Can't Buy Me Love

by Anne-Li

Author's disclaimer and notes: I don't own them, I just dream of doing so. Feedback is better than Skagenröra-sandwiches. 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. 6.536 words. Written in November 2007. Was published in October 2008 in the Connotations 2008 con zine.

Betaed by Heather Sparrows (Your input really helped) and Kadorienne (Yours too!). Remaining errors are all mine.

This fic is available translated to japanese by BasilLeaves! Thank you very much, BasilLeaves!

Klaus glared at his so called "superiors". Madmen, both of them. "You're fucking kidding."

Feeling rather pleased with the reaction elicited by his little plot, the chief merely smiled.

The general, on the other hand, felt slightly puzzled. "Major von dem Eberbach," he said. "This is an opportunity for you personally, as well as for NATO. Any red-blooded man would view this as an excellent chance to ... " He gestured with a hand. "... you know ..."

"Get fought over like a piece of meat? No, thanks and good riddance!"

General Mettkart shook his head. "Now see here, Major, I don't think you understand. Arrangements have already been made. After the ... incident last month, NATO needs to be seen in a more positive light by the civilians. We have decided this is a good approach. Besides, man, it is for charity!"

"I'll donate a painting! Don't involve me in this humiliating nonsense! I refuse!"

The chief's smile never wavered. "Don't forget, Major, that you were present during the ... incident. Some say you even had a hand in ... starting it. You owe NATO, Major. Though do feel free to hand in your resignation, if you are dead set against helping out." He watched in fascination how Iron Klaus's normally pale cheeks turned faintly rosy in anger. Oh, but if looks could kill he would have been rotting in his grave for years now.

von dem Eberbach glared some more, but finally made an almost growl-like noise. "You can't force me!" he hissed. Then he turned and stalked off. "I'm a professional! You can't--" He threw open the door. "-- hire me out for fucking stud duties! Out of my way!"

His last comment was aimed at a gawking group of Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität students being led around the NATO building. The young men and women promptly scattered.

As the heavy door slowly closed on his exit, the chief could hear, drifting in from beyond, the voice of a young woman, somewhat breathless. "If they are? I'm hiring!"

"Oh yes!" a second woman replied, her sentiment heartfelt: "I'd carry his baby any day ..."

The two senior officers looked at one another. After a moment the general shook his head again. "He won't do it. Annoying, that. He really would be the best suited. Handsome, blue-blooded, rich ... He'd be a real prize."

"Oh, he'll do it," the chief replied, feeling not a little smug.

"He seemed rather determined. And we can't really fire him for not assisting with such an activity. It's not exactly in his contract."

"True, true ... But there is one very important fact that you are not aware of, my old friend."

"And what might that be?"

"His father is on our side."

The Alphabet sat like school boys during a surprise visit from the principal. No one dared to court Klaus's volatile mood. They had all heard the story, of course, and more than one had been on the receiving end of a particularly vicious dressing down for reasons such as slacking, fidgeting, too red lipstick, excessive stumbling and improper blending of coffee. Better be exemplary NATO workers and survive also this final day. Just a few more, tense hours before they would be allowed to scatter like released mice. The dinner would take place on Saturday evening - that was to say, tomorrow - at the Beethovenhalle. Afterwards things would - hopefully! - return to what passed for normal around them.

Most worrying was, perhaps, the wild gleam in Iron Klaus's eyes each time the door opened, as if he expected salvation or execution and was none too sure which would come. During the three weeks since the announcement that he would be NATO's contribution to the event the major had been constantly on the prowl for a new mission - a long one, preferably one that would take them out of the country. The Gods - or the management, as it were - so far hadn't obliged. Over the last hours the Alphabet's superior had been in several intense conversations on the phone. At least at one point he had spoken in fluent, if rough Russian ... The Alphabet worried.

