The Price of Redemption
Epilogue Part 2
By Midii Une
Lucrezia Noin shut the metal door behind her firmly and leaned against it with a tired sigh. Often she felt a nostalgic pang for her position as instructor at the Lake Victoria Military Academy. She’d always had an affinity for boys that age and even though she was still quite young herself she’d acted as a motherly authoritarian figure for years past already.
And so of course young Michel Une was very special to her. With his blond hair and astonishing blue eyes he could be a youthful Zechs as she had seen him first at Lake Victoria, it was a combination predestined to capture her tender heart irrevocably. She loved that mysterious quality and the untapped potential; it was what had made her such an excellent and caring teacher. Mike filled the role of student for her and she hoped to help him become a strong, caring young man who would make a difference here on Mars.
Her husband entered the outer office with a handful of reports. Even though it was late on Mars there was so much administrative business that he worked all hours of the day. He preferred it that way, less time to think, less time to dwell on his past. Milliardo’s eyes rested on Noin’s tired figure as she leaned against the door to their living quarters. Dropping the papers on the desk he went to her and pulled her against him in a tender embrace. He damned himself as he did it, she had given up too much to be with him but he dared not question her decision again. A brief smile of admiration touched his lips; if he asked that question just once more she was likely to challenge him to a duel.
“What’s the trouble Noin,” he asked tenderly instead, massaging her shoulders.
“It’s Mike,” she sighed. “He couldn’t make contact with his sister on L3 after all and it’s broken his heart. I feel responsible Zechs, for everything that’s happened to him. I should have investigated his background more thoroughly and we might have been able to reunite him with Midii at the wedding. And then there’s what happened at Mogadishu. I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
A muscle in the tall man’s jaw twitched. The massacre at the Alliance’s Mogadishu Fortress was something both of them would like to forget and again he cursed himself for pinning the blame for that fiasco on Noin for a brief time. The two self-styled executioners of the Alliance holdouts had been none other than her own prize students, Alex and Mueller. He’d killed the pair of them himself, disgusted by their dishonorable actions. Actions that tarnished the noble office of soldier.
He knew that part of Noin’s personal interest in the homeless boy they found was that he’d told them he was one of the few Alliance survivors to escape Mogadishu in AC 195. He and his older brother had been military cadets there during the war, a long way from their home which he’d heard was a small village in the south of France. Michel Une had seen his brother Marc die in the battle, no it had been a murderous rampage, one couldn’t call it a battle.
She blamed herself of course and he should not have added to
her burden. He recalled the statement
she had once made so innocently and confidently that none of her soldiers would
ever perish in battle. Even as he’d argued with her he couldn’t help but love
the inherent sweetness in her soul. The former prince knew that this sweetness
gave her the unique ability to love a man such as himself unconditionally,
deservedly so or not. Milliardo
Peacecraft sighed. If only Noin had a
child of her own she wouldn’t get so caught up in the trials of this boy and
pour so much energy into his ups and downs.
But that comfort too was denied them here in this barren and undeveloped
outpost. He would not risk her health,
not even for her dearest wish.
A soft knock on the door dragged him from his thoughts.
“Come in,” he said, putting Noin gently away from him and straightening his jacket. He was a man who would follow protocol to his last breath, a man who was royal to the tips of his polished black boots.
“Miss Winner,” he nodded, bowing his head slightly. Winner Enterprises was a most important entity at the terraforming project. He had to show due respect and appreciation in every nuance of his attention to the girl, but he was a born diplomat and the gestures were genuine and natural.
“I just wanted to offer to help that boy,” Safira said, turquoise eyes on the floor, her voice a whisper. “I can contact my brother and he’ll get the message to Mike’s sister, he’ll see it done I can assure you.”
Mike’s dilemma had helped her see her own situation. She wanted Quatre’s forgiveness now as much as she wanted to help the distraught teenager be reunited with his long-lost sister.
Noin’s eyes lit with relief but there was sadness too. When Mike found his real sister he’d be leaving Mars and going home at last. Partings, always partings, she thought, but she had vowed to leave everything behind for Zechs and it was a vow she would never fail in. She loved him beyond everything and she always would.
Trowa shifted the sleeping girl in his arms.
“Midii,” he whispered tentatively. She moved a little, rubbing her face against his neck sleepily and lifting an arm to rest on top of his shoulder. She mumbled something unintelligible then immediately fell back into deep sleep.
