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25 February 2008 @ 03:58 pm
Chapter 20~  
Here it is! Dun dun dun... I'm not sure I really have anything to say about it... READ NOW. ♥

Chapter 20!
Claimer: All the blood and angst belongs to us!
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: violence, yaoi, language... the regular. You know.

Julian did his best to explain how to diagram a simple Albionian sentence to Niles, but what was already a very confusing topic was proving to be even more difficult with Dragomir hanging over them. Dragomir, the lout, insisted on sitting on the corner of Niles’s large study desk, and while he remained silent, Julian had the feeling that his uneducated presence was a serious detriment to the learning environment he was trying so hard to create for Niles. He quite obviously was not following a single thing that was being said, and that to Julian was all the more infuriating. He wished the large oaf would go sit somewhere else; even if he just moved to another part of the room it would be better, but the way he perched, breathing down their necks, was absolutely intolerable. Still, Julian refused to say anything. He had the feeling Dragomir was working very hard to irritate him, and refused to give into such a foolish game.

“Then,” Julian explained to Niles, drawing up an example, “you can put a preposition down here, off of the subject. With just this little table, you can see exactly how any sentence you can think of works.” Julian smiled as he spoke and worked very hard not to look at Dragomir at all.

“Is there anything like that for Gallian?” Dragomir asked abruptly. He hadn’t spoken during the entire class, but he had been listening, and this newest topic was a little interesting. Perhaps if a sentence was drawn, so to speak, and organized in an easier way, even he could make some sense of it.

Julian unconsciously wrinkled his nose in disgust. He knew exactly what Dragomir had in mind when he asked the question and found the idea absolutely ludicrous. “Yes.” He replied briskly, “but unfortunately, I don’t think even something like that could help someone like you.” He realized how sharp it sounded, and, not wanting Niles to get defensive of Dragomir, or anything, quickly tagged a softener on to the end of his sentence and smiled. “With your illiteracy, I mean.”

Niles was trying hard to figure out the diagram, but was distracted by Dragomir and Julian. He knew they argued a lot, but it had been a lot better since the trial, and Niles was a little sad to see them going at it again. "But couldn't you help him, Julian? I wouldn't mind if you took a break from me... If Dragomir wanted to, I mean." He glanced back up at Dragomir. "Is that what you meant, Dragomir? I know Julian's really good at teaching and stuff, so wouldn't that be helpful, if you wanted to learn?" Maybe he could help them get along better if they had some common ground? Niles didn't know, but he really wished so.

“No, never mind.” Dragomir growled. It was clear to him that Julian thought very little of his intelligence, and Dragomir was unwilling to sit through any sort of patronizing lecture Julian might be willing to give.

Julian swelled with pride at the complement Niles had paid him and looked at Dragomir with an expression of cool indifference. He would never have agreed to teach Dragomir anything, but since Dragomir had been the one to decline, he could make Dragomir seem like the one at fault. “Yes, Niles really has a point there, Dragomir. Perhaps I could help you, not with diagrams, but with some easy strategies.”

Dragomir glared at Julian; it was obvious what he was trying to do. “No, thank you. I’ll pass. I don’t want to interrupt your lesson with Niles.” Dragomir smiled tersely and balled his hands into fits, wishing he could hit Julian in the face. That would make him feel better, and teach Julian a lesson.

Niles could tell that that hadn't helped, and that Dragomir was even more angry than before. Giving up on actually trying to learn for a moment, he turned to Dragomir, resting his head on Dragomir's lap and looking up at him. "Dragomir... it's okay. Don't be mad, please?" He really liked having Dragomir here, and he really liked having Julian teach him, but he really would like it a whole lot more if they weren't always so angry at each other. Niles couldn't understand why they were always so upset, but that's always how it happened, and, more than confusing him, it upset him. He just wished they could both be happy.

“I’m sorry,” Dragomir said apologetically, immediately cooling down substantially. He hated upsetting Niles, but it seemed every time he tried to be decent to Julian, the other Captain treated him like a dumb animal. Julian may have worked very hard to save him from execution, but that one instance aside, there had been nothing but animosity between the two of them.

Julian glowered at Dragomir, upset by the fact that Niles always turned to Dragomir first. Dragomir was always more volatile, though, he assured himself, and Niles did it to protect them both from Dragomir’s vicious and uncontrollable temper. “It’s understandable,” Julian commented, “that you wouldn’t want to learn. Learning to read and write is like learning a second language, after all. It takes a certain amount of skill to be bilingual, you know, as well as dedication.” He smiled at Niles, knowing he would someday succeed. He had the right mindset, after all, and an upstanding goal, unlike Dragomir, who would never learn anything. “Niles has just what it takes, and he’s really making a lot of progress!” He then looked up at Dragomir and assumed a very smug expression. “Sometimes is better not to bother trying to learn, though, as in your case, Dragomir. All we can do is be thankful that you’re competent enough to communicate at all.”

Dragomir ground his teeth together angrily and started towards Julian, grabbing him by the collar with a growl. “Drop it.” Dragomir barked as Julian flinched and quivered miserably. “It was just a question—sorry I asked. You’re here to help Niles. Don’t patronize me.” He released Julian roughly and sat back up. “And you know what? Gallian is my second language.” He spat at Julian to correct his metaphor.

Julian took a few steps back to ensure he was out of Dragomir’s reach and straightened himself out. “Oh that’s right. I forgot. You used to speak Dacian, didn’t you?” Julian asked rhetorically. As a matter of fact, after meeting Dragomir, Julian had begun reviewing the basics Dacian, and felt quite confident in his ability to construct a decent insult. “Maybe that’s why you can’t quite get the knack of Gallian, hmmm?” Julian smirked, speaking in Dacian. “After all, we both know Dacians are a bunch of primitive beasts with no real intelligence to speak of, right?”

Dragomir flew at Julian instantly, scrambling around Niles and pushing the other Captain against the wall. He couldn’t construct a sentence in Dacian worth a damn, and he’d completely lost the accent, but he understood every word Julian said perfectly. His mother, after all, often spoke to them exclusively in Dacian even though Dragomir and all his siblings had only ever answered in Gallian. Julian had gone too far this time; and Dragomir wouldn’t stand for it. “Get out.” He growled, starting Julian on his way to the door by shoving him roughly towards it.

