Title: The Ribbon and the Ring 34/34

Author: Seraphim Grace
Archive: if you want it ask, I just like to know where they are. http://seraphim-grace.
Feedback: Always appreciated and replied to.
Rating: 18

Series: Gundam Wing
Pairings: 1x2 , miscellaneous
Warnings: Adult scenes, adult situations, viewer discretion advised.

Notes: AU, one of a series called the A'setra cycle.

In his travels Quatre had come to expect many things of the Lady Draima, but he was not in any way prepared for her. When he had reached the Dairai, a vast sprawling collection of buildings gathered behind hard white walls he had seen the ladies in their fine kimono, layers and layers of coloured silk that whispered along the walkways with giggles and the snap of elaborate fans.

When he met her protector, the Senshi Velasca he became even more sure that the Lady Draima was like these guarded blossoms of the capital. Velasca was a mountain of a woman with dark red hair that a copper band held back from her face. She wore a black linen kimono that ended half way down her thighs and leather plate over it. There were two swords, that Quatre could see about her person. From there both Danev and Quatre were led into a small sitting room, arrayed in the southern style with chairs, where the Princess Ekeade, the Lady Draima's guardian, waited for them.

Ekeade wore a long silver gown, corseted tight about her waist, and her hair was the colour of fog. When she spoke it was a whispery quality and with short carefully chosen sentences. Quatre was too awed to really listen.

She didn't move from the screen she stood by, watching inanimate storks in flight as she spoke to Danev in those crisp clear clouds of words. Then she turned and appraised Quatre, "golden" she said to herself, "like desert sands," and then she laughed. There was no reason he could see for her laughter. "Go in, she is expecting you."

The Lady Draima knelt in front of a porcelain figurine which stood on an ebonised pedestal with a veil over her hair, when she heard him enter she turned and appraised him, "Danev was right," she said and like her sister her voice was ghostly. It was only later that Quatre realised she hadn't opened her mouth under the heavy lace veil. "Headaches?" she asked, "voices that aren't there?" He nodded dumbstruck and under the veil she smiled, "and I thought I was the only one," she lifted her hand from under the veil to shake his, "well met, Quatre of the Sands, to Dramathen, and well come from one Draimae to another."

"Your sister," Quatre stammered, "she said that,"

"You looked like the desert," Draima said and he could hear the smile in her voice, "I know, I told her that you would, but my prophecies no longer terrorise my sister, they amuse her."

"Prophecy?" he was speechless beyond that.

"Of course," she said, pulling the veil up to show him her face and her wicked smile, "what is the point of being a witch if one can not read one's enemies minds and see the future. Why it almost makes the inability to sleep worthwhile?" She looped her arm in its silk sleeve through his arm, covered in travel dirt, "come," she said, "this is my place, and you are welcome here." Her eyes were bird bright but every now and again a film of something black and oily slipped across the grey irises and when she was incensed he was to learn that they flashed with blue lightning. Her features were thin and delicate like she had been crafted by some ancient Greek sculptor asked to create beauty in miniature, because she stood only as tall as his shoulder. She wore her hair, long and black, free down her back and the only jewellery she wore was a ring worn on a golden ribbon around her neck.

Quatre was welcomed into the daily running of Draima's small manor with the same gusto with which he had been welcomed into Emithi's but without the restraint that they had shown him. Within hours he had become the Lady Draima's steadfast companion. She laughed with him and gathered him into her quarters when the night fell on the picturesque city castle. The two of them would laugh the night away and Quatre found that she was right that he did not need to sleep, nor did he truly crave it. Yet they never left her enclave.

She sat at the large carved table upon which she had her supper, her enclave was laid out more like Emithi's palace than the palaces in the Samurai disks that Heero sometimes watched and both she and her sister, the elusive Ekeade, wore Aatorian fashion. Sometimes when she thought he wasn't looking Draima played with the tooled ring she wore about her throat. She ate her supper carelessly with a knife and spoon, like an Aatorian lady but she wore her hair like a Darin lady. She drank wine with the same passion as Tobin, but unlike him, she never seemed to get drunk.

Tobin and Josian both adored her and treated her like a little sister, Danev was more wary, but nonetheless shared long private, almost whispered conversations with Ekeade and Velasca, sometimes noting things down in the notebook he carried with him everywhere. His red jacket seemed to mark him out here more than most.

The rooks brought them mail most days, sometimes from Trowa in the south, caught in Emithi's intrigues, sometimes from the Cadacus informing them how they reached such and such a place in their journey to Meirin, sometimes with a sketch done by Jored, which was more often than not stick figures with arrows.

At one point a courier brought them a portrait of Jored and Deakon that Bunny had done for Draima, it caused her to lock herself away in her room for a whole day.

