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

By Any Other Name

by Kay Reynolds

 

Epilogue

 

Four Months Later....

Impeccably mannered even under the most trying of circumstances, Dorian, the Earl of Red Gloria, kept his sighs to himself. There was hardly anything more depressing than visiting a modern cemetery ... unless it was visiting a military cemetery in the middle of winter.

Well, he chastised himself, March was hardly the middle of winter. In England, as well as other parts of the globe, Spring was making her presence felt. But in Germany, Winter's claws still clutched a robe of snow and ice around her lands. And her graves.

Rows of flat white tablets covered the grounds around him, each one lined up with regimental precision as if the soldiers within had been called to attention and never dismissed. No one had ever offered that final, "At ease," nor were they likely to.

Dorian walked on, following the caretaker's explicit instructions. Even the blazing sunlight couldn't lighten the atmosphere. He could feel eyes on him, all those valiant, waiting dead marking his progress. There is something beyond the grave, Sextus Propertius had written in the long ago B.C. Death does not end all, and the pale ghost escapes the vanquished pyre. Ovid had put it more simply, Our souls survive this death.

At the moment, it was difficult to find comfort in that thought. Guilt was working overtime.

Dorian gave a cat sneeze and pulled his furs more closely around him, shifting the package in his arms. He wasn't actually all that cold nor was he coming down with anything ... except a pervasive sense of contrition that was so acute it had created a physical reaction.

He told himself that a sense of presence was quite reasonable within a military graveyard. Too few here had met with anything but a peaceful end. No, these lives had been violently cut off in their prime, in the midst of a mission no doubt, their families and loved ones handed that final message which read something like: I regret to inform you that your child - parent - husband - wife - lover (circle one) is dead. This person is totally extinct. The personality which you have grown used to and cared for over the years is no longer to be found on this planet except in this patch of three-by-six earth. What's left of him. You will note that each plot has been duly recorded and marked with its own flat marble headstone easily identifiable for holidays and special occasions yet indistinguishable from its fellows so as to preserve a sense of military conformity.

Your loved one is not in hiding, he is not playing games. He hasn't taken that trip to Paris without you or gone for a bus tour of Tibet. He isn't at the local pub or paying a visit up the street or stopping in at the chemist's for a pouch of his favorite tobacco. No. He's gone. And no matter how hard you search for him, no matter how long you wait for him, you will never see him again.

We thought you would like to know. Please accept our deepest regrets. Thank you for your time.

Dorian shuddered. Don't be absurd, he told himself. The most terrible part of any soldier's job would be to inform the next-of-kin of a loved one's death. You're over-reacting.

Self-chastised, Dorian trudged on towards his destination. This was going to be worse than he had imagined and, frankly, he had imagined a lot. But there was nothing left except to get on with it.

Major Rudolf Gerhard Walther Löwen's grave was right where the caretaker had said it would be. The tablet was no more or less elaborate than any of the other markers. Directions had been essential since, from a distance, the marker looked exactly the same as its comrades. He could have searched throughout the day and night without ever finding it. Now, up close, Dorian read the name, the dates and the message inscribed beneath:

Te spectem, suprema mihi cum venerit hora.
Te teneam moriens deficient manu.

Either the stonecutter wasn't that familiar with Latin, much less the sentiments of Tibullus, or the Army had become a lot looser in the wake of the big war. Dorian smiled briefly. Somehow he doubted that. Apparently, Major Löwen had played a fast one, leaving instructions that this final remembrance be engraved on his stone. Still, Klaus had never said anything about it. A Catholic from the old school, the Latin verse would have been easy for him to decipher. He wouldn't mistake the intention in those words - would he?

But perhaps Klaus had never visited Löwen's grave? Dorian shook his head, breaking out of his sudden immobility. Regardless, it wasn't a question he could ask him.

He placed a wreath of yarrow, yew and rowan on Löwen's grave. Then laid a single, thorn-free rose within the center. He took out two bottles of wine, a loaf of bread and a candle, kneeling to arrange them in the powder. He lit the candle and pocketed the match.

"Please allow me to introduce myself," Dorian said, his breath creating little clouds of frost. "My name is Dorian Red Benedict, Earl of Red Gloria. I am also the thief called Eroica. Major Löwen, I am here to ask your pardon."

