DISCLAIMER - From Eroica With Love and its characters is the copyright of Yasuko Aoike and Princess Comics and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan, September 2001 - February 2002
by Karen Colohan
With long, determined strides Klaus von dem Eberbach shouldered aside the low-growing branches with little consideration for the man following in his wake. The fact that Eroica had just successfully liberated a number of highly sensitive top secret documents from a safe they had no right being in was, for the time being, irrelevant. They needed to put distance between themselves and the isolated manor house as quickly as possible. Until they had reached the rendezvous point where several of Klaus' Alphabet were due to pick them up at the earliest safe opportunity the major would remain focused solely on his objective. There could be no passengers on a mission like this.
Eroica, otherwise known as Dorian Red Gloria, the Earl of Gloria, hurriedly raised a hand in front of his face to protect his eyes from another of the branches Klaus had pushed aside and then simply left to swing back on anyone unfortunate enough to be walking close behind him. It wasn't a calculated unkindness, Dorian knew, just the major utterly focused on doing his job and expecting those around him to play their part in completing that job efficiently and without complaint.
Had it been a little less dark and overgrown Dorian might have been tempted to drop back far enough to be out of range of the lethal greenery, but he had no wish to lose sight of Klaus' dark clad figure and become lost. It wasn't that the major wouldn't come looking for him - Dorian still had possession of the documents they had retrieved - but he most definitely would not be happy at being put to such trouble.
A short while later the trees began to thin out and finally straggled to an end a couple of hundred yards shy of the rocky edge of an almost sheer drop. As they emerged into the open Klaus paused, listening hard and Dorian held his breath, not wanting to distract the major. Abruptly the tension fell away from Klaus and he nodded brusquely.
"Gut, I hear no sound of pursuit. I believe the direction of our escape was undetected. We should be safe until A and Z can pick us up." Klaus hunched his shoulders and allowed the pack he had been carrying to slip off his back onto the ground. He bent down and began to rummage in it for a canteen of water.
Dorian similarly unburdened himself and wandered a little closer to the cliff edge as he sipped water and allowed himself to begin to relax. He pictured their location from the maps Klaus had given him to study. He could hear the sound of the river which had cut this valley as it flowed some way below him. Peering over the edge tentatively he noted that the way down was rocky and steep, but not that long a drop. Still, Dorian was glad that they didn't have to try and scramble down to the valley floor; it would not have been an easy climb, even for someone as agile as he was. As it was, their escape route would take them via a somewhat precarious path which wound along the valley's edge to an out of the way country road several miles distant.
"Do we have time to rest a moment more?" Dorian asked, glancing across at the major who was already stowing his water bottle back in his pack.
"No," said Klaus shortly. "A and Z will rendezvous with us somewhat closer to the road. We must reach the agreed point before we rest."
Dorian gave a slight sigh, but did not argue. Cross country hikes through rough terrain in the dark were not exactly his cup of tea, but he had gone into this job knowing what to expect - and what Klaus would expect of him. Dorian had no intention of letting his major down, no matter how tired he was. So he quickly closed his pack up again and settled it onto his back once more. Klaus was watching him with faint impatience and turned to head off along the narrow path as soon as Dorian was ready. Gamely ignoring his aching muscles, Dorian trudged after him as quickly as he could.
The next hour or so passed in almost total silence, broken only by the sound of Dorian's harsh breathing. The path was rocky and uneven underfoot and the thief had his work cut out keeping up with the human machine that was Klaus von dem Eberbach. Dorian knew his strengths and this kind of stamina wasn't one of them. He was built for speed and lightfooted agility, not endurance, but his pride wouldn't let him ask Klaus a second time if they could rest.
At last, though, Klaus halted once more. He glanced over his shoulder, assuring himself that Dorian was still with him. He would never have admitted it out loud, but Eroica's dogged perseverence had impressed him on this mission. Somehow he had expected far more complaints and effete whining from the thief.
Dorian was clearly drooping from exhaustion, but he said nothing, only looked at Klaus questioningly.
"This is where we must wait," said Klaus gruffly. "You can rest now."
"Thank God!" exclaimed Dorian and sank down on the ground without bothering to remove his backpack. He sat until his breathing had evened out somewhat before shrugging it off his shoulders and pulling it in front of him. The water in his canteen was tepid and had a faintly metallic tang, but it tasted better than the finest vintage to Dorian just at the moment.
Klaus had remained on his feet after depositing his pack on the ground. He stretched carefully, easing the cramps out of his back and shoulders. His muscles ached a little, but nothing a short rest wouldn't cure. He turned back towards Dorian - intending to ask after his condition - and surprised an intent look of lustful admiration on the thief's face. Klaus grimaced in annoyance and stalked towards him.
