Christmas morning came and went; Dragomir endeavored to cook a special breakfast, but aside from that, nothing of much significance occurred all day at the Hirlea residence. Everyone spent most of the holiday in their own respective rooms preparing for the evening to be spent at Niles’s house where they’d have Christmas dinner and a gift exchange.
Dragomir had picked and purchased his gifts for everyone weeks in advance, but had completely neglected to wrap them until Christmas day. He occupied the kitchen for a good portion of the afternoon, until he at last finished wrapping his presents and set to work making sure everyone else was ready. Dragomir had decided to splurge slightly for the day, and had sent Pierre early in the morning to rent a horse and buggy (they were cheaper then an automobile), however, as the appointed time of departure neared, Pierre had yet to make an appearance, and Dragomir and Viorica were running through their typical routine.
“This is on straight, right?” Dragomir asked tugging at his cravat. Christmas was a special occasion, and seeing Niles on top of that was extra cause for him to be concerned about his appearance. Niles seemed to go to such lengths to look his best that Dragomir wanted to try to do the same.
“Where’s Pierre?” Viorica demanded impatiently, ignoring Dragomir’s question. “Shouldn’t he have been back hours ago?”
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon.” Tatiana said softly from her seat on one of the sofas. She’d been feeling ill lately, but refused to speak to anyone about her symptoms.
“This jacket looks alright with these knickers, right?” Dragomir tried again to get an opinion, but the door swung open hard enough to hit the wall before either of his sisters had the chance reply.
“I hope you’re all ready to go.” Pierre spat at Viorica and Dragomir as he burst into the room and strode quickly and purposefully over to Tatiana.
“Where were you?” Viorica asked, glaring at him fiercely as she rested her hands on her hips.
“Was there any money leftover?” Dragomir asked distractedly as he attempted to use one of the windows as a mirror.
“None.” Pierre said quickly as he squinted over at Dragomir. “You know, if you want my advice-”
“I don’t.” Dragomir sighed as he straightened up and started placing the various wrapped presents into a large bag.
“-I’d say that it’s probably too late for you to start caring about how you look. All the years of neglect have built up and you look terrible permanently.” Pierre finished as though Dragomir had said nothing and received a sharp look from Dragomir, who otherwise was consciously trying to ignore him.
“Pierre!” Tatiana scolded, though rather weakly, as he offered her a hand and helped her to her feet. Slipping her arm into his, she allowed her self to be escorted outside into the evening air.
“What do you think he was doing that took him so long?” Viorica asked lowly after they’d left as she moved over to stand next to Dragomir.
Dragomir shrugged and hoisted the bag over his shoulder. “At least he’s here on time.” Nothing would dampen Dragomir’s mood now, not even Pierre. The idea of spending his first Christmas with Niles and giving him a present was far too exciting to be overshadowed by any of Pierre’s antics.
Niles spent most of Christmas morning idly wishing his time away; he had made sure everything that he needed to do was done a day early, and was now regretting it. The servants hurried around him, preparing everything for the evening, but he found himself taskless, making the day seem a lot longer than it really was.
A few days ago, he had insisted on wrapping himself the gifts that he had purchased, and they now sat, sloppy and somewhat disoriented seeming, in a pile on the end table. Since he had done it himself, the paper was loose and uneven, but he had wanted to do it, and he hoped it would be okay.
Time went by slowly, leaving Niles to pace and straighten his clothes for most of the time until finally the appointed time neared. Excitedly, Niles hurried to check himself over in the mirror (he had dressed in pale blue again) before dashing off to the entrance hall to wait for the Hirleas. The idea of getting to spend Christmas with Dragomir had him simply bubbling over with excitement, and he waited anxiously, checking his watched every five seconds.
The ride over was bumpy and cramped, and Dragomir regretted his stingy decision to rent a buggy instead of an automobile. However, the ride was short, and so it wasn't long before they arrived at Nile's manor. They were all anxious to get out of the tiny space as soon as possible, so when the footman opened the door, everyone immediately scrambled to squeeze through the door. Somehow, they all managed to escape the chaos, and straighten themselves up enough so that they appeared presentable by the time they reached the front door, which was promptly opened by a servant who escorted them inside where Niles was already waiting.
Grinning broadly, Dragomir presented his family as per the custom and bowed politely before hurrying over to Niles and lifting his hand to his lips for a quick kiss. "Thank you for having us." He said graciously and gave Niles's hand a light squeeze before releasing it.
Tatiana and Viorica curtsied politely as well, but both seemed to overwhelmed by the grandeur to offer any words of gratitude for the invitation. Pierre as well seemed so in shock that he forgot to bow and was completely lacking in any witty and biting remarks. Instead, he was left staring rather dumbfoundedly up and all around the large entryway.
Niles smiled somewhat embarrassedly as the Hirleas gaped at his entrance hall. "You're very welcome," he replied cheerfully to Dragomir. "It's really not a problem at all." Then, noticing the large bag Dragomir was carrying, he beckoned to one of his servants to take it away. Smiling gracious, he gestured and said, "If you'd like to follow me to the sitting room, we can exchange gifts there. Dinner will be ready shortly after that." He then turned to lead the way, glancing back over his shoulder every so often to make sure everyone was still following.
“Your house is really incredible, Niles.” Viorica said, still a little wide-eyed, as she lifted her skirts to catch up with Niles and Dragomir. “It’s really too bad you don’t have anyone to share all this space with.” Viorica bit her lip and looked contemplative for a split second before elbowing Dragomir ‘accidentally.’ He cleared his throat uneasily and moved to walk closer to Niles, leaving Viorica smirking in their wake.
When they reached the sitting room, they all arranged themselves on the couches and chairs so that everyone was comfortable. Pierre and Tatiana, at Niles’s invitation, took the sofa across from the one he and Dragomir would be sharing, and Viorica, feeling slightly out of place, sat in a plush chair slightly off to the side.
