Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!
Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Chapter Four

 

The phone rang on Chief Inspector Raymond Shaffer's desk. Klaus picked it up on the first ring. "Eberbach," he answered with his usual terse courtesy. The Major listened for a moment, then handed the receiver to Inspector Shaffer. "It's for you," he growled.

"Thank you," Shaffer responded with scathing sarcasm. "This is my office, you know. My desk. My phone." The Inspector had long ago had his fill of what he not-so-privately termed, "the German Wolf and his blond bitch."

"Excuse me." Klaus' apology was automatic and not in the least sincere. The antagonism was mutual.

Dorian Red Gloria shot the Major a pleading glance from his far-corner seat. The Earl was doing his best to remain as inconspicuous as possible, never an easy task. He had always turned heads everywhere he went. His early choices had been: A-Become a timid recluse. B-Enjoy it and make the most of it. He had long ago opted for "B."

Still, even Dorian understood that a visit to Scotland Yard's Special Investigation Branch required a certain decorum. Even the very phrase - Scotland Yard - was enough to send shivers of doom racing up and down his rogue's spine. It put all of his intuitive nerves to screaming. He gazed covertly at the assembled horde, tallying the count once again. The office was inundated with no less than three regular inspectors, a constable and a very official, uniformed male secretary. Other law enforcement types wandered in and out at will. Dorian knew exactly how a cat would feel when dropped into a den of suspicious and territorial mastiffs.

Inspector Shaffer finished his conversation and set the phone down. He didn't look happy.

"That was our Deputy Commissioner Garrett," Shaffer said. "He's spent the last few hours talking with various representatives from SACEUR, SACLANT and the Channel Command as well as your Section Chief. It's a messy affair, isn't it? Americans - especially the dead American - Indian children, British citizens - once again, dead. Quite a combination. Quite a mystery, all things considered." He focused, significantly, at Dorian.

The Earl smiled bravely and sent up another silent prayer that Klaus would not do or say anything more to annoy the Chief Inspector. He might just as well have issued a request for snow cones in Hell.

"I would have thought the material discovered at Dr. Marsh's home would have answered any questions you may have had," Klaus said, launching the debate once again.

"I would have preferred to question Dr. Marsh personally."

"One of Marsh's associates is still alive. I should think he will be sufficient to generate further information." Klaus lit up another Gauloises and dropped the match into an overflowing saucer. A cloud of smoke drifted up to wreathe the Inspector's "No Smoking" sign on the wall.

"It is still difficult for me to believe you simply stumbled onto your information," the Inspector said.

"I did not stumble onto anything," Klaus replied, cold. "There was an informant. But, as I told you before, the identity must remain confidential."

"It's hard to believe a man of Dr. Marsh's reputation was so involved in this atrocity." Shaffer tapped a pencil against the top of his desk in an angry little rhythm. "He was a prominent member of society, a celebrity, a master of his craft - until his injury. The man had retired to a quiet life, teaching piano, living on his disability pension and old record royalties. But you say he was trying to destroy evidence, trying to escape - that he came at you with the intent to kill. You are describing a very violent man."

"Who demonstrated a distinctive preference for certain kinds of brutality. Dr. Marsh was very much trying to escape me when I shot him, Inspector. Of that, I can assure you." Klaus exhaled another cloud of smoke. Crushed out his cigarette and lit another. "Of course he lived quietly. Vermin go about their business quietly. Marsh did not maintain the kind of livelihood that would encourage inspection. But we have seen his police records now -"

"Nothing was ever proved." Raymond Shaffer scowled. "Nothing ever went to court."

"No. He went to a clinic instead to be cured of his problems. It did not work very well, did it? Perhaps if you had followed up on him, you would have discovered his activities yourself." The Major's eyes flashed. "But you did not investigate him. As you have pointed out during these past few hours, Doctor Marsh had many friends in high places. I suppose some of them might be concerned with what you will be finding in that house near the wharves."

"What I want to know right now is why you were at that house? Most specifically, I want to know why the Earl of Gloria was there."

"The Earl is an associate. A friend," Klaus replied, stiffly. "He knows of my work. He asked me to investigate information which he had received, as I told you, in confidence. I did not take him seriously at first. My mistake. You know the rest."

"What I know is that the Earl of Red Gloria is an admitted homosexual," Shaffer's voice held the sting of acid. "And that he harbors other secrets as well. Secrets that have long gone ignored by the Crown and the Yard. You haven't played many of your little games at home, have you, your Lordship? Don't look so surprised. We know of your relationship with Major von dem Eberbach. It's no great secret."

The room went still around them. Dorian stiffened in his chair, poised to spring and run. Klaus' eyes flashed again; his movements became more fluid, demonstrating a predator's grace before the killing blow.

"If that is true," the Major began. "If you know we work together, then you should understand our work last night was legitimate."

"What I know, what I understand and what goes down on paper are usually two different things. You've been in this business long enough to understand that. I don't like it. I never have," the Inspector snapped back. "I won't pretend with you, Major. I don't much care for maverick soldiers no matter what their rank. And I don't like thieves. Especially aristocratic thieves who think they're above the law."

"You think I was one of Marsh's clients, don't you?" Dorian broke in quietly. "You believe the Major followed me there and interrupted some kind of business transaction. You believe he killed Marsh to cover for me."

The Inspector's smile went from sly to smug. "Now that would be the most legitimate explanation I've heard all night," he said.

The Earl made a sound, appalled and angry.

"Inspector, you wouldn't know a legitimate explanation it jumped up and fucked you in the ass. It must be true. They promote the incompetents to keep them out of the way of the working detectives." Dorian's sweet cream voice went to razor wire without dropping a beat. "Major Eberbach would no more kill a man to cover up an evil like Victor Marsh than he would harm a child under his protection. How dare you accuse him? And how dare you accuse me?"

