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"So do you think we'll be able to get into your parents' liquor cabinet?"

Bunty Windermere was, on the one hand, quite a delightful friend in Mariemaia's opinion. She was also a complete and utter disaster bi. "Bunty!" She hissed her name and glanced up at the driver. Admittedly they probably couldn't be heard through the glass, but what if they could be heard?

Beside her, Damiana Mallory-Schreiber waved one pale hand dismissively. "Oh, darling, don't worry. I assure you we're fine."

Mariemaia sighed. "You've never seen Wufei's disappointed face. It's traumatic."

"Ooo, does it look like my mum's? Her mouth gives down right at the corners like a puppet," Bunty declared, pulling her mouth down at the corners. "I mean they have to go to bed sometime and we don't. That's the whole fun of it."

"No," Mari declared. "It is so much worse. Utterly and completely worse, it's a dash of I disapprove crossed over with you have made me the saddest father in the entire universe and somehow mixed in with a dash of I never would have made my parents so disappointed in me. Somewhere in there, I quite frankly lose the will to live."

Damiana nodded sagely and tucked a strand of mousy blond hair behind her ear. "Ah, yes. The dreaded I am ever so disappointed in you. Poppa makes that face rather more frequently than one would like."

Bunty gave a delighted laugh, and bounced her back against the seat. "You tell so many stories about them. I can't believe anyone could actually be like that! We're completely raiding the liquor cabinet. You can blame me."

Turning thirteen and having a sleepover had seemed like such a good idea originally. After all, Uncle Quatre was friends with Bunty's aunt and uncle, and Damiana's fathers knew her own, so it wasn't difficult to talk their way around things and get permission for them to stay. Her tiny crush on Bunty notwithstanding, they were all excellent friends and got on well. Mariemaia had even asked if she could actually board at St. Agatha's, but her father had put his foot down on that. He had informed her that he knew quite well what went on at boarding school from personal experience and that she did not need an entire cadre of personal worshippers at this stage in her life.

Wufei had just laughed and told him not to bother saying that because they both well knew it was that he would be sad and utterly miserable if she weren't living with them.

And now they were talking about breaking into the liquor cabinet. Well. At least she knew that her father's properly strong liquor was stored in the shop and not in the house at all.

Her parents drank... normally, she supposed? Wine with dinner occasionally, and sometimes her father would drink something stronger with a book while talking with her or Wufei about something political. Once a year, her father would get drunk in a quiet in the shop way; Wufei said it was the day a friend had died, and whoever the friend was, her father had never said. So the allure of the cabinet wasn't there. She'd certainly sipped her father's wine occasionally around the holidays, and it didn't have much appeal. Sneaking their coffee and tea had a lot more interest for her.

"I will absolutely blame you," Mariemaia replied. "Besides, they both know I'm a lot more interested in the good coffee. Wufei thinks I don't know where they hide it."

She probably did talk about them a lot, but her mother was someone she barely remembered, and her grandfather had been more inclined to tuck her away into a room and forget she was there. She was absolutely certain he knew what had been happening to her father, as well, and that was something that she had talked about a great deal in therapy over the last three years. She wasn't sure when she would stop talking about any of it, but since her father still went to weekly sessions and Wufei somewhat less, perhaps there wasn't a need to stop talking about it until she felt better about it.

She tried very hard not to think about what had been happening to her father. It was why she had been given an anatomy coloring book for her birthday the prior year after she finally realized that limbs and organs didn't actually grow back. Ever.

"Oooooh, Irish coffee!"

"I'm starting to think you only wanted to come to dig into the liquor," Mariemaia snarked.

Damiana raised thin pale eyebrows. "Oh, no, not at all. We're absolutely here to entertain you and also perhaps just a bit to meet your parents because you have the best stories. I only see mine for about two months out of the year, and at least two weeks of that is unfortunately devoted to visiting my ghastly great-grandmother. Daddy refuses to allow me to stay with Grandmama because he says Grandfather is a prejudiced old so-and-so and he has issues, so Grandmama comes to visit me there instead."

"Yes, and I see my parents at summer term and winter holiday if they're not jetting across the world, which they always are," Bunty sighed. "Which I should be doing once we all graduate, which, did I tell you they sent me a letter about what college I should plan for? College!"

"We're only thirteen!" That was rather appalling, Mariemaia thought. "Father and Wufei haven't said a word about it."

"Well, they won't even let you stay at school," Damiana pointed out. "I am absolutely certain that Poppa already has me down for entry at Oxford the very second I graduate. Ugh."

"See?" Bunty gestured to Damiana as the hire car started to turn down the roads that she thought of as leading to home. "I bet your parents are just happy if you graduate or something weird and sweet, which is terrible because who sends their children to St . Agatha's if they don't just want to get them out of the way?"

Mariemaia had to admit that was true. "I don't think Father graduated at all, precisely. He went from military academy straight into being a mobile suit pilot." At least she was fairly certain. "And Wufei had tutors until Oxford, at any rate, which is where he met your fathers, I think?"

"Hm, yes. I was only ten, but I distinctly remember Poppa being furious when his favorite student that year dropped his classes and, I quote, trotted off after some former world leader's cock." Pale cheeks blushed even as she said it.

"Damiana!" Bunty squealed and leaned over to smack the other girl on the arm, laughing hysterically. "Oh my god! Oh my god, did he really say that? Did Wufei really do that?"

The car slowed, and Mariemaia glanced outside. "We're here." Better not to answer that question, she thought. Definitely better not to answer it, because he'd actually rescued both of them, in a way. Sometimes she still missed her grandfather, but that was more out of obligation, she thought.

Looking out through the window past Bunty, she was sure she saw a curtain twitch, though it was hard to tell who would be waiting near the door for her to come home. Either of them. "Oh my god." She was still laughing. "Damiana, your parents are terrible. Terrible! Oh, what a lovely house."

"It is, isn't it?" Damiana hummed. "Daddy and Poppa and I have a tiny place not far from the university and I shall never take either of you because the walls are all lined with books and it is quite frankly appalling."

It sounded more like heaven, and Mariemaia knew full well that Damiana probably loved it. She was the only person who read more than Mariemaia did.

The car rolled to a stop and they opened the door before the driver could bother getting out to open it for them, grabbing bags and making for the front door, all laughter and teasing. She did wish that it surprised her when the front door opened, but it did not in fact surprise her at all.