They knew better than to glance over their shoulders on hearing the door open - the Major had already yelled at them many, many times about that ... Some of the braver Alphabets did look through their lashes at Major von dem Eberbach, though - and saw him blanch ... So they prepared for Armageddon.

"You ..." the Major said, sounding strangely defeated.

"None other!" was replied, in modulated, high upper class British. "You really didn't think I would let such an opportunity slip me by, now, did you?"

The collective Alphabet held their breath - and watched their superior's pale cheeks colour. His jaw muscles jumped. Through their heads went various variations of "Couldn't his Lordship have waited until we got off duty?" and "Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel …"

Finally, the major ground out, "Not in here." Then he rose and marched to the room situated beyond that of the Alphabet's. In actuality it was his own office, even if he - to the Alphabet's chagrin - never used it apart from rare "sensitive" conversations - some of which were held using a loud enough voice to carry to the outer room anyway.

The Earl of Gloria - for of course only he dared to approach Klaus in such a manner with the latter in a major snit - sauntered past the rows of agents, waving occasionally in greeting and spreading his warm smiles generously. He didn't stop to chat, though, as he sometimes would. Apparently he, too, took the situation seriously. Of course, even if their Major von dem Eberbach happened to be one of the most eligible bachelors in Germany, there was at least one person who considered his claim staked years ago ...

This is a nightmare! An absolute nightmare. He had thought the whole situation bad enough - but not Eroica too! Was there really no merciful God? Someone who didn't enjoy playing tricks on honest-working NATO majors? I go to church, damn it! And I made him give back the Pope, didn't I? Get him off my arse!

When the office door closed Klaus took a steadying breath. Then he turned abruptly. "You're not making a scene tomorrow!" he ordered.

The fop merely smiled. "I'll have you know I have an invitation, darling."

"Why would they invite you? Everyone knows you're as queer as a three-dollar bill! You've bribed your way in! I'll tell the guards you have a forged invitation!"

"Tsk, tsk, darling - don't be like that. You agreed to be sold at the event - now--"

"They forced me! Fatso brought in Father and--" He broke off. That was none of the limey's business and there was no use trying to appeal to that one's "mercy" - he had none. "Listen ... Herr Gloria ..." Klaus forced himself to a civil tone of voice, knowing that he would gain nothing otherwise. "Half the nobility of Germany will be there - the rest will hear about everything before Sunday breakfast. I don't want to be the laughing stock of the country, to be sold at the gala and bought by a ... a ..." Expression after expression suggested itself to him, but they were all deemed unsuitable for talking to the "a" in question whilst courting him for a favour. " ... man," he finally settled on, if reluctantly.

It was true that what people in general thought of him seldom bothered him. Still, some things were worse than others. Besides, his father might be present.

"It's just for one, enchanted night, darling," the Earl said, sadly not sounding very understanding at all.

"An evening! And I'm not having sex with whoever hoists up enough money!" He had better be very, very clear on that.

"I know," said the other and nodded amiably. "Or else the Louvre would have found its collection quite depleted as I secured far more means. As it is, James has been crying for two weeks straight. I'm quite concerned, it can't be good for him. Still, a date will be nice, I do think. I've decided on this delightful little restaurant, Tour de France, that seems to have an adequate selection and nice atmosphere. Then dancing at a little club I happen to know about ... A walk along the Rhine in the moonlight, hand in hand ... A little wine, good food, romance in the air ... who knows what will happen later ..."

"No! No!" Klaus made frantic "abort"-gestures. "You idiot - do you have any idea what they'll print in the morning? Besides, the bidding is for women only! You can't bid – they won't let you!"

"Darling, when you have enough money, you can do whatever you want. You're merely a bit ... eccentric. And I can't very well let anyone else have you, can I? Even for an evening? They might get the wrong idea."

Klaus breathed in and held his breath to keep calm. This was not going well - at all. "Herr Gloria - tell me - have I ever encouraged you in the least? For if I did - I assure you, it was an accident! I didn't mean it!"

