PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

By Margaret Price

CHAPTER ONE

WELCOME HOME

For the first time that he could remember, Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, formerly of NATO, was not looking forward to returning to Germany.

He thought it had been difficult to ask Dorian to stay with him when he thought he was dying. Well, he was dying. A seemingly miraculous intervention had prevented this inevitability. He and Dorian had been out of the country for several months while he was recuperating. Now there would be hundreds of questions—to which neither of them wanted to divulge the answers. They agreed upon a simple answer. An experimental treatment in the Middle East. End of story.

Upon returning to Bonn, they each went their separate ways; Dorian to contact England and take care of some unfinished business; Klaus to do the same, and see his doctor. They agreed to meet at the Schloss that evening, where there would no doubt be further questions.

Dorian arrived first and was met with one surprise after another. He would later wish he had insisted upon meeting Klaus in town so they could return together.

The first surprise was the fact that his key no longer worked. Someone had apparently changed the locks during their long absence. Dorian wondered if there had been a break-in while they were away. This was by no means a barrier to Eroica. He might have been out of circulation a while, but he hadn’t forgotten how to pick a lock. He admitted himself to the house to find the second surprise. The Schloss was apparently empty, seemingly devoid of staff.

Dorian dropped his suitcases in the back hall and went on a quick search. He scowled as he looked into the dark and empty kitchen. It should have been alive with staff preparing the noon meal. He looked around in bewilderment. It wasn’t as if he were expecting all the servants to be lined up to greet the Master upon his return, since he wasn’t exactly the Master of the Schloss. But he had been practically running the place for the past three years while Klaus was ill.

He got to the study and stopped dead. All the artwork had been removed from the walls and were no doubt packed in the crates that were in the center of the room. What the hell has been going on while we were away?

“Well, the wandering Lord Gloria finally returns,” a harsh voice said from behind him.

Dorian turned to see Klaus’s cousin Frederik standing in the doorway. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the Earl demanded, holding out a hand. “Klaus will go ballistic when he sees this.”

Frederik gave a derisive snort as he entered the room. “You can drop the act, Lord Gloria,” he said coldly. “You can’t fool me. I know Klaus is dead.”

Dorian felt his heart turn over. “What?” He had a brief moment of panic, thinking he meant something had happened since he and Klaus returned to Bonn that morning. Then he realized there was no way the amount of work to the room could have been done in that short a time.

“Where did you get that idea? Klaus isn’t dead.”

“I said drop the act, you lying faggot,” Frederik snarled, slapping the Earl across the face. “You took him someplace to die, and you left him there. If you think I’m not going to the trouble of having him declared legally dead, you can think again. You’re going to tell me where he is.”

Dorian stood staring, not quite believing what he was hearing. “You think I…” He shook his head. “You’re starkers, you know that?”

This was probably not the wisest thing to say. Something Dorian concluded when Frederik took him by the throat, pushing him back against the stacked crates. “You’re choking me!”

“Where is he?”

“He’s in Bonn!” Dorian cried, pulling vainly at the hands at his throat. His attacker gave a snarl upon hearing this, slamming his head back against the crates. When he did it a second time, Dorian blacked out.

He had no idea how long he was unconscious, probably only minutes, because he awoke to find himself in the kitchen being tied to a chair. His hands had been pulled around the chair back, tied together and then against the frame. Frederik was kneeling in front of him, tying his ankle to the chair leg. When he tried to move, he realized his other leg was already secured to the chair.

“What are you doing?” Dorian demanded, struggling against his bindings. “Let me go!”

Frederik rose to his feet. “As soon as you tell me where you left Klaus.”

“I already told you. In Bonn.”

Frederik gave an exaggerated sigh. “Have it your way.”

Dorian twisted around as best he could to see what the man was doing. Suddenly a towel was pulled over his face and drawn up tightly behind his head. To his added horror, water was then poured over his face.

