"I have a plan." He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "I'm going to improvise once we get there."
"Hm. Okay. I guess that's better than nothing." Duo stuck his head in the path of the breeze coming in the window and enjoyed the lovely Mediterranean weather. It was a wonderful day for some mayhem. "Are you going to kill him?"
"Who, Karl? He hardly seems worth the effort." Especially not in front of so many witnesses. And especially not if Relena was still interested in marrying the dolt. Which he would take the time to find out after he kidnapped her.
"I'm just dying to meet this pansy."
"You're not missing much. Feel free to kick him in the nuts, if you like. I'll be busy with Relena, though."
"What if she wants to kick him in the nuts?"
That was too much to ask. They hadn't had any contact with her since that day in the alley. Who knew how she felt about things? The last time they'd spoken on the matter, she had slapped him. "I hope she's wearing some pointy heels, then."
Duo chuckled darkly. Heero was so amusing sometimes. "Cool. Sounds like fun. I'm in."
"I didn't ask if you were in."
They continued zipping along the Sanq country highway toward the capital.
Well, today was the day of her wedding. Lacking the one most important component of that dream, she refused to have the rest. It was her small rebellion against this thing that was happening to her.
Her dress was a simple, elegant gown, with soft, flowing lines. No frills, no lace, no beads, no floating down the aisle in a fluffy cloud. Just soft, white silk that swished smoothly around her as she moved. She held a small, modest bouquet of fresh flowers cut and handed to her by a gardener that was unusually kind to her this morning. The ceremony had been moved outside to better serve the media, but other guests had been limited because of the 'security concerns'.
As the maid of honor -- of sorts -- Dorothy got to keep her company. "Miss Relena, do cheer up," she said briskly, fussing over the fall of the dress. "We can't have you frowning all over the day."
"What if I start crying?" Relena asked hopefully. "Could I pass those off as tears of joy?"
"Tears of joy look different, my dear," she answered gently, her demeanor softening. She straightened and took Relena by the shoulders. They had shooed everyone else out of the room, and now it was only the two of them. "Relena. I'm sorry this is happening to you. But cheer up. Karl isn't a very sharp boy. I'm sure we'll be able to quietly poison him in his sleep or something. You won't be married long. I'm sure of it."
Relena's shoulders shook in a sob, a laugh, all sorts of things at once. "Oh, Dorothy, what am I going to do?"
"You're going to go out there. You're going to smile. You're going to cross your fingers while you say your vows. I told you you should have gotten a bigger bouquet. And then you're just going to bide your time. We'll get this sorted out."
She sniffled. "You're as bad as Heero, in your own strange way."
"We're practical, dear." Dorothy fetched Relena's veil and arranged it carefully over her face. "Now. Don't become too reliant on your veil to keep your expression hidden. It will be coming off, after all, and it's rather delicate to begin with. But if you need it for a moment, then here it is. And if you manage to smudge your makeup, Relena, we'll never be able to fix that during the ceremony, so do have a care."
She was glad for the veil. It wasn't much, but it made things a little less real. When Karl's mother came to fetch her for the beginning of the ceremony, it was as if the voice came from far away, and she was spared from having to answer the fake smiles with fake smiles of her own. She accepted congratulations with demure nods of her head, barely even hearing their words. When the music started, she could pretend it was for someone else's wedding.
The walk down the carpeted aisle was harder to block out. There she had to set a sedate pace. Using the veil as a shield against the world meant that she needed to keep her eyes down to make sure she didn't trip on anything, which meant staring at the yellow-gold carpet that Karl had gushingly told her matched the wheat-gold of her hair. Someone should have been guiding her down the aisle. It was a little lonely without a strong and supportive presence by her side. Hopefully, when the time came for a proper wedding, her brother would be there, holding her hand.
Clicks accompanied her every step. The rows and rows of seats were filled with reporters, except for the special section closest to the altar. There sat Karl's family, and some other politically important people. With the sudden change in date, there were many that had been unable to attend. Which was just as well, since Friedrich had been more than happy to cut them from the list of invitees. Although this was nominally a wedding for the people, to show unity among the upper ranks, mostly they were Jurgensen allies that filled the ranks. When she was used as yet another figurehead, and when -- if -- their cause prevailed, they would no doubt use the footage of this day to remind the people who was with them, and who was not.
