Gardens and other outdoor facilities stood above the wings that formed the lower segments of the artificial island that in its sprawling landscape on the open seas so well demonstrated the wealth and power of the Bauduin family. Down the middle of the island ran the long enclosed structure that formed the 'house' of the family, though its size and decor was such that if its shape was more traditional it could be considered a mansion.
"Hello and welcome to our home. I am Almiria Bauduin, how may I help you?"
At one end of the island standing in the well-kept garden meant to entice visitors was Julieta, who instead of being captivated by the plants displayed in all their beauty was confused by why people liked these things. They didn't even taste good, as the gardeners would learn by some of them being chewed up and spat out by some unknown predator.
Having been standing and waiting for an hour now, Julieta was a bit snippy as she cast her gaze over to the young girl standing at the front of the house. Their greeting had been quite rehearsed and Julieta wasn't going to censor her curiosity about that.
"Do they make you repeat that to everyone who visits?"
Not having expected to be the one on the receiving end of questioning, the pre-teen girl took a nervous step back from the guest their servants had not seemed to want to confront and thus delayed informing their employers about, particularly since this unknown and seemingly nobody Gjallarhorn officer seemed to just be loitering while waiting for someone of actual importance. They weren't supposed to wait on common people, but after noticing Julieta standing all alone Almiria took it upon herself to get around to doing what their maids and butlers were not going to.
"Uh..." Almiria Bauduin bit her lip. The only one who had truly been confrontational in her life had been Gaelio, who would tease Almiria and argue with her like a brother would, so now having a complete stranger basically make fun of her greeting was a shock to her.
Seeing Almiria's surprise and hair color, Julieta dropped her attitude since it wasn't this young girl she was angry with and the young heiress wasn't to blame for her brother being a no-show.
Julieta shifted the hand she had on her hip and changed her frown to a smirk, "It's no matter. I am just waiting for someone who is supposed to be visiting today."
Seeing Julieta's change in expression helped Almiria recover some of her composure, even if she was still bewildered by Julieta in general, "A visitor? Father didn't speak of a visitor..."
"It is official Gjallarhorn business, so he may have not mentioned it," Julieta offered as an explanation, when in truth they hadn't announced that they would be coming. Gaelio was already self-conscious about returning to meet his family after so long, making calling them to let them know even harder since just arriving and letting the pieces fall where they might only required arriving while calling them would require him to not hang up each and every moment.
It took Gaelio wrestling Julieta to the ground and pinning her until she agreed to put the phone down to get to this point, since she had none of the same reservations he did. He was alive, so why not tell his family? She knew she would want to let Rustal know if she had been missing for months or years the first chance she got.
Since Julieta was apparently there to meet with Gallus on official business, Almiria felt vindicated in her desire to tend to this guest, "Well, if you want, you can wait inside for whoever is coming, Miss..."
Realizing she had not introduced herself yet, Julieta turned and bowed gracefully to Almiria. She might not possess normal social graces, but she was quite used to showing respect towards figures of status and authority...though among them she only respected a handful and to the rest only showed the minimal amount of respect required.
"Julieta Juris. I have been...have worked with your brother Gaelio," Julieta corrected herself as she tried to both explain her relation while revealing who she was, "He and I were...close."
It wasn't exactly a lie. They were close. After all, they were quite close that morning when Julieta woke up beside Gaelio just like every other morning now. Without taking anything further Julieta had turned the night they spent embracing one another into a regular nightly ritual, transforming her habit of spending all her time with Gaelio during the day into one where she didn't return to her own room at night. Yes, for the few who had noticed it had started rumors about her having some kind of affair with the masked man, but Julieta didn't care.
When she woke up after first spending the night with Gaelio Julieta had been a bit embarrassed and had contemplated not acknowledging it all by slipping out and never mentioning it since she was so flustered by how she was still hugging a shirtless man when her eyes opened. A man whose head was buried in her chest and whose arms were still clenched tightly around her, squashing any thoughts about leaving since a little struggle later revealed that she was trapped beside him.
She didn't have any official duties to carry out, so Julieta found herself coming up with reasons to just stay where she was and go back to bed. To 'sleep in' for once. Gaelio would feel bad if he woke up without her there, right? And his bed was comfortable and had great blankets, so it felt good to stay...and he was kind of warm too. His hands felt a bit cold, but his body's heat was indeed nice. She had slipped the upper part of her uniform off the night before, so she felt it right against her skin.
Staying also let her laugh at Gaelio when he woke up with his face still against her chest, his cheeks flushing red as he realized that instead of a uniform against his face there was a sports bra.
Said laughter turned into death threats when he decided to get back at her by going to bed again while using her 'pillows' to sleep comfortably.
Hearing that Julieta was a friend of Gaelio's soured Almiria's mood. The subject of her 'dead' brother was not one that was healing for her, "Oh."
Julieta knew that Almiria didn't have to be sad for her brother anymore, but she did know that somebody Almiria was attached to was dead so she tried to channel that and her own sense of loss over Galan Mossa to feign sympathy when in truth she both knew Gaelio was alive and didn't personally care that McGillis wasn't, "I'm sorry."
Almiria turned around to go inside again, her head hanging as she spoke to herself, "I miss my brother."
Julieta groaned as she fell into step behind Almiria and entered their residence, stepping through the large doors to be met by an array of servants who stood in waiting for their mistress, "I wish he were here."
Which he should be, Julieta lamented. Now she was going in and was going to be dealing with his family without him, when the entire reason she came was to support him. What would she even say if Gallus Bauduin showed up and inquired about her visit? 'Hi, I'm actually here as moral support to your son who isn't actually dead and who killed your would-be son-in-law who had tried murdering him'?
Julieta grinned to herself. Come to think of it, Gaelio had one hour before she went and said something just like that. Perhaps she would sprinkle in bits earlier. Had Rustal even informed everyone over what truly happened on Mars yet? Julieta wasn't sure, but for the most part she didn't care since that was Gaelio's problem and not her own. If it also became her problem she would begin to care, but until then she thought she was doing well enough to support her friend.
