It was a glorious spring day. The distant sun shone down on the park like residential area of the city. There wasn't a cloud in the azure sky, and barely any breeze at all stirred. Everywhere within the well landscaped setting the plants were in bloom, their flowers a riot of color that scented the air with their delicate perfumes. Among the vegetation participating in the glories of the season was a huge, ancient cherry tree, its blossom laden boughs creating a large area of shade and overhanging the high wall of a garden. Though there was a definite stillness in the air, the pink-petaled limbs stirred slightly. Upon closer inspection, the cause of the movement became known; there was a pair of adolescents up in the tree.

Clinging to the massive, wrinkled bark of the cherry tree's trunk, his feet standing on a thick limb, a young boy of apparently fourteen summers kept his emerald green gaze focused on his companion. Frowning, he telepathed on a tight channel that was only open to two others. With the other person able to overhear out of range, only the girl slowly climbing further out on the limb picked up the broadcast thought. **Zoe, we really shouldn't be doing this.**

The girl, who looked only a year younger than her friend, mentally giggled. Already her face showed that she would be a gorgeous beauty once full grown, but at the moment the expression there was one of sly amusement. **Where's your sense of adventure, Alex?** she kiddingly chided as she walked further out, her riotous mane of shoulder length, wavy blond hair softly stirring with her movements.

The boy addressed frowned, though he also began to carefully inch his way forward along the branch, hanging onto others to maintain his balance. **Back home where we ought to be.** Despite his words, he wasn't about to look like a coward to his friend. Call it a weakness, but he always felt compelled to show his younger "sibling" that he could keep up with her.

Zoe merely giggled again, the soft sound barely noticeable. Hanging onto a few other limbs, she slid her slight form even further out, finding a place where she could peek through the pink flowers into the garden below. The branch beneath her bent slightly under her light body, and a limb she released in order to grasp another abruptly sprung back into place.

**Ow! Watch it!** Alex glared, a hand rubbing the spot just under an emerald green eye where the branch had slapped him. He then pushed the offending foliage out of his way, wincing as the leaves snagged and pulled some of his short, straight, dark emerald hair.

**Whoops, sorry!** the blond girl apologized, glancing back at her companion, a sheepish look on her pretty face. She then held out a hand, offering to help him sneak further out away from the trunk.

He shook his head in response, having noticed the slight dip the branch took under just Zoe's little weight. Still managing to be very stealthy, Alex carefully dropped to a crouch, finding a place to peer through the foliage. Eyes focusing on their targets, he couldn't help but deepen his frown. **They're going to be really mad if they catch us.**

Turning her own violet-blue gaze back to the couple in the garden, the girl slipped quietly out even further, her wavy hair floating softly with the movement. **They won't if we're careful.**

Down below and not too far away from the spreading shade of the ancient tree, the couple continued on, blissfully unaware that their domicile's supposedly safe sanctuary had been subtly invaded by a curious adolescent and her companion. The woman--whose glorious mane of dark-blue-streaked, straight, pale blue hair flowed around her like a silken cloak--was half lying, half sitting on a wooden bench. The man--his back to the young spies and the light glimmering in his mid-back-length, dark-green-streaked, pale green hair--held the woman in a passionate embrace, and was sharing a rather heated kiss with her.

As Alex swallowed nervously, catching sight of the couple in the garden, Zoe kept her gaze on them, long lashed eyes wide, as the man suddenly stripped off his tunic and started raining little kisses and nips along the woman's neck. For her part, the blue haired woman ran long-nailed fingers over the man's back, purring faintly. Picking up yearning need and a strong, tingling sensation from the pair through her empathic senses, the young girl shifted positions slightly.

**Come on, Zoe. I'm sure we've seen enough,** the emerald haired boy plead, focusing once again on his "sibling's" slender form.

The girl didn't move. Instead, she only continued to watch from the flowery shelter of the ancient tree.

Silently sighing, realizing that his friend was going to be stubborn, Alex let his emerald eyes flick back down to the couple--and he instantly turned red. The man below had waved a hand, causing the woman's clothes to abruptly vanish. Suddenly finding himself seeing far more of the female than he ever expected, the boy's handsome face turned even redder as he watched--now unable to tear his gaze away--the man with the variegated green hair turn his kisses and nips to the woman's bared breasts.

Carefully crouching down along the branch, finding an even better view there, Zoe continued staring in fascination as a gesture from the woman below returned the favor, making the man's remaining clothes disappear. Within the young adolescent, an unfamiliar, tingling excitement was making itself known, an echo to what her sensitive empathy was picking up. Though unfamiliar, the sensation wasn't unknown to her. She'd felt it before a few times over the past months, but she'd not been able to figure out why she'd felt it. Now, as she stared at the couple below--their hands doing all sorts of intimate rubbing on one another--she was beginning to understand just what that feeling was about.

She shifted her slender frame again, restlessly, as the tingling tension only got worse. The fact that she found both adults very beautiful--and she'd be hard pressed to say which body she found more attractive--only made what they were doing to one another just that much more exciting to her. Enraptured with the sight, Zoe absently ran the tip of her tongue over her expressive lips and swallowed hard.

Finding himself just about literally burning up with embarrassment--a feeling which drowned out just about everything else, including what excitement he was getting watching the couple's continued lovemaking--Alex carefully made his way back to the tree trunk. Though no longer able to see the adults below, he could still hear the woman's very soft moans of pleasure, which only added to his discomfort. Shooting the blond girl a wistful look, he thought, Cosmos, how do I manage to let her talk me into these things? With a sigh, he leaned against the gnarled bark of the cherry's trunk.