He stopped, standing over Dorian with his hands on his hips. His fingers itched to wipe that leer off the man's face, but Klaus controlled the urge with an effort. Every time he worked up the tiniest bit of respect for Eroica the damned pervert had to stare at him like - like... well, like that. It was insupportable.
Hurriedly Dorian dropped his gaze as Klaus advanced on him. He sighed inwardly. It just wasn't fair that someone should have a body like that and then get so offended when other people looked at it admiringly. The major really had appeared quite magnificent in his dark, form-fitting outfit as he stood in the moonlight and stretched so his muscles were thrown into the most perfect definition.
For heaven's sake, Klaus worked out every day so that he would be in such superb shape. As far as Dorian was concerned it was a sin not to show off the results - and in his opinion, the tight black combat trousers and clingy high-necked black sweater Klaus was wearing provided an ideal showcase for them. Besides which, the mission was all but over now, surely he could be allowed a certain leeway after the effort he had expended on the major's behalf.
But Klaus, it appeared, did not agree.
"Stop looking at me like that!" Klaus snapped. "I don't want your eyes on me that way; it's perverted!"
"How can I help but admire you when you look so magnificent?" Dorian objected. "And surely you must admit I've been the model of restraint until now. Not a single comment or action that couldn't be considered perfectly proper."
"Then continue to restrain yourself," Klaus ordered peremptorily.
"Hm, I'm sure it would be much more fun if you were to restrain me," said Dorian archly. If Klaus was going to yell at him he might as well enjoy the experience to the full. And nothing set Klaus off more surely than an innuendo laden comment like that.
As predicted, Klaus went into meltdown. He stood over Dorian and unleashed a high decibel, multi-lingual rant which went on for a full five minutes before it began to run out of steam - and new forms of invective. Klaus' hands clenched into fists as he slowly got his temper back under control. Damn it to hell! Why did Eroica have to provoke him like that? He got an inkling of the answer - which did nothing to calm him further - when he noticed that the thief was leaning casually back on his hands, staring up at him with rapt attention. Bloody pervert! He actually enjoyed watching Klaus lose it like that.
With an angry growl Klaus turned on his heel and put as much space between himself and Eroica as he could manage before he lost his battle for control and simply punched the man out. He had learned that giving in to such violent urges achieved nothing but making him feel guilty later. Yes, Eroica was a pervert, but for all that it disgusted Klaus he knew Dorian couldn't do anything to change that fact. Equally, Klaus was prone to violence, but he ought to be - was - capable of the discipline required to keep his nature under control. Hitting Eroica simply for being what he was... Well, it wasn't right, especially given that the thief never seemed to mind or protest the rough treatment.
Klaus sighed. He really didn't understand the way Eroica's mind worked.
Eventually the major cooled down sufficiently to remember one outstanding detail of their mission. The papers Eroica had retrieved were still in the thief's possession. Klaus wanted such sensitive information safely in his hands before Eroica got any funny ideas about trying to keep it.
"Eroica," he demanded, stomping back over to the thief. "Give me those documents you stole. At once!"
"My, how masterful you are tonight." Dorian flashed the major a frankly seductive smile and tossed his blond curls artfully away from his face. He was still holding his water bottle and he twirled it absently between his long fingers.
Green eyes narrowed dangerously, but Klaus held his tongue.
Disappointed at not being able to get a rise out of the irascible major this time, Dorian pouted a little, tapping the neck of the bottle against his lips in mock irritation. When Klaus merely continued to glare at him, Dorian set it aside with a sigh and reached for his pack. He pulled out the sheaf of papers and held them up.
Klaus snatched them without a word of thanks and headed back to where he had dropped his own pack. He would feel much happier once he had the documents safely stowed away. And he would make quite sure he didn't let Eroica near his things again. He wouldn't put it past the thief to try and steal them back. Suddenly paranoid, Klaus quickly leafed through the papers, making sure that he had been given the genuine article. A cursory inspection reassured him; it didn't seem as if Eroica was trying anything underhanded - yet.
As Klaus crouched down to tuck the documents carefully away he took a half step backwards. In doing so, he failed to notice just how close to the cliff edge his retreat from Eroica had now taken him.
Dorian, however, looking after Klaus in frustration, was far better placed to see just how precarious his position was. He gasped, putting out a hand in warning as he opened his mouth to caution, "Major, be careful..."
"What?" Klaus looked up from buckling his pack closed and began to straighten. He frowned as he noticed Dorian's outflung hand. What was wrong with the damned thief now?
"Look out for the edge, Klaus!" Dorian called anxiously. "You're too close."
"Stop fucking around," Klaus started to growl, until he felt the ground under his feet start to give way. Shit! Eroica wasn't playing games this time.
Dorian was on his feet in an instant, all thought of his aching muscles banished from his mind. If he could just catch hold of the major's flailing hands... But there was nothing he could do as the crumbling earth threw Klaus off balance and neatly, horrifyingly tipped him backwards over the cliff edge.
