“Courts-Martial Hearing Number Seven-Hundred and Twenty-Eight, of the 17th of May.” General Perceval Rousseau read languidly from a lengthy scroll. He was acting as the President on a panel with three other officers overseeing a tribunal. He absolutely hated the beginning of a trial, in fact, he really cared only for the sentence and even then, mostly only for the carrying out of said sentence. He liked destroying people, especially if they had ever offended him, and as most people had at some point or another, he went to great lengths to make each sentence especially brutal whenever possible. He quivered with delight at the prospect of sending the obnoxious Hirlea to the death, and felt inspired to get through the really boring part. It wouldn’t be long now, and this time, he would have the opportunity to obliterate not one life, but two. Perceval could distinctly see the face of Niles Christian in the audience, and he knew that with Hirlea’s death, the idiot boy would become nothing more than an empty shell.
“Captain Dragomir Hirlea,” Perceval began again, pausing briefly to glare over the scroll at the accused, who sat cuffed and bound to a chair in the center of the room, “you stand charged with insubordination and treason—the relaying of information crucial to the success of the military’s proceedings to enemy forces; namely, the Berceuse Malheureuse.” Perceval paused momentarily, noting Hirlea’s disgusting appearance. It was quite possible that the man had only been allowed one or two showers since his arrest, and the filth and degradation of prison saturated his person. He was a disgusting sight to behold; his hair, which always made him look like a disgraceful hooligan, was completely untamed, and during the weeks of his imprisonment, thick stubble had grown, emphasizing his ugly, masculine chin. “By order of her Majesty the Queen, justice will be served and this hearing will now commence.” Perceval tapped the fine cherry desk with his gavel, which was perhaps his favorite duty as the President of a trial. Then, wasting no time, Perceval proceeded, “How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” Dragomir answered firmly.
“Do you deny all charges?” Perceval asked inquisitively. Things were never as easy as he would like.
“I do,” Dragomir said lowly, trying to shift in the handcuffs so the cold metal would stop digging into his wrists. “I have been wrongfully accused.”
“Oh?” Perceval feigned interest, and glanced to Colonel Lawley, who sat to his right, and then to the Lt. Colonel Delancy on his left. “I should hope you have evidence?”
Julian stepped forward, announcing himself to the panel of judges. “I, Captain Julian Kaiser, will be acting in Captain Hirlea’s defense.” Julian bowed deeply, staying low to the ground for quite some time before straightening.
“Very well.” Perceval sighed, folding his hands neatly in his lap. “Can you, Mr. Hirlea, relate, in your own words the events prior to your arrest, beginning with the day when you first met one Helene LeRoy?”
“Yes, sir. On the morning of April 23rd,” Dragomir began his well practiced recital of the events he and Julian had gone over countless times, “Colonel Lawley called me aside right as I got to the office with information on Helene LeRoy and where I was to meet her. He made clear to me that the information was not to be divulged under any circumstances. At the time, I was surprised to be given such an important assignment, and I took it very seriously. I did not breathe a word of it to anyone, and left shortly after the Colonel finished giving me his instructions.”
Lawley's lips curled into a small smirk as he watched the foreigner under the scrutiny of the full court-martial. Surely, soon, he would be sentenced to death, and Lawley would have another completed case under his belt. He listened cooly as the foreigner began his testimony, but a moment later, decided to interrupt.
"If the court will excuse me, please," he started, glancing at General Rousseau beside him before continuing, "Might I inquire as to why the accused was so surprised to be given such an assignment? Given the nature of his brigade's current activities, one would think that an assignment of that type would not be viewed as out of the ordinary." He raised an eyebrow, sneering at the foreigner before crossing his hands on the table and leaning forward, listening interestedly.
“I was surprised, sir, to be taken into your confidence after certain circumstances outside of this trial.” Dragomir saw Julian stiffen, and knew he’d said the wrong thing. It was too late now, though, so he continued. “Usually I’m excluded from things involving the Berceuse Malheureuse in such a discreet fashion.” Julian shot him a look, and Dragomir knew he’d made things worse. Clamping his mouth shut, he watched a smirk crawl across the general’s features.
“And I’m sure everyone present knows why.” Perceval said sardonically. “Before enlisting, you were involved directly with the Berceuse Malheureuse, were you not?”
“Yes, sir,” Dragomir admitted, looking down. This situation was exactly what Julian had told him to avoid; he was supposed to downplay his former Berceuse Malheureuse involvement as much as possible, and he’d allowed it to come up right away.
“Would that not suggest, then, the very real possibility of connections and resources still remaining to you within the Berceuse Malheureuse?” Perceval asked the question as though it was hypothetical, but he knew Colonel Lawley thought the same.
“I have none,” Dragomir said sternly, narrowing his eyes.
