Trowa paced impatiently outside the front entrance of the estate, waiting for the ringing sound of hoofbeats from his steed. Midii's allotted time in Romafeller was at an end so he had sent the great warhorse to collect Midii from Romafeller the very instant that morning arrived. Even though he knew that she wouldn't arrive for another thirty minutes, at least, he couldn't seem to keep himself from pacing anxiously. He would have used his tunnel to collect her sooner as he had the first time but he had a feeling that if he tried it, Lady Une would have an army waiting for him. He would just have to wait for her and trust that she would come back.
He had been surprised a week ago to receive a bouquet of flowers from the Shadowed One he had sent to attend her in Romafeller. When he had asked the being whether they were from her, the creature, to his shock, had answered in the affirmative. Trowa couldn't help but smile on the inside about it. He was feeling hopeful. She'd sent him flowers; of her own free will no less! She'd given him a present! That was a positive sign indeed. Perhaps she'd had a change of heart while she'd been away. Trowa knew better than to count too much on having his fondest hope granted so easily so he'd decided to continue on with his campaighn.
His sisters advice and the boquet of flowers that Midii had sent him had given him an idea on his next move. He'd worked swiftly all week to have it ready for her by the time she returned. It had been difficult for him; life was after all quite inimical to death, but he had managed. He hoped that she liked her surprise. Trowa perked up at the sound of hoofbeats in the distance and straightened immediately in anticipation of seeing her again after what had felt like an eternity in her absence. When he caught that first sight of her, graceful in black finery and cloak smiling softly from the top of Mortis he felt his breath catch in his body. Trowa stood frozen while he watched her approach, trying to read her mood from her expression… she wasn't frowning! He'd expected her to be angry and resentful upon her return but she wasn't scowling at him!
Mortis pulled up beside Trowa and he looked up into her face. She was the most beautiful woman in the world to him, and he had missed her so much. It felt like he'd been waiting for centuries to see her again that now that she was there with him he wasn't sure what to say or do.
"Aren't you going to help me down?" Midii prompted. Trowa started into action, he'd been mesmerized by her beautiful face and the halo that seemed to shine off from her hair. He reached up around her waist and gladly took her weight in his arms as she dismounted. Impulsively (because she was there anyway and just because he could) he pulled her close for a quick hug.
"I missed you," he said softly. "Welcome back."
Midii didn't return the sentiment, but he hadn't expected her to. When he looked down at her face however her cheeks were pink again.
"I have a surprise for you," he said, leading her into the estate by her hands. He couldn't seem to let her out of arms reach after having been away from her for so long.
"A surprise?" she said, looking curiously at him. "What kind of surprise? It isn't anything weird is it? Nothing dangerous?"
"Nothing weird, nothing dangerous," he assured her. "Come. Come and see."
She smiled a little softly at him and gamely followed him into the building, through the great hall and up the steps to the garden beyond.
"That hall gets better every time I see it," Midii said, sounding satisfied with herself. "I did a good job in here."
"Close your eyes," he said. Midii looked at him suspiciously, but after a moment shut the lids over her blue crystal orbs and waited. Trowa passed a hand in front of her face for a moment but then led her through the glass doors and out into the gardens.
He had toiled long and hard to transform the dead, dark gardens of wrought iron and ivory into a paradise of light and flowers. Since even he coud not command that light shine from overhead there in the Underworld, Trowa had created a unique and beautiful solution. The flowers themselves gave off a soft luminescent glow; the living fabric of their petals was woven with softest moonlight; the edges of the flowerpetals and pistols in the middle shone with strands of stars, bright motes of light and color. The stems and leaves glowed a soft pale green along their pathways. There were long clear fronds that danced in the wind, the ends of which were tipped in tiny pin-pricks of light.
Getting the light and color to weave into a flower in that way had taxed his magical resources but the look on her face was worth it. She looked plainly and simply delighted. Well it was no surprise really, Romafeller was light all of the time and so there was no way that the realm could put on a light show like this one. Speaking of which…
"Look up," he coaxed.
Midii raised her gaze skyward and gasped at what she saw there. Motes of light and glowing fog had been combined together to create pictures of light that constantly moved about. Streaks of light in different colors created outlines; plain line-drawings or complex geometrics danced there in the night sky of his realm. Luminescent stars flowed this way and that trailing inside formations of glowing mist that shifted forms to create the shapes of people, scenes of nature or whatever else was needed to display a perfect image. Scenes from well-known stories and ballads created by mortals danced there in the sky above their heads, right then the scene displayed one of his finest battles against the Daemons; Cathy had said that he should share some of himself in the gift as well.
"Wow," she breathed, captivated by the wonder of it. Trowa felt a large surge of pardonable pride in his accomplishment, he wasn't exactly a creative genius but he had recalled how well she had liked it when he had crafted illusions in the ancient temples of the mortals on their day out together. The starlight display was a good and efficient use of the materials he had to work with there in the Underworld. He had to admit that the result was quite striking.
"Well? Do you like it?" he asked.
"It amazing!" she said still looking up. It was the first real unguarded statement of unqualified delight he'd heard from her.