Now inside the building, Julieta looked around and found that it was quite the interesting mansion. Instead of just pure displays of wealth it had a comfortable feeling to its layout, being both spacious and possessing plenty of places for one to lounge or otherwise rest. While it could be filled wall to wall with ancient artwork and other garish signs of the Bauduin's money there instead was even a few things Julieta could guess were hand crafted by the young Almiria put on full display like Gallus was showing off his pride in his daughter.
Bringing Julieta to a small lounge within the gigantic home, Almiria showed her guest to a seat and gave her a polite bow.
"Would you like any tea while you wait?"
Julieta paused her response, having been about to say that it wasn't necessary right when she recalled Gaelio mentioning one night how the last time he saw Almiria she had been learning how to make tea and was proud of the skill. Since it would likely please Almiria, Julieta decided to drink the unfamiliar liquid and accept her hospitality. Why not indulge her a little? Gaelio would likely appreciate her getting along with Almiria, so it was the smallest of sacrifices.
"That would be nice. Thank you."
Almiria nodded and left to go prepare the tea, leaving Julieta to sit where she had been brought. The room was comparable to what most would call a 'living room' even if it had far more lavish furniture and possessed the size of about two common ones, and inside it possessed far more in the way of personal items than before, with only a few ornate knickknacks and a sizable purple flag with the family's golden symbol of the Norse mythological figure Sleipnir serving as the 'serious' pieces to the room.
With her knowledge of Gjallarhorn and its origins, Julieta possessed some albeit minimal information about the mythological figures which inspired much of its naming systems. It was where Vidar, or rather Gaelio, took his name and that of his mobile suit though Julieta hadn't particularly known of that figure since prior to Vidar's usage of their name it hadn't been one used by Gjallarhorn to her knowledge. What she found interesting by looking at the flag and the symbol of Sleipnir presented on it was how Sleipnir was the son of Loki, a god known for his trickster ways and for deceit.
Perhaps then wearing a mask wasn't so odd for someone born to a family whose mythological figure was in turn born from a Norse god whose motives were often enshrouded to others. Gaelio had hid his face and motivations from the world, and in the end he had caught the object of his vengeance entirely by surprise. Fitting of a son of Loki, Julieta figured.
Moving on from observing the room's fancy decorations, Julieta instead looked to the other things filling it to see what value they held. What first came to her notice was a small bound notebook of sorts next to a small pad for drawing, with a series of different colored pencils sitting in a tray right beside it.
Julieta smirked as she came to the conclusion that this wasn't just a normal guest reception area, but rather where the heiress had been spending her afternoon. Apparently Almiria decided to just bring her guest to where she was staying herself. It was no matter to Julieta however as she didn't mind where she had to sit, she just was grateful she was afforded the opportunity to do so.
Since she had noticed them Julieta decided to look and see what Almiria had been doing prior to receiving their family's guest. She picked up the notebook and flipped through it to see extremely neat handwriting adorning its pages, though observation of the content revealed this to be done by Almiria herself from her point of view. Most would recognize this as a personal diary one should not intrude upon, but not having grown up with a normal upbringing Julieta was clueless to this detail and so casually looked through it for anything of interest only to decide there was no such thing within it about a tenth of her way through the thick diary.
She dropped the diary back down where it had been and began to observe the drawing, finding herself halfway impressed by the young girl's rendition of her family's symbol with the use of pencils. It was of course not perfect, and Julieta thought its seventh leg was a bit off in particular, but for someone...nine? Ten? Maybe Eleven? Whatever her age, Julieta decided it was decent.
A picture frame on a small table at the end of one couch caught her attention next, and Julieta picked it up tactlessly and hovered it in front of her face to get the best view she could of it. In the lavish frame was a picture of Gaelio and his sister together both smiling at the camera, their eyes shut as they seemingly laughed merrily about something that had happened.
While the image might not have been particularly special to most, it was quite the interesting object to Julieta who could see her friend smiling so purely, without pain, and being happier than he likely had been for over a year now...it was a symbol of a bygone era in his life, and seeing how he was and comparing it to his withdrawn self now made her feel a pang like something kind and innocent had been lost.
Seeing this picture made Julieta wonder if there were other similar ones elsewhere in the room, and so began a hunt for picture frames which lasted only about three moments before Julieta saw one hiding on the top shelf of a bookcase the height of the large room.
While someone else might have gone to find a ladder to get the picture that seemed to be purposefully removed from normal sight, Julieta instead casually climbed up the shelves with ease after initially testing how sturdy and stable the structure was. Once she was at the top, Julieta popped her head over to where she had seen the picture and stared right at it.
The reason for it being hidden made some sense even to Julieta, for this one was not of Gaelio and his sister, but rather was of Gaelio, McGillis, and Carta all as children. Julieta did not know Carta all too much, but she did know that she had been close to both Gaelio and the now deceased McGillis, and having a picture of another family's deceased daughter must have been considered uncouth by the Bauduins since it was moved out of the way of most scrutiny. That, or perhaps McGillis suggested its removal from sight in one of his stays at the mansion.
As Julieta finished observing the picture the young heiress of the house returned with the tea her servants had been preparing at first for her and then re-purposed for their guest upon Almiria's suggestion. The girl gasped in surprise as she saw Julieta's position far off the ground, and upon being seen Julieta casually dropped herself back to the ground gracefully. She didn't care that she had been seen, but the tea Almiria said she would bring was there and so Julieta decided it was time to return to the seat she had been first brought to on the couch.
"H-here you are," Almiria stammered as she poured a cup of tea for Julieta in a fine glass worth more than Julieta probably earned in a week.
Julieta took what was offered to her as she sat, though she didn't particularly intend to drink it especially when it was so hot to the touch, "Thank you."
Almiria smiled as she played hostess, "Do you want any lemon?"
Lemons were fine for consumption Julieta thought, having put an entire one in her mouth before before Galan explained that you weren't supposed to eat the skin with it. Then had to explain when Julieta ate it whole minus the skin that it was meant for flavoring rather than raw eating, "If it would not be out of your way."
