torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
November 22 - December 19, 2007

Disclaimer: I've never seen anything untoward in Kew Gardens. Written for Lilith in Yuletide 2007. Thanks to elynross and Arduinna for editing help! Do not archive without permission.

Parklife

Klaus stubbed his cigarette out against the wall of the pagoda and blew a final plume of smoke into the air. He checked his watch again. The time of the rendezvous was most decidedly past, and the only people who'd come up to talk to him were a couple of Norwegian tourists who'd backed off fast after Klaus growled at them, dropping leaflets and maps as they fled. Klaus had picked the stuff up because litter annoyed him, and read it because he was bored.

Learning more about the pagoda he was waiting next to did nothing to improve his mood, and once he was done reading, nothing had changed. It seemed clear that Henschen wasn't going to put in his promised appearance. He might have changed his mind about the whole deal, even, and Klaus had better things to do than stand around in a botanical garden and watch the grass grow while he waited. The sun was hot on his dark blue suit, and getting hotter by the minute.

Dry stalks crunched under his soles as he walked away. Instead of heading for the nearest gate, Klaus glanced down at the map in his hand. It seemed unlikely that Henschen had confused the location of the assignment and intended the Japanese gateway instead of the pagoda, and even more unlikely that Henschen would still be there, even if the mistake had been made. Nevertheless, Klaus walked in that direction. He liked to be thorough.

No one was standing by the gateway, and the Japanese-style landscaping around it was empty of tourists. Almost empty. One person sat perched on a flat-topped rock, leaning back with his face turned towards the sun, long blond hair streaming down his back. Klaus had no trouble recognizing him.

"What the fuck are you doing here!"

Dorian turned his head and shaded his eyes with one hand. "What an unexpected pleasure," he said and smiled. "I didn't know you were in England." He stood up and walked towards Klaus. "Or that you had an interest in gardening."

"Don't be such an idiot," Klaus said automatically. "I came here to meet someone." He looked around. Henschen wasn't coming out of hiding from behind the rocks. Klaus hadn't really expected it, but it would have been nice to salvage the mission somehow. He despised waste, and this had certainly turned out to be a waste of his time.

"How romantic," Dorian said, doing something with his eyelashes that was rife with insinuation. "An assignation here in this beautiful, peaceful garden. Should I be jealous?"

"It's not romantic," Klaus ground out. "It's my job. And you should stop thinking about things like that!"

Dorian smiled. "All right, not that kind of romantic. But when you get to do your job and look at beautiful flowers at the same time, doesn't that add a poetic dimension to the way you do your duty?"

"No." Klaus wished he had his sunglasses. It was nearly noon by now, and the sun was very bright. Dorian's hair shone like some stupid shampoo commercial. "I don't get paid to look at flowers. Did you see a man here with ginger hair and a broken nose, carrying a briefcase?"

"Not a briefcase." Dorian shook his head. "He had an orange and red messenger bag — such a bad idea with that color hair." Dorian himself was wearing a blue silk shirt that he had probably spent a lot of time and money on matching exactly to the color of his eyes. "More carrot than ginger, I would have said. And it could really have used a wash, by the way."

"Stop talking about his hair!"

"You were the one who mentioned—"

Klaus had no patience for talking about hair at the best of times. "Which way did he go?"

"They went that way," Dorian said, gesturing in the direction of — Klaus consulted his map — the Temperate House. "But that was ages ago, they could be anywhere by now."

"They." Klaus turned his head sharply. "He met someone here?"

Dorian shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know where they met. I wasn't paying much attention, to be honest. But he was talking to a tall, dark-haired man in a dark blue suit." Dorian looked at Klaus, up and down, in a way that was considerably more professional and less offensive than his usual blatant ogling. "So I take it the two of you have not actually seen each other before."

"Fucking hell," Klaus said. He crumpled the map and stuffed it in his pocket and walked off, fast. Glancing aside, he saw that Dorian was coming with him. "This is none of your business, thief."

"I'm just going for a walk," Dorian said, rounding his eyes artlessly. "It's a lovely day for it. Don't you have any of your alphabets around for backup?"

"No need." Klaus scanned their surroundings as he walked, judging every casual strolling visitor and student reading in the shade of a tree against the description of Henschen. "It's just a simple exchange of information."

