“Good morning sunshines!” Mel carolled, sailing into the dining room with a brilliant smile. “Are we all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today?”
“Fuck off,” Asuka growled, staring morosely at his plate of fish. From beside him, Dan lifted one limp hand for a moment to flip her off, then let it fall back into place draped over his head.
“I told you not to help her drink that plum wine,” Wufei said, not entirely unsympathetic.
“You fuck off too.”
“So you don’t want this, then?” he inquired, waving a glassful of something fizzy in Asuka’s general direction.
“Is it hemlock?” Dan groaned.
”Oh dear gods give it to me.”
Asuka grabbed for his own share as Wufei handed them over, chugged it in one gulp, and then pressed the cool damp glass wincingly to his forehead. “Why aren’t you hung over too?” he asked, glaring at Mel. “You drank at least as much as we did!”
“For one thing, I’m used to it,” she told him, loading her plate at the buffet. “For another--”
“We’re hardly teetotal ourselves, cherie,” Dan pointed out, lowering his glass with a sigh.
“Yeeeess,” she drawled, “but you were drinking it like it was wine.”
“It is wine,” he said blankly.
“It’s called wine,” Wufei put in. “As I pointed out last time Mel tried to give herself alcohol poisoning, however, it’s more like plum brandy. Though I believe you were hiding from Asuka at the time,” he added.
“And Asuka was in the officers’ mess, so he didn’t hear it either,” Mel agreed. “If that stuff was being made in the Theodorian Empire, it would be called slivovitz.”
“Exactly. As I was saying, I’m used to it, and I got up two hours ago and had my hangover fizzies then. Mine lasted about half an hour.”
“Bitch,” Asuka muttered into his plate.
“And proud of it,” she told him cheerfully, plonking her own breakfast down on the table and digging in. Dan looked away from the food with an exaggerated shudder.
“Why in the world would you get up so early, after staying up so late and drinking so much, on a day that contains no missions?” he asked plaintively.
“I wanted to call Tzu’s-- my fiance’s-- mother before darling Aunt Ngaire had a chance to,” Mel said, smile freezing for a moment.
“I bet that went well,” Christy muttered, walking past to the buffet.
“Actually, it did! She’s been living near Ngaire for a few years, so her opinion of her is a lot like mine.”
“Speaking of the witch bitch,” Christy said, grinning evilly, “I have an update.”
Mel eyed her thoughtfully. “Judging by that expression, this is a fun update, not an ‘Oh Shit’ update,” she drawled. “Do tell.”
“After I kicked her out of the palace last night--”
“A moment of pure joy and awesomeness,” Mel sighed, staring into space with a happy smile. “Don’t mind me, I’m just reliving it. Do go on.”
“--she and her entourage went looking for hotel rooms.”
“As you do.”
“Shut up. Unfortunately for them, there are umpteen delegations in town for the Alliance anniversary ceremonials, and a ton of people who treat it like a big parade and come to watch. Therefore--”
“There was no room at the inn?” Dan interrupted, starting to grin.
“Who’s telling this story, me or the peanut gallery?” Christy huffed, trying to look offended but still smirking. “There was indeed no room at the inns, plural. Ngaire refused to believe this, so they kept looking for hours, and -- here’s the first really good bit -- she eventually lost her temper, had a screaming hissy fit in the lobby of the ninth or tenth hotel, and the police were called.”
“Please tell me they arrested her,” Mel begged, eyes bright.
“She was politely warned, politely escorted to the Aotearoan embassy, and oh-so-politely threatened with persona non grata status and expulsion from the country if she didn’t mend her ways. My dearest darling uncle contributed that bit,” Christy added, snickering. “And since the Aotearoan ambassador is a very nice woman who doesn’t appreciate being hauled out of her comfy private apartment in the middle of the night to make arrangements for an unexpected invasion, Ngaire was offered a camp bed in one of the embassy’s conference rooms along with her followers instead of getting to share said comfy apartment.”
“...Ngaire, reduced to sleeping in a camp bed,” Mel said dreamily, flopping backwards in her chair and letting her arms dangle. “Bliss!”
