Originally published in Companions in Chaos 2.
To Thine Own Self Be True
by Beth Minster
There were only a few times in his life when Dorian Red Gloria wished to be totally drunk. And even fewer times when he actually set out to accomplish the wish. But history and personal experience had shown that Major Klaus Van dem Eberbach could drive the most stalwart of souls to the bottle and love only intensified the situation. Not to put too fine a point on itDorian intended to drink the man off of his mind.
Berlin was dark and brooding under a Horned Gods moon. War and civil change had left their marks in tucked-away corners and alleys. Spray paint crawled across every flat surface alongside signs for new business opportunities and government aid. Germany was finding the Eden of unity a bit rockier to accomplish than it had imagined. Neo-Nazis prowled at the edge of every crowd and the simple task of going to market could escalate into a brawl under the right conditions. Still, the police were visible, even late at night, and shops were doing well. Tourism was on the upswing and the recent winter had provided a bumper crop of snow, good for skiing and good for the coming growing season. The Horned Gods moon lent a wild touch to the city.
Dorian Red Gloria went from one dance club to the next, taking taxis and trying his damndest to have the time of his life. When he left the Blue Angel to go to Fredericks Palace he left a comets trail of admiring young men, slavish wanna-bes and wistful women. Hed dressed to the teeth in black lace lycra, red ribbons and stiletto heeled boots. He wore diamonds in his ears, around his neck, his wrists, his waist and his left ankle. He dazzled like the heavenly body he knew himself to be.
At Fredericks Palace he sipped gin, danced outrageously, throwing his head back and letting his throat and the attendant diamonds flash in the pulsing lights. The man he was dancing with almost fainted, then swept him up in a strong embrace. In a voice husky with whiskey and barely controlled desire, he demanded, "You must be mine! Tell me what to do that I can have you!"
Who needed a prudish NATO agent with a bad attitude, a terrible temper and foul smelling cigarettes? Dorian left Fredericks for Venus On The Half Shell dizzy with success and determined to make his comet tail long and wide enough to fill a whole bar by itself. So what if the news got back to a certain Major who was on business in Berlin? It wasnt as if he cared about him any longer! Really, he couldnt imagine what hed ever seen in him, the bully. Brute.
At midnight Dorian was still going strong. At two oclock, the comets tail had reached critical mass and then begun to fade. By three, only the most devoted clung to hope. Still, he wasnt nearly drunk enough. By four-thirty he was alone again. Dorian didnt give up, though. He searched until he found a little place near where the Wall used to stand. Its dance floor was small but the music was good and though it wasnt crowded there were enough men to dance and drink with.
Dorian entered flashing and firing like a human light show. He secured a stool at the bar near the far end where the shadows were thick. But he didnt stay there long. He danced and flirted and danced some more. Occasionally he retreated to his stool for a drink. He was having such fun. Really he was. And he didnt even remember that Major fellows name. Hans or something.
The bar grew slowly more empty. Dorian drank, laughed and danced on the little round dance floor. He went back to his seat and ordered another drink. He flashed the barkeep a thousand watt smile and chalked up another conquest. To his right, on the stool nearest the wall, sat an older gentleman. Hed been there since Dorian entered, although he hadnt said anything. But the Earl was a generous soul so he flashed a smile in his direction, too. Then he returned to the dance floor.
Slowly he ran out of people to dazzle. It was only a short time until dawn and even the most insistent partiers were thinking of home. Dorian sat down on his stool, sipped his gin and looked at the bar. There had to be a few possibles left, surely.
"Tell me, young man...." The silent gentleman finally spoke. His voice was beautiful, with an old-fashioned accent. "If you dont mind me asking...." Dorian flipped his hair back and gave a laugh.
"Tonight, Mein Herr, I dont mind anything!"
The gentleman smiled. "Tell me, who are you trying to forget?"
Dorian laughed again. "Forget? Why no one! If there was anyone, Ive forgotten him!" He knocked back his drink in a single swallow and motioned for another.
