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21 April 2008 @ 10:32 pm
Chapter 21~
Claimer: Our boys (and girls~)
Rating: R
Warnings: violence, sexual situations, language, yaoi, yuri... etc.

For the first time in a week, Niles was feeling cheerful as he came into work, holding Dragomir's hand discretely and walking with a bit of a skip in his step. He had finally recovered from the stress of the ordeal with Julian, and he was enjoying the summer weather, as well as Dragomir's near-complete recovery. As they entered the office, he dropped Dragomir's hand, but stayed a few paces behind him as they together moved to his desk. However, when he got there, he was surprised to find an envelope waiting for him.

With a confused look to Dragomir, he lifted the letter from his desk and broke the seal, pulling out the letter inside. He read over it quickly, but before he even finished, his hands began to tremble. "D-Dragomir..." he managed, his voice a whisper. "It-it's from the Commandant. He says that I have to go be his double-- I have to do it today!" HIs eyes shone with fear as he met Dragomir's, and the letter shook in his hands. "What am I going to do, Dragomir?"

“What?” Dragomir said more loudly than he’d intended. “How can he just up and tell you so abruptly!” Dragomir yelled, ignoring, the fact that Julian and everyone else in the room were now looking over at the two of them inquisitively. “Damn it.” Dragomir growled, lowering his voice and moving closer to Niles. “I…I don’t know what there is to do…” as the anger subsided slightly, his apprehension grew rapidly. Dragomir sat back against Niles’s desk and looked at him worriedly. “Did he say anything about why you have to go?” Dragomir was already trying to formulate a plan so that he could stay near Niles, just in case.

"N-no," Niles whispered back, "No one's supposed to know about it... it's... it's a secret. All I know is that I have to go today-- today at one, and pretend to be him until he comes back, and I don't know why he's leaving or why he picked me..." Niles' voice wavered, and he fought back tears. "I'm frightened, Dragomir... what if something happens again, what if he does something to me?" The idea of being trapped in the Commandant's office all day was terrifying to Niles, but he could see no way out of this.

“That bastard better actually be leaving!” Dragomir hissed, praying the Commandant would be too much in a hurry to go wherever he was going to lay a hand on Niles. Even so, Dragomir was worried. “I swear, if he does anything to you…” Dragomir said lowly. There was little he could do, he knew, but he simply couldn’t bear the thought of sitting by ideally the way he had the last time Niles had gone to see the Commandant.”I’ll walk you there, again, and wait outside. And if anything happens, I’ll be there.”

Niles nodded slowly, still quivering slightly. "Th-thank you, Dragomir..." he replied softly, taking Dragomir's hand for support. "I... I'm sure I'll be okay, if you're there..."

Niles tried as hard as he could to concentrate on work the rest of the day, but he simply couldn't, he was just so frightened. He wasn't sure what he thought might happen, but he was sure something would, and he was terrified. However, there was nothing he could do, and sooner than it seemed it should have, one rolled around and Niles had to go. Shakily, he excused himself, and, knowing Dragomir would be following him soon, he headed to the General Commandant's office. Taking a deep breath, he tried his best to calm himself, then knocked.

Algernon answered the knock at his door with a smile. "Welcome, Warrant Officer. Thank you for coming, it's so good of you," he greeted smoothly, ushering the boy inside. "I am sorry to impose upon you this way, but your task for today is quite simple. I've cancelled any appointments for today, and no one is to disturb me for the period I'm away. However, no one can know that I'm away, and so I need you to sit at my desk and leave the curtains open. Does that sound all right?"

Niles nodded, trying keep his voice steady. "Yes, of course, sir."

"Excellent," Algernon replied. "I'd be very appreciative if you didn't go through anything in the second or third drawer of my desk, but if you need ink or anything of the like, please, help yourself to anything in the top drawer. Do you have any question?"

Niles shook his head. "No, I don't think so, sir."

"Very well. I shall return around 7, I should think. Thank you again, Warrant Officer!" And with that, Algernon left, a smirk on his face. He was quite looking forward to seeing Donavan's little pet, and as an added bonus, Christian's life would be threatened. Life was good.

Dragomir watched apprehensively as Niles left the room, staring after him even after the door had closed. After a moment or so, he extracted his pocket watch and set it down on the table in front of him, impatiently watching as the seconds ticked by. For the purpose of avoiding suspicion, he was to wait at least five minutes before leaving to follow Niles and wait for him by Algernon’s door.

After four minutes, which Dragomir decided would have to be long enough, he replace his watch in his pocket and strode purposefully to the door, stopping in front of the Lt. Colonel and bowing deeply. “May I leave, sir? I have an errand…” It was a lame request, and he knew it, but he hadn’t come up with anything better, and he knew that the Lt. Colonel would have a good idea what he intended to do regardless of what he used as an excuse.

Niles sat behind the Commandant's desk for a good twenty minutes, fidgeting and fingering various pens and things, and held his breath in case the Commandant would return, but luckily, nothing happened. Now that his fear had, for the most part, dissipated, he realized that this was really quite boring, and after another five or ten minutes of nothing, he was hit with a great idea. He could let Dragomir in! Then he wouldn't be alone, and he would have protection if anything were to happen.

Hopping to his feet, he hurried to the door and cracked it open, peering out. "Dragomir?" he called tentatively, "Are you there?"

