Never Anything Bad
Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than Bondkakor. Corrections to my language are welcome, as are all other suggestions. Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 37.133 words. Written in September 2008. Birthday story for Kadorienne, 2009.
Warnings: AU, some character death - but AU ... It's one of those difficult to explain warnings ... Some dark themes.
Betaed by Heather Sparrows, Maf and Kadorienne. As always - huge thank yous to all three of you! Remaining errors are all mine.
Following the Caesar Gabriel fiasco the Eroica gang had abandoned Island Gloria for a few years. Dorian had half expected that once safely out of his reach (or, at least, imagining themselves to be so), the young professor with friends would rat out to Interpol or even NATO what had until then been Dorian's headquarters. As time passed it became apparent that the three hadn't, so finally he returned, needing the spacious hallways to display his ever-growing collection in the style it well deserved. Not that he didn't display things at Castle Gloria, Cottage Gloria and House Gloria already, but over time he had accumulated so many beautiful objects that he had simply run out of room. Things had started to look cramped, which was so very gauche. There was this other castle, in Germany, that he had his eye on, but said Schloss already contained its own treasures and its owner - a treasure in his own right - seemed oddly reluctant to let Dorian co-habit the place.
Yes, Klaus was still being ... difficult. Perhaps it was being back at the island that made Dorian think about such things again, but there were times he wistfully wished he could just kidnap the man. Perhaps the Alphabet too, to use the latter to make the former grant him a few, delicious kisses. A thousand. Then a hundred. Then yet another thousand ... He felt positive of his ability to persuade. If he could just get Klaus to calm down and submit to the first couple of kisses he would soon enough wake the slumbering beast of Klaus's sexuality and have a tornado of lust on his hands. He could always hope.
While daydreaming about such happy little possibilities, Dorian often roamed the small island and the castle on it, admiring his art; or cosied up in the library browsing various magazines, books and museum catalogues in hope of discovering what to steal next. He was in a lull after having pulled off a magnificent coup at the Met - the result occupied the yellow wing on the castle's second floor. Sometimes it would take a few days after a heist before that part within him which yearned for more beauty would start making more demands.
Bonham and the rest - yes, even the always profit-hungry James - knew to leave him alone during such times, unless he actively sought their company. Which wasn't on his schedule this particular early autumn afternoon. Instead he headed up to his private apartment in the south-east tower - the one nearest to Bonn and Eberbach - where he intended to change into somewhat sturdier clothes than his thin shirt and raw silk trousers. He had been walking the blue wing, content with admiring his beauties, when a school of glistening, silver-scaled fish on an enormous Dutch painting caught his attention. Unexpectedly he had remembered a time long past, when grandfather Roderick had taken him fishing in the small brook bubbling near Castle Gloria. They had rarely caught anything - and on the rare occasions when they did, they invariably donated their spoil to the caretaker's family, as Dorian's mother loathed fish.
Sir Roderick deSheph had, as the last of Dorian's grandparents, died some six years ago. Suddenly Dorian longed to go fishing once more. He hadn't the faintest idea if the waters surrounding Island Gloria contained much edible fish, but catching something wasn't his main objective. If he did get something he could always do the old catch-and-release thing, as he so often did with the art he deemed unworthy of keeping - though he would get no ransom for the fish. No, what he really wanted was to sit in the breeze on a sun-warmed rock, thinking about life whilst holding onto a rod that might be longer, but hopefully not as thick as another rod he might also contemplate.
From the more rarely accessed depths of his vast walk-in closet he unearthed a sturdy pair of trousers and a black denim shirt that managed to look revealing while in fact affording plenty of protection from the winds. He decided to take the route past the kitchen, pack himself a basket with some sandwiches; an apple; maybe a small wine bottle and one – no, make that two - blankets. Oh, and he supposed he'd better find himself a fishing rod. If nowhere else, James would have one. James loved fishing - to do so cut down on the food expenses.
Dorian smiled faintly as he put on his more practical set of clothes. He wondered what a certain Major of the German branch of NATO Intelligence would think on seeing them. Would he even notice the difference, for all that he normally took in his surrounding with spy-trained eyes? The trousers were bright red, even if they were looser and thicker than what was Dorian's custom. And likely Klaus wouldn't even bother to examine the shirt closely enough to realise its sensible cut.
Just as he was ready to trudge downstairs, a faint pressure in his bladder convinced him that he had best deal with that little problem before it became more urgent. He might not mind the slight chill of the sea winds, but he really didn't fancy whipping out his own rod for pissing in the open. So, off to his luxurious bathroom, hands working on automatic to unbutton his fly as he went.
He walked the last steps up to the toilet, when he became aware that something was out of place and a split second later realised what. Words had been written on the mirror!
Dorian whirled. On finding himself blessedly alone he spared a second to glance towards the door to verify that the red dot signalling 'locked' was on. Then he whirled back and looked again for an intruder, just to be safe. No, the room really did appear empty. The shower curtain had been pulled to the side, so there was nowhere for anyone to hide.
Not another stalker! he thought with annoyance - but also with some puzzlement. How did whoever it is get onto the island? Oh, dear, I do hope it's not one of the new boys ...
He had previously had problems with a stalker. There had been a man so totally besotted that he had approached Dorian at a number of parties, then had the gall to try to break into House Gloria! The man was a member of the aristocracy himself, albeit currently one in most thorough disgrace. Really, greeting the Queen Mother with a deep bow, brandishing his hat with a flourish and happening to have all those naughty images spill out? As if Lord Dirkelle didn't even know they had been in there? Claiming that someone must have put them there without him noticing? Tsk, tsk, tsk ...
Well, actually, that little scene had been somewhat amusing. Not the least because of the Queen Mother seeking out Dorian's eyes with hers afterwards and lifting an eyebrow tellingly. The clever old bird had obviously guessed who was really behind that little "accident".
The man had really been a bother. Good enough looking chap, but so full of himself that he had managed to put Dorian off within minutes of meeting him - not an easy feat. Dorian might have his sight set on the one man he judged capable of keeping his interest in the long run, but that didn't mean he had been blinded. Normally he enjoyed the sight of male beauties - but this particular one held no interest to him.
It can't be him, though, Dorian thought as he gingerly approached the mirror. Volovolonte is still keeping an eye on him down in Italy. He doesn't have him under 24-7 surveillance, as far as I know, but he'll know if Dirkelle left Venice at the very least. Volovolonte had been rather annoyed with the whole stalking business, but Dorian had asked him especially not to have the man killed.
The writing on the mirror consisted of fairly small, neat letters in a strange, green-blue colour, divided into five paragraphs. Not quite sure he wanted to know what the message said, but knowing he ought to read it before climbing out the window and alerting the gang that they had a sex-crazed stalker on the loose, he focused on the first lines.
----Do not panic! I mean no harm!----
Dorian snorted as he hastily buttoned up his fly again. Sure, you just break into my home to leave messages of your everlasting love! No reason to panic at all. Then he remembered his latest Bonn trip and thought that perhaps one shouldn't throw bricks in glass houses. Of course, stacking up Klaus's meagre china supply with six sets of Eroica china could hardly be labelled offensive. If nothing else, the sets would give Klaus something to amuse himself with by smashing them.
----This will sound inconceivable, but I assure you, I'm not a sex-crazed stalker.----
Dorian snorted again. As if a sex-crazed stalker would admit to this in a message of everlasting love left after breaking into the target of his obsession's home?
----Proof to calm you: when 13 you spent 5 hours believing yourself in love with 2nd-cousin Nellie.----
Ack! The sex-crazed stalker knew his most shameful, most carefully guarded secret and was going to use it to blackmail him for sex! Only ... Hang on! Wait a minute, how--
----How can I know this?----
No one knew about that momentary confusion he had experienced regarding second-cousin Nellie. Absolutely no one. It hadn't been love either. The bouts of heat and cold accompanied by a fluttering heart had actually been symptoms of him coming down with an unusually vicious cold. Thank God. Though he did, on rare occasions, wonder what life might have been like had he really turned out to be in love with that silly bint of a girl. Which was not a thought for the here and now, so he quickly forced his mind back on track. No one knew. No one. Not anyone.
His eyes sought out the final line written on the mirror covered in scribbles. When he had read the three words his heart thumped so hard in his chest and he felt dizzy as if he had fallen in love all over again - albeit not in a good way.
----I am you.----
As tradition suggests, the locking mechanism on Dorian's bathroom door was located on the inside. Considering how hard his hands shook, it might have been for the better if it had been on the outside and he would have had to pick the lock instead - it likely would have gone quicker besides. Though perhaps the delay allowed him time to calm down the barest fraction before he all but collapsed into his bedroom. Rather than scrambling for the door, rushing hell bent through the castle to find Bonham - the most down-to-earth and reliable member of his gang- he fell into his bed, rolled onto his back and lay there shivering, ever so often turning his head this way and that to make sure he was alone.
I'm insane. I'm going insane. I must be! That's just lunacy!
With one hand he fiddled nervously with a strand of his hair. Can you be insane and aware of your condition? He seemed to recall something about insane people never knowing about or believing their mental affliction.
But I must have written the words myself. I must have had some sort of ... episode and written all that nonsense. Why would I do that? Perhaps I'm sane again now and that's why I don't remember doing so? What if it happens again?
Another thought quickly followed, perhaps somewhat irrational in itself, but yet not fully irrelevant: If I'm really not the full shilling, will they be able to keep me locked up in a sanatorium? Those full body suits with extra-long sleeves are simply so déclassé! And how ever could I keep my hair in good condition?
He must never tell anyone! Maybe ... Maybe it had just been a one-time thing? Yes! I must have eaten something bad. James bought mushrooms again - maybe he really does pick them himself and got something poisonous in the lot. Maybe there is-- I can't let anyone see the mirror!
Determined to get rid of the evidence he rushed on unsteady legs back to the bathroom. Once there he grabbed one of his ultra-soft towels - heart's blood red with his monogram embroidered in gold - and hastily poured some water on one corner. Only then did he dare to raise his eyes to the hated mirror. Then he screamed and leaped backwards.
The writing had changed!
Not the very first sentence, no, but the rest of the message.
----Do not panic!----
Which was ... kind of nice to read, actually, for that was one instruction he would really like to obey. Only it sort of felt like a lost battle, considering that now he apparently sleepwalked and had conversations with himself through means of scribbling on a mirror - whilst laying wide awake on his bed fearing to do exactly that!
---- You must be worried frantic. More proof to calm you: touch the writing.----
Feeling distinctly faint, he reached out. His sensitive fingertips brushed the slick material much like a blind man reading Braille. Only ...
... the words he read weren't written on the mirror's surface.
----I'm you from another universe.----
They were written on the inside.
Dorian didn't collapse on the bed this time. He hid behind it, shuddering.
On the positive side, he might not be insane. He wasn't willing to rule out the possibility entirely yet, but if he turned out to be moon-punched after all, at least he was a very creative loony.
On the negative side, if he wasn't insane, he had just been contacted by himself from another universe. Now, while not religious, Dorian tended to believe himself open to most possibilities. Ghosts, certainly - House Gloria even had one, an elderly gentleman who seemed somewhat puzzled by the ongoings. The fey and other powers of the land. Even telepathic abilities and the like - he had kept an eye on young Caesar Gabriel and his friends and had learned a surprising amount. What happened past Death's embrace - if, indeed, anything - was, however, not something that particularly interested him, nor did he speculate much about aliens, alternative universes and so on.
Until they had taken interest in him and come knocking on his freaking mirror!
He hid in his bedroom for well over ten minutes, trying to gather his thoughts and decide on a proper course of action. Part of him wanted to flee Island Gloria, but then there was his damned curiosity ... And the utter futility of fleeing, as it was laughably inconceivable for him to avoid mirrors for the rest of his life.
Finally he gathered his resolve, got up on his feet again and sneaked back into the bathroom. His heart still hammered considerably faster than normal and he could only hope he wasn't having some sort of attack. His entire body vibrated with tension. He chided himself for this - that he, an adult man, wanted nothing more than to hide behind someone when entering his very own bathroom. Preferably someone just an inch or so taller than himself, who carried a very solid Magnum.
Taking a firm grip on his fright, he looked towards the mirror again, wondering what worldview-altering message would now be on display.
It was empty.
Not a line, not even a smudge - nothing.
Distrustful of this lull in communication, Dorian carefully ventured closer, eyes darting over the reflective surface, wary of what he might find. The figure on the opposite side - a drop dead gorgeous, deceptively slender-looking man with an enormous mane of blond curls - reversed his every move as he reached up to - hand noticeably shivering - touch the cold mirror.
Finally Dorian let his hand drop and straightened his shoulders.
Whatever's going on, it's not happening now, anyway. I ... Right, I have to ... Something. Do something. Without, repeat: without, being thrown into the loony bin. Right, but what--
And that was when his reflection waved at him.
Dorian hadn't fainted, but he had needed to sit down for a few minutes. Strangely he had felt less terrified this time, since it really had been himself in the mirror. He loved himself, in a borderline narcissistic way, almost as much as he loved Klaus - and if there was one thing he was dead certain of was that he would never hurt himself voluntarily. At least not without an extremely good reason.
So he braved the mirror once more. This time the image didn't reverse his movements, just smiled in that heartbreakingly irresistible way and threw him a little kiss. Dorian tentatively waved back.
Then the mirror image's lips moved, in slightly exaggerated movements that Dorian could easily read.
--I do apologise for scaring you.--
"No harm done," he replied, also enunciating each word carefully to make his lips easier to read. Lip-reading was a very handy skill to have picked up. Thank you for the tip, Major von dem Eberbach, love.
--I can only communicate with you through mirrors, so to write a message felt like a slightly better way to ease into things than to just start waving at you.--
"Most appreciated," he said, not quite sure he agreed. He felt fascinated by a number of things, not the least by how the light made his eyes shimmer. Narcissist or not, he only seldom looked himself deeply in the eyes in mirrors and - oh my, he certainly had charisma, hadn't he? "How, um ... are you? Am I, perhaps I should say?"
--Quite fine, thank you-me for asking. And I-you?--
He still felt a bit hesitant about the entire situation, but the word game amused him. "Never better. Ah, so ... is there any specific reason why you've-I've ... dropped by for a chat?"
--There is and I am hopeful that you will be able to help me. I have experienced certain problems regarding Major von dem Eberbach.--
"Oh. Actually, I am having a little difficulty in that regard myself. A more stubborn man never existed! I even tried waiting for him naked in his bed two months ago. Though I think he might be weakening. He didn't shoot at me this time or even hit me, just swore a lot and then rang for the butler, telling the man to send for the exterminator." To enunciate each word clearly for a long period of time was surprisingly straining on the facial muscles.
--Ah. Quite. I'm not having that kind of a problem.--
He could well sympathise with such difficulties. "Oh? Is yours still shooting at you or trying to foster you off on his chief or G?"
--No. The thing is, our universes, they are not quite parallel or I would no doubt have the exact same problems as you do. Or you as me. But they are not. They have diverged slightly and hence our different problematics.--
"Oh? Well, I'm always happy to help myself if I can." Advice and such things, if nothing else, should be harmless enough. "What is it? Is James not giving you enough money to go to Germany again?"
The him in the mirror blinked. --Ah, no. Things diverged earlier than when you-I met up with James. I only met the man briefly.--
Lucky you. "Wait. Does that mean you are not a thief?" Belatedly he wondered if his second self even knew of his Eroica personality? Well, if he couldn't trust himself, whom could he trust?
His image in the mirror threw his head back and obviously had himself a good laugh. Oooh - I really do look divine! How ever can Klaus resist me? His heart really must be made of iron!
Once the other Dorian had calmed down he continued the conversation, though he kept one hand on his stomach, as if having laughed so hard it hurt. --No, no, I am Eroica, never worry on that account. Why, this year alone I've paid homage to the Louvre twice.--
Dorian nodded, feeling vaguely relieved. "Once myself, though I did it last year too."
--The divergence began after Father influenced us that way, then, I gather.--
Few knew, but Dorian's father had been an excellent cat burglar himself. His working name had been Allegro and his father in turn had used the alias Roxelane. The talent ran in the Gloria blood, it seemed.
--Well,-- himself said with a slightly sheepish grin, --I think it was around the time I fell in love with second-cousin Nellie.--
"When we had that nasty bout of cold, you mean?"
--Ah ... No. When I fell in love with second-cousin Nellie. Dorian? I'm ... straight.--
Dorian wasn't sure how many shocks a man could take in a day, but he rather suspected that he was approaching his upper limit. After his second self had dropped that little bombshell, he had first stared at him for a long time, eyes swimming so much he hadn't been able to read what the other was trying to say. Then he excused himself - at least he hoped that was what the sounds he made meant, and stumbled out, heading straight for his bedroom bar cabinet to pour himself a generous helping of Talisker. After having gulped down the salty whiskey he poured himself another one. After all, he was drinking for two now, as he couldn't very well offer his mirror self a glass.
I suppose a mutual masturbation session is out of the question then, he thought with some dismay. That would have been … interesting. And hot.
On returning to the bathroom he realised that he needn't have worried about appearing impolite. Apparently both of him liked Talisker, for on the other side was also a glass and a bottle, conveniently set to mirror his.
"So ... Um ... Women. Things. Jiggling bits. Um ... Well, to each their own, I suppose. Ah ... Are, um ... you engaged or something?"
On very rare occasions he did wonder what it would be like to have a child. A son, probably, but perhaps a daughter, to take up his fallen lock pick one day, and carry on the proud family tradition. He suspected strongly, though, that it was one of those things that was more interesting in theory than in practice. One day he would need an actual heir for the Gloria estate and his collection, but luckily all three of his sisters seemed determined to keep the world properly populated.
--No. I was about to, once, actually, but there was an ... interruption. That is partly why I wanted a word with you.--
"Do tell. But - not too graphically, please, if it gets graphic. I do not need details."
His other self smiled oh so charmingly. --Not to worry. Right. Our universes are only partly parallel. There are many others. I felt that there was something amiss with mine, so I investigated.--
"How can you do that?"
--Spells. My universe is very susceptible to magic, far more so than yours. Anyway. Something felt wrong and when I examined the other universes I realised what it was. It was the relationship between me and Major von dem Eberbach.—-
"I can see how that would be somewhat problematic if you insist on being, well ... straight. Bisexual, at least, then?"
His counterpart's eyes widened almost comically. --Not that type of relationship! Actually, that's the problem.--
"Yes, that's my problem too, him and I not being in that type of a relationship."
--Exactly! You should be!--
It felt very good to have someone agreeing with him on that - even if it was himself. "Just what I have always said, but he is so darn ornery, stubborn boar that he is."
--That's because he's not your Major von dem Eberbach, Dorian. I think ... I think that he might be mine.--
For a brief second, the universe stopped.
Dorian felt an instinctive need to smash the mirror for its occupant having said something so blasphemous. He might have, even, if the other hadn't instantly continued, --And that the Major von dem Eberbach in my universe really is your Major von dem Eberbach, of course. I think someone - us or them - were at some point switched. That really is the only explanation I can think of.--
Reminding himself firmly that the potential Klaus-thief was on the other side of a layer of specular reflection, Dorian forced himself to calm down. "Mine is a bit of a handful at times, --," Actually, Dorian kind of hoped he would be more than a handful, at other times. "--I will admit, but I'm rather fond of him still. Why do you think yours is the, ah, wrong major for you? Mine's male too, you know."
What a horror the alternative would have been! Or would it? He surely never would have paid a female Klaus (Klausina? Claudia?) a second thought - not even a first, so likely he would never have known what he missed out on.
--Yours is straight, isn't he?--
"He is under that silly delusion, yes. Personally, I think he's repressing his true feelings. Why do you ask?"
A minute or two later Dorian had to ask himself to repeat himself, as he had been in too much turmoil to concentrate on the other's lips.
--In all universes I've seen, we fit together. Major von dem Eberbach and that universe's version of us, that is. Sometimes we are both thieves, sometimes we both work for NATO, sometimes we are both---- Mirror-Dorian shuddered. ----Americans. More often than not we are lovers, but there are some in which we are just really good friends. There is even one universe in which we are brothers.--
"However would that be possible?"
