Disclaimer: I don't own GW or SM.
Minna-sama, I return! : I certainly don't expect too warm a welcome since this section has definitely cooled a lot since I was last here, but I had the dialogue of this chapter sitting around for the longest time and tonight I felt like fleshing it out. And voila! A fifteen-age, 10 point size Times New Roman chapter to My Paper Heart. : There hasn't been one quite this long … ever. Haha. Enjoy!
Chapter 14: Be There When I Wake
"You don't think she's one of those girls who 'values her liberty' do you?" Rei whispered scandalously as if the thought just struck her and she insisted on sharing its devastation with her companion but only in clandestine anonymity.
"Wouldn't that be interesting?" Trowa rejoined, staring into space with a bored expression. "She'll be just like Isabel Archer only not quite as pretty." 1
Rei gritted her teeth and checked the malevolent urge to dig her manicured nails into Trowa's jugular, instead digging them into the palms of her hands.
"Don't worry about it, cheri," he continued lazily before sitting up from his leaning position on the Rococo-fashioned chair and shooting his date an amused and surprisingly alert glance that didn't match his drawling voice. "You are the only Isabel in town. Usagi is … not."
Rei tried her hardest not to preen and managed to wave a dismissive hand with all the air of insouciance but none of its veracity. "You never answered my question."
"Yes, I did," he insisted, leaning forward and aiming at her a wounded look for doubting his sincerity. "I implied that Usagi is not an Isabel and therefore my response is no, I don't think she is that type. I think she is a hopeless romantic soon to be drawn in by Hiiro's charms."
Trowa smiled faintly. "You're quick to make the distinction."
"Because the distinction is quick to become apparent," she bandied while rolling her eyes and signaling a waiter over to bring another cocktail and platter of bon-bons.
"You should stop eating those." Trowa indicated the plate of sweets. Rei glared and he quickly withdrew his hand as if afraid she might bite it off if he tempted her too much with its proximity.
A few minutes ticked by without another word passing over the intricately-wrought metalwork of the table. Rei finally let go of a long breath and pouted unconsciously. "I just don't understand. Hiiro has been as romantic as Hiiro can possibly get and Usagi still treats him like an over-eager terrier at best-"
"Or a phlegmatic pug at worst."
Rei chuckled before remarking, "Pug. That's one letter from-"
"Pig. I know," Trowa finished with a discreet smile. "Don't tell Hiiro but I think the latter is much more compatible with reality."
Rei shot him a look of quiet cynicism. "Even if I did, he would never believe it; sometimes he loves himself a bit too well."
"He needs to start loving other people then," Trowa retorted simply, selecting a bon-bon from the plate and eyeing it suspiciously before popping it into his mouth. "Maybe then he'd move to terrier status." He paused and considered the process a moment while savoring the chocolate. "Though that might take a while."
"Don't think so," Rei said before taking a quick sip of her lychee martini. "Usagi is there to help him."
"Don't be so sure," Trowa muttered into his drink, "Not everybody has your charm."
This time Rei deftly deflected the compliment with mock arrogance as she believed – incorrectly so – that it wasn't entirely sincere. "Nobody does, darling. But Usagi has something that's driving Hiiro crazy. I believe in her ability to change him if she hasn't already."
"I hope along with that something, Usagi has enough sense to avoid Hiiro at all costs. He is too much for her to handle, and she will be sacrificed to the maelstrom in his mind."
Rei shot him an irate look of waning forbearance which he returned with one of brooding presentiment. "Oh? Then who do you think is proper for her?" She eyed him as if daring him to offer a reply that was incapable of taming the rising tendrils of her anger.
"Duo." Trowa hesitated and seemed to mull over his choice before inclining his head and allowing the light fingertips of a confident smile to rest at the corners of his mouth. "Yes, Duo is good."
"Y-you look quite stunning tonight." Hiiro licked his lips nervously and tried again with an unintentional, mild British accent. "You look quite stunning tonight." He shook his head, glared into his azure eyes with half-disdain, and ran his fingers through his hair before turning around from the one-among-many full-length mirrors in his private, walk-in closet and tossing the book aside.
"This isn't working," he muttered while exhaling loudly and collapsing onto the plush, ivory carpet. "You look wonderful tonight," he tried again, this time the slightest note of sincerity bleeding into his voice. "Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful," he murmured to himself before falling onto his back and staring up at the light fixture of Venetian-blown glass with irritation as if it had failed him in not imparting any apposite knowledge.
"This is ridiculous," he reasoned with the light. "I don't need to try hard for her. I don't need to try hard for anything. It all comes naturally." The light gazed back at him blankly, the careful facets of contrasting half-opaque and crystal-clear glass winking coyly at him. "She should be honored that I even look at her," he argued. "Even I would be honored."
The lights reflected off the glass silently, with tenacious steadfastness, and stubbornly offered no reply.
He let his eyelids drop and studied the blemish his shadow cast upon the seamless carpet with a painfully sarcastic sneer on his face. Then, as if some unseen trigger released, his eyes flew open with fear and wonder.
"I'm trying to change myself for a girl," he whispered to himself as if afraid saying it aloud would damage his eardrums and leave him forever deaf – mute, sightless. "For a girl," he mouthed to himself, this time barely allowing even the slightest breath to tinge his words with searing sound. He stared into the light with imploring eyes.
"Am I—" The words caught at his throat and he coughed a little, the dry, light cough that always sounded fake and self-conscious when coming from others but never when coming from oneself.
One day, there will be something that you cannot have, my dear child, and you will try with all your might to possess it. Whether or not you succeed depends entirely on how quickly you change your tactics.
He had demanded that crazy old witch at the cheap fortune-telling booth give him more details, something more substantial, tell him, most importantly, if he would succeed, all questions which she shooed aside with a sweep of her overlong sleeves, dark eyes flashing hypnotically under strikingly emerald makeup.
I cannot say, my child. You will have to find out yourself.