She was glad that her father wasn't wearing his coveralls when he opened the door for them, though she imagined he smelled like metal because he'd been in the workshop when she'd left that morning. "There's my birthday girl! Hello, come in, girls, you can set your bags wherever you like."

Damiana glanced at her as if to say, so Poppa wasn't wrong, and it was just weird that anyone would think that her father was hot. Well, anyone who wasn't Wufei, in any case, so she herded her friends ahead of her until Father shut the door behind them. "We can put them in my room," she decided, and if it were more order than not, well, that was just fine.

They both seemed excited to follow and Treize laughed quietly. "At least take the snacks up with you, since there's still a little time before dinner."

"We'll come back down, Father!" Mariemaia called. "I have to feed the fish and the swans!" That was still her job, and they might as well get it over with because Bunty and Damiana would be wildly curious until they'd seen Wufei, too.

"Wow, who's your decorator? My mother would kill for her house to look like this," Bunty declared as they headed up the old, familiar staircase to the second floor.

As if she knew. "Not the foggiest. I think it was like this when we got here, though. The estate in Brussels is larger, and the one in Luxembourg is Father's favorite, I think."

It was very open and great and bright, bright and wide, though she considered this one 'home' more than that one. "You're very unassuming for someone with three houses. My mother would never shut up about it. Oh, your carpet is the cutest!"

Damiana dropped her bag at the foot of Mariemaia's bed. "It is rather lovely, I suppose, if you like eye-searing orange."

"Don't pretend that your entire wardrobe isn't made up of an appalling amount of black and green." Which was entirely true.

"Yes, but it's much more difficult to be elegant in orange."

Well. She was going to take it as a challenge to do just that. "There's a reason we wear uniforms," Bunty said, looking down at the orange and teal rug as she set her bag down on the floor.

It was true, as well. Bunty had quite spectacular boobs for a thirteen year old. Mariemaia was simultaneously ragingly jealous and a little tongue-tied every time she thought of it. If they didn't wear uniforms, she'd probably have low cut red shirts on all the time and then Mari thought she might just die. "Thank goodness. So, I need to feed the fish and the swans, and we can stop by the kitchen for snacks. There'll be something."

"Tea and biscuits?" Damiana did look hopeful. "I've my Poppa's sweet tooth."

"Hmn, I'd guess tea and proper cucumber sandwiches, but your parents are probably less proper than mine. Proper being dull," Bunty declared. "How do you have swans?"

Mariemaia shrugged both shoulders as she headed for the door and back downstairs. "They were here when we got here so Father made sure we had food for them and now they're just... here, I suppose. As swans do. And I'd imagine there'll be tea, but Wufei doesn't like British food very much, and Father is a great deal more continental in his likes and dislikes. If I had to make a guess, finger sandwiches with crusty bread and tasty things and pastry. Tea and coffee, but they won't share the coffee because they're terrible that way. Father will sneak me a cup now and again and act as if we're in a conspiracy, as if Wufei didn't already fill half the cup with milk."

"Oh," Damiana said. It was a conversational peculiarity, and Mariemaia seemed to think she'd heard Wufei mention that her father did it, as well. "Poppa and Daddy are frankly evil first thing in the day without coffee."

"Yes? And you know who else is evil first thing in the day without coffee? Hmn?" Bunty winked theatrically at Mariemaia.

The answer came by way of a sniff as they clattered down the stairs. "I'm only a minor demon. Daddy and Poppa called me that when I was little, anyway. Sweet Demon. Actually..." She thought about that. "Poppa still does."

"Well, he's a professor. He'd know what he's talking about," Bunty said demurely, looking up at the roof and the walls and the doorways they passed with curiosity Mariemaia hadn't had since they'd arrived.

"Probably so and... Father! Wufei!" Oh, darn it! She'd told them and told them that it was gross and now her friends had seen them, her father backed against the kitchen cabinets with Wufei's hands on his hips, head tilted down and Wufei's tilted up so that they were kissing and canoodling where everyone could see.

They were terrible. They were always hugging or kissing or lying on each other on the sofa. Her father lifted one hand from Wufei's waist and actually waved before he pulled back from kissing Wufei. "Down for snacks, then."

"We have quite good snacks," Wufei declared, and it was a little funny to her to realize that he still had a tiny bit of an accent, one that blended weirdly with the local accent and her father's somehow. She supposed hers did, too, only she hadn't thought about it in a long time. He leaned in and stole one more kiss because of course he did.They were so embarrassing. Then he opened the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of plates of sandwiches as predicted, and they did look delicious. Her father set the kettle on and began pulling out cups for them.

"Sorry," she apologized. "They're like that all the time."

"Oh," Damiana sighed, looking a little dreamy, "Daddy and Poppa are, too. You become accustomed, I suppose."

"Wow." Bunty canted her hip slightly, and then launched into what the school taught them were good social manners. "Hello Mister Wufei and Mariemaia's father, I'm Bunty Windermere, it's so good to meet you both."

"And Damiana Schreiber-Mallory," her other friend offered, as if Bunty's sheer... sheer frustrating something kicked her into gear.

"Hm, yes," Wufei replied, offering plates. "You do look quite a bit like Darius." Also, they'd talked to her parents when they'd asked permission for them to spend the night. "It's lovely to meet both of you."

"Thank you." Bunty picked up a sandwich, and set it on her plate, grinning at Mariemaia, and she completely didn't care that they'd been kissing in the kitchen. Okay. Maybe it could be salvaged. The kettle was whistling, and her father was looking distracted, but he wasn't capable of burning water. Not really.

She was pretty sure.

All right, she was just going to keep an eye on him then.

That pretty much lasted until she had a sandwich in her mouth and then she realized she was starving. Bunty and Damiana seemed to do, as well, and it was almost a surprise when her father set cups of tea in front of them.

He poured the tea before the whistling got too loud, and then they all heard the jingle of an incoming call on the kitchen datapad. "I think we'll leave you in peace while I take this. It looks like it's Duo, Wufei, if you'll..."

"Yes, in a moment. Be right there," Wufei promised, and he winked at Mariemaia before opening the cupboard in the corner and setting out an entire plate full of fresh pastries. Perhaps it was her imagination, but she thought they were still warm. "When you girls are done, just let us know before you head out. I'm sure Mari will want to go out and feed the fish and check on the swans with you, hm? We'll be in the study, Mari."

