Julian fidgeted incessantly; where was his pride? His dignity? He knew that those commodities were the price he’d sworn to pay for Niles’s happiness. Julian realized that in order to save low class scum, he’d have to deal with all manner of lowlife, but prostitutes had never crossed his mind, and he’d never in a million years thought he’d be waiting for Niles in his parlor so that they could go together to visit a large group of the “ladies of the night” that the military had under protection. The best Julian could do to keep from too much self-hatred was to keep assuring himself that their intentions were perfectly innocent and that neither he nor Niles, surely, had any interest in such baser pursuits as that of the flesh and a loveless lust that such fallen women represented. Soon Niles would be ready, they’d leave together…and together they’d enter the unfortunate estate building that the military had absorbed after the death of its original owner where the formerly Berceuse Malheureuse-employed prostitutes now resided, and Julian would be brave.
Niles couldn't make his hair lie flat. A servant had arrived at his door ten minutes ago to inform him that Julian was waiting for him, but he couldn't go out until he was ready, and, flustered for time and because of today's errands, he couldn't make his hair lie flat. Every time he tried to brush it, to smooth it, his arms just felt so weak, and he couldn't make it work out. Finally, after fifteen minutes of trying, he gave up, flushed and embarrassed, and left his room, venturing downstairs and to the parlour, where he found Julian waiting for him. "Sorry to have kept you," he apologized hurriedly, "And sorry for my appearance...I haven't been feeling well." He smoothed his clothes unconsciously, flustering. "Are you ready to go, then?"
“Yes-yes, of course,” Julian said quickly, squirming slightly, embarrassed, before moving to open the door for Niles before a servant could do it for him. Julian looked Niles over discreetly, worrying about not only his health but his overall state. He looked unwell in every sense of the term, and to Julian, Niles’s unkempt hair was a very bad sign. Something had to be done quickly to reunite Niles and Dragomir; they were both beginning to fall apart, Niles perhaps even more so, and it broke Julian’s heart. At least, no matter how deplorable their activities, they were doing something today, something that Julian was quite certain would further their cause.
Julian walked slowly with Niles to his automobile and got the door for him, worrying about how seemingly fragile Niles had become. Once Niles was seated comfortably, Julian made his way around the automobile to his own seat, started the engine, and headed for the location. “I made all the appropriate plans and reservations with the military and the guards, so they know we’re coming and what we’re up to…” Julian blushed at the potentially illicit sounding phrase he’d so unthinkingly chosen, and looked fixedly at the road. “I-I also prepared a questionnaire…so we can keep on track.” Julian was determined to keep the whole meeting very strictly business-like, and he smiled slightly at Niles, still embarrassed. “Do you have anything you’d like to ask them in particular?” Julian was beginning to worry about how the prostitutes might respond to their interview, but he continued to be even more worried about how he himself might inadvertently respond to them. Again, he tried to keep his mind from extraneous circumstances, and just looking at Niles in his current condition, Julian knew, was enough to inspire him to any task.
Niles shook his head. "I-I don't really know what happened...I wasn't there, after all...so I'm really counting on you." He looked over to Julian. "If you don't mind. Though...maybe, if I think of something, could I ask it at some point, when it's not inconvenient?" As they pulled into the drive of a slightly run-down estate that now belonged to the military, Niles began to feel a little nervous. Julian was acting jumpy, and he didn't know what to expect. He allowed Julian to help him out of the automobile, and, taking a deep breath, looked up at Julian. "I guess...we should go in, then...?"
“Y-Yes.” Julian gulped, smiling in a futile attempt to not appear worried or nervous. He lead the way steadily to the door, clutching his questionnaire tightly to his chest, stopping in front of the guard who stood blocking the door. He straightened up and cleared his throat, addressing the guard formally, “I’m Captain Julian Kaiser, and this is Warrant Officer Niles Christian. We made an appointment…?” Julian trailed, hopping the guard had been informed by a superior.
The guard looked at them skeptically, raising a brow in apparent amusement as he stepped aside. “Yes sir. You have all the time you need. Just keep in mind that you will be under surveillance.” Julian nodded, blushing with out thinking, and moved quickly to the door, knocking brusquely before pushing it open and hurrying inside with Niles behind him.
The building was old and dilapidated; the furniture outdated, and many of the canvases were missing from the frames that lined the entrance hall. A few of the windows were boarded up, and light that came through those that weren’t was muted by heavy curtains, faded with age. The smell was distinctly that of must, but thick-smelling incense also wafted through the building in a poor attempt to cover up the stench of rotting wood and old furniture. Still, the building had a rather comfortable cozy sort of feel, and Julian unconsciously relaxed. The warm light of an oil lamp could just be made out beneath a shut door to their left, and Julian decided that would be the best place to start.
