It had taken Klaus and the Alphabets nearly two weeks to track down the source of the poisoned apples being sent to various heads of international government. They called themselves "Snow White". Damned queer sort of name for terrorists, Klaus thought. But he was somewhat less surprised by the name when he found that their esteemed leader was, in fact, a woman... a rather old woman, actually, and somewhat off her rocker. She called herself "The Wicked Witch".
They had finally tracked her to a cottage in the midst of a dark forest. She had resisted, of course, as women are wont to do, but her frail state left her at a disadvantage and she was only able to take down four alphabets before being apprehended.
Klaus waited outside while they brought her out. She was not in rags, as he had expected, but a great flowery house gown. Her grey hair covered her head in something not unlike a helmet and a number of bangles and necklaces jingled as she walked.
"You're The Wicked Witch?" Klaus asked, more to see what reaction he might get than for confirmation.
The woman eyed him neutrally and said, "I am," in a strange accent Klaus could not quite place. "You are the Iron Klaus?"
"It was for good what I was doing, you know. Governments all over is corrupt. You know this. But you bark and come when called. Good doggy!" She patted the air and made a sound that Klaus recognized as a laugh, but might have called a cackle.
Klaus sneered. "You're a fucking criminal and a murderer. Don't try to justify being a goddamned whack job. Most of you people think you're doing the right thing. None of you ever are."
The woman stared at Klaus hard. "You have a filthy mouth young man. You kiss your sweetheart with that mouth?"
Klaus laughed. It was the sort of roaring, full-bellied laugh that usually had agents on all sides quivering. "You're a murderess and a terrorist and you're giving me a goddamn lecture on my bad language?" And then to an agent, "Get her out of here."
But the lady would not be moved. She had closed her eyes and stood very still, smiling. She made an odd gesture with her hands, handcuffed in the front, and then looked at Klaus. She grinned. "You in for it now, boy," she said, and handed Klaus a small scrap of paper before the agents could finally move her to take her away. Klaus watched, not wanting to admit to even himself that he was a little bewildered, maybe even creeped out. He felt himself shiver, then read the paper she had handed him.
Iron man, regret your choice!
A lesson now to last one week:
Your wicked mouth, it find no voice
but words of sweetness only speak!
On any other day Klaus would have marched through NATO headquarters, head held high, confident that every subordinate, civilian, and higher-up alike, would step aside if not quake in their boots at the mere passing of the Iron Klaus. On any other day, this would make him smile privately to himself.
On this day, however, quite unlike any of those other days, Klaus was doing anything but smiling, nor was he marching confidently, and his head was definitely not held high. His head was, in fact, hiding behind a large potted plant, along with the rest of him. He peered around the oversized pot, looked in one direction, then the other, and snuck soundlessly behind a column, into a bathroom, in a recessed part of the wall beside a water cooler, behind a rather large security guard, and finally, into the stairwell. The stairs were, of course, his normal mode of ascension, but today they were also chosen for being less conspicuous than the elevator. He couldn't risk an encounter with the Chief or an Alphabet. It had been hard enough facing the butler.
"Morning, Major," someone called as they approached, descending. Klaus had been so distracted thinking about the butler that he hadn't noticed anyone coming, and now as the man passed he panicked, reached out and grabbed the other man by the lapels. The man, an agent though not one of his own, looked terrified. A deer in headlights would have been more composed.
The Major fought with himself, gritted his teeth, and said in an animalistic growl, "Good. Morning. Beautiful day!", and released the agent, who stumbled, horror-stricken, down the stairs. Klaus thought he heard a scream.
Some time later he made it to his floor, huffing and puffing like a marathon runner. Not from the exertion of climbing the stairs, that was a cakewalk. No, Klaus was fighting something much stronger than gravity: himself.
Slowly, gently, quietly, he eased open the door of the stairwell and peered out. No one in the general vicinity, but he could hear paper shuffling and one-sided phone conversations from the Alphabets' office area. He'd have to walk through the neat rows of desks to get to his office. He could make it, he was sure. If he went quickly and stomped his feet loud enough, no one would dare speak to him... right?