Inspector Shaffer maintained his belligerence. Dorian met it head on, raised him a full measure of hostility.

"I know what you're thinking," the Earl continued. "I'm a homosexual. I'm one of them. Well, Inspector, I've always understood that about myself even before I knew there was a name for it. And, yes, I've had experiences with other children - when I was a child. I knew men like Victor Marsh back then, too. And I dealt with them the best I could. I was always an easy target for them; they thought they knew what I was, too - and they were just as wrong as you are. Now that I am a man, I make love to other men. Adults. I don't recruit children for my bed."

The silence bloated, heavy and sour in the Inspector's office. Dorian's eyes blazed like the jet on a gas fire. His claws weren't sheathed yet.

"I am a homosexual," the Earl continued. "Not a pedophile. Not a child molester. Do you understand?"

"Excuse me," the Inspector persisted, uncomfortable but trying to regain control of the interrogation. "But I didn't think there was much difference between the two."

"Then allow me to educate you," Dorian purred viciously. "Tell me this, Inspector, if Marsh had fixed his interests on little girls, would that have made him more acceptable to you? Would that have turned you on?"

"Absolutely not!" Shaffer snapped, revolted. His face went quite scarlet. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Now you begin to understand. I hope." Dorian still seethed. "I've never deliberately mistreated a child, not even an animal. I've never allowed anyone in my care to come to harm. Victor Marsh would have killed me tonight if he could. He would have killed Major von dem Eberbach as well. And what he had planned for that little boy was unspeakable. Unspeakable! How dare you even suggest I would participate in such a thing? Or that the Major would try to hide it?"

"Lord Gloria," Inspector Shaffer began again. "I will apologize to you. Believe me, I am most frightfully sorry to have given you this... unfortunate impression." The man took in a deep breath. "But it's been a long night, hasn't it?"

"It is morning now," Klaus said, darkly. "Time we should be going, I think. The Earl is fatigued. And I have heard enough, as well."

Dorian smoldered from his corner, his desire for caution vanquished. He wasn't so tired that he would miss taking another bite out of Chief Inspector Shaffer should that be necessary. But Klaus got to his feet, crossed the room and picked up his jacket. Just as casually, he reached down and took Dorian's arm, pulling the Earl up and herding him towards the door.

"Well, that was H.Q. on the phone anyway," Inspector Shaffer stammered after them. "Apparently, they feel you're clear to leave."

"Gut." Klaus opened the door. Dorian moved out ahead of him. The Major paused, looking back over his shoulder. "Chief Inspector Shaffer...?"

"Yes, Major?"

"You will extend us both a courtesy?"

Curiosity colored the Inspector's face. "If I can," he said.

"We are already in the tunnel, you and I, working the jobs we do. Moving in from very opposite directions." Klaus paused and smiled. "You should stay out of my way, Chief Inspector. I should not like to run into you in the middle. In the dark there. One of us might get hurt."

The Major chased Dorian out of the office and closed the door behind them. Neither of them looked back.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Adrenalin-charged fury fired Dorian out of Scotland Yard and kept him moving across the parking lot. He was aware of Klaus guiding him, "Turn here.... And here. Over there," until they found themselves at the Major's Mercedes. Klaus unlocked the doors from the driver's side. Dorian opened his. Then slammed it shut. He stood outside the door and kicked it. Kicked the fender and the tire. He aimed a fist at the window. Thought better of it. Kicked the tire again, hard enough to feel the sting through his boot. When he stopped, Dorian's breath was making tiny, fevered clouds in the frosty November air.

Klaus folded his arms on the roof of the car, observing the Earl curiously. Finally, he said, "Are you finished attacking the car now?"

"Yes."

"You are smart not to punch the windows. That will hurt your hand."

"Thank you for your consideration."

"Do not mention it." Klaus gave a small shrug. Motioned towards the car with his head. "Shall we leave?"

Dorian opened the door. He slid into his seat without another word, slammed the car door shut and sat back, arms folded over his chest. The Major got in beside him and started the engine. They backed out of the parking space and cruised out onto the road.

The early morning rush hour had dissipated but the day-traffic was thick. Klaus navigated the flow like a native. He cracked a window, lit a cigarette and settled back for the ride.

"What is wrong?" the Major asked after a long silence.

"Wrong?" Dorian made a brief, derisive sound. It held no humor. "Might as well ask what's right. You'd get a shorter answer."

"Well, then - what is right?"

"Not very much."

"That is not true." Klaus shook his head. "We saved the child. Stopped Marsh permanently. Those idiots at the Yard, they are nothing to us. Legal bureaucrats. It makes no difference what they think."

"Yes it does," Dorian said bitterly. "You know it does."

Klaus remained silent, listening.

"It never changes," Dorian continued, his voice laced with a rage, despair and grief that was painful to hear. "The accusations - the innuendoes - the outright insults. It doesn't make any difference what happens or what you do or how you live, people look at a homosexual and all they see is a deviant, a freak, a monster. Someone who'll chase down and fuck anything with a dick between his legs. Someone who'll corrupt and abuse children. They think we're all animals - just like Victor Marsh."

"I do not think that."

"Oh, really?" Laughter soured in Dorian's mouth. "Need I remind you of the times you've brought up all the clichés yourself? Every single one of them. You even seem to think it's catching, like some sort of disease. That, my darling, was a new one even for me. I thought I'd heard everything until you came up with that little gem."

"I do not believe you are like Victor Marsh," Klaus insisted. "If I did, you would not be riding in this car with me now. I would have taken care of you long ago. As I took care of Marsh last night."

Dorian swallowed that. Digested it slowly.

"It was my choice to kill him," the Major continued, firmly. "My job - the kind I do not get to do too often. And, yes, Marsh did destroy some things down there in his room. He did try to escape me. Do you know what would have happened if he had lived?"

"I have my suspicions."

