AN: Merry Christmas once more, dear readers!

By isis cw
Chapter 74

If the sum of her associations could be woven into a tapestry, the most colorful ones would be on this side.

"Oh wow, how pretty!" Emalia gushed over her broach as soon as she saw her. "I love snowflakes!" Immediately taken aback, the woman tapped her chin for a second before continuing, "Of course I've never seen real ones—Well, when I was little a house caught fire down the block from us and got spray-foamed."

Dorothy wasn't sure whether to nod or look sympathetic, but didn't have a chance to do either before the perky assistant waved it off, literally, with both hands.

"But you look so classy!" she went back to gushing with a large grin.

"Thank you," she stated when she was sure the woman had actually paused. "And you look extremely… festive," she smirked at her own wording.

Never to be timid, Miss Emalia was dripping with so much holiday cheer that she was actually leaving a faint trail of glitter everywhere she went. What still stuck to her was collected on her pointy-toed elf shoes, green leggings and oversized sweater. Actual working lights in the top blinked the outline of the bedazzled Christmas tree stitched to the front, and when she turned around, a pile of presents blinked on and off over her posterior.

If that wasn't enough to draw attention, she had several ropes of Christmas light shaped necklaces, and even a pair of earrings that lit up. But on her head, she sported an elf hat with a curled, mistletoe-ball top.

"That's my job!" she cheered. "Party coordinator!" From a pocket somewhere in the side of the sweater she produced a noisemaker and twirled it in her hand to make a rather disappointing rattling sound.

It made Dorothy laugh anyway. "So, they finally gave you free reign?" The chipper young assistant was always game for a party and had been in the thick of decorating last year.

Her over-stated elvish makeup dropped into an exaggerated pout. "You know they didn't. But," she popped back to her smiling self, "I got to head it up this year."

"I can see your influence," Dorothy nodded appreciatively and glanced around the foyer in emphasis. All in all, it really wasn't much different from last year, but she had noticed that the paper products in use were green and gold. Much like her outfit.

"Ah, thanks."

Dorothy was not prepared for the snatch-and-hug from the shorter woman. Or for the springy mistletoe to hit her in the forehead.

"I gotta check on the cheese-tray."

And with that, the magical elf disappeared.

"I see Miss Emalia got ahold of you." Quatre tried valiantly to keep the smile back, but he knew it didn't work.

Dorothy glared down at her dress, which now had a dusting of sparkles stuck to the dark fabric. "I can't get it off," she griped so under her breath that no one else could have heard it. Taking his arm, she casually used her other hand to swipe at the front of her dress again, but nothing seemed to dislodge.

He chuckled at her plight and took the chance to wipe one from her eyebrow. "I think it looks good on you." She didn't resist and gave him an eye roll and a good-natured snort.

The crowds had faded sharply and many of the remaining groups were chatting and laughing while clearing tables. As the two looked around for a new conversation, there wasn't much to choose from.

"I don't think she'll need to add to the cheese tray," Dorothy mumbled.

"I bet the rest is going in the breakroom refrigerator," he laughed.

"The chocolate plater was nice again this year," she commended as they began a slow walk around the perimeter of the foyer.

"She made sure we had cherries just for you."

"Precious girl," she hummed. "She needs a raise."

"I don't handle raises."

"You should suggest it anyway."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Dorothy giggled at the exchange and leaned in to his side as they wandered along.

"Are you tired yet?" he softly asked, already knowing the answer.

"Lots of coffee."

"I noticed."

"The flavored creamers were a nice touch."

"Also Emalia's idea."

"A good raise."

He nodded dutifully when he noticed a pair near the conference room doorway. The elder man seemed to be animatedly monopolizing the conversation as the lady stood watching him a little wide-eyed. "I think someone could use an intervention," he muttered and steered them the other way.

"Oh?" Following his line of sight, she then hummed, "Oh yes, please."

The woman awkwardly twisted a paper cup in her hands as she kept eye contact, but didn't seem to want to add anything in the conversation. As they approached, Director Sheel's low voice could be heard firing off statements too fast to be absorbed or responded to. "…thirty-six hour window for votes to be placed so don't expect to know that night who is elected. Most shareholders never respond to the invitation. Less than seven percent will actually vote ever, so if you don't know them you'll never have a shot. I can—"

"Introduce you," Quatre cut in as soon as Miss Xiemina noticed their approach and looked up. "Miss Xiemina Garier, I'd like you to meet one of our," he glanced at Director Sheel's now tightly locked jaw, "voting shareholders, Lady Dorothy Catalonia."

Dorothy chuckled at the introduction and extended a hand to the woman. "I maintain an interest."

"Are you getting her all warmed up for the position, Mr. Sheel?" Quatre asked, at this point just deciding to rub it in.

"Just preparing her for what could happen."

He tried to give the man a smile, but he was already familiar with the current director's opinion of the new board candidates.

"Ah yes, I hear you're retiring, Mr. Sheel," Dorothy added in.

Quatre bit his inner cheek to keep from smiling.

As one of two internal directors, Sheel had been employed in the finance department before and along with his board duties. But with his father's sudden demise and Quatre's own habit for unexplained and lengthy absences, the man had taking up duties relating to the day-to-day running of the company. His original position was vacated and therefore filled by new employees, none of whom were leaving their positions now. Therefore the man, like typical board members whose terms were up, was simply no longer being retained.

Sheel cleared his throat a little and shook his head. "Not retiring, just changing course. Term limits require that I leave the leadership of this company."

Dorothy's eyebrow rose instantly. "And after such a career what do you plan to do with yourself?"

Again looking mildly uncomfortable, he gave a minuscule shrug. "I am entertaining other options."

"I see," she purred and Quatre watched her carefully from the corner of his eye. She had caught something. Her cute, pointy little nose rose as her head tilted slightly, looking at the elder man knowingly. "Options for another company's board perhaps? Someone who has held a position like yours can't really move up from here. The list of companies that would need your level of expertise would surely be very short."

Quatre turned his attention back to the director just in time to catch the flinch before he calmly nodded. "Yes, there aren't many companies like this," he side-stepped.

"And you've known that for… how many years have you been on this board?" she asked.

Quatre had a large suspicion what scent Dorothy had caught, but he wasn't about to interfere with her game. And to her credit Miss Xiemina seemed to be equally enjoying not being the center of attention.

"Sixteen, this year."

"Sixteen! My," she nodded appreciatively. With a slight pat on his elbow she removed her arm from Quatre's. "So that's given you ample time to consider your next move. Even to plan on it. Especially these last few years, you must have been looking to the future for some time." Stepping through the circle, she inserted herself neatly between the two men. Casually she slipped her arm around Sheel's elbow even though he didn't seem to know how to link arms with someone. "Is that why you've been such a stickler on that black bottom line."

