*sigh* Well, I'd hoped to have this done in time for Christmas, but unfortunately people have actually expected me to socialize, for heaven's sake. What a waste of good writing time!!
At any rate, rather than wait till I'm done (and risk the poor thing languishing on my hard drive till next Christmas), I've decided to go ahead and post it in pieces, so people will poke me into finishing it. Or at least, I hope that someone will like this odd little AU enough to poke me into finishing it. *sweatdrops* Author's notes are at the end of the post (go read them if you're totally lost and confused), but the only real warning is that this is very, very, very AU.
"Quatre Raberba and Duo Maxwell Winner! Just where do you two think you're going?"
"Pretend you didn't hear her!" Duo hissed urgently.
But it was too late. Hand already on the handle of the doorway to freedom, Quatre had frozen for that critical instant, and their sister Iria was already making her way across the room towards them.
"Our guests will be arriving this morning and I expect the two of you to be here to greet them," she reminded them sternly.
Turning away from the door, Quatre said innocently, "We know, Iria. We just thought that we'd take the horses for a run before your guests arrive, since we might not have the opportunity later on." Iria could talk about 'their house party' and 'their guests' as much as she liked; the fact remained that the whole thing was her idea. She'd organized it and sent out the invitations over his and Duo's protests. They'd been looking forward to a private, family, Christmas, not spending the season playing the dutiful hosts. Especially since they strongly suspected that, having finally gotten the last of eight other sisters leg-shackled, Iria was now going to turn her matchmaking attention in *their* direction.
Following Quatre's lead, Duo pointed out, "This is the first day all week that the weather's been fit for riding. The horses need the exercise, and if I don't take Scythe out, no one will." In the stable, the big black stud was a handful, but manageable. Under saddle, he was an absolute demon. Duo had bought him for a song at Tattersall's after he'd thrown half a dozen riders and savaged the one who'd dared raise a whip to him. It had taken Duo months to earn Scythe's trust and respect, and he was still the only one that the horse would tolerate in the saddle.
Iria gave an exasperated huff. "Fine. Run along then, Duo."
Duo reached for the door handle immediately, not wanting to give her the chance to change her mind. "C'mon, Quat..."
"Oh, no, you don't," Iria interrupted sharply, placing a firm hand on Quatre's shoulder. "One of the grooms will be delighted to have the chance to exercise Sandrock; you, Lord Winner, will stay here to greet our guests when they arrive."
Quatre met Duo's apologetic look with a resigned shrug. Experience had taught them that they might as well save their breath when Iria used *that* tone; neither arguing nor pleading would budge her in the least, any more than it would have worked with Quatre's father, the former Earl. And Iria was right; any of the stable hands would be more than happy to take Sandrock out for him. Unlike Duo's temperamental hunter, the flaxen-maned sorrel had the sweet temperament typical of the Godolphin line. "Don't go out alone," he ordered Duo, frowning. After a week stall-bound, even Duo might not be able to fully control Scythe. "Take Abdul with you on Sandrock."
Duo reluctantly nodded his acceptance. So much for the long, wild, ride that he'd been looking forward to. Abdul would need to return in time to help with their guests' teams, which meant that he would have to come back too.
Oh well, at least he'd managed to briefly escape the preparations for the holiday house party. As Lord Winner, official host of the holiday house party, poor Quatre hadn't even managed that. Thank God *he* was only the adopted 'younger' son.
"Iria, I'm certain that your guests will be quite content with your plans, and it's far too late to change them anyway. Why do I need to read this?" Quatre protested, eying the long list of activities that had been presented for his approval. He had already resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to participate in the festivities, but that didn't mean that he intended to take part in planning them. If Iria had taken his opinion into consideration, the whole thing would have been called off before it began.
"You haven't even read the list of invited guests who've sent their acceptance," Iria scolded. "I must insist that, as host, you at least look at it."
"Very well," Quatre sighed, accepting the sheet of paper that she held out.
"Of course, there will undoubtedly be a few extras, since each invitation included the option of bringing an additional guest..." she continued as Quatre began to read.
The first two names were familiar to him. Miss Lucrezia Noin and Miss Sally Po had come out the same Season as his sister Alia. Since Alia and her husband would be joining the family for the holidays, it was no surprise that Iria had invited two of Alia's closest friends to the house party. The Marquess of Peacecraft gave him pause for a moment, until he recalled that Miss Noin had become engaged to Peacecraft - then Lord Darlian, as the old Marquess was still alive at the time - prior to his departure for the war. Napoleon had surrendered some months ago, so it was not surprising that Peacecraft had evidently returned home.
Quatre froze in shock at the next names: The Viscount Barton and his sister, Miss Bloom. Pointing an unsteady finger at the page, he queried, "Iria?"
"Yes, Quatre, it's him. Triton Bloom was created Viscount Barton for his actions at Waterloo."