Having already prepared the lemon in case, Almiria handed Julieta a small tray with lemon slices on it. After smelling the lemon for a moment Julieta bit into it and enjoyed its sour taste before squeezing the other slice into the tea, at first confusing Almiria accidentally by making the girl think Julieta didn't know what the lemon was for before subverting that thought and instead revealing that she had just been a bit hungry and was strange enough to just eat a chunk of lemon without even shaking from the pure, concentrated sourness of it all.
"You are quite well trained for someone your age," Julieta noted after using up the lemon, having decided that Almiria's manners and the like were the equivalent of those taught in the military for one's duties and thus was appropriately respectful towards them.
Almiria bowed her head sheepishly, "I am a lady, so I must fulfill the duty of my family."
"I too do what I can for my...family."
A family comprising of two people...neither of whom were her actual family, at least to Julieta's knowledge. Given that her quiet and solemn comrade suddenly turned out to be a long lost member of the Seven Stars, she honestly wouldn't be too surprised to suddenly learn if she was someone's bastard daughter.
Julieta's reference to her own familial situation intrigued her hostess, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Shook her head no as she stared down at the tea before her, heat still rising up off of it revealing its present temperature, "No, not in the normal sense. I come from nothing, but Rustal Elion and a friend of his have taken care of me."
"Is he like your father then?" Almiria pieced together as a possible explanation to things.
Rustal Elion, her father? That idea froze Julieta, who wasn't actually all too sure what he could be considered...he took care of her, much as Galan Mossa once had. If by a father Almiria meant male caretaker, then yes, she had such a figure in the form of both Rustal and Galan, though the former was quite formal with her whereas the latter had been warmer and gentler...when he wasn't drilling into her how to fight ruthlessly in mobile suit combat or live the life of a covert mercenary soldier.
"I suppose, though I think most would think he's more of a boss than a father to me."
Almiria looked down as she sat across from Julieta on another couch in the room, this one with its back to the entrance, "Father tries to be a good father, but he is always so busy..." her eyes winced as if she was trying to keep from crying, "After my brother left us, he has to do a lot of family things Gaelio would have been doing."
As much as she wished she could offer some kind of comfort, Julieta struggled to find the right words to do so. She had seen people grieve their loved ones and friends in her past given her line of work and that she grew up around a mercenary company that did extremely dangerous work, but this...this was a little girl who believed that she had lost her brother and now was having memories of his brought to the surface by speaking to one of his coworkers. Julieta didn't have childcare drilled into her by Galan, so she was quite lost with how to deal with Almiria without revealing Gaelio's survival, something which outside of joking thoughts she believed was up to him to handle. It was his life and family after all, though they would know sooner or later when the details of McGillis' death surfaced for all to know.
"Your brother..." Julieta paused to further try and think of what to say, "From what I know of him, he wouldn't want you to cry."
Almiria let out a sniffle as she wiped one of her eyes. This done, she stared at the ground for a few moments before looking up at Julieta with sadness still pouring ouf from her eyes, "You worked with Gaelio, right?"
"We trained and fought alongside one another," Julieta explained, dancing around the truth that she only met Gaelio after he disappeared from Almiria's life under the guise of being dead, "He is my closest friend, even if at first I didn't trust him. He didn't have to be my friend, but..."
A normal person might have recoiled from the person hounding them for questions and trying to unmask them, but Gaelio had let Julieta grow close to him as Vidar. Despite his quest for vengeance which hinged upon his identity remaining a secret so he could catch McGillis by surprise Gaelio still was willing to risk being discovered so that he could befriend her.
Almiria came to smile a little at hearing Julieta's seeming recollection of the elder Bauduin sibling. It seemed that someone else cared for him as well. Lightened by Julieta's words, Almiria responded with a warm fondness of her own as she recalled how her brother was, "I didn't know he had friends other than Macky and Miss Carta...he didn't like the guests we would have because they were too snobby, and he always ran away when girls would want to be with him or when he'd get marriage offers."
Running away from women who would likely gladly bed him and hiding from marriage offers which would afford him wealth, social status, sexual intercourse, and heirs? Julieta was actually baffled by this behavior, since it seemed like Gaelio was abstaining from having just about whatever he wanted.
"Did he not want to be married?"
"I...I don't know," Almiria admitted as she looked back down to the floor, "Gaelio wouldn't want to marry someone because of their money or their name, so maybe he just didn't want to. If he did marry someone with money, he would only be using it as an excuse to be with someone he loved I think."
That seemed more like the Gaelio Julieta knew, since he had been fine hiding his wealth and privilege for quite the extended period of time, to the point that Iok even came to believe himself his superior...and if she was to be honest Julieta hadn't been wary of Gaelio's background either, though she had come fairly close to guessing it correctly and only failed due to thinking Gaelio had died. He cared more about who people were than what they were she reckoned, or else he would have befriended that fool Iok for the social status it would afford, rather than snub him for being a pretentious prick.
Of all of the fleet, he had chosen to be her friend...Julieta wasn't sure what to make of that, but that he trusted her was enough.
Almiria had a small laugh as she recalled something amusing in particular about the topic at hand, "Father and I used to joke that one day my brother would come home from one of his long expeditions with some poor woman he met and fell in love with. The scandal of a member of the Seven Stars marrying someone poor would have been so fun for me as his sister...he wouldn't be able to laugh and make fun of me for being engaged to Macky."
To again put things into a perspective she could comprehend, Julieta tried imagining what sort of amusement she would derive from Iok suddenly marrying a peasant and seemingly disgracing his family...the mental image made her grin, since his incompetence and foolish ways has ascended mere stupidity at this point and she was having trouble getting as angry as she used to at it since it was completely expected by now and was the norm. Rustal had hinted that he would address the issue, but Julieta was fine dealing with his idiot ways awhile longer since it wasn't like they truly had a foe in their way now that McGillis was dead and Tekkadan had been crippled.
