A mission gone horribly wrong leads Klaus to reevaluate his relationship to Lord Gloria.
Drama, First Time, Hurt/ComfortWarnings:
graphic sex, graphic violence, lemon, non-con, violence
Warning! Extreme violence, rape and torture.
I wrote this over a decade ago. Klaus is a bit OOC, but I still think this is a good read.
1. Chapter 1 by Terri Botta
2. Chapter 2 by Terri Botta
3. Chapter 3 by Terri Botta
4. Chapter 4 by Terri Botta
5. Chapter 5 by Terri Botta
6. Chapter 6 by Terri Botta
7. Chapter 7 by Terri Botta
8. Epilogue by Terri Botta
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach gritted his teeth. In all his years in NATO it always amazed him how quickly an entire mission could fall apart. Like a house of cards, one wrong move and the entire thing came crashing down around you. Like tonight. What was supposed to be a simple job of reconnaissance and petty theft from a suspected terrorist group hide-out in California had turned into a full scale raid.
Eroica had been hired to perform the task of stealing the terrorist group's list of planned bombing sites. He went in, but he never came out. That was over 24 hours ago. Now he, the Major in charge of this mission, had the dubious honor of trying to rescue the obviously captured thief. He'd had a bad feeling about this mission in the first place. From the moment he'd met with the Earl four days ago to the night he disappeared, the Earl hadn't seemed quite right. Now his suspicions were being confirmed.
He gripped his trusted .44 tightly and gave the order to storm the hideout. Members of the terrorist group scattered, obviously taken unawares by the NATO troops that came crashing into their haven, and Klaus barked orders to his men.
"A, B and C! Get the bombing sites! The rest if you, arrest as many as you can catch! I'm going to find the Earl!"
With his gun held ready and the safety off, he began a quick, systematic search of the hideout, all the while cursing the Earl's clumsiness. But the Earl had never been clumsy before, in fact he had always been quite the opposite. No one could move with more grace and skill than Dorian, Earl of Gloria.
Angrily he pushed the thoughts of the lovely blond man from his mind. Eroica had tormented him with thinly veiled passes and blatant overtures over their long acquaintance, interfering with mission after mission and teasing him into rage. He nursed the anger carefully because he'd recognized years ago that he was becoming accustomed to the English fop. He did not hate the man's presence nearly so much as he used to, and in fact, he had even found himself enjoying the Earl's company on one or more occasions. That would never do.
For if there was no hate between Major Klaus von dem Eberbach and Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria, then what was left was a respected business relationship partnered with no small amount of affection, and not all of it on the Earl's side. Dorian wasted no opportunity to declare his continuing love for him, and he continued to rebuff and reject the Earl's advances.
But it had become more of a game over the years, and Klaus had to admit to himself that, while love was hardly what he felt for the man, he had no hate for him nor had he any desire to see the Earl harmed. Besides, on this mission, the Earl was under his protection, and he had failed in his duty. Honor alone dictated that he had to find the Englishman and bring him out- or at least bring his body home. He swallowed hard, trying not to entertain such morbid thoughts.
He kicked in a door with force and ran down a flight of stairs to a subterranean passageway. There did not appear to be anyone there, but he kept his gun at ready anyway. Above him, he could clearly hear the sounds of gunfire and shouts of men as his troops captured the men hiding in the building. The hallway had several doors and he began opening each one. Two were supply closets, one with weapons. He called E and F down to catalog the contents, and then reached for the third door.
The smell hit him first: blood, urine, vomit... and something else, nearly knocking him off his feet. He was still catching his breath when E and F joined him.
"Major?" E asked worriedly.
He put one hand on the cracked open door. "You two stay out. And call for an ambulance," he commanded, entering the room and shutting the door firmly behind him.
The room was pitch black dark so he turned on his flashlight and swept it around, looking for a light switch. He found one and flipped it, illuminating the space with a single dim-watt bulb. The chamber was no larger than 12 X 12 with damp stone walls. It was made up as a torture chamber or some S & M dominatrix's "playroom." Chains with manacles hung from the walls at odd heights, various whips, crops, electric cattle prods, clubs and paddles, and metal instruments lined neatly ordered shelves. An electric shock machine complete with bottle of lube-gel was stashed against a corner, and he identified the "something else" smell as a branding iron smoldering hotly in a bucket of glowing coals. In the center of this macabre scene, his wrists and ankles shackled to chains on the walls, hung the Earl of Gloria.
The Earl was naked and appeared to be unconscious. He hung in the chains, though his feet were on the ground. From where he stood at the door, Klaus could see that the man had been severely beaten. His lion's mane of golden curls had been crudely chopped off, and the concrete floor was littered with orphaned ringlets. The ringlets drew his eyes down to the stains at Eroica's feet: blood, vomit, urine. Swallowing the urge to vomit himself, he walked slowly to the body, and placed a trembling hand to the smaller man's throat. He had no words to describe his utter relief and odd joy to feel a weak but persistent pulse. The Earl was alive.
Using his gun, he shot through the chains that held the Earl and allowed the man to collapse into his arms. Now he could see the thief's back and he gasped. The terrorists had whipped Dorian, scoring his flesh all the way from his shoulders to his thighs. His buttocks were angry red and the finger bruises and bloodstains on his thighs gave testament that whipping was not all they did. Repulsed and heartsick, Klaus removed his coat and made to wrap the naked body in it. Noting the smoldering brand in the bucket, he gave Dorian a quick once over to see if the horrid thing had been used. Thankfully it had not, but his examination yielded something equally as horrifying.
Apparently the raid had interrupted the terrorists in their fun and they had left behind a souvenir, shoved into the Earl's rectum. The handle of something hard and black was sticking out of the bruised and bloody opening. This time it took all of Iron Klaus' will not to throw up everything he'd eaten over the past twenty-four hours. Shakily, he lifted his wireless radio to his lips.
"This is the Major. I have found Eroica. He is in need of medical assistance. Agent G please report to me in the subterranean chambers. E and F will show you the way. Eberbach out."
While he waited, he drew Dorian's limp body over his lap and tried to staunch the still seeping lash wounds with his coat. Guilt assaulted him. This was entirely his fault. Eroica was his responsibility and he had been uncertain about the Earl's ability to perform in the first place. Now this had happened. Would the Earl ever forgive him? Would he ever forgive himself?
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. "Who is it?"
"Agent G, sir!"
"Come in, but prepare yourself and shut the door tightly behind you!"
The small transvestite slipped into the room. Agent G was the only person Klaus knew who might have an inkling on how to get that monstrosity out of Dorian's ass without causing the Earl permanent damage.
"Come here. I need your help. But be warned, it's not pretty."
He heard G creep closer, then the strangled cry as he saw the crumpled body of the Earl.
"Oh my God!"
"It gets worse," Klaus warned, slowly pulling back his coat, exposing Eroica's bottom half.
"Oh my God!" G cried again, sobbing. "Lord Gloria! Oh my God, what have they done to Lord Gloria!"
"Stop blathering and help me, damn you! We have to get that thing out of him!"
"What? Oh! Oh, yes!"
G knelt down and gripped the handle, giving the object an experimental tug.
"It looks like one of those sand-filled night sticks you see bodyguards carrying. Hopefully it's not one with spikes. I need some kind of lubricant," G said, trembling.
"Use that stuff," Klaus ordered, indicating the lube-gel sitting on the electric shock machine.
G ran to grab the gel and returned, squeezing a generous amount of the lubricant on his hands and spreading it on the object and the Earl. While G worked, Klaus slid his arms around Eroica and held him firmly. He tried to block out what was happening just out of his view, he tried not to hear the sounds of the gel, and the smell of the blood. Damn he needed a cigarette. He heard G curse softly.
"What is it?"
"It's stuck, sir."
G went back to work. Klaus tightened his hold on the Earl and tried to stare straight ahead. Then the Earl made a choked sound.
"no... more... please..."
"Damn it. He's coming around. Can't you work any faster?"
"I'm trying sir!"
Eroica was weakly scrabbling at the concrete, moaning. "I... don't know... where he is.... I...told... you. please..."
"Hurry up!" Klaus growled.
Dorian's back arched and he let out a thin scream that grew in intensity. "I don't know! I told you I don't know!"
The Earl's scream echoed off the stone walls as G pulled the club free. Klaus wrapped his arms around Dorian's head, pressing him down.
"Shhh... Shhh. It's all right. It's over. You're safe now. You're safe."
The wails died down more from hoarseness than anything else, and the Earl's ragged voice whispered. "Major?"
"'S me. You're safe now," he confirmed.
Eroica let out a deep sigh and went limp, passing out again. Klaus took a moment to catch his own breath before uncurling himself from around the thief. He looked up to see G kneeling beside him, pale and shaken, a grotesque black object in his hands.
"Good work G."
"Thank you, sir."
Quelling his own trembling limbs, he gathered the light body of the Earl into his arms and stood. G opened the door for him and he stepped into the hall, thankful that his burden was unconscious for the journey. He ignored the stares of his troops as he passed, the shocked gasps, the murmurs.
"Oh God, they cut his hair!"
"Oh, Lord Gloria!"
"Oh my god, look what they've done to Lord Gloria!"
Some of the Earl's own men were among his troops. Dorian's men were as loyal as his own, and to think that he could have kept them out of the rescue attempt was unrealistic. He saw Bonham first, holding the door at the top of the stairs open for him. The older, moustached man was unabashedly crying at the sight of his Lord's battered form.
"My Llllooooorrrddd! Nooooooo!!" came a shrieking voice just as Mr. James cleared the spectators.
"Don't touch him," the Major warned, not stopping as the accountant reached for the Earl.
"This is all your fault! I told him not to do this for you! I told him!"
"Shut him up," Klaus growled, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
The ambulance was just arriving as he made it outside the building. He placed the Earl on the stretcher as gently as he could and briefed the EMTs on the man's injuries. Bonham, James and Agent G went with the Earl in the ambulance while he stayed behind to supervise the clean up and search if the hideout. It would be another hour before he would get to the hospital to check on the Earl's condition. He found a good number of his and the Earl's men huddled in a waiting room on the third floor.
"How is he?" he asked Z.
"We don't know. No one will tell us. None of us are next of kin."
Z shrugged. "That's the way it is here, sir."
Klaus ground his teeth. "Damn Yanks."
As he fumed, an orderly approached him. "Excuse me?"
"What do you want?"
"Are you Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach?" the orderly said, reading from a clipboard and totally massacring his name.
"Yes, I am Herr Eberbach."
"I need you to sign some forms."
"Dorian Red Gloria listed you as his next of kin. You have power of medical attorney.
"You have medical power of attorney..."
"Let me see that!"
He whipped the clipboard out of the orderly's hands and read the document for himself. 'Damn that son-of-a-bitch queer! Now everyone will think we are lovers!'
"Where did you get this?"
"It was in the stack of documents we received containing Mr. Gloria's medical information."
"Lord Gloria," he corrected sharply.
"We've already done all the necessary things to save his life, but we can't do anything more without his or his chosen representative's consent. Since Lord Gloria is in no condition to make decisions for himself, I need you to sign off your consent for us to work on him."
He stood in the waiting room, trying to see anything other than the red haze of his fury. The date on the power of medical attorney document was dated two days ago, the Earl had just done it. 'But why damn him! Just to embarrass me?! I'll kill him myself for this! Or... or did he get caught on purpose?!' He tossed that thought aside almost immediately. Dorian might be a fool and a klutz, but he would never willingly allow himself to be captured by anyone.
"Sir? Your signature?"
He was brought out of his thoughts by the impatient orderly.
"Exactly what needs to be done to Lord Gloria?" he asked, pulling himself away from his anger in order to deal with the situation at hand.
The orderly looked uncomfortable. "I don't know..."
"Get me someone who does," he demanded.
As he waited for the orderly to procure him someone who knew what was going on, he let his anger stew. 'Just like that Ero bugger to do this to me. Go and make me his next of kin in this godforsaken, ass-backwards country! Make me have to make the decisions! Drop it in my lap and make me have to deal with it!'
Then a realization struck him and brought him up short. Here he was, standing in a hospital preparing to make medical decisions for someone whom he once thought of as an enemy, knowing that he would make the choices necessary in order to fulfill the duty. And he was suddenly humbled by the magnitude of what Dorian had done. Dorian knew how Klaus felt about him, but he also knew that Klaus would make the right choices. With this document he was saying: "I know you hate me, but I trust you with my life."
