Author’s Note: beware of major fluff and sap ^_^ Again, apologies for the wait, but thanks to Little Green and Lindsey B. for encouraging me to get on with it already!
I knew you were the one
But I kept you waiting
Kept you waiting
Now I'm waiting for you
--Sugar Ray (yet again ^_^), Waiting
The Price of Redemption
By Midii Une
Duo snuggled closer in the warm, strong embrace as he lay groggy from a night of overindulgence in alcohol and perhaps what could be called “too good a time.”
He had a recurring dream of a long-ago time before the sickness came, a vague memory, half-forgotten and bittersweet of a little boy with shaggy chocolate brown hair running down a dark hallway. He felt safe, he knew the way even in the dark and his small face was split by a mischievous grin that was almost too big for the childish features. With a leap and a bound he vaulted up onto the mattress and into the small warm hollow that separated his parents from each other in their slumber. With a blink and a yawn the toddler flung his small arms around his father’s hard chest and nuzzled close. He thought he could see a tolerant and loving violet eye glimmer at him beneath long chestnut lashes and fingers stroking his hair comfortingly as he fell back to sleep.
“mmmmmm,” he groaned, cuddling closer in that secure embrace.
Long silky locks of hair, like unbound ropes of thick satin tickled against Trowa’s chest in the darkness. His head buzzed and ached and it would take something akin to a major disaster for him to dare open his eyes, the very thought of seeing the light of day made his stomach quiver dangerously. Somehow she was here with him, it made no sense but she was there, lying heavily on top of him, tangling him in the warm, enticing web of her hair and he buried his fingers in the soft strands to keep her there. Cautiously he moved his face into the curve of her neck and wrinkled his nose. Midii smelled like smoke and stale alcohol and suspiciously like Duo’s aftershave. Too tired to argue the discrepancies in his brain Trowa hugged her closer, clinging to her waist as the bed, or was it the room spun dizzily around him.
With an expression between a scowl and a smirk, Wufei bent silently to untie the laces of his running shoes. He mopped his forehead with a fresh white towel that hung over his shoulders as he looked at his sleeping friends disgustedly. He’d already been out for a 10-mile jog and the idea that the combination of alcohol and Duo Maxwell was an evil one became planted even more firmly in his psyche. His comrades, even Yuy, were lying around the room like a heap of defeated mobile suits, a disjointed jumble of arms and legs. He’d had to step carefully over the fallen bodies of the Maganacs in the corridors of Quatre’s Moroccan mansion to make his way back undetected.
Wufei turned sharply as Quatre sneezed and stifled a laugh as he saw that the blonde bridegroom-to-be’s nose was being tickled by the tassel on Heero’s red fez. The gold lettering of his name embroidered on the stiff scarlet felt proclaimed his identity since all that showed in the tangle of silk pillows and sheer scarves was a shock of dark brown hair and the aforementioned hat. Quatre in turn was cozied up to Heero’s back, one hand clenched around a strap of the green tank undershirt the other man wore as he tried to stay warm in the air-conditioned room. Wufei crouched silently in the lightening gloom trying to decide if and how to wake them up. It was well past noon and they were expected in Cinq within hours. The situation called for decisive action.
A sharp sound, like the report of a gunshot, echoed through the room and the gleaming ivory walls of the master suite glinted with full afternoon sunlight as the shade flew up with alarming and unstoppable swiftness.
Duo pouted and tightened his hold on his dad as the familiar dream started to fade when the unforgiving light persistently pried at his lids.
“Huh,” he muttered, blinking dazedly as a muscular pair of arms squeezed his waist affectionately.
“Midii? Need coffee, don’t feel so good,” Trowa slurred, planting a wet, sticky kiss on Duo’s cheek, finding it rather sandpapery to his surprise and flinging an arm over his eyes to block the light.
”AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!,” Duo screamed, tripping over a tangle of sheets and falling from Trowa’s bed face first onto the floor.
“Duo, shut the hell up,” Heero groaned, not even opening his eyes but moving his hand blindly in the mess until it closed over the barrel of his discarded water cannon. He picked it up and shot a powerful stream of icy water at the spot where Duo’s scream had originated, treating Trowa to a cold shower in the process.
“Crap! Someone’s dead,” Trowa yelled, sitting up quickly, a little too quickly. He bolted from the bed and raced to the bathroom after shooting them all a deadly glare from one bloodshot, emerald eye.
Wufei leaned back against the wall, truly smiling now as Heero rolled awkwardly off the pile of pillows, nearly dragging Quatre with him as he crawled toward Duo with murder on his mind. Quatre meanwhile pulled Heero’s abandoned blanket over his head and snuggled into the warm spot he’d left behind on the cushions.
When a gray-faced Trowa emerged from the little boy’s room he slouched against the wall and watched with bleary eyes as Heero tried to strangle Duo. It was hard for Heero to get a handhold on the other man’s neck because his hair was loose and the slippery mess afforded him some protection from his vengeful best friend.
“What’s the matter Heero,” Duo asked gleefully. “Too many Colonial Coolers, eh? By the end of the night you were calling that chick who did the Dance of the Sixteen Veils Relena and threatening to kill the rest of us for looking. Err, umm, nice fez, by the way.”