"I'm glad it pleases you," Trowa said sincerely. Midii winced distractedly at the light show scene as Trowa's steed Mortis bashed a daemon's head in with his hoof just as Trowa lopped off three deamon's appendages with a single swing of his blade. Trowa surreptitiously changed the view, recalling how the visions of death and torment in the mortal realm had disturbed her.
"It does and… thank-you," she said softly. Trowa blinked a little in surprise then said
"It was my pleasure. Anything I can do to make you happy makes me happy."
"That's sweet of you," she said. "Would you mind if I sat down? The ride from Romafeller was a little tiring but what wore me out the most was Lady carrying on. You'd think she'd been planning my funeral not just sending me off to another realm."
"Well," Trowa said, smiling a little in an attempt at humor. "Most people who send their loved ones to the Underworld are indeed planning their funeral."
To his delight Midii laughed, bringing a delicate hand up to hide her giggle. Trowa spread his cloak out on the ground for her silently sending a Shadowed One to the mortal realms for food. He didn't want to press his luck when she was in such a rare good mood by asking her to eat of the food of the dead and thus agree to stay with him. For now it was enough that she seemed to be more inclined to accept his company than she usually was.
"How was your visit?" Trowa asked conversationally. Usually Midii volunteered nothing of herself but she seemed more inclined to be agreeable this afternoon.
"It went well enough," Midii said to Trowa's secret surprise and delight. "Lady Une…"
And he cored a pear for her and sliced it into sections while he listened to her chatter on about her Lady's imminent hostile take-over, her best friend Hilde's crisies with trying to train another of Lady Une's handmaidens to take Midii's place and other minutae about her life in Romafeller.
"…and I met your sister by the way," she said after a time. That caught his surprise and attention.
"Cathy?" he questioned. "When did you meet her?"
"She came to visit me in Romafeller," Midii said. "At first I thought you had sent her, but then I realized that she was just being protective of you."
"How so? What did she say?" Trowa asked curiously.
"That's a secret between us girls," Midii said maddeningly.
"You won't tell me?" Trowa asked. "Why not?"
"So what did you do here while I was away?" Midii asked, completely changing the subject. It was clear by the impish look on her face that she was enjoying Trowa's distraction. Trowa sighed, giving up, and went on to describe that he had mostly slept the empty hours away and worked in the mortal realm doing his duty.
"Well, I can see I was right to be concerned," Midii muttered.
"You were concerned about me?" he asked, pouncing on it. Midii got that look on her face that said she'd been caught out on something she didn't want to admit to.
"A little," she relented after a lengthy pause. "Very little mind you."
"But still; you were concerned about me," Trowa said, with a small smile of his own.
"Don't give me that look," she grumbled.
"What look?" he said innocently "There's no look."
"There's a look," Midii argued gamely. "And you're definitely wearing it."
"I'm not wearing any look," he maintained. "Who are you going to believe, me or my face?"
Midii tried to look sternly at him but after a moment gave up and laughed. Trowa wasn't sure what made her so amused, but hey, if she was happy that was all that mattered to him. He could sit there and bask in her smile all night. After a few minutes Midii began to uncoil her hair from its traveling coif, unlacing the jewels and displacing the pins. Soon her hair was a wavy waterfall of a thousand different shades of gold from palest moonlight to dark clover honey cascading down her back and pooling a little on the cloak they lay out on.
"May I?" he asked hestitantly. The Shadowed One brought a brush from the set he'd ordered for her. Midii looked sidelong at him out of the corner of her eye but after a moments hesitation repositioned herself so that her back was facing closely to him. Awkwardly, because he'd never done this before, Trowa took long gentle swipes at the silken curtain.
"Tell me about you and your sister," Midii said into the silence that followed. "You two seem so different but it's obvious that she cares a great deal about you so you must be close."
"We are," Trowa said absently as he carefully worked out a tangle. Midii tilted her head back as he brushed her hair and he didn't realize that some of his memories began to play out on the sky while he wasn't paying attention.
"She's my older sister by a few hundred years. She comes from a time before the Daemon Wars where she was worshipped as a goddess of joy just as she is now. I was Born during the time when the Daemons ravaged the world and all of the realms so we spent the first few years of the wars separated. The preist who sacrificed himself so that I could be Born into flesh was kin to one of Cathy's temple guardians and that's how we were reunited. I went off to fight in the wars and she stayed safe to guard the humans. She's not a battle-goddess and I wouldn't ask her to assume such a role, but I've been a soldier since the day I was Born so it's natural that I would be the one to fight."
"I come from a small line of fairly weak nature deities," Midii said in reply. "My brothers were ill equipped to hide or protect themselves during the wars…"
"I didn't know you were in creation at that time," Trowa said, surprised. "I thought that you had spent all of your existence sheltered within Romafeller."
"My…" Midii trailed off. Trowa could sense that she was on the cusp of sharing something with him, something very difficult or painful for her. He could tell by the way her shoulders haunched and she seemed to draw inside herself, curling up into a little ball before him.
"Midii? What is it?" he asked, gently laying a hand on her shoulder to draw her near. She flinched a little so he subsided and let her tell what she would say in her own time.