Klaus took a step out of the stairwell and into the corridor. He was sweating, panting, but steeled himself. He could do it. He began the half-sprint through the gauntlet of Alphadesks, stomping loudly, too loudly he was sure, putting on his best grumpy face. He felt more than saw the few scattered Alphabets turn away in fear, although he was certain a few watched anyway, bewildered at his giant, ridiculous steps. Just a few more feet... STOMP. STOMP. STOMP. SLAM! And finally, gratefully, he was in his office. He slumped against the door, loosened his tie, eyes sliding closed in relief, and sighed.
"Well met, Major!" came a cry from across the room and Klaus snapped to attention. Laurence! Oh God, not Laurence!
Yes. Laurence. The SIS agent stood, his friendly smile changing to something between concern and bewilderment.
"I say, Major, you're looking rather peaky. Are you all right?"
Klaus swallowed hard, pressed himself against the door, and tried not to open his mouth. He failed.
"Quite all right," he groaned, "never better, dearest Laurence!" That last part had come out in a horrified sort of choking sound. The Major turned white and clamped a hand to his mouth, but not before he got out: "And how is England's finest this gorgeous spring morning?"
Laurence cocked his head in a curious sort of way, almost as if, for all that he was an idiotic, romantic English twit, he was actually discerning that something was rather off with the Major.
"Oh," Laurence said tentatively, "I'm just fine, thank you." Then something seemed to dawn on him, sudden clarity, and his face hardened. "I see, Major. Only morning and yet you mock me already. No matter! I am not here on a social call, but business. So you can play all you want. I'm here to get some work done."
Klaus nodded enthusiastically, hand still on his mouth, relieved that Laurence had taken his disgustingly chipper words as an insult. It wouldn't have been the first time. He somehow managed to pry himself away from the door, and his hand from his mouth. With his back to Laurence, who was babbling about professionalism in the work place, he removed his coat and hung it on a rack, taking time to smooth out any wrinkles, hoping that Laurence would wear himself out before he had to face him. When his jacket was properly hung he took a step to his right and straightened a framed newspaper clipping on the wall, another step and he picked at an imaginary crack, another and he straightened his tie in the reflection of the window. He was worried that soon he would make his way back to the door when something Laurence said registered as not entirely pointless.
"...get them back. I'm sure Eroica will be more than capable for the job, though you know how I loathe him."
Klaus turned to face Laurence. He couldn't stop himself. "Eroica? Get back what?"
"Well, the jewels of course, Major. What else?... Have you been listening at all?"
The Major coughed dramatically, only just barely covering the "How thoughtless of me! My apologies, do continue!" that he couldn't quite keep from escaping. He hurried to his desk as an added distraction.
Laurence eyed him suspiciously. "Yes... well, I know you don't want to work with him any more than I want him in on this, but the security of your country and mine is at stake!"
"Ja, oh certainly. Quite right." Klaus mumbled while rifling through his desk drawer, searching desperately for something anything to-- ah! That was it!
"The vault is underground, of course," Laurence was saying, "and the only access is through an underwater tunnel-- Major, what are you trying to do?"
"Hmo om, maurmenth! Mon't mide mee!" the Major managed, stuffing great colorful balls of chewing gum into his mouth. He had confiscated them from B months ago. The sticky sweet candy coating filled his mouth, trickled down the back of his throat, and made him feel sick, but at least nothing he said was even remotely intelligible.
"Major," Laurence said and stood, more insulted now than Klaus had ever managed, even when he was really trying, "Major, I do not find this funny in the least. I shall leave my full report with your agents. Give me a call when Germany is ready to cooperate!" Red-faced, Laurence turned on his heel and stomped his way out of the office, being sure to slam the door on the way out, which was nothing the door was not perfectly used to.
As quickly as he was able, Klaus found a trashcan and spat out the wads of gum, then opened a bottle of water, took in a mouthful and spat that out too. He sat at his desk, feeling more defeated than any KGB agent had ever managed to make him feel, even that drunken brawl with Mischa had been pleasant compared to this.
He shouldn't have come to work. He should go home now! But facing the alphabets, the chief, the world... it was all too much for him. He would lock himself in his office for the rest of the day, disconnect his phone, growl when anyone knocked, and leave after the janitors had gone home. That was only--he looked at his watch-- another fourteen hours from now. He sighed, defeated, held his head in his hands, then stood to lock the door. There was no other option.
