EVEN THE CLOUDS WEEP
By Margaret Price
Why does it always rain in England?
No wonder I hate this bloody country so much.
Klaus found a parking space in the crowded lot, switching off the engine and looking up at the fast blackening sky. It was late afternoon, but the clouds had darkened the sky to the point that it appeared to be night. The rain was only a light drizzle, but by the look of the sky that would change very soon. He could already see lightning flashing in the distance, the rumbles of thunder underscoring his own feelings of foreboding.
He finished his cigarette before getting out of the car. No smoking permitted. Not that he should have been smoking anyway. Goddamn doctors. His doctor was currently on the other side of the English Channel, so just let him try and stop him.
The thought of doctors caused Klaus to look up at the building, the hospital, he had just traveled several hours and several hundred miles to get to, his mind flashing back to the phone call that had prompted the journey.
“I’m sorry to bother you, General. I couldn’t think of anyone else to call.”
Klaus actually had to stop and think a moment before he recognized the voice. Bonham, Lord Gloria’s butler and right hand man. He could not remember the last time he had spoken to him. Then he listened in silence as the whole story was related to him.
“What’s the prognosis?” he had asked, surprising himself that he should even be interested. “Where is he?” He was beyond surprising himself as he made the arrangements for the journey, told his butler to pack a suitcase, caught the next flight to London, not even bothering to book a hotel.
The glare of neon lights caused Klaus to squint as he entered the building and shook off the droplets of water the drizzling rain had deposited on his coat. He strode up to the reception desk, a small smile curling the edges of his mouth as the uniformed man behind it sat up a little straighter. Even out of uniform, the German’s military bearing was unmistakable.
Now, finally, Klaus was on the correct floor, standing in front of the correct room, staring at the correct closed door. What the hell am I doing here? He wanted to turn around and go back to Germany. Forget the whole thing. Pretend he had never made the trip. But that would be the coward’s way, and no one had ever dared call Iron Klaus a coward.
There was a sign near the door stating something about visitors checking in at the nurse’s station, another requesting privacy, both of which he ignored. Iron Klaus never bothered with rules, either. He quietly pushed open the door and entered. The lights in the room were off, the gathering storm-clouds only adding to the gloom within.
Klaus was momentarily stunned when he saw how austere the room was. He had expected to find it filled with flowers, giant stuffed toys, balloons, streamers, anything and everything colorful and gaudy. Instead, there was a stack of greeting cards in a basket, another stack of unopened ones beside it. There were a few flowers wilting in a vase that desperately needed refilling with water. The signs on the door notwithstanding, the room practically screamed Leave me alone!
As Klaus moved further into the room, his eyes fell on its lone occupant, who was lying in bed and staring out the window at the now driving rain. He found himself stunned again. Tubes and wires seemed to be attached to him everywhere. The healthy, robust man he had once known now looked exceptionally frail, his current illness obviously sapping his strength. Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria; pervert, fop, the dandy in lace and frills, was wearing a rather practical looking pair of dark pajamas, undoubtedly silk, but surprisingly sensible. His blond hair was pulled back in a thick braid and tied with a simple band rather than its usual assortment of ribbons and lace.
Klaus could see the Earl’s hair was just as long as he remembered, which was surprising, considering all he’d been through. Klaus’s own hair was still much too short for his liking. When he accepted the promotion to General, he had conceded that his shoulder-length hair would be inappropriate and had grudgingly agreed to have it cut, although not nearly as short as his superiors would have liked. Now that he was retired, he was allowing it to return to the length he preferred. But unlike the Earl, whose hair now had white streaks amid the blond curls, undoubtedly the result of stress brought on by his illness, his own dark hair was showing signs of age. It had started with just some graying at the temples. Now it seemed gray streaks were appearing everywhere.
When did we get old? he wondered. When did it happen? It seemed only yesterday that the pervert was dogging his every footstep. Interfering at every possible opportunity and apparently loving every minute of it. Always so full of life. Then one day, Klaus told him, for what seemed the thousandth time, to go away, to just leave him alone. And he actually did. Now here he was, lying in a hospital bed with an old, broken down soldier standing in his room, wondering why the hell he was even there.
Klaus ran his fingers through his still thick, full head of hair and found himself wondering why the Earl’s vanity had not asserted itself to have the streaks covered. Iron Klaus would never stoop to dye his hair. His only nod to vanity was his pride in the fact that he had not acquired the receding hairline that was the bane to the majority of Eberbach males. The jealous remarks this produced amongst his younger, and currently balding, relatives was quite amusing. He gave a low chuckle at this thought, finally alerting the man across the room of his presence.
“Whoever you are, go away. Can’t you just leave me in peace?” Dorian said quietly, not even bothering to turn his head. His voice was tired and resigned with a distinct edge of bitterness to it.
“I thought I was supposed to say that,” Klaus replied mildly.