"Yes, yes, keep telling yourself that, my dear. I don't mind. I find it rather charming."

He couldn't win for losing, could he? "Look - I'll give you a painting, how about that? A nice ... colourful painting. That one with the fat, indecent angels--"


"-- and the woman barely covering herself with the flowers. You can have it - just don't make a fool of me tomorrow!"

The Brit sighed. "It's a nice enough painting, but it's really not my style, darling. Not when I can have ..." His luminous blue eyes travelled down Klaus's body in obvious approval. "... something else instead."

"That's not for sale!" Klaus growled again, quenching an urge to cover himself. "All right, all right, look - I can't give you Pumpkinpants, Father would flay me - but I can look the other way when you steal it, how about that? Just don't humiliate me tomorrow?" Then he winced, realising how desperate he sounded. Stupid, von dem Eberbach! Never show weakness to a predator!

Rather than looking predatory, though, as Klaus had expected, Dorian looked ... hesitant. "It would really bother you that much?" he asked.

Klaus nodded slowly. "I feel forced as it is, like an animal for sale at a market. Even if it is just to escort her out for an evening. Father said-- Never mind."

The Earl moved over to the small window. The "view" overlooked only a small area between the buildings, which was likely why he quickly turned back again. "I feel in a bit of a bind here," he said. "I have had James free quite large amounts of cash, you see, and I have anticipated our evening out ever since I caught news of the charity event. I planned on buying you fair and square. Oh, I was going to be a gentleman about it, not to worry, but ... I really had my heart set on this ..."

And the fop would do it too, Klaus just knew he would ...

"Besides," Dorian continued, looking a little more grim, "even if it wasn't your idea to start with, you agreed in the end. You were going to escort some vapid little heiress. I can't allow such a travesty if it's in my power to stop it, I simply can't."

"I'm not yours!"

"You're not anyone else's either."

Which ... was actually true. He had considered inventing a long-term engagement to use as a shield against his superiors, but once his father had been brought in, that had been the end of that happy little possibility.

"I could dress up like a woman," Dorian offered, sounding tentative.

"When you actually look like a woman you're a hag and if you don't it'll be even worse if they guess." Besides - even if the magazines didn't realize who the "mysterious woman" was - people in Intelligence would know. The chief would know. Mischa would know ... Oh, you're probably laughing your fat ass off as it is, Bearcub.

"Then I'm sorry, Major von dem Eberbach," Eroica said, sounding slightly miffed. Had Klaus's comment wounded him? Too fucking bad. "My heart is set on a date with my favourite man in existence and I will accept nothing less."

Klaus felt like banging his forehead against a wall. And why not? To do so would do him more good in the long run than to continue arguing. Oh, there were threats he could make - and even act out ... Yet ... He massaged his tempels. Sometimes a war couldn't be won, no matter what. Capitulation to avoid total annihilation might be unavoidable. Sacrifice for the greater good and all that crap. "All right."

The Brit blinked. "You ... no longer object?"

"Of course I do! You're not bidding in that auction, you hear? But I ... I'll do it, then."

"Do ... what?" was asked most cautiously.

Fuck it, was the fop going to force him to spell it out? He ground his teeth. "Go out. With you."

Slowly, as the sun emerging from hiding on a shady day, the Brit started to smile: his brightest, nicest, most sincere smile. "Oh darling! I--"

"No kisses! No touching in inappropriate places! No going anywhere we might get recognised! No dancing! No--"

"--accept. But before the event, as a guarantee, so you won't wave me off afterwards."

"I always keep my word! But the event is--"

"Tomorrow, yes. Which would mean that ... tonight's our night, my major. I will pick you up at your apartment at 19:00 sharp. Do wear something casual, dear. Perhaps that green sweater? I love what it does to your eyes. Ta-ta."

And with a shake of his lion's mane hair, the Earl of Gloria was gone. Leaving Klaus to stare in his wake, wondering if he had just been royally played ...