He opened the wine bottles, settling himself a little more comfortably. "I wasn't sure if you liked red or white so I brought one of each." Dorian drew in a long breath. "I'll bet he's never been here ... never seen the words you left for him. Klaus would understand, it's not a mistake. You're not talking about the hand of some god, after all. Still," he released a sigh, "he'll probably come now. Don't see how he'll get around it since he's put the lid on the case at last. There's supposed to be some sort of memorial ceremony to commemorate the Lionheart Brigade. You've all been reclaimed at last, acknowledged heroes of the Cold War, every one of you. Maybe they'll erect a statue. I could recommend an artist...." Dorian lowered his head, chewing his lip, a habit Nanny Sybil would have taken him to task over long ago. "I see you're fond of Latin poets," he continued. "Ovid said, `Every lover is a warrior, and Cupid has his camps.' Remember that? He also said, `Love is a kind of warfare,' yes? Well, I'm just a thief - I'm not much of a warrior at all although I'd fight for Klaus if I had to. I wouldn't let anything hurt him if I could stop it so I just couldn't let him discover the truth. If Klaus knew it was his father ... if he knew...." Dorian caught his breath again, painfully this time. "It would destroy him. I can't let that happen."

Tears darkened and spiked his lashes; they went cold on his skin, sliding down his face. Grief, he recalled, had always made him beautiful except there was no one around to note it now. Beauty was of no use to him here.

There were others on whom it had little effect either.

"From what I see here," the Russian agent had told him a scant two months ago, "your Major Eberbach was on family leave. He should not have participated in the Heidenreich defection. His capture came as a surprise to many. It was his father's staff who provided the coordinates that allowed the brigade to find them and bring them back."

"Don't you think Major Löwen would have been suspicious of that?"

"He may have been."

"Just what kind of power does Herr Eberbach command?"

"The quiet kind. The ultimate kind. The man has served on every reconstruction committee since the end of the War." There was a quick shuffling of papers. "It's all here. I wonder if your father knew him? Lord Gloria did a lot of work in Germany."

"Dad never talked about business, it was against policy."

"And you wouldn't tell me if he did."

"I doubt it." Dorian meshed his fingers together. "What kind of reason did Herr Eberbach give for eliminating the Lionheart Brigade?"

"The confidential reports cite that the Brigade was out of control, the men too independent."

"And, therefore, unreliable."

"Yes."

"But perfect bait to set up their mole?"

"It would finish two birds with one stone."

"Yes, it would. It would also cage one rare falcon." Dorian went quiet for a long time. Then he said, "You've been playing games with T.H.R.U.S.H too long, Illya. There's no escaping that avian imagery." The thief had smiled softly. "So, is Uncle Napoleon enjoying his position as head of the firm? How's he been keeping himself these days?"

"In the upper ten-percentile, as usual." Illya Kuryakin had not smiled back.

"I can't help but think of him," Dorian said. "Fondly, of course. I had such a crush on him back when I was nine years old. I carried a torch for years."

"Napoleon has that effect on people."

"I quite loathed you."

"I know."

"But only until it came to me that I adored you as well," Dorian continued. "I take it the desk job hasn't cramped his style?"

Illya shook his head slightly, allowing a faint smile to finally touch his lips. "Not much." Then he frowned again, saying, "What should we do with this information?"

"I was hoping my uncles would handle it."

"Yes, we can take care of it. There were others involved, now dead. We can highlight the role they played. It should not be difficult to set your Major Eberbach on their trail. Perhaps his father will be willing to assist us." Illya paused, then said, "I thought you would be happy."

"I appreciate your efforts, but...." He regarded the Russian with frank appeal. "Klaus considered the Brigade to be his family. He told me that Rudy Löwen was the best man he'd ever known. The Major could never allow that massacre to go unavenged. And no matter how it played out, it would be a disaster. It would finish him."

"Probably. Still, in many cultures and species, it is considered natural for the son to confront and overcome his father. In old Macedonia as well as other ancient kingdoms, no monarch ever died from natural causes. At least, hardly ever." The Russian gave a little shrug, then lowered his eyes to escape the expression on Dorian's face. "Ah, well, Grand Opera is very interesting to watch until you or someone you care for becomes involved in one."