He led the way to the door, and knocking again, pushed it open gently, peering inside. Almost immediately, a fairly young woman jumped to her feet and pulled the door the rest of the way open, ushering in the both of them.
“Welcome!” she said enthusiastically. “The guards told us you’d be coming to see us, so all of us are here.” She smiled playfully and tugged Julian by the arm, pulling him into an armchair and wasting no time in draping herself over him in a manner all too friendly for Julian to take. “We’ve been so lonely!” she said, batting her eyelashes and running her hand over Julian’s cheek.
“E-excuse me,” he blustered, blushing furiously as three of the eight women in the room got up to attend to Niles, “we-we’re here very strictly for business!” Julian squeaked quickly, squirming away from the woman. “We have questions!” He waved the questionnaire frantically and tried to get to his feet, to no avail.
Niles blinked, blushing slightly as he was lead to another chair beside Julian, a woman hanging on each arm and another slightly behind. "Come on, relax!" they urged, and Niles instinctively tensed, uncomfortable with the way they were touching him. He glanced to Julian, who didn't seem to be faring much better, then looked around the room to see who they were dealing with, trying to ignore the women sitting on both arms of his chair, playing with his hair and fingering his collar.
There appeared to be eight women in the room, though three would be more easily categorized as girls; they couldn't be older than fourteen. Two were pale, with light hair and eyes, and the third slightly darker, probably from Hesparia, with brown hair and eyes. The remaining five women were similar, with fairly pale skin, a range of hair and eye colours, and marks to show the abuse they had endured throughout the years. They all wore tightly-fitted bodices, with lace-fronts, off the shoulders. It was rather risqué, and made Niles fidget and blush. In addition to the women, however, Niles was surprised to see two boys, seated together off to the side. Both appeared to be younger than sixteen, though one seemed younger than the other, around thirteen. The younger was darker, and Niles assumed he must be from the east, because he looked similar to the Hirleas, with grey eyes and brown hair, but the older was pale, with platinum blonde hair and ice blue eyes. They, similar to the women, wore tight fitting clothes, and, Niles noted with added agitation, nothing under their vests.
After taking all of this in, Niles looked back to Julian, hoping he had made some progress. The women who were sitting around him had calmed slightly, though they were still fingering his hair and clothes, and Niles hoped they'd be able to start soon, so that they could leave soon.
Julian gulped, having given up his struggle, and glanced around the room hurriedly, trying to compose himself enough to begin asking questions. He was just about to start when he noticed the two boys and his breath caught in his throat. He supposed that when he’d been with Dragomir during that awful mission he’d seen the two, but it was only now that he really was able to look them over. Both were attractive, Julian noted to his horror, especially the one that looked almost like Niles. But he couldn’t think about that now! Not ever, in fact, because Julian was devoted to Niles, and really, the boy didn’t look anything like him at all. His eyes were too dark…and things. Aside from that, his companion, the younger boy, looked distinctly like a miniature version of Dragomir, and that put him off completely. Julian shook his head and forced himself to look at his captor, which was an unfortunately stupid thing to do. His eyes, as the eyes of any in his situation, he tried to excuse himself, were want to do, wandered to her ample cleavage, and noticing his interest, she moved onto his lap with a grin.
Julian squirmed beneath her and pushed the woman off of him, taking advantage of her momentary surprise to jump to his feet. “I have questions!” he said again frantically. “Did any of you know Helene LeRoy?” he asked quickly, backing away and hoping they’d leave him alone.
The girl who had been sitting on Julian whimpered dramatically. "Oh, poor Helene! Goodness gracious, the poor thing! I can't believe such a horrible thing could happen to her, such a sweet girl. She never did anything wrong, and this is what she got for helping the military." There was a general murmur of agreement; multiple women made similar comments. One of the younger ones stepped forward to say that Helene had been her friend, on the verge of tears, and Niles was freed of two of his captors, who went to comfort her. Niles noticed that the younger of the boys had also begun to cry, and the older and another one of the women were trying to comfort him.
The woman who had been on Julian continued. "Why are you asking about Helene? Are you going to get her killer?" She seemed indignant, and Niles had the sinking feeling she blamed them, or at least the military. Even if they were prostitutes, he felt bad for them, and he didn't want them to hate he and Julian.
