Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Wing.
"Music is well said to be the speech of angels." – Thomas Carlyle
The whole world over felt a tremor of exhilaration as autumn came and the rich earth gave up its fruit. The feeling of hard work giving way to satisfactory accomplishment could never be matched. But there was nothing quite like the month of October in Italy, where from tiny village to bustling city wine flowed to merrily celebrate the fall harvests. The taste of grapes ran as high as the feeling of love at the time, where with each passing night feelings grew; senses heightened as the moon changed, and the world seemed to fill and fill with some kind of intangible emotion.
It was when the moon was full and golden on the second evening of Carnivale that all of it burst and drenched Venice with life, life that ran down cobblestone streets and poured into the hundreds of canals so that the water city was drunk with it, like alcohol through veins.
It was the time when Heero could roam freely over paths of this city, his Venice, and not be noticed as one out of the ordinary. For during Carnivale, there was no such thing as normal, he least of all, but at least for this brief holiday he would attract little attention. The streets were filled of men in dark cloaks like the one he wore, their faces concealed with masks of the gallant, of the lechers, of the poets. His mask was nothing over extravagance, as he preferred all of his possessions, but it had the simple elegance that Venice was known for in its every inch. It was black, like his cloak and trousers, and the straight edges gleamed with a few pale gemstones. His white shirt with its flowing sleeves as his leather boots finished the outfit to make him dressed quite plainly. His nearly-black brown hair left the responsibility of color only to his eyes, which glimmered deep blue and carefully watched the hundreds of people that crammed the shops and pavilions around.
A glass of wine in hand, Heero walked unaccompanied and unnoticed, save for a few shy glances from groups of giggling young college girls too young for him. At the thought, Heero's mouth hardened. He would outlive all of them, their children, and their grandchildren. Any tender woman was bound to be "too young" for him.
Taking several hard swallows of the red Chardonnay, Heero saw two gypsies dance round each other to wild music while entertained passersby dropped coins into the man's hat that lay invitingly upturned on the street. The two were shameless, hands everywhere on each other's bodies, and Heero smirked. Carnivale was when inhibitions were released and set to burn while blood raced, and the man who was commonly sensible in his everyday life traded wit for passion. Tonight was the night.
Heero couldn't afford to count himself as one of those men. Very few men of aristocracy could, and he a Venetian count. It was unspeakable. The foster father, Lowe, that had left him a vast fortune had at once gifted Heero Yuy with his generosity and bound him with it. Heero never knew whether to appreciate the old man or curse him for it.
Tonight, he assumed he did a bit of both. Tipping back his goblet, he drank the rest of his wine. He would never have been able to even touch such a fine glass with his former status, let alone taste the contents within. Letting a whim momentarily rule him, he placed the goblet on a rail near a canal bridge and left it there for some poor fool to find and sell. This Carnivale he would share just a little of his wealth, in indeed not much. Today's society Italy would not allow him to charity much unless it was toward the Church. And Heero had no intention of giving to pompous Catholics.
His long stride took him to the center of the bridge, over one of the lesser-used canals that led away from the Catalonia pavilion that hosted undoubtedly the largest party of the evening. Heero had succumbed to duty left over by Lowe and had stopped by the pavilion to see the festivities, staying only long enough to hear that Duke Milliardo Peacecraft would be wedding Luchrezia Noin, daughter of Count Guiseppe Noin the following day. Heero hoped the Duke did not drink himself into a stupor before his big day; as a marquis himself, Heero was just below Peacecraft's status, but he knew the fair Duke well enough to know that he highly enjoyed his wine, especially on holidays.
Amused by the thought of an intoxicated groom for Noin's daughter, who was known among Court for her strictness, Heero leaned against the left rail of the bridge. Couples went to and fro across the bridge for a relaxing moonlight rendezvous, yet he stood singularly with his arms folded. He gave an acknowledging but barely perceptible nod to the amber moon above. The great orb seemed to eye him mockingly for being solitary on so fine a night. He accepted its rudeness the same as he did anyone else's, although other aristocrats usually mocked him from behind raised hands.
Heero decided he respected the moon far more than any of those men.
When a group of raucous, loudly-laughing men went by wearing long-nosed masks and carrying individual bottles of wine, he thought he might go home. He could start a fire and celebrate the holiday and he celebrated most others, with a book or each a pen and paper. Sometimes he took to writing. Carnivale and its frivolities may inspire his hand.
It was a sure thought indeed, but just when Heero crossed to the right side of the bridge to travel back the way he had come, he found himself suddenly frozen where he stood.
