Peace Children + Tuesday (cont)

+

"His Highness Prince Trowa regrets that he is feeling ill after his long journey, and begs your highness to excuse him from tonight's festivities."

Relena nodded, simply, too tired to care. She wondered, idly, what form his illness took -- a pretty serving maid, a handsome guard. From what she had heard, Trowa wasn't too picky -- if it breathed, if it flirted, he would bed it. She dismissed his messenger and looked at Sally, who shrugged.

"I don't have to worry about him forcing any of my people, do I?" Relena asked.

Sally looked surprised. "Not from what I've heard. He prefers his lovers willing. I think it's the only preference he has." Relena sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. "I'm so tired, Sally."

"I know," her friend said, rubbing her shoulders. "I know. Just a few more hours and then you're out of these clothes and off the hook until tomorrow."

"In just a few hours it will be tomorrow," Relena said glumly. She straightened her diadem. "All right. Am I ready?"

"Just one thing," Sally said. "I want you to take a look at Hilde's escort. She brought her best friend with her, it seems."

"Lucky her," Relena muttered.

"He's very smooth," Sally said, and Relena was surprised to see her stalwart friend blushing.

"I'll look out for him," Relena promised. She looked back in the mirror. Even to herself, she looked young. Young and scared. She smoothed the fear away with a thought, but the youth still shone. She was supposed to keep these nine nobles from killing each other, when they were all linked by complicated webs of blood feuds and blood relation. She was supposed to hold the kingdom together with these nine children until her father found the Weapon. Until then. . . she sighed and ordered the fear from her face again. "All right," she said to Sally. "I'm ready." Gods help us all.

+

"So Lucrezia Noin is your cousin but you're never met her?"

"Blood feud," Hilde confirmed. "Very bad."

Duo snorted. "You guys are crazy. Who else are you feuding with?"

"Well, the Noin are allied with the Odin, so we're not fond of the Odin. And we're allied with the Wanderers, but not closely. And we trade with the Winners a lot and the Reberba some -- they're very closely allied. The Marquis are our allies -- they're blood feuding with the Odin. The Nataku and the Dragon don't ally much -- they just fight each other to the death all the time. So we're pretty neutral to both of them, though if it came to a choice it would be the Dragon because of their salt."

"Their dragon salt?" Duo chuckled. "Gods, this is stupider than the soapbox plays, and I always thought that was as stupid as people could get."

Hilde shrugged. "I think it entertains my elders, all the fighting. I think they get bored. The Odin and the Marquise, especially, fight a lot."

"So tonight should be interesting?"

"That's one word for it," Hilde grumped.

"You look beautiful," he told her.

"I should, with what this dress cost," she said, but she smiled at him. "Shall we, milord?"

"As my lady commands," he answered with a mock bow, and led her from the room.

+

Catherine held Hanako close to her, glad that this dress, at least, would show little of her pet's hair. She knew that bringing a lion to a party wasn't exactly proper etiquette, but she didn't care. She needed something.

Triton would be there.

The thought had her almost ready to cry again. She petted Hanako, placed a kiss on the cat's head, ran a hand over the emerald- studded collar. She waited for a second -- they announced her -- and she entered.

He wasn't there.

She stroked her hand over the lion's head again.

"Interesting accessory you got there."

She turned to stare down her nose at the boy who had spoken so casually to her, but his smile was such that she could only smile back. The girl beside her gasped. "He's so cute!"

"She," Catherine said gently. "Her name's Hanako."

"May I touch her?" the girl asked, reaching out a hand, then pulling it back.

"Of course," Catherine said. "She's very tame."

"I'm Duo," the boy introduced. "This is Hilde."

Catherine dropped a curtsy. "Lady Maxwell, my lord."

"I'm not a lord," the boy objected. "I'm just Duo. Her accessory."

Catherine smiled. "I'm Catherine Bloom."

Hilde nodded. "Lady Wanderer." She rubbed the lion. "I should have brought a pet."

"You brought me," Duo pointed out. "Aren't I close enough?"

"I wouldn't insult Lady Catherine or this little one -- Hanako? -- by calling you a pet."

Catherine placed the cat in Hilde's willing arms. "Oh, Hako's not a pet, really. She's being trained to protect me." Hilde shot her escort a glance. "Would that Duo was as useful."

"My sweet lady Catherine," Duo said, shooting Hilde an injured glance, "would you care to dance?"

"I would indeed," Catherine said.

+

The first thing that Heero saw when he entered the hall was a shining braid. He almost froze, then circled the room to get a good look at the. . . boy. . . he had seen before.

Hn.

Later, after they had been introduced to the princess and managed to greet each other civilly, Quatre glanced at the clock. Midnight was only a short while away.

Faiza, with whom he was dancing, held back a gasp as he stepped on her foot. "Quatre!" she hissed.

"Sorry," he said. "Sorry."

To his relief she smiled. "Yeah, yeah. What's eating you?"

Those green eyes -- that mouth -- flashed in his mind. "Nothing."

She didn't believe him, but she let it drop.

He went back to skimming the room for the court drunk -- if he was that. Nothing. His eyes paused on Hilde's companion -- Duo, he was called. The boy glanced up. Their eyes met.

Faiza hissed again. "For gods' sake!"

He apologized again and led her off the dance floor. "I am sorry, Fai. I'm just. . . distracted."

"Yes, well, maybe you should go out on the balcony, clear your head," she said, looking a trifle worried. He felt a pang of guilt for the mean thoughts he'd had about her earlier.

"I think I'll that. If you'll excuse me, lady." He bowed and strode from the room.

+

Duo watched him leave. "He knows," he said.

"I'm sorry?" Sally asked.

