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Gundam Wing Fic #1: "Marionette"

Marionette
Emby Quinn


"you're so free!"
that's what everybody's telling me
but I feel like I'm an outward bound
pushed around refugee

like a doll
like a puppet with no will at all
and somebody taught me
how to talk, how to walk, how to fall

can't complain
I've got no one but myself to blame
something's happening I can't control
lost my hold
it's insane

--excerpts from "Marionette", Abba

Giselle wandered the cool, immaculate halls of the St. Simon estate house like a ghost, slipping through half-open doors and stealing along the softly-carpeted walkways with the quiet wariness of a prowling cat. She didn't want to be seen. She didn't want to be noticed. She didn't want to be fawned over or pampered or praised.

Simply put, she wanted out. Escape was, however, impossible--a remote and unattainable fantasy, a wish that could not possibly be fulfilled. At fifteen, she had a life that many girls her age would envy. She lived in a beautiful house, in opulent luxury; she was betrothed to a handsome, charming and powerful young man who provided her with gorgeous clothes, expensive jewelry, personal servants and every physical comfort she could possibly voice a desire for; and a score of servants would hurry to satisfy any order she thought to give them. She didn't have to turn her hand or exert herself in any way. All she had to do was look pretty and speak sweetly, and she could have anything she wanted. Anything except her freedom.

She couldn't leave the estate unattended. It was too dangerous, or at least that's what Armand insisted. Even with a bodyguard there were too many who would strike at him by placing her in danger. She couldn't contact anyone "on the outside"--her old school friends were in her past, a past best forgotten. Armand would help her develop new friendships with more acceptable people. She couldn't even greet visitors except when standing by her future husband's side--and speak to them? Unthinkable. A smile, a nod, and then she would sit beside Armand St. Simon and look politely attentive while he and his guests discussed issues intended to be far beyond her simple understanding.

She found her way to the dance room without encountering Charlotte, the upstairs maid, or Geoffrey, the butler. Unobserved, she slipped inside and shut the door. She wished it would lock from the inside, but of course it wouldn't. Her sole refuge was indefensible from outside invasion.

She stripped off the wraparound skirt and stepped into her practice shoes. She placed her favorite songdisc in the stereo and punched forward to her favorite track--the climactic dance which concluded Act One of the ballet for which she had been named. As the music transported her, she managed to forget her troubles in the mad beauty of the dance. She wasn't Giselle Dix, child bride-to-be of a young and powerful noble; she was simply Giselle, the village girl betrayed by her true love, re-enacting their doomed courtship in a mad dance before flinging herself on Albrecht's sword.

She lay gasping on the floor as the music ended, and was brought rudely back to herself by the sound of slow, casual applause coming from the now-open doorway. She rose hastily to her knees, auburn hair tumbled about her shoulders, cheeks flushed.

Armand St. Simon smiled at his intended bride and walked over the gleaming hardwood floor towards her. "Magnificent as always, my dear," he said. "If only you'd told me you wished to dance, I would have provided you a willing audience."

He stood over her, offering her his hand. With a bare nod, she took it and let him pull her to her feet. "I didn't want to bother you," she said in a carefully quiet voice.

"You could never bother me," he said with absolute sincerity, and Giselle raged quietly because she knew it was all too true. She might offer him some mild amusement at times, and she might annoy him slightly on occasion, but she could never evoke a stronger reaction from him, positive or negative, no matter what she did.

"It's nearly time for dinner," he told her. "I'll have Charlotte draw your bath and meet you downstairs." With a chaste peck on her cheek, he left.

Giselle wrapped her arms around herself and fought back tears of anger and frustration. There had to be more to life than this. There had to be.

* * *

She awoke the next morning to a brisk knock on her door. Covering herself, Giselle sat up and put on her best smile. "Come in."

The door, which again had no inside lock, opened. "I hope I'm not disturbing you," Armand said, already dressed and perfectly groomed. "I have a bit of business in town, and I'll be gone for the weekend. I thought you might like to come see me off."

Another command performance. They weren't married yet, and they wouldn't be married until Armand felt she was ready to be introduced to "proper" society, but she still had to play her part as the devoted fiancee. "I'll be right down," she promised, not moving from the bed. He'd never seen her nude, nor had he shown any desire to do so. That grated more than anything, perhaps--the fact that he seemed indifferent to her self-acknowledged beauty. It was for her beauty he'd chosen her, she knew that much. She knew he didn't love her. He didn't even know her, and he showed no inclination to get to know her.