The Earl, moving quite deliberately, put his hands on Klaus's shoulders and leaned in.

"I don't kiss on the first date!" Klaus growled. It was all he could do, not to lash out. One inch farther and he would use his fists, agreement or no.

"Oh, I'm sure just a peck wouldn't compromise your carefully guarded virtue, my dear. Come on now, just a quick one to say hello?"

"Try it and it'll be goodbye to your teeth!"

"So I'll have to wait until our next date, is that it?"

"There won't be a second date!"

"Hmm ... I'll take that as a yes, I think. So, are you eager to know how I-- I mean where I'll be taking you?"

"No! And get your hand off me! That's an inappropriate area!"

"That ... was your elbow ... Oh dear, I rather think this is going to be a long night ... But I'm sure it will be divine - and the longer the better, as we are spending it together."

To Klaus's amazement the evening proceeded fairly well. At least after they got through negotiating of what constituted an "inappropriate area" - considering that Klaus's view was "Everything covered by clothes." while Dorian more leaned towards "Anything covered by underwear - and are you wearing any?"

Dorian took him to a small restaurant on the outskirts of Bonn and there had been no attempt at "cuddling" at the table - not more than Klaus could persuade himself to believe to be innocent "accidental" touches of feet against his own, anyway. The conversation had been kept light, yet not too vapid. They discussed the current world situation - something Dorian had been surprisingly knowledgeable about. Only a minimum of art references. German history. Questions about Eberbach and the surrounding area. Things they both enjoyed - such as making fun of America. Good food! Surprisingly so, for a frog restaurant. Of course, Klaus had to be very specific with what he wanted, but eventually they had served him a massive steak with plentiful fried potatoes. Decent beer too. He could have drunk far more, but refrained since he didn't want to get tipsy and accidentally have that "who knows what will happen later" turn out to be something he would regret. Dorian behaved, making it look at least on the surface like two friends sharing a meal - if two friends with radically different approaches to what they deemed appropriate to wear for such an outing. Needless to say - Klaus had opted not to wear the green sweater.

If nothing else the evening out helped Klaus not to think about the next evening, which - as strange as it sounded - would be far less amiable, of that he was certain. Tuxedos, being paraded, bid upon like ... some parcel at an auction! No doubt getting sold to some sticky-fingered biddy with less fashion sense than money ...

Dorian did prompt on a stroll along the river. The chilly evening air felt invigorating, the Earl continued to behave and when they didn't walk in companionable silence the Brit provided neutral topics of conversation. Now that they were out of hearing range from civilians they even discussed various business subjects. Klaus very rarely got out like that, just walking aimlessly and while he did feel it to be a colossal waste of time - especially so since their "date" would lead nowhere - it was somewhat relaxing. He did consider running sometimes in the evening instead of in the morning - or both, come to think of it, when he had the time.

As they walked the last stretch up the Schumannstraße Dorian asked with a smile, "That wasn't too bad, was it?"

Klaus grunted. It hadn't been - not really. Still, he didn't want to act encouragingly.

Then they both stopped at the tiny driveway that lead up to Klaus's Bonn apartment.

"A good night kiss?"

"Not on your life!"

Dorian pouted. Only for a moment though - then he smiled again. "No kissing on the first date, then, as previously stated. But on the second one, right? I'm counting on that."

"There won't be a second," Klaus retorted while unlocking the door.

"Then it can't hurt to say yes, can it?"

"No, because there won't be a second!" he said and stepped inside.

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Take it however you want, I can't stop you." Then he closed the door. Safely inside his haven, he peered through the peep hole. As if knowing he was watched, Dorian blew a kiss in just the right direction. Klaus snorted. Silly wanker. But no, the evening hadn't been so horrible in the end. It had been ... almost relaxing. Almost ... almost nice.

It would, however, never happen again!