The sun was starting to lighten the sky and he realized he had become so engrossed in the monitors displaying the alluring heavens that they’d never eaten dinner and he’d hardly said two words to her all night. He rubbed a tired hand over his bleary eyes and tilted his head back and forth to relieve the strain on his neck. There was the sound of tires on gravel and he smiled enigmatically. Whatever Midii’d done to get the proper authorities to give them this place to themselves had obviously worn off. He got up from the chair and shifted her in his arms.
“Midii,” he said again, more urgently, blowing gently in her face and grinning as she slapped at him. “We’ve been discovered.”
“Too tired,” she groaned sleepily, burying her face in his shirt.
“Okay,” he said, “but you’ll have to wake up to ride the bike home.”
“Nooo,” she whimpered pitifully.
He hid a smile and tried to look authoritative as he heard the observatory staff enter the building. Squaring his shoulders he decided just to brazen it out, it was what Midii would have done, if she’d been awake. He walked out the door with his sleeping partner cuddled in his arms and out into the front lobby.
“Preventer thanks you for your cooperation in this matter,” he said stiffly, his voice hiding laughter at the sight of the men’s astonished faces. “Proceed as usual.”
With that he exited the building unaccosted by the gaping men and set Midii carefully down on the motorcycle seat. She squinted at the morning light frowning.
“Are you awake enough to hold on,” he asked, cupping her face in his two hands.
“I guess,” she pouted.
“Thanks for last night,” he said softly. “I love you, you know.”
She nodded sleepily as he kissed her good morning.
Yasmina Winner peered at herself in the large gilt-framed mirror over her dresser, her mouth full of hairpins and most of her hair pinned neatly into a conservative French twist. With a half-smile she suddenly took the pins from her mouth and decisively pulled the other pins from her butterscotch tresses. Her hair fell in waves around her shoulders and she hummed a little as she put on a touch of soft mauve lipstick. She blushed a little at the sparkle the mirror reflected in her large navy blue eyes. She cleared her throat and squared her shoulders but the hint of smile remained.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs she could hear Dorothy’s tart voice regaling Quatre with the latest political news as they ate breakfast. Did her sister-in-law never rest from judging the state of current affairs? Yasmina had to admit that Dorothy’s astuteness was always amusing and definitely right on target while the acerbic little political cartoons she drew on the napkins at restaurants had once set her nearly rolling on the floor with laughter.
She realized now that Dorothy was both a friend and an ally. She should never have doubted her little brother’s instincts.
“Good morning lovebirds,” she said softly, tucking her chair up to the table in the sun-drenched breakfast room.
“You’ve done something with your hair,” Quatre said tentatively, not quite able to put his finger on the difference.
“Quatre, she hasn’t done anything to her hair! That’s the difference,” Dorothy retorted with an annoyed sigh. “You look much less like a mean old schoolmarm Yasmina, do keep your hair down more often. I’m sure the poor strands need a vacation from being pinned so tightly each day.”
Yasmina nearly choked on her coffee, but managed to roll her eyes at Dorothy over the gold-toned china rim.
“You look so much like Iria that way,” Quatre said softly. “I miss her so sometimes.”
“And I,” Yasmina said, thinking longingly of her deceased twin sister. “Thank you for saying that. She was always the better one of us.”
“That’s not true,” Quatre protested, reaching for her hand across the table. “It means so much to me that the two of us have gotten to know each other lately as a family and not just as business partners.”
Yasmina felt her throat clog with sudden tears. He was right, they were a family and this was how it should be between them not the strangers that father’s legacy had forced them to become. She dearly hoped Safira was content on Mars and finding a purpose in life and that someday they would all be reconciled.
“Oh enough cooing and billing about sibling love,” Dorothy said finally, breaking the awkward silence. “Not that I’m not glad you two are getting along. But still, doesn’t anyone else just wish Miss Relena would have that baby of hers already and get back on the universal stage where she belongs? Those old coots are simply helpless without her and nothing’s been accomplished since she was forced into early maternity leave by the dreadful husband of hers. I wouldn’t let Heero Yuy push me around if I were her! She dotes on that man too much.”
She tempered her tirade with a fond smile at Quatre and a quick peck on his cheek to show that she doted on her own man as much as Relena doted on Heero.
But Yasmina noticed a shadow of fear cross her brother’s face that seemed to go unnoticed by Dorothy.
“He’s thinking of mother still,” she thought sadly, her thoughts accompanied by a faded vision of a sweet-faced woman with flowing blonde ringlets.
The doorbell rang, startling her from her reverie and chasing the melancholy look from Quatre’s face as they all looked toward the front door.
“It’s dreadfully early for company,” Dorothy groused, frowning into the front hallway.