Armand smiled--a gentle, casual gesture, a common courtesy. "Splendid. Don't be long, will you." The door discreetly closed.

The door discreetly closed--just in time for the pillow she hurled across the room to slam into it. It made no sound against the hardwood panelling. "And you can go to hell and stay there," she hissed under her breath as she rose to dress. "You and your mob-boss buddies with you."

* * *

"Have a pleasant trip, sir," Geoffrey announced as the servants lined up to bid their master farewell.

"Thank you, Geoffrey." Armand adjusted the collar of his longcoat and took his fiancee's delicate hand. "Take care of my darling while I'm gone, won't you."

"As always, sir."

Again that quick, brotherly kiss on the cheek, as impersonal as a slap, and he turned away from her before she could say a word. She stood, as expected, and watched the sleek car pull away. Once it was past the gate, she turned and headed into the house.

* * *

"Geoffrey! Geoffrey!!"

The butler appeared at her elbow almost at once, even though he must have been downstairs when she started screaming for him. "Yes, Mademoiselle?"

"The dance room is locked. I can't get in."

"Yes, Mademoiselle. The master ordered it so."

"What?!"

Geoffrey smiled indulgently. "Master St. Simon is concerned that you spend so much time alone. He feels you should be familiarizing yourself with the operation of the house and grounds. You will be mistress of the place one day soon, you know. Your responsibilities will be small, but nevertheless you must--"

Giselle turned on her heel and stormed off towards her room.

Geoffrey sighed softly. Such a tempestuous creature! Master St. Simon had certainly taken on a handful with the child, even though she came from a good family. The master was able to handle her well enough while in residence, but she simply had no native grace or poise of her own. Well, she would learn. The master would see to it.

* * *

Giselle changed out of her leotard and pulled on a black jacket, white sweater and riding pants. She entertained an idea of going for a ride--one of the few activities she was allowed to indulge in without interference--but once she got outside, she found herself walking away from the stables, toward the rear of the property. She often patrolled the outside walls, doing her best to stay out of sight of the groundskeepers. She knew it was pointless to seek an avenue of escape--all the entrances were under video surveillance, and since her first attempt at flight a week after her arrival, there were guards posted at the front and side gates. The wall itself was a good five meters high, of sheer brick, with another half a meter of ironwork at the top, which was itself electrified against intrusion.

She walked through the orchard just outside the east wing, not appreciating the soft beauty of cherry blossoms in bloom. She loved cherry blossoms, they were her favorite, those and the roses, but the cherry trees and roses here brought her no joy. They were carefully cultivated and maintained, just as she was, and she was as helpless to lead her own life as the trees were to uproot and walk away.

There was a narrow brook behind the house, and she jumped it to escape to the far side, away from the prowling gardeners and yard hands. She sought solitude more than anything at this point, and she could only get it in the small scrub of trees that lined the south wall.

She moved as quietly as a shadow, a skill she'd developed at a young age to avoid her nannies and her over-protective parents, and she broke the cover of the trees at the precise instant a young man dropped down off the dizzy height of the wall. He was obviously as surprised to see her as she was to see him. They stood staring at one another for what seemed like an endless, frozen moment in time.

He was long-limbed and slender, wearing a black Chinese jacket and straight pants. His ebon hair was pulled tightly back from his face into a tight, skinny pigtail at the base of his neck. His almond eyes were wide and set deep into his angular face. He didn't look any older than she was herself, but he stood at least a head taller than she.

Her surprise gave way to sudden fright, and her first instinct was to scream for help. As she drew in breath, the Chinese youth covered the short distance between them, and before she could make a sound he'd tackled her. He held her immoble against a young oak, pinning her body with his own, one arm locked around her shouldersto hold her still while his other hand was pressed firmly over her mouth.

"Don't scream," he breathed against her cheek. His face was inches from hers. His exotic black eyes glittered in the shaded light. His voice was low and thrillingly dangerous, the sound of steel cutting silk. "I won't hurt you if you tell me what I need to know."

Her wide green eyes studied his face. She saw no cruelty there, only a focused intensity that made it plain he meant every word he said, and implied a good deal more. He wouldn't hurt her if she did as he asked, and if she didn't, he was fully capable of hurting her and worse.

She swallowed hard, and nodded. He removed his hand from her mouth, but held it close, ready to clap it back again if she tried to make a noise. She didn't. "Who...who are you?" she whispered voicelessly. "What do you want?"

