Chapter: 1 pt 2
Warnings: Same as the other one. XP;;
Of course, now that it was 5 the next day, that statement seemed a little far from the truth. Niles had never been to that part of town before, and, frankly, he was rather terrified of it. Then, in addition to his worries about his far-from-sufficient fencing abilities, he was also having trouble finding something to wear. He knew there was nothing in his wardrobe older than a year, and he always kept his clothes in perfect condition. He didn't own anything to suggest he was anything but wealthy, and he didn't even have anything worn out or in poor condition.
Finally, after staring blankly at his wardrobe for a good twenty minutes, he decided on something relatively old and in muted colours, hoping that, then, at least he wouldn't stand out. He managed to find a pair of shoes without excessive buckles and tried to make his hair look messy but failed miserably. Giving himself the once-over in the mirror, he decided it was the best he could do, and grabbed his rapier before leaving the house.
He drove to the military building without thinking about it, and arrived at about twenty to six. Assuming he was to meet the Lieutenant in his office, he hurried inside, not wanting to be late.
Dragomir struggled to bandage his arm single-handedly. The Bonne Pousse was a hotspot for all kinds of people just looking for trouble, and Dragomir reasoned that he and the Corporal would be more likely to be jumped if either, and especially both of them looked at all weak. Since Dragomir figured there was little he could do about Niles, the least he could do for the two of them was to keep from looking like an easy target himself. With out the sling, the unobservant troublemaker wouldn’t notice his handicap and would be more likely to leave the two of them alone. He finished wrapping his upper arm with a roll of linen to the best of his abilities, and tied it off with a tight knot. It seemed secure enough, and Dragomir was pleased with his new found freedom of movement, although moving his arm too much caused a horrible searing pain to shoot down his it and make his hand spasm, but he was confident that he could keep it under control while he was on the mission.
His arm secured, Dragomir dressed casually in plain dark knickers, a simple blouse, and a dark brown overcoat, not even bothering to tie a cravat at his throat. He armed himself carefully with both a revolver and his rapier before leaving only just early enough to arrive at headquarters at the scheduled time of appointment.
Dragomir reached the office just over ten minutes late, and didn’t knock as he entered. It took him only a minute to locate the Corporal, who he greeted with a grin. “I thought I told you to dress down?” Dragomir teased, looking over Niles’s choice of clothing briefly before continuing. “It’ll do, though. Are you ready?”
"Ah!" Niles stood quickly as his superior entered the room, flushing at his remark. "I'm sorry, Sir! I really tried to do as you told me! I'm sorry." He quieted as the Lieutenant told him it would do, and nodded. "So, now what, Sir?" He mentally went over the plan, to make sure he wouldn't mess up. He was already more than a little nervous about the idea of having to defend Lt. Hirlea, and so he couldn't afford to make any mistakes.
“Now, we must be on our way.” Dragomir declared, turning to locate the Major, “We will return with Fillipus Rutgers as soon as we apprehend him, Sir.” Dragomir said as he bowed elaborately, making use of his newly freed right arm. It smarted painfully, and he lifted it to his chest with a wince. Dragomir then turned back to Niles briefly, his left arm rising unconsciously to cradle his wounded appendage, and started towards the door, pausing only a second to make sure the Corporal had followed, before exiting the room with a quick and strained bow to his superior.
Niles trotted along after Lt. Hirlea, not really sure of where they were going. His nerves were not at all eased as they traveled farther into worse and worse parts of town until they were far past anywhere Niles was even vaguely familiar with. He quickened his pace so that he strode almost on his superior's heels, even though he knew he should be confident to defend himself. After all, the Lieutenant was injured, and he should be able to protect them both... Niles sighed dejectedly inwardly. He was just asking for failure.
As they walked on, Niles began to wonder where it was that they were going. He had lost any sense of direction he originally had, and was currently strongly fighting the urge to ask, "Are we there yet?"
Seeming to read his mind, Dragomir noted their position and looked over his shoulder at the Corporal. “It’s just about a block ahead,” he called, flashing a quick grin before looking forward again. It only took a few more minutes before they reached the Bonne Pousse, a dilapidated stone building with only a tiny sign which indicated the building’s purpose. "The Bonne Pousse" was scrawled across the sign in fine, relatively small script, and through years of neglect it had become virtually illegible. This of course hardly mattered to Dragomir, as he would recognize the building anywhere. He could only hope that the majority of the regulars wouldn’t recognize him, though.