She felt faint, but wrote that off as a side-effect of the veil. It was difficult to breathe under there, especially in the warmth of Sanq in June. She'd grown up to the ideal of a June wedding, and now they were corrupting her girlish notions to further justify moving the wedding up to make the last few days of the month. Was nothing sacred?
Under no circumstances could she sway for falter, she told herself quite firmly. She would have to get used to being stifled. To keep her mind off things, she distracted herself with happy thoughts instead. Happy thoughts, like stifling Karl with a pillow in his sleep. Yes, that would do nicely. The irony appealed to her. Her lips curved into an appropriately upbeat smile.
And just in time, too. She came to the end of her walk in time with the music's halt and assumed her place beside her intended. The haste with which he lifted her veil was almost unseemly. He leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek in greeting, and over his shoulder, she caught sight of Dorothy, a subtle smirk on her face as if she knew exactly what Relena had been thinking, and she approved.
They turned back to the minister, and he began to speak.
"Before or after the ceremony, I don't really care, so long as we take her away with us."
It was a joy working with such a simple man, sometimes. "Yeah, but then you'd be stealing away a married woman."
"So?" It would only be a marriage on paper at that point. He could live with that.
"I guess I'd prefer to be there before the honeymoon."
"Well, I sure hope so, because if we didn't get there before then, that would mean we got utterly lost on the way."
"No chance of that happening." Heero indicated the green sign off the highway. "We're coming up on the exit now."
She tried to distract herself with imagining someone different by her side. Her immediate thoughts turned of course to Heero. After a dreamy second or two, they turned away abruptly, jeopardizing her pleasantly engaged smile. Life with Heero... she suppressed a shudder. She imagined herself throwing things at him, trying to get him to notice or understand something, and she could see all of those hurled objects bouncing harmlessly off his head while he continued to do his own thing. No, marriage to Heero was not a good thing.
There was that one fellow... the son of Earl Sedgwick, wasn't it? He'd shown up a time or two to sessions. Now, he was a cutie...
If that was the case, then the first order of business was to acquire some weapons. It was too difficult to smuggle much onboard a commercial shuttle, so they did a little on-site procurement instead, knocking out a couple of guards on break and borrowing their sidearms on their way into the large memorial park.
"Do you know how easy this would be if we had a mobile suit?" Duo complained, very softly. The rustling of the leaves in the trees made decent cover for any incidental sounds they may have made.
Heero waved a hushing hand at him, listening intently for the crackle of a comm... and... There it was. Then their path lay in the other direction. They moved out.
Relena held her breath, hoping against hope that her salvation might arrive, but there was none. No white knights, no angry brothers, no ghosts of fathers returned from the grave. Nothing. She let out a quiet sigh of disappointment. Oh well. Real life didn't work that way, and she decided that she better get used to it.
She was instructed to turn towards her husband-to-be and hold hands with him. Doing as she was told, she tried to ignore the bright smile on his face. At least someone was enjoying himself up here. Did he not realize the factors behind this marriage? Or did he simply not care? Karl had been the one to bring up Noin to begin with, so it wasn't as if he could pretend full ignorance of his father's plots.
And just what were those plots, she wondered, still trying to piece the puzzle together. Friedrich had called her a symbol, so there was probably something in the works that would be strengthened by her support, or at least the image of her support. Hopefully it wasn't a war, then. There was no way anyone could feasibly believe that she would back a war.
She knew whom she had seen on the Jurgensen estate, where she had been moved almost immediately after her confrontation with Friedrich. If there was one thing to be glad for, perhaps it was that Karl had not been allowed unchaperoned in her presence during her time there. His mother had smiled charmingly and soothed his complaints with talk of propriety and tradition. Relena thought they probably just didn't want him blurting anything else out without the approval of his father.
