The streamlined limousine slowed to an idle stop at the turn, the glow of the waxing gibbous moon shining on it silver coat and illuminating the European countryside around it. The driver signaled, then turned into the crowded driveway of the estate; sweeping around to the front of the elegant home. As a valet approached, the tinted driver's-side window rolled down and the chauffer calmly waved the youth away. As the now-disappointed valet retreated, the back passenger door smoothly opened vertically.
A young man stepped out of the limo adjusting the golden cufflinks on his sleeves and ensuring that his dark grey suit was presentable. It always paid off to keep up appearances, especially at events such as this. He looked up the steps of the manse to the open doors, the lights filtered from the estate illuminated his platinum blonde hair to a near golden shine. The young man stepped back to allow the other passenger to exit the limo.
"Thanks again, Quatre for letting me tag along to this thing." the second young man flicked his long braid of brown hair off his shoulder, looking uncomfortable in the formal black suit he wore over his lean frame.
Quatre nodded as he shut the door and motioned for his chauffer, Abdul, to continue onwards to find a parking spot. "I don't mind it at all Duo, the invitation said I could include a guest. Since Hilde wanted you out of the house, I thought you would enjoy this event instead of wandering around the scrap-yard being bored."
"Hey! Nothing is boring when it comes to spare parts!" Duo shot back with a grin, but then his expression turned more puzzled, "Still, I don't understand why Hilde wanted me to leave, I've always helped her when she's cleaning." he quietly mused as he scratched his head.
Quatre began to walk slowly towards the front doors, biting his tongue to not respond. Duo's eyes wandered around the vast elegant facade of the estate. "Besides, I always thought you hated these sort of events."
"It's a charity auction," the blonde replied, "I don't begrudge what it's trying to accomplish. I just dislike most of the people who attend these..." he sighed softly, exasperated "They only want to outshine one-another with their wealth, few attend these things out of selflessness."
Duo snorted, "Well, if it can make a CEO like you feel uncomfortable, then I'll really feel insignificant." he paused briefly to fish the invitation from his pocket, "But at least there'll be people we know, isn't Relena attending this?"
"Indeed she is, and you can always expect who'll be there with her." Quatre replied with a nod and smile.
"Her Heero." Duo grinned at the pun, then glanced at the card in his hand, blinking as he noticed something from its text, "Wait a sec, this is the Catalonia Estate!" he lifted an eyebrow then smiled deviously. "Isn't she the chick who stabbed you on the Libra battleship during the war?" the mechanic winked lewdly, elbowing his friend slightly in the side. "Don't tell me you're only attending this for a chance to 'get even' huh?"
Quatre pointedly ignored the innuendo even as his pale face turned scarlet. "It isn't like that, I- I just have to sign something..."
"Oh? Something like a Marriage Contract, perhaps?" came the cheeky reply.
Quatre softly glared at his companion, his blush threatening to increase, "It's all strictly business, I'm to sign an agreement affirming the merger of our two companies for the Mars Colony Construction project."
Duo's smile persisted, "I can still hear wedding bells."
The CEO open his mouth to snap a reply, but paused upon realizing that they now were at the top of the steps in front of a doorman, who, by the quizzical look on his face, had heard the last few lines of their dialogue. Quatre awkwardly coughed, his face still red, and snatched the invitation from Duo's hands, and passed it to the doorman. Breaking off his stare, the porter compared the card to the guest list on his clipboard, and then stepped aside to allow their entry.
The pair stepped into a large elegant foyer, the tiled floor was polished to such a mirror-like sheen that ghostly reflections of the two young men and the passing servants of the house could be seen as they walked. Duo looked up in interest to see a vast chandelier that swayed from the ceiling, its soft glow giving the foyer an amber hue. Quatre, however, kept his eyes fixed firmly ahead towards a closed set of wide double doors placed between the ends of a pair of curving staircases that swept gently towards the upper floors of the manse.
Duo started as muffled, soft classical music reached his ears from behind the double doors, "I'm having second thoughts. I don't think I'm posh enough for this..." his expression betraying his nervousness from behind his normal carefree exterior.
"Relax," Quatre chided, "Some of these people are part of the Earth Sphere Alliance, they'll be thrilled to speak with one of the Gundam pilots." Memories flashed briefly within their mind's eye of their time as agents for Operation Meteor six years ago. "Besides," the CEO continued, "If things get uncomfortable, find Relena- or better yet, Heero."
Duo looked unconvinced, "At least I won't be embarrassed while hungry, there's food being served here, right?" his eyes strayed to a gilded sign near the doors, which read 'Fourth Annual Auction-Ball'.
"Yes, but try to be moderate if you don't want to draw any attention to yourself." Quatre stated before taking a deep calming breath, and opening the double doors.
They were assaulted by a calm wave of noise, the constant hubbub of people talking merged with the languid notes of the classical music that flowed over the ballroom. The noise wasn't enough to mask their entry, however, as several pairs of eyes turned in the direction of the pair. The owners appraised them for several moments before returning their attentions to whatever conversations or activities they are a part of.
