The Valley Of The Shadow

by Kadorienne

Klaus really didn't think he could stand it. Not right now.

"But I told you to pack it." The woman's voice was a bit shrill, and was pitched to whine. American.

"How can you expect me to remember all that?" The man with her packed a wealth of venom into his voice. "You keep on and on, pack this, pack that, pack everything but the frigging bathroom sink, every time we go anywhere, and if I forget just one little thing...."

Couldn't they have had this argument back in Hackensack or wherever they had come from? Did they have to come all the way to Marrakech to squabble like this?

And my father wants me to marry, he thought numbly, without any real distress in the thought at this moment. There had been a time, and probably would be another time in the future, when his father's demands for a grandson would be Klaus's worst problem. At the moment, the idea seemed unreal, like a story he had read in childhood.

Did he and my mother act like that? He couldn't remember, but he had been very small when Frau Eberbach had died. He remembered almost nothing about her. Well, they probably had not. Von dem Eberbachs did not have scenes in public. No, they did that locked securely behind oak-paneled doors, after sending the servants to the kitchen. It was where scenes belonged.

The hotel was beautiful. Elegant. Luxurious. The kind of place he usually avoided. He wished he could avoid it now, but he found himself rooted in the hotel's restaurant, staring around at the lavish Arabic furnishings and well-dressed people as if he were on a strange and unfamiliar planet. He noticed one young man, wearing a suit and with neatly trimmed hair, with an ugly scar disfiguring his left cheek and part of his neck. A burn, probably. Klaus kept his eye on the man till he finished his meal and left. The scar looked strangely normal. Right now, people without scars looked strange. Well-dressed people might as well be extraterrestrials.

They aren't, though, he thought. It's all the same world, the same species. It's still happening, right now.

Marrakech, Morocco. A day's travel from Algeria. A prosperous, fairly safe city. Like something out of The Thousand And One Nights after the previous month. The month spent in Algeria.

He was supposed to have caught the flight to Germany this afternoon. His alphabets had. Right now he should be at 10,000 feet, drinking gin from a ridiculous tiny bottle and reading a newspaper and yearning for a cigarette. And probably listening to idiots like that Yank couple.

No. Better to stay here. A hotel was bad enough. At least he could, theoretically, get up and prowl the streets as dusk fell. He had paced in his hotel room like a caged predator for the better part of the afternoon, until he had been unable to remain there. He had nowhere to go, so he had wandered down to the restaurant and ordered a meal he could not imagine eating. He didn't want to talk to anyone. Conversation was beyond his capacity at this moment. He tried to picture himself making conversation tonight. He would make his usual assertions, and whatever idiot he was talking to would make the usual absurd replies, and Klaus would not bother to argue. He would simply draw his Magnum and shoot the idiot, and then continue with his business.

Klaus found sufficient volition to pull out a cigarette and light it. It was interesting how completely someone's frame of reference could change. Of course, he saw that sort of thing in his line of work often enough. Change the circumstances enough, and anyone could do anything. If they did not self-destruct, that was. What mattered was subject to change.

A waiter was saying something to him. French was the second language he had learned, after his own native German, but it still took him a moment to process the words and realize that he was being told that smoking was not permitted in the restaurant. He put a few bills on the table — judging from the way the waiter's eyes bulged, it was much too much — and walked out. He wandered in the general direction of the stairs, gazing around the exotic elegance of the lobby.

Marrakech was a universe away from the world he had just left, but at least it was unfamiliar. Familiar, sane people and buildings and objects would be like acid dropped on open wounds at this moment. This was a fit place for him to pause. They would be annoyed with him in Bonn, he reflected. The thought made no mark on his consciousness.

"Darling! Fancy meeting you here!"

Klaus turned to look at the speaker. How long had it been since he had seen a blond, other than A? A who was now safely on a plane, going back where he belonged. Eroica's coloring looked very gaudy here in North Africa, especially after the last month. God had been in a frivolous mood when He had designed this creature. All those silly curls and bright colors. Dorian was like an animal bred for gaudy fur, tamed out of his wild cousins' protective coloration.

Eroica's flirtatious manner dropped under Klaus's silent scrutiny to be replaced by concern. His dark yellow brows knit together slightly. The serious expression looked downright silly on the pretty face.

Eroica slowly came to stand before him. "Major... are you all right?"

Klaus shrugged. His cigarette was almost out. He dropped it on the floor, lit another, and offered the pack to Dorian. Who accepted the offering as if cigarettes were unfamiliar to him and he wasn't quite sure what to do with one. He was dressed like some West Side Story bravo, with a black shirt unbuttoned halfway to show off his almost-hairless chest, painted-on black jeans, a couple of gold chains. Though his summery coloring rather spoiled the effect.

"How did you know I was here?" Klaus asked evenly.

The thief fluttered his lashes. "Why, darling, how would I know? It was coincidence, pure and simple. Or perhaps kismet."

Klaus noticed that the slightest hint of a smile was tugging at the corners of his own mouth.