"Have you?" The voice was amused and just a trifle sad. "The young are so exuberant, even in their misery. I, too, have come to try to forget someone." The old gentleman shrugged, a graceful gesture of serene surrender. "But I have tried many times before and I lack the belief it requires. What is his name?"
"I dont rememberKarl or something like that. Ah!" Dorian spied a likely looking partner and dashed off to dazzle and dance.
When he returned to the bar, the old gentleman had a fresh drink waiting for him. "Thank you, darling! Im parched!" Dorian displayed another sizzling smile.
"If you are determined to try," the gentleman replied, "then you should do it right. Stay here and drink steadily without dancing and the alcohol will catch up to you sooner and with more effect."
"Really?" Dorian scanned the bar but most of the patrons had left. He glanced at the old gentleman and got a good look at him for the first time.
In his youth he must have been devastating. Every line was gracefully drawn, every bone and joint carved and attached with just the right angle and curve. His eyes were still China blue and his cheekbones were lofty and noble. His hair was silver shot with strands of his original gold and his long-fingered hands were curled peacefully around a bottle of beer. The shirt he wore was tailored, almost military, and common slacks looked like designer wear on his graceful form. For a moment, Dorian Red Gloria was caught. Someday I will look like this, he thought.
The gentleman smiled. "What is your name?"
"I am Pfirsich." Dorian expected a title after the name but the gendeman didnt give one. "Do you live here in Berlin? he asked.
"No, I am... on a second honeymoon of sorts."
Dorian frowned. Through the gin sloshing in his head he remembered something about trying to forget someone. "Why are you here then?"
Pfirsich sighed. Pain and amusement flickered behind his clear eyes. "My darling Rosen is impossible. And sometimes I get so angry at him... well, I am sure you understand."
Dorian sighed. "Yes. I understand too well." He flipped his hair back again. "But I dont have to live like that. I can get over him. I had a marvelous time tonight and didnt think of him at allmuch."
"Is he thinking of you, do you think?" The question had a brooding tone as if Pfirsich were asking himself the same thing.
"No. He is not." An impending pall of depression hovered above the bar lights like a vulture, just waiting for the right unguarded moment.
"I find that hard to understand." Pfirsich raised his beer in a small salute. "You are beautiful, my dear."
Dorian shrugged. "With him it doesnt matter." He took a deep breath and added, "He hates me." There. He had said it out loud. The vulture began its slow descent, using the alcohol thermals that had kept it at bay for most of the evening, beating its great dark wings.
"Oh, my poor boy." The voice was rich with sympathy. "That bad, is it?"
"I dont want to talk about it," Dorian insisted. "I am getting over him. I had a wonderful time tonight."
For a long time there was no answer. The bar seemed deathly quiet. Dorian stared into his empty glass.
"Then why are you still alone?" Pfirsich asked the damning question gently.
The vulture tucked its wings and began its dive.
Dorian didnt answer. A million flippant comments passed through his head but none of them formed a single word on his tongue. A tear splashed into his glass followed by another and another. The vulture dug its talons in deep.
The old gentleman leaned forward, opened Dorians hand and laid a clean handkerchief in it.
"He hates me," Dorian whispered, then buried his face in the scented linen. The glorious night shattered around him, tinkling to the ground in tiny pieces.
"Oh, my dear child, that cant be true," Pfirsich murmured. "How can that be?" He was silent for a minute, then asked, "Is this man heterosexual, married?"
"NoI dont know." Dorian blew his nose and tried to gain some control over the tears. "I think sometimes that he is as we arethen there are times that Im sure hes not. He doesnt have girlfriendsno friends at all that I can see."
"Yet he rejects you completely?"
"Yesmost of the time." He sniffled, looked around for something to drink, then settled on a nearby glass of melting ice. "But there are times we seem to get along just fine. It never lasts, though."
"No," Pfirsich echoed, "it never lasts."
Dorian cast him a look. "And what of you? This is no place to spend a second honeymoon."