Quatre found he was no longer troubled by his headaches, although sometimes, as he lay in his wide bed with Tobin, who seemed content to just lie next to him and breathe him in, for what he called the undisturbed sleep that a draima just gave off. Tobin offered too, a sort of haven, for his mind was empty.

He could see what Danev was thinking, he could pick apart and manipulate the thoughts without the drugs to cloud his perceptions. He could feel Ekeade's overwhelming grief for her husband, Yoshikatsu, dead these fifteen years. He could see the walls that Draima erected to keep him out. Josian kept his surface thoughts bland in the presence of two draimae, but was open that he did so. Sometimes when he practised with Draima they would pick up thoughts that would cause them both to laugh as some Senshi swore his undying love to some girl.

"Talk to me, Quatre." Draima said slamming down her cup, "tell me of Dathyl of the Jetties, tell me of the ruined splendour of Halcyon, and tell me of the ships that dash themselves against the shore." The way she waved her cup about , spilling wine over the table, Quatre would have said she was drunk if he hadn't known better, that she could not get drunk. "Tell me of this place, this Ellthree, where you were born, talk to me."

She poured more of the pear wine into the cup and drank deeply, throwing herself back into the chair and slumping down. Quatre didn't know what had upset her so. "I was born," Quatre said, almost lecturing, "the youngest of thirty children, I have twenty nine older sisters," he smiled to himself, "and I daren't introduce Tobin to them because he'd be like a fox in a henhouse." He made the joke to please her and was sad that it failed.

"Are they all golden and peachy like you?" Tobin asked with a leer.

"I favour my mother," Quatre told him, filling his own cup, like Draima he never got drunk. "Of course some of them favour my father, and sometimes, I think Trowa will grow up into him, although of course," he leaned forward a little, "his feet aren't that big."

Tobin snorted out a laugh as Josian rolled his eyes.

"I only see Trowa through your eyes," Draima said, "and what I see I find," her smirk was lascivious, "intriguing, but show me Dathyl. Show me this city armies crush themselves against. Show me the Okiya where empresses drank poison and courtesans threw themselves from the balcony."

"Are you alright?" Josian asked.

"Me?" Draima said waving about the cup, "I'm the Lady Draima, why would I not be fine. I cannot drink to lose myself. I cannot sleep away a bad mood or ill temper. I hear the whispers on the wind of what the people of this place really think of me. Why would I not be alright, Sir Josian. Why shouldn't I just lash out with my temper and destroy those who call me the Majou-whore?"

Josian lowered his eyes but it was Ekeade who spoke up, she had sat silent in the corner, so quietly that Quatre had to strain to hear her. "Petty minded fools, I should have Velasca take each of them for gentling, they do not know, my little one, what it is we suffer with our privileges and our duties. What use is mortality, child, if one is so close minded to the possibility that it might be an illusion?"

Draima smiled, almost despite herself, a line of blue fire darting across her eyes. Quatre wondered for a moment, if his eyes would take on that power. "Perhaps," she said and leant forward in a gesture that suggested she might have a much larger bosom than she did, or that her dress wasn't quite so modestly cut, "I shall have my darlings destroy them, tell me, Quatre, have you seen an execution? There is the greatest thrill in being in a mind that is dying, it is as close as we can come to intoxication."

"And that," Tobin said darkly, "is why the draimae can't kill with their power?"

"But we can gather armies." Draima replied, "like the Garvem, weren't they gathered to serve the Draima Achren? And what powers we could wreak like the spider."

Josian coughed, it was a deliberate noise. "Yes, you could, you could be the next spider? You could thwart the Seraphim at every turn like she did? Or you could be the start of the next series of Draima wars with all that that entailed. You remember what your ancestors do, don't you, Draima, tell me, then, princess, of the draima wars."

Draima put down her cup and left the room without talking.

"She's young yet," Danev said, "and the weight of the world really does rest upon her shoulders."

"It is more complicated than that." Ekeade said, "she is two people and they don't always reconcile with each other. One on side she is the Lady Draima with all the power that entails and the love of the boy Deakon," Quatre bit his lip at that, "and he sends her such letters of love." Ekeade almost smiled but restrained herself, "but that can never be for she is also the Imperial Princess Celestial Star-Sapphire who was married to Prince Jored to end a war, and who also sends letters to melt the heart, and each part of her loves the other. One dare not see what will happen when each learns of the other's suit."

"They are lovers, you know." Josian said, "Jored and Deakon."

"I know." Ekeade said, clearing away her plate, "and so does Draima, but it doesn't make it easier. She is still fourteen years old, with the weight of centuries and the madness of thousands of years of draima warfare. I just hope that by the time she reaches majority she has come to terms with what and who she is."

