Her intention obviously hadn’t been to blow Treize’s men to kingdom come. The problem was, her target was supposed to have been on that transport. It wasn’t until later that she realized she could have waited for a more opportune time. Rather, she should have waited instead of jumping the gun.
But then, hindsight is always twenty twenty, isn’t it?
It wasn’t like the opportunity hadn’t presented itself. The tart was predictably parading around in front of the cameras at the Sanq Revival Convention like a goddamned peacock, bragging about how he’d single-handedly saved the Earth Sphere Unified Nations from ultimate doom. With the help of that insipid sister of his of course.
The man was nothing if not so full of himself that he didn’t realize, or care when he messed up so badly that the most dangerous men alive had pinned a target onto his back. If he’d been smart, he would have tucked that proverbial tail between his legs and laid low until enough time passed for Treize’s boiling rage to subside to a mere simmer. At least long enough that he wouldn’t have put a hit out on the man’s over-inflated head.
It wasn’t the first time Zechs had waffled between factions. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion. Confusion over the war. Confusion over which side was the right one. Confusion over his own identity even. Treize had put up with it for far too long and the reasons for that were more than Une could stomach. She wasn’t stupid. Or blind. She’d watched the two men interact enough times to know that there was more going on behind the scenes than business as usual.
Such as it was, Zechs was nothing but an infantile man-child. A spoiled prince with no sense of self and even less of a personality. He was a bumbling, wishy-washy fool and he wasn’t even aware of it. Treize normally would not have bothered with such an insignificant waste of oxygen, but Zechs was different. He always had been. And that bothered Une on a far more personal level than was probably healthy.
But this time he’d screwed up more than even Treize could overlook. Feeding intelligence to the rebels was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Treize had summoned Une into his chambers only a few nights before.
The regal man had just stepped out of his bath and was clad in only a silken robe; a deep, rich wine colour that beautifully suited the golden glow of his skin. The lapels were opened across his chest, the ‘v’ tapering down the muscled abdomen and stopping at his naval. Une felt the familiar rush of heat in her loins, unbidden as it always was, but she dutifully ignored it, instead squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin in a show of respect.
Treize appeared calm, almost placid, but Une knew the subtle signs of his anger. That was the thing about Treize. He never blew up. Never raised his voice. Never raised his hand to anyone. He didn’t have to. He had plenty of people who were more than happy to do it for him.
Treize was an outstanding leader, not only for his ruthlessness and charisma, but because he was a master at controlling his emotions. After all, cooler heads prevailed which was why he rose to the top of the ranks as quickly as he did for a man so young.
“I am very displeased with Merquise.”
Une dipped her chin and waited for him to continue.
“The convention is three days from now. He will be there as will you.” He perched on the edge of his opulent, mahogany desk and lifted his martini glass with a deceitfully gentle hand. “See to it that he does not leave that venue alive.”
“Yes, my liege.”
Treize regarded her in contemplative silence over the rim of his glass, the sharp gleam of his gaze was as terrifying as it was exhilarating. Always so expressive whether he was undressing you with those eyes, or looking right through you, or making you feel like a bug beneath a microscope. Une held her ground and tried not to waver under the scrutiny. “I trust you can get the job done?”
“Of course, my liege.”
He set the glass down and stood, approaching her with a sedate, but predatory swagger. She looked up into his eyes and pressed her lips together, smothering the impulse to beg for his touch. He read her easily as he always did, his lips quirking at the corners. God, but how could he make her feel so small and insignificant, yet leave her burning with desire? She simply couldn’t find the will to be insulted.
His hand extended, his fingers steady and confident as he brushed them over the outer curve of her breast. Her breath hitched at the deceptively tender caress, knowing full well what those hands were capable of, ominous and seductive in equal measure. He could tear her apart in more ways than one and the masochist within her which existed solely for him, craved for the experience of every single one.
She stood still, waiting with baited breath and silent prayer that those hands would wrench open her blouse. She ached to hear the pearl buttons bounce along the marble floor and implored him with pleading eyes to take her, right there on the floor like an uncivilized brute, wild and untamed. Though she knew better than to make a move herself.
She swallowed down her disappointment when he dropped his hand and stepped away. Her hands, clasped behind her back, tightened in self-restraint until she felt her fingers tingling from restricted circulation. Treize went back to his desk to retrieve his drink and turned to face the window.