“I really like the furnishings you’ve chosen, Niles.” Tatiana still felt slightly uneasy but wanted to initiate polite conversation nevertheless.
“Yes, I hear the classics are really coming back lately.” Pierre drawled. Tatiana gave him a warning look before turning back to Niles.
“Don’t you ever have anything half decent to say?” Viorica asked bitingly.
“It’s all so lovely; I can see why you wouldn’t want to change it.” Tatiana smiled, easily ignoring the cross-conversation.
“All I have to say now is that I’m surprised Dragomir, as penny-pinching as he is, would sink low enough to pick someone for their money. Another man, no less.” Pierre’s eyes narrowed and an evil grin parted his lips. Dragomir immediately jumped to his feet, practically shaking with rage.
“Pierre!” Tatiana exclaimed, her tone scolding though she was thoroughly shocked by the audacity of his comment.
“Take that back!” Dragomir roared. Pierre seemed to retreat back slightly into the plush backing of the couch but refused to speak.
“What on earth is your problem!?” Viorica demanded of Pierre. She was fuming just as much as Dragomir.
At that moment, the servant whom Niles had previously summoned to take the bag of gifts entered the room and presented the gifts which had been laid out carefully on a platter. Dragomir took his seat again, trying to regain composure. It was just Pierre of course, and such atrocious remarks were to be expected. Still, Dragomir determined he would make sure Pierre knew just how stupid he was to say something like that, later.
Niles bit his lip, slightly stunned at first by the cruelty of what Pierre was saying, but he quickly regained the little composure he had. After all, he was used to people being cruel to him, and he was determined to do the best he could to ignore anything Pierre could do to dampen the mood. He held Dragomir's arm briefly in what he hoped was a comforting manner before rising and striding over to the servant with the gifts, accepting the tray. Carrying it carefully back over to the coffee table, he set it down and, putting his best face forward, smiled and said, "Ah... if you'd like to come distribute your gifts, here they are." He then went to retrieve his own gifts from the end table and give them out. Pierre seemed genuinely surprised to be receiving a package from him, and Niles was pleased with himself as he returned to sit beside Dragomir.
Once the presents had been passed out, it was determined that Tatiana should go first since she had the most. “Here goes,” she said, selecting the smallest of her presents. Glancing at the tag, she smiled briefly at Viorica before starting on removing the paper gently with precision. “Oh, they’re beautiful!” Tatiana said eagerly, lifting a pair of small beaded earrings out of the box. The earrings looked to be rather high quality, but upon closer inspection, it was evident that they were made from plain cut glass. Never the less, they were the colors Tatiana wore most often; dark greens and blues, and they were sure to be appreciated. “Thank you very much, Viorica. How thoughtful of you.” Tatiana slipped out the pair she was currently wearing and placed them in the box before putting on her new ones and tilting her head so they caught the light.
“They look really good on you, and I’m so glad you like them.” Viorica smiled in a relieved sort of manner, which Dragomir noticed amusedly. Pierre scoffed slightly, but he was ignored.
“The colors are really wonderful.” Tatiana smiled again. “Why don’t you open up something now, dear?” She suggested, prodding Pierre lightly.
“Alright.” Pierre sighed, as if it were asking a lot. He picked a rather large present which was labeled plainly and without a tag with a single ‘P.’ He looked over at Dragomir, but said nothing and tore the wrapping paper without enthusiasm. Opening the box and casting the lid aside, he removed a pair of rather nice shoes.
“I thought you needed new ones since yours are getting so worn out from walking everyday and we can’t afford to have you lose your job on the account of not having decent shoes.” Dragomir smirked cruelly. Pierre started to open his mouth with another nasty comment, but Tatiana purposefully cut him off.
“You always buy such useful gifts, Dragos; I don’t know what we’d do without you.” She said with another smile.
“He doesn’t want us to waste money.” Viorica shook her head in a mockingly solemn fashion.
“What a miser.” Pierre sneered.
“Viorica should go next.” Dragomir said through his teeth, grimacing at Pierre.
“Why don’t you go, Dragos?” Viorica offered. As much as she hated Pierre, if he were to pummel him now, it would ruin the evening.
“Are you sure?” Dragomir asked, trying to ignore the glare he was receiving from Pierre.
“Of course, go ahead.” She smiled encouragingly.
“Thank you,” Dragomir grinned, selecting the largest one in his collection. “Who is this from?” He asked, blushing slightly at his inability to read the script.
“That one’s from me.” Tatiana said patiently.
“Oh, great.” Dragomir smiled lightly, tearing open the paper.
“I’m sorry it’s not in a box, we ran out of them.” Tatiana said apologetically as Dragomir unrolled a brand new coat.
“This is really great! Thank you!” Dragomir beamed. “My old one was in really bad shape.” He laughed.
“I thought you’d appreciate something practical.” Tatiana said sweetly.
“Yeah, this will be perfect.” Dragomir nodded.
“I’m going next!” Viorica announced. “I want to open something from Niles.” She grinned, picking up the package he’d addressed to her. “Did you wrap this yourself?” She asked, trying to restrain a smirk as she started to pull at the adhesive. She didn’t wait for him to reply, though before she’d lifted the lid of her box and taken out a pair of earrings. “Wow, these are amazing! Thank you, thank you!” she said excitedly, putting them on. “I’ve never had something so lovely!” She exclaimed.
“Because you’ve never been able to afford anything like that.” Pierre patronized.
“They look marvelous on you, Viorica.” Tatiana ignored him. “You’ll be able to were them to your graduation.” She grinned.
“You’re right, oh they’re perfect, Niles. Thanks again!” Viorica said happily, pushing her short hair behind her ears so the earrings could be easily admired.