"You've been a soldier all your life," Midii said instead. "So surely you've seen firsthand how dreadful the effects of the wars were on everything within the mortal realms and beyond."
"I have seen it," Trowa acknowledged.
"You must have seen some pretty terrible acts of desperation in your time then," she continued.
"Some," he said, uncertain where this was going. "The daemons were a terrible force, like a plague of locusts they cut down and devoured everything that they came into contact with."
"Yes, they did," Midii said sadly.
Trowa slowly, carefully, positioned himself curled around her side so that he could face her. He gently brushed her cheek with his hand and could see in her face the lingering shadows of a victim haunted by the terrible aspects of war. That single act of kindness seemed to be her undoing for she flung herself at him knocking both of them supine upon his cloak as she buried her face in his shoulder. Not knowing what else to do Trowa simply wrapped his arms around her once more and held her. She wasn;t crying this time, instead she shook uncontrollably. Trowa awkwardly made soothing noises and stroked her hair as though she was some kind of odd cat. Her voice tremored as she said
"It not exactly common knowledge, but like the Lady herself, all of Lady Une's handmaidens; even the fairly useless ones, have a darker side to their nature. We were all there at the fall of the first age of mankind. We were there when the great war consumed the world, sundering the stars and the sky. I was there."
"You fought in the war?" Trowa said, surprised.
"I had no real choice in the matter," Midii said. "It was fight or let my family be consumed by the Daemons."
"So it was for all of us," Trowa said. "The forces of light were powerful, but greatly lesser in number than the Daemons were. We needed every available hand; even the weakest of elementals were forced to serve on the battlefield. So you were one of Lady Une's twelve battle-maidens? The Valakai?"
"Yes," Midii said reluctantly. "I joined so that my brothers would hopefully not have to see battle. They were still very very young then; being young and weak in power would mean they would likely be fodder for the daemons."
"You must love your brothers very much in order to do something you plainly find abhorrent," Trowa said.
"I have not seen them since they were all but babes," Midii said. "But yes, the urge to protect my home and family is strong in me. However, battle is against my nature. The war took something from me that I've never found again. I don't know what I lost but I feel its absence all the same. I never want to see another battlefield full of death and killing as long as I live."
"It is my will that you will never have to," Trowa said. "As long as I'm alive I will protect you."
Midii smiled tremulously up at him and seemed to be content to simply stay where she was and let him hold her. Trowa was more than happy to let her. He didn't question his good luck, a soldier enjoyed the victory and peace while it lasted so that he would have something to look back on when he faced the long dark battlefield. The soft warm feel of her weight in his arms was something he would cherish while he could and let come what may. He lay there with her, utterly content while the sky above them shifted in idle soothing patterns reflecting his contentment.
Midii awoke in the now-familiar surroundings of the lavish bedchamber in the Underworld feeling completely alert and refreshed, even energetic. She wasn't filled with dread or woe for being back in the clutches of the God of the Underworld, quite the opposite in fact. Somehow, last night she'd reached an odd and important decision. She wasn't sure how or when it had happened; she had just been drifting off listening to the steady sound of his breathing and absently thinking that she never felt so safe and cherished before when that thought seemed to vaguely lead into the idea that staying there just like this was very nice and that she wouldn't mind more of it. It hadn't been a shocking realization; she'd been feeling so relaxed and comfortable that nothing could have shocked her then. She wasn't shocked this morning either and why should she be? Under that grim exterior Trowa was truly a kind man and surprisingly easy to talk to. She'd confided in him last evening things she hadn't told anyone else; not her Lady, not even her best friend.
She rose for a long morning bath and then let her attendant Shadowed Ones dress her in the clothes she picked out, then decided to let them get away with brushing and coiffing her hair for her this morning. She surveyed the results in the mirror and pronounced herself satisfied; she'd gone through the extra effort this morning not for herself or her own vanity but so that Trowa would appreciate it. Still, she had several hours left until the time he would return from his duties in the mortal realm and nothing really to fill them with. She was too restless to read and she'd already explored every room in the estate, except his, of course. Great, he'd made her mistress of a manor that ran itself. There had to be something she could do around this place.
Midii wandered aimlessly out into the garden again and was caught again by the wonder of the place; nothing like this existed anywhere in Romafeller! Flowers that gave off light of their own, climbing vines with blooms that glowed in the dimness like pale moonbeams woven into blossoms, stars that formed themselves into moving pictures and patterns. She would stay there and watch them for a while, but watching it alone wasn't much fun for her. If Trowa were here…
Midii snapped her fingers, coming up with an idea.
"Shadowed One," she summoned. "Find me a table, a low-lying one and bring it out here into the garden. Then once you're done with that I want you to convert one of the rooms inside the estate into a kitchen for me, the finest to be made please, and then after that bring me all of the following foods from the mortal realm…" and she went on to list a string of ingredients in a few of her favorite dishes that she specialized in.
Midii was a closet gourmet; no handmaiden of the exquisite Lady Une would ever be caught doing something so lowly as cooking so she'd not had much of an opportunity in the last several hundred years to resharpen her culinary skills, but back when she'd still been living with her family Midii had been quite a deft hand at the delicate art of food preparation. To while away the small amount of time it took for the Shadowed Ones to do her bidding Midii made a flower arrangement for the table that appeared moments after her request for one. A few minutes after that three Shadowed Ones appeared and hovered nearby, signaling that their tasks were done.
