Birds of Ice
lilian413 at yahoo dot com
Across the marble halls, the echoes of the festivities rumble around them and she can almost pretend he did not speak. But his eyes beseech her in the darkness and she cannot look away. She knows she owes him an answer, and she also knows what that answer is.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! She wants to scream it, but she does not. She just looks into his eyes, tries to make him understand with a look, a touch—the words won't come out and she struggles with the first tears making their way down her cheeks.
His gloved fingers rise and wipe away the salty trails, and she can see something breaking in him at the sight of her tears. She despises herself for causing him such pain, but she knows it has to be done.
"Marry me", he says again, his fingers still cradling her face. She leans into his touch, wishes the glove was not there to stop his skin from touching hers. Goddess, how did this come to pass? Why couldn't she listen to her own advise and stay away?
More tears spill forth and something is lodged in the back of her throat, something unpleasant and bitter. She wants to speak but her lips refuse, and when he leans forward he is so close she can see the speckles of gold in the green of his irises and she knows she will say 'yes'.
She feels faint, her legs suddenly weakening and she falls against him, the white of his uniform a stark comparison against the blue of her gown. Cheek resting against his chest, she listens to the beating of his heart—even with the cheering and clapping that comes from three hallways down, she can hear his heart because it beats in rhythm with her own.
"Marry me", he whispers for the third time, and this time she is there to feel the trembling of his throat as he speaks. His breath tickles her cheeks and her fingers tighten against the lapel of his shirt—sparkling nail polish blinds her and she closes her eyes against the glow. It does nothing to steel her resolve: if anything, it weakens it even further. With her sight gone, she can now focus on the scent of his cologne, on the softness of his skin and the weight of his hands upon her waist.
Her body responds to him like a well-played instrument, and she wonders how on Earth will she do what has to be done. Because right now, right this moment, she knows this is right. They are right.
He is one of the four Shitennou, Sky Kings who rule all four corners of Earth. But it is not enough. It will never be enough: even the highest of Terran royals cannot compete with the ancient lore of the Silver Millennium itself.
She is already betrothed to someone else, has been from the day she was born. Her husband-to-be is the prince of some remote world; one she cannot bring herself to remember the name of. Nor can she picture the face of her future husband because right now, with Zoisite's arms around her and the distant sounds of the ball coming through the thick walls, she cannot even think straight.
He seems to understand her plight; he knows her condition from even before he met her. The marriages of the high princesses of the Silver Millennium were arranged from the day of their conception. They are meant to strengthen political bonds instead of creating new relationships, and for a moment, Zoisite hates the man that will one day carry her ring on his finger.
He tightens his hold upon her and she lets him, nestling deeper in the warm embrace. Through the sheer material of her dress, Zoisite can feel her body, every curve and every cranny and wishes for nothing more than to dispose of the clothing and worship her. He has wondered for nights on end what it would be like to encircle that tiny waist with his hands, to feel the arch of her back under his fingers, all without the thin barrier of clothing between them… it would have driven a lesser man crazy, and it is starting to wear him down as well.
"Goddess, Athena! You will be the end of me."
The words leave his lips before he can stop them and he is kissing her, drowning in the taste of her lips and squeezing her so tight against him he is certain she must have trouble breathing. But he can't seem to care, and just holds on until it is as if he wants to come out the other side. She hugs him just as tight, her petite hands around his neck drawing him down and deeper against her.
Through a veil that makes everything blurry and yet strikingly sharp at the same time, Zoisite pushes her backwards until he feels the solid wall connect with her delicate back, and then he is devouring her lips as a starving man, hands moving on their own accord across the curved slopes of her body. He needs to touch her, feel her, have her, and all caution flees in the wake of their lust.
She is a small woman, even by terran standards, but they manage: he has to bend his neck and she must rise on tiptoes, but watching them like that one would never notice the height difference.
His mouth leaves his lips, things tightening low on his body at her slight moan of regret. They tighten even further as he tenderly bites her earlobe and she presses against him as if she needs to plaster herself to him and forever be one. He doesn't know how, but his hand is high on her thigh, underneath the skirt of her dress and rising, moving towards places she has never allowed him to go before. That single thought stops him but is not enough for him to remove his hand: his fingers are alive with a life of their own, and as much as he can will them to stop moving further up, he cannot stop them as they begin massaging the soft skin underneath.