“If I may, your honor,” Julian intervened before the General could ask another question, “Perhaps the defendant could finish his narration?”
“Very well.” Perceval rolled his eyes, sitting back in his chair and crossing his legs. “You may proceed.”
Dragomir nodded somberly, relieved that Julian had stepped in on his behalf. “It was a quarter after two when I left the office. I made a stop at Captain Kaiser’s desk to ask that he inform Warrant Officer Christian, who usually gives me a ride home after work, that I had an errand and would be running late.”
“Can you verify that, Captain?” Perceval asked, playing disinterestedly with his gavel. Julian nodded, and Perceval indicated that Dragomir should continue.
“Yes…well…” Dragomir cleared his throat. The stresses of the constant interruptions were beginning to take their toll on his confidence. “I met with Miss LeRoy at a small inn outside of Berceuse Malheureuse territory, and we went upstairs to a room for more privacy while we discussed the situation. She agreed to the plan reluctantly, but only because I was able to assure her with confidence, having asked Colonel Lawley myself, that the military would be able to provide protection for her after the mission. After our meeting, I walked her back to the border of Berceuse Malheureuse territory, and made my way back to headquarters. I was just over a half an hour late getting back.”
“It took you that long to walk there?” Perceval asked, feigning surprise.
Lawley rolled his eyes. "I doubt it, sir," he cut in, before the foreigner could say anything. "It would have been easy for him, sir, to use that time contact an agent of the Berceuse Malheureuse. If you'll excuse me saying so, sir, it appears his alibi is rather perforated."
Corinne couldn't keep her mouth shut at that. Leaning around the table so that she might be recognized, she cleared her throat. "Sir, if you'll excuse me, I would like to remind the court that during the time in question, Captain Hirlea was injured with a bullet wound to leg, which would slow his walking considerably. He was traveling without the use of crutches, as well, so if the court would take that into consideration..." She trailed, trying not to see rude, but wanting to make Hirlea seem as if his alibi was viable. She was firmly of the opinion that he was innocent, and was doing her best to help him.
“Why, then, Mr. Hirlea, were you not on crutches, as you were supposed to be?” Perceval asked, not bothering to cover up the note of annoyance in his voice. He hated with people interfered with a straightforward, clear-cut guilty charge like this one.
“I was worried, sir, that if I appeared injured, I would be subject to unwanted attention and possibly even attack,” Dragomir explained.
“Very well.” Perceval nodded. “You may proceed with the night of the raid.”
Julian smiled, pleased with the how the general inadvertently skipped over a key feature in his defense. It was his backup plan, and as such, it was only fitting that it should come at the end.
Dragomir did his best to tactfully explain the confusion the Colonel’s surprise tactics had caused, remembering how explicitly Julian had warned him not to sound accusatory. From Julian’s basic plan of how the trial should proceed, Dragomir knew that he was nearly off the hook; soon, witnesses would be called, and hopefully, that would be all that they would need. “Captain Kaiser and I found Helene, Ms. LeRoy, in a small room in the basement with the brothel’s other employees,” Dragomir continued carefully. “She was in possession of the key when we found her, and she volunteered to lead us to the safe. She informed us right from the start that they were on to her, and that she’d heard someone from the Berceuse Malheureuse tell Mr. Bovary, the owner, that she was cooperating with us. Ms. LeRoy recognized the voice, but she didn’t know the man’s name.”
Dragomir knew this part was crucial, and so he spoke slowly and carefully, in spite of his voice, which was growing steadily hoarse from all the talking after the three weeks of disuse in prison in near-solitude. “We reached the room where the business kept its records, and Ms. LeRoy handed me the key.” Dragomir paused, finding it difficult to describe the girl’s death, which he blamed on himself. “The…the owner shot her…and caught Captain Kaiser off guard. He had a pistol to the Captain’s head, and I had holstered my weapons, so there was nothing I could do. He told us he’d already burned all the records when he found out about Helene’s agreement with the military.” Dragomir noted that the General was disinterestedly inspecting the key to the safe that had been presented as confiscated material found on his person at the time of his arrest, and remembered how he’d pocketed the small object as he took a final look at the poor girl whom he’d allowed to die. “Captain Kaiser broke free from the man’s grasp, and I shot him on the spot. When I opened the safe, I found that it was indeed completely empty.” Dragomir paused, trying to swallow. “By that time, the battle was over and most of the remaining Berceuse Malheureuse had been wiped out. When we emerged from the building, Captain Kaiser…explained what had happened. It was then that I was arrested.” Dragomir concluded at last, and waited for the questions to come.
Niles nearly held his breath in anticipation as he watched the proceedings of the court-martial. So far, things seemed all right for Dragomir; he had spoken well, and Julian had come to his defense. Still, the Colonel's vehement argument against him frightened Niles slightly, and he hoped that everything would continue in its current vein.