Yeah, thanks. Why the fuck was he paying her five bucks then? She could at least make up some idiotic story in which he lived happily ever after, possessing what he had not been able to possess. He had stomped out of the tent, every bit the petulant and headstrong ten-year-old and ordered his driver to take him home immediately; he never attended another carnival, scorning them as the fox had the grapes, claiming to hold a natural aversion to them.
But what if the old bat had been right? What if this is it? He had pushed the memory so far into the recesses of his mind that he almost negated it; there was nothing he couldn't have, he reassured himself often in the middle of the night, only things that he didn't want.
And it's been too long since he had wanted something. That was the initial intrigue of Usagi, was it not? He wanted her like a wine connoisseur did century-old Chardonnay, like a collector would another heart to display on his wall; he strove after her like those silly sycophants in his father's office for the next big promotion to Marketing VP or some such. And for the while, his life had purpose and he faced each day as if it was an opportunity to be exploited – ravished – and then tossed aside into the bin of wasted yesterdays.
Then what? When did this happen? he wanted to shout to God or Zeus or Confucius. Perhaps how and why were the questions he truly wanted to ask but those were so difficult to forebear that he took refuge only in when and callow thoughts of his former superiority.
When she arrived home that evening, a sleek Maserati was awaiting her and her landlady was flirting rather ostentatiously with its stolid driver. Heaving a sigh, Usagi gripped her messenger bag strap a bit more tightly and stomped toward the luxury car, cursing under her breath at pretentious, rich bastards.
The elderly driver spied her out of the corner of his eye and turned to her with a welcoming smile that spoke of immense relief. "Miss Tsukino? I was sent by Master Hiiro to retrieve you."
"To retrieve me?" she replied incredulously, her glare faltering in the face of his grandfatherly visage. "Would he like to retrieve my traveling cage also?" She waved a defeated hand at the driver's politely bemused expression and stepped into the backseat, gazing blankly at her landlady blowing a kiss as they pulled away from the curb. "For what am I being retrieved?"
Her driver peered quizzically into the rearview mirror at her. "Dinner, I believe, Miss Tsukino."
"Oh, splendid," she sighed and stared out the window as taxi drivers involuntarily deferred to the immaculately glossy car. "In Hiiro's mansion then?" Upon consideration, she had never actually visited Hiiro's home, always Rei's. Not that it made any difference to her, of course; to her untrained eyes, all luxury looked the same.
"Master Hiiro expressed desire to dine at the beach. I believed he wished for a picnic of some sort outside of the Yuis' vacation home." He shrugged casually as if he didn't quite understand the whims of Hiiro either but had long ago learned not to care or think too much of it; the wealthy were simply a disparate and unfathomable species altogether – like penguins or alpacas or komodo dragons.
Usagi's eyebrows rose. "So how far are we driving?"
"To Malibu," he replied, not missing a beat.
"Wow," she murmured and the driver peered at her in the rearview mirror with an amused expression pulling on the corners of his lips and eyes, barely masked by his well-groomed and graying moustache.
"Yes, neither expense nor patience is in short demand when Master Hiiro desires something."
Usagi rolled her eyes heavenward and inadvertently observed a well-cared-for roof. "Tell me about it."
The corners of her driver's mouth pulled down in an expression of ambivalence as he shrugged and glanced in his side view mirror to switch lanes. "I'm not sure you are aware of it yet, my dear child, but more than anything at the moment, Master Hiiro desires you."
The elderly man chuckled, the warm honey of his low laughter a happy contrast to the artificially cool interior of the Maserati. "My dear, he has become quite the distracted fellow recently. Says it's because of stress. Well, excuse my language, but stress my ass. He has become quite the romantic. Reads books on how to communicate to girls, you see. You must be quite the case, my dear. Master Hiiro has never had problems with young ladies before. I believe they are quite attracted to his appearances – to his wealth."
Usagi's jaw fell and it took her a few minutes to rearrange her startled thoughts and school her disobedient tongue. In the meantime, her driver continued.
"And Master Duo is having none of it. Walks around the house every day seeming half asleep and slamming doors. The other day he let a favorite parakeet fly away murmuring something along the lines of if you love me, Usagi, you'll come back." He paused to shoot her a sharp glance in the mirror which she tactfully ignored. "Your name is Usagi, I believe? Funny how he named the bird after you, isn't it?" He chuckled again, but this time there was the faint sharpness of interrogation in his laughter.
She lifted her shoulders carelessly and glanced out at the life-sized rendition of Rihanna outside a boutique in an act of spurious nonchalance. "It's not an uncommon word."
"Yes, but not everybody names his bird a rabbit."
Usagi looked away again from his intelligent, gray irises.
As if sensing some signal, he cleared his throat and murmured, "Ah, I believe I have overstepped my boundaries. Begging your pardon, my dear." There was an all too brief respite before he pursued further, "But really, you should do something to put those two out of their respective misery. I believe they're really quite infatuated with you."
"I would have to beg to differ," she snapped and then instantly regretted her discourtesy, adding in an apologetic tone, "I'm certainly no Rei."
The driver didn't seem to notice as his eyes adopted a faraway look of fond reminiscence. "Ah, I remember Miss Rei quite well. She was a most charming young lady. Rich, too, if I recall correctly. Had the two Master Yuis raving mad for her." He paused as if to ponder the improbability and then seemed to remember his companion has achieved the same feat. "In a different way though, mind you. She was everything they dreamed of and nothing they wanted." He laughed a little at the patent paradox but seemed pleased with himself for finding so apt a phrase and endeavored to explain further:
"Somebody that perfect, you see, should stay in the realm of dreams; the gilt rubs off too easily in real life." He paused again in gravity this time as a stern air cast his face in the cool grays of shadow. A moment passed before his countenance brightened and he remarked, "You, on the other hand, my dear, are entirely different. No resemblance whatsoever to Miss Rei except maybe the curve of the neck or line of the lip. Excuse me for saying so, but you are hardly a goddess, my dear. It must be your personality, though if both the boys have fallen for your personality you must have one hell of a personality. Either that or their childhood nanny would finally have to admit to herself that they are maturing into respectable gentlemen."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that yet," Usagi bit out.
