DEEP WATERS

by Thia

 

***

Two weeks. Fourteen days. More to the point, fourteen nights, and every single night the dream returned.

***

He'd seen it as a boy on his first voyage, a shadow beneath the surface, silver and ebony and beauty incarnate when the merman surfaced for a moment. After that he never stopped watching for it — for him.

Today the sleek, dark head had risen from the waves beside the ship, and looked up at Dorian, meeting his startled gaze. Then the merman had turned and with inhuman grace, slipped beneath the surface once more, with a single glance back.

Dorian hadn't thought twice. He climbed the railing and dove.

The sea water soaked his clothes, colder than the bright sun and brighter waves had promised. Behind him, he could hear the shouts of the other sailors, words garbled and drowned by the water in his ears. Dorian pushed for the surface long enough to grab a lungful of air, then dove once more. The merman waited.

But not for long. Just when Dorian had reached him, close enough that his fingertips could touch the cool skin of an arm, the silky darkness of inky hair, the mer turned and dove himself, deeper still. Dorian's lungs already burned, but he kicked and stubbornly propelled himself after the flicker of tail. He hadn't come this far to give up.

Down. Down. Past clear blue to a grayish green, dim with filtered light. Dorian's ears rang with the strain of holding his breath, but the merman had stopped and turned around, regarding Dorian with incurious eyes the color of the water around them.

Why are you here?

The words sang in his ears oddly, reminding him of the dolphins he'd heard calling to each other as they'd played in the ship's wake. Dorian shook his head, not daring to open his mouth and try to answer. He'd drown, he'd drown after all, within sight of his goal.

The mer smiled, a close-lipped thing not quite amused, then took Dorian by the hand and drew him unresisting through the water. Take my kiss, mortal man.

Dorian opened his mouth, and did.

Not sweet. Salt and strong, dark with the flavor of seaweed and a spice that must be the taste of the merman himself, his tongue in Dorian's mouth, casual possession. The mer withdrew at last, and held Dorian to arm's length when he would have pulled him back for another kiss. So, the merman said. Why are you here?

"For you," Dorian blurted, and only then noticed he was breathing normally. He stared at the merman, who merely smiled his close-lipped smile.

It faded into a thoughtful look. It has been...a long time, the merman said at last. Do you choose to remain?

"Choose?" He breathed, deep under water. He lived by the merman's whim, a gift that could be taken away.

A cool caress, as much the touch of sea water against his skin as the mer's fingers tracing his lips and plucking at his loose shirt and trousers. Choose, the merman repeated. Your belief — your choice — makes the difference.

Dorian barely heard the words. The clever fingers had reached the drawstring of his trousers, and tugged at the knot, soaked by sea water. The merman's knuckles brushed Dorian's groin with every tug. "Please," he moaned.

The teasing fingers stilled, and Dorian moaned again. Do you choose? the merman repeated implacably.

Choose — oh, to remain. What sort of question was that? He'd made that choice when he'd dived off his ship to pursue the merman! "Yes," he bit out. "I choose. Please!" He bucked his hips against the too-light pressure.

The merman merely smiled his close-mouthed smile again, as the knot came free and Dorian's trousers floated off him, with the help of a few kicks from Dorian. The merman helped him off with his shirt as well, leaving him naked in the cold sea water.

But not for long. The merman's black hair floated around him in a silken, liquid caress, followed by pale fingers tracing the lines of his muscles with provoking care. His arms, his face, his chest and pectorals, his legs, his belly, his arse, his feet, all came in for equal consideration, until Dorian thought he would die of frustration.

"I'm not some virgin to be wooed," he gritted out.

Good.

The merman took Dorian's cock in both hands, pulling at it with the same provoking lightness. Not quite enough friction, dammit. Just enough to tantalize, keep him worked up until he was ready to scream —

Then the merman opened his mouth and swallowed Dorian whole.

God, if he'd thought the mer could kiss, it was nothing to what he could do to Dorian's cock! Tongue teasing under the head, then allowing Dorian a thrust, all the way into the merman's throat. Constriction of muscles and relaxing, slow and deliberate. Cold sea water and warm mouth. Pale lips around Dorian's blood-swollen cock and the black hair floating around them both.

The merman held Dorian to that teasing pace, cool hands tight on Dorian's hips, until at last he took Dorian deep one last time and swallowed around him. Dorian came in long, slow shudders, the sea water cradling him as his legs gave out. So sweet, he thought. Yes. This had been worth leaving his ship for.

Have you had your satisfaction?

As if he couldn't tell. "Yes," Dorian said lazily, opening his eyes and looking up into the green eyes of his merman.

Good. The merman smiled, for the first time showing his teeth. Dorian scrambled and tried to kick for the surface, struggling against the drag of the water, too late: the merman already had him by the wrist, and was drawing him in. Good, the merman repeated, and Dorian felt more than heard his last words as those sharp teeth closed on his neck:

Now I shall have mine.

