AN: A thousand apologies for the delay on this story, we all went through a bad time in September and I lost my thread of thought on this story. Several weeks ago I again wrote some chapters but the editing took longer than expected! Thanks to Little Green for giving this chapter a test read and encouraging me to go on, as well as all the rest of you who’ve written in encouragement, it was much needed!! Since this was supposed to come out immediately after Chapter 21 it is again mostly a light-hearted, slice of life chapter. I’m sure you expected more action after the long wait, but Chapter 23 is almost done and is definitely more climactic. Please enjoy and stay tuned!
The Price of Redemption
By Midii Une
Safira Winner laid her head wistfully on her folded arms, supported by the wide, white-painted windowsill as the limos pulled up. After a few embarrassing and awkward moments she had managed to find herself a comfortable niche in her brother’s house.
Which sister are you again, Quatre had asked when she arrived, somehow managing to look mystified and apologetic at the same time. Then grouchy old Yasmina had called and demanded she return home immediately. There had been a few tense moments but luckily her ‘little’ brother was very susceptible to tears and Safira had stayed.
Yet life still hadn’t found her. It was nearly as uneventful here as it had been at home with her sisters. But at least now her brother’s friends were finally arriving. And only two of them were married! The others had girlfriends, Dorothy had said. But at least with them, Safira had told herself silently, a girl could hope!
At last Dorothy’s gold limo pulled up in the circular drive, followed by Quatre’s more sedate black version. Safira’s turquoise eyes widened as a young man stepped out of the first car. He was a bit shorter than Quatre but had a perfectly toned, compact body that looked as if it had been carved from marble by an Old World master. That had been a chapter of Art History where she had certainly paid close attention.
Tousled dark brown hair framed his face perfectly, the unruly waves tempting her to run her fingers through them. He scanned the area with precision, narrowing his amazing blue eyes when he saw her in the window and noting her presence as non-threatening before moving on. Only when he was satisfied that all was clear did he reach a hand back into the limo to help out a young woman. She glowed with happiness as she stepped onto the circular drive, her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkled. She rested the hand that wore a shining gold wedding band on her pregnant stomach and leaned to kiss the cheek of the dark, handsome soldier.
A sick jolt of disappointment made Safira’s heart drop. Of course he had to be one of the married ones!
But she was like her brother, innately cheerful and she was quickly distracted as a second young man bounced from the car. He took a long drink from the soda can he held and set it up on top of the car, stretching his arms above his head and yawning. He leaned forward against the open door and worked the kinks from his back treating his secret audience to a rather complete view of his slender, muscular frame. A braid of chocolate brown hair gleamed in the artificial light and his voice washed over her sending tingles up her spine with its deep, sexy tones.
Oh please dear Allah, surely this one had to be single?
The godlike young man yelped like an outraged child as a small hand reached from inside the car and pinched him hard on the backside. Safira blushed as he reached behind him to rub the sore place and she heard obscenities she had only seen in printed words and never heard aloud.
“Shit Mrs. Maxwell!! What’s eating you?”
Mrs. Maxwell shoved her husband out of her way with two hands and hopped out of the car with a quick, graceful movement.
“You’re not the only one who’s tired of sitting,” she scolded, tugging on that luxurious braid of hair and not seeming the least bit impressed. The little dark-haired girl turned her back on her husband and darted up the stairs behind Relena Yuy to greet Quatre and his fiancée. The young man made a face behind his wife’s back and lazily ambled up the steps after her.
He was married too? Safira took a step or two back behind the sheer rose curtain and watched the door of the black limo expectantly. Abdul looked up at her window and waved at her and she couldn’t help but smile. The Maganacs certainly spoiled her, treating her with the same loyal affection they did her brother and even Dorothy.
Abdul opened the door with a flourish and a tall girl with curly red-brown hair stepped out. She was as lithe as a dancer and the cheerful smile on her face made Safira’s own smile widen in spite of herself. It was contagious. The girl bent over, affording the lucky Abdul with a particularly good look down the low-cut sweater she wore as she coaxed someone inside the limo to come out.
Finally a slender, dark-haired Chinese man stepped out of the limo, flipping down his sunglasses against the brightness. Silky black strands teased his face, artistically escaping his ponytail, as he slouched uncomfortably in a pair of black pants and a loose white shirt with a narrow black tie.
“Doesn’t he look wonderful,” the girl loudly asked the group on the stairs, clinging to his arm. “Midii and I dressed him.”
There was a deadly silent pause as the girl’s unthinking words sank in, then Safira heard raucous laughter and shrill catcalls that could only be originating from the man with the braid.
“Shut up Maxwell,” the Chinese man growled, but he put an arm around the red-haired girl’s slender shoulder as she leaned over and kissed his cheek and murmured soft words of apology for her verbal faux pas. The braided man on the steps rubbed his eyes and then pretended to faint. The newcomers stepped over his prone body and ignored his antics.