Heero scowled quickly reached up to yank off the silly red hat, vaguely recalling that sometime during the bacchanalia of the last few days they had all become honorary Maganacs. Duo had cooked up a bachelor party that lasted nearly a week and had included dirt biking in the nearby desert, drinking, dirty movies, drinking, a nearly lethal game of water cannon tag, drinking, dancing girls and more drinking. Something itched Heero’s neck and he impatiently tugged on the sheer pink veil that was twined around his neck and reeked of jasmine perfume.
“Baka,” he hissed, “if I didn’t need a drink so bad I’d kill you.” Heero stumbled to his feet, rolling his eyes as Duo crawled over Quatre on the way to the mini-fridge, pulled out a can of the despised Colonial Cooler and offered it to him apologetically.
“I meant water,” Heero growled, knocking the can away. Duo shrugged, found the can and popped it open.
“Nothing like hair of the dog that bit ya the morning after,” he said, gulping the liquor down in several loud swallows.
Trowa’s stomach recoiled at the very thought of drinking, he looked down at the dirty T-shirt he wore that had once been white and noticed several long strands of brown hair clung to the wrinkled shirt.
“Duo, where did you sleep last night,” Trowa asked, sickening realization dawning, as he distastefully plucked the hairs off him.
“With you Tro-man,” Duo said with a wink. “Who’d have thought you’d be such a good snuggler?”
“Must. . . Brush . . . . Teeth,” he said tautly, silently vowing never to drink again and disappearing back into the bathroom.
“Hey guys,” Quatre muttered, finally waking up and peering from beneath the blanket. “What time is it?”
Duo reacted quickly, contorting his face into a grimace of worry.
“You’re not gonna like this Quatre,” Duo said sadly. “I’m sorry. I really am. But we missed it.”
Quatre turned pale as Wufei and Heero looked at Duo questioningly unable to follow the twisted path of his devious mind.
“Missed it? Missed what? Allah, Allah, oh Duo, you’re not saying . . .
“Yup,” Duo announced. “We all overslept and we missed the wedding. It was yesterday, or was it the day before?”
He started to laugh as Quatre jumped up from beneath the blanket with his pale rose dress shirt wrinkled but still neatly buttoned and his dark violet vest still firmly pulled over his chest. Below the shirt though he wore only a pair of black silk boxers printed with the words “Kiss Me My Bachelor Days are Over.”
In a panic Quatre yanked the door of the suite open and ran out, falling headlong over the pile of passed out Maganacs in the hall as Duo chuckled behind him till tears ran from his eyes.
Wufei shook his head at all the silliness and finished stowing his gear (which included an instructional disk illustrating precisely how to do the Dance of the Sixteen Veils as a gift for Cathrine). “We haven’t missed it yet but we will if you don’t get cleaned up so we can get out of here. Needless to say I’ll fly the transport to Cinq,” Wufei said, fixing Duo with a no-nonsense stare. Duo grumbled, he’d been looking forward to giving his nauseated friends a bumpy ride and holding a contest to see who could hold the contents of their stomachs the longest.
Quatre picked himself up and crept back into the room, a hand pressed to his forehead. They’d drunk enough to knock even the Maganacs out and that was saying something.
“Truly Wufei,” he asked.
“We didn’t miss it?”
Before Wufei could reassure the nervous would-be groom Duo stepped in.
‘Nah, I was just kidding. Ya still gotta marry Dorothy buddy,” he said. “We stopped you from eloping with that dancing girl that looked like Relena. The one you and Heero were fighting over last night.”
“Oh . . . her,” Quatre blushed at the vague memory of last
night’s shenanigans. “She was very
pretty. But there’s only one Dorothy!
Paolo Niente glowered at the ferry operator, his dark heavy brows meeting in a warning frown before he turned a smile on the girl who stood before him on the docks of Bonaficio. He felt he would not see her again and he did not want to be rushed.
“Farewell Signorina,” he said, taking her delicate hand in his and jauntily kissing the back of it with the aplomb the Niente men were known for. He was getting old, the jet-black sideburns that clung to his ruddy cheeks now touched by silver and his muscular bulk spreading to something that could be almost called fat. However he could still appreciate a pretty young girl, when the time came that he didn’t he’d rather be in the grave alongside his poor nephew.
At the sight of Midii’s brave watery smile he engulfed her in his big arms for a fatherly hug. He shook his head and closed his eyes tightly, still unable to believe Stefan was no longer here and remembering again the way his nephew would appear unannounced during the war, the little blonde snip of a girl following in his shadow. Paolo smiled then, remembering her face that first night he’d seen her and Stefan had dared her to drink a straight shot of his best Ouzo. The two of them had been only a little more than children then but as tough and assured as seasoned adults, playing adult games when they should have been in a schoolroom. Well that was the way of war, the Alliance’s way, but it was over now and Stefan was gone.
The old man sighed and a wave of protectiveness filled his heart, there was a fragile quality to Midii, the small bones he could feel through her skin as light as a bird’s. Was this the key to her survival in the face of everything, he wondered. Was this the reason this pale and flimsy girl survived when Stefan, competent and strong, had died? It was all in the way she made people feel she needed them, made them care what happened to her and yet for all that she was strong too, there was determination in the soft, steely-blue eyes.
