By Any Other Name
by Kay Reynolds
"Is this a private party or can anyone drop in?" Dorian felt the tremor in his voice although he congratulated himself on keeping it out of the tone. Not that he expected Klaus to have noticed. The Major was pealing out exceptionally strong, Leave me alone, vibes again. Under ordinary circumstances, Dorian would have kept his distance.
Klaus barely glanced at him. "Do what you want," he said, then returned his gaze to the fireplace.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
"You know I do not like tea."
"Something else then?"
"Right." Dorian padded over to the couch and seated himself on the floor at Klaus' feet. "Quiet it is."
The Earl concentrated on the softly flickering flames. Klaus hadn't made much of a fire, the room was quite cool except for the little half circle of heat radiating out from the hearth. Still, he reminded himself, Klaus von dem Eberbach never deigned to notice either frost or warmth. An enviable ability, the Earl supposed. Dorian brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs, hunching forward a bit. He buried his bare feet under the drape of his robe and attempted to think warm thoughts.
He couldn't begin to wonder what Klaus was doing out of bed, alone and brooding in the main room. Well, actually, that wasn't quite true. There were possibilities but none that he cared to dwell on. The big fear was that Klaus was distancing himself. Their relationship had always run hot and cold before - just never towards the bedroom. Or the bath ... or the kitchen or.... A tiny smile creased Dorian's troubled face and quickly disappeared. This recent development had been so completely and wonderfully unexpected. He didn't want to give it up. Wouldn't without a fight - except how could you fight someone with a will as strong as the Major's? When Klaus took off into one of his great brooding silences, there was no getting near him.
And that's where you're wrong again, idiot, Dorian reminded himself. Here you are - sitting right by his feet. He didn't send you away, did he? Try to get a grip on it, will you?
It was a comforting thought and one Dorian appreciated. Still, he recognized it for what it was - a diversion, something to quiet his other fears. He hadn't stopped to think about it before, hadn't actually allowed himself to, but, logically and in the not-too-far-back recesses of his mind, Dorian had been absolutely sure the nightmares would end once Victor Marsh was dead.
The Earl successfully swallowed back a groan and buried his face against the top of his knees. The irony wasn't lost on him. It was easier to think about Klaus leaving than his own ancient haunts. The one thing he could do something about, the other ... well, it seemed nothing could stop that.
Klaus moved his gaze from the hell of his own memories to the figure at his feet. Löwen's ghost had begun to fade the moment Dorian appeared in the doorway - but he couldn't tell if he were angry or relieved at that. On one hand, Klaus had actively worked to dismiss his past. On the other, those ... experiences could now serve to keep him from making a terrible mistake. After all, he was not so completely committed to this course of action - to this relationship. He would no longer deny his affection for the thief. He would not even deny that he had enjoyed their physical interaction. That had been most ... satisfactory. Klaus could even begin to believe, as Dorian had taken pains to point out, that the great condemnation of homosexuality by the church and public at large had more to do with ignorance and fear than any genuine threat of harm. Who had been injured by their actions? What could their love for each other matter to anyone? Why should it concern anyone except themselves? Löwen's words echoed again in the back of his mind, There must always be a villain.... Never let it be said that no matter what state of misery you are thrown into, there is always one that is worse. Someone you can point to and say, I am better than that.
For good or ill, Klaus had spent a lifetime in judgement of others, sizing up individual abilities, faults and virtues. In his work, it was important to know who could be trusted to keep their head when trouble hit and stayed, and who would panic and run at the first inconvenience. There had been times when the only person he could unconditionally count on was Eroica the thief - Dorian, Earl of Red Gloria.
No matter which way he looked at it, it would be difficult to give Dorian up. It wasn't a question of just setting the cat free, he'd have to be driven off. Such a feat would be difficult to achieve although, Klaus determined, it could be done ... if he had to.
But did he want to do it, did he need to? Part of him remained uncertain. Another part issued out a very enthusiastic yes, I want him, I must have him! He belongs to me. The last part answered back in a cold, still voice, Drive him away, idiot. Isn't that what Rudolph Löwen did to you?
That was how smart faggots survived, wasn't it? No attachments. Complete secrecy. Until they went off the deep end and led themselves and their men into ambush and got everybody killed. Everybody - save one.
You were the lucky one, Major Eberbach, getting loose from that outfit when you did, old Chief Twitterswell had told him with great sincerity. If you'd stayed with the Lionheart, you'd be a dead wolf now. Lucky, that's you. Smart and skilled, too, according to these reports. Good to have your sort aboard, I don't mind saying.
Klaus also hadn't minded saying what he'd thought about the Chief's pronouncement in language so lurid it had turned the old man's face red, then white. Well, so ... his new appointment had gotten off to a volatile start. Their undeclared war had continued on throughout the years.
Dorian was sitting very still at his feet, head down and face turned away. The thief wasn't quite asleep, of that Klaus was certain.
"Go back to bed." Klaus nudged him with his foot. "If you fall asleep like that, you will be all cramps tomorrow."
"I'm all cramps now," Dorian answered quietly. "It doesn't matter."
"I do not want to hear your complaining later. Go to bed."
"If you want to be alone, why don't you just say so?" There was a trace of irritation in his voice, a sign of defiance.
"As you will," Klaus snapped. "I want to be alone. Leave me."
Fine shoulders flinched then sagged under the force of those words and, immediately, Klaus wished he hadn't been so sharp. Dorian pushed himself up from the floor and started back towards the bedroom, moving along quickly until he reached the door. The Earl looked like something of a ghost himself in his long, white robe. White was the color of purity, the color of angels' robes but there was nothing much celestial about that garment. It was quilted, stitched out in fine gold and blue threads with a high, mandarin collar. The arms fit tight and there were about a hundred cloth-covered buttons closing up the front, molding the fabric over the Earl's well-formed torso. The robe flared in soft folds over his hips and waltzed gently around his ankles when he walked. No, Klaus had to confess that there wasn't much angelic about the vision Dorian conjured up although the end results did list towards the divine. He couldn't help but recall the warmth and strength in those supple limbs, the personal refuge he'd found in that body. Dorian Red Gloria was as close to heaven as Klaus had ever been ... and, considering his lifestyle, as close as he could ever hope to get.