"My name isn't important," he whispered back. "I need to get into the house. No one will be harmed if they stay out of my way. There are some information disks I have to retrieve that are in your master's keeping."

Her cheeks flamed. "He's not my master."

A frown of impatience. "Your husband, then."

"Not that either."

"It doesn't matter!" His voice almost rose, but by an obvious effort of will he brought his tone down again. "Will you help me?"

She considered him. If he could scale the wall without activating the alarms, being spotted by the video cameras, or being fried in his tracks, he was certainly capable of getting into the house unaided. The most he would have to do is wait in the woods until dark and steal his way in. He was obviously in a great hurry, and if all he wanted was a few infodisks, she could certainly oblige him.

"I will," she whispered back. "On one condition."

He scowled darkly. "No deals."

"I'm a prisoner here," she hissed. "If you get me out of here, I'll help you get whatever you need."

"Are you deaf, woman? I said--"

Giselle swallowed hard. "If you don't promise to take me away from this place, I swear to God I'll scream and kick and yell my head off and bring every guard on the property down on your head."

It didn't occur to her until later--after she'd left the estate--that he could have prevented any such commotion by killing her on the spot, quickly and quietly. Her body wouldn't have been found back in the woods for hours, possibly even a day or so. It would take her even longer to understand why he hadn't killed her, and why he wouldn't harm a woman if he could avoid doing so.

"Why is nothing ever easy?" he muttered--to himself, not to her. Then his cat-tilted eyes focused on hers. "All right. I'll get you away from here. But you must do exactly as I tell you when the time comes. Understood?"

"Deal," she agreed at once, extending her hand.

He ignored it. "First I have to get inside."

"Right--um, what is your name?"

"It's not important."

"Look, please humor me, okay?"

"I'm already humoring you. I'm in a hurry, so stop stalling."

"My name's Giselle, if you're interested."

"The only interest I have is in getting those disks. Now hurry up about it."

"Oh, all right." Giselle stepped away from the tree. "Wait here. I'll get the workers inside, and leave the back door unsecure. There are video cameras in the hallway--"

"I can avoid them."

"--and I'll wait for you in the foyer. There's an access stairwell--"

"Don't talk it to death, woman. If you're going to implement this plan, do so. I'll wait here and watch."

She stole a glance towards the rear of the house, counting the workers visible. "About ten...no, twelve. I should be able to round them up in about an hour, taking into account the time to get everything ready. I can't do anything about the people inside the house; you'll just have to be careful they don't spot you from the windows. That shouldn't be much of a problem if you stick to the orchard and come up the footpath. The back door is just under that awning, you can't--" She turned around, and realized she was talking to thin air--"...miss it..."

* * *

One of Giselle's few culinary skills was the ability to make the best fresh-squeezed lemonade in a tri-colony area. She chased the cook and his assistants out of the kitchen and set about making half a dozen pitchers full, then used the automatic paging system to bring all the yard workers to the back stoop.

She put on her sweetest smile for the assembly, cranking the charm index as high as she could--which, for a young woman used to telling people what they wanted to hear in order to get the desired results, was pretty damned high. "It's such a hot day, and you've all been working so hard, I thought I'd do something nice for you for a change. Mr. St. Simon wouldn't mind you taking a short break on the side patio. I've made lemonade for everyone--won't you follow me?"

If any one of the workers, from the oldest man to the youngest lad, had any problems with letting a beautiful girl serve them lemonade as they sat in the cultivated shade of the master's patio garden, none of them were foolish enough to voice them. Giselle used every bit of charm she possessed to keep them distracted and interested. There was still a chance one of the house servants would look outside and spot something suspicious, but she trusted the stranger to look after himself.

After an hour had passed, she gathered up the empty pitchers and glasses, sweetly refusing the many offers to help. With the glassware stacked precariously on a tray, she carried everything inside while the workers dispersed to their afternoon tasks, suitably refreshed.

The back door opened before she got there, and Giselle stopped in her tracks, almost dropping the trays she held. "I thought I told you--" she began, and stopped when she realized it wasn't the Chinese man standing there.

"I'll take those, Mademoiselle," Geoffrey said, rather stiffly, as he removed the trays from her grasp. "Cook is quite upset that he was banished from his domain."

Her heart was racing, but she put on a sweetly petulant face. "I only wanted to do something nice for the groundskeepers. It's so warm today, and during my walk I noticed how hot and tired they all looked. Is it so bad to want to give them a special treat for all their fine service?"