“I’ll expect your report when the deed is done.”
A muscle in her jaw twitched and she suppressed the impulse to beg for the intimacy she was so desperate for. Instead, she lowered her head in a show of acquiesce even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Of course, my liege.”
He said nothing more and his closed-off aura told her that was her cue to leave. She bent forward at the waist and politely excused herself to begin the preparations.
She’d been duped. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize it until after the wrong transport had exploded. Until after she realized that her target was safe and sound and on his way to God knew where. He was being protected by the colonies now. The knowledge both infuriated and terrified her. The transport that blew up had been occupied with nearly all of Treize’s top officers.
This was an unforgivable blunder. One that she knew with absolute certainty was punishable by death. She’d let Treize down far worse than Zechs ever could because Treize knew that her capabilities far surpassed those of that platinum haired simpleton. She was held to much higher standards which meant she only had that much further to fall. Treize’s fury with her would never be quelled, of that she was sure.
She’d been tricked by the rebel forces after a whistleblower had swept in at the eleventh hour and transferred Zechs to another transport, right under her nose no less. She cursed vehemently and paced back and forth in her hotel room, entertaining herself with thoughts of slicing the culprit’s throat from ear to ear. It was such a stupid mistake. The gambit was mere child’s play, but she’d fallen for it all the same. And she knew exactly who was responsible for the bait and switch.
She’d seen the Winner heir at the convention. At a glance, he seemed like any other snot-nosed trust fund brat. But she knew better. She knew exactly what he was and she knew what he was capable of.
As smart and cunning as Treize was, his intellect was nothing compared to that Winner child. She’d seen him from across the conference room, her eyes narrowed and calculating as she tracked his every movement, under the false belief that he had no idea she knew who he was. She dug her teeth into her tongue, trying to conceal her disgust as she nursed her wine and watched him charm everyone around him.
The kid may have been adept at fooling those ass-kissing sycophants with that radiant, boyish smile of his, but Une was no fool. She saw right through the little bastard.
It wasn’t until the end of the night when she’d been ready to leave that his distinctly sweet voice drifted over her shoulder. God, it turned her stomach.
“I’m very sorry I didn’t get the opportunity to say hello to you earlier, Milady.”
Oh, this kid was good.
Une sneered as she turned around and glared down into eyes that reflected nothing but guileless innocence. Innocent, my ass, she thought. She rather likened it to the shiny, deceitful surface of a mirror, showing you what you wanted to see and revealing no hint of the duplicity which lay behind that treacherous exterior.
She leaned down until her face was inches from his, feeling irrationally pissed off when the kid didn’t even flinch, and lowered her voice to a hiss to prevent any chance of eavesdropping. “Don’t even try it, you little shit. I know exactly who and what you are.”
The boy cocked his head to the side and smiled, obviously not bothered in the slightest. He was undoubtedly what one would consider ‘adorable’ and Une would have been inclined to agree if she didn’t detest children. He showed no trace of surprise at the revelation that she knew who he was and she couldn’t help but be a little impressed by how collected the boy was.
“Oh, I know that. But it’s still no reason to be disagreeable now, is it?”
Une leaned in even closer until the tip of her nose brushed against his and snarled through clenched teeth, “I’m going to enjoy killing you and your pathetic friends.”
Instead of reacting the way she’d expected, the kid grinned, showing off a row of perfect, white teeth. There was a twinkle of confidence in his eyes, a little bit of that cunning slipping through the cracks which infuriated her more than she was willing to admit. Mainly because it wasn’t accidental.
And in the blink of an eye, it was gone again.
“Good luck with that,” the little demon replied with a cheerful chirp and then he turned on his heel and walked away, disappearing out the door with his security detail. Jaw set with murderous rage, she tipped her wine back and finished it off before slamming the glass down onto the linen-covered table.
Zero Four would be the first among them to meet the business end of her pistol. That wasn’t a threat. It was a promise.
Now, she knew. Somehow that tow-headed brat had discovered her plan and redirected Treize’s men into the shuttle with the bomb. She hadn’t spoken to her boss since the incident and as she flipped her phone open, her chest began to tighten, feeling as though her lungs were being squeezed by icy hands.
Her voice came out in an undignified squeak, foreign to her own ears. She cleared her throat and tried again. “My liege. I am sorry. I’ve failed you.”
