Not The End Of The World
By Heather Sparrows
He became aware that he was walking, walking through the streets of a large town called Berlin. His encounter with the junkies had shaken him up. For a moment, there had just been their faces, crazed by the need for their poison. The next instant they had been upon him, ready to kill for a few coins. His instinct for survival had taken over automatically. He was a well-trained soldier, a perfectly tuned killing machine. He had to live. To serve.
Met by resistance, the junkies had fled into the darkness, and the endless procession of images in his mind had begun again: Men falling down, screaming, bleeding – men torn to pieces, burned to death – a mass grave, the partly skeletonised bodies of men, women and children, small sneakers and tee shirts in gaudy colours, the smell – naked women in a dark shed, huddling together, screaming when they saw the soldiers. They had to get them out, no time to send in female soldiers or nurses. He had seen the blood on the thighs of one girl before he could wrap her into a blanket – a child still, too young for monthly bleeding – older memories, forced to the surface by a new horror: Today – it must have been today – the bomb exploding at the train station, people milling around, bloodied, frightened, under shock. He had been on the passenger bridge overlooking the platforms, watching the damn thief who was to meet their contact – the tall blond figure walking down the platform – a detonation, a wagon exploding in a fireball – pandemonium. Eroica had already passed the wagon when it exploded. The fireball had not reached him, but he had been hit by flying parts. From his position on the bridge he had seen Eroica fall, bleeding, throwing himself forward to shelter a woman carrying a child from shards of glass and metal raining down around them – a second later, he had been running along the platform himself. There had been so many people – for a moment he had seen the tall man in the blue coat with the white scarf and the mass of long blond curls still lying on the platform, a distance away – a pool of blood spreading rapidly around him – a shard of something protruding from his back – but he had been unable to reach him – so much blood – blood and debris – people in panic stumbling over those lying on the ground - and Eroica had not moved. Yes, he had tried to reach the man, but so many people had clung to him, crying, in hysteria and pain, that when he finally reached the spot where Eroica had been lying, the man was gone, and he had not known where they had taken him.
He had reported back to Bonn as soon as possible, informing the Chief about the bomb and the failed contact. At that time, he hadn’t known what had become of the man Eroica should have met. A few hours later, he had been admitted to the waiting room where they had taken the dead bodies. Their contact had been there, enough had been left of him to identify the man without a doubt. But Eroica had not been among the dead.
He was a soldier, an officer and a secret agent, trained to deal with death and suffering. After he had done what he could to help with the injured long into the night, he had walked away to clear his head, but his brain insisted on playing the same scenes over and over again before his inner eye. Still another image: A young man in a dirty prison cell, lying on his back on a table, arms and legs secured by ropes, naked, beaten half to death, and a uniformed guard molesting him, pushing a gun between his spread legs – then Eroica again, falling down bleeding –
This must be some kind of breakdown. To think that he had seen Eroica lying maimed and bloodied on the platform – and he had been unable to reach him in the turmoil –
He put his head into his hands, and then he heard the sounds, the sounds of a beast of prey in agony. He became aware that he was the one emitting these sounds. Something tore in his chest, and the pain was almost unbearable. Eroica – they had worked together on this mission. It was his duty to find Eroica – but it was more than duty – Eroica – a unique, delicate presence, infuriating, outrageous, amoral, and yet dedicated and loyal. Ever curious, innocently teasing, wounding too, but never deadly, at the same time soothing wounds he did not even know about. His own nature was brusque, abrasive, direct, work and duty had the utmost priority. In his scarce and very brief sexual encounters there had never been joy, just the satisfaction of the rawest, barest needs. Eroica, however, was gentle, calm, friendly, and the pursuit of beauty his declared goal. To reach this goal, he could be amoral and shameless. Eroica enjoyed life, and danger was the spice of life. They were as different as two people could be – Eroica, fearless, brave and foolish, flirting with him, offering him emeralds, because they matched his eyes - !
He had reached the river promenade and went to the water, gripping the iron railing and shaking his head. His breath came in ragged gasps, as if he had run a long distance. He would not have a breakdown, despite having just come from a mission in the Far East, barely debriefed taking on another mission in Berlin with Eroica involved, then the assignment having turned into a disaster. He had not slept much for about forty-eight hours, and he had not eaten either. It didn’t matter. He felt neither hunger nor exhaustion, just anger and a pain he could not name, something he had never felt before. And everything centred around Eroica. He had to find Eroica –
He made a half turn and went along the river, stumbling at first, then catching himself, breaking into a steady run. Bahnhof Zoo – the nearest hospital was the Charité. He would ask there. And he would not leave until he knew for certain that Eroica was not with them. But if Eroica was there, he would not rest until he had found out whether the man was still alive.
In the small hours of the night, Emergency at Charité had finally dealt with the wave of maimed and injured people and with worried relatives as efficiently as possible. Things had become a bit less hectic now.
The information desk was manned by a single person, a student in his second year, and he was afraid of the tall man with the gaunt face and the burning green eyes who had just come in. His hair was wild, he was unshaven, and the suit he wore was crumpled and dirty, torn and smeared with blood. Another survivor of the bomb assault? Possibly. He looked determined and dangerous, however, not helpless and distraught.
“I am looking for a man who might have been brought here. His name is Dorian Red. He was at Bahnhof Zoo,” the tall man said. His voice was low, but his tone spoke of giving orders and expecting them to be executed immediately. The young man at the information desk, however, had his own instructions.
“Are you a relative of Mr Red?”
“Then I cannot give you any information, I’m afraid.”
The tall man ignored his answer.
“I merely want to know whether Mr Red is alive at all and whether he is a patient here.” His tone was still low and polite, but it held a hint of steel.
The young man hesitated.
“Call the doctor in charge,” the tall man ordered. He lowered his eyes for a moment, and the edges of his mouth curled a bit upward. Then he looked up again.
“I mean it,” he said.
With trembling fingers, the young man dialled a number. This guy wasn’t drunk or high on something. He was a psycho. It would be better if one of the doctors dealt with him – if someone was available at all.
//They have sent another student,// the visitor thought at first. The fine-boned, dark-haired man in the white gown looked very young. At a second glance however, he corrected the doctor’s estimated age to well into his thirties. The doctor looked harassed and exhausted, but he was polite and spoke with a calm authority, which he probably had earned the hard way, considering his fine frame and youthful looks. Obviously, he was not afraid of the visitor.
He pointed the way to an area with a few chairs and a table behind a few large plants, providing the illusion of some privacy.
“We can talk here. – My name is Joseph Schmeißer,” he introduced himself. “You are looking for Mr Red, Mr - ?”
“Yes, a Mr Red is here,” the doctor confirmed. When he saw doubt and mistrust in the other man’s face, he added: “I know this for sure, because one of his relatives asked for him and described him.”
The visitor was relieved to hear that Eroica was here, at the Charité, and alive. Too exhausted to ask himself who of Eroica’s men might have wormed his way in as a relative, he decided to let it go.
“May I see Mr Red?” The dangerous half-smile reappeared.
“No.” That was definite. “No one is allowed to see him.”
“Will he die?” Of course that was a question he was not allowed to ask. Not that he cared. He did not really expect an honest answer. Nor did he expect the estimating, thoughtful look the doctor gave him.
“I cannot say at the moment. His injuries are severe.”
The visitor breathed deeply.
“We will know more tomorrow,” Dr Schmeißer added. “Go home, Mr Eberbach. Try to get some sleep. You cannot do anything here.”
The tall man shook his head.
“I’m on a thirty-six hour shift,” the doctor went on. “I’ll still be here in a few hours, and if I can, I’ll tell you more in the morning. But at the moment, I can’t do anything for you, I’m afraid.”
Calming sentences, phrases a doctor would use in dealing with distraught relatives. But why with him? He could have cut him short, could have refused any information just because he was no relative. So why did this doctor go to so much trouble? It didn’t matter.
“Is there a waiting room?”
“Down the corridor. A glass door with a sign.”
“Thank you.” Eberbach left the doctor sitting in the corner and went along the corridor pointed out to him.
The glass door was partly transparent. When he noticed that the waiting room was not empty, the visitor stopped in his tracks. He knew at least one of the people in there. A short, slender, dark-haired man was talking agitatedly to an older man, whose long, sharp-nosed features and tall, slender frame bore a certain resemblance to Eroica. So it seemed that the doctor had not been deceived by one of Eroica’s men posing as a relative. The older man might well be related. He vaguely remembered calling Bonham, Eroica’s second-in-command, informing him about the incident at Bahnhof Zoo. When they had found their employer, it was possible that Eroica’s men now were looking for him as well, to learn more about what had happened. But he did not want to see any of them, to explain anything. Not now.