Once again, Klaus wondered. Could he actually separate himself from all that, divorce himself permanently? Rudy Löwen would have had the strength for it and the will, too.
Dorian hesitated on the threshold, his hands locked around the doorframe. The bedroom was miserably cold. Frigid air rushed out to greet him like a vengeful spirit, eager to catch him up in its claws again. He knew what it would be like as soon as he stepped in. He heard the sound of doors closing, locks turning.
"I will be along shortly." Klaus spoke again, his voice softer now - less of a bark. "Try to sleep. We may need to work tomorrow."
"Don't want to sleep." Dorian swayed at the doorway, still bracing himself up. "Can't sleep ... it's all wrong." He finally turned to face Klaus, eyes anguished, face streaked silver with tears. "I thought it would stop, you see, once he was gone, I thought -" Dorian faltered, seeing the fury lock onto Klaus' face, watching that come nearer as the Major lurched up to his feet and made his way towards him. Still, he would rather face Klaus in a rage over that cold room again. "I'm sorry," he stammered. "I didn't want ... didn't mean to -"
And, at the last, all he could do was let himself collapse into the Major's arms. For a long while, Dorian just let himself be held, burying his face into Klaus' throat and shoulder. Fear washed over him in waves again, hammering through his body like blows. Dorian tightened his grasp, his hands going into fists against the Major's back and shoulders.
"I can't stand this," Dorian gasped out on a sob and Klaus heard anger mixed with the fear and the grief. "I can't. It was supposed to stop."
"Perhaps it will," Klaus soothed. "In time." He struggled for a better reassurance, then gave it up. The Major refused to lie. "Come and sit with me. It is warm by the fire. You feel so cold."
"That's because I am cold."
Klaus eased him towards the couch. "Why did you not tell me something was wrong when you came out?" he demanded, settling them before the hearth again. He rubbed Dorian's arms and shoulders briskly, hoping to warm him.
"There wasn't anything wrong until tonight," Dorian protested. "The dreams started up again when I was first dropping off. Didn't exactly get caught up in it, so I just tried keeping awake ... tried to think."
"But you did not tell me."
"What could I say?" Dorian gazed at him helplessly. "At first, I was scared - then I shoved it away. I was with you, wasn't I? It was easy to make myself think everything would be all right. Told myself nothing could happen." He pulled away from Klaus, falling back against the cushions. "Do you hear how stupid that sounds? As if you'd be able to get inside my head and keep all the nightfrights away. I feel like an idiot."
"It is not so terrible, what you are experiencing. I mean, it is not so unusual," Klaus quickly corrected himself. "Remember what I said to you before? You have been fighting that war with Marsh for a long time, for many years. Victor Marsh was the enemy inside here," he tapped Dorian's forehead lightly, "as well as the one you traced to that old house. The one inside your head will not go away so easily, I think."
"Even though the other one, the real one, is dead?"
"For you, they are both real."
"Balls. Bloody hell." Dorian swiped at his nose with the back of his hand. "You mean I've got this to look forward to for the rest of my life?"
"Was it really as bad as before?" Klaus asked quietly. "At least this time, you did not wake up from your sleep and try to hit me."
"Oh, god, I did that, didn't I?"
"You did." Klaus cupped Dorian's face in his hand, thumbed away a tear track. "Then you sent me a formal dismissal."
"Lucky for us you've got a mind of your own about these things." Dorian issued a sheepish smile. "I'll say it again - I was never so glad to see anyone as I was to see you that night. You've no idea how frightened I was."
"Yes. I do." Klaus enfolded the thief against him again. They sat together, for a long while, wrapped in silence and each other. Klaus was not used to finding himself in the role of comforter. His work frequently brought such opportunities into play but it was a position he had steadfastly refused. Still, he found the reward of that small smile oddly moving.
Dorian sighed. "I didn't say anything to you when you woke up because I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to think about it." He dropped his gaze and fell to smoothing a wrinkle on the lapel of Klaus' robe. "I meant to tell you when I came out but then I saw how you were feeling - I thought it was best to just drop it except I couldn't make myself go back in there."
"You could have said something," Klaus insisted.
"When I saw you sitting there, I could tell all you wanted was to be alone. I didn't want to muck things up any worse." When Dorian looked up again, his eyes flashed, defiant. "I'm not one of those clingy, weepy sorts who can't get by on their own, you know. Everything's been going a bit fast for us - like I said. It's only natural to pull back a little, to try to think things through. To be sure it's all going right, yes?" He shrugged, tossing his hair back from his face. "So, while you're having a think-through, I'm going to rush out here whining rubbish about nightmares and such? A very appealing picture that makes, doesn't it? Just the kind of romantic image to send you packing off back to Bonn - alone."
"You seem very sure that I am going to leave you."
"I'm concerned. Not sure," Dorian corrected. "If I thought you wanted to call it quits now, you'd really have a wreck on your hands."
Klaus shifted uncomfortably. "Would you like me to fix you some tea?"
"Tea? Hell, no." Astonished, Dorian gave a short laugh. "Why would I want tea?"
"Well, that is what you asked me before, when you thought I was upset. And you drink tea. You are English."
"Give the man a cigar." Dorian grinned and sniffed again, wiping away stray tears. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be such an ass. But I just can't seem to help it right now. It's scary as hell, isn't it? Loving someone, wanting someone so much." He shivered again.
"You are frightened - about us together?"
"Yes. Of course. You don't really believe all those fairy tales, do you? Everybody living happily ever after and all that rot?" Dorian reached for Klaus' cigarettes, took one and lit it up. "I don't know how to explain it. Love ... it's not just the bedroom gymnastics, I've already been that route. If you thought I've been something of a slut in my time, darling, you were right. I was. And, mostly, I had a total blast with it - but that's not love. Like the song says, you can certainly appreciate the one you're with, but actually being in love, that's another concerto."