“Umm, no…” Julian said slowly, looking down at his feet and feeling slightly guilty. They had every right to blame the military for her death, and he wished there were something he could do for them to make up for it, but he didn’t think there was anything that could be done to avenge Helene’s death, not until they knew who had really turned her in, that was. He looked up slowly at the crying boy and bit his lip. He knew that simply being honest was the best thing to do in such a situation, and so slowly, he took a breath and explained Dragomir’s situation. “We…we have to get him out, or else he’ll be executed. I know it was the Berceuse Malheureuse who turned in Helene. Did any of you here anything about that at all? Please, any information you have will be a lot of help to us! If we can find out who really turned her in, I promise the military will do everything it can to bring him to justice!”
A silence fell over the prostitutes for a moment, then the third one of the women who had been with Niles stood and walked towards Julian. "So you're doing this to help your friend...?" She seemed to think it over for a moment, then nodded. "Even if you can't get the one who killed Helene, someone innocent shouldn't go down for it." She turned to the one who had been with Julian, who appeared to be the most dominant, as if looking for her approval. She nodded, then looked back at her colleagues. "If anyone knows anything, you can let them know." However, no one seemed to be jumping forward, and Niles shifted uncomfortably, looking back to Julian.
“Please,” Julian said beseechingly, “I know it must be hard to talk about, but we really need your help. Even if all you can say is that you noticed a change in Helene’s behavior, it will help. Anything…” Julian wrung his hands and glanced around the room again. “And let me assure you that no harm will come to you if you testify. I’ll make sure of it,” he added quickly, realizing that they were all doubtful of the military and blamed it for many of their troubles.
There was a worried silence for a moment, then one of the smallest girls stepped forward. "I-I know that Helene was really scared before all the military people showed up. She-she was hiding from the owner...she was afraid he would hurt her. Does-does that help at all?" She trembled, looking around, and one of the others put a hand on her shoulder, telling her that it would be okay. Niles felt his heart wrench, he couldn't imagine, in the horrible circumstances, having one of your friends killed...it was just terrible.
Julian smiled gently, knowing that it probably took a lot of courage for the little girl to step forward. “Yes, thank you.” Julian nodded gently. “Anything to prove she knew what had happened…” Julian found himself unconsciously looking at the two boys, the younger of whom had stopped crying, and hoped, for no reason at all, that the blond one would have some piece of information, if only so that Julian could hear his voice. He forced himself to look away again, though, and turned back to the fearful worried faces staring grimly back at him. “Can any of you remember any unusual customers speaking to the manager before Helene started hiding?” Julian prompted again, hoping more would come forward if he continued to press for information. He extracted writing implements to record testimonies, just in case, and looked around with a soft, encouraging smile.
After another few moments of low murmuring, the blonde boy rose and took a step forward. "I know who it was," he said flatly, "But before I speak, I want to make sure that everyone will be protected." He glanced back to the other boy, then looked Julian in the eye. "I-I don't want what happened to Helene to happen to anyone else. Will you continue to keep us safe?" He looked nervous, but determined, and quite a few of the women seemed impressed with his courage.
Julian blushed when the blond boy spoke, and felt terribly guilty. All Julian could think about momentarily was the boy’s resemblance to Niles…and the fact that he could…perhaps be willing to…but his eyes were too dark. His voice was still a little high. He wasn’t Niles, and now absolutely was not the time to be thinking about him at all. Julian swallowed and nodded before speaking. “Yes, I’ll make sure that the military posts even more guards to protect all of you. If you have any information at all, please…no harm will come to you.”
The boy looked around, back at the other boy once more, then back to Julian, nodding. "All right." He took a deep breath. "I...I saw who came in talking about Helene. It was..." he hesitated again, seeming to gather himself before continuing. "It was Donavan D'Aubigne. I recognized him because he's been there before once and the owner made a big deal. He came in and pulled the owner aside, and I didn't hear what they were talking about, but I did hear him mention Helene's name. I thought he wanted her, but when they stopped talking, he took Dorin instead." He glanced at the boy again, and Niles noticed his fists clench. "I remember thinking it was strange, because most of the time, if they come in asking for a girl and the one they want isn't available...well, they usually take another girl. But to ask about a girl and then take Dorin, when there were other girls available...it seemed strange to me." He bit his lip. "That... that should be helpful, right?"
“Yes, that helps a lot…Thank you.” Julian said slowly, disgust at the very idea of Donavan D’Aubigne and the poor younger boy churning his stomach. He was surprised, however, that someone like D’Aubigne would trouble himself with a rat of such seeming insignificance. Something didn’t add up, but Julian believed the boy’s words. “Would you…would you be willing to testify and swear to that before a court?” Julian asked carefully.