"Not at all, Mademoiselle; in fact, I'm sure the master would heartily approve of your taking such an active interest. Still, this--" he hefted the clumsily-loaded trays-- "is hardly suitable work for the future lady of the house. We wouldn't want the men to forget their place."

Biting back the sharp retort that sprang to her lips, she countered, "I wasn't trying to forget my place, Geoffrey--I was trying to make up for acting like such a spoiled brat earlier today. Is that so wrong?"

He smiled politely. "Not a bit of it, Mademoiselle. In future, however, should you be possessed of such a burst of sudden generosity, perhaps you might wish to mention it to me first. I would be honored to assist you in any way I could."

She bowed her head penitently. "Yes, Geoffrey. Thank you."

"Very good, Mademoiselle. I will summon Cook and have him deal with the...remnants of your good deed. You look rather flushed; perhaps you should go upstairs and rest."

Giselle would be thrice damned if she'd be sent to her room by the butler, but she made no protest. She walked past Geoffrey into the hallway and paused at the mirror hung on the wall, pretending to fuss with her tousled hair and rumpled jacket. Geoffrey passed her by on his way to the servants' quarters; the moment he was out of sight she nicked back into the kitchen on cat-soft feet and slipped into the access stairwell, shutting the door carefully behind her.

It was pitch dark, and she couldn't see a thing. She couldn't sense anyone in the dark with her, either. Had he changed his mind and left? Had he already taken the opportunity to sneak in, take the disks, and leave without her knowing?

"Are you here?" she hissed, and when the hand descended on her shoulder from behind, she had to clap her own hands to her mouth to hold back a yelp of surprise.

"Where?" the silken voice murmured in her ear, setting goosebumps along her arms despite the stuffy warmth of the stairwell.

She removed her hands and swallowed once. "Follow me," she whispered, and started up the stairs without switching on the light. His hand left her shoulder, and she couldn't hear his steps any more than her own, but she trusted that he would be behind her as she ascended to the second floor.

She opened the doorway and peered out; no one was in sight. She stole along the hallway, keenly aware of the stranger shadowing her, until they reached Armand's private office. She reached for the doorknob--and froze.

"Locked," she muttered, biting her lip. "Damn!" She hadn't considered the possibility; she'd never tried to enter Armand's private sanctum before. "Stupid, stupid..." she chastised herself.

Her visitor didn't argue with her. "Step aside," he whispered, producing a card-key from his belt. One swipe at the lock, and the door clicked open.

"I don't know where he keeps his disks," she whispered.

"I'll find them. Stay here and keep watch," he ordered, and slipped inside. She looked after him to see where he would go, but he shut the door in her face.

When Charlotte came around the corner, she found her mistress standing at another hall mirror, using a comb taken from her pocket to groom her gleaming hair. "Would Mademoiselle care for me to draw her a bath?" she asked.

Giselle smiled. "Thank you, Charlotte, that would be very nice. And could you lay out my yellow sundress? It should be in the back of the second closet."

"Certainly, Mademoiselle." Charlotte hurried off, unaware that Mademoiselle owned no sundresses, let alone a yellow one, and that she would spend an hour or more trying to locate it in the voluminous walk-in closets rather than come back and admit she couldn't find it.

Giselle primped for what seemed an eternity, stealing frequent glances at the closed office door. It remained closed, and she could hear nothing from within. What if he decided to leave out the window, abandoning her? What if he decided to kill her and leave her in the locked office for Armand to find? What if--

"Well, fancy meeting you here, my darling."

Giselle yelped and spun around to face her husband as he appeared from the main hallway. "Armand! You said--"

"I forgot my laptop. I didn't mean to startle you." He looked around. "This is a strange place for you to be attending your toilette, isn't it?"

"I just got upstairs. Charlotte is drawing a bath for me."

"Isn't your bedroom in the other wing, my darling?"

She sighed and looked up at him with pathetic appeal. "I missed you," she said in a low confessional tone. "I wanted to peek into your office, but it was locked--I didn't want to disturb anything, I swear, but I just wanted to..." She sighed and shrugged. "Oh, you must think me very silly."

Armand chuckled. "Not a bit. I'll have Geoffrey unlock the dance room for you this afternoon; perhaps you'll be too busy with your music to miss me then." He pulled out a key and swiped at the lock, and the door opened.

"Wait!" she cried, taking his arm before he could enter the office. He gave her a puzzled look, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. It was like kissing a dead fish, but she tried to put all the passion she could into the gesture.

"Giselle, really!" he protested, disengaging himself. "What would the servants think?"