“I’ve heard a man can drown having this done,” Frederik said coldly as he slowly poured water from a pitcher onto his struggling captive. After a minute, he stopped, allowing the Earl to try and catch his breath. Then he started again, pouring water, stopping, pouring water…

When the pitcher was empty, Frederik pulled the towel from Dorian’s face, watching in silence as he gasped and choked as he tried to get his breath back.

“Now,” Frederick said calmly. “Are you going to tell me where you buried my cousin?”

“I didn’t!” Dorian protested.

“Okay.”

“No!” Dorian cried as the towel was returned to his face and the procedure repeated. He was certain he would drown this time, and was on the point of passing out when the towel was removed again. Dammit, Klaus, come home now and kill this bastard!

Once he could speak, Dorian asked weakly, “Why do you…think Klaus is dead?”

“You waltz into the Schloss like you own the place and you have the gall to ask me that?”

Dorian could not quite believe what he was hearing. “Wait…you still think you’re going to inherit everything?”

Frederik’s eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about still? I am going to inherit everything.”

Dorian shook his head. “Klaus changed his will. He’s leaving everything to me.”

“Liar!” Frederik snarled, slapping the Earl across the face.

“It’s the truth. You pissed him off one time too many,” Dorian spat back.

Frederik’s eyes narrowed in response to this.

“It’s in the study,” Dorian went on. “You must’ve seen it. Or haven’t you had the chance to ransack Klaus’s desk yet?” He braced himself for the slap he knew this would provoke. He was not disappointed. He was also relieved with the lunatic stormed off to the study. Good, you go check on that. Read the whole thing through a dozen times until Klaus gets here.

Dorian struggled with his bindings while Frederik was gone and looked around, wondering if he could get one of the knives. Before he could do anything, his captor returned with the documents from Klaus’s desk.

“He left you everything!” Frederik said in disbelief. “How did you manage it?”

“I didn’t. I told you, you pissed him off one time too many.”

“Bullshit! Everybody knows he hates your guts!”

Dorian gave him a cold and angry look. “Maybe he hates you more.”

Frederik’s eyes narrowed as he glanced down at the document in his hand. Then he looked up again. “Tell me. Did you make a new will, Lord Gloria?”

* * * * *

CHAPTER TWO

IRON KLAUS RETURNS

It was dusk when Klaus finally returned to the Schloss. Among other things, he had been to see his doctor and had ended up spending most of the day being poked and prodded. Despite what had happened to save his life, he decided that his opinion hadn’t changed. He really, really hated doctors.

Klaus was surprised to see the Schloss dark when he arrived. Not a single light in the front, and only one that he could see at the back. As he pulled up to the garage, he was surprised to see two people in the garden. One of them was undeniably Dorian, his mop of blond curls unmistakable, even in the failing light. He supposed now that his hair had gone completely white, he would be just as unmistakable. He had no idea who the other man was and wondered what they were doing out in the garden in the middle of winter.

Klaus still needed a cane to walk, which meant running to catch up with the pair was out of the question. Of course, all he had to do was follow the footprints in the snow. One set of prints looked as though the person were dragging his feet, which puzzled him. He became even more puzzled as the footprints passed through an arbor standing between a tall hedgerow. What the hell are they doing going to the pond in the middle of winter? Was the person dragging his feet carrying something heavy? Dammit, Dorian, you had better not be planning another Goddamn surprise.

When Klaus passed through the arbor, he did indeed get a surprise. Dorian was lying on the ground, his hands tied behind his back. Frederik was beside him holding his head underwater.

Klaus wasn’t conscious of moving. Nor was he conscious of going from convalescing retired General von dem Eberbach to Iron Klaus in the space of a few steps. Suddenly he standing over the horrified Frederik, his cane raised above his head. Then his cousin was on his back, groaning, a hand to his temple. What Klaus was conscious of was pulling Dorian’s motionless form from the water. He checked for a pulse, breathing, anything…

He’s so cold, Klaus thought as he turned the Earl on his side and untied his hands. Don’t die. Please, don’t die.