Dragomir straightened up immediately and hurried to Niles’s side. “Of course,” he grinned, following him inside. “Are you all right?” he asked, his expression returning to one of seriousness as he took Niles’s hands in his own. “Did anything happen?” With a glance to both sides to confirm the hallway was indeed still empty, Dragomir placed a brief kiss on Niles’s lips for reassurance. He was glad to have been able to come, and relieved Niles felt it safe enough to open the door. The Lt. Colonel had, luckily, taken pity on Dragomir’s situation as well, and let him leave—she probably knew that he would’ve gotten no work done at all without Niles, and would’ve spent the entire afternoon worrying about him anyway. Dragomir took a step back, looking over Niles quickly. He appeared to be all right, and since he knew Algernon left some twenty minutes earlier, probably just after Niles arrived, it was likely the Commandant hadn’t had the chance to hurt Niles at all during the time they’d been apart. Still, he couldn’t help but worry during the ten minutes he’d been waiting out in the hall, and he was thankful to see Niles after so short of a time.

"I'm fine," Niles replied with a nod, kissing Dragomir back. "Thank you for coming for me! Do you want to come in? I'm alone for the next six hours and it's boring here. No one's supposed to come in, and you just have to stay out of view of the windows. Would that be okay?" He smiled sweetly, hoping that Dragomir would come and keep him company.

“I think so,” Dragomir said rather mischievously, his grin returning as he followed Niles inside, taking in the large and elegant room. It was quite impressive, and it gave Dragomir a slight chill as he thought of what Niles had gone through inside. At the same time, however, he got a thrill out of being in a place he knew he had no right to enter—by going so against the Commandant’s wishes, Dragomir couldn’t help but feel that it was almost like revenge for what the Commandant had put him through as far as being anxious for Niles every time he was called away. Taking care to stick to the wall so that he was out of view of the windows, Dragomir followed Niles back to the Commandant’s desk. Dragomir finished his visual tour of the office and returned his gaze to Niles. “Did he say where he was going, or anything like that?” The assignment still quite thoroughly puzzled Dragomir, and he hoped Niles had some new information.

Niles shook his head. "No, only that he was going away." He sighed, sitting down at the desk again and resting his head on his palms. "All he said was to leave the windows open, so people could see I was in here, and not to look in his desk." He hesitated a moment. "Do you think... do you think we should do that? Look in his desk, I mean?" Looking over the piece of furniture, he noticed something. "There's a metal ring nailed in over here that seems kind of weird, too. I wonder what it's for? Do you think that any of this could have to do with why he always tries to hurt me...?"

Dragomir craned his neck to see what Niles was referring to, slightly concerned that he may be spotted through the window. After all, if the Commandant specifically emphasized that Niles was to be seen through the windows, who knew who could be watching. “That’s strange,” he commented, referring to the ring and furrowing his brows. “Is his desk locked?” Dragomir asked. Perhaps, as Niles had suggested, they could discover something about why the Commandant was so interested in Niles.

Niles tried the second drawer. "No," he reported, pulling it open. "This is just a bunch of envelopes and letters, though. Oh, and some guns. Do you want to see, Dragomir?" He motioned to the windows. "I could probably close them for a few minutes."

“Yeah,” Dragomir replied gratefully, interested to see what the Commandant didn’t want even Niles to be looking at. “Do you recognize any names on the envelopes?” He had no idea what he thought them might find, and now that he thought about it, the Commandant could have possibly only warned Niles against looking in the third and second drawers so as to inspire curiosity. If that was the case, they would just have to hope that the drawers weren’t some kind of trap.

Niles hurried to close the blinds, the returned to the desk, flipping through the envelopes. "No, I don't see anything I recognize..." he started to comment, but then came across something. "No, wait, here's one that's from the general." He lifted the letter from the pile, blinking. "I think it's scented or something..." he remarked, sniffing the paper. "Smells like... roses...?" Carefully, he opened the envelope and took out the letter and read it. "It says, 'My most admired and revered Commandant, I'll be at your office tonight at ten, as you requested. Your forever faithful servant, Perceval Rousseau.'" He blinked again. "That's a little weird, don't you think?"

“It is,” Dragomir agreed, leaning forward to sniff the paper and screwing up his nose, slightly disturbed. “Ten? Do they really stay here working that late? What could they be doing?” What with all the suspicious evidence they’d found around the General, the discovery of the letter made him question the two superior officers involvement with great interest.

"I don't know," Niles replied, then added, "Do people normally address letters like that?" He chose another letter at random to check. "I mean, this one starts, 'General Commandant' and ends without any sort of fancy thing. Is that just because he's General Rousseau? Or what...?"

“I bet that’s it…” Dragomir nodded. The General was rather strange, after all, and he was always overdoing things it seemed to Dragomir. “It sounds more like the way someone would address an informal letter between friends, though. Do you think they know each other outside of work?” He recalled one of Perceval’s dances, and remembered that they’d seen the Commandant there, but it seemed rather unlikely that they were anything more than acquaintances. Delicately, Dragomir picked up one of the hand guns and turned it over in his hands, admiring the craft. It was loaded, he noted, and the discovery prompted him to replace it gingerly.

"Maybe," Niles agreed. "That seems strange, though. I... didn't think the General had any friends." he admitted sheepishly. "He seems too mean." When Dragomir did, he also picked up one of the guns, a larger revolver, and was surprised to find it empty. "Only one of them is loaded," he remarked curiously. "I wonder why."

