By Midii Une
Ice glittered on the sharply rising roofs of the palace, snowflakes hovered around the dark building, the cold wind trying its best to breach the building’s defenses but the elements were turned back as always by the impregnable stone and brick. Only human war machines had ever conquered this castle that sat now peacefully aloof despite the weather before the frozen river that reflected it’s grandeur like a huge mirror.
The shimmering, frost-kissed windows were dark and lonely; the unearthly quiet of the little kingdom belied the flurry of joyous and triumphant gaiety that had marked the wedding of its beloved Princess Relena to her long-time love Heero Yuy. Now the newlyweds were departed to a secret honeymoon hideaway and the palace was empty but for a few guests still stranded by the late winter ice storm.
Beyond one window a small light still shone and a young woman sat in an elegant heap of midnight blue velvet on a white satin couch, ensconced like a forgotten jewel in a guest suite in the fairy tale palace of Cinq. Ebony-flecked white ermine fur bared her throat and revealed a flawless expanse of smooth pale skin as she leaned her head on her arm tiredly and continued to sit there watching the snow fall outside the lead-paned window in a picturesque dance against the endlessly black night. The movement caused a waterfall of moonlight-blonde hair to cascade around Dorothy’s tall, lithe figure.
With a languid movement she shifted herself on the white satin and let herself fall back prone against the cushions, her hair floating lightly around her for a moment before settling around her shoulders again in a silken tangle. Idly she wrapped a length around her finger and closed her eyes briefly, traveling back in time in an instantaneous flash of nostalgia, back to a dark and sheltered spot on Libra, an atmosphere rife with passion and promises--all to be broken, promises she hadn’t been strong enough to keep.
Dorothy’s eyes snapped open, pale violet gleaming between obstinately widespread lids as she stared at the ceiling, sternly ordering the memories back to their cold marble crypt. All through this long horrible day of Relena and Heero’s wedding, through all the pomp and ceremony and nearness to him she had kept those treacherous thoughts in their proper place. Kept them there through everything; the suspicious and protective glances of Noin, who regarded her as if she were an evil sorceress intent on enchanting him away. More poignant were the quizzical searching glances from the familiar ice-blue eyes. She’d kept their contact brief, not trusting herself to remain cordial in the face of his obvious contentment to have Noin by his side, her hand clinging to his arm in a gesture or ownership and to Dorothy, of warning.
The young duchess laughed suddenly, the sound crystal clear as a finely wrought silver bell. Noin had nothing to fear from her, not anymore...
Lucrezia Noin had won in fair combat, taken the prize she had not been able to hold on to. He had slipped from her grasp after only a moment of being hers when her affections and loyalty to her family still exerted a hold on her. A disastrous hold. Her loyalty to Treize had not saved him and it had cost her Milliardo’s trust . . .
With a violent growl of frustration Dorothy leapt to her feet, her movements graceful and athletic as she shed the velvet bridesmaid dress of Relena’s fantasy wedding and stepped on the ermine collar as she kicked the elegant and expensive garment aside without a second thought. She pulled a pair of white knickers from the closet and yanked them on aggressively, wriggling in place a little to make the snug trousers conform to the feminine curve of her hips. She tossed her knee-length blonde tresses aside as she pulled on the padded jacket so her long, nimble fingers could fasten the many tiny jet buttons; they marched down the side of the pure white fabric in a stark angle like a line of miniature soldiers on a snowy battlefield.
Anyone peeking beyond their ornately carved, highly varnished bedroom doors would have thought she was a ghost as she moved quietly through the dark and silent halls, a vision in spectral white with spider-web hair floating about her.