"Ja. From his police records, we can see how Marsh was picked up before. He always got away." Klaus navigated the car around a double parked delivery truck and back into his lane without missing a beat. "Chief Inspector Shaffer was right. Marsh had friends in high places - or, rather, he had clients. He would have used those clients to help him in exchange for silence."

"There's no chance of that happening now, is it?"

"None."

Dorian closed his eyes and swallowed. Knowing that didn't help. The whole affair only left him feeling sick. He fell into quiet, suddenly spent, unwilling to talk further.

Klaus drove on. Quite some time and several miles passed by before Dorian looked up and around again.

"Where are we going?" the Earl asked, suddenly apprehensive.

"To my hotel."

"Your hotel?" Dorian could not keep the astonishment from his voice. "Whatever for?"

"We must talk. We only had time to put together a story for the authorities last night. I have questions about all that and you are the only one who can provide answers. I have no intention of sending you back to Castle Red Gloria or letting you out of my sight until we talk."

"Talk?" It was a plaintive wail of anguish. "Oh, God, no. Not more talking. Not now."

"No," Klaus agreed. "Later. We will rest first."

"Charming. How considerate of you." Dorian took out a cigarette but his hands shook too much to light it properly. Klaus took it from him, lit it and gave it back.

"I don't know why you bother smoking those," the Major said conversationally. "They still taste like shit."

"It's better than fouling the air with that dreadful smelling weed you smoke and coating my lungs with tar." Dorian exhaled, angry. "So, I'm being kidnapped."

"If you like," Klaus agreed. The Major felt quite magnanimous; he was enjoying his moment of power over the independent thief. But Dorian was not ready to cooperate.

"I want to go home," the Earl said.

"You will go home once we are finished talking. I will take you there myself if you like."

"I want to go home now."

Klaus pulled into the parking garage. "This discussion is pointless," he said. "You will leave when I am finished with you. Not before."

Dorian sulked beautifully. Klaus parked the Mercedes. The Major walked around to the passenger's side and opened the door. The Earl stubbornly remained seated, arms crossed over his chest.

"I demand that you take me home," Dorian repeated.

"I am feeling very tired, Herr Dieb. I am not in a good mood. Do not provoke me." Klaus smiled. "Get out of the car."

Dorian got out of the car.

"Do not kick the vehicle," Klaus warned, slamming the door shut.

"Oh, sod off, will you? Give me a break."

"Fine. Where would you like it?" the Major asked. "In the arm, the leg?" He punched the "up" button at the elevator. They boarded together in steaming silence and got off at the lobby.

Dorian looked about the establishment while Klaus checked his messages at the front desk. There were plenty. Apparently, the Major's Section Chief had been frantically trying to get in touch with his wayward subordinate since the previous night's escapades. Also, apparently, there'd been the usual official complaints about the Major's attitude. Dorian let all that pass over him. The hotel combined some of the best elements of American and European convenience and elegance. The decor was quite attractive in a blissfully non-plastic sort of way. It actually showed some taste here and there, some style. And the Earl spotted several likely exit points amongst the fronds, statuary and drapes. He shifted unobtrusively away from the Major.

Klaus turned on him immediately, scowling a warning.

"Make one move towards that door and I shall maim you for life," he growled, not too pleasantly.

"Piss. Off."

Dorian turned, tossing his curls behind him as he swept about. He had never liked being ordered about. He caught a glimpse of the Major's scowl transforming to red-alert and felt a certain charge of satisfaction at that, a fleeting thrill of triumph. It was a genuine tactical error on the Major's part; Klaus should have taken him directly to his room instead of stopping off here. Let him try to take him in this public place. Let the Tank Commander just try to follow him down this tunnel. The Earl could have laughed out loud.

The sound died on his lips. Suddenly, Dorian's image of fleeing down a tunnel with the Major in hot pursuit had become very real. He staggered to a halt and gazed about, puzzled.

Where is the hotel going? Dorian wondered, watching swaths of gray eat in around the edges of his vision. Then he frowned, quite put out with himself. Oh bloody hell ... am I going to faint again? That would certainly put a damper on his escape plans.

He shook his head, trying to jolt himself out of the plummeting dream state. But it didn't help. Dorian was only half-aware when he felt Klaus seize onto his arm and quick-march him to the bench beside the elevators.

The Major sat him down and thrust the Earl's head down between his knees.

"Breathe slow and deep," Klaus growled. "Take your time."

Dorian proceeded to do that and, gradually, his vision cleared. The pattern on the Afghanistan carpet registered into a distinct maroon color; the flower-fruit design took on definition. It was rather a nice fake. Some corporation somewhere had put out a pretty piece of change for it.

"Bloody hell...." This time Dorian managed to get the words out. "What's wrong with me? I thought I'd be done with this by now."

"It will pass," Klaus advised, speaking in German. "Do not concern yourself."

"But what...?"

"It is a natural thing, yes? A kind of combat fatigue, I think."

"Combat fatigue?" Dorian blinked staring at the carpet. He wasn't sure he'd heard Klaus correctly.

"It appears to me that you have been at war with something for a long while, yes?" the Major explained. "You need to rest, understand? You need sleep and food."

Sleep ... it was a promise of heaven. Everything else could wait - food, a long, hot, slow bath. Something that would ease his aching bruises. Cautiously, Dorian raised his head, using care not to let it fall off his shoulders. He looked up into a crowd of staring faces peering down at him. The Earl's complexion plunged to a paler shade of green even as his mouth dropped open. Beyond the immediate rubbernecks, others were stopping, straining to take in a good look as well. He had provoked what his mother would have called "a pavement scene." How humiliating.

Klaus stood and, effortlessly hoisted Dorian to his feet, and up and over his shoulder. The Major returned to the front desk, gathered his strayed messages and made his way back to the elevators.

"My goodness," the concierge began, chasing after them. "Will he be all right?"