Klaus tried desperately to stop himself from overbalancing, but the ground, quite literally, disappeared out from under his feet. He tumbled over the edge and no amount of futile scrabbling could locate a stable handhold. Klaus felt the breath being knocked out of his lungs as he bounced off several protruding rocks on his far too precipitate descent. Then something sharp impacted with the left side of Klaus' face and the world abruptly went dark. By the time he fetched up on the valley floor the major was out cold.
Despairingly, Dorian sank to his knees at the very edge of the sharp drop. He retained enough presence of mind to be sure the ground was secure under him. He would be no help at all to Klaus if he simply tumbled down after him. He peered over the brink and just managed to make out the dark shape at the base of the cliff. It was further down to the bottom than at the first place they had stopped, but marginally less steep, Dorian judged. If he was lucky, he should be able to get down to Klaus in one piece.
"Major! Major? Klaus..." Dorian called, leaning out as far as he dared.
There was no response. In all honesty, Dorian hadn't really expected one. He had heard several sickeningly loud thuds and cracks as Klaus fell. He pulled back and scrambled to his feet. Whirling round Dorian snatched up his pack and settled it back on his shoulders decisively. He couldn't afford to wait until A and Z turned up. Klaus needed his help now.
Carefully, Dorian sat back down, his legs dangling over the cliff edge. It would take too long to find handholds and climb down. It might be undignified, but sliding down on his backside would be quicker. It was also somewhat reckless, Dorian acknowledged; the slope was rough and rocky. Ah well, nothing ventured...
Not stopping to consider further, Dorian launched himself down the cliffside. He was jounced around roughly on his way down and would doubtless have some very unpleasant bruises to show for the experience. All in all, he considered them a small price to pay. He landed in an untidy heap at the foot of the slope and righted himself as quickly as possible, hurriedly shrugging off his encumbering pack. He was frantic to get to the still and crumpled form which lay a few feet away from him.
Dorian's heart was in his mouth as he knelt at Klaus' side. He wasn't much given to any form of religious observance, but he found himself praying fervently as his long fingers reached out hesitantly to find the pulse point in the major's neck. This was one time Dorian really hoped that Iron Klaus had lived up to his nickname. To his eternal relief he felt a weak but steady fluttering through the skin. Whatever damage the abrupt descent might have done him, Klaus was at least still alive - and breathing without any apparent difficulty, Dorian established next. For now that was enough.
Practicality speedily reasserted itself, though. Dorian knew he needed some idea at least of Klaus' injuries - he dare not overlook the possibility of something life threatening - but he was equally aware that careless handling on his part could have devastating consequences for the major. The thought of Klaus condemned to life in a wheelchair - or worse - simply did not bear thinking about. Dorian knew the man would sooner be dead than consigned to such a fate. He bit his lip anxiously, not wanting to delay any longer, but trying to decide how best to proceed.
In the end, Dorian opted for a careful investigation of Klaus' neck and an equally cautious reconnoitring along the length of his spine. Though he made no attempt to move him from the ungainly heap in which he'd landed. It was an awkward task, but Dorian was determinedly thorough.
The major was out cold - which was probably just as well - had he been at all aware he would doubtless have protested the degree of thoroughness with which Dorian's hands moved over him, albeit that the touch was entirely impersonal in its intent. As it was, he made neither sound nor movement throughout the entire careful examination.
Eventually, Dorian sat back on his heels and regarded Klaus thoughtfully. There didn't seem to be anything obviously wrong with either his back or his neck. It all felt stable and in its proper alignment, without any signs of external injury that he could see. Which didn't mean that there was nothing internal... He was still torn, but Dorian really wanted to see what damage Klaus had done to the currently inaccessible parts of his body. Taking a deep breath Dorian made his decision. He would take a risk and move the major - but carefully... very carefully.
First he reached down and cautiously set about straightening the major's legs, easing them out of the tangle they had landed in. Klaus' trousers were torn and bloodied and Dorian could see deep gashes, crusted with dust and dirt, through the tears. Serious as the wounds appeared to be, though, both legs now lay perfectly straight and Dorian was confident that they were not broken. That done, he braced Klaus' neck as firmly as he could with one hand and then in a single, smooth movement he rolled the major over onto his back.
Dorian settled him as gently as he could on the rough ground. There had still been absolutely no reaction from Klaus, which worried him more than he cared to admit. Pushing that concern to the back of his mind he then set about cataloguing the injuries which had been hidden from him before.
The first thing which became obvious was the damage to Klaus' left arm. The angle at which it lay was hopelessly unnatural and it was clear that it was broken in at least one place, possibly two. Considering the possibility of broken ribs as well, Dorian carefully eased the sweater out of Klaus' waistband, pushing it up to expose the major's torso. Under other circumstances he might have enjoyed this unwarranted freedom to touch and explore, but right now Dorian knew only concern. Thoughts of seduction could not have been further from his mind.
