The Beautiful and the Beastly
dedicated to the Duchess of the Antipodes
Dorian had always loathed dark rooms… but things changed. Now he spent all of his time in one. Not that it made any difference, as there was no one about to see him, but it was comforting. As much as anything could comfort him now, which wasn’t much.
He had abandoned Castle Gloria, overflowing as it was with memories and things of beauty. Instead he had retreated to the relatively small house (only fourteen rooms) that he kept in Liechtenstein, because of its seclusion – a thing the Earl of Gloria had never valued before – and because he had never bothered to decorate the place after buying it. He had purchased it on a whim when he was twenty-three, because as he traveled through he had noticed its lovely rose garden and been charmed by it. The interior was rather dull, not tastefully dramatic like the homes he had taken the trouble to do over. The few artworks he had stored there were quickly shipped off to North Downs, where they doubtless waited in their crates.
The only beautiful thing here was the scenery, and Dorian kept the curtains drawn.
He spent his days brooding inside the dim rooms, the curtains drawn and the lights turned off, sometimes drinking, occasionally reading. Reading was difficult; all of his old obsessions were now unbearable to him. He would have to find new interests to while away the rest of his life, except that he had lost interest in life.
He had been lurking in this dark house for nearly a month on the afternoon when he heard the motorcycle outside. At first he felt only a vague surprise; traffic on this remote road was rare. Once a week, a store delivered groceries to him, left them outside the back door. He would go out and fetch them after dark. But this wasn’t the day for it.
He wasn’t really curious, however, until the engine stopped right in his yard. No one had been by to see him since he had arrived, at his express request. Not that he thought anyone had been reluctant to comply. He had told his team – over the phone – to find another thief to work for. They had. None of them had flouted his request that he be left alone.
But when a distinctive loud hammering sounded on the door, the puzzle was solved.
Dorian didn’t move. Perhaps if he were very still and quiet, the Major would think he wasn’t there and go away. What in God’s name did the man want? Surely he couldn’t imagine Dorian was capable of filching microfilm for him now.
The hammering continued at 30-second intervals for some time, and then Dorian could hear the door being opened. Damn it! How had the Major done that? Maybe he’d managed to get a copy of the key. It would be like him. Thorough. But what the hell was he doing here?
There was no place to run to, except outside, and Dorian wasn’t going to leave the house in broad daylight. All he could do was sit tight and hope the pigheaded German had the sense to give up and leave.
But of course he didn’t. Klaus’s trademark tromping sounded all over the house, methodically searching one room after the other, until the door to Dorian’s room swung open and there the Major was on the threshold.
Klaus reached for the light switch, and Dorian flinched even though he already knew that the light bulbs had burnt out. He hadn’t been replacing them, and that had been one item he had deliberately left off his grocery orders. He huddled back in his chair, his head lowered so that his hair fell over his face, obscuring it even more in the darkness.
“Go away,” Dorian said at once.
“Isn’t that my line?”
And Klaus just stood there, looking in his direction though he couldn’t possibly see anything but a greyish silhouette.
“Why are you here?” Dorian asked grudgingly when the silence had lasted too long.
“I came to see you, of course.”
Dorian gave a bitter laugh. “Don’t be absurd, Major. One thing you cannot possibly want is to see me now.”
Klaus nodded, as if to himself. “I thought you would be feeling this way. It’s why I’m here.”
“How else could I feel?” Dorian hurled at him, then broke down and started crying. How low had he sunk, letting the Major witness him in such a state, but really, what did it matter now?
Klaus took a step forward, as if to comfort him, but before he could, or even before Dorian could realize that such an action was rather unlikely from Iron Klaus, Dorian thrust up a hand to stop him. “No! Stay away!”
Klaus stopped obligingly, but said, “Ero—Dorian. It isn’t as bad as all that.”
“How can you say that?” Reassured that Klaus wasn’t coming closer, Dorian surrendered to the sobs.
Three months ago, he had been zipping about in his lovely red-and-gold Ferrari when some dunderhead in a van had pulled out in front of him. He hadn’t been able to stop in time, not at the speed he’d been going, and…. Well, he didn’t remember anything after that, but he was told there had been a fire, and that he had been lucky to escape with his life.
