Written for: cherusha in the Yuletide 2008 Challenge
It was only because B was an incompetent ass that Klaus found out at all. The idiot somehow thought that whispering to A in the janitor's closet meant that Klaus couldn't hear him, and he was still less inclined to forgive B's excuses that the Major shouldn't have been in the building at six in the morning, let alone in an obscure hallway. Still, how B thought he could utter the words, "Should we tell him?" and not expect Alaska...
But now he knew, and damn B if he almost wished that he didn't. Wishes, though, are for weak men and cowards, and ... he knew. So he would have to go and see the man.
Klaus hadn't seen or heard anything about Eroica in three months, not since the thief's last contract. No roses, no notes, no visits, no news of art stolen in Eroica's style - not even G had been caught having anything to do with him. Klaus would not allow a stupid word like worry into his head, but he had begun to wonder what enormous depraved stunt the idiot was dreaming up, to be leaving NATO unplagued this long.
And now this. Klaus had shut himself in his office and he could hear his cowardly agents whispering outside, no, don't disturb him. At the present it suited him, and he found he could not raise himself to shouting at them. He supposed he would have to go and see the Chief later, and the thought did not improve his mood.
Klaus lit his fifth cigarette and read through the file again. So. Stefan Weissgarten, that fucking asshole, who should never have been assigned to his damned team in the first place, and who he'd fired three weeks after the Chief dumped him on Klaus, was dead. Klaus had thought him the most incompetent, obnoxious wanker ever to have been forced onto his team, and would not mourn him. It was a damned good riddance, except that now he knew how Weissgarten had died, he wished he could kill the fucking bastard all over again.
He rewound the audio tape to the last few minutes again.
"The Major? Darling, I don't know who you're talking about. But isn't this carpet gorgeous? I have one quite similar, made in the 1750s. This one isn't half so old, of course." The Earl's voice was familiar to him, musical and flirtatious.
The second voice on the tape was light, teasing and had a German accent. It made Klaus ball his fists. "Don't be silly, Dorian. Major Klaus von dem Eberbach. I know you know him; I've seen you together. I've heard the sort of thing he calls you."
"Why, darling, are you protecting my honor? How sweet! Come back to bed; the maid has been to change the sheets and I can't have my reputation ruined. We simply must muss them again before we leave."
Weissgarten's voice again, insistent, petulant. "I know you're dying to suck my prick again, Earl, but the Major? How do you know him? Why do you let him call you such things?"
"Stefan, darling, I really do not know what you mean. Do come to bed, or if you're so exhausted you can't handle another round, then let's order some refreshments. I'll call the maid back."
"Dorian, I saw you. You must know him well, know him intimately, to allow his disrespect. Have you had him?"
Eroica's voice was cold now. "Stefan, that is enough. Perhaps we'll meet here another day, but for now I think I will take my leave."
Klaus heard rustling bed sheets and muffled thumps, and then the familiar sharp click of a handgun being cocked. "Stay where you are, pervert. I asked you a question."
There was silence for a long beat. Dorian's voice was subdued, when it came. "It's going to be like that, is it, Stefan? You're not one of those queers, is that it? Not like me."
Weissgarten's voice was hard and disgusted. "I'm not any kind of a queer. But I know the Major is, and I want you to tell me so. Or I shoot your pervert ass."
Klaus knew how much Dorian hated guns, but he couldn't have told it from the Earl's voice. "Blackmail, is it, for this Major of yours? I don't cooperate with blackmailers, liars or threats, Stefan. You can take your gun and leave."
Weissgarten didn't reply, or if he did the tape didn't pick it up over the sound of the shot he fired. The Earl's gasp of pain, though - that was clear. "The Major. Or I shoot your other arm."
There was more rustling, and footsteps. Weissgarten's voice was full of contempt when he spoke again. "Fucking pansy pervert. Wake up and talk."
There were no more words after that, just the sounds of a violent scuffle, another shot fired, and a choked off cry. Then Dorian's voice, unsteady, calling Bonham, then evidently searching the room, from the sound, and then the tape squealed as the recorder was found and shut off.
Klaus forced himself to listen to it through once more, Dorian's deadpan deflections and calm responses. The way his voice sounded when he called Bonhan, injured and brittle. And this was the cause of the Earl's silence, then, and the man was an idiot if he thought he shouldn't have come to Klaus immediately. Damn him, and damn Klaus and the entire Alphabet for not checking on him sooner.
He called Bonham, and damn waking the man up as well. Bonham said nothing about the hour, taking Klaus' call as if he rang every day. "I will visit," he said, forestalling Bonham's greeting. "Is the Earl at home?"
Bonham sounded glad at the pronouncement. "Yes, Major. I'm afraid he hasn't been out very much lately. You would be welcome."
"He is well?"
"He is ... uninjured."
"I see. We will speak, Mr Bonham, of when and how you will communicate vital NATO business in future. I will arrive tomorrow afternoon. Good day."
Klaus gathered up the tape and the file and shouted for A. "I will be visiting the Earl for the next week. Make my arrangements and contact me at Red Gloria if there is something you idiots cannot handle yourselves. And then we will talk."
"Of course, Sir," said A, and retreated gratefully back out of Klaus' office. Idiot.
The weather in London was abysmal. Klaus drove out of the city through the horizontal rain, cursed with an awful American car since the rental agency was out of anything worth driving. He pulled into the Earl's estate in the sheeting water, glad to be rid of the thing. Hesitating was for fools, so he got out immediately, fighting with his umbrella and running for the porch.
The stingy-bug fussed about his wet luggage on the carpets, and Jones tried to get him to go to his room and get settled, but Bonham took him straight to the Earl's library.
