Disclaimer: The ‘From Eroica with Love’ characters belong to Aoike Yasuko-sensei and their rightful copyright holders. I do not claim to own any of these characters. No profit is made out of this story.
Author’s note: This work is dedicated to my scanlating partners, NakamuraToki, Kyokana and metesin, without whose help I would never have read the sidestory which gave me inspiration for this fanfic.
A Christmas Mess
Finally, the holiday season is over. I just hope I’ll have recovered before next Christmas comes.
Bonham sighed with infinite relief as he saw Dorian’s bright red car disappear in the distance, headed for Heathrow airport. The Major at first had flat-out refused to enter such a flashy car, even as a passenger; but there was no car rental in North Downs and the nearest train station was about fifty kilometers away – too far even for him to walk. Having no alternative, the Major finally grudgingly accepted the Earl’s gracious offer to drive him to the airport. Needless to say, Lord Gloria had been positively elated to have a parting tête-à-tête with the object of his affections – his romantic soul always relished things like that. Bonham was elated as well – to see said object of affections leaving.
The fact itself that Uncle NATO had spent Christmas at Dorian’s castle was, as expected, the result of one more of those ill-fated coincidences Bonham had come to dread, which constantly brought that walking terror their way. Thanks to that extraordinary coincidence, Eroica and the Major had crossed paths once again in England, when the latter fled there to spend Christmas. Bonham had been nothing short of stupefied when Dorian told him in strict confidence (after making him swear on his life that he’d never breathe a word of this to anyone, especially James) that the reason for this unexpected migration was, in fact, that the Major was trying to avoid spending Christmas with his father. Apparently the old man was a regular dragon, from what the Earl could infer at least; for his part, Bonham hoped he’d never have to make his acquaintance for as long as he lived. A person even Iron Klaus would run away from was definitely not someone he wanted to meet.
Anyway, after this singular turn of events the Major agreed to spend Christmas at North Downs, mainly because he wanted the Earl to keep his weakness towards his father a secret; Dorian would have done that either way, but Klaus felt he couldn’t trust him to keep his mouth shut unless he gave him something in return. Originally he was supposed to stay only for two days; but then Eroica’s infamous luck struck again. An unexpected bout of heavy snowstorm hit Germany, especially Bonn and the surrounding area. Due to the heavy snowfall and strong winds the trains stopped running, and the Major’s father was forced to extend his stay in Germany for a few more days, since he could not return to Switzerland. After another frantic call to the Chief which confirmed that there was no mission requiring his presence somewhere far away from Germany at the moment, the Major had no choice but to extend his own stay in England as well to a full week, until New Year’s. Dorian, of course, was delighted beyond words to get to spend more time with him. Bonham on the other hand wasn’t.
Bonham’s idea of a nice Christmas mostly involved things like coaxing James to fork a bit more cash and whipping up a hearty meal for everyone to enjoy in the castle’s main hall. And then snuggle in front of the hearth, sipping eggnog and watching the festive shows on the telly. Or listening to Lord Gloria talk about his holidays as a child in that castle and plan future heists. Or even hearing James whine about how the turkey prices were simply preposterous this year and narrate how he had haggled with the butcher at the local market until he had agreed to part with the fowl at one-third of its normal price. But it most certainly did NOT involve being ordered around by a Major neatness freak (pun totally intended) and forced to clean up the entire Castle Gloria from the tower to the cellars in the space of one bloody week.
The Major had been to Castle Gloria once before many years ago, when he was in charge of security for the peace summit which had taken place nearby. Back then he had stated grudgingly that the castle was ‘not bad’; although he hadn’t forgotten to add that his own was in better shape. However, at the time the castle had been freshly renovated and everything was in tip-top shape for the reception of Eroica’s illustrious underworld guests. This time around its condition was not so perfect; the fact that the entire Eroica gang was being housed there, James’ eternal stinginess and the occasional shortage of funds had taken its toll on the ancient edifice. It was by no means run-down, but there were visible signs of disorder and neglect.
It goes without saying that the Major all but threw a fit upon seeing the castle’s current condition and lost no time in declaring that since he was stuck spending his holidays with a bunch of perverted degenerates anyway, he would at least spend them in a spotless and orderly environment. The Earl had responded in his usual carefree manner that he would be a very shabby host if he stood in the way of his guest’s entertainment and that if the Major was so keen on spending his vacation cleaning up the castle he was very welcome to do so. Bonham suspected he had two motives for this response of his: one, that he wished to ogle the Major’s body to his heart’s content while the latter would be too obsessed with cleaning to notice; and two, that after having witnessed his cleaning skills firsthand at Mr. L’s house he wanted to make good use of them here as well. Even James would not be able to resist the offer of a free of charge full cleanup of the castle, although he was too scared of the Major to object anyway; so he went and barricaded himself inside his squalid room in the attic, terrified that the Major would throw his precious possessions in the garbage (most sane people would call them trash). For his part, Bonham would not have minded if Uncle NATO had undertaken the entire task by himself; but the man simply had to have someone to boss around and he had decided all on his own that during that week the Eroica gang would be his personal cleaning squad.