Thus eliminating one of the former Lord Winner's objections to the match. The fact that his son was interested in a man had been unimportant next to the fact that the man was a commoner, his family in trade. And, worse yet from Quatre's father's point of view, Bloom was a military officer. Since Quatre hadn't yet reached the age of majority at the time, he had been forced to yield to his father's dictates and break off all contact with Triton, or rather Trowa, as his friends called him.
But now - well, even if the war hadn't been over, Quatre was both of age and Earl Winner. With nine married sisters, he wouldn't lack for an heir; no one would gainsay his right to choose his own spouse, particularly one with both wealth and peerage. If Trowa was still interested - and the fact that he'd accepted Iria's invitation would seem to indicate that he was - then Quatre had every intention of exercising that right.
Iria's holiday house party had been an excellent idea after all.
"Mr Winner, we really should turn back now!"
Duo sighed and firmly reined in his mount in response to Abdul's call. Scythe fought the bit, reluctant to slow down so soon. Keeping up the pressure, Duo crooned soothingly to the restive horse. "Easy, boy, nice and easy..." He hated to cut Scythe's run so short, but he didn't want to prevent Abdul from returning in time to help with the horses of the expected guests. Nor did he want to abandon Quatre to do the pretty by himself. Duo might not be Earl, but he still had a responsibility to the household that had taken him in and made him part of the family.
Lord Winner had always insisted that the debt was theirs, that adopting Duo didn't even begin to repay him for rescuing a frightened seven-year-old and his eight-year-old sister from the clutches of a very nasty man. Duo still thought that the hot meal, bath, and fresh change of clothing - to replace the tattered ones that had been drenched in blood when he'd used his shiv just like Solo had taught him to - had been payment enough. The street rats knew what men such as that one were like, and Duo had seen too many bad things happen when he couldn't help to let something bad happen when he *could* put a stop to it. Seeing the two obviously out-of-place children safely back to their family had been the only reward he'd looked for.
He certainly hadn't expected to end up as the 'youngest' child of the a very wealthy earl, mothered by a veritable horde of sisters and household staff, and shadowed by an adoring brother. Considering the kind of life that he'd be living right now if things had happened differently... acting the gracious co-host at a holiday house party really wasn't much to expect of him.
Even if his eldest sister was up to a little matchmaking on the side.
"I knew that this was a bad idea." The positively glacial glare that accompanied the flat statement had sent soldiers scrambling for cover, but unfortunately had absolutely no effect on the gaudy puce-coloured post chaise of Lady Relena Darlian, sister of the current Marquess of Peacecraft. It continued up the estate road as their hired post chaise approached the turn-off.
Following Heero's gaze out of the window, Trowa Bloom, the newly-created Viscount Barton, winced. "You could cry off on grounds of pressing estate business," he suggested quietly. Much as he'd been counting on his closest friend's support in this venture, he knew that Lady Relena had set her cap at becoming Lady Yuy, whether or not Heero himself was willing. It wouldn't be the first time that a scheming young miss or her matchmaking mama had put a young lord in the position where parson's mousetrap was the only honourable option. He'd had a close call or two himself in the mere few months since being elevated to the peerage. Hopefully, that would no longer be an issue after this party, assuming that he had correctly interpreted Lady Iria Dunlop's delicate allusions to her brother's majority and marriageability.
"I could," Heero allowed as he seriously considered the suggestion. It wouldn't even be an outright lie; he *did* have a great deal of estate business to be dealt with, stemming from mismanagement between the time of his father's death and his own return from the war. Even a few weeks in his cold, lonely townhouse with a skeleton staff sounded better than spending that time dodging Lady Relena's attempts to put the two of them in a compromising situation. He gave Trowa a sidelong glance and smirked. "But, first, I want to meet this veritable nonesuch of yours."
Trowa didn't deign to react to the prod. He knew quite well that he'd talked more about Quatre Winner since Lady Iria's invitation had arrived than he'd ever talked about anyone before; it was no wonder that Heero was curious. Trowa could only hope that Quatre still felt the same fascination with himself.
From their very first meeting during the Little Season the previous year, there had been a powerful attraction between them, despite their very different backgrounds. The Bloom family had made its money in trade and, while Society held a certain disdain towards such mushrooms, even Almack's lofty doors were not proof against the influence of wealth. Had the Winner family not already been rich as nabobs, Trowa thought that he might even have stood a chance of gaining Winner's official permission to court his son. Under the circumstances, however, Winner had categorically refused and, furthermore, had forbidden any future contact. But now, things were very different. Trowa had been elevated to the peerage and, more importantly, Quatre himself was Earl.
That didn't change the fact that Trowa was at sixes and sevens over the upcoming reunion. Becoming Earl could not have left Quatre unchanged, and he himself had not lived through the hell of Waterloo unaltered by his experiences. He could only hope that those changes would serve to bring them closer.
"It's too bad Cathy had to cry off; she would have put Lady Relena in her place," Trowa commented idly.