As of current, he was sitting in the rear of the room among the spectators, of which there were around twenty. Beside him sat Nicephore Colville, the prostitute who was to testify, as the two had come together, with Julian. The boy had turned out to be very kind about the whole thing, and seemed to wholeheartedly support their attempt, and Niles found him quite easy to get along with. The two had been able to chat lightly before the court had begun, and Niles had even been able to calm his nerves slightly with Nicephore's kind words.
Now, however, Niles was listening avidly to Dragomir's story. He had never been able to find out what really went down, and it was so horrid, he couldn't believe it. That Julian had been threatened...that the girl had been shot right before Dragomir's eyes...it was just all so terrible, Niles realized he had begun trembling. He started slightly when he felt a hand on his own, and looked to his left to realize that Nicephore had made the gesture of comfort. He smiled at the boy, then turned his attentions back to Dragomir, feeling just as on edge waiting for the next question.
Nicephore smiled comfortingly at Captain Kaiser's companion before also returning his attentions to the court. He had realized easily during the course of the day so far that this Warrant Officer Niles Christian was the person of whom he had reminded the Captain that night that they had spent together a few nights ago after the Captain had briefed him for the court, and, after spending time with the Warrant Officer, decided that he approved. They had gotten along well, and he truly admired the Warrant Officer's determination to help his friend. He was glad that he was able to help them, and he wanted to be able to support the Warrant Officer, too, even if it seemed a little strange. He too, however, focused his attentions again on Captain Kaiser, admiring how confidently he carried himself and doing his best to ignore the small part of him that was bemused at the difference to his behaviour in bed.
“Captain Kaiser, can you confirm all that has been said?” Perceval asked at last, sounding thoroughly bored.
“Yes,” Julian said resolutely. “I’d like to call myself to the stand as the first witness for Captain Hirlea’s defense.” Julian waited for the General to tap his desk with the gavel, noting how the simple action seemed to restore his interest, before moving in front of Dragomir to the stand. “Let me begin by explaining that the raid of the 24th of April was my first time doing any sort of fieldwork.” Julian ignored the scoffing that he knew he’d receive and the look of innocent astonishment from the General, continuing, “Captain Hirlea saved my life, time after time, and I can say with full confidence that if it weren’t for his efforts to make sure I made it out alive, I wouldn’t be here today.” Julian bit his lip, and glanced at Dragomir, just long enough to see his look of surprise. He’d never thanked Dragomir for everything that he’d done that night, and though he’d actually never planned to, he wanted to demonstrate the goodness of Dragomir’s character, because he knew from experience how easy it was to miss.
“When we made it down to the basement, I almost got shot again, but Captain Hirlea pulled me back just in time, and shot a lurking Berceuse Malheureuse man with perfect accuracy in the dark. The way cleared, we located the group of prostitutes right away, and having since met them in interviews, I can verify that the people under the military’s protection are the same few we found in the basement on the night of the 24th." Julian turned his head slightly, just barely catching a glimpse of both Niles and Neciphore, and felt his confidence strengthened. He was doing this for Niles; he was helping Niles, and it was all he wanted in the world. Doing this, saving Dragomir, was what he wanted—all he cared about was Niles’s happiness, and if saving Dragomir could guarantee that, he was willing. Additionally, Neciphore was watching. That, too, inspired Julian. He wanted Nicephore to see what he could do.
“The first thing I remember Ms. Helene LeRoy telling us was that she’d been discovered. She was terrified, but Captain Hirlea reassured her as we made our way to the room where the safe was kept. She said that she’d heard a man telling Mr. Bovary what she’d done, and that she had to hide from him. She was afraid for her life, and yet she was still willing to take us all the way to the safe.” Julian swallowed, feeling ashamed that he hadn’t heard the man coming, that he hadn't been watching the door. “The owner shot her before we had anytime to react. I reached for my pistol, but he wrenched it out of my hand pinned me with my hands behind my back. Mr. Bovary had both my wrists in one hand and a pistol to my head. He ordered Captain Hirlea to drop the key, and explained to us what had happened. He then told Captain Hirlea to move to the side, which Dragomir did, as Mr. Bovary edged towards the safe. He was distracted with moving, and I managed to break free. Captain Hirlea killed him, saving me once again.” Julian swallowed, shaken by the recollection. “After checking the safe, and finding it was empty, we went to fine the prostitutes and lead them to safety, but we found that they were already gone. Noting that we could no longer hear any gunshots, we knew it was over and hurried outside.”