Dorian actually jumped at the familiar voice, the German accent unmistakable. He turned to look at the figure shrouded in the darkness of his room. “Who is that?” he asked in as forceful a tone as possible. “Whoever you are, that’s not bloody funny.”
Klaus drew nearer, a sudden flash of lightning illuminating the room and revealing his identity at the same time. “I’m told I don’t have a sense of humor,” he said evenly.
“Klaus…?” Dorian leaned back, staring at the man now standing at his bedside as if he were a ghost. “What on Earth…?” He put a hand to his head in bewilderment. Then the tubes in his arms returned him to reality, his shock and delight turning to anger. “What the hell are you doing here? Can’t I die in peace without you coming to gloat?”
Klaus stiffened slightly. “I’m not here to gloat.”
“No?” Dorian still could not quite take it in and struggled to get his thoughts together. “What are you doing here then?”
Dorian opened his mouth and then closed it again, a rumble of thunder seeming to punctuate the moment. The confused look on the other man’s face would have been laughable in any other situation. “You came all the way from Germany, after God knows how many years, and you don’t know why?”
Klaus took the wet coat that was draped over his arm and tossed it on to a chair before taking a seat. “Bonham called me,” he began quietly.
Dorian closed his eyes. “He told you…”
“Yes.” Klaus paused before added, “And I read you medical report.”
Dorian looked at the man he had loved for more years than he cared to remember. The man he had finally given up on. The man who had berated him at every opportunity and threatened to kill him more times than he could count. “Have you come to watch me die, General?”
“Why? Are you going to kill yourself?” Klaus replied mockingly.
Dorian wished he had something he could throw at him. “Dammit, Klaus, I’m dying!”
“Yes, you are,” Klaus agreed. Before Dorian could issue a biting retort, he added, “Your doctors give you another…fifteen years, at least. Perhaps even twenty if you stop eating all that rich food.”
“Oh, very funny.”
“You’re not going to die, idiot.”
“I have cancer!”
“You had cancer,” Klaus corrected sharply. “You also had an operation to remove it. Benign, I believe the report said. Or had that escaped your notice while you were lying there feeling sorry for yourself?”
“Shut up, you thick-skinned Prussian swine!”
A small smile twitched at the corners of Klaus’s mouth. He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I think you were right. I am here to gloat.”
Dorian struggled to think of an appropriate epithet.
“Idiot.” The smile twitched on Klaus’s face again. “You’re falling behind.”
“Shit, my brain won’t work.”
To Dorian’s astonishment, Klaus actually started to laugh. He was certain he had never actually heard him laugh before. He’d heard him sneer, snicker in derision, even chuckle from time to time. But never a laugh of actual amusement.
“My God, Iron Klaus can laugh,” he said in amazement. Then he, too, started to laugh at how ridiculous he had sounded. It hurt to laugh, but it also felt good. It had been a long time since he had found anything worth laughing about. Not since he was diagnosed, in fact.
“Yes, Iron Klaus can laugh,” the German agreed, although he was somewhat annoyed with himself because of it. He had a lot he wanted to say and had absolutely no idea how to go about it. He also had no idea why he wanted to say it, either.
“So, that’s why you’re here, is it? To make me laugh? To forget that I’m dying?”
“Oh, hell, now I know I’m going to die!” Dorian exclaimed. “That’s the only thing that would ever provoke you to actually call me by name.”
“No, that’s not why,” Klaus said sharply. He drew a deep breath before saying, “My doctors are less optimistic than yours.”
The man in the bed scowled. “You consulted your doctors about me?”
“No. About me.”
Dorian blinked, his mouth dropping open. “What’re you saying?” He received a steady look in reply. “You’re dying?”
Klaus nodded. “Yes.”
Dorian sat staring in mute astonishment. Had he not known him so well, he would have sworn the German was pulling his leg just to get him to stop feeling sorry for himself. “I don’t…” He put a hand to his head again, unable to take it in. “What’re you...? Oh, bugger, I can’t think. Bloody medications!”
Klaus could feel the enormous blue eyes on him and squirmed in his seat. He had to fight not to berate Dorian for looking at him in such a manner. What difference did it make now? “I retired from NATO.”
“I know. I did send you some flowers, if you’ll recall.”
Klaus sighed heavily. How could he not recall the enormous monstrosity that had appeared in his office? A banner with GOOD LUCK emblazoned on it in gold letters. Were it not inside the building, he would have set fire to the thing the moment he laid eyes on it. It was more appropriate for a funeral than—
The officer looked up, seeing Dorian still looking expectantly at him. “Then Bonham called and told me—” he broke off, still uncertain how to proceed.
“And…” Klaus’s mind was suddenly screaming at him again. What the hell am I doing here? What did I possibly think I could accomplish after all this time? “This was a mistake,” he said suddenly, practically jumping to his feet and snatching up his coat. “I shouldn’t’ve come.”