"I still hate lying to him. God, Illya, I was the one who started him looking."

"It's no longer your decision, if that's any help. U.N.C.L.E. has no wish to see the Major place himself or his career in jeopardy. Good men were never easy to find and these days, they are even more scarce." Illya closed the file. "Napoleon and I were surprised to hear from you after all this time. We have followed your adventures with NATO."

"And you were wondering if I'd changed my mind about working for agencies who list themselves in uppercase letters of the alphabet?"

The Russian gave another small shrug.

"Sorry to disappoint you, darling," Dorian said. "I won't be following in Dad's footsteps. He wasn't a willing uncle, you know. He worked hard to make sure I didn't have to be one."

"I was not aware your father was unhappy with us."

"He wasn't really. He loved the work, it gave him a chance to use all his talents. And he came to care for you all quite a bit. I was that close to being named Alexander." Dorian held up thumb and forefinger pinched together. "It was the lack of choice he resented."

"And you would resent it, too."

"Wouldn't you?"

Tactfully, Illya had remained silent.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me here in Berlin," Dorian had finished with all sincerity. "And for all your efforts as well."

"Your uncles are glad to be of service," Illya told him. "Even to a lost nephew like yourself - especially when our interests coincide."

"I've been wondering about that. Is it that you want to help Major Eberbach or that you want to control his father?" Dorian's eyes were bright and intense. "I've served the old man up on a platter for you, haven't I? You've got something on him now."

"That's sound, political reasoning, Eroica. I didn't think you approved of that."

"I don't."

"Politics are really the same everywhere," Illya explained briskly. "Just as soldiering is for soldiers, politics are for politicians except agents like ourselves take a more active role in matters. In a way, you could argue that we support the people we do battle with. If it weren't for this concept of freedom of choice, life would be most limiting for them as well." The Russian sighed. "Anyway, it is a job, just like anything else. Politics are a way in which certain people with certain gifts project themselves on the world. Once you've grasped that, you understand the whole situation."

"Still, most `jobs' don't require you to put your life on the line every day."

"Ah ... not every day. Just often enough to keep things interesting."

"Never lost that Errol Flynn fixation, did you?"

"Call on us again, if you like," Illya had said, taking his leave. "Where would we be without family?"

Such remarks were not unexpected and yet the answers Dorian could have made would not have been appropriate to the occasion. Neither of them discussed what another such call might cost. This one favor, Dorian realized, had paid back all debts and then some.

He wished he could feel better about it.

The thief lifted his gaze to read Löwen's headstone again. "`May I look on you when my last hour comes,'" he translated aloud. "`May I hold you, as I sink, with my failing hand.'"

The man must have been a classical scholar as well as a soldier. Not many knew the work of the Roman Elegiac poet, Albius Tibullus, master of the Latin love elegy. He could envy Klaus this relation-ship. Rudy Löwen was a man he would have liked to have known himself.

"Though we probably wouldn't have gotten on very well," Dorian said. "I would have been bloody jealous. I think I could be even now. You loved him, didn't you? And Klaus loved you, too. But you couldn't do anything about it." Dorian shook his head, frowning. Couldn't or wouldn't, that was the real question. "I could never have given him up. I would never have let anyone keep me away."

But perhaps that choice hadn't been the problem. Love, like hate, was a difficult thing to hide. Herr Eberbach, who took such pride in his only son, who had formed such plans for his future and Germany's - literally marrying them together - had he taken exception to his son's friend and mentor?

"Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," Dorian's own father had been fond of quoting. "But never more than 10% of your net."

The thief grinned. His father could have written the sequel to Machiavelli's Prince, but he had considered his children's freedom, their lives, as sacred. Non-negotiable. Dorian sighed. What polar opposites he'd had for parents.

But Herr Eberbach had wanted more than 10%. Apparently, he'd demanded his child's soul and done all he could to take it, too, and shape it to his own nightmare specifications. A compassionate heart might understand how the old man had been wounded, emotionally scarred throughout the war and by the loss of his beloved wife. One could even project how he could have reached the conclusion that emotional attachments only provided a lesson in misery. In some perverse way, he might have felt he was protecting his son.

