To say that this story owes its plot to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be kind of an egregious understatement. So, yes. I nicked the idea (and the title, sort of) from Eternal Sunshine, and the characters from From Eroica With Love. The only thing I can claim credit for is putting the two together here.
Written for the mellifluous Mel, who asked for Klaus/Dorian, a funeral.
* * *
Lacunae, Or, Five Klauses That Never Happened to Dorian
* * *
The bird was dead.
The man with the golden hair had found a stick and was nudging it tentatively, but Klaus knelt and picked it up. Its body was stiff. The feathers were grimy where the earth had soiled them.
"It's sleeping," said the man with the golden hair, as if he thought Klaus would be scared.
"It's dead," said Klaus. He got up, holding the bird carefully in both hands. He was seven years old. He was not scared.
"We must bury it," he said. He considered the tools at hand. "Give me your stick."
He thought for a while, and added grudgingly,
The man gave him the stick. He was smiling a little, in an odd way.
"You are always so very, very you," he said, wondering and amused.
Klaus did not understand, but grown-ups weren't meant to be understood, so he ignored the man. He looked around for a proper burial spot.
"There," he said, more to himself than to the man.
He put down the bird and started digging. He had not expected the man with the golden hair to follow him, but there was a flash of gold in the corner of his eye and he looked up. The man was half-kneeling, looking at him.
"Go away," he said. But it would take a long time to make a hole big enough to put the bird in. The man with the golden hair looked strong, even though he dressed like a girl, all frills and white lace like a wedding. If he wouldn't go away -- and grown-ups never did go away when you told them to -- he might as well help.
"There is another stick," Klaus said, pointing. "You do this side."
The man, still smiling, got the stick and helped.
He was better at digging than Klaus. He was bigger, that was why, Klaus comforted himself. Anyway he made a better companion than Klaus had expected. He did not talk or expect Klaus to talk. He stared at Klaus more than Klaus would have liked, but at least he didn't tell Klaus not to get himself dirty, or try to make Klaus smile, or tell him that little boys should not scowl.
Klaus liked scowling. It was comfortable.
The man with the golden hair did not even complain about his clothes getting dirty. Even though he had pushed up his sleeves, they kept falling down, and the white lace was streaked with mud.
If he didn't mind, Klaus wasn't going to say anything about it. They dug on in friendly silence.
After a while Klaus noticed that the man was looking at him and frowning. He thought the man was going to say he was bored, or that the mud was finally getting to be too much for him, but instead he just said,
"What a thin child you were. Didn't they feed you enough?"
This was the kind of thing grandmothers and aunts and friends of the family said. Klaus's scowl deepened.
"I am thinner now than last year," he said stolidly.
"I don't doubt it. That's not what I meant," said the man. "Klaus. Klaus, look at me. Look at me."
Klaus didn't want to -- he hated stopping in the middle of doing something once he had started -- but the man with the golden hair wasn't asking. Klaus looked up.
The man looked worried.
"Klaus, I'm not supposed to be here," he said. "I didn't know you when you were a child. Even if I had known you, I certainly wasn't this old when you were this age. What am I doing here?"
"You -- " Klaus stopped, even though he hated stopping. He couldn't help it. He didn't know the end of the sentence. The man with the golden hair had been there when he had found the dead bird. How had he come into the garden? Hadn't he always been there?
"No, I haven't," said the man, as if he could see Klaus's thoughts. "I was never here, Klaus. I'm not from this part of your past. Do you realise we're speaking German? I never speak German to you."
"What else would we speak?" said Klaus stupidly. He had realised of course that the man's accent was strange, but it hadn't seemed important. The odd lilt in his voice was in keeping with the rest of him, the long bright hair and frilly clothes.
The man didn't answer his question. He leaned forward. Klaus drew back.
"What's happening, Klaus?" said the man with the golden hair. "Why am I here?"
"I don't know," said Klaus. He had dropped the stick. He was feeling panicky. He couldn't think about this, he had to finish the grave, he had to bury the bird before Nurse came out and scolded him and sent him to bed without supper --
"That hasn't happened yet. You know what happens next," said the man with the golden hair, steadily. "You know because this isn't happening right now. This is a memory. You know what's going to happen because it's already happened. This is your past."
"I don't know," said Klaus again. He picked up the stick, but he didn't know what to do with it.
"Klaus." The big, warm hands touched his face; he tried to shy away, but the man with the golden hair cupped his face and looked at him. He had blue eyes.
"What happened to you, Klaus?" said the man. "Where are you?"