Dragomir turned quickly to Niles, smiling reassuringly, before they started towards the entrance. Inside, the place had a feel of relative refinement, and it was evident by the comparatively nice furniture, which typified the refined sort of crime, that was a place that local organized crime groups frequented. However, the thick smoke and stink of tobacco which hung in the stifling air inside, made doubly worse by the stench of men in various states of drunkenness, detracted from the overall environment.
Not wanting to call too much attention to themselves, they slipped in quietly and made there way to a table in the very back of the small room. From this table, they had a clear view of the door and Dragomir was confident they would have an easy time spotting the Fillipus Rutgers they were after.
However stealthy they may have entered, they didn’t not escape the watchful gaze of a waitress, who immediately came forward to take their orders. The waitress had, what Dragomir considered, to be a very tacky appearance. She wore heavy white powdered makeup, dark rouge, and a deep neckline, with her corset laced up beyond normal extremes. She asked what they would like to drink, and Dragomir requested light ale, so as to keep up their pretence. He wondered vaguely weather or not Niles drank, apart from wine, but did not give him the chance to order. He removed the file the Colonel had given them earlier, and extracted a small picture of their target.
“If you would be so kind, my lady, as to inform me when this gentleman arrives, it would be very much appreciated,” Dragomir said smoothly, adding a small bow for additional effect. “He owes me money,” he added as an afterthought. The waitress nodded in reply with a coy smile, as if the request was of the sort she received everyday. She left the table and walked towards the bar at the front of the building stiffly, her movement severely inhibited by her corset, and Dragomir found it easy to imagine that a woman like her was quite used to such affairs of business being conducted in the Bonne Pousse, and would probably be willing to keep an eye out for their man.
Dragomir turned back to face Niles and slid the picture across the table to his companion. “He shouldn’t be too hard to spot, I believe.” Dragomir beamed confidently, dropping his right arm to rest on the surface of the table casually, and leaning forward.
Niles nodded enthusiastically, somewhat relieved that he hadn't been told to order a drink, since he generally didn't drink any sort of alcohol besides wine. "That's a very good plan, Sir!" Then, unsure of what to do, he folded his hands in his lap politely and crosses his legs. It was strange to be sitting at a table with his superior this way, and he certainly didn't want to seem out of line. "So we should just wait for her to get back, Sir?"
“I suppose so. We can keep an eye on the door as well. If he comes in, one of us is sure to spot him.” Dragomir said casually. He glanced around with the intention of locating the waitress and learning the progress of his drink. When he spotted her in deep conversation with a customer, he realized that he may be waiting a while, and so turned back to face Niles once again. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “You probably shouldn’t be so formal, since we’re undercover. You can go ahead and call me Dragomir for now, if you want.” Dragomir smiled and leaned back, stretching his legs under the table. On the one hand, shady bars like this reminded him a bit too much of his former work, but on the other, it was very nice to relax and not have to worry so much about society’s rules for a change.
Niles blinked, blushing slightly. "I...um...all right, Sir--I mean, Dragomir--I mean--I'm sorry, Si--um!" The name rolled off his tongue strangely, and he didn't know if he would be able to remember to use it. The idea of being informal with anyone was so novel and extraordinary that he almost couldn't imagine it, and it gave him a strange fluttery feeling in his stomach. He blushed and looked down at his hands in his lap, trying to regain himself without feeling flustered, then tried looking across the table at his superior under his bangs. "Dragomir." He said it definitively, if softly, trying to make it seem normal to himself.
Dragomir smiled at his companion’s unease. It was odd to him that the Corporal would find it so awkward to call him by his first name, but Dragomir realized that their upbringings were obviously vastly different, and so figured that it would just take the other a while longer to get used to the informalities. “It’s Niles, right?” Dragomir asked casually, tilling his head to the side slightly. He glanced around quickly, to make sure no one was paying too much attention to them. “So. How long have you been in the service, Niles?” He repeated the name for the sake of practice.
