Disclaimer: Blahblah. You know what that meant. :3
My Christmas fic! :D Another New York setting. xD; (I'm obsessed. Haha.)
At first I thought I wasn't going to make it. O.O; I didn't start writing until Monday, I think, and I got so fed up with the first few scenes because, honestly, they were quite atrocious. (I haven't written in … wow … 2 months? O.o; That last few chapters I'd uploaded had been written a while before they were uploaded, actually. :3). But, well, I managed to get through it all. :D Yay for me! xD;
Ah right … notes, notes…
1. It starts out horribly.
2. The sap is horrible. :O Horrible, I say, horrible!
3. A perfect ending? What's that? xD;
4. I'd written this after watching Life Is Beautiful in English class. :3 That's what inspired the Italian. xD;
5. There is French! My goodness! xD; I assure you, I don't know French. And I didn't learn French these last few days. I used an online translator. Now, I know how inaccurate those can be because I've used them before for Spanish and it was just … scary. Lol. So please excuse me beforehand for totally screwing up the French. --; I'm sure I did. And you're sure I did. So let's be sure I did together. :D I'll provide a translation of what I'd meant to say at the end. xD; (it sure looked pretty in print though. :D).
6. I don't know if there is any French royalty today. In fact, I don't think there is. O.o; Because I searched and didn't get anything. But … just work with me, all right? xD; I didn't want to do British royalty … with their lorries and trousers. Lol. Kidding, kidding. :3 It was for the purpose of having a third language in here. :3
7. I think you would consider Hiiro OOC … though I somewhat tried to minimize it … and somewhat didn't. --;
8. This is based off of Come to My Place!. Lol. Another Chinese soap opera. xD; Not completely, of course. The story is hardly similar. But the occupations are. xD;
9. Relena was kind of influenced by Chii. :O Lol. Can you imagine? xD; And the clothing was a bit influenced by Chobits. xD; (sans a bit of the frilliness).
10. The Four Seasons information was accurate. xD; And the travel time! Wow research! Lol. Man, a deluxe one-bedroom suite. ;-; I want, I want! xD;
(.an angelight christmas fic.)
He was there.
She had seen him less than five minutes ago, and he had caused a glitch in Silent Night which she'd hardly managed to smooth over and finish before her fingers turned cold and clumsy, as rigid as in death.
When he had first entered, his face had been cast in shadow and his form tight, the frigidity of an NYC winter marring his careless grace. She had swept a casual glance toward him and his coworkers, noting the dark suit matched with the off-white cashmere scarf.
He must lead a charmed life, she had told herself, smiling introspectively and letting her fingers wander over the keys, sliding gently and smoothly like liquid gold.
But the instant he looked up to answer a question, she knew him. And the gold became brittle and twisted. Silent Night continued but the atmospheric quality of the music was gone, leaving with that whooshing departure of calm that exited her lungs.
The piano blocked the sight of him after they were seated, blocked the sight of his dark, wind-swept hair and his brittle and twisted smile.
Muted applause and murmurs of praise followed the song, but the evening was lost. She might as well have had been a player piano, for the upsurge of holiday spirit and emotion no longer left via her fingertips but rather her eyes as she stared through the raised top of the piano into the recesses of her memory.
"You played horribly tonight."
Usagi shot Duo an irritated look. "And what did you do? Pour drinks for people." She wrinkled her nose and turned away from him. "I'm sure you performed beautifully. In fact, I heard one couple say they were going to invite you over to their house just so they could watch you pour drinks."
He looked a little taken aback by her intensity but the expression was gone by the time she turned back to face him. Setting a piece of chocolate cake in front of her, he leaned forward onto the bar and studied her through half-closed eyes. "I also listen to people's problems."
"I don't have any problems," she muttered as a slow smile curved Duo's mouth upward. Seeing it, she blanched and snapped, "What?"
"I've been told I give good advice. Five dollars only. Cake comes free of charge."
She looked down and stared through the counter. "No thanks, Duo. Maybe in the future."
