This chapter contains explicit consensual sexual content and one flagrant violation of personal boundaries.
At one curious point in Elena’s prosaic evening, Gertrude herself became a hot topic.
“Oh, yes, I am that Grand Inquisitor Lichtenberg. Yes, I’m part of internal security.”
She began answering questions fielded at her, and everyone suddenly became interested.
Elena thought it was no surprise Gertrude could become a center of attention herself. After all, she was tall, handsome, and had a variety of talents. And also she was a Grand Inquisitor at the age of 29, no mean feat. Particularly because she led a purge of her predecessor to get there.
Once the little group that had formed around Elena caught wind of it, they began to move the conversation politely and gently as they could toward Gertrude, with a heavy focus on acquiring her aid for their troubles.
A young man whose private shipyard had issues with labor unionists brought up the subject to Gertrude, who told him it would be easier to compromise with them than beat them; a woman expressed discomfort at the fact that homeless people congregated in a station block she bought for renovation, and Gertrude suggested charitable works; such conversations continued from there. After a point, more people, particularly young women, asked for Gertrude to recount her own tales, and such companionship felt much more sincere to Elena.
Gertrude would not become their personal attendants.
She was already bound to a promise.
And neither money nor brutality had ever formed part of her interests to begin with.
It seemed that the opportunists learned this at last.
And so the discussion lightened up.
Still it very much centered around Gertrude.
Everyone became impressed with her.
Maybe they had become bored of Elena.
That was fair; she found them all boring too.
While her companion was getting wrapped up in socializing, Elena felt she finally had a chance to take a breather and recuperate. She really was something of an introvert at heart, and she happily took the opportunity to slip out of the dull crowd as they mobbed Gertrude. She could have a drink in a corner near the band, collect herself. Maybe even ask Bethany about, well, everything.
As she broke from the group, however, someone called out to and approached her.
“Milady! Milady!” A woman stepped forward excitedly while calling for Elena. When the Princess stopped to acknowledge her, she clapped her hands together and beamed at her. “Milady, I wish you a wonderful birthday and many more to come. May I take your side for a moment?”
Her solicitor was a tall, blond woman. Her hair was styled so it fell partially over one eye, lending her an air of mystery. She wore a beautiful dress that was simple in its design but ornate in decoration, black with glittering blue gradients and a plunging neckline. Blue gloves and stockings with similar blue touches covered her arms from the hand to just above the elbow, and from thigh to foot. So while the dress showed off skin in some provocative places, she was actually quite well covered. What she chose to uncover left an impression: she had a scar on her chest, between her breasts, that was quite obvious. It looked to Elena like a surgical scar, but she did not want to inspect it for too long. It might have put her in a compromising position.
Elena was instantly curious about this woman and allowed her to take her arm for a brief walk, and she led her to a nearby table, where they had a drink of wine. While Elena only took a sip, her new companion downed the entire glass and set it back down on the table with a boisterous smile.
There was clearly something about her.
Not nobility; likely bourgeois, a capitalist.
“Only the best for the young lady.” She picked up a second glass, and this one she toasted with before taking a single sip. “Princess Elena von Fueller. Your location was a closely guarded secret, until today. We live in interesting times! I must say, I wish your brother had come too.”
Elene felt something off about the conversation. They were mostly out of earshot of anyone, and the woman’s tone bordered on impolite. Why did she walk her over here to drink in an unsightly fashion and whine like this?
“That’s a popular sentiment. But do you not think it rude to ask for my arm, only to talk about my brother? If you wish only to speak of him, contact his publicist instead of myself.”
She launched a barb, allowing her tone of voice to show some of her deeply held irritation. If her assumption proved correct, then this woman was not an aristocrat, and as such, insulting or humiliating her would have no consequence for Elena. While having money could make one materially equivalent to a noble, the capitalists were not socially equivalent to nobles or even to the highest and most respected echelons of the military, at least not in the old fashioned Imperial capital state of Palatine.
Someone like Gertrude while less wealthy, commanded more respectability; someone like Elena could treat any capitalist, however rich they were, like a filthy commoner, if she desired to do so. They were owed no more respect.
Her response did not move the woman one centimeter.
Her confidence was unshaken.
“I apologize. I was simply making an observation, but I may have been too blunt. I’m a keen observer of the court’s political atmosphere. To wit, I had been trying to find you, milady, for some time now. But it proved impossible, until you were allowed to be discovered for this party.”