Niles smiled half-embarrassedly at Viorica, hoping that his wrapping job wasn't too bad and that the quality of the gift made up for it. She seemed pleased with them, and he couldn't help but smile to see her put them on right away. He had spent quite some time deciding what pair to get her, and the feeling that his gift was appreciated was really a nice one which he had never experienced before.
He was startled out of his contentedness, however, by Tatiana, who dictated that he should open a gift next. He blushed, realizing that suddenly all the attention was on him, before selecting a small package and setting it out in front of him, reading that it was from Viorica. He had some difficulty pulling away the paper, much to Pierre's amusement, but finally, he unwrapped the gift to reveal a relatively nice-looking copy of a book. Pulling back the cover, he read the title before smiling up at Viorica. "Thank you so much! I haven't read a novel in a long time, and I've been meaning to read this one." Viorica looked pleased with herself, and Niles was not only glad to have received the gift, but that he could make her happy with his reception of it.
“You’re welcome.” Viorica said happily. “I really enjoyed it, so I hope you will to.”
“That’s really wonderful; Viorica doesn’t have anyone she can talk to about the books she reads outside of school.” Tatiana remarked, selecting her next present. It was from Dragomir, and she smiled at the single letter of her initial used to designate who it was for. “I wonder what this could be…” she pondered allowed, turning the circular present over in her hands. Dragomir smirked with satisfaction at her curiosity and waited as she carefully undid the wrapping to reveal a high quality plate from a set of new imitation china wear.
“That’s just one of a set,” He explained before she had time to question its solitude. “I’ve already replaced all the old dishes and set these new ones up in the kitchen.” He grinned.
“Oh goodness, really?” Tatiana questioned excitedly.
“So that’s why you insisted on being in the kitchen all day…” Viorica said knowingly.
“Yeah.” Dragomir laughed. “It took a while, but everything is all ready for you now, Tatiana.”
“That’s so wonderful! We’ll be able to serve Niles on matching dishes now.” She smiled happily.
“Isn’t that nice?” Pierre asked facetiously, roughly grabbing a present at random and starting at tearing off the paper.
“That one’s from me, darling.” Tatiana said gently. He seemed to be in a bad mood, and she hoped he’d start to feel better with all the gifts being passed around.
“Oh,” He blinked and slowed down slightly, moving slowly to savor the activity. If the present was from Tatiana, he was sure to like it, regardless of what it was. Once the paper was off, Pierre eagerly looked into the box and took out a fine new jacket.
“Apparently, you were starting to look pretty bad, Pierre.” Viorica smirked. “So bad that even Tatiana felt the need to get you a new coat.” Pierre scowled at her and turned to Tatiana with a weak forced smile.
“No, not at all!” Tatiana defended. “I wanted to get you something nice that you could use everyday.”
“Thank you, I do appreciate the sentiment.” Pierre said softly, kissing her briefly on the lips.
“I’m sorry it’s not what you wanted.” Tatiana smiled apologetically, squeezing his hand lightly.
“I doesn’t matter.” Pierre smiled. “I guess I’ll still use it.”
“And that is about as nice as he ever gets.” Viorica stated matter of factly on the side to Niles and Dragomir. “I don’t know how she can put up with it.”
“Right.” Dragomir said with an uneasy smile as he selected a slender rectangular box and started pulling at the paper in an attempt to distract himself from the cuddling and exchange of sweet nothings Tatiana and Pierre had descended into. “Is this from you, Viorica?” Dragomir asked. He thought he recognized Nile’s name on the other package and wanted to save it for last.
“Yeah, that’s from me.” Viorica grinned, snorting lightly at what she considered to be ridiculous behavior on the part of Pierre and Tatiana. Dragomir finished unwrapping the present and pulled out a book of sorts with a loosely bound edge tided with ribbon. The pages were pressed between two hard leather covers, and judging by the writing on the front, which Dragomir could not make out, the book was longer horizontally then vertically, which struck him as odd.
“What’s this?” he inquired. He knew it must be some sort of book, but he couldn’t imagine why Viorica would give it to him unless it was done as some sort of joke. Nevertheless, he wanted to double check.
“It’s a copybook.” Viorica smirked mischievously. “I volunteered to tutor children with writing sometimes, and those are what we use for practice.” She paused waiting for Dragomir to say something. He found himself rather dumbstruck; he was unable to tell weather she was serious, or just trying to tease him. Indeed, it could have been either, and her characteristic smirk revealed nothing. “I was thinking that maybe all you need is some disciplined repetition.” Her smirk broadened, and Dragomir was able to tell it was all meant in good humor, however he still felt a little bad about it all.
“Thank you.” He said weakly, setting the book aside with a small smile. Viorica smiled back; apparently unaware of the effect her present had had on him.
“Tatiana, I’m opening your present next.” She said to get her sister’s attention and rolled her eyes.
“Oh, already?” Tatiana asked distantly without looking away from Pierre.
“Yes.” Viorica said with a note of exasperation. “Here I go.” She started taking of the paper slowly, wondering if Tatiana would even bother to watch, but sped up when it became obvious she was too distracted. “Oh, needle point supplies.” Viorica summoned up the best of her false smiles and held it long enough for Tatiana to see.
“Won’t it be nice? I can teach you if you like.” Tatiana said, though she remained mostly occupied with Pierre and didn’t notice Viorica’s look of annoyance.
“Which are you opening next, Niles?” Dragomir asked, scooting a little closer to him.
Niles smiled up Dragomir, selecting another present at random. "This one's from Tatiana," he replied, smiling uneasily and trying to ignore her current preoccupation. This time having a little less difficulty tearing away the paper, he opened the box curiously and peered inside. In the centre of some tissue paper was a very nicely embroidered cravat. "Oh, thank you!" he exclaimed, taking it out and looking at it. "Did you make this yourself? It's really nice." Then realizing that Tatiana probably wasn't listening, he smiled hesitantly at Dragomir instead.