"All right, all right, I understand. I-I mean, if that's all the five years of friendship means to you, I can take a hint." He stood up and turned away from her. "I mean, it's only f-five years and really, when you think about it, what can you do in five years? Why, you can't even get a more than a bachelor's degree in five y-"
She slammed her palms onto the bar and let go of a heavy breath. "Okay, okay, I get it! Maybe tomorrow evening, if he comes again."
He whirled around. "Gratzi, Principesa!" he exclaimed in a bad Italian accent before catching her hand and bringing it to his lips in mock civility.
Usagi yanked it away and laughed, pushing his head back with one finger, affectionately rejoining, "Estupidoto!" in an equally bad Italian accent.
Five dollars for Duo's advice. Five hundred dollars for quality Italian lessons. Five hundred million dollars of family prestige, heritage, and fortune for her love.
He had told her that after she'd uttered yes, and she had laughingly agreed.
Sometimes she'd wondered if that was where the problems had all started. Was that the seed that bore the ultimate bitter fruit?
He was a marquis, he'd told her. Or was it a baron? She hadn't even realized that marquises and barons still existed!
Five hundred million dollars for her love.
Was five hundred million enough for his love?
In a moment of insecurity, she had blurted that question out to him and had been surprised by the gravity of his answer, of his countenance. She was a Seurat, a da Vinci, a Hopper, a princesse, he'd asserted. She was worth much more than five hundred million dollars.
But however much that was, it clearly wasn't enough.
"$1,200 for the rent, $100 more for the gas bill, $100 for the car, $30 for transportation … that leaves you-" a giggle escaped Ami, and Usagi looked up apprehensively, "about $25 for Christmas shopping."
Usagi sighed and massaged her eyes with one hand. "What am I supposed to do with twenty-five dollars?"
Ami looked up over her coffee and smiled a little. "Use it for your family. Duo and I can live without Christmas presents from you."
"Maybe I'll just send them cards." She pushed the coffee aside unsympathetically and buried her head in her arms.
"With pictures of you. They'll understand. You're young."
"Mom is going to nag again. About how I should've stayed in college instead of pursuing music." She sat up and, with one hand on her hip, jabbed a finger at Ami's nose. "Music?! Of all things?! And instrumental music too! What, are you crazy? If you want to go into music, at least be a pop star! Who are you?! Where's my baby?! Where's my blood pressure medication?!"
Ami choked back a giggle as Usagi released her posture and went back to looking deflated.
"That reminds me. Duo mentioned something strange last night." When Usagi didn't respond, Ami looked away in defeat. "Am I too much of a stranger to share it with?"
"The person who ruined my life came to the café."
Ami looked startled. "Your mother?" When Usagi didn't even flinch, she knew there was something wrong.
The blonde looked out the window at passerby and the dirty remnant of the snow from that morning as evening bled to an artificial night filled with the bright spots of color from Christmas lights and excited children's cheeks. A moment of heavy silence passed filled only with the sound of the bustling café and the gentle tinkle of the bell every time somebody came in or went out. "I don't want to talk about it, Ami."
Usagi started as Ami laid a warm hand over hers. "It's okay. That's all in the past now."
The blonde nodded but didn't seem to hear her.
He was there again with his coworkers; they'd entered the room just a few moments ago with the tinkling of the bell and had seemed to be discussing something quite seriously in the delicate atmosphere of their café-bar hybrid. But he didn't look as if he were paying attention at all.
She resolved to play well that night and not allow the sight of him disturb her. Usagi smiled at her uncommon self-control as the calm strains of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas filled the dimly-lit room.
"Do you like it?"
"Actually, I thought it was quite strange for the photographer to fill this entire display room with just pictures of himself." She laughed a little. "Egotistic much?"
"Well I'd intended for this to be a display of self-exploration." He bowed a little as she whirled around and stared at him in mortification.
"I-I'm very sorry. I didn't mean to…" She trailed off as he walked on as if she hadn't spoken.
