Claimer: All characters great and small are ours. :D
Warnings: abuse [physical and mental], yaoi, vague shota
Dragomir felt one of his crutches slipping out from underneath him and struggled to swing his weight forward quickly so that he could move the sliding crutch quickly to a spot on the marble floor he hoped would cause less of a problem. On Friday, after a week of being stuck in a wheelchair, Viorica had delighted him with the assurance that beginning Monday, he’d be allowed out of the uncomfortable wicker chair and back on his feet—with the aid of a pair of crutches, that is. Dragomir had been so eager to be rid of the cumbersome seat that yesterday he’d managed to convince Niles to let him try out the crutches early so that he’d be accustomed to them before they got to work. Of course, he’d practiced on carpet, and the highly polished floor of headquarters was another matter all together. He glanced at Niles to smile at him reassuringly; he was starting to get the hang of the crutches now, and while his arms were already starting to ache, he didn’t think he would fall. And even if he did, Dragomir knew Niles would do his best to catch him.
Dragomir stopped short of the door to their office and waited as Niles opened it. He wasn’t ready to try anything fancy just yet, and figured it was probably better if they followed the rules for a little while. It wouldn’t be long until the Investigations Unit—Niles’s old unit—transferred in, and Dragomir’s only plan for now was to lie as low as possible. He was very concerned about Niles, but Dragomir was sure that somehow, he’d be able to protect him.
Dragomir still couldn’t bow in his current condition, so he lowered his head to the Lt. Colonel and made his way over to Niles’s desk and took a seat on top of it, grinning at Niles and trying to be cheerful; they still had a few days before the transfer, after all.
Niles smiled back weakly, taking out the papers that he had left Friday to finish. As he pulled out the quill and the ink, he yawned; he hadn't been sleeping well lately. After all, it was a matter of days before his worst nightmare was going to become reality, and for the past week he had been unable to sleep through the night, tossing and turning, waking in tears from vivid dreams and memories. And no matter what Dragomir told him, no matter how much he trusted him, Niles was still terrified of what was to come.
Now, though, he had to find a way to concentrate, he would have to find a way to keep productive or things would only be much much worse as soon as the Colonel took over. Staring pointedly down at the paper, he began to write, his entire body tense as he wrote slowly, subconsciously returning to the old habit, trying to make his handwriting acceptable.
Dragomir didn’t get up as Niles began to write; instead Dragomir watched him as he stared intently at the paper he was writing and as his arm stiffened with intense concentration. Niles was writing very slowly with practiced precision and Dragomir bit his lip with concern. “Niles,” Dragomir breathed, as if he were disturbing Niles while he was toiling at some very important task, “Are you all right?” Though Dragomir admired his adamancy, he recognized the heading and knew that the paper Niles was writing was a standard form—one that probably didn’t require such perfect lettering. Dragomir was under the impression that no one even read these kinds of papers, as he himself had gotten by without ever filing one himself. “Don’t worry so much about it,” Dragomir smiled again worriedly, “Your handwriting’s always nice as it is.”
Niles started when Dragomir spoke his name, but relaxed when he realized that he was indeed being unnecessarily tense. "Oh...ah—yes, you're right..." He offered another weak smile and took a deep breath before looking back to the paper and dipping his quill again.
However, at that moment, there was a brisk, loud knock at the door before it was thrown open and three men walked into the room. Quite a few people around the room looked up out of surprise and a murmur of confusion made its way around the room, but Niles fell silent, paling. They were all exactly as he remembered them: the Captain and Major Holtcombe slender and strawberry-blonde and wearing the same maliciously playful expression that they always wore, and Colonel Lawley pale and handsome and arrogant. All three surveyed the room as if it were their personal kingdom, and the Lt. Colonel rose hesitantly, as if unsure of even her own command. Smiling and bowing respectfully, she nodded to Colonel Lawley. "I apologize; I wasn't aware that you were to arrive today. I am Lt. Colonel Corinne Delancey, head of this unit under Brigadier General Rousseau. It's a pleasure to meet you sir, Major, Captain."
Lawley smiled charismatically. "I can assure you, the pleasure is mine, Lt. Colonel."
She nodded, then turned to the room. "As you were previously notified, we are currently joining forces with Colonel Lawley and his subordinates. Please do your best to cooperate with them." There was a general murmur of agreement in the room, and the Lt. Colonel nodded, turning back to the Colonel.
As the Lt. Colonel and Colonel discussed what was to be happening, the Major and Captain began to survey the room, the Major beginning to investigate the two desks that had been set up especially, one for the Colonel and one for the Major and Captain collectively, and the Captain moving around to see the different personnel in the office. Niles sat, petrified, until the Captain made his way over to his desk, a cruel smirk appearing on his lips.
"Hello, Corporal—or should I say, Warrant Officer Christian. Very impressive, I must say, you have my deepest congratulations." Niles stood hurriedly and bowed, keeping his head lowered even as he rose, and the Captain continued. "As much as I'd love to chat with you, it seems our brand new desk has yet to be supplied. If you'd be so kind, we need ink, quills, and paper. And since it's for the two of us...I think you can have a generous 7 minutes. However, if you take advantage of our lenience...my brother will be happy to remind you of your manners. Understood, Warrant Officer?"