Auction night. Buy A Bachelor To Save The Children Of Africa or some such nonsense. A total of 15 men had been rounded up, from various organisations - the fire fighters, the grocer's association, NATO, the police force and so on. Most moderately young and handsome, though more or less chagrined to be put on display. Klaus was one of the older ones. He also seemed to be one of the few used to donning a tuxedo - he had brought his own, of course, while several others had to be outfitted. Some "stylist" even offered to do something with his hair, but a high-powered glare sent the diminutive woman fleeing.

Before the auction and dinner there was time for some mingling. Used to such annoyances Klaus kept to a corner, where he at least had his back protected. Several females did approach him anyway, attempting small talk. He kept the conversations short and efficient, until they became discouraged and moved on. He would go through with the charade, but he was there under duress and saw no reason why he should smile and ham things up. Perhaps no one will buy me, in the end, if I just keep fending them off? Unlikely - and perhaps humiliating in itself, should that really be the case?

That's when he heard the unmistakable, British syllables through the low mumble of Germanics. Suddenly cold to his gut, Klaus stalked forward, making society ladies leap out of his way as he closed in on the Earl of Gloria - for the day living up to his secondary name in a red outfit that some journalist would no doubt dub "glorious" as well - it certainly shimmered and glittered as much as any of the ladies' dresses.

Klaus was about to grab the man by the ruffles, shake him senseless and demand an explanation, when he noted eyes already on them after his determined march. Reminding himself firmly that he was NATO's representative he slowed down and took a breath before walking the final steps. The fop was discussing something about cloth or whatever with a young lady dressed almost as shinily as he, though in blue. "Lord Gloria," Klaus said curtly, fighting to keep his voice even. "A moment of your time."

Dorian had turned the moment Klaus began to speak, and smiled at him in that strangely all-encompassing way of his, as if his entire being flourished in Klaus's presence and from his attention. "Major von dem Eberbach! Most certainly. Ninni, dear, I'll be back in just a mo'."

Klaus smiled stiffly at the blue-dressed young lady, then marched off to a relatively open area of the hall, where their voices wouldn't be overheard too easily. "What are you doing here?!" he hissed. "You promised not to bid on me! So help me God, if you make a fool of me after last night, I'll geld you!"

Dorian winced and lowered one hand protectively. "No, no, Major, no need to bring out the sharp objects--"

"They will be blunt."

"--I'm merely here to lend emotional support and--"

"Spare me!"

"--besides, I had already paid for the sitting. James would have cried even harder if I hadn't at least eaten. The seats are 2.000 marks an envelope, you know. Besides - it's the Beethovenhalle, how could I resist? But I assure you, dear Major, I won't raise a finger at the auction. Scout's honour."

"You were never a scout!"

"Actually, I was. Only for seven hours, granted, but I was. Awfully boring. No matter. You have my most solemn word." He nodded seriously.

Klaus watched the guileless blue eyes. He saw no deceit - though, of course, he never did, that was the problem. The Earl of Gloria was an expert at twisting the truth to his benefit.

"Just ... don't make a scene!"

"I promise! I'll be quiet as a mouse. No one will even notice I'm here."

That, if nothing else, was a lost cause, but Klaus doubted he would be able to get a better deal. He nodded curtly. Then he turned and left, figuring he had done his share of socializing.

After having checked with A that there really was no threat to national security, even a hint of terrorism, any crime being committed that would have NATO lend assistance or at least a fluffy little kitten caught in a nearby tree that he could pretend to have to rescue, Klaus finally surrendered and just sat back-stage, smoking heavily and waiting for his turn in the show ring. Some of his fellow victims tried to chat him up, but since none of them seemed interested in implementing a daring escape plan he ignored them. One by one they were led off, like lambs to the slaughter. Klaus had number eight. Too soon number seven - a tall blond who vaguely resembled Z, from the Fleischereiinnung - was led away and some quarter of an hour later - the minutes felt more like hours - it was Klaus's turn. The young woman who walked him to the stage - as if she could stop him if he decided to bolt? - nattered the entire way, in a manner possibly meant to be calming. He restrained from strangling her.