“I’ll get it,” Yasmina offered, her heart felt heavy in her chest and she swallowed, her throat dry. Such an odd feeling, the tiniest bit of precognition as she reached for the door handle.
Rasid stood out on the front stoop, smiling down at her, his dark eyes gentle.
“Miss Winner,” he said, eyes following the curve of her wavy golden hair and he was gratified by the hint of blush in her cheeks and shyness in her big blue eyes. “I hope I haven’t arrived too early but we’ve received a packet from Miss Safira on Mars and she asked expressly that it be delivered personally to you and Master Quatre. Due to the transportation issues it was easiest for her to send it to the Winner Base in Arabia.”
“She’s all right isn’t she,” Yasmina asked anxiously, hoping she hadn’t sent her sister into danger by advocating the mission to Mars.
“I think she’s grown up a bit, judging from what she’s written,” Rasid said, reaching out a hand to steady her. “She seems just fine.”
“Thank you for bringing it yourself,” Yasmina said, daring to lift her eyes flirtatiously up to the big man who towered over her.
“I-I was pleased to. It’s been too long since I saw Master Quatre…and you,” he confided, lowering his head toward hers.
“Come,” she said, turning away suddenly, her face hot with embarrassment at her own thoughts. “Quatre will be overjoyed to see you!”
Sally yawned and peered under her long golden lashes to judge the time. She had slept late but this was certainly acceptable, even for a high-ranking Preventer commander, especially when said commander was off on an impromptu honeymoon.
The sound of a low masculine chuckle sent tingles through her body and she felt a warm sense of content and satisfaction. There was indeed nothing like a night well spent with the man you loved and then waking up to the rich smell of coffee and the sound of his laugh.
“You sound quite pleased with yourself,” Sally purred, sliding from beneath the smooth cotton sheets and padding softly across the lushly carpeted floor to lean over her new husband’s shoulder.
“How could I help it,” he said, reaching back to tug gently on a golden curl. “Everything is just perfect. I still can’t believe you agreed to elope without even a second thought!”
“Jack, I gave it more than one thought even before you asked,” Sally said, smiling broadly. “I knew you were the one when you told me you’d decided to move here to the colonies to practice medicine. I was just waiting for you to pop the question.”
“An old-fashioned girl, eh? Just the way I like them,” he said.
Sally felt her eyes get misty so she decided to change the subject, besides being ‘old-fashioned’ she just wasn’t the sentimental type. Funny though how death and war had never made her cry while just the most vaguely romantic statement from Dr. Jack Anderson had her eyes filling dangerously.
“So what were you laughing about just now,” she asked. “Was I snoring?”
He laughed again, a deep chuckle that rumbled in his chest and made her feel she had come home.
“Not this time,” he teased, oofing as she playfully punched his shoulder. “I was just reading the colonial news briefs. You find the oddest things in these little pieces they use as filler. You’ll be interested to know Mrs. Anderson that we are not the only two romantics now in residence on this colony.”
“Do tell,” Sally said dryly.
“Well seems about a week ago a pair of sweethearts masqueraded as Preventers and performed a hostile takeover at the Steinhauer Observatory simply in order to get a little cozy under the stars,” he announced, awaiting her reaction.
“What!! Preventers! They caught them didn’t they,” Sally asked, beginning to pace the room as agitation set in. “There’s nothing funny about impersonating a Preventer agent I’ll have you know.”
“Oh but it is,” Jack said, pointing to the pop-up ad he’d minimized before she got out of bed. “Looks like they weren’t impersonators after all. We’ve got friends on this particular hunk of metal Sally. May I have the pleasure of escorting you to the circus?”
“Midii Une,” Sally said, the familiar circus logo reflected in her amused blue eyes. “I might have known. Well at least it’s a comfort that they weren’t real impersonators. And the way she’s corrupted Trowa Barton is something though, I’ll give her that.”
“Seems that young man could do with a bit of corrupting,” Jack said, unable to resist diagnosing the case. “I’d say our little miracle girl is just the one to fix what’s ailing that boy, I thought when I saw him in that hospital waiting room that I’d never seen such empty, haunted eyes.”
“Oh I approve. After all they’ve done for us those Gundam pilots deserve more than a little happiness,” Sally said, smiling. “All right, the circus is on, but I insist on front row seats and all the popcorn and caramel apples I can eat. I’ve always heard Cathrine Bloom’s knife act is something not to be missed.”
“Your wish is my command, m’lady,” he said nobly, he raised her fingers to his lips for a dainty kiss before the two broke out laughing again, their happiness contagious.
