Dinner was hideous. No other word for it. Majek and Szintarow talked to each other non-stop in Circassian. Takamatsu and Kinta- Jean and Gunmar- sat eating in silence, each penned inside his thoughts.
"Tell me," Dorian asked Gunmar finally when he felt the silence would make him scream, "do you always eat together when you're at home?"
"We do," Gunmar indicated Kinta and Takamatsu. "And we have dinner with Papa and Szincza a lot."
"What are the restaurants like in Circassia?"
"The ones in the city? They're alright, I suppose."
Dorian kept working at it. "Do you eat out a lot?"
"Eat out? At home? No, of course not. The house is in the country."
"Oh." Country life. "What do people do there?"
"I mean for fun?"
"They fight," Kinta said.
"They watch television, I think," Gunmar said.
"They drink," Takamatsu added.
"Oh. Hunting and fishing?"
"No fishing. There are boar hunts, sometimes," Kinta said. "Not as many as there used to be."
"The boars have very considerately taken themselves to the higher mountains," Takamatsu observed. "Boar hunts- and the celebrations afterwards- used to account for as many fatalities as traffic accidents do now."
"It's still not that many," Gunmar pointed out.
"But a sensible man stays off the mountains when the shooting parties are out in the autumn. Even now. I suppose it's not much different from one of your fox hunts. Lots of crashing about and a lot of drinking before, during and after."
"We don't drink during a hunt," Dorian murmured faintly. He had a vision of red-faced Brueghelian peasants, sweaty and spirit-soaked and armed with guns, hallooing through the forests and firing at random. He shuddered.
"We do," Kinta said. "The hunt ends in a feast and boar meat is pretty gamey. It's the one way to get it down- especially when you're eating it half-raw from an outdoor fire."
"Oh my God." Dorian surpressed a queasy shiver. "I hope you don't do that often?"
"Of course we do. Whenever we can. It's a man's activity. Don't you?"
"Not if I can avoid it." His hunting days had ended with his mother's departure, and not a minute too soon as far as he was concerned.
"Kincza, what on earth-" Gunmar began heatedly but Takamatsu interrupted, "He'd better find out what he's got himself into, Samhet. Circassia isn't England, though there are points of resemblance."
"The plumbing," Kinta said, eyes meeting his briefly.
"The heating," Takamatsu agreed. "Circassians and Englishmen are the only people who understand the value of cold baths and cold bedrooms."
"The Japanese," Dorian remarked deliberately, "have never heard of central heating," as he remembered Baron Matsushita's elegant and frigid Taisho mansion where he'd acquired pneumonia one December.
"They have the bath to make up for it. More hot water than an Englishman sees in his life. Or a Circassian, come to that."
"Most people still only bathe once or twice a year," Kinta corroborated. Dorian blanched. "Major festivals usually. Midsummer and harvest."
"And Father's birthday now," Szintarow chimed in unexpectedly.
"Traditonally it was when you were born and when you died," from Kinta.
"Then some people started washing for their weddings," Szintarow added. "The oldtimers called it effeminate but the custom caught on." Dorian's eyes went back and forth between the two of them as the hideous conversation unfolded.
"What are you all talking about?" Majek asked. "Szincza-" He stopped, eyes fixed above Dorian's head. A dark silent figure moved in the tail of Dorian's eye and he jumped in fright. Heart hammering, fingers gone frozen, he made himself look-- but it was only Sergei, who sat himself calmly down in his chair between Szintarow and Jean.
"Any dinner left?" he inquired of the world in general.
The soldiers had already moved in with meat and potatoes and the bottle of wine.
"Where were you?" Majek asked, frowning at him.
"Out. And now I'm back." Sergei forked a piece of meat off the platter.
"Where-" Majek started but Szintarow laid a swift hand on his arm, so quickly that if Dorian hadn't been looking directly at Majek he would have missed it. "Well- fine." Majek took a deep breath, then returned to his Circassian talk with Szintarow. The rest of them were silent as before but somehow the atmosphere felt less constrained. Jean- Dorian glanced over- Jean had taken the platter from Sergei and was giving himself a second helping. The small tension was gone from his face. Kinta on the other side of the table was pressing more wine on Gunmar.
"Samhet," Takamatsu said, fatherly, "you know he's had enough."
Kinta smiled at him. "One more glass," he said. "It's good stuff."
"I hope so," Gunmar said. "Three glasses give me a headache usually."
"This won't." He poured more for Takamatsu as well. "Chateauneuf du Pape," he read off the label.
"True," Takamatsu said. "A very good vintage." He drank a little. "They used to serve it at the Symposium dinners, the last night's celebrations. I wonder if they still do?"
"Bet they don't have the money for it now."
"Perhaps not. Everyone was richer thirty years ago. It was-" he smiled, "in all respects a golden age."
Dorian briefly recalled his childhood years. Takamatsu was right. It had been a plentiful, prosperous time, back in those fabled days before they'd sold the castle, and half his father's income had to go on alimony and child support. Tables full of food, vases full of flowers, the house full of young men-- beautiful young men beautifully dressed in the styles he himself still preferred: the tight velvet pants and the full-sleeved shirts, the silk vests and lace-edged collars, the paisleys and pastels... Clothes had been like costumes then, romantic and individualistic: not like the crop-haired sullen ugliness of fashion today. Back then you could be an Arab one day and an Indian prince the next and a pirate on the third. It had been fun, back then-
"NATO?" Sergei said, bringing him out of his reverie.
Szintarow began saying something in Circassian but Sergei said, "Speak Russian. This may involve Dorian."
The General looked at him in surprise. "I'm seeing one of their men tomorrow. The usual routine. I suppose he'll try to pump me about the paper--"
"No," Dorian said. "They already think they know what that's about."
"I met- an old friend from the organization last night."
"Oh yes?" Kinta gave him a suspicious look.