“I’m not sure how much sleep she actually got. The last report said she was doing a lot of ranting about how unfair and demeaning the idea was. Who do we think she is, and so on.”
“A heinous bitch with whom I unfortunately share genes,” Mel snorted. “Remind me to do something very nice for our ambassador.”
The newspapers arrived shortly after the rest of the pilots had assembled for breakfast.
“Ah, screaming headlines and front-page photos,” Jay said happily, shaking one paper open and scanning the articles. “Just what the doctor ordered, wot?”
“Business as usual for Mel, isn’t it?” Duo asked, looking over her shoulder.
“Kind of,” Mel said through a mouthful of scrambled egg. “’s usually my double, though.”
“Must be nice to know ahead of time what they’re reporting-- oh, I say! Your aunt gets a mention.”
“Gimme!” Mel yelped, lunging across the table.
“Get your own! Page five, discreet little paragraph at the bottom.”
“Aw, no photo,” she sighed after snatching another copy out of Heero’s hands. “Her eyes bulge when she really gets worked up, that would be embarrassing to have recorded for posterity.”
“Oh, there’s more than enough embarrassment to go around,” Quatre said weakly, staring wide-eyed at the front page.
“Nothing to be embarrassed about,” Christy objected. “You look surprisingly hot, for someone so sweet and innocent.”
“We already established he’s not that innocent,” Duo snickered, paging through one of the trashier-looking papers. “I gotta agree though, you looked damn hot in that outfit, Q.”
“Too many people thought so,” he muttered, wincing as he sat down. “I got pinched so many times...”
“Get Tro to kiss it better.”
“I already did.”
“Trowa, you da man!”
“Please say we’re not going back to that club tonight,” Quatre groaned, blushing.
“Of course not!”
“We’re going to a different club.”
“I didn’t order all those outfits just to hang in your wardrobes looking sexy,” Christy smirked.
“And the more headlines and front-page photos I get, the more Aunt Ngaire is going to simmer,” Mel said dryly, folding the paper and turning back to her plate.
“That might not be a good idea,” Heero warned. “Jay did say she’s planning something already.”
“Exactly. She’s already up to something; getting her madder won’t change that. It might, however, get her mad enough to try whatever-it-is early, or without proper preparation.” Mel shrugged. “She’s hated me since before I was born. I stopped worrying about it a long time ago.”
“And started egging her on instead?”
As Christy was leaving the breakfast room, happy smirk on her face and a stack of newspapers under her arm -- selected mainly by the quality and number of clubbing photographs they contained -- Wufei tugged her aside. “I have a question,” he muttered, looking around to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard.
“I probably have an answer,” she said, eyeing him warily. “I reserve the right to lie if it seems expedient, though. What’s up?”
“Please don’t,” he sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Asuka and I are hoping that Mel is trying to play a practical joke on us, regarding--”
“Let me guess,” she interrupted, starting to smirk again. “Aotearoan ceremonial clothes, if you can call them that. Am I right?”
“Embassies from other countries have been known to invent new public holidays and celebrations in order to get them to show up in full formal gear,” she told him, patting his shoulder sympathetically. “If it’s any consolation, you’ll look awesome.”
“It wasn’t much of a consolation with last night’s outfits. What makes you think it would help with-- with-- with that?!”
“It’s one heck of a consolation for us,” she leered, and he almost growled at her.
“I am not an exhibitionist!”
“Neither is she, really.”
Wufei nearly choked as he remembered the other thing that made him nervous about the threatened ceremonial outfits. “She said she-- uh--”
“Yup,” Christy repeated, grinning.
“Oh dear gods,” he gasped, suddenly going pale. “Her aunt!”
“Really nope. Not a warrior, so she doesn’t wear the warrior version.”
“Thank the gods.”
* * * * *
The next day (after another excursion to a nightclub, another set of outfits, and another set of photos and headlines at breakfast -- but no more hangovers), Mel and Jay departed for their respective embassies, taking their designated bodyguards with them.
“Why are we doing this?” Heero muttered, standing behind Jay and not moving his lips as they waited for her official car.
“Doing what, wot?”
“Oh! Well, y’see, the ceremony is tomorrow, and we’re going to do sort of official processions to reach it. Not much point if we’re already at the palace, don’t’cherknow.”