--Our mother and their father. Old man Eberbach was apparently something of a horny goat. Anyway - it is like that everywhere, in every single universe I saw. Except for our universes, yours and mine. But I've been thinking about the problem for a long time and it occurred to me that you and ... well, my Klaus, would get on splendidly. And I wish the two of you all the best in the world. Besides, it is getting rather embarrassing to have to explain him away to my business associates all the time. The two of you would be very happy together, I think. As, I think, would I be with, well ... your Klaus.--
Something about this felt fundamentally, completely, utterly wrong. Yet there was some undeniable logic there as well. And, of course, he trusted himself to have thought things over properly in order. "Ah, what does ... your Klaus ... do, then? Is he--"
--Still with NATO. Still Iron Klaus, scourge of Neo-Nazis and Communists everywhere. Just as you know him in your universe. Except a little more ... gay.--
A gay Klaus? Did that mean ... swishing? Dorian couldn't imagine a swishing Klaus. Gay in itself, though, was a splendid thing. "Ah ... How exactly do you mean?"
--From the moment we met he's been trying to get into my trousers. Or me out of them, that whole 'the fate of the world hangs on your underwear' was rather a scam I am certain.--
How jealous of yourself could you really get? Dorian felt his irrational ego give it the good old college try.
"My word - you really must be straight! That man is everything I ever wanted!" Well, figuratively speaking, but still.
--That's why I am here, Dorian. You can have him.--
"What? How do you mean?"
--It is simple. We switch universes.--
It sounded so simple. Switch universes. And then they would all live happily ever after. Only ... It couldn't be that simple. Of course not. Dorian knew that. Things were clearly different between their universes. The discrepancy with James showed that, if nothing else. In the other universe Dorian had had ... girlfriends! A fiancée even! He had been engaged - something which that world's Klaus had apparently managed to put a stop to, with a very untimely talk to the prospective bride-to-be.
Dorian would turn down carte blanche to the Louvre to have Klaus pay court to him! The other Dorian had had his fondest dream served to him on a silver platter - but didn't even know to appreciate it. How unfair was that? But now Dorian could have everything he had ever wanted. To get it, he only had to give up life as he knew it. Except not really. For he would still be him and in the same business - only some minor details would differ, but all in all he could pull things together again - better than before, even!
I could ... Hmm ... claim I had a head injury of some sort. Yes. Some sort of amnesia, making me forget the finer details of things. So no one would suspect anything. Well, I had better tell Bonham later. Perhaps Klaus too, bless his paranoid heart. And ... Oooh, to have Klaus actively court me! I could play hard to get! Just a little bit. Just to get to enjoy the experience. Then surrender myself in a stunningly romantic fashion. Maybe let him take me by storm?
He had no problem whatsoever in seeing that. Or fantasising about such a thing in rousing, sweat-inducing detail. But even so. Even if everyone he knew would be ... well, almost as he was used to - he could even find his Jamesie again, he knew he could - things would still be ... different.
It would, of course, have been much easier if they could have just shifted Klaus! But that would have been cruel – not to mention detriment to health, as Klaus surely would have killed without hesitation if he realised someone had unexpectedly switched universes on him. Besides, the procedure in itself was, according to his gorgeous double, quite complicated and near enough impossible without a willing participant. No, the only option was for Dorian to take the plunge. If he found the sacrifice acceptable. And if he dared.
In the end he only agreed to consider the proposition. After all, while the potential gain tempted so terribly, he needed time to think things through. They decided to be in touch again in seven day's time.
Dorian smiled widely at his counterpart, waved him farewell and then broke the spell's force flow. As if he had dropped a stone into water, a spider web of waves formed on the surface before tapering off until the mirror once more was smooth and shiny. At that very instant, when he knew that his other self could see nothing of his side, his smile died. The lines of his face hardened and his nostrils fluttered once.
"Soft-hearted, all too trusting fool," he said and shook his head. "But I knew he would trust me, if none other. He thinks we are still the same." Then a movement to the right caught his attention. "Come out of there now. Do something useful. Help me relax."
At first, one week had seemed like an eternity, especially since Dorian decided to dedicate the greater part of each day to really considering the awe-inspiring prospect of switching universes. Once the days started to roll, however, they slipped by almost eagerly.
He considered an impromptu trip to Germany, to try to gauge Klaus's reaction one final time. Was there really no hope for him in those sharp, green eyes? Only he knew they would show no difference from four weeks ago, in Kansas, when he had last seen his desired one. Klaus's eyes seldom revealed anything but annoyance or anger - or a cool, bleak nothingness that Dorian interpreted as Klaus not wanting anyone to see his emotions. Rarely they would show a kind of fleeting amusement - or even enthusiasm over something sufficiently lethal. The coolness might conceal what Dorian longed to see one day, but as far as he knew nothing had fundamentally changed, so he had nothing else to hope for. Of course, this he had known for years. He had even almost come to terms with the possibility of that things might never change. And now - another chance? A far more promising one than he could ever have hoped for. A Klaus who actively desired him. A different Klaus, in some minor ways, but perhaps ... the right Klaus?
Maybe the other Dorian knew what he was talking about and there had, somehow, been some kind of mix-up. Maybe he would, once there, take one look at the mirror-world's version of Klaus and know him to be who he had always wanted and whom his own world's Klaus was but a pale reflection of. Maybe they would be happy then, finally, all four of them.
Still. Leaving everything! Only not ... His reasoning went in confused circles, but he had so few facts and the leap of faith he must take lead over such an immense chasm. What if he fell? What if something went wrong? He trusted his other self to help him as much as possible if so, but still. What if he were to regret his decision forever after?
--Well, I see why you might hesitate,-- said his mirror self, looking concerned and particularly dashing.
"I mean, I do appreciate the thought and I do approve of the general idea, it's just ... I feel so uncertain about things ..."
--I understand. It is truly a life-altering decision and not to be taken lightly. I, myself, spent many a sleepless night soul-searching and questioning my idea. But ultimately it is for our happiness, my dear self. Trust me, I've thought this over carefully. We could both be happy. I'm sure there would be a period of ... unease, perhaps, before we settle in, but that would pass soon enough. You have my most solemn word that I will take the best care of your gang and ease them into the new ways of things. As I am confident that you will do with mine.--
"I thought I could pretend to have been hit in the head and suffered temporary memory loss."
--Brilliant idea! That is how we will do it. Everyone will understand, I'm sure.--
"But what if something really important comes up?" Dorian wanted it: he wanted it so very much he could all but feel Klaus's skin under his fingers. But he just wasn't sure.
--Well, we will still be in contact, of course, and can consult one another. You didn't think this was a one time thing, did you? To set up a connection such as this is easy. We can even decide on a weekly standard time to be in touch, if you wish.--
"That would be of immense relief to me, yes. Still, I don't know ..."
--I don't want to pressure you. Do take your time. Think about it some more. Or perhaps we could do a little trial run before we make things permanent?--
"How would that work?"
--We try it for one week. If it doesn't work out for either of us, we shift back.--
"We can switch more than once?"
--Of course. Sorry, old chap, I thought you understood that. But, needless to say, I'm not letting you bed my Major von dem Eberbach if you are not going to keep him. That would be cruel. I do care for the man.--
"Understood. I won't bed him during the trial week, then. On my word as a Gloria. Sealed under a thorny rose."
--Under a thorny rose accepted. Shall we start, then? It will only take me a few minutes to prepare.--
"No, wait! I need to, to ... you know, get my affairs in order."
--But there is no need, I will handle everything for you. We are the same, are we not?--
"Yes, yes ... But I need to think about it. Just a little longer. Oh, please don't be upset? Surely you can wait a few days longer?"
There was a brief pause before his mirror self smiled disarmingly. --Of course I can wait. You know how we are - always eager to get going when we have a project under way. Shall I contact you in three day's time, on Wednesday, then? Same time as today?--
"Yes, please do. I promise you that I will have decided by then."
After having closed the connection mirror-Dorian slammed a fist onto his chair's armrest. "Sunday, Wednesday - make up your mind! All this waiting is driving me insane!"
A low sound made him glare into the shadows.
"What are you staring at? Weren't you hoping it'd be today too? I do believe you were. Well, it seems we will have a little more time together before then, after all."
Dorian had almost decided on that impromptu flight due Bonn to visit Klaus just one final time. Monday morning, though, Bonham reported that the Alphabet had not yet returned from their mission in South Korea. To follow them there with so little time to prepare properly seemed not worth the potential gain. Besides, it wasn't as if he would never see Klaus again. As a matter of fact he would see Klaus again very soon, but a ... more suitable Klaus. A Klaus who yearned just as much as he did for them to unite.
In some strange way this new, stunning information made it much easier to look back on the constant rejections he had suffered. Of course! It wasn't that Klaus didn't feel attracted to Dorian because they weren't meant to be - he was simply the wrong Klaus for Dorian! Once the two Dorians were back in their right universe (or, at least reunited with their right Klaus, even if all of them then inhabited the wrong universe), things would be so much simpler. His and Klaus's love would be legend.
He actually felt worse about leaving behind his team, and by how confused they would be with a Dorian who didn't enjoy quite the same temptations as before. But mirror-Dorian would take good care of them, that he had promised. During one of their conversations he had also mentioned that he considered Bonham his number one man too, so that wouldn't change, and that everyone else was in good health and so on. And they would be in weekly contact, perhaps more often, as Dorian had the neat idea that they could plan heists together - testing different approaches in different worlds, sometimes hitting the same target simultaneously, each bringing back their preferred spoil. That would be most interesting indeed.
"What I don't understand," he said, come Wednesday, when he sat before the mirror for what he had decided would be the last time, "is what kind of relationship you and my Klaus will have. You've spoken so much about me and ... your Klaus, but what about you and mine? What about that ... relationship you've been talking about?"
Himself shrugged prettily. --I'm sure that it will take some time before he trusts that I no longer lust after him. Eventually he will, though. We are stubborn that way, are we not? Then he and I can really get to know one another and form a warm, deep friendship. We will be the best of buddies and hang out together. I'll help him with NATO business and steal other things while I do it. We will drink beer and watch football together; talk about the size of women's breasts and---- He paused momentarily. ----other such manly topics of discussion. Things we heterosexual men do together. It will be fabulous.—-
"Oh." Dorian felt vaguely disgusted that another him actually thought about such ... mundane things. "Well, ah ... best of luck then. Do ... do keep me posted." Though not in too much detail, please.
--Likewise. Are you ready to make the switch, then?--
Dorian drew a deep, cleansing breath. Suddenly he wished he had hugged Bonham a little harder this morning - and that he had given James some more change.
"Yes," he said anyway. If he kept stalling he would never dare to make the leap. "I'm ready. Just tell me what to do."
The man in the mirror smiled his most brilliant, happy smile. "Excellent! Don't worry, all you have to do is to touch the mirror per my instructions. Ah-- Just a moment."
He leaned out of the mirror's field of vision, so that his counterpart no longer could read his lips nor observe the expression on his face. Then he hissed, "Don't you dare move! You stay out of sight or I'll make you regret it before I leave!"
Then he arranged his features to be serene once more, before he turned back towards the mirror. From the side he heard scuttling noises, but since they didn't come from within view of the mirror he paid them scant attention. "Right. I will start the process now. I have most things prepared, so after I start the chant it'll only take ten seconds. I'll count down from five."
Dorian watched the preparations with interest. Along the mirror's edges runes in different colours began to appear. He had no idea what the elegant pattern they formed meant, but he admired their artistic beauty, how the colours shimmered in the oil and the intense concentration with which his counterpart chanted the foreign words. Despite the beauty, though, there was something about the sheen from beyond which unsettled him; something about a faint cold seeping through the mirror which put the fine hair on his arms on end.
When the runes began to move, he found himself entranced by the display of genuine magic. Slowly the runes formed a circle, like a funnel, but always with a calm centre, through which he saw his other self look back at him. Mirror-Dorian smiled in a friendly way. Then his face was replaced by a well-manicured hand with all fingers raised.
Almost at once the thumb folded.
Down went the index finger.
Can I really do this?
The long finger.
I'm leaving them all!
He lifted his own hand. The ring finger.
For Klaus, it's for Klaus!
Dorian began to reach out and finally the little finger folded.
All for love!
At the same time as the reflection's fingers touched the mirror's other side, he touched his.
Fleetingly he felt the cool slickness of the glass, then the surface burst around him with such intensity that a scream was wrung from his throat. A silver cascade enveloped him, rocking both him and the chair backwards. He flung out his arms, desperate to find balance, but before he crashed to the floor the outburst imploded, grabbing hold of him and instead flinging him at the mirror itself. Instead of smashing into it, though, he was swallowed and the material wrapped around him so tightly that he knew that he was about to suffocate. Silver stars sparkled before his eyes.
The encompassing feeling lasted only for a few seconds. Then colours suddenly reappeared before him. He was spit out, hurled away from a reflective surface in which he saw a glimpse of pale pink and yellow. He was going to crash, then the silver snapped free of him, forcing him in the opposite direction. The chair tilted forward, then came to a sudden halt and he sat rock still even as the last silver shards were sucked back into the mirror's cool, slick glass. His hair didn't even wisp about, as it was wont to do in the least breeze; everything was just perfectly, utterly still.
Well, that was ... different, he thought as he lowered his suddenly shaking hand. Has anything actually happened?
It had all been so sudden, with so much force and then the halt that hadn't even felt jarring.
He glanced about, but the room looked the same as before. Not quite sure - something could have gone wrong with the transfer (or he could be off his rocker after all, next stop the loony bin) - he turned back to the mirror, gazing into its clear depths. The runes had vanished and his reflection neither waved at him or mouthed words - in short, it behaved like any other reflection he had ever had seen that hadn't actually been a projection from an alternate universe. That, too, felt slightly off somehow. He had expected his other self to check up on him, if nothing else than to ensure that he had "arrived" properly.
Of course, the connection might have snapped. And as some technologies that get switched off, it might take a while to get it up and running again. If it really did work in the first place?
He still wasn't too sure, so he returned his gaze to the room, this time eyeing everything carefully as he tried to spot any anomalies.
He hid behind the bed, gazing from underneath it, careful not to breathe too loudly or move lest he make a sound. The transfer had seemed successful, but this ... new Earl of Gloria was even more of an unknown than the previous one. The other had been bad. Nothing said that this one wouldn't be... worse.
Ducking his head so that his dark forelock shadowed his eyes, he pressed himself against the cold panel of the wall, waiting for whatever would come.
Dorian sat there, merely looking. He felt as if he participated in a fairytale and was in no rush to potentially ruin the magic by not revering it properly. Especially not if the strange adventure, in the end, really would unite him with Klaus. On closer inspection, he did notice several details that he was fairly sure didn't match his memory of the room from a few minutes earlier. Though it was surprisingly difficult to say for sure.
The order of his books, for instance. He never kept much of a fixed order, but rather ranked them randomly on the basis of what he currently liked to read. Surely Alexander at the Oracle of Ammon had stood before The Duchess of Malfi this morning? Or had it? He couldn't be certain.
And the flowers - had that Royal Worcester vase really held Centifolia Majors mixed in with his Eroicas? Hadn't they been Prince Clauses? But the gardener changed them often enough, so they might have been Centifolia Majors.
Then there was the matter of his attire. The body itself was his, "scars and all", as their other self had joked - as if either of them had any noticeable scars! But he could not bring anything else over, not even the clothes on his body - so they had ended up wearing each others' clothes. In the mirror his other self had looked to be dressed just like himself, to avoid suspicion if someone was to disturb their conversation unexpectedly. So, at a glance he appeared to be wearing the same clothes as before, but had he really worn his blue socks? They did go splendidly with his red trousers, if he wore the same-tone blue shirt, but he only rarely wore them, since while they looked nice enough they had a strange tendency of rolling down his ankles. But he might have put them on, due to the shirt, yes.
His eyes travelled over the well-made bed with the warm, golden brown cover. It was the right bed, though, no doubt about that - Ormolu-mounted mahogany by Francois Linke. But he had spent the morning on it, devouring the last chapter of Mary Renault's Funeral Games. Should the bedding really look so neat if he had? Perhaps his mirror-self hadn't.
That was when he glimpsed a shadow under the bed. He couldn't understand what might cast it. There must be something on the other side, in the narrow space between the bed and the wall (since he always felt so confined when sleeping pressed up against a wall and he just knew Klaus would demand to sleep on the outer side, closest to the door and his Magnum, in case of intruders). Had something fallen down? It looked fairly large, though. And it ... moved?
Oh, bollocks, maybe it is Lord Dirkelle? How dreary!
If he had problems with a stalker there was no reason why his charming and handsome mirror self wouldn't have. Another, even more horrible option, occurred to him.
Perhaps it is a woman stalker! No, no, don't panic now, Dorian, old chap, you're closer to the door and hopefully the knives are stashed at the same place as back home.
Of course, there was also that happy little possibility that it might be Klaus stalking him. The other Dorian had hinted that the major courted him rather vigorously at times. Of course, Dorian had promised not to bed the man during this agreed to "trial period", but not a single word had been said about heavy petting. Actually, he had pondered a quick trip to Germany (provided Klaus wasn't in South Korea or on some other mission in this world too - the other Dorian hadn't known), just to get a ... feel of things. Things like shoulders and thighs and ... other interesting areas. All the better if Klaus had saved him the trouble of travelling and now hid behind the bed, ready to ravish him!
"I say, excuse me?" he said, hesitantly and, just for security's sake, stepped closer to the door. "Is there anyone there?"
The shadow definitely shook, but no reply came forth. Another alternative suggested itself to Dorian - perhaps it wasn't a stalker at all, but something as mundane as a cat? On occasion he had considered getting a cat. On the Castle Gloria grounds lived a family of semi-wild cats, but they all liked Dorian a lot and allowed him to pet them and even lift them. Perhaps there were wild cats on Island Gloria. Perhaps it had even washed ashore after having leaped off a cruising ship. Perhaps it was awfully hungry and needed lots of cream and petting?
Dorian knelt. "Hello?" he said, mostly to gain the attention of whoever or whatever hid beneath the bed. "Is anyone there?"
With another shift the shadows solidified to the shape of a person hunched up by the wall. Dorian leaped to his feet and scrambled backwards. His eyes darted to the wall next to the door, but then his heart skipped a beat as he saw only a blank panel, not the Toledo-crafted sword he had stolen three months earlier. Right - definitely not in his own reality. Good to know. On the other hand - unarmed with possible stalker. Not good to know. What had his other self been thinking?
Dorian stopped even as his hands reached for the door knob. Perhaps his other self had known that Klaus was nearby and had removed the sword so that Dorian would be ... ehm ... unable to defend himself if Klaus was to sweep him off his feet and start ravish him? Oooh - his other self was so thoughtful!
Then he flexed his left arm muscles and felt the slight pressure against the back of the wrist where the leather sheath of his dagger was hid beneath the billowing silk of his shirt. A hasty pat to the hilt affirmed that the weapon was, indeed, in place. He took a deep breath, then approached the bed again even as he unbuttoned his ruffled sleeve for easy access.
"Who are you?" he asked. "Um ... You see, I had this ... fall. And I hurt my head. I'm feeling a bit strange. A little ... not like myself, at the moment. If that's you, Major von dem Eberbach, I might be fainting, so you might want to catch me before I fall again. Hold me in your manly arms and let me lean against your strong chest, those sort of things. Just until I feel better. If that's you, Lord Dirkelle, I'm really not amused and I will tell Lady Dirkelle on you. Volovolonte might also be very interested in finding out what you are up to. Or are you a thief of some sort? For if you are, I do believe you might have made a mistake. This might come as a shock for you, but--"
The top of a head became visible as it rose from behind the bed. For a breath-stealing moment Dorian saw only black hair - actually the very darkest shade of brown, for all practical purposes black - shiny and straight with a forelock that seemed just on the verge of curling in towards the eyes beneath. It actually took him a moment - probably due to him so desperately wanting the eyes to be that bright, eerie shade of green - to note that they were actually a rather clear hue of blue.
Nor had he ever seen Major von dem Eberbach stare at him with quite that amount of terror.
In another dimension, a quite different Dorian lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes, looking out his southeast-facing window.
He didn't see what he hoped not to see. When he finally turned back into the room he smiled widely. He felt a very deep satisfaction with how things proceeded. Without the binoculars this time, he looked out again. There was the worried ocean, more black now than blue with the turning evening. A mass of storm clouds darkened the sky. No matter. This world was promising and he could barely wait until morning came.
"My dear Major von dem Eberbach," he told the sea. "I will be with you soon. Again."
Dorian took a small step closer to the person in hiding. In doing so more of the facial features were revealed. There was something familiar about the straight nose, the large eyes, that triangular chin ... The dark hair didn't match, though. But Dorian had a good eye for faces - it came naturally after having studied art for so long. The truth could not be denied.
"Herr Z? Is that you?"
Z ducked his head again. He felt so very tired and wanted only for everything to be over.
The new Earl of Gloria rounded the bed, moving slowly and looking very puzzled. Which made sense. Z had heard what the old one had told the new one. He was aware that the man now approaching him knew next to nothing about the history of this universe. That didn't make things any better.
