A slow-moving state of shock was currently washing over Niles, but when it had hit, he felt broken inside, worse than when he had been physically beaten. It couldn't be. Lt. Hirlea really cared for him, he had said so! Yet...what the General said was true, no one had come to save him when he really needed it...his mind hurt. The clouds felt as if they might be clearing, but he still felt foggy. No...no, this couldn't be true...
"I'm so sorry for you..." the hand caressed his cheek for a second before returning to stroking his hair, "Dear, sweet child...."
"I...I..." Niles seemed to be incapable of forming a complete sentence, although now more from the shock and depression than the fogginess of his mind. That's when he remembered.
Struggling to a sitting position, Niles looked as urgently as he could at the Major General. "Sir, I- I promised to get backup for...for..." Now he was on the verge of tears... Just the thought of his adored Lieutenant, by whom he had been abandoned, betrayed, used... He sniffed, wiping his tears with the back of his hand. "Sir. I'm sorry, sir, I--"
The Major General smiled softly. "Of course, I understand. Your duty. Please, allow me to escort you back to headquarters."
"Oh...thank you, sir." Niles struggled to his feet and tried to bow, but wobbled.
"Careful, now." The General took hold on his arm and gave him support. "Please, don't hurt yourself again. In these circumstances, I think formalities can be ignored."
"Sir, I...I..." Niles trailed as his thoughts returned to Lt. Hirlea, and tears threatened again. The General looked sympathetic, and wiped away the tears about to fall.
"Now, now. The best thing to do is move on, no matter how painful it is." He lifted Niles chin lightly and smiled. "There you go. Chin up. Everything will be all right. And from now on, you can come to me for any of your troubles, all right?"
Niles nodded. "T-Thank you, sir."
The General nodded. "Good. Now let's get you back to headquarters, all right?"
Niles nodded, feeling too weak for any words. Optimism failed him, no matter how kind the General was being. He was broken, and, he felt sure, nothing could fix him.
Dragomir was searching again. He was systematically checking all of the alleyways in the area in his disparate search for Niles. It had been a little over an hour since he’s admitted to himself what he’d been feeling for a long time now, and this confession had merely strengthened his resolve. He would fine Niles. He had to.
Dragomir entered an alley near where he’d told Niles he could escape. This one was a dead end, an alley Dragomir had forgotten about completely. At the far side where three bodies, expertly executed by rapier, but not by Dragomir’s hand. There hadn’t been much of a fight, either. They’d been simply stabbed in the back. Dragomir had a feeling, deep in his gut, that this was something important. He needed to get back to headquarters right now.
Niles thanked the General as he slowly got out of the automobile, feeling less dizzy than he had before. His head finally seemed to be clearing, and he looked hesitantly back at the General. "T-Thank you, sir...."
General Mauvais smiled. "Please, don't think of it. And remember, if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask me."
Niles nodded vaguely, then shut the automobile door and started back into the building. His mind was reeling, he wasn't sure what to feel right now besides numb. The one element in his life which had made him happy had suddenly been torn away and ripped to pieces, but he still had a job to do. He just had to talk himself out of caring anymore...he blinked away tears and walked determinedly inside.
Upon reaching the office, he knocked, and was presently let in by the Major. "Corporal!" she exclaimed, as if she was glad to see him alive. "Oh, thank goodness you're here. Come inside." She ushered him in, and he wondered what was going on.
Dragomir saw the door to the office shut and sped forward. Was it possible? Was Niles back? He slid forward and threw the door open roughly for the second time that day pushing inside again without bowing. He looked around the room quickly, ignoring Major Delancy as she looked up at him from examining Niles. Seeing the Corporal, Dragomir stumbled forward towards him, almost tripping over his feet which seemed to have grown impossible heavy. He felt like he might cry. There were so many emotions welling up inside of him, but couldn’t bring himself to show weakness now, not again. “Niles!” He gasped, his breathlessness catching up with him again. “Are you alright?” He could barely stand, and he leaned forward placing his hands on his knees for support. As weak as he felt however, just seeing Niles again seemed to fill him with strength, and a wave of relief washed over him, alleviating some of the ach in his heart.
Niles looked at his superior with surprise. The Lieutenant looked horrible, and worry began to well up inside of him. He quickly crushed it, however, and showed no sign of emotion. "Fine, sir," he replied, emotionlessly. He was surprised at the hardness of his own voice, but it had to be this way. He had been cast aside, and he was going to have to live with it. As he shied away from his superior, however, he felt tears well up again. He couldn't be weak, not now...but it was almost as if he felt his world crumbling before him all over again.
Dragomir was slightly taken aback by Niles’s cold voice, but was in so much emotional distress himself that he really didn’t take note. “God,” Dragomir said, sinking to his knees weakly. “I…I didn’t-” he started to say, choking on his words a bit as he looked up at the other. His voice caught in his throat and he stopped short as he noticed a dark bruise blooming on the Corporal’s cheek. “You’re hurt!” Dragomir exclaimed getting to his feet and reaching out slowly with a bloodied hand. Niles was hurt! He was safe, but he’d gotten hurt because of Dragomir’s negligence! Dragomir pulled his hand back quickly and stuffed it into his pocket, realizing how horrible he must have looked. Niles needed help now, and so he could let them think he’d been hurt as well. Niles was the priority.