"Actually, he saved my neck from Maaqa." That caused a sensation and of course Dorian immediately had to give the whole story. Maybe he exaggerated his danger a little- but nothing said Maaqa hadn't been about to kill him. "And I told my friend what I'd heard about the paper," he went on, picking a careful path through the truth. "That there's this chromosome that extends life but Sergei said there were no practical applications to it and Gunmar said there was no proof it could work for other people. I told him all that and he said, 'So it's all a mare's nest.'"
"A mare's nest?" Szintarow looked puzzled.
"Nothing to it."
"That's what we're going to say in the paper," Kinta said in satisfaction, smiling at Jean.
"Nicely done," Jean remarked to Dorian just as Takamatsu had.
And Majek echoed, "Any chance he'll tell the other agents?"
"I doubt it. He's very- secretive."
"What's his name?" Szintarow asked.
Dorian had to swallow before he could say it. "Major von dem Eberbach."
Szintarow cast a glance at Araszyam who nodded. "The same man. What's he like?"
Oh God. He didn't want to talk about Klaus- "He's- well, he can be very- difficult. Quite- belligerant. When he's polite he's usually trying to get you to reveal something. If he yells at you you know he's on the level." He clenched his hands under the table.
"Not a diplomat, then. A spy."
"He can be."
"You speak from experience?" That was Majek. Dorian nodded again, eyes fixed ferociously on the table.
"Should I drop the subject?" The General was smiling at him quirkily- god, he looked like Jean-
"Please," Dorian said, finding he could breathe again.
Szintarow nodded and went back to his Circassian talk with his father. At dinner's end the two took themselves off to the study. Dorian found he didn't even mind. Tonight he'd sleep beside Majek; that was enough.
"What do you say?" Jean asked Kinta. "The party or the paper?"
"Can't we do both? A good hour on the paper will see us to the end of the section. We'll only be a little late for the party."
"Alright by you?" Jean asked Sergei.
"Fine." Sergei sipped coffee tranquilly. "But I'd rather not make it a late night."
"It won't be. Tomorrow's a long day." Kinta hesitated, then turned to Takamatsu. "I don't suppose you'd like to come with us?"
"Do come," Gunmar said. "You haven't seen any of the biologists here yet. Chernofsky was asking after you the other night, and that American- Ewing- he was saying something about your last article-"
"Ewing- he's here? I really should-- Yes, of course, Samhet, I'll come. I suppose I've been neglecting my duties."
"Oh good." Kinta left the room beaming in Jean's company. Gunmar drank off his coffee and went with a remark about his own work. Dorian lit a cigarette. There was a peaceful silence. Takamatsu, who had been staring off into space with an absent smile, pulled himself out of his thoughts as he drained the last of his coffee, and looked over at Sergei.
"I thought you were out on the tiles tonight," he said. "After that scene with Majek I didn't expect to see you before tomorrow."
"Am I as predictable as all that?" Sergei seemed unconcerned.
"Yes. When you go into a tailspin you're as regular as a metronome."
"How boring. From now on I behave differently."
"What a good idea," Dorian approved. "What made you decide that?"
"Common sense. I'm a grown man. It's time I stopped doing everything Majek tells me to."
"Tells you--?" Dorian asked in confusion.
"Most definitely. Majek calls me a whore and I obligingly go out and act like a whore. Stupid, when I'd rather be at home."
Takamatsu snorted. "That took you long enough to figure out. Who opened your eyes for you? And was he really as bad as all that?" Sergei looked away and Takamatsu pressed on, smiling. "Jean should thank him. What was his name? Or didn't you bother to ask?"
"I didn't have to. I still know Ruza when I see him."
Takamatsu froze. "You couldn't have seen him."
"He appeared again?" Dorian asked in alarm.
"Where?" Takamatsu demanded.
"In the red light district near the Bosenplatz, between a restaurant and a porn shop. I picked someone up in the square- and no, I didn't ask his name- and we went into a back alley. I was servicing him among the dustbins when I looked over and saw Ruza across the street watching me."
"What did you do?" Dorian demanded.
"I came home. It's not an activity one cares to have observed by one's older brother, however dead."
"This isn't possible. It violates all laws of reason." Takamatsu's voice was tight.
"Then I'm either lying or hallucinating. Which do you think?"
"As you please."
"If ghosts exist- if he really was here--" Takamatsu's mouth twisted.
"Why hasn't he come to you? Feeling neglected, Takamatsu?"
"Damn you, Sergei-"
"But ghosts can't appear to people who refuse to see them," Dorian said. "Maybe he wants to but you won't let him."
"This is vulgar superstition. I'm not listening to it!" Takamatsu got to his feet and started for the door.
"Good-bye then," Sergei said. "And next time don't be so fast to slip the knife into other people's backs."
Takamatsu turned. "So you were lying?" It was halfway to a plea. Sergei shook his head and Takamatsu's features went tight. He left without a word.
"What does it mean, Sergei? Your brother-"
"Lord Gloria-- I think you can take it that whatever it means it doesn't involve you." Sergei's tone was neutral but the words were like a slap.
"I was the one who first saw him!" he protested. "Of course it involves me. Sergei, why are you being like this? I thought we were friends."
"So did I, but you're Majek's now."
"Is that a reason to hate me? I know Majek said some harsh things to you-"
"Harsh? That was mild compared with what he's said in the past." Sergei looked at him with cold anger in his one eye. "Majek's always treated me as some kind of domestic monster. Well, fine. I had my life, he had his. But now you've come along--" He turned his head away.
"Now I've come along and made him happy," Dorian finished when Sergei didn't. "What's wrong with that?"
"This was mine. This was the one thing I had that he wouldn't touch. He has everything else- power and fame and the love of a nation. He's the one who'll go down in the history books, not me. I had the love of men and I was satisfied with that. But now he's taken it all. He'll tell the whole world you're his lover and dare people to talk, but he still despises me. He's a real man no matter what he does and I'm a pervert and a whore no matter what I do."
"Oh come, Sergei. The only reason he insists he's not a pervert is because he knows he is. Weren't you saying that he can't accept things without a struggle?"
"You don't know Majek's capacity for self-delusion. He believes it's normal if it's him and obscene if it's me."