Where she hoped they wouldn't be doing anything terrible. "Oooooh, pastries!" Bunty stared for a moment at the familiar, assorted and not matching chairs that ringed the kitchen table. "They seem nice. I don't think my mum would walk away without trying to find dirt on me."

Mariemaia blinked. "We..." Was it odd, she wondered? Then she thought that perhaps her father had it right and decided she didn't care, at least for the moment. "We talk to one another. They answer any questions I have, and they don't limit what I read or, or pretend that things are all right if they aren't, I guess? Hm, once they had a fight and Wufei tossed a cup at Father." It was, in fact, the only fight she ever remembered them having, at least where she could see them. Perhaps they did and she didn't know about it? She wasn't sure. "I don't know. We talk about things, I suppose. I'm fairly certain that short of committing human sacrifices down by the standing stones, I couldn't actually do anything that would shock them."

"Hmmm." Damiana popped the last bite of her sandwich into her mouth. "Yes, that's what Poppa says, too."

"Yes, but your parents are..." Bunty waved fingers at Damiana. "I mean I'm fairly sure they both might be axe murderers so they might even be okay with the sacrifices at the standing stones. Isn't your grandma actually in a coven? Meanwhile it isn't a holiday if my parents don't have one real howling screaming match daily."

"Is she really?" That was quite interesting, actually, far more interesting than parents having howling screaming matches. Most of the other girls at St. Agnes seemed to have those types and they all talked about it at least to their best friends and, well. One heard things.

Damiana leaned forward and snagged one of the almond croissants. Father liked those best, too. "Oh, goodness, yes. But even so, human sacrifice isn't really her thing. Grandfather, now, he'd be far more likely to commit it so long as it was someone who didn't meet his standards."

"Mmhm, and who doesn't meet your grandfather's standards? Snobs, the lot of all of us," Bunty laughed, rocking in the chair she was sitting on.

"Grandfather is worse than most," Damiana informed them darkly. "He despises Poppa, which is utterly ridiculous. Poppa and Daddy have been together for..." She considered it. "Well. Seventeen years, I think? Or possibly longer, in any case. A good four years before they decided they wanted me, give or take a year, I think."

Mariemaia hummed. "I... don't have grandparents. At all." Well, everyone knew about the disastrous round of assassinations, and they probably wouldn't ask any questions about Wufei. "My mother and her family are all dead, I'm afraid. Well, and Father's family, of course."

That had been a very awkward history lesson the previous year, and then her Father had gone to talk to the history teacher and Miss Fronze had been in a daze for a week. "Well, yes," Bunty said sympathetically, sipping at her tea. "No, I've rather lucked out and love my grandparents. Sorry."

"Oh, I love my grandmother, she's a delight. It's just grandfather who's Satan on a stick." Well. That was one way to put it, Mariemaia supposed. "And, of course, Poppa's parents are dead, I'm sure. Or if they aren't, he's buried all knowledge of them and refused to admit they're alive, so it all amounts to the same thing, doesn't it?" Damiana nodded at Mariemaia. "You aren't missing much, I think. Probably. You can share my grandmother, if you like."

From the coven. That was... sort of interesting, actually, and Mariemaia thought about that for a moment as she ate a raspberry filled soft biscuit. "Is it a real coven?"

"Oh, quite." Ugh, she was going to have to break her of that conversational habit. "Book of Shadows, brooms, and all. It drives Grandfather batty, but I suspect that Poppa and Daddy are also inclined toward that sort of thing. There's an altar in the garden and I'm fairly certain the only thing they're sacrificing on that is one another."

That was enough to make Mariemaia say, "Oh." Maybe it was contagious.

"Hmn, I think I'd rather watch Mariemaia's fathers 'sacrifice' each other than yours," Bunty mused, sipping her tea. "No offense, Damiana."

"None taken." She reached for another sandwich, the almond croissant already gone the way of the dodo. They were making fair progress on them, actually. "Although I'm fairly certain that no one's allowed to watch, in any case."

Ugh, they were so gross. Wufei and her father were also pretty gross, though. It was kind of sweet. "So tell us about covens. How many people does it take to be one?"

"Oh, three at a minimum, but Grandmama's has six," Damiana offered idly. "Three is the traditional number because of the fates."

"Well, there are three of us," Bunty pointed out, looking at both of them.

Mariemaia couldn't help the skeptical way she raised her eyebrow. "I'm not sure how Father and Wufei would take that."

"Didn't you say your father never graduated anything?" Bunty waved her hand side to side. "And then Wufei's a literature student. I think we all know about writers."

"That makes him a reader, not a writer." Although she was fairly certain he was working on something other than his usual business dealings these days. Her father, too. Memoirs, maybe? Who knew. They both had a lot going on, Mariemaia was sure. "Anyway." She polished off another raspberry biscuit. "Shall we go feed the fish?"

His daughter was somehow turning thirteen, and while Wufei was willing to argue with him about it, she wasn't that different from his soldiers had been at that age.

"We should go into hiding all night," he decided, standing at his desk in the study and contemplating the now closed data stream and his cold cup of coffee from earlier.

Wufei hummed and curled into his seat a little more comfortably. "We can absolutely do that. We did get all of the soundproofing upgraded," he offered, giving him a raised eyebrow. "And I'm sure they'll either stay in her room or slip downstairs and stay mostly in the kitchen and the library."

Treize picked up his coffee and wandered over toward the chair Wufei was sprawled in, holding loosely to the datapad. "My bet is on the kitchen, the library, and the backyard. We should crack a window and listen for shouting."

Lazily, Wufei looked up, book dangling from his hand. "Hmmm, possibly. Or we could rely on the security people you hired and curl up here and enjoy ourselves."

"We'll have to head downstairs to feed them eventually." He turned, and eased himself to sit on the floor, leaning back against the seat. "Did you ever have any big birthday parties?"

He seemed to consider that for a long moment. "It was different than this," Wufei decided. "I had cousins and extended family, so most of the people were related to me. But yes. Frequently."

There was a wound there, and he knew better than to accidentally brush it by pressing at all. "I would be completely at sea if you weren't here." He laid the datapad on the floor beside him, and took a sip of his coffee before leaning his head back. Wufei's fingers slid into his hair, petting and soothing at it.