There was extensive bruising already starting to darken the pale skin and Dorian ran his fingers lightly over the worst places, probing carefully for any deeper damage. To his great relief he couldn't feel any protruding bone though, of course, he could not rule out less severe cracks. But his real fear had been that a broken rib might threaten Klaus' lungs and he was immensely grateful that he could find no evidence for such an injury.
Content for the moment, Dorian tugged Klaus' sweater back into place to keep him from becoming unnecessarily chilled. Then he completed his inventory, finding the likely cause of the major's continued unconsciousness as he did so. A livid bruise marred Klaus' left cheek and temple and there was a nasty looking gash over his left eye. He had clearly hit his head hard on the way down and Dorian did not want to consider the ramifications of such an impact.
Shock finally caught up with Dorian and he found himself blinking back sudden tears. He fought them, knowing he could not afford to let himself panic or lose control. Still, his vision swam as he looked at the bruised and battered body of the man he'd been hopelessly in love with for so long now. He felt helpless, useless... Klaus was right; he was nothing but a nuisance. If the major hadn't been trying so hard to keep his distance from him this would never have happened.
Dorian clamped down quickly on that line of reasoning. It wouldn't help either of them now. It had been an accident, no more and no less. And now the seriously injured major needed his help, though Dorian was uncertain exactly what he could do for him. Agents A and Z were due to meet them here sometime soon, but Dorian wasn't sure of the exact arrangements - that had been Klaus' department. He hoped they would not be too long.
All at once, Dorian remembered that Klaus had mentioned having short range radio equipment in his pack in case of emergencies. He could call up the other agents and alert them to their situation. In the next breath, Dorian was silently cursing his stupidity as he recalled that, in his haste to get to the major, he had only grabbed his own pack. Klaus' had been abandoned at the top of the cliff. Which also meant that the first aid kit was up there... Dorian closed his eyes and groaned in frustration. Everything that might have helped him - could he go back for it?
Looking up, Dorian was less than sure that he would be able to climb the steep slope unaided. The ground had been unstable before - two precipitate descents had done nothing to improve its stability. Should he try? Or would he just come crashing back down - even less use to Klaus than he was now? Reluctantly, Dorian abandoned the idea; the risks simply outweighed the potential benefits. When it came to first aid he would just have to improvise. The only positive aspect of his oversight was that the pack would act as a marker, alerting A and Z to their location.
Feeling utterly useless now, Dorian slumped back on the ground at the major's side. After a moment, he reached out with trembling fingers and softly brushed Klaus' disordered hair away from his face. It was matted and dirty under his touch, but Dorian couldn't seem to stop himself from stroking it, desperate for the comfort of contact, however slight.
Bereft, he wished that Klaus would open his eyes and start yelling at him again, telling him how much of an idiot he was. Klaus in the throes of a full-blown rant was a magnificent sight indeed - incandescent, passionate. Though, in truth, Dorian didn't much like having the major really, genuinely angry with him - to the point where he would be furious enough to lash out with his fists. Fortunately, it didn't happen too often. Usually only when Dorian was incautious enough to reiterate the full extent of his feelings for Klaus out loud.
At the moment, Dorian would have welcomed any sign of wakefulness and recovery from Klaus. The utter silence and stillness were starting to frighten him. He knew the worst of Klaus' injuries were beyond the scope of his meagre first-aid knowledge and he hated feeling so helpless. He couldn't think of even one of his skills that was of the slightest use to Klaus now, when he was most in need of Dorian's aid. What good was a thief when the major needed a doctor?
Dorian knew it was probably selfish of him to wish for Klaus to be awake, because then he would be in pain. Nevertheless, if he were, at least Dorian would be able to offer comfort and reassurance. He was good at that. Though, knowing Klaus, he would probably hold himself aloof, not wanting to accept any form of comfort from him. The major wasn't an easy person to love, but Dorian simply couldn't stop himself, even without any encouragement from the man.
For just a second he wondered what he would do if the major were no longer around to be teased into yelling at him. No! That really didn't bear thinking about, Dorian decided at once. He would not give up on Klaus. A and Z would be here soon and they would all come out of this alive and well.
Dorian could no longer bear just sitting idly by and doing nothing at all. He might not be able to do much for Klaus' more serious injuries, but he could at least tend to the superficial cuts and bruises, washing and binding them to prevent infection. And perhaps the attention would help rouse the major from his stupor.