Dorian knew him well enough to know that he was capable of detaching himself from his personal feelings long enough to deal with the matter at hand, and he wondered if he could ever live up to a show of such faith. He trembled a bit. Not only was he responsible for the Earl getting hurt in the first place, now he was responsible for his recovery as well. For a moment he thought Dorian might use it as a clandestine way of making a pass, or of getting Klaus to take care of him, that the Earl might find this amusing, then he remembered the Earl's bloody body and knew that no one would find that amusing.
"Mr. Eberbok?" a doctor asked, claiming his attention.
"Herr Eberbach," he corrected.
"Yes, of course. I'm Dr. Coltesta. I'm one of the surgeons on call tonight..."
"Tell me about Lord Gloria."
The doctor drew a deep breath and took his arm. "Perhaps you may want to come with me."
He pulled his arm from the elderly gentleman's grasp, but followed him into the hall.
"The patient in question was brutalized..."
"I saw the wounds, Doctor, I was the one who found him."
"Then you know we are dealing not only with the injuries suffered from the whipping, but also from the sexual assault."
He swallowed hard and nodded.
"There is quite an amount of internal damage and he's lost a great deal of blood. But all in all, it's not as bad as it could have been. We've managed to stop the internal bleeding and repair some of the rectal wall. He's out if danger now. We need your approval to perform some more advanced and invasive procedures..."
He listened intently, taking in all the information regarding what the doctors wished to do to the Earl. In the end, he signed off on the surgeries, provided a list of approved visitors, and joined the rest of those waiting to hear word.
"The doctors say Lord Gloria will live. He should be out of surgery in five hours." There was a collective sigh throughout the room. "In the meantime, I suggest you all go back to hotel. There is nothing any of us can do here. We have to process the arrests we made tonight and go through the evidence. Agent A, were all the terrorists accounted for?"
"No, sir. Lash and Brunell, the ringleaders were not among the group members we captured tonight," A answered.
"Very well then, I want Lord Gloria guarded. He might be able to identify them so they may come back for him. Agents B and C, you will take first duty as soon as the Earl is out of surgery. I will leave orders for your relief."
"Yes, sir," Agents B and C said in unison.
"The rest of you, come with me. We need to sort through this mess."
With that he tromped out of the hospital knowing his agents would follow.
He returned to the hospital eight hours later, short on sleep and high on nicotine. He knew he should go back to his hotel and fall into bed, but he needed to check on Dorian first. He was still reeling not only from his guilt, but also from the responsibility the Earl had placed on his shoulders.
‘Know how to play me like a stuck worm, don't you, you bastard.’
In addition to that, there was the very real possibility of the Earl still being in danger, and the repercussions if Dorian had cracked under the torture and actually talked.
He stamped out his cigarette, silently cursing the 'smoke- free' zones that were everywhere in this country, and made his way to the third floor waiting room. He found Bonham, Agent Z, Jones, Agent G, and several other of Eroica's men there. Mr. James was huddled on the floor.
"What's with him?" he asked dispassionately.
"He's passed out," Bonham answered tiredly. "You know how he is."
Klaus nodded. "Any word?"
"He came out of surgery about two hours ago. Doc said that he'd be in recovery for a while, but he should be moved to Intensive Care soon."
"Procedure for all post-ops like this," the electronics specialist explained.
"He said if all goes well, he'll be moved out of Intensive Care tomorrow and into a private room."
Klaus raised an eyebrow. "A private room? Isn't that more expensive?"
Bonham cast a glance at the sleeping James. "Not even James would subject the Earl to a shared hospital room in the condition he is in."
Klaus winced and sighed. "Very good, Bonham. Keep me informed..."
"Eberbach," he corrected, turning to face the nurse who called him.
"Doctor Coltesta left instructions that we were to tell you when Mr. Gloria..."
"Lord Gloria." What was it with these Yanks! Can't get a name right! Can't get a title right! Were they all this stupid?!
The nurse paused and took a deep breath. "When 'Lord' Gloria was moved to ICU. You may see him now for a few minutes if you wish."
"Thank you. Take me to him."
The nurse led the way from the waiting room to the ICU ward and pointed towards a room down the hall.
"He's in room 341."
"Thank you," he said in clipped tones and headed for the room
Klaus didn't think he had ever seen Dorian so very very still. The slender man looked positively tiny on the small hospital bed, covered loosely by thin sheets and a flimsy hospital gown. He was on his stomach, swathed in what only could be kilometers of bandages, a tube in his nose and an IV stuck into one wrist. Monitors above the bed tracked his heart, blood pressure and respiration, and Klaus gave a quick glance to the readings. The monitor was one of the only lights in the darkened room, the only other light being what came through the observation window to the nurses' station. The second-hand light bathed the room and the Earl in shadows. Klaus took full advantage of the shadows and slunk into them, standing in the gloom next to the bed, brooding.
‘Damn you, Eroica.’
The cropped curls stuck haphazardly from the Earl's skull and for a moment Klaus fancied he could see the blood vessels pulsing under the thin layer of skin. His hand moved unbidden to touch one bruised cheek.
"Damn you, Dorian. This was no job for a civilian. Why? What happened to you in there?"
His answer was the steady thrum of the heart monitor and the Earl's shallow breathing. He pulled his hand away and stood helplessly staring down at the still body. Then he heard the heart monitor pick up pace a bit, and saw the Earl's hand twitch. His eyes narrowed with concern and he came a hair closer to the bed. Dorian's brow furrowed and a hiss came from his lips that formed into small words.
Ah. Dorian was having a nightmare. Remembering how the Earl had responded to him in the hideout, he leaned over and whispered into an exposed ear.
"Shhhh. 'S me. You're safe now."
The tiny moan ceased, followed by a breathless word, "major?"
"'S me. You're safe. In hospital. Go back to sleep."
The tenseness that had crept into the Earl's body drained and the heart monitor slowed as the Earl slipped back into dreamless slumber. Smiling to himself, and feeling an odd warmth that the thief should feel so safe and comforted just by his presence, he stood up straight and took a moment to adjust the sheets on the bed.
‘Damn Yanks don't even know how to make a proper hospital corner!’
A nurse came in to check the Earl's medication levels and she let out a surprised cry when she saw him standing in the shadows.
"Give a girl a heart attack next time, will ya."
"It was not my intent to frighten you," he replied. "When can we expect him to wake up?"
"I don't know. Didn't the doctor speak with you about the surgery?"
"I only just returned a little while ago."
"Well, cases like this, we usually keep them as quiet and still as possible. He may not wake up for a few days. Trauma like this can knock some people out for a week or more," the nurse said. "Once the anesthetic fully wears off, when he wakes up, is up to him."
"I see. Thank you. I am Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO. This man, the Earl of Gloria is a witness in one of our cases. He will have a guard at all times."
"You'll have to clear that with hospital security."
"I intend to," he assured her, stepping away from the Earl and towards the door. "Good evening."
He left the dark hospital room and returned to the waiting room where several more people had gathered awaiting news of the Earl. Feeling put on the spot and dreading the questions, and accusations, he knew would come, he faced the men in the room.
"The Earl is sleeping restfully."
"Did the doctor say when he would wake up?" asked one.
"I did not speak to the doctor, but the nurse said it may be some time before the Earl regains consciousness."
"What if he talked?"
"Then we deal with that when it comes," he answered.
"The Earl would never talk!" cried one of Dorian's men.
"They cut his hair. Oh poor Lord Gloria!"
"I hear that's not the only thing they cut..."
"ENOUGH!" Klaus boomed, commanding their attention. They stared at him in wide-eyed shock. "C! D! You are Lord Gloria's guards until 08:00 hours. You will be relieved by E & F. I will clear the assignments with hospital security. The rest of you go to the hotel. The Earl is asleep, he will not be waking up any time soon and all you are doing here is bothering the hospital staff!"
Tirade over, he suddenly felt the exhaustion of the day hit him. "I am leaving. I will be back tomorrow to check on the Earl."
He tromped out of the hospital before anyone could stop him and threw himself into his rental car, slamming the door. Lighting a cigarette and inhaling deeply, he let the nicotine calm his frayed nerves before starting the rented Ford Escort, ‘Damn Yanks! I want a BENZ!’ and heading for the hotel.
Morning came all too quickly for the Major and he woke blearily to another sun-soaked day in California. It was only 06:00 and it was already sweltering.
‘That's why all the friggin Yanks here are so fucking stupid. Their brains are baked right their friggin skulls!’ he thought furiously, taking a drag on his cigarette. ‘Dorian would be out in this heat, dressed in some silly foppish shirt with floppy sleeves, with his hair all wild and pulled back with a friggin pink scarf...’
But the hair was gone, and for a moment that reality hit him like a punch in the gut. The riotous blond curls were littered all over the filthy floor of some terrorist group's idea of a good time, and their owner was lying still and silent in a hospital bed.
The cigarette fell from his numb fingers and burned out in the ashtray. He had yet to fully deal with the horrors he'd witnessed last night, nor with the fact that those horrors had happened to Dorian. He shuddered, remembering the brand steaming hotly in the red coals. He'd recognized the symbol- it was the brand used to mark diseased cattle destined for slaughter- and his mind recoiled at the image of that brand touching any part of the Earl's delicate skin. And he knew how delicate the thief's skin was. He'd touched it on many occasions, mostly unwelcome, but he remembered its softness just as he remembered the faint scent of roses clinging to the Earl's hair and clothing.
There had been no scent of rose on him last night, or if there had been, it was drowned out by all the other stenches in the room. He could still see the naked man hanging limply in the chains, shoulders bent back under the weight of the sagging body, the blood running streaks over the pale skin, the swollen lips and blackened eye, the shorn hair scattered all over the floor and the ravaged scalp left behind.
He heard himself sniffle and jolted in surprise. Shocked he touched his fingertips to his face and was amazed when they came back wet.
‘Damn him! He's made me cry! It's shameful for a man to cry! Damn him! Damn him!’
Roughly, he wiped the tears away and checked his watch. He'd spent nearly half an hour loitering when there was work to be done. He lit another cigarette, downed his cup of awful Yank coffee and stalked out the door.
He arrived at the hospital in time to clear the Earl's guards with hospital security, something he had neglected to do before he left the previous night, and supervise the changing of the guard so to speak from C & D to E & F. Neither agent had anything untoward to report except that the Earl was suffering nightmares. Under the circumstances, Klaus was not surprised to hear that at all. After catching up with the doctor, he went in to see the Earl who was still in ICU and would remain there until the afternoon.
The room was a little less gloomy now that the sunlight was coming in from the windows, but it only made the figure on the bed all the more ghastly. The warm, yellow light made every bruise and stain and mark on the Earl's body stand out: a scratch here, a bite mark there, a bruise there, and the Major felt his heart stop in his chest.
He could almost hear the Earl's soft, silky voice, his light giggle, the way his voice lilted when he said the word “Major” or more intimately, “Klaus.” Or the way the Earl continually tried to seduce him with sidelong glances and wry smiles, how he never passed up the chance to touch him... or to help him...
‘Or to be with me...’
Time and time again, Dorian had risked his own life and safety to come to Klaus' aid, usually messing things up worse than they were, but it was the effort that counted. For someone who seemed as airhead and flighty as Eroica, Dorian had demonstrated remarkable staying power. It would seem that in matters where the Major was concerned, the Earl of Gloria was more tenacious than a Doberman and about as loyal.
Dorian whimpered and twitched with the beginnings of another nightmare. Before he could even hiss out the pleas, Klaus was whispering in his ear.
"Shhh. 'S me. You're safe now."
No barely uttered “major?”" this time, only a deep sigh and a relaxing of the Earl's body.
Klaus withdrew, taking a moment to satisfy himself that the Earl was being adequately taken care of. He passed by the waiting room and was surprised to see Bonham and Mr. James asleep on one of the couches. They must have spent the whole night in the hospital. For a moment he was angry that they disobeyed his order to return to the hotel, then he remembered that they were not his men and he was not responsible for them. With a shrug, he left them to their sleep and went to begin the interrogations of the terrorist group members arrested the previous night.
By the time he returned to the hospital it was late afternoon, and Eroica had been moved to a private room on the fifth floor. G & H had relieved E & F, and they were occupying positions on either side of the Earl's hospital door.
"Anything to report?" he asked them.
"No, sir," G answered.
"He has nightmares, sir," H added. "They're keeping him sedated."
Klaus frowned. He did not like the sound of that. Aside from the fact that Dorian was helpless in his current state, he needed the Earl's statement for his report. Scowling, he went into the room.
The private room was a little cheerier and someone had brought a bouquet of roses to improve the smell.