“Yeah, she’s been working on it for a while. She’s really good with needle point.” Dragomir smiled back at him.
“Tatiana, Niles just opened your present, you know.” Viorica said with a note of irritation in her voice. “And now it’s your turn again.” She added, crossing her arms.
“Oh,” Tatiana seemed to snap out of her distraction and turned to look at Niles. “I hope you like it. I wanted to make sure I made it with nice material so that it could go with your other clothing and you could wear it.” She nodded and smiled. “And it’s my turn already?” She asked with a quick look to Viorica who gave her an exasperated expression. “It looks like I have two left.”
“Open the one form me next.” Pierre said, depositing a brief kiss on her forehead and handing her the box. She smiled sweetly at him and started on removing the paper excitedly.
She got down to the box and glanced up at him quickly before pulling off the lid. “Pierre,” she gasped, “this is incredible!” She spun around and looked at him with a look of bewilderment in her eyes. “H-how did you…?” She seemed too in shock to finish her question and Pierre had a smug look on his face as though her reaction was what he had been planning for all along. Dragomir and Viorica both leaned forward, craning their necks to see what was in the box to no avail.
“How did I do it?” Pierre asked. He seemed extremely satisfied by how the whole situation was going. “I’m actually not at the liberty to say, but I will admit that for you, I’d do anything.” He smiled genuinely, although the expression seemed so out of place on his face that it required a second glance form both Viorica and Dragomir.
“I-I just can’t believe that you could…could… You didn’t steal it, did you?” Tatiana came out of her dream-like state with a harsh question, and Pierre seemed thoroughly offended.
“Of course not!” He said callously. But then tried to smooth over the situation again with a suave response. “Why ever would you think that? Here, let me help you put it on.” Tatiana lifted her hair up off of the back of her neck, and Pierre extracted one of the most beautiful strings of pearls Dragomir had ever seen and placed it gently over Tatiana’s neck before clasping the necklace carefully.
“Oh Pierre, it’s just so amazing.” She said happily as she lifted a hand to touch the string of pearls tenderly.
“It really is.” Viorica admitted, wide-eyed.
“Where did you get the money for something like that?” Dragomir asked, thoroughly impressed.
“What does it matter?” Pierre asked sharply. “I saved up, and it’s none of your concern now, is it?” He snapped.
“I suppose it isn’t.” Dragomir shrugged. It really was an impressive gift, and seeing Pierre be so generous and tender towards his sister every once in a very great while was what allowed Dragomir to tolerate him.
“It really is wonderful.” Tatiana said again with a sigh. She seemed beside herself with love for Pierre, and was another reason Dragomir didn’t want to argue. Although, he was now extremely excited for Niles to open his present (he knew his gift wasn’t quite so impressive, but he was still eager to know what Niles thought), and wanted to make sure he got Pierre to finish up before they were both distracted again.
“Why don’t you open up your last one, Pierre?” Dragomir said diplomatically. Pierre made a face as though he were peeved that Dragomir had interrupted the mood he was trying to start, but complied and picked up his final present.
“From Niles, huh? Aww, you shouldn’t have,” he mocked, sneering across the room at Niles as he tore off the paper. “What is this?” He asked disgustedly as he took a small dark object from the box, holding it away from himself at arm’s length.
Niles fought back a smile and forced a look of surprise. He had been working on this for days now, and he was going to get it right, darnit. "It's coal, Pierre," he replied, blinking. "You did tell me that coal was a thoughtful gift to give someone important to you, didn't you?" He managed to melt his expression into one of worried insecurity, adding, "I thought you'd like it...” Feeling rather proud of himself, a small smile snuck onto his face and he couldn't quite keep up the act.
Dragomir’s jaw dropped as Pierre’s mouth set into a tight grimace. Viorica was beside her self with laughter and buried her face into the side of the chair, shaking with mirth. Tatiana looked from Pierre to Niles and back again, quite unsure of how to take the situation.
“Coal!?” Pierre demanded, shaking the lump viciously. “Why the hell would I want coal!?”
“Easy, Pierre. Niles was just trying to get you something nice.” Dragomir managed to suppress a laugh. How ingenious of Niles! Now that Dragomir had realized just what was going on, the brilliance of it all astounded him. He never would have thought Niles the type to play a practical joke, but he felt himself swell with pride. It was perfect. Just what Pierre deserved.
“Were you in on this too?!” Pierre shouted at Dragomir.
“Oh no, certainly not. The sentiment was Niles’s alone.” Dragomir smirked.
Puffing himself up, Pierre crossed his arms and bit his lip. “I just can’t believe you were dumb enough to believe me.” He said through clenched teethe. He seemed to be trying to recover his pride, but was struggling rather obviously.
“Oh give it up Pierre.” Viorica giggled. “Niles beat you at your own game this time, admit it!” She declared before bursting into another fit of laughter. Surprisingly, Tatiana too began to laugh; though discreetly and behind her hand. Pierre noticed and glared at her sharply, but said nothing, realizing that he was completely out numbered. He sat back in a resigned manner, glaring almost poutingly at Niles.
With a laugh, Dragomir leaned over into Niles and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Nice going.” He said softly, before pulling away to retrieve his final present. “And now, the best for last.” He grinned, pulling off the loosely wrapped paper to reveal the box beneath. He lifted the lid off quickly, glancing over at Niles before taking in the sight of the present inside. It was a silver pocket watch, and Dragomir was immediately impressed by the detail in the surface inlay. Removing it from the box slowly, he let it spin around in front of him, and opened it carefully. “This is really nice…” He said slowly, turning it over again. “I’ve never had a watch before.” He said excitedly, turning to Niles with a broad grin. “Thank you! It’s really wonderful!”
“That’s perfect for Dragos!” Viorica said happily. “I think he’s so hard to get gifts for, but you really did a wonderful job.” She smiled.
