Trowa woke up because of his neighbor's stereo; cold, prefabricated music
pounded through his wall. It hit his ears wrong. He groaned and tried to
pretend he was still asleep. If you know me so well, he heard the
words, Why are we having this same fight again? Pulling the same punches
again? Groaning, the flautist rolled over and covered his ear with his
pillow. It muffled the sound, but didn't quite keep it out. Why break
down, beat up again?
A voice joined in, singing along off key. Same ol' shit, different day,
babe. Cringing at the discordant sound, he tried to ignore the noise.
It was no use; Trowa's eyes creaked open. Just the same ol' shit.
Light seeped in through his curtains, watery and pale. Morning. Trowa
squeezed his eyes closed again in denial. It was too early to be morning.
A rose by any other name, still pricks, still bleeds.
He shivered. The recording was cheap, harsh with static. The singers voice
wasn't loud enough -- the electric guitar drowned it out on some chords. The
guitarist himself wasn't so bad, in a charged, aggressive way, but the bass
player butchered every other note. The drums rattled like a machine gun.
Worse, though, the music was lifeless.
I smell you comin' a mile away. Just the same ol' shit.
Surrendering, Trowa levered himself upright and pulled on yesterday's shirt.
His eyes felt gritty from the abortive attempt at sleep. The clock
resting on the floor by his bed read 6:33am in bold red numbers. He rubbed
his eyes and read it again. Still 6:33am. It had said 3:19am when he'd
gone to bed. He almost wished that his neighbor's stereo were louder so he
could rightly demand it be turned off. Trowa put on his work boots, tying
the laces in a firm double knot, then reached for his jacket.
It took only a moment for him to scrape gel through his hair, grab his flute
case, and pad out the door, leaving the sound of his housemate's music
Normally, Trowa considered himself lucky in his living arrangements. It was
hard to bring in enough money to rent an apartment busking street corners,
or playing in the sort of bars where the patrons appreciated an Irish flute.
He'd managed at times; others, he'd been evicted. His latest home was a
room in what had been, at the turn of the century, a boarding house. Of the
four other people he shared the house with, all but one of them considered
themselves artists of one sort or another. Convenient, because on the
occasions that he fell into some odd or outmoded behavior, they took it for
a symptom of creativity.
Outside, the world was bleached with low fog and early morning light. It
was raining again -- or still -- a soft, feathery mist that seemed bright but
wasn't. The evergreens looked grey. The autumn leaves on the maples lining
the street blazed through the haze, the only real color. Taking a deep
breath, he smelled fall hiding behind the city-stink. Clean and faded.
Tucking his free hand in his pocket, he set off at a brisk walk. The
movement helped wake him up, easing the ache from his still tired limbs and
moving his blood. The fresh air cleared some of the lingering grogginess
from his head.
Not as good as coffee, but still nice, he reflected, listening to a
bird singing somewhere nearby, natural and soothing.
The quiet lasted until an engine coughed itself into life down the street,
grumbling and growling as the driver pumped the gas to keep it from dying.
Exhaust blued the fog around a lumbering, battle-scarred truck. A moment
later, the truck backed out of its driveway, paused to switch gears, and
Trowa kept walking, not bothering to see if the bird would start singing
again, or if it had flown away with the ruckus. As he moved out of the
residential block, the sound of cars became a constant metallic drone,
punctuated by the occasional blast of a horn. It was late enough for the
commuters to be up, on the road, on their way to work. Stopping for coffee,
though more of them drank lattes and espressos than had ten years ago.
A bit of pale yellow caught Trowa's eye through the window of a diner. Not
blonde, not truly, but a soft finch gold. It was color he'd only ever seen
on nobles of the Seelie court.
The individual seated on the other side of the window was familiar, but for
a moment, Trowa didn't recognize him. It wasn't so much that he couldn't
believe what he saw as that he wanted to see it too much for it to be real.
He knew the profile, from narrow chin to pointed nose.
Trowa's feet changed direction; the diner's door opened with a jingle.
Quatre hadn't noticed him. The other's attention was focused on a brownie
sitting on a table waiting to be bussed. Trowa smiled a little at the sight.