“Remember Signorina,” he whispered in her hair, squeezing her shoulder gently and examining her ringless fingers. “It’s time to move on and have a happy life. And tell that skinny boy he better marry you or he’ll answer to me, Paolo Niente.”
He grinned at the genuine smile his words prompted, felt the feather-light touch of her lips on his cheek and the lingering brand of shell-pink lipstick as she boarded the little boat at last to the great relief of the ferry operator, whose only goal in his sheltered life was to keep his boat on schedule.
“And you Tomas Argenti,” Paolo yelled to the little man as Anton waved and shouted goodbye to Midii frantically beside him. “Keep that heap you call a boat afloat on this run or I’ll track you down to the very depths of the sea. The little signorina, she is like a daughter to me!”
Midii turned her face away to face the invisible shore in the distance, perhaps to hide from the sunlight glare on the water or more likely to hide the warm flush that heated her cheeks at Paolo’s words. She turned back quickly blowing Paolo and Anton exuberant kisses, she smiled but inside she wondered why it had to be that her own father could not love her while virtual strangers had always taken her in and cared for her like family.
This was something that had always hurt her so much, even before she knew the truth about Papa it had nagged at her that her whole life was so wrong, that no loving father could ever let his daughter do the things she did. She looked out over the sea, ignoring it’s tranquil azure beauty and anxious for a sight of the mainland shore.
He was waiting for her there she knew and she let thoughts of Trowa soothe her heart. In the first moment he’d stepped out of the woods she’d somehow placed her frustrated affections on the boy who seemed as lost as she, though he knew, in theory, exactly where he was. In that moment she’d chosen him as a focus for the love her family hadn’t seemed to need, Papa had valued her only for the financial help she could provide. But he had been like her, alone and fighting for survival in the harsh world made by the war. The wonder of it had been that he’d seen it too, had said they were the same. And now she was going home. Home to Nanashi, home to Trowa.
Gallons of black coffee and a double-dose of headache remedy had Trowa feeling very close to normal. The stiff breeze coming off the Mediterranean cleared away the last lingering effects of Duo’s party and played havoc with his long bangs, continually blowing them into his eyes.
At the dock they said the Corsica ferry had a perfect reputation for always being on time but it had been five minutes since he should have spotted a white speck on the endless silver-blue water. Of course, he told himself, that perfection didn’t stand a chance with Midii in the mix. She could always make the unthinkable happen. He could remember now the astonished stares of the mercenaries as he led the little girl back to their camp, him, Nanashi, the soldier who shot anything in his path that moved stopped by a helpless little girl.
She’d kept him off balance for years, keeping her spot at the very edges of his closed-off heart and hiding in the shadows of a mind that had followed one track for as long as he could remember, the path of war. Only during those dark days when he remembered nothing had she gone away, receded into the blackness of injury and intolerable pain. Trowa shivered slightly inside his jacket, the memory of that time after the Vayeate exploded giving him the chills as always.
He’d been annoyed not to find her at Cinq but it turned out to be a blessing to escape the underlying tension that pervaded the palace: Dorothy and Quatre trying to sneak some time together but being handily thwarted by his army of sisters; Heero demanding a complete and minutely-detailed rundown of all Relena’s activities since he’d been away; himself walking in on Cathy and Wufei during a rather private moment as they ‘tested’ one of the antique velvet sofas in a state sitting room . . .
It would be much better to surprise her here away from the frantic atmosphere at the palace. A pleasurable feeling of excitement tingled at the back of his knees as he finally saw the ferry coming closer, just a few minutes off schedule. It seemed even Midii couldn’t make much of a dent in the carefully kept timetables.
Suddenly there she was. The wind had come up as he waited and it caught in her hair lifting it and swirling it around her like a golden storm. He wanted to run up to the ferry and twirl her in his arms but he felt suddenly shy in front of the crowd of people, especially the small group beside him that watched Midii intently also.
Midii felt shy also, realizing this was something of an astonishing event for them. Never yet had they been separated without some crisis occurring while they were apart. But there was nothing now but the peaceful twilight, the rosy sky and his slow smile as he took both her hands in his. Such a little thing to find him waiting for her at the end of a journey, a little thing as precious as a diamond sparkling with perfect clarity.
A man and woman with their young son watched them standing there bathed in the rosy light of the sunset, smiling a bit in nostalgia. “Remember those days, chérie? I would take your hand and the two of us would be alone in a crowd,” he whispered in his wife’s ear. She was still lovely to him despite the thinness caused by anxiety and loss. The ghost of long-past sorrow in her eyes tempered by a gentle look and the beginning of new laugh lines at the corners of her mouth.
She nodded and leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. “I would not have those days back again though,” she said, laughing softly. “Those anxious moments, every little crisis the end of the world. It’s so much better to be an old married couple! Young love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!”
“Shame on you Marcella! Who’s old? I’m not old,” her husband said, squeezing her waist teasingly, delighting in the return of her sweet sense of humor. The end of the war and the onset of peace had given it back to her, making her once again the pretty, happy young girl he’d fallen in love with. And then, of course, there was Thierry.
