It all started that day, when Heine was for the first time late for their classes.
Prince Bruno, who has arrived 15 minutes earlier, tapped his foot worriedly. It was the very first time that his Master had been late, ever.
As the clock ticked three minutes past the appointed time, Bruno could bear it no more. Into the chatter of his brothers he snapped.
"Something must have happened to Master!"
The chatter stopped as all eyes fell on Bruno.
"What, Brunie, it's only been a few minutes. I'm sure teach just woke up late or something."
"Right, nii-sama, maybe Heine got mistaken for a child again and stopped somewhere."
"Or his watch might have stopped."
"But, everyone, try to think carefully. Has master ever been even a minute late up until now? Ever?"
"The answer is no. I always look at the time before master arrived. He is always, always a few minutes early. This might be serious. Something bad might have happened to master!"
"Bruno, let's calm down." Kai pacified, "We can go look for sensei."
"Right! I'm going to spook Heine out of bed today!"
"That's a good idea!"
"Umm, if everyone is going, then I will too."
" Let's go!"
"I hope sensei is okay." Kai said as they were walking down the corridor.
"Don't worry, big brother, what could have happened in the palace? Assassination? Don't make me laugh! I'm sure Heine is just sleeping in."
"Yeah, the maids we asked said they didn't see him come out of his room this morning, too."
"I look forward to seeing sensei's sleeping face!"
Reaching the large double doors to Heine's room, Bruno knocked exactly three times, loudly.
Seeing there is no sound of movement from inside, Licht deviously pulled out a keyring and proceeded to unlock the door as quietly as possible.
The princes poked their heads in stealthily, only to be completely blown away by the sight of the room.
Things were scattered everywhere, furnitures were knocked down, glasses and ceramics broken.
There was blood on the floor, in many places.
In the largest pool of blood sits an armchair, and curled on it, a small figure clad in white. The red hair and the blood contrasted the pure white of the night gown and the sunlight filtering in through the window.
It was surreal.
Leonhard was the first to snap out if the reverie.
He threw the door and rushed into the room, eyes wide with panic, his brothers on his heels.
As soon as he touched the unmoving body though, a hand shot out, lightning fast, and before he knew it, a gun was pointed at Leonhard's head, sharp amber eyes dark and violent.
The blond prince staggered back and fell on his butt. The gun stay aimed, right at his temple.
At the chorus of calls, Heine's eyes widened in recognition, and Heine froze for a breathless second, before the gun dropped from his trembling hand.
Like a time-lagged reaction, the Heine started to shake uncontrollably. His face was almost as pale as his night robe, and there were circles under his eyes.
The small body unfurled itself, seemed to flow onto the floor in front of the astonished prince, and as flawless as usual the voice of their royal tutor rang out.
"I beg your pardon, highness. I reacted in haste."
"What happened, Master?" Bruno asked as Kai helped Leonhard up.
Heine was relieved that he hadn't been rash and fired before thinking. If he had been... well, his past accusations would have become quite true indeed.
Standing up shakily, Heine's demeanor was as composed as ever. He met Bruno's gaze, and replied,
"Assassins broke into my room last night, highness. I apologize, I was only able to catch one of them before the other escaped. He is tied here,"
Heine gestured towards the other side of the room, clad in shadow, a figure lay there tied neatly with torn bedsheets.
"That's unimportant, you're hurt!"
"And dirty." Licht forced a joke, though there is some ground to it, since Heine is positively blood-splattered.
His face bore a slight scratch, and on his side a rip in his night gown showed a wide swath of smooth skin, including an ugly gash on his side.
"That's... seems bad." The princes averted their eyes, and Heine seems to notice for the first time the large gash at his side, still oozing blood.
Slowly, strained, he limped to the bed and fetched a slip of torn bedsheet to tie around his waist as makeshift bandage, among the unbelieving and stunned gazes of his pupils.
He whipped out the pointing rod and enunciated, "Time for a lesson, highnesses!"
The four princes snapped out of their daze, apprehensive.
"Assassins have slipped into the castle. As candidates for the throne, you must ensure the safety of the palace and its staff. Princes, what would you do?"