“There’s not much point in leaving the palace just so we can come back to it, either,” Trowa pointed out from his position at her other shoulder.
“Not much point to most ceremonies, really,” Jay shrugged, temporarily dropping out of her fake Albion accent. “It’s an opportunity for our countries to show off. Pretty people in pretty national costumes. I sit in an open car and wave serenely as we drive at a snail’s pace, and you and the local police get to panic about snipers.”
“Oh, good,” Heero said sarcastically.
“Isn’t it just spiffy?” she chirped, beaming. “There’ll be tons of people watching. Not as many as will line up to watch Mel’s lot, but my fans play music and dance.”
“Much better than non-dancing fans,” Trowa murmured blandly.
“Well, obviously,” she sniffed.
“My fans have been known to throw money,” Mel drawled haughtily, sauntering down the steps followed by Wufei and Asuka. “I’ll take that over a samba any day.”
“I dunno,” Jay said thoughtfully. “An Aotearoan fifty-cent coin has corners, y’know, you could really hurt someone if you winged it at them hard enough.”
“I know,” Mel grinned. “I’ve done it. The offerings are generally thrown to me, not at me, though.”
Jay blinked. “There’s a difference, wot?”
“Oh. Jolly good, then!”
“Oh, good grief. Ahorangi!” Mel practically jumped out of the car and hurried over to the tall brown-skinned woman waiting to welcome her to the Aotearoan embassy, leaving Wufei and Asuka scrambling to keep up. “I forgot you were assigned here! It’s so nice to see you again!”
“I guess we’re not bothering with the formalities?” the woman chuckled, reaching to clasp Mel’s hands and leaning forwards as if to kiss her. Wufei blinked in surprise, then saw that they were actually touching noses, two quick pecking motions before they straightened up to smile at each other.
“Pffft, whatever,” Mel snorted, rolling her eyes. “We’ll have enough formalities tomorrow to last me a year.”
“Ha! You know you love it.”
“I’ll never admit any such thing.” Mel’s smile twisted into a smirk. “I gather darling Aunt Ngaire is staying here? Am I going to be sleeping on a camp bed, too?”
“They went out and bought air beds the next day,” Ahorangi told her, dropping her voice to a quiet, amused murmur. “Something about sore backs.”
“Not stiff necks?”
“Hush, you. And my spare bedroom has been ready for you for weeks.”
“Lovely. Have you got room for my bodyguards?” Mel asked, gesturing to the two male pilots.
“New ones again? Did you scare off yet another set?”
“Something like that, but I’m fairly sure these ones are made of tougher stuff. Wufei, Asuka, this is Ambassador Ahorangi Harawira. She’s known me for years.”
“My younger sister was in school with her,” the Ambassador said cheerfully. “They got their first demerit points together, too. Come inside, do; and yes, I have room for you all, so long as you two don’t mind sleeping on sofa beds in my library.
“Your aunt is up to something,” she went on in a more serious voice, as soon as the door to her private rooms was closed behind them.
“Isn’t she always?” Mel yawned.
“Seriously, Melanie, please.”
“Sorry, sorry. I’ll be good. I knew she had something up her sleeve, but I don’t have any details.”
“I don’t have many myself!” Ahorangi sighed, then hesitated, looking at the silent ‘bodyguards’.
“They’re as cleared as I am,” Mel told her, flopping down on a comfy-looking sofa. “Besides, if she pulls something during the ceremonies, they’re going to need all the information they can get.”
“All right. It’s got something to do with her new ‘Special Assistant’ Piripi Matua, I know that much. I think he’s from the Ngati Awa, but other than that...” She shrugged.
“‘Special Assistant’?” Mel asked, gesturing to add the quotation marks the Ambassador’s tone had suggested. “Are we talking ‘special’ as in nobody really knows what he does, or nudge-nudge wink-wink ‘special’?”
“Definitely not nudge-nudge wink-wink,” Ahorangi said firmly. “He’s well built, but not pretty -- not that that’s an automatic disqualification, but there’s no vibe. She talks to him fairly frequently, and he’s respectful without any indication that he’s putting it on for an audience.”