As for Gaelio returning home with a bride...Julieta had to smirk at that too. He seemed the sort to almost do it as a way of spiting the snobs he along with Julieta mocked together these past days of idleness. He didn't appear satisfied with the way the world was or how its elite were acting...he hated it, in fact, and seemed to understand why the people down below were dissatisfied as well.
On the other hand, he found the violent upheaval that was becoming the norm nowadays to be barbaric and foolish, which Julieta could understand even with her limited knowledge of politics since just changing things didn't mean they would improve. Did Edmonton not prove that by how Tekkadan's victory over Gjallarhorn didn't suddenly make everything better and in fact resulted in open warfare between economic blocs and led to an increase in the usage of child soldiers. So this kind of foolish behavior was to be quashed mercilessly...perhaps paving the way for another type of revolution and reform.
That's what she read from what Gaelio had said so far to her in some private moments, only ever making a small comment here or there without fully revealing what was on his mind much like he had while wearing the Vidar mask. It seemed that as much as he opened up when he revealed his face, he still carried some of the persona he had adopted for so long.
With this all in mind, it was little wonder that he had once been friends with McGillis, who desired radical change...Julieta wondered just how it would manifest itself, but she didn't believe for a moment that it would result in anything that would cause them to part ways. After all, if Gaelio wanted to fix things from the inside, he would have to work with Rustal Elion, right? And that would mean he would be working right alongside her, making them allies once again.
For the meantime however Julieta was assigned to be Gaelio's personal bodyguard, a task she both believed herself capable of and looked forward to. He didn't really need a bodyguard on the battlefield, so in truth she was just there to make sure he crushed whatever enemy he was going against faster than he otherwise would. It meant the chance to continue viewing his beautiful piloting skills and be around her friend, so she was grateful that Rustal had decided that Gaelio was more worthy of Julieta's services than Iok was.
Julieta returned to focusing on the present conversation after her little mental tangent to find that Almiria still looked like she was going to cry, even if she was trying to put on a brave face and hide it, "Father even thought he knew what Gaelio's bride would be like, since he said the men of our family tend to like blonde women, but also women who are strong and assertive," she sniffled and rubbed one eye again, "He says my mother was like that, always challenging him and making him think so he was always his best, though her hair was darker...she passed away and I think Father still misses her, since he doesn't share photos of her."
Gaelio's family liked blonde women generally? Julieta found such a piece of information dubious and likely near superstitious, though she could definitely understand if they had a preference for women who weren't just meek. She wouldn't want to be married to a pushover of a man after all, not that she was particularly sure just what she wanted to be married to...though, if she were to be honest, she couldn't find many reasons to object to someone like Gaelio. The only issue was that she wasn't just quite sure how she felt about him yet, even though they had been spending nights holding one another and days enjoying the other's company. She wasn't sure what the boundaries for friendship and love were, so all she knew was that he was a very good friend at the moment who she enjoyed spending all of her time with.
Almiria seemed to enjoy having someone to talk to who wasn't going to speak over her or tell her what to think or anything of the sort, as the young girl was used to by the snobbish company she was often forced to keep, and so she continued to speak. She was grinning as if there were some joke to what she was saying, though it combined with her pained eyes to make for a sad expression in total, "I suppose I'm the one who likes light hair this time around. Macky has such pretty hair..." she crossed her arms and let out a breath of seeming relief, "I hope Macky comes home soon...then maybe I can brush it for him and take care of him like a wife should...I want to be like my mother was for my father..."
"Fortunately or unfortunately depending on one's perspective, McGillis has been killed in combat on Mars following the revelation that he betrayed Gjallarhorn on numerous occasions and desired to silence those who knew of his treachery."
The deadpan nature of Julieta's reveal, born of no longer wanting to have to hide every detail of the recent battle, shocked Almiria and left her eyes large like dinner plates as she tried to contemplate what she had just been told.
"Wh-what? M-Macky is..."
Wanting Almiria to get a better idea of just why this was a good thing, Julieta continued to explain, "McGillis betrayed Carta Issue and had her killed by our enemies so that he could obtain her family's political power. Then he attacked Gaelio during another battle and tried to kill him so that he could marry you and take your family's power as well."
"That...that can't be. Macky wouldn't..." Almiria shook her head as she came to be in denial as the shock of the situation set in, "You're lying...please, tell me you're..."
She looked up to see that Julieta had stood up and was suddenly leaning over to touch her on the shoulder comfortingly. Almiria shook at first when she was touched, but in her shock she slowly came to let Julieta comfort her. She had a positive opinion of this visitor so far, what with her listening to her and being a good friend of Gaelio's, so the young girl with little in the way of friends was quite willing to accept a form of comfort from a near stranger.
Julieta sat down next to Almiria and continued using her arm to comfort Almiria, this now meaning that her arm was close to her and Almiria's sides while still touching her shoulder, "I am sorry, but I thought you should know that your fiance is not coming home...nor should he, given his actions."
It was a lot for Almiria to take in, particularly at her age, but she had enough understanding of her family's position in the world and had seen enough stories and television dramas to be familiar with the concept of what McGillis did. That did not make it any easier to take learning that the man she hoped to one day grow up and marry was in fact a complete monster who sought to use her for her family power...and who had killed her brother to do it. That Gaelio had been harmed by his best friend added to the shock for Almiria, who could no longer hold back the tears she had been fighting for quite some time.
"Macky...Macky killed G..."
Julieta felt obligated to escalate the comfort she was giving, now bringing her arms around the poor crying child to comfort her like she had the girl's brother quite recently, "It's okay, Almiria...it might hurt to lose someone you cared about, but I promise things will be better, okay?"
Almiria buried herself into Julieta's side as she cried her eyes out, desperately seeking the comfort offered to her given how distraught she was, "But Gaelio...Gaelio is..."
"Hoping his sister will forgive him for being gone for so long."
Julieta looked back over the couch to see that in the room's entrance stood Gaelio, who with one hand was moving his Vidar mask as if he had just taken it off. He must have only been wearing it briefly as his hair remained mostly untouched, and Julieta guessed that he had just used it to get inside without the servants having heart attacks about how their young master had returned from the dead. Julieta had not heard the main doors open, so he must have entered some way unknown to her as a newcomer there...