“Good question… If he had them for self defense, why is the lowest caliber one the only he’s got loaded?” Dragomir agreed that picturing the Commandant with any friends was a strange thought, and he wondered how anyone could possibly find a friendship with someone so cruel rewarding in the slightest. “Try the next drawer,” Dragomir encouraged, deciding they’d exhausted any possible reasoning behind the assortment of letters and weapons.

"All right," Niles agreed, replacing the letters and closing the second drawer before opening the bottom one. Inside were quite a few files and folders all neatly lined up together, and Niles was daunted by the sheer quantity. "Do you think I should look at them...?" he asked tentatively. "What if they're military secrets, or something?"

Dragomir shrugged, smirking at the idea of being privy to military secrets. “I think he would’ve locked the drawer if they were that important, but if they are, why shouldn’t we know anyway?” He was terribly curious was sorts of things the Commandant would devote a whole drawer too, even if the folders contained information that wasn’t relevant to the military. No matter how irrelevant their findings were, the very process of snooping was exhilarating, and Dragomir was curious to learn as much as he could.

"O-okay," Niles responded, still a little unsure. He pulled out a file at random, opening it and peering inside. "Let's see... this is a file on a woman, someone named Eliana Esparanza...? It seems a little random... it says her husband was hanged for treason because he was suspected in some Hispanian conspiracy, and she has one young son... do you have any idea who this is, Dragomir? It's not anyone I should know, right?" He blinked at Dragomir, confused.

Dragomir furrowed his brow, searching his memory for any Esparanzas he might have know or heard about through the Berceuse Malheureuse. If her husband really was a conspirator against the state, there was almost no doubt that the Berceuse Malheureuse hadn’t been involved. He’d met his fair share of Hispanian criminals, but the name Esparanza didn’t register as any he’d heard of. “No, I don’t think so. I haven’t heard of her or her husband, either.” But, he reasoned, the husband could have very well only recently established ties with the organization. “Why would he have a file on someone like her, in his desk, and everything? You don’t think the file was taken from the military records room, do you?”

"Maybe," Niles agreed, still trying to make it all make sense. "You mean, like, he's planning something with her? Do you think he's trying to kill her or something? Or what?" He sighed, setting the file aside and looking back into the drawer. "I just don't understand."

He leafed through the pile for a while, looking for anything of interest, when a specific folder caught his attention. It was all the way in the back, and more worn than the others, as if it had been around for a long time. Curiously, Niles withdrew it and opened it up to reveal quite a few newspaper clippings. Gingerly, he removed them and set the folder aside, reading the headlines. "Look at these, Dragomir... 'New General Commandant Chosen: The successor chosen by late General Commandant Jacques Devereux of the Gallian Armed Forces has been revealed to the general public today...' and then 'Commandant Returns from Hispania, Doctors Estimate One Month Left,' and then 'General Commandant Leaves for Hispania, Leaving Protege in Command'..." He read off several headlines, going backwards in time, all centering around the former General Commandant, Jacques Devereux, and all including something of the current Commandant. Niles continued to flip through them until he came to the oldest two, yellowed with time and wrinkled around the edges, but still legible. Setting them out in front of him, he read the newer of the two first: "'General Commandant Offers Home to Orphan: General Commandant Jacques Devereux made public Monday that he would be offering his home to Algernon Mauvais, 12. Mauvais was the victim of his mother's terrible murder of his father and following suicide, and was left orphaned as of last month. Now, he will be given a home by the General Commandant of the Gallian military himself...' and then there's this one... 'Child Left Orphaned in Terrible Tragedy: Last night left a twelve year old boy orphaned in a terrible event. Claire Mauvais, the boy's mother, murdered her husband before killing herself, all while the child was at home..."

When he finished reading, Niles was overwhelmed with information and quite confused. "...What do you think, Dragomir?"

“Wait—” Dragomir said lamely, equally confused as he looked over the newspapers once again even though he couldn’t read any of the headlines anyway. “I heard once that they were close—the currant and late Commandants—but not that he’d been adopted. Why would the former Commandant want to adopt a kid, anyway? And all that with his parents…” Dragomir was still rather stunned, and had no idea what to think about it all. Really, it was almost too much information, and the only thing he knew for sure now was that he would view the Commandant in an entirely different light. Niles had wondered why the General Commandant hurt him—and Dragomir figured they might be able to attribute the man’s violence to his parents’ horrific death. Still, the Commandant’s actions against Niles were inexcusable, and finding out a little bit more about his past didn’t change Dragomir’s hatred for him in the slightest.

"I-- I don't know," Niles stammered in reply, looking back over the headlines. "Maybe he wanted kids, but couldn't...? I really don't know..." He bit his lip. "But... I guess, if the Commandant's family was so messed up... maybe that's why he's so cruel to me..." He thought a moment, then a thought struck him, something he'd pushed out of his mind long before up until now. "Once... One time, he called my 'cousin'. I'm really sure I don't have any family, but... maybe I remind him of his family, or something?" He blushed sheepishly. "I have no idea, really. I'm just guessing."

