Days Without Rain

It's imperative that they're not seen together, so Setsuna times his visits around the winds from the Caspian Sea. Marina leaves her windows unfettered to invite the breeze in. Her lover spends too much time as it is in cruel little boxes with regulated air. Beneath greying skies, under cover of rainfall, they are free to stroll the balconies without fear of roaming lenses.

The people would rejoice if Queen Marina Ismail were to take the destroyer of Momento Mori as her consort, but the Earth Federation Council took a much dimmer view of Setsuna F. Seiei. Azadistan would be branded a rogue state as fast as it took for Iron Kati to scramble an Ahead squadron.

The Earth Federation Council couldn't care less if Queen Marina Ismail took tea with Soran Ibrahim, but there would be riots in the streets if the people learned that she was socializing with an unidentifiable Kurd. She'd set the country back fifty years in the time it took to eat half of a pastry.

It is what it is. Something that they have both accepted.

"I'm going to get married," Marina tells him one morning. And because she is a queen now, her voice does not waver. "Parliament has presented their suitors to me. I've chosen a man with an old family, and kind eyes."

Setsuna's eyes snap open. His back tenses, and he threatens to raise his head from her lap. Marina does not stop petting his hair. Setsuna does not like people in his space, she knows, and even now, after all these years, he's still utterly defenseless against a touch that's meant to soothe instead of strike. It is a secret that Marina keeps close to her heart. She would not like Federation Special Forces to learn that there is a better way to confuse Setsuna than the useless evasive patterns their training craft carve over her airspace.

"I see," he says.

Of course he does. Setsuna is an intelligent man. He will have been waiting for this moment to come. Marina is thirty-four years old -- a bona fide spinster, to the young mothers of the Capital -- and Azadistan's impossible peace is in need of an heir.

All the foresight in the world does not stop Setsuna from gripping her free wrist so hard that his knuckles pale.

"Shhhh. It's alright."

"Do you want this?"

"More than anything," Marina says. "One day, my child will lead Azadistan up into space. The people will make a new life away from all this ruin. That's the path you're clearing for them, Setsuna."

If she is regretful, it is only because she suspects some truths can still hurt him. Marina wants to be fat with child -- clumsy and swollen and glowing with promise. Setsuna F. Seiei must not be allowed to give her that.

"I still don't understand this world," Setsuna insists, eyes hooded.

What he means is that he does not understand why the world must work this way, when it could be changed into something better. He's been asking her the same question since the day they met. Marina will never know why he thinks that she can answer it.

Setsuna is beautiful, though; dark coiled muscle against raw silk sheets. The sunlight softens his angles until she can pretend that he hasn't been sculpted by hardship. Marina is helpless against the affection that wells up in her breast, when she notices that her combing hasn't helped his rumpled hair one bit.

She bends to press a kiss to his temple.

"Don't look at it that way. God understands how much easier it is to cherish things that are rare," Marina says, after pulling back. "There aren't many easy things in my life, or yours. It is God's blessing that we can have this without complications."

"I don't believe in God." This time, Setsuna really does sit up. Marina can't see his face. His inflection is flat.

"I know." Marina smiles sadly at his back. But I wish you could.

Once Setsuna is gone, Marina changes into simple frock, so that she can go walk the grounds before her midmorning conference with Massoud Rachmadi's son. She knows that it will take a long time for her gardens are this lush again. Summer is descending upon Azadistan, and there will be many days without rain.