This section of Venice was foggy with a slight chill that had snaked its way in before November, and it seemed with the lack of travelers here, only one water taxi man was on duty for the evening. A single gondola floated toward the bridge. A bored-looking Asian man steered its path, but he wasn't what caught Heero's attention. Rather, the gondolier's solitary passenger held his gaze as though his eyes were two of the hundreds of moths that gathered round the lanterns high overhead, and the person riding in the boat was the flame.
Heero was able to let his brain work just enough to think that there seemed nothing at all fiery about her. She wore white, yards and yards of star-like silk that flowed in the breeze, rippling gently over her bent legs and around her bare, slim shoulders. Her gown had a cinched waist that accentuated a gifted curve that he could see even though she was sitting down. Strands of loosed golden hair shone in the lamplight, the ends at the waist he had noticed, leading his eyes to a delicate neck where a strand of crystals rested in gold, and then up further to her face.
But her face he could not see, and Heero suddenly damned the holiday custom of donning masks even as his own face was still hidden behind one of his own. Yet even her mask was exquisite, though perhaps not as fine and eye-catching as other ladies' that he had seen. Rather than swan necks or butterfly wings, she wore a mask with nothing more than a modest cut, curved at the forehead and beneath the nose and pointing at the temples. The mask was edged with a trim of gold weaving. The bottom half was white, the top gold and accented with crystals that twinkled with the smallest movement of her head.
Heero's view of her was cut off as before he knew it they were beneath the bridge. He was suddenly filled with the oddest of feelings, an emotion that may have been determination or even competition, but he felt that he did not want to lose her. Wordlessly, Heero turned on his heel and sprang across the bridge, nearly bowling over an innocent Harlequin in the process.
No more than grumbling an empty apology, his fine leather shoes hit the cobblestones and pounded them repeatedly as he made chase of the gondola and its passenger. The streets were crowding again as it seemed one of the parties was coming to an early close, and the sudden onslaught of walkers made it difficult for Heero to pass without rudely shoving at people, but he managed to keep his target within sight.
He ran nearly a half-mile before the gondola began to slow, (Heero cursed the pole man for his efficiency and speed) but Heero had not grown lazy from the use of his new riches and, thanks to daily exercise, he never lagged in his pursuit.
When it finally stopped in the most crowded part of the city, where Catalonia's party still flourished, Heero sprang forward ahead of anyone else who might have been waiting for a taxi, making it to the small staircase that led to the water with remarkable timing.
The woman had risen to her feet and finished paying the gondolier right before Heero's hand was thrust before her. She jumped a little and sent a quizzical gaze into his. Heero saw through the holes in her dainty mask that her eyes were blue like the summer sky, and he felt a sudden jolt inside of him. The shock replenished his energy even though, when he spoke, he was still a little short of breath from his race.
"Lady," he managed, "allow me to help you from there."
At first, her well-shaped eyebrows drew downward. She seemed skeptical of him but appeared to realize that she required an assist so she could keep her long skirt out of the water as she stepped from the boat. Nodding, she quickly gathered the material at her legs and lifted it just enough to reveal pristine satin shoes and slim ankles. She slipped her hand into his, and her fingers felt as smooth as the silk she wore. Once Heero had gently pulled her from the gondola and onto the street, she lowered her gown and withdrew her hand from him. "Thank you, sir." Dipping a swift curtsy, she turned, obviously meaning to leave him with her few words of gratitude and a fleeting scent of her perfume.
"Wait!" he called, shocking even himself as he advanced a few paces to catch up with her before she could go too far. The color of her eyes, the feel of her hand, and the sound of her voice; all three had combined to confirm familiarity, and his mind raced, matched only by the speed of his pulse.
Sun flooded the music room, the best-lit section of the manor. Heero blinked rapidly to adjust as he entered. "You summoned me, my Lord?" The formal title of his guardian was still stiff on Heero's tongue, but use of it had become mandatory ever since Owen had named Heero his heir.
"Yes," spoke the marquis Lord Lowe from his armchair that he usually occupied when seeing pupils. "I've a new student I want you to meet. You shall play for her." Lord Lowe gestured to the window.
Heero eyes fell upon her and remained there as though trapped. The light from the window surrounded her, casting a glow upon the sun-drenched locks of hair so that it seemed the very glow of heaven illuminated her. She turned around and, seeing him, gave him a smile so kind he thought she must be one of the angels that the house depicted on its ceilings.
"My singing lady," Owen went on, "meet your accompanist."