None of that was of importance to Almiria, whose shock shifted from grief to absolute surprise at the sound of Gaelio's voice.
She shot up from where she was sitting to jump over the couch and tackle-hug her brother where he stood, her eyes still unleashing the tears welled up within them but her emotions swinging quite severely from what they had been, "You're alive!"
Gaelio hugged his sister back once he absorbed the impact of her sudden tackle, smiling down at Almiria as he lifted the petite girl up and held her close, "It's good to see you too, Almiria. I'm sorry I've been gone so long. I..."
Even though it hadn't been said to her, Almiria was able to piece something together from what she had been told...
"Gaelio, did you kill Macky? Did you make him pay for what he did? Was he the one who hurt you?"
Her voice wasn't one of anger...no, Gaelio was actually slightly surprised by the conviction he instead heard in it. Here was her brother who she had been told died by none other than McGillis himself, and so she could believe just about anything now. If Gaelio said it was true that McGillis betrayed both of them and wanted to hurt them, be it by killing Gaelio or by manipulating her, Almiria would believe it.
Gaelio nodded to his sister slowly, "Yes..." his eyes looked away as he feared how Almiria might respond to knowing that he had killed her fiance, "And yes, I was the one who..."
Almiria subverted his expectation to a degree by growing angry, just not at him. On her normally cute face she came to pout angrily, "He hurt you...He told me bad people took you away from me, but he did it all along. He said he would make them pay, but..."
Pounding a fist against Gaelio's shoulder, Almiria soon buried her face into her brother and began to sob in a way befitting of her age.
"McGillis was just like all the others! I thought he loved me, but he only loved our money! I hate him, Gaelio! I hate him!"
Gaelio brought a hand up to the back of her beck and head to try and help soothe her, his voice both kind yet strong as he spoke back, "Almiria, I won't let anyone hurt you again. I promise you that as your brother..."
Guilt over his distance from her all this time made Gaelio almost too ashamed to face Almiria, but with her embrace he found his courage returning. All this time he had feared his inevitable return to his family, but now that he had achieved his goals it was time...time to come home, and time to find just where his sights should be set. The many days he had to travel and do nothing but enjoy Julieta's company gave him time to think, and he had come to a great many decisions by his return to Earth.
Of them, being the best brother he could for his poor sister was near the top, as was making her a future where she could live happily without suffering in the way she was now.
"I love you Gaelio."
Hearing her say that made Gaelio feel as if much of the weight on his shoulders had been lifted in one fell swoop, "I love you too Almiria."
The two siblings could have stood there in one another's embrace for quite some time without saying anything at all, if not for the sudden noise of Julieta spitting up hot tea and coughing.
Gaelio looked down to where Julieta was sitting, Almiria turning in his arms to do the same while her brother inquired about his friend's health, "Are you okay?"
Julieta had not wanted to interrupt their moment by interjecting in the family reunion, and so she settled on drinking the tea provided for her earlier in the meantime. Unfortunately, it was scorching hot when it first arrived and was still quite hot by the time Julieta brought it to her mouth since only a couple minutes had passed, so her mouth felt as if it was set aflame when she tried to drink the small cup all at once like she liked doing with smaller things.
"I am not used to drinking tea," Julieta admitted through a blush, not able to look either of the others in the eye given her current embarrassment. They must think her a monkey like Iok did for not being able to even drink tea properly...
Her blush deepened when Gaelio indeed laughed, though it wasn't malicious: he sounded like he was actually quite amused in a positive fashion, and he was grinning brightly.
"Almiria, I take it you have met Julieta?"
Almiria nodded to him and tried to smile as well as her tears began to dry up, the accidental break in the last conversation allowing her to begin resting her emotions. She still had a million questions she wanted to ask, but Almiria wanted to share a fun moment with her brother right now and so she giggled at Julieta's funny mistake too.
Looking at Julieta from above though gave Almiria full view of the woman's short blonde hair...and seeing Gaelio's seeming ease around her, and Julieta's claims about them being close...Almiria almost gasped as she gaped at her brother.
"Is she your girlfriend, Gaelio?"
Their father was right!
Gaelio gaped back at his sister's sudden question concerning his relationship status, leaving Julieta to pick up the verbal slack with a small, "I..."
Almiria's brother recovered fast enough to pick right up after her with a smirk and clever response to Almiria's question, "She is a friend who happens to be a girl, yes."
Her thought shot down, Almiria lowered her gaze shamefully, "Oh, okay..."
So they weren't boyfriend and girlfriend...that made Almiria a little sad since she had wanted her brother to settle down for quite a long time and it would have been amazing to both get him back and to have him romantically involved with someone at the same time. If he dated someone, Almiria might get a sister-like figure, something she wished she had since without her mother she was sorely lacking a female role model or confidant.
Still, Gaelio and Julieta not dating yet didn't mean that they never were going to...and so the young child decided to ask quite the personal question.
"Did you want her to be? She's nice, and she really likes you, so..."
Almiria was asking out of her own desire to have her brother have a lover, but she did not actually know just how close she was in her assumption. Gaelio indeed had deep feelings for Julieta stemming from the months of time they had spent together, particularly the days of recent where she knew of his actual identity and had stood by him the entire way to support him in this time of great emotional need.
Given Julieta's normally unflappable attitude and lack of understanding for common social interactions and related matters, Gaelio had not actually tried to advance their relationship just yet, but he had his plans all the same. Plans he would really appreciate if Almiria didn't ruin by accident.
Fortunately for Gaelio, Julieta did not appear offended by the idea whatsoever and in fact seemed intrigued by it as she turned around on the couch to face them both, leaning her upper body on its top, "What is being a girlfriend like?"
Gaelio glared down at Almiria as his dear sister began to explain the concept, this serving as a nice diversion for the heartbreaking news she had received and wanted to repress as fast as possible, "Well, a girlfriend spends time with her boyfriend a lot and they do things together and love eachother. And then, when they think they love eachother enough they get engaged and get married."
