Esther Blanchett wears a cross over her heart.

"Do you fear me?"

He is all challenge, a smirk at his lips, red eyes amused. She doesn't seem half as amused, only curious, her own aqua colored eyes unflinching. She clutches the silver cross that is almost lost in the folds of her robe -- he catches the gesture with the slightest of tensions -- and flutters her eyelids until she can direct her gaze elsewhere.

"No, of course not," She whispers, still not looking at him. "Your Grace." She finishes, breathily. He can hear her heart hammering away, her blood humming in his ears, pumping through her veins deliciously. He has no taste for it -- nothing he cannot control -- but in its stead, finds her fear too sour for his heart to bear. He turns away with the speed of what he is -- a monster, his mind echoes -- and his eyes reinstate their boyish innocence as he watches the fork in front of him. It is curved at the tips, useless as a weapon, but handled with enough force, he reasons, it can kill her.

Not as fast as her cross can kill him, but it'll do.

Ion Fortuna resumes his dinner.

Naiveté

// she wears a cross over her heart //

Trinity blood

Esther Blanchett wears a veil over her heart.

"He's dead."

The veil rips into a million, indistinctive pieces and the emotional burden becomes physical as she crumples to the floor in a heap of lace and ribbons. Streaks of silver mar her face and a terrible wail drives from her mouth, unobstructed by her lips. He was dead and she is dying.

Irony is a sword, rusted and dulled but still able to draw blood.

"Cain," He pauses uncharacteristically. "He's dead as well."

She sobs, undisturbed by his words or his presence. Unknowing of what action to take next, the boy plops down on her bed unceremoniously. It is an hour -- perhaps two, before she acknowledges him.

"Are you sure," She begins, red locks matted against her tear ridden face. "...that he's dead?"

He wants to lie. Wants to comfort her. Finds he can't lie. Can't comfort her. In the end, the silence betrays his ambitions and she looks away from him and unto her lap, jeweled fingers intertwined.

"Thank you," she whispers.

"For what?" Ion contradicts gently. "It was my duty to come here and tell you."

"No," Esther shakes her head and tries to stand, but fails, body falling to the floor. It never happens however, because he catches her, a fraction of a second before she shatters against the wooden floor like glass. Red meets blue, misery gains it's company, and she gives into him.

"No," She repeats again, softer this time. "Thank you for coming back." Thank you for not dying.

"I made a promise," He intones, "to see you again someday." The words are half-disappearing in the silence before she bridges them with her own. "... I don't know if I can do this any--"

"You have to, Esther." He smiles, a thin smile, and takes her hand firmly, eyes never leaving the silver cross that dangles from her neck. "You are the Queen of Albion and you have no choice."

She nods delicately, "You're right... But if you could, perhaps," The silence is deafening. "... Stay with me?"

His smile is made of paper, and his mind is wild, wondering if she's saying those words to tease him. If she remembers as vividly as he.

"I'd thought you'd never ask."


"You mean to tell me you haven't told her yet? Jeeze, what's your problem?"

"I can't tell her... especially not now."

Ion replies and he thinks he sees a glimmer of pain and recognition in her green eyes. "You're right, I understand. How could I forgotten? She was very close to him..." She says with all of the air of the Empress she is, quivering hands settling in her lap.

"Were they--?"

Seth grins at him, a child once again, buoyant and carefree. "Lovers," She pauses dramatically. "I don't think so. There is a possibility though." She finishes with a nod of her head. Suspicions confirmed, Ion lowers his gaze to his own lap, and makes a Herculean effort not to let the pain show on his face.

"Don't look so down!" Seth says, standing from her seat, all smiles. "It's true that brother loved her, and that she loved him, but ... We can't expect her to chain herself to his grave!"

"Brother?" Ion asks unable to restrain his surprise.

"Oh yes, Able and I were, are brother and sister. Me, him, and Cain..."