"Ja," Klaus answered shortly.

"Is - isn't that the Earl of Gloria?"

"Ja."

"Can I get him anything? Does he require medical attention?"

"He will be fine," the Major concluded, very business-like. "Thank you."

That, more than anything, Dorian found alarming. Having people talk around him as if he had, somehow, vanished.

"I'm quite all right, thank you," he murmured from somewhere in the vicinity of the Major's rear end.

"There," Klaus returned, almost amicable. "You see. As I said. His Lordship is fine."

The elevator stopped. Klaus stepped out into the hall and made his way to his room.

"I feel like a bloody fool," Dorian said as the Major opened the door.

"Do not concern yourself so," Klaus chided gently. And that absolutely convinced Dorian that something was seriously amiss. The Major never passed up an opportunity to remind him what an idiot he was.

Klaus jerked back the covers from the bed and plopped Dorian down. The action left the Earl's head swimming. The Major, the blue-green room and its pale oak furnishings drifted in and out of focus like waves crashing and falling on some distant shore.

"I thought I had problems with authority figures." Laughter hovered again at Dorian's lips. His voice sounded strange and hollow, slurred as if he had been drinking too much. "You were terrifying down at the Yard. I thought they would clap us both in irons."

"You exaggerate again. As usual." Klaus occupied himself with removing the Earl's boots.

"Not so very much. I don't understand. You're so much smarter than those cretins. Why waste your time on them?"

"Well, they expect it of me. That seems to be part of my job, too."

Dorian blinked, round-eyed. "Was that a joke? Did you mean to be funny just now?"

"Shut up."

"Oh ... don't talk to me like that." Serious pouting. "I hate it, I really do. I'm not one of your alphabets. I'm not a machine or some piece of equipment you can just order about at will, you know."

"Yes. I know." Klaus brought the Earl up into a sitting position as easily as he would maneuver a child. He pulled off the suede jacket, tugged the sweater up and over Dorian's head. The Earl was wearing a gymnast's black body-stocking beneath. That accounted for the leggings. Klaus removed the belt pack that circled the Earl's slim hips and let the rest be. "Go to sleep, Dieb," he commanded.

Dorian sighed, nestling down onto the mattress. "I'm not just some tool ... not just here for your convenience."

"Yes, yes," Klaus agreed, impatient for sleep himself. He brought the covers back up around Dorian's body. "I understand."

"Do you?" Those lapis-blue eyes sparkled up at the Major again, wide enough to fall into and drown. Dorian struggled against comfort, trying to remain conscious. "Do you know what I love about you most, Major?" he asked. "It's because I can never have you. I finally figured it out. You are so completely unattainable. I love you with all my heart. I do! You're beautiful and smart and strong and proud - you care so deeply about everyone and everything ... even though you do your damnedest to hide it. But you can never love me back, being the way you are. You're safe for me to love. I can't have you so I can never lose you. You can't hurt me that way."

The first and most immediate question that slammed into Klaus' head was, Why would I ever want to hurt you? But the Earl's great eyes had fluttered shut and he surrendered to the luxury that surrounded his battered body.

The Major gawked at the sleeping thief, shocked into wakefulness. "You are not just an idiot, Herr Dieb, you are insane. And you have no sense of... of priority at all."

Klaus stripped off his jacket and gear. Kicked off his shoes. He grabbed a spare blanket and pillow and settled himself onto the divan beside the windows. He glowered at the Earl from time to time, but Dorian remained oblivious. For a long while, Klaus lay sleepless, consumed with an escalating rage.

Finally, he sat up in a wreck of bedclothes and personal disarray.

"God-fucking-damnit! I will fall in love with who I want, when I want," Klaus roared across the room. "And I do not need any advice, endorsement or permission from you, Dorian Red Gloria. So there!"

Satisfied, the Major collapsed back onto the divan, crossed his arms over his chest and went to sleep.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

Dorian couldn't quite remember when he'd gone to sleep but he recalled that it had been late morning. Now he spied Apollo's golden orb peering through the drapes and understood that at least one full day had passed. The Earl stifled a groan and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. His muscles were stiff, even sore in spots; his head felt stuffed with old rags; the interior of his mouth tasted as though he had consumed a full jar of library paste. The last thing he wanted to do was remove himself from the comfort of his warm, linen shelter but the pressure of a full bladder required him to take action.

He paused, trying to rally momentum and coordination. Dorian yawned until his jaw cracked, he rubbed at the sleep-sand in his eyes, gaping about at his surroundings. He didn't recognize this room - for all that that mattered. The Earl was used to waking up in unfamiliar places. Still, that little detail was less disturbing than his lingering dreams, the visions that were trapped in the cotton that currently passed for his brain.

Dorian had always dreamed in wide-screen Technicolor and stereo-phonic sound. As a child, he had been surprised to find out that not everyone did this. It was disappointing to know others did not experience the same, grand production values so he tried not to talk about it much. Still, the Earl enjoyed dreaming; it made sleep such a pleasant experience. It could even be adventurous.

However, Dorian hadn't looked for any adventures or even romance in this slumber. Thankfully, for the most part, his rest had been peaceful. He didn't want to think, didn't want to arrange any more terrible things. That was all done. He could put it all behind him - if Klaus would let him.

Dorian's eyes widened as memory dropped into place. Klaus - this was Klaus' room. If he remembered correctly, the Major was in the process of abducting him ... to his hotel room? How very odd. Perhaps that would account for his nocturnal fantasia. Most of his dream had been quite lovely, set in a background of Mediterranean exotica. He smiled remembering coral reef castles and bright, darting fish ... the scent of salt air and tropical blossoms.