Crystal chandeliers lit the palace’s small fencing sallé and gleamed off the polished wood of the maple floor. Relena had restored the palace in every detail with Pagan’s help and the pride of her ancient family had risen again with the building and evoking an age-old feeling thought the building itself now dated only back to the Eve Wars. Dorothy let her fingers trail along the satiny wood paneling as she eyed the rich, silver weaponry that lined the walls and shone quietly in the light like waiting gems, anticipating her touch. Her fingers closed over the elegant French grip of a foil that had apparently seen much use. A favorite weapon of some ancient Peacecraft and perhaps even one Prince Milliardo had chosen himself when practicing here as a child.
She tightened her hand on the grip almost tenderly, walking reverently backward until her feet reached the copper strip on the floor and she lunged with the sword, slashing the thin metal switch through the air until it cut through the thick stillness of the long-unused room with a satisfying whistle. Dorothy advanced then on her imaginary opponent unconsciously recalling the lessons of the impromptu tutor of her youth.
“Be patient,” that smooth, cool voice intoned huskily, the barest trace of youth lingering in its masculine tones. “Keep your movements small or you’ll open yourself to attack.”
That idyllic summer on grandfather’s estate the year she had been 10, the year Treize’s friend from the Lake Victoria Academy had appeared outside her window like a prince from a fairy tale, firing her little girl dreams with a debonair touch of his lips to a rose as he met her gaze one balmy morning. Milliardo took her seriously, showing grave interest in the solemn, intense child she had been. The summer that had bound their fates, one to the other, herself and Treize and Milliardo. . .
Dorothy ducked, spun and dodged spearing her unseen opponent with suddenness and contained ferocity that sparked approval in the man who watched from the shadows.
She whirled at the sound of polite applause, the type one might hear at the opera were there ever to be an audience of one at a performance. Pain slashed her spirit for she had indeed heard that Treize had ordered private performances by his favorite Viennese company during the war to help clear his mind, to distract his thoughts from war with a little beauty. Almost she feared her audience might be her dead cousin but as her eyes scanned the corners of the room she spotted the Prince of Cinq himself watching her boldly from the doorway. Recovering herself quickly Dorothy let her eyes roam over his attire, the clinging breeches that took her breath away, the soft and faded cotton T-shirt that had once been red that bared his sleekly-muscled arms to her view.
With a deft tongue the Lightning Count spoke first, much to her consternation although she carefully schooled her face to hide her thoughts.
“You looked so lovely today Dorothy. And yet I can’t decide even now if I prefer you in court elegance to your present attire. I would have told you so earlier if you hadn’t been avoiding me so. Has the Duchess of Dermail lost her famed Catalonia courage,” Milliardo queried, his eyes studying her as she had so recently studied him.
Dorothy wondered at the game he was playing even as a tart response rose to her lips.
“I only wished to spare Noin further angst, she was as nervous as a high-strung filly today Milliardo,” she said in an even tone. “I can’t imagine that it is myself that rouses that anxiety in her?”
“You know perfectly well it is,” the tall blonde sighed, his soldier’s posture slouching a bit beneath the weight of her words.
“Then hadn’t you best get back to bed and soothe her down? People would talk to see a husband wandering the halls at night, unable to sleep and presumably unable to find anything else to do with his beautiful wife,” she retorted smugly.
“Hold your tongue Dorothy,” Milliardo said lightly, rising to her provocative banter, lifting his head and squaring his shoulders. “Noin has nothing to do with my wanderings. It’s being back here that’s keeping me awake. I am a Peacecraft but I no longer belong in this place. Now that Relena is well and truly married to that Gundam pilot I’ll never have need to step foot in this place again.”
But even as he spoke the words Dorothy could see what they cost him and the deep love for his palace and kingdom that Cinq’s rightful monarch still held close in his heart.
There was a waiting silence between them before he turned from her and repeated her action of admiring the weapons displayed on the warm wood of the sallé walls. His fingers closed on the hilt of a favorite weapon and he pressed a panel, opening a hidden door in the wall that held an array of masks. He tossed one to Dorothy without a word before hiding his face behind the tightly woven black screen.