Niles again shied away from his superior's touch, flinching as if he'd been hit. "I'm fine, sir," he answered flatly, "But thank you for your concern, sir." There, he'd gotten it down. That almost sounded downright cold, if not harsh. And so, feeling numb again, he bowed and turned his back to the Lieutenant, beginning to walk away. He couldn't believe this, that he was doing this...The Lieutenant sounded so concerned...but still. He couldn't let himself fall for it again. He had to remain steady and distant.
Niles’s harsh reply stung Dragomir bitterly, and he shuddered, a chill funning through him. There must be something else wrong. Something horrible must have happened. Dragomir took a hesitant step forward and reached out, placing a bloodied hand lightly on Niles’s shoulder. “Niles…” He said softly, hoping desperately that the Corporal would at least look at him. Dragomir’s whole body hurt and he felt horribly weak. He needed at least some sign from Niles that he’d be alright…Dragomir didn’t think he could make it without some form of reassurance, even if it were just a vague acknowledgement.
Niles, wallowing in self-pity and depression, was suddenly possessed with a feeling of resentment, and, at the Lieutenant's touch, turned around quickly, almost lashing out in his momentary fit. "Please, sir, don't touch me!" he spat. The words left his mouth in such a manner that he had never used before, and he was suddenly in a state of numb shock again. This wasn't happening...this had to be a dream. And yet, there was his superior, looking like a kicked puppy, and it was all Niles could do to keep from breaking down into a fit of hysterics.
Dragomir drew back quickly, taking a few stumbling steps back and drawing his arms over his chest as if to shield himself. He hardly knew what to do with himself now. He felt completely broken. Why was Niles acting this way? Dragomir didn’t want to cry. He had to leave. With one final pleading look at Niles, Dragomir turned away, trying to harden himself completely and block the Corporal from his mind and heart. “Major,” He said stiffing as he turned to face her. “I’d like permission to leave early.” He knew it’d be granted.
The Major nodded. She hadn’t said anything during this past exchange, and she seemed a little surprised to be addressed. “Of course, Lieutenant.” Dragomir bowed and left the room, forcing himself not to look back. He would go home now, that was what was left for him.
Niles watched, motionless, as the Lieutenant left the room before dropping to his knees and sobbing wretchedly. He felt empty, completely empty, and he didn't know what to do. Hugging his knees to his chest, he cried and cried and cried, and the tears just wouldn't stop. Was there anything left to make life worth living? Now that he had experienced love, he didn't think he could go back to the way he was. What was he going to do now?
He started when he felt comforting hands on his shoulders, and looked up to see the Major. She offered him a sympathetic smile and her handkerchief, both of which he accepted. "Calm down, now," she instructed, patting his back as he wiped away his tears only to replace them with fresh ones, "and then tell me what's wrong. I've never seen you act that way before."
Niles chocked through his tears. "Th-the Lieutenant...he doesn't care about me, a-and I-I-" He was cut off by a completely disbelieving look from the Major.
"What on earth makes you think that? He cares about you more than anything else!" She shook her head in mixed emotions, then put a steady hand on Niles' shoulder. "He just spent 2 hours, badly injured, trying to find you. Didn't you notice how worried he seemed? Even if I don't know for sure, I'd venture a guess that you matter to him a whole lot more than you imagine."
Niles stared at her. The Lieutenant...he had been worried? "T-two hours?" Niles choked out in disbelief.
"Yes," the Major replied, shaking her head and helping him to his feet with a serious smile. "Now you'd better go and find him before he hurts himself." She walked back over to her desk. "Hurts himself worse than he already is, anyway."
"S-sir?" Niles sniffed in disbelief.
"Go," the Major urged. "You're excused for the rest of the day. Now hurry up!"
Niles nodded and offered her a weak smile before dashing out of the room. He felt lighter than air, though weighed down by the fact that he had caused his superior distress. Everything was going to be all right, everything was going to be fine. He was going to make sure of it; he was going to fix his mistake. Before he knew it, he was in his automobile and flying down the street, not caring about his speed. He had to make it to the Lieutenant's house as fast as possible.
Dragomir practically felt sick as he reached his front door. It had hurt more then he’d expected to walk home, after he’d been out running for so long already. His legs were sore form exertion and his arm hut terrible hanging limp at his side. He needed to put bandages on his left palm right away before the cuts became infected. Of course, his physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional hurt he’d experienced. His bloody right hand slipped on the doorknob and he cursed lightly as tears feel silently down his cheeks. He was a wreck and he wasn’t sure he could pull through. At last getting the door open, he feel forward inside and kicked the door shut roughly. He meant to get to the bathroom to clean himself up before anyone noticed, but he didn’t think he’d make it. He sunk down to the floor and leaned against the wall, weeping bitterly. No one would be home at this time in the day, and he was relieved. He didn’t want to see anyone, not for a long time.
Niles arrived at the Lieutenant's home after a longer time than he had hoped; the only route he knew to the place was from his own home, which was out of the way when coming from the headquarters. Still, he knew he couldn't afford to get lost, and so he took the safe route.
He pulled up on the street beside his superior's house and barely stopped the automobile before jumping out and running to the door. He knocked hard, not wanting to risk not being heard. Surely the Lieutenant would have made it home by now? After a moment, he knocked again, more persistently. He wasn't going to give up. He had to fix things, no matter what.