"You believe there is a difference?" Klaus asked coolly.
"Absolutely, mien Major. Love is nothing but risk - and for the highest stakes imaginable. Your heart, your soul, your sanity. You can't control love, love controls you. It's the game that never ends - or doesn't end except when you least expect it. No warnings, just aftershocks. Like finding a bomb in your motor every time you head out for a drive."
"So," Klaus concluded, disturbed but curious. "You have been in love with someone before me."
"Yes. I was." Dorian smoked through the Major's silence, watching him for reaction. Only the barest spark in Mosel green eyes indicated that he'd heard the Earl at all. "Does that surprise you?" he finally asked.
Klaus opened his mouth to speak, then bit off something sharp and sarcastic before it could come out. "I do not know," he said. "I do not want to think about it."
"I wouldn't want to either. Not if I were in your shoes."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I'd be jealous and pissed as hell. We all wear the same size glass slipper here. It's ever so transparent and very, very fragile."
"Who was he ... this man you loved?" Klaus asked.
"He was an American. He raced cars and he was quite good at it." Dorian crushed out his cigarette, tasting its bitterness, and thought briefly of his own, milder brand. "It felt very right between us though it took us a while to get there. Mac and I started out fighting, a lot like you and me. He insulted me so I stole his car. When he tracked me down, I really think he meant to kill me. Ended up giving me driving lessons instead."
"What happened to him?"
"There was an accident at one of the races. He died. It was a long time ago."
"Mac didn't have much money. The pot can be pretty sizable but racing is expensive going till you start winning the big ones. He was being sponsored by this new tire manufacturer. I suppose they might have been all right for family jaunts and what not, they just weren't made for the track." Dorian rubbed at a spot on his forehead, closed his eyes. "The front lot blew out on the second turn. Mac tried to set the car straight but it went into a spin and hit the wall. The impact smashed in the windshield and tore off part of the roof, destroyed the roll cage. You could see how part of the wall and fence penetrated the interior. The fencing just kept ripping along with the car until it took down a section of lights. That fell off and hit, too. Then the car flipped back over and spun off into the backstretch. Flames, explosions, the works. But Mac was gone almost from the first. It was over in seconds. Takes longer to tell, actually."
"You saw it happen. You were there."
"Oh, yes. It was a big day for him. Where else would I have been?"
Klaus shook his head, shrugged.
Dorian looked up. His eyes were dry but glittering in the firelight. "You know, I'm awfully thirsty. Didn't you get us some brandy?"
"May I have some, please?"
Klaus got up from the couch and walked towards the kitchen. He returned shortly with two glasses and the bottle.
"You and Mac have something in common," Dorian said after a brief silence. "Besides me, that is."
"Neither of you care a spit for art."
"What of it?"
"Nothing. Just an interesting point, I thought." Dorian held the glasses while Klaus filled them. "Did you happen to notice that dreadful bust of the Madonna in my studio?"
"It was impossible to miss." Klaus re-corked the bottle and set it on the floor. He retrieved his glass. "I do not have much eye for art, that is true. Nor do I wish to be educated regarding the niceties," he warned firmly. "Still, I could see the difference there - with or without the racing glasses." A brow arched up over one green eye. "Those glasses belonged to your lover?"
"Originally. He gave them to me." Dorian sipped at the liquor. It wasn't brandy, it was cognac - Remy Martin, one of the very best, much smoother than the lot Charlie Kello had tried on him. A small smile danced onto his lips. "The bust was a gift, too. Mac knew how I loved art ... `paintings and statues and all that shit,' that's what he used to call it. He purchased that atrocity in Venice when we were touring through and presented it to me that night in our room. He was so pleased - and I hardly knew what to say. What could I say but `thank you'? Words couldn't begin to describe...." Dorian's smile deepened recalling the memory. "Mac couldn't tell the difference between a Bustelli porcelain and a plastic Kewpie doll. It was all the same to him. Well, you know what they say, it's the thought that counts."
"Apparently this incident happened a long while ago," Klaus said casually, swallowing relief and cognac. "A difficult time, yes, but you are over it."
"No, I'm not. You're not ever over it." Dorian ran his hand back through his hair, shoving it out of his face. "Mac pops into my head at the strangest times - something someone says or does, something that catches my eye reminds me of him - and it makes my heart remember."
"Does it hurt you?"
"Sometimes. Yes, it does." Dorian regarded him frankly. "But most of the memories are good ones. If I try for that, it's not too bad."
"What is the worst about it?" Klaus demanded abruptly. "What do you miss most about him? What makes the loss of him more terrible than that of anyone else?"
"Goddess, you're a hard one, aren't you? You really want me to draw you a picture, photo-real, every tear in place." Dorian drew in a shaky breath, chewing at his lower lip. "It's never easy losing anyone you love. What can I tell you? With Mac, it was that I couldn't see him anymore, couldn't touch him, couldn't talk with him. You get so used to planning and doing things together - part of a pair - and then you're on your own. All alone. All you've got left are memories that only get worse when you dwell on them because then you get stuck in their potential. It can hit you hard - the restaurant that was your favorite that you can't ever go to again. Can't even stand being on the same street. It's a new film with his favorite actor that you know he'll never see. Some book he might have fancied, a joke you can't share. Dreadful but wonderful gifts you're never going to get again.... You loop 'round to thinking about what all you'll miss together, what you've lost...."
"And it makes you angry," Klaus finished, blunt and final.
"Yes." Dorian's eyes widened, surprised. "You get pissed because you're the one left behind to deal with the wreckage. Then guilty because ... well, because."
The Major nodded briskly. "Did others know he was a homosexual or did he keep it to himself?"
"Mac kept his private life private as much as he could. He was too much in the public eye."
"So you were the outlaw in his life, too?"
"It may have started out that way, if I guess what you mean. We loved each other ... exclusively. When it came to our relationship, I think Mac considered us both outlaws."
"You did not?"
"I do not. There's a difference."