Quatre felt his teeth grind.

He opened his mouth to explain but Dorothy snickered with a smile. "You needed to pad your resume a little, didn't you?"

Sheel's mouth worked up and down a couple times before he shook his head fiercely.

"Those safety upgrades were expensive, of course," Dorothy mused as though she was just now thinking all this through. "They really ate into the profits, and you won't be around the next year or two to reap those benefits from it."

Quatre tucked his hands in his pockets to avoid balling one into a fist but he could feel himself glaring intensely at the man.

"Of course that nasty business hit the news and I'm sure that was a bit of a black eye. But shares rebounded so nicely, it's hardly worth mentioning," Dorothy finished and returned to looking up at him casually. "So then," she brushed it off. "Where to now? Surely a man with such insights already has his name on a new ballot."

"I… I can't speak to…" he fumbled.

"Oh, don't be shy," she teased.

Quatre was, of course, well aware of who had signed those orders to stop the upgrades prematurely. However, he had also decided instantly that it wasn't worth the hassle or deflection that would come with demanding an explanation from the man. What Quatre had not put so elegantly into place before was the why behind the why of this man's actions.

"I have a good number of investments, Mr. Sheel. I'd like to know what I'll find if I search for your new 'options.' After all, it's always nice to meet those campaigning in person." She tossed a smile at Xiemina, who had wisely taken a step back from the group when no one was watching.

Sheel cleared his throat again. "Yes, well, sorry to disappoint, but I only have the best interests of this company in mind for now." His voice had dropped substantially and he looked like he wanted to crawl away.

"Ah," Dorothy sighed. "Well, it's rare to see such devotion from company leadership." Releasing his arm without warning, she waved it off and stepped back closer to Quatre's side. "I'm sure that will remain." Completely turning her attention to the confused and mute candidate, she smiled. "Miss Xiemina, is it? Tell me about yourself."

The poor woman took a last glance at the director before giving Dorothy her full attention. "Not much to tell," she smiled a bit nervously. "Currently I work as the Receivables and Collections Specialist in the Finance Department. I've been there for eight years. Before that I began in Legal as a Claims Analyst…."

By this point Sheel had stepped back and hurriedly turned to walk away.

Quatre politely nodded to the two as he silently excused himself from the conversation and matched the director stride for stride. When the elder man noticed, he fell into step with him as he headed straight towards the parking lot door.

Calmly walking along, Quatre tucked his hands behind his back. After they passed the last of the remaining groups within earshot, he quietly and deliberately stated, "You should be more careful about letting high investors overhear your plans. They could use information like that against you."

"Should we be concerned?" Miss Xiemina finally lost her pleasantries for a moment and asked. The woman's eyes had been darting behind her ever since Sheel and Quatre had walked off.

Dorothy gave her a genuine smile in response. "Not at all. Quatre was already well familiar with Sheel's meddling. He isn't one to publicly chastise an associate."

Unlike herself.

Sneaking a look over her shoulder, she saw the two men separate and Sheel continue to head towards the door. "I'm sure he is just reminding the outgoing director of how much he's appreciated his service."

"I'm sure," Miss Xiemina whispered unconvincingly.

Dorothy took just a second to note the scattered circle of fezzes around the room now begin to turn back to whatever they had been doing before. "I must say I'm quite enthusiastic for a change in the board. Quatre hasn't been here long, but he is an excellent judge of character." Meeting the lady's eye again, she smiled, "Do take good of them."

She returned the smile a bit awkwardly. "I will do my best."

The others dwindled inside to sleep, and Dorothy continued to claim additional pillows, until the rugs had disappeared from view under her. Eventually the group has separated into pockets of two or three and the conversations had hushed. Even they had practically run out of things to talk about.

Quatre lie with his upper half over various cushions, which had migrated out onto concrete of his back patio, and his feet were propped over the bottom of a pool chair. Watching the wispy little clouds circle by, he traced the grid of the nightlights on the colony ceiling.

A row of large yellow lights to their right along the central spine blinked and an eleventh one added itself to the line. It was getting late.

Rolling his head to the side, he found Dorothy still silently awake on her dais of cushions, seeming to be doing largely the same thing. He smiled at her in the dark and she returned it when she noticed. "I may not have a room with a retractable wall or ceiling shutters, but I think I'm going to keep this."

She chuckled at the comparison. Perhaps her houses were a little more advanced at blending outside and inside, but he had much the same feeling, lying here and watching the clouds drift over the lights.

"I think you're right. Might have to get a more matched set though. I imagine there are a number of furniture pieces missing their seats right now."

He laughed and nodded, knowing every one of these was going to go back where it belonged before his housekeeper would finish brunch. "Some of the ladies of the village make rugs together. I've never thought of a good place for them before, but I think I'll see if they take orders."

"Authentic even," she nodded approvingly. "So why don't they do this sort of impromptu star parties in the village?"

"They do. You were just there during the cold season."

"The wha—?"

He laughed merrily as she picked up a throw pillow and threw it at him. It sailed comically a foot over him and nearly bounced into the pool. "Alright, time for bed. Your aim is never that bad."

"Oh just give me another chance," she challenged, grasping around for a cushion small enough to throw. Finding none but the ones under her, she gave up.

Shaking his head, Quatre sat up and pulled his legs into a sitting position. "You've been awake too long, you need the rest. And I have prayers to say before midnight."

"It can't be that late," she brushed it off.

He pointed up for emphasis. "Eleven o'clock. Time for all noble Ladies to be tucked in."

She followed the motion and looked up and then around them with a chuckle. "It's dark, darling. How does that tell you want time it is?"

Quatre looked at her funny and then realized he was assuming she knew Colony functions that she'd had no reason to learn before. Pointing more specifically now he got her to look up again. "Hour lights. The big yellow ones. They illuminate by the hour, and one just came on."

"You're joking."

"No, I'm serious. There are four sets, all along the spine."


"The yellow ones," he gestured harder.

"They're all yellow-ish."

"The brighter yellow. In a line." She was tilting her head any number of ways and not seeming to find them. "Eleven of them. Big, yellow, bright, straight row." Waving harder to the same spot wasn't helping.

"Those?" she pointed as well.

"Yes, those."

"You mean they blink on and off with the time?"

"Yes," he chuckled at the ridiculous exchange and continued to push himself to his feet. "Now, bed time."

She sighed comically. "Yes, Grandfather."