Not here. The man with the golden hair didn't go here. What was his name? Names flickered past Klaus's mind, none of them words he understood, but finally he caught one and held it between his teeth, and he spoke it aloud:
The man's true name. But that was wrong. Dorian wasn't supposed to be here. Where did he go?
Somewhere else. Somewhere later . . .
* * *
"I want this painting," said Dorian, and broke off with a comical look of surprise on his face. It was a good look on him -- a look, Klaus thought sourly, that he would have enjoyed seeing on that face far more often than Dorian had let him.
"We're here!" said Dorian obviously. He looked down at himself with the ingenuous, delighted admiration of a child, albeit no child Klaus had ever been. "And I'm even the right age. How clever of you, Major."
Klaus looked around -- it was the Eberbach gallery. His first meeting with Dorian. The paintings stood in orderly ranks, The Man in Purple in particular serenely unconscious of its fate; Dorian cooed in the background, "I haven't seen this bracelet in years"; and B stared at them in confusion. Klaus barely had to snap, "Get out" for him to vanish, his back radiating relief.
"The first time I met you," said Dorian dreamily. "I think about it all the time, you know. How desperately lovely you were. Can you imagine I had no idea of what was in store for me when I first saw your face? I thought you were beautiful, of course, but not my type. I hadn't the faintest inkling, you simply drove me mad, but I didn't imagine it was anything more than irritation. What fools the gods take us for. Do you know, though, I think I really must have known somehow; something must have whispered to me a hint of our entwined destiny, the stars must have paused and shivered in their courses . . ."
Klaus had resolved to let the man run on until he talked himself into silence and Klaus could begin to explain the situation, but patience had never been his strong suit.
"Even in my mind you talk nonsense," he barked. "Shut up and listen to me. There is not much time."
Dorian narrowed in on the important detail, with his usual annoying perspicacity. "In your mind, Major?"
"Yes. You asked me what happened to me."
"Asked you . . .? Oh, that. Yes, I remember," said Dorian. "You were such a serious child, Major. Were you happy?"
Klaus could not recall ever having been happy in his whole life.
"That is irrelevant," he said impatiently. "Do you want to know what happened or not?"
Dorian looked contrite. "Yes, I'm sorry. Please, do go on."
But Klaus did not know how to start. He took out his cigarettes and lit one, to occupy his hands while he arranged his thoughts.
"I have been taken," he said finally. "You do not need to know how, or by whom. Suffice it to say, there is little chance of escape or rescue. Have you heard of the Lacuna Institute, in America?"
"It sounds familiar," said Dorian. "Wasn't there something of a dust-up over its research a few months ago? I thought it was shut down."
"It was," said Klaus deliberately. "In America. NATO has been funding its research since the scandal. The Institute has produced a trial drug, which has been distributed to NATO agents for use in certain eventualities, to avoid . . . leaks."
But Dorian wasn't really listening. He seemed preoccupied.
"You mean . . . you're in danger," he said. "Isn't anyone coming for you? Are you -- you are going to be all right, aren't you? They won't kill you?" He sounded innocently horrified by the prospect. One would think he had not realised the dangerous nature of Klaus's work, even after years of disrupting his missions and generally making a nuisance of himself to the defenders -- and attackers, Dorian was nothing if not fair when it came to inconveniencing everyone around him -- of the free world.
Klaus felt the familiar rage, never far from the surface, begin to simmer.
"Stop asking useless questions and pay attention!" he yelled. "This is important!"
"And your survival isn't?" Dorian shot back.
Klaus stared at him in incomprehension.
"Don't be a fool. There is nothing you can do about it anyway," he said. "That is why we are here. I took the drug shortly after I was captured. It is selectively erasing all my memories connected with my work for NATO."
Angry, distressed, Dorian was beautiful beyond imagining. The old, weary pain snaked in Klaus's chest, but he pushed it down unthinkingly, with an ease born of long practice.
"What do you mean?" said Dorian, but he knew, the beginnings of grief already clouding the sky-blue eyes. Klaus told him anyway, because the truths that hurt were the ones that most needed repetition.
"I have no memories of you that are not in some way related to my work," said Klaus -- and if this would be a piercing regret for as long as he could remember its source, that was one truth Dorian did not have to know. "Eroica. Whe -- if I wake up, I will not remember you."
The paintings were already vanishing from the walls, as the room was torn apart piece by piece and hurried into oblivion. Klaus held himself steady against the annihilating wind, as the ceiling vanished above their heads, as antique chairs hurtled past, as the memory, jewel-bright, slipped from him into darkness. Dorian ignored the chaos, grasped his arm, saying, his voice barely above a whisper but ringing through the wind, resonating like a deep-toned bell,
"But that doesn't explain why -- why, what is happening to me, why was I there when you buried that bird -- Klaus, for once in your life, be honest with me -- "
"Not here," said Klaus, and his hand clenched around Dorian's wrist and tugged, pulling him out of the disintegrating gallery. "Not here."