Niles nodded quickly, bowing again. "Y-yes, sir." Not looking up again, he quickly ducked out of the room, breaking into a full out run as he made his way to get the supplies. It had been a long time since he had made this errand timed, and he was out of practice; he needed to hurry.
Vivien smiled as he watched Christian race out of the room, then turned to the other officer who appeared to have been working with the Warrant Officer. He seemed to be a foreigner, probably not too bright but very muscular, however, also invalid and most probably not a threat. However, without his brother present, he needed to tread carefully, as he could not pull rank on this man. Nodding to him, he turned quickly and made his way back over to the safety of his desk and his twin.
Dragomir practically shook with rage as the newest Captain made his way directly over to Niles, gave him an order that would be impossible to carry out, then turned away with only a nod and went straight back to his desk. It was disgusting behavior; the three officers were new and already they were acting like they owned the place. Dragomir clenched his jaw and was just shifting his weight, bracing himself to hobble over to the desk right then and there when he felt a tap on his back and spun around with a growl.
Julian jumped and took a few steps back before regaining his composure by adopting a suave pose with his hands crossed over his chest. “What was that all about with Niles just now?” Julian asked as Hirlea calmed down, undoubtedly realizing how foolish it would be to pick a fight with the new Captain now that he was with two other higher-ranking officers. “Did that Captain send Niles on an errand already?” Julian was a little concerned; he knew Niles had been dreading seeing his old officers again, but still had no idea why. Errands didn’t seem all that bad…
“Yes.” Dragomir spat plainly, and Julian seemed startled out of his thoughts by the malice in his voice. “They’re timing him.” Dragomir knew seven minutes would not be enough time to make it to storage and back, and that wasn’t even including the extra time it would take to maneuver the supplies.
“Oh…” Julian furrowed his brows and uncrossed his arms as he surveyed the new officers aloofly. “What are you going to do?” he asked carefully. If at all possible, Julian planed to let Dragomir dirty his hands with any trouble they caused Niles, while Julian himself personally took care of him, thus winning Niles's heart whilst protecting him from whatever cruelties the three new men threatened and keeping his job.
“I don’t know!” Dragomir snapped agitatedly. He was already getting a bad feeling about the new guys, and he was watching the door for Niles intently. He honestly didn’t know what he was going to do; it all depended on what they did—and, checking his pocket watch, Dragomir realized Niles was already a minute late.
Niles knew he was late as he raced back into the office; he had already had one of his characteristic ink spills and had had to return to the supply closet for more. As he carefully set the items on the desk, he knew he was going to be punished, and he hardly had time to think before he was grabbed roughly by the arm and turned to face the Major, who then jerked his arm roughly around to a painful hold. "You're late."
Niles cowered. "I-I'm sorry, sir, I-"
"You're late," the Major repeated, "And you need to be punished."
Niles nodded slowly, accepting his fate. It seemed like such a distant time, when his errors would not be punished by force, when it had only been ten minutes ago, and yet it seemed like only yesterday when this was the only way he knew... "I'm sorry, sir, I'm-"
"Look at me." The Major wrenched Niles's arm around farther, and he looked up quickly with a wince. "I-I'm--"
"I can't hear you," the Captain cut in, "Speak up." The Major wrenched his arm further, and Niles whimpered, quickly saying more loudly. "I'm sorry, sir!"
When Corinne realized what was going on, she looked away from Lawley quickly, then back to him. "Sir, I hate to interrupt, but really, your subordinates--" she hesitated as he looked disinterestedly over his shoulder at them, then looked back at her. "They seem to be employing rather inappropriate and somewhat medieval punishment techniques, surely this setting does not require such...?" She trailed at the look he was giving her and somehow managed to hide her disgust; it was a signature male look, one of superiority and patronization.
"I assure you, Lt. Colonel, my subordinates only do what is necessary. We had had the misfortune of working with Warrant Officer Christian much longer than I'm sure you have, and we are well aware of the proper methods of dealing with singular situations. Thank you for your concern, however, we have the situation under control."
Corinne didn't know what to say and bit her tongue; he was her superior and, for now, there was nothing she could do.
The Major released Niles, and he hurried back over to his desk, where Dragomir and Julian awaited him, nursing his arm. "I-I'm sorry," he said softly, not even sure why he was apologizing, frightened to look up before returning to his paperwork.
Dragomir released his grip on one of his crutches to catch Niles by his good arm as he hurried back towards them with his head down. “Niles, don’t apologize…” Dragomir said, biting his lip as he let go of Niles’s arm. He was trying very hard to keep his cool, but inside, he was fuming. Dragomir hated to see anyone pushing Niles around, and he hated even more that he hadn’t done something about it. If they tried anything again, he didn’t think he could hold himself back.
“Are you alright?” Julian asked soothingly, coming up next to Niles and standing between him and Dragomir, ignoring his little growl of protest. “They didn’t hurt you, did they? Here, let me see.” Julian took Niles’s arm gently and looked into his eyes. "You'll be all right; they won't do it again."