***

Dorian jerked himself awake, and sat up, scrabbling for his bedside light. Only when the electric glow proved the bedroom empty — of course — did he flop back down to his bed.

Of course he was alone. He'd never taken a casual lover, not to this bed. James wouldn't dare sneak in, not any more, not now. And Klaus —

Dorian looked over at the clock, automatically calculating the time difference. Klaus would be in his bed at Schloss Eberbach, sleeping the sleep of the just. No nightmares, not for Major Eberbach. He'd only shout about idiot fags who insisted on awakening decent people from a sound sleep over stupid dreams.

Dorian sighed and pushed himself upright again, looking about for his dressing gown. He wouldn't get back to sleep tonight. He never did, not after that dream. No, he'd convince Bonham to fix him some tea, and they could go over the latest security plans for the Louvre.

Come morning...

Dorian hesitated, then pulled his dressing gown on and tied the sash tight. It had been two weeks. Come morning, he would call Klaus von dem Eberbach, and see what kind of dreams he was having.

***

He found Bonham in the kitchen, chatting quietly with a couple of the new lads. Telling stories, Dorian corrected himself wryly, after listening a moment. It seemed Bonham had appointed himself keeper of the Legend of Eroica. Dorian didn't remember ever having stolen the jewels off a maharajah's neck, at least. Did they even have maharajahs in India any more?

He cleared his throat, and all three men sprang to their feet, the boys flushing at having been caught out listening to Bonham's fairytales rather than practicing picking locks, or keeping guard, or whatever it was they thought they should be doing. A flutter of Dorian's eyelashes and a stern look disposed of them. Bonham —

Bonham finished pouring tea into a delicate cup, and set it on the table by Dorian, next to the cream and sugar. "Here you are, m'lord," he said.

Dorian shook his head ruefully, spooning sugar into the tea and stirring in the cream. "I've become predictable," he said.

"Only to someone who knows you," Bonham assured him, sitting back down by the stove. "Most of the rest only know something's up."

"Really?" Dorian sipped his tea, and grimaced. Still too hot. He put it down again. "I haven't heard James screaming yet."

"Got a lot of money from that last heist in Rio," Bonham pointed out. "He's still counting escudos." He opened his mouth as if to add something, then closed it again and got up to check on the tea again.

Dorian kept his eyes on his cup. Wait for it, he thought. Tea and light and undemanding company drove away the dream's darkness, but too many nights in a row and of course Bonham would ask.

"Not that it's any of my business, m'lord," Bonham said, sitting back down again. His own mug steamed gently, more tea or that bland sugarless instant hot chocolate. "But if you need to, well, talk to anyone..."

More subtle than Dorian had expected, really. A pity he couldn't say anything. The merman's smile swam before his eyes, sharp teeth and cold eyes. Dorian shivered, and drank his tea down in three bittersweet swallows.

"Bad dreams, Bonham," he said, setting his cup down and rising to his feet. "They'll go away eventually." He managed a smile at his lieutenant, and left the room, back upstairs to silent darkness and the horrid waiting until daylight.

***

Two weeks ago — God, how had it happened?

He'd just finished laying the groundwork for that theft in Rio, and had taken the chance — since his financial conscience had remained in England — to, er, pause in the Caribbean before going home. A few days of sun and sand, perhaps a little exploration around the islands, or some of the sea diving Jones had enthused about, if the whim struck. After all, nearly a year straight of work, work, work, made Dorian a dull boy.

He'd strolled the streets of Jamaica, luxuriating in the cradling warmth of the sun and the musical voices that greeted him. He'd gone to Tortuga, and reveled in fantasies of pirate kings and daring sword fights. Finally he'd relaxed into the green darkness of Haiti, where the heavy air throbbed with an undercurrent of drums and murmuring voices telling tales of the loa.

Then, one evening on Haiti, he'd leaned on the edge of a delightful little stone bridge, watching the water glint with torchlight and the hint of stars just peeking out as the sun set, breathing the breeze warm with sea-salt and the distant spicy smoke of some hotel's barbecue. Just as he was thinking of returning to his hotel room, Dorian had caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and smelled the distinctive mingling of strong tobacco and gunpowder.

Dorian looked over, unable to keep from smiling at the sight of his reluctant beloved. Klaus stood half hidden in shadows and black trenchcoat, cigarette smoldering ignored in his hand, green eyes gleaming in the fading daylight. "Good evening, Major," Dorian said.

A long pause, long enough that Dorian blinked hard, and pinched himself. No, he hadn't imagined the man. It looked like Klaus was over there. But surely Klaus would have yelled at him by now, 'stop staring at me, you pervert', or 'where is it, I know you've taken it,' or at least —

"What are you doing here?" Klaus asked suddenly, raising his cigarette to his lips again.