Taking her lazily raised arm, he pulled her up and she made it to her feet.

Several calls of, "Goodnight," came from the lingering men around them and he returned it.

"Goodnight, gentlemen," Dorothy added with a wave. "I'll see you tomorrow… for dinner."

Knowing chuckles resounded along with another round of well wishes.

Quatre held the door for her and she waited for it to close behind them before she took his arm again and half laid against him for support.

"I'm sorry you're tired, but I am glad that you were here." Dorothy felt him nuzzle against her hair as she laid her head on his shoulder.

"Yes, who else is going to egg on the nasty little corporate dictators for you."

"Ignoring that for tonight," he dodged the topic, again.

She giggled at the unnatural display of confidence from her a sweat Quatre. Oh, how she did love riling him up.

The foyer was lit only by the great chandelier that hung from the second-floor ceiling over the open, split staircase. The front room and hallway lights were off and the wings seemed quiet as though the teenagers were sneaking in after curfew.

Her sandals tapped against the porcelain tiles but didn't echo as her stilettoes had the first time she'd been ushered through this hall.

Pausing in the center of the space, she pulled him to a standstill beside her. The area was coated in its pattern of long shadows as though the whole house had been rendered in an impressionist painting.

Quatre gave her a moment, but then tugged her to move on to the stairs. "Are you coming?"

A wry smile crept onto her lips and she continued to cuddle into his side. With her nose she brushed his ear as she whispered. "No. I want to see my ballroom."

He chuckled and squirmed away from her tickling. "So much for after brunch."

"Patience is not my virtue."

"Fine, fine," he almost too eagerly conceded, and steered them quickly past the stairs. Down the hall she saw the double doors at the end now stood open, but the chandelier light was failing. Their shadows disappeared into the black beyond the doors as they entered.

Quatre had to dislodge himself from her hold to reach the switches, and she moved in as sconces along the dark, wood paneled walls woke slowly to life. A central fixture of crystal brightened next. Hundreds of glistening drops, like a frozen rainstorm, progressed outward. This one too, brightened on command until the prismed glitter of colors was overpowered into a bright, twinkling light.

With the lights up, she could see the floor was polished and coated, the full luster of its inlaid pattern coming to life under the similar shaped overhead light. The paneling had been cleaned and repaired. The doors to the music room were also open and inviting. The odd array of furniture had been cleared away and the space lay expectantly bare.

Stepping into the center star of the floor, she looked up at the crystal drops again. They were still a couple feet out of her reach or she would have stretched up just to touch one. Slowly its brightness drifted down to soft starlight and the wall sconces turned off.

Though she was still admiring the lighting, she smiled and waited until his arms circled her and he bent down to her shoulder. "Do you like it?"

Her eyes drifted closed. Her smile, though he couldn't see it, undaunted. "Well done, love."

"You're exceptionally hard to surprise."

"You manage."

He favored her with a chuckle for the compliment. "Anything else, Milady?"

Looking around, she had to say she just didn't want to call it quits and go to bed. "Some drapes. It definitely needs some drapes."

With a martyr's sigh, he slumped behind her until his forehead hit her shoulder. "Tomorrow."

"A dark neutral maybe. You have enough statement pieces."


He was going to suck all the fun out of this.

From down the hall they heard voices as more of the Maguanacs returned furniture pieces and retired upstairs.

Alright. "Tomorrow," she contentedly agreed.

Peeling off the fabric took the last of her energy. As it was, the form fitting sleeves refused to slide and she heard a couple stitches pop under the strain of her agitated yanking. Finally discarding the dress in a heap next to her luggage, she pulled herself into night clothes and found her makeup remover. If it hadn't been for the eight cups of coffee, she probably would have ignored brushing her teeth until the morning.

Or afternoon. Maybe early evening.

Clicking off the lights she finally climbed into bed and scrunched her pillow into position. Time for all noble ladies to be in bed.

Noble ladies. Perhaps in spirit someone may call her that again, if she aspired to it long enough.

Dorothy had not reached a decision, or signed anything, relating to the sale of chateau before she left. Indeed, the only decision she had come to was to ask Quatre's thoughts. To be honest she didn't believe he would have any magical solution for her, but it seemed her newly indecisive self wanted to talk everything through in committee a number of times before making up her mind.

She had indeed succumbed to this common lifestyle. She'd feel indignant about that tomorrow.

For some reason.

What difference did it make if she took her time with decisions now? Was there a spaceship blowing up around her? Were lives hanging in the balance?

No. The most important thing she was delaying was where Senator Bridgeport and his bride would hold their reception.

Then again, she was from far away. Their vows may well be exchanged in her home territory. Considering the Senator had a residence at the Capital for his position, she wasn't exactly sure how often the pair would be living in the old, gray castle.

Had the lady even seen it? What would become of the place if the woman of the house didn't even like it?

Tomorrow. She would worry futilely about it tomorrow.

Did Dorothy even like it?

It was the backdrop of all her memories growing up. But many children moved away from their homes.

Flopping over, she changed sides and scrunched the pillow under her head again.

Yes, one coffee too many.

His entertainment room hadn't been this lively in years. The Maguanac Corp was, in all essence, a family. The homogenous heart of the group poured itself into every new challenge faced by its members no matter the size or shape of the problem.

The Corp had taken on a broken world that had spiraled into war, and a more broken child of the Colonies who ended up spearheading it. By now, Quatre truly believed that there was nothing this family with the same heart could not achieve.

To prove him right, taped over the top of his billiard table, lay the wiring diagram for an engine array that predated the war by fifteen years. Twelve men stood around it pointing and commenting. Sheets of information and three datapads were scattered around them while they verbally poked and prodded at every tiny line on the sheet.

"How are you going to maintain life support during engine burn? The power output is going to have to double just to get the thing to light."

"Gravity could be reduced. As long as no one left jars of spaghetti sauce in their cupboards, we could get by with fifty or even forty percent."

"You'll break pipes. Or worse."

"Not necessarily."

"What anchoring foundations does the station use?"

The datapad was passed again. "Direct grid."

"Except for the newest apartments section. They didn't tie in."

"Got lazy."

"Got cheap."

"They didn't expect it to fly off to Mars."

"They didn't expect it to leave the cluster."

"Good point."

"We can still vent atmosphere and shut down those systems."

"Cold and dark."

"No hitchhikers that way."

Auda snapped and waved both hands. "No! We leave it all and we sell tickets aboard the first Space City. One-way voyage through the solar system," he commentated.

Groans and laughs came from around the room.

"Yeah! We get catering, set up spacewalks, make an amphitheater…."