"Sounds a bit infra dig for you, Major." Dorian had no trouble keeping up with Klaus's pace and talking at the same time. "I wouldn't suggest that you're lying to me, of course."

"I don't—" Klaus was about to say that he didn't care what Dorian suggested, but that would, in fact, mean that he was lying. Dorian had suggested a number of things over the years, and so far from not caring, Klaus had frequently wanted to tape his mouth shut. "I don't need any backup. Henschen's no threat."

"No, but this mysterious stranger pretending to be you might be," Dorian said. "What kind of information was your contact going to give you?"

Klaus caught a glimpse of orange and red in the corner of his eye, but it turned out to be a toddler in a red dress, wearing an orange sunhat. "The kind that is classified."

Dorian waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "Darling, you know I'm going to find out anyway. Does it have anything to do with those letters that were stolen from one of your superiors?"

Klaus came to an abrupt, grinding halt and grabbed Dorian by the shirt collar. "What do you know about that!" He tried to shake Dorian, but the other man wasn't exactly a lightweight, even though the small, provocative smile on his face provided additional incentive. "If I find out that you stole those letters, I will break your legs."

"If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to mention the poor man's name," Dorian said. He wrapped a hand around Klaus's wrist in a firm grip. "Do let go, you're ruining my shirt. You know I didn't take those letters. And you're well aware I always get to hear all the gossip out of your office."

"They're going to regret ever talking to you," Klaus said, but he let go and they started walking again.

"An exchange, you said. So Henschen was going to provide you with the letters, or at least information on how to get the letters," Dorian said musingly, tucking his hair back behind one ear. "And in return you were going to give him... what, exactly?"

"I would tell him about all the ways his life would be more comfortable if he gave me the letters," Klaus said. "And longer. I despise blackmailers." Ahead of them, the Temperate House was almost blinding in the bright sun, all glass and white paint. A group of people came out, fanning themselves and milling around in an indecisive fashion.

"My poor Klaus." Dorian smiled brightly into Klaus's scowl. "I really did think you NATO fellows were more professional than that. Keeping love letters in the office seems very sloppy."

Klaus clenched his teeth. "It's none of your business," he said again, although he was well aware that Dorian persisted in regarding anything to do with Klaus and the Bonn office as his business. He suspected G of being Dorian's chief source of NATO gossip, but he was uncomfortably aware that several of his men had the habit of getting along entirely too well with several of Dorian's, as though they actually had anything in common. "And they are not love letters. It is a code."

"Oh, Klaus." Dorian shook his head. "You can't possibly expect me to believe that."

Of course Klaus didn't expect Dorian to believe that; no one with half a brain would, after all. But it would make this conversation simpler and less embarrassing if Dorian would at least pretend to believe it. Not to mention that this entire mission would be simpler and less embarrassing if Dorian would just go away.

"Excuse me." A young woman sitting on the steps leading up to the Temperate House got to her feet as they came closer, finger marking the place in her book. "Are you Major Eberbach?"

Klaus turned abruptly towards her. Short black hair, light brown skin, jeans and t-shirt, about 55 kilos, early twenties, not a threat. "What do you want?"

"Yes, he is," Dorian said.

The young woman looked uncertainly from Klaus to Dorian and back again. "Your friends asked me to give you a message if you came by while I was still here," she said. "They went inside," she tipped her head towards the pride of Victorian glasshouse construction, "and they were going to leave some of your things for you if you missed them."

Klaus breathed deeply through his nose. "When was this?"

She looked at her watch and shrugged. "Haven't really been looking at the time. About fifty pages ago?"

"Thank you." Klaus went straight for the entrance. He walked inside briskly, and then came to a full stop. He felt as if someone had suddenly, and with loving thoroughness, wrapped him in a large, heated wool blanket. A moment later, Dorian's fingers prodded him in the back, just below his kidneys, and he moved forward.

"I'll go left, you go right," Dorian suggested. "We can meet up at the stairs over there when we've searched down here."

"This is none of your business." Klaus felt that he sounded less and less convincing each time he said the words, though. He had to admit that it would be more convenient to split the work of searching the heated interior of the large glasshouse; not that he cared about the discomfort, naturally, but it would save a fair amount of time.

