Euchre: A bid to play without the help of a partner.
Late July 2003
Klaus entered the study of Schloss Eberbach, slipping one of a dozen DVDs into a player and sitting down to watch. It was not the same recording he had given to the men behind Project: Eroica. It was from the original videos that were now safely in a bank vault in Switzerland, several attorneys in possession of the distribution instructions should anything unexpected happen to himself, the Earl, or any of their men.
On the screen, a very young Earl of Gloria was attempting to instruct Agent John Marshall on the proper way of serving tea.
"Careful!" Dorian said with a laugh as John barely managed to keep from dumping the tray as he set it down. "You'll upset the lot. And don't slosh it about so much."
"Okay, what's the trick, then?" John replied in an accent that was a mixture of American and English. He took a seat beside the Earl, an expectant look on his face.
"Oh! Well, your accent's coming along nicely," Dorian grinned. He looked down at the tray. "First of all, you don't carry your own tray. It is brought to you." He motioned with his hands, looking at the invisible servant and nodding. "Thank you, Jeeves, that will be all."
John responded with a grin. "And Jeeves replies, 'Very good, m'lord.'"
"Spot on." Dorian looked up. "Shall I pour out?"
Dorian rolled his eyes. "Not huh! You say, 'Pardon?' you uncouth Colonial!" He went on to mimic the other man's American accent. "I know, whadaya say we just forget this sissy tea stuff and go hava brewski?"
John nearly fell out of his seat laughing. He had to struggle to put on a serious expression again. This took a few minutes to accomplish, much to Dorian's further amusement. "I beg your pardon, your lordship. I didn't understand your question," he said in a perfect imitation of the Earl's voice and accent while wiping tears from his eyes. "Tea would be lovely."
"Top marks! You'll be sounding like you were born on the proper side of the Atlantic before week's end," Dorian joked. Then he broke into a dazzling smile.
Klaus paused the recording. He sat staring at the image of the Earl, his smile lighting up his whole face. It was a smile he had seen more times than he could count. Then he realized he had not seen it once since the day he sneaked into the man's bedroom more than a year ago. At that moment, it occurred to him how desperately he missed Eroica's maddenly carefree air and brilliant smile. A smile that was now gone forever except in these few precious recordings.
They didn't just steal your life, did they, Dorian? They stole your smile, killed your spirit. Destroyed your soul. Klaus closed his eyes, putting his head in his hands. And I helped them do it.
Once again, he found himself mourning the loss of a man who never existed.
Would the pain never go away?
Late July 2003
Dorian sat in the garden surrounded by the beauty he thought he would never enjoy again. A beauty dulled by the events of the past year and the knowledge of how much of his life he had lost—or more accurately, had been taken from him. He had toned down his wardrobe from what he had worn over the past twenty-five years. Somehow, it just didn't suit him anymore. He couldn't quite get up the energy to carry off the over-the-top Earl of Gloria. Too much of it felt fake, manufactured…not him
The art thief Eroica would go on, of course, without interference from the intelligence community. Even now, his family of thieves were happily planning another job. Elsewhere, the United States had escalated things in the Middle East, invading Iraq in March, escalating its "War on Terror," and probably still covering up its blunders along with all the other countries involved. No one would bother them. Not if they wanted to keep a lid on things. The world was an unstable enough place as it was without adding more fuel to a fire that was already burning out of control.
Dorian turned to look at the setting sun, the sky afire with its glow. How many times had he sat in this very spot looking west and wondered about Klaus? Where he was and what he was doing? He had thought it to be just a part of the job. The assignment. Keeping track of NATO. Just how much of it was himself? The real Dorian. The lost Dorian.
"Oh, hell," Dorian moaned, closing his eyes, a trembling hand brushing away a stray tear. He had promised himself a dozen times over that he was going to stop dwelling on this. Several minutes later, his watch beeped the hour. A few seconds after that, a hand gently touched his shoulder. He gave a small smile. "Right on time, Bonham."
Dorian nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected and familiar voice of Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. He looked up, his eyes wide. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
"You win," Klaus said calmly.
Dorian found words still would not come, the scene from more that a year ago returning vividly to mind. The man sneaking into his bedroom in the middle of the night to say those very words to him.