His dream came flooding back with a vengeance. The Earl looked down at his legs, almost expecting to see a mer-prince's tail, and nearly laughed. What a delightful image. So, he'd rehashed Anderson's fairy story with himself as merman and Klaus as the prince. It certainly worked within the context of the usual unrequited love and confusion; Klaus raving about that Dorian was an unnatural creature (so what else was new?) But the Major hadn't made much of a prince, far from it. More like a battered seaman, his ship captured by pirates - the Major forced to the plank and over the side. A little frown of concentration furrowed Dorian's brow; he tried to remember more.

Soaring through the water ... falling in with a pack of playful dolphins and breaking through the ocean's surface in a great spray of foam, hurtling through the air in a graceful, sparkling arc. Then plunging back, curling beneath the surf. Afterwards, sunning his lovely mer-body out on the rocks, soaking up the sun's magnificent warmth. Those were the pleasant parts of his dream. There was lots that weren't so nice. His poor Major, so angry and miserably beaten, his back lashed quite raw and bloody. And then there had been the inevitable bargains with the witch. Dorian shivered. Mother had made quite a convincing evil sorceress ... complete with a smile that revealed double rows of glistening shark's teeth and hands that -

Dorian shook himself, literally, and lurched up to his feet. Balls, it was only a dream, he told himself, and best forgotten. He stumbled across the carpet to what he surmised to be the bathroom. Dorian opened the door, glimpsed floor tiles and cream-colored porcelain. No surprises there; he padded over to the toilet, yawning again and trying to divest himself of the upper half of an uncooperative body suit.

The Earl shimmied lycra over his shoulders and down, peering into the wall length mirror over the commode. Heavens, he looked a total fright. He swiped at his hair, pushing it out of his eyes. Shuddered and let it tumble back. No. At this point, mirror-gazing was only an exercise in masochism; there was no use even trying to do anything until after a soak and a shower. He heard his stomach growl significantly and considered food. Then shook his head; he still felt much too dreadful to even think of eating. But the sound came again.

That wasn't right.

Gradually, Dorian looked up again and caught sight of a reflection other than his own. Major Klaus von dem Eberbach glared out at him from the steam-covered glass, his green eyes fairly blazing. Dorian swallowed hard.

This was the opportunity of a lifetime. In all of their years together, throughout all of their adventures, Dorian had never seen the Major without his suit of wool-blended armor. His imagination had challenged itself over may a sleepless night, speculating, dreaming - all to no avail. Klaus would not even participate in the Earl's private fantasies. And now, quite by accident, Dorian found himself within reach of one of his most impossible goals. He blinked rapidly, wondering if, perhaps this wasn't some fresh apparition.

But, no, that was truly Klaus back there - apparently fresh from the shower, too. More and more of the Major was being revealed, like an image taking shape in crystal as the steam dissipated from the silvered glass. There was no convenient shower curtain for Klaus to latch onto, only a transparent door. The towels were on the rack beside Dorian. The Major would have to come close to him in order to get one. Close enough to touch.

That might not be wise; Dorian retained sense enough to consider that. But, balls, he really couldn't care - not now. Klaus had knocked him down for less. The Earl had survived - and this might actually be worth it. It didn't even matter how lousy he looked; nothing could dispel his sense of triumph. Dorian readjusted his body suit to more respectable order and turned around.

The smile fell from his lips. For a long minute, the two men stood there, locked in a mutual battle of wills. Comprehension was painfully slow in coming; Dorian simply could not accept what he saw. He couldn't believe it. Wouldn't.

Klaus was as handsome without clothes as Dorian had guessed he might be. The Major absolutely filled the room with presence. He seemed somehow taller, somehow broader. Genuinely majestic. His muscles were very well defined - not overly heavy but fluid and sleek and beautifully toned. Klaus was powerful in the same way as a wolf or a panther, all natural strength and grace. The man was more glorious than Dorian had ever dreamed he could be.

That's what made the scars so terrible. Klaus' ribs and chest - even his back from what the Earl could see reflected in those infernal, surrounding mirrors - was covered with scar tissue. Not from some random wound or accident. The slash across the Major's biceps from their escapade in Alaska was quite familiar; it was the only sane one in the lot. No, these wounds had been carefully and deliberately inflicted. There were more than Dorian could easily count but on Klaus' left rib cage was a grouping of parallel lines that outlined the skeletal structure. His right breast was a smeared swell of scar tissue that looked as if he had been bathed in acid. Whatever had made those marks had splashed like flesh-eating rain diagonally across the Major's back and across one buttock.

It was Klaus who made the first move, striding forward. Those livid marks moved as well, white serpents that writhed across his bronzed skin as if they might very well burst free. Dorian shuddered and drew back. Klaus grasped hold of him; he ushered the Earl with firm but silent finality to the bathroom door and thrust him outside. Dorian stumbled away, wheeling about at the last moment. Some protest, some exclamation of despair and concern tried to birth itself from his throat. But Klaus shut the door and locked it.

Sometime later, when the door opened again, the Major was completely dressed as usual, covered from neck to heel - formally attired in suit, shirt, tie and oxfords. His expression was more neutral and more terrifying than the Earl had ever seen it before.

Dorian regarded Klaus quietly from where he had perched on the side of the bed. At first his fists had clamped down on the edge of the mattress as if he might hold himself there. Now he wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly chilled. When Klaus refused to speak, Dorian issued the first offering.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to look. Well, that's not exactly true." Words began tumbling out in a rush. "I always meant to look, you know. I tried to see - but this was an accident. I had no idea. I woke up and I had to use the bathroom and...." He searched for something else to say. Something smart or clever or kind. Shrugged helplessly, concluding, "I had no idea."

He was too shocked to cry.

"But you looked," Klaus accused, his voice deep, angry, resentful.

"Well. Yes."

"Did you like what you saw, Herr Dieb?"

"No. Of course not," Dorian gasped, repulsed. There was a part of him that wanted to run to Klaus right then. There was a part that wanted to throw his arms around him and hold him. He ached for those terrible wounds; he was furious with whoever had inflected them. But the ice in the Major's eyes kept him still. When Klaus remained silent, Dorian swallowed again and found his voice. "What happened?"