"He'll come round," Dorian said confidently.
"He can come round or not come round as he pleases. I don't intend to be here to watch him do it. After this conference I'm taking Jean and I'm leaving. You can tell him if you want to. It'll save me the trouble." He rose to go.
"Sergei, wait-" Dorian caught him by the arm. Sergei turned a cold bright eye on him. "You're always leaving the people who love you," Dorian said pathetically. "You ran away from me in Paris and now you're running from Majek."
"Majek doesn't love me."
"Yes he does. Look how happy he was when he learned you kept his photograph with you all the time you were apart."
"That flattered his vanity. He wants to think I'm helplessly devoted to him. That doesn't mean it's mutual. It's not, as he showed very clearly this afternoon."
"He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve any more than you do. But he'll be badly hurt if you go. So will I. Don't you realize?"
"But then- why are you doing it?"
"Revenge. The only one I can have. You and Majek- you twist people's minds around. You take their reality away and substitute your own illusion. In your world you're the wise older brother and the charming irresistible aristocrat and everyone loves you because you're so lovable. It doesn't matter that I see a different face to you. No, you insist that I be as enchanted by you as everyone else. All I can do to save my integrity is say no. Does it hurt when I refuse to act the part you've assigned me? Good. It's not much- it's a tiny pinprick compared to the pain you bring others- but it's something to balance the account."
Dorian shook his head in disbelief. "Sergei, where do you get these ideas? We're not magicians or Svengalis. If I could make people act as I want, do you think Klaus would have behaved the way he did all these years?"
"I'll give you credit, Lord Gloria- you go looking for men who can stand against you." He smiled briefly, mirthlessly. "And you find them. But Majek-"
"Do you think Majek's different? He's looking for someone strong enough to stand against him too. It's like being a giant in a world full of children. He wants equals. That's why he pushes you to resist him." Sergei frowned. "Isn't that what he did with Szintarow? Push him hard until he got strong enough to push back? Surely it's the same with you? Then why not do it? Stay and make him see the truth as you see it. Fight him on your terms, not his."
"It's impossible. He won't accept anyone else's reality. I know him."
"Would you have said, a week ago, that he'd ever sleep with a man and boast of it? I don't know how you can say 'impossible' after what's happened to you. Just look at Jean and tell yourself nothing's impossible."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Jean's voice said from the door. He came and put his arms around Sergei from behind. "It's useless. I can't work any more tonight." It was clear enough why not. Desire was written all over him, so plainly that Dorian found himself responding almost automatically. "Do we have to go to this party?"
"No," Sergei said absently, but his hand curved back around Jean's hip. "I've no objections to staying in."
"Good." Jean nibbled Sergei's neck.
"I'm in the way," Dorian began, but was interrupted by Kinta coming into the room.
"What's this Takamatsu said- that you'd seen Ruza out in the city? Is it true?"
"It's true," Sergei said.
"What did he- did he say anything, do-"
"Nothing. Just looked at me."
"Did you try talking to-"
"I've nothing to say to my brother. He's dead. He should stay that way."
"Savijc-" Jean remonstrated. "That's Kinta's father you're talking about."
Sergei bit his lip. "I'm sorry," he said to Kinta. "I don't know what he wants. I don't know why he's showing himself to me and Lord Gloria and not you or Takamatsu. I-" He shrugged. "I'm sorry."
Kinta looked at them, large and bewildered and distressed. "But why can't he rest in peace? There's no reason for him to be here-"
"He was happy here," Jean said. "And he wasn't happy back in Circassia. It may be no more than that, Kinta."
"He must want something--"
"I can't think what," Sergei said. "Dorian's probably right- he only appears to people who can see him."
"I don't like it," Kinta said. "I wish he hadn't come. It must mean something." He frowned in perplexity and sighed. "Oh well- if you're not going to work we should be getting to that party."
"Sorry," Jean said, "I think we'll stay here instead. It's been a long day."
"What? Oh- alright. Just remember we have to start early again tomorrow if we're going to get this finished and make any of the papers."
"OK," Jean agreed. He waited till Kinta had gone before saying to Sergei, "You know what Ruza wants, Savijc. You might think about it."
"If I don't have any hard feelings, why should you?"
"He took you from me for twenty-five years."
"He did his best to make amends. You know what we owe him."
"I don't want to discuss this."
"Alright." Jean kissed his ear.
"I hate it when he won't argue," Sergei said ruefully to Dorian. "If he doesn't tell me I'm wrong I start thinking it myself." It was the friendliest thing he'd said in hours and Dorian felt a shadow lifting from his heart.
"The simplest way to win," Jean said. "Use your opponent's weight against him. You don't need me to tell you that one."
Sergei turned in his arms and kissed him, then pulled away. "No, stop. Not here. Sorry, Dorian. We're going to have to leave you."
"No problem," he said, trying not to sound wistful. "Enjoy yourselves."
Sergei gave him an ambiguous half-smile and the two went off entwined. Without thinking Dorian wandered out of the salon and down towards Majek's office. The door opened just as he came up to it as he'd half-expected it would.
"Oh- Dorian- good," Majek said. "I was just going to get you. Come in."
He motioned him to the chair on the other side of the desk and Dorian found himself facing Majek and Szintarow. It wasn't where he wanted to be at all, and it immediately got worse.
"About Major von dem Eberbach," Szintarow started.
"Do we have to talk about him?" Dorian said piteously.
"There are things I need to know, but maybe you don't want to tell me." Szintarow regarded him narrowly. "If you still feel bound to him, I'll understand."
"I haven't worked for NATO in years."
"You know that's not what I mean."
"I don't understand," Majek said. "What ties do you have, Dorian?"
Dorian looked resentfully at Szintarow, cursing the drawbacks of having one of his own kind around. Szintarow simply looked back at him, so in the end he was forced to say it himself. "He was my lover."
Majek frowned. "But it's quite over and I don't want to talk about it," Dorian added firmly. "Or him."
"I see," Szintarow said. "Tell me just one thing. Is he honest?"