Not now was what he meant.
* * *
Safety. Quiet. This had always meant alone to Klaus.
He dribbled the football, played tricks with it, relishing the solid, predictable thump against foot, against knee, against forehead. It had been raining. The grass was slippery, and his feet sank in the earth when he put them down. He would have to scrape the mud off his boots later. He was the only person on the pitch, the only person in the world, it felt like, except there was another boy watching him. The boy was about his age, with stupid yellow curls all over his head, but his blue eyes were intent, and somehow older than his face.
Klaus wished the boy would go away, but then he remembered that no, he wanted the boy to be here. He kicked the ball towards the boy, as an overture of friendship. The boy passed it back to him, though awkwardly.
"Not really my game, darling," he said lightly, and at the sound of his voice knowledge shot through Klaus's mind like a bolt of lightning, stiffening his spine and burning away peace.
"Dorian," he said, before he could stop himself. He started to correct his slip, but Dorian forestalled him.
"Dorian will do," he said. "And the Iron Major wasn't even a twinkle in your eye yet, so I think you'll have to settle for Klaus. How old are you?"
"Sixteen," said Klaus. "And the twinkle was already there." He kicked the ball aside.
"Always the dreamer," murmured Dorian. "You do know I would have been much younger than this."
"Yes," said Klaus, "but I did not think you would enjoy your eleven-year-old self, and I knew I would not."
But Dorian, typically, was busy being absorbed in unimportant things.
"Are all your childhood memories of the winter?" he said. "The sky was exactly the same shade at the funeral."
He sounded disapproving -- or worse, pitying. It should have occurred to Klaus that Dorian, who lived in a tumult of colour and noise, would see his grey, quiet memories as drab.
To Klaus the colours were all the more poignant for not being vivid: he would never see a green as beautiful as the wet grass under his feet, and the white-grey sky was freedom, was peace, was a tranquillity of spirit he would but rarely feel again.
"I find winter peaceful," he said.
Dorian seemed to hear more behind the words than Klaus had meant him to, and Klaus wondered whether that was because this Dorian was a part of him and thus knew all his secrets -- an alarming thought: Dorian was uncontrollable even as a figment of his imagination -- or simply because the Dorian of his mind was as irritatingly percipient as the real thing.
"Really, Klaus. You know perfectly well you would be bored to death if your life were peaceful now -- or rather, in the future, I suppose I should say," said Dorian. "But I think you were right, after all; I couldn't have enjoyed your legs half as much as they deserved if I were eleven." Before Klaus could explode, he went on without a change in the tone of his voice,
"Are you going to tell me why I'm here? I don't belong here any more than I did digging holes in your garden."
"I -- " Klaus frowned. This should not be difficult. This Dorian was nothing more but an assortment of memories, past conversations, guesses, speculation. He wondered how much resemblance this Dorian bore to the real Dorian as he had been at sixteen. He wondered how much resemblance this Dorian bore to the real Dorian at all.
What internal picture of Klaus did Dorian have? A picture no doubt skewed beyond recognition, imbued with some intriguing quality Klaus had yet to detect in himself, some imaginary enchantment worth years of pursuit across continents, through international incidents, in the face of determined rejection. Klaus found himself wishing he could see himself as Dorian did. It would, perhaps, give him some insight where he had long resigned himself to incomprehension.
"This is a memory that has nothing to do with NATO, or intelligence," he said. "Here we . . . you . . . are hidden."
"They can't find me here," said Dorian, realisation dawning.
"The drug should not eliminate this memory," said Klaus precisely. "If it works within the specified parameters. However, it is untried, there is no way of determining the full extent and nature of its effect until I -- "
"Klaus," said Dorian. He seemed to enjoy saying the name, but his eyes were grave. "Why?"
"-- may prove to be impossible to restrict its effects to one area of the mind," continued Klaus, riding over Dorian's voice. This was important, Dorian needed to understand what was going on, Klaus had no time for frivolous questions -- and if Dorian pushed, Klaus would have to answer.
Dorian pushed, of course. That was, Klaus reflected, practically the point of Dorian.
"Why?" he said.