Options, however, are funny things. And no sooner had he reached the door than another option, a very bad option, came through it.
Dorian slipped in the door, locked it behind him, his usual smug grin replaced with something between business-like severity and desperation. He moved to stand in the middle of the room and began a speech he had obviously prepared prior to entering the Major's office. Klaus stared dumbly, his hand still on the doorknob.
"Major, before you shout, I must say that I really think you should consider me for this upcoming venture of yours. I know it's all very top secret and no one's supposed to know about it yet, but then I do have my sources don't I?" he smiled, "But, Major, you know no one could pull this one off but me... with your help, of course. Don't be mistaken, your help or not, I will have those jewels, but it will all go so much more smoothly if we could simply work together for once! Well, for a second time... that is, at least, on purpose... I mean...," He finished lamely, uncertain, looking to Klaus for some--any reaction. "Well, Major?"
Klaus's face was white, it must have been, he could feel his forehead going numb. The room seemed both cold and hot at once. He opened his mouth, made a sort of squeaking noise, and promptly passed out.
He was only out for a few seconds, just enough time for his brain to reset itself. Unfortunately, it was also just long enough to forget just why it was he shouldn't be speaking to the idiot fop bending over him.
"Major!" Dorian exclaimed, quite alarmed, "Are you all right? Are you ill? Should I fetch Herr A?"
Klaus opened his mouth to say, 'No!' and 'Get off me you damned pervert!', but what came out was something different. "No, Dorian, don't trouble yourself, love. Nothing a spot of coffee won't fix right up. But thank you for your kind concern."
Dorian looked stunned, and then fell backward onto his bottom. "Wot... wot did you say?"
Oh God. Not Eroica. Not in front of this flaming imbecile. Klaus sat up, felt dizzy, felt sick. He held his head, his stomach, and his mouth in turn. Oh well. Eroica was involved now. He'd seen too much, or heard too much rather. He could either enlist the man's help... or kill him. The latter was the favored response, but considerably more messy.
Klaus got to his feet, stumbled to his desk, and took out a pad of paper and a pencil. He motioned for Dorian to come nearer. It took Eroica a few seconds to realize this was an actual request and not an elaborate ruse which would end in violence. When he finally moved to look over the Major's shoulder, Klaus began to write.
Dorian read aloud: "'Evil... witch... curse on me... can only say... nice things'... Major, is this your idea of a joke? I know you're only German darling, but you could have come up with something better than this!"
Klaus wrote again. Dorian's hair brushed his shoulder as he bent to read the words, making him even angrier. 'You fucking idiot, this is not a joke. '
"All right, then," Dorian said, looking dubious but still half-smiling, "prove it to me."
"Ok, don't. But I leave this office and tell all your Alphabets that you're--"
"Oh Major, you even shout in your letters!"
Dorian walked around the desk, pulled a leather chair up close to it, directly opposite Klaus and said, "All right, let's have it, then. Shall I start?" He thought, twirling his hair. "Ok, I have one... what's my name?"
Klaus growled. "Dorian."
Dorian smiled. "Oh, that's lovely, Major. Say it again!"
"And how are you feeling today, Major mine?"
Klaus groaned. "Somewhat under the weather, to be honest, but so much better now that you're here." That one was too much! But now that the thief knew his secret, Klaus found that he could handle the embarrassment.
Dorian was loving it. "I like this game, Major! We must play more often!" He thought. "Hmm... and how do you like my new blouse? Lovely shade of red, don't you think?"
Klaus watched as Dorian preened. With a whimper he replied, "It is most becoming, darling. Fits you like a dream. I have often envied how red flatters you... I could never pull it off."
That one had been too much even for Dorian! He seemed a little stunned, but it wasn't long before his smile slid back into place. "All right now, Major, one more... one more and I'll believe you, honest!"
Klaus closed his eyes, nodded. He knew what was coming. The goddamned L-word was going to come out of that idiot's mouth, and he would say something perfectly foppish in response, and then he really would have to kill him.
Dorian looked wicked, but Klaus sensed a familiar vulnerability beneath as he watched the thief scoot to the edge of his seat and whisper as in conspiracy, "Major, do... do you..." He was thinking. Of what Klaus could not imagine. He only wished to get this over with, "that is... do you enjoy sweet candies and cakes?"