Quatre himself jogged down the steps, the watery sunlight gleaming off his platinum blonde hair as a tall man stepped out of the limo. Like Duo, he also stretched, but he had the grace of a panther. He bent his head toward his shorter friend and held out his hand. Quatre took it and they shook vigorously, keeping the contact of hand in hand longer than Safira expected and talking seriously in low tones.
Quatre smiled his sunny smile, it lit his whole face and finally the other man raised his head and smiled a little too. They pulled each other into a fierce hug before Quatre leaned into the car, reaching in a hand and pulling out a small blonde girl. She looked shorter than Safira herself. The girl pushed impatiently at the bright gold waves of hair framing her face and kissed Quatre familiarly on the cheek with all the ease of a loved sister. The tall man tugged at her hair playfully and his smile grew so tender when she looked up at him that it made Safira’s heart hurt to look at it.
“Dorothy! Look, no limp,” the blonde girl called out, spinning slightly on her toes so her thin flowered dress circled out around her.
“I knew Dr. Payne would be a great success,” Dorothy answered, keeping her dignity and sedately descending the stairs. The tall man and the girl looked at each other and laughed, their eyes sparkling with a shared secret. The girl looped her arm around his waist and they followed Quatre and Dorothy into the house.
It seemed life had already passed her by, Safira thought desolately. Her brother had love and friends and she was so lonely. Dorothy was rather frightening and barely tolerated her. And though Quatre was the sweetest brother alive he did seem rather bewildered whenever he noticed her in the hall. She wanted a good relationship with him, easy affection like he had with that girl.
As if he felt her sadness, Quatre looked up at his sister’s window and smiled.
“We have another guest,” he told everyone. “My sister Safira has come to help Dorothy with the wedding.”
As they went in to meet Quatre’s sister Midii felt a bit uncomfortable, the one sister she had already met had taken an instant dislike to her. Of course that had been because Yasmina had been one of the first to suspect that she, or rather Isabela Niente, was up to no good. Did all the Winners have such uncanny instincts?
All the girls felt a bit uneasy in the face of Safira’s pretty, angelic innocence as she came down to meet them all. She was a lovely young woman with pre-Raphaelite ringlets of tawny golden-brown hair that made a perfect frame for her shimmering aquamarine eyes. Her modest rose-colored dress with its frothy skirt enhanced her innocent, sheltered look and had all of them wishing they could be like her. How wonderful it would be to be sweet and untouched and totally oblivious to the horrors of war, pain and loss. Even Relena and Cathrine felt a bit jaded beside her and the girls who had actually been active in the war, Midii, Hilde and Dorothy, felt positively wicked.
Duo broke the tension and made Safira blush by planting an extravagant kiss on her soft cheek. “Nice to meet ya babe,” he announced, reminding the rest of their manners.
The formalities over, Duo looped an arm around Quatre’s neck and whispered in his ear as they all trooped into the hall.
“How’s the secret project? Has it been completed?”
Quatre nodded mysteriously and the girls looked at each other wondering what the hell they were talking about. Dorothy shrugged as the other girl’s telegraphed their unspoken question to her with looks and discreet coughs. She was rather irritated that she had no idea what the ‘secret project’ could be.
“You mean it’s done? Hallelujah!” Duo yelled. “Now you’ll see, hee hee there’ll be some ass-kicking tonight.”
“Excuse us ladies, we have something to look into,” Heero said, restraining a competitive smirk behind his usual inscrutable façade and loosening his grip on Relena’s hand.
“Heero? A mission?” Relena’s soft voice was tinged with worry.
Heero looked grim, his eyes were cold and determined. “This won’t take long. . .
“We’re coming with you,” Dorothy and Hilde chorused determined to keep their men out of trouble.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Wufei told Cathrine, “I’ll be there to make sure they play by the rules.”
They all trooped into the elevator, the girls looking nervous as it plummeted down farther and farther until it was several levels below the normal basement. What was it? Some secret weapon, new Gundams perhaps, a new crisis?
The doors opened and Duo scurried out, pushing everyone out of the way.
“You really did it! Wow look at that monitor, awesome!”
His voice echoed in a vast dark space and the girls peered around the corner as the pilots disappeared. An annoying sound, one the girls couldn’t immediately place, and consisting of squeaking and skidding filled the space and bright lights filled the room, shimmering on the gleaming, newly painted ivory walls and polished natural wood floor.
“A ballroom,” Safira gasped, closing her eyes and picturing herself in a beautiful dress in the arms of a handsome soldier who seemed to be a conglomerate of all Quatre’s friends. She giggled and blushed as the one with the braid grabbed her around the waist and spun her around madly, waltzing her over the floor for a heavenly moment before letting her go. She swayed dizzily and groped for the wall to hold herself up. She glanced at the boy who winked at her and her blush deepened.