“Perhaps some exercise will help us both to sleep,” he said, by way of a challenge. “En garde.”
He bowed to her gracefully before flourishing his sword and Dorothy bent in a deep, graceful curtsy before donning her mask and mimicking his flourish with a touch of her own athletic artistry.
The little room sang with the click of steel on steel as they moved together almost as in a dance, feet sliding to and fro effortlessly on the copper mat, their breathing deep and intense.
As they sparred Dorothy’s heart swelled with long-forgotten happiness and her movements became automatic and instinctive as her mind sought frantically to reason why and how she had lost this man’s love. This perfect man who had sacrificed himself to end all wars in a blaze of glory.
A night on Libra, her hands stealing over his shoulders as he sat in the darkness, straight as a soldier should be over the rough green wool of his long military coat. Her fingers played with the linen cravat but he made no move, no sound. And then,..
“Did you truly mean it Dorothy?” His voice suddenly whispering in the intimacy of darkness.
“Yes, I want to always be with you, I’ll stay with you to the end,’’ she whispered, her voice reverent in the darkness as she looked down on his silver-gilt hair. She was shivering slightly as he gently grasped her arm in his slender fingers and raised her wrist to his lips, kissing the delicate skin tenderly. His seeking mouth moved to her palm and slid along to her fingers until he took one into his mouth making her gasp as she felt the suction.
There was such sadness in his eyes and an emotion she couldn’t quite place reflected in the crystal pure depths the color of water from a cold spring on a winter day. She remembered the look in his eyes as he held her on his lap, his gaze probing and gauging her trustworthiness, the depths of her love. Finding what he wanted he’d held her close, his fingers tenderly stroking her long blonde tresses… oh dear God…the look in his eyes when she tried to stop him from firing the beam canon at Treize. The love, the desire, the hate, the disgust . . . oh Zechs, Milliardo…
He saw his opening and a slight smirk formed on his thin, sensual lips and he lunged toward her slashing the blade into her shoulder, shocked that she made no move to parry his blow.
Her movements slowed as the pain of the hit shattered the bittersweet memories like a fragile pane of glass and she finally stopped altogether, dropping to her knees. The clatter of her sword sounded on the metal strip and she pushed off her mask gasping and raising her hands to stem the pain that seemed to pierce her heart.
Milliardo looked aghast, sick inside that he had hurt her in a friendly contest, where had her mind been he wondered dully, stupidly before heat flooded his fair-skinned cheeks when he tossed aside his own mask and knelt beside her on the floor. His fingers sought the tiny jet buttons and flew over them parting the white jacket to reveal the angry purple and red bruise forming on her shoulder. Heat seemed to rise from the livid marks on her pale white flesh and his cool fingers reached to gently examine the injury. He looked up into her face expecting to see tears of pain, shock but found her looking only pale and stunned as if she had been awoken too soon from a dream. His fingers moved over her skin again in soothing circles with the lightest pressure as he bent his head close over her chest as if examining the injury.
The cool fingers caressed her skin, both soothing and electrifying her shattered senses as he leaned closer, his long, fair hair falling forward and mingling with hers in a swirl of pale golden threads. Her whole being trembled in a timeless moment where his lips hovered over hers hesitantly and his hand explored and tested the voluptuous swell of her breast. She heard the sharp catch in his breathing and felt the fingers of his other hand caressing the inside of her wrist, skin that still tingled from the memory of the first touch of his lips on same spot so long ago in outer space.
Tentatively Dorothy moved unwilling to break the spell and let her fingers slide over his lean forearms, the muscles taut from supporting himself in his sitting position beside her on the cold metal of the floor. Her touch seemed to melt his restraint, the heat of his skin beneath her fingers causing the same reaction in her and their lips crashed together in a hungry kiss. Dorothy found herself flat on the back, hidden between the curtains of his long blonde locks and tangled in a less than elegant flurry of impatient arms and legs straining desperately for closeness. So different from how it had been in space, slow and unhurried and weightless. She had never dreamed how it would feel to have him upon her, to feel the satisfaction of his weight grinding her into the unforgiving floor. Dorothy held her breath as he rose off of her momentarily to push her jacket back farther and she trembled uncontrollably as she felt his lips in tender, healing kisses on the bruise he had left on the ivory skin of her shoulder.