Julian bit his lip. He’d often wondered if things would have gone any differently if he hadn’t so rashly ran to the Colonel, blabbering all that had happened, utterly lacking in any sort of tact whatsoever, and felt bad retelling his folly. “I went to Colonel Lawley right away to tell him everything that had happened, that the girl had been killed, that the Berceuse Malheureuse knew about the military’s arrangement with her, and that all of the papers had been destroyed.” Julian paused again, looking rueful. “…I failed to explain the truth of the matter—that she had mentioned that someone within the Berceuse Malheureuse had been the one to tell the brothel’s owner, not Captain Hirlea. “Even upon questioning that night, after the Captain’s arrest, I didn’t mention what I heard myself, and what I know to be true… At the time, I—I didn’t think it was relevant. I was quite terrified… I didn’t know what to say, or why it was important, and for that, I am very sorry.”
Lawley raised an eyebrow skeptically. "If I may address the court, it seems to me, sir, that it would be easy for Captain Kaiser to say now that he didn't think about it then, but that really, since the accused had done so much for him as previously stated, he altered his story after the fact to repay his debt. There's no way for him to prove, sir, that he wasn't being truthful then and lying now, instead of the other way around, and, if I may, sir, I would like to remind him that if he were to lie under oath, he would be in contempt of court and could be liable for punishment, himself." He finished his threat with a glare to the annoying Captain; Lawley had not forgotten his previous threat, and would be quite willing to have it carried out, if necessary.
"If I may address the court, sir," Corinne replied evenly, "It has been studied and proven very common that, after a traumatic experience, soldiers experience gaps in their memory which they do not regain until sufficient time has passed. It is very liked that Captain Kaiser may have omitted some details from his story at the time, and he is not changing any part of his testimony, but rather adding more detail. I find it very unlikely that he is in contempt of court, sir." She was finding it very difficult not to reach around the General and strangle Colonel Lawley, but, then again, she also didn't want to touch the disgusting bastard, and so she managed to restrain herself.
Julian took a deep breath to calm himself before proceeding. Ever since he’d seen what Colonel Lawley did to Niles, and after the officer had threatened his life a few weeks back, Julian had been quite frightened of him, and didn’t know what he would have done if the Lt. Colonel hadn’t back him up. “As-as a matter of fact,” Julian said shakily, still getting a hold of himself, “I do have proof, Colonel.” He smiled slightly, unable to restrain his feeling of triumph. “Would one Mr. Nicephore Colville please come to the stand?” As Nicephore got up and moved to the front of the room, Julian introduced him to the panel of judges. “Mr. Colville was formerly employed by Mr. Bovary; he worked for him for six years, alongside our Helene LeRoy.” Julian smiled confidently at Nicephore. He was certainly the focal point of the honest part of his case, and Julian had every confidence in his testimony. Perhaps it would even be enough to convince the panel and keep Niles from testifying.
Nicephore rose assertively, not feeling particularly confident, but not showing it, either. He made his way to the stand definitively, neither shying away nor marching over-confidently, but simply keeping a serious face as he turned to see the Captain, who asked him to recall what he had overheard when Helene had been given away. He took a deep breath, straightening the blouse he had borrowed from the Warrant Officer for the occasion, and began.
"I overheard the man who informed Mr. Bovary of Helene's assent to work with the military, sir," he began. He had gone over what he would say in his head a million times, now he shouldn't be nervous, he could do it. All he had to do was tell the truth. "It was Donavan D'Aubigne, a prominent figure in the Berceuse Malheureuse. I know positively that it was D'Aubigne, because he had been to the brothel once previous, and Mr. Bovary made a fuss for us all to make sure to please him. I remember his face especially well, since on that occasion, I was one of the ones to work for him, and so I got a good look at him and heard his voice clearly.
"On the night of April 23rd, I saw D'Aubigne enter the brothel and pull Mr. Bovary off to the side. I didn't try to eavesdrop, sir, but I heard D'Aubigne mention Helene's name. Mr. Bovary looked very upset after they spoke, but I was unable to see anything he did after that because of work obligations. I am sure, however, that it was D'Aubigne who told him about Helene, and I did notice that, after that, I did not see Helene around, and I have learned from some of my colleagues that this is because she was hiding from Mr. Bovary." He finished as definitively as he had begun, looking to the Captain to see if there was anything else he needed to recall.
Perceval gawked, rather stunned, at the witness the Captain had somehow managed to find. He was livid with fury at Donavan’s sloppiness, but he made absolutely certain not to let his anger show on his face. Perceval had, in fact, solicited none other than Donavan D’Aubigne to deliver the information so crucial to the death of their mutual pain, Hirlea, but to find that he had been as careless as to allow others to know of his business was beyond forgivable—especially after Perceval had gone to such great lengths to keep everything quiet. Why, he’d even had Donavan execute the messenger who delivered the plan to him. Perceval shook with furry, forcing the emotion down and putting on a smile. “Is that so?” he asked, his voice positively dripping with false airs. “Why, that is interesting, isn’t it?” He swallowed, trying to sound normal, and turned to the Colonel. “I suppose he’s not lying then, is he?”
