The Price of Redemption
By Midii Une
Yasmina held the delicately wrought silver necklace up to the light of the small bedside lamp. The sparkling rainbow of pastel-colored gemstones glittered up at her evoking the memory of a sweet spirit and a tender smile.
Her eyes widened with surprise as she glanced in the mirror and caught a glimpse of the gentle expression her mother always wore reflected on her own face. When had she turned from a sheltered and innocent girl to the stern businesswoman she was now?
She missed them. Oh how she missed them all: Mother, Father and especially dearest Iria, her beloved twin sister. The pale blue aquamarines and soft purple amethysts sparkled gloriously in the light and in their radiance she felt a message. Mother and Iria would not want her to treat Quatre this way no matter her feelings about this marriage. She closed her eyes and wished fiercely for the guidance of those two sweet souls as she resolutely placed the necklace in a velvet box.
Quatre sat on the edge of the bed and reached down wearily to untie his brown oxfords. He had just managed to shoo Duo away having listened to the other pilot’s well-meant advice. All he wanted was for tomorrow to come. The waiting was so difficult but it would all be worth it and there was a lot to be said for anticipation.
At the light sound of knock on the door he instantly wished he’d spent less time picturing Dorothy in her bed and had hurried to turn out the light. With a sigh of resignation he stood and cracked the door to peek at the latest visitor, half-expecting Duo to have returned with just one more piece of advice.
Quatre stared at his sister, noticing that she looked uncomfortable and seemed at an uncharacteristic loss for words. Finally she awkwardly thrust something into his hand and hung her head for a moment before speaking.
“This was Mother’s, Father gave it to her before you were born. It was designed especially for her. I’m sorry for how I’ve acted; it’s just that you’re so young… Well, anyway, I think you should have this, for Dorothy. It’s what Mother and Father would have wanted,” his sister said, her words flowing swiftly and almost blending together so he could not quite understand them. He held the little velvet box tightly in his hand for a moment as old, unwanted feelings crept up from hidden places in his heart.
Yasmina raised her eyes and looked closely at her little brother. He did seem so incredibly young, the uncanny innocence of his turquoise eyes and his baby-soft, shining blonde hair.
In an instant he was pressing the necklace back into her hand, having barely looked at the beautiful object that was a link to their shared past, their lost parents.
“Thank you Yasmina, but you keep it. It’s kind of you but I never knew Mother, I’m sorry. I’m sure she loved you girls after you were born and she got to know you. But I—I never got to see her. How could I have meant anything to her…
Yasmina’s stubborn temper flared and blazed back to life. Why did it bother him so, she wondered, a sharp stab of jealousy piercing her heart. He was mother and father’s only real child, he was the one father kept with him while she and the others had been separated after mother died and raised on resource satellites learning how to be useful to the Winner Empire. The only sisters she had ever grown to know well were Iria of course, who had died saving Quatre and Safira, who was almost like her own child.
Quatre was so mistaken about everything but she had promised, all of them had promised Father to keep silent. How could they have known that it would hurt Quatre as much to believe he was not a naturally born child as it would have to know that his birth had cost mother her life.
She stole a last glance at his bent blonde head, the blue eyes dark with shadows as she clutched the necklace in her hand and navigated the dark hall back to her own room.
Midii stirred restlessly, eyes snapping open suddenly from a disturbing dream that was already fading. The place was dark and strange and she wrinkled her nose slightly at the strong, musty smell that rose from the damp old bed. She rubbed her face on Trowa’s warm chest, letting the fine hairs tickle her face. He kept sleeping soundly, his mouth open slightly and she smiled against his skin thinking it must have been a once-in-a-lifetime party with the guys to make him sleep like this. Usually only the slightest movement from her triggered his instincts and he was awake instantly. Mischievously she picked up an end of her long blonde hair and tickled his cheek with it, stifling a giggle as he moved his head violently and snarled a name…Duo.
Her body shook with her silent laughter but he kept sleeping. She raised her head and looked down on him in the dim light. Midii smoothed her fingers over his stubbly cheek, enjoying the rough masculine feel of it. Her gentle touch elicited no more strange outbursts so she leaned her chin on her hand and looked at him to her heart’s content while she traced the lines of his face. She felt that she loved him so much that it almost didn’t seem quite right that they should be here together like this. Deep in the back of her mind small doubts tried to reassert themselves and banish the happiness she had felt as he made love to her that night.
He deserved better than her, her conscience nagged relentlessly, remorse filling her that she had hurt him once. He deserved a princess like Relena or someone strong and unyielding in their beliefs like Dorothy or someone who could fight beside him like Hilde. His life had been so hard and what was she but one more hardship, one more worry…all she could offer was her love and even that she had marred by that one long-ago choice. Thierry’s innocent, happy face appeared in her mind and she closed her eyes tightly, knowing that she would make the same choice again if she could have gone back. But not now, now she knew she would give her own life if only to keep the two of them safe, and Marc and Michel wherever they were…
“Stop it,” she ordered herself, her voice a whisper. Trowa only wanted her to believe in them and she would. From now on she would always stay beside him and trust in his love. Perhaps he did deserve better but fate had given him her and she would do her very best to see that he didn’t regret his choice.