Athena gasps, once, twice, and then relaxes against him, offering herself to his every wish. All of his for the plucking, he thinks as he watches her half-lidded eyes try and focus. Forbidden fruit of Elysian gardens, he muses, watching the delicate curve of her neck as she leans her head backwards. Only then does he realize that should anyone walk in on them, they'd present quite the picture: his hand under her dress, the creamy expanse of her thigh completely exposed as it rises along his own leg. Her dainty foot touches the back of his knee and it is enough to bring their bodies even closer together, until he is completely pressed against her, unmistakable desire burning in both their pupils.
"Don't stop", she breathes against his neck and it is almost enough to undo him. But from somewhere within him one last ember of resolve remains, and he does not move. But she does, leg rising just the tiniest bit higher against his thigh and running her hands through his unbound hair.
Funny, he doesn't remember loosening it….
"Athena, wait", he begins, but she refuses to let him speak and kisses him, stealing breath and will and reason from him until he cannot remember what he was about to say. He lowers his mouth to kiss the precise spot where her neck meets her shoulder, that place where her blood runs just a few precious inches from the surface and this time, the gasp that falls from her mouth is loud enough to reverberate across the corridor.
Her hands are cradling his face now, forcing him to look at her and he drowns in the endless pools of ocean-blue. If he had to die now, he would die a happy man, he thinks, and then she shifts her hips just a touch and all logical thought flees from his mind.
"I love you", she whispers, forceful and strangled, almost as if in a hurry to get the words out before her throat closes up for good, "remember that, Zoisite."
To hear his name spoken in that dulcet voice is like fuel to the fire. Zoisite never thought he could feel like this, as if the fire of a thousand suns was burning within him, pulsing, beating, throbbing, and looking for an escape lest the flames consume him.
Around them, the shadows lengthen and the party continues, oblivious to the happenings not a hundred feet away. And suddenly, he remembers what he had been trying to say, and this time, he manages to say it: "Athena, we have to stop. We cannot do this here."
Somehow, he knows his words should have cooled things down. Slowed them, at the least: instead, they seem to make her motions even more urgent and before he can realize what is happening, her nimble fingers are undoing the buttons of his shirt and caressing the skin underneath. He moans softly, head thrown back as her fingers find his left nipple and the world melts around him until there is only her.
Something wet lands on his exposed chest and brings him back from wherever it is he went, and he takes a good look at her face. She is crying, hot, wet tears sliding down her cheeks while her hands finish untying his shirt and now snake into the folds of clothing, seeking the warm skin below. His hands come forward, grabbing her wrists and halting them in their pursuit. She struggles just once, but when it becomes clear he is not letting go, she lets her arms relax and just cries.
Zoisite is perplexed. Of all the reactions he expected, this one didn't even make the list. So he does the only thing he knows to do: he draws her into his embrace, letting her rest against his naked chest. The touch is no longer sexual: now it is comforting, meant to soothe and calm rather than entice… it is something he learned from her. Back home, on Earth, most people do not touch each other unless there is dire need to do so. The rest of the planetary worlds are much more liberal: touch is part of their social structure, and when someone is in need of comfort, they give it with touch. And so he gives it to her now, holding her while she sobs, whispering sweet nothings in her ear and caressing her short blue-black hair.
They don't know how much time goes by, but when her breathing slows down to normal, the sounds of the party are still going on. Zoisite hears more applause as some royalty or other is introduced, and then Athena lifts her head from his chest and looks at him. Eyes brimming with tears, they catch fleeting rays of moonlight and for a moment there, he can swear they glow silver. But the moment passes and her eyes are human once again – as human as they will ever be, anyway – and he wonders if he imagined it all. He has heard the tales – who hasn't? They are folklore by now, even in the savage, uncivilized world of Earth – of ancient Elementals breeding into the royal families of every planet. It is rumored their blood carries the magic that animates their worlds and that when the royal line fades, taking the power with them, so will their people. He tries to imagine what it must be like, knowing you are tied to your kings and queens by more than just loyalty oaths.
