Christmas As Always

Christmas As Always

by Hwar Goh Tsu

 

The night wasn’t as black as it might have been, because the drifts of crystal snow that piled high on the trees and surrounded the estate kept it from being the darkest night of the year. Klaus enjoyed the familiar way it sparkled and reflected the sliver of silver moonlight as it cut a path through the tall old pines. The wind whistled, rattling the small panes of the window as it tried to force entrance into the Schloss. Klaus let the heavy curtain drop back into place, obscuring his view of the desolate but well-loved landscape.

"Will there be anything else?" asked his household’s long time butler, Otto. Klaus turned back to reality to answer him. "No. I will be fine. Go join your family."

"Thank you. Joyous Christmas."

"And to you and yours."

Klaus von dem Eberbach returned to his seat in front of the huge roaring fire and picked up his neglected glass of twenty-five year old brandy.

It was Christmas Eve, and once again he was alone. It wasn’t as if he had to spend Christmas by himself; he could have joined relatives for dinner, or he could have attended midnight mass at the village church. But this was the way that he wanted to spend Christmas. For years now he had preferred to spend the time alone, or working if he was required to do so.

Klaus never felt like celebrating, and he certainly did not believe in what the Christian holiday had come to stand for. The day, and everything it had meant, had been ruined years ago when his mother died; he had just turned twelve years old. His father, busy with the funeral, had forgotten to give him the gifts she had picked out for him. No Saint Nicholas gifts for the Eberbach household that year. Of course now he knew his father had been dealing with his grief in his own gruff way. But as a boy of twelve he'd found himself alone, with no comfort, and had been told only that he was too old to cry. Ever since then Christmas Eve had become his "Day of the Dead", and it was only on this holiday that he took some time out of his busy life to reflect.

Klaus sighed as he contemplated the flames in the huge stone fireplace; nothing good ever happened to him at this time of the year.

It had become a season to be endured while the rest of the world celebrated. Even so, he couldn’t help but soak up the quiet and the solitude, and for once he didn’t want to know what was happening to the rest of the world. "Peace of Earth" was one thing he knew he couldn’t provide for anyone this holiday; sometimes he wondered if anything he did would ever make a difference. As a NATO Major he frequently did his best to save one tiny corner of the world at a time. It was strange; he'd never before doubted that his job could make a difference. Only now, at the dark time of the year, did he allow his doubts to surface.

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach needed this break in his normally diligent, active life to rest. He needed this time, though he was loath to admit it, to prove, to reiterate why it was he had to return to do the work he was best at, and as soon as possible. When he was working, he didn’t feel lonely, and he didn’t miss having a family gathered around; while he was busy he didn’t even regret that he didn’t have someone special to share his life with.

Someone special – that was another problem all in itself.

Why was it that, no matter how hard he tried, he was unable to rid himself of the outrageous idea that Eroica – that disreputable thief – that unprincipled English peer, the only man who could drive him insane by his very presence, could somehow be the very person who could hold back the loneliness? What was it that Eroica saw in him that no one else did? Where had the perverse thief gotten the idea that Klaus would be at all interested? The outrageous Earl of Red Gloria, alias the international art thief Eroica, was continually lavishing attention on Klaus whenever they met.

Klaus hated the idea, now more than ever, that the unprincipled blond could ever mean anything more to him than just a colleague whose skills he admired. Dorian was very good at what he did. But how could Klaus even consider that the admiration he felt might be anything more than that? They were two entirely different people. Complete opposites. And he was sure that Dorian would never – ever – conceive of changing to suit Klaus’s principles. But, Klaus asked himself, was that what he wanted?

His thoughts were interrupted by the loud clanging of the front doorbell. It jarred his nerves and disturbed the peace of the evening. Who in the world could that be? Annoyed, Klaus went to answer the door, thinking that it had just turned 8:00 and most normal people had somewhere to be.

When he saw who was patiently waiting to be let in, Klaus wanted to ignore convention and let Eroica wait forever on the doorstep, but the man had already noticed him standing there, looking the fool, as he loitered about in his own front hall. He couldn’t very well leave Dorian out on the steps, in the cold, at night… could he?