"Make no mistake, I stopped aspiring to the conventional years ago. Rules and laws only present a challenge to be overcome. Being homosexual is one of my more natural qualities - like having blond hair and blue eyes. Of course, I do have rather spectacular hair and eyes."
Dorian's attempt at levity was met with grim silence as Klaus finished off his cognac and poured another. Dismally, the Earl regarded Klaus from over the rim of his own glass. He inhaled the rich aroma and took another cautious sip. All things considered, he would have preferred being drunk. Passing out would most effectively postpone this discussion ... which didn't seem to be going but so well. Klaus seemed bent on building walls around himself. But passing out would bring sleep and sleep ... might not bring the hoped for oblivion. Still, at any rate, the Earl had never been one to shy away from a confrontation. These subjects had to be addressed.
Dorian heaved out a weary sigh. He was sitting with his feet on the couch, tucked up in front of him, back braced against the over-padded arm. Klaus had placed himself at the opposite end, stiff and formal as usual. The Major had gone back to studying the hearth-fire as if he were the only one left in the room again. The distance between them felt like miles.
"I wish I could make things easier for you," Dorian began wistfully. "Loving someone, making it work out right ... that's hard enough without all the extra baggage we're dragging about. I've never been ashamed of what I am. But I know if I were one of my sisters, you could take me along home to meet your father and we'd post the engagement and all would be normal. But-"
"Do not be absurd." Klaus quickly dismissed that line of thought. "I do not want that. I have never wanted that."
Dorian blinked, taken aback. "What do you want then?"
Klaus turned to regard him frankly, looking him over from head to toe. "Apparently, I want you," he snapped.
"Well, hallelujah. I think."
"Are pagans allowed to use words like that?"
"Pagans can say or do most anything they want as long as they don't actively seek to harm anyone. Why do you ask?" Dorian's smile tilted up at one corner. "Thinking of converting, are you?"
"No." Klaus grinned, a wolfish expression, wondering how his father might react at such a development. It could be worth it, he thought, just to see the look on the old devil's face.
Dorian grinned back at him, lapping at a droplet of cognac on the rim of his glass. He looked very tired but happy, too. Happier, suddenly, than Klaus could ever recall seeing him despite the night's devastation.
"What are you thinking about?" the Earl queried gently. "You've got such an expression on your face."
"I am thinking we should talk about your nightmares, about Victor Marsh," Klaus decided, nodding. "We need to take care of that."
Dorian sobered instantly. He physically flinched, jerking back so suddenly that he might have fallen if he hadn't been wedged so securely into the corner of the couch.
"Why do we have to talk about him?" the Earl demanded. "It's all done with now."
"You know that is not so."
"Please, I'm feeling so much better. And I'm so tired. We should get some sleep."
"That is true, we should. And right now, we probably could sleep," Klaus agreed. "But what about later? What will you do then? Dorian, we cannot stay here forever. I cannot be with you as you would like ... as I would like. I will have to go back to Bonn and my work very soon. You will go home to your people. What will happen to you then?"
"Doesn't make any difference. What happens then, happens then. This is now. It's different."
"No, it is not."
Klaus noted how the knuckles on Dorian's hands were going white around his glass. He reached over and pried it loose before it could shatter, then set it on the floor. When he sat up again, he caught Dorian watching him, his eyes made huge with apprehension. The thief sat with his legs drawn up tight against his chest, his hands clenched into fists atop his knees. That strong chin jutted out at a familiar, stubborn angle. His lips were drawn in a fine, pale line. The set of his jaw meant he'd clamped his teeth down solid. If Dorian hadn't been holding himself so rigidly, Klaus knew he'd be shaking.
Every atom in the Major's body suddenly ached for him. All he wanted most now was to open his arms, to take him to his heart and hold him.
"Do you actually believe I mean to hurt you?" Klaus asked instead. "Do you think I would take pleasure in that now?"
"No," the Earl gasped out, shocked away from fury. "No, I don't think that."
Klaus nodded, moved once again by the thief's unwavering conviction. Dorian was so willing to believe in his love; he was so much better able to trust than Klaus had ever been.
"I have known men who have lived through battles, through wars," the Major began again, thrusting unwelcome thoughts away. "Their worst wounds were not visible ones, they were inside. With time, the damage scabs over but it does not heal cleanly. It goes to poison and, after the passage of years, the wounds are worse than before."
"Battle fatigue, shell shock, post war syndrome." Dorian scowled, frustrated. Klaus was not going to let it go. "Yes, I've heard all about that."
"So, then you realize that you are being stupid and stubborn about this?"
"I'm not being stupid," Dorian blazed back. "And I'm not lying!"
Klaus regarded him sharply. "I never said you were lying."
"Didn't you?" The anger had returned, as raw and livid as an open wound.
"But I heard -" Dorian's gaze darted around the room, actively seeking escape. He crushed himself even more firmly into his corner. "I heard..." he began again and faltered, the rage rising and dying out of him again. Dorian shook his head, letting his hair fall forward to cover his face, then dropped into silence.
"So," Klaus continued casually - Interrogation 101, lesson 1 - "what happens in your dreams? What do you see?"
"Nothing. Darkness." Reluctantly, the words came out through clenched teeth. "Just darkness."
"A locked door."
"A locked door?" Klaus heard the surprise in his voice. "That is impossible. You are a thief, you have been a thief since you were a child. There is no such thing as a locked door for you." They both knew that was true. Curiosity was Dorian's only genuine nemesis, his single natural enemy. The thief would have picked Hitler's pocket out of idle interest if he'd had the opportunity. It was that sort of talent, skill and inclination which made him such a good operative, such an excellent cat's paw.
"In your dream, do you know this room?" Klaus continued.
"Yes. It's my room, the one in the tower ... my bedroom. But it's all wrong. All empty."
"Did Marsh put you there?"
"No." Another smaller shake of the head. "No, Marsh is an idiot."
Klaus kept back his surprise. "An idiot? How so?"
"Well, it was easy to see that from the start, yes?" Dorian's head came up again, defiant. "There was something wrong about him, I knew that."