Lawley did all he could to keep his jaw from dropping. How could that be?! Well, he'd have to do his best with it; after all, it wasn't a hugely reliable source or anything, really... Crossing his arms, he shook his head. "The boy is a whore employed by a brothel owned by a crime organization. Certainly you don't believe him? For all we know, the defense could have paid him to say what he said."
Corinne sighed, leaning around again. "Or, sir, he may be a reliable witness who was present at the location and time the information got out. Regardless of his profession, this boy is still a witness, and I think the Colonel has made very clear the punishments for lying under oath. Being a prostitute doesn't make him a liar. If you please, sir, I think his testimony is quite permissible."
Nicephore felt annoyed to have his integrity questioned this way, but said nothing. He knew better than to make any outburst. Either they would believe him or they wouldn't, and though he hoped they would, there was nothing he could do now.
Julian folded his arms angrily at the Colonel’s accusations, but was very impressed by the way Nicephore handled himself. He made no attempt to protest the Colonel’s slanderous accusations, and that made him appear all the more honest and noble.
“I think we will most defiantly have to take this latest piece of information into our consideration.” Perceval said slowly, pretending to be thoughtful. He already knew what he’d decided: guilty. The Lt. Colonel was quite obviously in favor of releasing the Captain, and of course the Colonel was bloodthirsty. Two to one; Hirlea was a doomed man, and Perceval felt a little wave of excitement wash away some of his anger and disappointment with his cousin. “Is there anything else you’d like to add to your defense, Mr. Hirlea? Captain?” Perceval asked languorously, hoping the answer would be ‘no.’
“Yes!” Julian said quickly, making a split decision. Though he’d intended to bring up the other dimension of his defense only as a last resort, he’d decided it would be quite necessary. He had hope the General would be sympathetic to Dragomir’s cause, as it had been the General who’d originally allowed him to join the military, but Julian could tell General Rousseau was in no hurry to blemish his record of zero acquittals out of 34 trials, irregardless of the accused. As such, Julian deemed it necessary to change the Colonel’s mind, even if it meant playing dirty…even if it meant risking his life. Julian dismissed Nicephore from the stand, pacing the floor twice and taking two deep breaths to calm himself before proceeding. “We have one more detail that needs to be addressed.” He looked up at the General and was disappointed to see that he was hardly paying attention and was instead spinning the gavel between his hands. He turned to the Colonel instead, and an unconscious, rather uncharacteristic smirk alit his features. “The remaining matter, Captain Hirlea’s alibi, was only briefly discussed at the beginning of the hearing. I’d like to recall the panel to the discussion of the evening of April 23rd, when the Captain arrived back at headquarters a half an hour late.” He paused for a moment, wondering whether the Colonel knew what was coming. “You see, Warrant Officer Christian and myself were both there…so we can confirm his arrival at the aforementioned time.”
Lawley felt his stomach drop. Up until now everything was going so smoothly, and he had been so glad when they skipped over the evening of the 23rd... but now that it had been brought up again, he was beginning to feel nervous. After all, if it came up what he or Christian had been doing...If it were to come out what he had been doing, he would be in deep trouble. He would have to keep Kaiser quiet...or else he was screwed.
“Oh?” Perceval asked, tracing circles over the desk with his fingers. He hoped the Captain had a point, and that he’d get to it quickly; they were so close now to the sentence, he didn’t want to waste any more time than he had to. “Can you verify that, Mr. Christian?” Perceval asked, looking out into the audience at the irritating Warrant Officer. Then, turning back to the Captain even before Christian had answered, he asked, “And why, might I ask, where the both of you there so late?”
Niles stood quickly, nodding. "Yes, sir, both Captain Kaiser and I were there." He hesitated a moment, unsure if Julian wanted him to continue, and he was really quite terrified of telling when the Colonel had threatened Julian's life.
Lawley took Christian's pause as a good time to interrupt. "Really, sir, we needn't go into this. I... I can testify that both were there, working late." Shit shit shit shit, this was really screwing his case over! But he couldn't have it come out that he had tried to rape Christian, that would be worse. There was nothing he could do. He was trapped.
Perceval was not quite intrigued; why would the Colonel be so concerned about this information getting out? Now, at last, Perceval was interested, and he sat up, peering down at the Captain, waiting for him to continue.
