A Good Deed Never Goes Unpunished
Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than a Fingerkex med sirap. Corrections to my language are welcome as are comments! Ask if you want me to archive it anywhere. You may link to this story if you want or to my main page. 8.969 words. Written in January 2013.
Betaed by Heather Sparrows, Telwoman and Kadorienne. I thank you all, you're all wonderful!
PART 1. Getting into the mess
Klaus needed papers that were kept under lock and key, so the fop was going to steal them for him. That was the grand total of Klaus's plan as he turned the rented Benz up the long, curving driveway to the Earl's North Downs estate. Oh, the plan for the actual mission was much longer and considered in painstaking detail, but that particular part - though vital - he hadn't bothered much more with. He had obtained blueprints of the Belgian embassy and the fop was going to find them a way in, that was all there was to it. Klaus would probably get flirted with, perhaps propositioned in some indecent manner, and the stingybug accountant would try to bankrupt NATO in exchange for the job, but all that was inconsequential. He never doubted for a second that the Earl would actually agree to do the job for him.
"Thing is, milord 's in a bit of a mood," Bonham said apologetically when he met Klaus at the door. "'e's been mopin' 'round fer days and 'e 'ardly eats. Even James let Mr. Grumersmith make a decent meal fer 'im, but 'e jest turned 'is nose up an' shook 'is 'ead."
"He is ill?"
"No, no. Leastwise we don' think so. 'e's jest depressed, like. Jest sits in th' library 'n' sniffs 'is tea - doesn' even drink much."
"Then why is he depressed?" Klaus asked through clenched teeth. He really didn't have time for this nonsense. He just wanted to enlist the fop as soon as possible, then get back to Bonn and get some actual work done. The house even smelled foppish, like a mix of vanilla and flowers.
"We don' rightly know. 'e gets this way sometimes 'n' there's nothing that can be done fer it, really. We won' get any work don' fer weeks now."
"I need him to do a job for me."
Bonham scratched his neck nervously. "Normally 'e'd be all over that, fer sure. But as 'e is now, 'e'll 'ardly notice you're in th' room, I reckon."
Klaus pulled himself up. The fop? Hardly noticing him? Not bloody likely. "We'll see about that. In the library?"
"I know the way," Klaus said to stave off whatever protest seemed forthcoming, and marched on his way, trying not to breathe in the offensive smell.
Bonham watched him go, torn between wanting to warn the Earl as he rightly should and hoping that the unexpected visit would jolt the man out of his mysterious depression. Life just wasn't as much fun when Dorian was in a funk.
Klaus had the misfortune of having been forced to visit the thieves’ den previously. His excellent memory for direction served him as he retraced the route to the second floor, down a long, sand-yellow corridor to the right, a narrower one in cream to the left, then the second door to the right, in pale green. Not bothering to knock, as even an English servant should have had the common sense to alert his master of an unscheduled visitor and give the man a chance to compose himself - he could only hope that the Earl was still dressed - he entered. He cautiously looked around to verify that he had indeed reached the library, noting automatically changes since the last time.
Darker red roses than three months ago, but brighter curtains. Three paintings had been changed (the new ones were just as obscene as the old ones), the table with the frippery cloth had been relocated to the right; all but one chair moved to the off side of the fire place, while the lonely last chair had been pushed closer, next to a small serving table. In the lone chair the Earl sat primly, but he didn't look towards Klaus.
The Earl of Gloria was staring into the fire. He wore a long black morning robe, glittering with gold. The pale skin of his chest peeked out from the negligently closed robe, but unlike the Earl's usual displays Klaus got the distinct impression that this was an accidental slippage rather than an arrangement. In his hands he held a large tea cup with a flowery green pattern.
Klaus cleared his throat.
Klaus frowned. Normally the fop was fairly attuned to the present. Nowhere near as sharp as a properly trained agent, needless to say, but enough that he kept track of who entered a room. Furthermore, Klaus's clearing of his throat was rather distinct, in Klaus's humble opinion - not at all a soft, sissyish English sound. That, if nothing else, should have caught the man's attention. But obviously not.
"Milord," he grunted. He sincerely disliked calling any man "my lord", but respecting titles had been thoroughly ingrained in him since he was a toddler. Traditions were important, even silly British traditions. Anyway, that ought to fix things. The Earl would hear his voice, recognize who had arrived and instantly snap out of his vapid fire-gazing.
And finally he did get a reaction. Not much of one, granted, but the curly head bobbed approximately two centimeters. He didn't turn towards Klaus, though, or even say anything.
Klaus's frown deepend. "Did you hear me? Hey, you? I'm here."
The Earl's eyes slowly lifted towards him. Wrinkles marred his aristocratic forehead. A faint smile flitted over his full lips, but never settled.
"Hello, Major," was said. "Welcome. Do ... Do sit down."
And then, as if once more cutting Klaus out of his sphere of interest, his eyes returned to the fire.
Probably just playing hard to get, Klaus decided.
He marched over to the nearest chair and began to lift it. Then he changed his mind and instead dragged the piece of furniture over to the fireplace. Sadly the lush carpet prevented the screeching noise he would have achieved on wood, but at least the chair left thick furrows in its wake. He glanced up to catch the Earl's reaction, but the man still stared into the fire, rather than berating Klaus for damaging antiques.
Starting to feel a little queasy, Klaus angled the chair opposite to the Earl's and sat with less grace than normal, so that the old wood creaked alarmingly. No reaction to that either. Huh. "I want you to steal some papers for me from the Belgian embassy."
