Author’s Note: Sorry about the delay, I had a heckuva time with this chapter. Chapter 7 will be available soon, I promise!
The Price of Redemption
by Midii Une
Relena buried her face in the tousled, luxurious mop of Heero’s hair. He could sense the frustration and sorrow in her heart as her slender body trembled against his. Attacks against peace affected her physically and he found it difficult to sit there facing everyone with his usual no-nonsense stare, the stare he had perfected to hide his feelings until eventually all feeling had left him and he had become the perfect soldier. Relena’s presence in his life was reversing that and only those close to him, those in the room, knew how much of a breakthrough it really was when he reached one of his hands up to hers as she stood behind his chair and gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
The rest of them sat still and silent as footage of the shuttle explosion on L4 ran over and over like a nightmare on the huge vidscreen in the hotel conference room Sally and Lady Une had requisitioned.
Duo glanced at Hilde, the flames from the burning twisted metal on the screen reflected in her shining, solemn eyes. He glanced over at Sally who had her head bowed as conversed with Lady Une via vidphone in a corner of the huge empty room
They all glanced up and shifted in their chairs as Wufei stalked into the room.
“No sign of Trowa,” Heero asked. Wufei shook his head.
Duo cleared his throat. “You know you guys, there’s a side to Trowa when it comes to that girl that most of you haven’t seen. I bet they’re together somewhere. Just watch. I bet this thing with the shuttle will smoke him out, definitely.
By tomorrow, we’ll all be back together, one big happy family again,” Duo finished, hoping that what he said was true.
“I hope you’re right, Duo,” Sally muttered. What ifs raced through her thoughts. What if this Richard Ichiban had seen through Midii’s ruse and killed her? Or what if Midii had turned on them? What if another terrorist attack was taking place as they sat here waiting?
Heero seemed to read her thoughts. “You were doing the right thing, at least in principle. Don’t tear yourself apart second guessing now,” he said, his voice cold but his words well meant. “We can’t fight this type of thing with weapons or mobile suits. We just have to hope that Trowa found her and that he brings her back.”
Voices from the past sounded at the edge of Dorothy’s conscious thought. She stood alone and regally aloof, staring through the floor-to-ceiling window at the disaster scene. Once she might have found such destruction magnificent and oddly exciting. But that was when the destruction was caused by professional soldiers clad in armor of the most awe-inspiring kind--mobile suits. The death and mayhem caused by this terrorist attack struck her heart with pain for so many reasons. She and Quatre could be dead right now, but that was only a part of it. To die at his side, her hand in his, would not be the worst thing that could befall her. Painful memories assaulted her from every direction as she stood there looking calm and untouched by the disaster. She could still see the afterimage of smoke from the recent explosion, so eerily like that she had seen on the screen when her grandfather’s shuttle was shot down in space. The only time she had given in to a flicker of genuine emotion during the war, the soul-burning pain showing itself only in a tiny falter in her voice before she pulled herself together again.
And the voice. She could hear that voice again, it sounded so real, so exactly like the voice she had heard when Papa had been killed.
“Now miss, you must be a proper young lady and control yourself. No tears now! Your parents are dead and tears will not bring them back. Be strong, you are the oldest, I haven’t the time for you to go into hysterics, there are the little ones to think of,” a woman’s voice, surely a heartless woman to say such things to a child.
When she’d heard that voice as a child the young, grief-stricken Dorothy had done as her governess ordered, swallowed her agony, swallowed her tears. To comfort herself she had begun to envision war as the most important and noble of human pursuits. Surely nothing less would induce her Papa to die, to go away from her . . . only the most glorious and wondrous of causes could have taken him away and she was proud of him, there was no reason for tears . . .
“I mean it now,” the stern voice repeated impatiently, despite Dorothy’s continual attempts to ignore it. She had done as she was told, why was the voice back? “No tears. They will do no good and I have my hands full as it is.”
Dorothy felt ill, her chest shook and felt tight and her stomach churned. It was as if her governess was right behind her. That scolding, uncaring voice tormenting her. Quatre, where are you? I need you, her mind begged as she looked out onto the spaceport tarmac unable to make out his figure amongst the hordes of investigators down their amongst the molten metal and billowing black smoke, arcs of streaming water from firefighting equipment causing incongruous rainbows to appear over them all.
She turned, prepared to push her way through the security barricades and find him, whoever tried to stop her be damned. She needed Quatre, the reassurance of his arms, the peace and love in his tranquil blue eyes.