Niles was somewhat overwhelmed when both Dragomir and Julian came up to him at once, and though he was glad for the comfort, he was also worried that this would only result in more punishment. Still, when Julian made his comment, Niles couldn't help but look up in shock. "Won't do it again? Sir, you really don't understand. This is how they function. This was my life for years—"
Niles froze in fear and stood in an instant. "S-sir?"
Major Holtcombe narrowed his eyes. "I don't believe I ordered you to talk, but since you seem incapable of inferring that, I'll say it plainly for you: I order you to be silent. Do not speak unless Captain Holtcombe, Colonel Lawley, or I speak to you. Understood?"
"Y-yes, sir," Niles replied with a clumsy bow before sitting again. Feeling miserable, he went back to his papers, hoping Dragomir and Julian would understand.
Julian, rather stunned by the Major’s newest order, looked up at the officer quickly. He’d never known any superior officer to keep his subordinates under such strict rules, and was slightly taken aback. Surely he had no real reason for issuing such a command other than to make Niles more miserable than he already was, and Julian found that sort of sordid abuse of power revolting. Still, as it was the Major who’d given the order, Julian knew he had to stand down. He gave Niles an apologetic look and released his arm gently before returning to his desk and taking a seat, pretending to busy himself with his work.
Dragomir however, refused to stand down. Managing a clumsy bow from his crutches to the Major, Dragomir said with all the formality and deference he could muster, “Sir, if you don’t mind, Warrant Officer Christian and I are in the middle of filling out some paperwork on one of our last missions,” he lied carefully, “And if the Warrant Officer is unable to speak, sir, it will make the job a lot harder…” Dragomir hoped the other officer couldn’t see the way he was shaking as he struggled to keep himself from yelling; for now, he planed to do his best to stay civil.
Niles watched helplessly as Dragomir approached Major Holtcombe; this could not possibly end well, and though he was glad Dragomir wanted to protect him, he didn't want Dragomir to get punished as well. Still, unable to speak, unable to do anything, really, there was nothing he could do, and so instead pretended to be working as he listened, not wanting to get into more trouble.
As the invalid foreigner hobbled towards him, Bastien repressed a sneer, instead trying to look regretful. "I apologize, but I've had the experience of working with Warrant Officer Christian in the past, and I can assure you that I know the proper discipline needed to keep him in line. I'm afraid you'll have to find a way around it if you need to work with him." He offered a rather arrogant smile; he outranked this man, and could most definitely overpower him in his current state.
Julian looked up from his work, momentarily impressed that Hirlea had managed to keep his composure for so long. Still, Julian knew the Captain to be unrefined, and wasn’t surprised in the least when Hirlea dropped the act.
“What experience?” Dragomir barked, dropping the act. “He doesn’t need any discipline—you’re the one that’s out of line!” Dragomir gritted his teeth and glared at the Major. He hated that sort of cocky arrogance, and the way the Major was talking about what he did to Niles so nonchalantly pissed Dragomir off. “It’s ridiculous to time him while he gets you your supplies; no one could make it in seven minutes! Maybe your old office was closer, but even then it wasn’t fair. And you can’t expect him not to talk at all, what kind of an order is that?” Dragomir didn’t care that he was shouting, and the pain in his arms didn’t bother him anymore; he half expected a fight, and he was hoping for one.
Bastien smirked. "Patience, Captain...I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?" He shrugged. "No matter...it seems you need a bit of discipline, yourself. Warrant Office Christian! Come here, please." He directed the last bit at Christian, who started and paled as he rose, bowed, and approached. Bastien glanced back at Vivien, who knew what he was looking for and quickly handed him a ruler from Lawley's desk, then back to the foreigner. "I can't say whether you have some personal investment in our warrant officer or if you think you're some sort of hero, but, really, it's of no matter to me." He extended a hand towards Christian. "Your hand please, Warrant Officer, and pull back your sleeve."
Niles swallowed and followed orders, extending his arms and pulling back his sleeve. He stared pointedly at the ground, waiting for the impact, as he heard the Major say, "This ought to teach you to mind your own business... see, if you thought you were helping Christian you were...shall we say... sorely mistaken." At the last words, he withdrew the ruler before bringing it down on Niles' wrist with a resounding crack, smirking before withdrawing again and repeating the motion, again and again.
After the first couple of hits, Dragomir could take it no more. Niles remained docile, but Dragomir couldn't bear watching the other be punished on his account. Lurching forward, Dragomir dropped one of his crutches and winced as he put weight on his leg, stepping forward to grab the Major by the arm. He dropped his other crutch and nearly lost his balance, but at least he'd stopped the Major. "You're sick," Dragomir grunted, shuffling awkwardly as he tried to support his own weight, and looked up at the Major defiantly. "He didn't do anything." Dragomir let go of the Major’s arm roughly and stumbled backward. "If you want to teach me a lesson, you’re going to have to do it directly. Leave the Warrant Officer out of it."
Bastien was taken slightly aback when the foreigner dropped his crutches and grabbed him; he was under the impression that the other Captain was unable to stand. Still, Bastien could tell from his movements that he couldn't do much and was in pain. Jerking his hand back, he took a step back without loosening his grip on Christian's wrist, pulling the Warrant Officer sharply.