Go get Alexandrite and Zoisite, Garnet, the tall, lanky youth muttered in his thoughts, a frown on his very handsome face. The apparent sixteen-year-old dejectedly kicked a few pebbles as he walked on, Lord Topaz's words sounding in his mind. The Centennial Court's due to start in a couple of hours, and we all need to be ready by then. As one of the rocks clicked off the stone wall of a residence's garden, the redheaded Gemlord slouched. How in the Cosmos am I going to find those two? Already his one and only telepathic scan of the city had turned up nothing. Garnet frowned even more. That usually meant the two younger Gemlords were up to no good, with Zoisite shielding their presences. Past experience had taught him that even he couldn't get through Zoisite's shielding, so he hadn't even tried. And now that a search of their usual haunts turned up no sign of the pair, the tall youth was getting worried. Running a hand through his wine-dark red bangs, he flicked his intense violet gaze skyward--then narrowed his eyes as something caught his attention.

There was a stirring in the branches of the huge, ancient cherry tree up ahead. With no breeze in the air, and too much movement for it to be one of the many small animals that shared the Gemlords' city with them, Garnet immediately grew suspicious. Focusing on the tree, he ignored the faint sounds that seemed to come from the other side of the wall. Instead, he stealthily crept up to the blossom laden plant.

Leaning up against the gnarled bark, the red haired youth peered up into the green leaves and abundant pink blooms. Another slight rustle sent a few petals floating down, and Garnet batted away one that threatened to land in one violet eye. For a moment, the foliage obscured his view, but then he caught sight of a familiar shimmer of copper highlighted golden hair on the far end of a branch that hung out over the gray stone wall. Well, there's Zo'. Now where could . . .

There came a broadcast thought, on a telepathic channel open to only Alexandrite, Zoisite and himself. A younger male voice sounded in his head. **Zoe, we really shouldn't be watching this.**

Garnet nodded, then glared up into the cherry tree for a moment. Glancing slyly around the footpath between residences and seeing no one else around, still paying no mind to the soft sounds around him, the third youngest Gemlord climbed quickly and quietly up the trunk, poking his head up through the first layers of leaves and flowers. Finding himself in a clear space, his violet eyes focused on his quarry.

Zoisite was crouching on the far end of a thick branch, clinging perilously to the limb and obviously fully engrossed in whatever it was she saw down below. Up against the trunk, Alexandrite stood on the beginning of the same branch, his face scarlet red but his dark emerald hair almost blending into the shadows within the tree. Unlike Zoisite, he was apparently focused on the slim girl instead of spying on the garden. Having climbed up on the opposite side, Garnet remained unnoticed by either one of his younger "siblings".

Wonder who they're spying on? the older Gemlord thought to himself, his own curiosity awakening. However, once again Lord Topaz's words sounded in his mind, and he sighed, his sense of duty taking over. His errant siblings were to be rounded up and brought back as soon as possible; their mentor had made that quite clear. Silently growling, Garnet clambered up a bit higher and tapped Alexandrite on the shoulder.

The younger boy damned near jumped out of his skin, his face becoming even more flushed as he turned huge emerald eyes to stare at Garnet's frowning face. Biting his lip to keep from yelling, he silently nodded at his older brother's gestured question--asked with a raised eyebrow and a pointing finger at the still oblivious Zoisite. Cosmos, I just know we're doomed now.

Dammit, Zo' did it again, talked poor 'Lex into something stupid, the dark-wine-haired Gemlord inwardly groaned. Moving carefully, able to keep from shaking the tree too much to warn Zoisite, Garnet began inching out toward the slender girl after successfully scooting around the trunk.

The silky haired blond did feel some movement. Without looking up, she growled in a tight broadcast, **Stop moving the tree around, Alex. You're making the limb sway.**

Pausing at a place that seemed to be able to tolerate his weight, Garnet strained out with his touch, and still fell a number of inches short. Gritting his teeth, he took a risk and slid forward a bit more, crouching down as well to get closer to his sister's level. Beneath them, the branch dropped quite a bit more, the wood creaking. Zoisite looked up in fright just as Garnet's hand slapped her shoulder. For a long moment, the two Gemlords stared into one another's eyes. Then, with a snap, the limb broke beneath their combined weight.

Zoisite shrieked, and the sound galvanized Garnet. Every bit as quick as Zoisite herself, the red haired youth pulled her little frame against him and tucked himself in a slight ball. By the time they hit the ground, Garnet was under her, and his tall form acted as a cushion. With a woof, the air was knocked out of the lanky youth's lungs. Despite that, his first thought was of his dear sibling. Wordlessly--since he was too busy gasping to regain his breath--he stared up into her now beet red face, his questioning expression asking her if she was all right.

Zoisite, however, had other things on her mind. Though horribly embarrassed at getting caught and still frightened by the fall, the warm embers of arousal--both hers and what she was picking up from the couple--still smoldered in her thoughts. Her expressive eyes darkened to almost midnight blue with emotion, she was suddenly uncomfortably aware of her position atop Garnet. Gazing down into the violet depths of his eyes, Zoisite flushed even hotter still. All at once, she knew. Garnet--the Gemlord contemporary she considered her very dear but rather overprotective older brother--had been the source of these odd feelings of late. Even now, the very revelation sent a shiver down the young girl's spine.

"Just what in the name of the Vortex Mirror is going on?" The outraged shout was loud, angry and male. And it was enough to strike terror into the hearts of the pair of youngsters lying on the petal-, leaf- and branch-strewn ground.