He wondered wistfully if he could escape by rolling under the bed and out the other side. Not that it would help in the long run. It had never helped with the old Earl of Gloria.
A distressed sound bubbled up his throat.
Having rounded the bed Dorian quickly knelt. With eyes wide in astonishment he took in the sight before him. It was Z - or possibly his twin brother. Why he had colored his hair Dorian hadn't a clue - or why he wore only a pair of cut-off denims. He noted absentmindedly that the young man looked very good in the shorts, though considering the somewhat poor heating in the Island Gloria castle he wouldn't have recommended that particular fashion statement.
"Herr Z?" he asked, automatically softening his voice, the way he would when talking to a small, frightened child. "What is wrong?"
That earned him a blink, nothing more. Z just stared at him, as if looking away would mean instant death.
Dorian reached out. He half expected Z to shrink away, but instead Dorian's fingers touched the warm skin on Z's upper left arm. A half-swallowed gasp was barely audible and Z flinched so hard Dorian thought it must have hurt. He leaned closer and rubbed his fingertips over the other's wrist in a way he hoped would be soothing.
"I say, ah ... aren't you cold? Herr Z? Come up from there. At least sit on the bed? Hmm? I'll get you some tea and-- In the name of God, Z, what is happening?"
Z's mouth opened a little and Dorian dared to hope that he would finally receive an answer, but then the lips snapped close and the young agent just shook his head quickly.
God? Z had never been a devoted believer, but in the last months he had lost what little faith he had still had left.
"You are scaring me," said the Earl of Gloria. At this ludicrous statement Z almost wanted to laugh.
Some dim part of him began to wonder, though - perhaps he should say something? Explain? This Earl of Gloria didn't know anything. But then what, though? No, better keep his mouth shut and not accidentally speed up things which might soon enough come crashing down on his head.
He had learned that the hard way.
It slowly dawned on Dorian that even if his own universe and this one might be linked, they couldn't be all that parallel. Oh, he had known as much - the other Dorian had explained that, with him being straight and all (perish the thought!) - but he couldn't even begin to guess what could have happened for him to end up with Z, of all people, half-naked in his bedroom and doing a very good impression of being terrified half out of his skull.
Klaus would vivisect me if he thought I'd tried anything serious with his baby agent. Z was cute, true: like a younger, blond and far softer, more innocent version of Klaus; but so were thousands of other men. For Dorian to dally with Z when Klaus got livid at the mere hint, well, that would be just plain idiotic.
But Z was undeniably there and a horrible notion occurred to Dorian. My other self must have known he was here. Z can't have crept in here unnoticed, for whatever bizarre reason. Not this exact day of all days. It's too much of a coincidence. So, he must have known. But then why, by Mona Lisa's sacred frame, didn't he tell me?
Something very fishy was going on. He looked at Z again, knowing he had a prime information source right there, if only he could get the young man to talk. Neither a reassuring smile nor a half-seductive one got a reaction. Oh well, time to shoulder the trench coat, figuratively speaking. In situations such as this (not that this wasn't an extreme case), when dealing with people who otherwise failed to respond to him, he relied on his impersonation skills.
"Z - on your feet! Attention! Stand, man, that's an order! Up! This instant or it's next stop Alaska!"
Z shot up like a genie out of the bottle, almost knocking Dorian over in his haste. He stood ramrod straight and up close the almost naked frame looked most tempting, even with a startling, white scar on his right shoulder.
"Z!" he continued sternly, as the young man's eyes had started to dart about the room. "How long have you been here?"
He got a blank stare, followed by a faint shrug, hardly more than the tremble of a shoulder.
My Lord, what is going on?
"Did you see what happened earlier? Z! Pay attention! Did you?"
A small nod.
"And you understood? Z!"
Another faint nod.
At least I won't have to claim a head injury with you, then. That's something, I guess. "Good. Z! The chair over there! Sit on it!"
At least whatever had happened hadn't interfered with the agent's ability to follow orders. Dorian pulled a second chair close and, though his stomach fluttered nervously, sat down too. "I feel somewhat like Alice in Wonderland right now," he said, hoping that a slightly lighter tone would put Z more at ease. By the blank look, he failed abysmally. "You know what he told me to get me to switch with him?"
"He ..." The voice, barely audible, sounded painfully dry, as if long unused.
"Yes, Herr Z? What about him?"
Dorian felt the world tighten around his chest, but fought furiously not to do something rash. If he shook Z hard, the man would probably snap right back into his previous, uncommunicative state. "What did he lie about, Herr Z? Please don't be afraid. I mean you absolutely no harm. Please do tell me."
This time, the look he received was neither filled with overwhelming fear or empty nothingness. Instead it looked distinctly ... confused. Baffled. As if ...
"That was the wrong question to ask, wasn't it?" Dorian said, as realisation slowly set in. "Perhaps you can answer me this one more easily, then. What did he tell me that was actually true?"
Where to start? There was so much this new Lord of Gloria should know, but at the same time to turn the knowledge into words was such a terrible strain. Besides, what would happen afterwards? On the other hand - a question had been asked, so he must answer. His earlier fears weren't unfounded though, no, he still felt as if he tottered on the brink of a chasm. The training he had received, in the army and from NATO, worked both for him and against him. He had been taught to give as little as possible away to the enemy - yet this other Earl of Gloria seemed honestly concerned. Perhaps he might instead, just possibly, be a potential ally?
Just weighing his options hurt. Finally he gave in. He would tell the man and see what happened. Besides, what choice did he have anyway, in the end?
He started to whisper.
Six months earlier. Hell, Norway. Mission: to obtain information regarding the possible whereabouts of IV, a rumoured group of old Nazis. The mission required penetrating a Neo-Nazi stronghold in Hell where the leader (yes, calling himself Führer and the whole nine yards) had a fanatic fascination about locks, traps and mystery solving to rival a mad Pharaoh guarding the secret passage to the sacred chamber of whatever treasure needed safe guarding. Amazingly, Eroica showed up. Even more amazingly, he offered to help. Amazingly enough, though, he wanted something in return.
"S-seemed ha-harmless. Still. The M-ma-ma-ma-..." Z breathed in deeply before visibly forcing the word out. "Major said yes. He, he, I, I, I thought, we, we all thought, it's, it's, it's just ... one, one, one of, of, of tho-tho-those ... Y-you an-an-and he, he an-an-and the, the, the o-o-o-other one, y-you - they, they ... did that. S-sometimes. L-like a, a, a, a, a, a ... A game. Like a, a ... game. A-almost."
Dorian desperately wished he could hurry along the story, for he was all but biting his lips off in frustration. But his early attempts to finish Z's sentences seemed to terrify the poor man even worse.
"Yes, we do that too," he said, talking slowly to give Z a chance to calm down, "my Klaus and I. Baiting each other. Sometimes it goes a little too well and we get angry, but afterwards I, for one, recognize our little game for what it is. We have improved with the years."
Z nodded. He clutched to his chest a glass of water, which Dorian had fetched from the bar cabinet. Draped round him was one of Dorian's warm blankets.
"The ma-ma-ma-ma ... " Pause. "Major go-go-got ba-ba-back to, to, to the, the hotel, to us. He, he, he seemed, he seemed, he seemed in a, a, a good, good mood. In a good mood. I, I, I think, I think, I think that, that, that's when it, it, it start-start-started."
The Hell mission came to a satisfactory end, though when Z saw Eroica briefly after the Major had dumped the Brit, the look of fury in the latter's eyes had actually worried him. Apparently Major von dem Eberbach might have kept the letter of some agreed arrangement, but not the intent. Z didn't know the full story, but the Major had seemed supremely pleased with himself - while Eroica had looked fit to kill.
A month later found them leaving Bonn on a new mission, destination Berlin, this time searching for a group of Neo-Nazis. Only, once on the plane they all suddenly got very sleepy. One agent after another they had dropped off. Z had been one of the last to succumb. He, W, T and A had tried to alert the pilot, coming as far as the cabin door before being overwhelmed by the sleeping gas. Z's last memory was of falling across W's legs.
"And Klaus? Where was Klaus?"
"I, I, I don't, don't, I don't know. He, he, he wasn't, wasn't with, with, with us."
"Right. Then what happened?"
"When I woke ..." Pause. "When, when I woke up I, we, I, I, we, we were in, we were he-he-here."
"On Island Gloria? All of you? Not here in this room, surely?"
Z shook his head. His stuttering had improved the tiniest bit during the telling, but most words seemed to cling to his tongue.
"Ce-ce-cells. In, in, in the, the, the--"
"Dungeon. Yes. I know of it. Justin Red of Gloria had this castle built. He insisted on dungeons. Rather dreary, but it was all the rage back in the day. Do go on."
Dorian had forgone water in favour of a large glass of the very old, exclusive and expensive plum brandy he kept for emergency use. He had offered Z the same, but the youngster, looking very hesitant, had declined.
"We, we stayed, we were, we ..." Pause. "They ga-ga-gave us, us, us food, b-but they never, they never, no one ever, they never said, said anything. Then, then, then you, you, you, I, I, I, I mean, I mean, I mean--"
"Him, yes. I understand. Don't worry about it. Do go on, Herr Z - what happened? What did this other 'me' do? Was Klaus with you in the cells?"
An energetic headshake, the most lively move Z had yet to make, answered the last question.
"Where was he then, do you--"
He broke off the question when Z glanced towards the bed.
"No." No. No, no, no, no, no. His self couldn't have. Absolutely not, that was ... that was unthinkable! Besides ... "He escaped, of course?" he said quickly, words almost tripping over his tongue in his eagerness to get the absurd image out of his head.
Z gazed into the water glass, hunching his shoulders as if trying to shrink into the chair. "He, he, him, y-y-your other, your other, your o-o-other, the ... other ... Earl o-of G-G-G-Gloria. Ca-ca-came. He, he, he came. To, to, to the, the cellars. He, he, he, he said, he said ..." Pause. "He said 'There, there ha-ha-has, has, has been, has been a bit of an, a bit of an, an, an acci-acci ...'" He closed his eyes and visibly breathed in deeply. "'A bit of an acci ... dent.' A bit of an accident. He said that there had been a bit of an ... accident."
"An ... acci ... dent."
"He b-b-brought me, he brought ... We walked up, up ... here. I, I, I didn't know, he never-- He didn't-- I don't know ... I ... He ..." The mumble tapered off to a whisper.
"What was that?"
Another whisper. Possibly slightly louder than the previous one, but Dorian wouldn't have bet a badly forged Zorn on it.
"I'm really sorry, my dear Herr Z, but I really can't hear what you are saying. You have to speak up. Please?"
Words tumbled out of Z's mouth, a stream quite unlike his previous stumbling attempts at conversation. The syllables melted together in their haste, forming a single word. "Hetookmetoseehisgrave."
For a moment Dorian thought that what Z had said had really been a single word. In German, perhaps. The German language had a tendency of stapling words together to form new words, piling up their meanings until truly frightening combinations could be achieved. Besides, the sound Z had produced made no sense. Had no possible meaning. Simply couldn't mean anything.
Then his crystal snifter tumbled to the Persian carpet, exploding with such force that Dorian wanted to scream, yet he couldn't.
Z lifted his chin to, for the first time, look straight into Dorian's eyes. Then he said the horrible thing all over again, in a voice void of feeling, but without a hint of uncertainty or hesitation.
"The other Lord of Gloria took me to see Major von dem Eberbach's grave."
Dorian refused to believe such a dreadful thing. He shut down and simply refused. It was impossible. Not a chance in Hell - neither the netherworld one nor the somewhat amusingly named village in the high north of Norway. He screamed at Z and made a terrible racket, until something in Z broke. The agent - whose eyes had started to look very, very old - grabbed the binoculars from their hiding place on one of the bookshelves. Then he dragged Dorian to the window, pushing him up against it and forcing the binoculars into his hands. Finally he tore the drapes to the side, breaking one of the hangers in the process, and pointed - hand trembling - towards the sea-side.
"Look!" he yelled.
Not that Dorian needed enhanced vision to see that something had changed down there, by the cliffs. Where there should be bushes and small trees was an unnatural flatness. And something pale gleamed in the evening's darkness.
"Just look!" Z screamed.
With his heart thudding as if about to hammer its way through his rib cage, Dorian obeyed. He put the military strength binoculars to his eyes and looked.
On the furthest rock, the one closest to Germany, in a small area Dorian knew from his aimless wanderings around the island to be a patch where wild roses grew, the flowers had been cleared away. Facing the castle stood a white tombstone, lit by flickering grave candles. The stone had inlaid letters, but he could only pick out the larger ones. M. K. E near the top and towards the bottom H and an ... M? No, an N? B. A? Another H - good that, for during an absurd moment Dorian had feared that he would find the entire Alphabet accounted for. The H was followed by another N and, finally, another B.
A clump of ice chilled his stomach and his brain shouted furious messages that he refused to acknowledge. He did hear Z's voice, though, no longer stuttering, but still completely emotionless.
"'Major Klaus von dem Eberbach'," Z recited. "'1952 to 1981. He Never Broke And He Never Bent.'"
The Major. Dead.
Major von dem Eberbach. Dead.
No, no, no - absolutely, bloody no!
"I, I, I do-do-don't think, think, think, I don't think it, it, it was, that it was, that it was an, an, an acci-acci-acci--"
Z, crouching by Dorian's chair, stuttered heavily again, but the meaning he tried to convey was clear enough.
"What do you mean?! I would never, ever kill my, kill my ..." Dorian felt like just keeping on stuttering himself in the hope that someone might pity him and finish the dreadful sentence. "... my dear Klaus!"
His outburst had made Z recoil, again hunching in on himself with his arms locked around his knees. Seeing this Dorian rubbed his aching temples..
"My apologies, Herr Z," he said as evenly as he was capable of and wiped away some tears. "I didn't mean to yell at you. My apologies. It's just ... this is all quite a shock for me. I ... Please, Herr Z, do continue. Why would you think it wasn't an acci-acci-acci ... Oh, for Michelangelo's sake - an accident?"
Fainting like a vapid heroine in some purple prose novel felt like an acceptable option. His new glass was mysteriously empty again and he considered just swigging from the bottle.
What a terrible, terrible nightmare!
Z straightened somewhat. "The, the, the ... He. I. He took the ... " He paused, then spoke the difficult word very slowly, but managing not to stumble over it. "Suicide-pill. I, I, I think he, he, he might, might not have, not have ta-ta-taken, taken the ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma ... jor's."
"Suicide-pill ... I ... I didn't even know you carried them."
Z bent his head closer to his kneecaps in a move that it took Dorian a moment to realise must be a nod. "I, I, I think, I think, I think that, that y-you-you, him, him, that him, that he didn't, he didn't kno-kno-know e-e-e-either. That, that, that the ma-ma-ma-ma-ma--"
"Major. Major von dem Eberbach. Had one. And that he would, that he would rather take the ... suicide-pill than ..." Dorian had to break off. "But I would never have forced myself on him! Never! Not in a thousand years - not in a million! Never! Surely he--"
Knew that. Surely Major von dem Eberbach knew that. At least he felt fairly sure that his own Klaus, back in his own universe, would know that. This despite James's wails that he was not to molest the major - in the dark or otherwise. But what if he did capture Klaus? What if he did tie him up? What if he did take those kisses he yearned for so badly? What if he spoke of how wonderful a physical joining between them would be, perhaps described one of his more detailed fantasies? What if Klaus began to think he was serious about pressing for his Droit de Seigneur? His Klaus was so easily rattled ... And he couldn't know how this world's Dorian had acted previously around this world's Major von dem Eberbach. The man had tricked Dorian himself into switching universes with him, so he was by all accounts more deceitful than Dorian. Perhaps this world's Major von dem Eberbach knew that? Maybe he really did think himself about to be taken by force? Maybe ...
Another set of fat tears spilled down Dorian's cheeks. He clutched his new snifter so hard he feared that the crystal would break.
And I trusted him! I trusted that … that demon! Oh God …
"Yes," he finally allowed, his voice tight. "But we don't know. It might have been an accident. Let's ... let's assume that it was. Some horrible, terrible accident. For the sake of my sanity? Until we know for sure either way? Because I ... I need to be able to function right now and I don't think ... I don't think I could if ... if it really was my-- His fault, if it really was his fault." Speech impediments apparently were contagious. "I'm close enough to a nervous breakdown as it is."
Through a film of moisture he saw Z make some sort of movement again - probably a shrug, but he choose to interpret it as a nod. So Dorian firmly implanted the following statements in his mind as facts:
Something about this seemed familiar somehow, but Dorian refused to dwell too closely on that subject.
All very understandable. Could happen to anyone. A tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks; another feather in William Shakespeare's cap; a story courtesy of Filigree, that mistress of dark writing.
Then, however, the story didn't end, since this happened to be real life. The story rolled on, ever southwards.
Dorian's mind leaped through the list, nudging here and there, examining each point, trying out the angles and possible scenarios.
Then he threw the second glass onto the floor, watching how the sparkling shards exploded around the room. From a distance he heard the sharp crash; the tinkling of landing debris and Z's long, pained moan of distress.
The story had continued.
"He's trying to steal my major!"
No one steals from the Prince of Thieves! No one! Not even himself!
Okay, so Major von dem Eberbach technically speaking might not be one of Dorian's possessions. Even if they had become lovers the man would likely be livid on realising that Dorian did consider him thusly. But Klaus belonged to him in a very equal way: Dorian belonged to him in turn, if Klaus would only make the claim.
For several minutes Dorian shivered with rage, overriding even the numbing knowledge of the Klaus of this world having died. His thoughts chased themselves dizzily as he tried to order them to form a plan. The many unknowns made this very difficult.
Meanwhile his eyes rested on Z, who huddled by the bed again, glancing towards him occasionally but making no further attempts at communication. The chin was all wrong, needless to say, but when the other looked down so that his thick eyelashes hid his eye-colour, the straightened, black-coloured hair as well as the long lines of his solid body contributed to the illusion. With a casual glance Dorian almost could have made himself believe that the figure before him really was Major von dem Eberbach.
That was when another aspect of the nightmare occurred to him, one that aggravated the whole situation. He almost wished he had another glass, just so that he could break that one too.
The other Dorian was insane and hell-bent on getting Klaus. Dorian had no doubt of either of these facts. Also, from what he himself had experienced combined with Z's story, this other Dorian no longer held true to the values that Dorian himself had always tried to maintain. This world's Dorian might stop at absolutely nothing to get what he wanted.
The rules to their little game had changed. Only, no one had bothered to inform his Klaus.
"da Vinci's bollocks!"
Major von dem Eberbach was in grave danger.
Major von dem Eberbach was in grave danger. Of dying from boredom. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. One mission. One little, itsy bitsy, tiny mission. Successful, even. And with no shots fired at all, not a single one (pulling the trigger on a suspect to scare him didn't count if you knew your weapon to be unloaded)! How could that add up to these mounds of papers for him to read through and sign - or, as so often happened, send back for clarification? On days like these he doubted the wisdom of his decision to name his agents the Alphabet Team. He should have named them after the sodding muses instead. Nine would have been far easier to handle. Or why not the Norns? Of course, he would have felt slightly awkward yelling "Verdandi!" in a fight. Y – Üppsilon - was long enough.
He had to get things done too, as he had three days of vacation looming ahead. His father had forced him to request them, stating in no-nonsense terms that he was to accompany him to the marriage of cousin Sigrid von dem Eberbach to the eldest Birchwast son. The Eberbach family had never been large, even counting the extended version. Therefore he was occasionally required to participate in these sort of events, even if he considered them fairly pointless. As the Birchwast boy lived in France, of all decadent places, he and his father must stay the night. In fact, his father had pushed for them to fly in the day before the event and not leave until the day afterwards, which Klaus still had protested as much as he could.
He had actually hoped to still be away on the crucial date, but the South Korean mission had ended far earlier than anyone could have anticipated. They had returned to Bonn with a noon flight and then spent the remainder of the day working through those blasted reports. The time was now 19:45. Klaus decided to leave the office. He would eat at a restaurant half-way between NATO headquarters and his Bonn apartment. Perhaps when he returned from the bloody wedding the mounds of paperwork would seem more manageable. Maybe.
With considerable trepidation Dorian began to explore his surroundings. Z hadn't known much, really. Apart from his brief stint in the dungeon and the graveyard tour he had been confined to Dorian's private rooms the entire time. Dorian's lookalike hadn't spent much time there and when he had, he had never been very talkative. From the few things the man had bothered to mention, Z had gathered that the rest of the Alphabet had remained on the island, though he didn't know for sure. He had seen some of Dorian's men through the windows or on the extremely rare occasion that one of them visited, but he didn't know their names.
