The day Dorian was released from the hospital was warm, bright and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. He wore dark glasses to protect his eyes against the glare. Doctor’s orders, not that he need them. He had never thought about how precious his sight was until he almost lost it. Now he wanted to guard it more dearly than any of his precious works of art.
To never see even the most simple things again, he thought as a small bird perched outside his window and began preening itself. It was just an ordinary sparrow, but he found himself transfixed by it. He’d never really noticed the different shades on its body, the dark markings, the texture of the feathers, the curve of its wing.
Dorian jumped when someone came in with his paperwork, finalizing his release from the hospital. A moment later, a nurse came and asked if he were ready to go.
“Is someone coming to get you, sir?” the nurse asked.
“Yes. They’ll be along shortly,” Dorian replied. “I didn’t think I’d be released this quickly.” He took a look around the room, which was now crammed with flowers. “I shan’t be taking these with me. Would it be possible to have them distributed to the other patients?” he said in a rare moment of unselfishness.
The nurse smiled brightly. “Of course, sir. I know quite a few patients who will be delighted to have them.”
“Would you like to wait in your friend’s room?”Dorian frowned. Friend? What friend? Had one of his men been hurt and no one told him? Blast you, Bonham! You need to tell me these things, hospital or no. James is already having a fit because I was seen by a specialist. Dorian hoped his confusion did not show. “Yes, that would be lovely,” he said, trying not to let his irritation show. If they tried to pull that job without me, there’ll be hell to pay.
He silently followed the nurse down the hall and into another corridor. “There,” the nurse said, stopping in front of an open doorway. “Not too far away at all. I’ll come for you when your ride arrives.”
“Thank you,” Dorian said politely and waited for the woman to leave. Then he turned back, his heart missing a beat when he saw the name beside the door. “Bugger,” he whispered. It took him a moment to remember to breathe. He dropped his suitcase and other belongings just inside the door before entering. “Very good sources, he tells me,” he said darkly.
A curtain was drawn around the bed furthest from the door. “You never asked what the sources were,” came the Major’s voice from behind it.
“It would serve you right if you’re not decent behind this thing,” Dorian snapped angrily as he snatched the curtain open. Then he froze, his eyes growing wide as saucers. Klaus was sitting up in bed with a book in his lap, not that this was any great surprise. It was the fact that the book was in Braille.
“Oh, my God…” Dorian gasped, a hand going to his mouth.
“It seems we have the same surgeon,” Klaus informed calmly.
“Dr. Sandercole?” Dorian said dully.
Dorian found his knees would no longer hold him and he sank into a chair, still unable to take it in. “When…? How…? Oh, bugger!” he stammered out, a hand going to his head.
“I got too near an explosion on what turned out to be my last mission. It went off in my face.” The Major gave a wry smile. “They told me I was lucky to survive.”
No wonder I couldn’t find you. “Oh, Major…”
Klaus waved a hand in the air. “Don’t you dare feel sorry for me, you selfish son-of-a-bitch!” he snapped angrily.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Klaus turned his sightless eyes in the Earl’s direction, sending a shiver down his spine. Christ, even blind he can still glare like Iron Klaus.
“Because you’d’ve done exactly what you’re doing now,” Klaus said knowingly. “You’d feel sorry for me.”
“I’m not…” Dorian cut himself off and closed his eyes, nodding his head. Yes, you are. He drew a deep breath. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“And you say I’m selfish.”
“I know you, Lord Gloria. After all this time, you’d still try to track me down.” Klaus gave a small smile. “I didn’t have to tell you. Did I?”
Damn you for being right. Dorian was quiet a long time before finally asking, “How long?”
“Nearly fifteen years.”
Klaus sat back, an impatient look on his face. “I’ve already gone through all the stages of anger and denial. I don’t need you to go through them again for me.”
“Well, excuse me for being upset,” Dorian snapped angrily. “This isn’t exactly the way I envisioned seeing you again.”
“Ha! You were planning on hunting me down again, weren’t you?” Klaus said, not even trying to keep the condescending tone from his voice.
Klaus gave a wry smile but did not reply.
“Why…?” Dorian paused, drawing a deep breath. “Why are you here, anyway?”
“Same as you.”
Dorian blinked. “You’re having eye surgery?”
“After they finish running every test in creation on me,” Klaus said, waving a hand in the air.
“I’m…almost afraid to ask why?”
“My doctor seems to think, and Dr. Sandercole agrees, that I’m a perfect candidate for an experimental procedure.”
Klaus heard the glimmer of hope in Dorian’s voice and sighed heavily. “It isn’t some miracle cure, if that’s what you’re thinking. The most I can hope for is to see light and shadow.”
Dorian couldn’t imagine being satisfied with a shadow world existence. Then again, he couldn’t imagine living in darkness for fifteen years, either. “I’m guessing that there are no guarantees.”
“No. And no second chances. It will work or it won’t.”