Heero smirked at the very notion of Trowa's blunt, hotheaded, sister revealing one of Lady Relena's stratagems for what it was. Miss Catherine Bloom was not one to mince her words. She was an Original through and through. Unfortunately, her independent, strong-willed nature was the very reason that she'd been unable to accompany Trowa as planned. She'd taken a bad spill riding to the hunt on the day before their departure and, while none of her injuries were life-threatening, a long carriage ride over rough roads was quite simply out of the question.
By the time that he climbed down from the carriage, Heero still hadn't made up his mind whether to stay for the duration of the party or only long enough to meet his friend's hopeful parti. Bracing himself for the inevitable bacon-brained gushing of the Darlian chit, he looked around the yard, half hoping for an excuse to give her the cut indirect. Surprisingly enough, he found one, as he watched a big black stud mince his way across the yard towards the new arrivals. Though the animal was clearly highly strung, the rider had him well in hand.
Sweeping an appreciative gaze up over the horseman's lean form, Heero found himself admiring the man's seat in more ways than one. Finally reaching head-level, he found himself under equally appreciative inspection. Coming up by his side, Trowa elbowed him in the ribs and murmured, "I believe that's Mr. Duo Winner, Quatre's younger brother."
"Hn," Heero acknowledged absently, his attention still firmly on the rider. He was distantly aware of the Darlian chit calling his name, but he didn't bother to acknowledge her. She had ceased to be relevant.
Or at least, she had until her puce bonnet went sailing through the air, ribbons fluttering madly as it tumbled in the wind.
The black exploded into motion, bolting across the yard, neatly clearing two ornamental hedges and a small pond on the way. Heero watched in tense admiration as the rider not only kept his seat but managed to regain enough control to turn the horse, parallelling the massive stone wall that was the next obstacle in his path. By the time that the animal headed out across the open fields, it was clear that the horseman was in full control but choosing to run off the horse's excess energy.
Suddenly, the house party looked a lot more appealing. Eyes firmly fixed on the rapidly shrinking speck in the distance, Heero remarked thoughtfully, "Barton? I'll be staying."
Author's Notes: Sometimes, my muse is positively scary. I was looking for some mindless romantic fluff to read, and happened to pick up a book of Regency romance Christmas stories. And - well, this was the result.
Obviously, this is very, very AU for Gundam Wing, as well as being Alternate History, period. Assume the Greek influence remained stronger (Alexander the Great survived longer), Thomas Aquinas had little to no influence on the recodification of canon law in the thirteenth century (and therefore Christianity didn't officially go from tolerance to condemnation of homosexuality), and rulers of England (kings William II, Edward II, Richard I, James I, William III, and Queen Anne) were therefore able to give increasingly greater rights to same-sex relationships. Which leaves a Regency period in which same-sex relationships are socially accepted, and, in Society, same-sex relationships are treated the same as opposite-sex ones. In other words - marriage is not only possible, it's expected (obviously not for the purposes of producing an heir, but rather for reasons of social and financial status).
And yes, I actually spent time thinking about and researching the possibilities. I was curious. What it all boils down to is that Christianity, via Thomas Aquinas, is the single biggest source of problems for gays and lesbians in society, starting in the thirteenth century. Take Thomas Aquinas out of the equation, and Christianity becomes a lot less rigid and judgmental, and all of a sudden there's a lot of room for history to take an alternate path.
Sidenote: Regency titles are undeniably confusing. I've attempted to keep things straight within the story but, in case anyone gets lost, here's the rundown on the characters:
The Right Honorable The Earl Winner (former, deceased) - Quatre's father; Winner is both the family name and that of the earldom
The Right Honorable Quatre Raberba Winner, The Earl Winner (current) - addressed as Lord Winner, my lord, or, more familiarly, simply 'Winner' - eldest son of the former Earl Winner
The Lady Iria Dunlop - Quatre's oldest sister, eldest daughter of the former Earl Winner
The Honorable Duo Maxwell Winner - addressed as Mr. Duo Winner, Mr. Winner, or, more familiarly, simply 'Winner' (yes, that could get very confusing, very fast) - adopted 'younger' son of the former Earl Winner (his true age is unknown, but he was adopted as younger to simplify inheritance issues)
The Right Honorable Triton 'Trowa' Bloom, The Viscount Barton - addressed as Lord Barton, my lord, or more, familiarly, simply 'Barton'
Catherine Bloom - the sister of the created Viscount Barton (no title since her father wasn't a Viscount) - addressed as Miss Bloom
The Right Honorable Odin Heero Lowe, The Earl of Yuy - addressed as Lord Yuy, my lord, or, more familiarly, simply 'Yuy'
The Most Honorable Milliardo Darlian, The Marquess of Peacecraft - addressed as Lord Peacecraft, my lord, or, more familiarly, simply 'Peacecraft'
The Lady Relena Darlian - daughter of the former Marquess of Peacecraft - addressed as Lady Relena
The Honorable Lucrezia Noin - daughter of The Viscount Noin - addressed as Miss Noin
Miss Sally Po - daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Po (no titles)
First names or nicknames would only be used amongst immediate family or the most intimate of acquaintances (and not necessarily even then).