“A basketball court,” Heero said, getting down on the floor and becoming one with the cool, slick wood. Measuring the floor with his eyes he was satisfied to discover that the floor was perfectly level.
The girls groaned and plopped into the velvet-covered armchairs conveniently lining the court as the boys ogled their playground.
“This was the secret,” Midii sniffed, relieved and disappointed at the same time. “Now we’ll be stuck down here all night watching them sweat!”
“Well,” Hilde sighed in resignation, leaning back in her chair, “I hope Duo and Heero will be skins, at least that’ll be something . . .
But unfortunately Trowa and Quatre were ripping their shirts off as Wufei waved a coin that had landed tails in front of the disappointed Duo. Midii and Dorothy stuck their tongues out at Hilde and exchanged a discreet and ladylike “high five.” Perhaps there were worse things than watching the boys sweat after all.
There was a rustle of paper grocery bags and the insistent sound of a throat clearing. Cathrine jumped up and took the bags from Rasid.
“Ah, I forgot all about these,” she said, starting to look around the room for a place to work.
“You brought groceries? Here? I assure you we have plenty of food,” Dorothy frowned. Cathrine was certainly odd. No! It couldn’t be! She wasn’t planning on making—soup?
“I’ll help,” Midii said immediately, knowing what Cathrine planned.
Dorothy’s unique brows rose in consternation. Now Midii was going to cook soup too? This was definitely not how she had planned this night. An elegant candlelit dinner followed by a intelligent conversation and then some private time between her and Quatre before they separated before the wedding, but not soup and basketball. Definitely not. Reluctantly she turned back to hear Miss Relena’s never-ending chatter about her expected baby. She hoped she wouldn’t be so boring if her time ever came.
The fruity tang of freshly cut lemons, limes, oranges and apples accompanied the staccato thwack of Cathrine’s knives as she sliced fruit for her famous Sangria as Midii popped the wine bottles expertly and mixed the soda water with it to give it sparkle and fizz. It was a recipe the roommates treated themselves to every Friday night after work and they were expert at it.
“Mmm, Sangria,” Relena exclaimed, drawn by the smell of the fruit and, ever hungry in her condition, snatching a few slices of apple and orange before Cathy dumped them into Midii’s pitcher.
“Yes,” Cathrine said, handing Relena a brimming glass. “I intended to make it for everyone while we visited but it was kind of Rasid to bring my things down here since it appears we’ll be here awhile. I’ve already mixed you a virgin variety.”
She smiled as Wufei’s voice overpowered Duo’s shouts as a call went against the 01 and 02 pilots in their hotly-contested game of two on two. Instead of arguing the call, Heero merely stared at Quatre like a snake charmer before snatching the ball away and scoring an easy two points.
Despite her original irritation with the impromptu game Dorothy found herself leaping from her seat.
“Don’t let him take the ball away like that Quatre! DEFENSE,” she shrieked, taking a quick gulp of the Sangria Midii handed her before sitting down beside her on a comfortable love seat.
Midii chewed her lower lip, the professional-quality scoreboard showed that her team was losing by a healthy deficit. Despite her amusement at the adorable frown that creased Trowa’s forehead a feeling of protectiveness surged in her heart at the unusual glimpse of visible emotion. Trowa’s height and natural athleticism combined with Quatre’s battlefield intelligence were proving to be an uneven match as Heero and Duo’s disparate playing styles combined cold professionalism and vibrant enthusiasm to make the pair nearly unstoppable. A familiar sense of adrenaline surged in her as she spied a pair of opera glasses in a wooden box beneath the seat.
“Quatre does think of everything,” she murmured, fishing the glasses out and peering through them. Casually she scanned the floor, lingering on Trowa and Quatre taking a water break before glancing over where Heero and Duo were whispering in the corner. Her own lips moved softly as she narrowed her eyes and read their lips.
“Separate them—“ Heero was saying.
“and move in for the kill,” Duo finished gleefully.
“Move in for the kill,” Midii repeated thoughtfully, jumping when a voice whispered in her ear.
“A leopard never changes its spots,” Dorothy hissed, smiling as Midii’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You do want Trowa and Quatre to win this thing don’t you,” Midii asked, seeing the good humor behind Dorothy’s statement.
“But of course,” Dorothy said, her gaze resting amorously on her love, her own competitive edge rising to the occasion. She squeezed Midii’s hand in hers as they grinned at each other. “I think we should go offer the boys a better drink than water. I fear our brave knights need a bit more fortification.”
“And a bit of ill-gotten information never hurts either. Well hardly ever,” Midii said.
Dorothy smirked with the satisfaction of having a friend who was not above a little foul play when the occasion called for it
“Isn’t that cheating,” Quatre asked, glancing wide-eyed at Heero and Duo’s corner of the court.
“Of course not,” Dorothy said.