The minister moved on to a recitation of love and its wonders. At another time, in another place, standing next to another man, she might have listened and dimpled and glowed. It was a part of her childhood dream, after all. But today, all the talk of unending love and honesty and mutual support just rolled off her. Darnit, she believed in love. She enjoyed believing in love, and she would be very upset if this sham of a marriage ruined all her romantic ideals. Not wanting to be old and bitter and disillusioned, she reminded herself that this... arrangement was temporary. She'd find some way out of it. Eventually. She had to.
Friedrich had played it safe when it came to the wedding vows for the day. Maybe he didn't trust her to cooperate past the two simple words that traditionally completed the ritual. Maybe he didn't trust Karl not to flub his lines. Whatever the reason, it was the minister that recited those vows for marriage to a head of state in Sanq. Another reminder to the gathered media just who was gaining power here today.
She grit her teeth on a grimace when she heard the old man announce that she accepted her lovely husband as an equal. That had certainly not been a part of the deal. There was a point where the minister paused to wait for her acknowledgment, but barely any time had passed before he moved on, assuming a consent she never gave. No doubt everyone else equally assumed a nod of the head, a smile, a murmur, something they could not bear witness to from their seats, placed strategically at a distance. A transcript of all that was spoken would be provided to the media after the ceremony, so as not to intrude upon the sanctity of the union and the private love of the two involved.
There was a slight buzz in the crowd. Had someone noticed the variation in the vows her own parents had once spoken, implying an extension of rights and power to her consort? Oh, what did it matter. Even if someone managed to catch wind of the shady nature of the day's events, no reporter was going to be able to save her from this mess she had gotten herself into. Dorothy was looking with subtle interest over the crowd. She could get the gossip later.
Karl was smiling goofily at her, stroking her hands with his thumbs. It made her glad she was wearing satin gloves. Satin covered shoes, too. She tried not to fidget. They were damn uncomfortable. When would this miserable thing be over?
A distant shout came from the crowd. Not a cheer. She turned, heard more shouts, noticed for the first time how much security there was at this event. Around the estate, she had overheard snippets of conversations whose contexts she didn't understand, and they had made some mention of security and plans and all sorts of things, but she didn't know enough to know what was happening. Had they been prepared for an attack? Her heart leapt in cautious optimism.
The minister paused, but Friedrich motioned impatiently for him to continue. He did, and a squeeze of Karl's hands asked her to pay attention. It was a little difficult to do so with all the security running around. Even their audience was starting to get distracted, not that that would affect the legitimacy of the ceremony.
She barely heard it when Karl said his 'I do,' but another squeeze of her hands warned her that her part in the ceremony had come.
"And do you, Relena Peacecraft, daughter of the royal line of Sanq, take this man, Karl Dieter Jurgensen, son of Friedrich and Carlotta, to be..."
More shouting. More frantic handwaving from Friedrich for the minister to hurry things along. Fortunately, the old man was squinting at the book he held in front of him and didn't notice. Karl picked up on the urgency, though, and tried to convey the message.
Relena stopped paying attention, trying to catch sight of the source of the disturbance without being completely obvious, but it seemed that the majority of activity was taking place behind her. The press corps was getting restless, but was not allowed to get out of their seats. She could see the security guards running in the opposite direction, guns drawn, and why were there such heavily armed security guards at the wedding of a Sanq official, anyway? The Jurgensens were terrible pacifists. The swords at their sides were entirely proper, small caliber handguns perhaps forgivable, but was that man toting a machine gun of some sort? Forget subtlety. She turned halfway around to catch sight of the action.
She gasped at the sound of gunfire, but Karl made an even more embarrassing noise, ducking down with a coward's instinct and pulling her down along with him. His eyes were wide as they darted around nervously. "We have to get out of here!" he whispered loudly to her, tugging on her hands.
"Stand your ground," his father commanded, halfway up the stairs to the dais where they stood.
"Finish your vows," he snapped, signaling to a security guard. They had a quick conference before hurrying off to the sound of more gunfire.