Heero stepped forward without hesitation. Stooping, he took her hand and kissed the back of it, then lifted his eyes. "Heero Yuy," he introduced himself. "It's a pleasure."
Owen smiled. "He is sure with his keys, I promise you. Heero, this is…"
"Relena Peacecraft," Heero recalled.
The lady paused and looked back. Heero untied his mask and removed it; her eyes widened, but not with alarm and not without recognition, She fell once more into a cursty, this one deeper in respect to his status.
"My Lord Lowe," she intoned.
She spoke so quietly that it was a strain to hear her, but Heero did, and he mentally winced. "Yuy," he corrected gruffly while she busied herself with removing her own mask.
Once the obscuring cloth was lowered, he could see the slight befuddlement that crossed her face. She seemed afraid of having made a mistake. "I thought you inherited your father's name?"
"For business purposes, yes. I prefer to be called as I was before Owen's death. You may refer to him as Lord Lowe, if you wish."
She nodded, understanding, but still seemed uncomfortable. "Very well. Lord Yuy then?"
Her groping for propriety amused him, and he smirked for just a moment. "On holidays, it is Heero."
She smiled. "Gossip says you rarely sit from your house if you can help it – even on holidays."
"Gossip is wrong, as you can see." He still had trouble hearing her in this throng for she spoke so quietly. "Why do you whisper, Relena?"
"I sing tomorrow at my brother's wedding. A Verdi aria taught to me by Quatre Winner." Relena seemed pleased to share this information, as Winner was a renown vocal instructor of Venice, but Heero frowned.
"You study with Winner now? A tenor?" Heero remembered the days when she sang with Owen, her sweet soprano giving unrealized delicacy to the late marquis's hearty baritone voice. Though he had been a gentle soul, Owen had rarely given compliments when it came to voice. However, he had told Relena that she sang better even than he, though whenever the motion was presented, the Peacecraft lady had fervently denied it with a blush.
Heero had spent hours playing the piano for them, often repetitively because Owen was so strict, but Relena had risen to star rank within months. Yet upon Owen's death, Relena had ceased even visiting. Heero had heard she'd been given a contract to sing in Florence, but that was a year ago.
"You are not meant for tenors, Relena. They work best with lyric coloraturas, and you are a dramatic." Not only that, but Heero knew for a fact that Winner had taken a strong liking to his current protégée, but hadn't known Relena to be the same girl.
Relena colored from the direct praise, but only for a moment. "I confess to missing my teacher. Tell me, Heero, do you still play? I sometimes pass by the manor on my way to and from Mass, yet never once have I heard a single note from your drawing room."
Heero hesitated a moment, then replied with only a brisk, "No."
"Ah." She straightened at the sudden coolness of his voice. There may have been a ring of disappointment in her tone, but Heero could scarcely tell. "That is a shame. You have quite a gift." The formality returned to her tone, as though she had forgotten who they both were and remember it now. As silence stretched between them, he could tell she was uncomfortable, and she began to shirk away. "Well—"
"Walk with me."
Heero was as surprised by his words as she was, knowing nothing of why he would ask such a thing. He had not seen Relena in over a year. Perhaps he was just curious about her. Indeed, that must have been it; what other than intense curiosity would have propelled him to half-chase her in her gondola ride? "Do you go somewhere?" he furthered when she did not reply.
"No," Relena said hurriedly. "I was on my way home. I was at the Winner family's event, but I was advised not to stay somewhere that required much talk." Her eyes glittered and a grin passed over her lips. "I suppose I could certainly walk with you, as I've no fear of straining my voice for Heero Yuy."
Unprepared for the jest, he nearly laughed. When she was trained at the manor, there would be days she felt particularly brave, and she would tease him for his lack of talkativeness. But it had been so long since he'd laughed, and indeed, outward shows of joy were simply not in the make of Heero Yuy, and thus he was stoic.
Wordlessly, as though accentuating her remark, Heero offered him arm. She took it, and it was house it was when Heero used to escort Relena home at Owen's request.
While her focus was on skirting the crowd, he took the opportunity to better evaluate her. She had changed over the last year or so; not much, but enough for him to notice. She had always appeared intelligent, but local success had sharpened her wit. This was evident from her eye, but from her stride he gained that she had overcome the girlish shyness that had ruled her when he had known her. Her confidence was greater. As to appearance, her hair was longer and still light from the summer sun, but he could remember how it would darken during the winter months. She was a little taller. Her body was fuller, her lips—
Relena must have felt his eyes on her because she smiled up at him. She looked like she was going to say something but said nothing. Heero wondered at this, but he simply turned his gaze away and made sure they did not collide with any other couples.