The tall blond’s arms were filled with what looked to be a hundred packages and his breath frosted the air of the hallway as Klaus moved aside and Eroica swept past with a cheery, "Fröhliche Weihnachten!"

Klaus shut the door as Dorian dumped his burden onto the nearest hall table and then shook the snow out of his hair. "It’s really coming down out there and as lovely as that appears from the sanctuary of a warm room in front of a blazing fire, I for one am very grateful that we will be inside." He twirled his cape onto one of the hall chairs before adding in a hopeful tone, "We might get snowed in."

"Dorian, what the hell are you doing here?"

"Why, I’m here to visit you, of course! What does it look like?" He glided into the sitting room, tossing a brightly patterned scarf onto the back of another chair before moving to stand before the fire. "I was sure you’d be alone."

"I am. And it is by choice." Even as he stressed the last word, Klaus had little hope that Dorian would take any notice of it. He was right.

The Earl stood before the fire wearing a white silk shirt, black wool pants, and a wounded expression. He was rubbing his arms. "That brandy looks wonderful," Dorian hinted, throwing in a longing look just for good measure. And when Klaus didn’t take it, he added sweetly, "Aren’t you going to offer me any?"

Klaus knew that he might as well agree and get it over with, because Dorian would not leave until he accomplished whatever purpose he had in coming here. "Very well. Just one."

Pouring the brandy into one of his crystal Christmas glasses, the NATO Major recalled that the glasses hadn’t been used for guests in over twenty years. As he glanced up he noticed Dorian's reflection in the mirror over the sideboard. His eyes were so blue – and contrary to what he always denied, they actually sparkled – and his cheeks still held the blush of a warm rosy glow, and his lips – dark as wine – were parted, as usual, with a ready question.

Klaus turned abruptly and shoved the drink into his hand before Dorian could say or do something to catch him off guard.

"Thank you." Eroica accepted it gracefully, ignoring the incivility of his manner. Then he took a sip. "Mmm... lovely."

Klaus resolutely went back to his brandy and his spot on the couch. The Earl of Red Gloria followed and settled in at the opposite end. The distance he chose to place himself was just within Klaus's tolerable range. Dorian, from long experience, knew precisely where the limits lay, and he knew that it wasn’t uncomfortable enough to force Klaus to move.

"Peaceful," Dorian noted dreamily. This was how he always imagined it could be with Klaus. If only this was what Klaus also imagined.

"It was," said Klaus dryly.

"How many of these..." Dorian raised his glass and his left eyebrow, "...have you had?"

Klaus risked a look in the man's direction, wanting to be sure that he referred to the drink, before he answered, "Not enough."

Dorian let that line of conversation die but after a moment he sallied forth again. "I really love the candlelight." And again, unable to obtain an answer, Dorian let his attempt at conversation drop.

For a while the brandy and the fire were enough to warm him.

Klaus continued to ignore Dorian; he lit another cigarette and smoked determinedly.

Time passed almost without either of the two men noticing and soon the fire burned low, draping the corners of the room in shadows.

When Klaus could no longer see the sharp outlines of Dorian’s face, he realized that he’d been staring at the blond for some time; thinking how – right – Dorian looked sitting here, and in this house. To rid himself of his unprecedented wayward thoughts, Klaus went to add more fuel to the fire.

Dorian followed his stiff movements, aware that Klaus had not been quite as successful at ignoring him as he might have wished. "Klaus..." Dorian waited until Klaus's attention focused once more on him, before continuing. "Why is it we never talk?"

"Because we have nothing to say to each other."

"There is a lot I would love to say to you, if you would but sit still and listen."

Klaus came back to the couch slowly, glowing blue eyes tracking his every move.

As he sat back down, Dorian thought that Klaus seemed to lean in a bit closer. Finally after a bout of delaying tactics, straightening his ashtray and lighter, Klaus turned and faced him levelly. Dorian watched and let him settle himself; nevertheless Dorian's expression clearly indicated he still expected an answer.