By those parameters, Julieta knew she and Gaelio were well beyond normal standards for a boyfriend-girlfriend couple...something she revealed to Gaelio by giving him a smug look while inquiring even further.
"How much time do they spend together? And what sorts of things do they do together?"
Gaelio avoided Julieta's eyes as he sought to be anywhere but where he was at the moment. If he knew coming home would mean Almiria and Julieta ganging up on him he would still be on the ship...
"Well, they usually are around eachother as much as possible, and they do whatever makes them both happy like hobbies or watching movies, and then they also eat together for their meals and maybe even sleep next to eachother."
Even though she wasn't sure she even wanted the label, Julieta kept having her fun at Gaelio's expense by revealing to Almiria just how close they were, "Gaelio and I spend most of our time together, and we do all of our hobbies with one another. We also eat each meal with one another and sleep each night together."
This was the final evidence needed for Almiria to throw her arms around her brother's neck and laugh at him, "Gaelio, you have a girlfriend!"
Gaelio continued to look away from them, since he knew Julieta was just messing with him and he knew just how eager Almiria was for him to fulfill his duty to the family, "Julieta and I have not been on any dates, nor have we proclaimed our love for one another, so right now, Almiria, we are good friends."
While Julieta might be joking, she was saying it all without actual jest...so was she making fun of him for not calling her his girlfriend because she actually would like to be considered that now, or not? He had a good feeling that she returned his affections, but was this proof of them or the opposite?
Almiria retracted her arms to cross them and pout, "That's not nice big brother. Tell miss Julieta you love her."
Julieta blushed as she saw Gaelio pause, as if he didn't know just what to say back to that. Was he actually...
She shook her head. They were coworkers, boss and subordinate now, so they couldn't...
Julieta felt a whisper in her mind that told her that they didn't always have to be like that...that if she wanted, she could just go back to serving Rustal and still have her Gaelio...still have the kind man she enjoyed waking up to each morning, whose warmth now was a staple in her sleep.
Fortunately she was swept from her unprofessional thoughts by the entrance of yet another, a man of medium height and greying periwinkle hair, "Miss Juris, is there anything I can help you with?"
Gallus Bauduin had entered the room from a side entrance and so he had not yet seen Gaelio or Almiria who stood a bit across the room from where she sat, Gallus' eyes tied to some paperwork he had been handed to deal with by his servants on the way to the living room.
Almiria broke his attention to these documents with her energetic leap from Gaelio's arms to run over to her father, "Daddy, daddy! Gaelio's back!"
"Almiria-" her father began to chastise her silly assertion that her brother was back and alive when his eyes lifted and actually say him standing right there, "Gaelio..."
Gaelio cracked a grin at his father's surprise, "Hello, Father."
Almiria hugged her father tightly as her face nestled into his side, the young girl summarizing what happened in her own way, "He beat Macky up for trying to kill him and for trying to marry me for bad reasons. Gaelio's a hero, daddy!"
"Gaelio, my son..."
Gallus was stunned to say the least to find that his firstborn child was alive, mixed with the fact that he apparently was one of the ones who caused McGillis' death Gallus had just recently been informed of and was thinking of how to tell Almiria, and that McGillis had in fact been the one to have caused everything to begin with. As he tried to think of what to say upon obtaining this information, Gaelio spoke instead with an apology.
"I am sorry I took so long to return. There was a lot I had to take care of before I could come back to all of this."
That seemed about right, Gallus presumed given what information he had just been fed in an abridged format. He gestured to where he had come from for Gaelio to come with him, for Gallus did not wish to have the conversation he intended to have while others were present.
"Almiria, your brother and I need to speak. Would you entertain our guest in the meantime?"
"Yes, Father," Almiria chirped as she rushed over to join Julieta, while Gaelio moved to take her place at their father's side. On his way, he leant by Julieta and whispered in her ear.
"Wish me luck."
On his way out Julieta called after him instead with a different kind of wish in a hushed tone.
"I wish you sense."
Julieta was worried how Gaelio's conversation with Gallus might go, so she wished him not something as silly as luck but rather something he should focus on: sense. He needed to explain to his father everything and not lose his head in the tempest of emotions he must feel about all of this...
When they left, Julieta added to her wish however.
"I heard about what happened on Mars. Was that your doing?"
Now in his father's study, Gaelio took a seat on one of the chairs the room provided just as the door shut behind them. Gallus moved to go sit in his own chair, his face stolid as he thought about just what this all meant.
"Yes. At Edmonton I was attacked by McGillis while I was battling Tekkadan. McGillis revealed to me that he had engineered Carta Issue's death, and then told me of his intentions to kill me and marry Almiria."
Gallus felt the color drain from his face at hearing his would-be son-in-law, a boy he had watched grow up alongside his very own son and had treated with respect and kindness for many years despite the boy's background, had done such a terrible act. When it was said aloud though, pieces started falling into Gallus' mind which confirmed the statement. Where had McGillis been at Edmonton? Why was it that the mobile suit which defeated the Kimaris was recently found being used by Isurugi, Fareed's subordinate? Why had every single thing turned in McGillis' favor all at one moment, gaining a windfall of power at the expense of his father while the other families of the Seven Stars suffered greatly?
Seeing on his father's pensive face that he was beginning to understand, Gaelio continued on with his explanation for what had happened, "I survived due to his carelessness, and Rustal Elion took me in. Since then, I have been helping him against McGillis, waiting for the opportunity to repay him for what he had done."
Now all of the pieces made sense to Gallus...but that did not mean that everything was fine and settled in his mind. He still had his questions and thoughts he wanted to bring up with Gaelio now.
"If you had come home and told us of this we could have handled this with diplomacy rather than bloodshed. I'm sure there was evidence we could have used to ensnare that snake, and at the very least I would have broken his engagement with your sister."
