The Price of Redemption
Chapter 26: Epilogue
By Midii Une
Her heels made a soft but distinctive click that even the sawdust scattered haphazardly on the cracked cement floor failed to completely hide. Midii frowned and pursed her lips, blowing a strand of tarnished gold hair from her face in irritation as she weighed the cost of the new thigh-high silk stockings purchased especially for this occasion with the endless quest for stealth.
As she pondered her dilemma a low, fierce growl disturbed the thick, almost ominous gloom that surrounded her and she spun silently toward the sound.
“Oh who’s scared of you,” she whispered, tossing her head defiantly at Jupiter, the circus’s star lion. The magnificent beast glared at the girl with suspicious golden eyes. Jupiter loved Trowa. Jupiter loved Cathy. Jupiter had purred like a kitten when Thierry had come to visit. Jupiter hated Midii.
Having grown used to the god-like creature’s scorn Midii ignored Jupiter and having decided to sacrifice her stockings for the almighty element of surprise, bent carefully to remove her shoes. Immediately noticing her movement the watchful lion opened his giant mouth for a roar.
“No, you nasty beast, be quiet…” she pleaded frantically, trying to shush him with a finger pressed to her lips. She could swear there was a look of retribution in the eyes that watched her haughtily as a deep, horrific sound began to fill the large, cavernous room. Midii stamped her small, stockinged foot in frustration. Now she’d never find out what he was up to!
“I’m really, really sorry, okay Trowa! But you should have been more careful with it. I don’t know if there’s another one like it in the galaxy. I looked for that one for months and you went and busted it,” Duo said, his voice a bit testy. Trowa was beginning to get on Shinigami’s last nerve.
“That piece of crap you called a part was rusted almost completely through. It snapped under the smallest pressure. Tonight was supposed to be the night Duo. Damn it, this was supposed to be it!”
Duo shrugged. Trowa’s consternation was pathetic and amusing all at the same time. A smug grin started tugging at the corners of his wide mouth and before he could stop it turned into a full-fledged smirk as he studied the other pilot. He’d never seen Trowa so flustered and suffering from such a total lack of composure. The trailing brown bangs were pushed back from his face sticky with sweat and tangled from the numerous times he’d run his long fingers through his hair in irritation. Numerous small cuts smudged brown blood on those fingers and more than one spot of grimy grease bedecked the smooth planes of his face.
“You’re asking the impossible buddy! That was the last one of those in existence, ‘k? No more, capisce? Just be normal and do it the old-fashioned way. Not like she’ll say no you big dummy,” Duo said, snorting with derisive laughter.
“Keep your opinions to yourself and just find it for me you so-called God of Junk,” Trowa hissed.
“So-called? That hurts Tro, I’ve tried, really I have. You’re asking for miracles here,” Duo protested.
A voluptuously deep-throated, leonine roar echoed loudly through the storage facility adjacent to the animals’ quarters.
“Uh-oh,” Duo squealed in mock terror. “Trouble has entered the building. She’s gonna catch you Tro, she’s gonna find out your deep dark secret….
“Can it Maxwell. Just get that part for me. A promise is a promise,” Trowa said, clicking off the monitor curtly.
“Yeah right,” Duo mumbled. “You can’t find what ain’t out there buddy.”
Jupiter roared again, a note of triumph in his voice as he pushed his big face against the bars and thrust one of his massive paws, thick with threatening claws out toward the despised intruder. Midii could feel the deep, throaty sound reverberating in her chest and her heart thumped with primal, instinctive fear. If that thing ever got out she would be its first meal, she just knew it!
She backed away slowly, trying to fix the angry animal with a confident glare when she felt strong arms wrap around her waist from behind. Her fear melted and she put out her tongue at Jupiter. She was safe, she had their beloved Trowa to herself and he was stuck in that cage. Ha!
“What are you doing out here in this dirty old place,” Trowa whispered in her ear, tightening his grip on her slender waist and inhaling the soft lavender fragrance that clung to her skin and hair. “You shouldn’t pick on poor old Jupiter. Seeing you always riles him up Midii.”