"Now, Captain, I don't know about how your office normally functions, but in my chain of command, we don't tend to take kindly to being handled and talked to in such a manner by our subordinates. It is my choice how I handle punishment of misconduct, and I may carry out that punishment as I please." He sneered. "Now, Captain, please get a hold of yourself and pick up your crutches; I know you must be in a lot of pain. Don't trouble yourself to move, however, your punishment isn't complete. You've earned the Warrant Officer twice what I had originally intended to give him, and I'd like you to stay and enjoy it.”
Dragomir took the bandages hurriedly from the servant who’d brought them upstairs to their bedroom and dismissed the man abruptly; preferring to take care of Niles’s arm himself. Looking up at Niles for a moment, Dragomir wondered how much Niles blamed him for the injury. Feeling horribly guilty, Dragomir looked down at Niles’s arm and began wordlessly pushing back the sleeve, doing his beast to avoid applying too much pressure to the bruised area. As Dragomir unwound the bandage, he noted with a shudder how dark the skin of Niles’s forearm had become and that there were tiny pricks of blood beneath the skin. The blows from the ruler had been hard enough to break a lower layer of skin, but the blunt, flat object left the outer layer intact and no doubt stinging. Looking up at Niles again, Dragomir started wrapping his arm deftly and pinned the end once he’d finished. “There,” he gulped, then after a pause Dragomir gently pulled Niles into his arms. “I’m so sorry Niles… I can’t believe they could do this to you because of me…” He gave Niles a light squeeze, feeling terrible and helpless. “I was so stupid!” Dragomir said angrily before lowering his voice again with guilt. “I don’t know what to do to help you…I’m so sorry…”
Niles nodded, resting his head against Dragomir's chest. "I-I know..." He swallowed and tried to gather himself; though he knew he was safe here at home with Dragomir, he was still feeling horribly shaken. "But, with them, there's...there's really nothing you can do. I-I just have to endure it and that's it." He smiled weakly up at Dragomir. "I don't blame you. You just have to learn how to...to deal with it."
Dragomir drew a shaky breath, not looking away from Niles. “I can’t just watch them do that stuff to you, Niles.” He bit his lip hard and looked from Niles’s arm then back into his eyes. “I can’t deal with it—you shouldn’t have to endure it!” Dragomir could see some of the docility returning to Niles’s demeanor and he couldn’t stand it. The way those men treated Niles back then was disgusting, but the fact that they could show up again and do it all over was unforgivable. “There has got to be something I can do… I-I promised to protect you!”
Niles shook his head, sighing into Dragomir's chest and taking another shaky breath. "The best thing you can do is to do what they say. They've got a system that you can't get out of...they...they enjoy making other people suffer. If you try to protect me...they'll just laugh...they'll hurt me more. I-I don't mind getting punished for you, but...you just have to bear it." He looked pleadingly up into Dragomir's eyes, hoping he'd understand.
“There has to be something…” Dragomir practically whined. “Please don’t ask me to sit by idly while they hurt you. Niles—I can’t stand it!” He closed his eyes and held Niles a little closer as he tried to calm down. “Why did this have to happen…?” Dragomir asked stupidly, grinding his teeth without thinking about it. Opening his eyes again after a few minutes, he looked back at Niles. “I don’t want you getting hurt because of me…” Dragomir began slowly, “So I’ll…” he gulped, deciding how to finish. “…I’ll stay out of it; I’ll try not to make things worse.” It felt terrible to say, it felt like he was abandoning Niles, and Dragomir felt his stomach clench. “If I can do something to help," he said tightly, trying to assure himself as much as he was assuring Niles, “Just let me know—I’ll do anything.”
Niles nodded. "Thank you for understanding...really, I'll...I'll be fine." He smiled weakly up at Dragomir. "I'll let you know if there's anything you can do, but really...it's fine. I survived this once, I can survive again." He let himself relax slightly into Dragomir's arms, nodding. "And this time, I have you. Even if there's nothing we can do, I have you here with me. I love you." He smiled softly, glad that, even if he had to suffer, this time, he wasn't alone.
Vivien yawned as Lawley surveyed the emptied room as if proud of some feat. He appeared to be deep in thought, but Viven was not drastically interested, nor was his brother, from the look on his face as he twirled his quill between his fingers. Still, he wished Lawley would speak his mind already so they could pack up and leave.
"Hey, Colonel, can we go home yet?" Bastien whined, and Vivien nodded.
A small smile appeared on Lawley's lips, and he nodded. "You're dismissed."
Bastien got up immediately and made his way to the door, but Vivien lingered.
"Lawley...what are you thinking about?"
A smirk crawled across Lawley's lips. "Did you notice the Lt. Colonel at all?"
Bastien scowled. "We don't do girls like you, Lawley." He obviously wanted to go home, and Vivien got the feeling he was going to be in trouble for asking as soon as they were out of Lawley's earshot.
Lawley laughed. "I know, I know. But she was beautiful...efficient, too. I want her."
Vivien shrugged. "Well, get her. You always get them, right?"
"Of course." He chuckled. "What did you think of our little foreigner?"