So instead of entering the waiting room, he left the hospital through a side entrance. Outside, he stopped for a moment and lit a cigarette. It didn’t help. Alone in the streets again, his mind began to churn, the images from before came back, interspersed with other images: Eroica – seeing him for the first time. Wary because of a few occasions where his father had invited some distant relative for matchmaking, at the very first moment Major Eberbach had thought that his butler had been mistaken, that his visitor actually was a woman. But at a second glance the hips had been too narrow and the shoulders too wide even for a very athletic woman. He had been deceived by that absurd mass of hair, catching the sun and giving its owner an almost otherworldly aura. Besides, Eroica was pretty, too pretty for a man – and the Major had never seen exactly that colour of blue in another person’s eyes. – The look Eroica had given him on their first meeting, and on some occasions afterwards, when the goddamned idiot wasn’t flirting for once – as if he could see things Major Klaus von dem Eberbach kept hidden, locked behind a door to which he had thrown away the key, behind an insurmountable wall crowned by barbed wire. Unfortunately, that damned immoral, foppish idiot with his horrible taste in clothes was much too intelligent to be dismissed as just a fool. He was damned good at his profession, even if it was thievery. A good thief could open doors without a key, and insurmountable walls were just a challenge to him –
The Major took a last drag on his cigarette, before he threw the butt away. What good did it to realise that he had grown accustomed to the thief, that he appreciated his professionalism, albeit grudgingly, that it drove him mad to see Eroica injured and maimed? What good did it to know that he had begun to acknowledge the thief’s advances, the sheer persistence with which his defences were ignored, and the chutzpah with which they were overcome? Eroica was a blithering idiot, but he had style and grace. His advances being rejected again and again, he took this like a man. - But what good did it to realise all this, when it might be too late?
He noted that he was walking into the side streets behind Bahnhof Zoo again, and took a turn to the left. He passed a small church. On an impulse, he tried the door and found it open. A look at his watch told him that it was 5:30. Too early for an early service. Normally, the church would still have been closed. Maybe the local priest had decided to keep it open for people seeking comfort in prayer with regard to the explosion at Bahnhof Zoo.
It was a catholic church, he noted absentmindedly. He entered, crossed himself and genuflected in front of the altar housing the holy wafers, going through the motions mechanically, out of habit.
Despite the early hour, he was not alone. There were a few elderly women, habitual churchgoers it seemed, but also men like him, unshaven and with haggard faces, pale women with red-rimmed eyes, a girl in a biker’s outfit, ornate with studs and chains, her long hair dyed a bright red. At a side altar in a corner, an old woman was kneeling in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, praying loudly in what he recognised as Russian. She asked the Virgin not to let her Piotr die. Perhaps a mother who, according to the Bible, had seen her own son die would take pity on another mother, he found himself thinking. And where was Eroica’s mother? Was she on her way to her son?
He knelt down in front of the main altar, in front of the crucified man. And he found himself talking inwardly to the man on the cross.
//Maybe I should not ask you, who had to die, to let someone live. He loves life so much, you see. And he is not a bad man, even if he is a thief. And don’t let him live as a cripple. That would be easier for me, because I wouldn’t have to work with him again. But it would be terrible for him, and I – I thought I hated him, but I want him to be happy. And I want to work with him again. I want him around me, and I promise to be more friendly with him -//
He stopped. Had he actually been whispering that pathetic nonsense? Useless. He was not a little boy anymore, praying for a dead mother he could not remember, or a youth, praying to have his sinful thoughts taken away. The crucified man never listened, would never listen –
For a moment, despair and pain became overwhelming. He emitted a strangled sound, his hands gripped the hard bench as if to break it.
//They say you ate with the sinners. Is it true you gave a fuck whether a man preferred men? – But your followers talk of sin when a man is drawn to another man. Damn, I didn’t choose it! Fuck them all! – If he doesn’t die, if it isn’t too late yet, I will try to be his lover, his friend –//
The last thought was clear, crystal clear in his overworked, exhausted mind.
He got up from the bench, left the church and headed back to the hospital again. When he felt the cold morning air on his face, he found that his cheeks were wet. He wiped them angrily.
At the hospital he was told that Dr Schmeißer was operating, but would see him as soon as possible. He went down to the waiting room. It was empty this time. Mr James and the man he thought to be Eroica’s relative had gone.
The Major sat down in a corner and closed his eyes. A minute later, exhaustion had taken its toll and he was fast asleep.
He woke when the door was opened. Dr Schmeißer entered.
“Herr Eberbach? Come with me.”
The doctor left the waiting room quickly and led him to a lift.
“His condition has stabilised. If there won’t be any complications, he will live.” he explained.
The Major leaned against the wall of the lift for a moment, dizzy with relief. Angrily, he called himself to order.
They rode up a few floors and went along another corridor which led to a door with a sign “Intensivstation. Bitte Ruhe!” (Intensive Care. Please be quiet).
Dr Schmeißer opened the door with his identification card and let the Major pass. There was another door with a sign saying “Besucherraum” (Visitor Room). One wall was made entirely of glass, opening a view into another room. Three beds in a row, their occupants hooked up to infusions and equipment monitoring their heartbeat and breathing.
Eroica was lying in the middle bed, hardly recognisable under a lot of bandages, wires and tubes, unnaturally pale and silent. His face was gaunt like that of a corpse, the nose jutting out sharply, the cheeks hollow. Had not the screen monitoring his heartbeat shown a moving line, and had there not been a machine to help him breathing, the Major would have thought the man before him was dead. As far as he could make out from under the bandages, they had cut off all his hair, and this made it even more difficult to recognise Eroica in the man lying in that hospital bed behind the glass. Eberbach remembered all the blood. Of course they had to cut his hair away, if he had suffered head injuries –
“He suffered a double fracture of the skull base,” Dr Schmeißer said, as if he had read the Major’s thoughts. “But there is a ninety percent chance that his brain will not be permanently damaged. Flying parts have pierced his back and cut his hands, two fingers were gone, and we had to amputate another one.”
The Major breathed in sharply.
“In how far he will regain the use of his hands we cannot say at the moment, “ the doctor continued. “Besides, the impact of the explosion has ruptured a part of one lung.”
The Major stood in front of the glass wall, looking at Eroica, slowly understanding the severity of the injuries.
His hand touched the glass. He frowned.
“He is in good care,” Dr Schmeißer assured him. “I hope you do not mind my saying so, but you look very tired. Go home and have some rest.”
The Major shook his head.
“I have to go now. And I will not be back until next week. Work.”
“We both will be here next week,” Dr Schmeißer said. “Go now. And have some rest.”
He would not. He would catch his scheduled plane back to Bonn and try at least to write a report on the disastrous assignment, before starting a week-long special training tomorrow.
He turned to go but stopped at the door, turning around again.
“Why?” he asked.
The young doctor hesitated for a moment, then he looked straight into the Major’s eyes. He understood what the question meant.
“A motorbike accident. We had a fight and he left. When I could not reach him on the phone for the second day, I drove to his apartment. He did not open the door. I decided to wait. Late at night, his neighbour came home and told me Leo had been involved in an accident and was in hospital. I found out which one, but they would not tell me anything there. So I finally left. Three days later, a mutual friend called me to ask whether I would attend the funeral. He had read about it in the paper, and I had not known.”
The Major nodded.
“If you come back, come early in the morning,.” Dr Schmeißer continued. “I can deal with the head nurse, but the head doctor will skin me alive should he find you here.”
“Thank you.” The Major left, went back to his hotel, showered, shaved, checked out, took a taxi to the airport and reached his scheduled flight for Bonn just in time.
In Bonn, he reported to the Chief, then he went straight to his office and closed the door firmly. He was much too exhausted to deal with questions from his subordinates. The bomb at Bahnhof Zoo had been on TV and in all papers, and word had gotten around at the headquarters that Eroica had been among the many people who had been injured. While waiting at the airport, he had read in the papers that a man had been arrested in connection with the incident. Apparently he had planted plastic explosives in one of the toilet cubicles on the train. He was described as mentally disturbed and it was assumed his motivation had not been political.
The Chief had remarked on this fact with a certain relief in his voice, which had induced Eberbach to tell him that this was of little or no concern to the people killed or injured by the explosion. Inevitably, the Chief had asked whether he had learned more about Eroica. The Major had answered curtly that the bomb had exploded on the platform where Eroica should have met their contact, that he had been unable to get through to the man after the explosion, but had learned later that he had been brought to the Charité. Their contact had been killed. And the Chief would get a written report on the assignment, so that he, the Major, would not have to tell the story a third time.
He must have become louder and sharper than he had intended, because the Chief folded his plump hands on his polished desk and looked at him doubtfully.
“Are you sure you want to go to Baden-Baden tomorrow?” he asked.
“Is there any reason why I should not go – Sir?” the Major shot back, glaring at his superior.
He left the Chief sputtering behind his desk.
The next morning he went to Baden-Baden to attend a training for top agents. It dealt with enduring mental and physical torture. The subject was not exactly what he would have preferred just now, but it did not matter. They would never have sent him to the training had anyone at NATO known about what had happened when he had been captured on his first mission in the Balkan ten years ago. But no one knew. They could put their counselling where the sun did not shine.
He went through the week with his usual diligence, concentration and endurance, which had earned him the name of “Iron Klaus”. Nothing less was expected of him, and he would give nothing less. He had disciplined his mind again, no unwanted images appeared, and only at night, shortly before going to sleep, he allowed himself to think of the silent, pale figure in the hospital bed, hooked up to all these machines.
After the training, all participants were allowed a week off. The Major’s long-term subordinates in the Alphabet team, namely A, B, G and Z, nodded to each other when their superior accepted his week off without protest.
He was on the earliest plane to Berlin on the first morning, and went to the Charité straight away. Dr Schmeißer was on another of his 36 hour shifts.
“He is better,” he greeted the Major.
Obviously someone had pulled some strings, for Eroica was now in a single room in Intensive Care. To the Major, nothing had changed during the days he had been unable to come and see Eroica. He was still hooked up to all the machines, still pale and haggard. With the mass of hair gone, his regular, fine features looked more vulnerable -
Dr Schmeißer gave the Major a mobile number.