That earned him a quick glance, but then the Earl sighed. "Some coffee, Major?"
Regal hands waved towards the serving table. "Do help yourself."
From his position by the door a hanging cloth had hidden the contents of the table, but from the new angle he saw an elegant tea pot and various tea paraphernalia, but also a sturdy mug with the Nescafe logo, a spoon, a small Nescafe container and ... yes, a thermos that might very well contain hot water.
He went over to the table and prepared a cup, stopping once to glance over to make sure that the other man wasn't checking out his rear in the half-kneeling position. The Earl wasn't. Hmph. Klaus took the steaming mug back to his chair, sat down heavily again and sipped as he studied the man in front of him.
The first time the Earl had offered him coffee, Klaus had been in the company of Agents C, D, H and T. While not the most competent fishes in Klaus's pod of agents, he did figure them bright enough to get him the hell out of the thieves’ den if he collapsed or started to behave irrationally. Besides, he'd been dying for some caffeine. So he had accepted. The coffee had been drinkable and somewhere down the line Klaus had started to overlook the potential risk of drinking anything made accessible by potentially untrustworthy sources. Or maybe he had begun to put some measure of trust in the Earl after all, that at least the man wouldn't poison him. He had the impression that the fop would consider using knock-out methods on potential suitors to be somehow unsporting - unless in the line of business, of course.
The silence was seriously getting on his nerves.
A faint headshake.
"Then what the fuck's the problem?"
Another headshake, before a reply came forth. The fop's voice was restrained, as if he measured each word carefully. "I have ... made a ... mistake. And now it is ... coming back to ... haunt me."
Which sounded plausible enough. "Is it someone you stole from or the police?"
The former the Earl could handle himself, but if the latter, Klaus might have to assist. Which should be easy enough. Evidence was child's play to temper with, witnesses easily bribed and alibis easy to conjure. If circumstances necessitated it there was always a new identity to consider. Distasteful business, but he needed to make sure he had someone who could steal for him, didn't he?
A third headshake, slightly firmer this time. "No, no, not like that. I ... lied. To ... my mother."
Klaus rolled his eyes. At least the thermos had felt heavy enough for two more cups, should the need arise. "One must never lie to one's parents," he admonished sweetly, causing the Earl to shoot him a tired glance. "I didn't think you had much contact with her. So, what did you lie about?"
"I ... might have told her that I was ... No, the thing is ... You see, I have three sisters."
"Lady Victoria Red, Lady Ezilia Hunniston and Countess Sofia Bullsworth."
"How did-- Ah, my NATO file?"
Among other sources. "I keep myself updated. You didn't tell her you are straight, did you? I hate to break it to you, but I strongly suspect she didn't believe you anyway." At least now he had the man's attention, as the Earl glared at him.
"Oh hush, you. No such thing. Mother is perfectly aware of my preference. Here's an update for your file, though, Major: Lady Victoria Red is about to become Mrs. Victoria Crawtree."
"So? No title? That what you lied to your mother about?" Klaus knew that such things could still be important among English aristocracy.
"John's wealthy enough to buy a quarter of London. I stole from one of his foundations once. Beside the point. The point is - she's getting married." Having divulged this, he pointedly looked back to the fire.
"So?" Possibly politeness dictated that Klaus should express his congratulations or some such nonsense, but he refused to encourage the kleptomaniac by being too familiar.
The Earl waved. "Ezilia and Sofia are already married."
"Yeah? So?" Klaus felt as if he was missing something, which he sincerely disliked, even if it likely was just something English anyway.
"Mother, she ..." The Earl briefly looked Klaus in the eye before turning away again, though not before Klaus had seen a smudge of pink on the normally pale cheeks. "Shethinksimnotcapableofhavingalongtermrelationshipandthatimbecominganoldmaid."
Klaus lifted an eyebrow. "She thinks you're having a relationship with a maid?"
"No! Oh, this is hopeless!" The curly head turned even further away. "She thinks that I'm ... not capable of ... having a long-term relationship."
Klaus hummed noncommittally. Maybe there were some brains in the Red family after all.
"I am capable!" Fierce, blue eyes darted towards him, daring him to contradict.
Sensing that if he wanted anything stolen in the near future he had better keep mum, Klaus waited, keeping a carefully neutral face.
"I've been in many relationships! I have!"
Klaus drank some coffee.
"Just ... not many that I would want to talk to Mother about. And now all my sisters are either married or about to get married and she thinks I'm some ...old maid!"
The Nescafe was ... much like any Nescafe, really. Fresh, though, he had to give credit for that. Nescafe always tasted best from a newly open container, then it lost some of its flavour.
"Or some man-slut, who just has one-night stands or something."
Klaus managed not to snort. Then he forced himself to seriously consider the problem as it apparently had some sort of demented bearing on his mission. Unexpectedly, he remembered something. "I had a similar problem with Father once."
That got him the thief's full attention. Wide lips parted, and Klaus just knew that the word "slut" was going to be part of whatever was about to be said, so he quickly continued: "He wanted me to marry."
The lips pursed, almost pouted, then the Earl said: "Oh?" but in a tone clearly more polite than interested.
"He said it was time I got a wide-hipped woman and bred him some grandchildren to continue the line."
"Oh." The noise that the other produced sounded if at all possible even less interested. Obviously, the Earl was not too keen on hearing about Klaus and someone of the female persuasion. His head turned towards the fire.