"You could tell he was homosexual?"
"No. Don't be daft. Didn't you know any gay men growing up?"
"No." Klaus began to shake his head, then reconsidered. "If I did, they did not advertise it."
"Well, I knew plenty. My father had lots of interesting friends and they were always coming over to the house, any place we were staying. My mother, the Countess, didn't always like it much but what could she say about it? What could she do?"
"Your father allowed his children to -"
"Let's try to get this straight, shall we? Once and for all." Dorian released another sigh. "Adult gay men don't go running after small boys any more than, say, your father might lust for baby girls. If anything, the ones I met were rather sensitive on the issue. I know I am."
Dorian nodded once and went on. "A lot of them had been shunted off from their own families. They had no one of their own. They were all awfully good to me and, if they'd known anyone to try to harm me or my sisters, you can bet there'd have been hell to pay all around."
"So where did Victor Marsh come from?"
"The Countess found him."
"Under a rock?"
Dorian glanced up, his eyes round and serious. "No, not there, at a presentation ... a charity concert. Some function the Royals were promoting. Marsh was quite the celebrity, just back from a series of world tours. He gave out that he intended to make his home in London again and would give lessons in addition to his recording and conducting and so forth."
"So your mother arranged for you to become one of Marsh's pupils. What did your father think of him?"
"He didn't think anything, not that I could tell. Why should he?"
"No one thought it unusual that a man of Marsh's stature would take up the teaching of children?"
"It wasn't anything that anyone thought to question," Dorian said. "Everyone thought he was making the noble gesture, teaching talented children. Just doing his bit to advance the arts. We all auditioned for him. My sisters and I had been taking lessons since we'd dropped out of the chute. I was the one he picked."
"Oh, yes. Of course." Dorian laughed briefly and bitterly. "It's all so clear to me now. Every detail. I can't believe I'd forgotten it all. At any rate, I was quite a show-off at the audition, you can just imagine."
"I can." Klaus kept his expression neutral and tried not to grind his teeth. "How old were you?"
"Nearly eleven and positively obnoxious. A real prat. I lorded it over the girls about being chosen. They didn't much like that. But, you know, it was one of the few times I remember my mother being pleased with me." Dorian attempted another laugh but the catch in his voice betrayed him. Klaus looked up quickly only to have the Earl turn his face away again.
"Well, as you can guess, the lessons didn't go so well," Dorian continued. "They turned out to be little more than exercises in discipline. Excuses for the cane and so forth. Quite a blow to my irrepressible ego. I couldn't say to this day if I was good or bad or what, I just knew I didn't like it. I especially didn't like Dr. Marsh and I didn't want to go anymore. I was fairly certain the Countess wouldn't understand, so at first, I just took off. Didn't show. Figured he'd get the message and drop me."
"That did not happen."
"No. Marsh told Mother. I came home from one of the lessons, which I'd skipped, and found him there finishing up tea with the Countess and my sisters."
"Where was your father during all this?"
"Staying out of it for the most part. He was stuck in the middle of one of his great business affairs, getting ready to go abroad again. I told him about the caning and all. Marsh was really into that. He'd start out with your hands, every time you'd make a mistake. First the backs, next time the palms, each time worse. And you couldn't half play right because you were smarting so. And then, well, you know the drill. He never broke skin and he never left marks that lasted more than a few hours. But I'd never been treated like that before and I hated it. Dad gave me the, `you wanted to do this - we all have our obligations and responsibilities,' speech. But he also promised to have a word with Marsh."
"Yes, but then the Countess had a word with Dad. I heard them arguing while Dad was getting ready for his trip. She was angry because Dad had spoken to Dr. Marsh. She went on about what a spoiled lot I was and discipline was what was lacking in my education and they should all be thanking Dr. Marsh for taking such an interest. Mostly she talked about how humiliated she was. The Countess is always being humiliated. She's got quite a talent for it."
Dorian's voice trailed off into painful silence, choked still by recollections he had no wish to share. His parents had spent a good deal of time arguing. As he'd grown older, their favorite subject matter had changed from concerns over his father's flamboyant lifestyle to the current sins of the young Earl-to-be - of which there were, generally speaking, plenty.
Klaus allowed Dorian his moment of silence. He stood up and placed another log on the fire, prodding at the coals until the flames soared up. Moving back to the couch, he snagged up Dorian's glass and filled it again. Held it out.
"Drink this," Klaus said. "Your voice sounds very hoarse. Do not break the glass."
Gratefully, Dorian accepted the cognac and drained it. The liquid felt good sliding down his throat but, aside from that, he couldn't taste or feel much effect from it. The next thing he was aware of was Klaus sitting on the couch beside him, putting his arm around him and pulling him into the warmth and shelter of his body.
"You are making me ache, sitting all bunched up like that," the
"You're making me ache talking about all this misery," Dorian returned sharply. "I thought you were into secrets."
"I am. However, you are not much of a secret-keeper about this. Would you like another drink?"
"Plying me with liquor are you? Trying to get me drunk?"
"If that is what is necessary." Klaus shifted again, turning Dorian and sliding his arm under the Earl's legs. He lifted once, effortlessly, and when they were settled again, Dorian was sitting on his lap. Klaus lifted his chin to stare down into brilliant blue. He shook his head gravely. "You look terrible."
"Oh, that's lovely." Dorian made a face. "I really needed to hear that. Thank you, ever so. Bastard."