Lucky. His limbs and faculties were undamaged, but his face was now a wreck of scar tissue. He had already seen the world’s best plastic surgeons, and they were unanimous: nothing could be done to restore his beauty, or even make him presentable enough to go out in public without attracted horrified or pitying stares.
He had always been beautiful, inspiring lust since – well, for as long as he could remember. Beauty had been the passion of his life. Now he was hideous. It was more than he could bear.
He never wanted anyone to look at him again.
And now for Klaus to come, mocking him in his misery….
He lifted his head and was faintly surprised to see Klaus still standing there, regarding him. “Why didn’t you ever come before?” Dorian cried out.
“You didn’t need me,” was the calm reply. “You had plenty of other people.”
“They’ve all gone,” Dorian said bitterly.
“And I’m here.”
“Why?” Dorian dropped that one whispered word into the silence.
Klaus hesitated. “Dorian. You knew, didn’t you… how hard it was for me to resist you, all these years?”
Distantly, numbly, Dorian felt a stab of triumph. At last Klaus had admitted what Dorian had known very well along, since seeing how resolutely Klaus had kept his back turned after escaping the Roman bath. Or maybe it was even sooner, when Klaus had looked so utterly petrified at the Persian border, or when he had helped Dorian walk after beating up those nasty seajackers in Greece….
But to admit this now?
“I’m sorry,” Dorian whispered.
“Sorry?” The Major sounded surprised. “For what?”
Another sob broke from Dorian’s lips before he could stifle it. He pressed his fist against his wrecked mouth, hard, until he could trust himself to speak.
“I wanted to give you so much,” he explained, his chest tight. “All my beauty – it would have belonged to you alone, if you had ever wanted it. I was saving it for you. And I let it be destroyed. Everything I wanted to give you.” He stopped; his voice had risen and he was perilously close to breaking down again.
The reply held a sound of amusement. “Everything?”
For a few seconds, Dorian forgot to be miserable. “Why, Major! Are you making an innuendo?”
“I suppose I am.” The Major sounded as if he were grinning.
“Good heavens. Perhaps you’d better lie down.”
“I plan to, before long.”
Dorian turned away, heartsick. “Don’t taunt me.”
Klaus studied him, or rather the dark blur that he no doubt appeared to be, for a minute. Then he crossed the room with those decisive strides of his and stopped in front of Dorian’s chair.
“Stop it!” Dorian cried, averting his face. Unmoved, Klaus gripped Dorian’s arm above the elbow and hauled him to his feet. Dorian twisted so that he was facing away from the Major, but the German implacably dragged him toward the window.
“No!” Dorian pleaded, covering his face with his hands.
Klaus did not release his arm. With his free hand, he thrust back the curtains, letting sunlight pour in. Dorian actually cowered for the first time in his life, holding his hands rigidly in place. Klaus tried to pull them down, but Dorian shrank back and Klaus did not insist, though he continued to grasp his arm.
Desperately Dorian blurted, “You don’t know how bad it is! You’ve told yourself you can be brave, that you can be noble and selfless and – but you don’t know! It’s far worse than you can have imagined. If you see, you’ll be glad to run away, as everyone else has. For God’s sake, have some compassion, spare me that! Can’t you see how afraid I am of this, you – you militaristic machine?”
Klaus waited to be certain his outburst was through before speaking.
“Dorian… all these years, every time you offered yourself to me… I was feeling exactly the way you are now.”
Amazed, Dorian stared through his fingers, his muscles slackening. When Klaus reached for his hands again, he did not resist. But when Klaus pulled his hands down, Dorian closed his eyes.
“It’s all right,” he whispered after a long moment of silence. “You can go. I understand.”
He heard Klaus make a small noise of impatience, and then Klaus’s strong fingers were winding firmly in his hair, and a second later Klaus’s mouth was on his, firm and unhesitant and full of desire.
When their lips parted, Dorian cautiously opened his eyes. Klaus was studying his ruined face. He looked a little sad, but mostly just… Dorian didn’t dare to put a word to what else he saw there. Except that he would have given anything to see Klaus’s eyes look like that… anything except what he had given.
After a moment, Klaus spoke softly.
“You are beautiful.”
Tears obscured Dorian’s vision. “Why didn’t you ever say that when it was true?”
Klaus made no move to go, and his expression, as usual, was derisive. He pulled Dorian closer into a more comfortable embrace.
illustration by Nina