"So I lied to him."
Which renewed the fop's interest, as he glanced back. "You lied to your father? Bravo, Major. I didn't think you had it in you."
This time Klaus did snort. "I told him I already had a woman, but that I wasn't ready to introduce them. Got him off my back. If you're upset about your mother thinking you're a spinster--" He thoroughly enjoyed Eroica's wince at the word. "--tell her you’ve got some guy."
The Earl lifted his cup. He didn't drink, though, merely sniffed. Face partly hidden by the fine bone china, he mumbled: "I can't."
With a visible sigh, the fop lowered his cup. "That is ... very thoughtful advice," he said stiffly. "Thank you. But ... I can't do that."
Klaus took the last swig of his coffee. "Sure you can. Tell her over the phone, if you can't lie to her face." He disliked lying to his father, even for a good cause, but his training had served him well and he had spun his tale without the old man suspecting a thing.
Finally the Earl drank some of his tea. Then he very firmly lowered the cup to his lap and looked towards Klaus. Pink splotches had spread on his cheeks. "I ... already did that. Two years ago. When Sofia got engaged. After a while Mother wanted to meet him."
Klaus nodded wisely. "String her along a bit, then tell her you dumped the guy. That's what I did when Father wanted to meet her."
The Earl visibly took a deep breath. "The thing is ... That is good advice too, thank you, and I ... already did that. Once. And ... They found out. And then they all laughed at me!" He swiftly turned back towards the fire.
Even Klaus knew that Eroica loathed being laughed at. He could also imagine the situation and winced. If his father had found out, that would have been a disaster.
"And that," the Earl continued, his voice a trifle high, "is why I can't do it again. As I'm sure you understand. Mother invited me to a family supper next Thursday. She expects me to bring him. If I don't--" A hand drifted up from his lap and he made a funny little gesture. "--they'll think I'm lying again! And then they'll laugh at me!"
Klaus felt a headache sneak up on him. He prepared himself a second cup of coffee. Still no peeking, which was very strange. By the time he sat again, a plan had formed in his problem-solving-oriented mind. "Those lap dogs of yours that are always running under my feet, getting in the way. Except that Bonham-guy. Tell your mother you're bringing Mr.--" He snorted. "--Perfect and have one of them go with you."
"I ... Thank you, but the thing is ..."
"What? You did that already too?" So far, everything he suggested, Eroica had already tried, so he wouldn't be surprised.
"No, but ... Ah ... The thing is ..." Apparently the fop found the content of his tea cup riveting, because he stared so hard his eyeballs were about to get wet. "I'm sure you're familiar with the saying that if you must lie, it's best to stay as close as possible to the truth."
"That's the first thing they teach you. So what?"
The Earl made a helpless little gesture, but still stared at his tea. "I did. Stayed as close as possible to the truth. I just ... tweaked the truth an itsy bitsy bit. So I remembered everything I told her about, ah ... him."
While the subject was distasteful, Klaus approved in general. "What, you told her you were involved with some movie star? Not the prince of England, I hope."
At this, the fop glared, clearly affronted. "I would never! Besides, have you seen Prince Charles? The very thought! Major! Seriously? Ah ... " Then his eyes widened and clear alarm suffused his voice: "You don't consider Prince Charles handsome, do you?"
Klaus snorted. "You're an idiot. Who, then? Some sports hero?"
The Earl looked away and said in a brittle voice: "You keep calling me an idiot, Major von dem Eberbach, but sometimes you are particularly dense yourself. I said that I stayed as close as possible to the truth."
A dreadful suspicion occurred to Klaus. He abruptly put the coffee down. "You ... didn't tell her that ... You and ... That you and ... That I ..."
Still not looking in his direction, the Earl nodded. "Of course I did!" he said in a tense tone. "And for the record, keeping close to the truth was extremely easy. So you see why I can't ask Jones or Rudy or Mick or one of the others. Normally I am the one who impersonates you, but I can hardly do that in front of Mother. So, you see, it's impossible!"
He drank some more tea, in that intense, British way, as if flavoured water could solve world problems.
Klaus shook his head in disbelief, then closed his eyes briefly. When he glanced up again, the fop still wasn't looking at him. He had turned a little, the angle showing Klaus the misery on his face.
Stupid sod, Klaus thought, then wondered why he hadn't said so out loud, as he certainly had no reason to spare the feelings of the sod in question. "Stupid sod," he said, not wanting to give the vexing Earl any reason to think he was going soft on him.
Since he received no reply he drank the last of the coffee and considered whether he should pour himself a third cup right away or wait. By the feel of things perhaps he should save some for later. Of course, hot water was easy enough to obtain. He got up and knelt to pour a third cup. No, still no ogling, damn it. Very annoyed by the inconsistency - the Earl always ogled him! - he sat back in his chair.
"No touchy feely," he demanded.
Blue eyes turned towards him and slowly blinked.
"For three missions," he added firmly. "And the Belgian Embassy job."
The aristocratic forehead wrinkled. "What ... do ... you--"
"I'll do it. For the Belgian Embassy job. And no touchy feely during that as well as during three free missions of my choosing." Sometimes repeating conditions worked, even with the fop, who was otherwise slippery like an eel and could wrangle what ought to be perfectly clear instructions to whatever perverted translation best suited his fancy.
The blue eyes had grown even larger. "Do ... it ...?"
"And you say I'm dense? Get your mother off your back, of course! I'll go with you to visit her. But no touchy feely then either!"