"Welcome to your three-year vacation?"

"Rich people are weird," he defended.

"We're trying to make this move faster, not slower."

"If you want it there in three years we could just give it a good kick with the thruster it has and see what turns up on the other side."

"It really is the course corrections that make this whole thing too hard."

The group paused as their collective thoughts spiraled again. And once more, all eyes in the room returned to the schematic on the table.

Quatre crossed his arms and leaned a hip back against the sofa behind him. He'd practically memorized the thing since his engineering staff brought up the possibility. New eyes would lead to new insights. And they seemed to be having fun with it.

Though this team was more than prepared to dive into a three-year project if that's what it would take, he wasn't completely settled that this was going to happen. What he had decided was that this was not a decision he was going to make alone.

There was strength in numbers, and he wanted those numbers all on his side before this particular ploy went anywhere.

He heard her enter the room and watched a couple of those gathered around the interrogation nod their welcome. Looking over his shoulder, he watched Dorothy saunter in.

Casually dressed, he had to bite back the laugh at her bare feet. He was surprised she'd risen from hibernation before noon anyway, so he didn't figure he should bring it up.

She scanned the room a second before opting instead to walk up to the couch and crawl into a kneeling position on. From there she watched their group beside his shoulder, but didn't say anything to interrupt.

The men continued offering suggestions and systematically shooting them down.

"What are we arguing about this time?" she finally whispered.

"Your insane plan to send a resource station to Mars," he likewise whispered back. It didn't dawn on him until now that they were under the guestrooms of this wing. "Did we wake you?"

He turned enough to watch her shake her head. Her eyes were a little sleepy looking still, but otherwise as alert as usual. Her hair hung damp and very loosely pulled into a ponytail.

He didn't press the issue and she squinted a little at the diagram they were all pointing to. "Is that the engine design you found?"


"Is it buildable?"

"Sure. But not currently."

Their conversation had been noted by enough of the men closest that the group came to another pause as a new voice of questions entered.

"Why?" she asked curiously.

"The company that fabricated ships with this array went out of business several years ago," Auda ventured, pointing to a different paper file for emphasis.

"Finding a new manufacturer will take time and set up for a custom job is expensive."

"How expensive?" she asked, though it sounded more like a challenge.

The group smiled or rolled their eyes at the comment, and even Quatre had to chuckle. "More than you have." When she turned his way, he nodded knowingly and met her eyes. "Trust me. More."

Dorothy, to her credit, closed her mouth and frowned at the news, much to the amusement of the room.

"You may have outsmarted even yourself on this one, Mistress," Abdul commented wryly, tracing little credit signs in the air over his head.

She didn't take the news well. Withering, she slumped to the side until she sat down, still wrong facing, on the sofa. Folding her arms over its back, she landed her chin on top of them, thinking hard. "This is supposed to work…" she mumbled.

The men waited, not one of them ready to call it quits either.

"Are there manufacturers that designed similar things?"

Most eyes turned back to Quatre, who had spent many days researching that exact question. "Currently everyone I can find has moved back to making much smaller spacecrafts."

She crinkled her little nose in concentration. "What sort of company made this one?"

Looking around the room, he made eye contact with a number of people who were not Dorothy. "Defense contractor."

Suddenly everyone found the diagram much more interesting as Dorothy caught on. "This is a military design. Space borne deployment," she specified even though no one actually said she was correct. "This is Libra's?"

Shaking his head slowly, he could only wince at the same thought. "Technically it more like Libra's grandfather. Smaller, less complicated. The later model plans were never released, for obvious reasons," he tapered out.

Popping back to her knees, he felt the whole sofa shift as she bounced on it behind him. "Well then why can't we use one that's already built?"

The whole room paused to stare at her.

Comically looking around, she waited but finally shrugged. "Well, what did they build these for? Something that size doesn't just disappear even when the company is shut down. Every anti-Colony group in history wanted something between here and Earth."

Having the file still in front of him, Auda sat down in a convenient chair and began flipping through the engine's construction history. "Gather round little Mags and hear the story of war machines from the days of yore."

"If you found a working ship, all the power systems would be with it."

"You wouldn't have to tie in to the electrical at all."

"Connection framework could be fabricated."

"Ooh, Franken-station."

"It would also be detachable that way," Ahmed pointed out, smoothing his mustache thoughtfully.

"Excellent. It could be used again for the next one," Dorothy mused, nodding to herself.

Half the room, including Quatre, turned to stare at her. "Next one?" they repeated.

She smiled sweetly. "Well, if it's going to be this expensive, we'll have to use it more than once."

A number of comments, questions and insinuations began bouncing around as the men began sorting through the complexity of finding and sending a second station. Quatre began waving down the concern to stop that line of thought from progressing. He did not need a second station on their minds right now and he was not sold on the idea of continuing a process he hadn't officially began yet.

"The G-Series Transport, or the 'Gate Series,'" Auda read out loudly as he found the information in the company manual that accompanied the diagram. "The 'Gates' or 'Gatekeepers' were manufactured from 178 to 186 under both cargo and mass-transit authority."

"Any idea how many were made?"

"I don't think these are going to tell me that," he commented, skimming through more of the pages.

"But the Lady is right. There are some left," Rashid inserted into the conversation from the other side of the room. All eyes swiveled around. The Captain was one of the oldest among them and one of the most knowledgeable of the battlefields they had faced. If anyone could ID a machine of war, it would be him.

"Where?" Dorothy was the first one to ask.

"Still in orbit. Several of those types were re-commissioned to debris clean up."

"Wait, the vacuums?" someone asked.

"They're using whole battleships to salvage mobile doll parts?"

"These are probably what carried the dolls to start with," someone observed.

"ESUN sanctioned this?"

"We're troop-carrying Merry-Maids?"

"What else could they possibly do with them," Quatre noted. Although many times smaller than the massive battleship which would have annihilated life on Earth had it fallen, these ships were still too large to enter Earth's atmosphere. They were built for space, in space. And if they were decommissioned, they would have to be disassembled in space.

Better to put them back to good use. Removal of the debris left from the final space battle was still ongoing. Collecting free floating chucks of suits and ships was not an easy task and posed a risk to both Earth and the Colonies if left bouncing around. Though it was a quiet mission, there were several ships on a perpetual cleaning routine to ensure the safe travel of those going back and forth. Known as the 'vacuums' almost no one ever actually saw them.

"So maybe they have one for sale," she tossed in. "No harm in asking."

"Not yet," Quatre quickly dismissed it and tried to ignore Dorothy's frown. "We can run scenarios, but this needs to stay here for now."