He looked at the boy beside him and a subdued rage shook his soul when he thought of the circumstances of the war, remembered his old acquaintance Philippe Une, white-faced and unshaven coming to their door in the silent hours before dawn.
“I need money. Please my friend, I’ll leave the boy with you, you know I’ll be back. Or if you like you can even keep him. I’ll take whatever you can spare me for him. God knows I can’t feed him anymore the way he’s growing,” Une had said, his callous attitude toward his child appalling to Martin St. Denis who’d lost his own two young children in the crossfire of a rebel skirmish near their school.
Marcella had appeared silently at the bottom of the stairs, her sorrowful eyes latching onto the little boy who stared at her solemnly as he clung to his father’s hand. A boy who seemed not to know how to smile. She’d made the decision for all of them and taken 6-year-old Thierry by the hand and led him into the warm kitchen for milk and cookies.
Philippe had turned without a word, taking the money his friend offered silently and not even bidding the child farewell. Martin could still see those empty eyes staring at him coldly as he stopped him.
“Your other children, Philippe? I remember you had four children. Where are they,” he’d asked, afraid of what he would hear, his own loss fresh in his mind.
“I don’t know, they’ll have to fend for themselves I suppose,” he’d answered vaguely.
They’d never seen him again or heard anything until the young man had come last week, claiming to be a friend of Thierry’s older sister. She must be about 19, Martin thought, noticing as Marcella also studied the girl. His wife was nervous about the meeting, always afraid of losing Thierry as she’d lost her own children but her natural maternal instinct seemed to be softening her as she looked at the slender girl.
He watched his adopted son carefully, sensing his nervousness and followed the boy’s intense steel-blue gaze to look again at the girl. The resemblance was startling, the young boy’s large, wide-set eyes matched hers and as he watched the young woman pushed at a stray lock of hair that seemed to have a habit of falling into her face.
“My sister,” the boy thought, looking at the girl who stood so near but didn’t seem to notice his presence or anyone’s. She was like all the teenage girls who lived in their small village, pretty and laughing. She seemed . . . nice.
The girl turned toward them then and something flashed. A memory of a younger girl, a girl no older than he was now. When she had gone he’d always been alone, ignored by his father and brothers but Midii had been like a mother, she had been love and gentleness. A soft hand on his hair and loving kisses on his cheek. He remembered her like a sweet dream that disappeared with the morning light when she had gone he’d forgotten how to smile.
“I’ve got your surprise,” Trowa whispered between the kisses she rained on his face and lips.
A blonde boy, about 10 or 11, was approaching them and he stopped short of her, staring. Midii self-consciously pushed at her messy wind-tangled hair and stared back. He looked like her brother Marc had looked the last time she’d seen him. But Marc would be older now. Then who? Her heart pounded excitedly in her chest but she wasn’t sure why.
Two older people approached them, the motherly-looking woman smiling at them happily.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Miss Une,” the woman said, breaking the silence between the stunned girl and boy. “Thierry’s been so nervous about this meeting. Ever since Mr. Barton came to talk to us.”
“Thierry,” Midii whispered, two pairs of identical blue-gray eyes staring into each other as if they thought the other would disappear if they looked away.
“Your young man found us and asked us to be here,” the woman continued. “You poor child, you shouldn’t have been afraid to come to us. We think Thierry needs his sister in his life, he knows he had a family before us and he needs to know you.”
“I-I remember you Midii,” the boy said finally. “You came home for Christmas morning and I woke up and saw you looking out the window at the snow. You were singing Il Est Ne and I thought you were an angel. When you were gone I was so alone, Papa was always away and Marc and Michel left me too.”
Midii stepped forward and the boy lunged at her pushing her back with the force of his hug.
“Do you know where they are? Marc and Michel?” Midii asked her brother gently, almost afraid to hope, cautiously stroking his dark gold hair.
The boy shook his head. “One day Papa said they had gone to boarding school, like you did Midii,” he said. She let her eyes meet the older woman’s and she shook her head. Thierry had no idea then, he didn’t know what had really gone on in their family during the war and for that Midii was grateful.
Midii shut her eyes tightly, holding her brother close again. Oh papa what did you do? Where are the boys? The thoughts raced through her head. But at least Thierry was safe and happy. Mr. and Mrs. St. Denis were good people and Trowa had found them, talked to them for her.
She reached for his hand and pulled him forward, noticing him hanging back to let her meet her brother alone. “This is my friend Trowa,” she introduced, remembering her manners.
Thierry grinned. “We already met him. He’s your boyfriend!”
Midii felt her face go hot, unused to the teasing of a little brother. “Well, yes, he is,” she admitted, grateful for Trowa’s arm around her, for everything.
“Please join us for a family dinner to celebrate,” Martin St. Denis offered, watching the girl’s face brighten as Thierry slipped his hand in hers. He wondered what Midii had been through. She had the face of someone who felt perhaps they didn’t deserve their happiness but he knew the young man by her side would change that eventually.
Midii, Trowa and Thierry sat at a round table beneath a colorful awning, eating ice cream as Thierry’s parents took the opportunity to go for a walk along the pier in the starlight.
