The Price of Redemption
By Midii Une
The reception at the elegant Palais d’Egmont was continuing as planned. Life must go on in spite of disasters and the event would serve as a sign to the people of the EarthSphere United Nation that all was well. The horrific explosion on L4 was only an isolated incident, at least that was the perception those in power wanted the people to have.
Richard Ichiban sipped champagne from a crystal flute, his drinking companions all from the noblest families or those who held the highest offices in the new government. But although he hid it perfectly, he felt anxious. It seemed apparent now, as the hour neared 9, that Marguerite was not going to appear. He’d completely lost track of her after that morning in his townhouse when he’d given her the ring. The ring had contained a diamond worth a staggering amount of money. Probably she had taken it and fled the country. She wouldn’t miss seeing it as an opportunity to support herself for quite awhile having made very little effort at all.
What a fool he had been. He didn’t understand her. His dream had been hers once upon a time. All they had ever wanted was to be at the top, to have the power so that no one could force them to do things they didn’t want to anymore. And he was certain she still desired him physically, after all drugs only enhanced feelings that existed, allowing people to overcome their natural inhibitions. Why then was Marguerite behaving this way, he wondered, as he made small talk with his high-powered clique.
A little buzz went through the crowd and his heart leapt as people parted and he saw her there at last, glancing up through her long black lashes at no less than the President himself, a soft flush of embarrassment on her cheek. He asked himself yet again as he gazed at her appreciatively, why the boy he had been had behaved like such a fool. He had hurt her, made her cry so that now she would not forgive him. Now she only allowed him the nearness required by the game she joined him in. Knowing her she had delayed her entrance on purpose to put him on edge.
She was a vision of loveliness. The light from the crystal chandeliers reflected in the pearl gray dress she wore, Neo-Victorian in style like all the other women present. A thin black velvet ribbon hugged her throat and matched her skintight black opera gloves. When President Viertien raised her hand to his lips he saw the opulent ring he’d given her sparkling under the lights, the only jewelry she wore.
“So you see here is your wayward fiancée Mademoiselle Doce,” he heard Viertien say as he escorted Marguerite across the room to him. “Ichiban I’m surprised you would put this charming young lady in the awkward situation of having to search for you. But I must say I am pleased with your choice, just the type of young woman we want associated with the new government. Although there is no need for you to be so shy my dear.”
Marguerite flushed demurely and looked at the shining wood floor, tucking her hand lovingly into Richard’s. She knew the blush was becoming and that her sweet gesture of greeting to her ‘fiancée’ would not go unnoticed.
“Oh no,” she protested. “It is such an honor to meet the President of the EarthSphere. I never dreamed . . . even though Richard told me he has had that pleasure. And I do apologize again for coming up to you like that, it was so forward of me. It was only that you looked so kind I was sure you wouldn’t mind helping me locate my fiancée.”
The President studied Midii, a wistful look in his deep brown eyes. “Is that fragrance you’re wearing called Mignonette? My mother always wore it, but all the young ladies favor such modern fragrances nowadays. However, Mignonette has always been my favorite.”
“I love it too. It’s so soft and delicate,” Midii agreed, smiling sweetly as Richard looked smug. She had done her research and gained the notice and approval of the top official in the EarthSphere within five minutes of entering the ballroom. The man had always brushed him aside as unimportant before this. But Marguerite had changed his attitude with a few shy looks and a little subtle flattery. When the time to make the changes they wanted official, Ichiban was confident that President Viertien would now stand on their side of the issue.
The crowded room was filled with the murmuring sound of voices and laughter, Occasionally punctuated by the sounds of vehement arguing in one corner or another. Whenever politicians met they found something to argue about it seemed and the topic du jour was of course the L4 shuttle disaster.
“The world is still so small,” Eva thought to herself, shrugging her curvaceous shoulders. “Such an insignificant disruption in the universe to cause such a stir here, so very far away.”