“And you’ve always been good at picking that up.” Mel pouted slightly, running her hands through her hair as she thought. “Is he listed as coming to the ceremonies?”
“Oh yes. Her normal assistant got bumped from the list to make room for him, too, and doesn’t seem to know why.”
“Really?!” She sat up straight, languid pose forgotten. “Those two are normally thick as thieves! Ngaire trusts her! Every time she’s been up to something before, Rewi’s been right in it with her.”
Ahorangi shrugged. “Not this time. And speaking of me being good at picking things up...” She looked pointedly at Wufei and Asuka. “Who are they, really?”
Mel’s expression was suddenly smooth as cream. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You can just tell me I’m not cleared for that, you know,” the ambassador sighed, looking slightly disappointed.
Mel’s eyes widened innocently. “Really. They’re just bodyguards.”
“...So I’m not even cleared to know that I’m not cleared to know?” Ahorangi pursed her lips, looking at the male pilots speculatively while they did their best to look blank; then she turned back to Mel, who was pretending to inspect her manicure. “Are they ‘special’ bodyguards?”
“Definitely not nudge-nudge wink-wink ‘special’,” Mel snorted, and the tension dissolved into laughter.
“C’mere a second,” Mel said, beckoning to Wufei as she stopped beside one of several anonymous doors in the corridor. “Asuka, you go on ahead with Ahorangi and check out the apartment, all that sort of thing.”
“Yes, Princess,” Asuka said, completely expressionless. Mel waited until he was out of earshot before she winced.
“Oh, man, he’s going to make me pay for that later,” she muttered under her breath. “You two are saving it all up, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Princess,” Wufei said blandly, and she shot him a glare.
“Watch it, or I’ll decide that I’m doomed to punishment anyway, and really go all out to enjoy it,” she hissed, then composed herself.
“As well as the representatives from countries that are full members of the Alliance, there are going to be several small delegations from countries that have been taken over by the Theodorian Empire,” Mel explained quietly. “Governments in exile, basically.”
“Like the Sanque Queendom?” he asked, and she nodded.
“Exactly, though most of the others didn’t manage to take the whole country with them. Mil Warcraft is attending; there’ll be somebody from Tatarstan, and... ah...”
“Somebody from your fiance’s country,” he supplied.
“Yes. Specifically, one of his older sisters. Since both Tzu and his older brother didn’t... ah... she’s the heir,” she said, almost stuttering as she abruptly changed what she was going to say.
‘Didn’t survive,’ Wufei supplied mentally, looking away for a moment as Mel composed herself. She’d be able to say it about anyone else. “And you want me to be prepared?”
“No. I want her to be prepared,” Mel said grimly, nodding towards the door. “Which is why she’s in there, and you and I are about to go in and introduce you, so she can get her first reaction over with in private.”
“Are you ready?”
Wufei took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “Yes.”
“Good,” Mel muttered as she reached for the doorknob, almost too low to be heard. “I’m not.”
* * * * *
On the morning of the ceremony, there were still a few surprises waiting for the male pilots.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?!”
“Hang it on your belt, don’t fiddle with it, and otherwise ignore it,” Jay supplied briskly, still holding the coiled whip out to Heero. “You’ll still have a gun for any actual bodyguarding you end up needing to do. This is purely for looks, really. Part of the uniform, like spiffy shoulder boards only cooler.”
Heero accepted the whip, looked at his belt, and turned back to her with a long-suffering expression. “And just how am I supposed to attach it to my belt?”
“Like this,” Trowa said, taking it out of his hands and wrapping a short looped leather thong around one side of the coil. The other end of the thong went under the belt, Trowa did something fast with his hands, and the whip was hanging neatly at Heero’s hip. “It’s tied so it won’t come loose,” he added quietly, inspecting his handiwork. “There’s a way to tie it in a quick-release knot so you can get the whip ready in a hurry, but since you’re not going to be using it...” He shrugged.
“Thanks. Does anybody ever use these?” Heero asked, turning back to Jay.