The flowers were lost on both occupants of the room. The Earl still lay on his stomach, unmoving, and the Major was too concerned to note anything other than their presence. He walked to the bed and tightly gripped the metal rail, looking down at the still figure lying on the mattress. Some of the color had returned to the thief's face, and someone had combed the cropped hair revealing a scratch that had been hidden on his scalp. The sight of another wound on the Earl drove him to impotent rage and he clenched the bar in his hands, grinding his teeth. He wanted someone to kill, or to at least maim.
‘Why are you so concerned about a stupid scratch on that queer's face?’ his personal demon asked him. ‘It's not like you haven't left a few bruises on that fop!’
He knew it was true. He'd hit Dorian on more than one occasion when the Earl had inflamed his temper enough. Dorian had never raised a hand to him in retaliation. The average man would have taken that to mean Dorian knew he was a spineless sissy, but Klaus had come to know better. Dorian had his own strength, and it was in his brain not his brawn. He could never hope to beat him in a fist fight, but in a battle of wits, they were equally matched. And Dorian had courage and guts. Klaus remembered one dark night in Alaska, he himself wounded and beaten by a Russian KGB bear, when Dorian bluffed the Communist with a lot of balls and a gun he thought was empty
It was different when he was the one leaving the bruises. Dorian trusted him, and in truth he'd never hit the Earl with the full force of his rage, and he'd always made sure that the impact never left any permanent damage. But no one else could harm Dorian and not face the wrath of Iron Klaus. The sight of foreign blemishes on the thief's perfect face struck him in deep places. Yes, there were times when the queer deserved to be beaten bloody, but he was the only one who was allowed to throw the punches. If anyone else even hinted at harming the Earl, they'd find themselves flattened. He was painfully aware of how twisted that logic was, but then nothing between him and the Earl had ever been logical.
Things that the Earl did to please him, infuriated him. Every gesture, every kind word, every breathless declaration of love drove him to rage. He spent hours trying to forget each encounter with the man who shadowed him nearly everywhere. He cringed every time he heard the Earl's name and NATO mission in the same sentence. There were times when he desperately wished he and Dorian had never met. Yet here he was, angry beyond comprehension at the sight of the battered man in front of him, and ready to exact revenge on those responsible.
‘Why the hell should you care what happens to that fucking pervert? He's caused you enough grief and interfered with your missions! You should walk out and leave him here to rot!’
But he couldn't, and he knew he couldn't. Logically he could argue that Dorian had pulled on his sense of responsibility, and as the Earl's chosen representative in medical matters, it was his duty to make sure the man was cared for. But he knew it was more than that. His anger with Dorian was a front, and a thinning one at that. He was still trying to nurse an old hatred for a man who had done him no real harm, and finding it difficult to maintain.
The Earl moaned in his bed, the long fingers scraping at the mattress, and Klaus sighed. He reached to touch the short hair but checked himself.
‘Why should it bother you if he has bad dreams? You're not his keeper!’
As he fought with himself, Dorian's moan grew louder, into a hollow wail. A nurse breezed in a moment later carrying a syringe.
"Time for more feel-good juice," she said, reaching for the Earl's IV. She was stopped by Iron Klaus' hand on her wrist.
"What are you giving him?" he demanded.
"Nein. I don't want him drugged. He needs to wake up. We need his statement."
"Look mister, this man isn't going to be in any shape to tell anybody anything for quite a while. In the meantime, his screams disturb the other patients."
The simple statement hit him like a blow even as the Earl's wail escalated into a mildly louder scream. He was writhing weakly now, which was surely causing him some pain. The nurse shrugged off his hand and moved to inject the sedative, but he stopped her again.
"Look, if you have a problem with this, take it up with his representative. In the meantime, I have a job to do."
"I am his representative," he seethed. Damn these infernal, rude Yanks!
The scream got louder and the nurse struggled to free her arm from the Major's grip. He released her suddenly and put up a hand.
"Wait!" he ordered. With one eye still on the rude nurse, he leaned over and touched Dorian on the shoulder.
"Shhhh. 'S me. You're safe now."
It took a moment, and Klaus was briefly afraid that it wouldn't work this time, but then Eroica's screams ceased.
"Ya. 'S me. I'm here. Go back to sleep," he confirmed.
Dorian's body stilled and his breathing normalized. When he was certain that the Earl was settled, he stood up and faced the nurse.
"Impressive. Now tell me what we do when you're not here," she said peevishly.
"Give him enough of your drugs to make him stay quiet through the night. I will return in the morning and stay with him during the day."
"Whatever," the nurse answered coldly and left.
He gave a glance down to the sleeping Earl, once again cursing him, but his hand reached out to finger a cropped curl and lament the loss of the long tresses. Scowling at himself, and at the feelings he was having for the man in the bed, he stormed out.
True to his word, however, he was back at the hospital before visiting hours the next morning, carrying a briefcase full of leftover paperwork. Agents M and N were the guards this morning, working their way steadily through the alphabet per his orders. He told them to find him something to work on and they procured him an extra feeding tray on wheels. It was small, but adjustable, and he found that if he utilized the windowsill, he had enough room to spread out the papers. He then settled himself in to baby sit the Earl for the duration of the day.
The Earl kept him busy, interrupting his paperwork no less than six times in four hours. By lunch his nerves were fraying and he desperately needed a cigarette. He settled Dorian from his latest nightmare and slipped out, knowing he had at least twenty minutes before the next one: just enough time for a sandwich and a few smokes. When he came back, O and P were taking over guard duty.
"Anything to report?" he asked them.
"He's been quiet since you left, sir," M answered.
"Mr. Bonham and Mr. James are in there with him now, sir," O said, then added quickly when he saw the Major's scowl, "They were on the list of approved visitors..."
"It's all right O, they're approved. I just wasn't in the mood to face the stingy bug today. I'm likely to pound him right into his own pocket."
Sighing, he decided to wait a little while before subjecting himself to the Earl's men. He leaned against the wall nearest the hospital room's door and listened in on the conversation.
"Jones will be here tomorrow, m'lord, and Peters too," Bonham was saying softly.
"I even paid for them to fly non-stop here!" added James.
"So we'll all be with you tomorrow, m'lord."
"And I bought more flowers."
"We're hopin' you'll wake up tomorrow. We miss you terribly, and we want you to get well."
"You have to, this hospital is so expensive."
That comment made the Major bristle.
"Yes, m'lord, it is expensive, but it's a good hospital and Uncle NATO has been taking good care of you."
"I don't even want to think about that Monster!"
"He's making sure you get the best care and making all the decisions. He's keeping it together much better than any of us would in this situation. You were smart to put him in charge like that," Bonham went on, ignoring James' outburst.
"Nooo! My Lord, you must get better. You must wake up soon."
"Yes, m'lord. Please get better. We're all worried sick about you and we won't feel safe until you can look at us and smile at us."
"Yes, and my lord, please don't forget that your life insurance is very cheap!"
That did it. Klaus threw open the door and stalked in.
"Get out," he growled.
"Major, sir, he meant no harm," Bonham tried. "He always says that to Lord Gloria."
"Get out," he repeated.
"This is all your fault! You monster! He wouldn't be hurt if it wasn't for you! You did this to him!" James accused.
"Mr. Bonham, get him out of my sight, NOW."
Bonham grabbed the accountant by the shoulders and shoved him towards the door.
"Noo, my loorrddd!"
"James this is not the time for this!" Bonham yelled.
"I'll never forgive you for this, Major!"
The loud voices must have reached the Earl because he began to add his own voice to the fray in the form of a panicked scream.
"Now look what you've done! Damn you!" Klaus seethed, going to Dorian's side.
James stilled as they watched the Major quiet their Lord with soft words and a comforting hand.
"There," Klaus announced with finality. "He is asleep. Do not disturb his rest again."
"No sir," Bonham agreed and took James from the room.
Slumping back down into the chair by the bed, Klaus wished for another cigarette and a bottle of hard liquor to get rid of his headache.
"Why do you surround yourself with such assholes?" he asked the unconscious Earl.
Looking over at the motionless body, he stared at it for a moment then sighed and stood, fixing the rumpled sheets that had been dislodged by the Earl's nightmares and covering up his feet.
"Comfy? Now maybe you'll give me an hour's peace," he said, returning to his paperwork.
The Earl gave him almost two. Then almost three after that. Then four. By the time visiting hours were over at 22:00 hours, the intervals between nightmares had significantly increased. Klaus wondered if this was because of his supervision, and he didn't know if he liked it if it was.
‘It's your way of keeping me with you, you fucking queer!’ his personal demon screamed, but another part of him was strangely pleased. The Earl wasn't at all coherent, yet he responded to his voice, his touch. No one had ever trusted him so much.
He left at 22:30, right after the night duty nurse came in to sedate Dorian for the night. He told her he would be back in the morning, gathered up his paperwork and headed back to his hotel. There he ordered a small supper, smoked a pack of cigarettes, called his Chief, and made plans for the next day. He fell asleep still clothed.
The following day Dorian suffered only two nightmares before lunch, the first being right after the night-time sedative wore off. Klaus was getting better at recognizing the beginnings of an episode, and now he was usually able to settle the Earl before he even got out of the whimpering stage. It was also taking less to quiet him as well. Now all he had to do was murmur "'S me," and the Earl would go back to sleep.
Around midday, he took a break for lunch and cigarettes, allowing the Earl's men to visit with him unaccosted. He was in a relatively good mood and didn't want it ruined by the stingy bug accountant. He came back an hour and half later, happy to hear that the Earl suffered no nightmares in his absence, and listened in on the tail end of the visiting team's conversation with their Lord.
"Please get better soon, m'lord. We all miss you."
"There are all these flowers here that we know you'll just love."
"Oh, and m'lord, a new collection is coming to London Art. I am sure there is something there you will want. You must wake up and tell us what you want us to take."
Klaus laughed to himself. Interesting ploys to entice the Earl awake by offering him an opportunity to steal art.
"We have to go soon. Uncle NATO will be back," he heard Bonham say and took it as a cue to enter the room.
"Uncle NATO is back," he said evenly, but without malice. The Earl's staff looked so miserable that he could not bring himself to be angry.
"You do know that has become an endearment, don't you sir?" Bonham asked.
"We have to go now, m'lord, but we'll be back tomorrow."
They filed out of the room and he gave them fond looks. Such loyalty should always be rewarded. Then he saw that Mr. James had stayed behind. The accountant was standing by the Earl's bed, looking down at the chopped blond hair.
"He's going to be devastated when he sees it. He's been growing it for years."
"It'll grow back."
James nodded and fingered the white sheets. It was quiet for a moment, and Klaus felt his temper rising, but before he could growl, James spoke again.
"He was sick, you know."
"What?" he asked, surprised.
"Lord Gloria. He was sick. He had a terrible case of the flu. Picked it up in Indonesia or Singapore. He was nearly hospitalized with it. He was just getting over it when you called him in on this mission."
"I didn't know."
"He didn't want you to. He... he made me powder him down and get make-up so he wouldn't look so ill. I begged him not to do it. He still wasn't himself, but he wouldn't listen to me."
The Major digested the words, suddenly realizing that he subconsciously knew the Earl was not well. ‘That explains why I felt bad about the mission from the beginning!’
"That was phenomenally stupid of him," he said.
"It was you. He'd do anything for you." It was a simple statement said without accusation. Klaus made no comment.
"And I'd do anything for him. He's everything to me. Without him, I am nothing. He puts up with so much from me, with all my eccentricities, my stinginess, my whining. No one has been as good to me as Lord Gloria. I have no purpose without him. If anything were to ever happen to him..."
"He is in good hands, Mr. James," he assured. "I won't allow any harm to come to him."
The accountant looked at him and he was taken back by the heartbroken expression on the man's face.
"I know. And that's what scares me most."
Mr. James leaned over the bed and kissed the Earl's cheek briefly.
"Please get better, my lord. Soon."
Then he slipped past the Major and left the room without another word. Klaus watched him go. When the door had fully closed, he looked back at the Earl. The afternoon sunlight was peeking in through the closed blinds and shafts of light were bathing the silent body in a soft glow. He looked like a sleeping angel in the bed, illuminated with his own light.
‘Damn, he is a beautiful man,’ Klaus thought, drawn inexplicably towards the vision.
He passed a hand through a sunbeam that chose to light on the back of Dorian's head, trying to feel the warmth. Maybe it would be enough to warm some of the chill inside him. The scene of Dorian bathed in light reminded him of a conversation he'd had with a police officer from Washington state. They had met at an International Anti-terrorism conference in Vienna one year. The man was ex-Black Ops in the Yank Army and had been included on several terrorism task forces because of his skill.