Tilting his head back, Garnet found himself looking upside-down at a very irate--and very nude--male Gemlord, arms crossed over his well-defined chest. Behind the fuming man with the varigated-green hair, the young redhead could see an equally naked woman pulling herself up to a sitting position on a wooden bench, demurely rearranging her cascade of varigated-blue hair to give her lovely form some cover. Recognizing them, Garnet inwardly groaned. Cosmos, Malachite and Azurite. So that's what Zo' was spying on. Two grand, high, muckedy-mucks gettin' it on. Great.

For her part, Zoisite just smiled sheepishly at the angry Gemlords, not bothered by the sight one bit. After all, she was intimately familiar with a male's body, just not one quite so mature. Despite her embarrassment and the very distracting feel of lying on Garnet, the blond haired girl remained irrepressible. "Just thought I'd drop in and say 'Hi', Your Lordship," she quipped.

Up in the cherry tree, still rather hidden by the riot of pink blooms and luxuriant leaves, Alexandrite closed his eyes and mentally groaned. Little sister Zoisite sure seemed to be doing her best to see that they'd all be doomed for sure.

Ignoring the nagging pain that continued to make itself known in his back and buttocks, the lanky youth rapidly shifted his hold on Zoisite, his instinct to protect his beloved siblings from everything--including himself--kicking into high gear and drowning almost everything else out. Clutching the little blond spy against him with one arm and shifting her to a position that better hid his own uncomfortable condition from her, Garnet reached up and covered Zoisite's eyes with his free hand. Cosmos only knew how he managed to scramble to his feet still holding her like that. "Um . . . Sir, Ma'am . . . Please, it's all my fault," he started apologizing profusely, cheeks turning red with embarrassment. "Zo' was climbing up in the tree and I went after her thinking she was going to end up hurting herself. Yes, I should've known better, and I swear we didn't even know you were here."

At the same moment, Zoisite squirmed in her companion's grasp, upset at having her eyes covered. "Gar, lemme go," she whined, beautiful voice taking on a well known strident tone. Hearing the older redhead's nearly breathless hiss and feeling his hold tighten just a bit more, the slim blond struggled harder, growing determined to slip away.

Emerald eyes wide, Alexandrite peered through the cherry tree's leaves down at the scene below, apparently still unnoticed by the interrupted lovers. Catching sight of Azurite's mildly amused smile, Malachite's glowering rage and his poor siblings facing them, the verdant haired boy did his best not to laugh. Cosmos, he knew they were all going to get it when Lord Malachite complained to Lord Topaz about this little incident, but that knowledge wasn't detracting from the humor of the situation, not one bit. A flurry of movement catching his attention, the younger boy gingerly knelt down on what remained of the snapped-off branch to get a better look at his siblings.

It was Zoisite, he realized. And the look on Garnet's face was the last straw. Obviously fighting back what had to be some interesting feelings apparently being enflamed by the copper-blond girl's struggle to break free, the older boy's expression struck Alexandrite as classically hysterical. Knowing that he couldn't stay silent any longer, the green haired adolescent beat a hasty retreat, his form slipping away in a stealthy teleport, his characteristic double helix of ruby red and emerald green light suppressed. For now, he'd go laugh his head off in the safety of his own quarters.

Had he not been so caught up in a couple of rather insistent things, Garnet would've breathed a quiet sigh of relief as he sensed Alexandrite's departure. One down and two to go . . . Cosmos, Zo' please stop squirming around like that, he quietly begged, feeling his own personal situation getting worse by the moment. Tightening his hold a bit more even as he made sure he wasn't doing anything other than restraining the slender girl and keeping her from seeing things he didn't think she had business seeing, he took a couple of hesitant steps backwards, still mumbling apologetically. "If you'd please . . ." Violet eyes shifted from the irate lord to look over at the blue haired woman. He realized just a second too late that that only made things nearly unbearable. Groaning faintly and forcing himself to shut his own eyes tight enough he could see multicolored lights dancing behind dark eyelids, his next words came out in a strained rush. "Forgive us but we'll just be going now. See you at Court, sir, ma'am . . ."

Lord Malachite opened his mouth in order to continue to express his outrage, but the young Gemlord didn't remain to listen to his elder. Mind actually able to focus elsewhere for a moment, the mental picture of his quarters etched in perfect clarity behind his closed eyes, Garnet twisted the energies just so; a helix of gleaming dark scarlet light snaked up from the ground to envelope the pair. When the light disappeared, the garden was empty save for the interrupted lovers. Malachite remained standing there, staring at the leaf- and petal-strewn ground, a stray breeze stirring his long, varigated-green hair. "Lord Topaz is going to get an earful over this one."

Leaning back against the bench, Lady Azurite's soft, mellow voice responded, "Calm yourself, dear one. No harm was done, and I believe they embarrassed themselves more than they embarrassed us." The azure haired woman couldn't help but smile; if nothing else, she had to respect them both for their courage.

Malachite slowly turned and faced his one and only love, a wry smile turning up a corner of his mouth. "That may be true, but it's the principle of the matter. Those two both need to learn more discipline in a desperate way, and that's Topaz's responsibility."

The elegant female nodded slightly, her curtain of varigated-blue hair shimmering with the movement. A sly smile dancing across her sensuous lips, she held out a hand even as she used her other to flip back her hair. "Hmm," she purred, reclining on her side along the bench, "Come here, sweet love. Court will be beginning far too soon and we will be expected to be all business then, of course."

"Indeed," Malachite responded, a playful grin on his face. His rich baritone dropping to a soft murmur as he rejoined the woman on the garden bench, he continued, "I do so hate having to be all business. Let me just contact Lord Topaz a moment, and then you can remind me just what we were doing when the young ones dropped in."