"Honest? Hell no. He'll lie in his teeth if he has to." Dorian's mouth lengthened in misery.
"If he promises something, then, I shouldn't believe it?"
"He'll say whatever he has to to get what he wants. He thinks whatever he does is right. He thinks he can do anything he likes and come out smelling like a lily, so long as it's in the line of his work."
"But aside from work, is his honour important to him?"
"There is no aside from work, for him. Honour and duty and obligation mean only that he's fulfilled his mission and never mind who he's stabbed or betrayed to do it." His hands were clenching convulsively between his knees. "If you're thinking of trusting him, don't. Don't turn your back on him and count your fingers after you shake hands." He heard the rancour in his tone and took a deep gulping breath.
"He hurt you badly," Szintarow observed.
"He couldn't," Dorian said in haughty denial. It would have sounded better if his voice hadn't broken on the second word.
"Hmmm. That's a problem," Szintarow remarked to his father.
"Hold out on him, then," Majek said. "Make him sweat a bit. Obviously he only prizes what he has to work for."
"I need NATO's help-- no, alright. I don't need it. It would be useful to have." Szintarow's eyes went back to Dorian, and Dorian bridled.
"Don't look to me to help you," he said, furious and miserable. "I told you, I won't be part of your games." He rose to leave.
"Oh, don't be such a potato-head," Szintarow said, half-angry and half-amused. "I wasn't asking you to. What do you take me for?"
"A politician," he retorted. Unfortunately that just made the General laugh and Majek smile.
"I don't have the brains," Szintarow said. "Sit down, Dorian. If you're going to be one of the family, you'll have to get used to my ways, crude as they are."
"There's nothing crude about you," Dorian observed as he sat again. "You just want people to believe there is. Like your father." He gave Majek a meaning glance.
"Discovered," Majek said to Szintarow. "Don't tell anyone, Dorian. Our reputation for thick-headedness is our greatest asset."
"Klaus won't buy it for long. He distrusts appearances. He thinks everyone has something to hide."
"It must make him difficult to deal with. What's his value to NATO?"
"Well, when he's involved in espionage, people usually do have something to hide so it's not a problem. But for non-intelligence work, he's kind of handicapped. It's why he's never been promoted."
"Maybe he doesn't want to be," Majek suggested.
"Of course he does!"
"Really? A spy must think that all his friends may be enemies. A diplomat has to pretend that all his enemies are friends. The first is easier, trust me."
"No it's not," Dorian said automatically. "Not being able to trust anyone is hell."
"I agree," Szintarow said. "You have to trust people. Act as if they're your friends and they will be, nine times out of ten."
"And the tenth time?" Majek asked, frowning.
"Carry a big stick," Szintarow grinned, and Majek smiled unwillingly back. "I think we needn't treat the Major like a stranger, seeing how well he knows us- or about us. We'll be friendly to him, like one of the family."
"Good luck," Dorian muttered.
"Jean and Kinta will be away, of course. But I'll want Uncle Savijc there for certain. Is he still here?"
Dorian shook his head. "He and Jean took themselves off to bed fifteen minutes ago."
"Don't count on Savijc's cooperation," Majek said. "He's in one of his moods."
"I saw. What did you say to him?"
"Merely the truth that he doesn't want to hear."
"A bit more than that," Dorian protested. "You weren't at all fair to him."
Majek glared at him. "You don't know the whole story, Dorian. Keep out of this."
"You went too far. Now he says he's going to leave."
"Let him. He'll be back."
"Don't be too sure," Szintarow said. "It was touch and go the last time. Seven years he was away, and you know what it took to bring him back."
"You always were too fond of him, Szincza. You don't need his help any more."
"I don't need it but it's useful to have. I suppose you insulted him."
"Don't be stupid."
"You called him a whore and a pervert," Dorian supplied.
"And what does that make me?" Szintarow asked.
Majek went red with rage. "You're a man! Don't-"
"So is Uncle Savijc. Speaking of truths that you don't want to hear-"
Majek was on his feet. "I'm not listening to this! He's poisoned you too. He--" Szintarow took a deep breath, spreading his hands deliberately on the table. Majek stopped. "Szincza," he said after a moment, "I'm not going to fight with you about my brother. He's always tried to divide us and he's not going to do it this time. Let's talk of something else."
Szintarow shook his head slowly.
"Then I'm going. Goodnight." He turned to the door.
Majek clenched his fists and strode out. Dorian was up and right after him, but Szintarow brought him up short with a strong grip on his wrist.
"I have to--"
"One word. He's dangerous when he's angry like this."
"I don't care. Let me-" He dropped his arm and yanked suddenly, but Szintarow was ready for the attempt.
"I don't know if that's courage or stupidity, but never mind. You could lose your life if you do the wrong thing."
"I know that, for heaven's sake," Dorian said in exasperation.
"And you don't care?"
"I love him. The danger doesn't matter."
"Alright." Szintarow let him go. "Love him. But don't try to reason with him. That's all."
Dorian blinked at the sombre black eyes. "Alright," he said, more calmly, and went after Majek.
The salon was empty. He filled two glasses with brandy and knocked on the bedroom door.
"Who is it?"
"It's Dorian. I brought you a nightcap."
Silence a moment. "What for?"
"I thought you could use one."
"Don't be silly."
"What's silly about it?"
Majek opened the door. "I never use the damned-" He looked at the glasses "What's that?"
"Your nightcap." Dorian held out the glass and Majek took it automatically.
"A nightcap is something you wear. This is a drink." He let Dorian in to the room.
"I don't know what you call it in Russian. Nightcap's what it is in English." He sat himself in one of the armchairs as Majek took the other. "To your health, General."
Majek grimaced. "I told you, I'm not a general any more."
"It just feels strange, calling you by name."
"You English are so formal. You had no trouble with it this afternoon."
"Everything has its time and place." He drank discreetly, banishing any hint of seduction from his voice and pose. Just two friends together...
After a moment, Majek asked, "What do you want from me, Dorian?"