She opened her tightly clenched eyes to find him studying her from beneath his lashes.
“What were you thinking,” he asked softly. Midii sensed the suspicion and something like a note of nervousness in his voice. Her own doubts and fears fled swiftly now that he was awake and she wasn’t alone. She steeled herself and made a conscious decision to speak honestly, biting back the comforting lie that rose automatically to her lips.
“I was thinking about you and my brothers. I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do now. I could only think I’d rather die myself than let anything happen to any of you. I was such a coward when I was young Trowa. I’m so, so sorry I hurt you…
She gasped as his arms tightened around her violently. “Don’t, don’t talk about dying,” he whispered harshly in her ear, his rough skin scraping her face. “I won’t let it happen again. I’ll fight to protect you, that’s why soldiers, that’s why anyone, needs to fight--to protect the ones they love. I learned that from all of you; Cathy and Quatre and especially you.”
Midii wrapped her arms around his waist and nuzzled her face in his neck. “I want to fight too. I can’t sit at home and wait, I want to be beside you in everything, it’s what I’ve always wanted. When we’re apart it’s like the best and strongest part of me is missing Trowa. After summer’s over let’s go back to outer space and keep working for peace.”
She could hear him grumble deep in his throat.
“If I said no, you’d probably go off and do it anyway unless I kept you chained to the bed,” he said, his serious tone lightening as her hand slid softly from his chest to the top of his thighs.
Midii shrieked in surprise as he moved with her in his arms, pinning her beneath him and glaring down at her fiercely.
“No more secrets,” he said sternly, fixing her with his emerald gaze. “We’ll discuss our future with Preventer later but for now just promise that nothing you choose to do will be secret from me.”
“And you as well,” she bit back quickly.
His brows lifted in surprise, but he only hesitated a second before nodding agreement.
“Mmm,” Midii said lazily, squirming restlessly beneath the long body that pinned her against the musty sheets. “But why can’t we discuss it now?”
He captured her lips in a deep kiss, silently ending the discussion for the moment.
The soft sounds of water lapping at the pier, the bumping of a docking barge along with whispering voices carried up on the breeze and into the room where Dorothy dozed restlessly.
“There,” she told herself, eyes flying open wide and her legs slipping swiftly over the side of the bed as she instantly came fully awake. “It’s officially morning if guests are arriving already.”
The rosy light of dawn was in truth turning the gray sky pink with its light when Dorothy pushed aside the heavy draperies and the sheer curtains to reveal a specter from her past.
She barely noted Lucrezia Noin embracing old Pagan in a joyful hug before her eyes found the tall, blonde-haired man that stood apart from the two of them. Apart from the world somehow as he had always been. Dorothy’s thoughts raced. No surprise really that Relena would ask Noin and Milliardo to be here.
Relena had announced that after the wedding she would forever relinquish the lands and palace of the Cinq Kingdom as a public site for the Earth Sphere United Nation. It would be a place of learning again, a home for the important peace documents that were still being forged, a place for those who continued to hope for peace to visit on pilgrimages and to never forget the horror of war. There were still ruins and remains of the terrible battle when the Cinq Kingdom fell a second time and Epyon had raged. These Relena would leave as reminders of the waste caused by war, the destruction of beauty and of precious human life itself.
Dorothy and Quatre’s wedding would be the last official ceremony held in Cinq under Peacecraft rule. After today it would all belong to the people of the United Earth Sphere. And now Dorothy could see Milliardo Peacecraft staring up at the recreated palace of his troubled youth. His beautifully regal face was inscrutable as Relena and Heero slowly descended the long staircase to the river to meet Cinq’s true king. Dorothy felt a pang for this man and all he had lost and yet even he had dared to live again, to move on with someone who loved him with a legendary passion. And as she looked down on the princely figure, the rising sun turning his hair to shining silver as his eyes continued to gaze upon his lost kingdom, she knew that here at last was someone who would truly understand her. She hummed softly to herself, relief and a sense of peace affecting her dark mood as she hurried to dress.
Only Milliardo heard the soft noise in the doorway of the lavishly appointed drawing room. Lucrezia and Relena were sitting close together on a rose velvet sofa exclaiming over all the news about the upcoming baby in light, happy tones. By contrast he and Heero glowered at each other surreptitiously from the territory they’d staked out on either side of the burgundy velvet drapes. Neither knew what to say, old enemies as brothers now, brought together in this preposterous situation by the mighty and miraculous force housed in the delicate body of his little sister Relena Peacecraft.