With a hideous inevitability the horizon was splitting, grey sky and green earth curling away from each other and rolling themselves up; Dorian's beauty was as vivid as it ever was, but he wavered like a dream of water in the desert, the only mirage Klaus had ever trusted in, despite his better judgement, despite everything, and Klaus, unable in this place to lie or evade any longer, told him why.
"I don't want to forget," he said. "I do not wish -- I can't lose the memory of you."
And Dorian smiled like a sunrise.
"My brave Major," he said. "I knew you could say it."
"I will forget you anyway," Klaus snarled, furious with loss. "It is going -- it is all going -- " The light going from the sky, the rain water from the mud, blades of grass blinking out one by one like doused lamps. "There is nothing I can do to stop it, do you understand?"
"Then take me away from here." Somehow Dorian had come close, his mouth at Klaus's ear, breath warm on his skin, golden hair everywhere. "Take me out of memory, somewhere the drug can't get at us. Take me somewhere else."
"There is nowhere -- " But there was. Klaus gripped the surprisingly broad shoulders, twisted, tripped over the forgotten football, and fell --
* * *
-- into bed.
Dorian looked down at him, surprise on his sweat-damp face. He was straddling Klaus, and he was naked. Klaus could feel just how naked he was.
"Where -- ?" said Dorian.
Klaus had covered his eyes with a hand, but there was nothing he could do about Dorian's heat, the brush of his legs against Klaus's side, the scent rising from their heated bodies.
"This is a fantasy," Dorian realised. Klaus dropped the hand, rage overcoming shame.
"It is a dream!" he said. "I do not fantasise, and even if I did, I would not think about this."
But Dorian just kept looking at him, unafraid, a maddening mixture of tenderness and sorrow in his eyes. Klaus remembered, with a fresh surge of irritation, that he could not lie to this Dorian.
"Oh, Klaus," said Dorian. "My poor darling. You could have had this any time. I would have -- "
"I know you would have," grated Klaus. "I could not."
That shut Dorian up. His hand was splayed beside Klaus's head on the pillow, a big hand, despite the elegant fingers and manicured nails. Here it was impossible to forget that he was a man, in spite of his elaborate foppishness. The reminder was unbearably arousing. Klaus had always -- he did not like Dorian's hands; he did not like anything about Dorian. It did not seem to make a difference.
"But here," Dorian said. "It doesn't matter what happens here, does it? This is just a dream. There's nothing to lose here."
He had lifted his hand while he was talking, and he trailed his fingers down the side of Klaus's face.
Klaus looked at him, his cascade of golden hair glowing in the dim room. All Dorian's memories must be of the spring, a fresh sky overhead as blue as his eyes, or maybe of summer, butter-yellow sunshine and the too-sweet fragrance of roses in full bloom. His face was serious now, asking, and, as always when Dorian threw off affectation, even a little stern, merciless in its intent search for truth. There was a ruthlessness to Dorian: one could call it courage, perhaps. He rejoiced in the extreme; he had never given Klaus any quarter, or, Klaus supposed, asked it of him.
Klaus caught Dorian's wandering hand, thinking of his memories being neatly cut out of him, his accumulated self breaking apart and crumbling into darkness.
"There is everything to lose," Klaus said.
"Then lose it with me," whispered Dorian. "Here. Now."
He was -- Klaus could not think about what Dorian was doing, what they were both doing, but fortunately thought was not needed, and he let instinct take over, trusting to Dorian's movements, his delighted sighs, to direct him.
It was unlike anything he had ever done before. None of his previous experiences, awkward and largely impersonal, had prepared him for the act as Dorian did it. Klaus had resolutely not thought about it before, but if he had, he might have expected Dorian's flowing ease in his own body and with Klaus's, his shameless delight in the act, his polished skill. What he would not have foreseen was that it would be an experience oppressing in its intensity, overwhelming thought, subjugating the spirit in a way improper for a thing so basically crude.
Klaus found himself deeply moved by insignificant details: the jut of Dorian's shoulder outlined by light from the slowly brightening window, the silken dip of his lower back, the sweat beading on his upper lip, the distant self-absorption in his eyes as he neared orgasm. Klaus held them to him, these things and the emotions they evoked, and felt them already begin to turn bittersweet with impending loss.
"You will keep this, won't you?" Dorian gasped, at some hazy point in the proceedings. "They won't -- they won't take this away -- "
Klaus never took sweet things.
"I don't remember my dreams," he said. His hand came away from Dorian's face wet, but when he nerved himself to look up again, Dorian was smiling, trembling, brave, ruthless.