Still, Herr Eberbach had forgotten how much the human soul required love. Like the emotionally deprived who engage in a lifelong quest for the approval of others, mistaking that for love, the need could be diverted but it never really went away.

So, Klaus had found love all on his own only to have it snatched from him because it hadn't been the right kind. Dorian could almost hear old Eberbach's thought process, He'll get over this. It will toughen him and make him strong. He will be a better man for this.

God help them all, the bastard had very nearly accomplished his goal.

"That's what makes this all so unfair," Dorian whispered. "I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. Surely, Klaus must suspect something ... maybe he's ready to face his father. Still, if he isn't...." Shaking, he covered his eyes with his hand. With regards to Rudolph Löwen, blind Lady Justice hadn't simply miscarried, she'd had an abortion and he'd wielded the sword.

"This is a terrible day for a picnic, lieber." The voice was very near. "You will freeze to the ground down there."

Startled, Dorian looked up quickly. He hadn't even heard the stranger approaching. Immediately, he ducked his head, raising his arm over his face. It was like suddenly staring up into flame.

"I didn't mean to frighten you." A friendly hand reached down and helped the thief to his feet. Dorian stumbled up, awkward and stiff, falling against the man. "Ouf," he said. "I was right. You are frozen."

"Just a bit," Dorian admitted, bracing himself against the stranger's chest. Like most cats and thieves, he didn't care to be manhandled by strangers.

"A hundred pardons." The man released him and stepped away, the sun still blazing behind him but bearably now as Dorian's eyes grew used to the brilliance. A clean handkerchief was offered and accepted. "I did not wish to intrude but you seemed so overwhelmed. Do you visit a family member here?"

"In a way." Dorian wiped eyes, blew his nose delicately. "More like a friend of a friend."

"You must have a very sensitive soul."

"Not at the moment. I have a very guilt-ridden conscience."

The stranger regarded him speculatively. "Yes," he said. "You look like you could be quite a heartbreaker."

"It's nothing like that. This is quite a different matter, somewhat beyond my experience." A reluctant smile blossomed on Dorian's lips. "Romantic situations are a specialty of mine. I usually handle those fairly well."

"That is much better. A face like yours, it is made for smiling ... and other things, too, I imagine." The observation was quite direct but it was difficult to take offense at the German's beautifully accented English. "Bitte," he continued. "Could I trouble you for a cigarette?"

"Of course."

Dorian produced a pack, offering it, then taking one himself. The stranger leaned down to light his off the candle on the gravestone. He inhaled deeply and released a gust of frosty smoke.

"That is perfect," he said. "Not my brand but very nice. Very fragrant."

"Danke," Dorian returned. He couldn't say if he felt annoyed or pleased to have company. The stranger was appealing in an old fashioned sort of way. And fascinating as well. There was a soldier's ruthlessness beneath his old world charm, that same sort of irrepressible swashbuckle he found so appealing in Klaus.

They smoked a while in silence, the wind penetrating Dorian's thick fur coat and lifting the skirts of the stranger's trenchcoat. The thief lost himself in quiet study. There was something familiar about the man, about his appearance, even his mannerisms. Oddly enough, he found himself remembering a statue of an archer he'd attempted to abduct some years ago.

"You are shivering," the stranger noted.

"I was thinking of a sculpture I tried to ... obtain some time back," Dorian explained, suddenly uncomfortable. "He was a warrior, too, an archer. The piece was rumored to be haunted, something about a failed love affair. But he was quite remarkable. I became quite attached in a very short time. I was just thinking how much you looked like him."

"What happened to it?"

"Lightning struck it. The work was destroyed."

"Art is not my line of work."

"No?"

"I am a soldier."

"A guardian angel," Dorian laughed. "Rescuing distressed gentlemen from graveyards."

The stranger just smiled. He finished his cigarette and put it out. "Would you mind a piece of advice?" he asked.

"This isn't your favorite pick up line, is it?"

"Nein." The smile stayed. "I prefer action over lines, there is less room for misunderstanding."

"I see."

"Ja, perhaps you do. What I want to tell you is, that there are situations which cannot be resolved in this life. There are questions for which there are no answers and, if you cannot accept this, you will soon drive yourself to madness. We live in an imperfect world and war is always with us, the battles outside and the battles within. All we can do is the best we can. Worry will not solve anything." He stopped a moment to let his words sink in, and then went on. "Not even the squirrels in the park eat their lunch in peace. Always there is something waiting to make a lunch of them. It is a wonder they don't all drop over from ulcers. But they don't."

