It wasn't such a bad place to retire to. Cozy, Heero decided. There was a rustic feeling to the place that just wasn't found too often anymore in the colonies. No, such personality had been largely lost in the push toward modernization. Affordable modernization, that was. The colony also stank of wealth. Only money could allow for the lush landscaping or the individual units. Relena had provided well for her longtime butler.
Modest cottage camped on prime real estate or not, its fence and hedges were no obstacle to two young, stealthy men determined upon entrance. What came next had yet to be decided. They crouched behind a bush and muttered at each other in low voices.
"What are we waiting for, wonderboy?"
"Quiet," Heero hissed back. "I'm thinking."
"I didn't think it was so hard to figure out how to walk into a house. You do it all the time, don't you?"
"We can't just walk in, Duo."
"Well, if we were going to just knock, then I don't see why we went through the trouble of hopping the fence."
"I don't want to surprise him."
"So you're just going to wait for an invitation?"
"He's an old man, Duo. We can't just pop up in his living room and scare the shit out of him."
"Oh my god. You have some weird 'respect for elders' thing going, don't you?"
"Have you ever met Pargan? The man inspires respect."
"And how is it respectful to be skulking around in the man's backyard?
"I told you, I'm thinking."
"Is he even going to recognize you?"
"I barely recognize me."
"Is there something I can help you with?"
They both jerked their heads up with a quietly undignified yelp to see a kindly, weathered face looking down at them. He wore a floppy hat on his head, and carried a pair of gloves and gardening shears.
It took Heero a moment to recover from being startled like that, but recover he did. "Pargan?"
The old man's expression didn't waver. "If you'd like to step out of the bushes, I can get you some coffee and a bit of breakfast, if you like."
"Ooh, coffee," Duo murmured eagerly, elbowing Heero in the side. Their red-eye flight had not been restful.
Heero frowned at this unexpected turn of events, but conceded that perhaps their position was a little too exposed for his taste. "If it's no trouble," he answered, blinking slightly at the politeness falling from his lips. There was indeed something about Pargan that demanded good behavior.
The slightest increase of wrinkling around the man's eyes indicated a positive response. "None at all. Do mind the gardenias."
They emerged from their hiding place and entered Pargan's humble abode through a back door. Heero returned a jab in the ribs to Duo at the threshold, demanding with a glare that he wipe his boots on the doormat before entering. Duo rolled his eyes, but complied.
The door opened directly into the kitchenette. Heero managed to sit meekly at the small dining table built for two for about four seconds before becoming uncomfortably awkward in a way he hadn't been for years. He cleared his throat. "I'm not sure if you remember me..."
"I remember you," the former butler answered placidly as he pulled a grinder and a bag of beans from a cupboard. "Miss Relena always spoke quite fondly of you."
"Uh, yes... Speaking of Miss Relena... I spoke with her recently."
"Did you? Was she well?"
"...So far as I could tell." Her right arm was certainly well. "We spoke of her impending marriage, mostly."
"Ah, to the young Jurgensen," Pargan sighed neutrally. "He hails from an upstanding family."
"You're familiar with them?"
"Yes, they have their origins in Sanq. I hope decaf is alright with you?"
"Of course," Heero answered automatically, even though he had no real preferences. He had never cared enough for the drink to develop an opinion one way or another, other than for the tangentially related topic of the utility of caffeine and other stimulants, but another surge of well-mannered behavior had driven him to not inconvenience the old man, no matter Duo's sigh of disappointment.
Pargan measured out the beans with a precise hand, his technique honed by many years of practice. Such skills also allowed him to handle the sudden appearance of two unexpected guests with perfect aplomb. "I'm afraid that the quality of coffee beans has simply declined lately, even in the blends imported from Earth."
Duo sighed again in bittersweet nostalgia, recalling the coffee he had enjoyed while with Quatre in the desert. It had taken a while for him to be convinced that it was the same stuff as the sludge he had had previously. "Ain't that the godsawful truth."
"Pardon the noise for a moment." The grinder whirred smoothly as it processed the beans.
Heero was bad at small talk. That had never changed. "She asked after you."
There was the briefest of hesitations in the retiree's movements before he emptied the grinds into a clean filter. "That is very kind of her. Should you have occasion to speak with her again, please let her know that I am living quite comfortably here."
"I'm sure she would like it better if you told her that personally."
"I'm sure she would," Pargan echoed softly. "But I am an old man. I forget things sometimes."
Judging from the way his hands moved without sign of fragility, Heero was not convinced. "But you remember the Jurgensens."
"Of course. Their family has been a noted name in Sanq's upper circles for generations."
"Have you ever met this Karl?" He said the name with more skepticism than sneer.
"I have. He is a proud bearer of the Jurgensen name."