It felt a bit strange not to have Midii’s undivided attention, Trowa thought, as he watched her concentrate on her brother. The boy was full of stories of school and games and friends and he found himself as fascinated by the novelty as Midii. So that was what life was like, he thought, what it was like to be a normal kid and not a small but lethal killing machine. It struck him that he and Midii had been the same age as Thierry when they met. He glanced at her from beneath his bangs.
Warmth crept over his heart as he felt her hand squeeze his and he knew she was thinking the same thing.
“Eewwwwww, you guys are gross,” Thierry announced, snapping out of his entertaining monologue, when Midii leaned over and kissed Trowa, licking the excess mocha nut ice cream from his upper lip.
“Reaaaaaalllllllllly,” Midii drawled teasingly. “You’re so handsome little brother! I bet you have a girlfriend.”
The boy wrinkled his nose in disgust but he looked thoughtful. “Well,” he confessed, Aimee Latrelle says she my girlfriend—but she’s a big, fat liar.”
Trowa laughed, the scorn on the little boy’s face reminding him of the way Wufei had been before he had become enchanted by Cathrine.
Midii shook her head, trying to hide her own giggles. “You should be a little gentleman Thierry, you may like Aimee better when you grow up,” she said in a very grown-up voice.
“Don’t worry,” Trowa said tousling the younger boy’s soft blonde hair. “I have a big sister too, they always say things like that.”
“Little boys need their big sisters Trowa, I’m sure Cathy’s taught you that,” Midii said defensively. Then she sighed, her fingers fussing with her discarded sundae spoon. “Here comes your Papa and Maman. You have a long drive back.”
“Excuse me both of you, I’m going to go wash up,” Trowa said, but his two companions barely noticed him leave. Thierry’s long blonde bangs hid his face as he hung his head and Midii stared at him.
Midii sighed, she was used to this from Trowa but her brother had seemed different, carefree and cheerful. Did something haunt him after all? She felt butterflies in her stomach and sudden anger. Couldn’t at least one of them escape the war unscathed?
“Thierry, please talk to me,” she tried again.
He looked up at her with unshed tears in his eyes.
“Midii, is Papa dead? Are our brothers dead?”
She swallowed hard her thoughts a swirl of confusion as she chose her words carefully. She wanted him never to know, wished to protect at least this one little boy from the world she had faced.
“Papa is dead. I don’t know about the boys. I looked for you, for all of you but I could never find them. I just don’t know,” she said.
“Where were you Midii? I was alone and you were gone. Where were you,” he cried, angry tears splashing on his flushed cheeks. “Why didn’t you or Papa want me? Why didn’t you find me?”
His words broke her heart. She had wanted him, loved him, fought for him and even betrayed Nanashi for him and the others.
God, God, what do I tell him, she wondered, afraid to say horrible things about their father but anxious that Thierry knew that she at least had loved him. She’d only been a child herself and they had been hungry, so hungry.
“When I was younger than you Thierry, our own Maman died. Things were so different then, Papa was different. Everything changed, the war came and Papa got—Papa got his sickness and we needed food. I had to do things to get money. Bad things. When it was over I was afraid to find you. I saw you once. You seemed happy and I was afraid that seeing me again would make you unhappy.”
He stared at her and she didn’t think he’d really understood all she’d said but he seemed relieved. “I thought no one came for me because you hated me.”
“Oh no, no sweetheart. I loved you, I love you now. It makes me so happy to see you at last and hear how happy you are,” Midii said, hugging the boy against her and kissing his hair, breathing in the comfortingly familiar scent of him.
Alone at last, Trowa thought, a bit prematurely, as Thierry and his family got in the car after a seemingly endless round of hugs and kisses and promises to visit. His shoulders tensed as the car door popped open again and Midii’s brother jumped back out.
“Do you want to come with us,” he asked her, his eyes hopeful. “You could live with us, you’re my sister.”
Trowa felt breathless and stunned as if he’d been punched in the gut. Would she put her family before him again? Was he selfish to pray she wouldn’t? He hadn’t thought of this possibility when he’d set this meeting up.
Midii knelt beside Thierry and spoke to him gently, choosing her words carefully. “I have a real job now. Up in space with Preventer I can help make sure there are no more wars.” She looked up at Trowa and winked at him, he let his breath out slowly. “Besides,” she added, winking at him. “Trowa needs someone to look after him.”
“Can I really come see you at the circus this summer,” Thierry asked Trowa, a hint of mistrust in his voice as he looked up at the taller boy.
“Sure,” Trowa said. “I bet I could even get my sister to let you be in the act.”
Midii shook her head and hugged her brother. “Oh no no no! It’s bad enough she throws knives at you, she’s not throwing them at Thierry!”
Thierry made a face at Midii’s smothering embrace but Trowa gave him the high sign, and the boy knew that he’d get into the act at the circus somehow despite his sister’s protests. Finally the goodbyes were said and the tail lights of the car disappeared over the little hill that led away from the seaside.
“I don’t know whether to be sad he doesn’t need me anymore or just grateful that he has such wonderful parents,” Midii sighed, turning away from the road that carried her youngest brother away from her again and back toward Trowa.
“Are you sorry I did this,” he asked slowly, wondering if his surprise had somehow backfired. “I only meant to make you happy.”