A thin smile curved his lips as he noticed Dorothy spying on them all. She hadn’t yet lost her bold, intrusive ways and he had a quick memory of her confident approach to Libra during the war. Her confidence so palpable that he had been intrigued enough to invite her in. She intrigued him again now, some of that confidence she’d always exuded seemed to be missing and he himself felt a sudden urge to be with one of his own kind.
Perhaps some day he and Heero—Heero Yuy his brother-in-law, he thought tightly—would forge some type of brotherly bond. But that day seemed far away and he took the opportunity to slip away and follow Dorothy out into the garden. Dorothy, who had fought beside him on Libra. Dorothy who had shared those halcyon days of youth with Treize and himself on the vast Dermail estates. Dorothy, who shared his prodigal and slightly tainted status among all these stellar soldiers and his sister who had fought for peace while they had taken a more indirect route.
But the world needed the efforts of all of us, he told himself, even now only partially believing in what he had done. His actions during the war had been so at odds with his pacifist Peacecraft upbringing. Milliardo wore a mask no longer; Zechs Merquise was buried in the grave beside Treize. And yet sometimes he felt as if he wore it still as he casually strode up to Dorothy, who knelt in the dewy grass beside a clump of lily-of-the-valley. They had been Queen Katerina’s favorite flower, he recalled, a wave of nostalgia for his mother flooding his soul as he saw the dainty white flowers growing in abundance in this garden she would never see. A part of him wanted to stop Relena from giving all this away, part of him wanted to claim it as the king he should have been. But the impulse died, he had given up those rights so long ago to the more suitable heir. As always her gestures were the admirable ones that fit the occasion perfectly. His dear little sister, Relena. He turned his attention back to the girl beside him.
“Something is troubling you Dorothy,” he said, speaking suddenly without greeting, as if they had seen each other only moments before and years had not gone by since their last meeting.
She appreciated his lack of sentimentality and stood beside him, brushing the damp grass from her skirt.
“Does it never trouble you Mr. Milliardo, to have the love of someone like Noin?”
He raised a slender brow, barely discernible beneath his tumbling silver blonde bangs, but she noticed it and smirked in return.
“I must also wonder if I am doing Quatre a disservice by marrying him today. A part of me wants to run back to my estates and curl up in bed away from the world, away from him,” her voice broke suddenly. “I hurt him Milliardo, I tried to kill him, I wanted to destroy all that awful, hurtful kindness before it could change me. What if—
“It won’t happen again,” the man beside her said instantly, although he offered no other sympathy. “You are a different person now, in a different world. Your heart guides you now, not the pain of loss or the manipulations of the ZERO system.”
He gestured with a hand to where they could see Lucrezia and Quatre chatting on a balcony above them. Dorothy turned away swiftly, suddenly not wishing to risk her luck with a glimpse of the one she ached to see. But the quick vision turned her cheeks pink with pleasure and her eyes glistened.
“I understand,” Milliardo said softly, continuing to let his own gaze rest on his wife above him. She had always stood above him, in loyalty and goodness and strength. In his heart he believed he would never be good enough for her but he would never leave her side again. He had promised and it was all he could give her.
“Perhaps we don’t believe we deserve their love,” he continued, as Dorothy looked down misty-eyed at the small white flowers. “But they have always been wiser and stronger than we have been and if they believe in it, it must indeed be so. Who are we to question, all we can do is try our best to make them happy if we can.”
Squealing tires and crunching gravel announced yet another arrival and Dorothy heard Quatre call Trowa’s name in relief and she looked to see her missing maid of honor returned at last.
“Thank you,” she said quietly as she walked past Milliardo back to the house, the confident bounce back in her step as she prepared to give Miss Midii a piece of her mind for abandoning her. But she smiled as she walked away and the tall man behind her bowed slightly in acknowledgement. He knew that Dorothy would be fine; he bent and picked one of the fragrant little flowers to give to Noin, smiling a bit in anticipation of her reaction. She took such pleasure from each small show of devotion. He knew that he would renew his own vow today along with Dorothy and Quatre to make her happy for the rest of her life.
Under Lady Une’s and Sally’s joint command the Preventer officers on hand at the wedding were dressed in formal attire to blend in with the guests and dignitaries present. They wanted nothing to jar the peace and beauty of this wedding day in Cinq, a symbolic union of Earth and outer space although no one said it directly. Dorothy was one of the highest ranking nobles left on the planet and Quatre Winner was himself the uncrowned prince of outer space, his influence in the colonies nearly unparalleled with his vast business holdings and status as an upcoming young diplomat. This marriage was yet another tie that the Earth Sphere United Nation wanted to hold up as a shining example of the peace they had managed to protect so carefully over the last brief years. Each day it seemed to take stronger hold and become more of a reality than a precious dream.