The knocking startled Dragomir out of his solitary misery slightly, and he wiped his eyes with his non-bloody sleeve. He didn’t want to open the door. Whoever it was and whatever their business didn’t matter to Dragomir. He couldn’t stand to act like he was alright right now. Everything still hurt too much.
No one answered. No one answered and no one answered and no one answered. Finally, after quite some time and debate, Niles decided to try the door. It was unlocked. Swallowing his doubts and pushing aside his insecurities, he opened the door and went inside, closing it softly behind him.
"...Sir?" He looked around for a second, spotting his superior crumpled on the floor looking miserable. He immediately felt obscenely guilty, and words started flowing from his lips before he even thought about them. "Sir, I-I'm sorry to intrude, but I had to find you and tell you that-" he cut himself off upon seeing all the blood. How had he missed it before?! There was a lot of blood, everywhere...oh, his superior was badly hurt!
Without even thinking, Niles was on his knees beside the other man. "Oh, Sir, you're injured badly! I-I'm sorry, I got convinced that you didn't care about me, and it was so horrible of me, and I didn't even notice how badly hurt you are, and I was horrible to you, and you can probably never forgive me, but--but--" Well, things couldn't possibly get worse than he had already made them, so there was no reason to hold back the truth. "But I love you, sir! And-and...I don't want you to be hurt..." At this point, his speech broke down, impeded by the sobs that marked the start of more tears.
Dragomir couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and especially not what he was hearing. Niles…Niles had just said he love him. Dragomir felt tears sliding down his face again. He couldn’t believe how emotional he was, but he couldn’t stop himself either. “Oh god.” He croaked, reaching up and pulling Niles closer. “Niles…” Dragomir said weakly, reaching up to touch the other’s face tenderly. “I…I…” he didn’t know how to say it, and the tears still hadn’t subsided. He lifted himself up slightly and looked directly into Niles eyes before moving forward slightly and pressing a kiss softly to the Corporal’s lips. He pulled back quickly, falling against the wall again. “I love you too.” Dragomir’s voice was barely above a whisper, but he knew Niles could hear him, and he didn’t take his eyes away.
Niles' eyes widened in disbelief, and the tears momentarily stopped before starting up again full force. "Oh, Sir, I-I..." He trailed, not even sure himself what he was saying. "I've always been in love with you... since... since I came here the first time, a-and, I don't know what I'd do without you..." his speech was broken up by hiccups and sobs, and he tried hard to get control of himself.
When he finally trusted that he could breathe steadily, Niles spoke again. "Sir, you're- you're really badly hurt. I... Is there some way I can help?"
“Kiss me again.” Dragomir said simply, a small smile cutting through his tears. He couldn’t feel the pain anymore, his overwhelming elation and relief to be with Niles the way he now was had completely eclipsed all other emotion. Pulling Niles over and on top of him, Dragomir brought their lips together once again and held the kiss for a fraction of a second longer before breaking away again.
“Niles…what happened?” Dragomir breathed, searching Niles’s face and eyes, brushing his hand lightly over the bruise. “I thought I had them all…” Dragomir looked down at his cut hand and his tears began to fall again. “Please, please forgive me.” He pleaded, looking up again suddenly.
Niles was surprised by his superior's sudden change in demeanor. "Ah- Of course I'll forgive you, sir." He smiled warmly, looking the other man in the eye. "There's nothing that I need to forgive you for."
Subconsciously, he brought his hand up to the bruise on his cheek. "What happened..." Just thinking back to it hurt, but he knew he had to tell. "A-after you left me, sir, I tried to go to the main street, but three more of the Berceuse Malheureuse cut me off. I ran back, but it was a dead end...a-and then...and then..." he took a breath. "And then they beat me, sir. But then I was saved..." This part was foggy in Niles' mind...had it actually happened? And if it had, what happened? The whole event was cloudy in his mind, and he tried to describe it as best he could.
"I was saved by the Major General, sir. He took me back to his house and cleaned my wounds and..." he laughed uneasily at himself. "I-I'm not really sure what happened after that. It’s all cloudy...but...but I remember him telling me that..." he had to take a deep breath again, to bring himself to say it, "that you didn't care about me, sir. I- I don't know what was wrong with me, but I believed him..." The tears were about to start up again, and he swallowed, trying to fight them back. "I'm sorry, sir! I know...I know it was stupid, but if you could please forgive me..." He cut himself off, looking pleadingly up at his superior.
“The Major General?” Dragomir repeated, running his eyes with his shoulder. Dragomir was thoroughly confused; what on earth would the Major General be doing in that area? Moreover, why did he say such things to Niles? Did he even know them? “What did he do to you? Why did you believe it?” Dragomir asked softly. He didn’t want to push Niles, or seem like he was upset, but he felt he had to get down to the bottom of it all.
"I-I don't know what he did to me," Niles sniffed, "Besides clean and bandage my wounds..." He thought back hard, trying to remember. "After that, everything got really strange and cloudy...I don't remember much..." He put a hand to his head, trying hard to remember some detail. "He...he kept calling me strange things...'sweet' and 'delicate'...? I...I really can't recall. I'm sorry sir...." Niles looked back up at his superior pathetically, hoping he wasn't angry. "I'm sorry..."
