Chapter: 1 pt 1
Rating: PG-13 for violence and possibly language?
Warnings: Light yaoi, length, mild language (I think? XD;), some violence
Beta: yomimashou says read the rp, people! :D;
Gallia and Hispania were engaged in a fearsome clash of nations. Under the command of General Jacques Devereux, Gallia had invaded Hispania, sending a fleet of over two hundred steam-powered airships filled with machines of war, and the men who’d volunteered to give their lives in the bloody pursuit of Gallian conquest and leaving Major General Algernon Mauvais in charge of the military back in Gallia. During the first year the two countries were at war, Queen Evette Nicole Beaumont of Gallia passed away and her young daughter, Cecile Marie, ascended the throne. During this time of upheaval and political insecurity, an organization known as the Berceuse Malheureuse formed in order to take advantage of the new monarch’s inexperience. In the first two years of Cecile Marie’s reign, the young queen took the guidance of her mother’s advisors, but after she began to disregard their tactics of appeasement, the Berceuse Malheureuse’s influence was drastically reduced. The young Queen gained many enemies, but secured her position as monarch.
As the war raged on, Queen Cecile Marie instituted the draft to in order to fuel the inferno of war. It became necessary to extend the draft not only to young men, but to women as well. Under the former queen’s reign, laws restricting women form the commodities and full rights of Gallian citizenship had been abolished, but a great deal of prejudice against women still existed, particularly in the military. With the new draft, Cecile Marie hoped not only to enlist more soldiers then ever before, but also to discourage many common prejudices by forcing women to be treated equally, even in the face of the draft.
In the fifth year, things were becoming increasingly difficult, both on the battlefield and on the home front. It seemed the Berceuse Malheureuse was once again gaining influence nationwide, and though their petty crimes were of no real threat to the monarchy, they seemed to have a new goal in mind: anarchy. As the government became more and more internally concerned, the draft was neglected, and reinforcements were sent less and less often. In Hispania, Gallian resources were utterly exhausted, and General Jacques Devereux was on his deathbed. Nevertheless, the war appeared to be coming to a close, and a Gallian victory was in sight.
Despite the thought of victory and the positive outlook held by many military officials, the death rate among the troops was severe, and the casualties were even greater. The guerrilla tactics the Hispanians had resorted to were taking a heavy toll on the Gallian men. Most soldiers who suffered even minor injuries on the field would die in hospitals of infection or malpractice. Through Gallia was a technically advanced nation, science and medicine in particular were not common areas of expertise. The educated portion of the populace was generally too far removed from the people that most commoners scarcely knew about the complex steam powered machines that made their way of life possible, and even fewer had any knowledge of medicine and proper antiviral and bacterial treatment methods. As such, war heroes and officers who were wounded in battle, and those who could afford to do so, would refuse aid on the battlefield and would instead return to Gallia on airships to receive their treatment from actual Gallian doctors. During the many years of war, this became so common that many doctors began to practice on the ships themselves; facilitating the soldier’s return to duty and mitigating the number of soldiers that died on the journey back.
One such ship was making preparations to dock at a large floating skyport in the center of the Gallian capital city. The port itself was packed with the families who’d received news, by telegram, of the eminent return of loved ones who’d been away at war. As the enormous ship made its final adjustments, the doors were opened and the men and women began to immerge in various states of health. Those who were most severely injured were rushed on stretchers out of the craft first, and pushed immediately through the anxious crowds, down the elevators, and taken outside to the automobiles parked for that purpose. Then, slowly the rest of the soldiers trickled out to locate their families.
Dragomir Hirlea was one of the last men to emerge from the ship. He knew his family would not be there to greet him; they were too poor to pay for the telegraph fee. When he finally did disembark however, he found that two men had indeed come to meet him. His superior officer from before he’d been sent to the front line, Colonel Perceval Rousseau, was the first to recognize him. The colonel smiled congenially and started towards him with both the strength of a duelist and the grace of a dancer, as well as the confident elegance of a nobleman. The other man, whom Dragomir did not recognize, followed at his heels, and Dragomir got the impression that the other man came from wealth as well, though his confidence wasn’t as evident as Perceval Rousseau’s.
“Colonel Rousseau,” Dragomir called, retuning the other’s smile and walking forward to meet the two men. Dragomir did his best to bow majestically to his superior, but found it a difficult task to manage with his right arm in a sling. Nevertheless, he held the bow for as long as he could and straightened up. The colonel’s smile had faded, and he appeared to be glaring with a faint look of disgust on his face. The look soon faded however, and Perceval’s delicate face split into a wide grin.
“Ah, Second Lieutenant Hirlea!” Perceval exclaimed, moving closer to Dragomir and placing his hand lightly over Dragomir’s good shoulder before leaning forward to complete the ritual greeting of a quick kiss directed at each cheek. Dragomir returned the small favor of affection, smiling vaguely at his superior’s mistake. “Or should I say, First Lieutenant.” Perceval corrected, taking a step back to regard Dragomir’s condition. “I received a telegraph form your commander on the front.” Perceval said, a look of pride coming over him. “Apparently, you’re quite the war hero these days.” Perceval’s smile would have been beautiful, had it not been marred by a slight twitch. His happiness seemed strained, but then again it usually did, so Dragomir ignored it.
“I guess I am,” Dragomir said with a slight shrug. He wasn’t really sure how to appropriately respond to that sort of a statement, and when Perceval’s smile dropped from his face completely, it became obvious that Dragomir had not executed some formality. Perceval pursed his lips slightly and shifted his weight to his other foot gracefully, in an attempt to disregard Dragomir’s mistake.