PART 2. The mess itself
Snow fell heavily over Heathrow Airport. Klaus had never seen so much snow in England before. The runways were white with blinking red lights leading the way like Christmas in February. For a while their landing had seemed in jeopardy. The pilot had announced that the airport was on the verge of shutting down, but in the end they had been so close that flight control had cleared them for landing. Good, before Klaus had been forced to make his presence known. As he exited the terminal a steady stream of snow floated down, thick and fluffy like cotton. Klaus noted how people stopped and looked up - how some even smiled.
"What weather we're having, eh?" was the first words the fop said when the Lamborghini had rolled to a stop before him. At least the car was red and not purple or hot pink or, God forbid, glittery. Which Klaus would never comment on, as not to give the Earl ... ideas.
Klaus grunted. He had always found the English's obsession with the weather a pansy-ass shield for their inability to grasp more complicated matters. Besides, complaining about the snow was pointless. At least it wasn't very cold, barely below zero.
He had regretted his offer about a million times, but no matter - he had given his word. While he might break said word to members of the KGB and the CIA and the like, he did stick to promises given to people on his own side - or those his bone-headed superior occasionally forced him into cooperation with.
In exchange for the Belgian Embassy job and no touchy feely (and a minimum of looky looky and absolutely no dirty talky) for three free missions of his choice, he had agreed to accompany Dorian to the supper with his mother and his sisters with hubbies and fiancé. While pretending to be Dorian's partner. As in "life partner".
Klaus had worried that the fop would see the arrangement as some sort of invitation, but to his relief Dorian actually - by some miracle - seemed to realise that this was a business deal and had acted rather professionally about the undercover mission, for a civilian. During the week he had sent priority mails to Klaus containing folders on everyone they might encounter. Files full of stupid details, like preferred colors and jewelry and who bred show rabbits - though useful details when infiltrating an enemy stronghold. A supposed "life partner" should know such nonsense.
"Of course, if they ask anything not in there I'll be with you the entire time," Dorian had promised during a brief phone session the day before. "You can pretend you don't know the word in English and I'll fill in. None of them speaks German, I’ve checked."
Shortly after they left Heathrow the snow started to fall with increasing intensity. The flakes became more compact and wet, taking their falls more seriously as they splashed against the Lamborghini's front window. Near Kingston the windshield wipers swept back and forth constantly with an annoying little grind that told Klaus that whoever was responsible for the upkeep of the Lamborghini should take his job more seriously.
Dorian had babbled constantly since they had left the airport. To Klaus's amusement the man seemed to have worked up a considerable fret regarding the entire thing. He alternated between telling Klaus everything about his family - most of which had been in the folders anyway- and awkward questions regarding Klaus's intentions, as if he suspected Klaus of having suggested the scheme just to be able to drop him later for maximum humiliation. Oh, maybe Klaus had fantasised just a little bit about doing exactly that, but he always followed through on his missions, which the fop should very well know. The constant chatter gnawed on Klaus's very limited patience and he had been ready to start shouting very loudly when the fop offered him five peaceful missions, so he nodded brusquely. Haggling had never even occurred to him, but he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
They had already driven past several cars that had crashed into the hedges by the road. Then Dorian took a turn at a slightly too high speed. The car slid sideways, sending Klaus's adrenaline pumping as he was sure they'd go off the road. At the last minute the wheels got their grip back and propelled them in the right direction. He nearly offered to drive and never mind that the car was a sissy Lamborghini. Driving on ice had been part of his training, so he knew he could handle even worse conditions. But the fop did slow down after that and seemed in better control, so Klaus didn't bother to offer.
"No touchy feely!" he reminded sharply as the car neared their goal.
What had been ten centimetres of snow at Heathrow had grown to thirty in Latherhead and half a meter in Dorking. Gloria Cottage - apparently named so only in comparison to Gloria Castle and Gloria House, as the building could have been called a House in its own right at the very least - had drifts blown up to mid-thigh. The facade shone in a strong, warm red, defiant against the snow, but in spots had submitted to the frost in a more demure hue of pink.
"No, no, my dear. Don't worry, I'll be the perfect gentleman." Klaus didn't trust the mischievous shimmer in the fop's eyes any more than he would have trusted his wallet alone in the same room as him. On the other hand, in this particular circumstance the Earl did have the most to lose.
Halfway up the driveway the Lamborghini again lost traction for a tingling moment, before it continued obediently up the road.
"I mean, normally, should I bring a partner to visit my mother, I would do all sort of things to demonstrate my affection for him, but given the spirit of things I won't even insist on letting her catch us French kissing in the library."
"Though, ah ... She would find it somewhat odd if I didn't touch you even once."
At that, Klaus rolled his eyes. He had expected such a devious attempt. "Tell her my allergies are acting up. If you touch me, my skin might fall off."
The Lamborghini came to a neat stop despite the snow and ice.
"Oh, that's disgusting! I can't tell her that."
"Could be true. Well, then tell her we're arguing and I'm pissed at you. That'll make it sound better when you dump me later."
Dorian made a face. "Oh, darling, must I?"
"If you don't, you'll just end up in the same bloody mess again. And next time I won't help you. Now let's get out of this gaudy death trap."