"I'm on holiday," Dorian said, the half-truth coming easily to his lips. He couldn't depend on this quiet mood of Klaus's to last, and he wasn't in the mood to be shouted at. "What are you doing here?"

Klaus exhaled a long stream of smoke. "A mission."

Of course. The heavens would fall before Iron Klaus would take a holiday in his native Germany, Dorian thought ruefully, much less to a tropical paradise like this. "Really?" he said, and heard how wistful he sounded. No, this vulnerability wouldn't do at all. Any minute now, Klaus would remember himself. Dorian forced arch interest into his voice: "How fascinating! Are you retrieving another of those lovely microfilm capsules from a local witch doctor, perhaps? May I watch?"

A hesitation, so short Dorian wondered if he'd imagined it. "'s over."

"Then I'm lucky I caught you," Dorian said, and fluttered his eyelashes at Klaus. "When do you leave? Please say not until tomorrow."

'As soon as possible, you faggot' — but Klaus didn't say it. Instead, he stood there, a shadow in the falling dusk, only the flaring ember of his cigarette lighting his face.

Dorian's middle tensed up. This wasn't the way they worked, he and Klaus. He flirted, Klaus shouted, taunting each other with the impossible. Except — except — what did this silence mean? If Klaus wasn't saying no, did that mean yes?

Well, then. No sense overanalyzing things. He'd take his opportunity where and when he could. Dorian straightened up, stretching languidly, then sauntered over to stand in front of Klaus. "When do you have to leave?" he repeated, stroking Klaus's hair back behind his ear.

Klaus allowed the liberty, gray-green eyes meeting Dorian's gaze. Without looking away, he plucked his cigarette from his mouth and tossed it to the ground. "Soon," he said.

"Tonight?" Before Klaus could object, Dorian leaned up and brushed his lips over Klaus's, a momentary pressure. Soft, he thought, soft and warm, and Klaus didn't shout at all, didn't struggle away, didn't punch Dorian for the presumption. At last, at last! Dorian tugged Klaus's head down, and dove into another kiss, nobly resisting the temptation to open his mouth and show Klaus what real kissing was all about.

Then Klaus opened his mouth.

No virginal panic here. Not even the frozen uncertainty Dorian had encountered before when he pushed farther than Klaus expected. Klaus knew how to kiss, tongue delicate on the sensitive skin of Dorian's mouth, wet against wet, one hand in Dorian's hair. Dorian surfaced to realize that he had Klaus pinned against the wall, grinding their erections together as if they were a pair of teenagers. Klaus was trembling, vibration Dorian could only feel because he was pressed so close. Dorian pulled free and staggered back a step, finding his balance and then his breath. "Klaus, I —"

Klaus growled and pulled him back.

From there, Dorian's memory failed him. He remembered being pinned himself against a wall somewhere, Klaus's mouth sweet on his own, Klaus's body hard against his, and nearly coming from just that thought. But Klaus had pushed back, and smiled —

No, don't think of that, no teeth at all —

— that unnerving twist of his mouth that promised terrors unknown. "Not yet." And Dorian had gasped, and grabbed control by the thinnest of margins.

He remembered German whispered in the dark, love-words more potent than the rawest sex talk. "Schon," Klaus had said, his hands gentle on Dorian's face. "So beautiful."

"Even though I am not a tank?" Dorian had teased, also in German.

"You have never seen yourself." Klaus had hesitated for a moment, then shook his head, faint movement in the twilit darkness. "When you choose, you too have the beauty of polished steel."

He remembered Klaus's eyes, green as the ocean in that shadowed half-light of Dorian's hotel room. He'd closed his own eyes, forcing himself to breathe as he waited for Klaus to finally, finally press into him. And waited. Finally he forced his eyes to open and looked up. Klaus knelt between his legs, roused and trembling, watching Dorian with a dark-eyed intensity he couldn't read, not then. He'd moaned and pressed up against Klaus, silently begging him not to stop, not now. Klaus almost smiled, and pushed forward, gaze locked with Dorian's.

He remembered slipping out of bed early the next morning, naked and exultant as he crossed to open the curtains, then turning to find Klaus awake and watching him again.

"When do you have to leave?"

Klaus looked away long enough to glance at the bedside clock, then put back the covers. "Now. My men will be expecting me."

"Ah." That had been all their conversation. Dorian had watched Klaus dress again in his suit from the day before. Once dressed, Klaus came over to Dorian and kissed him lightly. "I shall call," he said, and left.

No panic attacks. No flinching from Dorian's gaze. Only that steady gaze of his own, and that unnatural acceptance. Ten years of pursuit, and the final consummation made no more difference to Klaus von dem Eberbach than — than —

Two weeks. Dorian had returned just long enough to liberate a statue, left over from Portuguese colonists, from its crass owner, and pass it off to James to be auctioned to eager bidders. This time he hadn't paused in the Caribbean en route back to England.