"Ah! Yes, Si--Dragomir," Niles replied. He tried to be at ease and smile a little, and nodded. "I've been in the military since I was eighteen. There was nothing else for me to do." He smiled at his superior and tried to seem insignificant, simply because he was. "What about you? When did you join?"
“I was eighteen too, when I joined.” Dragomir ran a hand through his hair before leaning forward and propping his good arm on the table, resting his cheek against it. “For the money,” he added, as he considered Niles’s reason. “Nothing else to do, huh?” he repeated. “Don’t you have family, or something?”
The question caught Niles off guard for a second, and he hesitated before shaking his head. "None. My parents died when I was five years old, and I've been raised by servants since then. I never even left my house until I was sixteen." He smiled blankly and shrugged. "I really had nothing to do, so I joined the military. Even though I'm pretty much useless, I thought maybe I could help out somehow." It felt awkward to be talking about himself. Had anyone ever asked him about his past before? He couldn't remember.
Awkwardly, he tried to change to subject. "So, you must have a family...?"
“Oh…” Dragomir said slowly, sitting up a little straighter. He didn’t mean to bring up a sensitive issue or anything like that. Dragomir couldn’t imagine life without a family, and so knowing just by this little bit about Niles, the Corporal instantly won Dragomir’s sincerest sympathies. “I’m so sorry to hear that, it must have been awful.” Dragomir realized that Niles probably didn’t really want to stay on the subject for too long, and tried to smile kindly. “Yeah…I have a lot of siblings, although my father died when I was young, too.” He said, trying find some common ground.
Niles smiled and shrugged. "It's not such of a big deal, really." His superior smiled back at him, and it almost felt like his heart stilled for a moment. The Lieutenant certainly had an attractive smile... but why was he thinking such things? It was so irrelevant. Shaking his head slightly, he listened to what Lt. Hirlea was saying. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that! But it must be nice having a lot of siblings to keep you company." Niles couldn't conceive living with anyone, not to mention someone who was related to him, but he tried to imagine how nice it must be. "It must have been wonderful for them when you came home from the war. Do they all live with you?"
“I suppose it’s good to be back, although I worry I must be an inconvenience to them, after all the time I’ve been away.” Dragomir sighed. His sister, Viorica, had moved in to share their mother’s room, and Dragomir imagined that it was probably difficult for her to have to be in such close quarters, as their mother was very ill. “I live with my mother, my two sisters, and my brother in-law. I also have two brothers, but they’re both married and live elsewhere.” Dragomir laughed slightly at the length of the list. “Still, it’s pretty crowded.”
"Wow. That's a lot of people," Niles agreed, awed. "I guess it would get kind of crowded." In honesty, he had no idea how it would be crowded, besides in a figurative sense, because how could only 5 people be crowded in a house? It wasn't liked they'd have to share rooms or anything... But Niles decided it was better to agree than to ask questions, so he nodded. Then, trying to keep the conversation going, he tried to think of something else to ask. "Um...if you don't mind me asking, of what heritage are you?"
“Hmmm?” Dragomir knew what he was being asked, but he couldn’t help but be rather coy about it. “Oh, you can tell?” His heritage really wasn’t something he was very proud of; it would be so much easier if he were simply Gallian… “I was born in Eastern Dacia. My family immigrated here when I was eight,” Dragomir said simply. “What about you? Christian sounds rather Albionian.” He asked with a friendly and inquiring smile.
Niles flushed, feeling self-conscious. "Ah--Yes, my father was Albionian. My mother was Gallian, though." He laughed embarrassedly, putting a hand behind his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you...I couldn't help but notice your darker complexion...It's kind of handsome, actually." He laughed softly again, realizing how silly that must have sounded. "I mean...never mind..."
Luckily, Niles was saved from further embarrassment by the waitress, who finally returned with the Lieutenant's drink. "Here you are, sir," she smiled in a fashion that Niles wasn't familiar with and was somewhat confused by. "Anything…else I can get for you?" She winked at his superior, shifting her weight into one hip.
Dragomir gave a light chuckle at the entire situation. Not only had Niles just called him handsome, but the waitress was now attempting to get his attention as well. Dragomir figured she probably needed a little money on the side, and couldn’t blame her for it, but he was strongly opposed to prostitution, of any sort, and was actually rather repulsed by her. Nevertheless, he smiled kindly as he politely declined her offer.