“I hear you’re very lucky to have not lost that arm,” Perceval said knowingly, nodding at Dragomir’s injury. Dragomir once again found himself in the position of not knowing quite how to respond, so he chose not to say anything. It seemed the right decision, as a bit of Perceval’s former enthuse returned and he continued. ”It’s a good thing you’re ambidextrous. A wound like that to your dueling arm would have been devastating.” Perceval’s good humor had apparently completely returned; it was evident in the exaggerating tone of his voice.
Dragomir nodded slightly, canting his head to the side to peer around at the other man standing behind his superior. He was only an enlisted man, but Dragomir was quite curious nonetheless. Dragomir then returned his attention to Perceval, who seemed thoroughly upset by Dragomir’s lack of manners. Dragomir hated following formalities, and he found the idea that he was expected to completely ignore someone of lower rank until they were introduced to him utterly ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was important that he played along. “That may be so, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that I’m no good unless I can fire a musket, and with only one good arm, I’m afraid there’s nothing much for me to do.” As a rule, Dragomir made small talk out of obligation only.
“Indeed. Well, these things do heal in time, but until then, we’ve procured support for you. Believe it or not, even damaged, you’re still of considerable value to us.” Perceval grinned tersely, and took an elegant step to the side. “May I present Corporal Niles Christian, your new assistance.”
Niles started slightly when he heard his name; he had been distracted by everything going on around him, as he had very rarely been to a port before. However, when he heard himself being introduced, he attempted to seem as if he had been attentive. He quickly swept into a lengthy bow, hoping that he had not hesitated for too long. Though he had his hopes, he also doubted that his new commanding officer would like him. He only hoped that this First Lieutenant would be better than his former superiors, before he was transferred...
He returned to a standing position after what he felt was an appropriate allotment of time, and looked at the injured officer. Even with his right arm in a sling, he looked very strong, and seemed almost as if he could go on fighting, even without the use of his arm. He was dark, with black hair and grey eyes, and Niles could tell he was foreign, though not what country he was from. He was very handsome, but not in a way that Niles could quite describe; he certainly wasn't the cultured, delicate, dressed-up sort of pretty that everyone else strove to be. It caught Niles' attention, and made him wonder about this man.
Suddenly, Niles realized that he had been staring, and flushed with embarrassment, internally beating himself up for his stupidity. "Sir!" he said hurriedly (it was the first thing he thought of to say), "Ah-It's a pleasure to meet you, sir! Can I help you with anything?" He couldn't believe he had messed things up already, now Lieutenant Hirlea was bound to hate him, just like everyone else.
Dragomir nodded in response to the corporal’s bow, and smiled slightly at his antics. “Thank you, but no. I’ll go get my bag.” The last thing Dragomir wanted was to be treated like some sort of invalid, but in some sense, Dragomir was a little pleased to be assigned his first subordinate; to him, it felt like a promotion in and of itself. Dragomir gave a quick bow to Perceval, and turned to the quickly growing pile of unloaded bags that was a few yards behind him.
“First Lieutenant Hirlea,” Perceval called as Dragomir started to walk away, “I really think it best that in your condition, you allow Corporal Christian to get you luggage.” Judging by Perceval’s irritated tone of voice; Dragomir realized that it must be part of some sort of formality that required the lower ranking officer to carry his bag. Dragomir however, didn’t give a damn. He retrieved his own sack and carried it over his good shoulder to where he’d left the other two men standing. Perceval’s delicate pale skin seemed to have gone a shade redder, but he controlled the pitch of his voice effortlessly, and managed to sound completely normal when he spoke. “Well then, now that you have everything, I have an automobile waiting for us outside.”
“You’re too kind, Colonel Rousseau.” Dragomir tried to bow formally again to show his appreciation, but this time he had the additional hinderence of his bag, and as such, the bow was far from graceful. Luckily, Perceval had already turned on his heel and started towards the lift downward, and so had not noticed. Standing up and regaining his balance, Dragomir turned and smiled down at Niles, glad for the opportunity to get a proper look at the man while not under Perceval’s scrutiny.
Niles Christian had a delicate build, pale skin, and light blue eyes, giving Dragomir the overall impression that he was relatively innocent. Dragomir couldn’t imagine why some one like this corporal would be in the military, but Dragomir wasn’t one to question other people’s decisions. Niles’s long platinum blond hair was tied back neatly in a ponytail with such precision that Dragomir couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious of his own tussled black locks. It’d been two years sense Dragomir had been away at war, and the comportment of both the men who’d come to greet him reminded him of just how difficult the switch back to proper society would be.
Dragomir adjusted the bag on his shoulder and, with another quick nod to Niles, started after Perceval who was watching them from where he stood by the elevator.
Niles was surprised by his commanding officer's response; it was not harsh or reprimanding, as he expected. The other man seemed to be looking him over for a moment, then turned and began to walk towards the elevator. Niles blinked, then hurried after him, still wondering what was going on. "Ah-Sir, are you sure? You-you're injured, and all--"
The elevator ride was short and uneventful, and Niles spent most of it wondering about his new superior. It was strange for him to be this curious about someone he had never met before, but yet, there seemed to be something unusual about this man. Soon, however, they reached ground level, and the Colonel stepped out of the elevator immediately striding towards the car. Lieutenant Hirlea followed, and Niles hurried to follow at his heels. When the Colonel reached the car, he looked expectant and a bit annoyed, and Niles sped up to open the door for him, bowing and apologizing hurriedly, before opening the door for the Lieutenant, as well. He then hurried to the driver's seat and got inside himself and started the car. He hated driving, because he was so prone to make mistakes, but it was his duty. He just hoped he could keep the Lieutenant from hating him, at least for as long as possible.