"Like this one for example. This series. From happiness to sorrow, at both ends the extremes, at both ends a sense of disquiet while only the middle is tranquil. Do you see it?"
"I-yes. How did you know to speak English to me?"
He opened his mouth as if about to reply truthfully but then shut it and shrugged. "Luck."
Somehow she doubted it. He seemed like a man of observation, and she took a moment to marvel at the faint European accent that tinged his staccato words.
"You play quite well." He nodded toward the piano curtly. "It suited this collection."
Usagi beamed. "Thank you. I do like your work, truthfully, along with all your other viewers," she added quickly. "Even if it's a little self-centered."
He looked vaguely amused but didn't smile, replying sedately, "Thank you." He cleared his throat, and she looked up questioningly. "There's going to be a celebration after this exhibition leaves this museum. Would you care to attend it with me?" No bashfulness marred his arching tone, and he met her gaze fully, eyes piercing and persevering.
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be in Paris after this exhibition," she admitted and lifted and dropped her shoulders minutely. "It's almost Christmas, and my mother wants me to have Christmas dinner with the family."
"It will be tomorrow evening. A gala. I will send the clothing and accessories to your hotel room."
Usagi blinked. There was still much forcefulness in his tone and statements despite her ambiguous answer. She nodded awkwardly and smiled. "How can I refuse an offer like that?" Then, tightening her hold on her purse, she said, "I should probably get going now. You already know how to contact me, yes?"
"Yes, I have a hotel room to which I was directed to send the check."
"All right then. It was nice meeting you, Monsieur Yui." She held out her hand to shake, briefly wondering over the tepid word "nice" but not getting far in her thoughts before he bowed over her hand and brushed his lips against it. He straightened stiffly and looked unflustered and blank as if he had done it out of habit and tradition rather than with intention.
"I shall send somebody to pick you up tomorrow evening."
"O-okay," she stuttered. "I'll see you then."
She had then walked into the rain, the night, and breathed it in – the dust, the tactile smell of wetness, oxygen being pounded into the ground so it was difficult to breathe. (N)
It wasn't until she had gotten onto the metro back to her hotel that Usagi realized M. Yui hadn't smiled even once since she'd met him.
"Hey, snap out of it, principesa!"
Usagi whirled around to throw a dirty look in the direction of Duo's resounding voice to find he was right behind her.
"That guy's been trying to get a picture of you forever. I guess you don't look sophisticated enough from any angle," he laughed and clapped her on the back so hard that her head almost had a most unfortunate musical encounter with the piano keys.
"Picture?" she muttered while mentally promising to shove a Christmas ornament down Duo's throat.
Usagi jumped and hesitated to turn to her right. When she did, she saw him kneeling by the piano stool examining her through the lens of a camera. He lowered it slowly, and she drew in a painful breath of air.
Duo sighed, patted her on the head playfully, and in a joking tone said, "Sorry man. She really can pose quite well when she tries. I mean, just look at this! Look at these regal cheekbones-"
"I am well acquainted with those cheekbones, Monsieur," he replied in all seriousness, his stern, blue-gray eyes of a certain aloofness meeting hers with quiet sobriety. "If I could speak with you more privately…?"
She consented by gently lowering the lid of the piano and standing up. "Duo can I make up the hours to you l-"
"Not a problem, principesa," he replied easily, cutting through her timid words.
She reached for her coat and put it on pensively, stalling for more time to think. He was already waiting beside the front entrance.
"Don't run away from him, Usagi," Duo murmured to her and gave her a gentle push toward the door.
She sighed and replied almost sorrowfully. "If anybody runs away, it's probably going to be him."
"You haven't changed."
She delighted for a moment in his accent before reminding herself of the situation.
They were right outside the café, a little ways from the door and standing close to the building so they wouldn't get in the way of passerby.
"You still play beautifully."
Usagi nodded her thanks, head bowed and clutching the coat tightly around her. "What brings you to New York?"
"Congratulations," she replied reflexively.