Quatre adjusted his lavender bowtie, using the movement to let him take in the layout of the room, to his far left stood a staircase leading to the upper level, it arched over several long tables bearing hors d'oeuvres alongside steaming entrees, bowls of lemon saturated water and various flavours of punch and bottles of Champaign and wine. With his eyes following the staircase, Quatre examined the upper level balcony and the hallways and doors that branched off of it to other areas of the upper floor.
Below this, at the back of the ballroom, sat a large semicircular stage temporarily installed for the event; at the moment it was currently empty. Before the stage sat a mass of circular tables where the guests could sit and dine, but also indicated the place where the auctioneers would participate. Quatre's blue eyes strayed towards the right of the room, where several large glass doors stood open leading out into what appeared to be a side garden. With a spark if annoyance, the CEO noticed valets and another near-packed parking lot just beyond the garden grounds; this was something his invitation had failed to mention; he would've preferred that his entrance to the ball be spared the scrutinous looks of some of the fellow upper-class.
Just to the right of the garden doors sat a medium-sized orchestra, where around fifty players were in the midst of playing Bach's Concerto Brandeburghese Number 5 by the sounds of it, the soft music encompassed the room and was matched by the activity taking place at its centre. The middle of the ballroom was dominated by dancers, dozens of couples moving in elegant tandem with the ebb and flow of the song.
Quatre finished fixing his tie and inclined his head towards the series of tables near the stage, "Well, let's find ourselves a seat."
They wove through the crowd, circumventing the dance floor from the left; Duo attempted to examine the dinner tables as they passed for anything that caught his eye- but since he had to keep pace with the CEO, he wasn't able to search very long. The pair found an empty table near the back of the cluster, its eight seats already prepared with elegant cloth napkins and silverware set before each chair, Quatre realized that the plates were back at the entree tables. He smiled, understanding the implications of this arrangement and approving of them.
"Quatre, Duo!" a voice called from the milling crowd, the two turned to see Relena Peacecraft striding towards them. Her blue eyes alight with warmth, the former temporary Queen of the Earth Sphere nodded to them with a smile, the pearl earrings she wore jingled with the movement. With her light brown hair set into a bun and wearing a smooth cream-coloured dress with matching high-heels, Relena nearly looked every inch the image befitting the title thrust upon her by the Romefeller foundation during the closing months of the war; all that was needed to complete the appearance would be the silver circlet crafted for her at that time.
Despite her regal appearance, Relena was in her early twenties in terms of age, and she spoke to the CEO and Mechanic with the air of an old friend. "I wasn't aware that you would be interested in attending this, Duo, since it might be too formal for your tastes."
"Ah, well, you know me, if there's friends and good food, I'm willing to try anything once." Duo grinned, "Besides, I'd be bored out of my skull if richy-boy here hadn't invited me." he jabbed a thumb at Quatre. "I just hope that people don't get the wrong idea with two men attending a ball together." he glanced around at the nearby guests.
Relena stifled a giggle "You needn't worry, I know of a few Prime Ministers who invite their brothers to such events. Besides, it's a chance to court the opposite sex." she gestured to a trio of young men nearby asking a group of ladies to dance.
"What brings you here, Relena?" Quatre inquired.
"Yeah, and is 'prince charming' showing up?" Duo asked.
Relena understood who he referred to, and nodded "Auctions like this give me the chance to find gifts for friends and family whilst also donating to a good cause. Dorothy hinted that there might be a few things being sold here that would interest my niece and nephew."
"What would four-year-olds want with the stuff being offered here?" Duo broke in, an incredulous look on his face.
Relena simply smiled, "Milou is rather fascinated by dinosaurs, so I thought a Utahraptor fossil would be perfect for him." she checked a small golden watch on the underside of her wrist "As for your other question, Heero informed me that he'll be a little late." a small inflection of disappointment was heard in her tone.
"I'm sure he'll make it up to you, indeed we can probably expect an entertaining entrance from him once he arrives." Quatre said in a comforting voice.
Duo's stomach growled, and he grinned in response "Well, that's the signal, I'll be off to the food tables," he waved as he walked away "don't wait up for me, go do as you like."
When she was sure Duo was out of earshot, Relena leaned towards Quatre and said in a conspiratorial whisper "I presume you haven't told him about Hilde's plan?" there was a look of concern on her face.
Quatre smiled "Of course not, and by her timetable, that spare room of theirs will be filled with baby things in an hour or so."
Relena shook her head, "I don't know why Hilde doesn't just tell him straight away, Duo would be overjoyed at the news! Leaving him out of the loop until the room is prepared just seems too cruel a thing for her to do."
The CEO chuckled, "She'd rather surprise him with the news, showing him the completed room and letting him figure the message out."
Relena sighed, "But still it- " she stopped, a look of horror forming on her face in the direction of the side gardens, "Heero! Heero, no! The valet is supposed to take your car keys!" hiking up the hem of her dress, she rushed off to where her fiancé was. From his position, Quatre could see the lean and stoic bodyguard that was Heero Yui had a terrified young servant in an arm-lock.