Dragomir situated himself in the back seat next to Perceval and waited for the Corporal to get in and start the engine before leaning forward to give directions. Niles looked to be a little nervous, and Dragomir assumed it probably had something to do with the fact that he had never been to the…poor side of town. After giving instructions, Dragomir sat back and turned to face the Colonel. Perceval was seated with his legs elegantly crossed and his hands folded neatly in his lap. Dragomir realized that he probably looked very rumpled and disorganized, and attempted to straighten his jacket with his good hand before crossing his legs in the same manner as Perceval. The Colonel apparently thought he was being mocked, and uncrossed his legs quickly, folding them under his seat and pressing his knees together. Dragomir cleared his throat uneasily, and turned to look out the window.
The scenery was rather unfamiliar, and Dragomir thought it rather unlikely that so much had changed in his absence. He caught sight of a street sign, and realized what must have happened. “I think you missed the turn.” Dragomir said nonchalantly, leaning forward again. The Corporal seemed to get absolutely terrified, and Dragomir couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. “It’s fine. If you take a right at this next street, it’ll get us back onto the correct road.” Dragomir sat back, and returned his attention to Perceval, who had crossed his legs again.
“Well, now that that’s straightened out,” Perceval started, with a quick glare at the back of Niles’s seat, “There are a few things I need to fill you in on, Lieutenant Hirlea.” Perceval unfolded his hands and smoothed out the wrinkles that had formed in his knickers.
“Yes, of course, sir.” Dragomir nodded and smiled. He was getting back into the hang of formalities slowly but surely. Perceval gave a quick grimace to acknowledge Dragomir’s proper response.
“During your period of absence, General Mauvais, in his infinite wisdom, has reassigned my brigade to dealing exclusively with the Berceuse Malheureuse.” Perceval paused for impact and smirked slightly as Dragomir’s countenance changed considerably to one of disdain.
“Oh,” Dragomir said through gritted teeth. He had a feeling what would be coming next.
“It’s been decided that since you’ve had extensive dealings with the organization in the past, you will head up our investigation, Lieutenant Hirlea.” Perceval waited a few seconds for Dragomir to respond, and grew rather upset when it took Dragomir a while to compose himself enough to respond.
“Thank you for this immense honor, Sir.” Dragomir bowed to the best of his abilities while seated, and tried to keep himself from reacting poorly. The last thing he wanted was any involvement with that group, but he had no choice.
“Of course, you needn’t worry. You’ll have the rest of the unit for support, should you require aid, and Corporal Christian as your assistant. Your musket, as it was, for the time being.” Perceval smirked and appeared to be very pleased with himself. Dragomir bowed again awkwardly, but didn’t say anything. They were approaching his home, and he was grateful for the chance to avoid continued conversation with the Colonel, instead leaning forward to make sure Niles located his house.
When they arrived, Dragomir got out before the Corporal had the chance to open the door for him, and he got his own bag out of the trunk as well. He then turned and bowed curtly to the Colonel, and gave a nod to Niles before turning and going through the gate that lead to his house.
He waited until he heard the engine start up again before walking over the uneven cobblestone path, through the unkempt garden, and up to the door. Once there, Dragomir came to the realization that he’d escaped the rather unpleasant company of the Colonel only to arrive at a place where he generally felt equally uncomfortable. It wasn’t that he wasn’t eager to see them all again; in fact, during the two years he’d been away, he knew the sole reason he’d been able to keep going was the thought that by defending the nation, he was protecting his family, and the wages were going to pay their rent. But now that he was back, he couldn’t help but worry about all the things that might have changed in his absence.
Setting aside his insecurities, Dragomir set down his bag next to him, and knocked slowly. He waited a few minutes before the door creaked open on rusty hinges, reviling only a miniscule slit from which the face of a young girl peered out. Dragomir smiled broadly as her eyes widened and realization came across her features.
“Dragos!” she exclaimed loudly, throwing the door open and rushing to embrace him. She didn’t seem to notice his injury, or if she did, she was too overwhelmed with emotion to care. Dragomir winced slightly as she pressed herself against him, but wrapped his good arm around her nevertheless, and gave her a light squeeze.
“Viorica,” Dragomir said fondly, glad for the opportunity to say her name out loud after the two years he spent imagining the moment when he’d get to see his little sister again. She pulled back to look up at him and took him by the hand.
“Well come in, silly! When did you get back, anyway?” Her lighthearted laugh sounded like a bell to him, and he felt relieved that she wasn’t treating him any differently then before he’d left. She gave a light tug, and led him inside calling, “Tatiana, Tatiana! It’s Dragos! He’s back!” Dragomir could see over the little square they’d marked out with couches to represent the foyer and into the kitchen where his sister Tatiana had dropped a towel and was lifting her skirts to hurry towards them. She stopped just in front of him, and Dragomir could tell she was resisting the urge to hug him as Viorica had. Such behavior was viewed as incredibly childish, but Dragomir didn’t care when she gave up on holding back and squeezed him as well. This time, he couldn’t hold back a slight grunt of pain, and Tatiana stepped back quickly.
“You’re hurt!” she exclaimed, immediatly reaching for his wounded arm. Dragomir winced back unconsciously, and she pulled her hand back as well.
“It’s nothing,” he said quickly. “I’ve already seen a doctor, and apparently, the bullet went straight through.”
“You were shot?!” Viorica exclaimed, in honest surprise.
“Of course he got shot. He was in a war, after all. Give the man some space,” aA man said, coming through the door that led to one of the only other rooms in the tiny house.
“Darling,” Tatiana started, but stopped when the man took her hand in his.
“Pierre,” Dragomir said, nodding ever so slightly at the man who represented the reason he’d been reluctant to return home.
“Brother in Law,” Pierre said by means of address as he bowed rather extravagantly to Dragomir. Viorica glared briefly at Pierre, but quickly returned her admiring grin to her older brother.
“Mother’s asleep now, but perhaps you can see her in the morning.” Viorica said, taking his hand again.
“Perhaps.” Dragomir said, smiling back down at her and giving her hand a light squeeze. I have to report in for duty early tomorrow.”