And then she saw them. A tall, sharp-faced woman, holding a child of about two on her hip and holding a wailing four-year-old by the hand. She towered over a young girl, perhaps 8 at the oldest and continued her tirade. It was all real, not a nightmare dredged up from her own past but an injustice being visited upon another little girl.
“It’s very wrong to cry Miss,” the woman said again, speaking crossly to her young charge as Dorothy stared at them, her anger growing silently by the second. “Can’t you see I’ve got my hands full? Be the little lady you are, no tears now.”
Dorothy’s eyes blazed with blue fire. It was obvious to her from the other woman’s clothing and manner that she was a sort of nanny to these children. She strode over and pulled the squalling toddler out of the other woman’s arms, her gaze softening minutely as she glanced at the angelic blonde child . . . perhaps . . . someday . . . then her mind snapped back to its purpose and her hand reached out and delivered a sharp stinging blow to the nanny’s cheek.
“How dare you say such things to a child,” she hissed, her voice low and threatening, making everyone in the concourse grow suddenly silent and turn to look at her. “If only I had my horse whip with me I could make you a tiny bit aware of the type of pain this poor child is suffering. She has every right to cry, it’s natural and tears heal. They make us whole.”
Tears poured down Dorothy’s cheeks unheeded as she fixed the frightened woman with her most fear-inspiring stare. To the overwhelmed caregiver she appeared as the goddess of vengeance, her eyes burning with sadness and hatred and framed by the window behind her, the smoke and fire mirroring the rage within her.
An expression of empathy and gentleness appeared on Dorothy’s face giving it an aura of softness and tenderness that perhaps even Quatre had never seen before. She knelt next to the little girl and put her hand on her shoulder, encouraging her trust with eye contact.
“Please don’t listen to her,” Dorothy said, as she watched the little girl struggle to maintain her tearless state. “An awful thing has happened. We are meant to feel sorrow, to share our feelings with others. I’m so sorry this happened to you little one. I’ll help you; I’ll see that that awful woman is replaced. We’ll find someone to take care of you and your brother and sister.”
A content feeling swept over Dorothy as the little one in her arms nestled closer and fell asleep. Despite the added weight and her ungainly position on the floor it was the most heavenly feeling. She turned her attention back to the older child as the intimidated nanny watched them in terror. She was going to lose her job, she recognized this woman. She was powerful; she was someone to be feared. Why was she wasting her time on that ungrateful child?
“Are you an angel, Miss,” the girl asked, staring at Dorothy’s long pale hair. Dorothy’s lips twitched. “No, no I certainly am not,” she said. “But I know how you feel. Someone once said such awful things to me when my own father died. But those words were so wrong. I’m here with you and it’s alright to cry, no one will dare to punish you if you do.”
The girl’s face fell and a strangled sob choked out of her small body. She clung to Dorothy almost knocking her over but she remained steady, crooning soft sounds of sympathy as the little girl’s grief made itself known.
Quatre watched from the corridor, his face dark with smoke, dirt and what suspiciously looked like blood on his clothes. His expression revealing the pain in his heart from what he’d seen out there. He’d stopped to peek in on Dorothy before going to speak at a press conference. He hadn’t known what he was going to say. What could anyone say? But the sight of her gave him strength and he knew the words would come. His wonderful Dorothy, he’d always known that the woman he saw on the concourse now was the real her. Something had finally released the gentle loving woman comforting those children, using her influence in this world for all the right reasons. His love had never been misplaced and seeing her like this now, he knew that it would only grow stronger as they spent the rest of their lives together.
To his knowledge no one had ever loved him before Midii came into his life. Memories from the past played in his mind as he lay there in the starlight beside her, trying to sleep.
Until he had found Midii everyone had always ignored him unless they wanted something from him. They hadn’t even bothered to give him a name. But even during her strange moody flashes, the ones that made so much sense in hindsight, Midii had always been different.
Once she’d curled her hand into his as they drove through a dark tunnel cut through a mountain. He hadn’t really known how to respond to that and as soon as they were on the other side she’d pulled her hand away. When he’d glanced at her, her face was flushing hotly and her were eyes glued to the floor of the truck. He remembered how the soft touch of her hand had burned in his for days afterward, the first affectionate touch he could remember. He could almost feel it now.
He’d known well before the attack that there was some connection between Midii and the increased frequency of hits the Alliance made on their little group. But he hadn’t told anyone about his suspicions, the urge to protect the girl he had found stronger than even his loyalty to the captain and the others and yet he’d been so hurt when the end finally came. His own guilt over keeping his suspicions to himself adding to the pain.