There was no shortage of water - the river which had cut the steep-sided valley they had tumbled into was close by. Dorian pulled open his pack and cursed again. His water bottle was not inside - another thing forgotten in his rush to reach the major. Just how many stupid things could one person do in such a short space of time? With a sigh, Dorian resigned himself to repeated trips to the river to soak his makeshift washclothes. At least clean material would not be a problem. Dorian had carried a change of clothes in his pack - his tight burglar's catsuit was hardly inconspicuous, after all - and was more than willing to sacrifice his fine linen shirt to the cause of helping Klaus.
He pulled it out of the pack and with only the vaguest trace of regret began to shred the soft material. Dorian wadded up a couple of the resulting strips and climbed to his feet, taking them over to the river's edge. He crouched down and soaked them thoroughly in the cool, fast-flowing water. Moving back to where Klaus lay, he knelt at his side again and considered which of the cuts and bruises to attend to first.
Dorian decided to clean the wounds on Klaus' head and face. They were easily accessible for one thing and quite a lot of blood and dirt seemed to be ground into them for another. With a scrupulously gentle touch, Dorian set about washing the major's palely ascetic features. He tackled the more superficial grime first, thoroughly caking his first makeshift cloth in short order.
Once the worst of the dirt was gone he was better able to see the deep cut and surrounding swelling above Klaus' left eye. It had, fortunately, missed the eye socket, but it was deeper than Dorian had initially thought. He couldn't help but be concerned by the possibility of an underlying fracture or internal swelling. His touch was even more gentle as he took a clean strip of cloth and bathed the vicious-looking gash, wanting to flush out any remaining dirt from the wound.
When he was satisfied that he had done as much as he could, Dorian sat back and simply looked at Klaus' freshly clean face for a long moment. Unconscious, the usual harshness was absent from the sharp features and Dorian felt himself losing his heart to the Iron Major all over again. Before he could think better of it, he leaned down and stole a brief kiss from the slack lips. They were cool and sweet, but their stillness was unnerving. Suddenly appalled at his slip into impropriety, Dorian quickly drew back. Much as he wanted Klaus, it had to be when the man was awake and responsive, not like this, when the major had no choice in the matter.
Seeking another distraction, Dorian opted to continue cleaning the dirt from Klaus' wounds. The cuts on his legs now seemed most in need of attention and Dorian examined them carefully through the ripped remnants of the major's trousers. Clearly he was going to have to remove them to do a proper job, but he found himself hesitant to do so. After his slip up with that incautious kiss... Dorian felt more awkward than ever about invading Klaus' privacy when he wasn't awake and able to kick up hell about being manhandled by a pervert.
There was nothing Dorian would like more than to strip Klaus and touch him intimately, but only if the major were conscious and cooperative. Much as he enjoyed the games of teasing and flirtation that he played with Klaus, Dorian had no taste for taking an unwilling partner. That said, the crusted grime in the open wounds on the major's legs was an invitation to infection. Good sense dictated that Dorian did what he could to prevent that. So he would do what was necessary, but schooling himself to act with perfect propriety - no more stolen kisses or improper caresses.
Delicately, Dorian began to unbuckle Klaus' favourite ox-hide belt - for a moment the faintest trace of a smile touched his lips as he recalled the time he had stolen it from right around Klaus' waist without the major's knowledge - then he worked open the fastener underneath. With unaccustomed reluctance he slid down the zipper, ready to pull the battered trousers out of his way. Dorian debated the wisdom of removing them completely, but to do that Klaus' boots would have to go as well and so he discarded that idea.
Not wanting to leave the major uncovered for longer than necessary, Dorian then got up and went to soak more strips of his torn shirt in the cold water of the river.
When he came back, Dorian very carefully eased the ruined trousers down over the major's hips. He took care to move him as little as possible, still mindful of any injuries that might remain undetected. Despite his best efforts, Dorian knew he was jolting Klaus and scraping the torn material over his wounds, causing fresh bleeding from some of them. Nevertheless, he kept at it until the trousers were bunched at the major's ankles.
Absorbed in his task, at first he didn't notice the faint groan from behind him. When it was repeated, though, Dorian froze, hardly daring to breathe. Then, with dawning hope, he turned and glanced up at Klaus' face, blue gaze demurely veiled by golden lashes. He was met by pain- hazed green eyes, which regarded him with a mixture of shock and affront.
"Klaus, how do you feel?" Dorian asked at once, all his concern evident in his voice. "Are you all right? Please, lie still," he added as the major immediately began to try and struggle upright.
"Nein!" Klaus protested weakly, shrinking from Dorian's hands as they quickly moved to hold him in place. "Verdammte pervert! You couldn't wait to put your hands on me. Don't touch me!"
Dorian recoiled as if struck, hurt and horror warring for precedence on his fair face. He knew he was not entirely blameless, but the way Klaus was acting... Did he actually think Dorian meant to rape him? In a situation like this?