“I’m not blaming you.” Dragomir smiled, reaching up slowly to wipe Niles’s tears away. The salt from the tears stung his cuts and a bit of blood rubbed off and onto Niles’s cheek. “I just wish I could have been there to protect you…” Dragomir looked at his hand and flexed his palm to see the damage. “We’ll figure out all of this stuff with the Major General, together.” Dragomir said with a grin as he looked up at Niles again. “But first, I need to bandage all of this up.”
Niles moved and Dragomir got to his feet slowly. His legs were still sore from exertion, but all and all he was feeling a lot better just having Niles around. Dragomir started in the direction of the bathroom and then glanced over his shoulder at Niles and smiled slightly. “Would you help me?”
"Ah! Of course, sir!" Niles scrambled to his feet, following his superior to the bathroom. It was small, but they both fit in with a relative amount of elbow room. After the Lieutenant had cleaned the cuts, Niles accepted the bandages when they were handed to him and gingerly took the Lieutenant's left hand in his. Doing as his superior had taught him, he tightly wrapped the bandage, being sure to be gentle as well as doing a good job. Finishing the wrapping job with a secure knot, he smiled up at Lt. Hirlea. "I hope that's all right, sir. Shall I do your other arm now, sir?”
“If you wouldn’t mind?” Dragomir grinned, as he glanced down at the bloodstained sleeve. Tatiana was not going to be happy about cleaning it… Extending and stretching his right arm, the jacket moved stiffly as the dried blood cracked. It would be too difficult to roll up his sleeves in this state; Dragomir would need to take off all of his upper garments. Dragomir had never been much for worrying about modesty, but he felt a little uncomfortable striping down to his skin in such a cramped area and in close proximity to Niles. Still… Dragomir smirked slightly as he slid of his jacket and started unbuttoning his vest, depositing it in the far corner of the room. The blood from his arm was all over his blouse, and it stuck uncomfortably to his skin in several areas. He pulled the shirt over his head and off, tossing it aside and turned his attention to cleaning the excess blood with a wet rag from the sink. Satisfied, he handed another roll of bandages to Niles and smiled. “The tighter the better.”
Niles felt the blood rush to his face as his superior removed his clothing. His mind felt like it completely shut down, and he couldn't think. The only thing he could comprehend was Lt. Hirlea. Shirtless. Within inches of him. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came, and so he shut it again. He realized he was gawking, and looked away, once more feeling the blood burning in his face again. Finally, he managed to find his voice. "U-um, I-I'm sorry, sir, I-I...um...ah!" he fumbled with the bandages, almost dropping them before regaining his hold. "I-um...right."
Beginning to clean and wrap the injury, Niles made a point not to look the Lieutenant in the eye. He thought, should his eyes stray from what he was doing, he might faint. He wrapped and tied the bandage as securely as possible, then stepped back. "U-um...th-there you are, sir...I- I..." He tried to say something coherent and failed miserably. He tried not to stare, but just ended up fidgeting and blushing even more.
Dragomir laughed lightly at Niles’s embarrassment and looked around over the floor for a clean shirt. He found one wadded up and shoved unceremoniously behind the door—Tatiana must have missed it last time she’d collected laundry. Dragomir attempted to smooth out the wrinkles and turned back to Niles as he did so. Niles was working very hard to look the other way, and Dragomir couldn’t help but laugh again, rather uneasily. “Sorry about all of this.” He started to say seriously, before an idea crossed his mind. “I guess it must be pretty bad for you to have to look at, I’ve got so many scars and all.” Dragomir smirked. Niles’s reaction was bound to be amusing. “They’re pretty ugly, huh?”
Niles turned back to his superior disbelievingly. "Sir! You're not ugly at all!" he replied, "I think you're--I mean--well--ah!" He flushed embarrassedly. In all honestly, Niles hadn't even noticed the scars, as he had been generally distracted, but, even now that they had been pointed out, he didn't think they detracted from the entirely attractive nature of the Lieutenant's... self. They made him seem... unique, almost, and...and... god, he was staring again! He really couldn't keep doing that, he told himself, and he averted his eyes again.
Luckily, Niles was saved from any further embarrassment by the sounds of the door opening and shutting, and a voice from the entry way. "Hey, Tatiana! You home? I'm back for lunch! Oh, and the door was unlocked!" Viorica stopped short when she noticed Niles, shortly followed by his now clothed superior, emerging from the bathroom. "Oh...hey Dragos, Niles. What're you guys doing here so early...and in the bathroom...together...?" She looked like she wasn't sure whether to be confused or amused, and Niles blushed without being able to think of a reply.
Dragomir blushed heavily as well as he adjusted his blouse and hair in a futile attempt to look less like he’d only just gotten dressed. “We uh… We got let out early today.” He grinned uneasily.
“I see.” Viorica said slowly, smirking.
Dragomir realized he hadn’t answered the question about why they were in bathroom together and so held up his left hand as proof. “I got a little cut up today, so Niles was helping me get cleaned and bandaged.” Viorica quirked a brow and set her bag down before heading towards the kitchen. Dragomir and Niles both trailed idly behind her.
“Tatiana isn’t home, is she?” Viorica asked, spinning around to look at them again.