"So talk." Klaus sat back and made himself comfortable, one arm along the back of the sofa.

"You mean it?" Dorian whispered, daring to hope.

"I am not going to give you any further encouragement."

"Klaus... I have been thinking..."

"That’s a good start."

"I’m serious. I have been trying to come up with an idea... something I can do after I retire."

The Major’s green eyes narrowed and he stared at Dorian as if he'd just put on a dress. "You want to stop being a thief?" Klaus’s tone was incredulous.

"I don’t want to, no. But I will have to sometime, won’t I? When that happens I will require something interesting to do. I thought that I might go into the security business."

"You want to protect people from yourself?"

Dorian ignored the comment. "I am becoming fascinated by computers. I understand that your office has converted everything over to them?"

"Oh no... Have you discovered the possibilities of computer theft already?"

"Well... yes, but that is not what I mean to do – at least not exactly. I thought that maybe I might be able to sell interesting tidbits of information. I understand there is an enormous market out there for that sort of thing. That’s why I need your help."

"Why?"

"You have the all the right connections. And, you must admit, that you do know what the market consists of. Besides, if you're in on it with me then you can make sure that I don’t sell anything that you don’t approve, to the wrong people."

"Is that a threat?"

"No, of course not! It’s meant to be a bribe. Klaus, I want to work with you. I want to be with you." Dorian leaned forward and daringly touched the sleeve of Klaus’s corduroy jacket. "You have to admit that we work extremely well together." And when Klaus didn’t pull away, Eroica lowered his voice to a seductive whisper and continued, "And I, very much, want us to be together." Risking a coy glance out from under long lashes, Dorian asked more than one question.

Should he trust him? How could he trust the deceitful thief? Why was he even considering the idea? How did Eroica come up with this – this scheme – all of a sudden? What if this was just some insidious plan to get into Klaus's arms, or Klaus's bed? Dorian was sitting so close that Klaus could feel his warm breath as it softly brushed his neck. He shivered. His neck wasn’t the only part of his anatomy that was being affected. Klaus was on the verge of giving in and doing just what Dorian wanted: grabbing him, shoving him backwards on the couch, and following him down, crushing him and the lust he roused...

Klaus hardened his eyes deliberately and held on to the only constant in his life – his job. "What about my job?"

"As I am not as yet ready to retire, you don’t have to worry about that. Well, not yet anyway. And I still have an awful lot to learn about modems and such. I really just wanted to bring it up, to see if you would even give it some consideration. At the time I thought of it, it appeared to be the perfect solution." And in a small voice Dorian added, "Please, will you at least think it over?"

"You are serious!" Surprised into an honest reaction, Klaus was unable to keep the incredulity from his voice.

"I said that I was. Maybe at one time I really didn’t have a care and whatever happened to me – happened, but now that I have something to live for."

"And what is that?"

"Darling, don’t do this to me. You know very well that it is to be with you that I am willing to change my lifestyle." Klaus was unable to ignore the very real pain in the voice. "I love you."

Klaus took a deep breath. It was too hard to pretend to himself that it didn’t matter what Dorian said. It mattered too much. And that had always been part of the problem. The other part was he had always thought Eroica would never change. Not for him. Not for anything. Klaus let the air he was holding, slowly out of his lungs. Life was too short and uncertain not to live dangerously.

Murmuring softly, Klaus bent close to Dorian’s curled covered ear, "Don’t change too much."

"Klaus?" Covering his astonishment and suppressing a flare of hope, Dorian searched his love’s face for a sign that this was a joke. "Are you sure?" he asked carefully.

"As sure as I’ll ever be." Klaus, leaning towards Dorian, roughly, inexpertly, pulled the other man against his chest and into a consuming kiss.

The slight chill in the room went unnoticed as one fire burnt down and another flared and burned hotly, searing them with its warmth.