After being rejected, the waitress blushed heavily and retreated with a slight grimace, curtseying curtly before turning away. Once she was out of ear shot, Dragomir returned his attention to Niles and smirked with a rather cocky confidence which he generally tried to hide. “Handsome, huh?” he inquired.
Niles flushed completely, feeling his cheeks burn up. "No--I mean, yes--I mean, what I meant was--ah! I'm sorry, Sir!" He spluttered for a few more seconds before realizing his error. "Ah! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to call you--and what I meant before was--ah!" He looked down at his hands in his lap, blushing uncontrollably and feeling like the biggest idiot in the world. Why had he said that, anyway? True, he found his new commanding officer rather attractive, but it was such an inappropriate thing to say. He beat himself up internally, his embarrassment not subsiding in the least.
Dragomir couldn’t help but laugh and as he did so, he slumped forward onto the table with little regard for his unabashed display of amusement. He knew his behavior was only making Niles feel worse, but he simply couldn’t help it. This wasn’t the first time he’d laughed at Niles’s expense, and although he did feel rather guilty, he found the Corporal’s various reactions incredibly entertaining. It occurred to Dragomir that never before had he met anyone who was just so… well, cute. He was surprised by his own conclusion, but didn’t let it show he sat up slowly, his laughter residing to a slight snigger.
“I’m sorry,” he grinned, running a hand through his hair, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” Well, he had meant to embarrass Niles, purely because his earlier reaction what was Dragomir had been expecting, but he also hoped that Niles wouldn’t be offended, and so sought to make amends. “I just don’t get that very often, you know? Your…honesty is admirable.” Dragomir struggled slightly for the right word, but smiled genuinely as he spoke, the last of his giggles having at last subsided.
"No, I'm sorry," Niles insisted, fighting to hide his continued embarrassment and losing the battle. "It was really out of line of me." It really confused him how the First Lieutenant continued to laugh off all of Niles' mistakes, as if they were trivial. Certainly he should eventually be punished for all of his screw-ups? But that didn't seem to be Lt. Hirlea's plan, and he honestly seemed genuinely amused by Niles' embarrassment. It was new, and Niles decided it was preferable. Urging his voice to some volume that wasn't unintelligible, he said softly, "Thank you for your lenience towards me, si-ah, I mean...I really am grateful, and I'll try to do better."
Dragomir chortled lowly. “It’s not lenience,” he explained, “I just don’t think everyone needs to be so rigid. You don’t have to try to do better, just don’t worry so much.” He grinned and leaned back, draping himself over the edge of the chair in an unrefined manner to illustrate his next point. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m not so perfect with the formalities.” He paused briefly, and pulled his injured arm over his chest again; letting it hang over the back of the chair had made one of the bandages come lose, it seemed. “I try, but I never get them quite right.” He sighed, pushing up his sleeve and glaring at the fresh blood form the newly reopened wound. “What I’m driving at,” he started, before he found he needed to use his teeth to pull one end of the strip of cloth as he tied it off with his other hand, “is that you shouldn’t be so concerned with the details with me.” He finished, speaking through the cloth held in his mouth. He then rolled his sleeve back down and cradled his arm, waiting for the blood to coagulate and stop flowing. He smiled slightly, trying to ignore the dull throbbing pain in his arm.
Niles blinked, not quite believing what he was hearing. An invitation to be less formal towards his superior? This couldn't be true. And yet, here he was, looking across the table at that handsome smile and knowing he wasn't really dreaming. Niles felt a sort of happy excitement bubbling up in his stomach. Someone actually didn't hate him! He made a resolution to try even harder than before to please Lt. Hirlea, in order to keep him from hating him.
When Niles finally returned to his senses, he realized that his superior seemed to be in a bit of pained, and stood hurriedly. Coming over beside, him, he leaned over slightly to see the wound. "Are you all right? Do you need help?"