"I- I would tell the guards to be more alert." Leonhard ventured.
"A good start, highness. Properly informing the guards as to what to look for is also crucial. As the only witness, I am the only one who can provide first hand information. In other events, please be sure to interview relevant persons if possible."
Heine took a step, staggered slightly, then solidified, as if will alone was enough to heal the wounds of his body.
"The assassins came in from the window. So one must beware climbers. Guards should look at the walls as well as the ground when patrolling. They came in a pair, wielding knifes and a gun,"
Heine limped to the one on the floor, with which he had threatened Leonhard earlier, picked it up and clicked on the safety with a practiced hand.
"We should have guards work in a pair or better a team of three, too. And wear bullet-proof vests as well, to prevent casualties."
"But..." Bruno interrupted timidly, "Why did they target master? Our own chambers were also unguarded, it would have been easy to target us instead."
"What do you think, princes?"
"A capital crime." This time it was Kai who answered. "Assassinating a prince is a capital crime if caught, so they target a less important personnel."
"Exactly," said Heine, the tip of the teaching rod wavering slightly as the strength of his arm slowly ebbed. "More specifically, a mere commoner position like the Royal Tutor, whose death would presumably cause less of an uproar, yet a position that holds the potential to influence each and every one of you from the most fundamental levels."
Heine was shaking visibly with the effort to stand now, but he stepped back whenever one of the princes stepped up to help. And the four boys stood helplessly listening to their unexpected lesson of the day.
"You have all proved to the council that you would not tolerate me being simply chased away or exiled, so they aim to get rid of me entirely instead... Their aim should be replacing me with a new royal tutor. One they can easily manipulate... Understanding the enemy's motives... is very... important, highnesses. Please... remember... well."
"Somebody help!" Shouted Licht to the maids outside, as Kai knelt to catch the small frame of their teacher just before he hit the ground.
"Kai-niisama! Master is burning with fever!"
"I'll report to father!" Leonhard yelled as he ran at the top of his speed along the hallway and disappeared in seconds around a corner.
Soon the guards appeared and helped carry the unconscious redhead to a new room, and someone was sent to fetch a doctor with the utmost haste.
Heine was breathing heavily in Ludwig's arms, almost panting, but no perspiration line his forehead. And although he was burning up, his face was pale as a ghost from lost of blood.
Very soon the entire palace guards were assembled in the courtyard, taking orders from prince Bruno under the supervision of the king, while Leonhard panted in the corner.
Kai oversaw the imprisonment of one of the assassins Heine had caught and tied in his room, while Licht busied himself helping fetch things for the old wise woman who is tending to Heine while they were waiting for the doctor.
After overseeing the deployment of the guards, Viktor went to check the condition of Heine's room for more clues. His feet itched to rush to the hospital room, but it would do no good to seem too worried, nor to stand around without knowing how to help.
There is something he can do, and so Viktor is going to do it. Visiting Heine will have to wait until the treatments are done.
Viktor inspected the open window. There really were signs of forced entry, though very minor and expertly done. The assassin is skilled. This might prove quite major.
So the assassin likely slipped in quietly through the window. Viktor doesn't know the time, he would have to ask Heine that when he woke up, but if Heine suffered this much injury it must mean that he was attacked unawares.
Or Heine could let himself be too kind again and tried to talk those people out of their actions.
Viktor sighed. He turned back from the window, looked at the bed, the fallen furniture. He catalogued dents where someone might have been thrown against, the trajectory of flying objects to see where they might have come from and why.
The candle was put out before it was swiped off the bedside table, so Heine had really been asleep. At one place was a large dent just at a child's height. That would be Heine hitting the dresser...
And so Viktor observed everything in the room, recreating the scene of danger in his mind.
He wished he was there. He wished he was here to fight along with Heine. And he knew that was impossible, all because he was born in the royal family….
Sometimes, he missed being 'just Viktor.' When Heine came to the palace, the frequency of this lump in his chest increased from a few times a month to every single week. But now that Heine was put in danger, Viktor feels like this feeling wouldn't go away. At least until his old friend was completely safe.
Maybe not ever.
If he could be just Viktor….