"I see your point," Dorian said. "And I live by that ... usually. But what if I've made the wrong decision? What if I'm just manipulating someone for my own best interests?"

"Are you?"

"I don't think so. It wasn't my intention. But -"

"Do you love him?"

"Yes."

"Then it's as I said," he insisted. "All you can do is the best you can."

"That's it? That's all you've got to say?" Dorian shook his head. "I'm sorry, but as a guardian angel, I think you'd best scout for a new position."

"We are all someone's guardian angel if we've got the courage to accept responsibility. It isn't a happy job nor, I think, is it meant to be."

"You mean that, whatever decision I've made, I'm the one who has to live with it."

"I mean that men who love other men must be warriors whether they want to be or not. They share the burden and the joy of being survivors, of being outsiders and of being aware that every minute they are together, every day that they live and love each other is a triumph. A victory." Dark eyes blazed at Dorian from a golden brilliance. He stretched out cold, calloused fingers to caress the thief's cheek, tilting his face up. "If you can't or won't fight to keep the man you love, to do all you can to protect him, then you're a fool and you don't deserve him."

"Who are you?" Dorian demanded, suddenly alarmed.

"You got it right the first time," the stranger told him. "I'm your guardian angel."

Fingers bit into Dorian's shoulder like an electric shock. He cried out, more in surprise than pain. Without apology, the stranger wrapped an arm around him and pulled him close. Dorian was too shocked to protest the kiss - and it wasn't a very angelic or chaste kiss, either. Afterwards, the thief leaned against him, off balance in several ways.

"What's happening?" Dorian finally managed to stammer out. "What are you doing?"

"Actually, I prefer peach schnapps and beer to wine." He indicated the offerings on Löwen's grave with a wave of his arm. "Still, it's a good effort." He ran his hand over Dorian's face, sliding the curls out from very wide eyes.

The thief went a shade more pale. "Do you know what I've done...?"

"Yes. The best you could. So much of you lives in dream and for dream ... although you are certainly bound to your material needs." He touched the jewel hanging from Dorian's ear. "Still, cemeteries are not the place for you. If you wish to visit graves, you might try the memorial for Pfirsch Rommel and his Rosen Kavalier. I think that might be more suited to your tastes. The Wolf might even enjoy it, if you can persuade him. There was a time, liebling," the angel said and kissed him again, "when I am sure you could have certainly persuaded me."

"No, this is impossible," Dorian gasped. "You can't be Klaus' Lionheart! Wait - you can't -"

Suddenly released, Dorian staggered backward, stumbled and sat down hard. For some seconds, he lay still, stunned and blinded by the sun which had gone incredibly bright again. He felt cold all over and the newly healed wound in his leg ached horribly.

But his mouth tasted of whiskey and peaches and smoke.

Eventually, Dorian attempted to rise but gravity was insistent on having its way with him. He closed his eyes, trying to digest all that had just happened until a sudden thunder in his ears renewed his efforts at standing. What now? he wondered, dazed but curious. Is the ground opening up or what?

He was envisioning a rather spectacular Judgement Day extravaganza - all singing, all dancing - when he opened his eyes to see Klaus von dem Eberbach leaning over him.

"Major," Dorian began, diplomatic but delighted. It was impossible to tell if they were alone or not. No, he corrected himself. We're probably not alone.... "How lovely to see you," he managed instead.

"What happened?" Klaus demanded in a fury of concern. "What are you doing here?"

Consorting with your previous lover, Dorian thought although he quickly decided against that line of discourse. "I must have slipped on the ice," he said.

"Gott - you could have lain out here for hours if I had not happened by." Klaus helped him to sit up. "I will ask you again, what are you doing here?"

"I heard of your success, didn't I? Came to pay my respects to Major Löwen, yes?" Dorian blinked, smiling. "Why are you here? Checking up on me or is that too much to hope for?"

"Do not be absurd."

"All right. I'll try." He shook his head, trying to clear it, very pleased to see it still stayed attached to his neck. "I wonder if Sleeping

Beauty ever felt like this? I don't think you've got the proper awakening procedures down yet."