Niles stared, quivering slightly, as Dragomir turned on Julian, slamming him against a wall before throwing him out. It was frightening, sometimes, how angry Dragomir could get, but Niles knew Julian must have said something particularly mean in the other language for him to physically attack him. As Dragomir turned back to him, breathing heavily with emotion, Niles looked up at him timidly. "Dragomir... what... what did he say...?" He didn't want to do anything that would make Dragomir any more upset, but at the same time, Julian was still his friend, and he didn't want Dragomir to do anything too bad to him, either.

Seeing Niles brought down Dragomir’s temper for the second time, but he was still charged emotion. He bit down on his lip and leaned against the wall, taking a breath to collect himself before speaking. “Racist.” Dragomir hissed, looking away and running a hand through his hair. He took a breath, stood back up and moved slowly over to Niles. “I’m sorry,” he breathed, closing his eyes and working very hard not to think about Julian. “I didn’t mean to…I just…” He really was sorry; he always worked so hard to control his temper around Niles, but he’d really lost it with Julian…which made him feel even worse about it. As much as he hated Julian, now more than ever, he was Niles’s friend, and Dragomir wanted to respect him, even if it was only for that reason alone.

Niles stood, hesitating a moment before taking a step towards Dragomir, carefully placing his arms around him. "I'm sorry, Dragomir... I... I don't understand why he's so mean to you sometimes. I'll try to talk to him... okay?" He knew Dragomir had just been really upset, but he was still shaken from seeing Dragomir lash out so suddenly. "Please don't be upset... I'm... I'm here for you..."

Dragomir nodded slowly, wrapping his arms around Niles as well, feeling guilty. Niles was stunned, and it was his fault. As much as he hated Julian, he should have been able to restrain himself, for Niles’s sake. “Thank you,” Dragomir gulped. “Sorry… I shouldn’t have… I should’ve pretended I didn’t understand.” He squeezed Niles a little tighter and sighed. He was clam again, luckily; the rage had dissipated. “You…don’t have to talk to him.” Dragomir added. It might be easier for Niles not to have to deal with it… It really was their problem, after all. Dragomir bit his lip again, not looking forward to seeing Julian again at work in the slightest.

"But I want to, Dragomir," Niles insisted, looking up at him. "I don't like when he's mean to you. I just don't understand..." He sighed, burying his face in Dragomir's chest. "I just wish you two could be friends..." He supposed it was a lot to ask, but he loved Dragomir, and Julian was his best friend, and he wished they could get along, too.

“Yeah…” Dragomir sighed, squeezing Niles a little tighter. Sometimes he wished the same thing; it would be a lot easier if they could get along. Right now, things were way too complicated. Dragomir knew he owed Julian his life, and for that reason, he also knew Julian was no longer trying to compete for Niles’s affections… But if that really was the case, then why was Julian always antagonizing him? Dragomir didn’t get it, and anyway, Julian pissed him off. Especially now. Nothing, Dragomir supposed, could ever really be done about it. They would both just have to learn how to act decent around one another, for Niles’s sake. “I don’t know that talking to him would make any difference…” Dragomir concluded slowly.

"Well, I want to try, anyway!" Niles insisted. He didn't know whether Dragomir knew something about Julian that he didn't, which seemed unlikely, or if he was simply hypothesizing, but Niles wasn't ready to give up. "I want you two to get along. That would make me the most happy..." He sighed, leaning into Dragomir's embrace. Hopefully, the day would come when they could all work together amicably.

Dragomir was relieved to find that Julian was not at work when they arrived a little early Monday morning. He didn’t want to see him and he especially didn’t want Niles to have to talk to him about what had occurred over the weekend. He knew Julian would arrive eventually; it wasn’t like him to miss a day of work, or a chance to see Niles, but Dragomir hoped that by the time he arrived, the day would have already begun and everyone would remain distracted with their work.

Dragomir settled into his seat on the edge of Niles’s desk rather possessively and opened the file of paperwork he needed Niles’s help to go over. He could see the door from his current position, and when Julian walked in, he planned to make sure both of them appeared very busy.

Julian was running a little late. After Dragomir so harshly threw him out of Niles’s house, Julian had spent his weekend in a state of sullen despair. He couldn’t go see Niles because of Dragomir, and because he couldn’t see Niles, he was unable to muster the will to write poetry, paint, or otherwise do any of the activities that usually gave him pleasure. Niles was his muse, and Dragomir stood like a wall between them, completely stifling Julian’s very impetus for life.

He almost didn’t want to go to work when he woke up on Monday. He simply didn’t want to face Niles after what had happened. Dragomir probably told him everything all wrong, and Niles would probably hate him. He always took Dragomir’s side in everything, after all. But then Julian realized that without seeing Niles, without speaking to him and convincing him of his innocence, he would be unable to face himself. So it was with effort that he readied himself for work and hurried to the headquarters.

Upon entering the office, Julian noticed right away that Dragomir was again hovering over Niles in a most upsetting fashion, and that the illiterate had passed a gigantic stack of papers to Niles just as he stepped into the room. Obviously, Dragomir wanted to keep them apart, but Julian knew nothing could keep him away from Niles for long. He made his way over to his desk, took out some paperwork that needed to be filled out, and promptly began ignoring it—instead beginning what he knew would be a lengthy letter of apology to Niles.

Niles glanced up at Julian when he entered the room, but was quickly distracted by the paperwork he had to complete. He knew things might be touchy after what had happened the previous day, but he had made up his mind: he would talk to Julian later about it. Still, he didn't want Julian to be too upset or anything, and so, at an off-moment, he caught Julian's eye and offered him a small smile before returning to work. He was upset at the situation, but he wasn't necessarily angry at Julian, after all.

Dragomir saw the look they had exchanged but pretended that he hadn’t. Niles had every right to do what he pleased, after all, and Dragomir would not interfere. Niles didn’t know what Julian had said, and for that, Dragomir was grateful. The last thing he would want would be for Niles’s friendship to be damaged because of him.