From beyond a black cover words drifted in.

"--related to the Habsburgs--"

"--NATO Intelligence, so if you have any secrets--"

"--36 years old, strong and --"

"--for Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach!"

The women held the velvet cover to the side and looked at him expectantly. Klaus squared his shoulders and went through, onto a well-lit stage. As instructed he marched to the edge of the four meter long catwalk. His eyes quickly adopted to the light and he found himself the centre of attention to a herd of ravenous females. There were women present of all types - from 16-year-old debutants to little old ladies, dressed in a full scale from widow black to virgin white, through all colours in creation - though predominantly blue, possibly the current colour in fashion. Klaus reflected that the crowd's joint wardrobe probably would have funded the Bonn division of NATO for a year - far longer with the jewellery taken into account.

There was a handful of men thrown in. The latter seemed to fall in three categories. First the staff: servants dressed in proper black, if a bit tighter than would have been the norm at a regular party. Mixed among them a few suit-wearing hosts, going around to make sure all the women were happy with their evening out and thus had their spending caps on. Then the already sold men - six of them so far, with the seventh no doubt on his way. They each sat at a table in the back, together with a group of women - likely their "owners" with friends and hanger-ons. Finally ... there was Dorian. He stood smack in the middle. A superior, self-sufficient, elegant group of one, who - despite all evidence to the contrary - managed to look right at home in the otherwise feminine crowd. Not only that - he had an entourage, if - for once in a blue moon - consisting of women rather than men. They flocked about him, apparently fascinated.

Dorian, however, paid his admirers no attention - for all appearances in turn utterly fascinated - by Klaus. He smiled slightly in a strange mixture of indulgence and weariness. He's going to bid ... Klaus thought morosely. Yet - the Brit had promised and though Klaus would have bet anything on the contrary, the man usually kept his word. Of course, like any fairy he could twist the words to suit himself, until he had held his word despite doing exactly the contrary to what innocent NATO majors thought he had promised ...

However, as if sensing Klaus's apprehension, Dorian mouthed, "Don't worry - I won't." Then he frowned. "You don't have to put on a show, though, you know."

Klaus wondered if he had misread the lip movements. Of course he wouldn't put on some kind of show! This wasn't a bloody talent competition! Which was kind of bad, in a way, because he wouldn't have minded holding the comfortable weight of his Magnum to display his very best talent, with the hungry way the women stared at him.

"You are most tempting, that way," Dorian continued. "Relax, soldier."

Klaus blinked, then quickly stepped out of his tense stance and brought his hands forward, rather than resting them on his lower back. A disappointed noise went through the crowd. He had to make a conscious effort not to cover his crotch. He wouldn't thank Dorian for the heavy hinting, but felt a little grateful all the same.

"--do I hear six? Six, anyone six? I have six - do I have - thank you, ma'am - six and one to the charming lady in - I have six and two, six and two. Do I - six and three--"

The bidding had started. Great.

"--and nine, thank you! Six and-- Seven. Seven and one, seven and two, seven and--"

In each possible pause the auctioneer - who was a good deal slower than most auctioneers Klaus had heard, obviously a slacker - complimented the last bidder, before trying for a new bid. Which he got. Klaus wondered how much the other victims had gone for. Was he doing well? Not that he wanted to participate in the farce, but without a choice he had to follow through and his pride rankled at the thought that he might not be at least in the same league as the rest.

They had been instructed to try to encourage more bids. "Smile at the lady who made the last bid, as if you're grateful and as if you would prefer to go out with her. Then turn to the lady who is bidding against her. If she looks hesitant, smile to her as well. Try to look hopeful."

He'd rather jump into the Rhine. Oh - he could do it. He was an fair actor, when necessary. Only - no. No way in Hell. Not a chance. He'd rather ... He'd rather smile at Dorian - so there! He didn't, though - of course not. The limey had promised not to bid, but if he for some demented reason thought that Klaus might want him to - which Klaus didn't, thank you very much, he would do so in a New York minute.