"How good is their name really?"
Topping off the pot with freshly filtered water, Pargan took the time to glance over his shoulder and settle a weighty look at him. "Why do you ask?"
There were no secret motives here. "I just want to know what Relena's getting herself into."
A thoughtful silence passed as Pargan set the coffee machine to brewing before he answered. "The Jurgensens are not often involved directly with governance themselves, but they hold an interest in many sectors that grants them strong influence."
"What do they do with that influence?"
"They've done many things over the years. The young Karl's grandfather was a staunch supporter of Sanq values. He used his influence to strengthen Sanq herself, but his son Friedrich began using his family's influence to strengthen Sanq's position in the world. Our good king did not always approve of this use, but it could not be said that he discouraged it as strongly as he could have, either. And now Friedrich's son has continued in his ways."
"You mean... people will succumb to economic or political pressure just as easily as to military."
The crinkling around the old butler's eyes resembled the beneficent smile that a teacher might bestow upon a student, but he said nothing to confirm or deny. "His son has, perhaps, taken things one step further. It is the habit of children to progress beyond their forebears." He shuffled towards the blank white refrigerator to pull out some eggs and milk.
He had mentioned breakfast, hadn't he? Something in Heero protested. "The coffee is enough, thank you."
Duo kicked him in the calf with a bright smile. Heero stepped on his foot. But it was all quite unnecessary. The old man continued his preparations without pause. "A simple breakfast is no trouble at all, young man."
"Well, if you insist," Duo piped up before Heero could refuse once more.
"I insist. It is such a chore to finish one's loaf of bread all by one's self while it is still fresh. And you two look like you could use a decent meal. Healthy young men always do."
Suddenly conscious of how scruffy they must have appeared, Heero resisted the urge to scratch at his bestubbled chin again. He was also reminded that it was impolite to wear a hat indoors. It was something he had never had a care for before, but this morning he pulled the cap off and set it on the table in front of him. Some of his hair decided to fall into his eyes as a result, and refused to be dislodged by an irritable toss of his head. The strands were caught in the prescriptionless glasses he still wore, so he took them off as well and dropped them into the front pocket of his shirt.
To his side and sprawled quite comfortably in his chair, Duo smirked at his fussing. Heero knocked their neighboring knees together. "Sit up straight," he muttered.
Duo muffled a snicker. If it wouldn't have been so cliché, he might have said, 'Who are you, my mother?' He settled instead for a mildly pointed look with an undertone of mockery and slid another centimeter lower in his chair.
Looking to do something that was within his power, Heero turned again to their host. "Is there something we can do to help?" He would quite happily volunteer the use of Duo's services.
Pargan waved the offer off. "Quite kind of you to offer, young man, but quite unnecessary. You are my guests."
Though how that had come to pass, Heero wasn't quite certain. With a sure, deft hand, Pargan had taken control of the situation. Heero struggled to find some way to renew their conversation without making it sound like an interrogation. They had common ground. He could start there. "Do you approve of this marriage?"
"It is not my place to approve or disapprove," Pargan answered after a short silence.
Despite his status as a 'servant', however, it was clear that he had a proprietary interest in Relena. "But if it were?"
He used the whisking of the eggs to delay his eventual answer. "I watched Relena grow up into the fine young woman she is today. I wish her only the best. But I look upon her with an elder's eyes, and if I could have my way, I would hold her back in that fresh innocence of youth. It does pass so quickly."
Heero decided to interpret this as a negative. "Do you know what Zechs thinks of it?"
"Milliardo is her older brother and only living member of her immediate family. It is his duty to look after her, and he believes strongly in protecting what is his to protect."
"So he isn't for it."
"I said nothing of the sort, sir. He will certainly wish to speak with Relena at least once before taking an official position."
Of course. These aristocrats were always so cautious and formal, but perhaps that was for the best. Maybe Relena would listen to her older brother. "So he's coming to see her?"
"I'm afraid I don't know what Master Milliardo is up to at the moment. I had been expecting some contact while he is in the area, but he is a busy man. He had some business related to the terraforming project to look into, and of course the lovely Lucrezia is with child. From his communications, I could tell he dotes over her so." Bread soaked in eggy batter hit the frying pan, to the accompaniment of a cheerful sizzle.
"I bet Noin doesn't take too kindly to that," Duo murmured amusedly. She was one tough lady.
"It is a long journey from Mars, but they decided it was worth it," Pargan continued over the sounds of breakfast making. A rich buttery smell filled the air. "The effects of carrying a child to term while in such an unstable environment have not yet been studied, and they were not eager to be the first to find out. All the better that they could combine the trip with business. He will most likely be present for the wedding as well. I'm sure Miss Relena will be so pleased to have him there."