"Yes, well." He made an exaggerated shrug and laughed it off. "They'll have to prepare themselves soon because their mother absolutely insists on a British education for the two of them. She thinks Oxford would suit Master Hiiro and Cambridge Master Duo, and they'll be sure to get in despite transferring away from Eton. Has wonderful insight, Mrs. Yui does, but she doesn't seem to quite realize that the two will simply wreak havoc in England. No pretty girl would be safe." 2
Usagi arched an eyebrow but had to admit the statement was true. "Yes, they're both quite prolific," she said, dryly.
"That's one way to put it." The good-natured man laughed again. "I like to think that the two Master Yuis will cross the ocean thinking English girls are wonderfully competent challenges and then after three days of flirting would realize that they much prefer American girls. Much more confident, you see, and much more willing to – ah, shall we say – compromise themselves."
"You don't think much of American girls?"
He made an apologetic face in the rearview mirror. "Oh, of course I do. They always dress very well and are extraordinarily well-spoken. They often believe themselves to be beautiful and therefore are." He paused to mull over something. "You seem more of a British girl to me."
"Oh?" She caught his eye in the rearview and held his gaze, curiosity entwining itself around her heart.
"Yes, a lady. Quite reserved, aren't you, my dear? Maybe that's what the Master Yuis needed all along – a delicate lady to settle down with and adore."
The curiosity died and she looked away again, bored. "I think that hardly complements their images."
"Oh, you'd be surprised, my dear. They are really both quite nice boys. Just … somewhat warped by their society, by the jadedness inherent in the wealthy, you see, especially those born to such old money even if their parents work. They don't understand the concept of work yet. They think they'll grow up and remain at the cozy age of twenty-five or six forever, clubbing, drinking, dating, and all that those activities entail." He paused and seemed to consider his words with more scrutiny. "Well, perhaps Master Hiiro has some notion that he will have to take over the company, but I think he believes – and rightly so – that he will ascend quickly in the industry because of his father.
His face relaxed again into a smile as the thought of said father enveloped his mind. "Now his father is quite the able businessman. His mother, too. A wonderful match of two people who are entirely intellectual and not at all sensual. They rarely speak to each other, you see, but both bring in incredible amounts of money. Never bother coming home because they can't stand to be around each other, though. The story of Master Duo's adoption is quite a tragicomedy. I believe they discussed it with each other for two months passing notes via the help in the Scotland property. They must have rehearsed their roles for they went to the adoption parish together seeming every bit the happy family, signed the papers, brought Master Duo back to the New York loft laughing and joking. Both left the next morning on the early flight – separately, of course."
"How horrible." Usagi really meant it this time.
Her companion shrugged as if he'd seen it all. "They won't divorce for the sake of appearances. And they do lead quite a comfortable life together. Of course, both are too busy working to really notice. I think Mrs. Yui had some idea of Miss Rei's association with her sons but she really didn't push for it. I believe she can't stand the way Mr. Hino has been with virtually every socialite but his wife who sits at home and embroiders. She can't tolerate weak women, you see, and she is a huge proponent of the genetic factor of personality. I believe I can safely say that she is quite mistaken about Miss Rei's – ah, shall we call it assertiveness? – but it's far too late to matter."
Usagi was at a loss for words. She was, quite truthfully, a bit hurt by society's characterization of her father though he deserved every word and adjective her chauffer had assigned to him. Unsurprisingly everybody in that upper echelon of society is well acquainted with her father's reputation, but she was sure a lot of the stories that precede him have been grossly exaggerated by hearsay and the real-life game of telephone. Despite her reassurances to herself, there was still a small room in her heart that dimmed and wilted a little at the sound of her companion's words, and she couldn't help but to want to say something to defend the man who occupied that room. However, her better judgment got to her first, and, instead, she merely closed the door and put the room, along with its resident, out of her mind.
"Here we are, my dear. Perfect timing. Master Yui wanted you to arrive just when the sun is setting. I must admit I drove a bit more slowly than I'm used to. Ah, well, Master Yui's whims are commands to everybody except himself." The elderly man chuckled a bit at his description as he stepped out of the car and walked over to open her door. "Come, my lady, turn the corner a little bit and you'll catch a glimpse of the beach house and step right onto the beach. A lovely property, this one is. One of Master Hiiro's favorites, if I recall correctly."
He helped her out of the car and pointed her in the right direction before driving off to repark the Audi. Hesitantly, she took one step and then another and another toward the beach until her shoes met white sand and her breath caught at her throat, rendering her speechless and immobile. The scene that unfolded before her was very little short of magical. Right on the beach, not more than ten meters from the greedily lapping foam of the ocean, there was a dainty round table set up, covered with navy tablecloth that caught the light with the labyrinth of silver thread tracing vague, flower-like outlines.
At the center of said table sat a good-sized, fishbowl-like glass of water in which ivory candles shaped like lilies floated, alit with saffron-colored flames that stood out majestically against the dark blue cloth and pale wax. The small flowers of white lilacs littered the dark tablecloth as well, sprinkled themselves over the immaculately white plates and silverware, and gathered in small clusters around the two bottles of wine that adorned each table – one white and one red.
On the fringes of the extravagant setup, Usagi glimpsed two servants who stood erect and handsome like English guards. The scent of white lilacs and salt assaulted her nose, and the humidity of the ocean teased her skin. Usagi wobbled a little at the assault on all her senses.
"Usagi!" A figure that she quickly identified as Rei broke away from Trowa and Hiiro and ran to her, her silk and chiffon skirt coquettishly playing in the wind. The ebony-haired girl gave her a quick hug and pulled away to clasp her hands. "Wonderful timing. The view of the sunset here is absolutely breathtaking and the candles are really beginning to have their effect on the ambiance. The wait staff here really performed a miracle."