Many of the media were huddled under the cover of their ribbon-bedecked seating, but others were struggling with the guards, trying to get out and report on the disturbance. The VIPs from the front rows were under cover, discussing or arguing among themselves, though several of the men had gone along with the elder Jurgensen.
"Finish the ceremony," Karl ordered the minister, voice wavering. He dragged Relena to her feet and grabbed her hands, trying to make things proper again.
Not failing to notice the general ruckus, the minister looked like he would rather have been somewhere else. He wiped at his forehead with the back of his sleeve and scanned his text hastily, trying to find his place. "Umm. To have, hold, cherish, love, blah, blah, 'til death do you part?"
Relena snapped back to attention when Karl shook her. "What?"
"Say it!" he hissed, still looking like he would have preferred being somewhere else as well.
"Uh..." She tried to stall for time. It was hard to think with all the shouting. "What was the question?"
"Do you, Relena Peacecraft, daughter of--"
"-- take me 'til death do we part?" Karl hurriedly interrupted him, choking a little on the 'death' part. It had never quite seemed so imminent before.
She looked quickly around, trying to find a way out of this. The shouting seemed louder, now.
Karl shook her again. "Relena...!"
"I..." Dorothy. Where was Dorothy? Had she been hurt? Her friend's disappearance reminded her that she could wait forever for her saviors to come, but that wouldn't keep the people she loved safe, would it? "I..."
He squealed in a rather undignified manner when someone pulled him roughly backwards. A fist was pulled back, ready for a punch to his gut, when its owner sighed in disgust and kneed him in the groin instead. Karl collapsed to the ground with a choked squeak.
Heero took her firmly by the arm and led her away from the gaping minister. "Let's go."
"But--" She managed not to trip over Karl's outflung arm as Heero tugged her along.
Heero pulled out a comm he had borrowed from one of the fallen guards. It beeped when he pressed the button for transmission. "Got her."
"Roger that," Duo's voice crackled across the line in response. "Let's blow this joint."
"Heero," she said a little more insistently. "Not literally--!?"
"Of course not," he answered impatiently, bringing them under the cover of the trees. "We're just getting you out of here."
"But Lu--!" Her words were muffled suddenly by Heero's hand over her mouth as he pulled her behind a thick oak. The hand shifted slightly to allow her room to breathe, but other than that, stayed exactly where it was until the small group of men ran past them. Three heartbeats later, he removed his hand and proceeded to guide her towards his rendezvous point.
Relena heard the sound of men in pursuit, going in the wrong direction. "Heero, is Duo...?"
"Creating a distraction."
She tried to pull her hand out of his iron grip, but met with no success. "Heero, stop. I can't!"
He turned to look at her over his shoulder, but didn't slow down. "Why not?"
"Lu. They said they would harm Lu if I didn't go along with their plans. And dammit, Heero, I can't run in this!" With the hand not caught up by Heero's, she had gathered up her skirt to keep it out of the way.
Giving her a funny look, he slowed down, but barely. "If you can't keep up, I'll carry you. But I warn you, it'll probably be over my shoulder. Now, what about Noin?"
There were white horses on the estate, ready to pull the happy couple away in a carriage after the ceremony. Why couldn't he have borrowed one of those for their escape? She knew he knew how to ride. "They said they would hurt her if I didn't marry Karl."
"Why would you believe that?" He pulled her behind him and fired a few shots into the woods.
"Because he, that is, Friedrich said--" She squeaked as he set off again with her in tow. "He gave me details of her life. He has his sights on her. I believe that he would hurt her. He's not--"
"Impossible." The comm crackled, with Duo's voice naming a new rendezvous point. Heero acknowledged, turned them slightly to the left, then proceeded. "Noin is safe. She should be on her way back to her husband by now."
"She was being held on Moon Base by members of some consortium, in colloboration with the Jurgensens. Zechs was being kept on a mining asteroid. We got him out, left him with some friend, then went back and got her out just a few days ago. They can't hurt her anymore."