Dorian leaned back on his pillows, anger flashing across his face. “I see. You’re sicker than I am, is that it? Now you’re going to go back to Germany and wait to die like the good little soldier that you are,” he said bitterly.
Klaus turned back, his eyes blazing. He stood glaring at the man in the bed but did not trust himself to speak.
“Go on! Say it and have done with it. Bloody bastard.”
Klaus drew a deep breath, but his reply was not what Dorian expected. In a quiet voice, he said, “I’m afraid.”
Dorian’s mouth dropped open. He stared in amazement, his mind scarcely able to take it in. “What…?” He found himself wondering if his head were spinning because of his medications or because the world had just turned upside down. “Christ, I don’t know what…” He drew a deep breath and struggled to get his thoughts together. “Klaus, what the hell do you expect me to say?”
“I don’t know,” Klaus admitted, sitting down again and putting his coat across his lap. “When Bonham called, I knew I had to come before—” He broke off, turning his gaze to the window and the raging storm outside. After a minute, he quietly said, “I have never understood you. Why you followed me all those years.”
“It’s because I loved you, you idiot German,” Dorian replied, having to fight back the tears that were threatening to burst from his eyes at any moment. “I still love you. I’ve told you that a thousand times.”
“Yes, you have. I still don’t understand it.” Klaus continued to look into the rain, finding it easier to talk if he were not looking directly into those enormous blue eyes. “I can’t promise to ever understand it. I can’t promise to ever reciprocate it.”
Dorian felt his heart miss a beat. Did he actually say reciprocate? “What…are you saying?” he asked cautiously.
“I’m saying…” Klaus paused. He had to force himself to look into those wide blue eyes. Had to force himself to say the last thing he ever thought he would. The last thing Dorian ever expected to hear. “I don’t want to die alone.” He paused again. “I’m saying… I’m asking… Dorian, would you…?” He closed his eyes. The words were there. He simply could not utter them.
“You want me to stay with you?” Dorian asked in disbelief.
Klaus nodded, afraid to look at him. Afraid of what he might do if he did. What he might say, even though the words were getting too difficult to think, let alone speak.
The stunned silence was broken when Dorian asked, “Why me? Why the hell come to me?”
Klaus had known this question would be asked some point in time. He had dreaded it. He was silent a long time before finally admitting, “You’re the only one who cares. The only one who ever cared.” He forced himself to look at the inquiring eyes and drew a deep breath, saying the most extraordinary thing of all. “Please.”
Dorian finally burst into tears, overwhelmed by it all. He heard Klaus sigh heavily and knew he was annoyed by this emotional display and waited for the usual disapproving admonitions. They did not come. He almost jumped out of his skin when the German was suddenly looming over him with a box of tissues in his hand.
Dorian struggled to get hold of himself, pulling several tissues from the box and hurriedly wiping his eyes. He had to pull himself together before…
“I’ve stayed too long,” Klaus said quietly.
“No, don’t go. Please, don’t go. Not now.” Dorian grabbed the extended arm.
Startled, Klaus let go of the box of tissues, his hand automatically balling into a fist. His whole body went rigid in response to the unexpected physical contact. Then he felt Dorian’s body tense. He had obviously realized his mistake and was steeling himself for the retaliation to follow. Klaus looked down. Dorian was so thin, so fragile. He could easily break him in two in his present condition. It would be months before he was fit again…
To Dorian’s amazement, Klaus did not lash out at him, physically or verbally. Nor did he pull away. He simply stood there, allowing him to cling to his arm. Dear God, if I’m dreaming I don’t want to wake up!
“I shouldn’t’ve come while you were still here,” Klaus said calmly, his eyes fixed on the storm again. For Iron Klaus, this was tantamount to an apology.
“Oh, bugger where I am,” Dorian replied, wiping the tears from his face. “You want me to stay with you, I’ll stay.” He looked up, the officer’s eyes briefly meeting his before they quickly looked away. “I followed you all over the world. What’s a little trip to Germany? I’m sure the mountain air will do me good.” Then he was absolutely certain the world had turned upside down as Klaus closed his eyes in response to this declaration, a stray tear marking his face. Not only could Iron Klaus laugh, but he could also cry.
Not trusting himself to speak, Dorian turned his gaze to the window, watching the storm in silence. He wondered how much time Klaus had left and feared what the answer might be.
As he sat clinging to the arm of the man he loved, it seemed to Dorian that even the clouds were weeping bittersweet tears of joy. “Do you still think this was a mistake?”
“I don’t know.”
Dorian leaned his head against Klaus’s body. “I’m glad you came.” He was certain he had said the wrong thing when the arm he was clinging to was pulled from his grasp. Then a hand gently rested on his shoulder.
“I think…so am I.”