He had been teamed with the large, gruff man on a skills-building exercise and found the man tolerable. He was a big man, older than Klaus, with blue eyes and short cropped hair- very military. His partner was anything but. The partner was a little scrap of a thing with a big mouth and long hair. He wasn't even a police officer. Klaus had disliked him, and wondered why such a stoic, military man would suffer to be partnered with someone so... unsuitable.
On the last night of the conference, several of them went out to a local bar for drinks and the Americans came with them. While the young, long-haired partner tried to pick up women at the bar using passable German, he sat with the ex-Army captain and set on getting the man drunk. He knew it wouldn't be a problem. Yanks rarely could hold their liquor. When their tongues had been sufficiently loosened by good beer, he posed the question of the partner to the military man. He did not know what he was expecting the man to say, but he certainly was surprised by what he got, so surprised that he never forgot it.
The man looked pensive then answered in a sincere voice:
"We're killers, you and I, trained to set our morality at the door and blow some bastard's head away. Every day we do things that would send other people screaming to their mothers, but we like it. We're trained to do it and we do it well. We go into the sewers of the earth and deal with the sludge and puke of humanity. And because that's all we do, we only see the darkest, cruelest side of people, and we forget that's not all there is. We see the world in black and white. When we enter a new place, we don't see a tastefully decorated room. We see how many objects can be used as weapons in a pinch, and how many exits there are, and how defensible the place is. We judge people by the number of concealed weapons they could have in their clothing, and how many priors we think they have. We are the dark side of humanity, its cold heart. We are one step above the criminals we hunt and sometimes not even that.
"Then there are people who are our polar opposites. People filled with light. Sometimes so much light they shine. And sometimes these people grace us for a while, and share their light with us because we have so little of our own. And they warm us with their joy and their never ending optimism, and their unshakable power to believe in the goodness of the human soul. They're little angels walking the earth, sharing their light with others.
"My partner is one of those people. Every day he follows me into the sewers, and he amazes me with his ability to come out unscathed. He doesn't let the darkness touch him. Through him, I am beginning to see the world not just in black and white, but in all its colors. With him I can see the nice room and the scared kid trying to look cool. He is my salvation and my sanity. I am blessed with his light and his cunning and his courage, and every day I wonder what I would do without him in my life."
The Yank had stopped then, an odd look on his hard face, as if he'd just realized something. Then he hastily excused himself and went to retrieve his partner. They left together shortly thereafter, and Klaus did not see them again. They did not come down to the final breakfast the following morning. Klaus had thought that odd but did not ask about them.
He looked down at the sleeping Earl, settling into the chair and leaning his arms on the metal bar. Was Eroica one of those angels that walked the earth? Or was he a demon? One had to remember that Lucifer had once been an archangel himself. The thief certainly brought color into his life, usually in the form of colorful words. Klaus smiled. Some of his memories of the Earl were pleasant ones.
‘My own personal angel and demon in one,’ he mused. ‘You are my salvation and the means by which I am condemned.’
Without fear of the Earl waking up, he felt brave enough to run a finger over the smooth cheek and closed eyelids, feeling the soft eyelashes. The sharp point of Dorian's nose gave way to his full lips and the moist breath that came from them. He inhaled deeply, smelling the faint scent of roses mixed with Dorian's own odor, particularly strong since the Earl had not been bathed completely since he was brought to the hospital, but it was not unpleasant.
The sound of the door opening pulled him out of his reverie and he raised his head to see a strange doctor come in.
"I am Doctor Erlich. I assisted with Mr. Gloria's surgery on Tuesday. I've come to check his stitches."
"Lord Gloria," he corrected for the thousandth time.
"I'm sorry. Lord Gloria."
"You may proceed," the Major said, waving a hand to Dorian's body.
"Some privacy please?" the doctor asked, an odd lilt in his voice.
The tone of the doctor's voice bothered him but he stood and bowed stiffly. "Of course, Herr Docktor."
He gave a last look at the Earl. No nightmares all afternoon yet, and no signs of one coming on. It should be safe to leave him for a few moments. Besides, he wasn't about to give up the chance for a cigarette. Q & R were outside the door.
"A doctor is going to examine the Earl. Come get me when he is finished. I'll be outside smoking a cigarette."
"Yes, sir," R said.
Still slightly disturbed by the doctor's attitude, he went outside to smoke. He had just finished his first cigarette when Q came bursting out the doors.
"Sir! Lord Gloria!!"
He needed no explanations. Running at top speed, he raced back up to the fifth floor, not bothering to wait for the elevator. He could hear the Earl's screams from the stairwell, and he flew into the room. There he saw Dorian being held down by two large orderlies. His sheets had been pulled aside and his hips raised up so the doctor could examine his anus.
‘Damnit! Didn't someone tell this asshole he's dealing with a rape victim?!’
Then he saw that the doctor had stuck something into the Earl's rectum. Later he would learn that the object he had seen was called a speculum and that it was a perfectly acceptable, albeit poorly used in this instance, instrument, but right now all he saw was red.
Snarling he shoved one orderly off of the Earl and drew his gun on the second.
The orderly released Dorian immediately and backed away. Klaus turned the gun on the doctor.
"You, Herr Docktor, get that thing out of him now!"
"Now see here!"
"Get it out NOW!"
Sputtering, the doctor did as the Major ordered.
"Didn't anyone tell you this man was raped?!"
"Of course I know he was raped," the doctor spat. "But the speculum is no larger than anything else I'm sure he puts up his ass on a regular basis!"
If it were possible, Klaus' rage would have reached new heights. He grew deadly still, his eyes burning, his hand shaking, his finger aching to pull the trigger.
"Get out," he hissed with barely restrained fury.
"I'm not finished the examination."
"Another doctor will finish. You are not touching him again. Q! R!"
The agents came in at his call, their faces pale.
"Please escort Herr Docktor and his two goons out of this room, and see to it that they are not to return. They deliberately hurt the Earl."
Klaus waited only long enough to make sure his men were carrying out their orders before he holstered his gun and hurried to comfort the still wailing Earl. Dorian was thrashing, screaming pitifully like he had in the stone room when G pulled the club out of him. This time a hand on the shoulder or pat would not do to calm the distressed man. He lowered the bar on the bed and leaned forward enough to take the Earl's upper body into his arms.
"Shhhh. Shhh. It's all right. It's over. You're safe. I'm here," he soothed, keeping up a litany of soft words.
Dorian kept crying, but he seized the front of the major's shirt in a tight grip, clinging to him. A nurse came into the room.
"May I sedate him?" she asked.
"Yes, please," Klaus answered haggardly, then said to Dorian, "You're going to sleep now. It's all right. There's no need to be frightened. I'm here and I won't let anyone hurt you. I'm sorry I left you."
The sedative took effect quickly and Dorian ceased his cries and stilled. Klaus glared up at the nurse.
"That doctor is forbidden back into this room."
"A man like that should not be practicing medicine!"
"We'll look into it, sir, I'm sorry."
"You will be. If I see him in this room again, I will shoot him."
The nurse gasped but nodded. "I'll make sure the hospital staff knows, sir."
"Good. Now leave us."
He held the Earl a while longer after the nurse left then moved to lower him back to the bed, only to discover that Dorian's fingers were still tangled in his shirt. Sighing, his nerves now really shot to hell, he unclenched the stiff fingers and gently laid Eroica down. He walked out of the room to face his agents plus the members of the Earl's staff who had been in the waiting room.
"What happened, sir? Is Lord Gloria all right?" Q asked.
"The doctor did not further damage the Earl. But I have left express orders that he is not to enter this room again. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to get out of here before I kill someone."
"Call me if the Earl's situation changes."
Several hours later, he was awakened in his hotel room by the phone ringing. The clock read 22:00 hours and he wondered who would be calling.
"Yeah?" he growled into the receiver.
"Major?" Agent T said.
"You left orders to be notified if Lord Gloria's situation changed."
"He just woke up."
"I'll be there in 30 minutes."
He made it back to hospital in twenty. The Earl was on his side, with his back towards the door when he entered: the only indication that the man was still awake. Coming around to face him, he saw that Dorian's eyes were closed and that his arms were curled in towards his chest in a defensive position. The sight made his heart pang. Gently, he touched the Earl's temple, knowing the man knew he was there. Dorian winced at the contact and he jerked his hand away.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
The blue eyes opened slowly, peering up at him through dazed lids.
"s'ok," Dorian whispered hoarsely.
The Earl shifted a little and let out a hiss of pain.
"Do you need something for the pain?"
"Are you sure?"
"yes," Dorian replied softly. "has NATO come for its statement?"
Klaus blinked at him in confusion then shook his head. "I'll take it when you're ready."
There was a long pause before the Earl spoke again. "then why are you here?"
"I wished to see for myself that you were healing."
"NATO protecting its interests?"
"Something like that."
Dorian nodded weakly. "thought so. well, as you can see, i am... recovering. you can go now."
He shifted uncomfortably. "I'd rather stay a while. If you don't mind."
The Earl's eyes closed. "no, i don't mind."
He sat down in the chair by the bed and watched the Earl in silence. After about ten minutes, Dorian whispered, "have you been here the whole time?"
"Since you were brought to the hospital three days ago, yes."
"how did i get here?"
"We raided the hide-out and rescued you."
"who found me?"
There was another moment of silence. "did you enjoy seeing me like that, major?"
"Never!" he hissed with a vehemence that surprised even himself.
He saw the Earl try to smile. "i'm sorry. that was uncalled for."
"Yes it was."
"forgive me my trespasses?"
"You are injured beyond words and in great pain. I do not hold you responsible for anything you say," he answered formally.
"even if i say that i love you?"
"You always say that."
"yes, i do. because it is true."
"You believe it to be true."
"i know it is true, just as i knew you would come for me."
"You endow me with entirely too much charity."
They fell quiet, Dorian needing to regroup his strength. "i had a dream. i dreamed you were with me and that you comforted me when i was frightened. i dreamed that you protected me and when i was to be hurt again, you chased my attackers away. i dreamed you spoke tenderly to me into my ear and stroked my hair and held me. i dreamed that i was in your arms, safe and warm. i did not want to wake up from such a wonderful dream."
"You have a very active imagination," he lied.
"if all i have are dreams, then it must be enough." Then he added, "i didn't talk."
The Earl tried to move, to curl further into himself, but the motion hurt him and he whimpered.
"Let me get a doctor," Klaus asked.
"no. 's not so bad."
The Major was shocked. "When have you ever been hurt so horribly?"
Dorian let out a choked laugh. "so something shocks iron klaus."
"Who would not be shocked to see such a thing!"
"even if i am a queer?"
"You are still a human being, in spite of your lifestyle."
"i'm glad to hear that major, really i am."
He moved to put a hand on the Earl's shoulder. "You should rest."
Dorian hissed with pain. "i wish i could, but the darkness... i can't sleep."
"I can have them sedate you..."
"No!" Eroica burst out, then groaned in pain.
"no drugs. it's worse with the drugs. the dreams still come only i can't wake up. and there's only the darkness and no dream-you to comfort me. i'm trapped there, all over again," the thief informed, trembling with remembered fear, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, his teeth biting his lower lip.
Klaus recognized the signs of the Earl desperately trying to stave off a round of hysterics.
Blinking, feeling guilty for lying, he pet the chopped hair. "Shhh. S'ok. 'S me. You're safe. I'm here. You can sleep now."
Several heartbeats later the Earl asked in a small voice, "major?"
He leaned over and whispered into one delicate ear.
"It was no dream," he admitted uncomfortably.
The Earl's eyes fluttered open and looked at him pleadingly. "then hold me again, please? let me know i am safe. let me feel your arms around me and go to sleep lulled by your heart beat in my ear."
"Too many words," Klaus grumbled, but he lowered the bar on the bed and sat down on the mattress.
Dorian's hand came up to grasp at his shirt, and slowly he lay down and let the Earl position himself into a spot that was comfortable. In the end, Eroica's head was pillowed in the crook of his shoulder and his hand was resting loosely across his chest. The Major's upper body was on the bed, while his legs dangled off the side and the arm that supported the Earl's head had its hand touching the shorn curls. Dorian sighed against his human heating pad and closed his eyes.
"You were stupid to accept the mission after you had been so sick," Klaus admonished.
"you needed me. besides i would do anything for you."
"Then you are a fool."
"only for you," the Earl answered, his voice slurring with sleep.
"Shhhh, go to sleep. You're safe now. I'm here."