"Whatever you want to give me." He gave Majek a level glance. "What else can I expect from you? You're not the kind to be moved by tears and prayers."
"Precisely." Majek seemed to relax. "If it's so obvious to you, why can't Sergei understand it?"
"I've never seen him cry or beg either, frankly."
"He would if he thought it'd work. He wants what he wants- he always has- and he won't take no for an answer."
"What does he want from you?"
"What do you think?"
"Your love. Your respect."
"If that was all he could have it." He turned his head away and said, sombrely, "It's me he wants, just as he wanted you."
"You think so?"
"I know so," Majek said, frowning deeply. "I don't say this lightly, not about my own brother. But he's always had a twisted nature. He doesn't know the meaning of shame. Even when he was a boy he couldn't keep his hands off me. He'd be all over me, hugging me for no reason, kissing me-- it was disgusting!" He drained off his brandy.
"I thought it was the custom of your country. You don't mind it from Halim."
"Halim's a man. It's different. He takes a man's part-"
"Like trying to kill you?"
Majek shrugged. "Poor Halim. All that thwarted ambition. Of course he hated me for being the oldest. He has our family's spirit, he won't be second to anyone. I never minded Halim's hatred. It was natural."
"But you do mind Sergei's love."
"You really think it's a sexual attraction? To his own brother?"
"Of course. He's a man-lover-- unnatural from the start. Why would he draw the line at incest? It's all one to men like that."
"No doubt." Dorian sipped brandy discreetly.
"It's the truth, Dorian. I know him."
"Damn it, it's obvious to anyone with eyes. He's like a coquetting woman. When he was growing up he was exactly like a girl- using his looks and his charm, smiling at people, making them love him-"
"Like Jean- Jahn."
Majek's face closed. "Yes."
"Is it true you were in love with him? That's what Jean said."
Majek's eyes went ice-blue. "Your tongue is a knife, litt-" He stopped.
"'Little brother.' Keep calling me that. I like it. I never had a brother and I lost my father young. I still miss him."
"Dorian." There was a pause. "Dorian."
Dorian came to his side, dropped to his knees and put his head on Majek's lap. Majek's fingers twined in his hair.
"This is so beautiful," Majek said as if to himself.
"Useful too. Men can't keep their hands off it, and the next thing you know," Dorian nuzzled at Majek's groin, "I have them."
Majek laughed and the tension eased from him a little.
"So were you in love with Jean? I'm only asking in case I need to be jealous."
There was a pause. "I was- attracted to him."
"And are you still?"
"No," Majek said. "No. You've nothing to be jealous of." He sighed. "It was a long time ago- when he first came to join my service. I secured him, and-- It was a near thing. I wanted to- to do what I did with you this afternoon. You've seen what he's like. One has to love him. The temptation- it ate at me, day in and day out. Call him back-- have him a second time. There was a time when I could think of nothing else. I was useless-- paralyzed. All I could do was think of him." He shrugged. "That was the plan, of course. It nearly worked. But I saw what it was doing to me- saw what would happen if I gave in. I sent him away and made myself forget his face."
"Too bad. You could have been happy thirty years ago."
"It would have been the ruin of me," Majek said fiercely. "Of me and my plans and my family. Do you think it would have stopped with him? He'd just have been the first. After that no-one would have been safe-" He stopped abruptly. There was silence. "Dorian, whatever you're thinking--"
"I'm wrong. Of course. But I know your family," he said as mildly as he could, and felt Majek's muscles tense beneath him. "I know your country and its customs. I can guess what would have happened. After Jean it would have been your brothers. Who else was there?"
"You see how it was?" Majek said, and there was a pleading note in his voice. "Ruza was like myself. I could never have thought of him that way. Halim would have fought me to the death. I knew I was safe with him. But Sergei-- he was different. He'd have been happy, even-- What else could I do but what I did?"
Dorian raised his head. "But now there's me. You don't have to deny yourself any more."
"I know. But now Sergei thinks I've come round to his way of thinking. Now he'll be after me even more. His insinuations this afternoon--" Majek turned his head away in disgust.
"You don't have to worry about Sergei, you know. If he had any ideas along those lines he's dropped them after what you said. Now he's going to leave- go away completely, after the conference, with Jean."
"I'll believe it when I see it. He's not one to give up like that. Nothing I say has ever been able to stop him from doing exactly as he pleases."
"Oh, not you. It was Ruza."
"What!? What do you mean?"
"Ruza's ghost. It appeared to Sergei as he was- well, never mind- but anyway, it stopped him. That was what made him decide to come back home- oh my God." He stopped in convincing dismay, eyes wide. "Oh God, Majek-"
"What is it?" Majek demanded.
"You won't tell him- you won't let him know I told you? I shouldn't have- it's private- and he's so nasty when he's angry. Please, Majek-"
"No- alright- don't carry on, Dorian. I won't tell him."
"Oh good." Dorian mimed relief. "Shall we have a shower together?"
"Why?" Majek looked surprised.
"I hate to go to bed grubby and it's much more fun with a friend."
"You go and shower. I have some things to think about."
'I can just bet,' Dorian thought smugly. He took himself off to Majek's bathroom, indulged in a thorough wash and rub down- really, he should have done it this afternoon, he'd been quite gamy all evening- and came back with a towel wrapped about his hips, Egyptian fashion. Majek looked up as he came in.
"Why do you wear that perfume? You smell like a woman."
"What perfume? You don't even have aftershave in there."
"That rose stuff-"
"That's natural. It's just me. Don't you like it?"
"I thought it was perfume."
Dorian took that for a qualified yes. "Well, it's not. It's the way I smell and there's nothing I can do about it. I started your bath running, by the way."
"Oh- good." Majek began unfastening his tunic.
"Let me." Dorian insinuated himself skilfully where Majek's hands were.
"I can do it myself-" Majek protested.
"But why bother? Haven't you ever had servants? You're the head of your clan and all." He took the tunic off.
"A man should look after his own needs." Majek squirmed a little under Dorian's touch.