Some things didn't change. Mussed hair, skin the color of hazelnuts, wide
eyes pinched tight with its grin, the brownie opened a creamer and drank it
"Mind some company?" Trowa asked, and Quatre's head jerked around with a
start. Coffee sloshed in the cup he held cradled in his hands.
"Not at all," the Seelie told him, his face twitching with some response
that he didn't allow to settle on his face. His expression smoothed into
something friendly, he motioned to the seat across from him. "Go right
Trowa sat, tucked his flute next to his thigh, and shrugged out of his coat.
Flipping over his coffee cup and waving to the waitress on duty, he
studied his one-time comrade more closely. He looked tired, but Trowa could
sympathize with that. At this hour, most of the world looked tired. His
synthetic button up shirt and slacks were more evening wear than morning,
though. His yellow hair was tousled.
Quatre caught him looking and explained wryly, "Still up. I only got off
work a couple hours ago."
"Oh?" Trowa watched gratefully as the waitress filled his mug. "Where are
"A bar, not far off the waterfront," he answered, taking another sip and
hiding his face.
Trowa didn't press, letting the conversation lull. He tasted his coffee,
found it acidly strong, and took another, longer drink. An easy warmth
spread through his chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the
brownie, capering drunkenly on the tabletop as it downed another creamer.
The waitress didn't see it at all, even as she bent over to clear the table.
"What about you?" Quatre asked into the silence, surprising the flautist.
The quiet between them felt less comfortable after the question.
"I'm playing." Trowa half shrugged, looking down into his coffee. He's seen
people scry with it before. "That's all I really ask."
"Can't give it up." It was a comment, not a question. The Seelie smiled as
he said it, showing a sliver of teeth.
"Can't say I tried," he said, shifting. The other made a noise that might
have been a laugh, or just an acknowledgement of his answer. "It gets me
"That's good to hear," Quatre returned, his face darkened briefly before
clearing again, like a cloud passing in front of the sun. Now it was him
looking for answers in his cup.
Trowa nodded in agreement as the waitress reappeared to take their orders.
He ordered French toast after groping through his pant pocket to see how
many bills he had left. Quatre ordered blueberry pancakes, holding his
coffee mug out for a refill.
We don't really have anything to say to each other, Trowa realized as
they once again lapsed into a silence that should have been companionable
but couldn't be. Their food arrived, and he picked at his without much
appetite, watching under his bangs as the other exile cut his pancakes with
the side of his fork before he ate them. Quatre's eyes were fixed looking
out the window, now, and he chewed thoughtfully.
"Have you seen any of the others?" the Seelie asked suddenly, stopping Trowa
with his food halfway to his mouth.
He considered the question carefully, finishing his bite. The French toast
was soggy, and too sweet. "I see Duo from time to time. Sometimes I just
guess it's him, I suppose," the musician answered finally. "Other than
that, I haven't seen any of the others in years."
Nodding, Quatre took a bite. "I see him every once in a while. I'll come
home and he'll be perched on the back of my dining room chair, or on the
faucet. He got in my garbage once, six or eight years ago now."
"I saw Wufei a ways back," Trowa offered. "There was a girl on his arm,
even though he doesn't enchant them anymore. I wonder if it was ever magic
to begin with."
"The last time I saw someone other than Duo, it was Heero. He wanted to
know if I had any clue were Her Majesty was." There was a bitterness to how
he said the honorific. His eyes wandered over his breakfast. Or dinner, as
the case may be. "I got the impression he'd been looking this whole time."
"He has been."
Quatre stabbed another piece of pancake. "I think sometimes that the war
isn't over for him."
Trowa frowned, his friend's words stirring up a memory. The war isn't
over. "I saw Zechs the other day."
"Is that so?" Quatre's head tilted to one side. "What was he doing here?"
"Looking for me, apparently. Or us. He mentioned Heero as his first
choice, but..." he let the thought trail off. They both knew Heero's state.
"He said Treize is looking for Relena."
That earned a surprised blink. "He doesn't know where she is?"
"It would seem not."
Quatre held his coffee a long moment before taking a drink, like someone
warming his hands. "Why would Zechs tell you that?"
