By Candlelight

By the Black Rose

AN: This is another alternate universe story - in other words, it is not set in the Gundam Seed (or any other Gundam) universe. In fact, it's set in the past; general geography would be Europe, time period...1600s-ish? I don't know that it matters much the exact time period, just know that this isn't science fiction. It's set during a time when chivalry was not quite dead; Lacus is the only child of the current King, and Athrun is a 'soldier' (or knight) in the King's army.

I would hope it is clear in the body of the story, but it's something that's not glaringly evident, so I'll mention it here. A person's memories...We tend to romanticize them a bit - especially when they are about time spent with a loved one. I don't know that Athrun was ever SO chivalrous or eloquent (?) as Lacus remembers, but these are her memories (so, I'm not going to be the one to break it to her).

This was written specifically for the 5 Golden Moments challenge on the WhiteSymphony livejournal community. Thank you in advance to those that will read it. Much love, Rose


By Candlelight

-

"How would I know if you still wait for me?"

-

The light from her candle bobbed along the hallway. It threw shadows across the marble floor as the princess hurried towards the parlor from her room.

Snowflakes danced in the evening breeze beyond the glass, yet Lacus still felt their chill. She set her candlestick down on the corner of the small desk. Christmas garlands already adorned much of the halls; poinsettias gathered around the entryway to the formal receiving room at the front of the castle.

-

My dearest daughter,

I regret my long absence. Our forces have, at last, won a decisive victory against our enemies and expelled them from our kingdom. I return with haste that I would not miss another Christmas…

-

Lacus shrugged the wool blanket over her shoulders and hugged it against her body. Light from the candle cast her reflection in the glass. Her pale skin seemed to glow; her strawberry-colored hair looked almost golden. The princess of Clyroba reached a hand towards the window; the pane felt like ice against her fingertips.

-

We will hold a feast when I arrive. In honor of our victory. Prepare chambers for the three guests I bring with me.

-

The light from the candle jumped. Shadows flickered over her reflection's face. Wind picked up and blew the snow almost sideways in the sky.

-

"Wunderful it is! And we waz just speakin of how much we'd like ta see er royal weddin," Mrs. Chesser said with a clap of her hands. Her leathery face lit up; the apples of her plump cheeks shifted with her wide, snaggletoothed grin.

Lacus frowned. "Wedding? I do not understand…"

"Tha majesty must mean fer you ta marry one of tha soldiers he's abringin wit'im, he does. Aye. Why else would tha king be bringin' 'em?"

-

The glass shook beneath her fingertips and the flurries relented to a wistful dance of snowflakes with the silver moonlight. Bitter winter wind howled outside. It sounded low and mournful.

-

The fifteen year old princess tiptoed across the parlor. She deposited her candlestick on the windowsill and risked a glance over her shoulder.

The air remained still.

Lacus peered into the window, but the light from the candle turned the glass into a mirror. She glimpsed strands of her strawberry blond hair peeking from beneath her fur-lined hood.

TAP! TAP!

Lacus jumped. She moved the candlestick over to the desk in the corner.

TAP! Tappity tap! "Lacus!"

She whirled around. The wooden base of the candle clattered against the top of the piece of furniture. The young princess stumbled in her haste to return to the window.

"A--!" She clamped a hand over her mouth and spun around to face the entryway. Lacus strained to hear any sound that would indicate she'd been found sneaking out.

But in the darkness, there was only quiet.

She turned back to the window, and the boy beyond the glass. His dark hair shone almost blue in the moonlight. It hung in wisps over his forehead; a few pieces curled naturally around his cheekbones. Kind green eyes smiled at her through the window.

"Athrun, I—"

He brought one finger to his lips. His eyes seemed to sparkle. Snowflakes drifted lazily through the air to land on top of his head.

One landed on his cheek.

When he smiled, she felt the warmth through the glass…

-

"Athrun…" The princess shivered again. Snow continued to float on the wind through the courtyard where she and her father's knight had danced...

If Lacus closed her eyes, she could pretend that they were out there, now…

-

His arms around her waist sent waves of heat through her body. She leaned her head on his shoulder and let him lead.

The princess closed her eyes and sighed into Athrun's neck.

"Lacus…" His voice seemed to rumble inside his chest. It tickled her cheek. She smiled.

Did she just imagine that he tightened his embrace?

-

Lacus opened her eyes and stared out the window at the dark sky. Stars winked back at her like they knew her secret. And had kept it all this time….