"I know that, and I know things might have worked better if I had just come home, but what if I showed my face and we couldn't convict him of his crimes? What if he manipulated those proceedings like he manipulated everything else he dealt with?" Gaelio explained his course of action, admitting the fault present but also seeming to believe that it was the correct decision, "So I bided my time, and in the end I forced the truth out of him in battle. I have a recording of the encounter, in which he admits to his ambitions, and I have Julieta's testimony concerning the battle as well."
A recording of McGillis from the battle? Gallus was impressed that Gaelio had thought ahead and prepared for such evidence, since it could mean a great deal when there was a formal hearing on the matter. The death of a member of the Seven Stars was a high profile issue whether it was a simple matter such as illness or if it was more complex such as this battle...which, if looked at through a certain lens, could be considered murder.
Still, if McGillis was on tape admitting to his crimes, and there was the testimony of another who had been there during it, then this could all be resolved with time...not easily, but it could still be dealt with. If McGillis was a traitor who was conspiring with their enemy it was no longer an attack on a member of the Seven Stars but rather upon an enemy combatant.
"Good. When this is investigated that will come in handy," Gallus let out a breathe of relief, during which time he came to realize something else, something he felt ashamed for and for which he hung his head in said shame, "I am sorry, my son. These past months I have looked after McGillis, thinking him your friend and a future member of our family...if I had known..."
"I understand," Gaelio replied with some terseness, wanting to be angry that others did not see through McGillis' deception but being unable to thanks to how he had been one of its primary victims. Still, the news concerning McGillis was not all that he had come to speak of with his father, "His death was not all that happened on Mars."
"Yes, I hear you defeated a Mobile Armor. To think that you not only would come home having ousted a traitor, but with an Order..." Gallus had stood up when Gaelio brought mention to the other event on Mars, and after moving over to where Gaelio was he put a firm hand down on his shoulder as he wore a prideful smile, "I am proud of you, Gaelio."
To his father's surprise Gaelio shook his head no, "In truth, Julieta was the one to finish it. She deserves the honor and the Order."
"Gaelio, now think. If you allow her to take it, then that will only help the Elion family," he narrowed his eyes at his son with some apprehension, as if he wasn't making sense, "Now, I have heard rumors concerning this Julieta Juris after I received news of her part in the Mars conflict. Rumors that she and Rustal Elion's mysterious ally Vidar are romantically involved."
To this, Gaelio said nothing, and in saying nothing he said a great deal to his father.
Still, to hear it from Gaelio's own mouth, Gallus pressed him on the issue, "Is there truth to this?"
"These past months she is all I have had."
All he had possessed was his anger...his wish to exact vengeance upon McGillis for what he had done to Carta, for what he had done to Ein...for what he had done to him. In this sea of rage, he had but a single island of normalcy in the form of the woman who constantly sought him out to talk to him. Someone who reminded him of his close friend Ein in her loyalty and desires, someone who had reminded him of Carta in her attitude which was constantly pushing him.
Had he not had her, Gaelio believed he may have slipped into insanity and despair following his revenge. He had but one thing on his mind before, but she gave him a glimpse at the things and people he cared for again.
Gallus could see on his son's face where his heart lay, making what he had to say next all the harder since he honestly wished to support his son's desires, just not when it came at the expense of their family, "Whatever your feelings may be towards this woman, romantic or platonic as they may be, do remember that you are a representative of the Bauduin family. So I ask of you, do not let this Order slip by. I do not want it to bolster Rustal Elion's power. He already has the support of the Kujan family, he does not need more political power."
"I had another idea, Father. One where neither Rustal or I gain the Order."
Gallus blinked, "If not you, or Rustal, then..."
Julieta had obtained it he realized, having just automatically done as others would have and assumed an Order by her meant an Order for Rustal...but that was not how Orders were obtained back at the founding of Gjallarhorn, at least not in any official records. No, an Order was obtained by being the one to defeat a Mobile Armor. While it had been hundreds of years, she had done exactly what had made the original Seven Stars what they were...she had the same right as any of their families did now of sitting at the table and leading Gjallarhorn, even if her single Order would have a lower weight than those of the other established families.
Realizing Gaelio's seeming plan, Gallus spoke to confirm this as well, "You would have a new House established? A House with a single Order to its name, but a seat at the table nonetheless?"
Gaelio grinned, his eyes closed as he thought to himself, "Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking."
"I have not contemplated the matter before, but there must be rules against such a thing...a new House for the first time in hundreds of years..."
"I would like your help in making it happen," Gaelio stated plainly, though the weight his voice carried made it feel like a command rather than a simple statement of requiring and wanting aid in some matter.
Having been a politician for decades, Gallus was not about to enter into such murky waters without some light at the end of the tunnel, "And what would we have to gain from this?"
Gallus would soon come to realize that all the time Gaelio had to think on the way back from Mars had been put to good use. It was now that Gaelio unveiled his larger plan, only one piece of which was the Order.
"Julieta is loyal to Rustal, who is like a father to her. I too have some fondness for the man after the grace he has shown me in taking down McGillis," Gaelio shook his head slowly as he grinned still, "But I have no loyalty to him. And I would like to see his premier pilot removed from his toolkit. Make her a political entity, and she can no longer just be a part of Rustal's family, but rather one of her own."
Given that Julieta would be the only member of her 'family', she would be forced to attend to Gjallarhorn business in-person until she arranged for a stand-in of sorts. Not only that, she would be required to be there in-person for particularly important matters that wouldn't allow for someone to substitute for her, meaning that she would have to possess a role more like what McGillis or Carta had rather than be a frontline combatant as she presently was. This would mean that Rustal could not wield his powerful sledgehammer that was Julieta against any and all enemies, and it meant that her own allegiances and goals would begin to drift from just having to do with Rustal's. Even if she still wished to serve him how she wanted, her ability to do so in any direct manner would be drastically reduced.
"Meanwhile, we keep our position quite neutral in Gjallarhorn matters. Rustal is a sign of the corruption in Gjallarhorn, one of those who would see it not change and remain as it is," Gaelio continued to explain his plan while revealing his true feelings on the current order, "McGillis was right about one thing, Gjallarhorn is in need of reform. His methods were sloppy and short-sighted, but the general principle was correct."