Her dark red lips curled into a sly smile.
Elena was taken aback. “Why were you searching for me? If you think I am more pliable toward your business interests than my brother or my departed father, you are mistaken. I’m not looking to invest.”
What was her deal?
Elena was wracking her brain trying to find out. She could read so little from the woman’s self-aggrandizing expression. She was not like all the dressed-up bimbos and scheming clods whom her brother had invited to cause Elena grief. Behind those black eyes there was something going on. Did she just want money? Elena almost felt a sense of danger from her.
“Nothing so vulgar as that. It concerns your mother.”
Elena was briefly stunned speechless.
For her mother to come up twice in one evening–
The woman smiled and cut her off. “I apologize for not introducing myself sooner, I’m Marina McKennedy. I would like to request a private audience tomorrow. I wish to bequeath to you something that was once your mother’s, and was kept with me, and rightly belongs to you.”
“You knew my mother?” Elena said, almost a whisper, a gasp.
Her heart pounded.
“She was the star of the court. More people knew and loved her than will speak of it today. She had many trusted friends, I was but one among them.”
Marine reached out a hand suddenly and patted Elena on the head, ruffling her hair slightly. The Princess looked around as if in a dream.
Nobody was paying attention to her.
Trapped in her own isolated corner of the world with this Marina McKennedy. Since nobody could see it, she smacked away Marina’s hand with clear aggression. “Don’t touch me! What are you playing at?”
“I apologize, it was a reflex. It’s because you look just like her.” Marina said. “It’s almost uncanny. So, is it permissible for me to visit tomorrow?”
Elena felt reduced to a child, and her emotions spiraled.
“Absolutely not. Go fuck yourself.”
“My, my; manners, princess. I’ll come at teatime, then I will be gone.”
“You’ll be gone right now before I have the Grand Inquisitor remove you.”
Elena balled up her fists at her side, seeing red.
Marina looked if anything, more amused.
She bowed her head mockingly, turned around, and casually left the ballroom. Elena almost wondered if anybody else saw her, or if she was some kind of mocking ghost or spirit. She seemed almost to glide in under anyone’s notice. Elena knew somehow that she was not invited. She must have snuck into Vogelheim, and the eve of the party was just her opportunity to get close to Elena. But for what reason? Her mother? Really?
That being said, when that aggressive mood finally passed her, Elena realized that Marina could have easily hurt her if that was her intention. Maybe she really was an eccentric friend of her mother. Elena had heard that her mother was a free spirit, deep into the arts and culture and with many eccentric acquaintances, such as philosophers and poets and fashionistas. None of the people who had told her they knew her mother had been truly normal. Elena should have been used to this by now.
She knew so little about her.
If Marina was inviting herself, perhaps it was best to let her.
With that dark cloud over her head, Elena returned to the party.
Gertrude had really gotten sucked into the crowd.
She was laughing and being chummy and looked like she was finally opening up more. Perhaps the drink in her hand helped as well. Elena was not in the mood to feel positive about her special friend making chatter with people who were not her, on her own birthday. Elena let herself be as gloomy and unfriendly as she felt while she pushed her way back into the circle of aristocrats that had gathered around Gertrude.
Mid-conversation, the Inquisitor noticed Elena’s appearance and tried to make an escape.
“Ah, I’m getting peckish, I’m going to meet with a charcuterie plate, ciao!”
She surreptitiously took Elena’s hand and silently urged her to follow.
Elena gave no resistance.
Around them, the crowd’s attentions were diverted.
Far in the background, Bethany had gone through a few songs already. Giving her vocal cords a break, she let the band take the lead, and left the stage with an announcement, wishing the partygoers well and to await her return. Her parting and the vigorous clapping that followed from the animated crowd of nobles gave Elena and Gertrude a chance to slip away.
Gertrude grabbed a pair of drinks from a plate and urged Elena to follow.
“You’ve had enough of this party haven’t you? What’s a good place to hide?”
Elena looked like a deer in the headlights for a second.
“Your room? Really? Well, I suppose I wouldn’t look for you there.”
With this agreement, they ditched the party entirely.
The Villa was completely deserted.
Everyone was at the party. There were more maids in the floor below, whipping up food when needed, but on the second floor, Elena’s so-called party was the nexus of all activity. Gertrude and Elena walked the empty halls together, making it all the way to Elena’s room without bumping into anyone or eliciting any suspicion. They locked the door behind themselves and were confident they had not been seen nor followed.
