Algernon set his tea things aside and smiled charmingly to the red-haired woman across from him, standing and offering her a hand. "So, Ms. Johnston, are we clear with the tasks you are to carry out within the next month?" His voice was sugary, charismatic.
Alice giggled and accepted his hand, placing her small, pale one in his delicately and allowing him to help her to her feet. "Yes, sir," she assured with a bat of her eyelashes and a smile. "I assure you that Her Highness will have no idea that my suggestions, which I will put forth with an air of utmost honest and concern, will really be the start of her downfall."
Algernon nodded, still smiling. "Excellent. I know that I can count on you, Ms. Johnston." He desperately wished she'd just leave already.
"I'm so glad you feel that way, sir," Alice replied with another giggle. "Your trust won't be misplaced."
Algernon wished more urgently that she'd release his hand. He bowed slightly and kissed hers, as a sort of goodbye to urge her out the door. She didn't seem to take the hint.
Perceval straightened his uniform and fixed his hair, arranging it perfectly on his shoulders and around his face before extracting his pocket watch and watching anxiously as the secondhand ticked slowly around the face of the clock. For once, he had an appointment, and, as he’d arrived slightly too early to be polite, he waited, impatiently, for the appropriate few minutes of earliness before pressing open the door with a soft knock. Upon entering the office, he immediately perceived Algernon’s note of irritation at the abhorrent Warrant Officer’s apparent refusal to leave, and swelled perturbedly. “Good afternoon, Commandant.” Perceval said sweetly with a lavish bow. Under normal circumstances, he would have simply ignored the spiteful subordinates presences, but he was in a hurry to be rid of her. “Afternoon, Warrant Officer,” he said coldly, narrowing his eyes with disgust at her body language. “I hate to interrupt your little meeting, but I’m afraid I have an appointment with the Commandant.” He smiled tersely, hoping almost desperately that she’d be offended enough by his brusque tone to leave.
Alice scoffed, thoroughly offended that her precious time with the Commandant had been cut short. "I doubt that," she spat back, not even bothering to address him. "You're probably just trying to get rid of me." She shot him a glower.
Algernon hurried to cut her off. "Alas, I do have a meeting with General Rousseau, my dear Ms. Johnston, so, I must be bidding you adieu until next time," he said smoothly, taking a few steps towards the door. "Let me get the door for you, and I do so look forward to our next meeting."
Alice sighed, annoyed at having to leave but happy that the Commandant had not even acknowledged the General and continued to be so sweet to her. "Yes, of course, sir," she replied with a bouncy curtsy. "Until next time." She smiled back at him one last time before he shut the door behind her.
Algernon sighed with relief one the Warrant Officer was out the door. Making his way over to Perceval, he offered an apologetic smile. Taking Perceval's hand in his, he pressed a kiss to it before meeting his eyes. "I am sorry, Percy, I was trying to get rid of her before you arrived, but unfortunately..." he sighed again with exasperation at the thought, "she wouldn't allow it."
“It’s quite all right, sir,” Perceval said with a happy smile that did not match his previous mood at all. Algernon may have ignored him at first, but now that the woman was gone, and they were alone together, and Algernon’s lips had graced his skin, it didn’t matter to Perceval. All that mattered was Algernon. “Sir,” he cooed, “I have the information about the next move against the Berceuse Malheureuse that you requested…” Perceval felt slightly reluctant to push the issue of business so quickly, but he was hoping they could finish quickly so that there would be plenty of time left in their appointment for…other, more pleasurable pastimes.
"Ah, yes," Algernon said with a smile. "Do come sit down, Percy, and let's talk business. That is, after all, the reason for your appointment." He strode towards the sofa and sat, gesturing to the spot beside him for Perceval to sit, too. "How is the progress in our little combination effort? Have they any idea who the rat is?" He smirked, pleased, waiting for the true rat to come sit with him.
“They have a few theories, sir,” Perceval said slyly, taking a seat beside Algernon and feeling pleased, as always, with his own cunning. “Garnier’s men have devised a plan to root out the informant and their current suspects are really quite interesting.” Smirking, Perceval elaborated. “I’ve been able to pull some strings here and there, and I can assure you with confidence that this coming mission will provide considerable amusement, sir.” Perceval was of course referring to his newest plot to inflict suffering on Hirlea and Christian, and he was eager to hear Algernon’s approval.
Algernon smiled, pleased that things were going as planned. Wrapping an arm around Perceval, he pulled him closer beside him, stroking his hair rather possessively. "Wonderful," he replied softly, "Would a more detailed description too badly compromise the mission, or may I know, Percy?" He pressed a brief kiss to the top of Perceval's head, finding himself suddenly impatient to be amorous after having to deal with the grating Warrant Officer.