“Yes, something useful that he can appreciate.” Tatiana agreed. “And he’ll start to be on time, too.” She grinned briefly.
Dragomir chuckled lightly at their statements and reached over for Niles’s hand. “Thanks, it really is perfect.” He said softly. Raising a hand slowly, he placed it gently on Niles’s cheek and angled his face into a kiss. Everything seemed so perfect, and he was so happy now that he could care less about being discrete in his affections.
Niles leaned up into the kiss, feeling almost as if he could melt with happiness. Just the feeling that he could make Dragomir so happy, that he could do something that mattered was too much, and he melted into the other man's arms. When they finally separated, he smiled softly, blushing. "I'm really glad you like it," he breathed, "I...I hoped you would."
"Hey, Niles," Viorica interrupted suddenly from across the room. "You can open your gift from Dragos next, if you want. I don't mind if you skip over me."
"O-oh, okay," Niles blinked, blushing. "Um, thanks." Viorica grinned back at him as he selected the last box from his pile. It was small, and he began to feel rather embarrassed as he fumbled with the paper and pulled it away. Opening the box, he peered inside, and his eyes widened in disbelief. Withdrawing a small white gold ring, he looked over to Dragomir. "This...you...this is for me...?"
“Yes,” Dragomir grinned, gently taking the ring from Niles and slipping it on to his hand. “For you...” He breathed softly and lifted Niles’s hand to kiss just next to the ring. “I hope you like it.”
“Please,” Pierre grunted, turning away. “Spare us from this sap. We don’t need to see you two going at it.”
“The same could be said of you and Tatiana!” Viorica snapped, grabbing up her final present. Pierre went silent, and Dragomir smiled his thanks to Viorica. “This is from you, right Dragos?” She smiled back.
“Yeah.” Dragomir nodded, giving Niles’s hand a light squeeze before letting it go and slipping his arm around his shoulders, pulling Niles close.
Viorica removed the wrapping paper and discarded the lid quickly and efficiently, peering inside the rather large box eagerly. She then looked up at Dragomir with a large grin and got to her feet. “It’s a new dress!” She exclaimed, unfolding it and holding it up. “It’s so pretty!” she cooed.
“I thought you ought to have something new for graduation.” Dragomir smiled.
“And look, it goes wonderfully with the earrings from Niles.” Tatiana pointed out.
“Yes, oh it does! This will be perfect!” She said with a little twirl. “I was really worried I wouldn’t look very good compared to everyone else outside of my uniform, but this will definitely be just the thing.” She beamed.
“I’m glad.” Dragomir grinned. “Don’t you have one left still, Tatiana?” He asked as Viorica refolded the dress neatly and returned to her seat.
“Yes,” Tatiana nodded, tapping the present which already sat in her lap. “From Niles.” She smiled, starting at the wrapping and then puling off the lid of the box. “An apron, how wonderful!” Tatiana grinned brightly. ”Thank you, Niles; this will definitely come in handy.” She nodded affirmingly.
Niles smiled back at her. "You're always cooking for me, so I wanted to give you something to help," he replied. "I'm really glad you like it." He was happy that he had done a good job for both Tatiana and Viorica; he had been slightly insecure in his gift-giving skills.
When her attention shifted back to Pierre, Niles let his gaze drop down to his left hand, where the new ring sat on his finger. He felt a smile slip onto his face, and he looked up at Dragomir. "Thank you so much," he said softly, "I really like it." Leaning up, he pressed a soft kiss to Dragomir's lips before pulling back and smiling gently at the other man.
A few minutes passed before a servant appeared at the door. He looked to Niles, who nodded, then announced, "Dinner is served." Niles smiled and thanked him, then stood, waiting for the rest to follow him.
It seemed the servants had decided to save Dragomir the trouble of moving his place setting, because when they arrived in the dinning room, all of the places were set at one end. Niles sat at the head of the table, Dragomir took the seat to his right, while Tatiana sat across from him with Pierre next to her and Viorica across from him.
“This is really exciting.” Viorica grinned. “I bet you have the most lavish and wonderful feasts!”
“Yes, although I’m sure he’s loath to waste finery on commoners such as our selves.” Pierre scowled. He seemed to be in an even worse mood then usual since receiving the coal.
“Don’t be so bitter, Pierre.” Dragomir chuckled.
“Yes, please darling, just enjoy the evening.” Tatiana smiled and rubbed his arm lightly.
“What’s there to enjoy?” Pierre snapped, jerking his arm away. He really was in a foul mood.
Viorica glared for a moment at Pierre before turning to Niles with a smile. “Do you know what we’re having tonight, Niles?”
"Duck," Niles replied with a smile. "I hope you'll like it...I'm having it specially done." He felt a little bad for having put Pierre in such a foul mood, but he hoped that the food would cheer him up. As they spoke, servants began to enter with platters of meat and pastries and a large bowl of soup. Another servant arrived with a bottle of wine that Niles had picked out earlier (he was proud of himself for thinking of it), his absolute best, and began pouring it into the new wine glasses that Niles had purchased especially for the occasion. Playing the good host, Niles offered the food for everyone else to serve themselves before him. Everything was going so well, and he hoped things would continue to be that way.
Once all the food had made its rounds around the table, Dragomir and Viorica were the first to descend on their food. The difference was that Viorica actually knew how to correctly use all of the silverware she’d been given and Dragomir did not. Tatiana was unsure as well, but unlike Dragomir, who didn’t think it was important, she was determined to be polite and decided to try and fake her way though as best she could. Glancing from Viorica to Niles, she copied their choice in fork and knife and determined to watch them carefully throughout the meal. Pierre waited, glowering, for a long time before he started eating. Once he did however, he quickly quickened his pace and ate with gusto.