Niles was still getting over being distressed by the idea of Donavan D'Aubigne sleeping with the boy who looked like Dragomir when the older boy spoke again. "Yes," he replied steadily. "So long as you guarantee our protection, I will testify in court." Niles was amazed by his courage, and wished that there was something he could do for all of these poor people. But at least now they were under military protection, and the Berceuse Malheureuse wouldn't hurt them. And above all, he was extremely glad that they had another witness to prove Dragomir innocent.
“Thank you.” Julian breathed a sigh of relief. “Your testimony will really help our case.” Julian smiled, thinking absently to himself that with the boy’s agreement, he would be guaranteed to see him a lot more in the upcoming future. Then, just to make sure, Julian asked quickly, “If the court asked you to identify D’Aubigne’s photograph in a spread, do you think you could do it all right?” Julian bit his lip nervously. He was certain that Colonel Lawley would do all he could to shake whatever defense Julian could come up with, and the boy’s ability to identify Donavan D’Aubigne was necessary for his statement to be believed.
The boy nodded assuredly. "I saw him in good lighting, at least for a few minutes, and he'd been there once before. I know what he looks like," he stated. Julian seemed satisfied, and, to Niles' surprise, the boy, who had worn a serious expression the entire time, melted into a small smile. "I'm glad I can help you help your friend... Helping others is really important, especially if it's someone you care about." He paused a moment, moving back into his serious expression, then asked hesitantly, "Is...there anything else...?"
Julian was touched by the boy’s caring and innocence, and his smile was absolutely lovely. Julian rationalized, however, that it was particularly stirring only because it had been so long since Niles had been well enough to smile, and Julian missed the tenderness of the expression. “No…I think that’s everything.” Julian gulped. He had something he wanted to say, but he didn’t know if he should say it…well, he knew he shouldn’t, but he did anyway. “I-I could meet with you sometime…before the trial…to help you work things out?” He smiled, but internally cursed himself for making such a suggestion. It was not a good idea for him to meet the blond boy alone at all. “And,” Julian added stupidly, scolding himself again for not asking sooner, “What’s your name?”
The boy blinked, and Niles was surprised that it seemed like he wasn't used to being asked his name. Then again, he supposed, the Berceuse Malheureuse were horrible people, and...he didn't like to think about it, so he paid attention to the blonde boy. "I'm Nicephore Colville. And I think I would feel better about it, if you wouldn't mind, if I could meet with you before the trial, sir." He hesitated a moment. "May we know your names, before you go?"
Niles blinked, realizing they hadn't introduced themselves at all. However, he felt silly to speak now, not having said anything at all the whole time, and so he looked to Julian, waiting for his response.
“Oh!” Julian stammered, only just realizing his mistake. “I’m so sorry, this is Warrant Officer Niles Christian, and I’m Captain Julian Kaiser.” He smiled apologetically, putting away his papers and notes. “It’ll be good to meet with just you,” he added embarrassedly. “I hope I can put you at ease before the trial.”
Nicephore nodded. "Thank you, sir," he replied. "I'm glad I can help." He took a step back to where he had been, and Niles noticed him take the younger boy's hand again. He glanced back to Julian, who appeared to be getting ready to go, and so he rose, too.
"Thank you very much," Niles ventured, truly grateful for their help. "Your information has been very helpful." He offered a smile, making his way to Julian's side.
Julian watched Nicephore take the younger boy’s hand into his own delighting in the sweetness of the gesture, something so like Niles, and smiled happily. He really was looking forward to meeting the boy again, more than he should have been, and he admired Nicephore’s tremendous strength. Like Niles, the boy had endured a lot, and Julian, who knew his own life had been incredibly sheltered, was filled with a certain amount of awe when he thought about all that the two lovely blond boys he was so enamored with had overcome. “Yes, thank you,” Julian repeated, speaking at last. “I’ll contact you and schedule a meeting shortly.” With a final smile to the women and two boys, he looked down at Niles with an expression of confidence. Things were finally beginning to go well, and Julian breathed a sigh of relief as the left the building and headed back to his automobile. With this boy’s help, they could surely get Dragomir out, and Niles would at last return to his former cheerful self. At least then, Julian was certain, this other boy would truly pale in comparison, and Julian wouldn’t have to worry about being too distracted from his true love by Nicephore.