“So soon? But you’ve only just gotten back!” Viorica whined.
“If that’s the case, you should probably go and get some rest. I imagine you must be exhausted,” Tatiana broke in.
“Yes, actually.” Dragomir smiled slightly. He would have loved to spend the evening catching up, but his arm was beginning to feel very heavy, and he suddenly felt as though all the hours of sleep he’d lost in the last few years were finally beginning to catch up to him.
“Viorica, go and move your things out of the room,” Tatiana instructed.
“Oh, no, I don’t want to be a burden,” Dragomir said quickly, but Viorica had already started toward the hall.
“I’m sorry,” Tatiana said, looking down. “We just didn’t know when you’d be back.”
“Or if you’d be back,” Pierre said, crossing his arms over his chest. Viorica returned from the hall with her arms full of various articles of clothing before Tatiana could reprimand her husband.
“It’s pretty much cleared out, but I can get the rest in the morning.” Viorica smiled, dumping the pile on to one of the couches.
“Please, don’t worry about it. I really don’t want to…” Dragomir couldn’t find the right word.
“Barge in?” Pierre offered. Tatiana gave him a sharp look, and he squeezed her waist and pulled her into a kiss.
“Precisely,” Dragomir said, watching the two with a grimace coming over his features. This was exactly what he had sought to avoid.
“Don’t say that,” Viorica said softly. “We’re happy to have you back.” She smiled, and Dragomir couldn’t help but feel a little better. “Besides, it was your room originally. I should thank you for letting me borrow it while you were away.” Viorica curtsied perfectly, and Dragomir bowed in return.
“It was my pleasure.” He smiled. “Well, if your sure,” he glanced down at Viorica, who nodded vigorously, “I think I’ll be retiring for the night.” Tatiana gave Pierre a sharp nudge in the side, and he stumbled forward.
“I’ll get your bag,” Pierre mumbled, without looking up. This time, Dragomir was happy to oblige. As far as he was concerned manners did not necessarily have to extend to his brother in law.
Dragomir proceeded down the short hall, which led to only two rooms and one bathroom, and entered the familiar room which he’d shared with his brothers for most of his life. It felt rather strange now, however. Viorica had done a good job of making it her own in the short span of two years. Nevertheless, Dragomir was too exhausted to spend much time contemplating it just yet, and he collapsed onto the bed with out removing his uniform after Pierre finished delivering his bag. He would figure out what to do in the morning; for now, he needed to sleep.
Niles was positively horrified with his error in driving, and was still beating himself up for it, even after he had driven away from Lieutenant Hirlea's home. He continued to internally punish himself the whole time during the drive back to the military headquarters to drop off Colonel Rousseau (who, he could tell, was furious with him). He continued to feel horrible and guilty as he walked to his own automobile and all along the drive home.
He let himself in when he got home and closed himself in the study, not even letting the servants in. He couldn't believe that he was already ruining his chances to make anyone like him. It had been such good luck that he was transferred, that he was getting another chance, and he had already messed up. And not once, but three times. He had to do better, he had to please them...
And yet, it was strange... there was something beyond his normal feeling about this new First Lieutenant. He was different, though Niles wasn't really sure why, or how, or what is was that made him so. He thought about it for some time, but he couldn't figure it out, and, when it really came down to it, it didn't matter. He would have to do better all around.
He spent the rest of the night submerged in books. Occasionally, servants would knock and ask if he wanted anything to eat ("No, nothing, thank you"), when he was coming out ("I don't know"), if he needed anything ("Not right now, thanks"). In the end, he fell asleep under piles of books and didn't wake up again until his candles had gone out. He made his way to bed quietly and tried not to attract attention, but failed and ended up having to shoo off the servants to bed before going there himself. He wondered vaguely, before falling asleep, what it must be like to sleep on the ground, on the front lines, instead of in a real bed...
Perceval Rousseau stood at the top of the steps that lead to headquarters as he watched Niles park the automobile, get out, and walk to his own. Perceval had a look of pure disgust etched across his features, and he held his arms crossed over his chest. The both of them were enough to make him sick; Hirlea was utter scum, as far as Perceval was concerned, and Christian was something else all together.
Hirlea was foreign and dirt poor and had no manners to speak of. When Perceval had first received the news that the young Lieutenant had been injured in battle, he was so ecstatic that he’d arranged to throw a party, which he’d been forced to cancel when he learned that not only would Hirlea survive, but that he was returning to Gallia. It was disgusting how one’s luck could turn for the worse in just a few days, and Perceval hated the sad fate that had forced him to be involved with such unrefined trash.
As Perceval watched Christian drive away, he reflected on all of the Corporal’s mistakes of the day. It was inexcusable, not that anything was ever excusable as far as Perceval was concerned, that someone as wealthy as Christian could be so intolerable. The foolish boy seemed just so out of place all the time that the mistakes he made were at times even worse then errors made by someone of a lower class. Christian was exactly the type of person Perceval hated most; rich, and somehow still unrefined. He lacked tact, intelligence, and basic manners, as far as Perceval was concerned, and he hated him for it.
Of course, Perceval had other reasons for loathing the two of them as much as he did, but right now, they were irrelevant. He didn’t have the time to waste dwelling on their faults; he was going to meet with his superior, Major General Algernon Mauvais. At the very thought of the General, Perceval’s expression changed completely, melting into one of his most beautiful and genuine smiles of delight and excitement. It was a look he saved solely for Algernon, and he coveted the time he got to spend with the other more then any other commodity. Perceval turned, opened the door, and practically skipped inside and down the hall to Algernon Mauvais’s office, where he paused in front of the door, and took out a small mirror. He then proceeded to fix his hair, straighten his uniform, and check to make sure that he was presentable. At last satisfied, he knocked lightly on the door.