He looked a little surprised when she peeked up at him. "For what?"
"For having the courage to talk to me."
A long, deathly frigid moment of silence passed before she shifted and breathed out heavily in defeat. "I should go back in. Time is money, you know." She started walking toward the door and had to admit to the taste of disappointment at the back of her throat.
"I'm sorry, princesse."
She stopped but didn't turn around, vaguely startled by his use of that nickname again.
"I'm sorry for leaving so suddenly."
Usagi took a deep breath and urged her voice to be as smooth as glass. "Leaving so suddenly?"
"Will you pose for me?"
The apology had come and gone so quickly that Usagi wondered if he knew truly what he was apologizing for.
"For this exhibition. I'm staying at the Four Seasons. Ask for me at the counter and-"
"No. I won't pose for you, Hiiro." She resumed walking toward the entrance.
"Another chance, princesse."
His voice was moderate, but to her it seemed as if he were shouting. Her hand against the door fell.
"Why should I give you another chance?" she muttered and somehow he managed to hear.
"Because this time it'll work." He was right behind her.
She turned and pushed him away; he fell back a step. "It would have worked three years ago, too." Her tone was notches above accusing.
"I was young."
Usagi looked up and met his eyes, stinging them with her vehement animosity. "So was I."
"I didn't know what to do. My parents demanded for me to return home."
"So you left me at the altar!" Tears fell from her eyes, and she wiped them away angrily, turning aside so he couldn't see her red eyes.
A few people on the streets paused and glanced over but hurried on without stopping. Christmas was only five days away and there was still much to do.
He sighed and looked down at his shoes. "My parents didn't approve of you."
"And you agreed with them."
"That's not what I said," he retorted, glancing at her but maintaining his distance.
"It's only what you meant."
A moment of boisterous silence ticked by.
"I'm not married yet."
"You're engaged," she finished.
"That's why I'm here. To see if I did the right thing three years ago."
Usagi looked up, incredulous. "You came to New York to compare me to Princess Relena? Let me save you some time, Monsieur. I will never be able to come even close to her." She turned to push the door open again.
"My mother is dead." Usagi froze. "It's my choice this time."
Her warm breath made the glass on the door foggy as she closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against it. Finally, she shifted and stood. "When?"
"Tomorrow. Eleven in the morning."
She pushed the door open and stepped inside.
"See you then, princesse."
Usagi stiffened at the sound and turned to hide her face. Ami laughed and waved for Duo to come over.
"Who were you calling out to?" she asked teasingly as Usagi turned to make a face at Duo.
He pecked Ami on the cheek and grinned. "You, of course, gorgeous."
"Liar," Usagi muttered.
"Shut up, Usagi," he told her through gritted teeth, but she laughed him off.
Ami cleared her throat and smiled. "Isn't Usagi pretty, Duo? Say she's pretty, Duo."
"You're pretty," he exclaimed automatically. "Wait! What am I saying? You're not pretty, you're … you're…beautiful! Gorgeous! Magnificent! A-"
"Shut up, Duo," Usagi growled, mirroring his earlier phrase.
Ami took this as a sign to try again. "Wouldn't Usagi make a great model, Duo?"
He blinked and made a noncommittal sound. "A little short, if you ask m-" He yelped as Ami kicked him under the café table. "A great model, great model! Superb! The b-" Ami kicked him again.
"Thanks guys," Usagi sighed. "But Princess Relena is also beautiful and-"
"But you're more than beautiful, Usagi!" Ami beamed. "You're witty, you're cute, you're really good at the piano, you have a great personality, you-"
"Are not a princess," Usagi interrupted.
"In this day and age, who cares?" Duo laughed and waved the thought away. "And if Princess Relena is so perfect … well … she can just go climb a tree."
Ami looked a bit startled but quickly dismissed it as another one of Duo's anomalies.
"He cares. His entire household cares. His entire society cares." She turned to look out the window and sighed again.
Ami glanced at Duo, hoping for inspiration, but found none.