“Why would he use the word ‘cousin’ then?” Dragomir wondered out loud. “You mentioned that before, I think.” Dragomir shivered, thinking back to Niles’s accounts of previous experiences with the Commandant. Dragomir took a final look at the assorted paper clippings and took a deep breath. While he was still curious about it all, he realized that he was rather disturbed to have found out so much about the Commandant—someone he thoroughly loathed—and the thrill of breaking the rules had already begun to dissipate somewhat. “I don’t know that I really wanted to know so much about him,” Dragomir admitted to Niles, laughing uneasily. “You don’t think he’ll be able to tell we’ve gone through the drawers, do you?”

Niles nodded in agreement, beginning to replace the clippings in order into the folder. "I hope not... I don't think he will," he responded, placing the folder back into the drawer, along with everything else he had taken out. "I ought to open the windows, though, so stay out of view, okay?" He made his way over to the blinds, drawing them back and glancing outside for a moment before returning to sit behind the desk. "The Commandant really is a mystery... I wonder if we'll ever figure this out."

Dragomir was about to reply when he heard the door knob turn and dashed behind a sofa, praying he was out of sight and cursing the soundproofed walls. He couldn’t see the door from where he was hidden, unless he exposed himself by peering around the edge of the furniture, so instead he strained his ears to catch the exchange, wondering if they would discover anything else about the Commandant from his visitor.

Niles' breath caught in his throat, and he sat stiffly behind the desk, worried that whoever it was would discover it to be him, instead of the Commandant, and that something bad would happen. The door opened to reveal an average-looking man in an officer's uniform, and he shut the door behind him again before approaching Niles. Niles didn't know what to do, didn't know what to say, if anything, but the thought was pushed from his mind when, all of a sudden, the man drew a gun and pointed it at Niles. Startled and terrified, Niles dropped to the floor, taking cover as best possible under the desk and shrieking, "Dragomir!"

Dragomir jumped to his feet as the gun went off and extracted his own pistol as the man turned to face him. They were at an impasse, both armed, and neither willing to budge. “What the hell are you doing?” Dragomir demanded. Was this an assassin sent to kill the Commandant? Why? Did the Commandant know ahead of time? Is that why he had Niles sit in for him? Dragomir’s mind was racing, and he edged around couch carefully, not taking his eyes off of the armed man, who remained silent.

Niles wasn't sure what was going on from his current position, but he could tell Dragomir and the assassin were at a standoff. What was he going to do? He was terrified that the man would hurt him, or worse, somehow hurt Dragomir, and he simply couldn't bear the thought. Swallowing his fear, he quickly opened the Commandant's desk again, pulling out one of the guns. He didn't know which was the loaded one, but he wasn't sure it mattered; even if the man only thought he could shoot, maybe it would save them. Clutching the pistol in shaking hands, he rose to his feet, also aiming at the man, trying to hide his fear.

“You’re out-armed.” Dragomir said coolly, nodding towards Niles and flashing him a brief and thankful grin. “Drop it.” The man turned his weapon on Niles and Dragomir cocked his own loudly, causing him to pause, apparently considering how to respond. Slowly, he turned back to Dragomir and let his weapon clatter to the floor as he lifted his empty hands above his head. Dragomir still didn’t lower his gun; if this really was an assassin, there was almost no doubt in his mind that he was still armed. A knife, perhaps, in his sleeve. Dragomir continued edging forward making his way to the disarmed man until he was close enough to kick the dropped pistol into the corner of the room. “If you move, I’ll kill you,” Dragomir murmured, then continued, a little louder, “Answer my question. What are you doing here?”

The man looked around the room coolly, still ignoring Dragomir, weighing his options. He looked at the windows for a long time, before slowly turning to Dragomir. “I’d really appreciate if you’d put that down,” he smiled gently. “I’m quite unarmed.” As he spoke, he lowered his arms almost imperceptibly lower, positioning himself for retaliation. In a split second, the man’s fist connected hard with Dragomir’s solar plexus, who doubled forward, almost losing hold of his weapon. The man seized the opportunity, drawing a small knife and lunging forward at Niles, slashing viciously.

Unsteadied by the blow though he was, Dragomir still had the man at point blank range. He lifted his arm quickly and without thinking, shot him clean through the temple. The man collapsed, dead, on the Commandant’s desk, a portion of his skull disfigured by the bullet where the blood was already soaking into the hair around the wound. Dragomir ran forwards and pulled the body from the desk, letting it drop to the ground. “Are you all right, Niles?” He asked anxiously, looking over Niles to confirm he’d shot the man in time.

"I-I'm okay," Niles replied shakily, nodding. He hurried over to Dragomir's side, partly because he always felt safer there, and partly to see the body. "Do you think... do you think he was trying to kill the Commandant?" He was still so shaken from the event that he was having trouble thinking, but then another thought struck him. "Dragomir...What am I going to tell the Commandant?! He's going to find out for sure...what should I do?"

“You have to tell him.” Dragomir said slowly as he reholstered his pistol, not taking his eyes off of the body. “If it was an assassin, it’s our duty to tell him his life is in danger.” He bit his lip and looked into Niles’s eyes. He still looked thoroughly shaken, and Dragomir felt bad that he had to go through something so frightening on behalf of such a loathsome person. Dragomir sighed, pulling Niles into his arms. “But you can’t tell him it was me…” The problem, Dragomir realized, was that for Niles to have killed the man, the bullet’s exit wound was clearly on the wrong side of the head. Niles would have had to shoot the man from behind to produce a wound of that shape, and the situation was far too unlikely.