The wolf's grin returned. Angry, Dorian tried to jerk his head away but Klaus held on too firmly. In the next instant, despite his protests, he found himself being kissed. Klaus' hand had slipped around to the back of his head, holding him still. The other arm was wrapped around him, wire rope binding him up tight. It wasn't such a pleasant kiss. Dorian's mouth was stale with cigarettes and liquor, he hadn't cleaned up much from before either and Klaus certainly wasn't in any better state. But the kiss went on, Klaus forcing his lips open, unshaven skin scouring against his own, burning. Dorian struggled harder, trying to turn his head away, fighting to breathe. The cognac rushed into his bloodstream, pounded into his skull. Heat enveloped him in a fine film of perspiration, warming and slicking his skin. At first, Dorian tried shoving Klaus away but his position on the Major's lap was awkward and he was too easily pinned. Too easily persuaded as well. Somehow it seemed, he had stopped pushing Klaus away and begun pulling him into his own embrace. When Klaus began to caress him, Dorian moved into that touch, arching up into the hand that had found its way beneath his robe. It was impossible. Dorian was hurting in nearly every atom of his anatomy, every muscle had cried out for a halt some hours earlier, and yet now, feeling Klaus' hands on him again, all he wanted was more. This was an oblivion that he could understand, that he could control.
Dorian wrenched his head back with a cry, baring his throat. Klaus followed, licking at the sweat beneath his chin and along the curve of his neck while his hand stroked harder, explored deeper. Dorian thrust up into Klaus' fist, opening his legs to allow greater access. It was rough work, ruder and more brutal than the sort Dorian liked to participate in. The couch was one of those short, cut off numbers and didn't allow for much maneuvering space. It felt as much like doing battle, as if he were fighting for his life, than it did making love.
And Dorian didn't like it, didn't want it like this. He wanted it to stop.
At the last, Dorian found himself captured and held fast. They lay on their sides, Dorian's back to Klaus' front. Somewhere along the way, his tears had started up again, flowing uncontrollably until his body was racked with sobs. It was like being hit repeatedly in the stomach. The Earl drew his legs up, groaning, fighting against grief and terror.
As if he'd known it would happen, Klaus sensed the moment as soon as it arrived. He knew enough to stop, enough to go still and hold him until the worst was over.
"Talk to me," Klaus whispered. "Go on - finish it now."
"Why won't you let me alone?" Dorian pleaded. "Please ... please - just leave it, won't you?"
"We cannot. You must finish this," Klaus insisted, fiercely. "You must." Dorian shuddered in his arms, his breath rasping in and out of his throat as if his voice had rusted. "You are stronger than Marsh," Klaus hissed. "You are smarter. But every minute you hold onto his secrets, you give him power over you. Every time you try to forget and pretend that what happened does not matter, you give him strength. You play his games, use his rules and you let him win! The man is dead but still he controls you. You let him hurt you - again and again."
"No! No - that's not true. I never let him. I never did it. I got away." Dorian's hands closed over the Major's, fingers digging into his flesh. "I never let him."
"Just tell me," Klaus whispered and fell into promising, hoping he wasn't lying. "It will all stop if you just tell me what happened."
"You don't know that." The voice had gone less hoarse and taken on more of the sing-song quality of a frightened child. "You don't. You can't."
"Neither do you."
Klaus waited in agonizing silence while Dorian considered. The Major knew that, if their positions had been reversed, he could not have talked, trust and hope were not part of his regular routine. But Dorian was made of different material. Fancy and dream was his daily bill of fare; Dorian believed in and trusted others to do his will, to carry out his orders - just as they, in turn, trusted the Earl-turned-thief to care for them.
But despite the change in their relationship, Klaus didn't know if Dorian could trust him enough to believe he could provide for him as well. How could he comprehend that Klaus wanted to take care of him when the Major could barely understand it himself? They had been not-so-friendly enemies for so many years, each constantly striving to master the other. They had been lovers for only a matter of hours and too much of their time together had been consumed with fighting.
Well, that was the usual situation between them, wasn't it? How could that ever change? Klaus wasn't sure he wanted it to. To date, Dorian Red had been the only one to successfully call his bluff, to challenge him, to face him down. No matter how much he complained to the contrary, Klaus knew he did not want that to stop.
"Can we sit up now?" Dorian finally asked. "I've got a cramp in my leg."
Klaus nodded, relieved to change position, and pushed himself up after the Earl.
Dorian stood, turning his back to the Major, straightening his robe with an uncharacteristic show of modesty. He glanced at Klaus over his shoulder.
"I'm going to the bathroom."
"Go ahead," Klaus returned, too shaken to hide his feelings. Dorian sounded almost normal again and his movements, though restrained, looked more natural. He looked terrible and wonderful at the same time, an angel enmeshed in the wars - but surviving. There was such terrible dignity about him.
Dorian walked towards the bathroom, pausing to look back from the doorway.
"Fix me a cup of tea, will you?"
"You want tea?" Klaus asked, incredulous. "Now?"
"It calls for tea, I think. Something civilized."
Klaus found himself still sitting and thinking moments after the door closed on the Earl. Eventually, he forced himself into the kitchen. Moving on automatic pilot, he busied himself putting water on to boil, setting up cups, saucers and accessories. Almost as an afterthought, he set a dish of cream out for the green-eyed, ever observant cat.
Later, when Dorian came out of the bathroom, tea was ready and Klaus was waiting.
The Earl sat down on the couch, settling beside Klaus. He'd washed his face and hands, brushed out his hair. It drifted in a yellow wreath of curls around a too-pale face. Silently, Klaus watched him prepare his tea, as proper and elegant as any gentlemen in any courtly parlor.
"Smoke if you wish, Major," Dorian said. "As you said, I know you don't care for tea."
"Thank you," Klaus returned, politely. "Perhaps later."
Dorian inclined his head and busied himself, fastidiously, at consuming the beverage. Klaus studied him in the firelight. Dorian, himself, seemed intent on his own silence. From the flicker beneath lowered lashes, he was looking at things Klaus couldn't see, moving inward towards some kind of decision. The Earl seemed locked far away within himself.
Klaus kept the quiet between them.
"You were right before," Dorian said after a while. "Whenever things get very bad, you can trust the English to go for tea."
"Are things so very bad?" Klaus asked.
"I don't imagine they'll ever get much worse."
"Well ... perhaps not."
"I notice you don't try to tell me they can only get better."
"You are the one to think in those terms," Klaus said. "I can only accept what happens as it takes place."