But as long as the generation who had fought and lost loved ones lived there would always be a river of discontent roaring along in the background. Diarmid Walker kept his bright blue eyes averted from the groom. Just looking at Winner started an ache in the pit of his stomach, a sickening mixture of anger and sorrow. The visions of his brother’s mobile suit exploding over and over in the awful grip of the Gundam Sandrock’s wickedly curved heat shorters played in his mind until he gripped his fists tightly, his knuckles white from the pressure. He shouldn’t have come here, he shouldn’t have come…
A soft touch brushed his hand and he shook himself almost visibly. Lost in his thoughts he had missed seeing Midii pass, already the Bridal March was swelling on the breeze and everyone in attendance stood. She must have touched his hand with her own for encouragement as she walked by and as he gazed after her slender figure she peeked over her shoulder at him and smiled understandingly. He held on to that vision, steeling himself against the horrible day to come. When his security shift was over he would claim the dance she had promised and then he would leave and find a welcoming pub, there had to be one around here somewhere and he could drown his sorrows.
The tall and haughty blonde bride swept by him in a swirl of creamy ivory satin and expensive antique lace. Around him the crowd hushed as the ceremony began.
Diarmid did smile a bit when the agent behind him leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially. “Did you know she ran him through once with a saber during the war? Brave man to marry a woman like that, but of course he was a Gundam Pilot.”
Diarmid nodded, silently applauding her for stabbing the guy, and continued sweeping the crowd, his mind bent on his duty. He took Midii’s advice and ignored Quatre, carefully watching instead those he wanted to protect. His blue eyes focused on Midii first, her shining blonde hair crowned with spring flowers. She looked like a princess in her ice blue dress with the formal gold sash. He tracked Lady Une and Sally with his watchful gaze. The two commanders looked nothing like Preventers today in their feminine, garden-party attire. And often he kept checking on the Vice Foreign Minister. She looked so serene and happy with her hand laid gently on the swell of her stomach. Queen Relena, the one constant for all of them, the one that everyone here today --former Alliance, former OZ and former rebel--could truly believe in.
Quatre felt his cheeks flush hot under the bright spring sunshine. He knew his smile was ridiculously huge but he couldn’t help it as he looked around him at everyone he cared about. He could feel Trowa behind him, sensing his strength as he always had from that first moment they had met that fateful day in Corsica. From the corner of his eye he could glimpse Abdul and Auda and the others tricked out in unfamiliar black tuxedoes and looking stiff and uncomfortable. Just beyond Dorothy he could see Midii beaming and casting adoring glances beneath her long dark lashes at Trowa. Realizing the happiness on her face must be a mirror of his own Quatre decided he should just stop worrying about how he looked. There was no shame in glowing as she did.
How far away seemed that day when he had known Midii as Isabela. He remembered her tears when he had confessed his own thwarted love for Dorothy and neither of them believed then they would ever find this kind of happiness. He had every right to smile.
His smile dimmed a bit though, as he reluctantly followed up the happy thoughts with memories of how he might have lost them all. The Maganacs on his daredevil trip to the sun to retrieve the Gundams; Trowa after he’d attacked the Vayeate under the influence of the ZERO system; the awful pain in his heart when he had looked down at Midii in the colored light of the little chapel in Brussels and he had believed she was dead; the same pain when Heero had self-destructed during the war. He let his eyes find the other pilot in the front row beside Relena. He especially remembered begging Trowa to help Dorothy on Libra, to save her instead of him; even then his heart had felt a deep pull. But Trowa had known she had to save herself if she was to find any peace. And now here they all were today. The smile returned.
Somehow they were all still here, those dearest to him and his sisters for whom he felt honest fondness and deep responsibility.
Dorothy was looking at him oddly, he hadn’t been paying attention. She belonged here in this beautifully stylized garden, each hedge and flower carefully tended and precisely positioned. The dress she wore was a Catalonia heirloom, the heavy silk had a rich ivory tint slightly yellowed with age and it’s slim skirt clung to her figure like a glove before widening into a lace and satin train that spread out over the stone terrace where they stood. Tiny seed pearls gleamed enticingly on the bodice and there were more of the little gems tangled in the delicate lace that trailed charmingly from the snug three-quarter sleeves almost to her knees.
A gentle breeze played with her long white-blonde hair and teased back her veil a bit so it floated around her as if moved by the aura of her powerful personality. The color of her eyes as they stared into his matched the very tint at the edges of the canopy of blue sky that covered them. In his heart the words of the ceremony were redundant anyway. He looked at her and saw the woman he knew was hidden deep inside her step to the forefront and gaze back at him with unconditional love. For a second he paused and desperately prayed that he would never fail her or take this hard-won love for granted. Then they spoke as one,
Dorothy stepped back a little and looked at Quatre, her husband. The sun shimmered through the new leaves on the trees enveloping him in a golden nimbus of diffused light that lent an unreal glow to his blonde hair and his pure aqua eyes. They stood face to face and she felt almost as if they were alone, as if their friends and family had faded off into some misty place where they could not touch them.