“No, but I can make you some lunch…” Dragomir started, but Viorica’s broad smirk stopped him.
“So you two were all alone, huh?” She said slyly before disappearing back into the kitchen.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Dragomir laughed uneasily and glanced quickly at Niles before following her inside the room. “I’ll make everyone something to eat.” He said, changing the subject abruptly. Viorica grinned at Dragomir happily and then skipped out of the kitchen to join Niles.
“So, what have you and my big brother been up to today?” she asked with another smirk, taking a seat in a dinning room chair. Dragomir heard the question and worried slightly, not wanting Niles to have to talk about anything he didn’t want to discuss. He was about to ask Viorica for help in the kitchen, but the distraction was instead provided in the form of the front door opening again.
“You left the door unlocked.” Pierre called absently to not even bothering to look into the room for the offender as he stepped inside the house and held the door open for Tatiana.
“Thank you darling.” Tatiana chirped happily, pecking Pierre on the lips with a quick kiss.
“Hello Tatiana.” Viorica called from her seat as if to establish her presence and stop them from continuing their current behavior.
“Oh! Viorica, I’m sorry we’re late. Pierre’s interview ran over.” She said with a small smile directed to Pierre as he took a few of the bags of groceries out of her laden arms. Dragomir wondered vaguely whether an interview taking extra time was a good thing or a bad thing, but decided not to say anything; Viorica was bound to announce their presence soon enough, and he was busy with his cooking anyway. Dragomir was just placing something in the oven when he heard a shrill shriek and the sound of bags clattering to the floor. “Oh my goodness!” Tatiana gasped from Pierre’s arms. He’d somehow managed to catch her as she stumbled backwards and away from the little spatter of blood Dragomir had left when he’d been sitting. Pierre helped Tatiana to stand and she turned to Viorica, her face pale with shock. “Viorica, what happened?”
“I’m sorry Tatiana, that would be my fault.” Dragomir said, coming out of the kitchen. “Niles and I got out of work early today because we were injured. I was going to clean that up before you got back but-”
“Dragos!” Tatiana exclaimed, rushing forward. “You and Niles both got hurt?” she repeated, sounding her voice filled with concern. When she reached the dinning room, she cast around quickly for Niles. “Oh goodness, I hope you’re both alright! Do you need anything, Niles?”
Niles started at being addressed, and looked over at her. "A-ah, I'm fine, thank you," he replied. Then, realizing a perfect attempt to try and please, he added, "Do you need a hand with your bags?"
She smiled at him. "That's sweet of you, but I think we can manage." She turned to Pierre, who was still standing in the entryway with one of the bags of groceries. "Come on, dear, bring those to the kitchen, will you?" He followed her out of the room, once again leaving Niles alone with Viorica.
She watched them go, then leaned forward and grinned at him. "So. You never did answer my question. What have you and Dragos being doing in all your... alone time?" She smirked at him, and Niles flushed.
"Ah? We-um...well, I- I mean, I...um, we...that is to say...we..." he stuttered helplessly. What was he supposed to say?? In one hand, he could tell the truth, tell Viorica what had happened, but, on the other hand, what if his superior didn't want him to say? He hadn't said anything about this sort of thing...what was Niles supposed to do? He bit his lip and looked at his hands in his lap, trying to find some way out of it, however, he found none.
“We weren’t here for very long before you got home.” Dragomir said, poking his head around the corner with a reassuring smile to Niles and what he hoped was a blank face to Viorica. Why was she being so nosey? He didn’t mind whatever happened, really so he would answer her questions honestly. Of course, he also didn’t want Niles to feel pressured either… Everything seemed suddenly very complicated, but Dragomir still felt overly happy from his previous time spent with Niles, and so knew everything would be well worth the effort. In the meanwhile, he’d need to find someway to keep Viorica out of their business, at least until he’d actually gotten a chance to talk with Niles.
A timer beeped, and Dragomir jerked back into the kitchen suddenly, running into Pierre in the cramped space. “Hey!” Pierre yelled, almost falling to the floor. Dragomir didn’t feel like extending the other man a polite ‘excuse me,’ or anything of that nature and so turned and navigated away from him abruptly. Pierre glared fiercely, but said nothing more and left the kitchen as soon as he’d finished helping Tatiana with the groceries. Viorica shot him an angry glace as he took a seat next to Niles, but he missed it entirely. “Did you and Dragomir get in a big fight to day, Niles?” Pierre asked, almost sneering.
“He hasn’t answered my question yet, Pierre.” Viorica spat in much the same tone he’d used. She then turned back to Niles with a smile. “You can ignore him if you want. What were you saying you two were doing?”
At Pierre's question, Niles paled. How could Pierre have known that he had been in a fight with his superior? And...and, even though it had been his fault, it wasn't as if—everything was all right now, right? But...his superior never had said that everything was all right...he had said...no, but he never really had specified...
Niles had worked himself into a nervous state, and he turned to Pierre looking rather horrified. "W-what makes you say that?" he asked feebly. "He-he's not angry at me..." he bit his lip and tried to keep himself under control, but he couldn't help that he was filling with worry again. Perhaps he had ruined everything...oh, it was all his fault, what was he going to do?