She seems to drift into her memories then, a longing look in her eyes, wistful and at the same time deeply detached.

"You're all alone now," Ion realizes, his voice low. "I'm sorry..."

"No need," Seth announces turning to the doorway. "I don't think that it needs to be said that even though he's dead, he's still here." Ion nods purposely, and shifts his gaze, too, to the doorway.

"Aren't you going to meet with Esther?" He questions. "I'm sure she'd be happy to see you." Seth shakes her head, looks up to the sky and lets out a deep sigh.

"No, I don't think so. If she saw me she'd be reminded of brother, and I'm not sure she's ready for that. Besides," She pauses, a teasing smile at her lips. "She has you, doesn't she?"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Ion exclaims, flushed with embarrassment. "It's not like that at all. She just asked me to stay for a while... To sort out diplomatic affairs."

"You can make all the excuses you want," Seth announces, preparing to leave. "But you can't fool me." She pauses momentarily, hands fiddling, back turned against him. "You will take good care of her, won't you?"

"Of course." Ion says without hesitation. Seth smiles triumphantly casting one last look at him.

"Good," She says brightly, and then her tone wavers. "I don't think brother would forgive you otherwise."


She can't forget.

"I just -- I can't..."

She sobs, destroyed, red hair prisoner of her fists. Ion stands beside her, watches her tear herself apart, little by little.

"Esther..." Ion says, and then pauses while the sun sets, while it bleeds. "Just hang on a little longer..."


Her blood slides in between his fingers fluidly, copper metal against trembling hands. There is a gaping hole in her left shoulder, a wound interrupting the puffy, left sleeve of her white dress. Red against white, Esther is smiling despite the smoldering pain.

"Don't worry about me," She says, tears leaking out of her eyes, pupils dilated. "I'm fine, really."

Ion holds her hand too tightly -- he's cutting off the little circulation she has -- his smile not as convincing as hers. She has to survive this, he convinces himself. There is no alternative. Panic takes hold of him as he watches her flutter her eyelids close, her form shuddering. Ion bends down, tucks a tendril of red hair beneath her ear, and whispers; "Esther, please."

The tears come as easily as they did before; they fall transparent on her face, mingling with white powder.

"Esther..."

Shallow breaths.

"Esther..."

Her hand is gripping his, knuckles white.

"Esther, please don't leave me."

Her tears are warm against his skin.

"Esther, I love you."

She's listening.


"Your Highness, are you alright?"

"Does it still hurt?"

"It must have been a terrible ordeal!"

"For someone to pass through security that easily, for shame!"

The excitement is unrestricted when she returns. She's all smiles and a few grimaces that only he catches. Her shoulder is bandaged, or so he supposes, as her body is hidden beneath numerous ruffles belonging to a tangerine dress. Ion leans against the wall, left eye closed, right eye peeking at her slightly, arms crossed. His lips are in a thin line, a neutral expression, a decent facade. Inwardly he is bubbling with excitement, questions of his own, joyous for her return.

When they are alone he expects her to return to herself, informal and child-like in her naiveté, but she is strangely detached. She seems anxious when alone with him, biting her lower lip here and there, eyes darting from place to place. She makes spontaneous and superficial excuses to leave the room, or entertains herself with the most insignificant things -- all gestures driving him to distraction and confusion.

"Esther?"

Ion says and his words are defragmented into the air. He sighs, and leaves the room, reasoning that she must have other important matters on her mind; diplomatic no doubt.

Esther looks to where he stood before, and presses her satin hand to her chest, feeling her heart flutter. What should she do? What could she do? Ion, the little boy who so hated the human race, spoiled and besieged by his title, infatuated with her? It seemed impossible, romantically cliché, and at the same time, expected. Small advances, changes in his persona, the way in which he treated her -- with kindness and not pride -- she should have known.

"Father..."


He is falling through deep shafts of disappointment, the darkness impenetrable. At night he is delirious, dreaming of her. During the day he is a phantom, no longer speaking, mute and death to the world.