This seemed much more real and primitive than their encounter in space, the slow grace of their lovemaking, the dreamlike quality of being alone in that silent void, hair floating around them as if they were not human but more like angels of justice bent on punishing Earth for it’s warlike history. But she had fallen, she hadn’t been able to make the final sacrifice and she had driven him from her with her betrayal in the Libra control room after promising to support him in everything. Was she now at last forgiven?
Dorothy closed her eyes and arched her body against the tall figure of the man who covered her, whose tender lips stoked a fire in the center of her being that was spreading rapidly out to the very ends of her fingertips. She moaned softly, encouragingly as she felt the skillful fingers slide down her taut stomach and linger indecisively at the waistband of her fencing trousers.
The little moan pierced the haze of Milliardo’s sudden passion, reality crashing down on him like the remains of Libra as he destroyed the enormous battle ship before it could reach earth. Dorothy had been in his thoughts then as he expected to meet death, but so had one other and it had been to her that he had pledged to return if he lived through the battle.
The fingers stopped their movement and for a second she was left in breathless anticipation as she felt his hand move slowly over her skin in a final, apologetic caress and felt his nose nudging softly at the skin behind her ear and his lips trailing softly down her neck before he rose from her.
Stubbornly she lay there, hope lingering that he would take her in his arms once again, finish what he’d started and fan the flames of passion he’d lit in her body. She could feel his eyes on her, sense pity in his stare and the thought of that pity forced her eyes open and she sat up, gingerly pulling the ends of her jacket together and tossing her hair back over her shoulders.
“Touché, a skillful blow and right on mark,” she managed, pleased that her voice sounded cool and detached as she touched her fingers to the bruise that swelled over her heart.
“You were distracted I can’t take any pride in it, will you go another round with me,” he offered politely, his voice also cool and perfectly in check.
“No, I’m tired and you should get back to Noin. She has always believed in you the most, I met her once at Treize’s grave. I asked her why she never left flowers for you, she knew even then you would return. She never gave up.”
She peeked at him beneath her long black lashes, he still reclined there on the floor, one long arm propped casually on a knee as he stared at a spot on the wall above her head. Finally he spoke.
“We’ll be returning to Mars soon. I cannot stay upon the Earth long, it is a pleasure I have forfeited. But she is more than willing to share my exile.”
He lifted her hand to his lips but she steeled herself against feeling, he looked as if he would speak but she bowed her head and refused to meet his eyes. She wasn’t that strong and she didn’t want to be forced into a maudlin farewell. It was enough, he had forgiven her but he still could not be hers, he was tied by love and honor elsewhere. Despite the ache of unanswered passion she cherished the fact that he would not take advantage of her weakness, would not love her and leave her.
Milliardo watched her walk away, memorizing the graceful movements he would never see again. As he turned to replace the weapons on the wall, his eye caught something small and round glittering in the crystal-faceted light. It was one of the tiny black jet buttons from her jacket, he bent slowly to retrieve it and held it tight in his hand before pressing his lips to it as he had once touched them to a rose and smiled to a little girl who stood on a balcony in the morning sunlight. He tucked the little button in his pocket and went back up the stairs of his childhood home for the last time.
She lingered in the shadowy hallway, watching him climb the stairs and disappear into the darkness. She had loved him but as she watched him go her heart lightened, she was not of the temperament to give herself over to his suffering and she would not stand for his self-imposed exile. He’d given her a final gift, one he could never give Noin—freedom. He would always have a corner of her heart and she knew a part of her forever lingered in his.