Dorian merely smiled at him, with maddening fondness, and went to the left. Klaus looked after him for a moment, then turned abruptly to the right, scanning the paths, the greenery, and every person he encountered. He did not see Henschen anywhere, nor any man with dark hair in a dark blue suit. When he met up with Dorian again, Dorian shook his head; one of Dorian's curls, damp with sweat, stuck to his temple, and his silk shirt had turned more clinging than billowy.

Half-way up one of the spiral stairs, leaning over the wrought-iron railing, Klaus caught a glimpse of something red and orange, tucked away underneath a bush of some kind. He turned at once and walked back down again, pushing past the people who had followed behind him and were now pressing themselves back against the railing and glaring and saying things underneath their breath.

At ground level, Klaus found it difficult to tell exactly where he had spotted the flash of color, but when he looked up, he saw that Dorian had stayed on the stairs and was leaning forward, pointing down. Klaus pushed his way into the vegetation and found the messenger bag by stumbling on it. From above, he heard Dorian clap his hands, and experimented once again to see whether looks could kill. As usual, Dorian turned out to be impervious.

Klaus strode back to the path, where he met someone in folded-down coveralls who said, "We ask visitors to remain on the—"

Klaus flashed an ID card. "Have you seen a red-haired man with a broken nose and a dark-haired man in a blue suit?"

All that got him was a blank stare and a head-shake. "No, but we do ask visitors—"

"Can we leave now?" Dorian asked plaintively behind him. "I think my hair's wilting. And that nice lady over there says they left at least twenty minutes ago."

Back outside, the midday sunshine felt almost cool by comparison. A soft breeze tried to lift Klaus's hair from the back of his neck. He unbuttoned the jacket of his suit. About to open the messenger bag and check on the contents, he found that Dorian had already taken it from him and was sitting on the grassy slope, pulling out a small bundle of papers. "Keep your hands off those," Klaus said, sitting down next to him.

"These are Herr— your superior's letters." Dorian looked down at the papers in his hands, brows drawn together. He flipped through them, apparently checking the signature on each one.

"Then I have what I came for," Klaus said, reaching out, but Dorian turned away, keeping the letters from him. "Give me those, thief."

"But they're not what you came for," Dorian said, looking solemnly at Klaus over his shoulder. "They can't be. These are letters from your superior. The letters that were stolen—"

"Fuck," Klaus said.

"—must have been letters written to him," Dorian went on. He handed the letters over to Klaus and tapped his chin thoughtfully. "This person is returning love letters they have received, and taking back their own. This doesn't sound to me like blackmail. It sounds more like a breakup."

Klaus grimaced with distaste. He took the letters out of Dorian's hands and tried to look at them without actually reading what they said. "This is in English. Why is there always some fucking perverted Englishman involved in everything I do?"

"It's your irresistible charm, darling," Dorian said, leaning back out of reach of Klaus's elbow jab.

"It's not you, is it?" Klaus checked the beginning of the letters: one said My dearest, one said Darling, and one, to his utter horror, addressed the recipient as Sugar toes. He tried very, very hard not to think about his superior calling anyone Sugar toes. It was like trying not to think about a purple elephant.

"Don't be ridiculous." Dorian looked faintly offended. "You know it couldn't possibly be me."

"Yes." Klaus rubbed his forehead. This had seemed like such a simple mission: meet Henschen, get the letters back by whatever means necessary, put the fear of NATO into him, and ensure that he would remain silent. Now he had the wrong letters, Henschen had taken off with the wrong man, and Dorian's presence was just adding insult to injury.

Dorian looked thoughtful. "If Henschen had the stolen letters, where did these come from?"

"The man in the blue suit," Klaus said without thinking about it. Then he thought about it. "He's the wild card here. Henschen's got no interest in giving things back; he's in this for what he can get. If he'd had these letters, he would have tried to sell them, too."

Klaus picked up the bag to put the letters away. When he held the bag open, he saw something else down at the bottom: a map of the gardens, folded against the creases. He pulled it out to get a better look, and saw that there was a rough X next to Queen Charlotte's Cottage.