"You'll know," Dorian said. He touched Klaus's forehead, tacky as it was with drying sweat. "It'll be there somewhere, hidden in that hard head of yours. Oh -- " and now he was laughing, a laugh of unfeigned joy -- "do you really think love can be lost, lost at all, lost forever? It can't. Not entirely. My darling Major, my Klaus, my own. All I'll have to do is remind you when you wake up. And I won't give up until you remember. I can trust myself for that."
He laughed down at Klaus, golden and indomitable, the embodiment of love triumphant, and Klaus could not speak.
"You are merciless," he said finally, after a silent eternity's groping for words. His voice creaked like a disused well.
"You knew that about me," said Dorian. His voice sounded as if it came from a long way away. The dream was fading, as all dreams do. "You knew that a long time ago . . . "
Klaus woke up, that nameless voice echoing in his ears, and he was in the world again.
* * *
The first call came very early in the morning, when it was hours yet till one could decently expect to be awoken by a discreet valet bearing breakfast. When there was nothing else to be told, Dorian, who had not got up before noon since his schooldays, put down the phone and watched the dawn creep across the sky. Bonham came in and looked at him, then went out and shut the door. After that nobody bothered him.
He did not know what Bonham had seen in his face, but it must have been frightening. Dorian had already begun to know hope.
Before the Major was lost, Dorian would have said that living with hope was a beautiful thing, sacred, pure, romantic. This was because he had never tried it himself.
Now he woke up every morning with the last night's hope sour on his tongue, and lay in bed in silent terror of grief until the maybe of the new day pulled him out, patted him on the back, told him to keep a stiff upper lip: chin up, old chap, there's hope yet. He danced through each day as light-hearted as ever, because hope held him up, hope pursued him, hope at his heels, hope consuming him. There was nothing else to hold onto. He fled loss, following the thin strand of light out of darkness, because he could not imagine what awaited him there.
But it was horribly painful, and Dorian knew now that hope was cruel. Worse, it was ugly, the ignoble stepsister of despair, and now Dorian breathed it day in day out -- Dorian, who had always lived for beauty. He could not help it. There might be a terrible rapture in grief, but Dorian couldn't afford it.
On the morning the second call came, he woke up to the usual painful jolt in his chest -- maybe today. When he saw Bonham's grave face at the door he knew, somehow. Hope dropped from him cleanly, suddenly. He was quite calm.
"Yes, I'll take the call," he said, and wondered at the precise click of his own voice. Really, he sounded like the Major.
He took the call in his bedroom. It was later in the morning than when the first call had come. The sun snuck through the gaps in the drawn curtains to paint odd, appealing shapes on the carpet, and summer lurked half-stifled in the gloom.
Halfway through the call, Dorian opened the curtains, and the light blazed gladly in, revealing cityscapes of dust particles, bathing Dorian in its glow as he leaned out the window. It would fade the furniture dreadfully, but Dorian knew his hair looked like pure gold in it, knew that he was beautiful, he and the world and, most of all, not needing hope anymore -- such an exquisite beauty, such happiness.
"But he's all right. He's still himself," he said, though he was only half-listening by now, his mind wandering. He would wear the leather trousers -- cream, or lavender? Red? Red always made the Major so angry. Surely he would remember to be angry, even now. Dorian would remind him.
"My lord," said the faintly accented voice on the line earnestly, "if you were here, you would not keep asking that."
He sounded like a man who had been to hell and found the ride unmercifully bumpy -- a sure sign that however the Major's memory was impaired, he hadn't changed in the essentials. (And alive, alive . . .)
"That's a wonderful idea," said Dorian warmly. "I'll be on the next flight to Bonn. See you soon, darling."
"My lord -- !" squeaked the voice. Dorian flung the phone over his shoulder and struck a pose for the delighted, delighting world outside. He was Eroica, thief, poet, lover, devotee at beauty's altar; he was Eros and Apollo combined; he was Love itself, terrible and unforgettable, and Klaus was alive. Anything was possible.
"Bonham," he said. "I'm going to Bonn. Tell the others, will you?"
"Even James, m'lord?" said Bonham doubtfully.
Dorian threw discretion to the winds.
"Even James," he said. "He simply must get used to it. And Bonham -- do hurry."
He barely heard Bonham's "Will do"; he had leant out of the window again to feel the sun on his face, dreaming of green eyes and black hair. The excitement of the chase was already pumping through him. He would give Klaus new memories burnished by this golden sun, sweetened by the climbing roses outside this window. He would bet the Major hadn't had many memories of sunshine and roses even before -- but oh, he would now, Dorian would see to it. He cupped the light in his hands and laughed, wicked and consciously enchanting, because maybe, somewhere, Klaus was listening.
It was a beautiful day.