Julian could see panic in the Colonel’s expression, and it renewed his confidence and his determination. “Actually, sir,” Julian addressed Colonel Lawley directly, “I think it’s a very important aspect of the situation. It has a lot to do with the motives for the arrest, I think, really.” He then turned to the General and smiled to see that he’d gotten the President’s attention. “Warrant Officer Christian is willing to act as witness for the events of that night, sir. Shall we proceed?” He asked the final question particularly of the Colonel; it was up to him how far he wanted it to go. If he thought he could get out of it, and kill him, Julian didn’t care. It would at least force the General to acknowledge that there had been some foul play, and perhaps it would even change his mind. Still, Julian didn’t think the Colonel would let it get out, and his smiled a little broader. They were going to win the case—he could feel it.
Niles fidgeted, fingering his too-loose clothes and waiting for the Colonel to make a decision. He was personally terrified: terrified of having to testify, terrified for Julian's life, terrified for Dragomir. But he knew he would do what he had to do, and so he waited for some indication.
Lawley bit his lip, then shook his head. "Really, sir. I can testify that both were there, and if Captain Kaiser testifies to seeing the accused, I'm sure that's correct. The accused obviously has an alibi..." He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "It seems as if, unfortunately, we have the wrong man." Damnit, he hated this, but there was nothing else he could do...he couldn't let that Kaiser ruin his career.
“Oh? You think so?” Now Perceval was very interested, and he was quite disappointed that it would all come to an end before he was able to find out just what had happened. It appeared to him to be some form of black mail, and Perceval was fascinated. He would have to do some serious investigating. Still, that meant the case was lost…there would be no execution today. He exhaled deeply and turned to the Lt. Colonel. “Well then, I suppose it’s settled. I take it you’re in favor of acquittal?” he asked resignedly.
Corinne was overwhelmed with relief, but managed to stay calm. "Yes, sir," she said definitively, nodding. "I find Captain Hirlea not guilty." She couldn't help but grin, glad that everything was going to be all right.
Perceval sighed, tapping the desk with his gavel. “Very well. Then, by a vote of two to one, we find Captain Dragomir Hirlea not guilty and acquitted of all charges. We expect a formal statement to be released from the defense in this nature.” Perceval turned to Hirlea, addressing him directly. “Your effects will be returned to you promptly after you have been officially checked out of the penitentiary. Courts-Martial Hearing Number Seven-Hundred and Twenty-Eight, of the 17th of May is hereby adjourned.” Perceval hit the desk again twice, for good measure, and as compensation for his misfortune of not getting to execute someone so irritating, and stood up, not wanting to waste any more time. “Dismissed,” he reiterated, exiting the room as a guard appeared to escort Hirlea back to the jail one last time.
Julian was in a state of shock. They’d done it, they’d really done it! He knew it would work, he knew the Colonel wouldn’t allow Niles to testify! It had all worked out, and now Dragomir was free and Niles would be happy. He felt unable to stand any longer and fell back into his seat with a sigh of relief. Tilting his head back, he placed his hands over his eyes and tried not to cry. At last, Niles would be happy.
Niles watched, in a daze, as the guards led Dragomir away, before completely breaking down into tears. He was so overwhelmed with relief and with happiness, he couldn't help it, and as the rest of the spectators began to leave, he stood, frozen to the spot, sobbing in joy. He felt hands on his shoulders and realized that Nicephore was comforting him again, and fell forward into his arms, sobbing against his shoulder for a moment.
After a few minutes, he managed to get a small hold over himself and pulled back, smiling at the boy. "Thank you so much. We couldn't have done it without you."
Nicephore smiled back. "I'm glad I could help."
Niles nodded, then ran off to find Julian, who was slouched in his chair. Throwing himself against him, he broke down again against Julian's chest. "Oh, thank you, thank you so much, Julian! I could never have done it without you! Oh, thank you, thank you!" He smiled through his tears, pecking Julian on the cheek before crying into his shoulder again. "Thank you so much, Julian..."
Julian wrapped his arms around Niles without thinking, looking to him blinkingly through watery eyes. He was so relieved to see Niles and to hear his thanks, and it truly made all of his work completely worthwhile. Then, when Niles smiled, Julian felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Niles was happy, and it was because of him. He’d fulfilled his self-imposed mission successfully. The next moment, however, seemed to slow, and Julian was, for the instant that Niles’s lips touched his cheek, suspended in a state of supreme bliss. Nothing could compare to the exquisite warmth, the sweet moisture, and the tenderness, in spite of the brevity, of the kiss. His heart soared and his thoughts left him; Julian was on cloud-nine, and he held Niles all the more tightly, nodding mutely that it had been nothing, nothing in exchange for the reward he’d just received.