“If you come back very early tomorrow, I can let you into his room for a minute,” he said. “Call this number. I will let you in at the South Entrance.”
“You’re endangering your position.”
“I know,” Dr Schmeißer answered. “ And I will be damned if I care. Besides, if everything goes well, he will be transferred to Neurology at the end of the week and officially be able to receive visitors.”
The Major understood. He realised that the doctor’s offer was his way of trying to come to terms with his own loss. Besides, he wanted to go into that room, to be close to Eroica –
“I’ll be here.” he said.
He was back at five the next morning at the South Entrance, mobile phone in hand. He was saved from calling though, as Dr Schmeißer already expected him.
The Major was issued protective clothing, a plastic cap for his hair, a kind of plastic galoshes for his feet, and gloves.
“A nurse will come in at six to clean him and to change his catheter. Around five, he usually wakes up on his own for a short time,” the doctor explained.
The room smelled of disinfectant, of chemicals, of illness. There was no sound except Eroica’s breathing and the regular beeps of the machine monitoring his heartbeat. It was strange to see the man who used to move so gracefully, to gesticulate elegantly with slender, long-fingered hands when he described something, whose face lit up when he saw something that caught his interest, whose full lips were ready to smile at the slightest occasion, the smile always brightening his eyes – lying in a hospital bed, silent, motionless, his face serious, almost stern.
Carefully, the Major moved closer to the bed.
“Dorian,” he said softly. His voice was not more than a whisper. The man in the bed took one deeper breath, his long lashes fluttered. Then he opened his eyes. Their blue was darker than the Major remembered. For a moment, the eyes were unfocused, then they became clear and lit up in recognition. The heartbeat sped up, and the whole bandaged figure tried to move. Lips strained to form a word.
“Shhh,” the Major said. “Quiet, Dorian.” Briefly, he touched a part of Dorian’s right shoulder, which was not bandaged.
For a second, there was a sparkle in the big blue eyes, then they closed again, breathing and heartbeat slowed down to the earlier pace. Dorian was asleep again, his lips showing the hint of a smile.
//Where will this lead to?// the Major thought. What he had prevented from happening during the special training had now occurred: Klaus von dem Eberbach, to whom duty to his country, loyalty to his superiors and responsibility towards his subordinates came long before the barest of his own personal needs, had stepped down. The man in charge now was a bewildered Klaus, who only knew that he wanted the impossible, the unthinkable – to be close to that irritating, hedonistic, impossible creature fighting for his life in the hospital bed before him, to be his friend, to care for him – and deep, deep inside there was a longing for what could not be named –
//Where will this lead to?// dutiful Major Eberbach protested again. //It doesn’t matter,// the Klaus in charge answered him. Only now he noticed that he had called the man in the bed Dorian. Twice.
Looking up from the bed, he saw Dr Schmeißer behind the glass pane motion for him to come out, and he left reluctantly.
“How long will you be here this time?” the doctor asked.
“I’ve got a week. Until Sunday.”
“I’ll be back on Thursday. They’ll probably transfer him then and examine him for further treatment. Provided he is well enough, they’ll let his relative see him for a few minutes on Friday. I would recommend you try a visit on Saturday. But call me on Thursday evening, then I’ll be able to tell you more.”
The rest of the Monday and the following Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday later came to the Major only in single moments, most of them unimportant, but some reminding him that things had changed permanently. He checked into his usual hotel, went to a private gym where admission for members of the army was free, worked out and swam afterwards. Unfortunately, he could not avoid a few acquaintances and had a drink with them. The next day he met a former schoolmate and had to deal with the usual questions: “Still with the army?” – “Yes.” – “Is it true you are with NATO now?” – “Yes.” – “Married?” – “No.” And that was about it. His schoolmate was on the board of one of the leading pharmaceutical firms, had two children from his first marriage and was being divorced just now. Quite a career for being just thirty-five, the Major grimly thought. The man almost forced a concert ticket for the following evening on him. Eberbach accepted it. He had nothing better to do, and it was only Tuesday. Obviously his schoolmate had changed his plans, was perhaps seeing some other woman. It didn’t matter.
They played Beethoven. When in Vienna, Dorian had put roses on Beethoven’s grave –
The “Eroica” would not be played that evening, as the Major thankfully noted. The Ninth Symphony was on the programme.
“Wem der große Wurf gelungen, (“Everybody who ever achieved
eines Freundes Freund zu sein, to be a friend to a friend,
wer ein holdes Weib errungen everybody who has found a beautiful woman,
mische seinen Jubel ein! join us in our happiness!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele Yes, everybody who has found another soul
sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund! to call his own on earth!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle But the one who never could reach out
weinend sich aus diesem Bund!” may slink away crying from our happy union!”)
The Major cleared his throat sharply, which earned him angry and annoyed looks from the listeners around him. He ignored them. It upset him that the text evoked feelings in him which might be forgiven a seventeen-year-old in the throes of his first love, but never a grown man! That a poem suddenly had a hidden meaning – that he was touched by the music –
Late on Thursday evening, he called Dr Schmeißer’s mobile number. The doctor answered after the first ring. For a moment, the Major thought how strange it was that he trusted the young doctor. A year or two ago, he would have suspected Schmeißer to be someone paid to compromise him. Today, he found he did no longer care. Dorian was what mattered.
“Everything went as I said,” Dr Schmeißer reported. “His condition has stabilised further, and he was transferred to the Department of Neurology today. I think they will finish testing and examining him there tomorrow. So on Saturday you could try to visit.”
“So we will not meet again?” the Major asked.
“No.” He heard the doctor take a deep breath. “I – do not wish to intrude upon you or Mr Red – but if I can help you in any way – you’ve got my number.”
The Major was silent for a moment. He never trusted people easily, but he felt that the doctor’s offer was one of genuine friendship.
“I – appreciate this very much. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Dr Schmeißer ended the call.
The Major briefly thought about calling him again, asking him what Dorian would have to face, how many more operations, what kind of treatments, but he decided against doing so. It was too early to say. Dorian was alive and his condition more stable. That was what mattered at the moment. Besides, even if he would know – it was not for him to decide anything in these matters.
He was at the Charité again on Saturday and was told at the reception that Mr Red was to be found in Neurology. The Department of Neurology had a reception of their own, and there he was told that Mr Red’s visiting times were strictly limited and only his relatives were to see him. He should come back in a week or two.
He was seriously thinking of becoming official. Very official. But luck – or fate? – was with him again.
“Excuse me,” A gentle British voice made him turn. “Mr Eberbach?”
The man who had spoken to him was the person who had been in the waiting room with Mr James. He was as tall as Dorian, but thinner, skinny, in fact. He had the same long face and large blue eyes, his curly grey hair was closely cropped and must have been reddish-blond when he had been younger. He was dressed elegantly but unobtrusively in a light grey suit, and the Major had the impression of an older version of Eroica - Dorian - less flamboyant, less angelic, but more impish. He remembered Dorian prattle away on one occasion about an uncle on his mother’s side.
“And you are?” he answered with a sharp counter-question.
The older man bowed a little, slightly ironical. There was a hint of amusement in his eyes.
“Ernest Lord Ashford. I’m Dorian’s uncle. – And you must be Klaus-Heinz von dem Eberbach. Dorian has told me about you.”
The same gentle lilt, the same timbre in their voices –
The Major thought of his good manners, bowed in turn and took the outstretched hand.
“Klaus von dem Eberbach,” he confirmed.
Lord Ashford turned to the lady at the reception desk.
“I am here to see the Earl of Gloria, and this gentleman is with me.”
Before the Major could refuse, Lord Ashford had taken his elbow and pulled him through the door which had been buzzed open for them by the perplexed reception lady.
They were met by a young female doctor. The crown of her head just reached up to the Major’s shoulder, but she was unmistakably in charge. There would be no chance to impress her with titles of nobility or military ranks.
“Ten minutes,” she said and left them after looking in on Dorian.
The Major motioned for Lord Ashford to go in.
“I’ll come in, in say – seven minutes?”
“We’ll share equally,” Lord Ashford said firmly and went in to his nephew.
Eberbach wished for a place to smoke. He felt embarrassed. First that young doctor and now Lord Ashford had acted as if he had a right to be with Dorian. Was what he wanted to hide that obvious? Dr Schmeißer had lost his lover in a situation similar to this one. So he had a sharp eye for suffering non-relatives, anxious and worried. But what the hell had Dorian told his uncle about him? What if Lord Ashford as well thought he was -? Yes, he felt embarrassed indeed. And a bit like an impostor. Nevertheless, he suppressed a smile thinking of the magnificence of Lord Ashford’s entrance into Neurology. “The Earl of Gloria”. That had been worthy of one of Dorian’s relatives.
The door opened, and Lord Ashford came out.
“Get in,” he said.
The room was small, but bright and pleasant. It had a single bed. The machinery was gone, there were just an infusion and a catheter bag. Dorian was awake, fragile in all his bandages, and very weak. For a moment, he looked at the Major and smiled, then he closed his eyes again.
This time, the Major dared not touch him. He stood at the bed quietly, watching Dorian.
A few minutes later, a nurse came in.
“Your time is up for today,” she said gently, and he left obediently.
Lord Ashford was waiting in the corridor.
“Same time tomorrow?” he asked.