“Oh, sir, of course not,” Perceval said happily, closing his eyes as Algernon’s hands wound their way into his hair and leaning against the other happily. “That Hirlea is involved,” Perceval explained smugly, looking up at Algernon through his lashes. “He is their prime suspect…and in order to encourage that particular theory, I’ve…let slip certain hints and facts to my cousin.” Perceval was positive that Algernon would grasp immediately the implications of the Captain being jailed, and especially the devastating effect it would have on Christian, whose continued torture Perceval had, of late, made one of his top priorities.
Algernon smirked, having assumed generally what Perceval's plan would be before he explained. "Excellent, as always, Percy," he commended, caressing Perceval's face briefly before returning to his previous stroking. The thought of Christian being so tortured sent a shiver of delight down his spine, and he was both thoroughly pleased with the plan and with Perceval for having come up with it. "Did I ever tell you that you're absolutely perfect?"
Perceval’s smirk slid delicately into a soft smile, delighted to receive a compliment. “Yes, sir, but I hope that won’t discourage you from saying it again,” Perceval said flirtatiously, batting his eyelashes and hoping Algernon’s hand would grace his skin once more.
Algernon grinned, letting out a little laugh, and cupped Perceval's face in his hand, pulling him up. "I can't say no to you, can I?" he asked teasingly before leaning in and cutting off whatever reply Perceval might have had in a kiss. After some time, he pulled away, pleased at how flushed Perceval was, how quickly his breath was coming. Nibbling lightly on his ear, Algernon murmured, "You're absolutely perfect in every way, Percy. So perfect, in fact, that..." he trailed, nipping at Perceval's jaw, then neck. "I think it needs to be ruined." He smirked up at Perceval, awaiting his reaction.
Perceval moaned softly, tilting his head back to allow Algernon more access as he internally relished Algernon’s words with a shiver of anticipation. The little prickles of pain as Algernon worked his way over his skin caused Perceval’s heart to flutter and his loins to stir as he squirmed eagerly, willing Algernon to continue in the current vein.
As he kissed him on the lips again, Algernon dragged his nails along Perceval's cheek, drawing blood to the surface. Drawing away after a moment, he kissed Perceval lightly on the cheek before licking at the blood, sweet on his tongue. His fingers wandering to tug at Perceval's collar, he smirked. "As you wish."
The next day, Dragomir was reluctant to leave Niles at his desk so near to the Colonel, and lingered for as long as he possibly could, before at last retreating, as if defeated, to his desk with a final lingering look to Niles. He would be all right, Dragomir would see to it. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, Dragomir kept a vigilant, and yet secretive watch over Niles, noting each of the Colonel's moves in his vicinity and practically snarling to himself every time the man said or did anything in the least to Niles. Regardless of whether he was handing Niles papers or sending him on small errands, Dragomir made sure he was ready at any instant to spring to his feet and defend Niles if anything out of the ordinary occurred.
Luckily, both of them managed to stay out of trouble, and though Dragomir had practically been longing for a reason to all-out attack the Colonel, after lunch passed uneventfully, he realized how lucky they had been so far and stopped looking for trouble. Perhaps the Colonel would be more careful about his actions around Niles in an effort to smooth things over, even just a bit. It would never work, though. Dragomir, for one, would never forgive him.
Niles was concentrating hard on the forms he was filling out in order to avoid getting in trouble when he noticed the Colonel stand up and move to the front of the room. "If I could have everyone's attention, please," the officer announced, and the room grew silent as the Major and Captain moved beside him. When all commotion had stopped, he continued.
"I apologize, but due to the delicate nature of the situation, I have been unable to warn you of the upcoming Berceuse Malheureuse mission set to go into action tonight at 9:30. However, I will brief you now, and I am confident that you will be able to carry it out more than competently. We will be infiltrating a Berceuse Malheureuse establishment, a brothel, and our main objective is to collect the monetary records so as to prove that money has been laundered, and secondarily to capture and arrest personnel involved who have not been exterminated during our raid." He paused. "I will now address any precursory questions before giving out assignments."
As people began to ask questions, Niles felt his heart sink. He hated raids as it was, and now he was sure he'd be forcibly separated from Dragomir. It was a worst case scenario, and he didn't know what he was going to do without Dragomir there to protect him.
Dragomir was relieved to learn that the Lt. Colonel would be running the operation on the inside, and that the Colonel would be stationed just outside on in a nearby building from which he would monitor the situation, directing and giving orders as was necessary. The Lt. Colonel had much more experience than anyone from an investigations unit could possibly have acquired, and Dragomir was thoroughly grateful that he wouldn’t have to suffer following the Colonel’s direct orders.