“I am happy and I could never have had the courage to do this on my own,” Midii confessed. “Facing those people would have been more difficult than any mission. I’m still so afraid to be myself sometimes. It wasn’t just seeing Thierry again that made this so important. Didn’t you feel that this closes another door for us? I feel the way I used to, the way I felt when I first met you Nanashi, but it’s different as well.”
He looked startled at the old name but he could see where her reminiscing was leading. She could see it now, that they had come full circle. Trowa held his breath as she came close.
“I love my brother and I love you Trowa. It’s alright to love both of you, it doesn’t have to be one or the other anymore,” she said, half to herself.
He could see now the pain she’d felt so long ago at having to choose and he closed his arms around her, holding her tight.
“I suppose we should be getting back,” she said regretfully.
Trowa raised his one visible eyebrow at her and she took a step back and regarded him quizzically.
“Don’t you want to go back,” she asked, suspicion dawning. Things seemed different between them, a new trust and understanding as if she could feel his thoughts.
“Not especially,” he said. “Do you know what it’s like back at the palace right now? I’d much rather be alone with you.”
“I’d feel so selfish,” Midii protested. “Dorothy and Quatre might need us—
Her words trailed off as his lips moved imperceptibly closer to hers and his eyes caught hers in a hypnotic gaze that took her breath away. Suddenly, she felt herself melting under a sudden onslaught of burning kisses that left her giddy and she instantly understood him again.
“I guess I passed your test finally,” she teased when he paused for breath. “What was it you were waiting for?”
She could feel him smiling against her skin. “Midii,” he whispered.
“Yes,” she encouraged, waiting for the answer.
“You talk too much,” he said, stopping her protests with another kiss. The little restaurant parking lot was deserted now but the quiet block of asphalt and yellow lines seemed like a most romantic place to be.
Midii blushed and hid her face in Trowa’s jacket as a few late-departing busboys and waitresses tittered in the distance and they heard the slam and lock of the doors.
The lights went out in the parking lot and after a few minutes it seemed like the sky was full of stars that sparkled through the hazy glow of the Milky Way.
The fragile warmth of daytime had completely fled by now and Trowa wordlessly took his jacket off and wrapped Midii in it. It felt so good wrapped in the soft old leather, warm from his body and smelling of him. He helped her on the back of his motorcycle the way they had always escaped together, from the tragic ground of their first separation and from her ill-fated mission in Brussels. It was so different this time. He savored the feel of her body pressed against his, her breath warm as it penetrated the thin white cotton shirt he wore.
It was a most beautiful night to be with the one you loved. A sky sparkling with countless stars and the hint of a cool breeze left over from the recently-departed winter to make the temperature perfect for cuddling.
But they were separated by walls, the wall between her room and his, the wall of custom that dictated a bride and groom avoid each other the night before the wedding.
Dorothy flicked a strand of long blonde hair over her shoulder and turned back to the group of more than 30 chattering women. For a moment, despite the reassuring buzz of their chatter she had felt so all alone. She smiled brightly and snatched a glass of champagne from Pagan’s tray as he passed her by. Relena was doing her best to stand in for the missing Midii (who was actually standing in for the pregnant diplomat as maid of honor) at the impromptu shower they had planned. Rumor had it she and Trowa had disappeared on some type of romantic adventure. The bride-to-be didn’t even want to think that they might not make it back to Cinq on time. But strangely that was the least of the many tiny last minute issues that added to her tension.
Simply put she wanted to be with Quatre. The week of separation had gone by without a hitch but now that he was here in the same house, even though that house was a huge palace, the temptation was too strong. Besides, fears she had felt she’d long since conquered seemed to be swooping down and she was alone just when she needed him most.
A camera flashed in her face, one of her fiance’s sisters was an amateur photographer it seemed and what a lovely discovery that was, Dorothy thought sourly, trying to blink away the effects of the unexpected burst of light. Then Hilde and Cathrine, mischievous grins plastered on their faces, escorted her to the chair of honor surrounded by stacks of pastel-papered gifts topped with shining ribbons. It seemed like a horrible ordeal to be faced with all Quatre’s sisters beaming at her sweetly like pleased mother hens. Except Madame Yasmina of course, she glowered like a thundercloud. To spite her, if for no other reason, Dorothy decided she would enjoy herself tonight, hopefully the last she’d ever spend without Quatre by her side.
“Be sure not to break too many ribbons,” Cathrine warned, handing her an elaborately wrapped box.
The room erupted in titters as Dorothy raised a brow at the perky circus performer who stared at her with wide-eyed sincerity.
“Why ever not,” Dorothy asked, obstinately slicing through the ribbons with the elegant letter opener she’d brought. The sharp object glinted in the light from the crystal chandelier overhead, it was shaped like a fencing foil and made of 24-karat gold and the young woman used with a certain relish.
“The legend is you’ll have a baby for every ribbon you break,” Hilde laughed. “And you’ve busted five on that present alone. It’s from me by the way.”
That was foolish Dorothy thought, but she felt a bit nervous and vowed to be more careful on the rest of the gifts as she looked around the room at 28 faces that all bore more than a passing resemblance to Quatre. 30 children, imagine!