"The servants would think that your fiancee loved you very much," she responded pertly, trying to steal a glance into the open office over his shoulder. She couldn't see the stranger. Where was he?

Armand's gray eyes narrowed. "That would be a first," he announced. "Where does this sudden interest come from?"

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind," she answered pertly. "Who says I can't wake up one morning and realize I love the man I'm going to marry?"

"Perhaps, although such sudden attachment could wither as quickly as it bloomed--but in any case, now is not the time for such foolishness." He took a step back, about to turn around--and a sudden sharp blow from behind felled him. He struck the carpet bonelessly at the feet of the stranger, who dragged Armand's body into the office, stepped carelessly over the limp form and shut the door. He took Giselle's wrist in a light but firm grip.

Giselle stared at Armand, eyes wide, mouth half open. She'd never before personally witnessed an act of violence, and the sudden brutality of it shocked her almost senseless. "You didn't have to hit him so hard!" she protested.

The stranger paused. "Have you changed your mind? Do you want to stay with him?"

Her response was immediate. "No. Let's go."

She helped the stranger This time she let him take the lead--she didn't have much choice, since he wouldn't let go of her arm. His grip didn't hurt, but she couldn't pull free of it either.

They were halfway down the stairwell when she thought to ask, "How are we going to get out? Cook will be in the kitchen, and the groundskeepers--"

"You should have thought of that sooner," came the answer from the dark. "Do you know where the uniforms are kept?"

"Yes, of course."

"Get me one."

He waited at the bottom of the stairway as she stole into the servant's area and took one of the yardsmen's green coveralls--tall, extra slim, praying it would fit. Upon her return, he took it from her hands and stepped into it.

"Does it fit?" she whispered.

"It'll do," he responded. "Check to see if it's clear; we don't have much time, St. Simon will wake up eventually."

They made it through the kitchen while Cook was loading the dishwasher, muttering in bitter Swedish about foolish child brides and their irrational whims. Once out the door, they proceeded at an outwardly leisurely pace, while Giselle pretended to show the "new" worker around the southern grounds, pointing out the orchard, the path, the immaculate lawn.

"The trees near the wall aren't usually kept trimmed," she said as they neared the brook, "but you might want to make sure we don't get any poison oak growing here. Come on, I'll show you what I'm talking about." She let him hand her over the brook--he played the role of subservient for any witnessing eyes as well as she was playing lady of the manor--and he followed her into the shaded undergrowth.

As soon as they were out of sight, he dropped the act. "Do exactly as I tell you," he muttered. "Don't ask stupid questions and keep your mouth shut, or we'll never get away from here."

Giselle bridled at being spoken to like an idiot, but she did as he said: she kept her mouth shut, nodding her agreement to his directives.

He tossed a grapple to the top of the wall, pulling the rope taut before she could warn him about the electric charge. Then she realized he had to have shut it off somehow--but how, without setting off every alarm in the place? No time to ask silly questions, she told herself. Ask him later if you're still interested.

He took her arm, none too gently, and put it over his shoulder from behind. "Hold on tight," he told her. "If you fall I can't come back for you."

She wrapped both arms around his neck and held on. She could feel the muscles of his back working as he climbed up the wall using the rope. She did her best to help him at the top, finding purchase at the top of the wall and standing on her own as he pulled himself up.

He put his hands on her waist and lifted her over the ironwork as though she weighed nothing at all. "Don't touch the metal," he warned her as he leapt lightly over himself. He removed the grapple from the bars and slung it at his belt. He slipped on a pair of black rubber gloves and removed a set of clamps connected by a twist of gray wire. Giselle heard the crackle of electricity return, and jumped back, almost falling off the far side of the wall. The stranger wrapped an arm around her waist, catching her barely in time. Then he jumped with her.

He landed a bit heavily, stumbling to one knee, but they were safe. Then he took her arm again in that unrelenting grip of his and took off running, and she had no choice but to follow or be dragged along.

She was out of breath by the time they reached the edge of the small forest Armand used as a hunting preserve. Her lungs were burning, her legs felt like lead, and still the stranger forced her to keep moving. Behind them she heard the wailing of a siren--the alarm system finally going off, too late to stop them, or so she hoped.

There was a sleek motorcycle waiting at the far edge of the preserve; the stranger stripped out of the coverall and discarded it. He mounted the vehicle, and Giselle barely had time to climb on behind him and catch hold of his waist before he kicked it to life and they roared off--not towards the highway, as she'd expected, but off into the wildlands between Celadon and the desert.