In the face of not only nature's and the setting's beauty but also that striking prettiness of Rei, Usagi was rendered entirely speechless.
"We're having sushi, I think. Duo had something of a craving and Trowa agreed. Can you believe it? Sushi on the beach." Rei paused to laugh at their silliness. "We should be eating – oh, I don't know – oysters or something."
Before Rei could get many more words out, Hiiro, Trowa, and Duo approached from behind.
"Good evening," Hiiro murmured, eyes piercing, that startling acrid blue intensified by the burnt orange glows of the candles and the setting sun.
"Usagi," Duo greeted with a small grin, his smile seeming to infuse the word with life and color. "Come! Come eat! You don't mind being outside, do you?" His brow netted a little in worry at her slightest discomfort.
"No, I love it," she whispered and gazed around her again, wonderingly.
"I thought so." Hiiro mutters and hid a smile. Duo cut him a sharp glance and clearly caught the sly smile. "Would the three of you like to pass the night here with Duo and me? We have more than enough space and I think you'll find the house quite charming. It's very – ah – airy."
The invitation was to Rei, Trowa, and Usagi, but from the way his eyes never left Usagi's face, the invitation's purpose was blatant. If Usagi wasn't so taken away, she would've rolled her eyes; leave it to Hiiro to be forthright to the point of awkward.
"It's liberating," Rei smiled and nudged Usagi. "I think we should stay."
"No objections from me." Trowa drawled, both hands in pockets and looking as if he'd rather be chatting one on one with Rei. "The beach is good for thinking." He glanced quickly at Usagi as his beautiful mouth curled up just a little. "Very good for thinking."
But Usagi was too distracted to notice. "I'm not sure I should-"
Trowa's implication, however, didn't get past Rei and she shot him a look of warning before saying, "We'll decide after dinner, I'm sure. You'll change your mind, Usagi, after Hiiro and Duo take you on a tour of the house. It's really quite lovely, billowing white curtains and all." Rei smiled as she smoothed the matter over with the dexterity of one too used to dealing with the tangled web of social propriety.
Usagi forced herself to mirror Rei's smile. "Charming, I'm sure." If only its owner were the same.
"Come. Do sit." Hiiro had clearly gotten tired of the empty talk and was walking back in the direction of the food. The group followed him, Usagi desperately wanting to trail a bit behind but was unable to because Rei linked arms with her and guided her to the seat beside Hiiro. There she left the blonde and broke off to sit with Trowa directly across from her. Duo supplied himself as the occupant to the other side of Usagi.
Usagi peered curiously at the bowl of water with floating white lilacs in front of her. She vaguely wondered if this was some type of soup before catching Duo dipping his hands in it and then drying them off on his cloth napkin. She mimicked the movement and the waiter whisked the bowls away.
"An excellent time of year for an outdoor dinner, isn't it? Hiiro suggested it. I was really quite surprised." Rei smiled mutedly, almost slyly.
Usagi had to nod in agreement. "It's very lovely. I'm impressed."
"You'll be even more impressed later, then." Rei looked askance at Trowa to exchange an enigmatic smile but he only frowned in reply.
Usagi looked puzzled, but both Rei and Trowa ignored her as they glared silently at each other as if concentrating on the war waged between their minds.
"Maybe we can all go for a swim later," Duo laughed.
"It might be cold," Hiiro muttered in reply.
They lapsed into silence before Rei looked up from her sake roll and asked, "Didn't your father use to keep a couple of rowboats up here?"
Hiiro shrugged carelessly. "Used to. He decided he liked jetskis better."
Usagi almost laughed at the contrast and the sharp movement away from the romantic to the modern, but her thoughts were interrupted by faraway piano strains that seemed to glide from the house and infuse their surroundings with quiet melancholy.
"My father used to love Chopin," she sighed before she could catch herself.
Rei raised an eyebrow. "Mine does, too."
Trowa cut in smoothly, "Coincidence, I'm sure."
Rei paused and then relented, letting the moment go. "Chopin's a popular composer." She shrugged a little, her silky hair slipping from the smooth curve of her shoulder. Nevertheless, Usagi felt those black-violet eyes assessing her with scientific frigidity. But Usagi didn't pay Rei's renascent suspicions much heed; it was as if the music had swept her away into a nostalgic stupor. She set the fork down. All other members at the table eyed her warily.
"Who is playing?"
Hiiro hesitated. "Allow me to introduce you." He wiped his mouth and stood up to lead her into the foyer. She barely had time to look around in wonder before her eyes spied the grand piano set on a short pedestal surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. At the dark instrument, his artistic fingers dancing giddily across bone-white keys, sat an angel. The fading sunlight ignited a halo around his light blonde hair and brought color to his pale skin; his surprisingly dark lashes were lowered, veiling light blue eyes that reminded her of the Caribbean beaches her father had taken her to before she turned ten. His lips were slightly parted as if the music made his as breathless as his appearance made her. As if sensing Hiiro and her presence, he looked up, his fingers continuing to caress the piano keys. Usagi felt her jaw slacken at his startlingly clear eyes that seemed to reflect a heart made of crystal, encased in glass.
One corner of his mouth pulled upwards a little at her expression and she looked down, realizing how foolish she must look. The music stopped and she started. The blonde gentleman got up, his stripped dress shirt unwrinkling and rewrinkling to best suit his lithe figure and overlap carefully with his dark jeans. He stepped away from the piano and off the pedestal and walked up to Hiiro to enclose him in a half embrace. "I apologize, Hiiro, I woke up and had the urge." The stranger laughed a bit abashedly, his heavy British accent adding a thick layer of luxury to his words and appearance.
Hiiro responded stiffly to the hug and cavalierly replied, "My house is at your disposal."
The blonde smiled. "I thank you." He paused and looked at Usagi with unmasked curiosity. "And this is?"