Boneless, Klaus sank back against the pillows and Dorian followed him down, unable to relinquish his hold even for a moment. Wildfire raced through his blood as Klaus embraced the mercurial man, holding on tighter than he had ever done with anyone. He couldn’t believe it possible that Dorian was willing to do this for him. Klaus was losing control and his hands wandered under the soft silk of the white shirt, enjoying the feel of the firm chest.

The sound of the doorbell interrupted them with its harsh clanging sound. Dorian pulled back as Klaus said aloud what they both felt: "God damn it!"

"Who could that be at this time of night?" said Dorian, his passion-dark eyes bright as sapphires.

Klaus threw him a sour look and pushed at the man still clinging to him. Klaus only succeeded in shifting his weight.

"You don’t have to answer it," persuaded the frustrated blond.

"And leave whoever it is out in that storm?" Klaus said sharply. He tried to comfort Dorian by stroking his arm; unbelievably, Klaus realized he burned for him.

"Klaus, please don’t go." But even as Dorian pleaded the bell cried out again for attention.

Klaus convinced himself. "It might be important. I still have a job to do." He pushed at Dorian until he yielded ungracefully and let him up.

Things were even worse than Klaus imagined. Outside were two of his agents, A and G, with another man whom he didn’t recognize. Klaus opened the door with a growing sense of loss at losing something he had only the tiniest glimpse of.

"Thank you Major; it’s really horrible out there."

"What is this all about?" he sharply questioned his men.

They snapped to attention at his tone. But A questioned bravely, "May we come in?"

Klaus gestured with his arm, ungraciously inviting them to enter.

Dorian was pulling down his thin shirt as they walked into the cozy sitting room.

"My Lord?!" questioned A, as he noticed the Earl of Red Gloria.

Dorian was now fluffing out his long blond hair.

"Dorian!" squealed G, "It’s lovely to see you again." And he went to stand by the elegant blond’s side, gazing up at him adoringly.

"Gentleman," Dorian greeted them unhappily.

"Well?" Klaus questioned harshly.

"Sir. We were on our way to deliver this witness, for the Johannesburg trial." At Klaus's nod, A continued, "And we discovered that we were being tailed. So, we turned off the main road, hoping to lose them, but by then the snow was becoming too difficult to continue driving through. It was then that we remembered you lived in the area, not very far from where we were, so without any other options, we came here." He glanced about the peaceful setting and thought to add, "Sorry we interrupted your Christmas."

Klaus shrugged off the apology and asked, "Did you shake your tail?"

"Oh yes. We wouldn’t have led him here," G answered for both of them.

"Ah... sir... we were wondering if... well, if we could pass the night here?"

Klaus had always put his job before his personal life, but this time Dorian was watching him with promises in his eyes tempting him to neglect his duty. "Of course." It was the only answer he was able to give. "The servants are all out and won’t be back until morning. So we will have to fend for ourselves."

Dorian had walked away to refill his brandy glass. Klaus hoped that he was not too annoyed with him. After all, it was a large castle... lots of rooms... lots of space...

"Not a problem, sir." A turned to introduce the man they were protecting. "Major, this is Herr Schmidt. Herr Schmidt, this is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach. Herr Schmidt can only speak German," he added aside in that language.

"Major. I am counting on your help," said the small, weedy, clerk-like Herr Schmidt.

"NATO always takes good care of its witnesses. Allow me to introduce the Earl of Red Gloria. He is working with us."

"I understand," Herr Schmidt said with a serious tone.

"Dorian, will you take them all to the kitchen? I am sure that coffee would be in order." Klaus didn’t think that Dorian had ever been in his kitchen, but knowing Dorian as he did, he was sure that he had every inch of his home memorized. "I’ll take care of the coats."

"Aye-aye, Major," he said tartly in English.

As the three men followed him out Dorian wondered why Klaus wanted him out of the way. G began to pester him about everything that he had done since they had last met. All the way to the kitchen Eroica cursed the rotten bloody luck they had. After capturing Klaus's interest at last, they were being prevented from doing anything about it. Talk about frustrating... Dorian sighed and did his best to be polite to the cute agent and told himself that it would be a long night… and if Eroica had anything to say about it, Klaus would be in his bed before the sun rose.