“Very well,” the Major answered and turned to leave. When he was halfway down the corridor, he added: “Thank you.”
He came back the next day and left with the intent to return as soon as possible, and to make this “soon as possible” not too long. Lord Ashford had given him another mobile number – just in case, but had understood very well that the Major could not do him the same favour.
On his return to Bonn the next Monday, however, he was sent abroad on a special assignment which lasted a month. Working under an assumed identity and being surveyed sharply, there was no chance to call Lord Ashford to learn how the Earl was doing. During this month, he could not allow himself to get distracted from his assignment, so he forbid himself to think of Dorian, to worry about him. Dreams, of course, came unbidden and would not go away, repeating the scene at Bahnhof Zoo over and over. Sometimes he could get through to Dorian, sometimes not. Sometimes he found himself in the room again where they had brought the dead, and he was looking for Dorian there, sometimes he was at the hospital again, but he could not find Dorian –
As soon as his mission was accomplished and he was back in Germany, he called Dorian’s uncle.
“He is coherent and clear,” Lord Ashford said. “And he is trying to come to terms with what has happened to him, trying to get some ground under his feet again.” He sounded grave and exhausted, but glad to hear the Major’s voice.
So, Dorian had not fallen into a coma and had not suffered brain damage, thank God or Nature. The Major would bring him a gift. But what? Dorian liked foppish, useless things. Flowers?
He found himself in an expensive flower shop, looking around. The shop assistant was sent away. It was important to decide for himself what flower he would bring Dorian. Having inspected the whole range of flowers in the shop, he finally choose one single long-stemmed rose. Its colour was a dark yellow, almost golden. It was perfect. And it had sturdy thorns, which the assistant wanted to remove.
“Leave them,” the Major said. Natural, beautiful roses came with thorns.
Dorian was awake, pale, with dark shadows under huge eyes in a face which seemed to become smaller every time the Major saw him. The bandages around his head had been removed. His hair had begun to cover his skull again.
//He looks so vulnerable, so young – like a frightened child who puts on a brave face.//
The room he was in now was also pleasant, bright and friendly. A lot of magazines were stacked on the nightstand, other visitors had brought flowers as well, and they were tastefully arranged all over the place.
Dorian’s hands were still bandaged and in a kind of cast. At least the catheter was gone, and a portable toilet stood next to the bed.
Dorian smiled at his visitor. The Major saw genuine pleasure about his visit in the huge eyes, but also fear and sadness. And probably it was fear what induced Dorian to slip his Eroica mask into place, an attitude of elegant nonchalance, which the Major found shallow, unworthy of Dorian. He felt awkward and helpless, which inevitably made him angry. Eroica had always been the persona who irritated him.
“Now?!” he barked, well aware that he had donned his Iron Klaus armour, the Terrible Major.
“Good afternoon, Major.” The voice sounded pained and tired, not nonchalant, though. “How are you?”
“Thanks. But I should ask you this.” He sighed inwardly over his own idiocy in how he handled this visit. For the first time after his accident, he met Dorian fully awake and clear, and the first thing he did was bark at the man!
“Thank you for asking, but there is not much to tell, I’m afraid. They’re weaning me off the painkillers at the moment, I have headaches and feel dizzy and cannot read more than one or two passages in a row. Sometimes I have difficulties to breathe. But they say it will pass. So I’m hoping for the best. I look like Frankenstein’s Monster and I feel the same. On the positive side, I am not bored. Bonham tells me what’s going on, James thrills me with my rising stock shares, and Uncle Ernest reads to me. They make me walk around as much as possible, and a lovely young man washes me every morning and night and wipes my ass.”
“I see.” The Major felt more and more like an idiot. It was one thing to come to terms with his changed feelings for Dorian. But it was another thing to act upon them, let alone show them, when Dorian was awake and coherent.
“You have brought me something?” Dorian prompted.
The Major became aware that he was still holding the rose. He took off the paper and came up to the bed, putting the rose on Dorian’s lap.
Dorian looked at the rose, then up into his visitor’s face. Again, there was genuine joy in his eyes.
“You brought me a rose? And how beautiful it is!” Instinctively, he made a gesture with one of his bandaged hands as if to pick the rose up. He winced, and a shadow fell over his face. Again, he looked up at the Major.
“I want to smell it. Could you -?”
“Of course.” The Major picked the rose up and held it close to Dorian’s face. Dorian bent a bit forward and took in its scent. Then he turned his head aside and let the petals caress his cheek. Again, his eyes sought those of the Major.
“It is a special kind of rose,” he said. “Normally, such beautiful roses hardly smell, and they don’t have so many thorns.”
“I hoped you would like it,” the Major answered. That gesture – the petals caressing Dorian’s cheek –
“It’s thirsty,” Dorian continued. “There’s a cupboard under the sink, if you’d be so kind as to look for a vase? Oh, and cut the stem a bit, if you’ve got a pocket knife with you, before you put it into the water.”
The Major did as he was told. If the rose was precious to Dorian, it would be precious to him.
“Thank you,” Dorian said, when his visitor had taken care of the rose. “Are you pressed for time, or would you care to take me for a walk? That would be absolutely charming, dear. So far, it has only been up and down the corridor, and I always feel as if I had run a marathon, would you believe it?” He smiled again.
“I’m not pressed for time, so if you wish –“
He pushed the bedcover away. Dorian sat up and carefully swung his legs out of the bed. The Major noted him wincing, but he did neither react nor comment on it.
Dorian wore one of his own night-shirts, a long, clinging silken affair. It had been cut open in the back, and the sleeves had been cut away to allow the cross between bandage and cast which encased his hands and lower arms to be moved through the holes.
He noticed the Major’s look.
“Five of my night-shirts have been ruined that way. James had a fit. He’ll insist I wear them as they are even if it won’t be necessary any longer,” he remarked.
Again, the Major gave no comment. It was better to have something to do, so he looked for slippers to put on Dorian’s feet. He found a pair of red Turkish ones, richly embroidered with oriental patterns in golden threads. Could be a present from those two strange oil sheikhs, the Bakchials, father and son.
“Caesar visited me last week,” Dorian chatted on. “The poor thing had come from London just the day I was transferred to Neurology. And you won’t believe it – he fell in love! Here! He met the doctor from Intensive Care, who supervised my transfer. As far as I have heard –the doctor – he’s got such a strange name – Werfer – no, wait I’ve got it – Schmeißer – is also very interested, but – hush, hush, you know?”
“Hmhm,” The Major murmured. Deep inside, he felt glad for Dr Schmeißer. For Caesar too, although he also felt a pang of jealousy. Caesar Gabriel and the doctor might be getting along, and he – he was behaving like an idiot. No doubt about it.
He knelt down and took one of Dorian’s long, slender feet into his hand, putting on the slipper. He was so close to Dorian now that he could smell him – a soft scent of rose soap, a sharp stench, probably from medication and wound disinfectant, and something pleasant underneath, which must be Dorian’s own smell. The Major found that it aroused him. Unbelievable.
He put the second slipper on Dorian’s left foot and quickly got up, looking around for a bathrobe. The thing was made of red silk, matching the slippers.
Dorian stood. For a moment he swayed, involuntarily bumping against the Major, who steadied him carefully. The smell again – He found himself thinking how it would be to caress Dorian’s cheek –
Instead, he put the bathrobe around Dorian’s shoulders, and then the journey could begin.
Slowly, step by step, they walked along the hospital corridor. Dorian walked alone, without the Major supporting him, but his visitor stayed close by.
“Next month I’ll move to another clinic not too far from here for rehabilitation,” Dorian went on.
“Good,” the Major answered.
They had reached the end of the corridor, turned slowly and walked back the way they had come. A strange feeling to walk with Dorian that way, so strange –
“I hope I’ll get stronger again,” Dorian remarked. The Major did not answer, but he could understand and share Dorian’s worry. The man had been as strong and agile like a cat, and very proud of his body. The effects of the accident must be devastating for him, but he was brave –
“You will have to exercise a lot,” the Major finally said.
They had reached Dorian’s room again, and the Earl seemed very exhausted. He was fighting for breath.
“I’ve – finished – my daily Marathon,” he managed. Before they reached the bed again, he slumped into the Major’s arms. He was not unconscious, his legs simply refused to carry him any longer. He lay in the Major’s arms, looking up into the worried face above him, his eyes expressing surprise over his own weakness.
He was light, had always been lighter than the Major thought – The bathrobe fell from his shoulders, and the Major noticed that he was touching the Earl’s bare back. Dorian’s head now lay in the crook of his neck.
The Major put one knee on the bed, supporting Dorian’s body in his arms. He tried to pull the night-shirt together, but Dorian’s naked back rested on his knee for a moment, and the flank touched his groin, before he could lower the man down onto the bed. God, if Dorian had noticed –
The Major retreated a step and pulled the bedcover up.
“I will call a nurse,” he said, worried more about how quickly Dorian had been exhausted than about his untimely erection.
“No, please. Everything is alright I’m just – tired. I – want to sleep – a bit – now. – Please – Klaus.”
The Major shrugged. “Alright.” If Dorian insisted, he would not call a nurse. But he would not leave either.
Dorian seemed to have the same idea. “Please – could you – could you stay – until I’m asleep?”
“If you wish,” the Major said stiffly. Deep inside, he was glad that Dorian wanted to have him around a little while longer. He sat down next to the bed.