Dorian finished his tea. He placed the cup and saucer neatly on the floor. Sitting up, he folded his hands in his lap and regarded Klaus carefully. Anxiety deepened the shadows around the thief's grand eyes.
"Do you love me?" Dorian asked.
"Yes," Klaus said. "Although it has not been an easy thing for me to do." He paused, then concluded, "I do not believe it ever will be."
"You took care of him, didn't you? Marsh is gone. And you did it for me."
"You put an end to him."
Dorian nodded once, quickly, to himself, his decision made. "Well, then," he began. "Let's try to put an end to the rest of him."
There were times at the critical point of every mission when time backed up on itself. Klaus knew it was a cliché but he understood first hand how minutes could and would go on like hours. There were moments, sitting in the main room of the safehouse listening to Dorian talk, that Klaus found himself glancing towards the night shrouded windows and hoping for dawn. The daylight hour seemed long overdue but still the sun kept its distance. The area beyond their small circle of firelight remained dark and ominous, filled with flickering, poisonous shadows.
And still Dorian kept talking, relating a history of events that had taken place years ago. Klaus could only listen which, in itself, was hard to do. The Major was a man of action. He prided himself on the best use of controlled fury. Others might monitor their cholesterol level or fat content or heart rate. Klaus monitored rage. It was the fuel that drove him.
His work brought him into contact with the best and the worst humanity had to offer. For every very good agent there were half a dozen others that could be labeled monsters. Klaus had discovered early in his career that employment for these people was guaranteed in both Eastern and Western factions. No one side could pride itself on besting the other in that category. Klaus knew the killers, the stalkers, the predators. Hell, he was a killer himself, an executioner, and he was very, very good when the occasion called for it. But Klaus knew the psychotics, too - women and men, who got a rush from the infliction of pain on others and, occasionally, themselves. They were the kind who never burned out, the kind whose every mutilation brought a jolt of pleasure. They were the ones who'd be back for a new assignment before the blood had dried on the walls.
Now Klaus listened to a description of terrorist activities that had been carried out upon a pampered child. Forsaken by the adults who should have protected him, the boy had been handed over into the custody of a human beast. At ten years of age, Dorian should not have been able to stand up to the continuing and escalating psychological and physical abuse. But he had. Armed with nothing more than his own willfulness, his pride and a childish devious-ness, Dorian had met Marsh head on - and stubbornly refused to break. In his mind's eye, Klaus could easily picture Victor Marsh's delight in his young adversary. Certainly, the man's physical strength was such that he could have overcome the boy at almost any time. He could very well have gotten away with it, too. And why not? The parents, particularly the mother, had gifted the animal with a carte blanche in regards to their child. The mother redefined vanity; she was only concerned with how to enhance her own image and prevent damage to herself. It served her purpose that a celebrity like Marsh, a favorite of the crown, had taken an interest in her boy - her property - and, by association, herself. If sucking up to Marsh and serving her son up on a platter would preserve her position, she would look the other way ... towards her envious hordes. The woman's concern with what other people thought of her overwhelmed practically every other instinct.
No, Marsh would have played the game out, he would have endeavored to make it last as long as he could. And once Dorian had faced down the latest challenge, absorbed and deflected the latest torment, Victor Marsh had had plenty of time to come up with something new. Something entertaining for the next lesson.
Dorian kept his position close to Klaus on the couch. From time to time, he leaned towards the Major's warmth, an almost timid gesture of need. Klaus watched him with acute interest, conscious of every movement. The pauses in his narrative were growing slightly longer as physical and emotional exhaustion set in. Although he'd stopped crying long ago, the thief sat nearly doubled over on himself, a young child alone and lost in a terrible place, caught up in ghastly trouble. Dorian spoke very softly, whispering his secrets. He looked like he might bolt and hide if he could.
Klaus edged closer, placing his hand on Dorian's arm. "So, Dr. Marsh managed to tumble you into the toy chest," he prompted. "What happened then?"
"He locked it up."
"Yes. And then?"
"He went away." Dorian curled, if possible, into an even tighter ball. "But I knew he'd be back." He fell into quiet again.
"How did you feel?" Klaus asked, deliberately cool.
"Scared." Dorian was shaking visibly. He swallowed back nausea. "I was scared."
"Because I knew he meant to hurt me. This time. The way he'd hurt Robbie White."
Klaus nodded, they'd already been over that. Dorian hadn't been Marsh's only student. The man had managed to bully the others into silence but the boys had talked among themselves. Still, none of them had felt that they could turn to another adult for help. Marsh had chosen his victims - and their families - very well.
"What happened then? What did you do?" Klaus continued, trying to keep his voice calm and level.
"Well, after a bit, I checked out the lock, yes? There wasn't anything else to do." A small frown settled on his lips. "Robbie said Marsh didn't come back for a long time once he'd been shut in ... at least, it felt like a long time. I guess he was doing that to scare him."
"I believe you guess correctly."
Dorian nodded. "So, yes, I checked out the lock. I'd never done one like that before and I was never very good about picking them from the inside out. I didn't have my tools with me...." The frown deepened, skin drawn tight over the bones of his face. "I've never made that mistake again."
Klaus gaped at him, disbelieving. "You have your tools with you now?"
"Supposed to be a secret." A sly smile flirted back, touched blue eyes briefly. "If I tell you where, it won't be much of a secret anymore, will it?"
"No, it will not." Klaus squeezed his arm, encouraging. "Continue."
"It took a while but I picked the lock and got the box open," Dorian finished. "Then I ran for home."
"You do not sound very pleased."
"Well, I wasn't pleased. It was worse at home."
"How could it have been worse?"
"Because I blabbed, I talked. I told her what happened."
"You told your mother?"
"Of course her. Who else would I have told, the bloody sphinx?" Angry, Dorian swiped at his nose with his sleeve. "I was fairly pleased with myself for getting loose. I nearly ran all the way, didn't wait for the car or anything. Busted in on her and my sisters and told her everything. About - about all of it. Told her I was done with Marsh and I wasn't ever going back there. She couldn't ever make me go back there! Not ever!"