Klaus wondered why these things had to happen to him. This sort of complication was one of the very reasons he always refused to become involved with anyone. He told himself that if he had never known Dorian, never admitted that Dorian was important to him, then he would never have discovered that his life was lacking. This was all Dorian’s fault. Of course, he'd forgotten: nothing good ever happened to him on Christmas Eve. He took a moment to light a cigarette and plot his strategy; his plan was to get all of them to bed early so he could spend some time alone with Dorian.

An hour later, after coffee and sandwiches – brought in by Eroica and G to the rest of the group in the sitting room – had all been consumed, Klaus still hadn’t found a way to get rid of them. And Dorian constantly throwing him mournful glances from across the room didn’t help. Not at all. Now that he had tasted the blond’s seductive mouth he knew he wanted more.

Dorian brought him another large glass of brandy. What was that man trying to do? Klaus knew that he was beginning to feel the adverse effect of drinking so much when Dorian’s proximity produced an immediate reaction of lust and longing. Klaus put down the glass, and after checking to make sure no one was looking, he pulled Dorian around the corner into the passageway.

"Oh Klaus," Dorian breathed as he was shoved against the wood paneled wall. "I do love it when you’re forceful."

"Don’t be an idiot. I just want to tell you that I will try to come to your room later."

"Why wait until later; why not now?" he said brazenly, as he wound long arms around him. Pressing his hips forward, Dorian rubbed against the bulge at Klaus's crotch.

"Mein Gott." Klaus knew that he should pull away, that at any second one of his men could come around that same corner, that they would be seen and they would be caught, but instead he kissed Dorian. The blond murmured happily and pressed even closer.

"Major?" It was G raising his voice looking for him. Klaus sprang back; he attempted to steady his breathing as Dorian reached to straighten his disarranged tie. The Major jerked away, fixed it himself, and then marched back into the room.

"Oh, there you are. Do you have a copy of the most recent codebook available? We haven’t had a chance to decode our last instruction, with all the excitement."

"Of course. Come with me."

"Well, if you don’t mind, can A go with you to do it?" He sent a meaningful look in Dorian’s direction as the blond leaned seductively against the doorframe Klaus had just come through. The Major, normally not so perceptive, realized that G was still after Dorian. And that annoyed him no end.

"I do mind," he snapped, and then ordered, "Come with me."

The code-breaking took up another hour and a half. It was now after 10:30 and the cozy scene that greeted him when he returned to the sitting room did nothing to relieve his frustration. None of them gave any indication of wanting to retire.

So he intended to prod them a bit. "Why don’t I show you all to your rooms?"

"Thank you Major, but I am not sure if we intend to use them at all. We hid out in a motel and slept for most of the day, planning to travel at night," explained A.

"Besides I think that we should keep awake and stand guard. I’ll take the first shift," added G. And to Dorian he asked, "Do you want to wait with me?"

Klaus sent his sternest disapproving glance in his agent's direction. And answered for Dorian. "No, he will not! He is my guest and not, at this time, an employee of NATO, as you two are and still might be tomorrow, if you can manage to handle this simple assignment by yourselves."

Abashed, though not nearly enough so for Klaus's liking, G took the seat next to Dorian on the couch.

Klaus, deciding he was going to need more coffee to help get him through the night, stated his intention and stalked to the door.

"I’ll help you, Major." Dorian got up and followed him down the hall and into the kitchen.

Klaus was banging things around while the Earl of Red Gloria leaned on the counter. Klaus ignored how tempting Dorian looked as he picked delicately at the bunch of grapes draped over a fruit bowl. "I thought you wanted to help?" he growled at Dorian.

"I do. But not with the coffee." Dorian’s eyes promised to aid him with things Klaus could barely face in his imagination. Dorian popped another grape into his mouth.

Klaus banged another pot out of his way. He had never been so frustrated before by anything he’d ever tried to accomplish. Maybe if he just knocked them all out...?