Already feeling shaky, Dorian crumbled at this blow to his self-esteem. That Klaus should trust him so little... It was enough to shock sudden, unwanted tears into the clear blue eyes and Dorian looked away hurriedly to conceal them. The major would think even less of him if he noticed such an overt sign of weakness. It was so unfair. All his restraint counted for nothing, it seemed. Klaus continued to think the worst of him, not waiting for explanations.
With an effort, Dorian managed to hide how upset he was. The major had been seriously hurt; he could be excused, Dorian told himself firmly. Finally, he made himself turn back to look at Klaus, composed once more.
"Major, please, you must lie still," said Dorian calmly. "You were badly injured when you fell. You mustn't move any more than is absolutely necessary."
"Injured?" Klaus frowned as if the concept were beyond him. After the blow to his head it was entirely possible that it was.
"Yes, even the Iron Major can be dented by such a nasty fall," replied Dorian. He kept his voice as close to its usual light tone as he could manage.
"What's wrong with me?" Klaus demanded, his voice sounding somewhat stronger. He also began to relax at last, lying back; though he still eyed Dorian warily.
"I'm not entirely certain," Dorian admitted. "What I am sure about is that your left arm is broken and your ribs are badly bruised. Judging by the size of the bump on your head it's a fair bet you're concussed as well. And your legs were rather nastily gashed by the rocks on your way down. I was trying to clean the wounds when you woke up and accused me of manhandling you." He couldn't keep the note of rebuke out of his voice however hard he tried.
Klaus peered down at him dubiously.
"Cleaning my wounds?" he queried, his tone still harsh, but less accusatory. "Is that all? Nothing - funny...?"
"Yes, that's all." Dorian suddenly sounded as tired and wrung out as he felt. This time when he met Klaus' clouded gaze he let his hurt show. "I do have a sense of the proper time and place for - things, Major. I know what you think of me, but I was damned worried about you - I was afraid you might be dead. And then when you weren't, all I wanted to do was help. I really do think you might have been a bit nicer. You could have asked instead of just jumping to conclusions!"
When Dorian's outburst tailed off, Klaus had the grace to look at least slightly abashed.
"Are you done?" he asked.
"No - because you threw me off before I could do what needed to be done," replied Dorian, exasperated.
"I - I'm sorry," said Klaus stiffly.
The apology was unexpected, but no less welcome to Dorian for all that. He knew what it must have taken Klaus to unbend even that much. He nodded quickly in acknowledgement of the words.
"You may proceed," Klaus continued. "I will not hamper you, or try to stop you again. I - appreciate your efforts."
"Thank you, Major," said Dorian softly, his eyes widening in surprise. That much of an effort was all but unprecedented. "You have my word that I will do nothing other than clean your wounds."
Klaus gave a curt nod and forced himself to relax further. It wasn't easy as sundry aches and pains were now clamouring for his attention - especially the knife sharp sensation emanating from his left arm. Turning his head slightly, Klaus could see that it was indeed broken. It really needed to be braced or splinted in some way to prevent further damage.
"Eroica," he called, drawing Dorian's attention.
"I need you to do something with my arm."
"I wasn't sure if I should..." Dorian frowned.
"Where is my pack?" Klaus asked, and wondered why Dorian suddenly refused to meet his eyes. "What? What has happened to it? The documents..."
"Are fine, don't fret, Major." Dorian sighed, "Nothing has happened to it. I just - forgot it."
"Forgot it?" Klaus echoed.
"It's - up there." Dorian pointed up the slope somewhat shamefacedly. "Please don't be mad - I just wanted to be sure you were all right. I've already called myself most of the names you're probably thinking of right now, so you may as well save your breath. At least A and Z will see it and know where we are," he added.
Well, that was true. Klaus subsided. It could have been worse, he supposed. The pack might have landed in the river and been washed away or something equally unfortunate. In spite of everything, they had still succeeded in their mission.
"Do you at least have your pack?" he asked, less sharply than he might have done.
"Yes," replied Dorian at once.
"Does it contain anything from which we might improvise a splint of some kind?" prompted Klaus.
Dorian upended the pack and then looked sideways at Klaus, judging his reaction. He had the rest of his spare clothes, the tools he had brought for breaking and entering plus the diagrams outlining the security systems of the manor house they had broken into. To his eyes none of it looked especially useful.
Klaus, however, proved to be quite inventive and Dorian was most impressed by what could be contrived from a set of long handled cutters, a pair of blue trousers blessed with a good percentage of lycra and, most embarrassingly, his clean underwear. At any rate, the major's left arm was now quite firmly braced. Which meant Dorian could get back to cleaning up Klaus' other wounds.