Algernon had been looking over some paperwork when he heard the knock on the door. His office was dimly lit, with all of the curtains drawn and no candles, but he could still read the small clock which he kept on his desk. It was nearly time for Perceval to be arriving; that man was always so punctual. Algernon smiled to himself and straightened, glancing over towards the door. "Come in," he called, and watched as the door opened and Perceval stepped inside. He rose as the other man bowed deeply (in perfect taste and manner, as always) and strode over towards him with a familiar nod. When they were once again eye to eye and within arm's reach, he placed a hand on the other's shoulder and sent a small kiss in the direction of one cheek before pressing a real one to the other side of the Colonel's face. Pulling away, he smiled at the man before him.
"Percy, beautiful, as always," he noted, taking a step to the side to look at the man from another angle. It never ceased to amaze him how perfect the colonel made himself, with his even, pale skin and long, golden hair. Lifting a hand to run along the side of Perceval's face, his smile turned slightly darker. "You know I can't stand it." Nails scratched, only slightly, into the perfect pale skin, leaving a small mark. Algernon remained for a moment, smiling knowingly at the other man, before stepping away, mood changing completely. "Now, do come inside, Colonel. What do you have to report to me today?"
Perceval felt his heart rate increase tenfold as Algernon’s nail pressed against his skin; he couldn’t help but let his eyes flutter shut, practically purring his appreciation for the touch. As Algernon pulled away, Perceval’s hand rose to his cheek as he savored the fleeting feeling of Algernon’s cool fingers and sharp nails against his skin.
When Algernon’s attitude changed to one of business, Perceval dropped his arm to the side, and bowed again. “Sir,“ he began, using one of his most charming and melodious voices, “I delivered the assignment to Lieutenant Hirlea and Corporal Christian.” Algernon sat back down again, and Perceval followed suit, arranging his uniform around him as he sat. Perceval regarded the contents of the surface of the desk briefly, before leaning slightly forward and continuing his report in a lower voice.
“More importantly, I’ve spoken with the Berceuse Malheureuse, and they have agreed to cooperate.” Perceval leaned back, and crossed his legs carefully, folding his hands in his lap in his typical fashion. He then took a moment to look across the table at Algernon fondly, allowing his eyes to slide half lid as he enjoyed the absolute, unadulterated ecstasy of simply being in the prescience of the Major General.
Perceval inhaled deeply, and ran a hand through his silken hair, pushing it back over his shoulder. “If you ask me,” he sighed, ”Hirlea’s arm is completely useless, and Christian’s skills far from make up for the deficiency. They’ll be easy targets for the Berceuse Malheureuse to annihilate.” Perceval smiled beautifully again, as though nothing in the world could give him greater pleasure then the thought of the removal of two such disgusting individuals. Almost nothing, that was. Algernon’s reaction was far more important then whatever Perceval felt; if Algernon was satisfied, Percival would feel at peace.
As Algernon listened, he watched Perceval talk to him. He had such an unforgivably beautiful face, such a lovely figure; he was perfect in every way, and it just made Algernon want to mess him up, more than anything else. How long had it been since he'd really had the chance? He'd have to find some occasion soon, or else it might drive him mad.
But for now, the tasks of everyday. Algernon nodded as the Colonel reported the news, smiling placidly. In addition to being beautiful, Perceval was also very efficient and incredibly useful, which made him doubly valuable. As the other man finished what he was saying, Algernon smiled and gave a final nod.
"Wonderful. Everything seems to be in order, then." He crossed his legs and shifted his position slightly with a dark smile. "It will be enjoyable to watch our new First Lieutenant be destroyed, but I believe I'm going to have to play with Christian a bit before I let them have him. He really is such a lovely child, and I feel I owe it to him; since we are related, after all." Once more, Algernon shifted positions, this time to lean slightly forward, his entire attention to the man across from him. "Excellent work, as always, Percy. I'm very pleased."
Algernon’s praise was enough to make Perceval swoon, and he relished the sound of Algernon’s voice, admiring the distinct way he said Perceval’s name. Perceval generally would have felt offended by the pet name, but in Algernon’s case, it was an exception. Algernon was always an exception, as far a Perceval was concerned.
“Sir,” Perceval said, placing his hand over his chest and bending forward, holding his head down for the appropriate allotment of time. As long as Algernon was pleased with the way things were going, Perceval was content. He would continue to do everything in his power to execute the General’s plans precisely, even if his only rewards were Algernon’s words.
Dragomir awoke abruptly from a nightmare. It seemed every time he slept, he was plagued by his memories of the battlefield. The thick smoke from the muskets, the defining blasts of the cannon resounding in his ears, all of it combined with the putrid scent of rotting flesh. But what haunted him most was the screaming. The sounds of dying men crying out in agony, begging for help. Even the horses screamed as they died; a horrible, unearthly scream. Each time Dragomir dreamed, the imagery flooded his mind, and he awoke sweating, with his ears ringing, and the stench floating all around him. He knew that he couldn’t rid himself of the nightmare; but he felt that it was what he deserved. The horrible memories were his penance for surviving the hell that consumed so many others.
Dragomir noted that it was still very early in the morning, but he didn’t think he’d be able to go back to sleep. He got out of bed slowly, trying to keep his injured arm from moving around too much while he put it back into the sling. Once it was secured, he rummaged through his bag to find a clean shirt to wear under his uniform jacket and made his way to the tiny bathroom at the end of the hall. The house was completely dark, and it was obvious that no one was awake yet, which was good, Dragomir thought. He was still worried that his abrupt return would be seen like a nuisance to everyone else, and the more he did before anyone was awake to be bothered by it, the better.