The old gentleman sighed. "No, it isnt. We have always fought, but nothing irreparable. Only, once in a long while, we will have terrible squabbles." He paused and the Earl saw him blink back a sheen of tears. Pfirsich whispered, "Those never get any easier. And I think, what if he were to leave me? Leave me now of all times. Now... when we are both so old and fragile. Who would take care of his old wound when the weather makes it ache? And who would hold me when the nightmares come? So I go drinking instead, hoping not to think about it at all."
Dorian nodded, swallowed. "But you end up thinking about it anyway."
"Yes...." He smiled suddenly. "I suppose I havent learned all that much, have I? We are both here doing what we know will only make it worse."
The Earl gave him a rueful grin. "Well, I gave it my best shot."
"What is his name?" Pfirsich asked.
"Klaus. He is... military."
"Oh, dear." Pfirsichs eyes widened a little. "And soldiers are so terribly irresistible. Is he handsome?"
"Hes beautiful. Hes beautiful, brilliant, brave and strong. He has the temperament of a wounded bear and a truly horrid sense of humor that is completely unpredictable. And he has the single worst taste in ties of any man on the planet."
Pfirsich smiled. "You love him a great deal?"
Dorian drew in a deep breath and let it back out again. "I love him to distraction. If he asked me to die for him, I would do so without hesitation." He glanced up at the older man. "What of your Rosen? Do you love him still? Have you been together a long time?"
Pfirsich nodded. "We have been married since the end of the war. I think he was the only reason I made it. It was hard on us, you must understand. We had been stationed abroad and had no idea what was going on. I nearly died of shock and rage when it was revealed. All those poor, poor people. All those children." He took a long pull on his beer. "We only survived because we had each other. I loved him then, I love him now. I think I will love him forever, without pause."
"Yes," Dorian echoed. "Forever." He looked around at the empty bar. The barkeep was at the far end, polishing glasses and hanging them up. One of the waiters was straightening chairs and gathering up the ashtrays. Dorian looked back at Pfirsich. "What if Klaus never loves me? What will I do if he hates me for all time?"
Pfirsich leaned forward, laid a hand over Dorians. "I will tell you what my mother once told me. She said, Love is a giving, it is something you do freely. It has no reward except that it was given. Even if you love in vain it is important that you do ityou must be true to yourself." He searched Dorians eyes. "If you love Klaus, do it because loving him is what you do. He may never return ithe may not know how. But you know how and to deny it when it is what you feelthat will cause you a wound far deeper than any hurt his anger or his indifference can do. Respect yourself, but know yourself, too." He sat back and gave an elegant shrug. "In time you may grow out of love with him, then you will find the strength to move on. But until then, give what you can with joy. And perhaps he is not as unattainable as you think." He arched an eyebrow. "Military men are sometimes impossible just for the sport of it."
Dorian thought about it. The vulture slowly loosened its talons. He felt the weight lift from his chest. "Do it because loving him is what you do...." He flashed a genuine smile at Pfirsich. "Yes. Yes, you are quite right." He looked around at the bar again. It was a dingy little place that smelled of too many cigarettes and stale beer. "Ive been a fool."
Pfirsich laughed. "We are all fools! I more than most." He made an impatient gesture at the surroundings. "I should know better, dont you think? And at my age...."
Dorian smiled and patted him on the hand. "Perhaps it will give your Rosen time to thinkand time to worry that you are having nightmares somewhere without him." He stood up, then clutched the bar for support. The room swung in a tight circle around him. "Oh, dear!" he exclaimed softly. His stomach churned.
"All that drink has caught up with you, dear boy." Pfirsichs voice was amused. "I will help you to a cab." He stood up, swayed alarmingly and had to grab the Earls arm for balance.
They blinked in surprise at each other. "It seems," Pfusich muttered, "that I have tipped a few too many as well."
Dorian drew a careful breath. His stomach settled a little. "Do you think you can walk?" he asked.
"Do you think you can?" Pfirsich answered.
"Perhaps, if we go slowly and lean on each other...."
Pfirsich considered. "That might be the thing. Shall we?"