"How intriguing." Dorian leaned in so close that Klaus nearly got a mouthful of stupid, rose-scented hair. "It's like a pirate map. A treasure hunt." Dorian smiled with what Klaus considered to be entirely unwarranted delight. "What do you think we'll find?"

"Don't be such an idiot," Klaus snarled. "This is a NATO mission, and you're just an unnecessary complication!"

Dorian pouted. "Spoilsport. Besides," he added in a more practical tone of voice, "I'm not the one who's made this complicated." He jumped to his feet and held out a hand. "Come on, Major, let's go. And perhaps we could get something to eat on the way."

"I don't have time to stop for food." Klaus got up without taking Dorian's hand. He didn't require any assistance to stand.

"Perhaps a boxed lunch, then. Surely NATO doesn't expect you to chase criminals on an empty stomach." Dorian's hand shifted direction, and Klaus narrowly avoided having his midriff patted. Dorian seemed quite determined to be more touchy-feely than usual. "I'm sure we can find something you will like. Come along, do."

It was past noon now, and Klaus hadn't eaten anything since breakfast at six thirty. He lit a cigarette and fell into stride beside Dorian, shrugging out of his suit jacket and slinging it across one shoulder. "Not one word," he said to Dorian, cigarette between his teeth. As they walked back the way they'd come, he loosened his tie. "Summers in England are supposed to be rainy."

"Summers in England are supposed to be precisely like this," Dorian said, looking very pleased. "Warm, drowsy afternoons in a beautiful garden, the scent of roses, picnicking in the shade."

"Chasing blackmailers," Klaus said dryly. Not to mention that the scent of roses was coming from Dorian, not from any actual rose bushes.

"Well." Dorian waved an airy hand. "One wouldn't want to grow bored." He put a hand on Klaus's shoulder. "I'll just go down to the Pavilion and get us a little something, and meet up with you where X marks the spot."

Klaus picked Dorian's hand off his shoulder. "Get something simple."

Dorian's smile was not entirely reassuring as he took off. The words "I'm sure I can find something you'll just adore" came floating back over his shoulder. Klaus shook his head and turned to the right. He crossed another long grassy vista and looked up and down, checking for Henschen or the unknown man in the suit. Binoculars would have come in handy.

Klaus followed a curving path that according to the map would bring him to the cottage and, more importantly, the place marked X. He didn't walk as fast as he could have. Not because he was enjoying the beautiful garden on a sunny day, of course, or because he wanted to give Dorian time to catch up with him after buying them lunch. He was just staying alert, being vigilant; the superiors who constantly berated him for rushing into situations didn't know what they were talking about.

This part of the garden was not particularly crowded, despite the pleasant weather; it was far from the more popular entrance gates, and besides, this was a weekday. Klaus had no trouble noticing each person he met and making sure they weren't Henschen in disguise. That broken nose would be difficult to hide. The man in the blue suit was a more difficult proposition. If he changed into something other than a suit, Klaus didn't really have anything to go on except dark hair, and dark hair wasn't exactly uncommon.

When he reached the cottage, he paced up and down for a few minutes, smoking another cigarette. Then he pulled the map out and checked the exact location of the X. Klaus went around the side of the cottage and into a more densely wooded patch. Underneath a poplar tree, he found Henschen, propped against the trunk with his legs stretched out. His head lolled back and his eyes were closed.

Klaus dropped down on one knee, one hand going to his gun as he scanned the surroundings. Not a leaf rustled. He checked on Henschen and found that the man was alive but unconscious, with his hands tied together behind his back. And a packet of letters was stuck into Henschen's waistband, along with another map of the garden.

Frowning, Klaus took Henschen by the shoulders and shook him, but got no reaction. He was out cold.

"Yoo hoo!" Dorian's call startled a couple of pigeons into flight. "Major, where are you?"

Klaus shook his head in exasperation, but right then, his stomach growled. He could put up with Dorian if it meant he got food. He raised his voice to say, "Here," and Dorian came wandering along with a bag in one hand, looking rather pleased with himself, silk shirt once again billowy.

Then he saw Henschen and raised his eyebrows in a coquettish expression of dismay that Klaus was almost entirely certain was false. "Oh, dear. And in the bluebell woods, too. You didn't shoot him, did you?"