“From now on it is the two of us. We have each other to be lover and friend and our own family”, she thought. She was overwhelmed by a feeling of peace and rightness that made her want to laugh at all the silly fears that had plagued her in the past.
Dorothy felt a grin break over features, an expression she hadn’t felt since she was a child and had run through gardens such as these to show her father a flower or pretty stone she had found. Her bright laughter had a new note in it floated on the soft air as Quatre twirled her in his arms and kissed her fiercely in celebration.
They were finally man and wife.
“The little miracle girl,” Anderson said with a grin, lifting Midii off her feet as he approached her in the receiving line. “Sometimes I can’t believe Sally really pulled you through.”
“Jack is planning to set up a private practice on L1,” Sally confided with satisfaction. “You know we always need more M.D.’s on the colonies.” The cheerful Belgian doctor took the opportunity to look searchingly into Midii’s blue-gray eyes.
“How’re the headaches young lady,” he asked, brushing a finger softly over the fading scar at her hairline. “And how often? Monthly? Weekly? Every few days?”
“Maybe twice a month now,” Midii stammered, looking uncomfortable and feeling Trowa’s hand tightening on her arm. She wished Sally’s date hadn’t brought up the accident, she wanted to forget it today and she didn’t want Trowa to think about it either. Her eyes lit with cunning and mischief as she looked up at the man who had helped save her life.
“But let me congratulate on your move to outer space! Does this mean you’re going to make an honest woman out of our Sally,” Midii asked more loudly than necessary, her voice innocent, her sparkling eyes wide and guileless.
“My what a leading question,” Sally answered for her embarrassed escort, but she winked at the younger girl. “I’ll tell you what Midii I’ll fight you for Dorothy’s bouquet. With these two stubborn bachelors we need all the luck we can get.”
“No fair,” Midii teased back. “You’re so much taller you’re sure to win and I’ll be stuck as a dreary old spinster.”
She cast a glance at Trowa to see the effect of her words but he was talking over her head to Quatre and Heero and she pouted a bit. As touched and surprised she had been to see Thierry at the ferry a part of her had secretly hoping that Trowa’s surprise would be an engagement ring. But Trowa had always been unique, he knew that reuniting with her brother would be more important to their relationship than a mere ring. She shrugged philosophically as Cathrine and Wufei came up to them. He loved her and that was all that mattered she told herself but she wondered what could possibly be holding him back from formalizing their relationship.
“You are incredible,” Heero breathed in Relena’s ear as she tugged his hand softly and led him into the enormous white tent set up in the largest of the kingdom’s gardens. The dim interior was a fairyland of white and gold. Golden chandeliers dangled from a support that ran the length of the white canvas and tiny golden lights twinkled amidst yards and yards of white and ivory tulle that was draped over the walls and entranceways. The scent of thousands of exotic orchids and lilies sweetened the air with their heady scent.
“Well I can hardly claim credit for this Heero,” she smiled. “I must congratulate Pagan and the staff, it is absolutely lovely, just as I always dreamed.”
“Relena,” he whispered, and she gazed up into his piercing dark blue eyes.
“No,” she said in a tired voice, one that had repeated these same words over and over before. “I am not sorry we were married in the mayor’s office in Bonaficio. I didn’t need all of this to be truly married to you, Heero. I didn’t want to wait to be your wife.”
She tiptoed to kiss him and smiled softly as he grunted to himself, making a short noise of disbelief. Perhaps he’d never believe it, but it was true. The trimmings were unimportant, and although it had been wonderful to do this for Dorothy and Quatre’s benefit, she did not regret in the least the private ceremony she had shared only with Heero.
To her delight he took advantage of their brief moment alone to pull her up against him and deepen the kiss. She sighed as he held her close. Too quickly the harsh, intrusive sound of a throat clearing broke the moment and Relena glanced over Heero’s shoulder to see Duo waving frantically from the opening.
“Cut it out you two, the real newlyweds are coming,” he flashed them a look of mock annoyance, then winked and grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing tray. A pair of red, ripe, raspberries floated decadently in each crystal flute of the sparkling golden liquid.
When everyone had entered and settled in the delicate white chairs Relena stood. She had volunteered to welcome everyone here to her kingdom and by now public speaking came with ease and was something she thoroughly enjoyed. She looked out over all the faces in the crowd, waiting until the talking and laughter had hushed before beginning to speak the words she had prepared.