"Do you miss him?"
He blinked, although the personal question did not entirely surprise like it might others. "Sometimes," he relented. Normally, Heero would never respond to such an inquiry with anything more than an indifferent grunt. Relena appeared glad that he had answered her so straightforwardly, but the truth was that Heero knew from experience what a tiring task it was to attempt to dodge Relena's questions.
She seemed content with this tiny clue to his mind, and they walked in companionable silence. Heero never felt uncomfortable with a lack of conversation, and he had the feeling Relena had adjusted to it when it came to him, but at the same time he knew she would eventually say something to him. It had been just that way in the days of her lessons.
He was not mistaken. "Heero," she said at last. "Did you ever discover why you began to enjoy music?"
The last measures of the aria were simple for his skilled fingers, and the decrescendo of her final note gave way to quiet as the last press of the keys vibrated to nothing. Owen was not present as he was at a business meeting, but Heero did not need the marquis to tell him that Relena had been exquisite. He brought his eyes up from the sheet music in front of him to see Relena and found that she was already staring at him.
Her eyes were so intense upon him that he felt heat rise within him; not embarrassment, but the warmth of some secret feeling he had yet to understand. He only knew he felt it whenever she was near.
"Why do you play if you do not like it?" she asked in her soft, patient voice. She was not singing now, but the music stayed in her sweet tones.
Heero met her stare for stare. "Why do I not like it?"
"I never see your heart." He was confused by this. He had expected her to say something about how he never smiled. That was what Owen always said. "My brother tells me that when I sing my heart could be stabbed like a target for a knife, yet when you play, you are as locked as a gate. Heero…" She came around the grand piano and stood next to where he sat on the bench. "Musicians are meant to show their hearts. They do so because no one else will."
"Perhaps I have no heart."
Heero's mouth was a firm line, his jaw hard. "Does one need a reason, Relena?"
She quieted and cast her face downward. "Not all of everyone. But you, Heero…you showed with every keystroke that you were not happy with the piano."
"Here you go." Lord Owen Lowe set a cup of steaming sbiten, Russian tea with honey, before Relena and sat down at the drawing room table with her and Heero. "The honey will sooth your voice. Drink it before you go. You worked hard today."
Giving tea was one of the highest compliments Owen could give, and Heero took his own cup and sipped from it. His had no honey.
"Sbiten is a medicine specifically for musicians," said Lord Lowe, staring at Heero. "I gave you plain tea, Heero, because musicians are people who put their whole being into their music. You do not do so with your piano, however talented you may be. You cannot become great on talent alone." After drinking from his own cup, he gave him a hard look. "It takes heart and soul in addition to mind and body."
"But he plays beautifully," protested Relena calmly. "I cannot complain about his service."
"It disrespects you and shames me to have a pianist who will not work for himself and his singer. Were Heero to put his whole self into his music," Owen told his student, "he would be an accompanist unmatched by anyone you will ever meet. You both have unfulfilled potential."
Heero stood from the table, taking his teacup, and walked toward the door. "I don't need honey in my tea," he said at length, and he left.
They had walked a quarter of a mile when Relena stopped. The light tug of her hand brought Heero to a halt as well, and he looked at her. She nodded at something to his other side, and he saw with some puzzlement that they had arrived at his home, the Lowe manor. He had been so lost in memories that he had entirely missed the fact that they had come upon his street.
Relena cast her starry eyes into Heero's stone-like ones. "Play for me."
It was not a request. Staring down at her, Heero knew that it was a command as well as he knew that Relena was completely serious. Despite the hour that was growing late, neither of them appeared tired, but Relena had a special energy about her luminous form.
Heero felt something twist in his chest as he absorbed her pure, determined gaze into his own. He felt like the world around them, with all of its Carnivale celebrations and all of its festivities, suddenly stopped dead. As though of its own accord, his hand rose higher until the tips of his fingers were mere centimeters from the soft curve of her cheek. Relena's eyes fluttered until they were nearly closed. The moon paled from amber to white above them, and time seemed to pass so slowly that he thought, if he managed to take his eyes from her beautiful face, he might see the color seep from the full orb.
A drunk cackled not far away, and all at once everything resumed its proper pace. Relena fell out of her odd trance and waited for Heero's reply.
Finally, Heero let out the shortest of exhales. "Far be it from me to refuse anything the sister of Baron Peacecraft." Turning, he led her to the door of his manor.
They entered together, and the house seemed deathly quiet on a night that was meant for vivacity. Heero kept no servants, preferring to do everything for himself, so there were no quizzical expressions to turn their way as they went through the house to the drawing room.