He took a quick shower, and dressed in his best uniform. It was the first time in two years that Dragomir had seen a mirror, and so he took a little extra time to make sure he looked at least a little put together. He located Pierre’s razor, and took advantage of the mirror to do a good job for the first time in years. On the field, looks hadn’t mattered at all, but now that he was back in society, Dragomir knew that he would be scrutinized, and the only way to avoid it was to look his best, and blend in.
Dragomir left the house at a quarter past four, without eating, and decided to walk to headquarters instead of calling a taxi. Doing so would give him the time to take in all the changes that had occurred in the city, as well as collect his senses. It was going to be an interesting day; Dragomir wasn’t quite sure what to make of his knew assistant, and the idea of investigating the Berceuse Malheureuse was thoroughly unpleasant, but he was determined to make the necessary adaptations as quickly as possible. Now that he was no longer risking his life on the field, his salary wouldn’t be sent directly to his family. He would have to do his job, and do it well if he wanted to continue to support them.
Niles awoken the next morning by one of his servants, as he always was, out of a dreamless sleep. It was precisely 6, and the sun had almost fully risen, so he pulled open one of the heavy curtains that hung on his bedroom windows before getting about getting ready for the day. After dressing himself neatly, he selected a matching grey ribbon and tied his hair back. Once he was ready, he glanced in the mirror quickly, but he knew it would already be fine. His one, random, completely useless talent was for fixing his hair. Not that that was helpful in real life at all.
Once he deemed himself presentable, he headed downstairs for breakfast. He didn't remember what was being prepared, or even if he had requested what he wanted prepared, but it didn't really matter. He ate apathetically and left without much thought. Even as he got in his automobile and drove away, he didn't see the road. His mind was already at work, where he was determined not to mess up again. He just had to please his superior, he simply had to, or else he didn't know what he would do.
He pulled into the military headquarters and parked the automobile, straightening out his uniform as he got out and taking a deep breath before venturing inside. He just had to be positive about it, surely he could do better...He fiddled with the ribbon at his collar as he walked down the hall to the office he had newly been assigned to. He took another deep breath, then knocked on the door.
He was bid to enter after only a second, and did so hesitantly, stepping inside and closing the door behind him before bowing. When he rose, he blinked around the room for a second before realizing that Lt. Hirlea wasn't present. Instead, the dirty-blonde woman behind a desk and a dark brunette man beside her looked back at him. "Ah-I'm Corporal Niles Christian, the new assistant to Lt. Hirlea..."
"Oh, of course!" The blonde rose and hurried over to him, kissing him lightly on each cheek before stepping back and smiling. "You're the new enlisted soldier we're getting. I'm Major Corinne Delancy, and this is 2nd Lieutenant Louis Bruyere. Welcome."
Niles was surprised by the major's warm welcome. He had been expecting a more... harsh... greeting.... or... something... Something that was not this. He smiled back at the woman. "Thank you, sir."
She nodded. "Lieutenant Hirlea hasn't arrived yet, but I'm sure he'll be here momentarily. For the time being, you can familiarize yourself with the forms and paperwork. There isn't a whole lot, but I expect it to be done on time, properly, and neatly, understand?"
Niles nodded quickly. "Yes, sir!"
Major Delancy nodded. "Good." She had been giving him a stern look, but quickly softened. "But, please, if there's anything you need to talk to me about, don't hesitate. I like to keep order, but I don't want to frighten you away." She smiled amiably. "All right?"
Niles smiled. "Yes, sir!"
At that moment, there was another knock at the door. Louis perked up, and Major Delancy nodded. "That will be the First Lieutenant now."
Dragomir didn’t wait to be let in. He knew that he was expected, and wasn’t too concerned about such a minor formality. Additionally, after two years, he was looking forward to seeing the Major again. Dragomir was an expert in getting along with his superior officers, but with Major Delancy, he felt that little effort was needed on his part; she was simply an agreeable person by nature.
Stepping into the room, Dragomir closed the door behind him quickly and bowed to the Major, before acknowledging The Corporal and the Second Lieutenant with two succinct nods.
“It’s been a while, Major Delancy.” Dragomir smiled.
"Ah, Lieutenant Hirlea!" Major Delancy exclaimed hurrying over towards the door. She greeted him enthusiastically, saying, "It's so good to see you again! We were all worried for you!" She stepped back with a nod. "But, you know, just because you're a war hero doesn't mean that I'm going to go easy on you now."
Stepping back, the Major nodded. "I know you must remember the Second Lieutenant-" Lt. Bruyere bowed, "and you've met the Corporal?" Niles, suddenly finding himself in the spotlight, flushed and bowed, hoping he had done correctly. But, as he rose, before the other man had a chance to respond, there was another knock at the door, and this time, Colonel Rousseau appeared in the doorway. Niles once again dropped into a deep bow, and waited a few more seconds before righting again.
The Colonel smiled, as he always seemed to do. "Good morning," he said smoothly, and then presented a file that he was holding to the Major. "I have an assignment for you."
Perceval waited to observe the Major’s acceptance bow to make sure it was in proper form before continuing. “Our investigations department has recently uncovered information on one Fillipus Rutgers. He is a known criminal, wanted for petty thievery and disturbing the peace.” Perceval paused and pushed a lock of hair behind his ear. “We have uncovered a connection between Rutgers and the Berceuse Malheureuse, and we hope to apprehend him and have him detained for questioning. You’ll find all the information in that file. Are there any questions?” Perceval folded his arms over his chest and looked around the room. When he was satisfied that his subordinates’ silence meant they understood the assignment, he turned to Dragomir, who bowed slightly. Perceval smiled lightly at the gesture and let his arms fall to his sides.
“I imagine it must be quite nice to be back at home with your family. How is your mother? Is she still ill?” Perceval enjoyed making small talk as it proved how informed he made sure to stay regarding his subordinates lives.