“I know we can never forget the wars that have passed away into history or those we have lost, many of the people of this beautiful kingdom which tomorrow will become a shrine to peace for all time in honor of my parents, the former rulers,” Relena said, her voice soft but strong enough to be heard throughout the gathering. “We have also lost many others who are dear to us and should be here at this happy time. Some of us have, had to do sacrifice even our goodness to bring about peace but now, in the words of a far better orator than myself, ‘the better angels of our nature’ can shine through at last. I have a letter here, written during the war. Perhaps it was one of the things I should not have done, the letter was not intended for me but I read it and it has become an inspiration and comfort to me and I find myself turning back to it often. I wish to share it with all of you here today. It is the spirit of our new world, the Earth Sphere United Nation.”
The room quieted to a hushed silence as Relena began to read:
“I was very surprised by the suddenness of your visit. So, I couldn't convey what I was thinking very well. That is why I am writing this letter. Don't suffer from the regret of your mistake in the battle. Noventa and Ventei died in order to create a world for pure young people like you to live in peace. No regrets. This is war. Everybody regrets their own mistakes. However, you are still young. Think about a peaceful future. We were very glad to see you. I hope that peaceful future will come soon. My dear Heero Yuy.”
With the perfect timing of a seasoned politician, Relena let her words sink in before speaking again.
“This was written by the widow of Alliance Forces Field Marshal Noventa to my husband Heero. Our time has come and I wish for all of you what this courageous woman wished for Heero and for all those who fought for peace. We must have no regrets now and must all participate fully in the peaceful future that has been attained by all of us.”
The room roared with applause and cheers as Relena sat down.
“Thank you Miss Relena,” Quatre said, standing. She smiled at his beaming face and sighed a bit that he still insisted on calling her Miss Relena after all the time they had known each other.
Dorothy swept over to her, not content with mere words of gratitude, and bent and kissed her friend, squeezing her shoulders tightly in a fierce embrace.
There was a bit of the old twinkle of battle in her eye.
“Let us hope to see these words ring true for years to come,” Dorothy whispered. She could not resist adding. “Still I hope there’ll still be a few rough spots along the way, I do so enjoy watching you handle them.”
Wufei glanced at Cathrine, sipping daintily at her glass of champagne. His face remained stern and unsmiling but he congratulated himself on how lovely she looked. She wore a silvery white dress with slender shoulder straps and the soft material floated around her like a cloud. He remembered she had been wearing something like it in Corsica when he had watched her covertly and first noticed he was attracted to her, her sweetness and her femininity.
Things had gone on like this between them long enough, he thought. He was a man of honor after all and it had nagged at him for quite some time that there relationship deserved to be taken to another level. He could feel a small weight in the inside pocket of his dark jacket and decided the time had come to make his intentions known.
“C’mere,” he heard her whisper huskily, mischief glimmering in her pale violet eyes.
He glanced around quickly to be sure no one, especially Maxwell, was looking. He leaned closer and kissed her, feeling her lips smile beneath the touch of his. He could taste the fizz of the sparkling wine on her lips as they opened beneath the pressure he exerted on them.
Now was the time, he thought, when the kiss was over he would ask….
With a soft laugh Cathrine pushed the ripe raspberry she’d been holding in her mouth into Wufei’s. She wrapped her arms around his waist, smiling at the surprise on his face.
“Isn’t it sweet,” she asked, kissing him soundly on the cheek, watching his surprise at her unexpected lover’s gesture.
He flushed hotly, knowing he wanted to be with her forever. This wonderful, beautiful, woman who never took him to seriously and taught him the joys of love and laughter.
He took her small, pale left hand in his own.
“Cathy,” he whispered in her ear, the other hand fumbling in his jacket. “My Cathrine…
No, he groaned silently, looking up to see Midii and Sally looking at them quizzically. They were tugging on Cathrine’s arms.
“Cathyyyyyyyy,” Midii cajoled. “Dorothy’s going to throw the bouquet. Aren’t you coming? Weren’t you paying attention?”
Wufei slumped in his seat as he watched Cathrine disappear into the garden with the two other girls. He scowled at Midii’s retreating back, that girl always did have the worst timing. However, if all went as planned, he would have Cathrine all to himself and they would no longer be subject to the never-ending, tumultuous adventures of Midii and Trowa!
Standing in the sunlit garden Safira Winner’s cheeks were pink with excitement and her aquamarine eyes sparkled like the stones in her sister Yasmina’s necklace. Most of Quatre’s sisters had crowded into the small grassy space where Dorothy planned to toss her bouquet. But not Yasmina of course. She felt herself above such a ridiculous display of superstition.
“I’m positively overwhelmed by Miss Winners,” Sally whispered to Midii and Cathrine as the three stuck together in the crowd of single girls all anxious for a chance at the big prize.
A member of the hired orchestra came out to the garden and blew a short trumpet fanfare and Quatre handed Dorothy carefully up a small gilded stepladder to give her better leverage. Cathrine squeezed Midii’s hands and whispered to her.
“Oh I hope you catch it! I was sure Trowa would have asked you by now but he’s always been difficult, it took me almost a year merely to get a smile out of him!”