She finally found her voice. "Usagi. My name is Usagi. Your playing is absolutely breathtaking."
"Quatre Winner, and I thank you. I took lessons since I was four." There was a slightly uncomfortable pause as Quatre observed Hiiro's expression carefully and seemed to make a mental note. "Hiiro here has played the violin for just as long. He's also quite excellent if you haven't heard him already."
Usagi turned to look at Hiiro with patent surprise. "No, not at all. I never knew."
"It's not something I do regularly anymore," Hiiro replied without looking at her.
"He was a favorite in the conservatoire." Quatre leaned in as if sharing a secret with her and glanced slyly at Hiiro.
"Nothing important. My mother wanted Duo and I to be well-rounded." Hiiro shifted as if ready to leave
Usagi's eyes, if possible, widened further. "Duo plays, too?"
"Yes, cello. But I believe he has more of an inclination to the drums." Quatre seemed ready to laugh but contained his mirth.
Usagi was in awe. "And Rei? Trowa? Why, we have a band just between the five of you!"
"Rei plays the cello also, Trowa the flute," Hiiro clipped before giving Usagi a moment to gape.
Quatre turned to her casually and smiled charmingly. "And you, Miss Usagi?"
She blinked as if startled by the question and finally replied, "I used to sing."
Hiiro raised an eyebrow. "Used to?"
"It's not something I do regularly anymore." She smiled a little at her repetition of Hiiro's earlier reply.
"You must sing for us sometime," Quatre murmured and at her hesitant expression, he added, "I insist."
"Oh, I couldn't possibly-"
He turned his pellucid blue eyes to her and seemed to envelop her with startling earnestness. "Please. I entreat you."
She looked down and blushed. "Only if you play more Chopin."
Quatre smiled as if amused by her bashfulness. "Only if Hiiro will join me."
"Only over my dead body." Hiiro growled. Quatre laughed a little, surprisingly coldly, at Hiiro's perverseness.
"Come now, Hiiro. If I recall correctly, you keep a very lovely violin in this house. You'll give us the pleasure, won't you?"
"Yes, Hiiro, please." Usagi turned big blue eyes to her companion and gazed at him pleadingly. Hiiro mentally sighed at his powerlessness in the face of her request and nodded his consent. Walking over to the piano, he rang a small, silver bell, and ordered the replying maid to retrieve his violin.
As they waited, Quatre diverted their attentions from the strangely endearing way Hiiro was eyeing Usagi. "Where are the others?"
Hiiro looked up and quirked an eyebrow, his bangs falling messily in front of one stormy blue eye before he made it shift away with a casual toss of his head. "They're still eating outside. You want to join them?"
"No, not hungry. Still quite jetlagged, I'm afraid. The things I do for my bloody relatives." Quatre chuckled darkly, almost curtly. Usagi decided it was a unpleasant laugh but when paired with his features and genteel manners, she couldn't bring herself to fear or fault him. The blonde glanced over at Usagi and seemed to be reminded that she was still with them. "Oh, excuse my language." The apology seemed to lack depth and was too propped up to be genuine, but again Usagi dismissed this angel's peccadilloes.
"I'm not hungry either," she hesitated, "You are from England, Mr. Winner?"
"Please call me Quatre." She hardly needed an invitation; she was already calling him far more endearing things than Quatre in her head. "And yes, London to be specific. I'm here in the States for a family reunion, so I must gratefully and very regretfully depart my host's home tomorrow afternoon."
"I see." The violin chose that moment to arrive. Only then did Usagi notice that Hiiro was silently fuming and looking very pointedly at the wood floor upon which Quatre's shadow rested. The blonde shifted, his shadow shifting with him, and Hiiro looked up as if just waking from a nightmarish trance in which he rid the world of the shadow and its owner.
"Shall we play?" the blonde invited.
Hiiro replied with a short grunt and moved to tune his instrument. Usagi watched, fascinated, as Quatre stepped again onto the pedestal and readjusted the piano stool; she scrutinized his slightest movements with the painstaking detail of a lover.
"Let's go outside. I'll have some of the help move the piano." Hiiro's words startled her out of her reverie just as Quatre caught her watching him and hid a smile.
"Are you sure? It's perfectly pleasant in here," Usagi stuttered. Surely moving an entire piano would be a lot of work. And Quatre did look so lovely under the golden glow of the theater-like lights overhead.
"No, I would prefer it. Wouldn't you agree, Quatre?" The question was added as an afterthought and sounded almost sarcastic.
Quatre's expression remained tranquil as he stood again in one fluid motion. "Certainly, if it isn't too much trouble."
With that, Hiiro instructed his help to lift the grand from its pedestal, open his front doors wide, and roll it onto the beach.
Rei spied them approaching and her gaze fixated on the blonde addition to their party. "Oh, Quatre, I knew that lovely playing had to be you."
"You're too kind, Rei." His smile was endless as he approached her and kissed her on both cheeks. He then moved on to shake hands with Trowa and Duo as all three patted each other on the backs with the awkward formality of friends who hadn't seen each other in too long. "Lovely to see you gentlemen again." After the brief reunion and at Rei's smile and nod to the piano, Quatre strode back to the instrument to join Hiiro.
"Will you bestow upon us the pleasure?" The smile seemed to make Rei's words blush.
Quatre rewarded her with a smile. "The pleasure is all mine." He turned to Hiiro standing beside the piano. "Shall we begin?" Hiiro responded with a curt nod and then the most rich, glorious music filled the small space between the house and the wide open sea. The molten notes of gold flowed into each other to paint a euphonious image of velvet, dark chocolate, and verdant sorrow.
In the music's luxurious wake, Rei and Trowa started to dance. Usagi was gazing at them appreciatively as Duo approached her from behind; she didn't notice him until he was practically at her elbow.
"May I have this dance, m'lady?" He bowed a little, his dark bangs falling into violet eyes only shielded by long eyelashes.