There was only one solution. Dragomir placed a kiss on Niles’s head lovingly, and mumbled, “You don’t have to watch. Hold on.” Releasing Niles and staying out of view of the windows, Dragomir lifted the body by its blood soaked military issue jacket so that it was facing him and shot the corps in the gut before letting it fall to the ground again. Shuddering slightly in disgust, Dragomir returned to Niles and handed him the pistol. “You used this gun to shoot him in the belly when he came at you with the knife. You were trying to get to the door when you realized he was still alive. You had to come back closer to get the shot, and you put a bullet in his head so that he would die painlessly.” Dragomir spoke carefully, pausing after he was finished to make sure all the details were in order. “That bastard Commandant better explain to you what’s going on after all of this!” Dragomir snarled, again pulling Niles into his arms protectively. “And I swear, if he left because he knew there was a threat on his life, and he knowingly put you in danger, I’ll kill him!”

Niles felt safer in Dragomir's arms, and huddled there, hiding from the corpse he knew he would have to face eventually. "A-all right... I'll try... I'll try to remember that story," he replied, his voice still trembling slightly. He himself was still shaking, as well, and his nerves were on edge; he couldn't bear to think of doing anything else scary right now, yet he knew he would have to. He tried to fight it, but emotion overwhelmed him at all the thoughts, and he broke down in tears, burying his face in Dragomir's chest. "Oh, Dragomir, I don't want to! I don't want to have to be alone in here with the Commandant again... I'm afraid! I'm so afraid..." He knew he was being stupid, but he just couldn't help it, and so he continued to cry, his sobs muffled in Dragomir's clothing.

Dragomir cooled immediately and squeezed Niles gently trying to calm him. “It’ll be all right,” Dragomir said softly. “He can’t do anything to you. He owes you his life now.” Dragomir pulled back slightly so that he could look into Niles’s eyes and wipe away his tears. “And I’ll be right on the other side of the door, waiting.” His voice strengthened, and he nodded to affirm his words. “I love you—I'll be here for you."

Niles sniffed, pulling back slightly to look up at Dragomir, and nodded. "O-okay... as long as I know you're there..." He took a deep breath, nodding in a sort of encouragement for himself. "As long as you're there, I'll be able to do it."

Niles stayed as close to Dragomir as possible for the rest of the time he was to be alone in the office, but all too soon, seven rolled around, and Dragomir was forced to return to the hall, promising to wait for Niles right outside, leaving Niles alone in the office once again. It was bad enough to be there without anyone for company or protection, but now Niles was left alone with the corpse of the assassin, which only made it worse. He was almost glad when, right on time, the Commandant returned, looking very pleased.

Niles got to his feet quickly, so as to explain the disgusting cadaver which was now sprawled across the Commandant's formerly pristine floor. "Sir-- while you were away-- an assassin-- I- I killed him, sir-- he--" He was unable, however, to get out any coherent phrases, and he hoped the Commandant could understand what he was talking about.

Algernon was startled to see his assassin dead, however, he pretended to be startled in general. "Oh my gracious! This assassin tried to kill you? Are you all right, my dear child?" He put a hand to the Warrant Officer's face in a comforting manner. "He didn't hurt you, did he? Oh, I feel so guilty to have put you in danger!"

"A-actually, I think he was probably trying to kill you," Niles managed, trying to politely get away from the Commandant's cold hands. "I-I managed to kill him, sir, I'm all right."

"I'm so relieved you're all right," Algernon replied, in too good of a mood for even this little setback to upset him. "I'm sure you've had a very traumatic experience, Warrant Officer. You're excused for today, and if I need to speak to you again, I'll call for you later."

Niles, extremely relieved, bowed his best before darting from the office. To see Dragomir... to go home... right now, that seemed like the best thing in the world.

Donavan got out of the Automobile before his driver could open the door for him and walked around to let Faustino out himself. Grinning brightly, he offered the boy his hand, and helped him out of the seat. Today was a big day for him; Perceval had arranged an audience with Algernon so that Faustino could demonstrate his ever increasing skills as an adept assassin. Everything was in order: the location was secured by a perimeter of disguised Berceuse Malheureuse guards, and the General and the Commandant would be arriving at any moment. Donavan had even found the perfect subject—an old member of the organization that had been friends with Dragomir, and who turned against him when Dragomir left. Lazare, the fool, had fled to Hisparia only recently, but Donavan had connections even there and was able to track him down easily. Death by Fuastino’s talented hands was a much grander death than a simple disserted deserved, but the man was dangerous alive—a fact Donavan had already explained to Faustino.

Lazare was waiting, bound and gagged, inside an old warehouse located on the peer Donavan’s father owned and used primarily for illegal transactions with foreign nations. The salty smell of the sea was thick in the air, and Donavan inhaled deeply, his grin widening as he looked down at Faustino affectionately. “Are you ready?”

Faustino held Donavan's hand tightly as he followed him towards the pier. Today he was to complete an important task for Donavan: to kill a man who had deserted him, a man dangerous if left alive. That in and of itself was not too nerve-racking, though it was important, but Faustino was getting a little jittery, because today he wouldn't just be performing for Donavan. Donavan had explained to him that today, he'd be showing off his skills for the General Commandant of the Gallian military himself, as well as Donavan's cousin, of whom Faustino was not entirely too fond. That didn't matter, however, because if he did a good job with this task, Donavan had told him that the Commandant would want him to do some jobs for him, too, a thought which still amazed Faustino. Imagine, him doing jobs for the military! And Donavan had explained that if he helped out the Commandant, it was really helping him in the end, too, and Faustino wanted to do anything he could to help Donavan. So despite his nerves, he was excited to get started, excited to prove himself worthy of the General Commandant. Smiling back up at Donavan, he nodded. "I'm ready."