"You had a distinctly bizarre childhood." Not that Wufei's hadn't been abnormal, all things considered. Just not in the same way. "But you'd be fine. You love her. You'd manage. Fortunately, you don't have to try it without me."

He closed his eyes, and leaned into Wufei's fingers. "I was just wondering how many of our people didn't have a mitigating factor like you, and what sorts of insanity are being perpetuated." It was no comfort that so many of the soldiers raised that way for the Specials hadn't survived. Nor had Wufei's people.

"Mhm." There were, of course, foundations meant to help with things like that. Wufei funded quite a few of them, as they'd agreed to split the fields in which they invested philanthropic efforts the same way they had diversified the research and production areas they pursued. "You can't worry about everything all the time." That was something his therapist advised quite frequently.

He was terrible at listening.

Treize turned his head slightly, until Wufei's thumb pressed against his temple. "Going to stop me?" he chuckled, sliding a hand up to pet at Wufei's leg.

"I've given up on even making the attempt," Wufei advised, continuing to pet him. "Did we finish wrapping her presents?" And by we he meant you because Wufei's idea of wrapping was nothing like Treize's.

Wufei would put something in a bag, and staple it closed, and somehow Treize both enjoyed it personally for the pure functionality of it, and didn't consider it wrapping as such. "Yes. It's done, and overdone." Fingers stroked through his short hair, ruffling it.

If he didn't watch it, he would fall asleep. Wufei would probably just keep petting him, too. "Good. Hmm, she'll enjoy unwrapping them a great deal more than if I had done it. And at least no one let Dorothy wrap anything. It'd all be gold and gold and more gold."

"Gold and red acceptable?" He finished off the coffee and didn't quite move his head just yet. "I'm leaning toward allowing security to watch. I left them three tiny bottles of Kahlua in the library liquor cabinet."

That earned him a laugh, and then Wufei was moving behind him, leaning down and kissing his mouth, a funny not quite upside-down angle. "I left a terribly sweet cheap bottle of wine in the refrigerator. I'm glad that we're on the same page."

He tilted his head, shifting to kiss him back better. "Is that what that strawberry thing is? I thought it was juice."

Soft kisses, sweet and enjoyable. "Hm, yes. Just barely even wine, honestly. I thought it would feel more like they were getting away with something that way."

"It's even been opened," Treize agreed, "and I thought it was some strange juice. You know, like that fermented tea." He rose up to his knees because he could, turning a little and resting a hand on Wufei's knee.

"And if they're downstairs, it's far less likely they'll hear anything that they shouldn't." Not that Mariemaia would ever even approach their bedroom door if it happened to be shut. She said there was only so much trauma that she could deal with, even in therapy.

"We could simply try to be very quiet." Treize leaned into Wufei better, fingers curving behind his knee lightly. "Very very quiet."

He did enjoy the way those dark brows rose. "Really now. You think we can manage to be very very quiet."

"Yes." Treize was trying not to smile too broadly, because it was easier than contemplating the heads up from the Preventers, or any of the rest of the gossipy news Duo has brought. He would think about it later, and Wufei would think about it, and together they would come up with something useful, but for the moment...

For the moment there were kisses in the study and notions of what might happen later in the evening.

Supper had been a great deal of fun. Treize had announced that he was in the mood for charred meat, and Wufei had rolled his eyes and promptly dragged him into the kitchen and forced him to pat out hamburgers while he went out to start the grill. For her actual birthday on Wednesday, there had been longevity noodles with chicken and ginger and mushrooms, and watching both of them masterfully eat them with chopsticks had earned Mari a kiss on the top of her head and Treize a rather more involved kiss, just because.

And then Treize had brought out cake.

The cake was a glorious thing, two tiers high with pistachio buttercream frosting, lemon flavored sponge cake, and raspberry jam in between the many layers of sponge. The candles had been sparklers, which the girls had waved at each other with a vengeance after relighting them.

Once they'd eaten far too much cake, Wufei had given Mariemaia a number of wrapped boxes, setting them on the table. "Pick whatever one you like first, but this one has to go last." He tapped on the one with the complicated bow. "That one's from just your father."

It was heavy and wrapped in red tulle over a wooden box, and that was the box that Mariemaia eyeballed as she reached for a book shaped one. "Eee, this is exciting," Bunty declared, waving her half melted down sparkler candle.

"Oh, presents are always wonderful," Damiana agreed, and Mariemaia thought so, too. Ripping into the paper and the bows and tearing them off was so much fun, and the presents themselves were delightful, too -- notebooks and sparkly pens and books and a number of other small things, hair clips and even new clothes -- but the one box in reserve was absolutely unbearably fascinating.

Wufei could tell that it gave her an unbearable sense of tension, eyeing her books and notebooks and finally that box stood alone as she set it in front of herself, and glanced at them both.

"Go on," Treize prompted gently, smiling at her. "I'll tell you about it after you see it."

"It could be anything," Damiana whispered, and they were both leaning in close to her when she reached forward and tugged the ribbon with light fingers, breath almost held.

It gave smoothly because Treize knew what he was doing -- apparently his mother's priorities had included gift wrapping, table manners, and not cooking -- and the fabric wrapping collapsed around the smooth old wooden box. Mariemaia still wasn't guessing, then she opened the little filigree brass latch on the box and lifted the lid.

All three girls gasped, and Mariemaia looked up at her father with wide blue eyes that glistened with adoration. "Oh, Father..."

The diadem had been created in the nineteenth century for an empress. Oak and laurel leaves were bordered by sheaves of wheat, and the gold was almost brassy, enough that it was quite close to Mariemaia's favorite color. Wufei was fairly certain that if and when she wore it, every jewelry nerd in the world would come up gasping in ecstasy.

Well. It wasn't as if the girls were that far from it already.

The diamonds were the impressive part, Wufei knew, but the setting was delicate and fascinating, well cared for over the centuries. "It's a Khushrenada family heirloom. My mother wore it to her society debut. It's only fitting for you to have it now."

Bunty's eyes glinted, and she leaned in closer, her mouth dropping open. "Is... is that Empress Maria Feodorovna's wheat tiara?" Her voice sounded a bit faint.