Dorian’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not a gambler. Why are you going through with it?”
“I wasn’t going through with it,” came the startling reply.
“What? You just said…”
“I was in the process of telling Dr. Sandercole just that when he was called away for emergency surgery.”
“Mine?” Dorian practically whispered.
Klaus nodded. “I’ve always had very good hearing. And the person on the phone was practically screaming.”
“But…how…?” Dorian put a hand to his head as he struggled to understand. “Christ, I can’t think.” He drew a deep breath. “How did my needing emergency surgery change your mind? And come to that, why did you even bother coming to see me afterwards? I thought you didn’t give a damn what happens to me?”
Didn’t. Dorian started when he realized the Major had used the past tense. Does this mean you do now?
“I’ve lived my whole life in the dark. Much of what I’ve done should never see the light of day. But not you. You…” Klaus paused and seemed to be struggling to find the right words. “You’re a rainbow. Rainbows disappear when there’s no light.”
“I think that’s the most poetic thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Dorian said in amazement.
Klaus sighed heavily. “I’m talking foppish nonsense,” he said sulkily. To his amazement, the Earl apologized for interrupting and asked him to go on.
“When I learned your surgery had been successful, I suspected that you’d focus on the dark. I still remember what happened to you after that statue—”
“Please, don’t remind me!”
“I didn’t. I asked you about that damned pumpkin. And you remembered it. Vividly.” Klaus closed his eyes and to Dorian’s amazement, there was a slight tremor in his voice when he said, “I’d almost forgotten.”
Dorian tried to put on a brave face, which was stupid when he thought about it. The Major couldn’t see him. He tried to keep his voice even. “So, you’re going to have questionable surgery because I remembered a painting that you hate?”
After a long pause, Klaus replied, “I’m having questionable surgery because you reminded me that…I’ve been living in the dark for too long. Literally and figuratively.”
This was not the reply Dorian expected. “What…happens if it doesn’t work?” he heard himself asking.
“I go on as I have been.”
“As you have been?”
“And what’s that, exactly?” Dorian wanted to know. “Major—”
“Stop calling me that!” Klaus snapped more harshly than he intended. “He disappeared in an explosion fifteen years ago. NATO gave me that Goddamn medal and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel so I wouldn’t retire on a Major’s pension.”
Dorian was taken aback by the venom in this reply. “I’ve called you Major for over thirty years,” he said quietly. “I’m not sure I can change to Lt. Colonel.”
Klaus waved a hand in the air. “Don’t. I only use that professionally. You might as well call me by name.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, either.”
Klaus sighed heavily and sat back in bed. “Are you gonna make me regret this?”
“Never!” The word practically leapt from Dorian’s mouth. “So long as you stop calling me Lord Gloria. My name is Dorian.” His reply was a dark look. “Fair’s fair…Klaus.”
An awkward silence followed.
“How professionally?” Dorian asked suddenly.
“You said you use Lt. Colonel professionally.”
A wry smile came to the officer’s face. “After my rehabilitation, NATO attempted to assist me in finding a new career.” Klaus gave a derisive snort. “Fortunately, my men had better ideas.”
“Yes. You would have no trouble finding me now if you did an internet search,” Klaus informed. “Agent G was also hurt in the explosion, although not as badly as I was. He retired and started a web hosting business.” He gave a wry smile. “I was his first client.”
Dorian’s eyebrows went up. “You have a web site?”
Klaus nodded. “I’m the leading civilian expert on Self-Defense and Hand-to-Hand combat for the military.” He went on to explain that he spent much of his time traveling to different military training facilities teaching, with the now retired Agent A acting as his manager.
Dorian listened in silence, watching as Klaus’s face came alive as he told of how he delighted in humiliating the numerous cadets who thought they could easily take the blind old man who had come to teach them.
Dr. Sandercole arrived during this and was more than a little surprised to see the Earl present. “Didn’t I release you already, Lord Gloria?” he asked with a grin.
“I’m just waiting for my ride, Doctor.” Dorian replied.
“Has Lord Gloria given me a resounding endorsement, Mr. von dem Eberbach?” the doctor asked.Dorian winced. Mr. von dem Eberbach. Oh, that sounds so bland when applied to Iron Klaus.
“I don’t recall,” Klaus replied coolly.
Dr Sandercole turned pointedly to Dorian, “If you’ll excuse us, Lord Gloria?”
“Of course,” Dorian said, hoping his disappointment did not come through in his voice. He was just getting to his feet when there was a soft knock at the door. “Lord Gloria, a gentleman named Bonham says he’s here to collect you.”
“Thank you. Tell him I’ll be there directly,” Dorian replied. Then to the doctor, he said, “It seems I must leave anyway.” He went to the door, picking up his belongings. “Well…goodbye, Klaus.”
“Goodbye, Dorian.”Dorian closed his eyes. Finally, you call me by name, and it’s to say goodbye.
* * *