The room was a small affair, one of many studio apartment sized chambers located upon this floor--the twelfth one--of the Obsidian Tower. It was on this floor that the younger members of the Gemlord race were quartered under the watchful eyes of the Castellan, Lord Topaz, and Lieutenant Amber, one of the Guard whose duty was to protect the Tower and the Vortex Mirror. Decorated in shades of deep red and violet-red, the entire room was almost obsessively neat; the dark red bedspread was absolutely wrinkle free, the books housed in the bookshelf to the right of the door were perfectly alphabetized and the large chest-of-drawers looked like dust had never touched it, the accompanying mirror spotless. One thing the owner of the room could say; he always took the prize for having the cleanest chamber of all the apprentice Gemlords.

The glimmering light crystals that served as the room's illumination began to glow of their own accord as a dark scarlet helix of light appeared near the foot of the hopelessly neat bed. Reacting to the psychic presence of the chamber's owner, they were shedding their normal brilliant light by the time the shimmering teleportational field faded away, leaving behind the tall, lanky teenager still clutching the squiggling blond girl.

Safe and sound, within a comfortable and familiar location, Garnet relaxed a bit and let his little sister slip out of his grasp. As she took a hesitant step back on the deep violet-red carpet, he reached back with a hand and touched the back of his aching head. Wincing at the pain from the developing swelling beneath his thick wine-red hair, he let loose with a short, irritated sigh and fixed Zoisite with what he hoped was a stern look.

The younger Gemlord slowly looked up at her older brother's face, meeting the harsh look with one of her own, the "You mad at me?" one. Violet-blue eyes huge, lower lip trembling just a little bit, her hands wringing together, the entire effect made the little spy look heartbreakingly adorable. Not that she really needed it. Zoisite was normally quite adorable on her own.

Gotta be firm with her, Garnet. Big hands coming up to rest on his hips, he put on what he hoped was the sternest look the little spy had ever seen in her entire short life. However, the tightness of his trews brought to mind once again other things he wished he could just forget about for a while. However, I gotta stop being firm in other ways, he mentally groaned. Taking a bit of a risk, the red haired Gemlord glanced down long his lanky frame, almost desperately hoping that his tunic was providing enough cover to keep a certain physical reaction obscured.

Still gazing at her older sibling with a sorrowful expression, the violet-blue eyes wide and innocent, Zoisite noticed the look Garnet gave himself. Curiosity sparked anew, still so very aware of the yearning she felt within herself being this close to him, her gaze flickered down to focus where he himself was looking. Is it possible--?

Violet eyes flicked back up to glance at the young girl. Mortified to find his sister looking in much the same place he himself had been, Garnet could feel the heat rise in his cheeks. "Zoisite, quit staring at my belt buckle." Distracted by the ardor that remained within him and uncomfortably cognizant of the pretty girl he considered a sibling right there before him, his voice had a sharper tone to it than was his usual want.

Startled, the younger Gemlord quickly turned her attention back to the lanky redhead's face, some of her newfound need dying off.

That's a bit better, Garnet told himself, though he felt a twinge of guilt at Zoisite's stricken expression. Always overly protective of all his siblings, especially the younger ones, he never wanted to be a cause of hurt or misery. However, sometimes that couldn't be helped. Like now. "I'm going to have to yell at you now, you know."

"But Gar," she started to say, looking so innocent, so cute, so vulnerable, her voice sweet and small. Hands wringing together, her gaze now fixed demurely on the floor at the toes of her older brother's booted feet, she was the picture of repentance and remorse. She knew from experience that such was the best way to placate most everyone she knew when they were angry.

Another stab of guilt lanced through Garnet at the sight of her, but he knew he had to persevere. Otherwise, she'd learn nothing at all from this embarrassing disaster. Shaking his head in a negative gesture, the wine-red hair glimmering in the light of his room, his voice remained quite severe. "Don't interrupt me, Zo'. Not when I'm about to lecture you."

Cosmos, maybe he really was angry this time. That thought ripped through her and she instantly lost whatever passionate embers remained. Gazing at her older brother, the Gemlord that she admired, looked up to, respected . . . wanted, her large, long lashed, violet-blue eyes gleamed brighter as her perfect little chin trembled just a bit. She never wanted him to dislike her; that idea alone hurt her soul.

The changes in the lovely girl's expressive face didn't go unnoticed. Realizing that she was puddling up, Garnet felt yet another stab of guilt. "Dammit, Zo', don't cry. At least not at me. Save it for--"

"Garnet! Zoisite!"

The shout came from the hall beyond the door to the impossibly neat quarters. Though muffled by stone and thick wood, it was still thunderous. And the touch of the mind that they both felt, seeking them out, was quite upset.

"--Lord Topaz." The lanky teen's own voice sounded a bit strangled as he finished his sentence, having recognized the Castellan's roar as well as Topaz's mind's questing touch. Spinning around to face the door to his chamber, taking a step back to put Zoisite's little form behind him, Garnet added, under his breath, "Yup, we're dead." A big hand reached behind himself to further herd his younger sibling into his protective shadow.

Whether brave or foolish, Zoisite just wouldn't stay put. Though she remained behind the tall body of her brother--in fact, resting her front up against his already well-toned form felt rather nice, as she was quickly discovering--she just had to see. If Lord Topaz was going to lecture them, she felt better facing him instead of letting the older adolescent take all of the heat. After all, it was her fault in the first place, having wanted to spy on Lord Malachite and Lady Azurite. Leaning against her brother's firm backside, she tilted herself to look past the lanky redhead. Large eyes focused on the wooden entryway, her copper-gold hair stirring with the movement like a fine cloud of spun silk, she waited for the storm to hit. Despite it all, she felt safe there with Garnet. She knew he'd keep her from harm just about any way he could.