"No." Klaus used one thumb to lift Henschen's eyelid. "I think he's been drugged." He stood up again and flipped through the letters in his hand. Three more. Twelve letters had been stolen, but he didn't know if his superior and the unknown perverted Englishman had kept up an even exchange.

"Is that another map?" Dorian plucked it from Klaus's fingers and turned it over, finding another X. "Oh, lovely, the lake. Perfect spot for a picnic." Then he looked down with much more genuine dismay at Henschen. "What are we going to do with him?"

Klaus shrugged. "He's not going to wake up for a while. We can just leave him here. I can arrange to have someone pick him up later."

"Well." Dorian shrugged, too. "I must admit, I don't particularly want him to come along and play gooseberry."

He turned around and strode off, taking the map with him. Klaus swore quietly to himself and tucked the letters away with the others before stretching his legs and catching up with Dorian out on the path. "Give me that," he said, reaching for the map. Dorian relinquished it easily enough, with a sideways look and a smile, and kept walking.

This X, made with the same kind of pen as the previous one, sat just past the western tip of the long lake, in a roughly triangular area outlined by Cedar Vista and two other footpaths. Klaus frowned. That was a large area to search for something as small as a packet of letters. Unless the man in the blue suit, who had to be the one leading them on this ridiculous chase, had decided to use another body as a convenient marker.

"Klaus." Dorian was walking in step with Klaus, without even looking at him. "Not that I don't love a little mystery and drama, but... who is Henschen, and how did he come to be in possession of the letters?"

Klaus looked back over his shoulder, wondering how long it would be before anyone else stumbled over Henschen. "He stole them."

Dorian looked honestly surprised. "That horrid little man with the unwashed hair? Are you sure?"

"Lots of thieves in the world who aren't as vain as you," Klaus pointed out. In his experience, an obsession with haircare was not the defining characteristic of a criminal.

"Stealing from NATO isn't for amateurs." Dorian tossed his head, and a waft of warm rose scent filled the air. "And I don't recognize him, haven't ever heard of him." He tapped a finger against his lower lip.

"Maybe he uses a different name." Klaus shrugged. "He contacted the office and said he had the letters, and we set up this meeting. He picked the location." Klaus looked over his other shoulder, too, trying to see if they were being watched. All he could see was a man and woman in their sixties, walking hand in hand.

"It's an odd choice for a German trying to blackmail another German," Dorian said. "Henschen is German, isn't he?" He shrugged. "Perhaps he didn't want to be closer to home."

That part was starting to make sense to Klaus, though. There was one very good reason for Henschen to have decided to go to England with the letters. "He must have been in touch with the man in the blue suit, too," Klaus said. "Trying to find out what would get him a better deal."

Dorian's mouth curved. "Sugar toes," he said. "You know, when I think of Herr—"

"Shut up."

"It's very sweet, don't you think?"

"Shut up."

Dorian glanced back the way they'd come, too. "Judging by what happened to Henschen, Sugar toes didn't take to being blackmailed, either. Good for him." He looked at Klaus. "Living in fear of what other people might think about your sexuality must be so very uncomfortable."

They were coming close to the lake; Klaus could glimpse it through the trees. He could hear voices, too, people calling out to each other and laughing. Sound carried better out in the open. "Sometimes," he said, keeping a tight rein on his temper, "you live in a different world from other people." Then he thought about it. "It's not sometimes, is it? It's always."

Dorian shrugged. "My world's a much more pleasant one, I assure you. Would you like your sandwich now?" He gestured to their left. "That looks like a good spot for lunch."

"I want to find this place first," Klaus said. Now that he was standing here, the area marked by the X didn't seem so large after all. "It should be there, where the ground slopes."

"You mean just by that good spot for lunch that I was talking about?" Dorian looked smug, which Klaus thought was one of his most annoying traits. Still, he allowed Dorian to walk on ahead while he looked around. There were more people here, enjoying the shade along the side of the lake and the faint breeze over the water. No one looked particularly suspicious or out of place. No one was a dark-haired man in a dark blue suit.

Up ahead, Dorian had come to a halt underneath a tree. He tilted his head to one side, then walked around the trunk, disappearing behind it before popping his head back out and beckoning Klaus with his free arm. Klaus marched over. If Dorian really had found something, he would be insufferable. Dorian was grinning hugely. He grabbed Klaus's arm and practically dragged him around the tree trunk. Fastened to the trunk with a couple of drawing pins was another map.