He raised himself up on one elbow to look down at her in the starlight. Peaceful and innocent as an angel as she slept. There were very few things that were predictable about Midii but he knew that she always slept like the dead after they made love. It was as if she spent all her energy in her passion, in her desperation to prove her feelings for him. She loved him with all her heart, he knew that, but he couldn’t yet believe her love was a guarantee that she wouldn’t betray him again.
He asked himself what he could have done to change the way things were now? They loved each other but could they ever be happy? Midii brought him love and the greatest happiness he’d ever known and yet she was also the cause of so much pain for himself and others.
Trowa lay back down, drawing her closer to him. His life had never been easy and even now that he had found his soul mate their relationship was tarnished by fear and doubt.
As soon as it was morning they would go away from it all. He would fix up the little house in Provence where she was so happy, make it beautiful again just for her. They’d always planned to go back there someday, at least to visit. Midii had painted so many pictures of life there for him that he thought of it as home as much as she did. He could imagine what it would be like to follow her into a field of lavender, the sun shining through her thin cotton dress making it almost transparent the light glinting off her hair. The spicy sweet smell that was Midii all around them.
Maybe there, away from all the rest of the world they would finally be happy. He could keep her safe there from everything that tried to take her away from him. Alone together, away from the demands and temptations of real life.
Midii’s back felt cold and she felt goosebumps rise on her skin in the unnaturally cool temperatures of the air-conditioned hotel room. She flipped over on her back, eyes still closed and a small frown marring the peaceful look on her face. You’d think with all the technological advances in the modern world they could figure out a way to regulate temperatures in hotel rooms, she thought sleepily her mind wandering aimlessly over mundane thoughts. It seemed like it was always much too cold or else stifling and airless. The walls were thin too; she could hear conversation from the other side of the door as if strangers were right in the room with her and Trowa.
“Hmm, Trowa,” she muttered, half-opening her eyes, her hand moving over the cool sheet beside her.
He sat down beside her, taking her hand in his. “I’m here,” he said. She pulled his hand against her cheek and rubbed against it as if she were an affectionate kitten. He continued staring at the carpet despite the feelings that swept over him at her touch. So much had changed between dark and dawn. His heart was divided.
The voices in the hall continued, the shocked tones making them seem louder. Midii caught snatches of words. Explosion. Disaster. L4. Winner. Lucky. Horrible.
Trowa still wasn’t saying anything, but his fingers moved softly and absently over the smooth roundness of her cheek. Despite the reassurance of his nearness Midii felt a sense of dread and the words nagged at her. Something was wrong.
She sat up and curled herself against the warmth of Trowa’s naked back. She closed her eyes and drew in her breath, inhaling his fragrance, their fragrances combined from their closeness the night before. The heat of his skin like a furnace against her icy fingers.
And she knew immediately what he was thinking, what was bothering him. She knew he wanted to back to Brussels. Trowa wanted her to release him from his promise to take her away. But he wouldn’t take her back there if she held him to their plan. He would never break his word to her. Her fingers moved over his skin as she thought, thought what to do.
“The rich always have the luck,” a voice from the hallway insisted. “Bet Winner was counting his money or something. So he misses the shuttle and lives while the rest of those poor saps are nothing but piles of dust.”
It had started then, she realized suddenly, wincing as if she’d been physically struck. She didn’t want to go back to it all, but Trowa did. He needed to go and so did she. He wanted to see Quatre, she knew the feeling. Wanted to talk to him and grasp his hand, make sure he was still real. A cold chill, not entirely from the temperature of the room, shook her body.
“Midii? Are you alright,” Trowa asked, feeling her shudder, trying to hide the choke in his voice.
He felt a small nod of assent from behind him, her hair brushing softly against his shoulder as she moved.
“We should get going. We need to get back to Brussels immediately,” she said tentatively, hoping these were the words he wanted to hear, at the same time part of her praying that he would insist they go to Provence instead as they had planned.
She felt the tension release from his body as he turned to pull her into his lap. Trowa buried his face in her neck.
“I love you Midii. How I love you,” he whispered over and over, but she shivered again.
“You’re so cold,” he said, looking at her with concern shining in his green eyes. She had said what he needed to hear; she hadn’t let him break his promise. He yanked the blanket off the bed and wrapped her in it. He held her like a little child, rocking her gently in his arms. Just a few minutes more, he thought, a few minutes more to be like this with her.