Klaus lay quietly in the dark after the Earl fell back to sleep. With Dorian's body snuggled up against him, it was hard to resist wrapping his arm around the slender back, but that would have caused the Earl pain. Instead he opted to lift his legs into the bed and stretch out as much as he could on the tiny bed. Dorian sighed against him, burrowing deeper into his shoulder, and he waited for the Earl to settle down again. He listened to the steady breathing of the man next to him, and felt the warmth seeping into him from where they were pressed against each other. His eyelids grew heavy in the darkness. He fell asleep to the sound of Dorian's soft snores.
A sound disturbed him sometime later and he was instantly awake.
"I'm awake," he announced softly to the dim figure, instinctively going for his gun.
"I'm going to sedate him for the night," the duty nurse said.
"Nein. Lord Gloria requested no more sedatives," he told her, relaxing.
"He won't sleep through the night without it."
"He said the drugs make the dreams worse. Leave him be. If he wakes and disturbs the other patients, then you can sedate him."
"All right," the nurse reluctantly agreed.
He thought the nurse was going to say something more, but she left without another word. He stared up at the ceiling, trying to remember how he had ended up on the bed with the Earl of Gloria sealed tightly to his side. Not that he was really complaining. Dorian's weight was oddly welcome, his warmth and steady breathing a comfort. He was glad that the Earl was alive.
The thought should have disturbed him, but it didn't. The wild curls, however, were tickling his chin. Repositioning himself, he looked at his watch. It was 23:47, visiting hours were long over. He knew he could get up and leave, but he was too comfortable to move. Besides, he was tired, and just beginning to realize how tired. He'd been on full alert for almost five days, from the moment Eroica failed to meet him at the rendezvous point to the moment the Earl regained consciousness, and it was finally catching up with him. The door opened.
"Major, sir?" Agent S said hesitantly.
"U and V are here. We'll be going now."
"Gut. That will be all. You may go."
The door closed again as he shifted and Eroica made a tiny sound of protest, clutching at him and inadvertently grabbing his breast.
‘Fucking pervert,’ he thought dimly to himself but made no move to remove the offending hand or to get out of bed.
The Earl's warmth returned as the smaller man gravitated towards him like a heat-seeking magnet, and soon the curls were once again tickling his chin. He sighed.
‘It wouldn't hurt to rest a while longer, and he's quiet. I'll wake up in 30 minutes...’
He let the sound of Dorian's breathing and the steady thrum of his pulse lull him back to sleep.
Sunlight coming through the blinds awakened him and for a moment he was disoriented. Then a pair of blue eyes caught his attention.
Dorian smiled at him, a sweet and tender smile, and nuzzled his cheek.
"My friend," he murmured against the Major's skin. "Mmmm..."
The Earl's voice sounded much stronger this morning so he felt comfortable getting angry.
"Don't slobber on me, you queer," he said, but his voice lacked its usual acid.
"Would never dream of it, Major. Well... actually..."
"Hmph, you must be feeling better."
"For the moment. What's not to feel better about? I wake up from a deep sleep, warm and safe in the man I love's arms. I thought it had to be a dream, and then it was real. Mmmmm," Dorian answered, burying his nose in Klaus' hair.
"More like a nightmare," the Major answered dryly, looking at his watch. It read 07:14. "I have to go."
He could almost feel the Earl's pout. "Must you?"
"But we were just getting to know each other better..."
"That's enough," he snapped brusquely and sat up, sliding out of the bed.
The sharp movement jostled the Earl and he cried out in pain. Klaus immediately recognized his error and cursed his stupidity.
"Lord Gloria! Dorian, I'm sorry," he blurted, trying to comfort the writhing man. "Here, on your stomach," he directed, guiding the Earl onto his mostly uninjured side.
Dorian was still panting, his face contorted with agony, tears leaking from his eyes. Klaus leaned over him, petting his hair.
"Shhh. I'm sorry. I did not mean to hurt you. I'm sorry..."
The Earl's long hand grabbed his own and he was surprised by its strength. "It's okay... my Major," he gasped.
Eroica drew a deep breath. "It's all right. The worst is past now."
"Major. I forgive you... your trespasses."
They fell quiet, the Earl catching his breath and riding out the last of the pain, and the Major mentally kicking himself. Their hands were still entwined.
"Why do you forgive me when all I give you is pain?" he blurted suddenly.
"Because I love you."
"You shouldn't! I don't want you to."
"I can't help it. We don't choose who we love. You think this is easy for me?"
"No. No I would never think it was easy. I am not an easy man to like, least if all to love," he confessed.
The Earl found amusement in the quiet statement. "Major, you are anything but easy. You make me try sooo hard..."
Dorian chuckled, noting that Klaus still had not pulled away his hand. "Lewd is my nature."
"You'll corrupt me."
"Too late for that."
The Major's free hand stroked the Earl's blond hair. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Do you need me to get the nurse?"
"No. You are more than an adequate nursemaid for me."
"Oh, Klaus, I love it when you call me pet names."
"The painkillers are making you crazier than usual," he groused.
"You really think so? Can I kiss you and claim temporary insanity?"
"No! And be glad you're injured, otherwise I'd have beaten you bloody for that."
"Why not? Maybe I like pain."
Klaus's quasi-joking mood vanished and he squeezed Dorian's hand hard enough to hurt.
"Don't say that. Don't ever say that," he hissed.
Dorian's smile faded as well and he lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry. That wasn't funny."
"No, it wasn't."
The comfortable ease between them was gone, replaced by wary tension. Klaus was about to say something when someone knocked on the door.
"What?" he barked.
"Major, sir? The Chief is on the phone for you," Agent Z's voice came.
He sighed heavily. "I'll be right there." Then to Eroica. "I have to go."
He slid his hand gently out of the Earl's grasp, briefly meeting the man's soulful eyes.
"Will you come back?"
"Yes. I promise."
"In the meantime, I'm sure your men will be in to see you."
Dorian winced. "Mr. James must be frantic. I am sure this is costing a great deal of money. You do know that I will have to pull off some serious thefts to pay for all of this."
"Just keep it out of my jurisdiction."
"Of course, darling. I'd never interfere with your mission," Eroica cooed.
"I'll see you later then?" Dorian asked, all teasing gone and replaced by nervous fear.
"Yes," he answered truthfully, dropping the bravado for a moment.
The nervousness vanished replaced by a splitting grin. "Later then, darling. Kiss kiss."
"Good day, Lord Gloria," he said stiffly, going for the door.
"What? No good-bye kiss?"
"Piss off," he shot back and walked out.
Dorian, Earl of Gloria was in a considerably less cheerful mood when Major Eberbach returned. He was sitting up, leaning mostly on his hip, legs curled on the bed for balance, slowly sipping a cup of broth. Lifting the small cup seemed to be a bit of an effort, and his hands shook as he brought it to his lips. The Major went to him and helped steady the cup. Dorian's face was pale and haggard, and his eyes were dull.
"Lord Gloria?" he asked.
Dorian drew a shuddering breath. "They took out the catheter."
Klaus winced in sympathy. "That's a good thing, yes?"
The Earl nodded slightly. "Yes, just... hurts, and... I don't like... people touching my body without my invitation."
The simple statement spoke volumes about the blond man. Klaus remembered Dorian saying that while he liked to undress others, he did not like to be stripped himself. The Major had long suspected that Dorian used his forwardness as a defense mechanism.
"How long before you can have solid food?"
"Another three or four days. They want to make sure..." He trailed off, shuddering.
Dorian sighed and put down the cup, setting it on the bed tray. A little bowl of flavored gelatin was on the tray, untouched. One shoulder of the hospital gown had fallen down and he lifted it up, feeling exposed even in Klaus' presence. His scalp itched so he scratched it, feeling his hair-or rather the absence of it. Klaus must have been watching his face because the Major took his hands and held them.
"It's all right."
He shook his head, trembling. "How bad is it? They... wouldn't let me see."
"It will grow back."
"That's not what I asked."
Klaus took a deep breath. "It's cropped unevenly. It will need to be trimmed to make it even."
"Quite a bit."
"Will it be very short?"
"Yes, I think it will."
He bit his lip. He wouldn't cry. Not in front of Klaus, and over such a silly thing. Klaus, who was being kinder to him than he ever expected, would only be embarrassed by his weakness.
"Where are your men?" the Major asked.
"I sent them away."
"Do you wish to be alone?"
"No. No, please stay with me." The words came out as pleas and he frowned.
They fell silent. He couldn't meet the Major's eyes. His jovial mood had fled twenty minutes after Klaus had left that morning. Now he felt dirty, both inside and out, but he wasn't allowed to bathe. He'd also failed the mission. Klaus had to think poorly of him. The hospital psychiatrist who came to see him earlier that day told him his guilt was normal, but he hated feeling diminished in the Major's eyes.
"What is it, Lord Gloria?" the Major asked softly.
Dorian wrapped his arms around himself. "I stink, but they won't let me shower."
"No. Your stitches are too new for a bath. A sponge bath perhaps..."
"No!" He trembled. "No. I don't want a stranger- least of all a woman... touching me."
"I'm sure Mr. James would oblige you," the Major offered.
He shook his head. "No. I don't want Jamsie to see me like this."
He thought briefly of asking the Major to do it, but decided against it. Klaus had already given him far more than he felt he deserved. He shuddered, feeling cold, and dirty and vulnerable, and close to a breakdown.
There was such concern in the normally gruff man's voice, and maybe even a hint of affection. He looked into the Major's green eyes and saw what he thought was sympathy. He reached for it with both hands.
"Hold me, please."
The Major's strong arms came around him, embracing him loosely, the large hands coming to rest on his upper arms, and his head was tucked under Klaus' chin, his cheek to the solid chest. He let his hands drop into his lap.
They didn't speak and he didn't cry. He just rested against the hard muscles of Klaus' chest, closer to the Major than he had ever been, both reveling and loathing it at the same time. The Major said nothing and the silence became oppressive.
"Do you remember the second time we met? When you chased Ceasar and I in your leopard tank?"
"You mean the leopard tank you stole from me?"
The Major's voice was not angry. If anything, it was slightly amused.
"What about it? You gonna return it, thief?"
"I don't think so. I've grown rather fond of it. It was something that belonged to you after all. When I sit in it, I can imagine you at the controls, all powerful and strong..."
"Please, you're making me sick."
"Sorry. But I would consider trading it though. For the Man in Purple?"
"Nein. What is your obsession with that indecent painting of a man wearing pumpkins and showing his legs?"
That made him laugh. "If you hate it so much, why do you guard it so carefully?"
"Because it's a national treasure, that's why, and I have to protect it from devious thieves like you."
"Devious, am I?"
"Will you sing for me?"
"What?" Klaus asked, shocked.
"The song you sang in the tank? The tank force song."
"Because I want to hear you sing it."
Klaus was quiet and a little stiff. For a moment Dorian thought he'd ruined everything.
"If you don't want to..." he whispered.
"Nein. Nein, I will sing it. I just need to remember the words."
"Up to the third verse."
Outside the closed hospital room, C & D heard a strange sound coming from behind the door.
"What on Earth is that?" C asked.
D cocked a head towards the door and listened. "The Major... the Major is singing."
"Singing?" C squeaked. "He's singing?"
The agents pressed their ears to the door in time to hear their commander's voice sing, "...our spirits remain high and sharp as my tank rolls on..."
Klaus finished the song, letting his voice fall silent in the room. Eroica was quiet against his chest and for a moment he thought the thief had fallen asleep. Then the golden head moved and the blue eyes looked up at him in mute adoration.
He has such blue eyes...
"Thank you, Major. I'm ready to give my statement now."
"Are you certain?"
"No, but it needs to be done."
Klaus sighed and released the Earl. "Very well."
He got up and opened the door just in time to see his agents scramble away from it. He gave them a depreciating glare.
"C! D! The Earl is ready to give his statement. Come in and bring a note pad and a tape recorder."
C and D came in and took seats while the Major remained standing. C brought out a notepad and pen while D held a hand recorder.
"How much of what happened do you remember, Lord Gloria?" Klaus asked in interrogator mode.
Dorian drew his arms about himself as if he were cold.
"Could you get me my robe, please?" he requested. "There is a terrible draft in this place."
Klaus moved to pick up the frilly robe that someone had hung on the back of door and handed it to the Earl.
"Thank you," he said, wrapping himself in it.
"Back to the question Lord Gloria. How much of your imprisonment do you remember?" Klaus asked again.
"I remember everything. They caught me by surprise. If I had been completely well, they would never have gotten the best of me, but..."
"We have it on record that you were recovering from the flu. What did they do when they captured you?"