“He wants to eat me up, I just know it,” Midii said, nestling closer in Trowa’s embrace.
Her lover groaned at the imagery her words conjured and she felt his breath hot on the skin of her throat and the sharp, almost painful nibble of teeth on her earlobe.
“I know how he feels,” he said in her ear, sending delicious shivers down her spine. His fingers found the place where the silk stocking met her skin and she rested her head back against his shoulder, reaching her arms up to encircle his neck as she pressed herself against him.
“These are new,” she felt him breathe as his fingers teased her. “What’s the occasion?”
She pulled away and turned to face him, struggling to contain the shock and hurt that were staining her face an angry red despite herself. He had to be joking. Didn’t he?
He wasn’t. His eyes reflected no humor only a blank questioning look and a rather wolfish gleam as he noticed her deep décolletage. She noticed that he was filthy, greasy and had probably been wearing that same torn, dirty white t-shirt every night when he came out here. He always returned to her very late, freshly showered and utterly exhausted, sometimes rather grumpy.
“What are you up to out here Trowa? What is it you’re not telling me,” she asked, eyeing him suspiciously and trying to look angry.
He sighed tiredly but she noticed he avoided meeting her eyes, focusing instead on a small cut that had split the skin of his knuckle.
“I told you Midii, I’m doing some extra work for the manager to make up for all the time off I’ve taken,” he said, shaking is head so his bangs fell back into place and smiling at her slightly. “He still can’t get used to the fact I keep disappearing to take care of ‘things’ occasionally, I don’t think he ever will.”
“But what exactly are you doing,” Midii cried, grabbing his arms, which were slightly damp and sticky with drying sweat.
He saw her wrinkle her nose slightly and he laughed out loud both at the look on her face and that she had been distracted from pestering him about what he’d been doing.
“Eewww, Trowa! Hurry you need to shower,” she said turning toward the door and looking at him over her shoulder. “Seriously, we’ll be late.”
“Late for what,” he asked, puzzled.
He really had forgotten, she thought, but then again maybe to him that night had not been so special. The night one year ago when he had come to her apartment door, the first time they had seen each other in more than eight years. The wonderful, horrible night she had found him and lost him again in a matter of hours. Her lips tingled slightly with the memory of his first kiss and her hand felt again the tentative pressure of his fingers the first time he had taken her hand in his.
“It’s nothing really,” she said quickly, suddenly feeling a stubborn urge for him to remember on his own. Her face softened and her eyes sparkled as she looked at his face and anticipated his reaction. “Just hurry.”
“Did he remember? Do you suppose he suspects,” Cathrine asked, her conscience nagging her as she played her unaccustomed role of double agent. She felt torn knowing both Trowa and Midii’s every secret and doubt and sworn to secrecy not to tell what she knew.
She smiled behind her hand as she watched Midii pace around the room as Trowa showered. Occasionally the younger girl raced into the kitchen and came back with an item to pop into the box she had prepared. Cathy wished she could talk to Trowa though but there would be no chance with Midii hovering around anxious to keep the appointment she had set for the two of them.
“What could have gone wrong,” she wondered, her violet eyes resting on Midii’s anxious form speculatively.
Cathy felt doomed to a night of unfulfilled suspense. She was tired and felt oddly out of sorts, her anticipation of hearing some expected, but happy news had just not happened. Worst of all she had no idea why.
A bit of snooping was in order, it was the only way to set her mind to rest. She would wait forever if she waited for Trowa to enlighten her. He’d ignored her urgent looks that begged for information all the way out the door. She peered from between the blinds out the trailer’s small window. Trowa’s bike was long gone and she was safe. Still, Cathy felt a little guilty for prying, then she brightened. Could anyone blame her for doing Trowa’s laundry? With a vindicated bounce in her step she walked purposefully into the small bedroom Trowa and Midii shared and began plucking up Trowa’s discarded clothing. Of course she was sure to search each pocket, it wouldn’t do to accidentally ‘wash’ something important. Finally she pulled the pair of jeans Trowa had been wearing that day from beneath the bed, the hem just peeking beneath the dust ruffle of the carefully made bed. Seemed like true love would make a model housekeeper out of Midii yet, she thought cheerfully. Digging through the last of the pockets her hand emerged with a fistful of rusted, crumbling metal.