Trowa twisted restlessly in the sheets, he’d been up late trying to find a way to jerry-rig something mechanically so he could do without the part Duo said it was impossible to replace. Maybe the whole thing was hopeless, yet it seemed he was compelled to keep trying, that this was the way it was meant to be, the way it had happened in a dream he’d once had.
After Midii had finally fallen asleep he concentrated on dreaming it again, to see if he could just find the answers he had always sought, the answers about his past that seemed just out of reach.
But the dreams were fractured and left him feeling uneasy and he woke with a sense of foreboding. He sat up with his fists clenched and looked down at where Midii lay beside him. But she was gone, sunlight filled the room and he could hear the sounds outside of people, talking and working and laughing.
He lay back down heavily, pulling her pillow close, burying his face in it and breathing in the soft scent of her perfume.
“I’m not empty like you,” she screamed, her child’s voice choked with angry tears. “I’m filled with things…my family…my job…my guilt!”
Why, why was he remembering that all now? They were together, they loved each other. He rolled over into the space she slept in, the sheets were already cool. He bounded out of bed and moved out quickly into the main room, immediately feeling stupid, the dark thoughts fleeing at the sight of the two of them.
Cathy and Midii sat close together side by side on the sagging old couch. The morning sunlight coming in through the cheery sheer yellow curtains made Cathrine’s hair shine like bright copper while individual strands of Midii’s hair shone like gold. They each held on to one end of a pale blue knitted afghan and Cathrine’s voice was soft and patient as she explained the process.
“Keep the yarn tight when you cast on then it’s just over and under and repeat like that,” she said, watching her student expectantly.
He leaned back against the wall to watch the knitting lesson for a moment, almost laughing as the yarn quickly slipped off the needles Midii held. She lifted her head at the slight sound and let the ball of blue yarn bounce off her lap onto the floor as she took the handy excuse of his appearance to escape from the lesson. .
“She’ll never learn,” Cathrine groaned, leaning back against the soft, worn pillows.
“I’m hopeless aren’t I,” Midii said, gazing into Trowa’s eyes. “But you love me anyway don’t you?”
He held her tightly in response so that she looked at him wonderingly.
“Is something wrong,” she whispered softly so Catherine wouldn’t hear.
He shook his head, there was nothing wrong. But he felt anxious and uneasy just the same. Something threatened her, he could sense it as surely as Jupiter sensed her presence whenever she entered the animal enclosure.
“What’s wrong with Trowa,” Cathrine asked Midii as the other girl applied sparkling black eyeliner carefully and expertly around her lashes. “He’s been so restless today I hardly expect him to stand still during the act. He should be getting ready or the manager will start thinking he’s a punk kid again.”
Her remark broke the tension the two of them were experiencing over Trowa’s odd behavior. Midii held the brush away from Cathrine’s face as she giggled. She could just hear the gruff old manager growling “punk kid” and imagine Trowa staring at him in that impassive way he had, she paused to wipe tears of laughter from her eyes.
“Cathy,” she said suddenly, her voice serious. “You have to tell me what Trowa is up to out here all night. I can’t ever get past that lion to find out. Are you sure it’s something he’s promised the manager? With the way he’s been acting today I’m starting to worry a little.”
“I—well—I ,” Cathrine stuttered, not willing to lie but sworn to secrecy as well. “Oh look isn’t that Sally Po Trowa’s talking with out there. He looks upset.”
She momentarily congratulated herself that she hadn’t revealed anything and had managed to distract Midii without lying. However, it was true that Trowa looked rather upset. Her violet eyes met Midii’s blue ones and they nodded to each other quickly before racing outside to see what was going on now.
Sally studied the ground littered with straw, sawdust and various food wrappers. Trowa had been cool to her at Quatre’s wedding but she had put it down to the general chaos that surrounded most marriage ceremonies, not to mention the emotional crisis that had topped it all off. That had been part of the reason she’d agreed so wholeheartedly with Jack that the two of them should go ahead and simply elope. She had forgotten that Trowa might be more than a little unhappy with her about the circumstances of Midii’s last big Preventer mission, now she realized he’d been avoiding her rather pointedly since then.
“If you have anything to say to Midii you can tell it to me first,” he told her, lighting into his old friend with uncharacteristic ferocity. “If something needs to be done I’ll take care of it but just leave her out of it.”
Sally forgot she was here only to visit the circus and to see old friends. “Trowa I’m sorry about the way things turned out last time. But it’s the choice all of us, including Midii, have made to protect the peace. The wars are something that can never be repeated, too much was lost, including freedom. Certainly you understand that Midii may be needed for another mission at some point as easily as you might be called back yourself. We haven’t seen a whole lot of time go by since the end of the war where some faction or other hasn’t tried something. The destruction of the Gundams was a good thing but our very lack of defense is what will always encourage some power or other to make a bid for take over. We must use other means and unfortunately Midii can add to the strengths we have in her own unique way. You should be proud of her.”