“Isn’t it all so wonderful, Darling?” Tatiana prodded, for Pierre was the only one who hadn’t yet complemented the food. He stopped eating and set his randomly selected fork down across the edge of his plate and scowled.
“Yeah, I guess. Having a lot of money to spend on fancy food does have its advantages.” Pierre said as though it pained him to admit it. Tatiana smiled apologetically at Niles, hoping he’d understand that it was good, considering it was Pierre.
“The wine is fantastic as well, by the way.” Dragomir grinned, swishing the liquid around in his glass. “Is it some sort of syrah?”
"It is," Niles replied with a smile. "I'm glad you liked it. I picked it out myself."
They ate in relative silence for a while, with only a bit of small talk, until Viorica spoke again. "I'm really glad you're eating, Tatiana...you've been so nauseated all the time lately; I've been worried." She smiled at her older sister, looking slightly concerned.
Tatiana smiled back at her and set her utensils down gently. “Yes, I’ve been feeling fine so far tonight.” Then, with a quick look down at her lap, she slipped her hand into Pierre’s and looked up again, her expression turning brighter, and her cheeks flushing softly. “I-I actually have an announcement to make.” She seemed to be bubbling with excitement and joy, and her odd behavior had total command of all attention at the table. Pierre set his glass down and looked at her quizzically, quite unsure of how to react. She turned to look at him for a second, and squeezed his hand tightly before looking back to address the company as a whole. “I’m going to have a baby.”
It took only a split second for her statement to sink in, and in that moment, Viorica dropped her fork, sending it clattering onto the floor. “Wh-what?” Dragomir asked, stunned.
“I’m pregnant.” Tatiana restated. She looked a little concerned now, but the joyous smile remained nevertheless.
“What?” Pierre asked again stupidly.
“We’re going to have a baby, Pierre.” She said softly. He seemed completely dumbfounded by the notion, and he opened and closed his mouth several times.
“Tha-that’s amazing news!” Dragomir said at last. Tatiana seemed relieved to finally here an enthusiastic response and turned to him quickly.
“I could hardly believe it myself when I first realized, but it’s true.” Tatiana said, her voice almost singsong.
“How long have you known?” Viorica asked. Her voice was surprisingly cold, but Tatiana disregarded it.
“It’s been three months.” Tatiana said excitedly. “I wanted to wait until the perfect moment to tell everyone.” She explained eagerly.
“Three months?” Pierre gibbered. He had heard everything, but whether he’d gotten any meaning out of any of it remained to be seen. He seemed to be in a state of shock at the moment.
“Yes, isn’t it wonderful, Pierre?” Tatiana beamed at him.
“A b-baby…” Pierre stuttered. “I-I don’t believe it…” He seemed to convulse slightly, and an expression of realization came over him. “We’re having a baby!” A full on grin of excitement overcame him, and he practically threw himself at Tatiana, encircling his arms around her and kissing her passionately. Then he drew back quickly, realizing what he was doing. “No, I- You have to be careful with the baby!” He exclaimed, returning to his own seat and trying to sit properly but finding himself unable to look away from Tatiana. Tatiana giggled at his sudden turnabout in mood, but Dragomir found it rather terrifying. Breathing in deeply, Pierre attempted to banish the stupidly happy grin on his face but failed terribly and kissed Tatiana again briefly on the cheek. “I-I just don’t know what to make of it!” He bubbled, practically twitching with delight.
“I’m so glad you’re excited.” Tatiana grinned.
“Excited?” Pierre countered, “I’m ecstatic!” He proclaimed. “A baby! Imagine that. I’m going to be a father!” he said enthusiastically. At this point Dragomir couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Pierre was acting absolutely ridiculous and Dragomir found it hard to hate him at a time like this.
“I’m so happy for the both of you!” Dragomir reiterated his excitement and grinned broadly.
Niles looked on, and he couldn't keep a serious face, either. "That's wonderful! Congratulations!" he exclaimed, smiling at Pierre and Tatiana. "It's so exciting for you." For all that Niles disliked Pierre; he was now finding himself unable to think of any of his shortcomings. He just seemed so pleased, so excited, that it was very hard to dislike him, regardless of his usual cruel behaviour.
Still grinning, Dragomir watched the two happily. It really was very exciting, and the intoxicating joy was infectious. However, glancing at Viorica he noticed that she was angrily pushing around a piece of food on her plate. Confused, he questioned, “Isn’t it wonderful news, Viorica?” She turned to him sharply and looked at him as though he’d just ask an extremely stupid question. Setting her fork down, she sat absolutely ridged in her seat and glared across the table.
“Tatiana,” she began; her voice was low, and her expression set. “Do you have any idea how stupid you’re being? How selfish?” Tatiana blinked at her, completely speechless.
“Viorica…?” Dragomir questioned, rather sharply.
“Even you,” Viorica glared at him. “I thought you’d at least have the sense to realize. But I guess not.”
“W-what do you mean?” Tatiana asked, knitting her brows with concern.
“It’s so selfish! You should have gotten rid of it when you first realized, Tatiana.” Viorica said sternly.
“But I-” Tatiana started to defend herself; she looked as if she might cry.
“I don’t care. Did you even think about the rest of us? We can’t afford to have a baby, Tatiana!” Viorica was nearly shouting. “There’s no way we could. We barely make it as it is! You’re not even considering that baby’s life! Do you really want it to be born into poverty? Where we can’t even afford to buy it any toys or give it any luxuries at all? Why would you want to put a baby through that!?”
“No, I-” Tatiana was starting to cry. Pierre slipped a hand around her waist and deposited a soft kiss on her cheek. All and all he didn’t seem too phased by Viorica’s outburst, but he was hard to read.
“I just can’t believe you could be so selfish!” Viorica hit the table with an open hand and Dragomir grabbed her roughly by the arm, turning her to face him.