The men nodded. This being Quatre's project they had no problem with living in the confines he set for it. However, he was certain if he let Dorothy slip away with her phone long enough Miss Relena would be the first to hear of these plans.

Looking at her specifically, he repeated, "Not yet."

She visibly gaged his seriousness a second. With a pout, she slumped down to lay her chin on the back of the sofa again. "Always have to be so bloody responsible."

The group chuckled merrily around them.

The men trickled through one by one, each happily accepting a quick hug. Auda even snuck back around for a second pass and was loudly called out for it as the others shoved him out the door. Dorothy giggled and shook her head at the display.

Last as usual was Rashid, in his constant vigil of rounding up his men.

Raising her arms to his shoulders, he still had to bow down to give her a one handed pat of a hug. "Merry Christmas, Captain."

"Be well, Lady."

She released him and he closed the door behind them all. They were heading back to the village now. No pressing matters remained for work here and this group had families to go back to. Manual and Nashita were still on Station, where they now called home and hadn't come for the party. She was sure those others not here were likewise staying at home with good reason.

Quatre was helping to drive them to the spaceport and there had been no room left for her to tag along. And so, Dorothy stood forlornly in the foyer, watching the closed door.

Winner Manor's housekeeper was in the thick of cleaning up after a group affair. The butler was carrying linens from the guestrooms and resetting for future visitors. All busy somewhere else in the house.

The unnatural tranquility of the Colony was solemnly quiet this afternoon. The bright, sunless day outside was stretching longer than the days did in her little mountain village this time of year. The ever-warm light reached in through the windows and sidelights around the door.

Meandering from the foyer to the front receiving room, she noted the large windows that stood unclad and looking out to the street. Blinds were hung on the frames, but pulled up to the top where they made a break between the straight frame and the arched top glass panel. These lower, foremost rooms were the only ones that boasted windows like that.

Just for nostalgia, she sat down on the first chair. This was where she sat the first time she was ushered into this house. She had sat in the only chair that faced into the room and had its back mostly to the entrance.

Dorothy slouched back, sitting just a bit diagonal on the seat and crossed her legs. A skirt and stilettos and she could recreate the scene.

But now she sat and gazed around the room with far different eyes. She was no longer a stranger here. Or worse, a near enemy.

So much had changed.

Except this room.

Again, she looked around her, noticing for the first time exactly how… blank it all was. Although not a fan of the wind or dust of the Maguanac village, she had to admit that the place had character. And in a small way, the house did give homage to the same area of the Earth. The arched windows didn't have the customary point to the top, but likely that was due to building constraints. This was, after all, an early colony home.

Although it was all very whitewashed, patterns stood out to her if she looked for them. On either side of the corner, which served as the open entryway to this room, stood a pair of latticed panels that may have been room dividers. The central rug that the furniture was arranged around was a quietly muted piece of tan on cream, but its pattern repeated in neat rectangles as though made of a collection of prayer rugs.

The rectangle of the piece, and placement of the furnishings, made the room seem longer, but mapping it with her eyes for the first time, she realized she sat in yet another square room. Below her though was not wooden star, just the same tiles as the foyer and the hallway. Polished tile in white and cream.

Rising, she left the receiving room and came to stand at the center of the house where the split staircase rose to the second floor like a pair of embracing arms. Behind it to the right, the wall opened to a wide entrance to the formal dining room. And in either direction remained the two wings of the house.

Looking up she squinted at the chandelier which illuminated the heart of the home. As she knew from last night, that one fixture was enough to light up most of the open design.

Symmetry had been very important to someone.

Venturing down the hallway, she smiled at the ballroom, whose doors stood open. The light was streaming in those windows as well, making it look bright and inviting. However she reached the door to the music room first and paused.

Her bare feet met a new wood floor as she slipped in. Here, linen shades filtered the light to a candlelit level behind the cushioned window seats. The bare arched tops created shapes in the room with an old world charm.

Under one of the half-moon's glow sat Quatre's piano, nudged directly into center stage. The rest of the room had been cleared into a new set of doored cabinets that now lined the side wall. Next to the piano stood a music stand and a small table with his violin case on it.

So, this was her maestro's new workshop.

Listening a moment for any footsteps in the hallway, she carefully opened the case. Touching the strings, she couldn't help but think they felt sharp against her. Pushing one down, she felt the pressure it took to reach it to the wood of the neck beneath.

Releasing it, she slowly ran her fingertips down the length of slender strings. Her mind drifted to the calluses these strings had made. They weren't usually noticeable, at least not to the eye. But the way he held her hand when they danced was much the way he held this instrument. With her hand wrapped mostly around his thumb, he closed his fingers over her. Those somewhat hardened tips pressing against her.

Closing the lid, she latched the case and sat down on the piano bench. From here, she could see both into the second doorway of the ballroom, and out into the hallway.

Dear Quatre, too seasoned to feel comfortable with his back to anyone. Much like her, excepting that she loved feigned unconcern. It was such an effective confidence trick. Granted it really worked best when she had enough men around to look particularly concerned for her.

Ah, but this wasn't a battleground. This was home.

Rising from the seat, she stepped around the piano towards the ballroom when she saw the back of the hallway wall. Where the old music cabinet had sat, filled with things he'd never bothered to look at before, now stood entirely nothing. But the newly purged wall sported a line of nine framed sheets of music.

Dorothy laughed out loud and walked the length of the display. Von had done a lovely job lightly gilding a series of wooden frames for the piece, and she could see a level of his handwork in embellishing the music stanzas on each page.

On the first of them stood the incriminating title of the work, inked in small neat writing: Lady Dorothy. Over this small, centered title, the artist had drawn the same words in large, flamboyant calligraphy clean across the top of the page. The gold of the ink he used blended with the ivory paper, but glowed under the diffused light of the room.

Such a beautiful work to have her name on. To say nothing of the actual music.

How did she come to know so many artistic souls?

She just made out the sound of the back door closing. It would seem she had been wandering for longer than she thought. Well then, she'd run out of time.

She waited patiently while she heard him check the entertainment room across the hall first before his head popped into the doorway. Catching her smirking at the framed series he sighed loudly enough to let her know he was annoyed she found it first.

And she laughed at him for it. "Oh, you knew I'd find them."

"Davonte told you, didn't he?"

"He's very bad at that," she conceded.

"I thought of that later," he mumbled with a nod of his head. Coming to stand at her side, he tucked his hands in the pockets and admired the neat little collection.

He looked so proud of himself, she couldn't help but chuckle again.


"Nothing, Love. It's beautiful."

"Well, I'm glad you like, Lady Dorothy," he returned with a mock bow.