Bastien scoffed. "Hardly little. He was all brawn... I'm lucky he's an invalid or else even I couldn't take him."
Vivien almost laughed at his tone. "Relax, brother."
Bastien shrugged. "It was fun playing with him, though...I think he must have something invested in Christian...he was so upset when we punished him. I think, from now on, we ought to just punish Christian for what he does, what do you think, huh?"
Vivien brightened. "Oh, that sounds like fun! Can we, Lawley?"
Lawley smirked. "I don't see why not. Let's see what he does when he's the source of pain for our little--his little Warrant Officer."
The next morning, Dragomir inclined his head once, curtly, to the Major and the Colonel collectively, and straightened up with some difficulty, rearranging his crutches so that he could move again. He very nearly dropped them however, as he noticed that a desk had been moved next to the two new ones. Dragomir felt his stomach churn as he looked around quickly and spotted the empty space where Niles's desk had been only the day before. Turning abruptly back to the new officers, Dragomir shifted a crutch to gesture angrily at Niles's new location. "What the hell's the meaning of this!?" Dragomir demanded, forgetting himself.
Vivien smirked, making his way over to where the foreigner and Christian stood. "The 'meaning of this' is that, Captain, we have decided that the Warrant Officer can better complete his tasks under the watch of his superiors." Taking Christian by the wrist, he pulled him over beside him. "And really, Captain, you ought to watch that mouth. I was really hoping Christian would be able to at least get through the morning without punishment, but...I guess not." He sneered at the foreigner in a way very similar to his brother, then tugged Christian towards his relocated desk.
Niles felt himself being handed off to the Major in a sort of daze; he was vaguely aware of his wrist being grasped and his sleeve pulled back, then laughter. "Oh, it does look like someone's been taking care of the Warrant Officer." Niles realized the Major was sneering at his bandages. "But no matter." His other arm was grasped, his other sleeve pulled back. "This will work just fine."
After the twenty blows the Major deemed a necessary punishment for Dragomir's infraction, Niles sat down blankly behind his newly-relocated desk. He was at a loss; now he had been isolated from everything else that mattered to him, he was alone again. Feeling numb inside, he looked around, then looked up to his now-close superiors, waiting for orders for lack of anything else to do.
Dragomir staggered away towards his desk, feeling numb after standing by and watching, worthlessly, as the Major beat a fresh bruise into Niles’s other arm. He looked over his shoulder back at Niles, who wasn’t watching him, and tried with everything he had to communicate to Niles that he was sorry. Slumping into his chair, Dragomir let his crutches clatter to the floor loudly as he dropped his head onto his desk. He wouldn’t watch, he wouldn’t speak; Dragomir was tired of making things worse then they already were.
Julian pushed the door to the office open gently and stepped inside with a smile before bowing lavishly to the Colonel and again to the Major, nodding brightly to the Captain. Julian, too, was new to the office, and knew that he probably was not under much suspicion of betrayal, but even so, he wanted to put on airs and make sure he was on good terms with the new officers. He always preferred to be well-liked by his superiors, but this situation in particular called for some extra effort; with a little extra work now, when the time came later, Julian would be in a better position to rescue Niles form his persecutors. Continuing on down the line of superiors, Julian bowed to Lt. Colonel Delancy with his usual grace and nearly bowed, without thinking, to Niles, whose desk was, for some reason, at the front of the room. Catching himself, Julian disguised the slip by taking a step forward and bending to ask in a low voice, “Niles, what are you doing here? What happened to your desk?”
Niles, unsure if his ban on talking still held, said quickly under his breath, "I've been relocated here because I talked to you and Dragomir too much." He was about to tell Julian he ought to leave if he didn't want to be punished, too, when the Colonel rose and moved to the front of the room, signaling everyone to rise and become quiet. He looked around again, smugly, before beginning to speak.
"As you all know, my subordinates and I have come to work with all of you because we believe there is a breach in our security. It seems as if the information from the military is being leaked to the Berceuse Malheureuse, and it can no longer be written off as coincidence. During the next month or so in which we will be working together, my subordinates and I will be investigating every one of you, starting with those of high risk. To determine said criteria, we will be looking through every single one of your files starting today. As soon as the leak is discovered, we will take them in our own measures, and the rest of you will return to your regular activity. But until that occurs, I expect all of your complete cooperation. Understood?"
There was a general murmur of agreement, but Niles was sure to say, "Yes sir," very clearly, to avoid getting punished again. The Colonel, however, turned to him with a smirk. "Now, Warrant Officer, please go to the investigations office and fetch the files on the personnel in this brigade." He glanced at his pocket watch. "Five minutes ought to be enough time."
Niles paled, but nodded and bowed. "Yes, sir." And then he was off again, dashing out of the room as fast as possible.
Julian managed to slink away from Niles while the Colonel was talking so that neither of them would be noticed, and made it back to his seat just as Niles was rushing out the door with another errand. Julian looked after him wistfully and imagined him running down the hall at full speed, straining to get to the storage room as quickly as he could. Niles’s hair would be bobbing up and down in that perfect ponytail he kept it in, and there might be a small bead of sweat on his usually pristine forehead. Perhaps he’d push his bangs back behind his ear as he reached the door and entered the dark room… Julian sighed and let his thoughts of Niles trail off as he extracted a piece of paper and a pen from his desk, suddenly feeling inspired to write.