She moved through the crowd in a body-hugging black dress, her scandalously low décolletage catching nearly every male eye. She ignored the stares. When Eva Ketto settled herself on a mission she could be as single-minded as any operative and her target was set. A pleased smile curved her lips as she watched Midii play her role to perfection. If she didn’t know better she’d swear the girl was head over heels for Ichiban. She stared at him adoringly as he talked to the President and she leaned against him and rubbed her cheek softly against the sleeve of his dinner jacket. The very image of love and devotion, no doubt bolstering Ichiban’s image as a trusted member of the government. The perfect self-sacrificing official and his goody-goody little fiancée. They certainly put on a very good show. But was he here to witness it? It was imperative to her plan that he should be.
Trowa. The name echoed in her mind as she herself would say it, the ‘r’ rolling on her tongue and the emphasis on the ‘a’ at the end. She was thinking so hard that when someone actually said the word she almost missed it. She heard it again, the speaker was Heero Yuy, the husband of the former Queen Relena. Marguerite had obviously patterned her behavior tonight on that of the insipid young royal and the old diplomats were eating it up like starving men. But that was not the game Eva preferred to play. She had her own weapons and her own attractions.
“Make them love you Marguerite,” she thought. “The harder you try the easier it will be for me to convince him what a liar you really are. And he will hate you for it.”
Then Yuy walked away, his arm around his wife’s porcelain-pale shoulders. What did they see in these vapid doll-like creatures, Eva thought, smoothing her own hands over her voluptuous curves. And as the couple moved out of her line of vision she finally saw him, Trowa.
She bit her lip softly, making the soft flesh redden, as she studied the man in the leather Preventers jacket. He was all business, his eyes alert as he scanned the crowd unobtrusively. She noticed immediately that his gaze more often than not focussed on Marguerite and it was apparent that he was trying to hide his unhappiness with her convincing performance.
She sighed as she circled Trowa nonchalantly, pausing frequently to make small talk or accept a glass of champagne, but her eyes always on him. The sensual lines of his handsome face and what she could see of the body beneath the jacket fulfilled the promise of the voice she had heard on her listening device. The voice that had filtered into her dreams. His personality perplexed her though, he would be hard to get to. The quiet ones were always difficult. But once you got under their skin they had the worst time getting the poison out of their systems. Too much introspection wasn’t good for the soul, Eva said to herself. You could release hidden pain that should have stayed buried. Her confidence returned, he would be perfect after all. She would light a fire under him that would destroy them all.
Midii didn’t dare peek over at Trowa, she’d be sure to lose her concentration, forget the things she’d studied about all the players Ichiban wanted her to impress. The President was already well in hand, a smile and a splash of his mother’s favorite fragrance had been all it took. She didn’t believe he was in on the scheme, however, and her instincts were usually correct. Other than that she couldn’t be sure . . .
“Ma chere Marguerite,” Ichiban whispered, raising her black-gloved hand to his lips, his thumb caressing the conspicuous ring he’d given her. Midii came to full attention, putting her double duties of charming Richard’s superiors and keeping tabs on exactly who he talked to on the back burner and noticing suddenly that they were now alone in a relatively quiet corner of the room. Now it was time to convince Richard to trust in her fully, that it was safe to bring her in on all the details. She had to make him believe that his chivalrous behavior the other day had won back her love, if what had been between them had ever been love. At least on her part it had been but a mixture of infatuation, need and hopelessness that her life would ever, could ever, be different.
Think of Trowa, she told herself, and immediately her eyes grew soft and a wistful smile appeared on her face. Richard’s breath caught, even years ago when she had cared for him, given herself to him, she had never looked at him like that. Now her heart was in her eyes and he felt loved and adored. It was a heady feeling. Had she forgiven him at last?
“Have you finished thinking about what I said? Are you ready to be my partner in this and everything,” he asked, his mouth close to her ear, his breath warm on her cheek.