"When we spoke to Relena, she told us that she heard from him just a couple of days ago. He told her he couldn't make it to the wedding after all, but he sent his blessings."
"Is that so?" Pargan hummed thoughtfully.
"Do you know where he is now?" Heero asked. Relena had given them a different version of Zechs' opinions. The best way to find the truth would be from the man himself.
"I believe he mentioned looking into some of the latest mining and terraforming technology. In fact, the Jurgensens are quite active in the leading edge of such things. This would be an excellent opportunity for Master Milliardo to become acquainted with the family."
"Would you happen to know the location of the Jurgensen's facilities?"
"I'm afraid I do not."
Heero frowned. Damn. But it wasn't anything they couldn't find out on their own.
"Hey, Heero," Duo spoke suddenly.
"What?" he responded curtly.
"Guess what they bought back in ninety-seven."
It was impolite to strangle a man while he was waiting for his breakfast at the table of a gracious host. His growl was successfully suppressed long enough for him to realize that perhaps Duo was not being simply annoying. He never had found out just what Duo had been referring to that night. With a tight sigh, he took the bait. "A mining research facility?"
"Somewhere they converted to a mining research facility?"
"Tell me where."
"Say the magic word."
"Now," he ground out. "Tell me where now." Or I will tear your little throat out was somehow implied in that statement.
"Ooh, good choice. Moon Base."
"Moon--?" Pause/blink. Incredulity. "*The* Moon Base? OZ's Moon Base?"
"There aren't that many bases on the moon, babe."
"Ah, yes, of course," Pargan recalled, pleased. "I remember now. The base was sold in order to make reparations after the war."
"It was a military base," Heero stated, disbelief seeping into his tone. Something in him found the idea quite offensive. Perhaps it was a fleeting scrap of empathy. "You can't just sell a military base of that magnitude to a civilian operation!"
"The Jurgensens were quite delighted with it, as I recall. Beating the swords into plowshares, if you will. And they've done rather well with it, too." He slid the french toast off the pan and started a second batch.
"Helium-3," Duo mentioned, tossing a significant glance in Heero's direction. "They found some deposits a couple years back. Nothing near what you can get from Jupiter, sure, but still enough to save them a pretty penny."
"Great," Heero muttered. "Even better. I don't suppose the mobile doll production lines were cleaned out before the purchase?"
"Now that I would not know," Pargan answered. "But I am quite certain that the Jurgensens would have made sure that the factory was taken care of in accordance with their ideals before converting the facility towards a mining purpose."
"I still don't like it."
Duo took his attention off the percolating coffee long enough to make an amused sound. "Heero, man, you haven't liked a single thing about them ever since you heard their name in connection with your precious princess."
"Whose idea was this marriage? Do you know? How long were they seeing each other?"
"Karl did pay court to Miss Relena, off and on over the years. A proposal was hinted at for quite a while, but Miss Relena had her reasons for not accepting at first, I'm sure. When she finally did, everything seemed to proceed most rapidly. The Mrs. Jurgensen, Karl's mother. She is quite the master at putting together a grand social event."
"It's a political stunt, did you know that? She doesn't love him."
"I must take umbrage on her behalf for you calling it a 'stunt', young man," Pargan chided, as sternly as he would get. Especially while flipping french toast that was neatly browned on one side. "That makes it sound like an irresponsible decision made only for the sake of attention, when I am quite sure that the decision was not made lightly at all."
So he knew. "Did anyone assist her in making that decision?"
The moment of hurt pride lasted a few seconds longer before the issue was swept away into a proper dustpan and dumped with a butler's efficiency. "Miss Relena believes in listening to the words of her advisors."
Heero made a note to himself to take down some names later. "What can they hope to gain from a marriage to Relena?"
"Miss Relena is a charming young lady from an outstanding family. Anyone should be quite fortunate to snare such a catch."
'Snares' made him think of 'traps', and 'traps' made him frown. "Relena's power has diminished."
"The Peacecraft name will always be associated with strength and nobility."
"This Karl... What do you think of him?"
"I am quite certain that, with time, he will grow up to be a fine young man. His father will be proud of him."
Meaning that he was not so fine right now, and he was following in his father's nefarious footsteps. "Do you think he will treat Relena well?"
"I do not believe he will be unkind to her."
No, she was too important to mistreat. But why? Possibly the family had traded on favors merely to acquire the son's desired wife, but it did not seem likely, given the information. So either the Jurgensens were no long content with being the power behind the throne, or they were putting themselves in a position to trade in even more favors. Possibly this was a favor as well? Was there someone else that could benefit from this union?
He was pulled from his musings when Pargan set three plates and a platter of french toast on the table. Before he could really think to do anything to assist, the rest of the breakfast paraphernalia seemed to magically appear as well. If for nothing else, Pargan earned his respect by his quiet efficiency.