"A man like you should let people wait on him. It's what we want to do. There are people who'd give ten years of their lives to be allowed to untie your shoelace," Dorian assured him, kneeling to do just that. "And you know it."
"Worship at a distance is more useful," Majek said sombrely. "No man is a hero to his valet, or his batman either."
"But now you're retired." Dorian removed his shoes.
"True. I can afford to let you play at being my servant." Majek looked down at him under his eyebrows. "As long as it's just play."
Dorian smiled up. "Why? What's wrong with me adding my worship along with everyone else in Circassia?"
Majek rested his chin on his hand, contemplating both Dorian and the question. "I don't know," he said at last, as if the answer surprised even himself. "You- it would be-- a pity. A waste. You're..." He waved a vague hand. "I don't know how to say this. The men I see around me- the ones I dealt with, the ones I see Szincza dealing with- they're all- ordinary. Small. I know what they think, I know what they want. It's so obvious. I envy them, sometimes. They live in a world all ordered and patterned, knowing themselves part of humanity, the same as the man beside them. I see a different world from them. I always have. I know that to them I must look like a monster, often enough, and often enough I've thought that I am."
"You're not a monster," Dorian said reassuringly, working at Majek's belt buckle.
"I've come dangerously close. Thank god I had my son to keep me honest. He gave me something to think of beside my own ambition. But I've always known, since I was a boy, that I was different. And so are you."
"Another monster?" Dorian cocked an eyebrow.
"A beautiful monster," Majek smiled at him. "The rules that bind other men don't apply to you. And I'm not just talking about the law," he added a little sourly. "I don't think you're entitled to take what you want just because it's you that wants it. But trying to stop you from being what you are is like trying to rope the whirlwind."
"Like trying to stop you from being what you are." He pulled Majek's pants from him.
"What I was. As I grow old I grow more ordinary. You can't believe what a relief that is."
"Ordinary? You?" Dorian's arms went about Majek's waist and his mouth pressed into his groin.
"Very ordinary. You won't get anything by doing that, Dorian. I'm an old man and I've had my pleasure for the day. No, there's no use pouting." Majek smiled at his expression. "Facts are facts. And shouldn't you shut off that bath water?"
Alarmed, Dorian hastened away in time to avert the flood, though the dimensions of the marble bath had had more effect than any care of his. Majek came in in his blue bathrobe.
"You can go," he said.
"You're no fun at all. Don't you want your back washed?"
"This isn't the bathhouse."
"You have bathhouses at home?"
"Of course. Don't believe that rigmarole Kinta and Takamatsu were giving you this evening. It's our custom to bathe daily. It's the only way to get really warm in winter. Are you going?"
"No. I'm not going to believe the shy virgin routine from you." He reached for Majek's belt and got his hand slapped.
"I like my privacy."
"No such thing in Circassia, I was told."
"Dorian. The bath is the bath and the bed is the bed and I don't trust you to know the difference. Out."
Dorian sighed deeply and turned to go.
"I'll call you when I want my back washed."
Dorian remade the bed, tumbled after their afternoon's endeavours, and had it all ready for the evening ones when Majek called for him. He took the rough loofah and scrubbed Majek's beautifully muscled back until it glowed red. Majek grunted in pleasure.
"I wouldn't have thought you'd be strong enough for this."
"What do you call that?" Dorian shoved his arm under Majek's nose and flexed it. "I can chin myself one-handed if I have to. I just don't have to very often."
"Chinning yourself?" Majek looked dubious. "Why bother doing something like that?"
"Just to stay in shape." The point had been not to be at a disadvantage when Klaus insisted they work out together, but he wasn't going to say that. He sluiced Majek's back. "Stand up and I'll do your legs as well."
"I don't need-"
"So untrusting. Don't worry. I won't feel you up, little man."
Majek rose dripping in wrath and Dorian slipped into the tub with him.
"Oh calm down. I know you're afraid of me but you really don't have to be."
Majek turned violently but their close quarters didn't allow for a proper punch. Majek checked in time, alas. Dorian had been counting on bringing him down in the soapy water when he swung.
"Oh for God's sake." Majek exhaled irritably. "What the hell do you want?"
"Just to wash you off a bit. What's wrong with that?"
"Alright," he said in disgust, and turned his back to Dorian. "Just don't try anything."
"Whyever not?" he asked, working down into the small of Majek's back and over his buttocks with the loofah. "Can't I have my fun even if you don't want to?"
"This is a bath. It's for bathing." Majek spoke into his forearms.
"All these definitions you have. Is it part of trying to be like those other men with their ordered patterned lives? You wash in the bath and you screw in the bed and you eat at the table. What's wrong with screwing in the bath and eating in bed? It's fun."
"It's like saying women are for screwing and men are for fighting and you must never do the one with the other. I thought you said we were different."
"I did but-."
"So-" Dorian soaped his hands lavishly. "What's wrong with me doing this?" and he ran them over Majek's muscled buttocks and into the hot crack between. Majek went rigid but Dorian pressed him to the shower wall to stop him from turning. "If it feels good- and it does- why not let me do it?" His hands moved down and forward, feeling behind Majek's balls for that one spot, and Majek gasped.
"No-one's ever done this for you before, have they? But it feels so nice when someone does- and it feels so nice for me- you don't know how happy my hands are now, Majek." He nuzzled the back of Majek's neck as his fingers played between his legs, wandering from flesh that was tight and muscled to parts that were soft and heavy. Majek was groaning, moving back and forth with the rhythm of Dorian's hands. Nice if one could continue, but that wasn't part of his strategy.
"Thank you, Majek, that was lovely." He stepped back suddenly, ignoring the clamour in his cock, and said in a business-like way, "I'd better rinse you off." He turned on the shower and unhooked the spray attachment. Majek dashed it from his hand. It fell sideways into the water, arcing spray up at them. Majek pushed him against the wall.