“Yes, Richard. The answer is yes,” she said, holding his eyes with hers and lifting her hand to brush her fingertips over his cheek softly. He pulled her close in a passionate embrace not quite proper for such a public setting. Midii hoped it was crowded enough that her allies, one in particular, were not getting a clear picture of what she was doing at the moment.
Eva moved closer to Trowa, close enough to touch him. He didn’t notice her presence. His eyes were glued to Midii. Ichiban’s hands were all over her, he wanted to drag the bastard outside and teach him some manners. But Midii didn’t seem to mind his touch, not at all. The look in her eyes that he had thought she reserved only for him was currently focused on the mastermind behind the recent disaster. Hundreds of innocent people dead at his order and she was letting him touch her, encouraging him with her smiles and those soft little kisses. The very ones that drove him crazy when they were alone together in the dark. He had watched her all evening and she hadn’t glanced at him once, she acted as if he didn’t exist.
She’s playing a part, the voice of reason inside him protested, if she doesn’t convince him to trust her we can’t stop him. He’d done it himself often enough and nearly as well as she did. The OZ soldier, the loyal champion of the Barton Foundation, Trowa had portrayed them both. But, does she have to play it so well, another part of him wondered. Seeds of doubt began to sprout in his heart. She can play the game so well, perhaps she’s only playing one with you.
Trowa turned away from the disturbing scene and found himself looking instead into a pair of gleaming black eyes. The eyes reminded him of something but he couldn’t place it immediately. After a second he realized they were like those of the wild animals at the circus. The look in those eyes was the same one the animals wore at feeding time. Voracious and utterly single-minded.
The woman leaned back against a pillar, stretching voluptuously and drawing his attention to the ample cleavage left visible by the low neckline of her dress. She was beautiful in a dark and sultry way. She was like the gypsy fortunetellers that Cathrine liked to have coffee with after performances. Exotic, mysterious and more than a little shady.
“I have a deal for you,” she purred, laying a hand on his arm and moving her fingers caressingly. “The people responsible for the little accident on L4 are here tonight. I can tell you where they will strike again. It will be soon, if you do not stop them.”
“Who are you,” Trowa asked frowning, glancing back at Midii before turning his attention toward the dark-haired woman.
“All will be revealed in time,” she murmured huskily, reminding him even more of Cathrine’s friends. “But know this, I want to help you. The things they are plotting sicken me and I have other reasons as well. Those two must be stopped.”
“Who,” Trowa prompted. “I need names.”
“It’s been their goal for years,” Eva whispered. “We all worked together for the former Alliance. But that was never good enough for the two of them. They always wanted more. More power, more money and now they are so close to their victory I don’t even know if they can be stopped. It will be difficult, they are the best and they have been planning this for years. He’s been infiltrating the upper levels of the government while his partner has been worming her way into the very heart of your Preventer organization. He has even told me she’s gone so far as to become the lover of a Gundam pilot. He loves her himself but he’s proud enough of her talents to boast of her conquests.”
Trowa turned away from her and saw Midii laughing, looking happier than he’d ever seen her. The huge diamond sparkled on her finger and she sipped her champagne with the air of a gracious princess who knew that the world was her oyster. A sickening feeling of suspicion overwhelmed him and a horrible premonition about what the woman next to him was going to reveal with her next words.
He felt a gloved hand slide over his shoulder and warm breath on the back of his neck as her satin-clad fingers played with his collar.
“There they are. Do you see them, those two in the corner,” she whispered, her tone cold and vicious. “Richard Ichiban and Midii Une.”
The security camera made a slight whirring sound as it circled the room and focused itself on the target.
“This is better than the soaps,” Duo crowed. “Remind me to thank the Big Guy later that you’re not an undercover agent, Hilde.”
“Do you think she’s okay, Duo,” Hilde asked, her eyes widening a bit at her friend’s convincing performance over in the corner. Midii loved Trowa, didn’t she? That was something they’d all been sure of, but now it seemed possible that she’d duped them all. She was a different person tonight and that was for sure. Someone Hilde didn’t know. She leaned back against the leather seat of the van they had parked outside the Palais and folded her arms, sighing.
