Happy Phantom SPOILERS: end of series. 200 words. 13
Scars SPOILERS: end of series. 13.
Take your stars and give me my scars.

Thanks to NitaSee and Naga_battousai for betaing this.

"She's amazing, isn't she?" Alex grinned. It wasn't every day that a pair of young men -- teenagers, really -- ate lunch with the Prime Minister's daughter. And the Prime Minister and Emperor, too; Euris Bassianus was the focus of the boys' minds, though. The lavish food, compared to the Academy's mess hall, was a close second.

"Smart, beautiful, noble, and knows vanships. What more would a guy want in a girl?" Vincent dropped onto a bench under a tree. The palace courtyard was well-maintained, even though there was a drought on.

"Do you think we'll be in the war?"

"We're in the Academy. Of course we will. I wonder what sort of ship I'll be assigned to." Vincent sighed dreamily. "Hopefully one of Madosein's fleet. He's brilliant."

"How long does it take to become a captain, I wonder? Or a commander?"

"What did you think of Marius' proposal to end the war?"

"Peace treaty, you mean? It would stop this needless killing, but I don't see how it could help the drought here, or the freezing there."

Before Vincent could respond, a bundle of energy packaged in the shape of an 8-year-old girl ran in, giggling. "Alex! Vince!"

Vincent rose. "Good afternoon, princess." He picked her up and swung her around.

"Vince, wake up."

"Why? Is the building on fire?" He opened his eyes a slit, then rolled over to face the wall.

"No. I just wanted to talk to you. So wake up." Alex prodded him. "It's important. About Euris."

"You didn't get her pregnant, did you?" Vincent rolled over and leered at him.

"I won't dignify that with a response, idiot. Now, get up, or I'll drag you to the courtyard in your ..." Alex looked at him. "Skivvies."

"You owe me." Vincent sat up and put on civilian clothes. "Why are you even up?"

"It's past breakfast already," Alex said, as if that explained everything.

"Oh." He followed Alex out to the courtyard. "What's so important that you woke me up before lunch on the weekend?"

"I'm going to ask her to marry me. Euris, I mean. I love her."

Vincent's eyes narrowed in jealousy. "That's nice."

"You think so?" Alex burbled obliviously. "Do you think she'll say yes?"

"She's spent the past year and a half practically glued to your hip. I can't imagine she'd say no." Vincent barely kept the bitterness out of his voice.

"Um, if she says yes, I'd like you to be my best man. Would you?"

"I'd be honored." He swallowed his envy.

Alex clapped him on the shoulder. "Thank you, Vince. You're a friend."

Some things, it seemed to Vincent, weren't meant to be. Alex sat on the chair in Vincent's room. The wound on his face would heal – the doctor said he was lucky not to have lost that eye – but Vincent doubted the wound in his heart would. The scar on his face would at least be visible.

Alex wouldn't talk about the trip to Norkia, or the report to the Emperor; he'd barely spoken at all since he returned.

For several nights, he'd awakened from screaming nightmares. Vincent had moved a couch into the guest room and slept on it, after the first one. Vincent sat up with him when he refused to go back to sleep.

"You're allowed to cry, you know," Vincent said.

Alex glared at him. "It's none of your business."

Euris wasn't the only friend of his who'd died that day: the Alex Row he'd known -- the brilliant young vanship pilot -- had died as well. The unbandaged eye that glared at him wasn't the old Alex's. This Alex frightened him. Maybe scars on the inside were visible after all.

"Congratulations, your highness," Vincent said, bowing to kiss Sophia's hand.

"Thank you," she replied, adjusting the high collar of her dress uniform, brand new for the graduation ceremony and still stiff from starch.

"Allow me to buy you dinner this evening." The stark uniform couldn't hide the beautiful young woman she'd become.

"Father and Marius are having a fte tonight," Sophia smiled apologetically.

"Then tomorrow, perhaps? I've hardly seen you these past few years, and you're an Academy graduate now. I can't believe it."

"I'd love to, but I'm leaving in the morning for my assignment."

"Where are you going?"

"Father is sending me to the Silverna as the executive officer."

Vincent whistled appreciatively. "Quite a promotion. And Silverna's a wonderful ship, I hear."

"The safest place in the world." She looked up at Vincent. "Alex is captain there. Did you know that?" Her eyes were hopeful, radiating the sort of expectancy that a schoolgirl with a crush on an upperclassman would have when finding out he's her tutor.

"I'd heard." He bowed again. "I need to return to my ship. Best wishes, and may the wind be favorable."

"Thank you, Vince. May the winds be favorable."

The Emperor, it seemed, still held some animosity toward the failed peace mission, which he hadn't supported at the time. Cruel Fate sided with him, as well: For all Sophia resembled Euris, and all she loved Alex, he would never love her in return. Vincent understood unrequited love.

"Why do women fall for him all the time? What's he got that I haven't?"


"Sorry. Just thinking about an old friend."

The Urbanus' first mate smirked. "Your old friend, the renegade captain?"

Vincent glowered at him.

"Well, he has that outlaw appeal. Some ladies like that. And his own ship."

"I have a ship, too."

"Silverna is his ship. Urbanus is the Emperor's."

"Fine, nitpick. It was a rhetorical question anyway. Isn't the coffee ready yet?" He prodded the steaming glass.

"When you were a little boy, were there any adults you really admired?"

"Duke Madosein. He's a great leader."

"All children have someone they look up to. Sometimes they believe it's love. Usually they're wrong."

Vincent considered the wisdom of the statement as he sipped his coffee.

"Sophia," Vincent said. "I love you."

"Vince," she said. She dropped her eyes to the cup she was holding.

"Marry me."

"I can't," she said.

"He's dead, Sophia. Let go. He never did. He never could."

"Do I remind you of her? He almost hated me for it, you know. When I first boarded Silverna, the look in his eyes was full of such pain." She looked up and caught his eye. "I do, don't I? You say you love me, but it's a memory of her that you love."

"That's not true. Maybe it was, once, but not now. You do look like Euris, but you're not her. You're Sophia. I liked her, when we were younger, but she made her choice, and it wasn't me. It was always him," he added, more bitterly than he'd intended.

Sophia smiled sadly. "And you want me, because I wanted to be with Alex."

"No! Listen to me. You, Sophia Forrester. The girl I used to swing around in circles to make laugh has grown into a beautiful, intelligent woman, and I love her. Alex was an idiot for not seeing that, and being trapped in the past." He took a long drink of coffee. "Or maybe he knew that it was still that eight-year-old girl, watching him through wide eyes."

Sophia inhaled sharply and looked away.

"Just try to love me. That's all I ask. Give me one year, and if you still think it's because of rivalry or memories, you can break the engagement. Please?" Vincent dropped to his knee in front of her.

"I can't."

"He wouldn't mind. He would want you to move on, and be happy. He would want to see the little girl grow up."

"Is that how I seem?"

Vincent nodded.

"One year?"

"One year. Then I'll leave you alone, if you don't want me."

Sophia smiled.

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