"It's almost time. You should get going."
The three stood together.
"You're gorgeous, principesa," Duo offered and patted her on the head. "We go with you in spirit," he laughed and pushed her toward the door good-humoredly.
"Here, try this on." Usagi started out of her reverie and barely had the time to catch the article of clothing thrown at her.
"A black dress?" she murmured to herself as Hiiro beckoned for her to follow him. She held it up in front of her and studied the modest neckline, the baby blue ribbons lacing it up in the back, highlighting the half sleeves, and the gentle spill of satin that comprised the full, calf-length skirt.
"You're going to just dress me up as a doll and have me pose? I thought this was art, not role play! Hiiro, you i-" She stopped short as they stepped through the private entrance foyer and entered the living room. A woman straightened and turned around in her seat. Usagi's heart stopped.
"Ah! Mademoiselle Tsukino, the friend Hiiro talked about."
Usagi's brain raced and begged her mouth to work. "Princess … Relena?"
The woman nodded and stood up, smiling. She'd clearly already changed into Hiiro's requested wardrobe, and her dress was a sister to hers, fashioned exactly the same save the white and rose that contrasted her black and cerulean. The two delicate colors brought out the soft hints of pink on her daintily pale skin.
"I can see why Hiiro chose you as his other modèle. Vous êtes une fleur."
"T-thank you," Usagi stuttered and fought the urge to bow to this poised lady. "It's nice finally meeting you."
"Le plaisir est le mien," Relena gracefully replied and held out her hand as if she expected Usagi to kiss it. At Usagi's awkward look, Relena cried, "Ah, pardonnez-moi! It is a custom to shake hands here, yes?"
Usagi laughed nervously and mentally berated her social ineptness as they shook.
"You should probably change now. I'd planned for us to finish before two in the afternoon." He laid his hands on her shoulders and turned her in the direction of the bathroom before pushing her gently.
She stumbled a little and glanced back to see Relena smiling beauteously at her.
"Une créature délicieuse, chéri." She heard Relena voice sweetly but didn't manage to hear Hiiro's reply before she closed and locked the door.
"Hiiro, you're such an idiot," she grumbled to herself as she slid into the dress. Usagi sighed as she straightened and let the skirt fall. "I wonder how Relena feels about this." Walking toward the full length mirror, she peered into her own eyes and murmured, "She said the friend of Hiiro. Is that what you told her, Hiiro?"
Usagi shook her head and stepped back again to admire how the blue ribbons brought out the color of her eyes and how the rich black contrasted her light-toned skin. "How did he know my size?" She laughed a little. "Maybe it's a French thing."
It wasn't until today that Usagi realized how true all the fashion magazines had been when they'd said French women were among the most sophisticated and elegant of women in the world. It wasn't until today, when she'd met the most French of French women.
"Now how am I supposed to tie these ribbons in the back?" she muttered.
She jumped at the sound of a curt knock on the door.
"Mademoiselle Tsukino? Are you all right?"
Usagi bit her lip at Hiiro's voice and mildly mocking formality and stuttered, "Uh, c-could you get Princess Relena to help me tie the back?"
She heard the lock click and turned to look. "How did you-?"
"Key," he replied shortly and strode to her, turning her until her back was to him.
Usagi blushed. "I asked for the Princess, not you."
"Why does she need to get up if I can do this myself?" Usagi thought she heard a faint note of teasing in his voice.
"What will she think?" She turned aside and looked at his profile in the mirror; she could feel his gentle breath against her back and watched his fingers tug at the ribbons with deliberate dexterity.
When he didn't answer, she continued. "She thinks I'm a friend, right?"
"The word friend has many meanings," he muttered.
"But she choose the innocent one."
"Elle est une dame innocente," he replied quietly and turned her to face the mirror. "Et vous êtes en effet une fleur." They were silent for a moment as Usagi looked and Hiiro saw. "It suits you." He seemed about to smile but then thought better of it. "We'll start now."