"I said," Duo said, "here goes. I'm trying to work up my courage, you see -- to ask you to dance with me. I'm so dreadfully afraid of rejection, though, that I can hardly form the words." Sally laughed. "Then perhaps I should ask you."

"Why, I'm so surprised! Milady, you do me an honor." He took her arm and led her out onto the floor where various nobles made a rather pathetic attempt at dancing -- he thought. He spun Sally, and dipped her.

And almost dropped her.

The Odin -- Heero -- was staring at him.

If I didn't know better I'd say he knows, too, Duo thought, leading Sally around the dance floor. He thought of those expressionless blue eyes. Nah. No way he could know. He slipped through the gardens and found himself at the west tower just as the clock began to strike.

+

"You came."

The voice came from the shadows -- the boy followed before he could pull his thoughts together. "I..." he stammered.

"No, no," the boy chided him, gently. "Just say thank you." He covered Quatre's mouth with his own. He picked the smaller boy up and whirled him around, then pressed him against the tower wall.

Quatre found himself swaying, his back pressed to the cold stone, his eyes on the stars, as the boy slid down his body. He felt his pants open. "Wait," he said.

A hand slid inside his pants. "Wait?"

"What do I call you?"

"I told you. Nothing. No name." The nameless boy began to stroke, softly. Gently. Slowly.

"I can't call you that. Give me -- ah! Something else. . . some, oh, gods, other name."

"Call me. . . Try," the boy said, and took Quatre into his mouth.

He raised a hand to his mouth and bit, hard, into his wrist, unable to stop the gasps and moans that were coming from his body. He'd -- had -- no idea -- none -- never -- "Please," he gasped. The stars were swirling above him, the constellations reshaping into strange new designs, the whole world melting and reforming around him. And then with a gasp it all exploded, him and the stars together, and he drew blood trying not to scream.

The boy -- Try -- slid up his body, his breath warm as it caressed places that Quatre had never known were sensitive before. "And what do I call you, little kitten?" he purred. "Little kitten who roars like a lion when I touch him -- who comes like an animal when I taste him."

Quatre thought that some of the stars must have gotten confused and fallen into him -- he could feel himself shining. "Call me that," he said, strangely daring. "Kitten. Kit."

"Well, then, Kitten-Kat," Try said, and kissed him. He could taste himself -- a strange taste, to be sure -- on the other boy's skilled tongue. He made no objection when he was kissed -- there -- caressed -- here -- touched and licked and bitten, devoured gently by the stranger. He put his hands where the other boy guided them, and found himself stroking the other boy.

"You're beautiful," he said, and tried to kneel himself, but the boy stopped him. "No," Try said, "Not there."

And he spun him again, this time so that his hot flushed face was against the stone tower. And his hands were on him again, and Quatre felt his body open, and the stars began to swirl again.

+

"It could have been worse," Relena decided.

Sally laughed. "Yes. Meiran and Wufei could have actually killed each other instead of just exchanging insults. All night."

"I think they enjoyed themselves," Relena said firmly. "And did you see Heero?"

"Not as much as you did," Sally said dryly. "You barely took your eyes off of him."

"He's -- pretty," Relena said. "Like a piece of art or something."

Sally laughed. "He's a fifteen year old boy. I would wager anything that he's a lot more hormone than artwork."

Relena blushed. "He seemed very restrained." She smiled a bit, up at the stars. "And he danced beautifully." She shot a glance at her friend. "As did that Duo."

Sally laughed again. "Don't remind me. I think I'm still dizzy. Did he have to spin me quite so often?"

"He is slick," Relena observed. "There's something about him, too. I can't put my finger on it, but he. . . I don't know."

"What did you think of the Winner?"

"I barely saw him," Relena said. "He stepped out for air and came back an hour later just long enough to make his excuses. He has a nice smile, but that means little."

"It means he met someone in the bushes, that's what it means," said Sally, who had seen that sort of smile before. Relena blushed again. "I'll keep my eye on him. Not in the bushes -- don't laugh at me! In general. There's something about him, too. . . . The Reberba seemed all right. A little on edge. The Dragon and Nataku seem honest, I think -- I didn't see much that suggested duplicity."

"All the same," Sally said.

"All the same," Relena repeated. "Keep your eye on all of them. Especially Winner and Duo and that Dorothy Catalonia. She's got shifty eyes."

"And strange eyebrows," Sally giggled.

Relena laughed, enjoying the bright chill of the night and the sound of laughter under the stars. "She does at that."

"What of the Marquise?"

"He's my brother."

Sally started.

"I was never sure if that was a story or not. . . I suspected. . . he moves his face the same way that Father does. He's my brother, isn't he?"

"Half-brother," Sally said. "Illegitimate. Those words, Relena, describe a good portion of the worse enemies your throne has had."

"They describe Trowa as well," Relena mused. "We called him Triton -- do you remember? Him and that squirrel and the way he played his flute?"

"I remember," Sally said. "I daresay Lady Catherine does as well."

"That's right -- she's his cousin," Relena said.

"They were quite close before he left," Sally said softly. "He cried for her when he was here. When they saw each other yesterday, she nearly fainted."

"And he?"

"He ignored her."

Relena studied the sky. "What are we doing tomorrow, Sally?"

"There is a weapons practice in the morning, a lunch with the Children, the Cabinet, and your father, and then a state dinner."

"In the afternoon?"

"Between lunch and dinner there is nothing."

"Perhaps we could arrange something. . . a music session. I believe Quatre brought a violin with him."

"And your highness on the piano?"

"I believe, my dear Sally, that would be considered an aggressive act. I am here to prevent war, not start it." Sally smiled at the sky. "I will see to it that his highness is there."

"Thank you, Sally," Relena said, and closed her eyes. In her mind she could see blue eyes looking intently at her. She was not aware of the smile that drifted dreamily onto her face.

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