“Ah, it’s spacious.” Gertrude said. She looked over the arrangements briefly.
Gertrude had never been invited to Elena’s room before. When they were kids, they played together in approved settings, such as the school, or a park; as adults, when Gertrude visited, they had tea and went on walks. Since relocating to Vogelheim, Elena had never had a guest in her room. Gertrude’s eyes fell upon Elena’s stuffed toys and her humble bookshelf.
“I would have thought you would have way more stuff though.”
“I don’t really ask for much. My brother is always late delivering anything I order anyway.”
“He really has you go through him for anything huh?”
“He’s so overprotective, it’s honestly unnerving.”
Aside from her stuffies, Elena prized possessions were mainly her books as well as various pieces of learning software such as a universal encyclopedia, which were installed on the Villa’s main computer and could be accessed through thin clients on the network. She also had a Nexus 32-bit console and a few romantic adventure games, but she had thoroughly exhausted all of them and the console lay unplugged in a corner of the room. There was also her wardrobe, of course. That was not valuable at all.
“It’s cozy. I’m jealous; you can wake up to a breeze and look out at the sun.”
Gertrude walked over to the window and looked outside.
“It’s kind of annoying though. You can’t sleep in because of the sunlight.” Elena said.
“That beats staring at grey walls for months.” Gertrude winked at her.
“Everything out there is just as artificial as the walls in your ship.” Elena said.
Gertrude cracked a smile. She sat on Elena’s bed, and Elena sat beside her.
They drank, and sat close, mostly quiet, contemplative.
The Princess glanced sidelong at the woman she fashioned as her knight and felt a thrilling sensation in her chest, a prickling electricity under her skin as she drank more. She knew that their positions in life were not supposed to cross, and furthermore, that she even endangered Gertrude by coveting her as she did. But the Princess could not help it. And so her hand snuck over Gertrude’s on the bed and squeezed tightly against it.
Gertrude, making no change in expression, squeezed back.
This touch set off a tiny transfer of body heat that sparked Elena’s heart.
At first she chided herself for what she wanted to say.
They were in a locked room, alone.
Though they were both women it was amply clear that they both viewed the same sex in a certain light. Their relationship to each other was special; Elena could call Gertrude her knight, her bosom friend, her dearest, all manner of beautiful words only for her. What she wanted then, what she coveted, was a lover. Someone who would fulfill her physically.
Elena had been raised to have certainly lady-like virtues.
She was also canny, however.
Ladies fucked around; probably even Bethany did.
Would a virtuous lady sit around making euphemisms all night until her promised pounced on her out of sheer starvation of touch? Elena could not imagine the aristocrats led such cold lives. No, there was certainly a language for asking for what she desired. And to some degree she knew it. That being said, it was difficult to overcome the programming of a puritanical society.
She wanted to have her first time with Gertrude. That was her romantic, storybook wish.
It was selfish to think about this when the entire Empire could fall apart in its present crisis.
That was what she told herself, she was selfish, she was a pervert, and yet–
And yet, it was the insanity of the moment which led her to seek comfort in Gertrude.
All of this then led Elena to make her case in the most roundabout way.
“You know, Gertrude, if you were a boy, this would be a grand opportunity for you.”
She said this, and tugged gently on Gertrude’s sleeve, wearing an embarrassed smile.
Gertrude fully turned her head to make eye contact. She blinked twice, quietly.
“I just mean– we’ve had quite a hot date already, haven’t we? Now we’re here alone.”
Elena made this insinuation almost in a joking fashion, as if trying to back off, but the bevy of emotions swirling in her head belied the truth behind it. Gertrude, sitting with her on the bedside, made little response. Both of them had their cheeks turning red. The warmth transferring between their hands became hotter. For a few moments, they exchanged glances in an awkward silence.
She thought it only proper, that if something were to happen, Gertrude should initiate.
It was also an insurance policy for her own heart, perhaps.
She didn’t want to ask something scandalous directly, and then be turned down.
And yet, she also wanted that feeling of being taken.
Of losing control; being controlled by someone else, not being sole master of her body.
Losing responsibility, for a moment, for being The Imperial Princess.
All of these thoughts brewed like a perverted tea in her brain, but nothing happened.
Maybe Gertrude just was not as much as a deviant as Elena herself.