Julian’s heart skipped a beat when Niles smiled at him; it was exactly the boost he needed to restore his confidence. At least now he knew Dragomir hadn’t turned Niles against him. Julian sighed wistfully with relief, at last able to finish his letter to Niles. He signed his name elegantly with a flourish at the bottom of the page and folded it carefully, planning to pass it to Niles at lunch.

At least, Julian mused, Dragomir wouldn’t be able to read it, so he need not worry about any sort of intrusion on the brute’s part… Distracted, Julian set the letter aside and forgot to make any effort to make himself look busy as he stared at nothing, lost in thought. He hadn’t thought Dragomir would understand him when he spoke in Dacian. Really, he’d meant it just as a little joke—he’d thought “wouldn’t it be funny to say something awful in his own language that the poor fool couldn’t understand?” He’d never intended for it all to go so wrong…and it’d all happened in front of Niles, too… How had Dragomir understood anyway? He said he didn’t speak Dacian. Clearly, Julian moped, Dragomir had beaten him at his own game. Julian was the linguist—how insulting that Dragomir should be able to understand him! But, as Julian thought about it, perhaps the whole event had happened for a reason… Perhaps he was meant, intern, to beat Dragomir at his game. Yes. That would lend a lot of poetic justice to the situation. He would have to do just that. He would have to defeat Dragomir in a duel.

The rest of the day dragged on, but Niles spent most of it worrying about what he was going to say to Julian. He couldn't be too mean about it, or too accusational, but he had to be stern, and not seem like a pushover. He was still trying to think of the right things to say when the end of the day rolled around, and he noticed the Lt. Colonel begin packing up for the day. Soon, he would have to deliver his speech, and he hadn't finished planning it yet. Darnit. With a sigh, he looked over to Dragomir, seeing if he was ready to pack up for the day.

“Are you ready?” Dragomir asked, reading his look. He always got antsy toward the end of the day, and he was eager to get back home. He knew Niles still wanted to talk to Julian, but perhaps that could all be skipped for the day. Maybe things would cool down a bit if they waited before bringing it up. Besides, Dragomir didn’t particularly want to even go near Julian, but at the moment, he refused to leave Niles alone, either.

Julian watched as Niles and Dragomir prepared to leave, gathering his thoughts and wringing his hands nervously. He’d been thinking about it all the whole day, and they only conclusion he’d reached so far was that he was genuinely afraid of Dragomir. He was a wild animal; uncontrollable and totally unpredictable. If Julian went through with it, there was no telling what might happen to him if he should lose…Dragomir might very well lose control and… Julian shook his head and put his face in his hands. No, he would win. Dragomir was a good fighter, but he just knew street tactics. They served him well in combat, but a duel of honor was different. Julian was raised and educated as an aristocrat, and knew how to defend his honor. He would win. And a demonstration of strength and skill was exactly what he needed to put Dragomir in his place. It would work. Niles would never be his, he knew that, but at least he could get Dragomir to give him the respect he deserved. He watched as they bowed to the Lt. Colonel and left the room before standing to follow.

Once they were out of the building and a little ways out of the way, Dragomir slipped his hand into Niles’s as a bit of an apology. As soon as people started leaving, Dragomir had stood abruptly and steered Niles towards the Lt. Colonel to say goodbye. He’d successfully kept Niles from speaking to Julian, and thought he was pleased with himself, he felt a little guilty, as well. Julian, it seemed, had been moping all day—but he deserved it. Dragomir didn’t want Niles to have to deal with him. “Sorry,” Dragomir said vaguely, giving Niles’s hand a squeeze and knowing Niles knew what he was talking about.

At that moment, Dragomir distinctly heard the sound of someone running towards them and spun around, dragging Niles behind him instinctively. A glove hit him squarely in the face, and Dragomir snapped to attention with a growl, reaching for his pistol.

“Dragomir Hirlea!” Julian shouted coming to a stop and only slightly out of breath after running after them, “I, Julian Kaiser, challenge you to a duel!” He drew his rapier and stood, tense, waiting for Dragomir’s reaction.

Niles paled, peering around from behind Dragomir. What was going on?! Why was Julian challenging Dragomir? What was happening? "What's going on, Julian?" he cried rather plaintively. "Why... why're you doing this?" He wished that there was something he could do to change Julian's mind, but his expression made Niles frightened, and he couldn't bring himself to move from behind Dragomir. "...Dragomir... what's going on? You're not going to... to actually duel him...are you?" He quivered, looking pathetically up at Dragomir.

Dragomir laughed abruptly at the ridiculousness of it all. Julian was shaking and Niles behind him was scared as well. Julian was an idiot—what could he possibly hope to achieve through this little stunt—surely he knew better than to do it to try and impress Niles? “What choice do I have?” Dragomir smirked, drawing his blade. As stupid as the whole thing was, he was glad for the chance to fight Julian and knew he’d feel a lot better after he’d humiliated him. “I hope you’re serious about this, Julian.” he made his voice firm, in spite of his own eagerness. If Julian knew what was good for him, he’d back down now. Of course, Dragomir was hoping he was looking to lose.

“I—I am!” Julian shouted, adjusting his grip on his sword and trying to ignore Dragomir’s cocky smirk. His arrogance would be his downfall!

Dragomir sunk into his stance comfortably, anticipating Julian’s tactics. Dragomir had seen him fight before and knew he was a coward. He’d wait for Dragomir to attack and try and attack on the run. His movements were usually sloppy and easy to read, but Dragomir wanted to give him the dignity of at least a few minutes of trying. “Stand back,” he instructed Niles, “and don’t worry. I won’t hurt him.” Dragomir couldn’t guarantee that, but he would do his best not to lose control of the situation.

Niles nodded, brining his hands to his face and backing away. He couldn't wrap his mind around what was going on. Dragomir wasn't dueling Julian, he wasn't... but yet, he was, that was really what was happening. Unable to handle it, Niles felt tears come to his eyes and began rolling down his cheeks uninhibited. He didn't know what to do, he was completely helpless.