The first person Dorian saw turned out to be Rudy, though the normally red-haired man did give him something of a start, as he had coloured his hair ashen blond. When Dorian greeted him by name, accompanied by a warm smile, Rudy responded in kind, but looked slightly hesitant. Dorian decided not to try his luck just yet, not trusting himself not to start shivering or stuttering with the awful pressure closing in on him, but continued towards the eastern wing, where Bonham lived. Bonham he could talk to, no matter what. A knock on the cockney's door proved fruitless, though, so he steeled himself and continued on to Lucas, their medic. Lucas was actually a fully certified and experienced cardiothoracic surgeon, though had left the profession when the stress got too much for him. Apparently robbing art museums was much easier on his nerves. He never minded having a look when someone got hurt, however.
"Lucas, dear?" Dorian called as he knocked. The doors in the corridor bore numbers, not name plates. Bonham had #1, of course, and Lucas stayed in number 10. This time Dorian was in better luck. It only took a few seconds before Lucas opened. He was a tall blond with soft, brown eyes. Handsome, of course, like all of Dorian's men, but with a bit of a temper on him.
"Milord," he greeted with a curt nod.
"I seem to be in a bit of a bind, Lucas, dear. The thing is ... I fell in the tub this morning and ... Well, my head ached a bit afterwards, but I didn't think it was bad in any way. Only, now it seems as if my memory is all jumbled up. Why, I can't even remember if the Alphabet is still here or not." He disliked deceiving his men, but on the other hand he wasn't ready to blurt things out just yet. First he needed to talk things over with Bonham, only after that would he decide what to do with the others.
Moments later he was sitting in Lucas's armchair while the man in question carefully felt through his locks, concentrating on the spot where Dorian had, at random, pointed at. His attention actually felt rather good, Dorian thought, like getting a scalp massage.
When things are all dealt with I'll have him do this to me more often.
"Well, is the Alphabet still here?" he asked.
"Only thirteen," he was told after a short pause. "I don't know which ones, I always mix them up. R is one, that I know, I had him in here last week, again. Sick as a dog the poor thing, can't get rid of that persistent infection of his. Ah ..." He paused in his ministration. "Milord? I know you've said you want no discussion on the subject, but I can't help feeling sorry for them. Please, Milord, reconsider and let them go."
"I will consider that very carefully, Lucas, you have my word. You know, it's so strange, but ever since I got this knock to my head, I feel much lighter. Better. As if a weight has lifted from my shoulders, somehow. Those things I did, Lucas, do you think they were very wrong? I shouldn't have done them, should I?"
Lucas extracted his hands from Dorian's hair and came around to look him in the eyes. "Milord?"
Dorian blinked innocently at him. "Did you find any lumps or anything?"
"No. I want to take you to main land, to a hospital, and do x-rays. A head injury may cause a skull fracture or even intracranial haemorrhage."
Dorian shuddered. "Oh, but my headache is completely gone now. I don't know if I ever mentioned it to you, but I used to have one, before, for the longest time, but now it has just vanished. Pop, just like that. I do feel much better now. Ah, Lucas? You said 13 of the Alphabet? Is that counting Herr Z or not? What ... happened to the other half? They weren't hurt, were they?"
Like poor Z. And Klaus is dead! No, no, don't think about that now! It was difficult, though – the knowledge kept creeping up on him, assaulting him just as he had to concentrate on something else. He had considerable training in not letting his emotions show unless he wanted them to, though, and managed to do so now as well.
Lucas smiled, just as faintly. "You begin to sound more like yourself than you've done in a long time, Milord. I didn't count Z, no, so 14 still here, I suppose. No, they weren't hurt. Well, except for C, who had problems with his appendix. He had to be taken to hospital. The first ten you let go the second day. And J too, but I'm not counting him as one of them any longer, since he betrayed them as he did. The ones who are still here are all in good health, well, except for poor R, of course. They're bored to death, though, even with the books and the VCR and the exercise room. N broke a leg, that must have been, oh … the second? No, the third time they tried to escape, the time they got all the way to the harbour, but he's up and running now. I wanted to send him off, that really is a bit more than I'm used to dealing with, but you disagreed."
Dorian didn't know how to respond. Finally he went with what usually worked best for him - flattery. "You can do far more than you think, Lucas, you really are very good. Ah ... Do you know where Bonham is, by the way? I knocked, but he wasn't in his room."
Lucas's eyes narrowed. "Bonham left us, sir. I think we better take you to the hospital, really I do. I see no sign of a greater injury, but even partial amnesia points to something serious. Do you feel drowsy?"
Dorian hardly heard the last sentences, as the first had sucker punched him. "Left us! When?! Why?! Why would he do that?!"
Lucas cleared his throat. "Ah ... Because of the ... Well ... The ... The thing with ... Well, the Alphabets and what happened around then. He, he said he wouldn't stand for it, what you did. You were livid, Milord, and you screamed at him and in the end he upped and left. You were going to go after him and I don't know what, but then you went to your rooms instead and didn't come out for two days straight. Do you feel drowsy? Nauseous? Pain in your arms? No headache at all?"
"Oh." Dorian couldn't begin to imagine what his state of mind must have been like. Had he already brought Z to his room by then? He sincerely hoped not. "Right. Ah ... No, neither drowsy nor nauseous; my arms are fine; I have no headache. And no hospital. I'm sure I'll be better by tomorrow."
Lucas looked far from convinced, but Dorian regally stared him down. "As you wish, Milord. But that's strange. You should have some other symptom. I must insist on checking up on you a few times during the night. If you have a concussion you can deteriorate quickly, even if you feel fine now. I don't think you have one, though; your eyes look fine; no bruises; your nose and ears are clean too and you haven't been sick, have you?"
Which Dorian most certainly hadn't. But he, of course, agreed to let Lucas check up on him during the night. A minor nuisance in exchange for getting back in the good grace of his gang members.
Oh Bonham ... he thought desolately as he trudged back to his private apartment. Klaus dead! Klaus in danger! I'm trapped here! I need to get home! How will I ever manage anything without you?
The next day.
Infiltrating this world's gang had presented no difficulties. Borrowing his other self's idea, Dorian had pretended a fall and a subsequent headache, leaving him with some fussy memories to explain any lapses in his behaviour. To see Bonham again felt so incredibly good, even if he would never forgive the man for abandoning him in his hour of need. To see James again, on the other hand, had given him a serious shock. He had seen glimpses of the little miser during his investigation of this universe and had thought he would be able to handle things. Nothing, however, had prepared him for once more waking up to shrill demands for him to produce receipts. He felt glad, yes, - enough so to hug James with such enthusiasm that the little man danced out of the room, receipts temporarily forgotten - but he also experienced a kind of looming dread, as if someone had just stepped on his grave.
He had decided to keep a low profile to start with, to learn the differences between the worlds before he continued with Operation Redo. He had already received good news. Major von dem Eberbach had returned early from whatever mission his superiors had seen fit to sic him on. Wonderful! Dorian couldn't wait to meet his beloved once more.
This time, things would go very differently.
Step one: get rid of that dratted suicide pill.
The night had been quite awkward. Partly due to Lucas dropping by every couple of hours, of course. The man was a dearie, but somehow he always managed to show up just as Dorian finally had managed to drop back to his weary slumber.
Z had posed another problem. As the evening grew darker he had become progressively more agitated. He had also showered twice, and washed his hair repeatedly in a vain attempt to get out the dark colour. Dorian had asked him if he wanted to join the rest of the Alphabet, hoping that the familiar faces would be good for him. Instead, Z flat out refused and almost had another breakdown. Then Dorian had offered a room in the guest wing, but that had been met by the same negative reaction. Puzzled by this and feeling a bit helpless, Dorian had finally persuaded the young agent to bed down on the couch, but each time he glanced in that direction, Z stared towards him, eyes wide and unblinking.
Most difficult, though, was simply to relax enough to even approach sleep. His head was jam packed with thoughts and inputs: fright (for Klaus and himself), deep sorrow (for this world's Klaus, cut down in the peak of his manhood and even if his world's Klaus, his Klaus, was still alive and well, the knowledge of the senseless, useless, terrible death had Dorian start crying over and over again), loathing (for himself, for being so horribly gullible, and for his other self, who should never have been born) and worry (primarily for Klaus, but also for himself, for Z, for Bonham and for just about everyone). As soon as he managed to cut off one line of thought, another started to spin. Tears fell until he felt empty and dry. Half-formed plans were run through again and again, but he simply had insufficient information to flesh them out properly, much less settle on any given one of them.
As a result his eyes glued together when he finally let himself out of bed and stumbled towards the bathroom. A long, very hot shower helped, though, and when he emerged again breakfast had been sent up. Enticing aromas of toast, white pudding, beans, rashers, fried eggs and more wafted his way. His mirror self seemed to have the same taste in breakfast as he, for all parts of his preferred breakfast could be accounted for - even the ones he only ate when depressed (and when James would allow such indulgences). He was actually surprised that his other self hadn't grown a beer belly without his accountant to guard the fridge. A glum moment came when he had to persuade Z to join him at the table - and he was sickened by the sight of how ferociously the young man devoured his share.
Damn you, he thought, mentally addressing his other self. I hope your balls rot and fall off!
Unable to delay the necessity and knowing that he had to get a grip of himself and deal with the situation he then ventured out again, this time to visit as many of his gang members as he had time for. It seemed as if his visit to Lucas had been a wise move. The man was a bit of a blabbermouth - something that also might have worked against him in his earlier occupation - and he had told everyone about Dorian behaving more "like himself" again. So while some appeared hesitant, they all commented on being glad he felt better and so on. If he hadn't known some of the background he might have been insulted.
He was very careful when asking questions. A hint there, another there, alluding to his fall and scrambled memories. Not too often, though, not wanting the gossip that inevitably would follow to alert Lucas more than necessary. What he learned worried him. Apparently "he" had spent the last months locked up in his rooms or wandering the island in a gloom - his self-imposed near-isolation broken only by a few lightning tours around the world. No one knew where he had been, though, as he had travelled alone and had returned without performing any "unveiling of the spoil"-ceremony, which otherwise was his habit.
With no thefts executed the gang members had all lived on their savings. They had tried to ask him about future prospects, but he hadn't seemed to care, too occupied with whatever he was actually doing. No one had been particularly happy, but neither had they known what to do to change things. A few had contemplated abandoning ship, following Bonham's lead, but in the end they had stayed, hoping for a return to the good old days.
Bonham. Yes. Gone. No one knew exactly where to. Back to England was all anyone could guess.
They had kept close track of NATO's reaction, to see what would come of kidnapping the Alphabet Team (major included). Since the disappearance had happened during a mission, NATO had first assumed that the perpetrators must be the Neo-Nazis. Which to Dorian seemed laughable - as if Iron Klaus would allow himself to be captured by those clowns? But still. There had been some worry about the Russians being involved. Then the other Dorian had allowed part of the Alphabet to go - for what reason Dorian could only speculate in. The men had, of course, known the identity of their abductor. They hadn't known where Eroica had kept them, though. An intense manhunt had been mustered, but Island Gloria had several layers of protection, keeping the hide-out under the radar during both physical and magical searches. Finally the remaining men - Klaus included, as the first released Alphabets hadn't known of his demise - had been listed as MIA.
One thing he didn't do was visit the Alphabet. He intended to do that as soon as the situation allowed, but facing A and the rest felt too daunting just yet. Their fertile minds would have made pretty good guesses on several accounts and even if nothing was his fault they wouldn't know that.
"Herr Z?" he asked after having returned to his room for lunch. "Is there a lot of magic in this world?"
A quick headshake. The young agent's hair was damp, so apparently he had washed it again. So far the hair didn't looker paler as much as ruined from over-washing, but at least there was a difference from the blackness of before.
"He said there was," Dorian continued. "He lied about that as well, I gather?"
"I ... don't know how to compare it. I do know ... of some." Z shrugged. "Not much."
"Perhaps there is magic in my home world too and we just don't know about it," Dorian said, speculating out loud. "But Herr Z, there is another thing that puzzles me. Those I've spoken to all seemed to share the notion that, except for walking the cliffs like a haunting ghost 'I' have pretty much secluded 'myself' up in these rooms. But you made it sound as if he didn't spend much time here. That doesn't match. Any thoughts on that?"
He had been watched attentively while speaking, but he only received a slight nod and another shrug in reply. Apparently Z agreed that the facts didn't match, but didn't know why this might be either.
"Well, there is the attic," Dorian continued, "but why would he go there when I have my nice rooms down here? I suppose I'll stroll on up and have a look. There might be some clue up there. Do you want to tag along?"
"Very well then." Dorian would have liked the company, but he didn't want to put pressure on Z's fragile peace. So he left the apartment and continued up the winding stair. The next floor wasn't as much an attic as a separate set of rooms used to store things in. In his own world he had only very seldom visited, but when he reached the stair's summit the place looked much as he remembered it, except ... cleaner. Yes, definitely. Very little dust and no cobwebs in sight. Good. He loathed spiders. For some reason they tended to get into his hair.
Most suspicious, Dorian thought and continued to look around.
Everything seemed in place and given the lack of dust on the floor he couldn't tell if the other Dorian had walked along some particular path. He searched the three narrow alleys formed between stacked goods and tried to spot anything out of order, but found naught, neither in the big room nor in the two smaller ones. After spending well over an hour in fruitless search he decided he couldn't afford to waste more time right then. It nagged him to have to abandon the investigation, for something told him that there was an important mystery right there, begging to be solved.
He had a more important thing to deal with first, though. Bonham.
Dorian was shocked to learn that he apparently had never planted a spy among Klaus's Alphabet. Really, what had his other self been thinking? Agent J had been vital for his plan of abducting the team in his own universe and he had counted on using the man again. Dratted, that. Oh well. He was not about to give up. Far from it.
While his cursed traitor lookalike had managed to just about alienate his entire gang, the man had apparently taken a wiser route in dealing with the Rogues' gallery. Dorian started to call around and they all greeted him back as if he had been ill for an extended time and had gone into seclusion. When asked to help, they were most happy to be of assistance. Within the hour Dorian jotted down a London number, thanked Mr. Fowl sincerely, clicked the receiver down and barely verified a dialling tone before starting to dial swiftly. As he waited for the signals to go through he twirled a lock of his hair.
At hearing the secure, steady voice Dorian felt like crying - and felt a right fool too, since he had spoken to the man just the day before. Too much had happened since then.
"Who is this? This be a prank call?"
"Don't hang up, Bonham! It's me."
Bonham grunted. "What will you be wanting then? I right told you - I want none of that stuff you're up to now, Milord!"
"I'm not doing them, I ne-- It's a long story, Bonham, but I want to put everything right again and I need you Bonham! I need you!" There was no effort to put sincerity in his voice - he really did need Bonham.
He heard another grunt, a long one which eloquently stated that Bonham was far from sure of things, but it did end in a small sigh. "Very well, then, Milord. Where be you now?"
"Still on the Island, Bonham. Please, I need you. Can you come at once? I need you here now, Bonham!" His voice almost broke and the last few words did wobble considerably.
"Then I'll be on my way, Milord. But if this be another trick of yours, I'm not having it, you understand?"
"Not a trick, Bonham!" And how it ached that Bonham of all people - his old friend Bonham - might think that of him! "I'll explain as soon as you get here, I swear I will - or as soon as we're alone, anyway. May I send John-Paul to pick you up at the harbour?"
"I'll be there around fourish, then."
"Thank you, Bonham! Thank you so very much!"
Bonham formed the foundation on which Dorian relied. He would tell him everything.
First of all he needed to see Major von dem Eberbach. Just see the man alive and breathing again. Yes, that was the most important thing. After that he would execute his plan, but currently his entire being yearned only to see once more warm the flesh he had last seen cold and unyielding.
"Tease him a little, maybe ask for a kiss or two," he promised himself. "Nothing more. Yes. It'll be just like the good old days ..."
He descended from his tower apartment to order John-Paul to ready the Zeppelin.
Not wanting to sit idle while waiting for Bonham - after all, he was not completely helpless - Dorian made another round of calls. This time he asked for help in locating James. No possible leads cropped up, but the people he spoke to promised to look around. He wanted to know that this world's James was okay, even if he had never joined the Eroica gang. How they had managed not to bankrupt themselves without the stingy accountant to keep them in the black Dorian hadn't a clue. Currently the financial situation seemed stable enough, though - he only wanted to know because he did happen to care for the small, oh so very odd, man.
That done he managed to persuade Z to accompany him to the attic. His heart clenched at how terrified the young man seemed when leaving what couldn't have been a sanctuary as much as a hell hole. He pretended not to notice, though, and just chatted about whatever came to his mind as they ascended. He was sure that something must be hidden up there, among the too clean shelves and assorted objects.
"He might not have wanted me to find whatever it is," he said as he idly browsed a bookcase containing, of all things, old cook books.
"Why wou-would he sa-save it, then?"
"Perhaps he didn't. Perhaps we are merely on a wild goose-chase here. But I don't want to start anything big before Bonham gets here. I need a way to reach my home world. The other one ... You know, it is really awkward to talk around that he is also me all the time. Let us call him something specific, shall we?"
"What?" Z had gotten slightly better at not stuttering every word, but he still kept his responses to a minimum.
"Oh, I don't know. Nut head? Idiot? Jackass?"
"The ma-major used to, used to ca-ca-call y-y-y ... him ..." Z visibly hesitated, then forged on. "Dimwit."
"Dimwit!? Dimwit?!" Dorian felt outraged. He was no dimwit! How dare Klaus call him-- "Oh. Well, it was the other Dorian he called that, obviously. And that Dorian really does seem to be a dimwit! See - another clear difference between the two of us! Yes, we shall call him Dimwit! Ha! Dimwit!" He noted Z's mouth twitch faintly. A desire to foster that flutter of a smile put stop to his annoyance. Instead, he smiled. "How fitting! Good idea, Z. Yes, as I was saying, Dimwit knew how to reach my world. He must have learned that in this world. If I had owned something so powerful, I wouldn't have destroyed it, on the odd chance that I might need it again. If he was up here a lot, perhaps he kept whatever it is here."
Perhaps inspired by the explanation Z then started to take a more active part in the search, though when Dorian checked to make sure he was still all right he frequently stood still, seemingly fascinated with the diverse objects hoarded by generations of Gloria pack rats.
The attic, like Dorian's apartment below, consisted of three rooms. Half the area was the main chamber, while the remaining part had been split in two.
"There's nowhere to sit," Dorian commented after a while. This had bugged him ever since he noticed. "Well, there is the pair of divans over there, but they look ready to fall apart, I wouldn't trust them. But if he didn't want me to find something specific Dimwit might have moved things around. I do doubt that he would have destroyed it." Perhaps that was more in the "hope not" category than in the "doubt" one, but Dorian had found that it paid to keep a positive outlook.
"The, the rooms, the rooms are, are wrong," came a muffled reply from Z, who explored another area.
Puzzled, Dorian abandoned the chest with assorted uniforms he had rifled through. He located Z in what downstairs would have been the closet. "How do you mean, 'wrong'?"
Instead of answering, Z walked up and down the narrow lane bisecting in the area, with piles of Persian carpets to one side and seaman's chests to the other.
"Five steps. It's o-only five steps f-from side to, to side. It, it should be six. It's the, the, the same thing with the, the o-o-other small room - o-o-only five steps. An-an-and the, the big room is, is, is only ten. There is, there is, there is ... missing space." The last two words were enunciated with great care. Only then did he look, with a worried expression, at Dorian, as if half fearing he had said something bad.
"Ah, but of course!" Now Dorian felt right at home. "A secret room! Borrowing space from all three rooms here as not to be so noticeable. Old Justin had a fascination for secret rooms and passages. It, ah, runs in the family, I'm afraid. Mother used to say I was a little squirrel."
That earned him a breathy chuckle and, despite the seriousness of the situation, Dorian felt pleased.
"Well done, Herr Z! I never would have noticed on my own!" Well, he likely would have, eventually - he wasn't a Gloria for nothing - but he judged that anything that made Z feel better was a good thing.
"I, I, I ... wa-wa-walked a, a lot. In the, the, in the closet. And in the, the bedroom when, when ... D-D-Dimwit wasn't, wasn't there."
"Well, it is still very good of you to have noticed! Right-o. A secret room." Dorian backed to the attic stairs and gauged what he could see with this new information in mind. "Between the small rooms, I believe. Now, how to get inside, I wonder?"