"They wanted to know who I was and who I was working for."
"And what did you tell them?"
"Nothing. I tried to make them think I was a petty thief."
"Did they believe you?"
The Earl shook his head. "No."
"What happened then?"
"They took me down to a stone room and chained me to a wall..."
Little by little, in short episodes, Dorian told his sordid story of pain and torture. Thinking he was a spy for a rival organization, they employed twisted means by which to extract information from their helpless captive. The whipping had followed a beating and a sound thrashing. The gang rape had come afterwards, with each of the five men taking his turn. Threats of more severe tortures and punishments came after the rapes, and the brand had been flashed in front of him, taunting.
Several times during his story, the Earl had to stop to recollect himself. He grew paler as the telling went on, and his pallor was reflected in the faces of the NATO agents listening to it, Klaus included. Finally, when it looked as if the Earl could bear no more, Klaus called an end to the interview and sent C and D out.
"Are you all right?" he asked the trembling man.
Dorian gave a small nod but Klaus was not convinced. He put his arms around the Earl and drew him close, resting the quivering head against his chest. After a moment, he felt Eroica move and slender arms snake around him.
"Just tell me you got them all, please."
"We got them all. The two ringleaders were caught trying to fly to South America."
Dorian sighed with relief. "Thank you."
"I was only doing my duty."
"You did more than that. I knew you would come. Even when they were hurting me, I never lost faith that you were coming. I was conscious through all of it, you know. I stayed awake until I heard the gunfire and the sound of the troops, and I knew you had come. Only then, did I let myself pass out."
"You are a strong man, Lord Gloria."
"Only for you, Herr Major."
The Earl's arms around him tightened.
"What is it?"
"They tested me for AIDS today."
"That is standard procedure in a rape case."
"I know but... what if...." His hold on calm was cracking. "What if... Oh Klaus, I'm so frightened!"
"Shhhhh, it's all right. It's all right."
"What if one of them had it? Klaus, I don't want to die!"
‘I don't want you to die either...’
As he tried to comfort the Earl he felt the breakdown he knew was coming. Dorian had yet to cry, to show his pain and grief over what had happened to him. He suspected it was because the Earl did not want to embarrass himself in front of him, but now it seemed that everything was reaching a head. The body in his arms shuddered and he heard Dorian trying to hold back a sob.
"It's all right. Let go," he coaxed.
Dorian shook his head.
"Yes. Let go. It's all right."
"I failed you! I failed the mission!" Eroica blurted.
"You did not fail. You were not well. You were not responsible for what happened. I was the one who failed."
"Yes. You were under my protection and I did not protect you."
"I let myself get caught! I... ruined everything. Oh, Klaus, you must hate me!"
He patted the shaking figure in his arms. "No. I do not hate you. I do not blame you."
The sobs were coming now, and he could feel the tears beginning to dampen his shirt.
"I... I... always mess things up. I'm always... ruining your missions! I'm such a klutz! You... you should have killed me years ago for my meddling!"
"Klaus. Klaus, I'm so sorry! Please forgive me."
"I forgive you, Dorian," he whispered, at a loss for words.
"Thank you. It's more than I deserve. You... you have been so kind to me..."
He felt Dorian trying to pull himself together. "You must think me so weak! So helpless. I let myself be caught!"
"There was nothing you could have done."
"I couldn't fight them!"
‘Ah. Here it comes...’ "You were outnumbered and outmatched."
Dorian shook as he struggled for control. "They hurt me! They... beat me and... and cut my hair. They..."
He began rocking the Earl, holding on as tight as he dared. "Shhhh..."
"They wouldn't stop! I begged them to stop. I begged, Klaus! I begged! But they just laughed at me! Then they... they..."
"They tortured you. They violated you," he supplied.
"Yes! They... Over and over..."
"Shhhh, It's okay. They can't hurt you any more."
"I feel so dirty! So weak! I let them do this to me!"
"You did not let them do anything. You were their victim. There was nothing you could do. You are not to blame," he said, trying to convince the Earl of his innocence.
"But I couldn't get away and I couldn't make them stop..."
"It's not your fault."
"It's not your fault."
"It's not your fault."
"It's not your fault, Dorian. It's not your fault."
Dorian cracked. A keening wail erupted from his throat, followed by wracking sobs. Klaus said nothing and just held on, trying to keep the weeping man from hurting himself or splitting his stitches. He also kept an eye on the door, shooing away anyone who tried to come in with a baleful glare until the storm passed and Dorian quieted in his arms, his crying reduced to hiccuping sniffles.
"Shhhh. It's all right," he assured pulling away from the Earl and coaxing him to lie down as he made the electric bed lie flat.
Dorian's face was a mess, his cheeks all puffy and his eyes swollen. Klaus stroked his hair and cheek.
"You should sleep now. You need your rest."
Dorian's hand clung to his. "Stay with me, please?"
He was already lowering himself to the bed and allowing the Earl to cuddle up to his side. "Of course."
Four days later he and Eroica were outside on the hospital's well-landscaped grounds. It was a bright, sunny afternoon devoid of clouds, and they were relaxing in the shade of a copse of trees. He had his back propped up against one sturdy trunk, his arm around the slender Earl as Dorian curled up beside him. Dressed in a new pair of pajamas and his robe, Eroica was only allowed outside during the heat of day, but it was warm in the shade as well.
The Earl was resting his head against the Major's chest, positioned on the side that hurt him the least, one hand possessively draped across Klaus' body. Both had been dozing lightly, but now Klaus was staring up at the blue, blue sky and the neatly maintained gardens. Some distance away, he saw his agents and some of the Earl's men, but none moved to disturb them in their shady spot. That was fine by him. He was enjoying what would be his last day in California with Dorian, and trying to find a way to break the news that he was leaving to the Earl.
The past few days had been an emotional roller coaster. Caring for Dorian had forced him to face how he was feeling, and made him challenge his views about the young Earl. He found himself becoming more and more attached to the irritating fop, and little by little his walls were coming down.
Dorian had responded to his care by flourishing, greedily grabbing each morsel of affection he offered and treating it like a precious gift. Every kindness he paid the Earl was rewarded with more progress in Dorian's recovery and a brightening of the blue eyes. It made him happy and proud to know that his attention was positively affecting someone for once, and he liked the way helping Dorian made him feel inside.
It wasn't love. It couldn't be love. Love didn't feel like this. Love was fire and ice and rockets going off, or so he had been told. Having never experienced love himself, he couldn't verify the assessment. But love wasn't this feeling of pleasant warmth or silent approval. It wasn't gentle and soft, and only mildly thrilling. It wasn't the dip in his voice or the smile in his eyes or the rush of tenderness he felt towards the Earl. No, it couldn't be that. Love wasn't like that was it?
Whatever it was, the undeniable fact was that a little part of Iron Klaus was melting and quickly being occupied by an annoying little English aristocrat. His agents would never let him live it down, but they were too terrified of him to call him on it. Good for them.
A breeze took a stray curl and swept it into his face. He brushed it away, but the movement woke the Earl out of his light sleep.
"Sorry," he apologized.
"Mmmm," Dorian answered noncommittally and snuggled closer.
Klaus smiled slightly and sniffed the clean, blond locks. Dorian's hair hadn't needed to be cut as short as he thought it would have to. A hairstylist had managed to keep the length to Dorian's ears, but as a result the Earl's curls were tighter than usual.
"What are you brooding about, darling?" Eroica's sleepy voice asked.
"They're sending me on a mission," he admitted, trying to get it over with as soon as possible.
There were several moments of silence before Dorian spoke, "To where?"
"I leave tomorrow morning."
"Will you be gone long?"
"I don't know."
Dorian was quiet, then said, "They'll be releasing me soon."
"Yes. They're releasing me into the care of my private physician. He's going to appoint a counselor for me."
"Ah." He knew the Earl was undergoing both physical and psychological therapy. "Will you be returning to your castle in North Downs?"
"I'm not sure. I may go somewhere more temperate until I am... more myself."
"You'll let me know where you are?"
He felt Dorian nod against him. "Yes. I'll leave word with that proper butler of yours. I assume you'll be returning to Bonn after the mission."
"For a time at least. Then I may come to find you. Or you could always come to Bonn, you know."
The Earl chuckled. "And deprive my staff of their opportunity to dote and pamper me?"
"My butler would love someone to dote and pamper since I rarely let him dote and pamper me. Besides, the _Man in Purple_ is in Bonn."
"Hmmm... an interesting prospect, Herr Major."
He tightened his grip on the thin man. "Don't even think about it, jerk."
Dorian's giggle made him smile, and they enjoyed a moment of pleasant silence.
"I will miss you," the Earl admitted.
"I'd like to say that I'll miss you but..." he teased.
"I wouldn't want you to perjure yourself, Major."
Now Klaus was the one to laugh. "Fool."
"Only for you."
Klaus frowned. This would be their last day together for quite some time and there were things he felt he needed to say. Steeling himself, he moved to speak.
"Don't, Major," Eroica whispered, placing a loving hand over his mouth to stop his words. "These past few days have been very rough on both of us, and we both have had to face some things. I know that the nature of our relationship has profoundly changed, but what it is and what it will become, I do not know."
A delicate hand cupped his chin and he looked at Dorian's gently smiling face.
"What I do know, is that neither of us is ready for what you have to say. I will not be able to give myself to you the way I want to for a long time, and you must come to grips with the feelings you have for me. For now, I am content to know that you no longer hate me, and I can love you enough for both of us."
"Dorian," he tried again, but was stopped again, tenderly by the Earl's caressing hand.
"No, Klaus. You go on your mission and I will go someplace to heal. While we are separate use the time to think about what has happened between us, and what you want. I will always be where you can find me, or you can send for me to come to Bonn."
"I do not want to leave you," he said.
"Nor I you, but we need the time apart- to sort through what has happened. And I need to come to terms with what happened to me. I have some rough times ahead, I know."
He took the Earl's hands in his own. "I want to be there to see you through them."
Dorian gave him a loving smile. "You will be. You think I'm going to have a nervous breakdown without you around to see it? Major, you wound me. I would never give up the opportunity to make you coddle me."
The smiles faded and Dorian took Klaus' face in his hands. "I will miss you terribly, my darling, but this will be good for us. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, no?"
"Foppish things to say."
Dorian laughed and rested his head on the Major's chest again, hugging him.
"I do love you, Iron Klaus. You always make me laugh, and you are such a challenge. I am so looking forward to teaching you how to love."
"Oh, yes. I envision many wonderful hours, lying in bed with the sunlight coming in from the windows, stroking your body, showing you the value of a single, well-placed touch."
Klaus shifted uncomfortably. "Do not say such vulgar things in public."
Eroica laughed again. "My darling, I haven't even started. But, I am not a tease, and I have waited this long for you that I can easily wait a little longer. In the meantime, let's just enjoy the sunshine and this wonderful, warm shade."
"I agree with that."
Dorian gave him a squeeze. "I'm glad you do, darling. I'm glad you do."
The Major allowed the conversation to end there as the Earl sighed and cuddled close, keeping his arms around him. Holding the cozy body next to him more firmly, he relaxed and let the warmth and Dorian soothe him into a doze.
"Wake me up in 30 minutes."
"Of course, darling."
He smiled and closed his eyes. The rest of the world with all its problems and complications could wait until tomorrow.
Epilogue- One year later.
Dorian sighed and smiled, stretching his lean body. Warm sunlight was streaming into his bedchamber, and he could hear the sounds of the birds chirping merrily outside. It was going to be a beautiful day. Slowly he allowed himself to wake up, taking in the pleasant morning in lazy relaxation until he opened his eyes.
The room was awash with golden light, beams of sunlight brightening the muted pastels and creams of his sheets and draperies. He turned his head, looking to the wall furthest from the windows and most protected from direct sunlight. This morning a stray sunbeam had lit the gilded frame of the portrait hanging there. The Man in Purple looked just as beautiful and alive in sunlight as it did in shade, but it was not so nearly as beautiful or alive as his descendant. Dorian's smile widened and he turned his gaze to the smooth, strong back of the man sharing his bed, the man who had been sharing his bed at irregular intervals as time allowed over the past six months.
He sighed and moved closer, running his hand over one powerful arm, feeling the heat of the skin beneath his fingers. Klaus muttered something and rolled to his back, but did not wake up, and Dorian took the opportunity to study his sleeping lover.
‘Lover. Klaus is my lover. Finally. And what a lover he is.’
The past year had been one of the most difficult of his life, but he would not change it. He likened it to a great quest, that, when finally completed successfully, had earned him the most precious piece of artwork ever created. He had passed through the Trials of Water, Earth, Air, Fire and Blood and received his heart's desire: Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.