Every night, he dreamed of a merman with Klaus's face, and sea water, and drowning in dark red blood.

I shall call, Klaus had said. But he hadn't. Two weeks. The last time Dorian had allowed himself to be caught, more years ago than he cared to remember, he'd been the one to make that promise, and still the other man had phoned the next day.

Dorian refrained from chewing his nails, and alternated between watching the windows and watching the clock.

***

Given the slightest opportunity, his Major was a creature of habit. He retired at midnight and rose at 6 AM precisely. He showered, dressed, read his paper, ate a sparse breakfast, drank a lot of that horrible instant coffee he preferred, then headed to work. His butler answered the phone.

Perforce, if Dorian wanted to actually speak to his beloved, this meant calling the Bonn office. The NATO operator always put him through. Dorian occasionally wondered if it was because she liked him, or disliked Klaus.

"Eberbach."

"Good morning, Major," Dorian said, unable to resist smiling at Klaus's grumpy voice.

"Oh, 's you." Klaus did not sound noticeably more cheerful in English. "What is it?"

Dorian hesitated a moment. He could not, would not descend to the pitiful depths of 'why haven't you called me'. "Merely wanted to hear the sound of your lovely voice," he said instead, winding the phone cord around one finger. "You sound tired, Major - have you not been getting enough sleep? Has your Chief been giving you too many missions?"

A growl, deep in Klaus's throat — Dorian shivered despite himself. "'m doing paperwork," Klaus said finally. "You're not my fucking nurse, Ero-"

"No one else worries about you," Dorian said blithely. "It's something to occupy my idle hours."

"I sleep," Klaus said, words clipped and harsh. "What do you fucking want?"

"Do you ever dream?"

He hadn't meant to blurt it out like that. He'd meant to lead up to the question a little more, dance around the subject. Dorian untangled his finger from the phone cord, concentrating on that and that alone as he waited for his beloved's answer.

"No," Klaus replied, predictably enough. "It is —"

"If you tell me that dreaming is a matter of discipline, Klaus Heinz, I'll steal something even more embarrassing than your belt next time I'm in Germany."

A pause. Dorian wondered if he'd been too emphatic. He rarely snapped at anyone, but Klaus was being so difficult. Besides, surely it was impossible to be too emphatic with Klaus. The man yelled at everyone else, why should he be surprised if someone yelled back?

At last Klaus sighed and said, through audibly gritted teeth, "It is not a matter of enough importance for me to remember. Do you call me for any reason other than to harass me, Eroica, or may I return to my work?" He laid an odd stress on the final word.

If it were all that much of a harassment, Major, you'd have hung up on me by now. A month ago he wouldn't have hesitated to point that out. "Am I a distraction?" he heard himself say. "How flattering! Though since I'm competing with paperwork —"

"Idiot," Klaus snarled, and hung up on him.

***

Dorian never thought about Klaus during the day. Not often. Not even these days. After all, he had people to talk to, plans and new security systems to study, art to admire — tending to the thousand little details that made him Eroica, and made Eroica the kind of legend Bonham could tell outrageous stories about. What kind of thief would he be if he couldn't put trifling recurring nightmares out of his mind, much less a simple frustrating phone conversation? No, no, Dorian remained focused on his work.

Then, late in the afternoon, the phone rang.

Only twice. Either James had awakened from his happy money-daze and answered it, or someone else had answered it to keep James from doing so. Most of the gang preferred not to deal with James if possible, leaving Dorian to do so, and now —

Dorian wrenched his mind away from the most immediate reason why he didn't want to deal with James just now, and had just succeeded in concentrating his attention on the newspaper when Bonham poked his head in.

"You'd better pick up, my lord. It's Uncle NATO on the line."

Klaus? Klaus had called back? Dorian stared at the phone on his desk for a moment, then picked it up. "Good afternoon," he said, feeling rather at a loss. He had always called Klaus before, not the other way around.

"What the fuck did you think you were doing?"

Of course. The first time Klaus called him, and it was to shout at him. How like the Major. "It's impossible to reach you any other way," Dorian said, as reasonably as he could. "Your butler guards your phone even more zealously than James does mine." He hesitated, but apparently he'd succeeded in cutting off Klaus's rant before it began, for a change. Dorian stifled a smile and added in his usual arch tone, "Unless you would prefer I came over there in person —"

"Stay in London," Klaus ordered, rather more promptly than was really flattering. "I can't concentrate on the fucking paperwork without you here to distract me."

Dorian opened his mouth to tease Klaus with something about the number of Alphabets Klaus sent to Alaska, and really Klaus brought it on himself. Instead he heard himself say, in far too serious a tone, "I'm sure you have enough distraction as it is, Major."