A young man, dressed almost sensibly for a Brit, met them and took the car keys. The air was colder than at Heathrow, though not by much and certainly nothing to complain about. Then Dorian led the way up the stairs to the "cottage" gate and directly inside. The foyer had one of those ridiculous, open stairs sweeping up in both directions to the second level. Dorian went to the right. Klaus surveyed the area as they walked, automatically memorizing the layout and any details that could come in handy. He wasn't impressed with what he saw, but recognized high quality.
From a door at the opposite end of the hallway came a woman in her fifties, wearing a lilac dress Klaus wouldn't have batted an eye at seeing on Dorian. She resembled him too: narrow and tall, with scant hips and breasts tied high and hard. Her hair was a few shades darker than his, though, and not quite as curly. "D!"
"Mother," Dorian trilled back, in a tone Klaus recognized as him trying to persuade someone of his sincerity. "Delighted to see you, it's been much too long!"
They embraced in a careful way that seemed to involve as little touching as possible. Dorian withdrew and looked at Klaus with his eyes so blue and filled with determination and worry. "Mother, let me introduce you to my good friend, Klaus von dem Eberbach. Klaus is German, the son of a graf, and he's a NATO officer, a major."
Mentioning the nobility-rank before the military title, which told Klaus a lot about Dorian's mother. Normally this would have annoyed him and he would have said something. Who he was born to was worth mentioning, certainly, but NATO was what he had made of his life. Still, this was the wrong time to get huffy.
He marched up to join them. When he was close enough he clicked his heels together and bowed briskly. "An honour to meet you. Your servant, Lady Red." He had allowed a hint of accent to colour his words, knowing that her generation often found that charming, Lord knew why. He caught a whiff of her perfume, not too cloying, but still much too sweet for his taste.
When she looked him over her eyes were sharper than her son's. Maybe they weren't as softened by the ever-present flirting that Klaus suspected was second nature to Dorian. Then she favored him with a smile full of regal elegance and a hint of predatory interest - yes, he could see the family resemblance.
"Graf von dem Eberbach. Always a pleasure to meet a friend of D's. Terrible weather we've been having, don't you think? Do join us in the morning room."
Klaus considered offering his arm the old-fashioned, gallant way, to ingratiate himself further, but was momentarily stumped, not knowing if homosexuals did that to women. Not that he himself usually did either, but he could play the game as well as anyone thoroughly instructed by his butler, it was just that nagging question if homosexuals did that or not that tripped him. So he hesitated and before he had reached a decision the woman indicated grandly towards the doorway behind her, then swirled to precede them. Klaus shared a quick look with her son and got a nod in reply, probably meant to be encouraging. He made a mental note to ask Dorian later on about that arm offering thing. Apparently such a seemingly stupid fact would have been useful to know.
The room they entered was open and airy with a high ceiling. What little Klaus saw of the walls behind the mass of art had a pale pink hue. Which might have made for some muted elegance, if not for the collection of thirty or so huge red and black urns, each with a different (if always brightly colored) flower arrangement. Faint music played, something classic. Klaus hoped fervently that no one would ask him about anything interior decorating-ish. He'd definitely pretend not to know the word in English then.
By a huge open fireplace of blue-veined marble stood a group of pink chairs, with patterns like paintings. Two servants in black hovered nearby. After having found no match to the two in his mental archive of people of interest (though one of them did look just a little bit like a thin, young Mischa), Klaus turned his attention to the two pairs at the table. They looked back at him with various degrees of friendliness, curiosity and suspicion.
Dorian preceded him, arms unfurled as if to embrace them all. "Victoria! Sofia! What a delight to see you both. John, Martin, how do you do? Ezilia hasn't arrived yet?"
"The snow up in Berkshire is apparently quite appalling," his mother answered. "They decided to stay at home."
"How dull. I hoped to introduce Klaus to everyone at the same time. But no mind, no matter. We almost didn't make it ourselves. Klaus, dear, do let me introduce you. Everyone, this is my good friend, Klaus von dem Eberbach. Klaus is German, the son of a graf, and he's a NATO officer, a major." He then turned to one of the sitting women, with dark blond hair and oddly violet eyes. "Klaus, meet my eldest sister, Victoria."
Klaus played along gamely, took a few steps closer to the sister and clacked his heels together. "Charmed."
Klaus endured a flood of inane questions by working his temporary personality - tailoring each answer to show a connection to the Earl, squeezing the truth to make it easier for himself to remember if the same subject would come up twice. They had agreed to keep their working relationship, him being with NATO (they avoided exact details, but Klaus mentioned that he had to write a lot of reports, which sadly was perfectly true) and Dorian a private contractor - appraising stolen art, of course, not stealing it. He found it easy to overlook the thefts themselves and instead regale the family with the story of how Dorian had threatened to smash his head in for nearly destroying precious art.
Even Dorian laughed gaily at that, which unexpectedly pleased Klaus. He didn't even mind much when Dorian rounded off the story by saying, matter of fact: "That was, of course, before we fell in love."
Klaus made his judgment of the family within minutes. They were English, after all, so it was hardly difficult.
The mother. Rich upper-middle class married into aristocracy. Lady socialite, eager to get daughters - and possibly son - strategically married off. Dressed in clothes that even Klaus might vaguely recognize the designer name of.
The daughters. Proud socialites, if perhaps somewhat less class conscious than their mother. With affection for one another as well as for their mother and even for their eccentric brother. Not a word had been said about Dorian coming home with a man on his arm, but when Dorian - using expressive, bold gestures - told them of his and Klaus's time in Italy (leaving out minor details like, oh, say, stealing the pope), Klaus noticed how the sisters leaned towards one another and tittered. They seemed to have color coordinated their outfits - Victoria in dark blue with white details and Sofia in an identical dress, but with the colors in reverse.