“What?” Pierre asked. Originally, his face had been one of smugness, pleased to have gotten his question addressed, despite Viorica’s banter. But now, he was completely clueless. “I didn’t mean you two.” Pierre clarified. “Although, now that you mention it, were you guys were the ones that fought it out?” Pierre’s eyes darted up to Niles’s bruise and he smirked maliciously. “So what, you got to use a sword and Dragomir only used his fists? I suppose that’s one way to level the playing field.”
“Shut up Pierre! That’s not how it was!” Viorica yelled, then turned back to Niles quickly. “It wasn’t, was it?” She asked, her face showing sings of worry.
“No!” Dragomir said loudly, emerging from the kitchen. “We ran into some trouble. Now honestly, could you please be a little more respectful of Niles?” Viorica smirked across the table at Pierre with satisfaction, but her face fell as Dragomir continued. “Viorica, do you really need to know everything we do together, seriously?”
“No.” Viorica pouted slightly.
“Good.” Dragomir grinned. “Everything is almost ready. Niles, do you want to come help me with some things so Tatiana can sit down a bit?” He asked brightly.
"Oh! Yes, of course, sir!" Niles replied quickly, getting up and darting into the kitchen, eager to get away from Pierre. Tatiana smiled at him as she passed him on her way out of the room, and he smiled back feebly.
Turning back to his superior, he realized that they were now alone in the room. Hesitantly, he approached the other man, lightly touching his arm. "...Sir, are...are you still angry with me? I- I'm sorry, I... couldn't stand it if I upset you. Please...I'm sorry, sir..." He didn't know what to say at this point...the whole day had been so overwhelming that he wasn't sure what to do with himself. Still, he was sure that the Lieutenant was absolutely the most important thing in his life and he had to make things right, no matter what.
Dragomir smiled softly at Niles. “I’m not angry. I’m so sorry if it seemed that way…” Dragomir really didn’t mean to be hiding in the kitchen…he was still feeling a lit awkward about the whole thing and had unconsciously sought solitude. Of course, since the whole family was now back, it was pointless. Moreover, the last thing Dragomir wanted to do was to leave Niles alone with not only Viorica’s incessant questioning, but also Pierre’s…Pierre-ness. “I…to be honest, I don’t really know what to do…” Dragomir looked away quickly with a small blush, feeling uneasy. “I don’t know how to act, it seems…” He returned his eyes to Niles and smiled, taking both of the other’s hands in his own. He leaned forward slowly and let his cheek brush up against Niles’s in order to whisper into the Corporal’s ear. “But I do know that I really am in love with you.”
Straightening up, he smiled brightly and released Niles’s hands, turning to take another dish out of the oven. “Now,” he started, “What do you want to do about them? We can say as much or as little as you like.”
Niles blushed deeply. "Ah- sir, I mean...well..." he looked down for a second, gathering himself, before smiling happily up at the other man through a still prevalent blush. "What I mean to say, sir, is that I love you, too!" His expression softened a little. "And it doesn't matter to me how you act, sir. I- I love you no matter what."
When the Lieutenant posed his question, Niles thought for a moment, still blushing slightly. "I- I really don't mind if you tell them, sir. I don't have any reason to hide things from them, and I don't have a family to tell or hide it from. If you don't want to tell them sir, or just want to let them find out on their own, that's all right with me, too, sir." He laughed a little. "I guess I'd probably feel a little guilty actively trying to hide it, sir, since they're all so kind to me, but, really, I'm all right with whatever you want."
“Alright.” Dragomir grinned. He was relieved Niles wasn’t too concerned about the whole thing. “I don’t want to try to hide it from them. They’d be able to see right through anything I said.” Dragomir laughed lightly and started serving up dishes. “I think we should just let them find out for themselves.” He smirked, putting the finish touches on a platter of fruit. He looked back up at Niles and handed him the dish, his smirk broadening. “If don’t tell them directly, it will take longer for Pierre to find out.” And that was Dragomir’s goal. He didn’t want Niles to have to take anything for Pierre on his behalf. “Can you take this out? I’ll get everything else.” Dragomir said quickly, realizing Niles was still holding the plate.
"Oh, yes, of course, sir," Niles responded with a smile. "And that sounds good to me, sir." With a final smile over his shoulder, he carried the plate out of the kitchen and into the dining room, carefully making sure not to drop it. He was naturally clumsy and had to be very careful, so he walked slowly and set it down gingerly on the table.
"Oh, do take your time," Pierre drawled facetiously, appearing by the table, followed by Tatiana, who gave him a reproachful look which he missed all together. Niles flustered, but was defended by Viorica, who spat, "Oh shut up," at him, then smiled kindly at Niles. However, as he moved back towards the kitchen to see if the Lieutenant needed help with anything else, looked after him, grinning and raising an eyebrow at him as he reentered the other room.
"I think Viorica already knows, " Niles said sheepishly to his superior, blushing embarrassedly. "Do you need help with anything else, sir?"
“I think she only thinks she knows.” Dragomir smirked again and handed Niles the dishes to pass out as he took the plate of mutton and bottle of wine himself. “I think this will do it, too. Thank you for helping.” They walked out together, Dragomir moved quite a bit faster then Niles, and so returned to help him carry and set up the plates. His hand and arm both hurt lifting and caring things, but not enough for it to show. When the table was set, Dragomir and Niles took seats next to each other and as far away from Pierre as they could. Viorica moved to sit next to Niles, and Dragomir figured she’d be asking more questions.