Was this love? He had never loved innocently as a teenager, never ever been in love before. And this was not playful, not innocent, it was damn serious. He had decided he would be there for Dorian if Dorian wanted him, but he was not accustomed to showing and expressing his feelings. He was the Terrible Major –
“Thanks again for the rose,” Dorian murmured sleepily. His breathing had slowed down, had become more calm, and he drifted into sleep. The Major sat next to his bedside until a male nurse came in with a tray. Then he said good-bye and left. He noted that he did not want to leave.
Duties and commitments to his work delayed his next visit to Dorian for another month and a half. He was sent undercover to spy on a government official suspected to spy for a terrorist organisation, finally clearing the man’s reputation. During this time, he managed to call Lord Ashford once, to learn the latest news. Still, he was unsure what to do, how to proceed. Somehow he felt ashamed that it had taken a severe accident to make him realise what he felt for Dorian –
The Earl was in rehabilitation, in a new clinic near the Baltic Sea. It had been the best choice considering the fact that Dorian’s condition still did not allow him to travel long distances. They had well-trained, friendly staff and the most modern equipment, Lord Ashford told him.
On his next free morning, the Major took a flight to Berlin and rented a car there for the rest of the journey. He checked into a small hotel in the village and walked up to the clinic.
Dorian was lounging on a bench reading a book which lay in his lap. Before he noticed the Major, he was busy turning a page. When he looked up and saw the Major approach, he awkwardly put the book aside and stood to meet his visitor.
Both men seemed at a loss what to say, how to greet each other. Dorian was obviously glad about the Major’s visit, but at the same time he seemed uneasy, conscious that he was not well and unsure whether to present his usual Eroica-self.
Again, the Major noted how thin Dorian had become, how much weight a person could lose, bedridden for months. How fragile he looked! But the Major was glad to see him up and walking, obviously with all his five senses together. He was beautiful, even in his emaciated state, his blue eyes enormous, his face looking vulnerable, framed by closely cropped blond curls, which made the Major wish to touch them. Dorian wore a blue sweater and white pants – stylish and elegant, nothing silly and foppish –
His hands and lower arms were free from the casts now. The Major had seen people maimed and injured by wars, much, much worse than Dorian’s hands looked now, but the sight pained him nevertheless. Dorian’s formerly long, elegant hands and slender fingers looked like bony claws, twisted and misshapen. The Earl extended his right hand, which had two fingers missing. The Major looked for a moment at the hands, then into Dorian’s face. Behind their sadness, the huge eyes were estimating, with a hint of fear.
Eberbach took the mutilated hand carefully, but without hesitation. Only now he noticed the Earl’s bare feet, and this finally gave him an opportunity to break the awkward silence.
“It’s too cold for bare feet,” he said in a stern voice. “You should wear your shoes.” He was well aware that he was talking to a grown man as if that man was a five-year-old, but only this goddamned idiot would run around barefoot, barely out of bed and in a condition where a cold might well develop into pneumonia!
The Earl did not seem to mind. He smiled, and deep inside, the Major was grateful to some higher force that he was allowed to see that smile again.
“I am glad to see you, too, Major,” he said.
The Major snorted. //Keep to anger, keep to outrage – it’s safe -// Although he felt as if to thank some God for having found the means to break that invisible barrier between them.
Dorian turned and walked back to his bench, slipping on a pair of light sandals. He hid his hands in the long sleeves of his sweater, when he indicated the place next to him.
“Talk to me, Major. How’s life?”
The Major sat down in the corner of the bench. He frowned.
So no chatter from Dorian today. What a silly question to ask! How was life? Work, as usual. Besides, for a few months now there had been worry about a goddamned thief. And trying to come to terms with – something like – love?
“Work,” he said aloud. “Down to earth and boring.”
Dorian smiled again.
“So nothing seems to have changed much,” he said softly.
The Major did not answer. Should he explain to Dorian that inwardly everything had changed? That he wanted to be Dorian’s friend and more, but did not know how to tell the man? He did not have the words –
“I hope they treat you well here,” he said after a while.
“I’m sure they do everything they can,” Dorian assured him. “It is just –“
The Major’s mobile rang. A piercing, merciless sound, which could not be ignored. The Major had given A the number in case of an absolute emergency. And this better be an absolute emergency –
A was respectful as usual. “I’m sorry, Sir, but the Chief wants you back in Bonn. Immediately.”
“I’m on my way.” The Major ended the call.
“Back to work?” Dorian sat on his bench, hugging himself and pulling up his shoulders as if he felt cold all of a sudden.
“Back to work,” the Major confirmed. “Sorry,” he added stiffly. “I have to go.”
He turned abruptly and left, went back to the hotel, cancelled his room and took his things. On the motorway back to Berlin he found that he was screaming inwardly. And he began to curse. In all the languages he was capable of.
The next months he spent undercover again, this time as the alleged son and heir of a deceased banker, who had been an influential figure in right-wing circles. He uncovered that some of the deceased’s friends were members of a Neo-Nazi group. They had planned and financed terrorist acts like the explosion of the wagon at Bahnhof Zoo. Two or three powerful business men and a few politicians were compromised, a few heads rolled. A success all in all, but the Major knew well enough that they were fighting a hydra. Then again, this was his job, and he would do this job as long as he could.
Thus, after this assignment had ended, he watched his back. He wanted to live a while longer. He lived in a few places all over the town at the same time, using them at random. He kept his schedule as irregular as he could. And he refrained from seeking contact with Dorian, as hard as it was.
One evening, though, when he met up with A, his agent told him that Lord Ashford had called and had asked to tell the Major to call back as soon as possible. A sounded urgent, so the Major called Dorian’s uncle in the evening, from a phone booth.
Lord Ashford seemed upset, although his voice was as modulated and polite as always.
“My nephew has vanished from the clinic. His possessions are gone from his room, so I take it he went of his own account.”
“Have you got any idea where he might have gone?”
Lord Ashford was speaking to someone with him. Then a muffled sound, like the slam of a door, and Lord Ashford’s voice again.
“Sorry about that. My sister is more than a bit upset. Strangely only now when her son has disappeared, not during the months he spent in hospital. – Yes, Major, I have an idea where he might be.” He described a small summer cottage in a village on the Pembrokeshire coast in South Wales.
“Please, Major, go and look for him there.”
“Why are you so sure he has gone there?” The Major was sceptical. “And why don’t you go yourself?”
“I doubt he would talk to me.” Lord Ashford answered bluntly. He sounded more worried now that his sister was out of earshot. And he must be very unnerved to have made the remark about Dorian’s mother at all.
“I tried to talk to Dorian over the last few months, but I failed to get through to him. He always trusted me, because I let him be as he is, but this time –“ Lord Ashford broke off in mid-sentence, before he spoke again.
“He is strong, but the damage to his skull, lungs and hands affects him badly. He is impatient. In rehabilitation they do everything they can, as far as I am a judge in this matter, and he is making progress. But we both know what kind of occupation he had. In spite of all his efforts and the best treatment in the world he will never be able to get the bodily agility and the capabilities of his hands back for what this occupation requires.”
The Major had never thought that it would make him sad to hear that Dorian would no longer be able to work as a thief. But he was sad, because he had an inkling of what this must mean for Dorian.
“Did they tell him?” he asked.
“Apparently. But he refuses counselling.”
//Wouldn’t I know it,// the Major thought. Aloud he said: “Be it as it may - it doesn’t make sense. Why would he leave somewhere where people do everything for him to regain his health in the fastest possible way? It doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it does not,” Lord Ashford agreed. “But we are not dealing here with a logical decision on Dorian’s part, I assume. I think his impatience and anger about his bodily condition have made him run away. If he was better, I would assume he was bored and made off to some of the capitals of Europe or wherever his fancy takes him. But he is not well enough for the European tour, so I assume he went to Wales. He went there on two or three occasions in the past, when he wanted to be entirely alone, to think about one matter or the other.”
The Major nodded to himself. He knew enough about Dorian’s nature, where spells of thoughtfulness, even melancholy, changed with spells of joyful activity. But he was not convinced about looking for Dorian, though part of him wanted to go very much –
“In the past, he always came back,” he answered Lord Ashford. “So why not wait until he comes back of his own account this time?”
“The other times, he always let me know he was up there,” Lord Ashford explained. “If nobody else knew where he was, I knew. This time, nobody actually knows where he is. His men turn to me, my sister and my nieces press me to tell them his whereabouts – and I am as much at a loss as they are, this time. Please, Major, if it is at all possible for you, go to Pembrokeshire and look for him.”
The Major thought for a moment. He was off the chessboard for a while, too hot to handle for NATO for a mission in Europe for the time being. So they would send him far away or condemn him to paperwork, as they did at present. Right now, he had a few days off. A wild goose chase to Wales would prevent him from getting bored. Besides, he was more worried about Dorian’s disappearance than he would admit to Lord Ashford. And the man had let him see Dorian when only relatives had been admitted to the sickbed, he had shared his visiting time with him. He owed Dorian’s uncle a favour.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll call you back when I’ve got a flight.”
He heard Lord Ashford breathe deeply.
“Thank you, Major. I’ll meet you with the keys and further directions then.”
The Major booked a flight to London via the implant travel agency at the NATO branch, declaring it as private. Let them talk. Then he called Lord Ashford again. They agreed to meet at Heathrow Airport. As a flight to Cardiff would cause more delay than save time, Lord Ashford agreed to pay for a rental car the Major would use to drive up to Pembrokeshire.