Before it starts again, they both thought.
Brussels was a city that prided itself on its preservation of the past. It was almost rather sinister, Quatre thought, and hearkened back to the way OZ had run things. The regal old buildings were beautiful of course and his artistic mind appreciated the subtleties of the architecture. Still, he wondered if such a place should be symbolic of the new world that had been created through the efforts of Miss Relena, himself and the other pilots and all the other soldiers who had fought and even died for whatever cause. He could feel the pervading sense that something was deeply wrong here and it was only aggravated by the little Sally and Wufei had to go on.
He ran his fingers through his thick platinum hair, closing his eyes briefly before he turned from the window. The others were all here in this room, all but Trowa and Midii. Everyone was hoping that they’d show up soon. Quatre wasn’t sure he shared that hope, although he definitely wanted everyone he loved around him after that near-disaster. His eye fell on Dorothy; she was in a heated discussion with Relena over the plight of the orphans of the shuttle disaster. She was so glorious in battle, even on Libra a tiny part of him had to admire her even as his heart ached for her sadness.
He wondered if the others realized that the changes they had gone through since the Eve Wars was going to make it so much more difficult to fight. Not a one of them, except perhaps Wufei (and even he was suspect) was a detached, single-minded soldier anymore. They were finding their happiness, ready to start their own lives but the call of duty was so strong that they could not help but answer even now. In a way he hoped Trowa at least might fight it off and keep Midii far away from the pain this would surely cause her.
A taxi sat parked in front of the hotel where the Preventers were gathered. After several minutes the door finally opened and a pair of slender legs appeared as a girl stepped out hesitantly, pausing briefly to glance wistfully back into the car at the passenger that remained inside. Midii took a deep breath and tugged impatiently at the scarf that hid her mass of strawberry blonde waves. She carefully removed her sunglasses and tilted her head to stare at the cold facade of the building that held their future inside of it. Once she stepped through those doors there would be no turning back.
“I don’t think I’m strong enough to pull this off,” she thought, a rush of fear and nervousness assaulting her senses like a blow to the stomach. She whirled, a look of desperation on her face as she heard the taxi pull away from the curb.
The taxi peeled off down the reproduction cobblestone street and an expression of intense longing and something like regret appeared on her face as the doorman’s eyes widened in surprise at the sight of her. His voice pulled her back to her duty.
“Mademoiselle Doce,” he exclaimed as he opened the door for her. “We were quite concerned about you. There have been so many inquiries . . . “
“As you see I have returned,” she said, flashing a hint of a smile that did not reach her brilliant blue eyes as she automatically assumed the identity of the woman she would need to remain, at least for the time being.
She looked so fragile and alone, dwarfed by the imposing buildings. It’s only for a few minutes, he thought as her figure grew smaller still, framed in the back window of the taxi.
“When you left her behind you never looked back,” a voice inside whispered, haunting him and conjuring images of her tear-streaked little girl’s face, as he continued looking until the car turned a corner and she was out of sight.
But he knew that wasn’t what was bothering him at all. They hadn’t discussed it on the way back to Brussels but she had automatically resumed her charade as soon as she stepped out of the taxi. And he had known that she would. Just in case the others needed her to play her role a little longer.
He’d only been fooling himself, thinking he could keep her from being involved. In a world without weapons she was their best chance, his soldier’s mind had analyzed every choice and every time it came down to Midii. She was going to have to finish what she had started. There was no way around it at the moment but as soon as possible he was going to insist she drop out of sight and until then he would watch her every minute.
“This is far enough,” he said, paying the driver and stepping out onto the curb. He took a circuitous route back to the hotel and entered the building unseen through an open service door in the alleyway entrance. His eyes swept the lobby and he saw her step into the elevator, she glanced over her shoulder and their eyes met as the doors began to close and cut them off from each other. Trowa glanced around and seeing that the place was nearly deserted he sped up and darted into the lift, cutting it close enough to almost catch a sleeve in the door.
As the elevator rose their fingers brushed each other and his hand captured hers.
Sitting in this formal room with its tall windows and long conference table was making Duo nervous. They weren’t doing a damn thing but waiting around. Heero and Quatre were hoping to gather some clues at that stuffy reception they were going to that evening and that was about the extent of their plans.