Treize’s tone was mild, almost sounding amused and if Une didn’t know him as well as she did, she would have been relieved. But she did know him and she knew, right down to her bones, that she was a dead woman.
“Please return to me, Milady. I wish to speak with you.”
She swallowed around the iron lump in her throat and fought back traitorous tears. You have no right to cry in his presence. “Yes, my liege.” She flipped the phone closed and tossed it into her suitcase.
It was time to pay the piper.
She approached him cautiously as he held out a hand, resisting the urge to turn tail and run. Only the reminder that it was something Zechs would do kept her momentum forward. Her head was lowered in supplication as she stepped closer and placed her trembling fingers into his palm.
“What happened, Milady?” His voice was gentle, soft. He spoke to her in the tender lilt of a lover and she flinched because she knew there was nothing sincere behind it.
“I was tricked, my liege.”
“By a Gundam pilot.”
“Yes, my liege. I am sorry.”
Her breath hitched as his arm curled around her back and pulled her into his powerful chest which smelled of fine cigars and jasmine. Despite the grave situation, she found the scent comforting, intoxicating. Treize’s other hand came up and stroked her hair, lovingly like a father would a frightened child after a nightmare. “Everyone makes mistakes.”
He was trying to put her at ease before he killed her. She knew that and she squeezed her eyes shut as he whispered false reassurances into her ear. Just when his hypnotic presence began to relax her a little, his fingers curled and gripped her hair with increasing tightness. The arm around her back felt like a steel rod, tense like a coiled spring which prevented her escape. Her only option now was to try to placate him.
“Not you, my liege,” she whispered, hoping against hope that flattery would do the trick.
“Especially me,” he murmured and then he yanked on the hair that was held captive in his fist, wrenching hard on the chocolate locks until her eyes stung with pain.
She gasped when he gripped the back of her head, nails gouging into her scalp as his other hand seized her by the chin. Oh, Christ! He’s going to snap my neck!
She had less than seconds to act before the deed was done. She extended the blade that was hidden up her sleeve and plunged it into his sternum, piercing through his diaphragm. Treize sucked in a pained breath and then unleashed an agonized howl, but still did not release her.
She was still not out of the woods yet. He still had a few seconds to take her out and she was not going to give him the opportunity. She wrenched the blade upwards, slicing through the thick muscle of his chest. Blood, warm and so full of life, spurted from the wound, pouring over her hands, covering the front of her pantsuit, and splattering against her face.
Treize wavered and stumbled back on wobbly legs, his eyes wide with shock as he stared at her, as if he was appalled at her nerve. Une clenched her teeth and shoved forward, twisting the blade and watching the blood spill from between his trembling lips. His mouth worked to form words, managing only two, choked out in a wet gurgle before his knees gave out.
She bit her lip, fighting back tears as he tipped forward and landed in the pool of blood that coated the once pristine white marble. The fall shoved the blade even deeper into his chest and Une covered her face with her hands, listening to the unnerving sound of a death rattle before it stopped altogether, plunging the room into deathly silence.
She wiped the tears off her cheeks and drew in a deep shaky breath, blowing it out harshly in an attempt to shake the after effects of too much adrenaline. She kneeled down beside him, ignoring the blood that seeped into her pants, and brushed back the silky hair that covered his eyes in a tender caress. This man whom she loved more than life itself had become the man she’d just murdered. How does one even begin to live with a burden like this?
“I’m so sorry, my liege, my love, but...you left me with no choice. If nothing else, please know that I will continue to honor your legacy. I will carry out your order regarding Merquise. I promise you that. And I will destroy those Gundam pilots, starting with the little whelp that tricked us. You will always be my heart and I will fight for you until my last breath."
She leaned down, pressed a kiss to his head with a whispered, "Goodnight, my prince," and then got to her feet. There would be repercussions for this, no doubt. But as of now, she was in command and there was a war to win.
She turned to leave with a final, lingering glance at the man she’d been willing to give her life for and realized that perhaps that hadn’t been true after all. In the end, the will to survive was far more important. She’d been blinded for too long by love and devotion towards a man who had only seen her as a means toward a goal. She just wished it hadn’t taken her so long to understand that.
For that which is blind, only the imminent threat of death could make her see. But she supposed late was better than never.