Late in the evening, the Major touched down in Heathrow. Lord Ashford was at the gate to meet him and handed him the keys to the house. He had already reserved a rental car, a Rover Jeep, fast and effective. He had also brought a map and gave directions.
“The village is called Marloes. It may be a bit tricky to find in the dark, but probably it will already be light again when you get there. On entering the village on the main road, past the bell tower and the supermarket, you will see the house on your right. It is covered with climbing roses. And Major -?”
“I’ll call you when I’ve found him,” the Major answered.
He drove the M 4 via The West, over the Severn Bridge into Wales. “Croeso y Cymru” said a sign by the road. “Welcome to Wales”. Along the M 4, past the industrial area around Swansea, Port Talbot and Newport, past Cardiff, until the M 4 ended. On to Haverfordwest via a well built secondary road. When he reached Haverfordwest, it began to get light. There was hardly any traffic at this early hour, so he had no difficulties to find his way through the town. He refuelled his car at the 24 hour TESCO, bought two sandwiches and some mineral water, eating while he drove on. The road became narrow and he had to look out for signposts. The sun had begun to come up when he saw the sign “Marloes”.
Slowly, he drove through the small village. It was 5:30 in the morning. He passed the bell tower Lord Ashford had mentioned, the supermarket and a pub on his left. A bit farther up the street was the cottage with the climbing rose vines, unmistakable.
He parked his car and went up to the house. No other car was parked near, but the Major had not expected one. Dorian would not be well enough to drive all the way up here by himself. He probably could not even hold a steering wheel. So he must have come by taxi from Haverfordwest.
The shutters were open, but from the outside it was impossible to make out if someone lived in the house at the moment.
The Major rang the doorbell and waited, long enough for someone who was asleep to wake up and answer the door. Nothing. He rang again, longer this time, with the same result. After a while, he took out the key Lord Ashford had given him and tried the lock. It was not blocked by another key from the inside. So he entered quickly, closing the door behind him, and looked around. A living room to the right, a kitchen to the left, stairs leading up from the small entrance hall to the first floor.
The house was definitely inhabited. The fridge was humming, stocked with some fruit, eggs, cheese, and milk. A book was lying on the coffee table in the living room. It was a small guide about churches in Pembrokeshire. A blanket on the sofa had been folded, but not too neatly.
The Major went upstairs. Two bedrooms, one larger, one very small. The smaller bedroom looked unused, but the bed in the larger bedroom had sheets and a blanket, it had been slept in. A pyjama lay on the bed. Furthermore, a pair of trousers and two sweaters were hanging over a chair, underwear, socks and more pyjamas lying on the chair. A few other trousers and sweaters as well as shoes were in the wardrobe. The clothing looked Dorian’s size and the light colours matched his taste. There was toilet paper in the small bathroom, soap and shower gel, an electric razor, toothpaste, and a toothbrush, a bottle of Eau de Toilette, expensive-looking stuff. A soft smell of roses –
The Major took out his mobile.
“I’m at the house. It’s occupied, but he is not there.”
“Then he has probably gone for a walk.” Lord Ashford sounded a little bit more relieved. “He might be at Musselwick Bay. – Follow the road out of the village. Walk, it’s not far, and there isn’t room to park a car, actually. After half a mile, you’ll see a sign for a public footpath on your right. It leads over a fence. Follow the sign. After another mile or so you’ll come to a crossroads. Follow the path down the cliffs.”
“I’ll go there, and when I’ve found him, I’ll call again,” the Major promised. In the entrance hall, he quickly changed into jeans, tee-shirt, a sweater, a light jacket and hiking boots.
Dorian was actually here, his uncle had made the right guess. And the Major wanted to find him, to see him again. Now. Lord Ashford had only hinted at Dorian’s problems in coming to terms with the permanent damage to his hands, but he had been very worried. What the Major had not liked at all was the remark about Dorian refusing any counselling. After his first assignment, he had done the same, and the following days and months had belonged to the darkest in his life. Not that counselling would have changed the situation, but maybe -. He might be jumping to conclusions now, but he was too pent up and worried to just sit there and wait for Dorian’s return.
He followed the directions Lord Ashford had given him, found the coastal footpath sign which led him across a meadow to a crossroads. To his right, another path led back to the village, straight ahead and behind him stretched the actual coastal footpath, and the path to his left led through a gorge along a small creek down the cliffs to the sea.
Halfway down, the Major stopped and looked around. To his left was a small bay with a narrow strip of sand, closed off now by the tide and the edge of a cliff protruding further into the sea than the rest. This was probably Musselwick Bay.
The Major climbed over the cliffs to look whether it was possible to reach the small beach anyway, but when he rounded an edge, he saw a deep gorge between two cliffs, now filled with water which came thundering in, blocking further access to the beach. When the tide was low, it might be possible to reach the beach, but not now, when the water was crashing into the cave between the two cliffs. Access from the footpath would be impossible as well. There was a narrow strip of heather, grass, and small bushes, then the cliffs fell down steeply. A sheep might be able to get down there, or a human with climbing equipment, but not a person without the full use of his hands.
Remained the cliffs to the right. It might be possible to climb out to the far end without much effort. You would have a wonderful look over the sea, and you would probably not be seen from above. The Major turned right. The cliffs were a bit slippery and covered with moss where the small creek went into the sea. There was also a little swamp from the soil the creek took down on its way. And there was one footprint in the mud, continuing up to where the cliffs were dry again. Someone had walked down here not very long ago. And most probably a man. It could be an early fisherman, of course, but the sun had vanished behind clouds, and the sea was rough. Not the ideal weather for fishing.
Dark thoughts crossed the Major’s mind again. What if Dorian had actually tried to kill himself? The accident and its aftermath could have shaken him more than he might have expected at first –
//If he is alright, I’ll tell him how I feel about him,// the Major thought.
He rounded the cliffs, black lava broken into countless small, sharp splinters, always on the lookout for sheltered crevices where a person might sit, then jumped down to a small plateau, climbed around the next bend. Further ahead, the cliffs fell down steeply into the sea in one bloc, no plateau any more, no hiding places.
He pulled himself over an edge, looking whether he could go any further, and there was Dorian, sitting in a niche in the rocks, hidden from view from the bay as well as from the footpath above, fairly sheltered from the wind and the spray from the waves thundering against the lava cliffs. He obviously was in deep thoughts and had not heard the Major approach over the gusts of wind, the screams of the seabirds, and the roar of the sea.
//Thank you, God.// The Major let himself fall back to the niche he had been in before and made a quick call to Lord Ashford as promised.
“He is here,” he said.
Then he climbed over the edge which separated him from Dorian and jumped down next to the Earl. Dorian looked up in surprise, and the Major saw that he had been crying. It hurt to see Dorian like this –
“Major – you -?”
Without thinking, he touched Dorian’s cheek and wiped away the tears. He took Dorian’s head in his hands, his fingers caressed the short curls –
- and he was pushed away with force when Dorian tried to evade his touch and to free himself.
“Don’t, Major, please don’t!”
Surprised, shaken, the Major released him.
“I – I don’t want your pity!” the Earl managed, turning away, crying harder. “Go, Major, please!”
The Major felt his temper flare up, exhausted from his worry for Dorian, his nightly drive and his search for the Earl, he could not prevent it.
//Pity?! – What the hell – ?//
He spun Dorian around forcefully, pulling him up closely, so he could not avoid the Major’s blazing eyes.
“Pity?! You – you turn my life upside down, I don’t know what to think, what to feel any longer, and then you accuse me of pity?!” The Major’s voice was a low growl.
Dorian looked at him, surprised.
“You -?” He wanted to make sure he had heard correctly, but the Major was not prepared to listen in his fury.
“Damn it, yes, it took your accident for me to realise that it is neither pity nor duty what I feel for you! I’m sorry! But you have won! I came here to tell you that I want to be your friend – and more! – But now – Damn you!”
He bent over Dorian, very close, and kissed him, hard, cruel and anything but chaste. He intended to leave, never to see Dorian again, but to his surprise, the Earl did not fight the kiss, he even answered it almost as violently.
“Forgive me, Klaus. I didn’t know –“ Dorian whispered when the Major finally broke the kiss.
“Shut up.” Klaus pressed his body against Dorian’s. He knew that what he was doing was outrageous, after all Dorian was still recovering from his accident, but he did not care. His hands pushed away clothes, hungry for bare skin, the warmth of Dorian’s body. Dorian kissed him again, his hands finding their way under the Major’s sweater and shirt, grasping the wide shoulders. He bent his head back and presented his throat to the Major’s kisses. Klaus’s fingers moved over Dorian’s nipples, then one hand went down, stroking Dorian’s cock over the clothing, finding its way into Dorian’s slacks and slip, pulling them down, his fingers roughly caressing Dorian, who flinched for a moment, then gave himself over with a moan, pushing into the hard hand. There was no time for thought, not even for surprise about Dorian’s sudden change of mind now, only pure, raw lust. And a grim triumph when he felt Dorian surrender, satisfaction when he supported the gasping man in his arms.
Dorian had destroyed all his defences over the years, had made Klaus doubt all his principles and convictions, and now the Major held him in his arms, breathless, defenceless, but only for a few moments, then Dorian freed himself and knelt down. His hands fought with the button and zipper of the Major’s jeans. Klaus wanted to help, but Dorian fought him off.