Dorian’s body spasmed and he started to choke. Then he vomited, which did not surprise Klaus. What did surprise him was it was not just water. It was a multicolored collection of half-digested pills.

Klaus looked up sharply, his eyes narrowing as he glared at the now cowering Frederik. “What did you give him?” he demanded.

Frederik continued to stare in stupefied amazement. “You’re alive…”

Klaus gave a low growl and crossed to him, grabbing him by the throat. “Goddamn it, Frederik!” he thundered. “What did you give him? Tell me!”

“I…I don’t know…” Frederik stammered. “Whatever was in the kitchen.”

Klaus’s eyes grew wide. “You gave him my medications?” he said in horror.

Frederik gave a whimper when the hand at his throat tightened. “Yes,” he said meekly.

“What else?”

“Wine.”

Klaus rose to his feet and took a step back. “Pick him up.”

“What?”

“I can’t carry him, so you’re going to have to,” Klaus stated flatly.

“Klaus…I can’t…” Frederik broke off when his enraged cousin took him by the throat again, only this time, he almost completely cut off his air.

“You fucking vulture,” Klaus snarled. “I don’t know what the hell you thought you were doing, but you’re lucky he’s still alive. Now pick him up and carry him to my car.” His voice hardened further as he said in an unnaturally calm voice, “And if he dies, I’m going to kill you. Very…very…very…slowly.”

Frederik blanched visibly. He had never been confronted with Iron Klaus, although he knew his cousin’s reputation. He had stupidly thought Klaus would make exceptions for family. Only now did he realize he made exceptions for no one.

Frederik did as he was told, struggling to carry the unconscious Earl to the car. He managed to get him on to the back seat and closed the door. He turned to his cousin, a chill running down his spine when he saw the look in his eyes and he found himself praying that Dorian would live.

Klaus pointed to the rear of the car. “Stand there,” he ordered.

Frederik did as he was told.

“Turn around.”

“Klaus, please…”

“Shut up and turn around!”

Frederik wisely did as ordered. He was actually relieved when Klaus did nothing more violent than tie his hands behind his back.

Klaus saw raw terror on his cousin’s face and found himself pleased by it. How does it feel, you bloody bastard? Dorian wouldn’t hurt a fly. He opened the trunk and pointed. “Get in.” He watched in silence as the other man climbed into the car. “If you start yelling to be let out, I’ll leave you in there indefinitely,” he said before slamming the trunk closed.

Everything in the kitchen. He gave him everything in the kitchen. What the hell was left? Klaus quickly went into the house and retrieving all the now empty prescription bottles, his rage growing with every second. Then he went back to the car. He made a quick check on Dorian. He was alive but barely breathing. He’s so cold. Don’t die. Please, don’t die. Not now.

Klaus got in and then drove like a maniac to the hospital. He didn’t care if the Emergency Room was overrun and would have driven straight through the entrance if he had to, which, fortunately, he didn’t. In fact, the Emergency Room was remarkably quiet.

Klaus did not even have to look around when he strode through the doors. He had lost count of the number of times he had been rushed to the hospital over the past three years. Within a few minutes, Dorian was being carefully removed from the car and placed on a stretcher.

Klaus held out the bag full of empty prescription bottles to the nearest doctor as Dorian was being wheeled inside. “I don’t know how many pills were left in these,” he said calmly, “but this is what his took. They were washed down with wine.”

“Thank you, that will be a big help,” the doctor said, quickly checking the labels. “The appropriate authorities will have to be notified,” he said without looking up.

“I bloody well hope so,” Klaus replied tersely. “I have the bastard who gave those to him in the trunk of my car.”

The physician blinked. “This wasn’t a suicide attempt?”

“Hell, no. It was a homicide attempt.”

The doctor looked the man in front of him up and down. How the hell could he be so calm? He looked back at the bottles in his hand, this time reading the name on the prescription, his eyes growing wide. He looked up again, his mouth dropping open in shock. “These pills…” he began slowly, “where did they come from?”