In the next instant, this fantasy had a brush with death. Elena nearly discarded her hopes.
Then Gertrude had a little laugh burst out of her. A laugh slick with a surging devilishness.
She turned fully around and extended an arm past Elena on the bed and pinned her down.
Now Gertrude hovered over her.
“Like this, you think? Sudden, rough, unexpected; how a real dirtbag would treat a lady.”
One of her knees been set between Elena’s legs so that she could not close them.
Elena’s thighs pressed against it.
Gertrude came suddenly very close.
Her lips brushed against Elena’s. They didn’t kiss, not fully, but the touch set off electricity all across Elena’s face, down her neck. Instead of taking her lips, Gertrude stalked closer, seeking something more. Elena was surprised. Gertrude really was pressing her weight right on top of her.
She supported herself looming over Elena with both hands at first.
One over the left shoulder, one under the right arm.
On her face was a sly expression, narrowed eyes, subtly spread lips.
Elena did not try to move out of her grasp. Her eyes drew wide.
Such a bold response set Elena’s heart afire. Her chest pounded. Her breathing quickened.
Sweat, formed glistening beads on her chest.
Gertrude’s hand moved from her shoulder, down her flank, over her hip.
Her fingers snuck beneath Elena’s skirt and grabbed a deep handful of her buttocks.
Elena tittered. Rather than panic, she found herself smiling at this act.
She was excited. She raised her arms to Gertrude’s hips as if inviting more.
Gertrude smiled back.
She then nearly fell over Elena with laughter.
Suddenly breaking the illusion she had created.
Elena suddenly felt a little ridiculous herself. She laughed with Gertrude, still holding her.
“We’re hopeless.” Said the Princess.
Gertrude shook her head.
“Elena, I cannot say I am personally experienced in this, but I’m also not so innocent, you know? Soldiers spend months out at sea, and we do indulge these kinds of fantasies. If you think I haven’t– However, it is just not my style to take action amid so many ambiguities and unspoken words as this.”
“What– What should I do then?” Elena said.
That dark expression appeared on Gertrude’s face again.
She leaned back down on Elena.
“Become mine and mine alone. Beg me for something no one else can give.”
Gertrude’s voice, low, slick, dangerous, her words tickled Elena’s ears.
Dark, seductive whispers that pulled Elena tantalizingly close to oblivion.
“Tell me what you want, Princess. I’ll grant your every wish. But you have to beg for it. I don’t want to do anything if we’re just fooling ourselves.”
She felt Gertrude’s knee up against her again.
A tiny, stammering sound escaped from her lips.
Her heart caught in her chest.
Was she simply so weak?
Or was Gertrude just naturally, monstrously strong?
Feeling the force in her lover’s words, Elena succumbed to the compulsion.
She whispered in Gertrude’s ears. She whispered what she wanted.
Gertrude grinned with great self-satisfaction.
“As you wish, milady.”
Gertrude raised her head away from Elena’s whispering lips and then suddenly descended on them. She took the princess into a deep, sudden kiss, pushing her down on the bed.
For a princess who could have nearly anything in the world which could be bought, this was the one thing she was barred from. Choosing who gets to taste her lips, to touch her body. Those choices were taken from her mother and they’d be taken from her; and yet, in the insane situation in which the world found itself, Elena finally felt free from her responsibilities.
Gertrude’s lips parted from her own, a thread of spittle briefly connecting their tongues.
Was this the thread of their conjoined fate? It was brief; but there would be more.
“I’m going to move you and undress you, ok?”
Gertrude sat up and pulled Elena up with her, sitting her on the bed.
From behind her, Gertrude carefully undid Elena’s dress and pulled it off her shoulders.
Elena felt a chill down her spine, and gooseflesh, as her skin was exposed to a cool breeze.
“Careful.” Elena said. “It’s my mother’s heirloom. I’ll do it.”
Gertrude nodded. For a moment, she instead undressed herself. She stripped off her suit, vest, button-down, until she was topless, exposing her strong shoulders and lean belly. Her toned body glistened with sweat.
Elena spotted a patch adhered to her left rib. It was her healing injury.
“Sorry you have to see this.” Gertrude winked.
“All of your scars are beautiful to me, Gertrude.”
She did not have many. But there were a few. And Elena did love them.
Every part of Gertrude was a part she loved.