“Please let me –“
When he had managed to open the button, Dorian hooked both his hands into the zipper and tore it apart, pulling the major’s slip down and freeing his erection. His deep blue eyes met the Major’s green glare, before he took Klaus’s cock into his mouth.
For a moment, Klaus thought about what he was doing, then there was only the sensation of Dorian’s hot mouth, his lips, his tongue doing wonderful things, moments of ecstasy –
Then it was over and he leaned back against the rocks, breathing heavily. He closed his eyes for a moment. The roar of the sea was overwhelming. He was dizzy. The world slowly came back into focus, and he could open his eyes again. Dorian was sitting on his heels before him, looking up, serious, with a beautiful, questioning frown. But the Major still felt his anger seethe inside. Anger about his own principles thrown to the wind, anger about Dorian accusing him of pity, anger about giving in to Dorian at all, anger about not giving in earlier –
He brought his clothing in order, took Dorian’s upper arm and pulled him to his feet.
“Get dressed properly.”
Dorian obeyed. The questioning look never left his face. Obviously he was unsure about how Klaus would react now.
“Let’s go back to the village.” It was an order, not a suggestion.
Dorian led the way, climbing back over the cliffs, surprisingly sure-footed and easy. But then he must have been there before, maybe more often than his uncle knew – The Major followed. They climbed up to the footpath and walked next to each other in silence. The Major, still in a barely suppressed fury, was not in the mood to talk, to give an explanation for his sudden appearance in the godforsaken Welsh village, and Dorian wisely did not ask any questions.
A few rays of sun broke through the heavy clouds when they reached the house. The Major opened the door, let them both in, closed and locked the door behind them. He stood in the corridor, his fists balled, his eyes far away, but still blazing with anger.
Dorian stood a few steps away from him, watching him cautiously. He had realised that he was only partly causing the Major's anger. The rest was buried much, much deeper. Klaus was thinking, making a decision. Intuitively, Dorian felt it would be the best thing to be silent.
Klaus was floating, as a survivor of a shipwreck would be floating in the ocean, tossed about by the waves like so many flotsam, at the mercy of the elements. Innocently, Dorian had opened the innermost secret room, that dirty cell in a prison somewhere in the Balkan, where the officer in command had him beaten up by his subordinates, had humiliated and raped him. But the deepest, innermost secret was that he knew he wanted to be taken by a man. Not in a degrading, humiliating way, though. He had hidden this wish safely, buried it deeply, thinking there would never be anyone he could trust that much anyway. Until he had met Dorian. And Dorian had known after a while. To do him justice, he had never said anything, but it had been obvious from the day his courting had become not less persistent, but less aggressive. Yes, he had noticed Dorian courting him alright, from the beginning. Playful at first, just making eyes at another guy who did not exactly look like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, then more personal. More and more personal – He had let it happen, despite all his protests, he had let it happen – It had become something like a game – even for him, sometimes –
Now Dorian had been seriously hurt. He should never have allowed the Earl to work as a contractor for NATO, but Dorian would not have listened anyway. Now he had experienced bitterly that not everything was a play, a romantic game. Now he knew he would remain permanently handicapped. It had made him lose his nerve and run away, and he was not the first one to act like that.
Could he ask of Dorian what he wanted of him? Would it be right now? After first pushing him away, Dorian had almost been desperate to give Klaus pleasure, to satisfy his needs – He could do more if he wanted, if not – but he had to say it – now –
“Fuck me.” His voice sounded rough, his eyes burned into Dorian’s.
Dorian understood how much it must cost the proud man before him to say the words he had just said. He understood how much his attempts at courting him had unsettled Klaus. But the Major had sought and found him. He had been ashamed of himself, of his condition, of his cowardice, had tried to send Klaus away. But no one would send Iron Klaus away if he did not want to go. Klaus wanted him. He did not mind a Dorian who had useless claws for hands, who might suffer from splitting headaches and attacks of dizziness, who was depressed sometimes, and sometimes short of breath. He had been wrong. Klaus did not act out of pity, he wanted him –
“Come.” Dorian led the way upstairs, to the larger bedroom.
“Close the door!” Klaus demanded when they were inside. When Dorian had obeyed, Klaus undressed quickly, lowering himself down onto the bed. If Dorian had expected to undress him slowly, he had been wrong. He would have been unable to stand that at the moment. It was hard enough to bear Dorian’s admiring looks as it was. They burned his bare skin agonisingly, but at the same time the sensation was delicious. Dorian’s eyes were loving – not greedy and mean, like those of that bastard – On the few occasions he had been with a hired man, he had never undressed because of how that bastard with the gun had looked at his naked body – but with Dorian everything was different –
Dorian came to the bed, knelt down next to Klaus, began to kiss him, savouring his mouth and lips. Klaus closed his eyes for a moment, then broke the kiss, turning his head aside in a graceful movement to give Dorian access to his neck and throat. For once, Iron Klaus lowered his defences, and the sheer danger of it aroused him. Dorian kissed and caressed his way down the wide chest, over the flat stomach, savouring the line of dark hair leading from Klaus’s navel down to the nest of pubic hair, then tasting Klaus’s cock briefly, before he looked up again into the green eyes. Klaus was aroused, yes, but also very edgy –
“Vorwärts!” the Major sounded impatient. He helped Dorian undress, noticing that everything the man wore was without buttons or zippers. Dorian was still very thin, but echoes of his former grace and strength were still there, when he rose from the bed to rummage in the small nightstand next to the bed, coming back with a tube of lubricant and some condoms.
Klaus did not ask, he had already guessed that Lord Ashford preferred men, like his nephew. Perhaps even Dorian had been here before with - It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now, except Dorian – and Dorian understood that what they were about to do was far more difficult for Klaus than meeting a bunch of thugs out for his life in a dark alley –
He noted that Dorian was as nervous as he was. It would be a new beginning after the accident, even for Dorian, even if he wanted Klaus as much as Klaus wanted him –
“We’ll do this together,” he ordered, leaning back against the bedpost, spreading his legs.
“The lubricant!” he demanded, opening his legs wider, his cock straining temptingly –
He saw Dorian’s eyes widen in shock. Yes, that damned bastard in the prison had hurt him, but he had never bothered to look at himself, never seen a doctor. It had been damned foolish, but it had healed somehow, and he had tried to forget – He had never allowed anyone to see him like this, never allowed anyone to touch him there – until now –
For a moment, there was a question in Dorian’s eyes, but it was never spoken.
Klaus gently took Dorian’s hand and coated the digit and middle finger generously with lubricant, before doing the same with his opening.
Dorian shook his head in wonder and admiration. He had never thought that someone could have hurt Iron Klaus, but even Iron Klaus was only human – and he, Dorian, had played a dangerous game – He had never been with a man before who obviously had been sexually assaulted – Would he have dared to make passes, had he known? Would he have dared to overcome all the iron defences? But he had, and Klaus wanted him –
His finger circled the opening a few times, before he gently pushed his way in.
Klaus bit his lips. It was painful at first, then just unfamiliar, and when Dorian carefully moved his finger in and out, the sensation began to become pleasant. After a while, Klaus carefully slid in one of his own fingers, concentrating on the feeling of two fingers moving inside of him. Yes, it felt good. Dorian found the little nub of nerve endings, and the sensation made Klaus push up into the stroking fingers, gasp and bite his lips again. Oh damn! It felt so good – so this was lust, this insane hunger for more – Dorian noticed that he was ready for a third finger, then Klaus added another of his own, and still it was not enough. With his free hand, he took Dorian’s cock, pushing back the foreskin, moving his thumb over the head and the small slit. Dorian gasped and moaned when Klaus finally released his cock.
“I want you – now –“
Dorian smiled. It was a sweet smile, hazy with lust.
For the first time, Klaus was not annoyed to hear that term of endearment. He watched Dorian pull the condom over his erected cock – strange, he had never thought before that an erection could be beautiful - For a brief moment he thought that Dorian might have assumed him to be a virgin – well, he had been mistaken – and then there was nothing but the slender rod working its way into him, slowly, withdrawing, a bit further in, withdrawing again, stroking the place of pleasure inside again now, until their bodies were fully joined. It did not hurt, it was not degrading, it felt good -
Klaus clenched his passage tentatively, eliciting a soft moan from Dorian, heard his own command: "Move!” He longed for Dorian to push into him, to stroke that place inside again and again – it was agony and bliss at the same time. For a moment, he felt helpless against the waves of pleasure crashing over him, then he surrendered, letting himself be carried, going with the waves. It was wonderful to hold Dorian. It was delicious to feel Dorian inside of him, to see his own lust mirrored in Dorian’s face. He became aware that Dorian not only stroked him inside, but also touched his straining cock through his movements – and then iron yielded, and it was not the end of the world –
Dorian lay on top of him, trembling with the aftershock of his own orgasm, breathing in sobbing gasps. Klaus held him close, tried to still his own breath and the trembling of his body. Dorian carefully withdrew from him, and Klaus unfolded him in his arms again. A tear found its way along his cheek, and he was glad that Dorian had hidden his face in the crook of his neck and could not see it. He had never known how much he needed this, until now -
He felt long lashes flicker at the skin of his neck when Dorian snuggled himself in very close. His breathing became regular, he was on the verge of sleep. Carefully Klaus pulled the bedcover over them both. It was good. When he allowed sleep to claim him as well he felt no regret, only relief that he had found the courage to face his demons..