The door to the impossibly neat quarters slammed open, banging against the wall. Both young Gemlords jumped at the sound. Garnet's hand, still on his little sister's hip, tightened just a bit; even facing the tall figure that stepped into the doorway, the redhead found himself too aware of Zoisite pressed up against his back, of the feel of her slightly rounded hip under his touch. For her part, the copper-blond haired spy did almost cower in her bigger brother's shadow, but her perverse sense of curiosity kept her rooted there. Large violet-blue eyes became larger as the Castellan stepped into the room.

Sky blue eyes falling on the pair of youngsters as hard and sharp as an ax, the light of the illumination crystals reflecting off the shimmering streaks of golden blond, pinkish orange and pink in his silver blond hair, Lord Topaz seemed to loom over his young charges. Though by no means a mountain of a man--in fact, he was much the same, slightly stocky build as Commander Jadeite of the Elemental Guard, though taller--his presence alone made him appear to the pair of youngsters unreasonably huge.

Drawing himself up to his full height, he stared down at the lanky redhead, then flicked his ice-cold gaze to the pretty girl peeking out from behind the younger man. "Well, well . . . Guess what, you two? I just got a very interesting piece of news from Lord Malachite. Seems as if he and Lady Azurite were enjoying a bit of privacy in their garden when, lo and behold, a couple of unexpected guests dropped in out of a cherry tree and rather rudely interrupted them."

Garnet at least had the decency to faintly blush, the ruddy tinge to his cheeks a rather harmonious shade to his dark, wine red hair. Zoisite, however, remained wide-eyed and innocent looking, her slightly scared expression only adding to the adorable factor.

Cosmos, that figures. The one that's surely the more innocent of the two is the guilty-looking one. Pushing aside his thoughts, the Castellan folded his arms over his blue-clad chest, continuing to look like a specter of doom to the Gemlords in his care. "Now what do you suppose those two 'guests' could have been doing scrambling around in a tree?"

"It's all my fault, Lord Topaz," Garnet immediately responded. Having said his explanation over and over in his mind enough times that it was just ready and waiting to come out, his low voice rushed on. "Zo' was up the tree and I was worried she'd get hurt, so I went up after her. We didn't even know Lord Malachite and Lady Azurite were there, and we sure didn't mean to, um, disturb them."

The Castellan remained silent for a long, long moment, sky blue eyes staring straight into the younger man's violet ones.

The lanky teen felt his cheeks redden just a bit more under that unnerving gaze. Behind him, he felt Zoisite stir slightly, apparently deciding now would be a good time to try to disappear behind her brother. Problem was, he was still very much aware that her little body was pressed up against him.

"Garnet, are you lying to me?" Topaz's deep voice held the hint of unknown tortures should he decide that the redhead was being untruthful.

"No, sir." His voice absolutely deadpan, the blush fading from his straight face, the teen unflinchingly met the Castellan's cool gaze. After all, it wasn't really a lie--Zoisite had been up the tree; he had been worried she'd hurt herself; he, at least, hadn't had any idea that Malachite and Azurite were engaging in a romantic tryst down in the garden; and it was a good bet that neither he nor his little sister had had any intention of falling out of the tree and disrupting the lovers.

Not that a few disruptions would hurt, Garnet mused darkly. Those two are constantly all over each other. All too quickly he regretted thinking ill of the pair of adults; that thought, along with the unbidden images of Azurite and Malachite in various stages of erotic play--gained from all those times he had spied on the lovers himself--brought back a certain excitement with a vengeance. Blushing once again, his violet gaze remained focused on the Castellan as he hoped to Cosmos that Topaz wouldn't notice a particular physical reaction returning. Cosmos, Zo'. Do you have to stand right up against me? he added, biting his tongue and doing his best to think of something else . . . Like how long he and Zoisite were going to be grounded this time.

Topaz continued to coldly glare at the two Gemlord adolescents--not that you could tell there were two now with Zoisite completely hidden behind Garnet's lanky form--then softly growled. "All right, Garnet. Tell you what. It's an hour and a half to Court, and I don't have time to take care of this matter right now. If you and your sister, as well as Alexandrite--and I'll be having a little talk with him next--are ready for Court and behave yourselves, I'll be inclined to be lenient on you--"

"Excuse me, sir? Lord Topaz?" The feminine voice was soft and scared. Leaning back over to the side to look past Garnet's back--making both herself and her "brother" very aware of one another's bodies pressed against each other--Zoisite swallowed hard at the Castellan's flinty gaze. "Please . . . Alex wasn't involved. Yes, we'd run off together to have some fun before Court, but he left before I decided to climb the tree."

It took all of Garnet's acting skills to not react to his sibling's blatant lie. Oh yes, Zoisite's going to hear about this, the redhead decided. But in privacy. I'd rather keep Alex out of trouble myself, even if it means letting Zo' get away with lying.