When Dorian rose gracefully and moved away from him, Klaus followed his progress with his eyes. He frowned. Eroica was unusually subdued, behaving almost demurely. And yet earlier he had been full of innuendo and lewd suggestions. In a rare moment of insight, it occurred to the major that his accusations upon waking had genuinely hurt the other man. Ach, well, what did he expect? Based on past experience, what was Klaus supposed to think when he woke to find Eroica removing his trousers? Damn the bloody pervert for making him have to assume the worst all the time.
The thief had moved to crouch by the side of the river. Klaus could hear the sound of the water rushing along its course. It was too loud, echoing the pounding in his head, and it reminded Klaus that his throat was unbearably dry.
Glancing to the side he noted that Eroica had already found something to use to wash him with - several pieces, bloodied and muddied, lay on the ground beside him. It was only when Dorian returned with more clean strips of it, soaked and dripping, that Klaus figured out what it must be - the one missing item of clothing from the pack. Dorian had sacrificed an expensive linen shirt for his comfort, it seemed.
"Is that your spare shirt?" asked Klaus gruffly.
Dorian gave a slight smile as he settled back on the ground at Klaus' side. "I'm afraid so, Major. Without the first aid kit I had to improvise."
"The stingy-bug will have a fit when he finds out," snorted Klaus. "And we ruined those indecent trousers of yours too."
"They weren't indecent, just -"
"Tight," Klaus finished for him.
"I think I prefer - snug. Anyway, I won't tell him if you don't." A trace of lilting laughter - albeit somewhat strained - was back in Dorian's voice. "I suppose it is a good thing that your pack will show A and Z where we are. They won't be expecting to find us down here, will they?"
"S'pose not," agreed Klaus. "So yes, it was not all bad that you left it behind."
"I'm glad," said Dorian in a small voice. "I'm sorry for being such an idiot."
Klaus sighed. "I am not angry with you, Eroica. I'm the one who fell and caused all this trouble in the first place. So, you can stop walking on eggshells. I have no intention of yelling. It's not your fault; besides, I'm too thirsty. I didn't see a water bottle amongst your things. Does that mean there's nothing to drink either?"
"Oh, I'm afraid not." Dorian looked contrite again. "Though the river water seems quite clean enough to drink, if you'd like to try some."
Klaus frowned, weighing the possible risk of contamination from the river against the severe dryness of his throat.
"Very well," he agreed.
"Here, this is clean," said Dorian carefully, holding one of the dripping strips of cloth to Klaus' lips.
The major looked affronted, but then realised the only alternative would be to drink from Dorian's hands - and that would be far worse. He opened his mouth and let Dorian squeeze some of the cool water into it. The liquid had rather a strange taste to it, but it was soothing to his throat and Klaus let his eyes ask for more. Dorian smiled slightly and complied, offering up fresh strips of cloth until Klaus had drunk his fill.
"Thank you," said Klaus a little awkwardly.
"No need to thank me, Major, I'd do the same for anyone in your place, you know," replied Dorian. "Now, I'd best go and wet these again so I can finally clean those leg wounds up for you. They must be quite uncomfortable."
Quickly Dorian rose and moved away to the river again, crouching with an easy grace that Klaus found himself envying. He was fit and strong - he prided himself on his physique - but there was nothing graceful about him. He was all brute strength to Eroica's smooth economy of motion. Klaus clamped down on the thought, wondering that it had even occurred to him. What was he doing, noticing how Eroica moved? He decided to put it down to the concussion as Dorian came back to join him once more.
Kneeling at Klaus' side, Dorian wadded up one of the strips of dripping material and prepared to resume his interrupted task. It was somehow more difficult to contemplate touching the man, even as innocently as this, now that he was awake and watching him. Dorian was very aware of the weight of that green-eyed stare fixed on his back. He glanced over his shoulder at Klaus, finding that he needed to say something - anything.
"I'm sorry, Major," he settled on in the end, his voice soft. "This may hurt a bit. Some of these cuts are deep and I need to get all the dirt out. I don't want to risk them getting infected. I'll be as careful as I can, though."
Klaus scowled. "You don't need to apologise. I know what requires to be done - I won't blame you if it hurts."
Dorian gave a slight smile. "All the same, Major... Besides, you've already bitten my head off once today just for touching you. This is bound to be worse."
"I thought we'd cleared up that misunderstanding," growled Klaus with irritation.
"Just making sure." There was a sharper edge than normal to Dorian's tone. "Anyway, it's not as if I like the idea of hurting you."
"I did not suppose that you did." Klaus grimaced. "Must you always assume I will think the worst of you?"
"Is that a serious question?" asked Dorian incredulously.
"Yes." Klaus' brows drew together in a frown. "Are you implying that I do?"
"This from the man who practically cried rape earlier!" Dorian's words were heavy with bitterness. "Oh, from where I'm standing it certainly seems that you do."
"If you manage to refrain from being frivolous or from making improper suggestions to me then I do not," insisted Klaus. "Perhaps if you behaved so more often it would not seem as if I thought badly of you all the time."