Her head spun. She hadn't thought that they were actually holding her sister-in-law prisoner. And Zechs, too? But they'd been freed, and all of this was happening without her having the least bit of an inkling? The very idea offended her. When Vice Foreign Minister Darlian had died, she decided she owed it to herself and both her fathers to be better informed on the world's events. She had failed miserably, it seemed.
And wait. Lu had gotten out days ago? Not just a few hours or maybe even twenty-four, but days? They'd been lying to her this entire time? Oh, the nerve of them! She hitched her skirts up a little higher and ran faster.
They emerged from the memorial park on a maintenance driveway near the outer fences. Duo was waiting for them in one of the facilities pickup trucks. Heero tucked Relena in first. "Where are we going?" he asked, getting in himself.
Duo didn't wait for him to get settled before moving off at a brisk pace. "There's a maintenance gate to the north of the park. Hopefully, they'll have forgotten about it. Or at least it won't be guarded as well."
"It's amazing what you can make with the chemicals in a maintenance shed."
"You enjoy doing that a little too much."
"Hey, it's what I'm here for."
"Um, Heero?" Relena ventured. "Where are you taking me?"
Duo glanced at her as if just noticing her. "Oh, hey, Princess. So I see he convinced you to leave the guy?"
She sniffed. "Hmpf. I didn't need any convincing. I tried to myself a few days ago. That's when this whole thing went downhill." She punched Heero lightly on the arm. "This is all your fault, you know."
Heero blinked innocently at her. "Huh?"
"You! Just dropping in out of nowhere, stirring everything up, and disappearing again. If you hadn't talked to me, I wouldn't have changed my mind and tried to get out of it, and then I wouldn't have found out how completely out of their minds the Jurgensens are."
"That's a good thing, isn't it?"
"Not when they start threatening to hurt people!" She shivered thinking about it, the action perhaps exaggerated from the excitement and adrenaline and shock.
The faint motion caught Heero's attention. "We need to get you out of that dress. We have some clothes back at our car that you can use."
"But... What about after? Heero, where are we going?"
He glanced at Duo over the top of her head. "Do you have anything in mind?"
"Nope," Duo answered cheerfully.
"What about you, Relena?"
Her eyes widened. "That's your plan?"
"What do they think we're up to? Get down."
With Heero's hand pushing down on her shoulder, she tried to scrunch down in her seat, but with only partial success. "Heero. Not so easy in this dress."
He frowned in annoyance. "We really need to get rid of that dress. Why do you women wear those things?"
She decided the question was rhetorical, and settled for trying to make herself look as small as possible. "I've no idea. Simply ruining all their plans, I imagine. They must have been expecting you for them to have that much security here. They changed all of the plans at practically the last minute. I guess they were afraid you'd come get me before the original date."
"No, it's probably because it was a trap," he informed her, deciding that she must have known nothing about the consortium's plans.
"A trap?" They had turned her wedding into a trap? Granted, it wasn't a wedding she had wanted in the first place, but that somehow added insult to injury. Nevertheless, she found herself pleased that they had come after her anyway. "They put a lot of people in danger! Oh, I hope Dorothy got out alright."
"Dorothy?" Duo echoed. "Blonde chick? Bridesmaid outfit?"
"That's her. Did you see her?"
"She told me about this exit. Told me she was a friend of yours. Mentioned Heero by name and embarrassing habit of utter tactlessness." He'd still checked out the escape route himself, of course. Could never trust blondes showing up in random places, demanding that he do their bidding.
She sighed in relief. "I'm glad she's okay. But what she is up to? And what are you up to?"
Not having a very good answer to the question, Heero ignored it. "If we were trying to ruin all their plans, then... We should get out of Sanq. It'll take a little while for this to escalate to an incident of international proportions, so we should be okay for a little while. Why do you have to be such a recognizable public figure?"
"Excuse me?" she huffed. "Hmpf. It's not *my* fault you decided to kidnap me. What do you expect to do with me? They'll be looking for me. And you, too, no doubt."
"I expect to go into hiding for a little while. Cross the border, find somewhere in the country to hole up for a little while."
Duo laughed. "It'll be like a honeymoon! Only without the groom."
last modified : 1/19/2006 00:27:14 PST