“Good,” said brightly, rubbing his hands together in excitement. “I know you’ll do wonderfully. The Commandant is sure to be very impressed.” Donavan was looking forward to seeing Algernon again, but he was most excited for his protégé to be evaluated, and Donavan intended to brag about Faustino’s accomplishments every chance he got. At that moment, an automobile pulled up and stopped just in front of them. Donavan smiled brightly down at Faustino once more, before striding over to greet Algernon and his cousin.

“Good afternoon, Commandant, Cousin.” Donavan bowed deeply to Algernon after both men had gotten out of the Automobile, offering his cousin only a small simple bow because he knew Perceval would feel disrespected. Sure enough, his cousin flushed with anger, and Donavan couldn’t help but smirk with pleasure. “Thank you for coming. You remember Faustino, don’t you?” Donavan presented the boy to Algernon proudly.

"Indeed," Algernon replied with a smile to the child, who still looked altogether too innocent and cute to be a murderer, but he didn't believe that Donavan would lie to him, and so he bent over slightly to address the child. "And how are you today, young master Esparanza?"

"Very well, thank you, sir," Faustino replied evenly, "And yourself?" He could tell that the Commandant was underestimating him, which irritated him greatly, but he knew he would show him. Faustino would not be taken for a fool, and he would make that clear to the Commandant today, when he completed the task that Donavan had assigned him. For now, he could only prove that his intellectual level was higher than that of a child, and so he looked back pleasantly at the Commandant, waiting for a response.

Algernon was surprised by the boy's precocious nature, and nodded. "That all depends on you, master Esparanza." Then, offering Perceval his arm in an attempt to placate him, he turned back to Donavan. "Well, then, M. D'Aubigne. Where are we headed? We're following you." He smiled, looking forward to what was to come. If nothing else, it would certainly be interesting.

Donavan nodded with a smile before turning to Faustino. “Good luck, Faustino.” Donavan grinned, looking over him proudly before returning his attentions to Algernon and Perceval. “Right this way,” Donavan bowed again them both before turning on his heal and leading his guests to the old steps that wound up to the roof of the nearest warehouse. Once they were in position, Donavan would signal to one of his men to release Lazare, at which point, the show would begin. Lazare was to be given a letter, signed by Donavan, releasing him with a mild warning. The poor fool would be so beside himself to be released, that he would likely flee the area right away, unaware of the fact that Faustino was waiting to pick him off—all for the viewing pleasure of the General Commandant.

“Here we are.” Donavan announced when they’d reached the roof. “It’ll only be a minute longer.” He smiled at Algernon charmingly, completely ignoring his cousin, who seemed rather distraught—the wind was blowing his ridiculously long hair all over the place, and he was struggling to get it under control. Donavan made a signal to his man, and squinted to locate Faustino before pointing him out to the rest of the audience. “Watch closely, please.” Donavan didn’t want either of them to miss a moment of Faustino’s triumph, after all.

With Donavan's last words of encouragement boosting his spirits, Faustino allowed Donavan's friend to lead him to where he was supposed to go. Donavan had told him what the man he was supposed to be killing looked like, and so once he was left at his waiting point, he stayed on guard, peering down the alley in the direction he was told the man would be coming. He knew that, somewhere, Donavan was watching him, and though he would have liked to have him by his side, the knowledge that Donavan was looking after him was enough.

It felt like far too long to Faustino, but finally, a man emerged into the alley, hurrying forth. It was Lazare, Donavan's enemy, and Faustino didn't hesitate. Stepping into the alley, he drew his pistol and aimed carefully at the man's back. He didn't have time to go for the head; his target was running away, and the movement, as well as the time constraint, impeded him from doing so. After a split second, Faustino fired, watching as the bullet lodged in the back of the man's shoulder and he fell to the ground. However, Faustino knew that he wouldn't be dead yet, and so he moved in closer.

The man was obviously in considerable pain as Faustino approached him; he was struggling to get up, but not having much success, his shoulder was soaked in blood. Faustino felt a little sorry for him, and was glad that he was going to be putting him out of his misery. Even if he was a terrible person, and even if he did have to die, Faustino felt like he ought to do it speedily, and so he quickly took aim again, shooting the man easily in the head from his close range. He looked away to keep the blood from spattering in his face, but only for a moment, before he approached the body and nudged it with his foot, to make sure it was dead. It was indeed, and, with a sense of accomplishment, he smiled and ran back to the person who worked for Donavan. "Can we go see Donavan now?"

Algernon took a step back from the edge of the roof, impressed. He was silent a moment, thinking to himself, before he turned back to Donavan. "Excellent show, absolutely excellent. I must commend you, M. D'Aubigne, I am quite impressed. In due time, I'm sure he will be quite unrivaled." He nodded, glancing back over the roof as the child was led away before turning back to Donavan. "I assume you will continue his training?"

“Of course.” Donavan beamed. Things couldn’t have gone better—Lazare had no idea what hit him, and the execution was clean. “I intend to cultivate him into a first class assassin, and he’s already well on his way.” Donavan swelled with pride and placed his hands on his hips. “You should see how far he’s already progressed he—”

“You know, a shot like that would never work in a non-controlled setting like this.” Perceval interrupted huffily. “Two-shot kills are unacceptable.”