“You go too far, Viorica.” He growled. “We have enough. We’ve always had enough in the past. The fact that you put so little faith in me is disappointing. I’ll find some way to make it work.” He said sternly. Viorica looked down at her hands and pursed her lips like a spoiled child being scolded.
“The fact that you have to make it work for their baby disgusts me.” Viorica said slowly without looking up. “Pierre may have a job now, but how long will that last?” She asked, and then suddenly looked up at Dragomir. “Let me work! Let me help you!”
“And what would you do?” Dragomir scoffed, rather more cruelly then he’d intended.
“Let me join the military!” Viorica exclaimed, almost begging.
“No! I absolutely will not allow that! I won’t let you though your life away!” Dragomir shouted, incensed that she would have the nerve to ask that again. It wasn’t the first time she’d suggested it, but it had always just been that; a suggestion. To hear her bring it up now was disconcerting.
“The way you are?” Viorica sneered in an almost Pierre-like fashion. Dragomir flushed with anger, but tried to remain cool-headed.
“No,” he said, forcing his voice to remain calm. “It’s different for me.”
“You don’t think I could handle it. You think I’d die.” Viorica spat.
“It’s a risk I am not willing to take.” Dragomir said in a manner that ended all discussion. Viorica crossed her arms over her chest and glared up at the ceiling bitterly. Dragomir downed the last of his wine and ran a troubled hand though his hair. “Tatiana, I am really truly happy for you, and I know everything will work out.” Tatiana nodded weakly at him and sunk back against Pierre who shifted in his chair to hold her closer. Fights with Viorica were always difficult, and seeing Tatiana and Pierre together made Dragomir long for the comfort of being close to Niles. “I’m so sorry…” He said softly to Niles, reaching forward slowly for the other’s hand.
Niles was startled out of his state of blank shock when he felt Dragomir's hand around his. He blinked, looking over at the other man, and tried to force a half-smile and a nod. It was disturbing to see everyone so upset this way; Viorica's initial outburst had been unnerving enough, not to mention the whole argument after that. He could say nothing, however, he knew this was a matter that didn't concern him, and so he stayed silent, letting Dragomir hold his hand.
The meal was finished in an uncomfortable silence, though Tatiana seemed to recover at least mostly and Viorica eventually stopped glaring at the ceiling. Feeling that he ought to say something, Niles hesitantly smiled and said, "Ah...thank you again for coming...I'm really glad I could have you here."
“Yes, we really appreciate the invitation.” Tatiana smiled weakly with her ever congenial graciousness intact.
Shockingly, Pierre actually let slip a brief smile. “Yeah, it was nice of you.” He nodded as though he were merely stating a fact before looking away quickly. Dragomir laughed a little at his strange behavior, wishing only that the mood hadn’t become so solemn.
“I’d like to make an apology.” Viorica said curtly. “It was wrong of me to be so harsh, and I am happy for you, Tatiana. If Dragos thinks it will be alright, then I’m sure it will be…” She sighed lightly and looked over at Niles. “I’m really sorry, Niles, that you had to deal with all of that. Please excuse my rudeness.” Viorica finished with a polite little bow but did not look up from her plate. Dragomir was relieved she’d taken that initiative and started to feel a little better. He hoped they would be able to stay a little longer and that the evening could yet be salvaged.
Niles was still blinking surprisedly at Pierre's reaction when Viorica spoke. "Ah-oh, it's fine, don't worry about it," he replied with a smile. "I'm really just glad all of you could make it. Would... you like to come with me to the sitting room for some tea now?" He smiled at everyone amiably, rising and nodding to a servant to bring the tea.
“Ah, yes please.” Dragomir grinned getting to his feet. A change of scenery could be just the thing to improve everyone’s mood. Viorica was still acting bitter, but perhaps with tea and light conversation, even she’d start to feel better.
Tatiana started to get up, but Pierre pulled her back into her seat gently and got to his feet before offering her his arm. “Pierre honestly, I’m fine.” Tatiana smiled laughingly at his concern.
“Even so,” Pierre almost seemed to pout, “you shouldn’t strain yourself, and it’s the least I can do.” With a laugh, she accepted his arm and used it to get to her feet. He then insisted on escorting her to the sitting room, to which Niles led the way.
The room was adjacent to the dining room, and it was elaborately decorated with Christmas cheer. They all took in the sight awedly, and then took similar seats. The servant served the tea and tea cakes, and for a few minutes they were all quite as they enjoyed their tea.
Niles sipped his tea quietly, glancing around every so often to make sure everyone seemed satisfied. He had made a great effort to decorate appropriately, partially to make up for his lack of fashionable furnishings. Holly and winter greenery had been hung along the rooms and hallways, as well as shining mental tinsel and delicate glass ornaments. He had also made a point of hanging quite a bit of mistletoe in various locations around the house, though he could hardly believe he had done it. Still, he hoped that everything looked all right.
As of now, however, everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their tea and cakes, and Viorica seemed to be looking more relaxed. Niles smiled, glad everything was going all right.
Sighing contentedly, Dragomir decided that everything had returned to normal. Apart from the difficulty with Viorica, the evening had been wonderful. Now, only one thing remained to make it perfect. He smirked for a split second before putting up a new face to fit his act. Creasing his brows, Dragomir set his teacup onto the table and turned to Niles, biting his lip lightly. “Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”
Niles blinked over at him. "Oh. Um, of course," he replied, smiling. He wasn't sure what Dragomir would want to talk about, but he was perfectly willing, and so he rose and trotted after Dragomir out of the room. Once he had closed the door behind them, he smiled up at Dragomir willingly. "What is it that you needed to ask me?"