Klaus yanked it free and turned it over, looking for another X. There wasn't one. What he found instead was a single word scrawled across the area where they were already standing: WAIT.

He scowled. "Wait for what? And for how long?"

"Long enough to have lunch, I sincerely hope." Dorian sat down with his back to the tree, legs stretched out just as Henschen's had been, and held out a bottle of water. "You drink first, I know how fussy you get." Klaus yanked the bottle out of Dorian's hand, and Dorian laughed and pulled out another one.

Klaus opened the bottle of water and drank down half of it. He hated waiting. He particularly hated being manipulated into waiting by an unknown person with an unknown agenda. He sat down, though, and Dorian handed him a sandwich. Klaus sniffed it suspiciously and found that it was plain ham and cheese. He wolfed it down, only realizing when it was gone how hungry he'd been. Dorian tapped his shoulder and handed him a second sandwich.

"Thank you," Klaus said grudgingly. He finished his water as well as the second sandwich, put the trash away, and lit a cigarette, tilting his head back to blow out smoke. The sky was perfectly clear except for the straight white trail of a plane in the distance.

Dorian had finished his meal, too. He was lying stretched out on his back with his eyes closed and his arms crossed behind his head. "If you wrote me any letters," he said, "I would never put them in a place where anyone else could steal them."

"I wouldn't write you any letters."

"I know." Dorian sounded unconcerned. "But if you did, I would never be careless with them."

Klaus scanned the line of trees on the other side of the lake. "I know," he said.

Without opening his eyes, Dorian smiled.

When Klaus was on his third cigarette, turning the latest map over and over in case there was something he'd missed written on it somewhere, a young man came walking briskly along the path, stopped to shade his eyes and look around, and then went off the path and headed straight for them. Klaus got to his feet, noting that the young man only came up to his shoulder and had mousy brown hair and the remains of teenage pimples, and seemed unlikely to be the man in the blue suit in disguise.

The young man slowed down and squinted at him. "Eberbach?"

"Yes." The young man was carrying a small bundle of papers, and Klaus held out his hand. "Give me that."

"Not for you." At Klaus's feet, Dorian sat up and stretched. The young man peered down at him dubiously. "You really the Earl of Gloria?"

"In the flesh," Dorian assured him, rolling his shoulders and brushing loose dirt off his shirt. "Is that for me?" Dorian held out his hand, too, the gesture rather more languorous than imperious, and the young man handed him the bundle of papers. "Thank you, dear."

Klaus grabbed the young man by the shoulder just as he was about to turn and leave. "Who gave you those papers?"

"Bloke in a suit, over by the Palm House. He told me you were waiting for this stuff." The young man attempted to twist out of Klaus's grasp. "Nothing to do with me, all right?"

"How long ago was that? Where did he go?"

"Do stop manhandling the poor boy, Klaus," Dorian said, getting to his feet. "Look, we have another map."

As soon as Klaus turned towards Dorian, the young man hurried away. Dorian passed the map to Klaus, who turned it over in his hands a couple of times and then looked up. "He knows that you're here, and he knows who you are."

"Lots of people know who I am," Dorian pointed out, fluffing his hair. "The handsome and debonair Earl of Gloria is quite a favorite with the tabloids."

Klaus snorted. "That is not what I meant. He knew that we would both be here. He must have managed to double back and see us." Klaus frowned. "And it's strange that you should be here at all."

"It's not strange at all," Dorian said. "I live here. Well, not precisely here, but in this country. And Kew is one of my favorite places. I always come here when I'm in London." Klaus looked closely at Dorian, trying to see if he was hiding something, but Dorian wasn't even looking at him, he was studying the bundle of papers he held. "Look, we have three more letters."

"But not the ones that were stolen," Klaus said, not even asking.

"No, it doesn't look as if—" Dorian turned one of the letters over, then giggled.

"What?"

"Oh, I really don't think you want to know."

"What!"

"This one is addressed to Honey b—"

"Shut up." Klaus could feel the tips of his ears heating up. It was probably the sun.