As soon as Julian saw that Niles was out of the way, he took the few quick steps he needed to close the gap between himself and Dragomir and lashed out at him swiftly. Dragomir hopped back, apparently surprised by Julian’s tactics. But it was all part of his plan, and it would work, Julian repeated to himself, hoping he could keep his confidence high enough to avoid quaking in terror.

Julian’s change in tactics was more amusing than surprising. Dragomir was impressed by his effort and determination however, and avoided striking him in the side when he left himself open during his attack. Dragomir glanced back at Niles to make certain he was well out of the way and saw that he was crying. Dragomir bit his lip and turned back to Julian. He’d forgotten how hard it must be for Niles to watch, and tried to force himself not to enjoy it.

Julian saw that Dragomir was distracted, but acted on it too late; by the time he’d swung at Dragomir, he was ready with a parry-repost, and Julian was only just able to avoid the blade. He was afraid again, and in his fear, he bit out violently at Dragomir, hardly even looking to see what he was doing.

Dragomir jumped back again to avoid Julian’s attack. He was putting his whole wrist into the motion, which not only made his every move easily to read and therefore easily dodged, but would also soon wear him out. His blade was of nice workmanship with a swooping basket hilt, studded and embellished with gems and rare metals, but really it was a bit too long for Julian, and definitely too heavy. His strength wouldn’t last; Dragomir would toy with him until it gave out, then disarm him and put him in his place.

Niles couldn't stand to see Dragomir and Julian fighting, it was just too dreadful, to frightening, but he couldn't look away. "Please," he tried again weakly, "Please, please, just stop it! Both of you!" His voice was pleading, pathetic, but neither of them seemed to hear, which next to broke Niles' heart. He just couldn't understand why they were doing this. It was just so horrible...so frightening. "Please..." he sobbed, sniffing back his tears only to allow more to replace them.

Julian heard Niles’s plea and swallowed hard. He hated that he was hurting Niles by fighting Dragomir, but it was something he knew he had to do. He closed the distance between the two of them and tried for a feint, starting with a simple attack to Dragomir’s torso, then changing targets midway through the movement and aiming for his arm. Dragomir caught the foible of his blade, but Julian reposted, driving in past the parry and nicking Dragomir’s hand. He met the other’s gaze and shivered with fear. He could tell Dragomir hadn’t been taking him seriously at all previously, but there was a shift in his demeanor and Julian stumbled back to reestablish the measure.

Dragomir quickly switched hands and followed Julian, deciding it was about time he attacked. It was sloppy of him to have let Julian in, and even though he’d told Niles he wasn’t going to hurt him, a few little cuts would be good for Julian—they might be able to bring him back to reality somewhat. Dragomir made a direct attack to Julian’s chest, and when he blocked the strike, Dragomir disengaged, effectively going around Julian’s blade and slicing him across the cheek. Julian let out a yelp, and redoubled his efforts to retreat, practically running backwards and flailing in a desperate attempt to defend himself. Dragomir caught his blade in a take six and slid his sword along the edge of Julian’s on a direct path to his arm. The point of his blade sunk into his skin just below his elbow and Julian dropped his sword with a howl of pain. Dragomir kicked it aside and grabbed Julian by his wounded arm, pulling him into a lock and putting his blade to Julian’s throat. “Do you concede?” Dragomir demanded.

“Yes, yes!” Julian whimpered, closing his eyes in shame so he didn’t have to look at Niles.

“Good.” Dragomir grunted, kicking Julian in the back so he fell to the ground next to his blade. Dragomir flicked his own sword deftly to clean it of the blood and sheathed it, returning to Niles. Julian wasn’t making any effort to get up, and he too looked as though he were crying. Dragomir ran a hand through his hair and glanced around, biting his lip again and feeling guilty. It was too easy to hurt Julian, and it had given him no real satisfaction in the end. He only felt bad for having made Niles watch Julian’s humiliation.

Niles cried pitifully all the way to the automobile, but followed Dragomir wordlessly, looking at his feet. Only when they arrived did he look up again, meeting Dragomir's eyes with a pathetic expression. "Why... did you do that...?" he asked softly, unable to keep it inside himself any longer. "Why did you have to... to be so..." he trailed, not knowing the right words and feeling horrible for accusing Dragomir. Still, the whole situation had gone far enough, and he wanted Dragomir to know how upset it made him. "We all knew you could beat him.... so why did you have to hurt him? Why did you have to kick him?" Niles' tears were coming more quickly now, and he tried in vain to wipe them away. "I know you, Dragomir, I know you're not mean or cruel at all! So why do you have to be that way with him? I don't understand! I just don't understand why you two have to be so mean to each other..." And with that, he lost it entirely, sobbing piteously into his hands.

Dragomir looked away, unable to stand seeing the way he made Niles feel. He took a deep breath and ground his teeth together, unsure of how to answer. “I don’t…I don’t mean to be…” Dragomir said guiltily. “But what was I supposed to do?” He looked back at Niles with a gulp and approached him slowly, slipping his arms around him. He didn’t want Niles to cry…but he didn’t know if he could help, either. Or if Niles even wanted him to try.

"I don't know! I don't know!" Niles cried, his face pressed against Dragomir's chest and dampening his clothes with tears. "I don't know why he attacked you, either, and I hate this!" The whole situation now seemed so hopeless, so miserable, he didn't even know what he could do about it anymore. "I don't know what to do, Dragomir..." he choked out softly, "I don't know what to do..."

Dragomir held Niles closer comfortingly and pulled his cut hand into his sleeve to keep the blood from getting on Niles’s coat. “Maybe…” he offered, rather unsure of what he was saying, but hoping it was true, “he’ll be better now.” He looked off to where the duel had taken place and was glad to see that Julian had left. “Maybe now he’ll respect me.” Dragomir narrowed his eyes slightly, then looked back to Niles, his expression softening. “I’m sorry… I know it’s hard for you…but I feel like this helped me a lot…” he felt guilty admitting how much better he felt about the situation, but it was true. He could only hope it helped Julian, too.