“Umm, it’s lovely,” Dorothy said, her voice faintly flavored with embarrassment as she held a sheer black nightie edged with ostrich feathers away from her at arm’s length. She peered into the box and saw a pair of matching slippers with 4-inch heels and also edged with fluffy ostrich feathers.
Hilde giggled. “It’s a lingerie party! Everyone got you something sexy. We decided that would be fun for the girl who has everything.”
Dorothy’s personal favorite turned out to be the elegant satin peignoir set from Relena, they definitely shared a sense of fashion favored by those with noble blood. She suspected however that the combination gift from Midii and Cathrine would be Quatre’s favorite, it certainly used the least fabric and she almost blushed at the thought of wearing it. She smiled her first genuine smile of the evening as she thought how pleasant it might be to play harem girl on the honeymoon at Quatre’s desert mansion . . .
Carefully she opened the last package, a gift from Yasmina. There was deadly silence in the room as she drew a billowing purple flannel nightgown bedecked with garish yellow roses from the box. Somehow the disapproval the gift signaled made her miss Quatre all the more. He would have known just what to say to make her take the horrible gift in stride.
Relena could see Dorothy starting to lose her temper, she knew the other girl so well. She’d always know what was behind her outwardly vicious behavior during the war and she realized that she still wasn’t completely ready for the new life she was about to begin. It was too bad Quatre’s sister didn’t understand how perfect the two of them were for each other. Dorothy rose with her pale violet eyes sparking purple fire. Yasmina folded her arms and tried to stare her down.
These two definitely need a peace accord, the vice foreign minister thought. Relena’s quick mind searched for an answer and she felt a vigorous kick that made her abdomen shudder. “Hmm, you’re already Mama’s little helper, aren’t you,” she thought. She picked up the gown and held it up in front of her.
“Do you mind if I keep this one Dorothy,” she asked, modeling the flannel nightie as if it were a ball gown. “I think it definitely suits my figure.”
The party ended with laughter after all as Relena saved the day in her usual efficient manner. There had been a time when Dorothy was envious of her ease in handling people. For the most part though she preferred her own straightforward brand of sarcasm as a weapon in getting her own way. Quatre’s sisters said goodnight and she was left with just the other girls.
Cathrine and Hilde crawled over the floor picking up the stray paper and ribbons while Dorothy stacked the boxes. “Just one more night,” Relena said sympathetically, noticing Dorothy’s slight aura of depression. “Even though our wedding was so small even Heero and I stayed apart that last night.”
All the girls looked up as the soft sounds of an expertly-played violin wafted in through the open balcony window. Dorothy suddenly seemed to forget they were there and her face relaxed, the tension from the near showdown with Yasmina replaced by a dreamy look as the music grew stronger. The other girls tiptoed out leaving her alone and she stepped out on the balcony.
Quatre stood in the center of a grouping of candles set out in the shape of a heart. His back was to her but she knew whom he was playing for. She supposed technically this wasn’t breaking the rules. He must have known how she was feeling and his music always washed over her like a caress. She lay back on the lounge chair on the balcony and Pagan quietly brought her another glass of champagne at Relena’s urging.
She stared up at the stars as he made love to her with his music and her body ached for tomorrow night.
Yasmina strode through the damp, dewy grass with purposeful steps. She had a word or two for her younger brother. He might be head of the family in name but he was too young to take a step like this and with a woman like Dorothy Catalonia. A mousy little girl was what he needed, one who would defer to her status as matriarch of the Winner Family.
She rounded furiously as someone laid a heavy hand on her shoulder as she passed by a dark corner of the palace, impeding her progress.
“I don’t believe Master Quatre wishes to be disturbed,” a deep, gravelly voice intoned, the words clear despite his whisper.
“How dare you tell me what to do,” she hissed as she stared up at the tall man. The odd thought that he must be approaching seven feet tall crossed her mind as she glared at him, trying to draw her own smaller frame up to a more imposing height.
“I’ve looked out for the young master for many years and I shall continue to do so, peace or no,” Rasid said, a twitch of amusement coaxing a smile on his stern face.
“If you cared for your ‘young master’ you’d see that girl is a vixen and she’ll bring him nothing but sorrow,” Yasmina said.
Rasid’s small smile became a full-fledged grin. The grin was totally disconcerting to the angry woman whose arm he grasped so easily in his large hand.
“You don’t see,” the tall Maganac said. “He carries a burden. All these boys carry a burden, all the soldiers from the war must carry it. But Miss Dorothy can help him carry it because she knows how he feels. She lived it with him. Can’t you see that Master Quatre finds his own happiness in making others happy? You truly do not know him.”
The soft music of the violin carried over the garden as the two stared at each other, neither willing to back down. Finally Yasmina growled low in her throat and she pulled her arm away and stalked off.
Happiness, she thought, the word echoing in her mind. She had never even considered happiness. All her life had been sacrificed for the family fortunes and ideals.
“Happiness,” she whispered as she leaned against the warm bricks of the palace wall and closed her eyes. The distant sound of her brother’s playing evoking emotions and lost hopes she’d thought were long since buried.