‘Klaus would make fun of me if he knew I felt that way. Hmm, maybe I should tell him. Give him something else to tease me about.’
Lying safe, warm, and comfortable, he took the opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year.
After Klaus had left for Lisbon, he had remained at the hospital in California for another six days until his stitches were removed and the doctors declared him well enough to leave. From there, he and his men had moved to Monaco to a rented villa on the coast. His private physician said the mild salt water of the sea would help his wounds, and the balmy climate would ease his deeply bruised muscles. He spent two lazy months in convalescence, sleeping most of the day and recouping his strength. A counselor- a pleasant enough man who did his best to help the him with his demons- stayed at the villa with him as part of his therapy, routinely picking his brain and making him face the horrid reality of what had happened to him.
He was still in Monaco, trying not to give in to boredom and depression when Klaus found him. The Major had just returned from Corsica where he had been sent after the completion of the mission in Lisbon. Neither mission had been easy, and the Major had looked tired and worn out. Dorian had delighted in the distraction of cheering the dour Major up. They had a quiet week together, swimming, relaxing, and reacquainting with each other. Klaus was still uncertain and confused about his feelings, but he no longer expressed it as rage. The disgust and effrontery he felt for the Earl transmuted itself into a game of petty insults and mock anger that Dorian bore with enthusiasm. On Klaus's last night there, before he left to return to Bonn and then on to a mission in Hungary, they had shared their first kiss.
Dorian still remembered the virginal reluctance of that kiss. Klaus's mouth had been stiff at first, then the lips had parted and softened as Dorian made an effort to give the Major the kiss of his life. They had ended up clinging to each other, slightly breathless, and Klaus looking like a deer trapped in headlights. Dorian had let him go, knowing that Klaus had needed to run away just then. He came back the following morning when Dorian was lounging on a settee in the solarium of the villa. He had pretended to be asleep as the Major, carrying his coat over one arm, had bent down to lightly kiss his cheek and whisper farewell.
He didn't see Klaus again until six weeks later when he moved his team into France. From his headquarters in Lyon, he had orchestrated the theft of several paintings from various museums and galleries, but Klaus had not come because of the stolen artwork. Klaus had been between missions, waiting for reassignment, and had decided to wait in Dorian's company. His timing turned out to be perfect.
James had found a cosmetic surgeon who could remove the horrid whip scars from his back, and he was recovering from the surgery when Klaus had arrived. Delighted to see the Major, the Earl had been more than willing to allow Klaus to care for him as he waited for his incisions to heal. He discovered that Klaus was an efficient, if not abrupt nursemaid. He took evil pleasure in pushing all the Major's buttons and trying his patience until the Major lost his temper.
In the end, he had gotten what he wanted: a contrite Klaus who would lie quietly beside him and suffer his cuddling and kisses. Somehow he doubted the ordeal was all that terrible for the Major, judging by the military man's only token protests. They spent the night snuggled together in Dorian's bed. More kissing had followed and this time Klaus had not run away. Two days later NATO sent the Major to Milan.
Summer gave way to fall and Dorian was feeling homesick so he returned to England and his castle in North Downs. Physically, all his wounds had healed and the only reminders of his ordeal were two small scars on his back that were too deep for the surgeon to remove all at once. Psychologically, he was making progress under the care of the counselor whom he now commuted to twice a week, but he still suffered from depression and feelings of guilt, not to mention difficulties with intimacy. The counselor had prescribed a mild sedative to help him handle the panic attacks and an anti-depressant for his frequent mood swings.
Although Klaus was the only man he was even considering sharing his body with, he was having trouble allowing Mr. James to perform tasks the accountant had always done such as washing his back in the bath or assisting him with his clothing. He also went through periods when he loathed anyone to touch him, and he would even fly into fits of rage if his privacy was violated, which frightened his staff to no end because their lord rarely got seriously angry. It was during one of his longer periods of blackness and depression that Klaus had shown up on the front step.
As it turned out, a member of his staff had called the Major, but Klaus never told him which one of his men it was. After not seeing Klaus for almost three months, he should have been ecstatic, but he had not been. He was feeling unloved and abandoned because the German hadn't called in so long, and he was sure that the Major had decided that he was truly repulsive and ugly.
They had ended up having their first real fight, screaming at each other through the halls of the castle, scattering the staff. This time instead of him pushing Klaus' buttons, Klaus was going after his with a vengeance, and he had retaliated in kind. Hateful things spilled forth from his lips, ugly words to offset the blackness inside him, and he had the unique pleasure of shocking Klaus speechless with his barbed tongue. Finally Klaus had slapped him hard enough to send him crashing to the marble floor of the room they were fighting in, then drawn his gun.
In the stand off that followed, he had raised himself to his knees and offered himself up for slaughter. When Klaus hesitated, he had taunted him to do it, fully convinced that he wanted to die. As his house staff watched in horror, Klaus had released the safety on his .44. Their eyes met and he saw the wounded hatred in the Major's green eyes. The finger on the trigger twitched and he closed his eyes, then Klaus gave a strangled snarl and a vase several feet behind his head shattered.
Opening his eyes, realizing that he was still alive and whole, he had looked at the black-haired man standing defeated in the center of the room. Klaus was breathing hard, his hand still holding the smoking gun, his eyes wide with shock and horror. The gun fell from the Major's fingers and clattered hollowly on the hard floor as he continued to stare at what he had almost done. Dorian had met his gaze until the Major tore it away, turning sharply, reaching down to grab his gun, and walking stiffly out. The Earl heard the slam of the door echo throughout the whole castle, and the sound shook him out of his shock. Heartsick and broken like the vase behind him, the Earl of Gloria had curled his body up onto the floor and sobbed.
His house staff had tried to console him, but he sent them away, threatening some of them with instant dismissal if they did not obey. They reluctantly left him to himself and he had wept wretchedly, still lying in a ball on the cold marble. He cried until he could cry no more, shivering, weak and dizzy from his sobs, then he had shakily uncurled himself and opened his eyes. His gaze fell on the remains of the vase, its porcelain shards glinting at him.
A thought came through his muddled, grief-stricken mind and he had crawled towards the broken pieces. Still sniffling he had sifted through the shards until he found one he thought was big enough and sharp enough. He picked it up in his right hand and raised the pointed end to his left wrist. Before he could slice, however, a hand had grabbed his wrist while another forcibly slapped the shard from his grasp. He was yanked up and whirled around to face an enraged Klaus. Then he was dragged to a convenient chair and draped over the Major's knee. Six punishing slaps were delivered in quick succession to his exposed backside as Klaus roared at him. He had shrieked, squirming, trying to get away from the stinging pain, clawing at Klaus's arm until he was turned over in the Major's lap, strong hands gripping both his arms, and he was shaken as the German growled in his face.
He had lost it, flying into hysterics, flailing and screaming until Klaus wrapped him up in a powerful hug that squelched his struggles. He had writhed ineffectually, locked in that iron embrace until he yielded. Fresh tears found their way out of his eyes and he wept again, reaching out to hold onto Klaus like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. Gasping for breath, crushed by the Major's arms, he had weakly pushed back to look at Klaus' face. Their eyes met and he saw the silent tears running down the Major's cheeks. The sight of the strong man crying had stunned him into stillness, and he raised a disbelieving hand to the cold wetness. Klaus had let out a groan and his head was drawn forward, his lips trapped into a savage kiss.
Their first time was not the slow, sweet seduction Dorian had planned, the tender wooing of this powerful, beautiful man, but a frantic coupling borne of grief and desperate need on the floor of a wrecked room. Klaus had thrown them both to the marble, his hands everywhere at the same time, and he had given himself over willingly. Clothing was ripped or pushed aside in an attempt to get to bare skin, and they kissed brutally, grinding against each other, clawing and drawing blood until Dorian stiffened and came, whimpering into Klaus' mouth. The Major had followed suit shortly thereafter, climaxing silently with a shudder.
In the aftermath they had laid sprawled on the floor, bruised and bloodied, clothing ripped and in disarray, until they had caught their breath. Then Klaus had looked at him with such heartbroken love that more tears started to fall, and they had clung to each other, crying softly, shivering.
When they both fell silent, Klaus had gathered him up into his arms and carried him to his bedchamber. There he was undressed and slipped into a warm night shift that covered him to his knees, and placed into his bed. He had watched as the Major shyly removed his own clothes, wiping away the evidence of his passion with what was left of his shirt, and donned a pair of his more conventional pajamas. He had opened his arms and his mouth to receive his lover as Klaus climbed into the bed, and they had held each other tight until they had both fallen asleep. In the morning, he had flushed his medication down the loo, cancelled all further appointments with his counselor and let Klaus be his therapy.
What could have been a disaster had turned out to be the smartest decision of his life. From that day on, Klaus had wooed him just as he had wooed Klaus, bathing him in love and care. For a man as cold and hard as Major von Eberbach, he was surprisingly passionate, and Dorian had used that to his advantage. He found healing and pleasure in drawing the military man out of himself, and in teaching him the ways of sensual loving. Klaus was an apt pupil, sensitive and creative when given enough incentive, and Dorian relished in giving him plenty of incentive.
Their love affair had escalated as their feelings for each other deepened, and now they came together whenever their schedules permitted. Twice he had gone to Bonn to be with Klaus for brief stays between missions. On the second trip, Klaus had given him the Man in Purple, and he had hung it in his bedchamber where it remained. Three times they had met in various countries where their paths had crossed, and last night Klaus had returned to be with him in the castle in North Downs.
Now Klaus was in his bed on this warm Spring morning, the anniversary of his abduction and attack, and he was feeling much better than he thought he would. In fact, he was feeling rather adventurous and he wondered if he could get Klaus to play along. Although their lovemaking was wonderful and getting better every time, there were still some things he hesitated to do. but he was feeling brave and he wanted to try to chase away some ghosts. He looked out the window to the brilliant sunshine and smiled.
‘It's Spring, the time of new beginning, and new life. Today I will begin anew and leave the old pain behind.’
Decision made, he smiled wryly to himself and rose up on his arms to gaze down at his sleeping lover. As he did so, his hair, which was now past his shoulders, cascaded down and fell into his face. He swept it back with one hand and prepared to partake in the feast before him. He began by nibbling and kissing the Major's soft lips, and licking at his ear while his hands caressed the muscled chest and sensitive nipples. He heard Klaus moan and come awake with a deep breath.
"Good morning, darling," he cooed, sucking on one tender earlobe.
His lover growled lowly and snorted. "Don't slobber all over my face, you pervert."
"Oooo, grouchy this morning are we lover? Shall I slobber all over another part of your body?" he teased, lifting up and moving slightly down to Klaus' chest. "This part, perhaps?"
He took one pert bud into his mouth and sucked as Klaus gasped. He pulled away before the Major could tangle his fingers in his hair.
"Mmmm, that was so yummy, but I know a part of you that's yummier still, and loves my slobber."
Cognizance reached the Major as Dorian burrowed under the covers and he tensed.
He was cut off as the Earl deep-throated him in one swallow. Any protests he might have had went out the window with his brain as the deliciously hot mouth sucked him into oblivion.
Dorian wasted no time. He wanted Klaus willing and mellow, and the best way to do that was post-coitally. Ignoring his lover's protests, he set on bringing Klaus to orgasm as quickly as possible. The organ in his mouth throbbed and swelled as Klaus carded fingers into his hair and began thrusting upwards. He could feel Klaus digging his heels into the mattress, bracing himself, and spreading his legs. He took one hand and fondled the heavy balls expertly, and smiled as he heard Klaus give a strangled cry. The man's moans were music to his ears. Sucking hard, he scraped his teeth along the underside of the organ, right over the thick penile vein, and tasted pre-ejaculate. The Major was close and getting closer. He picked up his pace, using his lips and tongue to drive his lover into a frenzy, until he felt the familiar shudder and his lover grow still right before his mouth was flooded with bittersweet, salty fluid. Klaus made no sound when he climaxed, he never did. Dorian on the other hand, made enough noise for both of them. It was a running joke between them.
Smug and happy, Eroica licked the softening organ once more and kissed its tip before climbing atop his breathless lover and gifting him with a kiss that reached his tonsils.
"Mmmmmm," he purred, sitting up, his hands spread on Klaus' chest. "Feeling better lover?"
"You'll be the death of me yet."
"Yes, but you love me anyway."
Green eyes smiled up at him as Klaus reached up to draw him down for another kiss. "Of course."
He sighed, giving in to the demanding kiss of his military lover.