Niles didn't know what to do besides nod; he didn't understand and it was obvious that Dragomir wasn't going to explain to him, so he couldn't do anything but try to trust that Dragomir knew best. "I... hope so..." he sniffed, nodding again before pulling away and opening the automobile door. "Come on... let's go home..."

The June sun was hot; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and Donavan’s coat was feeling oppressive in the heat. He hadn’t bothered to wear a blouse today, as per his usual, and so when he let his coat fall off his shoulders and tucked it under his arm, his pale shoulders were bare, and a group of women walking passed them were scandalized and hurried away, whispering their indignation. Donavan didn’t care however, and grinned down at Faustino. He liked defying social norms. “What kind of candy are you going to get today, Faustino?” he asked cheerfully. They were out to enjoy the sunny weather, and Donavan had promised a stop at the candy store afterwards.

Faustino glanced up at Donavan, then blushed when he realized he had taken off his jacket and his shoulders were bare. He was caught off guard for a moment, but quickly caught himself and smiled back. "Well... it's too hot for chocolate right now, so I guess I'll get some sour candies, like what you like. Then we can share!" He took Donavan's hand without thinking about it, giggling. "Doesn't that sound good?" Ever since the run in with those horrible people who tried to hurt Donavan, he had made sure to stick to his side no matter what. He had to protect him, after all. He had to be there to kill anyone who tried to hurt him.

“Yeah,” Donavan agreed, happy to share with Faustino. “What flavor should we get, then? There’s a tropical mix with cherry, pineapple—” Donavan stopped mid-sentence at the sound of gun being cocked and a woman’s screech. Without a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed Faustino and darted for the cover of a building just as a gun shot rang out. Immediately, people all around began scrambling to get off the street as fast as they could. In the confusion, Donavan couldn’t locate whoever had shot at them, and turned instead to Faustino, extracting his pistol as he did so. “Stay alert: that shot was meant for us.”

Faustino nodded solemnly, taking his pistol from its holster, as well, and cocking it in preparation. After a few moments, he peered around the corner carefully, and, sure enough, there was a military man. He seemed to be unaware of where they currently were, and Faustino decided it would be prudent to take advantage of that. "Donavan," he whispered, turning back to him, "I see him. I have a clear shot... can I take him out?" So long as he had Donavan's permission, he could take care of the situation, he was confident. He would make sure no one hurt Donavan.

Donavan nodded, smirking. He was impressed with Faustino’s eye; he certainly had come a long way, and he was quite certain he could make the shot, as long as none of the idiot people running around like vermin got in his way. “Go for it.” Donavan affirmed, staying still so as to be sure their position was not betrayed.

"Okay," Faustino murmured back, nodding before looking back around the corner. The military man was now looking in the opposite direction from them, giving Faustino a clear shot to his head. Taking aim, he took a deep breath, then pulled the trigger, watching as it flew just as he knew it would, hitting the man right in the back of his head. Once he knew he had succeeded, he hurried back into hiding so as not to be caught as the one responsible for the shot. "I did it!" he whispered hurriedly, almost giddily to Donavan. "He's dead, I'm sure of it!" Now that the deed was done, it was sinking in: he had really killed a man. But he wasn't afraid like he used to be, no, now he knew. He would do anything to protect Donavan, and he was proud of himself. He could only hope Donavan would be proud, too.

Judging by the screams ringing out in the street, Faustino’s hit had been a direct one; a quick glance around the corner confirmed it—blood glistened in the sun where it had spattered the glass window of a shop where the man had been standing. Donavan’s smirk widened and he turned back to Faustino, swelling with pride. “Nicely done!” He praised, ruffling Faustino’s hair affectionately. “Brilliant,” he marveled, stealing another glance and basking in the chaos the shot had caused. “Was it a military man?” Donavan turned back to Faustino and looked him over proudly. He’d come a long way; he’d killed his first man, and now from here on, everything would be easy. Faustino was perfect and Donavan couldn’t be more pleased.

Faustino nodded quickly, returning his pistol to its holster. "It was an officer." He couldn't help but smiled broadly, Donavan was really pleased with him, and that made him happier than anything. He was glad that his shot had been good, and that he had gotten the job done, but it was really Donavan's praise that truly gave him joy. "So, where to now? Should we lay low for a while?" Even as he discussed the mundane, he couldn't help but smile.

“An officer?” Donavan asked exuberantly, his admiration for Faustino doubled. He laughed with sadistic pleasure and glanced at the blood again. A crowd had gathered, presumably around the body, and obscured his view. Nothing could disappoint him now, though, so he turned back to Faustino again with a nod. “Yeah, we need to move out of this area, at least. They’ll be looking for whoever killed the officer, and I’m sure they’ll suspect it was me. All they need is one positive id, after all.” He smiled, in spite of what he was saying. “Do you mind if the candy waits until a little later?” He asked apologetically. Faustino deserved a reward, after all, and Donavan was overcome with the desire to spoil him. “We’ll have to pick out something else special to celebrate, once all this has cleared up.”

"All right, let's move, then," Faustino complied with a smile, taking Donavan's hand again. "And I don't mind waiting. Pleasing you is enough of a reward for me." He paused a moment, then added sheepishly, "Though, I would like a new pair of boots. If it's not too much trouble." He knew he really oughtn't, but he was getting used to Donavan buying him whatever he liked, and though he was always grateful, he liked very much being spoiled.

Donavan grinned, giving Faustino’s hand a squeeze as they ducked out of sight around another building. They would stay out of sight for as long as they could on their way back to Faustino’s house. “You can have as many pairs as you like,” Donavan cooed, looking forward helping Faustino pick them out.