Midii looked down at herself, cooking while wearing finery was not a good idea. She sighed and decided that she would change now and then bathe and re-dress herself later. She walked back to her quarters and changed into a plainer stola, took down all of the jewels from her hair (so that they wouldn't accidentally fall into the food) and simply braided her hair back. She followed the Shadowed Ones to where her new kitchen lay and gasped in delight when she saw it. There was the usual fire place that all kitchens had but in addition to the fire place was a clever device that would hold little fires that could be adjusted by turning a knob underneath iron grills sturdy enough to hold heavy pots and pans! What an ingeneous device! In addition to that were two stoves stacked on top of one another with little windows in tinted black glass for her to look inside, and there was a little lighted display of numbers that told her how hot the oven got! And one of the Shadowed Ones showed her to a box rimmed with ice that kept all of her fresh ingredients cold, what a wonder! Of course there was a sink (with hot and cold running water) and lots of black marble counter space, and above her head a rack with cast iron skillets and copper pots and pans. All in all, Midii foresaw herself being a very happy little gourmet cook.
"Well, you certainly do work quickly," Midii said to the three shadowed forms hovering near her shoulder. As usual they gave no reply but Midii felt as though they might have hovered there a little more happily for her compliment. Midii got started with the slicing and dicing of certain ingredients in preparation for the meal she planned for that evening. Fresh baked salmon with a garnish of basil, lemon and olive oil. Rosemary bread, stuffed mushrooms, fresh greens and blended iced fruit with mint.
"When I said fresh they really took me literally," Midii muttered as she looked into the sink and found her salmon waiting for her… still swimming. Well, at least she knew the ingredients were very, very fresh! Midii shrugged her shoulders and caught the fish up by the gills for a quick kill.
Trowa was very happy that she was back. He felt like a man who'd been traveling in the desert for days and had finally found an oasis. She hadn't even seemed angry with him the eveing before; she'd let him hold her when before she'd barely even tolerated his slightest touch. It even seemed like she trusted him, after he'd told her about his life she'd confided in him. Sharing of himself had not been easy for him but Cathy had been right when she had said that it was the only way. It appeared that his gesture of trust had inspired her to trust him.
There was only one thing that impinged on his feeling of contentment; in the mortal realm he had been seeing odd signs lately. Trowa was busier that normal, the pull of a "special case" death had been stronger and more frequent over the past two weeks. Mortals had been dying in an odd way, an odd way that he recognized. Humans had been, for lack of any other better term, sucked dry. He had been to four different sites in four very separate lands and the deaths had all been the same. Through long familiarity with all the different kinds of death there were and the odd presences they left behind Trowa could easily rule out disease, famine, and some new contrivance for murder. These deaths were not natural, that he could feel very clearly. He knew where he had seen this kind of death before and nothing that existed in nature mimicked it.
Daemons. They were the only creatures in existence that sucked out the human soul and left the body intact. The odd thing that marked a Daemon kill from any other sort of death was that the corpse felt wrong-dead, truly dead. Trowa, as the God of the Underworld was acutely sensitive to all of death's nuances and he remembered well the odd feeling of a Daemon kill, the husks were left without even the lingering presence that marked all that had once been living and had passed on. They were as dead as a stone.
Trowa did not want to believe the evidence of his senses; he and the other gods had defeated the Daemons hundreds of years ago! How could the creatures possibly be out and killing again? The things had been exterminated, wiped out. He had called in Treize for a second opinion this afternoon when the body count had reached the equivalent of an entire village. It appeared that what should not be, had taken place. Some how, some way, the Daemons had returned.
"This is grave conjecture you bring me Lord of Death's Realm," Treize said gravely as he slowed his chariot nearby. His Lady, thankfully, was not in attendance; she still had a chip on her shoulder regarding him and his custody of her handmaiden.
"But I know well that you would not lay such a suspicion without full confirming your charge for yourself," Treize continued.
"A second opinion could not hurt, and I am hoping you will tell me I am wrong."
"We both know you're at the stage where that's unlikely."
"…" Trowa was grimly silent while Treize called upon his gifts to corroborate Trowa's reading to the situation. Trowa knew already that the work could only have belonged to the Daemons, only those dark beings were capable of killing and devouring in such a way that the mortals spirit never joined the rest of the dead in the river and never appeared in the Whisper Gallery after passing through the Shadowed Gate.
"Daemons alright," Treize said grimly. "I will release the Hounds on the trail at once, the source of these creatures must be found and destroyed before they can grow stronger."
"I was afraid you would say that," Trowa said with resignation. "I suppose then, that I should stay here in the mortal realm and continue to look for clues."
"It is unnecessary for you to do that. You no longer have only yourself to consider anymore remember. You have Midii in your realm for better or worse and my Lady would not forgive me if I bade you leave her there alone for a protracted period," Trieze replied. "No, let my hounds catch the scent and we shall see where the trail leads."