"Quatre Raberba Winner" came a smooth voice from behind, sampling and musing upon his name as if it was a fine wine spreading across the tongue.
He turned around.
Standing before him was the hostess of tonight's gathering, Dorothy Catalona's violet eyes swept up and down, appraising him like a jeweler would a gemstone, scanning every minute detail of him. Quatre did the same towards her, and at first glance it would appear that her dress was black, but upon closer examination it revealed itself to actually be a rather dark green shade. Whereas Relena's dress had been somewhat conservative, Dorothy's attire, though by no means obscene, left little to the CEO's imagination. It was form-fitting, and possessed a low enough neckline that left Quatre's eyes tracing the curves of her cleavage.
In a millisecond he caught himself and his gaze snapped up to her face, however, this didn't reduce the heat he felt in his cheeks in the slightest. He considered her smooth face, with its pointed nose, and those illustrious violet eyes. She possessed the same elegantly forked eyebrows that seemed to run so predominantly in her family, Quatre recalled that her deceased cousin, Treize Khushrenada, had them as well, meaning that it carried on in both men and women of her family.
Quatre knew it would most likely be passed onto any children she had.
He blinked, startled at the sudden and unexpected shift in thought. He returned his attention back to Dorothy's features, unlike Relena, she wore her hair loose, the platinum blonde tresses hanging like a golden curtain down her back, halting at her hips, the strands kept in check by the aid of a narrow, black headband.
For a long moment the wealthiest male and female CEO in the solar system simply stared at each other.
"Quatre Raberba Winner," she said again, her expression turning to wry amusement, "How enlightening for you to have arrived."
He was starting to feel very much like a rodent caught in a feline's shadow. His eyes briefly shifted to the small gaggle of men beside Dorothy, their exasperated looks and the fact that one was holding two glasses of champagne indicating that they had followed the Duchess through the crowd when she had started after Quatre's position near the stage. Dorothy's hand rose, palm down.
"It's sublime to be here, Dorothy, I thank you for the invitation." Quatre responded, gently taking her hand and bending at the waist to kiss it. His lips tingled as they made contact with her supple skin, and he disregarded the glares of the surrounding men as he drew away from the kiss, letting go of her hand. Dorothy apparently hadn't even granted them the luxury of such a formality.
At that moment, Bach's Concerto ended, and after another moment, the orchestra started up with Tchaivkosky's Sentimental Waltz, Dorothy's eyes flashed and her smile grew almost predatory, she reached out her hand again, this time with the palm up, "May I have this dance, Quatre?"
The wealthiest man in the solar system simply stared at the Duchess, a light blush creeping once again into his pale complexion, "O-of course." he stuttered, taking her hand gently.
Her eyes shone with a hint of triumph, "You have my thanks, Mr. Winner."
One of the suitors spoke up - the man holding the two fluted Champaign glasses - the distress on his face mirrored by his fellows. "B-but Lady Catalona, you-" whatever protest he was about to spout withered in his throat when Dorothy's silent glare slashed through him.
The Duchess stepped nimbly onto the dance floor, tugging the CEO with her, they set themselves into a waltz; Dorothy allowing Quatre to lead. He placed his right hand around her waist as she rested her left on his shoulder, with their free hands joining in the raised position. They moved in the traditional 3/4ths time to the steps. Quatre knew that she far outclassed him in terms of dance skill, Dorothy was a master at the social arts of the formal court, though, to his surprise she slowed down her steps to accommodate his no-doubt clumsy moves.
Indeed, any practice Quatre had at ballroom dance had been taught to him by Rashid of the Maganac Corps, and even though the Desert Fighting unit he had led during the war was loyal enough to him that they had happily joined as part of the workforce of his company- that still didn't stop them from jeering good-naturedly at his attempts to learn under Rashid's guidance.
Out of the corner of his eye, Quatre noticed the suitors disappearing into the crowd, looks of envy and irritation rampant on their faces. "I may have angered your friends." he said with an apologetic smile.
"Ugh, those vermin?" Dorothy snorted, "The insolent worms kept clinging to me like leeches, each one trying to become more of a suck-up than the last." the young Duchess huffed, "As if I'm some sort of goddess, so high-and-mighty that offerings must be left at my altar to appease me." After a moment, her annoyance subsided - almost as if it had never been there in the first place - and that subtle, calculating, look that Quatre had come to admire, and fear, appeared. "So," she said, leaning towards him as they danced, her eyes narrowing in interest as she smiled, "Who'd you bring?"
Quatre blinked, not sure what she meant at first, Dorothy's smile grew, amused; and she elaborated, "The invitation, you silly boy; it stated that you may bring an escort, I'm wondering who had accompanied you here."
The CEO now understood her meaning, but as he opened his mouth to respond, he was interrupted by a voice from the serving tables-
"OMIGOD, QUATRE! THEY HAVE THOSE LITTLE SANDWICH WRAPS HERE!"