“Oh! Oh no,” she muttered. “This is a disaster!”
She stared at the orange-brown mess that stained her fingers with dismay. Her disappointment was so great she visibly started when she realized the vidphone was chiming at her insistently.
“Wufei! How wonderful of you to call,” she managed, failing to hid the miserable feeling she experienced whenever she felt the crumbled mass of metal in her hand.
“Well,” he said impatiently. He stood in front of the vidscreen with his arms crossed over his chest and his dark eyes gleaming expectantly. “Has he finally done it?”
Cathy shook her head sadly and held out the remains of the long sought after key to Trowa’s future happiness.
“Maxwell! Why would anyone assign him to a mission like this? Don’t tell me we have to wait until he finally gets it right,” Wufei said, there was a hint of pleading in his voice and in the black eyes that held her violet ones across the miles between the colonies where they currently resided.
She bit at the soft flesh of her lower lip, her glance evasive as he sensed her indecision. He had a horrible uncomfortable feeling that Trowa’s happiness meant more to her than him, than the promise of their life together. The people of his clan married young and he already felt time slipping away.
“Please understand,” Cathy begged. “If it’s what you really want I won’t wait, but I can’t be truly at peace with going away until I’m sure that he’ll be happy. I love you with all of my heart , but if I left him behind before things got resolved it would be like losing my baby brother all over again and I couldn’t forgive myself. I failed Triton, I won’t fail Trowa. Please…”
“All right,” he muttered gruffly, but his fingers reached to the screen to touch the image of her face. As always he felt he’d do anything just to avoid the fall of the tears that pooled in her soft violet eyes. “But I’m not just going to sit back and wait. I’m going to take care of this and get those two straightened out myself.” He shivered a bit knowing it was possible he could be as old and shriveled as Master Long before that star-crossed pair settled things on their own.
After signing off with his own beloved, Chang Wufei, the most unlikely Cupid in the colonies, put in motion plans to contact a certain Gundam technician named Howard. He sat back in his chair, massaging the furrowed space between his eyes. This was going to be difficult, word was Howard was on a round-the-world tour of Earth’s oceans. Finding his signal was going to be like trying to locate a blue shirt in Quatre Winner’s closet. He grumbled again as he started his search and wondered why Trowa always had to be so difficult.
“Don’t peek and wait right here,” Midii ordered Trowa. She felt him follow closely behind her as she moved toward a door marked ‘authorized personnel only’. She sighed, shaking her head slightly as she turned back to him. “Please,” she said, tiptoeing to kiss him and pushing him back a few inches at the same time.
“Trust me!” she teased as he stared at her silently.
“You’re up to something,” he finally said, reaching after her departing figure.
She turned to look at him again, wagging her finger at him. “Yes, but trust me you’ll like it. And it’s not illegal!”
“At least not very,” she muttered to herself as she disappeared behind the door.
Trowa sighed and folded his arms, kicking a little at the box she’d made him carry in, stopping guiltily when he heard the mysterious rattle of glass. They were inside an innocuous, rectangle of a building with non-existent signage. Curiosity about the place and what she had planned almost made him follow after her but he restrained himself, knowing that his trust meant so much to her.
Midii flattened herself silently against the door and studied the lone attendant sitting before the screens depicting myriad images of the universe. She heard the rustle of paper and tilted her neck a bit to see what he was looking at. He was so completely occupied by whatever it was that he had totally missed her silent entry.