Dorian looked much too amused. "I did say you didn't want to know. What is our next destination?" He nodded at the map Klaus was holding.

"Something called the Bee Garden." Klaus crumpled the map up and stuck it in his pocket. "Come on, hurry up." He took a couple of brisk steps, then looked back over his shoulder. "And you've got grass in your hair."

As satisfying as it was to hear Dorian squeak with dismay, Klaus regretted the comment when Dorian spent the next ten minutes trying to walk forward and twist his spine around to see his own backside at the same time. Not only was their pace slowed to a frustrating crawl, but Dorian walked into Klaus twice when he wasn't looking. "Is it all gone?" Dorian asked, brushing one hand across a part of himself that Klaus had been studiously ignoring.

"Yes," Klaus snapped, without knowing whether it was true or not. "Stop thinking so much about how you look. Someone else could find the next packet of letters while you worry about grass stains."

"Oh, I'm not really worried," Dorian said. He twisted again, and the shirt strained across his shoulders. "But if you could help me brush off my back—"

"No." Klaus clamped a hand around Dorian's upper arm and dragged him along. "Stop being so annoying."

"I'm never annoying," Dorian said. "You're just easily annoyed." He followed along the rest of the way at Klaus's pace, though, without trying to slow them down or pull himself free; in fact, it wasn't until they were cutting behind Kew Palace that Klaus realized he was still holding on to Dorian's arm.

Klaus frowned when he saw the number of people in the Bee Garden. The air was rich with the scent of flowers, and the bees were everywhere, clustering around the flowers and weighing down first one stalk, then the next. Klaus got the map out and looked more closely at the position of the X. Dorian stood very close, trying to angle himself so he could see, too.

"Over there," Klaus said, nodding. "Probably on the back of one of the beehives."

"How appropriate." Dorian looked as though he were about to say something starting with the word honey; Klaus strode off before he had to listen to it.

Rather to Klaus's surprise, the packet of letters was on the back of the first beehive he checked. He pulled them free and checked: only two letters this time, both of them from his superior. And another map. Klaus scowled and brushed away a bee that came to rest on his wrist. He looked up as Dorian caught up with him. "I thought this was going to be the last one."

"Perhaps the next one will be the stolen letters," Dorian said.

"I don't think so."

Dorian bit his lip. "I don't, either. But I have to say, Sugar toes — I mean, the man in the blue suit isn't exactly acting like your common or garden blackmailer. Don't you think if he wanted something more than just to return these letters, he would have made it clear by now?"

Klaus brushed away another curious bee. "If all he wanted was to return the letters, he could have done it without making us play this silly game."

"And miss out on that lovely picnic?" Dorian tugged the new map out of Klaus's grasp. "That would have been a shame. Oh, look, the Secluded Garden. It's very pretty, you'll like it." He glanced at Klaus's face and shrugged. "Or perhaps not. You do tend to keep your aesthetic sensibilities well hidden."

"You mean I'm not a stupid, annoying fop," Klaus said. "Good." He took the map back and started to plan the shortest route to this Secluded Garden. After a few moments, he heard Dorian giggle, and looked up to see that the thief had taken the letters out of his hand and was reading them. "Stop that!"

Dorian pressed his lips together, but his eyes glittered. "But," he said. Klaus took the letters back. "But that one letter was to a candy p—"

"Shut. Up." Klaus shoved Dorian ahead of him, prodding him every time he slowed down. "Keep going." He glared at a man carrying a small girl in the crook of his arm who didn't get out of the way fast enough. "What time is it?"

"How should I know?" Dorian lifted his arms in the air for a moment. Both wrists were conspicuously bare. Klaus muttered darkly and checked his own watch. It was later than he thought, past three. And walking directly behind Dorian was like walking in a cloud of rose perfume.

Klaus sneezed.

He moved up beside Dorian and marched them both towards the Orangery. There were a lot more people in this part of the gardens; Klaus looked down towards the main gate and searched for a figure in a dark blue suit, but no one else in the summer afternoon crowd of visitors was that formally and warmly dressed. Klaus tugged at his tie until it hung loose and undid the top button of his shirt. "Shut up," he said for Dorian's benefit, switching his suit jacket from hand to hand as he rolled his shirtsleeves halfway up his forearms.