Perceval sat impatiently at his vanity, tapping his foot as his servants brushed his hair for the final time. Each time one of them pulled a bit too hard, he shot them a nasty look, and they cowered away. He knew they’d work faster if they weren’t afraid for their jobs, but he couldn’t afford to allow them to be sloppy. Glancing up at the clock atop the mantel, he knew he still had a few minutes before Algernon arrived, and he wanted to make the best of them. He extracted a little container of perfume from a drawer, and applied a tiny amount so that the aroma was just barely perceivable. Then, he stood abruptly without giving his servants any warning, yelling at them all for pulling his hair, even though he’d known it would happen. He sent them scurrying away so that he could finish fixing his hair himself, and spend his last half hour before Algernon’s arrival looking himself over in the mirror. When Perceval at last felt that he was ready for the occasion, he made his way grandly down the stairs, strutting to a sitting room to await Algernon’s arrival.
As Algernon approached Perceval's home, he couldn't help but feel a little excited. For one, he was anxious to see Perceval again in his new outfit; though he had gotten his little preview, he was sure that, once he was done up and fixed the way Algernon knew he spent hours doing, he would look even more gorgeous. On top of that, he was taking Perceval to a royal ball, and that was always an occasion. Still, he was restrained, and drove slowly up the drive, letting a servant take the car once he was adjacent to the door.
When he knocked, Perceval's butler answered, and Algernon smiled charismatically. "Good evening. Is Perceval available?" The butler escorted him inside and asked him to please wait in the front parlour while he went to see if his master was indeed decent. Algernon waited patiently, but he was thoroughly anticipating Perceval's arrival, and couldn't keep a smirk from his face as he strummed his fingers on the arm of the sofa in which he sat idly.
Perceval stood quickly as the door opened, hardly waiting for the butler to tell him that Algernon had arrived and which parlor he was in. Perceval hurried through the hall, stopping in front of the parlor door to check himself over one last time. He straightened his hair, arranging it over his shoulders, and smoothed his knickers, flattening the creases that resulted from sitting. Smiling brightly, he opened the door at last and stepped inside, walking gracefully over to Algernon. “Good evening, sir.” Perceval bowed sweepingly before straightening to admire Algernon’s dress uniform. “I hope you haven’t waited too long.”
"Not long at all, Percy." Algernon rose with a smirk, taking Perceval's hand and kissing it respectably before looking him over. The dress uniform, as always, suited him perfectly, the green matching his eyes especially well, and Algernon had to consciously fight the urge to ruin it all right then and there. Instead, he took a step closer, pressing a kiss to his lips. "Good evening to you, too," he whispered against Perceval's lips before carefully moving aside his collar to suck at his neck, where the mark would be just out of sight. Satisfied, he pulled back, still smirking broadly. "Well, then, are you ready to go? I can't imagine you could possibly be more perfect than you look now."
Perceval shivered with delight, trusting Algernon not to leave any noticeable marks, but almost wishing that he’d tear him to pieces and treat him to the exquisite sensations of pain mingled with pleasure. He let his eyes flutter open as Algernon pulled away, nodding in response to the question. Then, at the compliment, a fresh smile lit his features and he bubbled with the delight of praise. “Thank you, sir,” Perceval said musically. “Yes, I’m quite ready, if you are.”
"Excellent," Algernon replied, proffering his arm, and when Perceval had taken it, he led him outside to the waiting automobile. After opening the passenger door for Perceval, he went to the driver's side himself and pulled away, heading towards the royal palace, unable to help smirking with anticipation of attending another party, which he knew would please Perceval.
Perceval bobbed slightly with anticipation of the grandeur of the party as they pulled up to the grand entrance, and he smiled broadly when Algernon opened the door for him, again offering his arm. They left the valet with the automobile and followed a servant through a long hall, lit by a dozen crystal chandeliers, all of which were newly renovated for the new electric lights, to a decadent waiting room. The throne room sprawled elegantly just beyond the two ornate doors, behind which the assembled guest were to queue. When the servant organizing the line caught sight of Algernon, he bowed low to the ground and ushered them to the place of honor, the first spot in line. Perceval sneered haughtily at the other guests, holding tight to Algernon’s arm and exercising all the privileges of superiority that came with being on the arm of the General Commandant. The servant called names, which went on for a good ten minutes, during which time Perceval endeavored to primp some more, before at last the doors were opened and they were led before the Queen.