“Oh, so it’s like that,” she thought, smiling grimly as she tugged the tight knit shirt she wore down a bit further. He was engrossed in a Penthouse magazine. She crossed the room, impudently clicking her high heels on the tiled floor and perching herself on the edge of his work table. Midii crossed her legs allowing him a quick glimpse of silk-clad thigh and leaned forward to offer a peek at her cleavage.
“Wh-who,” he muttered, pushing his chair back and dropping his magazine.
“Preventer,” she snapped, adopting a stern look inspired by Heero Yuy and flashing her ID. “I’m commandeering the use of this facility for the night.”
“Y-you can’t,” he said, clutching his magazine to his chest protectively. “I have to man this station.”
Midii sprang off the desk and grabbed him by the shirt collar with both hands, pulling his face down close to hers. He dropped the magazine and gasped like a fish dangling from her line.
“Get out before I reveal the nature of your important reading material to your superior. If that’s not enough I’ll tell my partner out there you made a pass at me,” she hissed, kicking the unlucky magazine across the floor where it disappeared beneath a piece of equipment.
He stumbled back as she released the material of his shirt.
“Yes, yes Ma’am,” he said, saluting awkwardly and stumbling over his own feet and out the door.
“Oh-oh Christ! Oh dear God,” she heard the unlucky victim gasp as he bumped hard into Trowa’s unmoving and stoic figure waiting outside. “I never looked, I never touched her. Don’t kill me.”
Trowa merely regarded the man quizzically as he bounced off him and fell to his hands and knees scrambling out of the building. He peered out the window as car tires screeched and disappeared down the remote and deserted road in a cloud of dust.
There was silence from the room beyond the door. Having had enough of anticipation and trust Trowa picked up Midii’s precious box and tracked her through the door. It was a control room of some kind.
“Oh wow,” he gasped, forgetting Midii for the moment and setting down the box. He pulled up the chair that had rolled back from the abandoned work station and sat down and stared at the screens. Glittering stars, far-off constellations and milkily glowing nebulae were displayed on every screen. Real-time pictures from myriad observation satellites flashed before his eyes. Outer space, really the stars themselves, had been the one thing he’d clung to all his life, something shining and beautiful in a world that had been so ugly and lonely. Not Midii, not Cathy, but the stars had always been there, even shining down on him after the Vayeate exploded until even his knowledge of self was lost.
Midii watched him there, hiding in the room beyond, a hand clinging to the smooth wooden door frame. She loved his eyes, filled with stars, as he looked at the screens and forgot everything else as he studied the screens. The awe and surprise in his voice as he said something as simple and ordinary as ‘oh wow’ made her feel warm and perfectly content. He liked this place she had found for him, he really, really liked it. She forgot her earlier irritation and her own desires. She loved him and this thing she had done had made him truly happy. She watched as he rested his chin in his hand and leaned closer as a brilliant flash lit one of the screens.
“What was that,” she whispered, coming around the corner to stand beside his chair. He reached an arm across her waist and rested a hand on her hip without taking his eyes off the screen.
“The Winstead SuperNova, I think,” he said, his voice reverent. “As far as I recall that’s the star astronomers predicted would be the next to flare out.”
“Flare out?” Midii asked, watching the cascades of light die on the screen.
“Winstead’s several billion light years away. It is, or was, the biggest star in a system discovered by James Winstead in the pre-colonial era,” Trowa explained patiently, his fingers moving softly yet absently against the fabric of her skirt. “It probably exploded into that supernova when Earth was just a ball of lifeless sea and dirt.”
“And we’re seeing it now, together,” Midii whispered, her fingers playing gently with the short hairs that grazed his collar. They stayed that way silently for some time watching the screens, spotting shooting stars and planets.
Trowa finally shook himself slightly.
“That was a fairly important cosmic event,” he said, playing with the buttons with confidence that surprised Midii and brought the images of the supernova back on screen. The light from the explosion so long ago lit their faces again with the incredible white light as Trowa recorded the time and coordinates and the number of the stills that showed the sequence of events.