The Castellan's ice-blue eyes raked over the two Gemlords once more. Something still didn't seem quite right, but Topaz had to admit that he was a bit pressed for time. Knowing the trio as well as he did, he had to admit that what was stated was entirely plausible. Sighing again in reluctant acceptance, the pale haired adult nodded once. "Very well. I'll take your word on that, Zoisite. Now, get ready for Court. If the two of you don't further embarrass me before our lord, I'll consider this matter closed." He then took a step forward and lightly tapped Garnet square in the center of his chest. "However, if you or your sibling there cause any more trouble, I'll make you two wish you'd never stepped forth from the Mirror. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir . . ." The lanky teenager swallowed hard and did his best to not shake in fear. "Crystal clear." Behind him, he could feel Zoisite trembling, her little body pressed tight against his backside.

A long, fright-tinged silence followed before the youngest Gemlord was finally able to squeak out a reply. "Y--yes, Lord Topaz, sir. I promise I'll be good." The little blond couldn't stop shivering against her older brother; for once in her relatively short life, she was honestly scared.

"Good. Then get ready, the two of you, and I'll see you at Court." Drawing himself up to his full height again, the Castellan stepped back. Turning to face the still-open door, Lord Topaz strode out of the extremely neat room, his long, multicolored streaked hair flowing in the wake of his passage, and firmly shut the door behind himself.

The pair of adolescents stood there for a moment afterwards, just waiting to see if the confrontation was really over with, or if their imposing mentor would suddenly remember something else and come storming back in. When it became apparent that Topaz was truly gone, both teens breathed a sigh of relief and stepped back from one another. Garnet whirled to glare at Zoisite, then stopped and suddenly looked worried when he saw that the little sneak was still genuinely frightened. Holding out his hands, the lanky redhead smiled just a bit. "Come here, Zo'. It's going to be all right."

The slender girl flung herself into her older sibling's arms, hugging him tightly. Sniffling, on the verge of tears, her sweet voice sounded heartbroken as she murmured against Garnet's chest, "Oh Gar, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean any harm and now I'm sure that everyone's going to hate me and I'm sorry I got you into trouble. I didn't mean to."

"Shh. It's all right," Garnet replied, a big hand gently stroking through Zoisite's shoulder-length, soft, copper-blond hair. "No one's going to hate you. They just want you to behave. That's all. But we're going to have to get ready, Zo'.

Still sniffling, the younger Gemlord leaned back to look up at Garnet with large, tear-filled, violet-blue eyes. "They don't hate me?"

The lanky teen smiled reassuringly down at her. "No, Zo'. They don't hate you. They just get mad at some of the things you do, but they don't hate you." Brushing a stray lock of her wavy hair from her eyes, Garnet continued, "And even if you screw up and make a scene at Court, they still won't hate you. But let's not do that, all right? Let's just get into our court clothes and behave. Think you can do that?"

Zoisite nodded, sniffling and wiping her eyes. "Yes, of course I can," she answered, sounding slightly insulted at her brother's insinuation that she was too stupid to act properly at Court.

Garnet inwardly smiled, knowing that the slight pique to his sister's pride would make her decide to behave, if only to show him that she could do it. "All right, then." Stepping away from her and giving her a playful swat on her rear--a very nice one, he found himself realizing, then mentally groaned at himself for even noticing that in the first place--he gently ordered, "Go on to your room, Little Bit, and get ready. I'll come check on you when I'm all done."

The blond girl couldn't help but giggle at the swat; as always, her emotions shifted so easily from one to another, depending on what was going on. "Okay, okay. I'm going, Red Brick." Opening the door, she turned to slyly wink at the tall, gangly boy standing there. "Make sure you wear something sexy . . ." Then she was gone, the door closing behind her.

Feeling a sudden heat in his cheeks, Garnet frowned. Now why in the Cosmos would she tell me that? Maybe she did whack her head in the fall? Puzzled, he contacted Alexandrite telepathically to give his brother a quick synopsis of what had happened, then delivered a stern warning to the younger boy about his own displeasure at any disruptions at Court. Hearing Alex's firm reassurance in his mind, Garnet stepped up to his dresser, then froze. Violet eyes focusing on a picture sitting there---the image was that of a young woman, apparently eighteen years old, with violet-blue eyes, wavy copper-gold hair and a sweetly sunny expression; the woman looked very much like an older version of Zoisite, truth be told---he suddenly realized why his little sister might have said what she had. Tanzie . . . Oh Cosmos, that's right. Tanzie's supposed to be coming home today.

With a sudden burst of energy and inspiration both, Garnet flung himself into his preparations for the upcoming Centennial Court.

Scanning his reflection with a critical eye, Garnet's violet gaze slid over the image of the dashing young redhead in the mirror. A full-sleeved swordsman's shirt of a rich, creamy color enveloped the young man's upper body; over that, he wore a gold-trimmed, dark red tunic, tiny garnets worked into the trim sparkling with every movement. A black leather belt with a garnet-set gold buckle encircled his waist; tight black trousers clung to his long legs, and polished black boots with turned down cuffs reached to his knees. A short mantle, also gold-trimmed, dark red velvet, swagged from garnet brooches fastened to the shoulders of his tunic. His wine-red hair was tied back in a neat ponytail, leaving just a few short bangs to flirt dramatically with his violet eyes.

Lookin' good, Garnet, he congratulated himself, twisting his athletic form just enough to see that everything was in place in back as well. After all, Court was quite the big deal, and it was important to look one's best, especially since Tanzanite was due to return home.


The mere thought of her name made the lanky youth's heart race; he couldn't help but shift his gaze to the framed picture sitting there just to the side of his mirror. She was older than he by nearly half a billion years, the eldest of the four young Gemlords who considered each other siblings, but her age didn't matter at all to Garnet. What mattered was that he was head over heels in love with her, and had been ever since he was born. Tanzanite had been there, in the Hall of the Mirror, with Lieutenant Amber of the Tower Guard when Garnet the child had stepped out of the Vortex Mirror and had drawn his first breath. The young girl had been the first thing Garnet had seen, and he'd been lost in that very same moment.