Silence from the other end of the line. Dorian opened his mouth to take it back, to say something hasty to cover it up, but couldn't think of anything and shut his mouth again. Finally Klaus said, "'s just the paperwork." He did sound tired, his usually crisp English faintly slurred and guttural. "Chief wants us all caught up by the end of the month." A moment, just long enough for a breath. "Only distraction is you."

"Even when I'm not there?" Dorian swallowed, and tried to rally himself. But really, how was he to take Klaus actually flirting with him? "I'm — G would be willing to stand proxy for me, certainly —"

"Don't want G," Klaus said. Ah, there was the growl again. "Leave my agents out of this." Dorian opened his mouth to say something like 'but they're such sweet boys,' but Klaus hadn't finished. "If I find you flirting with any of my agents, I'll shoot you."

He would, too, Dorian thought, and shivered with an unnerving mixture of excitement and sick terror. Klaus had pulled his shot once, but then Dorian had merely offended his pride. Now — "Of course not, Major," he said, once he'd regained control of his voice. "The only NATO agent I want to flirt with — or kiss — or —"

"That's why not at work," Klaus interrupted, before Dorian could go into detail about what else he wanted to do with Klaus. "They tap the phones."

"Klaus, I've been flirting with you on NATO phones for — oh. I see." There hadn't been anything behind the flirtation, merely unrequited lust and boredom. Klaus hadn't had any reason to flirt back. And Dorian hadn't had the courage to be really outrageous. "Er, where are you now?"

"Home."

Schloss Eberbach, of course. NATO wouldn't dare tap those phones. Which meant that perhaps... "Does that mean you'll answer my question?"

Another pause. Dorian tried to imagine where Klaus might be. In some sort of study? In the library? In his rooms? He must have a suite of his own somewhere in that hulk of a place, some place with dark woods and stark colors and every fold perfectly in place.

"I don't remember my dreams," Klaus said at last.

"Then I'll have to wake you up so you do," Dorian purred, unable to stop himself.

"Idiot," Klaus said, his tone nearly a purr as well, and hung up.

***

The merman smiled. Dorian dully recognized the glint of hunter-sharp teeth, and allowed the mer to tug him to his feet once more. He could not escape from this. The surface loomed too high above him, and his captor would only —

His sluggish thoughts halted as the merman's jaws closed on his neck, but those pointed teeth only nicked at the skin, a moment's burning receding into duller coals. Dorian's breath caught in painful expectation as the mer drew back for a moment, dreading the salt-fire of sea water in a wound, but instead the pain settled into a voluptuous weakness, as if he'd been bathing in steaming hot water for too long. For a moment he couldn't seem to exhale. A red veil floated up before his eyes, a trickle of his blood dispersing into the sea.

The merman licked at his neck, cool pressure and scrape of roughness like shark-skin. Dorian gasped again, unbearably sensitized to the touch. He let his head fall back to one side, exposing his neck to the mer's clever tongue, and breathed out slowly. The mer's tail slid easily between his legs, which floated apart in the water. Dorian could feel the caress of satin scales against his inner thighs, movement back and forth as the merman kept them floating steady in the water.

Sensations began to blur, one into another: the merman's mouth at his neck, licking and sucking at the blood welling from the cuts there, the hand in his hair holding him still and vulnerable, the other hand between his legs, skilled touch turning pain to pleasure and pleasure to breathless, heavy ecstasy. Then the merman twisted against Dorian, muscles tensed then relaxed. Dorian felt the scales move against his groin, and thrust helplessly against the slippery pressure.

Something pressed back, pressed in. Dorian's eyes went wide as voluptuousness became vulnerability, burning ache of pleasure-pain, filled to the brim.

The mer smiled at him, then opened his mouth and bit.

***

Waking didn't prove as reassuring as usual. The sheets were crumpled on the other side of the bed, cool to Dorian's wary touch. Klaus had warned him that he couldn't stay, but he'd still hoped. Worse, when he sat up —

Idiot, Dorian told himself. The thought sounded like Klaus.

He abandoned the attempt to sit upright, and relaxed back to more of a lounging position, then looked down at himself. Chest and belly sticky with semen — either Klaus had somehow forgotten his usual obsessive cleanliness, or he'd come during the dream. Neither seemed very appealing at the moment. Dorian ran his fingers through the stuff, tacky to the touch, then tried to sit up again. Ouch, ouch — sore. Very sore. In fact, his entire pelvis ached. Klaus had been...not to be denied, tonight. A primal claiming, pounding into Dorian.

Dorian's reminiscent smile faded, and his fingers crept up to his shoulder.

One final mark his lover had left. He hadn't even noticed at the time. Just where shoulder met neck, easy enough to cover even with Dorian's taste in clothing...the mark of Klaus' teeth.