Dragomir glared at Captain Kaiser over his desk, not bothering to lift his head again now that he was sitting back down. He’d seen Kaiser talk to Niles before the Colonel made his announcement, and knew that the other Captain knew what Niles had been ordered to do. The fact that Kaiser could be sitting so calmly, sighing and staring off at nothing, should have been a comfort to Dragomir. Obviously, Kaiser wasn’t worried about Niles at all, but Dragomir was, and he couldn’t help himself. Niles had probably been sent to fetch something again, and he was probably being timed… Dragomir wondered vacantly how long it had been, and how long Niles had left; he couldn’t do anything about it though, he just had to sit there, idiotically, and hope that Niles had enough time to make it back.
Niles ran, full speed, back to the office, straining to keep the large pile of files from slipping from his arms. He made it back into the doorway without doing so, however, and quickly dropped into a low bow. "S-sir, I brought the files you requested," he panted, knowing he was too late, "Where would you like me to put them?"
The Colonel looked disinterested. "On my desk please. Major Holtcombe will see to your punishment for your tardiness."
Niles nodded slowly. "Y-yes, sir." He slowly set the pile of files onto the Colonel's desk, making sure they didn't slide off, before turning to the waiting Major. Smirking in a rather unnerving manner, he approached Niles, slowly sliding his fingers around Niles' slender neck. "You know, Warrant Officer, you really must learn to be on time. It simply isn't acceptable for you to be so...late." At the last word, he suddenly tightened his fingers around Niles' neck, causing him to gag and desperately gasp for breath.
The Captain, who suddenly appeared beside his brother, sneered. "Why so silent, Christian? You ought to apologize for being so late."
"I-I'm s-sorry, s-sir," Niles wheezed, barely able to speak around the tight grasp of the Major.
"What's that? I can't hear you," the Captain insisted, the malicious smirk never leaving his face.
"I-I'm sorry, s-sir!" Niles tried again, and, to his relief, he was released. He gasped and sputtered, trying to catch his breath, as the Major said. "Very well. Get back to work." Niles bowed and returned behind his desk, rubbing his neck miserably, still trying to catch his breath.
When Dragomir decided Niles looked as though he’d be all right, he sat back down and reached under his desk to rub his aching leg. He’d stood up abruptly when the Major got Niles by the neck, and Dragomir’s whole body had gone so tense he hadn’t felt the searing pain in his leg until he’d relaxed and sat back down. Clenching his teeth, he put his head back down on the desk. Dragomir didn’t have work he could do without Niles’s help, and if he kept his head down, maybe he would miss what they did to Niles so that his hands wouldn’t curl into fists and his heart wouldn’t wrench with guilt every time he watched what they did to Niles and did nothing about it. Glaring across the surface of his desk again, Dragomir saw that Kaiser wasn’t having any problems ignoring the horrors happening at the front of the room; he was absorbed in something he was writing, and he already had half a page. Judging by the way he kept sighing and spinning his pen absently, it wasn’t anything work related that the Captain was composing. No, it was probably another stupid poem. Dragomir decided that if Captain Kaiser really gave a damn about Niles, he’d be doing something to help him, not scribbling fancy phrases. Of course, it wasn’t really as though Dragomir was doing too much either… With a growl of frustration, Dragomir sat up and slammed his fist on his desk before pulling out a form and pretending to be busy.
Niles was just settling back at his desk and regaining his breath when he heard distinct footsteps moving in his direction. He barely had a chance to look up before the Colonel was grasping his wrist and pulling him across his desk. "There's a file missing, Warrant Officer. Can you please explain this to me?" His grip tightened, and his nails began to dig into Niles' skin.
"S-sir, I'm sorry, it-it must have been my mistake—"
"Don't act like you don't know," the Colonel snarled, wrenching Niles' wrist around and digging his nails deeper. "The file that's missing is yours."
Niles paled. "Sir, I-I really don't know, I must have dropped it, or-or made a mistake, I-I'm sorry, sir, I—" But as the Colonel dug his nails in farther and glared at him, Niles felt tears welling up in his eyes. The Colonel obviously didn't believe him...but what was he going to do?
Perceval strode down the hall at a leisurely pace, taking his time to make his way to the room that had formerly been under the supervision of Lt. Colonel Delancy. He had a folder tucked neatly under his arm—Niles Christian’s folder—and Perceval was using the small stack of information on the Warrant Officer as an excuse to drop in and see how things were working out with the new personnel.
Perceval opened the door to the office and was greeted by the sight of the Warrant Officer’s pain; a perfect way to start his morning. He savored the scene until his presence was noticed and Colonel Lawley dropped Christian’s arm as he and all of his subordinates came to attention.