“Of course not! They could have turned their backs. They do know who they’re up against after all. And aren’t we part of your team,” Midii cajoled sweetly, expertly playing on Quatre’s sentiments.
“They do have an unfair advantage,” Trowa admitted. “Heero did play college ball in ’96. This will even it up. But I don’t think we’ll need any more reconnaissance.”
He made a mock frown but ran his finger gently down the tip of Midii’s nose.
“And Quatre, stop drinking that stuff. It’s alcoholic you know,” he ordered, pulling Dorothy’s Sangria glass of out his friend’s hand.
“Alcoholic! I thought it was fruit juice,” Quatre protested.
“If you’re quite ready,” Heero said flatly, appearing silently beside the laughing group and the game resumed.
Final Score: Trowa and Quatre 42, Heero and Duo 38 ^_^
“I still say they cheated somehow,” Duo slurred over his fourth glass of fruited wine. He looked at Midii and it seemed she was giving him a blurry smile, but he couldn’t be sure. All he was certain of was that Cathy mixed a damn good drink.
The girls were huddled together on the couch, all of them as pretty as a bunch of flowers. Relena’s really blooming, Duo joked to himself. Funny how alcohol could make a guy a poet. A poet who didn’t even know it, he laughed.
“Err, Duo? You okay,” Quatre asked, ever the vigilant host.
“This ain’t nothing buddy. When we’re on Earth we’re going to have to have a proper send-off for you as you enter the mystical land of marriage,” Duo pontificated.
Quatre paled as he imagined exactly the type of mayhem Duo could come up with left to his own resources.
Heero rolled his eyes and silently promised to pour Duo’s next drink himself, altering the percentage of alchohol and fruit juice for a more pleasing result before the obnoxious American went completely over the deep end.
“Oh, you’ve all had so many adventures. I really envy you. My life has been so dull,” Safira said, looking from one girl to another. Relena hastened to assure the girl that she really had nothing to envy. They would all trade places with her in a heartbeat.
“I know what you’re saying,” Safira admitted, still feeling
slightly rebuffed. “But I did
experience the war when my father died, although I admit we were never
close. It’s just that I feel so left
out of things and you’ve all ended up with such wonderful lives. I can’t help but wish for a little
Dorothy raised one of her unique brows at her future sister-in-law. She decided to change the subject.
“Shall we go up and look at my wedding dress now ladies? I’m anxious for your opinion,” she said, leading the excited girls up the stairs.
Midii jumped, slightly startled and followed the others slowly. She had been watching Trowa beneath her lashes, it was an erotic experience just watching him eat the piece of orange that floated in his drink. The way his lips caressed the fruit and the way he licked his fingertips after, she shivered slightly.
The evening was swiftly going downhill, Midii thought unhappily as she stared at the daffodil-colored dress Dorothy expected her to wear in the wedding. The style was elegant and the fabric absolutely lovely but yellow just wasn’t her color. She noticed Dorothy wore the color often and their hair was nearly the same shade but she didn’t care for it. Her head began to ache from all the bouncing at the basketball game and a little overindulgence in Cathy’s Sangria. As the high-pitched sound of the girls’ voices exclaiming over Dorothy’s dress increased in volume the little ache started to erupt into one of her full-fledged killer headaches and she desperately wanted to escape to her room.
Her last night with Trowa for a week and this had to happen, the thought made the pain worse. She excused herself and fled to the room she was going to share with Trowa. Bless Dorothy for arranging things this way, she thought briefly, before tossing items from her suitcase in an attempt to find her prescription. She sighed in relief when she found the bottle and crept into bed in the darkness.
The sky was pale gray but the dim light still hurt her eyes slightly as she turned her face into the pillow to hide from the coming day. She made a soft, contented sound as someone moved beside her and she felt Trowa’s hand moving through her hair.
“There you are,” he said softly, finding her face beneath the soft strands of gold.
Midii groaned as the morning light brightened as she peeked at him and Trowa moved over her blocking the soft light diffusing through the curtains.
“You okay,” he asked. “Cathy said you got a headache and by the time I came up you were out.”
“Better I think,” Midii said, she never knew for sure until she stood up. “Did you stay with me all night?”
He nodded and bent to kiss her. “Are you upset that I’m leaving? Is that what brought it on?”
She smiled at his attempt to diagnose her worries. “I will miss you but I don’t think that’s it. I really think it was all that awful bouncing of rubber on wood during the game that got to me.”
The mere memory of the sound made her head pound slightly and she pushed herself up and tried to put it out of her mind.
“Besides, you don’t want to stay here. I sense a battle royale coming with Dorothy over my dress. She picked yellow! Can you believe it? I’ll look just awful in it,” Midii huffed, folding her arms over her chest.
Trowa looked at her, confused. “I’m sure you’ll look fine,” he said, not understanding what difference the color made.