Therefore on the very day he arrived he drew up a timetable for the cleaning activities and assigned tasks to all of them, and after telling them they should thank their lucky stars for this rare opportunity they had to learn how proper cleaning should be done he ordered them to get their equipment and report – yes, report was the term he used – to him in ten minutes. And thus Bonham’s nightmarish Christmas began.
The only bright spot during those days filled with cleaning, scrubbing and being yelled at was watching the Earl’s foiled attempts to get more intimate with the Major; Bonham truly felt for Lord Gloria when his efforts did not pay off, but he was grateful for even that small distraction. Like, for instance, when the Earl was trying to take a candid shot of the Major while the latter was perched up on a chair and scrubbing the ceiling (why did he insist on cleaning even the ceiling, it was beyond Bonham’s comprehension). As if Iron Klaus would ever fail to notice when someone was trying to take pictures of him. The camera was confiscated forthwith and the Major bellowed in no uncertain terms that he was not about to leave any traceable record of his presence there for Lord Gloria to blackmail him with again afterwards. Well, at the very least he did refrain from hitting him; probably because even the Major would deem it inappropriate to pummel the man in whose house he was staying.
Then there was that time when Dorian brought a branch of mistletoe in the castle, intending, as he told Bonham later, to convince the Major that kissing one’s houseguests under the mistletoe was a mandatory tradition in England. Unfortunately, he never even got the chance to put his plan in action. Before he could hang the mistletoe in the main hall the Major stormed in, gave him an earful about dirtying the hall he had just scrubbed spotless and threw the branch out the window. It was about then that Lord Gloria decided he might have better luck trying to seduce the Major in the evening, when cleaning activities were brought to a halt (mostly because Bonham and the gang were about to drop dead from exhaustion). One evening he managed to coax him into a ‘friendly little card game’, in an attempt to trick him into losing and thus have him agree to go on a dinner date with him. However, that attempt wasn’t any more successful than the others. Apparently the Major had infiltrated an illegal gambling house a while back, on a mission to flush out a double agent hiding there; during the course of that mission he had mastered every card trick there was, and his exceptional memory recalled every single one of them. Anyway, to make a long story short, for all of Lord Gloria’s persistent efforts to get closer to the man of his dreams not one of his little tricks managed to get by him.
Rather, Bonham was the one who actually got closer to the Major during that week – not in a romantic way, God forbid, but he sensed that this formidable man was letting his guard down a bit more while they worked alongside each other. Maybe the Earl would be wiser to grab a mop and start cleaning as well; that way he might have more of a chance to get him to open up a bit, Bonham reckoned. Uncle NATO was, of course, still reticent to the point of obsession, but he was considerably less wary with him – well, it probably helped that Bonham wasn’t a flamboyant queen making passes at him all the time. Moreover, he had taken note of Bonham’s housework skills, although the latter would have much rather evaded this acknowledgement. But it was a fact that Bonham, apart from being a first-class thief, was also naturally good at every kind of manual labour; he wasn’t quite up to the Major’s impossibly high standards, but apparently Uncle NATO had seen potential in him, and he had decided (without asking for Bonham’s opinion on the matter, of course) to hone the cleaning skills he had detected as much as possible during his stay there. Therefore he had Bonham work under his personal surveillance most of the time; and so it was that Bonham, who had never served in the army, got a pretty good understanding of what a greenhorn rookie would feel during Special Forces training. Before the first day was over, he was already thanking every god he knew of that he had never been tempted to accept the Major’s previous offers to serve under him. However, he had to admit that although the man was tougher than hide and the definition of slave-driver, he was not unfair or unnecessarily cruel; and he could occasionally reveal a little something about himself to those around him if he felt it was safe to do so with the person in question. Bonham was still deathly afraid of him and would not for the world exchange his charming and kind-hearted master for the Major’s tyrannical rule; but he began to see more clearly the reasons why Lord Gloria was so taken with him. And more important than that, one day he caught a glimpse of something Eroica would have given his right hand to know; too bad he could never tell his lord under pain of death.
It happened while the two of them were outside, repairing the flagstones on the castle’s terrace – many of them had been damaged by the frost during a particularly heavy winter two years ago, and James had yet to agree to the expense of getting them repaired. Bonham had been working for a few hours with his head down, not daring to look at anything but the flagstones below him, fearful he’d get scolded for slacking off the moment he looked up; until at some point his thief’s sixth sense told him that the Major’s piercing gaze was not entirely focused on him and their task and, after a few moments of hesitation, he mustered the courage to steal a glance upwards, curious what had gotten Uncle NATO’s attention.