“Sorry to disturb you, Colonel,” Perceval said apologetically, truly sorry to have interrupted the Warrant Officer’s punishment, “but I remembered that I’d taken this file for my own uses previously and forgotten to return it to the records room. I was on my way their when I realized you and your men would probably be needing it shortly.” He presented the folder to the Colonel with a little nod and smirked rather unintentionally. “Please, as you were, gentlemen.” Perceval said sweetly, backing out of the room with the hopes that Lawley would resume his pervious activities.
Shutting the door behind himself, Perceval practically bubbled with pleasure at how well things appeared to be going. Christian was being punished relentlessly, exactly what he deserved for catching Algernon’s attention, and everything Perceval required for his newest plot was falling into place. Perceval realized that at that moment, he felt so good about himself that he ought to pay Algernon a little extemporaneous visit to celebrate, and headed off down the hall eager to share the news.
The Colonel accepted the folder with a bow, then, once the Brigadier General had gone, flipped through it. Sure enough, everything on the Warrant Officer was there, and, with a small scowl, he turned to Christian. "It appears as if you're off the hook, Warrant Officer. You're in luck...for the time being. However, this does not give you any excuse to overstep your boundaries, understood?"
Niles nodded hurriedly and bowed. "Y-yes, sir!" he assured, then scurried back to the safety of his desk. At least he was out of being punished, for now.
Julian had been thoroughly annoyed when he had to stop writing to stand and bow to General Rousseau right in the middle of finishing of the final couplet of the poem he’d decided to enclose in Niles’s letter, but as soon as the General had left, he’d sat back down to finish up the poem and place it into the envelope with the letter. Now he just needed a diversion. Glancing around his desk, he found a bit of paperwork and came up with a question to ask about the forms. On his way to the Lt. Colonel’s desk, he paused in front of Niles and smiled at him as he discreetly slid the envelope across the desk. He then quickly moved on to the Lt. Colonel and asked her a question he knew would take a long time to answer, planning to look over his shoulder when he first got the chance to see if Niles was reading his composition.
Niles blinked at the letter that had appeared on his desk addressed to him, then slowly, glancing around to make sure he would not get punished, broke the seal and pulled out the note inside. Reading over it, he realized that it must be from Julian, because enclosed was another poem for him. He was flattered, but again, once he had finished reading, confused; he really didn't understand what Julian was getting at. Still, he was appreciative for the little bit of happiness in the day, and so he glanced up at his superior, offering a smile.
Julian turned just in time to catch Niles’s smile, and smiled back, pleased that Niles had liked the poem. Julian wondered vaguely what Niles had though of it; while Niles had informed him that he enjoyed his last work, he’d never really made any comment on the content, and Julian couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened. Still, he would never give up on winning Niles’s heart; after all, Julian’s own heart was so completely devoted to him that he simply could not feel complete until his efforts were at least acknowledged. With a last little wink to Niles, Julian turned back to the Lt. Colonel and nodded knowingly at the item she’d been explaining, pretending to have been paying attention the entire time.
Niles smiled back as Julian turned away, but just as he was looking back to the letter on his desk, he found it being snatched away by the Captain. Looking up to his superior in terror, he realized that he was probably going to get in trouble for this, too, and did his best to cower appropriately so as to get a lesser punishment. However, as Captain Holtcombe read the letter, his expression was surprised, then amused, and he hurried over to where his brother and the Colonel stood. The group talked quietly for a few minutes, then the Captain came strolling back over to Niles' desk. Niles stood and bowed hurriedly. "Sir!"
The Captain grinned. "What a nice little note you received, Warrant Officer. It must have been from someone very special."
"A-a good friend, sir."
The Captain raised and eyebrow. "A good friend is all? Hm... we'll see about that." Grasping the note between two hands, he twisted, tearing the letter to pieces. Niles couldn't help but gasp in horror, but quickly stopped himself out of habit and tried once more to look subservient. The Captain only smirked, however. "From now on, Christian, I forbid you from communicating with Captain Kaiser in any shape or form. You may not speak to him, you may not write to him, you may not address him or send him any sort of message, and if I were you, I'd try not to look at him too often, either." He took a few steps away, then looked back over his shoulder. "Any infraction will be punished severely. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," Niles said weakly, returning to his seat. Things were getting worse and worse by the minute...but still, he had Dragomir, and as long as he had Dragomir things would be all right.
Julian, having just finished speaking with the Lt. Colonel looked on in horror as the new Captain tore his letter to pieces right in front of Niles. It was a truly cruel thing to do; Julian had spent a long time composing that letter, and he’d poured his heart and soul into each line of the poem. To see it destroyed, right in front of Niles and done just to hurt him, made Julian’s heart ache and his soul cry out for retribution. Looking rather distraught and finding himself quite unable to cover it up, Julian made his way over to Niles’s desk and asked rather desperately, “They tore it up? Why? Where you at least able to read it?” If Niles had been unable to read the letter, Julian didn’t think he’d be able to stand the injustice, and already he was looking around for the scattered pieces of paper that once formed his letter of devotion.
Niles was terrified of the possible repercussions when Julian began to talk to him, but at the same time, he hated to ignore Julian when he obviously did not know of the ban. He didn't want Julian to think it was some personal insult, and so, hushed and hurriedly, he tried to explain. "No, I'm not allowed to talk to you, they just said—"
His sentence was cut off abruptly when his head was suddenly yanked back sharply by the hair. He cried out in pain; no one had handled him that way since that horrifying experience with Donavan D'Aubigne, and as the dreaded memories flooded back, he lost his control for a moment, vocalizing his pain.