With the coffee perking merrily away, Dorian turned to Klaus and pushed a grape into the Major’s mouth and followed it with a demanding kiss, aggressively backing Klaus up against the counter.

When Dorian pulled back enough to let him breathe, Klaus's eyes were glazed over with a need Dorian had only dreamed of seeing in them. He wanted to soothe the raging need he felt radiating from his dark love. Klaus had somehow managed to keep his passions hidden from him, although Dorian had suspected for quite some time that they ran deep. But to have proof of Klaus's need for him, and in such wonderful tangible ways... "Darling, let me help relieve the pressure, just a little."

Klaus tipped his head back as Dorian’s hands traveled downward, leaving him with no doubt of what Dorian had in mind. "Yes..." Klaus hissed through clenched teeth as Dorian started to undo his belt. "And... don’t call me darling!"

"Of course. Anything you say, darling."

"Major?"

Klaus was, for once, glad of G’s habit of announcing his presence by yelling for him before he entered a room.

By the time the agent made it to the kitchen, Dorian was fiddling with coffee things, instead of...

Klaus stood tall, knowing that all his clothes were straight even if... "What the hell do you want now?"

G was a bit taken aback, not knowing why Klaus was so angry with him – this time. "I'm sorry, sir, but Herr Schmidt isn't feeling well."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"I..."

"Major, he is just briefing you on the situation," Dorian said from behind him.

Klaus knew he was overreacting – although his agents should be used to it by now. He answered, a bit calmer, "Fine. Fine. Why don't you get him to a room? Give him something to help him sleep."

"Sir," G acknowledged.

And calling after the retreating agent he added, "One of you should stay in the room with him at all times."

G looked extremely unhappy about this, but he just said, "Yes, sir." And left.

Klaus turned to Dorian only to discover the blond man leaning on the counter for support weak with suppressed laughter. Klaus wanted to hit him. Or maybe he just wanted to shut him up. He knew didn't want to hear what Dorian thought was so funny, so he settled for kissing him before he was informed.

When he let him go, Dorian smiled at him and said a bit breathlessly, "You know this isn't going to work."

Frightened as he hadn't been since he discovered his mother had died, leaving him alone, Klaus asked harshly, "What do you mean?"

Seeing something dark move behind Klaus's eyes, Dorian hastened to answer, "I don't mean us, I mean tonight, here now... like this..."

Klaus continued to stare at him like he was pulling some kind of a cruel joke, so he attempted to reassure the man he loved like no other. He pulled him closer, not with the desperate passion they'd both been subject to up to this point, but with careful tenderness, as if Klaus might break into a thousand pieces if he said or did the wrong thing.

"Klaus…I–" Dorian paused, horrified to realize his voice was shaking. Firmly he tried to get ahold of himself before he could reassure Klaus. Soothing, he stroked the back of Klaus's neck with one hand, and the other he ran down Klaus's arm, offering comfort as best he could, and getting it in return as Klaus accepted it without a thought.

"Dorian, don't say anything. I think I know. Nothing good ever happens to me on Christmas Eve."

Dorian put a finger to his lips to stop him from saying anything else. "Then you're in luck."

Uncomprehending, Klaus just kept searching his face for the truth; Dorian had never seen him so serious without being angry.

"See?" Dorian held up his wrist for Klaus to see the watch that was on it. "It's half-past midnight, and I only wanted to say, I love you."

Klaus buried his face in Dorian's shoulder, clutching at his sleeves, holding on for dear life. He couldn't answer. He couldn't let those oh-so-knowing-eyes see his face. He just couldn't... But then again he had for a while tonight, and he'd survived so far. Maybe he would be able to make it work...maybe. He'd give it another year, and if nothing bad happened next Christmas Eve...?

Raising his face, he boldly looked Dorian in the eye, and smiled.

Dorian let out the breath he'd been holding and smiled in return. Their arms went around each other, holding on tightly to what they could have, for the short while they could have it.

 

Eroica