“Men,” she sighed, smacking him lightly with a nearby pillow. “I’ll look like a monochromatic blob!”
He restrained a laugh. Maybe it was good they were leaving for the traditional period of abstinence required by Quatre’s beliefs. It looked like things were going to get rather testy around here in a house full of women preparing for a wedding.
Trowa’s thoughts were disrupted as Midii took the opportunity to pounce and catching him in a rare unguarded moment easily pinned him beneath her.
“You slept with me last night and I missed it,” she complained. “And now a week apart! Trowa, Trowa, you’re trying to drive me insane with thwarted passion, aren’t you?”
“Silly,” he murmured, snuggling back on the mattress and letting her nuzzle his neck. “I’m just waiting for the right moment.”
“You have the patience of a saint,” she whispered in his ear, trailing kisses along his jawline as her fingers drew circles on his chest.
“Hardly,” he groaned, as she nestled closer. “My thoughts of you are hardly holy—
She cut off his words with a kiss.
“How long before you have to leave,” she breathed between kisses.
She huffed and rolled off him as a soft knock sounded on the door as if in answer to her question.
Trowa scrambled for his shirt and tie as Rasid called in that Quatre was nearly ready to leave.
“I promise I’ll have a surprise for you when you get to Earth,” he said, wanting to see her smile before he left.
Midii sat straight up and he could tell from the look in her
eyes that she was preparing to get the information about his secret from him by
any means possible. That could be
highly pleasurable of course, but he wanted to keep his secret and afterward
perhaps she would finally know just what she meant to him and always would.
“No questions,” he said firmly, touching his thumb to her lower lip that immediately jutted in a pout calculated to gain his sympathy.
“Okay,” she sighed in defeat as he refused to give in. She tugged on the loose ends of his tie until he was sitting on the edge of the bed and she could hug him again.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right,” Trowa asked over his shoulder as he buttoned his shirt.
“Perfectly fine,” Midii assured him, a good night’s sleep had left her in a much better mood and ready to do battle with Dorothy over that hideous dress. “You’re the one I’m worried about. Don’t let Duo get you in any trouble!”
”Trowa,” she whispered softly as he went out the door. He turned and paused expectantly.
“It means so much to me that you trust me enough to leave me like this. Have a good time,” she said.
He returned to her side for a last quick kiss, hoping she didn’t hear the pounding of his heart. He couldn’t wait till he saw her again.
Midii walked slowly up the stairs to the private family quarters of the Cinq Palace after breakfast. It was the day before the wedding and still she hadn’t wangled a way out of wearing that dress. She made her way to her room thoughtfully. There had been so much on her mind, so many memories dredged up by returning to this corner of Earth, so close to her own childhood home that she hadn’t been able to give the issue her full attention.
Maybe, she thought, this would be just the thing to dismiss the ghosts of Papa and her brothers and especially of Stefan. She paused by a tall arched window and looked out over the sparkling Mediterranean toward Corsica, the place where she had first suspected she had Trowa’s love and the place she had lost her partner and friend. It had been nearly a year ago.
She had a new life now and new friends. Relena was a gracious hostess, wanting everything perfect for Dorothy’s wedding. Dorothy hid her emotions at Relena’s gesture of holding the wedding in Cinq Kingdom but they all knew how much it really pleased the cynical young woman. Even the weather promised to be lovely as spring came early to this southern edge of Europe. All of them had to be family for each other now it seemed since they had lost their real ones in the war. It was something, in addition to their relationships with the former Gundam pilots, which forged a strong bond between the five seemingly different girls.
“Oh Midii! I’m so sorry,” a sweet voice gasped in embarrassment.
Midii peeked into her elegant guest room and smiled as Quatre’s sister looked at her from within, blushing wildly. Safira was standing near her bridesmaid dress fingering the rich material enviously.
“This dress is just so lovely. You’re going to look beautiful Midii and Trowa is so handsome. It’s going to be a wonderful wedding. I just wish I was you. . .”
“Actually I think this dress would look much better on you,” Midii said, the devious wheels in her mind starting to turn. “Why don’t you try it on? I think in this dress you can’t fail to meet someone special tomorrow.”
Safira was a vision in the dress and Midii examined her with awestruck and almost jealous eyes. The rich yellow silk enhanced her warm skin tones and brought out hidden golden highlights in her hair. The girl’s hereditary angelic Winner features glowed above the shimmering satin and her big eyes shone with delight as she examined herself in the mirror. The dress, made for Midii’s smaller figure clung breathtakingly to Safira’s curvy lines revealing a spectacular body she usually kept hidden beneath demure schoolgirl dresses.
“You look positively scandalous,” a shocked voice breathed from the doorway.
Midii and Safira winced in a perfectly synchronized reaction to the imperious voice of the oldest Winner sister, Yasmina. Even Rasid walked in fear of the dominating mistress of the Winner empire, a serious and intelligent woman who was Quatre’s right hand in family and business matters. All 28 of Quatre’s remaining sisters had gathered in Cinq the previous day for the upcoming ceremony.