“Second Lieutenant Brandon Hawes was killed this morning by Donavan D’Aubigne and one accomplice, seen fleeing the scene minutes after the shooting occurred.” General Rousseau said solemnly. Dragomir fidgeted anxiously, grinding his teeth. This sort of thing hadn’t happened in a long time; Donavan usually didn’t kill out in the open. “It seems Lieutenant Hawes spotted him while he was on duty and fired one shot before losing sight of him. Several civilians were able to confirm this account, and many people said that the criminal went so far as to remove his jacket.” The General shivered at the very idea it, and Dragomir recalled Donavan’s brazen disregard for convention. He probably hadn’t been wearing anything under his coat aside from a vest, either. “A service will be held for the Lieutenant this weekend,” Rousseau continued, rolling his eyes at the sentiment before becoming serious again. “Once more, I urge you all to do everything you can to make sure your comrade’s death was not in vain; we will be redoubling our efforts to apprehend this madman, before he can take the life of another dedicated soldier.” The General concluded at last, lowering his head in strained deference to the deceased. His hand strayed up to his cravat, where a new emerald broach that Dragomir didn’t recognize glimmered in the light. Dragomir had seen him wear a similar broach before, but it had been cracked, a fact that always struck Dragomir as odd because of the General’s dedication to appearance. Rousseau lowered his hand and turned away to face the Lt. Colonel. “I want everything reexamined—all the files are to be gone through once more and every lead we have should be checked a second or even third time. Gather as much information as possible, and please have a report for me by next Monday.” He then smiled and nodded to the rest of the officers, taking his leave.

Dragomir sighed, sinking back into his seat on Niles’s desk once he’d left the room. The latest announcement meant a lot of work to be done; hopefully it would be enough to distract Julian, who’d been thoroughly out of sorts ever since the duel a few days before. Dragomir sighed, looking over to Niles. “Well, what do you think we should start with?”

"Hmm..." Niles trailed thoughtfully, still musing somewhat on the ring that he was fairly sure hadn't been on the General's ring finger last time they had seen him. It was surprising, however, but not noteworthy, and so he said nothing of it, his mind returning to business at hand. "Well, why don't we look at the stuff you gave them when you joined the military?" he suggested finally. "Since you gave it, it makes the most sense, right? And then if anything sparks your memory, we can look into it." He knew there was probably some better idea out there, since he wasn't exactly the brightest person around, but, he figured, it was a start. "How does that sound?"

“All right, that sounds good to me.” Dragomir smiled, getting up with a nod. The Lt. Colonel had already sent a few people to retrieve the necessary files and when the returned, Dragomir got the large folder full of information of Donavan D’Aubigne and laid it out on Niles’s desk so that they could begin going through it. He was rather intimidated by the sheer quantity of reading that had to be done, and so waited for Niles to begin, hoping he could be helpful in some other way once they got going.

"Well, let's get started, then," Niles said blandly, turning to the back of the folder and withdrawing Dragomir's original statement. "I'll read this out loud for you, so you can see if you remember anything important, okay?" At Dragomir's ascent, he began to read the information, starting at the beginning. He never had read all the way through it, and so he tried to absorb the information as much as possible while he read for Dragomir.

Dragomir listened intently as Niles began to read though his statements. From the beginning however, he knew something was wrong. He furrowed his brow, waiting; perhaps the information he’d given had simply been reorganized and Niles would get to it later on in the folder. Dragomir bit his lip, waiting, but the information did not come; in fact, the list of things he was sure he’d testified about seemed to grow longer and longer. Something was definitely not right. Descriptions of various business transactions with many upper class business men were not included in the report Niles was reading, nor was any information on Donavan’s contacts with the Hispanian government. Several Berceuse Malheureuse hideouts had been omitted, including the abandoned brothel where Donavan had later taken Niles, which explained why the building hadn’t yet been demolished.

When Niles finished reading, Dragomir leaned over and thumbed through the file, double checking that he had gone though everything. “There’s a lot missing from this, Niles…” Dragomir concluded finally, looking up at him and furrowing his brow.

Niles blinked, confused. "Really? A-are you sure? I'm sure I didn't skip any lines, or anything..." He looked over it again. "I don't understand, Dragomir. What's going on?"

Dragomir shook his head, looking at the papers one more time, as if it would make a difference, as if he could even tell what they said. “I don’t know… but this information is all sealed so no one can make any modifications to it.” He double checked the front of the envelope to make sure it still had the military’s stamp on the front, forbidding any changes to the material. It was still there, of course, along with his and General Rousseau’s signatures, dated seven years earlier. “I don’t get it… Why isn’t everything here? I didn’t know before because…because I couldn’t ever read it.”

Niles looked, along with Dragomir, at the signatures and the stamps. "Well... maybe... General... Rousseau... changed it?" He couldn't think of anything else, as ludicrous as it was. "I don't know what else is possible... It doesn't make sense... but..." He shrugged. "I don't know... What do you think, Dragomir?"

Dragomir chewed on his lip and looked down at the General’s signature, as if expecting it to give him some sort of clue. “But why would he do that?” He asked stupidly. Seven years ago, the General, who was then only a Major, had been his biggest advocate, and seemed to be the only one with any real interest in apprehending Donavan. “He did all the interviews…” Dragomir said slowly. “He didn’t want anyone else to be involved at all. The General handled my case exclusively…” which would make it easy for him to manipulate, a nagging voice in the back of Dragomir’s head told him. “I don’t know… It’s just too weird…”

Niles nodded, knowing his idea would be rejected. "I just don't know what else it could be... it couldn't just be a mistake, right? There was too much stuff left out." He looked up at Dragomir. "I... I just don't know, Dragomir. It seems fishy. Don't you think we should try to at least look into it? I mean... sometimes, when the General does stuff... doesn't it seem a little fake? And weird?" He shook his head. "I don't know. It's all I can think of."

“Yeah…” Dragomir agreed. Even back then, the General had gone to the trouble of learning the names of his entire family, however his interest and concern had never seemed genuine. Not even close. Lately, more than ever before, the General’s fakeness had been even more disgustingly obvious. “Maybe we should try and figure things out a bit more.” He recalled Niles’s earlier theory—about how Donavan had found out about his trial—realizing the suspect in both cases was the same. It gave Dragomir and uneasy feeling, and he furrowed his brow, looking down at the signature again. “I know it couldn’t have been a mistake.” He reaffirmed, not daring to voice what that meant it must have been.