Blindsided, Quatre could do nothing but shut his mouth slowly and resist the urge to put his palm over his face in abashment. One of Dorothy's forked eyebrows rose, "Maxwell? You brought Duo Maxwell to this auction?"
Quatre nodded, smiling apologetically, "Well... his wife has a surprise for him, so she needed him out of the house... and..." he shrugged, as if that encompassed the issue.
He could've sworn, for the briefest second, something like relief flicker in Dorothy's gaze - but then it was gone, hidden by her impeccable mask of courtly intrigue. "Well then, I shall hide the wine."
A bead of sweat dragged down Quatre's temple, "You can try."
"Is that a challenge?"
Again, he shrugged, knowing full well that Duo could go humourously wild at events where alcohol was involved, and even when said drinks weren't openly being served.
"I'm sure his antics will provide ample entertainment later on tonight... so I'll leave the Champaign in plain sight - on your table perhaps." Her smile grew mischievous at the dismayed look on his face, "Oh, like the idea never crossed your mind?" she said tartly. He simply coughed, looking away for a moment, deigning to answer.
"I may even have a lampshade placed-" she started.
"Don't you dare." Quatre hissed, unable to keep the grin from his face even though he knew she was toying with him.
Dorothy's giggle was like the ringing of delicate silver bells in his ears.
The Duchess seemed to wave the previous topic away with a flick of her wrist, "And what, may I ask; has prompted your attendance to my humble little gathering tonight anyway?" she asked, her tone feigning naïveté.
He twirled her, "Oh, you know perfectly well what led me to accept your invitation, the merger for the Mars contract, remember?"
"Ah, yes, that." Dorothy replied, professing forgetfulness, "All business as usual, Mr. Winner; I'm honestly surprised you didn't just politely refuse."
"It's rather difficult to decline an offer if one's hand is forced." the CEO replied as they swayed.
Her eyes glinted, "If you are not even willing to show up for a formal occasion that I'm hosting, how can I be sure you'll be reliable for a business one?" she countered, "Besides," her fingers traced random patterns on his shoulder, "how do I know that you aren't showing up just because you missed me?" She smirked victoriously upon seeing his resulting blush and flabbergasted attempts to respond, the song ended and they parted positions. Dorothy nodded in approval, "Adequate dancing, though you nearly stepped on my foot seven times throughout." she tilted her head, bemused. Quatre blinked, her eyes hadn't left his face during the course of their conversation!
"Now," she continued, gesturing, "I've some tasks I need to conduct before the auction actually begins; the contract is upstairs in my office - a servant will be at the top of the stairs to lead you there. I'll arrive to sign my end of the bargain shortly." Dorothy nodded and turned to leave, but paused before turning back. "And Quatre?"
He blinked, "Yes?"
She smiled "Thank you for the dance." then she continued walking and melted into the milling crowd.
Quatre sighed, smiling slightly, and strode off the dance floor towards the stairs. As he moved, his eyes caught Relena scolding Heero near the dining tables about his overreaction towards the valet, she only stopped when he leaned forwards and silenced her with a kiss. The CEO ascended the stairs, meeting an elderly butler at the top who was guarding a velvet rope that acted as a barrier for the rest of the upper floor.
"Mr. Winner, I presume?" the old gentleman wheezed, nonchalant.
Quatre nodded in affirmation before showing his ID.
After comparing the card to Quatre's face, the butler bowed before handing it back and turned towards a hallway on the left, "Mistress Catalonia has already informed the servants of your business here, this way please." he rasped as they started to walk.
The hallway possessed the same finery as the rest of the estate; chandeliers swayed from the ceiling, a deep plush red carpet covered the floor, and portraits of members of the Catalonia family were suspended on the walls. They passed dour and imposing paintings of Dorothy's father, Chilias Catalonia; and grandfather, Duke Dermail. Quatre couldn't quite shake the idea that, even from the afterlife, they didn't approve of his association with Dorothy.
Eventually, they reached the polished oaken doors that led to the Duchess' office, the butler bowed again as he opened the doors for Quatre to pass. The young CEO took the time to view the room as the doors closed softly behind him. He wasn't quite sure what he had been expecting of it, the office was large - possessing the same carpeting as the hallway - and a desk (crafted from Mahogany, Quatre surmised) dominated the back of the room with its size and elegance. A pair of plush chairs squatted before the desk, while a high-backed office chair -noticeably higher than the plush ones - sat behind. A quad-core computer graced a corner of the desk, its paper-thin monitor shut off. His eyes turned to roam the cream-coloured walls, examining the few paintings that hung there: a lake in the centre of a European countryside; and a starscape dotted with the space colonies.
A glint caught his gaze as he moved across the floor, he turned to see a narrow table was behind Dorothy's high-backed chair, against the wall. In a rectangular glass case, its blade naked and its sheath lying beneath it, rested a sword.
The scar on Quatre's lower torso itched.