Yasmina narrowed her eyes as a slow smile curved Midii’s lips. She hadn’t liked Miss Midii Une from the moment she’d walked through the door of Winner Headquarters masquerading as Isabela Niente! Why was she the only one who remembered the girl had tried to ruin her brother?
Midii’s thoughts ran along different lines. What better way to get Dorothy’s cooperation in the all-important matter of the dress than to pit her against that she-dragon Yasmina? The future promised to be very entertaining with Dorothy almost certain to be constantly at odds with the intimidating businesswoman.
Midii placed her arm around Safira’s slender shoulders in a gesture of solidarity. Truth to tell she was still a bit put out that Yasmina had seen through her sweet secretary act and a bit of revenge was hard to pass up.
“I think she looks absolutely lovely in this dress. It’s like it was made for her. She shouldn’t hide her light under a bushel. She’s a grown woman,” Midii said, lifting her chin boldly.
Safira’s eyes widened in increased admiration for the other girl. How did Midii dare speak that way to Yasmina? She loved her sister and knew she had the family’s welfare at heart but she was an overwhelming personage who tended to take her senior position a tad too seriously. Even Quatre hesitated to stand up to her.
Before the outraged Yasmina could respond to the younger girl’s insolence Dorothy appeared in the doorway, predictably lured by the sounds of battle. Midii forced down a victorious smile and turned to her friend for support.
“Oh Dorothy I know you chose this dress for me and it is lovely but just look at Safira, she’s a vision in it,” Midii cajoled, tilting her head toward Yasmina indicating her disapproval.
Dorothy hesitated. She simply adored yellow, but even Miss Relena had privately admitted to her that Midii looked “rather bland” in the dress. Was this her chance to get out of her mistake? And had Midii set this up on purpose? She knew little meant more to Midii than looking good, she had a stubborn vain streak that all her trouble-making had failed to squelch. Dorothy smiled suddenly. She’d catch Midii in a lie and let her have her way as well. Not to mention this was a good opportunity to show her holier-than-thou future sister who was going to be boss in the Winner family from now on! Why she was becoming as diplomatic as Miss Relena.
“Why Midii dearest, I’ll make the change if you’ll just admit you hate the dress and would try any scheme not to wear it,” she said with a saccharine smile.
The look on Midii’s face when caught lying was priceless Dorothy thought as she noticed a brief flash of shock and dismay cross her friend’s features before the perfect mask of innocence smoothed out once again. The innocence gave way to mock penitence that purposely failed to hide the glint of victory in those blue-gray eyes.
“You’re right as always Dorothy and I can’t say I won’t mind wearing something else but only if Safira gets to wear this dress. Please say yes,” Midii said, wondering if she and Dorothy enjoyed their little mind games too much, but that after all was what made them the perfect mental fencing partners.
Safira felt delight bubbling up inside of her. She felt as if she couldn’t wait for tomorrow. Her heart skipped a beat when Yasmina voiced her inevitable protest.
“My sister will not parade herself in that poor excuse for a dress,” she spat coldly.
“Are you questioning my taste,” Dorothy asked, her voice sharp as the fencing foil she wielded. “I have the last word in all matters pertaining to my wedding and you would do well to remember that. Safira, come see me later, I believe I have a topaz necklace that would look lovely with that dress.”
Yasmina stalked out, her face brick red and her hands shaking with anger. Her little brother’s marriage was a complete mistake. The Catalonia girl was a complete and utter little bitch!
The three younger girls released their laughter as the older woman disappeared before Dorothy sobered.
“Now what will you wear! There’s no time to find another dress,” Dorothy said. “Damnit Midii, you set me up. I swear I should have had Miss Relena stand up for me even as ungainly as she is.”
“Well,” Midii said comfortingly, taking no offense from Dorothy’s rant, “Relena did have a dress in mind for your wedding before she knew about the baby. She did offer to let me wear it, with your approval of course.”
“Touché Midii, you think of everything, including finding the perfect allies in Safira and Relena,” Dorothy said.
“I try,” Midii said. “One has to be well-prepared when dueling with the best.”
“Don’t flatter,” Dorothy glared, before smiling. It was good to have someone you could totally be yourself with.
But once alone in her room again Midii was drawn back to the window. She couldn’t shake the feeling it was wrong to feel so normal, so happy when so many others that had suffered in the war were not afforded the same luxury.
Stefan in particular haunted her, his ghost seeming to beckon her across the water to the small Mediterranean island where he was buried. Richard’s last words to her festered in her soul and she shivered a little despite the warm day. She was definitely guilty in Stefan’s death and although Eva Ketto had hurt her in her attempt to get revenge the fact remained that he had died trying to save her. Somehow she found the ferry schedule to Corsica in her hand. The very least she could do was put flowers on his grave and try to tell him how sorry she was for the way things had turned out.