"Do you never shut up?" he asked thickly. His voice sent thrills up Dorian's spine. Ohh yes, here it was- the beast in the forest, the animal in man's skin. Majek's blue eyes glowed fiercely and his lips were drawn back in the friendly-looking smile of a wolf at the kill. Dorian went weak with excitement and desire. He leaned back, unable to move, while Majek's great hand took a grip on him and worked him up and down mercilessly. Oh- ohh- this was- this was-- Majek had been playing before. This was for real. No consideration- no technique- just strength and brutal mastery. His fingers dug into Majek's shoulders and he howled at the pain-pleasure Majek brought him. "Oh god Majek oh god-" He writhed, trying to escape, trying for release, the top of his head was going to come off and still it didn't stop- "Majek oh god please--" half-sobbing as the great weight of Majek's body pressed him to the wall- "Majek for god's sake- please-"
"Please what, little brother?" Majek's eye held him, full of fierce satisfaction.
"Oh please- let me- oh god-" His legs were giving way. He would have collapsed in the water but Majek's torso held him standing. The feel of Majek's hand, hard fast beating at him, took over the world, took all his words, there was only the thrumming at the end of his cock and the darkness erupting from his belly and taking his sight away...
He leaned into Majek, sobbing and panting, as the hot water washed them clean. Majek turned off the taps.
"Come, Dorian." Dorian could only cling to him. Impatiently Majek heaved him out of the tub and deposited him on the edge. Dorian put his head into his hands, waiting for the quivering of his body to settle down. He felt like a lava flow, all unexpected eruptions and poppings. His cock and his balls and his bum kept giving brief random tingles like the aftershocks of an earthquake.
Majek dropped a towel onto Dorian's sopping curls. Dorian grabbed it and buried his face in the reassuring nap. Oh. Oh. Ohh. He drew a deep breath, beginning to come back to himself at last, and finally looked up.
"Oh God," Majek said to the expression on his face, and turned to leave. Dazedly, bemusedly, Dorian followed him into the bedroom and watched while Majek took off his robe and got into bed. Majek bent his legs, rested his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands and watched him back.
"A whipped dog knows his master," Majek said at last, sounding disgusted. "I thought you more of a man."
Dorian said nothing, working at the wet curls strand by strand. He still felt separated from himself as if by a vision or a dream.
"Sulking?" Majek asked when the silence had continued a few more minutes.
Dorian shook his head.
"Then say something, damn it."
"I'm so sorry for you." Even that took an effort. He tossed the towel away and came over to his side of the bed. Lying down nearly took him away into unconsciousness. "No-one's ever done to you what you just did to me. Poor Majek." He mustn't close his eyes, but they refused to stay open. "You don't know-... what you're miss..." and then the room was gone.
Lamplight and cigarette smoke. He opened his eyes.
"How long was I out?"
Majek turned, taking off his reading glasses and putting down the paper. "Maybe half an hour."
Majek threw his paper onto the floor and looked down at Dorian. Dorian smiled back in satiation.
"I told you, I don't want your devotion, Dorian."
"That's alright," Dorian assured him. "You don't have it."
"I saw what you looked like back there. A dog has more dignity."
"I'm not a dog even if you're kicking me like one. It won't work, Majek. I know all about you."
"I doubt that very much."
"Oh but I do. You like to have people in love with you. It appeals to your vanity. But you get nervous when they come too close. That's when you start kicking them away."
"'Nervous'. You mean 'afraid'?"
"I wasn't going to be that blunt about it, but yes."
Amusement flickered in Majek's eyes. "In my country, no-one uses the words 'Majek' and 'afraid' in the same sentence. You westerners see things so strangely. No wonder people think you insane. I suppose it's because you have no-one in your country to show you how a real man should behave."
"Oh, I know how a real man behaves, according to you. He doesn't show you right out that he loves you, he tries to kill you instead. Same devotion, and much much safer: that is, if you really think sleeping with men is a fate worse than death."
"You make no sense. What are you trying to say?"
"Just the reason you find Halim easier to take than Sergei or me. He doesn't threaten you as much."
"Threaten me? Me? With what?"
"With having to admit what you are."
Majek frowned. "And what am I then?"
"The same sort of man as Sergei and myself. A man-lover. A pervert."
Majek's face closed shut, like an iron curtain descending. "Stop it, Dorian. Stop now. If you make me angry you'll be sorry."
Dorian felt the electric danger in Majek's voice, and he ached with the temptation to push it towards its climax. To feel the joy of that primal explosion and bathe in the release of energy... It would be glorious. But-- but-- if he could just hold back a bit -- there were better ways to do this---
"Can a whipped dog make you angry?" he wondered aloud.
"So you are sulking."
"Cheap insults are unworthy of you, Majek. Especially addressed to your lover."
"Back there..." Majek began heatedly.
"Back there you sent me to heaven. It was wonderful and I don't mind saying so. What do you expect me to say? 'Didn't feel a thing, nnyaa nnyaa nnyaa'? How adolescent do you think I am?"
"A man should have his pride. To yell like a woman-"
"Oh, only women yell in Circassia. What a boring country you come from. General. We say 'Honour where honour is due.' That was a tribute to your erotic genius. You're as good a lover as you are a tactician."
"Are you laughing at me?" Majek's fists balled.
"I wouldn't dream of it. I take these things seriously even if you don't." He sat up and folded his arms on his bent knees. "That was lovely. Thank you very much. May I return the favour?"
"Not tonight," Majek snorted. "I told you."
"A celibate version. Let me rub your back a bit. You could probably use it." He ran a swift hand over Majek's shoulderblades. "Oohhh, stiff as a board. That's what comes of getting annoyed." He pressed with his thumbs and Majek groaned unthinkingly.
"It's always the same spot in everyone. I can't imagine why. You'd think everyone had the weight of the world on their shoulders." He worked his fingers into the knotted areas and started loosening them gently. "Is there anything but that smelly lanolin around?"
"It doesn't smell." Majek had turned his back fully to Dorian and was grunting as Dorian dug into his flesh.
"It does, but too bad. I don't want to bruise you." He retrieved it from the side of the bed, got his hands good and greasy, and started in. "Lie down and let me do this properly. Bet it puts you to sleep."