“My house.”

Your house?”

Klaus sighed heavily. “Yes. Schloss Eberbach. That’s my name on the prescriptions.” The man continued to goggle at him and he finally lost his patience. “Are you going to stand there staring at me all night or are you going to go do your fucking job?”

* * *

CHAPTER THREE

DON’T LEAVE ME

Klaus wasn’t sure when his mind switched off. He knew it wasn’t when he followed the doctor back inside and silently watched as the team worked on Dorian. His mud and water soaked clothing were cut off and placed into a plastic bag along with his jewelry. Someone then wordlessly handed the package to Klaus, who had refused to leave he room. When it became obvious that he planned to do nothing more than stay out of the way and watch, the staff left him alone.

Good thing you’re unconscious, Klaus had thought as preparations were made to pump Dorian’s stomach. Not a very romantic procedure to endure. He knew this first hand, having once been poisoned on a mission and rushed to a hospital. It was not an experience he cared to repeat.

It was about this time that the police arrived. Klaus led them to his car and popped the trunk, glaring down at the terrified Frederik within. Before letting him out, he told his cousin in no uncertain terms to tell the police exactly what he had done or he would fulfill his earlier promise and kill him.

It was several hours before Klaus was able to return to the hospital. He had answered a battery of questions, given a statement, and shown the police exactly where he had discovered his cousin trying to drown Dorian. Someone found a suicide note that Frederik had apparently forced Dorian to write. Something ludicrous about not being able to go on without Klaus. Since it was obvious that Klaus was very much alive and well, the note only served to strengthen the case against Frederik.

Three years ago, Klaus would have stayed at the Schloss to see what the police were doing. Not now. All he wanted was to return to the hospital, even if it meant waiting for several more hours until he learned anything.

Klaus arrived to learn that Dorian had been placed in a Critical Care Unit. His condition had been stabilized, but he was in a coma and on a respirator. Apparently one of the medications he had been given had an adverse affect on the respiratory system when taken with alcohol, meaning, in simple terms, he could stop breathing.

None of the staff questioned his presence, nor did they tell him to go when visiting hours ended, although Klaus was certain they were all just as aware of the irony as he was. How many times had he himself been in this very unit, Dorian at his side around the clock?

What a welcome home, Klaus thought as he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Within a few minutes, he was asleep.

* * *

Klaus was beginning to wonder if he would spend the rest of his life in hospitals as he returned to Dorian’s room. Four days and the Earl was still unconscious. He was no longer on a respirator, and had been moved out of Critical Care, but no one knew when, or even if, he would ever wake up. Klaus had grudgingly answered all the relevant questions. Did the Earl have any next of kin? Yes. Where were they? England. Should they be notified by the hospital? No. He would take care of that.

Next of kin. Dorian’s family cared as much about him as his own family did where he was concerned, Klaus thought in disgust. All they wanted to know was if the Earl was dead yet so they could decide who would be the next Earl of Gloria. Klaus told them exactly what he thought of them and slammed the phone down. He then contacted Bonham with the news, explaining what little he knew of Dorian’s condition. He gave him his cell phone number and promised to keep him appraised of the situation.

“Thank you, General,” Bonham said quietly. It was obvious from his tone that he was fighting tears.

Klaus hung up the phone and stood thoughtfully a moment. That was the family Dorian cared about. The family that deserved to know what was going on, not the ones who shared his DNA.

*

Klaus jumped when he realized he had dozed off again. He had been doing that a lot lately. He had pulled the chair up to the bedside and laid his head in his arms. He was not about to climb into bed with Dorian, although he had no doubt that’s what the Earl would do if the situations were reversed. Then again, now that he thought about it, that’s what the Earl had done when the situations were reversed. How many times had he woken up to find him curled up beside him?

Klaus sat up, wondering what had woken him. The answer came immediately when the doctor spoke from the doorway. “Forgive me, General. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Klaus turned to look at him but did not reply. The questions had all been asked days ago. If anyone had anything new to tell him, they would. He waited as the doctor checked Dorian over, but still could not help asking, “Is there nothing more that can be done?”