"How long have you been gone?" She asked the moon; it had borne witness to all their secret meetings. "How much longer before you return?"

-

The princess unlocked the window and pushed it ajar. Her dearest friend took her free hand. She lifted the hem of her dress; Lacus placed her left knee on the sill. Athrun pulled on her arm, and for a second, the young girl thought she might fall—

"Oh, Ath—"

Then his arm wrapped around her. He lifted Lacus from the window sill, her weight shifted forward, and—

"Ah!"

They both tumbled to the ground.

-

The only princess of Clyroba brought her fingers up to her lips. A ghost of her reflection mimicked the movement in the pane of glass. Warm shivers traveled up and down her spine like they did that night….

-

His mouth was warm; one hand stroked through her hair, while the other tightened his grasp on her waist…

His lips caressed hers gently, and she felt like she was sinking into him… Lacus lifted her head enough to break the connection. Athrun stared up from the ground, his green eyes reflecting the light from all the twinkling stars above. "Lacus?"

Puffs of air escaped his lips. They were so perfect, and so soft… She leaned down and touched her mouth to his…

-

Lacus smiled at the memory. "How many times did we sneak out? A hundred? How many more times did we meet after that night?"

The princess saw her reflection's arm move up to toy with the end of the blanket next to her collarbone. "I'm afraid I lost count. And yet each moment… Well, you. Every memory of you is…."

-

Athrun sat straight and still on the back of the horse, and stared at some point behind her. He already wore the riding costume of the King's regiment. Something like a sickness found its way into her stomach.

"You leave with them?"

He continued to gaze at nothing. "It is my duty, your highness."

"Why will you not look at me?" She stepped forward and stretched a hand towards the reins of his horse. "Athrun…"

He jerked on the rein. The horse raised its head and whinnied. Its front two feet shuffled horse and rider just out of the princess's reach. "You know my family has always served the King's military. When there is war—"

"Yes. You must go."

-

She stared out at the dark silhouette of her father's kingdom beyond the glass. "You had already changed by then. The death of your mother…" She tightened her grip on the edge of the blanket. "Your father's imprisonment." She sighed and leaned her forehead on the glass.

"You no longer smiled like the days when we were kids." Lacus closed her eyes. A memory of him studying his sword fighting lessons on the castle grounds came to mind. His green eyes narrowed, focused. Athrun was always so serious…

"You never kissed me again, either. For so long…I regretted that. Yet, now…"

-

"Athrun, that was so much fun!" She laughed. He raised a finger to his lips to remind her that they were too near the castle.

"Oh, we must go again." She quieted her voice to a whisper.

He chuckled, and she swore his eyes were the stars. "They are mere specks of light—"

"But you know so much about them!" She drew closer. Lacus grabbed both of his hands in hers. "I would rather spend a thousand hours with you than waste a single one sleeping. Please, say you will take me star-watching again."

"Stargazing." The smile disappeared from his lips and he looked away. "I live to serve you, your highness."

His hands slipped from hers. "Athrun…"

-

"It has been so lonely here…" She opened her eyes and felt her eyes water. "When you and father left. And most of the other men in the kingdom."

'Some of them will not see their homes again.'

She straightened her posture and watched the snowflakes chase each other through the sky. "Everyone went off to war."

'How many wives will never gaze upon their husbands again? How many mothers will never again see their sons?'

"How many days have passed since then? Hundreds…" She glanced at the candle in the corner of the room. It still danced brightly above the wax.

"Will you return? Did you survive?" She glanced at her reflection again. It frowned. "You have not written to me once. In all these days."

-

"You know my family has always served the King's military." His voice was as cold as the snow on the ground. "When there is war—"

"Yes. You must go." She turned away. The princess took a step towards the main entrance of the castle."It is a war. And you are the King's soldier."

"I would not…I would not…hope for my return if I were you."

She swore those words chilled the blood in her veins. "Athrun!" She spun around to look at him. But he had already turned away.

"I do not wish to disappoint your highness."

-

"You never asked me to wait for you." She sagged against the wall to the right of her beloved window. Her fingers pulled at the edges of the blanket around her shoulder. "And yet…every night, I left this candle in the window."

She raised her head to look up at the wood rafters supporting the ceiling. "You spoke to me of how sailors navigate by the stars. I thought…" Lacus leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. "Perhaps in time the light would bring you home."

-

"Stars are fixed points in the sky." Athrun raised his right hand and gestured at a group of stars. Lacus rose to a sitting position.