Dorian didn't say anything, but his sly sideways look made Klaus consider hitting him over the head. Instead, he steered them both around the Orangery and cut across the grounds, taking a straight line rather than following the paths. Klaus wanted a cigarette, but he already had his hands full with his suit jacket, the messenger bag and the letters, and the map, not to mention Dorian. He mentally cursed all feeble-minded NATO officers and their perverted British lovers.

Dorian shot him another sideways look, this one much less annoying, and moved a little closer, stumbling into Klaus for half a step. Klaus wasn't really surprised when, moments later, Dorian held one of his cigarettes and lit it, tapping one finger against the filtered end to get it to draw, and then stuck the cigarette in Klaus's mouth. "You really should cut down on your smoking, you know," he said, not sounding particularly concerned.

"That's none of your business," Klaus said.

"Although I would miss the smell," Dorian went on, undaunted. "I know it's dreadful, but I've grown used to it. Particularly in winter, the smell of cigarette smoke clinging to someone's clothes as they come in on a breath of cold winter air... That always makes me think of you."

Klaus didn't mention that the smell of roses always made him think of Dorian. It seemed unnecessary.

The Secluded Garden wasn't very secluded at all, it was full of people: a group of five adults with cameras and guidebooks, and a pair of teenagers kissing and stumbling over each other's feet. Klaus glared impartially at all of them.

The teenagers broke first, wandering off with their arms around each other, shooting little incensed looks over their shoulders as they went. It took longer for the adults to come out from behind their cameras and notice, but they gradually began to shuffle away as well, coughing pointedly and pointing things out to each other in their guidebooks. Klaus finished his cigarette and blew a pointed plume of smoke in the direction of the last vanishing tourist.

He looked at the map. "It's somewhere in the middle."

"I see it," Dorian said, moving forward. Klaus saw it, too, a small white rectangle wedged into the wooden railing of the small footbridge, in danger of falling into the stream that was mostly mud at this time of year. Dorian crouched down and worked it loose carefully. Then he sat back on his heels, flipping through the packet of letters. "Klaus, this is for you."

Klaus walked over, dumped the messenger bag and his suit jacket on the grass, and took the note Dorian held out to him. It was a torn-out sheet from a lined notebook, and the writing was done with the same pen as the Xs on the maps.

Major Eberbach, I have my letters back; please return these to their owner, and assure him that he will never hear from me again. Consider this day as a small gift.

"Damn insane pervert," Klaus muttered. Dorian stood up and cocked his head, holding out a final letter that was no doubt addressed to my angel or butter-knees or something equally absurd. "This mission has been a failure."

"Nonsense," Dorian said. "You've captured Henschen, and your superior is getting his letters back, and Sugar toes isn't going to blackmail anyone. That sounds like success to me."

Klaus shook his head. He was bringing back the wrong letters, and he'd failed to capture the man in the blue suit; even more annoyingly, he'd been forced to spend the entire day with Dorian. "I told you, this is none of your business."

Dorian smiled sweetly at him. "I know. Thank you for letting me keep you company."

That was unexpected. Klaus picked up the messenger bag and stuffed the last letter into it. He kept the note in his hand. "It's not as if I wanted you to come with me."

Dorian's smile deepened. "You could have just left me behind."

Klaus yanked out his packet of cigarettes and shook it upside down. It was empty. "I have to call someone to come and pick up Henschen."

"Oh, yes," Dorian agreed, "before he crawls off somewhere. And I should leave. I only meant to spend the morning here." He stepped off the bridge and stopped next to Klaus. "I had a lovely time today. We should come here again sometime."

"No, we shouldn't!" Klaus stared into Dorian's eyes, perfectly on a level with his own. He didn't blink as Dorian leaned in and kissed him very, very lightly, just the faintest brush of lips against lips, and then walked away so slowly that Klaus would have had to break his legs in order not to be able to catch up.

Klaus just stood still and watched him leave. When Dorian was finally out of sight, and only the scent of roses hung like a memory in the air, Klaus looked at the note from the man in the blue suit, turned it over, and read the backside.

PS. You're being an idiot, you know.

Klaus took out his lighter and burned the note to ashes. He picked up the garish messenger bag and his suit jacket, and went to make arrangements.

* * *

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