by Cassie Ingaben


The fresh snow surface was glittering like diamonds in sunlight. Had it not been so bloody cold, each tiny snowflake, now crested and jagged like antique lace, would eventually have melted into big watery pearls, running like tears into the singing torrent to their left. Some of the tears would be red, of course—there was already a tiny ruby-coloured spring bubbling merrily onwards. Dorian could distinctly see how the warm blood and the cold snow had mingled, pristine disdainful snowflakes eroded into a red messy goo, a pinkish fluid running while the darkest red core slowly clotted and froze up. He blinked slowly, his eyelashes sweeping powdery snow crystals off the right side of his face. Funny, he thought, I hadn't realised how close I was to the ground. So close that the blood seemed more, the snowflakes brighter. He always loved best the description of Snow White at the beginning of the story—skin like snow, lips like blood, hair like the wings of ravens come to drink the blood. Dorian looked up and smiled, said "Hair like the wings of ravens," then gave a hiccupy giggle.

"Humph. I will disregard the idiocy of such a remark as attributable to shock. There, this bandage should suffice until we reach a shelter for the night. Now, we'll see if you can walk."

At these words, Dorian's angle of vision brusquely lurched, and he was yanked out of his contemplations by a powerful wave of nausea. The universe whirled, and something that was not quite pain went through him. The next thing Dorian knew was a hand smearing a handful of snow around his mouth, and Klaus's dry voice: "Pity you lost your lunch—we're on short rations. Now, walk. Just start moving your foot, like that. Now, the other. One, two. Good. Keep going."

It was more like floating than walking, Dorian wanted to say—but he found that his breath seemed to be malfunctioning—something was holding him up, and his right hand side was warm, while the rest of him seemed buried in snow up to his hips. One, two, keep going. It was hard to push his legs forward in the sea of snow they were wading, and the glare from the sun so blinding, and whatever was very wrong, it was even worse at his left side, not that he really wanted to know—he closed his eyes and counted, one, two, one, two, one, two…

The glaring light had returned, only now it was the beam of a torchlight, which hit him with the pain of a big sledgehammer. He made a sound midway between a groan and a retch, only he was too weak and empty to follow it up properly. He was fully back into his body, it seemed, and he deeply regretted it, as it HURT. The torchlight moved away from his eyes, to examine the rest of him, so he could see Klaus holding the light and cautiously tugging the makeshift bandage. "I was hoping you'd still be out of it, but it took a while to build this shelter. I apologise in advance", he said, and he touched Dorian's side. He screamed, and all went black again.

They were in some sort of snow cave—or rather a lopsided igloo, which should have been funny, except he was too parched to laugh. He knew better than to move, but it seemed his wish was understood, as Klaus put a chip of ice into his mouth. "Let it melt completely before you swallow it." Weak light filtering from a point slightly above him, and Klaus's stubble, told him it was tomorrow. He got another ice chip, and then a third, and he found that he could now speak. Well, at least he could try to speak, and as a result produce a mewing sound in his throat. Anyway, he thought, it was not his wittiest sentence ever—one could say it was an appalling cliché, but he did want to know where they were, and what had happened. Klaus again seemed to understand, and said: "You've been shot, and we're quite a long way from where we were supposed to be picked up by my team. Tonight we'll get moving again, in case the KGB is still looking for us, so you better rest as much as you can now." With that, Klaus turned away, and out of Dorian's line of vision. He thought he should be worried at the news, but he was too tired anyway, and he welcomed his eyes closing almost as of their own accord.

Klaus was stomping around in the snow, pushing blocks of it here and there. Maybe he was building a snowman. Dorian smiled. He should contribute, and since he was lying down, he could get started on a snow angel. Except his arms and legs would not collaborate. And he was not really on the snow anyway—there was some sort of hard lumpy surface, neither wet nor freezing cold. The sky above was Tyrian purple, with red stains. How a propos. He should tell Klaus. Dorian didn't know if he could make himself heard over the screaming birds, or the encroaching tree shadow. Pines seemed to have long crooked fingers, and they might not take it kindly to Dorian disturbing the stillness. He spoke anyway: it was too good a moment to pass. "Darling, look. Our colours in the sky. It must mean something."