Despite its entirely golden appearance, Quatre knew it to be crafted from an unknown alloy that Dorothy favoured - her personal limo was plated in it. Normal gold was too malleable of a material for the Catalonia woman's tastes, she preferred it where beauty and efficiency worked hand-in-hand. It was the same style of rapier that had wounded him on the Libra, Quatre idly wondered if it was indeed the exact same sword... perhaps only given the golden sheen as a reminder to Dorothy of how she had shed his blood during the final battle of the war...
Quatre shook himself from such thoughts, Dorothy was no longer that sort of woman; sure he was standing in the office of a person whose siren song had led rival corporations to their doom; but he knew that Dorothy had cast aside such displays of pettiness. Wanting to take his mind off such issues he returned to his examining of the office, now noticing the easel that stood at the corner near Dorothy's desk. It was a typical style of easel used to show large graphs concerning estimates and timetables during corporate meetings - but the rectangular object that was concealed beneath a silken sheet on top of it was too thick to be regular posterboard.
His curiosity piqued, Quatre walked over to the easel; but paused as he reached towards the sheet. What was he doing? He was in the office of a woman who would become his corporate ally for the Mars construction project, a woman who had invited him into her home (after practically forcing him to attend this gathering, mind you); and now he was about to snoop through one of her things.
However, just when he was going to let his arm drop; a small voice from the deep recesses of his consciousness brought up a valid point.
'Dorothy isn't stupid, she wouldn't leave something private or vastly important out in the open where anyone could look at it.'
The inner voice nudged him onwards, and his fingers closed around the white linen cloth that hid the thin object from sight. Quatre carefully pulled the sheet off, revealing the painting that resided on the easel.
He blinked, surprised to see Gundam Sandrock, of all things, on the canvas. The mobile suit was just how he remembered it - the grey and white colour scheme it possessed, the great diffusing cloak that could defend it from ranged attacks was thrown open where it served more as a cape in the painting; its beam-machine gun for space combat was magnetically attached to one hip. The large pair of heat-khopeshes that served as its primary weapons were gripped in both hands and posed in a defensive formation, matching Sandrock's guarding stance.
Breaking his eyes off of his mobile suit, Quatre examined the rest of the painting: the background was set in the deserts of the Middle East, and behind Sandrock, in the distance, stood a city from ancient Egypt, resplendent with temples and a massive palace. In the night sky above the city floated a space colony, Quatre would hazard a guess that it represented Colony L4, his home. His eyes flicked over to the right side of the piece, towards the tide of sunlight creeping over the sand dunes in the background, and his eyes were drawn to a smaller figure to the lower right...
"I gave you a tan, I hope you don't mind." came a smooth voice from behind him.
Quatre started at the voice, being far too engrossed in the painting to have heard Dorothy enter the office, he turned to see her leaning against her elegant desk, her usual wry smirk on her face, "You peeked, you naughty boy." The Duchess chided, teasingly, while waggling a finger at him.
Quatre couldn't keep his mouth from forming a sheepish grin before turning back to regard the representation of himself in the painting.
The figure was indeed Quatre, though he possessed black hair and his skin had a middle-eastern tan. A Uraeus-style Pharaoh's crown rested on his brow, and a crook and flail were held crossed over his chest, the royal garments he was depicted in billowed slightly in a breeze. This Quatre's expression was stern and yet seemed to be contemplating something as he stood in Sandrock's shadow and looked to the dawn alongside the massive mobile suit. Quatre was amazed at the sheer accuracy of his likeness in the piece, it was like looking at a past life of his - the piece oozed the implications of a melding of the future and the ancient past, his eyes were drawn to the tight, elegant signature on the lower-right edge of the canvas.
"I wasn't aware that you painted."
He could hear Dorothy's smirk in her response "and I wasn't aware you played the violin in addition to the piano, we learn new things about one another so rapidly, I suppose."
Quatre turned back to her, confusion written on his face; since when had he ever played the piano in her presence?
Reading his expression, Dorothy's devilish smirk grew, "Quatre dear, did you ever really think that only Heero and Miss Noin ever listened to you play- that you were truly alone in the music hall at the Sanc Kingdom school while you practiced?"
Clearing his throat, the CEO turned from her in an attempt to hide the blush, "W-well, if you wished to listen, you could've simply asked me."
"Ah, yes- but then you wouldn't be playing in solitude anymore; you'd just get self-conscious, where's the fun in that?"
Quatre said nothing, but his stomach responded by growling, he turned back to her in time to see a extravagant eyebrow raise somewhat.
Dorothy's tone turned vaguely triumphant, "My intuition was correct, you haven't eaten yet; and after my cooks slaved all day to prepare the dishes for tonight." she stepped from her desk revealing the tray that she'd be hiding behind her back, "No matter, I brought some things to tide you over."
Quatre blinked, stepping forwards to examine the tray further, his eyes flicking from the tall, gently steaming, steel teapot to the stacked plate of pastries next to it, "Baklavas" he mused.
The duchess nodded towards the tray, "Chocolate baklavas, with cinnamon in the layers and crushed almonds sprinkled on the top. I thought you might enjoy a taste from home, so I tried a hand at cooking these."