As they were led into the elegantly and lavishly decorated ballroom, Algernon took in all the ostentatious efforts put into the ball with a small smirk. Alice had done well, certainly people would be talking in the near future, and the Queen would continue to get a bad name...but for now, he knew he had to be humble, and so he managed to wipe it from his face, instead smiling reverently (a look he had practiced and perfected long ago) as he and Perceval were led to the throne. "Your Majesty," he addressed, bowing low before rising to smile at the girl who now occupied the throne. She blushed and smiled back, and Algernon noticed with vague interest the other girl he had met, the double, standing close behind her throne. With another polite nod, he and Perceval were then led away, and Algernon's smirk slid back onto his face. "What do you think so far, Percy?"
Perceval smirked back with supreme satisfaction. While he hated the abhorrent Alice Johnston with every fiber of his being, he had to concede that she had done quite well in inspiring the Queen to throw such a lavish party. While he was looking forward to seeing the Queen fall from the people's graces, at the moment, he was more concerned with just how fabulous the party was shaping up to be. Judging by the queen's extravagant decorations and furnishings, the ball was going to be fantastic. What mattered to Perceval was that he got to enjoy all the fineries of life; he cared little for the people that would suffer as a result of the indulgence. "I think she's done a very good job of wasting an awful lot of money," Perceval said deviously under his breath, careful to make sure that no one else could hear.
"Quite an astute observation, Percy," Algernon murmured back, his smirk broadening. "But I do so hope you'll be able to enjoy yourself, besides?" Finding a niche in the crowd off to the side, Algernon left Perceval for a moment to go get champagne, returning with two expensive and sparkling delicate glasses, handing one to Perceval before taking a sip himself. "This is quite extraordinary..." he commented blandly, admiring the expensive, high-quality stuff. "I do wish I wouldn't have to talk to so many people...being in power does have some downsides..." His complaint, he knew, was probably a little obnoxious, but that was exactly how he felt at the moment, looking over all of the people of importance with whom he would have to make small talk. "I wish I could spend the whole time with you, Percy..."
Perceval smiled back, touched, and sighed sadly. He enjoyed small talk, and especially gossip, but he was most interested in observing all of the atrocious nobility and counting each of their many faults. He habitually composed a mental list of everything he found wrong with someone in a place of high regard and used it to strengthen his admiration for Algernon, who, of course, had no faults and deserved so much more than the noble pigs who were simply born in to their paces of status. Still, even more than critiquing and mentally dissecting nobility, Perceval longed to be solely with Algernon. It was so rare that the two of them could enjoy a party together, uninterrupted, and the very thought of it made his heart sick with longing. But, he would endure. Perceval would strive to make sure that he positively glowed on Algernon's arm; after all, he understood that functions like these were integral to the plan.
"Yes," Perceval sighed again, resting his head on Algernon's shoulder briefly to show his sentiments, "but I suppose business is business..." Perceval hoped they could find a moment to steal away from the party, a moment for just the two of them to share, and knew the thought of even the slim possibility would allow him to persevere. In the meantime, however, they had business to attend. Straightening, Perceval plastered his most dazzling fake smile across his lips and gestured to Algernon that the Queen was approaching.
Cecile made her way across the ballroom, greeting guests every so often, with Lucette not far behind. Though it was her duty to meet and greet all her guests, she was really trying her hardest to get to the General Commandant. After seeing him first in the excessively long line of guests, she had been impatient to get to talk to the handsome, charming military man who, she was sure, would be just as pleased to see her. She looked around her anxiously, but in the massive crowds, she couldn't spot him.
Finally, she caught sight of General Mauvais and his companion talking off to the side, and smiled to herself. It was just like him not to draw too much attention to himself, and, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Lucette was still tagging along, she hurried across to the room to get to him.
Algernon looked up just in time to see the Queen and her companion making their way towards he and Perceval, and he moved away from Perceval, smiling charmingly. "Your majesty," he greeted, bowing elegantly and kissing her hand. When he rose, he stepped aside, presenting Perceval. "May I introduce my subordinate and companion for the evening, Brigadier General Perceval Rousseau." Nodding to the other woman beside the Queen, he turned back to her. "It's such a pleasure to speak with you again. May I have the honour of your companion's name? I believe we've met before...?"
Lucette followed the Queen with a small smile over to where the General Commandant stood, waiting silently to be introduced before speaking. When the Commandant inquired, however, and Cecile stepped aside graciously to present her, Lucette took a timid step forward and curtsied deeply. “I do believe we have…My name is Lucette Merril. It’s a pleasure to meet you again, sir,” she said softly as she straightened, moving back to stand very close to Cecile and smiling shyly at the Commandant’s companion.
Algernon bowed to her, too, though not as extravagantly, and kissed the similar hand before taking a step back. "The pleasure is mine," he assured with a smile.