Quatre thought again of the ring that Draima wore about her throat on its golden ribbon and for the first time, noticed just how like Duo's that it was.

Meirin was a towering white spire against a black mountain pocked with open graves. In the five days since they had left Jimpachi the weather had turned brittle cold and as they crossed the long bridge over the Soulsease river crashing through the gorge Duo was not surprised to see the first hints of snow. Since the last time he had been to Meirin almost nothing had changed except for a set of swings that he could just see peeking around the edge of one of the small granite houses. There were fires burning in several of the houses.

Takeo came forward, his hood down around his neck and he looked delighted. "Cadacus," he said as he helped him from the horse, "you leave us for a year and bring us not one lord, but two," He turned to Deakon before extending his hand, "well returned to Meirin, my lord, we have missed you." He looked at Jored, "the consort of my lord is also welcome." As always, Duo noticed, Takeo didn't miss a trick. He practically flung himself out of the carriage and danced about, stretching his muscles and just appreciating the calming air of Meirin. Of all the places that he had been no where felt as much like home to him as this tower at this mountain. "Lord Duo," Takeo said, beaming as much as he was able, "welcome back, I trust Lord Heero is with you." Fenrir slunk out of the carriage with Heero just behind him. "Baths have been prepared for you all, Lord Devlin," Devlin didn't get a chance to ask how Takeo knew these things, before he was ushered with the rest of them, "welcome home." And Duo knew it was true, that this place was home.

The bath was a luxury of hot water and weightlessness. The baths in Jimpachi had involved oils and steam and the scraping away of sweat this, Heero knew, was a proper bath, hot water and soap and all the time in the world.

He wasn't really surprised when Duo came in, with a fur lined robe about himself, and a tray of hot wine in one hand. He put the tray down on the stool beside the bath and undid the robe letting it slip down his back to pool on the floor. Underneath it he was naked. "shift up," he said pushing Heero back into the bath, "I'm conserving water." His smile was impish as he stepped into the water. Unsure what else to do, Heero moved back pulling his legs out of the way. "There's barely room, Ro," Duo said, arranging his limbs into the small space like a contortionist, so that he was facing him, their legs either side of each other. "But I like it," his grin looked like he might swallow Heero whole, "it's cosy."

Heero laughed, he wasn't sure why, but it made perfect sense to be squeezed into a bath with Duo in the shadow of a mountain at the end of the world where the bodies of kings were carried to be buried. So when Duo leant forward in a puff of rose scented steam to pour the wine it was only natural that their noses bumped together, and only natural that the wine was forgotten in favour of kissing.

Duo's tongue was hot and slippery and his hands like brands on the side of Heero's face, pulling him closer, occasionally letting him slip back to lick at his lips.

"Duo," Heero said finally pulling back, "are you seducing me?"

"yes," Duo replied calmly.

"Then that is fine then."

Duo laughed and Heero wanted to laugh with the joy of it, to laugh for the sake of laughing, to laugh because he was happy. "I went to Jored and got ," he stopped looking for the word, "an education, I said to myself that if it hadn't happened on it's own by the time we reached Meirin it wasn't going to happen on it's own." He kissed Heero, "and I want it to happen."

"I am still nervous." Heero said, "but I also want it to happen."

Duo's smile was dazzling, like a supernova, "then one of us has to make the first step, and this is it, but you're right, there's no room in this bath, will you," Duo blushed red under his bangs, "I mean, will you." He stopped again. "God damnit Ro, do you want to have sex or not."

"No," Heero said with his own look of mischief, "I want to make love."

"Six of one," Duo said, "half a dozen of the other," he lifted the bottle as he stood up, "now there is a wide bed and a fire in there that just has our names on it. Come on, lover," and he offered his other hand to Heero and Heero took it with a grin as dangerous as Duo.

The nature of his work for Emithi had come to mean that Trowa saw Wufei every day, whether or not he wanted to. She was delighted with his inventions and had taken it upon herself to patronise him, shouldering out other nobles who might have been better for him. He had cut out plates of her most used dockets and was printing them by the ten, meaning that she now had a scribe with little to do, so she put him to work for Wufei.

His latest endeavour, which Emithi endorsed, was a lighthouse on the spar beside the jetties after two ships had beached in the winter storms. It meant that Trowa was darting back and forth between the two palaces enough that he had learned all the workmen's names.

Calydon came and went like the wind, and he even got used to it. When she was there she dominated Trowa, she reached inside him and forced him to feel and in doing so introduced him to things he had never dreamed. Sometimes he wondered if she was an angel, not because of her kindness, but because of her flawed beauty, because of her cruelty, and because of her bloodlust.