Trowa nodded once, hiding his relief. The reemergence of the Daemons was a grave matter and one that would surely weigh upon his mind, but he knew that he would be distracted by worrying about Midii alone in his realm. She would be safe but not happy and he had been making such encouraging progress.
The kitchen had smelled heavenly that afternoon and it had kept her busy. There was just something so very comforting and homey about the smell of cooking food to her, the scent of a perfectly prepared meal made her mind wander back to times when she had cooked for her family in their tiny pocket-realm. The aroma's wafting about her had made the dreary underworld almost begin to feel like home. Perhaps it was only her senses playing tricks on her; scent was the sense most closely associated with memory after all and the scent of cooking food was something she'd loved as a child (mainly because it meant they all had food to eat that evening) and so there was that association with it. But maybe, just maybe, the commonplace and comforting activity had made her feel more comfortable in this realm.
By her estimates she had just enough time to grab a quick bath and dress herself before Trowa arrived back in his realm.
Indeed, she had just finished pinning her coif and was headed down to check on how the Shadowed Ones had arranged her meal when she heard the ringing hoofbeats of Mortis in the distance. She hurriedly put the last finishing touches on the arrangement, lit the candles, and hastened to the great hall to meet him. Trowa's face brightened when he saw her, quietly of course, but that soft look was still in his eyes when he noticed her there.
"Welcome back," said, taking his arm. "You have a bath waiting for you, but hurry with it for I don't want dinner to get cold."
"Dinner?" he asked, surprised.
Midii nodded, pleased with herself.
"I ordered the Shadowed Ones to bring the ingredients from the mortal realm and I prepared it for you myself," she told him, enjoying the speechless look on his face. "Now hurry and go clean up."
It didn't take him long to "clean himself up." Midii had ordered the Shadowed Ones to lay out clothing of her choosing for she didn't really feel Trowa could be trusted to choose wisely for himself; he dressed in battle armor at all times, even when he was reading! She was beginning to wonder if he knew how to wear anything else. He cut a striking figure in the deep (almost black) pine green silk shirt and black velvet trews she'd picked out for him. His lean physique and warriors build were still very much in evidence but he now no longer looked like he was going to march off to battle at any moment. In fact he looked rather relaxed.
He sank down into the cushion she'd arranged across from her with a small smile, they picked up their utensils and the meal began.
"I didn't know you cooked," he said his mellow voice overriding the soft string music she'd had piped into the garden for dinner.
"It's an odd skill and not one that saw much practice in Lady Une's service, but nonetheless it is a hobby that I enjoy," she replied.
"Well you're very good at it, I've never enjoyed a meal more. Much of it might be the company however."
Midii smiled at the compliment. She liked being praised for her efforts and it was a good meal despite her being out of practice.
"Where is my armor?" he asked curiously. "I was surprised to find that the Shadowed Ones had this laid out for me. I wasn't aware I owned something like this."
"You didn't," she replied. "At least not until now that is. Your armor is safely stowed away in that rack of yours where it will remain as long as you are off-duty. I got you some clothes to be comfortable in. You do know what the word comfortable means don't you?"
"Yes," he said dryly. "I am comfortable in the armor."
"You only say that because you don't know any better," Midii replied.
Trowa couldn't seem to find a reply for that so he wisely left it alone. Smart man.
"How was your day?" she asked as a conversational gambit (and because she couldn't think of anything else to talk about).
"Lets talk about something else," Trowa said a little dryly.
"That bad eh?"
"Well, no… it's just…"
Midii thought she was getting good enough at reading him to see when he refrained from mentioning something because he thought the subject would bother her. He was the lord of deaths realm, he probably thought most things would bother her.
"Hey…" Midii reached across the table for his hand. "It's okay. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but you don't have to shelter me either. You can talk with me and I won't judge you for the things you have to do. I understand now."
Trowa looked up at her for a long silent moment, then rubbed his thumb along the outside of her hand. Midii's stomach did that fluttering thing and her cheeks flushed of their own accord. He seemed to find that somewhat entertaining for he did it again with a small smile on his face and Midii collapsed into a full-on embarrassed blush. She snatched her hand back, smiling, and said
"Eat your salad you."
"The salad is good," he said. "But I'm in the mood for something more lively." The look he pinned her with let her know with no uncertainties that he was thinking about her. Midii's blush deepened more yet into a hot painful red and her belly did that fluttering thing again.
He backed off after that and kept the topic on lighter matters and when the meal was concluded the Shadowed Ones whisked everything away, table and all. Midii prompted the Shadowed Ones to arrange the cushions for them to lean back on and to Trowa's undisguised surprise and delight she opted to rest her back against his chest and lay her head on his shoulder. Midii felt surprisingly comfortable this way, that strange lethargic sense of peace she'd had the evening before stole back over her, making her drowsy with contentment again.
"What are you thinking of?" Midii asked quietly.
"I'm wondering what prompted this sudden change in direction," Trowa said baldly. Obviously the man didn't know that he was supposed to be whispering sweet nothings in her ear.
"Before you went home to Romafeller," he continued to Midii's dismayed amusement. "I couldn't get you to come near me without bait and a net, but since you have been back this is twice you have settled into my arms without me dragging you there, and you've cooked me dinner."