“Aahh, don’t worry baby. Trouble’s still on our side. She’s gotta play the part well enough to convince the enemy, that’s all it is,” Duo said reassuringly. The guy she was with was buying her act, hook, line and sinker that was for sure.
“Check out the goofy look on that guy’s face,” Duo said, pointing at Ichiban and doubling over in laughter. “Come on Hilde, enjoy, this is too rich!”
“We should keep scanning the room Duo,” Hilde scolded. “There may be other things going on that we need to catch.”
“Right, right,” Duo said, casting a last regretful look as Midii deftly removed Ichiban’s hand from the front of her dress and he could only guess that she was holding him off with promises of “later, darling.” The sound they were picking up was limited to music and crowd noise.
The camera moved again, this time catching the newlyweds in it’s sights. Hilde huffed as she watched Heero and Relena circling the floor as a waltz played in the background. Why had Duo insisted on the two of them being stuck out here in the surveillance vehicle?
“Why couldn’t we have gone to the party too Duo,” she muttered. “We could be dancing just like that!”
Duo looked at Heero and Relena.
“Us? Like that? Please Hilde. If you’re bored or something we can have our own romantic moment out here,” Duo said.
“Really,” Hilde said, her eyes sparkling as she wondered what Duo had in mind. Perhaps he had snuck in some champagne or chocolate covered strawberries to help the time pass more pleasurably.
“Here we go,” he said, pulling a pack of cards from his jacket pocket and shuffling them as an evil grin lit his face.
“How about a nice little game of poker. Strip poker,” Duo said, his eyes locking onto his wife’s.
“You’re on,” Hilde said, her eyes reflecting the wicked gleam in Duo’s. He was right, neither of them was the moonlight and roses type. This was much more their style.
She leaned in and kissed him teasingly, her teeth catching on his lower lip. She felt his smile beneath her lips as he pulled her closer, his hands rising up from the curve of her waist to start on the buttons of her official Preventer uniform blouse.
Hilde pulled away and flashed a mischievous grin at Duo. “No, no. If you want it off you’ve got to win first. So go ahead and deal,” she said, sitting back and folding her arms protectively over her chest.
“You asked for it baby. No one defeats Shinigami. Especially not at this game,” Duo said, accepting her challenge.
Back on the dance floor Relena was in her own heaven. She hadn’t said anything at the time of their wedding but she had always dreamed of something big and traditional. But having Heero as her husband was much more important than the type of ceremony. Still, being in this beautiful room with its ivory walls and golden trim was like being in a palace from a fairy tale.
Light from the crystal chandeliers sparkled overhead and Heero looked like a dream in the tuxedo he wore. Relena smiled and tilted her head back a little, closing her eyes as he expertly twirled her in time to the music. He was perfect at everything it seemed, dancing included.
She looked so peaceful and happy and almost like a bride in the elegant white dress she wore tonight, Heero thought. Strange how in the midst of it all they could feel like this, feel like they were alone in this room together. His hand moved caressingly over the smooth fabric stretched tight across her waist and she opened her eyes to gaze into his lovingly. When the music stopped it would be back to business. All of them were spies now in a way, and all of them would have to get involved, Heero thought, Relena included. She had been acquainted with Ichiban after all.
As the music wound to a conclusion he scanned the room, placing everyone he knew. Quatre and Dorothy were surrounded, as they had been all night, by the curious who wanted to hear the tale of how they had survived the disaster. Over in a corner a dark-haired woman was doing her best to distract Trowa from his duty. He himself had been against Trowa being here tonight, although he understood his desire to stay near Midii. In the same situation nothing would have kept him from Relena’s side. Trowa was connected via headset to Duo and Hilde outside in surveillance vehicle. No one questioned his presence there. It was expected that there would be increased security in light of the recent incident. Duo also had constant voice contact with Wufei and Sally who were covering the exits. Everything was covered to the Perfect Soldier’s satisfaction.
