leaving some men as guards."


   "Dinner," Dorian said coaxingly. "A light omelette and some crusty bread at a café, a little wine, maybe a shower after at my place, a bit of a snuggle, and early to bed to prepare for the General's visit tomorrow." His hand drifted across Takamatsu's thigh. "Why not?"

   "Samh' Gunmar and Samh' Kinta are expecting me-"

   "Gunmar and Kinta discovered the joys of switching roles this afternoon and intend to pursue their investigations into it this evening. I fancy they've other things to think about."

   "I can't believe that."

   "Gunmar told me himself. And Kinta near as dammit made a dirty joke about it."

   "God. You're a terrible man, Lord Gloria. I wonder--"


   "Nothing. Thank you for your offer. I think I'll accept."


    Much later, having washed off in the shower only to become satisfyingly messy again between the sheets, Dorian lay, drowsy and satiated and content, among the plump pillows of his palatial bed. Takamatsu was beside him, sleeping soundly and, rather to his surprise, quietly: satiated too, and as content as Dorian could contrive to make him. He'd be asleep himself in a moment, but was fighting the instinct in order to savour to the full his present satisfaction. In spite of all the upheavals of the day he knew himself happy. There was a fountain of youth, or almost. At any rate, there was a way to slow the inexorable march towards oblivion and decrepitude, and that was enough for him. He would have his youth and health for decades. He knew it. And he would have Majek. He knew that too. Happily he recalled the look in Majek's eyes this afternoon, that response in his skin to Dorian's touch. Oh yes- he was closing in on his prey. Now to press him a little more closely- just a little- subtly but continuously, until the needs of Majek's body would at last overrule the dictates of his head. The half-acknowledged desire this afternoon would soon burst forth into flame. And when it did- well, he might go up in flames with it, immolating himself like a moth on a candle. It would be- different, certainly.

   He yawned and turned on his side, burrowing under the duvet until he found Takamatsu's body and its welcome warmth. He wrapped himself around it so as not to be dislodged by any somnolent blanket-grabbing and also, incidentally, so the Doctor wouldn't be alone if he woke later in the night. Dorian disliked the idea of anyone lying awake and unconsoled in the same bed as himself. Poor Takamatsu- handed a prize on a plate and not able to accept it. He reflected, not for the first time, on the unequal division of the world's luck that gave the Earl of Red Gloria so much more than his fair share; and so musing, fell asleep.