Cecile, meanwhile, curtsied to General Rousseau politely, offering him a pleasant smile. He seemed to be nice enough, and she greeted him with a cheerful, "It's nice to meet you," before turning back to the commandant with a bat of her eyelashes. "I so hope you and General Rousseau are enjoying the party, General Mauvais?"
"Oh yes, quite," Algernon replied. "Everything is quite extraordinary, Your Highness, I must commend you."
Cecile giggled. "Why, thank you, Commandant!"
Perceval smiled, tightlipped, as he clamped his jaw shut. Already, he found the royal brat to be very obnoxious, and found little reason why anyone should have any reason to respect her at all. He hated the royal family, and in meeting her highness in person, he was reminded why. How childish she was; did she not realize she deserved nothing she owned? She had no right to rule, and her seeming infatuating with Algernon—ha! She knew nothing. Perceval was seething, but he smiled all the brighter. This was important to Algernon, and Perceval could surely tolerate it with the expectations of the unpleasant child’s imminent death. “Yes, it really is something,” Perceval commented awedly, when he felt he could speak evenly. “You have exquisite taste, Your Majesty.” Perceval smiled, inclining his head in false deference.
Lucette watched the conversation proceed silently. It wasn’t her place to get involved; she was meant only to observe. However, she did not like what she saw. It seemed to her that neither of the two men was being entirely honest…and she wished that the Commandant at least, for the Queen’s sake, would be open with her. Cecile was, from what she could tell, very interested in him, after all, and Lucette wanted nothing more than for everything to go well for her.
Algernon could tell Perceval was agitated, and he really did have every right to be, and Algernon made a mental note to make sure to make up for it that evening. For the time being, however, he had to keep in the Queen's good graces, and so he smiled at her. "Your Majesty, might I have the honour of a dance with you this fine evening?"
Cecile blushed. "Oh, of course, Commandant, I'd be delighted!"
Algernon fought back a smirk. "Lovely."
Lucette smiled, delighted for her Queen, and grateful for the Commandant’s graciousness. It would be lovely to see her majesty dance with someone so charming, Lucette thought happily, scolding herself for being so mistrustful.
Perceval fought back a grimace upon hearing Algernon’s offer. Though he supposed it was necessary, he hated the idea of it, and didn’t think he could bring himself to say anything without betraying his loathing. Clamping his moth shut, Perceval made sure his false smile was believable and tried to look as though he were happy for the two.
"Wonderful... then, Your Majesty, I'll be meeting you later...don't forget, you promised me a dance." He winked, pretending as if he thought she'd forget. "Well, then, until later, Your Highness, and I highly anticipate it."
Cecile curtsied again, barely able to conceal her excitement. "I won't forget, General, Mauvais!" And, with a final giggle, she turned with Lucette to go. When they had made it far enough out of earshot, she turned to her double, nearly squealing. "Oh my goodness, Lucette! He asked me to dance! Can you believe it? I'm so excited! Can you believe it? Does my hair look all right?" She fingered her long, chocolate curls, then her hands moved to her neck, to find the necklace he had given her. She had had a new gown made around it to match, an ice-blue gown with white lace and trim, and an even paler blue inset and ribbons. "Does my necklace look okay? Oh my god, Lucette!"
Lucette nodded vigorously, excitement bubbling within her as well. She had trained herself always to react in the same manner as her Queen, and this situation was no exception. She felt Cecile’s giddy excitement as her own, and clasped Cecile’s hands in hers. “You look beautiful, My Lady,” Lucette smiled brightly, “no wonder he wants a dance with you!” Lucette straightened one of the little light blue bows that hardly required attention, just to feel like she was doing something to help her majesty. “I’m sure he noticed the necklace, too, highness! It looks so perfect on you, after all, and the dress, too. He must be very impressed.”
"You think so?" Cecile squealed. "I'm so glad! Oh, Lucette, can you believe it? I can't wait!" She did a twirl around herself before taking a deep breath and smiled a little more calmly. "All right, we have to go around and talk to people, all right..." She took another breath, then nodded, "All right, let's go."
They wandered around for a while, talking to various people, making small talk until Cecile felt like it must have been hours since she had had the pleasure of talking to someone interesting like the Commandant. But just then, she recognized a face, and hurried across the ballroom. "Alice!"
"Your Highness!" Alice recognized, putting on a fake smile and greeting the Queen. "What a wonderful party!" She had not failed to notice the way Cecile had talked to Algernon, and she was practically writhing inside with jealousy. Still, it was her job to be here, and her job to be pleasant, and so she was. "It's such a pleasure to see you."
