The Morning After

by Cassie Ingaben


Klaus gasped awake; most of the pillow next to his was taken up by a mass of blond curls, and he could faintly smell roses.

He breathed deeply a few times, and sank back into the bedding, willing his heartbeat to slow down. He should be used to the nightmare by now; still he found it hard to shake off. He looked at his watch, and then at his sleeping companion. They were thorough, in this place, he thought: such a pity he could not use them more than once. The risk he was running was already staggeringly idiotic as it was: returning here would be compounding it beyond imagining.

Which meant: he'd better go. Klaus rose and got dressed, then slipped out. The sleeper in the bed barely stirred at the whisper of the door closing.

Klaus knew it was his paranoia talking, yet he always looked for signs that anybody knew where he'd been and what he'd done, the first few days after he got back to Bonn. Was A more studious in the way he avoided Klaus's gaze when he walked past? Was G's laugh just a little more high-pitched? Was the admiration in Z's eyes muted? Eventually his suspicions faded, washed away by the adrenaline of a few conscientiously-applied barks at the Alphabets. And in time, the physical after-sensations coursing through his body at odd moments also ceased to bring him up short for that split second of panicky bliss.

The first time it didn't work, Klaus blamed work fatigue. He'd recently wound down a tough surveillance assignment, where they'd found out nothing except the extent of their patience. These things happened. Maybe he was coming down with something. Maybe there was something wrong with the arrangement. He should have known better than to go to Alicante this time. He must have picked up some subtle sense of cultural wrongness from being too far south. Maybe they got the scents wrong, or something like that. The impersonator trying too hard, and being afraid, didn't help at all; it just finished destroying the illusion.

The second time, he tried to ignore it. Unsuccessfully. He stalked out of Ghent as soon as he could, and was absolutely foul to the Alphabets for weeks. He let eight months pass before he even started considering another trip. Then he threw himself into the planning phase, and was in Aalborg less than three weeks later. Again, it didn't work. He didn't work, his own traitorous mind noted. Face facts, von dem Eberbach. It's not them. It's you.

It took Klaus fourteen months to concede. He'd been fighting to convince himself that it was all for the better: his body was telling him it didn't need it after all. Except it did. He did. The logical next step was the hardest part, since it involved delving into his own whys and wherefores. What had been long ago ruled as out of the question had to be reintroduced into the scenario.

It took more effort and money to organise. Much of this was not only unknown, but until now shunned. Under the conditions, performance should have been even more of an issue. It wasn't: far from it. Not daring to sleep, chain-smoking in the gaudy bed in the tasteless room in Stavanger, long after the curly-haired, rose-scented prostitute had dropped off, Klaus watched through the bleak hours of dawn. Through the layers of pretence, he now stared at what he'd always known and never acknowledged or accepted. It was much better with a man.

Innsbruck had been a big mistake. First of all, it was too early; only three months from Stavanger. Second, a German-speaking country took extra effort to maintain the pretence. And he'd also stayed in town too long. He was enjoying it too much: he was being greedy. That led to carelessness, which led to disaster.

Not disaster, but as close as it would ever get. On his first day back in Bonn, Klaus walked into his office to find Eroica perched on his desk, fiddling with his pens. Klaus's skin crawled, hair standing on end. He knew. Eroica knew. He was going to raise his eyes and stare at him with rage; maybe attempt to claw Klaus's eyes out. Maybe Klaus would let him, if only to stop having to look at the thief.

Eroica raised his head; his eyes filled with innocent pleasure, and his smile lit up the room. "Darling! Isn't it wonderful we're going to work together again? Your chief was so obliging! A whole week together, and Venice so romantic this season! I have tickets for the Fenice already: do you like Tartini?"

Klaus stared. A whole week. A whole week scrutinising Eroica, gauging his every move. Hoping he didn't know. Hoping he knew. Hopeless. Eroica didn't know. Would never know. The twinge deep in Klaus's guts told him what that meant. What he would never have.

Eroica—Dorian—came near; blissful, radiant, oblivious. "You'll like it. You'll love it."

20 June, 2009

 

Eroica