"Yes. Inherited down her daughter Olga's line. Shit luck they had, really, but she lived to a ripe old age herself." Treize's eyes were dancing as he looked back to Mariemaia. "I hope you like it. I think it will suit you."

Reaching out, Wufei plucked it from her fingers and gently settled it on her head, two pins that he'd palmed slipping in through the loops and pushing into her hair. "Go on, go find a mirror."

Damiana cooed a bit. "Oh, it's so pretty."

"It matches your coloring," Bunty said, getting up and half peering at Mariemaia as she headed for one of the mirrors in the lounge. "Oh, this is exciting!"

Watching them, Wufei leaned back against the cabinet and smirked at Treize. "I'd say that you're her favorite father today."

"I should hope so. You're her favorite dad, I should be able to keep the other title." Treize leaned close, sliding a hand behind Wufei's back as he settled in side by side with Wufei, watching the girls at the mirror. Damiana was arranging her short hair and shifting the bobby pins, whereas Bunty was just staring at the mirror. Whether it was at the diadem or at Mariemaia, well.

That was anybody's guess.

"Hm. I think you're right about that."

"I think perhaps tomorrow we need to have the talk with her." Treize said it nonchalantly, quietly so no one else heard but Wufei. He inclined his head ever so slightly at Bunty.

"The Talk?" Wufei blinked up at him and then over at the girls. "Hm. Well. She is related to you after all, so..."

Treize's hand stretched against his back, fingers rubbing gently. Now that his left hand was mostly functional again, he was inclined to using it whenever he had any excuse. The novelty might never wear off, Wufei guessed. "It will keep any future discussions from becoming more awkward or secretive."

Which was an altogether excellent point. "Hm. True. I'm not sure we're entirely equipped for this particular discussion, though. The technicalities, I suppose, but I think we should perhaps consult Sally."

"I'm not planning to diagram it and have a mechanics discussion." Treize stood up a little straighter, and pressed his right hand against his hip awkwardly. "There are data streams and Noin for the rest. She went through the girls harder than some of the men would."

He didn’t actually need to know that completely useless and mildly scarring piece of information, because he would never be able to get that mental image out of his head. "But Sally can tell her all of the technicalities," Wufei pointed out. "And talk about the importance of birth control and dental dams and..." Right, thirteen, but still. It was better to have all of the information than end up doing something stupid.

They were definitely going to warn her about all of the bullshit that young men would try since both of them had, in fact, been those young men. Of course, Wufei had been married at an appallingly young age, but that had been different.

It always was when it was oneself, he had noticed.

He suspected that if he were being formal he would warn her away from starting anything too early -- except he had -- marrying too young -- another check -- jumping into dangerous situations with strangers or dating men and women who were ten years or more older than her -- gigantic violation on both counts. Certainly he would feel compelled to warn her not to end up entangled with someone without some sort of reciprocal... well, and another check, though he had been a small footnote in Treize's will the first time and it was possibly more horrifying now.

"Dear god, we cannot let her do anything that we have done." Right. All of the trauma just considering it.

"I was going to thoroughly encourage all of it," Treize smiled, still rubbing at the edge of his pelvis as if it would actually help. It rarely did, but whether he was in pain or grounding himself, Wufei was never sure. "Including seducing random hotel desk clerks."

"I dislike you immensely," Wufei lied, and the girls seemed as though they might head back in their direction now, the tiara settled in Mari's hair just so. "I'll call Sally and she and Noin can decide exactly what to discuss. Definitely nothing about seducing random hotel desk clerks."

“We'll handle broad brush and let them discuss the details. She's a few years off from seeing what interesting people she can pull." Pull. That was horrifying, and yet he could imagine it, tried to imagine Treize in his twenties. And into his thirties. He hadn't witnessed any such thing since he had been with Treize. "One hopes."

"How old were you?" He hadn't ever asked, and the girls were talking now, eating cake again, loud and excited and ignoring both of them utterly. "Because I was fifteen and we're in that ballpark."

It was delightful to be considered part of the wallpaper behind their much more interesting discussions for the girls. "Thirteen or so. In there. Cadet instructor I had a crush on. I did not understand what I was getting myself into." He was very still when he said it, still watching them. "Earlier is better to discuss it than later."

That was a little worrisome. "How old was this cadet instructor?" He was definitely giving side eye to that.

"It was exactly what you think it was." Treize jostled him a little, gently, shoulder to shoulder with his one hand still relaxed behind Wufei's back. "He was thirty when he caught flak the next year in an attempt to put down the rebellion in Hanoi. Commanders made a big fuss about it."

Wufei hoped he caught more than flak. Wufei sort of hoped he was dead, because there were clear limits. "Right," he muttered, frowning. "So many things to warn her against. Girls," he announced, loud enough that they all looked over at them. "We're going to be upstairs. Knock if you need anything."

"Goodnight, girls. Mariemaia, don't set the house on fire. I'm sure I changed the smoke detectors last year, but let's not test them." Treize pulled Wufei with him when he moved away from the cabinet, relaxed and calm in a way Wufei didn't think he could manage given the topic. Just thinking of turning their daughter loose into a world full of that set his teeth on edge.

Ugh. "Take me upstairs and make me forget this conversation," he encouraged, because that would be entirely pleasant. "We'll call Sally and Noin tomorrow."

Once they turned the corner, Treize leaned in to whisper in his ear, "I'll suck your cock until you forget what day of the week it is."

"So how precisely is it that we become a coven?" Mariemaia asked, frowning. Bunty had located a sweet wine in the refrigerator and she was pouring it into three lovely cut crystal glasses that Damiana had found when she'd climbed onto one of the kitchen cabinets.

"Well. We need candles, of course." Damiana was looking thoughtfully at the glasses Bunty was pouring to the top. "The three are the maiden, the mother and the crone, you see. Aspects are very important to witchcraft, so one of us has to be wise, one of us has to be sweet, and another has to be raunchy."

"Ohh, I'll be raunchy!" Bunty volunteered, pushing her chest outward slightly, and yes, all right.

"I... suppose I'll be wise?" Mariemaia asked.

Damiana nodded. "And I'll be sweet, and that seems right."

Bunty laughed, and slid the wine glass over to Mariemaia, and grinned. "You're never sweet. Except when you're trying to pull one over on Miss Cleeves."