“Earth to Midii,” Cathrine called out from the doorway.
The palace at Cinq was once again like a girls’ dormitory, as it had been during the brief time of the Peacecraft Institute for Pacifism Relena had set up during the war and it seemed like privacy was difficult to attain. Midii sighed, she hated to bring up bad memories for Cathrine, who seemed so happy with Wufei lately but she also knew she had to tell someone where she was going. Cathy would understand.
“Would you like me to go with you,” Cathrine offered, looking at the younger girl sympathetically when she told her where she was headed.
Midii shook her head. “I’ll be back by early this evening. The last return ferry is at 5 p.m. You can explain to Dorothy and Trowa for me.”
Cathrine was slightly relieved. Her own memories of Stefan Niente were faded but would always linger in her heart. A magical kiss from a handsome and misguided man who she believed had truly cared for her seemed to remain imprinted on her heart despite the new love she had found. So often before her relationship with Wufei had begun she had dreamed of Stefan and wondered what they might have become if he had lived. Could she have changed him for the better and made him happy. The loss of that opportunity had been a secret hurt that Wufei had healed finally.
The familiar sights and sounds of Corsica, the lovely ocean views and crowded streets wrapped around Midii like a hug from an old friend. Despite the horrible things that had occurred here it was also a place of happy memories always. She headed automatically for Il Ritmo de La Mare knowing Paolo would never forgive her if she failed to say hello and she knew she could beg a ride to the cemetery from someone at the club.
She stood in the middle of the deserted dance floor with her eyes closed, she could hear the music and feel Trowa’s hands on the bare skin of her arms and see that something in his eyes that she had seen here for the very first time. She missed him with a physical longing that made her insides feel hollow. Such a short time of separation and it felt like forever. Midii wanted to hurry now, hurry to the cemetery and then back to Cinq. When she returned he’d be there.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and whirled, gasping as she looked up into a familiar, darkly handsome face that grinned down at her happily.
“Signorina Midii!! You’ve returned at last,” he said, raising her hand to his lips in a heartbreakingly familiar gesture for a kiss.
“Stefan,” she gasped, blinking in disbelief. Even as she said his name she knew her mind was playing tricks on her. The face was his but younger and the build more slender and marked by youthful gawkiness.
“No,” he said sadly, the smile fading. “But everyone says I look just like him now I’m older.”
“Oh Anton, it’s you,” Midii said, smiling up at the boy who was Stefan’s nephew. “You’ve grown so much! Why you’re taller than me and you’re only 13, right?”
“Almost 14, almost a man, la bella Signorina,” he said, his smile returning. Time had helped the hurt he felt at Stefan’s death to fade and his exuberant personality had returned. “I work here now for Uncle Paolo, just like Stefan used to. I saw you on the news Signorina Midii. Those awful things in Belgium wouldn’t have happened if Stefan had been there!”
So Anton was still hero-worshipping his cousin. Midii sighed. “Perhaps you’re right,” she admitted.
She would always miss Stefan. She wondered what could she have done differently as Anton drove her to the little graveyard on the back of his motorbike.
“I have to get back or Uncle Paolo will be angry,” he said. “But I’ll come back for you soon.”
Midii waved as she wandered off up the hill. The view was breathtaking, the cemetery on a cliff that commanded a view of the sea. Old and crumbling gravestones side by side with shining marble only a few years old, casualties of the war. She was overwhelmed and unshed tears burned her eyes. Sometimes she wondered how any of them could go on with so much heartache and loss in their past. But they had been lucky enough to survive and they had to go on living or else all they had lost would be in vain. It was time to break from the painful past and start again.
She smiled and shook her head at the thought of Stefan as a Preventer, most likely spending his energy breaking Lady Une’s dress code and smoking illegally in the men’s room.
“I think you would have learned to like it Stefan,” she whispered. “At the very least you would have shaken things up. Did you see how I almost botched things there in Brussels? I didn’t know how much you always did for me. I miss you, it seems so wrong that someone like you could be gone.”
Midii felt a strange sense of peace, a feeling of unfamiliar serenity now that she had come as she gently placed the vivid bouquet of tulips and daffodils beside the marble stone.
She rose and brushed grass off the flowered skirt of her dress. The sun was already low in the sky and she’d have to hurry to make the last ferry, the early spring schedule was light and she didn’t want to be trapped here. Could Anton have gotten so busy he’d forgotten to come and get her? She frowned, it was a long way back to the town. Trowa would be at Cinq by now and she could already feel herself crushed in his arms. She wondered for the hundredth time what he was waiting for so patiently but the anticipation made her tingle pleasurably. Tonight, perhaps tonight, he had said he had a surprise for her . . .
A lone figure caught her eye, silhouetted darkly against the pastel sky. Curiosity drew her as she glanced impatiently around for Anton’s bike.