“There’s a martial art based around 'em, don’tcherknow, and some people learn it as a hobby, but it’s not a requirement,” she told him. “Beginners tend to nearly choke themselves and tie the whip in knots, but a real aficionado can get some seriously accurate hits in ten feet away--”
“Fifteen,” Trowa corrected her. “Further, if you have a well-balanced long bullwhip.”
Jay eyed him dubiously. “And you know this because?”
Trowa blinked mildly at her, not answering.
“Oh, come on. Seriously? Knives I’ll give you, I’ve seen you practicing with Asuka, but are you trying to tell me you’re also mister uber whip-cracker?” she huffed, crossing her arms, then hastily uncrossing them before she wrinkled her glorious red silk tunic. It matched her loose pants, both embroidered richly in metallic gold thread, and the flowers in her hair were the same red and gold tones. She looked beautiful and elegant, carefully made up and elaborately coiffed, but the pout and glare were all Jay, not ‘Jarvia’.
Trowa blinked again, then tugged his own whip free from his belt, uncoiling it with a negligent flip of his wrist. “Reasonable weight,” he murmured, eyeing the length of it. “It’s got a good fall, no cracker...” His hand blurred, there was a whooshing noise, and one of the holsters set ready on a table across the room was suddenly in his other hand; he passed it to Heero, flicked the whip again to get the second holster, and raised his eyebrow at Jay as he re-coiled it. “Happy?” he asked, smirking. “Or would you like me to carve a capital T into the wallpaper?”
“Make it my initials and I’ll pay you fifty credits!”
Asuka glared at Mel. “We’re already dressed like cavemen and now you want us to carry spears, too? Do we at least get to stick someone with them?”
“Dear gods, no!” She shuddered. “They’re a couple of hundred years old, the heads are made of whalebone, they’re probably fragile -- nobody’s ever put them under enough stress to find out -- and they’re culturally significant artefacts. Spiritually significant artefacts. Don’t drop them, don’t hit anything with them, don’t hit anyone with them, and for the love of Tane don’t stab them into the ground, because that counts as an insult to a guardian spirit. If anything happens, please at least try to put them down gently somewhere safe-ish before you get medieval on the perpetrators.”
He sneered. “That’s no fun.”
“Tough. You’ve got guns, and I know you’ve managed to hide at least three knives in your piupiu--”
Mel sighed, briefly covering her eyes with one hand. “Your kilt, Asuka. The thingy with all the strands of dried flax you’ve been bitching about since the first time you saw it. I’ve told you what it’s called at least three times so far.”
“Not my fault it sounds like ‘peepee’.”
“It does not!”
Wufei intervened as the conversation seemed to be going downhill, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling light. “Fine, we’re carrying spears--”
“--taiaha, whatever, we have to look after them, no stabbing people or the ground. Got it. Anything else?”
“Yes. You have to be able to look at me without blushing.”
He felt his cheeks burn as he stubbornly refused to lower his eyes. “We’re going to be behind you in the procession. I’ll look at you then.”
“There’s no guarantee that I’m never going to face you. Look at me.”
“...Are you wearing your cloak?”
“Hold on a second.” There was a rustling of feathers and flax cording before she spoke again. “I am now.”
Reluctantly, he shifted his weight and turned to look at her, then swore and jerked his head away. “Mel!”
“What? I’m wearing it!”
“And it’s not covering a damn thing!”
She snickered. “I never said it was going to.”
“Damn it, Mel--”
“No, seriously, Wufei, you have to get over this,” she said firmly. “I’m a warrior, I have warrior tattoos, and I wear a warrior outfit when we go formal, which means a short piupiu, no pari -- that’s the top most women wear -- and a shorter cloak that’s usually pushed back to leave my arms free. Yes, that means it doesn’t cover certain significant bits of my anatomy, but that’s just the way it is. I am not doing this specifically to torment you!”
“It’s just a bonus, right?” he muttered, and she chuckled.
“I wasn’t going to say that.”
“You were thinking it.”
“Maybe a little. Come on, Asuka’s fine now!”
The Glacin pilot snorted. “Being mad at you helps. Besides, you’re just Mel. You’ve got nice tits and all--”
“Why, thank you,” she said dryly.