An unnamable void opened in her chest as he turned away to the center of the room. Meeting the neat lettering of her name on the first page, she didn't quite hear what Quatre said behind her.

Such a small amount of ink could change so many things.

His arms slipped loosely around her waist as he hugged her from behind. "What's wrong?" he whispered.

She sighed at herself as she realized she hadn't intended to get into this until later. However, she supposed there was no sense in planning out conversations with this man. They never went to order anyway.

Looping her arms over his for the comfort, she swallowed. "I have a unique opportunity."

"Is it to buy another planet?" he teased.

Dorothy chuckled despite the pit in her stomach. "Nothing so monumental."

"Good," he nodded, his cheek against her hair. "What's troubling you then?"

Bracing herself for the words to be said out loud, she began, "I've received an offer for the Chateau." There now, that wasn't too hard to get out.

"An offer? An offer to what?"

She rolled her eyes when he couldn't see it. "To buy it."

There was a lengthy pause as Quatre mulled over the news. "Had you put it up for sale?"

She shook her head once but really just leaned back into his embrace further. "No, but they knew it wasn't really being used. Do you remember Senator Nelson Bridgeport? I believe you met him at Miss Relena's fundraiser. He escorted Leilalie Wayridge that night," she added to jog his memory.

"Vaguely," he returned. "I'm not sure I'd know him on sight again."

"Doesn't matter," she brushed it off. "He is the one who made the proposal. Apparently, he's getting married and looking for a spacious little spot of his own."

"He's from a Romafeller family, isn't he?"

"Of course," she nodded.

"He'd understand the history of the house then."

If only any of them did. "I suppose," she whispered instead.

For a long while the two simply stood there, thinking. The proposal had a number of different agreement clauses. The largest was for the sale of the house and grounds it sat on. Several parts were for the contents. An estate of that size took a lifetime to furnish and accommodate, and it was prudent of him to realize that most items already in it had done many generations just fine. Then there were clauses related specially to the hired help who now inhabited as well as upkept the property.

"You haven't decided whether to accept it or not."

It wasn't a question as much as a means to shake her back the to the present. "Not yet."

"Thoughts?" he asked, nuzzling a little into her hair.

Her partner had come to know how to manage these conversations so well. "That I've become very bad at making quick decisions," she stated bitterly.

Quatre chuckled knowingly at her and pulled away. Losing her support, she turned to watch him walk over and take a seat on the piano bench. Apparently deciding that this was going to take a while, he waved her towards the window seat in front of him.

Yes, these types of conversations had certainly happened one too many times.

"Perhaps someday we'll have a time together when neither of us have life altering issues," she grumbled while following his direction. Sitting down on the cushion, she tucked her feet under her and leaned heavily against the window casing.

"That sounds nice," he agreed. Stradling the bench, he scooted it towards her more and leaning forward, he held out a hand to hold hers. "But if you had made a snap decision, I'd spend a week hunting this Senator down to buy it back."

He finished his tease by pecking a kiss on the hand she'd just laid in his next to her mother's ring. Aghast, she tried to pull her hand back, but he closed it in both of his. "Let go of me, you twit."

He only laughed louder and entwined their fingers together. "Sorry, I couldn't resist."

"You used to be so nice," she grumbled at him.

"You've rubbed off." With a dopey smile still stuck in place, he met her eyes and waited for her to continue her conversation.

The dear man was making the best of this. She really had become hopelessly transparent to him. And why shouldn't she be?

It really wasn't just a stall tactic to her to wait to discuss this with Quatre. Her sounding board had every right to hear this out with her. And she did dearly want his insights. Then there was the thought that though he had no current claim to the property, there may be future… situations to consider.

So then, how did she skip to the heart of this matter? What exactly was that?

"What do you feel when you think of selling it?" he quietly asked, poking her in the right direction.


He did try to bite back the laugh, to his credit.

"Well, you asked."

"Alright," he calmed. "Less physical, more emotional," he tried again and gave her a reassuring smile.

In truth, she wasn't sure exactly how to be more honest than that. When she pictured herself signing those documents, she honestly did feel physically ill.

Staring off into space, she squeezed her hand in his and felt him trace a thumb over hers.

She felt… "Ashamed."


The sting in her eyes was new. Sniffing, she backed that down but the feeling didn't leave her. Why did words make everything harder? Did she just hate to admit it this much? Was she so delusional to think that it could still be hidden? "Because I failed them all."

She didn't look at him, and couldn't have anyway. Her eyes clouded, but she raised her head, watching the lights and shadows shape the opposite wall.

"Hundreds of years of family history comes down to me. And I…" Andrew's rebuke from so long ago came clearly back to her. The absolute honesty of it again split through the lies she tried to wrap herself in. "I just left."

She didn't go back. She didn't resurrect her family in the affairs of those still in Romafeller. She had put the final nails in its coffin. She had commanded the end of everything it had once been and then recruited the old families to ensure no replacement to them ever rose again. She had built Traze and Grandfather headstones and demanded Oracle keep their secrets in their graves.

And then she fled. Like a coward, afraid to watch the consequences of her actions.

Again, his thumb traced her hand. Probably just reminding her that he was still here.

Swallowing back the lump in her throat Dorothy realized she was still falling back on being angry. It was easier to be angry.

"You didn't choose a new home just because," he gently prodded at her memory. "Why did you want to live at the cabin?"

It was peaceful. It was quiet. She was alone there and… she couldn't hurt anyone else. "I ran away," she whispered, coming again to the same feeling of betrayal.

Quatre looked down at their hands and leaned forward enough to prop his elbows on his knees. "I'm something of an expert on running away from home."

The confession helped drain the tears back from her eyes and she watched him hold their hands together.

"I ran away… I'm not sure how many times. I think I was eleven the first time I got on a tram and just circled the colony for hours until they found me."


"I got so good at wanting to leave this place that when I saw a chance to run all the way to Earth, I thought: 'finally. I'll never go back.'" He shook his head at himself with a smirk. "I was a self-obsessed idiot that thought everything was about me. If Rashid and the others hadn't found me right then and there, I have no idea what would have happened to me."

Quatre sucked in a deep breath and looked up at her again. In his eyes, she knew he was seeing the ghost of her past. Their past.

"The last time I left this house it wasn't because I was angry or needy or upset. The last time I ran away, I wasn't doing it for myself. And that time, knowing that I would probably never see this place again, or even be allowed to come home if I did… terrified me. No matter how many times before I told myself I never wanted to be here, it wasn't really true. Until I really believed I would never be welcomed home again, I didn't know how horrible leaving would be."