Donavan, though slightly taken aback, managed a laugh. “I think you forget, cousin, how young he is. It’s really quite an accomplishment.”

“Oh yes, of course.” Perceval folded his arms haughtily. “I didn’t mean to insult your efforts. But he’s not ready.”

“He will be! He’s already made remarkable progress, don’t you think?” Donavan turned to Algernon, all most imploringly. Usually, he would never let Perceval push him around so much, but with Faustino, things were more complicated. He couldn’t ignore his cousin’s comment, nor could he let the insult stand. Faustino, after all, deserved nothing but praise, and he hoped Algernon could shut Perceval up.

"I agree wholeheartedly," Algernon replied with a nod. He was in too good of a mood to say no, because he really was extremely impressed with the child's performance, and he intended to sway Perceval, too. He had a feeling he was just being obstinate because it was Donavan, and so he turned to him with a bit of a frown. "Though, you're really not impressed with him, Percy? I hate to see you unhappy, but I really am so impressed with the child's progress..."

As he was saying this, Faustino appeared on the roof, Donavan's underling behind him. When he saw Donavan, he broke into a grin, running across the roof to him. "Did I do a good job Donavan? Did you see me? Was it okay?" He looked up at Donavan hopefully, his eyes shining with the pure desire to please him. "Did I make you happy, Donavan?"

All of Donavan’s frustrations with his cousin disappeared as soon as he spotted Faustino and he smiled broadly, brimming with pride. “You always make me happy,” Donavan beamed. “And of course I saw you! You did even better than I could have hoped!” Donavan glanced back at Perceval, who was noticeably pouting at the fact that Algernon had disagreed with him.

“You’ve come a long way from being a petty pickpocket.” Perceval admitted to Faustino begrudgingly. Donavan smirked at his cousin’s reference to the time Faustino had stolen from him, his humor restored.

Faustino grinned at Donavan's cousin, pleased that even he, as annoying and stuck up as he was, was pleased. "I'm glad you think so, sir," he responded politely, then turned back to the Commandant. "And are you impressed with my performance, sir?"

"Oh, very," Algernon replied to the child with a nod. "I have already given my complements to M. D'Aubigne. You have done very well."

"Thank you, sir," Faustino replied, his grin broadening as he turned back to Donavan. "I'm so happy I made everyone happy!" he announced, unable to restrain himself any longer and throwing his arms around Donavan. "Especially you! I'm so glad that I could help you, and that you're pleased, Donavan! I love you!" He realized that it was a little childish of him to be so informal with Donavan in public, especially when he was supposed to be acting like a grown-up, but he just couldn't hold it in.

Donavan was a little surprised by Faustino’s shift in demeanor—he usually tried to act very mature around other people—but Donavan was perfectly willing to be affectionate in public. After all, Faustino really had done a wonderful job, and Donavan wanted to make sure he knew how much he was appreciated. “You’ve done me a great service, Faustino.” He grinned, lifting Faustino into his arms. “And I love you too,” Donavan added, pecking Faustino on the forehead without thinking.

Faustino was both surprised and elated at Donavan's show of affection; he knew that Donavan cared for him, but for some reason, to hear him say it made him extremely happy, and he smiled widely, putting his arms around Donavan's neck and resting his head on his shoulder. "I'm so glad," he replied contentedly. "I'll do anything for you, Donavan."

Algernon looked on at the obvious display of affection going on in front of him and raised an eyebrow. He hadn't realized that Donavan had that sort of interest in the boy... but then again, who was he to question? He was sure the boy would get on fine, after all, he had, and Donavan's sexual habits were none of his concern. Still, the accomplished young boy struck a chord with him, and he sighed, remarking, "I'm sure, Master Esparanza, that you will become quite accomplished. You remind me of myself as a child."

As scandalized as Perceval was by the actions of his cousin, and the very obvious unhealthy affection he had for the young boy, Algernon’s comment brought it all home for Perceval and he felt suddenly quite disturbed. As much as Perceval adored Algernon, he would be the first to admit that his upbringing had been very unwholesome. For Algernon to even suggest that the Esparanza boy could be headed in the same direction—at the hands of his own cousin, no less—made Perceval extremely uncomfortable. Still…for Algernon to say it the way he had, it was a complement, and perhaps the boy would turn out similarly driven to succeed. But honestly, Perceval did not want to think about the process. He folded his arms and looked awkwardly out to the murky ocean, hoping for a change of subject; if things continued in their current vein, Perceval would be forced to voice his concerns.

Faustino was a little taken aback by the Commandant's comment, but smiled back. "Thank you, sir. I hope I can achieve as much as you have." Then, turning back to Donavan, he added, "I know I want to do everything I can for Donavan, because he's done so much for me."

Algernon smiled congenially, trying to be kind to the child who would play such an integral part in his plan, though he wasn't used to much conversation with children. After all, he wanted the child not to dislike him, even if was likely to complete the task correctly so long as Donavan said for him to do so. "That's very nice of you. I'm sure M. D'Aubigne appreciates everything you do for him, too."

Donavan nodded in agreement, setting Faustino back down and taking and holding his hand. “I do,” he smiled down at the boy. “You might not realize it, but you really do a whole lot for me, Faustino, and I’m sure you’ll continue to be able to do even more.”