Eroica noticed it too, and smiled like a mischievous child who knows that his charm can get him out of any trouble. Which was exactly what he was. "I can't divulge my sources, darling."

Klaus only nodded once. It didn't matter how the fop knew. Klaus had known for years that the thief was keeping him under surveillance. There wasn't any way he could have stopped it, and no good reason to.

The thief was studying him now, searching his face for something. When Klaus met his gaze, Eroica said, "Did your mission go badly?"

"It was a success." He didn't realize at the moment that his tone was flat and dead. The mission had been a success. He and his alphabets had achieved all of NATO's objectives. Every one of them. All of them.

"Did something...."

Whatever question the Earl had been framing was never finished. Klaus stepped closer, wrapped his arms around the other man, and rested his head on Eroica's shoulder.

He half expected the thief to respond with a knife in Klaus's gut, or a bullet in his brain. But Dorian only started slightly, then returned the embrace, letting him feel strong arms around him, reassuring, asking nothing. Klaus drew a long, shaky breath.

"Can you tell me about it?" Dorian asked after a long time.

"Nein."

Dorian seemed to accept this. He remained silent for a long while. Neither of them moved. A few people walked through the lobby in little clusters of two or three or four. Klaus was dimly aware of them glancing curiously at him and Dorian, but no one troubled them.

At last, Dorian's voice came, softly. "Is there anything I can do?"

Klaus pulled back and looked at him. He parted his lips, but his throat closed. He couldn't say it.

Dorian nodded and squeezed his hand. "Come along."

Of course Dorian's room was the finest the hotel had to offer. That was only to be expected. The lush room seemed like a fairy-tale castle or a movie set, unreal. It was clearly Dorian's natural habitat.

The windows were partly open, and a moth was fluttering around one of the lamps, entranced by its own imminent doom. Dorian thoughtlessly went to it. He caught it carefully in his cupped hands and released it at the window, saving its life, which would not last more than a few days in any case. A trivial act of benevolence.

Dorian shut the window. He turned to look at Klaus, hesitating.

Klaus went to him and put his hands on the other man's shoulders. He was unsure as well. Tentatively, he touched the mass of golden curls. It was very soft. He moved his hand to lightly touch Eroica's curved cheekbone. Then he crushed him in another embrace, squeezing his eyes shut against the images in his mind.

"Klaus...." It was the softest of whispers. He didn't like hearing whispers now. People whispered when drawing attention to themselves could be perilous. But yells weren't good either; they meant maleficent intentions. "Are you sure?"

Sure? Sure about what?

Snorting wasn't worth the effort. "Yes," was all he said, the word dropping with his usual thud that cut off further argument.

The whisper was even lower this time. "What happened?"

He would care, too, Klaus thought. The idiot. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Saves the lives of moths.

"Don't ask me that," Klaus said aloud. Then he moved back, and as if he were moving underwater, started unfastening the rest of Dorian's buttons.

Dorian gave a tiny shake of his head and moved closer, pressing his chest against Klaus's, putting a stop to the unbuttoning. He caressed Klaus's jawline softly for a moment, and there was a slight sheen of tears in his eyes as he leaned closer for a kiss.

Klaus sank into the kiss as if it were a warm bath or a soft mattress. Dorian tasted very clean. He smelled clean, too; under the eternal roses was a wonderful smell of soap, barely discernible.

When the kiss was done, Dorian didn't stop him from finishing undressing him, and Klaus's own clothes fell to the floor in concert with Dorian's. When they were both naked, Dorian tried to pull him close again, but Klaus took him by the shoulders with a shake of his head. "Let me look at you."

Dorian only pouted for half a second before beginning to preen under the scrutiny instead. What a child he was. A toy. A creature bred to live only in safe captivity, a bird incapable of surviving outside its gilded cage.

And very beautiful. No scars. Nowhere on him — Klaus walked around him, his eyes devouring the expanse of intact, smooth skin. No wounds. No bruises. No scars. All of his limbs working perfectly. Brand new, fresh out of the package, completely undamaged.

Dorian's eyes rested on the bandages Klaus wore, and on the spots that no longer needed bandages. His eyes met Klaus's, but he said nothing.

It felt odd to touch someone gently. To be touched gently. Dorian's skin was extremely soft, and a pale creamy color. His skin had been lovingly sheltered. Klaus's current deep brown tan looked like leather in comparison.

After a few minutes, Klaus let himself be led by the hand to the enormous bed. He wondered if he would be able to sleep on that cushioned mattress, after the weeks of sleeping on the ground. Perhaps Dorian would tire him out enough to make it possible.

"Stealing art isn't such a bad thing," Klaus said abruptly.

Dorian, who was draping himself over the miracle of clean sheets, looked surprised. And downcast. "Klaus...."

Klaus shook his head as he moved into the warm, soft, smooth, fragrant embrace. And tightened his arms around the other man, probably to the point of pain. "Make me forget."

Much later, he murmured in German, very low, "<I shall fear no evil, for thou….>"

"<Art with thee,>" came the answering murmur, lower still.

 

 

Eroica