"How long have you and Hiiro been friends?" Relena inquired as she and Usagi sat and sipped hot chocolate while Hiiro put away the cameras, tripod, and lights.
"We were for a couple of months but then lost touch. I didn't meet him again until yesterday." She blew gently to cool the hot liquid. "Have you ever been to New York?"
"Once, with my papa. It was a long time ago. I was still une fille."
Usagi watched her eyes turn inward. "Did you like it?"
Relena seemed to start out of her reverie. "Yes, very much so! We came during Christmastime then too. The lights were magnifiques!" She heaved a sigh and set her cup down on the table. "We were going to come again, but Papa died before we got a chance. And Milliardo was never really interested in les Etats-Unis."
"I see." Usagi bowed her head and looked for the answer to an uncomfortable moment like this in her hot chocolate. "If you'd like, I can take you on a tour of New York."
Relena seemed startled at the very thought but smiled and nodded. "I'd like that." She was quiet for a moment before looking up to meet Usagi's eyes. "You're familiar with the song Silent Night, yes?"
"I like it very much. It was Papa's favorite song. Maman used to play it all the time. She loved the piano. Hiiro says you play very well." Relena shot her a questioning look.
"I know how to play," she answered modestly.
"You should play for us sometime."
Usagi smiled. "I'd love to."
The phone rang and in the other room, Hiiro picked up.
"How much longer are you staying?"
"Until the new year. We'll see each other again at Hiiro's Christmas exhibition."
"Relena, your chauffer is here."
Usagi and she both stood up. "I'll be leaving then, Mademoiselle Tsuki-"
"Usagi. Usagi is fine."
Relena nodded happily. "Usagi." She leaned over and kissed Usagi on the cheek before heading toward the foyer. Hiiro glanced at her before following Relena.
Usagi tried not to listen, but their murmured words drifted unabashedly to her ears.
"Je vous reverrai à l'objet exposé, chéri. Elle est une créature douce. Me rappelle Diana. Très inutilisé à la redevance mais à charmer très. J'espère la revoir bientôt."
"Vous aimez-vous changer avant qu'allez-vous, Relena? Il neige dehors."
"Non, je voudrais porter la robe de Hiiro pour un peu plus long."
"Portez alors ce manteau. Vous devriez prendre soin de vous-même."
"Au revoir, chéri. Je t'aime."
The door closed after her, and Hiiro reappeared in the room. Running a hand through his hair he stopped a couple of feet from her as if not daring to approach. "Would you like something to eat? It's already three. Stay. I'll order room service."
She nodded mutely but didn't meet his eyes, at that time wanting nothing more than to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, wanting to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover. (N)
"It's not a very formal lunch, princesse."
"Pizza?" Usagi laughed a little. "I'm afraid not, Hiiro."
He seemed ready to smile but didn't.
Her eyes scanned the contemporary neutral colors around her, the padded silk walls, and the English sycamore furnishings. They settled on staring out the 37th floor window at the Empire State building and downtown Manhattan.
"She is very sheltered, right?"
Hiiro looked up and then turned to view Manhattan with her. "Yes, her brother is very protective. Their father died when she was only eight, and their mother became useless due to grief."
Usagi sighed and pushed her plate away, not even finishing one slice. Hiiro didn't seem to notice.
"She was particularly heartbroken over the death of Princesse Diana. That was many years ago, but she was like a sister – or even mother – to her."
"How awful," Usagi murmured and bit her lip, fiddling with the ribbon at her sleeve. "She is wholly unspoiled, as they say. It's hard to believe she's also twenty-five."
"She said you reminded her of Diana."
Usagi started and met Hiiro's sharp, blue-gray eyes; a pang shot through her heart.
"Have you decided, Hiiro?"
"Decided on what, princesse?"
Normally she would have felt frustrated at his purposely avoiding the subject but at the moment, she just felt tired, and very sad. "On who you will…"
Hiiro was silent. "I've missed you, princesse."
"If you haven't decided…"
"I've missed you a lot."