Finally, Niles drew back, smiling warmly at Julian and wiping away his tears. The courtroom was empty now, besides Nicephore, who was waiting patiently for them at the door, and, he supposed, now was a better time than ever to talk to Julian before they went to retrieve Dragomir from the prison for the last time. Blushing a little, he peered up into Julian's eyes, hesitating a moment before asking, "If there's anything I can do for you, Julian, please...I want to be able to give something back to you, after you did so much for me and Dragomir...let me know if there's anything you want, anything at all?" He didn't have any idea what Julian would request, if anything, but he knew that whatever it was, he would do his best to give it. He owed it to Julian, after he saved Dragomir's, and therefore Niles', life.
“Oh…” Julian said slowly, coming back to reality. “No,” he smiled weakly after a few seconds, “there really isn’t anything I can think of…” No, of course there was nothing Julian could ask of Niles. All Julian really wanted was not something he could ask for, especially not now that they were on their way to pick up Dragomir… Julian could never share his love with Niles; he wouldn’t want to burden him with feelings that he would never be able to return.
Julian lifted a hand to his cheek slowly, trying to relive the moment that had pass by all to quickly, trying once again to imagine the way Niles’s soft lips had felt against his skin… Then, an idea struck him. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask for a kiss, would it? Not after all of his efforts? “Well…” Julian amended, blushing with embarrassment, “there is something…” He glanced quickly at Nicephore and began to feel quite awkward. Had Nicephore already realized who he resembled? Surely he had, and what did it matter, anyway? What mattered, and had always mattered, was Niles. Julian had no idea how Niles would respond but… it was worth asking, just for the feeling, just for the possibility, it was worth it. “Niles… Would you…be willing to… to kiss me?” Julian asked hopefully at last, already planning a response in case of a refusal.
Niles flushed. "K-kiss you?" he asked. Why would Julian want that? Niles was incredibly embarrassed, but he tried to think it through rationally. Perhaps Julian...wanted to practice? Or- or, maybe he had never been kissed before. Certainly there must be some logical reason. And really, Niles owed it to him, after everything he did... He just wouldn't tell Dragomir, it wasn't a big deal, really... "A-all right," he finally consented with an embarrassed smile. "You...do you want me to kiss you...like...on the mouth, and stuff...?"
Julian blushed even more furiously as Niles assented. He let out the breath that he’d been holding, and tried to calm down. “Umm…Y-yes… That is, if you don’t mind?” Julian gulped, feeling a little guilty. He could tell that his reasoning for requesting a kiss was completely lost on Niles, and for that, at least, he was relieved. Julian prayed Niles wouldn’t mention it to Dragomir…but he knew that he’d be willing to take any amount of punishment in exchange for a kiss from Niles. “Kiss me…” Julian began, feeling terrible for asking, but knowing it was what he wanted and that he would probably never have the opportunity again, “…the way you ‘d kiss Dragomir.”
Niles blushed even more furiously. "O-okay," he agreed, nodding and swallowing, gathering himself. He took a step closer to Julian, rising up on his toes and placing a hand on Julian's shoulder before pressing his lips gently to Julian's. He did his best to do it exactly as if he were kissing Dragomir, and, as he would if he were kissing Dragomir, he hesitated, waiting for Julian to take control of the kiss.
Nicephore stared pointedly at the wall, feeling awkward. No matter how well he handled himself in court, he decided, Captain Kaiser was still a lost cause.
Julian shivered at the tenderness of Niles’s touch and slipped his arms around Niles’s waist in response, closing his eyes expectantly. His heart was hammering in his chest as he waited for what seemed would never come—and at the same time—he dreaded the kiss, because he knew that the instant it begun brought him only one second closer its end. When at last Niles’s lips graced his with their delicate warmth, Julian felt that he might faint with delight. As good as the brief peck on the cheek had been, this was decidedly a thousand times better. Julian kissed back easily, enthusiastically, desperate to pretend, just for once, that it was himself that Niles loved. Gently, he moved a hand to Niles’s shoulder, running his fingers through the soft gilded threads that adorned Niles’s head so beautifully with gold. Deepening the kiss, Julian’s every romantic reverie that had ever cumulated in such a kiss flashed through his mind, and he felt absolved of his desire for the pleasure of experiencing Niles’s lips against his own. Let Dragomir descend upon him in a rage for this one illicit moment; let the Colonel seek his death after so nearly revealing his secret; Julian didn’t care any more. He knew he’d tasted heaven, and after experiencing it just the once, he could die in peace knowing that rapture awaited him.
Niles kissed Julian back, doing his best to make it nice for him, for a moment longer before drawing back, looking up into his eyes, still flushed deeply. "W-was that okay?" he asked embarrassedly, smiling through his blush. "I want to be able to make it up to you, so if I didn't do it right..." He couldn't bring himself to finish, he felt so awkward... Obviously, he was only doing a favour to a friend, but it still felt strange, especially before he was to be reunited with Dragomir. Trying to make it seem less awkward, he laughed slightly. "I hope I wasn't a disappointment, or anything like that."