“I feel lucky,” Midii said confidently as Dorothy caught her eye in a meaningful glance before turning to make the fateful throw. Quick as a wink the small bunch of flowers flew through the air as all the girls watched it silently for a split second before erupting into a squealing, thronging mass.
“Yikes,” Hilde exclaimed, standing next to Relena and the other married women on the sidelines. “Makes me glad I’m not out there.”
Midii felt the tickle of silky, satin ribbon slide tantalizingly through her fingers. Dorothy’s aim had been true but she couldn’t stand her ground. The flowers bounced out of her grasp and out into the madding crowd
Everyone looked to see Cathrine standing in the center of the group holding the small bouquet of pale pink and ivory rosebuds. The ends of the ivory satin ribbon trailed down into the grass as she looked at the flowers as if wondering where they’d come from. There was a smattering of applause and a few audible groans of disappointment as the girls dispersed.
Quatre handed Dorothy down from her perch, leading her behind a convenient hedge for a bit of privacy before the guests could catch up with them.
“Can I tempt you to make a run for it,” Dorothy murmured wickedly in his ear as her hands disappeared beneath the charcoal gray tailored morning coat he wore.
Quatre shook his head as he bent to kiss her. “What am I going to do with you Dorothy,” he asked.
She raised a brow and wrapped her arms around his neck, savoring the brief moment before they would be discovered.
“Better luck next time,” Trowa said serenely, trying not to laugh at Midii’s expression as he pulled her hand through the curve of his arm. She looked like a child who’d just found out there was no Santa Claus. “Come on, I’ll get you a glass of champagne instead,” he added as he led her back into the tent.
“Aren’t they lovely,” Cathrine said softly, holding the flowers out almost shyly for Wufei to examine. He brushed his fingers silently over the delicate petals, feeling unable suddenly to meet her eyes. What if she should say no? Buried fear and shame flickered inside as he suddenly thought of Meiran. He had been a disappointment to her and it had taken years for him to escape the memory of her scornful ghost, the guilt of allowing his wife to die in battle. Cathrine was so very different, but she had her own brand of strength, ferocious as a lioness when those she loved were threatened.
For the second time he took her small hand in his and dared to look down into those gentle lavender eyes.
Instead of a demure smile from his beloved Wufei found himself looking at a pair of mischievous violet eyes and a wide grin that could only be described as naughty as Duo stuck his head bravely between the romantic pair.
“You’re in for it now Wufei,” Shinigami said, laughter in his voice as he noted the irritation in his friend’s jet black eyes. “According to the rules you two have to be the next to get married. Thought I’d never see the day. Be sure you invite me to the wedding!”
Cathrine smiled and shook her head at Duo’s antics, her auburn curls bouncing on her shoulders.
She hurried to reassure Wufei that she hadn’t caught the bouquet with any intention of claiming her traditional rights.
“We are perfectly happy just the way things are. Catching some silly flowers doesn’t mean he has to marry me. It’s rather fun just being together without all the formality, isn’t it?”
She kissed Wufei soundly on the cheek, leaving a perfect imprint of her soft red lipstick on his skin.
“Ha!” Duo said, pouncing on Cathrine’s words. “Sounds to me like a very polite rejection Wufei! Take my advice Cathy and don’t let him tie you down.”
Duo noticed Wufei’s face turn red and a spark in his black eyes.
“Gotta dash,” he said, turning swiftly on his heel before the other man could speak his mind.
Cathrine shook her head again and sighed, Wufei could smell the familiar fragrance of her shampoo as her hair moved about her shoulders and pulled her close in a swift embrace, burying his nose in the soft ruddy curls and inhaling deeply.
“Was there something you wanted to ask me a moment ago,” she asked, looking up into inscrutable black eyes.
She felt him shake his head as he hid his face against her hair and she smiled to herself a bit as she felt the pressure of a suspicious square ‘something’ in the breast pocket of his jacket as he held her close.
Rasid watched Miss Yasmina wander off among the fragrant beds of bright spring flowers away from the others. He saw her hand reach up to play nervously with the necklace that sparkled around her slender, swanlike neck. In the warm sunlight her hair shone like pure gold and the heat added a flush to her pale cheeks.
She was so slim and delicate he felt as if a touch from him could hurt her and yet last night when he had held her arm in his hand, his fingers closing around her fine-boned wrist she had not even flinched.
This intriguing woman reminded him very much of Master Quatre when he had first met him, a bit arrogant and spoiled but the hard exterior was only a shell that sheltered someone who could so easily be hurt by the world.
The tall soldier, a leader of men, felt suddenly awkward and unsure of how to proceed. She was like a princess. Yasmina Winner was proud and aristocratic. But she was a Winner, and to Rasid that gave her every right to be so.
As he hesitated in flustered indecision his opportunity to approach her was lost.
A tall shadow fell over Yasmina making her turn slowly to discover the source. What she saw made her heart catch and almost skip a beat.