Victoria's husband to be, John Crawtree. Long-suffering. A bit timid, but initiated conversation in an occasional lull and even hinted at some rudimentary gun-knowledge, if only of the almost-fox-hunting kind (as far as Klaus had been able to tell, the English often went fox-hunting, but set out every possible obstacle to make sure that no actual foxes were hurt), so Klaus was willing to entertain the notion that the man wasn't a complete moron, even if he was English.
Lastly, Sofia's husband, Earl Bullsworth. Klaus discovered something that momentarily fascinated him. "That other Earl guy?" he whispered to Dorian as they finally got down to the business of eating. "He has no chin."
"I know," Dorian whispered back.
"No chin at all. He's like a frog. A limey frog."
Dorian kicked him gently under the table. "Don't make me laugh."
Klaus hadn't had the least thought of doing so and felt a little amazed at the prospect. He had just felt the overwhelming urge to share his discovery.
The dinner proceeded reasonably well (English food wasn't even on Klaus's top five list of favourite foods, but he could eat it and praise it as well as any soldier who had lived on military rations), as did the post-meal drinks and cigars. Klaus wasn't especially fond of the latter. They tasted wrong and were too big, difficult to smoke, phallic and more cumbersome to discard than his regular Seven Stars. Still, he accepted the His Majesty's Reserve offered and it was decent enough. Smoking also gave him something to do with his hands and mouth, so he didn't have to talk much. Dorian smoked too, but didn't let that hinder his animated blabbering.
Klaus stared at the picture in abject horror. No wonder Dorian was gay. How could he be otherwise, raised by the people that had created this depraved monstrosity: that had produced, this, this ... monster!
"I didn't realise they were actually so ... purple," he finally forced himself to say.
"Dove-colored," Sofia corrected him mildly. "They're called lilacs."
As if that improved things in any way? The British bred purple rabbits! And now he had to say something foppish or at least deflective.
"Charming. Ehm. My cousin's daughter has a Rhinelander rabbit," he lied. He had read up on rabbits and that breed had a butterfly-shaped mark on its nose - he had thought that was appropriately foppish, but apparently he should have looked harder.
"Oh, really? I hear it is one of those breeds that has a different breed standard in America. Typical, isn't it?"
He had absolutely no idea what she has talking about, but suddenly felt himself on surer ground and nodded firmly. "Americans," he said with a shrug, which had her laughing.
"And this is my prize buck Rupie," she said and showed him another picture. "Rupert the Rose of Red Glimmering. Isn't he striking? What would you call this shade?"
Klaus stared at the new monstrosity, which, impossibly, had an undertone of pink to the purplish grey. Not letting his smile slip he turned to Dorian. ” Was heißt 'ein gottverdammt scheußliches Rosa' auf Englisch?"
Dorian merely smiled back before turning to his sister. "I'm sorry, dear. Language barrier. Klaus doesn't know the word in English and I'm not quite sure how to translate what he just said into proper English either. Oh, but Rupie is such a handsome little buck, have you considered--"
Klaus decided that his best course of action was to keep smiling and gaze vapidly at the images, letting Dorian carry the conversation. After a bit he glanced up to one of the ornamental grandfather clocks. A quarter to ten. He would wait until five past before he would start make motions for them to leave. From bitter experience he knew that goodbyes among the English could take absolutely forever, but hopefully that meant that they could be on their way back to London around half past. Even with snowy roads he could be in bed before midnight, which he usually aimed for when off-mission.
The almost-Mischa appeared with proper butler-like stealth, stiffly leaning to whisper in Lady Red's ear. A brief exchange followed, too low for Klaus to hear and at too steep an angle for him to lip read. Then the servant removed himself and the she turned to them all.
"It seems the weather keeps acting up. The government urges everyone who can to stay indoors. Isn't this typical? Well, at least they say it will improve in the morning. D? Victoria and Sofia were staying the night anyway, but I instructed Mr Lloyd to prepare your room for you and Graf von dem Eberbach."
"The weather's not that fucking bad!" Klaus growled a little later, glaring at the offending snow. He and Dorian had ensconced themselves in a window alcove. "We've been to Alaska, for fuck's sake!"
In truth, the flakes were falling rather heavily, aided on by strong gusts of fickle winds.
"I will say that I've seldom seen old England like this," Dorian replied. He stood beside him, but not too close, sipping at a small glass with golden liquid. "It does look a bit like Alaska. Or one of the Nordic countries. Do you remember our time together in Mora? I remember it quite fondly."
"You have skis? I could ski to London."
"I dare say that you could, darling. But, really, it's a quarter to eleven already. It'll take you hours to get there and you'll be wet and cold. While you're strong as a bull, my dear, pneumonia is not very sexy at all. This snow looks nowhere near ready to stop falling, no matter what the forecast. I really think - seriously, darling, I promised to be the perfect gentleman, didn't I? I know we only expected our little charade to last for a few hours, but I'm sure we can manage a little longer. It's just overnight, not until death do us part, not that I'd mind. Tomorrow I'm sure the snow will have stopped."
"Tomorrow I go back to Bonn."