"…then I'll d-"
He leaned over and quieted her with a soft kiss, slowly, carefully, as if having to force himself to be gentle with the frailty in the midst of his embrace. (N) Usagi sighed against his lips but didn't relax.
"New York seemed very far away the last three years," he whispered but still didn't smile. "La princesse seemed too far away to hope for."
The gentleness was washing away.
"You ran away from me. I waited for you for so long in that dress. I waited for-" she sobbed quietly before he silenced her with another kiss.
"Forgive, princesse. Forgive."
"Can I?" she asked aloud.
"Even if you can't," he replied. "Even if you can't." He clasped her hands and brought them to his lips, kissing each knuckle and looking up to meet her eyes. She was crying, and he leaned closer to touch his lips to the tears.
In her head, she heard faint strains of Silent Night, the song Hiiro'd ruined the day he showed up at the café again, the day he walked into her life, with dark suit and cashmere scarf, again. The song…
She pushed him away and stood quickly, stepping back two steps. He looked at her solemnly as if not at all surprised.
"If you haven't decided, Hiiro, then I'll decide for you." She walked into the foyer and was straightening her coat when Hiiro finally entered after her.
"You've decided, princesse?"
Usagi beamed at him. "Elle est une fleur, Hiiro, une fleur."
She opened the door, paused, her back to him, and took a deep breath. "Goodbye, Hiiro."
"Wait." He walked into the living room and then came back, sticking an envelope in her hand. "Tickets to the exhibition. I entreat you."
"Thank you," she whispered before walking out the door.
"Au revoir, princesse."
He stared after her for a long time.
"It's a most splendid exhibit."
"Yes, quite intriguing. Especially the culminating piece. Yui's name should be inscribed in photographic history by now."
"Definitely a worthy Christmas present."
"Where is she?"
Relena touched his arm gently as he paced agitatedly around, hardly hearing the copious compliments to his work. "We should leave for our flight soon, chéri. Is Mademoiselle Usagi not coming?"
He sighed and clenched his fists. "I invited her. Where is she?"
"She might not have known we are leaving early. I'd told her we'd be staying until New Year's Day. Couldn't you call her? She can still make it…" Relena trailed off and looked aside mournfully. "Are you angry, Hiiro?"
He stopped pacing briefly and looked at her. "Of course not. It's not as if we're never coming back."
Relena smiled, relieved. "I feel guilty saying this but for a long time after the photo shoot, I'd wondered if…" she laughed sheepishly. "I felt jealous for quite a while."
"You're allowed to feel jealous every once in a while, Relena."
"Princesse Relena et Compte Hiiro, we should have already left."
Hiiro stalled and finally relented. "All right, let's go, Relena."
She nodded, and he retrieved her coat for her.
They stepped into the luxury sedan and settled in for the half hour ride.
She viewed the displayed pieces in the International Center of Photography slowly, walking along leisurely.
A minute too late or three years too late made no difference. By the time she'd arrived, Hiiro and Relena had already left. Usagi had felt relief then, glad that she didn't have to see Hiiro again, glad that, more importantly, she didn't have to see Relena again.
For she had had too many doubts and second guesses.
There was a corner up ahead and as she approached it, the pictures became those of her and Relena from two days before, one of Relena, one of her, one laughter, one of sorrow, one together, another together…
She turned the corner and stopped short.
The last one was large, an apex, a peak. There was Relena and there was her captured in movement, in dancing. Their eyes blurred into the same blue, the ceruleans and pinks of their ribbons melted to lavender, their hands clasped together, the black of her dress flowed slowly into the white of Relena's, creating a variety of rich and deep grays.
She leaned to look at the title to the right of the piece.
"Do you like it?"
Usagi's shoulders tensed, and she hesitated to turn around. The four words were so very familiar, taking her three and a half years into the past, an eternity.
She turned to look, hardly daring to imagine that it was…
The man started at the sight of her and his eyes jumped to the picture and then back to her. "You're one of the subjects!" he exclaimed.