"Why should you care?"

"Because I do. I care a great deal." Blue eyes widened, amazed and appalled. "You can't think -"

Klaus made a sound of fury and disgust. "I do not care what you think." He made his way towards the hall door.

"No!" That startled Dorian into movement. He leapt up and caught the Major's arm. "Wait - you can't leave. Not now."

Klaus shoved him away with bruising force. The Earl stumbled and fell heavily to the floor. But he rebounded on his knees, reaching for the Major again before the man could escape. Klaus made to strike him but Dorian caught the Major's wrist and held on.

"You can hit me if you want," Dorian gasped out in a rush. "If that will make you feel better. Maybe I deserve it. But I won't have you leave here believing I think any less of you because someone hurt you." He took in a deep, shaky breath. "Why can't you believe I love you? Bloody hell, am I that loathsome? Do you really despise me that much?"

Klaus tried to pull his hand away. "Release me," he ordered. "Or I will hurt you."

Dorian shook his head. "It's terrible to see ... someone you care about - hurt like that," he stammered. "But I had this dream. You were in it and someone had beaten you so badly. You were bleeding and - it was awful. And when I saw you in there, those scars...."

Klaus stared at him coldly. "I have dreams, too," he said after another long, agonizing minute had passed. Dorian stared up at him, confused and distraught.

"I have dreams where we are back in Cairo, hunting down Richard Cole and the treasure of Alexander. We are in that cell together," Klaus said. "Ahmed comes for you. You know the rest. That is the dream. The nightmares come for me when I cannot get the keys. I cannot get out of the cell. I cannot stop him.... Still, there are those who know me who would not believe that - and not without reason. Do you understand what I am telling you?"

Dorian shook his head helplessly. The Major pushed him away and picked up his coat.

"You do not know me, Herr Dieb," Klaus said with great formality. "There remains nothing inside of me that is worthy of anyone's love. There never has been."

Dorian's mouth dropped open, breathing out a horrified little protest. But Klaus was gone before he could finish. The Earl collapsed back on his heels, too incredulous to stand. His head was swimming; he felt as if he needed to grab it and force it to stay still. A wild kind of laughter hovered on his lips. For a few moments he thought that screaming might be nice.

It's not just me, that little song began to play over and over again in his mind. It's not just me...!

If he had heard Klaus correctly, if he actually understood what the Major was saying, the implications were far worse than Dorian could have ever imagined possible. It wasn't simply that Klaus didn't believe in

Dorian's declarations of affection, he didn't believe that anyone could care for him. The wounds on the Major's body couldn't begin to compete with the scars that covered his soul.

As for Dorian, he felt as if a brick had lodged in his chest - all pain. This was such a foreign concept, he had difficulty grasping hold of it. The Earl had experienced his ups and downs all throughout his life. There had certainly been the unpleasantness that had spurred him to seek out Victor Marsh; there had been that unexpectedly brutal episode with Lord Price. Other things....

Still, no matter what, there had always been someone who loved him, someone who he loved back. Dorian had always enjoyed a wealth of affection. He treasured it, could not imagine a life without it.

Whatever had happened to Klaus wasn't part of some individual, isolated incident. It hadn't simply transpired overnight.

What the hell happened? Dorian struggled for an answer. Whatever did they do to you?

But the only response he got was silence.

Touch the glowing spheres around the dragon!

It was approaching mid-afternoon when Klaus returned to his hotel room. The Major unlocked the door and stepped inside, hesitating only briefly when he saw Dorian sitting in the chair by the window.

The Earl looked up, startled, as if he were breaking out of some somnolent half-trance when Klaus entered the room. He had freshened up considerably since the Major had last seen him. Dorian had bathed, washed his hair and shaved. He had dressed himself in the Major's clothes, gray wool slacks and a white linen shirt. No tie, of course; the collar lay open around his throat.

Klaus regarded him curiously. The outfit looked different on Dorian somehow, softer and more casual. But the clothes were just a shade larger, too, lending the Earl's slender frame the appearance of recovery after a severe illness. Dorian's fatigue had only barely been satisfied and the shadows at his eyes and cheeks contributed to that illusion. Klaus frowned; he would not allow himself to be swayed by sympathy.

"Good afternoon," Dorian said. He brightened as Klaus approached. "I wondered when you'd be back."

"I find myself wondering why you are still here," Klaus snapped, brutally frank as always. He threw his coat on the bed.

"Well, I've been kidnapped haven't I? I thought you wanted to interrogate me."

"Interrogate yourself. I am fed up with playing games with you." Klaus crossed to the closet and brought out his suitcase. "I will be returning to Bonn now. My holiday here is finished."

"So soon? I should imagine you've got quite a bit of time racked up on the books." The two exchanged a look. "Bonham filled me in on your mission," Dorian explained. "Still endeavoring to employ my lieutenant away from me, are you?"

"So I would not be forced to work with you any longer? Yes. At any rate, Bonham tendered the bargain. I merely agreed to his terms."

"You're such a saint." Dorian's eyes flashed. "I borrowed some of your clothes. I hope you don't mind."

"I suppose it would not do to have you parading about London in your underclothing," the Major returned curtly.

"At least not until after dark."

"Humph. I see you have availed yourself of room service as well?"

"I thought I was hungry." Dorian surveyed the remains of the meal that had been laid out on the table before him - cold toast, congealed eggs and kippers. At the time, it had seemed like the thing to do. Order food. Eat it. At least it was something he could do to kill time until Klaus returned - or not. Except that, once the meal had arrived, his appetite had turned on him. The food had been quite magnificently prepared; it looked delicious - but the sight of it had provoked a keen and almost overwhelming nausea. Dorian had only been able to manage some tea and a bit of fruit. Mr. James would have had a fit at the waste.