In the window's reflection he saw Dorian look at him and then towards the chaos outside. "Mr Lloyd told Mother that Heathrow has been closed. Seriously, darling, you couldn't even see the tip of your skis in this dark. To go skiing now would be irresponsible. Not to mention that Mother would get highly suspicious and--"
"Tell her I have a business meeting! Or that my skin fell off and I needed to get my meds!"
In the reflection Dorian rubbed his temples through his mass of curls, his eyes closed. Klaus turned towards him. "What's the matter with you? Too much wine?" Not that he cared or anything.
Dorian's eyes flashed open, bearing into him with near physical intensity. "You stupid man! I'm tired and this evening has been very emotional for me! I have a headache. And you're being very difficult and mule-headed!"
Klaus blinked, not used to hearing the Earl speak to him in such tones.
"Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, this is what will happen: I will take the sofa and you will take the bed. Or the other way around, if you insist. Come morning, we will breakfast with the others. Then, come hell or high water, I will get you to Heathrow on time, if I have to call the gang to fire up the Zeppelin. Now make up your mind - bed or sofa!"
Klaus blinked again. But ... "Sofa." Forget that he would voluntarily sleep in the fop's bed.
Dorian nodded curtly. "Then I suggest we retire for the night." He visibly took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Klaus. I just ... My head. And you were being really mule-headed!"
Had Klaus known the layout of Dorian's room, he might not have chosen the sofa. Of course, he never would have chosen the bed either, but the bathtub might have been a viable option. Apart from being an opulent, hot pink marble thing which no man in his full faculties would approach for any reason, not even suicide.
The room was not much smaller than Klaus's Bonn apartment. Even so, several huge wardrobes; a large table easily sitting six; four full china cabinets; as well as an armoire for fuck's sake, had the fluffy sofa pushed up right by the orgy-sized bed.
"It's a bit cluttered," Dorian said as he deposited a pillow and a blanket on the sofa. I seldom stay the night, so Mother sometimes puts odds and ends in here while she redecorates."
Klaus ignored the nattering as he inspected the mess. If he could move the table and the chairs he'd be able to push the sofa to the opposite wall, but there was simply no space to maneuver the objects in. He couldn't even drag the sofa into the adjoining library, on account of the too narrow door. If I had a screw driver I could have dismantled it and moved it piece by piece. But he hadn't thought to bring a screw driver, obviously an oversight. He tested the chairs, but just to be contrary the fop had chosen those particular chairs specifically to not be the fluffy sink holes Klaus was subjected to when visiting Castle Gloria. He hated sitting in such chairs, but if you put a couple of them together you could actually sleep reasonably well on them.
"So help me, Klaus Heinz, I'm tired and in an awful mood. Quit eyeing the library floor! You're sleeping on the sofa and that's final! Turn the light off and get under your blanket or so help me God I'll sleep in the nude! And I might sleepwalk!"
Klaus quickly headed over to turn off the light.
The sofa was reasonably firm and the temperature not stifling, yet Klaus couldn't fully relax. That wasn't just due to the nearness to the fop and the faint, yet difficult to ignore, flowery scent, but he couldn't quite pinpoint what else kept him from dozing off. From the bed scant decimeters away he heard tossings and turnings, so at least he wasn't the only one having difficulties sleeping.
Outside, the full moon, swollen and pale, cast dusky shadows. The snow had turned to tiny ice flakes, bordering on hail, tapping insistently on the windows. Klaus felt forced to admit, if only to himself, that no, skiing wouldn't have been a smart idea.
Dorian turned again.
"Your tossing is keeping me awake. You should take a headache pill." Klaus never did himself, as not to lower his reflexes, but a fragile fop probably should.
"You're right, dear." The moonlit shape on the bed sat up and then leaned over. For a horrible moment Klaus thought for sure that Dorian would try to slip over to join him on the sofa, but instead he heard rustling by the floor, followed by a triumphant little noise and then the expressive "Bäh" of a pill swallowed dry. The shape in the bed settled down again. And turned. Then it sighed.
"Oh, bugger," it grumbled. "Don't panic now, Klaus, but I must re-do the bed, I simply can't sleep like this. The sheet got wrinkles all over, it's terrible."
The moonlight sparkled in Dorian's mane as he rearranged his beddings before sliding between the sheets again, this time with a satisfied murmur. "Sorry to keep you awake, Klaus."
He grunted. At first he was going to add something about not being able to sleep so close to Dorian anyway, then decided that the Earl for a change actually behaved reasonably well, so he abstained. Besides, he hung peacefully between sleep and wakefulness, a state he rather enjoyed.
Time passed gently and he found himself staring at the moon.
"Klaus ... May I ask you something? A serious question? Not a come-on."
For the single reason that the mercurial Brit so rarely took things seriously, Klaus found himself humming in the affirmative.
"Do you like women, then? Or ... I mean, I absolutely don't want to hear any kind of details! I was just thinking about that bint in Rome. And that lawyer lady in Bristol. And the university professor in Birmingham. On one hand, you obviously don't approve of me courting you, but you don't seem all that interesting in dating women either."
"None of your business," Klaus bit off.
"Sorry, it's just been on my mind a lot since Tunis and that skank diplomat’s daughter who tried to seduce you."
Klaus remembered the referred to incident only too well. Skank was a good description.
"The way you threw her into that swimming pool." Dorian sounded almost ecstatic. "Made me think of our time together in Rome."
Klaus snorted faintly, somewhat amused. Unexpectedly, part of him did want to explain, as he had never really done before. Maybe it was the darkness that made speaking so easy.