“Let’s hope not.” Perceval interrupted. He could tell his cousin wasn’t aware of just how he was making their relationship appear, but even so, Perceval wanted to put a stop to it right now. After all, Donavan was his cousin, and his behavior might reflect poorly on him someday. “I think what you both do for each other now is about as far as it should go.” Donavan gave him a puzzled look, and Perceval sighed. “Honestly, I would be weary of how you treat him. You’re not his father—you can’t coddle him like that. Especially since you have a tendency to develop such unhealthy relationships.”

Finally the meaning of Perceval’s words began to sink in and Donavan blushed furiously, dropping Faustino’s hand. “How dare you even suggest that! It’s—it’s not like that—I would never—!” He ground his teeth, searching for a defense, and instead only managed a bitter laugh. “I really don’t think it’s your business to decide what is and is not healthy for me anyway, cousin. But I can assure you that you are very much mistaken.”

Faustino wasn't sure what was going on, nor did he understand what Donavan's cousin was talking about, but he knew one thing: he was upset. How could he say that Donavan wasn't allowed to love him? Faustino assumed that he must be bitter, or jealous, or something, but he certainly wasn't going to allow for that stuck up man to tell Donavan what he was allowed to do, especially when it came to him.

Glaring threateningly at Donavan's cousin, he took a step towards him. "Stop being so mean to Donavan! You have no right to tell him what to do. I love him and he loves me, and there's nothing you can do about that! Just because no one cares about you, don't take it out on him! So stop it, or else." As he finished, his anger cooled a little, and he realized that he had just threatened Donavan's cousin, and the pit of his stomach clenched. It wasn't that he was afraid to take on the General; he was absolutely positive that he could defeat the man with one hand tied behind his back, but he wasn't so sure Donavan would be pleased with him if he were to do so. Turning to look back at Donavan, he gave an apologetic look, hoping that he wouldn't get in trouble.

“L-look here, you!” Perceval stammered, despite his efforts to sound completely unafraid. “You don’t have any idea what we were discussing!” Swallowing a bit of his pride, Perceval took a step closer to Algernon and grabbed his arm. He was not afraid of a child, he was afraid of the monster his cousin had created, he assured himself. Perceval had, after all, only just witnessed the Esparanza boy kill a man, so he would take no chances. “And how dare you say that about me! You don’t know anything about me, either!”

Stunned, Donavan watched in awe as Faustino told his cousin off, and couldn’t suppress a broad smirk at Perceval’s reaction to the threat. Donavan placed a reassuring hand on Faustino’s shoulder and smiled down at him appreciatively. Before glaring back up at Perceval. Fuastino had summed it up perfectly, and he didn’t want to say anything else for fear of it being misunderstood.

Faustino smiled back at Donavan, relieved that he wasn't going to get in trouble. He put his hands on Donavan's and looked back to Donavan's cousin, glaring again. Faustino had clearly won, and he wanted to make that clear.

Algernon was somewhat surprised that the situation had somehow escalated this far, but he certainly didn't want to push a homicidal 8-year-old, as he preferred Perceval alive, and so he slipped an arm around Perceval's waist and began to steer him away. "Well, thank you again, M. D'Aubigne, I'll be contacting you in the near future. Unfortunately, we must be on our way." By the time he finished speaking, he had gotten to the edge of the roof, and, with a final smile to Donavan, didn't waste any time in leading Perceval onto the stairs.

With the irritating people gone, Faustino looked up at Donavan again, wishing he'd stop acting so strange and distant. "Did I pass the test, Donavan? Were those people impressed with me?"

Donavan confirmed they were out of sight before taking Faustino’s hands in his own. “Yes, you did really well!” He nodded affirmingly. “The Commandant was very impressed. And you certainly showed my cousin in the end.” Donavan laughed again and squeezed Faustino’s hands. “Did you see? He was terrified.” He smirked broadly and started walking towards the stares. “Do you want to get something? Anything? Whatever you feel like having, we’ll get.” Faustino deserved something extra special this time, and Donavan was quite prepared to treat him to absolutely anything he could come up with. However, Perceval’s words were still bothering him quite a bit… Donavan really did love Faustino, and that was why he knew he’d have to be careful. Because sometimes, he admitted privately in his heart of hearts, he didn’t distinguish exactly how he loved Faustino, and he didn’t want anything to go wrong now, not after things were proceeding so smoothly, and not after how attached to Faustino he’d grown.

Faustino brightened. "Anything at all? Oh, thank you, Donavan!" He giggled, excited, and thought a moment. "Will you take me out to dinner? And can I have ice cream, too? I'd really like that!" He smiled up at Donavan warmly. "I’m really am happy I could make you happy, Donavan."

“You always make me happy,” Donavan replied warmly. “Out to dinner?” He managed to only blush slightly as he considered the request, Perceval’s accusations still fresh in his mind. But relaly, who was he to care anything about what was expected or what people thought? And besides, he knew a nice place Faustino would like, so why not? “That sounds like a great idea. And ice cream, too. It’s perfect weather for ice cream.” Donavan smiled pleasantly. “Good idea.”

"Yay!" Faustino exclaimed happily, grinning up at Donavan. "I can't wait!" Even if he did have to kill people, and even if he did have to deal with annoying people, he would do anything to make Donavan happy, because that was what made him the happiest of all.
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