Four days later he and Eroica were outside on the hospital's well-landscaped grounds. It was a bright, sunny afternoon devoid of clouds, and they were relaxing in the shade of a copse of trees. He had his back propped up against one sturdy trunk, his arm around the slender Earl as Dorian curled up beside him. Dressed in a new pair of pajamas and his robe, Eroica was only allowed outside during the heat of day, but it was warm in the shade as well.
The Earl was resting his head against the Major's chest, positioned on the side that hurt him the least, one hand possessively draped across Klaus' body. Both had been dozing lightly, but now Klaus was staring up at the blue, blue sky and the neatly maintained gardens. Some distance away, he saw his agents and some of the Earl's men, but none moved to disturb them in their shady spot. That was fine by him. He was enjoying what would be his last day in California with Dorian, and trying to find a way to break the news that he was leaving to the Earl.
The past few days had been an emotional roller coaster. Caring for Dorian had forced him to face how he was feeling, and made him challenge his views about the young Earl. He found himself becoming more and more attached to the irritating fop, and little by little his walls were coming down.
Dorian had responded to his care by flourishing, greedily grabbing each morsel of affection he offered and treating it like a precious gift. Every kindness he paid the Earl was rewarded with more progress in Dorian's recovery and a brightening of the blue eyes. It made him happy and proud to know that his attention was positively affecting someone for once, and he liked the way helping Dorian made him feel inside.
It wasn't love. It couldn't be love. Love didn't feel like this. Love was fire and ice and rockets going off, or so he had been told. Having never experienced love himself, he couldn't verify the assessment. But love wasn't this feeling of pleasant warmth or silent approval. It wasn't gentle and soft, and only mildly thrilling. It wasn't the dip in his voice or the smile in his eyes or the rush of tenderness he felt towards the Earl. No, it couldn't be that. Love wasn't like that was it?
Whatever it was, the undeniable fact was that a little part of Iron Klaus was melting and quickly being occupied by an annoying little English aristocrat. His agents would never let him live it down, but they were too terrified of him to call him on it. Good for them.
A breeze took a stray curl and swept it into his face. He brushed it away, but the movement woke the Earl out of his light sleep.
"Sorry," he apologized.
"Mmmm," Dorian answered noncommittally and snuggled closer.
Klaus smiled slightly and sniffed the clean, blond locks. Dorian's hair hadn't needed to be cut as short as he thought it would have to. A hairstylist had managed to keep the length to Dorian's ears, but as a result the Earl's curls were tighter than usual.
"What are you brooding about, darling?" Eroica's sleepy voice asked.
"They're sending me on a mission," he admitted, trying to get it over with as soon as possible.
There were several moments of silence before Dorian spoke, "To where?"
"I leave tomorrow morning."
"Will you be gone long?"
"I don't know."
Dorian was quiet, then said, "They'll be releasing me soon."
"Yes. They're releasing me into the care of my private physician. He's going to appoint a counselor for me."
"Ah." He knew the Earl was undergoing both physical and psychological therapy. "Will you be returning to your castle in North Downs?"
"I'm not sure. I may go somewhere more temperate until I am... more myself."
"You'll let me know where you are?"
He felt Dorian nod against him. "Yes. I'll leave word with that proper butler of yours. I assume you'll be returning to Bonn after the mission."
"For a time at least. Then I may come to find you. Or you could always come to Bonn, you know."
The Earl chuckled. "And deprive my staff of their opportunity to dote and pamper me?"
"My butler would love someone to dote and pamper since I rarely let him dote and pamper me. Besides, the _Man in Purple_ is in Bonn."
"Hmmm... an interesting prospect, Herr Major."
He tightened his grip on the thin man. "Don't even think about it, jerk."
Dorian's giggle made him smile, and they enjoyed a moment of pleasant silence.
"I will miss you," the Earl admitted.
"I'd like to say that I'll miss you but..." he teased.
"I wouldn't want you to perjure yourself, Major."
Now Klaus was the one to laugh. "Fool."
"Only for you."
Klaus frowned. This would be their last day together for quite some time and there were things he felt he needed to say. Steeling himself, he moved to speak.
"Don't, Major," Eroica whispered, placing a loving hand over his mouth to stop his words. "These past few days have been very rough on both of us, and we both have had to face some things. I know that the nature of our relationship has profoundly changed, but what it is and what it will become, I do not know."
A delicate hand cupped his chin and he looked at Dorian's gently smiling face.
"What I do know, is that neither of us is ready for what you have to say. I will not be able to give myself to you the way I want to for a long time, and you must come to grips with the feelings you have for me. For now, I am content to know that you no longer hate me, and I can love you enough for both of us."
"Dorian," he tried again, but was stopped again, tenderly by the Earl's caressing hand.
"No, Klaus. You go on your mission and I will go someplace to heal. While we are separate use the time to think about what has happened between us, and what you want. I will always be where you can find me, or you can send for me to come to Bonn."
"I do not want to leave you," he said.
"Nor I you, but we need the time apart- to sort through what has happened. And I need to come to terms with what happened to me. I have some rough times ahead, I know."
He took the Earl's hands in his own. "I want to be there to see you through them."
Dorian gave him a loving smile. "You will be. You think I'm going to have a nervous breakdown without you around to see it? Major, you wound me. I would never give up the opportunity to make you coddle me."
The smiles faded and Dorian took Klaus' face in his hands. "I will miss you terribly, my darling, but this will be good for us. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, no?"
"Foppish things to say."
Dorian laughed and rested his head on the Major's chest again, hugging him.
"I do love you, Iron Klaus. You always make me laugh, and you are such a challenge. I am so looking forward to teaching you how to love."
"Oh, yes. I envision many wonderful hours, lying in bed with the sunlight coming in from the windows, stroking your body, showing you the value of a single, well-placed touch."
Klaus shifted uncomfortably. "Do not say such vulgar things in public."
Eroica laughed again. "My darling, I haven't even started. But, I am not a tease, and I have waited this long for you that I can easily wait a little longer. In the meantime, let's just enjoy the sunshine and this wonderful, warm shade."
"I agree with that."
Dorian gave him a squeeze. "I'm glad you do, darling. I'm glad you do."
The Major allowed the conversation to end there as the Earl sighed and cuddled close, keeping his arms around him. Holding the cozy body next to him more firmly, he relaxed and let the warmth and Dorian soothe him into a doze.
"Wake me up in 30 minutes."
"Of course, darling."
He smiled and closed his eyes. The rest of the world with all its problems and complications could wait until tomorrow.