He fails. He cannot grasp the idea of one single line of power animating entire planets, perhaps because that is the most wondrous thing about Earth: they might be barbarians, brutes to the refined and elegant courts of the Silver Millennium, but every single one of them is alive on their own. They do not need Endymion's power to give them breath and should their prince fall, they would not follow. Maybe that is why the stiff, conservative Council refuses to let them join the Planetary Alliance. They fear them, each and every one of them, because they cannot understand them.
Athena brings him back from his reverie by tracing the line of his neck with one elegant finger. "Where do you go, Zoisite, when you are not with me?"
Her voice is quiet and she does not meet his eyes as she speaks. It is almost as if she knows what he has seen in them, and is afraid to show it again. Zoisite looks at her, really looks at her, and marvels at the beauty he holds in his arms. How was it that a low general like him came to have a planetary Princess in his grasp?
A ghost of a smile dances across his lips as he realizes that meeting Athena was, like many other things in his life, Endymion's fault.
"To dark places, Athena."
He does not know why he answers her question like that, but is surprised to realize it is the truth. They are living in dark times: assassination attempts and half-declared wars are the order of the day. Terrans are not welcome on the Moon – or any other planet member of the Alliance, as it is – and the high princesses are being married off as quickly as possible. The sooner the marriage the sooner the offspring, thus ensuring the continuity of the bloodlines.
A sudden ripple of anger goes through him, the realization that politics and power plays are shaping his life and taking away his free will. Had assassins not infiltrated the higher circles of the Planetary Council, the princesses would still be maidens, the promise of marriage a distant threat in their future. As it is, three nights from now his Athena will be married to someone else, whisked away from the Moon and to her home planet, light years away from where he can reach her.
His arms tighten around her, inhaling the scent of her hair. "I do not know what I will do without you," he whispers into her tiara, the gold circlet cold against his lips. It would always be like this between them, wouldn't it? The weight of their social status keeping them forever apart, forever standing on opposite sides of the chasm.
She does not answer for a long while. When she does, her voice is laden with sadness, every word breaking his heart a little bit further until there are no pieces left to break. "I will die a little every day I am gone", she says, eyelashes caressing the soft skin of her cheeks as she battles the tears back, "and perhaps Kethios will one day forgive me."
Zoisite closes his eyes. "Is that his name? Kethios?"
In the darkness of the corridor, moonlight softening as the hours trickle by, Zoisite is able to see something he has not seen before. A ring on Athena's finger, half-hidden by the spiraling fingerless glove in her left hand. A silver promise band, Kethios' claim on the woman Zoisite loves. Anger rises within him like a beast, snarling and uncontrolled and before he knows it he's ripping it off her finger, casting it into the darkness beyond. A single distressed cry leaves Athena's lips as she reaches forward, trying to hold on to the ring. He stops her, hand squeezing her wrist and he cannot recognize his voice as he grunts: "You will never wear that thing again."
She shakes her head, slowly, unbelieving of what he has done. "Zoi… you don't understand! I must wear that ring to the ceremony!"
He draws her back into the circle of his arms and for the first time that night, she seems reluctant to do so. Eyes glued to the darkened garden where the silver ring vanished, she seems torn between her duty to her future husband and the man she truly loves. It is not an easy fight, Zoi notices, and yet he feels no anger because of that. Athena wouldn't be Athena if her responsibilities did not matter to her as much, and Zoisite knows there is a place in his heart that belongs to him and to him alone.
"I love you."
The whisper is lost amidst the music that wafts from the ballroom, and it hangs between them, heavy and laden with unspoken promise.
"But we must part ways now, Zoi."
Even if she does not say the words out loud, Zoisite knows she loves him too. He wants to point it out, to make her see she's pushing him away even now, on their last moments together before she becomes someone else's, but Athena is already slipping through his hands like winter frost. His fingers hold onto nothing but air, and he feels the ghost of a kiss on his cheek.
He has never really understood how she moves so fast—when she wants to, she can become a blur of colors just on the edge of his vision, giggling in amusement as he tries to catch her.
There is no laughter this time.
Just a short, pained sob that echoes around him like thunder, and by the time he has began turning around, she has already disappeared around the corner, leaving behind nothing but the burning imprint of her lips upon his skin.