"Now, want to tell me what that was all about?" the Major asked. "You didn't even let me reciprocate."
He stroked Dorian's burgeoning erection, but the Earl drew his hand away.
Klaus knew that gleam in his lover's eye. "You have something in mind."
Dorian nodded. "I want to try... something new."
"What is that?"
"I want you to make love to me," he said, looking away.
Klaus smiled. "We already do that."
"No... I meant... I want to try taking you inside me."
The Major was silent for a long time and Dorian could not meet his eyes.
"Does it repulse you?" the Earl asked.
"It should, but it doesn't. Are you sure you are ready for it?"
"It's... the last thing..." He took a deep breath. "It's the only thing we haven't done since... It's been a year and I don't want those bastards to have any hold on me. If I can do this, I know I can let go of them forever and love you freely and completely, with all that I am."
Klaus' hands covered his own, commanding his attention. "You already do that. You don't have to do this."
"Klaus..." He struggled for words. "Yes, I do. I want to wash their taint from my body and liberate myself from their memory. I want to cover it with you, bathe myself in you so that you are all I know and all I remember."
"More foppish words," the Major teased.
Dorian chuckled. "You always say that when I wax poetic."
"That's because you English queers take forever to say what could have been said in one or two words."
"Oh? And how would you oh-so-straight Germans say it?"
"You want to be free."
Dorian smiled. "Yes. I want to be free of them. Will you help me? Will you be the wind in my sails?"
"You know I would do anything for you."
"Then will you do this for me?"
"What do you want me to do?"
The Earl stroked Klaus' strong jaw and smiled lovingly at him. "I just need you to let me do everything at first. Let me take control. That way I won't feel pressured and if I can't do it, then I'll know to stop."
The Major looked levelly at him, then nodded slowly. "All right."
Eroica gave him a happy grin then scrambled off the bed to get something from his dresser. He returned carrying a tube of lubricant and two condoms.
"I know we're both clean, darling," the art thief said, getting back onto the bed. "But you can still get a urinary infection if we do it without a rubber."
Klaus frowned. "That would be very unpleasant."
Dorian giggled. "Not to mention one hell of a damper on our sex life!" He stroked Klaus' chest with open palms. "No... I want to take care of you. I have a vested interest in your continued good health and virility."
"Of course you do."
"Mmmm, my lover. You're so beautiful, so strong. I love your body. Even more I love your body when I'm touching it."
He leaned down to capture Klaus' mouth in an incinerating kiss that left them both gasping for breath.
"Do you want me?" he asked in his bedroom voice.
"If you want me."
"That's not what I asked."
"I don't know if I want you, Dorian. I've never done it that way before. I've always thought it disgusting. I don't know if I will like it much."
"You know what it's like to make love to a woman?"
"Then I guarantee you that I will be hotter and tighter than any woman you have ever had. I'll give you so much pleasure that you'll never look at a woman again," the Earl promised.
"Corrupting me into a queer like you?"
"No. Not like me. Never like me. You will always be yourself, my love, that's what I love most about you."
He stretched out next to the Major and took his hand.
"Here, help me get myself ready for you."
Cool gel was spread on Klaus' finger and then guided to the Earl's tight opening. Under Dorian's instruction and coaxing, he pried at the tender muscle and slid one finger into the Earl's body. Dorian groaned.
"Does it hurt?" Klaus asked, having never heard that particular groan from his lover.
"No. It feels so good. It's been so long. God, I've missed this."
Dorian slicked gel on his own hand and reached between his legs from behind, sliding a finger in next to Klaus'. He arched his back and moaned at the sensations as he directed Klaus to move the finger inside of him in counter-time to his own, loosening the sphincter muscle until it could accommodate another finger. Sighing, he guided Klaus to slip a second finger inside him, making it a total of three moving within him in slow circles.
"Oh God, Klaus..."
"Are you all right?"
With his free hand, he grasped Klaus' cock and worked it, coaxing it to erection. It took a while since the organ had already been spent earlier and also because Dorian suspected that Klaus was not 100% convinced he wanted to do this. He began moaning and writhing in an attempt to entice his lover. He knew Klaus loved his little sounds of pleasure. His mewling moans could drive the larger man insane with want. Sure enough, the organ in his hand responded to his love noises, and stirred to life.
"Oh Klaus. I want you. I want you so badly. I want to do it so badly," he crooned, working himself on the fingers inside him. He could feel the ring of muscle stretching and loosening with each wiggle, and worked in a fourth finger from his own hand. Then he lay back, stroking Klaus' cock with one hand while two of his fingers from the other thrust gently alongside the two of Klaus' that pressed deep inside him.
Finally, after nearly ten minutes of this gentle preparation, he sat up, making the fingers slip out of him, and straddled his lover. Capable hands ripped open one of the condom packets and slid the latex over Klaus' straining cock. It throbbed in his hand and his own need throbbed in sympathy as he spread lubricant on the latexed organ. Biting his lip, he raised up on his knees and positioned the tip of Klaus' erection at the entrance of his opening. Then he slowly lowered himself down.
He heard Klaus gasp when the head popped through the muscle and smiled.
He took Klaus' hands and prevented him from placing them on his hips as he took a deep breath and bore down, taking the first two inches inside.
"Ahh," he hissed, letting himself get used to the bulk.
"Ok?" Klaus managed.
"Oh yeah, very ok. Just... been a long time."
After a moment, he breathed in again and took in more of Klaus' length on the exhale. His anal muscles stretched to take in the bigger intruder, and he stopped again to allow his body to adjust.
"How you doing?" he asked his lover, sweating from his efforts and hungry for more.
Dorian laughed and breathed in, "Don't lose it now. Hold on until you're all the way inside me."
He exhaled and took in two more inches. Klaus was shaking like a leaf underneath him, but remaining steady.
"All...most... there," he announced, making the final push down until his rump came to rest on Klaus' hips.
Opening his eyes, he saw stars, and he was nearly dizzy from the pleasure and triumph. He had done it. Klaus was completely buried within him. Nearly crowing, he rocked forward, still holding Klaus' hands and began to move.
"Ungh," he grunted, lifting up slowly and coming back down, impaling himself all over again. "Oh. Oh, yes. Oh Klaus."
Klaus was rigid, his eyes wide with surprise as Dorian rode him. He looked so traumatized that Dorian had to laugh.
"Oh doesn't it feel good, my darling," he soothed. "You feel so good. Oh I've waited so long for this. I've wanted you so badly. Oh, yes. Klaus. You're perfect. You're not too big or too long. You fit perfectly inside of me. You were made for me, or I was made for you. Oh Klaus, you're wonderful."
On the next downstroke, the organ inside him bumped his prostate and he cried out in sudden pleasure.
"What is that?!" Klaus blurted, feeling the walls around his cock spasm.
"Prostate. My little love button. God, no one's ever hit it so directly on target before. Oh, oh God, Klaus, thrust up just a little bit," he answered.
Klaus gave a little buck with his hips, driving upwards into him and he shuddered as his prostate was bumped again.
"Oh yes, just like that!"
They found a rhythm quickly, Dorian doing most of the work while Klaus made little stabs with his hips, hitting the Earl's little nub on each stroke. The thief tossed his head and closed his eyes, groaning as he moved towards completion, keeping up a breathless litany of encouragement.
"Oh, oh yes. Ah. Klaus. Yes, just like that. Oh, oh no, don't stop. Oh Klaus. I love you. Yes. Yes. Yes yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes. AH! Klaus!"
He released Klaus's hands and moved to stroke his own straining erection, feeling the molten heat building in his loins, stroking in time with his lover's thrusts inside him. One of the Major's hands gripped his hip while the other closed over his on his cock, and together they worked the swollen organ until Dorian was sobbing from the dual pleasure.
"Klaus! Oh Klaus, I... I'm coming!"
It was all the warning he could give his lover as orgasm hit him full force, making him spurt semen onto the flat stomach beneath him. He was still dizzy from the climax when he felt Klaus give one last mighty thrust upwards and heard him let out a choked cry as his own orgasm was milked from him.
They stilled, quivering in the afterglow, Dorian still straddling his lover until he tipped forward. He slumped onto Klaus' chest, panting and exhausted, but deliriously happy.
"I love you, Klaus. Thank you."
Klaus' arms came around him, holding him until they both caught their breath.
The organ slid out of him with a soft pop as it deflated and he felt a profound sense of loss. Slowly, he peeled himself off Klaus in order to clean up and remove the condom. He threw it and the wad of tissues he'd used to wipe them off with, into the trash, and crawled back into bed. Klaus welcomed his weight as he came to rest on top of him, their groins aligned, soft organs tucked against each other.
"Did you like it?" he asked timidly, trying to stave off sleep.
"Don't say unnecessary things..."
He chuckled. "Love you."
"Love you too."
He sighed happily and snuggled close as Klaus drew the bedcovers over their sweaty bodies. Sleep claimed the both of them moments later.
It was mid-afternoon when Peters awakened them.
"Telephone call from Bonn for Herr Eberbach, m'lord."
Normally Mr. James would be the one to bring him such news, but the accountant was having a hard time coming to terms with his lord's love affair, and could not abide seeing the two of them in bed. Besides, Klaus still didn't like him very much.
"Should I answer it, darling?"
"No. 'S on call forwarding. Chief thinks I'm in Munich," a sleepy Klaus answered as he came fully awake. He reached for the phone next to the bed, the one with the ringer turned off so they would not be disturbed. "'S me. Oh, 's you. Yes, of course. No. Yes. I see. When? I see. All right. I'll receive further instructions when I meet the contact? Yes. Very well. Yes. I understand. Good-bye." He hung up the phone. "Fatso queer."
Dorian put on his best pout. "That was your chief and he's sending you on a mission."
The Major looked guiltily at him. "Yes. He says he's sorry he has to interrupt my vacation but he needs me to go to Luxembourg."
"Luxembourg? Whatever for? Luxembourg is so... so... not there."
Klaus shrugged and lay back down, coaxing the disappointed Earl back into his arms. "I'll find out when I get there."
"When do you have to go?"
Dorian sighed. "Well, at least we have the rest of the day. You don't have to come and run."
Klaus snorted. "Must you always say such vulgar things?"
"It's all part of my charm, darling."
"It's a part I could do without."
The Earl looked at his lover. "Would you have me change for you?"
"No. Never. I love you just the way you are."
He was graced with one of Dorian's wide, bright smiles. "Thank you, darling."
"No more ghosts?"
The Earl shook his head. "Not at the moment. I am sure they'll come back every now and then, but they have no power over me anymore."
He drew Dorian's head to his chest and held him. "I'm glad."
"You think your Chief suspects that we're... you know?"
"Don't know and don't care."
Dorian traced a random pattern on his lover's chest with his finger. "You know... I seem to recall that Luxembourg has a gallery or two with some Rembrandts and Van Goghs that I wouldn't mind having."
"Is that so?" Klaus said, a hint if amusement creeping into his voice.
"Yes. Soooo... I may be going to Luxembourg too. Wouldn't it be fine if we were to run into each other?"
"All right. Say... at Cafe Stiffchen in the Luxembourg City Inter-Continental at 20:00 on Saturday?"
"It's a date."
Dorian happily kissed Klaus' chin. "Oh, I just love not interfering with your missions, darling. I'll get a suite in the hotel and we can have such fun not interfering with each other."
"Remember I'll be working you lewd queer."
"Yes yes, of course. But remember all work and no play makes Klaus a very sexually frustrated boy."
"Are you going to make me? I can think of one or two things I could be doing with my mouth instead of talking, but I think you're too worn out for either of them."
"Only for you," he cooed, kissing him. "Love you, darling. Hungry?"
"I'll have Peters make up a tray. Shower?"
"All right then."
Dorian clicked the intercom to the kitchen and ordered a sandwich tray, then he slipped out of bed, not bothering to put on a robe, and floated towards his bath. Klaus watched him. The sunlight caught the Earl's blond hair, halloing it in gilded gold and for a moment he looked like an angel come down to earth. The sight made him remember the policeman and his long-haired partner, and he wondered if the Earl was an angel or a devil in disguise. He thought about it for a moment before coming to a conclusion.
"Klaus, darling, are you going to join me or not?" Dorian's light voice called from the bath. "Or are you afraid I'll rape you in the shower? Might be fun!"
Grinning, he breathed deep and got out of bed to follow his very own Hell's Angel into the bathroom.
Disclaimer: Eroica Yori Ai o KometeÂ Yasuko Â© Aoike and Princess comics. No profit is being made from this fan production and no disrespect is intended to the original creator.