Smiling, Gertrude shifted her legs off the bed for a moment and pulled down her pants, before crossing them and pulling Elena closer to her again. She could feel Gertrude’s hot, irregular breathing behind her neck. Then she felt her lips, on her shoulder, on her neck. A nip at her ear.
Her elfin ears were longer than an Imbrian’s, and particularly sensitive.
She quivered a little and let out a tiny gasp.
“Take your time undressing. Are you feeling good?”
Elena nodded her head quietly.
She gently shed the various accoutrements on her body, unveiling more pearl-pink skin.
As she did, Gertrude’s newly freed hands glided up her flanks, over her ribs.
Elena felt her back press up against Gertrude’s breasts.
She was warm and protected again. She did not realize how much bigger Gertrude was until she was wrapped in her embrace, and her lover could almost rest her head on Elena’s in the position that they were in. Her hands wandered, pressing against Elena’s skin, rising up her chest.
Just as she had grabbed hold of Elena’s rear, she squeezed both of her breasts.
“That’s a cute reaction.”
That low, sultry voice kissed her ears again.
Gertrude cupped her fingers over her breasts, teasing her more.
Brief, and probing, as if it was a novel sensation.
Just a tease; soon the hands moved again.
Into the bundle of discarded dress that hung around Elena’s hips and legs.
Elena felt it instantly. A wild heat that coursed through her midsection.
As soon as Gertrude’s fingers teased down her inner thigh.
As soon as they applied pressure–
“Oh– my god–”
“You’re shaking so much. I’ve barely done anything. What a dirty Princess.”
Gertrude delivered another sultry whisper into Elena’s pointed ear.
Between Elena’s legs, Gertrude’s finger slipped down the center, gently parting soft skin.
One of her lover’s strong arms went around Elena’s stomach, holding her steady.
Gertrude nipped Elena’s neck, kissing, sucking, while her hand worked faster.
Her fingers ceased exploring; one slipped inside the princess with swift ease.
And another flicked and pressed against her clit.
“Oh my god Gertrude–”
Elena nearly let out all the air in her lungs. She bent against Gertrude’s body.
Her hips threw back. She felt like she had hit Gertrude’s chest–
But the sensation, the heat, the feeling of pressure building and washing over her–
Gertrude smiled, her face up against Elena’s. “I hope this is how you fantasized it too.”
Her fingers worked faster.
Elena’s entire body quaked with those words, that touch.
A wave crashed over her, shuddering from her core and out to her limbs.
She let out a cry, a cry of relief, a release of pressure, a cry of joy.
She sank against Gertrude, soaked in sweat and more, tittering.
Tears started to form in Elena’s eyes. Tears of joy. “Ger– Trude I– I l-l-love–“
Gertrude kissed her cheek and embraced her with both arms.
“I know. I love you too. And I’ll always protect you, Elena. Always.”
In the middle of an encore of Lili Marlene, Bethany Skoll chided herself internally.
Everyone was going crazy over her singing; and she looked killer in a red dress.
When she wanted to, she could still sex herself up and steal anyone’s gaze.
Something about that did please her. It felt like what she got up to with Leda.
But caught up in the passion of the moment, her own gaze had lost its sharpness too.
She had lost track of the princess; and none of the drunk men or absentminded bimbos in the crowd seemed to care that the birthday girl was gone either. Bethany surmised that since the lady Lichtenberg was gone too, they must be together. She understood that they were both women who valued the same sex differently than most; so she had some inkling of what they might do.
It was a special night, they were a little tipsy, and they were alone.
Such things tugged at her matronly concerns, but it was a new world.
By the dawn, it could well be the least of their problems.
At least Elena was not in any danger with Lady Lichtenberg.
Or at least not in danger of losing anything but her virginity.
Bethany chided herself for another fact as well.
Prince Erich had never come to the party. He had invited all of these people, who truly came only for his presence and cared nothing for Elena, and then he himself had failed to show. Such a disservice could only mean that there was a plot afoot. He never intended to come because he chose not to be in Vogelheim for his precious sister’s birthday. His sister, whom he himself had hidden in Vogelheim. For her own security; to keep her away from the nobles’ resurgent devilry.
She dared not dream that Prince Erich was scheming against the princess.
However, he may well have been scheming against these people.
So Bethany was torn between the song, the dance, the ardor; and the cold, unknown reality.
For a while she simply sang and entrusted the Princess to her own judgment.
After all, she was a woman now. She had to be trusted to make her own decisions.