It could be anything, really. The producers of treasure hunt movies could have borrowed a page from old Justin's book. On the other hand, Dorian was a chip off the old block and had read most of his ancestors' diaries. His father had also taught him most of the family tricks before unexpectedly taking ill and dying. Still. For the next hours Dorian lifted and pushed and prodded and did his best to get any passage to reveal itself. The secret room proved stubborn. When they broke off for tea he was most displeased.
The Zeppelin flew at the top speed its five Maybach engines could deliver, 130 kilometres per hour, towards the European mainland. Dorian sat on the bridge, facing his distant goal. All in all he felt rather content with his progress.
Soon, Klaus ... Soon ...
Oh, but Dorian would recognize that knock anywhere! Like the man himself, his knock was sturdy and reliable, never leaving anyone in doubt of his quiet capability. A solid kind of knock, Dorian had always thought, neither too loud nor too discreet.
He rushed to the door, grappling with the handle when he couldn't open it quickly enough. Then, just on seeing the stocky cockney he all but felt his tense stomach muscles start to relax. Bonham was here! Whatever needed doing could now be counted as good as done.
On impulse he embraced the other. They remained locked together for a few minutes, Dorian unwilling to let go and Bonham, well, Dorian hoped that the man enjoyed himself. Dorian had never begrudged his men shows of his affection - except occasionally James, who tended to react out of proportion to the least gesture. Finally, though, Bonham gently pushed against Dorian's midsection, so he stepped back, still smiling in welcome. "Come in, come in! Do sit down. Tea? I'll be mother."
He closed the door again, then proceeded to pour three cups of his special blend. Bonham had said nothing, but he did sit, so Dorian figured that his offer had been accepted. Besides, it was time for tea anyway. During the last day and night there had been time for tea rather often.
Z approached. He wore Dorian's "fishing outfit" - the sturdy pair of red trousers and the black denim shirt he had worn the day Dimwit had first contacted him through the mirror. Z climbed into the third chair, casting worried glances at the two of them. His appearance made Bonham frown deeply and look accusingly at Dorian. "I thought you said you'd stopped doing that stuff now?"
"And there won't be any of it, I do assure you. Listen now, my dear, dear Bonham: I have a story to tell you and you will think that I have started to knit with only one needle, but please just hear me out, for I'm in a terrible bind and I have been so very stupid and I desperately need your support."
Twenty minutes and two cups of tea later, Bonham shook his head in wonder. Most men probably would have remained under the impression that Dorian indeed did knit with only one needle (and a rather bent one at that). Mrs Bonham's youngest, however, was well versed in reading the current Earl of Gloria and – bar the temporary spell of what Bonham could only guess must have been insanity - could read him like the specs to a Faransaati 78. Everything told him that the person eagerly waiting for his response a) really was the incomparable Earl of Gloria and b) told the truth. It hadn't been this version who had gone banana tree. As absurd as it sounded: before him, looking hopefully at him with those big, bright eyes, was an Earl of Gloria from another universe, one in which the Earl hadn't gone around the bend.
Right. Perhaps not quite "business as usual" even for the admittedly rather unorthodox Gloria household, but Bonham was an adaptable sort. He seldom lay up for hours at a stretch, thinking about the whys and hows of things. Sleeping was much nicer and things would work better in the morning.
"A right bummer this, Milord. What do you want us to do about it?"
Truth be told, Dorian had expected a little more difficulty in persuading his Second In Command (yes, John-Paul might have, in this universe, very temporarily held that position, but to Dorian Bonham would be his SIC until one of them tossed in the old towel) that he wasn't unravelling fast. Not that he was complaining! He did, however, decide to hold off on telling anyone else.
"Our first most mission must be to warn my Major von dem Eberbach," he told his team of two. "Agreed?"
"Sounds sensible, Milord. We don't be wanting you to go nutty too."
"Next task is to switch me and Dimwit back again. I want to go home."
That, however, didn't meet with the same agreement. Both men frowned and Z tugged at his still far darker than usual hair.
"Herr Z, what-- Oh, no, no, don't worry: we won't do it willy nilly. He will have to be ... dealt with. I'm not sure how, yet, but you have my most solemn word. Bonham? There is a problem?"
"Not as such, Milord. It's just ... I'll be helping you and all, never fear. It's just going to be lonely here afterwards, like. Ah ... Lord Dimwit might be ours and all, but ... I'd rather have you in a sound mind, Milord."
Dorian hadn't thought about things like that. "Oh, I understand. But Bonham - I must go home. There's a Bonham there too, who will miss me something awful if I don't go. And I'm almost sure that Major von dem Eberbach is weakening, just a tiny little bit. Why, I think he smiled at me the last time we met. Or maybe he just showed me his teeth like an annoyed dog, who knows these things? But, Bonham--"
"Oh, hush you. I said I would be helping. I will, don't you worry none. I wish you the best of luck - and that's in both worlds."
Still, Dorian did understand and he did feel bad, even if he really couldn't just stay. Perhaps if there had been no other option left to him, he could have made himself a home here – perhaps he could even have learned to do his own magic, but he couldn't just surrender without a fight. This wasn't his home world - and it had no Iron Klaus in it. The Klaus of this universe was dead! His stomach clenched hard at the very thought. Hoping to avoid the subject he continued to the next.
"We must let the Alphabet go, of course. But perhaps we can ease them into things. First we put them in the guest wing. I do want to know they are all in good health, so Lucas will examine them. He said they have tried to escape more than once. Three times he said, I think, at least. Someone got hurt, but I think he was fine now. But Herr Z - I ... I need you for a bit longer. Currently you two are the only ones who know the truth - and Bonham, sorry, old chap, but you're only taking my word for it. I know it's asking a dreadful lot of you to stay, Herr Z, but I would truly feel crippled without you. I would start doubting my own sanity within the day, I just know that I would. So please, Herr Z, would you stay for just a little longer? In the guest wing too, of course. We must—"
"No! No, not in the, in the gue-gue-guest wing. I don't want to, I don't—"
Dorian had expected a refusal, but not that particular one. Z seemed scared of being alone, but didn't want to be with the Alphabets either. The poor boy needed help, but at the moment Dorian simply had to prioritise other things. Vowing to bring the problem up with Bonham later, he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Of course, Herr Z, that's perfectly fine, don't worry about it. But you'll stay, then? We must act swiftly, so it won't be for long, that I promise."
Z looked very hesitant, but finally nodded. "I, I will, will stay."
"Thank you. I do appreciate it. Now, the secret room. We must find it. Don't ask me why, I'm mostly working on a hunch here, but I'm sure it is important somehow. Bonham, come. You're almost as good at this as I. Let's see if we can solve the riddle together. I would rather not bring out the saws and the sledgehammers, but if we don't figure it out soon I fear that we must. The clock is ticking."
Two hours later, after having in vain canvassed the attic for hidden mechanisms and secret passages, Bonham and Dorian slouched beneath one of the windows. The latter stood half-open, letting in a much needed sea breeze. Z ventured in, quickly glancing about. He carried a silver dish loaded with cups and pots. "N-no luck?"
"I'm afraid not," Dorian answered. "I'm beginning to fear that we really have to break our way through. I'm just loath to rip open what my ancestor took such care to hide. And there's always the risk of destroying something inside if we do."
"Ha-have you che-che-checked the, the, the roof yet?"
"No, there's no stair to the roof, so--" Dorian broke off for a second before continuing, starting to smile. "--you would have to climb." He laughed. "Which wouldn't pose a problem for any able-bodied Gloria. Capital! Great idea, Herr Z!" He put all his warmth behind the praise, hoping that the young agent found it reassuring.
He stood and leaped gracefully onto the window frame, where he balanced easily. Leaning out he surveyed possible handholds - and froze.
After a few seconds, he heard Bonham's voice drift out, "What is it, Milord? Can't get a hold? Need a legs up? Or shall I be getting the grapple hooks for you?"
"Thank you, dear, but that won't be necessary. Are you by the wall? You might want to step away, just in case."
A small rosebud had been carved half an arm's length from the window sill, with three leaves on the short stem. Accordingly, Dorian reached out to press the rock three up from the mark. It gave, sliding smoothly into the wall. From inside came scraping sounds and exclamations: "Blimey!" and "Ach du liebe Zeit!" respectively. With a pleased smile Dorian swung back inside and surveyed the now open section of the wall.
I do wonder what Dimwit was doing out there, he thought. Was he planning to jump, mayhap? If his Klaus had died - and certainly if he himself had had part in what happened, for whatever sad, accidental reason ... He couldn't see himself as the Juliet type, but ... ah, the tragedy!
Would that you had jumped, you selfish bastard!
He walked through the opening unconcerned by any possible traps. The rose was an old family sign and a bud, nowhere near blossoming, indicated only a lesser secret. A full rose would have had protective measurements taken and a rose with thorns, well, you left those alone, unless you had very detailed instructions. It had always amused him that the Eroica was a thorny rose.
The electric light which spilled in from the attic was adequate for him to get a general outline. He spotted a very comfortable-looking chair clad in red velvet, on which lay a large, pale blue cashmere blanket. Bookshelves lined the area, adding to the cramped look. No gaudily coloured pocket books, though, no, what filled these shelves looked to all be leather-bound - perhaps even hand-written, if judged by the spine decorations. Pushed up against a corner stood a stack of canvases, turned inwards. Before the chair presided a large, baroque mirror and wedged between yet another bookshelf and the chair stood a tiny, round table. The table top was all but hidden by an empty bottle of Talisker; an Eberbach mug; a small book, bound in red leather and, finally, a photograph of a tall, trench coat-clad man with long, dark hair, who gracefully aimed a Magnum at the photographer.
Dorian's heart clenched. He could see Dimwit so clearly, sitting there, in that chair, wrapped up in that blanket to keep the chill at bay. Reading, reading, reading to find even a mad, dangerous solution. With the picture of Klaus as inspiration - in his mind Dimwit reached out to, reverently, run a fingertip over the photograph's glossy surface - and the bottle of Talisker for comfort.
He is not to be pitied! he told himself sternly. Dimwit brought it on himself! And now he's hunting my major! He ought to be shot down like a mad dog!
The paintings, once he got around to looking at them, were exquisite. He didn't recognize the subjects or the signatures, but the style was distinctly Late Renaissance. Dorian told himself that when he returned home - which he would do! - he must remember to look into the secret room to see if they were there in his reality as well. Once he got all treasures off the island, he fully intended to level the castle and give the ground over to the RAF to do bomb tests on.
Leaving Bonham and Z to sort through the content of the secret room, Dorian dragged the comfy chair out into the attic, where the light was better. Then he sat and began to read through the book. Since it had been left so prominently he could only assume it must be important. It posed some difficulties, as Latin had never been his strongest subject in school.. It was a book on magic though - so at least that felt as if he was on the right track. Only much of what he did understand harked back to other books and mysterious rituals and all kinds of thing which made little sense. He wondered if Dimwit had found the book in the secret room – had that perhaps even been what kept him from killing himself, an unexpected glimmer of light in the darkness? Or had he found it on one of his expeditions without the rest of the gang?
"Did you want something, Milord?"
"Hah? No, Bonham, I must have mumbled. My apologies. Have you found anything?"
"Not a thing. Some of the books aren't in English or in any language Z knows, so it's hard to tell. We've put those to the side."
"Excellent. This one is in Latin. I'm also having difficulties. Besides, I know nothing of magic. Dimwit had plenty of time to learn, I suppose. I feel quite out of my depth here." He fiddled with his hair. "Any suggestions?"
Z had also exited the secret room. He warily approached Dorian, circling him to look over his shoulder at the book on his knees. "Y-y-you could, could, you could ask, ask, ask B."
Dorian felt one of his eyebrows go up. "Herr B?"
"Y-y-yes. I, I, I didn't, didn't think to tell you, you before. He, he, he does, he does know ma-magic."
Dorian's other eyebrow followed suit with its sibling. "My, it appears I'm truly not in Kansas anymore. Is the major aware of this? Ah ... I mean ... was he?"
"He, he, he ... knew. Y-yes. Didn't, he didn't, didn't like, didn't like it. B-but it, it came in ha-ha-ha-ha-handy. Sometimes. Not, not, not often. That's why I didn't, I didn't, I didn't think to, to, to tell you."
"I understand, don't you worry. But my, my. Very well. Can you-- No, Bonham, better if you do it. Fetch Herr B. John-Paul ought to have installed them in the guest wing by now. Perhaps you could have a quick word with them first? No guards. Tell them whatever you think will work to keep them from trying to escape again for a few hours, then bring Herr B to my quarters. Tell them I will talk to them soon. Oh, and tea, please. We really need more tea."
Dorian stared in mute surprise. He had expected B: curly-haired, chubby, cute if you liked them that way, but Dorian didn't, so more's the pity. What had followed Bonham inside was, however, only superficially the man that Dorian had mostly come to view as A's detachable shadow. Far from it. This B carried no more extra weight than Z did, his still very curly hair flowed down to his shoulders and he looked alert and very much on top of his game.
His game, apparently, being the supernatural. Klaus's team included a battle wizard.
B was far more difficult to convince than Bonham had been. He still seemed wary that the story might be some sort of hoax, but Z's timid assurances went a long way and the book from the attic also proved helpful. The book was dedicated to mirror magic and B was soon quite engrossed in the carefully calligraphied words. Leaving him to the pages, Dorian finally ventured over to the guest wing. He brought John-Paul and Timothy along as guards, but had still half expected to get lynched. John-Paul had, when Dorian had spoken to him earlier, mentioned that one of the main goals of the Alphabet's flight attempts had been to find – and kill – Dorian. Possibly the Germans were suspicious of some trick too, for they gave him time to say his piece, just stared distrustfully at him. He continued on the spun yarn of temporary insanity, an accident and "getting back to normal", promising to let them go shortly, he just needed time to put his things in order first. Apparently there had been more magic at work, to keep them – and especially B – in check. That they had still managed to give their jailors the slip at more than one occasion spoke highly of their training – and maybe of their desperate need to avenge their leader.
Feeling relieved to have faced at least one of his difficulties head on Dorian returned to his rooms. B still sat on the sofa, so deeply engrossed in the pages that he was fairly unreachable. So Dorian continued on to the attic, where he found Z curled up in the red chair, snoring faintly. Bonham emerged from the hidden room. The cockney's eyes went first to the young agent, then he smiled in greeting. Dorian went over to him.
"He didn't want to be near B either," Bonham whispered, nodding towards the slumbering Z. "I went up, mostly to sort through some more, and he tagged along. Poor thing."
Dorian nodded agreement, but shrugged helplessly. "He refuses to stay with the rest in the guest wing," he said, also keeping his voice down. "I think ... Dimwit used them against him to get him to ... cooperate. I also … I don't know … He seems so broken. It's all bad. I wonder if that's all, though … But I really do think it's detrimental for him to stay in my rooms. I feel iffy about it myself, truth be told, even if nothing bad happened to me personally in them."
Bonham nodded. "My old room is as it was when I left."
"You're irreplaceable, Bonham. Even Dimwit knew that." It wasn't sucking up. Dorian honestly thought as much.
Bonham blushed. "Oh, you're having me on, Milord. But I was thinking. My sofa's wide enough. If Z'd be willing, he can crash on it tonight. He doesn't seem to mind me overly, so ..."
"Why, Bonham! That's an excellent suggestion! Brilliant! Do ask him when he wakes up."
Too restless to stay in one place for long Dorian soon went down again to check on B. When he this time entered the room, B put the book down and nodded grimly.
"I can see roughly how it was done," he said. He had a rather pronounced German accent, though he spoke English fluently. "It's The Spell of Resonant Universe Communication and, as far as I can figure, some variation of The Spell of Mirror Trading. I'll study the latter thoroughly now. It is very powerful magic, very advanced."
"Can you perform the spells?"
Dorian blinked. B had spoken with such confidence that he had assumed his own question merely a formality. "Oh. I—Ah … Well, then, do you—"
"I could. But not with these bloody things on," B said and held up both hands, then shook his wrists so that the loose arms of his uniform fell down to reveal a matching pair of red ribbon bracelets with round silver link decorations.
Dorian blinked again. "Well, they are rather déclassé," he admitted.
B's eyes narrowed and his teeth flashed momentarily. "They're witchbonds. Prohibits magic. I woke with them on the first day here and they're the only bloody reason I haven't levelled this godforsaken hellmouth of a fucking castle!"
Apparently, Dorian noted, this B had paid close attention to his superior's speech pattern.
"Oh. I see. Well, I'm sure I have scissors here somewhere, if you just—"
"Scissors?! How bloody incompetent do you think we are? Scissors?! I would have bloody well gnawed them off! They're magical, you imbecile!"
Dorian pulled back. "Well, excuse me! I don't know anything of magic. I assume lockpicks won't work either, so what would you have me do?"
B made a frustrated, growling sound. Then he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a few seconds. When he opened his eyes again, they looked slightly milder. Then he held out his wrists. "Put your fingertips on the silver circles. There – yes. And there. That should—"
A warm tingle ran through Dorian at the same time as he heard a click and then a rustle as the bracelets fell down. He gasped. "Was that magic?"
B, who had already reached for the book again, shrugged.
"Herr B, was that magic? Can I … Can I do magic now?"
B half glared at him and shrugged again. "No. That worked because the bonds were connected by magic to his fingerprints. The body has the magic and you told me you have your own body, not his. You might be able to learn, if you wanted. Maybe. Now – I need a big mirror to start with, certain oils and dyes to get the runes right, and about a 20 ml of your blood."
Dorian swallowed. "No problem. Fresh? I'll have Lucas draw it for you. Oils and dyes, you know, I did happen to notice some odd bottles in the bathroom cabinet. They didn't appear to be shower gels or shampoos and they smell quite disturbingly, like something rotten. I was going to pour them out, but I forgot."
He hurried to retrieve them - there were five, so it took a bit of balancing - and felt relieved at B's short nod of approval.
"Ah ... Herr B, if you wish to have some quiet to study I can offer you a private room to stay in. Unless you want to go back to your friends? If so I would ask for you not to tell them about what is going on just yet. I will not stop you if you want to tell them, but I feel it is unnecessary to involve more persons at the moment. I hope you understand?"
"There is no need for a quiet place. I work best when people are talking around me. We are trained in this. I will return to them. I will not inform them of the details. If I don't go they will think Lord Dimwit broke Z and took me next."
Dorian shuddered. "About Z … I have asked him If he wants to join you, but—"
"But he'd rather not. Of course." The glare B sent him was baleful. "Lord Dimwit used us against him. Against the major too, no doubt. Fuck that bloody monster!"
"I … guessed as much, yes. He is still a little scared of me, but he seems to be doing better. But he'll sleep with Bonham tonight, ah – stay with Bonham tonight, I mean."
B nodded shortly. "Probably for the best. He needs someone safe right now."
"Yes. I think so too. Ah … I was wondering. Could he – Dimwit, that is – have done something magical to him? To break him like this?"
B's eyes narrowed. "It is possible. I will talk to him later. Back to the connection: the first spell is not overly complicated. I haven't done anything similar, but it seems straightforward enough. The second I must study further, as I said. And yes, the blood should be fresh or the spell will work for a much shorter time."
"Bless you, Herr B! We need to know what Dimwit is up to as soon as possible! And I'm sure you'll figure out the second one too. Ah, about the Spell of ... Resonant Universes? How soon ...?"
"There is a simpler version of the first spell, The Spell of Resonant Universe Scrying. It allows a one way view only. It is easier to cast and once it is working it can be transmuted into the communication spell too. I can start the preparations as soon as you supply the blood."
"I will go to see Lucas right away."
Thirty minutes later found Dorian curled up on his sofa, talking quietly with Bonham as they watched B prepare. He had mixed each oil with various amounts of Dorian's blood, measuring the liquids with scientific care. The agent hummed while working, repeating three tones continuously. The noise sounded less like an intonation or a magic chant than simply absentminded humming.
"Dimwit be like damaged inside," Bonham said slowly, as if choosing his words with care. "Not in his right mind, he is, after what happened to Uncle NATO and all. I never should have left. I just couldn't get him to listen to me, to stop these idiocies. I couldn't stay. He wasn't a man I could respect any longer and that hurt so much. I feel so guilty now. But I'll be darned if I know what we can do about it, even if we do get him back home again."
"When you do," Dorian said quickly, wanting there to be no hesitation on that score. "I'm no expert, though. If there is time we can contact one now, to get the ball rolling, kind of thing. Professor Arkham, possibly, he has a keen mind for these things. Of course, it's funny, but when I first saw the writing on the mirror I thought for sure I must have gone to America without a return ticket and I thought - even if they do send me to the loony bin, they wouldn't be able to keep me in, not if I didn't agree to stay. So, I just don't know ..."