She smiled in acceptance. "Of course." His arms encircled her, one coming to rest at the small of her back and the other to grasp hers. The warmth emanating from his body was decidedly comforting and Usagi felt herself slightly entranced by the smell of his cologne that swirled lazily around him only to enhance his mobile mouth, masculine jaw line, and intensely liquid cobalt eyes. Night had just settled in and she paused a moment in their hypnotic swaying to look up at the sky and thank God for such a beautiful evening.
"Oh, there are meteors," she said hushedly.
Duo leaned in until his chest almost brushed tantalizingly against hers and breathed in the scent of her hair, murmuring, "Yes, this was the second part of the surprise."
"Amazing," she whispered in return, not seeming to take notice of or mind his increasing proximity.
"Yes." Duo paused and chuckled lowly. "There's a third surprise."
"What is it?"
"You'll see." And so the intimate conversation drew to an enigmatic close. The candles at the table were burning out one by one, smothered slowly by the water that was bound to doom them from the start. The darkness around them became deeper and more tangible by the moment.
He pulled away just a little to get a good look at her dreamy eyes, still focused on the small slices of silver through the dark granite of the night sky. He leaned a little closer, his breathing feathery against her cheek and paused as if daring her to pull away. When she didn't, he leaned even closer, inch by inch, until his breath was not yet cooled by the time it touched her skin. Only then did she become aware of the distance between their faces and her eyes swung to meet his. In the back of his mind, he noted that the violin had stopped its plaintive melody but the piano continued on with its clarity of notes, but he was distracted. At that moment, she gazed at him as if just now seeing him, her lips slightly parted. A small tongue flicked out and rewetted them. It must've been then that he lost his control.
"May I cut in?" Usagi jerked back and the trance was broken. Duo mentally cursed the intruder upon their interlude.
"No," he growled, not letting go of Usagi and looking up to glare at Hiiro.
"Excuse me?" The phrase was uttered softly, almost gently as if the speaker dared Duo to challenge him again.
Duo narrowed his eyes sarcastically. "The violin was beautiful. Why did you stop?"
Hiiro edged closer and lowered his voice so that it might hold all the hatred that was rumbling from within him. "Fuck you."
Usagi looked from one brother to the other and decided now was a good time to interject. "Please, Hiiro, do finish the song. The violin was lovely." He silenced her with a glare, his jaw muscles tight to the point where he almost looked crazed. Without another disdainful glance at Duo, he grabbed her wrist almost violently and started pulling her away. She almost cried out against the pain but instead bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The metallic taste reminded her of Hiiro's eyes.
"Come, there's something I want to show you."
"Hiiro! No! Let go!" She struggled heroically but he only held on tighter as he pulled her towards the beach, his icy fingers demanding heat from her soft flesh. "I said, let go!" She finally managed to shake him off, though she was pretty sure her success was largely due to his letting go. As soon as she was free, Usagi rounded on him, cerulean eyes flashing like silver tinted blue. "Why're you always like this?! You can't possibly be interested in me. I'm nothing, remember? You called me nothing! Everyday you still believe I'm nothing! Why are you doing this?!" She felt like she would go crazy if he didn't give her an answer this time.
Instead, he replied with his own accusations, gesticulating wildly around him. "I did all of this for you. Do you understand that?! I did all the arranging, all the planning, all the surprises – the sunset, the candles, the flowers, the beach, the meteors, the dolphins-"
Her anger broke. "Dolphins?"
"Yes, the goddamn dolphins. I made sure everything was perfect for you. Don't you understand that!? And what do you do? You dance with my brother as if he planned everything. You stare at my English prep school friend as if he's a god. You glare at me as if I'm some sort of monster. What're you trying to do?! What're you doing to me?!" He was already going crazy waiting for an answer.
"Dolphins..." Usagi stared out into the dark waters in wonder at the vague forms not far into the distance. "They're dolphins?"
Hiiro eyed her sullenly, his dark hair even more windswept by the sea breeze, gentle tendrils falling in front of those eyes that matched the color of the ocean at night. "Yes, damn it, they are. They like this beach. The water is warmer."
"Will they let me approach them?" She was already walking toward them.
He followed her just to make sure the jealous sea didn't steal her away from him. "Sure, they're friendly creatures."
The water was already a little above her waist before a dolphin timidly approached her. She brushed her fingers gently against its slippery exterior and laughed a little at its delighted click-chirping. Hiiro approached her from behind and rested a hesitant hand upon her still dry shoulder. "Dance with me."
She glanced back at him, a little taken aback. "Oh, I-"
And that was that. His arms encircled her waist because the sand beneath them was too precarious to allow normal dancing, and he pulled her to him more closely than she had ever been to Duo. After a brief moment of even more distant notes of Chopin, he leaned his head in until it rested on hers. Hiiro closed his eyes briefly and relished the feel of her next to him, separated only every once a while by a thin layer of water and wet fabric. "You are the most frustrating creature ever, you know that?"
Usagi was silent, wondering if she should be backing away and heading toward the beach. But the water was so cold, and Hiiro, despite all the frigidity of his personality, was so very warm. His strong arms around her kept the icy grips of the water at bay, and his chest against hers felt like the promontory that would be her salvation if she were ever lost at sea.
"I don't know what I see in you. But whatever it is…" Hiiro broke off and looked off at the horizon pensively. The night was so dark now that it was difficult to discern the sky from the ocean. They passed the next few minutes in silence before a particularly forceful current swept toward land and the sand under their feet shifted. Usagi slipped and Hiiro barely had time to catch her before falling on top of her. A split second passed as both became intensely aware of how their bodies pressed against each other's before Hiiro kicked at the water and regained his footing. He made sure she was steady before letting her go and wiping the stinging salt water from his eyes. Chopin came to a gentle close. Usagi was visibly shivering and for one of the few times in his life, Hiiro noticed somebody else's discomfort before his own. "Come, you need dry clothing."