He was a prince straight out of a fairy tale. Beautiful eyes of the most astonishing shade of azure gazed at her intently and his hair was like a waterfall of pure, shining light, so pale a blonde it was almost white. It fell gracefully about his shoulders and down to his waist like a mantle of royalty.
For a moment Yasmina felt as giddy and young and hopeful as Safira. She could feel her skin burning hot and she unconsciously put her hand to her face to feel the heat and convince herself this was actually happening. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out.
He was taking her hand in his and gently he lifted her fingers to his lips, placing upon them the barest of kisses.
She nodded, her voice still trapped in her constricted throat. She felt an odd sense of loss as he dropped her hand.
“I am Milliardo Peacecraft. It’s a pleasure. I hate to interrupt this family occasion but my stay on Earth will not be long and I wonder if I might persuade you to discuss a bit of business with me. You see we’re not having the success we hoped on our Mars Terraforming project and I am certain you could be of help. I’d like to discuss the possibility of our recruiting at Winner Industries with your permission…
The rest of his mundane words filtered off into a haze of disappointment. Business, always business. It was all Father had cared for after Mother died, it seemed it was all anyone cared for. Would anyone ever care only for her, she wondered. Would anyone ever look at her as Quatre looked at Dorothy?
Forcing her mind back to his proposition she consented to investigating the possibility of sending a contingent from Winner Industries to become involved in the colonization project.
Trowa held back the trailing, leafy green branches of a budding weeping willow tree and Midii ducked beneath his arm. The emerald-tinged light surrounded them and the sheltering branches muted the sounds of the celebration just a few feet away. A rustic little bench made of twisted branches sat beneath the spreading tree as if it had grown there and Midii sat down upon it with a sigh and sipped her champagne. She shut her eyes and breathed in the fresh outdoorsy scent.
When she opened her eyes the sight of him nearly took her breath away. His eyes seemed to glow and capture all the green light in the secret place. Her mouth felt dry as she felt him take the glass from her hand and set in on the ground. His hand slid around her waist and at the pressure of his fingers she found herself leaning closer and closer never taking her eyes off those shining green orbs that stared into hers. With a hungry moan she felt him kiss her, her lips parting eagerly to receive his kiss. Midii’s skin tingled as his hands slid softly up and down her bare arms.
His mouth traveled from her lips to the skin beneath her ear and lingered tantalizingly on her forehead as his hand reached up to tangle themselves in the loose, silky curls that hung down her back.
She rested her head on his shoulder, both of them knowing this was only a momentary escape, they would be missed soon. Midii felt she wanted to stay here forever in this solitary, peaceful spot, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath her cheek and his breath on her hair and his hand moving against her back. She tightened her arms around his waist and pressed herself nearer until she smelled the heady scent of the rose on his lapel being crushed by their closeness.
“"N'oublies jamais que je tu est mien et je suis tienne."*,” she whispered in his ear, pulling herself up on her knees on the little bench so she was looking down on him a bit. She brushed back his hair and looked at his face before hugging him close again so that his head rested against her heart.
Midii shivered as she felt the touch of his lips against the delicate skin that peeked over the top of her dress, his seeking hands moving easily over the smooth pale blue fabric of her gown. Her pulse raced as he brought her wrist up to his mouth and she felt him suckling gently at the sensitive skin there raising goosebumps on her bare upper arms.
“I have something for you,” he said suddenly, and she pulled back a bit, looking at him curiously.
Her heart caught in her throat as she watched him pull aside his jacket and reach into his pocket. She saw the glitter of gold and diamonds and for a second everything blurred and the word “yes” formed on her lips before he could even speak.
“You dropped this in the garden before,” Trowa said, sliding the bangle bracelet over her wrist gently. “I think it’s a little bit big for you, be more careful Midii.”
She looked down dumbly at the shining gold and tiny sparkling diamonds of the bracelet Dorothy had given her as a gift that morning.
“Thank you for finding it for me,” she whispered, hiding her face and her disappointment against his neck.
“I couldn’t keep my eyes off you,” he whispered back and she scolded herself for wanting too much too fast. Life was certainly perfect just as it was, here in this peaceful green bower with the one she had always loved.
Next time on Price of Redemption…yet another chapter!…will this fic ever end?…Milliardo continues recruiting Martian colonists…Diarmid sings O_o…somebody finally pops the question…Dorothy proves her worth to Yasmina…the story ends, well, except for the epilogue, I think…no seriously, stay tuned for Chapter 25—The End!!
*“Always remember that you are mine and I am yours.” (Grand merci Little Green for the proper translation!!)
Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay and thanks for your patience and gentle reminders ^_^ The next part should be up soon and is already nearly complete. If the Dorothy and Milliardo scene reminded you a bit of A Corner of Her Heart it’s because that fic was inspired by ideas for this one and was sort of a test run.