"What did she say?"
"Didn't say anything. Not at first. She hit me. Slapped me so hard,
I nearly fell over." Dorian's hands went into white knuckled fists. "She called me a liar. Slapped me again. She said - dreadful things."
"Your mother didn't believe you?"
"No ... the Countess said I'd made it all up. She said that I was spoiled and wretched, that I only wanted to get my own way all the time, only wanted to make her miserable. She said I was always living in stories and making things up, telling lies. But this was the worst I'd done yet. The worst. She just kept ... screaming at me. Even my sisters were frightened."
"What happened then?"
"She sent me up to my room. Told me I had to stay there until I told the truth." Dorian's eyes widened, remembering. "She locked me in."
"Why would she do that?" Klaus asked. "Surely she understood that you could get out whenever you wanted."
"No ... no I couldn't. I wasn't supposed to do that. The Countess had forbidden me to play with the locks in the house. And I knew if I did, she'd just go for Dad. She'd blame him for it - and then we wouldn't get to do anything together anymore. No more adventures. Nothing."
"So you stayed in your room?" Green eyes had gone dark and grim.
Dorian nodded, chewing his lip. "For days ... thought if I could just wait until Dad got home, if I could just talk to him ... tell him...." He focused in on the fire, watching the flames lick at the logs, grasping at bits of memory. "But the Countess was so angry with me. She kept demanding I apologize to Dr. Marsh and I wouldn't. I wouldn't! She had the servants take everything out of my room. Everything - but the bed and dresser and chair. When I came down for meals, she wouldn't let anyone speak to me ... and nobody did! Nobody would even look at me." Dorian raised stricken eyes towards the Major. "They pretended as if I wasn't even there ... and all my things from upstairs were gone and I couldn't get out. At dinner, I'd ask for the milk or the salt, just so they'd have to notice, you see - but they just pretended I wasn't there - everyone except Mother. I'd see her at the end of the table and she'd look at me. And she'd smile."
Dorian caught his breath hard, held it. Memory hit him with all the force of a club. Alarmed, Klaus watched him draw in on himself, posture going as still as stone.
"I was supposed to be safe there," Dorian snapped. "I was supposed to be safe - and they were supposed to take care of me. And those were my things. That was my room! It was supposed to be safe." He turned on Klaus, furious. "Nobody helped me. I got away from Marsh myself - and nobody helped. Nobody believed me. She called me a liar!"
"I know," Klaus said. "You were only a child - what else could you do?"
"Nothing," Dorian choked, caught between rage and defeat. "Nothing...."
Klaus hesitated, then said, "But that cannot be. You had to have taken some action."
But Dorian wasn't responding to the Major's queries. He was looking beyond Klaus, beyond the firelight, riding a tide of memory and struggling to stay abreast of the wave. Trying, Klaus realized, not to drown.
The room crackled with silence. Klaus found himself holding his breath and forced himself to exhale. Through the window, he could see the sky finally lightening. The gray dawn leeched the room of color. Dorian's curls looked nearly white in this light, his skin had gone the color of chalk.
"Mother came up to my room after dinner one night," Dorian continued stiffly. "She'd come to tell me that Dad was coming home ... and he was very angry.... I didn't want to believe her ... but...." He gave a little sigh, the sound of a defeated child. "Don't remember much of that. Even now. I lost it completely. Confessed. Told her she'd been right all along ... told her how sorry I was. Didn't mean to cause such a fuss. It was just a joke, just a game. What's so horrible now is - I believed it. Had to. Only way out ... only way...." He took in a deep breath, choked. "Of course, she forgave me completely. She was so kind to me then, so nice. I remember her crying for me, with me. She was so kind...."
The Earl closed his eyes, shut his lips. A shudder convulsed through his body and his shoulders sagged. Immediately, Klaus had his arms around him, pulling him against him, pressing his face into his shoulder. He held Dorian there for a long time, feeling anger and revulsion in nearly equal parts.
So the woman had finally done it, accomplished what Marsh had tried to do and never succeeded at - she'd crushed her own child, shattered his spirit and broken his heart as well.
And for what? Klaus blazed. What prize could be worth a child's soul?
Eventually, Dorian uncoiled enough to hold Klaus back. He cried a little but, to the Major's relief, the tears were mostly gone. This was the cleansing grief that preceded exhaustion and finally sleep. Klaus said nothing, just continued to hold him until the sun had taken its rightful place on the horizon.
It was a shock to the system. Klaus had never known his own mother although he'd lived with the memory of her. Still, nothing he'd conjured in his own fantasies could compare with the ruthless self-interest Dorian's mother had displayed. Mothers weren't supposed to be like that.
But then fathers weren't supposed to be cold, calculating, dog-killing despots either.
So ... what happened when Snow White lost her title to her younger daughter? How did the Prince of Charm-come-King discipline his sons? Klaus had always considered it somewhat suspect that those fairy tale children were never found much at home. Always they were using their own wits and resources to get them out of whatever hellish mess they'd dropped into. Fairy folk might turn up to wave a helpful wand or two but parents usually fell into the category of the willfully stupid or openly hostile. Apparently fiction mirrored truth closer than he'd ever thought.
This was very bad. The world, which had been evil enough to begin with, had suddenly become much more malignant, much colder....
Except for the warmth he held in his arms. Klaus shifted position, cradling Dorian more comfortably against him. The thief remained locked in sleep, his face peaceful beneath the ravages of grief and shock. And even now, Dorian still managed to keep hold of him.
Suddenly Klaus understood. They would never know any ceremony, there could never be any visible sign of their commitment - but it would be there. Always. You can't control love, love controls you, that's what Dorian had told him earlier. It was true. Autonomous or not - right, wrong or conclusively damned, Klaus could no more force Dorian away or give him up than he'd consider hacking off his right arm.
The wolf's grin returned, weary but genuine. Tension rolled away from him in waves and he thought about bed and sleep for both of them. Together. As partners. As lovers.
Klaus thought he might, given the incentive, be better at that than either one of them could stand.