"Then Miss Cleeves shouldn't make it so easy." Damiana nodded and lifted her glass, sipping from it. "Oh, that's much nicer than anything Poppa ever has."

Mariemaia wrinkled her nose. "Father's liquor is terrible. Wufei says it could strip paint."

"Could it?" Bunty seemed very interested by that idea, and sipped at her own wine. "I mean I can't think of when I might need to strip paint, but..."

"One never knows," Damiana agreed.

"It's hyperbole." And there was a ten-dollar word she'd never thought she might use outside of a vocabulary test. Mariemaia was fairly certain it was, anyway. "Wufei prefers wine, I think."

Bunty hummed. "Oh, wine. Well, clearly it tastes good. Better than my father's scotch. I always wonder how people get a taste for that... so do you have candles?"

Of course they did. There were ones that smelled amazing, and ones that were never burned because they were in strange old-fashioned bits that were in the house, and ones that were for emergencies. Of course, they'd never had an emergency where they needed candles, the generator always kicked in, but her father seemed to think that candlelit dinners were also required on occasion, so they had a random store of them. "In the dining room, I'm fairly certain. What're the candles for?"

"Well, we light them and then pledge ourselves to each other and the coven," Damiana said solemnly. "Outside under the moon and swear to always help each other and stuff."

"Seems reasonably witchy." Bunty stood up, wine glass in hand, and looked over her shoulder at Mariemaia. Something in her stomach twisted, and she wasn't sure what. It felt warm and a little gooey and not entirely pleasant all at the same time.

"Right then." She stood up, careful not to knock over her glass. "I'll be right back."

She crossed the floor as quietly as possible, making her way to the dining room. The door was cracked open just barely, and it creaked as she pushed at it, making her nervous. She was absolutely certain that her parents could hear the faintest of noises and would catch her if she ever did something of which they disapproved. She thought that forming a coven might well fall under that umbrella, so she was ever so quiet as she rummaged into the sideboard along the wall until she found a handful of tea lights, small and wrapped in their own little metallic cups. Snagging three, she closed the drawer again and went back to the kitchen, where her wine glass didn't look quite as full and her friends looked positively angelic.

"And matches," Bunty said, sipping at her wine and grinning. "And then let's go outside, it's so nice out there."

"Around the koi pond, I think," Damiana added, voice a little dreamy. "Air, Earth, Fire, and Water are all very important parts of the practice."

"Right. Should we do something with the roses?" Bunty asked, standing up and tilting her head at Mariemaia. She grabbed the bottle of wine as well.

Damiana grabbed her glass and headed toward the door that went out of the kitchen into the garden before pausing. "Oh, and we will require a needle."

"A needle?" And roses. Her father loved them, so there were plenty of those.

"Yes, a needle." Sharp things weren't in terrible abundance; her father usually carried a wicked looking pocketknife that he used for everything from scraping mud out of the soles of his boots to cutting roses to prying things open.

"I don't think we have any of them." Mariemaia frowned. "Father's knife is quite sharp, but what are we going to be doing, precisely?"

"You prick your finger and we all share blood." Damiana sounded very firm and calm about that, like it was normal.

It definitely was not, but what did she know about witches and becoming a coven? "Does it have to be one's finger? We could use a knife and perhaps cut the back of an arm?"

"Isn't that a more serious sort of cut?" Bunty asked, holding the door to the garden open. Every second, she kept expecting her father to be standing in the doorway, watching them. But he wasn't.

"Well." Damiana hummed, and drank a bit more of her wine. "I think if we're careful just to scratch the surface, it's probably better than cutting a finger. After all, you use your fingers quite a bit more often than just the back of an arm."

Mariemaia nodded. "Right. I'll fetch a kitchen knife." One of the very sharp ones.

She rejoined them in the garden with the kitchen knife and the clicking lighter Wufei had used to light the grill, and found that Bunty had arranged the outdoor chairs around the koi pond, arranged the small tea candles, and repoured their wine.

"Right, then. How does this work?" Mariemaia asked, and they both looked at Damiana for instructions.

"We call upon all of the elements -- air, earth, fire, water, spirit, and void -- and ask that our will be done and that we be bound together as a coven. Not that hard."

"Well that sounds easy." Bunty's voice was sly and smirking as she looked at them both. "Do we sit in a circle? Do these fish ever sleep?"

"Not exactly. They rest, but they don't sleep... sort of."

Damiana arranged the chairs to her liking so that all of them were facing one another as they sat, watching as Mariemaia lit the candles. "There, that's quite lovely, isn't it?"

It was a little cool outside but not cold enough to make her get a jacket. She was starting to feel fuzzy and silly, maybe, from the wine. Or that was her best guess.

"More?" Bunty asked, wielding the bottle.

"Hm, no, I think I'm quite good where I am." Which was true. Silly and fuzzy felt nice, but she had seen enough hangovers to know that she didn't want a real one. Her father usually only got good and properly drunk once a year, but it didn't look like it was very much fun, to be honest. She remembered her grandfather had been drunk quite a lot more than just once a year.

"All right." She topped off her own and grinned.

"Come, come, give me your hands now that the candles are lit." And so they did, hand in hand, fingers warm in one another's grasp. "Now, I want you to visualize a white space, pure and coming to hold us safely, all right?"

So... that was workable, wasn't it? It was a bit like leaving L3, really, the safety of her father and of Wufei, and that felt familiar somehow. Easy, and so for a moment, they did nothing but that, and then Damiana spoke again. "I call upon the element of air to bring us clarity in our workings today. I call upon the element of earth to provide stability and safety to our circle today. I call upon the element of fire to bright light and energy to our circle today. I call upon the element of water to bring us fluidity and compassion in our workings today. I call upon the element of spirit, as above, so below, to make our circle complete. I call upon the dark and formless void, the crossroads of magick to take my words and give them form. As I decree it, so mote it be!"

A little shudder worked its way through her, and she opened her eyes.

"And now the knife?" Bunty asked, picking it up and wielding it lightly against her own skin first.

"And now the knife," Damiana agreed.

It hurt when her turn came; there was no stopping the hiss that came from her because it was quite unpleasant, but Bunty hadn't made a sound, just maintained a sort of solemnity that was surprising, she thought.

"Now, rub them together," Damiana said when she was done.