“It’s nothing.” Dragomir grunted, looking up at Niles. “It opened up again, is all.” He winced, realizing that he probably needed to wrap it with clean bandages, as it was starting to bleed through both the wrap and his jacket. “It’s just that I probably shouldn’t have taken the sling off.” Dragomir gritted his teeth into a smile. “Really though, it’ll be fine.” He reached for the glass that sat before him and tipped it back, draining the whole cup in a single go. He then shook his head lightly, already feeling the warm numbness of the alcohol spread through him. “This will go a long way towards easing the pain. It’ll close again soon and be fine.” This time, he did manage a smile, and he held Niles’s gaze, strangely fascinated by the pale blue of the corporal’s eyes. Dragomir looked away quickly though, to set his glass down on the table. His left hand then immediately returned to hold his injured arm.
Niles felt his heart rate speed up as he looked back into his superior's dark eyes, though he wasn't sure why, and the Lieutenant broke the contact quickly, so he didn't think much of it. He was more worried about the blood that was now staining Lt. Hirlea's jacket sleeve. "Are you sure you'll be fine? Maybe I should re-bandage it for you." He realized the invalidity of that statement when it became obvious to him that they had no other bandages on hand. "Or, if it makes it feel better, I can get you another drink," he offered as an afterthought, and then added, as a means of explanation, "I don't want you to be in pain."
“Thank you, but I think it’s more important that I stay alert, should there be trouble when we find that Rutgers guy.” Dragomir laughed lightly, sounding somewhat strained. His little smile faded quickly however, and he looked down at his arm. “I’m used to the pain,” he said somberly, his continence and tone completely serious for the first time that evening.
Niles's eyes widened at the Lieutenant's statement. He couldn't believe anyone could ever be used to pain, but, then again, the man had spent the past year (or more; Niles wasn't sure) on the front lines of the war. Still, it was a depressing thought. But his superior was right that they had to be alert in case their target arrived, so Niles nodded solemnly, glancing towards the door.
Dragomir followed Niles’s gaze, and for a time they both watched the door. It seemed a little silly, as Dragomir was a firm believer in the proverb “a watched pot never boils,” but for some reason they both continued to look. It hadn’t been more then a minute when the door swung open, and in sauntered a short thin man, matching their description. Dragomir retrieved the picture from where it had been discarded on the table, and held it up so Niles could see it as well. “That’s our man,” Dragomir said, a grin crawling over his face. He got to his feet and dumped the contents of the folder on to the table, keeping his arm close to his chest. It would have been too difficult to try and thumb through the materials with a single hand, and dumping them all was faster anyway. Dragomir retrieved the warrant for the arrest of Fillippus Rutgers and turned to face Niles. “I’ll do the talking, but I need you to stay on my right to distract him from my arm.” Dragomir was thoroughly excited; they hadn’t even started and he could already feel the adrenaline. “Alright. Let’s go.” He ordered, striding forward boldly as Niles got into position. Rutgers had taken a seat at the bar, and was enjoying the company of the waitress when they approached.
“Mr. Rutgers?” Dragomir questioned in a polite and yet firm manner. The man pushed the waitress away gruffly so that he could turn to face them on the swivel bar stool.
“Ya, and who vants to know?” Rutgers demanded, narrowing his eyes. His voice was extremely gruff and low, thick with the guttural accent common to Allemagnians.
“My name is Hirlea, and this is my friend Christian. We have a few questions we’d like to ask you, so if you’d be so kind as to take a step outside with-”
The thug cut Dragomir off sharply before he had the chance to finish. “The hell I vill. I have no business viff ya people.” He swiveled his stool back around and motioned for the bartender.
“I see.” Dragomir spoke calmly. “Well, it just so happens that we have business with you. Serious business.” Dragomir paused for effect, and Rutgers glared at them over his shoulder. “I just so happen to have with me a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Rutgers. I trust you understand what that means?” Rutgers swiveled around again and hoped down from the stool bristling.
“Vat gives ya a damn right to come here and try to arrest me, huh!?!” the man demanded, his face red with anger. Dragomir couldn’t help but assume that the man really did have some dealings with the Berceuse Malheureuse; no innocent man would become so incised after something so minimal. Of course, his quick temper also revealed to Dragomir that he was not of very much importance in the organization, either, as a prominent member would know more discretion.