Nicephore coughed into his hand, still averting his eyes. Warrant Officer Christian was so completely clueless...it was cute, but somehow disturbing. Still, he supposed he could see how Captain Kaiser could fall for him...
“No, no!” Julian said quickly, taking a quick step backward and shaking his head. “That was—that was perfect.” He smiled meekly. He longed to request another kiss, but to say that the last one had been inadequate was so far from the truth that Julian couldn’t possibly bring himself to ask for anything more. “It…it wasn’t a disappointment at all…” Julian said softly, blushing brighter still. Julian looked down at the floor, running over the experience again in his mind so that he could preserve it forever, and pretended for just a second longer that Niles was in his arms. However, when he looked up again, the moment had long sense passed, and he knew it was past the time for pretending. They had to pick up Dragomir, after all, and Julian knew that he would never be able to look at Dragomir again without feeling a wave of jealousy. Dragomir had so much, did he even realize? Sighing, Julian looked away embarrassedly and wrung his hands with nervousness. “We probably need to get going… To pick up Dragomir, and all…”
"Oh yes, of course!" Niles replied delightedly, all embarrassment disappearing from his features at the thought of being reunited with Dragomir. He was overjoyed at the sheer thought of it, and smiled widely. "Let's hurry, so he doesn't have to wait!" Giddily, he hurried to the door, clasping a startled Nicephore's hands. "Ready to go?" he asked, smiling at the boy and not even noticing his obvious discomfort before looking back to Julian with a smile of pure anticipatory happiness.
Julian forced himself to return the smile. He had to be happy for Niles, and he had to be pleased with himself for being able to restore to Niles the person that mattered most to him. Whatever disdain he still held for Dragomir had to be put aside so that Julian could share in Niles’s delight. Besides, he’d already received his reward, and couldn’t ask for anything more.
He led the way to the prison, which was a short walk away from the court room, and opened the door, holding it for both Niles and Nicephore. A guard greeted them, and they waited for only a few minutes before a door to their left opened, and none other than Dragomir stepped out, a free man, escorted by a single guard who was dismissed directly.
Dragomir swallowed hard, almost tripping over his own feet as he rushed to Niles, immediately wrapping his arms around him and nearly lifting him clear off the ground in an embrace. “Niles,” Dragomir breathed, tears of relief rushing to his eyes as he found himself thoroughly unable to find any other words to express all the emotions overwhelming him. He was out, they knew he wasn’t guilty, and he was back with Niles at last. No bars were between them now, and it took every ounce of willpower left to Dragomir to keep him from kissing Niles right then and there in the presence of the guard. “God, Niles!” Dragomir shut his eyes tightly, unwilling to let go, not until he’d made up for the three long weeks they’d spend apart.
Niles broke down completely into tears, wrapping his arms tightly around Dragomir, with no bars in the way, nothing keeping them apart. "Dragomir, oh, Dragomir, I love you!" he cried, his words muffled in Dragomir's clothes. When he finally had some tiny bit of control over himself, he drew back slightly, smiling with sheer happiness up at Dragomir for a moment before throwing his arms around Dragomir's neck and kissing him full on the lips, not even caring about the guards or anyone else. He had been deprived of Dragomir for nearly the past month and he couldn't wait any longer.
Dragomir forgot the guards, forgot everything but Niles. He ignored the possible repercussions and returned the kiss fervidly, overwhelmed with emotion. He’d been waiting so long for this moment, for this reunion, and yet as the time passed he’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be with Niles without bars to keep them apart. After so long spent away, he’d almost lost all hope of ever being released, but now that they were reunited, Dragomir knew that nothing could have kept them apart.
“Ahh!” Julian squeaked, stepping between the amorous pair and the guard. “Are there any papers we need to sign?” Julian asked abruptly in a very loud voice that betrayed his nervousness. The guard had almost certainly noticed, but hopefully he could be distracted and wouldn’t feel inclined to report the behavior. The guard narrowed his eyes in response, and to Julian’s relief, handed him a stack of paperwork. With that in hand, Julian decided they ought to hurry out before Dragomir got into any more trouble. He opened the door and, blushing, attempted to get their attention. “L-let’s get going, okay?” He asked, with a fleeting glance to the guard, who was busying himself with his key ring, striving to ignore them.
Niles, in a state of complete bliss and euphoria, barely heard Julian at first, he was so wrapped up in the kiss and in Dragomir, but, finally, reluctantly, he allowed himself to be ushered out of the room, squeezing Dragomir's hand in his own with a lingering smile. After all, Dragomir was coming home with him now. They would have all the time they wanted soon enough.