As the night wore on, and the assembled began to lose whatever ambition had brought them to this unknown place, as they began to lose sight of what they were hoping to find or what sort of opportunity they might score, Bethany decided to bring the night to a close for them. She and the maids doubled as a security team, so they were crafty in their own ways. Erich had dropped this mess on their shoulders quite suddenly, and they had everything under control nonetheless.
“Thank you so much for the applause. Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform that your entertainment for tonight has concluded. There will be transportation awaiting you, and you may stay at the Schellen Hotel for the night or return to your personal watercraft at this time. Our dear Elena von Fueller wishes she could have entertained you personally for longer, but business has unfortunately led her away from us. Nonetheless, you will all be remembered in the Princess’ heart for your company tonight. Once again, thank you for your attendance, and have a pleasant night.”
Significant amounts of the partygoers had drank enough to have some trouble interpreting the announcement, but the cordial and pretty maids who appeared from the crowd’s flanks gently guided everybody away from the drinks and the dance hall, slowly peeling the partygoers out the door, down the stairs, and out to the garden, where a small fleet of private motorcars were waiting. Bethany did not see that particular detail, though she knew that they planned it like that.
Instead, she stood up on the stage, and viewed the empty dance floor.
She remembered when she first sang for her; when she looked down at her on an empty dance floor just like this. Back then, it was an entirely different world. Neither of them knew what attention would fall on them, what kind of life they would end up having. Bethany had a dire need of confidence in herself. Leda gave her all the confidence she lacked, helped her feel alive.
That empty, improvised dance floor, and the tables in disarray.
It was so much like that night.
“No use remembering any of this, Bethany. She’s gone.”
Everything she did now was for Elena.
Bethany walked off the stage.
She picked up a bottle of champagne that was perhaps three quarters empty, grabbing it by the neck with the same grip that would have strangled a man, and emptying the contents into her lips. A tiny amount of slipped from the side of her mouth, and for an instant, she must have really looked like a bloodsucking beast, more than a singer in red.
There were a lot of sides to her.
“I still got it. For how much longer? As long as it takes, I suppose.”
Most of the maids would still be engaged a while, so Bethany thought she would give herself a few moments to wallow and feel sorry for herself. Perhaps she always felt this way after singing. Singing helped her vent.
It flared up her emotions, and she had many emotions to burn.
Perhaps that was what made truly great singers.
Having to hide the pain that they felt.
“Great performance; I really managed to get into the mood myself.”
A chilling voice, its volume tightly controlled.
As Bethany made her way out the doors of the lodge and locked them behind her, she heard and saw a woman approach. A blond, who instantly peeled off her own blond hair to reveal shorter black hair, tied into a little bun, half up and half down, with bangs falling over one of her eyes.
Boldly dressed, and moving boldly, the woman invaded Bethany’s space.
One hand struck the locked door behind Bethany, close to the maid’s ear.
Her free hand took Bethany’s wrist.
And her knee went under and between Bethany’s legs.
She had a completely stone-like, inexpressive face.
“Miss me?” She said.
In the next instant as Bethany’s lips parted to respond, Marina McKennedy’s head tipped to one side and pressed the rest of her claim on Bethany’s orbit. Her tongue tasted like smoke and liquor in Bethany’s mouth, and for some reason that kiss and the way her lips locked against the maid’s caused eerily familiar sensations. Still, her natural reaction was to struggle against the kiss. She pushed on the woman’s stomach and chest with her free hand, while her lips continued to freely taste her as if nothing were happening. Feeling for an instant the trained muscle beneath the woman’s dress, and the strength of her grip, Bethany finally managed to shove her back.
“You cad! I’ll have you locked up!” Bethany shouted, breathing heavy.
“It’s McKennedy. Marina McKennedy. Well– I mean. You know.”
Bethany was suddenly confused.
Marina pulled down on her already plunging neckline to expose more of her breasts. Bethany stared at her exposed chest and saw a familiar scar.
“Yes, but don’t talk about it.”
“That name was fake too but don’t call me that. Can you drop it? Look.”
She produced a gold card.
A plaque, bearing an owl perched atop a round shield.
The symbol of the Republic of Alayze’s G.I.A, General Intelligence Agency.
Marina smiled, seeing Bethany’s shocked reaction.