The doctor looked up. “Have you been talking to him?”

Klaus blinked. “What?”

“Talking to him. Coma patients respond to familiar voices.”

“Will it help?”

The doctor shrugged. “It can’t hurt.”

Klaus watched the man leave and sat staring at the closed door. He’d heard of this before, heard the dozens of stories of miraculous recoveries. Miraculous recoveries. He turned and looked at the unconscious Dorian. I think we’ve used up our quota of miracles.

He sat for several minutes, wondering what in the hell he was supposed to say. Dorian was the one who was always prattling on about nothing while he quietly went mad listening to him.

“The doctor tells me I’m supposed to talk to you,” Klaus said as he got to his feet. “What does he expect me to say?” He paused a moment. “What do you expect me to say? No, never mind, I know the answer to that one.”

He drew a deep breath and started talking, telling the Earl everything that had happened since the incident. Frederik’s arrest, the scandal in the family, everyone’s shock at learning he himself was still alive and was apparently cured. To his surprise, he found he could talk for hours if he thought of it as a debriefing.

“Everyone thinks I’m looking after you because of duty,” Klaus admitted guiltily. “Because you stayed with me when none of them would. What am I supposed to tell them?” He paused. Did he move? Oh, shit! Now would be the time he hears me. Then another thought struck him. What if he dies?

Klaus felt his heart miss a beat. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about this since the first day. Hadn’t allowed himself to consider the fact that Dorian might actually die.

“Don’t you dare leave me!”

Klaus jumped when he realize he was the one who had spoken. The words leaping from his mouth. Don’t leave me. He sat down again, and laid his head on the bed. “Dorian, I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I’m so very sorry.” I should’ve come home sooner. This never would’ve happened if I’d come home sooner. He closed his eyes, hoping that sleep would come again.

“Why?”

“Hmm?” Klaus half opened his eyes. Why what? Who’s in the room now?

“Why are you sorry?”

What? Klaus frowned. Then his eyes snapped open and he sat up, turning to see Dorian looking at him through half open eyes. “Mein Gott!” He jumped to his feet and before he knew what he was doing, he was kissing Dorian very passionately on the mouth.

“Down boy,” Dorian said weakly, a small smile on his face. “I think I’m supposed to be recuperating.” This did not stop him from giving Klaus a hug the instant he sat down on the bed.

Klaus found himself not wanting to let go. Then he realized that Dorian was in no hurry to let go either.

“I’m going to assume you rescued me,” Dorian said quietly.

“Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner.”

“I’m glad you didn’t get there later.”

Klaus blinked. This had never occurred to him. He had been feeling so guilty about not getting home sooner that he had overlooked what would have happened if he had arrived even ten minutes later. He pulled Dorian away so he could look into his eyes. “I was afraid I was going to lose you again.”

Dorian frowned. “Again?”

Klaus drew a deep breath and admitted, “When you stopped following me, all those years ago.”

“You thought I’d lost interest. I know.” Dorian caught his breath, a hand going to his mouth. “I hurt you, didn’t I? Oh, God, why were we such idiots?”

“My pride got in the way, I think.” Klaus put a hand on Dorian’s face.

“Oh, Klaus,” Dorian said, leaning against the hand to his cheek. “I always said I’d break that proud German nose of yours.”

“And you did, several times.”

Dorian gave a small laugh, leaning back on the pillows and closing his eyes. “I still love you, y’know.”

“Yes.” Klaus leaned down and gently kissed Dorian’s cheek.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask…”

“Too bad,” Klaus replied calmly. “Because I’ve realized that…I love you, too.”

What followed was a hug so tight that Klaus was sure Dorian would hurt himself. Then Dorian pulled him down and kissed him so passionately that he found himself wondering if it were appropriate to speculate whether or not there was a lock on the door.

* * *

Eroica