Bonham nodded seriously. "It does bear thinking about and twice too. He be - you be too, I'm guessing - a free spirit kind of man. Not meant to be locked up. But, that is to say, we can't let him do things like this again."
"Absolutely not! I will get back home, I know I will, but what if some other me finds himself in an even worse jam?" He wouldn't allow himself to even hint that he might not, eventually, get home again. "Perhaps B will have some idea, once he's done with this? We shall ask him. My, he is really different than the B in my universe. Most handsome. Maybe I'll have a word with him when I get home again."
"There be lots of differences, then?"
"Strangely not many big ones. Apart from the magic, of course. Several small ones, though." Klaus being very openly and eagerly gay would have counted as a huge, honking one. Alas, that had not been. Poor, poor, poor Klaus … Feeling his throat constrict a little in grief over the man he loved and had yet never met, he flung about for something else to say. "Why is Rudy colouring his hair? Strangely, one of the biggest things I come to think of is James. Did you ever meet him?"
"Meet him?" Bonham looked puzzled. "You lost me there, Milord. What do you mean?"
"Meet him. Did you? James? Oh, you probably didn't, then, or you would have remembered him, bless his little money-hungry heart. About this high--"
"Of course I know James, Milord. Why wouldn't I? He worked with us for ... oh, it must have been five years or so."
Dorian stared at him. "But he said ... Oh, another lie, then ... Dimwit told me he only met James briefly, that James was never a part of the gang. Oh, it never occurred to me that he would lie to me! I'm so stupid! Damn him!"
"Nah, he was with us, all right. Left about two years ago, though. Very sudden-like. Just upped and left one day. You were so mad at him for that Caesar Gabriel thing, I always assumed it was due to that. Surprised me a lot, that, since James was always so devoted. A bit over the top, but devoted."
"Damn that Dimwit! Why would he lie about a thing like that? He told me you were still with us, but you weren't. And he said that James had never been with us, so where is he? Oh, why, why did I ever trust that man?! No, no, Bonham, don't say it. I was blinded by my narcissism and my mindless longing for Klaus. I'm an idiot and a fool. But why would he lie about James? Oh, now I'm worried ... "
"It's ready now," said B. "If you'd come this way, Gloria?"
B's scrying spell worked, but revealed nothing except that Dimwit was no longer on Island Gloria. All they saw was an unfamiliar bathroom. B explained that Dimwit must be in some adjoining room or otherwise hidden from the mirror's view. The spell simply used the nearest mirror or large enough reflective surface.
After ten minutes of nothing at all happening Dorian decided that it was a waste of time for them all to just sit there and stare. So Bonham went out to try to dig up clues regarding James, Z took another shower and B studied the next spell. Damning the inconvenience Dorian plucked a catalogue of medieval enamels and sculptures from the Keir collection off his shelf, but he only dared to glance at the images occasionally. Even if he wasn't likely to get too engrossed in the images, he still didn't want to risk missing something important in the mirror. Things might happen quickly and keeping watch was vital.
The spell work, B had explained, lasted for a maximum period of 43 minutes if the blood was fresh from the veins. Bonham had wondered why not 45 minutes or an even hour, whereupon B, sounding somewhat annoyed, had explained that the powers governing magic had no notion of time concepts dreamed up by humans. When the 43 minutes were up he would have to wait just over two hours before preparing a new batch, which would take close to an hour to brew. No, he couldn't prepare more than one batch at the time, nor could he start with the next one directly after having finished the first. The magic wasn't just in the oils and the blood and the chants - it drew from B's very magic. If he spread his power too thinly it would be sucked right out through his eyes - together with his brain.
To use magic apparently gave B something of a headache anyway, so Dorian opted against trying to persuade the man otherwise. As the agent went on with his reading Dorian took the opportunity to stretch, shower and then go for a brisk walk to clear his mind. Or sort his thoughts, anyway, trying to line up the things they needed to do. The problem was that he wasn't sure what they must plan for.
B seems to be handling the mirror spells, but ... maybe we could get some other magician to assist him. Surely he can't be the best in the world. Get someone better, perhaps - without insulting B, of course. Just see if there's anything else or something more they could do. Oh, if only I could do magic now, without training first! But yes, I'll have to bring that up when I get back inside. Then we must prepare whatever they can do with Dimwit once he's back here. Bonham was certainly right about that, it is not a task to be taken lightly. Arrange for the Alphabet to be sent home, the poor dears, and ... Oh.
He had let his feet take whatever path they would, as he often did when roaming the island. Often they did bring him to this very point, the one closest to Germany, where he would sit and contemplate the inaccessible man he so wanted to access. Only, today they had brought him to the very man himself. They had brought him to his grave.
His knees promptly gave and he ended on his rump before the tombstone. Tears flooded his eyes as he read the description on the white marble. "I'm so, so sorry ..." he said with a moan. "It-it wasn't, it wasn't me, but ... I'm so sorry ... I'm so sorry!"
But the grave was silent.
Bonham and B must have seen how red Dorian's eyes were after his latest crying jag, but neither man commented. B, looking very drawn, merely ushered him to the mirror and began the chant to get the magic to start flowing. The runes and oil flickered through a spectrum of colours, before showing the room beyond - the same unfamiliar, empty bathroom as before. With a weary sigh Dorian settled back and waited for 43 minutes to pass.
"I can do one more today after this one," B finally said. His voice sounded rough. "Then I'm done for the day. I will continue to study the second spell, but nothing else."
"I'm sure we can't ask you for more," Dorian replied. "Ah ... I do not wish to offend you in any way, your assistance has been invaluable and I can only hope that you will continue to help me, but--"
"I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for him!"
Dorian had to marvel at the loyalty his gruff Klaus managed to inspire in his subordinates. Surely they couldn't all be in love with him? Or maybe they were.
"Yes, yes, of course. I understand. Still, you do have my most heartfelt thanks. If there ever is anything I can do for you, never hesitate to ask. Though I can't help but wonder - and again, I do not wish to offend you in any way, but please do remember that I know next to nothing about this ... magicking thing. Are there many wizards?"
He briefly diverted his eyes from the mirror in time to see B scowl. "Never many," was replied curtly.
"Did I still manage to offend you? I am sorry, Herr B, if I did. It is merely that I was wondering if perhaps we could keep up this surveillance more easily if we had another practician with us, to assist you, just so that your magic won't be spread too thinly." Perhaps someone stronger, he also thought, but that would be discourteous to say, so he didn't.
"You didn't offend. We, the witch masters, are solitary creatures and dislike the company of others of our kind apart from our apprenticeships. I have met few others and when I have it has always been unpleasant. We start fighting quickly. I understand your question, but it would not work the way you hope."
"Very well." It wasn't as if Dorian knew anyone else and to alienate B would delay everything considerably, for which there was no time. He did wonder, though, who Dimwit had apprenticed under or if he perhaps was self-taught. How long had it taken to learn – had that, perhaps, been what he had been doing on his solo-flights from the island? A tiny, tiny voice, far back in his mind, also wondered if he, himself, really could learn such a thing, and what a grand thing that would be.
The rest of the time Dorian sat in silence, watching the bathroom in the other universe, sipping his tea, waiting.
Sometimes Klaus felt as if he had visited all major airports in the world. Each was pretty much like the next, differing only in the primary language spoken and whether bribes were expected to facilitate an easy entry. He was, however, unused to travelling with his father. Oh, they had taken trips together, but that had been when Klaus had been a child and a teenager, hardly ever since he had grown up and begun to work. Travelling as a civilian added to his sense of being slightly out of joint. There had even been an argument regarding his hand gun. Luckily for everyone, most of the Flughafen Köln/Bonn security personnel knew him on sight and cleared things up.
They travelled first class, naturally, and his father drank. Not in such quantities that he got drunk, but three bottles of various alcoholic contents were ordered and consumed. Trapped in his window seat, Klaus suffered through what felt like hour-long speeches about the importance of getting married. Cousin Sigrid was doing The Right Thing and it was heavily implied that the Birchwast family was acceptable, even if certain members lived in France, and it included several young women who Klaus should pay close attention to at the wedding. Klaus answered non-committally. He knew more than well from past experiences that bringing up the dangers and complications of his job would only set his father off on that subject instead, which he wanted to avoid just as much, and bringing up, well, other complications such as that Klaus might actually not prefer the fairer half of the Birchwast family, well ... Klaus didn't know if he would ever be ready to have that particular conversation with his sire. Luckily the trip wasn't long enough for the older von dem Eberbach to exhaust his favourite subject, though perhaps he was saving the conversations regarding Klaus getting a promotion for the trip home.
Disembarking had gone rather well, all things considered. Part of Klaus slotted in the experience somewhere along the line of escorting a diplomat as part of a mission and he repeatedly caught himself scanning the crowd of Charles De Gaulle in search for potential assassins. Concentrating on their surroundings and translating the rapidly flowing French that most people around them sputtered, helped tune out his father's tirade. They had passed customs and stood by the baggage belt, waiting for their cases to show up. For such a short trip Klaus would normally only have brought hand luggage, but since they would attend a wedding with a reception he had brought an evening suit. Beside him, his father's cane tapped the airport floor impatiently.
"Son. I also hear that your work has required you to mix with some less desirable elements. I understand that this might be unavoidable, but you really must start thinking about your reputation. What well-bred young woman--"
"Father, I need to check in with NATO. If I do it now, as we wait for the luggage, we lose no time for it later. I will return shortly."
The old man frowned, but finally nodded. Relieved for the break Klaus marched over to the phone booths he had spotted across the hall. He entered the nearest available one, dropped a few coins into the machine and then rapidly dialled the well-known number to NATO's Bonn headquarters. A minute later he had been patched through to his boss.
"I need a mission," he said without bothering with unnecessary, preliminary niceties. It was shaping up to be an emergency, so why bother? "Get me one. Now!"
When those tense yet deathly boring 43 minutes had passed again Dorian most carefully did not go for another walk. Instead he located Bonham - easily enough accomplished, since the man was once more cooped up in the attic with Z. When he found them they looked to be talking rather peacefully. To Dorian's delight Z didn't even seem to stutter as badly any longer.
"Milord," Bonham greeted him amiably. "No news about James, I'm afraid. No one has seen head nor tail of him for the last two years."
Dorian sighed, very worried about the little man. "No one in the Rogues' gallery has anything, either. I would so like to know that he's all right." He massaged his temples briefly. "Bonham? There is another thing I would have you do for me."
"Just say the word."
If only it could be said in one word ...
"Send him home."
"Herr Z?" Bonham said and glanced towards the man in question. Who suddenly looked strangely reluctant, as if the prospect wasn't quite to his liking after all.
Dorian shook his head, feeling old and very tired. "No, please, not just yet. The, ah ... the major. Send ... Send him home. Have him ... exhumed. And ... This is British soil. He ... He wouldn't want to ... wouldn't want to ..." And he was crying again, damn it! He turned away from them, looking towards the worried sky outside the window. "Just make sure he gets home. That's ... That's what he ... what he would have, that is what he would have wanted."
Third time's the charm. Dorian was rather glad that Z and Bonham were still in the attic when the spell finally bore fruit. To have B present was embarrassing enough, as his other self had been in the bathroom to ... well, not to bathe or shower or shave, let's just say. At least Dimwit hadn't masturbated, that would have felt even odder. The bathroom differed from the previous one, with predominantly blue hues as well as far more brass. When Dimwit had finished what he had been doing he started to wash his hands.
"Shall I transmute the spell for communication?" B asked.
Dorian considered this option for a moment. "No," he then said. "We need more information. If he knows we are on his trail he might do something rash." He wanted to scream and yell at the man on the other side of the mirror, but it wasn't as if he would have heard him anyway.
Well-manicured hands once more pristine, Dimwit left the bathroom. Frustrated, Dorian fell back into his chair, presuming he would see nothing more. Only moments later, however, the image blinked repeatedly and then showed an entirely new room. The further wall was just a meter and a half past, yet to either side it stretched without end. What looked like fake wooden panels and certainly fake paintings, not to mention a door with 604 in gold all pointed to it being a hotel corridor. Of his other self there was no hint.
The image blinked again and he once more saw the bathroom. Only for a few seconds, though, then blink-blink and the corridor returned. Dorian leaned towards the mirror, wary of actually touching the surface, which B had warned them would be very dangerous, lethal even, and tried to see along the length. It appeared completely deserted.
"We see out from the closest mirror," B reminded him, somewhat unnecessarily. He sounded tired.
Blink-blink. A sudden throng of people in a very cramped space, one of them Dimwit! The Evil Earl of Gloria looked blankly towards the mirror and it took Dorian a tense moment to remember that the man couldn't see them. The elevator doors opened. People flooded out, Dimwit among them, and more people spilled in. The doors closed.
Seconds later came the next blink - blink. A hotel foyer. He looked out over a desk between the backs of two crisply dressed females. Dimwit approached and handed over what must be his room key. He smiled curtly at the ladies, then turned with an elegant flourish and left. Dorian swore, some choice phrases borrowed from his German love's extended vocabulary.
The image continued to shift at uneven intervals, as whatever reflective surface closest to Dimwit picked up the magic. Often, but far from always, Dorian would catch a glimpse of the man himself.
The dot-tipped, red S of the Sparkasse came into sight. Dorian flinched.
Germany, then. But perhaps not Bonn or even Eberbach.
"He's on Bonner Talweg," B said.
The name itself contained "Bonn", but Dorian told himself that he couldn't be fully sure. Even if he knew that the question was stupid, he asked it anyway. "That's ... That's in Bonn, isn't it?"
After what felt like an eternity the image finally flickered out, spider webbed for a moment and then turned into the common reflection of the room they sat in. Dorian said a few choice bad words, then turned to B. "He's already there! Are you sure you can't whip up another batch tonight? He might be on his way to Klaus's apartment as we speak!"
B shook his head. "No to both. I can't and he isn't. He might be trying to locate something, but he's walking towards Poppelsdorfer Allee, probably in the direction of Poppelsdorfer Schloss. And regardless - the answer is still no. I must sleep or I will die. You'll have to wait until the morning." Then B made a sound which was as near a growl as Dorian had ever heard produced from a human throat.
Even if all his instincts screamed at him to keep track of what was happening, Dorian also knew when it was time to quit. "Yes, Herr B. My apologies. It's just--"
B nodded and sighed. "I understand, Gloria. But don't push me further."
And with that, Dorian must make do.
A few hours later, when darkness had already swept Island Gloria into its shroud, Dorian still sat before the mirror. While his eyes might rest on his own image, the details hardly registered, as he was far too deep into worried contemplation.
"It's no good!" B said, then thumped the grimoire onto the table. "It won't work! Er taugt nichts! So eine Scheiße!"
Dorian blinked. He had never heard B being so forceful. "What won't work, dear Herr B?"
"Dieser beschissene Zauberspruch! It's no good! I have read it and I understand it and it can't be done! Verdammt nochmal! Either Dimwit modified the spell or it isn't the right spell after all. It can't be done, I tell you!"
Even if his stomach churned in worry, Dorian forced himself to remain calm. "What seems to be the problem? Why won't it work?"
"It should have killed you! Like this." B snapped his fingers and made a dismissive gesture.
"And yet here I am," Dorian said, keeping his tone light by an effort of will. "Are you sure--"
"Of course I'm bloody well sure!" For a second Dorian could have sworn B's eyes shimmered in red. "It's clearly written, in black and white! And yet here you are, yes! I know. It's just impossible! This spell is for inanimate objects only! He must have changed it somehow, done something different, to make it work the way it did. And I don't know what!" He rubbed his temples.
"I'm not sure I quite understand. So, this spell would be able to switch me and Dimwit, but ..."
"You'd both arrive dead as door nails. Other than that it'd work just bloody fine."
"I see," Dorian said with a slow nod. His stomach ached now. "Well ... Perhaps if you have a look at the other books from the room? Just because this one was open doesn't mean it was the only one with suitable spells in it. This is not a time to give up, Herr B. We don't have much time left. I don't dare to leave things for much longer. This must end tomorrow."
B nodded curtly and rose, then turned with eerie precision towards the pile of books none of the others had been able to decipher. He brought a handful with him back to the table and sorted through them quickly before starting in on the first one, a black volume that seemed to have had a close encounter with fire somewhere in its past. Dorian turned his eyes once more to the great mirror. Even though the magic currently was inactive he looked into its depths for a long time, contemplating this latest information.
When no solution presented itself and B still seemed lost in his world of runes, magic and spells, Dorian slowly stood. Still deep in thought he ascended to the attic, hoping to find Bonham. He needed advice on the very important matter he had been considering and Bonham always gave the very best advice. Often Dorian even followed them.
On approaching the final landing he heard a low mumble, unmistakably Bonham's. The man did have a great voice. A highlight of any Christmas in the Gloria residence was Bonham reading from Dickens's Christmas Carol: at those occasions the entire household would stop dead to listen. Not even James would whine about something or the other. Bonham read out loud now too, rather than spoke to someone. Dorian could tell by the even rhythm, the patience with which the words wove on and the steady determination to reach some faraway goal in the reading.
Curious despite his own, ominous thoughts, Dorian sneaked up the last steps, carefully peeking around the door frame.
Bonham sat in the comfy chair. He read from a small slip of a book - Dorian wasn't close enough either to read the title or to hear what the story was about - and held the slim volume in one hand only. One of the divans had been pulled up right to the chair - something which must have taken a bit of manoeuvring, considering the state of the attic in general. On the divan lay Z, curled up so that his head - hair now a little paler from the repeated shampoos and with blond roots showing - touched Bonham's thigh. Bonham's other hand was slowly stroking said hair.
Dorian watched the scene for a minute or two, then smiled a small, wistful smile before turning back and heading down again.
He went past his room, knowing he would get no help from B. The latter had made clear that while he might help with the situation, he still didn't approve of Dorian in general. Besides, the man needed to concentrate on his own task. When he passed the main corridor he heard peals of laughter from beyond, presumably from some of his men having a get-together in the game room. He considered joining them, but there was no one else he wanted to confide in. Nor among the Alphabet, though Klaus's steadfast Herr A did tempt. Perhaps if he had filled the most senior of Klaus's agent in on things he would have done so. Since he hadn't, he walked past the corridor out into the moonlit night. The evening was clear, but so far from the main land the dark was solid, though the stars shimmered unusually bright. If not for the grave lights always burning on the far cliffs Dorian would never have found his way to the outpost closest to Europe.
Though dark, the night was warm. Even the breeze which ruffled his clothes and hair was just faintly cooler than the air itself and he welcomed its playful caresses. On reaching the tomb he sat down before it, with the sea spreading out to both sides of the white marble. The flames of the large candles made the golden letters shimmer. This time he noticed the lack of disturbance to the ground that usually would mark a newly dug grave and for one glorious, demented moment he allowed himself the luxury of doubt. Might everything have been just one horrid mistake? Klaus hadn't died: of course not. He hadn't been buried - it had all just been a madman's raving hallucination. But then the cold reality intruded as he remembered - Bonham had seen the body too, as had Lucas. Major von dem Eberbach had, without any doubt, shuffled his mortal coil.
"I ... " He felt silly talking to a grave, but at the moment there seemed to be no one else who would listen to him.
"I told Bonham to have you sent home, just so you know. He will do it as soon as I'm not here any longer - and that will be soon, I think. Tomorrow, unless something goes wrong. I hope you don't mind waiting just one more night? Then you will be on your way home again. To Eberbach. I ... It's funny, you know, I've never really thought about death, I was always too busy enjoying life. Now I wonder if you know that I'm here and if you're as pissed at me as ... as you would be at him. At Dimwit, we call him that. The name's much too good for him. Much, much too good for him. Z came up with it, though, and he almost smiled afterwards. I think it gives him a bit of a thrill to say it or hear it, so I keep using it. We should call him Dark Demented Devil or something, that sick fuck. You do know I'm not him, don't you? I ... I do hope you're around, somewhere. I ... I hope it was an accident. I would give almost anything to learn that it really was an accident. I ... Oh, I feel so moronic, talking like this to a block of stone. But I wanted to say that I hope you'll keep an eye on things when I'm gone. T-they could need a guardian angel who, who is, who isn't ..."
He took a deep breath and dried the corners of his eyes.
"Who isn't afraid to use a, a Magnum to, to, to protect his, his charges. You, you won't believe what I just saw, up, up in the attic. You would hate it, I'm, I'm sure, but I ... I think it's good for, for him. For, for both of them, no doubt. I spoke more about Z to B. He thought I might be right about Dimwit doing something … magical to try to … I don't know … break Z or change him or something. He would try to help with that, we just haven't had time. Later. When … When all this is over. One way or … the other. I ..."