Niles nodded. "Well, we need to look through this stuff, anyway... so let’s look at a few of the others things, and make sure there's nothing missing from them either." He sighed, opening the folder again. "And.. I guess we'll just have to keep on the lookout for the General being strange... right?" This was all so unbelievable... he could barely believe it. But for right now, they had to focus on the task at hand.

“Yeah,” Dragomir nodded, leaning forward on his arms to listen to Niles as he started on the next set of papers. As Niles began to read the information aloud to him, Dragomir took a moment to look over at Julian’s desk and see what he was working on. As far as Dragomir was concerned, there was almost nothing Julian would be any good at in the current circumstances, but still, he was surprised to see that Julian wasn’t doing any work at all. Instead, he appeared to be mopping—disheartenedly flipping through a play program. Dragomir rolled his eyes, and was about to turn back to Niles when he noticed the title. It looked familiar, that particular configuration of letters, and he squinted, staring at it for another moment or two before he was able to confirm his theory. It was Tartuffe—Donavan’s favorite. Dragomir had seen it numerous times, and he knew for a fact that Donavan had never missed a production. “Niles,” He interrupted, as Niles was turning a page. “I think I know how we can find Donavan.”

Niles stopped mid sentence, and his eyes lit up. "Really? How, Dragomir?" If Dragomir knew where to find Donavan, that would be simply amazing! He had no idea how, but then again, Dragomir did work for him, and was just that amazing.

“Tartuffe’s playing.” Dragomir said blandly. “It’s his favorite. He’d never miss it.” He gestured to Julian, who had put his head down on his desk with the play program still visible in his hand. “If we can go to it, I’m sure we’d be able to fine him.” Dragomir said confidently. “He’d be in disguise, of course, but I know most of them. I’m sure I could recognize him.”

"Oh!" Niles exclaimed, then clapped his hands over his mouth, remembering to keep his voice down self-consciously. "That's a good idea! We should go!" He nodded vigorously. "I'll get us tickets. Besides, it'll be nice to see a play! I haven't seen very many at all, only read them. And maybe we'll be able to find out something new about Donavan, or even catch him!" Smiling brightly up at Dragomir, he laughed happily. "You're so smart, Dragomir!"

Dragomir smiled back at him, pleased with himself for coming up with the idea. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing the play—he knew it would remind him too much of Donavan—but if Niles was excited, then he could be as well. Seeing a play with Niles would be fantastic, he told himself; he didn’t have to remember times with Donavan. He’d make new memories. “I’m sure we can spot him!” Dragomir said confidently, his excitement for the event mounting. “And I bet we can get a hold of him, too.”

Niles smiled brightly back. "Great! I can't wait!" Even though this was an intentional meeting with Donavan, and Donavan scared him more than most any other person in the world, this time, he was confident. After all, they were on the offensive, they were making a move, and this time, they'd come out on top, for sure.

Percy paced impatiently around the perimeter of his finest parlor, glancing at the clock at even intervals of very short periods of time. He was expecting a visit from Algernon at ten that evening, and though it was only nine forty-five, he couldn’t contain his excitement enough to remain seated. Algernon so rarely visited his house, and to celebrate the occasion, Percy had dressed himself immaculately entirely in shades of ivory and gold, accented with green to match his broach. He hoped Algernon would like the outfit; he’d had it made just for the evening. Additionally, he had his chef prepare the finest cookies, biscuits, and crumpets, all perfectly flavored and seasoned to go with his most expensive imported oriental tea.

The door opened a just a crack, and Perceval jumped with excitement, hurrying to open it. “Algernon?” He asked hopefully; maybe the other had decided to arrive early.

“I-I’m s-so sorry, sir, but—” a servant squeaked pitifully, “It’s only me, sir. I was—I was just bringing up the tea, sir.” He flinched out of habit and offered the tray of silver dishes to Perceval, who snatched it away from him, glaring sternly down at the servant.

“It’s about time! He could be here any minute! I want all of you to remain out of sight. Algernon shouldn’t have to look at scum like you.” The servant bowed deeply, nodding vigorously to assure him that they would all remain perfectly hidden. Perceval would’ve liked to his the sniveling fool, but he held himself back; he didn’t want to mess up his hair—not when Algernon would be arriving so soon. With the servant gone, and the tea things laid out, Perceval contented himself to stand in front of the large elaborately framed mirror opposite the mantle. He redid his hair again, thoroughly combing it all out and straightened his jacket. He located a piece of lint on one stocking, for which his maid would pay dearly. He was quite certain he would be able to hear Algernon when he arrived, and so for the time being, Percival distracted himself with the mirror, going over every detail until he was certain he was perfect—ready for Algernon.

Algernon knocked at the door to Perceval's estate at exactly ten pm, and was quickly greeted by a nervous servant, who hurriedly showed him in and to the parlor. Algernon thanked him kindly with a nod, and he skittered away as Algernon let himself in. Inside, he found Perceval waiting for him, placed perfectly upon a sofa, like a porcelain doll in a case. Everything about his was just so: his hair smooth and laid out over his shoulders, his outfit elegantly accenting the broach Algernon did not fail to notice at his throat, his skin perfectly pale and soft and begging to be ruined. Algernon pressed the lock carefully behind him, then smirked as he made his way carefully across the room, bowing low before Perceval and taking his hand, kissing it. "Good evening, Percy, and thank you for your hospitality. I do so hope you are well?"

Perceval smiled and got to his feet, basking in Algernon’s presence adoringly and savoring the fleeting sensation of Algernon’s lips against his hand, longing for more and instructing himself to be patient. “I am, and I’m all the better now that you’re here.” Perceval said lovingly, batting his eyelashes. “And you? Thank you for coming so late.”

"I'm content so long as you are content, Percy," Algernon replied smoothly, "And really, it's no trouble at all. Thank you for having me." He smiled charmingly, running his hand along Perceval's cheek, his thumb along Perceval's lips idly, admiring what he knew belonged to him. "I do so hope I didn't keep you waiting?"