"--blue dress. Twelve and two, twelve and three. Thank you - and that dress looks so good on you, miss. Twelve and four, twelve and five. Do I hear twelve and six? Twe-- Thank you. Twelve and-- ah, twelve and eight, I have--"

12.800 mark. Madness. These women were lunatics. They did know he would only spend about four hours in their company, didn't they? None of which naked and in bed, either. Of course, it was for some "good cause". And the painting he had offered instead was worth easily twice that - and would have been a whole lot less humiliated at being sold ... At least his father had opted not to come.

"Thirteen even. Thirteen one. Thirteen two. Thirteen three. I have--"

While he most definitely did not smile at either of them, in fact he was careful not to move anything but his eyes, he did study the women currently bidding. He hoped against hope that one of them might be a KGB agent or the like. Damn you, anyway, Mischa! Couldn't do me one little favour, could you? You only had to send a telegram, for fuck's sake! But noooo. You probably arranged this whole fiasco in the first place! For a brief moment he dreamed himself away to a corresponding auction being held in Kreml. "Do I hear one tractor for Comrade Mischa - one tractor?"

"Fourteen one. Fourteen two. Fourteen three. May I say, miss, that you'd make a striking couple? Fourteen four - thank you, ma'am."

"Ma'am" was in her late forties, bleached blond with ample bosom, 158 cm tall, about 65 kilos heavy and dressed in red as if the Beethovenhalle was some kind of seedy night club. Dorian might have pulled off something like - she didn't. The name "Gitteni" came to Klaus's mind, and he had a vague recollection of conversing with her at a gathering his father had forced him to attend. He hoped to Hell he hadn't by mistake said anything ... encouraging. "Miss", on the other hand, was among the youngest in the crowd. Eighteen? Nineteen? Or with good make-up, anyway. 1.78, slender, B-cup, with dark blonde hair and dressed in shiny blue. She looked faintly familiar as well. Something about those cheekbones and that nose, but he couldn't place her.

"Fifteen three, fifteen four. Fifteen five, fifteen six. Thank you, Lady Gitteni. Fifteen--"

The younger woman appeared very eager. Her white card, embossed with 42 in gold, went up swiftly, almost simultaneously as the smarmy auctioneer acknowledged "ma'am"s bid. Always straight up, no hesitation what so ever. Ma'am thought things over, if only a little, before waving her 36.

"--nine. How about sixteen? Come on, ladies - give Major von dem Eberbach here a lookover. Worth every mark, isn't he? Those long, long legs; those wide shoulders ..."

Bloody pervert!

"This is a man any woman could feel safe out on the town with. Mr NATO here can protect you in any situation. Sixteen, sixteen one. Royal blood: a true gentleman; always keeps his word, no matter what. Dedicated to his work, but a family man at heart, I-- Sixteen two, sixteen three, thank you!"

Family man? What had the auctioneer heard - or what had he been drinking? Well, Klaus was dedicated to his family, true, but he wasn't about to start one. He had no wish for snotty children running around. Wanting to share his annoyance with someone who would understand, his eyes sought out Dorian. The Brit was smiling a little wryly in a way that assured Klaus that he, too, had heard the ridiculous statement.

"Seventeen, ma'am? Was that seventeen? Thank you - I have seventeen. Seventeen one. Seventeen two, ma'am? Seventeen two. I have seventeen two. Seventeen three. Seventeen four?"

Klaus rolled his eyes a little. Dorian acknowledged by closing his own very briefly, before mouthing, "I would have paid a million and counted myself lucky."

Klaus snorted.

"Seventeen four? No? Seventeen four? Anyone? Seventeen four? Seventeen four. I have seventeen three, anyone giving me seventeen four? Seventeen thousand three hundred marks, are you going to let this hunk of a man--"

Hunk!? That cheap cattle seller called me a hunk? Oh, I'll have a long talk with that pervert later!