He awoke a few hours later, and for a moment he was convinced it had all been a dream. Being relaxed, relieved - such things sometimes happened in his dreams, which he kept deeply hidden. But he felt Dorian beside him. Dorian was still asleep, snuggled closely against him. Klaus studied his lover: A ragged scar on his back, still red and fresh, and he was so thin his ribs and hipbones jutted out sharply. His mutilated hands were folded in front of his chest as if to protect them. But the short curls impishly tickled the palm of Klaus’s hand when he touched them. This made him smile, as he took in the beautiful profile and the long lashes, the finely sculpted muscle of arms, legs and torso, the long, elegant member, the curve of the back and the small, firm buttocks.
After what they had done together, would he ever be able to think clearly, to do his duty as punctually as before, without any regard for his own safety? He had to. There would be no other option –
Dorian stirred, sitting up, looking at Klaus next to him.
“It was no dream,.” he finally said, echoing his lover’s thoughts.
“No.” Klaus felt himself smile. He had not known he could smile that way.
Dorian looked thoughtful and serious.
“How did you find me?” He cuddled back into Klaus’s arms.
“Your uncle called and told me you had disappeared without a trace. He had an idea where you might be, but he did not want to come here himself.”
“Uncle Ernest,” Dorian said thoughtfully. “He’s the only member of my family who actually cares – But why did he send you?”
“He thought you would not listen to him.”
Dorian nodded and sat up again.
“Uncle Ernest knows me well. I should have told him, but I wanted to be alone. And he has sent the one man to find me I tried to send away but couldn’t. He knew well that he needn’t have sent James, or even Bonham -” He paused, looking at Klaus.
“It is - you see my hands. I mean, I can be glad that I still have them at all. And I know I should be brave and strong and do what I can to become again what I was – but it isn’t possible. Or at least I should put up with having only limited use of my hands – I know! But I can’t at the moment! - And I know I’m such a self-pitying bore!”
Knowing Dorian’s temper, Klaus had expected that outbreak earlier. He was not a man of many words. He knew how to command soldiers, to make them overcome their fears and give their best, but he was at a loss what to answer Dorian now, how to comfort him, to encourage him. Had Dorian been one of his agents, he would have found a way to keep him at work, to motivate him to go on. Dorian, however, had to find his own way –
Finally, Klaus took his lover’s hands into his own.
“Things have changed for you, and you cannot ignore this and go on as if nothing had happened,” he said.
Dorian shook his head.
“No, certainly not. And now – after today –“ He withdrew his hands and wiped his eyes. “Sorry. I’m all messed up.”
//I knew I forced him into something he didn’t actually want -// For a moment, Klaus looked shocked, even hurt.
“What the hell was wrong?!”
Dorian saw the storm clouds come up in the Major’s face and took him into his arms.
“Please, don’t get me wrong, Klaus. I know what you have given me, and I want it again, and I want you, but –“
//Goodness -// Klaus had to close his eyes for a moment, trying to discipline his body. He didn’t know whether he should feel relief, or what was to be expected now -
Dorian tore himself away from his lover, stumbled over to the window, pretending to look out, his back to Klaus. His body shook as well as his voice from trying not to cry.
“There will be no more Eroica. And at the moment, I don’t know what to do about it!” He lost his fight against the tears. Klaus watched him, unsure what to do. Again he felt he would have known to deal with a breakdown of one of his agents or soldiers, but here – well –
He went over to the chair where he had left his clothes, took out a pack of cigarettes, lit two of them and joined Dorian at the window, nudging him gently and giving him one. Too late he thought that in Dorian’s condition smoking most probably was not the best thing to do, but he did not dare to take the man into his arms again at the moment.
“Was this the reason why you left the clinic?”
Dorian dragged deeply on his cigarette and slowly blew out the smoke. He wiped his eyes again.
“Partly,” he said, looking out of the window, avoiding Klaus’s eyes. “I will not go back there.” He sounded upset, but very determined.
“Why?” The Major’s voice made it clear that he cared and that he wanted an answer. He realised well that Dorian’s statement was not the spiteful reaction of a spoilt child.
Dorian awkwardly took another drag on his cigarette. He still avoided Klaus’s eyes.
“I got physiotherapy – swimming, cycling, and a special treatment for my hands, massages, co-ordination of movements, low-current electric shocks to stimulate the nerves. During the latter treatment I used to sit in a chair, a lot of small electrodes attached to my hands.”
The Major blew out smoke.
“That does not sound very pleasant.”
Dorian took a deep breath and finally dared to look at his lover again.
“It is a normal treatment. Small electric shocks stimulate the nerve endings and improve the flexibility of the joints. That’s what the doctor told me. Not that I liked it much. – Nor him, for that matter.”
Dorian clawed at the window catch, pried it open, and flicked the cigarette butt away without extinguishing it first.
“Mrs Jenkins’s hydrangeas,” he remarked. “I should have put it out somehow.” He went over to the bed again and sat down, his knees drawn up, putting his arms around them.
//I thought there was something. I thought as much.//
The Major looked out of the window. Apparently, Dorian’s cigarette butt had not caused any damage. He extinguished his own cigarette carefully before throwing it away. Then he closed the window firmly and went over to Dorian.
“What happened?” he asked.
Dorian hugged him, hiding his face at Klaus’s chest.
“The electric shock treatments. It was unpleasant, but then recovering is never pleasant. It weren’t the shocks. It was the doctor. He always did it himself, though a trained assistant would have been able to put the electrodes on my hands and regulate the current as well. I noted the doctor was getting off on it, I didn’t like it, but as long as he stayed away from me –“
“But he didn’t,” Klaus stated.
Dorian shook his head.
“No. Last week, when I had the treatment again, he strapped me to the chair, after fastening the electrodes – as if I was infirm – and I could not fight him off, because I was strapped to the chair, he - he switched on the current and started to touch me.”
“I hope you gave his balls a good kick,” Klaus said grimly.
Dorian hugged him more closely, crying again.
“That’s – that’s what I did not!” he whispered. “I let it happen! I know – I – I could have kicked and fought him off – but – I – I didn’t want it, but I let it happen! It was so – degrading!”
Klaus said nothing. He stroked Dorian’s short curls, the fine neck and wide shoulders, but his eyes were narrow and feral with anger. This had to happen, just when Dorian was trying to get some ground under his feet again!
“When it finally was over, I – I don’t know how he released me, how I got out of the room,.” Dorian continued. “I just wanted to get away from him, I never wanted to see him again. So I waited until the early afternoon. Most patients will rest then, and there are not many nurses about. I packed a few things and some money and managed to sneak out of the building. I told the man at the gate something about taking a walk into the village. From there, I took a taxi to the nearest town with a railway station, a train to Berlin, a plane to London, another one to Cardiff, a train to Haverfordwest, a taxi up here.” Again, he hid his wet face at the Major’s chest.
“I’m sorry. I know I’ve been a coward, but I – I couldn’t help it. I’m not strong at the moment. – Can you understand that? – You must hate me, because you are always so strong and surely you never felt that weak and full of self-loathing –“
He stopped, remembering the ugly scar at Klaus’s opening.
“Oh Klaus, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, I didn’t want –“
The Major took Dorian’s shoulders and made him look into his face.
“I understand,” he said firmly. “The only thing you can do is go on. Simply go on, day after day, until you feel your strength coming back. It was what I did. You need to be persistent, and I know you can do that.”
He cleared his throat.
“And something else. Even if there may not be Eroica – there will be Dorian. – You know, I cannot promise you that I’ll always be there if you need me, or something like that. I may be far away. I may even be dead. I may rarely be able to tell you when I can meet you again. But if you want to have me around under these circumstances, I’ll be your lover. And your friend.”
Dorian looked at him, slowly understanding.
“Was that -?”
“Yes.” And before Dorian could ask more, Klaus kissed him.
They made love again.
Afterwards, Dorian was lying next to Klaus, stroking his lover’s dark hair.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I’ll try. Everything. I’ll go back and sue that doctor. I can’t let him touch others. And I’ll find another clinic or another doctor to continue the treatment.”
“This is Dorian,” the Major said. “My brave Dorian.”
“Well – you are always brave, so I have to be brave as well.”
Klaus lay still awake when Dorian slept again. Could he ask this of Dorian – to put up with him dead or lost somewhere? Maybe forbidden to greet him should they meet by chance, forced to deny him, if he was working undercover? Did he endanger Dorian by loving him? Dorian was full of good intentions now, would he be strong enough to see them through? Would he be able to let go of his Eroica persona? He knew that Dorian was strong, but would he be strong enough? Would he be able to pull through a lawsuit against the doctor who had molested him? – So many questions the coming months, maybe years, would answer.
Klaus thought of Dr Schmeißer, who had offered his help. Perhaps he could help find another clinic where Dorian could continue his treatment. And Dorian would have not only him, but also his uncle for support. Some of his men would stand by him as well, certainly Bonham. And James –
He wished very much for Dorian to be someone he could trust – whom he could tell one day – about a comrade blown to pieces next to him, about the mass graves, about the women in the shed – about the girl – perhaps. But he would begin with the young soldier in the Balkan prison, who had killed his tormentor – he had killed for the first time then – maybe he would tell Dorian one day – and Dorian would understand –
It was madness, absurd. They did not stand a chance together. But they would take it. Together.