Rasid stared after her. She was so different than Master Quatre and yet she was not. He smiled in memory of the spoiled boy he’d met so long ago on a shuttle in space. His sister was like that still, her heart hurting and her soul longing for a sense of family that even having 28 sisters and a brother had not brought her. The Winners had not been family like the Maganacs were family. The children had been isolated and sent to the various satellites to learn the family business. Master Quatre would run things in a far different manner than his father had. He had learned from them, the family of his heart, the Maganacs.
The motorcycle seemed to fly over the dark country roads and Midii tightened her arms around Trowa’s waist as the vehicle went airborne briefly and landed with a light bounce as they sailed over a hill.
They seemed to float through the starry darkness, but the sudden demanding touch of her slender fingers trailing up one of his thighs made the bike wobble and brought him down to Earth with a crash. Trowa swallowed hard as he felt moist kisses dampening the back of his shirt and the teasing nibble of her teeth. They traveled a few hundred feet more before the wheel wobbled again and he knew he had stop before she drove him out of control.
The motorcycle sputtered into silence. He didn’t know where they were, didn’t really care. Midii shivered in excitement as her teasing finally achieved its goal. She was starting to regret her aggressive behavior just a bit, they were in the middle of nowhere, the ground was cold and damp but neither of them really felt like waiting. She stood in the starlight as Trowa rolled the bike off the road and leaned it up against an old gnarled tree. Her knees trembled just looking at him so she turned away, examining her surroundings and noticed a dark, shadowy clump of old stone and tumbled walls in the distance.
Curious, she picked her way through the tall dewy grass, feeling its caress through her thin silk stockings and stumbling a little on her heels. He was beside her then, his whisper warm against her skin.
“What is it?”
“An old ruin from the war I suppose. There was a lot of fighting here on the outskirts of Cinq, if we’re even still in the country,” Midii said. The kingdom was so small it was easy to pass in and out without knowing. She crossed her arms when she saw that Trowa had pulled a blanket from the boot of his motorcycle.
“Did you plan this,” her voice carried a hint of annoyance. It hardly seemed the place for a romantic reunion, but with every touch of his lips and fingers her body throbbed with desperate passion. She would hardly say no to a welcoming copse of trees at this point but the place ahead looked like it had a roof at least.
“Not exactly,” he admitted. “I just let the road take us.”
He was unconventional but he was hers and she shivered with delight as he took her in his arms.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she whispered happily, slipping her hand beneath his shirt, tracing her fingers over the warm smooth skin beneath and smiling with feminine satisfaction as she felt the Goosebumps her touch raised on it.
He grasped her hand and pulled her along, suddenly impatient. “If you hadn’t started with the backbiting on the bike I think we might have found an inn or something up the road, but as it is—
She pulled away teasingly and walked ahead, swaying her hips in an exaggerated motion and looking over her shoulder at him.
“You liked that, hmmm?”
Midii shrieked with laughter as he swooped her up in his arms and carried her the rest of the way to what now appeared to be a small, ruined castle. The doorway was clear of rubble and it looked as if local lovers had discovered the place as well. Beneath a sagging ceiling a solid oak door stood untouched by the devastation. The door opened easily as Trowa swung the handle and carried Midii over the threshold of the little room.
He set her down, his practiced eye immediately questioning the stability of the walls.
“Stay put,” he ordered, his voice no-nonsense. Midii nodded silently, hoping that they could stay. The little room was a miracle, a tiny haven that had somehow been protected from the devastation of the war that had raged around it. A beautiful old bed stood in the center of the room with dark wood spindles that reached toward the lofty ceiling. A stone fireplace graced one wall and the mantel was decorated with delicate antique wineglasses that gleamed softly in the darkness.
“Is it safe,” she whispered as Trowa returned to her.
“Amazing,” he said, and she detected awe in his voice. “It’s like this room was separate from the main house. Probably it was from an original building that was added on to in later years. The new construction was destroyed but this part’s as solid as a rock.”
Others had obviously discovered the place. There were empty wine bottles lying about and the majestic bed had a rumpled, well-used look but to them it seemed like their own private heaven. Someone had even left dry wood in the fireplace. Midii reached for one of the wineglasses and something dropped from the mantel. Trowa reached out and caught the object automatically. Matches.
She straightened the old bed coverings as best she could and spread Trowa’s blanket on top of it all. The room was warm and softly lit with flickering firelight as the flames licked greedily at the old, dry wood. She lit some candles that had been left on the table by the bed. Midii toyed with the buttons on her dress and Trowa watched it seem to drop away from her almost magically.
She shivered as he looked at her, his green eyes luminous in the soft glow of the fire. Midii thought that surely no other woman that had waited beside the bed in this room, as ancient as it was, could feel so much for her lover as she felt for Trowa. The way he moved made her stomach turn somersaults but it wasn’t just the physical impact. He had always captured her heart. She hadn’t been able to understand him completely when she was a child. She had loved him almost immediately but his silences had hurt and frustrated her and her own guilt over what she had to do had confused her feelings. But now he loved her back through some great miracle. They were like this room, their love broken and destroyed by war but their hearts protected and waiting for each beneath the rubble like this beautiful room that had somehow been preserved.
Next time on POR . . . will Trowa and Midii make it back in time for the wedding . . . Dorothy gets some advice from a surprise wedding guest . . . can Diarmid love his enemy’s sister?