The way the young man held his body was so familiar, the easy slump of the shoulders and the way he kept his hands in his pockets. She climbed the little hill up to the military section of the Corsica cemetery.
He appeared startled and quickly swiped the suspicious gleam of wet tears from his cheek.
”Midii,” he asked wonderingly, staring at her disbelievingly in the rosy light. The sun was setting behind her and he could have been mistaken, her face was in shadow but her hair blew around her in the stiffening breeze. She stepped forward a little and the light shone on her face.
“What are you doing here,” he asked, kneeling in front of the white marble stone to hide his face.
“A friend is buried here, I took the ferry over from Cinq for the day,” she explained, tucking her skirt around her and sitting beside the headstone to get a better look at the name, Sean Walker. He had died in AC 195.
“Your brother,” she quessed, tracing the carved letters gently with a finger.
He stood and turned his back to her, looking out over the view. As lovely as it was it brought no peace to his heart. He and his parents still mourned Sean. Away on the colonies he could almost forget. But being here and dreading his upcoming assignment brought the pain back as sharply as when the knock had come on the door and a uniformed officer had given them the shattering news. It had seemed to awful to be true and it still seemed that way although the name carved on the white marble screamed that it was indeed real. Diarmid’s anger and frustration, barely held in check, bubbled up from inside at last.
“We sometimes forget that in this new world we have to get close sometimes to people it’s hard to forgive. Christ, I know the rest of the world sees those Gundam pilots as heroes. Forgive me Midii one of them killed my brother! Now Lady Une wants me in the group providing security at Winner’s wedding and I don’t honestly know if I can do it. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing somebody blow that guy away for what he did to my brother and my parents. My brother was a good man, there were lots of good people on both sides. I’m sorry, I know Winner’s a friend of yours but I have to be honest. I came here to look for answers but I don’t know what to do,” Diarmid said.
So often she lost sight of the fact that like her Trowa and everyone she was close to had done so many horrible things in the war, Midii thought. The graves surrounded her like accusations and blame and brought back her conflicting emotions. Did she dare to be happy? Was there anyway to escape what they had all done in the name of love and peace and justice and freedom. Whatever the cause it didn’t erase the fact that they had caused the deaths of many people. She stared past Diarmid seeing the faces of the Captain, the man who had given her his jacket and promised to take her home, the faces of Richard and Stefan, her own missing brothers.
“I didn’t mean to make you cry Midii,” Diarmid said, noticing a silent tear making its way down her cheek.
“I can’t help it in this place,” she whispered, holding out her hand for him to take. “I wish I could say something to you about the wedding. The answers all seem so inappropriate. But we have to forgive, to start again. It will be hard for you to face Quatre but you have to accept the mission, focus on the other people you’ll be protecting. The vice foreign minister will be there and many other important people. I know you can do it Diarmid. I can’t tell you what we, Quatre’s friends, feel for him. He suffered too, lost his father and his innocence as all of us did.”
“I’d come just to keep you safe Midii,” he said, sighing as she let him take her in his arms. He could feel the warmth of her skin beneath the thin fabric, her bare arms cool as the sun set and the warmth of the Mediterranean spring faded as twilight approached.
She started to feel uncomfortable as his arms tightened around her. She could feel his rapid heartbeat and the touch of his lips on the delicate, sensitive skin at her temple. He was her friend, he needed her, but this wasn’t something she could be for him, not ever.
“Signorina Midii,” a voice called, echoing through the silence. The perfect excuse for her to extricate herself from his arms without hurting him, she thought.
“I have to go, that’s my ride,” she explained, pulling away, her mind seeking an appropriate goodbye but only coming up with something awkward. “I’ll see you tomorrow and who knows, perhaps you’ll end up having a wonderful time.”
He didn’t look as if he believed her comforting words, his face was so woebegone it tugged at her heart. She leaned in and kissed him gently on the cheek, barely brushing the corner of his mouth before turning away to find Anton. Diarmid caught her hand and tugged her back. She was relieved to see the usual mischievous gleam in his bright blue eyes again.
“Promise me a dance and that will make things better,” he said, catching her eyes with his.
“Of course. We’re good friends aren’t we,” she said, tempering her promise with a reminder that friends was all they ever could be.
He watched her disappear over the hill and stood watching until the roar of the little motorbike faded away.
Next time on POR. . . What is Trowa’s surprise for Midii? . . . Dorothy starts having doubts about her marriage.
Author’s Note: While rewatching Gundam Wing recently I heard definite mention of Cinq Kingdom being located in Northern Europe. My apologies for the incorrect information in Alone/Together and Price of Redemption, I won’t change the locale because I’ve tied its Mediterranean location so tightly into the story. I believed at the time (so long ago already!) that the location of Cinq was unknown and chose the locale to help move the A/T storyline along.