"Pangs of conscience?" Trowa suggested with a sardonic snort. Looking down,
he noticed his French toast was gone. Quatre chuckled, his gaze drifting
back out the window. "Who can say? I never understood the man."
"There is that," Quatre ceded dryly. "I think he likes being inscrutable."
"That would explain the glasses." The joke fell flat. Trowa didn't fight
to revive the dialogue when Quatre didn't respond; he wasn't sure what to
say in any event. He finished his coffee quietly while the other Knight
ate, smearing the maple syrup on his plate with the last bite of pancake.
"I should get going," the Seelie said, not meeting Trowa's eyes. "I've
been up since yesterday afternoon. See you around?"
Trowa didn't bother asking for a number or an address. He reached into his
jeans and pulled out a wad of bills as he responded, "Yeah. I'll see you
around." Like a ritual.
Quatre left, the door jingling after him as he went. The flautist remained
where he was, finishing off his coffee while the waitress took the check.
There weren't any answers in the dark liquid, or the rings it left on the
sides of the mug.
Une's reflection regarded her demurely through the screen of her eyelashes
while she pinned up her hair. Sitting on her vanity stool, legs primly
crossed at the ankle, her image in the mirror looked the perfect, decorous
sidhe lady. Patting her coif into place, she frowned at herself. "Don't
sulk," she scolded the reverse image sharply when it refused to meet her
The reflection's head snapped up as though she'd been slapped. "I wasn't
sulking," she protested.
Une raised her one eyebrow, fixing her bangs away from her forehead. "Is
that so? What would you call it?"
"I was just waiting for you," the reflection told her, chin dropping. "Will
you be ready soon?"
"I am ready now," she corrected as she put on her glasses, then picked up a
pack of cigarettes from the table. She studied the label appraisingly
before turning back to her mirror. "Are you?"
A frown line appeared briefly between her brows in the glass and the corners
of her painted red lips turned down. "I will do whatever is necessary.
"Of course," Une replied. She raised her hand and the reflection did the
same -- hers held the cigarettes, though, where the reflection's was empty.
She paused an inch away from touching the mirror's silvered glass surface.
The frown line manifested again, the face clouding with confusion. Une
smirked, pressing the package against the glass. Slowly, it sunk through
into her reflection's waiting fingers. "Shall we?"
"If we must," the reflection agreed, and the Lady stood, stepping away from
her mirror. Smoothing her skirt over her thighs, she left her hotel room
and caught the elevator down to the lobby. Her reflection followed her,
distorted in the lid of a room service tray, blurry and indistinct in the
brassy elevator doors. In the lobby, she made a ghost on the windows. Rain
fell in an indistinct curtain behind her.
There was a sylph waiting for her in outside the hotel, wet green hair cut
in a ragged spill across his hazel eyes. He bowed to her politely, the
gesture at odds with the safety-pinned black denim jacket he wore, holey tee
shirt and heavy boots. She inclined her head, and let the sylph lead her to
the door of a grey antique limousine. He opened the door for her, giving
her a hand inside.
Une sat opposite another of the Wood Folk. His beard and hair were neatly
trimmed, both brown shot through with green and white. Eyes the color of
acorns regarded her out of a craggy, olive skinned face.
"Your Majesty," she greeted the Oak King. "I'd curtsey, but I'm afraid that
is a difficult task sitting down."
He smiled. "I'm sure exceptions can be made for that, Lady," he said, voice
creaking like the branches of an old tree as he spoke. "It is good to
finally make your acquaintance. I do hope that we will be able to reach an
agreement favorable to both our concerns."
"The hope is a mutual one," she assured him, smiling. Her eyes flicked to
the rear view mirror. She could see the boy taking the driver's seat, and
her reflection sitting in the back over the king's shoulder. The reflection
wasn't meeting her eyes again -- but she held a cigarette between two fingers.
Une could tell she was listening as she took a slow drag on the cigarette.
"His Excellency sends his regards," she said, turning attention back to the
greenman, "and his apologies for not being able to meet with you in person.
I am to tell you I speak for him on this matter."
He nodded and signaled for the driver to start the car. Within seconds, the
limo slid into traffic.