“Not in the slightest,” Perceval purred, allowing his eyes to slide shut dreamily, focusing all his attention of the touch—however slight—and relishing it. Slowly, he opened his eyes again and stared into Algernon’s for a minute before remembering his manners. “Please, have a seat,” he offered, sitting down gracefully and offering the seat next to him politely. “The tea is ready, as well, would you like some?”

"Thank you," Algernon replied politely, sitting, "And yes, please, thank you. No cream or sugar, please." He knew Perceval knew how he took his tea, but he always told him, anyway, as a matter of formalities. Watching as Perceval prepared the tea things, he smiled to himself, tapping his fingers on the arm of the sofa. He was so adorable, always so formal, and Algernon enjoyed just watching him, even when he didn't know he was being watched.

Perceval poured the tea with poise, holding the delicate porcelain teapot taking care to display the most beautiful aspects of the gold-leafed floral pattern. He passed the cup in its saucer—both made of pristine white china with a gold handle to match the teapot’s design—to Algernon, bowing slightly and waiting for Algernon’s approval of the flavor.

Algernon took a sip of his tea, then smiled. "Excellent, Percy... You do have exquisite tastes. Now, come sit with me, and we'll discuss business?" He tapped the seat next to him, raising his eyebrows. "After all, the sooner we get business out of the way, the better, right?" He sighed dramatically. "And I've been so lonely waiting for this meeting..."

Perceval smiled at Algernon’s approval and took his seat eagerly. Algernon was right, the sooner they finished discussing things, the better. It had been an awfully long time, after all, and Perceval’s heart went out to Algernon; he too had been suffering the pangs of loneliness and longing. “I know,” Perceval sighed, leaning against Algernon slightly and looking up into his eyes rather pitifully. “I kept myself busy all afternoon getting things ready…but I’ve been waiting for so long, too…” He sighed again and offered Algernon a biscuit. “Before ordering the tea,” Perceval began again, his tone the one he used for business, “I began coordinating the logistics of the upcoming event. My cousin,” Perceval said spitefully—he hated the idea of Donavan being around Algernon while he wasn’t there—“was also very helpful in recommending some talented assassins that would be perfect for the job.” Perceval concluded, hoping Algernon would be pleased with his work.

"Wonderful, and thank you, Percy. Excellent job as usual," Algernon replied with a smile and a brief touch to Perceval's cheek, accepting the biscuit and taking a small bite politely. "I'm sure your cousin has excellent taste in assassins, though not much else." He threw the last bit in to make Perceval happy, he knew he was always jealous (and had some reason to be, but that wasn't the point). "In the mean time, has M. D'Aubigne made arrangements for my visit? I'd hate for his little pet to be unprepared for the show."

At Algernon’s gab at Donavan, Perceval felt his spirits lift considerably and he too helped himself to a biscuit. Algernon’s praise caused him to relax further and took his mind off of all the horrible thoughts of his cousin. From what he’d heard, the little Hispanian boy had been progressing very very well, and Algernon was bound to be pleased. Sometimes his cousin knew what he was doing, Percy had to admit. “Oh yes, all the arrangements are in order,” Perceval said proudly. “From what he’s told me, you won’t be disappointed.” Perceval smirked rather malevolently before taking a tiny bite of his sweet and moving a tad closer to Algernon, his expression dissolving into one of the utmost affection.

Algernon set his finished tea things aside, smiling softly and putting an arm around Perceval, fingering his collar idly. "Excellent," Algernon approved with a nod. "Now, we must keep in mind, whatever assassin your cousin should choose, he needs to be informed that he isn't to kill, but only to make it appear such... of course, if he were to slip up, I don't know that anyone would mind, per say... but I would like to keep my dear cousin around a bit longer. Will that be too much of an inconvenience, Percy?"

“Oh no, of course not,” Perceval cooed, relishing the warmth of Algernon’s arm around him and the excitement the slightest move at his collar induced. Perceval had hoped not to tell the assassin anything about Algernon’s preference for his cousin to remain alive, but now that Algernon had mentioned it, he would deliver the message unfalteringly regardless of his own personal preference. If the event were up to him, he’d be sure that Christian died slowly and painfully. He’d already escaped far too many times, after all, and Perceval was somewhat impatient. This time though, he would just have to pray for a slip up and be sure Algernon’s wishes were respected; it was his plan, after all, and it was brilliant; flawless; perfection.
Algernon nodded, pleased. "And, of course, Her Majesty must be let in on our little plans... We'll have to consider how to go about that, won't we?" He sighed contentedly, then turned to smirk at Perceval. "I do believe that's about all, Percy. Can you think of anything else to which we need to attend?" He leaned in closer, nibbling at Perceval's ear before adding, his voice a low murmur, "Business... or otherwise?"

Perceval gasped with delight at Algernon’s teeth on his ear and shut his eyes, tilting his head back, ready for more. “There’s no more business, I don’t believe,” he murmured hopefully, opening his eyes a quarter of the way to peer at Algernon in a sultry fashion. He certainly had other needs that he felt should be attended to, and now that the evening’s business had been addressed, he could hardly restrain his impatience.

Algernon smirked. "Very well, then," he replied softly, taking advantage of Perceval's newly-exposed neck and leaning in to kiss and nip at all the pale skin. "I must say," he added, his voice still low as he pulled away to admire the marks already forming, "It is convenient to have your whole estate to ourselves... where would you like me to take you, Percy? Would you prefer your bedroom... or perhaps an office... or right here, right now?" He smirked, placing a kiss on Perceval's lips. "So many decisions, hmm? You must let me know..."

Perceval could hardly stand the idea of a decision right now; his breath had already started coming a little faster and his face had flushed with excitement. He didn’t want to move, he was desperate, but he also didn’t want to admit his own over-eagerness, either. “Well,” he gasped, “Since I do live by myself, precious few other rooms are…are really fit for entertaining.” He practically whined. “So if this room is acceptable…”

"Impatient, are we?" Algernon asked with a smirk, abruptly pulling Perceval to straddle his lap and kissing him hard on the lips. As they broke apart, he took Perceval's chin in his hand, smiling wickedly as he looked into his eyes, already hazy with lust. "Well, I most certainly wouldn't want to keep you waiting..."
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