The CEO hesitated as he reached out towards the tray, his eyes turning to inspect his suit, baklavas weren't the cleanest treats to enjoy due to the flakiness of the pastry and he didn't want to have to trouble his maids with trying to hunt down all of the crumbs when cleaning.
Dorothy chuckled, again reading his expression, and flicked out a pair of the cloth napkins from beside the teapot, "No need to worry about your delicate wardrobe, Mister Winner, I've prepared for such a dilemma." she teased as she strode forwards and fixed a napkin to the collar of his suit.
Quatre opened his mouth to protest- to say that he could easily fix his own napkin, but by the time he could find his voice; she'd already finished and was affixing her own to the neckline of her dress.
"The tea is liquorice, we were out of mint, and I'm not sure if you've tried it before." the noblewoman continued as she poured a pair of glasses.
"I haven't, though I trust in your tastes." Quatre replied as he accepted the warm teacup before gingerly sipping from it. Letting the unique flavour spread across his tongue for a moment, Quatre smiled, "Indeed, it's nice."
"Isn't it though? My mother would prepare it for me whenever I was ill as a child." the duchess responded before drinking from her own glass, her eyes closing with nostalgia.
Selecting a baklava from the top of the precise stack, Quatre bit into it, taking care so that the shower of flakes would land on the napkin. He chewed thoughtfully, recalling how he would help some of his sisters in baking baklavas back on L4 when he was a young boy...
"It's ironic, isn't it?"
Breaking from his memories, Quatre turned to Dorothy; she was staring into her teacup, a nigh-unreadable expression on her face, was it... guilt? Regret?
The CEO blinked, "I'm sorry?"
Dorothy continued as if she hadn't heard him, "I mean, here we are- making small talk and acting as if nothing truly happened..." those gorgeous violet eyes stared at the spot on his torso where the scar was located.
Ah. That was it, Quatre realized, "Dorothy..." he started, but she turned away from him, setting her glass on the desk.
"It's almost like a dream, I mean, we clashed blades during the war... I tried to kill you for God's sake! And yet... we... well, you're standing here, with me, without a grudge or blemish to your soul and I'm the one who keeps replaying that moment over and over again..."
There was the slightest edge to her voice, not one of anger; but one of sorrow- she wasn't crying, not yet at least. It took quite a bit to make a proud woman like Dorothy Catalonia cry; and Quatre recalled the tears that streaked her face after her sword had bit home on the Libra all those years ago.
'You are a very kind person.' Quatre remembered gasping those words in the moments after the rapier had stabbed him; in that very moment when Dorothy had pierced his physical defenses, Quatre had pierced her emotional ones. He remembered how, in the span of those seconds, he saw the scared, grieving young woman hidden behind those layers of power and haughty pride. He'd seen the side of Dorothy that she hadn't shown to anyone before, not Relena, and not even her own beloved grandfather.
She regretted harming the one person who could slip through her guard so easily, the one person who could truly understand her.
"Dorothy," he said again softly, setting his own cup aside and stepping towards her. He raised his hands, letting them hover over the bare curves of her shoulders in hesitation before gently letting them drop to his sides "it's alright..."
The Duchess swiftly turned around, not backing away but not coming any closer either, with their faces a mere foot apart he could see the crystal beads that were her tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "You can forgive me so easily, Quatre Raberba Winner?" she snapped, her voice cracking with a suppressed sob, "Have you such purity that you can disregard the past so readily, and stand to be in my prescience with no hate in your heart?"
Quatre paused, gathering his thoughts, his gaze not breaking from her questioning one, "I... I'm not perfect, Dorothy, but I do understand the circumstances; after all- my father died in the war as well. I don't hate you; in fact... I forgave you the moment that sword stuck me." He hoped that she'd read the sincerity in his eyes...
When the kiss came, it was like one of her fencing moves, Dorothy was rigid one millisecond, then she swept forward to press her lips to his- the barest touch, as if she feared that any more contact would scare him away- and then snapped her body back to her original pose, the crimson tinge to her normally porcelain countenance the only indication that the action had been taken at all. Her eyes were wide, probing his for a reaction; looking for the slightest indicator that she'd been in error.
Quatre almost thought he'd imagined it, almost feared that he'd let loose some hidden fantasy from the depths of his psyche during this moment of serenity, and that the young woman before him had really simply responded verbally and was now awaiting his response. The light suggestion of liquorice on his lips left him confounded, was that the aftertaste from his sampling of the tea, or was it from her lips instead? He didn't really think as he leaned forwards, his heart overriding his mind as it would sometimes do whilst piloting Sandrock during the war; and crashed his lips upon hers.
The floodgates were released.