Dressed in one of his showy outfits with a fancy feathered hat and a long cape billowing behind him, Dorian was scaling one of the castle’s high walls directly across them, with the aid of a grappling hook he had thrown over the battlements a few minutes ago. It was nothing Bonham hadn’t seen before; this was part of Eroica’s training routine which he never neglected – he needed to be in perfect shape for his thieving operations. However, Bonham was quite certain it was no coincidence that the wall he had chosen to train on today was directly in the Major’s line of sight. Apparently the Earl was once again trying the tactic of flaunting his bodily charms before the object of his desires.
Although not very hopeful it would work this time either, Bonham dared to take a peek at the Major, wondering what he thought of his master’s awesome skills. Klaus was watching Dorian on the wall with narrowed eyes; he was mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like ‘bloody show-off’ between his teeth, but to Bonham it seemed like the disapproval in his eyes was mixed with something else, something like…actually, he didn’t know what it might be and wasn’t even sure it wasn’t a figment of his imagination. He didn’t have the chance to ponder on it for long though; the Major’s sixth sense was just as sharp as his own and he almost immediately felt he was being watched. Whisking around sharply, he transfixed Bonham with his notorious glare, making him flinch in terror and quickly bend his head down again.
Bonham resumed his work, but he could feel the Major’s hawk-like gaze fixated on him and wondered apprehensively whether he had just seen something he was not supposed to. Uncle NATO kept watching him for a few more seconds, then he suddenly asked, “Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Umm…what, Major?” Bonham asked hesitantly. “This,” the Major said with an impatient gesture towards Eroica climbing up the wall. “All of you, except for that stingy bug, have skills enough to earn an honest living; you don’t have to steal or put up with…this,” he gestured again towards the wall. “Why do you insist on letting this pervert lead you around by the nose?”
“But, Major…all of us are thieves, and we were thieves before we met milord,” Bonham observed meekly. “All he did was bring us together and put our skills to better use. And also…he is no more of a pervert than the rest of us. We are all homosexuals, as you well know…” Klaus’ eyes glinted harshly again, but Bonham somehow gathered the courage to add, “…And we’re all here because we love Lord Gloria.”
“Then if you love him so much, how come you don’t mind seeing him flirting with me all the time?” demanded the Major. Bonham shrugged his shoulders. “His lordship was always like that,” he said. “He loves us too, just not that way. And no matter who he is in love with, he’ll always look out for us and keep us by his side…for me, that’s more than enough.” He looked up at the Major and in a very uncharacteristic display of courage he added, “You should know what I’m talking about, Major…after all, you value loyalty more than love, don’t you?”
The Major gave him a strange look, as if he had noticed something on him he had never seen before. But Bonham knew he was right; after all those years of run-ins with the Major, he’d had the opportunity to observe him quite a lot. And he had seen that although he was harsh and even cruel to his men at times, he would never abandon them; he had seen that even though Uncle NATO was loth to show any emotion, he valued the loyalty he inspired in his men and his servants at the Schloss. Maybe he didn’t care for love, but he definitely cared for loyalty.
“It’s true,” the Major finally said in a low voice, staring at Bonham intensely. “Love is frivolous, it comes and goes at a whim…and I have no use for flimsy things like that. But loyalty, when it is real…it stays forever.” He glanced towards the wall again – Eroica was now almost over the battlements. “He, too…although he says he loves me all the time, I know it’s not true…not always anyway. There are many times when he hates me just as much. But whether he loves or hates me…I believe he is loyal to me. I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t.”
Bonham was speechless for a long time, not quite daring to believe what he had just heard. If Lord Gloria knew about this…Gulping, he asked in a shaky voice, “Major…are you sure it’s all right to tell me this? You do realize that if milord finds out…”
The Major’s face all of a sudden broke into a smile – a smile that chilled Bonham down to the bone. “Do you know how many kinds of people there are in the world, Herr Bonham?” he asked conversationally.
“Umm…” “I’ll tell you,” the Major said with the same terrifying smile. “There are two kinds; the kind that will talk eventually and the kind that won’t talk no matter what. I belong to the second kind; but unfortunately all my subordinates belong to the first one, like most people. And yet, I have to work with them and even trust them with sensitive information…So, how do you think I make sure they’ll never spill anything to the enemy?”
“Umm…you make them more scared of you than the enemy?” Bonham suggested tentatively, and the Major’s fearsome grin widened even more. “Exactly,” he said. “All my men know that even if they are captured by the enemy, I will always find them…and if they talk while they’re captured, nothing the enemy can do to them will be worse than what I will do to them once I get them back. Now, do you understand why I’m not afraid you’ll ever repeat any part of the little conversation we had just now?”
Indeed, Bonham understood very well. If he ever said anything, the Major would know it was him who had talked…and he did not take kindly to people who talked. Bonham loved his master very much but this was a risk he could not possibly take, not even for him. Forgive me, milord…but this is one secret I will have to keep from you. I only hope…that one day you’ll figure it out on your own.