As positive as it seemed at first, the situation took a turn for the worse when Dragomir learned that he and Captain Kaiser would be working together directly under the Lt. Colonel, each with small teams of men, to round up Berceuse Malheureuse for arrest and kill any violent opposition while simultaneously trying to help any civilians and the prostitutes escape.
Under normal circumstances, the mission would seem completely acceptable, as it fell into his area of expertise—kill or be killed—but something was missing. The names of the men in Dragomir’s company had already been listed, but Niles’s name still hadn’t been called! It was a nightmare, and Dragomir was almost in a state of panic. If they put Niles somewhere else, somewhere where Dragomir couldn’t get to him, where something could happen to him, Dragomir didn’t know what he’d do. He didn’t think he could carry out his mission unless he knew for certain that Niles was safe, and he kept hoping, praying desperately that there had been some mistake, that the Colonel would backtrack and make a correction, do something so that they could be together.
By the time the officer had finished reading off the list however, no correction had been made and Niles’s name had not yet been read. At last, after everything else had been laid out vaguely, the Colonel addressed the last remaining men, explaining that they would act as the backup, headed jointly by the officers Holtcombe. Dragomir drew a breath of relief after what had seemed like hours of breathless anxiety. At least if Niles was acting as backup, there would be a chance that he wouldn’t have to participate at all, and that would all depend on how well Dragomir, Julian, and the other officers on the inside managed. Dragomir set his jaw with determination; he would do everything in his power to make sure the mission went as smoothly as possible so that Niles would remain safe. He would do whatever it took.
Niles was relieved when he found he was assigned to a group that might not get sent in; without Dragomir, he knew the chances of him dying in such a situation were extremely high. Though he felt better at this revelation, he was still very unhappy at the idea of the mission at all, and he tried to cling to each moment that passed all too quickly. However, 9:30 came much sooner than he would have liked, and before he knew it, the office was being emptied and they were being put into positions.
Niles was stationed directly beside Captain Holtcombe, something he was rather unhappy about, and from his spot he watched as Dragomir's group was sent out to the location. His group would follow in little while, but still, just watching Dragomir's back disappear around the corner gave him a feeling of worry and almost of despair that he couldn't shake.
The lights were all still on when Dragomir, Julian, their companies, and the Lt. Colonel and her parities arrived at the brothel, and they approached slowly, cautiously, stationing the larger body in a nearby ally between the two buildings the military had cleared for the purpose of using as fallbacks. Dragomir looked up at the shop to his right where the Colonel and a small group of men would be stationed and gritted his teeth with resentment. Dragomir could practically feel Julian shaking beside him, and he wondered weather the Colonel had given the other Captain the assignment as punishment for what he’d seen. Dragomir looked from the building to Julian, and watched as he stiffened, glaring back at him. As much as Julian irritated him, Dragomir decided it was in his best interest to keep him alive. If the Colonel wanted him dead, than Dragomir would make sure he came out alive. And, most importantly, Julian was Niles’s friend, and for that reason, Dragomir felt it was his duty to protect the other officer.
The Lt. Colonel gave a signal, and Dragomir snapped to attention, nodding curtly in response. She motioned for a small party of men to make their way towards the door, but a signal from the building where the Colonel was stationed stopped her, and she rescinded the order with a wave of her hand. All eyes turned back to the street in front of the brothel where a solitary figure was making his way towards the target building. As he approached, no one dared move or speak, and they held their breath collectively as he approached the entrance directly in front of them. Then, all at once, they recognized the man a breathed a collective sigh. Second Lieutenant Pomeroy, it appeared, was providing a distraction, and while it was somewhat puzzling, they all determined that the new facet of the plan must be part of the Colonel’s scheme to keep facts from leaking to the Berceuse Malheureuse.
They watched pensively as the Lieutenant entered the building, and waited, not daring to move. Moments that seemed like hours passed, before the Colonel signaled again, this time, ordering them to hold their positions. The Lt. Colonel was quite obviously perturbed by all the seemingly on the fly modifications to the plan, and the group in general was anxious and completely on edge. Luckily, the night was warm, despite the darkness of the new moon, and they had enough cover of the night to hide undetected until daybreak, though Dragomir hopped it would not come to that.
Niles fidgeted anxiously from the spot a few blocks away and in an alley where he had been stationed. Things seemed to be changing every few moments, and he wasn't sure what was going on anymore. He was keenly aware, however, of the Captain close to his left and a little in the front, glancing back at him every so often. After they had been stationed in the alley, they had not moved in quite some time, and Niles couldn't help but worry about what was going on. Still, there was no way for him to ask, and so he was left to fidget, worried, in silence.