She approaches him, but he does not see.

She has made him blind.


"Weren't you going to say goodbye?"

Ion turns; surprise written on his face, but his expression becomes neutral seamlessly. Esther is standing behind him, the door in front of him, the chilling winter air entering.

"You don't need me anymore," Ion states quietly. "You're alright now, Esther."

Esther struggles with the words she's been meaning to say, her face weary without make-up and long without happiness.

"Ion--"

"Esther."

He's ready to attack to defend himself, Esther realizes, his eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She hadn't realized it, but he now towers her in height and there's something different about his presence. She feels his years suddenly, realizing how much older he is than her in reality.

"Please stay." She asks, almost inaudibly.

"I can't, I'm not ... what you need." Ion confesses a crooked smile on his lips. "I can't be him for you, Esther."

Realization of who he's talking about awakens sudden pain in Esther's chest, and she clutches it delicately, tears brimming.

"I don't want you to replace--"

"Don't lie to me!"

Ion yells, reminding Esther of their first meeting, her first impression of him. Esther feels the weakness of her hollow heart and of her recent injury overtakes her, all resulting in her collapse.

Once again he catches her, eyes filled with regret, about to speak when --

"There's something I need to tell you." She whispers, eyes closed, against his arms. "That time ... When I was injured, when the assassination attempt was made, you were ... With me, you stayed with me and you said..."

All color drained from Ion's face, ruby eyes widening.

"Esther--"

"Ion."

A smile at her carnation lips, and then a question; "Did you mean it when you..."

Ion's heart came strangely alive then, hammering at an alarming rate, fear pumping through his veins. "You love him," Ion said weakly. "I can't expect you to... to --"

She surprises him.

"He's dead." She says softly, grief still in her voice. "I will never forget him, never, but I -- If I cling to the past then I can have no future."

"Esther--"

"... I'm very tired," Esther confesses suddenly, sounding as tired as she says as she rises with his help. "-- and so, I'm going to sleep. I hope," A pause, "That we can talk in the morning." Please stay.

Ion, suddenly feeling very tired himself, nods against the darkness that is obstructed by the moonlight.

"Yeah."

And so they agree.


It is Seth that takes the initiative to push her, which in turn results in her stumbling against him, limbs intertwined awkwardly, lips pressed against lips. He is undeniably embarrassed, she is feverishly flushed, and they extricate themselves in record speed, Seth notes. Apologies are made, Seth's being unconventionally dishonest, and speculations arise.

"The Count of Moldova and the Queen? Really?"

"Yes, I heard that they've been lovers for years!"

"Really? Why, even before she was Queen?"

"Certainly!"

"But wasn't she a nun in the service to the Vatican back then?"

"So?"

"So!"

"Well I think they look magnificent together."

"You're right about that. I hope that they stay together."

A chorus of agreement.


Meanwhile, Ion and Esther keep their distance, burying the rumors of a love affair.


It has been three weeks since Esther has seen Ion and --

There is an ache for him deep in her heart, embedded like sharp knives. She's never felt like this -- whenever Father Nightroad disappeared she was always consumed with panic -- and so Esther is confused. She pictures him, grinning, appearance unchanged by time or the tragic stain that is upon him. Esther realizes that she is anxious and at the same time dreading. She smiles, pressing palm against palm, and begins to pray.

Father Nightroad, I think I...


Their meeting is very different from the last -- she rushes to embrace him like he did all those years ago, both smiling. They exchange greetings and polite niceties, as they were taught to. When there is nothing remotely artificial to say anymore, both are silent, a heavy tension hanging in the air.

"I missed you." Ion says quietly, almost so that she does not hear him but she does. She smiles, turns to him as they slide into the car, settling into their respective places, the driver initiating the vehicle. A moment later, when all there is, is silence, she reaches her satin hand and places it unto his.

Father...

"Me too."

Thank you.