"You were leaving your father here," she whispered, understanding that that was a large difference in their thoughts.

"And I thought he'd be safer," he nodded sadly. "Because I was stupid."


"I was. I really believed I could separate myself from him. Do something so against his morals he would decide never to come after me again. He'd finally just realize he was better off without me. And then he would just be safe." It was his turn for his eyes to go glassy. "I was still thinking of myself. Still thinking I was smarter than him. That I knew better," he chuckled humorlessly.

Again, he turned his eyes to her. For a moment, he just studied her, seeing, she didn't know what. Raising their hands, he pecked a kiss on her hand.

"You were never that selfish," he whispered. "Through the war, you positioned yourself where you believed they needed you. And as much as I hate the feeling that someone used you, it was never just about you."

Dorothy felt an eyebrow raise at him. "I hardly think I was that humble."

He smiled at the rebuttal. "My point is I can't believe you left just because you wanted to run away from your past. You, who spent your months after the war making sure that everyone else's life could go on. You, who put yourself in harm's way to turn out a crowd of civilians just when those lives needed the help most."

She frowned at him, racking her brain for when that piece of information had come up in topic.

He shrugged at the look. "You billed Relena. It got back to me," he brushed it off and returned to watching her like she was going to do tricks.

What did he see in her? Why did he think so much more of her than she deserved?

"You have stood, valiantly, in every place where you knew someone needed you to be," he stated distinctly, his eyes never leaving hers. "You have accomplished everything that someone needed, whether they asked for it or not. Whether someone knew they needed you or not. You…" he seemed to catch himself. "You need to know you're needed. Need to do the necessary work."

Releasing one hand from hers, he reached over to brush her cheek.

"Does the chateau need you anymore?"

There wasn't a damned thing left there to need anything.

Was he right? Was this vision he had of her more correct than what she could see of herself? "I think you're just biased," she decided instead.

His admiring expression turned critical as he considered it. "Possibly."

She couldn't back down the smirk and she rolled her eyes at him.

"Blushing doesn't answer the question though," he teased, rubbing her cheek.

"Am not!"

The merry little twinkle in his eye, and the too cool touch of his hand against her face, told her she was too. Swatting his hand away from her, she scooted herself back further into the seat.

She didn't however release his hand.

"So tell me again. Why did you move out to the cabin?"

Dorothy laid her head against the frame of the window and closed her eyes to think. "I needed to get out of the house. I found myself visiting the cemetery almost every day. Even Miss Noin commented that I was there too much. I needed somewhere else to go, and it was the only place I could think of."

Yes, she had walked away from their graves that day and she had honored her word that it was the last time. Though now she supposed it wouldn't hurt her to visit now and again.

"It hadn't been used in years. The water was shut off when I arrived. Everything was draped and unplugged. I only met Felicia because her father was the utility worker who came out to re-establish the line. It was so wrapped up in bandages that… it needed me to revive it," she tapered out with a frown. "You think I was drawn to it because it needed attention?"

"Maybe," he nodded thoughtfully. "It sounds more like you needed something to help take care of yourself for once."

There was truth to that. "And the distraction," she added. Though in many ways she hated being by herself, constantly being surrounded by the well-wishers and those 'concerned' about her family's inheritance was too much to constantly handle.

It really wasn't until she tossed the mothballs out of her home that she felt she needed to start planning out what to do with the life she still had to live. It was there that she was confronted with the fact that she was still alive. And that she had her own amends to make.

But as much survivor's guilt as she experienced, it took time to realize that she was still here for a reason. For all those who were no longer there, she had long believed she had a duty to live for them.

But not in their house. "It was the first place I felt like I didn't have to continue being what they would expect me to be," she conceded mostly to herself. "I keep saying that I don't owe them anything, but I still feel like… if they were here… if Grandfather were still here, I'd be…."

"In the chateau?" he pressed.

She shook her head and looked at him for help. She couldn't put in words what had just struck her. It wasn't that she wanted to do what they wanted her to but that she should… make good on their deaths.

But even that was past her. Even the loss of her family was long enough behind her that she had moved past using them as a litmus test in her decisions. The man in front of her had almost single handedly replaced them all.

Did it even matter why she left after all this time? Her past was a muddy mess. But it was past.

"What do you think I should do?"

Quatre looked surprised at the question. "That's not my decision."

Sitting up, she swung her feet to the floor and sat so that their knees bumped together. Carefully she studied him back. "I didn't say it was. But honestly, what do you think I should do?"

He sat up straight and looked confused and more than a little uncomfortable. "I can't—"

"Sure you can," she cut him off. "When I first said there was an offer, what was your first thought?"

"Uh-um," he stalled. After enough expectant staring at him, he finally closed his mouth and sighed. Finding something on the wall beside her to look at, he finally said, "Good riddance."

"Just like that?"

"Of course not just like that. I'm not the one emotionally tied to it. Mostly I felt very sorry that you had to make this decision."

"But if it were up you to decide, you'd get rid of it."

"I didn't say that," he back peddled quickly. "I will stand by any decision you make, and I won't do it for you."

So unhelpful. "Why not?" she asked bitterly.

"Because I don't know where your heart is, Dorothy. If it's still there, then you can't let it go. Not now, maybe not ever."

Her heart. Did she really care about the place? She was back to the same question as last night. "I don't know that I want it to just hold memories for me."

"Well, then, do you want to make new memories in it?"

The little question slipped into her thoughts. Visions of a new family starting out in the old manor. Little kids with brown eyes and curly red hair running through the garden, or being forced into piano lessons. The Lady's new laugh echoing down the hall as her boisterous husband told her about his new political alliance.

Wouldn't that all just be so amazingly fitting.

Her eyes stung sharply as she bit the tremble in her bottom lip.

That house would never have those memories with her. She knew very well that no matter how she planned, her life would not go to course, but the idea of moving her own family back into that place…. It was nowhere to be seen.

She had no intension of living there again. Not with the priorities and interests she had now. She had no desire to send children to the same schools she knew there. She just wanted… it to sit there in case she needed an impressive backdrop or proof to a story. In case she wanted to wear diamonds and cashmere and sip elaborate cocktails.

It was the world's largest high school yearbook. She wanted to point to it to say 'Look how wonderful I was back in the day. Would you believe it?'

She was such a bloody Romafeller.

But then… with a few signatures, no one would hardly be able to know that. Without her title, and no new one to come, she was just….

Dorothy Catalonia sucked in a deep breath through the shiver. "I wouldn't be a Lady anymore," she whispered word by word. "I wouldn't be… anyone." Breathing unsteadily, a tear leaked out and she batted it away with her free hand. "No one would remember who lived there before."