"Sailors draw maps of the constellations so they can tell where they are at sea."

She smiled and looked down at her favored knight. "A map of stars? Amazing! Could I have one?"

"If I have to accost a sailor," he said with a chuckle. She leaned over him, and his raised hand found her cheek. "One will be yours."

-

Lacus moved from the window. She gazed at the small fire dancing on top of the oozing stick of wax. Droplets of hot wax inched their way down the length of the candle to join the growing pool at the base of the candlestick.

-

"Tha' majesty must mean fer you ta marry one of tha soldiers he's abringin wit'im, he does."

-

"I no longer have the choice to wait for you." Lacus puffed a breath of air at the flame. The fire burned brighter for a split second, then sputtered wildly. It swelled, danced, flung light against the wall—

-

She threw her arms wide and twirled around. Snowflakes continued to fall all around her. Lacus laughed and spun until she thought she couldn't stand up straight a moment longer. The young girl fell to the ground in what had to be an undignified heap of princess, nightdress, and overcoat. She glanced up at her companion. He chuckled and extended a hand to help her up.

His hand felt rough against her palm, and made her skin tingle. She felt unsteady on her feet. Athrun grabbed her upper arms.

"How long…"

"Lacus?"

She felt tears prick the corners of her eyes. "How long will this be the only way…to see you?"

"I…cannot say." He looked away. "It may be this way for…a long time." He released her.

"I do not think it right." She reached for him and caught his elbow. "For the son to pay for the sins of the father."

Athrun glanced down at her. His dark eyebrows relaxed. "My father pays for his sins well enough. I have only fallen from the King's good opinion." He pulled from her grasp and took a step to her right. "I am fortunate enough he did not order me—"

She moved to block his path. "I would not have stood for you to be imprisoned with your father." Lacus caught his hand and raised it to her cheek.

"Hm." The right side of his mouth quirked up. "Do you think of yourself as fearsome, princess?"

-

The flame clung to the wick of the candle and Lacus relented. The princess turned to glance at the night sky beyond her window.

Tomorrow, her father would return from battle.

Tomorrow, she would likely be introduced to the man her father had decided his daughter should marry.

Tomorrow, she would not make her nightly trip to the parlor – the one she had made every night for the last two years.

The princess moved back to the window. She leaned her forehead against the pane and raised her left hand to touch the glass. "It does not matter…tomorrow…." She confided in the twinkling stars.

-

"Algol is the white star in the leg of the constellation Perseus. It means 'the head of the demon' and is supposed to be the eye of Medusa." Athrun's voice caused her to feel warm even when it was snowing.

"Did it just wink?" She gasped. "As if it really was an eye…"

Athrun chuckled. "Yes."

She tilted her head and regarded the winking star. "Perhaps someone is watching us. Watching over us…after all."

"Do you believe that?"

"Sometimes… I hope." She drew her knees up beneath her skirts. "I hope there is someone. And that he is listening to the wishes of my heart."

"I do not think…I believe in that sort of thing. Not…in a long time."

She rested her cheek on the top of her knees and closed her eyes. "I do. Because…because I…"

"Lacus?" His fingers brushed pieces of hair from her face. The princess opened her eyes to see him peering at her with a quizzical expression.

"I wish very much for one thing."

"And will the lady tell her fallen knight?" He moved closer. "What she wishes?"

-

Lacus moved the candle and placed it on the long wooden plank beside the window. The light caught in the silver tint of the pane of glass. But she knew the look of the candle from outside.

How its glow warmed the winter snow in a circular pattern on the ground. She knew its position could be seen for quite a distance. How its flame would dance and smoke above the wax, winking like a star in the night sky.

-

Athrun removed her hand from his arm. He gave her a stiff bow and retreated from the palace doors. "I would show you the stars your highness, if your guardians would allow it. But, I—"

She stepped towards him. "Meet me here."

"Lacus?" His eyebrows disappeared beneath the long pieces of hair that fell over his forehead.

"I am sure my guardians would say no, but if I do not ask them…" She giggled and gave him a smile. "Then they cannot forbid me."

He glanced over his shoulder and moved closer. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "What if you are caught? I could—"

"We should arrange a signal. Something you can see on the road from your house. Perhaps a candle in the window."

His brow furrowed and he looked so serious… "What if I am detained?" He held his hands out like he was reaching for her. "You could be caught and--"

She took his hands in hers.

"How would I know if you still wait for me?"

-

Lacus threw one last glance at the candle in the window before she turned to go back to her room.