"I will marry," he said, which was as close to honesty as he could afford. "Father is set on an heir, as I told you. Not quite yet, but soon."
The bed remained silent for several minutes. "That ... didn't quite sound as if you are actively searching for the love of your life to marry and live happily ever after with, though?" was said, somewhat hesitantly.
Klaus scoffed. "I must marry," he repeated, firmer this time. "I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I will marry for life." That he owed whoever he married - and himself.
The bed remained silent for a very long time, so long that Klaus had nearly fallen back to his carefully balanced lull, when Dorian finally whispered: "And that is why?"
Klaus closed his eyes and turned away. Yes. That was why. And why not.
PART 3. Deeper into the mess
Dorian had decided that a short nap would be just the thing. Not that he actually needed any beauty sleep, oh no! But he had a little job lined up for the evening. Nothing big at all, just a quick little in-and-out, a "quickie" if you would, at the V&A, picking up this darling little ring that he had spied on strolling through the museum a few weeks earlier. A ring under bulletproof glass, woven from gold, platinum and white gold with a boar reclining on a bed of blue roses. He had even charmed the attendant to let him try it on and the ring had fitted him perfectly, so it must be fate, must it not?
Besides, while his beauty was staggering enough he still enjoyed a nice nap and the V&A-job was an excellent excuse.
He had almost reached that floating state of vague awareness that is the best part of any good snooze when he was rudely interrupted by the phone. Not the house phone. His bedroom did have an extension, but outgoing only, to prevent these unpleasantries. No, this was the softer, crystal tone from his personal phone, the unlisted number only entrusted to his nearest and dearest.
With a sigh Dorian forced himself out of his comfortable lassitude. He answered on the fifth ring. "Yes?" he inquired regally.
"It's all gone to hell."
Never a good start to a conversation. Even less so when the voice on the other end unmistakably belonged to someone dear who Dorian very much wanted to be near as well. As near as humanly possible.
"Klaus?" he asked, mostly just because he now was allowed to use said name. Well, Klaus had been forced to allow it during the evening with Dorian's family, but Dorian had no intention of relinquishing the privilege.
"Of course it's me, you idiot! Now shut up and pay attention: there's a plane leaving Heathrow at 15:23. The flight is scheduled to land at Dusseldorf International at--"
Dorian listened to the rapid instructions in mild surprise, especially after he had realised the likely end goal.
"Klaus?" he tried again, after a few sentences.
"--station. I will pick you up outside the terminal. If the plane is delayed the airport have been instructed to inform me and I will adjust the pick-up time accordingly. You--"
"What are you nattering on about? The flight leaves in 134 minutes, you need to pack."
"First class, I do hope, as I'm assuming James didn't do the booking. Anyway, I'd be delighted to visit you, but I will admit that this is a mite sudden. What, exactly, has gone, as you so eloquently put it, my dear, to hell?"
Which to Dorian was one of the dearest of Klaus's sounds. He lowered his voice to a silky purr, just to tease. "Dare I hope that our night together left you--"
"Nein! Idiot! No! It's-- Ehm."
"Klaus? The flight leaves in 133 minutes." Dorian twirled a finger in his hair. When he heard Klaus frustrated exhale, he couldn't help but to smile.
"Will you come?" Klaus asked.
Dorian could all but feel the obvious reply on the tip of his tongue ("If you talk dirty to me I probably will."), but something about the plaintive request kept him serious. "Of course I will, you big silly. But I do want to know what has gone to hell, so I know how best to help you."
A short pause followed.
Dorian watched a few seconds tick away on the ornamental grandfather clock opposite his bed, then moved to his closest wardrobe, just within the reach of the telephone cord, and started pulling out clothes.
"Your ... mother."
"She can be a bit wearying sometimes," Dorian allowed, even if he had no clue as to where this was heading.
"She's ... eine nervige, neugierige Quasselstrippe, die ihre Scheissnase überall reinsteckt."
"In English, dear?"
"Nosy busybody who can't keep her mouth shut."
"I'm not disagreeing, mind you. Though insulting my mother isn't very polite, even you should know that, dear. You're lucky that I couldn't stop loving you now if I tried." Actually, he didn't mind much - Klaus had an excellent point. The Lady Red could be a very nosy busybody, for sure.
"She called Father."
"What?!" Dorian dropped the phone - only excellent reflexes let him catch the device before it crashed to the floor. "W-w-what do you mean? What did you say?"
"Your mother! Called my father! To talk about our relationship!"
Icy cold fear flushed Dorian down to his toes. He was of course utterly serious in his pursuit of Klaus. But he was also a realist. Klaus had acted a bit more accepting lately, maybe, but an abyss still yawned between them. Klaus was a proud, stubborn boar, who never willingly followed another's drum, but one unshakeable fact Dorian knew about him was his overwhelming respect for his father. A father whose word was absolute law in the von dem Eberbach household. A father Klaus obeyed in all things. A father who would--
"He insists on meeting you. Tonight. So you must go to Heathrow. Stat!"
"Was your father fingering a buckshot gun when he told you to fetch me?"
There was another pause. Then: "No ... I ... He called me. He said ... He told me what your mother had told him. He said ... that he was going to box my ears for not telling him sooner that I was ... ehm. Homosexual. That there is always, ehm, adoption. And that he wanted to see you at once. He's on his way to Eberbach now."
One final pause followed, before Klaus continued with a note of wonder in his voice: "He said ... ehm ... that he was happy that I had finally found someone."
"I'm on my way."
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