Alice didn’t look quite as happy to see the Queen as Cecile was to she her, but Lucette brushed it off. After all, surely Alice’s mood would improve upon hearing the good news—which Lucette would of course leave to her majesty to tell. “Good evening,” Lucette said shyly with a little wave. “It’s lovely to see you here tonight as well.” Usually Lucette tried not to be quite so upfront, but she felt that with Alice, with whom they’d enjoyed tea together countless times, it would only be polite that she said hello.
Alice smiled back. "How wonderful to see you in full heath again, Miss Lucette," she commented with a little nod before looking back to the Queen. "And I hope you're able to enjoy yourself at your own ball, Your Highness?" she asked with a little laugh, taking some delight in the fact that surely the Queen couldn't have spent too much time Algernon because of her duties.
Cecile nodded quickly. "Oh, yes! In fact..." she lowered her voice, high-pitched with giddiness, "the General Commandant asked me to dance! Isn't that exciting?" She giggled.
Alice nearly bit her tongue off. "Oh yes...how wonderful. I...see...well, I have others to go meet...excuse me, Your Highness..." She hurried away, practically sick with envy. How dare that stuck up, spoiled bitch... But, soon, she'd have her revenge. Soon. She just had to wait it out.
Lucette frowned after Alice, wondering why she seemed so upset. She hadn’t had nearly the positive and assuring reaction Lucette had hoped she would, but then again, Alice always seemed a little contrived to Lucette, so perhaps it was to be expected. Smiling sweetly, Lucette turned back to Cecile to change the subject. “Perhaps we should go speak with the Duke, my lady?”
Perceval narrowed his eyes critically, surveying the ballroom floor with crossed arms and disdain. Already, they’d spoken to over a dozen important persons, and each of them failed to meet Perceval’s requirements for comportment, dress, etc., just as he’d expected. Some new money upstart had even been invited, and they’d been unfortunate enough to meet him while making their rounds. How he hated the bourgeois upstarts… Still, they had already talked to everyone important, and so their obligations were largely fulfilled. All that remained was Algernon’s dance with the Queen, to which Perceval was not looking forward. He’d take sloppily dressed, unmannered heathens any day. Sighing, Perceval uncrossed his arms and turned to Algernon. The Queen still appeared busy, and Perceval hopped Algernon would see fit to spend a few minutes with him to make up for the coming imposition.
Algernon was thoroughly sick of talking; he was tired of pretending to be interested, tired of listening, tired of sucking up. Still, it seemed as if the Queen was occupied, and so he wouldn't be required to fulfill his dancing obligation just yet. It seemed as if he would have a little time to spend with Percy before then. Quickly, taking Perceval's hand in his own, he set off towards a secluded side of the room, where most of the guests had vacated in favour of the champagne or the dance floor. Drawing Percy off to the corner, he smirked softly. "Would you mind terribly spending a little time with just me, Percy? I'd like to make it up to you later, but perhaps you'd indulge me a little now, before I'm dragged away again?"
“Oh no, not at all, sir. I’d be delighted,” Perceval smiled honestly, at last. He was relieved to be taken away from the irritating crowd and even more grateful for the few minutes alone with Algernon. He looked up adoringly into Algernon’s eyes, pouting slightly at the impending prospect of being left in favor of dancing with the Queen. He was quite certain that whatever Algernon had planed to make up for the dance would be quite fantastic, but Perceval was putting on all of his airs in the hopes that he could get a little taste for what was to come just to whet his appetite.
Glancing back to make sure they were quite out of sight behind an opened door, Algernon pulled Perceval a little farther into the corner. He had been planning on waiting until after the ball, but Perceval was making it just so difficult for him...And besides, he deserved a little something after such a long and boring time talking to useless individuals. His smirk broadening, he pulled Perceval into his arms, kissing him lightly on the lips before moving to nibble at his ear and jaw, though careful not to leave any easily visible marks. "Come now, Percy," he murmured, "Don't pout for me. I promise I'll make it all up to you, and you've given everyone else such a pretty smile...won't you smile for me, too?"
Perceval melted in Algernon’s arms, his wish granted, and tilted his head back with a little noise of delight. As Algernon spoke, Perceval looked up at him and smiled his best, most dazzling smile in gratitude. “I’d do anything for you,” Perceval purred under his breath. With Algernon’s word for what for what was to come, Perceval was sure he could make it now. While watching Algernon and the Queen out on the dance floor, Perceval knew he need only run his fingers over the skin Algernon’s lips had just graced to know that he himself was the lucky one—the one Algernon had made his own.