The latest new experience in a morning of firsts; Giselle had never been on a motorcycle before, and the experience both thrilled and terrified her. The speed at which they traveled was amazing, and the wind battered her face and lashed her long hair out behind her in wild streams. She lowered her head and pressed her cheek to the stranger's hard-muscled back, enduring it as best she could.

She kept stealing glances behind them, half expecting the whole Celadon police force to be chasing them, but no pursuit emerged. All she could do was hold on tight as they raced into the hot sandy waste of Whitespan Desert.

The motorcycle stopped abruptly, and she had to hold on tight to the man's waist to avoid being thrown off.

"About time you got back!" a new voice announced, and Giselle looked around to see who had spoken. Another young man, the same height as her rescuer but broader across the shoulders, leapt lightly off the hood of a small personal shuttle. A long sandy braid hung down the young man's back, and he wore the garb of a priest.

"I was unaccountably delayed," the Chinese youth said, dismounting.

"I would say so, yeah." The wide-eyed man looked Giselle up and down with frank appraisal. "You didn't forget the disks, did you? I mean, you weren't too distracted, were you?"

"I got what we came for." The reply was extremely chilled.

"And then some, obviously." The Caucasian man held out a long hand, grinning. "Duo Maxwell, at your service, Miss...?"

"Giselle. Giselle Dix." She took the offered hand automatically. "I was--"

"We don't have time for this," the Chinese man said sternly.

"Lighten up, Wu Fei. If you're going to bring company home for dinner, you should at least introduce her first."

"Let's go."

When they were all settled inside the shuttle, Giselle looked over the back of the seatrest at the man who rescued her. "Is that your name? Wu Fei?"

"Aw, c'mon, Chang, you didn't even introduce yourself to her? We've got to get Sally to teach you some manners." The other man--Duo--grinned over his shoulder at Giselle as the shuttle lifted off. "Miss Dix, meet Chang Wu Fei. Woofy to his friends."

"Do not call me that."

Duo chuckled. "You might have noticed, Wu Fei doesn't have any friends. Amazing, since he obviously has decent taste in women."

Wu Fei snorted derisively.

"So what brings you here, Miss Dix?"

"Giselle, please."

"Sure. And I'm Duo, and he's Wu Fei."

"Right. Well...I was being held prisoner back there. Armand St. Simon intended to marry me."

"And you weren't into it?"

"Not at all."

"So how'd he get hold of you? Kidnapping?"

"He doesn't have to resort to such things. In Celadon, what Armand St. Simon wants, he gets. He struck a deal with my father, who was only too happy to hand me over in exchange for being introduced to the 'right' people."

Duo whistled. "Democracy in action. Don'tcha just love it." He grinned at the sullen man in the passenger seat beside him. "Enter the Solitary Dragon, your knight in shining armor."

"Something like that."

"She got me into the house," Wu Fei corrected. "In return, she requested that I get her away from there. It was a business transaction, nothing more."

"Suuuuuuuure it was. We pick up drop-dead gorgeous women on missions all the time, don't we?"

Wu Fei snarled and folded his arms.

Duo caught Giselle's gaze and winked at her. "Don't worry, he's just shy. Under that cold, callous exterior beats a heart of pure stone."

"Mm..." She didn't know whether to laugh or not.

"So where can we drop you off? Anywhere in particular?"

She blinked in surprise. She hadn't thought that far. "I...I don't know. I hadn't thought..."

"Obviously," Wu Fei remarked.

"Be nice," Duo told him. To Giselle: "Well, can we take you back to your dad? No, he sold you out, didn't he? Okay...how about a friend's place? The local police station?"

"No one in Celadon could help me." She wrapped her arms around herself. "Or would if they could. Armand's got the police in his back pocket, and none of my old school friends would be willing to cross him for my sake. Nobody would." She felt a sudden chill as she realized how much danger she'd placed herself in. "If Armand found me now, he'd be more angry than relieved. He's not stupid; he'll know I had something to do with Wu Fei getting in the house. He'd probably kill me."

"Okay, so that's out." Duo huffed a huge sigh, blowing out his cheeks. "I guess we get to take you back home and let Sally figure out what to do with you."

"Who?"

"Our boss. Don't worry, she won't bite. Unlike some people on this shuttle, she's got manners."

Giselle settled back in the seat. From one prison to another? A cold pit of dread welled up in her stomach. What had she managed to get herself into, anyway?

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