Dorian traced it lightly, feeling the indentations so clearly marked in his skin. It would fade, eventually. It would take longer than the other passion-marks on his skin, certainly longer than it would take for him to walk normally again. He'd just have to keep James from seeing him in the bath, no matter how much the little accountant pouted. He'd just have to...clean it. Maybe bandage it, though it didn't feel like Klaus had broken the skin.

He would. He'd go to the bathroom, and take a long hot shower, and come out clean and ready for sleep.

In the dream, he'd come when the merman had bit him just there. Helpless, possessed, devoured, and he'd liked it.

He should go clean himself up. In a minute. Maybe two.

Dorian curled up, resting his head on his knees. His arse ached, and the sheets beside him were cold.

***

He kept up appearances for three more days before he gave up.

Not that the others didn't know. Bonham had the tea already poured by the time Dorian got down there, every night. When he'd passed two of his boys in the hall the other day, they'd fallen suspiciously silent, only to start whispering as soon as he was nearly out of earshot. James remained conspicuous in his absence: Dorian suspected Bonham and Jones of tying him up, gagging him, and locking him into the attic, with a chest full of money so he wouldn't be too miserable.

Dorian did try. He discussed plans for another heist. He went into town for an evening at the theater. But every night that dream returned, and the lack of sleep took its toll. It had to be lack of sleep ruining his concentration, rather than thinking about his Klaus. He'd been chasing the man for years without any harm done to his ability to concentrate: why should catching him make such a difference?

Why did he feel like he was drowning?

After yet another sleepless night, another day passed in a floating haze, his head feeling as if it were stuffed with fuzz, he closeted himself with the phone and rang up Klaus again.

"Schloss Eberbach."

"The Major, please," Dorian said in carefully polite German, curling into his chair more tightly.

"Whom shall I say is calling?"

"Lord Gloria." Even now, to say 'Dorian' would feel like a presumption. To say 'Eroica' would be simply stupid.

Amazingly, the butler's arctic tones thawed a degree or two. "Ah, yes. The master is expecting your call. One moment."

The 'moment' stretched out for a small eternity. At last the phone clicked. "'s me."

"Klaus, we need to talk." Dorian grimaced at himself. The English words had come out more than a trifle abrupt. If he tired of worrying over this...amorphous paranoia, he could always fret about whether he'd lost all his old skill at love affairs and would lose Klaus because of that.

A long silence answered him, long enough that Dorian opened his mouth to babble some explanation. Fortunately, Klaus spoke first. "About what?" It came out a wary growl, like a wounded lion.

About dreams, Dorian nearly blurted, though he could just imagine what Klaus would say to that. It took a moment for Klaus' tone to penetrate. Oh, for heaven's sake — "Not about that," Dorian said impatiently. Did Klaus really think twice would be enough? At least his beloved hadn't miraculously lost all his hang-ups, back in the Caribbean. "It's about —"

"I've got to get to work," Klaus interrupted. His voice had returned to its customary tone, without any sign of the previous wariness. "I can't stand here and listen to some faggot processing."

Processing? Dorian's grip tightened on the phone, and he drew breath to give Klaus his best Iron Major imitation, but Klaus continued without giving Dorian the chance. "Can you get to Oberwesel? 'm going there tomorrow. Noon."

"Oberwesel, noon," Dorian agreed absently, and heard the click of Klaus hanging up. He himself hung up more slowly, pondering this new development. Perhaps his first thought had been correct, and Klaus had been somehow replaced with a double. Klaus, willing to talk? Klaus willing to talk in person, about personal matters? Klaus, who for years had done everything in his power to avoid Dorian, especially being alone with him? He certainly hadn't shown much interest in talking, the last couple times Dorian had seen him.

Dorian went to his room, packed for an overnight trip to Oberwesel, and tried not to think.

***

Oberwesel proved to be a delightfully picturesque town, full of nooks and crannies and houses built before dour Martin Luther had come along and reformed the dear old degenerate Catholic Church, with a ruined castle looming up on the hill overhead. Dorian found Klaus chain-smoking outside the best hotel, and followed him to an open common. At the far end, children kicked a ball back and forth, occasional shouts and shrieks carrying clearly.

"You haven't been sleeping," Klaus said abruptly.

Dorian jumped. He'd been watching the children, allowing the eddying motion of the game to soothe his mind. Foolish, he thought, then said aloud, "No."

Klaus nodded, as if satisfied at something, then lit another cigarette off the butt of his last.

"Have you?" Dorian ventured after a moment. Had Klaus been sleeping soundly? Had Klaus been haunted by nightmares? Would Klaus tell him if he hadn't?

But Klaus merely nodded shortly.

This certainly boded well. Such sparkling conversation, Dorian thought wryly. We've hardly managed words of more than one syllable between us. "Are you on vacation?"