She gently shrugged off the arm he wound around her shoulder to pull her close. "This was a beautiful night, Hiiro. Thank you, but…"
"There's a but?"
She took a deep breath as if to draw courage from the salty night air. "I'm probably being really dense but I don't know what you're after, Hiiro. Why're you doing all this? Am I nothing more than leverage against Duo?"
"You don't know why I'm doing all this?" he asked incredulously.
"Well, whatever the reason, I really can't say that I feel any inclination to reciprocate. Really, I-" He leaned in before she could react and pressed his lips forcefully against hers. Usagi had wondered before sometimes what Hiiro's lips might feel like; they were so perfect that they almost seemed sculpted. With them against hers, she could indeed verify that they were unrelenting and smooth like those of a Greek god's sculpture, but at the same time they were hot and demanding enough that it was obvious they didn't belong to an inanimate piece of art. She was limp for a brief moment before she started struggling. Finally, she freed one arm from his embrace and with a smack that was quickly fought over and swallowed by the ravenous night and ocean, she slapped him. He pulled away sharply to see her shuddering, this time not from the cold but rather from suppressed anger. "You…you..."
He schooled his expression from one of shock and hurt to bitterness and mockery. "You're right. You're nothing. You're just my attempt to conquer Duo." His words echoed in the hollowness of his heart, each reverberation convincing him a bit more that they were untrue.
"Go to hell," she whispered, too surprised by his assertion despite her earlier misgivings to come off as intensely as she had hoped.
"I'll meet you there," he rejoined before turning back towards the beach. She watched him go and gritted her teeth as he mock saluted her without turning around. He had already disappeared into the beach house by the time she reached land.
Quatre was just starting another Chopin; the sad strains in a different minor key made her heart throb more painfully than the last song. Duo approached her while Rei and Trowa hung back, giving the two their much-needed space.
The braided man hugged her first despite her drenched clothing. He pulled away and searched her face anxiously for pain or heartbreak. "Are you okay? Did he do anything to you?"
"I'm fine," she answered distractedly. "All of my opinions of Hiiro have just been reaffirmed." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rei turn and whisper something to Trowa. Trowa nodded solemnly as if to reply but didn't look to meet Rei's questioning gaze.
Duo was silent for a minute as if thinking through the implications of her statement. "Come on, you need dry clothes." He led her into the house and ordered a nearby maid to get a change of clothes. As they waited, he pulled his dress shirt off and draped it over her. She was too busy shivering to stare at his half nakedness. "You know, Usagi, Hiiro really went to a great deal of trouble to create this night. I'm sorry I hadn't thought of it." Duo laughed a little and for some reason it sounded sad. "Must be from the books he's been reading all the time."
Usagi refused to look up from the wood floor, her eyes tracing the half natural, half artificial grain of the light-colored wood. She had scolded her heart several times already to stop beating so quickly, but even she had to admit that Hiiro's closeness and attention had affected her. "It was all a façade. It was all just his trying to outdo you. How do you live with that? Isn't it better to just leave?"
"Suffering breeds character," Duo sighed and quirked a smile at his hypocrisy. "Besides, I was adopted, so I know what it's like to not have this beach house, the spring breaks in Tokyo, the castle in Scotland. More than anything, I know what it's like to not have enough to eat. It's comfortable here. I don't think I can go back to the orphanage and scavenging on the streets."
"You're almost eighteen. You can take loans and go to college." Her tone was bordering on accusatory.
Duo glanced at her, his blue-violet eyes solemn. "I want to go to Harvard or Cambridge. I need to. Besides, I have become accustomed to this type of living."
"Oh. Harvard or Cambridge, huh?" She sighed upon hearing yet another set of lofty goals.
"Yeah, the competition is both ways." Duo laughed and nodded a little as if to himself. "I have a need to outdo Hiiro, too. But I never was really competition in the academic field. Hiiro is something of a genius. The son of a bitch has a photographic memory or something crazy like that. Makes his father proud." Bitterness made Duo's voice crack; Usagi forgave him for it.
"I guess I can understand the sibling rivalry. I don't know what I plan to do for college. Maybe I'll take a year off. Maybe I'll apply to Julliard. Maybe I'll barter my way into Cambridge."
Duo looked up at her. "Julliard?"
"For singing. I like to sing." She smiled at him and finally noticed his bare chest. Blushing, she turned away; he hid a small smile.
"You must sing for us sometime," he murmured, his lips barely moving.
"Perhaps I will." Her face was still averted to avoid looking at his state of undress.
Duo leaned back on the small sofa and laughed out loud. "You never cease to amaze me."
She glanced at him again. "Oh? With my absolute normality?" Realizing her slip-up, Usagi quickly looked away, again blushing.
Duo felt like kissing her hands at the childish gesture. "No, with your spirit, your interests, your reactions," he smiled fondly as if at a memory. "You remind me of someone I used to love."
Usagi was silent. Duo leaned a little closer and only by the shifting weight on the sofa did Usagi realize what he was doing. Just in time, she turned her head away and his soft lips met her blushing cheek. The maid returned at that moment with a silk and lace nightgown. Without a word, Usagi accepted the article of clothing and went to the bathroom to change, leaving Duo slightly disappointed and slightly amused.
By the time she came out, Quatre had joined Duo, the two chatting like old friends over two cups half filled with red wine. Rei and Trowa remained outside and Hiiro was nowhere to be found.
Duo looked up first, but Quatre beat him to words. "It complements you." The blonde smiled his appreciation of it and raised his glass to her, his long, slender fingers curling with an aristocratic air around the stem of the wineglass.
Usagi colored as Duo's eyes narrowed. "Thank you, I think I'll retire." She bowed to excuse herself and the maid came to show her her room. They climbed the stairs together and for some reason, she could feel Duo's and Quatre's eyes following her retreating form; maybe the nightgown really looked that good on her. She almost laughed at the thought.