“--but you’re Mel,” he went on bluntly. “It would be like worrying that your Gundam isn’t wearing a shirt.”
There was a pause, during which Wufei could clearly imagine Mel staring at Asuka in bewilderment.
“...I’m not sure whether that’s an insult or not,” she said eventually. Asuka snorted again.
“You said you’re a warrior, fine, I’m treating you like a warrior.”
“Well, he doesn’t care if you see his significant bits of anatomy,” Wufei said, a little awkwardly. “At least he’s being consistent.” And he’s right, he admitted to himself. Not that that makes this much easier...
He turned back and looked at Mel, trying not to let her bared chest be the focus of his attention. She looked unashamedly barbaric, wearing the same type of kilt she’d inflicted on him and Asuka, a short fabric skirt underneath layers of rustling dried flax. The long narrow strips had patterns scraped and dyed into their surface, making the kilts look striped from a short distance away and matching the red-and-black chevrons woven into the top band of her short cloak. There were black and white feathers in her hair, black and white feathers covering the cloak, green stone jewellery at her throat and ears, the blue lines and swirls of her tattoos on her chin and upper arms... and she was topless.
He was blushing again, but at least she wasn’t pointing it out.
“Are you oiled?” he asked suspiciously, eyeing the slight glistening sheen on her biceps, stomach and-- knees. Yes. Knees.
“Yup!” she said cheerfully.
Excellent knees. He could look at them for a while.
“You are not cutting my hair!”
The woman wielding the scissors jerked back from Duo’s thousand-watt glare. “I, uh... just a trim?”
“Nobody cuts the hair,” he repeated grimly. “I’m letting you braid it, I’m letting you bead it, this shit is going to take hours to get out later and I’m cool with that, but you are not cutting the hair!”
“Uh, sir?” She turned beseeching eyes on Christy’s uncle, who was supervising her bodyguards’ preparations.
“Um, normally we would bead the braids and then trim the ends off neatly, but, um--”
“Nobody cuts the hair,” Duo growled, folding his arms and maintaining the glare.
“Ah. I see. This is an absolute condition for you, young man?”
“We cut the pharaoh’s hair!” the hairdresser insisted, turning back to Duo.
He wavered for a moment, then set his chin. “Chr-- uh-- Lady Tutankanep doesn’t have issues about it. I do. Nobody cuts my hair!”
Quatre winced, rubbing at his chest, and the young man about to apply kohl under his eyes yanked his hand back hastily. “Please hold still, sir!”
“Well,” Christy’s uncle shrugged, “I suppose Mister Maxwell’s braids will have little tufts on the ends, then.”
“But that looks so messy!” the hairdresser almost wailed. Another, slightly older woman patted her arm, incidentally taking the scissors away from her.
“It will be just fine if we fold the ends up and wrap them with thread, then pull the beads down over that spot,” she said soothingly. “It won’t even take much longer to do, and I’m sure you won’t object to it taking a little longer to undo when the ceremonies are over?” she finished, eyeing Duo.
“If it means nobody cuts my hair, you could paint me green and make me do cartwheels,” Duo grumbled, watching the scissors warily until she put them away in a drawer and pointedly shut it.
“I don’t think we need to do that, sir.”
“Where is Lady Tutankanep?” Dan asked politely, distracting attention from Duo and the five hairdressers working together to finish his hair.
“Here,” Christy said from the doorway, sweeping into the room. “If you think you’ve got it bad, Duo, you didn’t have to get up at five for ceremonial baths.”
“Three,” she confirmed, a little grimly. “With different herbs, and different oils, and different prayers, and different attendants, but all with the exact same pruney fingers,” she finished, showing him her hands. “It’s supposed to be purifying, and I have to admit that anything that could possibly be soaked out of me is gone.”
“And if the divine Pharaoh would hold still for us to cream her hands, she wouldn’t have pruney fingers any more,” an elderly woman said sourly, following Christy in.