Klaus tossed his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. He automatically glanced around, as if for eavesdroppers, then lowered his voice. "No. Pick-up tomorrow."

"Another canister of microfilm?" Dorian said dryly, looking around in his turn. He refused to just stand here like an idiot while — ah, there, perfect. A bench, only a few feet away.

"Damn it, Ero — Dorian!"

"Yes, Klaus?" Dorian draped himself against the bench, giving Klaus his best bright-eyed fluffy look, twining a curl around one finger.

It didn't work any better than it had before they'd slept together. Klaus's eyes narrowed, his fists clenched by his sides, and his voice dropped to a dangerous intensity. "It's not a matter for joking! Some of us prefer to use our talents rather than waste them like a foppish degenerate!"

"It's not a waste, it's hard work," Dorian retorted, stung, sitting up straight again. He didn't know why he was surprised. Klaus had never hidden what he thought of Dorian and Dorian's profession. Why he'd thought that might change — "I suppose you'd prefer I gave it all up to become another NATO agent now?"

"No."

Dorian looked up from the ground and met Klaus's eyes. Klaus hadn't moved from the bare patch of ground where he stood, but as Dorian watched, Klaus drew himself up and clasped his hands behind his back as if he were giving a military report. "I do not approve," Klaus said, English words unnaturally crisp. "But I will not tell you to stop. Such matters are for you, and you alone, to decide."

Dorian groped behind him for the solid wood of the bench, abruptly very glad he was already sitting down. "You are all kindness, Major," he said faintly, trying to wrap his mind around this new tack to the conversation. "But won't NATO object to your..." Lover, significant other, momentary diversion? A wave of one hand allowed Klaus to supply whatever phrase he chose: Dorian didn't think he could. "...being a thief?" No wonder Klaus had insisted they have this conversation face-to-face.

Klaus hesitated a moment, then slowly came over and sat on the bench next to Dorian, close enough that Dorian could feel Klaus's coat brushing against his fingers. "NATO does not care who I sleep with," Klaus said. "So long as I accomplish my missions, and do not...harass the Alphabets, and so long as you are not a liability..."

Dorian chuckled despite himself. Klaus had been calling him a liability for years. "Not a KGB operative, at least," he said, glancing back at Klaus through his eyelashes. "Misha detests me as much as he does you."

Klaus didn't laugh. "Not Mata Hari, no. But you are a potential weapon against me. You have been for years. 's the reason why most of us never marry."

"Oh, is that the reason you denied me for so long?" The words came out more bitter than Dorian had intended. He remembered angry words, constant insults, a punch in the face when he dared admit in public that he loved Klaus.

(Sharp teeth in a sharper smile, drowning in the unforgiving ocean.)

Dorian impatiently pushed away the image. They weren't having that conversation yet. Each to its turn.

"No," Klaus said, belatedly. "It wasn't about that. You were being a fucking idiot, flaunting about, not caring who saw, behaving like such a faggot and shoving it in my face —"

"There's nothing wrong with being gay," Dorian said, with what he thought was commendable patience.

"Not according to the church," Klaus said. "Or the German government."

Dorian swallowed a triumphant smile, and twisted to face his beloved. "Bullshit, Major," he said. "You just said that NATO doesn't care, and I've never known you to give two straws about what the church said. If you had, then you wouldn't have come to me in the first place." No matter what you say now, he thought, then: oh, no, he's not trying to push me away, is he? I won't let him!

"God-fucking-dammit, Dorian —"

"You're not afraid of being a faggot at all, are you?" Dorian pressed, scooting closer to Klaus. "You just don't want to be vulnerable."

Klaus hesitated, his mouth open to continue yelling, his eyes searching Dorian's. Then he looked away, back down at the children still playing their games. "Wasn't in the Caribbean to pick up microfilm."

Dorian held his breath and listened, a chill prickling at his skin.

"Straight Intelligence mission. This doctor had developed a drug, something to control people. Soviets were interested. Supposed to go and find out what it was, how it worked, would he go with us. If not —"

A moment of silence. At last Klaus drew a deep breath and went on.

"It wasn't a new drug after all, just... Not a doctor, either, but a voodoo priest or whatever the fuck they call themselves. It was...it made people into zombies. Only not exactly zombies. He could control them, wake them up, tell them to do things, but they were still alive, still conscious, just trapped inside their own body."

Dorian bit his lip and listened even harder.

"Almost injected me with it. I shot the syringe out of his hand." Klaus hesitated again, looking down at his hands now. "I dreamed that night that I'd failed. That I'd been injected with the drug, turned into some kind of puppet."

Paralyzed within your own body, Dorian thought, remembering the stories he'd heard during his Caribbean vacation. Fully conscious, but unable to move or speak, entirely under the control of the voodoo master, without escape or recourse.