"You are not a bewitched princess, only a cursed thief." Klaus regarded him with suspicion. "What are you doing in town?"

"I suppose I was hoping since I've finished my work and you've obviously finished yours, that dinner - or something - might be possible."

"So you have been waiting for me here?"

"Don't be daft." Dorian staggered up to his feet with Klaus' assistance. "I rarely sun bathe in the snow and never in cemeteries." A frown crossed his face, dampening his revived spirits. "My leg hurts," he said, surprised.

Klaus managed him to a nearby bench. Dorian opened the lower half of his coat and together they performed a brief investigation. Blood seeped through his trouser leg, the wound had reopened.

"But it was healed," Dorian protested. A uneasy shiver broke through his sense of calm and his eyes flickered closed. At some point, his most recent experience would probably hit him full force. He found himself hoping it wouldn't be soon. "I don't understand...."

"Well, it is not healed now," Klaus said, all business. He took out his handkerchief and bound a makeshift bandage in place. "Still, it does not appear serious either. I can take care of it back at home."

Why is it, Dorian thought, bewildered, no one ever expects me to carry serviceable linen? The collection I've got at home.... He gazed across the path to Löwen's grave. So, I'm being invited into Schloss Eberbach with a legitimate excuse, am I? Are we baiting the old man or what? I don't know what to think about you, Lionheart. An officer, yes, but a gentleman...?

Dorian placed his hand over Klaus'. "I'm all right. You didn't come here to rescue me." He hesitated only briefly, then said, "You've never been out here before ... not to Major Löwen's grave. Have you?"

Klaus' expression immediately darkened.

"That is not a criticism," Dorian continued quickly, gentle but determined. "It doesn't matter if you've been here once or a million times or never. You're here now. Please, don't let me interrupt you, I can wait. If that's all right?"

"If it is all right?" Klaus returned. "You are asking me?"

"I am." The thief gave a small shrug. "Of course, I don't know if I can get very far on my own if you send me off." His smile returned again, like sunlight after a month of especially dreary rain. "I've missed you so much. It's so good to see you."

Blue eyes were as wide and guileless as a child's. Magnificent. Luminous. Klaus felt as if he might disappear into them if he looked too long.

"I have missed you as well," Klaus said when he could speak again.

"Thank you for telling me."

"You are welcome." The Major nodded. "I will not be long," he said.

"Take all the time you want," Dorian told him. "I won't be going anywhere."

Klaus hesitated before walking away. "I still can not believe that I feel about you the way I do," he said, bemused but smiling. "I still disapprove of you, Dieb."

"Darling," Dorian beamed back. "How could I respect anyone who didn't disapprove of me?"

"I thought it necessary that you know."

"Well, it's good to get these feelings out in the open. Perhaps you might care to express them in a more active manner later."

"With your leg?" Klaus asked.

Dorian grinned, color returning to his face. "And other body parts as well if you like."

Klaus smothered a laugh. He turned quickly, trying to not let the thief see but he wasn't quite fast enough. Dorian watched him walk across the path to Löwen's grave site, a soldier going to greet another soldier and a friend ... a loved one. And when the Major had paid his respects, they would leave together.

No more nightmares, not for either of them. The last four months had been like waking up and finding the dream was real. Not a sweet Watteau idyll or a bloody Delacroix riot but something crossed between and always changing. From now on, they both had someone to love, someone to survive for. Someone to come back to.

Content, Dorian brushed his fingers against Sophie's pearl earrings. He wondered if Lupin had missed them yet? Surely, the master thief understood he only meant to borrow them. A little. They were just too tempting and he looked so good in pearls. Like champagne, they went with everything.

Arsène could be relied upon to understand such lapses but Klaus.... Well, they would never see eye to eye about practically anything - except honor and loyalty and that Earth was the best bet going in spite of all the Ringans and Sables and tragic Charlie Kellos. That despite all the ever-changing, ever-shifting political factions, humanity was the only thing worth allegiance - that and each other.

Neither he nor Klaus would ever know any happy endings. By any name you called it, their love could never be labeled perfect. Or peaceful. There would never be one stable moment between them ... outside of the bed.

But balls, Dorian thought happily, who would ever want that?

 



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