“It’s so nice to have you both here for lunch.” Tatiana smiled, pouring Pierre’s wine. “Thank you for cooking, Dragos.” She said as they started to eat. Dragomir nodded and accepted the bottle of wine form Pierre without looking at him. Taking Niles’s cup, he poured it first instead of his own, as Tatiana had done for Pierre. Both Pierre and Viorica noticed, and seemed very interested. Tatiana noticed that they were both watching him pour, and assumed they’d noticed something else. “What happened to your hand, Dragomir?”
“It got cut in a duel.” Dragomir said simply, sliding the bottle to Viorica. Tatiana seemed disappointed by his lack of elaboration and seemed to search around for a topic of conversation.
“Pierre’s applying for a job, aren’t you, darling?” She said, slipping her arm into his. Pierre seemed to inflate slightly and sit a little taller.
“Really?” Viorica said, faking interest and disbelief. “How long do you think it will last this time, Pierre?” He deflated considerably and glared at her.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I am. I’m going to be working in your building, actually.” He said haughtily, directing the comment at Dragomir and Niles.
“Yeah, as a janitor, I bet.” Viorica laughed.
“Assuming you get the job?” Dragomir questioned, smirked evilly at Pierre.
“Not as a janitor!” Pierre defended quickly.
“Good guess, Viorica.” Tatiana smiled. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Pierre.” She said turning to him and placing a little kiss on his cheek. Viorica burst out laughing and slid her chair back to lean forward into her lap. Dragomir tried to contain himself, but found it too difficult, slumping forward with laughter as well. Pierre crossed his arms over his chest and looked away embarrassedly as Tatiana tried to restore order. “Dragos, if Pierre gets the job, you can both walk to work together in the morning.” Dragomir and Viorica both stopped laughing immediately and stared horrified at Tatiana, who seemed to smirk for a split second before pushing the expression into her typical soft smile which she directed at Niles. “Won’t it be nice, all of you working together?”
Niles bit his lip, avoiding her eyes. "I don't think I'd personally like it too much," he replied quietly, looking pointedly at his plate. He couldn't deny the fact that he really didn't like Pierre; he found the other man to be a bully and cruel, but he didn't want to insult Tatiana.
He didn't look up, but heard Pierre sniff resentfully from across the table. "I see. The little rich boy is too good for people so poor as we are."
Niles looked up at him indignantly. Pouting slightly, he replied, "That's not true at all. I like Lt. Hirlea a lot! You're just mean!" Suddenly, he realized what he had said, and clapped his hands over his mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say--I mean--!" He really hadn't meant to insult Pierre, no matter how mean he was.
Dragomir and Viorica had turned in unison to look at Niles when he’d first disagreed, but at his next comment, they both burst into laughter again. Knowing the gravity of the situation they tried to stop as soon as they could compose themselves. Pierre looked as though he would burst with anger and embarrassment, and Tatiana didn’t look very pleased either.
“Don’t worry about it Niles!” Viorica grinned, still sniggering slightly. “Everyone knows it’s the truth, after all.” She then seemed to realize what Niles had just called Dragomir and laughed again. “You know, you can call him ‘Dragomir.’ I’m sure he doesn’t mind.” She said smirking. Dragomir grinned at Niles as well, and grabbed his hand under the table before turning to Pierre, who looked as if he were about to speak.
“Oh suck it up, Pierre.” Dragomir was smirking cruelly. “I know I’m happy you’re getting a job, but that’s only for monetary reasons. I don’t give a damn where you work, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy you’re working where I work. And I’m also not going to pretend that I think it’s going to last.” Niles having said something first, Dragomir felt like he was able saying what he actually thought about Pierre. It was a good feeling, and he squeezed Niles’s hand a little tighter.
“Well, I’m glad we’ve all decided to be brutally honest.” Tatiana glared at all of them from across the table. “But I for one think we should at least wait until after we’ve finished eating. We have a guest, after all, and we shouldn’t spoil the food.” She then looked at her plate, seeming determined to ignore everyone for the remainder of the meal. The table remained silent for awhile as everyone focused on eating for a little while.
Feeling somewhat awkward, Viorica decided to say something and turned to Niles with a meek smile. “So…what exactly do you look for in another person? What do you think is attractive?” Dragomir tensed. Maybe she really was interested in Niles? That would be quite a problem. Nevertheless, he was curious how Niles would answer.
Niles flushed when he felt the Lieutenant's hand clasp his, and looked over him hesitantly. Did that mean it would be all right if he called his superior by his first name? The thought made a bubble of excitement well up within him, but he wasn't sure, and decided to build up his courage to ask later.
Once the whole ordeal with Pierre was through and the conversation died down, Niles was surprised by Viorica's question and looked over at her. "L-look for in another person?" he as, embarrassed as to what she might be hinting at. She nodded, however, and looked expectant, so he thought a minute. "It's not something I've really thought about often," he replied slowly. "I...I don't think I like the pale appearance that everyone strives for, though. It looks too... unnatural. And... I think I'd like a person with darker hair, too...and I think I'd like him to be strong, because I'm so weak... And, as for personality, I'd like it best if he were kind, and forgiving, since I mess up a lot..." He trailed off, then, replaying in his head what he had just said, blushed fiercely. Whoops. It seemed as if he had formed his idea of attractive around his superior. He glanced over at the other man sheepishly, still wearing a deep blush, before looking back to Viorica and laughing uneasily.