"Well if you don't like it all you had to do was say so," she teased.
"It's not that I don't like it," he protested immediately (he'd probably taken her literally). "I'm just wondering what the cause is."
"Does there have to be a reason?" Midii asked him. Trowa was one of those types who saw the world in black and white.
"There usually is," he replied. "Though granted, people as a general rule can be pretty unreasonable."
"Well I'm sorry to disappoint you but I don't have an answer for you. There is no reason, other than that I want to," Midii said.
"So you simply decided that you want to spend the day cooking me dinner?"
"It gave me something to do, and cooking for only yourself is not fun," Midii replied casually. Glancing sidelong out of the corner of her eye at him. He looked disappointed by her answer so she took one of his hands in hers and interlaced their fingers.
"And you want to pick out my clothes for me?" he continued.
"You are a terrible dresser," Midii informed him. "I'm sure it's a crime somewhere that you only wear battle-armor all of the time, even on your hours off."
"And you want to lay here on the ground in this garden… here in my arms?" he sounded hesitant. Well, it was an important question and what would happen between the two of them hinged on her answer. Midii's heart was pounding as she replied
"Can you think of a better place for me to rest?"
"No," he said softly giving her a small squeeze. "This place is perfect for you."
"I'm glad you think so," Midii said. She closed her eyes and let herself drift peacefully again.
"I love you Midii," he whispered softly into her hair. She reached up to stroke his cheek softly.
"I'm glad," Midii said. She couldn't quite confess reciprocal feelings yet; for her they were just beginning to grow and they weren't strong enough to be called love, so that was the best she could manage. To her relief it seemed to be enough for him.
In all of his millennia as the God of the Underworld Trowa couldn't ever recall being this content with his life. Every evening when he came home he got to look at her beautiful face smiling up at him (and he'd found to his surprise that she was right; regular clothing was far more comfortable than armor). They spent every evening together; sometimes over dinner that she had prepared, sometimes over a game of Strategem, sometimes they'd sit and watch a mortal play enacted out on the sky. Yesterday evening she'd curled up to him while he read to her from a book of histories and had fallen asleep in his arms. He hadn't wanted the night to end.
But end it had, and this morning he was faced with the sight of a village razed to the ground. The sad rows of houses were now nothing more than walls crumbled to their foundations and straw roofs collapsed in and still burning hotly. The acrid scent of smoke permeated the air but that was no more or less than he was accustomed to. What truly disturbed him were the bodies littering the streets. He had been to his share of plague-villages in his tenure as Lord of Death's Realm but they had not once truly afflicted him with this all-pervading sense of wrongness. The wrongness came from the fact that the bodies that littered the ground were freshly dead but had no lingering sense of Presence to them. Even after a soul had been released to the river there was still a persistent connection to the earthly body that hovered around for a few days; necromancers used it to get into contact with the spirit in order to re-animate a corpse. Usually they used this to question a recently dead person about a matter pertaining to their will or about a murder or other matters in which the recently passed was the only one who could settle matters (and not to raise an army of the undead as Trowa had once seen enacted in a torrid play in the mortal realm).
Daemons; and they were getting stronger and bolder. The enemy that they all thought they had defeated for good was somehow, impossibly, back again. But where had they come from? Trowa had what Shadowed Ones he could spare out hunting for the source of the Daemons along with Trieze's Hounds but thus far none had had any luck. It was an enigma Trowa liked not at all. He would have preferred to turn his thought to lighter things, like his beloved Midii, but duty required his absolute attention.
Trowa resignedly began to weed through the piles of bodies, searching for any one of them that had been an accidental death and thus usable for his purposes. It shouldn't be very hard; the bodies of the ones who had been killed by Daemons were easily recognizable from any form of plague and mutilation; the cadavers were sort of crispy dried husks, rather like a dried beetle carcass. They felt Dead ( with a capital D) even to Trowa who held dominion over the realm of the dead and administered all matters pertaining to his realm. There was no lingering presence here, no connection to his realm for his powers to draw upon; it was that very void of nothingness that disturbed him.
There had been no word from Treize regarding any leads on the source of the Daemon's re-emergence; Trowa really hadn't been expecting any. Thought Treize's Hounds were the best in all of creation Daemons were tough to track even for those legendary beasts. It would be a while yet before the scent was caught and the true hunt began. Trowa might be able to speed the search up by finding a clue. If he could find a mortal among all of these Daemon kills that had died by unlucky accident in the pandemonium of the attack he could summon its spirit back to question it.
Ah! he thought triumphantly. A Shadowed One lifted the fleshy (stiff and only just starting to go off) corpse out of the piles of dried beetle-carcass-like husks and Trowa summoned his power. It felt a little like releasing a soul to the river only in reverse. Trowa used his Power to gather the last lingering bits of Presence hanging about the body and twist them into a thread. He gave the twine a little tug and the spirit at the other end came drifting towards him at his command.