They worked their way down the bar, each pausing to thank the bartender with careful and enunciated politeness. Then they cast off from the bars edge and started for the door. The room tilted and bobbed around, the walls leaned in and then bent outward. Dorian had the vague impression that they were careening for the exit in a wildly round-about waybut it had to have been in slow motion for it seemed to take a long time to reach the door. They paused for breath, leaning against the stout wood, the world still buckling underneath them.
"Dear me," Pfirsich muttered. "I dont remember the place being quite so large!"
"What uneven floors it has!"
Pfirsich peered at him. "The floors are fineyou are merely drunk."
"So are you, soldier-boy," Dorian retorted. Then they both started to giggle.
"How awful. I am drunk! Whatever will Rosen say?"
"Probably Achtung! Get undressed! Get in bed! Shut up!" Dorian growled in his best Klaus imitation.
That set them both off and they staggered out onto the street laughing and swerving. The cold predawn air sobered them a little. Pfirsich found a wall to lean against and Dorian slid down to sit on the cold pavement. "Goddess," he groaned. "I am going to have a terrible headache tomorrow."
"Try tomato juice with peppers," Pfirsich advised. And then he added, "Oh, dear."
Dorian looked up at the change in tone and followed Pfirsichs gaze. At the end of the block, a tall man was striding toward them. He had short dark hair with striking streaks of silver in it and a terrible scowl on his face. "Rosen?" Dorian asked.
"Yes! Dear, oh dear!" Pfirsich fluttered for a moment patting his pockets and trying to straighten his hair. "Id better go meet him. He gets so jealous! Oh, my, he looks terribly put out!" He glanced down at Dorian. "I must go, my dear. Do you need me to send a cab?"
There was a screech of tires and brakes, loud in the dawn quiet. At the opposite end of the street near the bar, a silver Mercedes had stopped half on the sidewalk, half off. A big man with long black hair shot out, slammed the door and stalked inside the bar.
"Uh-oh," Dorian said and started working his way to his feet.
"Klaus?" Pfirsich asked.
"Yesyoud better go. He looks like hes in a terrible mood."
Pfirsich had started off, one hand on the wall. "Take care, my dear child."
"Yes, you, too. Have a sweet second honeymoon!"
Pfirsich flashed him a million-watt smile, then manfully pushed himself upright and started down the street to meet his Rosenwobbling only a little now and then. Dorian sighed. He should have asked Pfirsich where he could find him, what his phone number was or even his last name. It would be nice to stay in touch.
A door slammed, the noise as loud as a shotgun blast. Dorian jumped and looked around. Klaus was striding toward him, rage in every line of his body. Good lord, hed already been seen! Dorian considered running but then admitted that hed probably only fall flat on his face. Hed have to ride this one out.
"Klaus, darling! What a pleasant surprise!"
The Major grabbed him by one arm. "Mein Gott!" he snarled. "You are drunk!"
"Nonsense!" Dorian protested. "I am merely tippled. If I were drunk I wouldnt even know you were here." He reached up and boldly patted Klaus cheek. "And you are definitely here."
"Pervert! Idiot!" Klaus started dragging the Earl toward the car. "You are impossible, a spoiled child!"
"I love you," Dorian said, knowing it was true. Knowing it was right and wonderful. His Klaus! His wonderful, beautiful Major!
"Shut up! Get in the car! Sit down!"
Dorian clamped his lips tight over a surge of giggles. How superb! How wonderfully German! "Yes, darling," he said submissively.
"Dont call me that," Klaus growled. He stuffed the earl into the passenger side of the car, got in and turned the ignition. "I have been looking all over for you. We have a job! And what do I find? A drunken idiot! Sober up!"
Dorian snuggled into his seat sent his Major an adoring look. "I like it when youre madits very sexy...."
"I love you."
"I hate you," Klaus shot back, executing an illegal turn. He headed back up town.
"I know," Dorian purred. "But I love you anyway."
"I know," Klaus snarled. "Mein Gott, I know!"
Dorian smiled in sleepy blissfulness as the Mercedes wheeled through the streets and dawn lit the world with a glow of golden light.
He as going to have, a terrible headache when he woke up but he didnt really mind. Klaus would be there. And he loved the Major to distraction. He yawned and dropped off to sleep.