Relena waited while he went throughout the room, lighting gas lamps and striking matches to candles. If he was going to play – and he still could not believe yet that he was going to play – he would need much light.
Heero was concerned for the piano at first, thinking it should surely be out of tune after his year-long hiatus of stepping on so much as one foot pedal, but when he hit a chord to test, the sound was perfect. He could feel Relena's smile before he saw it.
"I would expect it to take more than a year of disuse for Heero Yuy's piano to play sourly." In the quiet of the drawing room, Relena's voice reverberated through Heero's mind like the whisper of God, and He was mocking him for weakness. Lord Heero Lowe, the foster son of Owen Lowe, was succumbing to a woman in a white gown with a sparkling mask on the middle evening of Carnivale. Owen would have thrown back his head and laughed with delight. Heero felt disappointed in himself.
He tossed his black mask onto the piano. Heero sat down on the cherry wood bench and lifted the cover from the row of black and ivory keys. Without looking at her, he asked, "What do you wish me to play?"
He nearly smiled, but to smile now would only open himself further to her distinctive power over him. "I don't need music for Verdi," he acknowledged, his face remaining straight.
A bit of triumph was in Relena's voice as she specified, "Ritorna Vincitor."
"Aida," Heero recognized. "Very well."
"Key of C, maestro." Relena moved toward the piano as the opening strains of the aria began, setting the mask in her hand beside his atop it. As though possessed by an unknown spirit, her hands came up to clasp in front of her powerful diaphragm, and she sang.
Heero had not forgotten the quality with which Relena dominated the human voice, but to remember was not to hear it, and with each note she emitted he was filled with a euphoria he had been denied for what was certainly too long. And such passion! She sang Aida with a grace he had never heard, despite having seen a production in Florence. She mourned for a doomed country through song, and with music she cursed gods and those who enslaved her. Watching her as he played, she entranced him with the smallest of movements – a stretched of her leg, the bend of her elbow, the clench of her fist. Emotions flitted across her face like individual drops of rain that would hit her cheeks, each different and unique. All Relena.
By the time the aria ended, Heero could feel an old power returning to his hands. He remembered the magic he used to have in his fingertips, the complete control he had taken when he was playing. His skill was matched by no other in Venice and, if he were to pursue the goal, in Italy. But what he was moved by the most was the way he felt in his heart, and he stared at Relena, at her smiling face, as though she had reached inside of him and turned a key that unlocked everything he'd hidden away for longer than a year.
Perhaps she had.
Relena came to the piano and swept her skirt to the side, sitting down next to him and setting a hand on the sleeve of his overcoat. "You are still a master of this instrument, Heero."
She twirled about the room, throwing her hands in the air in her absolutely ecstasy. "Dear God, but your music is divine! Lord Lowe was right, all you needed was your heart in it! Whatever made you begin to enjoy it so? And why on earth did it not come sooner?"
"Somehow," he acknowledged. "I thought I might be horrific after so long."
"If that is what you sound like without practice, I cannot wait to hear what you will do once you are in better form." Relena pressed close to him, her body warm from the exhilaration her art had given her.
Heero drew back a bit so he could face her fully. Once again they met gaze for gaze, and in that moment they were simply two artists who adored music. They were the very same.
This time he did not stop to touch her cheek. She brought her hand up to cover his, and together they leaned forward until their lips met.
Heat blazed forth, but the serenity of the moment kept them in check. For a moment Relena's fingers tightened over his, but she soon relaxed and moved closer until she was in his arms.
When they parted for breath, Heero half-expected the lights to be extinguished from the overwhelming warmth he had felt from kissing her. "What can I do for you?" he asked at last.
Relena bent her head forward so that their foreheads touched. "Let me come here. Play for me as you once did. I have not sung like this since before your father died, and I long for the fullness of singing here again. Do say yes."
"Yes." It took no thought, he simply allowed it, and Relena smiled. He was beginning to fall in love with that smile, as he had in their previous time together.
They sat holding each other for a few short moments. Heero at last stood, Relena following suit, and he led her from the room toward the door.
"I shall escort you home." Relena nodded, seemingly not disappointed by the unromantic words. She could understand what was behind her meaningful eyes well enough, but Heero paused with the door open. "Do you still want to know why I began to enjoy music?"
Relena shook her head, her eyes bright. "I already know."
They left together, back into the enchanted night of Carnivale.
Relena had forgotten her mask on Heero's piano.
"You both have unfulfilled potential."
The two disguises were at last useless now.