She'd been there for about two weeks and every night they had done something together; last night he had read to her from a book of history. It had been nice, laying out under the shifting sky with her head pillowed on his chest reading along with him. After a while she had simply closed her eyes and listened to his voice; he had a nice voice, soothing and mellow; at first she had thought it devoid of all traces of emotion but as she had listened to it last night she'd realized that the inflections and tones were just more subtle.
Cathy was right; she really hadn't lost anything by letting go of her enmity and letting herself like him. In fact she'd gained a very good companion. He was pretty quiet and he seemed clueless about the most basic of things that she took for granted; like the time she had spent the better part of an hour explaining that the fellow in the play they had been watching had not literally meant "catching a girl," Trowa had questioned her as to whether she would appreciate his use of a snare and animal entrails. It had been funny in a sweet kind of way. Trowa was so grim and cool all of the time, it made her feel special that she got to see a side of him that no-one else got to. That he loved her was obvious, and over the past several days she'd truly warmed up to him. She knew she could rely on him, and his statement that he would protect her still made her heart flutter when she thought about it. It wasn't so wrong, the sky hadn't caved in on her because she'd allowed herself to enjoy something outside of her duties; the world hadn't ended because she'd permitted her feelings to grow into something a little more meaningful. Maybe...
Midii allowed herself an optimistic thought. Maybe it was okay. Maybe she could let herself really fall in love with him.
And maybe not, she reminded herself. It was nothing against Trowa, but she was still very worried about her Lady's reprisal. Midii had agreed to join the Valakai during the wars in exchange for Lady Une's protection of her family. Midii didn't fear that her Lady would cease to protect her family even though Midii was no longer her handmaiden after Trowa had kidnapped her, nor did Midii fear that Lady would take her revenge on Midii's family; Midii feared what would happen to Trowa if it became clear to Lady that her faithful handmaiden had found new priorities. Lady Une could be very jealous at times especially where something she considered as well and truly hers was concerned. Trowa was already on her list because of the kidnapping, the only reason that Lady Une's reprisal against Trowa had been held off for so long was that Midii was here against her own will and thus essentially a hostage. If Midii made a conscious decision to stay with Trowa she'd be turning her back on her Lady. Midii worried about the after-effects that Trowa might face with Lady.
The problem was that Trowa was so easy to love now that Midii had stopped giving him the cold shoulder. If she really let herself fall for him she'd have to make a choice; a choice between the obligations she had assumed to protect her family and the calling of her own heart. If she fell in love with Trowa now it would only mean heartbreak for her later when she had to leave him.
"Midii?" she heard his voice call softly from the entrance to the garden. She was dismayed to note that her heart skipped a beat at the sound. She rose and turned to him; he stood tall there in the doorway his cloak settling about him from a sudden movement. His shoulders were broad and she found herself drawn half against her will to climb into his embrace so that she could rest her head against them and feel safe. She loved how his deep chuckle rumbled in his chest and how his arms held her so gently and she loved his fresh masculine scent and she loved…
Him, she realized with weary dismay. It couldn't be so, it shouldn't be so, but it was. It had happened a lot faster than she had thought it might and it wasn't fair. How could she turn her back on her Lady? How could she selfishly love him when he would be the one to pay the price?
He lay out in the garden with her head pillowed on his chest as her worried thoughts chased each other around in her head.
"You're very quiet this evening," he noted after a time. "Is something wrong?"
"Trowa," Midii said after a moment's hesitation. "When you said that you would defy Romafeller itself to have me here… did you mean it?"
He maneuvered his head to look down at her and said
"So even if Lady Une threatened you or something, you'd still do what you want?" she pursued.
"Lady Une has already threatened me," Trowa replied. "But she knows that I hold dominion here and she cannot enter to bring you out without my permission."
"So you're not afraid of her? You're not afraid of any reprisals she might make?"
"It will be a battle worth fighting, in my opinion," he said. "Provided of course that it comes to that; I fully believe that there is a good chance that she'll cool off and come around to seeing things my way. Or if not that, then she may just bow to the inevitable and allow me my victory."
"I think you're being overly optimistic about that last one," Midii informed him. "There's nothing that can stand in Lady Une's way when she wants something."
"Is that what has you so worried?" he asked perceptively. Trowa rarely missed anything.
"Sort of," Midii replied. "How long can I be down here and not have to worry that Lady Une will grow fed up with waiting on something you have no intention of doing in the first place and simply strike at you?"
"It won't matter," Trowa said reassuringly. "All that matters to me is how you feel about it."
He seemed to be waiting for something, impishly Midii was silent to drag out the moment and make him ask.
"Yes Trowa?" she asked, innocence itself. She sat up to arrange her hair artfully over one shoulder, seeking to display herself best in the star-pale light. She casually let her wrap drip down off one shoulder to call attention to her willowy form. He seemed properly attentive at least.
"How do you feel about remaining here with me?" he asked.
"You mean forever?" she widened her eyes and formed her lips into a soft, sweet moue.
"Well… I haven't been here all that long, it's a little soon to talk about forever don't you think?"
"Oh," he said, sounding disappointed. He sat up as if in preparation to go when, she restrained him with a soft touch.
"I can tell you that I like being here with you now, and that I want to be here with you tomorrow, and likely the day after that," she offered.