The minutes ticked on by, and still there was nothing, no word from the Colonel to mobilize, and no sign of Pomeroy. Dragomir got the distinct feeling that they were waiting for something, and his feeling was confirmed when all of the sudden, the lights of the small building went out and the entire block was plunged into complete darkness. A woman screamed, and it was obvious the power had been cut. The lights had gone off simultaneously and so abruptly that it had to have been planned; for a business that never slept, the loss of the lights caused a certain small amount of panic. The establishment had been warned, but even so, Dragomir nearly jumped when he heard a shot ring out, echoing in the street. There had not been time for the Lt. Colonel to send in any men, and the shot had obviously come from within the building. Candles lit from within, and a small, flickering and insubstantial light shone weakly over the street. The light was just enough for them to see the signal from the Colonel, and with a swift order, the Lt. Colonel had her men moving in formation towards the door with Dragomir and Julian lingering behind for the next order.
Before the Lt. Colonel had even reached the door, however the sounds of a scuffle became clearly audible, and the door to the business flew open as men from both sides carried their fight into the open night. The few Berceuse Malheureuse that had made the mistake of moving outside the building were quickly overrun and killed by the Lt. Colonel’s advancing troops, and Dragomir watched as she took one of their men by the collar and demanded an explanation. He explained hurriedly that he was in First Lieutenant Badeau’s party, and that they had gone around to the back on the Colonel’s orders. Lt. Colonel Delancy seemed furious that the Colonel had neglected to inform her of the other parties, but nevertheless, she dismissed the man and sent her troops inside, one by one, utilizing the cover of darkness to make a stealthy entrance.
As the sound of the din escalated, Dragomir caught sight of another group of military men advancing on the location and recognized Major Bontecou at its head. He watched carefully as they made their way around to a side entrance where they were admitted, presumably by Pomeroy. That made three separate parties, all of whom appeared not to have any idea what the others were doing. The whole tactic seemed flawed, but even that couldn’t stop Dragomir from itching to get in on the action. He had his own secret mission to carry out, after all; he had to get the key from Helene.
At last, the signal he’d been waiting for came, and they got the order to move into he building as well, which, judging by the gunshots, had quickly descended into complete chaos. Julian went ahead of him, and Dragomir could tell that he was somewhat bewildered and quite thoroughly frightened, and felt a little sorry for him. He and his men eased cautiously into the building, and it became evident that the first floor was largely cleared. Most of the fight, it seemed, had moved into the upper and lower stories.
The floor was littered with bodies, of both Berceuse Malheureuse and military personnel, and Dragomir had to watch his footing to avoid tripping over them. Julian was a pale sickly color, and Dragomir wasn’t surprised when he broke away from the rest of the group to wretch. The distinctive scent of death had already permeated the premises, and Dragomir was in a hurry to get things wrapped up. Then, from behind Julian he heard the sound of rapid footsteps approaching. A man was rushing towards them, sword drawn, with a mad look on his face. In the space of an instant, Dragomir drew his pistol and fired, adding one more body to the pile that already covered the floor. In a state of undeniable shellshock, Julian blinkingly wiped the gore from his face, and stared, stunned at Dragomir.
“Up or down?” Dragomir asked plainly, gesturing to the two staircases. Julian gulped and seemed unable to decide, so Dragomir chose for him. “You head downstairs.” But Julian had scarcely had to the time to register the command when a fresh wave of Berceuse Malheureuse men rushed through the open front door. They had apparently called in backup.
Niles heard, distantly, the sounds of fighting, and his stomach knotted. He wanted desperately to know what was going on, that Dragomir was all right, but he was stuck where he was, and there was nothing he could do. Meanwhile, beside him, the Captain was also fidgeting, but not seemingly with nervousness. He checked his pocket watch for the fourth time, fingering it boredly, and Niles overheard him mumbling and whining to himself. "Awwwww, what's going on? I'm so bored, why did stupid Lawley have to put Bastien so faaaaaaaar away?" He pouted seemingly to no one, and Niles was perplexed, realizing that, indeed, the Major was not with them. Looking around, he caught sight of another group a couple of blocks away, and was surprised to find that the backup was in two distinct groups. He didn't have much time to think on it, however, before other people in the group began grumbling too. Niles caught only snippets, things about the mission being disorganized and seemingly unplanned. He was now more worried than ever: what was going on and was Dragomir all right?