It almost sounded like what Dorian meant, give or take a gasp and a wheeze. Klaus turned around and said "What?" Dorian repeated the sentence, a bit more clearly, he thought with satisfaction. And it seemed to work, because Klaus put his hand over Dorian's forehead—and then destroyed the moment by announcing grimly. "You have a fever, and are probably delirious, though with you that's hard to tell." Dorian blinked, trying to decide whether Klaus was being funny, which was always wonderful, if rare.

"I erased all traces of our stay, and built a travois. We'll travel faster with it." Then Klaus moved away, and soon after there was a mighty lurch. It hurt, and for a while Dorian was too busy dealing with it to even complain. If he threw up while flat on his back he'd mess up his lovely ski outfit, so when he choked to death he wouldn't be able to wear it in the coffin. But silly him, the outfit was ruined already anyway. He'd seen the big hole on the left side, and all the blood stains. Dorian wondered if there was some way to charge NATO for it. He should ask Jamesie, he'd make him so happy.

It was dark when they stopped, or as dark as it gets that far North. The milky glow of the sky matched the faint sparkle of the snowy ground, so that it all looked like a cold brazier, slumbering and waiting to be stirred into icy blue flame. In that light, Klaus's face was at its most lovely, stubble and worry lines notwithstanding. Dorian tried to pay attention to what Klaus was saying, though it was hard. "You have to eat and drink. I'm doubling your antibiotics but I need you to keep them down." That was uncalled for. He really had only thrown up once—well, twice at most. He retaliated by whining: "Are we there yet?" and got a reassuringly withering glare in return.

The water was most welcome, though the dry rations were disgusting. Really, he'd love to have a chat over proper cuisine with NATO's Lucrezia Borgia. But now, he'd show Klaus how even a degenerate pervert could do his duty, and swallowed it all, poison and medications both. At least it distracted him from the pain, which was ever stronger, though strangely foggy. He'd never hurt that much in his life, so maybe it was normal to feel detached.

"We'll rest for another twenty minutes and then we'll be on our way again. We could make it to a refuge by dawn, and if those idiot Alphabets have any wits left, they might think of checking it. Do you need to take a piss?"

Uhm. He searched beyond the pain, and after a while found that yes he really needed to go. He had to blink a reply, which seemed to work. Klaus's hands went to Dorian's crotch and unzipped his fly. Klaus matter-of-factly held his dick up to an empty ration container, until it was all done, then he gently tucked Dorian back in. Dorian wanted to say something, but he found his eyes closing again.

Daylight now. Pain. Not so cold. Hot actually. And cold. Thirst. Water coming—canteen tastes funny, almost blue. Wooden floor above him. Klaus saying something. Looks old. Can't understand. Strange noises come and go. Too much light, can't keep Klaus's face in focus. Something lightly touching his cheek. Pain. Dark again.

Beeping. Hell is a never-ending high-pitched beeping sound. Well, that's original at least. If only he weren't so tired.

He must have opened his eyes, because the light is blinding. It's like being inside an empty canvas freshly prepared. Though the smell is disgusting, so unlike the clean, chalky graininess of paste. The smell is important. He tries to concentrate, fight the floating cotton-wool-ness enveloping his brain. Hospital! Hospital—and no pain. The blinding canvas is slit by movement, a bold black brushstroke. Klaus. His face is clean shaved, haggard but not so haggard as before. Klaus comes closer and kisses him lightly. "You stupid bugger, don't you ever try again to scare me like that or I'll kill you myself." Dorian tries to kiss back, savouring the wonderful Klaus-taste over the foul medicine muck furring his mouth. Home, sweet home.

Klaus's features come back into focus, and then they harden again "Now, before I let your lunatics in: there won't be any discussion. This time you're convalescing at the Schloss, no matter what they say. It's time they get used to it, anyway."

Dorian smiles through the sparkling haze of whatever drug he must be on. "Is this a proposal?"

June 14th, 2009