“I haven’t had the chance to visit her yet, Sir, but thank you for your concern.” Dragomir did another quick bow, and was pleased with himself for remembering.
“I see. Well, I do hope to hear about her condition sometime, Lieutenant Hirlea.” Perceval’s manner changed back to one of business, as he smoothed out the front of his jacket. “Lieutenant, I would like you and Corporal Christian to investigate this man, your experience in this field may come in handy.” Perceval smiled, tilting his head slightly for added look of innocence. Dragomir bristled at the reference. The Berceuse Malheureuse was the last organization that he wanted to admit to having experience with.
“Of course, Sir.” Dragomir bowed again, and turned to the corporal to give a half smile, which was all he could manage as he was still rather upset by the Colonel’s second reference to the Berceuse Malheureuse.
“Well then,” Perceval said, pushing his hair over his shoulders again, “That will be all.” The Colonel then turned and exited the room gracefully with a slight nod to the Major.
Niles felt his heart rate speed up again at the idea of getting an assignment, and, once the Colonel had left, he stood for a moment, not quite sure of what to do. He had never been on a real assignment before, and he was terrified that he was going to screw up somehow. However, the Major beckoned to him before going to set the file out on her desk, so he joined the rest of the group looking over the assortment of papers.
Inside the file was paper after paper describing the man they were assigned to, or detailing some incident involving him, or warranting his arrest. Niles was a bit overwhelmed by all the papers, and, after reading the first few lines of one report only to be distracted by another for a few moments, decided on a relatively short report on some robbery. He had just finished it when the Major spoke.
"Here, it lists some of the places he's been known to frequent. Look this over, First Lieutenant." She handed the paper to Lt. Hirlea, and Niles peered over at him slightly, wondering what the paper said. As he read down the page, Major Delancy turned to Niles. "Corporal Christian. We need the files on the places listed here. Can you go retrieved them?"
Niles straightened immediately, eager for an order to follow. "Right away, sir!" he replied enthusiastically, bowing before scurrying out of the room. He made it to the room where files were kept quickly and efficiently, and wasted no time before finding the files he had been order to find. Unfortunately, it was on his way back the problems started happening.
Having only been transferred the day prior, he had little to no sense of direction towards his new office. After a few minutes of wandering in what he hoped wasn't an aimless manner, he knew it for sure. He was lost. Great. Another mess up, and now the Major was going to be displeased with him, too, as well as Lt. Hirlea.
Dragomir finished reading over the paper of all the locations to the best of his ability and looked up. “Is Corporal Christian back yet?” Dragomir hoped that once they looked over the detailed reports and discussed them, he’d be able to infer the names of the locations on the list which he hadn’t been able to read. Dragomir had a very good memory, and could generally read most things well enough just by remembering the way the individual words looked, but he really didn’t know enough to be able to actually read a new word.
The Major shook her head in response to his question, but did not look up from the paper she was going over intently. Not wanting to pester her further, Dragomir looked over the paper listing locations once again, hoping that by going over it second time, he’d recognize more of the words.
Unfortunately, each time Dragomir went over it, he seemed to understand less. He decided that he was probably just making himself confused, and so set the paper down neatly on top of another stack. He selected another paper which he could pretend to read until the Corporal got back.
Niles stood at an intersection. He had the choice of turning left or right, but, by now, he had the feeling that he'd already gone both ways before. He had the feeling it had been almost twenty minutes since he had gone out, and he was desperately hoping that every hallway he entered would be the right one. With a depressed sigh, he looked both ways, hoping for some sort of sign, before turning left. He hurried down the hallway, looking around for anything recognizable, before he caught sight of a familiar-looking door. Almost in tears, he went to it as quickly as possible, knocking before entering.
After bowing, he walked over to the Major, head hung dejectedly. "I-I'm sorry, Sir, I got lost, and I couldn't find my way back...It's my fault, I'm sorry...here are the papers you asked for, Sir."
Dragomir was relieved to hear the knock that heralded the return of the Corporal and his imminent freedom from pretending to read the same paper over and over again. Straightening up, he returned the paper to the surface of the desk and stood at attention as Niles presented the papers to the Major. Dragomir was surprised to hear that Niles had gotten lost on his way, and chuckled smugly into his hand.
Major Delancy looked down at Niles, raising an eyebrow. "You got lost, Corporal?" Niles didn't fail to noticed Lt. Hirlea smirk at him on the other side of the desk. He sniffed and bit his lip, trying to hold back tears.
"I-I'm sorry, Sir. It was all my fault, I couldn't find my way back..." He couldn't believe himself, couldn't believe how stupid he was. He was ruining everything again, he was going to end up miserable, just like before. And now the Major was angry with him, and the First Lieutenant thought he was an imbecile. The First Lieutenant who he had been especially trying to please. Everything was ruined, it was all his fault...
Major Delancy sighed, then gave him a half smile. "It's all right, Corporal. Just try not to get lost in the future, all right?"
Niles blinked. Certainly...she couldn't not be angry at him...? But she didn't appear to be, so he sniffed again and nodded quickly. "Yes, Sir!"
"Good. Now give me those papers, please." The Major accepted the file and handed them to Lt. Hirlea. Niles moved a little closer, with hopes of seeing something. However, as he tried to get a glimpse of the papers, he accidentally met eyes with the First Lieutenant. He flushed, and his heart sped up with what he assumed was embarrassment, then bowed his head and looked pointedly at his feet, wringing his hands. What was it about this man that was making him so flustered?
Dragomir thought Niles’s behavior to be a bit odd, but he realized that the Corporal was probably still embarrassed about getting lost. “Do you want to look at it first?” Dragomir offered, holding the papers out to the Corporal. This gesture probably wasn’t kosher, but Dragomir decided that Niles deserved to have the chance to go over the information first, as he’d been the one to retrieve it, and he’d even gotten lost doing it. Besides, Dragomir didn’t really care when he got to look at them, as he was now so discouraged from his previous attempts to read that he didn’t think he’d have any luck understanding the new papers. Additionally, maybe the Corporal would summarize the information after he finished reading, and spare Dragomir the agony of struggling to decipher another written word.