"You must have served him well, to have earned such a high regard," he
complimented. Une searched his face for signs of a deeper meaning.
"I flatter myself to think so," she replied, finding none. Sitting back, she
took in the interior. The black leather upholstery was well oiled and cared
for, but still cracked and pulling at the seams.
"Now, what does Treize propose, Lady?" the Oak King asked once they were
underway. He was still smiling, an indulgent, old man's smile. Une could
see in his eyes he thought of her -- of Treize, even -- as a child. She smiled
"Only that our two Courts come closer, your Majesty," she answered. "We of
his Excellency's Court have been friends with the Wood Folk for sometime, I
would like to think. It has been decades, at least, since we were at odds,
and centuries before then since we were not allies."
"His Excellency wishes to renegotiate our treaty?" he asked, tilting his
head to one side owlishly. Une watched the move, studying. "We have been,
as you say, friends. I don't see why we should change the nature of what
has been a successful relationship." In the mirror over his shoulder, Une
saw her reflection wince and flick the ash from her cigarette.
"It is true that we have been friends, but the Wood Folk never sent men when
his Excellency fought the Queen's Court, nor in any of the skirmishes
since," Une kept her face neutral as she spoke, kept the scorn from her
voice. "It would have been supremely helpful if we had aid from you outside
of resources. Men and magic would have saved lives on both sides by ending
the war faster, don't you think?"
"I think a great deal, and while what you say maybe, it is not the way of my
Court to interfere directly. Treize's disagreement with her Majesty had
nothing to do with mine," he told her, gentle and stern. "It was not my
intention to bring my people into the wars of others."
"I don't lay blame, your Majesty," Une said diplomatically, spreading her
hands in a gesture of surrender. "It is simply his Excellency's hope that
in the future, when he goes to war, the Wood Folk will be with him in body
as well as spirit."
The Oak King's mouth tensed into a thoughtful line. "Lady, I have not
changed my stance. The Wood Folk stand as Treize's friends, but we do not
fight his wars for him."
"They are not just his Excellency's wars," Une pointed out. "If he were the
only one involved, there wouldn't be a war in the first place. There are
always wars between the Courts, your Majesty."
"Of course," he agreed, the politic answer. Crossing his arms over his
broad chest, the greenman shook his head. "I do not, however, wish to go to
war if it is avoidable. Your Lord Treize is looking for fights, Lady, make
"His Excellency would see all the sidhe at peace in the end," Une retorted,
pushing her glasses up her nose.
In the mirror, her reflection looked up sadly, already tracing the lines of
a curse rune in the air with the cherry of her cigarette. A thin orange
line wavered in its trail. The driver's attention turned back to them; he
was waiting for his Lord's reaction.
"A worthy goal," the greenman said, nodding skeptically. "Perhaps when I
see proof of his methods, I will be willing to devote my men to Treize's
cause. But not today."
Une bowed her head in acquiesce. The cigarette continued drawing line
after delicate, smoldering line, shaping a complex spell circle in the air.
"As you wish, your Majesty. I hoped you would see fit today, but the Wood
Folk are still with us, are they not? Can we at least depend upon your
"Lady, the Wood Folk are with his Excellency as friends still," the king
said. It was not quite a declaration. Not quite a commitment.
Friends would fight with us, she thought fiercely. The reverse
brought her cigarette down, burning the seat beside her. Une smelled
faintly scorched leather. The circle blazed to life, then faded slowly into
The conversation continued, the Oak King telling her that Treize could
expect wine, and yew for bows -- as though a war in the past hundred years had
been fought with bows. He promised wood for spells, and poisons, and fat
pigs for feasting. Une let him speak. Such promises made him feel as
though he wasn't obsolete.
In the rear view mirror, her reflection lit another cigarette, sucking on it
so hard Une could nearly hear the paper crackle as it burnt down. Une shot
the image a quick warning glance as she agreed with the Oak King. She
hardly paid attention to what she told him, or what he said. Soon it
wouldn't matter anymore, anyway. She flattered him, and fielded his
compliments and flirtations deftly.
Eventually the limo pulled up outside her hotel again and Une stepped out
into the drizzly rain. Her own face met greeted her in the windows, but
wouldn't meet her eyes.