Lady Une and Sally Po insisted they needed to keep what they knew so far quiet until they could find out exactly which members of the new government were involved in the plot. Without hard proof and only Midii’s rather dubious word as evidence they had nothing to go on. Wufei could only back up that he’d seen her and that big shot muckety-muck Ichiban having a drink and there was no crime in that. Damn. Meanwhile they sat around and waited for a bunch of terrorists to hand pick their next victims.
“Stop fidgeting Duo,” Hilde hissed. His raw energy was making her nervous and all of them were on edge.
He rolled his eyes at his wife, drummed his fingers on the table. Finally, he stood up and stretched, the noise from his exaggerated yawn startling the rest of them.
“I don’t know about you guys but I just can’t sit here waiting for those two to show up,” Duo complained, getting up and pacing
“Maybe it would be better if they didn’t come back at all,” Quatre said softly, wishing he’d left the words unspoken almost as soon as he’d said them. Everyone stared at him as if he’d suddenly grown a tail or something.
Sally glanced at Quatre from under her lashes. As usual he was thinking about the real people and the real mess a mission like this one could make of their lives. But she couldn’t afford to think of those kinds of things. Not now, now with so much at stake.
Of course none of it would matter if Midii and Trowa did not come back.
She leaned her head in her hands and thought. They could arrest Ichiban but what good would that do? They had nothing to hold him on and Midii had said he was only one member of a larger group. The movement was spreading like a disease through the EarthSphere United Nation governing body. Economic tensions were threatening to do what Dekim Barton and his puppet Mariemaia could not, dissolve the hard-won peace.
A knock sounded on the conference room door but Sally didn’t even look up. If it were another prank by the bored Duo she’d strangle the mischievous pilot with his chestnut braid. Heero had almost beaten her to it earlier when the last knock on the door had turned out to be a pizza delivery for one Duo Maxwell.
“They’re here,” Heero said, as all eyes turned toward the door.
“Welllll,” Duo drawled, voicing the relief they all felt. “So, you finally decided to join us. Our prodigal Preventers have finally returned!”
“Where have you two been,” Hilde exclaimed. She’d scolded Duo for fidgeting but she’d been as nervous as he was. “And Midii, oh my God, your hair!”
Midii winced but tried to hide her discomfort behind a mask of nonchalance as Trowa gave her a dirty look. “It will grow back and the color is only temporary,” she said.
“But you look so different,” Hilde exclaimed, hugging her friend.
Sally approached. “I hate to break this up girls,” she said softly. “Midii? First let me say I’m glad to see you’re safe, but we all need to know if your cover is still intact. Can we still count on you tonight at that reception?”
Midii looked uncertain, she’d expected it of course, but it was all happening so fast. She looked to Trowa for reassurance but he had already moved away from her and was deep in conversation with the other pilots.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, shaking her head.
“We need more names,” Sally insisted. “I’m sorry, I truly am but there’s no other way. Do they still trust you?”
Midii nodded slowly.
Sally hugged Midii. “Good girl! Just this once. You can help us so much if you do this.”
She examined Midii’s appearance and smiled. “Very different, but I like it. Change is good.”
Midii nodded as Sally went over to her corner where her communications center was set up to tell Lady Une that their plan was back in motion.
In the room full of people Midii felt so alone, even Trowa had forgotten her for the moment talking to the other pilots, setting up contingencies. Sally’s words echoed in her head, so much like Papa’s when he’d sent her away.
“You’re such a good girl Midii. You’ll help me so much if you do this.”
“Just this once.”
She drifted over to the window, lifting a slender hand to trace her own reflection in the glass and something Ichiban had said a few days earlier surfaced in her mind.
“When this is over you can be yourself again,” he’d said.
If she didn’t lose everything that mattered to her first, she thought, glancing at Trowa. Think, plan, nothing can go wrong tonight, she whispered unconsciously forcing herself to concentrate. It would be so hard to face Ichiban again. She wondered if he’d noticed her absence and thought of the ring hidden in her purse. Can I really do this, she wondered.
She gasped and started as she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Trowa?
“Are you sure you’re comfortable with this,” the familiar voice asked, concern evident in the tone. “You seem nervous.”
“Not at all,” Midii said, pulling herself together and forcing a tremulous smile for Quatre. “I’m sure I can pull this off with no trouble whatsoever.”
He tried to glimpse the truth in her eyes but she looked away before he could get a clear reading.
“Look,” she said, turning away and changing the subject. “Isn’t the sunset beautiful?”
Next time on The Price of Redemption . . . Eva sets her plan in motion at the diplomatic reception . . . Midii discovers a secret from her past.