Gallus nodded his head, having been the one to teach Gaelio many of the morals and beliefs that would one day culminate in his distaste for Gjallarhorn's present status. While perhaps he was less radical, he could fully support his son in wanting to enact change from within the organization.
"The Kujan family will more likely than not lose its heir in the coming years due to his foolishness. Their family won't recover from his loss, and their power won't go to Rustal upon Iok's passing, removing their power from the table entirely," Gaelio explained, having come to despise as well as count on Iok's complete stupidity that would one day cost him particularly now that neither Julieta nor Gaelio were going to be there to clean up his messes.
"When the dust clears with this Fareed matter, we should make sure we have taken their power for our own by using the relationship he had with Almiria and his family's lack of suitable heir. In compensation for his murder plot and attempt to steal our power, I believe we deserve what he tried taking from us, Order for Order."
Gallus agreed that reparations for the actions of the Fareed family were a must, since they had betrayed Gjallarhorn not only through the scheming of McGillis' father but through the horrific actions taken by McGillis himself. To take in the power of the Fareed family though...that would bolster the Bauduin family's standing to be at the top of Gjallarhorn.
"The Issue family's power will be left unchained to any family with their lack of heir, leaving it essentially extinct like the Kujan family."
An intriguing situation it would be, Gallus thought, to have two families go extinct while another would be created...the power vacuum would favor them, if all went according to plan, but Gaelio's position of staying neutral would have it so that Rustal would still be the one calling the shots. This would result in Rustal not feeling threatened as much by the Bauduin's power, since they would be essentially a nonentity which just observed, while working as Gaelio intended to fix things within Gjallarhorn. When the time called for it they could use their considerable political power to force through more significant changes, but for the time being the Bauduins would likely do best laying low and not drawing ire towards themselves given that their heir slew one of another family, even if that man was a traitor.
"Others will want in on our power as we come to be one of the leading families of the Seven Stars, or at least what they perceive to be an in on our power. Of these, only Rustal Elion currently stands as a political rival, and given our seeming agreement with his policies by not taking direct action against him he will feel comfortable with us as his ally," Gaelio looked up at his father, "He will want to keep an eye on us however to ensure our continued loyalty. Someone he trusts of course."
"Should Julieta Juris have an Order of the Seven...no, Eight Stars, she would be a prospective wife of many..." Gallus smiled to himself as he realized that even this fell into his overall plan, "Rustal would think that a single Order would be a way of buying our loyalty, giving us a bone to chew on while she serves as his eyes and ears on our family. He would support you, her close friend, marrying her for the inside access it would grant to our family, this near adopted daughter of his."
Gaelio nodded, glad his father understood him, "Julieta is loyal and dedicated, but if I can bring her to the point where she would side with our family over his, we would gain an Order while also fooling Rustal into thinking us his passive allies who he has control over."
"With your plan, we would become the essential powerhouse behind Gjallarhorn...impressive, Gaelio, but I must ask: to what end?"
"I wish to reform Gjallarhorn, and I understand that it will not happen overnight. While McGillis would betray and kill others to gain his power, I am content with making allies of my enemies. Let Rustal think that things are remaining the same, as he wants, while working within Gjallarhorn to change it step by step. Focus on recruiting people of principle, reform our training agencies so as to not lose their character, root out corruption where it remains..." Gaelio closed his eyes again as he looked down, "Improve it all one step at a time."
"This is what you would have our family do?"
It was a serious question, one which Gallus thought was important. If they were going to commit to this, it would be a major and important undertaking, so he had to know that Gaelio was serious both about his own part in this as well as his family's.
"Yes, and I would like to ask for your help."
Gallus smirked down to his son again, giving him a supportive nod as he came to accept this forecast for the future and the general idea of how they would carry themselves in the years to come, "If you believe this to be our future, you have my full support."
He did have a condition though.
As Gaelio stood up to face his father, Gallus smirked at his son with some amusement, "However, Gaelio, I would like to get to know this Julieta Juris before I give my blessing."
"Of course," Gaelio assured as his father placed his hands on his shoulders, having to reach up somewhat to reach Gaelio's shoulders since Gallus was only of average height while the men of his late wife's family all were tall and muscular like Gaelio was.
"Gaelio, for years I have hoped you would take a bride. Every time you received a marriage offering I prayed you would take it, but eventually I came to realize my son was not just going to let others decide his heart's place for him."
Gallus let out a hearty laugh as he continued on as he saw some embarrassment creep up on his son's face, "From what I hear of Rustal's subordinate, she is quite willful and disrespectful towards Iok Kujan while wholly obedient towards Rustal. Can you weather a sharp tongue at your side?"
Gaelio blushed at his father's question, finally coming to admit that he wished to spend his life now with the woman whose mouth knew no censor, "Her spirited nature is one of the things I enjoy about her, rather than one of the things I hold against her. She shows respect where it is due and not an ounce more.
"I look forward to speaking with her then. I may just see the spirit of your mother in her. While she was my biggest supporter and the love of my life, she never spared me my due criticism..." Gallus' expression softened as he began to regret perhaps some of his own past mistakes, "I sometimes wonder if I would be the same, if things would be the same if she were still here. She inspired in me such passion and drive, drive which I have found lacking since..."
While he was easy-going and often played the role of peacemaker in Gjallarhorn's chambers, his wife had been a spitfire like Julieta sounded like. He wondered if she were alive if she would have rooted out the insincere McGillis before he ever became the rotten apple he became...and if she had been around, would he have become so complicit in the sort of behavior in Gjallarhorn he taught his children to abhor?
Gaelio needed that sort of wife by his side, his father decided, if he was going to embark on this journey. He needed to have that center, that support each step of the way while also having the voice to question him when needed.
"If you have found that feeling in this woman, there is no-one better to help you accomplish your aspirations."
Gallus reached out and brought his son into a hug, one which Gaelio returned softly as the two rekindled their bond after so long apart.
"Now, if you are going to ask her to marry you, I might have something for you..."