Klaus began to efficiently unload the bureau drawers and pack his suitcase. He put the Earl completely out of his mind, moving about the room as if he were alone. Dorian was familiar with this trick; he watched it play out in silence for a while, then made his own move.

"My involvement with Victor Marsh dates back several years," the Earl began, eventually. "Something that happened when I was much younger. It was dreadful. All of it. Nothing I wanted to remember. I found that I had put it out of my head quite completely." Dorian took up the teapot and poured some into his cup. He ladled in a bit of sugar, poured some cream. It gave his hands something to do. The Major stopped packing; he listened, standing almost at attention and in complete silence.

"I found that, after Cairo, I started remembering it all again," Dorian went on. "Didn't know what to make of it at first, you know. It was like being at the cinema - little pictures and flashes of this and that. When I first began to piece it together, it was as if I was remembering something that had happened to someone else. Like something you'd read about in the news or heard second hand from some gossip." He picked up the cup and saucer but the china rattled so violently that he quickly set it down again. He dropped his hands in his lap, drew in a deep breath. Let it go. And continued. He would not look at Klaus even though the Major had moved perceptibly closer. "Anyway, suffice it to say that I remembered what happened. And I became curious as to what had become of Dr. Marsh. So, I traced him. Did it myself. Once he'd been let go from my old school, he'd found a position at another. Not quite as prestigious as you can imagine. It wasn't long before he was forced out from there. And so it went. Till he found himself here. Piano lessons." The Earl made a face, clenching his teeth. "Music lessons - in that pest hole. Anything to keep in contact with children. I couldn't let that continue ... just couldn't let it go on. And so I made plans to stop it." Dorian was shivering in earnest now, as if caught in some winter gale. His teeth actually chattered. He paused, trying to collect himself. Trying to keep from shattering into a thousand shrieking bits. "I had to stop him," he concluded. "I just had to."

"If you were aware of all this, why did you not come to me?" Klaus demanded. He slipped out of his jacket and placed it around Dorian's shoulders. "You are no killer."

"I thought I could do it. If I had to. And I knew someone had to." Dorian shook his head. "What he did to children, it was like death, a murder of the soul. And he'd just kept on and on with it. So I went there to stop him. But I didn't know that Marsh had turned his activities into a business. I swear it. If I had, I would have come to you right off. Really, I would."

"You are absurd. Insane." Klaus scowled. "How could you have gone off like that, behaving like some third-rate assassin? Did you really think it would work, that no one would discover you? You could not have been more obvious if you had worn a... a sign around your throat!" He crossed back to the bureau, picked up a tumbler and a bottle of schnapps. He poured a large drink and handed it to the Earl. "As it was, you were almost wearing a noose. You would have gotten yourself killed and the boy as well."

"Except that you were there."

"Yes!"

"Why?"

"Because it is my job."

"Playing nursemaid to a thief?" Dorian lifted his eyebrow.

"I solve problems for NATO," Klaus said coldly. "You are frequently a problem."

"Not always, surely." Dorian felt some alarm at the way the conversation was going. Still, he was committed to it. And intrigued as well. "Wouldn't you say that I've been of value to you - on occasion?"

"Do not be ridiculous. You know that you have." Klaus poured himself a drink, too, and tossed it down. "And your lieutenant blackmailed me into chasing after you because of that value. Because of my obligations to you." He drew the word out. Finished another drink and set the glass down on the wood with a sharp rap. "I know who I am." Klaus folded his arms over his chest. "I know what I do. But the only way I can keep on doing my job is to stay inside of myself. I must keep to myself."

Dorian sipped at his schnapps. The liquid burned its way down his throat; he welcomed the fire.

"Just what is your job ... exactly?" the Earl persisted.

"They call it `intelligence.' But what I am doing most of the time is killing people," Klaus told him harshly. "Sometimes people are trying to kill me. To stay alive, to accomplish my work requires so much concentration, so much determination and resolution that I have no room for anything else."

"No room for friends ... for lovers?"

"I have no friends. I have never allowed anyone to love me."

"And that's the way it has always been for you, hasn't it?" Blue eyes glittered with fierce concentration.

"Ja. Always," Klaus replied, just as determined. "It is just the way I want it. I protect others. I keep the peace. I enforce the law."

"Absolutely - but at what price?" Dorian whispered.

"You believe in love and all of that."

"I do."

"That kind of trust is far too dangerous." The Major shook his head, suddenly weary. "It never seemed to be a good idea to believe in it. It is easier to stay alive and do your duty if you do not believe in it."

"And that is why I couldn't tell you about Victor Marsh," Dorian said. "Because I didn't think you would believe me. And if you hadn't believed - about that - I couldn't have stood it."

"That doesn't make any sense. You live in fantasy, you play your games. You make me crazy. But you would not bring me a story about something like that."

"Thank you." Dorian let out a deep breath. For a moment, his eyes flickered shut.

Klaus stared at him, curiously moved. If the Earl had been a dog or a horse, he might have touched him then. Might have laid some reassuring hand on his shoulder, perhaps smoothed his hair. But Dorian Red was an entirely different kind of animal and the Major kept his distance.

"I do not understand you," Klaus said and moved away. He poured another glass of schnapps.

"Neither do I sometimes. But that's the way it goes. Sometimes you've just got to act, you know? Thinking only botches it all up." Frank blue eyes stared up at Klaus again. A tiny smile darted onto the Earl's lips. "That's the kind of philosophy that makes you crazy, isn't it?"

"Absolutely."