The maid increased the lightening as they entered Usagi's room and the blonde smiled as she was indeed greeted by the sight of the billowing white curtains that Rei had promised. The canopy bed of white chiffon had just enough layers to hide its occupant but not enough to be oppressive during the hottest days of summer. As she let down her hair and combed through it, she thought through the night's dizzying array of events and suppressed a small sigh. Despite her suspicions about Hiiro, Usagi felt she had treated him unjustly and for the space of some fifteen seconds almost had herself convinced to go knock on Hiiro's door to apologize. But she thought better of it and instead climbed into bed. Alas, the effort was useless and before she knew it, she was pulling aside the sliding door to the balcony and stepping out into the salty night air again.
Quatre was back outside, his fingers once again inexorably attracted to the piano. This time instead of Hiiro on the violin, Duo accompanied the blonde with the lush yet mellow intonations of a cello. Rei and Trowa appeared to have retired.
Usagi rested her chin on her elbows which were propped up on the finely wrought balcony rail. She watched them almost secretively, mesmerized by the music and their beatific countenances.
A violin cut into the music like a knife so sharp that it causes no pain and draws very little blood. Usagi started as its higher notes melded harmoniously in with those of Duo and Quatre. She turned to her left and on that adjacent balcony was Hiiro with his chin resting upon the same violin as earlier. Though his fingers moved deftly up and down the violin and his other arm wove majestically and vibrated appropriately to add vibrato, his eyes never once wavered from her face.
Without realizing it herself, Usagi began to sing. When she did realize that the strange addition of a voice was actually hers, Usagi marveled at the clarity of her tone and the expression of her notes despite the lack of words. She turned from Hiiro's piercing gaze and looked out into the distant darkness again. From her vantage point, the intermittently streaming meteors and dark forms of dolphins breaking through the waves combined to form one consummate picture of Hiiro's efforts, romance, and adoration. Usagi closed her eyes briefly and wished she could encase that image into her memory forever. When she opened them again, she saw Duo and Quatre both looking up, being alerted to her presence by her voice which never stopped. They were smiling. For a moment, she felt the heavy weight of three pairs of eyes – Hiiro's, Duo's, and Quatre's – upon her frail shoulders. She smiled back shakily.
She headed back down to the beach, her voice prevailing through the house and into the night air. The song drew to a muted close as she approached the grand piano again.
"I think I'll go sleep." Duo put the cello back into its case lovingly, gave her a breath of a kiss on the cheek, and went into the house. Usagi looked up searchingly at Hiiro's balcony and found that he, too, had disappeared inside.
As if sensing her thoughts, Quarter said, "I'll stay up a little longer."
"I'm still on British time, I believe." He let his shoulders drop in resignation but grinned good-naturedly. "Any requests?"
She found herself smiling back. "Surprise me."
He started another Chopin, commenting to her, "I love this piece. I learned it when I was seven."
Her eyebrows disappeared under her bangs. "You're a prodigy?"
Quatre suppressed a chuckle. "Hardly. Just an avid learner."
"You seem like a prodigy." Quatre shrugged but smiled mysteriously as if silently confirming her statement.
She let the music infuse her veins and lungs a little before speaking again. "Do you know those four all very well?"
Quatre didn't even blink. "Yes, we all attended the same conservatoire as children and our families are connected."
"Oh." Usagi sighed and sat down on the sand beside him. "I don't understand any of them. I wish I'd never met them."
"I hope you wouldn't say the same for me." She caught him looking at her with barely suppressed amusement.
"Of course not! You're very charming."
He turned back to the keys. "My mother says I have happy manners. I think she's stuck too much in the Victorian era and doesn't know me well enough."
Usagi fought back a more blatant look of disbelief. "Really? I would have to agree with her."
Quatre looked up again from his hands and smiled. There was something wintry about that smile that made her heart quiver a little in fear. "You don't know me at all, Miss Usagi."
"But first impressions are vital," she argued, despite the small but blooming misgivings of her heart.
"Not always." The blonde laughed darkly. "Certainly don't judge by your first impressions of the four in the house. You might not guess it, but of them all, Hiiro might be the most naïve and unaffected."
Usagi almost snorted. "That's hard to believe."
"Yes, well, Hiiro is very blunt. He doesn't lie. He's manipulative and intelligent, yes, but forthright to a fault. He's not good at keeping secrets, you see, and not good at accommodating others." Quatre paused to consider the compliments he just paid to Hiiro. "Isn't honesty a nice virtue? Hiiro has it. Perhaps it's the most important virtue of all."
Usagi frowned. "I'm not sure I can agree. Just the other day Hiiro was-"
"Please, I'm not very interested in other people's lives," Quatre interrupted her smoothly, flashing a charming smile as he continued playing. The words desiccated in her throat as Usagi blinked at him. "You need to watch your step. I can say with certainty that I don't have happy manners. But aren't we all contradictions? You ask anything of me and I'd be willing to exert my fullest efforts. Does that make me an angel?"
Usagi frowned to herself as she lied back onto the sand. If what Quatre said was correct, was she in fact surrounded by blonde demons acting as angels and dark-haired angels who loved her the way only demons can?
As Usagi drifted off to sleep, her half-lucid dreams were plagued by angels and demons though it was very difficult to tell who was which. All that stood out in the blur was a pair of eyes, one a deep oceanic blue and the other a liquid blue-violet, and both seemed to be saying to her – please, stay with me forever; be next to me every morning when I wake.
Sigh, a tiring chapter. This took upwards of six hours, not all in one sitting, of course. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did; I really did come off as quite sappy in this chapter if I do so say so myself. : And I wasn't planning on introducing Quatre into the mix until later, but here's a brief preview. Unfortunately, as he said himself, he has a family reunion to get to and will depart his host tomorrow…only to return later. : As always, thank you for reading. Yours, Ange-.
Isabel Archer – the protagonist from Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady
Eton – a very famous school in England that bred as 18 British Prime Ministers … like a prep school, where Quatre and the others met and spent some of their earlier teenage years.