The numbers were not in their favor, but the door served as an effective bottleneck, and it was easy for them to staunch the initial surge of Berceuse Malheureuse. However, they began firing shots through the winds, and several of Dragomir and Julian’s men fell without warning. They started coming faster, and before long, they’d lost their advantage. Dragomir saw from his periphery that Julian had moved close behind him, apparently rather terrified. Dragomir was prepared to defend them both, however, and drew his sword, slashing at anyone who came too close in the extremely close-quartered situation. By the time they’d cleared the room, Julian and Dragomir were left collectively with five surviving men. Dragomir surveyed the carnage aloofly, turning to Julian, who’d received a small knife would, and was clutching at his side as though it were a life threatening injury. Dragomir smiled coldly, knowing he’d forget about it as soon as they were back in another fray, and reloaded his pistol, turning to the remainder of their men.
“I’m certain some fled, and I’m sure they’ll send more backup. You five stay here; try and get more munitions from the bodies, and stop the next wave of Berceuse Malheureuse from getting inside.” They nodded solemnly, recognizing that unless things could be tidied up quickly, the order was a death sentence. “Come with me.” Dragomir barked at Julian, taking hold of him by the, and forcing him to switch the hand with which he was holding his cut. “Don’t touch it. You’ll just get your hands sticky.” Dragomir added, leading Julian towards the stares. Numbly, Julian withdrew his hand and placed it on the hilt of his sword. Hopefully before the night was through, he’d learn to keep at the ready at all times.
“Where are we going?” Julian gulped softly at his heels as they made their way up the stairs. The noise from the scuffle above was growing louder by the step, and Julian’s arm was shaking in Dragomir’s grasp.
“We have to find someone, a girl.” Dragomir said sternly, coaxing Julian into silence. They reached the landing, and Dragomir lunged forward immediately, plunging his sword deep into the belly of a startled retreating member of the Berceuse Malheureuse. He kicked the man to get the body off of his sword, and flicked the blade clean, stepping over the dying man almost disdainfully. Julian moved so close to him that he could feel him shaking, and Dragomir looked back at him briefly, offering a small smile. He was doing well for his first time in such a situation; his aim was at least steady on a regular basis, and though his swordsmanship lacked finesse, Dragomir was glad to have company. While he was relieved Niles was not on the inside, at the same time, Dragomir longed desperately to be with him, to know that he was safe, and to be protecting him, rather than Julian. Still, he reminded himself, Julian was important to Niles, and it was his grudging duty to protect him for Niles’ sake.
The main second floor landing was utter chaos, but in the midst of it all, Dragomir was able to spot Lt. Colonel Delancy, fighting valiantly alongside a scattering of the remaining men. He was impressed by how well her group had been doing, because the odds seemed overwhelming. They were outnumbered two to one, and judging by the enormous build up of bodies around them, they’d already been fighting for some time, against a considerable amount of enemies. Dragomir certainly didn’t doubt his superior’s skill, but the whole scene seemed slightly unbelievable.
He didn’t have much time to reflect on the situation, however, before some of the main body of Berceuse Malheureuse broke off from the group and charged towards them. But before Dragomir could make any sort of move against them, two shoots sounded and two men fell, in quick succession. Whirling around, Dragomir searched for the wielder of the gun, panic rising in him as another man fell before reaching their position. He then came to the realization that the bullet trajectory was coming from roughly outside, and made the connection that the high-powered strikes and deadly accuracy would only be possible with specially situated rifles: they had snipers on their side.
Dragomir breathed a sigh of relief, but wondered why they had not been informed of the gunman’s locations prior to the start of the mission. In general, the military tended to avoid employing snipers, as the chances of friendly fire were increased so drastically. But in this location, in the middle of the city with plenty of places for gunmen to hide, it seemed a given that such tactics might come into play. Even so, the Colonel would certainly have to answer for a lot after everything was over.
Niles shifted anxiously. They still had not been called in, and he could hear the noises escalating. He was growing more and more terrified for Dragomir, but he was completely helpless. It seemed that the Captain could pick up on his nervousness, because, suddenly, he turned to Niles. "Hey, Christian, what's up?"
Niles was confused and more nervous than anything. "Y-yes, sir?"
"Did you hear that really loud bang?" The Captain leaned in, grinning at Niles, and Niles was taken aback. "W-what bang, sir?"
"The reaaaaaaaaaally big one!" the Captain said matter-of-factly.
"Y-yes, sir...?" Niles asked, worried about where this was going.
"I bet..." the Captain said thoughtfully, still grinning at Niles, "that a whole lot of people died! I'm sure glad no one I care about is in there, right?"
Niles swallowed, feeling tears threatening. "Yes...yes, sir," he answered miserably, feeling more worried than ever.