"He is very talented, no?"
She nodded again.
"Oh, pardon me! I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm Quatre Winner. At best, a contemporary of Mr. Yui's, at worst, an ardent admirer of his work." He laughed embarrassedly and stuck out his hand.
She shook it. "Usagi Tsukino, a … friend of his."
The notes of Silent Night rang through the café with elegant clarity as she closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. It was Christmas Eve, the most wonderful time of the year, and it was good that things were back to normal.
"Principesa!" Duo had greeted her when she'd first entered the café, and Ami, sitting at the bar, had looked up and smiled.
"Welcome back, Usagi."
Silent Night was coming to a close when she was jolted out of her thoughts by Duo's clapping her on the back so hard that her head almost had a most unfortunate musical encounter with the piano keys for the second time that week.
"Hey, snap out of it, principesa!"
She turned to glare at him after a brief moment of déjà vu.
"You were lost in your music again, huh? That guy's been trying to get a picture of you for forever! Man, my unsophisticated ugly duckling has been attracting so much attention these last few days." Duo laughed and patted her on the head.
She turned to her right just as he, kneeling with one elbow propped on her piano stool, lowered the camera and met her eyes with pellucid blue-green ones.
"Merry Christmas, princess."
And the rest, as the Americans say, is history.
She was as natural in his life as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
A modified quote from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast
1. "I can see why Hiiro chose you as his other modèle. Vous êtes une fleur." - "I can see why Hiiro chose you as his other model. You are a flower."
2. "Le plaisir est le mien," Relena gracefully replied and held out her hand as if she expected Usagi to kiss it. At Usagi's awkward look, Relena cried, "Ah, pardonnez-moi! It is a custom to shake hands here, yes?" – The pleasure is mine, pardon me.
3. "Une créature délicieuse, chéri." She heard Relena voice sweetly but didn't manage to hear Hiiro's reply before she closed and locked the door. – She is a delightful creature, darling.
4. "Elle est une dame innocente," he replied quietly and turned her to face the mirror. "Et vous êtes en effet une fleur." – She is an innocent lady. You are indeed a flower.
5. "Once, with my papa. It was a long time ago. I was still une fille." – A girl. I'd meant it in the sense of "girl-child"
6. Relena seemed to start out of her reverie. "Yes, very much so! We came during Christmastime then too. The lights were magnifiques!" She heaved a sigh and set her cup down on the table. "We were going to come again but Papa died before we got a chance. And Milliardo was never really interested in les Etats-Unis." – Beautiful, the United States
7. "Le Dauphin." – The Crown Prince
8. "Je vous reverrai à l'objet exposé, chéri. Elle est une créature douce. Elle me rappelle Diana. Très inutilisé à la redevance mais à charmer très. J'espère la revoir bientôt."– I will see you again at the exhibit, darling. She is a sweet creature. She reminds me of Diana. Very unused to royalty but very charming. I hope to see her again soon. (I KNOW this section is definitely messed up. I know it! xD;).
9. "Vous aimez-vous changer avant qu'allez-vous, Relena? Il neige dehors."- Would you like to change before you leave? It's snowing outside.
10. "Non, je voudrais porter la robe de Hiiro pour un peu plus long."- No, I would like to wear Hiiro's dress for a little longer.
11. "Portez alors ce manteau. Vous devriez prendre soin de vous-même."- Wear this coat then. You should take care of yourself.
12. "Au revoir, chéri. Je t'aime."- Goodbye, darling. I love you.
13. Usagi beamed at him. "Elle est une fleur, Hiiro, une fleur." – She is a flower, Hiiro, a flower.
14. Princesse Relena et Compte Hiiro – Princess Relena and Count Hiiro. (yeesh, reminds me of vampires. xD;).
(N) – Lines/modified lines from Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family.
It sounds so cheesy in English, hmm? xD;
Thanks to everybody for reading! Merry Christmas! :D Well, to be more politically correct, happy holidays! :D Yours, Angel.