“Hey, what happened to that guy that made him get out of here so fast,” he asked, looking up at her quizzically, suddenly remembering the very odd behavior of the technician who probably should have been here recording this data.
Midii smiled and sat in his lap. She had decided to say nothing about the small anniversary she’d wanted to celebrate, this was enough. It was more than she’d ever felt she had the right to dream.
“This room is too crowded for three,” she said, hugging him and burying her face in his neck. “I found out about this place and I knew you had to see it.”
She raised her face from its hiding place in his shoulder and looked at him. She smiled to see his attention was already pulled back to those tempting screens.
“Hungry,” she asked. “I packed dinner and wine.”
“Mmm, later,” he muttered. “Hey look at this, what a great shot of Mars. You can even see the canals and bits of the start of the terraforming project. Soon it’ll be a real colony. A man I once knew named Howard told me we could have colonized outside this solar system if the Peacemillion space craft hadn’t been destroyed.”
The boy paced around the small Martian communications room like a caged lion. He was 16, slim and blonde with eyes the color of a stormy sea. Unique blue eyes that Lucrezia Noin-Peacecraft had noticed and admired when she and her husband had discovered the young stowaway on one of the supply craft that had docked at the Mars Terraforming Headquarters a little more than a year earlier.
Michel Une leaned momentarily against the cold steel wall before beginning his restless movements again.
“Hey Mike, calm down. It’s almost time,” his companion said, his lips curving into an understanding smile as he pushed dark red locks away from his forehead. His own hands were a bit sweaty in anticipation.
“Diarmid, tell me again about my sister,” the boy said, moving to hunker down beside the man sitting in the only chair on the small room.
“You’ll see for yourself in about T minus 3 minutes,” the older man said, tousling the boy’s shiny blond waves. “She’s going to be so happy to see you, I can’t wait to see her face.”
Please God, she’ll have to forgive me now, be my friend again. Diarmid’s face was hot with shame recalling his unforgivable antics at Quatre’s wedding, the cause of his own self-exile to the deepest manned reaches of space. Who’d have thought he’d find the path to redemption here on Mars to make up for the wrong he’d done her, laying hands on her in anger? Her, someone he could have loved for a lifetime.
“You’ve got a crush on Midii, haven’t you,” Mike said, studying Diarmid’s face curiously.
“She’s a lovely woman and I merely appreciate that,” Diarmid said defensively. He had to change the subject, there was no future in a ‘crush on Midii’, she and Trowa were a cold, hard fact. Emphasis on cold and hard but that was her choice not his, never his.
“By the way my lad, I’ve noticed you gazing at our dear Commander Noin with something of a look in your eye,” Diarmid teased with a wink of one bright blue eye. And it was teasing, he knew that the poor kid needed a big sister to mother him and watch out for him. But it should be Midii and not Noin.
Mike’s fair skin turned the approximate color of a boiled lobster.
“Miss Noin is my best friend. She let me stay here, you know that,” the boy protested hotly. He couldn’t find the precise words to explain how much Noin meant to him, her acceptance and the way she gave him a place to call home at last.
“Down boy, I was just joshing with you,” Diarmid said, lightly punching his young friend’s soldier. “Guess we’re both nervous about seeing Midii again. Be sure to thank Miss Noin again for letting us have at the com room first. Lots of folks have been waiting weeks to contact the L3 cluster, damned place doesn’t get in the right orbit near fast enough for news like ours.”
As Milliardo Peacecraft’s assistant on the terraforming project it hadn’t taken Diarmid long to become acquainted with Noin’s young friend. The resemblance between Midii and Michel was too complete for him to miss. Since then the two had become friends and waited for this day when Mike could be reunited with his sister at last.
“Visual communication with the L3 colony cluster now possible,” the computer alerted the two young men.
For the second time that evening the video communicator in Cathrine Bloom’s trailer gave off its insistent chime. Gay little notes with the air of a circus tone floated through the room, her own small personal touch. She moved to the com unit slowly, with a pleased smile. So he had decided to call again, she thought, feeling the satisfaction of a woman desired and sure that her caller must be Wufei.