There was one piece left to be fetched. When Heero saw the old man heading towards a bar stool kept at the end of the counter, he looked at Duo and flicked his chin in that direction.
Why don't you get it, you ass, Duo's middle finger seemed to say, only perhaps with a bit more of a potty mouth.
It would certainly be more effective than trying to get Duo to be properly respectful to the old man, so he did. Pargan ended up in Heero's former seat, Heero perched on the stool, and for a surreal minute, the three of them sat down to the beginnings of a quite mundane and civilized home-cooked breakfast. Duo sighed happily over his coffee, Heero complimented the chef, and Pargan made sure that everyone's needs were being met.
It couldn't last long. Heero's multi-tasking mind could manage eating and speaking at the same time. "How is Sanq doing in the minds of the people these days?" He asked after the country as if inquiring after the health of a grandchild.
Pargan took his time in answering, but when he did, it was urbane and respectful. A butler of his refinement would never be caught using a gossiping tone. "Politically, her stance, of course, has not wavered. I'm afraid that her efforts have been flagging of late, however, given the occasional flare-up of insurgency," He paused for a sip of his coffee. "Sanq continues her call for disarmament, but understands that such an ideal is difficult in times of instability. Miss Relena and her governmental staff have had to broaden their work to first create a world where their ideals can be accepted and made a reality. Sometimes it is difficult to see, but there is a larger picture at work here."
Sure there was. And it was like one of those wacky post-modernist paintings. Everyone else was standing back nodding their heads in supposedly artistic admiration while he was there telling it like it was: it was damn ugly. "And the Jurgensens... They advance these goals as well?"
"They do what they see as best for Sanq's interests."
"Which might include advancing the goals of their associates," he recalled aloud. "How many of these associates aren't quite on the up and up, I wonder."
"The Jurgensens would never involve themselves in something scandalous and illegal."
No, their name needed to be clean in order to have legitimacy. Which just meant that everything was done under the table. Or perhaps in plain sight. "What do they involve themselves in? Property? Manufacturing? Research?"
"They have investments in several businesses. This colony is one of them."
Which meant that they had an established presence here on this colony. They would have to watch out. Already they could have been noticed and monitored. "Is this--"
"You ought to finish your breakfast before it gets cold," Pargan interrupted with a gently scolding voice.
Willing to make the concession, Heero cut another square of french toast off with the edge of his fork, but wanted to finish asking his question before putting it in his mouth. Pargan pre-empted him once more. "This is a very civil place to live, thank you for asking. Quiet. Safe. Folks such as we don't require much supervision. The most traffic we get through these parts is visiting friends and relatives. And perhaps the occasional sales representative. There are far too many people in this world that think a senior citizen's mind has gone, and they like to take advantage of that. Not all of them are like that, of course, but when they get a little too insistent, the management has not hesitated to send someone out to assist us in getting rid of the disturbance."
They would have to try not to be a disturbance, then. He had wanted to ask if this was a safe place for them to be, and perhaps Pargan had answered it. If there were often visitors around, it was possible their presence had not yet been remarked upon. Of all the places for the search for them to have spread, he found it unlikely that a colony such as this would have been one of the first alerted. "Did you retire here because it was a Jurgensen investment property?"
"The Jurgensens were kind enough to help me settle in here."
Kind. Right. "Relena missed you. What made you choose to retire now?"
The old man sighed. "If it were up to me, I would serve the Peacecraft line to the end of my days. Alas, I grow old, and the young ones were generous in their concern for my health. And Miss Relena will soon be transitioning into the household of her husband. They have a fully appointed staff, well trained and managed. My services... were no longer required."
He added that to his mental list of things for which to kick the pansy. "You should get in touch with Relena," he said again, suddenly suspicious of the man's 'forgetfulness'.
Pargan accepted the edged tone and heavy glance with resignation. "She is about to start a new life," he murmured sadly. "She needn't look back. So I've been told," he added in an even softer tone.
Heero suppressed a growl. "Do they... 'tell' you a lot of things?"
The former butler sipped at his coffee and carefully answered the question. "I'm delighted you came. I don't get many visitors. As I said, I thought young Milliardo had promised to drop in, but it seems he ended up occupied with other matters. I understand; our prince is an important man, especially in times like these. He sent along an apology. He always did have such impeccable manners. But I'm afraid that my communication resources here are not as advanced as they could be. I believe the transmission appears to have been damaged, and I've been unable to decipher it. Could I impose upon you to take a look at it for me? You youngsters seem to be able to do anything with technology these days."
Heero hesitated for a moment, not really being here to run tech support, but the old man insisted, and Heero relented. It was the least they could do in exchange for information and breakfast.
last modified : 1/7/2006 20:16:21 PST