Still, Heero found it difficult to keep cool as he and Relena eventually got around to mingling with Ichiban and Midii. In a disturbing way the other man was very like himself. Of course Ichiban was taller and more European in his looks. Then there were the eyes, a unique green-flecked gold that held a foreboding quality. Heero had to admit, however, that if he didn’t know in advance that the man was an enemy he would have met him there, let him dance with his wife and never been the wiser.
Relena played her part well, Midii noticed, circling the floor and smiling politely at her old acquaintance as they danced. She herself had refused Heero’s proper reciprocal invitation, claiming to be tired. She played her own role perfectly, pretending to be uncomfortable around him and meeting his gaze only infrequently. Neither of them had yet forgotten their confrontations a few months back. As she glanced at Heero Yuy, Midii was still unable to forget the vision of him pointing a gun at her on that busy street on Quatre’s home colony. He could so easily have killed her then. It was hard not to feel uneasy around him.
She had fawned over Relena, however, her reaction to meeting the former Queen a perfectly on-target impersonation of Relena’s former schoolmates. She’d even claimed to be a graduate of St. Raphael’s, the French counterpart of the school Relena had attended for a time, St. Gabriel’s.
“Congratulations on your recent marriage, Madame Yuy,” Ichiban said, as he danced with Relena. “I would say the news broke my heart if I hadn’t only recently found my beloved Marguerite.”
“I’m very happy for you,” Relena said, easily falling back on the polite small talk she was used to making as Vice Foreign Minister. “She and I seem to have a lot in common. If she’s looking for a friend I’d be happy to go to lunch with her some time. We can discuss old school days.”
It was actually quite hard to believe that Richard was anything but the young government official, dedicated to his job and his fiancée, Relena thought. Still, the footage she had seen of the explosion haunted her as did Dorothy’s impassioned speeches about the plight of the poor children left without parents by the disaster. Richard was responsible for all that pain and the threat to peace.
Suddenly Relena couldn’t wait for the music to stop. She wanted nothing more desperately than to hurry to the ladies’ room and wash her hands.
“Come with me,” Ichiban whispered, after Heero and Relena had gone off to talk to other people.
Midii’s eyes narrowed minutely, was this it at last? Would he reveal everything to her now? She nodded and tucked her hand into his, squeezing his fingers softly.
They left the main room and entered a dark hallway. She swallowed nervously and she stifled the urge to look over her shoulder, the urge to pull away and run. In an instant her fears seemed well-founded, Ichiban shoved her against the wall, pinning her against the dark, smooth wood with his body. She struggled to maintain her confidence but her heart thumped fearfully.
“Remember the price of a lie Marguerite,” he hissed warningly in her ear. “There is no turning back.”
“It is no lie that this is what I’ve always wanted,” she said. “You’ve known that always Richard, as long as you’ve known me. Are you saying that our partnership, this ring you’ve given me is a lie? If you don’t trust me then you can’t possibly love me and I’ve been a fool for you again.”
She held her breath as she felt him press her closer to the wall, feeling the tension in his body as he considered her words. The bruising touch of his fingers replaced by the moist caress of his lips on her bare shoulder, making her shudder with sudden revulsion she couldn’t repress. Luckily he mistook it for desire.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I do love you Deejii-chan. I just had to be sure of your sincerity. Forgive me.”
He loosened his grip and she turned her face from the wall and straightened her rumpled gown. “Of course,” she said, looking unblinkingly into his eyes. “You are right to be cautious, that’s what makes you so worthy of my undying affection and utter loyalty, mon amour.”
“Come, then,” he said opening the door and pulling her inside the smoky chamber.
Midii instantly scanned the faces, later she would match them with names on the Preventer database but for the moment she would have to burn them on her memory. The minister of the economy was one she already recognized, having met him earlier in the evening.
“It’s almost over,” she thought to herself, forcing a cool smile as one of the men at the table captured her eyes with his then blew out a puff of cigar smoke thoughtfully.