“Not here,” Dragomir smirked and took Niles by the arm to lead him towards the end of the hall. “But here should be just perfect.” His smirk broadened and he glanced up, knowing Niles would follow his gaze. He had positioned them just underneath a rather large sprig of mistletoe, and he planed to take full advantage of all its implications. Looking back to Niles, he took a careful step forward and brushed a hand gently across Niles’s cheek before slipping his hand into his hair and pressing a kiss to his lips.
Niles blushed slightly as he felt Dragomir's hand brush his face, only now realizing what the other man had been intending. He leaned up into the kiss, hesitantly wrapping his arms around Dragomir's neck and subconsciously letting out a soft whimper. Feeling warm and contented, he knew that no matter what happened, Dragomir could always make him feel amazing.
Reassured by Niles's whimper and arms around his neck, Dragomir pushed forward lightly, backing the other against the wall. He ran his tongue across Niles's lips provocatively before deepening the kiss and dragging his hand over Niles’s chest. Then, taking another careful step forward, Dragomir pressed against Niles lightly, testing to see how he would react.
Niles blushed with surprise, starting a little, but his body quickly relaxed on its own. Everything was so new, so different, but yet, it just seemed so right. Slowly, he allowed his fingers to intertwine in Dragomir's hair as he pressed closer to the other man. Murmuring softly, he tilted his head up a little more. He never knew that anything could possibly feel this good.
Dragomir broke the kiss with a small smirk and pulled back only enough so that he could look into Niles’s eyes as he caught his breath. Then, saying nothing, he slowly moved down and kissed Niles tenderly just below his ear. Niles didn’t seem to object, and so he moved slightly lower, pushing his collar aside and kissed harder, worrying at the skin lightly with his teeth.
Niles gasped, tightening his fingers in Dragomir's hair. Letting his head fall back to rest against the wall, he sighed breathily, squirming slightly. "D-Dragomir..." he breathed, wishing that this would never have to end.
“Yes, Niles?” Dragomir purred breathily with a smirk. He then returned to Niles’s ear and nibbled at it lightly, pressing forward a little more, lining up their hips. Shifting positions, Dragomir pressed his hips forward slightly, returning to kiss Niles hard on the lips again, pushing inside his mouth for a second time.
Then, at last feeling satisfied with his exploration of Niles’s mouth, Dragomir broke the kiss and pulled back. Exhaling heavily, not wanting to end something so wonderful, (though he knew he should,) Dragomir panted, “We should probably…go back now.”
Niles bit his lip and nodded, trying to regain as much control of himself as he could. He knew he was flushed and breathing heavily, and he tugged at his clothing, trying to make himself as presentable as possible. He ran a hand through his hair, hoping that he looked all right, then glanced up at Dragomir, still blushing slightly. "A-all right... shall we go back now?"
“Yeah.” Dragomir said, practically sighing. He ran a hand through his generally messy hair, just incase, and tightened his ponytail before they started back towards the sitting room. In front of the door, he made a small attempt to straighten his jacket before opening the door for Niles and following him inside. The room was oddly silent, and Dragomir got the feeling they’d been talking, probably about them, and had stopped when they returned. He smiled uneasily and moved to take his seat again next to Niles.
“Well,” Viorica smirked at the two of them. “Whatever you were talking about must have been pretty intense. You both look rather disheveled.” She chuckled.
“Yes, if I may inquire, just what was it you two were discussing for so long?” Tatiana giggled, a smirk just barely visible on her lips.
“You’d think you’d have restraint enough to wait until you didn’t have company. How revolting.” Pierre scowled.
“The same could be said of you, Pierre. At least they left the room.” Viorica laughed. Her mood had definitely improved, and she seemed to be reveling in the thought of the current scandal.
“Yes, well…” Dragomir cleared his throat and blushed uncomfortably, unconsciously shifting his weight and moving closer to Niles. He had no idea how to convince them they hadn’t done anything, and so decided to own up to it. “Some things can’t be helped.” He said, forcing his tone to sound aloof.
Niles was quickly moving back towards scarlet, fidgeting under everyone's gaze. Glancing over at Dragomir, he wondered exactly how disheveled he looked, then glanced around the room. Pierre was scrunching his nose distastefully, while Tatiana looked vaguely bemused, and Viorica disturbingly so. He smiled embarrassedly and nervously, fingering the red marks on his skin around his collar.
“I see.” Pierre said rolling his eyes. “Well, after that disturbing remark, and now that you’ve both gotten back after so long an absence, I’ve decided we need to leave—Tatiana needs to rest.” He stated.
“Really dear, I’m fine.” Tatiana assured.
“No, I must insist. Besides, who knows when they’ll go off again,” Pierre said resolutely, gesturing across the room at Niles and Dragomir. “And then we’d never be able to leave.” He drawled.
“Well, I suppose there, you may have a point.” Tatiana smiled laughingly, getting to her feet before Pierre could stop her. “Thank you Niles, it’s been a wonderful evening. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as all of us have.” The apology for the slight falling out was implied.
Niles smiled and nodded, rising as well. "I'm really glad that you enjoyed yourself," he replied, following everyone to the front entrance hall. "I had a lovely time, and I hope I can have you over again." As servants moved to open the doors for them and see them out, Niles tugged on Dragomir's sleeve, holding him back a second. Niles smiled up at him, standing on his toes to press a chaste kiss to his cheek before taking a step back. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said softly, blushing slightly.
Dragomir smirked taking Niles by the arm and pulling him into another kiss full on the lips. He released Niles quickly however, trying to remain at least slightly decent. “Yeah, I’m already looking forward to it.” Dragomir grinned, lingering only for a minute before turning to leave.
Niles lingered hesitantly in the doorway, watching the Hirleas until they disappeared into the darkness. He smiled softly to himself before turning and heading back inside. Feeling slightly dazed from everything that happened that night, he yawned. For now, he was going to bed. He would try and mentally grasp everything tomorrow. Besides, tomorrow he went back to work. Tomorrow he would get to see Dragomir again.