Klaus cocked his head to one side. "I've been watching the recordings you made for the CIA."
"Oh," Dorian managed to squeak out. "And…?"
"And I suddenly realized why you always irritated the shit out of me."
Dorian checked himself before making a ridiculously "foppish" remark on this. No, that was the programmed Dorian. That's not me. "I though we'd established that already. It was part of the act."
Klaus shook his head. "No. It's because none of it added up. There was Eroica; an incredibly competent thief. The best in the world. And then there was the public persona; the Earl of Gloria; a selfish, self-centered, narcissist who would do stupid, thoughtless, childish things just to piss me off. But somewhere in all that there was this incredibly brilliant, courageous individual who would put himself in danger for no other reason than to help me."
Dorian opened his mouth only to close it again.
"It wasn't a shallow, selfish bugger who faced down Mischa the Cub with a gun he thought was empty. Or got onto a hijacked airplane to drug everyone onboard. Someone as vain as you claimed to be would never put themselves in a position to die over a painting, however exquisite it was supposed to be. It didn't make sense until you told me you were CIA. A trained CIA agent wouldn't think twice about putting themselves in danger. But it couldn't've been that, either, could it? You were never CIA."
Dorian got to his feet to face the other man, but still found himself at a loss for words.
"It was you, the real you, fighting through all the layers. The real Dorian." Klaus drew a deep breath. "The Dorian...I fell in love with."
There was a long silence as Dorian thought this over. "God…how do I respond to all that?" he said at last. "I don't know…" how I feel. If I can—if I do—love you. Apparently, Klaus sensed this, the pained look returning to his dark green eyes. It was like a knife through Dorian's heart. No, I never want to see that haunted look again. He took Klaus's face in his hands and kissed him. Then he hugged the German for all he was worth. "Damn you for making me— Oh damn, I don't know what I feel. I just know, when you said good-bye, I died inside."
"Serves you right, you bloody nuisance."
This was spoken in such a gentle tone that Dorian could not help but laugh. He stepped back and broke into so brilliant a smile that Klaus was sure he felt his heart stop. Or was that just the world starting up again?
"I still don't know who the real Dorian is."
Who the fuck cares, you're smiling again! "Dorian…"
"No, now you listen to me," Dorian said firmly. "It's just as you said. The man who professed his undying love and devotion to you was a lie. A fake. An illusion. I said the words, but didn't…feel it."
"Didn't you?" came the challenging reply. "Bonham very astutely pointed out to me that you are still the same person physically. There are things you did that couldn't possibly have been part of your mission."
"The real Dorian was always there, buried beneath the layers. I saw it in those recordings." Klaus paused a beat before saying hesitantly, "I'd…like to help you find him."
Dorian blinked. "I thought you said—"
"Forget what I said, I was being an idiot."
This brought a second dazzling smile to Dorian's face. "I could almost say it was all worth it just to hear you admit that."
"I think that would be the other Dorian taunting you."
This actually brought a smile to Klaus's face.
"You really want to do this?"
"If you'll let me."
This time it was Dorian who felt his heart stop. "We might have to travel all over the world in this search…"
"I'm not doing anything at the moment."
Dorian's eyes lit up. "What if it takes years?"
Klaus put a hand under the Earl's chin and leaned in close. "I don't care if it takes a lifetime," he said before kissing him very tenderly on the mouth.
Dorian put his arms around the man, giving a contented sigh when he was hugged back. He turned to look at the glowing sky, slipping one arm around Klaus's waist and leaning his head against his shoulder. "Let's start…hmmm?" He pointed at random. "That way."
"Why that way?"
"Why not?" Dorian gave Klaus a playful look. "You have a better suggestion?"
Klaus turned back to the house and pointed at the Earl's bedroom. "How about that way?"
There are certain Laws of Nature that remain immutable.
The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Gravity is a one-way proposition. Death and Taxes are inevitable.
Dorian Red Gloria, the Earl of Gloria, whose smile can rival the sun, will continue to be the most fashionable and carefree homosexual the jet-setting world has ever known until the day that he dies.
And Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, formerly of NATO, will remain steadfastly at his side until the day that he dies.
These are the Laws of Nature.
These laws cannot be broken.
— The End —