He reached out and began to slowly trace each of the larger letters with the tip of his index finger.
"I can't allow him to hurt you again. You in my universe-you, that is. Dimwit is trying to get to him, I know he is. I ... must stop him. But B says ... B says that he might not be able to perform the spell the way, the way that Dimwit did. He says it won't work. Well, it will ... In a way. Just not ... not in a ... a good way. Maybe, though ... Maybe it's, it's the only way we'll, we'll, we will have, have ti-ti-time ... with."
He sat for a long time before the grave, watching the shimmering sky, thinking and trying to feel some sort of connection to whatever might be left of the man he loved more than the light of those stars above. What he felt was an increasing chill, combined with a despair bordering on dizziness. Finally he placed a feather-light kiss on the golden K, before standing and donning his bravest smile.
"I don't think I shall be back," he announced. His throat felt rough. "I will try to do what is best, my dear. You never trusted me much, but if you're around: if you can see me, please believe that. Nothing can ever be right in this world again, but ... I will do whatever it takes to ensure that it doesn't become more wrong where I come from. I love you. Goodnight, sweet prince. And the rumble of tanks sing thee to thy rest."
Tears in his eyes made finding his way back even more difficult, as he staggered away from the sea, aiming broadly at the castle. He missed. Instead he found himself on the far side of Island Gloria, moving clumsily over the rocks closer to England. The terrain was rougher there, so it was rare that anyone ventured in that direction. A faint sheen from the lights and lanterns in the small harbour gave him enough light to navigate his way. For some reason it felt only fitting to go all the way to the other side as well. Perhaps I can tell Bonham to bury Dimwit here, if he comes back dead, he thought. That also seemed fitting.
Dorian kept walking. The night could have been made for brooding. A rain cloud must be drifting near, for occasionally thunder would grumble and now and then a lightning flash broke through the sky. Despite the nightmarish circumstances, there lingered an air of Gothic romance. Besides, he had little time left and he didn't want to waste it by sleeping just yet. Though perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he was just being a drama queen again, as so many had accused him of being - Klaus foremost among them. Yet everything pointed to the likelihood that his time in this world would not be for long. And if B couldn't send him home alive, well ...
A life for a life. Or two for one, rather. Both of mine for one of his. Even Juliet only died once for her Romeo.
Though he had never liked that story much, classic or not. Romantic, yes, he could admit that, but in the end so trite and hopeless. Besides, Mercutio would have been a much more interesting love interest for Romeo.
Suddenly the strongest lightning yet tore up the sky. Almost immediately followed a bone-jarring rumble of thunder, shaking the very air with its might. Dorian hardly noticed. In the sudden light - which lingered as the lightning flickered on and on - he saw something.
Between the rocks and the boulders and the bushes a little oval dip was filled with grey sand, on which nothing grew. What had caught Dorian's attention, though, was a small copper plate. It was situated right up against one of the bushes. If not for a sudden gust which forced aside the lower branches, in combination with the sharp lightning reflected against a part of the metal which had not yet verdigrised, it would have been perfectly hidden. No one who hadn't known of its presence would have discovered it. It was there, though - and just before the lightning clusters died away - the rumbles kept echoing - Dorian had time to read the engraved letters.
HERE LIES THE|
KING OF COINS, BURIED
IN PENNIES. JAMES. 1979.
For several heartbreaking seconds, Dorian stared at the once more hidden plate. Then his knees slowly folded and he bent back his neck to scream into the rising storm.
With a firmly fixed smile Klaus witnessed Sigrid von dem Eberbach become Sigrid Birchwast. His father, sitting beside him, also smiled, if not quite as tensely. After a few strange minutes, when the elderly bishop who performed the ceremony seemed to confuse the groom with his best man everything seemed to have gone without a hitch. He said yes; she said yes; no one protested. Good enough.
Finally they trooped out of the cathedral. Not a minute too soon either - Klaus had been about to fall asleep several times from sheer habit. As they stepped out into the sunlight and were herded over to the happy couple to be photographed, he turned towards his father. "I will be leaving after this, sir, " he said.
"A mission has come up. My apologies, Father, but you know how it is. Duty calls and I must go. A flight leaves in an hour and a half and I must be on it."
Actually, he had been forced to negotiate a bit with Fatso, but there was actually a mission waiting for him. Not a particularly important mission or anything, but he was willing to fib some to avoid more lectures courtesy of his father. With a little luck he wouldn't see the old man again until Christmas.
And since his father had been the one to teach him how work must go before all else, he was now in no position to protest. Klaus felt rather proud of his slickly executed plan. He really looked forward to going home again. To Bonn.
"Here," Dorian told Bonham and warily pushed a sealed envelope into his hands. "When I'm gone. Read it and ... I don't know ..." He shook his head, not meeting Bonham's eyes. "Deal with it. It's ... about something I found out yesterday evening. When I was ... out walking. Just ... don't read it until I'm ... gone. I, I can't, I can't deal with it. Not, not now. I'm sorry to heap this on you, my dear Bonham, but it's ... too much for me right now. It contains a new copy of my will too, just in case something goes wrong."
Bonham looked deeply concerned, but accepted the envelope with a grave nod. "I will do my very best," he promised, putting enough weight on each word that Dorian had no doubts that everything would be dealt with. Bonham was the very epitome of reliability. No matter what, he could deal with almost anything. It had occurred to Dorian that if B hadn't turned out to be of the magic persuasion, it wouldn't have surprised him one lick if Bonham had carved himself a wand and done whatever necessary himself.
In the letter Dorian had explained about what he had found. He wasn't sure of the whys or the hows and felt little desire to consider them too closely. On the other hand he couldn't allow the status quo to continue either. But he put his trust in that Bonham would deal with everything with due attention and care. For all their bickering he knew that Bonham had been quite fond of the strange little man who for so long had shared their lives. Though there was one thing he did want to know.
"Ah ... Bonham? I was ... wondering about something you said earlier. About ... about James. You said that I, that Dimwit was angry with him? And he upped and left one day. What ... really happened? Caesar Gabriel, you said?"
Bonham, frowning, nodded slowly. "Yes. We were all horrified over what he did, of course. Couldn't believe my ears when I heard about it, myself."
"What, Bonham? What did he do? I need to know."
"Well, we were here, at the island, see. And you, I mean Dimwit, had this crush on a young kid, a Professor--"
"Caesar Gabriel, yes, I met him too. Cute as a button. Go on."
"Two friends of his came here to rescue him. He told James to kill them, just bluffing, like, to scare the kid, and it worked. But James got into a snit and went against your orders and--"
"Shot at them anyway. Yes?" Dorian actually felt a bit ashamed of his behaviour back then. Strange, but it had felt like the best thing to do at the time. Now it felt more like temporary madness.
"That he did. They were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, Leopard--"
"--Solid and Sugar Plum, yes. An interesting triad, even the young lady. Bonham - what happened?"
"Shot the girl right through the chest, he did. She died within seconds. Broke the heart of the other two and part of their souls too, would be my guess. They couldn't stop screaming. We had to chart them off to the mainland. As far as I know they are still at the asylum. I never saw you so mad before and I can't say I blame you. Dimwit, I mean, sorry about that."
Dorian hardly heard the last sentences. He wanted to start screaming himself - and never stop. Only vaguely did he hear Bonham's voice continue talking. "It was after that that he got more interested in magic. Don't ask me why. Perhaps he wanted to change what happened only it was he who changed instead. You can't change the past, everyone knows that."
"I'm done with redrawing the runes," said B. "Get over here, the show's about to start."
Heavy-hearted by the news Dorian all but fell back into his chair.
The image flickered.
Then he found himself looking into a pair of sharp, Mosel wine bottle green eyes.
Klaus marched out of Flughafen Köln/Bonn towards the first cab in line. He rarely flew outside work and was used to having a NATO car pick him up on returning. Since he had been on a private trip this time a cab would have to do. He intended to go to his Bonn apartment, rather than to take the far longer trip to Eberbach, just get home and have a quiet, comfortable night at home, then return to his reports in the morning - perhaps even go in early to get everything dealt with.
Some might claim his life to be full of adventure and excitement, but that was all in the line of duty, not on his spare time. Oh, he had things he did off the clock - working out, reading, occasionally catching a movie or something on the telly. It did happen that he wondered about what it would be like to have a companion: someone to share his after work hours and talk about his day with - in general terms, of course, since most of it naturally still would be secret. Someone who would greet him each evening with open arms and a genuine smile. Then, however, the issue regarding this person's gender and the probable complications thereof made themselves remembered, and he would berate himself for his stupid, naïve daydreams.
So he went up to the first car, a sensible Mercedes of the common beige-ish white colour that cabs should have, with "Taxidienst Meier" and a phone number on the side. He let himself into the back seat to the right, opposite to the driver, and rattled off his home address. Then, when the driver still hadn't turned to face him, he lifted his eyes to the rear view mirror.
He found himself looking into a pair of warm, cornflower blue eyes.
--Oh, for fuck's sake!-- Dorian read on Klaus's lips. It was slightly difficult due to the cigarette, but not more so than that he could get the gist of the sentence. --What, are you stalking me now? Or is that little skin flint nuisance of yours hiring you out to get some extra cash in between heists?--
Dimwit wore a rather sedate outfit, if of a brand seldom affordable to cab drivers. He was smiling happily - wide enough for Dorian to label it as "stupidly". Due to the proximity to Klaus, no doubt. Part of him often wanted to smile like that when he and his Kraut love met up, but so far he had always managed to keep his cool. Of course, if the last time Dimwit had seen Klaus the latter had been a cold corpse, well, then perhaps he could understand the lapse. Nanny Mary did teach me better than that, though, he thought derisively.
He couldn't see Dimwit's reply, but Klaus rolled his eyes. --You're a fool,-- he said, very clearly, --and I'm out of here.--
The major grabbed his luggage with his left hand while trying to open the door with his right. He failed. Nor could he get the locking mechanism to work. He turned back. --What are you playing at? Let me out---- Then Dorian couldn't follow his lip movements for a bit, until the tirade ended in, ----soaked in blood!--
He didn't see Dimwit's response this time either - only how, even as Klaus moved closer, a hand appeared, holding a spray can. And the whitish cloud which spurted out, striking Klaus clear in the face. He rocked back, then lunged forth with such lethal rage in his eyes that Dorian flinched. Mid-attack, though, Klaus collapsed half into the car's front seat like a rag doll.
"The new version of the gas," Dorian said, mostly to himself. "New and ... improved."
"So eine Schweinerei!" Z said with anguish in his voice. To hear the young agent, Klaus's "good boy", swear rattled Dorian like little else. "He took him! He took him again!"
Dimwit navigated the cab through the maze of streets in central Bonn, while Z and B called out landmarks to keep track. Their effort proved unnecessary, though, as in the end the goal turned out to be easily recognizable even to Dorian - Klaus's Bonn apartment on Schumannstrasse.
After Dimwit had dragged the unconscious man out of the car the connection flickered off for several eons-long seconds, as apparently no mirror had been close enough to afford a conduit. Dorian could have screamed at not knowing, but he was reasonably sure that his counterpart did the whole "pretending to help the drunk inside"-act. Those of Klaus's neighbours who knew the man might become suspicious, but Dorian judged that they would hold off on alerting any authority, just gossip amongst themselves.
Finally the mirror's surface flickered once more. They overlooked Klaus's bedroom, strict and sparse in predominantly grey and green. After a few seconds Dimwit came into view, staggering under Klaus's weight. A few tottering steps later he gently deposited his burden onto the bed. The latter was suitably long for its tall owner, but narrow in a way that had always struck Dorian as lonely.
Dimwit wiped sweat off his forehead. Then he sat on the very edge of the bed and looked down on the unconscious man for several long seconds. Dorian found himself growling softly as Dimwit leaned forward to place a kiss on the major's slack lips. He wanted to hurl the book he still clutched at the mirror, as if something so simple could stop the scene playing out.
After having gazed lovingly at his captive for a few minutes, Dimwit produced two sturdy handcuffs - the real deal, judging from the lack of padding - and tied Klaus's hands to the bedsides. He caressed Klaus's left cheek once, then retrieved pliers from his belt pouch and placed the tool on the major's chest. With a bit of manoeuvring he managed to push a pillow under Klaus's neck and shoulders, so that his head tilted back, mouth gaping.
The mirror flicked out and a spider web formed briefly on the surface. Dorian swore - echoed by all three of his companions.
"I will start a new batch," B said with such hate in his voice that Dorian shuddered.
"Do that. We do have time, though, so you can rest a little bit first, " he said, clinging to this fact. "He used the new formula to spray the major with. It'll take about three hours before he wakes up. Dimwit will wait until then. He won't ... do ... anything until then. No, he never would. He wouldn't. So ... You can you make it until then, can't you?"
"It will be done."
"Good. That is ... good. Good. Very good. Good."
He really didn't think Dimwit would do anything until after Klaus woke up. That was what he kept telling himself. He could only hope he was right.
As B worked with his powders and oils; and Bonham sat with an arm around Z's shoulders, talking softly to the young agent; Dorian had his favourite art encyclopaedia out of his bookshelf, rifling at random through the thick volume. Many pages were marked with yellow post-it notes, though a few had an elegant, golden checkmark beside some statue or painting or jewellery. He didn't really pay much attention to the images, but merely let his hands do something familiar in a vain attempt to achieve something resembling calm. Instead a lump in his stomach grew for each page turned without a checkmark.
So many of my treasures that I haven't had time to bring home yet ... he thought. And now I've run out of time.
They had eaten. Considering that Bonham had arranged the meal (of course it had been Bonham, good old faithful, down to Earth Bonham), Dorian felt reasonably sure that the food had been something he normally would have found palatable, not to mention nourishing and perhaps even healthy. He did remember looking at a plate and lifting a glass to his mouth, but nothing more than that. Not that he particularly wanted to know. All he wanted was to sit right where he was, curled up with a book that might taunt him, but was so familiar and well-known that it would grant him enough peace to think of nothing but the sentences, broken up in paragraphs, interspersed with black-and-white images. The latters transformed in his mind to their more colourful real life selves, as he had seen a great deal of them during his numerous visits to various museums and private collections. As the Earl of Gloria most places welcomed him (certain German Schlosses excluded) and as for those who denied him access, well ... There were exceptionally few security systems that could keep the Eroica gang out if they really set their minds to getting inside.
Of course, each such moment of peace only lasted for scant seconds. Then whatever image he happened to move his eyes over reminded him anew of the current situation. Long black hair - even if on a female -, well ... Or just an intense green of any shade. Merely words on occasion - "collection" - well, which collection would he come to think of, no matter how hard he tried not to, but the Eberbach one? Which he could so easily have taken, if not for that he wanted its owner even more. And that owner ...
Stay asleep, my dear, he thought, as if he by will-power alone could bring the sentiment across the wall between the worlds and make the object of his thoughts do just that. Sleep and be well. That is all I hope for. With a little luck, this will all be over by the time you wake up.
And wouldn't Klaus be surprised on waking up from his drugged slumber to find a corpse beside him? It saddened Dorian, though, to know how much Klaus would loathe him afterwards, since he would never learn the truth. That wasn't fair!
A centaur in a painting reminded him acutely of Klaus, so he just gave up. He pulled his feet up on the sofa, let the heavy frame of the book settle against his thighs and stayed like that, gazing at the half-man, half-horse - a proud stallion with golden body and black mane, tail and lower legs. The creature's eyes were brown, but if he squinted just a little bit he could pretend they were tinted a dark, inscrutable green.
Klaus became aware of one big, nearly disabling headache. His temples fairly pulsed with the burning pain. That the sensation was hauntingly familiar made it even more annoying. Oh, one headache pretty much resembles the next, but he also felt lumps of slime in his throat - not blocking his breath, but enough to make him feel slightly nauseous. Also, his throat prickled - not quite in pain, but in a way that either heralded a throat infection or - more likely, combined with the other symptoms - that the Ero-bugger had gotten him with that bloody knockout gas - again.
Then he noticed a second pain, one that didn't fall into the normal pattern of Eroica's gas. Careful not to show any sign of having woken up, he examined the source of the distinct discomfort. That was easily accomplished, as he could reach the area with his tongue. On finding the cause he felt rather proud of himself for not reacting visibly. By rights he should have sat up, swearing and yelling, at the very least. Still, outwardly he showed nothing more than the slack features of a man far from the land of the living.
Inside, he both swore and yelled. And he felt cold to the marrow from realising the enormity of what had happened. While he had been unconscious, someone - and since the Brit had captured him with the bloody gas of his, Eroica was his prime suspect - had robbed him of that final defence that always ought to have been left to him. What his searching tongue encountered was a cavity into the third molar on his left lower jaw, where the fake tooth had been opened - and the small, water-soluble cyanide capsule had been removed.
How could the bastard thief even have known about the capsule? And why had he removed it? Was he in league with the bloody Russians after all? Klaus had suspected such a connection from the start. He knew himself well and the only one to fall in love with him must be an idiot - or faking the emotion as part of a mission. So he had firmly held the Earl at arm's distance - or at Magnum's distance, when necessary - to give himself time to investigate the situation. He had done his research thoroughly - and both his work for NATO and his position as the scion of the Eberbach family afforded him plenty of contacts eager to get into his good grace. He had dug carefully, yet had never found the least indication that the other scion, that of the Gloria family, was anything but what he alleged himself to be - a dandy and art thief extraordinaire. And, quite possibly, an idiot. A pea-brained idiot who might actually have fallen for Klaus, considerable thorns notwithstanding.
He still hadn't been sure. Perhaps he could never be sure, it just wasn't in his nature to trust easily - or at all. By then their relationship (such as it was) had changed. Dorian still didn't seem to take no for an answer, not in more than the physical sense of the word, but he had changed his tactics and Klaus hadn't known how to respond to an Eroica who still flirted shamelessly, but who was also courteous and actively tried to help him. He had felt flattered, yes, and tempted, but also confused and wary.
And now? He had been kidnapped, tied up - he could feel the metal of handcuffs around his wrists - and effectively rendered unable even to take the final way out of any confrontation. Part of him hoped that he would soon find himself on the way to Moscow. That was a nicer option than some others that presented themselves to his fertile imagination.
[Earl, don't molest the major in the dark.] The memory of the screech bounced against his eardrums.
His sharp sense of smell - strangely, chain smoking since before he left school hadn't dulled his senses noticeably - told him, unexpectedly, of his whereabouts. At home. Not good, at least not for his hoped for "soon being charted to Moscow"-scenario. The Russkies would have no reason to drop by his Bonn apartment.
Though he just couldn't understand about the missing tooth. Why remove it, if all the Earl would do was rape him? Fuck that 'fate worse than death' nonsense! Not that he wanted to get molested – of course not! But he would survive it and he would make that flaming poofter pay dearly for each touch – pay in blood. Could the bastard really think he would kill himself for something like that?
Also, it galled him that he could have been so wrong about a man. He hadn't really thought that Eroica would actually go so far. Not seriously. Poke and prod and leer, yes - but not actually violate. It seemed inconceivable. That such a thing was apparently on the schedule left a sour taste in Klaus mouth: the bitterness of unexpected betrayal.
He lay on his back, still clothed - thank God! - with his left hand up against his shoulder. His right arm was stretched out from his body, to the side, at a slightly uncomfortable angle, and that hand was held gently and stroked by something small - a finger tip would be his guess. It followed the outline of his digits, then ghosted over the lines of his palm before returning to trace the fingers. Unexpectedly, the sensation tickled.
Klaus kept pretending to be asleep, breathing slowly and deeply, not moving an inch. Let whoever touched him - and he had a pretty good idea who, as a strong waft of lavender teased his nostrils, making him want to sneeze - think him still out for the count, on the off chance that he might learn something useful - anything to help him escape.
"I can try again now," B announced. He sounded exhausted and pinched the bridge of his nose wearily.
"The transferring spell is ready too?" Dorian asked. They had spoken about it before, but he needed to be sure.
"Ja. But as I said--"
"I know. Don't worry about it. Just be ready to use it."
They had decided not to burden Z and Bonham with B's certainty that the transferral spell wouldn't work as they had hoped. It was more than enough that the two of them knew. Dorian would have preferred not to know either ...
B started to chant and soon enough the mirror flickered again, one more time.
Something warm, faintly moist and very soft pressed briefly against his captive hand - Lips, he had time to think, before the voice of Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria spoke to him from close by, removing any lingering doubt he really hadn't entertained as to whose prisoner he had become.
"You look so young when you sleep. Z doesn't. He looks much older, isn't that strange? I know Z isn't you, by the way."