They leaned across the koi pond to messily smear their tiny cuts against each other, and Mariemaia wondered what it meant long term, if anything. It felt a great deal more long term than just one night. It felt... well. Magical, maybe, but also quite strange, and then Damiana leaned in and pecked Bunty on the mouth, and her stomach did an unpleasant thing. "Now, kiss Mari."

She knew kissing. Her father and Wufei kissed all the time -- pecks hello, slower kisses, the sorts of kisses that left them awkward and leaving the room. Mari leaned in for it, and Bunty met her halfway, an awkward press of mouth on mouth because she wasn't sure where her nose went.

There was no helping the way her heart raced or the soft funny way it seemed to skip its beats, because Bunty lingered and when they both pulled away, Mariemaia lifted her hand to her mouth. "Oh." She sounded flustered, and her lips felt tingly and damp, and then Damiana pecked her on her cheek, looking pleased with herself.

"And now we close our circle."

"La de dah," Bunty grinned, leaning back from them all while Damiana lifted her glass of wine as a sort of toast.

It took another moment to close, Damiana thanking the elements and telling them they were welcome to go or stay, and then they all sat down, curling up with their glasses. "Honestly, if either of you kept pining so ridiculously, I think I'd have had to do something drastic."

"It's not ridiculous." Bunty tilted her head, staring at Mariemaia and then took another sip of wine. "It's thoughtful, it's..."

"Sweet," she finished, her fingers still on her lips. She was fairly certain she was blushing, and not from the wine.

"Oh, well, it's settled now," Damiana told them and settled comfortably to finish her wine.

Maybe it was settled. Mariemaia didn't know, but she did know it had been a very good birthday so far and that it wasn't over.

Treize hadn't bothered to sleep in. He'd crawled out of bed, kissed Wufei, pulled the duvet up over his shoulders, and then headed to the gym after throwing on an old unit shirt, jogging pants, and sneakers. He managed two kilometers in a leisurely twelve minutes, knowing that the noise of the machine would perhaps help jostle the girls awake. No need to be rude about getting them up.

By the time they did manage it, they all looked a bit worse for wear. Not to the extent with which he was familiar, thank goodness, and his daughter blushed every time she glanced at Bunty. Clearly their timing for The Talk was fairly spot on, but they all did look a little bleary and headachy. Being a man who liked to be prepared, he pulled out a couple of bottles of electrolyte replacement and poured each of them a glass of it, ruffling Mari's hair a bit. It was already sticking up all over the place, anyway.

"How about French toast?" he offered, looking over his shoulder at them as they all sort of bleared at each other. He suspected they had perhaps only had a couple of hours of sleep, but that was what naps were for.

"Please," Mariemaia requested.

"With bacon?" That was quite a hopeful question, so obviously they weren't entirely hung over.

Mariemaia considered that quite carefully. "I should probably go get Wufei," she decided. "Father will burn it."

"That is the voice of experience speaking," he commented agreeably, getting the pan down, and a bowl for dredging. French toast was one of those recipes he had down, having inflicted many bad French toast breakfasts on himself, Zechs, and random lovers over the decades. "Thank you, Mariemaia. I left him sleeping."

For very good reason, in fact.

By the time he'd started the toast, Wufei followed Mariemaia into the kitchen. His face was pillow wrinkled and his hair was a loose snarly mess that fell to his shoulder blades. Instead of starting the bacon, he continued walking until he thumped into Treize's back, face buried against his spine, arms sliding around him. "'s morning. Don't do mornings."

"No, you don't." He pitched his voice soothingly, shifted to lean back against Wufei just enough to feel the comforting press. It felt good, grounding, and he dropped a hand to Wufei's arm around his waist. "I'll make you coffee."

"I love you." That was fervent, and coffee usually did get that sort of answer from him. The girls were starting to giggle a bit behind them, so obviously they didn't feel all that badly. "I'd propose for that if we weren't already living together and raising a child."

He shifted slightly, pulling the coffee machine over closer to dump coffee into it. "Just as well I'll make coffee without a proposal. I'm not the marrying kind."

"Thank god. I'd feel ridiculous if you said no." As if he'd say no to much of anything Wufei proposed. They were tied together by a great deal more than anything that simple, and Treize finished the first pieces of French toast, plating them. Wufei let him go so that he could pull bacon from the refrigerator and arrange it on a plate to put in the microwave. After all, there was just the one stove. Too many cooks and all that.

It was the secret to the non-burnt bacon, and Treize wasn't going to interfere. The girls were talking, giggling about one of their classes, which he supposed was better than giggling about a classmate. "There's just something about assassination and weddings in my family that makes a man suspicious. The bachelors seem to live forever."

Wufei hummed and continued laying out the strips just so. "I confess, it doesn't end well for me. Best to continue our lives of eternal bachelorhood." And if they exchanged a funny little look of agreement between them, well. No one had to understand either of them except one another.

He had the French toast stacked up, dusted it in cinnamon sugar, and plated it out for the girls and then Wufei and himself. It had only started to burn toward the last pieces, and he did quite fine with the burnt bits. And the bacon was delicious with coffee.

Sometimes he couldn't quite understand how he had ended up where he was -- with Wufei deeply pondering his coffee cup and giggling children asking for syrup.

Maybe he'd never understand it, but the one thing he could certainly do was appreciate it, and when Wufei stole a piece of bacon off of his plate, he leaned over and stole it back again, both of them grinning at each other. They were still sleepy, they had three giggling young ladies and Treize wasn't entirely sure that Wufei hadn't managed to get his hair in the syrup on his plate when he'd leaned over to steal the bacon.

It was the sort of memory that helped keep a man on an even keel, so he sipped his coffee, grinning.

Sundays were traditionally a lazy day, and Treize tried to keep himself from doing 'work'; it was a day for pondering in the workshop, and maintaining space for things that might entertain Mariemaia without giving her a feeling of work.

It was also a day for pulling her gently aside and having The Talk, now that he'd seen her friend Bunty making eyes at her for an evening and all of a morning before dropping them back off at St. Agnes.

They had even put off the timing just a bit because Wufei felt as if they'd have better luck with the appropriate books for guidance, so he'd gone to the book store and picked up copies of several different things he thought might help. At least one of them was the seventy-ninth edition, so he was fairly certain that if nothing else worked then that one might.