Every ounce of her childhood training rejected the idea. The fibers of her heritage wove a noose around her neck for even saying it.

"Do they now?"

Her heart fell to her feet. Her chest hurt so bad that she couldn't draw her next breath.

Eight. There were only eight invitations this year.

"But we know you." She tried to meet his eyes, but tears clouded hers so badly she couldn't see. "You have, and will, affect the lives of millions of people." She trembled and she tried to grind her heels into the floor to keep her steady. "Yes, Romafeller definitely had something to do with your utter audacity," he teased. "But you will never stop being a force for good in this universe. I don't care where you live or what your name is."

She shook as though the temperature had dropped dramatically. The lights outside had dimmed sometime during their conversation and the room seemed so much larger and darker than before.

Still, he sat right in front of her, knees to knees, hands in hand. Leaning closer he made sure she could see his eyes clearly through the mock sunset shades. "My Lady, you will never be anyone other than perfect."


She snatched the leaked tear from her cheek. "That's not fair," she griped.

"Sorry, what's not?"

"Being all sincere and sappy," she griped as another tear leaked out.

"Well you didn't like it when I said good riddance, either."

With a sniff, she wiped the rest from her lashes.

"This is important enough to deserve a few tears," he softly consoled her.

Only Quatre would consider this display to be, not only alright, but a good requirement. "You said it wasn't supposed to be about me," she turned the tables.

"Not sure that was really where I was going with that," he muttered in confusion.

"So, being the foremost expert, what would you have done if it turned out that you couldn't come back here?"

He glanced around the room and gazed out into the butter-colored glow in the ballroom. "When I left to pilot Sandrock I wasn't running as much as trading places. If I lived, I knew I would have another home to go to."

To never really go home again. He had felt this, in apparently several different ways, throughout his life. For Dorothy, this was really the first time she had to deal with the idea. But in the way he stared into space, the way nothing in the receiving room had change, nothing in his office was new…. "You still don't think of this as your home, do you?"

He didn't turn back. He just stared into the next room as though memories were playing on a screen. "No."

She swallowed, seeing in him the feeling that she just had but didn't have words for. The complete sensation that, "This is your father's house."

In these years since he came home he hadn't change so much as the sheets in most of these rooms. Her teasing about his office had really only scratched the surface. And then, so much like her, he had someone show him it could be altered. Dorothy had finally felt the need to change the ballroom, repair the gardens, and she had done it the way she wanted it, not the way grandmother left it.

Quatre had seen for the first time a new use for an old room, as much as his memories remained, he made it the way he wanted. His music room was now completely his just because he wanted, ok definitely needed, new cabinets and new flooring.

"If you had the offer, would you sell the Manor?" she asked quietly, wondering if that thought had ever crossed his mind or if he'd thought it through a hundred times.

"Not unless one of my sisters wanted it," he answered easily. So then, it was not a new thought.

"And if they did?"

He took a deep breath and pulled his eyes back to her with an effort. "It would probably be because of all this work we put into the ballroom."

Dorothy laughed despite herself. "We?"

"Yes, you had excellent ideas," he fully gave her credit. "I'm telling you, even I never really know what I need until you show up and tell me. It's your gift."

Ah yes, now she was beginning to understand his little love-sick display. Poor man was hopeless without her. "Alright, right you are. But where would you go?"

He sobered again too and appeared to think it through. "Close by. Maybe build new. Something more like the house on our fabrication colony. Something more for just… me."

"You wouldn't run away to the mountains?" she teased.

Slowly he began to shake his head. "No. The company has really become mine, more and more of late. I have people there I don't want to leave. It's become work I can believe in."

Again, these were obviously not new thoughts. As usual, he was far better at thinking through and feeling through what was happening in his life.

So then. "What do you think I should do?"

Looking at her again, he seemed surprised a second time that she asked. But Dorothy's hesitation was sliding by. She was not the first person to ever have to make a decision like this. And his counseling so far did leave her pointing, so slightly, in one direction.

"I don't really want to influence you. I just want to help."

She raised an eyebrow and waited.

His jaw worked a couple times before his head drooped. "I don't know," he admitted. "No matter when you do decide to sell, it isn't going to be any easier."

Good point. Time and distance would lessen the desire to keep it, but it may not relieve the grief of its loss.

This was just another time of grieving then. One more thing that would be gone to her. She was personifying the house into one more family member she would never see again.

Much like the graves, she would just stop visiting it.

It didn't mean she missed them any less. It just meant that she had time left here to pursue other things.

Looking at Quatre, his head still bowed in thought, slouched forward to be close to her, she allowed an earlier thought. An unspoken and more suppressed thought.

"Would you want it?"

His thoughtful expression vanished as he raised his head to look at her. Complete confusion was written in his eyes. "Me?" She waited. "Why would I want it?" he asked, completely befuddled.

Leaning back in the cushion and once again tucking her feet under her, she smiled. For a long moment, she watched him watching her and waiting for some sort of explanation. Some reason that she had even asked the question.

For as long as she could remember, Dorothy Catalonia had believed that if she were to marry, it would likely be for title. She had been groomed in the knowledge that any suitor would have the right to title under the estate. It was also true that, if a male heir was born, a retroactive title could be bestowed. In essence, not only would her son carry the title of Duke but, with enough paperwork, so could her husband, at least until maturity.

"No," he finally answered. "When I said I would go buy it back, I was kidding," he specified.

Growing up in the society of the titled elites, it was a given that anyone who showed interest in her romantically would, of course, already know the benefits that came with her hand.

Dorothy had no real interest in such things, but she had been constantly wary of being exploited for her pedigree. It had soured her on the whole idea, to put it in so many words.

"Not that it isn't a lovely house. I really do enjoy going to Earth. It's still kind of fun for me."

Here sat a man who professed to love her. Was so caught up with her that he thought she was just perfect the way she was. Who had no intensions on her title or her property. And who, apparently, had never once fancied himself the new Lord Winner of Chateau de la Brume Gris.

"I wouldn't know what to do with most of it. Even the rooms that don't have moving walls."

This man, who would give up his own ancestral home if he knew it would remain in the family, wanted nothing from hers. Except her.

"I don't actually even know how to use a furnace. I'd probably freeze to death."

The selfish little boy that kept running away and the arrogant little girl that was always sneaking in.

Leaning forward, she tugged his hand towards her, pulling him close. He'd barely quit floundering before her free hand pulled his lips to hers.

"Glitter is the herpes of the craft box." – Random meme too funny not to make it into my quotes.