Niles flushed anew at his superior's offer. What did he mean by that? Niles had just failed him miserably, and now he was trying to be... polite? Inappropriate? What was he trying to do? After a second of confusion, he decided it would be best just to play it safe. It was less of a mess for him to clean up afterwards, after all, and maybe he would make the right decision for once. "Oh, no, Sir, I couldn't possibly take it first!" he said, putting his hands up. "But, thank you, Sir...I'm sorry sir..." He tried a smile, hoping that the Lieutenant would be forgiving for his earlier error. "If it would be easier, you could read it out loud, Sir. I don't need to see it."
Dragomir stiffened and pulled his arm back. He knew that he too was probably blushing now, and it made him feel utterly ridiculous. “Uh…no, that’s all right. You can have it after I finish, then,” Dragomir stuttered uneasily. He really didn’t want to admit to his deficiency now, not to this new subordinate, not after he’d successfully hidden it for so long before… Bringing the papers up to his face, he hoped he could hide a bit of his embarrassment as well as fake his way through the situation.
He made sure to focus on each word individually so as not to seem like he was going too fast. He picked up a few words here and there, but it really wasn’t enough for him to even speculate at the meaning of the whole thing. Once he was finished with the first page, he peered over the top of the sheet and once again offered the report to the Corporal.
Niles accepted the paper, reading through the information. It was about a bar somewhere that their target frequented, apparently, which was in a shady part of town and hosted many questionable activities. He reread it, to make sure he had absorbed the information, but some of the terms went over his head and he was unfamiliar with most of the names listed. He decided that it would be best to ask his superior, rather than get tripped up later.
When it seemed that Lt. Hirlea was at a break in his paper, Niles looked up at him. "Sir, I'm sorry, but could you explain this passage to me? I don't recognize most of the names. I'm sorry." He tacked the apology on the end, just for good luck.
Dragomir’s breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t been expecting something like this to happen… He debated momentarily weather or not he should swallow his pride and admit to being an illiterate, but he decide that he could probably afford to play along a little longer. He took a step closer, so he could look over Niles’s shoulder to see the passage the Corporal was referring too, and scanned it briefly. “You’re probably better off asking Major Delancy. I’ve been away for so long, I’m afraid that I’m unfamiliar with these names as well.” Dragomir was confident in his lie, but he hung over Niles’s shoulder a little longer and pretended to go over it a second time, just to make sure his acting was perfect. “No…” He said regretfully. “Sorry, I don’t know either.”
Niles was confused when he saw the Major raise an eyebrow and give the Lieutenant an amused look. "Yes, I'll explain it," she agreed, accepting the paper from Niles and looking over it. Though he was glad that Major Delancy would help him, Niles couldn't help but feel he was missing something. He had little time to worry over it, however, because the Major spoke.
"Oh, this paragraph is explaining different crime circles which are alleged to make base here, at the Bonne Pousse," she offered, holding the paper so that both of them could see it and pointing out different names. "See, it lists the Berceuse Malheureuse."
"Oh, I understand." Niles nodded quickly, smiling at the Major. "Thank you, Sir!"
She nodded. "You're very welcome, Corporal." She then shifted her attention to the First Lieutenant. "Lt. Hirlea, I believe this is the optimal spot for you to confront Rutgers. I believe an undercover operation would give you your best chances of apprehending him. Does that sound reasonable?"
Niles blinked. Did she mean that he would actually be a part of this operation? He had never actually been on this sort of assignment before, only filled out the paperwork for it, and, thus, the news was exciting. He looked over to the Lieutenant to see what his response would be.
“Ah yes. The Bonne Pousse. They have good wine.” Dragomir was relieved that he now knew the place under discussion. “I’m quite familiar with the location, actually. It’d be easy to do undercover work there, Sir. Most of their patrons are suspicious characters, so no one will ask questions.” Dragomir smiled rather smugly. The fact that he knew so much about every questionable location in Gallia disturbed him slightly, but if his knowledge of the Berceuse Malheureuse could be of help, then he was glad. He turned to Niles, his left hand unconsciously raising to hold his injury. “I hope you can use that, Corporal.” Dragomir indicated the rapier that hung at Niles’s side with a nod. “You’re backing me up, and that place can get a little rough.”
Niles's heart rate increased with the sudden attention, and he nodded quickly. "Yes, Sir! Of course! I'll be of whatever use I can, Sir!" He was actually a little bit worried, since he wasn't generally very talented with any sort of weapon; he had horrible aim and bad fencing technique, but if the Lieutenant needed him, he would be there, for sure. "So, what's the plan, Sir?"
“I figured we could meet here tomorrow evening around six or so, and then walk there. It’s not too far, and it’d be less suspicious then driving.” Dragomir was thoroughly looking forward to the mission; he liked the idea of being in complete control, not having to follow anyone else’s lead, and telling the Corporal what to do. “Oh, don’t wear your uniform. You’ll need to dress down a bit, too, if we’re to blend in.” Dragomir got the feeling that a rich boy like the Corporal would stand out like a sore thumb no matter what he wore; he always looked so delicate. Dragomir grinned at Niles fleetingly, before turning to face the Major. “Does that sound alright, Major?”
Major Delancy nodded. "That sounds like a solid plan. Good luck, Lieutenant, and do try not to get any more injured than you already are." She smiled teasingly at him after the last statement, then turned back to her desk and began going through paperwork once more.
Once that was settled, Niles looked back up to the Lieutenant. "All right, Sir! I'll be here and ready at six tomorrow!"