The Major, the one currently gripping his ponytail tightly in a fist, made a disapproving noise with his tongue and shook his head. "Now, Warrant Officer, I would have thought you would know better than to break a rule so soon after it was given to you, but I suppose you must want to be punished. Is that it?"
"No-no sir, it was a mistake, it was my fault—" Niles tried desperately to find some way to be somewhat dignified in his current position, but with his head yanked back, it was impossible.
The Major shook his head again. "I think we need to remind you of how you should behave towards your superiors." Out of the corner of his eye, Niles saw the Captain hand the Major a pair of scissors, which the Major opened. There was a cutting noise and Niles couldn't see what was going on, and then, suddenly, his head was released and he fell forward. Turning his head around quickly to see what had happened, he realized that something was wrong; his balance was off, a weight was gone, and then he saw it: The Major was now sneering at him, scissors in one hand, a fistful of the majority of Niles' ponytail in the other hand.
In horror, Niles' hands went immediately to the back of his head, but sure enough, it was all gone. His hair, which had, only moments ago, reached down to his waist, was now barely shoulder length, ends all cropped unevenly and carelessly. He felt tears coming to his eyes as the Major discarded the hair into a wastepaper basket, set the scissors aside, and brushed his hands together. "Maybe now that you have a reminder, you'll heed our orders."
Dragomir had stood up so suddenly that he’d knocked over his chair when realized just what the Major planned to do with the pair of scissors. Of course, even if Dragomir had thought he could do something without making the whole situation even worse, he wouldn’t have had time before the damage was done. He watched as the Major dropped the hair into the wastepaper basket and felt his stomach lurch and his temper flare. They’d gone too far that time; Niles looked devastated, and his hair… Dragomir had always admired how pristine Niles kept his ponytail, and he could hardly imagine what it would be like now that so much of it was gone. Dragomir’s heart went out to Niles, and he wished desperately that he could console him right then and there…or maybe after he’d beaten the Major into the floor with his crutch. Shaking slightly with pent-up rage, Dragomir righted his chair and sat back down slowly. The worst thing he could do now would be to make things worse by making a scene, so he relented and sat unmoving at his desk, staring blankly at a wall.
Julian eyed the thick bunch of gold that had been so carelessly dropped into the trashcan and vowed to retrieve some of it later. Taking a breath, he refocused himself and looked indignantly at the Captain and the Major, deliberating how to handle the situation. First and foremost, this was a severe offence. Niles obviously took great pride in his beautiful hair, and to remove it all so carelessly was a terrible affront; the offending officers had to be punished, and for the sake of Niles’s dignity, Julian would break his vow to stay on good terms with his superiors and something drastic. “How dare you,” he said coolly, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll see to it that something is done about this injustice.” With a final and almost desperate glance to Niles, Julian turned on his heel and returned to his desk, immediately withdrawing another piece of paper and beginning a second letter, this time, an official complaint addressed to General Rousseau.
Niles wasn't sure whether to be touched or worried that Julian was trying to stand up for him, but he didn’t have much time to think about it, because almost instantly, the Colonel, and Major, and the Captain all burst into laughter.
"You go ahead and try," the Colonel sniggered, shaking his head and walking away.
"Ooh, let's see if you can mar our perfect track record!" the Major and Captain chorused together, laughing identically.
Niles, disheartened, returned to his work. The situation really was hopeless, and there was nothing that could be done. The best thing for him to do was to avoid punishment, and that meant lying low. Ignoring Julian, Dragomir, everything else, he stared at his papers and nothing else.
Corinne was feeling stressed. Not only was she dealing with completely new people coming in and taking over her command and taking care of all new plans, her men were being harassed and punished for absolutely no reason. However, there was nothing for her to do but try to ignore it, and, as horrible as that made her feel, she was so far doing a fairly good job. However, when Colonel Lawley approached her, she grudgingly was drawn from behind her curtain of false apathy.
"Hello, Lt. Colonel." He seemed to be imbuing his voice with a charming quality, as it was dripping with rather saccharine suavity.
"Yes, sir?" Corinne, however, refused to be anything but business. She had a bad feeling about this.
He smiled. "Really, Lt. Colonel, you needn't be so formal. Please, call me Ernest."
Corinne bit her tongue and held back her sarcasm. "I feel that, in a work setting, that might be inappropriate, sir."
He nodded. "Ah, of course, of course. But I'd like to make a request of you that is entirely unrelated to work. Would you permit me?"
Corinne desperately wanted to say "no." "Of course, sir."
His smile returned, stronger, more masculine and arrogant. It made Corinne want to strangle him. "I'd like to request that you join me for dinner. I would be honored by your presence."
Shit. She really ought to get another ring. Instead, she took a deep breath and put on a facade of a smile. "I'm sorry, sir, but I have other obligations. I'm flattered, however, by your invitation."
As he walked away, Corinne got the sinking feeling that she hadn't seen the last of that subject.