"Still, I have to wonder what kind of life you have, Major. I don't understand you either," Dorian said quietly. "When you forsake the very things that makes living worthwhile - friendship, affection.... How can you endure an existence like that? We are all creatures of earth, natural beings made of flesh and blood and air. We live, we love, we lose ... we lust - not all for the same things," he added hurriedly as the Major began to turn away. Dorian stood up, hugging Klaus' coat around him. "You love music - don't deny it. And I adore art. But what of that? Don't you know that music and art are only shadows of love? They are a reflection of a dream, an inspiration. They are the phantoms of our souls. Even you, who would turn your back on any kind of friendship, have felt the breath of it. You couldn't have played so well that day you visited me if you didn't feel it. You couldn't have remembered Gershwin's music that accurately if you didn't have it in you somewhere."

Dorian and Klaus regarded each other in very loud silence for an indeterminable length of time.

"You. Are. An idiot!" Klaus concluded (as usual). "And I am going back to Bonn tonight. This afternoon if I can."

"You can do that, of course," Dorian agreed. "There's no one and nothing to stop you."

Klaus gave a brief laugh. "That is the first sensible thing you have said today, Herr Dieb."

"We can continue as we are," the Earl went on, calmly. "Bickering and working, working and bickering. You'll see this little escapade through, won't you? You'll try to use Bonham like you use me - but it will never work. He's too frightened of you and too loyal to me. You've intimidated him just like you've managed to intimidate and bully everyone else - in one way or the other. Everyone except me."

"Shall I congratulate you or send you a sympathy card?" Klaus went back to his packing.

"It could go very badly for us if you try to use Bonham in one of your little intrigues. You know that. And then what? With both of you hurt or dead, the mission destroyed, how will you feel about that?"

"I shall bridge that maneuver when I come to it."

"You'll despise yourself if that happens," Dorian insisted. "And I will, too."

"Shut up!" Klaus caught the Earl up by his shirt front, pulled him in close. Shook him. "I have heard enough from you."

Dorian willed himself to calm in the Major's grip. He forced a little smile to his lips, something not too teasing. Danger junkie, that's what his first real lover had called him, Mac McDowell, the American race car driver. Takes one to know one. You're hooked on thrills and chills, that's what Mac had said. You're going to kill yourself one of these days. Wipe out - big time.

But it had been Mac who'd wiped out, his racer erupting into an earth bound-comet after it had piled into the wall at Monte Carlo. The Earl felt the heat of a similar flame in Klaus' green eyes.

"There are details about Victor Marsh I haven't told you," Dorian said, coloring his words with significant emphasis. He stared at Klaus, watching little things shift around in the Major's face - anger, frustration, curiosity ... all that and other things, too.

"What haven't you told me?" Klaus snarled out at last. "Talk."

"I don't think so. I've done enough talking today. I believe it's time we began trading information, don't you?"

"What do you mean?" That put Klaus back a step. His grip on Dorian loosened. "What would you want to know?"

"Everything," Dorian said. "Including answers to questions I don't know enough to ask."

"I do not think I want to answer your questions. This is ridiculous."

"You can consider it a ridiculous request from a ridiculous man. Still, it's my price. What do you have to lose - except a little more time? Humor me."

"Why should I talk with you?" Klaus growled and let him go. "You waste my time. I know the answers you are seeking. It is none of your concern."

"That would be true if we were strangers," Dorian agreed. "If we were casual acquaintances or even friends. But we are more than that, darling. We have known each other, we have been together in one way or the other for the past seven years. I've trusted you with my life. You've trusted me - despite everything. We can move past this thing now, ignore it and go on. Try to be as we were.... But I don't think that will work very well for either of us anymore. Do you?"

Klaus remained stubbornly silent. He could not bring himself to commit one way or the other. Instead, he moved away from the Earl. He walked towards the windows and pulled back the gauzy liner behind the drapes that shielded the brash, city view from the room. It was another gray, busy day in London Town; it could have been any other city in any other part of the world - just one more stone and asphalt jungle. There was no sunlight anywhere in the winter-white sky and only varying degrees of darkness down below. Traffic scrambled about like armored ants on the streets; the wail of distant sirens and pitch of braking tires pierced the heavy glass. The citizens huddled together in rat-pack formation, scurrying to and fro; the hunters scanned for the strays, the weak. All around them the metropolis pressed in like the tombstones in a giant's graveyard.

If he believed in fantasy, Klaus might have looked for a beanstalk, something tall and green and magical to take him out of this dismal place. Might he dare escape for a while, play a game of verbal hunt and chase with this caterwauling golden harp? He already knew what was waiting for him back at the office. The Chief would be up in arms over this Vincent Marsh affair. Was there any chance at all that the thief would have some additional beneficial information he could use?

Dorian kept silent, watching Klaus make his decision. Like any good gambler, he knew enough not to press when his cards were on the table and the stakes were this high - especially when bluffing on such a grand scale.

"I do not want to stay in this place," Klaus said, eventually. "I would like to go into the country, I think."

"I would appreciate a change of scenery myself." Dorian's carefully voiced reply was a study in casual acquiescence.

"There is a safe house outside of Duxford in Essex County. I have been there before. If you like, I will call and make arrangements."

"`If I like...?'" Dorian gave a little laugh. "Major, how civil of you to ask me. Make your call. Then I'll contact Bonham and have him bring me a bag. You can't expect me to go on wearing your clothes."

"No."

"We can take a bit of lunch downstairs while we wait." Dorian let the weariness creep back into his voice. "God, I am so sick of this room."

The Major nodded, grim but resolute. He picked up the phone and began to dial a long series of numbers, all by memory.

Dorian wandered back to the table and retrieved his glass of schnapps. He gave the Major's back a little salute and finished the rest of the liquid in one swallow. Velvet fire slid down his throat and formed a sharp, warm little coal in the pit of his stomach. He sank back into his chair and stared out the window, musing quietly while Klaus' voice droned on in the background, exchanging military salutations with whomever had taken his call.

A holiday in Essex with the Major? That was an intriguing concept.

Dorian wondered if either one of them would survive it.

 




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