Now that he was thinking on it, remembering both the earlier disaster as well as his far too focused awareness on Zoisite as more than just his kid sister, he had to admit that Zoe was growing up looking quite a lot like Tanzie; though Tanzie's hair had a more coppery tone to it than Zoe's golden-blond locks, their features were remarkably similar, with the same large, lovely, violet-blue eyes. The Mirror doubled up on perfection, Garnet thought, a grin gracing his handsome face. Though I'm sure Tanz' was never as much trouble as Zo' can be . . .

He preened a bit more in front of his dresser mirror, eyeing himself critically and striking a few poses to examine the effect. Standing nearly six feet tall now, with a breadth of shoulder, depth of chest and length of limbs that announced that he wasn't finished growing yet--either in bulk or height--he knew he didn't look too much like the weedy youth he'd been when Tanzanite had left Lithos. Admittedly, that hadn't been very long ago at all, especially to such long-lived people as the Gemlords, but Garnet was at the age when changes came fast and furious.

Tanzanite had left a boy behind; she would be returning home to a man. A very young man, the redhead reminded himself truthfully, but a man nevertheless. I hope she likes what she sees . . . He grinned suddenly, striking a downright heroic pose--one fist planted at his waist, the other down at his side, his legs arranged just so--then turned his head, chin held high, to practice a smoldering, ladykiller glance from under his lashes. But then again, who wouldn't?

"Will you stop playing around as if you were Lord Sinhalite and get serious, Gar? Lord Topaz is going to be watching us like a hawk," called out a youthful, male voice. In the reflection of his mirror, Garnet could see that the newcomer was Alexandrite, resplendent in an outfit of ruby red and emerald green. A loose fitted white shirt with long sleeves rested against the boy's well-toned torso underneath a gold-trimmed tunic made from a rich, green and red brocade, the sleeves slit so that glimpses of the white shirt could be seen; tiny alexandrite stones sewn to the tunic as a part of the design twinkled redly in the light form the illumination crystals set high in the walls of Garnet's immaculate room. Emerald green tights hugged Alexandrite's legs, and polished black boots covered the younger boy's feet from the calf down; the black leather belt around his slim waist was a rather plain, utilitarian one. Overall, the outfit had a unisex aura about it; it would have looked equally well on either a boy or a girl, which was most likely the effect Alexandrite had been expecting.

The lanky redhead frowned, not liking his sibling's comparison at all. Everyone knew that Lord Sinhalite was the most hedonistic of the Gemlords; he never did anything unless it was for pleasure, and it was rumored that his jaded tastes were becoming rather degenerate in the search for new kicks. Considering what Garnet knew of the man himself, the rumors weren't that far off the mark. Turning swiftly, making the mantle flare out around him, the older youth crossed the distance between himself and Alexandrite in a couple of large steps, then firmly grabbed his brother by the arm and pulled him into the well-kept room. Giving the door a mental nudge to close it, thereby keeping the upcoming scene from being an embarrassment, Garnet narrowed his eyes and said, in a far too polite voice, "Excuse me, Alexandrite, but I must disagree. You know as well as I that I'm never stoned out of my mind--Lord Sinhalite is always under the influence of something--nor am I an absolute and utter wastrel. I, at least, get my assignments done, unlike a certain emerald-haired boy that lets Zo' talk him into some harebrained scheme or another. Lord Topaz may have been convinced that you weren't involved in today's little incident, but we both know better, now don't we?"

Alexandrite gulped, emerald eyes opening wide in startled fright as he realized that his pointed jest had made his older brother quite upset. Staring up at Garnet, the emerald haired boy remained silent.

Garnet turned loose of his hold on the other boy's brocade-sheathed arm, then proceeded to step forward, using his advantages in height, weight and strength to force his brother to back up until the other's back was pressed up against the closed door. During the entire short march, the redhead continued talking in that same low, soft, polite voice, "You were supposed to remain here and get ready for Court. You left the Tower and were out running around in the city. You decided to join Zo' in her climb up into the cherry tree, and you kept quiet about it, even when you knew I had to be looking for you. I'm pretty disappointed in you, 'Lex."

Though still looking rather scared, his eyes wide and his face pale, Alexandrite swallowed his fear and met his brother's gaze. The younger boy's voice was shaky and equally soft as he replied, "We were both bored, and there was plenty of time, as you can see. I'm ready for Court now. And I didn't realize Lord Malachite and Lady Azurite were in their garden until after I was already up in the tree. I kept telling Zoe we shouldn't be there and that we should be going back home, but she wouldn't listen to me and I didn't want to just leave her there."

"You should have come gotten me, 'Lex," Garnet responded, "the moment she didn't start listening. She knows better than to defy me for very long. But because you didn't, she and I are in hot water with the Castellan, and I have to yell at her about lying to protect you. I'm not happy being in this position, 'Lex. That wasn't very nice of either one of you."

The younger boy turned his head, looking away, the expression on his sweet face one of contriteness and embarrassment. "I'm really sorry, Gar. You know none of this was intentional."

Garnet mentally nodded, knowing that his brother realized just how serious this could be. Stepping back, he gently ruffled up Alexandrite's short, straight hair with a big hand. "Yeah, I know it wasn't. But next time Zo' starts talking you into something stupid, please let me know about it before something happens. Now, let's go see if Zo's ready. Court's about to start, and you know Lord Topaz will have our hides if we're late."