“I am now, even if I couldn’t see it then,” Trowa admitted. “I just don’t trust you when it comes to assignments right now Sally. You encouraged her to go behind my back, she’s free to do as she wishes but I want to know about it and you can’t stop me from being her back up.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it Trowa,” Sally sighed. “I was wrong in that, I tend to get a little gung-ho when it comes to this job. But I won’t make that mistake again. Besides I’m not here on any type of Preventer business.”
Trowa looked skeptical but Sally was saved from further interrogation by the breathless arrival of Cathrine and Midii. Sally felt herself involuntarily take a step back; there was an intensely protective gleam in the auburn-haired girl’s eyes. What a pair she and Wufei must make, for all the girl’s femininity her inner strength was quite obvious.
Before she had to defend herself once again, her new husband came to her rescue, arms laden with a delectable assortment of the best refreshments the circus had to offer.
“Hello everyone! Why all the long faces,” he queried.
“I don’t think Trowa or Midii should have to go off to fight again! It’s too soon, she’s still not well,” Cathrine said, eyeing Sally suspiciously.
Sally sighed, she was feeling very unpopular at the moment.
“We’re just a pair of harmless newlyweds here to see the show,” Jack announced, grinning as he saw the delight appear on Cathrine and Midii’s face as they rushed to hug Sally.
“Sally’s not here to threaten your cozy little arrangement,” he said to Trowa confidentially as the girls demanded the details of the wedding from his bride. “Things are quiet, I’m sure you’ve been kept updated. I don’t know all the ins and outs, I’m just a civilian, but I know Sally would never have agreed to take a month off if there were any hint of trouble.”
Trowa nodded but he still focused watchful green eyes on Sally and Midii.
“I understand how you feel,” Sally’s new husband told him. “No one knows better than I do how close that girl came to losing her life back there in Brussels. But Sally’s the one who brought her back, she rushed headlong into a dangerous situation herself in order to get to her. That’s the woman I fell in love with.”
The star circus clown nodded his understanding and turned away wordlessly, headed toward the main tent. Cathrine darted after him, chattering to her silent audience about what a surprise Sally’s visit had turned out to be. Trowa only half-listened. Probably his worries had been nothing more than his own frustration about his inability to finish the project. It struck him that Sally was married now and yet he’d made no progress in finalizing his and Midii’s relationship. But still Midii was perfectly fine, she hadn’t had the hint of a headache and their fragile mutual trust was getting stronger every day. Sally was only here on a friendly visit, and it was probably good that the doctor who’d treated Midii after the explosion was here on the colony and could take a look at her. He’d ask him later. It seemed that there was nothing wrong at all, it was only love making him paranoid.
“Ah, there’s that smile,” Cathrine said, grinning before catching his hand in hers and squeezing it warmly.
Quatre sat in the back of his long, white, rented limousine tapping the package of vid-disks thoughtfully against his knee and glancing from time to time at the colorful tops of the circus tents silhouetted against the dusky sky. He looked wistfully at the space beside him wishing Dorothy was there. But she was not. What a time to experience the first separation of their married life. They had just been preparing to head to Trowa and Midii’s location when the news had finally come that Miss Relena was having her baby. Dorothy had promised to come for the happy event and they had regretfully parted ways.
Quickly he put it out of his mind. So many thoughts of dread swirled and crowded in his brain that his consciousness kept replacing one with the other. He didn’t want to think about Heero and Relena or the complications of childbirth, the dangers. And he didn’t want to see Trowa and give him the news that was going to hurt Midii so terribly.
The news that her brother was dead. Safira had sent a message asking them to preview Michel Une’s message to his sister before giving it to Midii. But he couldn’t see how any of them would be able to find a way to break it gently that the oldest of her three brothers had been killed in the attack on the Mogadishu Fortress during the war. Of course the casualties of the war had been so great that almost no family anywhere had gone untouched by death. But for Midii the loss of her brother Marc would be doubly hard. Quatre knew that she had justified all of her actions during the war as necessary to protect her family. Intuitively he knew it would seem to her once again that she had caused suffering for others, and especially Trowa, all to no purpose.
Quatre sighed heavily, his aquamarine eyes troubled. The war kept coming back and destroying any short-lived happiness with sudden, unexpected explosions like the minefields that were still occasionally discovered out in space.
To be continued…