When she saw Aia, poor plain Aia, she laughed and laughed and laughed for Trowa kept nothing from her, even Aia's devotion. Trowa never felt sorry for the Shiko-me, even when she did silly little kind things for him, like slipping lavender and rose water into his stockings, because Calydon adored him. When he told her of his night with Quatre Calydon had lamented only that she hadn't been there to see. They never spoke of love, because between them there was nothing like that.

Halcyon was a city in it's own right, dedicated to the crown prince, with an army of workmen doing their best to restore it because the King had decided that perhaps his second son, his favourite, should live there and the years of neglect should be restored. It meant whenever Trowa went to visit Wufei and Cameron, who was Emithi's younger brother it had turned out, he often passed as many men carrying rugs and tapestries as bricks and mortar.

He nodded at a few of them, questioned some others about their families, made a mental note that one's wife was about to give birth, he was one of Emithi's men so a suitable gift would have to be arranged, before he climbed the steps leading to the outside door of the library.

Wufei had three students from the university to do his and Sir Cameron's grunt work. It would not surprise Trowa to find that he didn't know their names at all. The only time Trowa had seen him actually speak to one of them directly it had involved sign language, arm waving and name calling.

Wufei leant over a desk with all manner of drawing tools as he worked out the exact best measurements to place his lighthouse. Cameron had one of the students, a girl, writing down the titles of books as he crated them, moving them into another room, clearing out the library for the workmen.

Trowa sat down beside the table, lifting one of the charcoal sticks and twirling it between his fingers. "Emithi wants to see you at supper tonight, she's worried you're not getting enough sleep and is starting to think you're living on the pastries from town."

"Actually," Cameron said over Wufei's head, "Mae has started giving him other foods, so far she's given him a whole fish and some fruit."

"So Chang," Trowa said with a leer, "you've gone and got yourself a girl?" Wufei muttered something under his breath before moving away from his drawing board.

"If that is all the Onna wants then you can tell her that I'm busy." Wufei opened a book to show Trowa that this was everything and he should leave now if he wasn't going to help.

"She won't listen, she'll expect you at six so you can be respectable," he smirked as he stood up, unwinding himself from the chair and snatching an apple off Wufei's desk as he did so, "she has a few other lords coming and wants to show you off, you are her puppet genius you know."

"Onna." Wufei snarled under his breath, "you can tell her I will be there but it is under protest and that I could get more work done here." He looked Trowa clear in the eye, "and don't you dare tell her about Mae, she is just a friend and I will never hear the end of it otherwise."

Trowa shrugged knowing full well he would tell Emithi but she wouldn't tease him about it unless he was amenable to being teased like that. Emithi had her own plans regarding Wufei and his brilliance was only one of them.

Trowa stood to the left of his lady as she held court at the head of her table. She wore a dazzling gown of dark red velvet and around her neck she wore three rings on separate ribbons, and hanging from the mount in her forehead was an elaborate chain of garnets. She had painted her mouth thickly, sitting at her table with Trowa behind her telling her the day's gossip from all the palaces that he attended. Trowa knew within a week of entering her service that he had become her most trusted servant, but he knew it whilst also knowing he had no reason to betray her. He hadn't infiltrated her stronghold to bring it down from inside, he had accepted her kindness and in his own way he loved her. He wondered if this was like having a mother, even if Emithi was a wicked seductress who half of Aatoria suspected had no heart.

Trowa adored her in the same way he adored Calydon, as something beautiful and dangerous that allowed itself to be adored.

Trowa stood at her shoulder, making sure her wine was poured as he did what all dutiful pages should do, he listened to the conversation of the evening, to report back to his lady what he heard.

The topic of the table was war.

Trowa had known, with a sort of detachment, that war was coming. Everyone in Dathyl had known it. The King favoured his second son and believed he should be on the throne. The Seraphim was made of Second sons, born to privilege and yet denied titles. The Garvem were common men sworn to serve the true king. It was a powder keg.

The conversation revealed nothing new.

"I'm sorry," a tall blonde man said entering late. He wore a long grey coat and white satin stockings, "my apologies for my late coming, Lady Emithi, as emissary of the Seraphim, it is unforgivable that I can't even appear for supper without being late." A few of the ladies around the table tittered at his joke as he was seated. He was an attractive man, too perfect for Trowa's taste, tall and sculpted with ice white eyes and long blonde hair that hung to his waist.

"It is no slight," Emithi said, "come to my table, and enjoy yourself," she offered the newcomer a seductive smile, "all are welcome here tonight, even the Seraphim Lord?" She left the name open, suggesting he introduce himself.

"Milliardo," he said answering her leer with one of his own, "Milliardo Peacecraft."

To be concluded in The Copper Eagle