“Mr. Rutgers,” Dragomir began again with mock patience, “If you’ll simply cooperate now, my friend and I will not make use of the warrant. If you can answer a few questions, then you will be free to go. If not-”
“I von’t give in to your threats!” He leaped to his feet and pulled a rapier from his belt. The people around them quickly moved away. They were all quite accustomed to such petty fights, but they did not want to get involved. “I von’t tolerate this kind of insult!” Rutgers held his sword out in font of him, threatening the two of them. The tip of his blade quivered slightly as his body shook with anger. He was definitely guilty.
“Please, we don’t want any violence. If you’ll simply-”
“Coward! En garde!” Rutgers lunged forward quickly, executing a sloppy flesche in the limited amount of space. Dragomir grabbed Niles by the arm and jerked him back behind himself roughly, defending with an elegant preem, and moving into an eight, a strike for Rutgers left shoulder. Rutgers seemed momentarily stunned by Dragomir’s left handed defense, but recovered quickly and parried Dragomir’s strike. Dragomir managed a disengage, but did not complete the strike. Hopping back nimbly, he looked quickly to Niles.
“He can’t take both of us. His technique is sloppy.” Dragomir ginned cockily, and turned back to his opponent. “You really want to fight both of us?” he sneered. The man did not seem deterred, and came at Niles.
Niles stumbled backwards a few steps and reached shakily for his rapier, effectively managing to pull a preem. However, as he was trying to compose himself, Rutgers struck at him and he had to defend, stumbling backwards a few steps. He was still attempting to regain his balance when the other man swiped sloppily at him and managed to cut his left hand, causing him to recoil in pain and sending his rapier skidding across the floor. Rutgers looked encouraged, and, with a rather frightening grin, came at Niles again. He squeaked and flinched to the side, but it didn't do much good, and Rutgers swiped at him again.
Dragomir was surprised to see Niles floundering as he was; he had expected the Corporal to be proficient or better, considering his noble heritage. Although, now that he thought about it, Niles never really looked like the duelist-type. Dragomir had little time to think however, before Rutgers gained too much of an advantage. He put on a burst of speed and power, managing to lunge forward, catching Rutgers off guard, and landing a deep gash in the man’s left shoulder. Rutgers shrieked in pain and turned with a roar to face Dragomir.
“Foul play!” Rutgers yelled, slapping Dragomir’s blade with such ferocity it nearly flew from its wielder’s hand. Dragomir smirked. The man’s rage was making him behave rashly; Rutgers foolishly aggressive downward sweep had not only sapped his energy, but it had also proved ineffective, as the momentum the man had built with the movement had been to much for him to recover with a riposte.
“You must excuse me,” Dragomir began, performing a graceful take six, spinning Rutgers’s blade out of the way and landing a series of shallow hits on the man’s arm. “I’ve never been good at remembering the rules of engagement.” Rutgers probably did not hear the end of Dragomir’s statement, as the man was far to busy howling in pain and dismay. He managed to stumble backward before Dragomir launched his next attack, and amazingly Rutgers landed a solid reprise. Dragomir bit his lip to avoid crying out as he felt the tip of the blade pierce his skin with the greatest ease. Landing that hit, however, had caused Rutgers to overcommit himself, and he was now thoroughly at a disadvantage. Dragomir had a choice target before Rutgers would have any time to pull back and recover from his over extension, and Dragomir decided to repay the man, hitting him in exactly the same spot. Dragomir pulled his arm back as soon as the tough was made though, to avoid the other’s mistake. Rutgers shuddered violently as the pain hit him, but it only made him all the more vicious.
Incised, Rutgers went for another flesche; this time, Dragomir was prepared for his careless movement, and sidestepped him easily. As the man rushed past him stupidly, Dragomir spun on his heel and hit the man keenly in the middle of his back. Before he had a chance to turn for a redoublement, Dragomir took a quick step forward and kicked him hard in the very spot his sword had stuck moments earlier. Rutgers fell forward heavily with a cry of astonishment, and Dragomir moved over to the fallen man. He put a foot against the small of Rutgers back, grinding it in slightly. Rutgers whimpered piteously as Dragomir rested the tip of his rapier at the base of the prone man’s neck.
“Christian!” Dragomir called, whirling around to locate his subordinate, “If you’d be so kind as to tie him up, we can take him in for questioning.”