“You are looking stunning, pruney fingers or no pruney fingers,” Dan said sincerely, eyeing the translucent white linen forming her bodice and skirt. It clung to her figure, sweeping out into trailing folds below the knee, and set off her gold and blue enamel jewellery and tanned skin beautifully. The top layer of her hair was braided and beaded, more heavily than Duo’s, with cylindrical beads covering the full length of the strands and clinking when she moved, and there was a circlet on her head with a rearing snake and bird at the front. Shifting his eyes to get a good look without moving his head as the young makeup assistant carefully outlined his eyes, Quatre had to agree.
“Thank you. You three aren’t looking bad yourselves,” she added, holding one hand out for the attendants to fuss over as she examined the male pilots. Dan and Duo had short white kilts with decorated front panels and broad enamelled pectoral collars over a short drape of linen that covered their shoulders without hiding anything else; Quatre had much the same outfit, with the addition of a white tunic-like top.
“Merci, ma belle! I wonder, though, why does Quatre not match? He’s been tanning, so it’s not as if he’s too pale to show skin,” Dan grinned.
“Young Mister Winner is the fan-bearer,” the Vizier explained. “You and Mister Maxwell will be carrying spears.”
“Thus he wears more clothes?”
“Thus he needs more clothes, to hide weapons under.”
Dan almost pouted. “I don’t call a spear being armed.”
“Somebody hand the sceptical young gentleman a spear,” the Vizier ordered without looking around. One of the makeup attendants moved quickly to comply, and handed the long-shafted weapon to Dan with a slight bow.
“Huh. Lighter than I expected,” Dan admitted, weighing it in his hands, “but still-- huh?” He frowned, looking closer. “All right, the Gaul will bite. Why does a wooden spear have buttons?”
“Because it is not a wooden spear,” the Vizier told him, smile shifting to a smirk. “It is a very well disguised hollow metal spear, with... shall we say options?”
Dan pressed one of the buttons experimentally, and a brief crackle of sparks ran over the head of the spear.
“Trés sweet,” he breathed, starting to grin in his turn. “It’s a tazer?”
“More like a cattle prod,” Christy told him. “Don’t experiment any more until Uncle-Cousin can give you the instructions, okay? Or at least wait until the servants are gone and you can’t kill anyone but yourself.”
“Now what?” Duo said very softly, not moving his lips. He and Dan were standing on either side of Christy, holding their spears and facing a large set of double doors, with Quatre behind and several more attendants a little further away.
“Now we stand here like elegant statues while the other delegates arrive,” she whispered back, staring straight ahead.
“We don’t get to sit down and have a last cool drink before we’re on public display for three hours?” Dan asked.
“Nope. This is traditional, and tradition doesn’t have to make sense,” she replied, a little sourly. “Also, we can’t go pee during those three hours, so a last drink would be a bit counter-productive. I hope you all went before we got in the car?”
“Yes, Mama. Though I can’t guarantee I won’t ask you ‘are we there yet’ every ten minutes--”
“You do and I’ll order Duo to stab you.”
There was a short pause.
“This would all have gone smoother if you three had given us all detailed briefings on our roles before we had to play bodyguard in public, you know,” he murmured.
“You and Asuka would have bolted, Heero would have invented a mission, and Duo would have come up with fifteen different ways to disrupt things,” she said without any hesitation. “Our relatives sprang the ceremonies on us without much warning for the same reason.”
“True,” he said thoughtfully. “Very true.”
“Besides, it’s more fun this way.”
“...Also true,” he said, stifling a grin. Christy eyed him sidelong.
“What are you up to, Martel?”
“Oh, nothing! It’s just that Asuka told me what the Aotearoans are going to be wearing, and I’m fairly sure Wufei didn’t think to do the same for Duo and Quatre...”
“Oh dear gods,” Christy muttered.
“Christy?” Quatre whispered, fanning her gently. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing! Nothing at all!”
There was a fanfare of trumpets, and the Vizier sidled closer. “By the way, divine Pharaoh, I believe I have neglected to pass on a message. Most careless of me.”
“Oh? And what would that message be, Mernetefnut?”
“There’s been a slight change in the makeup of one of the delegations,” he said smoothly. “The lead delegate from Tatarstan is now a Count Sergei Kushrenada.”
Mernetefnut leaned in closer and dropped his voice. “And no, my beloved Pharaoh, you are not allowed to run away or to shoot him.”
End of Warped Mirrors
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