Dorian gave a mirthless laugh. "Such logic is very you," he observed coolly. "But would you have me be other than what I am?"
"If a frivolous, foppish queer is what you are, then yes," said Klaus peevishly.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I am what I am. I won't pretend otherwise." Dorian looked away, feeling a strange mixture of anger and sorrow wash over him. Why would Klaus never make the effort to look beyond what was on the surface? It was so unfair. Dorian sighed. "I'll never change and be something I'm not, Major... not even for you."
"I'm not asking you to change," said Klaus. "Just don't expect me to like what you are. Don't you see? If you chose to, you could be so much more. It is the waste of your abilities that I abhor."
"So, what you're saying is that if I were to dress and act more like one of your Alphabet you wouldn't disapprove of me so much?" Dorian sounded disbelieving. "And what about the not so small matter of me being gay? Dressing me in a boring suit won't change that."
"I know," Klaus replied, his voice tight. "But if you did not flaunt the fact so shamelessly..."
"You mean, if I were to behave like some closet case," interrupted Dorian harshly. "Never going to happen, Major, you'll just have to deal with me as you find me. I won't hide what I am, especially not simply to make other people feel more comfortable. I really thought after all this time you'd have understood that much about me."
Dorian fell abruptly silent and turned his full attention back to his task. He tried to ignore the fact that his hands were shaking as he passed the damp strips of torn cloth over the gashes on Klaus' legs. He really shouldn't let it get to him, but the major's stubborn refusal to see beyond his sexuality hurt more than it ought to have done after all these years.
He felt an irrational urge to scrub at Klaus' injured legs harshly, to take out his frustration on the scraped and vulnerable skin. But it really wasn't in Dorian's nature to cause deliberate pain, no matter the provocation. So he forced himself to focus on the deep, dirt-crusted gashes, washing out the grit and dried blood carefully. If he concentrated hard enough he could forget how trying Klaus could be - how hard it was to love the man, without logic or reason... or any real encouragement.
Then again, whoever said love followed logic?
Dorian felt his eyes burning once more and, hating himself for such weakness in the face of Klaus' indifference, fought against the unwanted tears. He bent lower over Klaus' legs, hiding his face from the major. Dorian didn't want him to see how deep his words had cut.
Lying back, Klaus gritted his teeth as the cool, wet cloth passed back and forth over his skin. It was apparent that Dorian was doing his best to be careful, but the passage of the material still stung and pulled at the open wounds. He bit his lip against making any complaint - it really wasn't the thief's fault that he had fallen and injured himself. And, as promised, he was making every effort not to hurt him - or to be otherwise objectionable, for that matter. Indeed, for Dorian, he was being a model of restraint. There was nothing at all in his behaviour that Klaus could take exception to.
He watched Dorian work, bent to his task with almost unwarranted concentration. The set of the thief's back was tense, as if Dorian himself were nervous about what he was doing. Perhaps it was because of the accusation he had made on first waking. Maybe he had been a little unfair, Klaus conceded. He had jumped to the wrong conclusion, after all, accusing him without finding out the facts. But where Dorian was concerned what was he supposed to think? He never missed a chance to do or say something lewd.
Klaus sighed. He really didn't know. Dorian could be so confusing to deal with - such a contradiction. One minute the flamboyant nuisance then, just as quickly, the highly competent professional, as intent on completing the mission as Klaus himself. And that was what he had been tonight, and was still trying to be now - no matter how ungrateful Klaus was towards him.
The outrageous mass of curls tumbled forward to hide Dorian's face from Klaus' eyes. In the slowly brightening moonlight, its usual vibrant gold had paled to silver. Klaus found himself unexpectedly caught by the sight. His gaze slid over the long strands from crown to tip, then travelled on down the lean planes of the thief's back, neatly outlined by the form-fitting suit he wore.
An unfamiliar feeling coiled low in his belly as his eyes traced the strong lines of Dorian's body. It brought warmth and confusion in its wake. As if to compound the problem, Klaus found a stray thought had formed in his mind and, once discovered, it refused to go away.
Dorian was beautiful.
The realisation was startling, and not exactly welcome. Nor, Klaus was forced to admit to himself, was that thought entirely divorced from the sensations stirring inside him. He tried to slam the door shut on the new feelings, but it didn't work. Once they had begun to take root, he found he could not ignore them. And yet, since when had he ever thought of Dorian as beautiful? It was absurd. It must, Klaus told himself sternly, be a side effect of the bump on the head he had received when he fell.
Yes, that had to be it. The concussion was leading him to think this way - some confusion was only to be expected in the circumstances. Once he was fully himself again the feelings would go away. That being the case, he could deal with the unfamiliar sensations he felt. And, so long as he did nothing stupid in the meantime, Dorian need never know about his lapse.
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