“Ya cheating bastards!” Rutgers shouted from the floor. Dragomir let out a haughty laugh and bent forward, leaning over the man’s ear.
“How does it feel to be beaten by a wounded man?” Dragomir asked his voice sharp and cruel. “I hope next time you’ll surrender without a fight. It will save us all a lot of trouble.” Dragomir smirked and straightened up. Some of the people in the bar had gotten out of their seats and gathered around to watch the fight. The people around were all generally silent, and had not yet returned to whatever they had been doing before the trouble. When they realized that Dragomir had become aware of their presence, they all looked away quickly, returning to their business.
Niles hurriedly did as told, securely tying Rutgers's wrists together behind his back. Under normal circumstances, he would have been nervous about doing the job correctly, but, right now, he was almost completely absent. After all that had happened, he felt dazed and pathetic. He had tried to help, tried to be useful, tried to please the Lieutenant and failed. Miserably. The cut on his hand, which had begun to close, was reopened as he knotted the rope, but he barely felt the pain. He hadn't felt so empty in a long time.
The walk back to the military building was a silent blur, as was handing over Rutgers to the proper authorities and being sent to wait for the Colonel in the office. Since it was so late, everyone else had gone home, so Niles sat across the room from his superior in sullen silence, trying to build up the courage to say something. It was all his fault... the Lieutenant had gotten hurt because of him, the whole endeavor had taken longer because of him... He stared blankly at the now-scabbed cut across the back of his left hand. It smarted badly, but he knew he would soon be receiving worse punishment than that. Certainly not even Lt. Hirlea would put up with such a failure.
Though his thoughts were altogether pessimistic, Niles knew he ought to say something before he was reprimanded. Gathering up his courage, he managed softly, "...I'm sorry, Sir. I'm really, really sorry..."
“What for?” Dragomir fingered the bandage over his chest wound through the hole in his shirt unconsciously. Now that his arm had fresh bandages and was safely back in its sling, the pain had dulled considerably, leaving him with a vague numbness all over. He smiled slightly, and forced himself to leave the medical gauze alone, letting his hand rest on the arm of his chair. “You did a good job tonight.” Dragomir’s smile broke into a smirk and he shifted his weight, leaning forward with casual and familiar ease. “I have to ask, though, where’d you learn to fence?” Dragomir could no longer restrain himself and he laughed, falling back into his chair. “Not to be rude,” Dragomir said, putting his face into his hand, “but you’re really not very good.” He smiled across the room playfully at Niles, hoping the other would realize his teasing was all in good humor and not at all meant to offend.
Niles was thoroughly shocked by his superior's praise, but quickly returned to a state of embarrassment and failure at the next question, dropping his head slightly. "Um...Well, I've had a private tutor since childhood...but it's not the teaching, Sir, it's that I'm just not very good at learning. And I'm clumsy, and and don't pick things up very quickly. I know I'm not very good, but I really do try, Sir..." he realized he must be sounding like he was trying to shift the blame. "I-I mean, I know it's my fault, and I'm going to try even harder in the future, and I'm sorry for tonight..." He trailed and bit his lip. He knew it; Lt. Hirlea thought of him as a failure at fencing (which, of course, he was) and soon he was going to realize all the other things he was a failure at and all of his faults and he was going to hate him, just like everyone else. A tiny part of him wanted to think that the Lieutenant's voice really hadn't seemed scolding, but he banished those thoughts. After all, what good came of hoping and being let down?
Dragomir was surprised by how upset the Corporal seemed and felt slightly guilty. “It’s not your fault.” He smiled reassuringly to make sure Niles understood that he really wasn’t upset. “You did really well tonight, you know. Your backup was invaluable.” Dragomir’s smile shifted into a grin. “Even if you were just a distraction, it made a huge difference. Also, I definitely couldn’t have tied him up myself with this arm.” Dragomir patted his weak spot deliberately and looked Niles over, remembering that the other had received a wound during the fight. Spotting the gash on his subordinate’s hand, Dragomir opened his desk and retrieved his spare bandage. Getting up, he walked over to where Niles sat and dropped the bandages into the other’s lap before lifting Niles’s hand gently to examine the cut. “You should get it cleaned before you wrap it.” Dragomir said softly with genuine concern before releasing the hand.