Breathing a soft sigh of relief--after all, the older youth was rather intimidating when he was angry--Alexandrite stepped away from the door and absently smoothed down his rich-appearing tunic. "Sounds fine to me, bro'. Knowing Zoe, she'll be fussing endlessly with her hair until someone comes and drags her off to Court."

Garnet chuckled, levering his lanky form between Alexandrite and the entryway, then pulled the door open. Gesturing for the other Gemlord to go first, he added, "Knowing Zo', he'll have decided it would be more prudent to be serious during Court." The tall adolescent was still chuckling when he followed Alexandrite out of the room and shut the door behind himself.

They were both right. When they knocked on Zoisite's door and heard the invitation to come inside, they found the youngest Gemlord fussing away in front of the mirror, complaining about the hair being all a mess, even though to the two boys, it looked perfectly all right. The fact that the golden-blond haired, violet-blue eyed Gemlord was now quite noticeably a breathtakingly pretty boy didn't bother either Alexandrite or Garnet; after all, that was just the way Zoisite was, able to be whichever sex he or she wanted whenever he or she wanted to switch.

Quite frankly, Garnet was glad Zoisite's calmer, more serious personality was tied to his male form; it made the lanky youth far more likely to keep that sudden awareness of her feminine form under control. Besides, Zo' would be quite safe indeed once Tanzanite was back home. A sappy grin settling on his handsome face, Garnet blissfully sighed, bringing to mind a mental picture of the older girl. He knew he'd not look at anyone else once he had Tanzie to gaze upon.

"Oh . . . Just look at this," Zoisite pouted, setting his brush down on the dresser top. "I can't get my hair to do anything right." Standing there, as slender and willowy a boy as she is a girl, Zoisite's graceful form was clad in a decidedly masculine way, an indication that the youngest sibling there was planning on remaining male at least throughout the entire run of Court. A deep, rich, ultramarine blue velvet surcoat, trimmed in silver braid and accented by tiny tanzanites, was laced over a silver and dark blue trimmed satin tunic of a gorgeous, silvery sky blue material. Skin-tight hose of the same silvery sky blue showed off every curve of his well-formed legs to an advantage, and he wore soft, ankle-high, black suede boots on his feet. Like his older brother, a short mantle hung from his shoulders--it was a silver and blue floral tapestry, trimmed with the same tanzanite-studded silver braid--but Zoisite's mantle was secured to his left shoulder, allowing the cape-like garment to drape gracefully over his right side.

"Here. You're probably just trying too hard, Zoey." As far as Alexandrite could tell, the only thing wrong with his younger brother's cloudlike mane of wavy, coppery-gold hair was that it was the same wispy riot of silk it always was. Stepping forward, the emerald haired Gemlord leaned against Zoisite and picked up the discarded brush. Running it lightly through Zoisite's soft hair, Alexandrite asked, "What were you trying to do with it anyway?"

Looking into the mirror to glance over his own reflection to see Garnet lean casually against the door frame, Zoisite sighed in mild exasperation. "I was trying to get it tied back into a little ponytail, but I don't seem to have enough hair yet for that."

"You have longer hair than I do, Zoey. Let me try. I think I can probably do it easily enough, since I can see what I'm doing. Have a hairband handy?" His hands skillfully gathering up the golden, silken mass as he brushed through it--after all, at night, he had plenty of practice dealing with long hair--Alexandrite paused long enough to let his brother lean forward and snatch up a band of ultramarine velvet before continuing to brush Zoisite's hair into as neat a queue as the wavy hair would allow. As Garnet looked on in silence, a finger tapping lightly against the opposite arm just above the elbow, the middle sibling of the trio hung onto Zoisite's hair, set the brush down, then took the offered velvet ribbon. A moment passed in silence as Alexandrite deftly tied the ribbon, then gave the new ponytail a quick tug to slide the ribbon snug against the back of Zoisite's neck. "There we go. How's that, Zoey?"

Turning his head first to one side, then the other, the youngest of the boys smiled brightly. "Much better. Thanks a bunch, Alex."

"Glad to have been able to help. I owe you for diverting Lord Topaz's wrath from me."

"Yes, about that . . ." Garnet sighed, then straightened up, looking stern once again. "Zoisite, that wasn't right of you to lie to Lord Topaz. You do know that, don't you?"

Raising a hand and nervously biting at his thumbnail, the boy addressed nodded in affirmation. "I know, Gar, but really, it was all my fault. Alex kept telling me that we shouldn't be doing that and that we should go home. I'm really sorry for getting you into trouble too. I was only trying to help get it over with." Peeking up through his bangs at his oldest brother with large, violet-blue eyes, Zoisite was just as adorably contrite as a boy as she could be as a girl.

The tall youth frowned, not liking the twinge of guilt that spiked through him at the sight of his brother's repentant expression; how could he ever be as effective an older sibling as he ought to be if he kept feeling guilty about maintaining some sort of discipline with the two younger Gemlords? Before he could reply, however, all three of them heard a telepathic sending, a voice in their minds that was a rich baritone that gently commanded a respect given to few others.

**My lords and ladies of Lithos, attend me now for the Centennial Court.**

"Well, there's the call. Come on, Zo', 'Lex . . . Let's go. And please, let's have no more trouble." Looking from one to the other, Garnet held out his hands to his two sibling. Securing from them both promises to behave as they each took a hand in their own, the lanky redhead closed his eyes, concentrated on the Hall of the Mirror and shifted the energies just so, allowing the trio to disappear from Zoisite's blue-decorated room in a helix of garnet red light.

(To be continued, someday . . .)

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