This kiss was clumsy and experimental, both due to lack of experience and obvious lack of practice. They could feel echoes of each other's personality in it- of Dorothy's strong will, and Quatre's passion, and yet the opposite could also be felt- a hint of submissiveness from Dorothy, and a smattering of Quatre's tactical intellect. Her arms encircled his waist, crushing him to her with surprising power in such a slender form. They leaned against Dorothy's desk, one of Quatre's arms supporting them, whilst his other gently cradled the back of her head. Without thinking, Dorothy's hands ran up his back, feeling the athletic texture of his muscles. She then traversed to the front of his suit to run her slender fingers over his abs through the thin silk of his shirt - but paused at the knot of scar tissue on his lower torso.
Through intuition and the requirement of oxygen, the kiss reluctantly broke.
Through gasps for air Dorothy spoke, "So... I did leave... a scar, it seems." her voice lacked the regret it had possessed minutes before, replaced by a hint of surprise. "You know... you could've had it surgically... removed... why?"
Panting, the young CEO responded, "Because, Dorothy... I... didn't really want to get rid of the one thing you gave me to remember you by." his mouth turned up into a faint smile.
Dorothy's patented smirk returned, "...silly boy..." she huffed before returning to the task at hand.
With this next kiss, time became like sand, losing track of it as one tried to contain it, slipping through one's fingers. They learned to breathe through their nose to make the moment last unbroken.
What finally interrupted them was a soft gasp from the doorway of the office, and a thump as something fell to the floor.
Lazily, the CEO's broke apart, their heads turning to regard the disturbance as their bodies remained pressed against one another.
The young maid, her face crimson, stooped down to gather up the cleaning rags and spray-bottle she'd dropped in her surprise; her eyes remained down, not daring to rise and meet those of her Mistress.
"Jeana," Dorothy called, a faint air of command in her voice.
"Y-yes Ma'am?" the maid responded as she straitened up, eyes still downcast in embarrassment.
"You were the one who had hoped for a raise, correct?" the Duchess inquired.
Jeana's head snapped up, eyes wide in surprise, whatever she'd expected Dorothy to say, this clearly wasn't it. "Yes, Ma'am."
"Well, if you keep this little... escapade, from the rest of the staff; I'll grant you a... shall we say, a 25 percent raise of your salary?" Dorothy responded, with the faintly hinted threat of the unspoken alternative hovering in the silence.
The maid rapidly bobbed her head in affirmation, "Of course, Miss." she glanced at the tray of baklavas and tea that had been shifted to the centre of Dorothy's desk, "Ma'am, I need to..." she nodded to the unfinished refreshments, lifting the cleaning implements as well to indicate her task.
"Oh?" Dorothy's eyes swept over to the tray, and then to the clock on the wall, checking the time. "Ah, you needed to clean and take the tray back. Alright, alright..." the Duchess waved her hand dismissively, the other still gripping Quatre's lower back; "Split up the baklavas amongst the rest of the staff, and delay the cleaning by... oh, fifteen minutes."
The maid bowed formally, "Yes, Miss." she walked over to the desk, pretending not to notice Quatre's partially unbuttoned shirt or her Mistresses' unkempt hair, and gathered up the tray of pastries and tea before hastily walking from the office, Dorothy's eyes boring into her all the while.
"Now..." Dorothy said exasperated, as she regarded Quatre, "Presuming there won't be any more interruptions, we still have about ten minutes until the auction is to begin."
"Oh, how shall we fill the time?" Quatre replied, nuzzling his nose against hers before continuing.
Quatre strode down the staircase adjusting his ruffled tie and wrinkled silken shirt. The lights in the ballroom had dimmed, and the guests were gathered at the tables clustered around the stage. Weaving through the crowd, the CEO made his way to his table, discovering Heero and Duo already sitting, the surrounding dinnerware used, Relena sat next to Heero, but her attention was diverted because she was chatting with other aristocrats at a nearby table.
Dorothy's warning to hide the alcohol had gone unheeded, from what Quatre saw Duo's state of sobriety and the empty and semi-full wine glasses scattered before him; the young mechanic was teetering even whilst sitting down, hiccupping occasionally with a flushed face and an idiot grin. Heero, stoic as ever, with his brown hair only somewhat combed, was wearing the same style of formal-blue suit that he always wore to these sorts of occasions. The war hero's eyes snapped to Quatre before nodding in greeting, "Quatre. You're late. The auction is to begin soon." He said in his usual flat tone before fixing his attention to the stage.
Quatre gave a nod in reply with a smile. "My apologies, I was just concluding some business."
"You have a freshly formed hickies placed over and around your carotid artery. Did this 'business' of yours require a pact of a sort?" Heero responded without taking his eyes off the stage, the slightest inflection and lifting of the corners of his mouth betraying his amusement.
Duo drunkenly turned in his chair so fast that he almost fell from it, being forced to grip the table edge to prevent himself from toppling, "Dude!" he slurred, his eyes shining as he stared at the CEO and light bruises on his throat, "I knew it, I knew you had it in you man! Fill me in on all the sweet details later *hic* - it- it was the Catalonia woman, right? *hic*" Quatre's friend paused to blindly grope for a nearby glass - which Heero slid out of his reach.
Quatre slid into his seat, hoping that the lighting would hide his blush, and that the talking of the guests would drown out Duo's yammering; he blinked in surprise when Heero tossed a napkin to him.