Niles blushed at the praise, not quite sure how to react. Even after all he had done wrong, the Lieutenant was still complementing him? His mind was completely blown, however, when his superior came over to inspect his wound and touched his hand. Niles barely caught anything he was saying, he was sent into such a daze by the contact. Lt. Hirlea's hand was large and warm and strong, and it was touching him! His heart rate was quickly accelerating and his face was heating up more than before. He wasn't sure why, but that touch by that hand was quickly becoming the only thing he could think about.
Then, after seconds and hours at the same time, it was over. The Lieutenant was looking to him for some response, and he managed a nod through his still semi-dazed state. "I-I'll go to the washroom and clean it, Sir," he replied once he had regained his voice, rising to his feet and floating out of the room.
Injured or not, Niles' hand felt better than it ever had before, though he was still unsure of the cause of this sudden rejuvenation. But when the Lieutenant had touched him... He subconsciously brought his left hand to his face as he thought back. It had been amazing, wonderful...but why? Was it that someone was, for once, really voicing concern over his well being? True, Lt. Hirlea really did seem like he cared, and that was definitely more than Niles had ever had before. That must be it, that must be it.
When he reached the washroom, he found himself hesitating to wash the hand that had, just minutes ago, been so tenderly touched, but he knew he ought to clean the cut, and so he turned on the faucet and rinsed the hand. When he was done, he turned off the water and darted back to the office.
Back in the office, he immediately began to do as told, and picked up the bandages. When he tried to unroll some, there was a searing pain through his left hand, and so he was forced to try again right-handed. He fumbled clumsily, trying to get a good hold and failing. Maybe he wouldn't be able to wrap his hand after all...
Dragomir watched Niles’s struggle for a time, grinning at the other’s failed attempts. After a few more minutes, Dragomir stepped forward again and took the bandage. “It’s gets easier after you’ve had some practice.” Dragomir laughed slightly, once again lifting Niles’s hand to look over the cut to see that it was clean. Satisfied he looked back at Niles. “Not that you’ll be getting cut up again.” Dragomir said with a grin. “If you hold this end,” Dragomir pressed the bandage into Niles’s good hand, and moved it over to the wound, “Like this on the cut, then we can get it wrapped tightly.” Through their joint effort, Dragomir wrapping while Niles held the ends secure, they managed to get Niles’s hand bandaged neatly and effectively. Stepping back, Dragomir smiled again and crossed his arm over his injury. “Right then. You should change it again in the morning.” He stated simply.
"Y-yes, sir!" Niles stuttered, fighting back the furious blush that was threatening to make its way back onto his face. It would really be a question of will-power in the end, he thought, because, even if he did have the ability, he didn't want to remove the bandage that the Lieutenant had so kindly helped him put on.
As his superior seated himself behind his desk once more, Niles couldn't bring himself to look elsewhere. The more he thought about it, the more he was confused by the attractiveness he found in the other man. Last time he checked, attractive was supposed to be pale and soft and delicate, not strong and dark like Lt. Hirlea. But, yet, Niles could only see him as extremely handsome, and the reason behind it remained a mystery.
He was given no more time to think on the matter, however, because there was a knock on the door. He rose quickly to answer it, glancing to the Lieutenant for permission. Behind the door was an enlisted soldier he did not recognize and who ignored him, bowing to Lt. Hirlea. "Sir," he announced, sounding official, "Colonel Rousseau bids you his congratulations and orders that you return tomorrow morning to interrogate the suspect."
Dragomir stood and lowered his head to the man slightly before he left. He then turned to Niles with a grin and grabbed his coat. “And with that, I think we have our leave.” He swung his coat over his shoulders with his good arm and fitted it into the sleeve, letting the right side simply rest over his shoulder. He walked over to where Niles stood and reached over the other man to open the door before the Corporal could manage. “Shall we walk together?” Dragomir smiled.
They left the room and walked through the dark halls of the building without saying much, Dragomir only commenting once that it was a pity that the military was too cheap to invest in the new electric lights and heating and that they were stuck in the cold. The air outside was cooler still, and Dragomir was not looking forward to the long walk home. Nevertheless, he dismissed Niles with a quick wave and started down the street.