Dragomir blushed scarlet as Niles completed his description. Was Niles describing him? It sounded a lot like he was… Dragomir didn’t know what to say so he put a forkful of food into his mouth and chewed vigorously without looking at Viorica who seemed to be trying to catch his eye.
“Him?” Viorica repeated. “So you like guys?” Pierre scoffed from across the table at her question but Tatiana gave him a sharp look and he returned his attention to his food. Viorica seemed to have given up on getting Dragomir’s attention and returned to Niles, smirking.
At her words, Dragomir couldn’t help but feel a little better. Nile’s had indeed said “him,” so Viorica was sure to know now that there wasn’t a chance. He then mentally scolded himself for thinking that. It wasn’t like it was a competition, after all. He was still glad however, and grinned smugly to himself. He felt like being daring. “As for me,” He started confidently, “I like a delicate build, pale skin, blue eyes, and blond, neatly kept hair. A sweet disposition and temperament…and to top it all off, they have to be really cute, too.” Leaning forward slightly, he put an arm around Niles's waist and looked at Viorica to see her reaction. He wasn’t saying anything blatantly, but he knew it should be obvious now. Viorica blinked blankly at him, apparently shocked by his openness. He restrained himself form laughing at her speechlessness and looked down at Niles to see how he’d respond.
Niles blushed deeply at his superior's words, looking up at the other man as he felt the arm slip around his waist. The other man was grinning at him in such a way that it made Niles' heart flutter, and he smiled back delightedly. Even if they did make fun of him for liking guys, at that moment, he couldn't have cared less. Just being with the Lieutenant made everything all right, more than all right, perfect, even! He was lost in such a state of happiness that he had never felt before. He wanted to say "I love you," or anything, really, but knew he wouldn't be able to get out anything coherent, and so he didn't even try.
He figured everyone else must have been staring, be he just couldn't look away. Someone was bound to say something at some point, anyway.
Pierre and Viorica seemed to recover for their state of blankly staring at the same time, but Viorica was quicker on the Draw. “I knew it!” She said abruptly. “I knew you were perfect for Dragos the second I met you, Niles.” She said smiling happily. “I’m so happy for you both!” Dragomir was slightly taken aback by Viorica’s response, but smiled back at her awkwardly nonetheless.
“I on the other hand, would have never guessed.” Pierre drawled. “Although now I think it should have been obvious.” He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward with a grimace. “I guess I just thought better of you. My mistake.”
Viorica glared harshly at him dropping her fork onto the table so that it made a loud clattering noise. Dragomir pulled Niles a little closer and straightened up, his eyes narrowing and his mouth setting dangerously. Pierre looked to Tatiana quickly, expecting back up. Tatiana looked up for her dish and adjusted her hair. Her face showed little emotion. “Congratulations on finding someone, Dragos, Niles.” She nodded to each of them intern and stood, taking Pierre by the arm and pulling his to his feet as well. “If you’ll excuse us, we have something of some importance to discuss.” They both left the room and headed down the hallway without another word. Dragomir watched them until they were out of sight and then looked back at Niles, slightly concerned.
“I’m sorry…” He started to say but stopped when Viorica crossed her arms indignantly.
“Good riddance. At least we can eat in peace without that awful Pierre!” She looked very cross, but her expression changed as she looked over at Niles and Dragomir. “I really am happy for you! Pierre just needs to get over himself. I bet Tatiana’s talking to him about it right now.” She said with a firm nod.
"It's fine," Niles replied, "Really, I- I'm not offended or anything." He smiled at his superior, then Viorica. "Thank you very much," he told her with a smile. "I'm really very glad you approve of me." He laughed a little. "I guess Pierre really has been doing me sort of a favour, because, if it weren't for him, I'd have thought this whole thing too good to be true."
They all finished eating relatively quickly, and upon realizing the time, Viorica excused herself for her afternoon classes. Niles helped the Lieutenant clear the dishes and wash up, then followed him back to the living room and sat down beside him. Hugging his superior's arm tightly and leaning slightly against him, resting his head on his shoulder, he sighed happily. "Thank you so much for everything, sir. Really...really, I couldn't live without you."
“Niles,” Dragomir laughed, snuggling against the other, “Call me ‘Dragomir.’” He kissed Niles quickly on the cheek and slipped his arm out from Nile’s hold, moving it around Niles’s waist and pulling him closer. “I don’t think I would have lived without you today… the thought of you kept me going.” Dragomir murmured softly into Niles’s hair. “And you don’t have to worry about being without me, because I’m not going anywhere.”
Niles looked up at the other man, a deep blush spreading across his cheeks. "Ah-are you sure, sir? I mean...ah," he laughed softly. "I mean, Dragomir." He smiled warmly, leaning into the embrace. "I- I'm so glad I could help you. If you had died..." Deciding not to think about such horrible things, he started again "I'm glad you're not going anywhere... P-Please... please don't ever leave me." He felt odd requesting something of someone, but things were different now. Yes, he decided with a smile, settling into the warmth of Dragomir's arms, things were different, and he was looking forward to it.