Klaus almost attacked right then and there. By the nearness of his voice the fop was close enough that he should be within the right distance for a good old-fashioned Danish skull. Z! The pervert had been watching Z sleep! Peeping Tom! Stalker! But the knowledge that the stalker in question currently held him captive made watching out for his own safety paramount. Z wasn't in the room - at least, not as far as he knew - so one thing at a time.
"I was so angry with him in the beginning. Since we had just been talking about him, about bringing him up to our room, when … that terrible thing happened. I think I ... forgot sometimes and thought he was you. I was ... very confused for a while. I'm so very sorry about that. I'll never cheat on you again, I swear."
Klaus felt cold to his bones - "cheating" on him? As in - having sex with someone else? Not that they had ever had sex together (not that he hadn't been tempted, especially that time that Dorian had unexpectedly shown up naked in his bed; it had taken all his discipline to send the man packing) ... The man was obviously delusional, but that only meant he was all the more dangerous. And ... with Z? Naive, too easily trusting Z who took Klaus's warning about watching his trousers around the Earl to mean that the Earl might otherwise steal them? Z, who blushed when women flirted with him? Klaus could only hope that the Earl was so far gone that he was dreaming up events that had never happened, though something about the very apologetic tone in which he had been addressed made him fear the alternative.
Had the turncoat of an Earl ... seduced Z? Or ... done something far worse? What 'terrible thing'? He and the Earl had never spoken much about Z. And … "our room"? Had the man gone completely gaga?
"I just ... needed to ... feel ... again. I ... He ... You were gone, you were ... not there any more. But that's all over now. When you've woken up I'll explain everything to you. You'll understand, I'm sure you will."
Not there any more? When? He had seen Z in the morning on the day before his father had dragged him off to Paris! He had been gone for less than 48 hours! Not even the Alphabet could mess up all that much on their own in that short time - or so he hoped.
"Yes, I think I knew he wasn't you, despite everything. I tried not to think about that, but I knew. He has a scar, did you know that? A shot-wound, I believe. On his shoulder, right here."
Klaus almost flinched when his shoulder was touched, but managed to resist. He also wanted to swear. Yes, Z had a scar right there, Klaus knew that from having swum with the man and showered together with him afterwards. Not a big one or a disfiguring one, but Eroica's knowledge proved that the fop had seen Z with at least a bare upper body.
"I have scars too, now," was said, sadly - almost apologetically. "But you won't mind, will you? A warrior such as yourself. You will just see them as battle trophies, will you not?"
Scars? Eroica has scars now? Mein Gott, I leave for 48 hours and everything goes down the drain? Though he hadn't seen Eroica nude for well over a month, two almost. A lot could have happened in that time. But for him to get both scars and get unhinged whatever had happened must have been a whopper. If only he could find out more, maybe there was something that would help him escape the mess he found himself in.
"It's funny, that I couldn't bring anything with me in the transfer, but the body is really my own., not his. Scars and all, I did tell him that. I had almost hoped to get his body instead, but that isn't how the spell works. No magic, though. Strange, that. But you're resistant to magic. Always were. Very inconvenient, that. Things would have been so different if only you had been more susceptible. Like Z. But I really don't think you will mind scars. Do you have scars, Klaus? I promise that I won't mind. I look forward to finding out."
And then his hand was kissed again.
The view again showed Klaus's sparse bedroom, with the man himself cuffed to the bed. Still asleep, luckily - and still fully dressed too. His head was no longer tilted back, though, and the pliers were nowhere in sight, though the right corner of his mouth looked faintly bruised. His hands had also been rearranged. Both were now attached to the bed's right side, to which a chair had been pulled up. One of his hands was held in his abductor's lap, cradled almost reverently between Dimwit's own. Dimwit himself sat still, staring out into the air. He rested his feet on the very edge of Klaus's bed, right leg's foot hooked over the ankle of the left. At some point he had changed out of the dour cab driver outfit into bright red trousers and a pale green shirt with a gold pattern. He looked pensive. His lips moved, but the angle made it impossible for Dorian to read what he was saying.
"I shall attempt to reason with him first," Dorian said, keeping his voice even and far more confident than he actually felt. "Herr B - engage the communication part of the spell."
B muttered a guttural chant and after only a few syllables the mirror shimmered, spreading dollops of colour randomly until the entire surface seemed alive. When he stopped, though, the shimmer instantly melted away, leaving the mirror brighter than before, clearer somehow.
No reaction came from beyond. Dorian waved. Nothing. He waved again, hoping to catch Dimwit's attention. In the corner of his eyes he saw Bonham start doing the same and then, hesitatantly, Z joined in. Nothing.
Dorian frowned. If he doesn't look up soon we're going to have a problem.
"--and kiss you, of course. That is what I want to do first. You know, I've never been so happy as when you told me to kiss you. I was confused – I still don't understand it. We had been talking about Z. I told you I would bring him up if you didn't—But that doesn't matter any longer, does it? You were so angry and then you made such a strange sound, I've never heard it before. But then you told me to kiss you. You did! I couldn't believe it. Your lips, so soft and perfect. But then you started to convulse and you spit into my mouth - I didn't understand what was happening, I thought you were having some sort of seizure. And then you, you ... No! I refuse to think about that horror again! Well, where was I? Yes, and then I will caress your knees, continue down your calves, kiss your ankles, run my tongue in little circles around--"
Without warning Klaus's hand was knocked sideways, there was a screech, someone squeaked and then something slammed into the bed's side. Not even NATO's Iron Klaus could keep up his performance - his eyes flicked open. The light made him squint, but he took in the room in a sweep, quickly just in case he could continue to play possum. Considering the Earl of Gloria's rapidly more graphic accounts of his plans, "waking up" was the last thing Klaus wanted to do.
But his slip had passed unnoticed. He kept his eyes open, though, as the only other person in the room ignored him completely. It was a man, if judged by the shoulder-width, the height and the slim hips. An Earl of Gloria, if judged by the skin-tight trousers; the billowing green and gold blouse; and the cloud of curly hair. But what had caused Eroica to leap up from the chair he must have sat on while pawing Klaus's hand?
"No! Forget it!"
Fuck it, he must see me in the ... in the ... Zum Teufel!
The mirror. His mirror. A family heirloom, brought from Schloss Eberbach when he had first bought his Bonn apartment. Brushed silver with a boar in each lower corner. Solid; useful; and tall enough so that he didn't have to sit or even lean down to check his hair. Normally the view from his bed let him see out the window. He never liked being somewhere where he couldn't survey all entry points in one glance.
But, unexplainably, the mirror did not show the red and golden leaves of Schumannstrasse.
How are they projecting that image onto my mirror? I can't see any equipment? What is going on? What--
"I won't hurt him! I never would!"
It's Eroica in the mirror too! And that's Z! Why are they-- But he can't be both here and--
"No! It was an accident!"
He met Z's eyes. The young agent was unlikely to be a Russkie collaborator. Again, Klaus rarely trusted anyone, but Z was among the very few he was reasonably sure wouldn't turn on him. But what had the young man gotten himself mixed up with Eroica and ... a second Eroica? And why had Z coloured his hair?
Eroica has a twin brother? The world isn't big enough! No intelligence ever hinted at that. A doppelganger or a lookalike, maybe like that motorcycle punk?
Then he noticed how Z's hands moved. The restrained gestures could have been nervous ticks, but were in fact anything but. Klaus began to read. Two signs at a time, read left to right, in the sign language-based, discrete short hand Klaus had taught his subordinates.
/Major (a fist). Signing (a quick wave of all fingers)./
"I'm going to make everything all right again! And you can't stop me!"
/Z. Signing./ Klaus replied.
/High alert (all fingers briefly spread and lifted). Fuckup (the finger)./
/High alert. Captive (fist with the tip of the thumb sticking out between ring finger and long finger)./
A brief hesitation, then: /No. Eroica (fist, with index finger and little finger forming horns)./
No Eroica? Not Eroica? One of them is a fake? Yes, that's obvious. Z thinks his one is the right one, I guess. But is he right? And what is that projecting thing in my mirror? Is Lawrence involved - the bloody fool is so fond of his fucking gadgets.
"Nothing can go wrong now! I took out the suicide pill! So he can't bite through the tooth this time. See?"
Klaus didn't bother to even glance that way, too occupied with Z's deftly moving fingers.
Z had never been good at putting together the signs. Currently he was having some kind of breakdown or else it was true what Klaus had long suspected - if one spent too much time in the limey's company one would start going daft. Another reason why I shouldn't entertain stupid notions of letting him get friendly with me!
"Klaus won't die in this universe too! Everything will be just fine! He'll understand that I mean him nothing bad!"
Or maybe things were very, very complicated.
/Sign. Slow,/ he ordered, meaning for Z to take the time to concentrate.
"No! I refuse to return there. I can't, can't you see?"
/Your (U and R simultaneously)./
In the corner of his eyes Klaus saw the Eroica beyond the mirror move his arms, but he forced himself not to look away from Z's fluttering fingers.
"I do apologise for my deception, old chap, but you must understand - I need this! I will take the best care of him and of your men too, don't you worry!"
Madness. Total, utter madness. But the alternative was two Lord Glorias on the loose and, dear world, that was just too much to imagine.
/So? Do?/ he asked, moving his right hand to an angle to form the first question and in the mirroring direction for the second.
Z turned his hands to the same signal, but angled down. He didn't know.
"Whatever you think you need, I need it just as much!" Dorian replied. Though he burned with internal rage, he spoke slowly, both to be able to enunciate properly, but also to give Klaus more time. With a hand over his mouth to cover his lips' movements, Z had informed him of Klaus being awake and signing with him, so Dorian's original hope for everything to be over by the time Klaus woke up was already a bust. Not that even Iron Klaus could do anything, trussed up as he was, but Dorian wanted his beloved to understand the sacrifice Dorian intended to make for his sake. Maybe that was melodramatic of him, but then, why not - it wasn't as if Klaus would be able to yell at him about it. Not so that Dorian would hear, anyway.
"I love my Major von dem Eberbach just as much as you did yours," he said, trying to be reasonable. "He is mine. Not yours. I am sorry for your loss, for the ... accident. It is terrible. Truly horrible. But please, do what is right. Help me return to my world now."
In truth he couldn't see that happening, but he mostly tried to prolong things. To give Klaus time to understand what was happening, yes. And, simply, just to live a few seconds longer.
"No. I will not help you. Klaus is mine - we belong together. He kissed me and he is mine. And you can't return without my assistance, so I suggest you give up right now. Klaus will wake up soon and I don't want you to confuse or upset him."
Madness, Klaus thought, repeating his earlier estimation. Z had stopped signing, so Klaus turned his eyes to the beyond-the-mirror-Dorian. Total, utter madness.
But, actually, a little easier to swallow than that he would have been so wrong about a man he over the years had come to trust at least some. For that, if nothing else, he felt a little relieved.
"No!" he heard the other Dorian, the one in the room with him, say. "You can't do that. If you try to come through on your own we will both die! That would be suicide and we both know we are not the suicidal type. We must both touch the mirror for the reversal to work without harming us and I won't do it."
The Dorian in the mirror smiled sadly. Then he nodded.
Then he turned to the side. His lips moved, but from the angle it was impossible to tell what he said. Klaus attention was pulled back to Z, who flinched, then looked at him with eyes full of worry.
No, Dorian really wasn't the suicidal kind. No matter what life threw at him he had never imagined a situation where death's eternal embrace might be preferable to shouldering the burden and trudging onwards. This, however, wouldn't be suicide.
Call it a 'Sacrifice in the Name of Love' instead, he thought as he heard Z's quiet moan of distress and the first rough syllables of the chant roll off B's tongue. It sounds so much better.
"Ten," said Bonham.
Klaus felt increasingly confused.
What does B have to do with things?!
He realised that there wasn't any time to ask more questions. Whatever happened was already coming down and he could do nothing to stop it.
Z obviously counted down. What more exactly would happen when they reached zero?
48 hours ... he thought, not a little annoyed. I leave them for 48 hours and I come back to havoc ... I'm never taking another vacation again in my life!
Already confident that he could follow the rhythm without watching Z sign the number, Klaus looked towards Dorian - and found his gaze met for the first time.
Bitterly aware that the negotiations had stranded, Dorian turned his gaze from his other self over to the bed - and looked once more straight into Klaus's eyes. A little tingle rushed through him, just as it had done every single time he had ever looked into them. They were slightly narrowed, as if Klaus hadn't quite made sense of everything yet. Dorian couldn't blame him.
"What are you doing?" said the Earl of Gloria in his room.
The Earl in the mirror - apparently the real Dorian of his universe - looked completely exhausted. The second one had said that they would both die if the first one went ahead with his threat. He had obviously thought that would be the end of it: that he had called a bluff. Klaus suddenly realised he might very well be wrong.
--For you,-- the Dorian in the mirror mouthed at him. --Only for you.--
Oh, fuck it.
Well, there was only one thing he wanted to say. "For you," he said. "Only for you."
Klaus obviously understood him - and frowned.
Actually - two things. The last one, being, simply, "I love you!"
As last words go, they might not be the most original ones - some might even call them trite. But what finer words were there, in the end? He had lived for those words for long enough - it felt only fitting that he would die for them.
--I love you!--
Klaus saw the words form on the fop's lips. He had seen them before - heard them too, of course, often enough. He had sometimes even dared to believe that they might be true.
Around the edges of the mirror runes had begun to glimmer, slowly moving clockwise.
"What are-- You can't possibly mean--" the Eroica in the room began to say.
"I think he does," Klaus said.
At the same time as this other Eroica, the wrong one, started to turn towards him, Klaus attacked.
In the corner of his eyes Dorian saw Dimwit move, but paid the man no heed save for hoping that he wouldn't block the view of the major. He drew a long breath and held it.
At the same time as Bonham, voice trembling, called out the next number, Dorian reached out, ready to touch the mirror.
He might be bound, sure - but only a fool would believe him rendered completely harmless. Strangely, Eroica had always seemed a bit of a thick-headed pea-brain, but never a fool. Perhaps this one was different - or his own had learned from past mistakes.
Long legs lashed out - not to kick, but to capture. Left leg hooked around this Earl of Gloria's stomach and pulled him close, while the right knee pressed up against the man's back, holding him in place.
The grip would be easy to break out of. Ridiculously so. However ...
... he didn't intend to hold it for long.
Dorian saw a blur of movement and then how Dimwit fell - no, was dragged backwards. Blond hair cascaded everywhere, but over Dimwit's left shoulder Dorian could still see black hair and intent, green eyes.
"Three," Bonham said. Calmly. As if he didn't see the struggle within the mirror. Perhaps he didn't. Perhaps he kept his eyes fixed on B's hand, as the man used his fingers to count down the time until the spell would take hold. Perhaps he didn't want to see what happened. In one hand, Dorian knew, the cockney clutched a spray bottle with sleeping gas, meant to subdue Dimwit with once he had crossed over.
The moment couldn't have lasted for long, though the space that followed the "three" seemed to stretch out and all Dorian saw was that Dimwit struggled, but that Klaus held firm. Klaus looked back at him, eyes narrowed as if he considered something very carefully.
Klaus still wasn't convinced that he wasn't having some strange, possibly drug-induced dream. The alternative was absurd, yet the cold rationality that made him one of the world's top spies already weighed his options. The two Earls must touch the mirror simultaneously to exchange places again and come out of the switch alive. The Earl in the mirror seemed determined to go through with it and consequences be damned. So, if Klaus would just hold on for a few more seconds, then all his problems would be solved in one, swell swoop. He had been kidnapped and threatened with rape, not to mentioned tied up and rendered "defenceless". No matter how the Earl's death would read in the coroner's report, no judge or jury in the world would convict him of a crime. There would be no more Eroica to bother him, ever again. No more--
When his legs moved as if on their own accord - releasing and kicking hard to send the man staggering towards the mirror Klaus realised that he had never really had an option. His own Eroica was one thing - a nuisance sometimes, sure, but in the end part of his life, much like the common cold and sunshine. The man before him, though, he didn't belong there. He was a very dangerous unknown - most likely mental in some way. A madman, who had killed Klaus himself and, by the sound of things, abused Z.
He mentioned the scars. This is his own body, not Dorian's. So this should work ...
There was another thing too. His other self, in that other universe, had tried to use the very poison that killed him to kill this man as well. Of that Klaus was certain. The other must have already bitten through the tooth - by accident or design? - when he had asked for a kiss, hoping to take his tormentor with him. Only, his other self had failed.
Knowing that his motion was concealed by the Earl's body, Klaus kicked out one more time, his right foot only, impacting hard exactly where he had aimed. A loud crack rang in the small room.
Dimwit flew towards him, arms cartwheeling and with a stunned, slack look on his face.
So Dorian reached towards the mirror's cold surface.
The strange feeling of vertigo: of being enveloped and flung and then spit out and pushed away, was no less daunting the second time Dorian experienced it. Then he was hauled away from the mirror, arms grappling the air as he tried to catch his balance. Something slapped painfully against his legs and then he crashed down - landing heavily on top of something both kind of soft, yet hard: something angular and warm and which yelled loudly into his ear:
"Get off me, you pervert!"
As if on cue, Dorian's body began to shake all over.
"I, I can't, I can't say I'd be, I'd be happy to, to, do so, my, my, my dear, but, but, but I can't, I can't, I can't seem to get, to get my, my muscles to co-co, to co, to co-operate. I really can't move. Just a second, I promise, I promise I'll, I'll--"
"Yeah, yeah, I can feel you shiver like a bowl of jello. One second and that's all! Then you'll get off! Understood?"
"Yes, yes, yes, I, I--" Actually, he had already lain on top of Klaus far longer than one measly second, but he realised Klaus's need to grump at him." I, I, I almost, I almost feel better now, I ... Oh, a-are you all right, K-K-Klaus?"
"I'm fine except that a degenerate Brit is squashing me. Get off!" The nice, warm body beneath Dorian bucked, though nowhere near as violently as he knew Klaus was capable of, had he really tried to dislodge him.
"I would roll to the side, but your bed isn't wide enough for two, especially with you tied up so nicely in it, my dear." His tongue, if nothing else, felt better.
The body beneath him suddenly went stock still.
"Which I have no intention whatsoever of taking advantage of, my dear. It was just an, an observation." A pleasant kind of observation, though, and if Klaus showed any interest in bondage in the future, he would find Dorian an apt and willing teacher. "Wait, wait, I think I, I think I can move now. Oops!"
"Bloody pervert! Get your sodding hands off me!"
"Sorry! I really didn't mean to squash ... that." Dorian continued to roll and then fell, landing with a painful crash to the floor. He only barely managed to catch himself from banging his head into the bedside table. Instead he leaned his forehead on the edge of Klaus's bed. "There?" he muttered. "Better?"
"Get me out of these cuffs and I might not break your jaw."
"You're lucky I had the strength to get off you in the first place. Just a second, Klaus, and I will help you. I'm sorry, but my head is killing me."
"Your guy, that Bonham fellow, he's waving at us. And he's pawing at Z! Stop that, you pervert!" The bed shook as Klaus tried to free his arms, and the wood creaked in protest.
"What?" Dorian sat up, looking around. The bright light hurt his eyes, but he could see that the mirror was broken - and what few shards remained in the frame showed nothing interesting.
"On the nightstand, blockhead!"
He turned accordingly and saw a small mirror, part of the alarm clock. Bonham stood within it and Z knelt by the cockney's side, holding on to his waist.
"Did he get there?" Dorian asked, making an effort to enunciate clearly.
Bonham nodded, but then shook his head. --Broke his neck coming over,-- he said and there was immense sadness in his eyes. --Must have touched the mirror too slow or something. Died without a word.-- He lifted a hand to his eyes, touching their corners to dry off still unshed tears.
Dorian had no idea what could have gone wrong. He didn't feel too sad, though. Sad for Bonham's sake, yes, and for the man Dimwit once might have been, but after his recent adventure he simply couldn't care too much. For many reasons, Z not the least, what had happened would probably be for the best – and there was no way of changing it, besides. Even so, when he reached for his lock pick his hands felt leaden. Klaus lay still, watching silently as Dorian worked on his cuffs. His body remained tense, though, as if he half expected Dorian not to free him at all, but to do something very bad to him instead.
"I'm not like him," Dorian stated gently after he had freed the major's left hand.
"I'm not," Dorian repeated. "I'm really not, you know. I'm nothing like him at all."
Dorian had more trouble with the right hand, since his own had began to shake so hard, but finally the second lock clicked open.
"There," he said and suddenly realised he was crying. "Do, do you be-believe me now?"
Klaus sat up. Then strong arms clumsily pulled Dorian close. "Yes," was muttered gruffly in his ear. "I believe you, you idiot. So help me God, I believe you."
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