"--for a mere seventeen thousand three hundred marks? Miss, you're getting a steal here. Anyone? Seventeen four? No? Going for seventeen three - going once, going twice, going thrice, sold to the young lady in the blue dress, number 42. I hope you'll have a lovely evening, miss! Major von dem Eberbach, you may leave the stage now. Just a moment, ladies, and then we'll have number nine out. You'll like him, I can tell you that much right away! His name is--"

Klaus certainly wasn't staying to hear about the next poor sod to be thrown to the vultures. He didn't run off the stage, but he did leave with perhaps a tad more haste than was strictly necessary. Back on the safe side of the cover the nattering young woman who had escorted him there still waited.

"That went well!" she gushed. "17.300 mark! Only one of the others has gone for more so far - and one of the bidders for him was his girlfriend. Silly, if you ask me, to let your boyfriend agree to something like this. But she's the daughter of a ship-owner, so I suppose she knew she had the money to win him ... Now, if you come this way, I'll take you to the check-out counter. The winning lady should be on her way there and I'm sure she can't wait to get to know you better."

He didn't dignify her blabber with a reply, but did follow her, also ignoring the tall Indian being led in the opposite direction. They rounded the stage area and came out on the left side of the main hall. Through a glass door Klaus saw the flock of woman and held back a shudder. Going back in there again - and this time where the herd would be close enough to touch - didn't tempt ... By a desk sat one of the servants. He smiled briefly at Klaus. "Good work, Mr NATO. 17.300 will go a long way for our cause. Thank you for donating your time."

Glaring was all Klaus could do as not to start growling. Then the door to the auction hall opened and he turned to have a closer look at the blue-dressed missy he would be forced to show around Bonn during the evening. Then his eyes narrowed.

She was not alone.

Not at all alone.

She had company.

Company dressed not in shiny blue, but in flashy red.

Glorious red.

Klaus marched up to them and hissed, "What exactly are you doing here?"

Dorian smiled guilelessly. "Officially? Escorting Ninni here. Ninni's my sister Elisabeth's second daughter. Only nineteen, you see, so it was easy to convince them we didn't want her to brave an event in Germany alone. I had to get an invitation somehow, didn't I?"

Now Klaus recognised the resemblance - in the eyes, the cheekbones, the nose and the way she smiled. A very bad feeling crept over him; a cold which started in his stomach and gradually spread upwards.

"Unofficially?" Dorian continued blithely. Then he lowered his voice, so that the only ones who would be able to hear him were Klaus and the young lady beside them. "Well ... I did tell you, Klaus - I couldn't abide seeing you with anyone else. Besides, the bidding is for women only. I couldn't bid - they wouldn't have let me."

Klaus all but groaned. He felt like kicking something. He didn't, though. The fop had kept his word.

"Especially not," Dorian went on to say, still keeping his voice down, "since you did promise me a kiss for our second date. I'm really looking forward to it."

Ninni giggled.

"I didn't!" Klaus quickly repudiated.

"Actually, dear - you did. You said I could take it any way I wanted – and I took it as a promise. And while I didn't like that auctioneer at all - ghastly little man - he did manage to get one thing right. You really are a man of your word. So I know you will come through: I'm counting on that. Anyway, since you were so set on me not bidding I had Ninni do it for me. Now, be a dear, Ninni, and pay the man the 17.300, so we can get back inside. I do believe I smelled veal and the sooner dinner is over, the sooner the Major and I can get on our way for our own celebration. I do have something very special planned for tonight, Klaus. Not to worry, though, I think you will enjoy it. Our first date wasn't so bad, was it? There, there, no scene now. You did promise and you didn't want me to make a one, so to make one yourself would be really silly ..."

It would be. So, defeated, Klaus didn't make a scene. He did keep his word, though. Dorian did get his kiss at the end of their second date. And it was glorious.

The End

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