"Mngh. Not if you keep chattering like an old woman." Majek turned onto his belly.
"Alright. Not another peep out of me. Good-night, Majek." He switched off the light on Majek's side and began working the stiffness from Majek's back, starting at the neck. Majek breathed deeply as Dorian's fingers crawled up and down his spine like clever crabs. Dorian took his time, alert to the signals of Majek's body- the expanding lungs, the returning suppleness in the shoulders. Relaxed enough now-? Dorian moved down to get his thumbs into the tightness of Majek's pelvis, hearing Majek's muffled gasp. Pity he couldn't distract him with talk. Discomfort would have to do. Like Klaus, he probably found it more reassuring. Now-- His fingers moved into the hardness of Majek's buttocks and Majek tensed, as he'd known he would. Dorian stopped.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No," Majek grunted at the pillow. "Keep going."
"This part hurts, usually," Dorian warned, moving to the undercurve of the buttock. "The hamstrings are very tight."
Dorian shut. He pulled at the tight sinews, stretching- stre-e-e-tching- yes, Majek was relaxing now, his legs were going looser and open. Dorian hopped over a leg to kneel between Majek's knees, drawing both hands hard down the back of his thighs, over and over. Majek grunted a little at the pressure but his muscles softened in response. Good; now Dorian was positioned just right. He squeezed his way back up Majek's legs, leaning into his work. When his hands came to the curve of Majek's buttocks, his mouth followed and planted itself between Majek's legs.
Majek yelled and twisted, but Dorian threw his full weight onto Majek's legs and pinned his waist with his arms. His tongue found Majek's balls and the lovely ridge in back of them.
"DORIAN!!" Majek was fighting him- and he was strong-
He located the one spot that sent men into ecstasy and prodded it energetically. Majek stopped twisting and groaned, face in the pillow. Dorian pressed his attack, using all his carefully acquired knowledge of the terrain to keep Majek off-balance- back and forth, tongue flicking now here and now there. When he took Majek's balls into his mouth and hummed at them, Majek howled like a hurricane. Thrashed like one too. Better hurry the coup de grace. He let the softness slip from his mouth, slid his tongue up the line of skin and licked hard at Majek's asshole.
"Aaanghhhhh!" Hardly human, it sounded. Majek's hips bucked desperately but Dorian's weight was on them and his tongue plundered the long-guarded treasures of Majek's arse. How wonderful to know that he was the first- the first here, the first to hear those sobbing groans from Majek of the Aouille clan. He could do this forever, but his ear was alert for the change in Majek's cries and he made himself stop. He was still learning this man's rhythm and had to be careful, for his reputation's sake, not to cause anything untoward. He slid off Majek and waited with beating heart for the consequences of his temerity.
Majek reared above him, wet-faced and enraged, fists balled. His cock was enraged too. Dorian smiled at the sight. Majek grabbed his hair and thrust Dorian's face to his groin. Perfect. Dorian swallowed him happily, wriggling his nether portions off the bed so as to approach at a better angle. After a moment Majek fell back again, abandoning himself to Dorian's ministrations. He began to groan again, longer and more drawn out, and Dorian slowed his pace to accommodate his mood.
"Stop-" he heard Majek's deep voice, thick and slow. He waited. Majek's fingers worked in his hair. "Don't move." Majek moved from under him. Dorian, half on and half off the bed, turned his head to watch. Majek found the ointment, scooped some on himself and knelt behind Dorian. Dorian lifted his hips obligingly but it was Majek's hand he felt, hesitating between his cheeks.
"Put it in," Dorian said. "It's alright. I'm quite clean."
Majek's fingers moved tentatively inside him and Dorian purred at the sensation.
"You like this?" Majek asked unbelieving.
"Love it. Try it for yourself sometime."
"You don't know- Dorian, you just don't know-" Majek said helplessly. "This is all-" He shook his head, "-impossible."
"What's impossible about it? I've been doing it all my life."
"But for me--" His fingers twisted out of Dorian and Dorian groaned in pleasure. "Where will you take me? Where will this end? I don't know anymore. But the thrill- after all these years- to be doing again what men say can't be done- mustn't be done-"
Before Dorian could answer, Majek had pushed inside him. Dorian burned where he'd been stretched before but it felt- it felt- as always, it felt so right.
"Doesn't it hurt?" Majek's mouth was buried in his neck.
"Of course." Dorian shoved his hips against Majek's pelvis.
"Do you like to be hurt? Is that what it is?"
"No- ohhh-" He grunted as Majek moved without warning. "It doesn't matter- that it hurts-"
"Little brother- oh God-" Majek stopped.
"I'm not your brother. It doesn't hurt to call me that."
"I'm not your father. Would it mean nothing for you to call me Papa?"
A pit opened in Dorian's stomach. He gazed into it a moment, dizzy at the unexpected depths. Before his head had a chance to speak, he jumped.
"Daddy. We say Daddy." It doesn't matter that it hurts. "Daddy," and he put his head on his arms and cried like a baby while Majek took him, hard, forever and forever...
Afterwards they lay wrapped together under the duvet, holding each other as if afraid to let go.
"Majek," Dorian said at last.
"Dorian." Those strong arms, that smell of tobacco.
"I can't lose you. There's no one but you. You understand that, don't you?"
"I'll go back to Circassia with you."
"It would be the death of you, Dorian. It's not a country for a man like you. I can't lose you either. You must stay here."
"I'm tougher than you think."
"You'd pine, away from your proper world. You'd say the wrong thing some day and I'd kill you. Or you'd offend one of the men and he would. You don't belong there, little brother."
"Stay with me here, then."
"I can't. I have to look after Kostya. I have a debt to him."
"Bring him here," Dorian whispered, desperation beginning.
"He'd pine too, away from the world he knows."
"Then what are we to do?"
"We have what we have as long as we have it. You're too young to know this, Dorian, but sometimes the only way to keep something is to let it go."
"I'm never letting you go. Ever."