Stunned by the unexpected question, Klaus didn't even realize he had answered until seconds after he'd done it: "Not really, dear. I worry about my waistline, you know. And I've simply never had a taste for them. However, there are lovely candies in my desk drawer should you like any. My boys really love them!"
And that was it. He could take no more. Referring to the Alphabets as 'his boys' was the last straw. He slumped in his desk and felt broken.
Dorian smiled, a supporting, sympathetic sort of smile Klaus had never seen. Now he really felt defeated.
"It's all right," Klaus said, "Don't worry your pretty head over me. It only lasts a week, you know. Then I'll be right as rain." Though from the way he said it, they both knew what he had really said was: 'I don't need your pity you smug pervert, in another week this will be over and I just may decide to kill you.'
"Very well, Major," Dorian replied, "What can I do for you?"
Any other day, or at least any other day in the past week, Klaus would have crept silently through the halls of headquarters, sneaking past alphabets and civilians and higher-ups alike, terrified that they might speak to him and so learn his dirty secret. For the past week, he, Iron Klaus, hardest ass in the history of NATO hard-asses, had been a nice person. Or at least his speech had been meant to give that impression. Underneath all those polite words and cute expressions, the Major had fumed, angry and dangerous as ever.
But today was not one of those days. Today was the last day of his curse. It was all behind him now. He could go back to abusing his beloved expletives and spreading ridicule like his own dark version of sunshine. Or at least he was pretty sure he could. To be honest, he hadn't actually opened his mouth yet this morning. Not a word. This had not been very difficult since that idiot Eroica had "procured" for him a pocket device that would speak aloud any words typed into it. The thief had also informed Herr A, upon leaving his office one week ago, that the Major had acute laryngitis and was not to be permitted to speak for at least a week. He had even arranged for a receptionist to take his calls, and a discreet valet to assist him around his home. It had all worked surprisingly well except for a few awkward occasions during the jewel-recovery mission, when Klaus would become particularly irritated and shout flowery praise rather than obscenities at his Alphabets. Even on those occasions Dorian had stepped in and given some excuse, equally ridiculous and plausible, to his men.
The mission? Well that had gone off without incident, really. It was probably the best the two of them had ever worked together. It did not, of course, occur to the Major that perhaps this was evidence that not everything that went wrong during his missions were entirely the fault of that idiot thief, he simply felt Dorian was being more obliging than usual. And, to be honest, so was he.
His last day... or did today count too? He stood in his office, leaning on his desk, steeling himself for the first words he would utter, when the door opened.
"Good morning, Major," Dorian beamed, peeking around the door. He stepped inside, turned the lock, looked expectant and said: "Well?"
The Major opened his mouth, shut it, tried again, "You've been a great help this week, Eroica. Thank you."
Dorian looked crestfallen. "Oh damn, Major, I thought today was your last day! I've already told Roderick you'd no longer be needing his services! Will it be just the one more day, do you think, or--"
"Dorian," Klaus said, interrupting him, "it's over." He moved to stand closer to the thief. "The curse is gone."
"But... but you just thanked me."
Klaus lit a cigarette. "I did. And I won't repeat it."
Dorian smiled, genuinely delighted. "No need, Major. You're quite welcome."
"Yeah, well, don't get used to it."
Dorian looked curious, mischievous. "Are you sure it's all gone, Major? All worn off?"
"Well shouldn't we test it? Just to be sure?"
Klaus thought, but before he could reply Dorian stepped closer to him, placed a hand on his lapel, and in his most seductive voice asked, "What's my name, Major?"
On any other day Klaus would have punched him, pushed him against the door and done his very best not to snap his neck out of instinct. But today was slightly different.
"Your name is Dead if you don't get your goddamn hands off of me." ...very slightly different.
A small, sad laugh and Dorian removed his hand, stepped back. "Quite right, Major. All cured." He watched the ground, trying to hide his disappointment. "Well, for what it's worth, I thank you for trusting me to help, and... well I--"
But whatever else he was going to say was lost in the crush of Klaus's mouth against his, Klaus's body pushing him against the door.
Ok. Not so very slightly.
Minutes later, Dorian came up for air, smiling like the idiot Klaus knew him to be. "So Major, what else can I do for you?"
Author's Chapter Notes:
PG-13 for a little language.