He seemed to consider that for a moment, losing all impulse to leave her, then raked a glance over her out of the corner of one eye that made her tummy turn over on itself and her heart beat faster. They were facing each other, resting back on arms and elbows in order to speak to one another and she suddenly felt very aware and very vulnerable under that sharp green gaze of his.
"Considering that you seem to have made plans to remain for the near future at least, perhaps it wouldn't be untoward of me to ask for something that I've been wanting from you for a considerable amount of time now."
"And what is that?" Midii asked gamely. Her chest tightened just a little at the look in his eyes and she felt an anticipatory shiver curl up her spine. She was captivated by the way the strange pale light in the gardens deepened his incredible eyes.
"I want a kiss," he said softly. His words themselves seemed to caress her, and all she could do was nod mutely. She couldn't seem to move, or breathe, or think. His scent, subtle and masculine seemed to work an insane chemistry on her body, possessing all of her senses as he drew nearer. The backs of her knees, folded neatly beneath her pooled skirts, tingled in innate awareness.
"Was that a yes?" he carefully slid his arms around her. His strong hands slid over the loose silken folds of her stola, disarranging the careful balance of the garment and causing one shoulder to drop halfway down her arm. He wasn't wearing his armored breastplate but his chest was hardened muscle all the same, Midii's hands were pressed against it as his arms slid around her waist. She didn't feel at all trapped by his firm steel arms this time, she felt safe and loved.
"Yes," she whispered, mingling their breaths as he slowly, carefully and ever so gently lowered his lips to hers. She was surrounded by him and all she knew of the world or needed to know was the gentle contact of his lips. His scent was the air she breathed, his taste the sweetest taste in creation, the muscles of his chest hard and soft like silk-wrapped velvet was all she could feel and the only sound she heard was their breaths and their heartbeats mingling as one. Instinctively she reached out with her power to touch her spirit to his so that she could know him on the final level but he abruptly pulled back. She followed him, eagerly seeking the blissful feeling she had known a moment ago and sliding her arms from where they were tucked against his chest between their bodies up around his neck to draw them closer.
A heartbeat later his lips joined hers again more firmly, a bit more hungrily; his arms tightened around her just a bit and she could feel tremors of fine control ripple through his muscles. His lips firmed against hers for a brief instant before he abruptly jerked away once more. Midii looked at him with confusion in her eyes.
"I want this too much," he murmured, softly stroking her cheek. The familiar love and adoration were back in his eyes and she smiled softly up at him as she tightened her arms and brought her face up to his to kiss him this time. She could feel his struggle with control in the fine tremors in his muscles; inexperienced, she didn't know what it cost him to hold himself back.
This time his lips crushed hers not gently and he seemed to taste of her hungrily. Without breaking contact with her Trowa shifted his arms to lay them completely supine. His body pressed her backwards as his arms held her to him and she was soon pressed between his lean frame and the firmament beneath them. His mouth massaged over hers and she instinctively parted her lips; it was like she was breathing inside of him! She didn't fully understand how she was suddenly enveloped in warm swirling splendor, but she didn't want those blissful feelings to ever end. She gasped a little when his hand, formerly occupied by holding her tightly, slid slowly down her bare arm and over her silk-clad hip. It had felt like lightening had skittered over her skin, she felt alive and tingling at his soft touch. Midii responded by squirming closer to him.
Trowa abruptly pulled back, breaking off the kiss with shocking suddenness and leaving Midii seeking for more. He tried to pull away completely but Midii tightened her arms, not wishing to loose his warmth and contact.
"Midii…" he said softly, gently unwrapping her arms from about him. "Midii…"
Still a little dizzy from the sensations Midii could only stare adoringly at him. "Hm?" she asked, nudging herself a little closer.
"Midii we have to stop," he said. He was obviously trying to sound firm but she heard the note in his voice that said that stopping wasn't really what he wanted to do.
"Why?" she asked, trying to snuggle up against him as she had been doing. It suddenly felt much better to her to be closer to him, her body felt like it was humming softly in resonance to a song she'd never heard before. But for some reason however, he wasn't having it. His hands held her firmly by the shoulder at arms length. Midii pouted a little. Why was he being so difficult about this?
"Because," he said. "I'm afraid of what I might do if we don't stop here."
"But I like your kisses," she said ingenuously.
Trowa, for the first time since she had known him, smiled. It was a nice smile; small and a little shy. It brought an answering one to Midii's face.
"I'm pleased you do," he said. "I promise that you may have more of them. But later."
"Why later?" she pursued, still trying to squirm out of his steady grasp and back into his embrace where his arms could warm her. Midii put her arms back around his neck and tilted her head for another kiss. Instead of kissing her on the lips he softly kissed her forehead.
"Later," he said. "Because I want you too much right now."
He rose and pulled her up, interlacing their fingers as he led her inside. Like a gallant swain he walked her to her very door and kissed her softly before showing her inside. Midii was very tempted to invite him in but reluctantly decided against it. Such an invitation would lead swiftly to a place she didn't think she was ready to go just yet. In what could only be described as a daze of happiness Midii let the Shadowed Ones ready her for bed, her mind still buzzing with blissful peace she closed her eyes and slept.