Now it was just a matter of... well.


Perhaps he wasn't understanding what the problem was. It was important, yes, but nothing to get nervous over. He'd survived without any sort of formal discussion on the topic himself.

Best to catch her unawares while she was looking at a schematic for what he suspected was a motor scooter and comparing it to the list of parts that he had in the workshop basement. "Your friends seemed nice."

"Mhm," Mariemaia responded, her voice distracted. "They're a great deal of fun. I quite like them."

"That's good. It's very important to have good friends." Oh dammit he'd lost the thread of how he was going to transition from one topic to the other. "And sometimes good friends become… Something more. It was a little hard not to see how your friend Bunty was eyeing you."

There it was. Her spine stiffened in alarm and her eyes slowly moved to him as if in horror. "Ah. Um. Well. I..."

"You're as nervous as Wufei about this talk. I think it's delightful. This is a normal age to start to feel interest in other people your own age." He turned a smile at her, hoping the nuance made its way in. In a lot of ways, she was more normal now than she had been when she'd come home with them, getting to let go of the shield of knowing too much and being too mature for her own good.

"Okay." She was still looking at him a bit skittishly. "I'm glad that's normal."

"And clearly neither Wufei nor I care who you fall in or out of love with as long as it's age appropriate. When you eventually have problems, I don't want you to be afraid to talk to us. I think between the two of us, we'll be able to help. Or your Aunt Sally or Lucrezia."

He watched her shoulders square and her face set in resolution. "I like Bunty, Father. It's... disconcerting. It feels like my stomach is doing somersaults sometimes. Is that what you feel?"

"Essentially, yes." He leaned an elbow on the worktable that was behind him, watching her. "Sometimes it feels like butterflies, and sometimes it's just... a syrupy hot feeling. It's important to ask yourself if you're feeling what you're feeling because it's exciting and you're unsure of how it's going to go, or are you feeling it because you're scared, and your body is trying to tell you to go."

She bit her lower lip, brows drawing sharply together. "Because it's exciting and I wasn't sure if she'd like me back. That's scary. What if someone doesn't like you and you tell them? I mean. She does like me back, and so that's good, but what if she hadn't? It's confusing."

"It's very confusing. If you like someone and they don't like you back, you should take a day to be sad about it, and then forget about them. And you should never feel bad about not liking someone back yourself, because there will be plenty of people who like you that you don't want anything to do with." Though he supposed that had been a problem Wufei had run into more than Treize had from a courtship and play perspective. They would see where Mariemaia fell in the general preference spectrum. It was all right if she were picky, like Wufei, or if she wanted to love everyone, which was more like himself.

The way she nodded was very serious, almost solemn. "I'm not obligated to like someone back," she interpreted. "And they're not obligated to like me, either. So... how can you tell when someone does?"

"There's usually a lot of smiling, and looking at you. Flirting. Touching and leaning in close because you can. If someone is trying to spend a lot of time with you, that's flirting, too. Making up silly excuses to see you. I still flirt with Wufei because that's part of the fun of having a partner. If you don't enjoy spending time with your person, then you should find someone else." He hoped he was outlining the big important points, covering his own personal pitfalls.

She nodded. "But why wouldn't you enjoy spending time together? We're together all the time, and you talk, and you're always discussing boring stuff together. I don't think I've seen or heard you fight more than maybe once. It seems like other people do it all the time, or at least Bunty says her parents do at least once a day."

And if they were fighting, it was usually his fault. It was funny, most of their arguments occurred in the workshop because that was where the things were to fight about. "Yes, that's what happens sometimes when you want a thing to happen more than you want the person you're with. Some people feel pressured by... society, their families. My mother's second marriage was very unhappy because it was arranged by her father. These things happen in the circles we move in, but I never want you to live that way. So you might see your peers talking about how they have to do something. About how you all have to do it, and that's just not true."

He could see the cogs turning in her head, the way she was thinking about it. "Wufei says all he wants, you want, is for me to be happy. Does it matter what makes me happy? Or who?"

"Not at all." He wasn't going to list any of the suspicious caveats from his own past, though it was a struggle not to say anything about them. "As long as you're happy. And maybe you decide you don't want anyone at all, and if you're happy, that's excellent. That happens, too."

It seemed that he'd said the right thing because her shoulders relaxed and her mouth curved upward, her eyes moving to look at him. "Okay, then." And that was that, he supposed, because then she sighed. "I do not want to talk about sex and my body with you, Father. Can you talk to Aunt Sally and Aunt Lucrezia, please? It'd be a lot more comfortable."

"Oh god, yes. Yes. Thank you." He waved a hand vaguely and dismissively. "Wufei has bought you books and he's a ball of nerves about this, so please, skip us. The only thing I'm sure about is you have to clip your nails. Best piece of advice I can give you, no matter what you end up doing -- take care of your fingernails. It will make more sense later." Or it wouldn't, but clearly she was having feelings for ladies and might eventually have feelings for gentlemen.

There was that eyebrow twitch. She at least had suspicions. "Right. That sounds more than acceptable, Father. Can you... tell Wufei we aren't talking about it?" Avoidance. They were quite good at that, he thought, and he was entirely fine with avoiding this.

"I will, yes." He managed to keep from smirking too broadly. "The most important thing is not to stay with someone just because you used to be happy with them. People drift apart and change, and sometimes it makes things even better, and sometimes it makes life unbearable; both are very normal."

She bit her lip. "Do you think that will ever happen with you and Wufei?" He should have known that the fighting between Bunty's parents bothered her a little more than she had shown.

And saying 'no' would be an outright lie, because anything was possible. "I hope it won't. But if he ever wanted to leave, I wouldn't stop him from being happy wherever he needed to do. We've been through some really strange tough things, though, and I like to think we'll be together for a very long time. It's one of the boring things we talk about, making sure we're doing the very best we can for each other." That sounded like good sane advice, yes. He could almost convince himself.

Seeing her look relieved was a good sign that he'd said the right thing. "I love you, Father."

"That's good, I'm terribly fond of you, too," he teased, getting up and leaning into her space in the workshop to hug her briefly. "I love you, and you know Wufei loves you fiercely. Never doubt that. Now, I'm going to stop him from coming in with any books about puberty."

"Oh, thank god."

And if they were both relieved by that, well. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that, either.