“Who the hell’s the girl Ichiban,” the belligerent man said. “There’s no need for you to use your devious tactics on those of us here.”
“Mademoiselle Doce is a full partner with me on this,” Ichiban said, glaring at the speaker. He lifted her fingers to his lips. “She has my unconditional trust.”
Midii beamed at him appreciatively. She was nearly positive she had convinced him of her sincerity. Her success was almost a certainty. This was the inner circle then, these were the men behind the scheme. Once she’d identified them and gotten a few more details this sordid masquerade could end.
As the two men continued to stare at each other, Ichiban bent toward Midii. “Please step outside my love, it seems I need to convince the others that you are truly one of us.”
“Of course, Richard,” she said obediently.
“Gentlemen,” she said softly, her eyes darting around at them once again, remembering the faces. She executed a mocking curtsy and smirked at the one who doubted her and made her exit, creeping back silently to press herself against the door and listen through the keyhole.
“Tell us Richard. Who exactly is this Doce woman?”
The voice of the doubter.
“Perhaps you have heard of Midii Une,” Richard replied. “A very reputable member of the Alliance espionage team. Marguerite Doce is but one her aliases. I have worked with her for years, her reputation and record are both impeccable.”
“Une. Of course,” the voice said. “I recognized that face, just like her mother’s. And just as good an actress no doubt.”
“Mother,” Midii thought, startled, as she pressed closer to the door, anxious to hear anything about the mother she had lost when she was so young.
She heard the sound of harsh laughter.
“Does she have her mother’s flaws as well as her looks, Richard,” the voice asked jovially, making Midii feel queasy. She didn’t want to listen anymore. He knew things about her she didn’t know herself.
“The lovely Marie would do anything for those she loved. She left a very successful acting career behind for that loser Philippe Une. Then the man killed her with too many children in too short a time, and soothed his supposedly broken heart by taking up gambling. Put the daughter to work as soon as she was old enough to support his habit. She did a damn good job too, so I hear. Your Miss Une is the perfect blend of the aristocrat and the actress and willing to do anything for her beloved Papa and brothers or whoever else she decides to give her heart to. Too bad for the girl Philippe never gave a damn about anyone but himself.”
“If she loves you Richard you’ve got quite a find. Dumb devotion is in her blood,” the voice continued, and Midii heard more laughter but it was far away, as her ears rang with what she had overheard.
If it was true, then everything she’d ever done had been a lie. Had her father never been ill at all, as he had told her? She forgot everything else, her mind fading back to the day with Trowa on the battlefield. She remembered defending herself to him as the body of the dead Captain who’d been so kind to them both lay between them. But her defense had been lies, nothing but lies. Her whole life had been nothing but a lie. She had betrayed him and so many others all so a foolish man could support his addiction.
Her father had never loved her, he had trapped her in this horrible life and gone on with his own without a care in the world. She felt like she couldn’t breathe and the dress she wore felt so tight that she couldn’t get any air to her lungs.
“If only I can get outside,” she thought, forgetting Richard, forgetting the mission in her misery.
“Shit,” Duo said, peering over Hilde’s shoulder as she nuzzled his neck and started removing the tie he’d lost in their game of poker. “What the hell happened?”
Hilde turned toward the screen too and they saw Midii stagger into the ballroom, even on the poor-quality videotape it was obvious that something was very wrong.
“Trowa,” Duo hissed urgently into his friend’s headset. “Something’s gone wrong. I don’t know what. The doorway . . .”
Trowa turned, the anger and doubts planted by Eva forgotten momentarily. Midii stood trembling in the doorway, she looked like she couldn’t breathe, her skin a horrible shade of gray-green. He started shoving people out of the way and leaped over a table in a stunning, acrobatic maneuver, disregarding the murmurs and stares as she started to crumple as if she’d been shot.
Next time on The Price of Redemption . . . sorry, no hints this time!