The easy smile faded when she saw a familiar but unexpected face on the screen. She stared at him silently for some moments before finding the means to express herself.
“It’s you! Where are you? You’re not here,” she said, her words coming quickly once she found her voice, like water from behind a broken dam.
“I need Midii please,” Diarmid floundered, he hadn’t thought somehow that Cathrine or even Trowa would answer. He’d felt Midii would sense somehow who was on the other end of the call and be the one to pick up.
“Don’t do this. Don’t ruin everything, not now,” Cathrine said, her eyes gleaming fiercely while her fingers caressed one of her knives which lay on the table.
“Miss Bloom, please, I’m calling from Mars, it’s very important. She’ll want to speak to me, I know it,” Diarmid said frantically. “Look I’ve got her br-
“Go away! Leave Midii alone, she’s not here and she won’t want to speak to you again ever! Good night,” Cathrine said, flipping off the unit and setting it to ignore.
“Oh the nerve of that man,” she thought, clenching her fists tightly before picking up the knife, whirling and hitting her practice target on the kitchen wall dead center. “I’m so glad Midii wasn’t here. He’s nothing but trouble. I knew it from the start.”
For an instant Cathy felt guilty, perhaps Midii would be more forgiving. But didn’t that mean it was for the best she wasn’t home? Cathy decided she wouldn’t tell her about the upsetting call. The whole Diarmid Walker episode was best forgotten.
A girl in a plain gray coverall sat in the small waiting room, shoulder-to-shoulder with other homesick Mars colonists anxious for their chance to spend a rare few moments talking with someone at home.
Safira was luckier than most, she reminded herself of that as her slim fingers absently twirled a tawny corkscrew curl. She had sisters to call at each LaGrange point so she would be able to make contact with someone at least once a month to report on the progress of Winner Enterprises’ Mars Division. It was hard, frustrating work and her turquoise eyes were drawn and tired. Everything here was new and uncharted, progress was slow and horribly haphazard. Construction that seemed to be moving along at a steady pace would suddenly stall, bogged down with unforeseen problems that she had to find the answers to. She studied borrowed space engineering texts at night in her small room until her eyes were red and bleary. But she was finding answers and a certain pride and new sense of belonging here on Mars. The university courses Yasmina had insisted on suddenly made sense and the information fell into place.
She glanced down at the report she would give to Badriyah, a sister who controlled a group of resource satellites in L3. Badriyah would pass them on to Yasmina and they would finally reach Quatre’s desk at the L4 headquarters. Her stomach clenched miserably at the thought of her only brother and the secret she had revealed so cruelly.
Suddenly the door of the com room slammed open with a force that shook the small waiting room. A boy raced past her so fast the papers of her report flew from her hands and scattered on the floor. She caught a glimpse of aching heartbreak in a pair of blue eyes that reminded her even more of the wrong she had done Quatre.
“Mike, wait up! Don’t be this way, it’s not because of you,” a voice called. A red-haired man followed the boy, struggling through the crowd who had gathered to get a turn in the com room. He turned slightly trying to work his way out when he bumped against someone soft and small.
Diarmid looked down into Safira’s eyes, wide with surprise.
“It’s you,” he whispered, leaning closer, lifting a hand as if to touch her face and be sure she was real. He had heard rumors that a member of the Winner family was running things here on Mars but had never dreamed it could be this girl. Milliardo Peacecraft had always handled the dealings between Martian government and Winner Enterprises peacefully so the two of them had never had opportunity to meet
As it was the first time she’d seen him she felt as if she were in a dream, her mouth opened a bit but no words came out. There was a struggle evident on his face.
“Sorry,” he said, drawing his hand back before it made contact. “I’ve gotta find my friend. I blew it for him, like I mess up everything.”
The bright blue eyes were so sad as they looked at her that Safira found her voice. She grabbed at his hand and squeezed it briefly.
“Good luck,” she whispered, as he finally made it out the door.
To be continued