“As you can see, a hell of a lot has happened to me. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not gonna say I can’t, because nobody’s here to stop me. But I won’t. Do you miss me? I have time that I wanted to spend with you. It’ll be– different this time, but I know you like it both ways.”
“Solceanos protect me. It really is you.”
Bethany slapped Marina across the face.
She struck her so hard, she wanted to draw blood.
Marina grit her teeth, still smiling, though clearly put off-balance by the strike. “I kinda deserve that.” She said, reaching for lips to see if they had broken. They had not. “But at the same time Betty when we met, you approached me, you know? And I was younger than you by a good bit. So honestly, how can you blame me for still being smitten with such a cool, mature lady?”
“Cut the crap. We were using each other. And a wealthy dilettante still ranks lower on the scale of relationship power dynamics than a secret agent, even when you factor in a few years.”
“Did you miss me?” Marina said again.
At this point, Bethany could not tell if Marina McKennedy meant to ask whether Marina had missed her as one of the party guests, a cruel joke on her successful infiltration; or whether Marina meant to ask her if she missed her company. Bethany chided herself again. Her gaze really was losing her sharpness. She had missed Elena and this dangerous character.
And yet, Bethany had mixed emotions about Marina McKennedy.
Now that she knew who it was, she almost wanted to go back to the kiss.
Even if transactional, she remembered it was almost as good with her as it was with Leda.
“Why are you here? It can’t have just been to rekindle an old flame. To get here you would have had to have known our secret. So you got access to that information. What do you want?”
“You’re too cold to yourself. You’re worth the trip.”
“Stop it. You want me to trust you after all these years? For once in your life, be honest.”
“I’m way more honest with you than any other GIA agent would be.”
Marina sighed briefly.
“Elena von Fueller is here. I want to explain to her what happened to her mother and try to convince her to leave. She can defect to the Republic. She won’t have a future here, Bethany.”
“Of course. It was always about the Princess.”
Bethany was conflicted; briefly, before Marina suddenly put a hand on her shoulder.
It was a gentle hand, grasping at her with desire.
“Bethany, I’d also love to spend the night. I– I hate to admit it, but I need to be comforted too, every once in a while. I really have been through a lot. The next few months are gonna be hell for me. Is it okay if, just for tonight, I can have a little island of peace in these stormy seas?”
“You are just using me.” Bethany said. “Maybe I have more self-respect than that now.”
“But this time I’m the one who is desperate. Can you help me? I’ve been through hell.”
Marina’s eyes teared up. Bethany almost voiced her surprise aloud at the sight.
“So much for the mighty G.I.A., all-seeing, all-knowing of the seas.”
Bethany wiped Marina’s tears; Marina recoiled at the touch as if she feared being hit again.
The head maid was surprised. The G.I.A. agent was much cooler and more collected the last time they met. Judging by the fact that she was, well, so completely changed, and her current demeanor, either she had become a far better actor or something truly awful really had happened to her. Something that made her change herself entirely, maybe to run away; maybe to be able to accept it. Bethany could not know how much of this identity was fake or how much was genuine.
As much of a schemer as Bethany was, she could not imagine what a spy went through.
That was always one thing which made Leda distant too.
Leda, herself an arch-schemer who wanted to play every side to her advantage.
Bethany had failed to soothe Leda at all; she had failed to be an equal partner to her.
Some would say, nobody could have stood up to the colossus that Leda was.
And yet, Bethany was still stung by it.
Looking at Marina’s tearful face, she remembered a scene.
Just like when she stared down at the empty dance floor.
It really was a night filled with déjà vu.
When Leda had made that face to Bethany, it was the last time Bethany ever saw her.
She did not want to fail a lonely, hurt woman again; even if she was a two-faced bitch.
“We can discuss business later. But I’m going to need you to shape up. I’m not here for you to fall apart on. I’m still going to be needing you to top.”
Those were some words she wished she had told Leda, too.
Bethany winked at Marina. For a moment, Marina was struck speechless.
She wiped her own face and smiled coolly as if nothing had happened.
“You’re right. This isn’t me. I have to be the cool spy you fell in love with.”
“Oh, shut up. Were you faking?”
“I wasn’t! You have to believe me. You weren’t this paranoid with Leda.”
Marina raised her hands in defense.
“Follow me. And keep your hands to yourself until we get in bed.”
“I’ll be perfectly gentlemanly.”
“Shut up, too.”
That night, it was not just Elena who found a pair of arms to stave off the bad dreams.