Relena's fiancé and bodyguard nodded to the CEO again, "There is lipstick on your jawline. I'd suggest wiping it off, unless you'd like Duo to crow about it to everyone here."
Quatre nodded again and wiped off his face as Duo tried to make a grab for the wineglass that Heero kept shifting out of his reach.
"You've had enough for one night." The war hero snapped at his friend.
"Aww, c'mon man! *hic* How am I supposed to enjoy the show without something in my system?" the mechanic whined as he tried again for the wineglass.
"You seem to forget how angry Hilde will be if you arrive home drunk." Heero countered as he handed the glass to Relena, who in turn placed it on the far side of the table.
"Especially tonight of all times." Quatre mused idily.
Duo turned to blearily regard Quatre, having heard him speak, but as he opened his mouth to question the CEO, the stage became illuminated.
The conversations of the guests died down, and all attention was fixed to the stage as Dorothy strode to the microphone placed at the front.
"Ladies and Gentlemen." The Duchess began in smooth tones, her eyes swept along the rows of tables, "I'm honoured that you could attend my 'little' gathering,' she gave pause to allow the guests time to chuckle at the irony, "I hope that this evening has been a spectacular one, but now it's time for the main event. Let us begin our Fourth Annual Auction-Ball of the Earth Sphere Alliance." The Duchess bowed and stepped away from the mike as a bearded auctioneer took her place and the onstage curtains were drawn back.
Moments later she was at Quatre's table, exchanging a brief hug with Relena and nodding at Heero and Duo. The mechanic opened his mouth to ask something, his excited expression betraying his lewd topic, before Heero nonchalantly clamped his hand over Duo's mouth with a warning look. Raising an eyebrow in amusement, Dorothy passed the two ex-pilots as Duo struggled to break from Heero's strong grip, she sat next to Quatre, exchanging with him a knowing smile as the first item was wheeled into the spotlight of the stage.
Quatre blinked upon realizing it was an easel with a sheet over it…
The sheet was removed, revealing the painting that Dorothy had produced for him.
"Ladies and gentlemen." The auctioneer began, "Our first item of the night is this lovely piece painted by our hostess, a stunning bit of art depicting a melding of the ancient past and the present. The bidding begins at…"
The price was given.
Heero gave a whistle of amazement, and Quatre could almost feel his own pupils shrinking.
Numbly, the CEO turned to look in horror at Dorothy, who simply gave her usual smirk before replying in a whisper, "You honestly don't think I know the internal struggles you endure at these sort of event? You always buy some item you have no real use for simply because you want to donate the money, then you end up giving it to Maganac Corps or one of your many sisters. There's never truly anything you desire at these auctions, so I thought it was the time for you to find something you'd like for once. If you want it, you're going to have to work for it."
She leaned over and planted a quick kiss on the lips by a small way of apology.
An hour later, with his checkbook feeling emaciated, Quatre helped Abdul load the painting carefully into the limousine while Heero crammed Duo into the passenger side of Relena's own vehicle.
"Let us take him home," Relena said as she carried a few bags full of fossils, a bead of sweat traced its way down her temple as she heard the mechanic dry heave and Heero curse in the background "I don't think it best for him to be traveling in the same car as your gift, especially when Dorothy worked so hard on it."
Quatre nodded in agreement as he closed the limo door, "I think it's best that way, if Hilde becomes angry at him, then Heero is there to ensure she keeps him in one piece."
Relena chuckled, "Indeed." She turned towards her vehicle; "Heero and I will see you around, Quatre."
"Goodbye." The CEO replied with a smile, waving to Heero and a staggering Duo as Relena's limo started up and left the parking lot.
He felt a slender hand on his shoulder and turned to regard Dorothy.
"I presume you enjoyed your evening?" the Duchess asked, her usual smirk in place as one of her elegant eyebrows rose.
Quatre gave a sigh of fatigue, "It was nice." He nodded, "Though the price for the painting…"
She placed a slender finger to his lips to silence him, "I know what you're going to say, but understand darling, it was set that high to discourage anyone else from wanting to bid on it; besides, your money is going to charity so it's a win-win situation." She then leaned forwards to nuzzle her nose against his, "The night is still young, you don't have to end your stay here so soon…" she traced her fingertips over the series of hickies she'd left on this throat and chuckled softly.
"What?" Quatre asked as an eyebrow rose in question.
"I was just musing… it seems every time you and I meet each other, I always seem to leave marks on your body."
The CEO blinked in surprise, then smiled, "I suppose I should return the favour sometime." He leaned forwards to place a quick kiss on her neck, then paused in the midst of giving a second one, "the merger I came to sign, where is it?"
Dorothy's smirk grew, "In my office."
Quatre understood the implications, "Abdul," he called over his shoulder.
"Yes Master Quatre?" came the quizzical reply.
"Postpone our leave by fifteen minutes, I still have some business matters to attend to…" he ordered as he gently took Dorothy's hand as she led him back into the estate.