"No one knew the difference," Klaus said, voice nearly a whisper now. "No one could see. And then you appeared, and you laughed. There was water running from your clothes, stupid foppish things that didn't even look wet. You held out your hand to me. I...reached out and took it."

Another pause, long enough that Dorian dared to ask, "Did you think I was the voodoo master?"

"Don't know," Klaus said. "I woke up then."

Of course he did, Dorian thought wryly. He really did treat dreaming as a matter of discipline. "Not the sort of thing you could tell me over the phone," he said, looking down at his hands. The wood of the bench felt cool and hard against his palms.

He heard Klaus shift to look at him. "You asked."

"Yes. Well." Hoist on his own petard. "I've been dreaming too, though rather more often than you. That — that you're a merman — oh, don't laugh! — and I dive in after you. Only you're not just a merman." He caught himself rubbing at the bite on his shoulder, by now mostly faded.

Klaus captured the guilty hand in his, absently rubbing Dorian's palm with his thumb. "A vampire as well?" he said, voice remarkably free of accusation.

"Yes," Dorian whispered, watching Klaus caress his hand. "Devoured or drowned, I'm never sure which."

"Idiot," Klaus said. "If I were to kill you, I would shoot you."

Dorian blinked quickly, and managed a smile. Klaus didn't attempt many jokes. "I know that, when I'm awake," he said. "But when I'm asleep —"

"Yes," Klaus said. "We are a perfect pair — each afraid to be subsumed by this."

"You overcame it on Haiti," Dorian retorted before he had time to think, and then nearly swallowed his tongue. Yes, Klaus had overcome it, and hadn't had the dream since. He himself, on the other hand —

The dream-image rose in his mind again, the waiting merman. Pale skin, eyes dark and unreadable, faint smile that didn't hide devouring hunger. Dorian stifled a shiver. Choose, the merman demanded in his dreams. Accept it. If he accepted Klaus — not just for a few nights, but for everything, the way Klaus had accepted him — then he would drown, he'd lose himself, he wouldn't even be able to be Dorian any more, much less Eroica.

He looked up at Klaus through his lashes. Klaus had hesitated, choosing his words, thankfully unaware of Dorian's thoughts. His eyes didn't reflect unreadable sea depths, merely the tired preoccupation of a man with too many concerns. His fingers stroked gently over Dorian's hand, the simple human touch oddly reassuring, grounding Dorian in this world of an open town common, a sunny afternoon, the warmth of Klaus's body next to his, and the distant shouts of children playing. Not a dream-world of sea and silence and cold hunger that only took and never gave.

Dorian did shiver then. How close had he come, to letting dream-fear of maybes, fear of change and loss, to rule him? A lot longer than a few weeks, he thought, abruptly remembering certain outrageous past behavior that made depressing sense now. And he claimed to love Klaus more than anything!

"Yes," Klaus said, giving Dorian a curious look. "I was tired of being your nightmare, an empty doppelganger like in children's stories."

Dorian glanced around. Still no one watching other than the children far down the common. He snuggled closer to Klaus, consigning his subconscious fears to perdition. "Mixing up your nightmares, Major," he said. "I don't think doppelgangers drown."

"Idiot," Klaus said, but his arm came around Dorian's waist.

They sat there in silence for a little while. The afternoon breeze cooled, and the children's parents came to fetch them. Then Klaus said quietly, "We will change. You have changed, since I have known you. But I do not think we will drown."

I hope not, Dorian thought. But Klaus ought to be encouraged in this optimism. He said nothing, merely snuggled in even closer to his lover.

***

Cold, cold — the chill of the ocean waters wrapped around him, into his bones and pulsing in his blood. Dorian hiccuped, then drew in a deep breath and opened his eyes.

No living thing remained around him. Gray stone, green water, and slanting light clear through the water, cut into shadows by the stone. His clothes had vanished from beneath his feet, along with his feet themselves and the rest of his legs, to be replaced with — with —

With a tail. Of course. Scales smooth and weirdly soft to the touch, blue-gray like sky in shadow. He would like it.

The part of him that had been human screamed, silent echoes in his mind. Dorian threw back his head to give it voice, and saw, far above, the dark bulk of a ship plowing across the top of the waves.

Fear washed away, to be replaced with a fiercer yearning. Dorian felt himself smile, a close-lipped stretch of the lips, then swam for the surface and the sunlight. Soon, he promised himself, even as he hungrily studied the blurred images of what sailors he could see. Soon.

He broke from the water, and looked straight up at the ship's starboard railing. One sailor looked back, a man with straight black hair loose to his shoulders, and eyes to match the ocean depths. The sailor smiled back, for a moment exposing teeth too sharp for any mortal's mouth. Then his smile blurred back to a man's grin, as he swung his legs over the railing and dove.

Dorian buried his exultant laughter in the clutching waves, and gave chase.

 

-fin-

 

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Eroica