When Klaus walked into the room, he was struck by how small the thief looked, hunched in his stuffed armchair by the window. Eroica had never seemed a large man, but he took up more space with his flamboyant frippery than any three other men. Today, he seemed greyed, dimmed, and he barely looked up at Klaus' entrance.
"Major," he said, and his voice was weary and his tone that of a stranger. His hair was pulled back, in a style Klaus had seem him wear only when necessity demanded.
"Eroica," Klaus greeted him, and didn't know how to continue. "You are ... recovered?"
The Earl gave him an odd look, and then looked strained. "They've told you, then. I'll fire the lot of them, one day. Or send them to Alaska; that seems to work for you."
"Told me what?"
"That I was shot, and now I've healed. I suppose you have a job that's come up and you want me to do it for you? Well, you can find someone else this time. Go home, Major."
"Eroica, don't play games. I've heard the tape."
Dorian looked tired. "Really. Have you also seen the photographs?"
"What photographs? None were in the file!"
"No, Major, they weren't. I destroyed everything I found, and I stole the negatives back as well. But I cannot be sure I got them all. I can't be sure if Weissgarten had the only copies."
Shit, what was this? "What photographs, damn you!"
Dorian's voice had that same brittle note it had held on the tape. "A dozen innocent moments, Iron Klaus giving the time of day to the notorious pervert Red Gloria. Nothing. But taken all together, they were trying to make it something. They could have made it something."
Klaus snorted. "There is nothing to make, Eroica. I cannot be blackmailed with an untrue rumor. Why did you not come to me immediately? You damned idiot, it's the fucking KGB! I have told you before to stay out of their way!"
Klaus thought that, at least, might rouse the man. But he replied in the same dull voice. "The 'fucking KGB' tried to use me to get to you, Major, and they did it because of who and what I am. It's now dangerous for you to be associated with me. So you won't be, and you will leave me now, and find another contractor. It was good of you to come." He turned away at that, apparently hoping Klaus would suffer a personality transplant and leave. The man was a moron, now and always.
"If you think I will leave, you are more of a frippery-addled idiot than I thought you were. I have not come about a job. I have come because you were injured. That degenerate asshole Weissgarten shot you because you were associated with me! How dare you not report it to me! I do not wish to hear of traitors because B is whispering in a closet!"
The Earl looked up at that, with a flash of his usual flirtatious wanker smile. Klaus was dismayed to find himself taking comfort in it. "B in a closet? Major, the poor man. I do wish you would go easier on them, they do try." The smile dropped. "Anyway, Weissgarten is dead. I have destroyed everything he had except the tape. He was working for Mischa. He didn't get what he wanted, so you can rest easy in your reputation. No one will think anything less of you; you are not associated except professionally with the pervert. And now, not even that."
"Mein Gott, Eroica! The man got nothing out of you! You were shot protecting me from that Goddamned traitor, and you expect that I should go back to Bonn and never speak to you again? You are delusional!"
Dorian winced. "Major, dear, please stop shouting. You will have James in here any minute." He took a breath and stood, and Klaus looked carefully for any sign of pain as he moved. He saw none, but he was struck again by how tall the man was, even without the energy that usually made him seem so much larger. "Klaus. Thank you for coming to visit. It ... means a lot. But I can't be a liability to you. I can't bear it. Please, allow me to do this for you. I will work with other NATO teams, if that is what you need. But not you, Klaus. I won't ruin you. Allow me my pride at least, if you have any regard for me at all. "
He paused again, and turned to the window. "He looked like you, you know. Stefan. It was why Mischa ... sent him. What did you do to make him hate you so much he would agree to seduce the pervert?"
Klaus couldn't recall Dorian ever sounding that way when he spoke of his ... inclinations. It gave him a cold feeling in his chest to hear it now. "The hosenscheisser was an Alphabet for three weeks. That dickhead Chief forced him on me, and I fired him for his moronic incompetance. The man was useless. Since it turns out he was a KGB recruit, I am not surprised. Idiots! It is a service to the world that you killed him. I wish I had shot him myself." He did. Oh, how he wished, even if it made him a weak man. He had seen Dorian cold, miserable, afraid and at the end of his rope, but never broken. Never like this.
"Dorian. I ... would not wish to work with another contractor." He struggled with the words in his throat. "What you did ... what you do. I ... admire you. You are brave and honorable, and you have been a good friend to me. I have not always been so to you. I would ... regret your absence." He stared out the window as he spoke, standing stiffly at attention. He was terrible at this, he knew, but he had to offer some comfort. He could not bear to see the Earl's energy dimmed. He had not realised, before, how Dorian's easy acceptance of who and what he was had buoyed him. This self-recrimination, it tore at him.
"You are mistaken if you think to protect me this way. It is ... not necessary. I am not ashamed of you, and I will not have you shamed." Klaus bowed his head, studying the thick carpet. He forced himself to walk forward and reach out. Dorian's shoulder was trembling. "Thank you, for what you did not say to the traitor. But I do not thank you for hiding from me. I have not thought you a coward for a very long time."
The Earl reached up and placed his hand over Klaus', still facing the window. "Klaus. God help me." A shudder ran through him. "You are forgiving me?"
Klaus growled. "There is nothing to forgive, you fucking idiot. That asshole used you, and you killed him. It is over."
Dorian turned under his hand, wincing, and Klaus loosened his hold. The Earl met his eyes at last, a long, searching look. They were standing very close. Klaus couldn't say any more. Finally, Dorian nodded, took a breath, and smiled a little. "All right. All right." He reached up and loosened his curls, his hair tumbling around his shoulders again as it should.
"Would you like to stay to dinner? I will ask Jones to make up something special."
"Ja. And then I will stay the week. If you have no engagements?"
The Earl smiled wider. "Certainly not," he said, and the coldness eased in Klaus' chest. It would be well.